2016 NYCM FF Round 1 Group 20

This is my entry for the first round of the 2016 NYC Midnight Flash Fiction challenge.
My prompts were, fantasy, a garbage dump, a pack of cigarettes.
Feel free to comment and share.

_______

One Brother’s Future.

Synopsis: Brothers Matt and Nate scratch out a life on their small island of garbage. Through tragedy, their mother’s wish for her son to find a better life is given another chance.

 

Nate jumped at the rumble of a fresh load approaching.

Content, knowing they had time before the truck reached their end of the dump, his brother Matt mumbled, “Chill, Nate.” Matt licked his paws and washed his black snout. “When the truck crosses the creek, he’s in our territory. Until then, it belongs to Rocky and his raccoon brethren.”

Nate circled the den, his thin tail slapping Matt as he poked his pointy head out through the hole they had gnawed into the discarded end-table.

“But Matt, Matt, what if he stops close? He does that sometimes. And it’s daytime. Daytime, Matt. We can run over and snatch something sweet. Just a treat, Matt. Something sweet.”

“Nathaniel.” Nate stopped fidgeting at the sound of his full name. “If it comes, it comes. If not, it wasn’t meant to be.”

Listening, Matt followed the truck’s progress. First the crunch of gravel as it entered through the rusted metal gate that marked the edge of their world.

He’d never been beyond that point. He’d only come close once.

Near the gate were the recyclables: plastic, glass, and large metal boxes that had once housed hundreds of their rodent relatives, deserted now that Dog lived there.

Dog’s shouts lived in Matt’s nightmares. “Rat-Rat!” Matt shivered in his matting, willing the memory of the day he saw Dog’s face up close from his mind.

The truck engine droned in waves as it wound passed the cement mountains where the birds lived. “Truck coming. Truck. Truck. Truck coming.” The birds talked a lot, but never really said anything.

Behind their end-table home lay a swamp. Throaty bullfrogs serenaded the dump with low-slow blues, and gators called like sirens, enticing the residents with the deceptive promise of an easy meal on fish and shrimp. Sometimes, the sly gators hid in the creek to catch an unsuspecting creature taking a drink. Fear kept Rocky and the other raccoons on the far side of the water.

Matt knew there were only three things the raccoons didn’t do: cross the creek, come out during the day—unless they were foaming at the mouth, and speak in the common tongue.

When the drawers of the end-table rattled. Matt opened his eyes and stretched in anticipation of the truck’s fat tires splashing through the water meaning there was only one possible destination left, Matt and Nate’s doorstep.

When he heard the engine roar and then stop without the splash, Matt settled into his bedding and mumbled, “It’s Rocky’s trash now.”

Over the incessant nattering of the birds, Matt heard Nate call out. “Candy box!”

Matt spun as Nate’s tail slipped through into the daylight. Rushing to the opening, he watched as Nate swam across the creek. Matt saw the human driver standing by the truck, a white and red box at his feet.

He reached the water just as Nate cleared the other side and grabbed the box. Instead of returning, Nate began to tear it apart.

“Nate, get back here!”

The moment he shouted, he realized his mistake.

The indecipherable chatter of the raccoons preparing to defend their land started as quietly as the romantic chirping of the crickets calling out in the night for a mate. By the time they were loud enough for the human to hear—and dash for the safety of his truck—Matt reached his brother.

Nate’s mouth was full of white paper and brown leaves. Filters hung from the ends of the cigarettes he had pulled from the pack.

“Matt, Matt, this candy isn’t very good. Matt, try some, Matt.”

“No Nate. We’ve got to—“

In a flash of brown and black fur, Nate vanished.

Matt panicked, his mind returning to another sudden swatch of brown fur at the main gate. Instead of the incoherent clicks and chirps of their attackers, he heard Dog’s shout of, “Rat-Rat,” just before their mother disappeared.

Between the raccoons forcing them into the swamp, and Dog terrorizing them when they went near the gate, they were the only three left of their kind.

She had brought him to the gate to tell him to leave. “Your brother Nathaniel’s a sweet boy,” she had said. “But he’ll never make it out there. One of us has to stay here with him.”

Nate’s screams broke his trance. “Matt, Matt, Rocky’s got me. Matt.”

Matt attacked the larger animal. His claws and teeth gnashing with a fervor that took Rocky by surprise. The sight of their leader releasing Nate made the other raccoons stop long enough for Matt to latch onto the scruff of Nate’s neck and drag him into the water.

The raccoons rushed to the edge and stopped, too wary to try to cross.

Matt dragged Nate back to their den, accompanied by the high-pitched buzzing of the flies as they called in the swarms. “Fresh blood. Fresh blood…”

Chunks of red, black, and white flesh hung from Nate’s belly.

“Nate, what were you thinking?”

Blood seeped from his mouth. “Matt, Matt, I’m sorry, Matt.” He clutched his prize, unwilling to release it. His eyes focused beyond the walls of their discarded home. “Matt, Matt, do you ever wonder if there’s anything on the other side of gate?”

