A Perspective on Oculus

Tonight news was revealed that Facebook have acquired Oculus VR for $2bn.

To many this will not be big news, but in gaming, it is causing a bit of a stir.

I have my own anxieties about the news.

The truth is this:

  1. I grew up playing games, of various kinds, to the point of ostracism at times.
  2. Oculus VR, producer of the Oculus Rift – a Kickstarted VR headset for gaming – is rooted deeply within a gaming space.

Facebook’s suddenly and unexpected acquisition of Oculus VR feels like the popular kid turning up unannounced, plucking our toy out from under us and walking off with it. That feels like a threat.

Mark Zuckerberg released a statement regarding the acquisition in which he is very positive about the future. In it he is keen to stress their desire as a company to support the growth of Oculus VR, providing whatever resources and contacts they need. But this positivity is not merely about how the company might grow, but also to its future possibilities, possibilities beyond gaming.

One of my fears in all this is that they take away what Oculus have done and turn it into something else, a cheap imitation of what it was before, without the love that lay behind it. I worry that it might become polluted by the divergent desires of a different outside influence. I am anxious that ordinary people will pick it up and use it without a moment’s marvel at how this thing came to be in their hands.

But is that not the fate of all good technology?

Mark Zuckerberg does appear in love though. And I agree with him. In spite of all my fears, if technology like the Oculus Rift could be marketed to a wider audience and embraced in a useful way, the future could well be an amazing one.

We shall see. Only time will tell.

The Headless Horror of Galdean

When Jorik still ruled at Havnar, the father of Elden died, so Elden and his wife took possession of his father’s land. The farmer looked across all the fields of his domain, and marvelled, but worried also that his crops would not be safe.

Now the farmer’s wife was a cunning matron, so thus she spake, “Go; make for yourself a scarecrow and dedicate him before the priests, that your fields might be protected and their produce spared.”

So he ventured forth in search of material. A plough broken for arms, birdcage for a chest, blunted sickles in place of hands. For legs he stripped the limbs of a cemetery yew, clothes procured from a dead man hanging. All this crowned with a prize pumpkin, face carved by his loving wife.

All these he set before the priests. Yet one observed, “see, there is no heart”, so an ember was added to the offering. Taking their last goat, the priests made sacrifice, singing prayers over the parts as they danced around the alter. And behold, the parts were granted life, the ember never dying.

Elden returned and bound together his scarecrow. And lo, when finished, did he not set it upon a pole? Or grant the pumpkin as king over the whole? So the scarecrow was set to guard over the fields.

The holiday of harvest thanksgiving approached. Being devout, retaining still some youth, the farmer left on pilgrimage. For his master did the scarecrow pine, wishing to follow and see the world beyond; but the pumpkin refused him. An argument broke, the body revolting, beheading itself the pumpkin, which it set upon the pole.

Lonely Reaper

So the scarecrow vacated its fields. However, farmer long departed, unknowing of the way, the scarecrow soon became lost. Two days did it wander, by day and by night — for it never tired — until straying upon the town of Galdean by the early light.

And the people, they did panic! Women cried for their bairns as maidens after mothers feared, men running as cowards this way and that. Yet by surprise they overcame him, the brave men of the town; though barely, their frames scarcely grander than his own.

Restrained, the brave men brought him to a cage, casting him inside, a disconcerting rattle as he rolled across the floor. From toe to torso his incarceration he did question but, mute, received no answer. Questioning to watching turned, fascination by homesickness replaced, as the anger he noted changed instead to fear. A week passed, or more, and watching to lamentation turned, scarecrow scarcely stirring. No longer did he note the will of the people, that as his will was slowly crushed their horror and memory subsided.

In those times the king was harsh, a heavy burden set upon his people. He sent unworthy fellows throughout his land collecting tribute from every place, every man extorted of his living.

So it was that men came upon Galdean late one day. But the townsfolk were poor, as their harvest. “Let me repeat,” the scarecrow heard at the scream of another man, “in the name of the king, your tribute!”

“Then name him!”

