March FADness: 03/19/2008: 2nd Person; “Wedding Day” (982 Words)

Wedding Day

“Hold still!”

“I’m trying!”

“Just do it!”

Your skin glows when you’re irritated. It’s cute. I struggle not to smile, but you sigh with exasperation and put your hand down, the eyeliner cocked like a pen.

“Lauren, will you quit it?”

“Haley, how can I? You’re cute when you’re mad!” I know you hate it when I say that, but I can’t resist tweaking you.

You frown at me, but I can see your eyes are twinkling. The little radiations of yellow through the hazel and green are bright today. You have small crow’s feet starting in the corners of your eyes but I think they make you look happy, not old.

“Lauren, if I screw this up…”

“Can’t have that, can we?” I close my eyes obediently.

I can’t look at you anymore, but I can see you in my mind’s eye. Your brown hair is all up in hot rollers. Your skin, the color of clover honey, is soft and radiant, ready for your own makeup. You’ll do it with quick, efficient strokes after you finish mine. Your bra and panties match, a lovely sage green with a whisper of lace. I found them after hours of searching the mall and you wear them today especially for me. You’ve put on your stockings and I grow aroused just thinking about it.

“There,” you say, unaware of my thoughts. I open my eyes to see you studying your handiwork. “Tilt your head.”

You rearrange this or that on my eyelids with feather-light brushes of the eyeliner and shadow sponge. Then you start on my eyebrows. Overcome, I lean forward to catch your bottom lip in my teeth. You squeak, startled. It’s a noise I love to hear from you, though I’m never sure when you’ll make it. I could spend the rest of my life figuring out. You taste like cherry pie and lemon crisp, and your tongue is tantalizing. You finally pull back, laughing.

“We have to get ready, Lauren.”

“Haley, I’d rather stay here and make love.”

You smile. “We have to get ready. The Pastor is going to be here in less than a half hour.”

“That soon?”

“Yes, dear. That soon.”

You kiss my nose and attack my other eyebrow. Then it’s on to the cheeks and then my lips. Then comes the gloss. It’s like lubricant, I think, growing more aroused. You smile slightly, now aware of how much I want you. Instead of commenting, you stand up and pause, giving me time to focus on the mounds of your backside right in front of me, and then you stalk away on your high heels. I hadn’t seen you put them on, but you look hot in your underwear and stockings.

“Get dressed, Lauren, please. I don’t want to be late.”

I sigh, but do as you ask. My dress hangs, fluffed and ready. It’s an Easter egg yellow that you picked because you like how it looks with my black hair. My skin, a ‘medium-toned mocha’ you say, looks good next to the paleness of the yellow. I unzip the back and hear you walk up behind me.

“Let me help you,” you whisper.

“Haley…”

Your hands on my hips hold me steady. You lean into my back and reach for the dress, your skin warm and silky. You press yourself against me and bend forward, forcing me to lean over. Your hand strokes up my thigh and I start to breathe faster. You slide right past my innermost spots that are aching for you and keep going, around my side and down the front of the leg.

“Lift your leg.”

I do so, and you slip the skirt around my foot. Then your hands slip down my other leg and stop at my knee. I moan but you are relentless, slipping the dress onto my other leg.

“Stand up, honey.” You slip the dress up over the rest of my body, making sure to cup my breasts. You zip the dress closed and then turn me around with your hands on my hips again. You stand there, dressed in your panties, bra, stockings and heels, with nothing else on. I can’t bear it.

“Haley, please…”

“Lauren, we have to go.”

I step forward, bringing our bodies together, and possess your mouth. You groan, inflaming me. Your taste is like ambrosia and I close my eyes, lost in it.

You finally pull away and look at my lips. Then you push me backwards onto the chair. You straddle me, bringing our eyes to the same level. “Now I have to fix your lipstick.”

You ignore any other movements I make until I’m nearly crying with need. Then you kiss my nose. “After we’re married, darling.”

That gets a laugh out of me. You slip off me and dress, your movements sure and authoritative. God, I love the way you move. You apply your own makeup in a fraction of the time you took to do mine and it looks as lovely.

“You guys ready?” Lou calls from the door, not quite opening it.

“Yes,” Haley calls. “Is the pastor here?”

“Just walked in. You guys are on in five. Better hurry, it’s a madhouse.”

We meet each other’s gaze, nervous for the first time all morning.

“You ready?” I ask.

You nod, your hair bouncing. The curls are fat and all over your head like a halo.

We head outside.

“There they are!” The cry comes from a knot of reporters standing to one side.

“Lauren!” one calls. “How does it feel to be the first lesbian married in the City of Chicago?”

I look at you, standing next to me in a confection of a dress, and feel myself grin. You echo me. I look back at the reporter. “Fantastic!”

We head into the chapel together, at the head of a crowd of well-wishers.

March FADness: 03/18/2008: Waiting; “What Is It?” (991 Words)

What Is It?

Brother Guillermo locked the store room door, the iron key cold in his hands. A branch snapped behind him and he turned. His heart pounded against his chest but he saw nothing moving. Twilight oozed through the trees like smoke.

But nothing moved.

He shook his head and stuffed the key in his belt pouch. The rough wool itched his fingers. He set off for the dormitory, his sandals slipping on the rough ground. Spain had not faired well under Franco, that was no secret. But Mother Nature herself seemed to rebel, punishing them with a harsh winter and late spring. The trails all over the monastery were littered with fallen branches and leaves.

Guillermo heard another crunch behind him. “Who’s there?” He swept the gathering darkness, but saw nothing. No one answered him. “Answer me!” he commanded in his best imitation of Father Miguel. Still nothing.

It must have been some animal, disturbed at his passing. Guillermo wished that Raul, at least, had stayed behind. But the young monk nearly danced with excitement at the prospect of seeing the Archbishop in the town square, so Guillermo agreed to stay behind alone to keep an eye on things. Franco’s soldiers hadn’t been seen in three weeks and the rebels in the area wouldn’t bother the monastery.

A branch snapped, this time so close that it seemed loud to him. He whirled, but saw only shadow. Abandoning his dignity, he turned and ran for the dormitory. His breath whistled painfully in his chest and a stitch stabbed his side but still he ran. He stumbled up to the back door and fumbled with the key. He nearly sobbed with desperation as it stuck in the lock. He pushed frantically at it and it finally gave. He fell inside and kicked the door shut.

