Friday Flash: Not the Girl for Him

Not the Girl for Him

Aleister Luck had a problem and her name was Rosalyn.

***

Every private detective in every novel, TV show, or movie is pleasantly labeled as "down on his luck." That’s a label for the poor. Of course this is because private detectives in novels, TV shows, and movies are good people. They help the needy and if they’re involved in shady dealings it’s in the interest of doing right regardless of margins.

Mr. Luck was one of those good people. Or at least he tried to be. He was selective about his clientele and didn’t worry about whether they could pay. And that’s why Mr. Luck generally turned to magic to make a living.

***

The night he became acquainted with Rosalyn, Luck was happily working the blackjack tables at Jummer’s Casino. The night started out uneventful.

Luck always chose a busy table. It was more interesting to spread winning around. If there was someone loud, flamboyant, self-centered at the table, so much the better. In comparison, the casual observer wouldn’t notice Aleister Luck and the casino didn’t get too suspicious when he wasn’t the only one with a pile of chips in front of him.

This night, his fellow players were a pair of giggling middle-aged women, a quiet bearded man, and a college-aged kid accompanied by his blonde girlfriend.  The women were fairly new to the game. The kid had been drinking and his girlfriend found his poor math skills exceedingly funny. The bearded fellow was sandwiched between them.

A near perfect set up.

Dealt from a shoe, all face up, no one really noticed that Mr. Luck didn’t look at his cards.

He had instead trained himself to look at people’s hands and wrists, blocking out the card faces. The ladies both had manicured nails, doubtless the product of an afternoon at the casino’s spa. The college kid had a tattoo of ornate lettering that started at wrist. Luck couldn’t read what it said. Luck’s own hands were a geography of dry skin and hangnails. Dealers’ hands were never interesting. They were clean, soft, and dealers rarely wore jewelry.

He didn’t watch to see what the other players were dealt or what the house had. He motioned for another card without any information. He simply knew it was the right decision. He put chips forward haphazardly too, never checking their color or the size of his stacks.

He won when he wanted and he lost when he wanted. Occasionally, he shifted his efforts to someone else at the table.  With a thought, he knew that the card dealt next would be what that player needed. On the surface, he wasn’t a good enough player to cause anyone to notice him. It might have only been luck, but every time he walked away from the table, Mr. Luck had rent, utilities, and enough to eat well.

Things started to go wrong after the second lady, wearing a wide turquoise necklace, split a pair. It was really more information about the table than Aleister Luck preferred, but it wasn’t anything that should cause him trouble. But she lost when Aleister saw her winning. The next hand, Aleister lost when he had decided not to. Panic became an itch in the back of his throat. How much had he lost? How had he lost? His faith shaken, Mr. Luck excused himself from the table, sweeping his winnings into a plastic cup usually used for slot tokens.

And then he saw her.

He had encountered her one or two times in the past on the casino floor. She always smiled at him, but he took it as a gesture of general friendliness. Nothing of note.

Tonight, she was sitting on a stool at the vacant table next to Luck’s. She had been watching him and her face flashed an honest smile when he had turned toward her. Observed, his magic had failed. How much had she really noticed about Aleister Luck?

Luck nodded politely and headed to the bar. He tried to ignore her. The lack of a compelling sport to watch on the big screens didn’t help. She followed.

"Can I buy you a drink?" she asked.

She was small with honey hair and lightly tanned skin. She wore light pink lipstick and clothes that could be described as breezy by a newsstand magazine.

Luck weighed her interest. She wouldn’t be put off easily. "Sure," he said.

She took the chair next to him and offered a hand. "Rosalyn," she said.

"Aleister. Aleister Luck."

"Luck? Are you particularly lucky, Mr. Luck?"

"Not at all." Aleister answered honestly.  She could be an employee of the casino, but he didn’t think so. "Rosalyn, is there anything I can help you with?"

Sometimes people happened upon him. Instead of seeing an ad or looking him up online, they found him.

"No, I…" And there it was, a blush below her tan. "I just thought you might be an interesting person to know."

"I see." She was attracted to him, for whatever reason. Aleister wasn’t good or even novel looking. He was careful not to be outstanding in any way. Yet, every so often, a woman took an "interest" in him. She’d pay attention to him. She’d stalk him in the nosey way woman did. She’d find out what she could about him.

