Short Story: The Definition of Insanity

Written in response to the Inktober prompt #12: Stuck.

~The Definition of Insanity~

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. She’s been stuck at the same question for an hour. Staring at it isn’t getting her an answer, so obviously she needs to try something different. A walk will definitely help.

She jumps to her feet.

A hand clamps down on her shoulder.

“Where are you going?” her brother asks, voice dangerously low.

“Err… kitchen?”

“What for?”

“Going to get a drink.”

He points to the half-drunk coffee she made fifteen minutes ago.

“A snack.”

He points to the cookie jar she brought up half an hour ago and the rice crackers she grabbed ten minutes before that.

“Toilet?”

“You just came back.”

“I… need to go again.”

Her brother shoots her an unimpressed stare. The pressure on her shoulder increases until she’s forced back into her seat. He pulls her exercise book closer to himself.

“Which question?”

She wanted to find the solution herself, but she also knows when to admit defeat. She taps the problem she’s been struggling with.

“Start with the recap notes in Chapter 7…”

~End~

Genre: slice of life, family

Inktober attempt:

Short Story: The Labyrinth to Freedom

Written in response to the Inktober prompt #10: Pick.

~The Labyrinth to Freedom~

Invisible to the eye, she floats above the labyrinth while a runner stands at the entrance, faced with two options. After a moment’s hesitation, he steps through the doorway and picks left.

The path leads him through a narrow corridor with hardly any room for him to dodge the spears that shoot through the walls. So the young man completely ignores them, counting on his speed to keep him out of reach. His feet slides as he turns sharply around the corner, and now his arms spin wildly as he tries not the trip on the oily marbles coating the floor. He almost slips over the edge to the spiked ditches the line both sides, but manages to reach the other end.

She follows his progress from the sky. It’s been years since anyone survived the maze. Maybe this human will finally break the dry spell!

Then she sees something that makes her blood boil.

The labyrinth is deadly, but she designed it so that those who overcome the trials hidden within the winding passages earns their freedom. Yet, instead of an exit, the runner meets a dead end. He punches the walls first in frustration, then resignation as the monster he just escaped catches up to him.

This will not do.

She descends in between the man and the beast and knocks the monster back with a wave of her right hand. With her left, she grabs the human by the arm and leaps up into the air.

For years, she has appointed wardens to manage her labyrinths. It’s time for her to pay them a visit.

~End~

Genre: fantasy

Inktober attempt:

Short Story: The Open Window

Written in response to the Inktober prompt #9: Pressure.

~The Open Window~

The violent slashes of the angry words stand out among the neat dot points of her son’s physics notes.

I CAN’T TAKE THIS ANY MORE!!!

She knows he’s stressed. Everyone in his year is under immense pressure to perform well at the national exams so that they can pursue the career they want. But just this afternoon he was laughing and sharing jokes over lunch. He had everything under control.

She thought he had everything under control.

The windows on the second floor of their house have safety features so that they can’t be open wide enough for a person to squeeze through. Someone has tinkered with the frame so that it swings wide like a gaping jaw.

Her heavy heartbeats and gasping breaths drown everything out as she crosses the empty room. Shaky hands brace her body against the pale green wall as she braces her mind for the horrifying sight she’s about to see. Her head pokes out and she looks down at the ground.

It’s clear. She doesn’t find her son’s broken body.

She sobs in relief as her knees buckle, but she’s not done yet. Where is her son? She can’t leave until she knows her son is safe.

“Mum?”

She follows the voice to the rooftop, where her son sits, with nothing but his own sense of balance to keep him in place instead of a splat on the ground. Terror sharpens her voice.

“Get in now!”

Her son climbs towards her. If he slips, there’s nothing she can do to stop his fall, but she also can’t not watch his every move, as if she can make his limbs stick to the tiles by sheer will.

Finally, he clambers over the windowsill. The moment his feet touch the floor, she wraps him tightly in her limbs until all the air rushes out of his lungs.

“I just needed some air,” he gasps.

She thinks there’s plenty of air inside, or even downstairs in the yard if he wants ‘fresh air’. Clearly, her son has inherited his father’s love for heights.

“If you really want to sit on the roof, get safety rigging first. No harness, no roof.”

Her son is silent at first, then he rests his arms carefully around her.

“Alright.”

