Turning

The harsh electric lights blinded his sensitive eyes, so thick creamy candles dripped in candelabras scattered about the study. The two-story windows, with their ornate stained glass upper panes, were open to the night’s moonless sky. Heavy, dusty brocade drapes hung limply next to the windows, ready to be dragged, in a moment’s notice, across the room’s eyes.

Books, leather- and cloth-bound alike, lay abandoned on the desk and two Victorian fainting couches that were the room’s only furniture. More tomes idled in random piles around the room. A chalkboard, covered in spidery notations, lingered in the corner next to the windows, forgotten in its master’s agonized fury. The once luxurious carpet was now worn down to a memory, tossed aside upon the barren ocean of hardwood.

The room’s master, bare-chested and wearing only a pair of silk-soft ancient jeans, paced around the oasis of light in the center of the room. Growling murmurs escaped his parched lips. He chanted to himself, repeating two phrases to himself in an effort to escape his prison. His feet, roughened by months of shoelessness, nimbly avoided the mountains and molehills of abandoned books.

Abruptly, his left foot just rising to begin another journey, the master halted. His breath rasped in and out of his chapped lips; his chest heaved in aching longing for the sweet night air. Frantic with remembered illusion, the man raked through the discarded books, searching for his prize. But the piled tomes revealed no more secrets than they had in the beginning of his quest.

The sickeningly sweet odor of his breakfast being prepared pulled the man from his research. His quivering stomach yearned for the warm, dripping meat of a fresh kill, but his mind, still a reasoning thing, refused to yield to the beast inside. Silently, he waited, hands clasped tightly behind him as his maid timidly presented his repast.

His time was up. Reason fled, leaving only the beast. Alone. But for a single, petrified, girl.

Not flash, NEWS!

Not flash, NEWS!

Yep, again this is not a flash fiction piece. But, it is a post about some awesome news. Alright, maybe only awesome to me, but then again, this is my blog. So, here goes:

My fantasy novel is up on Amazon!!!

I’m super excited. In case you couldn’t tell. I’ll be back to writing flash pieces in the next day or two. Have to take some time to rest after being sick and working on publishing a book.

Oh, and here’s the link to my first-of-a-trilogy book:

Mind traps

It sucks, to be locked inside your own head. There are no bars, no chains, nothing, really, to keep you shut away. But shut away, you are.

In my head, I scream for help, but, of course, no one hears me. In my head, I beg for help from the few visitors my body receives. My sister comes to visit every so often. Less so, now, than when I first got locked up. She tries, bless her heart, but she can’t stand to see me like this. It reminds her too much of her own troubles, I think. I want to tell her I know how she gets locked up, but I can’t. Besides, it’s not the same. Mine is my own head, hers is her husband.

My aunt and uncle come to visit, sometimes together, sometimes one or the other. My aunt sits and recounts every detail of her oh-so-perfect life, which my uncle dismisses on his visits. When they arrive together, though, it’s always tales of how much the outside world has changed, or how much it’s stayed the same. They never, on any visit, mention my parents. I suppose it’s how they try to help me.

About once a year, a reporter manages to get into the visitor’s queue, but they never last long, not once they figure out that I can’t really say anything about the accident. They always tell me they’ll be back, but they never come back. Not one.

My brother has never come to visit, though he sends flowers every week. Always daisies. They were Mom’s favorites, not mine. But he never paid attention to me, anyway. I suppose it’s sweet, the way he tries to cheer me up… and assuage his own guilt about never seeing me.

Mom and Dad are in my head with me. She chases me down, like she always has, but it’s my mind, so I know more hiding spots than she does. She’s getting closer, though. I thought I’d gotten rid of both of them a few months ago. It got really peaceful and quiet in here and I thought I might finally have a chance to break out. My sister was here, then. I think she noticed something, because she leaned forward in her chair and reached for me.

But then she called me by name. The name of my mother. And like it conjured the bitter old hag, Mom popped up, between me and my exit. So I fled back into the dark places of my mind. I heard her laughing. It echoed in my head, so loud I almost didn’t hear his whimpering. But I have to stay away from Dad, too. I can’t save him. Like he couldn’t save me.

 

A magical boyhood

The freckle-faced boy with the sandy hair twirled the long-handled wooden spoon in his tiny hands and intoned his most secret of secret words.

“Babba-codabra, misa-loo, bumpup-tada!”

He smiled to himself, the little mischievous grin that he saved for his most precious of moments. He twirled in place, the gold-star studded navy cape fluttering behind. The boy adjusted his matching wizard’s hat, the cone shape smashed in on one side from a magical mishap earlier in the week.

From across the magic circle – a hand-knotted rag rug his grandmother had made – came a squeaking, tired roar. The patchwork cat with large, blue button eyes stretched and purred at the boy before pouncing on him and nuzzling against the freckled face.

“C’mon, Patches. Let’s esplore,” the boy giggled.

He grabbed one of the many books from his tiny, boy-sized bookshelf and thumbed through the pictures until he found a suitable frame to explore. He tossed the book onto the rug then pulled the patchwork feline to him.

“Bubbley-de, bubbley-be, doobie-do,” he intoned, with as much seriousness as he could muster with the playful cat nuzzling against his ear.

A cloud of gold and blue smoke puffed up from the edges of the magic circle and in a flash, the boy and his patchwork cat were standing in the middle of a fairy forest. Trees in multitudes of colors grew in alphabetical shapes. The purple and pink grasses swayed gently, despite the absence of a breeze. The air smelled of bubble-gum and apples. Tiny blue and green bunnies frolicked with yellow and orange squirrels and chattered together in amazement at the sudden appearance of the newcomers.

The sandy-haired boy laughed in delight. He let go of his cat, with one last happy squeeze, then set off through the forest in search of more adventure. The patchwork cat followed, yawning at the playful animals it passed.

Lights of all colors flitted around the boy’s head, causing him to giggle and duck his head. His wizard’s hat slipped from his head, but his following companion caught the rogue headwear upon his own head. The little magician giggled to see his friend so dressed.

The pair spied an ivory and gold castle ahead. Together, the friends bounded through the forest, skipping through the colorful grasses and singing the alphabet song.

At the open gates of the castle, the patchwork creature paused, mewling his concern at the tiny wizard. But the boy just laughed and pulled the kitty to his chest. The young wizardling sauntered into the mouth of the castle, without a care in the world.

The darkness inside fell slowly over the both of them and soon they were both snoring peacefully.

Mother pulled the colorful alphabet-covered blanket higher over the pair and kissed the boy on his forehead. She set the cape and conical hat on top of the small, boy-sized bookshelf and whispered, “Dream on.”

 

Dexter Liu’s ending

The medical lab was sparklingly white in the bright overhead light. Dexter thought it would probably glow even if all the power in the ship were turned off, it was so sterile and polished.

The stasis pods lining the walls were full; the crew of the starship slept peacefully and unaware inside. The frosted glass covers allowed Dexter to see the men and women who were at his mercy.

The steady lights on the individual control panels indicated that all was well with the crew and no one had begun their wake cycle. None of the pods sat empty, either, leaving Dexter to question whether it was a malfunction or the shadowy forms that had led to the overhead lights being on. Dexter Liu knew enough about space travel to know that during stasis trips, minimal power was used during the flight.

Dexter searched the glass canopies, looking for signs of familiarity in the faces of the crew. He found none. He touched each canopy, his fingers leaving greasy smudges on the glass. He bowed to each one, his supposed ancestors, apologizing for his actions.

Then the bare-footed man turned from the stasis pods and fled down yet another corridor, continuing his flight to the bridge.

Sound followed Dexter. He heard the same alien voices, calling his name, taunting him in the unfamiliar language. He heard the swooshing of doors, opening and closing in his wake. He heard the computer, chiming and chirping to itself from distant rooms. His uneasiness grew. He ran faster.

Dexter’s path from the medical bay led him to a nearby access tube. His fingers trembled as he pulled the panel from the wall. He ducked his head inside. The interior was illuminated by micro-lights, evenly spaced along the edges of the ladder, reminding Dexter of the landing lights at his home space port. He shook off the memories and began to climb.

Halfway up the tube, a gush of air flew past Dexter’s upturned face. He paused. Fear swarmed inside, but he roughly pushed it aside to continue his journey.

The last access point of the tube was just three corridors away from the secondary bridge door. He was almost to the end of his mission. Dexter prayed that this time his expensive override code would work to open the locked room.

The dim hallway lit up dutifully as Dexter Liu crawled from the access port. He glanced quickly around, searching for signs of the shadowy aliens. But he saw nothing unusual. He jogged the remaining distance to the door, listening to the mocking sounds that followed him still.

The electronic lock was easily manipulated and the door swooshed open with a quiet huffing sound. The voices fell silent, leaving Dexter in a stunningly loud vacuum. He felt his nerves quiver as he stepped inside.

The bridge was blue and white, with chrome fixtures. Dexter paused to take it all in, but a quick glance at his watch put him into overdrive. He rushed to the main computer bank.

Dexter’s fingers flew across the keys. He modified the flight plan, taking the ship further into the depths of space. He smiled to himself. The ship’s new course would have it running out of fuel near Aryth, a world far more civilized than his ancestors had originally planned to settle on.

While he waited for the warning chimes of his chrono-watch, he punched up the crew manifest. The short list of officers held none of the familiar names of his predecessors. A rapid search of the remaining crew gave him no answers, either.

It wasn’t until he searched the entire ship’s record did he find his ancestral name. Seventeen of them, just as the Liu family history claimed. But not as officers and crew, but as exiled slaves, sent to do hard labor on a penal planet.

 

Dexter Liu continues

(Part 1; Part 2; Part 3)

Dexter felt his legs move. They carried him, almost against his will, toward the dojo door. With his heart thudding wildly in his ears, he strained to make sense of the murmuring voices coming from within the room.

Dexter managed to filter out one or two words, but they held no meaning for him. He could tell there were two voices, but they were so similar in tone that it took him several minutes to decide on that number.

The bare-footed man tiptoed closer to the keypad. He saw the steady green light indicating the door was unlocked. He let his eyes roam to the other doors nearby. All showed steady red lights.

Dexter Liu’s uneasiness grew. He felt his chest tighten in anticipation. Without second guessing himself, he stabbed the keypad, firmly hitting the ‘open’ command key. In response, the dojo door swooshed open and the light inside flickered on.

Before he could lose his nerve, Dexter rushed through the opening. As he crossed the threshold, he realized the voices had stopped. His eyes darted around the room, searching for the source of the conversation. All he saw were shadows cast by the equipment stands and the pair of decorative armor sets near the back wall.

Dexter moved further into the room. His bare feet sank into the protective mats that covered the dojo floor. The door closed behind him with a whoosh and the air pressure inside the room increased. Dexter felt the small hairs on the back of his neck stand to attention.

He continued his search, though now he considered that he might have been imagining the voices. The pressure to quickly finish his mission was making his mind whirl in confusion.

The man moved quietly to the middle of the floor, his eyes still roving. From the far wall came movement. His eyes darted back to stare at the decorative armor. It took several long moments for his mind to register the absence of one of the shadows.

A sound from behind caused him to turn, but too slowly. Something barrelled into him, knocking him onto the cushion of the dojo mat. His breath rushed from his body as he landed. A heavy weight on his back kept him down, unable to turn to see what had attacked him.

“D e x t e r,” a voice whisper-slurred in his ear. It was the same voice from earlier, in the dojo, and, he suddenly realized, from near the bridge.

“What do you want? Who are you?” Dexter’s voice was frantic with fear. Tears filled his eyes and overflowed, spilling out onto his cheeks.

The voice laughed, but Dexter found nothing funny in the sound.

A shadow disconnected itself from the wall behind the armor and slithered across the floor toward the prone man. Dexter shivered in terror. He couldn’t make out any details in the dark shape. The only thing that registered in his mind was the shape; it was not quite the shape of a man with its elongated arms, shortened legs, and triangular head. It was certainly not a member of the crew.

The approaching shadow hissed, but not at Dexter. Its arms moved and it continued to speak to the weight on Dexter’s back. After a few bursts of indignant sounding replies from Dexter’s attacker, the weight lifted and the pair of dark forms scurried through the wall of the dojo.

Dexter Liu stared, unbelieving, at the solid wall where the shadows departed. He was too frightened to move, but the urgent tug of his mission pulled on his mind. The man rolled onto his back, then sat up. He pushed himself from the floor and ran for the door, his bare feet slapping solidly against the safety mats.

The mechanical whooshing of the door opening was musical to Dexter’s ears. He paused at the door, looking back toward the interior, wondering what exactly it was he had just encountered. Shaking the puzzle from his thoughts, he turned once again to the med lab and its mysterious light.

He feared for his mission’s success, but he was also beginning to fear for his life.

Should Dexter Liu continue his quest to take control of the ship, or should he awaken the crew for their assistance in handling the alien invaders? You decide.

Dexter Liu’s decision

(Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.)

His instincts won over his desire to finish his mission quickly and Dexter Liu hurried down the corridor toward the medical lab. The lights in this corridor worked properly, lighting his way then dimming behind. His bare feet carried him at a trot down the long hallway, passing junction after junction.

The med lab was near the rear of the ship, close to the hangar bays. When Dexter reached the final branching of hallways, he paused to listen. He heard nothing but the throbbing hum of the life support. He smiled to himself.

He turned right, away from the elevator that led to the massive hangars. His confidence returned and he checked the watch on his left wrist. He chuckled to himself when he realized he still clung tightly to a suede slipper. Dexter dropped the shoe, then thought better of it; he might find a use for it before he reached the bridge.

He bent over to retrieve the slipper. Just as his fingers closed on the hard sole of the shoe, he felt a rush of air across his back. Dexter dropped to his knees. He twisted his head to look down the corridor toward the med lab, but he saw nothing out of place.

He whipped his head toward the elevator. His eyes widened as the doors to the lift closed silently. He watched the numbers flip on the display next to the door. The numbers stopped at the bottom, the entrance to the hangar bays.

Dexter Liu’s heart rate increased. He could feel the thudding of his pulse in his temples. In horror, he saw the green lighted numbers begin climbing. Fear screamed in his ears, urging him to run. He turned away from the elevator and scrambled to his feet, letting the terror fuel his flight.

Just past the corridor junction, the short hallway widened into a dining room. Dexter recalled the wall map and decided this must be the crew dining hall. He tore past the metal chairs and tables with their super-weighted legs and into the adjoining kitchen. He ignored the sparklingly sterile area as unimportant and continued his dash toward the medical lab.

Another corridor, lined with doors leading to larger rooms, loomed just past the kitchen. The locked doors all lead to various fitness and leisure rooms. A crew in space needed regular exercise to maintain muscle mass and flexibility.

A shadow flitted by the windowed door of the main gym as Dexter sped past. His steps slowed, then stopped. He backtracked to the gym’s door and gazed at the window high in the metal door. Nothing moved inside the room.

Dexter Liu waited, willing his breathing to equalize and his nerves to calm. He listened intently and was rewarded with the sound of the digitized keypad being depressed on one of the nearby locked doors. He spun in a circle, searching for the origin of the noise. His eyes were drawn to a room several doors back toward the kitchen.

The dojo, where most of the crew gathered to learn hand-to-hand combat in the forms of ancient martial arts. Curiosity drew Dexter toward the door.

He took several steps then paused. He heard voices, low and urgent, coming from the direction of the dojo.

Dexter’s feet, with a mind of their own, slid backward, carrying him away from the beckoning voices in the room down the hall.

But his feet stuttered to a stop only seconds later, when a light flickered on in the distant med bay.

Dexter Liu stared at first one anomaly then another. He needed to get through the medical bay to reach the bridge to complete his mission, but the flickering light suggested he might have to contend with an awakened crewman. On the other hand, the furtive voices in the dojo might mean he was already in the middle of a flanking maneuver.

Which way should Dexter go? Continue toward the medical lab with its many sleeping crewmen and mysterious light? Or should he investigate the voices in the dojo, hoping to outmaneuver any enemies? You decide.