The chuckle was cruel as pain escalated to quick release, something severed; yet the scarecrow lacked honest understanding. Not till men were brought to the cell, battered, bleeding, a stink of liquid metal, trails left in their wake. The cell door opened with a screech, men thrown within the empty cage.

Except only then did the scarecrow spring to life, to feet jumping, then bounding out the cell. As the other ran, he caught the one on the floor, sickles buried, through flesh then torn. In agony the man screamed until pain ceased, screams also. Townsmen left cowering, the other was chased, shouting breathless warnings as he ran. As crying ceased, struck down from behind, their remnants looked in fear and ran.

“There’ll be more,” a voice came, offering a sword, but the scarecrow offered his hands. “Come.”

He was led, by hand, to a blacksmith’s forge. “Sharpen yourself for the coming battle, that we might all be spared.” So the scarecrow sat, dull blades sharpened in the flames.

By still of night the men returned, far stronger than before, with torches and dogs in tow. And before them one scarecrow, set without a head. As one they rushed upon him, sickles slicing through their flesh; like a demonic marionette he twirled, blades dancing about him. Much blood was spilt as through leather, cloth, and flesh he cut, men lying broken with their throats split, their own dogs feasting on their fat in the street.

But their numbers were no match and, too much, the scarecrow they overpowered. Toppled, the cage broke, crushed by their force, ember rolling out across the ground before limbs were severed, ties broken, the scarecrow pulled apart.

The unworthy men rejoiced amidst their victory, no tear shed for their fallen. Orders swift were given to steal all their worth, the people given to slaughter, their town offered up in flame.

Then the ember moved.

Embers

No time to react, each severed part acted on its own, each member still joined as a collective; a republic without a crown. Plough blades, once shoulders, parted legs, not soil, as sickles sought for soft flesh to plant; other fragments stabbed and herded till together the group were gathered, fighting all sides in a defensive huddle.

Then the ember jumped, then skipped; it began to roll.

Tumbling toward the group of unworthy men, it slipped its way inside. Flaring bright and fiercely, it crawled up limbs, across backs, within clothes, till the stench of searing filled the sky. They were offered up as a pyre, scarecrow so too consumed, townsfolk fleeing at the sounds of their screams.

The flames died only with the rain, ember dying there also. The square left a jumble of corpses entwined, its residence saved; no corpse of the scarecrow they found remained.


Written for the Flash Fiction Challenge: Choose Your Randomly Chosen Words at Chuck Wendig‘s site, Terrible Minds. The challenge: 1,000 words using three randomly chosen words. My story is 992 words using scarecrow, republic and holiday.

Sharp Minds

“So, let me get this straight. The president is some sort of super hero?”

“Super hero?” Scoffed Abriella.

“No; he’s certainly no hero,” Juancho clipped the back of Mauricio’s head. “Did you hear nothing we said?”

“You said he had powers.”

“El Diablo has powers; does that make him a hero? Tonto. Mauricio’s head was bowed with a palm before an open packet was offered, cigarette drawn without. Juancho did likewise, pack tossed to Abriella before a flared match was shared. “I know, it’s hard to believe, but President Pérez is special — he has mental powers.”

“¡Tonterías! How can he?”

Bogota CreAcción °*

“It’s not nonsense, Mauricio, believe me.” Abriella interrupted above them, sat in shorts, unbuttoned shirt exposing her vest top underneath. But Mauricio watched as vapour flowed, trickling upward from out velvet red lips, vapour cast against blonde plaits; she reminded him of a dragon. His eyes cast back down, lungs were drowned with smoke his own in hopes it might swallow his nerves whole. “My father stood in opposition once; just the once, he committed suicide not long after.”

Where smoke failed, alcohol would prevail, bottle taken beside him, its long swig dousing the smoke with fire. He offered it round, but they both declined.

“So he’s telepathic then?”

Abriella wagged her head. “No, an empath; a telepath is very different.”

“But telepathy is worse, right?”

“Telepathy. Empathy. They’re like a coin. Do you read, Mauricio?” A peso appeared in her hand, toyed within fingers from out of nowhere. Mauricio’s head shook. “Well, you have dialogue and description. Telepathy is like dialogue; one person at a time, no context other than that which you bring. If someone lies, if someone’s sarcastic? It’s up to you to interpret that correctly; it’s a skill. Empathy shares more with the description in between. Primal. There are no words, but you know the feeling behind them. And it’s communal. You understand?” Tentatively he agreed.

“That’s a simplification of course,” Juancho continued; “reality is more complex. Neither’s like reading a book, they’re simply not that passive.”

“No it’s not,” argued Abriella in return. “You’re simply in the unusual position that you can reauthor things.”

“Reauthor?”

“As Juancho said, such gifts aren’t passive, they’re active. Rather than hear emotions, Pérez can actually speak them.” Abriella then recalled riots years before in an affluent area near Bogotá. “Don’t you remember? Didn’t they strike you as odd?”

Mauricio remembered; he was there. Half a week had already passed before they arrived, replacing the incompetence of local policing. Air previously marketed as clean and crisp never once lost the tinge of smoke; heat had flushed his cheeks as cars overturned, worth a year or two’s wage at least, had burned like beacons in the night. Their first looting he recalled particularly, a large house far surpassing any wage he hoped to amass, wailing under its assault. Mauricio had dragged one out, a man mid-thirties, dressed in a suit, unleashing obscenities expected far beneath him. Rather than looking up to him, Mauricio looked down, breaking his face, blood blemishing the whiteness of his shirt.

He and Juancho had trained for far worse than riots, a time he looked back on with fond memories. Yet something unsettled when the rich rioted on their own doorstep, demanding they be made poor. “Rioting never made much sense to me.”

“Mauricio,” Juancho stared, “you know better than that.”

Bogota

Abriella continued. “Politicians were stuck in a hard place; tax the rich and they’d tax themselves. Yet the ordinary citizen loved it. And then there was Pérez, this minor politician, suddenly in the middle of it all.

“All this just prior to a key election, a large swing of support for a previously unpopular candidate.” Frustration appeared as Mauricio stared blankly at Abriella in return. “We believe he directly influenced the crowd, inducing them to riot. Arrests were limited; those made denied all involvement, but evidence of drug abuse was found in each instance.”

Mauricio took his opportunity. “There you go then, not this… mental stuff at all.”

The dragon snapped, cursing, cigarette carton bounding off Mauricio’s head, argument breaking out between her and Juancho. Why was he needed? How were they sure he was up to the job? Did Juancho really know him at all? All interspersed with pleas to calm, that they hadn’t believed this from the start either.

Mauricio just took another swig; he felt nothing. What they said made a strange sort of sense, but why should he commit to another’s cause without absolute conviction?

Then he realised half the bottle had gone, an unconscious reflex throughout their conversation.

“You shouldn’t have done that.” Juancho returned to him as Abriella thundered away, squatting down by the river nearby. “I mean it.”

As another cigarette was offered, Mauricio took it. “You never told me; why me?”

“After all we learned?”

Reminded of advanced training, Mauricio searched his mind once more. Always a sniper and a spotter; one concentrated solely on the target, the other on the expanse in between, and all other threats. “You want us to assassinate Pérez?”

“No, you,” Juancho pointed.

“Why me?”

“Because I trust you. Because I know how good you are. Because I know you drink yourself to sleep each night, how it numbs you, yet you can still hit a target 1km away in a crosswind.”

The bottle was eyed before Juancho was. “Why a drunk?”

“Needing a sniper’s not about bypassing security. We have no idea at what range he can sense or alter the state of men’s minds, but we know alcohol alters its effect.”

“Do you believe all this?” Mauricio circled with his fingers. Juancho nodded.

Mauricio trusted him, looking forward with anticipation of being part of something, even as he reminisced fondly on their old times.

He took another quick swig as he thought.

“I’ll do it.”


Written for the Flash Fiction Challenge: Must Contain Psychic Powers at Chuck Wendig‘s site, Terrible Minds. The challenge: 1,000 words using a randomly chosen power. My story is 975 words using psychic empathy.

Reclaiming the Bone Seeker

“Calm yourself.”

The smooth tones of Seleucia Bena-Daris, her touch, did little to ease Stavnis. Shaking still gripped her, pupils not dilated but in active spasm.

“We should go left.”

“No right,” Stavnis interrupted, causing Merrick to turn, his arguments met only with repeats. “Please, hurry; they’re searching the cells.”

“Well she’s my ship and –”

“Just trust her,” Seleucia stopped him gently.

“And why should I trust you? Cosying with the guard. She’s either crazy, or a witch,” he grumbled. “Or worse.”

“Then how do you explain our escape?”

Merrick passed her a steely gaze. Seleucia had him there, but he sure wasn’t about to admit it. “Luck.”

“I have studied that Wraith Root can induce hallucinations; perhaps she really can see things?”

Merrick had only known Aen Sorrel a short while and already the young man was trying his nerve. Merrick chose instead to ignore him, looking right. “Exactly how much did you give her, Denrit?”

“What exactly are you implying?” Denrit Ostravr’s whiskers twitched with indignation, pausing just long enough to prevent a reply. “I’ll have you know that my merchandise is of the highest –”

“Quality?” Chuckled Merrick. “You’re worried about quality?”

“And why not? A man’s name is only as good as his product,” voiced Denrit sharply, finger raised. “I have faced such insults before, and worse; do not presume me afraid of the likes of you.”

2012-09-02 International Redhead Day 2012 - Internationale Roodharigen Dag 2012, Breda

Denrit’s reply was passed slowly through teeth bared. “Believe me, the quality’s just fine; she’s flying higher than even my airship can reach.”

Aen’s impotent calls for calm were swiftly interrupted. “Too late.” All gazes returned to Stavnis as she reeled. Little reminded of the entertaining, carefree jester as sweat beaded on the redhead’s brow.

“What does she — ?”

“Stop questioning everything and show some faith!” Even Seleucia’s patience thinned.

***

“Wait, this isn’t –”

Merrick was pushed into the room by those that followed, filing in behind, Aen treading on his nerve again as he expressed the same question verbatim. Inhaling deeply, he turned to Stavnis. “What is this?”

Though her gaze fell upon him, it felt hollow, as though she never saw him at all. “The first of three locks.”

“Locks?”

“You hadn’t expected them to just give you the ship, had you?” Smiled Seleucia. Denrit agreeing, if only at its business sense. Silence followed. “Wait? You had, hadn’t you?” Seleucia scoffed.

Brow furrowed with concentration, Merrick ignored her; of course he hadn’t, he just hadn’t anticipated any solution beyond the ship’s dock. “Great; so how do we unlock it?” But Stavnis remained silent.

Seleucia sat Stavnis down as a search of the room was made. Each began looking over the complex panel before them, office overlooking an empty dry dock beyond. As books began tumbling to the floor, each discarded like a sower’s seed, Aen began to panic, tugging at Merrick’s robe.

“What are you doing?”

“Useless.” Flump. “Pointless.” Splat.

Despite Aen’s increasingly frantic pleas, his rhetoric on the sanctity of knowledge, Aen failed to grasp that Merrick enjoyed watching him squirm, so much so that he stopped observing the books’ contents altogether.

“Well, if the dreamer would only speak.”

“Under the desk.”

Her answer surprised Merrick, but she revealed nothing more. Yet a search beneath the panel revealed a cavity underneath, a logbook wedged within. Each entry featured a date, a name, a sequence of symbols; though on entry of the corresponding list the panel remained inert.

woman leaning on arm
“Seleucia.” Stavnis’s reply, cold, suggested nothing.

A pause followed; with a coy smile Selucia Bena-Daris looked elsewhere, fingers flowing seductively through her long brown hair. A key appeared, from about a chain which dangled from her neck. “I wondered what use this might be. That’s what I get for ‘cosying up to the guard’ I guess.”

“I see; a con-artist and a thief.” Seleucia’s smile dropped at Merrick’s remark, his own falling away soon after.

At the key’s twist a light once red turned green. Dock seven.

***

The book they took, Stavnis also, and released the second lock from within another room. Following the direction of Stavnis they continued on, but stumbled on a double door, its guards swift acting. Merrick cussed falling back into the group as he narrowly avoided shots returned.

