Friday, September 02, 2011

100 Words Challenge: Storm Front

Velvet Verbosity's 100 Word Challenge lost its mojo for a bit, but is once again rising. This week's word is "Storm", and my entry is called "Storm Front"

Katie pulled her covers over her shoulders, tucking them under her chin. She wanted to pull them higher, but she always got hot and panicky when her mouth was covered. Outside, the rain poured down, pushed by the wind against her window with an intense rattle. She listened carefully, wanting to hear nothing. Mommy wasn't yelling any more, so that was good. She didn't hear the door shut or the car start, so Daddy was still here. Katie couldn't hear anything bad, which was good: but the waiting was as bad as the good parts were good.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

100 Word Challenge: Fitting Room

Velvet Verbosity's 100 Word Challenge, like Elton John, is still standing. The word is "Depth" and my story is called "Fitting Room".

"You can't wear it because it sends the wrong message."

"What does that mean?," Delia asked me, hands on her tiny hips, eyes sparkling with anger.

"It means your clothes send messages about what kind of person you are. You don't want anyone to misunderstand you."

"I don't think these clothes send a message. Except 'pretty'." She smiled at her reflection.

I was out of my depth here. "It has to do with what other people think. Boys."

"I dont care what boys think," she said stridently. "Why can't I have it?"

"Because you can't."

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Terrible Minds Challenge: Man Out Of Time

Chuck Wendig, the IBF and WBC welterweight diaper changing champion of the world, issues a Flash Fiction challenge this week about notable figures from history. My contribution involves two and is called "Visitors at Appomattox".

General Robert E. Lee looked across the table at General Ulysses S Grant. "It is entirely mysterious to me," the Southerner began, "why the Lord should see fit to make creatures such as these, who walk as men but speak a pidgin tongue, and are of such an entirely odd hue."

His opposite number puffed his cigar twice. "Quite so, General Lee. Quite so."

The two armies, combatants over half the country for four long years, had finally drawn their fighting to a close, the exhausted South finally ending the hostilities at the feet of the better equipped North. The two sides were in the midst of that surrender in Appomattox Court House, Virginia, when a brilliant silver disk, the length of several rail cars and twice as high, settled to the ground in an open field, crushing a pile of Southern rifles that had been stacked there.

Almost immediately, a group of perhaps seventy five creatures emerged from the strange vehicle. They were of a light orange color, carrying clubs that were curious looking, but spiky and menacing enough to make their intended use clear. There did not seem to be women or children in the group, but who could tell? Their sparkling skin left no hint as to gender or race. They looked like no man anyone present had ever encountered.

The Union Army did what any military organization did when confronted with something unusual- they pointed their guns at it. With practiced efficiency, the men in blue set up pickets to guard the visitors, then rolling cannon into place as soon as they could, surrounding the strange craft with their own scary array of war implements.

General Grant continued, "But whatever, or whomever, they are, they are here and we must deal with them."

Lee straightened up in his chair and said, "It has been suggested to me that your forces might consent to rearming some of my men until...this quite unusual dealt with, as you say."

Grant took another long drag on his cigar. "With all due respect, General Lee, my men have been trying to kill your men, and being killed in return, for many months now. I can scarcely imagine they will look kindly upon being asked to stand beside a man who was trying to shoot them yesterday."

Lee looked hurt. "Indeed, General Grant. And the same applies to my men. But surely we are all Americans...all And surely we can overlook our petty differences until we can ascertain whether or not these...things...have hostile intent?"

Grant thought for a moment, taking the cigar out of his mouth to sip from the cup in front of him. To his disappointment, it continued to be only coffee. "I will consent to one hundred men, General Lee, under your direct command. Loyal men, who will obey you to the last. And I will hold you personally responsible for their behavior-"

The Union chief was interrupted by an explosion. Both men rushed to the window. One of the beings was holding his club leveled at the Union lines, and where a cannon once stood, there was now a hole lined with blackened grass and soil. The two men scrambled out the door to order their men into position. Grant paused, calling over an aide.

As the popping of rifle and the booming of cannon began to be heard along the perimeter of the field, Grant pulled the younger man close. "Send word to Washington. Surrender of Southern forces complete, stop. Reinforcements needed urgently, stop. New threat of unknown origin, stop. General Grant, stop. Now off with you, boy. Send that quick before we're all dead!"

Indie Ink Writing Challenge: July 1, 1863

The Indie Ink Writing Challenge comes to me this week from Karla, who tells me about fear on a summer's day. My challenge went out to Octoberesque. I call this "July 1, 1863".

Molly Chandler pulled her dress on quickly, hopping out of bed and pulling the fabric over her head. If she was going to make it out to see the boys play a game of base this afternoon, she had to get her chores done early. First was the hole in the seat of James' blue pants- her younger brother was always splitting seams and dirtying knees, and with Father off with the army, she had to do Mother's work, because Mother had to do Father's.

It was hot. Molly felt sticky as soon as she awoke, her nightclothes had clung to her tiny frame as she slept. Putting on the dress which had hung overnight felt good for a moment, the new fabric cool and smooth. She neglected her underthings, an omission Mother was always after her about, saying that a lady didn't do such things. "But I'm not a lady," Molly always wanted to say- "I'm a girl!" But Molly wouldn't dare talk back to Mother, and she secretly suspected Mother was right.

Molly came down the stairs barefoot, feeling the cool of the air on the lower level, focused on her tasks and about to pick up the needle and thread when she heard a crack of thunder. So much for the game, she thought- but then there was another, and another, and yet another. That was no storm- but the game was called off just the same. The air felt funny, the smells of summer now stagnant, smoky, mechanical, wrong. Molly had been looking forward to the game all week, but somehow knew it wasn't going to happen at the same time.

Molly knew about the war, of course- her father had finally relented and marched with the bluecoats, despite the fact he was the only support for Mother, Molly, and James. She heard snatches of talk at dinner, taking dirty plates away from the table, and she was able to read enough to follow what was happening. Johnny Reb was nearby, she knew that much, but she couldn't imagine they could find anything of interest in her little house.

The noise was becoming constant now, volleys of snaps from shoulder weapons, with larger, booming explosions that were cannon. Mother came into the room with Molly, her face drained of color. "Where's your brother?"

"I don't know, Mother. I just got up and I-"

"Go look for him!," she ordered sternly. "But don't you leave this house!" That would make for a short search, Molly thought-there were only 6 rooms he could be in, and she was sitting in one of them.

Obediently, she got up to begin the search when someone knocked on their front door. Mother hissed at her, "Don't you move!", then went above the door for their ancient musket. Used for scaring prowlers more than actual hunting, it was unloaded.

She opened the door to a tall, barefoot man with a long, dirty beard. He smelled like smoke and sweat, and both his shirt and his pants were torn and stained with grease and mud. Mother held the gun in front of her chest protectively. "What unit are you with," she ordered him sternly. "This is a Union house, and I-"

Mother stopped as the man sort of swayed in front of her. "The Twenty Sixth North...," he managed to get out as he began to pitch forward. The smell hit Molly shortly after it hit her mother- some of those stains were not dirt.

Mother half caught the man, guiding him down to their floor. "Mol-," her mother said with an eerie calm. "Go to my closet and get those white towels, then go into my room and find a red box under my bed." Molly didn't move. "Quickly, girl, now!"

Molly got the items and returned to her mother's side.

"Mother, he's a reb-," Molly began, when her mother cut her off.

"He's a human being, child. Now, fetch me some water, as much as you can. Hurry!" The man was breathing, but it was a horrid, uneven sound, like he would stop at any moment. Mother had removed the rags across the man's chest, and Molly could now see the way his side had been turned from ribs, flesh and skin into a red, gristly mess.

She brought the water, and her mother had wiped some of the blood off the man's side, with one of the towels covering where his skin should be. "Your Aunt Nancy was in a battlefield hospital last summer," Mother said. "Hold that towel in place there while I fetch her," she continued, and was out the door before Molly could react. Molly reached out, trying to hold the clean end of the towel that was pressed into the man's side.

"Excuse me, miss?," the man croaked.

"Y-Yes?," Molly said.

"Could you get me a bit of water?," the man said. Molly went back into the kitchen to get a glass, dipping it into the bucket and holding it to the man's lips. He slurped at it, some spilling into his beard and on his neck.

"Thank you, miss," he said, his voice a little stronger. The man looked into her eyes, and Molly involuntarily turned her gaze aside. "You're a right pretty young lady, miss. You remind me strongly of my daughter Cornelia. I miss her so terribly, I--," the man said, stopping to cough violently. "I never wanted this to happen," he said.

"My father is a Union-" she began.

"I know, miss. Your mother said. It's very kind of you to tend to me like this."

Molly looked at the man. His eyes were kind and wise, and she now saw the wrinkles at the corner of his eyes when he tried to smile. His face immediately scrunched up with pain.

"Miss, could I request one more thing?"

"Yes," Molly said. What was keeping Mother, she thought.

"It's been so long since I held my Cordelia's hand. Would you just hold a soldier's hand for a minute, please, miss?"

Molly placed her trim fingers into the man's palm, coarsened by work and sweat. He tightened his fingers around her with incredible gentleness. "Thank you, miss-," the man said, then began coughing again. His breathing sounded rougher, more shallow, the puffs coming more quickly. Mother and Aunt Nancy came through the door, Nancy holding a leather pouch, out of breath from running. Nancy stepped over the man's legs, crouching by his head. The man's eyes were fluttering.

"You did all you could, Marie." Mother, still standing, nodded her assent.

With a shudder, the man's breathing ceased. Molly felt the man's fingers release hers.