Tag Archives: story

Flash Fiction: Distant City

a footprint in white sand

Which burned worse: Sun or sand. A thousand pinpricks, sunburn and scrapes, or unending thirst. We had no room in our pain to decide. So, we continued over the desolate waste.

Something would appear. A town. A village. A lone hut. We had to believe.

By day, we huddled together in the cloth-shaded sled. Sleep was less a thing of rest than escape, and dreams were broken between moments of being fitfully half-awake.

By night, we traded at leaving footprints in the sand. The heat lingered, but it was cool by contrast. Sweat still slithered down my skin.

“Water,” gasped Lilou. She tugged the rope wrapped around my chest. “You, water.”

Stopping was more torturous than the heat, but she was right. I had ignored my turn for water, and she had been too delirious to remind me. It was easier to walk, to lean forward and ignore pain. Movement, every breath, was driven by my will. Stopping threatened to break me.

“Nuette, sit.”

I didn’t sit. I collapsed into the covered sled. “Lilou, we have to move.”

“We will. I will.” She handed me our canteen. It was nearly empty, but she struggled as if it were filled with rock. “You rest. My turn.” Lilou took the timer from my belt, flipped it over, and hung it from hers. Its black sands renewed their constant journey. A mirror of ours. Unending and seemingly without a true destination.

“But-“

“You. Need. Rest.”

Every word took effort. Her wheezing breath carried the dry pain. The skin on her knuckles was cracked as if she’d grown impossibly old. Like mine, her clothes were baked with sand and painfully stiff. Unlike me, she was smaller overall and had always been little more than skin and bone. Nevertheless, she crawled onto the searing sand.

I tried the canteen. My arms wouldn’t work. Circulation tingled where the rope had pressed. Weariness dragged at me, but I managed a sip. All that we could spare. Hardly more than a drop.

It took twice as long to screw the cap tight. To ensure that it was tight. To protect that last gulp.

Sleep drugged me with its release. I dreamt of home. The home I struggled to remember. Across oceans of distance and time.

Later, a timeless moment later, we were stopped. The change made me wake. I peered into the moonless night with groggy worry. “Lilou?”

Outside, her body was a shadowy lump on the ground.

I braced myself. As agreed, my first step was to take another sip of water. It felt like every drop melted into my cracked lips. I took a breath.

I crawled back onto the burning grit. “Foolish,” I murmured in breathless words. Speaking hurt my jaw. My throat.

Pulling her back to the sled was draining. I shook her. “Water.”

Three nudges, two slaps, and she woke. “Sorry.” Her face was covered in sand where she’d fallen. Gently as possible, I brushed the grains from her skin. I tipped the canteen to her mouth. Held my thumb between her lips to make sure water made the important journey.

“Thanks,” she mumbled, nearly unintelligible.

“Gonna pull now,” I whispered. I took the timer and found the end of the rope. Wrapped it around my waist. Looked ahead. Something glowed in the distance.

A city dimmed by the days between us and its gates. But it was progress. We were heading toward something.

For the first moment in weeks, my thoughts reached beyond survival. We might still find her. Wixie still had friends so long as we survived. With friends, she had hope too.

A want for speed tingled in my mind, but I kept a steady pace. Lilou slept, and when the timer ran out, I let her sleep. I did not collapse into the sled until dawn.

That next night, we could see a skyline. I memorized the jagged edges of shadows against a star-pricked canvas of blue-black. For the first time in weeks, the slimshine rose in the west. Glowing purples and shimmering greens painted our desert in treacherous beauty.

I watched from the sled with half-lidded drowsiness. Sleep was harder to find because of a rising expectation. Those ethereal lights were a sign of good luck. I chose to believe that meaning.

Our sled jerked to a stop. Lilou was motionless, arms limp. She was stuck, leaning forward, passed out but held like a puppet.

I opened the canteen and jiggled its contents. Enough to make noise, but not enough to feel the weight.

The city was still too far.

Purple-tinted shadows misted and melted under Lilou’s feet. Sand shifted under one of her feet. Her body tilted. She toppled to one side. Again, a lump on the dunes.

My glimmers of hope vanished in a breath.

Every limb seemed drawn to the earth like anchors. I had to roll from the sled, and even then, I stayed on my back for long enough to forget the passing time. The sky loomed over me and the swirling color drew me into a trance.

