Young Steel

You’ve decided it’s time you taught your granddaughter to use a sword.

My granddaughter came up the path, as she did every Monday and Thursday. It warmed me, to still have visitors; the hike into town had grown difficult for my old bones, though perhaps it was just the townsfolk. So many bled for them, and they seemed intent on forgetting it. Not my granddaughter, though. She was blooming into womanhood, but still took the time to visit an old man. She always asked for the old war stories.

Today, though, she came up the walk with a new hairstyle. Over her shoulder, hiding one cheek. It was pretty. But the look on her face was shaken, nervous.  Familiar.  “Amanda. Always a pleasure.” I hugged her, as always, then brushed her hair behind her ear before she knew what I’d done, showing the bruise on her cheek. “Were we going to talk about this?”

“No.” She was direct. She didn’t argue or make excuses.  I liked that about her.

“Well then . . . you like the old stories, right?”

She looked up, hesitating. She knew I rarely told her the real stories. I told her about where we went and the things we achieved there, but not the real grit of it. There were war stories, and there were the ‘old stories’. “Will you tell one?” Continue reading “Young Steel”

Wings of Burden

Image Prompt: Water by WLOP

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Image: Water by WLOP (DeviantArt)

I looked into the water with a sigh, feeling the chill of the water soaking into my shift. The water adhered the fabric to my skin revealingly, though the ripples on the water distorted my form. I crouched closer to look at my shape in the water. It was artistic, nature. This art was the highest and purest kind, born from the interaction of natural principles. Below my reflection fish swam, venturing closer with my stillness.

And then there were the wings. Continue reading “Wings of Burden”

Unarmored

Night Diner

This is the third story in what I call the ‘Soul’ series, based on artwork by Klegs.

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Artwork: Night Diner, by Klegs (DeviantArt)

“Man, that was great!” Sarah was excited, animated, all the things that set me on edge. But she wasn’t like most people. I knew that she needed to just talk. I was content to listen, and she didn’t take offense.

“It was just me! I mean, the bar was a hole in the wall, but I wasn’t just opening for someone, either. They wanted me! They even applauded!”

I just sipped from my drink, listening. I remembered my impressions as she spoke, building her words and my memories into a fuller picture. The bar was small, and the stage tiny. It smelled like stale beer. People drank and played pool. At first, there was disinterest, then a spark of curiosity as a new face took the stage. “How did they look at you while you played?”

“Man, it was crazy!” Her hands came out of her pockets to gesture. “Everybody was looking at me. It was awesome! It was terrifying! You got to tell me you got pictures of it all, you got pictures, right?”

I remembered that spark of curiosity in their faces kindling into something more, glasses stopping in the air as people paused to look. I already knew that the footage of that moment would go into my final edits. “I got pictures. And I got video.”

“Awesome! We’re getting this on YouTube tonight, right?” Her hands took my arm, but let go again, going back into her pockets against the chill. “Sorry. I’m crowding you. I’m just so excited!”

I smiled and glanced over at her. It was a small smile, but meaningful, and from her expression of relief, I think she knew it. “You’re a step ahead.  Most people just think I need to change.”

“Screw them. You’re you, without regrets.  Anybody tries to make you change, I’ll kick their ass for you.” She thumped her hand on the rail for emphasis, and I could hear the metal resonate like a bell.

I smiled again and felt my cheeks heat. Not many people could get through my shell, but it always unsettled me how quickly those close to me could raise my emotions. I wasn’t used to being emotional. “Yeah. So YouTube. I don’t want to put it up raw. You did really good. Give me some time. I can make something great with this.”

“Yes!” She hopped in place, then clapped her hands. “Thank you! You! Are! Awesome!” I felt my cheeks heat more.

“Just doing what I can do.”

“Doing it great! For me! Without me even asking! Come on, you’re great. People get paid for that stuff!”

I looked at her, not knowing how to respond. I was tempted just to put on the armor and shrug, but I couldn’t do that to my best friend. Instead, I turned and hugged her. It was brief and awkward, then I let her go and turned back away, and put the straw in my mouth so I wouldn’t have to say anything.

She watched me, then leaned back against the rail. I glanced over, and she was grinning like a madwoman. “Thanks.”

I knew she wasn’t talking about the video editing. “Sure . . . you’re welcome.”

Photographer’s Spirit, Sniper’s Soul

A photographer and a sniper meet in a bar. Neither is aware of the other’s occupation. They talk about “how to take the perfect shot”.

 

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I looked at the mirror across the bar and surveyed the damage. The youthful man looking back at me was a mess.  My hair was full of dust; from the explosions, from the powdered concrete of ruined buildings, and from the ever-present road dust.  You couldn’t escape it.  The caked mud on my face was where the dust in the air had mixed with a bloody scrape.  a I sipped at the beer in my hands – the first I had found in a week – and sighed, savoring this respite from the chaos.

