Hi, my name is Courtney, and I’m a carrot-buy-aholic.

Me: So, umm…I think I have a problem.

Ed: What?

Me: I bought carrots today.

Ed: …

Me: Two different kinds.

Ed: …

Me: A package of baby-cut carrots and a package of frozen, sliced ones.

Ed: …

Me: Sliced like Ruffles potato chips.

Ed: You know we already had carrots in the fridge, right?

Me: I realized that later.

Ed: We didn’t need any more carrots.

Me: I know that now. That’s why I’m saying I have a problem. Like with nail polish.

Ed: Nail polish.

Me: Yeah. I go to the store, I feel like I need to buy nail polish. That’s why I have so much of it. It’s the same with the carrots.

Ed: We didn’t need any more carrots.

Me: It’s like a compulsion. I go to the store, I have to buy carrots.

Ed: …

Me: Buying carrots. It’s a sickness. I need help. I need Carrots Anonymous.

Ed: A little K.A., huh?

Me: Well, we’re speaking English, not German, so it would be “C.A.,” but yes.

Ed: Oh, yeah. That’s spelled with a “C” in English.

Me: I have to go now. I have to find a place for all the carrots.

Flash Fiction Challenge: Continuing Someone Else’s Story, Part 5

Post-Christmas salutations, y’all! I hope your holidays have been splendid so far and that your eggnog and pie are sitting with you quite comfortably. Me, I ate too much, but let’s just not talk about that, eh?

In author Chuck Wendig’s December flash fiction challenge, we’ve now arrived at Part 5, in which we’re writing the final 200 words of four other people’s story. To me, this is the toughest part of the challenge, since I have to take into consideration all the elements the other four writers have brought into the story, *and* I have to pull it all together into a satisfying conclusion.

THIS IS NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART. Don’t try this at home. Keep away from water. Keep away from children. Do not use while operating heavy machinery. This product is not intended for use as a flotation device. Do not eat. This bag is not a toy.

My entry for Part 1 is here. Genre: fantasy, coming-of-age.

My entry for Part 2 is here. Genre: horror? There’s a vampire, anyway.

My entry for Part 3 is here. Genre: paranormal. Witches, a priest, and mutant skeletons.

My entry for Part 4 is here. Genre: sci-fi comedy.

And here’s my entry for Part 5!
Joe Donahue wrote Part 1.
Morag Donnachie wrote Part 2.
Jeremiah Boydstun wrote Part 3.
Justice wrote Part 4 and gave the story its title, “The Veteran.”
My concluding Part 5 follows Justice’s part.

The Veteran

by Joe Donahue, Morag Donnachie, Jeremiah Boydstun, Justice, and Courtney Cantrell

Joe wrote:

Lying nude in the middle of this cotton field, I sense things differently than I have in sometime. I’m cold. It’s the first time I’ve felt cold since she died. The air flows over my body like ice cold water from a stream. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I can’t help but to hope that I die in this field. I’m, however, smart enough to know that’s not going to happen.

Nothing has felt the same since they killed Adrianna. Every day I roam from city to city, hoping beyond hope that someone will recognize who I am and decide to take my life away. It never happens. Every now and then someone will recognize who I am, but usually they are too frightened to do anything about it.

I don’t blame them. I did some very nasty things at the end of the last war. Several countries banned me from entrance. I, however, did what I needed to do to make sure that the war ended. I did what I was paid for. Little did I know that the immortality they offered as payment would be spent in exile, trying to come up with ways to bring back Adrianna.

Morag wrote:

I lay there vaguely enjoying the sensation of feeling again after having been numb for so long. I was pondering my next move – I’d heard a rumour of a woman in a nearby village who might be able to help me – when I heard voices calling in the still morning air.

I moved quickly, careful not to disturb the cotton in my haste, on to my front bringing my knees up under me so I could spring up quickly if I needed to. As I did so my hand darted to the pile of clothes by my side and the slender yet deadly blade concealed beneath.

As the voices moved closer I sought the quiet place in my mind,the place where I could leave my self behind. I needed to disengage my emotions, to leave my humanity behind and find the monster within.
I had hoped to be able to leave that part of myself behind but it seemed I would have to hold onto it, for now.

I stood slowly, aware of my nudity and how it would affect my seekers, and held my blade out ready for whatever was thrown at me. Every sense on high alert.

“Over here. We’ve found her,” a voice called.

Jeremiah wrote:

The morning sun filters through a ragged line of trees to my left, laying bands of apricot light across the field of cotton, and the cold morning air feels charged with the energy of a million lodestones.

