Cat’s New Gown

July 13, 2012

This #FridayFlash fic was written as part of a prompt call themed around saws, idioms and proverbs; inspired by a prompt by Zamdor: “Procrastination is the thief of time”

There was a sense of excitement all over the forest; the air seemed to vibrate with the expectations the animals had for the yearly Midsummer Ball. In every tree, den, and stream, the animals were getting ready for the big day, each in their own way. All of them had a task, each of them equally important, to make sure the day went off without a hitch.

Squirrel was in charge of the snacks, and was feverishly collecting every nut and acorn he could find to make sure there would be enough for everyone.

The birds, led by Blackbird, were in charge of the music, and practised for hours each day. Hearing their song was a reminder to all the animals of what would soon come.

Queen Ant and her children had been charged with preparing the glade where the Ball would be held, and scurried to and fro to blanket the ground with a soft, even layer of fresh pine needles. They enlisted the help of Hare, who stomped the needles flat with his strong feet, and once they were done, Sheep brought fragrant herbs from her meadow to scatter across the top of the blanket of needles.

Spider wove artful curtains to decorate the tree branches up above, and the fireflies saved their glow for a full week, to make sure it would be strong enough for the big day.

Moose wrote a speech, Bear and the bees made peace for once to provide the very best honey-mead to drink, and Otter collected clams for the carnivores to eat. Rabbit brought in carrots and lettuce for the herbivores, and all around, the animals kept busy.

That is, all animals except one.

Vixen had finished collecting wooly fibers together with Raven and Magpie, for the guests to rest their feet on between dances, and was ready to start thinking about how she was going to dress for the dance, but first, she wanted to check in on her best friend Cat. Cat had been charged with spinning fine wispy clouds to float around the Ball and give it the proper magical flair, and so far, Vixen had seen no clouds.

She found Cat dozing on a rock in the sun. “How are you doing with the cloud-spinning, Cat?”

Cat opened one yellow eye, and grinned at Vixen. “The Ball isn’t for another five days, Vixen. I’ll spin the clouds later.”

“Well, as long as you get done on time,” Vixen told her friend. “Just remember you need to finish your gown, too.”

“I have plenty of time,” Cat assured her, and lay back down with her tail across her nose.

So Vixen left her alone, and went to sew herself a nice new set of beaded black silk gloves and stockings. When she came back the next day, she once again asked Cat how the Ball preparations were going.

“Oh, don’t worry, Vixen,” Cat replied, and rolled over to let the sun warm her belly. “I have plenty of time yet.”

So Vixen left Cat alone, and went to finish the last few stitches on her new white silk scarf. The next day, Cat still thought she had plenty of time, and Vixen finished sewing her own ball gown, as delicate as new birch leaves. She was getting very worried about her friend, and went to ask Dog’s advice.

“Cat has always been lazy,” Dog said. “She doesn’t realize that time runs away from her when she’s lying in the sun. She’ll get the clouds spun last minute, like always.”

“But then Cat won’t have time to get her gown ready,” Vixen protested, heartbroken for her friend.

“Maybe then she will learn,” Dog replied. “You can’t force Cat not to squander her time, Vixen.”

“Maybe not,” Vixen sighed, and walked home, her heart heavy.

On the morning of the big day, Vixen walked past the Ball glade, and sure enough, everything was in place except for Cat’s clouds. Now Vixen was getting really worried for her friend, but when she found her friend, Cat was sitting on a tree stump washing her paws.

“It doesn’t take all day to spin some clouds, Vixen,” Cat purred. “No need to be in such a rush.”

“But what will you wear?”

“I’m sure I’ll have time to finish my new gown after I spin the clouds,” Cat said, yawning. “After my nap.”

Vixen could only sigh and shake her head, walking away to get dressed for the Ball. Maybe Dog had been right, and there was nothing she could do to help Cat.

As dusk fell, Nightingale took up the first haunting notes of the evening’s musical entertainment, soon joined by Blackbird, Starling, and Mockingbird. Frog and his cousins provided accompaniment, and soon all the animals were in the glade, laughing and dancing and enjoying themselves. Vixen was there in her new green gown, with her white scarf and black gloves, and she was relieved to see Cat had spun her clouds, which were floating wispily around Moose’s and Deer’s horns.

