These snippets all come from a writer’s group I used to be part of. I am sharing them here under Creative Commons 0/released into public domains. Take, use, enjoy.
There’s about 25 snippets here, organized alphabetically by the word prompt that inspired them.
Captain Hoku Nagatsumi stood in the bows of his airship and enjoyed the feel of the wind in his face for the first time in 10 years. He’d first gone to England with one their cultural [things], then found himself falling into the employ of the Count of Ambrey. Then he fell into the Count’s bed. With the Countess’ full approval. The affair, if he could call it that, had lasted three years, and every day of those three years he’d known it would someday end. Until three weeks ago.
Three weeks ago, Cherville had actually put down the newspaper at breakfast and out of nowhere said, “Look, old chap, you have to know by now that if it weren’t for the damnable law, I’d ask you to marry me. Since I can’t, the least you can do is take me home to meet your parents.”
Emelie was coming in from the kitchen with a plate of scones. Putting one on his plate she added, “Take us home, you mean.”
“Of course, dear.”
Hoku fell out of his chair.
Remembering the scene, he smiled and muttered under his breath, “Damn all Englishmen and their stiff upper lip!” It turned out that Cherville had already bought a large airship for the trip, which brought Hoku back to the present moment.
“Cap’n!” a call came from the crows nest, “Ship a-port!”
The sheets billowed in the wind, fighting the pins that anchored them to the line. Near by, socks frantically flapped, waving goodbye to some passing breeze. An aurea tickled my nose as I began the daily battle with the pants. Kicking out, they twisted in my hands, trying desperately to break free. Ruthlessly, I shook them out, and pinned them on the line next to the socks. They treaded air, trying to get traction. They fail, again.
One day, I promise myself, when I am grown, I will move to a normal town. A place where spirits don’t dance on the wind, clothing doesn’t come to life and try to run off, and boys won’t care that my mother is a witch, because to them witchery is old stories around a campfire, or a strange religion where people dance naked around a fire and call up a Goddess to challenge the Christ-God’s hold on the world.
Someplace where I can be a normal girl, with a normal life, and never again need to hear — “Ariel – stop day dreaming – the shirts are fighting again! There’ll be ripped seams in a minute, and you get to charm the needle to sew them!”
With a sigh, I went back to the laundry. Why did my life have to be so exciting?
Mandy opened her window so hard the shutters slammed into the walls. “What in tarnation is going on out there!”
The brouhaha stopped immediately, as all tge boys stopped their caterwauling to stare and Mandy in her nightclothes. After a moment, a few of them had the grace to look down at their feet.
“What in the world is so important you-all had to disrupt a body’s sleep? Just wait til I have a word with your mama’s!”
The boys, in various degrees of obstinance or embarrassment, apologized and slunk away. Mandy humphed and went back to bed.
A few moments later the boys had turned off of mainstreet into the alley behind the general store. “All right pay up.”
The eldest boy reached into a pocket and pulled out a short bit. “I don’t get, m’brother swore she slept in the all-together.”
“Yeah, yeah, like your brother would have any way of knowing. Mandy ain’t putting out for him, or any other cow-puncher.”
Still arguing, the group split up and drifted off.
The barely conscious chanting was a useless talisman. The fear ate at her. Curled in a ball, hands covering her head, she murmured to herself, “Calm-calm-calm-calm-gotta-be-calm-calm…”
Voices in her head drowned out the sound of her whispering. Threats, screams, pleading. Hateful memories that never ended but always came back.
“Not real-just-be-calm. Just memory. Calm. Calm-calm-calm-calm.”
A touch. She screams. Fights the arms gathering her up.
“Shh.” A voice. Trusted voice. Real voice. “It’s just me. You’re safe.”
She grabs hold. Clings. Shaking. The memories continue. Horror and fear and shame and anger.
“Do you hear me? Do you know I’m here?”
She nods. Convulsively. Obsessively. Yes. yes yes don’t go don’t go away don’t don’t don’t…. but words freeze, trapped in a strangling throat.
