Unedited, Uncensored, Unsettling…
The Flash Fiction challenge this week was a little different – as opposed to a single picture, three were given as inspiration. We have four pieces of short fiction from four writers for your delectation and delight. Thanks to Mike L. Lane, Jason Morton and Tilby Noir. The picture that inspired each tale precedes the story. Take part next week by following the Stitched Smile facebook page.
Two Sides to Every Story by Mike L Lane
Andrew didn’t know what to expect entering the Tangy Cleaver Bod Mod Parlor in downtown Malum Rose. He was tired of being walked on and needed a change. He wanted to be a different person. Something to grab people’s attention and make them fear him. He wasn’t sure what, but that didn’t matter. Walking out of the shop with a new look would be empowering.
As the door opened, cool air greeted him. The frigid chill felt heavenly on his sweat soaked skin. It was much darker than he expected and his eyes took time to adjust. He followed the shadowed hallway towards the soft glow of blue neon radiating deep within. It opened into a small, almost empty room with a bar. Focused on her phone, the bartender didn’t acknowledge him. She had long black hair with one orange highlight that curved around her chin. Her eyes were modified and slanted like cat’s eyes. Her ears poked out beneath her hair, slightly higher than normal. It was a unique look and filled him with hope. Anything was possible here! He saddled up to the bar.
“Hi Sandra,” he said, reading her nametag and offering his hand. “I’m Andrew.”
“What did you have in mind?” Sandra asked. She glanced at his hand and rolled her eyes.
“I haven’t decided,” he said. His leg bounced up and down in nervous excitement. He thought photos on the wall or a brochure would offer ideas, but the walls were empty.
“Come back when you do,” she said, returning to her phone.
“I need a change,” he said, desperately. “Maybe you have a suggestion?”
“Adding or removing?” she asked. His puzzled expression prompted a further explanation in a slow, simple tone. “Do you want to add or remove something?”
“Add, I think,” he said, fidgeting nervously. “Something wicked… like horns or something. Like some sort of demonic badass, you know?”
“Are you sure?” she asked, looking him over. “You seem pretty vanilla to me. Wouldn’t want you to change your mind mid-cut.”
“I’m positive,” he smiled, making an effort to relax that seemed to ease her suspicions.
“The door to the left.” She pointed at what looked like a bathroom and returned to her phone. He looked at her doubtfully, but she waved him towards the door.
The blue neon sign on the door read, “Regrem”. Opening the door, a wave of heat clashed with the air conditioned room behind him. Apparently there was no AC in the Regrem room, but he didn’t care. He flipped on the light and a sixty watt lightbulb illuminated the space that looked more like a holding cell than a bathroom. It was filthy and far from sterile. He assumed it was a consultation area since there was only a mirror. He looked into it and smiled, sweat running down his face. Soon he would be a changed man. The door closed behind him and a chime sounded like tolling church bells.
Across from him was another door. He jiggled the handle, but found it locked.
I guess I’m to wait here, he thought. He heard muffled voices on the other side of the door and assumed it was the operating room. He leaned his ear closer and waited.
On the other side of the door, Werdna planned his getaway. The Bold Romp Road Travel Agency claimed to offer just that. He had suffered this hell for far too long and a bold romp down any road sounded like a splendid idea. Berith was hot on his trail and it could be ages before another opportunity presented itself.
“Where to?” the clerk asked. She filed her razor sharp nails, never looking up. Her hair was a fiery orange and one black highlight curved down her face, singed by the blistering heat. She reminded him of everything that was wrong with this place, filling him with eternal dread.
“Anywhere but here, Ardnas,” he said, reading her nametag. It never hurt to be friendly, but he couldn’t help sounding overanxious. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Let me know when it does,” she grunted, continuing her manicure.
“I need out,” he said, not willing to be brushed off so easily. The sweltering heat melted the friendly facade. “How about you get your thumb out of your ass and offer a suggestion?”
“Free form or body?” she said, dryly. His puzzled expression prompted further explanation in a slow, simple tone, “Do you want to go as is or do you need a host?”
“A host,” he said, drumming his fingers on the counter and peering over his shoulder. A disguise would make a better escape. “Hop to it.”
“You sure?” she asked, glaring with solid black eyes. “You seem pretty restless to me. Wouldn’t want you to wreck the ride mid-trip.”
“Positive,” he said, managing a smile. “Just make it quick, toots.”
She looked over her ledger shaking her head. “There’s no available hosts scheduled until tomorrow. Come back and I’ll fix you up.”
“I can’t wait until tomorrow, bitch!” Werdna growled, leaning into her face. Ardnas didn’t flinch. “See these methodical rips in my flesh?! I’m striped in cuts like a bleeding zebra! My skullcap’s been removed and stitched back on so many times that my eyes have sunk below my cheek bones! If Berith catches me before I can cross over, these wounds will seem like snuggles and kisses compared to what he’ll do!”
On the far wall, a blue neon light turned red and church bells tolled overhead.
“Looks like we just got another host,” she said, glancing at the ledger. “His name is Andrew and he’s looking for something wicked… whatever the hell that means. You look wicked enough to me, asshole. Take the door to the right,” she said, pointing out a bathroom door and returning to her nails.
The red neon sign on the door read, “Merger”. He pushed it open, feeling cool air for the first time in forever. Andrew screamed in horror. He’ll do nicely, Werdna thought. He rushed the Merger room grinning, thankful to be leaving Hell.
Staring at the sea, I realize I am incomplete. Broken, lost and shattered. Will love ever find me? I look to my left and look to my right. I see nothing but the endless sands of time. I am tired and frustrated. I am lonely and fading away like the myth of man.
Suddenly she appears. The white to my black. I am scared at first. Scared she’ll see the scars and not want anything to do with me.
“My name is morrigon” she speaks.
She takes my hand and draws me to her. Her scent the scent of roses blowing on a spring wind.
“You and I together are gray, let Camelot rise again!”
Taking the sword I feel the memories flow through me, like the hot winds of the desert I am filled with passion and longing but also fear. If I am alive again will it not end the same? Will I feel Mordred’s sword through my body again? Will I fall in love with Guinevere only to lose her to brother in arms?
Sensing my hesitation Morrigon speaks.
“Arthur my brother that is, that was, and will be, my friend , my lover but most importantly my King. Fret not Avalon and The Fey will help you. The great Goddess I’d dying and I fear the green man may be too far gone to save.”
It has happened every thousand years. Yet she tells me it is WORSE than it was. She tells me a great many things.
“Where is the Merlin?” I ask. He was a source of wisdom, for truth , back in the days of yore.
“He is another land, gathering an army. Come Arthur, the lady awaits.”
We set out upon a barge and entered through the hidden waterways to come to avalon. There I met with the High priestess. I asked her when we would begin. she replied;
“When three moons wax and wain thus we sail to war, before the sun God awakens, Evil shall be no more.”
“Arthur you shall meet with the merlin in two weeks as the sunsets upon the Christian Sabbath.”
“Thank you my lady.”
Hand me your sword so I can speak a spell of protection”
“The magic grows weak as the Christians prove their prophets true.”
That was a disturbing thought in all honestly. The Christians had all but wiped out the old ways. Thankfully they were picking up again. Who could love a god of vengeance and bloodshed, who forbade you pleasure and commanded your constant adoration?
It was almost time I set out to meet the Merlin.
To be continued…..
A moist wind blew across the dark cliffs. The crashing of the waves below filled the air with a deafening roar. Two ancient queens faced each other upon the edge of the cliff. Faces shrouded in veils, they were clad one in cleanest white, the other in deepest black. Lhyt, pale and graceful. Darque, elegant and stern.
Darque inclined her head towards her opponent.
“Well met, sister. Have you had a pleasant year?”
“Well enough, though I sense you’ve fared better.”
The black robes rose and fell with a eloquent shrug.
“It ebbs and flows. None of us are constant.”
Lhyt nodded in agreement. Pleasantries over, she squared her shoulders and raised her head.
“Shall we begin?”
Darque inclined her head in a slight bow, the swath of silk rippling with the movement.
“You may go first.”
“A house full of meat, yet no door to go in and eat. What is it?”
Darque chuckled at the simplicity of the challenge.
“A nut. And now answer this. A prisoner is given two choices. ‘If you tell a lie, we will hang you. If you tell the truth, we will shoot you.’ How may he spare his life?”
A moment ticked by before Lhyt spoke her answer.
“He must say, ‘You will hang me.’ The seasons have worn on you, my sister. You have dulled.”
“We shall see. Say your piece. The wind grows chill.”
“My life is measured in hours. I serve by being devoured. Thin, I am quick. Fat, I am slow. Wind is my foe. What am I?”
The song of the ocean filled the silence. Lhyt waited patiently, giving her opponent time to think. She was on the brink of announcing her triumph when Darque finally replied.
“A candle. Very clever. But my next will be your undoing. A headless man had a letter to write. It was read by a man who had lost his sight. The mute repeated it word for word, and deaf was he who listened and heard. What is it?”
Lhyt did not answer. The wind fluttered her long robes around her still body, their agitation seeming to increase with each unanswered second. She curled her fingers around the soft fabric, searching her mind for possibilities. The solution eluded her and Lhyt bowed her head in acquiescence.
Darque smiled beneath the veil, relishing this sweet moment of victory.
“Nothing. The dead write nothing, the blind see nothing, the mute speak nothing, and the deaf hear nothing. I have won. May your wit be sharper next year.”
Lhyt bowed. Turning from her sister, she stepped to the edge of the cliff. She breathed deep, tasting the sea mist one last time. With a soft sigh, she pitched her body forward and let herself fall to the churning ocean below.
Darque glanced down, watching as the white queen’s robes were swallowed beneath the waves. The indifference which filled her being remained. There was no pride in the winning of their simple game. It was merely her turn to spin the wheel.
The crunch of rocks beneath heavy feet drew her attention and she turned. An old man approached, draped in tattered and stained robes that brushed the ground and swirled around worn boots. A long beard, grey as the clouds above, hung in a matted tangle to his knees. He stared at Darque beneath a deep hood, eyes deathless and haunted.
“What do you here, Father? These meetings are of little interest to you.”
“I have come for you, my dear Darque. There will be no victor this year, I’m afraid. You must follow your sister into Oblivion’s embrace.”
Her fists clenched at her sides, the only sign of her displeasure.
“That is not fair. I have won the year.”
His face softened and Khroenus smiled.
“You knew I would come for you one day. All things must end.”
“We are all spokes in a wheel, forever spinning ‘round. You cannot do this.”
“Forever is a pretty notion, my child. But, it isn’t real. I let you believe, to enjoy every moment. It is over now.”
Khroenus reached out a hand and took a step forward. His palm pressed into Darque’s chest and she gasped. Losing her footing, she stumbled over the edge of the precipice. Her screams rebounded off the rocks, cut short by the eternal sea.
The old man stared straight ahead, gazing at the ever-grey sky impassively. He was alone now, yet it did not trouble him. He did not regret the loss of his daughters. Emotions were memories of the past. Life and Death is decided on a whim, but Time is the true master.
Kneeling down to perch on the edge of the cliff, he groaned at the harsh protest of his joints. Closing his eyes, he let the grey void envelope him, relieved to have rest, at last.