Laying over her, Stavnis was shaken. “What is this? Why are we at the docking bay?”

“Too late,” Was her only reply as Denrit and Seleucia, pulled him away, Seleucia’s hand planted firmly across his face.

“Aren’t you the captain?” Merrick just scowled. “Then start acting like it!” With that she left their presence, disappearing round the corner to the sound of further fire, Aen scuttling off behind.

A moment passed, Merrick glaring as Stavnis looked blankly at the ceiling and beyond. “Take her.” Denrit attempted protest, but thought better when barked at in return.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Merrick asked, as he strode into the corridor, sword unsheathed.

“Your job,” cut Seleucia in response as the guards ceased their trembled attempts at reloading, stealing her attention back as they began to fire. With that Aen ceased his mumbling, eyes cast open at once, a plume of flame unleashed from his hand. It struck the guard, his clothes catching, and the pair lost their nerve.

“Where are the keys?” Asked Merrick as he held the other guard by the throat, to a babble of nonsense. “How do I get in?” He was directed to keys at the other man’s belt. They were soon snatched and set to work in the lock. “Denrit! We’re leaving!”

“DENRIT!”

Up the corridor marched a large contingent of soldiers led by two mages, the corridor filled with shots and flame. Seleucia aided Denrit, but Stavnis broke their hold, “no,” and turned.

The pair watched as one mage turned to the other, and in another moment was wrapped in arcs of electricity. “Let’s go,” Seleucia urged, grabbing the woman by the arm, Denrit following as she pulled Stavnis onward through the closing doors behind.


Written for the Flash Fiction Challenge: The Random Fantasy Character Generator at Chuck Wendig‘s site, Terrible Minds. The challenge: 1,000 words using a team of randomly generated fantasy misfits. My story is 992 words using the following crew:

  • A vengeful spice merchant is trying to find a cure before it is too late. (Denrit Ostravr)
  • A foolish jester is afraid of her uncontrollable powers. (Stavnis)
  • A charming sorceress is masquerading as a zealous con artist who is the heir to a fortune. (Seleucia Bena-Daris)
  • A childlike student must take all the world can offer. (Aen Sorrel)
  • A misguided air pirate is seeking the Dread Ossuary. (Merrick)

Hunting Love

“Hello?”

I hear the tremble, sigh, invite the guy in. Shame; I was enjoyin’ the rain.

“I need your –”

“‘Course ya do. What is it?”

“My daughter.” I sigh again, pull a pad, urge him to continue. “She was taken, from my farm. I had to –”

“She wouldn’t have left herself?” I have no patience for jabber. Downcast, the man shakes his head.

Women.

Welcome to the New World, forced upon us like a hooker on a drunk. Not that anyone was responsible for most ‘the world’s populace dyin’, the mass pollution, or panicked warfare over dwindlin’ resources, ya understand. But someone, in their stupor, invited the wench in; no sooner was she lain down than she turned out the light.

These are dark times, make no mistake. And in times like these, in a job like mine, ya can’t be afraid of the dark.

“She’s cared for me since her ma –”

“Right,” I interrupt. Not like I don’t care — he’s hurtin’, I get it — who’s not? But I’m an artist — I need detail, not background.

A photo, “Adriana,” that’s rare. Pretty. Long blonde hair, slim, blue eyes. A smile. All else is they may have travelled West. Like an outhouse in a hurricane — not a lot to go on.

Barter’s just a fact of life, but as he talks money I sigh relief. Then nearly choke as he offers me his daughter’s hand! “Look fella, I ain’t the marryin’ type,” but he insists. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a pleasant looker, and I ain’t so fool as to think man can live without love. But mine?

He’s broke and he knows it; were she Charity, I still wouldn’t work for free. Spyin’ his watch I point, more than worth the cost, yet not willin’ to part one bit. “It was my Grandpa’s.”

“Who d’ya cherish more, the livin’ or the dead?”

***

The road out West’s a dangerous one; old man was right, no place for a woman to run. But that’s anarchy for ya, completely free. Free like beer; men are all piss, the women water; true beer is rare. All the more reason for keepin’ a level head in this game. Mark my words, women are a noose; I’ve seen too many a man entangled in their snare.

I arrange meetin’ a friend, an information broker, at a diner along the way. I sit, order a drink, but he’s a no show. So eyes wander, as they do, till fixin’ on some broad.

open all night

Stopped in her course, names exchange, other words beside, till the owner stirs, served a faceful of his own words. The fella stands, met by a glare, face to chest as the drunk’s friends join him. Me? I sigh; hardly the discrete drink planned. And at six to one the broad’s odds weren’t lookin’ as hot. I rise, right myself, walk over to make an introduction. Offerin’ his hand I take it, cease its travel through the air. “Now that’s no way to treat a –” I take a smack to the mouth.

We tango, she and I, back to back as though we’ve danced this way for years. Fists and feet a jumble, I protect her, blockin’ punch and kick aplenty. A couple to my gut, my eyebrow split, but I give better than I receive. They soon run, limpin’ and cursin’ as they go. Turnin’ to see them leave, I see her, realise she was protectin’ my back all along.

She’s not a scratch, wincin’ myself, sharp pain and blood as I wipe my brow. Asian, full jawed, a bob of black with a streak of grey within. A scar runs down the far side of her face, and I realise that she can handle herself.

I feel somethin’ for all her imperfections then. She was beer.

Heat and pain mix, a well aimed slap across my face. “Why? I could cope.”

I nod; “didn’t think ya should have to.”

Softenin’ her scowl, we talk, exchange names, other pleasantries. When she says she has to, she leaves. I wait a moment, think toward the door, then run, hopin’ to catch where she’s headed. There in a coach, just headin’ away, I see a blond starin’ straight back at me.

Her.

Knotted in frustration I throw my hat to the ground.

***

I left more questions than answers. Sure, I knew where she was headed — the coach told me that. But the old man lied; her eye’s were brown. It was her, no doubt, but why the photo didn’t match was puzzlin’. How did I know it was her for sure?

Destination reached I gather some information of my own. “An old warehouse on the outskirts,” I’m told, kind of place to give ya the creeps, so I ready my pistol and walk inside.

The door creaks.

I walk as quietly as the buildin’ allows, followin’ trails left in dirt and dust, gun ready as I climb higher. Why the caution? Max, my information buddy, knew somethin’, that’s why we had to meet. But he needed a leak, and did so, across three stalls courtesy of a new windpipe.

I find her, knife held to her throat, broad behind. My heart skips.

“Don’t come any closer.” I try lookin’ harmless.

The girl struggles, “Let go!”

But instead the broad just smiles. “Might have been brief, but I hope you know how I truly feel about you. We really could have been something.”

“Don’t do this; stop it!”

“Well?” She stiffens, as if to strike.

There’s silence as I pull the trigger; that moment my heart sinks, chamber yet to fire. The explosion shatters my wall of thoughts, tearin’ past to her forehead, and on right through.

There’s a scream as glass shatters from the pane behind, shocked sobs, percussion of a body as it flumps to the ground. The broad lies there, bleedin’ out like she did Max.

Were I able to pursue her differently; but not today.

I love the money too much.


Written for the Flash Fiction Challenge: Smashing Sub Genres at Chuck Wendig‘s site, Terrible Minds. The challenge: 1,000 words using two randomly selected genres. My story is 999 words and used post-apocalyptic and noir.

Swords and Clubs

There was once a painter by the name of Antonio Espino, who toured the land to sell his wares.

And he came to the house of a rich man who, enchanted by his work, gave him a place to stay. The man — an eccentric, a Lord — delighted in the artist, and treated him as his own. In return all he sought was commissions for which he would richly reward, so Antonio obliged. The last such commission was Antonio’s greatest of all, and he would toil long into the night, barely seen except to feed. And once the painting was complete, he presented it to the Lord.

The portrait, of a feline dressed in clothes, bore a pair of playing cards displayed — the club’s ace one, spade the other — just as the Lord had demanded. (For his son loved to gamble.) “Magnificent!” exclaimed the Lord, “your finest creation, truly!” And the Lord celebrated, calling for a feast, portrait placed proud within his banqueting hall.

