Flash Fiction from terribleminds.com: Random Song Challenge

This week’s challenge is to select a random song and use the title for a 1000-word story, any genre. My song is “None” by Southwire, which is a rather cool tune. If you listen go and listen to it though, don’t expect it to relate at all to what I’ve written!

 

 None

 

            Walking. Forever walking. The cracked skin of our feet no longer bled, and hurt hardly at all, the blood in our bodies slow and thick and ill. We were beyond weary, our bellies just hollows of solid pain, an acidic ache with no promise of easing.

            No one knew the number of days we’d shuffled, the parched peaks of sand all the same, and though only one mentioned we might be lost, we all knew it to be true.

            Each day a shard of sun split open our shivering, broken sleep and we would look up, blinking, into its blinding fury. And each day we slid forward, our toes in fine grains whose glistening prisms gave up ripples of heat so thick we had to lift our hands and push to pass through them.

            And the dying. Only old ones in the beginning, because they didn’t want their ration of water, and became too weak. But soon sips of water weren’t enough for anyone, and many could scarce keep upright. So we left bodies every morning and often in the afternoon, and none had strength enough to conceal them.

            The water wagon left tracks, at first a concern, but we learned not to worry, for each evening brought wind, and by morning the blown, brown banks had changed, and we knew we’d moved the day before only by some footprints and the fresh coat of sand we wore.

            On a dawn such as this, one came to me and tilted to his knees in the sand. His swollen lids shielded bloodshot eyes, and his cheekbones looked wont to split his skin.

            “I had a dream last night.”

            Our sage’s voice was long unused and hard to understand. I reached for his shoulder and my hand looked alien, a roasted claw upon on his dirty shirt.

            “You must tell me.”

            “The desert has an end, and the end can be reached.” He paused to catch his breath and I saw others gather, drawn to the sound of speaking. “The stones are calling, and we must answer. Any who find them are saved.” A fit of coughing struck the sage and as his wiry throat worked the others shifted, and a horn of water appeared in outstretched hands. The sage drank, not a drop wasted, and sat back on his heels. All were quiet, waiting.

            “Where? Did your dream tell us where?”

            A worn gaze met mine and the sage nodded once. “The call comes from under, within the earth, a space without equal.”

            Again the others stirred, and whispered now too, and I could not remember when I’d last seen us so aroused.

            “Then we continue,” I announced, and pushed to my feet. “We go until we find this place, and we will be well.”

            Faces turned toward one another, and voices mingled and rose, and I thought I heard a sob. We swirled the news in our minds, and as the others talked and touched I felt a softening of all pain, and for two mornings and nights all was fine.

            I know, for I had counted from when the sage told his dream and during day number three they shattered. The young other was first to go.

            “I cannot do it anymore,” he barked in a hoarse voice as we shambled. “I will not go on.” He flopped forward in the sand and we all heard as he started to choke.

            “No, no! Do not do this!” One I believed to be his father had stumbled to his side and tried to lift the youth’s mouth from the ground, but the elder’s grip was feeble and at every opportunity the son plowed his head and sucked in more sand. The end was not long in coming.

            With a wail the father staggered up, sickened gaze striking each of us, and we looked away from his sunken eyes. Some glanced at me but I had not moved and nor did the others, not even when the mourning man threw his body on a water cart handle. The end was round and smooth, but the wood was strong and the father screamed as he pummeled his belly again and again. Half a dozen strikes and at last he could not rise. I watched the others move to stare down at his moaning form.

            “You must stop this.” The sage was close, his withered fingers upon my arm.  “The stones still call, and they are near.”

            The words I had been waiting to hear.

            “Do not worry. They will be found.” I called the others and they turned, almost at once, and followed. We left the youth and the father, and knew the dunes would swallow them whole. By night we’d lost three more men to their final sleep and as we finished our evening rations of water, another lost his mind.

            He spilled water over his chest while taking his sips and as the others expressed stunned and muted horror the man dropped the drinking horn, ran to the drum within the cart, and with two hands clasped like an axe, split the overwrought skin. Silence fell as gallons of liquid splashed forth and vanished, every drop devoured by sand.

            And the others went crazy.

            Fingers stabbed, feet kicked, arms and legs slapped with viciousness intensity, and before me people turned to animals as blood flew and bones broke and the men tore each other apart.

