May FFC: Disguises, “The Russian Jades, Chapter 2” (908 Words)

This story continues one I wrote for the March FADness competition, for the prompt, “Green.” Enjoy!

“Kenning,” the Captain’s voice sounded from his office, startling Lieutenant William Bissel. He poked his head in the doorway and watch the Captain’s face darken with anger. Kenning looked up and stared balefully at Bissel. “Send it over. Now.” He slammed the receiver onto the cradle without breaking eye contact.

Bissel walked into the room and stood inside the doorway. “What’s up, Captain?”

“Your girlfriend’s shop burned to the ground last night, about two o’clock,” Kenning growled.

“My who?” Bissel echoed, frowning. “Captain, I’m single.”

“Miss Zelyozni.”

“Zelyoni,” Bissel corrected automatically, and the stared. “Wait. Her shop burned? Was she inside?”

Kenning raised one eyebrow but shook his head. “M.E. isn’t sure.”

The Medical Examiner had been called in? Bissel felt his heart clench. Granted, he’d only met her the one time, but still. “My God.”

“That’s not all,” Kenning added, something in his voice. His eyes glinted and he got that smile on his face, the one he saved for suspects he didn’t trust.

“Okay,” Bissel said carefully, not sure what Kenning wanted.

“Jaguaro has struck again.”

Bissel stared at him. “The Jades?”

“Indeed. Carter is bringing the photos up now. The Museum is furious. Total lockdown.”

“Yeah,” Bissel agreed faintly. “I don’t doubt it.”

Putin had personally approved the Jades to visit the United States. It was said he was personally fond of them. The pressure on the police to keep the Museum safe was astronomical, and then the word hit the street that Jaguaro wanted them and… Bissel peeked at Kenning. It was a wonder the Captain’s vein hadn’t appeared on his forehead by now.

The phone on the desk tweeted and Kenning grabbed it without even looking, narrowly missing his coffee mug. “Kenning.”

Bissel sat down in the chair across from Kenning’s desk and thought back to his visit with Sage Zelyoni. Her hazel eyes stuck in his memory, so intent and intelligent. He’d had to suppress a surge of disappointment when she’d announced her name, ‘Mrs. Zelyoni.’ All the good ones were already taken, he thought sourly. He was so lost in his thoughts he didn’t notice the Captain’s conversation concluded and jumped when Kenning slammed the receiver down.

Kenning’s vein certainly bulged now, Bissel noted. “What happened, Captain?” he asked.

“Your girlfriend,” he snarled, “is missing. Her flat is empty. Landlord said the rent was paid through to the end of the week, but she’s gone, no forwarding address.”

Bissel sat back in his chair. “Wow.”

“Yeah. Wow. Either she’s in the rubble from the fire, or she’s gone. Out of town.”

Bissel was saved from having to reply by the arrival of Carter with the photos from the museum and from the fire. The Captain took the museum photos, and Carter handed Bissel the others. They were typical. Charred wood and debris, smoke wreathing up from between timbers. The twisted remains of several art objects, made of some kind of metal, stuck out at intervals like hands or fists. He flipped to the next picture and froze.

The body lay under a crossbeam from the ceiling, half-buried under the heavy wood. It was clear even from the photo that the ribcage was crushed. Judging from the size of the wrist bones, it was female; however, the charred remains gave no clue to the identity. He studied the photo and wished devoutly that it was in color. The victim’s hair lay shriveled, curled and smoking, above the scalp.

“We’re not sure it’s her,” Kenning announced from right next to Bissel, startling him. “Dental records are proving difficult to track.”

Bissel looked up at him. “You think it isn’t her, don’t you,” he said heavily, not really asking. “You have from the beginning.”

Kenning sighed. It sounded like it came from his toes. He went back around his desk and sat down heavily. “Yeah, I do.”

“Why?”

Kenning studied him. “Instinct,” he muttered. “I’ve got nothing concrete. But my gut says she’s not on the level.”

Bissel looked down at the photo in his hands. “But this is murder, Captain. Jaguaro’s profile says that she avoids hurting anyone.”

“What if this isn’t Jaguaro?” Kenning asked. “What if this is something else?”