But tragedy struck before ever the feast — the Lord suddenly died. Though even whilst the artist mourned, his heir demanded he should leave. Antonio protested, seeking only that which he was due. But the son remained unflinching. “What curse have you brought upon my house, that when you paint this thing my father dies?”

His words the artist scorned. “I detect an artist’s hand in this, yet a hand not my own. Pay me what you owe me now, or you’ll reap as you have sewn.”

Refusals still unceasing, Antonio was ejected into the rain; thus, despite false accusal, what was vacant the artist placed.

“Let your heart be hardened as it is so now, unbreakable like stone, that when you dig your pit you dig too deep, yet the digging is your own. May you suffer as I suffer, may you lose all you have won, though no curse I bring can touch thee now, for he loved thee as a son.”

They beat him till he stood no more, he dragged himself away; left a pauper — no tools, no worth, no honour. He begged enough to buy a rope, hung himself from off a tree, all within the manor’s sight so the Lord, and all, could see. There it was they buried him, underneath the gnarled oak; fitting, thought the Lord, he could see the tree and gloat.

But time passed, as did the Lord, content the curse had not prevailed. As too did the tale, carried only on the tongues of old crones, feared more than they were respected.

New lords rose and fell, until another took his place. Same love to gamble, forefather adored, banquet hall converted to a game room, his commission still upon the wall.

Aces Up

Known for entertaining, the Lord called a feast in honour of his forebear, with Roulette, and Billiards, and Blackjack. But the Lord’s poison was for Poker, so later that night he sat and played. The Lord expected favour, for the croupiers were his own, in confidence his hand he played, but in losing he did frown. Another loss, then a win, though small, he continued content his luck would change.

Confidence gave way to frustration, spurring the Lord further on. In silence the croupier was altered, then again as he lost yet more; but nothing would improve his chances, his destiny set in stone. First advisers, then friends, then staff, then adversaries; all suggested he should end, but their voices were lost within the game, convinced that he would win.

None gleaned why the Lord, he lost so much, least of all the Lord. The portrait cat sneakily gestured at everyone. The Lord, he lost once more. Then patience snapped like sinew torn; he demanded them to leave. But at guest’s demands for what he owed, he asked for a reprieve.

Disgruntled, pushed by force, the guests left, to the relief of the Lord. But the guests soon returned, with club and with sword, to drag him screaming from his home. Despite fevered pleas for clemency, his voice was lost within the crowd’s, voice held by a cord, cord held by an oak, voice suspended from a tree. To the manor the crowd returned, marching on it to claim their dues.

The doors they found were open, posts abandoned, servants fled with fear. Quickly they mobilised throughout the manor, room by room, a search for spoils was made. Till a voice called out urgently from within the game room, attention drawn to the portrait on the wall. Within its grasp, the cat there held a pair of tarot cards displayed — the hanged man one, death the other.

The crowd grew quite dismayed.

For in whispered murmurs all remembered, the cat had bore the Lord’s cards, and win or lose all knew the Lord’s draw. Then other murmurs followed, of an artist’s curse long forgot. Antonio’s revenge had been enacted.

Horrified, their spoils they dropped, retreating for the doors. With torches they set the place ablaze. The fires burned through night, till morning, and eve again, until the house it lay in waste, all ruins made.

And the cat, still smiling, descended within the flames.


Written for the Flash Fiction Challenge: Five Random Sentences at Chuck Wendig‘s site, Terrible Minds. The challenge: 1,000 words using one of five sentences. My story is 858 words and used “The portrait cat sneakily gestured at everyone.”

Those Shoes Are Not Apocalypse Friendly, Francine

“So, to recap, the world ended.”

“Coal was bad; gas was ‘great’, but then it’s really liquid coal; other burnables existed, but ultimately emissions became a big no-no. Nuclear? A no-go zone. Hydro required either flooding or shoreline, wind was ‘offensive to the eye’, and solar? Well, it just needed too much room.”

