Monday, June 11, 2018
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Flash Fiction Challenge: The Bridge and the Rose

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Hooboy, it’s been a while since I posted here. So long, in fact, that I forgot my password to this site. OOOps. Anyway, this story was in response to a prompt to pick one of 10 titles, and write a 1500-word story. I went a lot over, then edited the crap out of it to…still be over. Hope you like it anyway.

I woke up, blinking my eyes against the glare of the sun in the cloudless sky above me. The last thing I remembered was kneeling at the goddess stone with my offering, my sister Mabel at my side. “Mabel?” I looked around, but I was alone in a field, the stone a few feet to my right. It looked like someone had spilled something on it. I crawled towards it, and as I got closer, I could see the stain more clearly. Blood.

“Mabel!” My heart started pounding as I whirled my head around, trying to find some clue to what happened. Aside from the blood drying in the sun, the stone was undisturbed. Our offerings – gone. The field – silent. Too silent. But there. A glint of metal. I reached for it; it was my hunting knife, the blade covered in dried blood from point to hilt.

“By the Goddess! Did I…?” But I would never! I could never! Why couldn’t I remember what happened?

RUN. A voice, not my own, in my head. RUN. NOW. I sheathed the knife without bothering to wipe it clean as I sprang up and sprinted towards the shelter of the forest nearby. I couldn’t return to our village alone. Not if I had murdered my own sister. I reached the treeline and tucked myself into the cover of a large oak tree, peeking back around to the goddess stone.

“Are you looking for something?” I jumped back, clamping my hand over my mouth to keep from crying out in surprise. I hadn’t heard anyone approach; they stood just far enough away that I couldn’t make out any features. Their voice had a strange rhythmic lilt to it though; almost as if they were singing rather than speaking.

Gazing at them warily, I stepped towards them until I could see them better in the dim light of the forest. Wide, violet eyes. Vivid green hair. Pointed ears. Not a person, then. A fairie. A ridiculous, desperate idea struck me.

“I need to see your Queen. I have a question that needs answering.”

“Ah, you need to see her mirror then.”

“Her mirror?”

“She has a mirror than can answer any question asked before it.”

“Very well.” I tried not to roll my eyes. “I need to see the Queen’s mirror, then.”

“I can take you to it. And her.” They nodded slowly. “If you can cross the bridge, that is.”

“The bridge?” The fairie nodded, this time more quickly.

“Yes, the bridge to our realm.”

“How do I cross it, then?”

“‘Bring the Queen a gift, as beautiful as she. If your offering pleases her, the bridge to her you’ll see.’” The fairie bounced back and forth on their feet as they spoke.

“What kind of gift would the Queen of the fairie realm want? What can she not just conjure for herself?” I backed up closer to the tree and crossed my arms in front of my chest.

“There are many things she cannot obtain through magic alone,” the fairie replied, leaning towards me. “I should not be telling a mortal of such things, but,” they leaned even further in, until their lips nearly brushed my ear, “blue roses are her favorite.” They kissed me then, a flutter of lips on my jaw before they pulled away. I resisted the urge to wipe it off.

“A blue rose?” I had never seen a rose that colour before.

“Oh yes. They’re quite rare, you know. They only grow in one place.” They pointed their index finger up, violet eyes twinkling. “And I know where it is!”

“You do? Tell me!”

“No, but I will show you.” They grabbed my hand, the woods vanished, and after a few dizzying spins we were standing in the middle of an immense garden.

“It’s…beautiful,” I breathed, but even this word was not good enough to describe it. A riot of colours surrounded us, flowers in shades I had never even imagined. Dropping the fairie’s hand, I turned until I spotted a bush filled with blue roses, then stepped towards them.

“Wait! You cannot—” They dashed to catch up with me, grabbing my wrist and pulling me to a stop. “These are not weeds! You cannot just pluck them up. You have to prove your worth.”

“And how do I do that, exactly?”

Quick as lightning, they pulled my knife from its sheath, bringing the blood-stained blade in front of my face. “This I think, might tell your tale.”

“But—I didn’t—”

“Maybe you didn’t; maybe you did,” the fairie sang, handing me the blade and skipping towards the blue roses. “But the rose will decide if it wants to help you find the answer!” I followed them until we reached the roses. Careful to avoid the prickles, I pulled the largest bloom towards me and placed the knife against the stem. It sliced through with the barest amount of pressure.

“It has agreed. Hooray!” There was a sudden crash in the distance, and the ground beneath us began to tremble. “Oops, time to go!” The fairie grabbed my hand before I could even sheath my knife again, and the garden vanished.

Twilight had fallen once we reached our next destination—a narrow clearing with a forest on one side and the top of a rocky cliff on the other. I could barely hear the rush of water, far below.

“Where are we now?” I asked, wiping my knife on my pants leg before sheathing it.

“Why, we’re at the bridge!” They pointed at a spot on the rocks but I could see nothing.

“I can’t see it.” My heart sank.

“You give up too easily!” The fairie sang, pulling me towards the spot. “Come with me. You have to show her your gift!” They towed me until we were standing on the edge of the cliff, then grabbed my arm holding the rose, stretching it forward. They ducked behind me and pushed me until I thought I would fall. I looked down but even with the last bit of daylight I couldn’t see the water below. I leaned back as much as I could, feeling queasy, but the fairie pressed their body against mine and pushed us forward. I shut my eyes, waiting to fall to my death.

“Have some faith,” they whispered against my ear. I swayed forward, losing my balance and instinctively took a step; instead of air, my boot landed on something solid. My eyes flew open and I gasped. We were standing on a wide wooden bridge, the rails covered in ivy and red roses, tiny lights twinkling along the expanse. The lights continued along a path on the other side. We crossed the bridge and followed the path for a short while until it ended abruptly before a giant tree. The fairie skipped up to the tree and pressed a knot in the wood, causing an arched entryway to appear.

“This way to the Queen’s throne room!” They called, beckoning me forward as they walked through. I followed for what felt like a long time, winding through a tunnel that smelled like damp earth. I finally passed through another archway into a large circular room, brilliantly lit by thousands of twinkle lights along the walls and ceiling, strung through tangles of ivy and roses. A large, still pond reflected the light in the centre of the room, with a single chair, constructed of twigs and branches behind it. The chair was empty.

