Posts in Fantasy
Storytime Blog Hop July 2019 - Tears and Toil

It’s that time again - time for flash fiction from around the world. Established authors, up-and-comings, and yours-truly, all sharing in a blog hop for your pleasure. Don’t forget to scroll to the bottom to find the links for the other stories!


Tears and Toil

 

They’d been walking down the stairs into the furniture store bargain basement one minute, the girl, her father, and her new stepmother, and walking up into mist and magic the next.

Obsidian gates opened for the woman, and as the three crossed through, the woman’s plain off-the-rack black suit changed into a flowing black gown shot through with diamonds, and her hair and lips changed from wine to blood.

Star looked at her step-mother and realized she was the queen of this place—wherever it was—and looked at the starry sky above her and looked at her father.

Her father was gazing at his bride as if he could see no other. “I will build you a garden,” he swore. “To show my love for you. The perfect garden.”

The queen nodded, and so the contract was made. The man became the gardener, pouring his life into the soil and seeds, and when he came too close to perfect, the queen ripped out trees and bushes and flowers and left them roots-up and weeping.

When the child could stand being forgotten no longer, she hid herself inside a bag of trash and escaped the starry night and obsidian walls for the mists, where she survived and fought and learned, and when the invitations went out, she was ready.

Dressed in dawn-colored tatters, she presented herself at the gates with the others and was permitted to enter. 

She found him in the farthest corner of the garden, a stone man hemmed in by fading iridescent black ropes of magic, hunched over a raised flowerbed, and she despaired. He still lived, or the old, thick bindings would have faded to nothing, but had she come too late?

*

“By blood and bone and tears and toil fairly given,” she chanted. “By seeds and shoots and blooms and soil long nourished. By honor, by word, by blood, your contract is fulfilled.”

The stone figure shuddered and chips of granite flaked away from his eyes.

Then a man slid out of the stone, leaving a hollow husk behind, and stepped away from the flowerbed. He stooped more than she remembered, and his face fell into lines of concentration, but when he smiled, she saw her father.

“Papa?”

He squinted. One hand reached for her hair, but stopped before touching. “Star?”

“I was,” she said, forcing herself to be still, to give him time. “I am Dawn now.”

“You… freed me.”

She scowled. “You freed yourself. You kept your promise and more. She allowed her garden to finally be perfect. I just said the words.”

He stilled, and for an instant she worried that he had become stone again. “Why today?” he growled.

Trembling—in anger and fear—she pointed. “She weds another today. She wanted the garden perfect for her wedding guests.”

Anger rose in him, flushing his face and brightening his eyes. “And you?” he said coldly. “Are you one of her guests?”

“How else could I get in and out again?” Her lip quivered. “Today is the only day she has allowed free passage in and out of her realm since I escaped.”

He softened. “You came for me.”

Lifting her chin, she said, “You completed your contract with her. You swore to make her the perfect garden and you have. I came to ask you to fulfill your contract with me. Leave her. Be my father again and let me be your daughter. Love me and no one else until I am ready.”

She watched him, under his second wife’s starry skies, the man who used to be stone, and before that the gardener, and before that her father, and saw the magic bindings rise out of his body and hover over him. She’d guessed right. At some point, he had promised to love her, and now all that contract needed was a renewal.

But a shadow crept across her mind, dark and sharp. Am I doing to him what she did?

“Wait,” she said.

*

“Daughter?” He shook his head as if flies buzzed in his ears. “What’s wrong?”

“I won’t make you my slave.” She bit her lip. “I won’t bind you like she did.”

“You…?”

“Living in the mists,” she said, gesturing to the obsidian wall, “I learned to see magic bindings, and what I just asked you… I won’t. I won’t make you mine the way she made you hers.”

Moving slowly enough to allow her to flee if she wished, he took her in his arms and held her as he had not held her since they’d descended those stairs so long ago. “You are mine,” he said simply. “My daughter, my blood, my hero. I owe you your childhood, and I will stay with you as long as you need.”

Something broken inside her healed.

Even from behind her closed eyelids, she could see bright threads of gold wrap them both. With the threads came obligation, yes, but with both parties’ understanding and willing acceptance of the terms, also joy.

When she was ready, he released her, and she wiped her eyes, and they walked through the gardens together, a tall, hunched man gone gray from years of service, and a child with dawn-colored hair and dawn-colored tatters.

They walked past the queen in her ice-froth dress, and her new, dazed husband already being leeched of magic by his bride. They walked past the guests of all shapes and sizes, glitzed and glamored and glorious. They walked past the guards who were bound by the queen’s word not to stop them.

Outside the obsidian gates, outside the queen’s realm, the starry sky changed to gray mist, and the man faltered.

“Don’t worry, Papa,” the girl said, twisting the magic all around them.

He swallowed. “How can I worry with my daughter by my side?”

Dawn smiled at him and clutched his hand, and together they walked into her realm, into the light.