But nowhere did she see Cat enjoying herself, even though Cat loved the Midsummer Ball as much as all the other animals.

Finally, she found Cat outside the glade, curled up under a root crying.

“What’s wrong, Cat? Why aren’t you at the Ball?”

“I don’t have anything to wear,” Cat cried, and looked very ashamed. “You were right, I should have spun the clouds earlier!”

“Yes,” Vixen said, “you should have. Time doesn’t wait for your naps, Cat. But if you promise to do better next year, I have a surprise for you.”

Cat promised, and Vixen pulled out the most beautiful gown Cat had ever seen, the color of honey and wild clover.

“When did you have time to sew that gown?” Cat asked, stunned.

“You had time, too,” Vixen said. “If only you’d planned it a little better.”

Maybe Cat didn’t stop procrastinating entirely after that day, but at least she never again was the last one to finish her task for the Midsummer Ball.


Always Prepared

July 6, 2012

This #FridayFlash fic was written as part of a prompt call themed around saws, idioms, and proverbs; inspired by a prompt by Ysabetwordsmith:Eze mbe si na ihe ya ji-achiri ihe egwu ya aga njem bu maka ya ezu ndiegwu

“Hey, Millie, I’m going to the corner store; wanna come?” The moment he said it he knew it had been a mistake. For a moment, he’d thought more about how it’d be nice for her to get outside, than about the big production she was about to make of it. Shame on him.

“Oh, yeah, hang on, Rob, I just need to get a couple of things, okay?” Loose red-blonde wisps of hair pointing in every direction around her head, his girlfriend became a flurry of activity, and he went back into their shared flat with a sigh, to sit down while he waited.

Her legs, long and thin and pale, foalish and freckled, disappeared into a pair of cargo pants with more pockets than Scheherazade had stories. A matching vest was hung over her narrow shoulders. Had it only been the vest and pants, Rob wouldn’t have been so worried about Millie. She was entitled to wear what she wanted, after all, and that mildly anti-establishment tomboyish look was far from the worst she could have chosen.

“They’re only open another hour, Mil,” he remarked as she went to work loading up those endless pockets with objects that might come in handy. Not that he expected it to make a difference; Millie had her ritual and he should have known better than to ask her to come along on the three-minute-roundtrip walk to pick up a quart of milk.

“I’ll be right with you!” she promised, wiggling a compact first aid kit into one pocket on her vest. “Just a couple more things…”

And then she was off again, going through cabinets searching for a solution for every contingency, probably up to and including alien abduction and zombie attacks. Rob knew better than to suggest further disasters; it’d add another ten minutes, at least, to her prep time every time he made a remark about some far-fetched impossibility in jest. Been there, done that. Millie didn’t have much of a sense of humor when it came to her arsenal.

“Rob, where do we keep the cereal bars?”

Oh, lordy, she was worse than usual, today. “It takes like a minute to walk to the corner store, Millie. Nobody’s going to starve in the time it takes us to go there. Leave it.”

“But what if we get locked out?” Nevermind she had pocketed two sets of spare keys already, plus a cell phone that would be entirely sufficient to call a locksmith if they couldn’t get a hold of the building manager who lived down on the ground floor.

“We can pick up cereal bars at the shop, Mil.”

“They might be closed.” The way she was going on, it was starting to look like the least outlandish of her concerns.

“They won’t be closed.”

“But what if-” Oh, damn it, the poor girl looked close to tears. He really shouldn’t argue with her; it wasn’t as though she could help it.

“Sssh, it’s alright, Mil. I’ll get you a cereal bar.”


Rob closed his eyes and counted to ten. It was definitely better not to ask. “Alright, two. That’s it?”

“Yep!” She beamed at him, looking… so very normal. “Just gonna grab the umbrella and the water bottle!”

He hid his smile and shook his head. That girl… if MacGyver had travelled with Millie, he’d never have needed to fix an aircraft with a wad of chewing gum. Maybe that’s what he ought to do, sit her down in front of the TV a couple of nights and hope she picked up the notion of solving problems with a minimum of tools. It could work.

Once the cereal bars were safely stashed away in Millie’s pocket, they walked out the door, and she bounced on the balls of her feet as he locked the door three times. Three steps away from the door, and then he turned, raising his key towards the lock again. “Just gonna check the stove.”

