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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Creating the Gift: Friday Flash Fiction Post

Blue Pottery Bowl by Connie Cockrell

Blue Pottery Bowl by Connie Cockrell

Emily Wu checked her bank statement and sighed. It wasn’t going to work, getting her mother a nice Christmas gift. She was sick of the TV talking heads telling everyone it was the economy. The economy seemed good for the rich. Why didn’t any of that trickle down to her? She closed the bank app on her computer and rubbed her eyes. Her $8.53 per hour job gave her just over $1700 a month. It wasn’t enough. With rent so high, she had to live at the edge of town which meant she needed a car to get to work. She needed nice clothes to be the receptionist at the office she worked at. Thrift stores helped with that, but then there was the medical insurance, poor as it was, it was at least something if she got sick. Then the life insurance, taxes, cell phone bill, internet, and on and on and on. She choked back a sob. All she wanted to do was buy her mom a nice Christmas gift.

At work the next day she was looking through the paper. A local artists group was doing a workshop for gifts. Anyone could come and create a project. At the bottom was the price for the workshop, $25, and a name, Brian Wellsley with his phone number. Emily sighed. Twenty-five dollars was a quarter of her grocery bill or half a tank of gas. She thought about it all day. Finally, deciding that she could live on rice and beans for a week, she called the number.

“Hi, I’m Emily Wu. I saw your article in the paper. I’d like to sign up.”

“Great. Love to have you.” He gave her the address and time and when they hung up, Emily smiled. He sounded nice. It would be good to do something besides watch TV in the evening.

The day of the workshop, Emily brought clothes to change into after work. No sense wasting gas by driving home then back into town. The address turned out to be an old factory, turned into artist workshops and apartments. She’d heard about these. It seemed cool. There were signs directing people to a large open space where wooden tables, easels, stools were scattered around the room. Art hung on the walls and from the ceiling. The splashes of color made the room seem friendly and alive.

She found an empty stool and sat down at a table, greeting others who had also signed up. Brian introduced himself and several other artists and that they’d be helping everyone with their projects. After going over the projects available, they broke into groups, each around the project they wanted to do. Emily had to switch tables. She wanted to work on a pottery project. She was pleased to see that Brian was the mentor for her group.

At every step of the process of molding the clay, shaping it, prepping it for the oven and decorating it, Brian was there. His hands over hers, laughing. They went out for coffee after class and talked about their dreams. After five weeks, the workshop was over. Emily had a bowl, glazed blue, for her mother. But she had received a gift, too. New friends, a new-found passion and a new love.

They went out nearly every night. He spent the weekends at her house. By Christmas, he was invited to meet her family. Her mother loved the bowl. Even better, in the kitchen, she complemented Emily on Brian. “He’s a lovely young man, Emily.” She gave Emily a hug. “I’m happy for you.”

The next spring, they were married. One afternoon, Emily was looking at her bank statement. She played with the ring on her finger. The statement didn’t look any better but she no longer fretted. Her life was now full. Happiness covered everything and she felt rich beyond measure. Brian came into the room and gave her a kiss on top of her head.

“We still solvent?”

“Barely.” She laughed and turned off the computer. “And that’s enough for me.”

 

Thank You!

677 Words

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Mars Wings 2: Flash Fiction Friday Post

mars-sunset-msl-curiosity-martian-sky-pia194001

http://mars.nasa.gov/multimedia/images/?ImageID=7189 Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Texas A&M Univ.

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover recorded this view of the sun setting at the close of the mission’s 956th Martian day, or sol (April 15, 2015), from the rover’s location in Gale Crater.

Here’s the thing. I couldn’t stop thinking about this story last week. http://wp.me/p6LAko-Om.  I knew it was just a partial story and it kept nagging at me. So here we are. I’m going to make this a short serial and give you both a Christmas and a New Year’s story out of it. I’m totally pantsing this thing so you get it rough and only lightly edited. Hope you enjoy.

