Friday Flashfic: Fireworks

A special edition of Friday Fiction, on Saturday because I was on the train yesterday and had forgotten to schedule a post. Happy Fourth of July!


Nyssa pressed forward through the crowd. At her height – or rather, her lack of height – her field of vision was filled entirely with bodies. And while the crowd was composes mostly of nobility, who supposedly had regular access to baths, it had been a long, hot summer day. Her nose was filled with the stink of sweat.

She pressed onward. This was her first Victory Day at the palace; she was not usually the sort of person to receive and invitation. In years past she had climbed up to the roof of her lodgings-house, picnicked with her house mates, watched the brilliant pyrotechnics, and dreamed of the day she would create one.

This would be a better view.

Finally, Nyssa passed through the front row, Continue reading

Friday Flashfic: Saturday Night

This was not how my Saturday night was supposed to go.

That super cute guy I met in the coffee shop? I was supposed to have dinner with him, talk about our taste in movies – we both like horror films – and complain about our jobs – I’m a paralegal, he works in finance. We were supposed to have dessert, go for a walk, share a kiss, wander back to my place for a little post-date action. I had it all planned out, how I’d pour him a glass of wine and sit on the couch, and reach up and unbutton the top button…

You know what was not supposed to happen? The fangs, for one thing.

Yeah, as soon as my pretty white neck came into view my Cute Date turned into Eldritch Creature of the Night. Complete with fangs, pupil-less eyes, and a hunger for blood. Luckily, I was still wearing my cross. The Big Guy and I might not be on the best of terms, but it’s too damn useful not to wear, being one: a cross and two: pure silver.

So Mr. Fang couldn’t lay a hand on me without burning himself, and it was quick work to grab the stake from under the coffee table and take care of him. Then, of course, there was vampyre dust all over my carpet – my brand new carpet – and I had to vacuum when all I wanted to do was curl up with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.

I thought about calling my mother, but she’d only say “I told you so.”

It was a terrible night, and a terrible date. But you know what the saddest part is?

This doesn’t even make my Top Ten.

Friday Fiction: Home

Miri crested the top of the hill and sat on a tumbled-down stone wall, panting as her heart slowed and the light-headedness settled. Below her, the town spread over the valley like a blanket of red and white, the clean stone and bright roofs picturesque against the green of the hillsides.stock-photo-aerial-view-of-carmona-a-typical-town-in-saja-valley-cantabria-spain-72730978

Oren climbed up behind her, his pace steady – and his breathing steady, too. Habits instilled by his military training kept him in shape, and Miri was starting to reconsider her habit of sleeping through his morning workouts.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Continue reading

Friday Flashfic: The Octopus Society

A little preview of a world I’ve been playing in recently. If I ever finish Princess (and Salvage) there might be a novel about lady inventors and Science and exploration and the delicate politics of being an independent city-state within a huge-ass steampunk empire. Grown-up Adeline will have a big role.

Adeline tumbled into bed, completely exhausted.

She had planned on working tonight – the candle stub she’d fished from the refuse pile was still large enough to light, at least for a little while. It was almost done. A few finishing touches only…

The other girls had laughed when she said she was going to be an inventor. It wasn’t that she was female — all the scientist’s associations in the city accepted women now. It was that here in the workhouse, it was hard to have dreams.

And no surprise, when she came back from hours at the mill barely able to stand.

***

It worked. It worked!

The little clockwork sparrow flapped its wings, and hopped, and cocked its head to the side, and chirped. It didn’t fly — too heavy — but it could glide from the bedside table to the floor.

“A controlled descent,” Adeline said.

The girls crowded around, wide-eyed. “Oh, Addy!” breathed one. “You did it!”

***

The Academy of Sciences accepted students only one day a year. Prospectives were invited to present their work before a panel of judges, and only those with the highest marks were accepted.

Addy hurried down the street, her clockwork sparrow cradled to her breast. She was missing work to be here. They’d fire her tomorrow, and then the workhouse owners would beat her for it.

But she had to try. She had to. 

***

They laughed her out of the room.

***

Adeline lay in bed, too broken-hearted to cry. The sparrow sat on the bedside table, and every so often let out a soft cheep. “No, it’s no use,” she told it. “We weren’t good enough.”