Millie rolled her eyes. “You weren’t even cooking, Rob.” A quick glance at her watch. “The store closes in five minutes.”

And whose fault was that? “I’ll be quick.”

Millie watched her boyfriend’s back disappear through the doorway to their apartment, then turned and started down the steps. It was better not to argue with Rob’s ritual.


Killer in the Closet

June 29, 2012

This #FridayFlash fic was written as part of a prompt call themed around saws, idioms and proverbs; inspired by a prompt by Beetiger: “Too much stuff”

A horde of hungry eyes stared at Casey when the locksmith’s work was done and she opened the door. Green eyes, yellow eyes, a few blue eyes.

For a few moments all was quiet, then a pink, fanged maw opened beneath one pair of eyes, and released a terrible sound, the angry angry cry of a lap-sized cousin of a starved lion. It was followed by another one, then two more, and soon every single one of the carpet of cats waiting in the tiny hallway inside old Mrs. Gentlefellow’s front door. With a growl, she swept a couple of cats aside with the side of her foot, and managed to take a full step into the apartment before her brain registered the stench hanging in the air.

With a hard swallow, she reached up and adjusted her breathing mask. Bad enough the place was full of cats; she was going to be itching for a week at this rate. Not much to be done about it, though – she was here to find out if the smell that had bothered the old lady’s neighbor was a result of foul play or just a failure to keep up with those furry devils’ litter boxes.

Wistful thinking, of course.

There was no way, no matter how filthy, a litter box could smell like someone went to the butcher and forgot to put their purchase in the fridge. The best-case scenario was that the old bat had done just that and then went for a cruise in the Bahamas. Someone swore behind her; probably some poor technician trying to keep the cats from running out through the open door. God. Casey could not understand why anyone would want pets, and especially not pets like cats, with no practical utility.

But then, maybe that antipathy also had something to do with that pesky allergy thing she’d been dealing with all her life.

The kitchen, once she managed to wade there through the sea of hungry felines, showed no evidence of a shopping trip interrupted by a bout of scattered mental faculties. The counters weren’t clear, but at a glance none of the clutter piled onto them could explain the smell permeating the apartment. Knick-knacks, jars of all shapes and sizes, half of them the sort cookies or candies would come in at the supermarket. Crazy old ladies, saving everything for a rainy day.

Casey shook her head, tugging at the edge of her gloves. Might as well check the trash, too; nobody ever got a promotion by doing a hack job of an investigation.

Opening the cupboard under the old lady’s sink in search for the trash can, she found a newly-changed trash bag, and several cans of cat food, causing the chorus of her whiskered, fanged onlookers to redouble in volume. Maybe that was why the old lady was gone; Casey couldn’t see how anyone could stand that noise – thirty seconds and it was already giving her a headache. With a sigh, she pulled out one of the cans, hooked a gloved finger into the pull-ring on the lid, and opened it. Chunks of something with a cursory resemblance to meat in a gel-like, just as unappetizing sauce.

A plastic plate sat on the floor over in a corner, and she upended the empty can over it, drawing a hissing, yowling mass of famished animals to converge on the freshly-served meal. She was probably going to catch flak over it, changing the scene, but she couldn’t work with those beasts following her around singing an aria of desperate, primal hunger.

No sign of the old lady in the tiny bathroom.

Last chance. Casey proceeded to Mrs. Gentlefellow’s bedroom.

The coroner determined cause of death as blunt force trauma to the head, noting that most of the damage to the exposed parts of the woman’s body had been done postmortem. Those cursed, devilish cats, those pets the old woman had hoarded, hadn’t loved their mistress very much in death, it seemed.

A week later, one investigator was landed in the hospital with a concussion after opening another closet door in the old woman’s home, and the chain of events was official. There had been no burglars, no foul play, no material motive to be discerned.

Just a lonely old woman who’d collected too much stuff over the year, and whose hoarding had finally gotten the better of her.


