Category Archives: short story

FLASH FICTION CHALLENGE: TEN MORE TITLES – Ring of Bullets

A response to Chuck Wendig’s most recent flash fiction challenge, to write a story to fit one of the following randomly generated titles–

The Incubus’ Tale

The Manor Above

The Dancer And The Shattered Shell

The Hero Will Not Be Automatic

Ring of Bullets

The Music Box of Manhattan

These Damned Insects

Tiger, Burning

A Cold Opportunity Without The Kingdom

The Apocalypse Ticket

I picked Ring of Bullets, but fudged the 1000 word limit Chuck requested.  I am shameless.

This piece is set in the same universe as my Divine Lotus series of novels, just further south and later in time.

Note: this piece depicts combat and military violence, so be warned.

Copyright 2016 Douglas Daniel

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Ring of Bullets

“Hold them!,” Haass screamed.  “Hold the bastards!”

His order barely cut above the din of firing and the howls of the Temishi.  The enemy swordsmen surged against the barricade, screaming in bloodlust, or in agony as a Union bullet found them.  The troopers behind the barricade of logs and barrels fired directly into enemy faces, or stabbed with bayonets.  As Haass watched one, then two of the soldiers fell, taking sword-thrusts, even as other soldiers shot the men who stabbed them.

“Captain!  Captain!”  It was Subaltern Skal.  The youth practically tumbled down the hill toward Haass.  “The Temishi are over the south wall!  They’ve broken into the lower barracks!”

Haass stared at him for one instant.  Then he grabbed the whistle on its lanyard, put it to his lips, and blew three sharp blasts.  “Fall back!” he shouted.  “Fall back to the hold-fast!”

The men obeyed, raggedly, in twos and threes.  They had go backward, fighting as they went.  Those who turned their backs to the Temishi were cut down at once.  The barbarians, shrieking, came over the barricade in a living wave.  Haass fired once, twice with his revolver, dropping tattooed swordsmen as they clambered over the logs.  Then he went back, with his men, up the hill.

Five or six troopers coalesced around him and Skal, and together they laid down enough fire to hold off the Temishi as they retreated.  The soldiers furiously worked the bolts of their rifles, firing, loading, firing.  Haass empty his revolver, hastily reloaded with a speed-loader from his ammo pouch, and shot a charging Temishi in the face.

They went up the hill, and now the eastern barricade they had quit was smothered in Temishi.  The watchtower on the east side of the cantonment, Haass now saw, was ablaze.  One of the troopers beside him took a steel-tipped arrow through his chest.  He crumpled slowly to the hillside, as if reluctant to admit he was dead.

They went back, and reached the lower door of the hold-fast.  “Get in!” Haass cried.  The soldiers piled in through the portal.  Haass fired again and again, holding back the Temishi, then flung himself inside.  Someone slammed the heavy door shut, and bars dropped into place.

Haass picked himself up.  The lower floor of the hold-fast was a wide room, stone-floored, with firing apertures around its perimeter.  Weak sunshine shone through the northern slits, as the sun approached noon.  A stone staircase led up to the roof.

Fifteen or twenty troopers gasped and cursed in the lower room.  Some were wounded.  Haass said, “Cover the firing loops!  Keep the bastards away from the walls.”

Men moved to obey.  Haass forced his legs to move, and he ascended the stairs.

He came out on the roof, and the sound of the Temishi horde rang in his ears.  He kept low, taking cover behind the crenellated top-wall, and peeking out as he reloaded his pistol.

From here he could see the whole breadth of the pass, from the northern hill to the southern.  The knoll on which the hold-fast stood was lodged right in the mouth of the pass– to the west, across the shallow, frigid river whose name he could not remember, the country opened up into what passed for fertile lands in this cold, southern extremity.

Not only was the watch-tower burning, but also the northern and southern blockhouses, flanking the knoll.  Haass gritted his teeth; they had not had the time to build a wall to enclose the hold-fast, the tower and the blockhouses.  They had been told the Temishi were five or six days march away, on the other side of the mountains, and that there was time.  Instead the Temishi had appeared suddenly, not an hour before.

Now the barbarians surged about the hill in their thousands.  The lower barracks, the cookhouse and the ammunition hut were all burning, too, the ammo store crackling continuously with exploding ammunition.  Temishi danced around the the fires, celebrating the destruction.  The only signs of the bulk of Haass’ command were bodies in khaki lying scattered around the post.  Here and there Temishi hacked at the corpses, out of spite, or to collect trophies.

At the moment, the Temishi were keeping back from the hold-fast, finishing the destruction of the rest of the post.  As Haass watched, other groups of Temishi peeled away from the post, toward the river, with its bridge the Unionists had been unable to destroy.  Haass grimaced; the Temishi would be on the division’s rear areas in half a day.

Someone was there with him on the roof– Sergeant Tem.  The older man had blood on his face, but seemed otherwise unhurt.  He peered out.  “Bad enough, ain’t it, Captain.”

“Bad enough,” Haass said, unable to improve on the sergeant’s assessment.

“We should never have come to this forsaken place,” Tem said.

“Not our decision, sergeant,” Haass said.  “We’re soldiers, we go where we’re sent.”  Despite his words, Haass knew resentment– the Union had no business in this land, except the High Chief’s ambition for an empire.  At the moment it seemed a poor excuse to let savages hack good soldiers to pieces.

“We just have to hold them off,” Haass said.  “If our riders got through, the brigade could be here by tomorrow morning.”

An arrow skipped off a crenellation close by.  Haass and Tem crossed to the other side of the roof, looking out toward the river.  The soldiers below now fired at the crowd outside.  Even so, despite the firing, Temishi were cautiously making their way up the slope on all sides.  They’ll rush us soon.

A commotion among the enemy on the river-side of the post; men parted to let a small group of Temishi carrying long spears through.  Two of the spears carried something on their tips, pales lumps.  Their passage elicited much cheering among the Temishi.

The spear-carriers came closer, and Haass saw why the Temishi rejoiced.  “Pons and Dro,” he muttered.  The riders had not made it out.

“So,” Tem said, sounding resigned.  “It’s the ring of bullets, after all.”

The pledge.  “We’re not there, yet, sergeant,” Haass said.  “If we can just….”

There was a roar; the roof shook beneath them, and a cloud of dust and smoke shot up on the other side of the holdfast.  “They’ve blown the wall in!” Tem shouted.  He raced for the stairs, and Haass followed.

In the room below was swirling smoke, screams and rifles going off in the enclosed space.  Temishi poured through a wide gap in the eastern wall.  Troopers shot them, struggled with them hand-to-hand, but there were too many of them.  Now, however, the Temishi did not strike to kill; they seized soldiers with their bare hands and with nooses, looking to capture.

Ring of bullets…ring of bullets– the pledge, that no Union soldier would let another fall into barbarian hands, to be tortured and slowly flayed in Temishi temples.  So, standing midway down the stairs, Haass lifted his pistol and shot Tem in the back of the head.  He shot Skal, as the boy crouched weeping against the far wall.  He fired and fired, and as he did Haass wept, too, for his men, for the waste, for himself.  He would never marry or father children.  He would never again see another sunset, or the forests of his home.

Temishi pushed up the stairs toward him.  Haass put the muzzle of his pistol to his own temple, but the hammer clicked on a spent cartridge.  He flailed with the empty pistol, cracking a skull, laying open a face, but strong hands seized him and bore him down.

Story Fragment – The Golem

I get story ideas from just about everywhere– my fiction reading, movies, history, news. However, only some of these ideas are fully formed. Many are just images, characters, scenes and snatches of dialogue. There is, in that confused and untidy place known as my mind, a space in which these bits and pieces float, unattached to a narrative. Sometimes these fragments bump into each other and combine in new ways, but others just drift around. Some of them have been there for decades.

Here’s a scene that’s been stuck in my head for a while. It’s more-or-less in the same universe as my novelette Diggers, and represents a different take on an incident from that story. I’m not sure if this is a story fragment, an incomplete short story, or the opening for a longer tale. It’s just a scene that has come back to me over and over again, and writing it out and giving it some form seemed to be a good idea.

Warning: this piece contains graphic military violence and bloodshed.

Copyright 2015 Douglas Daniel
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“They’re coming,” the lieutenant said. Rain beaded on the lenses of his binoculars as he studied the enemy attack. I wondered how he could see anything.

I had the gun’s targeting scope. Through the misting rain I could see the Elha Death Brigades pushing forward through the scrub and shell-holes between the lines. They were coming in battalion, maybe regimental, strength. Fire teams of black-clad infantry moved from cover to cover ahead of the main units.

There’s too many.

“Load shrapnel,” the lieutenant said. “Set the fuse to a half-second.”

