Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Remains in the Rain

The gray sky held a hint of drizzle and the air drowned in the scent of damp decay as Elm picked her way through the ruins. It was Wednesday and she hated Wednesdays because that was the day her mother got paid, which served only to remind her mother how little she made and put her in the sort of foul mood that resulted in shouting if not blows. Elm needed a find today, something that would bring in a good value at the bazaar. If the clouds where to open up and drench the city right as she found it, so much the better as that would decrease the odds of a sentinel observing her and nabbing the artifact.

The roofless building Elm targeted today didn't look terribly likely to hold anything that hadn't already been weeded through by previous seekers, but the little feeling inside her that pulled her to her greatest finds was making itself heard today and it was certain there was something in here.

The wind whipped through the holes in Elm's sweater, not at all deterred by building's walls even though all four were intact. Four walls, but no windows. According to Elm's grandmother, those windows used to be filled with glass, but Elm couldn't imagine anything like that. The lone window in her house was covered by a thick drape of bear hide. Glass, it seemed to Elm, would let in both light and cold.

A rain drop fell and hit Elm dead on the nose. She allowed herself a small smile, nothing big enough to attract disapproval should anyone see it but just enough that whatever spirits watched over her could see her gratitude.

The feeling lead her through the structure, though she needed to pause several times to close her eyes and concentrate when she lost touch with it. As the rain picked up speed, she wove her way to the back corner until at last the feeling thrummed with the pulsing urgency that told her she had found the spot.

Her only tool was a worn trowel she'd found in a garbage heap, but she dug into the rocky ash with determination. She dug until the fingers she used to assist the trowel bled and pains tore through her shoulders with each new motion. Water pounded her from above, numbing her muscles and plastering her hair to her back.

And just as she was considering giving up, she hit metal.

Metal was valuable in and of itself and Elm had just found a large amount of it. It spread to the sides and she kept digging, clearing the debris from the metal sheet even as she began to tremble from the enormity of her find. A plate of steel this big could get her family out of the city, to the country where things could grow. They wouldn't need money there, not in a place where they could grow their own food free from the poisons that had always surrounded her.

The metal wasn't all flat. There was a rise in it that she didn't know the purpose of and a short length of split cable wrapped around that.

And... Elm didn't recognize it at first, but once she realized what she was looking at, it was obviously a door. A tiny little hatch just big enough for someone to slip through.

Elm wrestled the door open and peered into the dimness beneath it, trying not to breathe in the musty stench of the now-released air rushing past her. She only had one light rod left, but this seemed like a good time to use it, so she slid it from her belt and snapped it until the agents inside began to glow.

Below her was a box big enough for at least a dozen people to stand in. A rail ran along its walls and its bottom was coated in a thin gray fur.

Two skeletons lay in the box. They weren't arranged like the ancients used to bury people though, so they'd probably died in the box. Maybe as a punishment? Their arms were wrapped around each other, one of them much larger than the other. A parent and child perhaps.

Elm wrapped the rope she kept around her waist about the strange protrusion atop the box and swung herself down to investigate closer. The clothes were remarkably intact and would be worth something, as would the jewelry both wore. She knelt to slide gold bands and ropes from the bodies, stuffing them in her pockets while the rain hit the box with a curiously metallic pit-pat.

As she jostled the remains, she realized something lay pressed between the pair. It was small and soft and although it smelled of mildew and had obvious signs of age, Elm knew it was the first thing she'd ever found from the Old World that she would keep for herself.

She pulled the creature out. It was some sort of doll with the head and hands of an animal, although Elm had no idea which one. Probably something extinct.

She held it to her chest and wondered, just for a moment, what it was like to live in a world that had such things. Both the amazing animals and the toys. Her world had neither.

She stuffed the creature under her sweater. She'd have to hide it from her mother or it would be sold along with the jewelry. But that shouldn't be hard. Mother would be so distracted by the bounty of this find that she'd never stop to ask if there had been something else. And why would Elm hold back when she'd always given everything she had to the family?

“It'll be okay, little girl,” she told the toy. “We'll get you out of this smelly box. And you'll love it in the country. We both will.”

She scrambled back up the rope to rush home with the news of the box.

