Behind the scenes, I’ve been very busy the last three months. I’m nearly finished writing an Urban Fantasy novel set in Hamburg, and the Indie Author’s Advent Calendar 2022 is ready. I hope many of you will join in the fun tomorrow. There are truly lovely stories in it this year.
To shorten the waiting time, here’s the Storytime Bloghop (a month later than usual, but everyone was too busy to notice, so please forgive us. Better late then never, right?) I hope you’ll like this blog hop’s #free #story. Remember to visit the other participants too. And please leave comments for us. We love to hear from you. It cheers us up and means the world to us.
“Ark-Ship One, Longoustine. Report to base.” The voice from the loudspeaker crackled. The solitary bluish-gray crustacean on the bridge sighed. Luckily the search for a new home was nearly over, so he needn’t worry about repairing it any longer. His long-range sensors had already caught the data stream of a suitable planet.
“Longoustine reporting. Possible planet found. Commencing scouting endeavor. Requesting full weapon access.”
“The use of all weapons has been approved. Good luck, Longoustine.”
A few seconds later the vessel slowed and found a place in the orbit of the planet. The globe looked promising with its wide expanse of water. A little terraforming would easily submerge most of the land masses.
Longoustine observed the planet from above for four days. They were the hardest days of his voyage since he had to remain on high alert due to space junk. When his data scan was finally complete, he marveled at the results. The planet was perfect except for one minor detail. It held a semi-intelligent species, some kind of ape-like creature walking on two legs, mostly warring against each other. Naturally, their weaponry would not suffice to stop an invading army from his home planet.
Longoustine decided it was time for a peek. Since the planet’s atmosphere was too thin for his breathing organs, he ordered the ship’s transporter to deposit him in the middle of the biggest ocean. What was that? Why couldn’t he breathe? His handheld scanner showed that he was surrounded by water. He should not have difficulties like this. Still his intake valves seemed to be clogged. He used up eight of the ten time intervals he could hold his breath to clean the valves and grab a water sample. Then he reprogrammed the transporter to deposit him in a different ocean. Thankfully he sucked in oxygen.
A strange undercurrent caught him unaware and pulled him along. The more he tried to escape the current, the faster it got. More and more crustaceans appeared around him. Although they were a lot smaller than him they resembled his species strongly. Just when he realized that the tiny creatures around him were not intelligent, they were lifted out of the water and dumped onto a big metal surface.
“Oh look, we caught a lobster!” His universal translator managed to make sense of the garbled noises of the ape-man. “Finally something better to eat then shrimps.”
Longoustine froze. These creatures ate crustaceans? What kind of world was this? Where there more predators specialized on cracking exoskeletons? With a small sound Longoustine activated the transporter and returned to his ship, the ape-man’s perplexed stare burned into his memory. What if there were more dangers on this world than he’d anticipated?
During the next three hours he set up a new scan with very specific parameters. It took the ship a whole week to complete.
The perfect planet he thought he had found was infested with creatures hunting and eating crustaceans. Conservative estimates showed that even if they eliminated the worst species for good, the whole ecosystem would change for the worst. With the ape-men gone and the continent’s submerged, other species would thrive … and most would eat crustaceans. And even if their society could keep the threats in check, the ecosystem was so precariously balanced, all of his computer models predicted its complete breakdown.
Defeated, Longoustine reported his failure, set course to the next planet, and began to repair the loudspeaker.
Somehow time seems to get faster the older I get. It’s depressing to see the end of my life less far away than the start. Add in a good amount of Corona bad news, the frightening developments in the two biggest countries worldwide, and the climate crisis, and you might understand why I find it hard to do regular blog updates or eMail letters. It all seems so pointless.
But then I see my grandson. I revel in the way he enjoys every day, accepts every person as is, loves learning new things without a thought about what will come tomorrow. And I have hope. Hope that things might still change for the better. That’s what always gets me back to writing something.
I hope you’ll like this blog hop’s #free #story. Remember to visit the other participants too. And leave us comments. We love to hear from you. It cheers us up no matter what, because it means someone reads what we write. And that’s worth so much in times like these!
“Don’t you miss work?” I asked Melinda.
“I like living here with you alone.” My daughter set aside another darned sock. “Not to forget that the inquisition will never find us here.”
I smiled at her to show her how much I love her, but in secret I longed for something more important to do than making a living. I sighed and went back to my spinning. The regular rhythm and Melinda’s breathing relaxed me and the internal unrest subsided until the peace of our evening routine was disturbed, when something heavy thunked against the window of our little cottage. Since it was dark outside we couldn’t exactly see what it was. My fingers stopped turning the spindle, and we both held our breath, fearing the same. But there was no screaming, no pitchforks, and most of all no fire. Slightly relieved but still wary, I called. “Who’s there?”
“Sh-sh-l ivri” The voice sounded muffled, as if it held something in its mouth and was trying to talk around it. Melinda looked at me, and I looked at Melinda.
“I know someone who talks that way,” I whispered. “But this is a different voice.”
Whoever was outside the window bumped against the delicate pane that kept out the winds. If it broke, winter would send its icy fingers into our home, so I got to the door and opened. But not without stopping at the hearth and picking up the biggest knife we owned. I dropped it the minute the door swung open and revealed a roughly human sized dragon with red scales and a bundle of cloth hanging from its maw. When he saw Melinda standing behind me, he took the bundle out of his mouth and moved his jaw from side to side to loosen the muscles.
“I don’t understand why the boss insists on carrying it in my mouth,” he said and handed the bundle to her. “Special delivery for you. New Stork sends their congratulations. You’ll find a welcome bonus packed right in.”
With shaking fingers Melinda opened the bundle.
“It’s a boy,” the dragon said needlessly. “Plus a few nappies.”
Melissa’s face mirrored the shock that kept me rooted to the spot. I had to clear my throat several times before I managed to speak. “Why’s Stork sending us a baby? We never ordered one.”
“New policy.” The dragon smiled, displaying more teeth that I was currently happy with. I swallowed, and he smiled some more. “We’ve got a few remnants that need old-style distribution. Your daughter was one of the candidates the boss chose.”
“Remnants? Come in and explain.” I stepped aside. I’d been one of Stork’s helpers for as long as I remembered, learning the midwife’s trade from my mother and passing on my knowledge to Melinda. However, since the inquisition started burning midwifes as witches, we’d gone into hiding. So far successful.
The dragon curled up in front of the hearth, enjoying the warmth of the fire. He puffed a few happy smoke curls before he got to the point. “Stork lost a lot of his delivery crew when the inquisition decided stork deliveries were not real and anyone believing in it was superstitious and needed to be punished. People actually started shooting storks then.” He stared into the flames for a while, and I took up my spindle again. He sighed contently. “Well, as I said, Stork lost a lot of his crew that way, so he decided to go direct with a delivery system designed to work without stork transportation. I helped him set up the system. It took quite a lot of magic to get it working properly, believe me.”
“Direct?” My mind whirred. “Stork-free delivery?”
“Well, the seeds get harvested when they’re still in single cell state, and a magical tube shoots them directly into the mother’s belly. It’s a marvel. It really is.” He preened his claws and looked smug. “And I was a major part in developing that system if I may point that out.”
How could Stork send babies straight to the mothers? Into their bellies if I hadn’t misheard. My eyes widened when I realized what that meant. “If he sends the parcel into the mother, it must come back out at some point, right?”
“Yup, and that’s why he’s inviting you to an advanced training in what he calls ‘birth’. That’s short for ‘binary inter-rump transfer, holistical’, the name of the new technique. We put the holistical at the end because the acronym reads better that way. Stork expects the participants of this course to spread the word.”
Suddenly I saw my life stretching out in front of me – always traveling, helping women through ‘birth’ and teaching Stork’s new delivery method as best I could while evading the inquisition. Ever so often I’d visit Melinda who had to stay behind to take care of her son.
I laughed out loud. Suddenly, life was exciting again.
This was a close one. I wrote the story in one sitting on the 25th (links were due on the 22nd, but I know the organizer :D).
My next goal is to write up an idea and a reading sample for a semi-open call of a German publisher before the end of May. We’ll see how that will go. I’ll try to keep you posted.
Now, enjoy the story and remember to visit the other participants’ websites too. And leave a comment!
“Are you coming to the dance club tonight?”, Elsbeth asked Vinny as they sat cross-legged on the flowery duvet on Vinny’s bed. “It’s going to be girls night, and you so love to dance.”
“I’d be all alone.” Vinny shuddered. She’d never gone anywhere without at least one family member around. The very idea scared her. What if the others didn’t like her? What if she needed help? Safety lay in numbers.
Elsbeth laughed. “It’s an evening of dance and merriment. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Vinny lay back and stared at the white ceiling of her room with her heart thundering in her chest. Elsbeth had gone so many times already, but whenever asked, Vinny had declined. Somehow it seemed her duty to agree this time, but that didn’t make the decision any easier. Even the green and yellow wallpaper didn’t calm her nerves like it normally did.
“Can’t Joe come along?” She knew Elsbeth liked Joe.
“He’s got two left feet.” Elsbeth slipped off the bed and opened the wardrobe. “You could finally wear your new dress.” She pulled out a white dress with black polka dots. The body fitting top and the wide skirt with its seven layers of underskirts were Vinny’s pride and she’d never had a chance to put it on so far.
Breathing deeply, Vinny nodded. “Okay. I’ll come. But promise you won’t leave me alone.”
“I swear.” Elsbeth grinned from one ear to the next, and her teeth gleamed in the sunlight falling through the yellow curtains.
The dance hall smelled strongly of straw which was no wonder since it used to be a barn. The familiar scent calmed Vinny’s nerves somewhat.
“See, it’s not as bad as you thought.” Elsbeth dragged her deeper into the throng of people. “Let’s show off your dress.”
Vinny found it hard to follow her. Too many people milled around, and soon Elsbeth was lost in the sea of faces. The full moon was already up, and the music was loud enough to wake the dead, and everyone seemed to be determined to move to the rhythm one way or the other. Aside from the DJ’s table and a hastily constructed counter where drinks were sold, the room was bare. As far as Vinny could tell, it was better that way. Hundreds of teens her age swayed on the dance floor—although Vinny wasn’t sure how they could tell the area for dancing from the area for socializing.
“Hello. Beauty.” Warm breath caressed her ear. “All by yourself on a lovely night like this?”
She flinched and turned, finding herself nose to nose with a young man slightly older than her. Jared was the head of her school’s soccer team, and she’d dreamed of him for at least two years. His eyes held a glitter that made her already wobbly legs shake. His smile created dimples in his long, handsome face. Vinny’s heart raced, even though the scent of dog, drifting off of him, didn’t suit him at all.
“My friend …” She tried to look around, but the young man had already grabbed her arm.
“I’ll show you the ropes until he shows up.” Jared nodded toward the bar. “Care for a drink?”
Ignoring her answer, he pulled her along, waved at the barkeeper, and handed her a cocktail glass with something that smelled of lemon with a tangy note to it.
Vinny closed her eyes for a moment and let his flirting wash over her. It felt so good. If it hadn’t been for her exceptional sense of smell, she could have fallen for him. But so … this had gone on long enough. She opened her eyes again, breathed deeply to gather her resolve, and said. “Sorry, but I don’t drink anything but plain water. I will leave now.”
The smile on Jared’s face faltered, but then returned full force. “Naturally I will accompany you, lovely lady.” Grabbing Vinny’s arm, he headed for the rear exit, a small door set into the wall behind the counter. His fingers dug into her arm.
Vinny allowed him to pull her along and used the time to scan the dance floor for Elsbeth but she was nowhere in sight. She should have known better than to trust her promises. Elsbeth always meant well but she just didn’t understand how hard it was for Vinny and her family in a town of were-wolves.
Once through the door, Jared turned and pushed her against the barn’s wall. One arm raised over her head, the other still holding her arm, his face closed in on Vinny.
Albeit reluctantly, she turned her head sideways to evade his kiss. “I’m quite sorry,” she said. “But I am not interested in dating a wolf.”
“Not even an alpha?” His eyes grew darker. “You’re beautiful and your smell is so enticing.”
His pheromones hung in the air like a heady perfume. Vinny’s heart raced and she wanted nothing more than to throw herself into his arms.
“I can feel that you’re a were too.” He stared into her eyes without coming any closer. “Don’t you feel it too?”
Vinny couldn’t answer. Her blood roared in her ears and the need to share the night with another were, burned in her blood. If only it hadn’t been full moon.
“Be mine tonight,” Jared’s whisper filled her senses. “And I’ll be yours forever.”
Vinny didn’t manage to speak. The change she had suppressed for so many years finally had overcome her. A loud moan escaped her lips as her bones melted and reorganized themselves.
Jared stood back, his eyes wide with wonder. “You’re a …”
“A were-cow, yes.” Elsbeth stepped out of the door, aiming a handgun at him. “And if you harm even a single hair on her body, I’ll pump a round of silver bullets into you.”
“Why would I harm her?” Jared didn’t even look at Elsbeth. “She’s perfect. Beautiful and perfect.”
Vinny saw the adoration on his face and for the first time ever, she felt she might belong after all.
He groaned as the change came over him, too.
Vinny’s heart danced as his body settled into that of a strong, healthy bull. Side by side, they walked away into the night, leaving behind a girl with a gun and an open mouth.
Looking at the year I feel positively SciFi. 😀
Being buried in tax papers, I was glad that someone reminded me of the quarterly bloghop. This story is a little darker than usual. Blame it on the weather or on my mood. I still hope you’ll like it. You’ll also get free short stories from the other participants. As usual there’s a list at the end of this post. Enjoy and leave a comment!
The Beauty of Rainstorms
Frozen in my bay window seat I seek solace in neat rows of books, well placed trinkets, and carefully arranged furniture whenever lightning illuminates them.
I flinch at every earsplitting thunder-crack, remembering the earth-shaking explosions, the sirens, and how – secretly shivering with fear – Mother used to read to me in the bomb shelter’s gloom. Her voice was all that kept panic at bay. Her words painted pictures in my head, so vividly I no longer smelled the dust hanging in the air.
I don’t want to think of our flight. The waves’ thunder, the salt on my lips and skin, the burning thirst – worse than hunger – and the scared gazes of men, women, and children are burnt into my soul. Although I cannot know the number of boats like ours that were swallowed by the ocean, I feel their once living cargo in my heart. A stone of the beach we landed at still lies on one of my shelves. It gives me strength when my heart can no longer bear the burden of my fear.
Now, I’m a mother myself and I read to my own daughter. During thunderstorms I sometimes hide in her bed, sucking in the scent of diapers and milk. Then, she’ll close her tiny arms around my neck, and I know the world won’t end – like it didn’t end in the bunker, like it didn’t end on the ocean.
If only my sweet daughter would be here with me now. Her room is endlessly far away, and my legs don’t obey. The storm’s chaos and noise paralyses me. Like a laughing giant, it plays with my memories, my fate – one of many – as if to prove how unimportant one human life is. And still, I’m here, even though I I sit and stare silently at my orderly room, fighting panic.
