flash fiction

With The Greatest of Ease - Flash Fiction

It's been a while since I played with flash fiction challenges. However, this story practically begged me to tell it. You see, last Monday I was on Facebook and someone posted the formula for your steampunk name. It is as follows:Lord/Lady + The name of the main character in the last video game you played + the kind of tea you last drank + your favorite weapon I was christened Lady Valkyrie Chai Molotov. And I have to say I adore this name. It sounds like the heroine from bad 30s pulp serials. I decided I wanted to do something to that effect with said name. THEN Chuck Wendig posted his weekly flash challenge. This time we penmonkeys are to go here and generate a random crime-fighting duo. Pick your favorite, write it in 1000 words or less, post and have a drink. I realized that this was the perfect time to play with Valkyrie Molotov's character.

What did the random generator come up with for me? Several things. Here's the one that I loved most:

"He's a superhumanly strong zombie matador in drag. She's a cynical cigar-chomping bounty hunter who believes she is the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian Queen. They fight crime!"

In playing with the ideas for this flash piece, I've come to see that I want to do much more with her, Greyson and this idea. Containing her to 1000 words is very difficult and I think this is just too fun. I've decided to turn this into a serial story. Each will be a flash piece (rough draft, 1000 words or less), but they will be a continuing story.

Cheating? Yes. But guess what? I'm the author. I outrank the rules.

Anyway, here's the first in the Valkyrie Molotov serials. I hope you enjoy it.

With the Greatest of Ease by Jamie Wyman

Greyson snapped his feather-fan shut and crossed his arms over the bodice of his gown.  “Well done, Valkyrie,” he sneered. “Once again your tracking prowess has led us straight to the den of evil.”

Teeth tight around her cigar, Valkyrie snarled, “Shut up, rotter. Mobius is here. I can feel it.”

“That’s what you said last month in…Majorca was it? And before that it was a shabby little town in the Italian Alps.”

“My instincts took me there. Just as they’ve led us here.”

“Well, could your instincts please take us to Paris sometime?” Greyson worried at his bustle. “I’m thinking something in an emerald green silk would look fabulous with my complexion.”

Valkyrie spat into the straw beneath her boots. “And here I thought you wouldn’t be caught dead in green.”

“Seasons change, Val. Besides, I’m caught dead in everything.”

She didn’t look at him but sensed the grin on his face and imagined the wink of his long lashes. Valkyrie Molotov had no glances to spare for Greyson when the bounty was so close.

“He’s here,” she growled.

“But where, oh wise one?”

She’d been hot on his trail from London south to the peaks of Gibraltar. They’d played a vicious game of hopscotch across the islands of the Mediterranean, danced up into the Continent proper. But Vlakyrie had always been a step behind. Now, though, she’d caught up to him. No more chasing a ghost. No more dancing with shadows. Her white whale swam in this sea of rubes and circus performers.

However unlikely it might be, this place reeked of Victor Mobius’s greasy presence.  The slime of his shadow coated everything: the muddy earth, the pennants snapping in the wind and cars of the train snoozing on the rails. Valkyrie let her eyes sweep over the tattered tents, their squat forms reminding her of mushrooms. Somewhere in that fungal forest lurked a creature more deadly than the most toxic of spores.

Valkyrie closed her eyes, listening. Barkers crowed of bearded women and sword-swallowing men. Games jangled in a cacophony, dissonant with the music of a calliope. As the crowd milled about, they created their own music of rustles, bustles, ohs and ahs. She had to dig down beneath the din of the circus and find the signature drag-thump of Mobius’s awkward gait, the metallic clicking of his clockwork leg and the jingle of his ornate pocket watch.

“Bast,” she cursed under her breath.  “Come on, Greyson. Let’s find the bastard before Mobius has a chance to get up to mischief. And keep your head down,” she added. “Wouldn’t want someone to add you to the freak show.”

