Tag Archives: flash fiction

Zombie Flash Fiction: On Domestic Soil

This piece was written as part of a promotional contest for J. Whitworth Hazzard, who prepares to release his four Dead Sea Games books within one print compilation. The flash fiction contest is judged by Miranda Kate. See the link below to read the other entries.

Returning_Home,_New_York_Times,_1919

“Returning Home” 1919, New York Times

On Domestic Soil
by Marissa Ames
486 words

We returned from the Great War, certain no worse horrors existed than we’d witnessed in Europe. Dead French children, lying in pieces after German invasions, could not compare to American children, walking in pieces after the Spanish Flu.

Ten months we waited in Nantucket. Olive drab wool hung from bodies that had been strapping before the draft. Farm boys and dockworkers, we had obeyed Woodrow Wilson and defended the world. We swore we could see Lady Liberty from the coast if we squinted. We wanted to kiss our mothers, for the war was over. Ten months, because of a pandemic on domestic soil.

We only knew what the dots and dashes told, brief code testifying of a plague ravaging young bodies. A flu threatened to exterminate New York before the next decade. It took fathers and mothers, and boys too young for the draft. It would take us as well if we left Nantucket.

For ten months, the officers wouldn’t let us rest. We trained like Germans on the Western Front, building trenches out of bricks and wood. They claimed the next war would not be in the countryside. Our bayonets stabbed straw dummies. Aim for the head, they said. Always the head.

The dots and dashes stopped. A final four words: All dead. Feeling sick.

We boarded the ship home, clutching scarred bayonets. Ghost ships drifted in Long Island Sound. Sailors shuffled on deck, ignoring our hails. The officers refused to stop. Dead, they said, though the sailors still walked. Bodies floated in the East River, bloated and stinking. Still they twitched and swam.

New Yorkers roamed Times Square, all dead. Rotting hands clutched newspapers, as if the bodies remembered they still had jobs to do. Women shuffled through the streets with dried blood on their hobble skirts, testifying that hobbling for fashion had been their downfall. Bowlers and fedoras tumbled in the wind, kicked by the mindless ambling of corpses in spats.

With khaki cloth tied around our mouths, we slunk through the streets. Keep quiet, the officers said, until safe within the trenches. Keep your bayonets ready, else you fall the same way as did the previous platoon.

That platoon had not known what to expect, the officers said. The dots and dashes never mentioned an appetite for flesh, or inhuman speed despite rotting limbs. We found pieces of the previous platoon, leftover after the dead had eaten their fill. Those pieces walked or crawled, draped in olive drab, searching for more flesh to consume.

Within trenches built before that platoon fell, we whispered and prayed. For our mothers, we said. For President Wilson, and the United States. An attack developed by an enemy more human than our former patriots would give us the advantage. Strike hard and fast, the officers said. Aim for the head. Always the head.

We raised our bayonets high, to defend the world before the next decade began.

 

Soldiers from Fort Riley, Kansas, ill with the Spanish Flu

Soldiers from Fort Riley, Kansas, ill with the Spanish Flu

Did you enjoy this story? Read the other entries, contest rules, and information regarding the Dead Sea Games books HERE!

Like my story? Kickstart the zombie apocalypse by publishing Dead Sea Games.

Want to write like me? Personal coaching and critiquing by Miranda Kate.

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Dead Leaves

This was written for the Fall Flash Festival, hosted/judged by Eric Martell and Daniel Swensen. As we self-published authors can do, I’ve also submitted it for consideration for J.A.Mes Press’ Halloween Anthology.

Click Image for Photo Credit

Click Image for Photo Credit

Dead Leaves, 1000 words, by Marissa Ames

Trees rustled overhead, and dry, papery leaves tumbled over Angie’s face. White-gold sunlight angled beneath the canopy. A chill afternoon wind brought the aroma of dust and impending frost.

Angie rolled her head to the side, collecting autumn leaves in the congealed blood where the bullet had grazed her temple. She groaned at her crippling headache.

Something groaned in response.

Motionless beneath the autumn carpet, Angie glanced around. Heavy feet moved through the leaves with a rhythmic step-shuffle. Her fingers flexed, longing for her Glock. A half-decayed man, with scalp and hair hanging from the right side of his skull, ambled among the twice-dead.

The wind blew through the grove, stripping leaves from her inert body.

The zombie whirled around. Milky eyes fixed on her. Twisting its body until it faced her, it shuffled between leaf-covered mounds of rotting flesh.

Angie held her breath as the zombie swayed above her. It opened its mouth and groaned. Flecks of rotten lip fell off and skittered down the channel between her nose and cheek. Angie gagged and coughed. The zombie flinched, tilted its head, and bent down to observe her. They stared, her blue gaze to his milky white, as she tried to keep from blinking. The zombie stood up straight with a creaking of shrunken tendons. Groaning softly through the hole in its throat, it turned away.

She closed her eyes against the nauseating sunlight as the walking corpse explored the killing field. Shivering within her M65 field jacket, she slowly lifted an arm. In response to the rustle of leaves, the zombie turned again. It groaned in acknowledgement. Angie wiggled her fingers, but the corpse ignored her and continued its exploration.

With her eyes on the zombie, she sat up and pushed the leaves away. It did not respond as she stood, staggering from a sudden rush of vertigo. Angie widened her stance and cupped her hands over her eyes, smearing sticky blood over her face. She pulled her hands back and cursed at the gash across her palm.

She pressed her palm to her mouth, licking the salty, coppery blood away. The flavor soothed her, calmed her headache.

With her lips sealed over the wound, she shuffled between zombie bodies, toward the sunset.

This morning the unit had traveled east from the barn, following the old country road beside the broken-down white slat fence, keeping their guns trained before them. The old maple groves had been a refuge during the summer, unpopulated before the outbreak and free of zombies after. Now the old groves were no safer than the rest of Vermont. Angie’s unit, determined to defend their home, had used the most agile of them as bait. He had ducked between rotting hands before the rest of the unit opened fire on the herd of undead.

