1. Brief Hiatus

    1. Hello everyone!
    2. Starting April 14th Short Story Salad will be going on a brief hiatus and will resume posting our short stories on April 28th ... with a vengeance! What we will be avenging, I don't rightly know...
    3. Thanks for checking in and see you soon! Take care!
     

  2. Susurrus, Part 3

    Spoilers! Please read Part 1 and Part 2 before moving forward. Man, I didn’t quite get to put in everything I wanted into this ending. Oh, well. Check out Short Story Salad if you want to read the rest of the shorts from this week! See you next time!

               ”Hurry, my boy!” shouted D’Artagnan, his fear replaced by urgency.

                Tiamat tore his eyes away from the shrieking dagger man and yanked his blade down, tearing into the black bark of the tree. The wooden flesh ripped open like the flesh of a wild animal and a foul odor wafted up from the hole. Tiamat covered his nose with the bend of his arm.

                The man-like creature with teeth as sharp as daggers wobbled to his feet, like a baby figuring out its legs for the first time. Tiamat forsook his olfactory senses and dove his arm into the wound of the tree. The opening was not large enough for anything more than his arm, and he grasped blindly at the darkness within.

                The dagger man took a step forward.

                Tap! Tap! Tap! Tap!

                D’Artagnan dashed in front of the dagger man, tripping him in his stride. “Is it there?!”

                “I don’t even know what I’m looking for!” shouted Tiamat. The woman had given him no instruction on what it was he was coming to retrieve. Just to open the tree with this particular blade and to take what was inside back to her.

                Tiamat’s fingers brushed against the cool, curved surface of something metal and a rush of static filled his being. He took hold and out of the tree he pulled a small, brass oil lamp. Tiamat’s eyes narrowed; for the briefest of moments he saw that etched onto the brass surface lay an intricate design of symbols interlocking with each other before disappearing in the glare of daylight.

                The lamp all but slipped through Tiamat’s fingers as he rushed his hands to his ears. The tiny red eyes on the dagger man’s face flared up with a smokeless fire as a piercing cry erupted from his gapping mouth. He stepped over D’Artagnan and with the grace of a performer charged for lamp in Tiamat’s hands.

                “That’s quite enough, I’d say!” The warm glow of a fire appeared at the base of D’Artagnan’s rib cage. The skeleton leapt to his feet and roared. The flames flowed from his belly to his mouth and blasted out, grasping hold of the dagger man’s legs. The dagger man’s cry shifted from anger to pain as he fell to his knees.  Tiamat’s mouth hung open. “There’s no time to be impressed! Run, my boy! RUN!”

                Tiamat nodded, sheathed his blade and dashed for the door, as fast as his limp leg could carry him.

                The dagger man shook and contorted within the flames and rolled to put them out. His tiny red eye caught a glimpse of Tiamat shuffling his way to the doorway, all pain fell from his body and he threw out his arms. The floors of the masjid trembled and the walls shuddered. Tiamat fell to his knees and cursed when his bad leg struck the ground. He could hear D’Artagnan urging him forward and so he crawled.

                The dagger man, engulfed in flames staggered forward, inching his way toward Tiamat. With each of his steps, the room collapsed. The windows fell onto themselves. The beautiful painted designs of the archways crumbled into dust. The pillars shook and gave way to the weight of the ceiling. Still the dagger man perused.

                Tiamat was an arms’ length from the threshold of the entryway but the dagger man was an arm’s length if not closer to Tiamat. He grasped the cornerstone of the wall and threw all his weight into rolling out of the masjid and crashing down the stone staircase onto the ground of the meadow.

                Tap! Tap! Ta-!

                Tiamat’s eyes were screwed tightly shut, his arms cradling his head and in his hands, he held the lamp. He could only hear the cry of the dagger man shout louder than ever before being muffled in the debris.

                His eyes still shut, his being shaken to its core, Tiamat only heard the pounding of his own heart. Then the rhythm of his breathe flooding in and out of his lungs. But the murmuring prayers of the dagger man were no more.

                The lamp was snatched from his hands and Tiamat scrambled to his side. A young woman with deep auburn eyes set into a narrow face with long black hair stood over him, with the lamp in her hands. She almost grinned. “Ah. Thank you, Tiamat. That will be all.” She turned to leave.

                “W-wait!” She did. Tiamat struggled to his feet. He looked around. D’Artagnan was no were to be seen.

                “I haven’t forgotten your payment,” the auburn eyed woman walked up to Tiamat and caressed her hand along the inside of his leg, “If that’s what you’re concerned about.”

                Tiamat pulled away. “Wait-“

                “Have you changed your mind? Do you not want to be paid for your services?”

                “No…” Tiamat listened closely. The field was silent; no wind or birds chirping. Certainly no tapping of bone to stone.

                “No as in yes?” she asked.

                “I… I want D’Artagnan.”

                “D’Artagnan? Is that what you call him?”

                “That skeleton of a cat that has been following me. Bring him back.”

                The auburn eyed woman’s eyes went wide and soon her mouth followed suit, laughing a deep, sharp laugh.

