New Short Story – “Puffery”

Remember last month when I said I was doing the NYC Midnight Short Story Contest? My first story, “The Nickel Tour,” was good enough to get me through to the second round. Now the results are in for that one and, well, I won’t make it to the third round. “Puffery” garnered an honorable mention, but didn’t place in the top 5 (out of 25 in the group). Given that it was outside my usual genre and style, I’m still pretty pleased with it.

For this round, my group was assigned to write a political satire on the subject of medical tourism, with a warlord character in it. After a false start I slipped into the right mode and wrote something that is definitely influenced by the time and place in which I wrote it. It also allowed me to create a character that I think I want do more with in the future.

Until then, enjoy!

Puffery

Milo slipped into the Trapezoidal Office just as the Generalissimo said, “what’s in the bay?”

Advisors were arrayed around the room, each clutching papers and trying to hide behind one another. Milo didn’t even recognize some of the faces. He’d made the right decision not bothering to learn names. What was the point? They’d be gone soon enough.

“A plague ship, sir,” the Minister of Defense said.

“From America,” threw in Kevefe, the Generalissimo’s son-in-law. Educated in America, married to the Generalissimo’s beloved eldest daughter, he was the one the man always tasked with doing anything important, from managing the Generalissimo’s properties to trying to negotiate treaties. His title should have been Minister of Everything. “They’re having a plague. It’s whipping through the south right now, like Sherman a generation ago.”

The American south was the closest large land mass to Oflana, the small island the Generalissimo had made his stronghold. It wasn’t even at large as Charleston, the nearest American city.

“And why are they here?” the Generalissimo asked, putting his elbows on his desk. It was enormous, made of dark walnut with ornate carvings of mythical sea creatures on each leg. He  told people it was made from the beams of the British frigate that Sadont, the national hero of Oflana, boarded and captured when the island won its independence. He would take any opportunity to tie himself to that legend. The truth of the desk, so far as anybody could tell all, is that the Generalissimo had found it in an estate sale in Savannah during one of his “diplomatic” missions.

“Because we are a day’s steamship voyage from Charleston,” Defense said. “Perhaps two, depending on weather.”

The Generalissimo looked as confused as ever. “But why now?”

Milo knew how this dance worked. The Generalissimo worked through the problem in his own time and in his own peculiar way. Everyone would have their say, but he had to make the final decision, even if everyone else knew it was the wrong one. Milo decided he had to goose the process along.

“Sir?” He raised his hand like a grade school child.

“Yes, Minister of Information?” the Generalissimo said, slightly slurring his words.

“Sir, that ship is here because of what you said on the radio last week.” Every week the Generalissimo took over the island’s five radio stations for his Voice of Oflana broadcasts. Ranging from five minutes to five hours, depending on his mood that particular day, it was his chance to talk to his people, who had little choice but to listen.

“Last week?” The Generalissimo looked at Kevefe, squinting, like he was trying to dredge the memory from the depths of his mind.

“You talked about the plague in America, how their hospitals and doctors couldn’t cope,” Kevefe said. “Things of that nature.”

“Due respect, sir,” Milo said before the Generalissimo could move on, “it was much more than that.”

The Generalissimo looked at him, slumped in his seat, hands outstretched. “How much more?”

Milo took a deep breath. “You also discussed the medical system here on Oflana. You called it the best in the world.”

“Of course,” the Generalissimo said. “We only have the best things here in Oflana.”

Milo knew that might be true for the Generalissimo and his family, but that for the rest of them modern medical treatment was more hope than reality. He pushed on anyway, leaving truth bloodied in a ditch yet again. “You also said the plague would not strike Oflana,” Milo closed his eyes and quoted verbatim, “because it knows in its heart that we have the medicine to kill it.” It was times like this that Milo cursed his eidetic memory.

“So?”

The Minister of Health sheepishly raised his hand. “Sir, that pronouncement may have been premature.”

“Are you suggesting I lied?” the Generalissimo said, slowly rising from his chair, his ever expanding girth straining the medal-covered white uniform he was wearing.

Health’s eyes went wide, but before he could defend himself the hammer came down.

“You’re fired!” the Generalissimo boomed, pointing to the door with great emphasis. “Get out!”

“Sir, I,” Health began to say.

“Do I need to call for Boze?” the Generalissimo said, invoking the name of his security chief, a massive islander who could snap Health, or anyone else in the room, in two.

Faced with a fate worse than termination, Health scurried out the door.

“If I even said that, about having a cure for the plague,” the Generalissimo said, returning to his seat. “I don’t think I said that.”

The advisors all exchanged wary glances. Milo just managed to avoid rolling his eyes. Not only had he heard the Generalissimo say those exact words, now the man had gone and fired the person who should be put in charge of dealing with that plague ship slipping into the dock.

“Rest assured, sir,” the Minister of the Interior jumped in, “our physicians will deal with this pestilence with care, skill, and strength.”

“We’re about to find out,” Milo said. There was a clock tick-tocking in his brain, knowing that the American ship was going to reach the dock in any moment. “Sir, that’s why they’ve come. They think there’s a cure here, and they’ve come to get it.”

Milo could tell that the Generalissimo was still missing some links in the chain. “Your broadcasts sometimes reach the American mainland. It depends on weather conditions, if I’m correct.”

Across the room the Minister of Technology nodded vigorously.

“In addition, although you expelled a number of American journalists last month, there are still a few foreign reporters here. I’m sure they heard your broadcast.”

The Generalissimo shook his head. “Deadbeat losers. Why do I let them come here and cause trouble?”

“They’ll be gone by morning,” Kevefe said with a wave of his hand.

“Er,” Milo said, lump in his throat, “that won’t solve the problem, sir.”

“Why not?” Kevefe glared at him.

Milo tugged at his collar. “They surely know that this plague ship is arriving. Anyone can see down into the bay from the city. And the ship is quite large.”

The Generalissimo leaned forward. “Larger than the Dominator?”

Dominator was the pride of the Oflan navy. For all intents and purposes it was the Oflan navy.

Milo chose his words carefully. “I’m no expert, sir, but I can say that it is not nearly as impressive as Dominator. Nonetheless, it’s carrying hundreds of people.”

“All infected?” At least something was getting through to him.

Milo shrugged. “It could be healthy people trying to escape from the plague. Or it could be sick people looking for a cure. We’ll only know for certain once they dock.”

The Generalissimo furled his brow. “Don’t we have radios? To talk to the ship?”

Milo wasn’t in the mood to handle this question, so he did what he had to do. “I believe that the Minister of Technology could best answer that question, sir.”

Technology shot Milo a look that said he would pay for this in the coming days. “Recall, sir, that the land-to-sea radios were damaged in the storm two years ago.”

“Ah, yes,” the Generalissimo said, “the great hurricane I turned away from the island.”

Hurricane Robert took dead aim on Oflana, turning off to the east and out to sea at the last moment. While it spared the island and the city the worst of the winds, the bay at the bottom of the hill had still been swamped by the storm surge. Hundreds lost their lives.

“Yes,” Technology continued, “well, sir, those systems have never been repaired.”

“Why not?” The Generalissimo said.

The truth was that the money went to rebuilding the swimming pool in the Generalissimo’s palace, but Milo certainly wasn’t going to say that.

“It went,” Technology started. He apparently thought better of it, too, the firing of Health still fresh in everyone’s memory. “I don’t recall specifically, sir. Regardless, there’s no way to contact that ship until it docks.”

Milo checked his watch. They had, at most, five more minutes to make a decision.

“Then how do we deal with this?” the Generalissimo asked, relaxing again. “Why not just send them back? I’ll defend my people against any threat. Keep that infected ship off our land.”

“That would look very bad,” Milo said. “This plague is fast acting. If there are sick people on that ship and they don’t get any kind of treatment they may die before they get back to Charleston. The press would have a field day.”

“The press hate me,” the Generalissimo said. “Even if we don’t send the ship back, they’ll say bad things. Lies and slander over and over again.”

Milo wasn’t about to get into this now, so he dodged the barb. “Is there another option?”

“We let them dock,” Interior said. “If they’re healthy refugees, we take them while stating this is a onetime situation. Any other ship will be turned back. If they’re sick, they go to the hospital and we’ll treat them the best we can.”

That was a bad option, too, Milo knew. It would lay bare the Generalissimo’s claims that the plague could be treated here. These people, if sick, would overwhelm the island’s small hospital and most likely die horrible deaths, but at least their ends might come with some dignity and care. “Sir, we really have to make a decision. That ship is about to dock.”

The room fell silent. Milo held his breath, bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet, waiting.

“Let them in,” the Generalissimo said, after what seemed like an eternity. “We are a generous people, are we not?”

“Yes, sir,” everyone else muttered without real conviction.

“Thank you, sir,” Milo said, bolting from the room. He couldn’t believe the man did the right thing, even if it was probably for the wrong reason. Milo ran to his office, rang the dock, and told them the news.

Shortly after he hung up, Kevefe knocked on his open door. “How are you going to sell this to the press? Before you’ve expelled the foreign reporters, of course.”

With the foreign press gone that would only leave the handful of Oflan reporters, none of whom were interested in doing anything but regurgitating whatever Milo told them.“I hadn’t thought of that yet,” he admitted.

Kevefe raised a finger and said, “I have one word for you.”

“One word?”

Kevefe nodded. “Puffery.”

Milo raised an eyebrow. “Puffery?”

“It’s a legal term,” Kevefe said, lapsing into his typical condescending explanation mode. “When someone makes a promise, say in a contract, and can’t keep it, that can be because they lied about the promise or they, let’s say, promised more than they could actually deliver. They puffed up their capabilities.”

“In other words, they lied to get the contract,” Milo said.

Kevefe stepped into his office and glowered down at him. “No, they innocently exaggerated their abilities. Are you suggesting that our physicians aren’t capable of dealing with this plague?”

“The best doctors in America aren’t,” Milo said, deciding not to answer directly.

Kevefe shifted forward, hands on Milo’s desk so that he was almost on top of him. “Are you calling my father-in-law, the Generalissimo of Oflana a liar?”

Milo wanted to, but knew he couldn’t. “Of course not,” he said, doing his best to back away from Kevefe. “Puffery. Yeah, I think I can sell that to the press.”

“You’ll prepare a statement?” Kevefe said, stepping back and composing himself.

Milo nodded. “And, of course, I’ll share it with you before it’s released.”

Kevefe stepped back into the hallway and smiled. “You’re a good man, Milo. Don’t know what we’d do without you.”

Milo took a moment once Kevefe disappeared to compose himself. He needed to prepare a statement for the press. And he needed to expel those foreign reporters. If he was lucky, maybe they would take him with them.

Cartman

New Short Story – “The Nickel Tour”

I’m taking part in this year’s version of the NYC Midnight Short Story contest. The way it works is that for every round folks are divided into groups and each group is given a particular assignment in terms of genre, scenario, and a required character, along with a limited amount of time to write a story. As the competition goes on (there are four rounds in total) the time given to write the stories shrinks (as do the maximum word counts, thankfully).

The first round stories were due back in January. I was drawn into a group where the required genre was sci-fi, the scenario was a job interview, and the character was a mercenary. The word limit was 2500 words. The results finally came in last week and I made it out of the first group! So along with about 800 others I had to write a new story last weekend for the second round. We’ll see how that goes.

Here’s the story from the first round, “The Nickel Tour.” I took the title from a phrase used in my office when we interview someone and then show them around the office. That definitely played into the story and the setting. Enjoy!

The Nickel Tour

Reynolds was having a hard time taking his eyes off the stun grenade sitting on of the table. It was inert, or so the mercenary sitting across from them had said. Ada – that was all, just Ada – had assured her interviewers that unless the lights along the centerline were flashing it was perfectly safe, a harmless lump about the size of an egg, shaped like a rugby ball. Nothing to worry about.

Nearly all the other mercenaries interviewed for this new security position had been caught at the building checkpoint trying to bring in some kind of weapon. Ada hadn’t, which made her all the more impressive. She didn’t even look like a merc. The others looked like they had all come from central casting, clad in leather and with enough scars to fill a plastic surgery convention. Ada sat calmly, in a tailored light grey suit, with short blond hair, and blouse buttoned up to her neck. If someone from outside walked in on this, she would look like just another lawyer trying to get a job. Yet, somehow, she got that grenade into the office.

“You’ve had experience with sudden, emergent, rapidly changing situations?” Tacey, one of the partners, asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” Ada said, shifting to look the attorney directly in the eyes. “I was part of the response team that dealt with the environmental collapse on Keneally Station out in The Ring. There was a sudden spike in CO2 levels, along with failing hydroponics and water regulators. Within a day the place was becoming toxic. Needless to say, people there were panicked and had to be contained.”

The way she said “contained” made Reynolds’ mouth dry. She made the violent control of desperate people sound like no more than a Saturday picnic.

“What about more long term problems? Something that you just can’t fix overnight?” Dipali, the senior partner, asked.

“Sir, I was on the Revenant when that mess went down,” she said, shifting again. “I can assure you, there was no short term solution there, but we managed to keep a lid on things.”

“What happened on the Revenant?” Reynolds asked. The others at the table looked at him like he’d asked them why water was wet.

“It was a long haul liner bound for Europa,” Ada explained. “There was some unpleasantness aboard.”