            I had only to stand clear and eventually they were finished. But someone crawled out then, from under a body, and merely the sage and I remained, scrawny forms facing one another across a mound of clawed and bitten flesh. The sage was covered in the blood of others while I bore a single watery spray. He was crying, I saw, and the tears turned to pink on his cheeks, but I did not find it moving, and when I went and wrapped my hands around his throat he hardly struggled, and seemed given over to death, which I delivered.

            Easing down the sage’s body, I looked right a short distance away, to the pile of rocks unnoticed by the others, and I walked slowly, and saw the hole. I slipped inside, into the cool, and the dark of the cave and then I understood; the stones called for me alone. My name was spawn for legends and my story would fall from the mouths of children. The others could have told the truth, and spoiled the stories, and when seeking to be a marvel, of spoilers and naysayers there can be none.

           

           

 

           

           

 

           

 

             

           

           

 

 

       

 

             

           

           

 

 

Twisted Love Challenge (in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, from terribleminds.com): any genre, 1500 words

A Change of Chi

                Thursday. Her favorite day of the week. Not because the bulk of the workdays were behind her, and not because all the good shows aired on television that night.

No, she thought as she exhaled and lifted her chest, Thursday was the sweetest day because of 6:15 yoga with Joran. It was he, owner of the smooth muscles and some mysterious ink peeking from the waistband of his shorts that made the day grand. She took class three and sometimes four days a week but on only one did she get to appreciate the elegant form of Joran.

Chaturanga into downward dog. And from salutations they moved on to Utthita Adho Mukha Śvānāsana. She felt the prickle of heat as her muscles worked. Her infatuation was growing, she knew, and taking on its own life, yet she’d never try switching classes. Other women wanted Joran too, and she wasn’t about to lose a competition.

“Square your hips, Leslie. We’re not to the twist yet.”

Warm hands righted her pelvis, and slender feet appeared in her line of vision as she stared at her supporting leg. The same hands moved to lift her other leg higher and before Joran’s feet turned to step away she swore his fingers slid along the back of her upturned knee. From under her arm she tried to catch his eye but he was gone, attention already on another student.

Her heart beat loud in her ears. Joran touched students all the time, her and others, tweaking postures as he cruised through the room. But this, this had been something else, she was certain, and now she could scarcely find her breath from the anticipation. It was time to initiate her plan.

*             *             *             *

               Joran took a final gander at the empty studio, checking for the occasional mislaid water bottle or forgotten hoodie, and assured the room was well-ordered, he shut off the lights and locked the glass door. He was not a fan of how passerby could witness classes but the owner, Pete, wanted the public to be able to see his instructors in action and as the studio’s least-experienced employee, Joran couldn’t exactly argue with his obdurate boss. He chose rather, to focus on the fact that the spotless glass seemed to be working to his advantage as he now boasted the largest classes of anyone.

Being an instructor was paying dividends already, Joran thought as he walked to his car, parked in the near-empty lot rife with bright lights. Females flocked to his time slots with increasing zeal and the more student progress he saw the more competent he felt. It didn’t erase his sketchy past but it was helping, just as he’d hoped. Lately he’d even felt good enough to think of talking to Pete about a raise. With a satisfied sigh he unlocked his car door and lowered himself inside.

Someone was standing at the side of the car.

Joran sprang up, ignoring the pain of his arm smacking the car’s metal doorframe, and raised his hands like two blades before his face.

“Hey, it’s me!” The young woman nearly fell as she hurried to back away from him.

 He instantly lowered his hands. “Leslie? What the fuck?”

She chewed hard on her bottom lip. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I was just waiting…I didn’t mean to scare you.” She was looking at him from the corner of her eyes, expression pained. He let out a breath and rubbed his sore forearm.

“It’s okay. Next time though, maybe don’t sneak up on me.”

“I know. Stupid.” She came toward him a step. “That position. Was that some kind of karate?”

“Tae Kwon Do. Ten years.” Relief at not facing an attacker was spreading through him and he rolled his head once in each direction to loosen his neck and shoulders before setting his gaze on her. “So, why were you waiting for me?”

Leslie smiled. “I’ve been coming to your class since you started four months ago and you’ve put your hands on me a bunch of times, Joran, but not like you did tonight. Am I wrong or were you sending me a signal?”

Joran leaned back against his car, next to the still-open door. He liked that Leslie was direct. He also liked her legs and her firmyoga butt. And the hair. He was a sucker for a thick, dark mane.

“And if I had been, would you like that?” He knew the comment might label him a dick-head, or a player at the least, but he had a feeling about her and felt safe in his prediction of her reaction.

                “You tell me,” she gave back. “Would I?”

She held his stare as he tried to read her face and all he saw was the start of a smile at her lips.He decided he’d made the right call then, and besides, nothing good came without a bit of risk.

“I think you’d like it very much.” Pushing off the car, he slid his arms around hers, clamping them to her sides. Her eyes were bright and his were closing as his lips met hers. Her mouth opened and the kiss went on, and his hands found her sides and she lifted hands to his head, fingers winding in his hair. Pressed tight against him, he thought she felt even better than she looked and though he’d been thinking about her for weeks he hadn’t imagined things would go this easy between them.

They paused at the same time, heads poised a few inches apart. She lifted a brow.

“Please don’t tell me those were all your best moves.”

“Not even close,” he said, breathing hard. “If you want my best then we’ll need somewhere more private.”

She gave him a slow smile. “And with privacy, you’ll what—blow my mind?”

 “That and a whole lot more.” He squeezed her with the circle of his arms. “And since your question tells me you’ve never been with a yogi before, I’d be perfectly happy to be your first.”

He both felt and heard her short laugh, but when she started to speak, he pressed his mouth to the side of her neck and as he moved to her earlobe her voice trailed away to silence. And he felt so good he almost laughed too.

 *             *             *             *

 The warmth and light pouring through his sunroof matched his mood to perfection, but in truth, Joran could’ve faced a week’s worth of incessant rain and not been brought down from his cloud. For almost eight weeks he’d been seeing Leslie, and though for only a few hours after Thursday class, they made incredible, passionate, no-holds-barred use of the limited time. To the point where he found it difficult to function as her instructor during class and he’d taken to not touching her at all, for fear of a physical reaction impossible to disguise. She teased sometimes too, making bedroom eyes or licking her lips at him and Joran could only hope the other students didn’t notice. He believed the relationship was changing, progressing beyond excellent sex, yet he hadn’t exactly asked the boss about the policy on instructor/student relationships.

He could today, though, given that Pete had called him in for a “little sit-down” and Joran was certain the boss planned a six-month review ending with discussion of more classes or more money, or both, he thought with a smile. As he pulled into the studio lot and parked, he pondered how to mention his feelings for Leslie, and by the time he’d reached the door, he thought he had a decent plan.

Pete was standing in the doorway of his closet-like office when Joran entered the studio and since a class was underway, he motioned at Joran to come in.

“Glad you could come by early today.” He closed the door behind them and extended a beefy hand to pump Joran’s. When their hands parted the boss gestured at an empty chair. “Have a seat.”

Joran sat, tried not to look eager, and watched Pete maneuver his body in the seat behind the desk, which was approximately an inch from his own knees.

“I’ve been planning some changes around here and wanted to fill you in, seeing as how you’re currently the employee with the largest number of new student sign-ups,” he explained, and Joran knew the good news was coming.

“I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire, so to speak,” Pete went on. “And I don’t have time to run this place the way it should be run.” Joran silently agreed. The boss hardly showed his face at the studio, but he wasn’t sure what that had to do with him.

“So, in my place I’m putting someone who’s invested here. Someone who really cares.”

Joran’s breath caught with the joy of such a promotion, but for only a moment before Pete crushed those hopes.

“She’s in the restroom.” Pete indicated the adjacent powder room with a jab of his thumb. “I told her to come in the second she’s done.”

 As Joran struggled with disappointment they heard the sound of a toilet flush and a minute later the door to the office opened. Pete stood, and at the last second Joran managed to remember to do the same.

“Joran, I’d like to introduce you to my wife, the new manager and master of the studio.” Pete gave him a conspiratorial wink as the woman entered, dark ponytail swinging.

 Joran’s stomach fell and even clad in his street clothes, he suddenly felt more exposed than when wearing only yoga shorts. Leslie’s lips parted in a smile for her husband before she turned and looked Joran square in the eye.

“Oh, there’s no need for introductions, honey. Joran and I are already very well acquainted.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flash Fiction Challenge: Invent your own drink and feature it in a short story

The Breath of Purpose

“You were supposed to look nice.”

The Thing facing me was anything but. I swore I’d done everything right, completed every aspect of conjuring correctly, but I clearly missed something, and I’d be hard-pressed to find a fix, especially since the Armored Men were coming soon and in no realm was my deceit going to be acceptable.

“Grrrrrrah,” replied the Thing, its guttural voice perfectly matched to mammoth proportions, fearsome teeth, and arms like oversized hydraulic pistons. Lucky for me it didn’t seem to know what to do with them yet.

