Archive | February 19, 2012

Rose Red

For [personal profile] kc_obrien‘s prompt.

They called her Rose Red, which wasn’t that far from the name her mother had given her, when she danced on the stage. And they called her other names, as her pretty old-fashioned dress with all its rose-petal layers p e e l e d o f f, one tissue-thin layer at a time, as she cracked jokes and danced, shimmied on the stage and sat on the patron’s tables, asking about their wives and their day at work.

She was a star, in that way a burlesque dancer could be, a phenomenon. She was famous all through the city, at least among certain people. She was so well-known people were said to be able to identify her chest in a line-up and her voice in a crowd, and both, oh, lordy, both were quite impressive. She was Rose Red.

And she could, in a plain brown dress and a hat, walk through downtown and never be noticed. Her famous voice became less stunning by far when she took on a higher-pitched, feminine titter. Her amazing chest was hidden very well by current fashion and an expensive tailor. She could be Esdora Ende, the sempstress, and nobody the wiser.

She lived a double life, quite contentedly… except that it was really a triple life.

Because, in the dim hours when the stage had gone dark, long before Esdora would be expecting business, Rose Red put on another hat, and a mask, and a low-cut suit coat over men’s pants, and The Night Thorn stalked the streets, patrolling.

She had a kick like nobody’s business, a punch that surprised even the police officers that found her targets, and the horsewhip that she used as her signature weapon left many would-be burglars and muggers smarting and bleeding. She was famous, for that whip, for her lace-clad cleavage, for the jokes she made as she rescued innocent civilians and as she caught wrongdoers in the act. Many burglars, many police, swore they’d know her if they saw her, but many of them sat there watching Rose Red dance none the wiser. And a few brought their sewing to Esdora and never saw either famous face in hers.

And through it all, she smiled. Who knew better than a stage performer the art of misdirection?

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Salvation in a Bottle, a story for the Giraffe Call.

For [personal profile] lilfluff‘s Prompt.

The island was big enough to sustain life for their small group.

Which was good, because they couldn’t figure a way off of it, and, even if they had, they weren’t certain there was anything to return to. They had escaped onto Jacob’s fishing boat at the last moment, just as the city was burning and the lava was filling the streets. The waves had knocked them onto this island. And here they were, with fresh water and a little bit of fauna, a little bit of flora, a little bit of shelter.

In her heart, Suzanna knew it wasn’t sustainable. They had food, but not enough for the seven of them. The water would last, and as long as this was as territorial as they thought it was, their makeshift shelter would do. But the only food they’d found was on trees, or the small animals that ran around the place. Making it last, not eating up their entire food supply, would be tricky if not impossible.

And, without birth control, if they were here long enough, if nobody rescued them, if they couldn’t find a way off the island, that problem would only get worse.

“Hey, Suze,” Martin called, from the stretch of beach where he was supposed to be gathering seaweed. “Suze! Gretel! I found something!”

“Something” could be just about anything, but she made her way over to him, if only to stop the shouting. “What is it, Mar?”

“It’s a wine bottle. Message in a bottle sort of thing, maybe? I mean, fat lot of good it’s going to do us, but we could always add our own message and throw it back into the water.”

“We could,” she agreed, because quashing anyone’s hopes was just cruel. “Let me see it?”

She opened the bottle, tugging the cork out – surprising it hadn’t popped out; it wasn’t set home properly at all, and turning the whole thing upside down. Much to her surprise – and, it seemed, everyone else’s – a single red rose dropped out, stem first, its thorns catching on her skin.

“It has roots,” Frank was the first to notice. “I’ve never seen a single rose with roots. Think it will grow if we plant it?”

“It might be nice.” Andrea was still so shy, even with only the seven of them around. You could barely hear her over the waves. “Might be nice to have something of home.”

After that, even if James had wanted to argue, he would have been outvoted. They planted the rose in a sunny, well-drained spot, and hoped for the best.

