Author Archives: Leigh Caroline

Mecurial

The mist parted slowly, drifting away as Jessalyn flew. She didn’t know where she was flying to, only that she must fly. Her wings grew tired, but still she flew on. Finally, enough of the mist had drifted away she could make out shapes. Spiraling mountains of green. A river shimmering with all the colors of the rainbow. A boat that looked like a dragon.

-A firebird landed forever ago, and set to readying for a journey-

Her wings trembled as she landed, her claws skidding into pebbled ground just as varied in hue as the water before it.

“It’s about time.” A human looking figure wrapped in a cloak of fire pulled at ropes attached to a strange boat. No, not ropes. Tendons. The boat had wings in place of sails and a thin, hollow body riding low to the waves. The head of the ship blinked at her with iridescent eyes.

-he had waited for a lifetime and for a moment and for eternity for her-

Jessalyn felt her body shift, her bones crack and feathers burn away until all that was left was skin and a landbound human. She put a wing-no, now it’s a hand- to her face, then shook her head. “Oh,” she whispered, memories flooding back. The girls. The birds. The knife.

She looked up at the cloaked figure, and knew in a moment who he was, though he hadn’t been this age when she’d seen him last. “Alex?” She doubted herself for a moment, certain it must be someone else preparing the strange dragon boat.

-he smiled at the sound, her voice soaking into him like water in the desert-

“Who else?” He turned to look at her, and his eyes removed any doubt she might have had. She’d know those eyes anywhere. His lips too.

“How… “ she hesitated, uncertain how to ask what she burned to know, unsure if she wanted to know. “Where are we?” she asked instead.

“Let’s find out, shall we?”

-he missed that smile, so unsure and yet unafraid-
They stepped into the dragon boat. It didn’t give beneath them, but drew back the tendons holding it to the land and gently flapped the wings overhead. A soft breeze washed over them and the boat began to follow the rainbow river.

-to take her hand but no, not yet-

The river twisted and turned and rose and fell, and the dragon flew through the water without a drop flying up. Jessalyn stared in silence at the mercurial river, at the fog swept buildings lurking in the distance, anywhere but at the man dressed in flames.

– he was afraid to touch her for fear she’d shatter-

Finally, the silence between them felt thicker than the strange water beneath them, thicker than the fog she’d flown through, thicker than her thoughts. “Where does it go?”

-it wasn’t the question he expected her to ask-

He shrugged. “I’ve never done this before. I just knew when I reached the beach what I needed to do. I knew how to call this ship and what to do to tame it. And I knew to wait for you.”

“Why me?”

-might as well ask why the sky is grey or the river is molten rainbows or why he breathes-

She waited for his answer, but the ship bumped to a stop at the foot of a long series of stairs leading up into the mists before it came. She wavered as she looked at the daunting climb, wishing she knew how to call back her bird’s wings.

-she used to be so much braver-

He held his hand out to her, already standing on the first step. Their eyes met and she could see fire swirling through blue eyes, eyes she could almost lose herself in. Eyes that saw through to her soul.

-He stared into her eyes, eyes full of ice and doubt and memories and fear-

She took his hand and they began to climb, smiles on their faces. The mists thickened around them, the raven girl and the phoenix boy, hand in hand at last.

-he would climb with her forever, just to hold her hand-

Administrative note: Stories moved to Friday from now on, for the aliteration of Free Fiction Fridays!

Thirteen

Every night since the fire, Jessayln dreamt of wings. They pursued her through the halls of school, through the stop signs in town. They pursued her through the lectures as her parents tried to weave a cage of love and to the city with nests made of glass instead of clapboard. No one could catch her heart, for it flew faster than any bird.

Modeling made ends meet, and it was just another gig. Just another shoot. Just another elevator to a nondescript reception lobby. Down a narrow hall to a nondescript door, into a garden paradise on the 67th floor.

Nymphish girls ran from hair to makeup and Jessalyn was caught in their whirlwind. Tape measures swirled around her almost by themselves, chased after by dark clad assistants with clipboards and sharp voices. Her hair pulled up at an unseen hand, coiffed carefully into a ponytail on top of her head, then stuffed and spiraled into a bun-like nest. Earrings jabbed by deft hands dangled from her ears. Makeup applied with a hasty brush made her sneeze, but before she could ask questions, she was ushered with the others past plants she didn’t recognize and into a gown of black feathers that trailed to the floor behind her. Others were clad like peacocks, others like swans, but twelve of the other girls were decked in black dresses identical to hers.