                “What’s so funny?!” demanded Tiamat. “You can do that can’t you?! You brought him back once!”

                “That was not her doing, my boy.”

                Tiamat whirled around. Never in his life had he been so glad to see an animal skeleton sitting there before him. Tiamat lowered himself to one knee. “But.. how did you escape? You were still inside.”

                D’Artagnan sighed. “It’s hard to explain…”

                Still the auburn eyed woman laughed. “It seems like D’Artagnan hasn’t been telling you the whole truth.”

                D’Artagnan glared and stepped forward. “You are hardly one to talk, Jiniri.”

                She gasped and stepped away. As she stepped, her human form melted away and in her stead stood a tall, charred, hollow corpse with a smokeless flame resting in her belly. Jiniri frowned. “Fine, I care not.” In her wiry claws she crashed the little brass lamp. The metal seemed to cry out in agony for a moment before burning away into dust. “We’re done here.”

                “Stop, Jiniri,” called D’Artagnan, “What of Tiamat?”

                Tiamat shied away as one of Jiniri’s long, pointed fingers traced along the inner side of his leg. With every inch, Tiamat felt a surge of relief radiating out. Jiniri stepped back. “Go on then. Stand.”

                Tiamat braced himself for the pain he had grown accustomed to as he made his way to his feet, but there was none. He stretched out and bent his limb, and it was as easy as he had remembered. “I can’t believe it…” he breathed.

                “Yes well, well done,” she turned from them.

                “Jiniri, Tiamat retrieved your former prison and destroyed your guardian when you could not even enter such a place. You owe him a little more than his leg!” demanded the skeleton cat.

                “Too bad he never asked for it.” The hollowed corpse winked and vanished from the meadow, leaving behind a boy, his skeleton cat and a destroyed house of worship.

     

  3. Of Blood and Patriots, Part 2

    Read Part 1 if you’d like to know what’s going on here! The rest of the stories will be up on Short Story Salad! See you next time!

                Except she never did.

                Macy was released from her cell within a year of her father’s death but she was not free. She instead was enrolled in the Academy at the age of sixteen where her future was chosen for her. Macy had scored exceptionally high on her first placement exams. So high in fact that the administration had required her to take the exams a second time. Despite the overwhelming amount of disbelief that a child from the rebelling nations could have made such an achievement, Macy had placed her pen to the exam paper and scored even higher the second time.

                Macy spent years in the Academy and upon graduation her diploma bore the seal of the Empirical Academy of Bornan, a name change that everyone else in her graduating class was proud to have hung on their wall. Macy kept hers filed away in her desk.

                Being a well behaved girl throughout her young life, many of Macy’s instructors had grown very fond of her and recommended her intellect be put into good use within the High Command. Certainly the daughter of a usurper could not hold a public office, but perhaps a city planner or a legal assistant. But even with their impassioned cries, Macy was relegated to a secretary position in the Inquisitor’s Office. Macy had almost let the kind words of her teachers make her believe she could have some taste of freedom but at the end of the day she was glad she had not. Even her apartment in the Capital was assigned to her. And she understood why, the Empire chose to keep a close eyes on traitors and their progeny.

                On her way to work, Macy would look at the families on the trolley. She could always tell which were born citizens of the Empire and which were assimilated citizens. Members of the former rebel nations kept their heads a little lower than the rest; kept their hands close to their person. Her co-workers were never cruel to Macy and rather enjoyed her. She was a dedicated worker and always wore a pleasant smile. The smile was forced, something she learned in the Academy. It was not as if Macy did not like her co-workers, in fact she found them all to be very amiable people. When Macy was home  with her cat she would look in the mirror and wonder if she really smiled anymore.

                “Do you feel like taking a trip?”

                “Hm?” Macy looked up from her desk, dense with paperwork. “A trip, Mr. Barrett?”

                Barrett flipped through the pages on his clipboard. “There’s some military officer who’s too good to answer any of our requests to come in for an interview.” Barrett flashed a smile to Macy. “So I figured we could drop by and pay her a visit. All official-like.”

                “I see,” Macy glanced over at her door, where her Inquisitor’s jacket was hung. She never had an occasion to wear it before- she wondered if anyone in the office had. This particular division never handled very important cases, so there was never a need to look ‘all official-like.’ “May I ask why you need me, Mr. Barrett? I want to finish reviewing this document before the end of the day; perhaps Maddock or Corra would be better suited?”

                Barrett scratched his head. “C’mon, Macy, I’d like you to come out with me.”

                Macy smiled. “You mean go out with you…”

                “Geez, you caught me.” Barrett blushed and looked away. Barrett was a good man and handsome, but if Macy couldn’t connect with the woman she saw in mirror what chance could she have with an actual person- so she had always turned him down. Still, his blushing was endearing.

                “Alright, Barrett. I accompany you…”

                “You will!?”

                “… to interview the officer.”

                “Oh- heh. Right.”

    ***

                “What do you mean Sergeant Singh isn’t here?” asked Barrett.

                “I’m sorry, sir.” The soldier seemed just as displeased with the situation as Barrett was. “Sergeant Singh never arrived to the office this morning.”

