Pass [Flash Fiction]

Colored blue and gold, Graham sat on the throne. He held a scepter. His forehead itched, a couple stray thorns drooping off his curling black hair. His boxer shorts were bunched uncomfortably beneath the full regalia.
He wasn’t positive what was happening. His mother, his principal, his grandfather and his trumpet teacher were walking slowly around him. Assessing. Murmuring wind-chime syllables. Graham wasn’t afraid of them. He straightened his back, the heavy cloth and body paint shushing one another as they rubbed. He didn’t dare look down to see if he’d smudged the paint that someone, no doubt a servant – he couldn’t quite remember – had worked so hard over.
“Well?”
“Is he fit?”
“He is fit enough. But he is still a boy.”
“He could lose control.”
Graham fell. His tunic ruffled up with the wind and he could finally fix his boxer shorts. The waterfall behind him spattered him clean and washed off the paint. He felt at his hair but the thorns had become disentangled. He had dropped his scepter. A smug voice called from within the waterfall. “See? No control.”
Graham lifted his hand up. Where a tattoo of a fox had always been on his wrist, a buffalo head rested, dull eyes staring at him, reluctantly giving up their secret. Graham felt the gurgle of hysteria rising up in him. Before his body decided whether it was going to cry or laugh, still freefalling beside the neverending Niagara, he spread his arms wide and spun himself round. It wasn’t a graceful pirouette, but it did the job.
Graham stood in front of the panel. Four people, faces obscured and blurry, not replaced by familiar ones this time. He stood in the clothes he’d put on that morning. Jeans, a long-sleeved t-shirt, boots. His version of a uniform, easy to remember and get back into. He looked down at his tattoo. The fox was back. It winked at him.
“That was a very close shave, young man.”
“I know,” Graham dared to speak.
“Were you even lucid in the first stage?”
“Of course,” he lied.
“You must admit, some part of his subconscious kept that waterfall going and going. He could have hit bottom at any point.”
“That’s true.”
“I think we should give him a probation period.”
“Agreed. Are we agreed on this? Acceptance with probation period?”
“Agreed.”
“Agreed.”
“Agreed.”
“Wake up.”
Graham opened his eyes onto reality. He stood in the same room, but this time the panel’s faces were clear. He didn’t let them see his reaction. He bowed his head in thanks, acknowledgement, respect, whatever, and left the room. Probation or not, he was certified Lucid. Now the party could really start.

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The Night City [To Be Continued…? Maybe?]

In the Night City, the children ruled. Most of them weren’t taken care of, and they ran the streets, gangs of them, skateboarding on starlight and sliding recklessly down moonbeams. Once in a while, the Council tried taking control, cracking down on the lawlessness that had settled into their city, but every effort ended in failure. The children adapted to the new rules and found one loophole after another until the system broke down and they had free reign once more.

The smallest, most exclusive gang was also the strongest. The Secreteers, they were called. The boys and girls who belonged to the Secreteers wore masks over their mouths, symbolizing their abilities to be silent, to keep and ferry secrets. It wasn’t a uniform, though, and each mask was different. One girl tied a pink bandanna around the lower half of her face. A boy, young enough not to worry about ripping out any tender whiskers that might grow on his upper lip, strapped his mouth shut with thick, black electrician’s tape. An androgynous little thing, with golden ringlets and overlarge ears, had a pacifier firmly placed between his or her plump lips.

“Those are the kids you want to join,” Sheila whispered, perched on a lamppost, watching a Secreteer zoom across the Night City air in bright pink roller-skates. Sheila scratched her shoulder where a stray feather was poking her. She shifted, fixing the costume wings she wore over her worn blue t-shirt.

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why would I want to join them? They work all the time, don’t they? Working isn’t fun.”

“You’re an idiot.”

Royal, a little kid who’d come into the Night City with a weird birth mark shaped like a crown on his forehead and no memory of what his name was, swung like a monkey underneath Sheila. He was still in the acrobat phase, getting used to the low gravity of the Night City.

“Look at me!” he shouted, and Sheila looked down in spite of herself. He was swinging on a rope he’d found somewhere, and he’d tied a sort of ring in it, which he was now using as a handhold to help him do somersaults in the air as he pushed off the post with his feet over and over again. “This is awesome!”

“You’ll get used to it.” Sheila kept watching the house across the street, waiting for her target to appear in the window. She wasn’t here to play games. Royal was a newbie, and she was his babysitter – doing her duty, like everyone had to – and that was fine, but she had to concentrate, too. It was also painful, being reminded of that dreaminess that she and everyone else had had at the beginning, the awe of what you could do in the Night City that you couldn’t do before.

“Can we go get food? I’m hungry.” Royal hung his legs up in front of her and swung upside down, his blue-black hair looking spiky and his face becoming full of unfamiliar shapes.

