Flash Fiction: Captain Viridian and the Alternate Reality

Captain Viridian got his cloak around him just in time as the storm of debris crashed over him in an angry, howling wave — a wave made up of the remains of the vehicles that had been stopped on the bridge, turned to shrapnel by the power-blast of the villain in front of him. A villain he intended to stop, no matter how powerful he was.

All around him were cries for help from the dying and the wounded, spurring him out of his defensive crouch even before the hurricane of metal had ended, bits and pieces battering him and slashing at his almost invulnerable skin like an angry storm of robot bees. The desperate calls had come in to him via every channel — a meteor had hit the bridge, some sort of firestorm. And born out of it, some kind of a beast in a mask — a manlike figure causing havoc all around him with beams of energy and colossal strength. This was what Viridian had been born for — the protection of the weak, the defeat of the evil, the triumph of justice.
When the blast subsided he saw it, the beast, a human-sized figure surrounded in a glowing surge of energy the color of faded blood. The figure turned an expressionless, mirrored mask on him.

“Worthless being a hero,” the beast’s hollow voice rang through the mask. “The fire catches up with everyone.”

“Stop this destruction immediately,” Viridian declared. “Or face the consequences.”

The beast threw back its head and roared with laughter. Viridian felt the old familiar surge of power, the desire to put a solid punch in the gut of evil.

“Make me pay?” the beast echoed. “Like you made all those other poor, tortured souls in the asylum pay? They’ve already paid.”

This gave him pause. The monster was getting philosophical about the other villains Veridian had brought to justice?

The beast waved his hands palm-up in front of him like he was talking to an ignorant child. “They paid in pain long before you ever got to them. Their so-called crimes were their justice on the weak and the fearful who would have ended them because of their power.”

The beast grunted, his head spasming on his shoulders. “Trust me, I know all about pain.”

“Pain is no excuse…”

That caused the double to laugh again. “No excuse to seek relief? We should all just burn in our suffering?”

Veridian had heard this so many times, the crazed villain trying to make sense of his madness. “I know people who can help you.”

“Like the doctors who helped you after your parents were killed?”

“How do you…?” the words were over his lips before he could stop them. His parents, killed in the destruction of their high-energy physics lab. But the foreign spies that killed them had no idea he was there, hidden away in a closet by his parents when they knew they were in danger. And then, in the ensuing escape, he had run through a field, one of their experiments, that had suffused him with an unknown energy, and turned him into what he was today — a hero. He served in their memory.
But how could this thing know?

“What are you?” he asked the beast.

“I am despair.”

The beast raised his arms, violent energy arcing through his hands, flashing all around the bridge, ripping down girders, hoisting cars, motorcycles, and minivans into the air, hurling everything at Viridian who dodged and rolled, blasting the unoccupied vehicles to pieces, catching those with people inside them and shoving the steel eggs aside as gently as he could.

Lashed by a snakelike mass of broken bridge cabling, he stumbled, rolling over and over again, trying to rise and being hit by hunks of steel and concrete as the bridge swayed crazily underneath him. On his knees he tried to rise and failed, and the onslaught stopped.

The beast was walking towards him with halting steps.

“Too easy.” The mirror-mask gazed down. “This is too easy.”

“You’re nothing,” Viridian said. “Nothing I can’t handle.” But he felt his leg tremble, felt the pain in his ribs, and the coldness in his gut. Maybe just a moment to recover.

“What do you want?” he asked the beast, half curious, half stalling for time.

The beast wandered away, looking for something. He came upon a car, mostly intact, gazed down at it.

“The same thing as you,” the beast said, and with a smooth strike blew the door off the car. Striking into it like a viper with an arm, he hauled the driver out, a woman in a business suit. She dangled from his powerful arm like a caught fish, squirming. “An end to pain.”

Viridian’s heart beat like a hammer in his chest, as the poor woman looked down at him, pleading for rescue with her horrified eyes. He argued with himself, charge forward, strike the arm, break her free. But there were milliseconds before he could get there, and the beast was obviously fast and powerful.

“Put her down,” he said. “Why hurt her?”

“Because I hurt,” the beast growled. He saw the beast’s hand turn, the fingers clench and he shot forward, through a clouding blur of pain all over his body. His arm struck out, breaking the grip of the beast. He followed up with a quick and powerful punch to the face, but the beast rolled, struck out with a smashing blow across his back and Viridian went down.

Through the fog of pain, Viridian heard the slow, cracking noises and the screams of pain. He rolled upward, clambering against the ropes of agony and despair. How had this gone so wrong?

“What are you?” he spat at the beast.

The mirrored mask looked down at him, reflecting the boiling red of the fire and the destruction around them.

A hand raised up, took hold of the mask, took it calmly from the face, and dropped it.

The mirrored-mask was replaced by the mirror image of Veridian’s own face.

“You don’t recognize me?” The beast’s eyes opened, wide and round, horrified, like he was trying to be Viridian’s shocked reflection, trying to force his emotions into that shape.

Then he swung. Fast, calculated, a flat hand sent a wide blade of energy slashing into Veridian, cutting him down and throwing him backwards. There was an explosion. The bridge creaked and screamed a reverberating metallic scream.

The pain brought Viridian focus. Not a meteor, a rift, an explosive hole in space through which crawled this hideous doppleganger.

“Putting it all together now, aren’t you?” Anti-Viridian said, marching forward. “I am quite smart, even if I’m no genius here, in this reality.”
“A portal to another dimension, then? Another me?”

“You,” he nodded. “Another possible note played on the same cosmic string.”

“Not me,” Viridian tried to get up, but he felt like he had been stretched to the breaking point. “You are not me.”

The beast-Viridian knelt next to him, looked him in the eyes with wide, flat eyes. “There is no you or I. There is only us. A million heroes and villains splayed across the surface of reality, fighting for a flag covered a different shade of grey. Mine just happens to be the color of my own blood.”

