A short fiction piece based on a prompt

I wrote this tonight on a whim, as a response to a little prompt in the writing group I manage. The prompt is the quote that is used as the final line in the story. This is a completely raw piece; it hasn’t even been re-read, let alone even a cursory edit. Forgive any errors.

Enjoy.

Quin didn’t have a good reason to be outside in the middle of the night, at least, not if he tried to explain it to his mother. She’d ground him and take away his laptop and his cell phone and would refuse to give him the wifi password because she’d long ago learned about live gaming. Briefly, he thought about how much he still wanted to punch Kyle in the face for ratting him out, but he remembered that his brother was serving time in lockdown back at the house and smirked.

The woods were quiet except for the random hooting of hunting owls and the skittering noises underfoot as their prey fled. The moon was high but through the canopy of leaves he couldn’t tell. Here or there a few stars peered down, but Quin didn’t bother looking up.

Deep in the woods, at the place where he had assembled all the stolen wooden planks and nails he could from his father’s tool shed, he climbed the ragged knot ladder into his treehouse. He had to shoo away a few squirrels but otherwise, the dirty hideout was as he’d left it. Adding in a bird’s nest in one of the corners. He left the birds alone.

He turned on his kerosene lamp and sat on the lumpy cushion from his mother’s old couch. From his pack he withdrew a few items he’d recently pilfered – a pocket knife from his father’s junk drawer, a few stray wooden matches with red tips, and a fistful of his mother’s favorite chocolates. He ate some of them while he tried to flip the pocket knife around between the fingers of one hand.

When Quin knicked himself for the first time on the knife, he paused, quietly observing how painless it was at first. A droplet of blood welled, bubbled up from the slit in his skin, and slid down the tip of his finger to drip onto the floor. At the same moment his blood hit the wood, a terrible sound came from down below. A screech like he had never heard – more closely resembling the pitiful wail of a fawn when its mother had been shot; that had been a sound he thought he would never stop hearing, but he had, a few weeks later. His father didn’t speak of it anymore and never invited him hunting. He stuffed the remaining chocolates into his pocket, worried he would get caught eating them.

Quin crept up to the doorway and inched his face over the opening until he could see down. At the base of the tree was a shape that wriggled, all shadow except for the occasional glint of scales. A pair of wings unfurled from the back and pumped at the air a few times. They did not appear to be of much use yet.

The creature let out another cry. Quin, curious now, checked the area as far as he could see but found no sign of a parent creature. Careful to be quiet, he slipped over the edge of the doorway and dropped himself down a few notches on his rope ladder. The baby creature looked up at him and he froze. For an instant, the two stared at each other. Quin was amazed at what he was seeing, it was like nothing he had ever seen. Not even movies could compare.

The eyes of the creature were milk white and shimmery – they reminded him of his mother’s pearls. Everything else about it was cast in darkness, the shadow of the night too thick to make out any other colors. The creature cried again, louder this time, seeming to be talking to him.

“What is it?” He whispered, unsure of whether or not he thought it would answer him.

It screamed a reply and he slid down a few more knots. The creature scratched its paws at the base of the tree excitedly and made another noise – less alarming, but still too loud. Quin dropped the rest of the way down and brushed off his hands on his shirt. The creature wagged its tail so hard that its entire body seemed to vibrate.

Quin held his breath. He could not believe his own eyes – the creature in front of him, no taller than his kneecap, was a dragon. Unmistakably so. Its thick, bulbous snout and its useless little leather wings were proof enough. All at once, it rammed into him with its huge snout and made the second noise again. It nibbled at his pant leg, near the pocket where he’d stuffed his chocolates.

Tentatively, Quin drew one out and flicked it up into the air. He certainly didn’t want the thing to take his hand off. The dragon jumped up and snatched it right out of the air with a tiny puff of smoke as it snapped its jaws closed. Quin laughed, delighted. The dragon was happy too, he could tell by the swishing of its whole lower body.