And, to Suzanna’s private surprise, the rose grew, faster than she thought a rose ought to, taller than seemed reasonable, with longer thorns and thicker vines than anything should have. And, in a matter of a week, just as they were contemplating their dwindling food stores, the vine that should have been a rose produced fruit.

They were skeptical at first, and confused – roses didn’t make fruit – but they were also growing hungry and, after one of the small island mammals devoured one of the fruits and suffered no apparent ill effects, they decided it was safe to try.

Martin, he of the most sensitive digestion, declared himself their test subject and, gingerly, cut one of the breadfruit-like globes apart and ate it, slice after slice, declaring it delicious.

When it came her time to eat it, Suzanna stared at their salvation-in-a-bottle, their wine-and-roses fruit, with a bit of tired suspicion. “Now all you need to do,” she told the solitary flower, “Is figure out how to grow into a house.”

She turned away before she could see its vines start to stretch and grow again.

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Briars and Vinegar: Bitter and Sharp, a story of fae-apoc post apoc for the Giraffe Call

For Rix_scaedu‘s prompt.

Part 4 of 4.

Fae Apoc has a landing page here.

Part 1: Briars and Vinegar (LJ)
Part 2: Briars and Vinegar: Blood on the Snow (LJ)
Briars and Vinegar: For 100 Years (LJ)

The girl’s braid was nearly twice as long as she was tall, and it was loose around the top. She sighed at it, and tied it in a knot to take up some of the slack.

“Be welcome in my home,” she murmured formally. Her rose hedge parted before her, and she stepped out to greet them, offering Jeri her hand. “I’m Vin.”

“Vin?” Jeri shook the girl’s hand.

“Vinegar. My sister, my twin, she was Wine.” She makes a tired, irritated gesture. “She died a long time ago. She got all the power, you see.”

“I…” Jeri shook her head, looking at her friends. Clarence shrugged; he didn’t get it either.

“There should be food in the kitchen, and wood in the woodshed.” Vin brushed past them. “I generally wake up for a little while every summer and get the place in shape, then sleep through the winter. I can live on almost nothing that way. It’s almost a superpower.”

Hearing the tired bitterness in her voice, Clarence began to understand her name. “How long have you been here?”

“I lost count a long time ago.” As she said that, she paused by an interior wall, her hand on a series of hashmarks. “For a while, I’d wait until the longest day of the year passed, and make another mark.”

When her hand moved, Clarence counted the marks. Ten, twenty… “You’ve been here longer than eighty years?”

“How long ago was the War?” she asked vaguely. “Do you still remember the war?”

“Remember?” Jeri choked. Darrel had been reduced to staring in awe. “It’s been over eighty years since you came here!”

“No, no, not you personally. I mean, do people still talk about it?”

“Oh!” Jeri nodded, q quick, nervous, rapid movement. “Sort of, I mean. Ther was a war. Bad stuff happened. There were faeries and gods, but they all left or died.”

“Or went into hiding,” Vinegar agreed. “Back then, people would kill fae on sight, because the people who started the war had been fae.” She pulled piles of clothing from a cupboard. “If you stand there in wet clothes, you won’t warm up. Change into something dry, and I’ll start the fire.”

“So you went into hiding? Couldn’t you just… pretend not to be fae? You don’t look like a faerie,” Darrel grumbled.

“I don’t age. I don’t change. And, back then, people didn’t move towns all that much.” She set wood in the fire and started it, Clarence noticed, like a normal person, with flint and steel. “It was very obvious what I was. And nobody cared, that I couldn’t have done those things. That all I could do, the whole of my magic, was to make roses grow. So I came here, and I made the roses grow.”

“Briars and Vinegar,” Darrel muttered. “Sharp and bitter, and so much longer lasting than flowers and wine.”

If Clarence hadn’t known better, he’d have said that his friend was in love. And from the look on the girl’s face, she was, for the first time in a very long time, contemplating something sweet.

