#Free Short Story: A Grimm’s Fairy Tale + #Cyberpunk

So. In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been doing Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenges of late. This week, Wendig decreed we should take a classic fairy tale and remix it with a random genre from his list.

I chose Grimms’ fairy tale “Brüderchen und Schwesterchen” — “Little Brother and Little Sister” — because it was one of my favorites when I was a kid. The whole girl-gets-boiled-alive-in-bath was just deliciously horrible and creepy. (Seriously — what was wrong with those guys?!) The bath part didn’t make it into my remix, but it did inspire the element of weird.

A random number generator gave me the genre cyberpunk.

I’ve never written cyberpunk before. So be gentle and all that. ; )

Without further ado or adon’t….

BRÜDERCHEN UND SCHWESTERCHEN;

or: LI’L SYSBRO ON THE HUNT

by Courtney Cantrell

She stalked through bright green interspersed with patches of wet, grimy darkness. Her clicking oculars acquired the target at the center of the neon-lit Circle. She held supremacy, but she would relinquish control to him soon enough. She’d promised him the kill.

High above her antlers, the massive, lurid purple umbrella blocked acid rain. Later, she would abandon this protection, twisting metal limbs and flattening fleshy parts to squirm into the darkness, the only hiding place left. Spattering raindrops would pit her mech, burn her skin.

Of course, she wouldn’t feel the pain; he would. Control would remain his throughout their escape. He would shield her from the agony. He always did.

“Dude! Nice mech!”

Leaving one ocular trained on her prey, she turned the other upon the intruder. Long-limbed and striped, it possessed a tail of interlocking steel plates. Its face was still mostly flesh, except for the prehensile whiskers and the grin revealing pointy, silvery teeth. It looked her up and down as though wondering where to bite first.

A mechimal, like her. Presumably a volunteer.

Unlike her.

“What’s your skin?” it asked.

“Deer,” she replied.

“Transcendent.” Its voice sounded male. “Never even heard of that. Mine’s cat.”

She nodded, then turned her second ocular back toward the Circle’s center. There, onstage, the false Queen waved at the crowd. They undulated at her feet, writhing in rhythm with the music. It slammed out of hundreds of floating hoverspeaks. Their projections of the Queen’s single, yellow eye made them seem like fireflies.

Dead insects from a dead era. Just like the deer. Soft, pretty creatures had no place here anymore.

“You a big fan?”

Catboy again. Her proximity sensors tingled as he sidled up on all fours. “Ever since the Queen stole my life,” she said.

“Man, she does that.” Catboy slid a foreleg closer, touched a paw to her front hoof. “I thought I had a life, ’til I heard her music.”

“It isn’t hers.”

The false Queen danced, and the crowd groaned with pleasure. Triumph was at hand.

Catboy poked a part of her that was still flesh and female. “What’s your name?”

“Sysbro. Look, you should go.”

“Yeah, let’s get in there! I wanna see her eye up close.”

“No, you don’t. Her eye paralyzes you while she takes you and your brother and mechs you up into some thing that’s two people and an animal in one body. And then she takes your place, steals your life, casts you out into the darkness, all because the man she wanted fell in love with you instead. And you can but dream of your King’s palace with its pure, white light. You can but long for your child — your real, fully human child in this horrible, flesh-and-machine-fused place we call a world. You can yearn and ache and it doesn’t matter, because the Queen’s Eye captured you, and she changed you forever, and you can’t ever be a real person ever again.”

Neon green and purple washed over Catboy’s face as he stared with dilated, oval pupils. He gave Sysbro a vapid smile. “That’s like poetry, baby. From the Queen’s new album?”

Sysbro smashed a metal hoof through the center of his chest. Short-circuiting, he dropped at her hindfeet. He’d repair in a few minutes. He didn’t even bleed.

Onstage, the Queen addressed her adoring subjects. It was time. Sysbro lunged, pushing her way through the crowd. Some of them were mechimals, some still mostly flesh. All came in reds, blues, golds, silvers, lavenders of manipulated genes. Sysbro’s hooves shoved them aside. When she reached the edge of the stage, her face wore a mask of reverence.

