Dragon Gate

As promised, this is the other story I wrote for Round 1 of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Competition. I chose to submit the other one because I felt it was closer to my assigned genre. I haven’t changed this story at all since I wrote it. I have since learned that some dragons in Chinese mythology have deer antlers… that would’ve been nice to know going in, lol. Without further ado, the story:

 

 

 

 

They say that there’s no magic left in the world. I wish that they were right.

I learned the hard way, on the night that he broke me. I won’t say I wasn’t drawn to him. There was always something about him. A glimmer. A shine. Not that there were many men to choose from on my father’s fishing farm, but he always stood out.

The girls used to whisper about him in the darkness. About how he had power. They said he’d been born with deer antlers, sprouting right out of his head as an infant, and that his family had to cut them off, so he could be normal, so that he could hide his magic.

I didn’t believe in magic, and when the female employees gossiped in the darkness of the dormitory, I told them to stop their useless chatter.

But I would be lying if I said I didn’t go to his bed willingly.

It was only after, when I lay there, broken, bruised, bleeding, inches from death, that I knew the truth of it. He did have magic. And he used the last of it on me.

He smiled down on my broken, bleeding form, and whispered words in a language that I could not recognize.

Suddenly, I was not myself. And there was no air. I flapped and flopped, struggling against the wooden floor of his hut. He opened the door, kicking me across the deck, and into the tank with the rest of the fish. My blood filtered through the water like red ribbons in the moonlight.

“Good night, little fish,” he said, closing the door to the wooden hut, leaving me in the cold, wet, overcrowded darkness with the rest.

No one would notice an injured fish, let alone one of thousands in a tank. I was meant to gasp my final breaths in that water. To die quietly, like a good girl.

It was then that I did something he did not expect: I lived.

 

******

 

I furl my wings as I land on the waters of my former home. It was on these docks that I played, when I was a little girl. This is where I kicked my feet into the water and felt the little fish in the tanks sucking on my toes. This is where I laughed and played and grew.

This is where I nearly died. And it is not my home anymore. He made sure of it.

I am silent as I step onto the dock in front of his hut. These are the same wood planks I stood on, not so long ago, as he kissed me. I remember smiling against his mouth, butterflies filling my stomach at the anticipation of what was to come.

Now there are no butterflies. There is the silence of the night, and the darkness of the water. And there is my hand upon the doorknob, as I open the door and enter his home, quiet as a nightmare.

I stroke gentle fingers down his cheek to wake him. He blinks, trying to focus, and his sleepy eyes meet mine.

He has no more magic. The glimmer that was once in his eyes is gone now, but I bet the women still chase after him anyway.

“Do you know what happens to fish when they leap over the falls of the Yellow River at Dragon Gate?” I ask him, the knife shining silver in my hand.

I don’t wait for an answer.

“Sometimes,” I tell him, “They fall. But sometimes, we fly.”

I unfurl my wings as I plunge the knife into his heart. He gasps. His lifeblood seeps out, staining my fingers the deep purple of mulberry wine, and I smile.

 

******

 

Gentle hands stroke my skin as I open my eyes. When I see her face, I think I must still be dreaming. She’s dead. She can’t be here. Her face is perfect – smooth, pale skin and dark, almond-shaped eyes that used to crinkle at the edges when she smiled. She isn’t smiling now. Her long, black hair frames her face like a curtain, and her dark eyes blaze.

It is then that I see the knife, gleaming silver in her clenched fist. I can feel my eyes widen as she unfurls wings. They are enormous, filling the span of the room behind her. They are black as night. They are black as vengeance. They are black as death.

They are dragon’s wings. My little fish is a fish no longer.

“Do you know what happens to fish when they leap over the falls of the Yellow River at Dragon Gate?” she asks. “Sometimes, they fall. But sometimes, we fly.”

I see the knife rise for a moment, before it plunges into my chest. I see her smile. And then the whole world is fire.

 

******

 

I can see the flames from the burning hut reflected on the water as I leap, shifting form as I do, spreading my wings and soaring through the skies above my former home.

There is magic in the world. It destroyed me. And then it gave me vengeance.

 

 

Writing Prompt:

Genre: Horror

Location: A Fish Farm

Object: Deer Antlers

(Please note: I do not own the accompanying image, nor do I know who drew it. I merely saw it and thought it was beautiful. Much praise to whoever created it)

 

 

 

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Group 31: Shui Gui

I actually wrote two stories on this prompt. This is the one I submitted. Without further ado, here’s the story:

 

The rain pelted down in needle-like drops. He could feel each and every one through the thin material of his t-shirt as soon as he stepped out the door.

He muttered something disgruntled, in the way that only teenagers can, making it somehow indecipherable and insulting at the same time.

“What was that?” Hui An called.

“Nothing, Hou Ma!” he called back.

How could she hear him all the way from the kitchen? He shook his head. He used to think wicked stepmothers were a thing of fairy tales. That was until Dad decided to marry Hui An. What kind of woman would send a kid out at night, in the pouring rain, to check on fish tanks?

What was she doing in the kitchen that was so important, anyway? Probably her nails. He rolled his eyes.

Xiao Zhang tried to pull his t-shirt up to cover more of his neck and failed miserably. The shirt would be sopping wet in a minute anyway. Far be it for Hui An to give him an umbrella – that would mean actually thinking about someone other than herself for once.

He walked through the woods behind the house, taking a shortcut to the river, where they kept the tanks that constituted their small fish farm.

He heard hoof beats behind him and turned, finding himself almost nose-to-nose with a huge deer, antlers soaring above its head like a strange crown. Zhang held his breath. The animal’s dark, liquid eyes held immeasurable sadness. It felt almost like a warning. And then it was gone, leaping gracefully into the wet, rainy darkness between the trees.

He shook off the lingering creepiness left in the deer’s wake. It was just an animal looking for shelter in the rainstorm, he reasoned, as he continued through the forest. The sucking mud clung to his sneakers with every step, almost as though it was trying to slow him down.

He wrapped his arms around himself as best he could and tried not to shiver as he walked along the river. She had, of course, insisted that he check the pH levels on the tank farthest from the house, to make sure the rain wasn’t upsetting the acidity of the water.

That tank had been giving Dad trouble. The pH levels jumped all over the place. Every day they’d find handfuls of fish floating belly-up. The workers refused to check that tank. They claimed that part of the river was haunted by an evil spirit or some such nonsense.

He chuckled. There was no such as evil spirits. His mama had told him those silly stories when he was little. They were the sorts of stories you told children to get them to sleep at night. You told them about things ‘haunting the night’ so that the brats would just stay in bed. When he was little, he’d believed in that junk.

Spirits were no more real than wicked stepmothers. He might crack jokes about Hui An behind her back (sometimes not very far behind her back), but he knew she wasn’t evil. She was shallow and stupid, which can be just as bad sometimes, but she wasn’t evil.

He’d stopped believing in those little-kid stories the day his mother died.

And if someone needed to check the pH balance of that tank, in the dark, in the pouring rain, he’d do it, and no imaginary evil spirits were going to stop him.

He pulled the test strip out of his pocket and knelt by the riverbank, ignoring the way the mud sucked at his jeans, and stuck the strip into the water.

The pH was normal. Her majesty would be pleased to know that.

He took one more look at the water before getting up to go home and found that he couldn’t. Get up, that is. The face that looked back at him held him transfixed.

It was a girl.

A beautiful girl, with long dark hair that spread out around her face, drifting through the water like ribbons of night. Tears streamed down his cheeks unbidden, mirroring the depths of sadness he saw in her black eyes.

Palms pressing into the mud, he leaned closer to her, his face just inches away from the water’s surface. The water was smooth as glass, and he could see her face perfectly.

“Shui Gui,” he whispered, naming the spirit.

The words came from the fog of his childhood memories, from the stories his mama had told him so long ago.

The girl smiled at him, but the smile did not touch the weight of the sadness in her eyes. Pale hands reached out of the water, grasping his shoulders.

It was his first kiss. It would be his last.

Her lips were cold against his as she pulled him into the water, dragging him, down, down, inexorably down into the dark depths.

 

******

 

Hui An heard the door slam just as she finished applying top coat.

“Finally!” she called out. “Took you long enough!”

She had no idea what her lazy, good-for-nothing stepson had been doing all that time, and she didn’t care, as long as he’d done what she’d asked, for once.

“Did you check it?” she yelled.

She examined her nails carefully, blowing on them gently as he walked into the kitchen.

“Yes, Hou Ma,” he said. “It was fine.”

“Ok. Great.”

He gave her a small smile before walking out of the room.

Huh, she thought. Maybe the kid was finally learning some respect.

She didn’t notice the new blackness in his eyes – a strange depth that hadn’t been there before. Nor did she notice the silence of his steps. His were the kind of quiet footsteps you wouldn’t hear entering your bedroom in the middle of the night.

But, of course, she didn’t notice.

Hui An returned to the task at hand – admiring her newly-polished nails, with a self-satisfied smile on her face.

 

 

 

Genre: Horror
Location: A fish farm
Object: Deer Antlers

Character Count: 997

July 6, 2018

Another piece of flash based on a three-word prompt. Prompt at the end. Enjoy.

 

 

 

“Watch the crown, Max!” he shouted, bringing his sword up just in time, steel clashing against steel as he blocked the blow that otherwise would’ve carved a broad wound across his abdomen.

Watch the crown. Now that, I could do.

It was far easier and more soothing than watching my master, Eldor the Wise, fight off the orcs who had been protecting the Crown of Sorrows. Eldor is an elf and he’s among the best fighters of his clan. But there were a whole lot of orcs. And only one Eldor.

