Short Story: Bittersweet Escape

Follows after Death Masquerading as a Fixture.

Genre: angst

~Bittersweet Escape~

For two years, they prepared their escape from their prison. Without giving themselves away, they slipped a sleeping drug into the meal that knocked out all their kidnappers, allowing the captives to run to freedom.

But some of their captors woke earlier than expected. Most of the victims had escaped by then, but the ones still inside found themselves under a rain of bullets. The lucky ones were those who died.

They had two years to prepare, which meant they had a plan for that too. Rather than subject those left behind to the cruelty of their scorned captors, it was better to go out with a bang.

Those on the other side couldn’t even stop to look back as their prison collapsed in an explosion. They weren’t completely out of the woods yet, and they focused on their survival, running with fear mixed with hope.

But the escape attempt was the brainchild of three people, and while two of them were free, the third had stayed behind as the rear guard to trigger their backup plan if needed. For them, their escape was bittersweet.

~End~

September post count: 12/12

Short Story: A Sky Worth Staying For

Features the siblings from The Sky and Its Shadow.

~A Sky Worth Staying For~

Today was a good day.

She had a new camera, a wonderfully pleasant weather, and a sky with a gorgeous cloudscape.

It didn’t matter that she already had folders and folders of cloud photos. It didn’t matter that her train was coming in five minutes. It didn’t matter that she was supposed to grab lunch on the way to the station.

Imagination could do many things, but there were always gaps and blind spots. Before she saw it with her own eyes, she couldn’t have imagined how a rainbow could hide in a cloud, or how something made out of water could light the sky like a bonfire.

And with her new camera and its more advanced lens, she could immortalise even more details that she couldn’t before. She happily snapped away, capturing every angle as the changing light painted the cloudy sky in all kinds of hues.

“There you are.”

She startled as her brother appeared beside her. She was even more surprised to find that the late morning sky had darkened to twilight. Her brother reached over to scroll through her camera’s gallery, his eyebrows rising as the pictures she took revealed how long she had spent in the same spot.

“Good day?” he asked.

“The best!” She smiled, mind already racing to all the skies she can draw.

Her empty stomach wasn’t as happy, releasing a low growl. Her brother chuckled.

“Let’s go home.”

~End~

Genre: slice of life

September post count: 11/12

Short Story: Another Day

Another day begins with her and her baby brother curled in a bed larger than the old room they used to stay in before she decided that even the streets are safer than their house. She scans the room. Nothing looks out of place. The locks on the door are still secure, and so are the windows.

She waits until she hears people downstairs in the kitchen before she nudges her brother awake. She guides him to dress and wash up while he slowly blinks his sleep-sticky eyes open. By the time someone knocks on the door, they’re ready. She opens the locks and steps out into the corridor.

Today, it’s the oldest son at the door. He greets them with a grin. “Good morning, kiddos.”

Her baby brother giggles as he’s swept off his feet to settle on the older man’s shoulders, comfortable and trusting the way a real kid should be. She locks the door behind her and follows them down to the dining room.

Two months ago, she broke into this house, intending to steal some food and extra clothes, perhaps something small that she can easily pawn off for some extra cash. The owners caught her red-handed, but instead of sending her to the police, they kept her in the house. When they found out about her brother, they brought him in too.

She doesn’t know what the family of five wants. They haven’t asked for any payment yet, but when the time comes she’ll make sure she’s the one to pay it. Only one of them needs to know about the ugly side of life.

In the meantime, the family acts normal, so she plays along. She accepts only what they need, keeps her brother within sight at all times, hoards what she can just in case they need to escape.

The day passes. The moon rises in the sky. She checks the locks as her baby brother bounces on the bed. They curl together under the covers as her brother excitedly shares how he rode the neighbour’s dog like a horse and almost scared a squirrel into the bird bath.

She nods, pretending to be amused, when all she can feel is relief that they’ve survived another day.

~End~

Genre: general

September post count: 10/12

Short Story: Melancholy Day

Today she’s feeling melancholy.

There’s no trigger, no reason. It’s just one of those days when even the brightest sun feels like a waning nightlight running out of battery.

Old her would have stayed in bed, losing hours, sometimes even days, without even realising it.

New her has a new family who has spent years training her to look for them when all her thoughts and feelings are leaking out of her control. The her right now is just a shell, shuffling down the hallway with only one thought in mind: find someone, and they’ll take care of everything.

She finds her foster brother in his room, a cooling pad on his forehead as he sleeps off a fever. She moves forward and wriggles under the covers. His skin is hot and clammy, but she burrows into his side anyway.

That wakes the older male up with a sleepy grunt. He mumbles something neither of them understands, and she ignores it. She found someone. Her part is done.

Sinking back into a haze, she hears a dial tone, distant like it’s coming from the neighbour’s house.

“Yes, sweetheart?” her foster mother’s voice answers.

“Melancholy day,” he slurs.

“Alright, I’m coming back.”

The call ends soon after, and her foster brother falls asleep just as quickly. She matches her breathing to his faster than usual ones, and lets everything else drop away.

~End~

Genre: slice of life, family

September post count: 8/12

Short Story: Grey Autumn

It’s autumn. He knows this not because of the hue of the leaves, but because they fall like rain.

He may have survived the poison, but he has lost his colour vision. He can’t complain. Most people don’t survive at all, and the few who do are often left with even more debilitating issues like partial paralysis or the inability to form new memories.

Still, it’s a shame that he’ll no longer be able to enjoy his favourite fire-red avenues. He’ll need to change his favourite season. Lips curled in a wry smile, he turns away from the monochrome trees. He’s just about to cross the road when he catches a flash of green.

His head whips around, chasing the first spot of colour he’s seen in months. All his plans for the day drops from his mind as he breaks into a sprint.

~End~

Genre: general

September post count: 5/12

Short Story: Life and History

Their house was going to burn tonight.

It was only because of a coincidence that a neighbour of their friend’s niece overheard the plan while cleaning as a janitor. The invaders weren’t satisfied with taking over their town, they were going to wipe out their history too. A few hours wasn’t enough to save all their relics, only their lives.

But there were things more important than their lives. Her family had been archivist for generations. Keeping history alive was in her blood. While the others ran, she turned back and grabbed all the treasures she could carry. She hid them everyone she could. The hidden underground cellar, the ancient stone walls around the grounds sturdy enough to last until the end of time. As long as there was a space, it was good enough for her. Not everything would survive, but she would stay and burn with her home if that would let her save one more relic.

“What are you doing?” Hands tightened around her arms and threw her over a broad shoulder. She kicked and writhed, but her strength was not match for her father’s.

“Let me go. We can’t let them destroy our history,” she said, hoping words would work where brute force failed.

“They can destroy the physical reminders of our past, but as long as we live, so will our stories. Rather than stay and die, live and remember.”

She watched the house shrink as they ran, watched as the light of the sun gave way to a blaze that devoured the stars.

Her father never looked back once.

Tears streaming down her face, she made a vow. This wasn’t goodbye. She would return and restore her home to its rightful state. However long it took.

~End~

Genre: general

September post count: 4/12

Short Story: Her Fanciful Room

Her room is as big as a school assembly hall, filled with tall bookshelves arranged like a maze on the ground a level and a web of walkways on the top. Window seats dot the walls at different heights, soft and warm with cushions in contrast to the cold, hard ice that carpet the floor like an ice skate rink.

None of this is real. Her actual room barely fits a skinny bed, the only space she can afford with her meagre pay. But her fanciful room is her haven in this dreary world, and she builds upon it every night.

One day, she hopes to turn imagination to reality. Can she really do it? Maybe not, but in this place, no one can survive without hope, and an unattainable dream is better than nothing.

~End~

Genre: slice of life

Short Story: A Tangled Fight

He blames the incident on insufficient sleep.

As the top ranking student in the fighting academy, his battles aren’t restricted to the training grounds. There’s always someone who wants to ‘test his reflex’, ‘check his situational awareness’, or to ‘practice their sneak attack’.

It’s tiring and annoying, but he takes it as extra training to widen the gap in skill between them. So far, he hasn’t lost yet.

He has just stepped out of the showers, bare except for a towel around his waist when a first year jumps at him. That’s not a problem. They’re trained out of their self-consciousness of their nudity as part of the academy’s motto for their students to be ready for combat in any situation.

The problem is that the newbie has very long shoelaces and terrible knot tying skills. By accident or by design, the twin strings unravel after they exchange their first blows and wrap around both their ankles, locking them both together.

Grappling is also a combat style they practice in the academy. When they both hit the ground, he rolls out of instinct. But instead of seizing his attacker, he grabs… someone’s lumpy soap bar. Granted, it’s the same colour as the kid’s shirt, but he hasn’t grabbed the wrong thing in years. Hand eye coordination is another skill they hone here.

The momentary shock gives the newbie an opening to land a punch on his jaw. That shocks him back to the current threat. He rolls with the hit, and the tangled shoelaces pulls the first year with him. He uses his greater weight to pin the small boy to the ground until his bones creak and his mouth cries for mercy.

A stronger opponent would have kicked his butt before he could recover from his mistake.

That’s it. No more drama episode marathons at night.

~End~

Genre: general

Short Story: The Train

At the age of ten, she comes a cross a train on her way to school. She’s seen trains before, but usually at the station, or running along its tracks. This one is just sitting out in the open, like a huge sunbathing caterpillar, a sight so unusual that she decides to make a detour.

She doesn’t know this, but the train will resume its journey while she’s on board, and it will take her twenty years to find her way back home.

But right now, she’s ten and curious, so she climbs in through an open window without a single worry.

~End~

Genre: slice of life

Short Story: So Close Yet So Far

School holidays are for paintball and camping and all kinds of fun games.

Not in this heat.

Their clothes cling to them like a sticky heat pack, sapping their strength like a leaky faucet. And the worst part? Right beside them flows a clear spring, cold enough to cool the air around it.

Cold enough that when they try to dip their limbs in it feels like ice picks stabbing their skin.

So here they are, huddled by the river bank like floppy ragdolls in the sweltering heat, tantalizingly close to relief but unable to enjoy it.

Next summer, they are staying indoors.

~End~

Genre: slice of life

A/N: This happened to me years ago when I went camping. Some people and their dogs were happily soaking in a large river, and they must have skin of steel because me and my friends couldn’t even keep our fingers submerged in the ice cold water for a minute.