Puzzled, the boy asked her about the breeze. Wet finger dragged across his face, he retracted, attempted wiping the mark clean. “Invisible the wind might be, but what it catches isn’t so. Mighty mills they set up, with turbines, the wind turning them like drills.” With sweeping hands she conjured visions; with her mouth she conjured sounds.

“But geothermal,” she returned to hug the boy; “that was something everyone could get behind.”

“And behind is fine; but all around, pulling all directions? That’s just messy. People became greedy, racing ever lower for ever higher esteem. Till someone popped the cork; till the Earth began to spew.” Air braking to the boy’s mocking rasp, laughter broke also, tinged with silence at its fade as she chose to appreciate the moment.

“And boy did it vomit, chunks and all. The clouds, the glow of fires; they said you could see for miles around. The sound also; not for tens, nor hundreds, but thousands.”

“Don’t you remember, Frana?” The boy looked to her.

Her head wagged. “I was only little; younger then than you. But I remember the fear, the uncertainty of it all.”

“The world would burn up, they said; we’d die of the heat, as eruptions continued and the sky turned grey. But as the lights went out–began to fail, the energy run dry–all turned quickly cold. An ice age like no other; no power, no sun, no core.” Calloused fingers felt their way through loose soil beneath, cold to the touch.

“The earth bled out like a goat; the earth bled out and died, taking with her as many as she could.”

In a void of silence she was prompted by the boy. “Then what?”

“That’s it, the lesson is ended; there is no more.”

“Aww.” Complained the boy even whilst squeezed briefly in her arms. “But how did you survive?”

“Same as anyone: luck. We were on holiday; when planes were grounded, we were stuck. When the freeze occurred we were the right side of it, and we avoided the earthquakes.”

“Planes? The metal birds that used to carry people?”

Confirming his answer, the child excited at the revelation; she had not only seen one, but been on one also. Head kissed, hair ruffled, she stood, a backpack’s weight dragged across the ground. She was strong, no proud boast, but even she struggled.

“Where are you going?”

“Far from here,” continuing quickly as his mouth reopened. “Somewhere you can’t follow.”

“Still set on that fool’s errand of yours?”

Interrupted, she turned to the man stopped outside. “It’s no fool’s errand. My father believed; I do also.”

“Faith makes no less a fool.” He observed as she stooped, checking inside the bag. The metal skin stared back at her, still, lifeless. Volatile. “Bet you don’t even know how to use that thing.” A sigh; he knew she did. Standing, the rucksack was hoisted slowly on before she walked out to join him. “You’re really going like that?”

Backpacking

“Those shoes are not apocalypse friendly, Francine.”

Voice like yesterday’s, she felt the dying embers of heat, ash like grit as it carried on the wind. Bare toes wriggled through the cold black earth as she thought of her father’s words, eyes closed, embracing the memory that had seen her cast off her shoes, never to be worn again.

Open again she responded. “Faith’s not for the foolish, Omah. The foolish are those who live without faith; or believe that they do.”

“Just a realist.”

“And I’m an optimist. It must work, it has to.”

“Why are you going?” Interrupted the boy, their attention stolen.

With open arms she embraced the child once more, before seeking his regard. “As a girl my father taught me many things, things I have attempted to pass on, and of which yet I have one last gift. He told me once of a device they used in the old world, a deliberator, which could bring men back from the dead.”

The boy’s eyes widened. “Are you going to bring back your father?”

His question, innocent, caught her off guard. Eyes closed, she cast her face to the floor as it shook. “No, dear child, my father is too long gone now.”

“Then who?”

“She means to wake the world, boy.” Omah replied, intervening where Francine could not. “I hope you’re right; truely I do.” She forced a smile in return, hand lifted to his shoulder. “Be careful; if your father’s tales were true, if that thing really can destroy nations…” A nod was enough.

Hand clutched tighter than it ought, she kissed his cheek, eyes screwed to stem the flow of wet fighting to break free. “We’ll be together again,” she whispered to him softly, “at least have faith in that.” Then she turned, quickly, and in a moment, was gone.


Written for the Flash Fiction Challenge: The Titles Have Been Chosen at Chuck Wendig‘s site, Terrible Minds. The challenge: 1,000 words using one of 13 titles. My story used is 856 words.