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Monthly Archives: March 2014

Flash Fiction: Cat vs Con

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It’s been a while since I’ve done one of Wendig’s challenges, so I thought this would be a good time to get back into the game. This week’s challenge is to choose one thing each from two given lists, writing a story that incorporates both things. I chose 1). a talking cat, and 2). an escaped prisoner. Here is ‘Cat vs Con,’ at exactly 1500 words. I hope you enjoy!

Stanley pulled his hat low as a man and woman passed his seat, their fine clothes rubbing against his own ragged ones. Holding a shaky breath, he wondered why train aisles had to be so narrow. Once the couple had taken the seats two rows behind him, he let out his breath slowly and pushed his hat up a bit. On the seat next to him was a small satchel filled with his scant belongings. A man on the run had little need of possessions. It was the freedom he craved, and the fresh air his lungs basked in. Everything he had with him was stolen, even the toothbrush and half smoked cigar he had stuffed in the satchel. His light fingers felt rusty, but he was pleasantly surprised at how easily he made off with the news boy’s hat. Stanley was a small man, and luckily the boy’s hat fit perfectly. The fishmonger’s coat, on the other hand, dwarfed his small body, and let off a faint odor. Four days of constant wear hadn’t lessened the scent any, nor had Stanley gotten used to it in that time. Now, as he waited for the other passengers to board, he prayed that the smell would keep the seats nearest him empty.

Outside, Stanley watched as the conductor walked the platform and assisted passengers onto the train. Finally, in a loud booming voice, he announced “All Aboard!” Stanley tapped his foot nervously, anxiously waiting for the train to get on its way. The number of people boarding the train slowly diminished, and Stanley heaved a quiet sigh of relief. A moment later, the train jolted forward and began to pull away from the platform. Stanley quickly scanned the seats around him and found them empty. After almost four years in chains and five days on the run, it was beginning to look like Stanley’s luck was changing. Leaning his head back against the seat, he closed his eyes and smiled.

A loud banging from the front of the car woke Stanley from his happy thoughts. His eyes shot open and immediately sought shelter beneath the brim of his hat. At the front of the car, an old man squeezed his way down the aisle, no doubt looking for an open seat. Stanley froze as the old man, wearing layers of tattered cloth covered in trinkets and medallions and a ridiculous short, pointy hat, advanced through the car, finally turning into the open row across from him. The clatter made by the man was astonishing, and Stanley found himself sighing in relief once the old man had finally settled himself and stopped moving his various cases around.

When the car once again got quiet, Stanley stole a glance across from him. The old man sat in the seat closest to the window. On the seat next to him, he had stacked a number of small cases. On the floor sat the largest case, one with holes along the sides, and a wire door on the front. Inside lay a black cat, its blue eyes staring lazily back at Stanley. The old man slumped against the window and muttered quietly to himself, his breath creating a patch of condensation on the glass. Stanley sat almost motionless in his seat across the aisle, not able to relax with someone so near. Every few minutes he glanced at the old man and listened to his muttered ramblings until, about twenty minutes later, the old man fell asleep.

Once Stanley heard the man’s snores, he pushed his hat away from his eyes and scanned the pile of boxes across from him. They were all old, each one showing various signs of abuse. The box on the bottom was missing an entire corner, and Stanley thought he could see cloth stuffed inside. He guessed the case contained clothes and moved to the middle case. This one had a few small punctures, with a few patches here and there, but the latches had locks, and Stanley decided that it would most likely be more trouble than it was worth. He moved to inspecting the top case and immediately smiled. It had a large gash on the side, and one of the two latches was held together with string, with the second latch missing entirely. This would be an easy target.

Stanley heard a low chuckle and immediately looked away and pulled his hat down. Another laugh, this one louder, and then silence. Stanley shot a quick glance at the old man, but he was still sleeping against the window, his mouth hanging open slightly. Stanley shook his head and took a calming breath before deciding that the laughing must have come from the couple a few rows back. Slowly, he returned to his perusal of the top case, even leaning into the aisle to get a better look.

“Don’t do it.” The calm voice startled Stanley, making him jump and sending his hat slightly askew. He looked around for the source of the voice, but the man still snored against the window, and no one else was in easy speaking range. Stanley held his breath as he tried to curb his confusion, but the voice returned before he could decide on an explanation. “It’s not worth it.”