The above was inspired by a random word generator giving me "pitpat" and me putting that into Google image search.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Mournful Spring

Like every year, the town gathered to celebrate the end of winter. Most years, the festivities took place amongst flowers and under a canopy of new green leaves, but this year spring was reluctant to get truly started and although the snow had melted and left a carpet of grass, the trees stood bare.

Kelsey preferred it that way. She liked how their skeletal limbs stretched out to the sky and the creepy shadows they cast across the world after the sun set, which was the only time Kelsey ever went out. Trees with leaves on them made her sad in a way she could never explain to those who noticed. Not that many people did.

By the time she made it to the party, half the celebrants had gone home and as many had spread into the wooded areas of the park as remained in the well-lit stretch between the bandstand and the food vendors. She gave thanks to the shortening of the lines as she waited behind only one couple for her last funnel cake of the year, then walked with it to the edge of the gathering.

A band strolled on stage to scattered and unenthusiastic applause. The popular entertainers had been booked earlier in the day. It was something the organizers did every year, even though people always pointed out that folks would be more likely to stay if they did it the other way around. Kelsey suspected this was because the organizers liked to be home before dark. Not being a big fan of country cover bands, which is all they ever seemed to book in any time slot, Kelsey didn't really care.

She licked the last of the powdered sugar from her fingers as she wove her way into the trees. Owen Banks snored against an elm, sleeping off too much beer, and Kelsey stopped for a moment to make sure he was comfortable and not in danger. “May your hangover be merciful,” she whispered as she moved on.

She gave wide berth to Stella McCall, who was making out with Timothy Learborn exactly one tree away from the one Clive Daniels had carved with their initials the spring before. She ran her fingers over the markings, knowing Clive wasn't over Stella yet, and whispered a little blessing to help him heal.

A fawn rustled in the grass down near the stream and Kelsey regarded it with a sigh. “There was no hope you'd skip this year, was there?”

The stream gargled with the increased water snow melt brought as the fawn settled down to lie beside it. She regarded Kelsey with pity, but made no sign of leaving. She never did.

Kelsey's eyes drifted closed and she took a deep breath of wood-scented air. It struck her all of a sudden that she should have had a milkshake, but it was too late now.

The stars burst into flames and orbs of light pulsed down from the moon. Kelsey didn't have to see them to know. She'd been going through this for almost longer than she could remember. She held out her arms and allowed the magic to flow into her body. It was the exchange she'd agreed to many springs ago, half the year spent in the wild in exchange for the powers that let her guard her ever-expanding family. She lowered her body to the ground as her form began to change.

When the tingling faded, she opened her eyes again. A woman stood across from her, her eyes the same soft brown as the fawn's. The same soft brown as Kelsey's, whose name the woman would now assume. The woman gave Kelsey a sad smile. Kelsey bowed her head in acknowledgment, straightened her four legs, and bounded away until fall.

This story was written in response to this image by Janeane Wilbur, which was used as a visual prompt on G+'s Writer's Discussion Group.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Key

This story was written in response to this image by Anne-Julie Aubry which was used as a visual prompt on G+'s Writer's Discussion Group.

A thin layer of snow coated the ground and the weather was suitably frigid, certainly too cold to be outside in short sleeves and a dress. Emily could turn around and go back home, but that would mean admitting her mother had been right to yell at her to get a coat.

Her fingers ached as they clasped Grandma's key, and she longed for the new mittens she'd gotten just that morning for her birthday. But those, like her coat and her nice, warm boots were guarded by the evil witch back home.

Okay, fine, her mom wasn't an evil witch. She knew that. She still wasn't going back.

She slid one foot onto the sidewalk, then the next. Part of her wanted to run, but Ian Masterson had slipped on an icy sidewalk just last week. The whole fifth grade knew that because the whole fifth grade had signed his cast.

So she walked slowly despite the cold dark. The streetlights seemed dimmer than usual beneath a thick layer of clouds that blocked all help from the moon. A nearby bird called out in what sounded more like a death moan than birdsong and Emily shivered.

Grandma's house wasn't far. Just a block down a pleasant and welcoming street that, with every step Emily took, assumed more and more of an eerie countenance.

Another bird cried, closer this time. Emily stopped moving, letting the wind whip at her skirt as she scanned the dimness around her.

