Third person

Everyday Fear of Monsters

“They used to be afraid of the dark,” the old bogeyman said.

“And either huddle or run when they just heard a noise in the dark,” the dullahan added, “or outright faint.”

“Last time I tried to scare someone, they asked where I got the mask,” the nopperra-bo said.

“I blame the movies.”

The dullahan lifted his head from his knees with both hands to nod it.

“They made humans brave.”

The nopperra-bo sneered, “No, they just made them jaded.”

“Either way, I fear we do not matter anymore. Humans have become too good at scaring each other.”

Inspired by the prompt "What frightens the monsters?" by Lyn Thorne-Alder

tagged Birds

Jewel Thief

“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

Scatterbrained

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.”

Inspired by the prompt "Whim and Chaos" by Deirdre M. Murphy

Bearing Witness

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

tagged Emergent

Cravings

The shopkeeper shook her head again.

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

Partially sponsored by Tango

tagged Fairy Tales

Fairy Godparents

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.

tagged Contemporary Fantasy

Phantom Pains

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.

“Right here.”

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.

Based on the prompt "Phantom Pain" by Eliza Gebow.

tagged Fantasy Elves Contemporary Fantasy

Rewriting History

“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.”

“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

A Spot of Colour

Commuting by bus had a big advantage in addition to not having to look for a parking space which Elsa never mentioned, in case other people would consider her selfish: It gave her privacy for a while. Between heeding “no cellphones” signs and being surrounded by strangers, she had twice twenty minutes each day to relax, usually without being bothered by anyone.

She had heard of friendships started on the bus, but of the few people she recognised most belonged to the group of punks loitering at the main station. A boy with a hooked nose who changed hair colours more often than his clothes, a girl with the rat riding on her shoulder, and their half-dozen friends, drinking in broad daylight, talking loud enough their voices carried to the office three streets away sometimes, littering, and generally acting as if they owned the world. Some days Elsa carried her briefcase as a shield between herself in her business suit and that crowd, other days she switched it to whichever hand was farthest from them, as if they might snatch it. Only occasionally she even noticed what she was doing, and even more rarely she realised that they had never taken notice of her.

Hyper-aware as she was of their imagined threat, she even noticed a newcomer with her head swimming from a monster of a meeting, frustrated at being mostly ignored by her colleagues. Two hours late, and the last bus of the day gearing up to leave, Elsa hurried through the fry-fat smell of biodiesel behind the bus, and missed her footing on the high curb. There was a crack and a crunch, and she found herself dizzy and on her knees on the platform, suddenly close to tears. Oh god, it’s backed over my briefcase and I skinned my knee like a little girl and it’s all so embarrassing.

She pushed herself up, wiping her hands against each other to get rid of the grit. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the punks staring, and the newcomer, a guy with bright green hair and so many tattoos on his arms there was barely and skin in sight, approached her with long steps.

Looking to the left at the bus, she saw more people staring, and the driver getting out, looking... almost sick. Elsa hoped it wasn’t too obvious that his discomfort made her feel better, less awkward and alone.

“Hello! Are you ready for an adventure?”

The voice made Elsa jump, and when the words registered, she answered the punk with a hostile stare. “Go away.”

He smiled down at her -- what was it with kids these days being so awfully tall? -- and answered, “Sorry, ma’am, just doing my job.”

“Oh, go find someone else to mock. Or an actual job, even better.” Elsa raked a trembling hand through her hair and looked at the ground, left and right. Where had her briefcase ended up?

After a few moments the punk asked gently, “Why haven’t you looked behind you yet?”

The dread this suggestion evoked stopped her breath for a moment. Her voice was a tiny squeak. “I can’t.” She stared at the ground. Old glass shards glittered in the cracks between the cobblestones. A hand rose into her field of vision. Only now she noticed the tattoos on the punk’s arm didn’t consist of abstract swirls of colour, or feature flames and bones and knives, like she had unthinkingly expected. Those sleeves were made up of nothing but butterflies, wing-edge to wing-edge.

“You know what happened.” His voice was soft and sympathetic.

“I’m not... Do I have to?”

“Knowing is better, and seeing helps knowing.”

When she took the offered hand, Elsa finally became aware that the bus driver and a few other people were milling around, but ignoring her completely. She turned and looked over her shoulder, for a glance at her body. The bus had backed up right when she had fallen backwards.

She sighed. “Typical. When you think things are at their worst, something’s going to prove you wrong. I’d expected something like a water pipe or major appliance breaking.” It was a rather feeble attempt at humour, but helped steady her. She was glad for someone to hold her hand, even a rather alarming-looking stranger. “So, what now?” She squelched worries about what this would do to her colleagues and friends, deciding right now it was time to be selfish.

“You need a rest, and a change. A chance to become more yourself.” His warm smile widened a bit, eyes narrowing in amusement. “You seem to be more optimistic in your soul than in your habits, for instance.”

“Or I wouldn’t have pitched forward?”

“Exactly.” He offered his other hand, too, and Elsa took it.

The colours of his tattoos seemed to become even more vivid, the grey concrete and cobbles around them fading to nothing. Elsa felt light and warm, and watched with delight as the world broke into fluttering shards of colour, jewel-bright. Her last giddy thought was that a riot of butterflies was prettier than angel wings.

This story was originally published in the July 2011 issue of the Ellen Million Graphics Zine.
It's in the same setting as Career Choices

tagged Fantasy

That Which Hides In Light And Song

The candle lantern was a heirloom that woke bittersweet memories. It had belonged to Kat’s grandmother, whom she loved. The loss still hurt, after all those years, but this little memento helped her remember the good times.

Kat would light a beeswax candle, its light still warmer through the yellow glass, its honey-fragrance mixing with the smell of hot metal and taking her back to evenings spent listening to her grandmother’s stories.

She would sometimes nod off. It was those occasions upon which the spirit of the lamp entered her open mind, mining for memories of lullabies and embraces.

The spirit brought them forth into Kat’s dreaming mind, rebuilding a shadow of the utter safety she had felt as a child.

It kept her seeking the lantern out for company, more when she was in need of support, vulnerable. Singing old songs no-one else would hear, the spirit took wisps of Kat’s life for itself, feeding its own essence. Knowing there was a risk the lamp would disappear in an attic or worse, it resolved to be careful, make her last, but she tasted so, so sweet.

The title was a prompt by Tango

Syndicate content