VisDare 31: Focused


if I don’t do anything wrong they can’t hurt me if I don’t do anything they can’t tell me I was wrong if I don’t move they can’t make fun of the way I walk if I don’t speak they can’t make fun of my lisp if I don’t sing they won’t mimic me if I don’t ask them dance they won’t reject me if I don’t care if I don’t live if I don’t try I can’t fail so still so very still so quiet so very quiet they can’t hear me they can’t see me I’m a statue will they leave me alone will they not hurt me no no no teacher no don’t call on me I tried so hard they’re all looking at me I know the answer but I can’t speak doesn’t she know that please leave me alone please I’m a statue please no


MWBB – week 24

This one’s pretty dark, kiddos. Most of it’s not true.


It’s back again, the buzzing noise that’s not quite subliminal. No one else says they can hear it, but I know they can. I’ve seen the way they look at me. The way there’s always something more important going on somewhere else, or a text from a sick friend, or a big project at work. They hear me buzzing, and it’s unpleasant. I don’t blame them for leaving. I’d leave if I could, but the buzz isn’t in my ears, and it’s not an insect, winging its way around my head like my own personal Sputnik. I’m the buzz.

I first noticed it in fourth grade. I was playing by myself at recess, of course, when Ronnie came up to me. We’d been neighbors – friends, I’d thought – once upon a time, but those days were faded, like the bruises he’d left on my shoulders during one too many games of Two For Flinching. We didn’t talk anymore, except when our parents forced us together at a block party or birthday, and even then, his smiles were false and mine were absent. His smile that day wasn’t false, but it wasn’t for me. It was for the group gathered around him, sycophants all, barely suppressing giggles. “Want some lemonade?” he asked. “My mom told me to share with you today.”

The mind is a powerful machine. It can create its own reality when the one it experiences through your eyes and ears is too much to take. It can make urine taste like lemonade. It can make you buzz.

The buzz isn’t there all the time, at least not that I notice. For years at a time it grows quiescent, hibernating, waiting for the dark places in my mind to tell it that spring has arrived. But it’s merely dormant, not dead.

I tried to measure it once, late at night in the science lab. It was particularly strong that year, feeding on the shards of my self-esteem, crushed by a professor whose cynicism was more vital than my future. I sang to myself in the dark, trying to make the buzz play the part of a baritone in the chorus of voices in my mind, but it never worked. I couldn’t sing well enough, and it never stopped. The meters jumped, I thought, but the signal wasn’t really strong enough to overcome the noise in the machine, and eventually I went home to my cage.

These days it waits for special occasions. Mostly. When I’m making a presentation at work. When I’m trying to make love. When my kids ask me for another glass of water. They hear it, often before I do, and they wince. My counselor said they wince because they’ve been hit too often, and I wish I could find out who did that, who would hurt such beautiful children. The police officers hear the buzz too, but they cover it up by slamming me around the interrogation room.

The clock on the wall buzzes too, but at just different enough of a frequency that beats echo throughout the room, the syncopation punctuated every sixty seconds by the click of the minute hand. The nurse at my side winces as he prepares the IV, the repulsion on his face clear as he puts on a second pair of gloves, further insulating his flesh from the buzz.

They were all there, in the audience, when they wheeled me out on stage. The house lights were bright, limning the crowd in halos. Ronnie sat with his arm around my ex-wife, his smile warm and comforting while she cried silently, her reddened eyes never leaving me. My children were there too, their tiny forms sheathed in smoke. They spoke only to each other – even their mother ignored them – but I didn’t.

“Daddy’s here. It’s going to be okay, little ones. I promise. Daddy promises.”

The buzzing grew louder, more distinct, rising in pitch until the clock struck midnight. They thought I would cry out then, I know. I did too.

And then it was over. At least they didn’t ask me to drink urine.


Finish That Thought – 4


Hands trembling, Nora opened the door, and winced as the morning sun came bursting through. The thick oak planks outweighed her by a hundred pounds, but the hinges were well-oiled, and the door swung easily. Built into the side of a mountain, her prison cell had been sealed tightly for centuries, but the earthquake this morning broke the lock, and she saw the sun for the first time since the dragons enslaved her people.