~End~

Genre: slice of life, family

Inktober attempt:

Short Story: Wolf Watch

Written in response to the Inktober prompt #8: Watch.

~Wolf Watch~

Her role is to observe. Unless her wards or kingdom are in mortal danger, she’ll let their mortal lives flow uninterrupted. Under her watch, she has seen countless rulers – good, bad, incompetent – lead the country she birthed.

For most of those who have been under her care, a hands off approach has worked well, especially for those who do not like to be reminded of her existence. But every few generations, a child comes along who needs more direct intervention.

The current third prince is an active boy whose ability to get into trouble is far more developed than his ability to identify danger. The only way to keep him safe is to lock him up like a prisoner, but that’s not a life any inquisitive mind should live.

“Leave him to me,” she says to the prince’s stressed caretakers.

She takes the form of a wolf and walks alongside the boy. She still lets him explore what he wants – some lessons have to be learnt through personal experience – but in this form, she can nudge him away from danger much earlier.

At her request, her true identity is hidden from the prince. She wants to see, will the prince find out who she is before he no longer needs her?

~End~

Genre: fantasy

Inktober attempt:

Short Story: Her Fan, Her Weapon

Written in response to the Inktober prompt #7: Fan.

~Her Fan, Her Weapon~

Her fan is her weapon.

Among the flowing gowns and bright chandeliers, the purple and silver leaf hides her sharp smile, helping her blend in with the socialites around her.

In the shadows, the honed iron ribs slices as cleanly as any knife. In the restrictive dress favoured by the ladies of the land, it’s hard to fight, so she makes sure every strike counts.

Many have asked to touch her fan, a faux pass in her culture. All are rejected. They think that the fan is just a quaint decoration. She’ll keep it that way as long as she can.

~End~

Genre: general

Inktober attempt:

Short Story: The Little Candidate

Follows after The Little Applicant. Read this first for context.

Written in response to the Inktober prompt #6: Spirit.

~The Little Candidate~

She kept up with their gruelling training, followed the strict diet they created for their candidates, pushed herself until she puked or passed out or both, did everything they asked of her and more for the sake of a stronger body.

But there were some instincts that were hard to overwrite, and even a fiery spirit couldn’t completely stop her full body flinch in the face of a threat. After much deliberation, he called their smallest candidate to his office for a chat.

“I don’t think you should be a bodyguard,” he said bluntly.

She held his gaze, face deliberately blank, fists clenched so tightly her knuckles turned white. “I can be better.”

“I don’t doubt that.” In the short time she had spent with them, she’d bulked up considerably from the scrawny lass who first signed up for their program. “But that doesn’t mean this is the best path for your potential. I have a suggestion.”

He handed her an envelope.

“You want to be stronger so you can’t get hurt. With your size, you’ll always be at a physical disadvantage in a direct fight. But combat isn’t the only way to neutralize a threat. You can learn to sprint faster and longer than your attackers, dodge out of danger, slip out of restraints or unpick locks, just to name a few. I know a friend who can teach you all of this. Together with what you’ve already learnt with us, that’ll be enough to keep yourself safe. Thoughts?”

She ran her thumb over the envelope.

“I’ll think about it.”

~End~

Genre: slice of life

Inktober attempt:

Short Story: Deadly Target

Written in response to the Inktober prompt #5: Raven.

~Deadly Target~

Raven black hair, topaz yellow eyes, a crescent burn scar above the left elbow.

Target found.

He lined his sight to put the woman in his cross hairs. His fingers pressed on the trigger and he braced for the kickback as he fired.

The woman dropped without a sound.

Was that it? The unkillable lady with a bounty large enough for any successful hunter to retire for the next two generations, felled by a single shot?

He watched for a few minutes longer, finger on the trigger as he observed the unmoving chest. It was only after he was certain that she was dead that he released his breath. He shuffled back under the cover of the trees and rose out of his prone position.

“Not bad, but not good enough,” a voice said behind him.

He jumped and swung his rifle toward the threat. His weapon almost fell from frozen fingers when he saw the very woman he thought he just killed.

“Let’s make a deal. You don’t try to kill or harm me again for the rest of your life, and I’ll let you live. How does that sound?” she said, completely relaxed despite the gun pointed at her.

If she hadn’t spoken up, she could have easily killed him before he realized she was behind her. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, he was hopelessly outclassed.

