Flash Fiction: “No Roots”

My mother once told me, ‘you can cast seeds, but you don’t know which will sprout.’

Her face is draining of color, lips turning blue as I watch. I jump into action, hold her cheek, ask her if she’s choking, did she eat something she wasn’t supposed to.
She only shakes her head, tears running down her cheeks.
“Please Erin, no! Someone, please!” I don’t know who or what I’m crying for, only that I want whatever is happening to my little sister to stop.
But there is nothing there to stop.

Maybe that’s why of five siblings, it was only my sister and me left.

“It’s a curse,” she says. It’s barely a whisper, but stuffed into the cathedral as we were, even a whisper is like a prayer to my ears.
“Wonder who will be next?”
I spy from the corner of my eye one of them sneaking a glance towards us.
To me.
“Bet it’ll be the oldest. She’s always getting in trouble. Maybe she’s the one doing it.”

Funny how scarcity breeds dependence.

“It’s just us, now.” Eileen grasps both my hands in hers on the sheet, our foreheads near touching as we stare into each other’s eyes.
“We have to stick together.”
I don’t comment on the tears, and she doesn’t comment on the lack of mine.

I suppose they thought I’d be the one to save them.

“It’s the only way to save us both.”
It’s a lie, and she knows it. I don’t trust this man, his honeyed words, this convenient solution.
One that means not destroying the curse, but forcing it to move on. To another family, another child.
“You’re wrong. It’ll damn us both.”

They figured I’d been the seed to sprout their saving grace.

“Stay with your sister. It’s the only way.”
“That’s a lie and you know it.”
The backhand is instant, as if she expected my outburst. It sends me sprawling onto the floor, holding where her hand landed with something akin to resolve.
“Don’t you dare say that, ever again, you hear?”
I won’t.
But I won’t need to.

But me?

Their voices are hushed, a whispered conversation behind closed doors. They think I don’t hear.
I do.
“If it comes down to saving one, save Eileen. I hope it won’t come to that, but we need to be prepared.”
There’s a pause, then a determined answer.
“I understand.”

I don’t have any roots.

“Jessie, please, don’t do this!”
I move further away from the circle of salt, the runes written on the floor of the shed. I pull the sachet and dagger from out of my jacket pocket.
“Only one of us can survive. You knew it all along. You’re just mad you didn’t pull the trigger first.”
I raise the dagger in front of me, holding it over the top of my right hand, the sachet grasped in a tight fist.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t want to die.”

I owe them nothing.

<Back to Flash Fiction>

Flash Fiction: A New Mountain

(This is a submission to the Rue|Lou Prompt Flash Fiction submissions from Twitter (#ruelouprompts)

Every Thursday, Rue (@sparkswrites) or Lou (@lw_writes) submits a prompt for any writer to submit Flash Fiction for. Each piece must be 500 words or under, and either include the prompt or be inspired by it.

This prompt did NOT fit into the 500 words, but I felt it was a better story intact so I left it as-is.)

A New Mountain

I struggle through the drifts, feet burying into snow up to my knees with every step. My hands are numb from the cold, ice and snow no longer melting under them when I grasp the trees to keep myself upright. The occasional pinpricks that shoot through my fingers mean I may yet keep them, but not if I don’t get out of the blizzard, soon.

Bitterness rises in my throat like bile.

I’d volunteered to make the trek with the doctor and midwife to a nearby village to ask for aid. Our town had been wracked by sudden disease.

But it had all gone so wrong. The sudden downfall of snow caught us off guard. The midwife had fallen down a sheer drop, the doctor claiming the remaining pack of supplies for his own when we failed to find the trail back. He’d warned me off with his pistol, mad with the will to survive. I’d fled, stumbling at first through brush and trees, then mounds of snow and ice.

I found the cliff face. Peering over I could spot the lights from the town in the distance- too far. My hope drains through my skull. There’s only one person who lives anywhere near this area.

The Beast.

Or so they called him.

He kept to himself, shuttered in his dilapidated mansion on the cliff overlooking the shore, barely visible from town on clear days.

When newcomers asked of the mansion, the townsfolk spun wild tall tales, leaving those who had asked wide-eyed and fearful.

I’d never met him, the Beast. I didn’t know if it was a name or a description.

All I know is that I have to find shelter.

I approach the mansion carefully. Crumbling stone pillars nearly block the entryway, but a single lamp lights the stairs leading to the door.