Beast-Veridian stood. “We’re not so different, Virid. Where I come from, I didn’t have it as well off as you. My parents gifted me my powers, thinking to protect me. But I very quickly got a taste for them.”

The smile on beast-Viridian’s face was like a cut, oozing insanity. The edge turned down in a sneer.

“I left a black hole of a universe behind me, Virid. And I will leave another behind me every step I take through all the worlds.”

Viridian took careful, considered breaths, righting himself, pushing himself upwards. “I can’t let you do that. You’re insane, you know that? We can get you help.”

“You can lock me away in some phantom prison! That’s what you do, isn’t it? You take away the vital fire that makes me who I am, because I’m different, because I’m too powerful and I want the rest of them to bow to me, to recognize me for the deity I really am.”

The beast turned to him, for the first time looking unsure. “They bow to you, don’t they? Their protector? Let you practice your rescue fetish?”
Viridian felt the genuine beast of rage curl into his fists. He didn’t ask for the worship. He was humble. He was noble. He—

The beast’s eyes narrowed and he looked at Viridian like he was looking through his face into his brain.

“Who’s that pretty woman at the paper you hang out with? The one at all the medal ceremonies? Does she know how you lust to be a normal human who could hold he—”

And Viridian struck, a flying fist charged with an angry bolt of energy smashing into the beast’s face, spinning him. And again and again he struck, driving the beast backwards, beating him, until, the beast leaped, and with a confident smile Viridian had seen on newspaper photos of he, himself, taking down normal bank-robbers and mobsters, the beast struck. Beam after beam striking out, blasting him, setting his insides on fire, boiling his blood making him feel like his brain was going to explode.
He was left a broken wreck in the middle of the bridge trying to remember to breathe.

The beast whispered in his ear, his breath cold. “You can’t win. You know that. Your stupid fear holds you back. But, I have to admit, I was right. We’re not so different.”

The beast stood, towering over him. “But I’m not afraid.”

Viridian looked up into the cold reflection of his own eyes. In that mirror image he could feel the pain without purpose overwhelming him. How close had he come to becoming this? How far was her from being this monster, drowning in anger and selfish righteousness. How easy it could be to tell yourself, I hurt, so I deserve this.

“I’m better than this,” he said to his reflection. “Every single life I save, every single stance I take against entropy and despair, keeps a little more light in the world, a little more warmth. It’s those things that saved me. That should have saved you.”

The beast looked hesitant. What was he seeing in his reflection, laying broken beneath him.

He sighed. “Spare me the moral claptrap. I don’t believe in Heaven and there’s no redemption when you’ve killed a universe.”

He pulled a gleaming red blade from out of his belt holding it with a thick black handle. Viridian’s eyes darted to it, hearing the buzz, feeling a coldness radiating out from it.

“You know what this is?”

The blade wavered in the air, barely a part of this reality, cutting through the very wave-form of the universe with a screech as the beast flourished it.

“Pure Auridiallium 7,” Viridian said. “The only substance that can kill me.”

The beast smiled. “Our father made this blade. Back in my universe. Once he figured out what I had become.”

He seemed mesmerized by the blade, staring into it as if seduced.
Viridian struggled, trying to make his way to his feet. He pushed through the pain, groaning. If he could channel something, destroy the bridge, maybe he could stun the beast, stop him long enough to do something.
But the beast was too quick. No, he knew what Viridian was thinking. He grabbed Viridian by the shoulder, twisting it lightly in his brutal grip, causing another shocking spasm of pain. The blade was at his neck, hissing and spitting as it interrupted the cosmic energy that bound his very molecules together.

“There’s still hope…”

“Not for me.”

“No, for the universe,” and with that Captain Viridian grabbed the blade,shattering it, sending bits of ethereal lava flashing over both of them. He felt himself going up like a star going nova, every single bit of him flying apart.

He reached out and grabbed the beast, pulled him in without resistance, drawing him in like a companion star.

“I’m sorry,” Viridian said to himself, as they crumbled to sparkling dust.

 

Flash Fiction: What They Leave Behind

11446-illustration-of-a-white-egg-pv

 

Raymond looked down at the pizza and thought, “I will drown my sorrows in carbohydrates. I will lose all thoughts about her in waves of garlic, cheese, dough, and golden brown cheese.” He would have chanted it out loud if his mouth hadn’t been full of a tablespoon full of ice cream.

A moment later, he hated himself. The ice cream tasted like phlegm and he wished he had shoved the pizza back in that holier-than-thou skinny delivery boy’s face.

All this over a girl. Love sucked.

I mean, not that it sucked the whole time. The time down by the beach, at the abandoned amusement pier where they had met hadn’t sucked. It had been fun, looking into her eyes across the pier, while her friends giggled next to her, eating their picnic lunches. They’d lean over and whisper to her and she would laugh. He thought they were telling her to go for it, that the cute boy really was interested in her, that she should talk to him. That was all his ego would allow. It was only later that she told him they were talking about how chubby he was, and how he looked like some kind of weird, overgrown cherub.

The doorbell rang. Raymond didn’t want to answer it. It was probably one of his prissy neighbors, going to ask him to turn the blasting stereo down. They didn’t understand how much he needed to drown out the voice inside his head, the one telling him to go crawling back, even if she had cheated on him. His anger at their not understanding his emotional turmoil drove him to answer it anyway. He’d show them his tear-stained cheeks and depressed eyes and they would turn and run in fear of this horrifying monster.

The lady behind the door wasn’t a neighbor he recognized. Worse yet, when he leveled his depressive gaze on her, her already beaming smile ratcheted up a notch or two. This took the wind out of the sails of the SS Titanic.

“Sorry,” she said to him. “This is a bad time, I know, but…can I come in?”

Raymond’s felt his mouth open to say…something, but she held up a finger, squelching him.