“Wait.” I turned to the fairie, anger and frustration surging through me. “We went through all this and she’s not even here?” The fairie skipped over to me, took the rose, and headed towards the throne.

“Oh, but they are.” They snapped their fingers and they seemed to grow taller, large gauzy wings appearing at their back, a crown of ivy and red roses atop their head. As they sat down, a mischievous smile played on their face. Surprise gave way to renewed anger as I stalked towards them.

“You made me do all of this…stuff, and you were the queen the entire time?” I stopped when I reached the pond, my cheeks burning.

“Of course. I had to make sure you were worthy.” They leaned forward, tossing the rose into the pond, which rippled away from the flower and then went still. “Look in the mirror. Find your answer.” I leaned forward, gazing into the water.

“Mabel!” I cried out, in relief and dismay. She was alive, but injured, and bound to a tree by several strands of ivy around her waist. A large bruise had swollen her left eye nearly shut and her dingy shirt was stained with blood at the left shoulder. Relief quickly turned to realization and I jerked back.

“You!” I took a step back and reached for my knife, hands shaking with fury.

“You have your answer. And now I have a question for you: do you want her back, safe and sound?” I swallowed all the curses I wanted to fling at them, and nodded, dropping my hand. “Good. You shall see her soon. But first, I have a task for you.” They stood up from the chair and, in a flash, crossed the pond and stood beside me, grasping my wrist.

“Why…me?”

“This.” Still holding my wrist, they pulled up the sleeve of my shirt, revealing what looked like a brand on the inside of my forearm. I had never seen it before, and I tried to jerk my arm away, but they held it fast. “You have the mark. Nobody can hurt you; and you will protect me.”

“But how did you…”

“Oh, Cayne,” they sang, “I’ve been looking for you a long time.”

Flash Fiction: The Magic Realism Bot’s Revenge

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This week’s challenge was to hit up the Magic Realism Bot Twitter account, and use one of the tweets as a prompt for a short story. I’ve done this before on my other site, but I didn’t get it posted in time for the challenge. This time, I got the tweet “A politician watches a TV show about an umbrella that can destroy time, and becomes obsessed with finding it.” I bet you can guess which politician I chose.

“Ah, yes, Mister President, I have your latest approval ratings…” The staffer, a tall thin man carrying a clipboard and visibly sweating through his ill-tailored suit, trailed off. Trudy could feel the aura of fear surrounding him, could smell the acrid odour of unease. She was nervous herself—it was her first day as intern in the biggest office in the world—but she prayed it was not so apparent on herself.

“Yes? And? I bet they’re incredible. I’m doing the best job, you know. Stupendous. Better than anyone. No one has ever been this good. Everybody knows!” President Ronald Rump positively beamed as he leaned back in his high-backed office chair, his round, doughy face flushed and shiny with perspiration.

“Er, about that…”The staffer took a couple of timid steps back.

“Wait! What’s that on the TV? Turn it up! Everyone shut up!” The room fell into a deep hush as one of the aides turned up the TV on the show “Rox and Fiends”. While the other staffers turned their attention to the wall-sized TV, mounted awkwardly against the circular wall, Trudy snuck towards the president’s desk. She still held the coffee she was sent to bring him, and, not knowing what to do with it, decided to unobtrusively place it on his desk.

“Yes, Dick. According to its inventor Bladimir Blutin, this device, which looks like an ordinary umbrella, has the ability to destroy time. Obviously, he has restricted his testing to very controlled laboratory conditions, but the initial results are very promising. We go live now to his laboratory at the University of Moscow.”

“You there!” Rump pointed a sausage-like finger at Trudy just as she was placing the cup down. Startled, she cried out and jerked her hand back, spilling hazelnut coffee everywhere. She hastily pulled the napkin from the saucer, trying to mop up the mess. “You’re a pretty little thing!” He put a meaty paw on her upper arm, stroking one finger towards her shoulder. It took all her effort to suppress a shudder. “What’s your name?”

Trudy tried to speak, but she was silenced by a combination of fear and revulsion. She cleared her throat and tried, without success, to extricate her arm from Rump’s grip. “Trudy. I’m the new intern.”

“Well, Trudy-the-new-intern,” Rump said, pulling her in closer. “Consider this a promotion. You are now the director of getting me that umbrella!” Chucking at his own terrible joke, he looked up and around the room. The others half-heartedly joined his laughter; they were probably just grateful they were not her. “This mission is a top priority, so you have anyone from my team at your disposal.”

“But Mr. President…sir, isn’t there someone more…qualified than me?” This time Trudy managed to pull her arm from his grip, managing a couple of sidesteps away from him as well. Rump guffawed loudly, and a few others joined in.

“You think I trust any of these yahoos? Every one of them would steal it for themself! Or worse, get it to that crooked Millary Milton! She already tried to rig the election, didn’t she? But no, I won by over 3 million votes. And my inauguration; it was the biggest ever! No other president had as many folks to their inauguration as Ronald Rump!” He exclaimed, slamming his palm on the desk. Then he looked up, puzzled, his gaze travelling around the room. He grunted. “What was I saying?”

“The umbrella…”the staffer prompted, his voice barely above a whisper.

“Right! The umbrella that can destroy time!” He turned his head back to Trudy, idly waving his hand around. “And you’re going to get it for me.” He grabbed at her again, but she shimmied out of his reach. Rump shrugged. “Look at that! Even she knows she can’t be trusted when she gets too close to Rump!” He was the only one to laugh this time; everyone else looked uneasy and mildly disgusted.

“Rudy…”

“Trudy.”

“Yes, yes. Trudy. That’s what I said. Trudy the intern. You don’t have any connections here yet, so I know that you will be loyal to me. Get me that umbrella, and you’ll have the best connection there is!” He raised his finger, then pointed at himself, grinning widely. He reminded Trudy of a fleshy orange toad, right before it strikes at a particularly delicious fly. “I can take you places! Trust me. I know everyone. I have people everywhere, people all loyal to Ronald Rump, I tell you.” He glanced around the room, but nobody dared make eye contact. They either stared down at the floor, or flipped through papers. Rump frowned, his face quickly turning tomato-red. Trudy started to feel nauseous, the internship she turned down at the Wildwood Free Press looking better by the minute.

“You!” Rump bellowed, pointing at the staffer from before. “Jenkins.”

“Er, Johnson.” He corrected, bringing his clipboard closer to his chest, almost like a shield.

“Yes, yes, Johnson. You speak Russian, right?”

“Yes, sir. I speak nine languages, including Russian.”

“Good.” Rump nodded, looking like a bobble-head doll. “You go with Trudy here. Get me that umbrella. Promise that man, that Bladimir Blutin, whatever he wants for it. I don’t care what I have to do or what it costs. I must have the umbrella.”

“Yes, sir, we’ll leave right away, sir.” Johnson nodded, backing away towards the door. Trudy joined him, feeling like she had just agreed to be executed. She silently cursed herself for not taking that other internship. If she were there, she would probably be filing something or fetching coffee, not preparing to con some Russian scientist out of an umbrella that could destroy time. To placate a volatile, oafish buffoon who could destroy her entire career with a word.

“Off you go then. And don’t let me down, you two,” Rump warned. “Or you’re fired!”

Flash Fiction: They Fight Crime (Sort of)

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This week’s challenge was to go to the “They Fight Crime” site, get a pair of characters, and write a short story about them. I got “He’s a fiendish arachnophobic cop who hangs with the wrong crowd. She’s a provocative hypochondriac queen of the dead from a different time and place.” Mine don’t actually fight crime, but they meet up to possibly take out some baddies, so same thing? Anyway, hope you like it.

Detective Rhodes sat slumped in a rickety wooden chair, wrists cuffed behind him, sweat dripping off his lank hair. He could hear the wind whistling through cracked widows in the abandoned warehouse, could smell the mixture of rusty metal and rotting wood. His whole body felt like one giant bruise, but the stab wound to his gut hurt worse. In some corner of his mind he knew if he didn’t get medical help soon it would begin to fester, but the only people who knew where he was were the ones who did this to him.

“Detective. I have been looking for you for a long, long time.” A woman’s voice, with a strange accent he couldn’t place; then a pair of dusty black boots. Fighting nausea, he slowly lifted his head. She was exquisite, with long raven hair that reached her waist, caramel skin, and almond-shaped eyes that contained the whole universe in their depths. She wore a skin-tight red gown, stained and torn at the hem, which brushed the tops of her thighs. He tried to speak, but could only cough, a hoarse, wracking sound that made him spit blood.

“You do not look good, detective. You’re…you’re not sick are you?” She took a step back.

“No,” he choked out. “Just beaten up.” He coughed again, then smiled, blood trickling down the corners of his mouth. “I don’t know why you were looking for me, sweetheart, but here I am. Although, as you can guess, I’m not really…in the mood. And I’m a little short on cash.”

“You think I’m a whore?”

“Well, honey,” he drawled, then coughed again, spitting more blood. “If the dress fits…”

“I am no whore! I am a queen. And I’ve come to retrieve you.” She flicked her wrist and the handcuffs binding Rhodes’ hands sprang open, clattering to the floor. He brought his hands around, rubbing the red spots where the cuffs chaffed his skin raw.

“Retrieve me? For what?”

“Why, to take you to the land of the dead. You have been a very naughty boy, haven’t you?” The woman crossed her arms across her chest, her ample breasts threatening to spill out the top of her dress. “Gambling, taking bribes, consorting with gang members. It appears that your indiscretions have finally caught up with you.”

“Motherfucker,” he swore, staggering to his feet. “You’re the queen of the dead.”

“I am. How do you know of me?”

“I have my ways.” Smirking, he tried to step towards her but his knee buckled, and he toppled to the floor.

“Are you certain you do not have any…illness I should know about?”

“No goddamn it,” he spat. “I was fit as a fuckin’ fiddle this morning.”

“Very well,” she replied, crouching down in front of him and placing her slender fingers on his head. They were cool, but delivered a welcome warmth which travelled over his body, healing his bruises and stitching his torn flesh. He took a deep breath and sat up as she rose and stepped away.

“Thanks, darlin’.”

“I am known by many names, none of them ‘darlin’. You may call me Imala.”

“What do you mean, known by many names?” Rhodes slowly stood up and stretched, testing his body, but it was completely healed. He eyed Imala warily.

“I am not of this time or place. I was first born long ago, in the country you now call India. The centuries have passed; I have been reborn many times, and known by many names. This is my current iteration.” She paced around the detective as she talked.

“But if I’m going to die anyway, why did you heal me?” He asked, frowning. Suddenly he jumped back with a shriek, knocking the chair behind him to the floor. “Did you just see that?”

“See what?” Imala looked around the dusty floor, but couldn’t see anything.

“That!” He pointed at a small ball of dirt. “Is that a…spider? I hate spiders.” Imala crouched down, spotting the small critter crawling across the wood. She caught it in her hand before it could escape between the floor boards, then she straightened up and walked towards Rhodes, hand outstretched.

“This little thing? It will not harm you. Unlike all the diseases you people seem to carry.”

“Ugh, get it away!” He swatted her hand, sending the tiny spider flying across the warehouse. “I don’t have any diseases. And even if I did, you said yourself that you were sending me to the land of the dead.” He grasped her wrist, bringing her closer to him, smirking. “That is, unless I can convince you to spare me?”

She stepped towards him, leaning forward and bringing her full, red lips to his ear. “And what would you have to offer me, in exchange for your life?”

“Some of my…associates are bound to be on your hit list. I happen to know that you won’t be able to find them on your own.” He released Imala’s hand and snaked his hands around her waist, drawing her even closer. “I can bring them to you,” he breathed, pressing his lips to her throat. She jerked back, wiping her neck, looking disgusted.

“Ugh, what do you think you are doing? Do you know how many germs are in your mouth?”

“But I thought…” he stammered.

“Ick. No.” She shook her head, taking a couple more steps back. “It is true that a couple of your more unsavory friends are among those I’m bound to collect,” she said, “and I have been having some difficulty locating them.” Then she narrowed her eyes. “Wait. How did you know?”

