Ring of Bullets

Another flash fiction challenge from someone else’s title thanks to Chuck Wendig. I selected Ring of Bullets and I went weirdly literal? I feel like there are a lot of places to go weirdly literal with Ring of Bullets. Last time I selected a title no one else had picked and then as the stories started to filter in it was one of the more popular ones. So I’m just going with the one that grabbed me when I read through the list.

I’m still working toward the short and flash fiction podcast. I will be likely opening it up to doing reading of other author’s work occasionally so if you are interested please let me know.

Ring of Bullets

Ring of Bullets – Audio version

It has been 16 years. 16 years of peace, prosperity, life saving breakthroughs, empathy, and all the good things humanity ever strove toward. The first few years no one believed it, no one knew this would be real, no one thought it would last.

A few people today, still say it won’t stick. They stand on the street corners, yelling and shouting, while people walk past in a blissful haze. I sometimes stop and watch. Every couple hours a Representative comes out and brings them water, or a snack, and offers them help. I’ve never seen someone take the help.

Well, not in the last ten years. At the start, of course, everyone was getting help. Everyone was helping. Then people got used to it. The world is perfect, but it isn’t special anymore. Just another perfect Tuesday.

I remember what it used to be. It really is better now. I remember the ache of hunger, the deep despair of loss, the dull emptiness of disasters—the worse feeling when it was people who made the disaster.

The last few years have been the strangest. I feel like I don’t belong in this world anymore. It is still perfect. It is still amazing. Every single day.

I was excited 16 years ago. I was thrilled to finally be able to follow my passion of making art. I had help setting up a jewelry studio. I started to find my niche when people brought me old things. They wanted them turned into bracelets, necklaces, shimmering reminders of the past. Of how far we’ve come.

This job was bullets. An old man—he would have been an old man when the peace began—came in with a handful of bullets. He wanted something that he could give his great-granddaughter on her wedding day.

The bullets were lighter than I expected. He’d taken them apart before he brought them to me. He wasn’t sure what he wanted exactly. He said I was the artist, I should use them to make art. I’d smiled at him.

I would make him something that honored what it had taken to get here. The sacrifices had been great.

I ran the bullets through my scanner and my cleaner. They were, just as he’d said, safe, already taken apart.

I sat at my bench and pulled out a paper sketch pad. I had a computer I could sketch on too, of course, I used it for people who wanted something specific. I could render it in minutes while they watched. When I had time, I preferred the paper, the sound of the scratch of the pencil.

I sketched a dozen designs and threw them out. Nothing was working right. I decided just to work with the metals. I dumped the bullets out onto the table, dozens of them.

I picked up one with the outer part peeling off. I was able to peel away the copper easily with my fingers. At some point the lights in my workshop came on automatically. I had tiny cuts on my fingers and a pile of separated metals.

I scooped up the heavy discs, dotted with my blood and dropped them into my bin to recycle. I knew that I would make a bracelet, a thin, delicate, copper bracelet. It would gleam and shine with potential.

Working the bracelet took a few days, but every time I passed the recycle bin I ached just a bit at the dull, flat discs.

I ran my fingers through them, the discards of the past and finally dug them all out. I separated them and pulled out the lead and tin, heated and waiting for me.

I carved a ring, smooth with only a single ridge running through the middle. I poured dozens of mixtures into the mold. One came out, a dull tin alloy mix. It felt like it might have been a year old or a thousand.

He came in and I showed him the bracelet. He was delighted and was sure it would be perfect for a wedding gift.

I placed the bracelet in a box and hesitated for a moment before taking out the ring. If I was the artist and I was creating art, this was the art I had created. I unfolded the cloth around the ring.

He stared at it for a long time in silence. “You know sometimes I think I don’t belong in this world anymore. The world is beautiful, sparkling, gleaming.” The ring didn’t sparkle or gleam, I did think it was still beautiful.

He hesitated before finally reached out and picking it up. “This reminds me of…” He stopped and slid it on his finger. “Of a time long since passed.”

The Crow of Nine-World

Another flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig:  The Crow of Nine-World. This one was the best, because I didn’t have to come up with a title. And I hate titles.

Pick from a list of titles and write something.  While “The River’s Mask” was very tempting I went with The Crow of Nine-World.

A quick pause before we get to the main action. I’m considering starting a podcast to put the audio in. I’d love any feedback if people would like that option.

The Crow of Nine-World audio

The Crow of Nine-World

A tall, blue-haired, female elf walked through the shop door. The shopkeeper preened his smooth black feathers on his shoulders with his beak and cawed at her. He picked up the nearest item and his cloth and started polishing it. He watched her.

12.6 seconds after she walked through the front door he lifted his hand. “Welcome to The Crow’s Nest miss.”

She turned sharply to him, bumping into a mannequin that displayed items at her level and for her class. The mannequin tipped and reappeared in the correct spot when she got out of the way. She walked toward him a bit awkwardly, her gait exaggerated and unnatural.

“Menu!” She shouted at him. “Quests? Shit, hey Suze what am I supposed to say?”

“Are you new around here miss?” Crow tilted his head, his voice lilted with laughter.

“Hi?” She finally managed to walk over to the counter he stood behind, only after stepping over one of the shorter displays of boots.

“Hello miss. Are you new around here?” He set down the bauble and picked up another identical one and started polishing it.

“Quests. Beginner quests. It’s not giving me any quests!” She reached out and grabbed Crow’s beak. “It’s really cool! I can totally feel it!” She squealed with delight. He stepped back and twisted out of her grip. He gave a quick caw and smoothed the feathers on his shoulder.

“Oh, wait, why shouldn’t I? I mean it’s not real. I could kill it and it’s not like it’s real.” The elf pulled out a wooden dagger from the folds of her robes. Her hand didn’t grasp it tightly and she dropped it.

He stooped and scooped up her dagger. “Would you like to sell this to me miss?” His voice was not gentle any longer. In his hand the wooden dagger glinted like polished gold.

“No, I don’t want to sell it! I need a quest so I can upgrade it and Suze said it was in here.” The elf grabbed for the dagger. Her hand moved fast and she brought it down right on the tip of the dagger. She screamed and swore.

Crow paused for a moment. “Would you like a healing potion miss?”

“How the fuck does this hurt? Like it really hurts!” She was grabbing her hand and wrapping her robes around it.

“You’ve injured yourself miss. Injuries often cause pain. I have healing potions. I also have a single, special, invincibility potion that will make you invulnerable to all pain for 3 seconds.” Crow watched the blood drip to the stone floor which seemed to absorb it.

“Stop laughing! It’s not funny, it really hurts. Sure, give me your best healing potion!”

“I would never laugh at your pain miss.” Crow squatted down and plucked a tiny red vial from the shelf under the counter.

“See, even the game is nicer to me than you are. Thank you, shopkeep.” She reached out to grab the vial but smacked her hand on the counter. She sucked in a quick breath and pulled her hand back to try again.

“That will be 824 pieces.” He held the vial tightly as her hand collided with his.

She looked over his left shoulder. “I only have 8 pieces.”

“Would you like to buy additional pieces?” Crow raised his other hand. A scroll unfurled next to him and all  the tiny motions in the shop–the curtain in the wind, the rat under a table, his chest rising and falling–stopped.

“No, I don’t want to buy shit in your stupid game. Why did I agree to play this?” She waved her hand at Crow.

Nothing happened. She pushed on his arm with the scroll. His feathers were stiff and didn’t move. She frowned and stepped to the right a bit. She reached out and pushed her hand forward again and touched the scroll at the top. It rolled back up and vanished.

“Would you still like to purchase the healing potion miss?” Crow smiled at her and stepped slightly so he was in front of her again. The small motions in the room resumed.

“No. It doesn’t hurt anymore. Ok, back to why I came here. I need to start a quest to upgrade my dagger.” It had blood on it, she brandished it at him. He stepped back away from the edge of the counter and gave a loud caw.

“Have you tried over at the orphanage? They always have work for someone who is good with children.” His voice had a gentle tone and his head tilt seemed inquisitive.

“I just got back from trying to kill the rats for orphans. I don’t even know how to get a damn starter quest done.”

She vanished.

The shop froze. Just for a moment Crow’s eyes flickered and then he, too, froze.

The same tall, blue-haired, female elf walked through the shop front door. Moving smoothly, with an incredible grace and walked right up to Crow.

Crow had just picked up his bauble to start polishing it. The elf bowed deeply in front of him. Her face was contorted. She opened her mouth and laughter came out, she doubled over clutching her stomach laughing.

Crow set the shiny bauble down and preened, smoothing the feathers on his arm.

She straightened and regained her breath, then bowed again. “Excuse me, good sir Crow. It is a pleasure to be in your presence.”

“A pleasure to meet you as well miss.” Crow bowed in return and the feathers along his back gleamed in the flickering lights above them.

“Is there anything I could do for you?” Her face froze with a twist of a smile.

“In fact, miss, I was just about to call for someone to run this bundle over to the orphanage. If you would do it I might be able to help you improve your weapon. If that would interest you. Or perhaps a new set of robes?” He reached under the counter and pulled out a small bundle wrapped in twine.

She lifted the bundle easily and slipped it inside a fold in her robe where it vanished. She bowed again. “Thank you very much Crow. I will return soon. And that is how you get a goddamn starter quest!”

She vanished.

The shop froze. Crow’s eyes flickered for several moments, the feathers on his shoulder raised up and froze.

Cold Escape – A flash fiction challenge

Why?

Chuck Wendig threw down some sort of gauntlet filled with geese and assassins and lightening. And also pretty pictures. Because what good is a goose without a pretty picture? I don’t understand either. I’m secretly not entirely sure he understands. Shh.