“I do store well,” she allowed, her lips finally curling into a smile.

Next: Briars & Vinegar: Eating the Roses (LJ)

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Briars and Vinegar: For 100 Years, a story of fae-apoc post apoc for the Giraffe Call

For Stryck‘s prompt, although title from Rix_scaedu‘s prompt.

Part 3 of 4.

Fae Apoc has a landing page here.

Part 1: Briars and Vinegar (LJ)
Part 2: Briars and Vinegar: Blood on the Snow (LJ)

Bleeding, damp, and frozen, the three of them made it through the hedge of roses and crawled weakly towards the house.

The snow was falling in earnest now, covering their path, covering them as they struggled the last twenty meters, their clothing torn, their skin rended.

“If we never do that again,” Jeri mumbled,

“Yeah. I’ll count us lucky.” None of them mentioned that they would have to leave again. None of them were certain they could.

It was Clarence who made it to his feet to try the doorknob and, finding it locked, pushed off a mitten to pick the latch. They could break a window – but they would need the building as intact as it could be if they were going to survive.

It was Jeri who pushed the door shut again, making sure they’d all gotten in, with all their gear; it was Darrel who, knife out, began to clear the place, slowly but professionally. It would do them no good at all to get warm, only to be eaten by a monster or killed by a feral human for their gear.

“It seems warm in here,” Jeri murmured. “Some sort of geothermal heating system, maybe, old tech?”

It did, indeed, seem warm. “Could just be that we’re frozen,” Clarence pointed out. “There’s no wind here, so it seems warmer. It’s well-insulated, at least.”

“Guys,” Darrel called urgently. “Guys, come here.”

Knives out, they limped into the other room as quickly as they could, to find Darrel staring in distress at the bed.

There, in the bed, wrapped in blankets, her hair in a braid that reached onto the floor, slept – slept, because they could see her moving – a beautiful girl, no older than they were, maybe younger, with perfect-pale skin and ridiculously long lashes.

And, as they stood there gaping, roses began growing up around her, briars, mostly, with one white flower. She sat up, slowly, and they could see she was wearing a long-sleeved gown. “Goo ahway, plis, end noobahdy nids tah gite hahrt.”

Her accent was so thick, they could barely understand her. “It’s storming outside,” Clarence tried, speaking very slowly.

“Wine-tyre?” she asked, slowly. “Uhlyridih?”

“We were surprised, too. We don’t have gear for this weather.”

The roses stopped growing, and the girl stood up. “Steey,” she said, her speech becoming more comprehensible as they got used to the odd accent. “If you mean nah harm.”

“We mean you no harm,” he assured her. “We just want to warm up and dry off.” He turned to his friends, but they were staring at the girl in awe.

“Clarence,” Jeri said, very quietly, “she made those roses grow from nothing.”

“Fae,” Darrel whispered. “She’s a fae.”

“I am,” the girl agreed, “but the saddest sample you’ll evah find. That,” she gestured at the roses. “That’s all I can do.”

Clarence took a moment to digest that. “You’re a Fair Folk. A magic one. A myth…”

“…with the sole and entahre power of growing roses. Yes. You see why I hide out here?”

Part four is: Briars and Vinegar: Sharp and Bitter (LJ)

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Briars and Vinegar – Blood on the Snow, a story of fae-apoc post apoc for the Giraffe Call (@anke)

For [personal profile] anke‘s prompt, although title from Rix_scaedu‘s prompt.

Part 2 of either 3 or 4, we shall see.

Fae Apoc has a landing page here.

Part 1: Briars and Vinegar (LJ)

The snow kept blowing, pushing away the nice drift they’d been standing on, revealing more and more roses in front of them – not just a rose bush, it seemed, but an entire hedge, a monstrosity of roses sticking out of the snow, their thorns long and sharp, their buds few and blood-red, like the drips Darrel was leaving on the snow.