No. No-no-no-no-no-not-this. You’re dead. Dead-dead-dead-dead-dead! Leave me alone!
But the scream is silent. The memory continues.
Arms hold her. A whisper in her ear. “Alright, it’s okay. I’m here. Just focus on that, okay? Feel my arms. Hear my voice. Focus on me and ride it out. You know how to do this. I’m here with you. You aren’t alone.”
The voice saves her. It doesn’t matter what is said. But someone is there. Someone who is real, who is not a memory, holds her, reminding her that the memory isn’t real. That it will end.
She clings to that life-raft as the storm of memory breaks. She is not alone.
Eventually even terror exhausts itself. Screams trail off into whimpers. Though the darkness smotes his eyes still, it has, over long minutes, become familiar.
Slowly, he sits, and feels around himself. Rough stone, moisture. There stone curves around his body, as if over long years it has worn away to fit his shape. Or grown around him.
He gets to his hands and knees, seeking for… something. Some hint of where he is or what has happened. As he moves, feels skin on skin, he realizes he is naked. For a moment, he is overcome with shame and embarrassment. Then he laughs – slightly hysterical laugher it is true – even if anyone else were here, they can’t see him, he can’t even see himself!
The thought leads to the deed. He calls out “Is anyone here?” His voice is hoarse and ragged. The only answer is an echo.
Moving carefully he finds his feet.
Gearge didn’t know why Franj had insisted on the strange name for the ship, but since he didn’t much care, he went along with it.. Out of curiosity, he tried looking up the name in on the planetary ‘net. All he found was a song, from several centuries back, about baseball. Catchy thing, he’d caught himself whistling it several times that week. He might even hit one of the re-enactor events on their next leave, see if he could figure out what made baseball so wonderful.
Didn’t help him figure out what the crazy name Franj had come up with.
His musings were interupted by the shrill of an alarm. Jumping to his feet, he raced out to the corridor, feeling the artificial gravity fluctuate beneath him. The shreek of escaping air rose over the alarm – a micro-meteor hit.
Grabbing a breath mask out of an emergency supply, Gearge raced towards the source of the sound. Franj, he knew, would be at the controls, checking for damage and sending out a mayday.
This orbit was supposed to be clear damn it!
The meteor had gone through the hold. The hull was holed clear through. Acting on instinct, Gearge grabbed sealant and went to work. Five minutes later he had the hole sealed, and was heading for the bridge. Franj came up over the intercom. “Gearge, looks like you got it plugged. Real crackerjack. Can you check the engine?”
Gearge swung towards the engine thinking dark thoughts. What the HELL was a crackerjack!?
Dance. The music rises over the glittering hall. It invades the hearts and minds of its listeners. Willing and unwilling, eager and hesitant, they rise to their feet.
Fabrics flash and jewels glitter. Lights reflect in wide eyes. Feet move, in perfect time. Arms raise, salute. Hands touch, and the dance begins.
Through the night, the rulers of faerie dance. The music, master of them all, orders their steps and commands their motion. Unable to resist, they trod the steps and turns. Bow and flourish, turn and return. As dawn draws near, perfect faces are streaked with sweat and tears. Elaborate hair has fallen to limpness. Blistered feet weep with each step.
And as long as the music plays, the dance continues.
“Out.” That was all they said, and suddenly Danne found himself ejected from the only home he had anymore. He had gone to the headmaster, hoping to plead for another chance. But the door refused to admit him.
He hadn’t meant to blow up the alchemy classroom. It just…happened. Just like he hadn’t meant to frighten all the pegasi when it was his turn to groom them. Or turn all the food rancid while helping make dinner. And he definitely hadn’t meant to put invisibility powder in the laundry instead of soap. Who leaves invisibility powder sitting around the academy laundry room anyway?
It didn’t make any difference. After three years and five mishaps, they were done with him.
With nothing else to do, Danne wandered down the dirt road that ran past the academy. Sooner or later he’d come to a town—though he seemed to remember it had been a long way from the last town to the academy when he came here. NMIMY– No Mages In My Yard—was te popular sentiment in Carolia. And given his own mishaps, Danne couldn’t exactly blame them. But he’d need somewhere to sleep for the night…
“Are you done wallowing yet?” A voice squeaked in his ear.
