So I’m sure I’ve mentioned before my liking for word prompts before and, while I haven’t been very diligent about them lately, I often try to chain them together into a little mini story or what could become part of a greater piece, if developed further.
Anyways, I decided I would put together a collection of the ones I did last year (or at least as far back into last year as I could go). A lot of them don’t have titles so I named them after the primary character or what I thought was the salient part of each.
I also added a poll at the bottom so, if you’re reading these and you think any of them show promise, please add a vote for them.
He lay there, in the dark, not knowing why he had awakened. There was no sound, no movement; just an amorphous feeling of dread that originated in the pit of his stomach, then began a slow, crawling journey upward.
It lay upon him, a suffocating lead weight against his chest, holding him immobile. Breath came shallowly, his lungs unwilling or unable to expand beyond the narrow freedom they retained. Something shifted, a disturbance in the air somewhere nearby.
Jaeger was not particularly fluent in Russian but he could read the occasional signposts well enough to know that he was still heading in the right direction for Smolensk. He’d been on the road for a while, heading west after leaving Yelnya, and he was tired of it.
He could feel his bones aching with stiffness, especially the old wound at his hip. A break would be welcome, a chance to pause & stretch, to work the kinks from his body. But the sun had already begun its slow descent & he never liked to arrive somewhere after nightfall.
That was doubly true when a town had the sort of rumors swirling about it that Smolensk had. Even when it was those very rumors that served to draw him there. Three unexpected deaths, each a week to ten days apart. Always at night. Always the body found near water.
Jaeger looked at the gradually darkening sky once more and resolved to keep going, aches be damned. Once he reached the town, he’d see about finding a room for the night. Maybe even the chance of a soak to ease his body. Then he could start afresh in the morning.
If stories about the deaths had made it to Yelnya & beyond, then he should have no difficulty tracing whispers of them inside Smolensk itself. Once he had a better idea of the scenes, he could form an idea of what he would be dealing with. And arm himself accordingly.
Jaeger pushed on, making it through the town gates just before the last rays of the sun started to dip behind the taller buildings. The streets inside Smolensk were quiet, the town’s inhabitants already inside and no doubt preparing for their evenings.
A brief period of searching & he found a likely spot to spend the night. The swaying wooden sign above the door proclaimed it as the Jubilee Inn, bright red letters over a spray of painted fireworks. He pushed the door open & was met by a welcoming gust of warm air.
The common room inside was surprisingly empty, save for the innkeep & a single solitary old man hunched over at the end of the bar. But there were logs blazing merrily in the fireplace against the far wall and that was what he needed.
“Rooms?” Jaeger asked.
The wind whispered through the trees; light, but cold enough that it made Morrighan shiver. She wanted to draw the heavy hide coat tighter about herself but that would interfere with her aim and the growling of her stomach was more persuasive than the chill.
She took a deep breath, forcing down the pangs of hunger and directing her focus back to her target. It still stood about forty paces away, oblivious to her presence, calmly chewing at the vegetation.
Some species of deer; large enough that it could provide meat for the next few days, small enough that Morrighan could skin & dress it alone before the light was gone.
She let her aim trail down past the curling horns, looking for the sweet spot just behind & below the shoulder. She let it sit there for a moment, letting her breathing settle, then pulled the trigger.
“Now I want you to listen carefully here, Clayton.” the old man said, his voice a rumble as he pinned the star onto the new deputy’s vest. “Just having one of these things don’t make us heroes, you hear me?”
When the younger man didn’t reply, he continued. “It ain’t our job to go looking for trouble.” Sheriff Marsdon looked tired as he tried to explain. “These days, ain’t no shortage of badness coming here to Steelhallow. Alls we can do is put a stop to it best we can & maybe give some succor to those finds it first.”
Mags balanced on the edge of the rooftop, constantly aware of the empty air before her and the cobbled street far below. At some sixty or seventy feet distant, the few torches that lined the street were little better than candle flames.
She kept one hand resting on the gargoyle beside her, the stone monster almost comforting in its size and solidity. She’d chosen the spot before making her way up over the rooftops, thinking that the shadows it would provide would help hide her.
She needn’t have worried. The moon might have been full and bright earlier, but cloud cover had begun to move in when she’d started her ascent & now someone at the other end of the roof would be unable to see her, let alone anyone idly looking up from the street below.
“Secure the prisoner, please.” Two guards escorted the murderer to the chair, one pushing him down against the cold steel, the other locking the restraint cuffs into place at wrists and ankles. Satisfied, the lead guard turned to the observation room. “He’s ready.”
Bram had done his best to be patient but the past few days had seemed to drag on interminably, as if the world took some twisted amusement in making him wait. But now the night was here, the first new moon since his thirteenth birthday, and a promise was to be kept.
His uncle had told him stories of the troll market for years, ever since he had been old enough to understand the old man’s tales,. With each one had come a vow that one day Bram would see the market’s wonders for himself, once he was old enough.