“On a cruise ship?” Reynolds asked, chuckling nervously.

“It wasn’t that kind of a liner, sir,” Ada continued. “It was full of refugees wanting to start a new life off-world. What the agents hadn’t realized is that they put a bunch of people in this ship who came from different clans that had been battling each other for generations – in business, arts, politics. Left with months of nothing to do other than stew on old grudges in close quarters, things turned . . . unpleasant.”

Everyone else around the table nodded, so Reynolds didn’t ask anything else. He returned his attention to the stun grenade and wondered how many of them she’d used during that “unpleasantness.”

“Your resume is impressive,” Tacey said, “but almost all of it is off-world.”

Ada nodded. “I’ve spent most of my career in The Ring, working for various mining co-ops. There was also a stint on Mars as part of a personal security detail. And I did a pair of deep space runs. I’m very comfortable in space. I’m very comfortable taking control of situations.”

“Then why come back to Earth? Why now?”

“Life in space can be very transitory, very unsettled,” she said. “I’ve reached the point in my life where I want more permanence. It sounds corny, but I just want to find a place to call home, maybe raise a family.”

“How long have you been off-world?” asked Dipali.

“Long enough that I need to make the choice before my body does it for me,” Ada said. “I’ve chosen Earth and I think this position would suit me very well.”

Tacey asked, “any experience with interdimensional beings?”

She squirmed in her seat. “Nothing professionally, ma’am. I’ve seen the vids, I’ve done some reading. I can assure you, however, that  I’m very good at getting up to speed in a new situation.”

The members of the hiring committee looked at each other and nodded.

“I think that’s all we need,” Dipali said, standing and extending his hand. “We’ll be in touch before the end of the week. For now, Reynolds here will give you the nickel tour. It was very nice to meet you.”

“You, too, sir.” Ada shook hands before everyone else left the room, leaving her and Reynolds alone. “Does every interviewee get to see the office?”

Reynolds shook his head. “You’re the first. I’d say that’s a good sign.” He nodded to the grenade. “Should you pick that up?”

“Leave it,” she said. “It’s a paperweight.”

“You’re the expert,” he said, opening the door into the back office.

The offices of Dipali, Tacey, and Waldroup were like one of those tunnel systems that prairie rodents dig. The outside world sees, at most, the reception area and one of the two conference rooms adjacent to it. Only employees, the odd repair person, and select interviewees get to see what lies beyond.

“Probably seems a little confusing,” Reynolds said as he led her back past a cube farm filled with busy legal assistants. “It will actually make perfect sense once we get back out front.”

“It’s a circle,” Ada said. “But lead on.”

They paused for some  introductions, then continued into the more secluded area of the attorneys’ offices.

“How many attorneys are there?” Ada asked after they’d met another pair of associates.

“A dozen,” Reynolds said. “The three partners on the front door, a couple of junior partners, and then the associates, like me.”

“How long have you worked here?”

“Couple of years. That’s why I was in on your interview, since I was the last hire. It’s kind of a tradition.”

“And what is it you do, exactly?” She was in earnest, information gathering mode, not just making idle chit chat.

“I specialize in cultural understandings, and misunderstandings, in interdimensional contract law. I was brought on when the firm started doing interdimensional work. It’s the same reason we’re hiring a security specialist.”

Ada nodded as they walked down the curved corridor. “Cultural understandings? You make sure nobody’s feelings get hurt?”

He shook his head. “A contract is a meeting of the minds between two parties, or more, to do particular things. You have to know the cultural background of each party to know how that meeting of the minds happens or if it happens at all. Think of it as a way to avoid any . . . unpleasantness.”

Ada nodded at the call back. “Like what?”

“You said you’ve never dealt with an interdimensional being before.”

She shook her head. “Only humans out in space.”

“Well, consider how contract terms might mean different things to a human from our world and, say, a human from Earth-13, where the sky is purple and the sun never really sets. Or if the other party to the contract is a being of pure energy, like the Sostu. Some of our clients are Tuv’O, which for all the world look just like orchids. But they’re sentient!” Reynolds couldn’t help getting excited when he talked about his work.

“And they need contracts?” Ada asked, tugging at her collar.

“Doesn’t everyone?”

“If they’re plants, then how do they,” she paused for a moment, swallowing hard, “how do they get around, much less to another dimension?”

“They’re carried around by a bonded pair of Ez’ak – think a Chihuahua crossed with a beetle – with whom they communicate telepathically. It’s really fascinating.”

“If you say so.”

“Now you’re in for a real treat,” Reynolds said. He knocked on a door, then opened it, letting Ada walk in before him. “Meet Frunobulax.”

Ada looked around the cramped room, jammed with sleek, black computer equipment. On top of one black box, near the door, was a small orb, pulsing with pale orange light. “Who?”

“It’s our office AI,” Reynolds said. “Say hi to Ada, Fru.”

The orb’s glow intensified and deepened into the color of a rich sunset. “Hello, Ada,” it said in a smooth, controlled voice that was clearly artificial without sounding like a computer.

“Had much experience with AI?” Reynolds asked.

Ada shook her head. “Just about every ship making runs out past Luna has some kind of AI, but nothing like this.”

“Fru is the cutting edge of AI and machine learning. He was given basic programming, then let loose on the entirety of human knowledge to develop a personality. That’s where he got the name.”

Ada looked at him, confused.

“Frunobulax has something to do with Frank Zappa,” Reynolds explained. “Fru fell deep into his discography during his learning phase and liked the name.”

“It is a very large poodle dog,” Fru threw in.

She nodded, still not getting it. “What does Fru do?”

“I handle most of the background office functions, from environmental controls to lighting,” Fru said.

“All of that’s out of human hands?” Ada asked, voice cracking slightly.

Reynolds nodded. “Those factors can be very important, depending on which clients are around,” Reynolds explained. “Fru is much better at handling them in real time than we’d ever be.”

“I can also analyze data at a much faster rate than the humans,” Fru continued. “And, of course, I manage the mathematics behind the rift generator.”

Her eyes went wide. “What did it say?”

Reynolds grinned. “Come on,” he said, leading her out of the room, closing the door behind him.

They walked past a few more doors, as the loop that was the inner office turned back toward reception, when they came to a black door without any visible handle. Ada looked around as they walked, like all of a sudden she was plotting an exit strategy.

“You’ll like this,” Reynolds said, grinning like a kid showing off his Christmas toys. He leaned in to a panel near the door while a laser scanned his eyes. Once a soft “bong” confirmed he’d passed that test, he exhaled on the panel. It turned green and the door whisked open. He stepped into the doorway to hold it open while Ada walked inside.

The room itself was about the size of a two-car garage. It was immaculately clean, with what appeared to be bare white walls, floor, and ceiling. At the far end was an arch of dull grey metal, studded with pulsing, purple emitters.

When Ada saw it, her hands shot too her mouth, like she’d seen a ghost.

“Pretty cool, huh?” Reynolds said, beaming.

“This law firm really has an interdimensional rift generator?” She said, mouth agape. “I hoped that computer was joking!”

Reynolds nodded. “I said we were on the cutting edge of interdimensional law. How else could we be? It’s a small one, but it gets the job done.”

She gave him a sharp look. “Is that legal?”

“It’s not illegal,” Reynolds said with a shrug. “There’s no law against it, if that’s what you mean. This is an office full of lawyers. You think they’d do something that might be against the law?”

Ada didn’t seem convinced. “But all the other rift generators are in space, either in Earth orbit or out in The Ring.”

“Because that’s where they were first built,” Reynolds said, strolling around the room. “There’s nothing about rift generation that requires vacuum or zero gravity. No reason why you shouldn’t have one on Earth.”

“No reason?” Her voice was rising. She undid the top button on her blouse with one hand and fanned herself with the other. “What about Field Station? That, that . . . thing they summoned?”

“An early calculation error,” Reynolds said, waving away her concern. “Fru would never let that happen here.”

“What about that entire mining colony in The Ring, the one that just disappeared?”

“Sabotage, of course” Reynolds said. “That’s why we’re hiring a security specialist. Are you all right?”

Ada was breathing fast, taking gulping breaths.

“Come on, let’s finish up the tour.” He repeated the process to open the door and Ada ran out ahead of him into the hallway. She was doubled over, gasping, hands on her knees.

Reynolds started to pat her on the back, but thought better of it. “Maybe should have saved that for another day. It’s probably a lot to take in.”

She stood and nodded. “That a device capable of ripping apart the fabric of space, and perhaps wiping out the Earth in the process, is in the hands of a boutique law firm? Yeah, that’s one way to put it.”

“We’re not James Bond villains,” Reynolds said, chuckling. “Come on, we’ll stop by Mr. Waldroup’s office, so you can meet him.”

“Actually, if it’s all right, I should be going,” Ada said. “I know you’ve got work to do and I need to get to the shuttle pad to catch my flight back to Luna.”

Reynolds stopped and was going to ask why she didn’t want to meet the one named partner she hadn’t seen yet, but decided against it. “Sure, Ada. Whatever you say.”

Walking back towards reception he had a hard time matching her pace without starting to trot. It was like she knew where she was going now and was intent on getting there as quickly as possible.

When they reached reception, Reynolds took a couple of longer strides just to make sure she couldn’t bolt straight through the door. He was certain she could brush him aside if need be, but he hoped she wouldn’t end a job interview like that.

Ada stopped, ran a hand through her hair, and took a deep breath. She held out her hand. “Thanks for the tour. It was . . . eye opening.”

“You’re welcome,” Reynolds said. “Like Mr. Dipali said, I’m sure you’ll hear something back by the end of the week.”

She nodded, stepped around him, and through the door.

“Safe travels,” Reynolds said, waving at the closed glass front door.

“What was that all about?” asked the receptionist.

Reynolds shrugged. “Beats me.”

The next morning, Reynolds was checking his email when a new message arrived. The subject line said “Sorry.” It was from Ada.

“Thanks for the tour yesterday,” she said. “I’ve decided that coming back to Earth isn’t the right decision for me, so I won’t be joining your firm.”

“I wanted to tell you to go grab that stun grenade, if you can,” the message continued. “You can activate it by twisting the narrow end three times to the right, then twice to the left. After that, all you have to do is compress it between your hands, throw it, and run like hell.”

“Memorize that, Reynolds,” she said in closing. “You’re going to need it.”

Reynolds locked his workstation and headed for the conference room.

JobInterview

“Killer Queen” – A Short Story

Once again, author Eric Douglas has invited other writers to do some short fiction for Halloween. Once again there’s no word limit or target, so naturally my entry this year is twice as long as last year’s. You can read that one here, as well as my two prior 100-word entries here and here. And, as always, head over to Eric’s place to check out stories from all the other folks.

Now, without ado – “Killer Queen”


Sanchez wasn’t surprised that there was a crush of onlookers and paparazzi when she arrived. A bloody murder at the Calabria Club was just the kind of thing that got social media in an uproar. She whipped out her badge and used it to cut a swath through the gawkers.

“Evening, detective,” said a young officer. “Quite a scene.”

“Nothing like what’s inside, from what I’ve heard,” Sanchez said, slipping under the crime scene tape.

“It ain’t pretty.”

She already knew the basics. They didn’t make any sense, so she did her best to put them out of her mind. She wanted to view the crime scene with the freshest eyes possible.

The Calabria Club was the kind of small, hip club Sanchez could never hope to get into. She imagined it was usually all dim lights and pulsing music. Now it was deadly quiet except for the muffled talk of cops and lit as brightly as the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. It was like when you see the person you took home the night before for the first time in the cold light of morning. Never a pretty picture.

The vic was on the floor next to the bar. She was a young woman of indeterminate ethnicity, with long black hair and a short, sparkly silver dress. She lay on her back, hair spread around her head like ink spilled from a well.

Most of her face was gone.

Sanchez leaned down. “Holy shit.”

Doc Forbes, the medical examiner on call, stepped over. “Never seen anything like it.” She pointed to the vic’s throat. “Ripped clear out. I mean, somebody went in with bare hands and literally tore this woman’s throat apart. I’ve seen mob killings, dismemberments, you know? Where they’re sending a message? Never anything like this.” She shivered and walked away.

Sanchez had never seen anything like it, either. The vic’s face was a mess of blood and torn flesh. In a couple of spots Sanchez could even see bone. The vic’s throat was nothing more than a dark, damp chasm where her windpipe had been.

Sanchez shook her head. There was another officer nearby. “There’s a perp, I understand?”

He nodded to a back room.

Sanchez thanked him and headed behind the bar, toward the back office. She knocked and let herself in.

“I don’t believe it,” was the only thing Sanchez could say. “Twitter was right.”

Stina Blomgren, the up and coming model and social media star, sat slumped in a chair, flanked by a pair of officers. Her hands, caked with blood up past the wrist, lay limp on her lap. Her dress had once been electric blue, but now it was a symphony of arterial red streaks and splashes that would have made Pollock proud. A red smear streaked across her face from her lips, mixing with slowly flowing tears. She was mumbling something Sanchez couldn’t quite make out.

Sanchez tapped Cal Cooney, her partner, on the shoulder. “What happened?”

“We’re getting security footage now,” Cooney whispered, all the while keeping an eye on Stina, “but the witnesses all say that she just went nuts and attacked that girl.”

