Flash Fiction Response: From the Heart

This is in response to Susan’s LOVE GONE WRONG flash fiction prompt, and it is bang-on 500 words! “From the Heart” is a steampunk romance for your enjoyment:

I stared at the present my love had given me. I always knew he was unique but this…

“You do not like it?”

I did my best not to cringe – I had forgotten he could now read my thoughts. When I created the formula, I thought it a romantic idea for a St Valentine’s Day present. Now it was now simply an invasion of privacy.

“It is a symbolic gesture,” I gave my answer politically. “And I do appreciate the symbolism. However, the reality is… a little unpalatable.”

He smiled and closed the box. “Then you do not need to open it again. You now know the depths of my commit to our love.”

“Very deep indeed, if you had to break open your ribcage.” I eyed his chest carefully, looking for scars, but his unnatural healing ability must have already knitted over the wound.

He laughed, actually laughed at me. “I did not need to break any ribs. The way to a man’s heart is up and under his ribcage.”

My fingers reached out and instinctively traced his stomach, before trailing up to where his heart should be beating.

“How are you still alive?”

“That is a very good question, my dear apprentice.” He took my hand in his and brought it to his lips.

“I am serious.”

“Then you should propose a hypothesis.”

My brows furrowed as I sorted the facts from the bias. “Well, since you performed the surgery without my knowledge I expect you operated on yourself – you would not trust anyone else with such a task. The obvious conclusion to draw is that you rigged yourself to a machine that could pump blood consistently while you removed the heart. Something that harnesses perpetual motion, or clockwork? Obviously you are not connected to this machine now, so I expect you have since replaced your heart with some smaller device that could maintain the flow of blood without the act of pumping, which is why I felt no heartbeat.”

He raised an eyebrow in mock surprise. “Well done.”

“I trust you had the foresight to fashion this new invention out of rubber?”

“Some of it had to be, but it is most copper. It could not possibly work otherwise.” He smiled until he caught my expression.

“With all that metal in your chest, what will happen the next time you are caught out in a thunderstorm? You will not only burn your feet and your hands, but your lungs too.”

My love considered this briefly. “You are right. Burned internal tissue is particularly difficult to treat, and for a vital organ such as the lungs it would be… hmm… I will have to find a way to replace my lungs with rubber balloons. Oh, it will be tricky though, yes, to ensure the oxygen gets to the blood. How shall we go about this new project?”

“Just put your heart back in your body please. And next year? Flowers or perfume, darling. No more nonsense with hearts.”

Author’s note: I first read the phrase “The way to a man’th heart ith up and under hith ribcage” in a Terry Pratchett book (spoken by Igor, I remember that).  I have since seen the phrase elsewhere in various forms on the internet. It is not an original phrase by me, and I expect Terry Pratchett was the first person to popularise it, if not the the first person to think of it. So credit where credit’s due.

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Mini Story: Don’t Take Anything Lying Down

The air-conditioning was too cold, and I was still sweating. My knees couldn’t be still; if it wasn’t the left then it was the right, bouncing up and down to the point where the person next to me shifted away out of fear of being hit. I forced my eyes onto the cover letter I held in my hand, reviewing and revising and committing it all to memory. I was as prepared as I could be. Now it just needed to be over.

“Thomas Lane.”

The bloke next to me rose and I was the only person left in the waiting room. Even the receptionist had gone home. Why was this taking so long? My interview was for four-thirty, and it was a quarter past five.

Again, I bowed my head and read over my letter, my recommendations, and my resume. The printed sheets were just words now, no longer making any sense to me. I was too wound-up. I’d been so sure these words were the best they could be, and now I wasn’t sure of anything.

Finally, Thomas Lane walked out of the interview room, ignored me, and pressed the button for the lift. I waited. The lift came and carried Thomas Lane away. I waited some more. When a man in a suit walked out I raised my head expectantly, but he gave a start when he saw me.

“Oh shit, we’ve got another one!” He waved his hand over his mouth as if he hadn’t meant to speak so loudly, or perhaps at all. He suddenly turned tail and reclosed the interview room door behind him. I waited.

After another minute, he re-entered the waiting room and gave an apologetic grimace.

“Look, I’m sorry about this but it seems we’ve run well over time and, well, I think we’ve already made our decision.”

Who decided that this insecure person should be conducting the interviews? I’d caught the informal ‘look’ the hesitant ‘well’ and the jarring ‘I think we’ve’.

“Excuse me,” I said clearly. “How can you think you’ve made a decision? You’ve either made it or you haven’t. If you are hesitant about it, then you have not made a decision.”

