Lonely Pilgrim, Long Road

Winter. Frozen earth crunches beneath my boots. My breath lingers in front of my face. And the wind is bitter cold.

Bare branches reach heavenward in prayer to the blanket of clouds that promises a blessing of snow. The faintest strip of grass demarks the roadway from the woods, yet the road leads me on.

Better days I’ve left behind me. My pack is heavy on my shoulders; my soles are worn to nothing. Perhaps better days will come in the miles ahead.

Wherever I stop, people ask me where I’m going. The road is here; I’m going to follow it.

Written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-49. Image: Young hiker @ Gibson Ranch Regional Park. CC2.0 photo by Ray Bouknight.

Advertisements

Starfall

From the day of her debutante ball, there was war in the hillsides of Darlington county. The battlefield was upper crust bachelordom; the prize, Estella.

Even when we were children, I knew she was special. With her Gram’s name, her mama’s land, and her daddy’s fortune, the man to claim her heart would rule the country club set.

All the belles were dressed in the colors of the season. Gold, scarlet, persimmon; they danced and swirled like the leaves in the wind beneath the spreading oak trees, before the white columns and black shutters of Starmont plantation.

Estella smiled politely at my lone rival, then winked in my direction. The battleground had been washed clean by the tears of the also-rans. With that alluring bat of her eyelashes, I was certain of my victory.

I never noticed her dark horse suitor, the waiter with the hors d’oeuvres tray, standing next to me.

Written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-48, where the prompt was Gone with the Wind, including a man v. man conflict, and a plantation owner’s daughter. Image: Oak Alley Plantation. CC2.0 photo by Corey Balazowich.

Until the End of Time

Ever since toddlerhood, when Maria opened every tuna tin, and Purrsia anointed Maria her true master, the two had shared a special bond. Maria knew the spot behind the ears where her fluffy feline loved to be scratched, and Purrsia knew Maria’s every mood.

From dim childhood memories into the bright shining future, time marched relentlessly. Tock forever follows tick, and tick tock. Little girls become young women, take fancy to young men, and promise forever. Little kittens become fat old cats, and shed fur on fancy dresses. It was the way of the world: predictable as the sunrise, everlasting as words carved in stone, unavoidable as bullets from a gun.

Maria held the hymnal open, but her blue eyes rolled off the blurred lyrics. The words failed to focus, like writing in a dream. So she mouthed along silently to the somber organ music, swaying like a metronome to the steady measure of the choir.

Alone in a crowded church, when she meant to be front and center and wearing white. Instead, her dress and veil were black like the preacher’s vestments. The sound of gunshots haunted her waking dreams. Purrsia had cuddled in her lap all morning, kneading, rubbing her whiskers sympathetically against her longtime master. White furs intertwined with black fabric such that tears could not wash them away.

The sun set beneath the stone-strewn hillside, and her heart sank into the ground. Maria had always believed there would be new sunrises, but in this marble garden she had seen her future end.

Written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-46, where the novel prompt of the week was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This story includes an odd cat (all cats are odd) and a theme of death. The rather neat image prompt is “Alice in Wonderland: White Rabbit – Who Killed Time?” CC2.0 photo by Brandon Warren.

Never the Bride

There he stands, by the preacher, oceanside. Immaculate tuxedo and perfect blond hair glowing with sunlight.

White dress. White gloves. Lanolin smooth skin. Her cherry lips quiver. Today they would tie the knot on the shores of this island paradise. My revenge on her will be black as its sands, treacherous as its tides.

How green his eyes! Like the hills of the Emerald Isle. We were so young and innocent, he and I. Together we kindled a flame that burns my heart like the devil’s brand.

Struggle all you want; the knot won’t come untied. No one can hear you. A shame to stain red such a lovely dress, but honey, you can’t have him. He’s mine.

Written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-45, whose theme was Moby Dick. This story is set on an island, and includes an overall theme of revenge. Image is Naufragos/Shipwrecked. CC2.0 photo by Luis Marina.

Against the Undertow of Deep Time

“I’ve cheated death!” As the negentropic field faded, Darien surveyed the lava tube. His eyes widened. How long?

“Nadine?!”

It was far too late. A magma flow had crashed through the wall untold ages ago, crushing her negentropy field. Even her bones had long since turned to dust. Thousands of years? Millions? The Pu-224 power core — half-life 80 million years — felt cool against his hand.

Climbing out of the lava tube, Darien saw waves crashing upon a barren shoreline. No advanced civilization here. No cure. No utopia. No happily ever after. Blackness pressed against his eyeballs. He gasped. There was no oxygen!

“I’ve cheated only myself.” He collapsed to the eroded shore. Salty waves washed away his tears. “You win.”

Written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-45, whose theme was Moby Dick. This story includes a man vs. nature conflict, and an overall theme of the power of nature. Image is Naufragos/Shipwrecked. CC2.0 photo by Luis Marina.

Galaxyrise

Tearful eyes watched as the spiral arms of the Milky Way vanished into the distance. “Oh, Liksandr!” She fell into her husband’s embrace. “Why?!”

Liksandr gazed through the transparent wall of the orb at the ethereal glow of the EM-drive. “The Tronic Progeny work in mysterious ways,” Liksandr muttered bitterly. Titan was one of the safest worlds, yet occasionally the metal-bodied Progeny swooped down from the smog-covered skies, kidnapping humans, hurtling them across the cosmos in translucent vessels for reasons unknown.

“Andromeda.” Zabesh wiped away tears. “Two million light-years in minutes.”

“And two million years back home.” Aalemi. Everyone they knew on Titan. “Dust to dust.” Those reviled descendants of the first robots, the Progeny had far surpassed their creators. Man had spread to a thousand worlds, and was on every one a slave.

“We’ll never know Aalemi’s future,” it dawned on the grieving mother. “Never see her marry. We’ll have to start anew. Just us.”

“Us and the Progeny.” Liksandr spoke the name like a curse.

As Andromeda loomed large in their vision, a projected hologram appeared.

“Aalemi?” Zabesh wept again to see her daughter.

“We beat you here by five centuries!” Aalemi smiled. “So much has changed! Oh…” Aalemi’s hologram stepped aside. A metallic spherical body entered the projection. “Mom, Dad,” she embraced the spheroid. “I’m married!”

Written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-44. The novel prompt was Pride and Prejudice, and this story… has very little to do with that prompt. But there is a mother anxious to marry off her daughters, and an overall theme of family. Image of the Andromeda galaxy is public domain from Pixabay.

Two Old Top Dogs of War

Swords drawn, armor polished, we face off across the manicured lawn. Two sovereigns who each would rule the world. Today that quest will end for one of us.

From a ragtag band of savages, I built an empire. Armed with a machete, i hewed paths through dense jungles. I turned game trails through mythic woodland into cobblestone roads. Always on the move, searching, conquering.

Move. Countermove. At every turn I find her waiting. My equal and opposite: if I am king, then she is my queen, and I her most reviled foe.

The castle walls stand stout against the onslaught of her armies. With chisel and hammer I cut these stones, then mortared into place. These walls have served me well. Every day I sat upon a gilded throne, plotting to outflank her. Each night I payed tribute in her temple, then prayed that her ambitions would not spell my doom.

In her eyes, I see something familiar. Fatigue. Despair. Like all great sins, our lust for power imprisons us. Today, thrust willy-nilly into battle, the quest will end for one of us. Swords drawn, we face off across the lawn. Two sovereigns who rule the world, but not ourselves.

Written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-43. The novel prompt was Shakespeare’s classic play Macbeth, with a theme of the dangers of power and a setting of a castle. Photo is Inverness Constabulary Dog Handlers, 1969. CC2.0 photo by Dave Conner.

Forever After

“Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful princess who met a handsome prince.”

For Suzie, visiting Gramma’s house is a special treat. Gramma never travels: Daddy says she’s been shut-in since the Reagan administration. But she and Suzie always have a smile for each other.

“One moonlit night, as spring lingered in the air, the princess climbed out her window. Down, down, down the tower she climbed to meet her prince.”

Starry-eyed Suzie listens to Gramma’s fairy tale.

“There, in back of an enchanted bulldozer, the prince and princess expressed their love for one another. But the prince’s foot slipped, releasing the parking brake. Downhill rolled the bulldozer… crash! …into the castle.”

Now Suzie’s eyes are wide.

“The king was livid! Veins bulged in the king’s throat as he shouted at the young princess, pronouncing his royal punishment…”

“And that, dear Suzie, is why to this day, Gramma is not allowed out of her room.”

Written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-42, where the novel prompt (appropriately enough) was The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, written by the late Dentarthurdent Douglas Adams. Prompt topics include a theme of foolishness, and a setting of a house about to be destroyed. (Or having been about to will be destroyed, if I’m using my time travel tenses correctly.) Photo is CC2.0 by Maureen Didde.

All Rise for the Popular Verdict

“Woe unto Babylon!” The man in black stood atop a fiberglass boulder, pointing an accusatory finger towards the painted horizon. “You have given yourselves to carnal pleasures and bloodlust!”

I ran past a thatch hut. With luck, this clueless preacher would distract the audience just long enough. “Twenty seconds,” the producer announced in my earpiece. Fleeing toward the fake jungle, I counted each footfall. “One… one… thou-sand… Two… one… thou-sand…”

“Revel not in immorality! Reject this Hollywood gaud and gore!” This was criminal reality TV: only one contestant survived each episode. As a murder suspect, I was surely the underdog. If I survived the first commercial break, I could plead innocence and play for audience sympathy. A million dollars could buy a decent attorney.

“Fifteen… one… thou-sand…” Then I crashed into another contestant cowering behind a plywood log prop. She was a woman, just a girl, but eight months pregnant.

Agonizing wails came from the village: the preacher, whatever his crime, had met his fate. Tears filled her eyes when she heard the man’s screams.

I sighed and raised my hands. “Oh, fine. I confess!” As the hidden dartguns targeted me for execution, I wished the woman luck.

Written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-41. The novel prompt was Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, with characters including a young man accused of murder, a pregnant woman, and the setting of a wealthy city in moral decline. Image: View in Village of Adarranu near the Black Volta, 1890s. CC photo. National Archives UK, “Africa Through a Lens” project.