Mid-Week Blues-Buster Week 2.38

Welcome to the Mid-Week Blues-Buster Flash Fiction Challenge, Year 2, Week 38.

This is a flash fiction challenge. The prompt is a song. You are not required to write about or even mention the song. It’s there only to get the ideas moving around in your brain pan. If you want to write about the song (or the video- it’s all good here) go for it but don’t feel like you have to.

The rules;
500 words, but it’s a slushy 500, meaning you can go up to 700 or as low as 300.
Post your entry right in the comments section of this post.


The challenge starts whenever I post this on Tuesday and ends at MIDNIGHT PACIFIC TIME on Friday. You read that right. Pacific Time.

This week’s tune finds its way to us from the weird ’80s.

The band is Shriekback. The tune is, “Faded Flowers”.

Here’s the link; http://youtu.be/fOSC3RXG25s

This week’s Judge is none other than our beloved Mortuary Mama… Ruth Long!

The challenge opens the moment you read this post and runs through MIDNIGHT PACIFIC TIME on Friday February 20th.

Now… Go write!!!!


Posted on February 17, 2015, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Moi: No twitter handle

    The melodic V8 burble was a comforting and familiar noise to me, one that always calmed me before I needed to put my game head on, once my game head was on then things started to happen, bad things… Of course it also ran the air-con which was a necessity in this heat.

    I exited the car and moved towards the narrow path in the dune in front of me, my fingers trailed the wing of the car, it was dusty, I will wash and polish it later tonight once the sun had set and the black paintwork wasn’t so blisteringly hot.

    I moved to the end of the path and noticed that my source of information had been correct. Two cars sat empty in the car park of the derelict motel, the occupants I assumed had taken their business inside. I noted that these people were sloppy, cars parked in full view of the road, no one keeping a look out at least not from the car park and I assumed not from within the motel either.

    I entered the dilapidated structure from a hole in the side of the building, I could only guess how that had been caused but it gave me easy access and saved me from using the main entrance near to where the cars were. Once inside I stopped to listen but couldn’t hear anything. I would need to head towards the entrance so removed my silenced semi-automatic from my jacket and stepped over years of detritus out into a long disused hallway.

    My search was methodical; I searched each room off of the hallway, a task made easier by the fact that there were no doors to most of the rooms, In fact most of the time I didn’t really have to enter the room, just stand by the door and listen.

    I could hear voices now, faint but they were there, I moved down the passageway and around the corner, I could see a shadow on the grubby carpet which pinpointed the exact room I needed to be in. I moved with purpose raising the semi up to a shooting position as I walked. I stepped into the room and put one into the back of the head of the guy with his back to me, he dropped like a stone and the other guy didn’t even have time to react before I place a shot into his throat then again into his head as he dropped to the floor.

    “Well that was easy” I said to myself. Both people were unmoving, pools of blood spreading out like a dark puddle. I placed another shot into the head of the guy I had shot first, just to be sure then turned to leave. On the side was an old vase; in it were some fake flowers, faded by the years. I pulled them out and placed them on the two corpses in the room, I don’t know why my contact wanted them dead, he just did and he paid well, I was not there to ask questions and the flowers seemed fitting.

    I wondered briefly how long it would take to find the bodies, I didn’t think it would be long as the two cars were outside for anyone to see, that was not for me though, I knew how to avoid capture and would conceal my tracks from the way to came in all the way back to my car. I stood at the doorway and briefly surveyed the scene, before turning away and making my way outside.

    597 words (according to word)


  2. Faded Flower

    He hustled her away from the scene, even as more people were arriving to scope out the damage. She had a hooded cape in the back seat and he put it on her to hide her identity. The crowd of Minardians would have likely ripped her apart if they knew who she was. Before she would leave though she picked up a teddy bear and clutched it close to her, like a child.

    He took her to a coffee shop about two blocks away. Then called emergency services. Minardians created their own emergency services when the human’s policies made them second priority, often not treating their injuries or responding to their disasters.

    “Emergency Services, what is the nature of your emergency?”

    “Accident. A vehicle slammed into my home.”

    “Is anyone injured?”

    “No, Thank God.”

    “What is the address of the accident?”

    “Sector Gamma, Block 23, Entry 8.”

    There was too long of a pause, and he could guess why.

    “Why didn’t you call your own emergency services.”

    “The driver is human and a VIP.”

    “Who was the driver?”

    This time it was his turn to pause. He made sure she was staying hidden in her hood, checking anxiously around the room to see if anyone noticed.

    “I’m not going to tell you. Can you connect me to the Political Protection Service?”

    “That request is highly unusual. Are you holding someone hostage?”

    “Just connect me to the PPS!”

    “Please hold.”

    He nervously ordered two coffees and two slices of pie. He had his half eaten before the line was picked up again.

    “This is Officer Shockley of the PPS. I understand you are holding a human politician hostage?”

    “No.” He spoke quietly because of a couple who took up a nearby booth. “A limousine slammed into my house about 20 minutes ago. When I checked on it, President Calloway was the only person in it.”

    He could hear a flurry of muffled activity in the background, before the man came back on the line.

    “We don’t believe you. Do you think the President just drives around Minardian neighborhoods alone at night?”

    “You need to believe me, if you are really PPS you probably already know she is missing. I bet she snuck out. So far I have been able to keep her hidden, but if she pulls off her hood, I don’t think she will survive very long.”

    “What are you proposing to do?”

    “I propose you come and get her. We are in the all night diner called Powderkeg, block 25, commercial entry.”

    Again the hesitation was too long.

    “You are just going to give her back? No questions asked? Why would you do that?”

    “It broke my heart when I realized she had Alzheimers. But I do have a question, how long has she been sick and who really has been instituting the anti-Minardian political agenda?”

    477 words


  3. Snowdrops in the Dust

    For sixty eight years Caleb’s body clock never let him down. He knew when the sun rose, when it was noon and when it was time for bed. Clocks never meant much to him . . . but time did. The less of it he had, the more it mattered. He rose from his bunk, coughing as he shuffled across the dusty, wooden floor, his eyes adjusting to the dark.

    Caleb opened the door to the morning, and closing his eyes heard the morning song of the blackbird, the coo-coo of the wood pigeon, next door’s dog barking at the cat who sat on the fence out of reach as he taunted the dog silly.

    If Caleb concentrated hard enough, he could smell morning dew and feel the dampness on his feet as he walked across the garden. The faint smell of roses permeated his nostrils, filling his mind with memories of a lost life.

    A single tear trickled down his grubby cheek as he took a deep breath and opened his eyes. He would never get used to this world now.




    The sooner he left it, the better.

    Walking across a land of ash and dirt, Caleb stoked the embers to the fire, thinking about breakfast. If his Isabel was here, she’d tell him to snap out of it, tell him he was lucky to be alive.

    Lucky? She always looked on the bright side, saw good in everyone, everything. Even when the world burned, she just rolled up her sleeves and got on with it, doing whatever was necessary.

    He coughed, a deep, hacking cough, breaking the ghostly silence. He pulled away his grimy hanky, now with fresh crimson spots.

    He’d underestimated his amount of time.

    Gentle footsteps approached and a child sat down next to him, holding a book. He looked up to Caleb. “Can you read me one of the stories?” Kai asked.

    “Sure.” Caleb recognised the book; his Isabel’s book of fairy tales, read to their grandchildren. Now, he was reading it to children he didn’t know, children who called him ‘grandpa’, children of the new world who either couldn’t remember the world or knew no different.

    He opened the book, flicking through the pages. Something fell out; innocent white from a past life, now in a charcoal world.

    “What is it?” asked Kai, his eyes wide with wonder.

    “This, this is a snowdrop, your grand . . . my Isabel’s favourite flower.” Caleb closed the book and turned to face Kai. “Let me tell you a story, a story more fantastical than any fairy tale.”

    “With wizards!”

    “Better than wizards. A place where flowers grow, birds sing and everywhere you look is green. Where warmth shines down on you. Where life is a rainbow.” He coughed, his hanky now sodden.

    “You can tell him later. You need a rest,” Kai’s mother said, gently helping Caleb stand.

    “Can you do me a favour? Look after this snowdrop. It is so precious to me, us. Everyone.” Kai nodded. “I’ll be back later, I promise,” he said, walking away, hunched and still coughing. Kai looked down at the pressed snowdrop, now stained with a tiny speck of red.

    Caleb lay on his bed, his chest aching with every breath. He felt Isabel nearby and a shallow laugh escaped his lips as he heard her chastise him.

    “Not so soon!” she said. “ You have stories to tell that boy. You promised.”

    Despite the coughing, Caleb felt a new sense of purpose; his mission to fill young heads with his real rainbow world would not be defeated by time. It wasn’t how much time he had left that was important, it was what he did with it.




  4. Purged

    Constantly battling my demons, they never leave me alone. Whispering day and night, you’re no good, you should never have been born, why torment me this way? Voices that taunt, belittling, and egging me on. I cut my wrists to keep them at bay. The pain satisfies them for a while. The demons play with me, toy with me, paw at me. Their paranoid and controlling, they feed on my fear. They have called me whore, slut and bitch. Mummy silences them now and again with a hug and a kiss.

    They like to dress me up pretty and buy me little gifts. I parade in front of the mirror and at my reflection I hiss. I’m their property they own all of me, say without them where would I be? Cover me with their special scent, eau de skunk, pissing all over my lamppost, there often blinding drunk.

    They like to feed, they like me fat, I am making my own welcome mat, the weight hides many a hurt. They breathe in every pore I can not wash them off. They follow me to school and control my pen. They scribble all over my art I have to do it again. Their vile thoughts control my speech they swear at all my friends. They sit on my shoulder and rain on my parade. They like me on my own, vulnerable and scared.

    I’m never free, they reside in my head often I wish I was dead. I have pulled out my hair at its roots, fidgeted and yanked, anything to try and stop their assault. Prised off my fingernails thinking part of them is living there, I can feel them crawling. I’ve wet myself in fright they’ve cackled and heckled in delight, reveling in my plight.

    Sometimes they’re my friend and I think it’s all come to an end, they make me smile for a while. When counselors visit they smile and are serene, when she’s not looking there tweaking in my brain, driving me insane. No-one will believe me, I’m sick you see. They’ve poked until I’ve bled and said if I tell I’m dead.

    Tonight I have had enough the demons are going to pay.

    I slice from ear to ear, now at them I jeer “Put your dick away, no play time today”.


  5. Whisper of substance in elegant repose
    Opening each blade dancing with the morning sun
    Fingers bidding me stay
    To drink in his memory

    Beside your bed we slept one night
    Stretched out in silent dreaming
    Washed in the tears of night’s departure
    Fearful of the morning dew

    Violent sidereal day uncovered midnight shadow
    We woke murmuring hope and promise with
    Patriotic burden ready to pounce
    Clothed in mortality and fear

    He drew from the garden bed
    A white ethereal rose washed in the dew
    dancing in the morning sun
    He left me to never return

    Word Count: a tiny 95


  6. The Lily
    582 words

    The petals from the lily in the red vase had fallen to the table. Marcie knew she should get up and throw it away, but the lily reminded her of the fragility of life. She could feel the disease spreading through her body like a vine, and when she looked at the flower she thought about the night out with Brooks.

    Only a week ago, they had gone out to dinner and it had been just like old times. Before the slammed doors, before the separate bedrooms, before the silence had crept up between them like a plague. Her heart hurt for the way things used to be between them, and that night she had felt a little of the old spark return.

    She had planned the dinner. It had been her intention to tell him what the doctor had told her.

    “Colon cancer. Metastatic.”

    “How long do I have to live?”

    And he had just shook his head, and then droned on and on about treatment options. In that moment, she had a desire to set things straight with Brooks. An affair was an affair, right? And she could forgive him for that. “We’re only human,” she thought.

    At dinner, he’d slid his hand across the table and grasped hers, and she felt the long lost flutter fill her with a longing for him she hadn’t felt in so long. She wanted to go home and crawl into bed with him. She wanted him to hold her tight all night long to comfort her and tell her everything would be alright, even when she knew it wouldn’t.

    He bought the flower from the vendor in the courtyard outside the restaurant, one of the petals brushed off into the snow: white on white. And so she thought with the kindness of the night, they would go home and make love. The babysitter would have already put the kids to bed.

    But when they came home they went their separate ways. She curled up in the middle of her bed and the tears ran rivers down her pillowcase as she thought about what little time she had left and everything she still wanted to do. She wanted to feel Brooks’ arms around her, she wanted to cuddle into him, but more than that she wanted to fix what had gone wrong in the first place: whatever that was.

    So she hadn’t told him, and a week had gone by. She hustled the kids off to school in their winter coats every day and watched Jim walk out the door. Slowly, the petals began to drop from the flower, one by one, dying as she was.

    He came home early one day, and he was shocked to see her there.

    “I thought you’d be at knitting club or something?”

    “I have something to tell you,” she said.

    “I have something to tell you too.”

    “You first,” she said.

    “I don’t love you anymore,” he said, as he sank into his chair. “I want a divorce.”

    She stared at the petals resting on the table. The words stung, but they’d be nothing compared to the words she could throw back at him.

    “I’ve been googling.”


    She focused on the flower petals curled up, browned at the edge, laying on the table and did not look at him. The pain in her chest was unbearable.

    “I wouldn’t go through the cost of a divorce, if I were you. I’ll be dead in six months anyway.”


  7. Ma Name is Butch

    Ma name is Butch out on the street
    They look and say, “don’ he look neat.”
    I come alive when I do ma jive
    So gimme five goin down the drive

    I didn’t always live so cool
    The whole dam’ world called me a fool
    Tho’ I yearn, I had to learn
    Be myself and live life stern

    Been on ma own since afore I was grown
    A cosy life was never known
    Never knew ma Dad an’ that makes me sad
    Me and Ma was all we had

    I do recall folks looked so tall
    But I guess that’s cos I was so small
    Then these tall folks dragged me away
    Never knew why, right to this day

    It scared me out of ma socks
    When they put me in that box
    I got jumbled and I got tumbled
    And I guess you would say that I got humbled

    I soon learned that I had to bend
    When that journey reached the end
    Them tall folks soon put me down
    On, what to me, was foreign ground

    They pushed at me with a hard faced broom
    And locked me in a tiny room
    And yes I howled as best I could
    Till they came back and gave me food

    My new life was in a hole
    No control of ma own soul
    Food and water came my way
    And helped me through this painful stay

    But I ain’t blind and I ain’t stupid
    So I sucked up and played like cupid
    Made them like me and learn to trust
    And got their feelings kinda mussed

    As time passed by, they got slack
    They left the door out to the back
    Outside there I could see the gate
    Make a run; it’s not too late

    My legs quivered
    My back shivered
    Belly on the floor
    I slid to the door

    My feet hit the grass
    And I shifted my ass
    Out through the gate
    To find my fate

    Yes! Yes! Yes! I made it
    I hit the street and faded
    From their sight, into the night
    Continuing my headlong flight

    Many trials have come and gone
    Through them all I carried on
    Because I believe with all my might
    That this freedom is my right

    Freedom has a price to pay
    I must hide away throughout the day
    Because the Man with the Van
    Will catch and throw me in the Can

    He scours the streets
    Following regular beats
    Be it dry or be it wet
    He’s prowling with his great big net

    So night time is my realm
    I try not to overwhelm
    My fellow running mates
    Cause we all got out that gate

    Along the streets we pound
    Howling like a pack of hounds
    Darting here and darting there
    Our stomping ground is everywhere

    So here I am,

    Cock of the Walk

    Talking the Talk

    Giving my ladies a smooch

    Because….I am……

    Butch The Pooch!

    488 words


  8. Some of the tech accessibility is inspired by a scene in Pedro Almodovar’s “Los Abrazos Rotos” (Broken Embraces).

    “See Me”
    Shucking his cable knit sweater off, Thomas didn’t have to check the calendar to know that Summer was on its way. And with it, he would be cursed with more time on his hands than usual.

    Though he couldn’t see the sun, the affects of its light still affected his circadian rhythm keeping him up until his body agreed that the night had come-the lonely night.

    His sister had been pressuring him to try dating again, but after his last long-term relationship over two years prior and a string of unfruitful setups, he was loathe to try again.

    Maybe the problem was that others were the ones setting him up. For years, he’d wished there was a way he could vet people on his own without the embarrassment of having to go through a date postmortem with his sister or cousin.

    Perhaps he could find someone who shared his love for the intricacies of old, Latin-jazz music and also enjoyed the way a good orator could bend words of an audio book. In an ultra-ideal world, he would find someone who wouldn’t mind eloquently describing what was taking place in one of those award nominated films his cousin, Jerry, continually praised (but lacked the patience to narrate for Thomas).

    Shuffling into his living room, Thomas plopped down at his desk recalling that a few older, tech savvy teens at the institute he volunteered at a few times a week were going on about a dating app that actually read out profiles to a user.

    Pushing past his slight techno phobia and with a grain of apprehension, but with nothing better to do, the 30-something-year old bachelor booted up his laptop and typed on the braille keyboard until the computer informed him he’d reached the site.

    “Male? Female? Both?” the electronic voice assistant listed options.

    “Both,” Thomas replied into the laptop’s voice command search.

    Once choosing gender, he went through and chose an age range and the site also (thankfully) allowed him to choose different interests to help narrow the search.

    “You have twenty-three matches,” the staccato voice stated.

    Thomas scanned through each profile listening meticulously, but none seemed to be a real match until he listened through the details of a 29-year-old student named Cooper.

    Once he was past the superficial description of his appearance and into the young man’s interest in recreational sports as well as obscure cinema and a wide range of books and music, Thomas’ interest was peaked.

    His sight-enabled friends and family had told him on multiple occasions that he was handsome, but he’d never put too much stock into what he may or may not look like, though he did try his best to appear neat and clean and wear fabrics with textures that felt good on his extra sensitive skin.

    Even so, he created a profile and uploaded a picture his sister took of him a year prior for his freelance voice-to-braille translation work. He’d enjoyed languages for a long time, and he had a talent for transcribing what he heard in one language into another via his braille keyboard. It could be tedious at times to “proof-listen” after typing to make sure the translations made sense, but it was rewarding to think that blind people who spoke languages other than English could listen to speeches and other information that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to.

    Biting his lip and nervously tapping his fingertips on the desk, Thomas sent Copper a message of interest.

    Emersing himself in work for a few hours, Thomas was startled then happily surprised when the laptop dinged informing him he had a message from Cooper asking if he’d like to meet up.

    “Oh crap,” Thomas uttered to himself.

    Wiping the sweat from his brow, he prepped a reply in the affirmative and exhaled heavily.

    “What have I got to loose?” he asked himself before sending off his reply.

    Smiling dumbly, Thomas was so caught up in the exchange and giddiness of a new date that he didn’t realize that he neglected to inform his new suitor that he was blind.
    681 @skarlitsunrise


  9. Her hand trembles slightly as she brings the bright red lipstick to her mouth and slides it across her lips. It takes concentration to make the lines straight. More now than it used to.

    Finished, she examines her reflection. Her hair is slightly tousled, but not enough to worry about it. Her dress is a little black number she’s had for years. It’s her favorite: short and lacy, and tight in all the right places. It’s tighter than it used to be in some places, she’ll admit, but she still looks decent for someone her age. She sets the lipstick on the counter and picks up the glass that’s next to it. She brings it to her lips, and realizes too late it’s empty. Disappointment, she sets the glass back on the counter a little too hard. The bang echoes loudly, and she realizes she has a headache. Reluctantly, she stumbles out of the small powder room and back to the party.

    Thankfully, blissfully, she finds a passing waiter and relieves him of one of the sparkling, softly clinking glasses he’s carrying. She downs half of the pale liquid in one gulp, and her head feels marginally better.

    A woman—her hostess, an acquaintance—holds a captive audience at the front of the room. From the faces of those she’s surrounded by, she’s either giving a rousing speech or telling a very amusing story. But she can’t focus on the other woman.

    She’s just tipping back her head to finish the second half of her drink when she notices him. He’s young and very handsome, and for a moment she thinks he must be looking at someone else. No one has looked at her that way in a very long time. His stare is intense, and it makes her stomach flip in a way that has nothing to do with the alcohol that’s making her head swim.

    She tries to ignore him as she flags down a waiter for another drink. It works. The next time she chances a glance at him, he’s not even looking her direction. But then moments later, she finds him staring at her. There’s something about his gaze that’s so intense and even intimate. He smiles.

    She gives him the smallest of smiles back and lifts her glass in his direction. When he responds by rising from the couch and crossing the room to her, her heart hammers against her chest.

    There are no formalities, no introductions. He’s suddenly just there, his lips against her ear, his hand on the small of her back. His proximity is more intoxicating than any of the alcohol she’s had all evening. She knows she should pull away, excuse herself, and join one of the more polite conversations that swell around them. But the things he’s whispering in her ear make her want to forget her own name. It’s been way too long since anyone has said those things to her.

    She’s nearly powerless to resist him as his hand gently pushes against her back and he guides her toward the exit. Nearly. There’s a tiny part of her brain that’s screaming at her to turn around and go back to the party. But there’s a more demanding part of her, the one that barely fits into her best cocktail dress anymore, that’s shouting at her to go for it. You only live once, right?

    His car’s just downstairs. It’s dark and fast, and before she even realizes it, they’re sliding silently through the dark and nearly deserted streets.

    There are almost no words spoken, but his hand is on her thigh, and he winks at her, giving her that same smile. It makes her want to melt into a puddle right there on his leather seats.

    In the end it’s the smile that’s her undoing. It’s why she never questions him; never senses the danger. She lets him lead her into his apartment and to his bed. He disappears for a moment, and by the time he returns, it’s too late. There’s a flash of steel, and she gasps as her world turns red. The last thing she sees before everything goes black is his stunning, dazzling smile.

    (700 words)


  10. Gavin pulled the blanket up over her face, trying to feel something, but only numbness came. There was so much death now it was hard to have any other reaction. Then he stood and viewed the barren room, walking over the bare concrete floor to the window, and looked over the dead city. He had to get out of here, he knew that; the clock was ticking. He could hear it in his head.

    He glanced back at Trisha’s body. He still couldn’t bring an emotion. They both knew she was going to succumb, and he did the right thing finding this quiet place for her to pass, but now what? Was he next? He didn’t feel it; he felt okay.

    He had to go, but he lingered. He might not be able to feel sadness or love, but leaving Trish here, it felt wrong. But where was there to bury someone in a city? An empty city at that – well empty of people, you couldn’t move for debris.

    He went back over to her body and squatted down. He pulled the blanket back again and looked at her silent face. He brushed a finger along her white cheek, and bent down to kiss it. The only thing he felt was a hole, a big empty hole in his gut. He was alone now.

    He flicked the blanket back and left the apartment without allowing a further thought.

    He took the stairs, running down them at high speed, so the twenty-five flights went faster and his mind become a blur along with the stairwell.

    At the bottom he pushed out into the street and stood completely still. Waiting. He could hear the wind and the debris being tossed around by it, and a banging from a loose door a few blocks down, but there were no deliberate sounds, either human or animal.

    Everything was gone, and he had to go too.

    He looked around at the cars all bunched up in the roads, and started jogging along the streets he knew would take him out, watching the jams thicken, observing how the human race was so predictable.

    When he reached the outskirts he stopped, the road ahead a trail of yet more vehicles, and considered what to do. That was when he heard it, a light tapping.

    It was several cars ahead before he spotted the movement, and he debated whether to go over – did he want to see? But he knew he had to.

    At the back window was a small face, a boy, trapped, but alive. For the first time in days he felt something rise inside him, some positive, something desperate, and he started yanking and kicking at the crumpled door. It wasn’t going to give.

    He looked around at the debris on the ground and found a good size rock, with a sharp point. The boy saw him and moved back. Gavin smashed at the window, remembering to aim for the bottom corner as that was where they said it would most likely break in an emergency, and when it popped it brought with it a gush of rotten air from inside. Gavin resisted moving back from it, instead reaching in to grab the boy who reached for him and pulling him out. He stumbled as he stepped back and they both fell, the boy on top of him, but neither let go, as though afraid to, clinging to the life they had found.

    Eventually the boy pulled up and looked up at Gavin with delight, but also caution.

    “I’m David,” he croaked, his throat dry from days trapped in the car.

    “I’m Gavin,” Gavin replied, also through a croaky voice. His emotions had finally kicked in.


  11. “Great Luna.” Half a league outside the village, I wrapped a scarf around my nose and mouth.

    Snow flanked either side of the enchanted moonstone road. The cream stone glowed in the light of its namesake in the sky above. No sound out of the ordinary reached us, but the winter wind carried the stench of death. The moon cast her full brilliance over the land, but I saw no sign of threat, no cause for alarm as we approached. The village gave all appearances of a quietly sleeping hamlet.

    “Cantrix, what is that smell? It’s awful. It’s—urk.”

    Poor Luka, only seventeen and barely out of the Cantorum. I looked over my shoulder in time to watch him stagger off the road and cast up his dinner. The snow steamed as the vomit melted through.

    “It’s death, lad.” I eased the curved blades of my kukiri from the sheaths at my hips. “Stay close to me, understood?”

    Luka pushed himself upright, wiping his face with shaking hands. His wide eyes locked on me as he managed a quick bob of his head.

    “Steady, now. If anything moves—”

    “Cantrix, over there,” he whispered, pointing to a pile of snow to the west.

    The mound shivered and grew, tossing snow in every direction with a huge shake.

    “No.” I denied what my eyes insisted stood in the distance. “No, you can’t be here.”

    But the beast rose to its staggering height with a roar. Ursus? But bearfolk were extinct. None had survived the massacre. I’d sung many of the dying—blind to the world, maddened by the poison scorching through them—on to the next world myself. Yet all around us, they burst from the snow.

    The Cantorum once counted the Ursis as allies. This—this felt more like a trap than a welcome.

    Luka lurched back a step, bumping hard against me.

    “Get down, Luka.” I pushed him to sit and walked out a careful path around him. Once, twice, thrice, my voice never breaking as I sang a canticle of protection. “Don’t move from this circle, child. Until it’s safe or the sun rises.” I lifted my kukiri. “Whichever comes first.”
    Striding awkwardly through the knee-high snow, I approached the first bear. He towered above me, growling as I approached. I sang a canticle of peace, purposely choosing a song too weak to force him to return to his human state.

    “Ursus.” I greeted him with a formal bow. “I am Cantrix Arcadia Maslow of the Iocasia Chorus.”

    “I couldn’t care less if you claimed to be Luna herself and shat moonbeams to prove it.” The bear’s voice rumbled, deep as distant thunder or a tremble in the earth. “Where is your lady’s light, singer?” He waved a paw toward Luka. “Even the boy boasts her infernal glow.”
    I expected to see Luka within the circle, but he raced down the road, a dagger in his hand. Snatches of his song reached us, and my blood froze.

    “Luka, no!”

    Luka’s battle hymn enraged the bears and he led them away. Away from the town. From me. From safety. The aura of Luna surrounding him winked out abruptly. He didn’t even scream.

    “You fool,” I whispered. “Why didn’t you listen?”

    The bear made a sound I could mistake for laughter, were my sanity in question.

    “You murdered a child.”

    “Your kind slaughtered our species!” He bared teeth the length of my hand. “But your song is weak. You can’t even make a child mind his place.”

    “My song was a peace offering, beast man.”

    He snarled at the slur, lunging straight for me. I ducked and spun, avoiding his clawed swipes. I buried my kukiri in his gut, carving his insides apart.

    “You were right about one thing,” I said to the corpse at my feet. “I am not blessed with Luna’s aura. But I am not weak.”

    Deep and solemn, I projected a new melody. This song absorbed the light, blinded the world around me. The other bears’ voices echoed in the night, shifting to human tones, and human fear.

    “My Lady’s dark aspect embraces me. And the dark is full of terror.”

    696 words


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