‘Rough Flight’ is a fun, fantasy flash fiction with a massive twist in the tail (which I honestly didn’t see coming when I read it) that Rebecca wrote for a Queer Sci Fi anthology a few years ago. Like this? Then why not check out her other books and writing at her website?
Flashes of light blazed across Kalt’s retinas. Already disorientated, his mind spiraled out of control, and an urge to move towards the brightness churned deep inside his third stomach. He should’ve heeded the advice of his third wife, or it was his second husband?
“Nothing is ever free, and the cheaper it seems the higher the price.”
His heart hammered and his throat constricted as he was engulfed in the torrent of white. After everything he had seen, the worlds he’d saved, and destroyed, it would end here. Alone, the buzzing in his ears the only requiem of his death as he left his mortal body and flew higher. The taste in his mouth reminiscent of lost good times, a tang of blood with a side of bitter tears. He swallowed past the lump of the untasted poison that had signed the final death warrant that no interstellar warden had been able to complete.
Kalt was ready. Bring on the afterworld. He would face it with the same relentlessness he’d enjoyed in life – once he could stand up without falling to his knees. His final journey in this realm would not be his last. He would spread his wings further in the next cycle, burn even brighter.
He held out his arms and waited for the collection. Something grabbed his wrist, he tried to scream and the next thing he knew he was face down, cheek against cold metal and a pair of boots at eye level. “For fuck’s sake, Kalt. I told you not to eat those gigaberries. You were tripping through hyperspace. You dick.”
Kalt rolled onto his back to see the unamused face of his current lover, Diflin, a rugged man with a sense of humor that needed work. “I’m fine. Just a rough flight.”
This is a sly little look at old-fashioned (and deeply unpleasant) attitudes that could just as easily have been called ‘Last Laugh’. I got the twist although it’s nicely hidden so I hope you all have fun spotting it too. And don’t forget to check out Jay’s books and heaps of other stories at her website for lots more like this. *Tagged for racism but the story makes clear the author doesn’t approve!
“Did you see them two?”
“What’s the matter? Which two?”
“Him from number forty and his new boyfriend. Dunno what the world’s coming to.”
“But you know he’s gay. You were chatting to him and his other feller at that party.”
“The price of this property’s going to go down. That’s how. Mark my words. Someone wants to have words with him, anyroad.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Bold as brass, they were.”
“But he used to walk along holding the other guy’s hand and you said it was sweet.”
“Well, I suppose it isn’t long since they split up, but her at the corner got a divorce and was with a new lad the next week and I saw you smiling at them.”
“Got taste, she has. He’s a nice lad. Knew his grandma.”
“But you don’t know anything about this new bloke. Whatever’s eating you?”
“You haven’t set eyes on him then, or you wouldn’t be asking.”
“Got two heads, has he?”
“No. But I’ll tell you this. His sort aren’t welcome around here. Whatever the so called ‘politically correct’ attitude is.”
“Well, you’re entitled to your opinion but I wouldn’t let anyone hear you. Just saying.”
“I don’t care who hears me. Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile, that’s what I say. So we need to stand firm. Not in our street, that’s what.”
“Then I’d better not ask my boss to dinner.”
“You don’t mean…?”
“Yes. He’s gay, too, but seems that doesn’t worry you.”.
“Look! There they are!”
“Yeah, well, that one’s my boss. And he could buy and sell you, no problem.”
“Like I said. Dunno what the world’s coming to.”
“Coming to the twenty-first century, anyway. Better get used to it!”
Is there one particular sound that acts as a trigger for you? I have to admit I’m with Nathan in this story; there are few things more irritating than a constantly yapping dog! But Addison manages to conjure up a wonderful picture of domestic bliss in spite of the endless yip yip yip…
Incidentally, Addison creates many of her short stories using prompts. This one stemmed from the phrase ‘neighbor’s yapping dog’ but if you’d like to challenge her, or one of our other authors for that matter, to write a story around one of your own (work safe please!!) phrases then please suggest a few in the comments and we’ll see what we can come up with…
Yip, yip, yip!
“It’s my turn,” one of the kids—it sounded like Jeremy—hollered from the other room.
“Is not!” Georgie’s reply wasn’t exactly a solid gold debate winner, but in his defense, he was not quite three, and had learned his arguing skills from Jeremy. Needless to say, there was only one likely reply…
“Boys, Dad’s still sleeping. Quiet down.” Anthony’s voice was calm as ever. “Georgie, it’s Jeremy’s turn. I’ll set the timer. When it dings it’ll be your turn again.”