The brightly colored girls fluttered off, but one of the assistants held up a hand when Jessalyn tried to follow. “The Corvid is not to follow. Wait here.”

When the voices of the others faded, the Corvid girls looked at Jessalyn, and she stared back into faces she previously knew only from the mirror and photographs. Jessalyn walked towards them, her steps hesitant but the pull irresistible.

“One for sorrow, for we have lost much for your flightiness” the first girl said, stepping aside.

“Two for joy, for we have been happy at times, though you never cared” the second girl said, standing beside the first girl.

“Three for a girl who saw too much that night.” The third girl stepped slightly further away from the others, her eyes never leaving Jessalyn.

“Four for a boy, who accepted his fate.” Another self faded into the group, lining up like paper dolls.

“What are you talking about?” Jessalyn shouted at them, trying to back away, only to find there was nowhere left to run. The wings had caught her, after so long.

“Five for silver, like your ethereal eyes.” Her voice, her own voice, spitting back the compliment she’d heard for so long, turning it into an insult.

“Six for gold like the firebird so long ago.”

It can’t be. It was a nightmare, a mass hallucination, a fantasy.

“Seven for a secret never to be told. Do you know it?” The girl leered as she stepped aside to join the others in their half formed circle around Jessalyn.

Jessalyn shook her head, earrings bouncing. “Please stop! I don’t know what’s going on here, but this isn’t funny.”

“Eight for a wish you didn’t remember, and still don’t.”

“Is this some sort of hazing the new girl thing? Because it’s seriously creeping me out!” The circle was almost entirely formed around her now, and her heart fluttered in her chest like a bird trying to escape.

“Nine for a kiss stolen under a mountain laurel longer ago.”

She’d almost forgotten. She’d kissed Alex once in the spring, playing truth or dare with the others. She’d promised not to kiss anyone else until they had a chance to try it again, alone. They’d never had the chance. She’d gone to her grandmother’s for the summer. When she returned in the fall, things weren’t the same, and then there was the bonfire…

“Ten’s a surprise you cannot miss!” The tenth Corvid reached out in a blur of motion and a flash of wings.

A sharp, burning pain filled Jessalyn’s gut. She looked down to see a knife, half gold, half silver, piercing deep into her. She stumbled, but none of the girls so much as reached out a hand to help her. They just kept staring at her with their doll like, bird like faces.

“Eleven for health, health you wasted. Are your wrists thin enough yet?”

Jessalyn fell to the floor, gasping.

“Twelve for wealth,” the last girl said, throwing a pair of coins at Jessalyn’s head.

Each girl merged and swirled and divided until there were seven, four, twelve again, an infinity of Corvids. No. Corvidae. Crows. A murder of crows.

“Thirteen, rise. Thirteen take your place with your sisters. Thirteen, beware.” But it was too late for warnings, too late for apologies, too late for the crow now fluttering wings above what used to be her body.

She left it behind too. No point in taking it with her, it would only hold her to the earth, and she’d always been too flighty for that.

Circle Dance

No one thought they were really making Jessalyn lighter when they chanted ‘Light as a feather, stiff as a board’ at Alison’s birthday party. No one thought they were really contacting the dead with a Ouija board made by the same guys that make Monopoly at Becky’s. So when they concocted the plan to summon a demon at the town’s Halloween bonfire, Alex didn’t hesitate. He was in.

They’d sneak out after their parents had told them good night. Out their sparkling clear windows, across their solid grey roofs, down the white drainpipes or the gnarled oak trees, across the meticulously arranged flower beds their mothers planted and perfectly manicured lawns their fathers trimmed and raked clean.

All but Alex. He waited, waited for the shouting to quiet and the doors to slam. Then he picked his way across carpets with hairballs on it her cat had left and no one had bothered cleaning up. He didn’t flinch when he knocked an ash tray off the corner table. His parents wouldn’t care. He doubted they’d even notice until they went to snuff out a cigarette and couldn’t find the ashtray. They’d probably blame the cats.

He didn’t have a key, so he just left the door closed but unlocked. There wasn’t anything inside worth the effort of carrying it away.