About fifty yards to my right another voice takes up the call, and then another, transmitting across a line of a dozen men who wade slowly through the thorny sea of cotton. Some cradle their rifles, others walk stockade-style with their arms hanging loosely over the ends of the weapons slung across their shoulders.

I keep the knife handle tucked into my palm so that the blade rests against the length of my forearm and conceals it from view. I want to cover myself but reaching for my clothes right now isn’t a good idea.

When the men are within ten yards they stop and form a half-circle around me.

“Put down the knife.” A tall, flinty man with grey hair steps forward.

“And if I don’t?” I’m ready to spring. To see blood. To feel the pulpous give of fat and muscle.

“Then you’ll never see Adrianna again.” His smile parts the thin lips enough to reveal a pair of sharp, white canines and my blood turns to ice once again.

Justice wrote:

“Put it down,” the man commands, “or I’ll tell ’em to really let your pretty little girl have it this time.”

I place the knife on the ground.

“Kick it over here.”

“I’ll cut my foot,” I say, my voice even. “Aren’t antibiotics getting pretty expensive these days?”

“Christ,” the leader mutters. He gestures to a younger man nearby – a kid, really – who darts out from the circle and grabs the knife. I see beads of sweat glisten on his forehead, and he purposefully avoids my eyes.

Good – I need fear; perhaps it will be catching.

“Well, go on,” I say. They put a bag over my head but do not let me dress. I walk naked through the field. There is a slice against my bare skin and a trickle of warm blood. The sound of rotating blades approaches and a dart punctures my neck. I swat at it like it is an annoying gnat.

“Told you it wouldn’t work!” A voice cries out.

“She’s immortal, not invulnerable,” their leader says. “Triple it.”

When I wake, Adrianna is beside me.

Not breathing.

I wrote (210 words):

We’re alone. I recognize the white-and-pink tile of The Facility’s central room. Since I ended the war, they’ve repaired the two-way mirror.

I smile. They’ve hunted me as I’ve hunted to bring her back. And now they want me to try.

Oh, the fools shall have what they’re asking for.

I roll to my side and cradle my daughter. We’re both still nude, but it doesn’t matter. We’ll wear the skins of our enemies soon enough.

I lay my lips against her cold ear. Within, I plunge into silence and face the monster. It waits at my core, hearing my thoughts of blood, and it is already slavering.

I let go, and the monster comes forward.

HEAT.

The heat whispers into Adrianna’s mind, calls to her soul, calls her back. The moment she returns, the heat intensifies. My sweat hisses when it hits the metal table white-hot beneath us.

Adrianna breathes.

I reach out.

Beyond the two-way mirror wait the minds of our “captors.” The monster’s heat enters them. Pillages. Their screams are like those of the ones I mind-raped to end the war.

“Mama?”

YES.

“Can we go home?”

YES.

The monster and I lead my daughter from the central room as, once again, the mirror shatters behind me.

THE END

The Night Before Christmas, Oklahoma Style

‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS IN OKLAHOMA*

by Courtney Cantrell

with thanks (and possibly apologies) to Clement C. Moore

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through my home
Dishes rattled and shook like when buffalo roam!
The stockings, they fell from the chimney and stair,
But it wasn’t St. Nicholas — he wasn’t yet there.

christmasdeco2013Mamma in her kerchief and I in my cap
Came gasping awake from our long winter’s nap.
The children plopped, startled, right out of their beds.
They bumped every elbow and all their wee heads.

Out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang to my feet to see what was the matter.
The moon set off sparkles on inch-thick ice
And then I saw something that just wasn’t nice.

It made my eyes wonder, it made my brow frown:
Inflatable Santa had toppled right down.
I guessed that tonight there would be no St. Nick,
But my wife hurried over and hugged me right quick.

“Oh honey,” she said, “don’t make no mistake.
We’re gonna have Christmas in spite of that ‘quake!
Now dash and now dance, and now get to fixin’.
We’ll clean up the mess with some fast cleaning blitzin’!”

So that’s what we did — you’d think we could fly.
Our Christmas was back ‘fore the sun gained the sky.

Our children’s eyes twinkled! Their dimples were merry!
Our Christmas was saved! That ‘quake? Not so hairy!
For bestest of all, we still had each other,
Momma and Daddy and sisters and brothers.

I’d panicked when thinking we’d have no jolly elf,
And now I just laughed in spite of myself.
Sure, snowman Frosty had just lost his head,
But an earthquake should give me nothing to dread.