“Not yet. When I’m done here.”

“But what are you doing?” he whined.

“Wait and see.”

“But I’m bored!”

“Shh – here we go!” Sheila saw a woman in a purple dressing gown appear in the window. She looked outside, seeming to wait for something, and Sheila launched herself down from the lamppost, twisting the air around her on the way. By the time she’d arrived at the window, anyone not in the Night City would see her as a cat. She mowed, pawing at the window, and the woman smiled and opened it, letting her in.

The moment she slid inside, Sheila let the illusion around her unwind. Before the woman could scream, though, Sheila had already passed a hand over her eyes and pressed her cool lips on the woman’s cheek. She whispered in her ear, “Go back to bed. Everything is alright.” The woman blinked, her eyes heavy, and walked back to bed.

Sheila watched her go and went to the window to wave Royal inside after her.

“Don’t touch anything.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s not good for us. Most of this isn’t in the Night City.”

“Then why are we here?”

“Because we’re looking for something that IS in the Night City, dumbo. Something that got in here when someone who lives here picked it up or bought it or I don’t know what. But it doesn’t belong to them. It belongs to us. So we’re taking it back.”

“Oh.”

In A Perfect World

In a perfect world, she thought, she would be sitting in the passenger seat of her favorite car, with the top down. There would be loud music coming out of the sound system, and she would singing at the top of her lungs, one hand dangling over the door with a cigarette between her fingers. The person driving the car would be her long-term boyfriend of five years, although perhaps it would be her red-head girlfriend of six months; she couldn’t decide which it would be or which one was the correct choice for the perfect world that was being built in her mind’s eye.

There would, of course, be a destination for this car ride. It would probably be a sweet log cabin with electricity and wi-fi and reading lamps but also be near enough to a lake and a decently mysterious forest, just in case she felt particularly nature-loving. There would be a hammock outside, and a cat flicking its tail stretched out on the porch, meowing in welcome. Maybe, if things could be really crazy in this perfect world, the cat would be a tiger or a jaguar, something large and languorous that would make her feel exotic and dangerous.

In the perfect world, she would also be escaping something, because – she was aware of this, even in her bubble-bath dream – anything worth running to is only as good as it is better than the thing it is replacing. In this world, she thought, maybe she’d be escaping the paparazzi who wanted to interview her about her latest best-seller or her most recent and notorious Broadway performance. Very possibly both.

In the perfect world, her voice was perfect, and thought tears rolled down her face, the wind whipped them away as she sang and smoked simultaneously. Things could be beautiful and challenging in her perfect world, satisfying and ever-changing, shifting and interesting and – most of all – regretless.

In her bubble bath, smoothing one hand over her belly, she wished she could at least get the wind to blow away the tears. But the fan was broken, she couldn’t afford her air conditioning unit, and the heat was oppressive, even in the icy bath water. She cried and waited for the contractions to stop, wishing them away in her perfect world.

Shoulders

The devil was perched gracefully on one shoulder. The angel that had been resting on the other had slipped off a moment before and was jumping up and down in frustration, trying to get its minuscule little wings to carry it back up to an ear. Its high-pitched voice was much too small to be heard from ground level. Why did people have to be so very big?

The angel sighed and gave up. It would have to find someone else. The devil had clearly won this particular person. The horned head peered down from its station and crossed its eyes and stuck its tongue out at the angel. The angel lifted its nose in the air and didn’t deign to take offense. But in truth, it was a little bit hurt. It never said anything bad about the devil, but devil insisted on just being plain mean. There was no call to be like that, as far as the angel was concerned.

Trudging to a mouse hole in the wall, the angel pulled a list from its pocket and began to peruse it, trying to figure out where it could go next. There were so many people who needed guidance, but the problem was that getting onto people’s shoulders was a lot harder than it looked, particular for a finger-angel like this particular one was. There were all sorts, of course – some were as big as people and didn’t have wings or halos or anything. But there were countless finger-angels that were expected to whisper into ears, but their wings were almost useless. They could only fly very short distances, so they had to find a series of steps up to people’s shoulders. The devils of similar stature had sharp claws that helped them climb their way up people’s clothes, which was a much quicker way to get up there.

A squeak sounded, tearing the angel’s attention away from its list. It smiled beatifically and raised its hand in a blessing. The mouse blinked and wiggled its nose, which the angel took to be a sign of thanks. With fresh enthusiasm, it began to walk through the wall to find the next person it needed to help.

The Mistress and the Magicians

Mistress locked me in a room with a candle burning and a loaf of bread, whispering to me as she shut the door that she promised to return. I waited for her. I waited and waited, but she didn’t came. The candle flickered and burned out after a few hours, and still the dawn didn’t come. I opened the curtains, but I could see nothing outside. The storm was so bad that no light penetrated the dark clouds. I tore small pieces of bread off the loaf and chewed them slowly, hoping that they weren’t the last things I would eat.

She said that the Magicians were doing something dangerous and that she was trying to protect me. I believed her, because Mistress never lied to me. I’d been with her since I was a small child, and I remained at the castle after my mother, her previous maid, died of a wasting illness. Mistress was about my mother’s age, but infinitely more beautiful. She knew the secrets of the Magicians because she was married to one. I almost never saw her husband, though, even though I’d lived at the castle for most of my life. He was always shut up in the tower rooms with the other Magicians, or else away with them on one of their infinite tours with the militia.

The reason was, of course, that we lived on the Border, which is the only place Magicians were allowed to live. They weren’t illegal, because the Crown used their services, but they didn’t want them to be anywhere near the capital. Some people in the big cities, I’d heard, didn’t believe that the Border was real, and they thought the Magicians were mad, people who’d contracted some illness, and that the Crown was simply quarantining them far away so that they wouldn’t spread the disease. It was feasible, I suppose, but living on the Border as I’d done, I knew that they did a real service for us all. They kept us safe.

So I believed Mistress was trying to protect me. When the men came into my room, I thought that she’d sent them. I’ll never know now if she did or didn’t, because by the time they took me into one of the tower rooms that were Master’s workshops, Mistress was already dead, spread out on the floor with her face as white as can be. They didn’t let me run to her. They pulled me back, roughly, and I knew that it was my turn next.

Ready… Set… Write!

Okay, so this post might just have the single most corny title I’ve ever written. I hope you’ll all forgive me for it, because it’s actually reflecting what my feeling has been since this morning.

NaNoWriMo is starting tomorrow – so one minute after midnight, I am going to start writing, and hopefully get to my entire word count before going to bed. This is the second year I’m participating in NaNoWriMo,while last year I was living at home, someone else was doing my laundry, and I had very little that I needed to do besides write, this year I have so much to do that the 1667 words I need to write a day seem extremely daunting and threatening.

Unlike last year, I haven’t created an outline for my novel. I have a cast of characters, and I know, in general, what I want them to deal with. I know some of their motives, some of their histories, some of their attitudes and voices, and that’s helpful, but I don’t know where I want them all to end up, so I’m very unclear about where they’re going exactly. But that’s exciting – writing is, for me, a lot like reading in that I discover things along the way.

I’m writing literary fiction this year rather than steampunk/fantasy, so that’s going to be very different as well, since I feel that I write the genres quite differently.

It also happens to be Halloween today. I didn’t dress up as anything, and I probably won’t, since I feel like I’m storing up all my creativity for 00:01AM tonight when I start writing. I really feel like I’ve spent the past couple weeks crouching low, ready for the gunshot that will announce that the race is on. It’s strange.

Finally, let me end this extremely disorganized and badly composed post by saying that I will probably be posting to my blog less in the coming month because of NaNoWriMo. However, I succeeded in posting every single day of October! Huzzah!

Fountain [Flash Fiction]

The fountain had been dry and empty for years, just like the house that closed in on it on all four sides. The courtyard was entirely isolated; there was no way to reach it, unless maybe you helicoptered in.

“How do you get in there?” Amy asked the real-estate agent who was showing the place. The man looked like a wax figurine, smile hitched almost permanently in place and his hair combed and parted perfectly, looking as if it was simply sculpted that way.

“We-ell. You don’t. Actually.”

Amy waited to see if this ‘actually’ meant that there actually was a way in, but finally understood that there was no further explanation coming. “They built the house around the fountain?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I could climb out the window and into the courtyard, couldn’t I?” she mused aloud. “I guess that’s what the pool guy will have to do, huh? Don’t pool guys take care of fountains and stuff, too?”

“We-ell. Well well. See, actually. Actually if you look you’ll see that there aren’t first floor windows leading into the courtyard. As such. And the drop from here is very very high. You see?” The waxen smile was becoming strained, as if a candle flame was being held under it and it was going to melt grotesquely at any moment. Amy drew away from it, and from the man, in slight disgust.

“But then what’s the point of having a fountain? And what if I want to get it running again? I love the watery sounds that fountains make.”

“We-ell, the previous tenants just ignored it, you see. That’s really the best option. Now, if you’ll come through here I think you’ll appreciate the east-facing balcony which is lovely and warm during the afternoons but comfortably cool in the evenings…” he rattled on, and Amy took one last regretful glance out the window at the fountain before following him.

A bird that had only recently settled in the neighborhood chirped merrily from the eaves of the house and then, thinking it saw something, dove down into the courtyard. The fountain twinkled as the clouds parted and a ray of sunlight hit its marble surface. The bird’s mate waited anxiously for it to return, but nightfall came and she waited in her nest in vain.