There! A flutter to the left, then a blurry whoosh of motion right in front of her as something flew across the road to land on top of the Alberbroch's shed. It sat, a shadow barely visible on a backdrop of dark, and stared straight at Emily.

Were you supposed to run from birds? Or would they chase you like dogs? Emily couldn't remember, but she was frozen in place anyway. Maybe the bird would eat her. Or maybe she'd be turned in a snowman and the Alberbroch family would find her in the morning when it was time for school and work.

The bird called out again, then flung itself back into the air and raced away

Emily tried to laugh, but it came out as more of a sob. She told herself to act her age – she was eleven now! – and hurried along, moving from the sidewalk into people's grass so she could run.

She didn't even think about slowing until she reached sight of Grandma's and spotted her standing on the porch. There wasn't enough ice in the world to keep her from rushing as she scrambled up the steps and flung herself into Grandma's waiting arms.

“What's wrong, muffin?”

As soon as Grandma's warmth hit her, a feeling of foolishness rose up inside her, so she shook her head and mumbled, “I'm just happy to see you.”

“Uh huh.” Grandma didn't sound like she believed that, but one of Emily's favorite things about her was that she never pushed things like Mom did. “Well, let's get you inside.”

She turned to the house and put her hand on the handle, like she'd forgotten being locked out.

“I've got your key!” Emily said, holding it up in a hand that trembled only a little.

Grandma smiled and took the key, but didn't put it in the door.

“I just want you to know,” she said as she turned the handle of a door that was completely unlocked. “That this was your mother's idea.”

And there Mom was inside, under a banner that read, “Happy Birthday!”

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


This story was written in response to this image by Goro Fujita, which was used as a visual prompt on G+'s Writer's Discussion Group.

Mayva frowned at the scene laying outside in the garden. “He's all rusty and he doesn't care.”

“I don't know,” her brother said. He pushed back the thick strand of black hair that threatened to cover his face. Mayva had no idea why he didn't cut it. Her own hair never got more than an inch long. “I think maybe he thinks he deserves it.”

“Deserves it?”

As they watched, the once invincible IR-49-A, affectionately known to those he defended as Ira, moved a chess piece that put him one obvious move away from being in checkmate.

“And does he deserve to lose to a cat?”

Marc grunted. “Playing like that, I'd say he does.”

The cat moved a bishop and looked up in triumph.

Ira just nodded.

“I don't get it.” Mayva leaned a hip against the windowsill. “Was there hardware damage from the Arbor Day fiasco? I know Zip is smarter than a normal cat, but...”

“He let her win.”

The siblings stared down as the songbird that had been sitting on Ira's head hopped down to take the cat's place across the chessboard.

“He's going to let the bird beat him too, isn't he?”

Marc let out a long breath that smelled of the tuna sandwich he'd had for lunch. “He usually does. He's gotten a lot worse since you moved out. Not that there's a correlation there.”

“Have you looked into replacements?”

“Of course I have.” He shook his head and his hair fell into his face again. “We could afford one. But...”

“Yeah.” Although Mayva was the less sentimental of the two, even she wasn't keen on the idea of chucking the robot who had been equal parts bodyguard and nanny during her childhood. And it wasn't like the mansion was under that great a threat anymore. Things weren't like when she was little and they were attacked by other families on a weekly basis. “But if someone did do something, would he even defend us?”

Marc glared at her. “He's still Ira. His programming won't let him ignore an actual threat.”

“So is he depressed because there isn't one? Does he need someone to fight?”

“Dunno. I don't think so.” There was a long silence while they watched Ira's opening moves. He was, indeed, going to let the bird beat him. “He said something the other day about how it was nice not to have to worry about hurting people anymore.”

“But it's his job to hurt people!”

Below them, the robot spun his head. “No,” he said, startling his opponent.


There was no way the two upstairs could know he was talking. His mouth stayed in a perfect smiling curve whether he made noise or not. But they saw him looking and ducked out of view.

He turned back to the bird. “The humans just described my function as causing harm to other humans.”

The bird nudged a pawn, then clicked his beak in question. The cat, who sat beside the board watching the game, gave a snort and bent to lick her paw.

“My job is to stop people from being hurt.”

“Tweet,” replied the bird, acknowledging that this was an important distinction.

Ira moved a rook, wished his humans understood, and knew they never would. Not the spoiled children, now spoiled adults, that he'd killed to protect.

He shook his head, which dislodged a clump of rust. The rust drifted slowly from his neck to lay on the grass as Ira slid his queen into danger and hoped it was a bad enough move to help his avian friend win.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

So I Married a Space Marine

“Wait, What?” Mark closed his other windows and focused on the one his wife was occupying. It was still weird for him to see her with close-cropped hair and muscular arms. Hot, yes. But strange too considering the soft spoken little thing she'd been when they started dating back in college. Now one look at her was enough to confirm that she could kick not just his ass, but the ass of every man in this office. “Your orders are in?”

She broke through the Marine facade long enough to roll her eyes at him. “My orders. Our orders. They're accompanied. You know, unless you're going to file for divorce.”

Honestly, the thought had crossed his mind the last few months. But sharing Kimmy – sorry, Second Lieutenant Kimberly Lowenstein – with the Corps was better than not having her at all.

“Okay. I got that part. But I think I misheard when you said where they're too.”

“Fort Centaurus.”

“Right... Which is...” He was pretty sure he knew where it was. It had, after all, been on every news channel on Earth when it was founded a decade ago. But maybe he was wrong. Dear God, let him be wrong... “In California? Colorado? Colombia?”

He couldn't tell from Kim's expression if she understood his emotions over the news or not. But if Fort Centaurus was where he thought it was – and really how could it not be? – then she could have picked a better time than the middle of a workday to tell him. She could have waited until he was already near alcohol, which he had a sudden and, he thought, very understandable need for. She could have waited a week, until he'd be allowed to see her again and the comfort of her physical presence could help defeat the onslaught of panic battering against him.

“It's on Betaterra.” The words were said calmly and matter-of-a-fact, but there was a softening around her eyes that showed she knew they were a shock.

“Right. Betaterra. How long?”

She swallowed and drew her hand along her cheek like she was pushing back hair that wasn't there anymore. “Five years, plus travel. Tours are longer out there. Costs, you know.”

He nodded. Five years, plus about a year on either side getting there and back. Obviously no vacations home. And the base existed largely to deploy from, meaning that she could fly away for months or maybe even years of their time there. Leaving him on a barren rock of a planet with whatever random jobs were available for spouses and no hope of seeing any of his friends or family.

But... He'd known when she joined the Corps that it wasn't the Marine Corps of old. He'd known this was a possibility, especially when she selected into infotech, which on the surface covered computer systems but tended to focus on understanding and manipulating alien ones. He should just be grateful she wasn't front-line infantry. There had been actual ground fighting against the Insalings on a few worlds.

He tried to smile. He was very concerned it looked more like the face of someone about to vomit. “Guess they call you guys Space Marines now for a reason, huh?”

“Yep.” Kim's eyes tracked into the distance for a second and she nodded at someone. “Look, I've got to go, honey. But... It'll be okay. The base welcome packet is on their website and it really doesn't look as bad as people think. There's a whole New Earth starting, Mark, and we get to be part of it. Okay?”

There was an almost imperceptible tremble on the closing question. Like maybe she wasn't sure it was okay. Like maybe she was scared he was going to balk and really would chose divorce over living off-world. That little tremble broke his heart and erased any chance there was of him staying behind. “Oh, I'm ready for Betaterra, babe. But it had better get ready for me.”

She smiled though her eyes shimmered. “I'll let them know their new world ruler is on his way.”

Mark signed off with his traditional, "Semper fi, baby," then sat staring at his desktop for a very long time. Betaterra... He let out a slow breath, stood, and stretched his back while surveying the office outside his cubical. Well, it had to beat this, didn't it?

Without bothering to check out, he headed home to break the news to the goldfish.

Dear Reader, you may or may not know that there's a bit of a hubbub about the term "Space Marine" right now. In short, Games Workshop has decided they own the phrase even though it was in use for decades before their company existed and they've been making trouble for indie author MCA Hogarth over it. For more information see her website, specifically the post In the Future All Space Marines Will Be Warhammer 40k Space Marines. To help fight against Game's Workshop's bullying, you can email them (, buy the book in print or from Smashwords, or write your own Space Marine fiction!