Sweat beaded on her forehead and she shivered beneath her jacket. The sun winked between maple trunks as she trudged down the abandoned road. Her old black combat boots plowed through mounds of red and orange, shoving the leaves aside. She pulled her hand away to cough then pressed her lips back against the freshly bleeding gash.

Gray against the flame of autumn, the barn rose higher on the other side of the little hill. She blinked her blurry eyes, watching the wooden shingles bob up, then down, then up higher in rhythm to her rough gait.

Piles of blackened wood lay around the barn, where the unit had burned the twice-dead to avoid contamination. An old Dutch oven sat on a rock beside the dedicated cooking fire. Nobody roamed the yard.

Angie coughed as she pressed on the latch. She rolled her neck back and forth, shivering when the wind dipped its chill fingers into her coat and down her back. Grabbing the handle with two sticky hands, she pulled the barn door open.

Sleeping bags carpeted the middle of the barn, well away from the walls. Angie found Todd’s bag, right beside the 4×4 support beam where he liked to hang his .357. She shrugged out of her jacket and sank to her knees. Pulling back the ripped and patched flap, she slid into the bag and buried her face in the quilting. It smelled like him. Angie shoved the fabric against her nose and inhaled deeply.

The door creaked open, and the last of the day’s light peeked in. Ten living bodies shadowed the entrance. Angie listened for the slick sound of cowboy boots along the barn floor. Todd led the unit into the barn, sliding his .357 from his shoulder as the door creaked shut.

The wooden stock of the gun tapped against the 4×4. Todd’s big, callused hand shifted on the beam as he kicked his boots off. Sliding against the beam, Angie made room for the man who had promised to love her forever.

Who had promised to never hurt her.

Todd knelt down, and his hand landed on her feverish arm. He froze. Inhaling a slow, cautious breath, he slid his rough palm against her sweaty skin, stopping at her paracord bracelet he had given her months ago.

He traced the bite mark just below the bracelet, his fingers glancing over the edges of dying flesh. Todd’s hand trembled.

It trembled just as it had this morning, when he had witnessed the bite. When the zombie had grabbed her wrist and sank its teeth into her flesh. His hands trembled so much that the barrel of the .357 jerked wildly as he took aim. Todd’s eyes clenched shut. He pulled the trigger.

The bullet had only grazed her.

Todd now yelled and jerked back, but Angie grabbed his wrist. She held tight with newfound strength and vigor, with muscles not yet decayed, in the most dangerous phase of the transformation. The phase Todd had tried to avoid by shooting her when she was first bitten.

Todd twisted and fought as the unit scrambled about in the darkness.

Gunpowder flashed as her teeth sank into his skin.

Read other stories from this contest here:

A Hell of a Thing by Lisa V. Tomecek

This story is written for AMMC: A Merry Minion Christmas. You can find the rules here:

Title: “A Hell of a Thing”
Author: Lisa V. Tomecek
eBook: YES

Words: 500

“Come in from the cold, Uncle.”

I look up from the window to see him standing there by the open door: tall and lean and maybe thirty, with an easy smile, stubble, shaggy hair. And flip-flops.

Who wears flip-flops in the snow?

He’s always been like that, my nephew. I suspect I’ll never understand why.

“You look like hell, Uncle,” he says, and means it. I take in the jumble of thrift store denim and flannel and chuckle at the irony.

“I’m fine,” I say. I shrug deeper into my overcoat—black, wool, made in Italy—and heft my coffee. The steam spirals up in the chill. “Just out for a walk.”

“Don’t lie, Uncle. You didn’t walk.”

He frowns and waves a hand at the car that sits idling at the curb. The engine rumbles like a drowsing beast; the parking lights pulse red, wash the icy slush on the streets with blood.

“Come in. Bring your driver, too. We’re sitting down to dinner. Everyone’s there—well, except you.”

I know already. I’ve seen them gathered around the table, watched a long time. The memories of younger days wash over me, and for a moment, I think about it. But—

“No. I’m fine. I have things to do. Business meetings. Paperwork. Hostile takeovers. You know how it goes.”

But I know he doesn’t; he’s never been the corporate type. Still, he lets me play the game, and he smiles that easy smile again.

“It’s been a long time—too long. Everyone would be glad to see you.”

There he’s wrong. There I know better. I shrug and swallow my coffee. It’s bitter.

“Your dad and I don’t get along. We haven’t. We won’t.”

“You could,” he says, “if you tried.”

“I don’t think so,” I tell him. “Sometimes things go too far for making up.”

He frowns again. The falling snow clings to his shirt, lights in his hair. “You know I don’t agree.”

“And you know I think you’re too idealistic for your own good.”

A sudden sadness comes over him. He lifts up his hands, plaintive. “I wish you’d stop this, Uncle. Every year, you show up on the doorstep, and every year you refuse to come in. Just—why?”

I smile. It’s thin, wistful. I taste the spoiled memories. They’re bitter, like the coffee.

“Pride, kid. Pride’s a hell of a thing.”

I turn back to the waiting car.

“Should I tell him you came, Uncle?” he calls after.

I don’t bother to turn back.

“No.”

There’s a long pause, then—

“Merry Christmas, Uncle,” he says quietly, in that way without malice that I’ll never understand.

The car door opens. The heat welling from within washes the chill off my bones. I sit down, settle in, shut the door. My driver leans in from the front seat. His eyes catch the streetlights and glow, molten pools of red. They weren’t always that way.

Neither were mine.

“Where to, Boss?”

“Away,” I tell him. “Anywhere but here.”

Read other stories from this project here:

Three Kings of Armageddon by R.K. Ames

This story is written for AMMC: A Merry Minion Christmas. You can find the rules here:

Title: “Three Kings of Armageddon”
Author: R.K. Ames
eBook: YES

Dedication: To my wife and to my children: Joe and Sahara.