In that state, I forgot my reservations. I forgot my terror at the powers I’d lost. The ability I had forsaken. Spirit reached toward me and I remembered its grace.

Lilou’s presence touched me first. She was a faint outline of power that trembled on the edge of vision. She was a fading heartbeat of soul.

But the desert was afire with power. There were lifelines pulsing just below the surface. I shifted onto the mental plane and sank into the ground.

The pressing dark was pushed back by creatures too small to see. A million tunnels and miniscule chambers teemed with wriggling things. They were insects, vermin and barbed-predators, and there were larger animals with naked skin and blind eyes.

Spirit was in all things, and so the beasts added to the desert’s hidden light, but that did not account for the greater sense of power from further below.

Curiosity pulled me further into the depths of sand. I sank until the sand became stone. I sank until the stone grew warm.

A great cavern opened around me, and I floated above a ruined city. Toppled towers were strewn across the rubble of crumbling homes. A market square was sunken into a pool of water where a central well once stood.

Water.

I shot toward the pool without thinking. My thirst ravaged me with an intensity that I had forgotten. My spirit’s form ignored the water’s touch and I attempted to drink without feeling cool refreshment.

And then I remembered my physical body, far above on the desert surface, and suddenly I was staring at the stars.

I was reaching up, toward the undulating slimshine, and my wrist glowed from the tattooed band of the Severed. Sisters of the Cylnai were connected to me, but I had not reached out to them since leaving the sea.

‘Nuette?’ whispered some half-forgotten voice. It had hardly been a year, but the faces of that great ship were already nearly-faded.

‘Sotin?’ I had to strain to hear my old teacher, but I was sure it was her. The Embrahm sounded distant, and I did not know if that was a product of weakness or separation from the oceans. ‘I hope you are well.’

‘Nuette, what is wrong? Why does your soul feel so broken?’

It was foolish, but her words filled me with a fear beyond a death in the desert. Memories of a terrifying island and the loss of my parents strangled me with sudden grief. I snatched my mind away from the connection. I closed myself to the voices of Severed Sisters.

The twin golden bands ceased glowing around my wrist, and they were simple black tattoos once more.

But the connection had been a reminder of more than the failures in my past. I had remembered what I could do with enough spirit in my veins. True, those powers were once driven by the shard of a god, but perhaps I could reach beyond who I had been.

Still lying on my back, still staring up at the sky, I reached back into the ground’s wealth of old power. Some civilization had left its ghosts far below, and I knew enough of the dead to realize that they could be worthy allies.

The hollow of my right eye gave a twinge of pain. I hadn’t felt anything beneath my eyepatch for months, and the sudden renewed feeling did nothing to assure me that I was choosing a path toward safety.

I ignored the pain and dove into the sands. My spirit form sped through earth until I was back in the ruined city. Steeling myself against voices of the city’s forgotten, I pulled at the lingering spirit.

They flooded me with their eager return to the living.

Dozens of minds pressed against mine and I fought to keep my own voice. Theirs were mad and disjointed. They had no knowledge of their age or mine. I experienced the last flashes of their deaths. I saw great crowds of a purple-skinned people, and they fought with four arms, two legs, and a powerful tail. The Xanali, that long-extinct race, convulsed in their empire’s death.

Traps of lava were released into chambers of councilors. A king, crown askew, tore at his own tongue. A family, barricaded into their chambers, slashed their own throats until the mother stood weeping and alone.

I could feel my body convulsing like the buzz of a tiny insect. The annoying sensation of my physical form was nothing compared to the madness of those old souls. I did not think I would have the endurance to outlast their torment, but their spirit also filled me with power.

Their combined spirit was nothing compared to the wealth of a god, but the return was still a too-sweet promise. I’d hardly hoped for such a return, for such freedom as power could forge. I had thought myself severed from connections beyond myself, but the dead were bringing my spiritual plane back to life.

My focus steadied with the touch of those broken ghosts.

And as my focus steadied, I remembered my purpose. I remembered that pool of water and its promise of refreshment.

Reaching into my new well of spirit energy, I pulled at the hidden lake and drew strands of life back toward the surface.

It was slow going, and my mind ached with the effort, but I could feel the closing distance. My gambit was working.

A trickling well was bubbling toward a lifeless desert.

I did not have the control, by the end of it, to direct a steady flow of water. Had I been less dehydrated, less hungry, I might’ve made an oasis of that unknown spot in the dust. As it was, the most I could do was fill our canteen.