“I’m not wallowing!” The little fire demon had started following hi around his first week at the academy—and for some reason never left.
“Sure, sure. Cheer up. I didn’t think we’d make it out of there alive. It’s a good day.”
Danne flicked the creature off his shoulder. A moment later the scent of scorched hair told him it had reappeared on his head.
“Yup, clear sailing from here. Gotta say, I’m impressed you stuck it out that long. Most cadets don’t last six monhs after management decides to get rid of them.”
There was something disturbing in this fen. Of all the things Ben had expected when he took this journey, to travel thousands of miles and come across a place so like – and unlike – home had never been one of them.
The think rotten egg scent of the mudflats hung heavy as he picked his way along a thin ridge of nearly-solid ground. The mud sucked at his feet, ‘plopping’ each time it released him for another step. It was as familiar as the feel of his shirt.
But though he watched, he saw no hint of the dangers of the fens. No will o’whisps danced in the distance. No foxfire glowed it’s baleful promise. He heard only the calls of wading birds and the song of frogs.
He shuddered as his imagination tried to call up images of horrors which might have driven away the noctornal monsters of the fens. What danger lurked in this place that he could not see?
Wrapping his cloak about him, he continued on patrol, and wished for sunrise.
Brandy hauled her skiff around, and checked her instruments. Dumb luck and a lot of work had netted her a a good northern quadrant. The Perseid fly-by was the best harvest of the year, and she was going to make the most of it.
Her sensor went off, alerting her to a meteor approaching at 40,000 meters. She punched her jets, timing the reverse burn to bring her to a relative rest just in time for her grapples to latch on.
Hit the burn. High burn to dump the energy of the meteor, overcome it’s inertia. The competing Gs twisted her stomach and tormented her vagus nerve.
Finally it came to Earth-relative rest. She’d spend the rest of the night hauling the sucker to the processing plant, but it would be a damn good haul.
The glass beneath her hand was surprisingly cool. Some detached, logical portion of her mind reviewed engineering schematics, climate control designs, the careful genuis which had made it possible for the ship to approach so close that the roiling surface of the sun filled the entire field of view.
Still, it seemed that the heat – such a pale word for it! – should be palpable. Should press against her skin the way the bright light pressed against her eyes.
But it didn’t.
Back in college, in one of her mandatory non-science classes, she remembered reading how the people of Lower Egypt had seen the sun as a devouring deity – a god of death and destruction. Looking at the flicking cauldron of nuclear fire ahead, for the first time, she understood those ancient mystics. Surely, this was not the life giving sun of her childhood.
Behind her, conversation among her colleagues continued – measuring photon density, flare heights, relative hull temperature…
Was she imagining the faintest hint of heat, growing under her fingers.
The captain worried about the hull temperature, how well the heat shielding was holding up. They would, he said, slingshot early, to avoid getting any closer.
A sudden flare of rockets swung the ship sideways, and slowly, so slowly, the porthole turned away from the demon. Watching is slide away, she shivered. Praying it would never return.
John listened to the fool in the bus seat in front of him and grinned.
“It’s highway robbery, I tell ya! What they expect me to pay just for keeping the lights on. I mean what do they think we are? Made of money?”
The man’s $1000 Rolex glittered as he waved his hands in the air, emphasizing his outrage.
Out of the corner of his eye John saw Ned, three rows forward, signal.
He reached into his jacket and checked the holster. Ned got up and walked forward to speak with the driver. John stood up, nodded to Lucy in the back of the bus. The drive was being smart, pulling over to the side of the highway.
John drew his gun. “Ladies and gentlemen, please remain calm and no one will get hurt!”
Lucy started going up the aisle with a bag. “Just drop your valuables in the bag and we’ll be out of your hair.”
John couldn’t help noticing the idiot with Rolex was clutching his watch. He leaned in and whispered to the man, “By the way, this is highway robbery. What your utility company is pulling is a monopoly. Which is way worse than what I’m doing to you now, you might want to write your congress man.”
