The Cooridor

This story is in response to the November Speculative Fiction Prompt found here.

The sound of an incessant drip continued to echo throughout the underground corridor as I continued forward, backpack strapped to my shoulders and my high heals in hand. I stopped caring long ago that the stiletto snapped in half as I ran from the Chimera-or what I thought was a Chimera. I wasn’t about to stick around to find out…its three heads seemed enough for me to pass on that invitation.

If Max were alive, he would have reminded me of my ignorance in leaving the quarter tonight, meeting or not. His words would have seeped from his lips in that eloquently infallible way, leaving me transfixed at his every phrasing as he so often did.  

Shaking off the fading memories of my past, I continued to trudge through the dark passageway, glad to be alone. The meeting I left was almost too much, I was glad for the interruption.

I paused for a moment, the drip drip dripping slowly diminishing behind me, a beacon of my progress forward. I knew the underground tunnels well enough near my quarter, but further towards Mission headquarters I was rusty. Luckily, the cement columns held ancient runes within their construction and if you had any ounce of magic in your blood could reveal them- although at times that could be difficult.

Upon analyzing the columns, I noted one donning a small crack in its surface, placed in a manner I knew well. To an innocent bystander, the visual would lend no extra scrutinizing. For me, it was no crack, but rather an indicator of something more. What that was, I would soon find out.

Placing my hand on its surface and facing what I believed to be east, I cleared my mind of all chatter, thoughts and strategy. I opened to the possibility of learning something new-and being vulnerable to it- which wasn’t easy to do. Especially if a Chimera was potentially creeping behind you, dark flames erupting out of its ugly heads.

I placed my hand across the crack and knew instantly I was correct: it was a polar rune. My fingers felt a hot crackle vibrate beneath them as the rune infiltrated my mind, my body temporarily paralyzed as it revealed the information it held. The imagery wavered, my concentration not what it should be given my current situation.

I took a breath.

Suddenly, a map was uncovered, as if cellophane delicately placed over the corridor. I stood perched, a sleek shimmer illuminating my future path. Before I could memorize the pathway to the exit, a loud sound erupted from behind me, the map subsequently dissolving before my mind’s eye.

As I stood alert, waiting for my body to readjust, I continued to assess the noise- was it the three headed beast? That I doubted, I was able to sneak out through the basement faster than most who were fleeing around me, and most didn’t know this hidden escape that Max once showed me. As far as I knew, no one else followed me…what was here, so close?

As the Runes affects wore off, I turned towards the noise, but nothing appeared. It sounded like a large footprint in water, but I was unsure as my heartbeat rang throughout my ear drums in a deep throb. As I let my heart settle, I slowly pulled out my hunting knife, holding it ready at my side. Before I could react in a timely fashion, a figure appeared towards my front.

“Cassidy.” A low resonating voice echoed. The person was standing approximately thirty feet from my stance, but I could see little in the dim lighting.

“Who are you?” Before the creature, or person, could answer, he stepped out of the shadow and revealed himself. “Felix? Is that you?” I lowered my weapon.

He replied, “I’m so glad to see you!” We embraced in a warm hug.

“I didn’t see you at the meeting today, it’s been almost a year, I think.” I said, relieved that he wasn’t a beast hell bent on eating me for supper.

“I’m on Oliver’s radar, I’ve been forced into hiding.” His physique looked older, the skin on his face wilted, holding years of strain from those running in the quarters. But there was a spark in his eye, his brown hair still shaved and his feet still adorned by the same tattered army boot. “And I was there, just in the shadows, if you will. I tried to catch you after the mayhem started but man do you run fast.”

I laughed, “I thought you were the Chimera.”

“Can you believe a Chimera showed? I think they handled it. But if I worked directly for Mission, I would watch my back. Oliver has never sent anything so viscous before. I think he has troops building or he wouldn’t have been so blunt.”

“I was wondering if he was sent or working alone. Either way, that’s not a good sign.”

“Not in the least, and luckily no one died. I think that may be a first for a Chimera attack, at least this far in the city.” He replied.

“You think it is Oliver?”

“Oh, I know. He had that awful silver medallion hanging from his middle neck. God, I hope no one ever says I have a middle neck.”

I laughed. “So, how did you find this cooridor?” I asked looking around, suddenly wary that others may be lurking if he found me so promptly.

He paused a moment, his voice low. “Max showed me, some time ago.”

