Stories - Page 13 of 15 - Lyonesse

On the Bayou’s Edge

Nathalie Burel awoke from a deep sleep that night as suddenly as if someone had dumped a bucket of cold water on her head. There was a monster out in the dark…and not the monsters she was used to.

The light of the alarm clock that her youngest granddaughter had bought her at the school Christmas store was bathing her bedroom in an eerie green glow. The numbers read 4:08. They were large enough that she could see them even without her glasses. Little Maria was thoughtful that way. Nathalie, whom everyone from the priest at her parish to the bag boy at the grocery called MawMaw Nat, had an exacting schedule that she had kept to for forty-five years. She awoke in the morning at 5:00, every morning, without the help of the gifted clock.

MawMaw Nat did her best to survey the room, wondering what was different. Wondering what had come in from the swamp. Her cat, a mean old white tomcat she’d named Haint, was sitting on the small window sill, staring out into the darkness. His tail was twitching.

Nat sat up, her old bones and muscles creaking. If the cat was absent from his spot at the foot of the bed, and she was awake, then she it meant that the demons were up to something. She would move her morning routine up by roughly an hour and prepare to deal with it. It was getting harder and harder in her old age to stay one step in front of the swamp haunts, but the stakes were too high for her to do any less.

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A Ruby For Dyree

After weeks of walking, only a few stale crusts of bread remained. Rel yawned and crawled out from the rocky overhang. He slung the nearly empty sack over his shoulder and headed toward bushes near the river looking for anything edible. Dyree had stuffed as much food as she could into the sack, almost more than the village could spare. They both thought it would be enough for Rel until he found a caravan willing to take him on. But the terrain he crossed had been too barren for foraging, and his stomach complained day and night. His love for Dyree was the nourishment that pushed him on.

This morning he was lucky. He frightened away a few birds and hastily stripped berries from the bushes where they had feasted. For each greedy handful he stuffed into his mouth, he poured another handful into his sack. He licked his lips, savoring the sweet tangy juice that dribbled down his chin. His hunger sated, he turned toward the narrow river for a drink.

On his knees, Rel plunged his head under the cold water, relishing its crisp, refreshing taste. He sat up and was about to shake the wet hair out of his face when he heard voices. He was in the open, no hiding place near enough to disappear into. Rel reached into the pouch belted around his waist and brought out the short knife that was his only weapon. He backed slowly away from the river, listening.

Three children carrying small baskets meandered into view, sprinting forward when they spotted the berry bushes. The oldest, a girl, saw right away that the bushes had been picked over. Shading her eyes with one hand, she looked around, searching. She found Rel.

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My motorcycle hung, thirty feet up the side of a brick wall, suspended only by luck and willpower – which is about how I managed to hold onto the katana, too.

Motorcycles are different from cars. Cars, by their nature, want to stay upright. If you leave a car alone, it’ll stay upright. If a sudden gust of wind hits it, it’ll stay up. If you lose your balance while driving, it won’t fall. If you hit a slick spot in the road, you might lose control – but the car won’t topple over. A car has four wheels under it – four fat, wonderful, stabilizing, traction grabbing wheels. Cars are nice that way.

A motorcycle, by its nature, want to fall. They say their are two kinds of motorcyclists – those who have lain down their bikes and those who will lay down their bike. Motorcycles throw away two of those wheels under the theory that stability is optional. They’re held upright by a freakish combination of gyroscopic physics and balance. The former only works if you’re going fast. The latter depends entirely on the rider. And all of it can fall apart in a heartbeat if you hit a slick spot, a sudden gust of wind, or a redhead that makes you do a double take.

Let me tell you, a motorcycle suspended three stories off the ground wants to fall in the worst kind of way.

But maybe I should back up a bit, because you’re probably wondering how I got up there. And if you know me a little bit, you’re probably also wondering what damn fool idea got me on one of those two wheeled monstrosities in the first place. To be honest, I’m still not sure why I did it. But I can at least tell you how it happened.

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Soul Food

Not the synthetic kind. As Joel surveyed the window of the airport chocolatier, his grandmother’s words echoed in his mind. “Please,” she had begged, “please, Joey. Before I die, I want to taste chocolate again.” He had reached for his backpack, where he kept nutri-bars for snacks. She shook her head, raised a trembling hand in protest. “Not the synthetic kind, Joey. Real chocolate, that grew from the earth. Cocoa plants. There should still be some.” Her eyes had watered. “They used to mix it with sugar and cream.” She smiled softly, looking up at her grandson. “Promise me, Joey. Bring me chocolate before I die.”

Joel sighed as he turned away from the display; airport chocolate wouldn’t do. Research had shown him a history that wasn’t taught in school. Decades ago, world governments had decided their citizens didn’t need chocolate. Humanity required sustenance, nutrition, health. As soon as it was clear the Great Famine wouldn’t end without intervention, the Committee for World Nutrition commandeered so-called recreational farms to plant broccoli, beans, beets and other nutrient-rich vegetables. Artificial texture and flavor meant that Joel’s generation grew up believing non-essential foods had always come from the lab. Now, authentic chocolate was grown on micro-farms, processed in secret, and jealously guarded by the confectioners and restaurateurs that served the extremely wealthy. Joel had never tasted it. He had not known it existed until his grandmother asked for some.

In vain, he had called the fanciest restaurants in America, Europe, and Asia. The few that replied emphasized the legality of their sources and refused to send him samples. They claimed it was too expensive, that the chocolate would melt. One even recommended a brand of laboratory chocolate for him to try.

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Major Hunter

Darkness gives way to flashes of red, blurred forms. The throbbing pain in his head increases. He closes his eyes again. Major Trace Hunter remains motionless hoping the sick feeling in his gut will soon subside. The smell of smoke and ozone from the burned circuits fills his nostrils. The memory of what happened escapes him. He wonders; ‘How much can I move? Should I move?’ He opens his eyes and tries to focus them to no avail. Slowly, he rotates his foot and then the other. ‘So far, so good. Legs? No pain.’ He raises an arm. “AAH!” A stabbing pain rips through his upper chest and shoulders. Pushing back into the seat, he braces himself. His head reels as flashes of light dance in his head. While sucking air through his teeth in an effort to deal with the pain, a burning sensation fills his lungs. A coughing fit brings about dizziness that overtakes him. He closes his eyes once more. His line of thought drifts into disarray.

A familiar voice over his earpiece jolts Hunter awake. Trying to focus his foggy mind, he is not certain what was said. ‘What time is it? Where in blue blazes am I?’ Looking out the cockpit windows, he is greeted with a starless, dark void. A flashing red indicator light on his dashboard illuminates a broken dial. His head and shoulders still hurt, but at least the nausea is gone.

“Blue-7, this is Rescue-2. Do you read?”

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