                “Did she call in sick?” Macy stood behind Barrett, files in hand. She had to admit, but only to herself, she was curious to meet the Sergeant as well. The inquiry had been a peculiar one.

                “I don’t know, she didn’t phone it in.”

                Barrett waved his hands around in frustration, a habit that he even admitted was a very unprofessional one. “Really, so that’s it?”

                Macy looked through her papers. “What of Lynne Lyson? The officer who put in the inquiry?”

                Barrett snapped his fingers. “Yes! Her.”

                “Lyson has also not reported in today.”

                Barrett’s face was turning red. Macy stepped up and presented a sheet of paper to the soldier. “Here is a signed permit from the Head of the Inquisitor’s Office. It details that we are allowed one tour of the facility and the inquired party’s office with an acceptable guide. You seem of adequate rank … Airman Dabney.” Macy handed the paper to the baffled soldier; still, he inspected the text.

                “Where’d you find that?” whispered Barrett.

                “It’s an older bit of protocol that was set into effect early during the Rebellions,” Macy whispered back, “It was used to catch the suspect off guard when they would think their rank would protect them.”

                Barrett grinned. “You think of everything.”

                “Alright, fine.” Dabney handed the form back over to Barrett. “Follow me, Mr. Barrett, Miss Baris.”

                This day had been so strangely exciting that Macy had been a little disappointed that the office of Sergeant Jasmeet Singh was rather plain. Nothing seemed out of place from the awards on the wall to the papers neatly sorted on Singh’s desk. Macy rather admired Singh’s organization but peered closer to the desk when she noticed the a paper ever so slightly poking out.

                Dabney stood at the threshold of the open doorway. “Are you quite done?”

                “I should say not!” proclaimed Barrett. He looked over his shoulder toward Macy. “Are we? Macy?”

                Macy’s jaw had fallen ever so slightly agape. Sticking out of the otherwise impeccable stack of papers was a document with a symbol in the corner; two triangular mountains standing side-by-side with an orange circle anchored behind them. It was as if Macy was back in her father’s study, when the Barjoshi nation still held its independence.

                “Macy?”

                Macy looked up and smiled. “Yes. I think we’re done.

     

  4. Susurrus, Part 1

    Welcome to another week on my blog! With a new week of course comes a new stories and more stories to be had over at Short Story Salad! If you feel so inclined, please feel free to check that out!

                The forest was painted in red, though Tiamat could not be sure if it was the colors of autumn or that the leaves were drenched in blood. It was not Tiamat’s own blood and for that he was grateful.

                Tiamat could only vaguely hear the sound of bone hitting rock tapping not too far behind. “We’ll make it there in due time, boy,” spoke D’Artagnan; the skeleton of a small cat from which the tapping sound originated.

                Tiamat said nothing.

                “Been awfully quiet all day,” said the skeleton and when there was again no reply it continued. “You know, I was hoping we could have a nice heart-to-heart chat. After all we haven’t seen each other in- what? - five years?”

                It was six, but who was counting. Tiamat stopped at a base of a small, trickling waterfall. The falls were unimpressive but the rocky ledge was steep and getting over it would be no small task. He adjusted the sheathed weapon at his side and tightened the straps of the pack on his back before grasping on the first sturdy stone.

                “I don’t expect you to find me fish heads to snack on. No, that would be a waste I should think.” Tap. Tap. Tap. D’Artagnan leapt from narrow ledge to narrow ledge, much like a mountain goat. Tiamat grimaced. “We used to look out for each other and I only asked to come along hoping I could do so again.” D’Artagnan was at the top of the twenty foot cliff, looking down on Tiamat only three quarters of the way up. The skeleton’s boney tail gracefully rippled like the water falling into the shallow pool below.

                Tiamat pulled himself onto the damp stone at the top and coughed. The climb would have been easy enough a few years ago, when his leg was in better shape. He reached for the stream of water about to cascade down and splashed some onto his face. He scratched his cheek and frowned; perhaps now wasn’t the best time to be thinking of his facial hair but he hated how the tiny black curls would clump together into tighter patches along his jaw.

                “Are you feeling alright, my boy?” inquired the cat skeleton.

                Tiamat let his legs hang over the side of the waterfall’s ledge. “I’m hardly a boy any longer.”

                D’Artagnan sat beside Tiamat. “I never knew when humans officially thought their young had grown up. It’s easier for us felines I guess. Once you’re old enough to procreate, you’re old enough to take responsibilities for your own actions. He would be a ‘man’ as it were. Human men are often called boys throughout their lives.”

                Tiamat moved to stand. “I guess cats got it all figured out then.”

                The skeleton stood up along with him. “Not truly.” Tiamat glanced down at the white skeleton frame. “I did miss you, you know,” it said.

                For an instant, Tiamat almost saw the black and pumpkin tortoiseshell tomcat with the chipped ear looking back at him, but he looked away only to force a brief smile. “Yeah, I know.” And he walked off.

                D’Artagnan sighed. “We’re almost there. And then you’ll have all she promised.” Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.