I spoke not a word as the kids went work
Emptying their stockings, no present to shirk.
I first wiped my eyes and then blew my nose.
Tearful prayers of thanksgiving to heaven arose.

With my wife in my arms — kids played on the floor —
I knew that no harm could come through my door.
Forget that dumb ‘quake! Family’s a beautiful sight.
So, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

___________________

I took complete poetic license with the extent of the damage we suffered, which amounted to none. ; )

MERRY CHRISTMAS, DEAR INKLINGS! Hope it’s been a great one.

christmastree2013edited

Flash Fiction Challenge: Continuing Someone Else’s Story, Part 4

Hile, inklings! Today I bring you my latest entry for author Chuck Wendig’s December Flash Fiction Challenge.

My entry for Part 1 is here. Genre: fantasy, coming-of-age.

My entry for Part 2 is here. Genre: horror? There’s a vampire, anyway.

My entry for Part 3 is here. Genre: paranormal. Witches, a priest, and mutant skeletons.

What follows is my latest entry!
Rebecca Douglass started it with Part 1.
Connie Cockrell picked it up for Part 2.
Andy Decker continued with Part 3.
My addition follows Andy’s.

UPDATE: Jeremiah Boydstun picked this up for Part 5! His conclusion to the story follows my part.

Millions of Cats

by Rebecca Douglass, Connie Cockrell, Andy Decker, Courtney Cantrell, and Jeremiah Boydstun

Rebecca wrote:

Things never worked out according to plan when there were cats involved. I knew that, and I should have known better than to take the job. Either don’t try to plan or stay far from cats, and I knew which would have been better for me. But Keelan made it all sound so easy: we just had to pick up the consignment from Alpha-Centauri 4 and take them to Exilion 17. Four days, max, and two of them in hyperspace.

“What could go wrong?” I should really have run when Keelan said that, because you know as well as I do that anytime those words are uttered you should run, very fast, in the opposite direction.

Unfortunately, we needed cash, and the cat people had it. So we went and picked up the load of cats.

That was where the trouble first began. They were supposed to be crated, sedated, and ready to be picked up by fork lift and stowed in the cargo hold. But when we arrived, a team of cat-wranglers was still chasing them around a pen. We had to wait an extra three days for all of them to be properly prepared for flight.

Connie wrote:

Now we were late. We hadn’t started and penalties were being assessed. “Don’t worry,” Keelan said. “There’ll still be plenty of credits. We’ll be able to pay off the bank as soon as we get to Exilion 17.”

I knew better, Murphy’s Law was in full effect. We loaded the crated cats and took off. The first day we built up to hyperspace speed and cleared the solar system. I hit the button. Nothing happened. I stared at Keelan. “I’ll fix it.” He unstrapped. I grunted in reply. He pulled the cover off of the panel after I got up to get some tea. He was tracing the wiring when I came back, cup steaming.

“Got it.” He held up a burnt wire. “I’ll just reconnect the two ends and we’ll be on our way.”

I knew what he meant. He was going to twist the ends together and tape it. I’m supposed to trust my life to that? “What if it fries again? We’ll never get out of hyperspace.”

“No, no,” he mumbled as he twisted the wires. “This will be fine. We’ll get it fixed the right way when we get to Exilion 17.”

Andy wrote:

Six types of burned tape later, and Keelan not remembering those doomed for not remembering history, I unstrap myself and handhold to the tool closet, next to the cargo’s vapor-lock. That’s where the real nightmare began. There’s a certain fragrance wafting past the three layers of polymer-aluminum seals. Plastic baggie of red electrical twist-caps in hand, I make it back to the cockpit.

Keelan looks up, preparing yet another type of tape for the splicing. I hand him the caps and ask, “Smell anything?”

He smiles. “Just burnt tape. What’s up?”

The question lingers as I buckle in and run a quick ambient contaminant scan. Sure enough, we’ve got an increasing level of uric acid, sodium chloride, male cat steroids, and several unidentified detoxified substances. I point to the screen.

“What’s FUS?” he wants to know. Keelan never reads the fine print; always quick to say he’s the idea man. Sometimes I want to strangle him.

“Feline Urinary Scent.” I leave it at that. The projection trend shows we’ll need air-masks by the time we arrive at Exillion, assuming drive fires in the next several minutes. We’ll need new air filters and a fumigation of the entire ship. Credits, schmedits!

Courtney wrote (202 words):

I’m itemizing the penalties of slaughtering my co-pilot when Keelan tugs on my sleeve and asks, “What’s that noise?”

I pinch the bridge of my nose. “Catcalls.”

