When Frances went to wake her daughter late on New Year’s morning, she did not find her in her bed. Frances took deep breaths, trying not to panic.
“Maya! Maya, are you hiding?” She checked the whole house, opening any cabinet and checking any corner Maya might hide in. The girl had been unusually quiet since Christmas, but then, so had the whole family. Months earlier Frances’ father had just disappeared, leaving a little wooden horse he had promised to carve for Maya unfinished. Caving in to the girl’s begging to get it for Christmas regardless had felt like giving up on him ever returning to finish it.Seeing Maya sit on the floor, the older, polished wooden toys in front of her lined up in an arc, turning the rough horse in her hands—
Empty spots where Maya’s snow boots and warmest coat should be waiting by the front door stopped Frances in her tracks. In her pajamas and slippers she rushed out in the yard, ignoring the cold and the snowflakes, and leaned over the gate, looking left and right, yelling her daughter’s name. No sign of her.
Frances ran back into the house, trying to decide between calling the police right away or quickly getting dressed to look for herself. She heard the knock at the back door before settling on one.
Maya, bundled up, nose red and running, had trouble with the handle on the sliding glass door. Frances scooped her up in a hug, awash with relief and flooding the child with sometimes contradictory pronouncements. Eventually she calmed down enough to close the door. Her near-babbling paused on, “Whyever did you do that?”
“The horse wanted to.” She held the unfinished toy up.
Frances’ brows drew down. That blasted thing.
“It was important. The horse knows where grandpa is.”
“Maya, it’s a piece of wood.” It was not how she usually sounded when she’d say what one of her toys thought or wanted. Much more serious.
“It knows, anyway! I can show you where it said. Just a spot in the woods. Maybe he’s in a fairy hill?” Even Maya herself looked dubious at the idea.
Wordlessly, Frances hugged her again, resolving that they had to have some kind of memorial, if they could not give him a proper burial.
The wind howls in the hollow tower of Yeranem, mourful sounds like a dirge played on a bone-flute. Legend has it that's what it is.
The giant Halaefea taught mortals the secrets of fire and tools, and the gods of the Heavens killed her for what they called treachery. To make sure neither the other gods of the Earth nor the gods of the Underworld could restore Halaefea to life, they scattered her bones.
Around her spine grew the mountains of Vaenn, and now there are a thousand rumours concerning what could be found in the hollow where the marrow used to be.
Her ribs were scattered in the sea, forming the foundations for the atolls of Gwandeh, Jirael and Mdaeh.
The small bones of her hands and feet the gods of the Heavens scattered over the desert of Kyriemakeitikosh, where to us today each is a lone mountain.
Her long bones they kept for themselves. They carved a trumpet from her right thighbone, and spears for their Chosen from the bones of her arms and shanks.
Halaefea's skull, the house of her mind and soul, half-blackened from the wrath-fire that killed her, they put in the highest heaven, with the greatest treasure that is the sun, guarded by the great army of stars. Her clan can't conquer the heavens to save her, and she is out of reach of the ghost-talkers, even the Greatest Shade itself.
Her left thigh bone, now, Joraen, wanted for a weapon for themself, Koruen, wanted it as a hammer for their forge, Gesion for a flute. They argued among themselves and with their siblings, until Joraen started a fight, in the course of which an end of the bone broke off. Ayanaiss said they should send the bone back to Earth, pretending it a token of respect, and so it was done.
The thighbone struck the ground and buried itself deeply enough to stand firm as a mountain. The gods of the Earth, unable to exact their revenge, mourned their sister, and left her remains in peace, as is all gods’ custom.
Mortals found Halaefea's thigh, the strangest white mountain eyes had ever seen, and settled there, carving their first homes into the bone itself.
And, do you know, sometimes a ghost-talker will say when they stayed there, in the centre of the tower that is the heart of Yeranem, they heard echoes of Halaefea's life, in the wind howling in the hollow where her marrow had been.
“When I was a kid, we could still shoot them,” the cop said.
Mira just gave a noncommittal hum and continued her work.
“Thieving little bastards.”
This case was about a diamond bracelet, but still, it was a generalisation.
“I mean, they’re pests, everybody knows that. No matter how smart they are. Eat songbird chicks.”
The magpie struggled as Mira transferred it from the big trap to a smaller transport box. Neither agreeing nor arguing worked as she’d intended; the cop calmed down and got back to business, adsressing the bird.