The Star-Spangled Colt

June 22, 2012

This #FridayFlash fic was written as part of a prompt call themed around saws, idioms and proverbs; inspired by a prompt by Anke Wehner: “Out of the blue”

The black appaloosa mare had only walked in McAllister’s pastures for a forthnight when one morning he came to check on his horses and found a foal by her side. That alone was surprise enough – the mare had maybe looked a little on the well-fed side, but nothing that would have made him conclude that she’d been with foal, and the neighbor who’d sold her had mentioned nothing of this foal or its lineage. Maybe he hadn’t known.

Add to that the color of the delicate, doe-eyed filly’s coat, and McAllister was of half a mind to suspect the missus had added a little something more than just cream to his morning coffee. He’d heard of, and seen, blue roans before, of course, but that was just something you called them. This… Here, before him, was an honest-to-God blue roan filly, the color of a summer sky with just a hint of wispy almost-clouds of irregular patches where her wooly foal coat had slightly denser concentrations of white hairs.

After checking to make sure mother and daughter were healthy, he left his unexpected new addition in the pasture, and as soon as the unmistakably blue coat of the foal was out of sight, he began rationalizing. It must have been a trick of the light. Or maybe a neighbor or one of the farmhands was playing a joke on him? Anything but to admit the impossible, that he had a living, breathing blue horse walking out there in his pastures.

He named her Skye.

As Skye grew, McAllister personally took charge of her training, rather than assign a stablehand to take care of her like he did for most of the foals born on the ranch. He taught her to walk calmly on a lead. He taught her to lift her feet on command. He taught her to take a bit and saddle, when to walk and when to stop. And Skye, though smaller than most stockhorses he’d had, absorbed all this knowledge like a sponge.

There was something eerie about the blue horse, he found as she grew into a strong, brave young mare. His livelihood had started taking off around the time he first started handling her, but that he could write off as pure coincidence. What was more difficult to ignore was how effortlessly she moved across the most treacherous ground, never so much as throwing a shoe, much less doing herself any real injury, but McAllister congratulated himself on his exceptionally sure-footed horse and tried not to think too hard about it.

When he took his little mare to the shows, they didn’t always win, but they did have more luck than any one man – or horse – had a right to, and often that did at least earn them a runner-up ribbon. The cow hadn’t been born that could outsmart Skye, and when they moved the cattle to new pastures she’d willingly pursue would-be escapees across the most difficult terrain, never so much as slipping on the rocky slopes or muddy crossings.

Through her life, Skye gave him six good foals, three of which he kept, and three of which he could sell at a price he’d never have dreamed of getting for a horse with only partially-known lines. McAllister didn’t ride as often, anymore, when his beloved blue mare was with foal, as though he couldn’t bear the thought of mounting another horse, his own favorite having no match even among her own offspring, and none of them ever looked like anything but ordinary horses.

Then, when McAllister came to check on his mare, due to have her seventh foal, she surprised him once again, just as she had when she’d first looked back at him, there in the pasture, next to her mother whom nobody had known was anything but a little too fond of good grass. Next to her in the straw of her loose-box lay a colt just as extraordinary as his mother, and just as unique.

His coat was the deep, dark blue of a cold winter night, and like his grandmother, he looked as though someone had spread a blanket across his hindquarters. The white of the colt’s blanket wasn’t, however, unbroken, but seemed comprised of thousands upon thousands of tiny, gleaming pinpricks, and from his withers grew a pair of similarly star-dusted, downy wings.

“What have you given me, Skye?” the weathered man asked into the rumbling not-silence of chewing horses that filled the stable, now like all those years ago having trouble believing his eyes.

The blue mare met his gaze, and somehow almost seemed to smile.

Then, McAllister knew, without knowing how, the answer to his question.



The Transylvanian Hound

February 17, 2012

Purgatory, someone had once written next to a dot on the map hundreds of years ago. Maybe it had been a joke, maybe some settler had been hellishly tired of the hard work and taken it out on the settlement that was growing up in the spot represented by that dot, maybe there had been some other reason, by now lost to the ages. Whatever the reason for the name, it had stuck; now new arrivals were all greeted by a roadside sign unironically wishing them “Welcome to Purgatory.” Like the rest of the state, the rest of the country, violent crime was at an all-time high in Purgatory. Murders and assaults, medical examiners noting down exsanguination as cause of death on an ever-surging portion of their autopsy reports. Journalists and politicians were quick to blame the depravity on their pet issues: unemployment, immigration, drugs.

Petri moved into the small town on a Friday. He didn’t bring much with him, arriving with a heavy backpack on his shoulders and a black and tan dog named Ivan, a hound somewhat like a scaled-up, long-legged dachshund in appearance, by his side. He was a thin, quiet man, a trained nurse with pale skin, watery grey eyes and dark hair tied back in a severe, thin ponytail. He found work at the local blood bank a day after his arrival, and within weeks the local police was noticing a marked decrease in the same types of crime that had been increasing nationwide.

There was the odd death still, an unexplained bloodless body, but farming and hunting accidents were making a come-back in the local death statistics and the long strings of violence seemed to have been cut. The biological waste plant that handled the expired products from the blood bank reported an increased number of irregularities, but as that was out of the local police’s jurisdiction, nobody much cared. Even if they had, the disappearance of a few blood bags slated for destruction now and again was a minuscule concern.

The people of Purgatory soon noticed Petri, not because he stood out – he didn’t, far too quiet and mild-mannered to draw attention – but because every day, his dog Ivan would come to the entrance of the building where he worked and wait there to walk him home. The dog never hurt anyone, seeming to only have eyes for his master, and thus the locals soon talked of him with admiration for his excellent training. So thorough was the dog’s training, apparently, that when Petri was tragically killed in a hit-and-run accident and found in an alley by a garbage man in the wee hours of the morning, Ivan kept showing up in his usual spot like clockwork.

After five days, Petri’s body, having gone unclaimed, was cremated. People worried when Ivan’s spot on the sidewalk remained empty, five o’clock coming and passing. Someone searched, even going to the small cottage Petri had rented, furnished, for himself and his beast, but found no trace, not even a single black or tan hair. It was as though the dog had gone up in smoke with his master.

Crime never went back to what it had been before Petri first stepped foot in Purgatory; there were assaults, beatings, to nearly the old level, but the strange bleeding deaths were rare.

When they happened, they were always followed by mystery maulings.

No trace was ever found of the animal behind those maulings. No trace but a single pawprint in blood leading away from the scene.

The print of a medium-sized hound dog.


A Taste of Rainbow

February 10, 2012

Coming back to their hometown to visit, Sharra had always claimed these markets, these rows of stalls in this strange town in a strange country, were magical. He’d always thought it was only the sort of hyperbolic claim you made when there was enough of the exotic in the air to make your head spin with wonder, but here, in the midst of it, he was suddenly not so certain anymore. The air smelled of cinnamon and cloves and a dozen other spices he couldn’t name. The merchants offered their wares in voices raised to carry over their neighbors’, a parrot-like cacaphony emphasized by the colorful, embroidered silks they wore.

That all could fall into exotic, addle-your-mind-with-wonder mundanity. But beneath it, carried on the tune of unseen drums and bells and güiros, was that undefinable quality that had made Sharra return again and again, like a whiff of another reality, just barely out of his nose’s reach. He wandered down the dusty, beaten dirt, weaving around the natives going about their business as though he didn’t exist, marveling at the offerings in the crowded-together stalls to either side and fancying he had to look to the locals a little bit like a savage seeing a string of glass beads for the first time.

But no sign of Sharra.

All he could do was follow the not-scent of the magic, hoping that it might lead him to the same thing that had lured her in. It was starting to make the hair on the back of his neck tingle, and sweat was breaking out in his hairline – several times he had to stop and wipe it out of his eyes – as though the haunting tunes that teased him along were working his body into a fever pitch. Tongue dry, he stopped at a stall nearly at random – the woman-he-thought behind it was wrapped in so much silk he could only see a pair of soulful, heavily-lashed sapphire eyes, and the embroidery seemed to depict a forest whose snow-white denizens disappeared out of view if he tried to look straight at them. A strange technique, that; he’d never seen a pattern like that anywhere before.

She handed him a cup that he took for well-polished tin at first, her hands hidden by the long sleeves of her curiously-patterned garment. In it sloshed a liquid slightly thicker than water, whose color seemed to change much like the white creatures on the woman’s clothes moved – whenever his eyes or his mind seemed to settle on one color, it started seeming more like another. Red, orange, yellow. He took a sip, tasting like life and sunlight and warmth, spreading a tingling sense of spring-sun energy through his limbs, all the way to his fingertips. Green, blue, it tasted like nature, like the fields and forests and glittering rivers of the countryside he’d arrived through. Indigo, violet, the flavor of the sky, of night, of the moon and stars.