Bissel digested that. Finally, he shook his head. “No. I’ll check it out. Just because she’s pretty doesn’t mean she’s innocent.”

Kenning nodded, compassion crossing his face fleetingly. “I’m sorry, Bissel.”

Bissel stood and collected the photos and the folder sitting on the Captain’s desk. “Yeah. Me too.”

He made his way back to his office, lost in thought. Sage Zelyoni. Are you a murderer?

Nothing answered him. He set the photos down and started flipping through his notes.

“Whatcha got?” Dmitri Levakov asked from the doorway.

“The Jaguaro hit,” Bissel told him. “And the Sage Zelyoni Gallery fire.”

Dmitri snorted.

Bissel looked up at that. “You find that funny?”

“Don’t you?” Dmitri shot back.

“What?” Bissel asked, confused.

“Sage Zelyoni,” Dmitri said, like Bissel should understand. After a moment, he added impatiently, “Zelyoni means ‘green’ in Russian, Bissel. I thought you knew that.”

Bissel stared at him, mouth open. “And sage is green…”

It was Dmitri’s turn to gape. “You don’t think…”

“The Jades are green? Yeah, I do think. Dammit! The Captain was right!”

Bissel grabbed his phone to call the Captain and tell him. Maybe the good ones weren’t all taken after all, he reflected bitterly. It was just as well she hadn’t called him for a date. His eyes fell on the picture of the charred and blackened body. It was just as well.

FFC Story for 04/15/2008, Continuation: Elements, “Water” (944 Words)

Elementary

Chapter Three: Water

Fionula ran the water into the kettle, the filter making a soft high-pitched whine as it worked. It was an extra unit she’d had from her last apartment and she’d given it to Kirby for his new place.

“Hey,” Kirby greeted, wandering into the kitchen and sitting down on one of the only chairs that didn’t have boxes or packing material stacked on it.

“Hi there. How ‘ya feeling?” she asked brightly, noting he didn’t look very good. More like depressed and mopey. She never really liked Sara, and this was just another black mark against Kirby’s ex-girlfriend.

He sighed and looked out the window. “Okay, I guess.”

She set the kettle on the stove and lit the gas. She bent to rummage in the canvas sack she’d lugged over and pulled out the smaller bag of produce and set it in the sink. She set the pork roast, still chilly from the freezer, on the counter. Finally finding the tea buried under the net bag of potatoes, she fished it out and plumped the cardboard box back up.

“Well, cheer up, Kirby. I brought pork roast and vegies, and tea. And then you can have a bubble bath and ice cream.”

He actually laughed at that, she was pleased to note.

“A bubble bath?” he scoffed. “Come on, Fionula. I’m not a chick.”

She turned around and put her hands on her hips. “Armand said to come over and cheer you up, so I’m going to do that. Besides. I’m gay, so whatever you have,” she waved her hand negligently toward his lap, “doesn’t interest me. So your virtue is safe with me.”

He stared at her, nonplussed.

She pulled her other bag closer and pulled out the bubble bath, followed by two glass container candles, a plastic bag with a pint of Zanzibar Chocolate ice cream, and her copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. “I’ll even read to you.”

He pulled the bag of ice cream closer half-heartedly and peeked inside. “There’s a cow on your ice cream.”

“Yeah?” she retorted. “That just shows it’s made with real cow juice.” She yanked it away and stuffed it unceremoniously in the freezer. “Show respect, that’s Zanzibar Chocolate.”

“‘Cow juice?’” he echoed faintly. “Ew?”

She snorted. “Then don’t complain,” she said in a reasonable tone of voice.

He smiled but it faded too quickly. She surveyed her supplies. She pulled out the greens and set them in the sink and washed the apples. She looked over her shoulder at him. “You want to help me wash these greens?”

He shrugged. “Yeah, sure, why not.”

They spent the next thirty minutes preparing dinner. He seemed to forget some of his melancholia in the routine and helped her position the pork on top of the chopped apples. She doused it with hard apple cider and put it in the oven.

“Okay. Now I’ll go start the bath.”

“Fionula, come on. I don’t need –”

“Shush. Come on.”

He groaned but got up and followed her. She started the water and he adjusted the temperature. She let the tub fill with bubble bath, the sharp scent of lavender filling the small space.

“Hey! This doesn’t smell half bad!” he blurted.

“Gee thanks.”

“You know what I mean, Fionula. It’s not all girly and whatever.”

“Kirby, that’s not an improvement,” she said, laughing. “I could have brought bubble gum. Or baby-fresh scent.”

He grimaced. “Ew.”

“Okay. You get in the tub and I’ll come back in and read to you, k? Oh! I’ll get the ice cream.”

“Before dinner?” he asked, actually smiling.

“Of course! ‘Life’s short, eat desert first,’” she quoted. She closed the door on him before he could think of a response.

It didn’t take him long to get ready and he did seem a lot more relaxed once he was actually in the water. She handed him a bath pillow with a big silly pink bow on it. “It’s a housewarming present,” she told him.

He smiled. “Thanks!” He seemed to really mean it. She put the bow on the counter and he blew the pillow up, then sat back with a sigh.

“Okay.” She settled herself on the toilet, using a towel as a pillow. “Hänsel and Grethel.”

“I know this one!” He sounded pleased.

“Bet you don’t,” she countered, meeting his gaze. “Have you read the originals?”

He looked perplexed. “The original what?”

“Grimm’s Fairy Tales aren’t kids’ stories, really. They’re folk tales that were changed for children, made lighter. The originals are really dark and, well, grim.”

“Oh!”

She read him the story and by the end, he seemed really engrossed. She went to check on the pork and came back to find him looking through the book. “Hey!”

He smiled and handed it back. “This one,” he requested, pointing.

“Brother and Sister, huh? Okay.”

By the time the bath was over and dinner was ready, the dull melancholy look had left Kirby’s eyes. She even got him to laugh a couple times during dinner.

As she put her coat on to leave, she looked at him. “Here,” she handed over the book, “you can read some more if you want.”

“Thanks!” He looked down at the cover and then met her eyes. “Thanks, Fionula. Really. I had a good time tonight.”

“I told you,” she said firmly. “It’s the Zanzibar Chocolate.”

“Right.” He shook his head and hugged her. He waited by his front door until the elevator came and then waved at her as she got on.

She hitched her bags a little higher and smiled to herself. It worked every time. Zanzibar Chocolate and a bath could cure anything.

FFC Story for 04/15/2008, Continuation: Elements, “Fire” (926 Words)

Elementary

Chapter Two

Kirby lit the wooden match and held it under the tinder he’d arranged in the fire circle. The stones were blackened with soot and the white marks of ash. His campsite was behind him, the tent battered but homey. Nearly gray now, it was once an autumnal pumpkin color. It had faded.

Like her love.

He scraped an angry hand across his cheeks, dismissing tears that leaked out. It figured Sara would unman him yet again even though she wasn’t even physically present. The song that had played on his drive here flashed back into him mind, the refrain, ‘I’m just a sucker with no self-esteem,’ seemed overly accusatory.

The balls of dryer lint and wax flamed with a hiss, each igniting the next. He’d put all of them down, which was excessive; but he’d wanted to get them out of his house. He’d made them for Sara one weekend. Really, they were supposed to make them together. That was the plan. But like so many of Sara’s plans, it amounted to Kirby doing the work while Sara talked on the phone, chatted with her online friends, or got called to visit someone while Kirby finished the project.

He was done with that now.

Armand had told him to relax, go away somewhere to just ‘find himself.’ He snorted, nose stuffy from the tears. He knew where ‘himself’ was, he just didn’t want to spend any time with the guy. Armand had insisted, so finally Kirby relented and came to the campsite.

He could have gone any number of places. But this one was Sara’s favorite. ‘Our favorite campsite,’ she’d insist to their friends, but she never asked Kirby his opinion. She liked it, therefore it was ‘our favorite.’ He stuffed more twigs on the fire angrily. His favorite campsite was in the mountains outside of Philadelphia, not that anyone asked him.

Once the flames started licking the kindling, he arranged three of his logs in a tent over the baby fire and sat back on his heels. After a moment or two his knees cramped, so he sat down in the gravel and dirt, wishing he’d thought to bring a camp chair or something. Or maybe it was fitting that he be uncomfortable. He looked over at the daypack laying on its side next to him and pulled it closer.

Their collection of photographs lay higgledy-piggledy inside. When Sara walked out, she’d thrown them on the floor in a fit of pique. “You keep them, then!” she’d shouted and slammed the door. He sat down among them, tears drying on his face, and began collecting them into piles one by one. By the time he was done, his tears were over and he had a plan.

He pulled them out now and glanced at the top one. It was at the zoo in front of the lion enclosure, him and Michelle, Sara’s niece. Michelle loved lions and had begged Sara to go. Sara agreed and then at the last minute, canceled so she could go to the salon with her friends. Horrified, Kirby whisked the little girl up into his arms and carried her the two miles on his hip. She forgot her tears by the first block and was laughing and pointing things out to him by the time they got there.

He set that photo aside to keep.

The rest, he knew from memory, were of him and Sara, Sara and her friends, or Sara herself. He grabbed a handful of them and crushed them in his hand, tears falling freely now. The flames blurred in his vision and he burned his fingers a little as he fed the mass into the center of the fire circle. His stomach cramped from anger and he fed them faster and faster, nearly throwing them onto the flames. They curled and hissed, some melting oddly as the emulsion reacted to the heat of the fire. But they all turned black and burned.

All of them.

By the end of it he was panting. He scrubbed his face angrily, offended at his tears, and sat staring at the flames. One in particular caught his attention. It licked the small tag-end of a piece of kindling and its heart was purplish blue. It waved at him like a hand, beckoning. He felt himself start to breathe more deeply as he gazed at the flame, the light and color filling his vision. His eyes watered, now from heat, but he didn’t care. Enthralled, he leaned a little closer, the heat fanning him. He lost himself in contemplation of the fire, the campsite fading from his mind.

One of the logs popped with a loud crack and he jumped. He inhaled deeply and sat back on his hands. He looked around and noted with surprise that the other campers nearby, for the most part, had already retired. He stretched his neck and caught sight of the moon, luminous and full, overhead to his right. The cooler air away from the fire caressed his face and he took the first breath in quite some time that didn’t hurt.

He looked back at the flame, at the charred bits of paper in among the ashes, and was shocked to feel a sense of completion. His heart still felt sore, but it didn’t seem as raw as it had.

Feeling a flush of gratitude to Armand for suggesting his trip, he set about making up his camp for sleep. The fire, consuming a last log in greedy abandon, crackled and popped behind him.

FFC Story for 04/15/2008: “Elementary” (617 Words)

This story is my entry for the April Flash Fiction Carnival. The theme is “The Elements.” I hope you enjoy!

Elementary

Chapter One

(Since the prompt suggested either one story or four, I’ve written more than one. The first element, Air, is 617 words. The others come in later chapters with associated word counts. Please feel free to visit one or all.)

Greta waved the light smoke away from her face and resisted the urge to sneeze.

“Pungent stuff,” Grant complained. “Why are we using this again?”

Greta sighed. “Dragonsblood is a purifier,” she said for what felt like the fifteenth time.

“Ooh. Purifier,” Grant intoned. “I thought dragons didn’t exist?”

She shot an irritated glance at him. “I told you, Grant. It’s from a tree. Croton lechleri, actually.”

“Croton what?”

“Never mind. Just crack the window a little and hand me that bowl.”

Grant did as she asked, still grinning like an idiot. She took the bowl and deposited the small tray with the lit charcoal and melting resin into it. Armand had asked her to clean the new apartment for their circle-mate Kirby, who’d finally gotten out of the horrible relationship with his girlfriend. Armand wanted the place nice and homey before Kirby came, and he’d asked her to bring Grant along.

“Why are you doing that?” Grant asked.

“It’s too hot to carry by itself,” she told him. “See?”

She held out the dish for him. He put his hand over it and snatched it back, eyes wide. “Oh!”

She snorted and set the bowl on the marble block she had on the altar for it. She inhaled deeply, the bitter tang of the incense filling her senses. The crow feather lay next to it, glossy and black, the center stalk white and almost translucent. She glanced at Grant. “Are you going to come with me, or do you want to stay here?”

He shrugged. “I told Armand I’d help, I’ll help.”

She resisted the urge to say, ‘But you don’t know anything, how can you help?’ Armand must’ve had his reasons. “Here,” she said instead, and handed Grant the crow feather. “When we go around the apartment, I want you to waft the smoke up into the air, okay?” She demonstrated, flipping the smoke up toward where the wall met the ceiling.

“Okay,” Grant said dubiously. He took the feather and frowned. “I thought it’d weigh more!”

“Birds can’t weight a lot,” she pointed out, “otherwise they couldn’t fly.”

He looked thoughtful at that and stilled, watching her. She smiled at him and turned back to the altar. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes.

It wasn’t easy to build the circle here in this new space, but she focused on relaxing and letting herself come into the moment. She concentrated on her breath, counting inhalations and exhalations up to ten. By the fifth, her hands grew warm. By the eighth, she felt the calm sense of ‘now’ she got in ritual. When she was ready, she opened her eyes and lifted the marble and incense.

Starting at the altar, she led the way around the apartment. They moved slowly, going clockwise through the bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen; then back to the living room. When she was done and the resin a hard, melted blackness in among the ashes, she set the marble back on the altar. She looked at Grant and found him staring at her, wide-eyed.

“Wow,” he breathed. “That… just… Wow.”

She cocked her head, curious. “What?”

“I always thought this stuff was airy-fairy. But this… I felt something, Greta!” he burst out almost plaintively.

“Airy-fairy?” she echoed, not offended.

“This was amazing!” His blue eyes were glowing with excitement. His whole face was transformed into something handsome and engaging.

She was surprised to find herself feeling kindly toward him. “Well, we have a full moon celebration next week, if you’re interested,” she offered shyly.

“Yeah! I’d love to!”

She blinked, pleased, and turned back to the altar to clean up.

Maybe Armand knew what he was doing after all.

April FFC Prompt Due 04/15/2008!

Here is the newest Flash Fiction Carnival Prompt, due 04/15/2008:

THE ELEMENTS: Earth, Water, Fire, Air

Use them all or only use one. You can even do one flash per element and submit each one on its own. However you are inspired is what you need to do.

[They] chose this theme because of all the weird weather that comes with Spring.

FFC Story for 03/21/2008, Spring: “Spring” (997 Words)

This story is my entry for the Spring Theme Carnival. The theme is “Spring.” I hope you enjoy!

Spring

Winter stayed late the year Tia Maria died, as though the mountains themselves mourned her passing, and the wind and sky also. They say she died without an heir and that the People will suffer, but I don’t believe them. I know better. Little Ana was born that frozen night when Tia Maria breathed her last. She came into this world as the old woman left it. My daughter Ana had an easy birth, I’m told by the other women, but I have nothing to compare it to. Ana was my first birth, and she was stillborn.

They say it was meant to be, but I don’t believe them. God, Dios, is not that capricious. No, it was just a twist of fate that killed my daughter, and I intend to twist it back.

The sun crested the ridgeline as I walked into the valley where the old temple stood. We’ve managed to keep it secret from the Whites, the Gringos with their archaeology and desecration, but the elders say it is only a mater of time. I don’t care. It was enough that for now, I was alone. The temple stood, a silent sentry, its stones moldering into history. Grass and other plants made their home on it, covering it so that it seemed to be nothing more than a mound.

I stepped onto the first stair, and the hair on my arms stirred. There was power there, ancient and restless and, some of it, evil. I wasn’t interested in the evil, just the power. The power to talk to God. If the Priests wouldn’t talk to Him for me, so be it; I’d do it myself. I climbed the temple to the top, my lungs aching and my knees complaining. It wasn’t very large, our temple, hardly half the height of places like Teotihuacan. No one knew if that’s because the valley floor had risen, or this temple was just a smaller one, once part of a network across all of the land the ancients controlled.

The top appeared, the sun now up over the mountains. It shone down, oblivious to the long, long winter that held us in its grasp. I smoothed a spot on the top of the temple, the cloth I’d brought bright against the earth. I laid out the corn cakes, the bit of cheese, and water. Lastly, I pulled out my knife. It’s a good, strong blade. My husband, Jose, bought it for me last year. He would not have agreed with me bringing it here, a good cooking knife, but I had nothing else. I kneeled on the cloth and called out to God.

I drew the blade across my hand. It didn’t hurt right away, so I looked to make sure I broke the skin. As soon as I saw the first drops of blood well up, it stung. I flung them forward, over the side of the temple. They sparkled a little in the sun. I cut my other hand and let the knife fall to the ground next to me, the blood on it seeping into the dirt.

I started to feel dizzy, so I bent to lay my forehead on the blanket, bowing to the sun. As my hands fell to the ground, they slipped off the cloth into the dirt, my blood mingling with the earth. My heartbeat seemed to get louder as I prayed.

I heard my name called. I blinked. My hands bled faster, as though the earth pulled the blood like water out of my body. I couldn’t raise my head.

Jose scrambled up behind me and stumbled to a stop. I think he thought I was dead, but I couldn’t speak to him. There were others with him, I could hear their voices, but they didn’t make sense to me.

“Lourdes?” Jose called to me. He fell to his knees next to me and touched my back, his hands sweaty from climbing. “Can you hear me?”

“She is praying,” one of the Priests, a young man called Juanito, told him. “She has brought all the tools.” His voice sounded approving.

“The knife!” Jose cried. “What has she done?”

“It’s her hands, Jose. Not her wrists. This is not for death, but life.” Juanito knelt nearby, I could hear his robes moving. “It may yet work…”

Jose ignored him and brushed my hair out of my eyes. He pulled me over onto my side to lay against him and then slipped his arms around me, lifting me off the blanket.

“Paco. Get her things, please?” Jose called.

His brother, taller than Jose by several inches and strongly muscled, collected my knife, the food offering and then the blanket.

“Jose,” Paco called softly. “Look.”

Jose caught his breath and crushed me to him. “Lourdes!”

“Jose?” My voice sounded weak. I couldn’t see what he was looking at. I tried to crane my neck, but he held me too tightly.

“Take her back,” Juanito told him quietly. “She’ll be very weak.”

Jose didn’t answer right away. “Lourdes?”

I didn’t have the energy to answer him. The sun seemed brighter, burning down onto my skin like something tangible. Jose turned, casting most of my body into the shadow of his body, and started down. The sun warmed my face, its light making my eyes squeeze shut.

“Lourdes, look,” Jose whispered, squeezing me.

I managed to get my eyes open. We were at the base of the temple now, near the burial grounds. Ana’s grave lay closest to us, since it was the newest.

There, on the newly-turned earth of my daughter’s final resting place, we saw it.

“Spring has come!” Jose cried, his tears dripping onto my face. “You are the new Tia, Lourdes!”

Ana’s grave, barren since we laid her to rest, was covered in a soft ripple of green. The first blooms, small white and lavender flowers, opened their shy faces and turned to worship the sun.

God had given His answer.

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!

======================================

“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.

FFC Prompt Due 2008-03-21

Wow! March is the MONTH! Flash prompts are coming out of every crack in the sidewalk! Yay!

Here’s the newest Flash Fiction Carnival Prompt, due 03/21/2008:

Here are a few Spring Holiday Themes to get you thinking:

  • Vernal (Spring) Equinox
  • Spring Break
  • St Patrick’s Day
  • Easter

Of course, you may have other holidays you’re celebrating this month or the changing of the season might be inspiring you to write some other springtime tale. Any seasonally appropriate story is fine for this carnival.

And don’t forget it’s also Women’s History Month, so bring on your strong female characters! Submit your flash fiction piece of 1,000 words or less no later than 10:00 pm Friday, March 21 and it’ll be posted sometime before the next morning. [They’ll] post stragglers through the weekend of March 22-23 on an ad hoc basis.

Flash Fiction Carnival

The FFC Theme for March is alphabet/numerals. 1,000 word limit. By letters, they mean alphabet letters. This can take you anywhere you can imagine and follow any genre. The numbers can be numerals of any flavor. Arabic numerals, Roman numerals, Mayan ones. Or even some system you create yourself.

Go here for more information. Due 12:00 P.M. EST on 03/12/2008.