“Because I’m the one that cast the cloaking spell on them, my dear. You shouldn’t have been able to find me, except I must have lost too much blood and broke the spell.”

“What?” She brought herself up to full height, planting her hands on her hips. “You…fiend!”

“I help you find my buddies, and I get to live. That’s the deal.” He stuffed his hands in his pockets so Imara couldn’t tell they were trembling. He couldn’t afford to have her call his bluff.

Imara took a deep breath and relaxed her stance. She blinked slowly, trying to quell her annoyance. “As long as you behave yourself,” she began, straightening her dress and giving him a sidelong gaze, “you will have a full, long life. I can only hope it will be a miserable one.”

“Well, it sounds like a win-win for both of us.” His thin lips stretched into a smile that did not reach his narrowed eyes.

“Very well,” she replied, stalking towards the entrance to the warehouse, her boots thumping on the floor. “We start immediately.”

Flash Fiction: The Princess’ Game

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Okay, okay, this story was based on a prompt from nearly 2 weeks ago, but I couldn’t come up with any ideas by the deadline. Then I sat down to do some writing today, and  this happened. Raise your hand if you can tell I’ve been watching a fair amount of Gossip Girl lately. Raise your other hand if you can also tell I haven’t been smooching anyone in a while. (BTW, the awesome picture in the header is from my buddy Kat. She makes great art. Check it here: http://klancashire.com)

Miranda slipped into the ballroom through a secret door, hidden behind an ornate tapestry depicting a foxhunt. Her distinctive auburn hair was tucked underneath a powdered wig; her blue gown, while flattering and flowy and lovely, was not the thing she was usually allowed to wear. She could practically hear her mother declare it too clingy, too immodest, too…unseemly for her to wear to such an event. As she made her way through the crowd, she glanced up at the dias, where her maid, Colette, sat, dressed as Miranda in the high-collared, ornate gown her mother had chosen. They made eye contact and Miranda winked, evoking the merest hint of a smile from her doppelgänger.

This wasn’t the first time Miranda switched places with Colette to evade her parents, but it was the riskiest, with so many present, and the threat of recognition only made it more thrilling. She weaved through the crowd of minor nobles, watching the dancers with their bright finery whirling and spinning like so many tropical birds, hoping to attract a mate. Her own betrothed, Prince Harold, should be at Colette’s side, but the seat beside her was empty. He always seemed so bored at these balls; perhaps he didn’t bother attending this one at all.

She had just reached the far wall when a strong hand gripped her arm, pulling her over and onto a balcony overlooking the royal gardens.

“I waited an eternity for you,” a man’s voice murmured in her ear, before soft, full lips pressed against the hollow of her neck. She whirled around, ready to strike, before locking eyes with Harold. She blinked, trying to quash the surprise and betrayal that must have flashed across her face. Although she was not particularly in love with him, the knowledge that he desired Colette more than her stung. Well, then, let him suffer.

“My love.” She stepped into him, twining her bare arms around his neck, bringing her face millimeters from his own. Did he really not recognize the difference between Colette’s brown eyes and her own green ones? But men did not notice such things with other features to distract them, perhaps. “It has been too long. My mistress is very demanding of my time,” she said, her gaze roaming along his face, taking in his high forehead, his finely carved cheekbones, the dark line of stubble lining his jaw. She always knew he was handsome, but that jaw always seemed to be clenched, his features a stony mask of distain. But now, as he gazed down at her, his icy blue eyes warmed by desire, he was more than just handsome, more than just a bauble that she was obliged to wear on her arm. He was a living, breathing, vibrant being, and she was drawn to him as she had never been to anyone.

She pulled herself infinitesimally closer, breathing him in—he smelled like cedarwood and the ocean—her eyes closing of their own accord. She waited for several moments, which felt like forever, for his lips to meet hers. When they didn’t, she slowly re-opened her eyes. He was only a hair’s breath away from her.

“Not quite yet,” he whispered, and the raw desire in his eyes nearly brought her to her knees. She whimpered, closing her eyes again, shutting out vision and letting the rest of her senses take over. She felt him shift, then a soft brush of his lips against her neck once again. He left a trail of soft kisses along her collarbone, making her moan involuntarily, his hands spanning her hips before roaming to her back, gradually pulling her against him. He ran his nails lightly up her spine, the kisses turning into small nips as he made his way back up her neck. Her knees sagged and she clung to him, the full weight of her body now supported by his.

Finally, he kissed her full on her mouth, soft as butterfly wings at first, then with slightly more pressure. She parted her lips, tasting his with the tip of her tongue, making him moan and pull her even tighter against him. He tasted like wine, and chocolate, and like every sweet and delicious thing she’d ever had before. She surrendered her last shred of rational thought as she bit his lower lip and crushed her now heavy and full breasts against his chest. He reached up, pulling off her wig, twining his hands through her hair. He grabbed a fistful and gently pried her head away, as her eyes flew open in sudden realization and panic, her deception revealed. She took a couple steps backward, her whole body going numb.

She expected him to be angry, his face hardening into its usual stone mask. Instead, his eyes twinkled with the last vestiges of desire and mirth, his full lips curved in a smirk.

“Not Colette,” she said, feeling a wave of shame and nausea, even her cheeks remained flushed, and her still-swollen lips pulsed.

“Indeed.” He raised one eyebrow as he lifted the wig in his hand.

“Why aren’t you furious—you knew!” Her eyes widened, as a million thoughts ran through her head. Was he even in love with Colette? Did he know every time, or just this time? And what about when they were together when she was herself?

“I knew.” He took a step towards her, looking suddenly nervous. “I knew that you did not love me. That you thought your life, and your future, was boring as stuffy, like me. I knew that you needed to escape that life, and I…I hoped that you could maybe see me differently, too.”

“And Colette?”

“She is loyal to you in every way.” He smiled. “Well, except for keeping your secret. She told me what she would be wearing tonight.” He took a deep breath as he took another step forward. “I’m not expecting love, not yet. But you can’t deny you feel…something.” He smirked again, and Miranda moved towards him, like metal drawn to a magnet. “Just give me a chance. That’s all I ask.”

She stepped into his arms, breathing in the scent of him. “Kiss me again, and I’ll consider it.

