Image Flash #34

Image Flash #34

5 minIt’s been a fair while since I’ve written a good, old-fashioned, fantasy story. While this image was a bit industrial, I still felt like it was a good candidate for it.

Super windy and warm today so I tossed in some opposite weather; cold and still. Seems to have worked well with the image!


The sea was a gray, still slab as Jarn sailed across it. The breeze carried an icy chill despite being too weak to raise a wave. He pulled his cloak tight and nuzzled his chin into the fabric. His opalescent sails were fine, almost lighter than air, and they managed to catch just enough of the feeble zephyr to move him along, albeit slowly.

The speed didn’t bother him. Neither did the cold. Odds were, considering where he was going, he’d long for the cold soon enough.

The cloudy half light of approaching twilight filled the sky as his destination finally came into view; a tall, crooked, pinnacle of an island stabbing up from the horizon. Even from here, he could see the orange glow on the shoreline and the black smoke rising. The fires were well lit. Eliara had been right to summon him. He hoped that he was right in coming alone.

As the bank drew closer the source of the light, and plumes, became clear. Three enormous metal funnels rose up from the rocky earth, each as tall as a castle tower. Flames licked from their mouths as they belched noxious fumes from their throats. The landscape, aside from the fiery monoliths, was rocky and barren stone, wrapped in winters shroud.

Eliara was standing in the snow, waiting for him, swaddled in her own white cloak.

As soon as he was close enough, he threw anchor out onto the land and pulled the boat in as near as he could. The tied off the rope and jumped out onto the rocks. Eliara didn’t move to join him, so he went out to meet her.

When he got within earshot she spoke and her tone was not welcoming. “What are you playing at, Jarl?”

“I was thinking we’d try something different this time.” He called back.

She scowled as he stopped before her. “It would seem we’re obligated to since you’ve already made the decision by not bringing a sacrifice.”

He met her anger with a smile. “It would seem.”

He passed her and headed for the closest of the vents. She followed.

“I’ve half a mind to force you back onto the boat.” She said.

“You could try.”

“I could do it.”

He considered. “Yes, you probably could. What does the other half of your mind think?”

“That whatever comes next is on you and I should let the consequences land where deserved. My conscience is clear.”

He stopped by the pillar and extended his hands toward the metal, warming them and enjoying the heat that radiated from it.

“You mean it’s almost clear.”

“It’s clear.” She affirmed.

He turned to face her. “Really? You’re okay with giving this beast an innocent woman every decade or so? For what? Centuries now? That’s what makes for a clear conscience these days?”

Her irritation at his suggestion was evident. “Do not twist my meaning. You know the alternative is far worse.”

“Well, that assumes certain alternatives now, doesn’t it? I’ve come to think there might be other options.”

At this she outright laughed. “Please don’t tell me you’ve gotten it into your fool head to try and kill it.”

Jarl shook his head. “Oh, nothing so simple.”

“Then what? Tell me of your brilliant ideas.”

Jarl sighed. This was the part he knew wouldn’t go over so well. There was no way to make his plan sound better. To do so, he’d have to have an actual plan and not just an idea. He didn’t.

“Do you remember, all those years ago, when the beast was loose upon the world? When we tried every way to kill it and failed. When all of our kin died but us in the endeavor? When we finally set upon seeking terms with the dragon and it agreed. We built it this place, set this signal, and then became the keepers of the contract?”

“Of course.”

“It has been bothering me, for a very long time now, but I think there is something we forgot to do.”

Eliara narrowed her eyes. “Humanity has thrived since the containment of the dragon. For a pittance of life we’ve ensured the safety of generations. What is it you think we did not accomplish?”

“We never took the time to ask it why it wanted what it asked for. Hell, we never even negotiated. We saw the price was so low and did as it asked.”

She nodded. “Yes, exactly! Of course. Only a fool would not have snatched peace at such a bargain.”

“Then I guess I’m a fool.” He craned his neck and looked up at the metal towers, simmering fire, above him. “Call me what you may, but over so many years, even such a small price has begun to wear on me. The older I get, the more I see value in each of them, of their capacity to set things in motion generations after they’re gone. I wonder, sometimes, about the very first woman we gave it. About the children she would have had, and their children, and so on. It’s not just one girl every decade. It’s all the potential within them, and beyond. It is tens of thousands. And I think it knows this.”

Jarl stepped away from the column and stared directly at Eliara. “I can’t do it anymore. It ends. Now.” He said.

She considered his words. “I still don’t understand what you’re planning on doing.”

“I’m going down there to talk to it. I’m going to try and understand it. To renegotiate a new deal that doesn’t involve sacrifice. If I have to, I’ll fight it.”

She cringed at his last words. “You can’t kill it.”

“I know. But we’ve lived a long time. We’re not without magic of our own now. I don’t think it can kill us either.”

She turned from him, looking out at the flat expanse of sea. Night had fallen far enough that the sky and the water blurred into single dark gray palate. Gulls cawed as they headed in for their nests for the evening.

“I’ve felt the burden too, but see no other course. What you suggest, the consequences could be terrible. You’re sure about this?”

Jarl walked up and put his hands on her shoulders, looking out at the waters with her.

“I am. The only thing I’m not sure about is if I’ll be doing it alone or if I’ll have my sister at my side.”

She shook her head in disbelief. “It would seem I’m obligated, wouldn’t it?”

He smiled. “It would seem.”

She took his hand. He was glad for it.

They left the beach and descended into the earth.


 

The Sundered Veil: Chapter Two

The Sundered Veil: Chapter Two

This is the first10 min chapter of an ongoing, serial style, good old sword-and-sorcery, story. It was originally written as a weekly series and the chapters are split into their original parts.

If you missed chapter one you can find it here.
Chapter One: The Sands of Sorrow


The Road to Boughs Shadow

one

Dhalryk glared at Jekka, or the thing that used to be Jekka, as she slept. He remembered his first frantic meeting with her in the city of Fogspume, cut short by a pair of Nillian thugs sent to silence her forever. They temporarily escaped into the tide of mist that engulfed the lower half of the city, but the fanatics were guided unerringly by some unseen hand. There in the barren streets and the risen fog Dhalryk Morvellum and Jekka DuRell sealed a friendship in blood.

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Dhalryk slammed the door to his inn room and spun to face the raven haired girl. “What was that about? How did those men find us?”

Jekka answered as she approached him. “They were sent by Batoda, he’s a Nillian. I’ll explain but we’ve got to stop that gash from bleeding first.”

Dhalryks face clouded in confusion. “Batoda? He’s one of my customers, a noble who likes poking for relics out in the dunes.” He lifted his arms and Jekka gently removed his shirt to reveal a long gash that ran shallowly from Dhal’s armpit, across his ribs, to his hip. She looked at him with deep brown eyes. “I should stitch this.”

Dhal looked at her, silently considering something in his mind before he answered. “You know what you’re doing?”

“Yes. My father taught me.” She replied.

Dhalryk nodded his consent. “If you must.” She moved to her pack and began to rummage. “So what does this have to do with Batoda?”

“He’s a Nillian. They’re a secret order of wizards who believe that the world should have died with the Sunderspell. They think it’s their job to finish it. He killed my father and stole his notes on the ruins.” She turned to face him with a threaded needle. “Keep your arm up, and try not to move. I’ve only done this on my brother a couple of times.”

“Just keep talking, it’ll help distract me.” He watched her running the needle through a candle flame and decided to look out the window instead. It revealed nothing but the slate gray fog.

She began her work and talked as she did. “My father was a scholar, a historian. He loved the dunes and the ruins under them. He took two trips a year for most of his life and came back with all sorts of stories and drawings. He found a building once that was filled with man shaped stones and hieroglyphs on the walls. He translated them and discovered that the stones were vessels, containers of what he could only decipher as criminal or lawless magic.”

Dhalryk’s brow furrowed at the memory of a tower and a huge gray stone he had found in the dunes. Jekka continued.

“He only studied the first floor of the tower because it was riddled with traps. He thought that the traps were there to protect the higher stones from tampering, because they must be more dangerous. The place was called the Citadel of Keeping. Is any of this sounding familiar?” She stopped her stitching and looked at his side.

“Yes. I found that tower, but only the top was revealed. I sold a map leading to it to Batoda.” Dhal checked out her work. The stitching was unevenly spaced, but adequate for such a superficial wound. “Good job, thanks.” Dhal opened a drawer and pulled on a new shirt. “So Batoda’s mad and killed your father for information about the dunes, and now he’s bought a map from me.” She nodded.

“He killed my father because he wouldn’t lead him there. I need to get there and stop him, but, I need a map.” Dhalryk pulled an empty pack out onto the bed and began to gather up belongings.

“I’ll not give you a map girl, I’m coming with you.” Jekka looked startled.

“But why? I’ve already troubled you enough with those two thugs Batoda sent.”

“Because he lied to me. And because I don’t much like the sound of these Nillians. And because if he uses this power to hurt people, I’ll be partly to blame.” Dhalryk’s face was set with determination as together they left the city of Fogspume.

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Jekka, no Ithagar, rolled over in her sleep. Dhalryk looked to the stars and tried to clear his head of thoughts of the girl. In the past four days across the desert they had barely spoken, and the silence had done him no good. He decided that it had to stop. Without that thing speaking from inside her, his mind kept drifting back, thinking it was Jekka.

Tomorrow, tomorrow he would talk with her and listen to her speak of her long gone homeland, and maybe then he could start to let Jekka die in his mind.

two

As the last of the dunes drifted behind them the great green layer of the Bumblebrush rose up before them. True to his intentions Dhalryk had listened to the never ceasing rambling’s of Ithagar for the better part of two days. Every time she spoke of her past or stared in awe at the tiny moon that orbited the true moon, as if she’d never seen it, he knew with more and more certainty that Jekka was dead and gone. He hadn’t known her very long, but she had suffered hardship before he’d met her, and Dhalryk had dreamed of helping to ease her suffering, avenge her father. He had accomplished the second, but it was no comfort. He did not think that Jekka would have wanted her body to become host to something from a dark age long ago, and he couldn’t shake the feeling that Ithagar was not all she appeared to be. Crowding his concerns into the corner of his mind Dhalryk began to walk toward the savannah-like trees below. Ithagar followed, talking as usual.

“I’ve never seen a forest like that before. What is this place? ” she queried.

Dhalryk looked at the woods. “It’s called the Bumblebrush, we’re going into them, but only until we can get up top.”

“Up top?” she looked confused.

“Yes, the trees have thick trunks that go up about forty feet and then they branch out and create huge flat canopies of leaves, thick enough to walk on. As you get further into the forest it isn’t safe to stay on ground level… things live in the shadows, down by the roots.” Calmly Dhalryk began to walk toward the shadowy layer beneath the foliage.

“Things? You mean creatures?” A nervous tremble filled her voice.

“Don’t worry, most of them stay out of the light above. We’ve got to get to Bough’s Shadow, I’m running low on supplies. It’s a city about two days from here, its built on top of the Bumblebrush.” Dhal stepped into the shade of the trees, grateful for the cool lack of sunlight. Ithagar stood away hesitantly and then walked into the brush with him. When her eyes adjusted she could see the huge corded trunks of trees, spaced apart every hundred feet or so, a tangle of tiny interwoven branches and leaves above.

“It looks sort of like a cavern.” She commented.

Dhal nodded. “It can be dangerous like a cave too, so take care. C’mon, the quicker we find a Sunhole we can reach from one of these trunks, the sooner we’ll be safe.”

The gloom and silence of the trees was oppressive. After four days in the ever blowing winds of the Sikkomar Desert, the still, tepid air of the Bumblebrush felt like a shroud. Every footstep ground into the pebbly earth beneath their feet and seemed to intrude on the quiet brooding of the dark wood columns. Ithagar was quiet now and Dhalryk was grateful. Slowly they proceeded, looking for patches of light green in the roof above, something to indicate a weak spot where, if it were close enough to a climbable base, they could force their way into the upper layer.

A trickle of a stream cut their path and they stopped to refill the canteens. Dhalryk took the time to wash his hands and face. He hadn’t dared to waste precious water in the desert to clean the blood off of himself, he’d only rubbed at the stain with sand to clear as much as he could. He was scrubbing when Ithagar tapped him on the shoulder and spoke. “Are those fruit clusters over there?”

Dhalryk squinted in the direction she pointed, water dripping from his eyelashes. Forty feet up and two hundred feet away there hung a dozen or more oval shapes, each almost three feet long. As Dhal watched they began to unfurl and reveal insect wings. He cursed and shoved the full canteens back into his pack. “C’mon, we’ve got to get out of here!” Grabbing her arm he pulled her at a quick run back the way they had come. “I think I saw a bower back here, we could make a stand there if they follow.”

A loud hissing of insect wings sprang up as they began to run, confirming that they were indeed following.

three

Dhalryk pushed Ithagar up and into the great corded trunk of the Bumbletree and scrambled in after her. The great trees had gnarled twisting trunks, that more resembled a mass of smaller trees coiled together and twisted like rope, than they did normal bark. Climbing them, and finding crevice-like alcoves, was easy enough.

Dhalryk set his footing in a nook and turned to face behind him, sword drawn, and his shoulders barely fitting in the cramped spot they had found. It was about twice a man’s height off of the ground and he watched below as almost a dozen creatures landed on the dusty ground beneath him.

They were manlike, after a fashion, and stood on two heavier insect legs. Where a man had two sets of arms they had four, and great wings that sparkled oily colors like those of a fly in the sun. Although they appeared to be weaponless the smaller set of underarms had no hands, only a curved claw at their ends. They wore several belts across their chests and waists, adorned with small pouches and satchels but were otherwise naked, not that it mattered, as their bodies were comprised of a hard carapace shell, much like an ant. Two long cockroach antennae careened back from behind each bulbous domed eye, and their mouths were a mass of small hooked mandibles that reminded Dhalryk of nothing more than a mass of squirming centipede legs. Small bones, like those of rats or birds, had been affixed to their hard bodies to form decorations and symbols on most of them. The largest one, who bore a strange pattern of azure stones embedded in his forehead, stepped up and spoke through its horrible maw. His voice was slow and airy, like wind moving over a field of reeds. “You intrude in the lands of Saint Kith infidels.”

Dhalryk gripped his blade tightly. “We only seek to pass over. We wish no trouble with you or your deities.” he yelled down. Ithagar gazed down over his shoulder and looked at the insect men below. She whispered.

“What are they?” she asked. Dhalryk answered through clenched tense teeth. “Some form of Zarran, I don’t know exactly what kind.”

The Zarran leader spread out his wings behind him and raised his arms up. “Saint Kith demands death to those who do not serve him. Saint Kith demands death of the lesser races. Saint Kith will honor me when I purge your heathen souls from the world.” He hissed loudly and all the others raised their wings as he did and hissed with him. They shook their wings and filled the air with the surreal sound.

Dhalryk spat down on them. “Your Saint can crumble to dust for all I care! You’ll get no reward but steel if you try anything with this soul!” He whispered over his shoulder to Ithagar. “When they come, try and get up and out.” He slid a dagger into her palm. “Use this to cut your way into the thicket above and up to the sunlight.”

Her eyes were strangely calm as the buzz of wings once again filled the air. Over the hum Dhalryk heard the zealot shouting though his strange lips. “Glory to Kith! Blood for the Tatchi Mala! Bring me their skulls that they may decorate the glorious Kith Spire!”

“Blast it!” was all Dhalryk had time to say before his vision was filled with scintillating wings and thrusting claws. He was vaguely aware of the sound of Ithagar scrambling up the trunk behind him. His position afforded him some protection and, aside from some shallow cuts on the forearms and hands, he was safe from true danger, but it also hindered his ability to attack his enemies. His swings connected with his flying opponents and, due to their suspension and movement, he simply batted them back, also inflicting little injury on them. At this rate his arms would tire long before the Zarran’s did, and Dhalryk knew it. A claw slashed forward as far as his shoulder and Dhal reached up and grabbed it with his left hand. He held it tightly and as the creature tried to pull away he dropped his sword crashing down onto the side of it’s head. The body fell backwards, tumbled down the side of the tree, and hit the ground twitching. For a moment Dhalryk had a clear view beneath him and he saw the Zarran leader still standing on the ground watching the fight, his inhuman black bubble eyes terrifying in their intensity. He didn’t hesitate.

With a cry of adrenalin pumped rage, Dhalryk sprang from his hiding spot. As he flew from the cleft in the tree one of the things swooped and grabbed at him. Claws tore into his back and stomach as it grappled with him, trying to hold him in the air so that his kinsmen could finish the job. Dhalryk flung his sword toward its wing and grabbed both it’s antenna with his empty hands. He threw his weight against the claws that held him and, at cost of deepening the cuts, tore long feelers free of the Zarran’s forehead. Instantly the insect could no longer fly straight, it pitched wildly, trying to release Dhalryk who held on with his left arm and rained down blows onto the beasts eyes with his right fist. There was a crunch, the world shook, and Dhalryk pulled himself free of the messy wreckage of the insect and turned to face his other attackers. Five more Zarran hovered above him, their leader still on the ground. The blue decorated bug-man looked up at the tree, his horrible gaze falling on Ithagar above. The girl was desperately hacking at the foliage, trying to get up above the Bumblebrush.

“Leave him!” hissed their leader. “I will have the glory of taking his head for Kith. You all ensure that the woman dies too.” The five seemed to hesitate a moment and then sped off toward the higher branches. He returned his attention to Dhalryk. “You’ve not saved her with your actions infidel. Death at Tatchi Mala hands is your god decreed fate.”

Dhalryk cautiously sidestepped and retrieved his sword from where it had fallen. “Forgive me if I put little stock in your god bug-ling.”

The Zarran hissed and unfurled his middle arms to reveal his claws, each of them wearing a barbed silver sleeve, longer and sharper than his natural claws. “I know you hate my god infidel! It is why I, Azzurach, will kill you!” With a push from his thick legs Azzurach launched himself at Dhalryk.

Dhal ran toward him and rolled beneath as the foe swooped. Another gash sliced his back. Half in tatters already, Dhalryk pulled his cloak off and let it hang from his left hand. When Azzurach turned and came in for another pass Dhal turned and ran. The Zarran was faster and gained on him but when the sound of his wings was beating intensely behind him, Dhalryk threw his cloak back and over his head. In the same throwing action he planted his foot and rolled his shoulders. He couldn’t stop because of his momentum but was thrown flat onto his back. His vision went black and the wind was forced from his lungs but Dhal remembered to raise his sword up above him. A sudden impact wrenched it from his hands.

Dhalryk rolled over and shook his head. He got on all fours and looked around. Azzurach was thrashing within the remains of his cloak, a green sickly stain forming in the dirt around him. Not far away Dhalryk’s broken sword lay in the dust. Dhal stumbled to his feet and leapt onto the cloak, dropping his fist over and over at the place where he figured the holy insect’s head was. His knuckles bloodied, but after a moment Azzurach stopped moving. He stood up, panting, and looking down at the corpse.

He heard a terrible scream from up above. It pierced his ears and cut into the marrow of his soul!

“Jekka!”

Dhalryk ran for the tree and started to climb as fast as his bloodied hands could take him.

four

Half way up the tree the screaming stopped and was replaced with a fearful stillness. Dhal had little trouble crawling through the path Ithagar had cut through the branches. It had been widened by her murderous pursuers. Weaponless, Dhal scrambled up and out of the burrow of branches to stand in the sunlight. He blinked in the light and for a moment his vision seemed filled with a purple glare. He rubbed his eyes as they adjusted. An acrid smell hung in the air in spite of the gentle breeze.

There, less than a hundred feet away, sat Ithagar, yet there was no sign of her insect attackers. He ran to her side, his legs feeling buoyant on the springy weave of branches. She turned to look at him as he came, a glimmer of light reflecting in her eyes and quickly fading. Her face seemed serious, her brow furrowed, but when she saw him, the concern slid off and was replaced by a smile. Jekka’s smile. “Dhalryk! You’re alive!”

Dhal clutched her hand. “What happened? Where did they go?” She looked to the horizon and pointed.

“They flew that way. They were almost on me. I tried slashing at them with my dagger but I was sure they would kill me when they simply turned and flew that way.” Dhalryk looked in the direction of her pointed finger. The direction was Over Coreword, and led toward the Blazewater Troth, a sea. Dhalryk said nothing, knowing full well that it was the last place a fleeing Zarran would go. Their homeland, the Carapace Plains lay in exactly the opposite direction. He stood and helped Ithagar to her feet. He winced as he helped her, becoming acutely aware of his injuries.

“I lost my sword and my cloak, and I’ll need to tend these wounds before we can continue. But we should hurry, in case they return.” He sat on a thick branch that rose, log like, from the ground, removed his shoulder pack, and cursed loudly. There was a tear in the bottom of his pack and less than half the contents remained. Dhalryk opened it and dug through, checking on what was there and looking for bandaging.

“Well, the food’s still here, some canteens are missing, and I’ve nothing to tend my wounds with.” Wearily he started to rise. “I’ll have to climb back down and look for what fell out.”

Ithagar quickly stood up and got in front of him. “You’re hurt! I’ll climb down.” Dhal shook his head, no. “If there are more of them…” he started.

“If there are more I’ll not climb all the way down! I’ll be careful. You just wait!” She turned and ran for the hole she’d cut.

Dhal didn’t feel like racing her for the privilege and instead began walk, looking around the ground, seeing if he’d dropped anything up top. His eyes scanned the weave of tight branches and he noticed something strange. There, lying some thirty feet from where he’d found Ithagar, was a fully severed Zarran wing. He hadn’t noticed it earlier since it was clear and nearly invisible against the backdrop of branches. Dhalryk clenched his teeth.

Ithagar was lying. The zarran did not flee in the direction of the waters. Something had severed this wing, and if that was the case, he should be able to see the wingless creature. The top of the Bumblebrush was as flat and low rolling as the plains. If any bug man were fleeing across it, he would have seen them almost immediately as he had exited the hole. Instead all he’d seen was a violet glow, a purple light that suddenly reminded him too much of the energy pouring forth from a shattered ashen stone. And the odor that hung in the air, as if something foul had been burned. The lie was evident.

Ithagar was not what she seemed to be, but there was little Dhalryk could do about it. He was injured, weaponless, and had no idea what could have driven away five Zarran warriors when his own ability had barely managed to kill three of them. The words of the bald bushy eyebrowed Batoda rang in his ears.

“Do you even know what it is you’ve done!? Do you even know? You’ve no idea!”

Dhalryk scowled at the memory of the bloody Nillian and dropped the wing. He had no choice but to continue on his path. The truth was that he still didn’t know what to do with Ithagar and the wise ones at Iridian Doorstep were still his best option. So, just as she was playing the friend to him, impersonating an ally, so would he.

He would guide her. He would lead her. And all the while he would wait. Wait to discover exactly what she was, and what she’d done with Jekka.

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continued


Jude W. Mire is an author from Chicago specializing in horror, science fiction, fantasy, and surreal writing. He writes for Griot Enterprises, has been published in several online magazines, and ran a live horror reading series called Cult Fiction. In 2009 and 2010, he was a finalist in the DeathScribe Horror Radio Play competition by WildClaw theater. He’s married to the extremely talented painter Jill Cooper, and has three daughters, and a bearded dog.

Image Flash #29

Image Flash #29

It’s been a 5 mingood while since I’ve written any fantasy, and specifically, anything that remotely resembles traditional or ‘high’ fantasy. I really liked this picture and how it looks sort of patchwork and lost. The arid background got me thinking of mashing a bit of South-Western vibe into some magic world. So, I tossed on some Indian flute music and this is what came out. It’s less “in the moment” than what I normally write, but hey, I mostly consider these mental warm ups.


It was not that Une’-mere Kristen, third daughter of the Due Copperkin, dust kissed and bound to the sun, did not believe in magic. Of course she did.

She had seen it often enough. When she was little she’d tumbled from the roof and broken both her legs. She remembered the terrible pain of it, the screams of her mother, and the strange way the world rolled and sky curved as they carried her through town. But she remembered those things only vaguely. The green glow, from the fingers of the healers, tendrils of energy, like twisting fronds of summer grass, glowing and curling into and out of her body. That, the magic they’d used to put her leg right, one muscle and bone fragment at a time, she remembered clearly.

She’s seen earth spirits aplenty. Unlike her older sister, she’d never caught one. But she’d never really tried to either. While many of the children would try and capture them, she was unsure what the purpose of doing so was. Some nonsense to do with finding your love.

She believed in the sacred stones that kept the wild things out of their town. She believed in blessings of earth that grew fat melons from their dry land. She believed in the ghosts that sometimes snuck from their graves and ate new foals. All of this was truth to her. It was as real as clay pot, or a textbook, or a muss of her hair from her father.

But not the Gauz. For all the warnings, Une’-mere Kristen did not believe in that.

She knew that something happened, of that she was certain. All around town were tall poles, topped with curled arms of vine that held circular protective glyphs of string, bones, feathers, and glass. A few times every year, brown-crows (called warnlings) would come and roost on them, cawing loudly. She never saw birds like them otherwise, great chestnut colored creatures with orange beaks and feet. When they arrived children were instructed to go underground, cover their heads, and await their parents while the Gauz passed. They were told that staying out was a fate worse than death. That it would pull them, bodily, into its eternal curse. And they all knew that the only thing worse than a ghost, a spirit without a body, trapped in the physical world, was a vecca; a body without a soul, trapped in the spirit world.

But she did not believe what her parents told her. They were all taught the tale, from the time they were children; a long time ago, a people not unlike themselves, sought enlightenment in the dream realm. They raised their minds together, in a great imagining, and left their bodies behind. Only they become lost. Their bodies died. Their children abandoned. They became the Gauz.

But she knew better. Whole tribes did not simply melt into the spirit world to become some ethereal creature made of mad butterflies and burning mushrooms. They did not march through the world endlessly, lonely and sad, looking for their lost children. It was a nonsense story. It was a bogey-man, meant only to frighten and cloister them from whatever the reality was.

She was three years from becoming stone kissed and bound to the moon, but she was serious for her age. She was certain she was more adult than most everyone she knew. She’d decided that the next time the warnlings came, when they were told to cower in the basements, fearing a passing nightmare, that she would sneak out.

One way or another, she would see the truth of this lie for herself.

Image Flash #21

Image Flash #21

There are things in the wind that we sometimes feel and can sometimes catch. I thought this image was great because that windmill looks like some sort of filter, pulling all the energy out of the wind and gathering it. But for what purpose?

5 min


The old green truck that Flanner King drove over the hill rattled loudly enough that Miss Mollie heard it long before the old man had a chance to honk. She stood out in yard and watched him drive slowly through the tall meadow, bending stalks as he came. There was no road that led to the windmill. He drove straight for her, slowing, slowing, slowing, until the ancient vehicle creaked to a stop, emitted a metallic groan, and went silent. The bumper almost touched her knee.

Flanner King did not get out. He didn’t speak. He didn’t even look at Miss Mollie. She was a young thing, hair pulled back, high chin, the type of figure that usually made old men like him sad. Not Flanner. His eyes were dead flint, focused on the wind-shield dust and bug smears. Miss Mollie didn’t give him a glance either. She lifted her skirt a bit, to ease her passing in the high grass, and walked around the back of the pickup.

It was loaded with junk. She began to rummage.

Over the course of the next hour she managed to drag two old tube televisions into the lighthouse. She also gathered a refrigerator door, a cordless hair crimper, a bundle of barbed wire, and a stack of Playboy magazines (that somebody had cut all the nudie pictures out of). Flanner didn’t help. Even when she was cursing and sweating and dragging the TV across the ground, he stayed put.

When she’d picked out everything she wanted Mollie opened up the passenger door and got in. Despite her lady-like appearance Flanner noticed that she smelled like burnt paper. He’d never been this close to her. She rolled down the squeaky window and caught her breath. After a while she reached into her pocket and removed a small package, the size of a match box, wrapped in red, orange, and purple yarn. She set it on the seat between them.

Flanner didn’t say nothing, but this time Mollie did. “Don’t come back next month. Don’t ever come back.”

The wrinkles on the man’s face deepened. His confusion was evident and he opened his mouth to speak. Mollie swung open the car door, got out, and slammed it shut. “Not my problem,” she said through the open window. “I’m done. It’s finished. I don’t need you anymore.”

He got as far as putting his hand on the door handle but couldn’t bring himself to pull it. Mollie walked into the windmill and left him there. She kept the mill door ajar, confident that he would never follow her. She wasn’t wrong. He just sat there, an old man in an older truck, and and didn’t move his hand. He couldn’t, didn’t dare, step out, let alone go into the windmill. But it couldn’t be over, could it? Just like that?

The moon rose and the wind kicked up. The sails began to turn on the mill. At they picked up speed rotating, they began dripping with strange colors. It was the Aurora Borealis come down to play spin games with the wind on blades of cloth. He heard the spur wheel grinding. There was a rumble in the ground. She was serious.

He picked up the tiny box she’d left, pressed it to his mouth, and put it back. That’s it then. This was the last of it and he’d better make it count.

The truck started up with a cough and a puff. He clicked on the headlights (actually only one headlight on account of the left one being shattered), swung a u-turn, and headed back across the roadless field.

Flanner King angled his rear view mirror up to the point of uselessness and kept his eyes, eyes he refused to wipe, locked straight ahead.

Image Flash #18

Image Flash #18

It was metal and rivets and magic.

And it was leaving.

The great sloppy thing shuddered and wobbled its way up into the night sky, headed for who-knows-where.  Someplace better.  Julia didn’t feel sad not to be going with them.  She knew she’d get on one eventually.  She’d been working hard on her imagination.  Her older brother, Trevor, said it was almost there.  No, Julia was a little sad because it was Becky rising up there into the speckled darkness.  Her good, big sister-style, always there when she needed her, Becky.  She’d miss her terribly.

“C’mon, Dinger, she’s gone.  Lets go home.”  The black cat simply blinked and didn’t move.

Julia gathered up her sketchbooks, filled with pictures of strange creatures, silly poems, and colors she’d mixed, named, and cataloged.  Trusting that Dinger would follow at his own pace she headed across the roof to the ladder to the bridge-way.  She needed to get back.  If she hurried, Trevor might not notice she’d gone out to see Becky’s departure.  Trevor never wanted her to leave.  He said it was “spirit crushing” to go out.  He said it had happened to him.

“I was just like you Julia,” he’d say.  “I was my daydreams that were going to guide one of those ships up, to help people, to take them into new amazing places.  But I spent too much time looking around here, around Earth.  It’s not good for you.  Earth is a cage and it’ll trap you.  Try to ignore it.”

And Julia did try to ignore it.  Even now, she kept her eyes on the ground, only occasionally peeking at the crowds of people in lines, the cracked domino stacks of buildings, the serpentine florescent streets.  Dinger watched all of it, of course.  When they got home, he’d tell her what they were.  Dinger was an expert.  Just last week, when she snuck out, she’d smelled something that made her stomach growl and resisted the urge to look.  Dinger had told her that it was, in fact, the aroma produced by a fish in a robotic suit.  It normally lived on the bottom of of a lake near a strange factory.  All the industrial runoff settled to the bottom and, by amazing coincidence, made the fish smell wonderful!  It had come out of the water on holiday, so it could sight-see the Vast, and everyone was glad it had.  The squealing she’d heard nearby had been excitement.

She always had the most interesting conversations with her cat.

She crowded into an elevator with about forty other people and went up three levels.  She had to shove to get off with all the new passengers trying to get on.  She tried to imagine they had good reason for pushing a little girl and almost trampling a cat, but couldn’t.  Maybe Dinger could explain it to her later.  She was only three blocks and a nexus point away from the Insparium when she smelled it.  That smell.  The fish.

She knew she shouldn’t.  She wasn’t supposed to look around.  She was only out because she’d wanted to see Becky off.  To watch her ship float up on fire and daydreams.  And those other times, to visit her.  And… well, it couldn’t hurt to peek.

The smell came from a stall, not a fish in a robotic suit.  It was equipped with a grill and deep frier and manned by an overweight fellow in a stained apron.  The area was piled high with cages containing live rats.  Squealing rats.  He took one out, held it by the tail, and swung it so its neck snapped on the counter.  He quickly removed the head, limbs, and guts, skinned it, and dropped it into the deep frier.  Several already cooked rats, impaled on sticks, hung from a clothesline.

Julia gawped.  It was nothing like what she’d imagined.  It was brutal and horrible and…

“Dinger, why did you lie to me?”

The cat sat there and gazed at her silently.

If this had been a lie, then what about the rest?  She turned to look.  Before she could make any sense of things a figure burst in front of her, blocking off the spectacle.

“Julia!  You shouldn’t be out here.  You know this!”  Trevor took her by the arm.  “Come on.  We’ve got to get you inside.”

Caught in the act she immediately dropped her eyes to the ground and let him lead her.  “I’m sorry Trevor, I just wanted to say goodbye to Becky.”

Trevor sighed heavily.  “I know.  I’ve been looking for you for an hour.”

She felt the tension in her sibling and had an idea of what was at stake.  It was only dreams, random imagination, and unfiltered creativity that completed the inter-planetary drive calculations.  It was only her that could get them on a ship, up, out, and away.  He’d failed.  Becky hadn’t.  She wished more than ever she was still here to tell her what to do.

“You didn’t see much did you?”

“No.” she lied.

“Good.” he said.

Dinger, the no longer trust-worthy, followed them home.

Image Flash #12

Image Flash #12

My father, my dead father, was so reviled that even the ghosts would not tend to his corpse.

I’d hauled what was left of his body to the pier myself and bound it securely in thick necklace chain.  I sacrificed a grackle and used its blood to adorn him.  Seven stumpy candles were lit with the birds feathers.  I ate the feet.  The ghosts came.  They had to.  The dead cannot ignore a summons done propper.

But they would not touch his body.  I sat in the funeral barge and argued with them.  Tried to convince them to carry him over.  They would not.  I ignored the sailors on the dock.  Broad shouldered, spitting men who agreed with the dead; my father deserved no peace for what he’d done.

The ghosts melted into the night.  Once the sailors saw that there would be no redemption, they too, faded into the dark.  I was alone in the gently rocking boat with two mangled corpses; one family, one fowl.

I looked down at the man.  His features were clear, even beneath the cuts and bruises.  No amount of stones could crush a visage like his.  It was too strong, too determined.  It was too much like my face.

A cold wind tossed my hair as I cast the line.  I raised the umbrella sail and, carried by the chill, we headed into the choppy sea.

“You do not deserve this.” I said.

At my feet, my fathers broken face smiled.