Guillermo heard a footstep. A heavy tread moved up to the door and tried the handle. Shaking like a leaf, Guillermo got to his feet and slipped his sandals off. He ran quietly for the stairs and went up them two at a time, the stitch in his side forgotten. He threw open the door to the kitchen and slammed it behind him. He tried to still his breathing as he listened, but his heartbeat drowned everything out.

“Our Father, who art in Heaven,” Guillermo prayed. He recited the entire Lord’s Prayer and started on a Hail Mary when he heard it. A footstep on the stair on the other side of the door.

He fell backwards, tripping over his robes, and scrambled out of the kitchen. He ran through the refectory, slamming the door behind him and throwing the bolt. He raced for the stairs and took them two at a time, his knees complaining. At the top, he flashed down the hall, the bedrooms on either side of him appearing like dreams in his peripheral vision. He wrenched open the door to the attic stairs and slammed it shut behind him, fumbling in his pouch for the secondary ring of keys.

By the time he got the correct key out and fitted into the lock, his breathing had calmed enough to listen. He pressed his ear to the door, trembling so hard the rosary tucked into his belt rattled faintly. He had very nearly decided the coast was clear when a footstep sounded in the hall on the other side of the door. He put both feet against the door and set his back against the wall opposite, his arm leaning on the stairs beside him. He stuffed his fist in his mouth to keep from screaming.

The door handle rattled slightly.

“Go away!” Brother Guillermo shouted, his voice much higher than its usual baritone.

The handle moved down, then up. Nothing happened, since Guillermo had locked it, but it happened twice more.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” Guillermo recited under his breath, tears coursing down his cheeks. His body shivered painfully as he said the entire Psalm.

The footsteps paced back and forth outside the door, every so often stopping in front of it. Sometimes the handle would jiggle, sometimes it wouldn’t. Once came a knock, the sound so sudden and sharp that Guillermo cried out.

“Go away!” he yelled, spots in front of his eyes. “Go away…”

The footsteps continued. Back three. Forward three. Stop. Rattle the handle. Pause. Back three. Back another one. Forward three. Pause. Back three. Stop. Forward again. Rattle.

“Guillermo!”

The shout brought him out of a cramped sleep, wedged at the bottom of the attic stairs and the door. His neck burned from the constriction and his right hand fell numb.

“Guillermo!” Raul’s voice sounded panicked.

“Raul?” Guillermo gasped. “Raul!” Guillermo fell as he tried to stand, his left leg asleep. It erupted in pins and needles as he struggled to rise. “Raul! I’m in the attic!”

Raul’s light steps raced up to the door and tried the handle. “It’s locked, Guillermo! Are you okay? Father Miguel! I found him!” Raul’s voice carried, loud even through the door.

Guillermo’s hands couldn’t hold onto the keys they were so slick with sweat. They made an almighty crash when he dropped them.

“Guillermo!” Raul shouted, pounding on the door. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, Raul, calm down. I dropped the keys, is all.” Guillermo found the right key and fitted it in the lock.

Raul nearly fell through the door when he opened it. He flung his arms around Guillermo’s neck and squeezed so tight Guillermo had trouble breathing.

“Raul, calm down!”

“We thought you were dead!”

“What?” Guillermo echoed in shock.

Father Miguel strode up, face grave. “Brother Guillermo. We had feared for your safety.”

“Why?”

Father Miguel pointed. There, clearly outlined on the wood slats of the floor, lay large footprints. They weren’t human.

“What was it?” Raul asked, eyes huge.

“I don’t know,” Guillermo whispered. “I never saw it!”

March FADness: 03/17/2008 Prompt: Pub; Untitled (505 Words)

I sat down at an unoccupied stool and ordered an ale and some stew. It came hot and thick with turnips and spices and a slab of bread thick enough to build with. I sighed deeply. It had been a long day.

“Mind if I join you?” an old man’s voice said near my elbow.

“Sure,” I mumbled around a too-large bite of bread. I know it’s rude to talk with your mouth full, but this bread!

I looked over and a wizened little man stood next to me. As our eyes met, I saw a flash of blue, then he blinked and sat. He was short!

“You’re not from round here, are you, Boy?” he asked me after he ordered the same thing I had.

“Not really,” I hedged, not wanting to tell him the whole truth.

“Me neither,” he grunted. “Come here for the bread.”

That startled a laugh out of me. “I could see that.”

He smiled, a brief flash of white in his beard. “Too bad old Sam’s not here,” he commented.

I swallowed my bite of stew. “Old Sam?”

The old man regarded me with his blue-eyed gaze. “Aye. Give ‘im an ale and he’d tell you stories, he would. Seems he went…” he dropped his voice, “travelin’.”

I smiled at the hint and obliged, getting myself an ale too.

“There was this dragon, see,” the old man started. He saw my expression. “Now, don’t be like that. You’re form the White City, you’ve seen things, I’ll wager.”

I blinked. “How –”

“Your coat of arms. Recognized the insignia. Wore it meself, once.” He took another bite of bread. “Now about that dragon…”

The tale he told me was fanciful enough for my daughter Palondril. “That’s quite a story,” I allowed.

“Sam’s got it all written down, you see.”

My heart started to pound. “You’re not serious!”

He twinkled at me and I started to get the impression our encounter wasn’t as casual as he’d let on. “Aye.”

“Could I… could I talk to this Sam?”

His eyes grew sad. “No, more’s the pity. He passed on in his sleep last Spring, he did.”

We drank a toast to Sam.

“I can take you to meet his son, if you’d like,” he offered. “He’s got the book. Might let you see it.” He took another sip of his ale, which though the same size as mine, made his hands seem small in comparison.

“Who are you?” I asked, afire with curiosity. “How did you know I’d be interested in this?”

He shrugged. “You’ve got your father’s eyes.”

I blinked. “What?”

He stuck out his hand. “I’m Peregrin Took. Call me Pippin.”

It all clicked into place and I laughed. “Figures.” I took his hand. “I am Arandorn, son of Aragorn. I bid you greetings from my parents and from Faramir.”

By the time we left the pub early in the wee ours of the morning, he managed to drink nearly every patron under the table. It was an incredible introduction.

