Intervals

This week’s flash fiction is part two of a the create/share a character challenge presented by Chuck Wendig. Two weeks ago characters were created, and I really liked this one by Aimee Ogden. On Friday Chuck challenged us to take our borrowed character and write a flash story. He gave us 2000 words, which is double the usual allotment. Didn’t matter, I need about 4500 word to tell the story I want. Below is “Intervals.” Hope you like it.

Intervals
Normally, her day off was for catching up—catching up on errands, catching up on laundry, catching up on cuddle time with Zoë, and maybe, just maybe, catching up on her sleep. Today, though, was devoted to getting the werewolf problem under control. After arranging with her mom to watch Zoë for a few hours, Lucia caught the bus for downtown. The bus stop was a couple of blocks from the library, so Lucia window-shopped the shabby storefronts along the way.

When she got to the library it took a few minutes to figure out the online filing system. Most of the books she found listed were fiction; several were children’s books. Eventually she found a few volumes in the folklore section that seemed promising, and settled down at a table to study them.

A few hours later, Lucia punched the last of the books away. She flipped through her notes in disgust. She hadn’t expected to find a lot of information, but what she’d found was pretty useless. She ran her hands through her short hair and sighed; then checked her watch. It was time to pick up Zoë and she still had no plan. She left the books on the table and headed back to the bus stop, reminding herself to pick up a pack of cigarettes for her mom, as a thank you for watching the baby.

After lunch Lucia convinced her mother to watch Zoë for the rest of the afternoon by telling her that she had a job interview, one that paid better than her job as a desk clerk, and then headed back downtown. Eventually Lucia found the address she’d looked up on her cell phone. She stood outside the shop, studying the window displays. On the right was a large display of books; the left window held candles, glass globes and assorted jewelry. It was the name of the store, painted in old-fashioned letters, that kept her from going inside.

INCANTATIONS

Lucia took a deep breath, reminded herself that at least no one she knew would see her, opened the door and stepped inside. She expected a dark, dusty room, filled with shadows and questionable display cases; she found a well-lit room filled with the scent of cinnamon cookies. A young blond woman stepped out from behind a counter and headed toward her. She extended her hand. “I’m Anneth.”

“Lucia.” She shook Anneth’s hand. She felt the woman’s grip tighten a tiny bit, then relax.

“What do you need, Lucia?”

“I thought I’d just look around.” She tried to sound casual, “Just to see what you have.”

Anneth nodded. “You could do that. But it would be faster if you told me what you were looking for.”

Lucia hesitated.

She bit her lip, and then said, “It sounds weird.”

Anneth smiled. “Don’t worry about that. It’s an occult shop, Lucia. We specialize in weird.”

“I need to know about werewolves. I went to the library this morning, but that was pretty useless.”
Anneth snorted. “I’m not surprised. What did you need to know? Were you interested in a particular aspect of the culture?”

“I’m…not sure what you mean. I just need to know the truth about werewolves, and how dangerous they are. How to protect people from them. How to cure it.” Lucia burst into tears.

Anneth guided Lucia to a small overstuffed sofa in a corner of the shop and disappeared behind a curtain. By the time she returned, carrying a tray with two mugs of tea and a plate of cookies, Lucia had gotten her tears under control.
“I’m sorry,” she began, as Anneth settled onto the sofa next to her.

Anneth handed her a mug. She waited until Lucia took a drink, and then said “Why are you interested in Werewolves, Lucia?”
Fighting back the tears, Lucia said, “I think I was bitten a few weeks ago. I met this guy at a club, and we went back to his place, and –,”

“That’s fine.” Anneth stopped her. “I don’t need details.”

“You believe me?”

Anneth nodded. “When we shook hands. I could tell.”

“Can you help me? The books at the library were so confusing. According to some of them it’s not that hard to cure, but some of them say the only way out is death.” She took a deep breath. “I don’t want to die, but I’ve got to be sure Zoë’s safe.”

“Zoë?”

“My daughter. She’s two.”

Anneth was silent for few moments. “The reason for the confusion about cures is because there’s more than one kind of werewolf. If it’s a magical condition it’s usually reversible. But in the case of infection…that’s a permanent condition.”

Lucia began to cry again.

“No. Don’t. It’s like a lot of diseases, Lucia. It’s manageable. You just have to make some lifestyle changes.”

“What?”