I nodded, nothing more to be said on that subject. “So, I was just exposing a Polar Rune, I couldn’t remember the exit from here. But someone distracted me, so I didn’t get the details.”

“Polars are the worst. And no worries, I remember the way. I used this tunnel as escape a few months back- Max really saved me with that one.”

I smiled as we began walking, the pillars surrounding us continued their redundancy.

“So…” he broke the silence, “how are you?” It was the question I got asked the most. It had been six months since Max’s death, but it felt like a lifetime. I didn’t fault those who asked, they meant well.

I replied, “I’m alright.”

“You know, you can tell me the truth. We grew up together.”

“I don’t know what to say, really. It’ll be awhile, I think, until things feel normal again.”

“Of course. I think that even though he is gone, his death spurred a lot. More than you know.”

“What do you mean?” Max died while working for Mission, an organization formed to help those inflicted by bad magic, and to fight those using their powers for the depraved. This day in age, Oliver had his hands in almost anyone who met that criteria, which was unfortunate given his history in our nation’s government.  

“More protocols. Just last week, ten would have been dead if it wasn’t for what Max unearthed that night. It took time to get them passed, but it was necessary. People shouldn’t be going into buildings manned by Oliver’s men without prior sweeping for new-age magical beasts.”

“Strange a Chimera should show up today, then.”

“I don’t think that was an accident, but now, Oliver knows we have the technology. We saved ten men last week, but next time we may not be that lucky.”

I replied, “it does help, hearing that his death meant something.”

“I know.” He placed his hand on my shoulder. “I was glad to see you made it tonight, regardless.”

“It was my first time being back. I almost couldn’t bring myself to step through those doors- so many memories.”

“People noticed you there, though. It will be good; it reminds Mission of what can happen if they aren’t careful. Sometimes they get to big for their britches.” Felix led us through more tunnels and we slowly began to incline towards the streets surface.

I asked, “where are you living, now that you’re in hiding?”

“I bounce around, afraid to stay anywhere too long, especially since most homes aren’t dredlocked.” It was rare to find homes in the older quarters that were dredlocked- most that were able to don that protection were mansions and large houses owned by the rich. It typically consisted of a warlock performing a sweep and cloaking the home in a protective spell- all of which were not cheap, but there were other, more off the book ways to achieve the same result- although sometimes things wouldn’t go as planned. With Oliver’s rise in power, it decreased our chances of veiling our magic from the rest of the country. And if that got out, it would be much worse than a lone Chimera attack.

After almost an hour of walking, we finally approached a ladder leading to a rusted metal grate. Felix climbed first, placed his hands on the metal and muttered “procedamus”. The gate peeled itself back and we clambered through, revealing a small disheveled office.

I asked, “where are we?”

“Pete’s office, believe it or not.”

“I haven’t seen Pete in ages.

“Probably because he’s in Vincula.” Vincula was the largest prison cell for those of magical significance. The prisons existence was highly debated, and Oliver worked tirelessly to accuse Mission leaders of maleficence to have them locked up there. Vincula prided itself in its neutrality within city politics- if they caught someone wrongdoing, they would catch you, one way or another. And their criteria for admittance seemed to depend on the day, although those in power would categorically disagree. We suspected them of working with Oliver for years, but no one has been able to prove it.

“That breaks my heart, he was so sweet.”

“Unfortunately, Oliver cares little about the demeaner of his targets.”

I looked around the small room as it appeared untouched by anyone but Pete himself. Tall stacks of paperwork, books and herbs were strewn about haphazardly. He was one of the most well versed herbologists in the quarters, creating remedies and potions that no one would dare attempt. “This looks exactly how I would expect his office to look.”

“I stay here sometimes, when I’m this far into the city. I try to keep everything just so; it seems to be some form of organized chaos. If only I knew what these plants could do… and had the ability to use it. Speaking of, are you still at the college?”

“I took a short break and just went back last week, actually.”

“Good for you.” He smiled as we discussed next steps.

“Well, I’m still in the home Max and I bought a couple years back- it has more rooms than I’d like to look at, to be honest. If you’d like, you can always hide out there. I don’t think many know where I live, he was pretty good at placing a veil.”

He looked surprised. “Are you serious? You would let me stay?”

“Of course, why not?”

He laughed, “I don’t know, I just expected you to be out of that home.”

“You and me both. But it’s better protected than most, and I enjoy being out of the city.”

“I have to deliver this package tonight,” he leaned over and picked up a box next to Pete’s desk, “but I didn’t have plans on where to stay after.”

“Where are you taking it?”

“To the Norman.”

“On West Quarter?” West Quarter was an older part of the magical region. It seemed to be more secluded than the others and filled with more mystery, yet not a lot appeared to happen there either. This combination lead most to avoid the area, there was nothing that needed to be seen there, anyway.

“Yep, one in the same.”

We continued to stand in Pete’s small office, and I surprised myself by asking, “can I come with you?”

“You want to come with me to the Norman?”

“I’ve been feeling cagey lately. Plus, it’s nice to get out of the house. My adrenaline is still spiked from that damn Chimera.”

“More the merrier. Shouldn’t take me long.” As he gathered what he needed from Pete’s small office I stood by the door, looking out the front window. For the first time in a while, I felt like I was getting my life back. Perhaps there was more to live after Max’s death after all.

My Secret Talent

My hands were sweaty, the friction beginning to loosen between my palms and the metal bannister that separated me from the tall men perched below. I tried to readjust my body by rotating my legs, but my arm muscles staunchly protested, my hands slipping another inch. I held my breath and tried to concentrate on what they were discussing…perhaps I could hold on a moment longer.

“John, when does the shipment arrive?”

“Two am on the dot.” John was a large man, looked to be fifty and was donning a hefty Colombia jacket that he had draped over his shoulders. A large weapon was visible underneath its folds, creating a sickening static bulge that moved with his every turn.

“I’ll be here.” According to his name tag, the man who answered went by Florence. He was much smaller, had a meek face and large nose that appeared to have been broken more than once.

John turned abruptly towards Florence, slamming his body against a row of lockers without notice. The loud noise it produced covered up a squeal that emanated from the palm of my hand as it slipped another inch. If either man cared to look up, they would be shocked to see a woman of thirty, dressed in all black with a shotgun strapped to her back. It wasn’t my gun of choice for this situation, but I had to improvise.

“You won’t only be hereFlorence, but you’re taking the package.”

Me?”

“Did I stutter?”

“No sir…”

“Excellent. And if you do well, consider this an application for promotion.”

Florence smiled a sick smile, hiked up the pants that were too large for his body and followed John into another room, leaving a puddle of mud and slush behind as the only indicator of their existence.

I waited another second and dropped to the ground, arms shaking in relief. The two men answered the question I came to ask, making my job much easier than expected- Florence wouldn’t be the only one here for the package.

I decided to take a small respite across from the lockers, standing out of view from the direction they strode to catch my breath, planning to sneak out the front door. Before I could continue, I heard them walking back towards my stance.

“How am I supposed to trust you if you can’t remember if the door is locked?”

“Better be safe than sorry?” Florence retracted from John as if knowing an arm was going to reach out and smack him. As they approached closer, I was able to see their bodies move towards my hiding place, their figures reflected in a small metal scrap placed just perfectly so.

“You’re lucky your uncle runs operations…” John coughed haggardly as he lit a cigarette and left it dangling in between his fingers as if an extension of his person.

Unfortunately, the front door was left of the lockers. I would have to cross in front of the men if I wanted to leave, and presently stood in a small alcove without anywhere to crouch. There was a small vent, but doubt I had time to pry it open and fit my body inside.

I decided to wait, pulling out my weapon as I watched their silhouettes approach.

Florence seemed to be backtracking a previously made statement and was failing. “But I knew that’s where it was located, I just chose to wait.”

“You have more excuses than I can count. Just stop blabbering, you’re sounding dumber than a bag of rocks.”

I counted a few seconds before they would pass my alcove. There was little chance they wouldn’t see me.

Before I could cock my shot gun, I heard a noise I wasn’t expecting from above.

“Naomi.” A small whisper, but someone was speaking my name. Looking up, I saw June, one of my accomplices, holding a rope down. I buried my confusion and stream of questions for later. Grabbing the rope, I used the side of the small alcove as leverage for my legs, and slowly made my way back where I originally came.

“Did you hear something?” I stopped walking up the wall and both men appeared to halt, listening. The warehouse scene looked as if someone pressed pause, each party waiting for the next to move.

Glancing up, June was motioning me to slowly continue. As I found myself two-thirds of the way up, Florence shouted.

“I knew it! John, there’s someone here!”

Both men pulled out their weapons. June scrambled to pull me faster, all plans of a noiseless rescue long gone. Bullets rang out, the small area amplifying the shots noise three-fold while my ear begged for relief.

As June pulled me up the final leg, I felt a sting shoot up my leg, originating from my left foot.

As I collapsed in the upper rafters, June pulled me up and out of reach from the deadly weapons assault.

“Are you alright?” She sank back, breath rapid as she had my entire weight held between her hands.

“I think I was grazed, but let’s worry about that later.” We both crawled to the opening in the large metal roof, prying it open and creating a great clatter as the metal hinges released the weight of the door. I limped up to the apex of the roof, a helicopter waiting.

June said, “come on, let’s get inside and talk.”

Climbing into the helicopter, it hovered as we discussed plans. “The shipment is coming in at two in the morning tonight but I’m unsure if my presence will force them to change plans.”

“I’ll take care of it, let’s get you seen at the Medic tent first.” June shouted to the pilot to take us to home base, five miles south of the warehouse. We had been positioned there for days, waiting to see about the shipments progress. When none came, I decided to enter the facility myself, hoping to uncover more details.

As we landed and I was taken in to see the doctor on staff, I was briefed and my foot bandaged. I was lucky, it only grazed my heal, I would need only a few weeks recovery.

Unfortunately, I would be unable to finish the mission at hand and was sent home early. I was secretly glad for the early release; I would be able to see my family.

“Mom!” My son Harley ran up to me, embracing me in full as my husband approached.

“Hi, honey, how was your sewing convention? I thought it went through the weekend.”

“It was cut short, one of the other wives got the flu.” I lied under my breath so easily I almost believed it myself.

“What’s wrong with your foot?” He asked as I limped through the front door towards the living room.

“I tripped and cut it on the side of the hotel bed, you know me, so clumsy.”

“You’re always stumbling around when you leave on trips. Good thing your home.” He noted as he kissed me on the cheek. “Carl and I got out to the shooting range yesterday, I won’t bore you with details, but we had a good time, shot off some interesting rounds.”

My exhaustion finally catching up to me, I made an error and slipped. “Shoot any full metal jackets?”

I paused mid motion as I sensed my husband gazing at me curiously, I’d always claimed ignorance when it came to guns. Catching my mistake, I said with a giggle, “I heard that phrase on Law and Order last week.”

He smiled and continued to cut the vegetables for dinner, not another thought about it. I wondered again as I so often did, what would it be like if they really knew my secret talent?

This was in response to Reedsy Prompt #15 found at https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/.

Lipstick and Kerosene #writephoto

“It’s just one of those things, May.”

“Driving out to the desert with a six pack and some popcorn?” May noted, eye brow raised.

“Well that too, but no… having a break-up ritual. It’s a must.” Spencer fluffed her hair with a comb she’s had since the eighties.

“Greg n’ I were only together five months for crying out loud.”

“Doesn’t matter, rules are rules.”

Both women stood in front of the small mirror, tainted with old water droplets and scuffed edges.

Spencer said, “something tells me you didn’t read the hand book.”

“Honestly should have, I probably wouldn’t have been so shocked to find myself in an RV in the middle of nowhere.”

“Rule number 67.” Spencer picked up a gas can and motioned May outside.

“Is that gas…”

“Course. Come on.”

May swept the mascara brush over her eye lashes one last time and followed her best friend outside. Stepping off the old wobbly RV steps and unto the dessert ground, clouds of dust trailed both girls like bread crumbs waiting to talk.

Spencer motioned May to sit by a worn fire pit, ashes piled from years of rituals.

Spencer said, “Alright, hand it over.”

“Is this necessary?” May clutched a photo of her and Greg, taken at the State Fair two months prior.

“Rule number eight.”

“Are you sure you aren’t making these numbers up as you go…” May said.

“Not my fault you didn’t read it.”

Spencer grabbed the picture, something that looked like rosemary and one of Greg’s socks left behind at my condo.

“You’re insane.” May said as she pooped the top of a Bud Light.

“I’m not the one who kept his sock.”

Spencer grabbed a match, said something under her breath that May chose not to inquire about, and lit the fire pit.

Both girls sat back in their old camping chairs and watched the flames.

Spencer said, “and this is why we do rule number three.”

“What’s that?”

As she asked the question, the sunset began to flame a bright pink in the distance, the fire melding into it as if one and the same.

May replied, “oh my lord it’s beautiful!”

“Nothing heals like a sunset with lipstick and kerosene.”

This post was in response to Sue Vincent’s photo prompt found here.