October 23

Fictober, Prompt 23 – “You can’t give more than yourself.”

Warnings: implied violent deaths? Nothing onscreen. Fantasy, rural fantasy if that’s a thing. Not quite midwest gothic, but leaning that direction.


Abby paced, agitated and upset, and I could only watch, sitting at the kitchen table with a mug of hot cider to warm my hands. Hers sat abandoned across from me.

“I don’t know what to do,” she said again, stopping only to stare out the window at the rapidly darkening corn fields. “And I’ve got to decide soon, the ritual is in three hours.”

I frowned down at my mug, lips pressed together. I didn’t like the group she was part of, especially the man leading it, but just because she was my sister didn’t mean I could interfere. She had to make her own decisions.

“I’ve learned so much already,” she said, back to pacing. I nodded, still frowning at my mug. That much was true; Abby had been able to harness her strange powers much better, with better control, than she had before, and that was certainly a boon for all of us. It wasn’t that I thought the group was all bad, but something about this ‘ritual’ of theirs made me uneasy. It was supposed to be some cross between a final exam and a party, the leader had told her several weeks ago, a chance to use their new skills and boost their power, and then celebrate.

“I’m not going to tell you what to do,” I told her, my first words in quite some time. She stopped pacing, sighed, and came back to the table at last, reaching out a tentative hand to cover mine where they still clutched at my mug.

“I know you don’t like any of it,” she said.

I shrugged. “You’ve learned a lot, like you said. I don’t like the sound of this ritual, but what I don’t like even more is that you’re not sure about it. That’s the thing you should pay attention to, not what I think.”

Abby blew out a breath and sat back. “I guess you’re right. It’s probably all your fault that I’m feeling weird about it anyway.”

I shrugged again.

“But…I don’t know. Something about it, about the way Master Barrett talks about it sounds a little, well, strange,” she admitted. “Like the sequence of events sounds fine, and it’s fine when the rest of us talk about it, but when he does, it’s just…”

“Which words he uses?” I guessed.

“Yeah,” she said, frowning at me now. Not angry, more thoughtful. “Yeah, something like that.”

I grimaced again, but held my tongue. That was one of the things that had sparked my intense dislike of ‘Master Barrett’ shortly after he’d wandered into town several months ago. He’d soon set up camp in the Dirksen’s pole barn and offered to teach those who needed teaching in magical things, and soon enough everyone was chattering about him as though he were the best thing since sliced bread. But whenever I listened to him speak, I couldn’t help but hear double-meanings in his words, and I didn’t like it.

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October 22

Fictober, Prompt 22 – “We could have a chance.”

Warnings: pursuit, implied creepy things. Urban fantasy.


Our footsteps pounded down the alley, echoing too loudly from the old brick walls. There was no way we could avoid pursuit, but my heart sped even faster than the exertion at the thought of the noise giving us away. We had gained a small lead, at least.

Cass skidded to a halt ahead of me as we neared the end of the alley. The buildings gave way here to the street and then the river and dam beyond. I stopped also, and we panted for a moment, staring at the open space ahead.

That was not safe either.

This was a small town, though, not a city with plenty of tall buildings and potential hiding places in between.

Behind us, the sounds of pursuit echoed suddenly loud down the narrow way.

Cass’s head jerked around, eyes wide with terror. I didn’t look, my eyes stuck on the river.

The river. The bridge.

“We could have a chance,” I said quickly, hearing Cass draw in a ragged breath. I would have to take a chance of my own, but I could accept that. “We have to get to the bridge.”

Crossing the open space would leave us vulnerable, but as I began to let my other senses stretch, I thought that most of the pursuit was behind us, fast approaching.

Cass nodded, and I said, “Go!”

We both took off again, breath just barely under control from our last sprint. Human shouts and footsteps mingled with other, less identifiable noises behind us, but they hadn’t been expecting us to make a break for it.

The bridge, I thought, willing us both to have enough energy. The bridge.

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October 20

Fictober, Prompt 20 – “You could talk about it, you know?”

Warnings: none. Fantasy.


I traced the last rune and watched as the energy poured down into the mixture bubbling on the stove. It looked good so far, the color was shifting from brown to orange the way it was supposed to, and I’d double-checked all the ingredients three times, so it should—

Something in the magic twisted, and whole pot flared briefly orange, and then faded into a distinctly unappetizing gray.

I cursed at length, spinning away from the stove and trying not to stomp along the floorboards like a petulant child.

“Still having trouble?” a voice asked from the doorway, and I glanced over to find Nkiru standing there before turning my head sharply away. I thought she had gone out; I didn’t want her to see me like this.

I didn’t want her to know that anything was wrong at all, but it had been impossible to hide for long with the two of us sharing the house right now.

Nkiru sighed and came over to wrap a dark-skinned arm around my shoulders, squeezing a little. I kept my head turned and tried to accept the comfort for what it was. She was open with physical affection and while I was discovering that that could be nice, I was…not used to it. Not after living on my own for so long.

“You could talk about it, you know?” she said softly, voice warm and understanding.

I squeezed my eyes shut tight against the sudden threat of tears. Kindness made this harder, somehow, but I couldn’t bring myself to shrug her off and turn away.

I shook my head. I didn’t think I could stand to talk about it. Not with my latest failure still simmering on the stove, smell becoming fouler with each passing moment.

She squeezed gently once more and then let me go when I turned away to move the pot off the heat, replacing it with the kettle. No sense in having gotten the stove going for nothing, and tea sounded appealing. At least all my non-magical cooking still went smoothly, which was just as well, because Nkiru wasn’t very good at it.

“Maybe it is a curse,” she said.

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October 18

Fictober, Prompt 18 – “Secrets? I love secrets.”

Warnings: creepiness? Implied monster? This one is weird.


“Can you keep a secret?”

“Secrets? I love secrets.”

That was…not an answer to my question. “Why?” I asked.

“Why what?” This was followed by a childish giggle that was very out of character for the woman I had been speaking with for the last several days.

“Why do you love secrets?”

“They’re so interesting!” She spun around, arms flung out in a parody of childhood delight. “Full of whispers and corners and shadows.”

Another not-answer. A chill crept through me as I realized that she was not what I had thought, not at all.

What she actually was, I didn’t know, and was beginning to think that I didn’t want to. Not something I could confide in, certainly.

She was watching me sidelong with a too-wide grin, hands clasped decorously behind her back.

Had she always been this other thing? Or was this a recent change?

“Tell me your secret,” she sing-songed, bouncing on her toes.

“What will you do with it?” I asked, voice low, wondering if I should risk backing away. We weren’t in a deserted area of the mall, exactly, but there wasn’t anyone else around right now.

“Keep it,” she said, “keep it forever. But there’s a price!”

I swallowed, knowing my eyes were too wide but unable to fix it, unable to blink. “What price?”

She grinned that too-wide grin at me and clapped her hands together in delight.

“You!”


(To be honest, I have no idea what is happening here, but I ran with it.)

October 16

Fictober, Prompt 16 – “Listen. No, really listen.”, Original Fiction

Warnings: horror, implied monster, ambiguous ending. Midwest/north woods gothic.


I stuttered to a halt in the middle of the trail, looking warily to my left where the high, trilling call had sounded.

Of course, there were loons out on the lake at this time of year, making their way south for the winter. I just hadn’t realized how much more eerie the sound would be when I was out in the woods after sunset, and not safe inside the coziness of our cabin. We couldn’t see the lake from here, the trees were too thick, but it was nearby.

“Just a loon,” Lukas called back to me, still walking up ahead.

“I know,” I said, unable to shake the feeling of uneasiness as I continued, trotting a little to catch up to him. He had spent more time up here than I had, but even I knew what the loons sounded like by now.

We passed on through the increasing darkness. Lukas thought there might be some good owl-watching tonight, if we could find the right spot in the woods. That had sounded a lot more fun back in the cabin, where it had been warm near the fire.

Now, out here, with night falling around us and the temperatures slowly dropping, I was less sure about it. I shivered, and shivered more when the loon called again, long and wailing.

Another voice answered it this time, almost that same, wailing cry.

Almost.

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October 15

Fictober, Prompt 15 – “That’s what I’m talking about!”

Warnings: none. Fantasy of sorts.


“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Nadia called to me as we ducked low over our mounts to avoid the vegetation hanging low over our heads. Our mounts continued to pace forward steadily in spite of the thick foliage. “We can’t just ride up like this and assume we’re going to receive a warm welcome!”

I waved off her concerns, careful not to grin. We probably weren’t going to receive a warm welcome…that was half the point. The other half was to make a statement.

No one was going to ignore two riders who had managed to tame mounts like these.

Of course, “tame” might not be quite the right word. The pair stopped, necks stretching out as their heads swiveled, looking and smelling for something that had caught their attention.

“That’s what I’m talking about!” Nadia whispered fiercely, careful not to disturb whatever potential prey had been spotted.

I did grin this time but leaned forward and touched the back of my mount, the bigger female. “Maybe later?” I asked, cajoling. “We did eat just a couple of hours ago.”

Her head turned slightly so that one large eye could stare at me. The look seemed more reproachful than irritated, which was a good sign.

“I promise we’ll find you some good hunting grounds when we get there,” I promised, raising my voice so that the male could hear too. It wasn’t clear exactly how well they understood me, but they weren’t unintelligent creatures, and talking to them seemed to be working well so far. “It’s good land, and we are coming to help.”

The female blew out a breath, relaxed out of her alert stance, and paced onward. I smoothed a hand along her thick scales next to my saddle in thanks and reassurance. Her mate followed without question.

I was hoping, if we could get settled outside the city according to plan, that there might be some little ones too, at some point. It wasn’t mating or nesting season now, fortunately, but it wasn’t too many weeks away. I was glad that mated pairs stayed together year-round, though, as it made this much easier.

“Well, at least they listen to you,” Nadia grumbled, but I saw her giving the male a surreptitious pat as well. Secretly, she loved them as much as I did, but felt that one of us needed to be “sensible” about it.

“It will be fine,” I told her, grinning again, and it would be. The city might not be excited to see us immediately, but once I explained and we four proved ourselves as a team, they would let us stay.

After all, who was going to turn down a pair of tyrannosaurs as gate guardians?


(RIP, Victor Mílan)

October 14

Fictober, Prompt 14 – “I can’t come back.”

Warnings: none. Sci-fi.


“You have to come back,” he pleaded.

“I can’t come back.”

“You can! The Head Instructor said she’ll let you in again, and you haven’t missed too many lessons—”

“Let me rephrase: I won’t come back.”

“You’re way ahead on flight time, of course, and she said— Wait, what?” He stuttered to a halt, staring.

I looked back calmly, not caring to repeat myself again.

“But you— You have to! If you don’t graduate from the Academy no one will ever hire you!”

“That seems unlikely,” I pointed out. “Just because many space pilots train here doesn’t mean they all do.” I turned back to my packing. The cadet rooms in the Academy were tiny, streamlined and industrial. I hadn’t bothered to accumulate many personal items beyond the necessities; only a few small presents from my twin, always a tiny balm for our continued separation.

Xue continued to gape at me from the doorway. “But— Well, even if that’s true, it’s going to make it a lot harder for you to get work!”

“I know.”

“All you have to do is promise to be more respectful to the Instructors from now on!”

“More obedient, you mean.”

“Well…” he hedged. I wasn’t sure why he was still trying to convince me; he knew me well enough after two years to know that I wasn’t going to accept such an argument.

“But, your family,” he tried next, hesitantly.

“I’m sure my brother will be upset, but he will understand.” He was the only family I was speaking to, these days, and he certainly would understand. He’d be joining me, if he were here.

Xue was silent for several moments then, while I finished packing my bag and my one small trunk. I stripped the sheets off the bed and sent them down the laundry chute, and made sure that the computer terminal was wiped clean of my data. My handheld was in my bag, and then all that was left to do was to shut down the lighting, step out into the hall, and close the door behind me.

He followed me out, then asked quietly, “What will you do?”

“Work, first,” I responded. “Until I have enough for a small ship of my own. After that?” I mused over the question as we headed down the dim hallway. “I think there’s probably a faster way to make the run between Chi’dong and Binyun.”

“But no one’s ever done that run in less than five days!”

“This certainty that we know everything there is to know about known space is most of why I’m leaving,” I told him sternly. “The run that is used now can’t be done in less than five days. I think there’s a faster run along a different route.”

“But that’s dangerous—”

I stopped dead in the corridor, turning to face him and cutting this latest protest short.

“Good-bye, Xue,” I told him. “Thank you for your concern, and for keeping me company. But dangerous or not, it’s my flight to make.”

He opened his mouth on what was probably going to be another automatic protest, then closed it. He frowned, but when he spoke again it was to say, “You’re welcome. Good luck.”

I nodded in thanks and continued alone.

Luck wasn’t going to have much to do with it.