For other great stories, follow the links:

Coming Soon:, by Karen Lynn

Home Repairs, by Jason Gallagher

The Robot Accomplice, by Janna Willard

I – The Magician, by Raven O’Fiernan

Evening Update, by Elizabeth McCleary

Allies, by Eli Winfield

The Salem Witch Trials and What We Can Learn From Them by Amaliz Tenner, Class 4c, by Katharina Gerlach

The Fairest, by Nic Steven

Something About Mary, by Bill Bush

Grumpy Old Harpies, by Juneta Key

The Goddess of Wine, by Vanessa Wells

A Melody in A Grotto, by S S Prince

Say Hello to Chris Bridges, Supporting Storytime Quarterly Blog Hop

Storytime Blog Hop - Zombies
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Time marches on… kinda like a zombie! It’s April’s Storytime Blog Hop, and I have zombies on the brain this month. Not sure why, but I hope you enjoy this story, and don’t forget to scroll to the bottom to read the others!


Zombies

Zombies walk among us.

I mean, I’ve known that since the news stories. You remember, the ones about the scientists who accidentally brought people back to life in their quest to hack death. The stories that said the same scientists had a multi-syllabic cure for the zombies’ need to eat your brains. And then some celebrity overdosed on a new designer drug and the family decided not to bring him back, and then zombies went to fight in the war, and then the stories died down, and zombies relatives became the ones you talked about in whispers and kept in the back room.

I knew, but I didn’t think about it much.

Not until one of them started following me.

* * *

He would have been average in life: a little taller than me, with dark hair and dark skin. Dead, he had ash-gray skin and faintly luminescent eyes which darted from me to my surroundings and back to me wherever I was.

My friends said I should be creeped out, and gave him a wide berth, but he never spoke, never demanded, never touched me.

Better than most men with their if you loved mes and wandering hands.

So we fell into a rhythm. He would escort me to work and back. To school and back. To my parents’ house and back. He waited outside until invited in, never presumed. And then one day, I invited him in. And still, he never presumed.

Most of my friends stopped coming around, complaining that I wouldn’t go to the human-only clubs anymore, that I was too boring, and—in hushed voices—that I was a zombie-lover.

When I sat next to him in a dim restaurant, and took his hand in mine, and talked about all the things I’d never told anyone, I didn’t care what anyone else said.

When I leaned into him in the hallway, and felt his solid strength, and pressed my lips to his, I wasn’t thinking about what anyone else would say.

And when I invited him into my bed, I was only thinking of the two of us, and how he made me feel.

* * *

When the war slopped over into our state and I worried, he patted my hand, and then watched everything around us. I missed his gaze always on mine, but I felt safe when I walked with him.

Others started walking with zombies too. I could see the way they watched each other that some were bodyguards, some were friends, and a few were lovers. Those of us with zombie lovers started to walk together, to join each other at the clubs that accepted our partners, and to speak in hushed voices of changing the law that said zombies couldn’t marry.

And then the enemy soldiers were there, in our town, and uniformed zombies fought each other between the buildings and in the parks and on the streets.

We ran out of food.

His gentle hands on my waist asked me to stay behind, but the nearest store wouldn’t allow zombies inside.

We ran through the street together, watching for patrols. I slipped into the store and gathered a few things, and paid exorbitant prices and slipped back out again. We walked home silently, groceries between us.

I never saw them coming.

He did.

He shoved his bag of food into my arms and pushed me gently away with a moaned, “Run.” Then he spun to face the enemy.

“Come with me,” I screamed.

We were so close. I ran inside our building, and dumped the groceries on the floor, and spun to lock the door behind him, but he wasn’t behind me.

They hacked him to pieces while I watched, then they saw my neighbor’s zombie bodyguard and chased her.

I went to him and held the pieces I could find.

“Looove,” he groaned.

“I love you too.”

I wept bitter tears while the light in his eyes went out. Then I went home, put the groceries away, mourned with my neighbor.

The war moved on. Life went back to normal, I guess. But I missed his ash-gray skin, and his luminescent eyes, and his quiet presence.

I would have spent my life and death with him.


Before The Dreams by Katharina Gerlach
To Wake A God by Juneta Key
The Sprite In The Well by Angela Wooldridge
Something Different by Karen Lynn

0 – The Fool by Raven O’Fiernan
Big Enough by Elizabeth McCleary
Grumpy Old Demeter by Vanessa Wells
Say Please By J. Q. Rose
Provoking the Muse by Moira K. Brennan
It all Started… by Bill Bush

Revisiting an Old Friend

Having just moved my site, I had to go back and fix broken links to all my books on Holly Lisle’s forums … while I was doing that, I reread all my old blurbs and remembered just how fun Creeper was to write. It was my first… second completed novel (and the first shall never see the light of day, though it was great therapy at the time!)

It has magic and slavers and a reluctant heroine, and I thought I knew the ending until I wrote it and kept going.

A good reminder when I’m struggling that I might think I know the ending, but if I can just keep going I can write an even better story.

Have you discovered something similar?