Valkyrie barged into the crowd, her broad shoulders cutting a swath through humanity as she followed her instincts. The carousel. Was it spinning a little too fast? Over to the menagerie. Would he cause the elephants to stampede? As a child passed nearby with penny candy, Valkyrie wondered if the fiendish doctor would poison the lemonade.

As if he heard her thoughts,  Greyson bent and whispered into her ear. “He’ll be where he can cause the most damage.”

From the largest of the squat tents, a brass band blazed a fanfare. The crowd’s current shifted to flow under the big top. Valkyrie eyed the glowing portal ahead of them. The flickering lights within the tent showed the hunter pictures, strange silhouettes of too-large men and gargantuan creatures. Something called to her bones. Perhaps the gods of old whispered to her. She needed no clearer sign than the dancing shadows to know…

Valkyrie puffed once more on her cigar before throwing it to the ground and stamping it dead with the heel of her boot. “Finally.”

She led the zombie out of the sea of people and into the dark recesses of the lot. The stink of greasepaint, manure and grain alcohol grew thick as they edged around the rear of the main tent.  Valkyrie slipped in, her gaze alighting up to the center of the big top. Squinting, she could just make out something strapped to the king pole. Something all too familiar. The phantom scent of a charred village outside of Turin filled her nostrils.

“There,” she said.

Greyson gasped with understanding. “He’ll bring down the whole tent.”

“And burn everyone inside,” Valkyrie confirmed.

Valkyrie wrenched off her leather coat and thrust it into the zombie’s arms.  Twisting her braid and knotting it at the base of her neck she barked, “Find him! I’ll get up there and see if I can disarm whatever he’s cooked up this time.”

“Hurry.”

“Isis, grant me your wings!” Vakyrie breathed.

And then she was off, scaling rope ladders and shinnying up the poles. She climbed higher until the audience was little more than a blur below.  At the center of the big top, she examined the glass canisters secured there. Amber fluid bubbled and gurgled inside while watch parts ticked a wicked rhythm. She had no idea how much time she had, or what precisely would happen when those minutes expired. Experience warned her, however, that it would be catastrophic if she failed to stop Mobius’s plot.

“My dear friend,” sang an unctuous voice.

Her blood simmered. “Mobius.”

Join us next time for the continuing story of Valkyrie Molotov.

Friday Flash - "The Dead Doll Dreams"

 by Kat Caro www.melancholykitties.comGood Friday to you all, my friends. I've got some tea and I'm chugging along on the caffeine-soaked highways of thought and whim to bring you another response to Chuck Wendig's most recent flash fiction challenge. Last week, we toyed with fractured fairy tales. This time, the Wendigo gave us 5 titles to play with. They are: “The Monkey’s Pageant.” “Dead-Clock’s Revenge.” “The Black Lighthouse.” “Bright Stars Gone To Black.” “Plastic Dreams & Doll Desires.”

THE RULES!

Take one of the five titles OR re-arrange these titles to create a new one without adding any words. Tell a story with that title in 1000 words or less, any genre will do.

I like all of those titles. I think in their own way each is evocative. But none pulled me in. I had leanings toward a few, figured out what it was pulling me to them and decided to combine those elements. Pandora gave me some Tom Waits and Squirrel Nut Zippers as the soundtrack. Made for interesting flavors.

So, I come to you with ...