Except for the one yellow eye in the center of her forehead, the false Queen still looked human. Her hair was black. Her skin was a pale bronze the color of Sysbro’s deerplates. In robes of white befitting one who lived with the King, the Queen raised her hands in blessing. Her laughter tinkled out over her worshipers from a thousand hoverspeaks.

Sysbro retreated, and her brother ascended.

Brosys moved fast. One moment, he knelt with the others at the foot of the stage. The next, he leapt high, plunged, and slammed both front hooves into the Queen’s midsection. She hit the stage, two gaping wounds in her soft belly. Crimson spilled down billowy white fabric. Brosys straddled her and dug his knees into her guts.

“Remember, Your Majesty?” He felt the clammy skin of her cheek against his metal muzzle. “I warned you that I’d come for you. My sister is the mind that plots and the heart that feels, but I am the hand that strikes. I am fulfillment of promise. I am vengeance made flesh.”

The crowd screamed. The Queen put on such a transcendent show. Concerned frowns were few. Brosys’s ocular implants heated up as he glared into the Queen’s eye.

She laughed.

“You do her dirty work, Little Brother.” The Queen gasped another gurgling chuckle. “She’s weak. She was always weak. You hear, Little Sister? How will you nurse that mewling infant the way you want to? You don’t even have breasts anymore.”

Brosys lashed out with a hoof, aiming for the yellow eye. But at the last instant, his foreleg halted.

“I heard you,” said Sysbro.

The Queen’s upper lip curled. “You won’t let him kill me.”

Brosys frowned. “Sister?”

“Wait,” she said.

The Queen shook her head. “Dual-core freak.”

Sysbro retracted the oculars and looked upon the Queen with her real eyes. The vision was less clear but more honest. And she could still see the woman’s fear-sweat.

“I know about the microchip,” she told the Queen. “Embedded in your chest. Every night that I’ve sneaked into the Palace to watch over my child, I’ve scanned you. I know the chip contains our reverse-engineering codes. I’ll nurse my baby with my own breasts. Not as Sysbro, but as a human mother. And the world will watch me.”

Realization, hatred, and terror widened the false Queen’s single, yellow eye. Sysbro pressed a hoof into that eye, crushing it, pressing slowly but hard until she penetrated the skull and ground the brainmeats within it into bloody, gray mush. A few slashes with her metal muzzle, and she held the microchip between her teeth.

“Let’s go home now,” said Brosys.

Sysbro agreed. They slipped through the now panicked crowd, into the shadows, and out into life.

THE END

Short Story: GEORGE AND THE BABYLONIAN FIELD TRIP

This story is my entry into Chuck Wendig’s latest flashfic challenge. Thanks to the rolls of the dice, I got the following elements from which to craft my tale:

Protagonst: Dirty cop ghost

Location: the Underworld

Uh-Oh: something precious, stolen

Once again, I’ve gone beyond the wordcount limit (2850 instead of 2000), but I couldn’t help it. I edited and schmedited, and this is as far as I got. But I like it. Hope you do, too. : ) As always, feedback is welcome!

*drumroll* *ahem* Ladies and gentlehobbits, I give you…

GEORGE AND THE BABYLONIAN FIELD TRIP

by Courtney Cantrell

 

“Name?”

“George Wilkerson.”

“Your business?”

“I…uh…I need to see Errie.”

“What? Speak up!”

“I need to see Errie.”

See Errie?”

“That’s right.”

“Nobody sees Errie. Errie isn’t seen. Just where do you think you are, anyway?”

“I think I’m in hell.”

“It’s called ‘Ir-Kalla,’ but close enough. Move along, you’re holding up the line.”

“Listen, I have to see her.”

“Look, dearie, I understand. You’re dead, and you’ve got unfinished business. You think Errie will render you aid. Well, she won’t. She can’t take the time for every human who bleats at her.”