He frowns. “Meaning?”

The wailing from inside the crates gets louder.

“They’re out of their cradles.” I sigh.

“Out of their cradles?!”

“Yes.”

“What do we do?”

I close my eyes. “Keep no more cats than will catch mice.”

“What?”

“Nothing.” I grab the stun gun taped to the underside of my console. “C’mon.”

He follows me to the first crate. I peer into the monitor, gaining a bird’s-eye view of the interior. Sure enough, the whole clowder is up and at ’em. One of them is standing on its hyperspace cradle, tinkering with the inside of the crate’s first seal.

“Great,” I mutter. “A cat burglar.”

Keelan snorts. “You kidding?”

I’d like to see him dance on a hot tin roof.

“Look,” I say. “We’re gonna have to open this sucker up. And when we do, we’ll have a fight on our hands. But we have to herd them. Or they’ll take control of the ship.”

Keelan swallows. “Do we have a chance?”

“As much chance as a wax cat in hell.”

Jeremiah wrote:

“Man, listen to ‘em. They sound really pissed.”

I glance at Keelan, who is unaware of his own bad joke. Actually, he looks like he’s going to toss his cookies. I’m sure that would go great with the FUS. Whatever. I am not about to lose a paycheck to a bunch of oversized rats.

I swipe my freight card and begin punching in my access code when Keelan grabs my arm. “Wha—?” He taps his lips with an upraised index finger. Keelan is looking at the crate like it’s an algebra problem he can’t figure out. It’s only after I stare at the crate in a similar fashion for a few moments that I realize the caterwauling has ceased.

Oh man . . . what if the hypersleep settings were off? What if the cats were given the wrong dose of sedatives? Keelan reads my eyes like a news ticker and knows what I’m about to do, but before he can stop me I’ve swiped my card again and entered my code.

The outer shell of the crate bifurcates with a hiss of argon, momentarily obscuring the containment unit. I’m expecting the worst. Shrunken pelts. Lumps of viscera. No. What we get is way worse.

“Howdy boys!” A hundred pairs of furry bipedal legs, a hundred tiny pulse rifles. A large tabby with an eye-patch steps forward and snaps back the operating bolt on his rifle. “I believe we’ll take it from here.”

THE END

Three-sentence horror story: SERVICE

Okay. OKAY. I know I said not all of my three-sentence fic would be horror. But I can’t help it! These three-sentence stories just lend themselves so ridiculously well to the genre! Like pumpkins to jack-o’-lanterns. Or cats to patches of sunlight. Or pancreatic juices into duodenums. Duodena. Whatever.

Anyway.

Here’s another three-sentence story. @BenHoward87 inspired it, because he asked for a bedtime story on Twitter the other night.

Yes. A bedtime story. And I came up with horror. Go figure.

ANYWAY.

Here ya go. Enjoyyyy…. 😉

SERVICE*

by Courtney Cantrell

She woke gasping from another nightmare of murder in the shower.

When she rushed into the bathroom to check, she sighed with relief.

The maid had cleaned up the blood again.

THE END

______________

*I’ve embellished the story a bit from the ~140-character original.

For more three-sentence fiction, click here.

Cranberry Salsa with Cream Cheese Recipe

First, I shall ramble for a while with thoughts on cooking. If you want to skip to the recipe, scroll down to “Cranberry Salsa Recipe.”

Rambling Thoughts on Cooking

Bursting with holiday flavor! BAM!

Bursting with holiday flavor! BAM!

If you know me in person at all, you’ve probably heard me express a certain level of dislike for cooking.

This is a strange paradox, because I love food, I love homecooked food, I consider myself a foodie. I took pictures of my food before it became uncool. Growing up in Europe and traveling a lot have given me ample opportunity to discover new-to-me foods, the recipes of which I’ve happily stockpiled in my kitchen.

I love them. I love having them. They warm the cockles of my gooey foodie heart. I just don’t seem to get around to using most of them.

Recently, I finally figured out that the main reason I don’t enjoy cooking is that it wears me out, and the main reason it wears me out is neurocardiogenic syncope. Even though standing in the kitchen for long periods of time doesn’t make me pass out, it does cause my blood pressure to drop, leaving me weak and sluggish and blah. A few weeks ago, I went through a phase where every evening after cooking, I’d have to skip most of supper and lie down for the rest of the evening. Meh.

(And yes, I would sit down while cooking, but we have a narrow kitchen and if I’m sitting, there’s no walking through it.)

