Category: Flash fiction

Soulink

Soulink

Flash Story: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Aromantic.

Release date:  10 August 2021

This story has received a First Place in Queer Sci Fi’s Eighth Annual Flash Fiction Contest.

“Welcome to the largest support forum in the Free Station Coalition for those struggling with their soulmarks. Make sure to read the rules before you post. Be kind!”

Anthology: Ink

Publisher: Other Worlds Ink

Out now! Other Worlds Ink | GoodReads |

Flight of the Light Dwellers

Flight of the Light Dwellers

This piece has been part of the IQARUS Book Con 2021 guest posts [iqarusbookcon.com]. The history of the IQARUS banner image begins years ago, in Venice. It was winter, mild in that area, without snow or chilling winds. It rained a bit, as we ran from the center of the city to the train station, whooshing this way and that through the emptying, narrow streets. In the darkness, the lights of winter decorations breezed by like birds in flight, like creatures made of light. In that moment, it was a mesmerizing story coming to life, of friendship and laughter and youth. This light painting, Flight, (and the rest in its Light Dwellers series) is a celebration of that time.

*** *** ***

The workshop is quietest in the dawn hours. Out there, the world wakes with groans and whispers, but in here, the air remains still for a while longer. From their perch on the shelf, Birdie can see both the narrow street and the expanse of the glassblower’s shop. Outside the window, hoarfrost covers the cobblestone, glittering under the biting winter sun. The furnace at the center of the floor is cold as well, but it always leaves a lingering taste in the air, a reminder of its warmth, and Birdie is thrown back to the beginning.

Back when they took shape in the hands of the apprentice. When they received life from her breath.

Now, the apprentice is the master of the workshop, teaching her underlings the same she was taught. Birdie’s been here all these years, watching over her.

“Good morning, uccellino,” she calls, entering through the squeaky door.

As it does every time, the tip of her finger pets Birdie’s head, sliding down Birdie’s glass back in a smooth motion. It leaves Birdie rocking on their belly, swaying crookedly for a while.

***

Birdie’s wings are uneven. Not that they ever blamed the apprentice for this slight, but it was her doing. Birdie’d been her first tiny creature, born out of a blob of blue glass, red streaks fanning out over her wingspan. When Birdie was almost done, a loud noise from outside startled the apprentice, and half of their left wing was clipped.

It didn’t hurt. It never hurts. Except…

Birdie turns their attention to the street. With shouts and clangs and ruckus, the winter heralds are finally beginning their work. Climbing on ladders, reaching up, up, up, they decorate the street with wires, some crisscrossed in between the buildings, others intricately wrapped around the lamp posts.

These are them, the glass birds filled with incandescence. At night, they come alight from within, fiery creatures in green and red and blue and yellow. Some are as white as the snow, others take a purple tint that reflects off everything. Even off Birdie, as they sit with their beak pressed against the window pane.

One of the younger glassblowers leans against Birdie’s shelf, rattling the pieces there.

“I hear they’re trying to make it look like a giant snowflake from above,” he says.

Birdie wishes to see it, too. Wishes to fly over the city and its canals. Wishes—

***

With the dusk and the night, the lights outside begin to sparkle, one by one until the entire street is bathed in their brightness.

It doesn’t happen immediately. It takes days, a gradual build-up that Birdie thinks is necessary when preparing for the sky. But it does, eventually, begin.

The light dwellers spread their wings.

They rise. One day above their installations, the next above the rooftops, then higher, and higher, to mingle with the stars above. Their bodies are wispy, wiry and twisty, fluttering against the darkness. In silence, they dash through the air, flocks of color in the corner of Birdie’s eye.

In the deep yearning of Birdie’s heart.

***

Time passes, Birdie watches. Then, one nightfall close to the final flight of the light dwellers, something happens. A shutter above bangs open under a stronger gust of wind, causing one of the wires to flop down. It comes to a stop with a bulb hanging right next to Birdie.

For the first time, Birdie can see the fire within, as blue as Birdie’s body, scorching and frosty and entirely mesmerizing. With care, Birdie rocks closer, clicking against the glass separating them. If only…

From where the light dweller’s shine touches Birdie’s wings, beams form, bouncing back and forth, to meet in the center of Birdie’s chest.

Oh, Birdie thinks

The rest of the flock gathers, coiling in a twining beacon. Birdie’s new friend moves back and—and—Birdie rushes after. Through the window, into the cold winter air, up above the city, above the sea, above the world.

It springs from within.

Birdie flies.

*** *** ***

Lost Cub

Lost Cub

Color photograph of a deep orange and red sunset over an urban cityscape.

October 2020 flash fiction (fantasy, ghosts). For the Patreon post, click here.

*** *** ***

Marina sniffed at the discarded can behind the big box of discarded cans, hoping something would be left from the humans. No luck here, either, so she pushed away, stomach growling, and moved to the next one. She was pondering traveling further downwind, into unknown territory—which was less appealing than an empty belly, a reminder of how lost she was without a family out here in the wilderness—when she heard it. The cries of a cub, miserable mewling coming from around the corner.

Marina’s instincts drove her forward, though she’d never been a cub carer in the family. She used to hunt, until her hunt had separated her from the rest.

She looked around the wall warily, and then stopped in her tracks. The crying came from a human cub. Long fur on the head, fluttery purple on the rest of the body. Marina licked her whiskers and sniffed the air again.

Weird.

The human cub smelled not like it should. Like nothing at all, in fact.

She must’ve stood there staring for too long, because suddenly, the human was in her face, a long drawn sigh escaping their mouth.

“Whoa. Where did you come from?”

Marina swished her tail in warning, flashed a fang for good measure.

“Won’t hurt you, kitty, don’t worry. Can’t, see?”

The upper paw of the human slid through the ground and then into the air again. Marina took a step back. The human kept looking and looking, not moving again, and then it made a sound Marina didn’t recognize.

“Curious, aren’t you, Marina? And brave.”

At her name, she sat back on her haunches. Sadly, her hunger was not forgotten and the human made the same noise, this time showing their own fangs.

“You’re lost, but you’re in luck. I know where your home is. Or at least I think… Would you like to try and see if we can find it?”

Definitely, she would, so when the human stood, Marina followed.

“My name’s—was Simone. Nice to meet you, kitty.”

Marina gave a whine and bumped her nose into Simone’s hand. Not ignored, the gesture, even though her whiskers passed through it, giving her a chill.

***

It felt like forever, as they meandered through the human forest of stone, but then the walls of home came into sight and Marina felt like weeping forever.

“So you are from the zoo,” Simone said. “I guess you’re lucky, then. Off you go.”

Marina felt like this kindness should be returned. Not out of obligation, but because Simone had been crying and no cub should suffer like that. Instead of jumping over to the gate, she leaned closer, circling Simone’s legs.

“Oh. Thank you, but—”

Marina stressed her offer for help with the growling intended for the cubs of her own family. Simone huffed and curled closer to the ground.

“You can’t help me. You’d have to be like me, but you aren’t yet. So go ahead, go home.”

Simone showed her teeth and Marina tried to match it, before she reluctantly left.

***

Summers and winters came and went. Their cubs had cubs of their own, and Marina had slowed in her hunting. She spent the days letting the little ones practice pouncing on her tail.

Until, one evening, Simone appeared next to her.

And Marina knew, from her smells, from her touch, that—

“How help.”

“Have you been thinking about it all this time?”

“Word can. Weird.” And it was, to feel her sounds turn into human ones.

“Yeah, I see that. I guess out here in the netherworld we can understand each other differently, huh? Do I seem to speak panther to you?”

“Perhaps,” Marina thought and it materialized into speech. “Weird.” She swished her tail with impatience. “Go.”

Simone made that strange sound again, only now Marina could tell what it was. Laughter. Though small and sad.

They walked again, side by side, until Simone stopped in front of windows. Inside, two humans yelled at each other in the midst of a dirty nest, abandoned and decrepit.

“They’re the ones who hurt me,” Simone whispered. “And I want nothing more than to hurt them back. It’s why I’m stuck here.”

“You mine. Friend. Family.”

Marina attacked.

***

Later, as they stood atop a tall metal tree, Simone’s legs dangling in the wind, Marina felt it.

A pull, growing stronger with each happy laugh bubbling out of Simone.

“Kitty, can you feel—Whoa. Shall we, then? Another adventure?”

Marina placed her paw in Simone’s hand and let go.

Together, they were both found.

*** *** ***

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Worldmaker

Worldmaker

Color close-up photograph of tree roots.

September 2020 flash fiction (fantasy). For the Patreon post, click here.

*** *** ***

Right where the river bends around the mountain, in between sharp rocks and the stretch of green, wavy hills, a tree stands. Its trunk is thick with age, branches stretching over to one side, as if it grew trying to shelter the patch of ground beneath from the scorching sun.

Mel knows when they’re close, even from underneath the scarf wrapped tight around her furless witchmother’s neck. Mel can hear her quickening heartbeat where she’s nestled against her chest, safely hidden from the world. Soon, though, they stop and sunlight shines over her eyes as Mother pulls the fabric apart.

“Here you go,” she says and Mel jumps to the ground.

The tree is… well, old, obviously. Mel rounds it, searching for the spark of life still residing inside the wood. It’s difficult, but she finds it, a barely-there whisper.

Almost gone, but holding onto the world with all its might. It wants to survive.

They must hurry, then. Mel flicks her tail, rushing to Mother, and meows her consent. This is it, this is the place.

“Are you sure?”

Mel hisses, impatience crawling in her bones, only adding to the trembling of her muscles. She can’t hold on for much longer, either. If Mother doesn’t agree, they’d need to find something else, and by then it might be too late.

Mel’s power would take Mother instead. She found Mel as a tiny kitten, fed her, kept her warm, told her stories. Mel doesn’t want her to suffer for helping.

She bats a paw at Mother’s leg.

“Fine, fine, I get it. Hold on.”

The candles come out, the herbs and the tiny bowl in which they’ll be crushed.

Not long after, Mother chants, sprinkling the powder over the flames. The tension in Mel’s limbs fades little by little, until she can curl up between the roots sticking out of the ground like tendrils of another universe.

In a way, it is. A different world. Will be, a different life.

She lets out a long breath, the last for a while, and closes her eyes.

***

Moonlight shines gray over the land, cast down from between branches. The wind carries shuffling sounds of green leaves swaying, and Mel’s ears twitch. The gentle fingers smoothing the fur on her head and back stop as she yawns. Mel growls a bit, showing displeasure, but Mother laughs. She’s petting Mel again, so it doesn’t matter.

The bark of the tree creaks with another yawn.

“Well, hello there,” Mother says. “I hope you don’t mind we barged in on you.”

The wooden face leaning out from the tree looks a lot like Mother’s, and Mel blinks with satisfaction.

The lady of the tree stretches her arms, her back, and her legs as she steps fully out. With awe, she inspects her limbs one by one. Then she looks up, at the new life blooming in the tree.

“I thought my days were counted,” she whispers, gravelly and gritty, like branches against each other. “Thank you.”

Mel tucks her front paws under herself better, and rests her head down. She could use another nap. Mother’s voice drifts in the air above, talking to their new friend about names, and magic, and how to protect against dangers. What it means to be born in this world.

With a sigh, Mel closes her eyes. The power inside her has quieted, even though another spark has already started swirling behind her ribs. When she’s older, she’ll be able to take Mother with her to visit the worlds growing within herself, hold on to more than one at a time. For now, though, all she can do is gift them and wait. They’re safe.

*** *** ***

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The River Is Alive, Even Under Thick Winter Ice

The River Is Alive, Even Under Thick Winter Ice

Color image of ivy leaves and stone.

May 2020 flash fiction (fantasy, transgender character). For the Patreon post, click here.

*** *** ***

On the steps of the temple, between peeling columns, the visitor stands. Above, clouds rumble with lingering thunder. She watches for a while, speaking silently to the fading fury, surrounded by petrichor. The forest is never quiet after rain, droplets sliding off leaves, moss sighing softly in the breeze, trees stretching their roots.

Long ago, the roof of the temple crumbled. Long ago, the stone walls eroded under the song of patient winds. Long ago, ivy wound its way inside, blanketing the space.

The altar, though, remains untouched, a shine to it akin to the one it held on the day of its creation.

Upon it, a tired body rests. Curled, shivering, limbs weak and breaths wheezing.

She nears, carefully. Gentles a hand through the messy hair, soothing.

“We heard the call,” she whispers, mindful of causing fear. “But this shouldn’t happen. Your world gave up worshipping sacrifices.”

The youth’s teeth are chattering, and the words come out stilted. “Father thinks otherwise. ”

“Hmm. I see. And why would he offer his child?”

“Useless. Not a—not a son.”

“A daughter?”

The nod is shaky, but undoubtedly an affirmation.

“And what would you like for your sacrifice?”

The girl laughs. It sounds hollow, as it echoes in the temple. “I don’t know, what am I worth to you?”

“A future,” the visitor says. “Come with me and explore your choices, or withdraw your offering and I’ll return you to your world.”

“I don’t understand, what do you get out of it?”

“Why do I have to be rewarded? You have worth to yourself.”

“Even if I… let’s say I want to read books all day?”

“Yes. There’s this old house that gets lonely, down in the city. It could use a companion that doesn’t talk too much. Sensitive hearing, you see.”

The laughter, this time, blooms with genuine mirth. The choice is made, the visitor can feel it, but she waits for confirmation all the same.

“I’ll go with you,” the girl says, “if you tell me your name.”

“Ah. I have many, which you’ll know in time. But one of them translates to: the river is alive, even under thick winter ice.

*** *** ***

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The Implant Merchant

The Implant Merchant

Digital color drawing of a cybernetic eye ball with a mechanical iris and extending cords for nerves.

April 2020 flash fiction (science fiction, fantasy, transgender character). For the Patreon post, click here.

*** *** ***

“Get your implant, today! Half price! Offer expires in a jiffy!” Barely audible over the ruckus of the marketplace, Ronnie waves a cybernetic eye, dangling it from its connectors. “Best manufacture on the station. Come on, how about an extra ear?”

None of the hurried denizens stop or even glance Ronnie’s way. Her booth sits at the edge of the cluster of less savoury merchants, where shame runs rampant and people cover their faces. She sighs.

“No customers today, either,” she tells the mechanical critter that serves as a mascot.

It beeps, almost as if it could understand, but it’s nothing more than a toy. Ronnie pats its round body anyway.

“If we sold all the cyberlivers,” Ronnie muses over the angry rumbling of her stomach, “we’d have food for months. Imagine that.”

“Um, excuse me?”

Ronnie’s twirl puts her almost nose to nose with—hng. “You smell wrong,” she says without thinking, and quickly smacks a hand over her mouth.

The cloaked figure before her nods, twice, a sad little movement.

“That’s why I came,” they say. “I heard you… accept alternative payment?”

Ronnie raises an eyebrow. People usually have to be convinced to go the alternate routes, even though it costs them nothing. But hey, money is good, too, and Ronnie knows just where to spend it, hassle as it is. To be sought after specifically, though, that’s new.

“I might,” she admits. “Depends on what you have to trade.”

The customer unzips their coat and gestures to their breasts. “These.”

Ronnie licks her lips. “To be replaced with?”

“Nothing.”

And that one word is like being doused in ice water. Ronnie steps back. “Look here, I don’t know what you think, but I’m not—”

“I know what you are. Don’t bother denying, you smelled I was unhappy.” They pull their coat closed, shoulders hunched, and when they speak again, it’s in a whisper. “I can’t afford a surgeon and you have the skills. I don’t want anything in return. Won’t tell anyone, either.”

It’s really tempting. Judging by the size of the offer, she could save enough to build at least a set of smaller bio-implants for those who want them.

“My client, my master,” Ronnie says with a mock-salute. “But to be a client, you have to buy something.”

They freeze, because that wasn’t a no, and then quickly snatch the eye still hanging from Ronnie’s lifted hand.

“This.”

“Very well. Would you like that installed… sir? Ser? Zix?”

“Leo,” they offer with a grin. “And no, thank you.”

Ronnie bares all her pointed teeth in response. “What method of payment would you prefer?”

“The alternate.”

“This way, then.”

As Leo makes their way through the door leading to the back of the shop, Ronnie stops to make a note in her sales register.

One cybernetic eye. Payment by barter: organic materials; meal ingredients.

She winks at her critter. “Looks like dinner will be special tonight.”

*** *** ***

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