It was a bright fall day, and the reflection of the sun off the lake between the mountains would have blinded her had Nora not quickly cast a dimness spell over her eyes. The cave had been enchanted, and even the thought of using her own magic set fire to her mind, but now that she was outside, the power came bursting out of her. The cool breeze felt good against her grey skin, and her pointed ears twitched as she heard the sound of fish jumping in the lake. Running down the side of the mountain, she leapt onto a boulder and launched herself in the air, she shed the tattered remnants of her prison rags and blurred into the form of a hawk. Shades, but it felt good to fly.

The trout surfaced briefly, and Nora shifted her wings back to go into a dive. The world seemed almost preternaturally sharp this morning, and she could see the individual scales on the fish’s back flex as its back arched into the water. Her claws grabbed it easily, but securely, and she rejoiced in the feel of the splash as she and her breakfast glided over the surface of the water. As she settled on the banks of the water to tear the succulent meat off the still-squirming trout, her mind exploded in flashbacks to that horrible day when she was locked up, and she cried out in pain and blacked out.

When Nora came to, she’d turned back into an elf, and realized how vulnerable she was here, out in the open. She bathed briefly in the lake and then conjured her standard traveling outfit, the soft leather and sturdy cotton feeling more comforting than any armor. Her staff was harder to get a hold of, as she’d been able to protect it – barely – in her hoard under the Endless Forest, and while it was safe from anything, even dragon fire, it was also a thousand leagues away.



Monday Mixer, week 24

Kylie lay back on the duvet, her mercurial grin prefacing the usual spraddle of her legs, knees pointed to opposite walls, pulling the denim taut around her. She knew what that did to me, but I was safe – her word – and so I focused on my tremulous hands and cursed my weakness. I knew how easy it would be to bruit her dirty laundry around campus; she told me everything, but she had enough obstreperous men in her life. The blood was pounding in my eyes by the time she’d run through her faux confessional, her stories covering a gamut of activities I could only imagine. Her phone trilled, and she hopped up from the bed, late for her next class. I pretended I didn’t see how she bounced out of my room and through the door, my “everything is copacetic” smile plastered to the kludge that was my face.


MWBB – Sort of

I had wanted to get this story in for this week’s MWBB, but it didn’t happen. Nor does it fit the 700 word limit. But it needed finishing. Credit, of course, for the last line.


The first night at sea, Donny sat at the Captain’s table. His second, he hung over the railing, heaving his grog into the waves. The third, he lay passed out in the corner while his crewmates threw rats at him. The fourth he spent in the hold with the Captain’s daughter. There was no fifth.

Donny hadn’t gone to sea voluntarily. His da’ rousted him from the hayloft with a pitchfork around noon on the day after Midsummer, and his words weren’t as gentle as his methods. The hay had absorbed most of the puke, but it couldn’t hide the soot, nor cover the smell of the mead he’d consumed in such great quantities. Some in the town wanted to kill him, but his da’ had a new wife, with a heart as soft as her bosoms, so Donny was given a choice between the musketball and slinking out of town, preferably on the far side from the smoking embers of the church.

He’d lied to get on board the Blackheart, spinning tales about a stint in the Queen’s navy, but the sailors weren’t fooled for a moment. They saw the way he’d stumbled when the first wave hit the boat, and how he grabbed the wrong ropes as the sails unfurled, but there was always room for a landlubber on board, especially when they’d need so many to man the tempermental cannons.

Dinner at the Captain’s table was a favor bestowed upon all his men the first night. Every other man at the table had been on board five years or more, but the Captain felt that it created a bond with his crew, one that helped the men get through the beatings and abuse that followed. Donny didn’t care about the honor, or the beatings, but he did care about the candles. The only place on board the Captain permitted open flames was in his dining room.

“It’s his daughter, you see. She’s afraid of the flames.” The first mate laughed, his eyes aglow from flames and grog, and the ritual of telling a tall tale to the new men on board. “You won’t meet her – he keeps her locked away from filth such as you, in her own cabin under the decks. There’s two rules on board that we all follow – aim the cannons at the other ship, and don’t fuck with the Captain’s daughter.”

More laughter ensued, and a clanking of mugs in the center of the table. Donny laughed, too, but the bit was in his teeth now. He hadn’t burned down the church just because he loved fire, and the challenge was too much to resist. “Has anyone? I mean…”

“Anyone fucked with the Captain’s daughter? No one still alive!”

The first mate pounded Donny on the back and saluted him with his mug. “Spirited man, ain’t ya!” Some instinct told Donny to keep his mouth shut for the rest of the evening – unless it was attached to his mug – and he was able to focus on the siren in the middle of the table. The flame traced peaks on his eyes as the ship crested the waves, and by the time he dragged himself back to his bunk, he was adrift on a glowing sea.

The next two days weren’t any better on Donny’s stomach, and the grog only helped as long as he had enough to settle him but not so much as to get him drunk, and that was a fine line that he couldn’t walk, not on the rolling seas.

The other men had their sport with him the third day, but the fourth, the skies grew dark and the mainmast was struck by lightning. Donny was now in the way, and the first mate wanted him gone for good. The lower hold flooded often during storms like this, and so they pitched him in. He wasn’t the first man to go down there, not on one of the Captain’s ships.

He was, however, the first to wake up when he hit the water. He wasn’t as drunk as they’d thought, and he was paradoxically scared of lightning. It was black as pitch down there, but he knew which way was up, and he found the hatch to the upper hold well before dawn.

The upper hold. Maybe the Captain’s daughter would be the ugliest in the land, but she’d have a dry bed, and maybe a wet bottle of grog. But the hatch was locked, and it took all night to pry it open. When the hatch finally gave way, Donny was hit with the most beautiful smell of his life.

He almost gagged from the strength of the sulphur, but it was a perfume he’d wear with joy. He’d smelled it before, when his da’ had found need of his musket, but never in this quantity. Never this pure. There was a small porthole in this hold, and at the next flash of lightning, Donny saw the Captain’s daughter in all her glory. He smiled. It felt good to burn.


VisDare 30: Basking


For Whom the World is not Enough, the Heavens Will Answer

Balthazar was born into power, the eldest son of a king with dreams of empire. In time, he came into his inheritance, and set about ruling the world. His methods were brutish, his drive unending, until the day came when there were no more lands to conquer, no more people to enslave. During the day, he looked upon his world with satisfaction, but no joy. For at night, the gods revealed the multiplicity of worlds, each denied to him, each mocking him with its unattainability.

He commanded his brightest and strongest to build him a mirror, that he might call to the stars and summon them to his demesne. They cleansed the Earth of its gold to build his greatest work, in the valley between the equatorial mountains. Parabolic, smoother than any glass ever touched by man, it would reflect the noontime sun to all who could see. For Balthazar, they build a mighty throne, and mightier gears to raise it above the valley, so that he could bask in the wonder of his dominion.

Balthazar was an elderly man the day his dreams came to fruition, but hale as a man half his age. He climbed aboard his throne and rode its glory high above his lands, higher indeed than any man other than he had dreamt of soaring. The solstice sun rose over the horizon, swollen and red, burnishing to a bright gold by the time it neared noon. He held his arms out in ecstasy as it reached the apex of its journey, bathed in reflected light from his beacon to the stars, light that was too bright even for his eyes to witness. As the concentrated light focused on his throne, the noon-time sun was witness to his immolation, and the brightest and strongest men watched with much glee as their tyrant’s ashes wafted into the sky.


Five Sentence Fiction – Limitless


Pauline glanced up from her phone as she cut off the school bus, but there was time for no more, so there was the crash, and the screaming, and then the dark that was not dark, and the end that was not the end. She soared into the long grey, the life-between-lives where all were judged and most were found wanting. More wanting than most, her time in the grey was long, but not limitless, and the consequences of all her selfish choices were determined by the powers that had assumed that authority after the need for God was eliminated. The powers were vindictive, and cruel, and loved nothing more than the suffering of others, and they considered asking her to join them, but her crimes against others were too petty for the cosmic court. And so she returned to Earth, to be immersed in the cauldron of malice and greed again, for one day she would be ready for hate, and immortality.