But what I do understand is a challenge. This challenge was to write a 1K flash fiction piece about a photo from a random photo generator.

Show me!

The lovely photo I selected (in part because it’s a bit chilly here this weekend) by Kirchmeier (who has lots of other cold photos, because cold).

Listen

I also did audio. You can download the mp3 here: Cold Escape audio

Or read it below.

Cold Escape

Again. I lifted my left foot and leaned forward. I was falling more than walking.

Again. I lifted my right foot, I could barely feel anything except the cold. It burned the little skin that was exposed. My body shook in a desperate attempt to warm up. My right foot crunched into the snow as I put it down.

Again. Lift foot. The boots I’d stolen weren’t warm enough. The three layers of pants weren’t enough. Foot crunched into snow, I felt the grasses laden with frost push up under my pants and scrape against my skin.

Again. Lift foot. Don’t fall. My arms flailed out automatically, to steady my body, I didn’t feel like I had control of it anymore. My too short sleeves exposed my bare skin to the icy cold. The shock of the cold made me gasp. The frozen air filled my lungs. I couldn’t stop. I had to move forward.

Again. I shook as I lifted my foot. I thought about pulling my arms back to my body, they obeyed slowly. I tried to tug the sleeves on the three layers of sweaters I had manage steal. I couldn’t do it without taking my hands out of the sweater sleeves I’d cut and sewn into a semblance of mittens. I brought my foot down. I wouldn’t go back. I wouldn’t turn around.

Again. I lifted my foot. I didn’t know how long I’d been here. But I couldn’t stay another day, staying meant death. I’d rather die out here, than back there. I had to keep moving forward. I looked down, through my frost laden lashes, at my hands. I pulled one mitten sleeve off. I worked as quick as I could to pull the sleeves of the sweaters down, and wrangle the mitten back on. My foot came down.

Again. I repeated with the other hand as I lifted my foot. I had to keep moving. I knew they wouldn’t notice I was gone until morning, but I didn’t know how long that would be, or how far I could get by then. I pulled my arms in close to my body. I wanted to cry and shake and curl up into a ball. I put my foot down, another step forward.

Again. If I could get past the grey beyond, past the clouds, I would be out, I could be free, I could be safe. My foot slid in the boot as I lifted it. The boots were too big, even with the extra socks. I put my head down again and just thought about the steps.

Again. A few steps later or a few thousand. I looked up and saw the tree. Standing tall, proud, alone. Each branch, no matter how tiny was thick with frost. The sky was a crystal blue. At some point the sun had come up behind me. It was another of those days that I would have called a lovely day a few months ago. Sunny and blue, with only a few wisps of clouds. But it held death. Probably mine.

Again. If only I could get to the tree. I wasn’t sure what then. Stop and scrape the snow from the inside of my boots. The rolling grey beyond still seemed a forever away. But the tree, I could make it to the tree. My foot came down, the crackling and crunching sound I knew was there but I could only hear the thoughts in my head, my ears too cold, my brain too cold. Everything was too cold.

Again. A sound as I lifted my leg, the cold of the pants pressing against my skin trading for the cold of the air trapped between my skin and the cloth. A whisper. Not dogs or machines or people yelling behind me. A warm whisper. Warm. A whisper like hot cider, like a bowl of hot soup, warm to the core.

Again. The whisper filled me. I lifted my head to look for the source. Only the endless expanse of frost and snow covered grasses poking up and the one lone tree. I gave a heavy warm sigh and the moisture from my breath clung to my lashes, lacing them together. The tree.

Again. It wanted me closer. I kept moving. It was a hum that filled me. It promised I would be free. I was close. I would be safe. I would be free. I would not be dragged back.

Again. I was almost there. I paused, reaching up to brush the frost from my eyes. The tree reached out for me. I stepped toward the nearest branch. Low, low enough for me to touch. I reached up at the curled finger covered in frost. I didn’t remember taking my mitten off. But I wasn’t cold anymore. I stroked the frost with my finger and it melted away, the water ran down my hand, it should have burned my skin with cold.

Again. I tried to lift my legs but they were frozen in place. They weren’t cold, but they were frozen, heavy, unmoving. I tried to twist, but my waist wouldn’t move. My arm still stretched out to the tree. My fingers turned the color of bark, cracking. I wasn’t cold. I tried to wiggle my toes and felt them stretch down into the earth. The roots of the other tree wrapped around my toes.

I didn’t need to move again. They would never drag me back. They would never capture me. I was safe. I was still. I was free. I felt the branches grow from me. I hadn’t made it to the grey, but I wouldn’t be take back.

Now we two beckon to others. We whisper of the safety, the freedom, the life that can be lived. Someday we will be many. We will be space enough for some to hide in, before continuing on. Someday, one will make it beyond the grey.