“I know,” she said, “You don’t get it. Limited perspective, moving through time instead of seeing it all at once and all.”

He boggled at this for a moment, started to close the door, but she somehow stepped in around it.

“Thanks. It was kind of quiet out there,” she said, raising her voice to be heard above the music.

“Oh, pizza,” she said, grabbing a slice. “I hardly ever remember to eat. Comes with the territory, you know.”

Raymond snapped the speaker off.

“Oh,” she said, around chewing a big bite of his everything pizza, “That was my favorite part. Best bridge ever.”

And she sang along with the song for a moment, until, finally, he summoned up the energy to call her on it.

“Who the bloody hell are you?”

She looked, for a spare moment, nonplussed. Then she chewed with determination for a few seconds, swallowed the mouthful of pizza, and stuck out her hand to be shaken.

Raymond refused to reach out and meet her hand. She looked down at it, back at him, then seemed to catch on to something. She wiped the grease off her hand against the side of her jeans and offered it again with the same determined smile.

Her eyes darted around the room, looking for something, as her hand hung there motionless.

He decided to show her out, quite firmly.

“Look–”

“What was your mother’s name again?” she asked. “She was such a sweet lady…?”

“Gail,” he responded, then thought better of it. Could she steal his personal information with his mother’s first name? He didn’t think so. Unless he’d used it as a security question somewhere.

“Gail! That’s why I remember her so well. That’s right,” she chuckled softly. “We had the same first name. Gail!”

“You knew my mother?”

“Oh, yes, she used to speak of you often. Doting son, always there for her…”

“But she’s still alive–”

“That’s so good to hear! I meant, of course, when we worked together, back in the day.”

She caught sight of herself in the mirror on the dresser and primped in it for a second. “Back when I was an intern…”

He started to open his mouth again, to explain that there must be some mistake, that his mother had been a stay-at-home mom all her life, and that he hadn’t really spoken to her in months and even forgotten her birthday, but this Gail has already made her way across the room to the pile of photos he had been getting ready to discard.

“Oh, dear, this must be her, mustn’t it? The girl who dumped you?”

“How did you–?”

“Written all over your face, dear,” she ran a slow hand down his swollen cheek. “Tracks of your tears and all that.”

For a moment, her face got serious, and Rodney felt a wave of compassion emanate from her. “It must be terrible,” she said, “Feeling all that. I gave all that up a long time ago, all the hormones and things. They’re just a sticky mess.”

She grabbed him by the shoulders, suddenly overcome. “I’d take them away if I could.” She snapped the fingers of one hand with a noise like a crack of lightning, right in front of his face. “Just like that. But they’re kind of essential to you — baked in. Or so that old fart that made you always told me. Essential to the journey, he’d say. Between you and me he was a bit of a lazy slob, but then all the most creative minds are. I don’t think he really got around to drawing up the map before he pushed you off the shore, as it was. You’re all adrift with nowhere you’re particularly headed. If I were you, that would be the first thing I’d do: figure out my metaphorical destination and draw up a map.”

She stopped here, picked up the photo of not-his-mom Gail again and waved it in the air. “Wouldn’t happen to know where Miss Gail here ended up, after she dumped you and all?”

“Why should I care?” Rodney turned and grabbed a slice of pizza and flopped with it onto his bed. “Stupid girl.”

“If I was to tell you,” she said with a bright smile, “That the fate of this very universe rested on me locating your little chickadee in the next 18.6 hours, you’d probably think I was crazy, right?”

Rodney considered this, found it silly, stuffed his face full of a giant bite of pizza and shook his head. The warm, salty oil comforted him in a way no woman ever could.

“Well, then,” Gail said, “She owes me money.”

Rodney frowned at her. “I think you should leave. I think you’re crazy.”

“I’m most absolutely crazy,” Gale said. “Anyway,” she narrowed her eyes at him, “Why are you protecting her? I thought you two were–”

She made a rude-sounding noise.

“I’m not. And we are. And by the way, I left her. Not the other way.”

She gazed down at the photo.

“Why,” here she seemed to be thinking very, very deeply, “Would someone like you leave someone who dressed in what was basically a very striking and seductive corset all the time?”

Here, she grabbed through the photos and flipped through them, tossing them all around the room after she glanced at each one.

“Hey,” Rodney jumped up, trying to grab the remaining photos out of her hands while simultaneously catching the ones she was throwing. “Give those back.”

She sweetly handed the rest of the stack back to him.

“Why ever did you leave her? It looks like the two of you were having a blast.”

Rodney looked down at the picture at the top of the stack. It was of Gail and he at the movies. That had been Valentines Day, and they had gone to see that movie about the billionaire who fell in love with the shop girl. He was always embarrassed to feel like the shop girl with Gail, because she always paid. She had this great job and…he guessed he couldn’t blame her for going off with that professional bloke.

“She went off with someone, once. I caught her with him when I surprised her for lunch one day.” It was good to tell someone. “They were snogging on a bench outside her office.”

She gave him a sympathetic look and put a hand on his shoulder. “Sometimes, even when we choose to break up with people, they leave something inside of us. Something that, despite our best efforts to the contrary, grows and gets nurtured and eventually spills out at the most inopportune time. We try to move on, but something tells us to protect this thing, to hold onto it. But it’s really sometimes best to move on.”

Rodney felt the tears come, even thinking about moving on. He was so worthless, sitting here, eating ice cream and pizza.

“No one’ll ever love me,” he sobbed. “Least no one as good as her.” The emotional dam that was holding back the lake of his tears started to crack, and he blubbered slightly. This was so embarrassing.

“No offense,” she said. She took a deep whiff of him. “You don’t smell or anything, so you could get quite a better girl.”

“Look, I don’t know what your game is, but I want you out of here right now.” He pointed to the door, burping slightly.

Gail raised an eyebrow as she caught a whiff of his breath. “I stand corrected.”