Part 2 of 5

It would take at least two hours for them to get settled and view the first video. Longer if they decided to be thorough and view all the associated vids. I decided to hustle over to the main tunnel. It was the original tunnel, that the first landers found and developed into the first habitat. Now it’s the Main Street, as they say on Earth. A large concourse, the old berths now shops. It’s beautiful, all the walls covered in spider plants and such that take CO2 and turn it into oxy. Planters with flowers in the walkway the ceiling had a light net that made it seem like stars twinkling. My favorite part of the habitat.

My crew was in front of Benji’s, the ice cream shop. As old as the habitat, one of the original landers, Benji, retired and decided to grow soy beans. He figured out how to make it into ice cream. No dairy needed. He always said that’s what he missed most. Now his son, Dayrn, runs the place, or did. He’s gotten old, too, and people get old slowly on Mars. Grandson, Isha, is the new manager, learning from his dad. I like that. Mars business belongs to Mars.

I skidded into the group, knocking Kayla to the side. She punched me in the arm. “Earther!”

“Waiter.” I punched her back. We both laughed.

“How’d it go?” Tayln lounged against a planter of Christmas cactus. It was far from blooming.

I sank, cross-legged to the tile floor. “As you’d expect. Lots of questions. A little resentment.” I rolled my eyes. It was the same every ship. They thought they knew it all. Coming to rescue the hicks. “I liked the girl. My age. Gads, she’s so small!”

Everyone laughed. I was the last in the group to get sponsor duty. They’d all been through it.

“Who do you think will buy it?” Dary asked, all hyped. He made me nervous, to be honest. There was something wrong with him.

“No one, I hope. If I’m a good enough sponsor.”

Dary giggled. A sound all wrong in more than one way.

“Maybe so. But I’ll do my best.”

“I don’t know why they keep allowing them to come.” Tayln shook his head. “We don’t need them. They keep us back. All this talk about Earth. We’re Mars. We don’t need them.”

“Too much listening to Sirius, Tayln.” Amber stretched her whole body. It was like watching liquid in motion.

“What do you mean?” I wanted to know.

Amber was a year younger than Tayln but, I thought, twice as smart. She was working in the astro-physics lab when she wasn’t with us. Tayln was in the Engineering section, and it was just clean-up, to be honest. Work that had to be done but still, not as smart as Amber.

She drew a breath. “I agree, Tayln, that we shouldn’t be tied so much to Earth. I mean, really. They’re marking winter’s onset and we’re coming into spring. It’s ludicrous. And all these Earth holidays. Bastille Day, what’s that mean to us. We should have a Lander’s Day.”

“We do have Lander’s Day.” I didn’t understand. What was wrong with Bastille Day?

Amber smiled at me. “True, little one.” She looked around the group. “But what holiday is coming?”

“Christmas.” I and all the rest shouted.

“I love Christmas.” I had to admit. The wall tree, the presents, the extra colored lights. It made everything happier.

“And what does Christmas mean to us?” Amber looked around the circle.

“An extra sugar ration!” Angus Holloran called out. We all laughed.

“Yes,” Amber grinned. “Extra sugar ration. Candy, chocolate, it’s all a party, isn’t it?” She grew serious. “But what does it mean?”

We all shook our heads.

“It’s a religious holiday.” She looked around the group as people walked by us, toddlers in tow, shopping bags filled with the week’s groceries. “It’s a yoke, to tie us to Earth.”

I had to take a minute to process that. What was she saying? “What religion?” I finally asked.

Tayln snorted. “The one that keeps us tied to Earth.”

“And why is that bad?” I wanted to know. All of our time was dual, Mars and Earth time. Mars rotated at a different rate, of course our days differed but still, we all knew what time it was in Greenwich. Our most important shifts of scientists and government worked to Greenwich time.

