Wrote most of this on Thursday but didn’t get around to editing it down until today. I think it might be slightly over the 100-1,000 word limit, but see if the extra words are worth it!
Quill Shiv’s entry on her site is here. I’ll be spending this weekend cathcing up on everyone else’s work! The prompt she set is just below, music this time, and I hope I captured some of what it inspired in me.
Other flash fiction entries are on here. Or please click on the link above.
Elayne’s fingers were sticky as she sucked the last of the blue juice from her skin and threw the drained croom-fruit into the river. Clustered crocodiles watched her from the banks, their cunning eyes impassive at her excitement. She rolled back onto the cushion and savoured the sweet spread of ecstasy already taking hold, the bud of joy building in her stomach, filling her chest and her head, pushing aside all the jagged cares and upsets. Worry was soon a distant memory. She floated. She was a bubble of water filled by sunlight and the universe was suffused with a purplish light, throbbing with hypnotic pulses clustering inside her clammy heat. She stretched her full length in the cushioned punt, her body rising lighter and higher. After an era of drifting she stretched her hand up and saw a face loom above her. It glowed like the sun and had a red arrow in its skull.
For a moment she thought it was God, and began laughing, until he struck her sharply around the face. The shock didn’t clear her head, but the buzz became jagged, her eyes filled with tears. No gods here.
“Hamble’s girl?” Elayne was pulled to her feet. She groaned, he shook her. “Elayne?”
She could only manage a gracious smile in response, because her tongue was currently speaking to the crocodiles, who were telling her their secrets in return. She laughed a little. Another slap to her cheek. Distantly, she pushed the man away, wobbling on the shallow boat.
“She’s out of it..she’s a dribble-head.” The big man shook her. Elayne heard muffled speech from far away. The big man said, “You know her?” There was someone behind him.
“Yeah, that’s Elayne. She was Hamble’s girl. Her dad’s the mayor, remember? She used to hide at the back of the house during Summervast parties. She’s grown up now, though. Hamble had a picture of her.” The voice was older and briefly she saw shards of blood rise upward in the purpling sky. Colour bloomed around the name.
Come back to me.
The memory of him jarred her more awake, and she stumbled reluctantly from her stupor. Hamble had not approved of the fruit’s delicious properties, not until she’d trickled juice into her mouth as they made love, shared the taste with him, and the experience had changed him forever. They’d rocked together in bliss for hours, wanting nothing and no one else.
They spent many nights like that until the Kalmarian battlefields decided they wanted Hamble’s blood. He had followed the call to war months ago. He had been part of a charge that was cut down by enemy guns. And that had been that.
She recognised the two men now, half remembered them both from the parties and social events her father hosted, and she wasn’t past caring what they’d do to her if they decided they could get away with it. Her father would ask too many questions if she arrived home like this. For a start, he thought she was doing needlework with her sister.
“Don’t take me home,” Elayne found her voice as they bundled her into their larger craft; she leaned against ragged sacking peopled by beer and guns. She noticed the lazy crocodiles had shifted away, sensing bigger predators were in their river. She suddenly hated the beasts for their practical cowardice. She said, “Take me to the Temple, I can find my way back later.”
“No we’re dropping you at your father’s. I can’t believe you’re taking that stuff, and the Mayor’s daughter, too.” the larger man, Sol, said angrily.
“And where did you get it?” The smaller, wirier man sneered. She thought he was called Jal or Jak or something. She hadn’t seen him around much before, but also recognised him from her father’s parties.
“Just take me to the Temple,” she said. Her tongue was hurting now, she’d come off the high too soon and now her cheeks stung hotly from Sol’s slaps.
“No, we’re taking you home. Your dad’ll be pleased to know we’ve found you.” Sol chuckled to himself. “Yeah, he’ll be thrilled we’ve turned you in.”
Elly said, “My dad won’t be pleased to hear you hit me. You think he wants to hear about this from you? He’ll send you off with an arrow in your backside.”
“You could have been tripping for hours and been eaten by crocs. Murdered. Drowned. He’ll be glad we got you back.” Sol seemed certain.
“Don’t count on it, Sol. You’re just another village boy.” Elly said.
Sol raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, I am. This should get his attention, though. You’ll go home, sleep it off, and stop taking that stuff.”
“Have you ever tried it?” she asked.
He laughed. “I’m not eating that crap. It’ll burn out my brain, like with yours.”
“It hasn’t done me any harm,” she pulled herself up. “You sure you never want to try any?”
Sol lunged at her. The little guy got between them, “Now hold on, you really never tried it?”
“You’ve tried it, Jakki?” Sol’s skin flushed. His imagination was getting pushed to its limits, she thought.
“In our unit, yeah. How else do you get through your first tour, right? You’ll find out when you go next year.” Jakki sniggered. She saw that the man was a little older than she’d thought. His eyes were quick, feral. Dangerous.
“Then you’re as bad as her.” Sol shoved Jakki aside.
Jakki said, “Look, I agree we should drop her with her dad. Unless you had another kind of party in mind?”
“She’s the Mayor’s daughter.” Sold said. He was afraid, she noticed that. She kissed his fear.
But then he looked at her and licked his lips, and Elayne shuddered.
Crocodile shapes crawled past her eyes. Grinning. Cunning. An idea struck.
“I know where to find more croomes. You could sell them, you know they’re valuable. I’ll show you in return for your silence, and taking me to the Temple.” She gauged their reactions. Some hope lifted at their thoughtful glares.
“You know where to get it?” Jakki raised his eyebrows.
Elayne leaned forward with a grin. “I can show you the croome tree itself.”
“Just tell us where it is, girl,” Jakki said, his eyes darting eagerly.
“Then you let me go to the Temple.”
“You tell us first.” Sol said.
“No.” She grimaced as Sol went to slap her again. She wriggled back on the sacking, dislodging their guns and sending beer gourds rolling and spilling yellow liquid.
“No.” Elayne shrugged. “Then just take me home to father. You’ll never know, then. You’ll never earn all that money.”
Sol glanced from her to Jakki, and he clenched his meaty fists and said. “How much money can we make?”
Jakki patted him on the shoulder. “Lots. Enough to buy our way to another moon if we want. Now say you’ll try it so we can go and find it.”
“Swear to the goddess you’ll take me home.” Elayne said.
Sol winced. No one was stupid enough to break a promise made in Her name. Elayne waited expectantly.
Finally he said. “You show us, and then we take you to the Temple. You’re coming with us.”
She swallowed back her fear at that proposal. But perhaps the crocodiles wanted her to see their fate. Stiffly, Elayne nodded. “You promise you’ll take me back to the Temple once I’ve shown you?”
Sol growled, “Yeah, I promise. In the name of Our Honored Lady Seceta, I promise, that when we have the fruit I will take you to the temple.”
“Good man,” Jakki thwacked him affectionately on the shoulder and beamed at Elayne. “Good girl. Now, where do we go?”
Elayne pulled herself to her feet. She said sweetly. “It’s easy. We follow the river until we reach the Mouth of the Gorgon. The croome trees are a few miles up there.”
“The Mouth of the Gorgon?” Sol started swearing at her. “You mad bitch.”
Jakki laughed, and Elayne didn’t like the sound of it. “That’s priceless. OK, Mayor’s daughter, Hamble’s girl, you think we can get there and back by the morning?”
Elayne felt a twinge of fear, but nodded. She hadn’t been out there to pick up any fresh fruit since Hamble’s death and her private stocks were dwindling. Perhaps these two could replenish the supply. If they all made it back. She rubbed the sore mark on her face where Sol had hit her. She shivered under Jakki’s wandering eyes. Yes, it‘s possible that this trip would solve a lot of problems. She smiled at them both.
“Of course we can.”
She didn’t want to prepare them too well, and so didn’t ask if they knew the truth about the Mouth and the inhabitants of the Gorgon’s river. Would she be spared this time? She pondered that question as the boat chugged upriver.