“Is she a friend? A rival?” Sanchez had a hard time figuring out what could make somebody do that to another human being.

“That we don’t know. She’s not being very helpful, saying ‘something just came over me.’ Over and over, that’s it.” Cooney said. He nodded back over his shoulder. “Stina’s purse is in the next room. Take a look through it, see if there’s anything interesting.”

Sanchez nodded and backed out of the room. In a collection of coats and bags she found a small clutch that matched the dress Stina was wearing. She cleared a spot on the table and dumped the contents out. Out came a state ID card and a couple of credit cards with Stina’s name on them. It was definitely hers. No phone. Maybe somebody in the crowd nicked it. The only other thing of interest was a tube of lipstick.

Sanchez picked it up. The tube was plain white plastic, without any of the design elements she was used to. The only thing on it was a small sticker on the bottom. “Killer Queen,” it said, along with “PINTURA,” the cosmetics company.

“Ooh,” she said. Pintura was so hot these days stores could barely keep it on the shelves. Not that it mattered to Sanchez. This would probably go for at least a sixty, seventy bucks a tube, well out of her reach on a detective’s salary. She popped the top. It was a bright, fiery red, more dazzling than any Sanchez had ever seen, sharp and forceful. It was probably a prototype of some kind, given the plain white tube. One thing was certain – Stina wasn’t going to need it where she was going. It was a shame that it would just wind up rotting in an evidence back somewhere.

Sanchez looked around for moment and, convinced she wasn’t seen, slipped the tube into her pocket. One of the perks of the job.

~~~~~

While the Calabria Club Cat Fight, as the press had dubbed it, was bloody and sensational, it was an easy case to put down. The murder had been filmed by multiple security cameras from beginning to end, with a few cell phone videos managing to capture the bloody conclusion. It was just as the witnesses had said – Stina jumped on the victim without provocation and ripped her apart. They didn’t know each other and had barely interacted at the club. Sanchez’s job was to figure out what happened – that was obvious. She’d let the ADAs and their shrinks try to figure out the why. That was above her pay grade, so she moved on to more pleasant things.

Sanchez grabbed her phone and texted Teo, a guy she met on a dating app a couple of weeks back. They’d met once in person, for afternoon coffee, just to check each other out and make sure they weren’t serial killers. He was cute and had been as nervous as she was, so she decided he was okay. She’d also run his name through the databases at the station. Sure, it was against the rules, maybe even illegal, but this wasn’t the kind of thing you took chances with. She was satisfied that Teo wasn’t a criminal, so it was time to push things to the next level.

They agreed to meet for dinner that evening at a small bistro in Sanchez’s neighborhood. She put on her best little black dress, the one that let her show off the curves she had to pretend she didn’t have at work, and grabbed the lipstick she’d taken from Stina’s bag.

She’d gone to the Pintura website to look up the color, but couldn’t find anything called “Killer Queen” in their lineup. That meant it had to be a prototype or early edition. It went on more smoothly than any lipstick she’d ever used. It was as bright red as she’d imagined, like the paint job on a Ferrari. It glistened just a bit, enough to add a thin shine to her lips. She wondered if there was something else in it, as it burned just a bit on her lips. It was like one of those Aztec chocolates that warms up the back of your mouth just as the chocolate flavor dies off. It wasn’t painful, just odd.

~~~~~

She and Teo sat at the bar and had a drink while they waited for their table to be ready, making small talk. He knew she was a cop, but not yet that she worked homicide. It was too early for her to tell stories of blood, bullets, and ripped apart families. Someday she hoped to have someone she could share those burdens with, but for now she kept him entertained with stories from her days as a beat cop. Amusingly insistent drunks, drag queens on bath salts, and neighbors engaged in the most intense disputes over the most mundane things, by contrast, made for good conversation.

Teo laughed at all the right places and showed some compassion when expected.

Teo didn’t have any amusing work stories. He was an office manager for a law firm that handled “boring business stuff,” as he put it. That made for steady work, but wasn’t particularly exciting. He came to life, though, when he talked about music and photography and his rec league basketball team which, he insisted, was the oldest in New York City.

Sanchez nodded and smiled, then did that flirty thing with her hair that was pretty much reflex when she was feeling like this. She liked Teo and could see something worth building here. She was also getting warm, like she already had an entire bottle of whiskey in her. Part of that was the flush of arousal and excitement at how well this date was going, but it was more intense than she’d ever felt before.

They were shown to their table in the corner. They kept talking over an appetizer and salads, but Sanchez increasingly found herself with less to say. Teo picked up the slack, but she started to feel like her mind was slowing down, keeping her from contributing much to the conversation. The warmth that had begun in her belly had risen and become even fiercer. Although it was winter and she knew the restaurant wasn’t hot, she found herself sweating. She became intensely aware of her own breathing.

She finished another glass of wine.

Were all of Teo’s stories this boring? She started noticing that he wasn’t really able to string two coherent thoughts together, like he was just vomiting up a stream of conscious. Was it her? She wiped her forehead, which was hot and damp. She chugged an entire glass of water in one go.

“Are you all right?” Teo asked. He cocked his head a bit, like he was genuinely curious. He touched her hand on the table, but she pulled away.

“Fine,” she said, shaking her head. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. It felt like her insides were on fire, like electricity was coursing up and down her body. She started breathing fast, like she was running a race. Her heart pounded in her ears, driving on and on like a thumping dance beat. Even after the water and wine her throat was parched. Whatever she did she couldn’t get herself to settle down.

“Melissa,” Teo said. “Are you all right? Can I get you something?”

The table, bare wood without a cloth, was softer than she imagined. Her fingers dug into it while she tried to calm herself. She looked up at Teo. The rest of the restaurant was a blur, but he remained in perfect focus. His look of concern sickened her. Who was he to care about her, anyway? What was his real motivation in all this? That little smile, that smirk he’d worn all night. Something had to be done.

“Melissa?” he asked again. “What’s wrong?”

Sanchez bolted up in her chair, overturning the table and driving Teo to the floor. He yelled something, but the screams that boiled up from inside her, then erupted from her, drowned out his pathetic cries. She went for the face first, slashing and grabbing chunks of dull flesh. Blood flowed, staining her hands, but she didn’t care. She had to keep going.

~~~~~

It wouldn’t have been Cooney’s case anyway – not in his precinct – but it surely would have been taken from him given that his partner was the suspect. Not suspect, killer. A room full of diners saw her do it.

He weaved his way through the onlookers and found the primary, an old friend of his from the academy. Cooney looked at the scene and had flashbacks from the Calabria Club.

“She still here?” he asked.

“In the back,” the primary said. “You look like you’ve seen this before.”

“I don’t know.” Cooney shook his head. “I just don’t know at this point.”

Cooney went to the back room, where Sanchez was sitting in a chair, flanked by a pair of uniformed officers. It gave him a strong sense of déjà vu – blank expression, blood all over her hands and dress, and she kept repeating something over and over. Cooney knelt down beside her.

“Jesus, Michelle, what did you do?” He looked for some kind of understanding in her eyes, but they were blank and empty, like windows of a house where everyone had moved out.

“Something just came over me,” she mumbled. “Something just came over me. Something came over me.”

~~~~~

Pintura Won’t Proceed With “Killer” Line

By Hope Williams, Beauty Business Daily

Cosmetics giant Pintura (NYSE: PNT) quietly announced that it was stopping development on a new line of products that was to be marketed under the “Killer” brand. The press release merely stated that initial reports from beta testers had not been as strong as the company hoped for and, in charting its course for the future, resources were better allocated elsewhere.

The “Killer” line was first announced 18 months ago and received some pushback because of the name’s violent connotations. The company had touted that the products, infused with proprietary compounds developed exclusively for Pintura, would have helped create a bold new look for the modern woman.

Social media has been abuzz with talk of incidents involving some of the “Killer” prototypes. Last month model and Pintura endorser Stina Blomgren was charged with murder after a violent outburst in a New York club, but there is no evidence that she was one of the “Killer” beta testers.

A Pintura spokesperson would not respond to our requests to comment.


Of course, I’m aware of the musical reference (you thought that was a coincidence?).

Happy Halloween!

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“The Invited Guest” – A Short Story

It’s that time of year again. Author Eric Douglas has invited other writers to do some short fiction for Halloween. In years past he’s put a 100-word requirement (not a limit, a requirement) on the stories, but this year he didn’t put any shackles. You can read my entries from the past two years here and here. I set out to write something about 1000 words.

Enjoy – “The Invited Guest”

“How could this happen?” Sarah Jane said, head in hands.  She was sitting in a high backed chair next to the fire. Across from her, on the love seat, was the Devil.

He looked like a man of nondescript middle age, with a perfectly tailored black suit. Only his tie contained the faintest hint of red. She knew something was up because of his walking stick, black with an ever shifting pattern of flames. Then he removed his hat, a black fedora. The small horns were a dead giveaway.

Sarah Jane slumped back in her chair. “Why? How?”

“Could have something to do with that,” the Devil said, pointing to the crumpled paper bag next to Sarah Jane’s chair.

“My sandwich?” She’d just finished a supreme club sub from Tony’s down the street.

He nodded, eyes twinkling. “Did you, by chance, toss a portion of it in the fire?”

“Yeah, just the heel,” she said, then paused. “Wait a second.”

The Devil’s eyebrows rose.

She dug through her memories, deep into her youth. “My grandmother.”

“Was she was from the ‘old country’?” The Devil made air quotes.

Sarah Jane nodded. “When I was really young she would always hand out this crazy advice. ‘It’s bad luck if you spill salt and then don’t throw it over your shoulder. You’ll have good luck if you eat grapes after midnight.’ That kind of thing.” She thought some more, then started nodding. “And she said something about throwing bread into the fire.”

The Devil clapped his hands together. “There you have it.”

“But I didn’t want to summon you.”

“Makes no difference,” the Devil said. “I did not make the rules, believe it or not.”

“Well, I’m sorry to have wasted your time. You can go now.”

A slow, slippery grin stretched across the Devil’s face. “That is not how this works.”

A sudden chill ran from Sarah Jane’s feet to her head and back again.

“You see, once I have been summoned, there is only one way to make me leave.”

“Which is?” she asked, slowly enunciating each word.

“We need to come to an arrangement,” the Devil said, sounding very reasonable.

“Arrangement?”

“Yes.” He flicked some dust of his hat with his fingers. “Typically when someone summons me they want something big, bold, possibly dangerous. For that they are willing to trade their soul.”

“Whoa, back up, Scratch,” she said, hands raised. “I like my life as it is. I certainly don’t want something so much as to trade you my soul for it.”

The Devil raised a hand, palm open. “Like I said, I did not make the rules. I have to get something from you.”

“But I don’t want anything.”

“Yes you do.” The Devil sat back in his chair and examined his nails.

Sarah Jane chose her words carefully, “I need to pay you to go away?”

The Devil nodded.

“That’s insane! You can’t just show up in someone’s home and then not leave until they give you something!”

He raised a finger. “I did not just show up, woman. I was summoned. That it was without intent is irrelevant. If you want me to leave, you will pay.”

Sarah Jane wracked her brain. “But it shouldn’t cost me much, right?”

“What?” The Devil was caught by surprise.

“I mean, all I want is you gone and, let’s face it, you’re going to need to be somewhere else sooner or later.”

“I suppose that’s right, but . . .” he started.

Sarah Jane ignored him and kept going. “So it’s not really fair to take my entire soul just to get you to do something you’re going to do anyway.”

The Devil sat, mouth open for a moment. “I can play this game longer than you. You’ve got a boyfriend? What will you do if he comes over?”

She shrugged, not concerned that the Devil knew that. “I think Phil would enjoy this. He’s seen all the almost every movie about you, even Crossroads.”

The Devil rolled his eyes, then leaned forward, elbows on knees. “Look, you’ve got to give me something. A part of your soul, just a small bit.”

“Like what?” Sarah Jane asked. “Ten minutes ago if somebody had told me I had a soul I’d have said they were full of shit, but I’d have said the same thing about you, too. No offense.”

“None taken.” He leaned back and looked at the ceiling, deep in thought for a few seconds. Finally, he said, “do you like movies as much as Phil?”

“Sure,” she said, lying just a bit. This was the Devil, after all. “I’m more of a book girl, but I like movies.”

“Very well,” the Devil said. He rose and suddenly was twice as tall, glowering down at her. “I take from your soul the ability to react emotionally to motion pictures,” his voice deepened, “for the rest of your life!” The last phrase boomed around the room.

“Does that mean you’ll go away?” she asked.

The Devil shrank back to regular size. “I keep my bargains.”

“All right, then,” she said, standing and shooing him away with her hands. “Off with you, then.”

The Devil turned and began walking back into the next room. “You think this is a joke. It’s not,” he said over his shoulder.

“Whatever,” she said as she watched him disappear into the darkness.

~~~~~

They walked out into the chill evening. The marquee above them glowed in slow, shallow pulses.

Phil was sniffling. “How can you not be crying? It’s so sad! The way their village was destroyed? How the twins got separated, but only the girl found her mother in the end?”

“It’s just a movie,” Sarah Jane said. She cursed the Devil in her mind.”

“Just a movie,” Phil said, looking at her through bleary eyes. “What are you, some kind of soulless monster?”

“Something like that,” she said, looking up the block. “Let’s go get a sub.”

And remember, any invited guest is better than the other kind:

Be sure to check out Eric’s website for links to all the other stories.

Happy Halloween!

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Water Road Wednesday – Final Excerpt from The Bay of Sins

In this final excerpt from The Bay of Sins, Hirrek scours the Neldathi city of Albandala for information about the murder of a thek. He needs to ask questions some people don’t want to hear. They’re happy to vent their displeasure toward him:

The continued celebration made the enclave louder than the others he had visited. It was nearly impossible for him to hear what people around him were saying as he passed by. The crowd was thick enough that just moving through it without running into people was a challenge. Without knowing it, his avoidance maneuvers eventually took him to the outskirts of the enclave, near the edge of the city itself. He breathed a bit more easily there, enjoying the open space. The din of the crowd rumbled in the background.

That was how they took him by surprise. The first blow knocked him to the ground, his face landing hard on dirty packed snow. He managed to roll over and see three people standing over him. All had the green and white Elein stripes in their braids.

“Keeps poking around,” one of them said. He was younger than Hirrek and not as big. “Like he’s got a right to know something.”

“You’d think he’d learned by now that nobody wants to talk with him,” said another. He was older and standing back from the other two a bit.

“People can talk to whomever they want,” Hirrek said, getting ready to stand up.

The third one, about Hirrek’s age and even bigger than he was, kicked him in the side. “How’s that for talking?”

The first one laughed. The older one didn’t. Hirrek made a note of that as he crumpled to the snow and tried to catch his breath.

“If you have nothing to say, that’s fine,” Hirrek said after a few moments, managing to make it to his hands and knees. “But you have no right to keep me from talking to others.”

“Who gave you the right to start asking?” asked the second man. The third one kicked Hirrek again, sending him back to the ground, face first.

Hirrek spat dirty snow from his mouth and did everything possible to hide the pain he’d endured so far. “The Maker gave me that right, as she did for all of you.” He didn’t expect that to work, but wanted to see what they said at the mention of the Maker of Worlds.

“A blasphemer as well,” said the first man.

“One goes along with the other,” said the third.

“You see?” said the older man. He looked to be the leader of this little group. “This is what you get when you give yourself over to the blasphemy of one god. This one’s from Clan Dost, not that you’d know it to look at him. He’s free to do whatever he wants, but what right does he have to tell us?”

“Yeah!” the other two said.

“He thinks just because his father pretends he’s jeyn now he can go anywhere he likes.”

“My father doesn’t think he’s jeyn, and doesn’t pretend to be,” Hirrek said, slowly getting back to his hands and knees.

“What does he think he is, then?” asked the second man.

“He thinks he’s doing his best for his people,” Hirrek said, speaking slowly and trying to get a good feeling for where his attackers were. The two younger ones were on either side of him now, while the older man stood a few feet in front of him. They weren’t thinking this through very well. “The best for the Neldathi people. All of them.”

“He’s not got the right,” the third man said, before he tried to kick Hirrek one more time.

This time he was ready. Hirrek lunged forward just as the kick came. The man’s foot glanced harmlessly off his lower leg while Hirrek sprang on the older man. He was taken completely by surprise and was driven to the ground by Hirrek’s charge. Hirrek wasted little time exploiting his advantage, punching him twice in the face and knocking him out.

He stood and readied himself for the others, but neither had come to the aid of their master. They stood with fists raised, poised on the balls of their feet, but neither moved.

“I don’t have any business with you,” Hirrek said, eyes flitting back and forth between the two men. “But him, I need to talk to.” He kicked at the foot of their master. “That means either you can leave or I can make you leave, since I don’t need either one of you to make it through the night. Understand?”

It was an empty threat. He was outnumbered and wasn’t carrying a weapon. He didn’t want to be known as walking through the city interrogating people with a knife in his hand, so he’d intentionally gone out without anything threatening in his possession. He’d give anything to have one secreted away in one of his furs. He just hoped that the others thought he was armed.

They looked at each other, then dropped their fists and took a few steps back.

“Don’t want to have nothing to do with you,” the first one said. “Right?”

“Right,” said the big one.

They turned and walked off together, hurrying but not running back to the crowd, the noise, and the fire.

Hirrek grabbed the other man, still thoroughly unconscious, under each arm and began to drag him through the snow toward the center of the city.

The Bay of Sins arrives March 22 – pre order now for the low launch price of 99 cents! Get The Water Road and The Endless Hills while you’re at it!

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Water Road Wednesday – First Excerpt from The Bay of Sins

The first excerpt from The Bay of Sins. In this scene, Mida, the healer in Innisport who Antrey put in charge of the city, has been arrested and charged with treason and collaboration with the Neldathi. Using a code delivered via a wadded up piece of paper thrown over a wall, she reached out to her neighbor in prison:

After supper, when she knew she’d be left alone for the night, Mida moved the desk chair next to the wall she shared with C4 and waited. She wasn’t sure if her neighbor would try to make contact first, but Mida thought it wise to wait. Such communication was against the rules, and she wanted the defense, if only in her head, that she didn’t break them first. She was on the verge of giving up and getting into bed when she heard it.

Six taps, faint, like a small metal pick scratching on rock. The sound repeated itself over and over.

The night before, Mida had pried a piece of metal out from under the desk. It was part of a brace that held the desk up, but it was already lose when she found it, and the desk seemed perfectly sturdy without it. She fetched the metal from its hiding place near the toilet and tapped six times in response, then waited.

The code came, slowly and deliberately. Mida wasn’t certain if the other person was being slow for her benefit or not, but she appreciated it regardless. You are new?

Yes, Mida tapped back, quietly sounding out each letter. Two days ago. You?

Long time, came the answer, a little quicker this time. What for?

I don’t know. It was only partially untrue. She was certain it had something to do with Phichan’s need to punish those who worked with the Neldathi during the occupation, but she had no idea what the specific charges were yet. You?

War.

War is over. Mida didn’t understand.

Not for me. Name?

Mida chuckled. They were prisoners, and, naturally, went straight to talking about why they were in prison. Small details like names were secondary. Mida Innis, Healer, she tapped back. You?

Bist, her neighbor tapped, of Clan Kohar.

The Bay of Sins arrives March 22. Get The Water Road and The Endless Hills now!

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Moore Hollow Is Free – Three Days Only!

For the first time, and possibly the last, my debut novel, Moore Hollow is absolutely free at Amazon, today through Wednesday.

Moore Hollow is about a guy, Ben Potter, whose life is a shambles. As a journalist he’s hit rock bottom, writing dreck about monsters and ghouls to make ends meet after a big story blew up in his face. As a son he’s a disappointment, unwilling to follow his father, grandfather, and great grandfather into the family business. As a father, he’s mostly just not there.

Now a new assignment could change all that. All he has to do is go from London to the hills of West Virginia to investigate the strangest of stories his great grandfather told. Did a sleazy politician really raise the dead to try and win an election? And if he did, what happened to the zombies? Could they still exist? Ben needs to find out, to solve the mystery and find a way to get his life back on track.

But once he finds the answer, Ben has to face a whole new batch of problems. Does he use what he learns to put his life back on track? Or is he compelled to do the right thing, even if it leaves his life a mess?

The hardest part of a mystery is deciding what to do once you’ve solved it.

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Get your free copy here before time runs out!

Free Stuff – Not Just Mine!

This weekend (through Sunday) myself and several other writers are giving away free stories and books!

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As you can see here, there’s a pretty wide array of genres and styles, so be sure a check to find something that appeals to you.

My contribution is “The Destiny Engine,” my steampunk take on a Brothers Grimm tale.

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All you need to do is click here, join my mailing list, and I’ll send you a copy in whatever format you want (within reason – I’m scrawling it out on parchment!)

Three (Very) Short Stories for Valentine’s Day

Last year Apex magazine announced that they were reviving their flash fiction contest. Each contest is set up around a particular holiday and for this one the holiday was Valentine’s Day. Each person could enter up to three stories, each no more than 250 words each. Since I’m not one of the winners (congrats to those who did – you can read their stories in February issue of Apex), I thought I’d share my stories here.

 Since I had three stories to play with, I decided to use them to deal with the beginning, middle, and end of a relationship. It’s not the same relationship, mind up – these stories are all set in different universes and involve different characters. I think they get at some universal ideas, however, so maybe they have more in common than I originally intended.

 Anyway, enough of my yakkin’ – enjoy!

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The Spoils

“Is this necessary?” Elvin said.

“He could give in,” said Ilori, one eyebrow raised.

“She could,” Danforth said. Even sixty feet away he could seeIlori was striking. Twilight deepened her mocha skin and added definition to streaks of silver in her short black hair.

“Over this?” Elvin held up the Tyrolian orb.

Danforth nodded. But it was about so much more.

“Very well.” Elvin put the orb down. “Whoever brings it to hand wins.”

They nodded.

Danforth said the incantation quietly – crisp and sharp, honed from years of formal training. The orb began to roll toward him. He was a pillar of stone.

Ilori was anything but. Her home-taught hedge magic, learned from mother and grandmother, was loud, with complex hand movements. It was like she was possessed. The orb reversed course.

Danforth started another incantation, tapping into deeper, darker magic, but quickly stopped. Losing might be winning this time. There would be another Tyrolian orb, someday, but there was only one Ilori. He let go.

The orb sped up, flying to Ilori. She caught it in one hand like the laziest fly ball then cried out in victory.

“She’s the winner,” Elvin said, walking over to him.

“I know.” Danforth was unable to contain a silly grin

Ilori skipped over with a wide smile. “Told you.”

“Fair is fair.”

“Hope you brought your wallet,” she said, bounding off. “I’m not a cheap date!”

Danforth turned to Elvin. “Loser buys dinner.” He winked and walked after her.


The Thrill Is Gone

The apothecary shook his head. “Does your wife not already love you and you her?”

Eric the Simple sighed and leaned against the counter. “Love, yes. Alas, passion is something altogether different. Have you nothing that might help?”

The apothecary looked under the counter. “Perhaps, if you’re certain there is no other option.”

“I’ve tried everything,” Eric said in exasperation. “The woman’s desires are a mystery.”

“Aren’t they all.” The apothecary took out a piece of parchment, grabbed his quill, and began scratching something out. Finished, he carefully slid the paper across the counter.

Eric mouthed the words as he slowly scanned the page. “Spine of newt? Spleen of badger?” He looked up. “And this looks like Latin. A spell?”

The apothecary nodded.

“A love spell?” Eric waggled his eyebrows and grinned.

The apothecary shook his head. “Summoning spell, to bring forth a stink demon.”

“A what?” Eric threw the parchment down.

“It’s a minor inconvenience – smelly, ugly, and sinister looking, but actually harmless. Your wife will take a fright, you shall vanquish the foul beast, and she shall be in your arms.”

Eric stepped closer to the counter. “This is the best you can do?”

The apothecary closed his eyes and rubbed the side of his nose. “There is one other option.”

“Yes?”

“You could sit down with your wife and talk about this, find out how she feels.”

Eric paused for just a moment. “Stink demon it is then.”

The apothecary nodded. “I’ll get the badger spleen.”


The Last Night

The chalice shook in Sir Kavus’s hand as he slipped into her apartment. After months of sneaking around his nerves were still on edge.

What he shared with Lady Edana had been wild, hot, and passionate in ways he hadn’t thought possible. But it wasn’t true love, of the kindhe shared with Wyon, who tended his wounds and gave him sons and daughters.Wyon was home.

After one last night of pleasure,Edana would drink the potion mixed with the wine and all would be well. She wouldn’t even remember Kavus’s name.

He set the chalice on the table as Edana stepped from her bedchamber, naked body aglow in the candlelight. “My knight.”

“My queen.” He took her in his arms. They fell into bed for the last time.

Later he rolled over, throat dry, alone in bed. Edana was in the doorway, diaphanous gown clinging to her curves. “Thirsty?” She was carrying two chalices.

Kavus nodded and took the one she offered, gulping down the sweet wine. It seemed to go to his head, sending him to a deep sleep.

He awoke in a strange bed, although he couldn’t say it was not his. There was a woman standing next to it wearing only a smile.

“My name’s Edana,” she said, crawling in beside him.

The name wasn’t familiar, but he wasn’t about to object to her warmth next to him. There was no other place for him to be in the whole world, he was certain.


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“All the Wishes” – Another Very Short Story

As he did last year, author Eric Douglas issued a challenge to write a 100-word story for Halloween. Not less than 100 words, not about 100 words – 100 words exactly. It’s much harder than you’d think, but I like what I came up with for this try.

Here it is – “All the Wishes”

There was a flash, like a Polaroid photograph had been taken just near Frankie’s face. When his sight returned, the sky was a solid, pale green, just as Frankie wished.

Floating above the battered brass lamp in the passenger’s seat was a misty apparition with vaguely Persian features. “You see?”

“All the wishes?” Frankie asked, grinning.

“Yes.”

“Anything I want?”

“Anything.” The apparition nodded what you might call its head. “I may someday ask a favor.”

Frankie put the car in drive and pulled away from the curb, potential wishes swimming through their mind.

What could go wrong?, Frankie thought.

Be sure and check out Eric’s website for links to all the other 100-word stories he got!

Happy Halloween!

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