                Tiamat’s hand rested on the hilt of the sheathed blade. “People like her hire people like me for a reason. We should know better than anyone it’s never that easy.”

                “I don’t know if I would call her ‘people,’ my boy.”

                “She looked like people enough.”

                Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. “She can look like many things to many different eyes.”

                “Yeah? What does she look like to you, then?” The trees were getting thinner.

                “Like a hollowed corpse… with a flame inside her belly…”

                “Wha-?” Tiamat stopped in midsentence because his jaw had fallen limp. The blood red trees had ceased and formed a giant circle around a red meadow filled with tall grass and wildflowers. At the meadow’s center was a centrally planned masjid, with a single dome guarded by four minarets although it was barely holding itself together. Vines had grown up the minarets, two of which had given way to the weight of the plant life and lay crumbled on the ground. The dome had been punctured by a giant, gnarled, black tree that seemed to have died a long time ago for its limbs were bare and sickly.

                “Do you hear that?” asked D’Artagnan.

                Tiamat nodded; he had heard it the whole time. A low, mumbling whisper beckoning him through the forest. Only now was the mumbling louder than it had been, but still inaudible and still it called. Only now did Tiamat know where it called from.

                “C’mon,” said Tiamat, “I have a job to do.”

    New thing here… I felt like sharing that this is sometimes really hard to do. I mean that’s the whole point of me writing these shorts but gosh! I was sitting for hours wondering what the heck to try and produce this week. I hope my partner this week will enjoy the story because I tried to write it with him in mind. TJ likes a bit of mystery in his writing (who doesn’t?). Alright, enough commentary… see you all later this week!

     

  5. Tick Tock, Part 3

    Part 1 and Part 2 are up so please read those if you haven’t already before reading on! The exciting conclusions to the other shorts are up on Short Story Salad so please feel free to check them out!

                I remember once, before Tuteur came to live with us, Sophie came eyes filled with tears into my bedroom. She was only four years old and I was seven and I yelled at her not to bring dirt into my bed. Sometimes at night when Sophie couldn’t sleep she would walk around the estate and her lace trimmed nightgown would have dragged along the ground. Dirt would catch in the trim.

                Sophie didn’t listen to me, she just kept crying and buried herself in my arms. I asked her what was the matter. She said something but I couldn’t make out the words so I told her to calm down. I demonstrated  a deep breath for her and she had to try a few times but she finally calmed herself enough to speak.

                “There are monsters in the clock!” she told me.

                I walk out my bedroom door and find my steps quicken as I make my way down the hall.

                I didn’t believe her of course. “Why would there be monsters in the clock?” I asked her. “And if they are inside the clock, surely they are too small to be truly dangerous.” Sophie shakes her head. She says she went inside and that it was big enough for her and me to fit. She said she didn’t go very far in because she heard voices and shadows. She said that their eyes glowed and they were bigger than any person she’d ever saw. Sophie thought she heard father shouting and when she gasped she believed they had heard her and that they were coming for her.

                Tick. Tock.

                I stand in front of the grandfather clock at the front end of the hall and my chest tightens.

                I can honestly say I never believed Sophie when she told me that there were monsters somewhere behind this clock. But to do so mean I have to admit that in the back of my childhood mind the idea frightened me too. I let Sophie stay in my bed for the rest of the night, the sheets would have needed to be washed at any rate, and she eventually fell into a reluctant sleep, but I did not. Sophie’s tale had been so vivid, my half-awake mind could only do one thing; for the rest of the night all I heard was the daunting, steady rhythm of the grandfather clock.

                Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

                Tick. Tock.

                Tick.

                Tock.

                The next day, Tuteur had come into our lives. Sophie was so taken with him I thought she had forgotten all about her monsters, or at the very least felt safer with Tuteur around to protect her. She never came to sleep in my bed again, not until the night before she left to join the guild. No more dirt in my bed and no more reason to believe that there were monsters living inside our clock. Still, I had kept my distance from the thing… until now.

                The shrill cry coming from the foyer tells me my aunts are near. I see no one in the hall so I cast my eyes on the grandfather clock. This might be my last chance to figure out what Sophie had been trying to tell me. I reach for the clock but then I realize I have no idea how to open the ‘door.’ I can open the glass front door holding the swinging pendulum, but it does nothing. The voices are calling for mother. I have to think. It couldn’t be so difficult, could it? Yes, Sophie is perhaps the most brilliant young mind in the guild but she was only a child when she discovered the grandfather clock’s secret. Wait. She was four. But a child!

                I stoop down onto my knees  and examine the clock from below. Truly, this all feels rather silly, but the thought of helping Sophie keeps me from standing. My eyes flow along the side of the clock; it is very well maintained for its age. The wood is highly polished walnut with beautiful carvings of the most graceful looking bulls embedded into the surface. All the bulls have silver eyes and hooves… all but one. The very bottom bull has shiny golden eyes and hooves. Curious. I reach out and touch the bull’s golden eyes and I pull back. It’s warm.

                I can’t help but touch it again. Yes. It is most certainly warm although none of the other bulls are and there is no sunlight that touches this clock during this time of day. I wonder if perhaps this is what caught little Sophie’s attention so many years ago. My heart is pounding and I bite my lip.

                “Mireille?” calls Margot from another room.

                I take a deep breath, and another to calm myself. My finger tips push on the golden bull.

                Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

                Tick….

                Click.

                The grandfather clock slowly slides to the right. I’m frozen in my spot, my hand rests on the gold bull until the clock gently pushes me away. I can hear a low and steady grinding coming from inside the wall as the clock reveals an open door behind where the clock once stood. And I feel beckoned to stand. I tremble as my feet take me into the wall. I pray I can muster the courage my four-year-old Sophie once had.

     
  6. truetail:

    Happy Fan Art Friday! Doh-Li is not amused by all the April-foolery this week! Art by Jourdan Lasko. Submit your Fan Art to: TrueTailMedia@gmail.com to get featured on our social media! 

    Doh-li is my favorite

     

  7. The Day of Reminding, Part 2

    The Day of Reminding, Part 1 will clear any confusion up so be sure to read that before reading on! More stories to be had over at Short Story Salad!

                The Reverend kneels to the eyelevel of the child and smiles a kind smile. It’s the kind of smile every mother is familiar with. “Give me your right hand, Cynthia McCormick.” Cynthia glances up at her mother, who nods for her daughter to pay attention. Cynthia lays her little hand in the palm of the Reverend and all but suddenly, Cynthia is at ease. “Very good, child.” The blade is ready in the Reverend’s other hand. The Reverend leans in to whisper to the little girl, Alice can barely hear it herself. “I am going to draw some blood, like they do at the doctor. It’ll only hurt for a moment. Do you understand.” Cynthia smiles and nods, her pretty brown hair falls into her face.

                The blade is pointed away from Cynthia’s face as the Reverend tucks the loose hair behind Cynthia’s ear. The Reverend’s lips kiss the little girl’s hand and then brings the blade to her flesh. Alice bites her lips, cringing for Cynthia, waiting for her daughter to squeal as she did so many Remindings ago, but Cynthia doesn’t make a sound. She doesn’t even appear to flinch. The Reverend seems very pleased and lets six drops of blood drip into a golden chalice before wrapping the wound in a satin bandage. The blood then is mixed with wine and the Reverend takes the first sip of the chalice. “Praise be to the Prophet,” says the Reverend.

                The chalice is handed to Alice, who hasn’t taken her eyes of her little Cynthia. Cynthia has not a tear in her eye. Nor is her face strained with an underscored anxiety.  She simply holds her satin wrapped hand in the other and looks to her mother. The Reverend eyes Alice’s hesitation and the mother takes a sip before saying, “Praise be to the Prophet.”

                The front door swings open and Cynthia rushes into the living room. She’s been nothing but giggles since the sermon. Alice closes the door behind her, the keys make a charming jiggle as they fall into the catchall dish. “Cynthia, sweetie,” calls Alice, “Cynthia?”

                “Yes, Mommy?” she calls from the kitchen. With another call, Cynthia is at her mother’s side.

                Alice sat her daughter beside her on the couch and held her hand. “I want you to know you can talk to me about anything, sweetie. It’s ok, you don’t have to put on a brave face for Mommy.” Cynthia is confused. Alice tries another approach. “You know, Reverend Babylon was there at Mommy’s first Day of Reminding. And Mommy was kind of … well scared of it all. That’s a big knife and all. And it hurt.”

                “It didn’t hurt,” corrected Cynthia.

                Alice forces a smile and plays with her daughter’s hair. “… I guess you’re a bit stronger than Mommy aren’t you?” Cynthia unwraps her wound. “Wait, Cynthia, we need to bandage that up better upstairs, okay?” Cynthia holds her right hand up to her mother’s. Both have the mark. Cynthia grins. “Let’s… let’s just go upstairs, okay?”

                “Okay!”

                Cynthia is up and races up the stairs with ease.  Alice has to take a moment to steady herself, with her belly full of life, to get up from her seat. A bump appears and disappears on the surface of Alice’s stomach. She smiles. “It can’t be long now, can it? She bandages Cynthia’s wound and all her daughter can speak of is the Reverend’s ceremonial robes; how the purple drifts into scarlet, the golden thread and precious pearls and stones that line the headpiece. Cynthia says she wants a crown made of those pretty things, one that looks like one of the Prophet’s just as Alice finishes the wrapping. The little girl kisses her mother and then rushes off.

                Alice washes her face in the basin but she cannot wash away the dread that lingers in her chest. Cynthia has no questions. No demands for what or why the Reminding happens or what the mark means. Or why only the little girls receive this mark. 

     

  8. Tick Tock, Part 1

    New week, new story! You know the drill… more stories await over at Short Story Salad!

    Long time readers will find some familiar faces from Sophie here…

                ”What about Ernest?” asks Mother, face buried in the tentative guest list.

                “What about him?” I reply in the driest possible tone.

                Mother glances up. “You don’t have him written down.” She smirks. “Your aunts will be distraught if he’s not there. You know he’s had his eye on you for a while now. He’ll probably ask your father for your hand in marriage sometime soon.”

