Friday, March 30, 2012

“An Accomplished Liar”: a terribleminds flash fiction challenge

The challenge at terribleminds this week is to tell lies. Not having kids, I can only imagine what really goes on in a teenage boy’s bedroom, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t this. (1000 words)

Honey ham, sliced cheddar, dark rye…ooh, roast beef, too. Perfect.
I loaded my arms full of sandwich fixings, taking a pass on the veggies, and piled them all into my duffle bag. I hesitated at the mayo but took it anyway (good fat, there) and left the mustard. With the stove fan going and her back to me, Mom wouldn’t even notice me here unless….
Fuck. Held the door open too long: busted by the fridge. Mom turned around in surprise and frowned, catching me red-handed with a two-pound bag of deli beef.
“Jamie, what are you doing? Dinner’s in under an hour. Put that back.”
“It’ll be fine, Mom. I’m starving.”
She gave me the standard-issue Mom-the-Martyr look. “I just bought that deli stuff and it’s supposed to last all week. I swear: one sixteen-year-old human shouldn’t be able to eat like you and still be so weedy.”
I shrugged. “Like Gramma says: I’m a growing boy….”
“Yeah? Well, Gramma doesn’t have to buy your groceries,” she grumped, turning back to the sizzling pan. “Don’t you dare ruin your appetite.”
“I won’t, Mom. Promise.” It was so easy to lie now. I zipped the duffle closed and bolted up the stairs.
Dad was coming down the hall with the basketball as I fumbled for my door key. “Hey, James, how ‘bout a quick game of Horse before dinner?”
“No thanks. Homework,” I said, hefting the bag. He wouldn’t know it was mostly full of groceries. “Got a test tomorrow in Poli-Sci.”
“Atta boy. Keep up those grades or that lock comes off.”
“Yup, I know.”
He went downstairs. I entered my room and closed the door firmly behind me.
I heard the first loud growl of hunger as I dumped my loot on the bed. I hadn’t even finished arranging everything to make the first sandwich before another grumble came, sounding even more impatient.
“Shut up already, I’m workin’ on it….”
Once I cracked open the zip-locks of cold-cuts, meat smells drifted into the room. No stopping it now. I stuffed a slice of beef into my mouth and opened the louvered closet doors.
The tawny griffin hunched inside bumped her head on the ceiling. She clacked her black beak at me eagerly, gold-and-black eyes nearly sparking with excitement, and squeezed forward into the room. A hand-sized downy feather pulled free on a door hinge. She rumbled again as she spied the sandwiches on the bed.
“Hi, sweetie. You know you need to sit before you get anything,” I reminded her. Her owl-ears flattened and she obediently plunked her butt on the carpet. The long feline tail curled around her hawk feet and thumped against the foot of my bed.
Raising a griffin in your second-story bedroom is sort of like building a boat in your basement. There comes a point at which you (belatedly) realize that the door just isn’t going to be big enough for your project to leave. I’d waited too long to come clean about my pet, and now, well…I dunno. That day would certainly be interesting.
Dad’s voice called from outside my door: “What was that noise? Everything okay in there, bud?”
I froze in panic—When did he come back up? Did he hear me? Did he hear HER?—but my voice was calm and measured when I answered, “Fine, Dad! Just unloading my books. God, you know how heavy these things are? Gonna need a chiropractor after I graduate!”
“Yeah, I bet.”
I relaxed as his footsteps continued toward the stairs. The griffin raised her owl-ears so high they brushed dust off the ceiling fan. She trilled quietly, looking between me and the treasure trove on the bed. At least she had manners.
“Okay, here. Watch the fingers.” She leaned down and the cinnamon hackle feathers glowed like copper in the sun. She pinched the sandwich with just the points of her beak, tossed her head and it was gone. Another trill and a curious sideways tilt of her neck, and the purr started. Even with my shoes on I could feel it in the floor. After she first did that last year I’d told Dad it was the subwoofer making that noise, and so far that lie still worked.
So many, many lies.
“’Nother one?” I asked unnecessarily. I’m sure she could eat every pet in the whole neighborhood at once if she wanted to, but she seemed to understand that she could get me in trouble if she was greedy. I tried to feed her more dog kibble than deli meat, though: I mean, how much salty, preservative-laden turkey pastrami is healthy for a griffin, anyway? Some things you just can’t find on Google, no matter how hard you search.
I piled together some more sandwiches and she snapped them up as quickly as I could offer them; like a happy cat, the purr only stopped long enough for her to swallow. After the last she walked her front feet forward into a long canine bow, squinting her eyes shut and spreading her talons before dropping into a sphinx pose next to my bed. A couple of months ago, when she’d knocked all the breakables off my bookshelves with one sweep of those barred goshawk wings, I’d told Mom I’d been throwing the baseball to myself and it got away from me; she’d believed that.
When the griffin rested her head on the bed, longingly eyeing the leftovers, I scratched her eye-ridges. “Y’know, one of these days they’re going to find out the truth, big girl,” I said, hearing Mom calling us to dinner. “What are we gonna do then, hmm?”
She purred, regarding me with one half-lidded golden eye, probably not caring that for her own safety she’d forced me to become such an accomplished liar. I locked her in and headed down with the sandwich stuff, chuckling at a thought.
I should run for Congress. I could teach all those amateurs a thing or two.

Friday, March 23, 2012

“Descent” : a terribleminds flash fiction challenge

So sayeth the Great Penmonkey, Chuck Wendig: I’m going to give you five whacked-out settings. You may choose one, and set your story within that space. What five settings? Here goes: Lunar Brothel, Abandoned Amusement Park, The Bottom of the Ocean, Pent-house Apartment during the Apocalypse, Fairy Tale Forest.” 998 words, for your pleasure....

He’d relaxed when he felt the hands on him; he’d thought he was rescued…until they pulled him under.
At first he wasn’t sure if it was their strength or his own exhaustion that made his resistance so useless. An icy snake thicker than a topmast wrapped about his chest, at once both squishy and solid as cold iron, and then there was the sensation of falling through water. A rational part of his panicking mind observed that he should be drowning by now: he had, after all, exhaled his last dry breath. He couldn’t think for all the pain.
Clicks and whines echoed all around him as he was dragged downward, and an ominous intermittent rumble that was nearly felt more than heard. Then he detected a gentle greenish glow about him that almost wasn’t there: if he stared at one spot it seemed dark, but if his eyes relaxed he could make out shadows and forms in the gloom. None of them were human.
Without sun, time had no meaning in these murky depths; he had no way to know how long he traveled. The glow strengthened, punctuated by sharp random flashes as if he was surrounded by stars. He was glowing now, too, as tiny luminous creatures collected on him. Fantastical features of ridges, pillars, arches became dimly visible in the distance: a landscape at the bottom of the sea.
Seeing close about him was easier now but his other senses were heightened also. He sensed the others near him without seeing them. Three swam above him, several more below. With effort he craned his neck to see past the appendage gripping him and got his first look at one’s face. He screamed for all he was worth at the sight of it, but no bubbles emerged from his mouth. The rational part of his mind tried to decide if that frightened him even more.
The creature following him seemed small compared to the rest, perhaps only a little larger than him. Its gleaming face was a grotesque nightmare of fist-sized jet-black eyes, needle-teeth and thin finger-like tentacles. At his reaction, its toothy expression changed to something resembling a grin. It touched his leg and he realized that the “hands” he’d felt were these creatures’ flexible bony fins. A shudder of revulsion rippled through him and he kicked but could not break its grip. Then he heard it speak.
You are one of us now, airbreather.
The sound was not a sound but somehow it echoed through his head, more real than his own thoughts. It seemed childlike and diabolically gleeful. He tried to pray but feared he was too far from Creation now for his God to hear him, let alone save him.
The storm brought you to us as a gift, and now you will live with us and be one of us, it said. Semi-transparent membranes clicked quickly across its eyes.
“I’m not one of you! Let me go!!” His words were muddled by the water such that he barely heard them himself.
No one will hear you like that, silly human, it laughed. You must talk like me. Focus.
Pain, terror, desperation: he channeled that and shot it like a cannon at this grinning abomination. The beast reeled back, pausing as he was carried away from it. Then it darted forward again and grabbed both his legs, showing rows of teeth as it was towed along with him. He saw that a row of spines traveled all the way from the crest atop its head to the base of a wide silver tail, flat like a whale’s but jaggedly striped.
You are so strong! Oh, they will like you!
He focused another burst of emotion, only this time adding thoughts: You must let me go; I’m not one of you! Please, I beg you! I don’t belong here!
But you DO belong here! You are the only one the storm has brought us for many lifetimes. You will bring us much enjoyment.
His eyes closed as his mind whirled in utter denial. He’d been on that island so long he must be delusional. He’d drunk seawater or gone into a starvation-induced, deranged fugue. This wasn’t real, it couldn’t be: his mind must have cracked. Heavenly Father, hear the cry of thy humble servant in his time of need….
The steady downward drag became rough and erratic, then abruptly stopped. The appendage loosened and released him: dozens of toothed discs ripped free from his flesh. While gasping in pain he finally saw his captor for what it was: a mighty beast at least as long as the galleon which had marooned him, with a wide finned body and a dozen massive tentacles—some of which ended in great fan-like paddles. Its skin shifted unnaturally, changing in both texture and color. It flicked him away as though his presence offended it, and promptly vanished into the murk.
Shock took him then and he drifted to the silty seabed's embrace, aware that the Others were waiting over him even as he felt his sanity beginning to slip away. The little one came down, floating just above him so he could see nothing else. It stared through him. If he lived, the stare of those horrible black eyes would surely drive him mad, so his only wish now was to die. He was a child of God, and his Eternally Loving God was merciful. He prayed feverishly to his Merciful Father that he might be saved from this unholy fate, but felt his prayers went unheeded.
Hovering over his face, the creature stared into his soul. The Elders want to know if you can learn to Speak to the depths like we can. I hope you can, airbreather. If you can’t, the Elders won’t eat you…but you might wish they had.
He prayed, and perhaps his God was merciful after all. Even the worst torture imaginable can be surmounted if one isn’t present to remember it. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