“You are being arrested on suspicion of grand theft. A lawyer will be provided to you, given that it’s unlikely you have one.”
Mira chuckled. His half irritated, half worried look she answered with, “Close enough to by the book if you ask me. No complaints.”
“Good. Thanks for your help. I just hope we got the right one this time.”
Inspired by the prompts "A species of animal is ruled legally sapient and subject to protection - and prosecution - under human law" by Herm Baskerville and "The magpie in the tree" by TJK
Kay knew she irritated people with things like drumming her fingers and jittering. She had not been that nervous and distractable last year, but could not go back. Teachers gave up after a few weeks and just lived with her looking out of the window rather than following class whenever she felt like it. Until, that is, she got up in the middle of a test and walked outside to better watch squirrels, leaving behind a sheet covered with doodled flowers rather than answers.
The school called her parents, and her mother gave her a dressing-down. Kay tried to listen, because not doing so would make her mother more angry, but instead kicked her feet and watched the patterns the light made on the floor and walls.
“Oh, Kay, what’s gotten into you?”
The girl only shrugged, “I had to go out.” She was close to tears, not understanding herself.
“Maybe her angel is sick,” came a small voice from the door.
Their mother took a deep breath and tried to calm down. “Honey, angels and demons are just stories. And eavesdropping is not nice.”
Kay’s little sister looked confused. “But Mattis said—”
Your demon gave you ideas, and your angel helped you stick with one. Kay had heard the same; everyone had.
While Mother shooed her to the kids’ room, Kay spun ideas. Maybe she had to find her angel and save it. Or talk to her demon. It was still with her, and might know something. Only she did not know how. Maybe she should go—
“I need to make some phone-calls. We should go see doctor Hames soon.”
Kay nodded. Doctor Hames was all right.
“Go and get started on your homework, honey. I’ll help you when I’m finished.”
Fran wished there was more to the stories of poltergeists, if she had to be not-quite-dead-enough. No moving of objects or whispering of threats for her. Richards might feel her touch, but she had tried only once. He had looked up with a grin splitting his face, revelling in her powerlessness, and finished strangling his next victim.
A lock of the boy’s hair had gone into an old paint can and up on a shelf right under the low ceiling of Richards’ shack. He was not the last.
Turning her attention inward hardly shielded her from those scenes; her sight and hearing were not bound to eyes and ears anymore, and she could feel the fear and pain running through her like a current. She did not even have the solace of company in this prison. Judging from Richards’ occasional bows and thank-yous to the “loge of spectators”, there were indeed several ghosts, but Fran found no way for them to communicate.
All she had was a vague sense of their presence, which might have been her imagination. That, and what Richards called his shows, which, death by death, chipped away at her sanity.
Inspired by the prompts "Invisible witnesses" and "Crimes against ghosts and spectres" by Tango
Trying to keep control of her temper, Juno tapped her driver’s license lying on the countertop hard. “This is no fake,” she hissed, waving at the yellowed newspaper clippings about her death and recovery ten years ago she had produced as corroborative evidence. “If the state thought my actual rather than apparent age determined if I was allowed to drive a car, don’t you think the same should apply to other age limits?”
“I’m sorry, hon, it’s not that I don’t believe you—” her eyes flicked to a photo in the clippings, which was still accurate apart from the haircut “—but it would be just not right. Kids thinking you were their age seeing you smoke, what kind of example would that be?”
Behind the concerned face Juno saw a smug presumption of moral perfection. It made her want to break something, by preference the woman’s neck. After taking a few breaths to calm down, she collected her papers, by necessity slowly. Her fingers shook both with anger and withdrawal, and she did not want to damage the old newsprint further.
When the woman started another apology, Juno cut her off with “Fuck ‘think of the children’,” and stalked out of the little corner shop. The third attempt today. She never would have thought that the cashier at her usual shop quitting would cause that many problems. He had had no compunctions about selling cigs to someone who looked like she was ten.
Inspired by the prompts "Is it okay to sell cigarettes and alcohol to a hundred-year-old vampire in the body of an eight-year-old?" by Tango and "Moral versus legal" by Ellen Million
The guests at the Princess's christening were in awe, and her parents proud as could be, as the three wise women of the Realm had accepted their invitation. All noise stopped when the trio stepped up to the cradle to give her good wishes, in solemn voices sweet as summer wind.