Amber looked at me with a sad smile. I felt like an idiot and began to blush. “Sweet child. It’s a trick to keep us tied.” She looked to Tayln, who nodded. “We’re nothing but a cash cow to Earth. We discover new materials, new insight into the cosmos, new medicines and they take it all. As though they’re our masters!”

I didn’t like the word masters. It made me feel small and ignorant. I’m not small or ignorant. “Why?”

Amber stood. I knew the audience was over. “To keep us down, Sweet one. To keep us down.”

She swept away, Tayln trailing. The rest of us huddled together. “What’s she mean by that?” I asked.

Elise, Tommie, Hope, Dary, Kayla and Albert shook their heads. They were older than me but younger than Amber and Tayln. “I think they’re radicals.” Tommie finally said. “My pop said there’s a group in the habitat that are trying to get us to break away from Earth.

“Break away? That’s stupid. Where would we go?” I was annoyed. We were in orbit around the same sun. How could we break away?

“The governments,” Elise said. “We don’t answer to the Earth government. We don’t take their colonists unless we say so. We don’t send all of our work to them for nothing.”

“Are you a radical?” I asked. I mean what else were we supposed to do? “We owe Earth. That’s in all the histories.

Elise shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know. Do you?”

 

 

 

 

 

Thank You!

994 Words

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Mars Wings: Friday Flash Fiction Post

mars-mro-orbiter-fresh-crater-sirenum-fossae-br2

http://mars.nasa.gov/multimedia/images/?ImageID=7731  Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

I’ve been watching the Smithsonian channel show, Mars. A mix of television show and documentary. It’s really getting me as excited about the space program again as I was when I was a kid, racing home from school to watch space launches. The following story is just a brief foray into space once again. And yes, there are echoes of Heinlein in there.

 

I waited at the gate. The first families with children were arriving from Earth. Would they look different somehow? In class, we’d been told about how different it would be for them. They wouldn’t be able to go outside without a suit. They wouldn’t automatically know all the safety rules. They may become claustrophobic living inside the tunnels. They’d be stronger, having grown up in a heavier gravity.

All in all, I wondered if their parents had a clue. What were they thinking?

The alarm sounded, the light over the door began to flash, and the pressure lock opened. They came down the ramp in family groups their duffels banging against their legs. Parents and children looked around, wide-eyed. Their faces showed fear, then after they realized they could breathe, curiosity, at the tunnel, plants lining the walls, the crowd waiting for them.

I waited as each family’s sponsor was called as they hit the bottom of the ramp. My name was called when the eighth family appeared. I moved through the crowd of Martians and stopped at the registration table. The guy at the table was taking their names. The Korian family, Dad, David, Mom, Idai, Daughter, Ali, Son, Zane, I overheard. The registrar looked up. “Hey, Helga. The Korian family is going to berth 23, tunnel 4.” He handed David a set of key cards. “Your keys. One for each of you. Lose a card, it will be fifty credits to buy a new one.” David nodded while Idai, Ali and Zane stared at me. “Helga will guide you to your new quarters. She’s your sponsor. You need to ask questions, call her. She’ll give you her comm.”

“Thank you.” David told the registrar. He turned to me. “Lead on, Miss.”

“Later, Pavel.” I waved to the registrar. He was a neighbor in my family’s tunnel.

He gave me a wave and looked at the next family.

“This way.” I turned and left, moving through the thinning crowd. The Korian’s followed. David moved up beside me. “How old are you?”

I knew that was coming. We’d been briefed on the culture. “I’m twelve. I’m tall for my age compared to Earth normal. The lower gravity allows us to grow taller.”

Idai nodded. “I’d read that. You’re the same age as Ali.”

I took a quick look at Ali. She had to be a head shorter than me. “Nice to meet you.”

“Um, not to be rude, but you’re our sponsor? Not your parents?” David asked, a look of disbelief on his face.

“Yep. I’m your sponsor. I know everything you need to know. I was born here. It’s all automatic for me. My parents have their own people to sponsor.”

“I see.”

His tone of voice said he didn’t.

“You’ll find that kids here have a lot of responsibility. There aren’t a lot of us. So, everyone, even kids, have duties to perform. This is one of mine. I’m also the garden supervisor in my tunnel.”

“Garden supervisor?” Ali looked curious.

“Yes. I’m responsible for collecting any compostables from each berth, getting it to the garden compost pile, and setting up the work schedules.”

Zane spoke. “Will we get jobs?”

“Eventually. Not when you’re newbs. You don’t know enough yet.”

David was having a bit of trouble with the plan. “I don’t mean to criticize but you’re only twelve. I’m a research biologist. Why would I take orders from a twelve-year-old?”

I sighed as I guided them left into tunnel two. “Because I know how things work here and you don’t. I don’t mean to be rude but you just got off the boat. You don’t know the emergency procedures. You don’t know where anything is. You need to become acclimated.”

“We took all the classes,” Ali said.

“That’s good. You’ll need that information.” I turned to look at her. “First thing you do when you get to your berth is watch the newcomer vid. That’s critical. It will tell you your assembly point in case of a problem. It will give you your passwords and set up your accounts. You can’t do anything or go anywhere until that is done because none of the pressure doors will open for you.”

“I know that,” Zane said. His voice reflected his father’s. Probably thought a fifteen-year-old boy shouldn’t have to listen to a twelve-year-old girl.

“Good.” We turned right into tunnel 3. “School is on your own vid. There’s a vid in every room so there won’t be any problems getting your classwork.” I looked at the parents. “Or your work assignments. David. I know you’ll be working in the labs. You can download the maps to the warren and the locations of where you want to go, from there.”

I turned right again into tunnel 4. “This tunnel is new, made to accommodate the new colonists from your ship. I stopped halfway down the tunnel in front of the door with a big, red, 23 stenciled on it. “Your new home.

David stepped forward and pressed the card to the lock. The door opened.

“It’s a pressure lock.” Idai studied the door with some surprise.

“Nearly every door is.” I motioned them to go in. “My comm code is on your introductory vid. Comm units for each of you are on the kitchen table. I’ll let you get settled.” I backed away from the door.

Idai raised her hand. “Wait! What about…?”

“Watch the vid then call me. I’ll come back and you can ask your questions.” I left. They had to learn how to think for themselves. Odds were one of the four of them would make a fatal mistake in the first seven days. I hoped it wasn’t Ari. She seemed nice.

 

 

 

 

Thank You!

956 Words

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Waiting: Friday Flash Fiction Story

Baby by Randy Cockrell

Baby by Randy Cockrell

I watched the seconds pass on my digital watch, counting the passing of my life. My hands trembled, my mother’s tremors now part of my existence. Better than my brother, though, who developed his tremors in his thirty’s. Mine at least waited until I reached my sixties, when it wasn’t a strange sight to see an old woman’s hands shake.

The nurses scurried through the halls along with the occasional harassed-looking doctor. It occurred to me that a harried-looking doctor didn’t project much confidence. Was harried the step before panic? I didn’t know the precise hierarchy of that sort of thing was. And why were they harried? Were people sicker than they’d anticipated? My mouth went dry. Where was our doctor? I checked the watch again—it continued to count the seconds of my life, my future racing up to me then whooshing by, gone, history.

I drew a deep breath and sighed. A lot of history—much of it faded in my mind. Not dementia or Alzheimer’s, thank God. Just distance. I never was much for dwelling on the past. I tend to live in the present or the future. But to be honest, in my sixties, there wasn’t a lot of future left, given the current standard women’s lifespan. My heart leapt when a doctor stopped outside the door. I waited, breath held, but he checked his watch and moved off. Ne news for me yet, then. I went back to breathing. What was taking so long?

It was November and my mind drifted to Thanksgiving. It was at my house this year, my brother and his wife, my sister, all their kids. Mom was gone two years. I’ll make her recipe for rice pudding, a family favorite and she’ll be present in our hearts.