Lose the Booze: Update

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Here we are, nearly at the end of February, and you may be asking (or not) how the whole Lose the Booze thing went. The short answer is that it went well, and I surpassed my goal of raising $200 to the BC Cancer Foundation (Kermit Flail!!).

The long answer is that I’m frankly surprised it has gone so well, but I have noticed a few…things, since I cut out alcohol entirely. People who know me personally, especially work colleagues, know that I liked to drink. They know that I frequently had a glass of something after work, or in the evening after the kids went to bed. Hell, I even sometimes had a tipple after my night shift, especially if it had been a busy one. And, even though I wasn’t drinking that much, I was beginning to wonder if it was becoming a problem. Like, maybe I was relying on it a bit too much to unwind at the end of the day. Like, maybe it was becoming a habit, and, although I certainly was not and am not an alcoholic, that maybe I was starting to head down that path.

Even the week before I started this, I wondered how well I was going to handle it. What if I had a really hellish day? What would I do to relax without a beer or a glass of wine? How much was this month going to suck?

I attribute a lot of the “not sucking” to the discovery that I absolutely love tonic water. It’s not as sweet as pop, it makes a lot of other things more palatable, and it’s way cheaper than booze. The one downside is that it has as much sugar as pop, so to avoid the caloric load, I had to find the diet stuff (it’s funny that I became concerned about the number of calories when I didn’t give a good goddamn about the amount of calories in the beer and wine I was drinking).

As the month wore on, I noticed some definite differences in my life, most fairly subtle, but some a bit bigger. In no particular order, I share them with you now.

  1. Dear sweet God, the insomnia. I think I knew, somewhere in the back of my monkey brain, that I was using alcohol as a sleep aid, but I don’t think I would have described it so. Boy, did I notice the difference once I was dry. Before, I would fall asleep pretty much once my head hit the pillow. Now, it takes minutes or more. I find that as soon as I lay down, my brain just won’t stop thinking of stuff. Occasionally, it’s about stuff I have to do the next day, but mostly it’s just dumb shit. Which leads me to the next one.
  2. ICY COLD FEET AT NIGHT. Before, most nights, when I got into my jammy jams, I put on a pair of warm fuzzy socks and I had to shuck them about an hour later. Not anymore. It takes forking forever for my feet to warm up, and if they’re still cold when I go to bed, forget about it. I can’t sleep until they are warm, and it takes a while. I always thought that I didn’t have cold feet anymore because of improved circulation from running. Hahahaha nope. It was good old-fashioned hooch.
  3. Better running. The first two runs I did this month were about 20 seconds per kilometer faster than my usual running pace. That doesn’t seem like much, but it’s a big deal. Or it was, until the rest of my runs were at my regular pace. But, my motivation to run has taken a huge boost, especially in the morning. Not like 5am in the morning; that’s just crazy talk. But I have been heading out right after I take the kids to school, and it’s nice to get it done and out of the way. My runs themselves have also been much more enjoyable; if you a see a crazy-looking redhead mouthing song lyrics and waving her hands around as she runs by, that’s me. I’ve turned my runs into mini dance-parties, which is fun for me (if a little alarming for passers-by).
  4. Weight loss. Maybe. It’s hard to tell, but I think I might have lost a couple of pounds. I definitely feel lighter, probably because booze seems to cause more than the average amount of bloating. My clothes aren’t particularly looser, although I think my cheeks are a bit slimmer. Now if it would only keep going to my midsection…
  5. These weird things called feelings. I’m not sure if you know this, because I’m pretty sure I’m in a constant state of denial about it, but us humans have these things called emotions. I’ve been told they are useful, but I find a lot of them, especially the painful ones to be less so. The great thing about alcohol sometimes is that you can either suppress these not-so-great emotions (like guilt, loneliness, or vulnerability) or even pretend they don’t even exist. The problem is that when you stop drinking, you realize they never really went away and now you have to deal with them. I have realized that I am not all that great at this. I’m getting better. Running helps.

So, what now? I don’t think I’m about to become a teetotaler; I actually like the taste of really good beer and bourbon too much to give it up entirely. But now that I did all the work to get out of the habit of drinking “just because”, I plan to keep it up. This means having days, mostly when I have the boys, where I just don’t drink. Now that I’ve found some good alternatives (I’m looking at you, fancy tonic waters) I think this will work well. Even on days when I do have a drink, I’m going to limit it to one, except for very special occasions. I’m going to make sure I avoid the pitfall of using booze as a sleep aid or anaesthetic. It’s not going to be easy, but I think my mental health is worth it.

Flash Fiction: Travel Woes

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This week’s prompt was to write a story about travel woes of some sort. I came up with a riff on Sliding Doors, which was one of my favorite movies when it came out (when Gwenyth was a movie star and not a shill for pseudoscience). I’m not crazy about this one, but let me know what you think.

Hannah sat in a seat right in front of the gate for her flight, idly scrolling through her phone, tears pricking the corners of her eyes. She looked up at the “Departures” screen but nothing changed. Five more hours. Five more goddamn fucking hours before she would even get to board. It would put her on the flight she originally booked home from this conference. He would be expecting her by then.

Well, if she had to wait that long, she might as well spend it tipsy. She headed for the bar and ordered a beer, but when it arrived she found she wasn’t in the mood to drink. She stared at the untouched glass for several moments, trying to picture what she must look like.

“Stuck here too, hey?” A voice to her left. Hannah assumed they were talking to someone else, so it was several moments before she lifted her head. Average-looking guy, brown hair that could use a haircut. Hard to tell sitting down, but he didn’t look particularly tall. Brown eyes, that, while kind-looking, were unremarkable. Hannah turned back to the bar.

“Yeah. Next flight home isn’t for five hours.”

“Is that why you haven’t had any of your drink? Need to make it last that whole time?” Oh great. A would-be comedian. She offered a hint of a smile at the joke, but still kept her eyes on the bar.

“Ok. I’m sorry. Clearly you’re not in a social mood. I’ll leave you alone.” He shifted over a seat, lifting his hand to the barkeep.

“I wanted to get home early because I’m pretty sure my fiancé is cheating on me,” she blurted out. What the hell did she say that for? She covered her mouth and tilted her head back, cheeks flaming.

“Oh. Damn.” Hannah glanced over at the guy. He looked concerned, and a bit uncomfortable. Probably regretting that he even talked to her. He picked the wrong girl to pick up. The thought was instantly hilarious, and she began to laugh. Uncontrollably. For long enough that he probably thought she was crazy. Hell, maybe she was. If he was smart he would have left by now. She glanced over again. Nope. He was still there, looking mildly alarmed.

“You’re still here.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I can see you,” she replied, frowning. Now he laughed.

“No, how do you know he’s cheating on you?”

“Oh yeah. That.” She took a sip of her drink. “It’s a bit of a story.”

“I’ve got time.” He took a sip of his, shifting in his seat so he was facing her.

“Yeah, I guess so.” She took another sip. “I was actually booked to take the flight I’m on again now, and Jake was supposed to pick me up. I texted him to remind him and when he didn’t answer, I called him. His voice just sounded funny, you know? And I swear I heard a woman’s voice in the background.”

“So you don’t know for sure.”

“No.” Hannah shook her head. “I booked an earlier flight so I could get home and maybe…I don’t know, catch him in the act, I guess.”

“And now you won’t.”

“And now I won’t.” She drained her glass and thumped it on the bar.

“So what are you going to do now?”

Hannah shrugged, letting her gaze unfocus. “I don’t know. Ask him maybe? See if I notice a reaction? I’ve got—” she glanced at the clock behind the bar “—four and a half more hours to figure it out.”

“Well—”

“Hannah.”

Well, Hannah, if you like, we can figure it out together. We’ll be the next Sherlock and Watson.” He signalled the bartender for another drink for them both.

“Why are you being so nice to me, uh…”

“Mark.” He stuck out his hand and she shook it. His hands were warm and slightly calloused. “Because six months ago, I was you.”

***

Hannah sat in a seat right in front of the gate for her flight, idly scrolling through her phone, tears pricking the corners of her eyes. She looked up at the “Departures” screen but nothing changed. She should be boarding any minute. Then she had a two-hour flight to figure out what she would do, what she would say, if she did catch him. And what if she didn’t? Was she imagining it or did he just cover his tracks well?

“Ladies and gentlemen, at this time we would invite all passengers in rows thirty through thirty five to board. Please ensure you have your boarding passes and photo ID ready.” Hannah checked her boarding pass for what felt like the ninetieth time. Seat 32A. Window seat.

She grabbed her carry-on, slung her purse over her shoulder and joined the line of people. Please let me sit next to someone who doesn’t smell, she thought. When she reached her row, she was the first one there. Maybe this flight wasn’t full and she would get the row to herself. She sat down, then bent forward to stow her bags under the seat in front of her. As she did, she felt the seat shift as someone else sat down. She tilted her head to look. Average-looking guy, brown hair that could use a haircut. Hard to tell sitting down, but he didn’t look particularly tall. No discernable odor.

Hannah sat back up, shoving her earbuds in her ears. She stared out the window, half-watching the baggage cart load the bags onto the plane, tears blurring her vision. Suddenly, she was startled by gentle tap on her shoulder. It made her jump and gasp aloud, her heart hammering in her chest. She whirled to face the guy in the seat, swiping at her eyes with her knuckles.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. It’s just that they’re doing the safety announcements.” He smiled apologetically. His brown eyes were kind-looking. “Hey, are you okay?”

“Yeah.” She wiped her eyes again. “No.” She sighed. “I think my fiancé is cheating on me.”

“Oh. Damn.”

“Yeah. I took this flight so I could get home early, maybe catch him in the act, I guess.” She sighed again. “I’m sorry. I don’t even know why I’m telling you this.” She started to put her earbuds back in.

“No, no, it’s okay. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to a perfect stranger, you know?” He stuck out his hand. “I’m Mark.”

Throwback Thursday, Public Humiliation Edition

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Some people post old pictures for Throwback Thursday, but I decided it would be so much better to tell you all a story. A story of a time, long ago, when I endured what might have been the most mortifying event of my life. It’s also maybe one of the funniest.

When I was in grade 7, my best friend (we’ll call her Lucy)and I basically ruled our elementary school, or at least we thought we did. We were part of a foursome of girls that resembled “Heathers” about as closely as 12-year-old kids could. We were in choir, volleyball, and out-of-school recorder band (don’t laugh, we learned how to play “The Greatest Love of All” on those suckers). We were lunch monitors, crossing guards—back when it was a great idea to have kids try to stop cars from running over other kids—and we were office monitors.

It was kind of a big deal to be an office monitor, because only the most responsible students were granted the privilege. We were basically the secretaries when the paid one was on her lunch break: we made copies, answered the phone, and a bunch of other stuff that is not important to this story. What is important is that we were taught how to use the overhead PA system, usually to let one of the staff know when they had a phone call (I’m guessing nowadays the staff room just has a phone in which calls could be transferred, but they didn’t then).

One day, we were goofing around and Lucy was teasing me because I had a huge monster crush on this boy (let’s call him Dave). In retrospect, he was probably a bit suspicious because—surprise—12 year old girls are not especially subtle. He was definitely not my first crush, and since I had not had an actual boyfriend yet, I was fairly experienced in the whole unrequited love thing. I was fairly certain he was not interested, and I was actually pretty sure he liked this other girl (I don’t actually remember her name, so now it’s Ruby), who was taller than me, and had probably kissed a real boy before. Nevertheless, Lucy teased me mercilessly about him, and decided to pretend to announce my crush over the PA system.

Now I’m sure, dear reader, you know exactly what happened next. In order to use the overhead microphone, you first had to slide a switch to on, then press and hold a button while you speak. The previous user had failed to turn the switch off, so when Lucy pressed the button and announced that I had a “gigantic” crush on Dave, she announced it to the entire school.

Thinking back on it now, the staff probably had the laugh of a lifetime, and I’m sure the principal had trouble putting on her stern face to tell us how just much trouble we were in. We should have been suspended, she said, but because of our brown-nosing service to the school, our only punishment was that we were never to be office monitors again.