The loader slammed a round into the gun’s breach. “Wait for the order, you stupid bastard,” Sergeant Hode said.

That was addressed to me. Being the only half-blood in the battery usually left no question who Sergeant Hode was talking to. Half-breed, bastard, green-eye— no one else fit the description. By now I was used to it.

It bothered me far more how those pale faces out there, which I could just pick out in the scope, reminded me of my mother.

The big artillery, the ones firing from ten miles back, started talking. Shells whistled overhead. Out there in the killing ground they began to land, bursting with flame and smoke, throwing up fountains of earth.

Too long. The shells were bursting half a mile away, almost at the enemy trench-line. They were nowhere near the battalions already in the open.

“Damn it,” the lieutenant said. He took the binoculars down from his eyes, revealing the worried look on his face. Without the glasses, I was struck by how young he looked. Younger than me….

“Another cock-up,” Sergeant Hode said, bitter, and wholly un-surprised.

The machine-guns in the main line below us opened up. I saw Elha go down, dozens of them, but there were still too many.

The lieutenant lifted his binoculars again. “Range– eight hundred yards– standby– fire!

I pulled the trigger. The gun barked and bucked with the recoil. I heard the breech open and the empty casing tumble out with a metallic clang, but I was watching the enemy. Half a breath, and the shell burst over the lead enemy battalion, fifty feet up. The brush and muddy ground around the Elha were lashed by thousands of steel flechettes, as if a giant had thrown down double-handfuls of gravel. The shrapnel ripped into the lead Elha. Some went down as if flattened by an unseen hand; other were shredded in mid-step, disintegrated in clouds of blood and torn flesh. I saw others, less lucky, lying in the mud, screaming screams I could not hear.

“Reload shrapnel!” the lieutenant yelled. “Quarter-second!”

The loader slammed another round in. The breech-block clanged shut.

“Fire!”

The gun bucked; I pulled the trigger before the word was fully out of the lieutenant’s mouth. I watched as the shell exploded above the Elha, right over the main body. More enemy fell or disappeared.

More shrapnel shells burst over the enemy– the other guns in the battery talking. I wondered if they had been silent all this time. I couldn’t remember if any of them had fired before.

Still watching through the view-finder, I saw the Elha out there waver. It was a strange sight, almost a physical wave of hesitation that passed through the enemy groups– and then they were falling back, scrambling through the brush, some running, some limping, some crawling.

There came the sound of cheering from the main line below us. “Hold your fire!” the lieutenant said, even though the loader hadn’t loaded another shell.

“I can’t believe we pushed them back,” Sergeant Hode said.

“We didn’t,” the lieutenant said. He was looking through his binoculars again. “They’re going to ground in that stretch of defilade midway. Something’s afoot.” He lowered the glasses. “Sergeant Hode, load HE– we’ll try to drop a few rounds into them and keep them off-balance.”

“Sir!” Hode said. “You maggots heard him– load HE.”

The loader obeyed. I put my eye back to the gun’s target scope. I saw the Elha disappearing into the cover of the dead ground. The range-card said the defilade was nine hundred yards away; I set my sights to that range, and a gnat’s hair. We would adjust as needed….

“GOLEM!”

The shriek came right up to us from the main line. I cranked the scope up. The shape emerged from the mist of rain, still behind the enemy’s trench line, but already huge. It came on with lumbering steps, slow but eating yards with each stride.

The lieutenant said, “Tior and Dena!” Someone– Sergeant Hode or the loader– made an inarticulate noise. “Target the golem!”

I increased elevation and zeroed in on the construct. It was becoming clearer and clearer with each step. I targeted the thing’s blank face. “Ready!”

“Fire!”

I pulled the trigger. The gun cracked. I actually saw the shell cut through the mist, leaving a trail of cleared air.

The shell detonated square on the golem’s face. I would been proud of that shot on any firing range on a clear day; on a day of rain and mist, with my heart pounding so hard my hands rested unsteady on the gun’s controls, it was nearly a miracle.

The shell exploded, and the golem did not miss a step. As far as I could tell its skin was wholly unmarred by the detonation.

“An iron golem,” the lieutenant said, his dismay open.

Other shells exploded on the golem, the other guns of the battery firing, but all of them together did not make a scratch on it. It lumbered on, clearing the enemy line and advancing into the no-man’s land.

“Sergeant Hode,” the lieutenant said, “get back to the ammo train. Tell them we need etheric shells, now!”

“Sir!” Sergeant Hode scrambled up out of the gun-pit, dashed for the rear.

“Give it another HE,” the lieutenant said.

We did. The shell hit square in the thing’s midriff, and it had as much effect as my first shot. The machine-guns in the main line opened up on the golem. A complete act of futility– I could see bullet strikes all over the golem’s body, but it was obvious there were no penetrations. The construct was close enough now for me to see its details– its rivets, the size of my head, the seams of its body. The huge feet, coming down on the soaked earth, sank a yard deep with each step, but that didn’t slow it down.

It reached the midway defilade. Golems were sometimes known not to discriminate too carefully between friendlies and hostiles, but this one stepped right over the low ground and kept coming. The Elha emerged from cover and followed it, shouting.

Sergeant Hode slid down into the gun-pit. In his arms he carried a cardboard cylinder. “One shell?” the lieutenant said, as if he couldn’t believe his eyes.

“It’s all they had, sir,” Hode said. “And it’s not even a proper HE or AP shell– it’s a translator.”

The lieutenant grimaced. “It’ll have to….”

A shriek from the sky– an unholy crack that I felt rather than heard– the gun-shield in front of me rang as if hit by a hammer.

Suddenly the lieutenant had no head. His body stood for a moment, with blood fountaining out his neck; then it collapsed in the mud.

Sergeant Hode screamed; not at the sight of the lieutenant’s corpse, but because his own face was gone. He dropped the shell into the muck underfoot and clasped his hands to the ruin. Blood streamed from between his fingers.

The loader, unhurt, stared in horror at both of them. Crabbing backwards, he clawed out of the gun-pit and ran.

“Come back!” I shouted, but as I turned hot fire seared my left arm. My sleeve was torn and blood ran down my arm. A piece of shrapnel had pierced the gun-shield and hit me. The hole in the metal seemed to wink at me.

I managed to lever myself out of the gunner’s seat. I stumbled over to where Hode lay dying and picked the shell container up out of the mud. My left arm still worked, but every movement shot agony through it. Somehow I got the top of the container off, slid the shell out into my hands.

HE shells were painted black; armor-piercing, red. This shell was a brilliant orange. A blue timing ring encircled the base of the projectile.

I clawed the arming wench from its mount-point on the gun’s train. I glanced up as I did; the golem was closer than ever, still four hundred yards away, but looming higher and higher with each step.

Too close.

I attached the arming wrench to the timing ring. The moment I did a sharp keee! that was not a sound ran through my head. It hurt but was over in a moment.

Out in no-man’s land the golem stopped. It seemed to hesitate, even as machine-gun bullets continued to spark all over it. Then, with a metallic creak and groan, it turned and resumed its advance. The difference was, now it was headed straight toward me.

On my first attempt with the wrench I missed the timing mark; I had to turn the ring in a full circle and try again. “Come on, come on.” I wasn’t sure if I was talking to myself or the shell.

I hit the mark on the second try. I dropped the wrench in the mud. Normally it took two hands to manually open the gun’s breach; I managed it with one, with the shell cradled in the other arm. The pain was blinding; I screamed as the breech-block locked open. I screamed again as I shoved the shell in to the breech one-handed.

The ground vibrated– the golem’s footsteps. Rain water shivered in the pit’s low spots.

I refused myself permission to faint. I clambered back into the gunner’s seat. I didn’t need the targeting scope to aim the gun. The golem was still coming for me, drawn by the energy in the translator shell. Two hundred yards, less…but I would have to let it get closer.

All at once there were men all around the gun-pit, soldiers, running for the rear. The main-line had broken. Some of the men carried their weapons, but others simply ran in blind panic, throwing away their gear, slipping in the mud, colliding with one another. “Hey, gunner,” one of them yelled at me as he ran past the pit, “run for it, if you don’t want to be a stain in the mud!”

I ignored him. I wasn’t sure I could have run if I wanted to. I cranked the gun up to maximum elevation, which allowed me to target the golem’s midsection. It loomed over me, so close. “Come on,” I said again, my breath short with pain and terror– but this time I was, of a surety, talking to the golem. Closer. I had only one chance to get this right.

The thing was fifty yards in front of me, a tower of animate metal. One more step, two– bullets spanged off the gun-shield– the Elha were close behind the golem.

But not as close as me.

I fired. I’d set the shell for muzzle-action; there was no perceptible gap between the crack of the gun and the eruption of blue fire around the golem. The thing froze in mid-step as the fire crawled all over it. The energy discharge was bright, and grew brighter. I heard cries of dismay from the Elha. The fire became a sphere of light, expanding outward. I held up a hand to shield my eyes as it swept over me.

There was a concussion I felt in my gut, but which was utterly soundless. The gun tilted sideways and I tumbled out of the seat– down into tall, dry grass. I landed on my arm. I screamed.

I turned on my back, sick with pain. The golem still stood in front of the toppled gun, but something was wrong. The thing teetered, its metal groaning.

With a crash of rending iron, the golem shivered and fell apart. Head, torso, arms, legs, all came unhinged and crashed to the ground in a cacophonous rain of metal. I had heard that individual parts of broken golems would still move, still try to carry out their last imperative. These sections, though, lay inert, mere pieces of iron. The etheric core of the golem was gone.

Panting, weeping with pain, I looked around. Before it had been mid-day, although gloomy and rain-filled. Now it was dry; the sky was clear, and it was night. A warm breeze stirred the leaves of trees that stood where our main-line should have been.

In the distance lights glowed– towers and spires of light. They looked like nothing I had ever seen.

Beyond the trees a single, huge moon rose. It’s mottled surface was strange to me.

It worked. I hoped the brigade would rally. But I would never know for sure. I lay back in the tall grass and contemplated the alien stars overhead.

The first day of Senior Year

In honor of a certain young lady’s milestone…

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“You’re going to be late,” the father said.

His daughter rolled her eyes. “We’ve got plenty of time, Daddy.” She put the finishing touches on her mascara.

“You should drive to school,” the mother said.

“Mooom,” the daughter said, wilting. “I’m going to be fixing my hair.”

“I’ll drive,” the father said. “If we ever get going….”

The daughter growled as she applied lipstick.

The son came up from the basement with his backpack. “So, Ms. T-Rex is a senior,” he snided. “The only good thing is that you’ll be gone by the time I’m a freshman.”

“Lucky for you, you little genetic deviation,” the daughter said.

“I pity the kids who do have to suffer under your reign of terror,” the son said. He headed for the door. “Try not to let the power go to your head.”

The traffic was heavy around the high school. “Take the back way, Daddy,” the daughter said, as she ratcheted her hair taut.

The father maneuvered around the curve of the passenger loading lane, stopped. “I’m going over to Bethany’s after school,” the daughter announced, as she opened her door.

The father handed her her backpack, but held on to it for a second as she tried to take it. “Just remember,” he said, when she gave him a questioning look. “With great power come great responsibility.”

“Daaaddy,” the daughter said, rolling her eyes again. She took the backpack and slammed the door.

He watched her walk away. Seventeen years before he had carried a tiny baby up to the neonatal unit, frightened in a way he had never been frightened before. He wished he could tell his younger self how well everything had worked out. But then, that would have spoiled the surprise.

The lady in the SUV behind him blared her horn.

Mondays Finish the Story – Screams

Mondays Finish the Story flash fiction challenge, 150 words based on this image–

Copyright 2015 Barbara W. Beacham
Copyright 2015 Barbara W. Beacham

and this initial sentence–

“He thought he found the perfect hiding spot.”

This came out way, way darker than is my wont. There is also a deal of language. The reader is warned.

On top of that, I once more totally blew off the word limit. I am wholly without shame.

Copyright 2015 Douglas Daniel
************************************************

He thought he found the perfect hiding spot.

It was the screams and the pleading that drove him there. The three strange men laughed at the pleading. For a moment fear overcame everything else, and he hid.

When the screams stopped and the stench of blood was everywhere, the cat stayed where he was, as the strangers ransacked the house. It was then one of them entered the bedroom and brushed against the curtain.

“What the fuck?”

A powerful hand grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, lifted him up. He spat and yowled, but he could not bite the hand that held him.

“What the hell, Pete, it’s just a damn cat.”

“Good thing he can’t talk, huh, Lee?”

“Quit fucking around– Sammy says we gotta finish and get out of here.”

The stranger held the cat up closer to his face. “I think I’ll cut his head off.”

It was a mistake; the cat lashed out with his claws, faster than thought. The man yowled himself, in pain, his face scoured. He dropped the cat. Hitting the floor, the cat shot between the stranger’s legs, out the door and down the back stairs to the pantry, to the cubby-hole behind the cabinet.

He lay still, hearing the men arguing, the stranger he’d wounded rampaging about in rage. “Where’s that little shit, I’ll gut him, the fucker.”