Another doctor paused outside the door, a nurse walked up to him. I couldn’t hear what was being said, the waiting room TV was blasting a soap opera. I was surprised. I didn’t know any were still running. The nurse nodded and left. The doctor, too, in the opposite direction. I sank back into my seat. My own anxiety level rising.

I dropped the year-old magazine I was holding onto the side table. I wasn’t reading it—I might as well let someone else pick it up to hold.

The air conditioning kicked on and I pulled my sweater closer around me. Why is the A/C on in November? I gave the vent a glare and considered moving my seat but a look around revealed everyone else was as annoyed as I was. So when I heard my name called out, I jumped. “Yes!” I hurried to the nurse in the door.

“Mrs. Johns?”

I tucked my purse under my arm. “That’s me.”

“Your daughter, Jessica, is fine. You have a new grandson.” She smiled at me, the corners of her blue eyes crinkling. “Nine pounds, six ounces. He’s healthy as can be.”

My knees quivered with relief. “Can I see her?”

“Right this way, Mrs. Johns.”

I followed her—already planning the baby’s first Thanksgiving.

 

Thank You for Reading!

513 Words

 

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The Party: Flash Fiction Friday Post

glass_of_light_by_justysiak

Photo: http://www.deviantart.com/art/Glass-of-light-153578187 by Justysiak

 

Rory tugged the hem of his formal tunic as he slipped through the laughing throng. In his ear, his partner directed him to the musicians stand.

“Target acquired.” Rory pulled the sedative needle from his him and palmed it. His target was an assassin. Reports were that the hit was on the Teeler ambassador. It was his job to make sure the future, one hundred and fiftieth member of the Galactic Congress, made it to the inauguration session in the morning.

He moved into position. “May I have this dance?”

The woman turned to him. Her silver gown shimmered in the party lighting. Most distracting was the plunging neckline. She smiled. “I’d love to.”

Rory guided her to the dance floor, subtly searching her. He wondered where she could hide a weapon in a dress conspicuously short on material. “I’m Jude.” He provided her the name he usually used on missions.”

“Star. Nice to meet you.”

The assassin fit into his arms as if she were made to be there. She glided effortlessly with him around the floor. Too bad he had to arrest her. Just before the dance ended, he raised his hand to caress her neck. Her deep blue eyes gazed into his, a smile playing on her lips. It really was too bad, he thought as he pressed the needle gently into her neck.

She laughed.

That wasn’t the reaction he expected.

Her skin began to melt away, the laugh turning to hissing as the human form fell away revealing the reptilian form of a Chos.

Rory recoiled, then spun out of reach of the Chos fangs. Party-goers around him began screaming, running for the exits.

“Pitiful human.” The Chos lunged for him. “No Teeler will be allowed to align with the Galactic Congress.”

Rory dodged a swipe of six-inch claws.

The Teeler ambassador was being hustled to the exit by his security. Not the planned rescue but it would do. The Chos held the Teelers as a slave race for a thousand years. There were a little put out when the Galactic Patrol helped the Teeler gain their freedom.

“Chop the thing in the throat,” Rory heard in his earpiece from his partner. He backed up. The Chos advanced, hissing. Rory faked a stumble. The Chos moved in. Rory punched the Chos in the throat right before it bit his face. The creature screamed a high-pitched squeal that shattered nearby wine glasses.

Rory punched it again under the armpit where the Chos neural ganglia was located. The Chos sank to its knees. Security rushed in and secured the would-be assassin.

Rory’s partner came in from his control location. “Nice job.”

“Good enough. I didn’t know the Chos could camouflage like that.”

“Me either.” He took pictures of the sloughed skin. “We’ll have to study that. See if we can replicate it.”

“That would be handy.” Rory straightened his tunic. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’m all dressed up. Might as well find a party.” He grinned, then gave his partner a little salute. “Maybe find a real girl.”

 

Thank You!

517 Words

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