The door opens and my daughter bursts in, delighted by every kaboom. Her laughter against the giants’ grumbling. My living whirlwind careens through my sanctuary and hugs me with all her strength. While she holds me, she talks about everything and nothing until I finally relax.
Maybe with her it’s possible to rediscover the beauty of rainstorms.
Luckily someone reminded me of the quarterly bloghop, and I managed to write a story for it. Naturally, it is slightly spooky. It’s Halloween soon, after all. You’ll also get free short stories from the other participants. As usual there’s a list at the end of this post. Enjoy and leave a comment!
I hated the morning’s blinding light in my eyes, but welcomed it nonetheless for I must have missed the alarm. I just couldn’t afford to arrive late at work again, especially after the scary dream of how I had prepared for work. The details were fading, but I remembered the tube station and lots of people running my way.
My mouth tasted like something had died on my tongue, but I had no time to brush my teeth and wasn’t in the mood for coffee.
I left the house in a hurry. As I walked swiftly towards the tube station, I wondered if I’d locked the front door. I wasn’t quite sure.
The air smelled of lilacs that filled the tiny front gardens of my neighborhood. When was the last time, I’d noticed? Again, the sun blinded me.
The tube arrived just as I jogged up the last few steps to the raised platform. I entered behind a stocky man in suit and tie. Thankfully the car was nearly empty, but I still remained standing. There were always one or two people who ignored the unwritten rule of not looking directly at others. Some even wanted to talk, and that was something I abhorred this early in the morning.
My gaze traveled over the few people spaced out in the car. Some were reading, some used earphones and had their eyes closed, and a young girl, probably a teen on her way to school, looked in my direction. Her gaze went past me as if she hadn’t seen me at all. Perfect.
I got off at my usual stop, although I had trouble with the electric doorknob. It only did its duty when the schoolgirl pressed it. Maybe it didn’t like the sweat on my hands.
My throat constricted the closer I got to the office building where I worked. Hopefully I wasn’t too late. I needed the job to pay off the mortgage. I took the stairs to the third floor to avoid co-workers and my boss and managed to reach my place in the cube farm without anyone noticing. The scent of coffee hanging in the otherwise fetid air was particularly strong this morning.
Relieved I sank onto the ergonomic chair that came with the gray table and the computer in the cube and leaned back. I’d have to water my plant soon. It looked slightly droopy.
“Have you seen Finlay?” My boss’ voice sounded too close for comfort, so I bent over my keyboard and pretended to type although the computer wasn’t even running yet.
“Nope, not yet.” The voice of the co-worker in the next cubicle sounded annoyingly happy. “Maybe he’s late. There’ve been delays on the tube lines in his direction.”
“He’d better not.” The boss sounded annoyed, so I ducked even deeper. “Tell him to see me as soon as he shows up.”
My gaze wandered to the clock at the wall over the door to my boss’ office. Impossible! It was nearly time for lunch. A bright light reflected from the clock’s glass, and I had to close my eyes.
I stood in front of the Sludge Maker, as my co-worker called the coffee machine in the tiny, nondescript kitchen with its gray cupboards and counter top, and pondered whether I should pour myself a cup or not. I didn’t really like the stuff this machine produced.
Wait a moment. I’d forgotten to punch in. Leaving the Sludge Maker behind, I hurried toward the timer. Just as I left the kitchen, one of my co-workers entered. It was the petite brunette from the far corner that I’d admired secretly. And she didn’t see me.
Before I could step aside, she passed right through me. What the …
“Folks!” The boss’ voice rang over the low hubbub of the office and any noise died immediately. My co-workers stood up to better see him. I, too, turned toward him. Behind me, the petite brunette looked out of the kitchen. Her gaze tingled in my neck, but I didn’t turn. It was too creepy to be watched by a ghost.
“I am sorry to inform you,” the boss’ voice sounded strangely strangled, “that your co-worker Finlay Harper has passed away in the hospital after having a heart attack on the tube this morning. We will prepare …”
Not hearing the rest of what he had to say, I could feel my mouth hanging open, but my mind was too numb to do anything about it. Dead? I was the ghost, not the brunette? But … but … but …
A light, as bright as the sun—if one was stupid enough to look into it—appeared right in front of me. A dog barked. The scent of lilacs, cut grass, freshly brewed coffee, and rolls drifted toward me, and my father’s voice called, “Come on, son. What are you waiting for?”
As promised, here’s the quarterly bloghop story. You’ll get a free short story from me and more by the other participants. As usual there’s a list after my story. Enjoy and leave a comment!
The crystal at Eleanor’s window broke the light of the setting sun into rainbows that danced over her white walls. She squinted to read the letters of the newspaper article even tough she knew the text by heart.
“With squealing tires, the bus crashed through the barrier, headed for the long drop at the end of the half finished bridge. Driver and passengers were either deathly silent or screaming for their lives, when out of nowhere, a masked girl in her early teens and dressed in a multicolored spandex suit appeared. She flung her hands out, palms up, and a rainbow grew from the tarmac in front of the out of control Greyhound. The bus rolled over the colorful bridge to the other side of the river where it finally came to rest. By then, the girl was gone.”
“But Grandma, why didn’t she stay?” Billy always asked the same question. At five years it was hard to understand why one wouldn’t stay to get the reward one deserved.
“I wonder why she chose to save the bus.” Eight-year-old Walter pushed his glasses up. “Surely there were many other people she could have saved. But I guess this rescue was more spectacular. It did get a lot of media attention, didn’t it?”
“I’m quite sure that neither sweets nor marketing were on Rainbow Girl’s mind when she decided to help.” Eleanor patted the boys’ brown curls, reached for the purple bowl with the colorful chocolate eggs, and let them chose.
“I wonder why she stopped saving people,” Walter said with his mouth full. “Let’s say she was somewhere between ten and twelve when she started, she was barely seventeen when she stopped.”
Now this was a good question for someone who hadn’t been in love yet. Eleanor smiled her approval. Time would teach him that barely noticed miracles often had far greater impact.
“Maybe her mom scolded her and she didn’t dare any longer.” Billy reached for a second sweet, looking askance at Eleanor. She nodded – approving the sweets, not his theory.
“Why do you keep all these articles anyway?” Jessica lowered her book, a pained look on her face. “Those stories are nearly sixty years old, and not one appearance of Rainbow Girl has been proven beyond a doubt.” It seemed that as the oldest, she had made it her duty to stop believing.
“She was real enough for me.” Eleanor picked a piece of chocolate and unwrapped it. “Keeping the articles is bringing back my youth. None of you will understand this for a long time yet.” She savored the bittersweet flavor of the semi-dark chocolate. It tasted like life.
“Will you read us another one?” Billy looked up at her with the biggest, brownest eyes a child had ever had, melting Eleanor’s heart. He would become a heart-breaker for sure.
“I’m quite tired, dear.” Her age and the cancer were nothing that could be healed with a rainbow here or some glitter there. “Maybe your sister will. What do you think, Jess?”
“Grandma!” Jess put her book aside and swiped a strand of her long, brown tresses behind her ear. “Those stories only put stupid ideas in their heads.”
“You’re reading lies already, and you seem to enjoy them.” Eleanor pointed to the fantasy novel on the small table beside Jess. Had she been this contrary as a teen? “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
“Shakespeare has been dead forever. What does he know?” Jess got up and held out her hand to Billy. “Let’s get dinner ready, boys. Mom will be home soon.”
“Aww.” Billy slipped from Eleanor’s footstool and took Jess’ hand with slumped shoulders.
“Well, I wish she were real.” Walter kissed Eleanor on the cheek and followed his siblings. Just before the three of them left Eleanor’s little realm, a rainbow slid over Jess’ dark hair, causing a multicolored corona around her head.
Smiling, Eleanor leaned back, closed her eyes to her personal pool of rainbows, and allowed the warmth of her love to flood her fragile body. It was good to know that the magic had only skipped a generation.
Here’s my newest release. From 19th of April on, you can now get the third fairy tale retellings bundle on Amazon (Yes, this time it’s even in KU). It will also be available at the other retailers in 90 days. If you haven’t read the tales yet, go and get them:
Today, you’ll also get a free short story from me and I hope you’ll like it. As usual there’s a list of more participants of this BlogHop after my story. Enjoy and leave a comment!
A Day to Remember
The first of April was the first sunny and warm day of the year. Of course the family decided to eat on the terrace. The sky was blue as my baby nephew’s eyes with small white clouds sauntering slowly across it. Birds were singing everywhere, not just in my parent’s garden, and the apple, cherry, and pear tree lifted clouds of white and purple blooms toward the sun.
I loved the day – until my gaze fell on two small red spheres in the midst of the cherry flowers. Cherries? At this time of the year? Impossible! It had to be something else. I set down the pile of plates I’d been carrying to the outside table, turned, and walked closer to the tree.
My jaw dropped. An elephant the size of a small car sat on one of the branches. It’s light gray skin merged perfectly with the flowers. When it turned its red eyes to me, I stumbled backward.
“Folks!” I called. “Hey, folks! You gotta see this.”
“What’s it?” My brother called back. He was just distributing the plates I’d abandoned.
“There’s a bloody elephant in our cherry tree!”
“Yea, sure.” He laughed and kept working. “Nicely played though.”
His kids came running, wanting to know where the elephant was, but when I tried to point it out to them, it was gone, no matter how much I tried to find it again. The kids were rather disappointed.
“That wasn’t a very funny April Fool’s joke,” the eldest, my ten year old niece, said.
“I’d so wanted to see the elephant.” My youngest niece hugged me. “I’m sorry it’s gone now.”
I watched them race over the bloom-covered lawn, avoiding clusters of daffodils and spring snowflakes as well as the sagging crocuses and snowdrops without even trying.
When I turned to glance at the cherry tree a last time, the elephant reappeared as it opened its eyes. Did it really turn invisible when it closed its eyes?
“Neat trick, ey?” It winked at me.
It took me a full minute to regain my wits. Then, I asked, “Why?” And when it didn’t answer, I expanded on the question. “Why did you do that?”
It giggled. It was the strangest sound I’d ever heard, a mix between a blocked trumpet and the squeal of a mouse.
The elephant spread its big ears and jumped off the branch, floating in the air above me. With its trunk, it patted the crown of my head. “April Fools!”
It flapped its ears, and soared into the sky, vanishing in but a heartbeat. And I stood there, staring after it, wondering how it knew where to fly with its eyes closed.
More participants of the BlogHop and their stories:
Pst, it’s me again. You can now get my fairy tale retellings in four bundles with really cool covers. Each omnibus got a brand new, never before published bonus story. If you haven’t read the tales yet, go and get them:
Today, you’ll get a free short story from me. I was asked to include: Valentine or Love or Anti-Love, Cat, Grimoire and Fire. I hope you’ll like what I came up with. Again there’s a list of more participants of this BlogHop after my story. Enjoy and leave a comment!
Heart of Fire
Going to the Witch Hunt Remembrance Fire with Gregory had been Jackie’s desire since she’d been allowed to go the first time at age thirteen. Two years later, her biggest dream was about to come true.
Fighting her elation, she’d put on her best black dress—the one that looked least sun-bleached—and even found a purple scarf with matching stockings that would go with it. Unfortunately there wasn’t much she could do about her squished witch’s hat or her sturdy boots. With the family finances like they were, she had to wear what they could afford.
How had Gregory noticed her? Normally, he only hung out with the in-crowd. It didn’t matter. He was going to take her along as his partner, not any of the other girls.
Wrapped in a wide, black cloak she’d inherited from her gran—one of the last True Witches—Jackie waited for her beau. Her heart beat frantically when the limousine stopped in front of her house.
But no one opened the door for her, and when she climbed inside on her own, the long interior room with the dark blue velvet seats was empty. Even the tinted glass between her and the driver was closed. She’d never felt this lonely. The disappointment gnawed at her heart.
Just as she was about to step back out, the limousine drove off. The door closed with a thud, and Jackie fell into one of the soft velvet seats.
The sound came from one of the hidden compartments near the front of the long room, and the order was indisputable. Wrapped as tightly into her cape as possible, Jackie opened the small door, ready for a furred fury to attack anyone in sight. She’d never been particularly good with familiars.
But the cat—a black tom with white front paws—just walked out, tail held high and meowed again as if to say, “What took you so long?” It turned and stared at Jackie.
A few heartbeats later, the limousine stopped and the door was ripped open.
“There’s tonight’s princess!” Gregory’s voice was like honey and made her knees wobble.
The tom mewed in disdain, scratching the extended hand before Jackie could grab it.
“Yikes, why did you bring that monster?” Gregory sucked at his fingers while Jackie climbed out of the limousine.
“He isn’t mine. He was locked in a compartment.” Why did she have the feeling she had to defend herself?
Gregory grunted and took her upper arm. None too gently, he pulled her on the path uphill, toward the bonfire. As tradition demanded, it burnt in a ring of stones on top of an airy hill next to a spring. All four elements combined were the token that the witch hunts would never return. By the elements, the last few True Witches had made peace with the None Talented a century or so ago.
Jackie was looking forward to dancing around the fire. When the flames died down, those whose powers had already manifested would jump through the flames, the others would wait to jump the glowing embers.
Jackie loved the flames. In her family most members were fire witches. She breathed in the aromatic scent of smoking wood. It seemed to be calling for her, but no. It was just the dratted cat, hissing at Gregory.
Only when they neared the groups of teens dancing around the flames did she notice that no adults were around.
Where were the supervisors? She would never have gotten permission to come if the school hadn’t promised to bring in supervisors. And Gregory’s grip on her arm was beginning to hurt. Just as she was about to turn to head home—even with Gregory by her side she wasn’t ready to face the school bullies without adults nearby—two heavily built young men approached. Thank the Mother, Gregory has brought his bodyguards to protect me. Jackie relaxed as they stepped beside her.
“You’re sure about this?” Gregory asked someone behind Jackie.
“Witches take up to fifteen minutes to catch fire.” It was Dina’s voice, and it seemed to douse Jackie in ice water.
Gregory nodded to his bodyguards. Four strong hands grabbed Jackie’s arms. And before she could so much as protest, she flew into the heart of the fire.
The heat and the smoke from the burning timbers stung on her skin and made breathing hard. She teared up. Tendrils of fire seemed to wrap around her arms and legs, prolonging the flight. Hot air whipped up her hair and made it dance.
Meow! The tom jumped after her, and they hit the white hot coals throwing up a shower of sparks. Jackie fell forward and her hand landed on a searingly hot pebble. Still her fingers closed around it instinctively. To examine it, she blinked away her tears. They dropped onto the hot stone with tiny hisses, their vapor licked up by flames and carried away by the hot air.
Then the pebble changed. It expanded, grew rectangular and flat and softened to the touch. The corners turned to gilded metal. A grimoire? Only the rare True Witches owned one.
Jackie was so excited, she didn’t notice the fire’s discomfort any longer.
“I knew it,” the tom said. “From the moment I set my eyes on you, I knew you’re a True Witch. One of the few that can balance all four elements.”
“You can talk?” All of a sudden, Gregory, Dina, and all the others were farther away than the moon.
“How else do you expect me to teach you?” The tom sat down and began to lick his up-stretched hind leg. “Aren’t you going to punish them?”
“Now, that sounds like a really good idea.” Jackie grinned and pulled the fire to her. Flicker by glow by flame, it came to her, climbed her legs, spread over her body, her face, her hair, and her arms. Like a living torch, she stepped off the bonfire.
Gregory turned paler than the white sand of the sea, and if not for his bodyguards, he would have dropped where he stood. They carried him downhill as fast as they could. Following them, Dina screamed like a banshee as she ran. Most of the other kids fled too. Only a few reached for blankets and the fire extinguisher valiantly.
Before they could do anything, Jackie sent the flames back to the bonfire.
“All the better for us,” she said to the stunned helpers and pointed to the long table covered with delicacies. “Let’s party!”
The tom stalked off the bonfire and sat beside her. “I’m quite proud you didn’t hurt anyone.”
“They’ll be running home to mommy and daddy, wailing about murdering me.” Jackie spoke with a new spark in her voice. “Let them get themselves into trouble for a while.”
“I knew, you’d be the right kind of witch for me.” The tom lolled his tongue and it looked just like he was laughing.
More participants of the BlogHop and their stories:
Nothing can be more scary than the events of 2020 so far, and there isn’t much we can do about it except struggle to protect ourselves and the people around us. However, we might find a little happiness in reading some cool flash stories where the scariness is twisted and utterly not-2020-real. So without further ado, here are my story and the ones from 10 other participants of 2020’s Halloween Bloghop.
Enjoy the season (and my story) and as always, remember to visit the other participants (list below the story).
The Witch at the End of the Road
Halloween is a nightmare for me. Mom always forces me to join tight-knit groups of friends that don’t want me, and I hate to pretend to be happy, collecting sweets. This year is worse than usual. She shoves me toward the group of bullies from my school. My arms, back, and legs are still hurting from the lashing she gave me when I begged her to let me stay home.
To my surprise, the trick-or-treating goes smoothly at first, even though the others’ none too gentle nudges hurt. But then Gordon tells us of the witch at the end of the road.
“She turns candy into stones.” His gleeful stare finds me. I shiver with dread. Not because of the witch—we wouldn’t go there if she existed—but due to the promise of lost sweets in his gaze. The closer we get to the witch’s house, the faster my heart beats. I struggle to join the chorus, but my painful bruises remind me of Mom’s anger and I go on.
“You first,” Gordon pushes me up the steps. There are potted plants on the porch and a black cat with white paws. I nearly wet my pants. This is it! I’ll lose my sweets, and Mom will be furious. I search for a solution in vein and ring the doorbell with trembling fingers.
A lady older than any I’ve ever seen opens the door.
“There you are!” Her voice is surprisingly friendly. “Been waiting for you, lazybones.”
I start speaking and stop when I notice no one falls in. Looking around, the boys are staring open-mouthed and motionless at the lady.
“Not spellbound?” She winks at me. “So you’re kin, ey? Interesting.” She turns to the others and taps Gordon on the forehead. “You will stop hurting people. Find joy in the woods.”
He walks away with glazed eyes. The lady taps every boy and gives them a command, and they file away silently. Witches do exist after all. I’m mesmerized.
When she turns to me, fear freezes my blood. Although I want to run, my legs don’t move. My heartbeat drowns out every sound but my breathing and her words.
“For you, I’ll need something special.” She cups my face with her hands. Barely louder than a whisper, a scream escapes my lips. She smiles and her eyes are full of sympathy. “I know, honey. Be strong. It’s over in a blink.” She kisses my forehead, warming me.
Next I’m in Mom’s kitchen, arms over my head, hurting. Stones have spilled from a plastic pumpkin onto the table. I’m covered in fresh bruises, and Mom is lifting a wooden spoon to hit me again.
The witch grabs her wrist.
Blue light whizzes between them.
I can hardly breathe.
The witch changes to the semblance of Mom, while Mom grows old and frail and vanishes eventually.
“Finally!” Witch-Mom hands me a bag of sweets. “Guess, it’s time for a new life for both of us, ey?”
If you liked the story or want to comment with anything else that’s on your mind, feel free to do so. I’ll answer as soon as I can. Meanwhile read the stories of the other participants:
If you’ve read my recent blog posts, you’ll know that I’ve been keeping up with publishing one book per month. Feel free to check out the previous blog posts announcing the new releases. But now, it’s time for our quarterly “Storytime Bloghop” again. Read free flash stories from me and 9 other participants. I hope you’ll like mine even though it’s somewhat longer this time, and as always, remember to visit the other participants (list below the story).
The Guardian of the Sandsnake’s Temple
There was once a land of sand, and sand, and sand, and sand, and sand.
Gaspard stood at the entrance to the sand-goddess’ temple, the five fingers of his right hand clutched around a javelin, and his two bare feet firmly planted into the sand. Watching out for pilgrims, he was not expecting anyone. The bones of last person to make his way through the endless sea of sand were long ground to dust by the endless wind. According to the goddess, he had been a bad man, hurting his wife and nearly killing his child on his quest for gold.
As if gold held any value. Gaspard’s biggest dream was of meeting someone—anyone—at least once in his life, but chances were slim. He wondered about the guardian before him. Had she ever seen a world with more colors than brown, beige, white, and blue, and shades thereof? Had she died? Or had she fled her duties?
He imagined what it must be like to finally meet creatures like the ones from the books the goddess gave him for his education. The long-horned antelopes with their slender necks and the three long fingered hands from Quasrom fascinated him, as did the flying whales from Whattler III or the feathered dinosaurs from Permia.
The sound of the Final Klaxon ripped him from his daydreams.
A group of Praying Mules lifted their spiked front hoofs in prayer on the top of the final hill where the klaxon was magically fixed to a pillar of sand. The long ears with the soft fur fell back from their raised faces with the long snouts. Their soft furred, upright bodies radiated health.
Gaspard’s jaw dropped. Even in his books, Qumrands had only been mentioned as a rumor. The fur on their cheeks and snouts glowed nearly white in the glaring sunlight, a sign that they were high caste—if Gaspard’s books had it right.
After a few moments, four of the Praying Mules bent down and picked up something white and dome shaped they’d obviously set down before. The fifth took the lead. All of them were dressed in rags, barely covering their loins, but the many waterskins hanging around their bodies told Gaspard they’d come well prepared.
He watched with awe, as the group clomped the last few hundred yards of desert landscape toward the base of the enormous cliff of prehistoric sand that held the temple’s entrance.
The white, dome-like structure they carried turned out to be a stretcher covered with once white fabric. They were chanting the ancient songs, melodies Gaspard had never heard sung by anyone but himself.
The mules were approaching fast, and arrived just as Gaspard remembered his duty.
“Halt, in the name of the goddess!” He lowered his javelin and pointed the iron tip at the first mule’s muscular, furred chest. “State your business.”
For a few heartbeats, no one spoke, and Gaspard wondered if he could really stop five determined Praying Mules.
“We have come to bargain with the goddess”, the leading Mule said.
Before Gaspard could say anything, a Sandsnake as big as the leading Mule rose beside him. Her obsidian scales hissed gently as sand ran down her body. Gaspard had to force himself not to flinch. It had been a while since the goddess had appeared in her favorite form.
“I have been waiting for you for so long, Gardella,” she said in her warm, lilting alto. “Have you never considered what your absence must mean to him?”
The white fabric of the dome was pushed aside by a five fingered hand the color of wet sand, revealing a person with fur-free skin, a slender body, and long, black and white hair. Where the mules’ eyes looked mostly sideways, her eyes faced front, and there was a clear distinction between her nose and mouth. Gaspard saw a similar face in the mirror every morning.
He struggled not to stare at the human woman. His heart raced and for reasons unknown he was very afraid all of a sudden. He slipped closer to the Sandsnake’s warm body and the tip of her tail began to caress his back in a way that must be invisible from where the group stood. Gaspard was grateful and slightly comforted.
“I meant to come back earlier,” the woman called Gardella said. “But I fell ill. And once I’d recovered, Mission Command wouldn’t let me leave. They sent me to another quadrant altogether, claiming I’d gone mad for the loss of husband and child. And when I quit, they made it really hard for me to travel. If it hadn’t been for these wonderful people,” she pointed to the Praying Mules, “I’d never have made it back. I’m sorry, Zulussa.”
The great snake trembled. Was she crying? Gaspard’s throat went dry. What did that mean?
“He’s mine now. I raised him. I slowed time for him so he would heal and live.” The goddess’ voice shook. “I’ll fight for him.”
Gardella swung her feet from the stretcher and hobbled forward. One of her legs was twisted and gnarled like one kind of fossil in the temple’s sand. “I did not come to steal your child.” She smiled, but her gaze was sad. “My child.”
As she blinked away some tears, Gaspard’s world crumbled as if the ground under his feet had vanished.
“I have not been much of a mother to you, Gaspard. I never got the chance.” Her gaze met his, and her love washed over him just like Zulussa’s that he’d always taken for granted. “But I’ve come to give you the freedom to travel the world. The Praying Mules owe me much. They will do anything for you and show you everything.” She turned to the goddess. “And I will stay here with you, Zulussa. You will never be alone for as long as I live. Plus, I’ve got tons of new stories to tell.”
The Sandsnake shifted her form, and a rotund woman with beige hair and obsidian skin flung her arms around Gardella. “I missed you so, my love.”
And all of a sudden, all the tiny pieces of the puzzle made sense to Gaspard. The nameless man, whose bones were flying with the wind, the goddess who had been his mother, and his absent mother. His heart went out to the two women who were his family. Yes, he would travel with the Mules. He would spread the word about a forgotten temple in the sand, and upon his return, loneliness would be a thing of the past for all of them.
If you liked the story or want to comment with anything else that’s on your mind, feel free to do so. I’ll answer as soon as I can. Meanwhile read the stories of the other participants: