Penultimate Se’nnight

That sounds a lot more impressive than “next-to-final week,” right?

A note of explanation for those reliant on alt text under the pictures; there’s an eighth image without alt text, which concerns a small icon which added itself to the final entry this week. That thing doesn’t appear in the alt text, so I’m boring you with it here rather than there.

Inktober 2019 – Treasure

The author wishes apologize for this in advance. The idea would not step aside for a better one, and time was pressing.

“They’ve twigged to us, Captain! Milling around like an anthill!”

The shout came down from the maintop, where young John had been sent with the best glass on the ship. Simmonds sighed. The wind had failed in the night, not a flat calm, but such a mere breath that he had debated sending the boats out to tow, in hopes of presenting the village with a sudden apparition of the sloop Bounty’s Darling slipping into their little harbour before dawn.

But if the rumours about the hoard of old Inca gold were right, he didn’t want the men doubly tired, not only sleepless with anticipation while their watch was below but also destroyed from pulling on an oar, with a fight likely at the end of it. He could not imagine the villagers not putting up a fight to keep a vast chest of treasure. Better to have them fresh, he had decided. They could still over-awe the landsmen with the sloop’s guns, a dozen long six-pounders and an eighteen-pound carronade up on the quarterdeck.

But now, as the sloop’s approach brought the village over the horizon, Simmonds began to wonder if he had erred. Looking through his own glass, the activity John had described was certainly underway, but it seemed that the rag-tag militia he’d expected to meet the landing was going to be nothing but old men. A couple of dozen were doddering around on the shore, at the obvious landing spot, carrying scythes and pitchforks. Such a handful would melt like a sandcastle, even if he didn’t fire the guns on them first.

The youngsters of the village were just still visible, through gaps in the trees, dashing inland, men and women both. It made a sort of sense, Simmonds knew, given the hunger of the sugar plantations for labour. Would they flee like that, though, that if the rumours had substance? Simmonds felt his avaricious heart sinking.

“Sir!” John’s voice, floating down from the masthead once more. “Look by the church!”

Simmonds scanned the collection of buildings. The church was not much larger than any of the other hovels, only a little broader, and made taller by a slanting belfry. Before it, four muscular youths struggled with a small litter, two long bars supporting a box no more than two feet on a side.

Only two things were so heavy for that size, Simmonds knew, and no one would make a fuss about lead at a time like this.

“They’re bringing our treasure out to us, lads,” Simmonds called, and his three-score rascals raised a cheer, some of the sharper-eyed ones able to point at the box-carriers even at this distance.

As they stood in for shore, it became clear that the box was not coming to the strand. The elderly coast guard was still there and had pulled some of the fishing boats around to give themselves paltry cover. The burly quartet was hustling, as well as they could manage, along a little path that ran along the foot of a jutting headland, a lance of rock that formed part of that small harbour’s protection.

“God above,” Simmonds said, realization taking his breath. “They mean to dump it into the ocean.” He cleared his throat, and said in the usual seagoing roar, “Master gunner, will grape fetch those men on the headland?”

Old reliable Martinez, standing by the aft-most long six, squinted over the water. “By the time we’s drawn number one and reloaded it, it should make the range.”

“Hop to it, then.  Sharpshooters aloft! We need to stop that box!”

Musket balls were striking flakes of rock near the feet of the four carriers by the time Martinez had the gun laid. The sloop had to yaw, to lose some way, to bring it to bear, and after the shot the smoke hung between gun and target for long seconds. When it dispersed, it was clear the aim had been off. One of the carriers was rushing to rejoin the other three as they struggled to support their burden, bloody from a dozen gouges left by rock splinters, but inconvenienced rather than disabled.

Before the gun was reloaded, the box was at the end of the headland. The porters seemed unnaturally protected from the furious musket fire, fully a dozen men in both tops now blazing away but not one hitting the mark. They pulled the bars free of the box, which was now close enough to see in the glass as a basket of iron straps around gleaming gold.

It would, Simmonds thought as they rolled it off the end of the rock, be the least buoyant thing in the world.

Their work done, the four men threw themselves into the water on the far side of the little headland, one pausing long enough despite the musketry to wave a rude gesture toward Bounty’s DarlingThe next rise of the ship showed a glimpse of the last one paddling industriously to safety around the edge of the headland.

There was no noise on the sloop but the sound of wind in the rigging. Simmonds felt all eyes upon him. He looked at the weather-signs in the sky. If they kept standing in, they might find the freshening wind pressing them onto the shore for days, in a village which promised no useful diversions for the crew.

“We’ll send a salute into those codgers on the shore, and then work back out to sea.” He stood at the railing, remembering how a small error not much more vexing than this had cost Captain Dunbar his spot. Pirate crews could be horribly democratic, and the vote was always for change.

A week later, when the people of the village had all filtered back, and the lookout on the heights had reported no sign of ships, the four men who had carried the box returned to the little spit. They took up the bars they had dropped there a week ago, then carefully slid off the rock and into the ocean. In short order they would have the box back ashore, and they laughed at the pirates who, like others before them, had been fooled by their simple ruse.

Had Simmonds but troubled to look, he would have found that the booty was only shin-deep.

“Inktober 2019 – Treasure” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Wild

Marcie shrank away from her friends in their boisterous jollity, their giggles echoing down the alley. They were having as much fun as they had promised her, but it was less infectious than she had hoped. Perhaps if she had drunk as much as them, she would have loosened up more, but without loosening up more, she couldn’t bring herself to get that drunk.

They had cajoled her into coming out with them, efforts she had resisted until Nancy, her room-mate and the nicest of the bunch, had leaned in close and pointed out that there was little point in coming to the big city university if she was going to keep her head locked up in the small town she grew up in.

It had not been Nancy’s idea to cut through this alley, but she had not said anything against it. It seemed like a bad idea to Marcie, but so did a half-dozen back-to-back shooters. Go along to get along had been working so far, so she said nothing.

She also said nothing, because she was in no position to utter “I told you so” when three masculine shadows detached from the end of the alley, derisive chuckling filling the sudden silence as the drunken giggles choked off.

The man nearest them, still just a silhouette against the lights of the street, put his arm out to one side, turned the knife he held so it caught those lights. “OK, ladies,” he said, the shape of a predatory grin informing the sound of the words, “who’s first?”

“How about me?”

The three drunk women turned to look at Marcie. Marcie, who has hardly spoken the whole night.

Marcie, in the least hot outfit, slacks instead of a skirt, sensible flats instead of heels.

Marcie, who had helped her father and her grandfather in the slaughter barn since she was ten years old, who was not in the least squeamish.

Marcie, who had all but tripped over a piece of the hollow square steel that street signs are mounted to, a piece not quite three feet long, heavy but not unwieldy.

Her first night out on the town, and the girl went wild.

“Inktober 2019 – Wild” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Dragon

Chakura would not, a year earlier, have pictured herself doing this, and yet she had scaled the dragon’s tower without so much as turning the head of one of the guards. Now she was in the inner sanctum, where the guards dared not patrol. Not the human ones, as any rate.

She had seen signs of inhuman sentinels as she had crept closer to the innermost chamber, and she had done all she could to avoid their notice. There was no telling what they might do if aroused; they might manifest as a whirling cloud of razor-sharp blades or as nothing more than a disembodied screeching. Either way, the master of the tower would be alerted, and Chakura would not lay a finger upon his hoard.

Thus, she was careful, not racing the last few steps to the place where her quarry slept, and she was able to slip inside unheard, unseen, undetected. She could hear him breathing in his sleep as she made the last few needed preparations, then she drew her weapon and went to wake the dragon.

It only took a few minutes. Just a little threatening talk, and he had applied his thumb to the tablet. Only a few minutes, there at the top of his tower, but the culmination of weeks of groundwork by the coders. Perhaps if he had been a crime boss, it might have been harder, but the whole of his experience told him that lawyers would fix it and so to avoid her knife he had done as he was told.