She shrugged, spun and walked to the door. She paused there for a moment, turned back and gave him another sniff.

“Oh, dear,” she said, her eyes opening wide. “That explains it. Nesting instinct. You’re protecting the offspring.”

“Just get the hell–”

Her arm shot out, rigid fingers wrapping around his neck and squeezing. All of a sudden there were tweezers right in front of his face, silvery talons stretching out towards his nostrils, gleaming with angry fire in the light of the room. He struggled, but she was way stronger than anyone her size had a right to be. There was a loud, squelching noise as the tweezers shot up his nose and rooted around.

“Sorry, wrong nostril,” she said, and spun them over into his other nostril. “You and I should count ourselves lucky. The last one had it in a much more awkward place.”

The entire front of his face went aflame as she pulled on something. He could swear he felt her feet on his chest as she pulled even harder. And then, his nose felt like it was stretching wide enough to swallow the rest of his head. There was a ripping, aching pain that echoed on and on for long, long moments. Then, with a loud pop, he fell backwards and collapsed half on the bed and half on the floor.

“Damn, that’s been in there longer than I thought.”

Rodney looked up groggily. His face ached like it had been in the freezing cold for hours. He was tempted to reach up and survey the damage with a hand, but…ick…

Gale was there, standing over him, shoving what looked like a pale green egg into some kind of clear plastic tube.

“That’s a big one,” she said. “You must be very healthy.” She glanced around. “Despite the junk food. Maybe they just grow bigger in sugary environments…?”

“What are you doing? What is that thing?”

“She implanted a parasite in you. I would just toss it, but…endangered species covenants, you know.”

She popped a cap on the tube, dropped it into a pocket.

“Oh, here,” she leaned over and sprayed him full in the face with something that felt cool and fizzy, like soda water. “Those nanos should fix your face right up. Be up and snogging the girls socks off again in no time.”

She started to leave, then turned. “Oh, and don’t worry. She won’t be back. I tracked her down before I came to get this. She really was very pleasant. I can understand what you saw in her.”

The door slammed. There was a long moment of silence as Rodney lay, trying to remember if he’d had something to drink or popped some pills before he’d ordered the pizza. Or maybe it was just some weird depression dream.

The door flew open again. “Oh, look, I owe you this. Try taking Brenda at the office out for lunch some time. She likes sushi just as much as you. And if you end up getting married and having three kids…well, I didn’t tell you that. And I didn’t mention to keep her away from that contactor you hire to fix up the old bed and breakfast either.”

The door slammed again. From right outside Rodney could hear Gail muttering, “I am such a silly fool for a happy ending…”

 

World Poetry Day 2016

I was hoping to catch a free coffee today, World Poetry Day, thanks to the “Pay With A Poem” program, but no coffee houses nearby were participating, which lead me to scribble down some angry verses I’ve posted below.

Happy World Poetry Day!

I’d like a cup of coffee, if you please
As black and bitter as my angry soul
A steaming mug to grant me sweet release
Not grand or vente, pour it in a bowl

I’ll drown myself in caffeine’s painful buzz
And burn my mouth to silence my complaints
Sit quiet, my pen scribbling, just because
I must expunge myself of life’s cruel taints

And when I’ve drank it down I’ll get refill
To drive my ragged heartbeat fit to burst
Who needs to sleep? Inspired I sit and spill
For with this babbling brain I am sweet cursed

To know this truth is poet’s heavy load
You cannot pay for coffee with an ode

 

Catching Feelings

catchingfeelingsThat gaze that lingered heartbeat’s length too long
For comfort. Then we turned aside to find
A warmth within, a ringing like a song
As we in hearts’ disease became entwined

My symptoms: racing pulse, I ache with pain
Through sleepless nights of restless toss and turn
Delirious desire suffuse each vein
Consumed by fevered thoughts of you I burn

By longing in your eyes I diagnose
The epidemic rampant claims you, too
Shared smile, an analgesic, in small dose
The only antidote is love’s kiss true

Oh, love, how like a virus, that is sure
To suffer it as one the only cure

Fifty Shades of Red Riding Hood

Don’t stray too far from beaten pathRed and the Wolf
Warned parents, ruddy fools
But underneath my scarlet cap
I lust to break the rules

So with my apple basket full
Of burgundy and bread
I claimed I’d go to Granny’s house
But left the path instead

Dark forest might be fearsome place
Where wild things do prowl
But madder call of the blood moon
Inflames my need to howl

Soon tawny wolf came sniffing round
All flushed with hunger’s heat
With foxy wink he asked me if
I’d like to share my treat

With ginger toss of Titian curls
I gave a subtle brush
Whilst just beneath vermilion rouge
I burned with cerise blush

Undaunted wolf offered bouquet
Rose and coquelicot
Intoxicated by their scent
I felt my heart let go

I beat the bricks to Granny’s place
In my slick ruby pumps
My skin beneath my crimson cloak
A-tingle with goosebumps

I knew the wolf would follow me
O’er river and through wood
And so I took the shortest cut
To granny’s neighborhood

Now Granny’s off on holiday
She’s left an empty flat
And I know that for the mailman
The key’s under the mat

All florid from my blazing run
I slipped on Gran’s nightdress
And slid under puce comforter
Where she does convalesce

‘fore long that wolf came sniffing at
My granny’s rosewood door
With bloody rare persistence of
An ardent carnivore

With passion in my sultry voice
I told him to come in
Afire, he stalked up to the bed
And gave big toothy grin

“Why, Granny,” said the sanguine wolf,
“You have such bedroom eyes!”
“I gaze on handsome wolf,” I said,
“It’s hardly a surprise.”

“Sweet Granny, you’ve raspberry lips
So fresh I’d like to taste!”
“Oh wolfie,” I said, with a pout,
“Don’t let them go to waste.”

“Oh, Granny, your come-hither smile
Has roseate bright glow!”
“Dear wolfie, come lie next to me
My furry Romeo.”