At this point, I will confess that a small part of me hoped that, rather than being at least as mortified as I was, Dave would suddenly discover his deep and profound love for me, and all would be grand. This did not happen. In fact, I don’t think Dave uttered a single word to me, unless absolutely necessary, for the rest of the school year. And, I moved away that summer and never saw him again.

But now that I think of it, I did learn something: real life isn’t like a romantic comedy. Which is kind of a bummer, actually. But at least I have a good story.

Lose the Booze aka Send Me Your Mocktail Recipies

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After considering how much this is probably going to suck, I decided to sign up for the BC Cancer Foundation’s Lose The Booze February fundraiser. For the entire month (thank all the gods it’s the shortest one) I will be alcohol-free, in the hopes that you, dear friends and family, will send a donation to the BC Cancer Foundation. You can check my personal page here.

If you can donate some money, that would be awesome. If you can’t, you can still help by sharing this link, or the link to my personal page. Or, you can send me your sweet, sweet mocktail recipe. I will post a photo of my “‘Mocktail’ of the Day” on my Instagram feed, every day throughout the month (just a warning that some days it might just be Fresca in a wine glass).

If you want to join me, you can register here. Cheers!!

Flash Fiction: Song Lyric Story

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This week’s challenge was to take a song lyric and use it as a theme or basis for a short story. I took a line from the Foo Fighters song “Everlong”–ostensibly a love song–and turned it into something…different. Bonus points for spotting the lyric.

“You’re not drinking anything,” he said to the woman at the bar, as he sat a chair apart from her. Even though she wore jeans and a flannel shirt, like most of the hipsters here, she looked out-of-place. Maybe it was the long, white-blonde hair that fell in loose waves nearly to her waist, or just her general vibe. She turned to face him and behind her over-sized, dark-rimmed glasses were the iciest blue eyes he had ever seen. She stared at him just long enough to make him uncomfortable, then her full lips curved into a smile.

“The bartender hasn’t seen me yet.” Her accent was strange, not quite British, but close.

“Let me fix that,” he replied, raising his arm. “What would you like?”

“Whatever you’re having.” He ordered two glasses of scotch, neat. She moved over to the seat beside him, crossed her legs, and looked him up and down before cocking her head. He had an uneasy feeling, like she was assessing her next meal. When the drinks arrived, she snatched his hand as he reached for his.

“You’re married,” she breathed, stroking her thumb over his wedding band. Her touch sent a jolt through him he hadn’t felt in years. He was instantly hard, and he thanked all the gods for loose-fitting jeans as he shifted in his seat.

“Heh, yeah,” he murmured, letting her continue stroking his hand in slow, lazy circles. He reached for his drink with his right hand, feeling light-headed and giddy before he took a single sip. The scotch burned, and went down wrong, making him cough. He yanked his hand back as he used it to cover his mouth and turned away from her. He could feel his cheeks redden, even as the coughing subsided. Christ. He hadn’t felt this awkward around a woman since his age ended in ‘teen’.

“Are you all right?”

“Yeah—yeah.” He was too embarrassed to look at her; instead he stared ahead as he took another sip. This one was better. He heard a scrape as she moved her chair closer to his and he gasped as her fingertips stroked his thigh. Then he could feel her warmth as she brought her head closer to his. She smelled like springtime, like cherry blossoms and fresh-cut grass. Like the fresh, clean breeze after a rainstorm. He took a deep breath, his head reeling.

“Where’s your wife?” She breathed into his ear. It took him a moment to remember. Hell, he was having trouble remembering his own name.

“Out of town. Conference.”

“Good.” She flicked her tongue across his earlobe. “Let’s go.” She didn’t have to ask twice. Grabbing her hand, he bolted from his stool, tossed a few bills on the bar, and led her out the door.

She drove—one hand on the steering wheel, one hand on his leg—to his place. He could barely focus well enough on their surroundings to give her directions. Every time he tried to un-fog his mind from his blind lust, to really consider that he was about to cheat on his wife, she seemed to sense it and her hand would inch ever closer to his crotch. When they reached his driveway, he leapt out of the car before she even cut the engine, afraid if he stayed in there any longer he would come in his pants. He fumbled in his pocket for his keys, dropping them on the ground with shaky hands.

“Allow me,” she said, bending down to scoop them up. She stalked ahead of him to the door and he suddenly felt like a puppy, struggling to keep up with his master. She chose the right key without even asking, and smoothly opened the door. As soon as he was inside, she closed the door and pinned him against it with her hands. Slowly, torturously, she brought her body in closer, a predatory smile on her full lips. She pressed her hips against his and crushed his chest with her full breasts. He groaned. His heart raced, his breathing heavy and ragged, as if he’d run at top speed for too long. He closed his eyes, expecting her to kiss him. But she didn’t.

“Good. Breathe out, so I can breathe you in,” she whispered, her face milimeters from his. With just a small movement he could have captured her lips with his but he couldn’t move. Lust pivoted to alarm, as he realized he was paralyzed. His eyes flew open.

Her face was still a hair’s breath from his own, her eyes closed. Every time he exhaled, she inhaled deeply, and he could feel his energy, his vitality, being sucked away. His legs would have collapsed from weakness if he could move them; instead he stayed pinned to the door like an insect to matting paper. His heart began to slow its rhythm. Finally, apparently satiated, she leaned in and kissed him. Her lips were icy cold at first, but they warmed against his, and he felt some of his energy returning. He returned her kiss, deepening it, running his tongue along her upper lip. She tasted like cherries.

“Mmm, delicious.” She drew back a bit and opened her eyes. They glowed like a blue-hot flame. She took his hand and pulled him away from the door; he found he could stand on his own again, although he felt dazed, like he had been woken in the middle of a dream. Maybe all this was a dream. He let her lead him through the living room and up the stairs to the bedroom.

“I thought—”

“I was done with you?” She asked, kicking off her shoes and unbuttoning her shirt. “That was just the appetizer. I’m here for the buffet.”

