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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Flash Fiction Challenge!

The challenge comes from Chuck Wendig’s blog: terribleminds.com

The random numbers got me “Cartographer’s Champion” and yes, I’ll admit I had to look up cartographer. I went a smidgen over the work count, but only by a few hundred. I hope that’s acceptable Sir Wendig! *winces and offers cheesy, hopeful smile*

The Cartographer’s Champion

He couldn’t believe his bad luck. Protection duty for a sniveling whippet of a man who made maps for a living was about the worst assignment Correk could think of, and half a day on patrol had confirmed his sense of dread.

At first Correk ignored all insipid protests uttered from behind him but after three hours trekking through cold rain with the little man whining, he wheeled and stabbed his boot heel into the mud.

“Are you aware my purpose is to protect you from anyone or anything with even a thought of causing you harm? Given that I may end up your personal messiah, you could try complaining less.”

Using the back of his hand to clear a drip of snot from the end of his nose, the Cartographer lifted his chin, his watery eyes meeting Correk’s.

“And are you aware what even a single poor review from someone of my standing could do to your future prospects?”

Correk went to speak, to impress upon this minute man his new reality and the dangers of travel in the Open Territories, but he could see the man’s shoulders shaking with cold, and his chin trembling, gods help him, and found he no longer wanted to put the Cartographer in his place.

“Nevermind. Forget it.” Correk pulled his own soaking hood close to his face. “At mid-day we’ll break for food. If we’re lucky I’ll find wood dry enough to burn and maybe we can warm our bones some.”

He turned from the obvious relief on the map-maker’s face and walked, wondering how the fool planned to survive the day, much less the month he’d been given to document Territory III. And the Territory better bear fruit, thought Correk, for the only thing capable of making his current assignment tolerable would be his percentage of whatever untamed treasures they discovered.

Ragged land it was, with strenuous hills falling away to slick stone or flat, flaky rock that slid against its brethren in an onslaught of sound and instability. Plants proliferated, their colors varied, and Correk suspected their moist layer at the base of tall trees to be full of poisons. Leading was his calling however, and despite bearing a sack heavy with the possessions of two men, and the burden of his charge’s ineptitude, Correk found peace in taking on the strength of nature, especially when he could hear only the slick smack of rain on leaves as he did now.

He paused as his leg cleared a fallen tree and registered the silence of the map-maker. “You alright back there?” he called.

“Fine, yes, yes. Or rather I will be. In a moment,” came the reply from some distance, and when Correk turned he saw only the top of the Cartographer’s wet head, grey hair gone near as dark as the rest from the rain. As he neared Correk noticed the man had his foot stuck in a hole filled with pulpy mud, and was ineffectual at all attempts to wrest it loose.

“Here. Hold on while I…” Correk bent low and twisted the man’s toes to the right and with a sucking sound the appendage came free, though Correk further filthied his hands grappling for the Cartogpaher’s swallowed shoe. Straightening, he extended his hand and its mound of glob because by the grace of all gods, he did still have dignity, and refusing to put on the footwear of others seemed a solid stance to take toward maintaining it.

“Much appreciation, thank you,” said the Cartographer with several quick bobs of his head. Correk felt the man’s hand on his arm as he worked at emptying his shoe and resisted the urge to shake it off.

“You’re lucky that hole’s not home to some creature or you’d be lamenting more than a grimy shoe right now.”

The map-maker’s face went pale so fast Correk had to look away, into the woods, his habit of horrifying the horrified losing appeal faster than he was losing patience. He waited until they were on their way again before he spoke.

“Is this your first taste of the Territories?” Correk figured he might as well know something of the man who was to be his sole companion for good deal of time.

“Oh no. This is one of many. A great many,” the wee man replied, his voice right at Carrek’s back. “Though they have been lucrative almost all have been in the south, and the land there is far…gentler.”

He was right about that. Correk’s experience with southern Open Territory was that it lacked challenge, and the endless ocean vistas, sand dunes, and palms brought him no joy.

“What made the Ancients think you were the right man for the job, then? Or did they not know what they were getting you into?” Correk felt the sneer on his face and the scorn in his voice and thus the map-maker’s reply came as a surprise.

“The Ancients know I am right because I am the best cartographer in all of the Realms.”

Correk pivoted without warning and the Cartographer slammed into his chest, rheumy eyes peering up at the guardian through the hair plastered to his forehead.

“Pardon me. I didn’t see–”

“That’s a lot of ego for a very small man.” Correk took a step back and folded his arms. He was beginning to wonder of he’d been saddled with a heretic, and a vain one at that.

“Well, yes. I suppose it might seem that way.” The Cartographer smoothed down his sodden wool tunic as he spoke. “But I speak truth.” His gaze cast to the side. “May I show you?”

Correk’s first inclination was to tell the pint-sized purveyor to shut his mouth for the rest of the day but he did in fact have a kernel of interest in the man’s claim. He began to shrug the heavy sack from his back.

“I suppose we can rest now.” A bit of looking and Correk found some respite from the rain under the dense foliage of a spotted bush and stood watching as the map-maker tucked his back well within the cover of leaves. From his tunic the Cartographer pulled both a sheaf of pale bark and a slender column of charcoal and neither of them spoke as the Cartographer’s nimble fingers moved with great speed.

“Understand my big friend, I am the best at what I do because of how I see things.” And the map-maker lifted the bark to show Correk a list of plants, rock formations, and trees, each with its own tiny numerical notation. “This is only the beginning of a good map, of course,” he said with a grin. “But all the rest is up here.” He tapped his temple. “Everything I see.”

“Surely not everything,” Correk objected and before the Cartographer could log a response he was crying out, his slight body bent over to avoid Correk’s lunge. The guardian drew back from the bush and threw to the ground a snake, lithe yet no longer lethal with a broken neck.

“You saved me.” The Cartographer stared at the lifeless serpent. And then Correk was on his knees in the mud, one hand clutching his arm as the Cartographer scrambled up to see the twin circles already darkening the guardian’s wrist. Fear filled Correk’s eyes.

“No, no. Don’t lose hope just yet,” coaxed the map-maker. He placed Correk’s thumb on the vein turning purple with poison and showed him how to press down. “I remember thirty meters back there was a tree on the right, one with great astringent properties to its bark.” He gave Correk a small smile. “We will draw the venom out, my friend, and when you live another day, we will both remember what we’ve learned. That no matter who we are, there is a little savior in all of us.”