I bid the wolf lie down with me
And stroked his auburn coat
Then showed I was tomato fresh
And not just some old goat

“Oh, Wolfie, what big paws you have,
I know that you’re the one,
Oh, slide aside my rosy hood
And show me that pink tongue”

He made me cry wolf many times
Before he ever came
I guess I’ve just got what it takes
The savage beast to tame

I later dressed as lumberjack
It was more than okay
There’s nothing Red likes better than
A little hot role-play

And when we’d had our fill of fun
I did not feel marooned
We cuddled in a warm embrace
In glow of love full-spooned

I know to seek eternal love
Should be my cardinal rule
My folly is this carnal ache
A fevered pull most cruel

They say good girls stay on the path
And keep safe and secure
But I don’t fear being eaten and
Adventure has allure

While moral claims a gentle wolf
Most dangerous of all
I say go find that sweet, bad wolf
To help enjoy wild’s call

Watching Beauty Sleep

dreamy rose‘Twas one small prick that stole your destiny

Entwined your heart in thorns for century

Beneath a curse you drifted off to sleep

Escaped into a dreamland dark and deep

But this enchantment has a simple clause

One true love’s kiss from prince will nightmare pause

At peace, enwrapped in blissful dreams you wait

Convinced that handsome prince will change your fate

But Charming’s smile has vanished from all sight

And long ago the clock did strike midnight

Alone upon your bier in soft repose

A beauty who puts shame to any rose

The sun does envy radiance so fair

The moon aspire to shimmer of your hair

With each soft breath from satin lips you call

Bold knight to rescue you from sandman’s thrall

 

Uncertain rogue, I stand at Beauty’s side

Shadowed in doubt that I am qualified

To dare with foolish kiss against the spell

Against sad tale that I might not untell

I am to you a phantom, undreamed of

Though tortured heartbeats ache with pain of love

A simple man, not royal but in heart

Who, humbled by your glory, cannot part

And if, with touch of lips, I bold oppose

The drowsy chains that bind you, Briar Rose

Would you, unmoved by me, refuse to wake

Or would you, with cold look, my heart forsake

Oh, if you could not waking share your grace

Your endless curse of sleep I would embrace

Asleep, and but all time a moment seem

Content to join my sleeping beauty’s dream

Flash Fiction: The Tentacled Face in the Wall

Scary white faceThe face was horrifying, pressing out of the wall like the wall was made of plastic. It was a face in name only, covered in tentacles arrayed in a crude parody of eyes, nose, and mouth. The tentacles were long slimy things. Some ended in fingers, some in diamond shapes, some in what looked like the heads of snakes, snapping and hissing in a horrifying sort of 7.1 surround sound of nastiness. There were even two thick muscular tentacles erupting from where the eyes should be. They ended in bulbous nodules that looked, at once, like eyeballs, and yet, they were fleshy, oozy, and furrowed, like testicles after a particularly sweaty workout.

Danforth let out a scream like a cheerleader startled by a spider when he saw it, throwing himself backwards from the wall where it appeared. It howled and hissed there for a few moments, and then disappeared, slipping back into the wall as if it couldn’t quite penetrate the shrink wrap packaging that the wall made for it.

He hesitated, standing across the room from it, his breath coming in short, desperate gasps.

“Holy…,” he choked, even though he knew it was far from angelic. He’d been to church in his life, but he’d never believed in this kind of thing. He wasn’t even sure he believed it now. He’d been mostly clean and sober for years, except for wacky Wednesday with the gang. Could it be some reaction to the allergy medicine? That did something to your brain, right?

He stood there, in his Sailor Moon boxer shorts, trying to figure out whether he should go over to the wall and verify its solidity.

Well, it was the only way to determine if it was his brain or if he’d been dropped into some weird and scary reality show. He sidled over slowly, looking anywhere but the wall he was heading to. He might have even whistled.

As he got close to the wall, he dared a glance at it. The chipped paint revealed no hint of the strange scariness beyond it. It did not glow. It did not stretch. It did not heave with unearthly anger.

He gently reached out a hand that shook like a tree branch in a thunderstorm, fingers trying to curl back to the elbow. He willed them back out as much as he could, and edged forwards, his toes curling in sympathy with the fingers.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” someone said, in a rather high voice with the timbre of a drill instructor.

His hand snapped back. A glance confirmed all fingers were intact.
He looked over at the woman now standing in the doorway to his closet.
She had incredibly long, straight blond hair that framed a dour look, lips pursed and eyes narrowed. She stood straight, hands on hips, her stare burning into him, daring him to disobey or disbelieve in her.

“You…who are you?” he stammered. “And what are you doing in my closet?”

Her left eyebrow shot up in a bold arch and the dour look faded just a bit as she glanced behind her. “Is it a closet?” she asked. “Oh, dear. I hate it when that happens. No wonder you look disconcerted.”

He looked at her, then over at the wall.

She gave him a tiny, knowing smile. “You’ll want to step back from there. It might eat you.”

He stepped quickly away from the wall. She strode up quickly between him and it, glaring at him.

She looked a bit like a brand new substitute teacher on her first assignment. She was dressed rather fashionably and demurely for a figment of his imagination. A simple cut, navy-blue dress suit that ended at mid-calf, with a brighter blue shirt underneath. It seemed a little old-ish for her. He thought she must be somewhere in her twenties.

“It’s all right,” she said to him. “I’m a…detective.”

“Aren’t you a little short for a…detective?”

Her eyebrows furrowed. She looked down at her feet, then up at the ceiling of his apartment.

“Am I?” She huffed. “I thought this apartment was just small-ish. Rats.”

She ran her fingers through her hair. “I quite like the hair, though. Silky.”

She smiled at him. He couldn’t seem to help but smile back, brushed at his haystack of bed-hair. Despite being obviously bat-shit crazy, she was quite an attractive woman with pretty green eyes.