“The Fire of the Gods”: a terribleminds flash fiction challenge

The terribleminds flash fiction challenge this week is to pen a 1000-word story with a specific title: “The Fire of the Gods.” I wrote this using one of the best characters I’ve ever worked with: a thoroughly tortured fellow inspired by my writing friend, Fred Hellmig. Given all the trials and tribulations we’ve visited upon poor Hell, I hope to all that’s holy that we never meet him in person.

 “Señor Williams, you must tell us everything.” The governor of Trinidad leaned forward solemnly. “You are the only one we know who has spoken to him. He has defied all our efforts to apprehend him.”
One of the governor’s officials handed me a flask. My trembling hands nearly dropped it but I gulped some of its contents: rum burned like fire all the way down. Feeling a little steadier, I nodded and handed it back.
“The Prometheus left the Guinea Coast three months ago with a nearly-full hold,” I began. “We were bound for Hispaniola after taking on more cargo in the Canaries. Cap’n said the Colonials would pay handsome if all those Africans didn’t take sick and die first….”
“Where did you encounter the ship? What was its ensign?”
“We were just east of Barbados; I was on lookout when we spotted her. She was sailing fast with a fresh breeze on her quarter, making straight for us. Cap’n said she looked Spanish, and ordered us to raise the Burgundy Cross….”


I glassed her again. “She’s hoisting the saltire too, sir!”
“Good. Helm, stay your heading. Company to stations!”
But she wasn’t Spanish at all: once we were too close to escape she dropped the Spanish ensign and raised colours I’d never seen: a snarling dog’s head on a crimson field. It was a Red Jack, and we were beset by pirates.
Their sleek low-hulled craft was painted gray and rust, bearing a triangular headsail and huge blood-red Moorish lateens on both cocked masts. This profile lent her the appearance of prowling shark fins, and we would soon come to realize the truth of this predatory likeness. She crossed our bow with all ports open, displaying a fearsome array of armament we had no hope of countering with our small deck guns. Cap’n surrendered and we were quickly boarded by the crew of the Red Dog.
Such dedicated purpose I’ve never seen! They were so efficient it was as though they knew each other’s minds, hardly speaking a word betwixt them. In a flash they had our entire crew collected and restrained. The fools who resisted were ruthlessly cut down where they stood. The rest of us feared even to pray aloud and thus risk undue attention.
Their captain boarded us then, and under his fell gaze I must admit feeling like a doomed sparrow charmed by a serpent. This man had a dark presence about him that was difficult to quantify but easily felt. He was young and fair, slight of stature, well dressed. While not Spanish he was clearly of European descent, with reddish-blonde hair pulled back in a loose tail and hawk-sharp sea-green eyes. The sword he held at his side was long and thin, delicately curved with a long leather-wrapped hilt. As he approached, his men forced our captain down to his knees.
“Sir, you fly a Spanish flag. Whither bound and whence come you?” he calmly demanded, with a hint of an indistinct accent.
“From Arguin and Las Palmas, bound for Santo Domingo.”
The pirate’s eyes narrowed evilly. “You carry slaves to New Spain? Under Spanish contract?”
“Aye, a cargo of three-and-seventy remaining, all of good health and strong backs. We lost less than a score to the flux on this passage. Take all our cargo; just please set us free. We expected a substantial profit in Hispaniola. This sale will make you all rich men.”
He smirked at this and shook his head. “You are a far greater merchant than I, to seek trade in human souls, my lord.” His voice bore a deathly chill. “Shall I bow to you?”
I would not have believed what followed had I not seen it myself. In one smooth motion he performed a courtly bow, drawing a sweeping flourish with his sword arm. At the depth of his gesture, our good captain’s head parted neatly from his body and both pieces tumbled to the deck in a gory fountain.
The pirate straightened, casually flicked a spray of blood from the blade, and fixed us with a demon’s glare. “Now that I have your attention, hear your fate. You will sail under my command. Resist and be swiftly reunited with your captain. Comply willingly and live a while longer.”
I glanced at my fellows but saw none stupid enough to resist: they all looked as ill as I felt. The Mate nodded dumbly and called us to duty.
We sailed west to a forested islet where we released the slaves with provisions and basic tools. He took me aboard his ship while his crew collected our weapons and remaining valuables. They confined my former crew in the Prometheus’ hold; I watched with dread as the pirates broke open oil casks and set her weather-deck and sails alight. Then the Dog’s crew set the slave-ship adrift and fired a devastating broadside which must have killed most of my mates instantly. Hearing screams, I gaped in horror at the conflagration and sank to my knees.
The captain strolled up, watching the flames. “Prometheus, eh?” he mused. “It is dangerous to play with the fire of the gods, mortal, lest you get burned. Deliver this message for me in exchange for your life.”


I’d started shivering while recounting my ordeal and when offered the flask again, I emptied it.
“He freed me just this morning. His name is Captain Hell. I was to tell you: ‘Hell preys on Spain and those who serve it, in retribution for sins of Inquisition committed against both God and Man. Stop searching for the three treasure galleons you lost this spring. Their wealth is beyond your reach, being put to good use against you.’ ”
This last made them all flush. A heated exchange of some length ensued in Spanish, which I could not follow. The governor rose with a carefully-diplomatic expression and personally escorted me to the door.
“Señor Williams, you have been most cooperative. Thank you for your time.”

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Kenna's Drinking Game

Kenna MacLeod is a troublemaking Scots privateer and one of the three protagonists in the major project in our pipeline right now. This was a scene I did just for fun awhile back, but it doesn’t fit anywhere in the story arc. I bump into it in the working-files folder ever so often and decided today that it could go up on the blog since it’s got nothing better to do. Theres not nearly enough piracy up here yet, anyway.

A gentle breeze drifted through Corsair Harbour on a beautiful mid-June afternoon in 1756, cooling the sunbaked cobblestones along the wharf and putting Captain Kenna MacLeod in the mood for mischief. She lounged on a crate in front of the Curr’s Head, chuckling to herself at a snobbish, petulant gentlewoman passing by on the seawall.
The woman was overdressed for the tropical heat in a striped gown of the London fashion, complete with corset and matching—and completely useless—lace-trimmed parasol. She shrieked in panic at a handful of gulls swooping in to join more than a dozen others swirling around her feet. Her foppish, equally-overdressed escort wondered aloud at the reason for their sudden charge as he shooed them off, but they only retreated a few steps, chattering among themselves as if planning the next attack. Gentleman and Lady had no sooner turned to continue their stroll than the birds were charging across the boardwalk at them again, forcing Man to grab Lady’s parasol to swing at them in comically feeble defense.
Kenna giggled and raised the bottle for a drink, toasting the man for his valor. He shot a look her way but thought better of saying anything when she drummed her fingers over the pistol resting on her crossed knees. Taking his now quite hysterical companion by the elbow, he made to hurry on but stopped as a piece of bread the size of an orange landed just in front of him. The pair quickly found themselves besieged by a feathered, squealing feeding frenzy.
Behind them Kenna pulled a soft piece off the loaf for herself and cackled wickedly. This bread was still warm and fresh: probably better used in mopping up thick beef juices than feeding the birds, but she was feeling fickle and wanton at the moment. And rather drunk.
“So you’re the one behind all this,” a familiar deep voice came from her left, sounding somewhat put-upon. “Why am I not entirely surprised?”
Still snickering through a rum-soaked mouthful, she squinted up at the man standing there. “Aye, Constable Tucker,” she said, then hiccupped. “I’m findin’ this port o’ yers a mite boring.” As the next likely target came into range she pulled off another small piece and sent it skittering ahead of a high-strung palfrey. A trio of gulls ran straight out in front of the horse, chasing the morsel down with open wings. The horse crow-hopped sideways in terror, slamming its rump into a knot of pedestrians and nearly knocking its cursing rider into the water. Kenna laughed herself to tears amid shouts of disgruntled passers-by and took another long pull off the bottle.
“You’re bored, Lady? So you made up a drinkin’ game to torment the townsfolk?” He sighed. “Can you not find another means of entertaining yourself? Maybe one that doesn’t come at someone else’s expense?”
“Och, this bread and rum, sir, came at my expense, I’ll have you know,” she slurred. “What’s a little inconvenience on the part o’ these fine folk here havin’ to dodge a bird ‘r two—’r twenty, heh—when I’m so grossly inconvenienced by havin’ t’ be stuck here sendin’ gulls at ‘em in the first place? I could be harassin’ the Colonials up north right now if the Talon was in one piece, but she’s not. She’s still off yonder in dry-dock and so I’m…sssstuck here.” She smiled lazily and offered him the loaf. “Ye should try it: oddly cathartic, sendin’ a beast out to harass someone at yer whims. Almost makes a lass feel empowered.” She paused, regarding him. “Oh yeah…I guess ye would know about that then, wouldn’t ye, Constable?” When he shook his head, she shrugged. “The rum’s not bad, neither, but ye only get to drink if ye piss somebody off. Them’s the rules.”
“Is that so? Hmm. You’ve been at this awhile now, ‘twould seem. How long does this game continue?”
“Well…ye play until there’s no more rum.”
“All right, I’ll have a go at it.”
She grinned crookedly and handed him the bread again.
“Now bear with me, Cap’n. You’re not the only clever one in this port.”
He tore off a little piece and chucked it out onto the path. It was squashed almost instantly; the gulls milled about until the traffic cleared enough that one could run in to snatch it. None of the passers-by even seemed to notice. Kenna shook her head and leaned back with a disgusted snort, raising the bottle to take a swig.
“Not so fast, there. I’m not finished yet.” He reached over abruptly and grabbed the bottle away from her, downing the last shot.
“Just a mite outta order, but them’s the rules. You only get to drink when you piss somebody off, and you play until there’s no more rum,” he smiled, waggling the empty bottle. “Good rum, too. Now go home, Cap’n. Try to be patient…and try to stay outta trouble?”

Saturday, March 10, 2012

“Sponsor's Apprentice": a terribleminds flash fiction challenge

This weeks terribleminds flash fiction challenge is to write and post a 1000-word flash fiction story before Noon EST, March 15th, (this one totals 1000) using 10 of the following words: 
Beast, brooch, cape, dinosaur, dove, fever, finger, flea, gate, insult, justice, mattress, moth, paradise, research, scream, seed, sparrow, tornado, university.