In short, until she lost interest, his life was ruined.

—###—

Right. So. Here we are. The first meandering steps into the world of Aleister Luck. If it is confusing, please comment. Feedback is good!

Also, I apologies in advance if I never write about Rosalyn again. This is play-piece. It might have nothing to do with the novel that Eric and I end up writing. It’s meant to be a troubleshooting exercise. My "wouldn’t it be cool if" is met with Eric’s sense of system. The piece came pretty easily with some angst Wednesday night when Eric mentioned a new facet to the rules governing Luck’s magic. I sent it to him yesterday and Eric bounced it back with a couple notes. I think the changes I made in regards to those notes have improved the piece. Regardless of whether this eventually "makes the cut" in any way, shape, or form, I’ve enjoyed doing this more than anything I’ve written this year.

Friday Flash: What Moonlight Sees

What Moonlight Sees

Moonlight slipped off the waves of the Rhone River and through the town of Lyon like a snake wending its way across a shallow stream.  The moon wasn’t full, but it gave off enough light to cause ripples of silver around the darkened homes and shops.  The light ran hurriedly through the ruins near the abbey that were older than anything remembered by the town.  It slid though the blacksmith’s overhang, spinning around the anvil and dark iron tools, avoiding the soft glow of the still molten forge.  The white of the weaver’s storefront glowed palely.  The windows were shut tight, inky rectangles that mimicked the sky.  Above, the weaver and her husband slept soundly.  Light played across the face of the strange store with herbs and skins hanging outside to dry.  It did not linger there for very long.

The shimmer of moonlight avoided the windows of the inns and taverns. It was not needed there.  A yellow glow, inviting and intoxicating, spilled forth bringing with it sounds of laughing and brawling, song and argument.  The silver rays streaked around the corner fleeing the firelight that followed a bard’s voice over the sill.  For an instant, it illuminated a figure that ducked around the corner after it.

She was short and light of frame.  One might have taken her for a child, an urchin, if not for the mature proportions of her body.  She moved quickly away from the sounds of the inn, making no noise of her own. The silhouette, for that’s all that she seemed to be, crept from one dark spot to another.  She paused at a quiet growl from alley across the lane.  Monstrosities walked the earth that not even the moonlight might touch, though they were rarely seen in a populated towns.  The shadowy form tensed, waiting to see.  Dark monstrosity or not, this could be trouble.  A dog, thinner than a moonbeam, loped into the street from the alley.  The mongrel’s claws clicked on the hardened ground.  The dark figure tensed minutely, as if trying to withhold her very scent from the mangy canine.  After the dog was well past, the silhouette dashed across the lane and into the alley.  Her footsteps barely made a sound.

From the muffling darkness of the alley, the scrapping noise could have been the wind, a dog, the very moonlight itself.  After a moment or two of diligent work, her right arm stretched out against the filthy wall, reaching as high as it could.  Thin, gloved fingers searched the grime-caked cracks, searching.  With more scraping, the tool in her hand dislodged a sliver of brick.  She put the tool away in  pouch at her waist and boosted herself off the ground.  Her left hand caught the inch-wide ledge near a window and the toe of one boot caught easily in the hastily hewn foothold. 

The figure paused again, poised on the side of the building.  The moonlight shifted by and found the face of the burglar for an instant.  All that might have been revealed to anyone watching closely in the dark alley was the smooth face of youth.  Pale and clean; a very odd thing for a thief in Lyon.

In a smooth movement, the thief gathered a tool tucked securely at her waist.  The flat hook of metal was blackened, and light avoided it.  With a quick flick, the metal was between the shutters and out again.  The clank of the latch was monstrously loud in the thief’s ears.  But she did not hesitate.  Now was not the time to be caught.  The hook slid in again and with a quick twist, it caught on the inside of the shutter and swung it open with blissful silence.  Summoning strength, the dark figure swung over the window ledge.  Before any moonlight could catch the thief, she was gone from the half open window.

