Unbeatable

Originally posted on January 12, 2012, before the disaster.

 

Written for Chuck Wendig’s Friday Flash Fiction Challenge “Song Shuffle Stories”.

 

Unbeatable

The prices were supposed to be unbeatable; that’s how Ken ended up with the sofa.

 

Hung over and dragged to the sale in protest, Ken had picked the first one that didn’t make him wince when he sat on it.  The price was definitely unbeatable – $100 for a brand new leather unit was a steal.  A damaged unit, they told him, perfectly good except for a few small flaws in the leather.  He didn’t care about a couple of scratches on the back, even if they did look disturbingly like fingernails, and it made his mother happy to watch him and his friends finally haul the dinged floral piece upstairs and out the door.

 

Ken should, perhaps, have wondered why the price had been so low.  Especially when it began to smell after a few days.  Certain that her slovenly son was the cause of the household stench, his mother watched imperiously as he scrubbed the entire basement, down to steam-cleaning the carpet.  The smell lingered, despite his best efforts and he eventually collapsed in an exhausted heap onto the offending furniture and began to doze in front of the television set.

 

As the darkness of sleep closed around him, Ken felt strangely warm and comfortable, as though he was surrounded in a soft, thick fabric.  He didn’t think much of it when the fabric covered his face, but when it began to squeeze him tightly he could do little except struggle in vain as it pulled him towards the ground.

 

###

 

When Ken woke with a start, everything was dark and quiet.  Almost too quiet – he could only barely hear the pre-season hockey game he had been watching.  He moved questing hands forward, but they bumped into a cloth wall, yielding yet strangely solid.  Ken wondered idly if he was still dreaming: the room seemed to have shrunk to a size that felt frighteningly like a coffin.

 

He called out, quietly at first, and then louder when he realized that there were people nearby, muffled voices that sounded like they were underwater.  He pushed at the walls around him, trying to claw his way through, kicking and screaming in frustration when no one responded, feeling only the unending encircling of the walls and the irregular scratches on them.

 

###

 

“Excuse me, sir, can you tell me more about this lot?”

 

“Yes ma’am.  This sofa, along with the television and the table, were taken from a repossessed house just outside of downtown.  The owner stopped making payments on it after her son disappeared.  They’re in excellent condition, as you can see, but the sofa has quite a few scratches on the back.”

 

“Is that why the starting point is so low?”

 

“Yes ma’am, although I don’t expect that it will stay that way.  This is an unbeatable deal.”

Quilted Memories

Originally posted January 23, 2012, before the disaster.

 

Written for Chuck Wendig’s Friday Flash Fiction Challenge “Random Photo Story“.  The challenge was to generate six random Flickr images, pick three, and write a story.

Like a rebel, I used all six, and 704 words.

 

Quilted Memories

handmade quilt sits alone on a neatly made bed.  She’s left it there, unwilling to even fold it, lest it disturb the silence of the room.

 

The quilt reminds her of happier times.  Of better times.  Once upon a time, that quilt was hung across branches to make a fort.  It wrapped a red-haired dolly tenderly while a “mama” carried her around in her arms.  It was laid across the sand on a beach, supposedly to protect soft toes that were too busy trekking back and forth to the water with a little pink bucket to care.

 

That quilt hadn’t moved in nearly a year.

 

It had all started with a rash.  Probably from the sand at the beach, the doctor had said.  When it didn’t get better, another doctor diagnosed a food sensitivity, a third suggested changing laundry detergent.  When nothing helped, more tests were run and eventually came the dreadful day when they learned the truth.

 

Leukemia.  A word that they had heard of only in relation to other people was suddenly an intimate part of their daughter’s life.

 

It had all started then.  Doctor visits, trips to specialists, journeys to and from the hospital, each accompanied by a small, stuffed goat in overalls that was held and squeezed during every procedure, cuddled for comfort, and whispered secrets to late in the night.  She had been brave, their darling child, much braver than either of her parents had been.  Most days it was her who reassured them that everything would be alright.

 

Of course, it hadn’t been, but at four years old, you don’t really know that.

 

Still, it had been Audrey who had known first that she was going to be a big sister.  How she had known, neither of them could tell, but it seemed to give her some new strength and new hope.  They had encouraged that positive thinking, and it had broken their hearts, two months later, when they had to tell her that the baby was gone.

 

Audrey took a visible turn for the worse after that news, although the doctors were confident that it was only a coincidence that it had come so soon after the miscarriage.  Still, within only five months of losing the baby, they had been forced to say goodbye to their daughter.

 

Had it only been a year?  It had felt like much longer than that, although the medications  had messed up her perception of time.  She had tried at least four antidepressants and none of them worked, although she’d lied to her doctor to avoid having to experience the side effects of a fifth.

 

Her husband had know the truth, though.  He’d grown tired of it and left her two months ago.  Now she had nothing but the objects in this room to keep her company.  Just a blanket and a doll and a few bibs that she’d pulled out one glorious sunny afternoon when Audrey had been home from the hospital.

 

They had all been so excited then, back when the idea of a new baby was new and fresh.  Looking through Audrey’s old baby things had provided a brief moment of comfort and normalcy, before the shadow of the cancer had taken over their lives again.

 

That was the last sunny day she could remember.  The world had grown darker without Audrey in it.  And now she was all alone, with only a few stuffed animals for comfort.

 

She picked up the goat and clutched it tightly to her chest.  It still smelled faintly of chemicals and vomit, but mostly of Audrey.  She inhaled deeply, trying to remember the good times, the happy times, and not the dark sadness that she’d anticipated ever since the day of the diagnosis.

 

It was no use.  Her sweet angel was gone forever.

###

They found her body two weeks later, lying on the floor of the dusty children’s room, surrounded by dingy stuffed animals, a very dirty plastic bucket, and a few worn bibs.  Her body was wrapped in a small quilt that was drenched in the blood that had quite clearly seeped from the gash on her left arm.

 

She was smiling, for the first time in a year.

Bear 16

Originally posted January 14, 2012, before the disaster.

 

Written for a Friday Flash Fiction Challenge by Chuck Wendig: “Three Sentences for Bear 71″

 

I first learned of people three years ago when I discovered grain near the road that ran through my woods and back then they used to stop to watch me. Then, they called me a pest and brought me here, where I watch them through glass and wander an area from which there is no escape. They tell me I’m one of the lucky ones, but my cage tells me otherwise.

Friday Flash Fiction – 2011/09/16

Originally posted on January 5, 2012, before the disaster.

 

This is a short story written for a flash fiction challenge before I had a blog.  The challenge required the use of three words from a short list.  I chose: bishop, lollipop, and ivy.

 

 

The bishop slid forward. “Check.”

 

She sucked on the lollipop thoughtfully. The board was nearly empty; she was trapped in one corner.

 

He grinned and rested his elbows on the ivy-covered stone. “Well?”

 

It always ended this way: peril with no obvious escape.

“Just give up, Amy.” He advised gleefully. “You know you’ve been beaten.”

 

Clarity. Finally. There was only one move left.

 

“Checkmate.” She slid her queen forward.

 

He stared at the board in shock. She slipped the ring off her left hand and hung it over the neck of her queen.

 

“It’s over, Mike.”

The Fire of the Gods

Fire-in-Calgary-12-28-2005

My thanks to Chuck Wendig for this week’s prompt.  The goal?  Write a story (under 1,000 words) with the title “The Fire of the Gods”.  Here’s my submission (983 words).

The Fire of the Gods

 

Rachel’s mother always said that her father’s words were filled with the fire of the gods.

 

Rachel thought her mother was full of it.

 

She hadn’t always – in fact, when she was younger, she had listened raptly to every word he spoke.  She would run her hands through his silky hair as he read to her: he had a way unlike no other of making stories come alive.  As she would drift off to sleep, she used to wish that the stories would never cease.

 

Now all she wanted was for him to shut up.

 

As she grew older, she began to realize that her father’s words weren’t filled with fire, but with venom, spitting at anyone that dared cross him.  At ten she kept quiet, hoping not to provoke him.  At thirteen, she deliberately avoided him.  At sixteen, she began talking back, hoping to convince him that the young men that wandered the streets late at night weren’t out to steal them blind or kill them all.

 

Of course, he didn’t listen, and when discipline didn’t work he disowned her.  Now all that she could do was wander those very same streets, trying to scrounge together enough money to eat.

 

Not that she minded: anything was preferable to being back under his roof.

 

###

 

Rachel’s father’s words were filled with the fire of the gods.

 

Ethan hadn’t heard them himself, but all the men and most of the women had said something similar over the course of his life.  The elves idolized him and obeyed without question, turning viciously against anyone who dared cross him.  Over the last twenty years they had evicted many from the town: only a few humans were left and they kept their heads down as they scraped a living out of what they could grow in small rooftop gardens.

 

He was more interested in the daughter than the man.  Ethan had known her all his life, albeit from a distance.  She had never even looked his way, although it would have been difficult to see him in the brush or shadows he always hid in.  Of course, it had always been a wasted cause: he would never be allowed to speak with her.

 

It broke his heart to acknowledge that Rachel always looked sad.  He couldn’t remember ever seeing her smile, which was a pity, because she probably had a beautiful smile.  All he had ever wanted was to see it.

 

###

 

Daniel’s words filled the square with the fire of the gods.

 

He could see it, in the faces staring up at him.  He could sense it, in the energy of the crowd.  He could taste it as it flowed in burning waves off his tongue.

 

The humans had to leave his town; them and their filth.  “They have leveled the forest and polluted the water.  They have ruined the soil and sullied the meadows.  They make our children sick and our animals barren.”  He could see the crowd nodding with every beat of his speech.  He had them in his grip now.

 

“And when they grow tired of destroying our land, they come after us.  They steal from our women when their backs are turned.  They prey on our sons and turn them against us.  They kidnap our daughters for their own sick pleasures, returning them to us alive and broken, if at all.

 

“It is time for this travesty to end!  It is time for us to take back the land that is ours!  It is time we stood for what is right!  Are you with me?”

 

The square filled with the passionate yells of dozens of men, hefting axes and swords high into the air.  Daniel smiled as the noise died.  “Then, my friends, we should – ”

 

“I’m not.”  A single voice, uncertain but powerful, rang through the near-silent square.

 

The words died on Daniel’s lips.  “Rachel?”

 

Her clothes were tattered and her face was dirty, but she held her head high and looked him in the eyes when she spoke.  “Are you surprised to see me, Father?”

 

He turned his back on her.  “You’re dead to me.”

 

“You didn’t say that last week.”  She said to his back.  “Or the week before that, or the week before that.  It’s funny how I’m conveniently not dead when you need a warm body to care for your soul.  Or is it only your cock that I’m caring for every Friday?”

 

The crowd gasped.  Daniel stared fiercely at the stage, barely cognizant of the figure slowly creeping through the crowd as he willed the words to return to him.

 

“Why can’t you admit it, Father?  Are you ashamed of yourself?  You didn’t seem ashamed when I was thirteen.  Or ten.  You certainly weren’t ashamed when I was six, were you?  It was all a game to you then.”

 

He shook his head and opened his mouth to speak, but no words came.

 

“Or are you simply too afraid to admit that you’re no better than the men you demonize?  Good, kind men, who want nothing but a peaceful life?”

 

He remained mute as he stared at her, mouth slack.

 

She sighed.  “You disgust me.”

 

“Rachel, I…”

 

The end of the sentence never came.  The words left him for good as he gasped one last time, bending over the hilt of the dagger that was buried in his stomach.  Pain radiated from it to his chest and the air swirled with tiny dots of light as he gasped for air.

 

A shadow had come from the crowd for him.

 

He fell to the stage, struggling to focus his vision on the face of his once beloved daughter.

 

“I know you.”  He heard her say.  “You used to play on the other side of the park.”

 

“I was too afraid to say hello.  I’m Ethan.”

 

And as his eyes closed, Daniel thought he saw his daughter smile.