The Dead Doll Dreams
by Jamie Wyman
Barb’s hips bang against the walls of the narrow hallway as she staggers to the bedroom. The second she plops onto the bed, the baby begins to squawk, his cries warped and modulated through the electronic monitor.
“Not again,” Barb whines.
The baby answers with a more urgent ululation.
Barb’s hands fly to her ears and she shuts her eyes tight. Wrenching her head from side to side, she tries to shake away reality like a dog shakes off water. “No. Not now.”
Her son cries louder.
“Noooooooo,” she howls.
The baby cries louder and she can just picture him, his tiny, stubby hands groping in the air and that angelic face contorted into something hungry and pestilent. With a weary, frustrated growl, Barb bounces up from the bed. Kicking the nightstand, she sends the baby monitor to the ground along with a lamp, a paperback romance and a couple of empty Monster cans.
It never ends. She’s always up, always needed, never alone, never her own. She can’t sleep. She can’t eat. She can’t shit without someone coming after her. Never a moment’s peace. If it’s not the boy, it’s his father. If it’s not the phone, it’s the stove.
“Just stop!” she shouts, tearing at her hair.
She throws open the closet door and slams it shut behind her. The sounds of the baby disappear, too small to pierce the clothes and articles of her former, simpler life. This is a secret garden. This is Shangri La. This moment of solitude is bliss.
Barb takes a deep breath of the silence, but gets only a whiff of bile and dried sweat. She can’t remember the last time she showered and makes a mental note to change that.
But why? What’s the point? she thinks.
 In the wan light of the closet, she catches a glimpse of herself in the smudgy full-length mirror barely clinging to the back of the door. She’s surrounded by a piss-yellow haze, and there is a stripe of fresh vomit on her shirt. Disgusted, she peels away the shirt. Her breasts are soft, nipples red and swollen from all the feedings. Her skin puckers and sags around her navel.
“What happened to you?” she asks the reflection. That woman is a fucking mess. Her oily hair is in tangles the color of dishwater. Wasn’t there a time when she was golden? Radiant? It wasn’t so long ago that Barb stood on a dance floor, her highlights piled on top of her head in a gorgeous blend of spunk and elegance. Those had been carefree nights. Nights with Nick Cave on the juke box and Jack in her hand.
Barbie had lived a different life. That life now hangs limp as a suicide in the back of her closet. Her little black dress relegated to a garment bag. No more strappy sandals or lace panties. Loud rock tunes and silent bubble baths have evaporated, replaced with Baby Einstein and rushed showers.
She crumples to the floor in a heap of tears and grimy flannel pants. If she listened carefully, she’d hear that her son wails in harmony with her. Neither of them expected this. Both were wrenched from a comfortable version of life and pushed into an all new experience. Both flounder in the aftermath. Pregnancy weeks are like dog years. In those nine months, Barbie aged a decade.
Barb reaches for something to dab her eyes and wipes her face on the dress. That dress. She’s on her feet in an instant, shucking off the pajamas and slinking into the red dress. The woman in the mirror is a far cry from the siren who wore it last.
But she doesn’t see the snarled hair or sallow skin. She doesn’t see how the fabric bunches at her hips or how her breasts stretch the plunging neckline. All she sees is the reflection of her former self. The woman in the mirror is neither wife nor mother.
Barb loses herself in the crimson dress. In the tight closet, she dances to music only she can hear—a driving, techno bass that gets her frenzied. Though she is alone, she is on a floor full of people, surrounded by strangers who want nothing of her but her body heat, her breath mingled with theirs. Her bare feet trace small spirals as she twirls from partner to partner, grinding until her little red dress is soaked with her own sweat and desperate need.
Fingertips graze the back of her neck—her own or those of an imagined lover?—and she swoons with the desire to just be touched. She conjures a voice in her head.
Come with me, he says. He sounds like an actor, or like her husband. She turns to look at this figment. The smile is like the one she married, but the eyes are Hollywood. She returns the grin, playing the coquette. Come away, he urges.
Barb bites her lower lip and dips her head. “I can’t,” she says.
And like that, the moment is over. She’s just a dirty woman in an ill-fitting dress. She takes it off, slides back into her pants and puts on a fresh shirt. When she leaves the closet, she goes into the bedroom and lets her son latch on for his next feeding. And as she rocks him to sleep, Barb settles into her skin. It’s a little more comfortable when the baby cuddles her, his sweet breath against her cheek.
She loves him. For all the twists and turns her life has taken since he entered it, she loves her baby and wouldn’t leave him for the smoothest smile on the screen.
Barbie drifts off in the rocking chair and her dreams whisk her off to solace.
As for the red dress? It’s rumpled. Stuffed in the back corner of her closet.
Dry-clean only.
And who has time for that?

 

Author's note: This is not at all what I expected to write when I chose the title. I expected something dark and macabre, something with skeletons and decadent visuals. What I got was a glimpse into the quiet horror of postpartum depression. If you had hoped for some dark fantasy, I apologize that you didn't get it. I almost didn't post this, to be honest. Worried that it was too real. Not funny. Too much of a downer. But that's part of the problem for women like Barb, isn't it? They don't have a place to talk. And that's part of what we writers do. We shine lights in dark places and hold a microphone for voices that don't get heard.  While this is not autobiographical or a depiction of someone I know, it could be. I went through my own struggles with PPD after my daughter was born (almost 7 years ago! how the hell did that happen?). At one point I told my husband to leave me and our daughter to go be with someone else. I honestly felt that he would be better off with another woman. Thankfully, he thought I was joking and we're still together. (And the person I told him to leave me for? Transitioning genders. So that would never have worked.) Anyway, what I'm saying is that I guess I'm glad I wrote this today because postpartum illness *is* overlooked. Hell, I didn't even realize I was going through it until it was over and I looked back and said, "Wow, I was fucked up." So yeah, I guess this is my PSA moment when I say please take care of the women in your life. Know the signs, watch for them and just be there.  Thank you for reading. -jw
 
 

Aspect Ratio - Flash Fic

 Natural 20 by Marco_26 (deviant art)Hey! Look, it's a blog post! And not only that, I've got a story for you today kids. Once again, I've found some fun over at Chuck Wendig's Wacky Wigwam of Words blog. It's Friday, therefore it's time for some flash-fiction. He's been toying with aspects lately, and today is the epic showdown of ultimate aspect destiny. Enter the Thunderdome and behold your opponents: Subgenre, Conflict/Problem and Element to Include. Each of these lists has 20 options. Choose one from each list and write your story. 1000 words or less.So these are the rules this week. I chose to roll a 20-sided die to select my aspects, and here is what the fates brought me.
1) Subgenre: Twisted Fairy Tale
2) Problem/Conflict: Get the band back together!
3) Element to Include: Unicorn
They almost go together too well.

So here it is, kids. My contribution to this week's challenge...

Someone Like You
by Jamie Wyman
Goldie’s stiletto heels clicked up the cobbles with a grace and fuck-you precision that can only come from years of practice and paragon levels of bitchcraft. As she came up the path to the Three Bears Cabaret she could see the line of people spilling out the door and around the squat building.
Auditions today, the paper had said.
Goldie simmered. The Bears could try, but they would never be able to replace her. Unlike those miscreants with their glossies in hand, Goldie belonged here. She’d helped build that stage. Her blood, sweat and tears drenched those boards. She had stopped hearts with her covers of power anthems. Audiences wept at her torch songs. With Brion, Drew and Bump behind her, Goldie had made magic happen.
And now they were holding auditions? If Brion wanted to play his little games, he could, but he would never find anyone as good as the blonde bombshell on the warpath. And it was time to remind him.
With her chin held high and her heavy-lidded eyes focused, she stomped up the stairs to the stage entrance. The front door was for common folk and marks to be parted with their cash, not for someone of Goldie’s caliber.
Backstage, the other performers prepared for tonight’s show. Auditions or not, this was still a business and the Bears had to get their money. A few dwarves stitched at tears in their costumes while one of the flying monkeys combed his fur with languorous delight. As she glided through the dressing tables and vanity mirrors, Goldie took care not to step on Ant and Grasshopper as they sped away from Puss. Clearly he’d already had a few whiskey sours because the insects were well out of reach and his boots were on the wrong paws.
“Goldie!” a voice called in surprise.
The songstress took a long, admiring look at herself in the mirror. The spangled sheath gown—as lustrous as her name—artfully clung to every tight curve. She’d gone with a smoky-eyed siren look for tonight. Her long lashes veiled the exact color of her eyes, and Goldie’s lips gave a perfect, glossy pout. She had piled her blonde locks high atop her head, a few thick curls tumbling down to frame her flawless face.
She smiled. Brion would be groveling within a quarter of an hour.
In her reflection she saw the small, auburn-haired dancer gaping.
“What are you doing here?” she asked. “I thought you quit.”
“Shh, darling. Mama’s home.”
Goldie stalked away, a path clearing around her. She relished the shock and fear plastered on the faces of her coworkers. That was why no one would replace her: stage presence.
As she thunked across the stage, Drew looked up from tuning his bass and Bump’s drumsticks clattered to the floor. Goldie didn’t acknowledge them. She owed them nothing.
The door to Papa Bear’s office was blocked by the business end of a horse, its tail garish lavender. Goldie gave the flank a sharp slap.
“Excuse me.”
Hooves clicked and the beast shifted to the side. Brion’s head jerked up.
“Just what the hell do you think you’re doing here?” he rumbled.
Goldie batted her long lashes and slid herself onto the burly boss’s desk. “We have a show to do tonight, don’t we, baby?”
Though Goldie did her best to smoosh her cleavage into his face, Brion didn’t look away from her eyes.
“You left,” he said, voice creaking with hurt and fresh anger.
“Isn’t that what all the best bands do? They break-up, they get back together and in the end they’re better than ever?”
Brion shifted his gaze. “We start rehearsing tomorrow. I suggest you stick around tonight and learn the flow of the show.”
Goldie swerved, her more pleasing parts jiggling as she moved to fill Brion’s line of sight. “Come on, you can quit this little game you’ve got going.”
“What game would that be, Goldie?”
For the first time, the diva’s confidence wavered. Brion’s eyes were cold and soulless. She saw none of the passion they’d shared, none of his anger, or his delight. Just…indifference.
“Baby?” she breathed. “You and me…after everything you and I have made together. Everything we’ve been together? You could just walk away from all that. All of this?” She swept a hand to present her lithe curves.
“You left, Goldie,” Brion said.
“You act like it’s so final!”
“You fucked the Pied Piper in Bump’s bed, trashed the bar and burned half of the dancers’ feather fans before you stormed out of here saying you were never coming back. If anyone made it final, it was you.
This wasn’t going how Goldie imagined at all. She put on her best, brightest smile. “I’m here now, aren’t I?”
“You’re not welcome now. We’ve found a better singer and someone who’s less likely to stab a customer with her heels.”
“What? This nag?” Goldie looked over her shoulder and for the first time took notice of the unicorn behind her. The beast gleamed with ethereal charm, its horn a spiral of pearlescent light.
The unicorn dipped its head and tossed its lavender mane. “That’s right, sweet cheeks.”
Goldie turned, ready to unleash hell on the creature, but before she could it speared her up-do with its horn and tore the wig from her head. Screaming, the diva tried to jerk away. Her heels caught on the rough wood floor, she spun and tumbled down. As her bony ass hit the ground, her falsies burst from the gown and revealed her flat, hairy chest.
“Run on home, little boy,” the unicorn said smoothly.
Sputtering with impotent rage, Goldie picked up what was left of herself and limped onto the stage. She kicked out at Bump’s drums and knocked over his cymbals with a deafening crash. The ruckus followed her all the way out the door.
“Pops,” Bump called. “Damn drag queen broke my chair. Again.”

Christmas Flash

bzOnce again I'm posting for your enjoyment a piece of flash. As is usual, this comes from a challenge waged by Chuck Wendig.  The prompt is "Christmas in a strange place". Any genre. 1000 words. You have one day. Go. My first thought, honestly, was to write something that took place in the back of a Volkswagon. Or at Ground Zero.

As many of you know, I've got a series in production that I refer to as Etudes in C#. Book 1 (TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES) is finished and I'm seeking representation and publication. (Call me.) Book 2 and Book 3 have both been started and I've written a companion short. The rest of the series is in outline form. While my daughter is home on Christmas break I'm letting this project breathe...but I had an idea of tying in this challenge with that world. What follows is a prequel of sorts following Catherine Sharp and Marius on one of their earlier tasks for Eris.  At exactly 1000 words, I give you the rough cut of "Belize Navidad ". Thank you for reading.

Also, as it is Christmas Eve Eve, I will be going radio silent here on the blog to spend time with family for the next few days. Whatever you celebrate--Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanza, Festivus, Giftmas or something else entirely--I wish you the best of days and brightest of blessings. Boomdeyada and Nerdmaste!

Belize Navidad
by Jamie Wyman
            “I can’t believe this,” I groaned. “It’s Christmas Eve. On the other side of that wall there are beaches with sugary sand and gin clear water. Pool boys just waiting to bring me fruity drinks with little umbrellas in them. And here I am stuck with you.”
            I glared across the cell at Marius. His long hair hung in charcoal waves around that smug bastard face. His moustache and goatee twitched as he sneered.
            “Oh, you think this is how I’d choose to spend a holiday? Trapped with a prude like you? Not even a drop of wine to make you the slightest bit more interesting. And of course on that beach there are the bikinis to talk about. Thongs, Catherine! I’m missing nubile women of loose morals in thongs!” He let his head fall back. “This, Miss Sharp, is hell.”
            “Are all satyrs drama queens or is it just you?” I asked.
            His lip curled in disdain as he turned away from me. There wasn’t much space to maneuver in this bulbous prison, but Marius did his best to draw up his human-looking legs and fit into the curve of the wall.
            Marius and I had been sent on a business trip of sorts. Our boss is Eris, the Greek goddess of discord and bitchery. When she sent me to Belizefor an all-expenses-paid Christmas getaway, I should’ve realized that this was no present. I’d made it to the tropical paradise, but our job landed us in this spherical cell with the goatfucking satyr.
“Fucking Eris,” I said. “She can’t give fruit baskets or a bonus check. When Eris stuffs your stocking it makes you wish she’d handed you a bag of flaming dog shit.”
Before my eyes, a fire appeared. In the center of the blaze, a brown paper bag curled around a lumpy mass. I gagged at the stench. Marius jerked and stamped to put out the fire, smearing the contents of the bag on the golden floor.
“What the bloody hell was that for?” Marius shouted. “These shoes cost more than half a year’s rent on that hovel you call an apartment!”
He slipped off his shoe and began scrubbing the sole clean on my pants.
“Jesus, stop! I didn’t do it!” I kicked him back onto his side of the sphere and let out a frustrated growl. “Spending Christmas locked up with you and now I’ve got shit on my jeans. Just fantastic.”
Marius tossed the soiled shoe to the other side of the cell. “As if it’s such a chore to be near me. At least I know how to have a good time. We wouldn’t be here if you weren’t so work, work, work all the time.”
He may have had a point there, but the bastard isn’t allowed to be right about anything. It’s true, though, that if I hadn’t been so hellbent on finishing the job, the djinn might not have woken up when we tried to steal the lamp. How was I to know about the shrieking idols?
Miserable, I curled into myself. “It doesn’t even feel like Christmas. I wish I had my pajamas.”
Marius’ eyes widened.
“What?” I asked.
He pointed a slender finger at me. “Just how did you do that?”
I looked down to see that my stained jeans had been replaced by my favorite pair of red-and-black fleece jammy pants. Stunned, I muttered, “I have no idea.”
Marius’ eyes shifted conspiratorially. To no one in particular he called, “I wish we had a good bottle of port.”
A smile spread across his face as a black bottle appeared between the satyr’s feet.
“Lovely,” he said. “Now, I need a corkscrew to open it.”
Nothing happened. “Well, bugger,” he said. “It was worth a shot.”
I held up a hand. “Wait. I wish I had a corkscrew.”
Instantly, I held the tool.
“Oh, now this could be fun,” I said.
“You have no idea,” Marius leered.
Exposing the golden apple brand on his forearm, Marius rolled up his sleeves, cracked his knuckles and set to work. By the time he’d finished making a score of requests, he’d filled our cell with more wine, a duck glazed with raspberry and shallot sauce, buttered snow peas, and a shortcake trifle. Our feast presented itself on glittering silver trays and gilt plates.
“Take some wine,” he said filling a crystal goblet. “You might actually become bearable company.”
Though Marius had wished for elegance, I shook my head. “This doesn’t feel like Christmas at all.”
At my command, strands of colored lights wound around the walls. A pumpkin pie joined the food with a can of whipped cream, and the air filled with the sound of Bing Crosby.
“This is Christmas?” he asked incredulously.
“Oh, wait.” With one more wish, he wore a red Santa hat. “Perfect.”
            Spying the fluffy white ball dangling over his face, Marius rolled his eyes. “Bon appetit.”
            It’s not every day you find yourself trapped in a genie’s lamp with a rat bastard satyr. But, with his decadent tastes and my touches of home, Marius and I crafted our own version of the holiday. For a little while on that one day, I didn’t want to kill him.
            When the duck was little more than a carcass and the trifle had been reduced to crumbs, Marius sat back swirling wine in the bottom of his glass. He muttered something that I couldn’t quite catch. I may have been spraying whipped cream into my mouth.  “What was that?” I asked.
            After draining his port, he shook his head. “Nothing.”
            I sagged, full of yummy food and warm from the wine.
            “You know, Catherine, there is one thing missing from this gay yuletide celebration.”
            He pointed to the ceiling. To my horror, I saw a bundle of green leaves and white berries dangled there.
Marius smiled and bounced his eyebrows.
“I wish we were back in Vegas,” I said.
And just like that, the holiday was over.

If you enjoyed this story, please consider reading the Cat Sharp novels WILD CARD and UNVEILED. 

Wild Card:

 

Unveiled:

   amazon.com

 

Twofer Tuesday

Last week I used Chuck Wendig's challenge to jump back into the flash fiction pool with "Stitch and Bitch". Well, there was another picture I wanted to tackle for that challenge. Coincidentally, this morning I found another flash challenge, this one dropped by Thomas Pluck over at  F3. Like Wendig's challenge, the writer pens 1000 words in any genre. This one, however, specifies that we follow Tom Waits' anatomy lessons and give our stories weather, food and a city name. To make it more fun, Pluck added that we need a song, too. Well, I can kill two birds with one stone. I can write the other story I wanted for Wendig's challenge AND jump in on Pluck's!  I used Pluck's prompts and photo #43 from the "Unexplainable" list. And here you have it, folks. Coming in at 999 words, the rough cut of "A Man of Discerning Character". I hope you enjoy it.

A Man of Discerning Character
by Jamie Wyman
 
                       As I ambled about the docks ofLiverpool I stuffed my hands deep into my pockets. While winters can be frightful on this island, the biting winds coming off theIrish Sea makeLiverpoolespecially loathsome. I had business, however, and a trip to the harbor was an unwelcome necessity. Bundled in my coat I passed several ships including a passenger ship bound for the Colonies. My interest piqued, though, as I drew up along side warship of the Royal Navy.

            The hull identified her as the HMS Alyssum. Her silent guns pointed uselessly out to sea while the Jack overhead snapped in the bitter wind.
            “Oy, Higgs!”
            My surname is not Higgs, but I started just the same. A mariner shouted across the deck of the Alyssum and pulled my attention to the man sitting at the railing nearest to dry land. Mr. Higgs, I presume.
            “Higgs!” he called again. “You’ll catch your death of cold. Get back down below!”
            “Aye,” Higgs called over his shoulder. “I’ll catch me death, but first I needs a net strong enough to ‘old ‘im.”
            With a shake of his head, the officer retreated into the bulk of the ship. I, however, stayed to watch the immobile Higgs. Though the Liverpoolmorning was overcast and blustery, the officer sat in little more than his breeches and a thin white shirt. His cap rested upon his head at a rakish angle. The full beard hugging his face may have helped him to stave off the cold.
            Intrigued, I stepped closer to the Alyssum until I found myself mounting the gangplank. That is when I heard him singing.
            “…our mythic history, King Arthur's and Sir Caradoc's. I answer hard acrostics, I've a pretty taste for paradox…”
            A horribly loud sneeze on my part drew the officer out of his tune and his eyes darted to me.
            “’ello, sir! Come just in time to join the Captains’ Mess, you ‘ave.”
            “You are the Captain?”
            Higgs cackled. “No, sir. I be a bosun and nuffink more. But the captains, they come ‘ere every day ‘round about now for supper and a good spot of tea. I’m sure they would welcome such a one as you to table.”
            I shifted uncomfortably. Even moored on the line, the ship bounced over the slightest of waves. “I appreciate the offer,” I said, “but I must respectfully decline.”
            “If you’re so inclined.”
            The bosun’s gaze drifted past me and down the slant of the gangplank. His eyes lit up as a broad, toothless smile spread across his furry face.
            “Ah, Captain, punctual as ever!”
            Higgs stood to salute his superior officer. I turned to look but saw no one there. Then something nudged at my ankles. I looked down to see a white and brown cat twirling in figure-eights around my feet.
            “Likes you, ‘e does!” Higgs said proudly. Addressing the cat he chimed, “Captain, I’ve prepared your favorite, today.”
            Higgs had no thought for me. He stuffed his hand into his trouser pocket and fished out a biscuit, a nib of cheese and two sardines. With utmost care and delicacy Bosun Higgs placed each morsel on the deck at the feet of the cat. With the slightest nod of gratitude, the cat set to his meal.
            “That is your captain?” I asked.
            “Aye, me commandin’ officer. Captain Nibbles, is everything to your liking?”
            The cat licked his chops and went on gutting his fish.
            “Crackin’!” Higgs said.
            The bosun reclaimed the crate he used for a seat then reached behind it to produce the mounted head of a fox.
            “Captain Aldus Fox, at your service,” the bosun said reverentially. “Terror of the Channel, ‘e is.”
            Higgs took a brush from his belt and began to tend to Captain Fox’s russet fur.
            I blinked at the absurdity before me. A petty officer in the Royal Navy serving a state dinner to a stray cat and a stuffed fox? Bosun Higgs seemed to feel no shame or apprehension at his startling behavior.
            “Mr. Higgs,” I said, “that is not a captain but a fox.”
            “O’ course ‘e’s a fox! A sly, salty dog ‘e is, too. Rumor goin’ about the crew is that Captain Fox is due a promotion.”
            “Oh really?”
            “Aye. Groomin’ ‘im for admiral.”
            I should have taken my leave at once, but the foolishness of it all grated on my proper sensibilities. “Look you, Bosun Higgs, you are quite daft if you believe that this taxidermist’s project is your superior. Such nonsense! And while he may, in fact, possess more sense than yourself, neither does the cat hold a rank higher than a spinster’s mate. Good man, I believe your mind is cracking.”
            Ignoring me he returned to singing his Gilbert and Sullivan. “…I know the croaking chorus from the Frogs of Aristophanes.”
            “Very well,” I said. “Since you cannot see reason I’ll be on my way.”
            “Weigh anchor, sir, if you will and then you shall not t’ sea.”
            “See what?”
            “My reason.”
            Then without further thought for me, he returned to his humming and the task grooming Captain Fox for his promotion as Captain Nibbles finished his meal.
            I put Bosun Higgs from my mind, and resumed my trip down the dock to see Captain White about passage on his next trans-Atlantic run. Two months later, though, I saw Mr. Higgs again. Teeth-chattering and delirious, shocked from watching the unsinkable HMS Titanic gurgle beneath the waves, I bobbed along in the freezing spray. I saw, then, a wardrobe drifting by. Bosun Higgs sat upon it with Captains Fox and Nibbles.
            “Bosun, come about,” Captain Nibbles said. “This man requires our aid.”
            Soon the barge was before me. Higgs offered me his hand and smiled his gap-filled grin. “Welcome aboard,” he said. “Soon you’ll be on our fine ship.”
            “The Alyssum?”
            Higgs snorted. “Can’t you read? Asylum! That’s where we belong. Ain’t that right, Admiral?”
            The fox nodded. “Too true.”