200 Words at a Time: Part Three

This week I’m continuing the story started by MWebster76 and continued by Michael D Woods!  Once again, this is for Chuck Wendig’s 200 Words at a Time challenge!  I kind of went over (240 words), oops…

Making Merry

Merry took a last, long drag on her cigarette before flicking it out the window. The butt skittered across the pavement, throwing a shower of sparks across the street. Nash always nagged her to quit, but Merry had always been more afraid of living than she was of dying. Her breath hung in the chill night air over the steering wheel. She pulled a wad of Starbucks napkins from the center console and wiped the fog from inside the windshield so she could get a better look at the neat suburban ranch.

It was a duplicate of every other house on the block. If she was drunk, she might have gone to the wrong house. But she wasn’t and besides, she knew this house. She knew the dormant lilac bush that shouldn’t have been planted so close to the front door. She knew each straw covered rose bush by name.

Merry had left the envelope with the bail money under her sister’s pillow early that morning before leaving for work. She hoped Melody wouldn’t find it and spend it, not realizing what it was for.

The porch light flicked on. It switched off, then on again. Once. Twice. Thrice. It was time.

* * *

Merry switched the headlights off and drove slowly past the house. The streetlamps along this stretch of road were busted and anyone standing near a window would have to look hard to catch a glimpse of the vehicle as it cruised by. Forty dollars well spent, contributing to the delinquency of rock-throwing teens be damned.

After parallel parking between a Saab and a BMW, Merry slouched deeper into the seat, reached to adjust the rear-view mirror and watched the house. Within minutes of the flickering porch light, three men climbed from nearby cars and walked up the sidewalk toward the front door. Merry edged forward, staring hard into the mirror. Was the fourth man already inside? It didn’t matter. If everything went as planned, come morning she would either be in jail or dead.

She slipped back down into the seat, pulled a pack of Winstons and a lighter from her purse. Merry lipped a cigarette from the pack and lit up. She took a deep pull, certain it would be her last, and held it briefly before exhaling a thick plume of smoke out the window. Only minutes to go.

“So good to see you,” said Nash, aiming a pistol at Merry’s head.

* * *

Merry barely blinked as she glanced at Nash’s face, all teeth in the narrow stripe of the rearview mirror.  She turned to face the gun, looking down the black hole of the barrel with a strange blankness.  She’d halfway hoped to feel something when this time came.  Some sort of fear of death. 

“Hey, lover,” she said.  She sucked in another mouthful of smoke.  “Thought I might see you.  Not alive, necessarily, but that’s nice too.”

Nash’s self-satisfied grin inched towards a sneer.  “Call them back, Merry.  I’m not kidding.”

“Nah.”  She shrugged, lazily, winking at the black eye of the gun.  She let the smoke escape through her teeth, watched Nash’s nostrils flare and his throat hitch as the white cloud enveloped him.  “They’re going to get back what you wouldn’t give me.  You could have made this easy on yourself, you know.  A whole lot easier.”

“It was five hundred bucks, Merry.  Jesus fucking Christ. Get over it.”

“Isn’t about the money.”  She leaned forward, inhaling, feeling the warmth of smoke down her throat, holding it in her lungs like some kind of dragon. 

“Then what?” Nash insisted.  He pressed the gun closer to her, until it was nearly touching her nose.  “Fucking pride?” 

That wasn’t really the answer, but she smiled and let out the lungful of smoke straight into his face as she said, “Yes.”  Then she found the knife in her pocket and slashed at him in the dark.

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200 Words At A Time, Part One: Nails

I’m a big fan of Chuck Wendig’s blog, Terrible Minds, and the in-your-face writing advice he dispenses.  So how could I resist his 200 Words at a Time challenge?  The idea: each Friday over the next 5 Fridays, participants write 200 words of a 1000 word story.  But each section must continue someone else’s story, not the author’s own. Here are my first 200 words!  To whomever picks this up–hope you have fun with it!  

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Lee’s seen a lot of terrible things in her day, but this is the worst.  She can’t exactly put a finger on why it’s the worst; she’s seen more gory, more brutal, more degrading.  But this one makes her knees weak and her gorge rise and the skin on her face crawl.  This one just about sends her vomiting in a corner like the rookie who just dashed outside. 