Excitement took over. Quin could not wait to get it back to the house, to show Kyle. Immediately, he began making gentle noises to coax it along with him. He walked backwards out of the woods, tripping only two or three times, as he lead it. It followed him, keeping pace and swishing its tail. When it got distracted, he would pull out another chocolate and so it would follow him another few minutes with renewed focus.

At the house, Kyle did not want to be woken up. It was difficult to get him to listen beyond telling Quin to “shut up and go back to bed.” He did not believe that there was a dragon in the backyard, so Quin brought the dragon into the house. The creature loped around the living room, sniffing and bumping into things. The clatter annoyed Kyle enough that he came storming downstairs, his nostrils flairing. “Damn it, Quin, shut up. You’ll get us both in trouble if you wake Mom or Dad.”

Kyle came around the corner into the living room and stopped mid-stride. His eyes went round. “Quin what is going on?”

“I told you! I found a dragon! He likes chocolate.”

The dragon, moving around the room without interruption, had found the small, golden box of chocolates their mother kept on the coffee table. Neither stopped it from chomping on it, though it did not seem to have teeth enough to break through.

“A dragon. You found a dragon.” Kyle’s eyes had not gone back to normal yet. He was amazed. Even more amazed than Quin had expected him to be.

“I’m going to train it,” Quin said. “I’ll teach it tricks and we can sell tickets.”

“Quin, you’re a kid. You can’t train a dragon.” Kyle was dismissive. Quin hated being told he was just a kid. Kyle went on, “Where the heck did you even find the thing?”

Quin scowled. “I found it in the woods, and I’m ten years old! I’m not a kid!”

The dragon hiccuped and a whooshing sound filled the room. A tendril of flame licked out from the tiny dragon and touched the couch. The fire caught instantly, spreading across the couch faster than Kyle could yell out a few curse words.

“You’re going to wake Mom and Dad! Stop cursing!”

Kyle shot him an angry look, his eyebrows knitted together so he could narrow his eyes at Quin. “I think they’ll notice the smoke detector, Quin.”

Kyle had been right, of course. Their parents had come barreling down the staircase only a minute later. They did not like seeing a dragon in their living room, and did he know how expensive couches were, and how was he going to help them fix the living room – which, they wanted to remind him, he had let a dragon set on fire? They didn’t want to hear any of his ideas on how to train it.

The fliers posted all around town were quite the gossip.

“Found lost magical pet, please collect immediately!”

Changes

Hello, again!

As this entire 365 challenge is a first for me, everything is basically a big experiment.  So far, I’ve learned that Bi-Weekly Updates and Monthly updates are unnecessary, so I’m cutting the BWU and sticking with End of the Month Updates, which will tally up everything.  The next update you’ll see will be in the first week of April, tallying up the totals for this month.

Another thing I’ve realized is that weekly excerpts are a lot to maintain.  It seemed like a perfectly do-able idea when I figured I would be bouncing from project to project (52 excerpts over a year, with 30+ novels on my list? Sounds easy!), but so far my primary progress has been in three specific stories and I don’t want to share too much of those.  So I think we’ll try bi-weekly excerpts, but I’m already feeling like monthly ones are more likely.  I suppose where that leaves us is that you can expect one to two excerpts posted a month. 🙂

I have a few more Writing Practice posts brewing, so keep your eyes out for those!

Atlas Excerpt 001

Rating: M

The trip to the Gatekeeper was nothing like in the dream; the walk there took the two of them a matter of quiet moments on the dirt paths between the fields, and soon, she was waiting in the streets for the old man to open the door. She knew what she would find, she’d been going to the Gatekeeper all of her life, but the anticipation of something else never left her bones. She kept expecting to see the silhouette of her dream Gatekeeper, the brightness of the portal. No wind lifted the strands of her hair when the Gatekeeper answered their knock. He looked up at her from below a brow that shielded his eyes from hers. She leaned down and kissed his cheek in greeting, murmuring, “Good day, Gatekeeper.” 