March FADness: 03/15/2008 Prompt: Fight on the Home Front; Untitled (642 Words)

The twilight softened the house into shadows, the lights within not illuminating so much as providing beacons. Molly walked toward the front door, hitching her backpack more comfortably. Her muscles ached from track practice.

She opened the front door, the key turning with a squeak. She stepped in but slowed. It seemed too quiet, like just after an electrical storm.

The front door closed with a faint click and she shot the deadbolt home. She set her pack down in the foyer and walked into the kitchen. It was empty.

“Mom?” she called.

No answer.

Molly walked through the kitchen, the oven and stove both cold. The table hadn’t been set for dinner. She entered the hall and froze.

On the baseboard, two black streaks marred the pristine white. It looked like rubber from the tread of boots.

“Mom?” she shouted, starting to get nervous again. Still no answer.

She entered her mother’s room. The bed was pushed to the side, diagonally to the room. The lamp from one of the two bedside tables lay on the floor, its shade askew and the bulb broken. Molly heard the toilet flush.

“Mom?”

“Molly, you’re home,” her mother said in a normal tone of voice. The tear-tracks on her face stood out like tire marks.

“Mom, what happened?”

Her mother looked at the bed and tears oozed out of her eyes. “John is drinking again.”

Molly felt rage flood her like some kind of poison, except it didn’t feel lethal, it felt powerful. Her hands balled into fists. “Where is he?” she demanded.

Her mother looked startled by her tone of voice. “Molly!” she admonished.

“Where is he?” Molly repeated.

“I don’t know,” her mother answered, deflating. “I think he might have left.” She sounded dejected.

“He should leave!” Molly shouted.

“That’s not your business!” her mother flared.

Molly didn’t answer, just turned on her heel to find her stepfather. She stalked through her house like a hunter, every nerve tingling. He wasn’t in any of the rooms. She pulled the back door open so violently it wrenched her shoulder, but the pain felt good. It helped clear her head.

He stood in a corner of the garage by the door, trying to open it.

“What the hell are you doing?” Molly screamed, her rage boiling out of her.

John turned. His nose was a bloody mess. “Leaving!” he cried, tears in his voice.

Molly stepped down the short stair into the garage. “What happened to your nose?”

“She hit me,” John answered, yanking at the garage door lock. It gave with a squeal of metal and the door started to raise grudgingly.

“Who hit you?” Molly asked, for a moment totally confused. Then her mind cleared and she knew the answer, even as he said it.

“Your mother.”

My mother hit him, Molly thought to herself. Her stomach boiled, the acid nearly a living animal inside her, coiled and ready to strike. She trembled, hard shudders that were almost painful.

“Why?” she wanted to know.

“How should I know?” John shouted, digging in his pocket for keys.

“She said you’re drinking again,” Molly accused.

“Well, I’m not. I went to the bar with Mike and Steve, is all. She started screaming at me and we got in a fight.”

Molly whirled, her mind too full of it. She stumbled down the stairs beside the house, down to the patio. She ignored her stepfather’s call, ignored the lights of the house, and moved into the night on autopilot. The anger felt like electricity, that if somebody were to take her picture, they’d see it coruscating around her hair like a plasma ball.

She set off into the woods behind their house, not caring where she went. She just needed to get away.

The house, behind her, glowed its light out into the night, oblivious.

March FADness: 03/14/2008: Space Opera; “The Martian Babies” (993 Words)

The Martian Babies

“Xaxon, you space hound! How have you been?” The hail came from behind Xaxon Broxes and he turned.

“Javnon Pequent?” Xaxon blurted. “Is that really you?”

Javnon strode up, his lemon-yellow ship-knits clashing horribly with his shock of long orange hair. “Of course it’s me, you pirate! You still piloting that elderly old bird of yours?”

“The ZX-5 is the best in its class,” Xaxon retorted stiffly.

“Of course it is!” Javnon agreed airily. “Come. Buy me a drink?”

By the time Xaxon realized the direction of the suggested transaction, Javnon had already clamped onto his arm and was leading him steadily toward the central grav bar. It floated, gently bobbing, the anti-grav field generators nearly invisible under the heavy synth-wood construction. Brilliant cyan electrified gas tubs leant the drinkers a cadaverous air, but Javnon elbowed his way in to plunk his ample bottom on a stool and dragged Xaxon down onto the adjacent one.

“Two Glaks!” Javnon boomed.

The bartender, a pert Saturnian with electric fuchsia hair and perky breasts – all four of them, nodded, bored. She set the foaming brown sludge in front of Javnon and waited expectantly. Xaxon sighed and swiped his credit chit. She flounced away while Javnon turned to him.

“So. How did you make out in the Martian debacle?” Javnon all but whispered, looking around furtively.

Xaxon shrugged. “I wasn’t stupid enough to get my nose in on that one,” he answered and took a sip. The Glak was stale, but washed a parsec’s worth of space dust out of his mouth.

“Stupid. Yes, hmm, well,” Javnon mumbled. He took a long swig of his Glak and burped phenomenally.

“Nice one,” Xaxon murmured. “You, um, didn’t actually give them money, did you?”

Javnon sighed. “Yes, actually.” He waited a moment, then added plaintively, “It seemed like such a good deal, too!”

Xaxon nodded sympathetically. “But don’t you know the Martians love to defraud us?” he admonished gently. “I mean, what did Binxman say?”

Javnon flushed. “She left me,” he said into his Glak. “Six cycles ago, actually. Got fed up and left me for a Wormhole wildcatter, lucky bloke.”

Xaxon felt a flash of envy. He took a sip of his drink to cover it and looked at Javnon. “You didn’t lose a lot, I hope.”

“Most of it,” Javnon admitted. He glanced at Xaxon so quickly that Xaxon only got a flash of green eye and then was looking at Javnon’s ear again. “The ship, too.”

Suddenly everything made sense. Xaxon’s heart sank. Sure enough, Javnon looked at him pleadingly.

“You don’t have space in your crew, do you? I mean, even if it is just a ZX-5…” he trailed off.

Xaxon thought it was rich to insult his bird at the same time as he asked for a job. But, he’d known Javnon for a long time. “I’ll think about it,” he hedged. “I just might have need of a mechanic.”

“Not a Starnav?” Javnon said hopefully.

Xaxon laughed at that. “You don’t think small, do you?”

Javnon looked guilty, but met his eyes easily enough. “No,” he agreed cheerfully.

Xaxon made his decision. “All right. Meet me at Bay 14 at oh-nineteen station-side.”

Javnon beamed. “Thank you! You won’t regret this!”

Xaxon wasn’t entirely sure he agreed with that, but shook hands dutifully. He checked his chrono and stood. He downed the rest of his Glak in one shot and patted Javnon’s shoulder. “I’ll see you shipside,” he said and left the bar.

He arrived only five minutes late for his appointment with the prostitute. She let him take his time and didn’t overwhelm him with exotic positions, and he enjoyed himself immensely. He even left her a thirty-percent tip in gratitude.

He reached the ZX-5 five minutes before oh-nineteen and saw Javnon waiting with four heavy carbonite crates. He slowed, frowning.

“What the asteroid is that?” he blurted.

Javnon flushed, looking furtive. “It’s just a little cargo, Xaxon. Nothing too weighty…”

Xaxon stopped. “What is it, Pequent? I’ll not have contraband on my ship.”

“It’s not contraband,” Javnon protested. “It’s … um, specimens.”

“Of what, Pequent?” Xaxon pressed.

“Martians,” Javnon whispered, glancing around fearfully. “We should go…”

Xaxon was thunderstruck. He started to step forward, to yell or thrash Javnon’s ridiculous red-headed body, he hadn’t decided. The station klaxon let out with an almighty squeal and Javnon’s face drained of color.

“All ships not cleared for station undock are detained by order of Stationmaster Sylipsyn,” a voice intoned. “All ships not cleared for station undock are detained by order of Stationmaster Sylipsyn.” The voice droned on, repeating its warning in Martian, Salubrian, and even Saturnian – although hearing Sylipsyn pronounced in Saturnian would have made a cat laugh. Unfortunately, Xaxon was not a cat. Nor in a good humor.

“Get on board,” he snapped. He snatched the controls for the nearest crate and jammed the button down. He thumbed his comlink in his collar. “Minkis, coming aboard now. Four new crates and one mechanic. Clear station now, before lockdown. Is that clear?”

There was a startled pause and then Minkis responded. “Aye, sir.”

Xaxon was relieved Minkis was on duty. He was calm in a crisis. He swept on board, Javnon behind him, and they stowed the crates in cargo bay 2.

“Strap in,” Xaxon snapped at Javnon and moved aft to the bridge. Javnon, after momentary indecision, stumbled along behind him. Xaxon ignored him. If he wanted to fly about during undock, fine.

Maybe he’d break that red-headed noggin and save Xaxon the trouble.

They cleared the station doors just before they started to close. Xaxon strapped into the Captain’s lounge and watched Javnon slip into the Starnav’s console. Minkis thumbed a switch and the wormhole flared to life.

“Here we go,” Xaxon murmured.

“Let’s hope they don’t follow us,” Javnon whispered nervously.

Xaxon turned his lounge to stare at him. “Who?”

Javnon turned innocent green eyes to him. “Their parents, of course!”

March FADness: 03/13/2008: No Humans; “Succession” (998 Words)

Succession

Tik-tik shivered and ruffled his fur in a wave from his whiskers to his tail. He sneezed. Rain again. Four suns of the stuff! He started forward again and stepped through a patch of dead leaves into yet another puddle, burying his paw up to the first joint. He hissed involuntarily.

Kao turned his head and clicked his teeth, black tail lashing. “Quiet!”

Tik-tik glared at him and heaved himself out of the indentation. “Knock it off, Kao. You’re not the boss of me.”

Kao whirled on one hind paw and swiped his claws past Tik-tik’s nose, making his whiskers wave in the wind of their passing. “Not yet, maybe,” he purred. The white fluff on the end of his foot was spattered with mud.

“Your feet are dirty,” Tik-tik noted.

“Pheh!” Kao spat and turned back to the path.

Tik-tik licked his chops and started after Kao again. The rain continued relentlessly.

“Tik-tik!” Mai-mai squealed, loping out of the cave to meet them. “You’re back!” She whizzed past Kao without acknowledging him and pressed her nose into Tik-tik’s shoulder. “It’s raining!”

“You only realized that now?”

“Hi, Mai-mai,” Kao greeted.

“Hi, Kao,” Mai-mai said without looking. “Tik-tik. Paw-paw is here.”

Tik-tik’s ears lowered. “When did he arrive?”

“Start of sun. He’s not well.”

Tik-tik, looking right at Kao, saw the flash of hunger in his eyes. Kao said nothing, just turned and went into the cave. Mai-mai watched him go.

“Tik-tik. Kao–”

“No, Mai-mai. Hush.”

“But…” She trailed off, worried.

“Come,” Tik-tik said. “I’m hungry and dirty. Let’s go in, see the others.”

Mai-mai clearly wanted to argue but followed him docilely enough.

Kao had walked over to the circle where Paw-paw lay and touched noses. Paw-paw barely responded.

Kao turned and saw Tik-tik. His lips were curled up in a smile. He looked to his left, past Tik-tik, to where Bo sat with his two females.

“Kao,” Bo greeted, his voice carrying in the small space.

“Bo.” His tongue curled out insolently and licked his chops. “Paw-paw isn’t doing well.”

Bo blinked and stood up, tail lashing. “Show respect, Kao.”

Kao glanced at the ailing form behind him. “He can’t hear me, Bo. He’s nearly gone.”

Bo stepped forward and growled. “You are out of order!”

“Tik-tik!” Mai-mai whispered urgently.

“Shh.” He stepped between her and the impending fight.

Kao saw him move. “You can’t protect her anymore, Tik-tik!”

Tik-tik blinked as Mai-mai’s tail lashed angrily. “Why do I need to protect her, Kao?”

Kao snorted. “Coward.”

Tik-tik roared. It came out of him almost from his claws and felt good, powerful. The sound filled the cave and Bo laid his ears back. Kao, on the other hand, looked satisfied. “I can’t fight Bo until I challenge you, Tik-tik. You’re his second.”

“Paw-paw is not dead!” Bo shouted.

Kao whirled and one paw shot out, his claws extended. The spray of blood flew all the way to the cave wall and Paw-paw collapsed in the gravel, his throat a bloody ruin.