By the time those lawyers were awake, the trail of servers would have collapsed, one after another treble-formatting itself after finishing its part in the relay, and all that he had transferred would have been deposited, unbreakably anonymous, into the hands of a thousand charities.

The dragon’s hoard was not emptied, of course. Only liquid assets could be extracted, so his factories, his airplanes, his dozens of empty houses, were all still his. He would survive. But thanks to Chakura, so would millions of poor who might have otherwise perished.

“Inktober 2019 – Dragon” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Frail

The last block before home stretched out ahead of Katrina. It only felt like it was uphill. She sighed, took a better grip on the canvas shopping bag in her left hand and the cane in her right, and got underway once more.

As she made her way past the car without wheels or windows, Katrina wondered once again whether it wasn’t time to move. The neighbourhood had definitely gone downhill since she had moved in, back in ’95, and it hadn’t been wonderful even then. She had been younger, more certain of herself, and she had considered the future only in terms of what would stretch her pension out as far as it could reach. Now that she was realizing that she might come to the end of her physical reserves before the financial ones, the relative cheapness of her apartment was losing its power to convince her.

Still… she considered the other apartments, on her side of the street and the other. She knew people here, some well. That had been quite a feat, after leaving her job; discovering how to treat people as something other than tools or threats. She was proud of herself for managing it, back when she was more supple in mind and limb. The prospect of having to go through that process again, now, was daunting.

“It’s my rut, and I’ll lie in it,” she muttered, smiling.

In the next building along, a door banged open. A man stepped into the sidewalk in front of Katrina. He was a recent arrival, one she didn’t know, but she had noted him. She might have had to expand the categories she applied to people, but she had kept possible threat on her list. He was loud, frequently abusive to passers-by and neighbours, and was willing to show a switchblade. He was no longer young, but was still young enough to be stupid in his strength. He was an argument for moving.

And he had locked his gaze upon her.

“Hey, Granny,” he said, booming artificial joviality. She knew the look on his face, a moon full of mean joy at the prospect of some bullying. She kept moving, already on a course to pass him by.

He stepped into her path. “What you got in the bag, Granny? Got treats for me?”

Katrina stopped. “No treats.”

He frowned, which did not change his demeanor in the least. He stuck his hand out.

He was more than a head taller than she was, probably less than half her age. She had seen his kind, over and again, and she could almost smell the desire to hurt coming off him. He would push her down, because he was stronger and she was there, and if her hip broke it would just be a better joke.

She held up the bag, offering it to him, distracting from the cane. She turned her right hand hand over, letting the shaft of the cane run through her hand until the rubber foot stopped against her little finger.

When he grabbed for the bag, he tried to get her hand into his fist as well. She pulled back just a little, pleased that she’d got the timing so right, and his hand closed on nothing but bag. She gave the bag a little tug, and when he yanked…

She knew exactly where she was. She was not mentally transported to the dim back alley on the wrong side of the Wall, back when there was a Wall in Berlin. She was not imagining the man in front of her to be anything other than what he was, however much he shared a soul with a some Stasi thug. But when she hooked his foot with her cane, when she yanked him all the way off balance, she remembered exactly the fierce joy that came from knowing she had done it right, that the fight was already won and lost and that she was on the side that survived.

And then she heard the sound his head made, or perhaps it was his neck, as it hit the lamp post behind him. She knew, even before she saw how limp he lay on the ground, that his days of menacing old women were at an end. Suddenly, she was transported back in time, and could only see the sparring room where her training had begun, could only hear the voice of her instructor. When he had lectured them on the essential frailty of the human body, he had wanted to make sure they understood what might happen to them, if they got the lessons wrong.

When she came back to herself, she realized that she was sitting on the front step of her own building. A young woman sat beside her, wearing a dark uniform that almost set off another fugue before Katrina recognized it as police. A blanket had been put over her shoulders, and her cane set across her knees, making her the very picture of a little old lady, confused at the ruckus of witnesses giving statements and emergency medical technicians giving up.

The next day, she began to look at retirement communities. She felt her cover had been blown, and she should get to a safe house, however unfamiliar.

“Inktober 2019 – Frail” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

This is NOT an Anniversary Present

Today is my wedding anniversary (my wife’s as well, by happy coincidence!). It is purest chance that I’m putting forth a story today.  Especially one that takes the theme of vengeance as its seed-crystal, once again at the suggestion of this guy who writes somewhat more than I do.

No, the anniversary present involves going out to a nice sushi restaurant, son in tow, and eating until we’ve all got That Innsmouth Look. This because we like sushi, we don’t have use for any more china (which is what “tradition” has as appropriate for this year) and watching my son eat “exotic” food gives me strange joy. But while we’re off doing that, there’s no reason that people who aren’t us can’t enjoy a short story about revenge, which is precisely what Dig Two Graves is about.

A small semi-spoiler of a note to go with it, which I will go down a couple of lines to reveal:

 

Almost…

 

OK. Here it is:

 

I am not specific about the offense at the bottom of the vendetta. I was intending to be less so, to the point that I chose the name “Felix” as being reasonably close in meaning to “Fortunato” without actually lifting from Poe. That I then give a sense that there is some actual reason behind the plot beyond a possibly-imaginary “thousand injuries” is probably a tacit admission that I’m perhaps not quite as good at this writing wheeze as was Poe… but you may also ponder just how culpable Felix is

(Nearly) First Published Work!

I’m very very very proud to announce that I have a story appearing on Trigger Warning: Short Fiction with Pictures.  I’m so proud, in fact, that I’ve de-linked the same story from this site for the moment, so if you want to read it, you’ll have to go over there.

I’m proud of this because it’s my first story to be published.  More or less.  During a recent spate of auto-Googling– because, occasionally, one does like to see how much attention the internet is paying– I found a couple of references to an article which was printed in Dragon, the monthly organ of, at the time, TSR Gaming (long since taken up by Wizards of the Coast).  This was not a huge surprise, since it was a high-circulation magazine, even before the dawn of the Nerd Age we currently live in.

More surprising was to find my name popping up on the Internet Science Fiction Database.  I entirely remember the story– the surprise is that anyone else took any notice of it.  It appeared in the ‘zine emitted irregularly and briefly by Regina Speculative Fiction Society, and when I use the contraction, I am speaking of the old version; a physical object, composed of pieces of paper passed through a photocopier and hand-collated (as photocopiers of the day had trouble with that sort of thing) before being stapled together and handed to subscribers.  It was not quite first-generation, as the editors had access to computer printing and so didn’t have to tape together bits of type-written material.  But there was tape involved in the paste-up.

It is a non-professional credit, to be sure, since The Spintrian barely managed to mail out any copies with the available budget.  While this more recent presentation of my work is not by the technical definition applied by the Horror Writers Association or the SWFA appearing in a professional market either, it is actually bringing in some payment.  Semi-pro, we might say.  A step on the path to greater things.

Apart from shouting “Hey, everyone!  LOOKIT WHAT I DONE!” I’m making this post to underline something we all occasionally forget– what we did in the past can be very hard to bury.  Alas, the original file of the story is locked up in Applewriter II formated 5.25-inch floppy discs which I may or may not still have in the house, so I can’t offer a glimpse at that old work of mine.  This is probably a good thing.  I seem to remember using some phonetic dialogue, and we all know how embarrassing that sort of thing can be.

Hard Boiled. Lightly Shellacked.

The new story, Inner Voice, is another example of me giving into a long-standing stupid notion.  At least ten years ago, while I was out walking in the glories of a prairie summer, I got a picture of a composite movie PI in my head, a blending of Humphrey Bogart, Darren McGavin, Robert Montgomery… and a few others, at any rate, involved in a very short scene.

“But what,” said I of a decade past, “can I make of this?  Where might it go?  I can’t keep that sort of thing up for any length!”

And there it lay at the bottom of my mental pond, until the cement around its feet loosened.  I doesn’t have to go anywhere, in this brave world of flash-fiction.  It could, I finally realized, go only so far, live out its life as a simple vignette, and bring some joy to others.