Yip, yip, yip!
“I swear to God…” Nathan grumbled, stuffing a pillow over his head. The neighbor’s yappy dog annoyed him more than the noise from his family. He didn’t expect “Stepford kids,” and the boys’ hearts were in the right place.
“Here, Georgie.” Anthony’s voice drifted down the hallway. “You can help me crack eggs for the pancakes.”
Nathan smiled beneath the pillow. Anthony was a master at redirecting the kids’ interests, but even he could predict where this one would go.
“I wanna help, too,” Jeremy said.
“Great!” Anthony said. “Go get the other stepstool, I could use another skilled egg-cracker.”
Yip, yip, yip!
Nathan chuckled despite the exasperating yapping, and emerged from underneath the pillow. Anthony had known as well as Nathan did that Jeremy would want to “help,” too. He blinked a few times and stumbled to the bathroom. Anthony would probably appreciate some real help.
When he was freshened up and decent, he breezed into the kitchen and took an exaggerated breath. “Bacon, coffee, and pancakes…what more could anyone want on such a glorious Saturday morning!”
“Chocolate milk,” Jeremy, aka Mr. Literal replied.
“And apple juice,” Georgie said, because of course he couldn’t let Jeremy be the only one chiming in.
“And Pop’s beautiful smile,” Nathan added for good measure as Anthony beamed at him from the other side of the table.
Anthony stepped around and gave him a quick peck on the lips. “How about adding a good morning kiss to that list?”
Yip, yip, yip!
Even the yappy dog couldn’t ruin this lovely scene. Nathan trailed a finger along Anthony’s jaw. “Better and better.”
Here’s a fun, and perhaps even slightly naughty, offering from Jay featuring two men, a country picnic and some asparagus… Yes, asparagus. Just take a look at some of the photos of that stuff online – especially the new shoots – and you’ll soon see what I mean! And don’t forget to check out Jay’s other writing at her website.
Steve had suggested a day walking in the Peak District and had hoped against hope that Matt would agree. They had parked near Lord’s Seat and wandered upwards, leaving Mam Tor, with its carefully engineered steps, to the tourists. They were tourists here too, of course, but they knew the area well and considered themselves locals even though they lived and worked some miles north on the outskirts of Manchester. There were no hang-gliders or paragliders today; although the sun was glorious the wind was wild and cruel. Matt’s hair danced in the gusts and the grass whispered beneath their feet.
He had offered to bring a picnic. A flurry of shopping in Tesco’s followed by a session in his small kitchen had produced a mini-feast of delicate smoked salmon sandwiches, asparagus spears with a mayonnaise dip, tiny, bite-sized quiches and some chocolate truffles to go with the flask of coffee. There was wine, too, a South African Chardonnay that he knew was good but had chosen mainly for its easy screw top. All luxuries. He knew Matt probably expected ham salad muffins and a couple of cans of beer. The actual contents of his rucksack should help to give a message if he lost his nerve. He had brought plastic wine glasses as well and had made sure that there was plenty of food. Quantity as well as quality would be needed to sustain them. He hoped they would stay all day; that Matt would not leave when he realised what Steve wanted.
They sat at the top, looking out over Edale, listening to the sheep. There were early lambs, calling constantly for their mothers to watch their games. If you knew where to look, the start of the Pennine Way was visible. Maybe another time. He hoped there would be another time.
They were silent, tired from the climb but content. Would the content last when Matt understood what lay behind the invitation? Recently Steve had thought his overtures might be accepted but maybe it was all wishful thinking.
He unpacked the food, concentrating on what he hoped would be a calming task. He was supposed to have psyched himself up for this, but now that the moment had come his nerves were back in full force.
Matt opened the wine, a strange look, almost a query, on his face as he filled the glasses. He sipped slowly, watching Steve lay out the food on the lid of the container he had brought.
Steve opened the pack of asparagus and the mayonnaise. He dipped a pale green spear in the sauce and held it towards Matt with a questioning half-smile.
Matt’s answering smile was broad and seemed to light up the hillside. He accepted the offering and their fingers touched briefly, sending a spark flickering across Steve’s hand. Matt brought the spear to his mouth, still smiling, and licked the creaminess from the tip with slow, careful movements then let the tip of his tongue linger on his lips.
