Flash Fiction Faction: The Shriek Hunters

The prompt this week from Quill Shiv’s blog is a simple picture.

I think a photograph like this is both useful and tougher, as I hate to do the most obvious choice, and did try out a couple of other ideas. However, this is the one that grabbed me.

So, I hope you enjoy reading The Shriek Hunters! Comments and observations are all gratefully received.

Quill’s entry can be found here and the idea is to read everyone else’s and comment while leaving a link to your own effort, too. 

Bridge Pilings from Quill Shiv

The Red Breasted Shriek comes to the glade once every five years to lay its eggs. The rest of the time it lives in the mountains, very far from here. The creature is a beautiful sight, made more precious by its sheer rarity. Once its infants are grown and gone, a clever hunter can steal its nest. Few have the patience to wait that long.

My father and I started our long trek into the secret part of the forest where it is usually seen. The glade is silent and green as we reach it two force-marched days later and set up our small, unobtrusive camp. The more we blend in, the better. Hunting the nest is very dangerous. The Shriek won’t leave it until the last possible moment. When it’s done with it, there might not be much left, so we have to be fast. We gather supplies from the forest and make a sturdy, dry shelter from bushes and woven bark, and then we wait.

After a week of sitting in the bushes, letting the forest’s smell become one with our own stink, we spot it. A deep growl alerts us and then it lands with a smooth splash in the centre of the watery glade. It’s long and elegant, moving like a demented cat, but about the size of three of the baron’s bulls if you stacked the poor things on top of each other. Now we really wait.

Our muscles ache and right now I need to urinate, but there’s no more time to think of that. If it sees us, it will shred us to pieces. It’s fat with eggs, and its leathery wings flutter happily as it slides forwards into the puddle of water, nosing through the filth. Pale nostrils at the tip of its snout flare and close, and it nips with its narrow beak and yanks out one of the huge, slow moving forest crabs that live in the murk. We listen to it chomping, spiny crab legs splinter as it sucks out the meat.

My father presses a hand on my shoulder and gives the slightest nudge with his head. I follow the signal and see another Shriek circling above the glade, and now its shadow is passing over our Shriek. I have never seen two together. The creatures lives up to their name, our one rises up fast from its meal and hurls herself into the air, wings flapping, the most awful noise bursting from its blazing red throat and belly. I cover my ears and stare up as the two creatures fight. Father pulls me back as fire heats the air in the glade, the bigger invader swooping low over our heads. The two Shrieks tussle in the sky; we’re forced to back off from our hiding place as the tops of the bushes catch the fire.

Father drags me deeper into the shelter of the thick trees.  We burrow down, watching the fight play out. If we have to run away now, we’ll never get close to the nest again.

The fight lasts a while. It goes distant and quiet. I am almost asleep when father nudges me again. One of the Shrieks has returned. I think it’s ours, but it’s hard to be sure. It seems to have dispatched its rival and resumes rapidly gorging on the fat crabs. One of the crabs scuttled past me, deep into the forest, but there are surprisingly few escapees. The Shriek eats for a bit longer, then settles down in the mud for a nap. Father and I very carefully make our way back to our smouldering hiding place. The damp bushes didn’t burn for long.

I nestle down again, wrapping the old blanket around me, and father checks the supplies, and as it grows dark we gnaw on the tough Smoked Squirrel Jerky that mother prepared for emergencies. The Shriek still hasn’t noticed us, as night cloaks the glade its diamond-bright eyes are all that’s visible. Soon all I hear is the lap of water against the Shriek’s flank, and my father’s heavy breathing as he dozes, too. I sleep soundly.

The next morning I’m woken by a harsh vomiting sound. The Shriek is backed up like a cat, throwing up into the shallow pond water. The smell is indescribable; an unholy mix of rotten eggs, latrines and sour milk. I gag, covering my nose with the pine scented rags we’d brought just for this. It barely helps. Dad’s eyes are streaming, mine too, but we both want to see what the Shriek will produce.

The Shriek vomits up glutinous blobs that settle below its head in the water. It yaks up more and more, turning the remains of the crab and who knows what else it’s eaten into glistening, honey coloured gel. It seems to take a very long time. When its done, it blasts the shimmering mass with red hot flame and for the second year running I lose my eyebrows.