Stanley gasped and looked around again, this time frantically, but still he could find no source of the voice. He heard a low sigh. “Down here,” the voice said. Slowly, Stanley lowered his eyes until they settled on the case housing the cat. Blue eyes met his and he frowned. The cat’s teeth appeared as its lips pulled back in what could only be described as a smile. Stanley’s eyes widened in shock and a gasp caught in his throat until finally erupting in a faint squeak. The old man shifted against the window and muttered before settling back into his slumber.

“Did you say something?” Stanley whispered the question, hardly believing he was talking to a cat. The cat rolled his eyes in a very human fashion.

“I know what you’re thinking, an I’m telling you that you’ll regret it.” The cat gestured toward the top case.

“I’m not thinking about anything!” Stanley stammered, shaking his head.

The cat laughed. “Right now you’re thinking that you’ve lost your mind. After all, you are talking to a cat.” It smiled again. “No one would believe you, not even him.” It glanced in the direction of its sleeping owner. “He doesn’t even know his spell worked.”

Spell?” Stanley’s eyes narrowed in confusion.

“He may be old and senile, but he is proficient in the magical arts. In a very memorable manic episode, he decided that his feline companion should be able to speak, so he discovered a spell that gave me the gift of speech.”

“But,” Stanley asked, still disbelievingly, “I thought you said he wouldn’t believe me if I told him you could talk?”

“Just because I can talk doesn’t mean I want to talk to him. I mean, look at him!” the cat laughed and glanced over his shoulder again, “Does he look like he’s fun to talk to?” The cat rolled his eyes again. “Always going on about this and that, the fool wouldn’t let me get a word in even if I wanted to!” Stanley blinked in response. Loud squeaking reverberated through the car as the engineer applied the brakes and began slowing the train down.

“That being said,” the cat continued, “even though the old wizard is a fool, he is still a wizard. Getting into that case of his is the easy part; recovering from whatever vile hex he sends your way would obviously be the hard part.” Stanley glanced at the sleeping man before meeting the cat’s stare again. “Have you ever seen a man turned into a newt? I have,” the cat raised a paw and gestured to itself, “and it’s not a pleasant memory!” It squeezed its eyes shut and shook its head, clearly remembering the sight. It sighed. “Look, I can tell that you are a man who enjoys taking things without permission, so I will give you this one piece of advice and spare you the task of asking beforehand.” Stanley’s eyes widened, but the cat ignored him. “Get of this train right now, while you still have two legs! Forget about the half crazed wizard you sat by on the train, and for God’s sake, forget about his talking cat! Look,” it said, pointing a black paw toward Stanley’s window, “the train is stopping, so now is your chance.”

Stanley hesitated, but looked out the window anyway. Two policemen stood on the platform only feet from where he sat. He took a deep breath and looked back at the cat. A short nod from the blue-eyed feline was all he needed. Stanley grabbed his satchel and hurried down the narrow aisle before jumping down onto the platform. Glancing at the policemen, Stanley lowered his hat and blended into the crowd.

Magic Fun, Part 3

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(One day I’ll come up with a title, I promise. I was hoping to get a bit further with part three, but I hit a good stopping point and I stuck with it. Hopefully I can focus on this a bit more in the future and the posts will be more frequent. Enjoy!)

Lilly toyed with the small stone pyramid in her hand. A new cord had been threaded through it, letting off a faint scent of fresh leather. A small wooden pendant shaped like the sun shared the same cord. The stone was once her great grandfather’s, and the pendant carved by her father on her last night in Sunrise. She ran a finger across the delicately carved sunrays as she remembered the events only hours ago.

The small group sat together near the massive hearth in Sunrise’s Great Hall. The old man sat amongst them as he retold stories of his past and recounted lessons learned the hard way. Three young Risers listened intently to his every word. They were the new Eagles, chosen for a task unequalled in all of the town’s history, and they were grossly unprepared.

The old man’s sixteen-year-old great granddaughter sat among the three, her long blond hair hung straight down as she sat on the bench. Her hands gripped the edge of the wood as she listened intently. She was the only person in the room with a smile on her face, but it disappeared after catching sight of the frown her father wore. He sat apart from the group, alone in his anger and fears. As he listened, he carved a small, wooden sun out of a chunk of wood he found just before entering the Hall. He focused his attentions on his project in an effort to keep from making a scene and forcibly dragging his daughter away. He glanced at her and immediately wished he hadn’t. Her smile tore open another hole in his chest, and he had to breathe deeply and release slowly before he could once again focus on the carving.

Beside Lilly sat Jonathan. Though their mothers were sisters, they looked like they could be siblings. Jonathan’s blonde hair was cut short, but their blue eyes were identical. Next to Lilly’s smile, Jonathan sat motionless, brows creased in thought. His eyes were fixed on the elder, glancing down every few minutes to look at the token resting on his leg. He had heard the stories of the Eagles, but he never believed them to be true. Even now he felt a nagging doubt creep up as he listened to the old man.

Alexia completed the trio. She was the youngest at fourteen. Her hair, light brown and naturally wavy, was fastened away from her face with girlish bows. Her lips trembled and her eyes were closed while the elder spoke. Her token sat ignored on a nearby chair since halfway through the old man’s instructions on its use. She didn’t want to travel; flying was for birds, not humans. The thought of leaving her home and everything she knew and understood terrified her. Behind the fear was anger- anger at having no choice, anger at Sunset, anger at her strength with White Magic. She wanted to run, but in a town where the sun is always just above the horizon, there was nowhere to hide.

The group sat for hours, no one speaking but the elder. No questions were asked, for he told the three everything he knew. When he stopped speaking a foreboding silence filled the room. Lilly sat with her elbows on her knees and her chin resting on her hands. Her eyes drooped wearily, but she had absorbed every word. Jonathan had hardly moved, his eyes struggling to stay open. Alexia still mumbled, her body shaking slightly from the chilly breeze moving down through the now cold chimney. Once the silence set in, she opened her eyes to see the elder leaning back in his chair, his eyes closed as if he were already asleep. Next to the hearth, Lilly’s father sighed. He stood and, after a good stretch, ushered the three to their homes where they would sleep one last time.

 

Lilly didn’t sleep a wink, her excitement so great that it kept the weariness at bay, if only for a time. Even as she sat toying with the token, she knew if she sat still for much longer she would be fast asleep. She sighed. “Do you think they’re on their way?” Her voice hinted at her lack of sleep, holding little of the excitement she tried to instill upon her fellow Eagles. Alexia lay huddled in a corner of the small room, made even smaller by the shelves that lined every wall. Various odds and ends filled every inch of space, but, to Lilly’s surprise, not a speck of dust could be seen on anything. Alexia turned towards the wall and scooted even further under the bottom shelf. Lilly sighed again. Alexia hadn’t said a word all day, why would she answer a question that no one could possibly know the answer to? Lilly scanned their surroundings again and rolled the token across her fingertips idly.

The door to the storage room creaked open and Jonathan poked his head through. “Vincent says you don’t have to stay in here…” His words trailed off as he noticed Alexia on the floor. Lilly opened her mouth to rouse Alexia, but snapped it shut again after seeing the younger girl attempt to scoot even further under the shelf. Lilly rolled her eyes and followed Jonathan out, closing the door behind her.

The storage room was the first doorway off of a small hallway situated in the back of a cluttered shop. Two more doors opened off of the small space before it ended in a narrow flight of stairs leading up. Though the floor in the storage room was wood, the hallway was covered in a worn, dark green carpet. The two made their way into the main shop where a young man sat atop a stool in the back corner. Jonathan had already explored the shop and made his way over to speak to Vincent, but Lilly wandered around the small tables and shelves, fingering the stones and flipping through the books as she went. Sam ran an occult shop, and he pulled double duty as a fortune teller, it seemed. As she explored, Sam sat in the viewing room with a client, no doubt telling the customer exactly what they wanted to hear. Lilly slowly made her way to the counter and leaned over the glass, listening to Vincent and Jonathan’s conversation.

“I always see people going in an out here,” Vincent was saying, “but I haven’t noticed anyone new.”

Jonathan nodded his head in reply. “And Samuel? When do you think he’ll be done?”

Just as Vincent opened his mouth to answer, the door next to the storage room jerked open and two men emerged into the hall, still deep in conversation. Jonathan watched them silently, not knowing that Vincent watched him. And Vincent didn’t notice Lilly’s curious stare directed at him.

Vincent looked to be about sixteen. The frames on his face held thick lenses, making his dark brown eyes appear almost inhumanly large. He wore black jeans under an oversized white t-shirt with a picture of a cartoon character on it. His hat was pulled down enough in the front that it looked to be resting on his glasses. Vincent’s eyes followed the two men as they made their way through the store. They paused at the store’s entrance and spoke another minute before shaking hands. With a quick wave, the customer turned and exited the shop. A quick burst of air moved through the small space as the door opened and then closed behind the man, ruffling Samuel’s floor length robes as he pulled the garment off. Turning, he made his way to the back of the shop, stopping to hang the robe on a hook in the hallway. He breathed deep and began rolling up his shirt sleeves as he made his way to the counter. He didn’t seem at all surprised to see Jonathan and Lilly. “You must be the Risers,” he said, pausing his efforts to roll up his sleeves in order to gesture in their direction. Jonathan nodded while Lilly replied with an affirmative.

“I’m Sam.” He shook Jonathan and Lilly’s hand then turned a glare on his employee. “And you are late with my lunch.”

“I, uh,” Vincent stammered and looked frantically at the clock hanging on the wall behind him. “You were with a customer-“

“Well, I’m not now.” The two stared at each other over the counter before Vincent jumped up from his chair and ran out the door.

“I hope you ordered enough for everybody!” Sam yelled after Vincent. The door closed slowly as a breeze caught it, sending fresh air into the stuffy shop. Sam closed his eyes and breathed deep. The breeze disappeared and the door slammed shut, snapping Sam out of his thoughts. He sighed and stared out the front windows.

Shaking his head, he turned back to the two teens across the counter. “Alexia is, uh,” Jonathan searched for words, but Lilly finished his sentence. “She’s hiding,” she said, gesturing toward the back hallway. Sam nodded. “The message said the new Eagles were young, but it didn’t say they were still kids.” Sam spoke quietly as if to himself, but Jonathan shuffled uneasily under the man’s inquisitive stare. Lilly had heard, but she ignored Sam, instead she turned and began to meander through the store again.

“My uncle didn’t say why we were chosen,” Jonathan said, “but perhaps you know?”

A low voom reverberated through the shop, bringing with it a slight change in pressure, causing their ears to pop. Lilly’s head jerked away from the book she was flipping through and looked around the small space. Jonathan forced a yawn and shook his head, tying to unpop his ears. Only Sam seemed unphased as he placed his elbows on the counter and leaned over. “I don’t have the answer to that question,” Sam nodded toward the back hallway, “but I imagine it has something to do with them.”

Jonathan narrowed his eyes in confusion. “Them?” Sam blinked. “Oh!” Jonathan jumped as he understood. “The Setters are here?” Sam nodded as Lilly made her way back to the glass counter to stand beside her cousin. A moment passed before the door across from the storage room creaked open and three figures emerged.

Their footsteps were quiet as they moved to the entrance of the hallway, but there they stopped. In the front stood a young man with icy gray eyes under a mop of disheveled blonde hair. His glare scanned the room, finally settling unblinking on the three standing only a few feet away. Movement behind him materialized into a young woman who pushed her way past the one standing before her. She ignored the Risers and Sam as she slowly walked through the store and stood before the front windows. She squinted as she looked out. “It’s so bright,” her words were barely loud enough to be heard. The third Setter was a young boy, his head could be seen peering around the glaring teen. “Which one of you is Samuel?” The young man’s stare did not relent as he watched the three strangers.

“That would be me,” Sam didn’t cower under the boy’s glare. “And you are?”

“Dexter, from the town of Sunset. Behind me is Spencer,” the young boy bound around Dexter, a huge smile on his face. “And that,” Dexter glanced at the young woman who still stood at the shop’s windows, “is Elaina.”

Jonathan watched Elaina as she pressed her face against the glass and looked toward the sky, her eyes squeezed almost shut against the sunlight. “What is she doing?” Jonathan whispered to himself.

“Seeing the sun for the first time,” Sam answered. “You will understand better tonight.” Sam watched as the other two Setters joined Elaina at the windows and looked at the sky.

“Tonight?”

“They come from a world of darkness, Jonathan, you from a world of light. This world, the Common World, is a world of both. Tonight, you will experience your first sunless sky, and you will feel just as they are feeling right now.” Sam stood and raised his arms into the sky in a deep stretch. “Might as well get started,” he said quietly to himself.

“Now that you’re all here-“ Sam’s words cut off as Vincent burst through the door, his arms holding a box stuffed with various boxes and bags. A strange scent filled the shop as he hurried through and placed the box on the counter. He plopped himself back down on his stool and panted, clearly relieved to be done with his errand.

“Took you long enough!” Sam glared at his employee, but turned away just as a smile appeared on his face. Vincent didn’t see, instead he slumped over the counter and continued panting, unable to utter a defense. Grabbing the box, Sam nodded to Jonathan and made his way through the hallway and into the viewing room. Lilly and Jonathan followed, stopping in the storage room to collect Alexia. The Setters followed only a few moments later, leaving the small shop empty except for a gasping Vincent.