I climb them, stumbling on ice, legs nearly ready to give out but so close to salvation. It warms my frozen tongue enough for me to call out as I knock with icy fingers.

At first, nothing. But then the front door creaks slightly open. I feel the warm air escape the stone building.

“Hello?,” I call out. “Can I come in? Please? Only, I’m lost, I need-“

The door is thrown open, warm arms covered in scraggly hair envelop me as I’m pulled inside. I’m hit with the heat from the fire in an instant, choking the breath from me as it battles the chill in my lungs before my body is able to adjust.

“Sit by the fire,” he says, voice a deep rumble that I feel in my chest like a strike of fear.

He pushes me into a chair, moves towards the fire with his back to me. He’s tall, shoulders sloping into a mane of black hair that’s half tied at the crown of his head. He leans down, grabbing several pieces of wood in a hand covered in black fur with veins of white, ending in sharp claws.

I rub my hands together, trying to warm them and hide the tremors of fear my fingers would betray. When he turns to me, my brow furrows, but no other emotion is betrayed.

His face is… inhuman, as expected. Strong jaw, fangs peeking between furred lips.

But what I didn’t expect was the concerned, gentle, very human emotion on his face. A strange juxtaposition to the animal ferocity I’d last seen on the face of the quite human doctor.

“Who are you?” I know the better question would have been what but I’d been struck by his expression.

He seems as surprised as I am at my non-reaction to him, but if it seems to amuse him because he smiles. He moves to a large, sturdy armchair next to the fire that creaks as he sits.

“Who I am does not matter.” he starts. “How have you come to this place? You don’t seem prepared to travel in a storm.”

The story falls from my lips in a rush, my words a waterfall that I couldn’t hold back had I tried.

He’s quiet after my story is told, claws idly scratching at the wood that makes up the arm of his chair.

“I am what I have been made,” he says. “I don’t know how or why. I only remember this place, like a waking dream.” He pauses in his scratching, staring into the fire.

“You are welcome to stay until the storm passes, I have food and wood to spare. But what of the doctor? What would you like to become of him?”

“I hadn’t given thought to it,” I say. “Were he to die I would not mourn. But were I to see him again, I don’t know what I would do. It’s his word against mine. I would gain nothing by sharing my story.”

He’s quiet, long enough that I too turn my face towards the fire, close my eyes. I can see the flames flit through my eyelids, and I breathe in the wonder that is warmth and safety.

“And if he were to not make it through the night? Were he to find himself prey to some… beast. What would you say then?”

My inhale is sharp, but the cold fear I expect never comes.

Bitterness and bile.

“I would be grateful to such a beast,” I whisper. “If such a thing were to happen.”

He nods, and I can see a ripple in his muscles as they tense. He stands from the chair, then walks back towards the door we’d come from.

I find myself filled with no regret, no urge to call back the words I uttered. Fear flutters in my chest, but not for me. Not for the doctor, either.

“Be careful,” I say to the Beast. “He has a pistol.”

“Me?” He smiles, all fangs. “I’m only going out for firewood.”

He grabs a mammoth velvet cloak from a stand next to the door, throws it over his shoulders. He is there, and then like a shadow, he is gone. The door closes on the wintery landscape with a slam behind him.

I stare at the fire in his absence.

Sometimes you fall to rise onto a new mountain. I smile, hands warmed, the fire dancing in front of me.

And sometimes, the beauty befriends the beast.

<Back to Flash Fiction>

Flash Fiction: Ten Nanoseconds

(This is a submission to the Rue|Lou Prompt Flash Fiction submissions from Twitter (#ruelouprompts)

Every Thursday, Rue (@sparkswrites) or Lou (@lw_writes) submits a prompt for any writer to submit Flash Fiction for. Each piece must be 500 words or under, and either include the prompt or be inspired by it.)

Ten Nanoseconds
TW: Child death (referenced), Grief, PTSD)

Ten nanoseconds. It’s my mantra. My saving grace and my kryptonite. It alternates between a lifeline and the rope to hang myself with.

Ten nanoseconds. That’s how long I had to move, to make the decision between my life and my daughters. Elijah calculated it, thought it would help. From footage from a nearby traffic light, he’d deduced that’s how long I had to think clearly enough to pull my daughter from her fate. To save her.

He believed it would help me come to terms with the idea that there was nothing I could have done. But no matter the logic he throws at me, that it was impossible for me to change the course of events, it doesn’t matter. It becomes a vice- ten nanoseconds for my daughters’ life.

Today I live a half-life. There is a part of me still living in those ten nanoseconds. It’s a perpetual, infinitesimal loop of the living, breathing me and my daughter during a time where I could have made a difference but didn’t.

I make lunch plans. Work the same nine to five job I have for fourteen years. Go to dinner parties with people that knew her, knew my daughter, and can’t understand that there is a part of me that died with her.

I get good at it, pretending. Those ten nanoseconds, that place I live, I bury it deep into myself where no one can find it. Until the people around me tell me how proud they are of me for surviving. Until my husband hugs me and says we can make it through this and we will do the best we can to make her proud.

I get good at it. But not perfect.

I excuse myself from lunches to choke back sobs in the restroom. I explain I have an early morning when out at dinner in order to go to my car, turn off the interior lights so I remain unnoticed and sob hard enough that I wonder if I’ll ever breathe the same again.

The years go by and those ten nanoseconds become a festering wound. It’s a blackened part of my heart that won’t mend, and the longer I live, the deeper the hurt becomes.

I lash out in anger for odd reasons, or no reason at all. Instead of words of comfort or condolences, I am met with misunderstandings and resistance. I feel like you’ve left, a friend tells me. I don’t feel like I’m connecting with any part of you anymore. Where did you go?

It never left her, I want to say. I’m still buried with her.

I lose friends. Family. My husband. Those ten nanoseconds take everything from me, and then they take me too.

I stand on the cusp of destroying myself and starting the climb up a sheer cliff of pain. There are no easy solutions, no answers.

Ten nanoseconds. Enough to save me, or enough to destroy me.

Which should I choose?

<Back to Flash Fiction>

Flash Fiction: A New Color of Sunrise

(This is a submission to the Rue|Lou Prompt Flash Fiction submissions from Twitter (#ruelouprompts)

Every Thursday, Rue (@sparkswrites) or Lou (@lw_writes) submits a prompt for any writer to submit Flash Fiction for. Each piece must be 500 words or under, and either include the prompt or be inspired by it.)

A New Color of Sunrise

I’ve been staring at my account for half an hour, but it doesn’t change. No matter how much I will it, no money magically appears.

There’s a new color. They say it is best viewed during sunset, though the sunrise is a close second. Like nothing anyone has seen before, they say.

They said that about the last color too.

And the last smell. The last touch. A few colors before was described as ‘life-changing’ and ‘the greatest discovery of the millennia.’

I’d missed all of them. The last color I’d missed because I got sick and missed several weeks of pay. The new smell before that I’d missed when my brother had broken his arm and needed a cast. Before that, it was a leaky roof, before that my bike needed repairs.

I blink three times in quick succession to close my account window, pull the NuSight glasses from my face, set them on the table.

No point in dreaming today.

I forget about the new color for the next several hours, isolated at my shop. It’s a hot day, hotter still near the furnace. The sweat creeps down my face, my neck. I’m sure I’m covered in soot and dirt by the time the sun sets.

I allow myself to watch it, cooling myself off in the now frigid air. I watch my normal sunset with normal colors and try to not feel bitter.

New color or no, it’s still beautiful.

I feel wrung out and sore when my alarm goes off the next morning, the sound grating. I’m brushing my teeth, still in a daze when I hear the high pitched beeping of the glasses. I figure it may be a new client. I spit out the foamy toothpaste, go back to the bedroom where I’d left them.

It’s from an address I don’t recognize, but takes up the whole screen. The message is one line, a sans serif font in red: “See What They See.”

My head tells me to swipe it away, but my gut tells me to click on it.

I notice nothing new at first until I turn towards where the curtains block the window. There is a sliver of color, a halo around the reds and oranges peeking through the curtains.

I move quickly, nearly tripping over last nights’ clothes in my hurry. I pull the curtains back. The sun is just making its way into the sky, surrounded by pinks, oranges—and whatever it was they called the new color.

For a moment I only breathe. My thoughts become dim, muted in the sight. There are no words to describe it.

They said the sunrise was a close second?

I can’t imagine a more beautiful sight than this.

When the hack is finally caught by the manufacturers, long after the sun has risen, the color leaves my sight. There is still a smile on my face.

The memory of the color will fade. But for a moment, I owned the world.

<Back to Flash Fiction>