“Drink up,” the woman urged, and her voice was another harmony to the magic-music, so much stronger now, its scent almost within reach. He couldn’t resist that command, tilting the cup back and tipping a dizzying swirl of colors down his parched throat, feeling them dance through his every fiber.

The natives walked around him without seeming to see him. The woman wearing a forest of secrets smiled, beckoning him closer, and he followed as though in a dream.

She brushed the fabric covering her face aside for just a moment, and her kiss sent star-bright pain lancing into his forehead. The market around him blurred and spun, turning into the same rainbow swirl as he’d swallowed out of her cup, until he could stand it no longer and squeezed his eyes shut, sinking to the ground in front of her stall and finding nobody rushing to his aid. Was this what had happened to Sharra? Had she been poisoned by some strange veiled native woman?

He lay there, and didn’t die. When the bustle of the market died down around him, and he could feel the cool moonlight caress his cheek, he opened his eyes. Gone was the market, leaving not even the traces behind that would have been there in night-time. In its place were trees like the ones he’d seen embroidered, curling and alien like the tapestries of a darker age, but strangely comforting.

He heard water, a singing brook, beyond the nearest stand of trees, and walked towards the sound because it provided him with a direction. The brook was crystal clear and cool, and fed into a pond that reflected the night sky through the latticework of artfully interwoven leaves and branches that leaned over the water. Looking down into its mirror face, the gaze that met his was unfamiliar yet filled him with a sense of triumph.

He’d found the magic, Sharra’s magic. He was the magic.

Covered in fur as white as starlight, with a golden-crystal spiral horn on his forehead and dainty, split ivory hooves, he’d not only found but become this land’s marvelous secret. His long tail had the noble grace of the lion whose characteristics it built upon, and his mane, a fine rainbow silk, was the stuff from which dreams were woven.

He had a long drink of the brook’s water, then started walking. As long as she waited for him, he knew he could find Sharra.



January 31, 2012

It took Judas some time to gather the courage to walk up to the church’s doorway; for minutes that dragged on he stood on the sidewalk and merely looked at the white stone building and its painted-black door. Once there, between a pair of discreet square pillars that flanked the entrance, it took him another few minutes to raise his left hand to the door handle. He still clutched his undershirt to his bloodied nose with the other hand, not knowing whether the bleeding had stopped or not during his walk, or when he’d stood hesitating.



The Fall of Judas: Wrath

January 21, 2012

“My name is James; I’m a friend of Mortimer’s.” A pause, not long enough for Judas to respond even if he could place that man just from a first name. “Grouse with a paunch, you, ah, met with him a couple of times.”

Oh. Judas did remember Mortimer. The man had wined and dined him considerably better than he would’ve dared to ask if he’d had a license, much less without, and had insisted on Judas bringing home both their leftovers. He was almost as old as Judas’s father, divorced with two children half Judas’s age if that, and he’d almost, almost, managed to get the polecat to feel like an equal. A good man. One of very few he would’ve even entertained the notion of giving his blessing when asked if he could share his number. So this was the friend he’d had in mind?



The Fall of Judas: Envy

January 12, 2012

Things were no different than any other night, not perceptibly. Judas, as always, could use money or a free meal. The club, as always, had more than enough potential sources of either, if he wasn’t too picky about how he’d come by it. The same way as always; it was a calculated risk every time he went looking to expand his client base. A risk of saying the wrong thing to the wrong person, a risk of being asked for a license he didn’t have and couldn’t afford.



The Fall of Judas: Greed

December 6, 2011

Judas closed the textbook he’d been poring over when his phone rang, with barely a glance at the display – he wouldn’t recognize the number anyway – before pressing the button to take the call and lifting it to his ear. He was acutely aware of Ian bent over a sheaf of sheet music a little further over in their shared dorm room, and wasn’t entirely comfortable with the bear’s presence. Not during a call like this. But it wasn’t the first time and if it became the last his time at the university would soon be over, anyway, so he only took care to make sure his side of the conversation was as innocuous as humanly possible.