It’s the nails.  Long nails, their round, waffle-patterned heads out of balance with the length of their bodies.  A number of them are drowning in the pool of spilled blood like teeth knocked loose in a fight.  More tumble out of upended boxes near the corpse. And fifty-six of them are buried in the corpse itself.  Some deeper than others. Some are reduced to dark circles on his skin, weird birthmarks; others turn him into the world’s biggest voodoo doll.  No part of him has been spared.  Lee shudders.  There are signs of struggle, but mostly in the immediate area around the body.  Like someone sat on him and just started hammering.  Patiently, carefully, nail after nail. 

“Officer.”

Lee’s almost glad to see that Charlie’s as pale as she is.

 

Grilling the Psychic: An Interview with Marco from “The Midnight Carnival”

Halloween is coming… and with it, the release of The Midnight Carnival: One Night OnlyTo get you ready for our treat, I’ll be hosting a series of character interviews, as well as joining the Halloween Reads Blog Tour. Here’s our first victi–er, volunteer!  Marco Vasquez! (Thanks to Ali W!)

Hey, Marco!  Why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?  Just a quick introduction for these good folks here. 

Oh, I guess people wouldn’t know that, would they? Alright then. Um, I’m Marco. I’m twenty-five, I work in a carnival, and the part that everyone remembers: I’m a psychic. No, I don’t see the future. No, I can’t read your mind. I see the dead, though. And the past. It’s really fucking annoying, and I can’t turn it off. If I don’t shake your hand, don’t take it personally, I just really don’t want to be in your memories.

So when did you first discover you had psychic powers?

When I was seventeen, after spending years in a mental hospital. My mother thought I was crazy. Schizophrenic, actually. Doctors did too. So I was crazy until proven psychic. Being psychic is better, but not by much.

What led you to join the Midnight Carnival?

Drugs are expensive, and I needed a job. I wish I had a better answer, but I don’t.

Did you work as a psychic anywhere else before you came to the carnival?

I did! A few little side-of-the-road psychic shops. I never worked with a real psychic in any of them, and the people I worked with either didn’t believe me, or were jealous of me. Either way, I had to wear these horrible costumes and this awful costume jewelry, and in one case a turban…

Halloween’s coming up.  Love the holiday?  Hate it?  What was your best/worst Halloween?

Honestly? I’m kind of indifferent. People say that the veil or whatever is thinner, but my abilities drive me nuts all the time, so I can’t tell the difference. And I haven’t dressed up since I was a kid, so… Yeah. Best I can give it is that I’m indifferent.

Anything else you’d like to say?

Yeah, why the fuck does everybody want to talk to famous dead people? Is it not impressive enough that we’re contacting dead people? How often do you talk to dead people on a regular basis that you need to come into my tent and ask me to channel JFK or Marilyn Monroe or Abe Lincoln? Guys. Calm the fuck down. A ghost is a ghost. Just enjoy the paranormal experience and leave me a damn tip.

The Midnight Carnival: One Night Only will be available on Oct 31st in print and ebook!

Story Sketch: Bayjer

This is really a story sketch of Bayjer, Anli and Ellius, I think. But we’ll call it Bayjer’s for now, since it’s his POV.

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BAYJER

“I’ve never seen a witch take so much tafil!” Anli frowned as she raised her cup. Her eyes never strayed from Ellius, who was huddled in the far corner of the tavern, over a twist of paper filled with the red dust. He stared at the dust like he did not know what to do with it, though Bayjer had seen him take the stuff before.

“How would you know?” Bayjer asked. “There aren’t any Ingfakuti witches.”

“There are a few,” Anli said, her delicate features turning dark. “But most of them are dead, yes. That’s the best you can do with the corpse-eaters.”

“You’re in a foul mood tonight. But I understand most witches like them fresher than that.”

Bayjer smirked as Anli made a warding sign. Across the room, Ellius had tapped the tafil into a bowl of rice porridge. The odd look of confusion was fading, giving way to something almost… greedy. Bayjer looked away. He felt suddenly uneasy, and took a long drink.

“But you’re right,” he said to Anli, as she refilled his cup and then her own. “I’ve sold the doses before. He’s got nearly three there. And yesterday he took two more.”

“And still he looks wasted. A witch on that much tafil should be glutted and fat. Something is wrong with him. Taiver should end our association with him.”

Bayjer ran his fingers through his short beard. “I won’t say you’re wrong, my lady, but I trust Taiver’s instincts.”

“Even Taiver makes mistakes,” Anli said.