As soon as dusk fell, the two of them left their home, & began making their way through the town streets, heading for Lindow’s Green. Bram had expected having to fight an urge to run ahead but, for once, his uncle set a brisk enough pace to keep him close.
Bram knew the Green as well as any other part of the town where they made their home. The short stone wall bordering the expanse of rich, fragrant grass, the imposing basalt archway that stood close to its center. But tonight, something was different.
There was the faintest shimmer to the air beneath the arch. It reminded him of the heat haze that would sometimes be seen in the hottest days of summer. Bram looked to his uncle for an explanation but the old man just smiled and waved him onward.
Herzog half-stood, half-leaned against the wall at one side of the theater. A sense of unreality made his fingers twitch almost as much as the nicotine craving. The audience had the glassy-eyed stare of people under some kind of spell.
He looked to the object of their attention. The man at the podium was still talking, still gesticulating. He’d been on stage just over an over by Herzog’s watch but his voice continued to roll over his rapt audience without pause.
He took another gulp of his rapidly cooling coffee, the styrofoam sticking to his dry lips. The hall was supposed to have a capacity of 500, but there was maybe half as many again crammed into the room, giving it a close, almost claustrophobic atmosphere.
Or maybe that was just the way it felt to Herzog. None of the audience, as far as he could see, were bothered in the slightest by the way they were packed in. They were swept up by whatever magic they were hearing coming from the podium.
Whatever it was, it just didn’t translate to him. ‘They want to believe,’ He thought. ‘They want to believe in something, in someone, so badly that the sheer want of it is making it happen.’ He looked at the podium again. ‘And he’s the recipient of it all.’
A ghost of a smile flitted across his face as an idea for a title occurred to him. He probably had enough for an article and, despite the fact that everyone was still hanging on every word, Herzog doubted there was going to be any great revelations to come.
He pushed himself off the wall and began threading his way through the crowd, ignoring the occasional mutter of protest.
Outside, the night air was refreshingly brisk after the closeness of the hall. Herzog checked his watch and began heading for the metro, thinking he could make it back to the diner across from his hotel before it closed for the night.
The puddles left in the rain-swept street reflected the various holographic displays of half a dozen storefronts. Zheng stepped through a spray of digital roses, ignoring the pre-recorded sales pitch that triggered as he got close enough, and pressed the entry plate.
They kept him outside for a moment, no doubt running the door-camera footage through facial recognition, then the usual range of imaging sweeps. There was a click as the magnetic lock released and the door swung inward with the slightest pressure.
Zheng entered, using his heel to kick the security door shut behind him. Despite the darkness inside, Zheng went straight to the counter, fingers probing deftly for the switch that opened the concealed door. A click & a panel slide aside to reveal the stairwell.
He followed the stairs up to another security door & tapped a ten-digit code into the keypad. The retina scanner played its beam of infrared light over him and he was admitted into the meeting room. Ilyin was already waiting for him, a decanter of spirits at his elbow.
Zheng removed the burgundy reinforced leather greatcoat that marked him as a member of the city militia & looked at his superior. As usual, the older man displayed a limited fashion sense, his clothing totally nondescript, seeming just another faceless bureaucrat.
18 months he’d worked under the aegis of the Committee for Internal Security, the last 6 reporting to Ilyin personally & he’d never seen the man look any more imposing than now. Strange to think that he could sign a death warrant for anyone in the Harbin megalopolis.
Ilyin gestured for Zheng to sit opposite & poured them both a short measure of the colorless liquid. He pushed one glass across the table & Zheng accepted it with a nod. “An unexpected kindness, Sir.” He said, breathing in the alcohol vapor. “Should I be worried?”
Ilyan grunted something non-commital, no expression on his typically placid mask of a face. He took a tiny sip from his own glass, set it aside, & lifted the slim data tablet that lay on the table in front of him. He tapped at it with short thick fingers, 3 sharp jabs.
Zheng felt the familiar sensation at his temples as his implant activated and began receiving. He closed his eyes and let it stream into his sensorium; images and information dancing behind his eyelids. He breathed sharply, surprised at the size of the data packet.
Even with the best neurotech Ilyan’s people could buy, it still took Zheng a moment to recover from the download. He took a gulp of his drink, the alcohol burn serving as a good distraction as the information began to methodically unpack itself.
“I need you to stay still now.” The voice was calm, compassionate, but brooked no argument. He felt a hand rest against his head, tilting it gently to one side, then the cool touch of metal against his neck. He heard the click, the sound of cloth parting.
As the nurse began to unwrap the bandages, he felt his heart rate spiking, anxiety flooding through him. He had lost his sense of time, cocooned within those gauze barriers and now they were being stripped away, letting the world flood back to him.
“Gather round, my dears. Let the fire warm you and hold back the dark for a time. Hear me, as I sing the tale of the walking man one last time, then let me take my journey into the night.”