“It’s–”

“–important. Please. You’re not the first to waltz up to my gate asking for favors. Do I look like a bank? Shoo! Get out of here! Silly dead humans. Next! State your business!”

* * *

“George! Hey! How’d it go?”

“Bad. She wouldn’t listen. Didn’t even let me get to the memory stuff.”

“She’s just the Gate Seven shedu. She doesn’t mean anything, she’s just doin’ her job.”

“What, so now you’re defending them?”

“No, I’m just sayin’ you’re new here. You dunno how things work yet.”

“I just…I need it back, Mel. It’s all I had left, and they took it from me.”

“It’s what they do, hon. One gate at a time ’til you get here: your stuff, your clothes, your — well, you know about that, or we wouldn’t be talkin’ about this.”

“Thing is, I can almost see it, you know? It was my last morning before the shooting. He was at the breakfast table. He smiled–”

“Man, you’re killin’ me here, and that’s hard to do to a dead girl. Don’t dwell on it, you’ll just make it worse.”

“Look, Mel. You told me to see the shedu. She’s obviously a dead end. You got any other leads? Anybody else I can pump for info?”

“Listen to you. ‘Leads.’ ‘Pump somebody for info.’ You ain’t a cop anymore, Georgie. This ain’t the beat, and you ain’t gonna toss nobody in the slammer, capiche? That ship’s sailed. That ticket’s punched. That horse is dead–”

“Can it, Mel! Do you know anybody else I can talk to or not?”

“Hmph. Not with that attitude, I don’t.”

“I’m sorry. I’m just really stressed out and freaked out. I mean, jeez, it’s like you said, I just got dead, right? I need help, and you told me Errie’s it. I believe you. I trust you, Mel. Shouldn’t that count for something?”

“You kinda know how to sweet-talk a girl, don’t you, Georgie.”

“I don’t know. You tell me.”

“Maybe a little. Just don’t try the old yawn-stretch-arm-over-shoulder trick, okay? You’ll make my skin fall off. Now come on. I happen to have connections at Gate Four. We’ll just blend in with the afternoon rush. The shedu won’t know the difference. Today, Georgie, today!”

* * *

“What in God’s name is that smell?”

“Which one?”

“The rotten-eggs-mixed-with-dog-poop one.”

“No, Georgie. Which god?”

“Huh?”

“You’re in Ir-Kalla, honey. You go invokin’ gods around here, you gotta specify if you wanna get anybody’s attention.”

“Oh. Umm–”

“Sewage.”

“What?”

“The smell you were askin’ about. It’s sewage. But you can call it rotten dog poop eggs if you wanna.”

“This is the afterlife. Why the hell is there sewage?”

“This ain’t the afterlife, it’s the underworld. There’s a difference, ’kay? And there’s sewage because everybody’s rottin’. All the gross has to go somewhere, right? They can’t just leave dead skin and globs of meat lyin’ around, or there’d be piles of it everywhere. They put in the sewers right around 5000 B.C. Cleaned this place up good, or so I hear. The water carries the rotten flesh away to some alternate dimension.”

“You’re giving me a headache.”

“You asked, sweet’eart.”

“And I’m not rotting.”

“Sure you are. You just ain’t noticed yet.”

“Hey, whoa! What is that?”

“Georgie dahlin’, welcome to Ir-Kalla’s Gate Six.”

“Wait, you said I came through here, right? I don’t remember it looking like this.”

“You came at it from the other side the first time. You were on your way down, remember?”

“It looks like a pretzel…made out of giant black barb-wire.”

“Ha! That’s not Gate Six. That’s Gate Six’s shedu.”

“Oh. Oh, shit.”

That’s the gate. Now shaddap and lemme do the talkin’. Hey, Asag! How goes it?”

***PURSA***

“Good ol’ Asag, always gets right to the point. Dude, we’ve decided you should just let us on by like a good shedu and forget you ever saw us. ’Kay?”

***PURSA***

“Mel! What’s it saying?”

“He’s saying decide. He’s kinda slow. Asag, listen to me! Just roll your barbed self to the side just a little bit and we’ll squeeze on past. Capiche?”

***PURSA***

“Jeez, today of all days he gets into the firewater and shorts out the few brain circuits he’s got left.”

“What do we do?”

“Well, Georgie, we got a drunken Assyrian gate-warden demon on our hands, so we got two choices: turn around or make a break for it.”

“Then we definitely have to make a br–”

***MINU***

“Okay, what did it say this time?”

“He asked, ‘What?’ I think he’s getting suspicious. It’s now or never, hon.”

“Okay then, now!”

***MAR KALBUM***

“Run, Georgie!”

“Mel! It’s coming right for us!”

“Keep running! Don’t look back!”

***QATALU***

“There’s something wrong with my leg!”

“I told you, you’re rottin’! Suck it up and hoof it, Georgie!”

“God, this hurts!”

“Which one?”

“Shut up, Mel!”

“Gotta keep you on your toes, babe. Hey, look! We lost him. He’s turning around!”

“Terrific. Can we stop? I need to catch my breath.”

“Sure thing. Gate Five’s comin’ up, though. Dude, check it out, you lost a toe.”

“Oh, peachy. So what, parts of me are just going to fall off? Like I’ve got leprosy or something?”

“Hey, toe or no toe, we got away clean, baby!”

“What was he yelling at us?”

“What, that last bit? He called you a son-of-a-dog, and then he yelled kill.”

Kill? But we’re already dead. How can he kill us?”

“There are things worse than death, Georgie. C’mon. Let’s go.”

* * *

“And that, my dear George, was Gate Five.”

“Wow. That was…I’m still seeing spots. What’s that one called?”

“The Gate Five shedu? Fred.”

“Fred?”

“Yup.”

“That doesn’t sound very Assyrian. Or Babylonian.”

“Meh, some of ’em went modern back in the ’60s. Drugs and free love, y’know.”

“Mel…you know so much about this place…how long have you been here? What’re you doing here, anyway?”

“How long is long enough to know the ins and outs. The what is more story than you want right now. How ’bout you, Georgie? What got you tossed down here to rub shoulders with the hooligans?”

“Welll…I always thought I was a decent guy, mostly. Dedicated to my family, cared about my work. Everybody told me I was a good cop. ‘You’re a good cop, George. Straight shooter. Thanks for your service.’ That kind of stuff.”

“I’m hearin’ a big ol’ but in there somewhere.”

“I told you about my wife, right?”

“The Big C. I remember, hon. So sorry.”

“Yeah. Thanks. Well, after she died, there were bills. I couldn’t pay. A squirrelly guy comes to me when I’m off-duty and tells me there’s money. All I have to do is look the other way when we’re bagging evidence at a crime scene the next day. He gives me a downpayment. I check it out at home, and it’s enough cash to cover a fourth of the medical bills. So the next morning, we’re on the scene and it’s just like the guy described, so I look the other way. Only time I’ve ever done anything unethical as a cop.”

“What happened?”

“The case turned out to be a murder, and the perp walked because we didn’t have enough evidence.”

“Ouch. George. Man, I’m sorry.”

“Yeah.”

“So what happened then?”

“I paid the bills a little extra at a time, I paid ’em off, I got shot in the line of duty, I died a hero, and here I am.”

“And this thing you’re lookin’ for now…?”

“It’s all I had left of my son, Mel. He doesn’t know what I did. As far as I can tell, he never will. He thinks his dad’s a hero. I’m enough of a coward that I’m fine with that. I know I screwed up, and I’d do the right thing if I had it to do over. Whatever punishment they have for me here, I can take it. All I want is that last piece of my kid. That wasn’t theirs to take, and I’m going to get it back.”

“Then let’s get it the hell back, babe.”

* * *

“Mel, I don’t know if I can do this.”