“He is now,” Kao spat.

Bo stepped forward, his fur on end and his hackles bristling. “You should not have done that!”

“Why?” Kao sneered.

“Because now I can help Tik-tik, Kao! You are out of order!”

A brief flicker of uncertainty went through Kao’s eyes, but Bo didn’t give him a chance to react. He sprang forward with a deep, coughing roar. Tik-tik leaped with him.

The fight was unlike anything Tik-tik had fought to that sun. Kao seemed half mad with a wild insolence. Bo moved next to Tik-tik like they’d rehearsed it, but Kao was faster than both of them. His claws were everywhere and he nearly snapped Tik-tik’s foreleg with his jaws, missing by a whisker-length.

Tik-tik crouched, preparing to leap onto Kao’s back so Bo could take his throat. Some sound or movement made his eye dart to the side. “Mai-mai!”

Mai-mai, ears flat to her head and fangs clearly visible as she growled, stalked forward, front low to the ground. She hissed, a low and angry sound unlike any Tik-tik had heard from her. Kao paused, startled.

Bo jumped forward and his jaws fastened on Kao’s throat. He bound Kao’s forelegs in his own and curled onto his back, his back claws tearing bloody rents in Kao’s side and stomach. Mai-mai darted forward and swiped her front paw, all five claws out, across Kao’s muzzle.

“You will never have me!” she screamed.

Bo growled and tightened his grip. Kao’s struggles became wilder as he fought now for air. Bo strained, and Kao’s breath exhaled on a gurgle. He collapsed, dead.

Bo stood and shook himself. Glancing at Paw-paw’s body, his ears flattened momentarily. He met Tik-tik’s gaze and Tik-tik bent forward in a bow.

After a moment he heard the others do the same. When they all were bowing, Bo stood up to his full height and roared, deafening Tik-tik. Tik-tik straightened.

“Bo. You are leader,” Tik-tik said, his voice loud in the silence that followed Bo’s roar.

Bo looked at him, whiskers forward. “I…”

Tik-tik took a step toward him. “Bo. Paw-paw was old and his time was close. It would have happened anyway.”

Bo licked his chops and sat, his tail curling around his paws. “Tik-tik. I choose you as second.”

Tik-tik’s ears perked forward. “Thank you.”

“Mai-mai. Will you take Tik-tik?” Bo asked then.

Mai-mai blinked and stepped forward. She sat next to Tik-tik, her tail brushing his side. “Yes.”

“Yes?” Tik-tik blurted.

Mai-mai looked at him, her pupils dilated. “What did you expect?”

“I…” Tik-tik didn’t know what to say.

“Go, my friend,” Bo coaxed. “We will clean up the home. You chase your mate. You’ve earned it.”

Mai-mai was purring. She glanced at Bo and then swiped a paw across Tik-tik’s flank. “Catch me, if you can.” She whirled and was gone.

Tik-tik took off after her. The rain didn’t seem so bad, anymore. His tongue lolled out briefly and he sped up.

March FADness: 03/12/2008: Love or Romance; “Puppy Love” (991 Words)

Jerome stepped onto the long wooden walkway leading up from the stables all the way to the new Main House three levels above. Miguel and Juanito had worked all summer to finish it; the last planks had been laid two weeks ago and the weatherproofing had only just finished being applied. His rope-soled sandals hardly made any noise as he padded up toward the Refectory, his stomach growling.

“Jerome!”

“I’m here, Pablo,” he called. Pablo still couldn’t manage the English pronunciation of his name and it came out ‘hair-OH-may.’ Jerome thought it was cute.

“It came, Jerome! It came!” Pablo zoomed up, half out of breath, his face red and sweaty. “It came!”

“Okay, Pablo, that’s excellent news! Have you eaten lunch?” Jerome tried to distract him.

Pablo caught his arm, clearly under the impression he’d miscommunicated. He tried again in broken English. “It come, in barn. You come, in barn!” He tugged on Jerome’s arm agitatedly.

Jerome sighed to himself. Lunch would, clearly, have to wait. He let the boy drag him down the stairs and across the neat gravel path to the stables. “Easy, Pablo, you’ll trip me,” he murmured.

“It’s in the main barn,” Pablo told him, switching back to Spanish. “Father Salome is with it.”

“It?” Jerome echoed.

He caught a flash of cheerful brown eye as Pablo glanced at him and then looked back to the path. “Him.”

‘Him,’ huh? Jerome smiled. Perfect.

The stable gate stood open, welcoming traffic from the village a half-day’s ride away. Villagers often made the trek during good weather, bringing the monastery food, animals, and gifts. In return, the monastery treated the sick, tutored the children, and ministered.

“Jerome,” Pablo said, coming to stop just inside the gate. “Has La Chiquita spoken yet?”

Jerome sobered. The other thing the monastery did was shelter the helpless. This part of El Salvador had more than its share of troubles in the last decades. ‘Los Desaparecidos,’ in English, ‘the Disappeared,’ were spoken of in hushed tones, if at all. La Chiquita had been found, naked and bloody, in a ditch by the road not five miles from the monastery. An old farmer brought her to the monastery, hoping to find her shelter and medical attention. She was only about ten years old and, so far, refused to speak a word to anyone.

“No, Pablo. Nothing yet.”

Pablo sighed, disappointed. He gazed over at the barn door and then nodded to himself. “Come,” he repeated to Jerome.

Jerome followed Pablo into the dim interior. The dusty scent of hay filled his nose. The nearby paddock’s heavy gate stood ajar. Jerome stepped through.

“Hello, Father Salome,” Jerome greeted the priest crouched in one corner of the paddock.

“Jerome. This is Alejandro,” he introduced the young man next to him.

Alejandro glanced up and Jerome got a quick impression of large black eyes in an Aztec face before he looked down again.

“And this is Paulito,” Alejandro said, his Indian accent coming through the Spanish.

“Good morning, Paulito,” Jerome told the puppy in Alejandro’s hands. It wriggled forward and nibbled Jerome’s fingers with sharp little needles for teeth. “Good strong mouth.”

The others laughed. “Can we bring it up?” Pablo asked Jerome, not daring to look at Father Salome.

Jerome had already talked to the Father about it, just the previous evening in fact. He smiled warmly. “Yes, Pablo. You may bring it up now, if you like.”

Pablo beamed. Father Salome stood and Pablo looked at him a little apprehensively.

“Pablo, you must keep him warm, okay?” Father Salome admonished. “Come, let’s get some towels from the stable.” He led Pablo out of the paddock to rummage in the storage chests in the center of the barn.

“Do you think it will work?” Alejandro asked Jerome softly.

Jerome shrugged. “We’ve tried everything else. Pablo is desperate. I would let him try for that alone. But if it works…”

Alejandro looked at the wall of the barn, and Jerome could tell he wasn’t seeing it. “My father will make an offer for her to the Abbot,” Alejandro said. “She can live with us when she’s well.”

Jerome smiled. “That is very generous of you.”

Alejandro glanced at him and then down at the puppy, who was gnawing contentedly on his toe. He pulled the mouth away and got his fingers attacked. “Thank you.”

Pablo and Father Salome bundled the puppy into an old horse blanket and he settled against Pablo’s chest, contented. Pablo walked carefully out of the barn and up the hill, hardly aware of the others anymore. Jerome thanked Father Salome and followed the boy up the hill toward the Refectory. They passed it and continued to the Main House and in the back door. The girl’s room was just off the back hall, a small and quiet haven painted a bird’s egg blue. She lay on her side on the bed, bruises faded but still visible on her face and neck. She wore a simple white smock and neat little sandals.

“La Chiquita,” Pablo called softly. He stepped into the room and kneeled down next to the bed. “I have someone to meet you.”

Jerome closed the door gently and sat in the straight-backed wooden chair so he wouldn’t be looming. The puppy wriggled free of his blanket and saw the girl on the bed. He paused and then crept forward, whiskers vibrating. He got within a couple inches of her face and then his pink tongue shot out, covering her cheeks.

She gasped and put up a hand, but instead of pushing him away, she started to pet the little head. The puppy wormed its way under her arm and continued furiously washing every inch of skin he could find.

She looked up at Pablo and then, very softly, Jerome heard it. “Gracias.”

Pablo turned and Jerome saw unshed tears making his eyes bright. “It worked, Father Jerome! It worked!”

March FADness: 03/11/2008: Gambler’s Choice, Untitled (998 Words)

“Clear the chamber!” Boris shouted, and again in Russian. “Now!”

Two more crashes came from the boiler and a gout of flame burst from the side opposite the door.

“All clear, Boria. But Larisa and the others – they’re still in the office!”

Boris swore harshly in Russian. “I’ll get them, Sasha.”

Sasha glanced at the boiler. “Boria, the boiler!”

“Then clear out!” Boria shouted. He turned on his heel and dashed up the stairs toward the office.

After an anguished moment of indecision, Sasha followed.

The door to the office was closed and didn’t budge when Boria tried the handle. Muffled screams came from inside and someone pounded on the other side.

“Where are the keys?” Boria demanded over this shoulder.

“Mr. Benks has them. No one knows where he went.”

“Back up,” Boria murmured to Sasha.

“What?”

“Back up,” he grated, stepped forward almost against Sasha. Sasha stepped back quickly. Boria turned, set his shoulder, and exhaled.

“What …”

Boria surged forward and hit the door. The frame squeaked, but the door didn’t budge. He set himself again and hit the door twice more. On the fourth try, he grunted and heaved. The door jam shattered with a splinter of wood. Boria grasped the door handle with one large hand and yanked.

“Boris Petrovich!” Larisa shouted.

“We must run, Larisa Mikhailovna,” Boria told her, taking her arm. “How many are here?”

“There are six of us. But Mrs. Daytona is ill.”

Boria looked grim and glanced back at the boiler, now glowing a livid crimson. “Sasha,” he started.

“I’ll get her,” Sasha offered. “You lead them out.”

“What happened?” Larisa quavered.

“Mr. Benks’ machine malfunctioned,” Boria told her, not quite meeting her eyes. “Larisa Mikhailovna, we must go now.”

Larisa nodded, and looked back at her office mates. They all followed Boria down the stairs. A dull gong sounded from the boiler and one of them squeaked.

Boria stopped and eyed the boiler. “Larisa Mikhailovna. Run.”

Larisa glanced at him, startled, and then nodded. She ran on fleet feet toward the exit, the others close behind her.

Sasha struggled through the door at the top of the stairs, Mrs. Daytona held in his arms. He paused on the landing and met Boria’s gaze.

Boria would always remember him like that.

Four screws exploded from the boiler with sharp, high-pitched whines. A panel high on the boiler burst away from the main housing and bright flames shot out, licking the ceiling. A pole from the top of the housing came loose with a twang and swept forward. It hit Sasha across the head. Mrs. Daytona screamed and fell down the stairs as Sasha’s body paused, horribly backlit by flames, and flew out in a long arc to land on the floor not ten feet from where Boria stood.

Boria sprang forward and blocked Mrs. Daytona’s fall with his own body. She came to rest against him, sobbing. “Oh, Mr. Petrovich!” she wailed. “Mr. Petrovich!”

“Come, Mrs. Daytona. We must –”

The secondary cooler for the boiler exploded, the sound deafening. Boria covered Mrs. Daytona’s head with his hand. He hefted the woman in his arms and ran for the door. The fire spread to the main boiler and it groaned like a pregnant cow.

“Boria!” Larisa screamed, standing in the doorway.

“Get out of the way!” Boria shouted. “Go, you fool! Run!”

He sprinted toward her as the boiler disintegrated in a cloud of burst metal and twisted steel. Boria staggered, something thudding into his back, then continued forward. Larisa shouted something but he couldn’t hear.

He cleared the door and kept going. Larisa grabbed his arm and ran with them, angling toward the building across the street. Red and yellow flame burst through the door behind them as the fire consumed the warehouse.

“Boris Petrovich!” a voice cried. “Where is Aleksander Semyonovich?”

Boria stumbled and knelt, laying Mrs. Daytona on the ground by the wall. He turned to see the Foreman, Mr. Simmons, staring at him in shock. “Sasha didn’t make it,” Boria told him heavily.

“Your back…” Mr. Simmons whispered.

Larisa screamed.

Boria started to turn his head, to tell her everything was okay, but he felt himself collapse sideways, narrowly missing Mrs. Daytona’s shoulder. He came to rest on the ground, his cheek pressing into some gravel.

“Boria!” Larisa cried wildly. She knelt by his head and pulled her into his lap, tears on her face. “Please!”

“Larisa Mikhailovna, you should not,” Boria whispered, pain starting dully in his back. “It is not proper…”

“You were going to send the Baba, right?” Larisa snapped. “You plan to die before she brings you back my answer?”

“How did you know?” Boria gasped.

Larisa frowned. “My father wrote me; the letter arrived this morning.”

Boria coughed, dizziness starting somewhere near his solar plexus. “And?”

Larisa laughed through her tears. “Is now the time?”

Boria met her gaze, trying for sternness. “What would your father think?”

“My father gave me his blessing, Boris Petrovich, so I consent to be your wife. Now, will you let me see your injury?”

Boria tried to argue, but couldn’t get his voice to work. Mr. Simmons knelt next to him and turned him on his side to see the wound. He hissed.

“It’s clean,” he reported. “It’s deep. We’ll need the surgeon. But he’ll be fine, Miss Mikhailovna.”

Larisa cried harder, relieved.

“What of the machine?” Boria whispered.

Mr. Simmons grunted. “Mr. Benks will be arrested for defrauding the people of New York, and I have signed papers to take over the factory. His experiments in time travel will be suspended and we will start operations on a new factory as soon as possible.”

“To do what?” Larisa demanded.

“Electricity, Miss Mikhailovna. The future of New York!”

Larisa was no longer listening. Boria had captured her hand and the two stared deeply into each other’s eyes, clearly in love. Mr. Simmons went to fetch the surgeon while Mrs. Daytona looked on, beaming.

March FADness: 03/10/2008: Memory; Untitled (1,000 Words)

It was July twelfth. She checked her watch again. She’d gotten it as a gift from the staff at the hospital, it had a large digital face and showed the time and the date.

The cab let her off on Farwell. She looked at her handwritten directions again. Mary, the secretary on the ward, had written them out in her painstakingly neat handwriting. Four-oh-six Farwell Street.

“Oh, sorry. How much do I owe you?” she asked, flushing.

“You want me to wait, lady?”

“For what?”

He looked around the neighborhood. “This isn’t the greatest place to find a cab, lady.”

She glanced out at the neat brownstones, with their clipped hedges and potted plants. “No, I suppose not.”

“I’ll cut your rate to a flat forty, you want me to wait and take you back.”

She looked back. “Okay, that would be nice.”

“Well, Mary’s a good friend of mine.”

“Oh.” She had forgotten that. Had Mary told her? She felt her brow furrow and pushed it aside, looking back out at the sidewalk. She looked back at her paper. Four-oh-six Farwell Street. She opened the door and stepped out.

The doorbell was wrought iron in the shape of a black cat, with the bell as the eye. “Yes?” a voice demanded from the panel next to the bell.

“Um, hello. This is, um, Denise Cartwell. Mary Simmons made an appointment for me to stop by today.” She looked wildly at her watch, suddenly nervous. July twelfth. Her heartbeat slowed. She had the right day.

After a pause, the voice came again. “I’ll let you in.”

A raucous buzz followed that and Denise pushed the door open. It resisted, heavy and solid. She managed to get into the foyer by dint of throwing her back into it and stood on the patterned marble.

“So, you’re Denise?”

An old woman with iron-gray hair stood staring down at her from the second-floor balcony. “Yes, ma’am.”

The woman swept majestically down the stairs and Denise fought the urge to step back. “You wish to see the apartment?”

Denise nodded, voice somewhere near her solar plexus. The woman frowned but turned and lead the way through the foyer to the hallway beyond. A door on the right opened onto a large and sunny sitting room furnished with white and rose-colored furniture. On the left, a dining room with a table big enough to seat ten. The landlady turned left at the next hallway and went down three short steps to a closed door. She pulled a key from her blouse and unlocked the door.

“There’s an entry on the other side, so you don’t have to come through the main house unless you wish to.” She motioned for Denise to go ahead of her.

Denise gasped. The apartment was gorgeous. Honey-colored hard-wood flooring glowed in the afternoon light, huge windows lined the walls. She saw with approval that the bedroom was just as well-lit with natural light. The bathroom had an enormous claw-footed tub and a skylight.

“When is it available?”

“This coming month, if you want it. I have the paperwork, if you’d like.”

“Yes, please. I’ll have to take it with me; Mary will help me fill it out.”

The woman studied her for a moment, unmoving. “I have to ask. You look so familiar, didn’t you used to live around here?”

Denise turned away, the sudden flash of darkness and sound overwhelming the quiet sunlit space. She was startled to feel tears on her cheeks and reached up a hand to wipe them away.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry.” She sounded embarrassed.

“No, it’s all right,” Denise said quickly, clearing her throat. “I used to live here. Just up the street, in fact.”

Recognition dawned in the woman’s eyes. Denise looked away, she didn’t want to see it.

“So. You have the paperwork?”

“Yes. Yes, I’ll just get it, shall I? You look around. Take all the time you need.” Denise heard her steps receding.

Denise walked over to the window. She saw a neatly manicured back yard, complete with wrought-iron table and two chairs, perfect for reading when the weather was nice. Her vision blurred, washing the trees outside into indistinct shapes.

“Oh, Daniel…” she whispered to the trees. Like always, she seemed to feel a warmth, as though he were with her. She didn’t know how long she stood like that, staring, sightless, outside.

She heard muffled voices, the landlady and another woman.

“…that lawyer,” Denise heard distinctly.

“Shh,” the landlady admonished. “You mind your tongue, Nancy. The last thing the poor woman needs is to be bothered by your gossip.”

“But Mother –”

“Not another word, young lady. Go back to the kitchen, I’ll be along.”

“Yes, Mother,” the other person sighed.

‘That lawyer.’ Denise sighed. For months, that was all they’d said at the hospital when they thought she couldn’t hear.

“Please forgive my daughter,” the landlady said. “Your assault stunned the neighborhood, I don’t mean to be rude.”

“No, no. It’s all right. I’m better now,” Denise managed to say with grace.

“Call me Emily,” the landlady said warmly, handing the papers over in a neat manila folder.

Denise smiled and watched as Emily’s eyes slid sideways to the scars by her ear. On impulse, Denise moved her head and swept the hair back with one hand.

“Goodness,” Emily commented.

Denise let her hair fall. “They say the memory will come back to me in time,” she confided.

Emily nodded, her brusqueness somehow comforting. “Well, don’t you worry. We’ll have you settled in no time. I’m sure all the good parts will come back to you, and Lord knows you don’t need the bad ones, right?”

Denise smiled in spite of herself, charmed. She was still smiling when she got back into the cab and looked on her paper. “Two-seventeen Fourth Avenue, please. Kingston Hospital.”

The cab driver nodded at her and she sat back to enjoy the ride. She had a home again.

FFC Story for 03/12/2008, Letters and Numbers: Untitled (1,000 Words)

This story is my entry for the March Flash Fiction Carnival. The theme is “Letters/Numerals.” I hope you enjoy!

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“How abecedarian,” Marjorie jeered. “You always pick the basic elements, Malcolm.”

“Shut up,” Malcolm snapped, repeating ‘alpha, beta, gamma, delta,’ under his breath.

“Why do you want to know the Greek alphabet anyway?” she demanded, tossing her mane of blonde hair over one shoulder.

Malcolm, staring a little, met her gaze and then looked at the floor. “For the uprising,” he mumbled.

Marjorie let out a delighted peal of laughter. Malcolm flushed.

“The uprising. Of what? Nerds for School Service?” She turned her back on him to rummage in her backpack for lipstick or something.

Malcolm glared. She might be the prettiest girl in the university, but damn was she vapid! “They’re coming, you know,” he told her anyway, deciding to try to at least wake her up.

“Who’s coming?” she chirped brightly, smearing red on her lips while examining herself in a tiny makeup compact.

Malcolm looked around and dropped his voice. “The Nines.”

She stared at him, stunned for a moment into complete incredulity. Then she threw her head back and laughed and laughed and laughed.

Malcolm huffed and started to pack up his bags.

“No, Malcolm,” she huffed, still giggling. “I’m sorry, I am! It’s just – the Nines!” She dissolved in another fit of laughter.

“Never mind,” Malcolm snapped. “I’m sorry I said anything!”

A harsh boom startled him and he looked toward the front of the library. He heard some yelling and then the sound of running feet.

“What is that?” Marjorie asked, craning her neck to see. “Can you see anything?”

Malcolm felt himself smile. It wasn’t his usual smile, this was something more… feral. He resisted the urge to touch his face and feel it. Marjorie gasped when she looked at him.

“I told you,” Malcolm said. “It’s starting.”

He shoved his books back in his backpack and zipped it. Marjorie watched him, clearly distracted and beginning to be afraid.

“You coming?” Malcolm asked, standing.

“Coming where?” she asked in a small voice quite unlike her usual one.

Malcolm looked around the edge of the wide bookcase nearest them. “Here,” he told her over his shoulder. “Come on.”

He heard her rummaging with her stuff and then stand. Her perfume tickled his nose as she got close to him, something flowery with a hint of spice. It smelled clean and made him feel a little hot.

He sniffed, trying to clear his nose, and set out for the next bank of bookcases. They wound their way through the section on biology, not seeing anyone. Ahead of them, the windows glowed with late-afternoon light, grey from the overcast outside. He turned left before they reached them and crept down the wide space between the two bookcases toward the door at the end.

“You’re taking the stairs?” she demanded in a whisper.

“Shh, they’ll hear you. And yes, we are,” he murmured back.

The doorway to the stairs was heavy and stuck. The hinges usually squeaked loudly. Rumor had it the biology librarian kept them that way so she could keep an eye on students coming and going. No matter; Malcolm made quick work with some WD-40 and they were through.

“What is that stuff?” Marjorie wanted to know.

“WD-40,” he answered. At her blank look, he added, “Oil. For the hinges, so they don’t squeak.”

Her eyes widened, impressed. Malcolm grinned at her, that strange feral grin he’d found somewhere inside himself, and led the way upstairs. He stopped at each floor to make sure no one was about to barge in on them. He was pretty sure no one knew about this way up, since the other students didn’t routinely explore the library, but it paid to be cautious.

Fifth floor, literature. Sixth floor, fine arts. Seventh floor… they were there. He eased up to the door, every sense alert. He even put a hand palm-down on the door, to see if he could feel any vibrations of nearby footsteps. It didn’t work, but he felt safer having done so. He put his ear up to the door and heard nothing.

“Come on. Stay close, now. They’re probably up here by now.”

Marjorie nodded, eyes wide. Malcolm turned back and started. Her hand edged into his, a little sweaty. He smiled again, and opened the door.

There was no one nearby, but he could clearly see Thom Stacker, the largest guy in their year, standing at the far end. The atrium ceiling, far overhead, let in the silver-gray light for the plants grouped in the huge display in the center. Palm trees competed with a riot of other tropical plants, their perfume heavy in the room. Wrought-iron tables and chairs ringed the planter so library-goers could enjoy their book in the peace.

“Wow!” Marjorie whispered. “I never knew this was here!”

“Keep your voice down,” Malcolm warned softly. “Follow me.”

He lead the way around to the right, away from Thom. He saw his destination up ahead and slowed, careful now. He waited a moment and glanced at Marjorie.

“You ready?”

“For what?” she asked, confused.

He just grinned at her and, after a moment, she smiled back. It lit her whole face.

Malcolm set off boldly, almost dragging Marjorie at first. After a startled squeak she trotted to catch up, her hand still gripping his.

“Malcolm Dennis, pledge,” Malcolm announced.

“Malcolm!” Paul Forbes cried, pleased. “Wow! You’re the first one back! And who’s with you?”

Malcolm looked at Marjorie. “Marjorie Willis. My date for the pledge dance, if she’ll have me,” he added, glancing at her.

“Pledge dance?” she echoed. “You did this for a fraternity?”

He nodded. “Alpha Chi Omega. It’s why I need to know the Greek alphabet,” he told her. He slipped off his glasses, blinking. Even though they had no prescription, they made his eyes a little sore.

“You pledged Alpha Chi Omega?” she demanded.

“Class of Nines,” Paul put in. “Congratulations, Dennis. You’re in.”

“That is so cool!” Marjorie blurted. She grinned at Malcolm.

She sure was pretty.