The catalyst for these stories comes from the whimsical “Non Lo So,” by Zhiyong Li on Artstation. It tickled our fancies, for sure!
Pour yourselves a nice cool glass of lemonade (or a delightfully warm cup of hot cocoa, depending on the hemisphere), and see where our imaginations have travelled…
Fiction Shots #2
Flash #1: Opposite Tricks
By Robin Lythgoe
When Toady says they’re to paint the Widow Grayling’s house, Akasha stares along with everyone else.
“Orange.” Uneven teeth make his smile particularly fiendish. The gang erupts into hoots and shouts of laughter at that. The widow’s a quiet woman of modest means. Her house used to be brown, but most of the color’s chipped off now. It would no more willingly wear orange than would the widow.
“She needs some brightening.” Zekan always backs up Toady. If their illustrious leader decided they should all become acolytes at the local temple, Zekan would hand out the cassocks and thump anyone who questioned the choice. Same if Toady resolved to filch grub down in the Bellows—Royal Ghost territory, where Toady’s Azure Fang Gang would swiftly find their end. Hopefully not a permanent one… Did the Ghosts kill children?
“Why orange?” Akasha dares. She likes orange, but she has seen no orange houses in the deeps of Tamirut, Engine of the East. Tamirut is a city of steam and commerce, technology and industry. Its colors are steel, coal, and ash.
Toady has rather marvelous blue eyes, ill-matched to his blob of a face. He is perhaps not all goblin. “Because I say so.”
“Want I should make her walk the plank?” Zekan read a book once. Now he dreams of sending some poor chump tumbling off the board he suspended from the clubhouse window, pirate-style. He is definitely a goblin.
Toady’s lovely eyes drill into Akasha’s.
Nobody else says anything, half of them frightened, half of them morbidly wishing for the first plank victim.
She shakes her head.
Zekan heaves a sigh, and the meeting resumes. There is always mischief to plan. That night, the Azure Fangs paint Widow Grayling’s house.
* * *
“The workhouse, girl? Is that your goal in life?”
Poppy never shouts. Akasha thinks it might be easier if he did. If his face got as red as his rhubarb hair. If his eyes bugged out like giant white mushrooms. She picks at a nub on her pants, brightly striped in shades of blue, then stops herself. If she unravels the thread, what will she wear? Poppy makes a decent wage tending gardens for the Terribly Rich. The two of them don’t go hungry or naked, but she remembers when things used to be better.
In their cramped little kitchen with its jumbled pots and kettles and buckets of greenery, Poppy eases into the other chair as if he might break. The constable’s fetched him from work to deal with his scamp of a girl. It’s not the first time the arm of the law has caught and cooped the Azure Fangs like chickens. Poppy says they’re lucky the constable’s arm is made of rubber and his heart of gold, and they’d best not test his kindness too far.
Today is the time before too far.
“Once more, and the law will take you from me.” His shoulders sag like a balloon with the air going out. From under his shirt he pulls out the pendant that used to be Mumsy’s. A dragonfly with sparkling wings. He squeezes it tight, as if it might fly away. First Mumsy, then Akasha, then the pendant. “Do you know why they’ll put you in the workhouse and not the prison pit?”
“Because I’m still a child,” Akasha whispers, small and ashamed. He’d warned her, after all.
Poppy nods and wipes the end of his nose. “You are born to be beautiful. Why do you do such ugly things?”
“They’re just pranks.” She shrugs, but she cannot shrug away the misgivings that made her question Toady’s choice of color. Not the constable’s disapproval. Not Poppy’s crestfallen disappointment.
She snorts the way Toady did when his audience was obviously dull-witted. He snorts a lot.
“If someone painted our house with horse dung, would that be funny?”
“No! That’s disgusting!”
“At least horse dung is useful.”
A streak of rebellion grabs her tongue. “It isn’t beautiful. And no one is born to be beautiful.”
“Everyone is. We fairies most of all.”
Fairies are closest to magic, but magic is dying in a world bulldozed and strip-mined for its tangible riches. Magic has gone out of fashion.
“Humans?” she challenges. “Goblins?”
“How? We are stuck in an ugly world full of ugly things. Only rich people can get out. We aren’t allowed to be rich.” She’s heard the rules all her life, from Toady and the Azure Fangs to the grownups that throng Tamirut’s highways and low-ways.
Poppy tucks away the sparkling dragonfly and holds out his hand. “I want to show you something.”
* * *
There aren’t many trees in Tamirut. It is a novelty to be cradled in an ancient apple, peering down upon a pair of gardens. The sweet smell of greenery stirs Akasha’s senses. Only a toddler when the tractors chugged up the mountain and razed their small village, most of her memories sear, hiss, and grind. Poppy brings her with him to work sometimes, because it is important to train the next generation to take over the delicate task of nurturing green things, which is more rare with each passing decade. She treasures those moments, but they, too, are rare, and her father’s talents far beyond her understanding. He often reminds her that impatience is a vice of the young and the shortsighted.
“Look. Twins.” Poppy lifts a branch of the apple tree. This is not a rich part of the city anymore. Carefully tended plots sit cheek by jowl with ruin. Poppy points out how the two gardens reflect each other. How each has access to the same advantages: walls, water, soil, plants, sun. One is healthy and verdant. Beautiful blossoms fill the air with color and scent.
The other is a blight. The few plants that grow there are twisted and deformed. A bramble with thorns as long as Akasha’s fingers creeps across one wall toward the house. Junk collects in the corners. Scum covers a once-lovely pool. Something unattractive—dangerous!—lives in it now.
“There is a magic within all of us, even the lowliest, poorest of us who walk this earth. We have the power to love anything and anyone. That power can overcome the mightiest of obstacles—pain, poverty, loneliness, ignorance. It can erase the walls created by culture, race, custom, and creed. It is the most powerful magic in all the world, and it is yours, my daughter.”
She does not know what magic has to do with love, nor with staying out of the workhouse. “We loved Mumsy. She died.”
“Yes. She was a delicate creature. She could not adapt to the cold, hard, loud world of machinery. Like a poison, it blighted her body and soul.”
Akasha thinks about this for a space. Poppy often tells her she is much like Mumsy. “Will I die?”
“Do you want to, my little flower?”
“Of course not!”
“Then I want you to think what will you do to live. How will you nurture life around you?”
* * *
Two of the Azure Fangs are gone to the workhouses. Toady cannot holler his way out of the somber pall they leave. “They’re not dead! What’s the matter with you? Off your backsides, and down to the market with you. Best burgle wins!”
Akasha is a lodestone for ten pair of eyes. She stands. “It’s wrong. Besides, I don’t want to end up in the workhouse. Not the pits, either. They suck the life out of you.” Everyone knew it.
“We’re a gang. That’s what we do.” Zekan puffs out his chest.
She snorts Toady’s snort for the dull-witted. “If you want to go to the pits, go ahead.” She waves at the door. “Or I have another idea.”
“To do what?” Pretty blue eyes narrow in suspicion.
Akasha beckons her accomplices closer. To her surprise, they come. “New tricks. Opposite tricks.”
* * *
Akasha perches on a girder dangling over the chasm between insanely stacked buildings. A railway once shot through this section. All that remains is a piece of the track and a defunct car. Lolita Moskita lives there. She sells seashells. Heaven knows where she gets them, for the sea is a thousand miles away. There’s an ambiance of tumble-down wreckage to everything, but it’s overlaid with cheerfulness. Bright paint, sunshine, flowers, kites flying, pinwheels spinning, plants growing in incongruous places, a birds nest hanging off a precarious walkway, flags, and bells.
At the end of Akasha’s girder is a bucket full of implements, and beside her a glass of juice with a jaunty red straw. Her green scarf flutters in the wind. Her most prized possession though, is a patchwork cape marked with the number three.
The pirate plank is gone, but Zekan searches the neighborhood through his spyglass. The number two adorns a badge on his shirt.
Toady declines to wear his number one, but secretly keeps it in his pocket.
Love is a powerful magic…
Flash #2: Signs, Signs, Everywhere There Are Signs!
Author of the Oathtaker Series
Having arrived at the port in Corsair, the largest city in Metzphlat, Kira and her mother stepped off the ship’s deck and onto the wharf, then shuffled through the bustling crowd. Signs all around, in assorted sizes, shapes, and colors, directed folks, informed them—and no doubt warned them—of numerous matters.
Suddenly, came a jostling from behind. Kira’s grip loosened and a second later, she found herself quite alone.
Flash #3: Morrowsky, the First Flying City
Author of The Unseen Chronicles
Twelve-year-old Zee Anderson liked straight lines and right angles. Unfortunately for her, the city of Morrowsky had very few straight lines and no right angles. Instead it had sails and balloons, walkways and cupolas, turrets and towers—all built on top of each other with little reason or rhyme—except to reach higher into the sky.
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Want to read more short-short fiction we’ve written? This link will take you there.
This is such a fun way to write a story. I hope you enjoyed reading our fiction shots as much as we enjoyed writing it! We’ve decided to make this a regular feature. Have you got a title or a picture to inspire us?