—###—

After writing Lucinda at the Window, Eric and I took a crack at adapting the exploits of a couple C&S characters. That became the two sprawling fantasy novels. Some characters survived to become part of Weordan in Divine Fire. This is the prologue-ish introduction of one of those characters from the original work. I wrote it sometime in early 2001. Earlier this week someone on Twitter asked about reading old works; whether it’s delightful or painful. For me, it’s both and maybe leaning to the latter. Sometimes things surprise me and I smile because I forgot I wrote something that good. Other times I wince and say, "What the fuck was I thinking?" and hope there aren’t sentences that bad in my more current work in progress. (Sadly, there probably are.) But it’s kind of fun to go back and touch up something old, make it a little shinier.

I considered not posting anything for #FridayFlash. This week has been kind of screwy. I’ve been tired and inanimate and haven’t had an original thought. Maybe I’m suffering from some low-grade crud, maybe it’s the doldrums of summer. Maybe I just suck. Doesn’t matter. I am happy that today will have less sunshine than yesterday.

Friday Flash: Hypsometry

Hypsometry

He hadn’t been thinking when he left his hat and sunblock in the car.  He had stumbled over the rocky sand dune toward the mottled pink dawn and the dull steel ocean, certain that it wouldn’t take so long to find her.  He had followed the broken line of deposited debris and the tide came and went.

The sun warmed him and then singed him. The glare off the water darkened his freckles. The sand teemed with living things that fascinated and repulsed him.  He didn’t like being barefoot on the beach.  He swam occasionally for the coolness of the water, but was always slightly sickened by the brush of kelp against him. He never swam long. He might miss her if he was gone from land.

Others filled the spaces between the clots of green-black seaweed and the hungry rise and fall of the ocean. Most were bronzed or weathered, used to the sun and the wind and the salt. They were not like him, pale like rust-flecked sand. He continued to walk, following where the waves had been, where she had been, and ignored the attention that his white legs garnered. He was not here for them.

He found her when the horizon bled.  The water lapped at her bare feet and the wind twisted her hair.

"I’ve been waiting for you," she said.

Sunburnt, he smiled.

He wasn’t thinking at all.

—###—

From the 52/250 prompt "lovelies on the beach." I had intended to write this only for 52/250, but it might have to do double duty. The #fridayflash I had intended to write is still being cultivated. Other writing (and lazy days) got in the way of working on it.

Friday Flash: A Tale of Balito Germand

It’s been an interesting week, writing-wise, and I’ve unfortunately been sort of out of it. Thanks to everyone who has been reading nonetheless. Here’s a summary and this weeks Friday Flash:

I was the winner of Emma Newman’s first Friday Flash podcast prize draw! To kick off her narration service, Em is recording pieces submitted by #FridayFlash participants. My piece was "Wicked Witch for Hire," my first Friday Flash and one of my all-time favorites. Em does a wonderful job of reading it; give it a listen! (And she pronounced my name right on the first go!)

Added Bounce! to 52/250, a site endeavoring to publish a year of flash fiction, each week with a theme. This past week’s theme was "small worlds." Small is relative.

Also, Pas de Chat is still going strong. I’m only up to chapter six, so if you haven’t been reading, it’s not too late to catch up.

[Edit:] Amelia T. is holding a Dream Sequence Blogfest. I added Lucinda’s dream from Ch. 4 of Lucinda at the Window.

And now, for this week’s Friday Flash. I’m currently working on a reread/editing pass of Divine Fire. It’s part of the Weordan universe, so there’s a couple of words that don’t exist in general English.

—###—

A Tale of Balito Germand

In the crowds, Balito could remain hidden, but he could also lose a mark unless they stood out.  Neltiar easily fit in with his plain face.  He was an everyman.  Marie was short and not striking enough to be unforgettable.   The pair would make good pickpockets in Balito’s estimation.  Not to mention Marie’s damned parasol.  Lavender was a popular color this season.

They stopped often at shops.  Sometimes they stayed for a while, sometimes the visit was so brief that their return took Balito by surprise.
 
When they turned a corner into an alley, Balito jostled past a pair of robed Ecclesians and smashed into a short man with a curly mop of brown hair.  He bounced off of Balito and crashed to the ground.

Continue reading “Friday Flash: A Tale of Balito Germand”

Friday Flash: An Offer You Can’t Refuse

An Offer You Can’t Refuse

Guido didn’t like wearing a suit.  He thought it made him look too intimidating and told his mother so.
 
His mother, the little dumpling that she was, shook her head. "Guido, mein Sohn, you’re supposed to look intimidating.  Think about what these people are hiring you to do!"

"About that, Ma…" But she cut him off with a quick string of German that Guido couldn’t keep up with.  It was usually for best to go along with her when she got like that.  So, Guido found himself, in the bar at 10am.
 
Nothing good goes on in a bar at 10am.  He had learned that very young when his father would take him to meet "family."  Going to meet this uncle or that was fine until one afternoon three men with guns burst in.  Within five seconds, Guido, at the ripe old age seven, saw three men die.  Guido imagined his father had died in some similar manner.  Mother wouldn’t tell him.

The bar was everything Guido expected.  Long, wood; stools and top wiped immaculately clean. A few tables had their chairs turned seats down on their tops.  They interrupted the light filtering through the frosted windows with dead-spider shadows.  The back office would be cramped.  Every boyhood uncle had had one, complete with an old metal teacher’s desk.  Among the papers on an uncle’s desk one was likely to find a stack of non-consecutive hundred dollar bills.

Two men in jeans and flannel shirts had let Guido in.  They smirked at his suit.

"Wait here," one said.

Guido nodded dumbly.
 
The other went behind the bar and fished a beer from a chest cooler. "What do you think you are?  Mafioso?"
 
Guido shrugged.  "No, but my mother does."

The guy behind the bar twisted off the cap of his beer and took a swig. "That’s pathetic."

Guido couldn’t disagree.

Ma insisted that Mr. Drest was an old friend of Father’s.  She was always trying to find Guido work.  She had ruined the last legitimate job Guido had at the comic store by telling some wise guys it would be okay to use the place as a front for a few drug deals.  Guido had nearly wound up in jail.  His mother’s involvement never entered the picture.  Why she couldn’t leave him alone and let him go to art school?  Every time he brought it up, she claimed he was ungrateful for not wanting to take care of her in her waning years.  Guido kept hoping she’d get tired of trying to place him in his father’s footsteps.

The back room wasn’t like Guido imagined.  It was shadowy and as cool as a late spring slush puddle.  The furnishings were all made of dark wood, old wood, that didn’t let light reflect from it.  The desktop was as neat as Ma’s dining room table.

It was the man behind the desk made Guido’s breath stick in the back of his throat.

He was small.  The lush chair nearly swallowed him up.  His large head was precariously set atop a neck smaller than a five-year-old’s forearm. He wore a purple vest over a billowy white shirt.  And Guido was almost certain in this light that Mr. Drest had a pair of leathery wings on his back.  He’s older than the wood desk, Guido thought.

Mr. Drest smiled. "Guido Delamisso.  Carmine’s boy! Don’t you look fine in your suit?"
 
His voice was young, girlish.

Guido swallowed his questions.  Terror was sour in his throat.  The two men in jeans and flannels stood flanking him.

"Why don’t you boys ever dress up more?" Drest asked.  "Lend a little class to our operation.  How’s your mother, Guido?"
 
Guido still couldn’t find the breath to speak.
"Don’t be bashful."

"My…"  Guido coughed.  "My mother’s fine, sir."

"Good to hear."  His voice had a thick velvety brogue.  "I remember her being a very lovely woman.  Everyone could understand why Carmine married her, even if she was a Protestant girl."  Mr. Drest’s bloodless lips offered Guido a thin smile.  Guido was staring hard at the man’s face.  Anything to keep from staring at the wings.  Bat’s wings, or gargoyle’s.

"Your mother loved your father a great deal," Drest was saying.  "She also loved the life itself, despite your father’s unfortunate end.  Which is why she contacted me about a job for you, yes?"

"Yes, I suppose so," said Guido.

He must have sounded tentative because Drest continued.  "It happens sometimes, especially to wives.  They get a taste for someone they love being in danger.  A strange thing."

Guido nearly yelped a laugh at the small winged man calling his mother strange.  Instead, he just agreed. "Yes."

"I have a proposition for you, Guido," Drest said.  "Maybe I will get what I want, and you will get what you want.  Wouldn’t that be nice?"

"Yes," Guido said.
 
"You do this one job for me, and we’ll tell your mother that you’re permanently my employee.  But really, you go and do what you want.  I’ll cover for you, ad infinitum."

It sounded to go too be true.  Guido couldn’t stop what he said next.  "Who do you want me kill?"

Mr. Drest smiled, but didn’t say anything to disavow Guido of his notion.  He sat for a moment.  Guido could swear the wings twitched.  It occurred to him just then that maybe the wings were fake.  Maybe this old man was as crazy as Guido’s mother and his way of instilling fear in his rivals was to parade around as some sort of Satan.  They were so real though.
 
Mr. Drest opened a desk drawer.  He took out a thin manila folder and slid it to Guido.

—###—

This is another piece from my scrap bin. The file is dated February 21, 2002. I don’t remember writing it. The challenge with it was cutting down from 1360 to less than 1000. I thought the writing was lean, but I manage to take a sentence here, a clause there. Final count was 952. I also didn’t have a title. I decided to go with the old cliche instead of my other front runner: Fairy Godfather. 

I think I’ll plan on writing something new for next week. Or trying to finish one of the beginnings I have.

Friday Flash: Falling Stars

Falling Stars

It was the perfect night for charting.  Not a cloud passed between Celia’s eyes and the heavens above.  There was a new moon, often an ominous portent, but the positioning of the hawk within the leviathan made the sky only celebratory.  The stars would bless the child born tonight, surely.

Celia had made the guards put out their torches so their light wouldn’t ruin her view.  The big gruff men always made noise about how such darkness would harm their defenses, but they always did as she asked eventually.  She could see the gleam of happiness and excitement in their eyes.  Tonight, their lord would have a son, if what the midwives said was correct.  A son long after two daughters.  Men do go on about sons.

Celia had climbed nimbly to the roof of the family’s residence with her blank charts beneath her arm.  The old man couldn’t do this part of the job any longer.  Celia couldn’t imagine him ever doing it.  Had he ever felt the same joy of looking at the stars while below new life was entering the world?  For Celia there was nothing more glorious.  With the tip of one finger, she drew an invisible symbol in the air.  The Sun would forgive her for loving the dark.

She had already filled in the preliminary information, the stations of celestial bodies, the stars and the planets.  It had been an hour’s work, begun shortly after the labor pains began for Jocelyn Dudevant.  Now it was just a matter of updating the minute movements of the stars as time passed.  For Madame Dudevant, Celia hoped that labor wouldn’t last too much longer.  For herself, Celia could have remained on the roof all night.

"Ho there!  Mistress!" 

The shout came from below and Celia smiled at the heavens before scrabbling to the edge of the roof.

"Yes?" she called down.

Several men in the bailey below stared up at her.  She put a hand up to shield her eyes from the pinpoint of bright, white torch light they carried with them.
 
"The babe is born," one answered.  He didn’t sound happy.  Maybe he never did, an old warrior like him, but he didn’t give the impression of a man celebrating the birth of his lord’s son.

"Is there anything the matter?" Celia asked.  She would be surprised if the baby wasn’t healthy.  Hawk in leviathan promised a strong body and a keen mind.

"No. Nothing."

Celia didn’t have time to question further. She had the boy’s chart to finish. 

She checked her lenses and the sextant to make sure that their calibrations were correct and double-checked the work she had done earlier in the night.

As she sketched in the last of the peripheral bodies, ones that might influence the boy’s later life, a light streaked across the sky. 

It startled her. 

The falling star was followed by another and another.

They made her heart race. 

Stars were meant to move slowly, to sweep across the sky in a grand, predictable manner. Many more glints of light shot across the sky. 

And then she remembered that the child was already born.  These things had no bearing on him.  She still eyed the sky wearily, but in her heart she was relieved.

She heard a ruckus below and, out of the noise, one of the men called her.

"Miss?"

She was ready to come down from the roof and she took her chart and tools with her.  When the guardsmen saw her at the edge, he waved his torch. 

"Set out your pens again, girl!  There’s been another baby born!"

"What?"  Celia felt blood rush to her head, and became dizzy.

"Another child!  We’ll need another chart.  We’ll pay your master double, it’s already decided."  She could see a smile glinting in his eyes.

She stared at the heavens, aghast.  The falling stars were fewer now, but could not be denied.

Celia went back to the peak of the roof and began another chart.

*****

She found the old man standing near a door on the second floor.

"You.  Where have you been?"

The thought of running entered Celia’s mind.  Her master had never addressed her so.

"Here is the extra chart."  She held both out to him and he yanked them from her hand with enough force to tear the corner of the bottom one.

The old man examined one and then the other, frowning at both.

"This one was second…"  Celia reached out to show her master the order in which she had drawn the charts.  He slapped her hand out of the way.

"I know which is which, girl."  He brushed past her and was down the stairs before she could say anything.

Celia was about to follow her master when the door opened, by a small woman with a lined face and russet colored hair.

She glanced at Celia as if expecting someone else.

"Oh, you must be the astrologer."  She had a kind smile.

"His assistant, ma’am."  Celia resisted the urge to give this woman a bow.

"Yes, of course.  Would you like to see the babies?"

"Very much, ma’am."

The room was lit by one hooded lamp and the thin light of dawn that was beginning to peek through the curtains.  The crib stood well away from any draft.

The two babies were outfitted identically in white swaddling clothes.  Both slept peacefully, making only the small movements that babies did.  The one was smaller than the other and his coloration was gray.  His little face clenched as he dreamed.

"This is Marie," Noella said smoothing the faint hair of the bigger baby.  "And this is her little brother Michael.  May the stars have blessed him."

Celia feared that the stars had done just the opposite.

—###—

This is the opening chapter of a novel I started for NaNoWriMo 2006 — diced and sliced down to less than 1000 words.   Falling Star was meant to be the background history of Marie Dudevant, a character in Divine Fire, the second Weordan novel. It is also the retelling of my second novel ever (aka. Big Sprawling Fantasy Novel I), transposing it to Weordan. (Just as Divine Fire is the transposition of Big Sprawling Fantasy Novel II.) My history of re-purposing story ideas is nearly as long as my writing career.

Friday Flash: The Moth Chatter Lily

Like last week’s Friday Flash, this is an older piece that I took a new look at. I think I wrote it for an anthology of imaginary plants. It does have connection to Weordan, though the concept has been transposed to "the real world." Try as I might, I couldn’t find a way to wrap a plot around it.

—###—

The Moth Chatter Lily

Liliopsida, Liliates
Liliacea, Mordre zea 

In the light of day, the Moth Chatter Lily appears, in form, similar to other species of lily, with pale pink, sinuous petals that are nearly transparent.  The sepals are noticeably smaller, darker in color and fibrous with a nearly thorn-like quality.

At night, the petals and sepals of the lily glow substantially due to luminescent chloroplasts.  The magnitude of a large bed of Moth Chatter Lilies can approach the brightness of a 60-watt lightbulb.

Originally found in the rocky isles and bluffs of the Greek Islands, the Moth Chatter Lilies have been recorded further south than many species.  Lately, the lilies can still be counted in the wild in remote areas of Greece and Italy.

The Moth Chatter Lily differentiates from most species due to its extensive and specialized rhizome.    The underground horizontal stem often forms bulbs midseason.  This is due primarily to the attraction moths have for the lily.

In the past, the Moth Chatter Lily was seen as a ‘pest’ species.  In addition to their unsettlingly bright quality, Mordre zea has two qualities that make them attractive to moths of every type.  The first quality is their luminescence.  The second is the form of vegetable alcohol that is fermented in the petals and sepals of the lily.  The moths greatly enjoy feeding on the petals and seem to derive a manner of drunkenness from them.  The moths then begin their own stridulations, common in many forms.  The subsequent ‘chatter’ can be very intrusive. 

Lately, the Moth Chatter Lily has come into favor.  While the light and alcohol attract moths that often eat too much of the plant and kill it, many of the moths also intake too much of the substance and in effect overdose on its effect.  If one takes into account population ratios, the lilies often kill off far more moths than the moth kill lilies.  Many farmers are now closely guarding their beds of lilies as they are used as an organic pesticide.

Still, many are wary of the ghostly glow of the lilies and the accompanying chatter of the moths.  Some have postulated that these lilies tricked Greek sailors into inadvertently damaging their ships on rocky shoals when the lily’s lights and the sound of the moths were mistaken for civilization.  Other tie their presence to the ruins of Babylon, siting the plant as part of the hanging gardens; their luminescence and  winged cohabitants part of the reputation of  "unclean birds" and evil spirits in the area. Regardless of superstition, the Moth Chatter Lily is banned by most homeowners associations.