A to Z 2017–V is for Vortex

April is both fun and busy around here. Not only is it the time of the annual A to Z Challenge, it is also the time for a regularly scheduled blog hop that I participate in. Today’s post is doing double duty! So when you’re done reading this story, consider checking out other stories in the StoryTime Blog Hop. Links are included below. I guarantee you’ll find something to love.

V is for Vortex

It isn’t fair, Darya thought. Her Aunt Ebba and Uncle Wade? They never understood, never believed in her dreams. And now? Now they were taking the word of that horrible shark, Ms. Talulah, over their own family.

So she left. Despite the storms brewing. Maybe because of them.

It was simple enough to slip out. Everyone seemed to be burrowing in as everything darkened around them. Nobody paid Darya any attention at all.

Isn’t that the way it always is? She thought. Nobody even notices me except to tell me what to do.

Without thought, Darya first headed back toward the clam bake where she’d been earlier. Perhaps her friends would still be there. Or maybe she’d get a reading from that old stranger— the one telling stories that made the little ones squeal. She noticed him giving fortunes to a few—some who might not have wanted anyone to see.

Her hopes for a sympathetic ear were dashed back at the community’s center. Everyone was gone. Everything had been packed up before the storm. And now, with the storm starting in earnest, she felt pulled and tugged by the swirling around her.

I need to get somewhere safe. I need…

Darya couldn’t finish her thought as, suddenly, she was spun around and sucked straight up off the sand by a powerful vortex.

Pitched and turned by the storm, she found herself tossed into the atmosphere.

In the clouds, she thought. Surely this is a dream.

As if to verify a dream state, she saw the old fortune-teller whirl past, flipping cards and tossing shells. Just her luck.

Then she saw nasty Ms. Talulah, her teeth gleaming through a false smile.

And her own family. Aunt Ebba’s worry was so clear it fairly pulsed across her skin.

It was a mistake. She knew already, she shouldn’t have left. And now she wondered if she’d ever make it home.

Darya wailed and started to weep until, abruptly, the storm stopped.

She looked up to find that she had been deposited, not back at her own home, but on a sandy beach. The ocean water was just out of reach beyond some rocks.

Maybe, if I try…

Before she could move, a gangly-looking surface-dweller approached.

“Hey guys, check it out! This octopus must have gotten thrown up on the beach by that water spout we saw.”

More humans surrounded her. She had no where to go.

“Poor thing,” one of them said. “We should help get her back to the ocean.”

“Yeah,” said the first, scooping her up with gentle hands. “There’s no place like home.”

(With my deepest apologies to Frank Baum and The Wizard of Oz.)

Copyright Notice: Please note that I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story, and while it is complete, it may not be finished. This story may be subject to alteration at the author’s discretion. Please do not copy, quote, or post this story or excerpts anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.

Links

perpetualbloghop

I hope you’ll take the time to read the other stories in this Hop. These are some great writers and wonderful people. And if you like what you read, I hope you’ll consider joining their lists too. The world is a richer place when there are more stories to tell.
* * YOU ARE HERE * * V is for Vortex by Elizabeth McCleary
Deep Dive by Juneta Key
Bugs by Gina Fabio
Secret by J. Q. Rose
Journal of Anah by J Lenni Dorner
The Vineyard at Mar Mozambique by Karen Lynn
Stealing Space by Barbara Lund
The Day I was Clever by Katharina Gerlach
Never kid a kidder by Angela Wooldridge
The Color Of… by Chris Makowski
Nightmare by Erica Damon
Pick Up Lines by Bill Bush
The Scorpius Gate by Sandra Fikes

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A to Z 2017–U is for Uncorked

Another one that’s complete in itself, but which may suggest something longer. I definitely need to keep all these as story starters and prompts!

U is for Uncorked

“Fill the bottles. Hurry!” Haden held a large earthen jar beneath the water. When it was filled, Haden lifted it out and pressed a wide cork into the neck.