“It’s your own damn fault,” the third man said. “You always gotta screw around.”

They argued more. Then the cat heard them leave. He lay still for a long time.

Finally, the cat crept out. The house was silent.

The bodies lay scattered in the family room. The blood was drying. The cat came in and hunkered down beside the little girl. Her blue eyes stared and saw nothing. This was the child the cat had seen brought home as an infant, who had learned, after some trial-and-error, to pet him, with whom he had sat in sunlit rooms while she played at being the grown woman she would never be. The cat sat and grieved as only cats can grieve.

In the grieving, something died in him– the pet, the tame little animal content with caresses and eating out of a bowl. In its place came, in-welling, something older, and powerful– something that knew on its own of blood and the hunt.

The cat cleaned from his claws the blood of the man he had scratched, and so came to know him, and, through him, the other two, forever.

In all the universe, there is nothing so cold as a cat’s vengeance.

Mondays Finish the Story – July 13th, 2015– Climbing

Flash fiction challenge for July 13th, 2015– 150 words around this image–

© 2015, Barbara W. Beacham
© 2015, Barbara W. Beacham

and this initial sentence–

“Delphine always wanted to pilot her father’s plane and when he forgot his keys on her tenth birthday, she knew that taking off would be easy.”

This is an utter bit of fluff….

Copyright 2015 Douglas Daniel

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Delphine always wanted to pilot her father’s plane, and when he forgot his keys on her tenth birthday, she knew that taking off would be easy.

Nobody told her landing an airplane is the hard part.

“Landing is the hard part, honey,” her father told her over the radio.

“Now you tell me!” Delphine said, as the plane climbed.

“You’ll exceed the plane’s ceiling soon if you keep climbing,” Traffic Control said.

“What happens then?” Delphine said.

“The plane will stall and crash,” Traffic Control said.

“Oh,” Delphine said.

“Honey, you have to push the control column forward to level out,” her father said.

Delphine, who was always directionally challenged, pulled the column back. The plane climbed higher.

“Goodbye, Daddy,” she cried.

On the ground they saw the plane dwindling in the heights. Then the giant alien spaceship zoomed into view. A beam enveloped the plane.

“Such a brave child– what an intrepid climb,” the aliens said over the radio. “Come, join us.”

And that is how Delphine Eloise Novotny became humanity’s first interstellar ambassador.

Let Father do it

“Daddy!” his daughter cried, emerging from the bathroom. “There’s a spider in the bathtub!”

“Oh, go kill it,” his wife told him, not missing a step of her aerobics routine.

“What, me?” the father said.

“Well, I’m not going to do it,” his wife said.

His son came up from the basement. “Son, how about you do your father a favor?” the father said.

“Not a chance, Geezer Prime,” said his son, hefting his backpack. “I have a rendezvous with education.”

“Stop stalling,” his wife said. “All you’re doing is playing that stupid computer game.”

“Pater facere,” the father muttered, and got up.

Going into the bathroom, he pulled back the shower curtain and cautiously peered into the tub. “General Jackson and all the archangels!” he said, retreating in haste. “Honey, we need to call Animal Control.” He thought about it. “Or maybe the Third Armored Division.”

“Oh, stop being such a wuss,” his wife said, as she performed a set of high kicks.

“There are very few poisonous spiders in Western Washington, you know,” he said. “It’s definitely not a black widow, and I doubt it’s a yellow sac….”

“Man up and just take care of it, will you?” his wife said.

Growling, he went into the kitchen and pulled paper towels off the roll. His wife eyed them as he went by her. “Why three whole paper towels?” she asked.

“Because I don’t have a flame-thrower,” he muttered.

He looked down into the tub, aimed, fired. The spider crunched beneath the towels. He grimaced and looked. A brown stain, and legs; before, alien and menacing, but now merely broken, twitching, pathetic. Revulsion mingled with guilt. He shoved his victim and its paper shroud into the garbage and washed his hands.

“Now I’m scarred for life,” he told his wife.

“Oh, grow up,” his wife said.

Muttering, he sat down again at the computer. He might still have time to complete this level before he had to buckle down to work. He un-paused the game to resume his battle against the Skoglag Imperium.

From the other side of the house his daughter yelled, “Daddy!”

Monday’s Finish the Story Challenge – Promenade at Sunset

I am a bum. Here’s a piece in response to Monday’s Finish the Story Challenge for May 25th, which is supposed to be 150 words based on this image–

© 2015, Barbara W. Beacham
© 2015, Barbara W. Beacham

and this initial sentence–

“The only residents remaining in the small town of Miners Hill are spirits.”

Well, I modified the initial sentence and went over the limit, so I deserve derision. Feel free.

Copyright 2015 Douglas Daniel
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“The only residents remaining in the town of Miner’s Hill are spirits,” said the tour guide.

“What a joke!” the loud tourist exclaimed. “You hear this guy, honey?”

“Yes, Howard,” the wife said wearily.

The tour guide smiled. He led us through the streets, telling the history of the old buildings– the Mercantile Bank, where the Gerrity gang shot it out with townsfolk in ’89, the Silver Nugget Lounge, the worst den of sin west of Dodge City, and the jail, out of which Madman Hancock blasted his way in ’73.

“They say that, on moonlit nights, the old townsfolk come out and promenade around, just like in the old days,” the guide said.

“That’s a fine story, mister,” the loud tourist said.

At sundown the guide took us back to the parking lot. The other tourists bundled themselves into their cars; but I lingered, looking back. The guide had disappeared. As the sun went down behind Scorpion Ridge, and the moon rose in the east, I thought I saw men in broad-brimmed hats, and ladies in long dresses, walking arm-in-arm along the dusty streets.

Mondays Finish the Story – April 20th, 2015 – The Pursued

Mondays Finish the Story challenge for April 20th— 150 words based on this image–

© 2015, Barbara W. Beacham
© 2015, Barbara W. Beacham

and this initial sentence–

“They followed the buffaloes and their babies along the trail heading into the woods.”

Not sure what I ended up with here, but here it is.

Copyright 2015 Douglas Daniel
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They followed the buffaloes and their babies along the trail heading into the woods. They had no choice.

There were only four of them left—Walt, Pete, Liz, and Harper. Behind them the whole horizon burned.

“We can’t outrun that,” Walt said. He held Pete up, who stumbled, his face covered in blood.

“Look,” Harper said. Giant shapes moved, silhouetted against the fire.

Hunters. “Keep moving,” Liz said.

Deep in among the cottonwoods they found the pool of water. The buffalo all stood in it, up to their bellies. They know this is a safe place.

But not for us. “Harper, open the Path.”

“The Truth here stutters like a man frightened,” Harper said.

“Well, that makes two of us,” Walt said.

“Do it,” Liz said.

Harper took out his moonlight sword. He spun it overhead. Its light glittered, then spread out across the whole pool.

Liz smelled lilacs, felt a cool morning breeze. “Go!”

They all stepped into the pool, and were elsewhere.

Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge– OBERON IS HERE

A flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig, 1000 words based on an image.

I went with the one Chuck provided–

chuckoberon1

My usual mediocrity….

Copyright 2015 Douglas Daniel
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OBERON IS HERE

Finally, fighting the traffic was just too much. I gave up— there was no chance of getting home today. I pulled off into the driveway of a little honky-town bar and restaurant, just shy of the I-20/S-208 interchange. I could see the cars on the interstate were at a complete stand-still. I just didn’t have enough energy left to brave it.

The signboard outside the bar read “OBERON IS HERE” in big, black letters. I mean, state the obvious.

I went in. The air conditioning inside gave me a pleasant shiver. Driving two hundred miles in the Texas heat will take it out of you, even if your AC was working, which mine wasn’t.

The bar portion of the place was quiet, empty, dark. The TV behind the bar was showing the same talking heads who had dominated the air waves for the last week; mercifully, the sound was muted. The only other person in the bar was the bartender. He leaned on the polished counter; when I stepped up, I saw he was working a newspaper cross-word puzzle.

“I hate those puzzles,” I said, planting myself on a stool.

The barkeep looked up. Older, heavy, with eyes that had seen more than his fair share of trouble– but he smiled. “Keeps my mind off things,” he said. “Especially since it takes me a while to finish one.” He put down his pencil. “What’s your pleasure?”

“Heineken?”

“Not a problem.”

He pulled a bottle out of the ice, plopped it on the counter, uncapped it for me. I took a sip. The beer was as good, or better, than the cool air of the bar.

“I’m surprised you’re not hip-deep in customers,” I said.

The barkeep shook his head. “Nobody wants to give up their place in the lemming parade. Not that they’re going much of anywhere.”

I snorted. “I wonder where they think they’re going. It’s not like running away is really a solution.”

The barkeep eyed me curiously. “You’re not a lemming, then?”

“Nope– trying to get back to Dallas from a job in San Angelo. Problem is, seems like every major road is jammed with people going the other direction, on both sides. I get around one flood and I hit another.”

The barkeeper nodded. “Yeah, the government panicked, and passed it on to everyone else. Glad I don’t have to go more than a quarter-mile to get home.” He picked the newspaper and the pencil, put them away. “What’s your business?”

“IT networking,” I said, taking a sip. “I was finishing up installing a system for a little mom-and-pop in San Angelo when this whole thing started.”

“Really.” The barkeep pursed his lips. “Maybe you can explain something, then.” He jerked a thumb at the silenced TV. At the moment a really attractive blond newsreader was talking to a scientist from MIT, wearing an expression that told me she was trying to look serious while not understanding a word the scientist was saying. “All of these assholes, they just confuse me. How come they didn’t see this coming?”

“Well, that’s the confusing part,” I said. “They should have seen this coming, years ago. Instead, it just…appears. There’s nothing in science that should allow that to happen.”

“And is that why they can’t say for sure what’s going to happen?” the barkeep asked.

“Mostly,” I said. “I mean, they’ve only had a few days of information to work on. Makes all the mathematics kind of speculative.”

“I guess so.” The barkeeper glanced back up at the TV, thoughtful. “Makes you wonder if it’s intentional.”

“It does,” I said. I took a big hit off the bottle. “Problem is, we may never know. Even if we make it through.”

“I guess not.” The barkeep reached up, turned off the TV. “You trying to get home to family?”

“I’ve got a dog,” I said, smiling. “All the family I have at the moment.”

“Ah. Well, maybe you’re lucky– I got two grand-kids. Worse comes to worse, it’ll be hard, but at least we’ll be together.”

“True enough.” I finished the beer. “How much?”

“Forget it,” the barkeeper said. “Considering everything….”

“No, I should pay for it,” I said. “If we do make it through, the mathematics indicates you’ll still have to pay rent on this place.”

The barkeeper laughed. “Fair enough. Make it a dollar fifty– a discount for your future business.”

“All right.” I fished out two bucks, he gave me back two quarters. I slid off the stool. “Is there a place around here I can park and camp for the night?” I asked. “I’m going to call it quits for the day, see if it’s better tomorrow.”

“Leave her right where she is,” the barkeeper said. “Nobody will bother you. Besides, I’ve got your license plate number.”

I grinned. “Thank you. Pleasure meeting you.”

“Likewise.” He stuck his hand out, and we shook.

I stepped back out into the parking lot. The traffic was still at a dead stop. Yeah, my back seat would be about as good as it would get tonight.

I looked up. Still three million miles away, and the planet covered half the sky. Green, yellow and orange cloud bands striped its atmosphere. Storms circulated here, there, and yonder in those clouds. Quite a sight.

Oberon. King of the Fairies. Capricious, powerful, vengeful. “Well, maybe it fits,” I murmured.

Mondays Finish the Story – A Most Untimely Debate

Mondays Finish the Story challenge— 150 words around this image–

Copyright 2015 Barbara W. Beacham
Copyright 2015 Barbara W. Beacham

and this initial sentence–

“When the team heard the dam explode, they knew they had limited time to make it to safety.”

A residual echo, perhaps, of my long-ago days in graduate school…..

Copyright 2015 Douglas Daniel
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When the team heard the dam explode, they knew they had limited time to make it to safety.

“We have only limited time to make it to safety,” Professor Rajid said.

“Define safety,” Professor Hackmenhoff demanded.

“You cannot create a meaningful definition of a noun without a full explication of the context in which the noun occurs,” declared Professor Springblossom.

“Are we referring to a priori or contextual definitions of safety?” Professor Kunming asked.

“The category of ‘safety’ is obviously contextual, you Kantian simpleton,” Professor Hackmenhoff retorted.

“Don’t call me a simpleton, you positivist jackanapes,” Professor Kunming snarled.

“Really, I must insist on a full explication of context,” Professor Springblossom said.

“Be quiet, you Deconstructionist bimbo,” Professor Rajid snapped.

“HEY!” Mack the tour guide said. “I can give you a definition of safety! Getting this beer cooler to the river bank and up the hill!”

With the problem so framed, they all agreed on a tentative working solution to the question, and pulled hard for shore.