“She shall have a mind clear as ice, so she can detect the flaw in any plan, thing, or person,” said the first.
“She shall have a heart strong as steel, so she won’t be hurt or swayed by trifles,” said the second.
“She shall have a tongue sharp as a knife, and wield it expertly,” said the third.
The suddenly stricken silence was broken by the door opening, a messenger bursting in unanounced and out of breath. “The wise women are dead. I saw their bodies in a ditch...”
The impostors let their glamour disperse, showing skin pale as snow and eyes dark as night sky. One smiled at the messenger, the other two bowed mockingly towards the parents, holding all present spellbound long enough for their parting words.
“She will be strong, and smart.”
“She will do all our Realms proud.”
All three faded like a mirage.
Based on the prompt "The fairy godparents aren't the nice sort of fairy." by rix-scaedu.
When the doctor asked, “Where does it hurt?”, probably thinking it was funny, Alma swiped the air in front of her face, after a moment’s consideration indicating a spot the width of her hand from the tip of her nose.
After a too-long pause, the doctor launched into an explanation that Alma tuned out as soon as she caught the word “psychosomatic”. Unsurprised at having to add him to her collection of people who thought she was crazy, she feigned having to hurry to another appointment to speed things up to avoid breaking out in tears in front of the doctor. She had not slept through a whole night for a month, which left her exhausted and thin-skinned and frustrated.
On the way home familiar frustrations ran through her head. Whatever self-help gurus and the like thought, pain was real, not only in her head. The fact that it was outside her head was the problem. Questions of what was going on aside, something like teething pains in a jaw you didn’t have was hard to treat: there was no way to apply local anaesthetics. The general ones she had tried did not help, either. Instead, over time the pain grew worse.
The only thing that helped was heat, but bringing her face close enough to a radiator or fire that it relieved her from the phantom pain hurt the skin of her face and risked setting her hair on fire.
She did it, anyway, of course.
That evening she opened the door of the tile stove and nearly stuck her head inside, breathing the dry woodsmoke like a chamomile inhalation when she had a cold. When she exhaled in a sigh of relief, sparks flew from her nostrils and made the flames flare.
No. No, she must have been mistaken. Her breath had stirred the fuel, that was all.
Alma got up hoping to catch some sleep before the pain returned, noticing that her back hurt. She was too tired to worry about it. She could not bear thinking about the possibility that that new pain hovered behind her back, rather than digging into her muscles.
“Thank you for seeing me.” Oneida bowed to Talaeshin, knowing that elves shunned skin-to-skin contact.
The foremost expert on orc history being an elf was unsurprising. Their long lifespans had made elves lore-keepers long before there had been historians. This one answered in a tone of cool disinterest, “Yes. You were very persistent.”
“This is important. May I…?” She waved a folder into the room and after getting a nod of permission slid past a big box standing partly in the was to the nearly empty desk. On it she laid out notes and photos of old human bones taken on site of an archaeological dig.
While she worked, Talaeshin said, “Few people treat matters of an extinct species as urgent.”
“History is important,” she answered without thinking. “And I wonder if history is wrong. These photos—”
“And wherever did you get those?”
“The dig at Crane Mountain, where they wanted to build a new hotel,” Oneida evaded, “but the important thing is that that there were toothmarks on those bones much too narrow for orcs, no matter what the press spreads already. Someone else needs to review this, of course, but if it’s true, it’s a strong argument for examining remains from older sites.”
Nodding, Talaeshin said, “No respect for the rest of the dead.” He raised his hand to forestall Oneida’s protest and continued, “Do you have any speculations what creature left these toothmarks?”
Forcing herself to not shrink back, she said, “One set at least is definitely elven. It seems… interesting.”
“No? But don’t you see—”
“You fail to see, naturally, that this is not news.” Talaeshin’s tone grew sharper. “History is what we allow to be written down, and this we won’t.”
He made a sharp downwards gesture and Oneida found herself mute and rooted to the spot. She had never believed the stories about elves wielding magic. She thought she should panic, but her heartbeat was slowing down.
“You are right. Orcs were, in fact, mostly herbivorous.” He laid a hand on her shoulder and lowered his face to hers, smiling. “I, on the other hand, have inherited a recipe from my grandmother I would love to try on you.”
Based on the prompt "What if elves were actually horrible, and orcs were decent, but the elves have better PR so they've just managed to convince people of the opposite? " by Elizabeth Barette aka ysabetwordsmith