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—-“

 

 

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-

 

5_The Leprechaun’s Secret. NYC Midnight round 2. Group 5.

My entry for the second round of the NYC Midnight Short Story challenge. I was given these parameters:

Heat 5 – Fantasy / Dancing / A repossessor.

Feel free to comment.

 

Synopsis: Eamon is a down-on-his-luck leprechaun working as a repossessor for the Great and Powerful Oz. At the risk of his own life, he must find a way to help the oppressed citizens of the Enchanted Forest.

 

“You leprechauny bastard, gimme back my shoes.”

With no choice but to comply, or be stomped into a puddle of green mush, Eamon returned the golden slippers to the dwarf.

“Aye lad,” Eamon said as he put them down. “Pay the Wizard his due or I’ll be coming again.”

As he turned to disappear into the cabin’s shadows, away from the flickering orange glow of the fire, he said with a warning, “And tell that pretty lassie you and your half-human brothers perform with, they’re all late too. Pay up or go back to working the mines.”

Eamon returned to the castle to report his failure, even though the Wizard would already know. He was always watching in a crystal ball, magic mirror, or whatever evil thing he had inherited when the Wicked Witch had died.

At first, the citizens of the Enchanted Forest had been over-joyed that she was gone. Eamon himself had sung many a verse, ending with the joyful refrain,

“The witch is dead. Which old Witch? The wicked witch.”

Unfortunately, the Enchanted Forest’s current siege was far worse than anything the late “Wicked” Witch had ever imposed.

***

Eamon had spent most of his pot of gold on rum to celebrate the Enchanted Forest’s freedom. What he didn’t drink away he’d spent betting on bull-dragon riding. He lost a bundle on a troll named Quod, but that’s a story for another day.

Because of the siege, Eamon was reduced to using his talent for stealth, and overall orneriness, in the employ of the Wizard, the great Oz. Eamon had become the Wizard’s most trusted bagman and repossessor, collecting fees and taking back magical objects that the enchanted kingdom’s inhabitants could no longer afford.

The first job was easy, Eamon snatched two pure white stallions from the Cinder girl after they were transformed back into mice. Although they weren’t all bad. There was a joyful ending when the town of Hamelin’s children suddenly returned after he repossessed a silver flute from their piper. But happy results were very uncommon, rarer than a munchkin getting up on a horse without a ladder.

As the years passed, and the jobs became more personal, he felt his soul slipping away. His tasks grew progressively harder and his skin thickened as his empathy for those he collected from grew. He took the last few coins from people and creatures trying to hold onto their dreams and if they couldn’t pay, he’d take the dreams.

Eamon blamed himself for his predicament. If he didn’t drink and gamble away his gold, he wouldn’t be forced into a life of servitude to the Wizard. Eamon didn’t have any friends or anywhere else to go, but at least at the castle, he was warm, dry, and well fed. And to a lonesome leprechaun who spent his days reclaiming the hopes of the desperate, there’s nothing that could beat passing the evening away in the company of an equally lonely sorcerer with an unlimited supply of booze, and the resolve to try to drink it all in one sitting. Eamon was sad, but content.

***

He was comfortable in his misery until the morning he was sent by the Wizard to collect the shoes of a family of dwarves.

Their entire lives the seven brothers had spent their days working in the mines. They were happy to sing their song as hi-ho, off-to-work they’d go. Until the day they rescued a young maiden whose skin was rumored to be white as snow.

She told them that they didn’t have to risk their lives underground; they could dance joyously in the sunshine and make their living as a traveling company.

The brothers were not convinced.

Possessing bodies that, at best, could be described as the short, fat, and heavy-of-foot variety, they were easily discouraged.

The Wizard heard of her plan and offered to help. For the “low monthly payment” of twenty pieces of silver, they could wear slippers, made of rare feather-gold, which would make their movements swift and graceful. The maiden convinced the dwarves to sell their tools as a down payment and accept the offer. She didn’t know that by taking his deal, she doomed them to a harsher life than any they’d had in the earth’s dark recesses.