“Alright,” he grunted.

She pulled out a small branding iron. With a flash of her golden eyes, the crescent head burned red hot.

“Give me your arm,” she said.

He bit back a yell as she pressed the heated iron above his elbow. When she pulled away, he had a matching mark to hers.

“If you ever attempt to kill or harm me, that mark will immediately take your life. Am I clear?”

“Yes ma’am.”

* * *

She watched as the sniper disappeared from sight. Only then did she allow herself to grimace as she dug his bullet out of her heart. Immortality had its perks, but the inability to feel pain wasn’t one of them.

Well, that was one new bounty hunter she didn’t need to worry about. She used to kill them in self-defence, but that didn’t stop others from coming, only increased the bounty on her head. This method still didn’t stop the attacks, but at least the larger organizations now ignored her in favour of other more deadly targets.

She stepped into the shadows and vanished.

~End~

Genre: fantasy

Inktober attempt:

Short Story: Knot So Bad

Follows after Knot a Problem.

Written in response to the Inktober prompt #4: Knot.

~Knot So Bad~

He has just finished an hour long boss battle when a timid knock draws his attention to his bedroom door. His sister leans against the wooden frame, fingers twisting in the folds of her skirt.

“Can you help me with something?” she asks.

He saves his game and swivels his chair around so he can face her properly. “Sure. What do you want me to do?”

Last time, he helped her sort out ten balls of tangled yarn.

Today, it’s the same request with a different batch of yarns, now also covered in hardening glue. How did this even happen?

“I have a solvent to dissolve the glue, but I’ll need the yarn to be already separated before I can completely wash it off. It’s one of those chicken and egg things, you know?” she says with a helpless shrug of her shoulders.

Flakes of dried glue hangs off his sister’s fingertips, evidence of her own attempts to pull the threads apart before coming to him for help.

He rolls up his sleeves. “Pick a spot and we’ll start from there.”

The thought of touching the sticky threads make his skin crawl, especially when the solvent turns the glue into a slimy goop, but once he actually digs in it’s not so bad. By the time the sun goes down, they have each colour laid out to dry before his sister rolls them back into balls.

“You don’t have to make anything for me,” he says, remembering the last time he helped out. His sister has finals coming up. He doesn’t want to distract her.

She buys him a new game instead.

~End~

Genre: family, slice of life

Inktober attempt:

Short Story: The Old Boat

Written in response to the Inktober prompt #3: Vessel.

~The Old Boat~

The boat might be large, but it’s also old. A faded sea-green hull covered by white scratch marks, musty carpets curling away from the yellowing walls, rusty hinges that leave doors permanently open or close, the list goes on.

But the rigging and motor are good and it’s within his budget, which is more than he can say for the other vessels he’s seen the past few months.

“I’ll take it.”

He doesn’t have the money for now, but he’ll earn more in the future to slowly fix up his new home, one problem at a time.

~End~

Genre: slice of life

Inktober attempt:

Short Story: Not All Heroes Wear Capes

Written in response to the Inktober prompt #2: Suit.

~Not All Heroes Wear Capes~

The suit was tailored to fit him like a second skin. That meant that when he had a growth spurt overnight, they had less than a day to figure out how to fix it before the recital that evening. There was a chance his instructor might accept his growth spurt as an acceptable reason for turning up improperly dressed, but she kicked two students out of rehearsals last week because they wore hoodies. He wasn’t willing to take the risk.

Letting out the hems wasn’t enough to cover the extra length his limbs now had. The fabric came from an older batch with a hue just different enough that the alteration would be obviously tacky. They tried to rent a piece, but his lanky body meant that anything at the right length was too loose for his body.

“I can take it in for you,” said the staff at the fifth suit rental they visited. “Give me an hour.”

They waited in the shop, staying near so that he was within reach whenever the staff needed extra measurements. He paced up and down the carpeted floor, nervous fingers tapping the notes he would perform in a few hours against his thighs.

One hour before he needed to be at the concert hall, the staff emerged with the suit. “Done. Let’s try it out.”

At a glance, the suit didn’t look any different, but after he put it on, the previously baggy material moulded to his body in pleasing lines. He clutched the staff’s fingers, flushed red from the intense sewing under fresh band aids.

“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

~End~

Genre: slice of life

Inktober attempt: