Category Archives: flash fiction

Flash: Caution: Storm Warning

Caution: Storm Warning

You Can’t Just Storm In Here, Storm Out There

The face of Golfball. A haggard-looking man with a limp Mohawk.

There’s a definite scent to the air that spells rain. A breeze in the air holds a hint of the weather. Dark purpled clouds are building to giants. A soft distant rumble echoes through the streets from afar.

Nobody looks, nobody watches, as the clouds slowly part as if ignoring the wind. The break in their darkness, a quick sliver of light, pierces through dust and etches a trail. The streaming band of light settles on a plant. A tiny little sapling, still mostly green, perks up at the touch. It noticeably rises.

A young woman’s fingertips brush at the fledgling tree’s leaves. She crouches and settles to sit on her heels. She smiles, showing missing teeth, as she hums a slow tune.

“Funny that. How you stop for every bit of green.” A haggardly man, hands shoved in his pockets, stops walking to lean and rest on a lightpost. He closes his eyes and shifts to find comfort. He reaches up with a yawn and brushes aside blue strands of a limp Mohawk. Twin tattoos, on either side of his head, display a smiley-face with an expression that is largely ambivalent.

The woman glances up while continuing her wordless song. She shrugs, smiles wider, and looks back to the plant. Callused fingers snap away bits of unwanted growth and pull off dead leaves from the tender branches.

“I mean, not that I mind, really. It’s pleasant, watching you do what you enjoy. And shit, better than some hobbies out there. At least you do it cause you care.” The man keeps his eyes closed. He seems nearly-liquid against the post. Melting against the pole as if trying to become a part of its surface.

The two remain in their chosen positions as if momentarily frozen in place. Minutes pass. Five. Ten. Both are engrossed by each and every moment. They are not feverishly busy. They are the opposite. They are lost in calm focus. They’re not the stillness of statues but the peace of calm sleep.

The young woman stirs and pets the tree and reaches into her purse. She pulls out a bottle of water and unscrews its cap. She waters the little plant. “What’s for dinner, Golfball?”

“Hmm.” The gaunt man rubs his face. His hands, even bonier than the rest of him, pop at the knuckles as he rubs the back of his neck. “Pizza, maybe?”

She nods, capping the water bottle, and stands with a breathy yawn. “Okay.” Her purse clicks as the clasp closes. “Where to?”

Above them, far above, the clouds shift and swirl. Slowly, almost reluctantly, the shaft of light disappears. The gap in the overcast shrinks like a healing wound. A uniform gray covers them once more. The day returns to its early partial-twilight.

Golfball gestures with a wobbling jut of his chin. “Down this way. A good enough place just round the corner.”

They walk together without looking companionable. The young woman keeps her arms crossed. She’s leaning, ever-so-slightly, away from her acquaintance’s jutting elbows. Her eyelids drift shut, occasionally, for longer than a blink. Dark circles carve extra shadow beneath her eyes and her shoulders droop. “I really need to eat.”

“Stay calm, Erin. We’re almost there.” Golfball walks like a praying mantis might. If it were on two legs and learned to swagger. His knees are skewed outward and his gait is a lazy lope of rocking from heel to toe. He looks like he should fall with every step, but somehow his next step manages to catch his fall.

Erin’s skin has gone pale. Paler than before. It takes on a bluish tint. “Better be good pizza.”

Around the corner, they stop. The sidewalk is blocked by a squat older man. He’s in overalls and a red shirt and a pair of combat boots. He has a handlebar mustache that’s as wide as his face. “Erin.”

“Shit.” Golfball grunts. “This that asshole you talked about?”

“Ethan, now is not great.”

“Never seems to be great, eh? Now, does it ever? Now will do as ever.” The squat man’s face is too-red and his hair is too-orange. “But if you’d just come along we wouldn’t have this arguing. Get away with you, punk. We need to be going.”

“She needs some food,” says Golfball. He scowls. His pointed-chin juts forward. His wrinkling nose waggles a septum piercing. “I’m doubting you’d want any of the shit I got stored up for hapless idiots.”

“Oh please, boy-o. You’re a spot of loose skin, aren’t you? Get away and quit you’re playing at protector. This here is between me an Erin.”

She slips a trembling hand around Golfball’s wrist. She grips as hard as she can, and the bit of red still left presses from her fingers. “Don’t. You’ve been so good. We’ve done so good.”

“Well you ain’t going with him,” grumbles the punk. He pulls out of Erin’s grip. He whips his hair back. The Mohawk keeps drifting into his eyes. Strands of blue get caught in his piercings, little silver rings in his brows, and he brushes them back yet again. “You hear? She’s not going with you. Not now. Not ever.” He leans forward. His shoulders draw up. His posture arcs into a grotesque hunch. “And she needs. To eat.”

Ethan studies the two with a sudden questioning raise of his brows. He makes a small, “Ah!” And then he begins to tut. “So that’s what’s going on here. Bit of symbiosis, is it? You two. She heals…” He waves his hand sloppily. “Whatever it is that ails you, and you act a bit as the bodyguard? Cute.” He snaps his fingers over one shoulder. “Jasper. Danny.”

There’s the sound of doors opening. A nearby car, deep blue, sits at the throat of an alleyway.

“Ethan, this is more than just me and him.” Erin hugs herself. She glances down the street. Toward the pizza place just a few buildings away. “If you don’t let me eat, I can’t hold him anymore.”

“Hold him? Girly. He don’t deserve you’re attentions. Let him rot and come home. We’ve missed you.”

Two toughs walk from the parked car. They’re big bulky men with waists as wide as their shoulders and necks that try to match. “Ethe, there’s a few eyes on us, just to say.” One of the two thumbs toward a second-story window. Blinds close in a rush.

“Well, fuck it all,” says the red-head. He raises his chin. Looks down his crooked-nose at Golfball. “But that ain’t gonna stop us from making this difficult. You don’t play nice, well I suppose you’ll have witnesses to your failure.”

Erin moans, soft and restrained, before falling forward.

Golfball catches her, helps her to her knees. “You okay? Fuck, but you and your plants.”

The young woman smiles despite her moment of weakness. “It will grow so well. So big.”

“Well I can feel the bones again now. I take it you’re done then?”

She nods. “For now.” Sighs. “I’m sorry.”

Ethan gestures toward Golfball. “Alright gents, take this skinny bother out and away will you? Just give him a quick little nap. Erin’s not feeling well so we’ll be needing a fast exit.”

“Fuck,” grumbles the punk. His hunched form begins to hunch more. His head droops, wobbles, and then drops forward. “Hate this shit.”

“Giving up already?” One of the toughs walks up to Golfball with a laugh. He clicks his tongue. “Jasp, maybe it’ll be we just have to carry some dead weight.”

Golfball’s legs straighten. And their knees pop. And then they bend backwards with a wet slurping sound.

The closest henchman, Danny, jumps backward. “Oh! Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!”

“What the fuck?” asks Jasper. He’s stopped in his tracks.

“This shit?” says Ethan. “You found some crazy like this?” He glares at Erin. “What the fuck did you do?”

Erin, still resting on her knees, struggles to raise her head. “Some wounds don’t heal. You know that.” She glances at Golfball. “Some infections can only be held at bay.”

The punk falls completely forward. His hands slap against the pavement, but his wrists rotate too far around. A full one-eighty and yet the fingers splay out with more sickening crackling joints. He’s become some kind of insect with his abdomen held low to the ground and elbows and knees pointed at the sky. His head hangs loosely with the Mohawk dragging on the pavement.

Golfball’s back arches. His shoulders are horrendously distended beneath a patchwork jacket of green. They’re like wide plates pointed at the two men. As if that’s the eyes of this creature. He, it, whatever, has a full-body spasm. A twitch. It jerks to the right. Toward Jasper.

“Shoot the fucker!” yells Ethan.

Jasper pulls out some generic semi-automatic pistol. He untucks it from its shoulder-holster, flicks the safety off, and squeezes the trigger in one fluid draw.

The gunshot rings as the twisted-version of Golfball skitters forward. Skitters with the slick fluidity of water across a hot pan. It moves as if its merely gliding at its foe.

Blood spatters as one, two, and then three bullets hit the strange punk-form’s body.

It does nothing to slow its attack.

Jasper goes down in a crunch of broken bone and ripping flesh. Something, something deep down within the tough’s chest, makes a loud crack and blood spurts out into the street.

“Where’s you’re fucking gun?” asks Ethan.

Danny’s hands are trembling to open a knife. “Couldn’t. Fucking. Buy one!”

And then his scream rises as Golfball leaps ten feet from one dead body to the next.

Ethan runs. He turns without another word. He heads for the alleyway with the dark-blue car and he even gets in the seat.

Then the hood of the car crumples. Bone-tipped fingers pierce the metal skin. The front window shatters. A not-quite hand rips Ethan from his seat.

He arcs across the road and smacks wetly against the side of an old brick building. Bits of paint fleck off. A few bricks crack. And then the body unsticks and drops down below.

Erin sobs. She clenches her fists. She doesn’t look up to see what’s happened.

Golfball’s bent and twisted form gallops down the road.

Gritting her teeth, summoning her strength, Erin pushes to her feet. She stumbles to grab the side of the closest building. She uses it’s aid to get her down the sidewalk.

Step by slow-shuddering step, she makes her way for pizza.

The owners are outside. They’ve all run to see. They’re calling for help from ambulances and the police.

A little bell tinkles as she pushes through the door. Erin sighs with relief at the sight of displays with ready-made slices. She leans over the counter, grabs one and devours it in just a few bites.

She takes a little more time with the second piece. By the third, she’s taken a seat.

Again, the little bell tinkles as someone pushes through the door.

Click. Click. Click. “Hello.” Click. A woman’s bootheels click. “There have been reports of a strange creature here.” Her words are like the dryness at the back of a nervous throat. Every syllable is clear and crisp.

She takes a seat at Erin’s booth.

“Who are you?” asks the young-woman.

The other smiles without showing her teeth. “My name is Valerie Knox. I need you to tell me where he is.”

“You aren’t getting him either.” Erin shakes her head. “There’s a storm coming, and none of you have earned that right. Don’t you know? He’s got no power. He’s just a victim of chance.”

“Tell me, creature. How do you feel about Florida?”

“What?”

Valerie chuckles. “He will find you again. I am sure of that.”

Erin, suddenly wide-eyed, pushes up from the table. She turns to run with a muttered curse.

She’s stopped in her tracks at a touch. Something like the buzz of electricity fills the small pizza-shop’s room. Erin’s eyes close and she grits her teeth. All she seems to do is strain.

Valerie’s hand settles on Erin’s shoulder. Tattoos of bright blue glow to life. They’re in the shape of some stick-figure people. The delicate lines begin to blur. “You will be a help.”

Erin collapses to the floor.

Flash: The Rising Cost of Automatons

Taendragor Ends Trade Negotiations with Galania

Nosson's skyline.

Business leaders pressured government trade representatives to halt crucial talks.

Breysa Eyon introduced an international petition against discussions aimed at new international treaties. The Eyon Industries CEO and Taendragonian powerhouse of netwabi production brought all talks to a standstill. A delegation of company leaders met in secret over several months to organize the movement. Their message focuses on spirit use and sustained interaction with the gods. Supporters implore resistance toward government intervention and spirit-directed treaties.

Officials granted the industry giant a visit to the trade conference after weeks of delay. Attendants within the meetings cited a concern about bribery and corruption. However, it seems that curiosity won out as the conference leaders allowed the visit.

As usual, Ms. Eyon attended in the latest fashions and with her personal bodyguard. This time, her oft-seen party-crazed tabloid persona was noticeably absent. Instead the young woman presented herself with a stern grace more-reminiscent of her departed mother. Without more than a stilted curtsy, Ms. Eyon presented a signed statement with approximately 150000 signatures. The statement was co-signed by twelve partnering spirit-tech CEOs. Additional signatures were from community leaders across the Taendragor continent. An infodisc, reportedly containing an additional million signatures, was said to represent “additional peoples of Nalan that choose to resist unrepresented choices toward a dark future.”

Delegates from every kingdom, nation, and state-entity were at the negotiations. The visit initially garnered intense scrutiny for its interruption of international politics. However, Ms. Eyon’s position in the market has left an expectant caution toward her presence and the petition’s demands. Analysts discussed the possibility of shared technology agreements that could arise from forced alliances. The petition may be a perfect catalyst for the change long-desired by private-sector markets. However the results fall, industry experts warn that this power-play has begun a larger movement to negotiate directly with world governments. Eyon Industries may be positioning itself toward a takeover unseen in recent history.

From the Company to the World

The Automaton Doctrine, an Eyon Industries internal policy, provides much of the groundwork for Ms. Eyon’s petition. Many tenants are pulled straight from pages of company guidelines. Normally, the doctrine’s audience is intended for participants of high-level acquisition decisions. The Automaton Doctrine sets her political beliefs as a matter of company policy. Every employee attends mandatory training on Spirit Singing and its dangers. Weekly regional briefs include an overview of regional gods and cultural foci.

These company policies have been examined and ridiculed before. Opponents state that the training is useless and dangerously biased. Others feel as if the practice is understandable though a little heavy-handed. Ms. Eyon maintains that the training is crucial for a company environment so steeped in the use of Spirit power. For safety or not, Ms. Eyon is a well-known proponent for open-spirit laws. Her policies have been used to make notable progress against Taendragor’s restrictive practices.

Now, that policy has been rewritten into demands toward an international audience. The petition is outlined in a prioritized list with the following sections of argument:

  • A restriction of government interference in all matters of Spirit.
  • A call for the immediate and complete deconstruction of any wards and netwabi that trap, limit, or otherwise influence the gods.
  • Limit, or end entirely, any practice that knowingly redirects worship toward mortal deification.
  • Destroy any records of true-names, god-names, or Aldyati.
  • Consolidate idolized imagery into one of the four elder gods.

The Cost of Automatons

Outside of Eyon Industries, the largest contributors to the petition are well-known Automaton manufacturers. This has been identified as a key reason for the sudden intervention. Technological limitations have kept Automaton development stagnant for years, and the proclamation of true automation still seems ages away. Researchers have been complaining about restrictive legislation for years, even outside of Taendragonian borders. There is little public research that reveals how legislation has limited the Automaton developers, but recent polls show that popular support is on the rise for deregulation on Spirit Singing.

Advanced Automaton models seem more than capable to serve as household assistants and constant workhouse aides, but the cost of such devices has hardly diminished over time. Netwabi-borne machinery has been developed for the better part of a millennia in most developed state-entities. Despite this, critics argue that their functionality is mostly refined rather than improved. Miniaturization has led to advances in the number of functions available to customers, but these gains are incremental rather than transformational.

These claims, and topics, were discussed in earnest in a little-seen interview with Ms. Eyon several months prior to the meeting. She stated that “…transformation will only arrive when we let go of these power-hungry caches that we have developed. Everyone has them now. Has had them for ages, I suppose. They have to go.”

Ms. Eyon’s opinion on the matter seems to have grown more serious. She left the trade meeting after this brief speech: “I know that you think of me as something of a fluke. I take it, from your rather shocked expressions, that I have surprised you with this bit of seriousness. But let me be clear. We need to change. And I will no longer idle away my time waiting for government to reach the conclusions that we must all arrive upon. Nalan will die if we do not release our control on Spirit. The world needs the gods returned to their natural state. This petition guarantees that.”

Shock and Ambivalence

Galanian Counselor, Deffar Eyresia, disagreed with the intent of the petition and its source. “Breysa Eyon is well-respected for her company’s contributions to the world, but we are not beholden to her whims and beliefs. International law is no place for profit-minded decisions, and the spiritual nature of these demands is an affront to the multitude of religions we represent as an international consortium.”

Counselor Eyresia has been a long-time defender of religious freedoms and has rejected 90% of all bills brought before the Galanian Council on religion. Galania is also home to the world’s leading research institution on netwabi development. There seems little chance that the Galanian Union will capitulate to Ms. Eyon’s demands. It is, as of yet, uncertain as to how the young CEO plans to enact her proposal. Eyon devices are fashionable and well-loved by fans of the company, but Galania markets account for less than 5% of Eyon profits.

Taendragonian leaders were unavailable for a statement on this developing situation.

 

Reporting by Lefon Anterah
Nosson Journal

Flash: Twilight Spider

Talking to Shadows
Issue No. 25231

1 January 1923

Archivists Note:
This letter was published within the last known issue of the infamous “Talking to Shadows” semi-annual magazine. There are numerous accounts from newspaper editorials and, later, news reports themselves, that speak of the Delossi Process, but this has been identified as the earliest credible presentation that someone had identified a rising change of the status quo. Of particular interest is the mention of a group of elders, and their intent to perform some manner of negotiations, but the results of this meeting are so far left to our imaginations. It is, as of yet, unknown whether the writer had a personal acquaintanceship with Madame Delossi, but both were certainly prominent figures in the ensuing period of unrest. They demonstrably knew of each other, but it is inconclusive as to where they obtained such knowledge. Wherever they knew one another from, it is intriguing to discover the initiation of what later became a vicious rivalry that spanned throughout centuries.

Editor’s Letter

A happiest of New Years to the readership. Hopefully, you are waking with a rather minimized hangover. Hopefully, you recall a rather clever use of muffling mentioned in issue 1528. The world should be a tad more tolerable after proper application. Otherwise, let us look forward to these next weeks, these next months, as a time to strike boldly toward the goals that sustain us. Bring in those that deserve our knowledge, build the interconnections of our communication webs, and seek out new applications of those core abilities brought to us by the mastery of talking to shadows. And, most of all, use our capability to strengthen the world and its foundations.

Now, having made mention of the core abilities, it may indeed be time to reiterate those with an emphasis on usage and intent. Surely, the proper use of shadows never strays from our minds, but knowing recent events it is worth an additional moment of thought.

Firstly, it is well documented that some specialists are able to glean combined knowledge from what lingering dead populate all that is cast between light. Importantly, none do this without serious cross-referencing with both the Books of Shadowspeak and public resources. We must all be very aware of the responsibility weighing our shoulders at the possibility of illumination from the past. Even seemingly innocent drivel, from the furthest reaches of time, may have far-reaching affects that are not easily seen by those of us lost in the present.

Secondly, others among us hone that fine ability to pass whispers at the speed of light, or rather as is more apropos, shadow. This tremendous ability has been a most fine aid throughout the millennia. It is no idle boast to claim that our group has saved whole countries, whole continents with the lightning-quick spread of alerts and warning. However, we also spread such information with the care required to allow for misdirection and negate suspicions. It would hardly be of use if we ourselves were not kept safe by our own techniques. Gladly, the rise of radio, of that frightful electron, has made some requirements of this particular skill easier than ever.

Thirdly, though certainly not minimized by the ordering, there are also those upon us with success at visual illusion and misdirection. Notorious for its difficulty to perform, let alone master, it is nonetheless amazingly useful on levels personal, regional, and global. I myself have struggled to build relationships with our departed required for such tasks, but alas those dead to me seem rather reluctant to convince their fellows. Yet, such is the danger of shadow optics. It is beyond reprehensible to lie to those from the beyond in order to convince them of your importance or familial ties. Those bonds we form with the undying must be true and solidly based on reality. Let us never forget the complete loss caused by a simple lie in Rome. There is still little guarantee that the truth of Christianity will ever surface now that the rumors have spread into the hearts of those long passed. Of lesser gravity, but still terribly important, we must never use illusion for such folly as is attempted in mass-hypnotism expositions. Our talents are not those of simple tricks, and the misuse only lessens us and those who follow our creed.

All combined, these are valid and trusted methods of shadowmancy that have been carried forward through generations upon generations. These are the foundations of work that we carry out from day to day. These are the tenants that we nail to doors and uphold with both hands. These are the pillars that build our church.

However, recently it has come to my attention that an elder among our group has claimed a new technique. Please, disregard this dangerous work if you find yourself in possession of Madame Delossi’s essay. Her theories on transportation through shadow have only ever been but wishful glimmers of fancy. Even if possible, though it has been stubbornly disproved time and time again, it is a horrid menacing desire. Entrusting one’s mind and body to such danger, liaising with netherfolk so that life wanders among death, would be calamitous at best. Souls must not breach from one plane to the next, and no protective companionship with the dead will prevent this from attracting the attention of every wraith ever clinging to the edges of Earth’s veils.

Already, I have heard and read of reports from those that have acted on this spurious knowledge. Lives are being lost, friends. A concussive force of darkness obliterated the light in Dallas just last month. Dawn finally broke through just yesterday, but a gloom has set upon the city. Dust storms were engineered to account for such an oddity, but losses of productivity and peace have been unaccountable. Earlier this year, two boys, brothers attending the illustrious Shadow Sept in Eugene, barely escaped with their lives after a nigh-hour attempt that collapsed a butte on itself. Specialists have managed a fine reenactment of mudslides to diminish the abruptness, but several projects have been set aside for months to prevent chaos.

Please, I beg of you, refrain from attending to Madame Delossi’s claims. The rest of the elders are discussing matters of publication standards with her as we speak, and we will surely find a happy medium to settle the unease caused by this tumultuous miscommunication.

As an extra precaution, this issue will have a focus with topics on defensive shadowplay and muffling techniques. As always, take every chance to develop a prowess of mind that does wonders at refining the separation between shadow and light.

Until next issue, may the whispers find you.
– T.S. Canthry

Traffic Control

Flash Fiction
J.A. Waters
505 Words

I fingertip nudge my glasses. “Hey, Greg, check this out.”

He spins in his chair and wheels across the hall. The door squeaks wider as he uses it to boost to my desk. “What’s up?”

“Fifth and Jackson. Monitor four.” I point at the television wall.

His head swivels up and left to find the point of interest. His eyes widen. “The hell? That’s quite the crowd.”

“They’ve been showing up for half an hour. Been a pretty steady stream of people.” I tap my keyboard and take control. “Maybe just a party? ”

The screen flickers with static as I pan and zoom. Amplified-light colors streak as the camera struggles to refocus. Then splotchy red and white become the crisp outline of an expensive car. Its exhaust curls up thick into the cool night air.

Greg leans back and kicks his feet up on the control panel. His black boots narrowly miss a flashing switch.

“Hey, man! Careful. You almost hit the alarm!” I slap his shoulder. “Off!”

He relents with rolling eyes and heels snapping to the floor. “At least let me enjoy the show.”

“Well-” I start, but then I get distracted.

There’s commotion from the crowd milling about on screen. They split and part like a staff-directed sea. Another car, sleek, red, creeps into view. I imagine rumbling from the engine as it pushes through.

“Ooh, sweet! They’re totally gonna play chicken!”

“Not good.” I shake my head and reach for the phone. “We should probably call the cops.”

“What harm’s it gonna do? Let them have their fun.”

My eyes shift to meet his. “We’re traffic controllers. Not traffic watchers. And someone could get hurt.”

“Yeah?” He winks. “Means we could totally sell the vid.”

“You’re terrible,” I mutter, but my hand slips from the receiver’s handle.

“I know, but what’s it matter? These are rich punks doing stupid things. They wouldn’t get in trouble if someone caught them anyway.” He leans forward and puts his hand on my knee. “How much did we make off that potato gun incident?”

The screen fills with the fog of showoffs spinning tires. Both drivers are busy making donuts of a rubber variety.

I push his hand off my knee. “That guy was out on highway twenty. This is different. There are houses on Jackson Street. What if they wake someone up?”

“Then it’s even better! How cool would it be if some grandpa storms out in his bathrobe?”

My head sweeps from Greg, to the screen, and then to the phone. “They could hurt someone in that crowd too.” The cars have stopped spinning. Now they’re lining up.

“Hey! Come on…”

I pick up and listen to the dial tone. A laminated sheet of numbers hangs on the wall. The black and white list goes blurry as my glasses are yanked away. “Greg!”

He jumps up with a barking laugh and his chair shimmy-wobbles.

I resist the urge to give chase and dial a nine and two ones.

Train Platforms and Rooftops

Flash Fiction
J.A. Waters
854 Words

Train platforms were always a kind of half-peaceful escape from humanity. Sure, sometimes it’d get busy, and then you’d have to deal with a bit of a crowd. That was the exception, however. Most of the time you just sat there on a bench, quietly staring into a space made up of rock and steel, rust and flickering lights. The peace flew the coup whenever a freight train went blurring by. Those were a physical force of noise and motion and sucking wind.

Gerald sat there as one of the behemoths lunged behind him on the second tracks. He was staring at a small mouse crawling over another. He was slouching, hands deep in his pockets and a toothpick held between his teeth. The toothpick gave him a feeling of being cool. His hands within his pockets gave him a feeling of comfort almost as a security blanket would. He likened putting your hands in your pockets to balling up into the fetal position. It was comfortable.

An announcer started his gibberish about time, trains, and tracks. The time registered somewhere in Gerald’s mind, matched up with a schedule, and activated a movement protocol. Work was starting soon. He picked up his book bag.

The great thing about train stations, airports, and bus stations was the security you had in being there. If you had some sort of bag, or at least looked tired, withdrawn, and worn, no one would bug you. You could just sit there, for hours on end, without anyone giving you a second glance. It was kind of like an open privacy. Every bit of its escape was in your mind.

Sidewalks were always worn, cracked, and stained. When someone put in a new stretch of the stuff it’d practically glow, especially on sunny days. The sidewalk on the way to work was old, ancient and beaten by the forces of gravity and pedestrians. It had little cracked dips and rises, places where the earth had settled, and places where roots had pushed out against the confines of a cement prison. There was old spray paint and new chalk. These were two forms of graffiti with varying levels of acceptance. Permanence is hard to accept.

The place that Gerald worked was one of those looming buildings of mortar and stone, too old to know it should’ve fallen down already and too old to consider making it fall down. It had historical merit despite most of that involving bad days of work. Today was a bad day of work, and it hadn’t even really started. Things were just sort of uneven and off rhythm. Sometimes the world just seemed to pulse exactly the wrong way, or maybe it was just Gerald. He clocked in and considered the digital timestamp telling him he was two minutes late.

In a cubicle, you have the exact opposite of privacy. You have a little cardboard box that everyone can open. They lift the flaps and rummage through the contents. They toss out what’s been in there too long. They stuff other junk inside that they don’t want anywhere else. The only real refuge is the computer screen. There is the glowing God with digital secrets and dreams hidden away beneath false windows and half-hearted spreadsheets. Someone in another cardboard box loves work and pushes out maximum output. Gerald doesn’t hate work, but he doesn’t care, and so pushes out no output. Combined, along with whatever other cardboardians, output is nominal.

On break, Gerald stood by the water cooler with one of those little conical cups. They hold maybe a gulp of water. He always filled them up eight or nine times until slowly getting a full eight ounces. Today he just stared at the cooler, empty, and tried to figure out what it was he would do. Lunch was always water. Getting water was how he spent his lunch.

After work, Gerald walked home while pretending his feet were wheels over the landscape of a rolling sidewalk. He passed the train station, considered taking a seat to listen to the passing trains, but kept on toward his apartment. The air was cool with the scent of budding flowers and car exhaust, but the important thing was that it felt good. He didn’t go to his room, not yet, but slowly wound up the staircase, forgoing the elevator’s rumbling ride.

On rooftops, there was always a kind of half-peaceful escape from humanity. Under your back was the feel of gravel and small rocks, weight distribution keeping any from digging in and making it uncomfortable. Above you, the sky darkened and an expanse of stars opened up, peeking out from their hiding places in the blue beyond. The peace flew the coup whenever sirens went blaring by, but it was alright. There were still the stars, and the sky, and the gentle breeze that always picked up just enough to carry away the heat and oppression of things going stale.

Tomorrow, Gerald decided he’d stop by the train station again. Who knew, maybe his train would come in.

Key Liar

Flash Fiction
J.A. Waters
300 Words

Others of the warrior’s ilk were filling the room around me, burly men and women wearing pelts and bits of iron as jewelry. They ducked carefully to step downstairs onto the ship’s lower deck, “We are honored by your presence.”

Arranged in a semicircle they passed around horns of drink and baskets of bread. These were shared with reverent bows in my direction. They repeated one phrase: ”The key to our salvation.”

None approached me and I soon grew bored out of my fear, “Might I have something to eat?”

“Sacrament,” said the first, the leader, the one that yanked me from the city, “Fulfillment of the pact requires clarity.”

“What pact?” I stood warily, unsteady because of rolling of waves, “If I’m so special then tell me something!”

“You are the key…”

“…to our salvation,” I finished, “Yeah, I got that. Ridiculous.”

Deep pulsing sounds reverberated through the vessel.

Two of the savages grabbed my upper arms and yanked me out of the room in a hurried rush. Their faces were tight, jaws clenched.

All around us the sky was dancing with streaming light. Electricity crackled as my captors lifted me to the sky, “The key!”

A great sonorous wail shook the very fabric of the world. I felt my mind twist.

“Liar! LIAR!” The leader stared at me with horror, “You claimed yourself sterile!”

Thin sheets of energy surrounded my skin. The ship, along with all of its sailors, disintegrated in screams. Bright purple light engulfed everything.

A breeze whispered fading words, “Liar…”

I bobbed in the swell of a sea I did not know under an alien sky. Ignorance wasn’t a lie, but I felt terrible for my unknowing betrayal. I had been their key alright, but not for salvation. Nor mine. I couldn’t tread water forever.

Chosen to Feed

Flash Fiction
J.A. Waters
998 Words

Stacy wished she could have a dog as she watched the streetlights flicker. Darkness slid into its place and the sidewalks seemed to disappear.

Any pet would have been welcome. Well, there’d be no point in fish. Or lizards or spiders or glass-walled things that had little of comfort to add. So, of course a dog, or a cat as well. Having any warmth would be a lovely change.

But the neighborhood was stuffy. Its people had their ways. Perhaps they wouldn’t notice, not for days at least.

Stacy closed the curtains. She slid the window shut. Grass tickled her shoeless feet as she wandered through the yard. Someone had left a tricycle out. Demolished anthills showed where children had played. She felt the tug of an aluminum fence as it haltingly let her phase.

The new world was not of iron. There were less believers and less of faith. To some neighbors that was a blessing. To Stacy it was a plague.

She walked into a wooded court. Musicians tested strings. A quiet man in a pair of boxers stood in the shadowed glade. Moonlight wouldn’t bring its nuisance. Night would linger in shadow. Stacy sighed a careful sigh. She hated the lengthy dark.

“Daughter, lead the feeding.”

Her lips tightened as she turned. A pale white figure hung from its tree. She hated that toothless grin. Stacy dipped a curtsy low. “Of course, Caethar. Always as you wish.”

A hundred joints began to pop. The creature uncurled from its perch of mossy branches. Leaves rustled as the bulk dislodged. Caethar’s body filled the space. Its carapace shook and swayed. It slunk to surround the prey.

Whatever daze had held the man finally began to fade. His first instinct was to shiver as night’s chill broke in. Then he saw the terror. Then he choked the moment in.

Strange enough, he did not yell. The nearly naked man did not scream. He shook and his shoulders trembled. But all he did was look down.

Stacy walked into her mentor’s form. She thought the creature enjoyed the touch. She couldn’t feel the contact, but that it did she had no doubt. Every time it got the chance, it seemed to force her through. On the other side she paused in thought. It was helpful to consider the chosen. They never fit a pattern. How did they hear the call?

Remembering things long passed was hard. Understanding brought pain. The little left inside Stacy’s head barely found an age. The man was in his forties. Perhaps a little older. His hair was thick but graying. His belly a sloping pouch. “Chosen, can you hear me? Do you know your purpose?”

“Who? Is that?” His voice caught with each breath. He looked about with eyes grown wide. He shook with convulsions to his knees.

“It is enough to hear. Vision refuses to cooperate.” She cupped his cheek on a whim. “Are you not afraid?”

Anger drove his voice strong. Anger darkened his face. “Don’t you see me shaking? Do you smell my coward’s piss? End this torment, quickly! I accept my fate!”

Caethar rumbled laughter. The ground thrummed to that rolling sound. The neighbors would all look skyward. They would question the cloudless night. “Musicians. Play.”

The touch of warmth surprised her. She could feel her fingers burn. Stacy pressed her fingers in and they passed into the skull. “You are no believer…”

The violas rose in tune.

“His nature is no matter. He answered and will get his due.” The creature’s carapace clattered. The chitinous plates drew back. A hundred eyes blinked open. They stared out from empty milky white.

Through her passed a memory. But then there came much more. Stacy saw the life of a man with guilt weighing him down.

Both of his eyes were rolled back to white. The man’s mouth was hanging open. The sounds he made were animal grunts as who he’d been was seeping out.

One of the musicians struck discord that yowled into the night. The other stumbled on the flaw and veered into disarray.

“Now! To me! You are my channel! Direct the flow!”

Stacy turned a neck grown stiff as life began to spread. Her eyes were bulging outward. “He was never yours to take!”

The chitinous form tried to waggle forward in its open state, but it’s bulk was far too ponderous. It could only yell and growl. “It does not matter what they think! I don’t care what they believe! They owe me still for the time I spent giving them this place!”

The man’s heart was beating slower. He was falling to the ground. A glimpse of life was in him, but the rest had been drawn away.

From another’s memory her own grew stronger. The reminder made her howl. She turned upon her master. “As you told me so long ago!?”

“You deserve the role you play! Doubt gives you no escape! If you had been more firm in faith, then perhaps I’d have let you rest!” Caethar’s armor began to close. It realized the morsel’s loss. Soon it would rear and demolish the clearing. Soon it would steal back Stacy’s theft.

She felt her heart for the first time in years. There was a thump beneath her breast. A chitinous plate grew from her throat and snapped over her chest. “No,” she said, “You will lie no more. I will lay you down to rest!”

Its laughter filled the naked sky. Stars twinkled with its mirth. The segmented body rose and towered, “You are nothing but a pest.”

Stacy knew her power. She wasn’t living yet. She leaped and phased within her master. Her fingers curled as claws of death.

Both musicians fled, and the man lay still, unconscious. Stacy devoured her former lord until its power filled her full.

And when dawn thought to return. She walked back to her home. She climbed back through the window, and felt a hunger grow.

A Day of Minor Inconvenience

Flash Fiction
J.A. Waters
988 Words

A rushing crowd of rain-glistening umbrellas pushed past Theo. He was obtrusive in his slow stroll and enjoyed knowing the fact. Through a crosswalk break in the crowd he spotted his car and almost sighed to know he would soon be out from the rain. His cool walk was a break from long queue lines and sign-your-name-here-please.

Despite those misgivings, he opened his door, sat inside, and flipped on windshield wipers and the radio. As he settled into the stop and go pattern of traffic, the weight of everyday nestled back atop his shoulders, a vague comfort in itself.

At the next stoplight he sat there musing about traffic and automobiles. Roads were just long queues, and everyone was waiting in line to get to their next attraction. A hankering made his next attraction a coffee shop for a bagel. The rain had stopped by the time he stepped outside, but the clouds had begun taking on a huge vortex of motion. It looked like the top of a tornado with no funnel. Through the gaps in angry gray a deepening red had started glowing ominously.

Making sure to lock his doors, Theo pulled out his phone and pointed it at an angle to the heavens. The scene would make a nifty picture, framed so by tall buildings and the budding trees of spring. A horseman, steed charging forward at some insane gallop, moved into the shot just as he pressed the shutter. The image on his tiny little screen was somewhat shocking and he became lost in the wavy image of electrons, forgetting to look up and see the real thing.

Beyond Theodore’s little screen the stallion and rider were causing something of a ruckus. The horse was huge, twice that of a normal breed, its rider similarly a giant. Cars and people and objects of minor-note were crushed and sent flying at the furious contact of hoof and sword. The sword, ridiculously long and wicked, was held by the rider, hooded under a black cloak.

A great pulsing sphere of flame then exploded forth from beneath the rider’s hood. It flew into a very tall building that didn’t offer a hint of resistance and plowed on down the block. Soot and ash and things-on-fire fell from the skies.

Rain started falling again, and it was perhaps this that brought Theodore out of the distant study of his cell phone’s screen. Quite the opposite of that cooling drizzle from before, this rain sparked and smoked, melting away at whatever it touched. It made sense to run into the Pizza Shop near where he’d parked. The coffee shop was a block down.

A pizza, still piping hot, sat on the counter as Theo walked inside. It seemed like a good time to sit down and take things in. Theo nabbed the pizza and found an empty table. Outside, dust and debris scattered in a great cloud as towering skyscrapers tumbled into one another. Theo got up and closed the door. Dust could’ve crept in and ruined his pizza.

Finishing up his meal, Theodore left a decent tip and stepped outside. He jiggled the keys to his car, peering at the twisted hulk of scrap metal that was now parked against the curb in place of his vehicle. A moment of thought, chin scratching included, helped him remember that there was a bike shop nearby with decent prices. Nearby a gryphon, glowing faint blues and whites, stepped over some rubble, rider on its back peering off into the distance.

Theo wondered how a person tamed a gryphon, and why glowing things made anything cooler. While thinking he ducked down an alley that should shortcut across the block toward the bike shop. A glance at the sky showed soft bluish-white light mingling with the festering red, clouds scattered and that massive spiral somewhat broken.

Coming out onto the street, a crosswalk blinked its big red hand. A dozen or so winged beings flitted about the sky in quite the tussle. Presently the crosswalk went green and Theodore jogged across to the shop, groaning to see “Closed” hung on its window. He knocked on the door a couple of times, muttered, and then used a discarded umbrella to whack at the glass.

After the first crack it took a couple of kicks to offer up the building’s insides. Behind him, things exploded and he glanced over his shoulder to look. A squat cyclone of fire raged through several buildings across the street, ridden atop by some figure that was vaguely human aside from the face full of rotating eyes.

There was a vague feeling of discomfort about being in view of the multi-eyed fire guy, so Theodore quickly crawled through the shattered door. He pushed a rack of hats in front of the door to hide his presence. Then he began sitting on bike models to try them out, judging the comfort of the seat and reach of his legs to the pedals and ground.

It took a couple of tries, but finally he found one that suited and rolled it to the section with air-pumps and tools. He tightened bolts, added a horn, and aired up the tires to approximate recommended PSI levels. Theo left with an IOU placed by the cash register.

Riding through the streets took some effort, what with a lot of cracked cement, dead bodies, and fallen buildings, but Theodore managed to avoid running over most. He really couldn’t remember his appointments without the list on his car’s rear view mirror, so he’d have to head back to his office and check. Arriving at a bridge over a wide river, he felt disappointment to see it missing its middle.

Oh well, he thought, maybe it was time to call it a day anyway. Turning around, he started peddling for home. It’d be nice to just relax for a while and check out a movie or two.

Before The Fan

Flash Fiction
J.A. Waters
995 Words

“There’s too much trash in this city.”

Jacob leaned over the roof’s edge, peering down into the alley below, “You’re right, Desconci is considered fifth in the world for street refuse.” He grabbed his helmet and twisted the seal tight for the thousandth time that evening.

Gina counted her steps backward, five from the edge. She glanced at Jake with a scowl, “Why are you even working in this field?” Her body raced forward on its three cybernetic legs. The mid-foot seated on the building’s seam, snapping the woman into space.

Watching a bum burrowing in foil wrapping and trash, Jake glanced up in time to see his partner tiptoe into a perfect landing a roof over, “What do you mean?” He jogged backwards, boots whirring as they picked up a preset. Sprinting for the gap, there was a whirl of air and the thud of miniature impact motors striking the rooftop.

Cybernetic hips cocked to one side, Gi watched the unaltered human’s rolling landing. One tumble and the man was up onto his feet and ready. Gina wasn’t sure Jacob had to roll; she thought he just enjoyed flair, “You’re smart: a fucking genius. Why are you up here following me around rooftops as a copper?”

“Well, I’m not sure why I follow you around rooftops.” Jake walked to the next edge, peering into a street crowded with traffic and people. Road-windows to the subway flashed as trains sped beneath the world. The corporal grinned, “But I like being a cop. I like doing something good; catching shit before it hits the fan. Having a superior that walks on buildings makes it more interesting.” His suit started beeping.

The Sergeant smirked, humorless and bitter, “Are you coming on to me? I know some of you guys like women with nice legs…” Her suit’s arm-display blinked on, message playing across empty air, “All units on alert. Great. Two blocks over, someone’s making a land dispute.” The display closed with a wave of her hand.

Jacob tapped at the air for further queries, arm-display beeping as searches filled the queue, “Land dispute? The guy’s about to blow up a building!” His gaze snapped after his leader’s retreating form zipping down onto the street. A quick gesture saved his queries, and he did a quick double stomp that set his boots into a ticking frenzy of preparation. A curse slipped under his breath as he dashed headlong over the roof’s end. He aimed for the top of a car.

The boots sounded like screeching tires as they gripped the vehicle. Jake spread his arms wide in the landing, then disengaged his shoes with a wiggling big toe. With the driver’s help (they’d slammed the brakes) he arced in a leap over several cars and hit the sidewalk sprinting. A man careened on a tricked-out electroBMX and decided for a quick wall-ride up a building to avoid panicking pedestrians.

Those same pedestrians barreled away from the swathe-cutting knife that was a running Desconci P.E. Policy Enforcers wore practical suits of armor weighing as much as a small motorcycle with several times the power. Diving out of the way was a sensible reaction. Jacob’s helmet blared with shoulders flashing as he trailed behind his superior’s nimble form. Ahead, she sprang off light poles and landed on window ledges. Her feet never touched the ground. Jake muttered into his mic, “You’d be pretty fucking great at Don’t Touch the Lava.”

With one final snap of cybernetic muscle, Gina twisted through the air and barreled into a man wielding a PulseHammer. The advanced jackhammer went flying and the man’s left arm snapped at the elbow. Bone ripped through skin and cloth on his upper arm. Gi’s three legs pinned the offender down by the other three limbs, “You must remain silent and still. You have the privilege of being an offender of Policy 55E.10-Golf and hereby have given up any rights; those paid for or due by your citizenship grade and/or grades.”

The man growled, too stimmed to feel pain, “Fuck you! I got papers from generations ago that I own this land! Screw your damned Policy and the whole book under it!” A tiny spider-bot crawled out of the man’s chest pocket. He was wearing a one-piece flight-suit in a dark gray-blue cloth. The spider skittered down the man’s body and seated itself into a small output terminal at the stomach of the suit.

Gina’s eyes went wide and her third leg kicked at the spider-bot with precise urgency. It missed, the spider ducking into the suit’s connection port too quickly. The P.E. blinked to snap a photo before she turned to run.

Over their comms Gina was calmly reciting a procedural tactic number and sub-note. Jake took a moment to think back to training, “Tactical Response Alpha, Condition B… Ah yeah.”

Landing next to his boss, the two enforcers crouched and readied for crowd control. A long-handled weapon with a smooth spherical end, it was often used to pacify people if they wouldn’t come along quietly. It was nonlethal but gave a headache.

Both officers set theirs to max, jerking the trigger to spread its effects on the nearest pedestrians. Behind them, the spider-bot glowed red and began burrowing through skin. The man began to convulse, beating his chest and screaming.

The explosion was mostly gore, yet the burst had a purpose outside of immediate concussive damage. At the core of the man’s now-pulped body, the spider-bot’s brain sent rapid burst transmissions on a temporary array-antenna of metallic particles formed by and riding the blast. Shrapnel embedded itself in the walls of buildings or on the exteriors of cars and busses.

Gina stood and helped Jake up in one motion, growling at the situation, “So much for stopping the shit from hitting the fan. That manifesto is gonna be on the net for weeks.”

Jake twisted his helmet’s seal tight yet again, shrugging, “Well at least we stopped him.”