Dayspring of the Gods

Torii Shrine by peaksignal. Read more about the shrine here.

From up close, the towering shrine rose to meet the vault of heaven. An aged monk with an ornate weapon stood guard.

“Halt! Who approaches?” The monk lowered his shakujō to block the path.

A wanderer in a threadbare cloak pointed to his eyepatch. “I am the one-eyed man, seeking the land of the blind.”

“Your beard is long, wanderer, and your walking stick well-worn. But your songs are sung even on this distant world… Odin.”

“You know the Allfather.” A statement, not a question. “My song magic is weakened. But my children on Earth desperately need wisdom. Let me travel through your gate.”

“My duty is to guard the world-gate from scoundrels and tricksters.” The monk lifted his shakujō. Steel glinted in red sunlight.

Then the red skies between the massive columns faded into clear blue skies of Earth as the shrine gate opened. “Your mission is worthy, Odin Allfather. But Earth people have grown clever in the centuries you’ve been away. Be subtle.”

The wanderer pulled the cloak of his disguise tight around him and stepped forward. “Worry not, fellow-beard,” he said with a glint in his eye. “I will be… low-key.”

The prompt for Fire&Ice 19/19 was to write a story of under 200 words based on the image above. This story also incorporated a mythical character and a non-Earth world.

Last Transmission From The Celebrity Chef Dispatched To A Small Blue Planet To Serve Man To Our Invasion Fleet

Joy. Pompidou Centre, Paris. CC3.0 photo by Rupert Menneer.

So cosmopolitan, this planet the natives call “La Terre”. Variety beyond comprehension! Baguettes, soupe à l’oignon, coq au vin, steak frites, crème brûlée: all this in one building of one city! It’s called “restaurant” — one visit will restore your faith in the gastronomic gods of the galaxy.

A being could spend a lifetime here; from what I’ve heard, most of the natives do. Come experience the “joie de vivre” that’s kept me coming back for 81 Terran years!

Bon appétit!

The Fire&Ice Sol 18/19 prompt was to write a story of exactly 81 words about the image above. The story had to include an interstellar visitor or a chef. (And yes, I clearly abused the “word count excludes the title” rule for the contest.)


Summer Joy. Black Sea: Odessa, Ukraine. CC2.0 photo by Dmitry Kichenko.

Snowflakes sting my face as I carry the last cardboard box out to the car. Curious, I open it to find a photo album, “Precious Memories” on the cover.

On the first page I see you, silhouetted in sunlight, on the day we met. You, a naiad dancing in the waters, and I tried to be your king. Oh, the things we did on that beach! Vodka. Peach schnapps. Orange and cranberry juice.

I don’t turn the page. This is the precious memory I want to carry with me. An image of a summer when love was hotter than the sun. When I knew with my heart and soul that you were the woman I would spend my life with.

The snow picks up. I give a final sad wave before driving away.

I’m sorry, my dear. I thought you were someone else.

The Fire&Ice Sol 17/19 prompt was to write a story of 140 – 150 words based on the image above, and including a mistaken identity.

Hands of Fate

Kids Sharing Love. photo by Aamir Mohd Khan.

I loathed the Academy students who called us the Weird Sisters. Yes, my sister’s name was Wyrd, pronounced “weird”, and she could be a space cadet, but no one knew what she’d been through.

And me? Moira was a normal name for the normal twin. I aced mathematics. The art teacher liked my penmanship. No one ever tagged me on the playground: I could outrun anyone.

I particularly hated the Headmaster. He and the faculty talked about us, but never acted. Because it would be easy to act on a black eye, or bruises. Easy if our father were the village drunk.

But our father was an Academy alumnus and donor, and words only scar on the inside.

When we met beautiful Surya, my sister was drawn to him like a magnet. Tall, dark, and handsome: Surya was the trifecta, and his reputation preceded him.

“You handle bullies?” my sister asked at lunch.

Surya nodded. “For a price.”

We each gave him a banana half. “It’s all we have,” I said. “It’s our father.”

When Surya returned our banana, Wyrd teared up, until he embraced her.

“This bully I’ll handle for free.”

Written for Fire&Ice Sol 16/19. This week’s prompt was to write a story of less than 200 words based on the image, including a progenitor or parent.


Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons / “Litchfield National Park (AU), Magnetic Termite Mounds — 2019 — 3728” / CC BY-SA 4.0

Once, long ago, humans predicted that only cockroaches would survive the coming apocalypse. There were two problems with this prediction. First, when the world burned in the global cataclysm, it was not as humans expected. Second, the great beneficiaries of humankind’s downfall were not cockroaches, but termites.

One after another, ruined human cities were reclaimed by thick forests. Into the forests moved the termite colonies. The colonies became mounds; the mounds, great cities. Generations of insects developed beliefs and culture, and recalled myths of great prehistoric giants who once ruled — and might again. A new termite civilization thrived atop the forgotten remains of the human world. But though human knowledge was obliterated, humans yet survived.