My companion was a more grizzled man.  He looked like he was used to conflict.  His hair was cropped shorter than mine, a week of beard went unnoticed by any razor, and a jagged, torn scar snaked along the line of his jaw like a disfiguring rope.  “You’re new to this, ain’tcha?”

“It’s my first time ‘in it.’  I took some fantastic shots, but . . . it’s chaos out here.  This country is a wreck.”

He smiled, putting an empty glass down, and the bartender refilled it with an amber liquid that smelled like kerosene. “Y’get used to it.  Learn to function in chaos, or go home.  Got some good shots myself.  See that bell tower up there?” He pointed through the window – a church steeple was visible from a few blocks away.  The top of it had been destroyed, leaving only a broken wall, and the crumbling stub of a staircase. “Before they secured the city, got some of the best shots of my life up there.” Continue reading “Photographer’s Spirit, Sniper’s Soul”

My Friend’s House.

Take me to your favorite place, your favorite moment, describe how it is in your memory or imagination.

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I crawled out the window onto the porch roof. The book in my hand struck the sill, but I didn’t dare lunge after it as it skidded down the roof. It slid to a stop just short of the gutter. I went and retrieved it, careful of the edge. My next stop was to cross to the far side of the porch and spread a double-fistful of peanuts. Rushing back to my bedroom window, I leaned back against the brick wall, my legs spread out before me on the slanted roof, and I opened the book.

The wind was cool in my hair. The sun was warm on my skin. The rustle of the leaves was comforting, like a mother shushing and comforting an upset child. For a time, I was lost in another world. Princes led men into battle, magic powers contested each other, and the forces of good and evil struggled. Then I heard something.

A scrabbling . . . a crunch. I looked up, and a squirrel had found my peanuts. She’d gotten bolder in the past weeks. She tore the shell of every peanut, stuffing them into her cheeks before rushing off to bury them. Five, six times. Then she ran out of peanuts. She sniffed around the roof, and I tossed one her direction. Instead of cringing away, she rushed for it, scooping it up, trying to fill her cheeks. I tossed another, closer; she advanced – stopped, looking up at me, then took that one, too.

Would it be today? Would she? I held one peanut out, in my fingers. She looked at me, and it seemed like she met my eyes, even though hers were pure black and on opposite sides of her head. She moved forward with that frenetic energy that squirrels have, stopping barely a foot away. Then she crept closer and snatched it from me. Suddenly she was five feet away and crunching through the shell.

It was okay. I was grinning like a fool, despite her distance. She’d come closer than ever before, and I knew she’d grow more comfortable with time. “Come on down for dinner!” It was faint, through the open window. I could ignore it, pretend I didn’t hear, but then they’d find me on the roof and that would be a whole different kind of trouble.

I leaned in the window and called back. “Be right down!” I climbed in, replacing the screen, then I brushed leaves and grit from my pants and socks. I changed my shirt so they wouldn’t see the dust from the mortar of the brick wall, and I shook my hair out just in case. It was a good thing I did – a leaf drifted down. Then I rushed downstairs for dinner, still smiling. I had a new friend!

Dire Gifts

The elf queen, hearing that yet another young hero was slain during a heroic monologue, decides she’s had enough. She gives her last magical weapon to the grizzled, no-nonsense human guard and says it’s up to him to slay the great evil.

Dire Gifts

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“Dammit! Damn it all, another man dead while bragging to the enemy! Another blade lost! What do these idiots think dire blades are, Efran?”

I had not moved during her tirade. She would blow herself out and calm down. She never spoke to me, though. She spoke to her guards all the time, but never to Kirin, or Efran. I was surprised that she knew my name. “I don’t know, grace. But really, what are they? They’re not a birthright or a destiny. Just a rare and powerful tool.”

In her frustration, and being alone, she had laid across her throne. Her head laid on one arm, her knees hooked over the other. Now though, she flipped over, kneeling in the seat with her hands on the arm, and her ocean-blue eyes on mine. Her gaze was uncomfortably intense. Continue reading “Dire Gifts”

Paranormal Activity

A challenge to myself, to write a story for a picture chosen by somebody else.

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Eight o’clock. I had n’ left work this late in months. All of the other purchasing agents had quit on me or were detailed to other tasks.  It was just me right now, and I was exhausted. The monorail roared down the track running parallel to the road, the street flashing bright and dark as the windows rushed by.  I didn’t pay it much heed, until it went dark, though.  The streetlights went out, the house lights went out, and I could tell the train wasn’t powering down the rails anymore, only coasting.

I turned around, and looked down the mountainside – I could see so much of the city from here – and I was just in time to see the whole city go dark in patches. The train stopped with a squeal and hiss of hydraulic brakes, and then everything was quiet.  I looked at the train and saw people in the glow of their phones, some pressing against the windows to see outside.  A city-wide blackout. Continue reading “Paranormal Activity”