“Holy, holy, holy.”
The ancient prayer rang out through the cathedral, nearly a thousand voices raised as one.
The sheer power of that much belief made the hair on Pal’s neck stand on end. He resisted the urge to shudder.
“Lord God almighty.”
All the sheep were focused on the alter and their shepherd. They took no notice of him, standing by a chalk circle in an alcove that should have been filled with a saint’s statue and candles.
“Heaven and earth are filled with Your glory.”
With each verse, the power grew. Taking a deep breath, Pal scraped his foot across the drawn circle, breaking it. The tiny crystal talisman in the center reacted immediately. It drank down the power, gathering in all the belief, the faith, the power, the sheep had gathered to offer, in hopes the shepherd would slaughter some other fools for It’s meal.
No longer clear crystal, the talisman darkened. It gorged on power and the power stained it a blue so dark it was black.
Pal ignored the rest of the prayer, absorbed in his casting. It finished as the last “Amen!” resounded through the ancient building.
Bending over, he scooped up the talisman. It was cool to the touch, but heavy. Weighed down with the prayers and hopes and fears of all the people who had filled it.
Pocketing his trophy, Pal quietly slipped out of the Cathedral. He knew a demon who would pay good money for a nice catch of faith.
As the moon rose over the trees she felt it like a blow.
The song, the call, smashed into her, slamming her the to the ground. She tried to resist it, tried to hold onto herself.
“Human, human, human, human…”
It became a chant under her breath, as the call twisted her insides and fur sprouted and retreated along her arms.
In the distance, she heard the first howl, rising in the darkness. Another joined it.
“Human, human, human…”
She pushed the sound of her brothers out of her mind, pushed away the call of the moon. Staggering to her feet she screamed, “I am HUMAN!”
Silence. The moon itself seemed to draw back. She breathed a small sigh, hopeful.
The change ripped through her, in one moment shifting and shaping her into her other-self. She rose slowly to shaking paws, and lifted her head. A long, mournful howl joined the re-surging chorus of the night.
Marie’s eyes narrowed as she saw Paul and a strange woman laughing and holding hands outside the movie theater. She stormed up to them and slapped him. Hard.
“What the hell!” Hand to his face, he growled at her, “Marie, what is your fucking problem.”
“Fuck you,” she said, “Fuck you and the horse you rode in on. My sister is marrying you next week and you have the fucking balls to be out at the movies making kissy noises with someone else?”
The woman beside him suddenly started laughing. After a moment, Paul joined her.
“What’s so funny,” Marie demanded.
“Ah…” Paul’s laughing trailed off, “You know, I was sure this was gonna bite me in the ass, but I’m not allowed to tell you.” He shrugged a bit uncomfortably, “Call your sister and she’ll explain.”
And they just started walking off. Marie stared after them in shock.
After a moment she pulled out her cellphone, speed dialed her sister, “Sis, I’m really, really sorry, but I gotta tell you. I think you need to call of the wedding. Paul is cheating on you… Yeah, yeah I’m sure. I saw him coming out of the movie theater making kissy face with some stranger… you mean you knew about her?… I… yeah, I guess we can talk later… I interupted your DATE- but Paul was just… your boyfriend… BUT YOU’RE GETTING MARRIED!”
Drip. Drip. Rain plinked onto Harsa’s nose. Fighting a sneeze, she huddled against the tree trunk. She was supposed to be one of the outer scouts, keeping watch for the enemy vanguard. She was convinced that the Scolia’s would have to be crazier then General Moutenbak to try anything during the rainy season.
This was war.
1% howling terror. 99% utter boredom. She hadn’t believed it when she first heard it. She did now.
She sneezed. The next drip fell right into her mouth. Sputtering and coughing, she clung to her branch.
Shadows were his friends. They wrapped around him and hid him from the world. They protected him from the revealing light. Sometimes, when the lights were all gone, they would come loose from the walls and furniture and people to play with him.
He liked his shadow friends.
Over the years, he spent more and more time lost within the shadows. So much time, that the shadows became part of him. He giggled when he realized that even standing in sunlight, his body was striped with bits and pieces of shadow. The shadow grew and grew, it covered his body, a pale film at first. Then one day he found he could no longer leave the shadows.
His friends had found a way for him to stay with them forever. The shadow filled him, until he was nothing of flesh and blood, but all and only shadow. And then he disappeared.
John grimaced down into his tankard. Small beer was not his drink of choice at the best of times. Which tonight was not.
The door to the bar burst open and Wallace strode in. His white cotton shirt was crisp and pristine. Polished leather boots reflected the lamp light so strongly they looked whie. at his side was a rapier, the badge of a mster swordsman.
John hunched down in his seat and tried to turn invisible. Not that it did any good. Wallace straddled the bench and sat down next to him, signalling the barkeep for a drink.
“”That was a fine match today, Johnny-boy, a fine match.”
“Ah, thank you sir.” John muttered.
“Yes, you are finally showing some improvement. Your dad would be proud.” A barmaid plopped a tankard in front of Walace.
John finished off his tankard and pushed it away. He tried to come up with some excuse that wouldn’t offend the older man.
“Sword second. Yup, reallu proud your father would be. Bettings heavy on whether or not you’ll pass the Master’s test tomorrow.”
John swallowed. Hard. Beer didn’t taste very good the second time around. “Ah… I suppose I should get some rest, sir. Early day tomorrow.”
“Yes inddeed,” Wallace’s voice followed John out of the tavern, “Yes indeed, and I’ll be there for every minute of it, Johnny-boy.”
The aging satellite had circled the small green and white planet for millennium. It observed the rise of a dominant species, evolving for primitives bands to stone cities. The domestication of animals, the beginning of organized war.
Its masters, presumably, received the reports it beamed back, but no response ever came. It circled on, becoming erratic and unreliable. Micro pitting damaged its processors, batteries ran down and, as the solar cells lost alignment did not recharge.
More years passed, the civilization below continued to evolve. Finally the satellite stopped working entirely. It floated in space, an unusable collection of circuits and metal. Without rockets to stabilize its flight, its orbit degraded—a long, slow fall to the planet below.
Berchad was plowing his field, getting ready to plant the mage-touched rhubarb seeds. He ignored the flash of fire high above. The High Mage and Regus-the-Bastard had been fighting for a week already. He figured they’d still be going at it come harvest time.
If he’d looked up, he might have had some warning of the pile of molten metal which was about to crash into his just-planted turnips.
Jason locked his magnetic boots to the surface of the asteroid and double-checked all his systems. All tell-tales were green, and he was good to go. He adjusted to the rocks spin – like hanging on to a carnival spin ride – nearly instinctively. Most rocks small enough to chunk up had a nasty spin on them.
This one was a beauty – ten meters wide, fifteen long, with a nice metal-silica mix that the local smelter would pay plenty for. Giving one last triple check, Jason activated his laser and began cutting through the rock. Each chunk that came off had to be lassoed with a magnetic restraint to keep it from heading off with what the big heads called ‘anomalous delta-v’ – geek-speak for flying off in the wrong direction. And of course with each chuck he cut off the rock, the spin got crazier.
He got half way through chunking the rock before his space boat pinged him with a warning buzz, “Bleeding Jupiter!” One of the damn corp ships was headed his way.
Jason went through the steps – it’d be a least a few hours before the corp ship match velocities with what was left of the rock, but clear
Sometimes the most important things are small. Like the spark that lights a wildfire, the world is rewritten by the smallest chance.
“John, come take a look at this,” Sarah called from across the room. I took off my VR headset and leaned over to see her workstation without standing up. Rows of blotches on a dark background covered the screen.
“DNA from some of the stiffs?” She was frowning at the image and jabbing at keys.
“Do you have to call them that?”
Honestly, I wasn’t paying much attention. She’d interrupted my game. “So what’s the big deal?”
“Get off your butt and see for yourself. And stop calling them stiffs.”
I sighed and humored her. “Why not, they ar– What they hell?”
