Friday, November 27, 2015

Without Hope

Oct. 7, 2015

The bed was soft, heaped with pillows and puffy comforters of various sizes and colors. It looked like a patchwork cloud - silly and yet so inviting. Hope shook his head and smiled.

"You didn't have to do this," he said, and then smothered a cough.

"I wanted you to be comfortable, and that is hard to find these days," said Death, who toddled into the room, her silver hair done up in a prim braid and she carried a black iron teapot in her hands, using a towel to keep from burning her palms. She poured the steaming liquid into a porcelain cup that rested next to the bed.

Hope sighed, knowing it was useless to argue. He took his shoes off - ragged things with holes in the bottom - and placed them neatly by the night table. Death helped him remove his jacket, which was hardly more than ragged tatters, and she tsked over its condition.

Hope settled onto the edge of the bed, sinking into the blankets and pillows and he felt tears spring to his eyes. It was far more comfortable than it looked.

Death had shuffled into the kitchen and he could hear her clinking and shuffling things around. She returned bearing her own cup of tea in one hand, and a plate of small cakes in the other.

"Take your pick, dear," she said.

Hope chose the middle cake, it was round and drenched in honey and he could smell coffee and spices, and see the raisins and nuts that speckled it. Death picked the smallest cake and bit into it, making a noise that indicated she was satisfied with her work, but not overly impressed.

Hope ate in silence, tears spilling over his cheeks as he chewed and swallowed. When he finished, he sucked his fingers clean, and went searching for stray crumbs on his shabby pants. Death leaned over and picked up his teacup and pressed it into his hands. He could hardly feel its warmth, despite the steam curling from the surface.

He sipped it and tasted orange peel and cloves. Flavors that he hadn't tasted in eons.

"I miss them all so much," he said and his shoulders shook. Death reached out a wrinkled hand, and ran it through his hair that had long ago turned the color of dust and cobwebs.

"I know, dear, I know. I miss them too," she said. She took the empty cup and placed it on the nightstand. With touches as gentle as a breeze, she nudged him into bed, and wrapped him in blankets. She leaned down and kissed him on the forehead.

"Goodbye, love. you always were my favorite," she said.

Hope faded into nothing. Death shook her head, wiped her eyes on the hem of her apron and then went back into the kitchen to clean up.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Fine Print

Sept. 27, 2015

(NOTE: This wasn't technically a writing prompt, but a discussion on the /r/rpg forum. But it did prompt me to write, so here you go).

It stood there, twenty feet tall - slaver and dark ichor dripping from its serrated teeth. Leathery wings brushed the vaulted ceiling and every time it exhaled, noxious lavender fumes plumed through the air. It fixed its strange gaze on the mage, who was still clutching the thick tome of summoning and then sighed.

"Do you have your permit?" asked the beast, its voice grating like bending metal.

The mage, a young elf who had just counted his first century, didn't reply. Instead he dropped the book and jumped clapping his hands together.

"I did it! I bound a fifth level apparition! Youngest in my class!"

The gargantuan creature placed its razor sharp talons gently on its face and stifled a groan. Then with its free claw, traced a glyph in the air.

"Dispatch," said a disembodied female voice, sounding annoyed. She was audibly chewing gum.

"Hi Shirley," said the creature. "Could you send Les to my twenty?"

The mage stopped reveling.

"Who are you talking to? I didn't give you leave to speak, animal!" he said. He bent to pick up the book flipping through the pages, with a sullen frown.

"Is that you, Bix?" said the voice. "Isn't this the third time this week? You should talk to the Magus. Les is en route."

"Who is that?" muttered the mage. "Who's Les? I demand you tell me, fiend!"

The demon sat down in the summoning circle, smudging some of the runes and causing minor conflagrations. Where it sat, bricks cracked and shuddered and it finally fixed its red-black gaze on the tiny mage-boy.

"I'm going to take a nap, child. You'll meet Les soon enough," it said. "Wake me at your peril."

Then it wrapped it's wrings over its head, and with a move that would have been cute had the demon been a puppy, it snuggled into the floor and went sleep. And its snores sounded only a little like a broken sawmill clogged with dead bodies.

The mage stared at the slumbering demon and opened his mouth, but a rare thread of common sense wiggled into his brain stifled his outburst and he turned his attention back to his book. Under the page with the demon's name, (a name that stretched the length of both pages), was the description for the summoning. He had missed the asterisk.Close reading hadn't ever been his forte, and he had good spell components riding on the successful completion of a level five binding. He read the footnote:

These sage beings are under the austere protection of the Council of Bund. Anyone attempting to summon from this plane any of these noble beasts must have obtained, in advance, permissions in full by the Three Shadowed Chair-beings of Bund, sealed and witnessed at the Dust Grove by no fewer than two (2) ranking clerks. Any who fail to do this will be subject to full prosecution and binding with punishments up to three (3) years of magickless living.

There was a knock on the door. And without waiting for an answer the door opened. A woman, hardly more than four feet tall stood in the yawning portal, wearing the plain gray uniform of the Iron Ring. Her mouse-brown hair was pulled back into a tight bun, and she was wearing standard-issue glamour-resistant eye-wear.

She looked around, taking in the snoozing demon and the mage reading the book.

"Are you Maester Twill?" she asked.

"Look, there's been a mistake," he said.

"I need you to drop the book and step away from the summon," she said.

"Hey, I know my rights! I want my inter-dimensional advocate!" he cried, his voice becoming shrill.
Les stepped into the room, reaching behind her to unhook the manacles from her belt.

"Come over here, sir. No need for this to get stressful. You'll be coming with me one way or the other," she said. Her voice was cold, and rather bored.

"You have no idea who I am!" he said, and he drew on her - his wizard rod was already glowing and a beam of white-hot energy shot through the air, followed by a nearly deafening sonic clap. The smell of ozone filled the air, and the smoke cleared to reveal the mage prone on the floor. The stones were blackened with soot, and his robes smoldered. A ring of undamaged cobbles surrounded Les, and she shook her head.

The demon lowered one of his wings, taking in the scene with one red-black eye. A horrible noise, like squelching mud and forks on chalkboards indicated Bix was laughing softly.

"What are they teaching them these days?" rumbled the creature.

"Beats me, Bix," said Les as she stepped over to the smoking mage. She quickly clapped the cold iron shackles on his wrists and was sure to beat out and of the still glowing embers. She picked up the wizard rod, looking at the blackened twisted mess it had become. "We don't keep the Repulsion Vests a secret, but you'd think they come from the Whisper Order based on how these college kids act. You able to disapparate now?"

"Oh, he bungled the runes so badly I could have eaten him and left before he finished the incantation," said the demon. "But I wanted to stay Material-side and watch you work. I also thought maybe you'd want to grab a coffee?"

Something that might have been a blush crept up Les's neck.

"Sure, Bix. That sounds nice."

Friday, November 13, 2015

Contract Negotiation

Sept. 21, 2015

“I’m sorry, but that’s against the rules.”

"I'm sorry, but that's against the rules," she said. A tear that was hanging on to her eyelashes, fell, skipping lightly against her cheek before falling with a plop on the floor.

"That's stupid," he said, and he smashed his fist into the meaty part of his thigh. The pain was too brief. He wanted to break things, rip the walls to pieces, cut his skin on broken glass. Push those feelings into something he could deal with. Something that had a chance of healing.

"You knew that when you agreed to the rules," she said.

"But I didn't know you then. You were just a picture," he said, his voice cracking. "I can't let you -"

"We have to finish the story," she said. "I'm sorry you came in at the wrong part."

James thought over the - was it only a few days? It must have been. Everything seemed like it was suspended in a thick fog. The curio shop, the woman behind the counter wearing a navy blue dress with the high collar - all the way up her neck - with brass buttons. It had looked so elegant and old fashioned.

The advertisement had said he could meet the girl of his dreams during an amazing adventure. James was even allowed to pick the story - whichever story he wanted. Fairy tales. There were hundreds to choose from, and that story would have his true love. He had signed heaps of paperwork, so much that his fingers had become stained black, and his hand had cramped.

Then incantations, ceremonial baths, and the oath. He had to follow the rules, and the story had to come to an end. Happily Ever After had to happen or the story wouldn't exist.

He didn't really care for folktales growing up - they didn't make sense to him. So he had just flipped through the book and picked one at random. The Goose Girl.

He was the prince and he met the princess, fell in love. Except the woman wasn't the princess - she was a servant who had tricked her lady into switching clothes. The actual princess was a stranger James had never met.

"We can run away together," he said, reaching through the bars to touch her hair, but she pulled away.

"Please, stop," she said. "You're making it so much worse."

With a strangled cry, he turned from her and left her behind in the cell. In the courtyard, the joiner was hammering away at the large barrel - big enough to fit a person inside. Large iron spikes had been hammered over its entirety, protruding into the keg by some length - a couple inches anyway. Hundreds of them.

His true bride - James coughed out a bitter laugh - had asked her once-servant the proper punishment for stealing her royal silks and taking her royal place.

"That wicked person needs to be rolled off a cliff in a barrel studded with nails," said his love, staring into James' eyes.

He stood looking at the barrel, running his hands off the bumpy heads of the iron nails. They were cold.

He began to push the thing across the yard and up the hill. No one thought to stop him. After all, in this story he was the prince. No one tells the prince what to do. Up the hill he went, some curious stares followed him. And his new, soon-to-be wife saw, and called to him from the balcony. But that was too far, and he pretended not to hear.

"I should have read the story, baby. I'm sorry," he said. Making sure it would roll towards the cliffs, he climbed into the barrel and changed the ending.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Key

A key.

Sept. 6, 2015

(Note: I responded to this prompt and sent it to my friend for his birthday, rather than post it to the subreddit. He insisted I post it here, so I am).

The root was set deep, and I had to grasp the base of the weed with both hands and jimmy it like a stuck door. When it finally came up, a mound of topsoil, gravel and detritus came with it. I shook it, trying to leave some of the good stuff in my poor, neglected garden when something shiny fell back to earth. I tossed the plant into the embarrassingly large mound of weeds and took off my glove and poked about in the dirt after the shiny thing.

My fingers grazed something cool and smooth and I picked it up.

Even caked with dirt, I could tell it was a key – those old fashioned kind with long stems that fit in old-style keyholes. A real key – not those bits of toothy metal we use these days. It rested comfortably in my palm. I brushed the dirt away and realized that the key was made of glass.

“That’s silly,” I muttered to myself. “How would you turn it?”

And I wanted desperately to find what it opened. And it made sense to dig – because maybe the treasure chest or door wasn't too far away.

My hands were blistered and bloody by the time I found the box. It was about the size of a shoebox and made out of glass, but it wasn’t clear like the key. It was black – and though it caught the light of the setting sun, rather than reflect it, the box seemed to suck it up like a cloth. The keyhole was perfect.

I slid the key inside, and the noise it made sent a shiver down my spine and I gasped as the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. There was something secret in the box, something different, beautiful and not quite right.

I turned the key and it snapped in my hand as the tumblers in the box fell into place. I lifted the lid, and felt a warm breeze – like a breath being exhaled in my face. Then they poured out. I’m guessing they must have been more demons and hell spawn to darken the world.

“For fuck’s sake,” I grumbled, and slammed the lid shut.

“Pay up,” said Hermes, a shit-eating grin on his face.

Zeus’ face darkened, but he fished in his coinpurse, removing an errant thunderbolt before tossing the drachmas to his son.

“We could do this a million times, and she would open it every time,” said Hermes. “What we should have bet on was whether or not you’d fall for it.”

There was a rumble of thunder,  but Hermes had already put a soothing hand on his father’s back.

“So, what did she get for a consolation prize this millennia?” asked the thunder god.

“In addition to Hope – the great standby of mankind – I left her chocolate. Felt right,” said the Trickster.

“Fair enough,” said Zeus. “I’ve got this scheduled again for this time next eon.”