                I pluck the list from Mother’s hands. “Well thank goodness this is a birthday party and not an engagement party, hm?”

                Mother leans back in her chair laughing. “I’m only joking, Rosalind!” Clearly I don’t look amused. “Really I am! I don’t like that boy anymore than you. But you know what Madolin would say…”

                My left hand rests on my chest while I fan myself with the other. “Unwed at twenty eight! Twenty eight! I daresay we’ll never find you match.”

                Mother joins in, hand over her heart and all. “And poor Sophie! She couldn’t possibly be married before you! Just a couple of spinsters! And that’ll be the end of the Cog line for certain!” Mother can’t hold her straight face, or uppity high-pitched voice any longer and laughs. She winks at me. “Never mind I married your father before Madolin, Margot or Mariette!” It’s really amazing how much we are not exaggerating. My aunts, while I love them and cherish their company, are truly the hardest people to be around.

                I shuffle the plans together. “Not to mention that Sophie is married to her work.”

                Mother stands up and takes my hand. “Neither you or your sister have to worry about marrying out of obligation. Your father and I have seen to that.”

                I smiled but then roll my eyes. “Can we stop talking about marriage and go on talking about Sophie’s birthday party? She’s actually coming home this year and I for one want her to have the time of her life at this ball.”

                “Sophie would have the time of her life with grease dripping off her overalls, outfitting Tuteur with some gadget or another. She won’t enjoy a party like you would- not with so many people.”

                “Exactly why I won’t be inviting little weasels like Mister Kuntsqueiller.” I walk toward the door. “Sophie will enjoy a change of pace like this. If only for my sake.” Mother forces a smile and I leave.

                Mother’s not convinced but I don’t need her to be. Sophie is the one I’m aiming to please and I know my sister. I have a caterer coming to cook all of her favorite treats, things she couldn’t possibly get on a regular basis at the guild; dobo torte,  chocolate mascarpone layered cakes, crème Brule, blitz pastries- oh! I’ll make myself hungry. As I pass the courtyard I see the cast iron arbor erected over where the dance floor will be. It’s a bit rustic but fashionably so. Hm, perhaps I’ll add some flowers to soften the edges. I’ve even ordered a few different dresses for Sophie to choose from for the occasion. I have my favorite of course but it’s her birthday she gets to choose.

                “Rosalind!” comes a shout from the entry way. “Mireille!!” “Quick! Someone fetch my niece!” “Where are they!?” I know those voices.

                “Auntie?” I turn the corner and I see my all three of my aunts in the worst possible state. They look frightened and uncertain. My aunts have worn every fashion from here to the western sea but uncertainty is not something I have ever seen them sport.

                Margot’s face melts into relief. “Ros, dear!” All three of them rush to hold me.

                “Auntie, what’s wrong? Are you alright? I wasn’t expecting you three for another week at best! You’re supposed to bring Sophie home!”

                “We know, dear, but we feared for the worst and had to come to the estate!” said Madolin.

                “The worst?” Mother stepped up from behind, her face washed over with concern. “Maddy, Marry, Mary- what’s wrong, where is Sophie?”

                Mariette grasps my mother’s hand. “She’s gone missing!”

                My heart drops. Mother and I speak at the same time. “Missing?”

                “Half the guild is missing!” says Margot.

                “We only just found out!” notes Madolin.

                “How could you have just found out?” Mother’s face is pale, her checks are a blotchy red. “You were in the City for the very purpose of checking on my daughter!”

                “And our niece!” Mariette’s face is all pinched together. “We went to check on her not a fortnight ago but the Guild Master told us she had taken on a very important job and that she’d be back within the week. She never returned! Now half the City is in a panic!”

                “The mayor has all but claimed that the City is its own city-state! People are being thrown in jail without trail!” blurts Madolin, “We went to collect Sophie but there was hardly anything left of the guild.”

                “We fled for fear we would be next!” says Margot, “Many noble families are being kept under close watch!”

                “What of Marx? What did my husband have to say about all this?!”

                Margot takes Mother’s hand. “Marx has been missing for a week.”

                Mother’s hand covers her mouth but it cannot mask her shrill of pain. Tears fill her eyes. Her knees give way, I catch her. “Mother!”

                And in the most loving gesture I’ve ever seen from them, two of my aunts take my mother and help her to find a chair while the third brings the chair forward. They are in tears as well. I might be crying, I can’t tell, my face is too hot.

                I turn and race for the courtyard. I don’t understand, the guild has always been safe. Father was in the City and Tuteur was there as Sophie’s personal bodyguard. Where was she? What was happening? Why hadn’t we been informed? I can barely keep up with my own thoughts and I grasp the cast iron pillar to hold myself up. Who can I call on? I have friends within the City, why hadn’t anyone told me of these events?

                One thing is certain; I will know. I rush to the drawing room and begin the first of many letters I intend to send out before the sun sets.

                Tap tap.

                Tap tap tap.

                I look up. There’s a small clockwork bird tapping its beak at the window. At first I barely register it at all but then the small bit of parchment tied to its leg catches my eye. The window is opened and the bird hops down onto the desk. I go to remove the parchment from its leg when the tiny mechanical bird’s beak opens wide. “To Miss Rosalind Cog, From Miss Sophie Cog,” it chirps.

     

  9. Atlas, Part 3

    Please read Part 1 and Part 2 before going forward! Spoilers ahoy!! Take a peek over at Short Story Salad to read a bunch of other shorts we have there! Take care!

                Ragni, with three of her arms holding a tiny Fahri baby and caressing the babe’s back, reached out with her free hand to touch Lin’s shoulder. “Is something up, Lin? You really seem off today.”

                “Hm?”

                Ragni’s eyes were a light yellow.”Well, you’re hunched over at the kiddy table, sitting in a tiny orange chair.” She was right. Lin sipped her large coffee. “And you never let your hair look that shaggy at work.”

                Lin rubbed her head. “It’s not that bad.”

                “Yeah, it is.” Ragni maneuvered to keep the Fahri baby from wrapping her tail into a knot around her arms. “Look, I know it’s early but I need you to get up and running before the morning rush.” Lin glanced at the clock. Parents would be dropping off a horde of their young’uns within the hour.

                Ragni vigorously rubbed Lin’s hair. “Hey! Watch it!” protested Lin.

                The Krit’s eyes were now an emerald green. “Cheer up, you’re favorite customer is coming in today.” And she walked off.

                Lin sighed. “Taru…” Lin’s bracelet lit up. She almost didn’t want to check it but she swiped her forearm.

                We will be in position at 1000 hours. See you there.

                Lin clapped her hands together. The holographic screen disappeared.

                The Fahri baby cried in the other room. “Hey, no sudden noises, Lin!!”

                “Sorry!” Lin grimaced. She couldn’t help it. She took a swig from her coffee mug. She couldn’t go through with this. She wouldn’t go through with this. She had told the goddamn Krit that yesterday at the coffee shop but he just smiled smugly and bumped his bracelet up against Lin’s too quickly for her to pull away.

                “There. You’ll know where to find me tomorrow,” he had paid for both their drinks and walked away. Lin had quickly swiped to go and delete the uploaded file, but couldn’t. Rather she could have if she had the time, but the heavy encryption would take an hour to skim through and she only had a fifteen minutes left on her break.

                Lin stared at the kiddy table. It’s pieces of shit like that Krit that give the Concord all the fucking ammo it needs to keep the public in line; feeding tem propaganda saying that any freedom-fighter doesn’t really care about the population and will stoop to any level to get there way. The people should be afraid of the hackers and trust their government.

                Never mind that their telephone conversations were tapped. Never mind that more money was being poured into government officials pockets than welfare. Never mind that stepping out of line could get you thrown into prison without trail. But hey, if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to worry about, right?

                Lin could taste the coffee coming back up into her mouth. Bastards made her sick. Every last one of them.

                “Hey!! Look who’s here!!” Ragni came into the playroom with a baby in each pair of arms. Taru’s tiny green shines shined like stars. He reached out with all four of his limbs. Lin stood up. “Yeah! It’s Miss Lin!” Taru nearly leaped the three inches from Ragni’s arms into Lin’s. Lin smiled as the Krit baby clung to her. “Ha! There! I knew a visit from your little man would brighten up your day!”

                Ragni left and Lin was left with Taru. He looked around, his eyes blue, his eyes curious. Lin’s smile faded. “Let’s get this over with.”

                                                         ***

                A short Krit entered into the small white room. Lin sat at an adult sized table now, hands cuffed. “Miss Abigail Lin?”

                Lin’s face was stiff as stone. “Senator Ugra.”

                “Or should I call you Linda Atlas?”

                “Either.” Lin knew where she was headed. This meeting was just a formality. She was only sad that there weren’t any windows in this room. She knew she wouldn’t be seeing the outside for a very long time, if ever again.

                “Since Atlas is your calling card, I’ll proceed with that.” Senator Ugra swiped her forearm and her hologram screen was up. She flipped through the file while her other pair of arms rested on her hip. “You’re good at what you do, Atlas. We’ve had a hard time catching you. But I have to say I’m not sure what I’m more confused about.” She snapped her hands together, the hologram disappeared. “Why would you turn yourself in like this… or why you would bring my son to me like this.”

                “Taru’s safety was in danger. If I had just refused the threat a rouge hacker would have just turned me in himself. I felt it best to see that Taru was safely brought to you myself and then just hand myself over.”

                Senator Ugra’s eyes flashed red before returning to a placid brown. “Rouge hackers? Are you not referring to your own profession?”

                “I wouldn’t threaten a kid.”

                “So you say, but it is the actions of people like you that threaten the safety of every man, woman and child within the Concord.”

                “Bullshit.”

                “Excuse me?”

                Lin straightened up. “You heard me. Bullshit. And pardon me if this seems harsh, Mrs. Senator but I figure this is the last time I’m gonna be talking so openly to a government official so I’m going to be frank.” Lin held up her shackled wrists. “This might be the first time I’ve ever had cuffs physically on me but I have felt the weight of these cuffs ever since I could remember. Ever since my father was carted off to prison for exposing the Concord’s involvement with the Hannabalian War. Don’t give me a look because I know the truth. You can lock me up but I know the truth and I have worked my entire life to make sure everyone else knows the truth because people deserve that much. Your son deserves that much. He deserves to be happy and healthy and to grow up and my his own choices. I brought your son in because a Krit came to me and threatened me if I didn’t comply and Taru if I did. You can say whatever you goddamn want to but that’s the truth.” Lin relaxed, comforted by the fact that even though she’d never see anything but a jail cell ever again, she had at least told this bitch off.

                Senator Ugra smirked. “Good. Then you’re ready.”

                “Yeah, well, fu- wait what?”

                The Krit woman’s eyes were green. “Welcome, Miss Lin,” She swiped her forearm and hit a few keys. The wall behind Senator Ugra slid away to reveal a long room filled with humans, Fahri and Krit swiping through computer files and organizing data. “Welcome, to the Collective. A select group of talented hackers such as yourself, who seek to bring the people and the Concord onto a level playing field.”

                Taru was carried into the white room by the Krit from the coffee shop. The adult was smiling almost as brightly as Taru. “Hello, Atlas, my name is Dhiren and I’m the Director of Resources. I trust you know this little guy.” Taru waved happily.

                Lin’s mouth fell open. “You’ve got the be kidding me.”

     

  10. Tara and the Bitsies

    Part 1 can be found here! More stories can be found over at Short Stories Salad!

                ”Yeah, Daddy,” Tara held her cell phone to her ear with her shoulder as she tried to fold her shirt. “Mm-hm. I leave on Saturday.” And into the suitcase the shirt went.

                Tara looked around her room. She sat on her bed with a freshly washed basket of laundry at her feet and around her were several open plastic tubs. One had ‘Bathroom’ Sharpie-ed onto its side while others read ‘Bedding’ or ‘Books.’ “Thursday? I’ll hafta run that by Mom-“

                The phone shouted back at her and Tara pulled away. The phone landed safely on the bed. When it got a little quieter, Tara picked it up again. “I know. I’m sure Mom will be fine with you coming to pick me up on Thursday… I know, Daddy… I know you work every other day this week … Yeah, I know you want to be there … It’s ok … Yeah, I love you too. Bye.”

                Tara fell back on her bed, letting the phone fall to her side. Posters she and her mother had pinned onto the ceiling gazed back at her. Tara’s entire ceiling was full of galaxies and planets, moons and stars.

                Turquoise, cerulean and fuchsia bundles of shapes came into view.

                “Whatcha doing?” asked Rhonda.

                “Star gazing,” replied Tara.

                “Those aren’t actually stars you know,” said J.T.

                “Closest thing I got right now.”

                “Still kinda lame,” noted Caleb.

                Tara rolled onto her side, causing the Bitsies to roll backwards and fall behind her back. “Hey!” “Wha!?” “Hold up!” They shouted.

                Tara sighed and looked at her telescope. The sun was beginning to set and she could look out into the sky before packing it up.

                Caleb leapt onto Tara’s shoulder. “You know that wasn’t very nice. You can’t hang up on us like your Dad.”

                “I didn’t hang up on him.”

                “You really might as well have,” chimed Rhonda “You really don’t spend enough time with him these days.”

                “He lives five hours away, there’s not much I can do, guys.”

                “You could have moved out with him, you know,” noted J.T.

                Tara rolled around toward the Bitsies. “But then I’d be away from Mom and my friends,” -the Bitsies giggled at the word ‘friends’- “And school. No. I couldn’t have moved out with Dad. Plus he’s always working.”

                 ”Whatever you say.” J.T. was looking at his reflection in the black service of Tara’s cell phone. “Do you think my hair looks weird?”

                “No,” said Tara.

                “Kinda,” said Rhonda.

                “Yeah, yeah it does,” agreed Caleb.

                “Tara why would you lie to me like that?!” demanded J.T.

                “I wasn’t lying! I just thought your hair looked fine. It’s my opinion.” Tara sat up and reached for a pair of socks.

                Caleb handed Tara another shirt. “So… Tara?”

                “Yes, Caleb?”

                “Why are you leaving us?”

                “What? I’m not leaving you.”

                “I’d hate to disagree,” Rhonda pointed at all the boxes, “But you are.”

                Tara picked up her pair of jeans, revealing a fluffy pink blanket at the bottom of the basket. “I’m not leaving forever. It’s only college and to be honest it’s two hours away. Mom plans to bring me home on every three day weekend anyway.”

                “There you go again,” said J.T.

                “Doing what, again?”

                “You’re putting the blame on someone else!” Rhonda stamped her foot on the bed. “Mom makes you want to stay! Mom makes you come home! Make up your own mind for once! You either want us, your friends, here or you don’t!”

                Tara threw down her jeans. “Well then maybe I don’t!" She turned around to face the Bitsies, but they weren’t there. "Guys?" Tara peeked under her pillow and through her suitcase. Nothing. "Guys?" She listened; there were no giggles or sounds of shifting feet. Tara glazed down and saw the pink blanket and wrapped it around herself.