“No Nate, not anymore. We’ve got each other, that’s all we need.”

“Matt, but isn’t mom out there?”

Matt’s chest tightened at the question.

“Yeah, Nate. She is.” He hadn’t the heart to tell his brother exactly what happened the day he’d seen Dog up close.

Nate’s breath began to come in short bursts. Matt knew the end was near. The end of both their lives in the dump.

Matt licked Nate, cleaning the blood from his brother’s whiskers. His vision blurred by tears, Matt smiled, “So, how’s that candy?”

“M…, Matt, it tastes better with a little spit on it.” His eyelids fluttered and closed. “Don’t eat the furry end part, makes your mouth dry.”

Nate’s voice, already small and weak, faded into silence. “Matt, Ma—-“

 

 

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NYCM 2016 Short Story Challenge. Round one, Group 12.

This year I drew:

Genre: Drama. Subject: On-line bullying. Character: An organ donor.

Feel free to comment. Thanks for reading.

Quid Pro Quo
A United States Senator trades favors in order to secure a future for his daughter.

  Soft lighting and subdued beeps of health monitors greeted Detective Laura Cole as she entered the critical care unit. Walking to the bedside of an unconscious teenager, she paged through the medical chart hanging on the end of the bed. Every few seconds, the patient’s chest would rise and fall aided by a respirator, otherwise she lay still.
At six foot two, Laura stood above most of her male counterparts. Coupled with her general abhorrence for members of the opposite sex, she had been able to succeed when most of her fellow female officers quit early in their careers. She commanded respect—if not outright fear—from witnesses and suspects alike. Earning a reputation for being a cop who always got her man, she rose through the ranks.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” the ward nurse said. “Can I help you?”
Cole put the clipboard back, handed the nurse her card, and said, “I’m Detective Cole, Wayne P.D., I need to speak to this girl. Any idea when she’ll wake up?”
“You shouldn’t be in here.” The nurse moved in-between the detective and the bed.     “As long as Miss Pine is on my floor, she won’t be speaking to anyone who isn’t family or medical staff. She’s been through a lot the last few days.”
“Last few years from what I understand” Cole backed away from the bed, but made no move to leave the area. She pulled a black notebook from her breast pocket, jotted down the nurse’s name from her nametag, Louise Hennings, then read from her notes. “Amalia Pine. Eighteen years of age. Daughter of Colette and U.S. Senator Jordan Pine. Born with a bad ticker, wasn’t she?” Cole looked up from the pad to gauge the nurse’s reaction.
Hennings pursed her lips and nodded. “She’s been on the transplant list for five years, a donor became available a few days ago.” She held her hand out toward the door. “I shouldn’t be talking to you, I’m just the shift nurse, you’ll need to speak to her family.”
Standing fast, Cole said, “Funny thing, Nurse Hennings, I did and they directed me to their lawyer. Their daughter, literally, gets a new lease on life and they refer questions to their mouthpiece.”
“But, Detect—”
“Look, Hennings, I’m not cold-hearted about this.” Cole moved around the nurse to the bed. “I understand the family is happy their princess will live to give them entitled little grand-babies. But—and I know you’re aware of this—for someone to get a heart, someone else has to lose a heart.” Cole flipped to the first page of her notes. “Ted Wagner. Sixteen years of age. Formerly a junior at Wayne High School. Suicide attempted by hanging.” Pausing, she stared into the nurse’s eyes. “Tough way to go. He didn’t fall from high enough up to snap his neck. Paramedics who cut him down said that it took him ten minutes to pass out. By that time, he’d deprived his brain of so much oxygen that it shut down permanently, freeing up his organs for transplantation.” Cole saw a shine welling in Henning’s eyes.
“I never met these people before this, I only know what’s in the chart.”
“When a child’s life-saving spare part came from a suicide,” she nodded to the bed, “I’d think you’d want to help clear up any cloud of suspicion. Maybe we can learn something from it.”
Cole paged through the chart. She pointed to a note regarding the transplant list. “It says here that Amalia had been moved to the top by the governor. How does that happen?”
“Her father is a senator, maybe he pulled some strings?”
“Well, he did endorse the governor’s presidential bid last week, that’s a fairly hefty string.” Cole closed her book. “When she wakes up, call or text me, the number’s on my card. I’m sure there’s nothing out of the ordinary, but we’ll both feel better when we’re sure.”
“Of course, Detective. I’ll let you know.”
Cole left. She had a funeral to attend.

***

  The window of her unmarked cruiser cracked open to prevent fogging, Detective Cole wrote observations into her notebook as the mourners for Ted Wagner’s memorial left the marble and glass mausoleum.
She noted an older couple left in a limo with custom state-seal license plates before the service had completed.
Her running count of students who came to pay their respects stood at a half-dozen. Piss-poor turnout for a school with a student body numbering over a thousand.
She watched Ted’s family leave in a brand new Volvo sedan. She wondered how they could afford a new car and an upscale cemetery with a home address in the lower-class section of town.
She finished her notes, opened her glove box, and pulled out a flask. On one side, the silver container had a detective badge, the other had a rose with the words, ‘To Laura, From Dad. Congratulations, Slugger.’ She opened it and held it up to the heavens, “Need your help on this one, Dad. Miss you.” She kissed the side, took a shot, then closed and put it away.
She knew that someone here could help her solve the mystery. She just had to wait until the very last person walked out to know who that would be. Five minutes after the Wagner family left, a middle-aged woman in a tailored black pantsuit walked out of the building. Cole drove over and got out.
She flashed her badge and handed the woman her card. “May I ask who you are and how you knew the deceased?”
“I’m Tina White. I was Ted’s driver education teacher.”
Cole began a new page of notes.
“Were you close, or are you a school delegate or something?”
White replied, “I’m only here because I’ve been recently promoted to Vice-principal. Honestly, Ted wasn’t very popular, or bright for that matter. He never showed any ambition to do anything but play with his smart-phone. Not surprising that he was bullied.”
Cole flipped through her pages, “No one has mentioned a bully before, and his parent said he didn’t have a phone.” She returned to the first page, “Ted didn’t leave a note, but did scratch a name into his desk before he climbed up and stepped off. Mia Mériter. We don’t know if there is any significance to it yet. Is she a student at your school?”
“Not that I’m aware of. It’s a unique French surname, I’m sure I’d remember it.”
“Did Ted have any friends who he hung out with?”
“Just Helen Chiles and Kate Booker.” She pointed at a car on the far end of the parking lot, “They’re sitting in Kate’s car.”
“Is there anything else you think would be helpful? Any reason he’d have been targeted?”
“No, Detective. May I go?” White asked.
Cole closed her book. “If you think of anything, use the number on my card. Thank you.”
Walking toward Kate’s car, Cole noticed thin trails of smoke coming from the half-opened windows. The harsh, sweet smell of marijuana stung her nose.
She used her badge to knock on the driver’s window. The girls panicked, waving their hands in a vain attempt to clear the smoke. Cole chuckled when the passenger ate the joint.
Cole said, “Can I ask you both to please step out of the vehicle?”
“Yes, officer. Please don’t arrest us. Our friend just died…,” their voices overlapped. Cole held up her hands. But their pleas only grew louder and higher-pitched.
Cole shouted, “Stop! I don’t care if you’re getting high. Just stop talking.” She pointed to the other side of the car. “Helen. Come over here.”
Helen looked behind her, then pointed at her own chest. “Me? How do you know my name?”
Cole mumbled, “Potheads,” then pointed again. “You, walk your stoned ass over here.”
Helen came and stood by Kate.
She put her badge away, pulled out her book, and handed each a card. Kate studied the card’s embossed police shield as if it were made of real gold. Cole flicked the card to bring Kate’s buzzed brain into the present.
“Who is Mia Mériter? How do I find her?”
The girls stepped back as one and bounced off the car.
“We don’t know who she is, but she’s a real bitch,” Helen said.
Kate nodded. “She’s why Ted killed himself. She trolled him everywhere, Facebook, Twitter, got his personal phone number and sent him the most awful messages. Once word got out that he had someone epically trolling him, the other kids started piling on.”
Cole hated bullies. She had always been the tallest in her class; taller than most of her teachers by freshman year. With her dark sepia skin and close-cropped nappy hair, her appearance gave the class bullies plenty of ammunition to mock her. She’d learned to shield herself against verbal attacks while training her body to fight back at those who got physical.
Helen said, “She wanted us all to die.”
Cole asked, “The three of you?”
“  I’m sure of it.” She replied.
Kate choked back tears. “The messages to us were constant, but Helen and I aren’t as sensitive as Ted, he couldn’t handle it. And once Ted was dead, the messages stopped. Like she didn’t care which of us did it. One of us died, she accomplished her goal.”
“Did you have anything else in common? Neighborhoods, friends outside of school?” Cole asked.
Helen said, “Before this, we didn’t even hang out. I overheard Kate say she was being trolled too, and we knew about Ted because well, everyone did. The only other thing the three of us did was fill out an organ donor form in Miss White’s class.”
“Tina White knew you all filled out donor forms in her class?”
Kate nodded, “Most of the class did when that lady from the state talked to us.”
“Who?”
They shrugged. Kate added, “She was here. It was nice of her to come to his memorial.”
Cole stopped writing. “Today?”
Helen nodded. “She left in a fancy limo before it was over.”
The questioning continued, “Tell me about the form you filled out.”
Kate returned to running her finger over the business card’s raised shield. Cole snapped her fingers in Kate’s face. “Focus Kate. The form?”
She shook her head to clear the internal fog. “Name, address, easy stuff.”
“Not all easy, Kate,” Helen said. “We had to fill in what we’d be willing to donate. Eyes, lungs, kidneys. I guess Ted checked yes to heart. I did.”
Kate nodded. “I don’t think anyone else did heart.”
Helen continued, “There were some answers we didn’t know: blood type, past or current medical conditions. Miss White said that it was okay, she’d find out from our school medical records.”
Cole finished writing and said. “Okay, just give me your stash and you’re free to go.”
The girls exchanged a glance but didn’t move.
“Ladies.” Cole stood straight and opened her coat to flash her badge.
Helen pulled a baggy out from between her breasts and handed it to Cole.
“You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.” Cole laughed, then realized they were too young to get the musical reference. “Just leave before I change my mind.”
Cole returned to her car and opened her glove box. Instead of reaching for the memento from her late father, she grabbed a pack of Zig-Zag rolling papers.
As a light plume rose from her open window, she flipped through her notes sure that she had all the answers she’d need but one in her little black book of clues.
Who the hell is Mia Mériter?
The chime of her phone alerted her to a text from Nurse Hennings. ‘She’s awake. Parents here.’

***

When the elevator opened, Detective Cole recognized the woman sitting alone down the hall as the one who had left in the limo.
Cole approached and spoke in a quiet voice, “Mrs. Pine?”
“Yes?”
Cole opened her coat to show her badge. “There are a few things that we need to clear up.”
Without a word, Mrs. Pine stood and walked into her daughter’s room.
Cole followed and found Senator Pine sitting on the edge of his daughter’s bed. They stopped talking when they saw her.
He rose and stood by his wife. “We have nothing to say to you.”
“I think you do, senator. You both do.” She approached them.
“Which one of you uses the name, Mia Mériter?”
Amalia’s eyes flicked to her father. “I’m sorry, Daddy. I—”
He stopped her. “Hush, Mia.”
“You?” Cole whispered turning to face the girl.
“Our daughter deserves this life.” Mrs. Pine said. “Those cretans won’t amount to anything. We simply did what’s best for everyone.”
Cole rested her palm on her gun. “But you killed that boy. Might have killed all three if Ted had died quickly by properly hanging himself.”
The senator laughed. “You’ve just proven our point. The idiot couldn’t even succeed in suicide.”
“You’re all involved?” Cole looked at Mrs. Pine. “You found potential donors and your husband got your daughter to the top of the transplant list.” Turning to Amalia. “You bullied Ted until he couldn’t take it anymore. How can you live with yourselves?”
“We’ll all live just fine, especially Mia. “Senator Pine said. “You have no real evidence.” He motioned to the door. “Please see yourself out. We have Mia’s future to plan now that she’ll have a long and healthy life.
“You won’t get away with this.” Cole turned as the door opened.
Her police captain walked in.
“Captain Fredericks. I was just going to call you to say I’d be arresting the entire Pine family.”
Senator Pine greeted the captain with a handshake. “James, you received my recommendation for the State Police Commander position?”
“Yes, Jordan, thank you. The new Head Nurse, Hennings, called and told me that my detective had returned. Thought I’d come and straighten all this out.”
Cole stared at the men. “Captain, they killed a boy.”
“Nonsense. He lacked a will strong enough to put up with a little ribbing. Just look at what you’ve accomplished when faced with personal adversity. You rose above it and became the woman you are today. Strong and proud. Now hand over your notebook.” He held out his hand. “Now, Detective Inspector Cole.”
Transported back to grade school, she felt the familiar pressure building behind her eyes, as though she had no defense against the bullies.
From that same past, her father’s voice came to her, “Never let them see you cry, slugger.”
It may have been all for naught, but Laura swore she’d find a way to get justice for Ted, for all the victims of these bullies. Even if she had to ruin herself in the process.
Squaring her shoulders, she handed the notebook to her Captain and said. “It’s just, Detective, Laura Cole. I’ll earn my title on merit, sir.”

4_Family Memories: NYC Midnight Round 2 entry.

Genre: Horror.

Location: Foreclosed home.

Object: A rabbit’s foot.

I received zero points for my round one story. I thought well outside the box and I believe that plan worked against me. I went with the most obvious story that came to me this time, let’s see how it does.
As always, thank to my lovely Mrs. Susan for letting me bounce ideas off her and get some good ideas. And thanks as always to Laura Matheson in the wilds of Canada for her editing help.

4_Family Memories

 

A young woman, forced out of her inherited family home, finds something forgotten from her past.

——————————————-

Martha took a last look at the only home she’d ever known. Today, her thirty-fourth birthday, the bank officially foreclosed. She had to leave.

Responsibility for the mortgage had become hers after her father’s death a decade ago. He’d tripped in the shed and been impaled by a pair of garden shears. Ten years earlier, her mother fell while cleaning a second floor window, breaking her neck.

Owing more than it was worth, Martha’d struggled to make the payments. A year ago, she gave up, choosing to stay until the bank forced her out.

“Happy Birthday to me,” she said to the snowflakes falling around her.

Standing on the sidewalk, she tried to recall a happy time. Whenever she tried to recollect anything from her early life, her mind’s eye turned to static. While she clearly remembered a birthday with two cakes, she had no idea why there were two.

Her ‘S-Mart’ brand galoshes left tracks in the snow as she circled the house, determined to find at least one good thought from her childhood. As she neared the garden shed, a neon-green object caught her attention.

She tremored at the thought of the shed where her father would lock her when she was disobedient. After his death, she’d avoided it, hiring a lawn service to maintain the yard. Now, she couldn’t afford to have a neighborhood boy mow the lawn.

As she drew closer, she saw a keychain. A dyed rabbit’s-foot keychain.

The moment she touched it, the static that obscured her memories cleared,an image of her father’s face as the points of the clippers pierced his chest flashed before her. She could feel the thick wooden handles in her hands as his ribs cracked. She’d felt the same sense of resistance and release when she’d used the broomstick to knock her mother off the windowsill.

When her sight returned, any memory of the vision vanished.

Looking towards the shed, she saw small barefoot prints. Martha’s tracks were the only others in the fresh snow.

I can’t just leave a barefoot child to freeze, can I?

A gentle arc of snow, pushed away from the door, hinted that it had been opened. A rusted lock hung from the latch, snow piled in a delicate heap on the top of the loop. Locked, just like her father had done to her so many times.

The neighbor’s boys, Martha thought. It’s a prank.

She looked toward the next house, suspecting that, somewhere out in the falling snow, they were laughing their fool heads off.

As she stepped away from the shed, she heard crying and dropped the keychain.

Martha was unique in the way she felt fear. To some it’s a gripping in their gut, to others a tightening of the shoulders as the hair rises on the back of their necks. For her, all her strength fell away. Her body, sensing she couldn’t control the outcome, would give up trying.

They’re using a radio to make that sound. They don’t want the joke to end.

“You’ll be rid of me soon enough!” Martha shouted into the storm as she took another step away.

Then, in the hush of the snow, she heard a small voice. “Marta, please don’t leave me again.”

Her legs gave out.

Kneeling in the wet snow, her faulty memory finally delivered. Thirty years ago, there really had been two birthday cakes: one for her, and one for the only person to ever call her Marta.

“Berta,” she whispered her twin sister’s nickname into the storm.

How could I forget her?

Pinching her eyes closed, she blocked out the cold, the sound of the wind, the fear that gripped her. Martha focused on the small voice crying out to her.

When did I see her last?

Night, moonless and still. Quiet but for the sound of Bertha whimpering from the other side of their father as he dragged them both to the shed. Even then—we couldn’t have been more than four or five—Martha’d learned to not fight back. That always made it worse.

Just go limp, Berta. Daddy will be done quicker.” She tried to teach her sister to be compliant, but Bertha always fought back, she never gave in.

Martha opened her eyes. The boot-prints that led from the house were still there, but where there had been one set of bare prints, now there were two.

She ran back to the shed and picked up the rabbit’s-foot. The lock popped open despite its decade of dis-use.

Berta! Oh, Berta, I’m so sorry. I won’t leave you.” Martha dragged the door open and stepped through, returning to the memory of that night.

Martha stood flaccid, watching her sister struggle, helpless to stop their father as he pummeled her twin. The beating ended only after Bertha too had become limp, the fight permanently squeezed from her small neck.

Martha looked at the workbench, the last place she had seen Bertha alive, and saw her there, face bloody and broken, the purple outlines of her father’s hands visible on her neck. Martha walked to the tool-covered wall, picked a dusty hacksaw off a hook, and clamped the tool, blade up, into the jaws of the vise. Looking at Bertha, she turned her head and placed her neck on the jagged blade.

“Berta, I tried to keep the house as long as I could so we could be together, but the bank has taken it. Remember how I took care of Daddy for you? And Mama? Remember how I pushed her from that window? She should’ve protected us from him. I will never leave you again.”

Martha leaned into the saw, and in a swift sideways motion, tore open her own neck. Blood from the ruptured carotid artery sprayed onto the dark cement floor.

The storm outside intensified, covering the single pair of boot prints that lead from the house. The blizzard muffled the sound of children singing Happy Birthday.

End

Anything Goes Anthology. This contributors perspective.

Anything Goes book
Late last fall, a submission call came up on the Facebook page for the, Fictions Writers Group. It was for an anthology asking authors to participate in something new, a collaborative project for short stories that all the writers would work on their tales with the help of the others in the group.
 This is the official mission statement of Anything Goes:
The goal of this workshop is to give the participants an opportunity to share honest, friendly feedback that can lead to a well-critiqued and edited anthology to be proud of. Remember – Your work may never be seen by the devoted readers, agents or publishers who are looking for good writers, if their attention is lost before they get to your story. It’s in everyone’s best interest to help each other have fun and create stories the readers can’t put down.
 Now that the book has been published, I believe it was a success.
 Renee’ LaViness was our point person, den mother, hand holder, and soother of frayed egos. She did a phenomenal job keeping the 21 writers from around the world on track and informed of what the next steps were.
 We were encouraged to share our stories as they progressed from raw notes, through first drafts, collaboratively edited and critiqued, to finished book. Each of us not only responsible for completing the story we were going to have included, but for assisting with the, seemingly never-ending, job of editing and fine tuning the work of the others. I learned so much in the eight months we worked on this anthology, it would have taken me years on my own to gain the knowledge all successful authors must master. Proper tense use, punctuation basics, story flow and so many other things that I really thought I knew. It was an honor to be included in the group, I hope everyone else was able to learn from me at least one small thing in repayment for the wealth of knowledge I got from them.
Thank you FWG for encouraging new independent writers. Without the support of the entire family of talented people in the group, I wouldn’t have been able to grow as quickly as I have.
 I’ll be posting my thought process on how my inclusion, Natural State, grew from the seed of an idea, to the fruition of a finished story.
Wayne Hills (Miguel A. Rueda) July, 01, 2014.
Links to the anthology:

NYC Midnight Short Story challenge. Round 1-Group 12 1st Place story.

12_Riding the Odds

Quod, a troll working in the dangerous world of professional dragon riding, takes a deadly chance to be with the human he loves.

 

“Keep moving troll. Too close to human entrance.” The ogre’s voice made the ground vibrate beneath Quod’s feet. He eyed the giant.

“Eegah, there’s no one else here. Drop the act. We still have a deal, don’t we?”

The ogre, four times Quod’s height, leaned close.

“We do not troll. Bargain is with human. No care for your kind. Move along.”

Riding the top bull-dragon on the professional circuit was enough of a life risk; Quod didn’t need to add any more danger to his day by arguing with the dim-witted guard. He turned away from Eegah and entered the paddock under the, ‘Mythics Only’ sign.

Quod walked the stables, looking for the human Wyrm-master that held his fate, and his heart, in her tiny hands. He found Tina near Rivergard’s stall. No rider had completed the full three sequoids on the country’s number one rated dragon and lived to collect the purse, which was determined by complex mathematical formulas that set the fluctuating betting lines. The bright red dragon’s muscles–nurtured on the flesh of the fallen–rippled under his thick scales. As was the custom of the dome, he feasted on the blood of his kills. Trolls were expendable, but a top dragon was better than gold.

“Tina!” Quod called her away from the stall. Rider superstition prevented him from daring to get close. Allowing a dragon to become familiar with your scent was considered bad luck. They would need all the help they could get.

She rushed to him, scanning the area to make sure they were alone, and hugged him tightly. Her small stature allowed the lovers to stand eye level with each other.

“Quod, are you sure about this? You could be killed.”

“I hope so. That’s a key part of the plan. You just have to take care of me afterwards.”

“What if it doesn’t work?”

Quod pursed his thick blue lips. “The Witch of the Wood’s instructions were very precise. As long as we do the math properly, I’ll be okay.” Even as he spoke, he wasn’t sure if he was trying to convince himself or Tina.

They needed to escape this life–both slaves to the game–if winning a fortune betting on his own demise would set them free, he had to try.

Tina reached into the front pocket of her overalls, producing a small black vial and two pocket watches. She handed the vial to him, the voice of the old crone ran in her mind.

Sixty pro through sixty post,

The time to steal life from death,

Fate suspended through love’s boast.

“Quod, remember her directions. You have to drink this at exactly the right time.”

“I’ll figure it out. Be ready for me. I won’t be able to help you.”

His part of the plan would be easy. Simple arithmetic, drink some poison, ride a fire breathing dragon, then die. What could be simpler? Tina had the hard part; place the bet that will give them the money they need to flee and then bring him back to life. No matter the outcome, she’d still be alive.

If their plan was discovered, he’d be executed and fed to the ogres, tainted and unfit for the champions of the dome. She was human, and even though she was looked down upon by her own kind–-ridiculed as a midget, or ‘dwarf’–she was still one of them. At worst, she would be banned from working as a dragon keeper. But she’d be forgiven. People would assume the troll had used an evil spell to lure her into an inter-species, relationship. Why else would a woman, even a malformed one, wish to mix with a sub-human?

“Quod, you ride last tonight. Please be careful.”

“Tina, you know I can’t be. I have to die, remember? Just hold off on the bet. It has to be placed at the last second. The odds have to be long, or it won’t be worth it. I have to make them believe I will survive the ride.”

Quod had explained it all before. The odds-makers use easily measurable factors: the speed of the flight, the height off the blood spattered dirt of the arena floor, the weights of the rider and dragon; they factor in variables of skill and experience of the pair intimately linked in a ballet of life and death, to set the fluctuating betting lines.

“I’ll make sure Rivergard and I play our part.” Said Quod

She handed one of the pocket watches to Quod. “We have to start these together, as the witch said.”

Two as one, set the hands,

Tick for tock must be done.

They embraced again, one long last kiss before Quod walked to his death.

 

The evening’s first rider, Fungl, didn’t live to see the end of the first sequoid, known as The Bucking. One foot slipped from the stirrups, allowing the flying beast full control of the flight. It was a deadly mistake. A simple full-body shiver, like a Minotaur shaking water from its back, toppled the rider. The dragon sliced the falling troll in half with his razor-sharp tail. Less than halfway through the sixty-second run, the rider’s career, and life, were through.

The second, a troll named Truot, died during the Trigon phase.

From Quod’s vantage point, a quarter of the way up the thousand-foot-high dome, he watched the event’s penultimate ride. As Truot’s run progressed, Quod thought about the watching odds-makers, and how their decisions would affect Tina’s timing for the wager on his life.

Thirty seconds in, trumpets signaled the next phase, The Rising. Quod watched as Truot drew back on the dragon’s reins, while pushing forward on the stirrups strapped around its hind ankles. Pulling the animal into itself forced it to flap wildly in order to retain flight. Quod knew the speed of the climb would determine who was in control, the rider or the dragon. Odds changed, money was won and lost. With fifteen seconds left in the match, a final horn marked the time for capture of the Trigon.

Reaching the top of the dome, Truot released the pressure holding the flying serpent in check. The result was the most spectacular moment of the event. It was also the precursor to the most dangerous sequiod, The Plummet. Regrettably, Truot wouldn’t live to see its end.

Freed from the restraints on his body, the dragon arched his back, spread his wings and spewed a geyser of fire. The heat of the flame below his open wings caused the great beast to hover high above the hard earth, near the silver triangle of the Trigon, which was suspended at the pinnacle of the dome. As the mesmerized audience watched, Truot reached up to snatch the dangling icon. And missed.

Quod knew what was happening high above the breathless crowd. He watched helplessly as the dragon felt the sudden shift in the rider’s weight, spun, and dove. Truot was too high on the dragon’s back when The Plummet began. In his match, Quod knew this would be the moment Tina would be waiting for: the final betting line would be set, for or against, the rider’s survival.

Truot’s odds fell as the men setting the betting line dropped the chances of Truot surviving into the negative. In their eyes, his fate was already decided. They were usually right.

During The Plummet, riders normally leaned forward out of the airflow until below the height of the bucking chute. If they waited too long to pull out of the dive, the dragon will flip over onto its back and slam the rider into the earth. Truot never had that chance.

The scaled beast folded his, bat-like wings flat as he turned and easily shook his passenger. As they fell, the dragon flew circles around the arena, disgorging flames at Truot, roasting him alive. The troll hit the ground accompanied by cheers from the bloodthirsty crowd.

When the elven medic held a red flag over Truot’s blackened corpse, a mixture of cheers and groans sprang from the crowd.

 

Quod watched the traditional team of six unicorns parade Rivergard around the arena. Then pegasus-riding humans guided the great dragon into the chute as tufts of smoke and yellow-orange flames licked from his horned snout. Quod studied the giant screens that showed the current odds on his death.

A fanfare sounded One minute until the gate would open, beginning Quod’s first sequoid.He pulled the pocketwatch and vial from his breast pocket.

Sixty pro through sixty post…

Two as one, set the hands.

He drank the foul contents and pushed the small button on the side of the watch. Somewhere down in the betting pit, Tina had also started the countdown to his death.

Quod settled onto Rivergard’s hard scales, secured his stubby feet into the stirrups, and wrapped the reins around his right fist. His left hand would be free, as required by the sport’s rules, in order to grab the Trigon. Quod had to put on a good show to keep the odds low until The Plummet. Timing, and danger were intertwined. The betting line for his death had to be high. He had to put on the show of a lifetime, even if his life was in the balance.

The massive wrought iron gate opened releasing Rivergard from the pen. A ball of fire erupted from the horned demon’s maw as he leapt into flight. Holding tight to the reins, Quod forced the dragon down, circling low around the ring. Allowing the animal the freedom to kick his feet, while steering his head, made for a good show. It also demonstrated that the rider controlled the flight. In the open bleachers, at the lowest level of the arena, the sub-humans screamed their wagers in a dozen indecipherable tongues. Humans watched from their comfortable box seats, enclosed to protect them from the dragon’s flames or wayward disembodied troll parts.

The second sequoid began. Quod maneuvered the beast into position in the center of the ring, pulled back on its head, and pushed forward on the stirrups. The duo rose as great leather wings pushed them upward. Tina watched the boards and saw that his survival odds had increased. Demonstrating control over the flight showed he had a better chance of living to ride another day. Quod’s every move had to convey his power over the dragon in preparation for the final drop.

The start of the third sequiod marked the last 15 seconds of Quod’s life. He had to play this final act perfectly. Sitting upright, he released the reins and reached up with both hands for the Trigon. Rivergard, feeling the pressure of the stirrups slacken, stretched to his full size and let out a blast of flame that made the crowd gasp in fear. With both hands, Quod grabbed the prizeand released it from the clasp holding it in place.

Tina watched, along with the screaming throng, as Quod snatched the flailing reins from mid-air while Rivergard tucked his massive head and dove. All those around her were yelling in unison, chanting Quod’s name. He was more than just another rider, he was a God.

As Rivergard tucked in his wings and fell, the book-makers changed the betting line one last time. Fifty to one. No rider had ever had odds this high placed on his demise. They were virtually certain he would safely land the fire-breathing behemoth.

Tina grabbed the arm of a nearby leprechaun bet-taker and placed her wager. Although he couldn’t believe the amount of human money she was betting, he accepted the cash.

Knowing his final chance at controlling the dragon was near, Quod gently pushed on the right stirrup; the diving beast rolled as Quod blacked out.

Rivergard skimmed the arena floor. Quod dropped free of the dragon’s back and rolled along the ground. The crowd fell silent.

Tina held her breath as the ogre guards waddled out to pick up the fallen troll. The pegasus team corralled Rivergard through the exit chute as the elven medics checked on Quod.

As the red flag rose on the arena floor, Tina burst into tears. She ripped the winning marker from the hand of the confused leprechaun, and rushed back to the stables.

As Wyrm-master, one of her duties was to strip the food for victorious dragons. She would be the one in charge of feeding Quod to Rivergard. She paced near the arena gate, glancing apprehensively at time ticking across the face of the witch’s watch. Eegah carried Quod’s limp body into the stable and dropped it at her feet.

“I think him really dead.” Eegah held out his fat hand.

“That will be all, ogre. I’ll take care of him. And thank you.” Her voice cracked as she spoke.

“No thank. Just pay.”

The sack of coins seemed tiny in his palm. He turned and lumbered back into the arena, leaving Tina with her lifeless love.

Without bothering to ensure they were alone, she pulled the watch from his pocket.

Tick for tock must be done.

The watch was smashed; the hands bent and immobile.

Tina leaned back, remembering the final instructions the Dark Witch had given them.

     Six times fifty, the time from death.

No greater, no lesser,

Else the spell be for naught.

She studied the ancient timepieces the woman in the woods had given them; they were no longer in sync. Tina alone knew the price of their freedom. Her very soul. Quod could never know she gave her eternal life for their mortal time together.

Her working second hand ticked the minutes by. Each tiny mark seemed to take too long to pass. No longer able to determine the exact timing, at the four-minute mark by her watch, she leaned to his lips. Blackened, bloody, lifeless. She caressed his scarred and muddy face. Other humans saw him as a hideous troll, a sub-human mythical animal. To Tina, he was the most handsome man in the world.

With 15 seconds left to the five-minute mark, she closed her eyes and kissed him. The sorceress didn’t say how long the kiss should be, Tina hoped–-prayed to all the Gods of good and evil–that she would hit that magic moment of Six by sixty.

She leaned back, holding tight to his callused hand, and prayed again.

Slowly, his dark green color began to return. His chest rose. Gently at first, but as her tears fell onto his cheeks, the rhythm became stronger.

Quod’s eyelids opened. His beautiful yellow eyes began to glow.

“Quod? Are you…” Her voice choked in her throat as the words caught.

“Tina, my love.” He squeezed her hand. “We’re free.”

-End-

 

Nonagad: Chapter 9- Temp Finale.

 OK, I’m bailing on this story. It’s lingered too long in my head and the minions that run the movies in there seem to have lost interest.

 Possible endings are as follows:

 Regardless of the ending, Zack sent a team of raiders to the north side of the village to climb the cliff and take the Rook tower. He suspected correctly, that side of the tower would be unguarded.

1) The tribe takes over Home and Ellie assists. Her artificial Intelligence, (AI,) decides that the tribe’s people are better equipped mentally and more physically diverse to keep the town and her systems going. There’s a fight scene, people die, Charlie has to end his father’s life in a similar fashion to how his Uncle died. Very brutal, very touching…

2) Home’s forces successfully fight off the invasion with Ellie’s help. Maybe a big gun hiding in the Rook Tower’s broken clock face. Yes I know I never introduced a broken clock in the tower, should have thought of it sooner. Also big fight scene, blood, carnage, blah-blah-death.

3) Unseen ending. If I continued to write it, only God and the minions in my mind know what would have happened. I think I over thought this story. It was supposed to be short.

The original idea:

 Abandoned military lab which was used to research Nano-bot technology goes into disrepair after some unknown global event. Most likely caused by humans. Ellie is the mainframe that runs the facility and controls the entire base. The Nano-bots are distributed through water she produces. Her people, and those she wants to scan, drink it and she can tell everything about them in addition to being able to control many of their bodily functions.

The invasion was supposed to be thwarted by the bots being ingested by the invaders. The problem was I started to like them and dislike the town’s people. Lost my thread, sorry for anyone who got invested. Pick and ending an let your imagination play it out for you.

Sorry again.

PS. Oh yeah, the name. Nano-God. Played with the letters. Ooo, I’m so witty. They can’t all be gems.