“Sure you can, hon. You got a quest, right? How you gonna find your treasure if you don’t face a little demon or two?”

“That…that’s not little. Or two. That’s big. And it looks like about…five dozen.”

“Oh, don’t worry about the Lilitu. They’re a sweetheart. Just confusing to talk to, that’s all.”

“Mel…all those mouths. And is she wearing lipstick?”

“She are wearing lipstick. You gotta keep your subjects and verbs out of agreement about the Lilitu. She’re mostly nice, but she’ll flatten you if she feel disrespected. Oh, and her shade’s Copperflip Orange Melon Starburst.”

“I’ll keep that in mind next time I’m at Victoria’s Secret.”

“Ooooooh, Georgie-Porgie’s gettin’ saucy! I like it!”

“Just do your thing, okay?”

“Yeah, yeah. Lilitu of Gate Four! How are she?”

>>greetings mel mel what are you doing doing here?

“Just passin’ through with my new friend. Say hi, George.”

“Um, hi, Lilitu. How…uh, how is they?”

“How are she, dimwit!”

“Sorry! I apologize, Lilitu. How are she?”

>>fine fine thank you mel your friend friend needs needs needs some manners.

“What can I say, babe? He’s new here, rough around the edges. Wet behind the ears. He didn’t even know your shade of lipstick.”

>>dumdbumb dumb dudumbmb.

“Don’t I know it. Now, hon, George here needs a favor. He needs to see Errie.”

>>so you shoshoww him erererrierierie.

“C’mon, you know it ain’t that simple.”

“Mel…why does…why do she talk all doubled up like that?”

“The mouths ain’t always synced. Hush!”

>>it hahass been a long long time mel. i neeneedd a home home. can he give me that?

“I bet he can. He’s pretty motivated.”

“A home? What is — are she talking about?”

“She want you to draw her a picture.”

“Huh?”

“A picture. She need a picture of a tree.”

>>a tree tree tree human man a tree can you you do that that that?

“Um…I guess so?”

“C’mon over here, Georgie. Look. This side of Gate Four’s nice and flat, great for drawing. A tree about five feet tall should do it. Lilitu can do the rest.”

>>yes yes tree tree tree drdrdrawawaw please please i’ll do the rest rest rest.

“Okay. What do I draw with?”

“Your blood. Gimme your hand.”

“OW! What the hell?!”

“Sorry, sweetie. Best to do it quick-like, y’know? Don’t worry, the cut won’t get infected or anything. You’re dead. And now you got ink to work with. Win!”

“You people are all a crazy bunch of psychopaths.”

“Now, Geor–”

“–and I’m gonna stand here at a damn gate in the middle of HELL and draw a tree in my own blood for a demon made of a bunch of woman-shaped parts and mouths. FINE. I’m drawing. I don’t even know how to draw, but I’m drawing. See? That’s my blood everywhere. Dripping. Sticky. Does that look like a tree to you? I can’t even draw stick figures.”

“It looks great, Georgie.”

>>a tree tree tree oh it is lovelovelyly i can live here and be at peace peace peace yes.

“Wait a sec, Lilitu. Aren’t y’all forgettin’ something?”

>>no no melmelmel i haven’t forgotten here come close to me close close close close closer close.

“Mel, wha–? I don’t think you should do that…. Um, her…their mouths are touching your…oh. That oughta be on HBO. Ladies, uh, aren’t there rooms around here for that? You really…wow. I really shouldn’t be watching thi — oh, that’s not right.”

* * *

“Thanks, Lilitu.”

>>thank you, mel. i shall enjoy my tree now.

“You do that, hon. Just do me a solid and don’t wander too far in tree form, okay? Last time it took me three years to clean up after those souls that got past your gate. Hey, Georgie, it’s over. You can look now.”

“Sorry, I just couldn’t — hey! Mel, you got awfully tall all of a sudden. And what’s with the armor?”

“This is what I really look like, Georgie. And you can call me Ereshkigal.”

“Ereshkigal…. Errie?!”

“The same, baby. Ohhh, does this feel good! The Mel form is fun, but rotting does get tiresome after a while.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I am Ereshkigal, the Great Lady Under Earth, Queen of the Netherworld, Goddess of Ir-Kalla, Ir-Kalla itself made spirit and flesh. ‘Errie’ for short, sometimes known as ‘Mel.’ I take care of this place.”

“But I’ve been looking for you! I…why didn’t you tell me who you were? Why did I have to go through all this? I lost a damn toe!”

“Listen, Georgie. This is Ir-Kalla. People come here to rot for eternity. It ain’t a nice place, but I do what I can. Down here, nobody gets what they want. Nobody gets anything back, and getting something back is all you’ve talked about since you plunked your ass down at Gate Seven. If I was gonna help you, I had to be sure of you. I ain’t gonna waste my time with some schmuck who thinks he’s hot snot on a gold platter, when he’s really cold boogers on a paper plate. I ain’t gonna lift one immortal finger for somebody thinks he’s entitled, capiche? I got nothin’ for souls who ain’t sorry.”

“I…I told you my story. Why I’m here. What I did–”

“–and that you knew you screwed up. That’s all I needed to know, honey. So we came on to Gate Four, you did the Lilitu a favor, and she broke the Mel-spell I put on myself. Win.”

“Does that mean–?

“It does mean. My decree for the Gate Seven shedu is that she strip a soul of its final best memory. For you, that’s your son at the breakfast table. He smiled at you….”

“He smiled at me…and then it goes dark. I know it was something wonderful, I know it was the best thing in the world, but I can’t remember!”

“Hold out your hand, George. The hand that I cut. I’m placing the memory into your blood, and it’ll become part of you. You’ll never lose it again, not while I rule Ir-Kalla.”

“It’s…it’s warm. Warming up my arm. My chest. I didn’t know I was so cold. The warmth is going up my neck…. Mel! I mean, Errie! I mean…I remember! Oh, god…goddess…whatever, I remember! We were at breakfast, talking about his mom, talking about the bills, and he looked up at me, and he smiled, and he said, ‘Dad, I know what you did. I know about the bribe. I’m into computers, remember? I know you always do everything you can. You took the money so you could take care of us. It wasn’t right, we both know that. But I want you to know I forgive you. I forgive you. I love you, Dad. No matter what happens, you’ll always be a hero to me.’”

“That’s your memory, George. That’s your final best memory, and it shall sustain you.”

“He knew. He knew, and he forgave me. My boy, he knows about me, but he still loves me. My beautiful son!”

“Aw, Georgie, don’t cry. You’re gonna get me all choked up, and what’ll it look like if the Queen of the Underworld starts bawling like a kid?”

“Errie…thank you. I can’t repay you–”

“Don’t give it another thought.”

“What now?”

“Well, since I’m tall now, I can see what’s comin’, and what’s comin’ is Asag, my sweet little barb-wire shedu from Gate Six. Since he’s a little slow today, I’m thinkin’ he’s not in the mood to recognize my authority. So why don’t you and I make like a couple of trees–”

“–and get out of here?”

“Dahling, I thought you’d never ask.”

THE END

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

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

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

New Flash Fiction Challenge: 200 Words! Part 1

Below, please find my entry in Chuck Wendig’s latest flash fiction challenge: writing the first 200 words of a story which other writers will finish.

House of Memory

by Courtney Cantrell, Renee Elizabeths, Simon B., and ?

“I was cleaning bean sprouts when I heard the news.”

As Feral’s voice wavered out into the silence of the crowd, Berien Ghantek squirmed in his seat. The new boots pinched, and the formal shirt’s stiff collar made his neck itch. He tightened his grip on the banner pole. Above his head, the bright red flag twitched. If he kept his hands on the pole and his mind on his duty, he wouldn’t give in to the urge to scratch.

“One remembers every detail of that moment.” Feral cleared her throat, but her ancient voice remained raspy. “The earthy scent of the sprouts. The tiny snapping sounds as they broke beneath my clumsy fingers. The cold splash of water at the pump. I was but a young girl then, but we Ghanteki have not forgotten. As every year, today we remember and raise our house standard to our queen, Alarena Bright-Eye. May her rest be peaceful, her rising soon, and her vengeance entire.”

“SHE SHALL RISE,” replied all of House Ghantek.

Trembling, Berien got to his feet. Although he forced his gaze to stay on Feral, he could feel the more than five hundred Ghanteki eyes shift to his face.

Story continued by Renee Elizabeths:

“H-house Ghantek remembers the F-f-fallen Queen!” he stammered.

Annoyance flashed in Feral’s eyes, but the crowd shouted their response anyway. As she’d said herself, they’d been doing this for decades now, and they only had the one line to remember anyway.

His throat got tight and Berien swallowed a cough as she began her second reading. Feral would have him scrubbed raw and purified every day for a month if she decided he hadn’t taken this seriously.

It was just too hot. Couldn’t Queen Alarena have waited a few weeks until autumn to die?

Of course, then it would probably be raining.

The crowd shouted again and Feral began her third reading, this one about the battle to come. Her words washed over him, filling Berien’s ears without bothering to catch his attention. It was almost over now.

“House Ghantek defen–” The third standard-bearer cut off with a squeak.

Berien followed his gaze to the prayer tower at the back of the crowd. The priest there, a new man fresh from the monastery, stood and threw off his ceremonial robes.

“SHE SHALL RISE!” shrieked his withered corpse.

Thunder boomed, shaking the world, and the altar burst into white-hot flame.

Simon B. continued with:

The crowd gasped and turned as one. Berien watched with them in disbelief as a dozen robed acolytes tore themselves away from the throng and joined the skeletal figure upon the tower. The bearer who’d been interrupted – a blade-sworn whose name he couldn’t remember – had fallen to his knees, repeating his pledge over and over.

Feral was going to go absolutely pastoral. Berien looked over his shoulder to her for guidance, grimacing at the collar digging harshly into his neck.

The old matriarch stared dumbly past him. Her usually stern expression was gone; she stood, transfixed by the flames, as horror and confusion fought for purchase on her face.

A scream snapped Berien’s attention back to the prayer tower. The group of priests were pushing back into the crowd. A flash of steel, another shriek – more urgent, this time.

They’d armed themselves.

Berien laid down the Ghanteki standard as respectfully as he could and felt an illicit flush of relief as he realised he wouldn’t be leading the parade later on. He pulled open his shirt, unfastened his rapier and stepped down from the stage, making his way deftly through the surging, pressing bodies of the crowd.

Decorum be damned.

__________

Who’s next? : )

The One Where I Paint Dragons

This is not a dragon. This is a smoked turkey. If you can roll it, you can smoke it.

Hiya inklings! I’d intended to post this before I left town for Thanksgiving, but what with last-minute arrangements for household felines as well as the babying of a raw turkey, said intended blogpost did not happen.

(By the way, this year’s Thanksgiving celebration took place at a KOA Campground in Lubbock, Texas. Ed smoked the turkey, and the rest of the meal prep happened on the stove and 1ft² countertop in an RV. We washed the dishes in two pans of hot water on a picnic table. My Thanksgiving in an Army mess hall has now been bumped from 1st place to 2nd in the Most Unique Thanksgiving Memory category.)

It’s worth noting that I had three posts in mind to write before I left. As you might have noticed, none of them happened. So you’ll be hearing from me several times this week. This might or might not flip your bangerang switch. If it does, please do let me know. I get excited about people getting excited about my blog.

If it doesn’t, just don’t bogart my bangerang. We’ll all be happier.

So. The one post I wanted to write concerns this:

The Dragonswarm by Courtney Cantrell, design by Aaron Pogue.

This, my lovelies, is the cover art I painted for Aaron Pogue‘s upcoming fantasy novel The Dragonswarm (December 2011!). If you wanna know what the title refers to, all you gotta do is click the image to embiggen.

To date, this is the best dragon painting I’ve ever done. It’s water-miscible* oils on canvas, 30in. x 40in. I should’ve counted my hours; I forgot to. But I worked on this for the better part of 6 weeks.

If you were guessing, you might guess that the crimson dragon was my greatest challenge. Indeed, that dude was not easy. He started life as the outline of a dragon flying in at a completely different angle…and, because I didn’t have time to paint for a week or so, he dried that way. When I came back to him and decided I’d done him all wrong**, I had to paint over the part I’d messed up. Which meant mixing paint to match the background. Which wasn’t easy. And blerg.

But.

If you were guessing, you’d be wrong. Because the teensy dragons were actually the greater challenge. Do you have any idea how hard it is to render dozens of tiny little dragons in variegated flying formations with oil paint? I’m willing to bet you don’t. Because I didn’t. Strangling Aaron ; ) wasn’t an option, so I girded up my loins (ooh la la) and got ‘er done.

When done, I sat back and heaved many sighs of relief and hmmm’d much satisfaction to myself. Accepting the challenge had me fluttery with nerves. Meeting the challenge had me from warm-fuzzy to hot-glowy. This painting was FUN. And the best part is that once I was finished, I didn’t want to strangle Aaron anymore.*** Yay, everybody wins!

Amy of Amy Nickerson Design is working on the trade dress. She did the trade dress for my novels, too. She pretty much rocks.

Another of my dragon paintings adorns Aaron’s first fantasy novel, Taming Fire. Taming Fire is a bestseller at Amazon, having sold 30,000 copies since its June 2011 release. It’s spent over 100 days on the Top 100 Best Sellers in Science Fiction and Fantasy.

I like to think my art had even just a little something to do with that. ; )

________________
*Water-miscible oils are oil paints (and linseed oil) that have been chemically altered to bond with water. Regular oils require me to use more toxic stuff like turpentine or turpenoid. I *like* not breathing toxins. Oxygen is kinda my friend.

**TWSS. *gigglesnort*

***Concerning the strangling-of-Aaron desire, I might be exaggerating for dramatic blogging purposes.

Writer, Screw in the Light Bulb Already!

In last week’s post But What’s the Because?, I pondered writerly reasons for blogging or for sharing other types of writing with the world.

Apparently, ideas have turned all theme-y in my brain — because here I am, blogging about them again. This time, I’m drawing inspiration from Patrick Ross’s terrific post about Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon.

Chabon says that ideas are like bright light bulbs filling room after room. The lights entice him to distraction. His challenge is to figure out which one is worth his time and energy.

My experience with these “light bulbs” is different. Here are some of the thoughts I shared when I commented on Patrick’s post:

For me, getting ideas is like wandering from room to room in a ginormous mansion. Sometimes, there’s a bright light that draws me to a particular room. I go in and follow that one light to wherever it leads me. When I’m finished in that room, I leave it and go on to the next bright light.

Some lights are dimmer than others — so I know not to enter those rooms until later (i.e. I put those ideas aside for the time being).

Sometimes, one of the rooms lacks a light. Illumination might spill from another doorway, just barely touching the threshold of the darkened room. But there’s no light burning in that room, so I know not to enter it…

…unless I’m feeling particularly adventuresome and want to challenge whatever might be lurking in the darkness. ; )

Challenge the darkness? Do I dare?

You better believe I do.

I’ve got all the tools I need in that dark room. The skills I’ve learned and practiced. The passion in being created to create. The love for my craft. The fellow creatives God has blessed my life with.

If there’s potential for the light of idea to dispel the darkness, then it’s worth it to me to stay in that dark room and coax the light into it.

I just have to remember who I am and who I was created to be.

Sometimes, all I have to do is screw in the light bulb.
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How do you relate to Chabon’s light bulb metaphor?

What’s your greatest challenge in following the creative light?

What is the creative darkness you fear most?