“Maybe we should head back,” Clarence sighed. “The deeper we dig, the more thorns we find. This seems fruitless.”

“But it’s right there,” Jeri complained. Indeed, they could see more and more of the house, through the hedge of briars. “And the other place was barely there. This one looks lived in.”

“Well, if it’s lived in, maybe they don’t want company?” Darrel pulled out his long knife and contemplated the hedge. “They might not be happy if we cut through.”

“They might not,” Clarence agreed. “I think I see a break over there.” He slogged that way through snow that seemed to grab on to his snowshoes and pull him downwards. Night was coming. If they didn’t find shelter soon, he wasn’t sure they’d survive. It was madness to stand here fighting with a flower bush.

And yet they kept doing it. He was surprised Darrel hadn’t mentioned sorcery yet. Darrel liked the old tales, the old myths. He liked to believe in magic, and dragons, and monsters. Jeri liked to believe, on the other hand, in old documents and old maps, old books and older pamphlets, as if the ancients had somehow had all the answers.

Clarence just wanted to find new things, or things that, at least, no-one living knew about, since, as everyone liked to tell him, the ancients had known everything, been everywhere, and done everything. But, since they were dead and he wasn’t, finding it all over again, he thought, should count.

“I found something,” he called. It wasn’t a gate, not anymore, but he could see the edges of the arbor that had been there, and the swinging door that had fallen off, or been pulled off by the weight of roses. They would have to crawl, but they could get through.

“Doesn’t it seem strange?” Darrel asked, as he and Jeri slogged over to him, “All these roses, still doing fine all this time later? We’ve never seen anything quite this alive.”

“They don’t have many flowers anymore,” Jeri pointed out. “Maybe they went wild?”

“But it’s winter, or, well, it’s acting like winter. They shouldn’t have any flowers at all by now.”

“We’ve seen stranger things,” Clarence soothed them. “Right now, we need to get to that house, so we warm up, then go tell the folks at home about this.”

“Right,” Darrel agreed, rubbing his hands. “And put a bandage on these thorn-holes in me.”

The tunnel through the briars seemed smaller than it had when he first looked, but surely that was just the perspective, comparing it against Darrel’s broad shoulders. “Right,” Clarence steeled himself. “I’ll go through first. Jeri, you bring up the rear.”

Part three is Briars and Vinegar: For 100 Years (LJ)

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Briars and Vinegar, a story of fae-apoc post apoc for the Giraffe Call

For [personal profile] ariestess‘s prompt, although title from Rix_scaedu‘s prompt.

Part one of either 3 or 4, we shall see.

Fae Apoc has a landing page here.

Names from here

The world had fallen into chaos two hundred years ago, although the exact year was unclear. Record-keeping was not as precise as it had once been, and the exact year that the old world ended had been, it seemed, in some debate at the time.

The remaining population had gathered together in small communities and, from there, rebuilt a world, a much smaller world than their ancestors had known. Large portions of the world were simply left alone, either unsafe in and of themselves, or too far from a population center to be safely or easily traveled to.

Slowly, the world rebuilt. And slowly, as towns grew back into cities, people began to explore the lands they had left abandoned.

Clarence slogged through the early-season snow on unfamiliar snowshoes, muttering quietly at the sudden and unexpected fall that obscured trail and hazards alike.

“The map,” Jeri offered, “says there should be a road here.”

“The map,” Darrel countered, “is a million years old. The road is probably long gone.”

“The old roads don’t just vanish,” she countered stubbornly. “Besides, an old map is better than no map.”

“Unless there’s a dragon around here that’s not on there.”

“There’s no such thing as dragons.”

“Guys.” Clarence hissed out the word. “Guys, shut up for a minute.”

This wasn’t their first exploration, even if they were acting like kids – it was the snow, it brought out the five-year-old in all of them – so both of them fell quiet at his tone.

Once it was clear that nothing was immediately going to attack them, they moved forward, to see what he was looking at.