One day, into the midst of the termite city wandered a man. The man wondered at the mounds, so carefully architected, as the mound-builders scurried for safety. A spark of insight came to his mind. Termitekind could only watch in awe as the man worked stone, wood, and fire into primitive tools. Then he went into the forest — just as ancient termite philosophers predicted — and he built a wooden house.

Written for Fire&Ice Sol 15/19. The prompt was to write a story of 180 to 190 words based on the image, including something or someone foreseen.

The First Question

“Sampling Pit.” Atacama Desert, Chile. Photo by NASA Ames. Read description here.

One in a million.

That’s what I thought when I met Anna in Freshman Statistics. Half the class asked me homework questions, but never her. Mathematics. Biology. Geology. Everything came as naturally to Anna as a smile.

Though I earned high marks, after graduation one question lingered. Unanswered. Unasked.

They say your odds of making astronaut are one in ten thousand, but Anna had a future in mind. A vision of a new world.

So did I.

Now here we are on Mars. What are the odds?

What are my odds?

One in seven.

If I can just ask her that one question.

Written for Fire&Ice Sol 14/19. The prompt was to write a story based on the image above, of exactly 103 words, incorporating a statistician.

Bone Riders

“Hope.” Blue Whale. Natural History Museum, London. Photo by just-pics.

The biologist would struggle to classify our taxon, but we are familiar to the mythologist.

We are creatures of the night. We creep shadowy through graveyards where most fear to tread. Though we are not evil, we are reviled.

But we do not bring death. We await it

We try to avoid humans. Their revulsion is understandable, but we are what we are. We migrate from one bleached skeleton to the next, like hermit crabs from shell to shell. Our ethereal essence permeates the old bones, reanimates, gives them a second life.

Hic locus est ubi mors gaudet succurrere vitae.

~ ~ ~

These ocean waters are peaceful. My bone donor no doubt swam these depths in life.

(And whither the blue whale who once called these bones his own? Where goes the spirit once the flesh is gone?)

Now I, the ghost in the skeletal machine, swim the ocean solitary and wonder which is lonelier — death, or life in death?

Written for Fire&Ice Sol 13/19. The prompt was to write a story based on the image above, of 150 to 160 words, including a phrase in another language.

(Hic locus est ubi mors gaudet succurrere vitaetranslates as “this is the place where death delights to help the living.”)


Changing role patterns. Haarlem, The Netherlands. CC photo by Nationaal Archief. Find the description here

Bacon sizzled on the stove.

Noelle sat playing the crossword.

“How do you want your eggs?” Hugh asked.

“Same as ever. ‘Studious apartment.’ Starts with E.”

Hugh looked around the tiny apartment. “Efficiency? Breakfast is ready.”

They ate bacon, eggs, and burnt toast, straddling the rickety card table with their knees.

“Can you pick up Addy and Mark from school this afternoon?” she asked. “I picked up an extra shift at work.”

Hugh cleared the table as Noelle adjusted her overalls in the mirror. “You know things will change,” Hugh told her. “Once my business takes off, we’ll have new clothes, fancy breakfast foods…”

“A house with walls?” Noelle smiled, oblivious to the gray in Hugh’s hair, the years of wrinkles on his face. Their eyes met. “I love–”

Suddenly Hugh stood alone in an empty black space.

“Your simulation time has expired,” a voice announced.

“Already? Two thousand doesn’t buy what it used to.” He frowned. “Restart the simulation.”

“Mister, out of all possible simulations, why do you keep reliving this old memory?”

“Because I can, and I want to. Restart the simulation.”

Bacon sizzled on the stove.

Written for Fire&Ice Sol 12/19. This week’s prompt was to write a story about the image above, of less than 200 words, including a dollmaker.

Whispers in the Mouse’s Ear

Woman Pushes a WheelchairHitsujiyama Park, Japan. CC2.0 photo by Ajari.

Attic stairs and creaky floorboards were rainy afternoon fun for two adventurers. “Shh. Quiet, like a mouse!” They tiptoed to a wooden box. Dee lifted the lid to their treasure chest. “See? Mama keeps old dress-up clothes and stuff in this trunk.”

“What’s that chair in the corner?” asked her sidekick. “It has wheels.”

“Mama doesn’t like us playing with that. It’s Uncle Andy’s.”

“Uncle Who?” She pushed the chair; the wheels squeaked.

Dee’s attention was on the bounty of treasures before her. “He left before you were born, when I was little little. Mama said the chair was because of his sit-stick five-roses.”

“You remember him?” asked the littler sister.

“Uh-huh. Mama pushed him up the park hill one April. The flowers were all a-bloom, and we picked a bunch.” She found a floral straw hat. “See? He put the prettiest ones in the hatband. Then he gave it to me and told me never to forget him.”

“Those flowers are all dead.”

“Yeah,” Dee said with a sigh and a smile. “But you should’ve seen it, Drew. The sun was shining bright, and the flowers were so pink!”

Written for Fire&Ice: Sol 11/19. This week’s prompt was to write between 185 and 195 words about the image above, including an unexpected joy.