Har Meggido

“Shepherding seven Hebrew girls through the countryside at night? It’s enough to get an old cleric killed, Balthazar,” commented Melchior as he peered up the sheer walls of the pass, a quarter night’s walk outside the ruins of Har Megiddo. The three astrologists ran an unprecedented risk. However, Gaspar had yet to steer them wrong. He swore that the Godling had mandated it.

“Seven, seven, seven years,” muttered Melchior as he waggled a knobby knuckled finger at the back of Gaspar’s bald, clay-colored head. “Seven years since we left Babylon’s milk-laden bosom. I assumed that honoring the Godling would be the pinnacle, yet here we are. Trekking an ankle-breaking pass, pursued by Ehudi of all people. Ehudi the Tracker, Ehudi the Man Hunter.”

“Come now, Melchior,” said Gaspar in his comforting squeak of a voice. “What are our lives compared to the Godling’s desires?” Everything about Gaspar seemed unkempt yet everything was also in its proper space. The cold didn’t seem to affect the Hindu, like it did the rest of the party. Gaspar seemed to sweat confidence and exhale calm.

“Ehudi is a man,” Gaspar muttered reassuringly.  “The Godling is the avatar of a god. A life unthreatened is a life unlived, my friend.”

Balthazar grunted rhythmically as he hoisted white-slipped girl after white-slipped girl up a small ledge.  “Once through the pass we are out of Hebrew land,” he said. “We’ll claim that the girls are slaves. No one will look twice other than to inquire price.”

Melchior watched Balthazar as he handled the girls, his ebony hands contrasting on their bright white dresses. “I do wish one of these wrens would chirp” he grumbled. “The Godling wouldn’t close his mouth, but these ones haven’t spoken since we took them.”

Balthazar quipped, “The Godling said that each one had the power to destroy a nation. I’m not sure I’d want to hear them talk.” He rounded a sharp landing on the stone-hewn staircase that led to Har Megiddo’s first watchtower. At front edge of his vision a shadowy figure waivered, not quite illuminated by the torch it held.

Quick on Balthazar’s heels, Gaspar walked straight into his broad, shirtless black back. He stumbled, cursed, looked up the staircase, and froze. Seven white dresses jostled to accommodate the sudden his sudden stop. All that white, against the dark mountain pass stairway, blinded Melchior.

“Ehudi, I had expected that you would find us sooner,” crooned Gaspar. “It is reassuring to see that Herod’s most loyal hound has lived up to his reputation. All that must be must become.”

A pleasant voice echoed down the stairwell, “Archers have you in their sights. You have nowhere to run. Finish your ascent.”

A single torch, held by a single man dressed in boiled leather, appeared on the landing. Surrounded by archers, the group had nowhere else to go.

Silently, the group filed to the top of the pass and gathered in the atrium on the inside of the watchtower. All in plain robes, trail dust, and sweat that reflected in the bright torch light. There stood men with dour faces and weapons.

The men trained their weapons on the group. “Gaspar,” the leather-clad torch-wielder sputtered around a cleft palate. “Herod inquires as to why you left without saying farewell. He will be unpleased to find that you have taken slaves as well. “ He said out of the side of his mouth, earning a chitter from the subordinate trackers, “Clerics and astrologers? I wouldn’t want to learn what they want with little girls.”

Gaspar, face glowing brighter with each emphasized word, righteous rage sparking a fire in his squeaky throat, responded, “They Are Not Slaves, Ehudi, but inchoate celestial weapons with a god-mandated purpose! The young ones will not be molested! Their divine purpose will not contradicted! They were born on the same night as the Godling. The Star shone for them as well. The Godling and his angels will determine their fate.”

“You have no place to go Gaspar.” Ehudi smirked almost confidentially, arms wide staring into the morning. “The sun’s rising and there is nowhere to hide.”

Mid-smirk, confusion bloomed on Ehudi’s cleft face. Turning to look in the direction that Ehudi stared, conflicting expressions appeared the congregation’s faces. Balthazar registered shock while rapture spread across Gaspar’s.

The sky remained dark, yet the atrium was brighter than a mid-day in mid-summer.

Heads swiveled to the door of the watchtower as a deep bass voice boomed through group’s ears.  White-dressed girls stood in a triangle, shortest in front and arranged thusly. The image burned into group’s minds as seven flower-lipped mouths said in unison, “Hear me and tremble, heed me and dread. The dark night approaches. In the end I will rise. I will destroy. I will blow the seven trumpets. The earth will quake. Its inhabitants will bleed. Its inhabitants will burn. I will lie myself down and when I awake, Har Meggido will be the epicenter of the end of times. I am the harbinger of the Son of God!”

With a flash, the group saw only the residue of the vision on the backs of their eyelids. With a crash the brilliance was gone. Dresses were gone. The watchtower was razed to rubble. With eyelids crushed together, Melchior could only distinguish the smell of dust, burnt ozone, and fresh urine.

In the midst of the billowing dust, a column of pure light settled before the small group. As the light sparkled off the sandstone rubble, Melchior could feel the words in his soul, “Well done good and faithful servants, come ye into the rest of the Lord.” A tingling passed through his body as the sensation of gravity left him.

Read other stories from this project here:

A Nixie Christmas by Theresa Miller

This story is written for AMMC: A Merry Minion Christmas. You can find the rules here:

Title: “A Nixie Christmas”
Author: Theresa Miller
eBook: YES

To my daughter, Katrina Novak, from whose brain the Nixies and Noxies were born. May your imagination continue to make the world a better place.

fairy christmas ball

“D.U.B.S., this is Agent Noreen Silva, I have a situation here.”

The communicator in Noreen’s hand came to life with a tinny gender neutral voice. “Due to budget shortfalls, the office of the Department of Underworld Border Security has been temporarily closed. Please avoid any emergency situations until we reopen.”

“Thom is that you? I really do need to get through to Noxie Command.

“Thom this isn’t funny.

“Thom? Hello?”

Noreen stared at her communicator in consternation. Had Tatiana and Oberon’s squabbling gotten that far out of hand? Reluctantly she trickled the necessary magic into the device to switch it from Communicate to Record and Transmit.

“This is Agent Noreen Silva reporting a disturbance in the Verge. There’s a depression about my height and twice as wide.” She paused, considering. “For the sake of accuracy I must report it’s a bit taller than me; about the height of a regular Noxie or,” she shuddered delicately, “Nixie.

“Since no Noxie worth their dust would mistreat the border this way, I assume a group of Nixies passed through recently. This would be a great time for backup. Agent Silva; going in.”

Noreen hung the communicator on her belt, then put her hands on the soft, springy substance of the boundary and melded into it. Tingles running through the Verge material painted clear pictures for experienced Verge travelers. Today’s picture was all too familiar. Her brother had been here. Like all Nixies he was the offspring of a Noxie father and a Pixie mother. Like all Nixies he had a Noxie’s ability to meld with and shape the Verge and a pixie’s penchant for mischief.

“Must I spend my life cleaning up after him?” Noreen sighed as she followed the familiar trail. She was almost to the Other Side before she found the pocket. She pulled out the communicator.

“Agent Silva again. It’s definitely Nixies. I’ve found their stash. It would’ve taken quite a few of them to stash this many…” She reached out and tentatively prodded the nearest brightly colored box. It crinkled under her questing finger. “Well, whatever they are they’re bigger than socks or spoons and there are a lot of them.”

Noreen pocketed the communicator, hefted the largest of the boxes and, closing her eyes, concentrated on willing the Verge to allow the passage of the strange object. Reaching the edge, she poked her head through, right into the prickly branches of a pine tree. She was sure it was winter in the human realms, but the tree was bare of snow and the air was warm and stuffy.

She frowned. This didn’t make sense. She seemed to be both in a forest and in a house. Things didn’t work that way in the human realm. They just didn’t.

Movement caught her eye. She turned and found herself face to face with a dread beast straight out of her nightmares. The black-furred creature narrowed its yellow eyes and bared its fangs. Noreen jerked her head back into the Verge as the beast lunged for her, claws extended. Its paws passed through the barrier and caught her collar, dragging her back into the human world. She twisted out of her jacket and fell, hitting branch after branch until she landed face down on a softly carpeted floor.

“Mittens, what are you doing in there? Are you in the tree again?” A woman appeared in the doorway. “Get down from th-.” The woman stopped short and put her hands over her mouth, eyes wide.

Noreen froze. How was this human seeing her, especially partially hidden as she was by the tree trunk?

“The presents.” The woman turned. “Bob, the presents. They’re gone!” Quietly Noreen melded back into the Verge.

“D.U.B.S., Agent Silva again. I have a female human distressed about missing ‘presents.’ I know humans are obsessed with the current point in time, but have no idea how it can go missing. If these humans have a way to store bits of time in boxes and a bit of forest growing in the middle of their house, we need to do a sweep for magic in this area. There must be a leak. In the meantime the tree is guarded by a ferocious feline. I’ll have to find a different route. Looks like it’s gonna be an all-nighter. Sure would appreciate that backup.”

It was a long night. When she finally finished pushing the time boxes into the human world she dragged her aching body to a point along the Edge where she could see the tree. The magic must still be leaking in because it was now covered with a myriad of colored lights and glittering pretties.

The woman sat sadly on the floor surrounded by several smaller humans, the smallest of which was crying. Noreen wondered for a moment if she had failed, but then dismissed the thought. Crying was one of the default states of small humans and it always seemed to make the bigger ones sad.

“Shhh,” the woman said hugging the smallest one. “We can still have Christmas without presents. We still have each other.” The small one only wailed louder.

Suddenly a door blew open and bounced off the wall with a bang. The wind blew in a flurry of cold and snow and a human man who was grinning from ear to ear.

“Merry Christmas!” he bellowed, throwing his arms open wide. “Santa must have been extra busy last night. He didn’t have time to bring the presents down the chimney. They’re all up on the roof.”

The small humans squealed, jumped to their feet and ran to follow the man outside. The woman sat there for a moment then reached under the tree. She held up a beautiful little red jacket with a torn collar. She gazed at it a moment. It was too small for any of her children. Where had it come from?

A shriek of pure joy came through the open door followed by the clunk of a ladder hitting the house. The woman looked up with a smile then rose and went to join her family. The jacket fell to the floor, forgotten.

As soon as she was out of sight a small hand reached out of thin air, grabbed the jacket, and pulled it out of sight.

Read other stories from this project here:

Thomas’ New Coat

This story is written for AMMC: A Merry Minion Christmas. You can find the rules here:

Title: “Thomas’ New Coat”
Author: Marissa Ames
eBook: YES

Dedicated to Jeremy, Laurie, Miles, and Lily. Thanks for all the apples and yoga.

christmas carol

Thomas shivered in the sooty slush outside the workhouse. The February wind whipped sleet into his face. He wrapped his tattered coat about him, which had become too small in his year detained in the boys’ ward.

Thomas lived in the best of times and the worst of times. In the age of wisdom and foolishness, the rich lived in three-story brick houses. The poor lived in workhouses.

The door opened, and his mother appeared. Emma wore her own dress. Gone was the striped inmates’ uniform.

With teary eyes, Thomas slid on the slush and collided with his mother. She wrapped her arms around him.

“Can we stay away this time?” he begged. “Please?”

Thrice, Emma had discharged herself when she could be apart from Thomas no longer. Women lived separate from the men, and everyone separate from the children. Those three times, Emma left in her own dress, took Thomas to a park then returned by midnight. The workhouse promised food and shelter in return for hard labor. The streets promised starvation.

“Mama,” he said, peering through his tears. “Please, mama?”

With hands roughened by picking apart oakum, Emma combed through Thomas’ hair.

“I’ll pull carts in the mines,” Thomas said. “I can still be a chimney sweep. I haven’t grown much, really.”

Closing her eyes in her gaunt face, Emma nodded.