“Right. Okay. Let’s see…” I took a quick survey of the items on the floor before me. A bottle of Castor oil, and a half-empty one of tequila, the silver kind. There was a can of Coke and jars of ground cumin and nutmeg, too, though from the single whiff I’d gotten, I wasn’t convinced of either of those as appealing flavor.

And I double-checked the quantities I’d scribbled on half a piece of paper: tablespoon, 1/4 cup, 1/2 cup and 2 teaspoons each of the spices, followed by one breath of purpose and the incantation, and all the while the enormous Thing stared at me out of eyes the color of Mountain Dew, its slow, hot breath filling the room. I couldn’t believe it hadn’t moved.

“Do you ah, want some water or something?” I winced as another of the Thing’s muggy exhales wafted over my face. “Do you even understand what I’m saying?”

“Haarrrrrrrr.”

So, yeah. I attempted a smile in case the Thing could interpret facial expression, and bent to gather the ingredients and get them to a safe place, seeing as I was going to have to try the whole Breath of Purpose potion endeavor again. I didn’t take my eyes off the Thing and when its shoulders rose and fell in what looked like a sigh I began to wonder if maybe there was a little going on in that great big skull.

“I think I’ve made a mistake,” I explained as I took a few steps sideways to set the jars and bottles on the dining room table. It was the only furniture in the room, and wasn’t accompanied by chairs, so the creature I’d brought forth had a reasonable amount of space to occupy, which it did quite effectively.

“But I’m going to fix it.” The Thing cocked its head and despite grey, leather-like skin and a bony brow protrusion, I found it reminded me of a quizzical puppy. I turned just enough to face the end of the table and began assessing items in a hurry, shooting glances over my shoulder to keep the Thing in my sights.

“I don’t know if you can drink this stuff but starting over is all I can think of.” By then I was measuring and combining and pondering the order of items and I forgot to keep checking on the creature, but I heard the click of claws on my Pergo and my next glance brought me face-to-face with a wide grey nose, the nostrils like flat strips, black whiskers twitching.

I went still but as my rounded eyes examined the Thing, I realized its dark olive pupils were aimed down, at the table. It had come over to watch me prepare the potion. I lifted the cumin and measuring spoon in slow motion but when the Thing remained calm at my side, watching and humidifying the room, I gained confidence, and soon all I had left to do was breath once into the covered jar, stir the liquid, and recite the spell. And that’s when the ceiling came crashing down.

White dust blinded me as chunks of drywall poured from above. I threw my arms over my head and ducked, frozen with indecision. Armored Men would be just beyond what remained of my dining room wall, poised in a line, their posture upright and various weapons too, and I knew to fear those armed with wands more than those with whips and axes, for their reach extended far beyond material shaped by humans.

“Give over to us and you may be spared.” The Man I knew best was speaking, and he’d lied. Then again, my deceit gave him just cause. Still crouching, I began picking my way through rubble toward the back bedroom, and brushed ceiling particles from my forehead and cheeks.

“Hiding is your answer, Nystal. We will not give another chance.” He wasn’t fibbing this time, and I figured I had a fraction of a minute to comply, but I’d made my decision when I’d stolen the spell and apologies would get me nowhere now. I reached the door to the bedroom, slipped around the frame and pressed my back to the armoire, and not two seconds later the dining room was leveled, and most of the kitchen too. Pieces of my home fell like rain.

My skin burned, and I realized the Armored Men were loaded with supernatural energy, overloaded actually, which did not give me much hope. Today it seemed they’d just as soon flatten my entire lot than bother with a search.

A search was what I needed though, if only for the extra minutes I’d be given, minutes I could use to formulate a storyline whose end wasn’t me as a dissembling corpse. I couldn’t see them but the Armored Men would be encircling the house nonetheless.

“Your game is over, Nystal.”

I cowered and tried to crawl at the same time, the Man’s voice scared me so much. He’d come through my back door like all was normal, as if my abode wasn’t a ruinous shell, and now he leaned over me, thick wand pointed at my head, the gilded red helmet hiding his face.

“It wasn’t a game. No one person should have the spell.”

The helmeted head drew back and I imagined the scorn present in the eye’s of its wearer. “It is not for you to decide.”

“That’s the rub, isn’t it?” I couldn’t fathom an Armored Men partaking in discussion with a wanted thief but I’d use the situation if able. I started to slide up the armoire. “I believe many are deserving of that decision. I believe in what I did, Morath-Moro.”

Armored Men were of a mind that only their master could use their names yet I was fortunate enough to know this Man’s full title. I took satisfaction in his forearm crushing my throat and the point of the wand near my eye. I was getting to him.

“I am sick of your notions, Nystal,” he ground out next to my ear. My vision had become a wash of scarlet. “You are d—”

A handful of deep breaths later I fully realized what had happened. The Man was a metallic heap of crimson on the floor to my right and I was staring at a tall, mottled-grey wall of hairless skin.

“Holy hell. I forgot all about you,” I said to the back of the Thing. It had taken up position between me and the rest of the world and with sudden clarity I understood the potion hadn’t been wholly wrong, that I’d indeed summoned a protector, just not a pretty one. I had no time to sort out why however, for my favorite Man had started to straighten and by the way the Thing sniffed the air I suspected Armored Men were close.

“Do your thing, Thing,” I said for my own benefit, because I was having one of those absurd, out-of-whack moments when you feel humorous at a time when happenings are anything but. The Thing didn’t care though, and I tried to fit into the space behind the armoire as its powerful arm shot to the side and knocked down the Man, who’d just managed to gain his feet. More Armored Men streamed in, from the destroyed side of the house, from the broken bedroom window and from the hall.

The Thing was surrounded; a grey mountain of thrashing limbs and bared teeth, and Armored Men flew in all directions, their armor clattering in small explosions of sound.

“Rrrrrraaaar!”

The Thing’s bellow followed two Armored Men making contact with their axes, which turned out to be their worst move ever as green vapor blasted from the axe wounds and into their faces. They were shrieking in an instant and their helmets melted, and then their heads; metal and blood a pulpy mass of gore that spread down their polished breast plates.

All was still, with Armored Men pausing to gape at the remains of their comrades and the Thing going into a slouch, breathing heavy as it swung its head slow, watching the attackers. I could see murky-green fluid running from its wounds.

“Maybe we should discuss this situation,” I called out to Morath-Moro, though I could see only the tip of his helmet past the Thing’s shoulder. “Losing Men cannot be what your masters had in mind.”

Moro moved closer to what was left of the kitchen, to where he could see me hiding. “Nothing can come of it. We will bring you in, alive or not.” Pulling back, Moro moved quickly to the broken window and with alarm I glanced around, noticing too late that the Armored Men had vacated the house.

“Watch out!” The Armored Men’s magic arrived as the warning left my mouth, and I felt the suffocating pressure of the Thing’s weight as it covered my body with its own. Waves of power rocked my house and I felt the floor crack beneath me. Repeated booms signaled to me the final demise of the only place I’d been able to call home, and I wondered how the Thing and I hadn’t been destroyed. At last the noises ceased, but I was still as good as blind with the Thing upon me.

“Remove the creature and bring Nystal to me.” Moro’s voice, muffled through the Thing’s flesh. I could sense its tensing of muscles, the gathering of strength, and then it vaulted from me and I heard screaming. Scrambling to stand, I saw first-hand as the Thing tore the arm off an Armored Man and sunk its canines into another one’s neck, tearing right through the armor and nearly removing his head. The Thing swung from man to man, almost graceful, leaving blood and horror in its wake, and still the Armored Men came, Morath-Moro urging them forth.

“The thief! Seize the thief!”

I was unprotected, standing stupid amongst dust and broken concrete, and as Armored Men advanced from all sides, circling me, I understood. I was finished. And I believed it right up until the moment the Thing leaped.

Landing next to me, the Thing roared, a bass sound that trembled the belly, and with a deliberate sweep of its claw, the Thing opened its body from hip to neck. Foaming liquid splashed out, and green gases filled the air and sent Armored Men clambering over one another to get away, shouting as armor softened and adhered to their skin. Moro was watching, I saw his helmet as it moved, and as the Thing continued to leak destruction all over his men he lifted his wand, uttered a string of words and began to fade, his few surviving soldiers disappearing with him. A moment later they were gone and I looked down.

“Oh no.” I dropped to my knees when I saw the Thing’s bulk spread on the rubble. It’s lashless eyes gazed skyward, lids lowering and lifting in slow blinks and when I took in the extent of its injury, and the fading of its skin, I was startled by my feelings .

“I’m sorry,” I said, uncertain. I’d known the spell to be for this very purpose, yet I couldn’t help mourn the loss of its creation. I watched the Thing breathe its last and when it turned to dust I rose, made sure the slip of paper was in my pocket, and started walking. I had a purpose too, as thief, and bringer of potions, and knew as I always had, the Breath of Purpose was for everyone.