Don’t you just love it when a hiking trip goes wrong? This one has a little pain, but a lot of comfort. And Addison wrote it using no fewer than fifteen prompt words from a random word generator. Given the wild difference between many of the words, I take my hat off to her!
You can find more of Addison’s writing (and of course, her books) at her website, here.
Our descent from the north ridge took longer than it should have. More than the hike up had taken, that was for sure. I never would have guessed that Phillip, an Army veteran for Christ’s sake, would jump at the sight of a mouse and twist his ankle.
“For the last time,” Phillip grumbled, “it was a fucking rat.”
“Sure,” I replied. My tone implied a tease rather than acquiescence. Although I had to admit the critter had been on the large side for a mouse, so it might have been a small rat. I couldn’t eliminate that theory, anyway. There was no way to prove it one way or another at this point. The damned thing had come and gone in a flash, and I wasn’t an expert on rodents anyway. Neither was Phillip for that matter.
Phillip leaned heavily on me as we approached a narrowing of the path at a steep section passing between two boulders. I edged in front since it made more sense for me to precede him to make sure he didn’t fall on his ass once he got past the bit where he could use the large rocks for balance as he hopped through.
His lips thinned into a tight grimace as he watched me get into position. The misery personified on his features was like a bucket of icy water thrown on the jokey mood I’d tried to foster. I didn’t know if it was more from his physical pain or the fact he hated to be seen as less than strong and fully capable, but it twisted my heart.
“It might’ve been a rat,” I conceded. “I jumped too. I was just lucky there wasn’t a rock in the wrong place when I came down.”
“There’s no ‘might’ve’ to it.” The muscles in his arms bulged as he braced himself on the boulders and swung his body through the passage. Once he joined me on the other side I reached out and slipped both arms around his waist, pulling him in for a hug.
“I love you,” I murmured.
“Love you, too, Dustin.” Phillip’s words were muffled by my hair as he planted a couple kisses near the top of my head. “Sorry,” he added. I barely heard that last whispered word.
“Shit happens.” I shrugged and slipped to the side, tightening one arm around his back and hooking my fingers through his stiff belt. “Nothing to apologize for. It wasn’t your fault.”
I felt—more than saw—him straighten his back. I wasn’t surprised. “Tough” and “determined” were two words that exemplified Phillip’s character. No way he’d wimp out. He’d steel himself to face whatever he had to deal with no matter the hurdles he encountered.
“Got any bars yet?” Phillip asked.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out my phone. We were almost to the 4-wheeler accessible flat stretch that would be the final leg of our journey back to Phillip’s sister Gracie’s house.
“Finally. A couple,” I said. “What’s her number?”
“Fuck,” he groaned. “I don’t have it memorized. It’s in my contacts list.”
And his phone was charging on Gracie’s kitchen counter. “Email address?” I asked. “I can at least message her with that. Those beep on her phone so she might see it right away.”
“I don’t know. She’s got a string of numbers in it that mean nothing. I just click the contact to send her stuff. I forwarded you that email from her last week. You still have it?”
“Oh yeah, now that you mention it…” I opened my archive folder and scrolled. “Found it.”
I copied the address and fired off a message giving her my phone number and imploring her to call ASAP.
We hadn’t gone even twenty more yards before my phone rang. I answered it on speaker so Phillip could hear her, too. The sound of Phillip’s niece, Ellen, practicing the piano in the background was the first thing we heard.
“Gracie?” Phillip asked.
“Phillip! What’s going on? Are you guys okay?”
“Nothing major,” he replied. “I twisted my ankle, but it’s not broken or anything like that.”
“Shit. Well, you don’t need to walk on it. Hold on.” The phone went silent for a minute, presumably muted, then the background piano practice returned along with Gracie. “Hey, Alex will head your way on the 4-wheeler. You can return on it, and he’ll hike back with Dustin.”
Phillip’s body relaxed perceptibly. “Great. Thanks.”
“I’ll crush up some ice ready for you. See you soon.”
I ended the call and slipped the phone into my pocket. “Just a little farther, then we can sit and wait,” I said.
“First thing I’m going to do is crack open that rosé we brought,” he said.
I shook my head. “No more than a sample taste. You’re going to have to take some pain meds. That doesn’t mix with alcohol.”
Here’s a little flash ficlet on the theme of ‘ink’ for your Friday reading delectation. I’ll leave it to K.L. to describe what’s going on (much better than I could!)
