Mystery at the Dog Park Part 4 of 7: Flash Fiction Friday Post

Bowen – Available for adoption now from:
Annie Bamber
Outreach Programs Coordinator
(928) 474-5590 ext. 100
annie@humanesocietycentralaz.org
www.humanesocietycentralaz.org
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“Because They Matter”

Part 4 of 7. You can find Part 1 here. Part 2 here. Part 3 here.

 

“See you then.” Jean hung up and got up to put the water on to boil. Karen would want a cup of tea when she came.

They took their tea out to the patio where Karen read what Jean had written. “Hmm.” She dunked the teabag in her cup. “A good list. But I had a different idea.”

“What’s that?”

“We ask Summer and the kids if they know about it.”

“About dog fighting?”

Karen nodded. “Summer still has those links to her old life. She may be able to find out.”

Jean chewed her lower lip. “It won’t get her in trouble, will it?”

“I don’t think so. If she thinks it will, we won’t let her do it.”

“Okay. When she gets home from school, we’ll ask.”

Karen grinned. “Good. Finish your tea and get your hiking boots on. We’re going to go out looking for Sandy again.”

“I’m good with that.” Jean fished her teabag out of her mug.

They spent the hot, sunny morning traipsing around every pond, pool of water and stream bed with water in it but no Sandy. “It’s not looking good, Karen.”

“True.” Karen wiped the sweat from her forehead. The car unlocked and she got inside. “Ahh. Feels good to get off my feet.”

“Yep.” Jean cranked the air conditioner. The car was stifling. “Ready for lunch?”

“I am. Dog hunting is hungry work.”

Jean laughed. “Okay. Where to?”

“Sammy’s? We were just at the Highway Diner.”

“Sounds good to me.”

At the diner, they discussed garden clean-up for the end of the year until their food arrived. As they ate, they could overhear four men in the back-corner booth.

“Yeah, it was a good take last week but we need better dogs.”

Jean froze, fork halfway to her mouth and she stared at a wide-eyed Karen. She started to turn to see the men when Jean put her hand on Karen’s arm and shook her head. Karen nodded. They listened, Jean’s eyes on the table.

“You gotta get bigger dogs. Those 30 pounders just don’t cut it. The people want to see big dogs fighting it out.”

“They’re the warm-up rounds. They get bets.”

“No, they don’t. No one bets till the big dogs come out.”

One of the men lowered his voice. Jean couldn’t make out the words. It must have been a joke because at the end they all laughed. She realized she had a death grip on her fork, her nails had dug cuts into the palm of her hand.

“I’ve got a guy comin’ Saturday. He’s got a Rottweiler that will take out Morgan’s German shepherd for sure.”

“No way.”

“Way. You wait and see.”

“I gotta get back to work. You boys keep it clean.”

They all laughed and got up from their booth. Jean and Karen pretended to eat as they passed. It wasn’t until the men paid and left the building that Jean dared to breathe. “Oh, my God!”

Karen nodded, face white as her napkin. “They just talked about it like it was no big deal.”

“We need to find out where the ring is. Saturday is in two days.” Jean dabbed at the cuts on her palm with her napkin dipped in her glass of water.

“Do we tell Paul?”

“What do you think?”

“I think we should. These are not nice guys.”

Jean nodded despite wanting to track it down. “When he gives us his missing dog report, we’ll tell him.”

She picked up the check the waitress had left on the table. “I’m not hungry. Are you?”

Karen shook her head. “Not anymore.”

“Good. Let’s go.”

When they got to Jean’s house, the phone was ringing. She dashed to pick it up. “Hello?”

“Jean, it’s Paul Oliver.”

“Hey Paul.” Jean waved Karen over. “I’m putting you on speaker so Karen can hear. Okay, go ahead.”

“Glad I caught you two together. Let me say, I didn’t realize there were so many missing dogs.”

“How many?” Jean asked as she nodded to Karen.

“Just this year, fifty-three. All kinds of dogs.”

“That’s more than one a week, Paul!” Karen said.

“It is. Here’s what gets me. Many of these reports say they don’t know how the dog got lost. They were in a secure back yard or in a kennel in the back yard or like your missing dog, at the dog park. I went over to the dog park and checked out the fence. No dog is getting through there.”

“Dog-napping. Margaret over at the Humane Society was telling us. The thieves dress like workers, walk right into the yard and take the dogs. No one pays any attention to those vans parked in the neighborhoods.”

“I’ll talk to Margaret. I thought you two were being over-dramatic.”

“Not this time,” Karen gave Jean a glance. “We have some more news for you.”

They could hear him sigh. “What is it?”

“We overheard four men at Sammy’s diner at lunch. They were talking about dog fighting.”

The line was silent for a moment. “In what way?”

“Like there was a fight last Saturday, with betting. One of the men said the betting could be heavier. He has a guy coming this Saturday with a Rottweiler that would take out the current reigning German Shepherd.” Karen looked to Jean, who nodded.

After a pause, “You don’t know the men?”

“No,” Jean said. “We did our best not to draw attention to ourselves.”

“Probably for the best. Don’t you two go sticking your noses into that. These guys are dangerous.”

Karen nodded.

“Do you hear me? I’m taking this to Nick. He will not like it if you two get involved.”

“Okay, Paul.” Jean rolled her eyes.

“I hear you,” Karen said.

“Good. I’ll email the report on the missing dogs to you. There’s nothing classified about it.”

“Thanks, Paul.”

They hung up.

“Well. Isn’t that a fine thing. We bring him this news and he shuts us out.”

“Don’t you think we’ve been attacked enough?”

“I suppose.” She put the phone back in the cradle. “But let’s see what Summer can find out, anyway.”

 

 

Thank You!

1023 Words

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Mystery at the Dog Park Part 2 of 7: Flash Fiction Friday Post

Azula: Available for adoption now from:
Annie Bamber
Outreach Programs Coordinator
(928) 474-5590 ext. 100
annie@humanesocietycentralaz.org
www.humanesocietycentralaz.org
Like us on Facebook:
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“Because They Matter”

If you’ll notice, the picture illustrating this week’s serial section is of a local dog, Azula, currently at the Humane Society awaiting her furever home. The next 5 sections will also feature one of the many dogs awaiting a home. If you’re looking for a new member of the family, please consider contacting the Humane Society.

 

Part 2 of 7  See Part 1 here.

 

After lunch, Jean and Karen drove over to the radio station instead of calling. In the office they talked to the secretary, Barbara.

“Dogs for sale?” Barbara asked.

“Yes.” Jean showed her the lost dog flyer. “We’re trying to find this dog. The Humane Society told us there’s a market for stolen dogs and that they get sold through the newspaper and radio, sometimes. So we thought we’d look.

Barbara’s eyebrows went up. “I had no idea.”

“Us either.”

“Let me look.” She pulled up a list on her computer. “No.” She shook her head. “No dogs for sale. Sorry.”

Jean saw the woman slump a little, then she brightened. “Let me make a copy of the flyer. I’ll keep my eyes open for an ad that resembles the dog.”

Jean handed her the flyer. “Thank you.”

When they left, Karen propped her arm on the window and tapped her fingers. “Why don’t we do the same thing at the paper. Go over and give them a copy of the flyer and have them keep an eye out for a dog sale?”

“Good idea.” Jean grinned. “We can get the whole town looking for the dog.”

After they finished at the paper, Jean drove Karen home. “Maybe the dog is really just lost. Keep your eyes open for Sandy on your walk, tonight.”

Karen got out and held the door open as she leaned in. “Sure. You too. If she did wander off she could be anywhere by now.”

“Talk to you tomorrow.”

Karen nodded and closed the door.

At home, Jean stood and looked out of her garage door. It was late summer and hot. If Sandy was lost, she was going to be thirsty. There were a few water sources, ponds and such, in town. If the dog was going to be anywhere, it should be around the water. She went inside and closed the door. Something to do with Karen tomorrow.

#

The next day they hiked around every pond and stream in town. After a long, hot morning, they stopped at the Highway Diner to eat. Jean bought a paper from the newspaper box despite the fact she knew one was lying in her driveway. She opened it to the want ads and skimmed the page. “Darn. No dog.”

Karen sipped her iced tea. “Well, Margaret did say thieves wouldn’t advertise to sell a dog in its own area.” She sighed. “The dog is probably gone.”

Jean nodded. “Probably down in Phoenix or even Tucson by now.”

“Maybe the police have a handle on this. We should check with Nick.”

“I like checking the police department but I don’t think the Chief of Police is going to be aware of every lost dog report in town.” Jean thought he’d laugh himself silly at them.

Karen shrugged. “Then we’ll ask Paul. He’s not so prickly as Nick is. Anyway, they owe us for helping them with the last murder.”

Jean laughed. “I don’t think getting beaten up by a crazy woman counts as helping.”

“You know what I mean.” Karen laughed too.

“Sure. We can stop by there after lunch and see if Paul can help us out.”

#

At the police department, Lieutenant Paul Oliver came to the window to talk to them. “You want what?”

“We want to see a report on the number of missing dog reports you have.” Karen told him.

He raised an eyebrow. “We don’t track that.”

“You should,” Jean said. “The Humane Society said it’s becoming a problem.”

“Lost dogs?”

“No, stolen dogs. The owners just don’t realize the dogs aren’t lost, they’re stolen.”

Paul rubbed a hand over his sandy-brown crew cut. “Sounds nuts but let me dig around. I’ll let you know.”

Jean and Karen both grinned at him. “Thanks, Paul,” Karen said.

“Talk to Margaret over at the Humane Society. She has the whole story.”

“I’ll do that.”

Jean and Karen left. Jean felt pretty good as they walked to the car. “That’s progress, don’t you think?”

“I do. Paul has always been a good guy. If there’s something, he’ll find it.”

“But what do we do now?” Jean got in the car and clicked the lock to unlock the door for Karen.

Karen got in and put on her seat belt. “How about animal control? We could call them and ask questions.”

“I like it. Your house or mine?”

“Mine. I’ve got a roast in the crockpot I want to check.”

“Fair enough. Let’s go.”

At Karen’s, it took only a second for her to check on her food. She brought the phone book over to the kitchen table with the phone handset and sat down. “Glad I made fresh iced tea this morning.”

Jean nodded. She’d already drank half of her glass. “Me too. I’ve started making fruit water.”

“Fruit water?”

“Yeah, a two-quart pitcher of water, some apple slices, or mint, or lemon, or orange or a mix. Let it set for a bit. Then drink whenever. I get tired of iced tea all the time.” Jean wiped condensation from the glass onto a napkin.

“That’s a great idea. I’ll have to try that.” Karen opened the phone book to the page with town listings. She ran her finger down the page. “Here they are, Animal Control.” She dialed the number and put it on speaker.

 

Thank You!

899 Words

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Mystery at the Dog Park 1 of 7: Flash Fiction Friday Post

Little Dog by Randy Cockrell

Hi,

I had this idea for a Jean Hays story but it wasn’t enough of a story for even a novelette so I’ve decided to make it a serial short story. Not every section is 1000 words or less. Some run over to 1200 but I didn’t think you all would mind too much.

I hope you enjoy it.

Mystery at the Dog Park

Part 1 of 7

Jean pulled the leash around her body as the lab-pitbull mix lunged forward.

“She’s giving you a run today.” Karen laughed

“It’s not funny.” Jean puffed. The dog was wearing her out. “Can’t wait to get to the dog park and let her run.”

“I hear ya.” Karen stopped to untangle the two Chihuahuas and the Yorkie mix she was walking.

They arrived at the park and herded the dogs through the gate. Karen took her dogs to the small dog enclosure while Jean let her dog loose in the large dog area. They stood next to each other on opposite sides of the fence to talk as the dogs played.

A woman left the group of dog owners at the picnic table provided and came over to them. She handed them a flyer with a picture of her caramel colored cockapoo, Sandy. “Have you seen my dog?”

Jean took the flyer and held it so Karen could see. “No.” She shook her head. “I’m sorry. I haven’t.”

Karen shook her head, too. “No. How long has she been gone?”

“Since yesterday.” The woman sniffed, eyes red, as she scanned the area. “I was talking with the usual people yesterday,” she waved her hand at the group around the table, “while Sandy and the other dogs played. Then, she was just gone when I looked for her.” Her voice quavered. “I don’t know how she got out of the dog park.”

“We’re walking the humane society dogs,” Jean explained. “But we’ll keep an eye out for Sandy.”

Shoulders slumped, the woman nodded. “That’s my number on the bottom. Call anytime if you find her.”

“We will,” Karen said. “Good luck.” They watched her shuffle back to the table. “How awful. I wonder what happened?”

After hearing the woman’s story, Jean looked for her dog, Arthur. She spotted him chasing a squirrel on a tree trunk around and around the tree. It looked to her that the squirrel was teasing the dog on purpose. “It’s not a big dog, probably got through a hole in the fence.”

Karen turned around to watch the dogs she brought. The Chihuahua’s were chasing each other while the Yorkie dug a hole. “Poor woman. I hope the dog doesn’t get caught by a coyote or a hawk. One of my neighbors lost her little dog when an eagle swooped in and plucked it right out of the backyard.”

Jean’s eyes went wide. “That sucks.”

Karen nodded. “Yep.”

Back at the humane society, the women turned the dogs in. It broke Jean’s heart to make Arthur get back in the kennel. They stopped in the office. “Margaret,” Jean pulled the flyer from her pocket and unfolded it. “Have you seen this dog come in?” She handed the shelter manager the paper.

Margaret looked at the picture and shook her head. “Nope. Poor little thing. I had a call from this woman this morning.” She sighed. “I told her to do the flyers. And talk to the neighbors around the park. What I didn’t tell her was that the dog may have been stolen.”

“Stolen? Who would do that?” Jean asked.

Margaret handed the flyer back to Jean. “People who then sell the dog on Craig’s list or in a newspaper ad.”

“Oh no!” Karen looked horrified.

“Yep.” Margaret went back to her desk. “Happens all the time in the bigger cities but we’ve been seeing it more and more up here. There’s a market, especially for little dogs like that one. And the bad guys just scoop up the little ones when no one is looking.”

“They don’t take big dogs?” Jean leaned on the counter.

“Oh, they do. They’ll disguise themselves as handymen or maintenance people and take dogs right out of their backyards. No one pays any attention to those guys coming or going in the neighborhood. Purebred dogs are the target, German Shepherds, Labs of any sort, those kinds of dogs.”

“That happens here?” Jean couldn’t believe that people would just go into someone’s backyard and take another person’s pet.

“Not that one, so much. That’s more in the big cities, too. Also, they disguise themselves as animal control and knock on the door. They tell the owners that a complaint of abuse has been filed and they’re taking the dog under protective custody. They show the owner some sort of legal looking document. In confusion and fear, they hand the dog over planning to go to court and get it straightened out but it’s too late. The dog and the thieves are long gone.

“I would be so ticked!” Karen said.

“Me too. Isn’t there anything that can be done?” Jean asked.

“Not usually. They don’t advertise the dog in the area where it was stolen from so you can’t even check the paper or anything to try and find it.”

“How awful.”

Margaret nodded. “Yep. Unfortunately, little Sandy, there,” she nodded at the flyer in Jean’s hand, “wasn’t microchipped. If she had been, there would be some chance of finding her.”

Jean and Karen said their good-byes and left. “Who knew there was a market for stolen dogs?” Jean drove them both to lunch as was their habit after their turn at walking the humane society inmates.

“I had no idea. I mean, you see dogs up for sale in the paper and on the radio all the time. It never occurred to me they might be stolen.”

“Let’s grab a paper and see if there are any dogs for sale in there.”

Karen nodded. “Good idea. Though the current paper came out Friday and Sandy was stolen yesterday. Tomorrow’s paper would be a better bet.”

“You’re right. Tomorrow we’ll look. In the meantime, let’s call the radio station and see what they have on their ads.”

“Great idea. After lunch though. My tummy’s growling.”

 

Thank You!

974 Words

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A Little Magic: Flash Fiction Friday Post

Camp Fire by Kiaraz via DeviantArt.com

I just needed a little magic. Just a little. Enough to get the fire started, get the room warm, maybe to save my mother. I heard her moan from her pallet along the wall. I rearranged the wet wood in the fireplace. If I could just get the wood to burn. I could make a little soup, a cup of tea, anything to warm her up. Me too, to be honest.

She moaned again. I knew she had a fever. If the soldiers had just left any of my brothers or sisters behind I wouldn’t be in this fix. But they took all of the people with magic abilities off to fight the war. Father had been taken a year ago. Yesterday, they came for the rest. The wailing and screaming in the village had been horrific. My stomach roiled just thinking about it as I struggled to light the fire.

“Come on.” I willed my shaking hands to strike the flint against the steel but they were too cold. My sister Hilda would have just held her hand over the tiny pile of kindling and it would have burst into flame. A year younger than me she always gave me a hug when she made the fire. It was my job, but she knew I didn’t have any magic. A tear ran down my face. And now she was gone, along with my littlest sister, Maggie, and my big brothers, Todd and Edward. All gone. Dragged away to fight even though Maggie was only eight.

My hands shook more, with anger this time. How were we supposed to plow the fields or plant the crops with so many villagers gone? I glared at the tiny pile in the fireplace, gripping the flint until it cut my hand. The wood smoked then burst into flame. I rocked back from my squat and sat hard on the floor, staring. The flame began to die down and I scrambled to my feet to feed the tiny fire twigs, then sticks, then wood. I piled the wood on, uncaring if I set the house on fire or not. Mother would be warm, at least tonight. I set the kettle on the hob and put the pot on the hook, filled it with water and the jerky and vegetables I’d already prepared. I put two pinches of salt in the pot, unconcerned with where more salt would come from.

Another pot went next to the fire and I filled it with water to warm. Clean water to wipe mother’s face and hands. As I tended her, I finally allowed myself to think about the fire. The mage yesterday took one look at me and passed me by even as the soldiers were dragging my brothers and sisters out of the house. Mother cried out from her sick bed and it broke my heart. There was nothing she could do. She didn’t have any more magic than I did. But, I did have magic. I started a fire!

How had I done it? I just remembered feeling angry. So angry. Rage, that’s what it was. Rage against the king and his stupid war. Rage against the mage and the soldiers. Rage against my mother’s sickness. The water in the bowl I was dipping the rag into began to boil. I dropped the rag into the water and blinked. The water calmed but was hot.

I put the bowl on the table and wrapped my arms around myself. I’d never been so angry before in my life. I did have magic but just a little. I used both hands to wipe the tears from my eyes. So little magic I was of no use to the King but here, well, here I was of use. I wondered how many of the other villagers had tiny sparks of magic?

The next morning I went door to door and asked the remaining people. They shook their heads but I could see in their eyes that they were going to try. The priest, so old that the mage and the soldiers left him behind even though he did have magic, patted me on the shoulder.

“Child. Be careful. Don’t let that rage take over just for a bit of magic.”

He was a fool. All I had left was rage. Hadn’t the King’s men dragged off more than three quarters of our village? “Who will do the plowing and planting, priest? Me? I’m twelve. Mother is sick. The rest of the village is in the same shape I am. Too young, too old, too sick. We’ll starve.”

His eyes filled with tears as he nodded. “True, child. But rage will burn you up.”

“Maybe.” I turned and left.

Mother died not long after I found my rage. It was a hard year. I grew hard with it. We worked together, we survivors. We plowed and planted. We learned to hunt and forage. Winter killed many of us but at the next spring we that remained were stronger. I was leader, even though I was only just come into my womanhood. We gathered wood, nurtured our tiny magics, made plans.

The King lost his war. The new King’s soldiers came through and saw the pitiful remnant we were and went away. We grew stronger. We had children. We made contacts throughout the land with others like us. We hid our tiny magics until it was time. Then we attacked. The mages first, then the new king and his lords. It didn’t take long. They underestimated us. We had no great magic.

I was named Leader, I refused to be called Queen. Many wanted to kill everyone with magic. I said no. Would we kill ourselves? I set the cleverest of us to creating weapons that needed no magic. We would be ready when and if the time came, magic or not.

 

Thank You!

981 Words

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Rain Wet Earth: Flash Fiction Friday Post

Yard River by Randy Cockrell

A monsoon storm blew in. Great dark clouds piled up over the escarpment and filled the sky, spilling down into the valley. Rumbles of thunder and flashes of lightning punctuated the now dark day. The air began to cool—a relief from the heat and humidity.

Rain began to fall. Fat, heavy drops coming one at a time, then the sky opened and water gushed down as though from a fire hose. The gullies and gutters filled and overflowed. I watched from my window, closed against the wind-whipped water. It was over in a few minutes and I stepped out of my front door. The smell of rain wet earth drifted by as the sun broke through the racing clouds and made me want to go camping.

My husband came out and put his arm around my shoulders. “That didn’t last long.”

“Never does. I feel like going camping.”

He nodded. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

“The camping box is ready. We just need to load it and the tent into the car and get some groceries.”

A grin spread across his face. “No plan? Just go?”

“Yes. A few days in the outdoors will do us both good.”

I got a squeeze. “Sure. Why not. Let’s go camping!”

The still wet pine in the front yard sparkled like Christmas in the sunlight as I turned to go inside to pack. The scent of rain wet earth followed me into the house.

 

Thank You!

243 Words

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Brigands in the Woods: Flash Fiction Friday Post

Box by Connie Cockrell

Lord Belsing closed his book as he heard his coachmen yelling, “Whoa!” What was this? It was still half a day to Lord Releh’s castle. He heard the Captain of the Guard shouting orders. Belsing pulled the curtains and stuck his head out of the carriage window

He saw guards lined up on either side of the carriage, six more were ranked across the road in front of the carriage horses, Captain Udon in the front. Beyond him were masked men, highway men from the look of them.

“Give us your gold,” the lead highwayman said. “No one will be harmed.”

Captain Udon’s horse danced, the Captain brought the horse back into line without effort. “Be off with you, brigand. You’ll get no gold from us.” He moved his hand to his sword hilt.

The brigand eyed the Captain then the carriage. “Those are Lord Belsing’s colors, Captain. He has enough to share. We’ll spare you, your men and the lord if you accede to our demands.”

“Fancy talk for a thief,” the Captain snarled. “Ready!” he called.

The guards drew their swords. The guard beside Lord Belsing’s window said, “Better get inside, my lord.”

Belsing thought not. He was on his way to propose to Lady Nyesta Releh and wanted this business done and without bloodshed. He was about to get out of the carriage when he heard rustling. He looked into the woods. There, men came out from behind tree trunks and boulders, all ready to fire their bows. They outnumbered the guard five to one. He opened the carriage door and descended.

“Gentlemen,” he called.

Captain Udon didn’t turn around. “Please return to the carriage, My Lord. I’ll deal with this scum.

Belsing strode to the Captain and addressed the brigand. “Sir. Would three purses of gold satisfy you?”

The brigand laughed. “I can see the chests in your supply wagon. You carry more than three purses of gold.”

Belsing sighed. He didn’t want to treat with this man at all. “May I have your name, Sir, since you so clearly know mine.”

The brigand gave a jaunty salute. “Iristan, My Lord. Prince of the woodlands.”

“I’ve heard of you, Prince Iristan. You’re causing a great deal of trouble on the roads.”

Iristan bowed. “Thank you, My Lord. Now, if we could have at your supply wagon.”

Captain Udon drew his sword. “Hold, ruffian. Or you will meet my sword.”

Iristan laughed. He flicked his hand. A circle of arrows hit the ground encircling the Captain’s horse.

Belsing jumped as three of the arrows whizzed past him.

Iristan patted his horse on the neck to sooth it. “You are surrounded and outnumbered. There is no need for you or your men to die today.”

Belsing raised his hand. “Hold Captain. Let us walk back to the supply wagon with Prince Iristan.”

“My Lord!” The Captain began.

“Come, Prince.” Belsing waved to the brigand. “Let us complete this business and we’ll be on our way.”

“By your leave, My Lord.”

Belsing marched back to the wagon and stopped next to the driver. Iristan rode behind him and the Captain followed as half of Iristan’s men came out of the woods to the road. “There,” Belsing said. “The chests of gold are marked. Please leave the rest.”

Iristan made a small gesture and his men came forward. Two men jumped up into the open wagon and hauled the small chests to the back and handed them down to their fellows. “Take just four,” Iristan called to his men. “After all, Lord Belsing must pay his way on his journey.”

Belsing was relieved at that. While he was a Lord, gold didn’t grow on trees and he didn’t have much compared to the other Lords. Udon grumbled under his breath.

Iristan rode up to the wagon and looking in. He picked up a highly-polished box, hinges, clasps and corners capped with fine brass and inlayed with mother of pearl in a swirling leaf design. “This, I’ll keep for myself.”

“No!” Belsing leapt forward. “You cannot have that.”

Iristan wheeled his horse around, box still in his hand. “Why not?”

Belsing swallowed to calm himself. “That is a gift for Lady Releh. A…a proposal gift.”

Iristan laughed. “Men! Lord Belsing is going to propose!” They all laughed. He looked back to Belsing. “What’s in the box?”

Beside him, Belsing could see Captain Udon’s sword rise. “Please. It’s a very rare tea. Grown in China. I’ve had men gone for two years to bring it to me for this gift.”

“A great treasure then.” Iristan put the box in his lap. “What say you, men? Should we give the Lord his tea back?”

Some good naturedly shouted yes, some no. Belsing’s stomach clenched. The Lady was known to love tea. He wanted the box back. “Man-to-man, Prince, return the Lady’s gift.”

Iristan looked around him. Belsing could see his eyes dancing with merriment. “It would be cruel to send the Lord to his proposal with no gift.” Iristan handed the box to Belsing. “Take it and good fortune.”

Before Belsing could respond, Iristan whistled. His men scurried into the woods on all sides and disappeared as Iristan and his mounted riders galloped away, down the road Belsing had just traveled.

Captain Udon shouted, “About! Follow those men!”

“No!” Belsing called. “We proceed to Lord Releh’s castle.”

“My Lord!” Udon pleaded.

“It’s a waste of time. The men on horseback will have already melted into the forest with the rest of the men. You’ll not find them.”

“We need to clear the King’s Way of this rabble.”

“We do.” Belsing sighed and walked to his carriage door. “But not today. Let’s go.”

With poor grace the Captain called his men into marching order and the carriage moved on. Belsing stroked the smooth surface of the box, tracing the mother of pearl. Yes. We’ll catch up with the Prince of the Forest. But first, I’ll propose to Lady Nyesta.

 

Thank You!

998 Words

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Spring is Coming: Flash Fiction Friday Post

Lake Thaw, Sacandaga Lake, Fulton County, NY by Randy Cockrell

Free from my nurse and my Lord mother’s demand to learn needle work, I hurried to my room and changed into riding gear. In the stables, I saddled Dawn, my uhlans, as the stable master eyed me.

“And where are you going?”

“Hunting.”

His eyebrow rose. “Spring is coming. Who are you going with?”

“No one. I want to get out of the castle and breathe the cold air.”

He watched as I fastened my bow to the saddle and my spear. “A lot of gear for a ride.”

I wagged my eyebrows back at him. “You never know what you’ll run into.”

“Hmm,” was his response. “I’ll send Ben with you.”

Ben was his son. He was a good companion. “Sure. Where is he?”

The stable master whistled and Ben hurried through the stable door. “Papa?”

“Saddle up and go with Lady Zung.”

Ben gave me a quick wink as he hurried to saddle his mount. I noticed he packed weapons as well. The same age, fourteen, we learned to hunt together and I was glad to have him along.

We rode out. His father called out behind us. “Be careful. The ice is melting.”

I waved and kicked Dawn into a cantor as we reached the gate.

Two hours later we were at the lake. I knew that the wisent herded on the other side. I guided Dawn down the bank.

“Don’t, Yunki. We don’t know if the ice will hold.”

I sniffed. “It’s too early for the lake to melt.” I kept moving down the bank.

“Lady Zung!” His tone was sharp and he only called me Lady Zung when the adults were around or I was being particularly dense.

I sighed and turned in the saddle. “The melt has only just started, Ben. The ice is going to be four feet thick.”

“Do you know where they cut last?”

I had to stop and think. Where was the last place the men had cut ice? I shrugged. “Don’t know. It’ll be obvious.”

Ben shook his head. “Better not. I know you’re after a wisent. But let’s just hunt for a gulate instead. There are bound to be beds around here. Look,” he pointed at the lake edge. “You can see a thin line of water.”

He was right but I really wanted a wisent before their thick winter pelt started to shed. “Then you hunt for gulate. Summer will last three years. I’m going for a wisent.” I kicked Dawn in the ribs and dashed down the bank and onto the lake. I ignored the faint cracking of ice as I guided her straight across. I could hear Ben behind me and I grinned.

Dawn’s large feet were secure on the ice but I didn’t push her. No sense risking a slip and having her break a leg. I eyed the lake in front of us. It looked completely safe. As we neared the center, Ben four lengths behind me, I heard the ice crack. A loud snap that made Dawn’s head toss.

“Stop, Yunki!”

I tried to get Dawn to back up but more cracking made her dance. Then we were both in the water, the uhlans thrashing all six legs and shoving me into the sharp ice as she tried to climb out.

“Hold on!” Ben was off of his mount and pulling rope from his pack.

“Get Dawn first.”

“Don’t be stupid! She’s made for the cold.”

“So am I.” I argued with him but he was right. Even as cold-adapted as we were, the icy water was having an effect.

He tossed a loop to me and despite Dawn’s struggles, she had her two front legs up on thick ice now, I could grab the rope and pull it over my head and arms. “Ready,” I called.

Ben finished fastening the other end to his saddle and began to back up his uhlans. “Hang on.”

I kicked hard, trying to generate some lift but my fur boots and leggings were already soggy. The edge jabbed into my chest. I could feel the force break a rib and I cried out in pain.

“What?” Ben called.

“Nothing. Keep pulling.” I gasped and did my best to slide up the edge with a wave Dawn caused as she got a third leg up onto the ice.

Dripping, I slid up just as Dawn crawled out of the water. The air caused icicles to form as the water dripped from her. She shook, sending a spray of water over me and Ben as he hurried to me.

“Let’s get you back to shore.” He helped me to my feet. As I grabbed my rib cage he brought Dawn over. “I should build a fire.”

“I’m fine. Let’s just head home.”

“In wet furs?” He looked at me as though the top of my head had just fallen off.

I started to shiver. The water had gotten to my skin. Ice was forming on my coat. My boots were already solid ice. “It’s only two hours.”

“You’ll be dead and then your Lord father will kill me. Don’t be stupid.”

In the end, I gave in and probably as well. Ben left me at a huge fire, Dawn standing as close to it as she could, and rode home for dry clothes. My oldest brother came back with him. He laughed as he dismounted. “So, little sister. Spring is coming.”

I just rolled my eyes.

 

 

 

 

Thank You!

909 Words

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Mars Wings Part 6 and Final: Flash Fiction Friday Post

A view from the “Kimberly” formation on Mars taken by NASA’s Curiosity Rover

Part 6 of 6

You can find Part 1 here:

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mars/images/index.html

 

I woke up a few minutes later, all kinds of people were milling around the room. Mom had a medtech kneeling next to her.

“Welcome back.”

I turned to my right, a medtech was kneeling next to me. “We gassed the room. You’re fine, you’re mom’s fine.”

“Amber?”

“They’ve been taken into custody.”

That’s when Dad knelt on my left. “Hey, pumpkin? How you doing?”

I coughed. “Okay. What’s going to happen to Amber and Tayln?”

“They were with the group that bombed the Security office. There will be an investigation. We’ll have to wait and see.”

I sat up. Dad held his hand on my back to steady me. “It’s so sad.”

“Yes it is, Pumpkin. Yes it is.”

The investigation didn’t take long. I guess Amber and Tayln told the authorities everything. They were charged with terrorism and sentenced to labor in the mines.

We were in the concourse when the verdict and sentencing were read. All of us clustered around a bench, watching the monitors. Kayla and I had our arms wrapped around each other and cried when the camera focused on Amber and Tayln. Both of them wept as the security officers took them away.

“How awful,” Elise said as we sat, stunned on the bench.

“How awful for Dary,” Albert snarled. “He died in the bombing.”

I nodded. “And Angus is still in the hospital.”

Tommie and Hope were besties and had their arms around each other as Kayla and I were. Both of them had tears running down their faces. “I don’t understand,” Hope said, sniffling. “What good did the bombing do?”

“It got attention, I guess.” The vids for the last few days had been full of the names of the separatist group. All of them arrested. “Maybe they thought no one was listening to them.”

“Maybe they were self-centered jerks,” Albert snapped. “Killing and maiming over a hundred people. That’s not how you get attention—get things done.”

I wiped my eyes and stood up. “True. We need to do better about keeping people informed.”

“Informed?” Kayla looked up at me. “How?”

“Well, Amber was angry that we’re eating soy meat. She really believed we eat that because we ship all of the food we grow to Earth.”

“That’s a load of crap.” Albert pointed at me. “People on Earth have rationing too.”

“I know. So maybe if we all knew how much of what we produce gets shipped to Earth, and why, it may make people more understanding.” I put my hand on Albert’s arm. He was trembling with anger.

“Maybe.” He shook my hand off of his arm. “But I’m going to be listening. Anyone who starts talking like a separatist is going to get my fist in their face.” He stalked off.

I just felt tired. “See you all later.” I waved and headed home. I was only twelve. I’d think about it all another day.

 

Thank You!

487 Words

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Mars Wings Part 5: Friday Flash Fiction Post

This May 22, 2015, view from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) in NASA’s curiosity Mars rover shows the “Marias Pass” area where a lower and older geological unit of mudstone—the pale zone in the center of the image—lies in contact with an overlying geological unit of sandstone.

Part 5 of 6 – An apology here. I meant this to be a 5 part serial and it went a little long so part 6 and the end, is next week.

You can find Part 1 here:

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mars/images/index.html

 

It was after midnight when the blast doors opened and Mom’s comm buzzed. “Yes?”

I watched as she nodded. “It’s your father,” she mouthed at me. I sighed with relief. He was okay, then.

“Yes. We’ll go straight home. Love you.” She clicked off. “That was Ian,” she told the Korians who had come over to hear the news. “He said we should go back to our berths and stay there until we get further information.”

“So it’s not over?” David put his arm around his wife.

Mom shook her head. “Not yet. Let’s get home. We’ll be able to clean up and get some rest.”

I didn’t sleep well and woke up late in the morning with a headache. Mom made me sit and eat, which helped. “Any news from Dad?”

“No.” She sat down with a cup of tea. “The vid has been telling everyone to stay home.”

I nodded. “I’m going to call the Korians. Make sure they’re all right.”

Mom patted my hand. “Very thoughtful, Helga.”

While mom did the dishes, I called the Korians. David said they were all fine so I wished them a peaceful day and clicked off. That’s when the door chime rang. I opened the door and Tayln and Amber rushed in. Tayln grabbed my arm, Amber stepped around us and went into the kitchen, she had a blaster pointed at mom. My stomach churned.

“Stop everything and sit at the table,” Amber commanded.

Mom shut off the water and dried her hands. “Of course.” She walked slowly to the table and sat down. Tayln shoved me to a chair and I sat, reaching out to hold Mom’s hand.

“What do you want?” Mom asked.

Amber looked at me. “Your dad’s in Security, right?

I nodded. I could feel my heart racing.

“Call him.” She jabbed the blaster in my direction. “Now!”

I picked my comm up from the table and hit the number for dad. “Dad,” I said when he answered.

Amber grabbed the comm from my hands. “We have your daughter and wife, Daws.

I couldn’t hear what Dad said but Amber went red in the face. “You call off the chase, or it won’t end well.” She clicked off and threw my comm on the table.

“Why are you doing this?” I could see the moisture from my sweaty hands on the table.

Amber glared at me. “I suppose we have you to thank for our situation.”

I shook my head.

She gave Tayln a look that should have killed him. “And you. You could not keep your mouth shut.”

“I said I was sorry, Amber.” His shoulders slumped.

I realized he was scared. I’d never seen him so meek.

“Get me a glass of water and find something to eat.” Amber waved him out of her sight.

Tayln hurried to the kitchen. I could hear him drawing water. Then cupboards and fridge opening and closing.

Mom spoke to Amber. “You could turn yourself in. You’d be treated fairly.”

“You can shut up.” Amber pulled a chair out and sat down, the butt of the blaster resting on the table, pointing at my mom.

“We’re friends, Amber. Why are you doing this?” I wanted to get her to stop pointing that blaster.

“We weren’t friends. You and the others, hanging in the concourse, thinking you’re cool.” She took a deep breath and shook her head. “Brainwashed, all of you. Living hand to mouth on your ration cards while everything we grow and make gets shipped back to Earth. We wouldn’t need ration cards if not for that.”

Tayln brought out a glass of water and a plate with a sandwich on it and set them in front of Amber. “Soy chicken was all they had.”

Amber scowled. “See! Not even real meat. Something out of a vat.”

Despite her scorn, she picked up the sandwich and bit into it. If they’d been on the run since the blast, or maybe the roundup Dad told me about, she may not have had anything to eat in a day or more. Tayln returned to the kitchen then was back with his own plate and glass. He didn’t sit down though, he paced, sandwich in hand, gulping it down in huge bites. “What are we going to do? We’ve run out of hiding places.” he asked Amber between swallows.

She shook her head. “Get Daws to give us a deal.”

“You know he won’t do that. The council won’t allow it,” Mom said quietly.

Amber picked up her glass and drained it, then handed it to Tayln. “More.”

He stared at her a moment, then took the glass.

“What did Dad say?” I asked Amber.

She flushed red. “Told me we should come in.”

“You should, Amber. You’re smart. There’s no where to hide here. You can’t leave. What else is there?”

She pointed the blaster at me. “You can just shut up, too.” She brushed her normally smooth flowing hair back out of her face. It looked like it hadn’t been combed in a while.

Tayln brought her water back and put it on the table. He drank his own until it was empty. “She’s right, Amber. We’ve been running for the last twenty-four hours. There’s no where to go.”

“Call your father again.” Amber glared at Tayln, then me.

I nodded and made the call. When it started ringing, I handed her the unit.

“We need assurances,” she said.

I really wished I could hear what Dad was saying. Tayln paced behind Amber, pale and sweating.

“If I don’t get some concessions, I’m going to shoot both of them.” She stood up and pointed the blaster at my mom.

“No!” I cried out and stood, knocking my chair over with a crash.

Amber pointed the blaster at me. “I’ll do it!” she yelled.

I felt dizzy. Everything seemed to be going in slow motion. The room seemed to get darker. I held onto the table edge. What was happening?

 

 

Thank You!

1000 Words

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Mars Wings Part 4: Flash Fiction Friday Post

This image shows the floor of Suzhi Crater, an approximately 25-kilometer diameter impact crater located northeast of Hellas Planitia.

https://www.nasa.gov/topics/journeytomars/images/index.html

Part 4 of 5

You can find Part 1 here:

I met Kayla mid-morning the next day in the concourse outside of Glenna’s Gifts. The concourse was busy, Christmas was only a day away. I had my eye on a bracelet made from gold found right here on Mars with a red Martian stone set in the middle for my mom. She lounged on the bench until Tommie and Albert showed up, then the rest of the gang. Amber showed up last, Tayln getting up to give her his spot on the bench.

“What’s the news?” Amber asked.

I shrugged. “Just Christmas.”

Tayln laughed. “Oh. It’s going to be a good one, all right.”

Amber gave him a look that was plainly meant to mean shut up.

“Something going on?” I didn’t like the way Tayln was grinning. He was up to something.

Amber sighed. “Nothing important.” She changed the subject and it was an hour before we all began to drift away.

“Don’t be on the concourse on Christmas Day,” Amber said to us before we left.

Again, Tayln smirked.

“Why not?” I liked to come down to hear the Choral Society sing. It was something my family always did. I’d even sent a message to the Korians about it.

Amber shook her head. “Just don’t.” She turned and left, Tayln on her heels.

Everyone else was gone, even Kayla so I couldn’t ask her what she thought about Amber’s comment. Did she mean something was planned? Something bad? I didn’t like it. I went to the Security office at the end of the concourse. At the desk I asked for my dad then sat down to wait. He came a few minutes later and took me back to his console.

“What’s up, pumpkin?” He drew up a chair for me and sat in his spot.

“I don’t know for sure, Dad.” I took a breath. “Something Amber said a few minutes ago.”

“What’s that?”

“Not to come to the concourse on Christmas. But we always go, to hear the music. Why would she say that?” I twisted my hands in my lap.

He turned to his console. “What’s her last name?”

“Novak.”

He typed a few strokes. I could see her file come up. The picture was from last year. Her hair was longer now. His fingers tapped on the desk as he read. “Anyone else?”

“Tayln Roose. They both talk about separating from Earth.”

He typed and Tayln’s file came up. Dad read and sighed, then typed some more. Other reports came up, which I was too far away to read. “She talk about a time?”

I shook my head.

His fingers twitched on the keyboard. “Could be nothing.” He spun his chair around to face me. “Thanks for bringing it in.” He stood up. “I’ll check it out.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

He walked me out and I wandered down the concourse. What if it was something? Something bad. I hoped not.

The next morning was Christmas. Mom loved the bracelet and Dad loved the new shirt I’d bought them. They gave me three new games, just up from Earth, a new tunic top and a bracelet. The bracelet had a tiny button and when I pushed it, a tiny hologram of mom and dad appeared over the bracelet. I couldn’t wait to show Kayla.

Mid-afternoon we went to the main concourse. I was a little worried. “But what about Amber?” I asked dad in a soft voice so mom couldn’t hear.

“We rounded up some agitators yesterday.” He wagged an eyebrow at me. “It’s all taken care of.”

That made me feel better. I took his hand as we walked along. “Good.” I saw the Korians at the concert spot and introduced my parents to them. We sat together and enjoyed the music. Afterward, we were all walking together back to our berths, when from behind us, at the end of the tunnel where the Security office was, there was an explosion. The blast knocked me and Ali off of our feet. People were screaming and smoke filled the air. I could hear the blast doors slam shut, trapping us in the tunnel.

Idai was yelling, “What do we do? What do we do?”

Dad pulled me and mom together. “Get them,” he pointed with his chin, “Somewhere safe. I’ve got to go.”

Mom nodded. “Be safe.”

Dad ran toward the blast site and disappeared into the smoke and crowd. I grabbed Ali’s hand. “Stay with us.”

Mom got Idai and David together and pushed David to take Zane’s hand. “Follow me.”

She led us to the other end of the concourse. Many of the shops already had their blast doors shut. She hustled us into Frank’s Grocery, just as Frank was closing the blast doors. “Come on,” he said as he waved us in. “Hurry.”

We hustled in and joined the small crowd at the back of the store. The blast door clanged shut. Frank came to the back. “We don’t know how long this is going to be so everyone get comfortable. I let go of Ali’s hand and she went to her mother. All of us had smoke streaked faces. We sat down, backs against the shelves and I leaned my head on mom’s shoulder, her arm around me. The Korians sat across from us.

“It’ll be fine,” Mom told them. “I’m just sorry this happened so soon after you’ve arrived.”

David nodded, his arm around Idai. “What do you think happened, the separatists?”

“We won’t know until it’s over.” Mom shook her head. “Sorry.”

He gripped his wife tighter and with his other arm, hugged his son. Idai had her arm around Ali. “So be it.”

 

 

 

Thank You!

943 Words

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