“To what end, Haden?” Mendae let her frustration bubble to the surface just as air bubbled out of the wine jug. “All we have is the spring. The Magistrate expects better than water served at his daughter’s joining.” She crossed her arms and glared at her husband. He was a good man, but she had always been the brains of their business.

Haden grinned that grin that Mendae could never resist. “The ceremony isn’t for 3 days yet. Sending bottles of water that look like wine will buy us time to deliver what was promised. Trust me.”

Mendae chuckled and shook her head. “I don’t know where you’ll find the impossible,” she said. “But maybe it will buy us time to get away before the Magistrate has our heads. I hear the South of Endanak is lovely if you can avoid the Gentou.”

“When did you get to be so cute and smart?” Haden leaned in to steal a kiss from his wife.

“Hush, you, and fill the bottles. The courier will be here before sundown.”

* * *

“How could I have known they would make us come with them?” Haden whispered, but his voice held a double-measure of pleading.

Mendae glowered at him as the wagon they were in rolled through the city. At least they were finally off the ill-kept road that led to their haebit. “I don’t know why I let you turn my mind. This time, though…,” she sighed a deep and weary sigh. “I don’t know how we get out of water this deep. We may as well be inside one of those bottles with the cork set tight.”

Haden scooched closer to his wife and dropped his voice even lower. “I have a plan,” he said.

“Oh? And it is…?”

“Remember the cleric that came last month?”

“The one rambling about Ventor the wine god?”

“Exactly!” He had the temerity to look pleased with himself.

“You want to blame water in the wine bottles on the cleric?” Mendae was confused.

“Of course not. I want to plead with Ventor to assist his humble servants!”

Mendae blinked, disbelief causing her eyebrows to climb.

“The cleric did say he was a very good god,” Haden continued. “Surely he will have mercy on those who only want a little of his wares.”

* * *

Mendae still couldn’t believe she’d let Haden talk her into this, but she shrugged off the self reproach. After all, what real choice did she have? They had convinced their escort that the bottles needed to be handled carefully and properly dressed. They were left alone in the storehouse with the alleged wine, but the door had been locked from the outside.

Haden had placed the jugs in a circle on the smooth stone floor. To center the energy of Ventor, he claimed before he started praying.

“Ventor, great one. Have mercy on your servants. Convert this finest spring water into your finest vintage. Your wine will draw the Magistrate and his masses unto you….”

Mendae was praying too, but only that their deaths would be quick and painless.

Both fell silent and stood when the door opened. The Magistrate approached, flanked by his personal escort of guardsmen and servants.

Mendae dropped a curtsey as her husband took one knee. “Your Loftiness,” they muttered together.

He motioned with one gloved hand, and one of his entourage lifted a bottle from the circle. “Open it,” he demanded. “I must ensure that their wares are fit for my daughter.”

Mendae squeezed her eyes shut and waited as Haden resumed muttered, anxious prayers beneath his breath.

At the sound of the poured liquid, the Magistrate sucked in a breath. Now, thought Mendae, the end will surely be quick.

“I wasn’t expecting this,” said the ruler. “I’d been told it would be a pale wine.”

She opened her eyes and stared at the glass of ruby-colored liquid he sipped from. “Outstanding! Best I’ve ever had,” he said. “Thank you.”

The Magistrate turned and strode away as Mendae collapsed in relieved tears on the floor.

“Well, imagine that,” said Haden. “I guess Ventor likes me after all.”

 

Copyright Notice: Please note that I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story, and while it is complete, it may not be finished. This story may be subject to alteration at the author’s discretion. Please do not copy, quote, or post this story or excerpts anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.

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A to Z 2017–T is for Tempest

This is one I will almost definitely need to revisit later. It hints at something that could easily become a full-length fantasy saga, and I want to know more of the story!

T is for Tempest

Tempest ran through the forest. She was getting soaked, but the storm gave her the opportunity she needed to escape. She just couldn’t stay in that place a minute longer.

In the chaos of the preparations, all the girls had been hurried into basements and lockrooms. They said it was for their protection. But nothing they could ever do would make her feel safe within those walls. She would rather take her chances with the storm itself.

When the wind blew a branch through a window, the guardian had handed her the keys and told her to see that the younger ones were safe. She did as she was told—those children were as safe as she could make them. Then she told them she was going to help the guardians and left.
Left completely. Not just the young ones, but the center itself.

Now she ran with no plan to get away from that prison. She didn’t know how long it would be before her absence was noted. She wanted to be as far gone as she could before that happened.

Branches and other debris blocked her progress as she ducked between trees. Even before the rain started, winds had shaken the normally still forest. Some obstacles she jumped or climbed over. Others forced her off the path and deeper into the woods. Between the storm and the trees, Tempest soon found herself quite lost.

Still, she continued on. She would rather die in the storm than serve the false truths of The Order.

WOULD YOU?

Tempest stopped abruptly, looking around in panic. Had they found her?

Seeing nothing, she started on her way again. Though she preferred the storm to submission, she still wanted to find someplace dry and secure.

TEMPEST

She stopped again, listening.

WOULD YOU INDEED DIE IN THE STORM?

“If I had to,” she said, again searching the trees trying to find the source of the voice. “I would rather die than go back.”

ARE THEY NOT GOOD? HAVE THEY NOT CARED FOR YOU?

Tempest thought. “They clothed me. Sheltered me. But they teach lies.” She paused. Tempest had long felt a truth within her own heart, but had never spoken it aloud. “Their own doctrine says that lying is wrong. So, no. They are not good.”

The voice, sounding from all directions at once, laughed with surprising levity.

AND IF YOUR OWN DOGMATIC BELIEF IS WRONG? WHAT THEN?

She stopped looking then and stood as if staring down an enemy. “I would rather follow a truth that I feel and later learn that I’m wrong, than follow a lie that feels dead to discover that it is true after all.”

THEN COME, TEMPEST. COME FIND SHELTER AND TRUTH.

She knew it was true. Felt it in her heart and her bones. And she knew that if she continued this way, she would find a cave—an earthen shrine to the one that spoke her name.

Tempest started walking and knew the owner of that voice was with her. “Who are you?” she asked. “Who calls me?”

I AM THE GOD OF STORMS. MY FOLLOWERS CALL ME TEMPEST.

 

Copyright Notice: Please note that I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story, and while it is complete, it may not be finished. This story may be subject to alteration at the author’s discretion. Please do not copy, quote, or post this story or excerpts anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.

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A to Z 2017–Q is for Quality Control

Q is for Quality Control

“Thank you, sir. Now, please show me to your inventory storage.”

Del shuffled his feet, trying to think of a way to avoid taking the quality assessment officer into the store room. His boss didn’t like anyone in the back room—especially not someone with the power to shut down their high-end bottled water sales.

But the man with the plain white shirt and narrow black tie simply stared at him. There was nothing else he could do.

“Right,” Del said. “The storeroom.” He took a deep breath and opened the door leading to the back area of the business. The inspector followed closely behind.

“As you can see, everything is exactly as it should be.” Del stopped with a voila gesture.

The man with the clipboard ignored him, instead turning toward the palates of bottled water. “These seem to be properly stacked for safety.” He made marks on a form. “How quickly is inventory turned over?”

Del thought for a minute. “I think about every three days? I can have the manager send an inventory report when—”

“Fine, fine. And your containers. Are they sterilized here, or do they come that way?”

“They, umm… they come that way.” Del usually didn’t deal with inventory. His job was sales. But people from the government showed up when they showed up. He had no choice but to do what was asked the best that he could.

The man turned toward him. “Now,” he said, “the filtration? I assume that happens on site?”

“It does,” Del said.

“And where is that equipment?”

Del paused again. But really, he had no choice. Did he?

“Well, the filling is here.” He led the inspector to a bank of faucets along the far wall and turned one on. Crystal clear water ran into a drain.

“Are your filters under this cabinet?” He opened it only to find cleaning equipment for the bottle filling station. “Oh. That’s not it.” He looked around again. “Ah… this door, then. I assume this room has your pumps and filters?”

As the man reached for the doorknob, Del tried to divert him a final time. “Really, if you could come back when…”

“Surprise inspections cannot be diverted, as you know. Quality control is far to serious an issue. Now, I’ll just take a quick look.”

The quality assessment officer opened the door and stepped through. “Lights?”

Del reached a hand through the opening and flipped a switch then flattened himself against the wall outside the filtration room.

Their non-standard, proprietary filtration system roared to life. Del was pretty sure the inspector’s white shirt wouldn’t still be white.

The bells at the front of the store jangled.

“Del? I’m back from district. Why aren’t you…” The manager’s voice trailed off as he walked into the storeroom and saw the look on Del’s face. “Why is the door open? Who….”

“Surprise inspection from Quality Assessment.”

“Oh,” said his manager. He and Del stared at each other for a moment. “Well, at least we won’t have to feed her this week.”

 

Copyright Notice: Please note that I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story, and while it is complete, it may not be finished. This story may be subject to alteration at the author’s discretion. Please do not copy, quote, or post this story or excerpts anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.

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A to Z 2017–P is for Pontoon

P is for Pontoon

“You can’t cross the river here. You have to take the pontoon!” An old man ran down the bank waving his arms. “It’s not safe, I tell you! Not safe!”

Jem looked up from where she was crouched at the water’s edge. “I’m not crossing,” she said. “Just looking at these fish. Their changing color pattern isn’t like anything I’ve ever seen. Do you know what they are?”

The old man stopped abruptly, the concern on his face giving way to fear for a moment before a clearly artificial smile took over. If Jem hadn’t been looking right at him she might have missed it. “Never you mind about those fish. Just go see the pontoon man. He’ll get you where you need to go. He’s right down by Milford Gate.” He gestured haphazardly. “Now you get going.”

Before Jem had the opportunity to repeat that she wasn’t planning to cross, the old man turned and hurried away even faster than he’d approached her.

Despite not having any travel plans, she figured it couldn’t hurt to talk to the pontoon man. At least he would probably know more about these unusual fish.

She figured it had been roughly half a sun-hand of walking when she saw the dock with a large, flat raft moored at it’s side. “Sun day,” she called aloud as she approached. “Sun day, pontoon man.”

A young man, more a boy really, stood from a low seat just off the dock. “And day of the sun to you as well, lady. Do you require passage?”

“Actually,” said Jem, “I was just curious. There are fish in the river unlike any I’ve seen. I thought maybe you could—“

He sat back down with a thud. “I’ll not talk about the Gillers,” he said. His head turned away from her as his eyes seemed to scan the waterline.

“But I—“

“You just move along, lady. I’ll not take you on this pontoon today. Not now.” He sounded resolute.

Certain she would get nothing more satisfactory from him, Jem turned back toward the town. Once the pontoon dock was out of view, she angled back toward the river, farther downstream this time. She’d not be put off by the fools in this town who wouldn’t even tell her about the fish.

“Acting disgusted that I’d even ask. As if I was the one being rude.” She shook her head, muttering to herself. “Wasn’t I only curious? Wasn’t I just interested in their silly fish? You’d think I’d asked how to unlock the bank, or the magistrate’s favorite color. They are the ones with no manners. Not me.”

Her diatribe tapered off as she reached the edge of the river once again. Deft fingers dipped into her waist pouch and removed a small coil of nearly invisible string and a tiny, shiny hook. She would simply catch one of the odd fish for herself and just take it with her. Jem was certain her father would be able to identify it.

She had no bait, but the fish were plentiful enough and she knew a coax that should put one on her hook in just moments.

Braced on a rock at the water’s edge, she dangled the hook just above the water’s surface before dropping it in.

Daughter of men. A voice bubbled around Jem. We accept your servitude. Welcome to the realm of the Gillers.

 

Copyright Notice: Please note that I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story, and while it is complete, it may not be finished. This story may be subject to alteration at the author’s discretion. Please do not copy, quote, or post this story or excerpts anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.

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A to Z 2017–O is for Oubliette

I like this one! But I have no doubt there will be those who complain that they want to know what comes next. I want to know too. Why do I do this to myself?

O is for Oubliette

My knees buckle as I hit bottom, the squelching of something putrid the only thing breaking my fall.

“An’ if you’re quiet, I might throw down a crust in the morning.” The guard laughs and drops the grate into place.

I stare at the small squares of sky above me, sure that there is some mistake. They’ll realize their error and come back for me. Surely they won’t leave me in this oubliette.

Then I remember the look on my brother’s face and I know the truth. Not only did he put me in this hole on purpose, there’s very little chance of him ever letting me out again.

It’s not that he hates me, my dear little brother. Hate would be preferable. At least in hate—in the rage that grows from hate—he might have killed me and been done with it.

No, he doesn’t hate me. I don’t believe he feels anything at all. Not for me. Not for my lady love—the one he married just to keep her from me.

Despair washes over me. No quick death is coming, but no freedom either. I’ll be left here to wither and waste. It may take weeks for me to succumb. Maybe months, if, as the guard said, they decide to feed me. I’ll still die, but it will be slow. Excruciating.

I run my hands over the slime of the walls that surround me, hoping against hope to find some purchase. I can climb with fair speed given even the smallest of finger holds. But, while I can see the texture of stone near the top of this man-sized cylinder, there is nothing at my level that gives me any grip at all.

Collapsing in frustration against the wall, I allow myself to fold into a sitting position and weep.

What must be hours later, I awake shivering in absolute blackness. The sky that still retained a wisp of daylight when I entered this oubliette is now as dark as the grave. Even the full moon’s wan glow is obscured by heavy clouds.

The sharp boom of thunder shakes the foundations of this keep, and suddenly I’m being soaked by rainfall.

“A grave indeed, then.” I laugh to myself. “I don’t relish drowning, but maybe it’s better than facing a slow death by starvation and illness.

I force myself back to standing though my cramped legs protest. As this hole in the ground is at the low end of the courtyard, the water-level inside is rising more quickly than I would have thought possible.

As it rises to my knees I begin to wonder how long before I am covered by the deluge.

When the water is at my waist I realize that I am but hours from the end.

With my prison filled to shoulder-height I recall a forgotten pleasure—I was once a fair swimmer.

The downpour continues through the night and the water lifts me ever-higher. I’m ten span below the grate. Then five. Then two.

I’m tired from treading water, but as the sky lightens beyond the clouds, the cover of this oubliette is nearly within my reach.

Why does the rain choose that moment to end, with victory so close to hand?

No matter how I stretch my arm, the grate remains beyond my grasp. But then I realize that the stones here are not as worn as those below me.

I find a crack that I can hook my fingers upon, and I pull. By inches, with fire burning in my arms and shoulders, I ascend until I can reach the iron crosshatch above me. Then one hand on the ground between the bars, I somehow find leverage with a foot.

The cover lifts. I shove it aside and climb to freedom.

I startle when I hear the clapping and turn. There, beneath the portico, stands my brother.

“Bravo,” he says. “Bravo!” A wicked smile paints his face. “The lady of the keep would have been pleased to see that you survived the night. It’s such a pity that her ship sailed last night. I received word this morning that it seems to have been lost in the storm.”

My heart pounds and a current runs through me. I vow in that moment that whatever happens, should I live or die, I shall have my revenge.

 

Copyright Notice: Please note that I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story, and while it is complete, it may not be finished. This story may be subject to alteration at the author’s discretion. Please do not copy, quote, or post this story or excerpts anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.

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A to Z 2017–N is for Noria

I’ll admit it – this is not close to the best story I’ve written this month. It’s a takeoff on the incomplete A is for Aqueduct story, it continues to be incomplete, and it’s based on a device few actually know the name of. The Noria is a water wheel run by water power (as opposed to animal power), usually for the purpose of raising water to a higher level. Here’s a video showing one working. Cool tech, actually. But this is a fairly weak story in spite of that.

I guess they can’t all be home runs. Especially when there are all too few words relating to water starting with certain letters of the alphabet. sigh

Onward!

N is for Noria

As the wheel dipped and circled, water filled the attached earthen pots and emptied them into a stone channel. The water diverted from the river flowed into the aqueduct that watered the vineyard in the vale on the other side of the ridge.

“I don’t understand,” said Sineta. “It’s so little water compared to the river. I don’t understand why such a small thing is a problem.”

Zaida shook her head. “It is not the amount of water that is the problem. It is the taking. This wheel, this noria…” she scrunched her face, measuring her words before continuing. “My people, we are the water. We give life to the water and it gives life to us. This machine, it takes the life and we are less because of it.”

Sineta frowned, trying to understand. “But we have taken water from this river forever.”

“Not forever,” countered Zaida. “For a long time, yes. But not forever.”

“But why are your people suddenly angry? What have they done with my father?” Her voice broke as tears welled in her eyes.

“When you were taking the water a little at a time, it was different. But the Noria, it takes the water faster than we can compensate for. We are made weak because it takes more life than we can afford to lose.” The fairy turned from the wheel toward Sineta. “I was with my sister trying to stop it, but we have no direct control over the things of men. I was washed down this channel to your farm.” She dropped her eyes. “My sister was less fortunate.”

Sineta’s eyes opened wide as she struggled for words. “I wasn’t… I don’t… Was she killed?” The last came out as a whisper.

“Not killed, no. But her life magic, so much of it was scooped out of her.”

“Can she be healed?”

“She can be restored,” said the fairy. “But none has the strength to do so while the noria is disrupting our flow.”

“Then we have to stop it.” Sineta’s voice was firm, even as her face drooped. “Except I don’t know how. With my father gone…”

“It is settled, then.” Zaida clapped her tiny hands as a grin crossed her face. “I will help you recover your father. You will help me restore my sister.”

“And then maybe,” said Sineta, “we can find a way to get water to the vineyard that won’t hurt your people.”

Copyright Notice: Please note that I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story, and while it is complete, it may not be finished. This story may be subject to alteration at the author’s discretion. Please do not copy, quote, or post this story or excerpts anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.

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A to Z 2017–M is for Mist

Creep factor +1. Geez.

M is for Mist

I can feel the dark descending like a shroud. It covers everything in a blackness constructed from the souls of those who have lost all and are no longer. It’s a darkness that can’t be penetrated.

And yet, here I am.

I watch as the sun hides behind the hills and mist starts to curl skyward from the cooling ground. I wait knowing that to step into even filtered sunlight I’ll also fade and dissipate, just like that mist.

He comes, then. Running hard. But he already knows it’s too late. Too late for him. Just in time for me.

Once I was the one. Lost. Running. Afraid. Once I descended from those hills, looking for refuge. I remember for the briefest moment what it was like, and I decide.

Come, I say. And he has no choice but to obey. He thought he was the master of his own soul, his own desire. He didn’t know that there was a greater master. So he came.

He looked at me, curious, likely imagining that he is feeling fear though he isn’t. The unfettered soul has no use for fear. Fear is a thing of the flesh, and now he has stepped aside from that anchor. He’s not yet aware of the separation.

The soul before me asks then. The same question I know I asked I don’t know how long ago. Is this how I die, then? Am I already dead? Is this the afterlife?

I reply with the same detachment, the words wrapping around him like the mist. No. You will not die. Not this night.

Will I return from this darkness, then? The body that carried me knew where I was going—there is time for me to get there, still.

And again I have to tell him no. You are now part of the twilight. You will stay here in the mist and the night. You will become what I have been these many… I trail off, not knowing how long I have been here. But no matter. You will be a shade—a wraith. You will be as I have been. You will come to know the dark as a sister. A friend. A lover.

I reached out to him then. Stretching to fill the nothing between us. Entwining my eternal essence with this eternal soul.

In that moment, he understood.

In that moment that stretched for eons, he knew all that I knew. Absorbed my knowledge—my being—just as I absorbed his. He fought me, but I was the stronger of us. Against me, he could not stand.

As the sun slipped behind the hills, he became the mist.

And I became the man.

The exquisite pleasure as I felt his weight became mine, his flesh, strong and eager, enclosing me in a way I had not known since I could not remember when.

Then I ran. Back to the Inn. Back to the pretty girl.

The first man in time immemorial to return after dark.

(Note: this is a followup to the story I told in F is for Fog.)

 

Copyright Notice: Please note that I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story, and while it is complete, it may not be finished. This story may be subject to alteration at the author’s discretion. Please do not copy, quote, or post this story or excerpts anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.

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A to Z 2017–K is for Kayak

And now for something completely different…

K is for Kayak

Chigan ran, his kayak balanced on his shoulders. He knew if Menah found him before he was on the water, he would be put to work felling trees or digging holes.

On a day with the air this clear and the sky this blue he wanted to earn his sweat on the water. Not digging for roots.

If he could have gathered berries it might be different. But there were no berries to be found. Not this year.

Fish would be welcome, though. He had spear and sack with him and hoped to put them to good use. But even if he failed at least he’d fail doing something he loved.

The water’s edge was farther than it should be. It was the same everywhere—little rain for long seasons. He left the dry grasses of the banks far behind and had to wade through sticky mud to get afloat. It smelled like a rotten toad. Menah would not approve, but Menah was not here.

In no time he was in his kayak, rowing hard toward deep water and a small island, Big Green Rock, he knew was good for fishing. Until he reached it, he enjoyed the sun warming his skin and the stretch and pull of muscles in his shoulders, back, and arms.

It was still early, well before high sun, when he approached Big Green Rock. He pulled his boat onto it’s graveled beach and quickly crossed the dozen paces across a small patch of grass to it’s opposite face where an overhang created a perfect hidden trove of trout and bass.

Taking a short spear in hand, he lay on his belly to peer down into the water. Warm, brown eyes stared back up at him, surrounded by a startled face.

Chigan scrambled backwards, shouting curses as his spear plopped into the water below. Before he could process what he’d just seen, before he could settle his racing heartbeat, Those brown eyes peeked up over the edge of the rock.

“I think you dropped this.”

His spear landed, point-first, in the grass, causing him to cry out again. “Don’t do that! Are you trying to kill me? Stupid girl!”

“If I wanted to kill you, you would know it, stupid boy.” He couldn’t see a face, but the voice definitely held a smile. “Because you would already be dead.”

Concerned that it might be true, he changed the subject. “What are you doing, hiding there. Come out—show yourself!”

“I was not hiding. I was swimming. You are the one who came to disturb me.”

“You’re right,” Chigan conceded, taking a deep breath. “Will you come out now? Let me apologize properly. Menah taught me better manners.”

“I… I can’t,” said the girl, her eyes dipping a little lower so only her forehead and her glossy black hair showed.

“Why not?” Chigan was suddenly curious. Perhaps she wore only her skin. He moved on hands and feet closer to the edge.

“Because,” she said, “I haven’t learned how to change yet and I can’t walk on land with this tail.”

Her laughter echoed as he heard a splash. Chigan stared open-mouthed as he watched her swim away, the bronze of her tail splashing behind her.

A fish girl? Menah would never believe him. He sighed. Now he would need to find another place to fish—no doubt he would catch none here today.

“Stupid girl,” he said as he walked back to his kayak. “I hope I see her again.”

Copyright Notice: Please note that I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story, and while it is complete, it may not be finished. This story may be subject to alteration at the author’s discretion. Please do not copy, quote, or post this story or excerpts anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.

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A to Z 2017–G is for Gulf

Well, a couple of these stories have definitely taken a bit of a dark turn. I wonder what my Muse is thinking?

G is for Gulf

Dennis smiled at Michelle from behind the boat’s console. “Whatdya think, babe? Please tell me you’re having fun. I really want this trip to be magical.”

“Actually, Denny,” she said, “I think it’s kind of awesome.” Michelle had a hand on her head, securing her hat against the wind. “I still can’t believe you planned it all without me.”

“I just figured it’s been too long. I’ve been working too hard. You’ve been taking care of the kids. I think we both needed this. Some grown-up time.”

Grown-up time. The words they used to inform the kids that, no, they were not permitted out of bed this late. Not even if Mommy and Daddy are watching TV.

“Besides,” said Dennis, “it’s past time we got more use out of the SCUBA certifications we worked so hard on. I mean, the honeymoon in Jamaica was awesome, but that was five years ago.”

“Seven.” She sighed.

Oops. “Seven years ago. See? It’s been so long I’ve forgotten what year it is.” He smiled again, hoping Michelle wasn’t going to use that against him later. For now, Michelle looked peaceful. More relaxed than he’d seen her in a long time.

The GPS on the rented boat indicated the were at our destination and Dennis cut the power.

“So, what’s the big surprise you wanted to show me?” Michelle asked. “We’re, what? Ten, fifteen miles offshore? It’s not like there’s much to see in the middle of the Gulf. Ugly old oil platforms—”

He wiggled his eyebrows at her. “It’s more like 25 miles or so. And, trust me, there’s plenty to see. Once we get in the water.”

On impulse, Dennis kissed her and she blushed. He decided he’d have to work on getting back in that habit.

After setting anchor and getting into their gear, the couple tipped over the side of the boat and began their descent.

The water was clear and blue, and the scenery didn’t disappoint. While not quite the intensity and diversity of Jamaican sea life, the bright coral and colorful fish that called the abandoned oil rig home made for spectacular viewing. Even a pair of dolphins stopped by to say hello.

As they swam, Michelle got Dennis’ attention and pointed at what looked like a light deeper down.

Dennis checked his timer and depth meter, and shrugged. They had time to investigate. It was probably just more divers.

As they got closer, Dennis realized it was more than a dive light—too bright for that. Or maybe someone just had much better gear than their rented equipment.

When the light turned red and started flashing in patterns, he stopped and grabbed at Michelle. This wasn’t something he wanted to discover after all.

Michelle swam on. Dennis grabbed at her tank, and was taken along for the ride. He couldn’t stop her, but he wouldn’t let go. So down they went together.

The light surrounded them and suddenly the panic gave way to peace.

What looked like a shimmering blob came toward them, growing bigger, and both simply stared. A distant thought told Dennis it was a large bubble, the shimmer a trick of refracted light. But why would a bubble be growing like that?

It opened around them, and felt oddly like surfacing sideways. Michelle dropped her regulator and laughed. Dennis looked around, unable to comprehend what was happening.

“Welcome!” Dennis felt the panic bubbling again when he realized a man with no diving gear was in the bubble with them. Talking.

Michelle laughed again. “Dennis,” she said, “how did you manage it? It’s just like—“

“It wasn’t him,” said the man. “He won’t remember. You thought he was lying about not remembering when we met before. He wasn’t.

“Michelle, it’s you I’m here for. You finally came back to me.”

 

Copyright Notice: Please note that I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story, and while it is complete, it may not be finished. This story may be subject to alteration at the author’s discretion. Please do not copy, quote, or post this story or excerpts anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.

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