“So, let’s have a look here…” She examined the weird wall for a second, scanning it carefully, as if she were a handyman (err, handywoman, Danforth corrected himself in his head) here to fix a crack. She reached out slowly and Danforth couldn’t help but cringe, but she touched the wall boldly with a palm, rubbed it back and forth, this way and that. Then, she knocked. Danforth whimpered just a bit and cringed.

She turned to him, and tried to look him in the eyes, but his gaze kept traveling back to the wall behind her. It lurked behind her like a jack-in-the-box paused right before the last note.

“What’s your name?” she asked him.

“Danforth — Dan, really. My friends call me Dan.” He spared her a glance. That was his job, keep that wall from jumping out and swallowing the pretty girl that stood between him and it.

“Danforth,” she addressed him, “Was that the first time the wall did that?”

“Yes. The face with the tentacles, right? Yes, I mean, I think, I hope so. It’s the only time I’ve seen it. Only,” and here he gestured at her to move toward him with his hand, “Could you move a little further away. The tentacles…”

“Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s waiting for you, I expect.”

She grinned, as if it was funny to say that.

“Waiting for me? I…what’s your name?” he asked.

She got a solemn expression, seemed to pause to consider, eyes rolling off to one side as she thought. “Danforth…Dan…what was your mother’s name?”

“Elizabeth,” he said, without thinking.

“How incredible! What a coincidence. My name is Elizabeth, too. Liz to my friends.”

She paused to think again. “And what street is this that we’re on?” She waved a finger lazily in the air, as if gesturing to the space generally around them.

“East Umberland,” he said.

“Liz West,” she said, extending a hand with a shopgirl smile. “Detective. At your service.”

He took the hand, gingerly, by the fingertips, and shook politely.

“Now, listen.” Here she started to pace. “I need your help with this one, Don. Dan. Danforth. This one is just a little too much for me because he knows I’m here, and if he knows I’m here he’s not going to show his…face…”

She looked at him, head cocked to one side. “You’re not afraid are you? Big strapping young…”

She looked him up and down with a slight pause at the Sailor Moon boxers.

“…man like you. Interesting pants by the way. Very colorful.” She continued pacing. “I’m sure all those hormones, testosterone and the like, make you just want to grab a…you don’t happen to have a cricket bat or something? No? Oh, well, it was a thought.”

She stopped, looked him in the eye, shook a hip in a kind of robotic impression of a sexy move. She arched an eyebrow again, opened her mouth just slightly.

“Basically,” she said, in a husky voice. “I’m going back into the closet and I need you to touch the wall.”

He must have looked horrified. She frowned at him.

“I’ll protect you.”

Danforth considered this. He didn’t believe any of it. It had to be a dream. That was it. A dream. The whole thing. And if it didn’t get more pleasant after he stuck his hand into the jaws of certain doom at least he would wake up screaming, wash the cold sweat off, and go to work at his dead-end job. He could get back to his normal, scheduled daily depression. Life as per usual.

“All right,” he said, with a firm nod.

“Great!” she said with a little hop, turned, and marched back through the closet door, which closed behind her.

He looked at the white wall, staring hungrily back at him as only a blank wall can.

He took a breath. Wake up screaming, he told himself, and stretched a hand out to the wall.

With a whistling scream like the ripping wind of a storm the face appeared again, tentacles slamming out at him like a hail of fire from a machine gun loaded with snakes. He felt their cold sliminess grip his arm and start to pull as the thing howled in hungry anger. There were tiny burning sensations all up his arm where the suckers of the tentacles touched him. A cold numbness began to creep up his arm, not the cold of being exposed to freezing cold for too long, but the cold of his arm actually feeling like it was beginning to disappear. He realized he was screaming, flailing, stamping his feet, trying to pull away with all his might, even if meant ripping his slowly freezing arm from his body.

The closet door lashed open and Elizabeth West, Girl Detective (Lady Detective, he corrected himself, even through all the fear) stormed over to him. She winked at him, grabbed a handful of tentacles from his arm in both hands, and pulled.
The testicle tentacles turned and glared at her, ballooning up in what could only be fear. They shot back to the head, bobbing warily as the face started to slip back into the wall.

“Oh, no,” Elizabeth growled. “You’re not going back to being a wallflower. Time…to…dance!”

She threw her whole weight back, yanking hard, and there was a loud, slurpy pop!

The next thing he knew, Danforth was sprawled on the floor next to his bed, head spinning. Elizabeth stood in the middle of the room, brushing slime from her hands. Before her, bobbing slowly above the floor, was the…thing. It was a globe, about the size of an exercise ball. It was covered in tentacles and veins and some sort of flowing mucus, and it smelled like, rather like most of the things currently in Danforth’s refrigerator if they were all mixed together in a warm room. Danforth gagged.

“All right, you,” Detective West said to the thing on the floor, “I told you no more of that kind of thing in this dimension.”

“Why should I listen to you?” the creature whined at her in an echoing, screechy voice. He sounded a bit like Danforth’s foppish uncle. “Who made you boss of where I get my kicks?”

“You just watch it, speaking of kicks, or I’ll give you a kick in your—”
She glanced over at Danforth, and with a pleasant smile, finished with, “—eyeballs.”

The thing squealed slightly and rolled and spun in the air, the ‘eyeballs’ retracting close to it.

“So sorry about all of this,” she said to Danforth, with the same pleasant, insincere voice of  a returns desk employee at a store. “I’ll have him out of your way in a second. You wouldn’t happen to have a towel?”

Danforth goggled at her.

“Oh, never mind.” She grabbed his comforter from off the bed and scraped at the goo all down her arms.

“Thanks for your time,” she nodded and smiled to him. “Sorry about the mess.”

“Don’t let her take me! You and I could have some fun!” The globe creature started to bob closer to Danforth, a desperation apparent in its flailing tentacles. “I’ll bet you’ve never experienced a totally empathic link before! I could give that to you! I promise to only eat a few of your neural pathways!”