Like Addison Albright’s “Cave Drawing,” this flash fiction story comes from Queer Sci-Fi’s annual flash fiction anthology—the 2021 edition was titled Ink, and all the contributions had to contain queer characters, stay at or under 300 words, be in some way about the theme of “ink,” and fall someplace in the genres of fantasy, science fiction, paranormal, horror, or speculative fiction.
Though romance is technically optional for the anthology, I am at heart (oh, that was nearly a good joke, about romance and hearts) a romance writer: I love stories about people finding each other, and happy endings, or in this case hopeful beginnings.
So “Openings,” below, is fantasy: about bibliomancers falling in love, and the way writing can be a spell.
“It’s an opening-spell.” Cyan traced spidery black ink like thorns. “A powerful one. No wonder it’s scrambled. No accidental use.”
“Can you solve it?”
“Of course. But I don’t know that I should.” He regarded the librarian who’d brought the scroll; Harrington Burke had short sandy hair and intelligent blue eyes, and had tackled cataloguing the late Duke of Gyre’s eclectic hazardous library with cheerful expertise. Cyan, tall and dark and awkward, the youngest professor at the Magicians’ Convivium, felt himself grow more clumsy and incoherent each time they met.
Harrington had first sought him out to get a bibliomancer’s advice about a troublesome grimoire. Cyan, startled amid book-boxes in his brand-new office, had found himself breathless at sun-hued friendliness, knocking at his door.
He did not know what to say now. Touching letters, he caressed power from a long-ago enchanter’s pen. Ink gave ideas body, shape, threads weaving past and present and future; this ink held puzzles. It tempted his magic.
Harrington raised eyebrows. “Dangerous?”
“All words can be. But think about being able to open anything, one time. Anything.”
A magical short story (in more ways than one!) involving love, spells, and dragons. This is part of Jeff’s Food Garden Court series – don’t forget to check out his website for more.
As Jeff himself says, “The Food Garden Court and its denizens were created for a flash fiction picture prompt site (“Friday Flash Fics”) with the picture being a garden-area food court. I’d worked in one so a magical mall in a magical world seemed like a fun idea. I’ve written three earlier stories and the idea of Skid and T’amec being more than friends just popped into the most recent story, despite hints in the other two. It was fun exploring their relationship as well as the usual mall strangeness. Thanks for reading!“
The banners that hung around the Food Garden Court proclaimed “Dragon Sale.”
Skid and T’amec spent some of the lunch rush assuring customers that the pet shop sold live dragons, but that Food Garden Court in the Mall wasn’t selling dragonburgers.
“Wish the signs had been more specific,” T’amec grumbled.
Skid grinned as he refilled the broth canister and gave an extra glance to T’amec’s lean, lanky frame. He’d been working there for over a year and had only noticed him like that in the last few months. T’amec saw him, smiled and gave Skid’s shorter, more muscular body the once over. He’d been feeling the same way.
When the lunch rush was over, Skid and T’amec sat at one of the tables in the Court under a potted palminor tree and resisted the urge to tell passing mall customers they were eating dragon salad sandwiches.
When they finished, Skid got serious.
“Hey, I enjoyed going to the micaball game with you the other night,” Skid said. “In fact, I like doing about anything with you lately.”
T’amec blushed. “Thanks,” he said.
Skid took a deep breath. “But what if it’s not real?” Skid said. “The way we feel.”
“You mean, like magically not real?” T’amec said.
“Yeah, what if this is just magic and we don’t, y’know…”
Skid left the line hanging there. T’amec slid his hand across the table to grab Skid’s hand.
“What if we start officially dating and, y’know, get married and a year later ZAP! The spell goes away?” Skid said.
“What got you started worrying about this?” T’amec said. “We’re taking this slow, remember? Got a good friendship and don’t want to wreck it, right.”
“I keep thinking about that fae nest we took out a few months ago,” Skid said. “They enchanted you to do whatever I said…”
“Yeah, I remember,” T’amec said with a shudder. “But that wasn’t a love spell.”
“I know, but we had to kiss under the moonlight to break the spell.” Skid said. “And we both liked that, right?”
“But that was the first time we…I…felt something other than just being buddies with you.” Skid said.
“So, in case this is some kind of residual fae magic, I wanna check this.” Skid said.
T’amec sighed. “My Grandma knows this ritual with lilac leaves and goose fat to find if your lover is sincere and…”
“We’re not checking for love, we’re checking for magic,” Skid said. “We’ll do it scientifically. We’re still on break and the Augur’s shop is at the other end of the mall.”
“We can’t afford the Augur’s shop,” T’amec said.
“We get a Mall Employee Discount, remember?” Skid said. “Plus, I have that coupon I won a while back. So let’s do this, okay?”
The Augur’s shop was dim and dank with neon signs on the walls breaking up the dimness. They told the young Assistant Augur their problem and more importantly showed him Skid’s coupon. The Augur rubbed his goatee, checked the coupon and said that a residual fae spell was unlikely but they could check for magic or enchantment of any kind.
The process was, as the Augur said “Simple, but yucky.”
The Augur cut off a lock of each of their hair and put them in separate bowls. Then Skid and T’amec each spat on the lock of the other’s hair. The Augur made a face as he picked up the bowls.
“Should have the results back in a couple of hours,” he said.
“We’ll be back when we get off work,” T’amec said.
The two of them were laughing and walking along the upper level of the mall along the tall railing pointing at the signs when a green streak shot past them from the lower level. It circled in the air above them and they recognized it as a small, baby dragon.
“The pet store,” Skid said. “Some kind of promo?”
T’amec was about to answer when a shrill voice called out “My Dragon!”
A little girl ran up the stairs, eyes on the circling dragon.
“Dragon! Dragon!” The girl ran past Skid and T’amec only watching the dragon. When the dragon swooped low and then flew over the railing of the walkway the girl lunged for the dragon and hit the railing and toppled into the open space above the first floor. Skid had run after her, afraid of what could happen and he managed to grab her leg with both hands, but the weight started to pull him over too.
“SKID!” T’amec screamed. He jumped and grabbed Skid’s feet as he was pulled over the railing. Bracing himself with his feet against the base of the railing, T’amec was able to hold on to Skid’s legs until several passers by were able to pull both Skid and the girl to safety.
The little girl’s mother had run up and was holding her and scolding her through her tears.
T’amec and Skid sat on the floor by the railing sobbing and kissing.
“I love you. Oh, my Oaths, I love you!” Skid said.
“I love you too,” T’amec said. “And you know,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t think we need to go back to the Augur’s.”
They were laughing, crying and kissing as the dragon circled overhead.
And finally, for Halloween itself, a little something from yours truly. A much shorter (and much sillier) version of this story first appeared in the Torquere Press newsletter many years ago, but last year I rewrote it as something a whole lot creepier (though hopefully still fun) and put it out to readers of my own newsletter. Now I’m sharing it with you, and I hope you enjoy it!
‛Ooh ooh… something something ghost town…’
Xander sang along as he worked. The song was an oldie, from way back in the 1980s, he thought, when synths and painted faces were all the rage. He hadn’t heard it in years, but the radio station was belting out anything vaguely ghost-related ready for Halloween tonight, and he’d forgotten how catchy it was.
The singing turned to whistling; he pursed his lips as he concentrated on carving Jack’s face into the giant pumpkin he’d bought earlier. The likeness wasn’t brilliant, but it was close enough to be recognisable: Jack’s upturned nose, his upturned lips, his ever-so-slightly slanting eyes. Eyes that could captivate a man with one sidelong glance, as Xander had discovered a good few years ago. Eyes that would look amazing backlit with candlelight.
The pumpkin was set to be the centre-piece to the Halloween party buffet. They’d only moved in a few weeks ago, and it had been Jack’s idea to delay the house-warming until Halloween. ‛Fun theme,’ he’d said. ‛Cheaper, too.’ A man of few words, was Jack, but the few he used usually made sense.
The ghost town song on the radio faded out, to be replaced by another oldie, Visage’s Fade to Grey. Xander knew that one better, and sang along again. The preparations were going well. He’d already set up the trestle table and the sound-system, and judging by the deafening racked of the radio the latter was working well. The neighbours wouldn’t thank him, but it was only for an hour or so—and tonight, with everyone chatting, they could turn the volume down.
The pumpkin-portrait was pretty much complete, or at least as good as it was going to get. He’d caught Jack’s mischief surprisingly well after all. Those eyes… still captivating, even in vegetable form. It would be good if the real bloke was here instead, but work was work and he knew he’d have to wait. In the meantime, pumpkin Jack was as good a stand-in as he was going to get. He treated it to a kiss on the space where the nose would be, and set it aside on the trestle table with the other stuff. He’d already dragged a few chairs out from the kitchen in case anyone wanted to sit down, and he’d dug out the Christmas fairy lights and strung those in the tree and along the top of the fence. He’d cut bread and chopped salad and fixed candles in empty jars and set up the barbecue. By the time Jack got in from work they should pretty much be ready to go.