If you don’t know DNA, you wouldn’t have seen anything. Just blobs like some freaky modern art piece. Unfortunately, I knew DNA. I ran my finger down the screen, mostly to give myself something to focus on. “No way. No way this comes from the stiffs.”
She hit me. “Its logged. The samples are good, no contamination, clear chain of custody. These are the DOAs brought in this morning.”
“Look, Sarah, we’re supposed to be looking for what killed them, make sure it isn’t a new ebola or what not, maybe a virus got mixed in?”
She shook her head, and tapped her nail on the damning stat from sample 6. “A virus with 10,000 base pairs more than human DNA? This isn’t contamination, John.”
I stared at her, she couldn’t be saying…. “It has to be contamination, otherwise this stiff–”
Ah fuck. I knew, right then, I was screwed. The WereKing was so going to blame me for this.
Council meetings were usually reasonably predictable. After ten years without a new counselor, the alliances and interest groups were firmly set. Lord Randall often found the whole thing tedious, with each faction arguing for their own best interest while insulting the intelligence, loyalty and sanity of every other faction.
Something was different today. Something in the body language of Garret and Losia. In opposite factions, they tended to be slightly more moderate than they’re allies, but-
Distracted by his thoughts, Randall missed the end of the discussion. Garret rose to present his proposal. A controversial plan that would solve several problems at once, at the cost of every factions pet projects. Randall considered the chance of it passing non-existent.
To everyone’s surprise, Losia seconded the proposal, and three other moderate members of the council immediately added their support.
The alliances, it seemed, were shifting.
Moving through the warehouse of fabric, Elseric repeatedly found himself swallowing sneezes. He had moments of thinking that the gang had set up their base here for just that purpose – improvised alarm. But they really weren’t that smart.
As he crept deeper into the stacks and pallets he heard chanting from half a dozen voices. Trusting that they were making enough noise to cover any little slip he made, Elseric moved a bit faster, trying to get a good vantage point to see what was going on.
Eventually he found a spot where he could see part of the group – three lizards dancing in place while they chanted in some melodic language that puffed Elseric’s feathers.
Triggering his headset he whispered, “Found them. Ceremony in progress. Move. Now.”
A scrape of scale on concrete was his first hint of trouble. By the time he turned around the lizard was towering over him. ‘Better get here fast, boys,’ he thought.
“Well that’s torn it,” Marisa thought as she vaulted the steeply pitched roof and skidded down the other side. She caught her balance on the rain catch and took off running. A twenty foot dash and she was able to leap the gap to the next roof. She landed hard, but sprang to her feet and kept going. This roof was flatter, easier to move across.
Behind her, the dogs of the watch belled as the followed her scent. Thankfully, it was night. The watch couldn’t call out the falcons from their mews – the birds wouldn’t fly in the dark.
So focused on listening to the dogs, she didn’t watch her footing. She slipped, and skidded down the roof and off. Her scrablbling fingers grabbed for the drain – and missed.’
She bit her lip against a scream as she headed for the ground four floors below. Suddenly something grabbed her pants.
Looking up, she saw that a jagged bit of metal had ripped aware from the drain pipe and her pants leg had caught on it. Relief and fear twisted together and she prayed. If she was lucky, she would be able to pull herself back up to the roof.
The metal bit ripped through her pants, dropping her another few inches. Better hurry, before she rant out of time and the pants tore through completely.
Planting time, Ravle dug in the dirt with the work song ringing around her. The yams going into the ground would be harvested in the cold and feed the people through the long dark.
The dirt was moist and warm under her hands, full of life and future promise. Her hands knew the work. She could enjoy the warmth and the song while they repeat the motions of a hundred spring times.
“This will be my last planting,” she thought, feeling stiffness in old bones, “And my daughter may harvest for me.”
But the yams would be there. Growing in the dark earth. Harvested and stored. Eaten through the winter. And next spring, the cycle would begin again.
There was peace in that.
The yams were rough beneath her hands. The sun warm on her back. Her soft voice joined the song her mother had taught her.
It was good