The bonfire still smoked against the cloudless night sky, but the crowd of revelers had thinned like the leaves overhead when Alex joined the circle of children. Their hands grasped for one another, sweaty in the lingering Indian summer. Grins flashed, excitement catching faster than the flu when silence is called.

Words were chanted, forgotten the moment they echoed from lips as they spun and whirled around the smoldering fire. Faster and faster they twirled, arms stretching-feet stumbling- lungs aching-colors blurring until-until-until… They all fell down, laughing and panting and wasn’t it all thrilling and exciting and a bit silly.

Until they looked up.

A bird hovered in the smoke, a river of plumage dangling like a peacock to the now smoldering logs beneath. A long neck turned to look at each child in turn, sending them screaming into the night.
All but Alex. When the bird met his eyes, he didn’t flinch. He stared back, firm against the horrors the smoke showed, for he saw worse every day. The crack of skulls and clatter of bones was nothing compared to the sounds his father’s fists made on his mother’s face, and the strange creatures the others fled from seemed far preferable to a house teeming with unwashed, underfed cats.

While the others cowered safely under their neat blankets back at their neat homes, with parents who noticed they’d snuck out and would punish them in the morning, Alex climbed upon the smoke bird’s back and flew and flew through the worlds. He doubted his parents would ever notice, except that he left his body behind on the bonfire. There wasn’t anything inside worth the effort of carrying it away.

Taiya no Uta

Ferns crunch under my feet in the pre-dawn shadows as I step with practiced ease to the grave, following the swirls of the water around until I reach the right spot. I kneel on the mossy stone, imprints from my knees and those keepers before me fitting just right. It’s how they knew I was meant to be here. Our knees are identical, marking us before the first tattoo is laid upon them, the sacred runes the keys to the gate.

Ishi no kyoryokuna mono suimin,” I sing the first notes of the lullaby right as the sun rises, as the women here have for so long. It is the first day of summer, the longest day of the year, and the Stone Sleepers are in danger of waking. I repeat the line, soft as a rabbit’s fur and loud as thunder overhead, short as a sneeze and long as a wolf’s mournful cry. My eyes sting from staring at the shadows and the light for so long, but it will not do to falter.

Mizu wa anata no tamede wanai jikko.” A crack like ice breaking in the spring startles me, and the last note comes out a squeak instead of the long note it should be. My stomach clenches. Something is not as it should be. The birds are all gone now, gone in a flutter of notes and wings the moment I started to sing. They know what’s coming. They know better than to be here.

I take a deep breath to steady myself. I am Yuina. I chose the name for what I do here. I bind. I tie. I restrain. Time, always too long on this day, stretches even further as I repeat the line time and again until the shadow of the stone reaches the next mark.

Yasumu, yasumu suru,” I urge, raising my voice in as strong a song as I can.

The ground beneath me rumbles half-heartedly, like a giant rolling over in his sleep. Or a monster.
I can do this. The shadows crawl across the stone scraped clear of moss in the ring immediately around the stone with aching slowness, languid in the heat of the day no spring water will soften.

Yoru wa sugu ni kite iru. Yoru ni modorimasu.” The ground bucks as if knowing I’m nearing the end, as if it can hope to throw me off. I cling to the stone finger in front of me, keeping my knees firmly pressed to the moss.

Makuragi wa me o samasubekide wa arimasen.” A crawling sense of ice down my sweaty back alerts me, and I glance at the stone’s shadows. An extra shadow, almost hidden in the moss, reaches towards the stone, disguising it. A demon lays over the sundial, and know I know to look, I see the true shadow. The true time.

I’m almost out of time.

The words tumble out, barely in the key, definitely off rhythm. “Watashi wa anata ga me o samasu koto wa dekimasen. Neru. Neru. Neru.” I add in the extra line as I feel the ground begin to still, to sigh back beneath my touches. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

The sun touches the horizon, and I collapse to stone and moss, insensate in exhaustion. Another year is safe from the Akumu.

Sleep in stone powerful ones. The water runs not for you. Rest, rest easy. The night is coming soon. The night will return. The sleepers must not wake. You must not wake. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

July Prompt



(Trying a new way of doing the prompts. Opinions welcome!)

June Prompt Discussion

Leigh: When you first looked at the picture, what was your initial reaction?

KT: Honestly? HOLY SHIT – What am I going to write? Seriously, for weeks I had no clue and then I noticed the statue had whites in his eyes, like a real person. And then the rest poured out.

Becca: I was creeped out. Seriously, it was like one of those situations where you stare at the picture – AND THE PICTURE STARES BACK. The dissonance between the freaky-eyed statue and all the pretty garden flowers just threw me.

Leigh: *laughs* I sorta did want to creep you out with the juxtaposition. I’m also a sucker for Rodin, the sculptor who did that piece. There’s a Rodin museum here in Philly that’s pretty awesome as well, I have SEVERAL plot bunnies from his works. They’re incredibly detailed, and some are actually FAR creepier than that one!

So where did you start in building your story?

KT:His eyes. Whites of the eyes. Person trapped and looking out at everything. Only able to come alive when the shadows fall and night comes so they can blend with the shadows. And voila – story.

Becca: Peter Pan. Honestly, my first thought after I really started looking at the picture was of Peter Pan and his lost shadow running around the Darling house. But the statue wasn’t charming, so when I started to spin out the idea, it went decidedly un-charming places.

Leigh: *laughs* Oh that makes sense. I thought you’d been watching too much Doctor Who! (as if there IS such a thing as too much!) 😛 I’d thought it looked like he was reaching for something he was afraid would get away, and I had this idea of a guy falling for a girl who was out of the frame of the picture, and being frozen like that as he reached for her. The rest came from there.

What problems did you encounter?

KT: HOLY CRAP – what do I write? That was pretty much my problem. And seeing if I could get the story to come full circle. I was very tired when writing it.

Becca: It was hard for me to find a voice for the story. I liked the idea, I liked the possibilities, but there was no voice that jumped out like my first one, so it was tough to spin out the words. Eventually, I just hit the deadline and had to put up what I had, but I think I could’ve done better with it.

Leigh: Aww! Yeah, June was a busy month for all three of us, so we maybe didn’t have as much time to focus on this.

I had trouble figuring out tenses in this one. I initially was going to have him telling it from the garden in retrospect, but I was working on it at work and at home without sending the file back and forth. When I went to piece it together, I realized parts were in different tenses, and had to really poke and pull until I got something I was reasonably happy with.

Any other thoughts?

KT: I had fun once I got going, but I thought this was going to be really difficult. Once I got the inspiration it was much easier to write, even fun! I love doing these prompts.

Becca: It’s funny – I had such a strong reaction to this photo, but it didn’t translate into an easy story project AT ALL. I thought that emotion would help me hit the page hard, but it didn’t, which was unusual. It wasn’t easy to put into words just what the creepy statue evoked in my head.

Leigh: I love the way Kt and my stories sorta were opposites, and then Becca, you went into totally different territory with yours. Yours sounds like a whole novel waiting to happen! And I’m loving it too, it’s definitely a challenge sometimes, but that’s part of the fun for me.

Stay tuned. Next month’s coming quickly!

Ebony and Ivory

The taste of honey lingers on my lips as I stumbled from the bar, Benu bashing me on the back with a roar of laughter. I didn’t hear what he said, but I laugh along out of old habit. I’d say I’m drunk, but I only had one cup. It was the dancing girl’s eyes, rounds of copper sprinkled with gold flecks, ebony pupils dark as night. She tingles in my mind, effervescent. I will have her. I decided that the moment I laid eyes on her, wrapped in layers of fabric and a soft, supple mask almost as dark as her eyes. Her arms twisting above her head, her hips gyrating, her name… well, her name. I didn’t catch it before she disappeared into the crowd and my friends began pulling on my arm to leave.

I can’t sleep for thoughts of her. Food tastes of sand. I must find her again. I stumble through every drinking hole and gambling den, looking for her. Just when I began to think I’d imagined her, I spot her in the market.

I knew in an instant it was her. Even though her clothes are proper and demure, perhaps even too chaste for the weather. Even though her hair’s tied tightly beneath a scarf that hid more than it needed. But her eyes gave it away, glancing up at me only long enough to widen in surprise and recognition before darting back to the wares displayed on the booth’s table. I take my time, lingering as long as I dared, inspecting an amulet with Tesha, the goddess of hearth and home graven on it.

“How much is this one?” I ask her, hardly believing my daring.

“Twelve shians, diat.” Her voice is hardly louder than the desert wind blowing around us.

I hesitate. If I don’t at least bargain, she’ll know my intentions are false. Her starting price is far too high for this trinket. “Mian! It’s only ivory, not gold. It’s hardly worth six.”

A flash of fire in her amber eyes, in the sudden set of her jaw. “Ten, diat. it’s the finest ivory in the Shakarian province, engraved by the newest methods.”

“Eight, and not a chian more. Unless, of course, you’re the one who engraved it, mian-sa.” I shouldn’t add the superlative, I know, but I couldn’t resist.

One eyebrow twitches, and I know I’ve caught her out.

“So, not only do you dance, but you carve as well. What other talents do you hide?”
Her face goes moon pale. “I… I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean. I merely sell the charms my mother makes.”

“Surely such charms could only be made by one with a steady hand gifted by Tuop and a clear eye gifted by Sial.”

“You overreach, diat-sa. Enough, lest the gods strike you for blasphemy.” She holds up a hand, as if to make a warding gesture.

I take her hand.

For a moment, the market banners and colors and smells and noises all fading away, lost in her eyes. For a breath, there is nothing but the two of us in a world gone silent and flat.

“Sandstorm!”

A single shout breaks our world into shattered glass.

I pull her hand towards the barriers, towards safety. Her hand goes stiff in mine, but she stumbles along behind me. We plunge into the barriers just as the wind crests the breakers, lashing behind us like a wall tumbling down.

Then there is nothing but sand and wind and the screaming of demons in the day gone night. Words whisper in the shrieking wildness, murmuring of power and of control.

Then a laugh, haughty and certain.

“You think you could upset my day, do you? I’ll have you know, I had plans this afternoon that didn’t involve you, so if you’ll kindly get on your way, that’d be perfect.”

I risk a glance at the woman who would cast aspersions on a sandstorm so fierce. She’s smaller than I thought she’d be, hardly larger than a half grown child. But the tumble of white hair tells me she’s no child at all. There’s only one woman that small in our village; The witch.

The witch shouts words in a guttural tongue I don’t understand at the sandstorm, and it demurs to her, sliding softly into nothingness.

She glances around, and her eyes focus on me.

No. Not me.

On the girl.

“Come Arista. It is safe now, and I will need your help to set things aright,” the witch says, gesturing at the girl, not noticing me at all.

Her hand lingers in mine for a moment, before falling away. “Yes mother.”

I would have been safer in the sandstorm.

Still, my money-purse grows thin with my purchases. Soon, our banter is more talk than haggling, and her laugh becomes my favorite sound. There are fewer storms this season than any I remember before, and it feels like the summer will never end. All the water I need is in her smile. All the fruit I can take is in her eyes glinting in the sunlight. All my world is in the nights where her mask disguises her from the world, and she dances in the shade of the daruian trees for me alone.

Until one day, Arista’s stand is not there.

I know where the witch lives. Everyone does. The tent set apart from the others, the tent with the impossible garden behind it. Now, I suspect why the garden is there, surrounded by barrier fences, mud daubed walls – not to keep out the shredding sands, but to imprison the loveliest flower of them all.

It’s simple to slip over the walls. It’s simple to step silently in the darkness, willing Arista to hear me.

It’s simple to stop when I see the witch, holding Arista chained and bent down. “Honored Akta-Sa…” I begin, my mouth going dry as the deserts surrounding us.

“Save your honeyed tongue for my disobedient daughter,” the witch spits. “I will have none of it. She is not for the likes of you to trifle with.”

“Mother, I love him! Don’t do this!” Arista cries out, a slap resounding as the witch turns her attention back to her daughter.

“Fine. If that’s the way you want it, then you will stay together, and to the desert with you!” The witch shouts, a whirlwind blowing from nowhere.

If I’d thought the sandstorm was bad, it was but a spring breeze in comparison to the gale blasting me now. Arista’s screams fill my ears, mingling with my own, and for a moment, there is nothing but pain as I fall to the ground. I force myself up, pushing to try to reach her, but my muscles freeze halfway. I’d scream if my throat worked, but instead the screaming stays in my head.

“I love you, Kerat!” she shouts.

The world blurs, and all I can see is her eyes, golden and beautiful and calling my name. Her skin is ivory, not just in metaphor now, but firm around her. My own half outstretched hand blends into the night. Flowers blossom in the desert around us, flaming sentinels in the shifting sands.