Satisfied customers weren’t what the Wizard wanted. Desperate junkies for more magic were what kept him in power. All of his deals had side-effects. Whatever the ability acquired, it always cost more than was bargained for.

In the case of the dwarves, as long as they wore the slippers, they would lose weight. They were slowly dancing themselves to death unaware that twice the normal calories were required to fuel the magical ability.

Snow and the Seven, as they were called, were very popular. Unfortunately, their fans were even poorer than they were, so the troupe couldn’t make enough money to keep themselves fed, and pay the Wizard.

Eamon knew about the veiled side-effects. When the piper fell behind on his payments, he’d figured it out. Although the flute was originally to help the piper earn a living catching rats, the longer he played, the larger the beings that followed him became. The children’s disappearances were what gave away the hidden costs. Eventually the piper found a way to begin paying on time, but Eamon devised a way to hide this from the Wizard. Eamon would collect the silver and throw it into a deep well that he knew was dark to the sorcerer’s magic eyes. Eventually, Eamon was ordered to take back the flute. Freeing the children was the one good thing he could do. No one would ever know. No one could ever know. That secret happiness kept him alive, and had kept him hoping that one day he’d get another opportunity to make something right.

With Snow and the Seven, Eamon had found that chance. He overheard the townsfolk’s excited talk of when the Seven were scheduled to visit their small villages. Spurned by the public, his ability to hide in the smallest of shadows, even in the bright open air of a town square, allowed him to eavesdrop on many conversations he secretly wished he would be included in. And although he’d never met the girl, nor seen the brothers perform, he knew they brought hope for freedom from the Wiazard’s tyranny to those who watched them dance.

He didn’t know when or how, but he knew he had to find a way to help keep that joy coming to those dark, impoverished communities. He just needed to be patient.

The dancing brothers were uneducated pick swingers; they were followers, not leaders. He was purposely clumsy on his failed attempt to snatch a pair of the shoes from Happy Dwarf–although the name no longer seemed appropriate, as a grumbling stomach and the inability to silence it rarely left someone in a good mood. Eamon had been hoping to meet the girl. She was the key. He needed her so he could help them.

One evening he challenged the Wizard to a drinking game. They drank heavily, playing a game that came as naturally to the wee-folk of the forest as a wood-nymph leaving a trail of glitter behind as she flies through the trees. The next morning the Wizard would be sleeping off a hangover and wouldn’t be watching over his trusted repossessor’s collections. Eamon left early to try to catch Snow before she left. She didn’t need to wear the shoes to float like an angel, that left her with enough energy to work as a cleaning girl to make extra money.

His gamble paid off, she was just leaving when he arrived at her home in the woods.

“Aye lassie, you know who I be?”

Startled, she eyed Eamon suspiciously.

“Yes. I know of you, although I never wished for us to actually meet. What can I do for you?”

Eamon was taken aback. What can she do for me? Nobody had ever asked him that.

“Aye then, if you know of me, you may think you know why I’m here. Believe me or not lass, I’m here to help. Those dwarf dancers bring a lot o’ joy to the people. I don’t want to see that end because those boys waste away to nothing’”

Now it was Snow’s turn to be surprised by what was said.

“You. Want to help. Us?”

“Aye, lass. There’s something you should know about the shoes, a detail that great Wizard left out of your deal. Nobody can ever know how you found out, or I’ll be deader than that old witch who used to rule these lands.”

“Why? What do you want in return?”

“Nothing, lass. Just keep them dancing. They bring happiness to an otherwise miserable place. Now no more questions or the deal’s off and I just go in and take the shoes. Got it?”

“Please, don’t take the shoes. If they have to go back to work in the mines, they’ll die. They don’t have the strength or the tools anymore. Please don’t take them. Whatever you want, I’ll agree to it.” She dropped her bag of rags and soap. Her eyes welled with tears.

“Calm yourself, lassie. I already said I only want one thing. Nobody can know what I tell you. Ever. If he finds out, I’m done for. He’ll get an unthinking ogre to make his collections. Or he’ll bring those monkeys back. Ain’t nobody got time for that.”

He told her what she needed to do. She kept her word.

***

Seasons came and went. Snow and the Seven became more popular than ever. Because they no longer wore the feather-light shoes, and returned to eating as they had before, they were easily able to pay their due and still have enough left for all their needs.

The Wizard never learned the truth. They paid on time, so he eventually lost interest in them and found other poor souls to torment.

Years after Snow and Eamon had their chat on her doorstep; she received news of the leprechaun’s passing. Her friend, Happy Dwarf, asked her why she wept for the evil repossessor of dreams. She told him of their talk, of how the little man who everyone shunned was really a good man doing a very hard job.

“Happy,“ she said to the dwarf whose name now matched his disposition, “Eamon came to me the day after you caught him taking your shoes.”

“I tried to step on him, but didn’t have the strength to get up,” said Happy.

“That’s right. That was because of the shoes. Once you stopped wearing them, you all got better. We got better.”

“But we still wear them. I have them on right now.” He stood deftly on one foot, holding the other in a perfect arabesque a la seconde stance to show her.

“No, Happy. You don’t. You and your brothers haven’t for years. I made those to look exactly like the Wizard’s shoes. They weren’t magic. They were cursed. I’ll tell you what Eamon said the morning after he let you catch him.” After swearing her friend to secrecy, she told him the leprechaun’s secret.

Eamon had told her about the Wizard’s many drinking games, and of the two things that happen when two lonely drunks drink.

“First, they tell secrets and, second, they forget they tell secrets.”

The human Wizard made the mistake of thinking he could outdrink a leprechaun. Especially a lonely clover looking for redemption.

The Wizard told Eamon the story of Dorothy and her friends. How he was able to grant them their dreams by doing nothing more than showing them their desires were within them all along.

“Take away the magic shoes,” Eamon said, “without anyone knowing you’re taking them and they’ll get better.”

Then he told her the most important thing he’d learned working under the con-man turned Wizard.

“The magic isn’t the magic, it’s the side effect.”

A Ghost’s Story: Chapter 9.2

A Ghost’s Story: Chapter 9.2

By: Wayne Hills.

‘Coming to you from Warner Brother’s studios…’

 Sidekick Andy Richter begins another nightly episode of, Conan, the same way he has for decades in the living world, as he will for eternity in ours. Sitting in my familiar recliner in the living room of our home, chubby dachshund Lola on my lap, apprehension overwhelms me as I glance toward my wife. Why I am afraid of what I might see puzzles me. Inexplicably, I’m relieved to see that Suzie is knitting her endless ball of yarn into the ‘Never Ending Story’ of sweaters, just as I expected. The garment never got bigger, the wool never smaller, but I can tell she’s content just working away.

But I’m not content; something pulls at my memory.

Why do I think her project is never going to end?

I watch as her hands nimbly work the long slender needles in her fingers; the soft but surprisingly strong digits I’ve held a thousand times. Her right index deftly pulls the yarn from the ball, slips it over the top of the shiny pink needle, and then quickly, almost imperceptibly, transfers it onto the left hand tool to become a knitted stitch. Or a pearl, one is over the stick, the other under I think. She knows, that’s all that matters to me. Her happiness, her safety, that’s all I care about in life.

Yet there’s something more, a tinge in the back of my mind. Something isn’t done, I have left something incomplete. There’s unfinished business outside.

 Outside? Why would I need to go outdoors?

I stand and walk to door.

I look back at my wife; her gaze alternates between the work in her hands and the TV screen.

“Suzie, I need to check on something outside. I think I left the hose running.”

I don’t know what else to say. I have to go to finish what I’ve started. Even though I’m not sure what it is, I can’t ignore it and stay.

At least I know Suzie will be safe and happy.

Why would I think otherwise? It matters that I feel this way, but I don’t know why.

“I’ll be back my love, don’t worry about me.” I say as I reach for the doorknob.

“OK dear.” She replies without looking at me.

My hand hovering over the knob, I stop, turn, and go back to her. I kneel before her so that she has to look into my eyes.

“Suzie.”

“Auggie?”

“You know I’ll love you always and forever, don’t you?”

“Of course Auggie, don’t be weird.”

I kiss her and hold our lips together for one long breath. I lean back.

“You’ll be all right without me for a while. I’ll be back.” I mean it and know in my heart it is true, but at the same time I am afraid. I don’t know why I have to go or what it is I will do once I leave. I just have to leave.

“I told you not to be weird,” she smiles as she reaches up; I feel the warmth of her fingers touch my cheek. “You know I love you too, I’m just not a nerd about it. Now go shut off that hose, Conan has some good guests tonight.”

She returns to her knitting as I walk to the door.

As I step through the opening, a thought occurs to me, ‘I wonder if Doc’s found his eye yet. ‘

——-End———

A Ghost’s Story: Chapter 9.1

A Ghost’s Story: 9.1

I find Doc outside attempting to rearrange the misplaced parts of his legs. I notice his jaw has reappeared, as well as some more of his, still incomplete, arm.

“Doc, I’ve got to tell you I was a little disappointed with you. I’m hoping that you knew I’d be safe in her bubble.”

“Yes, Auggie, I said you were special. None of the others can leave of their own accord. They must be drawn out or have you with them. I knew that if she went inside, she wouldn’t be able to get out.”
“But why did she want me in there? Her plan was to trap me inside.”

“Her plan was to shred you inside. You would be trapped and out of the picture. That’s what she wanted. If she were to cut you up out here, you would simply return to your home bubble.”

“So Roger and Lucy are okay?”

“They’re safe, I’m sure of it. Roger’s probably getting a lap dance right now completely oblivious to the adventures they’ve been on.”

“But why did you stay here and just float around in pieces?”

“I don’t have a home. When I died I just stayed where I was murdered. I have always been most comfortable in the uncharted space between the living world and this one.”

When he finished putting his legs in order, I helped him up.

“What do I do now Doc? Can I trust you?”

“I know I owe you an explanation Auggie, I’ll do the best I can.”

He told me about the murder of his parents and the hypnotic suggestion put into his impressionable young mind. He told me an eerily familiar story, about seemingly benign strangers asking for help on a rainy night. He talked about his parent’s gory death at the hands of the caped man, and Theo Loddi’s murder from his. That night when he was a boy, Rita was a blond, and the man in the cape was the same man he saw through the tear between realities. When Doc came face to face with him, a moment before he was cut to pieces, he saw the man for what he really was. He saw the demon’s face and knew he couldn’t help them anymore. That’s why he tried to push me into the bubble. He didn’t think he could get Rita in, so he tried to protect me. He hoped I would think of something to help end this.

“Unfortunately, it’s not over, is it Doc? He’s still with the living. He’s still killing.”

“You’re right, he is. We have to try again to stop him; we have to build an army. I’ll get Roger and Lucy back.”

“How, they’ll remember everything that happened to them once they’re outside. Do you really think they’ll try again?”

“We don’t have a choice, there’s nobody to help the living but us.”

“Okay, but I need to go home first. I have to see if Suzie is all right. The last time I saw her…” I had to pause, the horrific image of the last time I was with her still terrified me. “Frankly I miss her.”

“I’ll gather the rest of myself back together and I’ll call on you when I’m ready. Auggie; you go see your wife.”

We shook hands and we parted ways. He to gather an army, and me to see my love.

A Ghost’s Story: Chapter 8.2

A Ghost’s Story: 8.2

 I have a plan, not a great plan I’ll admit, not even a whole plan I’ll confess, but I have to get Rita away from my home, and give Doc some time to literally pull himself back together.

I begin by talking to Rita without any intent other than denying her the opportunity to interrupt, I side-step away from my bubble in the opposite direction from where we had come.

“I’m willing to help you but I don’t know exactly what it is you expect from me. I’m obviously out of my league here, and you have this all figured out. I’m just concerned with what would happen to my wife, Suzie. She doesn’t know anything about what’s going on out here.”

“I told you alread…” Rita tries to cut me off; I keep talking.

“Yes, I know how you feel about marriage and death, but she will always be my wife. After all we were put here together, just like Roger and Lucy were. That must mean something in the grand scheme of things.”

The mention of Roger strikes a nerve, she raises her blade. Quickly, I change the subject.

“It’s crazy here isn’t it? I never was a religious man, didn’t believe in life after death. Still don’t really, I mean this isn’t really life is it?”

I continue to talk, trying not to babble or repeat myself. I go on about her and her love, and how similar they are to Suzie and me. I talk about what it’s like for us in the bubble, being careful to leave out the details about how we got there. I don’t ask any questions, or say anything that will require a reply from her. Amazingly, it works and she follows me away from my home, and the slowly dispersing Roger and Lucy. Rita turns when I turn, walks where I walk. Somewhere along the way, her silver blade reverts back to normal and her demeanor lightens. Maybe all that time waiting for her unnamed lover made her lonely for some regular conversation.

Before she even notices what’s happening, we’re back by her bubble. I steal a glance behind, and as I hoped, Doc’s disjointed mass has followed us.

His pieces have come together to form a semblance of his normal shape. Although there are a few pieces that seem to have not found their way back in place, he has the overall look of a broken vase that had been glued back together, badly. Gaps between his extremities make it obvious where Rita’s sword had sliced him. His right eye, chin, and left bicep are missing; although the rest of that arm seems to be floating in generally the proper position. It also appears that several pieces of his legs are swapped onto the wrong side. They don’t seem to bend in the right directions, he appears bowlegged.

When Rita finally notices where we had walked, her reaction isn’t what I expected.

“Auggie,” she says with surprising calmness. “Are we back at my home?”

“Yes Rita.” I see no point in lying about it. “I brought you home. You were at peace in there don’t you remember?  That’s all any of us want isn’t it.”

I try to stay calm, soothing. I need to maneuver her into a position near her bubble in order to get her inside. I have to convince her that she wants to go back.

Yet another glaring hole in my plan that has yet to have a plug present itself.

“Rita, do you remember how you were when I first met you?”

“Yes, I was waiting for a client. That person turned out to be you.”

“That’s right. I came into your home,” more like a lair actually. “And you greeted me as if I should have known why I was here. But what I meant was, how were you feeling? You seemed calm to me, happy almost, isn’t that right? You were serene.”

She thought about this for a moment before answering.

“Yes. Yes, I liked it in there.”

“And now that we’re all out here, you’re life, sorry, existence is in chaos. Don’t you want to be at peace?”

She appeared to be thinking about it, but it’s taking too long.

I glance sideways, trying to get a better look at Doc. I’m shocked to see him running towards us. At first I thinks he’s going to try to push Rita into her bubble, but at the last second he turns towards me!

“Doc! What the hell?”

I move just in time for him to miss me, he bounces off Rita’s home and falls to the side.

“You missed him Doctor!” Rita screams at him as he’s lying on the ground. I knew you were useless. Her silver arm is back, although this time it has the shape and size of a samurai sword. She easily decapitates the remnants of Doc’s head and kicks it away from his flailing body.

“His purpose has already been fulfilled, he delivered you to me. I kept him around in case he could be of some use, I guess I was wrong.”

Turning back to me, her arm revert to normal.

“That was a very nice speech, Mr. O’Neil. You’re right in that I was peaceful. But only because I am very patient; have been my whole existence. The anticipation of the fun we’d have together would rip me apart otherwise.”

“You knew I was leading you here, and you still came, why”

“I don’t know, just toying with you. I also wanted to see what that quack doctor would do. I’ve had him on my hook for thirty years. Wanted to see if he’s still loyal.”

She starting laughing at the fallen doctor. He managed to find his head and had placed it back in its proper location. He was trying to stand, but his mismatched legs weren’t cooperating. He slid around on the ground, each attempt at rising thwarted by his inability to get solid footing. His outstretched hand is floating in mid-air, reaching towards Rita for help. Disgusted, I walked over to him.

“Stop, where are you going?” Rita screamed.

“I’m going to help him. Whether his intention was devious or not, I can’t let him suffer like this.”

“He was going to end you. If he pushed you in, you’d be trapped.”

If she just wants to finish me, she could chop me up like Roger and Lucy.

An idea came to me. Everything I’d learned in this realm, told me she was wrong. Doc had been right about me being unique. I could enter and leave other bubbles, and still come back out. I had to call her bluff.

“Why does that matter Rita? Why do you want me locked in your home?”

She hesitated. It wasn’t a long pause, just enough for me to detect a line of bullshit was imminently approaching.

“Because that’s the plan, always has been. You get locked in there and I can go back.”

“Really, go back to the living? I don’t see how that’s possible. You’re dead, I’m dead, Doc’s all hacked up, but still dead. I think you’re lying Rita. I don’t think you want me in there, I think Doc went rogue, and you were just as surprised as I am that he tried to push me.”

I jumped in to her bubble. As I dissolve through the surface, Rita’s screaming confirms I made the right choice.

Back in the tidy basement, I’m not sure what will happen next. I decide I need a drink as I wait so I pour a shot of Rita’s firewater and sip the burning liquid.

I’m surprised when I hear Doc knocking and calling to me as he had when I sat in my own home with Suzie.

“Calling the spirit of August O’Neil. This is Doctor Jordan Bukowski, are you there spirit?”

What the hell is he doing? He’s knows I’m in here.

I stomp my foot once, same way that we started all our conversation back when I was in my own home.

“August O’Neil, come outside and see me.”

I have no doubt that this is a trap. I wonder if Doc’s whole face is back, or if his tongue is just flapping around in the ether. The only way I’ll be able to tell for sure is to go out there, and that’s not going to happen. But maybe I can take a peek?

I move closer to the wall, as I hold my hands and face close to the surface, they start to dissolve. As they begin to move towards the outside, I carefully shift my weight, I must maintain my balance inside Rita’s room.

I’ve always just stepped right through bubbles without pausing, this time though, I’m going to try to slide just my face through. If I’m right, I’ll be able to see what was going on out there.

As my eyes begin to melt through the swirling wall, I’m surprised that although my vision is blurry, I can still see fairly well. I hear the doctor’s voice calling to me as my view of the outside world clears.

The Doc is still lying on the ground, where he’d fallen when his attempt at knocking me into the orb had failed. He still didn’t have a jaw. The voice I heard calling to me was coming from Rita. She’s able to imitate the doc’s irritating séance voice perfectly.

Nice try bitch.

She continues to try to draw me out using Doc’s voice. Even though I can see her, she doesn’t notice that I’m here. The missing part of my plan finally presents itself.

As she moves around the bubble calling for me to come out, I wait for her to get close to where I’ve stopped moving through the thin wall between us.

When she passes by me on her way around, I reach out and grab her long overcoat by the lapels, and yank her back into the bubble with me.

She tries to struggle, but my surprise attack prevents her from stopping the momentum and she falls in on top of me. We tumble onto the cool linoleum. I slide across the floor ending up by the bar under the stairs; she stops with her back against the bed. We stare at each other as I wait in fear of her sword’s reappearance.

“Where are my manners? Would you like a drink handsome?”

Holy crap, it worked. She’s forgotten everything.

I quickly jump to my feet and rush over to help her up, hoping the gentlemanly gesture keeps her in the moment.

“No Miss, I have another engagement, thank you so much for the offer.”

I walk towards the stairs as I say goodbye.

“We’ve had a wonderful time; it’s been a very memorable evening. I wish you all the best.”

She tries to protest, to stop me, but I hurry up the stairs and back into the outside world.