The old man stepped aside and waited for them to enter, the frown chiseled onto his face darkening his typically cheerful demeanor. He did not approve of their trip.  “My Queen, with all due respect, I do not think –”

Just when Atlas opened her mouth to speak, to interrupt the old man before he wasted his, or their, time, Ephram’s voice pierced the air in the tiny living room. “The Gatekeeper will keep his opinions to himself in regards to the decisions of the Queen.”

She had never seen the Gatekeeper’s eyes burn with such anger before, but she did not contest Ephram’s decree. Without another word, the Gatekeeper moved to them, stretching himself up to press the palms of his hands on their foreheads. Atlas felt the sharp sting of teleportation, the emptiness of the travel, then the halt of her feet on solid ground once more. Her body buckled beneath the weight of the disequilibrium that came with teleportation, but Ephram’s hand was on her elbow before she opened her eyes. He only let go when she took a step forward. The two of them were surrounded by a variety of humanoids, the likes of which Atlas had only ever imagined. Her eyes wide with a curious shock, Atlas moved through the crowd. The sounds and smells around her steam-rolled her senses until she was no longer able to distinguish between them and the world crushed her awareness.

The last thing she felt were Ephram’s arms as they caught her when her knees folded beneath her.

QM/MoEm Excerpt 001

Rating: M

It had been a long day, even for him. Domhnall had wanted to exhaust her and he knew he had succeeded; the sluggishness of her motions, the soft murmur of her voice, the droop her to eyelids all gave her away. What he hadn’t necessarily expected was to exhaust himself as well. Turned out, Hettiene had quite the stamina. She lay sprawled on his bed, her eyes only half open as she stared at the ceiling, her long legs spread where he left them. Her ribs rose and fell with her breath. Somehow, as exposed and vulnerable as she was, she felt far away from him. He took out a bottle of something special from the hideaway he’d built into the wine rack beside the bar. In the clear glass, the liquid sloshed a shimmering black color, so dark and full of sparks that it almost looked like a liquid night sky. He sealed the bottle again and returned it to the secret compartment. Hettie hadn’t so much as twitched; by all counts, it appeared she was asleep with her eyes partly open.

He poured himself a glass of bourbon and carried them over to the bed. Her eyes opened a little wider as his weight returned to the mattress. He placed the bottom of her glass in the open palm of her hand and waited until her fingers curled around it safely. “Drink that, and then we will rest.”

A sigh, presumably of relief, rushed from her mouth and she lifted herself up into a sitting position to sip from the glass. It wasn’t until the liquid touched her tongue that she paused to look at it. He watched as recognition flickered behind her irises and prepared himself. When it came to Hettie, he was always on edge wondering where his influence would suddenly stop. He knew better than to rely on it the way he could in Icura. His new wife was a mystery to him, that way. None of the others had been able to resist him.

Testing the waters, Domhnall said, “Come now, Hettiene, drink up.”

The small flash of recognition was gone. The forests of her irises were glazed over with the fog of his influence. She took another drink, depleting the measure of her glass substantially. Another deep swig and a small mouthful later, she handed the empty glass back to him with a shudder and disgusted shake of her head as she choked down the last of it.

He barely began to wonder how long it would take to affect her when her sleep-lidded eyes widened and her pupils grew to the size of small coins. Her breath rushed into her lungs and her hands went limp. Her lungs reached capacity but her body still tried to pull it in, lifting her torso up by her collarbones. The black of her pupils spread like ink through the whites of her eyes until they were the deepest pools of black he had ever seen. She hit the bed on her back with a muted thud.

Domhnall wondered what she was seeing, especially once the screams started.

WBMAM excerpt 003

Rating: M

It was two AM and he was sitting in a bar in Rilth, once again. Judah sat beside him, imitating Pilot’s hunkered down posture and glum expression. It was a rare occurrence in their adulthood to mirror each other so closely.

“I’ll watch over Eden,” Judah said, unprompted, and even Pilot struggled to tell if his intentions were sincere, though it was his inclination to distrust his brother that won out. Years of experience told him when to put up walls with Judah. Gauging the rare occurrence his brother opted to be anything besides self-centered was a less practiced skill.

