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.



Theft and Virtue

October 27, 2011

Virtue was named for a quality the Inner Circle deemed her mother to be lacking in, and Faith raised her to live up to that name.

As a child, the filly learned that she was part of the nobility, and that the silver horn on her forehead entitled her to respect and reverence from the common people. Those commoners employed by the Circle proved her lessons correct, bowing their heads as they helped her into her jewel-toned silk gowns and braided gems into her mane. She treated them with respect in turn, the respect the served show the servants.



Battle Scars

July 24, 2011

The blond lay, face-down, on the bed, chin pillowed on his lower arms. His hair, worn longer than that of most people he knew, was white, silky, and lying in a careless sprawl across the sheets and his pale, scar-lined back, and his eyes were half-lidded. The mattress dipped slightly as his partner lay down next to him, ruby-red fur brushing softly against bare skin.

Slowly, the part-raev, part-wyvern ran his fingers up along the human’s spine, his muzzle pressing against the side of the younger man’s neck. “When are you going to talk to me, Roxeen?” His voice was soft, holding as little edge as he could manage.  Sometimes there was no telling what the blond would take as an attack, and he didn’t want to drive him off again.



The Fall of Judas: Gluttony

February 8, 2011

Judas was well camoflaged. There was no other word for it; he was very nearly as out of place as could be, but he’d managed to hide it. Not just that the club wasn’t really his kind of scene, though that certainly was part of it. Judging by the fact that the woman next to him, a blue tiger with quite captivating amber eyes, was offering to buy him a second drink, he was pretty sure it wasn’t just his discomfort with the environment that he’d managed to cover up.