Finish That Thought 3


One minute remained on the timer. I couldn’t wait any longer, so I pressed the relief valve on the pressure cooker and watched the steam billow out. I stuck my fork in and…ah, tender. Perfect. Dragon meat was notoriously tough to cook, normally taking days, so this was indeed a gamble. But I wanted that prize.

Dragon wasn’t the theme ingredient, but it went well with fairy dust. I’d had some when I visited the Otherlands, and I just knew that if I could pull it off here, I’d win my weight in mithril, and I’d finally be able to get that bounty ogre off my back.

The judges this time were the meanest I’d ever run across. The Goblin Lord’s eyes luminesced from under his helm as he tasted my dish. I didn’t know if that was good or bad, and we didn’t have any languages in common to find out. The Valkyries were beautiful, of course, and being twins, they were that much more intimidating. “Needs salt,” one said. “Too salty,” said the other. Apparently, they didn’t get along with each other any more than they did the rest of the ‘verse, because when they were done arguing about the salt, there wasn’t enough left of either for the doctor to do much with.

However, the worst experience by far was having her judge my food. She’d broken my heart for the first time when i was just an elfling. And then again when i tried to rescue her from the mines, and discovered that she wasn’t being held hostage by those dwarves. at least not how I’d pictured it. And then again. And again. And again.

I was her fool, and she was my sun – too hot to reach, but just try not to stare once you see her.

See smiled as she tasted my dish, and in that moment, if the ogres had eaten me, I would have died happy. But they didn’t, and the judging ended, and I won.

The bounty ogre grinned as I paid him. “Didn’t want to kill ya, not if I didn’t have to. Wanted the money. And I had a secret weapon. C’mere, honey.”

The smile she gave me was brighter than before, but I knew what it really meant. I was her fool, and the ogre had my fortune.

But, oh, that dragon. Tender. A depth of flavor no mortal could endure. And just the right amount of salt.

411 words


VisDare 29 – Pensive


“You’ve been lost in thought for a whole week, dearie,” Nana said. “His Lordship awaits an answer.”

Larissa slumped back in her chair and pulled her headscarf over her eyes. “But what can I say? He’s a wicked man.”

“Aye, that he is.”

“He’ll hurt me!”

“Aye, he probably will.”

“And you would have me go with him?”

Nana nodded. “Aye, and I’d have you stop fretting about it, too.”

“What’s wrong with you, Nana? Do you want me to suffer his wickedness?”

“Oh, stop yer complaining, girlie. We need the dowry money, though he could have been more generous, and you deserve one such as him.”


“Don’t play coy with me. I’ve seen you with the kittens at the river. You’ve got the dark in you, and you always have.”

Larissa’s head jerked up, her eyes alight with fury. “If I have the dark, it’s because of you … witch!”

“Aye. My get was always burdened with that chance. Your Mama didn’t, and none of your brothers do, but you…it bred true in you.

“Why do you think we only let you till the north fields? They’re the smallest, and the easiest, and little Lucius has that bad leg – those fields should be his. But naught that grows there is fit for eating by anything but the pigs. That’s your doing. You poison the earth with your very touch. And when you’re gone, we’ll be able to sell that food again, and provide dowry for your brothers to marry.”

“I should kill you for that, old woman.”

“But you won’t. Not yet. I’ve seen my death, and it does not come at your hand.”

Larissa turned and marched through the door, slamming the wood into splinters behind her.

“It comes at his.”


Monday Mixer, week 23


“Let the music beguile you. Feel it flow into your ears. Hear the notes not played, and the magic will rise.”

I let the fortune-teller natter on and did my best to ignore the discordant music. It might work on the yokels, but I knew what had taken place here, just behind the threadbare curtain that she used to separate the front room where she fleeced tourists from her kitchen.

The fortune-teller waved a bright green fandangle in front of my face, and I had a vision of her sitting in a boat, trying to reel in a large-mouthed bass, only I was even less interested in the lure than most fish were.

If she’d had even a little insight, she’d have seen what I was here for, and it wasn’t a reading. She’d also have seen it coming, the wallop my partner landed on the back of her head.