“Look, I asked if you were interested in the culture. There are a lot of werewolves out there. Most of them are like you; they don’t have any choice but to learn to live with the condition. And most of them lead happy, normal lives, without putting anybody at risk.”

“How do they do it?”

“”There’s a…support group, I guess you’d call it. Let me get you their number. Call them, tell them I gave you the number. They’ll explain what they can do.” Anneth saw the doubt in Lucia’s eyes. “Look, just talk to them. You owe it to Zoë.”

It had been hard to convince her boss to give her time off, and harder still to explain to her parents that she and Zoë were going away for a few days. But Lucia and Zoë were finally in a van, on the way to Intervals Retreat. As the driver had stowed her luggage, he’d assured her that they would be at the retreat well before moonrise. Fastened in her car seat, Zoë had fallen asleep before they’d left the city, and now Lucia stared out the window, watching the scenery.

Lucia woke when the van stopped. She turned to check on Zoë; she was still sleeping. She looked out the window. She saw a large house, built of cut stone. Three stories tall, with towers and bay windows, it looked like something from a movie. There were no other houses visible; the lawn was edged with thick evergreen woods. The driver had already taken her luggage out of the van; she watched as another man carried it inside. She unfastened Zoë; the child woke as she lifted her out of the seat. Lucia kissed the top of her head. “We’re here, pumpkin. Wherever here is.”

Waiting at the front door was an older woman, wearing a white lab coat. She smiled at Lucia. “Welcome to Intervals Retreat. I’m Elizabeth Gower; I’ll be your counselor for this visit.”

The inside of the house was as elegant as the exterior, full of polished wood and glittering cut glass. “Only this visit?” Lucia asked.

Ms. Gower nodded. “I work with our first time guests. If you decide to become a member of the retreat, you’ll be assigned a different counselor, someone who can become familiar with you and Zoë, and make sure you get the most from the experience here at intervals.”

Ms. Gower led them upstairs and into a small, comfortable suite. “Tom already brought your luggage up; it’ll be in the bedroom. There’s a crib for Zoë there, too. I’ll let the sitter know you’re here. She’ll stop by and introduce herself before sunset.”

“Thank you,”

“Are you sure you don’t want to eat downstairs? The dining room is quite nice. There’s no reason to hide in your room as if you’ve done something wrong, dear.”

Lucia shook her head. “No. This is going too fast. I’ve got to get used to the idea that I’m a werewolf before I’ll be ready to meet others.”

Ms. Gower sighed. “Alright, dear. But you need to come to terms with this. There’s no reason for you punish yourself. I’ll go now, but if you need anything, just call the front desk, and they’ll contact me.”

The sitter, Martha, arrived before Lucia had finished feeding Zoë, and after introducing herself she took over, allowing Lucia to finish her meal. The two women chatted for a while, Lucia briefed Martha on Zoë’s evening rituals, then excused herself to get ready for the evening. She showered quickly and put on some loose-fitting clothes. While she debated whether to take a sweater, Ms. Gower arrived.

Lucia kissed Zoë, considered a list of things she should remind Martha about, and then turned and followed Ms. Gower out of the suite. They went down the stairs without speaking, and through an unfamiliar part of the house. At length Lucia found herself behind the house, looking at a small graveled drive, and several electric carts. Ms. Gower led her to the nearest and motioned for her to take a seat. They followed a graveled path through the woods until they reached a small cottage.

The counselor unlocked the door, but stopped before she opened it. Lucia pushed the door open and stepped into a small empty room. A thick futon lay in one corner. A cabinet was fastened to the wall next over the futon, and there was a door on the opposite side of the room. No windows, no other furnishings.

“We’ve found, especially for first time guests, that it’s best if the cottage is empty. There’s less likelihood of injury.”

“It looks like a cell.”

“If that’s how you choose to view it. Some members see their wolf avatar as a beast, a thing of evil. For them, these cottages are cells. For others, the wolf is a return to a simpler creature, and they just need a safe place to wait out the transitions.”

She crossed the room to the other door and opened it. Lucia moved next to her, and looked out into a fenced enclosure. The counselor explained that Lucia could be confined inside the cottage, could have access to the fenced area, or, if she wanted, the enclosure could be left unlocked and she could roam the retreat grounds. After confirming that the girl only wanted to access to the fenced enclosure, Ms. Gower reminded Lucia to store her clothing in the cupboard before the transition, and left. Lucia thought she had never heard a sound as loud as the turning of the key in the lock.