He blinked, but quickly recovered. I wondered if the insecurity was an act. “No, we have made a decision. Thank you for coming in.”

“No.”

“No?”

“No.” I walked up to him, shaking with rage, and he thankfully backed away into the interview room, where another person was placing files in their bag.

“I came here on time for an interview. I deserve a fair go.”

I handed him and the remaindering person copies of my documents, and sat down at the small conference table.

He sighed as he flicked through my resume. “Alright, let’s make this quick.”

I smiled. “You won’t be disappointed.”

Flash Fiction: Striving to Relax

Relax. Empty your mind…

What’s an empty mind meant to look like? The darkness of space, or a blinding white light?

Breathe deep. Concentrate on your breathing…

But breathing is the most natural thing you can’t concentrate on it thinking about it doesn’t help it just… crap! I forgot how to breathe! I can’t breathe!

Okay, don’t concentrate on your breathing. Ignore your breathing.

Relaxing is painful!

Alright, imagine a peaceful place… a deep blue lake-

Am I in the lake?

You’re not in the lake – you’re imagining the lake.

So… I’m on the bank of the lake? Is it muddy or sandy? Are my feet meant to be in the water?

You’re further up the bank on a grassy slope, watching the sunlight twinkle across the surface of the water.

Twinkle? Stars twinkle. Sunlight reflects much stronger than that. I wouldn’t be looking at it, it’d burn my eyes.

Forget the lake. Lie back in the grass and look up at the clear blue sky. No, you’re not looking into the sun!

I hate lying on the grass. There’s always prickles or ants.

There are no prickles or ants.

That’s unrealistic. I can’t believe that.

You scrutinised the place you are sitting before you sat down – there are no prickles or ants!

But ants can move…

.

I give up and open my eyes, before turning the ‘soothing sounds’ music off and uncrossing my legs. Wincing a little, I stretch out one leg, sigh with disappointment, and rest my cheek on my other knee. Finally, I rise up and open the door.

“How did the meditation go?”

“Not well. But on the plus side, I was able to brainstorm for a new flash fiction.”

My new adult urban fantasy is currently free when you download it from Smashwords!

Flash Fiction: Delusional Dialogue

“It’s like my skin is covered in little ants.”

“That’s prickly heat. You haven’t drunk enough water and now you’re overheating.”

“What? I’m not a computer.”

“Go have a shower, drink half a litre of water and then eat some sugar. If you haven’t developed a migraine after that, you’re good.”

“How can you live like this? You don’t even have air conditioning!”

“This isn’t that hot. The fact that you’ve managed to experience heat stress is more to do with you than the heat.”

“This isn’t that hot? I’m sweating in places I didn’t know I could sweat! It’s like every part of my body is an armpit.”

“So go have that shower.”

“Ugh. I think there’s a bug running behind my knees but it turns out its sweat tricking down! How can the backs of knees sweat?”

“Naturally.”

“I’m a ham, baking in my own glaze.”

“Are you just going to complain or are you going to do something about it?”

“Actually, I think the heat is making me more creative.”

“That’s not creativity – that’s delusion. Seriously, you need to cool yourself down or else you’re gonna suffer some brain damage.”

“Heat can do that?”

“Heat, and me. Go have freaking shower already.”

Flash Fiction: Dinner Dialogue

“If I can make it, I’m not going to order it.”

“That’s ridiculous. Can’t you just enjoy eating out?”

“If I order Spaghetti Bolognese and I know I can do better, I can’t enjoy it.”

“We are in a five star restaurant! This is absolutely no judgement on your cooking but I think their spag bol will be better.”

“But what if it isn’t? Then it’s just overpriced disappointment.”

They’ve used five different mushrooms and it’s topped with shaved truffle!

“That won’t make it good though; just expensive.”

“Look, I understand where you are coming from, but the whole point of this menu is ‘gormet-izing’ regular food. Just order what you want.”

“Right, and I want the calamari.”

“You hate squid!”

“But if this is meant to be the best of the best, then the meal should make me like squid.”

“You’re setting yourself up for failure.”

“Excuse me mademoiselles, have you perused the menu?”

“Yes, I’ll have the calamari and chips.”

“And I’ve got to order the spag bol so my friend has something to eat.”

“…Excuse me?”

“Oh, the Spaghetti Bolognese.”

“You spent the past five minutes arguing against me when you’re just going to order for me anyway?!… oh, that was quick.”

“How’s the squid?”

“…Okay, I guess.”

“I knew it.”

“Hey! That’s my dinner!”

“No, the spaghetti is. You’re lucky I don’t like it.”

“…Thanks.”

“You’re bloody welcome.”

Mini Story: The Hidden House

Not a single soul in the whole neighbourhood knew who owned the house behind the walls, nor if anyone lived there. It was easily the biggest block on the highest point of the hill, so the land alone would be valuable whether or not the house was. That was the thing – the walls surrounding the property were so high that only a hint of a red roof could be seen, and that was when I was standing on my own roof! I couldn’t tell if the house was brick or wood or wide or long, only that the tallest point of the roof was red.

“If you’re so keen to find out…” Denny grinned, looking up at me through his sunglasses. “I dare you to climb the wall.”

I returned the grin. Denny knew I would never do anything about my curiosity unless I was challenged. Carefully, I slid back down the roof to the ladder and asked Denny to hold it again.

“What do I get?” I asked when I could face him again.

“Nothing.” His grin grew wider. “You’ll never get over that wall. There’s no purchase – you’d need a ladder three times the length of this one.”

I realised he was right. “How about I do one better?” I asked. “I’ll walk through the front gate.”

Denny shook his head. “You can try. No one gets in.”

Even the gate was as high as the wall, though I could see a person-sized door which must have been openable. The wooden palings were so close together that I couldn’t even spy anything through the cracks.

I knocked. Several times. Then I shouted.

Denny, leaning on the wall next to me, shook his head. “You’re not getting in.”

I sighed and rested my head on the wooden gate, trying again to see something, anything. Between the pale white wood, I thought I could see a blur of red. Red bricks? I stared and tried to angle myself to get the best perspective. It didn’t help. I was about to pull away when there was a blur of movement, and the colour changed to the deepest brown. It was so sudden I flinched backwards and lost my place. I tried in vain to find it again, but my accidental peephole was gone.

“What is it?”

“I thought… I thought I saw I saw someone.”

Denny snickered. “Well, if someone was there, they don’t want you in, do they?”

My hands had been resting against the gate. Reluctantly, I pulled away.

“I told ya you’d never get in.”

I didn’t say it, but he was wrong. I just had to build a bigger ladder.

Flash Fiction: Instincts

“Trust your instincts,” he’d told me. “It’s the most powerful thing in your arsenal.”

I had, and now I was standing on a rooftop, pointing a gun at my crazy informant who wanted to jump. My instincts could go blow themselves.

My instincts said he wouldn’t run. Then my instincts told me he’d go down the stairs, not up. If I hadn’t paused to listen to his echoing footsteps, I wouldn’t have changed direction. I’d only just made it up to the roof when I caught him nearing the edge and shouted ‘Freeze!’.

But he hadn’t jumped yet.

“Just calm down, aight? Let’s talk about this-”

No!  I’m done hearing you talk! Now you listen!” He stepped backwards, heels now against the ledge. “I can’t…” He gasped, trying to control his wavering voice. “I can’t do this anymore…”

“Look, mate, that’s fine. Everyone’s gotta know when to quit. We’ll get you to a safehouse-”

“They’ll find me. They will! They…” One foot went up on the ledge, then another.

“You don’t want to die, mate. I know you don’t.”

“’S’better… better doin’ it this way.” He started to turn towards the drop, and that’s when I shot him in the leg.

The bullet ripped through his calf. He screamed, buckled, swayed…

And fell back onto the rooftop.

I tucked my gun away as I called for an ambulance. He was still awake as I took my jacket off and pressed it against his wound.

“Arrgh!” He screamed again. “You shot me!”

“You fell back on the rooftop.”

“W-what?”

“You know the one instinct everyone trusts? Self-preservation. It didn’t matter you were trying to jump off a building – your instincts kicked in, and you fell back to the safe side of the edge.” I grinned at him. “Trust your instincts.”

Mini Story: Bargaining With Death

This wasn’t how I was meant to go. Albeit, it was a common death for my kind, though I had always hoped for something greater. Something grandiose, like my uncle Flavier who fell into The Jaws while bravely wrangling with a giant for his food. No, I never expected to be caught, quite literally, in the clutches of Death himself.

I briefly considered going down with a fight, but my true instincts kicked in instead.

“I think we can help one another,” I began, my mouth not speaking for my brain.

Death’s grip tightened, threatening to crush my stomach.

“Now, there’s no need for that,” I wheezed, my entire upper body bulging from the force. “I’ve seen you; watched you. You are the great deity of this plane, but you yearn to go beyond the Haven.”

His eyes, still flecked with bloodlust, now betrayed amusement.

“I can help you.” It was truly an effort to keep from stammering. “Us mere mortals have known the way for generations. Of course, you cannot follow us as you are. But I could summon you from the other side.”

A rumble echoed up and shook my insides. I wasn’t sure if it was Death himself making the noise or if he was summoning something even more terrifying.

“If you let me go I swear it!” My eyesight was failing me now, either through fear or the pressure stalling my blood – I couldn’t tell. “I will summon you to the other side!”

I had only just gotten the words out when I finally fainted. When I woke (I woke! I was alive!) I found myself alone, the marks on my belly the only sign that Death had been so near. Fingering the wounds, I hobbled off, first into the hole, then out into fresh air. This house had gotten too dangerous. Time to try my luck in the garden.

I just hoped that cat is never let out…

Indie Book Review: The Power of Six by Nicholas C. Rossis

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Review:

I love short stories that come with twists, something that challenges the reader’s perception and expectations. Of course, I like short stories that are enjoyable and entertaining, but if it has that twist in there it gives a nice zing to the whole thing – makes you think about it afterwards and reflect and read it again just to see if the changed perspective works. In this case, it does!

These short stories were perfect for me: they were fun, they made me think, and they intrigued me. The extra short story by Amos M. Carpenter compliments perfectly with the sci-fi ‘perception’ theme of Nicholas C. Rossis’ six short stories.

If you want a fun taste of sci-fi then I have to recommend this book.

I received this book as a gift from the author. This review is my honest opinion.

The Power of Six by Nicholas C. Rossis

Plus one short story by Amos M. Carpenter.

Book Length: 137 pages (includes sneak-peaks at Perseas, Year 18: The Schism by Nicholas C. Rossis and The Beginning by Ryan Schneider)

Science Fiction Short story collection.

Author Websitenicholasrossis.me

According to the Blurb on the Back:

Six science fiction short stories written by the author of Pearseus, the epic fantasy series that has reached #1 on Amazon. This edition includes an extra story, by Amos M. Carpenter.

Although they seem to be concerned with various themes, there are certain passions that run through them, almost obsessively. What is the nature of reality; digital and corporeal? Is there more to the world than we can see? How far can we trust our senses? What are the consequences of our actions, and is it possible to change them? And if so, would we simply repeat same mistakes, or make new ones?

The anthology includes “I Come in Peace”, an award-winning short story that deals with a tortuous question: how far would man go to alleviate his loneliness? Readers of Pearseus will certainly recognize here the birth of the Orbs.

Humorous and poignant, these short stories are exciting, intriguing and imaginative.

Mini Story: Don’t even like it

I come back into consciousness and find myself gyrating with someone in a night club. Most of my body has already gone numb and if the loss of memory was anything to go by, I had drunk too much. Or mixed my drinks too much. Right, beer followed by cider followed by whisky then back onto beer and… who knows what else. Too much of everything. We left the apartment as a group and then…

That must have been hours ago. I’ve got blips in my head – flashes of scenarios throughout the night. Pub. Walking. Club. Club. Club. Sit-down drinks in one of those alfresco bars. I remember talking really loudly, but could not recall what I said. I think I was trying to talk dirty. I think I embarrassed myself.

Speaking of embarrassing, I just recognised my gyrational partner. He’s a work colleague, and I don’t even like him. Sure, he’s not half-bad to look at but that’s the only positive thing I can say about him.

Blackout.

I find myself walking down an almost deserted street (and the term ‘walking’ is the kindest way to describe it). There. Outside a casino. Somehow I knew the rest of the party was in there. I don’t what had happened to my dance partner. Didn’t he get into a taxi? I think I saw that. Caught a lucky break there.

Bouncers won’t let me into the casino. Says I’m too drunk. Tells me to go home. Fine. I’ll try the back door then…

Blackout.

I wake up on the couch in my boss’s apartment, the Christmas party still going on around me. Everyone was here. How did they all know to come back? How did I get back?

Doesn’t matter. I can’t see a thing. Close my eyes. Wait, no. What time was it? Watch still attached to wrist. Plus. Will find other appendages in the morning. It’s after five… I think. Doesn’t matter – can’t catch a train like this.

Lucky to have made it back. Grateful to be safe on a comfortable couch. Why do I do these things? I don’t even like it. I don’t even like anybody here but when the boss hosts a party in the city and offers up free booze…

I lean over and throw up all over the glass coffee table. I expected the adrenaline to kick in so I could leg it but it didn’t happen. I just sank back down. Screw it all. I don’t even like this job. Can’t handle anything right now, I’ll deal with it in the morning.

Maybe it’s a good thing. If I’ve sabotaged the life I don’t like, then I don’t have a choice but to find something I do like, right?