On top of that, in the back of my mind is always the thought that the time I spend cooking, I could be spending playing with my daughter or writing or doing something else artsy. Yes, there is an artistry and creativity to food prep, but it’s not the primary means by which my creativity likes to burst or trickle or schlupp out of me. I do have fun cooking, but I don’t want to do it every day.

So. All of that to say this: I don’t always enjoy cooking, but I do have some favorite recipes. And one of them is the reason for this post.

The good news is, this one doesn’t require standing in the kitchen for a long time. BOOYA.

Lookit the yummies!!!

Lookit the yummies!!!

Cranberry Salsa with Cream Cheese Recipe

I’ve been using this recipe for years and have no idea where it came from. All I know is that it’s delicious. Like the tinkly laughter of small children. And the purrs of a hundred kittens. And like chocolate. Except that it’s salsa, not chocolate. Make of that what you will.

Mmmmm…chocolate….

*ahem*

This is really the only thing I ever “cook” that people actually ask me to make again.

So, without further ado or adon’t, here it is:

CRANBERRY SALSA RECIPE

INGREDIENTS

12 oz. or 3 cups fresh cranberries, finely chopped
1/4 cup minced green onions
2 tbsp minced jalapeños
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup minced cilantro
2 tbsp fresh ginger, finely grated
2 tbsp lemon juice
16 oz. cream cheese
crackers

DIRECTIONS

Mix all ingredients except cream cheese.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours so flavors develop.

Place cream cheese on a plate; form it into a ball-ish; cover with salsa.
Serve with crackers.
By all the gods of galvanized whisk lickers THAT’S GOOD.

VARIATIONS

I’ve experimented with this recipe and discovered the following:

Chop the cranberries by hand or use a food processor; food processor is easier.
You can use canned cranberries (gross), but the salsa won’t taste good.
You can use dried cranberries, but the salsa won’t taste as good.
Honey will work as a sugar substitute, but the salsa will be runny.
An additional 2 tbsp of lime juice adds yumminess, but more than that is too much.
If you have a cramazingly powerful blender or food processor, you can shove all the ingredients into it and process the blurglemamjufloobelschnitzen right out of that puppy.
Your best option is to come be my cook, and I will pay you in cranberry salsa. EVERYBODY WINS.

I repurposed a mutant pumpkin. Let me show you it.

So, this afternoon I finally went out and picked up the autumnal, Thanksgivingal pumpkins off the porch.

Some of said pumpkins were actually in the middle of the yard because the husband pitched them there while shoveling snow, and we didn’t realize it until the snow melted and I was like, “Hey, what are my pumpkins doing in the middle of the yard?”

The thought of possessed, self-propelled mutant pumpkins did cross my mind. But I didn’t entertain the thought. I just served it some hot cocoa and let it sit at my table for a couple of days. It leered at me.

LEERED, people.

Ugh.

So, lest the leering contaminate the pumpkins and I should one morning open my living room curtains to find the leering mutant gourds lined up on my window sill with tiny chainsaws and icepicks, I chose this afternoon to pitch them.

They’ve been out there for two months, y’all. A few of them were mushy. One was as wrinkly as a Shar Pei. One was dripping noxious hellspawn fluids. Without ceremony, I consigned them all to the depths of the trash can, hoping that none of them will think to free-solo their way back up and out.

I tossed all but one.

This one wasn’t mushy. This one could be knocked-upon with knuckles, which action I repeated several times just to be sure. And lo, my flesh did not sink into the rind, nor did the pumpkin sprout clawed fingers nor open wide a fanged maw to rip my arm to shreds. I figured it was safe to bring it into the house.

I knew I wanted to paint it with a Christmas or winter theme, so I’d previously checked Pinterest. I found this for reference. I didn’t read the descrip; all I needed was the photo reference.

So, once the itty bitty was in bed this evening, I broke out my acrylic paints, glitter, and Sharpie (for the coal, as I had no acrylic black) and did this:

snowpumpkin2013

Please to excuse the bad photo manip. I wanted to do something to cover up the newspaper he’s sitting on while drying. And I didn’t want to wait until tomorrow when he’s dry to take the picture. Because I am impatient and stubborn and indulge in instant gratification a lot more often than I’d like to admit. #confessions

The flash also reflected badly off the Sharpie, so I darkened the lumps of coal a bit, too.

Anyway, there you have ‘im! My cute snowman pumpkin for the porch. There shall he abide, and from thence shall he smile benignly at the neighborhood and upon our visitors this fair holiday season.

At least until he fully mutates sometime in January and I send him the way of his mushy brethren.

He’d just better not pick up a chainsaw before then.

Flash Fiction Challenge: Continuing Someone Else’s Story, Part 3

This post continues my entries for author Chuck Wendig’s December Flash Fiction Challenge.

My entry for Part 1 is here.

My entry for Part 2 is here.

What follows is my entry for Part 3. Josh Loomis wrote the first part, and Jon Jefferson wrote the second part.

UPDATE: Josée De Angelis picked this one up for Part 4, and Mozette finished it with Part 5! I’ve pasted their continuations of the story below mine.

Within the Church

by Josh Loomis, Jon Jefferson, Courtney Cantrell, Josée De Angelis, and Mozette

Josh wrote (201 words):

“This is never going to work.”

The witch looked over her shoulder as she drew the pentagram on the wall with red chalk. “If you have a better idea, Father, I’m all ears.”

“Believe me, I wish I had a better idea than drawing these things on the walls of my church.”

“Do I need to remind you that you’re the one that called me?”

“And if my Bishop knew, he’d probably excommunicate me faster than you can say ‘Martin Luther.’”

“He might react that way if he knew about all of the guns on the premises, too.”

Father Benjamin looked up from the shotgun he was loading. “This is America, Miss Crenshaw. Everybody has guns. Even the clergy.”

“Those are the shells we discussed?”

“Silver buckshot soaked in holy water? Yes.”

“Good.”

Crenshaw looked up as the pounding began on the doors. “I knew I should have started there…”

“At least they’re only coming from one direction.” Benjamin worked the shotgun’s pump action as he moved towards the door. “Finish what you’ve started. I’ll hold them off.”

“What, and let you fight it alone?” Abigail Crenshaw dropped the chalk, drawing the silver sword from her dark scabbard. “Not a chance.”

Jon wrote (198 words):

“This is as good a time as any,” Father Benjamin said. He grabbed the handle of the door and gave it a turn. He rammed his shoulder into it and slammed the door into the hall against the creatures in the hall.

They shambled as their bones clacked together. Skeletons, creatures of dark magic mobbed the hall. They weren’t just science experiments gone wrong. The bones assembled at the point of convenience.

Some had three and four arms, others had leg bones growing out of their skulls. A hodge podge of dark evil waited for Father Benjamin and Abigail to join them in the hall.

He burst into the hall blasting rounds from the shotgun into several of the skeletons near the doorway. Their bones exploded in a spray of powdery bone shards. Abigail followed his lead. Her silver sword swung in a wide arc severing bones as it swept through the group.

“Back to back,” Benjamin yelled. “Don’t let them through.” Another blast of the shotgun brought them closer to clearing out his side of the hall.

“Having fun yet deary?” she asked. The silver of her sword flashed through the skeletons that charged her en masse.

Courtney wrote (204 words):

Father Benjamin grinned. “Just like my seminary days.”

Two skeletons darted beneath sword and shotgun, circling to attack from the sanctuary end of the hallway. Abigail lunged at them.

“Crenshaw! Wait!” yelled Benjamin.

Too late. A third skeleton slid between the witch and the priest. Then a fourth. Abigail shrieked as the first two surrounded her. Benjamin took aim, but his gun gave no more than a click. Empty.

With a roar, he reversed the gun and slammed the stock into one skeleton’s head. The skull shattered, but the bones dragged at him as he thrust the barrel against the still-standing skeleton. Abigail took the head of one hellspawn pinning her to the wall. But the last one kept coming, and more poured into the hall behind Benjamin.

“I warned you not to get in my way,” said a voice.

All around them, the skeletons froze. Abigail’s cry echoed in the sudden quiet as she thrust her swordpoint through her final attacker’s skull. Together, she and Benjamin turned toward the end of the hall.

Beyond the motionless horde stood a figure in purple robes. A hood hid the face, but the skeletons’ puppetmaster was unmistakable.

“Hello, Gillian,” said Abigail.

“Hey, Abby,” came the answer.

Josée wrote:

“Long time no see” Abigail said, still holding her sword ready for attack.

“Yeah, sorry about that. You know, I’ve been busy, or I would’ve called… How’s Mom?”

“Mom?!” This from Father Benjamin. He turned sharply to Crenshaw, his prayers forgotten, his fingers loose around his cross.

“You didn’t know this, Father? Abby and I go way back. To the womb, actually.”

Gillian took a step forward. “But don’t worry. Just move away, let me get the stone and I’ll go on my merry way.”

“You were never a good loser, Gill. My spells are stronger now.” Abigail advanced, her sword held high, her other arm at her back for balance.

“This changes everything!” Benjamin cried out.

Abigail, not changing her stance, directed her words to Father Benjamin behind her but kept her eyes on Gillian: “What do you mean? Why?” Gillian chuckled. Yes, she chuckled, a frosty, chilling chuckle. Her skeletons waited for her orders.

“There’s a reason why I asked you here, Ms. Crenshaw. It had to be a Crenshaw witch for this to work. Now I know why.” Gillian’s cold, loud laugh shook the hall and the skeleton bones rattled.

Mozette wrote:

Benjamin glanced at the remaining skeletons. They waited for their next command from Gillian, but he wondered if Abigail could also command them.

“Oh put down that piece of metal, sister. We can work this together.” Gillian’s eyes sparkled, “After all we are twins.”

“Yeah…you’re right.”

Did he hear Abigail correctly? She lowered her weapon to her side slowly, placed it into its scabbard, smiled at the priest and muttered an incantation under her breath. A moment later, all the skeletons exploded into dust as though he had shot them all.

Gillian’s eyes widened, “No!”

“Like I said, my spells are a lot stronger than they used to be.” She smiled, “And, unlike you, I can walk either path of wicca – dark or light – so if you want to play…let’s play. But you leave the stone here.”

Fear skittered across her sister’s face, “And if I want it?”

Father Benjamin and Abigail exchanged a knowing look as she spoke, “Well, you’ll have to kill me. And you know what will happen if you do…”

Her sister’s face paled, “Oh, shit, the stone isn’t a thing, it’s a person.”

“Not exactly.” Father Benjamin shook his head, “It’s twins…sisters of opposing powers.”

“So, do you really want to collect the stone, when, by supernatural laws, we’re not even supposed to be breathing the same air unless we’re in a church?” Abigail challenged.

Gillian groaned, “Fine…I’ll leave.” She raised the hood of her cloak again and faded from sight.

Benjamin turned to Abigail, whispering, “Did we lie to her?”

“No.”

THE END

Or not! Here’s Josh Loomis with an alternate ending (to follow Josée’s part):

“Chalk.”

Abigail blinked, sword still at the ready, processing what she’d heard. “What?”

“Chalk!” Benjamin repeated. “Toss it back to me.”

Abigail’s free hand fished around to find it. Skeletons shambled towards the pair as she threw the chalk back towards the priest, without looking. Benjamin had to step towards it to catch it. The skeletons reached out, and Abigail’s sword flashed. Gillian laughed as her sister moved to defend the priest.

“This would be a great deal easier if you just gave me the stone, sister. Are you really going to defend this… this man?”

Abigail shook her head. “And you gave me shit for staying in school.”

“Abby!”

It was the first time he had used her given name. She turned, and saw him holding up a black slate. On it in chalk was a complex circle, ringed in runes, that Abby recognized instantly. Without hesitation, she sliced the palm of her left hand on her blade, and slapped the slate Benjamin held. Instantly, there was a loud pop, and the skeletons collapsed.

Abigail turned, and Gillian was gone.

“Here.” He began wrapping a cloth around her hand.

“How…?”

“Later. Right now, we have a church to clean up.”

THE END

Flash Fiction Challenge: Continuing Someone Else’s Story, Part 2

This is for Part 2 of Chuck Wendig’s December flash fiction challenge. (My entry for Part 1 is here.)

I’m late posting this, but hopefully it will still count.

COLD

by Shane Vaughan, Courtney Cantrell, Adrienne, Wanderer, and Jonathan Bray

Shane wrote:

He is cold. It’s always cold around this time of year. The sun decides it’s had enough and pops off for a quick solstice nap. Not that he minds. He’s used to the cold by now.

He props his collar up, puffs his scarf to cover all exposed skin; all that dead, gray skin. He tucks his gloves down over the wrists and sucks on the butt of his last cigarette. Damn things never last. His wife used to say it’d give him cancer, not that it matters now. He lowers his woolen packer hat over his brow and stares at his reflection in a shopfront window. He used to recognize himself, now what is he?

It had all happened so fast; the heart attack; cracking his head on the tile floor; the ethereal sensation that he was losing life, as though it were seeping out of a hole somewhere. And then the doctors. The nurses. The scalpel. He saw it all, from outside his body. He watched as they operated, trying so heroically to save his life, but in the end the line went dead.

So what the hell is he doing back on Winthrop street in high Winter, and how did he return?

Courtney wrote (206 words):

He shuffles down the sidewalk, leaves skittering at his feet. They’re as dead as he, but at least their hop-skipping gives a pretense of life. The cold slows him, as though he’s walking through vats of the red gelatin his daughter snacks on. Childish giggles echo in his memory.

He wonders what his funeral was like. What they wore. How they sat. If her tears were as loud as her laughter.

Did his grave the next morning warrant an investigation?

His sluggish foot kicks a loose rock at a passerby. The woman glances at him, frowning. But then her eyes widen. He already knows her thoughts. Too many other well-meaning lips have spoken them. Sir? You look ill. Can we help?

And in undertones: Is he contagious?

That question always makes them back away. Even now, the woman veers aside, covering her mouth and nose with her hand. Just in case. Can’t be too careful.

If only he could tell them this is no illness they can catch by breathing his air. He shies away from them, too. Even in the cold, they smell too good. He places his hand over the scarf covering his own mouth. Even through the wool, he can feel the fangs.

Adrienne picked up my thread and continued:

He had forgotten how hungry he is as he studied his reflection in the shop window. Now, as he turns and watches the woman scurrying away, he wonders if anyone would notice her absence. A sharp pain brings him back to reality. He was clenching his jaw tightly, piercing his lower lip with his fangs. It wasn’t the first time he’s done this. Luckily he heals quickly. Shaking his head, he turns away from the woman, now a small dot a few blocks away. Now is not the time to slip up.

He keeps moving, fighting the cold breeze as it assaults his legs and threatens his pace even more. Behind him, a shadow flits under the yellow street lamps, quickly concealing itself in the shadows once more. He smiles. His lengthy pause in front of the shop window had done the trick. His plan is working beautifully.

Every move he had made since he dug himself out his own grave had been witnessed by that shadow, and it was now time to find out who, or what, it was. He turns the corner and immediately enters through the first door he comes to. The house has been vacant for years, and it is the perfect place for a predator to trap his prey.

Wanderer continued with:

The house smells slightly damp and musty. Strangely comforting, he thinks. It reminds him of the cool dark earth and the way it clung to him as he clawed his way out of the ground. A cracked mirror hangs crookedly on the wall and he unwraps his scarf, looking at his face in the spider-webbed surface. His skin looks like the cracking dried mud of a riverbed. He turns away, sliding into an alcove in the entryway. It wouldn’t do to have his pursuer spring the trap too soon.

He swallows against the wave of hunger that comes over him. No. He only wants answers. Why should a thirty five year old man with no history of heart disease drop dead of a heart attack? And why should that same man refuse to stay dead? There was a slight tickle in his gums and he consciously breathes through his nose until the fangs retract. He has a good idea why he isn’t dead or, more accurately, why he is undead, so the question is how?

He hears the front door creak and lowers into a crouch, reminding himself he only wants answers. The aroma of warm blood fills the foyer.

Jonathan Bray concludes with:

The shadow moves forward into the dim light, revealing a woman. Her face known, but not placed. He grabs her and shoves her against the wall.

“Why have you been following me?”

She screams. “Please, take what you want. Just don’t hurt us.”

“Us?” He looks around, photos of of his daughter appear and fade like dying ghosts. This was their house. What happened here? How long has he been like this?

“Where is she?”

A memory half recalled. His wife, a drink, then pain. He reaches for her she laughs. Darkness. His daughters voice in the darkness, a melodic grapnel for his soul.

“I’m sorry.” She whimpers.

Fangs sink into her before he can think to stop. She withers to a corpse in his arms, the blood runs to rot. He chokes, spits the dry gore from his mouth. The corpse is familiar. The ruined dress and wispy hair. He called her wife.

Footsteps run, he follows. She’s older now, but it’s his daughter. He smiles with bloody horrific teeth.

“This isn’t what I wanted.” She stabs the knife into her heart.

“No!”

The house is empty, numb. Now he waits for the cold. He’s used to the cold.

THE END

Concerning #Blacklist with James Spader

Also: SPOLIER, If You Haven’t Seen a Preview for Tonight’s Episode

Me: Honey, tonight’s “The Blacklist.” Are you excited?

Ed: I’m scared.

Me: Of what?

Ed: That one guy is gonna get hurt really bad.

Me: Who? Red?

Ed: Yeah. He’s gonna get hurt really bad. I saw a preview.

Me: Hey! Thanks for the spoiler! (she said, as though she didn’t already know.) ; )

Ed: It was a preview.

Me: So?! That doesn’t mean I saw it!

Ed: I can’t help it, it was a preview!

Me: What, so previews are sacred now?

Ed: Yes.

Me: I don’t remember reading that in my catechism.