As a widowed seamstress, Emma had managed to feed Thomas. Slipping in the slush during pea soup fog, she had injured her arm. She could not pay rent. After nights weeping in decision, Emma took Thomas to the workhouse.

Thomas had a plan. First he would work as an errand boy. Then he’d be crossing sweeper, cleaning streets in front of rich ladies in exchange for tips. He would purchase matches to sell to passing shoppers. Thomas would enter the mines if he had no other choice. But, for his mother, he would work anywhere.

Offering domestic services in trade, Emma found a room in a London slum. Thomas worked as planned, waking before dawn and coming home late, with money for soup and suet.

As he worked he advertised his mother’s skills as a seamstress.

The owner of a new factory bought his matches. He had a job for Thomas’ mother, with the new sewing machines. Emma had only sewn with thread and needle, but she soon learned the machines, pushing the treadle with her foot. Only once did she sew over her own hand. Thomas worked within the same factory, carrying bolts of fabric. They worked twelve hours a day and returned together to their tiny room.

Thomas fell asleep fast. At night, his mother stitched by the single flickering flame of her lamp. Customers wanted coats with detail that only skilled seamstresses could provide.

One year after leaving the workhouse, Thomas wore the same tattered coat. Emma had purchased scraps of fabric from her employer. She had unpicked the seams of Thomas’ coat and added the fabric to expand the sleeves. He had decent shoes, replaced when the others disintegrated. The slush did not invade the leather.

Luxury stopped at new shoes. Emma was ill. On good days, she worked at the factory, coughing into a handkerchief to catch the blood. On bad days, she sweated in bed with a fever. Half of November, Emma had worked at the factory. Twenty-four days into December, she had not worked at all.

Thomas trekked to the factory daily, buying food on the way home. After work, he cleaned the tenement to pay rent. Each night, Emma apologized as she fumbled with needle and thread while propped up in bed.

Thomas told her it didn’t matter.

Emma fretted over Christmas. Last year, they resided in the workhouse. She couldn’t see him at Christmas. This year, she had promised a hot meal, with meat. Goose and figgy pudding, she said. She had promised it before she fell ill.

Emma had one match left. She used that last match to light a fire on Christmas morning, as snow fell in the streets.

Thomas held his only gift, complimenting how well Emma had wrapped it in old blankets. Warm from the fire, he unpicked the twine. Emma smiled weakly as he withdrew his new coat: thick, warm, and sturdy.

He slid his arms into the coat and hugged it around his body as his mother coughed blood into her handkerchief.

As Emma napped at midday, Thomas traversed the new slush of the London streets. What he sought lay ten streets away, where Thomas had worked before finding the factory. Now other boys worked there, sloshing in sooty slush and broken shoes.

“Do you have matches?” he asked.

A boy half his age looked up with sunken eyes. Nodding and shivering, he said, “You have to pay for them.”

A rag wrapped around the boy’s head, in lieu of a hat. His patched shirt hugged his body tightly. The boy wore no coat.

“I need them for my mother,” Thomas claimed. “She’s terribly ill.”

Shaking his head, the boy said with chattering teeth, “My father will beat me.”

Thomas needed those matches. He needed them for his mother, who kept him out of an orphanage simply by staying alive. Emma had taught him that he was better than no man, and no worse either. She taught him compassion and charity.

“Will you trade?” Thomas unbuttoned his coat. The boy’s eyes lit up.

As the boy donned the coat and rolled the sleeves up, Thomas took his matches and sprinted home, sliding in the slush.

His own teeth chattered as he opened the door. He found his old, tattered coat. Emma woke as a log dropped from his frozen fingers onto the floor.

“Where is your new coat?” she asked.

Thomas added the log to the fire. Then he took her frail hands in his and told her of the little match boy. Someone needed the coat, just as Emma needed the matches.

“I’m sorry, Mama,” he said, hoping for forgiveness. “I know you worked many nights on that coat.”

Tears filled Emma’s eyes. She spread her arms. As she embraced her son and his tattered coat, she whispered, “I worked harder to make you a good boy. You’ve given me the best Christmas present by proving you are one.”

Read other stories from this project here:

Grandma’s Christmas Sweaters

This story is for AMMC: A Merry Minion Christmas (AMMC-DFQ). Details and submission guidelines can be found here:

  • Grandma’s Christmas Sweaters by Marissa Ames
  • Ebook: YES

 This story is dedicated to Ralinda, Kaylee, and Andee. Merry Christmas! I send you joy, love, laughter, and reasons to never wear those sweaters.

ugly sweater cookies

Grandma knitted sweaters every year, from January to November, and gifted them in December. She intertwined yarn into elaborate Christmas trees, stars, and snowy woodland scenes. Grandma’s sweaters reminded me of Care Bears spreading Christmas love with bedazzled belly magic.

Every year, I got a sweater from Grandma. Knowing what lay inside, I tore into the box with practiced enthusiasm. I pulled out the mass of festive yarn and held it up to the light of the Christmas tree, gushing about the love and attention she must have taken, just for me.

Then I tucked the sweater back in the box. Twelve boxes sat in my closet, neatly stacked in the far corner behind my old stuffed animals.

“Grandma’s visiting for a week,” mom told us. “It would be nice if you wore one of those sweaters while she was here.”

I groaned and slumped, but Sarah agreed. Nine-year-olds know nothing about making a stand for fashion.

When Grandma arrived, Sarah waited at the door in a red and green monstrosity. Grandma’s hot pink lips stretched taut over her dentures as she pinched Sarah’s cheeks.

Sarah grabbed Grandma’s wrinkled, spotted hand. “Wanna bake cookies, Gramma?” With that pink smile in place, Grandma waddled into the kitchen after Sarah.

“Where’s your sweater?” mom asked from behind me.

“I’ll wear it closer to Christmas,” I promised.

The second day, Sarah wore a fuzzy white garment bedazzled with blue rhinestone snowflakes as she held Grandma’s yarn. Mom raised her eyebrows as I passed in my t-shirt. I shrugged and moved into the yarn-free zone.

“You’re going to disappoint her,” mom accused the next morning.

I shrugged and continued texting.

“Sarah’s learning how to knit, and you’re ignoring your Grandma. Just wear the sweater, just once.”

“I will,” I whined, annoyed that I had to look up from my phone.

On the fourth day, I lacerated my foot in Sarah’s room. “You left knitting needles on the floor,” I said, picking up the bloody awl. “Where did you get these needles?”

“From Gramma,” she said, coiling yarn around her wrist. “What should I make with this?”

I shook my head. “You’re getting weird,” I said, hobbling away to find a Band-Aid.

Mom wouldn’t leave me alone. “Wear a sweater,” she said, grabbing her hem and stretching it down for emphasis, warping the snowman on the front. “Honestly, what harm could come of wearing one?”

“I don’t know,” I argued between texts. “I can’t risk it.”

Mom rolled her eyes. “Come to dinner.”

“What are we having?” I asked without looking up from my phone.

“Something soft, with lots of fiber,” she said as she shuffled out of my room.

I woke at 4am to the aroma of chocolate chip cookies. I rubbed my eyes and followed the smell to the kitchen. Decked in boughs of sweater holly, Sarah removed a tray from the oven. On the table, hundreds of cookies cascaded onto the lace runner. She had to have been baking for hours to acquire that many.

I squeaked, “What are you doing? How long have you been baking?”

“Oh, don’t bother her,” Mom said from behind me. I turned to see her sway past me, wearing slippers and a housecoat, with a red Santa sweater overtop of the coat.

Sarah set the cookie tray on a trivet. “Eat some,” she said. “You need some meat on those bones.” I flinched back as she tried to pinch my cheek.

On day six, I opened Sarah’s underwear drawer to borrow a pair of socks. She wouldn’t miss one pair, and I’d have it washed and back in the drawer by tomorrow. The drawer rattled as I pulled it out. My mouth fell open.

Instead of socks, Sarah’s drawer was filled with knitting needles of assorted sizes. Hundreds of needles, jammed tightly. I pulled out other drawers to find the same thing: hoarded knitting needles.

“Mom!” I called, wandering about the room.

All of Sarah’s clothes sat in a pile in her closet. On her hangers, bags of yarn dangled. A housecoat draped over her headboard. Eight pair of slippers peeked from beneath the bed.

“Mom!” I yelled again, hustling out of the room.

Mom sat in the living room, entwining two long, slender sticks into a network of yarn. Sarah sat on one side of her, and Grandma sat on the other. Reindeer pranced across their chests, ending in a knitted sleigh on Sarah’s sweater. On the coffee table sat glasses of Metamucil.

Mom looked up from her knitting. “Do I have to tell you again?” She glared at my designer shirt. “Go put on a sweater!”

I sprinted to my room and yanked my phone out of my pocket.

“911. What is your emergency?”

“Um…” It sounded stupid even before I said it. “My Grandma’s Christmas sweaters are turning my family into old-person zombies,” I blurted out.

The operator paused. I heard snickering in the background. In a professional and appropriately prudish voice, she said, “Miss, abuse of the 911 system is a crime. If this is not a real emergency, you need to hang up right now or I will inform the police.”

Tears stung my eyes as I watched my thumb hover over the touch screen. The police would not believe me. I lowered my thumb to the “end” icon.

That night I fell asleep with the light on as mom, Grandma, and Sarah baked fruitcake until dawn.

“Wake up,” Sarah called, shaking my shoulder. “It’s Christmas!”

I groaned and rubbed my eyes. Exhausted, I had fallen asleep in a chilly room and had woken up cozy and comfortable. I folded my wool-covered arms and sighed.

Mom, Grandma, and Sarah all hovered above me.

“Merry Christmas!” Mom greeted me, pinching my cheek. “What do you want for breakfast?”

I ran my hands over my belly, feeling the texture of miniature plastic lights beneath my palms. Sitting up, I adjusted the green sweater over my chest and said, “Stewed prunes.”

Read other stories from this project here:

A Merry Minion Christmas: The Evolution of a Fantastical Anthology

On behalf of LauraNick & Ruth & myself (Missy) I’d like to introduce (drum roll please……)

red dragon

Photo Credit: zazzle.com

AMMC-DFQ – Rules and Guidelines

A Merry Minion Christmas: Assorted Tales from the Realm of the Dark Fairy Queen

In the style of the #DFQWBS that brought many of us together, we’re now collaborating on a Christmas anthology. This project is open to members of the Facebook group Dark Fairy Queen and her Brilliant Minions. If you are not a part of this group and would like to contribute, please contact the owner of this blog for details. This is a free publication, with no royalties. However, an eBook will be available for download upon completion. If we receive over 50 contributions, the book will be available for print, for only the cost of printing and shipping. By submitting to the project, you agree to these conditions.

1. The submissions may begin on September 23rd with a final deadline of October 28th. This deadline is critical to produce a book by December.

2. The theme is a “Fantastical Christmas.” Use fantastical elements, even if they’re elements you believe in but someone else doesn’t. Examples include dragons, monsters, angels, fairies, magic, etc.

3. Tales must be between 500-1000 words in length. If necessary, we can allow some leeway, but no more than 50 words to either side.

4. Stories with dark, gory, romantic, or religions tones are all allowed and encouraged. Soapboxes are not. You are welcome and encouraged to write within your genre or religious element. However, if the editors feel you have slandered another culture, religion, or lack of religion, we will politely ask you to change the focus of your story.

5. Because this book may be read by younger children, keep your story within PG-13 guidelines. No f-bombs, sex scenes, or explicitly gory details, please.

6. You may make up to three submissions. Each submission must be a separate, complete story within 1000 words.

7. Each submission must be “satisfying,” i.e. a complete scene, leaving no unanswered questions or cliffhangers.

8. You may dedicate each story to someone as a Christmas gift, using up to two lines for your dedication.

9. Stories should be posted on your own website, or hosted on another writer’s website. If you would like to keep your dedication a secret, approach someone else within the #DFQ group about hosting your story. If you do not have a blog or do not know someone willing to host your story, message us – Laura James, Missy Ames, Nick Johns, Ruth Long via the FB group AMMC.

10. Each story must have a Title and Author Name, and “eBook Yes (or No)” to indicate your willingness to have it included within an eBook.

11. By tagging your story with #AMMC-DFQ and indicating “eBook Yes,” you agree to the publishing conditions mentioned above.

12. We will create a Facebook group (AMMC) to contain discussion of this anthology until its completion. Follow us on Twitter using the hashtag #AMMC-DFQ. Soon, a link code will be added to this post, which will connect all of our contributions.

13. Please use the following formatting, to make editors’ lives easier:

• Use double quotes for speech
• Use a blank line after each paragraph

*****

bhc

We are pleased to announce that Blue Harvest Creative is on board to for our cover design and formatting! This will be a beautiful finished product. So start thinking up your Christmas tales! We look forward to reading about your romance, mystery, crimes, dark tales, and passion. About fairies, angels, dragons, zombies, elves… or zombie elves! About the beginnings of your traditions, or the nuances of them now, through a fantasy element. We’re excited to see what everyone brings to the book!

Thali

This is an entry for Becky Fyfe’s flash fiction contest  Creating a Female Superhero Challenge. Anyone can enter this contest, which ends on June 30th. If the contest is successful, the stories will be published in an anthology for a charity benefiting girls and girl empowerment. Details are here:

Author: Marissa Ames
Word Count: 1000 words
Anthology: YES
Charity: Because I Am a Girl

Name of female superhero: Thali

Name of human alter ego, if different: Priya Singh

Superhero Appearance (hair, eyes, body type, etc.): Full-figured, with long black hair and brown eyes. Dark complexion.

Human alter ego appearance (if she has an alter ego): No physical change, but Thali dresses in a plain white chef’s uniform while at work.

Costume: Top, pants, and scarf are a cross between a traditional Pakistani outfit and a chef’s coat, white with green trim. Thali wears green gloves and boots.

Personality: Normally non-confrontational, Thali tends to become passive aggressive when provoked. When she discovers she puts her thoughts and intentions into her food, she has to learn to become more proactive when upset so she doesn’t accidentally poison someone.

Brief description of how the superheroine gets her powers (i.e. born with them, radioactive accident, mad scientist experiments on her, etc.): Born with them, passed down on her mother’s side. Thali’s powers are much stronger than her mother’s, and she’s capable of both greater good and greater harm.

Powers: Puts her thoughts or intentions into the food she prepares. This can create a poison, certain accidents, or have a healing effect.

Anything else important: American born, daughter of an Indian father and an Pakistani-American mother.

Thali

Thali

 “Priya Singh.”

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Tross.” She placed her slender brown hand in his clammy white palm.

“You don’t have an accent.”

“I was born here, Sir.”

He pulled his wrinkled lips into a crepe-thin smile. “Well, good for me. Less paperwork.”

Alan Tross nodded to the left, and Priya followed him through swinging double doors. The receptionist had told her to bring nothing to the job interview. It would all be provided: the knives, pans, and ingredients. Priya had brought only her stained and bleached coat with the emblem of La Croissant Culinary Academy.

Mr. Tross’ commercial kitchen gleamed with stainless steel. The floor tiles shone a Lysol sparkle, marred only by a set of dainty footprints. A skinny little girl swayed back and forth in anticipation, her bright pink skirts reflecting in the wax.

Priya’s steps faltered as she met the girl’s hollow gaze.

“This,” said Mr. Tross, “is your judge.”

Dropping to one knee, Priya offered her hand.

The girl mustered a smile through half-decayed teeth and said, “I like your scarf.” She extended a pale, bony hand and touched Priya’s thick black braid.

“I like yours more,” Priya said.

The girl’s sunken eyes widened. “Wanna trade?” She slipped off her baby pink head covering.

Priya removed hers, and tied her sequined scarf over the girl’s bald little head. A fine layer of fuzz held the silk in place. “You’re beautiful,” Priya said.

Mr. Tross cleared his throat. “You’ll find a full pantry,” he said. “I’ll return in an hour.” He left through the swinging doors.

Rising, Priya gave the girl a nervous smile. “Well,” she said, “would you like to try a dessert from my father’s homeland?”

 ***** 

The girl slurped her rasmalai as Mr. Tross returned. He had left both of them in the kitchen. As the girl watched, Priya had tried to concentrate on the food. The job seemed so trivial now. She wished she could heal the child instead of merely cooking for her.

Mr. Tross passed the girl by, glancing down to see only that she ate.

“Make something else,” he said. “More of this is fine.”

Priya had paneer patties left. She reopened the glass jar of pistachios.

“Tell me about James LaRoche.”

Priya’s brow furrowed. “Who- Oh…” She shrugged. “He was my culinary instructor,” she said, “but only for the first part of my schooling.”

“Why?”

She glanced up at Mr. Tross’ cold stare then looked back down at her chopping block. “He had an accident,” she said as she chopped pistachios. With hushed reverence, she added, “He passed on.”

Her most despised teacher, James LaRoche had insulted each of her creations. Failure, he had called her. Hopeless, stupid. She was not his only target. During a four-course exam, he had Priya’s partner in tears by course two. As Priya prepared the dessert, she had muttered, “I hope he chokes on it.”

Priya set the paneer in bowls and spooned cream over the cheese patties. Why did Mr. Tross need to know about James LaRoche? How did he even know about James LaRoche at all? As she sprinkled the rasmalai with chopped pistachios, she said, “He was only there for the first half of my schooling. Then we had another instructor.” Giving Mr. Tross a weak smile, she pushed the bowl of rasmalai toward his clasped hands.

He did not take the dessert. He peered at her with icy blue eyes. Sweat trickled down her back, beneath her white coat.

“And your mother,” said Mr. Tross as she squirmed beneath his unwavering stare.

“Sir?”

“Tell me about her.”

Priya heard a faint metallic clicking. She looked down to see the handle of her knife shudder against the stainless steel countertop. Letting go of the knife and pushing it away, she said, “My mother is still alive.” She clasped her hands tightly to keep them from shaking.

Mr. Tross kept staring at her. His overtanned skin crinkled around his eyes as he waited for her to respond.

The little girl tapped her heels against her stool and hummed a song. Priya glanced over at the child, then back at Mr. Tross.

He said, “She cooked as well.”

“Yes,” Priya said with hesitation.

“For a very successful café, from what I understand.”

“She wasn’t the owner,” Priya asserted.

Her mother was just a cook. She loved to cook. Everyone loved her food. When asked what they loved about it, nobody could name specific flavors or styles. Angela Singh wanted to make people happy with her food, and she did. They loved her cooking, simply because it was her cooking.

Adjusting her high collar around her sweaty neck, Priya asked, “Is there anything else I can make for you, sir?”

Mr. Tross frowned down at his rasmalai. “No.” He pushed the dessert away. “Nervous, are you? Do you wish I would go away?” He looked up at her. “Do you wish I would choke?”

Watching the cream ripple in the bowl, slowing as the cheese settled, Priya decided she had made a mistake. She did not need a job with a man like this. She reached for the glass jar of pistachios, preparing to clean up and leave.

“Did they tell you how James LaRoche died? He choked on your dessert.”

Priya’s eyes tracked slowly up, from the rasmalai to Mr. Tross’ starched white shirt and tie, then up to his deadpan face. Her bottom lip quivered as she searched for something to say.

Mr. Tross said, “Come here, Maria.”

The little girl hopped down from the stool and skipped over, her little shoes clapping on the tiles.  Standing beside Mr. Tross, she swayed back and forth, her pink skirts swishing around her legs.

Watching Priya with sparking eyes set in a round face, Maria said, “May I have some more?” Her pink cheeks plumped up like little apples as she gave Priya a shining white smile.

The glass jar of pistachios slipped from Priya’s hands and shattered on the Lysol-clean floor.

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Dark Fairy Queen Writerly Bridal Shower: Assassin’s Vow

Title: Assassin’s Vow
Author: Marissa Ames
eBook: Yes

BoykinCarmerPoison

I held the puffer fish with one finger as I sliced off the eyes and fins.  With the tip of the knife, I opened the fish and carefully removed the innards.  I flicked the noxious parts into the refuse bucket.  Dipping the knife under the skin, I flayed the fish until I had nothing but clean flesh.  The skin plopped into the bucket atop the entrails.

“Don’t cut yourself,” Jess warned before cradling my hip against his.

I muttered, “Don’t worry,” as I sliced the flesh into morsels.

He set a plate on the butcher block.  “Where are your gloves?” he asked as he arranged the slices on the plate with his bare hands.  Giving me a knowing wink, he tossed a morsel into his mouth and chewed.

“I’m fine.”  I slid the plate aside then stabbed my knife into the other puffer fish.  Using the blade, I flipped the fish onto the block.

Jess caught my wrist.  “Wear gloves,” he said.  “Please?”

I sighed and put my gloves on.

“You’re in a mood today,” he commented as I popped both fish eyes then stabbed again to catch the liver.

Shrugging, I lobbed off the head and fins.  “The tarts are done,” I said as I ripped out the entrails.  I carved dainty slices with a frill of blue skin on one edge.  Jess nudged a second plate over.  “Baneberry has the fluted crust, currants have the scalloped crust.”

As Jess meandered to inspect the food, I looked over at my dress.  Cream silk with lace trim and a whalebone corset, it was exactly what I would have chosen for my own wedding.  It was expensive.  The client would pay for it tenfold after the job was done.

“What’s in the soup?” Jess asked before touching the ladle.

“Lily of the valley and death cap.”  I arranged the fish on the plate then wiped the flat of the knife over the food for good measure.  “Don’t eat the cheese.  The goats fed on autumn crocus.”

“Remember to make-“

“I know, I know,” I said as I flipped the knife down onto the butcher block.  “A clean batch is draining in cheesecloth right now.”

Today we sought to shake the power structure of a crime family.  Nobody expected to die at a wedding.  The client chose whom to warn about the food.  By the time the poisons took effect, Jess and I would be paid and gone on our supposed honeymoon.

I snatched up a wet rag and slapped it across the block.

Jess was immediately at my side, grabbing the rag.  “Alright,” he said as he pried it out of my fingers.  “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

We were professionals, not poets.  These things weren’t supposed to matter.  The others had warned us to avoid sentiment, to remain partners only.  It wasn’t like that, though.  Since we fell in love, our skills honed.  Trust bloomed.  No man watches your back like the one who holds your heart.

Jess leaned against the butcher block and folded his arms.  I avoided his gaze but he held strong.

“It’s nothing,” I insisted.  “Just another fake wedding.  Just another bride and groom, pretending to be happy.”

The happiness wasn’t false.  Most of the others didn’t know our partnership had evolved.  They just knew we worked better, satisfied more clients.  They pressed to know our secret.

It was almost everything I ever wanted.

Jess said, “You need to cheer up.”

“I’m-“

“Going to risk the contract.”  As I pouted and set my poisoned hands on my hips, Jess continued, “How can I help?”’

We were professionals.  Casting one more glance at my dress, I turned back to the butcher block and took up my knife again.

“I see.”  Jess dropped the rag on the block and wrapped his arms around my waist.  His lips hovered right behind my ear as he said, “I was saving this, but I suppose now is the right time.”  Releasing me, he took the knife from my hand then carefully peeled off my gloves.  I gawked down at him as he dropped to one knee.

“This time,” he said, enfolding my hands in his, “I hired a real priest.”

Steampunk-wedding-shoot-AIW-unique-wedding-blog-SingaporeBrides04

Photo Credit

Written for Anna and Michael’s Dark Fairy Queen Writerly Bridal Shower.  Congratulations!

Want to see what everyone else has written?  Go here: