Welcome to 2016! I've been editing for clients the past 2 months, and with the holidays, other pursuits, and the untimely death of my sweet night fury Sprocket, I've had very little time to devote to writing new material. Even flash fiction. Thank you all for bearing with me during this time.
I return today with the first bit of flash for the new year. 2080 words to make up for my absence of late. The prompt comes from a conversation I saw on Twitter, that was later sent to me by a friend.
I absolutely LOVED this premise. While I haven't taken on the grand epic scale at this time, I humbly offer this bit of flash to get the party started. I know that for many of us, this has been a grim week. Please enjoy "Gran Lantern." <3 j.
by Jamie Wyman
Una Bainbridge-Harcourt was just about to settle into a lovely cuppa when there came upon her door a most pernicious knocking. The widow mumbled to herself with much consternation, not in regards the hammering, mind, but at the loud cracking of her bones as she rose to her feet. Shuffling across the carpet, Una put out a hand to brace herself on the back of her favorite armchair, then on the well-papered walls. She found it appalling to use her cane in the comfort of her own home. And so it went, feet dragging, hands out that her worldly possessions might keep her upright until she finally reached the door.
The security chain clattered against the wood in a counter-rhythm to the banging of the fist, the timbre of which was growing louder, faster and more impertinent with each passing second.
“Half a minute, love,” she called to the insistent visitor while undoing the locks and chain. “It takes these old bones more than a tick or two to be making her way about.”
She peered out onto her stoop to find a man—pale and sallow of face, with hair to his shoulders that was the color of dried wheat. She saw silver at his temples and wrinkles about his dull blue eyes. Confusion pulled at his mouth, leaving it open for all manner of things to fly in while nothing of import came out.
Una pursed her lips and gave her most imperious stare—one which she'd seen on the visage of Her Majesty in the latest tabloid gracing the supermarket checkout.
“Well then?” she asked, voice pitched to be shrewish.
“Are you... I'm looking for Una Bainbridge,” the man said in a simple country drawl.
Poor man, Una thought. Welsh. Nothing for it but to humor the pet.
She straightened herself to full height and lifted her chin with pride. “It's Bainbridge-Harcourt,” she corrected, “and don't you forget that last part. Though the man did leave in a rather abrupt and untimely fashion, he is still of enough import that I wear his name.”
The visitor looked to his feet and muttered to himself, “I'm late.”
Una cast a glance out the door, peering along the row of town houses. Sun glinted off of her neighbor's Mini parked on the curb. The Michaelson brats played a few homes down, their skateboards making that dreadful scratching noise on the pavements.
“Late?” Una asked. “It's not yet half passed two.”
“Bainbridge-Harcourt,” she said, the stranger joining on the last word with a nod.
“...I am a member of the Lighthouse Watch Corps, and I must speak with you.”
Una softened, giving her most grandmotherly smile. “Oh, poppet, I'm sorry, but I've got no interest in religion.”
“No, marm, it's not religion. The Lighthouse Watch Corps is--”
“Rehab, then?” she asked with a knowing tilt of her head. Una waved at him to pause. “Give us a tick, love, you've got that look about you.”
She shut the door and pawed open her handbag. She fished through the bag's contents and withdrew a small, red coin purse before opening the door again.
“I don't have much to offer you, dear,” Una apologized as she opened the coin purse. With a raspy laugh, she added, “I'm just a pensioner after all.”
The stranger stared at her, utterly dumbfounded and silent.
Una took his fist and unfolded his fingers so that his sweaty palm was exposed to the balmy air.
“Here you are.” She dropped a few coins into his hand, then curled his fingers around them. “I know how hard it can be to get back on your feet in this day and age. I've a son, not quite so old as you, I'd wager, but old enough to've made his share of mistakes.” She patted his fist. “Good luck to you.”
She gave a wink and made to shut the door, but the stranger—roused from his stupor by the clacking of her knocker—stuck a foot over the threshold.
“Marm, please. I'm not here for handouts. I just need you to listen to me. It's of the utmost importance that you hear me out.”
Una—frightened at first by the younger man's quick obstruction—fell into a cool calm at the sight of the stranger's pleading expression. She opened the door wide and moved aside for him to enter, but not without putting a hand on the cane resting against the wall.
“Come sit down and unburden yourself, love.”
After closing up behind him, Una led the young man into the parlor.
“Don't mind Mr. Sniffles,” she added, pointing with her cane to the expanse of tawny fluff sprawled on the rug. “He's a large cat, to be sure, but I'm afraid he has lost the will to do anything other than sleep and obtain devotional belly rubbings.”
Una bent—with much creaking and moaning—to give the animal a scratch behind his ears, and tottered over to the chair by the window. She placed a hand on the arm nearest to the basket of knitting needles should the man turn out to be a ruffian with less than friendly purpose.
“Tell me, then, what is your name and what is it that is so dire?”
He hunched on the edge of the wingback armchair, elbows resting on his spread knees. For a time he sat contemplating the pile of the carpet while steepling his fingers at his lips.
“Forgive me,” he said finally, “I've not had to do this before, nor will I ever again, so I am trying to get it right. And this is a bit of a sensitive matter.”
Una shifted in her seat, then reached for her tea in an attempt to disguise her discomfort at both this chair and the visitor's words. Her chamomile had gone cold. This is why one should never answer the door when taking tea.
“Una,” the man said earnestly, drawing her attention away from the undrinkable brew. “I am Cal Borden. I'm a member of an elite team of warriors.”
“The Light Brigade, was it?”
He shook his head, “No, marm. Lighthouse Watch Corps. We are...stewards. Of great power. We've been charged with a great task of keeping the world safe from the denizens of the dark realm, Decem Fthog.”
Una blinked. “Mr. Borden, with all due respect and kindness, I must declare that you are a nutter.”
“You're positively barking!”
Rather than argue the point, Cal reached into his pocket. Una's right hand gripped her longest, sharpest needles so that if the knave came charging at her she might put the point where it would suit him best. For a moment, she lamented using them for such grisly purposes. After all, they were her best pair. And though she hadn't done anything with yarn in months, what with her arthritis, Una was loath to part with such fine tools. She was, as it turned out, saved the burden of replacing ruined knitting needles and not using those either when Mr. Borden produced an emerald bracelet and placed it on his own wrist.
Ethereal light gleamed, bathing Una's belongings in green.
“We are,” Cal said, voice deep with pomp and importance, “the only defense the people of Earth have against the enemy. Our lineage is a long one. Our heritage proud. Hundreds have borne the light over the centuries. And now, Una Bainbridge-Harcourt, the Lighthouse calls to you to take up the watch.”
She giggled, light and bubbly, unable to contain herself in the presence of such insanity. “What is this, Mr. Borden? Am I on one of those telly programs that tries to make people look foolish?”
“I am serious, Una.” Cal took off the bracelet and offered it to her. The light intensified as the bauble neared Una. “This is yours now. With it you can carry on the fight and beat back the hordes of creatures that would slither into our world and destroy us all.”
Una pushed the bracelet back in his direction. “Show me, then, if it's so magical and you've this great power.”
He turned the green loop over in his hands. It was now dim as a fire's fleeting, final ember. “I can't.”
Just as I thought. “And why not, Mr. Borden?”
“Because my time has come and long since gone. The Band of Nur Al-Thoth will no longer shine for me. Only for its next steward. And that is you, Una. You have been chosen.”
“Me? Dear boy I am eighty-seven years old. I've no more business saving the world than Mr. Sniffles has.”
“Yes, well, I might have come a bit later than I was charged to, marm.”
Una raised an eyebrow so imperiously, the Queen would have quailed. Cal practically withered in the chair. Pleased with this reaction, she said, “Go on.”
“You see, I sent you the Band many years ago. But as happenstance would have it, you had moved to a new home not two weeks previous.”
“Dear boy, I've lived in this house for more than fifty years! Mr. Harcourt and I moved in the day after we were wed.”
Cal stood and began pacing the floor, shoulders forward and his jaw tight. “I might have been waylaid in retrieving the band from the home's new occupants, and other...ventures.”
“Did you stop for a pint at the pub on your way?”
“There was this one bar down in Brighton...” he cut himself off. “Well, the point is that I'm here now. Delivering the news to you. You are to carry the light!”
“No,” Una said flatly.
“No. I'll not have your fancy trinket, nor will I suffer further tales of your ineptitude. You may see yourself to the door, Mr. Borden.”
“But, Una, this is the world we're talking about.”
“And you bolloxed things up when you tried to send a powerful relic by post. No, sir, I will have none of any society—secret or otherwise—that boasts you among their number. Out. Out and into the world to pester another. Perhaps you'd better find someone young, fit and gullible to be your new heroine, eh?”
Cal's mouth opened and closed soundlessly, his eyes wide with shock. Finally he said, “This has never happened. In the history of our order, none has balked at the mantle.”
“Well, Mr. Borden, that is hardly my problem. Good day.”
His limbs slack, Cal Borden, scion of the Lighthouse Watch Corps, stepped to the door as one dances to a dirge. Una followed him, cane in her left hand and needles in the right. With his hand on the doorknob, Cal turned to her, his eyes pleading.
“Mrs. Bainbridge-Harcourt, please.”
“Good. Day,” Una barked.
Resigned, Cal hung his head and opened the door. The outside world was obscured by thick mist the color of coal smoke and a Tory's heart. From within the mist came slick black tentacles tipped with dripping barbs and accompanied by a sickening, wet flapping sound.
One of the tentacles shot forward and skewered poor Cal Borden through the heart. Yellow flames, like the headlamps of Hell, burst to life within the cloud, and the creature let out a triumphant shriek. It retracted its tentacle, the effect of which was the limp form of Mr. Borden falling in a heap to the floor at Una's feet. The creature's tentacles wriggled and writhed for a moment, its yellow eyes studying the widow's form with great interest. After some time of deliberation, the decision was made. Tentacles lashed away from her, across the street, where they snaked around cars and lamp posts. Like some horror from a film, the thing propelled itself down the row of houses, gleefully taking aim at the Michaelson boys and their skateboards.
Shrieking filled the air.
Oh, dear, Una thought with a heavy sigh. She bent forward, her bad hip protesting the movement, and unburdened Mr. Borden's body of the green bracelet. It flared to life, casting an emerald glow on the world. On her wrist, the Band of Nur Al-Thoth grew warm. Whispers filled her mind, and in that instant, Una knew what she must do.
She let out a long, weary breath, and put on her hat.
Knitting needles clicking together in her fist she called out, “Come along, Mr. Sniffles. We don't want Millicent to come home to find her miscreant children slain by peculiar demons. Besides, the tea has gone cold.”
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