‛Looking good,’ said a voice just behind him.
He jumped so hard he almost cut himself with the pumpkin knife. ‛Jack? You back already? I didn’t hear you come in.’
‛Not surprised. That radio’s loud enough to wake the dead.’
‛Yeah. Sorry.’ He twiddled the volume knob, and Fade to Grey duly faded into the background. ‛That’s better. Now I can hear myself think.’ Not that that was necessarily a good thing; he still had doubts about the house and how old and creepy it was. Jack loved it, though, so he needed to get over himself. He’d get used to it in time, when they’d unpacked, redecorated, and got all their own things in place. In the meantime… he shivered suddenly. Maybe a T-shirt, outdoors, at the end of October, wasn’t such a good idea after all.
Or maybe it was. Two arms came round him as Jack treated him to a bear-hug and rubbed his arms. ‛You look cold.’
‛It’s chillier than I thought now the sun’s gone in. What do you think, though? I know you won’t get the full effect until it gets dark, but is it looking okay?’
‛Looks fine to me. The garden’s good, too.’ The hug got tighter, accompanied by a low throaty chuckle. The chuckle that said Jack was horny, and needed to do something about it—possibly right now. Under normal circumstances he’d have been happy to oblige, but now wasn’t normal. Now wasn’t normal at all…
‛Uh, we’re in the garden, remember. With neighbours’ windows and stuff. And our guests will be here in just a–’ He couldn’t finish. Jack span him round, still hugging, and kissed him lushly on the mouth. ‛Whoa,’ he said, doing his best to extricate himself. ‛Hang on. Stop it, you daft prat. We’ve got the rest of our lives for–’
‛Need you. Need you to be warm, so your warmth can warm me.’
It was an odd thing to say, but Jack could be weird at times. Not seriously weird, just quirky and individual. It was one of the things that made him so loveable. That and his strength. He didn’t look particularly muscular, but he could lift Xander’s own weight as though he was a child. It made him feel safe, and cared for, and—yes—warm.
He put his own arms around Jack’s waist, rested his head against one broad shoulder, and breathed in the scent of shampoo and spice that was unmistakably Jack. Except that weirdly, Jack didn’t smell like Jack. He didn’t smell of anything much. That was… odd. Maybe it was because they were outdoors, or maybe he had a cold coming on. He hoped not. Nothing killed off a party with your mates like an attack of the sniffles or a hacking cough. And now they were snogging, so he’d probably pass it on to Jack.
He leant into the kiss, loving Jack’s mouth on his, the sense of intimacy, of danger, even, of being so together in such a public place. The garden wasn’t huge and several houses looked straight down into it, and the thought of going further in front of an audience gave him a moment’s thrill. He wouldn’t risk it though. They might offend someone, and in a new place they needed all the neighbourly support they could get. Especially this new place, with its wonky walls and its staring windows and its general air of being old and unloved. Jack had taken one look and fallen in love with the place. He’d taken one look and thought about the work.
In any case the kiss was making him uncomfortable. His face was clamped against the rough fabric of Jack’s lapel. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t really breathe. Faint fingers of panic began to play up his spine. This wasn’t like Jack. Jack might get over-enthusiastic sometimes but he never lost sight of Xander’s comfort or needs. He never took over. He never squeezed like this.
Facing this way he could see the lantern he’d just carved, and the eyes were dancing with light. Jack must have lit the candle on the way past, but it was strange the way it gleamed. Almost as though it was alive, and looking back at him. Be with me, it seemed to say. Don’t struggle. Maybe he should do what it said. Hadn’t he just been wishing Jack was here? Wouldn’t it be good to go with the flow and let him take the lead? Wouldn’t it be better to… just… let… go…
In the distance, at the other side of the house, the doorbell rang, almost as though it had heard his thoughts. Talk about saved by the bell… He roused himself from the fog that had enveloped his brain, and pushed at Jack’s chest. ‛Gotta go.’
Jack’s reply was no more than a whisper, seeping into his bones. ‛Leave it. Stay here with me.’
‛God’s sake, Jack, it could be our guests. I can’t leave them on the doorstep.’ It was freezing out here. Goose bumps prickled his skin in sympathy.
‛They’ll find their own way in.’
‛No they won’t. The side gate’s buggered, remember?’ The catch was broken; they’d nailed it shut to stop it banging and keeping them awake all night. He remembered that, somewhere deep in the bit of brain that wasn’t completely asleep. It gave him the strength to wriggle and squirm until he’d escaped the crushing embrace. Jack’s hand still clutched at his fingertips, but he shook free of it and staggered towards the house as though he’d come loose at the knees. Jack sometimes did make him weak at the knees, of course, but this felt different.
Come back… he thought he heard, or sensed. Even now, the urge was strong. Sod the guests. They could wait, just for a minute or two, while he went back to Jack’s eager embrace. He felt the pull; his progress slowed. Don’t stop, his own brain screamed at him. Keep going, get inside the house. The thought that he was running away from Jack almost brought him to a halt. This was the man he’d chosen to spend his life with, not a stranger or a Halloween ghost. And yet, for a moment, or more than a moment if he was honest with himself, he hadn’t felt safe back there. He’d felt, worryingly, as though he’d lost every last scrap of control.
The house had an unfriendly feel to it as he dashed through the kitchen and along the hall. A feeling that said he was an intruder, that he wasn’t welcome inside these walls. That he wasn’t safe on his own. Please let it be our mates, he thought as he approached the front door, then stopped to compose himself. It wouldn’t do to let Tom, or Lizzie and Beth, or any of the rest of the gang see him as frantic as this. Not until he’d worked out why Jack was acting this way and what had gone wrong. Deep breaths. Wipe his palms on the seat of his jeans. Hope his eyes didn’t look as wild as they felt.
The doorbell pealed again, insistently, and he could see a shadow the other side of the door. His heart thumped in his chest. He took a breath, grasped the heavy brass knob and turned. And felt his scalp prickle and the air leave his lungs as a grinning man with a clinking carrier bag pushed past him into the hall.
‛Surprise! Got off work early. Here’s the booze. Is there anything I can do to– Xander? Is everything okay? You’ve gone really pale.’
The hall span, briefly, and Xander clutched at the smooth cold surface of the wall. Jack would have had plenty of time to nip round from the back garden—but how had he got through that nailed-up side gate? And who had rung the bell? Faint laughter echoed through the empty rooms of the house. Rooms that looked empty, but might be nothing of the sort.
‛Oh, I’m fine. Absolutely fine. Never better, in fact.’ He knew he was gabbling but couldn’t seem to stop. Relief flooded his limbs—relief, but also fear. His knees went weak all over again and he had to cling to the wall. All he could think of was the pumpkin, and the carved face, and those dancing lights in its eyes. Was he dreaming? Was such a thing even possible? Words tumbled over themselves in his head before spilling off his tongue. ‛It’s just that if you’re here, and not out there, then who the hell has been snogging me to death in the garden for the last half hour?’
Another little blast of creepiness for Halloween – and this one is scary enough to have given me the shivers! Actually, it reminds me of the sort of ghost stories that turn up on the BBC at Christmas, and is easily good enough to be one of them. Anne typically writes about vampires, werewolves and humans in her Shades of Sepia series. Find out more here.
“We’re running out of time.” Kon placed his hand over mine, his dark skin in stark contrast to my pale white.
“I know, my love.” I kissed the top of his head.
The old house stood before us, beckoning, offering hope to a people fleeing a dying world. Its windows gleamed in the moonlight, the grounds around it overgrown, and wild. Abandoned, yet not forgotten. Not if the stories about it were to be believed.
“It looks more like a castle than a house.” Kon tilted his head, as though listening to something beyond my human senses. “There’s something there, I think but—”
“You’re the psychic,” I reminded him.
“But not a medium.” Kon frowned. “Lyssa would have—”
“My wife is dead,” I said quickly, not wanting her memory to come between us, although she’d told me to move on once she’d gone.
“You’re a good man, Samuel. Her death wasn’t your fault. She knew you loved her.”
“Let’s explore. Make sure it’s large enough.” There weren’t many of Kon’s people left. He’d come to Earth looking for new home for them, and found me.
He hesitated. “All right.”
The front door swung open, inviting us inside. I squeezed Kon’s hand.
“I’ll check upstairs,” he said. “You stay here.”
The large clock on the mantelpiece caught my attention.
Blood dripped down the walls. Someone screamed.
I sprinted up the stairs. “Kon!”
His expression blank, his arms outstretched, he reached for something I couldn’t see. Tears ran down his face. “They’re all dead. We’re too late.”
Something brushed my skin. I shivered, yet couldn’t move.
My breath hung in the air, caught as we were.
A man chuckled. The room plunged into darkness. “No.” His whisper caressed my mind. “You’re both just in time.”
Real life got in the way yesterday so I’m a day late posting the next offering in our Halloween celebration – a spooky little number that’s actually about the Mexican festival of The Day of the Dead, but works equally well for Halloween! As Jeff himself says, “I started writing about Billy Gonzalez and his knack for stumbling into the weird about twenty years ago. I pulled him out of the closet a few years ago. I am a lot more white-bread than he is but we are both Bi. Hope you enjoyed his latest adventure!“
“C’mon, Billy! Whaddya got to lose?” Schuyler said with a grin. “It’s your heritage!”
My great-grandparents emigrated from Mexico a century ago. But my Dad grew up in New York City and my Mom was from some weird little town in Indiana. They met in college in the Midwest. Me, I grew up where I’d gone to college in Wichita, Kansas. I wouldn’t be back at the college that last week of October if it hadn’t been for Schuyler.
Schuyler Rowley was with the school’s Alumni Association and I’d kind of crushed on him during our largely-closeted school days and we’d gone out a couple of times in the five years since. But now he was standing in front of me in a skeleton costume. And he had another costume for me. Complete with full-head skull mask.
“It’ll be fun!” Schuyler said. “We dance around in the Quad during the party and we can do some partying afterwards. It’s for the Scholarship fund, remember? And we can go out later…”
“Yeah, yeah. Hand me the skull,” I said, feeling like Don Juan in that play about Hell.
The Quad, the big patio between the Library and the Gym was lit by electric lights and flickering torches, but I guessed those were just to keep the bugs away. Grinning alumni were seated at tables with skull centerpieces. The menu included candy skulls and a lot of Tex-Mex. There was a band playing on a makeshift stage. Skull decorations everywhere.
Schuyler gave me a thumbs up and we walked around the edges of the Quad; dark costumes with a white skeleton printed on the front. I’d never done anything for The Day of the Dead before, but my cousin’s family had. Sort of a cross between Memorial Day and Halloween. I looked around and waved at a little kid seated at one of the tables who was staring at me with wide eyes. I grinned, forgetting that I was wearing a skull mask with a built-in grin. I looked over and saw Schuyler by the snack table goofing with a couple of guys I remembered from school.
I looked over towards where Father Bernau was sitting with some big-pocket alumni and saw a third figure in a skeleton costume standing behind them, partly in shadow. I didn’t recognize him; I thought there were just the two of us. The third skeleton backed into the shadows of the tree and building.
The evening went on. The crowd seemed to be enjoying themselves and the late October evening was warm and pleasant. I’d helped myself to a candy skull and then I saw that third skeleton peeking behind the big tree by the shadowy corner of the new library. I glanced around and saw Schuyler kidding around at a table on the other side of the quad. Yup. Whoever that was, it wasn’t Schuyler. Munching the candy skull I walked over and found the third skeleton in the shadows of the building.
“Hey,” I said. “I’m Billy Gonzalez. Class of…”
Then I stopped. The figure had moved far enough out of the shadow so I could see what I thought was a black costume with a skeleton design on it, well, it wasn’t. It was a skeletal figure standing there. I glanced up, no wires, no nothing. I made a gurgling noise. If this was a trick, it was a very good one.
The skeleton turned and walked into the deep shadow of the wall. It turned its, well, skull to look at me and I would have sworn it’s grin broadened. I could just make out the brick wall which the skeleton passed through. I backed away from there fast, tripping over one of the big tree roots and then scrambling to my feet.
I remembered stories I’d heard about the Old Library being haunted. Somebody joked that had been the real reason they tore it down and put up the new one, not the structural problems with a 100 year old building. I realized I had probably been standing where the Old Library had been. I staggered over to where the snack table was and grabbed a can of beer. I didn’t care if I was supposed to wait.
Then I heard something behind me.
I jumped. I spun around, glimpsed a skeleton standing there. I screamed and tossed my beer into the air. It landed with a splat on a nearby table.
“Hey, what the hell’s with you, man?” That was Schuyler in his skeleton outfit. At least he didn’t say I looked like I’d seen a ghost.
Well, it could have been a lot worse. I stuck close to Schuyler for the rest of the evening and afterwards we went out for coffee. The college had rooms in the dorm for alumni from out of town and I’m sure Schuyler and I could have grabbed one, but that night I did not want to stay on the same campus as that skeletal figure I’d seen by the Library.