Detective West grabbed the thing by one of the ball tentacles and started dragging it away. It yelped and bobbed after her through the closet door.

“Shouldn’t you wipe his memory?” the globe thing asked.

“What, you don’t want him to remember you? Ugh, that’s so like your kind. I don’t have time to cover up just so you can stay in politics. Besides, it makes for a more interesting universe this way.”

“Remember me fondly, you know, if anyone asks!” the thing shouted as the closet door closed behind it.

Danforth sat on the floor for a moment, considering. He let out a loud scream, but didn’t wake up. Or did he? Perhaps this was a wake-up call. Perhaps his grey world, the daily grind, the soul-crushing routine, was about to get a lot more interesting.

He took a shower, changed into the Spider-Man boxers, skipped the allergy medicine, and left for work, whistling.

Flash Fiction: The Bird in the Park

A guitar

It was the kiss that did it. It was as sweet as a cherry ice on a hot blue summer day, but it finished with the warm burn of cinnamon that made him flush with the promise of mysterious things becoming clear and present and pleasant.

Her name was Astlyn, and she was wearing the t-shirt of a band he really liked. Not that he noticed that first. First, it was her eyes, the shape more than the color — almond-shaped and slightly turned in a permanent kind of snarky amusement. She looked right at him, her head tilted, and didn’t look away as he walked by the bench she was sitting on in the park.

“You have a nice smile,” she said after him.

When he stopped and turned, she added, “Or were you smiling at someone else?” There was an lilt in her voice, a kind of Irish thing, that made his ears dance.

He opened his mouth to reply, but just looking at her tied his brain up in knots and he couldn’t get a word out.

“Ah, mute. That explains everything.”

“I’m on my way to a lesson. Um…piano…lesson.” He kind of fidgeted his fingers in the air in lieu of more words.

“I had a feeling you were an artist,” she said.

He laughed. “No, not really. My mom makes me.”

“So you’re not a musician? That’s a shame. They always get the girl.”

Her smile was magnetic, tugging at something at the back of his chest, and he stepped, almost fell, closer to her. His heart raced. He glanced at his watch and saw his heart rate; it was twice normal.

She looked away, over her left shoulder, smiling the smile of a fisherman about to grab the pole and start reeling.

“You,” he said, “Are different.”

She quirked an eyebrow. “Different, how?”

“Well,” he huffed, trying to put the feeling into words without putting her off. “Most girls don’t talk to strangers.”

“We were in the same Classical Lit class, before I transferred out. I can’t believe you don’t remember. You’d have noticed that if you weren’t always asleep in the back.”

He tried to picture the warm, yellow room, full of dust motes and the droning beat of Mr. Llewellyn’s nasally voice chanting out lines from the Iliad and the Odyssey. He couldn’t picture her there, but then he could barely remember it, so often were his eyes closed.

“So,” she said. “You don’t look like a piano player.”

He shrugged and held up his hands. “I actually wanted to play guitar…or maybe drums. But my mom said I had to learn music first.”

“You should always listen to your mom,” the girl said, her eyes twinkling. He wondered if she was making fun of him.

“What’s your name?” he asked her.

She told him.

“See. Astlyn’s…different.” He’d wanted to say exotic or unique or something, but it sounded like a come-on. Not that he didn’t want it to be a come-on, but…

“Seems pretty normal to me.” She looked up at him through a cage of eyelashes. “I hope I’m not making you late.”

“Oh, yeah, right. I’ve got to…” He gestured in the wrong direction, then the right one, then smiled.

“Next time, bring your guitar,” she said.

And she did see him there, every day for a week. And he did bring his guitar on the days when he didn’t have piano lessons.

“How did you know I had a guitar?” he asked.

“Calluses,” she explained, and grabbed his left hand and ran the soft edges of her fingers over the rough tips of his. Every single touch was like a spark plug firing.

He played her the songs he knew, made up of a total of about ten chords — with a couple of barre chords that were very, very rough. And he sang quietly. He knew he didn’t have a bad voice, but it wasn’t…manly, or something.

She sang along softly with him, sometimes finding the harmonies, and it was a feeling like they were rising up out of the park into the ocean of warm, sweet air and sunlight, just spinning around each other, giddy. She’d smile at him, the tiniest, encouraging smile, and he would look away and fumble on the strings, and just keep going, trying to hide from the feelings rushing through him, forgetting the words and just repeating the refrain.

It was Thursday, and the song was a ballad that band they both liked did. It was about pain and love and memory. She leaned forward on the last, ringing chord, her eyes half-lidded, her mouth slightly open, smoldering. He leaned forward over the guitar, awkward and anxious, hesitated, and then, kissed her.

They hung there in the moment in-between, faces close, just breathing.

“You should write your own songs,” Astlyn told him.

“What?” He wondered if the kiss was bad or something.

“You have a poetic soul.” Astlyn licked her lips. “I tasted it.”

She squeezed her eyes at him in that way that promised she was always right.

And he felt it, like a bird fluttering in his chest, wildly trying to escape. Not words, not music, just a feeling, like he would explode if he didn’t…say something.

“I want you to write a song for me.” She was looking off, into the trees, at something far off he couldn’t see. Then she turned, and smiled at him again, and the bird fluttered madly.

And he wrote a song for her, many songs in fact, over many years, even after the last time he saw her, he was still writing songs about her. He’d stop there on that bench with his notebook and sometimes the guitar, and the little bird would sing in the long, dying afternoon, about that moment, the kiss in the beautiful place. And his pencil would scratch out the barest sketches, ever-looking back, ever-reaching forwards.