 

Flash Fiction: The Danger of Undeserved Power

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It’s been 4 months since I’ve written any stories, so I feel just a teensy bit rusty. But when I read the prompt for this weeks Flash Fiction, I immediately thought about how royalty inherit their power without having to actually earn it. Then I thought about how the evil queen married into her power in Snow White (possibly because I’ve been watching A LOT of “Once Upon a Time” on Netflix). Then I began to wonder, what if Snow White actually got to have some agency; to make the calls instead of having everything happen to her? What if she decided to rescue herself? This story is the result. Hope you like it!

Almost there. Neve pulled her cloak close around her as she reached the hallway to the queen’s bedchamber. There were two guards: one tall and skinny as a broomstick, complete with mousy blonde hair sticking up in all directions, the other, squat and fat and sound asleep, his ample backside drooping over the sides of the wooden chair in which he sat. She knew she was invisible—the magic cloak saw to that—but she still held her breath as she crept past the guards, holding the cloak against her body so as to not disturb the air.

“Eh! You feel that?” The skinny guard reached over and poked her companion with the butt end of her spear, narrowly missing Neve’s back. Neve froze. She wasn’t careful enough. Her heart stopped dead, then began to pound so furiously she was sure the guard could hear it.

“Uh?” the large guard grunted, and Neve could hear him shift in the chair. She crept forward as much as she dared, then turned her head towards him.

“Wake up, you great lazy oaf! I felt something, like someone going past. Only I don’t see anyone.”

“Jus’ a draft,” the other slurred, closing his eye again. “Castles are drafty.”

“Don’t you think I would know the difference between a draft and someone walking past?” Neve heard a creak as the slender guard rose from her chair. “I’m going to investigate, and if I find an intruder, I’ll be sure to inform her majesty that you were sleeping on the job. I’m sure she’ll be her usual understanding self.”

“All right, all right, let’s go check, then.” The larger guard slowly lumbered out of his chair, grabbing his spear. Neve had to fight every impulse to rush for the chamber door; instead, she flattened herself against the wall of the corridor, pressing her hand against her mouth to quiet her breathing. She waited until the guards passed her, then, heart still threatening to explode from her chest, she crept behind them, keeping far enough behind that hopefully they couldn’t hear the rustling of her clothing.

They paused in front of the heavy wooden door.

“After you,” sneered the fat guard. He stepped back, and so did Neve. The skinny one looked nervous.

“Er, maybe it was just a draft.” She also stepped back. “I wouldn’t dare wake the queen unnecessarily.” Damn it. Neve could go no further if one of them didn’t open the door. She would have to wait until they returned to their post; even then, they were likely to hear the door opening.

“Then again, if there is an intruder, and we did nothing, the queen would nail our nuts to the wall.” The skinny one stepped forward again, quietly easing open the door. She pointed to herself and the room, and then pointed at the other guard and further down the hallway as she slid through it.

Keeping a wide berth around the larger guard, Neve slipped past him and into the room, stopping just inside to ensure she didn’t walk into the other one. She expected it to be completely dark, but a single candle burned on a small table beside the bed. The emerald velvet curtains surrounding the bed were drawn shut.

The last time Neve had been in this room, the curtains had been a soft, white muslin. She remembered the mornings snuggled up beside her mother, watching the curtains glow brighter as the sun rose. But that was long ago.

The guard was several steps into the room, giving space for Neve to slide against the back wall to a corner without alarming her. The guard glanced around, shrugged, and then tiptoed backwards out of the room, carefully closing the door, leaving Neve alone with the queen. Her stepmother. The one responsible for every drop of misery that befell her since her mother died. The one who tormented her, turned her into a scullery maid, and then tried to have her killed. The one who robbed her of her birthright, then ruled the kingdom as a tyrant.

Neve took a couple of deep breaths, letting her anger and frustration harden into a white-hot rage. She pulled the hood of her cloak off as she drew her dagger from the sheath at her hip. Then she silently strode towards the bed.

“Snow White. I didn’t think you’d have the nerve.” The queen twitched the curtain aside, but did not rise from the bed.

“To come back here, or to kill you?” Neve raised the dagger as she neared the bed.

“Either. ‘The fairest in the land.’ ‘Pure as the driven snow.’ You were never designed to be a murderess.”

“Things change.”

The queen’s laugh was a harsh stridor as she sat up. She looked nothing like the steely beauty she once was. Her eyes were ringed with dark circles and her entire face sagged. Her hair fell in limp grey strands over her bony shoulders. Her nightgown, the same emerald shade as the curtains, hung over her gaunt frame like a shroud. Neve gasped and took an involuntary step back.

“What—?”

“Happened to me? I spent so much time envying you. Your beauty. Your charm. Your goodness,” she spat. “I spent years watching you through my mirror, never noticing what it was doing to me. Not until you disappeared with those dwarves and I could no longer see you. Not until it was too late.” The queen stood, her back hunched, and raised her eyes to meet Neve’s.

“If you kill me you will get your revenge, yes, but you will set yourself on a path that leads right to this,” she croaked, pointing at her sunken chest. Neve lowered her dagger and took another step back. The queen pulled open a drawer of the bedside table and pulled out a green vial. “I never showed you a glimmer of kindness, Snow White, but allow me to offer you this one favour. My life is over; there is nothing for me now. Let me take this poison and die in peace. You get your kingdom back, but you get to keep your light. Your grace. Your beauty.”

Neve nodded. As she moved to pull the hood of the cloak on once more, the queen tipped back her head and drank the potion. Then she pulled her thin lips into an icy smile that froze Neve.

“Foolish girl! Do you think I would give up my power so easily? That I would give it to you? Your kindness, your compassion, has been your greatest weakness. Now watch what it has earned you.” Before Neve’s horrified stare, the queen grew taller and younger, transforming once again into her former self. Neve could feel her own back buckle on itself, could feel her muscles weaken. She raised her dagger but her eyes began to cloud over; she couldn’t see to aim. Her knees began to crumple; with the last of her strength, she hurled the dagger in the queen’s direction. Then she sank to the floor.

“No! You can’t! It’s not possible!” Neve didn’t have the energy to even lift her head, but she knew the blade struck home. She felt the thud as the queen fell, could smell the metallic tang of blood. Then, she felt the spell begin to wear off. Her back straightened, her limbs lengthened, and her energy returned. She sat up and looked at the dead queen. Then she pulled up the hood of her cloak just before the guards burst into the room.

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