            Tour groups always made me want to scream, and the junior-high groups were the worst. The gaggle of boys who slouched in front of me during my talk on falcons all wore the same rumpled skater clothes and the same cow-stupid expression. They expected to be entertained, not educated. Nothing I did, short of pulling an Xbox and big-screen out of my gauntlet, was likely to make an impression. I gave the talk anyway, mostly ignoring the two right up front who were chatting over me.
            “You should be more respectful of him,” one of them sagely told his buddy. “He’s a dinosaur, y’know.”
            I almost took offense to that until I realized he was talking about the bird on my glove, instead. These guys didn’t look clever enough to craft left-handed compliments.
            “Is not,” his friend said, apparently ignoring my existence altogether. “He’s a falcon. And not even a very big one.”
            “Well, falcons are birds, and birds are dinosaurs. Just look at a bird’s skeleton and a dinosaur skeleton. You can totally tell.” He paused as if something profound had just occurred to him. “You’re an idiot.”
            “Shut upYou’re an idiot.”
            “Thank you for coming,” I lamely offered as they moved off with the group to the next station, still declaring their mutual idiocy. As they went, they scuffed their feet through the gravel, leaving dark furrows I’d have to rake back into place later. One of them turned back just to give me the finger.
            What charming citizens.
            I tried not to sigh as the next kids rotated through. It was bad form to look bored around the guests. Skipper, the kestrel I was holding, didn’t seem to mind. Sitting on my gloved thumb like a brown-eyed fluffy peach, he bobbed his head in that ridiculously-cute way kestrels have, and I grinned. He always made my day better. The tour group would leave soon and I could take him out to the parking lots for a little hunting. If I flushed a sparrow for him, his day would be better too.
            I really did love this gig, and would probably do it even if it wasn’t my job. I was lucky to have found a university with such a fantastic raptor research facility on campus. Being a general-class falconer—and at twenty-three, only a year away from master already—had made me an easy pick for this job when the departments were filling their work-study positions, and my boss was glad to have someone she didn’t have to train from scratch, for once.
            The next—and thankfully last—group was girls who cooed over Skipper like pigeons on a seed pile but paid no more attention to me than the boys had. When they moved on, snapping their gum at the world with slack-jawed disdain, I was free. I already had the whistle and most of the gear; I’d just grab a baggie of tidbits and a bush-beating staff, then head out to the lower parking lot by the gym, and….
            “Umm…Mr. Grainger?”
            Thinking there was no justice in the universe, I turned back to find a skinny dark-haired girl nervously lingering by the display. She’d been at the rear of this last group, gazing intently at the big falcon poster the whole time. I wasn’t sure she’d even looked at Skipper, which is unusual, given raptors innate charisma. “Yes, can I help you?”
            “Do you ever, I mean…that is, I wonder if you’d consider, umm….” Her face flushed bright red and she picked obsessively at the button on her shirt cuff, not making eye contact and looking as if she wanted to bolt. Then her eyes locked on Skipper and she lost her train of thought entirely. The cheeky little beast actually chirruped at her! I defy anyone to convince me that kestrels don’t know how cute they are.
            “Did you have a question?”
            As if entranced, she spoke directly to Skipper. “Mrs. Harris said you’re a, umm…. Do you take apprentices? ‘Cause I, uhh….”
            It was the first halfway-thoughtful question I’d been asked all day, and the last thing I wouldve expected from a group like this. But then the spiel kicked in. “Falconry isn’t pet-keeping. You have to hunt with your bird, and there’s a long process to go through before you get one. Most sponsors don’t let their apprentices start with kestrels: weight management is really tricky on the little hawks, and it’s easy to make a fatal mistake….”
            She was already nodding but it wasn’t that false patronizing acknowledgement that teens are so good at. This was earnest, as if she was anticipating me. She swung her backpack down, fished out a dog-eared, tattered paperback and handed it to me. I smiled in surprise as I recognized it. It was a copy of Beebe’s “A Manual of Falconry,” one of the first falconry books I’d ever read, and it was well-loved. Its pages glowed with yellow highlighting. Notes crammed its margins.
            Her initial nervousness forgotten, she puffed up with the resolve to prove her worthiness. “I have my triple-beam scale, bath pan, swivel, perch, leash and glove. I’ve read all twenty-eight falconry books the county library system has, some of them twice. I can tie the falconer’s knot and make anklets and jesses. I made my own bal-chatri trap; it’s got forty-seven nooses I tied myself. My grandpa has a farm just down the street from my house, with starlings; he traps and kills them but he said he’d give me some live ones to help train my bird with, and he doesn’t put poisoned bait out, so I could hunt her there once she’s trained. I made flash cards with all the questions for the state test and I’ve been studying nonstop for the last six months. Ask me anything.” 
            Her intensity was formidable. I’d never had such a young apprentice with such drive. Only in eighth grade and she already had the fever.
            I smiled. “Want to go hunting?”

Sunday, March 4, 2012

“Learning to Fly”: a terribleminds flash fiction challenge

The terribleminds flash fiction challenge for March 2, 2012: shuffle a random song. That random song becomes the title of your 1000-word story, which you post to your blog. My song is Pink Floyd’s “Learning to Fly”, and this story is exactly 1000 words.

Name’s Floyd, and my message is this: exotic animals are cool and all, but it’s important to understand what you’re getting into first, before things get…complicated.
I mean, reptiles are fun, but they have limitations. You can’t take a lizard outside to play (at least the ones I had) without the risk of it shooting off into the nether reaches of the yard to die of exposure or get got by a cat. I even tried harnessing one but all that did was make him look stupid before he wriggled out of it and wedged his skinny butt halfway down a mouse hole. Added bonus: the hole had a slug in it so when I fished him out he was all gooey. Biggish snakes can give great neck rubs but most of the time they just lay there. Fairly cool, but boring.
So I took up falconry. Lot of time and expense involved with falconry. It’s the sort of thing where the people who do it know just how cool they are for doing it, so are frequently disinclined to share their coolness with newbies. But I persevered and got a hawk, and learned that this sport was indeed every bit as cool as I’d thought it was. After a year I let my bird go and got another one, which is pretty cool too: don’t like the bird you’ve got? Trade it in for another: no muss, no fuss. But there are laws about what you can and can’t hunt, and where, and when; and then the owners of the best hunting place you’ve found decide they don’t want you hunting there anymore, so then what? It’s not like good rabbit fields grow on trees…or something.
I hadn’t found my thing yet. I wanted an animal hobby but normal animals just didn’t do it for me. I wanted to do something with cool animals but nothing seemed cool enough. Well, you can imagine my utter surprise when, one night this last February, I was downstairs enjoying a nice toasty fire and a shot of nice oaky scotch when a not-so-nice black spiny dragon the size of a cocker spaniel marched across the room (from God-only-knows-where) like he owned it.
I suppose, being an apex predator and all, even a little dragon has a right to think he owns whatever patch of real estate he finds himself on at any given moment. I mean, breathing fire does pretty-much trump whatever claws or tools or what-not some mere mammal might bring to the party. And when the surprised mammal suddenly blows a mouthful of alcohol at the dragon, the startled dragon reacts quick! and snorts a fireball that, well…I didn’t like those slippers much anyway.
So now I have a dragon. How cool is that?
His name is Rax, but I don’t know how I know that. It just popped into my head one day. He started out sharing the cat’s bowl. Then the cat abruptly decided she’d rather just stay in the bedroom, so I got her another bowl and left it by the dresser. Then one day a week or so back I realized I hadn’t seen her in a while and, well, apparently cats and dragons don’t cohabitate. I’d thought that scorch mark in the hallway was the result of a dragonling’s hiccup, but maybe not.
Rax graduated to Alpo a week after the cat went missing, then advanced to hamburger. After a growth spurt took him from Cocker-size to Rottweiler-size he ate bigger meals, but less often. The guy at the supermarket meat counter sure is chatty now. If he’s paid on commission I’m probably putting his kid through college.
But let me just say, there is something outstanding about relaxing on your couch with an oaky scotch and your Great Dane-sized dragon loyally sitting at your knee with his head across your lap. His eyes are bright purple, by the way, and the pupils are vertical. He purrs like a ’69 Mustang.
He climbs like a squirrel, too: a predatory, armor-plated, incendiary squirrel. I came home from work one night to find him lounging casually atop the refrigerator, having knocked off every box and bottle to make enough room. A punctured two-liter of Coke was still a fizzing fountain in the middle of the potato chip and cereal-strewn floor, so this was a recent accomplishment. I have no idea how he got up there, but apparently he didn’t stick the landing: if all that scratching and clawing isn’t his doing, then someone stopped by my house just to key up my fridge with much enthusiasm. I guess stranger things have happened.
By June he still hadn’t flown yet but my house was clearly getting the raw end of this deal. I took leave, and Rax and I went camping. I rented a van because now he was as big as a draft-horse. (Since the waterbed incident he’d been mostly confined to the garage.) The van-rental people won’t be happy: I can probably kiss that deposit goodbye.
I drove up the mountain to a dead-end Forest Service road and set up camp. I’d just gotten the fire going when Rax sat on his haunches and snuffed it out with one awesome stroke of his wings (apparently the next four flaps were just for effect). He said he was stretching. Then he strolled into the trees, swishing that fifteen-foot-long tail dismissively when I meekly suggested he not go too far. He came back an hour later with an elk. The coolest part? When he dropped it in front of me, it was already gutted and grilled medium rare. Sweet.
The next morning we hiked up to the cliff-top, admiring the scenery and the warm wind on our faces. It was a beautiful day; the thermals would be epic. He looked at me and dipped his shoulder invitingly. I got on and we flew.
I think we’ll stay here for good. I have a dragon. How cool is that?