Ellius used his spoon for only the first two swallows of porridge; after that, he simply picked up the bowl and bolted its contents, as if he were a starving man. Bayjer watched his adam’s apple bobbing rapidly as he swallowed. When the bowl was emptied, Ellius licked the rim and the insides, oblivious to the curious stares of those watching. Then he stared into the bowl as if he might refill it by will alone.

Bayjer tugged on his beard and shifted restlessly. “I’ll talk to Taiver,” he said, and then rose. “Come on, let’s go, Anli.”

Her grateful look unnerved him.

Story Sketch: Idriq, revisited

So, as mentioned, Idriq is no longer a young lord but rather, a young lady! And so. A new story sketch for her. I actually like this much better, anyway. As with all story sketches, raw, unedited and exploratory.

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IDRIQ, AGAIN.

Taiver had been watching the sharp-faced lad for near an hour before the youth approached him.

“I understand you and your friends are seeking employment.”

Taiver cocked a smile at the lad and drank before answering. “We might be. Depends on the job. And the pay.”

“It’s simple enough,” the lad said. “Look and listen, and don’t get noticed.”

“And the pay?” Taiver repeated, avoiding Bajyer’s eye across the table. If he looked at Bajyer now, he’d only laugh, and that wouldn’t do them any good, not if the lad had his father’s money to spend.

“Seventy lir,” the lad told him. Taiver’s eyebrows jerked up.

“That much? Who are you working for?”

“I’m working for myself,” the lad said, looking irritated. “Of course.”

“Come now.” Taiver set his tankard down and frowned at the boy. “That’s a lot of coin, but not enough to hide your master’s name.

“I’m not hiding anything,” the lad said. “I am employed by the Order of Firhkenn, but I am an independent agent.”

“Lying isn’t a nice habit for young lads such as yourself–”

Taiver found the rest of his sentence cut short as the lad put a blade to his throat. Bajyer, bless his heart, finished the sentence for Taiver as he bared his own blade and showed it to the boy. “–And that’s not very priestly behavior!”

“I’m not a lad,” the lad said, coolly, “And neither am I a priest. My name is Idriq Bestricht, and if you lot aren’t interested in helping me, there’s plenty here who will.”

Taiver’s eyes widened as he saw the lad clearly, as if for the first time: the fine, if sharp, bones; the soft brow; the almost-hidden swell of small breasts under the fur-lined vest. The not-lad pulled a silver emblem out from under that vest and showed it to them.

“The Raven is rolling in his grave,” Bajyer muttered, backing off. “Eyes of Firhkenn. I don’t know about this, Taiver.”

But Taiver was all smiles. A lad that wasn’t a lad, seventy lir, and a chance to spy for a heathen cult. He couldn’t imagine anything that sounded more troublesome, or more entertaining. He held out a palm to Idriq and bowed a little at the waist.

“I am never one to balk at assisting a lady,” he said, cheerfully, and when her scowl deepened, he knew it was a done deal.

Story Sketch: Idriq

I’m taking a short story workshop from Cat Rambo and just had the first session today. Really great, lots of things I kind of “knew” on instinct solidified, and lots of things I didn’t really know as well. And now I think I shall finally have to sit down and read some Kurt Vonnegut, which I have been meaning to do for ages, and revisit Joe Hill, whom I tried once and felt lukewarm about.

One of her assignments for next week was to write 250 words about a character from a short story summary we had to bring, doing something mundane. Which made me smile a little, since that’s kind of like these story sketches I am doing. (Er, well, sort of. In the exploring a character sort of way.) The short story summary I brought was about a Vessian warrior’s daughter, so I look forward to working on that, as it’ll help with the worldbuiling I’m doing for (tentatively titled) The Scarlet Empire. (Hm, I am also considering Empire of Hunger ? Hm, that looks much worse typed out. Need to keep considering.)

OK, today’s story sketch: Idriq. Whose name I may decide to spell differently, we’ll see. Idric? Ideric? Preferences? 🙂

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IDRIQ

Being the third son of a nobleman was barely better than being born working-class, as Idriq saw it. Sent here and there on his father’s interests… He might as well have been a merchant’s son, working for his wages. His father should not have been surprised that he took up with other, more promising causes. He should have been pleased that Idriq had chosen to serve as Eyes for the Firhkenn order instead of becoming a thief or a gambler.

But Lord Bestricht bellowed and raged just as if Idric had signed on to the Elite. He grew red in the face and broke china, and threw silverware, and frightened Mother. Later on he drank until he passed out, and Idriq and his mother dragged him into bed, holding their noses against the tavern-floor reek of him.

His mother’s touch was soft when she patted his hand. “It’s a good thing you do,” she said, not quite meeting his eyes, as was polite for a woman and her son. “And Anereiq will be pleased.” A small smile caressed her lips as she named her eldest son.

Idriq bowed to her, and said his thanks, and excused himself. Later, he was glad when the Lord Knight asked no questions of his request to be sent away immediately.

Story Sketch: Ellius

As fun as it is to doodle the characters, this is going to be a novel or novella, so I’ve started “word sketching” as well. I’ve decided to try to go through all the characters, writing a short piece about each. As an exercise, I’m also going to post them here, just for fun. These’ll probably be spontaneous and raw, unedited, so I can’t promise they’ll be good… but, they’re sketches— good isn’t the point. Finding, learning, experimenting, building for later… that’s hopefully what I’ll be doing.

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ELLIUS

The stories of the Vessian witches are the stuff of nightmares: gaunt figures in tattered robes and bits of armor, with ravenous eyes and ferocious appetites, unstoppable forces of nature. One lone witch of Vess, they say, could wipe out entire battallions with raging rivers of fire, dissolving the corpses of their victims into slurry they magically consume them for power. To even speak to one is to invite death to sup on your blood and bones.

Strange, then, to think that Ellius is one of them.

He is still, and quiet, and his appetites are private. The only hint of the mad hunger reputed of his kind is in the leanness of his face and body, and the rare, faint flash of some secret desperation in his eyes. Though he is tall and broad of shoulder, he has less strength than would be expected of a man of his size; it takes him and Anli both to wrest the heavy crates of cargo onto the back of the cart. His laugh is soft and restrained—at least, the only laugh Taiver has heard him utter—and seems to hide as many secrets as the rest of him.

His smile is not common, and more often a grimace, which is why for Taiver it is an irresistible challenge to tease it out.

Taiver jokes and jabs; he worries at Ellius like a dog with a stubborn piece of sinew. He is intrigued, and then he is more; too late he realizes he has been consumed by his own curiosity.

Yellow and red

Kira had never paid much attention to the god, but that morning, standing in line and looking up at it, it seemed at once ludicrous and terrible: a bear’s muzzle and teeth on a human face and body, the entire thing made of clear plastic, filled to the shoulders with dark red blood and beyond that, a yellow liquid that looked like fat. Where the two liquids met they swirled into each other, red wisps in deep yellow and vice versa.

The line moved, and there was only one person between Kira and her daily sacrifice. She looked around herself at the bored and yawning office workers, their cups of coffee clutched in their oft-punctured hands, and wondered if they had ever really looked up at the god, its huge, shiny shape illuminated from behind by the morning sun, if they had ever felt the strange awe that clutched her this morning.

The man ahead of her stepped up, put his hand into the mitt, hissed as the sharp needle inside punctured a random point on his fingertips. He must have been not quite awake, because he jerked his hand away automatically, and splatters of blood hit the pavement and speckled Kira’s blouse.

She sighed. At least she had a spare blouse at the office, she thought, and stepped up to make her sacrifice.

[dream scene] The Girl Who Climbed

She can feel Isadore’s eyes on her back, expecting her to hang back and wait for them–for Isaac–but she doesn’t stop. She leaps onto the first obstacle and she climbs, feels the demand on her muscles, the cold iron bars pressed hard under her fingers, the pounding of her heart. She is soon dizzyingly high but she never stops moving, crossing over the top of the barrier. She’s not oblivious: she can feel the eyes of her friend still on her, still burning, demanding she stop.

But she can’t stop, and she won’t. She wishes a little that Isaac would hurry up and catch up with her, call her name, but even then, she wouldn’t stop.

She likes him well enough, but her heart truly comes alive as she is doing this, as she trains and fights and moves on.

Still later, when she is alone with her mother, she cries to know she has lost him. She asks her mother why she couldn’t have been born a boy: were she a boy, and Isaac a girl, she says, Isaac would expect to be left behind. He would be proud of her skill and happy to wait any sign of her affection.

“If Isaac were that sort of girl,” her mother says, “You wouldn’t like him.”

“I’d still rather be a boy,” she says fiercely.

Her mother hugs her tight. “Oh my love,” her mother says, and then is quiet.

New fiction

That short story I mentioned is now up on Re-Vamp:
The Unseen