Sincere or not, Pilot had expected such a statement. To agree to it would be to allow Judah the opportunity to weasel his way into Eden’s day to day life, try and charm her when she was vulnerable. Frustration that he even had to consider such a possibility about his own brother overwhelmed him, momentarily, but was pressed out of mind again as the looming day of his departure took the spotlight. “Eden isn’t my house,” he said, “she’s not something I need to hire a sitter for while I’m gone.”

“She still needs someone looking out for her,” Judah said, and his tone was suspiciously non-combative.

“No,” Pilot said, a genuine laugh breaking off his sentence early. “She definitely does not.” He tried to keep the smirk from his face as he recalled a night, years ago, when he’d come home to discover the apartment had been broken into. Eden, all five-foot-ten of her, had walked away untouched.

The briefest flicker of indignation caused Judah’s nostrils to flare. He said, “There’s no way she’s prepared for all the enemies you’ve made who will definitely come after her once they hear you’re not around.”

Pilot, still recalling the night Eden had beaten and tied up four trained mercs by herself, knew Judah was wrong. “Eden can handle herself,” he said, a stern edge lining his tone.

Judah’s shoulders visibly tensed as he fought his own nature in order to try and get his way. “You’re leaving her unprotected. I won’t sit idly by while something happens to her in your absence.”

Pilot bit his tongue, knowing that calling Judah out on his true intentions would get them nowhere.

As if Judah could sense that he was losing his opportunity to win Pilot over with his offer, he added, “And what if you don’t come back?”

It was always Judah who brought the most somber, unwanted part of the conversation to the forefront. What did he expect Pilot to say to that? To assure him that nothing could possibly go wrong? He frowned and did nothing to conceal it. “What option do I have, Jude? Eden is not going to go for you following her around, and I don’t think there’s a damn thing you could do to protect her that she can’t do herself.”

“Why not run?” Judah gestured flippantly, continuing, his voice rising a little with every word. “For once in your life, let yourself be scared and just fucking run.”

ITPOGAM excerpt 001

Rating: M

Listen up.

Close your eyes and picture this: you push open a tall glass door. It’s heavy but moves easily for you. Mahogany chairs reflect the shift of light back at you. Heels clank on the mahogany floor and the sounds echo around you for a succession of long heartbeats. You can hear someone set their coffee on the side table. Across the room, a soft rustle as someone turns a page in a book. This is the world around you and it is so loud and so vivid and so full that sometimes you forget just how quiet it can be. You used to get overwhelmed, but you don’t anymore; you’ve gotten used to it and now you only start to lose control of yourself around certain things.

We won’t get into that here.

You continue to walk further into the foyer, the scent of danishes and black coffee and too much perfume assault your nostrils, but you keep going deeper into the crowded territory of the barista’s counter. You order the same thing you always order, and the barista knows it as well as you do – so ordering is not so much a series of movements you make with your mouth that form sounds, as it is two grown adults making eye contact until one nods in approval and the other nods in agreement, and their gazes part like a fork in the road.

You snatch two packs of pistachio biscotti and take your usual seat against the far wall, a worn leather lounge chair with chips in the, once polished, mahogany frame. A tinted window to your right flickers with motion outside. The crinkle of the plastic wrapper is riotously loud to you, but you ignore it. It is only background noise. You eat the first piece in one pack before your order appears, carried by one of the servers you never bothered to get to know, and left in silence on the mahogany table beside you. Everything in this building is mahogany, formica, and glass. Now, you dip the second biscotti into the coffee, watch it soak up the dark color and soften. You chomp down on the soaked end and dip again. You toss the piece of moist biscotti into your mouth and chew.

The door opens and a new pair of heels clinks on the glossy hardwood floor. The telling psithurism of lace panties against a cotton skirt. You can smell her before any of this, as if all other scents in a hundred yards had been erased and all that remained was the warm, fleshy scent of her. As far as your instincts are concerned, there is nothing else that exists save for her. The barista is dead. The woman that brought you your coffee? Dead.

Dead or soon will be, if they try to prevent you from your sudden and blinding new objective.

But you’ve gotten better than those low, base instincts. You’ve earned better control of yourself. You think, I could incapacitate them all. I don’t have to kill them. What are they besides mortals, anyway?

You think, I’m a God compared to them.

Instead, you take a sip of your coffee. The bitterness cleanses your mouth, washes some of the poison down into your stomach where it roars in response to your stomach acid. The discomfort is a good thing. It is your anchor back into control. A rope you can use to haul yourself back over the edge, onto the earth again and out of the waters of instinct, and sink your roots back into the soil.

You are better than all of it.

You take another sip of coffee.

Excerpt 002 from WBMAM

Rating: M

“How did you find me here?”  It was sweltering in the claustrophobic sauna, but Judah’s tone remained a block of ice, untouched by the heat.

Pilot tilted his head sideways somewhat to peer around his brother to check on the woman from the front desk, who was twisting the belt of a robe around her waist, her motions hurried and angry. When she looked up at him, it was only to scowl as she snapped at the two of them, “I better get back to work,” before she left. The automatic door closed behind her with a soft whoosh. He felt for her – he certainly hadn’t intended to lead her on so far, and he felt guilty for not realizing how much their flirting had insinuated to her.

“The same way I always find you, Judah,” Pilot answered, settling his hands on his thighs to rub them on the fabric of the robe. He was reaching a point in his body temperature where he was passing discomfort and would soon feel queasy.

“Didn’t you get the hint, Pilot?”

He kept the wince to himself and shrugged. “I’d hoped maybe you were half dead in a ditch somewhere.”

Judah’s expression went from mildly irritated to hostile. “Very funny.”

Pilot laughed, and it was choppy and forced and it brought him more pain than it did Judah. “Yeah,” he said, “Like leaving your brother at the airport to walk over 30 kilometers in the torrential rain. Good jokes.”

Judah’s mouth formed a hard line and Pilot saw himself. Their anger was identical. “So what do you want, then?” Judah crossed his arms over his chest, signifying to Pilot that Judah had shut out any sympathy he may have been feeling.

“I was just making sure you weren’t dead, but I see now that you were hoping I was.”

Excerpt 001 from WBMAM

Rating: M

Pilot had just finished setting up the bar when she sauntered over from the control panel inside the interior helm.  The heavy sunlight of near sunset cast a glow about her that set off her eyes.  Propping her elbows on the glass bartop, Eden leaned in close and, if he hadn’t heard it himself he would not have believed it, she purred, “So what’s the bartender special?”

This fucking woman was going to ruin him. The riot of pterodactyls in his chest threatened to break free and take his pounding heart with them. How was he supposed to respond? With one of the countless sexual innuendo drink names? With something clever and previously unclaimed? With something she might actually drink? Surely, staring at her wine-stained lips wasn’t the solution, but, by Gods, it was easy to forget about everything else while he did. The image of the sun kissing her earlier that afternoon, so close to him that he could – unless his memory was carrying him away – feel her heartbeat thrumming against his own.

Maybe he shouldn’t even try to make her drink. He didn’t know with any kind of certainty that his hands would cooperate.

Against his better judgment, his mouth said the first drink that came to mind: “Have you ever had a London Fog?” Just pleased it wasn’t a bad innuendo that it made him want to throw up, he counted it as a success.

“I’ll take one,” she said, reaching forward to snatch a chunk of pineapple from the chilled compartment.

After he made the drinks, they slid into some lounge chairs and watched as the sun began to set. Over the ocean, the colors were more vivid and staggering than any he’d ever seen from shore. “So where are we going?”

Those lips curled upward, again, and he knew he would not get an answer. “You’ll see.”

“You’ve already got me on the yacht. You still can’t tell me?” It had been a long time since he’d felt so lighthearted.

She laughed, almost sloshing her drink over the edge of the glass. “The secret isn’t what got you on this yacht, Pilot Gallo, and you know it.”

She had him, there. He did know it.

Excerpt 001 from PHEA

Rating: G, for all audiences.

Freya moved through the underbrush like a shadow spilling along the soil. Above the canopy, stars poked through the inky black sky only rarely. The small stones and twigs beneath the pads of her feet were cool but her thick coat kept her warm. She slinked along that way for a while, barely a whisper of fur mostly, until, all at once, a sudden blur of coppery motion as she darted between bushes.

Anticipation shivered up her spine and stirred at the hair follicles along the way. Her adrenaline coursed through her, spiking up her pulse rate. In the smallness of her fox body, the thrumming was loud.

Ahead, just through the thick growth of trees, she could see the illumination of the palace. The locals affectionately called it the Purple Palace, but for Freya, it was only the location of her target. Inside the towering walls, buried deep in the labyrinthine corridors of the vault in the basement, was a very particular chunk of orgonite.

A few feet before the trees began to spread apart, Freya stopped, scratched at a tickle on her snout with one paw, and shifted her self-image into human form. As soon as the visual formed in her mind’s eye, she felt her body respond to it, stretching, shedding, cracking in some places. It felt like letting out a breath of air she’d been holding in too long while popping all the joints in her body simultaneously. Not all shifters enjoyed the transition, but Freya did.

Brushing any loose dirt or fur off her skirt, she walked out from the trees and into the open night air.

Excerpt 001 from TWK

Rating: M, for some language.

The funeral was cold and merciless. Strangers stood around the room and talked among themselves. She stood, solitary, by his ashes, staring at the countdown. She couldn’t bear to lift her gaze to the sky bursting with light from thousands of stars; all it made her think of was loss, of the distance now between herself and all of her family. Soon, her father would be just another flicker of light out there in the great expanse of space, and she wasn’t ready.

A shadow appeared in her periphery, followed within seconds by a voice. “I’m sorry I’m late.”

It doesn’t matter,” Aspen answered, her voice gravel-thick and cold.

Yes, it does,” he said, “and I’m sorry.” Fingers grazed hers but she brushed his hand away.

Really,” she said, “It doesn’t.”

He was quiet for a moment; she could hear him adjust his suit coat, anxious that she had shrugged off his attempt at making up. “Don’t you want to know where I was?”

She finally looked at him, mostly in shock, as if she couldn’t fathom how he could be so dumb. “For the last week? Do you think I care where you were?” Inwardly, she reminded herself not to become a spectacle. No need to cause a scene in front of a bunch of business executives and old friends of her father. No need to be that daughter. Whether she was in mourning or not would hardly be taken into consideration.

I know I was supposed to pick you up from the airport, Aspen, but I was stuck at the office.” He crossed his arms over his chest in the way that told her he was not going to be wrong, here. His blond hair fell into his face, barely breaking up the orchid-leaf green of his eyes. “I’m sorry.”

You’re sorry for an awful lot of things, Nash, but this is the first time I’ve seen or heard from you since before I landed back in the States. I’m starting to think I was better off with radio silence.”

What’s that supposed to mean, Aspen? C’mon,” he stepped toward her and she fought the urge to back away. She couldn’t leave her father’s ashes; it was troublesome enough that now Nash stood between she and the urn.

Instead, she stepped forward. “You can go crawl back under whatever rock you’ve been hiding, Nash,” she stepped again, this time to the side, turning herself back to face the room. “You’re capable of letting yourself out, aren’t you?”

Is this really how you’re going to break up with me? At your dad’s funeral?”

If what you call breaking up is you showing up uninvited to my father’s funeral after an entire week of complete silence, and being asked to leave, then yes. I’m breaking up with you. Now get out,” she snarled, low, under her breath, “before I have you escorted out.”

You’re a fucking –“

Bitch,” she said, for him. “I know. Get out.”

The countdown tinged and she turned, as fast as she could, to rest her hand on the urn one last time. It moved, her fingertips dragging over it, lifted up into the shoot, and was launched. Through the domed glass ceiling, she could watch it cut through the sky. A tiny streak of silver, and then, nothing.

She cried all of that night, again, and went to sleep sometime in the early dawn with fitful dreams.