She could hear footsteps coming down the hall — the night monitor. Adeline grabbed the sparrow and stuffed it under the pillow, her heart pounding…the footsteps faded away.

Adeline frowned. There was something else under her pillow.

Slowly, she drew it out. A ring in the shape of an octopus, perfectly sized for her finger. A card, printed on thick stock and lettered in black. She held it up to the window, squinting to read it.

Welcome to the Octopus Society.

Adeline smiled.

Friday Flashfic: The Pact

Every year on Midsummer’s eve, we light a bonfire and worship the stag-horned god.

I know, they do it in the cities too. Huge roaring fires in the squares, with the biggest in front of the palace itself. They sing and dance, feast and make merry. Everyone drapes their houses in banners and ribbons and even — if they can afford it — flowers. All the merchants set up stalls in the street, and they have horse fairs and sporting contests with real prizes and everything. That part I’ve seen for myself — the festival goes on for a whole week before and after the holiday, so Da took me once when he had a horse to sell.

They do it in the cities, ’cause enough of us woodland folk have moved out there. But it isn’t the same.

Out there, they think the stag-horned god is a god of plenty, like the Harvest Maiden, and the Midsummer fire a way to ask for good hunting in the next year. But he isn’t. The fires are to thank him for sending the game, but there’s more to it than that.

If you ask the oldest granny you can find about the stories her granny told her, and if you’re lucky, you might hear about the Wild Hunt. It’s not a tale that gets told anymore, you’ll see why. But they used to say it like a prayer: On Midsummer Night, the Wild Hunt rides.

That, you see, was the bargain.

The stag-horned god has two aspects — deer and man. Hunted, and Hunter. For a whole year he sent us stags and other game to hunt. But for one night — Midsummer Night — he hunted us.

City-folk would say it’s unnatural, but it’s the most natural thing there is. Everything in balance. Give and Take. Still, it’s not that we like losing our people to the hunt…but this is an old story, you understand. The arrangement is different now.

That’s another old story, the story of the Pact. And you’re even less likely to hear a granny tell it, if you’re not of the woods. Here we grow up on it, though. Girls and boys both, so we all understand what might be expected of a son or daughter or betrothed. Or of us.

You didn’t grow up here. I can’t expect you to know…it doesn’t matter how much you love me.

Once upon a time, there was an widowed woodsman with three daughters. The eldest had just turned fifteen when she was taken by the Wild Hunt. And the next summer, the hunt chased the girl of twelve. And the third Midsummer, though he locked the doors and barred the windows, the little one ran from the house and was caught by the hounds.

The woodsman was heartbroken in his grief, and the next Midsummer he stood out in the woods and cursed the stag-horned god.

“How can you cause us this grief? Take our children? How can you inflict this pain?”

The hunt took him that night, but the stag-horned god found himself moved to pity, and he appeared to the priests of the wood-folk and proposed a different arrangement. Well, as I said, the people didn’t like the deaths, it was just how the woods worked. Needless to say they agreed to the new arrangement.

The Pact…well. The stag-horned god was lonely, roaming the woods all year without company. And so he chose from among the girls of the woods a bride to call his own. And he transformed her, and she roamed with him. She lived a great many years, but not forever, and the god was alone again. So this is the arrangement: when his consort dies, he chooses a new one.

Every year on Midsummer’s eve we light fires and worship the stag-horned god. And on Midsummer Night, those years when he needs to…he chooses his bride.

The sun is setting. I must go to the woods. I don’t think I’ll come back.

Friday Flashfic: The Woods

Once it finds you, it never really lets you go.

It’s always winter, there, the trees’ skeletal branches reaching out to touch you. You wonder what would happen if they did.

The woods fills the dark space when you close your eyes. When you’re sitting in your chair, curled up with your cup of tea, you see it in the thin light reflecting off the liquid surface. Sometimes when you look in the mirror, the glass fogs. You think you can see the trees stretching out behind you, a never-ending labyrinth wreathed in mist.

It follows you everywhere. Someone taps you on the shoulder, but when you turn there is no one there. Someone calls your name, but it was only a fat crow, watching you with beady eyes. You stop to buy a bouquet of roses. When you bury your nose in their petals, you smell wet leaf litter.

The woods have claimed you for their own, and they mean to have you. You will go to them, one day.

Or they will take you.

Friday Flashfic: The Raven

The Raven came to town today.

He walked into the town center, his birds circling around above him, and opened the doors to the little church. It didn’t take long for the line to form, people with their grievances saved up, waiting to be seen by the Raven.

A few years back, that King down south marched his armies through the borderlands and planted his flags. He tried to bring us under his wings, then. Sent his ministers to be judge, jury, and tax collector. But we are under the wings of the Raven-god, and his justice is swift and merciless. After the third body was found, eyes pecked out, the king gave up.

I don’t know what he expected; it was sheer arrogance to think that the god would forgive the burning of his sacred forest. But that’s the monarchy for you.

For three days, the Raven will hear the disputes of the townspeople, his rulings echoing from behind the beaked bronze mask. They say the Raven was something more than a man, that his priesthood has changed him. They say he was the god’s hand on Earth, his instrument, his vessel. I believe them: his hands, the only part of him you can see, are an inky blue-black.

On the fourth day, there will be no more hearings. The Raven will speak only five words – five words that could change my fate. Who will take the trial?

I used to dream about my life. I’d marry a handsome boy, I’d learn his trade, and we’d work together to build a family. That was how it went, in the borderlands. But when the king planted his flags, his soldiers planted their seed. There’s a few too many fair-haired babies hereabouts.

And now here I am, three years later, with a dead betrothed and a father who won’t look me in the eye.

So when the Raven speaks those words, I will answer. When his birds alight on my wrists, Truth on the left and Falsehood on the right, I will meet their gaze and I will not be afraid.

And that night, when the Raven leaves town…

I will go with him.

Friday Flashfic: Girls Can’t be Heroes

Girls can’t be heroes.

We are the princess in the tower, the ogre’s prize, the virgin sacrifice. It is never a woman who rides at the head of the army, never a woman who defeats the Dark Lord. We are bound in chains, while the men slay the dragons.

Girls can’t be heroes.

How many women captain a space ship? How many women lead expeditions to alien worlds? In a future where man can travel at the speed of light we are held to a walking pace.

Girls can’t be heroes.

It’s not for us to fly faster than a speeding bullet. It’s not for us to leap tall buildings in a single bound. We do not save, we are saved and we should be grateful for it.

Girls can’t be heroes.

It is a litany repeated over and over again, carved into our skin, woven into our hair, tattooed on the inside of our very souls. They tell us and tell us and tell us again, and then we tell ourselves.

Girls can’t be heroes.

Oh no? The can’t? Then I won’t be a hero.

I’ll be a villain.

Salvage Teaser

Just a little something that popped into my head, to give you a taste of what this project is like. Note that this is what I call a “dialogue skeleton” – just the words with no attribution, no description, no anything. I’ll add those when I actually start writing.

“And if Fleet catches us on a warship we say…?”

“We’re looking for survivors.”

[snort]

“It’s a legitimate exception to the regs. We have a med kit around here somewhere, don’t we?”

“We have an expired, half-empty first aid pack.”

“Close enough.”

So there you have it. The ragtag crew of the Lady Luck prepares to get into trouble. As usual.

Friday Flashfic: Autumn

It is the fall-time, when the air is crisp and cold and smells of apples. When the leaves riot a glorious red and fall from the trees in bloody showers. When the wind begins to grow teeth.

It is the fall-time, when creatures roam the woods and the border between this world and the others grows thin. At this pivot point, this delicate border between the wild celebration of life that is Summer and the quiet contemplation of death that is Winter, the Shadows creep their fingers through the cracks.

It is the fall-time, when we celebrate a bountiful harvest, when we eat and drink and make merry, but must be mindful, lest the Others grow jealous.

It is the fall-time, when we light candles in the windows to light our way home, and keep away the monsters; when we huddle around the fire and tell tales to let them in.

It is the fall-time, beautiful and dangerous. Autumn is the warm embrace of the embers and the cold bite of the ashes; the caress of a stroke and the sting of a slap. She is sacred and profane, the time when anything is and anything can be.

Revel in her. But have a care, for we do not walk these Autumn woods alone.