It was late the next afternoon when Lucia finally finished all of the paperwork, gathered Zoë and headed back to the city. On the ride back she looked through the brochures again. She wished she could afford more than the basic plan; childcare, meals and transportation were included, but she’d have to trade the suite for the smallest single occupancy room available. She wouldn’t be able to afford a private sitter, either; Zoë would spend her time in a nursery with other children close to her age.
The spa, the tennis courts, and the pool weren’t in the basic plan either. Worst of all, Lucia wouldn’t have the freedom of the grounds. She’d thought she wanted the security of the enclosure, but last night when she heard the howls of the other werewolves she’d gone outside to join them. Her blood still raced when she thought of it. But the grounds were only available in the more expensive plans, and Lucia was going to have a hard time paying for the basics. She reminded herself that it was worth it to keep her child, her parents and her friends safe.

Anneth was straightening the bookshelves when the phone rang. “Incantations. This is Anneth.”

“Anneth, it’s Elizabeth.”

“Yes?”
“We signed the girl you sent, but you needn’t expect a check.”

“We have an agreement! I send you werewolves, you sign them to a monthly membership plan, and I get ten percent.”

“That was the agreement. But lately the weres you’ve been sending us can barely afford the dues. This isn’t a charity, Anneth, nor a public service. Intervals Retreat is a business. Our shareholders expect a profit. So you tell your pack to set their sights a little higher the next time they go clubbing. I’m warning you, the next time you send a student or a single mother out here I’ll put her down.”

On the Outside, Looking In: Flash Fiction Challenge

It’s been a while since I posted a story inspired by a Chuck Wendig flash fiction challenge. The last one that came along was mashup; I got a dystopian wasteland meets a comedic fantasy world, and even though I managed to plot an idea I just couldn’t find the right voice. Oh well; it’s not the first time I’ve swung and missed. Won’t be the last either.

It’s been a crazy time for me lately. School has started and I’m doing my best to keep a 4.0 GPA; not a problem so far. I’ve changed jobs, and although I love my new one, I’m having to learn an entirely new skill set for it. My car is suffering from terminal Mechanical Shutdown Syndrome, so I’m shopping for an affordable used one. I know almost nothing about cars, so this is major stress. To top it all off I’ve been dealing with minor illness and major medication reactions. Meh.

But enough about me; you came for the flash fic. This week’s Wendig Challenge is Time to Create a Character.  The premise is simple: create a character in under 250 words. As I understand it, next week we will borrow from among these characters to create a new piece of flash fiction. So, here we go:

On the Outside, Looking In

I spend all of my time just watching. Sometimes it’s traffic; that’s mostly early mornings and evenings. This is a quiet neighborhood; people go to work, people come home. A few of them like to walk, or bike. It’s only a few blocks from downtown, but it’s the sleepy southern kind of downtown with diners and small shops, and a public library on Main Street. During the day, when there’s nobody around I watch the animals; dogs, cats, birds, squirrels; typical residential wildlife. At night, when everyone is sleeping, I just watch the houses, and wonder which one is mine.
I’m pretty sure one of them is, or was, but none of them look familiar. For that matter, I don’t recognize any of the people I watch, either. That creeps me out; I mean, if I lived in one of these houses then these are, or were, my neighbors, and I don’t know any of them.
To be honest, the whole thing creeps me out, which is kinda ironic, given my situation. Normally one doesn’t think about whether a ghost is ever frightened. It may just be me, though. I’ve talked with a few other spirits, and they don’t seem to as disoriented as I am. Of course, they all know who they are, and how they died.
I can’t remember either of those things, and I think it’s really important that I do. I’m going to have to find somebody that can help me with that.

Tooth Fairy (Flash Fiction Challenge)

Okay, here’s my response to Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge from Friday, the 17th.  Chuck called it an easy one, but I’m not so sure. The challenge was to use a random phrase from this phrase generator.  Standard 1000 words. Took a while to find time to write, and couldn’t get more than 680 words.

The tiny figure made its way hesitantly down the grimy street, peering into storefronts and alleyways with quick, furtive glances. Cloaked and hooded in pale gray, it contrasted sharply with the broken sidewalks, fly-specked windows and crumbling brick buildings. Halfway down the street the figure stopped and looked up at a cracked and clouded window.

Consolidated Naughtiness, Inc.
Employment Services

It consulted a slip of paper it was carrying, and glanced once more at the storefront. For several minutes the figure stood, watching the window, before finally stepping inside.

Once across the threshold, the figure stopped. The store was dark. A few pools of orange, red or green light drew the eye, but did little to brighten the room. A dry, whispery voice said, “May I help you,” from the darkness next to the figure.

“Oh!” the tiny creature gasped. Lowering the hood, she looked around. “I didn’t see you there.” She laughed nervously, small bells chiming an unfamiliar tune. “Umm, where are you exactly?”

A light flared. Slouching next to her was a stooped, gaunt figure. It held a candle in a knobby, ragged nailed hand. It studied her with large glowing eyes. Greasy locks of hair hung over its face. “What do you want here, fairy?” the bogeyman asked.

“I want a job.”

The bogeyman looked at her. The fairy bit her lip, but met his gaze. After a few minutes the bogeyman turned. “Follow me,” he said. The bogeyman led her into a small office. The fairy blinked in the sudden brightness; there were candles burning on the cluttered desk, and a fire blazed in a small fireplace. “Would you like some tea?” he asked, motioning her to a chair in front of the desk.

“No. No thank you.” The fairy’s laugh was soft and nervous, but still carried an undertone of cheerful laughter. She sat.

“How do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“The laughter. You aren’t happy.”

“I can’t help it. The impression of laughter, tinkling bells, glittery footprints. It’s all part of who I am.”

“Fairy dust?”

“No. not anymore.” She took off her cloak and shifted slightly in her seat, displaying the ragged stumps where her wings had once been. “Fairy dust comes from our wings. No wings, no dust. No dust, no job.” She sat back.

“What happened?” the bogeyman asked quietly.

“I was a tooth fairy. Three centuries on the job, commendations.” Her voice was bitter. “The job’s always had its dangers—owls, dreamcatchers, getting pinned when a kid turns over. House pets can be tricky. I don’t know what’s worse, a yappy dog or a pouncing cat. Lately, though,” she shook her head and silvery curls danced.

“Kids don’t really believe in the tooth fairy anymore. That’s part of the job, too. More kids stay awake, waiting for us. That makes a lot more work for the sandman; there are all kinds of scheduling problems…” She sighed. “I went on a call. Kyle. Kyle Biggers. Horrid child. Rotten teeth. Definite non-believer.”

The bogeyman waited. Finally he prompted her, “The call?”

“He’d lost three teeth in a fight at school. The sandman went in first. A few minutes after, I followed. The little brat was waiting for us. I saw the sandman trapped in a jar–I thought he’d gone to check on Kyle’s sister–and I froze.”

“He grabbed me before I could do anything. It was a long night; the kid has quite an imagination. Right before he left for school, he tore off my wings, so I couldn’t escape.”

“But you did.”

“The sandman did something, I’m not sure what. Glass is made from sand, or something? Anyway, he managed to break free, and got me out of there. The healers repaired most of the damage, but they can’t regrow wings.”

“So you came here, to Consolidated Naughtiness.”

She nodded. “I need someone to teach me rueful, mocking and malicious laughter. The sound of leper’s bells, and death tolls. I’ll change my name to Cobweb.” She smiled, revealing a mouthful of long, needle-sharp teeth. “I’m going to be a new kind of Tooth Fairy.”

The Contract: Flash Fiction

Another Friday Flash Fiction Challenge from Chuck Wendig. Rules: open with a dead body, 1000 words.

Challenge accepted, Mr. Wendig.

I had to work at keeping this small; I may have cut so much that it doesn’t make sense. The initial concept was a lot creepier,and will no doubt find it’s way into another story at some point.

The Contract

“There.” The Constable Wizard pointed. “Just where dispatch said; the alley between Malkin and Dobrie streets.”

Ogilvie saw a body sprawled halfway out of the alley. A pool of blood spread from beneath it and across the cobble stones. He hurried forward. “Are we certain he is dead?”

The constable grabbed his arm, held him tightly. “By the Elements, man! Don’t touch him!” He took a small sphere from a coat pocket, touched it lightly with his wand. “This will tell us if he’s still alive, without leaving a signature.” The sphere glowed a faint rose, and floated over to the body sprawled on the cobbles. It slowly descended until it was resting on the back of the prone figure’s skull. As it made contact it turned black, and burst. “There,” the constable said. “He’s dead right enough. If you’d touched him you would have been part of the Contract.”

Ogilvie swallowed hard. “I thought the Contract was limited to a victim’s killer.”

Constable Adams shook his head. “There are several clauses to the Contract. But once the victim is dead he’s just meat. And so is anybody that touches him.”

“I’m not sure I understand”

Adams sighed. “I’ll try to explain as we go.” He looked back at the body lying in the narrow alley. “We can’t scribe a circle here. We’re going to have to move the body.” He looked at Ogilvie, “They’ll be here with a Mover in a few minutes.”

“A Mover?”

“If we want to find whoever killed our man we have to inscribe a circle around him. Where he’s fallen, there’s no room for a circle. So we have to move him. Since you and I can’t touch him, nor can any other law-abiding citizen, we’ll use a prisoner to do it.”

“A prisoner?”

“Usually somebody who’s done violent crime. Sometimes, though, we just have to take whoever’s in a cell.” He pointed toward a closed wagon coming up the street toward then. “Here’s our Mover.”

The two men watched as the wagon drew up to where they stood. Two policemen climbed down from the seat, and headed to the back of the wagon. One of them pointed a pistol at the closed door. The other took a large key from his belt and put it in the lock. The key turned, the door opened and a man stood framed in the doorway, squinting into the twilight.

The man with the key exchanged it for a pistol, which he trained on the prisoner. “He wants to be a Runner, Constable Wizard Adams.” Adams sighed. Slowly the prisoner climbed down from the wagon. The officers motioned him toward Adams and his companion.

“Follow me, Mover,” said Adams.

“Who’s he?” The prisoner pointed to Ogilvie.

“That is none of your concern, Mover.” Adams and the others stopped a few feet from the body. “Here is your task.” Ogilvie made a strangled noise as the Mover grabbed the dead man’s hands and pulled him out of the alley and into the center of the street. Once in the center of the street he rolled the corpse onto its back and straightened his arms and legs. He looked at Adams. “Anything else, Constable Wizard?”

“Can you see his wounds, Mover? Can you tell how he died?”

“Stabbed in the throat, looks like.”

“Thank you, Mover. Now, please empty his pockets and bring the contents to me.” Barkley did as he was directed, and placed the contents in a bag Adams held open. “Thank you, Mover.” Barkley grunted. Adams looked at him. “Ned,” Adams said, in a different tone, “three days is a long time. You could stay here. It would be quick.”

The Mover laughed harshly. “Not going to tell me it’s painless though, are you? No,” he shook his head, “I’m running. I’ve got scores to settle in the Maze.”

Adams nodded. “I was afraid of that. Very well, Mover. You are released from your duties. You are now a Runner.” For a few seconds there was no movement, then the man turned, and pelted ram. He turned a corner and he was gone. Adams looked through the bag until he found a wallet, with the owner’s name in it.

“What did he mean, scores to settle?” Ogilvie asked.

Adams sighed. He reached into a pocket and took out a bag of colored sand, which he used to trace a circle around the body. “Ned Barkley is an enforcer for one of the crime bosses in the Maze. He’s planning on finding some of his rivals and picking a fight. His killer will have to face the Contract.” Adams finished the circle quickly and set about the outer inscription. He turned to the officers, “You should head back now,” he said. “No point in upsetting the horses.”

Adams watched the wagon leave, then turned back to the circle. He took his wand, pointed it at the sand at his feet and uttered a few harsh syllables. The circle blazed. Ogilvie watched in horror as a twisted shape appeared inside the wall of flame. Slowly the fires died down until they were only a few inches high. Inside the circle the demon crouched.

“This man was James Strewby. Find his killer. Bring me his name.” Adams said. “Will you honor the Contract?”
Ogilvie screamed as the demon replied in a voice like bones breaking, “I honor the Contract.” The demon lifted the body of James Strewby, and bit off the head. “Good meat. And good hunting.” The flames flared suddenly, and when they died back, the demon was gone.

Ogilvie cringed as Adams turned back to him. “We have almost no murder. Most of the deaths now are accidental, in the course of another crime. And since there’s no telling who might be chosen as a Mover, other crimes are decreasing as well.”

“You’ve sold your souls!”

Constable Wizard Adams shook his head. “Not at all. Demons don’t want our souls. They only want fresh meat.”