Dad is shaking as he pats my shoulder, and I know exactly why. He’s happy. This is the biggest nest we’ve ever seen. The Shriek has vomited up a prize taller than three men, an artifact of indescribable worth. I imagine my mother’s face when she sees it, sees the wealth we will gather once this beauty is sold at the Secret Market. I grin to myself. This is going to be a great year.

But we’re going to need a bigger sack…

Flash Fiction Faction: The Shriek Hunters

Flash Fiction Faction: The Loser

This week’s flash fiction faction entry, inspired by Quill Shiv’s wonderful weekly prompt (every Thursday) on her blog just over here. Do check out her entry and the others, too, listed in the comments section beneath.

Now. Made it! Last week was a bust, but this week, a story has come to me, and yet again, it’s begging to be turned into something longer. Think I’m storing these up as a sort of inner slush pile, to turn to in times of creative drought. Which leads me to the story below, totally planned, that. I hope you enjoy it, and any and all encouragement is gratefully received. A novel – or at least a collection – must emerge from 2012, but when it works (like now) this is fun all on its own!

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PROMPT: Truly the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. –Anonymous

The sun is unforgiving at this time of year. It drains the lakes, shrinks streams and kills crops. Inevitably, one at a time, the six villages of the Saluvian Valley come to beg the three sisters who live at the end of Oak Hump trail for their assistance.

Every year, the sisters make the clouds come and ease the suffering and death in the Valley.

But there is always a price.

My name is Cody, and this time I will pay. To live with them for one year is no hardship. After that, if I still live, I can go home. I try very hard not to think how young Geda looked after she returned just last week. I try very, very hard not to think at all.

They cackle triumphantly as they take me in, and while I wait, chained, in the back of their dingy hovel, I can hear their shrieking appeals to the weather gods to release the clouds. I lose track of time, but it seems to be only a short while before the drumbeat of rain hits their tin roof, and the endless impacting noise is sending the other trapped creatures hissing and fluttering against the bars of their cages.

Finally, the hags re-enter the hut, drenched through, their bones scrape starkly through blotched, naked skin, their wiry ash coloured hair is spread thinly across bad scalps. They surround me, and poke at me with clawed fingers. I could crush any of them with the slightest effort.

But, I have more sense than that.

“He’s got more fat on him than the last one,” the eldest, Makkala, noted as she takes the skin of my waist and pinches too hard, her evil yellow eyes glittering.

“He should last a good while.” the middle sister, Sanalla of the jealous green eyes, strands of ribbons in her knotted hair, chuckles and pulls at my upper arm and chest.

The third sister, named Doma, says nothing, but her blind eyes scare me the most, giving away nothing in their blank whiteness as she tugs on my backside and offers only a hollow ‘hah!’ noise from her toothless hole of a mouth.

“Not cringin’, boy?” Makkala sneers, and I shake my head. “Oh, you’re a brave one. Been a while since we had one of those. eh, sisters?”

I clench my fist but hold steady under their touch. I must not be weak. I remember the Innkeeper’s words. Do not show your fear.

“You’ll do,” Makkala pats me too hard on the side of the head, then says. “It might not be too hard on you, boy.”

But the three of them cackle anyway, and then hobble over to the stinking cauldron for plotting, brewing and eating.

They will starve me for a while, and then…and then…

I hope I do not end up serving them as a crow.

But my earlier hopes were similarly ignored.

Flash Fiction Faction: The Loser

Flash Fiction Faction: Aunt Edie’s Bunker

OK,  was not feeling it this Thursday. Didn’t really get around to listening to the prompt  on Quill Shiv’s blog, properly, which was silly of me, although I managed to listen to most of it. Thursday comes round quickly. Lesson learned. But another potential story is forming below.

The ‘Clouded’ entry from last week is available here.

Below is the youtube clip of Elgar music we used. I definitely visualised some of the images below right away, when I heard it:

Aunt Edie’s Bunker

We were having tea when the bombs started dropping. My Earl Grey rippled like the Atlantic on a wet Wednesday, and Aunt Edie said, “Off to the Bunker, Charles.” I picked up my book and my blanket, and she ushered me into the back garden. Rushed as we were, I caught a glimpse of long streams of smoke falling from the sky in the distance, and the fog had turned a deep, flickering orange above the surrounding low hedges.

The siren still hadn’t howled a warning, and there were bright lights on display in the houses nearby as I followed Auntie E into the back garden. She unhooked the lock and hatch of our shelter while I watched the family who lived beside Edie struggle into their own shelter. I forget their names. Their three children were shivering, big eyed, in loose white nightclothes. Their mum, only wearing underwear and thin wool robe, tightly clutched her crying baby against her breasts. Their dad, a big man in a thick jumper and undershorts, put down a big bag that rattled and tinged musically as he set it on the wet grass. He struggled with their bunker’s lock, I could hear muffled curses and the mother scolding him in a low voice.

The ground vibrated beneath my slippered feet . Edi got the hatch open just as I heard a shrill whistling noise, loud enough to be coming from inside my head, closing in from above. Without warning she shoved me forwards into the dark below. I fell badly, sliced my left leg on sharp edges of stairs, and lay at the bottom, winded and hurt.  The hatch banged shut above me and the darkness filled with pounding thunder. The bombs were landing. I clung to my knees and lay like that in the dark on a rough concrete floor, the earth above me roaring and thundering.

For a while I heard only the awful insect drone of planes. I was freezing when I finally realised the bombardment had passed. My skin was numb all over. It was still pitch black. I crawled up onto sore knees, cried out as my foot’s nerves screeched in agony. Leaning on my good leg, I felt around in the confined space for the matches I knew were stored down there. I found the staircase first and I climbed it painfully, my entire left side stiff and bruised from my landing. I pushed against the hatch, but it was securely locked, or maybe weighed down. It felt strange under my numb fingers. Warm. I pulled my hands away and scrambled downward again, and tried to decide what to do. After catching my breath, I located the matches and lit a candle.

The bunker was little improved now that I could see in there. It was so nasty that I think Edie always lived in denial of the situation. She had installed very few home comforts here, barring the old kettle from a dead relative that she’d put here ‘for being ugly’, and a little packet of her Earl Grey, of course, which she kept for ‘waiting it out’ down here. I started boiling it simply to warm up. I sniffled once I had more tea inside me, thawing out my mind and body. I wondered miserably how to escape from this cramped hole in the ground.

Part of me still believed that Edie was up there waiting. Then I remembered the whistling noise. I’d heard it before, but never so close. I sniffled some more, and after I’d finished the tea, I clambered back up the stairs to the hatch and pushed at it again. It was still warm. I couldn’t get it to shift, anyway. I stayed up there for several hours, occasionally pushing and hitting the door to my prison. It was too heavy, too securely fastened. I think I cried a lot, and shouted a lot. I nodded off again while I waited, and when I woke I groaned in pain.

There was water here, at least, and therefore I had nothing to do but make tea and feel sorry for myself. I sat on the little bed in the waning light and wondered what I should do next. I missed my book. It had bee a good one, about pirates and boats and hidden treasure, and I had dropped it when Edie had given me the shove. I kicked at the breezeblock wall for a bit with my good leg, becoming more bored than worried, listening to my own depressing thoughts and dozing off, dreaming of pirates. When I woke again I’d stiffened up so much  could barely move. I hopped up and leaned on a set of dark smudged bricks behind the candle. The heat scorched my arm. I jerked back and landed on the pile of unloved blankets. They were ‘ugly’ as well.

Once I’d recovered, I realised I’d shifted the blankets and to expose a heavy looking, gnarled old book with a broken spine. It contributed greatly to the general musty smell of the room, and when I picked it up it truly reeked of age. Its pages cracked as I opened it. I lifted its weight and dragged it over to the pool of candle light. Pulling one of the ugly blankets around my shoulders, I began to read.

Flash Fiction Faction: Aunt Edie’s Bunker

Flash Fiction Faction – new Thursday writing challenge

Quill Shiv,

Clouded

Five minutes on this baking hot alien world, and I was already jumpy. “Look out!” I yelled at the site worker as the huge burbling cloud launched itself from the lake.

“It’s nothing”, Sophia said. “It happens all the time here.” She had the soothing tone of someone explaining fire to a scared child.

I was not reassured. The growling lump of dirt from the depths of the river had surged up in the merest of minutes.  Its inner form crackled with barely contained energies while one of the site workers, a girl named Tali, wandered carelessly beneath its too-heavy to float form.

I physically stopped myself from yelling at her again, and said shakily. “What is it, then?”

Sophia was already walking away from the scene and I hurried to catch up with her as she spoke softly, “We think it’s leftover energy from the crashed spaceships. The Garrisons left a few broken AI’s wandering around and we think there’s one close by. It hasn’t done any damage with those balls of ash, though. Just roves them around for a while until it dissipates. It’s ruined some of the villager’s washing but that’s about it. We think it likes bright colours.”

“Oh.” I didn’t feel greatly reassured, “Aren’t you going to clear out the river bed?”

“The System’s Government has better things to spend money on. So tell me, Dr Brainyard, when are you going to track down this life source we’ve been warned about?”

“I…” I glanced over my shoulder. The revolving lump of ash was moving away from us, towards huts and the brightly coloured clothes that the villagers had set out to dry. I faced forward again, tripping slightly on a rock as I fell into step beside Sophia.

As she’d predicted, the cloud exploded over the bright colours, drenching them in ash. I felt bad for the villagers, no more than stick figures at this distance, coughing and spluttering in the dirt. Whatever that AI was up to, it had a petty nature. I knew how the villagers felt. One minute you’re perfectly happy that you’ve made great plans for the future and feel sure that everything is clean and someone comes and craps all over it.

Hence this mission and being stuck here on this planet while my little SNAFU at home gets straightened out. I’ve been sent out of sight, out of mind, to the ass-end of nowhere. Apparently I’m here to investigate the signs of life brought out by the recently crashed alien ship. I say sign because there’s definitely something living under this planet. Something big. But no one has the skills or technology here to do anything about it.

I walk along the stony path beside Sophia, and instead of wondering what I’ll find, I’m thinking what it would take to get her to share my tent.

As we approach the tunnel site, another great ball of ash hauls itself out of the water and wobbles in mid-air across to another cluster of huts and bright robes. If I were the villagers, I’d just give up. But humans aren’t usually that smart. Optimism is our race’s biggest flaw.

Well, that and curiosity. Sophia stops some metres from the edge of the tunnel, but I walk right up to it and take a great deep inhale. Interesting.

“What do you make of it?” She calls.

I think for a second. Best not to alarm them all just yet. Not yet. I reply, “Get some men to barricade this. We’re going to keep this under wraps.”

“OK.”

She runs off to the village before I respond. When she’s gone I hunker down onto my belly and sniff the air coming out of the tunnel. It’s a special kind of smell. One I’ve come across before.

Last time I sniffed something like this, everyone else died.

*****

This is my entry in another flash fiction prompt challenge. I enjoy these as warmups for the brain, they provide a safe place to practice in. Who knows, there may even be a book or two lurking in these rapidly typed, quite carefully proofread words. Or, I’ll let your own imaginations work out what happens next. This time the prompt is from Quill Shiv’s wordpress site.

Quill Shiv’s entry is here

Just to clarify, the terms and conditions, and the original link to the prompt, are all below:

http://quillshiv.wordpress.com/2012/03/04/342012-flash-fiction-faction-prompt/

  • The flash fiction prompts will go live each Sunday.
  • They will be due each week on Thursday, beginning March 8, 2012.
  • The prompts will vary week to week. Some will be photos, others a word, a phrase, a sentence (that you may incorporate or draw inspiration from,) a scenario, etc. We will shake it up!
  • The pieces should fit within the definition of Flash Fiction: between 101 words and 1000. 1000 words is the UPPER limit. You do not at all have to strive for this limit.
  • I will post my Flash Fiction piece under the heading Flash Fiction Faction.
  • Leave a comment and link to your Flash piece in the comments section of my piece, not the prompt (though I will transfer as many of the erroneously posted ones as I catch.)
  • Please, everyone, do your best to read and comment on everyone’s work. Leave your link wherever you go.
  • Tweet! #FlashFictionFaction and others. Promote your work. You worked hard to create these pieces, they deserve to be read.
  • And have a great time creating in whatever genre you choose.
Flash Fiction Faction – new Thursday writing challenge