I wasn’t sure why he needed the crown. Something about using it for passage into the Forest of Forbidden Desires, where the Princess is being held hostage. Honestly, I wasn’t paying attention.

The dude talks a lot. I lose interest after a while.

He’s a good master, though, and I love him. I’ll happily do anything he commands, much less something simple, like watching a crown.

It’s easy to watch. It’s very shiny. There’s a light shining down on it, which is strange in a cave as dark as this one, but that certainly makes the crown easier to watch.

I sit down on my hind legs, and my tail swishes against the cool stone floor as I watch the crown. It’s such a pretty crown. Sparkly gold with some jewels in it. I watch and I watch. I watch as Lorgon the elf quietly sneaks up to the dais where the crown sits, unnoticed by my master. Master is, after all, very busy fighting the orcs.

Lorgon is Master’s cousin, and he’s not a very nice elf, if I do say so myself. He never gives me treats or pets me. In fact, he kicked me once, when Master wasn’t looking. He isn’t a very nice elf at all.

I watch as he gingerly wraps his long, dark fingers around the crown, swiftly replacing it with a cheap metal circlet. And I watch as he grips the crown in his dirty hands and backs slowly out of the cave. Then I can’t watch the crown anymore, and I’m sad, because I can’t do what Master told me.

It’s only a few minutes later that all of the orcs are on the ground, missing significant parts of their anatomy and leaking dark, viscous blood. Master comes back to me, out of breath, bloody sword in hand.

He glances at the piece of junk on the podium and his face sours.

“Maaaax! I told you to watch the crown!”

I’m confused.

“Bark!”

{I watched the crown, Master!}

 

“If you watched it, then why’s it gone?”

“Bark, bark!”

{I watched as Lorgon took it.}

“Ba-a-ark, bark!”

{It’s a very nice crown.}

“Oh, Max!” he kneels down and rubs my head, despite his sad tone. “Bad dog.”

Why am I a bad dog? I did just what he said.

Still confused, I follow him out of the cave.

I hope we get that crown back.

It was a nice crown.

 

 

 

Prompt:

failure
dog
watch

 

Prompt Courtesy Of:

http://writingexercises.co.uk/take-three-nouns.php

 

July 3, 2018

Hi guys,

I joined a writing group a while back, which maybe not-so-miraculously seems to have jumpstarted my creativity, and I’ll be doing the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction competition again. In preparation for that, my fabulous group and I have done a couple of practice rounds.

This is not one of those stories. This is an I-was-bored-and-it-just-sort-of-splorted-out kind of story. But I’ll be actually posting new stuff, both leading up to and during the upcoming contest.

Hope y’all enjoy.

– Lena

 

 

Almost heaven. Pfft. Right.

Ginny rolled her eyes and once again ineffectually swiped at the bangs that were currently plastered against her forehead.

That had been one of the things her parents had used to try to sell her on their big move.

“West Virginia is almost heaven!” they said, emphasizing the beautiful greenery and abundance of homemade apple pie.

Like those were things teenagers cared about. There were plenty of trees in New York, and Ginny would’ve happily eaten stale, store-bought apple pie for the rest of her life if it meant she hadn’t had to leave her friends.

They’d made a big deal about how her name was in the state.

“It’s practically named after you!” they said. “How could you not want to go there?”

The Virginia Correctional Center for Women was also hypothetically ‘named after her,’ she’d pointed out, and she had no desire to go there.

They’d moved in August, so she could hypothetically start the school year fresh, instead of being the weird new kid in December, when everyone has already formed cliques and made friends. Her Dad had actually gotten the new job last December, but her parents had magnanimously decided to let Ginny finish out her junior year with her friends in New York.

They shouldn’t have bothered. As small of a town as it was, these kids had been going to school together since kindergarten. She wasn’t just a new kid… she was the only new kid. Apparently, she was the only one since the third grade, when Megan Dejong had transferred schools from two counties over.

People stared at her, like she was an exotic new bird, or perhaps like she was an exotic snake, and they weren’t sure yet if she was poisonous or not. New York felt like a world away.

That, in part, was why her parents had practically forced her into going to the stupid football game. They hoped she’d make friends, or something. That felt, to Ginny, about as likely as her sprouting wings and launching into flight from the stands. But it was either go to the stupid game or sit around at home with both of them pecking at her.

She sighed. Maybe they just wanted the house to themselves for a little while. She could understand that, at least.

Just because she was at the game didn’t mean she actually had to watch it. She was already sitting in the seventh circle of hell, sweating on this obscenely, unseasonably warm September night… she wasn’t about to dive into the eighth by trying to ferret out the rules of this ridiculously violent, idiotic game. Instead, she pulled her book out of her bag, pushed her glasses back up her nose, and dove in. It was another enormous installment in the Outlander series, and it would do perfectly well for making her hideous surroundings disappear. It weighed her bag down, but it was worth it. She was glad the books were so big – she had a better time convincing her mother that they were ‘real literature.’ Luckily, her mom bought the things without looking too deeply into their contents.

She licked her lips, as though she were looking at a dessert and not an abnormally-sized brick of a novel, and refocused her attention on the scene presently taking place between Jamie and Claire.

******

He didn’t know why he was nervous. He shouldn’t be. He’d been on the team last year. They’d done ok. This should be a piece of cake. He didn’t know why his palms were sweating.

Football didn’t take a genius. All he had to do was throw the damn ball. How hard could that be? Just look at his teammate and throw the ball. His eyes scanned the stands. Who was he worried about impressing, anyhow?

He wasn’t being graded on this. It wasn’t a test. It would not go on his permanent record. And everybody in the stands was… well, everybody who had always been there before. He and his classmates had been together since kindergarten. His parents weren’t there – it was only the first game of the season after all. Why should he be stressed?

But he was stressed, palms sweaty and heart thudding in his chest as he ran down the field.

Just the same old faces, he told himself. Nothing to worry about. And that’s when he saw her.

The stadium lights left most of the onlookers hidden in the shade of the evening, but her… He saw her bright and clear. As a matter of fact, she was all he could see, the low lighting catching the shimmer of her red-gold hair, contrasted against the paleness of her skin. He could even see the blush of her cheeks. But he couldn’t see her eyes, staring down at the book as she was.

Just look at your teammate and throw the damn ball, he kept telling himself as he ran, but his eyes kept drifting back to her, like she was magnetized to attract his gaze or something. And when the ball left his hand, it didn’t sail across the field like it was supposed to… Apparently, she’d been magnetized for more than just his gaze, as the ball flew directly at her.

Finally, he could see her eyes. They were a stunning, malachite green. He was able to see and note as much before the ball hit her squarely in the nose. Even from that distance, he could hear the crunch of the plastic frames as her glasses broke.

*****

Ugh. Savages.

Why had her parents dragged her to this God-forsaken place?

This monstrous, wild place …. Bad enough that she had to suffer the indignity of the cardboard these people chose to call bagels. Now she’d been forced to go to this… this display of savagery.

She was unsure what to focus on first. Blood dripped from her nose down onto the spread pages of the book in her lap, and she held the pieces of glasses in her hands, split neatly in two.

She didn’t know whether to cry or scream. Ultimately, she chose neither. Clutching the pieces of her glasses to her chest, along with the book, carefully, as though she held the broken shards of the Holy Grail, she made her way off of the stands.

*****

This year – senior year – was supposed to be magical. Right? The last year of high school. First year of freedom. The beginning of adulthood. It was supposed to be the beginning of something … something special. Something good.

He watched as the girl hobbled out of the bleachers, clutching her book and her glasses like they were some sort of sacred relics, trying to stem the bleeding from her nose, and at the same time, clearly trying not to cry.

He stared at her, horrified at what he’d done.

It was turning out to be the beginning of something, all right, and it wasn’t anything good.

 

 

Writing Prompt:

heaven

football

glasses

Prompt courtesy of:

http://writingexercises.co.uk/take-three-nouns.php

 

 

BGAW

This one comes from my last writer’s group meeting and I may yet regret posting it.

 

 

What do you do when you’re the only one left?

She sank to her knees in the sand.

Her Mama had died when she was little, the victim of a disease that would’ve been curable if she had lived anywhere else in the world. Her Papa and eldest brother had been gunned down when they had refused to surrender her little brothers to the gangs, which had taken them anyway.

And her big sister had walked by her side, taking care of her, promising her that they would make it through the desert, that they would get to safety and build a new life together. She’s promised that they would have a new home. And she’d walked by her side, until she couldn’t walk anymore.

Now, she was alone.

The sun beat down on her. The sand burned the soles of her feet. The desert was endless and she was alone, one insignificant speck against the vast landscape of sand and scrub.

So she did the only thing she could do.

She dropped onto her knees, closed her eyes, and sang.

******

I cannot replicate or link to the prompt that inspired it, as it was an auditory prompt provided by one of the other members of the group. The setting is purposely ambiguous. Make of it what you will.

Crappie Cupid

This is the first time I’ve written in a while… I’ve had quite the dry spell, in more than one sense. This is, again, based on a writing prompt. I’ll include the prompt and a link to the source at the end. I guess the Valentine’s Day spirit is kind of getting to me… In the meantime, please be kind and enjoy:

Rick rolled his eyes and sighed heavily, letting some of his frustration bubble out of him. There was still plenty left over, though.

Stupid Bob.

He was late.

Again.

As usual.

Rick wondered what idiotic excuse he’d have this time. It wasn’t fair. All he wanted was to meet a nice female and settle down. But he couldn’t. Because of stupid Bob. Crappie Cupid was supposed to be the premier dating service in the area. At least, that’s what he’d heard from all of his friends. And all of his friends already had females of their own, so he supposed they couldn’t be wrong.

It was a rule that the dating service had – all of the males had to arrive in a group and leave in a group. All of the females did the same. It was supposed to be for their protection – so that the females never felt threatened or unsafe. He didn’t mind the rule. It seemed like a good rule… if it weren’t for Bob making him late all the time.

Bob may not have his priorities straight, but Rick certainly did. And he was tired of dealing with Bob’s ridiculous shenanigans. Rick plotted out exactly what he wanted to say. He was ready to give Bob a piece of his mind, when Bob finally swam up, huffing and puffing.

“You guys aren’t going to guess what I just saw!”

Humph. Rick bet they wouldn’t. Bob was always coming up with the most outlandish stories.

“I was just swimming along, trying to get here on time… And I saw these huge, pale columns! There were two of them, and they weren’t there yesterday … I swear they weren’t! And they had odd hairs floating off of them,” Bob told the group. “But I said to myself, I said – weird white columns or no, you have to get going! I knew the group was waiting on me, see.”

He looked around, gauging his words for impact.

“And then,” he said. “Just in front of these weird white columns… I saw this thing… It was solid and hard, like a rock, but shiny…. sooo shiny.”

Bob got a dreamy look in his eye just then.

“It was beautiful,” he continued. “It was like…. like moonlight made solid. I started swimming towards it. I couldn’t help myself. But then I shook it off… I remembered that I had to meet you guys, so I darted behind some jagged rocks, just to get away from the shiny thing.”

Some of the other members of the group were waving him along impatiently, wanting to get going, but also wanting him to finish his story, a little more than they’d like to admit.

“But I turned around to look at it one more time, to say goodbye, you know,” he explained. “And I saw him – I saw my cousin Al. He was swimming towards it. He saw it same as I did, but…. but he couldn’t stop himself. He swam right up to it and put it in his mouth, like he was trying to swallow the moon.”

Bob was almost in hysterics now, which Rick was certain he was faking. The next part was spoken in a whisper, as if he was sharing a secret with the group.

“It took him,” Bob said. “It just nabbed Al and pulled him up and away and…. I couldn’t see him anymore. He was just gone!”

Bob looked around again.

“Gone,” he repeated for emphasis. “Absolutely disappeared. Vanished.”

“Great, Bob,” Rick said, not willing to take any more of this. “I’m sure that really happened. Can we get going now?”

Bob’s eyes grew even wider than their normal saucer-size.

“It happened! Of course it happened!” he exclaimed. “I’ve just survived a nightmare! It could’ve been me on that thing! I could’ve been taken!”

“I wish it was you,” Rick thought to himself.

Out loud, he said, “Sure, Bob. Just like you were chased by that octopus last week.”

“I was!” Bob half-shouted.

“We live in a freshwater river, Bob,” Rick said, flatly. “There are no octopi.”

“You may not be able to explain it,” Bob said, glaring at him. “But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t real.”

“Sure,” Rick said. “Can we go now? Before all of the good females are taken?”

He didn’t wait for a response before he turned around and swam away. The group followed, now that Bob’s dramatic tale had come to an end.

About twenty feet upstream, the tired fisherman decided to call it a day. He’d only caught one little white crappie. It flopped around miserably in his little boat as he sat back down. It wouldn’t do for dinner, but the sun was setting and he had to get home. He supposed he’d stop at McDonald’s on the way, and hope that the fishing was better tomorrow.

Prompt:

chased

fish

jagged

 

Prompt courtesy of:

http://writingexercises.co.uk/children/random-words-for-a-story.php

Twas the night before Christmas…

‘Twas the night before Christmas

And all through the home

Not a creature was stirring

And she felt so alone

 

The lights were draped across

the windows with care.

She poured another drink.

She wasn’t going anywhere.

 

She heaved a sigh

As she microwaved supper.

She walked to the couch

And petted the pupper.

 

She listened to the whir and the whoosh

of the washing machine.

Even if life sucked,

At least the sheets were clean.

 

Then there came a

knock at the door

She walked up to it slowly,

Worried, unsure.

 

She pulled it open

To the neighbor from downstairs

A woman who looked

quite displeased to be there.

 

“There’s water,” she said.

“Dripping down from my ceiling.

My bathroom floor’s wet.

My paint’s begun peeling.”

 

She turned off the machine

and threw towels on the floor.

She mopped and she cleaned.

Then she cleaned some more.

 

It’s hard to think of a time

when you would feel dumber.

But ’twas the night before Christmas…

There would be no plumber.

 

You do your best.

And you say you’re sorry.

And you try to clean up.

And you worry and worry.

 

Spending holidays alone

Can feel like a curse

But you just remember…

It can always get worse.

September 25, 2017

Grandfather Fox lay down for a nap in his most dignified manner. This was not difficult. Grandfather Fox did everything in his most dignified manner, and as a result, was accustomed to the effort required. However, Grandfather Fox’s determination to nap did not prevent Franny the kit from pestering him.

The little cub poked and prodded her Grandfather, scampering around him on clickety-clackety little paws until the old fox finally snapped, nipping at his granddaughter’s tail, and biting just hard enough to elicit a yelp.

Go pester someone else,” he growled.

Grandfather, it seemed, took his naps seriously, and so Franny took her wounded tail and moved on to pestering her Mama, who was in their burrow’s kitchen, making dinner.

Mama,” she asked. “How come Grandfather only gots one eye?”

Only has,” her mother corrected.

Has.” Franny rolled her eyes, as much as foxes are capable of rolling them, anyhow. “How come Grandpa only has one eye?”

He lost it in the Great Meadow War,” Mama Fox said.

Franny’s eyes grew round.

There was a war?” she asked.

Yes,” Mama sighed. “It was a long, long time ago, before I was even born.”

Who were we fighting against?” Franny asked.

Mama Fox looked around quickly, making certain that Grandfather was, in fact, asleep. The old man didn’t like talk of the war – it brought back bad memories. And he still had nightmares about it. Sometimes, she could still hear him muttering in his sleep. But it looked like Grandfather was firmly asnooze, so she answered.

We were fighting the forest foxes,” Mama said.

Forest foxes?”

Franny had lived her whole life in the meadow. She didn’t know there were forest foxes. She didn’t even know that there was a forest. All Franny knew was long green grass, and stealing food from the Farmer, and curling up in a warm spot of sunshine on the grass. She had no idea that there could be forest foxes.

How different their lives must be, she thought.

What are the forest foxes like?” she asked.

They’re bad,” Mama said, more harshly than she’d meant to.

She glanced around again, making sure Grandpa was still asleep, and then offered more of an explanation.

They’re not like us,” she said. “They’re …. Wild.”

Franny giggled.

But Mama, we’re all wild,” she said.

Mama Fox shook her head.

Not like they are,” she said ominously. “They’re savages. Beasts.”

Franny hadn’t known there was a forest until about a minute ago.

How far away is ‘the forest’?” she wanted to know.

She imagined it to be a distant, mythical place. She thought it must be so far that she’d never be able to get there on her own.

Not far,” Mama said. “It rests just beyond the meadow. It’s where the sunlight ends and the trees begin.”

Franny had never been to the end of the meadow, but she knew where it was – some of the older kits liked to lay in the shade, and had ventured into the darkness of the trees. But she hadn’t known before that the trees were ‘the forest.’

She hadn’t known that danger lurked so nearby. And she was scared.

W-what do they look like?” she asked.

Mama Fox subconsciously fluffed up her own fur.

They look nothing like us,” Mama Fox told her. “For one thing…”

She leaned closer her child, so she could whisper.

Their fur is red.”

Red?” Franny squeaked.

Yes,” Mama Fox nodded. “It’s nothing like our beautiful deep orange fur. Their fur is red, like blood.”

Franny shivered, imagining these savage foxes.

Mama?” she asked, her voice small and scared.

Yes, darling?”

W-will they ever come here?”

Franny was half-panicked. She hadn’t known these evil foxes existed before… but what was stopping them from coming here, especially since the forest was so close?

No, sweetie,” Mama Fox said. “They won’t come here. They stay in the forest. That was part of the treaty that ended the war. They stay on their territory and we stay on ours.”

Franny couldn’t sleep that night. She tossed and turned, having turbulent nightmares about blood-red foxes with crazy eyes creeping up to her family’s burrow in the darkness.

And she made a choice. She had to see one. She had to know if they were real. She needed to know what they looked like, and if they meant her family harm.

And with those thoughts, she drifted into an uneasy sleep.

******

The morning dawned sunny and bright. It was almost bright enough for Franny to forget about her nightmares of the previous evening. Almost.

As usual, the kits played together, play-fighting and rolling around in the green meadow grass and lazing in the sun.

Somehow, as they tumbled around, their play brought them closer and closer to the dark woods on the opposite side of the meadow. Franny made sure of it, gently poking and nudging the other little ones, until they were mere feet away.

The other kits continued their play, but Franny stared into the darkness between the trees. Finally, the others noticed that she wasn’t playing with them. One of the other little cubs, Frank, came up to her, nudging her in the shoulder.

Dare you to go in there,” he said.

They dared each other to do things all the time.

“Dare you to race to that tree and back.”

Dare you to steal that pie from the farmer’s window.”

Dare you to poke Grandpa.”

Frank hadn’t actually expected Franny to take this one, but it was what she’d been waiting for. She took one last look at him before darting into the woods.

She had to know what was in there. She had to know who was in there. She had to know if these foxes were as savage and evil as Mama had said.

She picked her way carefully between the trees, frightened and wary, feeling like danger lurked in every shadowed nook. Her body was tense.

And, before she knew it, the thing she’d been most frightened of happened.

Rawwrr!!”

A small, furry body slammed into her own, knocking her top over tail. By the time she landed, flat on her back, she’d had the breath knocked out of her. Still, she jumped up, hackles raised, and growled as fiercely as she could, which was, after all, not very fiercely. She was still a very small fox.

Jeeez. Relax, will ya?” the other, surprisingly small fox said. “I was only playing.”

Franny took a step back in surprise. This kit looked …. Well, it looked just like her, and her brothers and sisters and cousins.

Who’re you?” she asked.

Shouldn’t I be asking you that?” the other fox said. “After all, you’re in my woods.”

She supposed he was right.

I’m Franny,” she said.

The other fox approached her again, this time, it came right up close, and licked her on the nose.

Nice to meet ya, Franny,” he said. “I’m Danny.”

The two circled each other.

Finally, Franny spoke.

I thought you’d look different,” she said.

Different how?”

You know… wild.”

Wild?”

With bright red fur and sharp teeth,” she said.

Danny rolled his eyes.

My teeth are as sharp as yours,” he said. “I’ll promise you that.”

His fur was certainly the same. He didn’t look any different from any other fox she’d known. Maybe he was a little more annoying, but she suspected that was a personal trait.

They were both little foxes, of approximately the same age. And so they did as young things do, when they meet and spend time together – they spent their afternoon playing in the woods.

And when Franny left the woods, late in the afternoon, as the sun was just beginning to touch the treetops, she trotted out smugly to meet her companions, all of whom had been waiting, worried about her.

That night, when Grandfather Fox took his after-dinner nap, Franny decided to tell her Mama the happy news.

Mama,” she said. “I met one of them. They’re not bad at all.”

One of what?” Mama asked.

Mama was distracted and not paying very much attention, trying to scrub a particularly tough stuck-on bit off of a plate. But the next words caught her attention.

One of the forest foxes,” Franny said. “I played with him all afternoon. He was nice. And the forest foxes look just like us. They’re not crazy. They don’t have red fur or anything.”

Mama Fox’s mouth dropped open, and the plate she was holding fell, shattering on the floor.

Mama Fox grabbed Franny’s paw, forcing her into the living room, waking Grandfather from his nap. She forced Franny to tell her Grandfather everything that had happened.

Slowly, staring at the ground the whole time, Franny recited the entire story. She was unsure why Grandfather looked so worried. She didn’t know what she had done wrong. Or for that matter, what Danny had done.

When she finished her story, Grandfather didn’t stop to say anything. He got out of his easy chair with surprising speed, knocking Franny down and charging straight out of the burrow.

Franny let out a whimper. What had she done?

Grandfather Fox went from burrow to burrow, spreading the word and gathering the elders of the meadow community.

Franny watched as the council gathered in the center of the meadow, where Grandfather stood on the large central dirt mound, created for such occasions. There were foxes from every family there, looking oddly apprehensive.

He looked tall and dignified, Franny thought, but he also looked scared. Franny hopped around the outskirts of the crowd, trying to get a good view of Grandfather, and trying to hear what he was saying. She couldn’t hear very clearly from where she was, but she did catch a few snippets.

Grandfather was telling the story of what had happened in the forest that day. Or at least, Franny thought he was… It didn’t sound much like what she’d told him. In this version, the evil forest fox lured little Franny into the woods. In this version, he didn’t just tumble into her, but viciously attacked her. And in this version, he was about five times bigger than Franny, a full-grown fox hurting a poor, little kit.

Every time he said something untrue, Franny tried to shout over him, to correct him – to fix this. And every time, the adults hushed her, cuffing her around the ears and telling her to pipe down while the adults talked about important things.

Eventually, the adults began shouting, loudly proclaiming that they wouldn’t let evil forest foxes corrupt their sweet, innocent babies. They shouted that they wouldn’t let these foreigners invade their territory and destroy their way of life. They yelled about tradition and the importance of family, and how nothing mattered to these wicked invaders.

Franny slunk home with her tail between her legs, knowing that somehow, she had caused this, and desperately wishing that she could stop it.

The following day, Franny watched as Grandfather gathered a group of strong, young foxes. They sharpened their claws and gathered the sharpest sticks they could find. And they marched into the forest at sunrise. Franny could see the early morning light, ruby-red, glinting off of her Grandfather’s good eye, highlighting the fear and rage on his face as he marched.

Hours later, they came limping out of the forest, scratched and wounded, bleeding. Some of them had broken limbs.

Franny cried into the evening, listening as the other foxes discussed the savages in the forest, and the oncoming battle.

The next day, as the sun rose, the forest foxes counter-attacked. The foxes of the meadow were ready for them, standing stoic, with sharpened claws and teeth and twigs.

Franny hid in the burrow, occasionally lifting her little face to see the adult foxes in their dangerous dance, slashing at each other, stabbing and tearing into each other with their teeth.

She sobbed, crying out of sorrow, out of the utterly unjust way of the world, out of the cruelty creatures are capable of wreaking upon each other. She cried and cried, tears wetting her white-and-orange fur.

Not very far away, on the opposite end of the meadow, the farmer’s daughter looked out of the window.

“Come here, Dad!” she called. “Take a look at this! The foxes are playing together!”

She gave a little giggle and pressed her palm against the glass of the window before turning to look at her Dad.

“Aren’t they cute?” she asked.

******

I so much wish that we lived in a post-nationalist world. I wish that we lived in a society where who you are and what you do and what you think matters so much more than where you come from or what you look like.

We’ve got a long way to go. Here’s hoping we get there eventually.

 

Writing Prompt:

patriotism
fox
battle

Writing Prompt Courtesy of:
http://writingexercises.co.uk/take-three-nouns.php

 

 

 

 

August 30, 2017

I’m quite tired. I suppose this is the kind of thing that happens when I’m tired. Or maybe I’ve just quacked up… heh.

Anyhow, here you go, without further ado:

There are many different flavors of silence, and most of them are unpleasant. A contemptible silence leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, like the aftermath of drinking bad coffee, when the flavor has coated your tongue and no amount of water seems to flush it away.

However, a contemptible silence is preferable to an empty one. An empty silence, completely devoid of emotion, feels like disappointment. It tastes like loss. Like the memory of the most delicious thing you could have had. The thing that you missed out on and will always regret.

And this, the silence that filled the office, broken only by the insistent shushing of the air conditioner and the occasional clickety-clack of typing, was an empty silence. It was the sound of a group of people, as one, typing without thought, moving without emotion or purpose, getting up to retrieve a piece of paper from the printer only to return to their seats, weighed down with the heaviness of the day, every passing minute a pebble dropped onto the growing pile they carried.

She sat at her computer, eyes staring at the large monitor before her, and watched the blinking cursor dumbly.

Yes

No

N/A

37

She’d been checking the same boxes, typing the same numbers over and over, until they blurred together in her mind like a reel of newsprint, black-and-white digits floating behind her eyes. She typed the address one more time and allowed herself to sit for a few moments, face propped against her palm, glaring at the dreaded screen.

One more file.

Just get through one more file.

She’d been pushing herself through them all day, like a swimmer doing laps. Well, more like a swimmer who hates swimming. She forced her body through the water, and pushed herself each time her head bobbed up into the chlorine-saturated air for a gasping breath.

One.

More.

Lap.

Just like that.

One.

More.

File.

She reached for the next one. The last one in the stack. The folder was such a bright yellow that it almost hurt to look at. The files were wrapped in brightly colored folders, as if to make up for the blandness of everything else surrounding them.

She reached for it, and she put it back. Just for a moment. She’d get to it in a minute. She would. She just… wanted a minute. She sat with her cheek pressed into her palm and watched the never-ending, blinking cursor again. And just for that moment, she let her already half-closed eyes slide completely shut.

“You’re still working on these?”

Her boss’s loud voice broke through her little break. It wasn’t quite yelling, but… Oh, let’s just be honest. It was yelling.

“I thought you’d have these done hours ago! What on earth is taking so damn long?”

He was a short, portly man with yellowy-gray hair that he ran his fingers through whenever he was nervous, inadvertently puffing it up like a crown of feathers around his balding head. It looked like that now, as he reached for her last remaining file, holding it in front of her nose menacingly.

“This is an important job,” he half-shouted. “And if you’re not going to be responsible and committed to your tasks then – ”

Quaaaack! Quaaaack! Qua-Quaaack!

She blinked rapid-fire, as the papers he’d held went flying, drifting through the air. A moment later, they were followed by feathers.

The man was a duck.

It was not some sort of new insult.

The man had suddenly morphed into a giant, yellow duck.

And his white, downy under-feathers swiftly followed the paperwork, filling the air with a floating whiteness that covered the previously clean floor like snow, as he quacked and flapped his huge wings. The breeze created by the flapping only added to the disarray, sending little tornadoes of feathers whirling around the room and –

Slam.

She jumped, eyes springing open and refocusing, as she tried to discreetly wipe a bit of drool off of her lower lip.

She looked at the huge new stack of files on her desk, which her boss had clearly just plopped there, while she sat half-snoozing, and then looked back up at him, wide-eyed.

He grinned and shrugged, only slightly apologetic for adding to her workload.

“It looked like you were down to your last few files,” he said. “So I thought I’d bring you some more to keep you busy.”

He turned to walk out, then thought better of it, as he popped his head back into her office, his yellowish corona glowing slightly in the fluorescent office light.

“By the way,” he said. “I meant to tell you good job. No one’s ever gotten through files that quickly.”

He gave her a quick smile.

“I appreciate your effort,” he said. “Keep up the good work.”

She sighed, picked up the formerly-last file, and began again, cocooned once again in the silence, which now felt a little less empty.