Irresistibly Urbane

Of course I am innocent, Constable.

Evelina’s sister, Bronya, was the one who introduced us. I gave a brief lecture on the vital fluid and animal magnetism, which Evelina quite enjoyed. Thereafter, we would often meet for tea and discuss Mesmer’s work.

I believe her husband was away in the war at the time.

Improper? The very suggestion offends me. I am a practitioner of animal charisma; the vital fluid exudes from my pores, as in Mesmer’s theories. I can sometimes fascinate young women, but I am the very soul of discretion and propriety at all times.

Evelina? I know only the basic facts. She awoke early, went down to the train station, and disappeared. They found her clothing scattered somewhere down the track.

What did Bronya say? No, I can’t imagine Evelina distraught. I’m certain that’s just hysteria.

Naturally, I am utterly innocent. Exactly right. Thank you, Constable.

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Inspired by this week’s Flash! Friday prompt(s): Anna Karenina, unhappy socialite, the value of family/marriage, Tsarist Russia.

Scene from “Anna Karenina,” 1914 Russian film by Vladimir Gardin. Photo is in the public domain in the United States.

What do you think? Consummate con man, actual hypnotic powers, or credulous Constable?

When You’re Falling

I started falling just about thirty hours ago.

The orbital pilot training program was supposed to teach us how to deal with weightlessness, but some pilots never successfully adapt. It’s not any fault of the pilot. It’s just my inner ear won’t stop screaming: “Hey help we’re falling do something save us save us save us!”

My semicircular canals have teamed up with my vestibular nerves to urge me to run screaming, every moment. Doc wants me to go under, anesthesia, before my adrenals shut down permanently.

Perhaps I should have listened and accepted my severance when they washed me out of the program? This stowaway idea was terrible.

Without gravity I can’t even tell which way is down. Through this airlock?

Now I’m strapped into the commander’s seat and drugged, that’s better.

I may be screaming. Somehow, I don’t hear a sound.

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143 words, in response to this week’s Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers prompt:

My apologies to Peter Gabriel and Afro Celt Sound System, unfortunately some of the lyrics just fit the tale perfectly:

Declining Yore Kind Offah

We keep grandpa’s soul in that red jar.

Most of the family is here, actually, going back at least three gen’rations. Emily says when the sun hits ‘em right, you can see smoky shapes in the jars, sometimes little eyes. I ain’t never seen none o’ that stuff, but I believe her cause most all of the girls have the Sight.

Grandma had it too. We don’t have a jar for ‘er. She run orft the day ‘fore grandpa got hit by that truck.

Emily says I should quit yammerin’, and not ride home in yore car tonight.

Sorry, mister.

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100 words. Inspired by this week’s Friday Fictioneers prompt:

PHOTO PROMPT © G.L. MacMillan.

Squirrels and Nuts.

I promised myself I wouldn’t let that oddness of the job affect my temper but quickly realized I wouldn’t be able to keep that promise. It’s amazing what a man will endure for the promise of a fat paycheck, isn’t it?

Deliverance is mine: I have arrived. The cabin in the Pennsylvania Appalachians was remote and the only approach was an overgrown and weeded dirt track, but I finally threw the van into “Park” with a feeling of blissful relief.

I unloaded the crates from the van and had a look around. Chestnut oaks and Virginia pines surrounded us and a mountain loomed over the site to our north, but I couldn’t begin to guess its name.

Scurrying across the telephone wire toward the cabin roof was… Something, whatever it was.

It resembled a tree squirrel, but with a shorter tail, like a chipmunk. In place of a head, it sprouted a broad neck-trunk that bifurcated and bifurcated again, repeatedly splitting until it terminated in a mass of thousands of hair-thin tentacles. Some tentacles were clearly sense organs; they oriented my direction as it passed over my head. Others served as extra grippers.

The second squirrel-thing I saw was astride the neck of a white-tailed deer, riding it like a bus driver. Its tentacles wrapped completely around the animal’s neck. The deer stumbled and tripped, weaving from side to side as if driven poorly by an amateur driver.

I followed the deer, fascinated, as it stumbled into the trees. I became aware of other animals moving in the same direction, each with a squirrel-like jockey riding its neck at the back of its head: a black bear, more deer, and several coyotes.

Eventually we came to a rocky outcropping with a cave in one side, and the animals circled around. The entire scene froze, for one still moment with a dreamlike quality. Wild animals ridden by their bizarre masters surrounded me, and my only possible exit a hole into the rock.

More tentasquirrels climbed out of the trees and scampered over the ground, a circle closing in on me slowly with a wordless but obvious threat. No choice, I stepped into the cave.

Inside was the tapestry, the artwork Dr. Metz hired me to find. “Soulcatcher,” he called it, and he claimed it was older than humanity and woven from carnivorous plants. It depicted a scene of the elder gods, so realistic and horrific that the tentacles writhed and moved, eagerly reaching for me.

I turned in panic, only to find my exit blocked by dozens of tentasquirrels, and the larger animals outside the cave. Trapped in the cave, the madness was already clawing its way into my mind and reaching hungrily for my soul.

Damn it, this will be the last time I accept any job offer from Miskatonic University. I drew my hatchet and hacked at the tapestry, and a hundred tentasquirrels and their mounts screamed in anger for their elder gods.

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494 words, for this week’s Finish That Thought (3-4).

More Than Expected

January 1931.

The boy in short pants rounded the corner, bounced off Mrs. Baddeley’s knees, and planted hard on his backside. Miraculously, he kept a grip on his football.

“Get up, you filthy guttersnipe.”

For a “pillar of the community,” Mrs. Baddeley produced an impressive howl. She battered the hapless Stanley with her umbrella as he scrambled to his feet. He raised his hands to protect his head and repeated apologies, clearly terrified.

Seven year-old Sarah recoiled from her aunt’s fury and watched the sport enthusiast fleeing for his very life.

“That one will never amount to anything,” her aunt predicted, scowling.

***

November 1946.

“It’s chucking elephants & giraffes,” Sarah declared, spreading her umbrella against the downpour. She stepped out of the news shop doorway with Mrs. Baddeley.

Turning, she found her elbows gripped by a young officer.

“Whups, hold up there, careful miss.” He prevented the head-on collision and released her gently.

“Thank you,” Sarah exclaimed, feeling her heart accelerate in something other than surprise. They exchanged radiant smiles and Stanley tipped his hat.

Mrs. Baddeley conspiratorially whispered as he walked away. “You run into a stranger and he’s a handsome war hero? Did you notice the D.F.C.?”

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200 words. Inspired by this week’s Sunday Photo Fiction prompt:

Statue of Air Force pilot at Battle of Britain memorial in Capel le Ferne in the UK

Cynthia the Sailor

Know then, oh mighty one, that once in the fabled land of Yoosa lived a woman named Cynthia who was unhappy. She lived in a washed-out world, devoid of light or life or color, and she toiled at her labors by day and night yet found no solace or joy in anything, not even in the many blessings of Allah which all men freely receive. On this day, she despaired. The sad woman stood staring at the sea before kicking off her joyless existence and running to her destiny.

She sold her every possession and invested the profits in a sturdy boat, the Chariot of the Wind, and outfitted it with the sundries and provisions necessary for a journey. Impatient to be at sea, she embarked and they sailed together for many days and many nights wherever the wind would take them.

One bright summer morning, she scented trees on the morning breeze. She spied an auk flying with a fish and turned Chariot to follow—for as all experienced sailors know, an auk carrying food will fly to shore. The prettiest isle spread out before their prow. A delicate stream snaked down to the shore, and sea birds of all kinds flew overhead. It looked to be in all ways a most satisfactory island, and Cynthia eagerly sought harhorage.

She first went for a swim in a pool formed by the stream. Fresh water is so rare at sea, having so much in one spot seems a luxurious decadence. Then she hunted and gathered fruits. In the afternoon, she fished and gathered the clams, crabs, and other such bounties as Allah provides for all men blessed to live by the shore.

When she was confident that Chariot’s larder was sufficiently re-stocked, she built a fire and relaxed against a palm tree, watching the golden-purple colors of the sun setting.

Then the ground shook suddenly, causing thousands of sea birds to take flight. The ocean rolled out, away from the island, and then rushed in again with horrific force, far higher than the original shoreline. Cynthia tried to make a run for Chariot but an enormous wave of water cut her off.

She spied one gargantuan, scaled flipper rising out of the sea, and wave after wave crashed over the island. Just as she began to swim in the tide, the island and her beautiful boat vanished beneath the waves.

The enormous sea turtle on whose back the forests, sands, birds, rocks, and streams all rested vanished into the abysses of the deep. Cynthia was left spinning, coughing, and choking in a massive tidal vortex of seawater. Spying some flotsam in the water, she stroked strongly for it, swimming for her life.

Allah preserved her by providing a great wooden mast to which she clung, and in the morning, her friend the auk once again pointed the way to the nearest safe shore. By mighty Allah’s grace and mercy thus ended the first voyage of Cynthia the Sailor.

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498 words. Inspired by this week’s Finish That Thought prompt (I missed the deadline though. Oh well, I’ll get into next week’s, or the next…whatever.)

And yes, I borrowed rather heavily from Richard Francis Burton. All the Special Challenge’s fault (“Include a deadly creature of the deep that DOESN’T arrive to the sound of ta-dump, ta-dump, tadumptadumptadump. :-)”–somehow I just had to do a Aspidochelone tale for that).

Is That a Dragon or a Sheep?

Dr. Thompkins waved goodbye to Billy at the lab door, and typed the four-digit access code into the Time Machine hatch. It was time to inspect the Pueblo cave walls for changes.

The petroglyphs told the story of an unusual event, in the American southwest of the remote past! Thompkins was excited. He may have finally discovered the earliest cavern artist, when the petroglyphs had first appeared, years earlier than previously believed!

Tap. Tap. Chink.

Camera in hand, Thompkins crept toward the tiny sound. The flash froze the alpha petroglyph artist swinging a hammer at his screwdriver: His son, Billy.

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100 words. In response to this week’s Mondays Finish the Story prompt:

Breathtaking Elevation

“Your majesty will recall my search throughout Europe for a suitable new bride for you. After I searched through the duchies of Mark and Cleves, in the duchy of Berg I encountered a wizened and ancient Chinaman who had been adviser to the Court of the Imperial Mandarin, Wan Hu. His sciences and alchemy are responsible for the elevation of your throne to the most magnificent in the world. Please, take your throne,” urged Cromwell.

Henry looked dubious, but settled ponderously onto the ornately decorated new throne.

Cromwell handed a bag of gold to the alchemist and lit the fuses.

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100 words. In response to this week’s Sunday Photo Fiction prompt:

Henry VIII’s throne, Dover Castle, UK
Illustration courtesy of Marshall Space Flight Center portraying Wan Hu

Trick or Treat

“Just watch,” Jack said.

A bicycle messenger approached the door at the end of the lane. He pulled a package from his satchel, reached for the doorknocker—and vanished.

“Where did he go?” Ben blinked twice and rubbed his eyes.

“I don’t know, but that’s the third visitor this week.” Jack’s voice lowered to a conspiratorial whisper, “They never come back.”

***

“Give me your lunch money, ladies.” Rufus loomed.

“Sure!” Jack handed their money over in great haste. “Say, Rufus, did you hear the folks at the end of the lane are giving away gobs of leftover Halloween candy?”

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100 words. Inspired by this week’s Friday Fictioneers prompt:

PHOTO PROMPT- © Sandra Crook

Adventure is calling, will you accept the charges?

“What do you think it is?”

“Looks like a sign for some sort of restaurant.”

“No way, it was hidden in the back of the family bible. That must have some kind of significance.”

“Look, Lenny. You know Papa was always a little… Well, Ma always said he took one too many jabs when he was a fighter.”

“He was a squealer too, like, mobsters were after him and stuff.”

“Sorry Lenny. I’ve heard that story about the Johnny Friendly trial more times than you and I’m sure Papa made all that stuff up. Part of his Tough Guy image; the down-on-his-luck fighter stands up to the corrupt dock union boss. Papa told a lot of tales but I don’t think many of them were honest.”

“Got a map? Where is this “Waterfront” place?”

“Town called Whitehaven, in Britain.”

“Well that doesn’t sound mysterious.”

“Maybe he liked the food there or something.”

“Papa never went to England.”

Lenny played with the globe for a while, spinning it randomly, deep in thought.

“Hey, did this Johnny Friendly guy ever do jail time?”

“Maw said he escaped on a private yacht with a ton of embezzled Union money.”

“He’s still out there?”

“Yacht was lost at sea.”

“Was it lost in the Seychelles?”

“Dunno, why?”

“Danny, I think Paw knew exactly where the yacht with the money went down.”

“And you think that was in the Seychelles? Why?”

“The latitude and longitude on the restaurant sign in that photo, it’s a clue. If you flip the lat and long, you end up here. This point in the Seychelles, east of Kenya, about 40 km WNW of Bird Island. It’s on an oceanic ridge, not deep water.”

“Does Bird Island have an airport?”

“You know this is a longshot. Get two tickets.”

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300 words (ran long, sorry!). In response to this week’s Sunday Photo Fiction prompt (and partially inspired by Brando’s “On The Waterfront“, which I really didn’t remember at all accurately…heh, it’s been a few years.)

The Waterfront in Cumbria, along with exact location