The water was warm, and it smelled like sulfur, but it quenched my thirst.

I pulled myself to Lilou’s side and propped her head in my lap. “Lilou, wake up.” My voice was rough, my throat was still sore, but I felt alive with the great gulps of water I had taken. It had taken all my will to keep from downing the canteen into sickness.

Lilou stirred, moaning with her aches, but she did not wake. I rested, doing little more than brushing away sand from her fall, until I could finally pull us back to the sled’s meager shelter. One drop at a time, I helped her drink away her stupor.

We dozed through the day, but Lilou continued a feverish sleep through the night. She had not been given the same breath of power as granted to me.

Reaching back through the earth, I drew what I could from the remaining souls. Some fled from my presence on that attempt, and I felt a growing unease at my abuse of their spirits. Death was supposed to send the living toward new chances, but a terrible end could bind souls to their place of death. I was freeing them from their chains, but I did not know enough to understand what became of them next. Was I lessening their torment, or increasing their pain?

Yet I justified my actions because I was alive and they were dead. I had to save my friend, and to do so I had to save myself. I took their lingering power and struck at the creatures beneath the desert surface.

I drew insects and rodents from the ground and killed them by the dozens. I broke parts from our wooden sled and tore strips of cloth from my clothes. Fire rushed through the dry shards, but it was enough to build a bed of meager coals.

Scraps of bugflesh made a glorious feast. I fed carefully-cut strips of desert shrew to Lilou as she shivered in the evening heat. We stayed there, in sight of that unknown city, until Lilou’s fever broke. Then, when she could open her eyes, when she wondered how we were still alive, we continued over the desolate waste.

Scraps of bugflesh made a glorious feast. I fed carefully-cut strips of desert shrew to Lilou as she shivered in the evening heat. We stayed there, in sight of that unknown city, until Lilou’s fever broke. Then, when she could open her eyes, when she wondered how we were still alive, we continued over the desolate waste.

And finally, after weeks of broken skin and parched throats, we stepped into the shadow of towering buildings.

Kuerati. Against all odds, we’d reached a destination that might be worth wandering across sun-baked sand. It was known as the City of Infinite Chances.

I helped Lilou from the sled. She was too light. Still too weak. But we stood together at the gates, and together we walked toward the hope of salvation.

Flash: Used to Think

A dark city below a jagged crack in the sky.

“I used to think that everyone was unique, and then I used to think that we were all the same.” Fin chuckles. “And then I grew up, and went out, and saw everything die, and so I stopped thinking.”

He meanders as he climbs the wall. His hands grab at brick while his mind picks out new topics with a foothold. Sometimes he eases to one side. Sometimes he reaches and doubles his height. A few times, he hesitates, edges down a foot, and then springs to another handhold.

It’s an old bank, I think, the place we’ve chosen for tonight’s break. For a place to get some sleep. Someone added fortifications, the extra height to an already high wall. Blocking in the drive-thru until it became a perimeter.

“Just get over the damned wall. We gotta get inside before the water rises.”

That makes him laugh, of all things. He hoists himself to the edge, climbs out of view, and then leans out. Looks down at me. “But ain’t it such a shit show? How the whole world has turned into Venice?”

I roll my eyes and toss our pack of food. “Catch!” He plucks it out of the air as I start clambering after him. I’m much more direct, more quiet, as I scramble from broken mortar to broken mortar. My fingers hurt, from the cold, from malnutrition, but I wedge them into each crack. I do not want to be outside when the boatmen begin to roam.

“I guess so much has changed, not much of what I used to think matters. So now I don’t think at all. Just moving forward, following you.”

“I’m following you right now.”

“Yeah, but what would I do without you? Wander to some treehouse and starve. The sunsets would be pretty. The trees are nice, but I wouldn’t be surviving. Not like you make happen.”

I stop at near the edge of the rooftop, foot wedged comfortably beneath me. “You sure do talk a lot for someone that doesn’t think.”

“Hm, but you’re making the common mistake. That speaking has thought behind it. Especially when we’re talking about me. About me talking. Trust me, it’s easier not to think, and it’s easier to let everything wash away. Let it be the high waters or rain or let it be alcohol, washing away thoughts is easier than gathering them.”

I shake my head and climb the last bit onto the roof. It is in decent condition, though a decent roof doesn’t keep you dry anymore. Not when the water comes from below.

And the walls don’t look like they can hold back all the water. They’ve got too many cracks. They look like they were shoddy work. Built to the tempo of terror.

“You see,” says Fin, and he’s staring off toward the rising mist. “Mist used to be prettier. When it wasn’t telling me something I didn’t want to know. And that’s why thoughts aren’t worth keeping. Because, letting them gather, they start clinging and combining into something new. And that new is not always good. Most of the time it’s like the stuff that clings together in your trash can when it’s smelling ripe with sweet rot.”

“Fin, there’s a skylight.” I stoop by his side and pull on his arm. “Exit plan one, alright?”

He gets to his feet, but I don’t have his attention. Not quite. “Just like that trash, you wrinkle your nose when you pass by those bits of sticking gunk. The gunk is not inspiring. Nobody’s gonna dig through that gunk.”

“Come on, get back up.” I haul him to his feet and we head toward the other side of the building. The structure is better, tighter, as we reach its original walls. It was a bank. I can see the ruins of an ATM on the other side of the shoddy barrier. It used to be in the middle of one of those roundabout islands to the side of the main parking lot.

The ATM is an island, now. The tides spill over sometimes, as if they got an extra urgent beckoning from the moon. Even torn apart, I can feel the curiosity in me. That slight interest of wondering if there’s still money inside. Useless as it would be.

Fin follows me. He’s rubbing his chin. “You know, some people dig through the trash, and it’s not even always about finding treasure. Some people aren’t looking for treasure. Some are looking for trash.” He smiles, and it’s so bright and gorgeous. Like he’s never changed. “Like me. I’m the trash.”

I want to hit him. I want to punch him. Bust my knuckles on his face. I kiss his cheek instead. “No, honey. You aren’t trash. You’re anything but.” I scrub tears away and give him a soft grin. “Now let’s find a door to this place. Climb down there, see the ladder? Someone must’ve pulled guard.”

He accepts my hand to help him onto the ladder. It’s rusted and rickety, but what isn’t these days? What wasn’t years ago, at this point? I feel my mood spiraling. Everything feels like it was too long ago. What am I heading toward?

“When it comes down to it,” rattles Fin, back on the same tangent. That’s a good sign. A single tangent is better than eight. “It’s not that someone’s trash is another’s treasure, it’s that sometimes we don’t want a treasure. Sometimes we want something beat up and broken and halfway complete. Sometimes we want something that doesn’t have the right colored panels or perfectly polished teeth.”

He smirks up at me. “That must be the truth, because it feels like truth.”

There’s a hope in his eyes that I wish I felt, but it does help. Even with all his ranting, all his random turns of phrase, I still feel better because he’s near.

The ladder drops us in a narrow hallway made from the same shoddy brickwork. Fin runs his hands over the walls, humming, as I pull out a flashlight. I wind it while watching the cracks in the brick. There’s enough structure there to hold back the water, and I half-hope for a dry floor. A dry table. Maybe tonight will give me proper sleep.

Fin kisses my forehead while I’m distracted. He rubs his hand on the side of my cheek, fingers scraping through the stubble of my beard. I still try to shave, when I can, but there are usually long breaks between.

“What is it, baby?”

He smiles. “I don’t even care about all this. About all this.” He nods. “Why would I care, when I’ve got you?”

I sigh and return his smile. “You’re sweet.” I flick the switch for the flashlight and turn to examine the door. It was glass, once, but now it’s plated with steel. Someone left it, who knows how long ago, so that it’s still ajar.

“I can’t wait till we get to the hills. Tomorrow, you think? Except when you think about it, isn’t it always tomorrow? Because really, the day only ends because we say it does. So, we’re always in today.”

I lead Fin into the fortified bank. “Sure, sounds good to me. I’d rather it’s always today though.”

He pauses at that, frowning. “But why?”

“Well,” I smile at the dark rooms around us. “Because then I can look forward to tomorrow. I can hope the next day brings us something better.” I walk across a floor that was stripped of carpet. Concrete echoes my footsteps. “This looks like we’ll be okay.”

Fin hugs me from behind. “You’re silly, Dean.” He leans into the embrace as he mumbles. “Nothing else to look forward to. I already found you.”

Flash: Shifting Priorities

Sometimes rain could feel good, could feel right, even during the wildest storms. Yet, that was when everything was at its best. When Jess was at her best. When there weren’t salty tears mixing on her cheek.

She wiped her face with the back of an arm to clear stray hair, rain, and tears. The rain wasn’t just unwelcome, it was a symbol of every obstruction in her life. Every drop was another flash of annoyance and discomfort. She hurried down the sidewalk wishing for an umbrella or an overhang or something to shield her from the deluge.

Cars splashed by with whirring engines and mirrored-in passengers. Overflowing gutters turned streets into rising rivers. Clouds were getting darker, and noon would be darker than dawn.

She glared at her phone as she walked. Her unanswered stream of messages stared back at her.

‘Has Gloria contacted you about my time off?
‘Did you tie up the boat?’
‘Is anyone going to check on the boat before the storm?’
‘Damien? What the hell. Answer your phone!’

She was halfway through a new message, ‘Do you know if-‘ when the phone went dead. The battery had been hanging on, but it finally gave up its battle. “Jesus. Fucking. Christ.” She growled each word while smacking the side of her phone. “One thing, and then everything.”

She stuffed her hands, phone too, in her jacket pockets and hunched against a sudden gust. The winds were picking up as she neared the bay. It probably wasn’t the best of times to head to the marina, but she had no choice. She had signed for the boat before taking time off, and she would be responsible if anything got damaged.

The water was ankle-deep as she jogged through the crosswalk. The cold wet soaked through her shoes and the bottoms of her jeans went soggy. A few cautious cars slid to a stop as she ran in front of their headlights. The AI systems beeped, or flashed warning lights, but she paid them no mind. She was too irritated to wait for permission from the intersection’s bright
green man.

Her feet thumped on the boardwalk as she continued at a slow jog. She slid on the slick wood several times, but managed to steady herself with the railing. A voice in her head urged caution, told her to be safe, but she ignored that too. It sounded too much like Emma to want to listen.

She wished she could kill that voice, wished she could forget its tone and subtle moments of gravel. Jess hated that there was a grieving period. She hated that relationships lingered, even if it had hardly been hours since saying goodbye.

Beneath her, the water sloshed and frothed at the edges of the boardwalk. It was higher than ever, had been rising for years, and it wouldn’t be long before the marina’s locks failed to control that rise.

Or, as they had before, they would drive away more property owners to accept more of the sea’s expansion. Even now, there were shadowy ghosts of buildings from ten years prior. They sat, preserved bits of old lives, right below the waves.

Some still glowed with light, tourist-trap underwater hotels or dive destinations that used to be dive bars. It seemed that the past always lingered after all.

Jess rushed overhead that sunken past, glad of the grip of her sturdy boots. It was hard enough to stay upright in the wet and weariness, even with good shoes. But then she arrived at the marina entrance and pulled on the gate. Its handle didn’t budge.

“Fuck!” Her frustration vented out in the vulgar screech. Locked. She hadn’t been scheduled to work today, hadn’t been at work the whole week past, so she didn’t have the key. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

This is exactly what Emma had warned would happen. Emma hadn’t wanted her to leave, even after the fight. She cared, despite everything. Despite everything Jess had done.

The cold steel of the gate seemed to stick to Jess’ fingertips. She shivered. Her clothes were getting more soaked with every moment of hesitation. Looking up, she eyed barbed-wire lining the top of the fence. She wedged a foot in the gap between hinge and post and hiked herself onto the handle.

Worry of getting caught was non-existent. The docks were empty. Marina workers were gone. Security was gone. Everyone else had gone home after the first surge warnings. They were smart, not like her. She clenched her eyes shut as her fingers slipped on the gate’s ironwork. She felt stupid for so many things, and her mistake with the boat was just more proof.

She inched her way up the gate. Her feet, wedged just so, held enough to push her way to the top. Getting over the barbed wire was another problem. She hooked her hands over the top of the gate and glanced at the rows of rusted deterrent. There were three rows of the wire, angled out to prevent climbers like her, but the barbs weren’t perfectly offset.

Trusting her jacket for protection, she reached up and wrapped an arm over a bare patch of the steel wire. Rocking her hips back, she kicked one leg up and swung the lower-half of her body toward the top. Her foot cleared the wire, and then she managed to hook on with her heel.

A pinch of pain buried into her ankle. Her sock, and her jeans, were keeping anything from breaking skin so far, but it still hurt. Cursing everything under her breath, she strained her way to the top of the gate. Her whole body felt like it was shaking at the end, but she managed to claw her way to the other side.

Then Jess scraped her wrist on one of the barbs. She yelped, lost her grip, and tumbled the last way over the gate.

She landed on the slick wooden dock with a thump.

The rain hadn’t paused for a moment in its deluge, and lying in a heap chased away Jess’ last reserves of dry clothing. Her chest heaved as she fought back the panicked adrenaline surge from her fall. Her joints hurt. She’d fallen on her shoulder, and it was terribly sore. Blood trickled from the shallow gash on her wrist. “Fuck,” she grumbled.

Despite the weather, despite the twisted heap she’d landed in, lying there for hours momentarily felt like a viable decision. She considered the idea while closing her eyes. She felt the gradual dampness along her back seep toward being completely soaked.

Someone banged on the gate with a rapid urgency. “Jess!? Jess, is that you!? Are you okay!?”

She rolled onto her back and raised her head with a raised brow. “Ugh?” She blinked several times. “Emma, what?”

Her girlfriend, ex-girlfriend, clenched a fist around one of the gate’s bars. “Oh, thank goodness! Holy shit, Jess, what are you doing out here?”

Jess sat up with a wince. She really hoped she hadn’t dislocated her shoulder. “Uh, trying to secure the boat.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake, really? This whole marina is gonna get washed out to sea!”

“Did you-” Jess guffawed at the absurdity of the moment. “Did you drive all the way down? For that? To scold me about this stupid boat?”

“Really, that’s what you think? Do you-” Emma tried the gate’s handle before shaking it with frustration. “Damnit, would you just open this thing? I’ll help you with the fucking boat.”

Jess bit her lip. “Shit,” she whispered. She pushed herself off the ground. Walking to the gate, she pushed it open with a hiss of pain. Yeah, her shoulder felt wrong. Maybe it was dislocated. “You were that worried about me?”

“Oh, fuck you, Jess.” Emma pulled the gate the rest of the way open and slammed into a hug with Jess. “Fucking hell, fuck you.”

They kissed, but only for a moment, because Jess’ knees started to give. “Shoulder,” she murmured. “Maybe dislocated.” She fought for consciousness. “Ugh, fuck the stupid boat.”

She wasn’t sure if it was the pain, Emma’s presence, or the rain, but maybe she could be okay with some shifting priorities.

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.

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.

Oceans of Shelter

Story Preview

Oceans of Shelter

Hello, internet! I recently wrote the last chapter of my first full-length novel on the world of Nalan. To celebrate that accomplishment, I’m going to post the first chapter of my next full-length novel on the world of Nalan. The next story is tentatively called Oceans of Shelter and will follow a young girl named Nuette. This is an early draft, so there’s no doubt that this will change a billion times from now. Following, you’ll find the first draft of that story’s intro.

Chapter One:

“Nuette, my Nuette, you’ve shown you knew it. Your answer is right, but now you must prove it!”

The young girl giggled. She often did so at her father’s silly rhymes, especially when they included her name. “No, Daddy!” Her voice squeaked the title. “I’m tired of rithmatec!”

He tapped her on the nose with a scarred brick-red hand. “Arithmetic! You must speak properly as well as show your work.” Smiling, his well-worn fingers set the slate back in his daughter’s lap. “Now, quickly, quick, show me the trick!”

She puffed out a cheek and stared at her problem. The small board had the gray cast of years of chalk scribblings. Her finger tapped the number she’d written as her answer. “But I know it’s right! 64 goes into 1024 just 16 times.”

He winked. “Prove it.”

Pursing her lips, she squinted at him with scrunched eyebrows and golden-yellow eyes. “Prove math? That’s silly! You don’t gotta prove the truth.”

Rumbing laughter made his chest heave and shake. “Oh, clever daughter, how I wish that were true.” He took her piece of chalk and started writing. “64 and 64?”

Rolling her eyes, Nuette went along with the lesson. “128.” They continued and slowly added sums until the multiplication was matched.

“So you see, my little sweetheart?”

She stuck out her tongue. “But it took so much time.”

“But Mrs. Vumon would not accept the partial answer, yes?”

Her grumbled words were agreement enough. “She’s just a mean old lady.”

“Breakfast!” The sing-song voice carried up the stairway.

“Coming!” He stood with a careful slowness and pointed a thumb at his back. “Alright, hop aboard!”

Nuette grinned and set aside her slate. She jumped up and grabbed hold of her father’s shoulders and then hooked her legs around his waist. “Ready!”

Holding her hands as he walked, his head tilted as he spoke, “So, you think Mrs. Vumon is old? Then what does that make me?” The stairs creaked from step to step.

“Um. You’re daddy!” She giggled again. They ducked down under the doorframe into the lower level of the apartment.

“Well! Good morning you two! I see that your lessons were as entertaining as ever!”

“Nope! We were doing ah-rith-muh-tick!”

The man chuckled, “Oh, what pronunciation! Very good, Nuette.” Her father let the girl drop from his back, “Now up we go!”

Nuette squeaked, “Eep!” But then she laughed and pretended she was flying as her father swung her toward a chair. Her arms mimed the wings of a bird’s while he swung her about for an extra turn.

“And now she lands, soft as a feather!” He set her down with a grin, but a hand rubbed at his lower back.

“Beetro, you must be careful! Our daughter has grown far too much for your tired arms. She is thirteen! Let her jump if she wants to fly!”

He kissed his wife on both cheeks. “Ah, Mrs. Syimga, these tired arms are still quite strong! They have years yet of helping Nuette float!”

“Ah huh! Daddy’s real strong! He breaks clay pipes with his bare hands!”

“Hmph! And a silly thing that is to do! He cuts and bruises his hands instead of using the right tools! How is this not a foolish act?”

Beetro dropped back onto a chair and it gave a creaking complaint. “Ah, but sometimes the tools do not fit! Plumbing is not often in a place of great space!”

Nuette laughed and earned a mussing of her silvery-gray hair. “That’s why he likes my hands to help!” She wiggled her fingers. “They’re so small!”

“Mr. Syimga! She is supposed to watch, and to hand you supplies! Will you let a spider nibble at her fingers?” She untied her apron and set it on a glazed clay hook. Her arms were then carefully loaded with three plates of eggs and toast. “Hire a new assistant already! Jotel has been gone for months!”

He waggled his finger at her. “Peyla! Our Nuette will be my new assistant. She is very clever, and has caught on to the profession quite well!”

“Well. It seems that we have much to discuss after she leaves to school.” Peyla set the food on the table. “But no more talk of work. Let us eat and finish our morning.”

“Aw! But school’s so boring! Can’t I stay and learn with dad?”

Beetro narrowed his eyes and shook his head with a mouthful of food. “Mmmnng!” He swallowed. “How can you say something so terrible!? Nuette! School is wonderful! You learn so much!”

She poked at her food with a fork. “But the kids are dumb. They make fun of my gloves.”

Wife and husband exchanged a glance. He reached across the table and pushed aside Nuette’s plate of food. He beckoned with his fingertips. “Give me your hands.”

Her lips tightened together as she followed his instruction.

Taking her hands in his, he turned them palm-up and opened his own for comparison. The scarring on his hand had grown soft and faint, but the branded eye was still visible. Nuette’s mark was still bright and pink. “Darling, these marks are important to bear with pride. With strength. They show our commitment to Kalshen.”

“Then why do we always cover them? You and mama dip your hands in wet clay. I saw it.”

Peyla sighed. “Nuette, the world is ever changing and we must be cautious. To have the marks is necessary, but we cannot always expect acceptance from those who see them.”

Beetro closed her hands into little fists. “And so sometimes we must put away that which makes us most proud. But! You still feel the scars, yes?”

She nodded carefully. “Ah huh.”

“And covering them does not lessen what they mean. You still know they are there. We still know.”

“You cannot change your skin, Nuette.” Her mother smiled. “But different situations alter how it must be covered. Otherwise, why do you put on clothes?”

The hints of a smile touched the girl’s lips. “Well I can’t go out naked!”

Her father chortled, “Exactly!” He drew his hands away and picked up his fork. “Sometimes, we must put on armor against the world! Our clothing protects us, and your gloves protect you.”

Peyla tapped the table. “Now eat up! You have to be ready for helping your father!”

Nuette grinned wide. “You mean I can skip school today!?”

“Well,” said her mother, “If you are to be his assistant, we will have to alter your schedule.”

Beetro laughed, “Oh hoh! Mrs. Syimga! I respect the wisdom of your decision.”

The adults exchanged tight-lipped smiles as Nuette shoveled down her food.

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.”