Flash Fiction: The Fire in Song

“Your daughter’s a natural at smithing,” old Bart told Samantha, “Just like her mother.”
The girl was barely in her teens, her sweaty read hair glowing in the light of the forge like strands of fire as her arms, wiry and taut, held a glowing red filigree of ornate ironwork in the blazing, dancing flame.
Samantha smiled at Bart, who was well-known to be a gossip and the general font from which all stories flowed in the village. He knew every tale, whether one wanted him to know it or not. Samantha decided to repay the content with his customary currency.
“Gregor’s illness forced my hand,” Samantha said, thinking of her deceased husband, a bear of a man who started as the town smith. “I learned all I know about fire and metal under his guiding hand. But you’re right, Elle’s talents are a bit…unusual.”
“Elle was your typical young girl, all flowers and bows, until she was about five. Gregor took her to Thunder Spring caves, figuring she’d enjoy looking for sparklies, what she used to call the fancy minerals he’d bring back from an expedition looking for exotic metals.”
“I noticed one day after that she was unusually quiet. She was always singing before that. Songs we used to sing to her as she was growing up, songs she learned at the town feasts, even songs she just made up. I tried to get her to sing something and she just…didn’t notice. I asked Gregor if he noticed anything different, but he just grunted at me and shook his head. We had a lot of work back then, and his illness had already started so he tended to get lost in his work when he wasn’t sleeping.”
Bart said, “You took her to see Meg, didn’t you?”
“If anyone would have a cure, the old lady would. Or so I thought. She looked at her, ran some trinkets around in front of her, but couldn’t even get her to smile. And she said, this isn’t your daughter, and she tapped her on the head and it was like knocking on the wall of the church. And she scratched her face with an awl and rock dust fell from it. She was a changeling.”
“I brought her home. Or it, I guess. What was I to do with this thing? How was I supposed to raise something that barely knew me.”
“I asked Bart again, one night before he collapsed into sleep again, and he swore nothing special happened. I thought about explaining to him what I knew, what Meg had told me, but had no faith in the old beliefs, just iron. When I asked him enough times, he did own up to being separated for a bit, when Elle wandered off on her own, but it was just for a few moments. And that’s when I knew it was true, that my beautiful daughter had been dragged off into Faerie and I had been left with this…this scarecrow.”
“You taught her to work with iron?” Bart asked.
Samantha laughed. “I could not have taught her much. She spent most of her day staring into space, or piling rocks in the yard. But I couldn’t live like that. I talked to Meg again, and tried the various spells of location she provided, to no avail. I even went to the caves, called for her, but nothing. Then I had an inspiration.”
“I spent weeks working with Gregor, more than I ever had before, learning the secrets of taming fine metal, turning it like a spider turns silk. And I took the thing…”
And here she felt the tiny, hot pin-pricks of tears in the corner of her eyes. “I spun her the most beautiful hair, more beautiful than Elle’s right now in the light of the flame. I sprinkled it with dust from the shinies Gregor had found. I made her gems for eyes, all opal and sapphire, and I created the most beautiful creature that my horrible new talents could stand to create. She was beautiful and sparkling and almost not of this world.”
“I took her back to the caves, as deep as I could, always going down, deeper, deeper, into the red hot guts of the world. And in the deepest, hottest cave I could find, in the red-hot light of the earth on fire, I had her sing. I had taught her the most beautiful song I knew. And she sang it with the voice I had given her, carved from a stone that was like the bones of the earth. And it rang out into the cave and shook the world.”
“It worked. From the walls all around stepped tiny men, no bigger than human babes, but made of brown and black and grey stone, some pure, some mottled. They had beards of iron filings and eyes of the darkest gems.”
“What is this?” They looked on my creation with delight. “We must have this beautiful thing.”
“And I stepped out of the shadows, my pickax on my shoulder, and I demanded to see my daughter.”
“The darkest of them, a little man with a beard down to his toes, came forward, frowning.”
“What is it yer doing in the land of the Gnomes,” he asked, with a voice like a rock slide.
“You took my daughter, and you gave me this. And I made it better. I want to trade.”
“Yer daughter is one of us now,” the Gnome said.
“And he took my hand and led me straight up to the wall and through it. It was the most marvelous, fearsome thing. Like the first time my mother took me into the ocean and she held me with her under the waves. I could see stones and bones and worms and the trapped shapes of iron and copper and sparkling gems like stars across the sky. And he led me out into another room with a pit of fire in the center, surrounded by humans, boys and girls, men and women, all working metal into ornate shapes and careful jewelry studded with gems.”
“We owe much to the Fey King, so we sometimes need to employ help.”
“He gestured to the scene before me, and then I saw her, my daughter, working iron just like her father, with hammer and tong, her eyes burning in the reflection of the fire. And I saw the beauty of the thing she had created, an ornately turned metal glove, speckled with the stardust of gems.”
“You have made her better,” I conceded, “As I have made this one better.”
“And I gestured, and the metal girl next to me began to sing.”
“You gave her the breath of life,” I said to the Gnome, “But I have made the breath of life useful.”
“And his eyes turned upwards in a smile at the beauty of the song, and the workers began to beat along with it.”
“It has been too long since there has been song here,” the Gnome agreed.
“And that’s how you got her back,” Bart watched the girl take the filigree of iron from the fire in a hand covered in a gauntlet speckled in stardust and carefully bend and form the thing in her bare hands.
“Remarkable,” the old man breathed softly.

World Poetry Day – Baseball Simile

Safe Training BaseballI’m like a rookie coming to the plate
Two out, the bottom of the ninth, no score
Should close my eyes and leave it up to Fate
Full count, it’s far from Springtime anymore
She’s like a pitcher with her steely eyes
Considering her possible designs
A hanging curve? A fastball blowing by?
I never got the hang of reading signs
I swagger to the box and take my place
With steady Karmic breath my fear relieve
But my percentage chance to get on base
Crowd roaring in my head just can’t believe
The stretch, the wind-up, and the ball takes wing
“Hey, batter! Open up your eyes and swing!”