“Is that a rose?” Darrel whispered. “How is it…”

“I have no idea. Maybe the snow took it by surprise, too?” In the middle of a drift that Clarence’s walking stick said was at least a meter deep, a single red rosebud stood out like a blood drop. “It looks unreal.”

“Do you think there are more?” Darrel began digging in the snow, pushing aside the drift. “Or maybe an old wall, or some sign of something other than this endless nothing?”

“There could be a whole town under the snow,” Jeri put in, but she, too, was digging. “Or a road.”

“You and your… ow!” Darrel yanked his hand back, the blood drip clear on his wool mitten. “Blasted ruins, there’s something down there.”

“Roses have thorns,” Clarence offered helpfully. “Guys, it’s starting to snow again. We should get back to that building we saw.”

“If by ‘building,’ you mean ‘two walls?'” Jeri shook her head. “Look, just over the edge of the drift – there’s a chimney. It’s closer, at least.” The wind was beginning to pick up again, whipping snow back into the hole they’d been digging, whipping it away from the rose. “We should be able to make it there before dark.”

Part two: Briars and Vinegar: Blood on the Snow (LJ)

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Pure as… a story of Unicorn/Factory for the giraffe call

For [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith‘s prompt.

Unicorn/Factory has a landing page here.

Terebina had thought, when she had first heard of unicorns, that they would be beautiful, majestic creatures.

She had thought that they would be proud, shining, pure beings, glittering white things, above dirt, above eating.

She had thought they would be like angels in her storybooks. That is, after all, what the whispers sounded like. “Pure,” she had been told, “So pure they clean water with their touch. So proud they won’t be seen by the unclean.”

But Terebina was clean, chaste, cloistered, or, at least, she had been cloistered, Back Home, back before her father took a position here. Before he had signed up to help run the Factory, and dragged her and her mother out to this tiny town which, at the very least, could boast of unicorns, since it could boast of very little else. There was no need to keep her cloistered here, she’d complained in frustration to her father, and he had agreed smugly. There was no one to cloister her from.

She dutifully took her lessons in the mornings with the other children, the daughters of the bureaucrats, and the sons too young to work, the daughters and sons of factory workers either too young for working or whose parents’ wages paid for this education for them. She studied, too, mostly from boredom, diving into her books in a way she never had back home.

And when all that became too boring, she enjoyed the fact that, here in this small Town, she could walk around unescorted, unprotected, unchaperoned, because there was nothing to protect her from and no-one to make her need a chaperon. There was the foreman’s son… but she avoided him, lest her father get ideas.

With time on her hands and an urge to explore, and a pressing need to avoid young men of her own age, to keep from being locked up again, and thus ending up avoiding the few other young women her age, Terebina ended up quickly an expert on the Town’s geography, on its small but well-tended yards and gardens, on its tall and snooty front facades and very practical, plain back walls. And, soon, she began to encounter Unicorns.

She saw her first one in Goodwife Jorie’s back yard, chewing on the roses, thorns and all. It looked up at her, its wicked-looking horn pointing in her direction, whickered, and went back to eating as if she wasn’t even there.

That was long enough for her to notice that its horn was not, indeed, shining white, but a coral pink, as if with blood flowing through it. And that, while standing in mud, it seemed to shed the dirt, a trick, she thought impertinently, that their horses would do well to learn.

She saw what she thought was another one – they looked rather similar – a few days later, eating the boots the foreman had left out on his back stoop (and never mind what she was doing in the foreman’s back yard); and a third – this one’s horn was almost entirely red – girdling a tree in her neighbor’s front yard. The adults couldn’t see them, she soon discovered, which make it even more entertaining to watch the creatures gleefully nibbling at everything they could reach.

“Aren’t you supposed to be pure?” she asked a small one, as, wobbling a little, it stood on two legs to eat the leaves off of a newly-planted tree.

In response, it looked at her, eyes clear and amused-seeming, and dipped its horn into a bucket of rainwater, turning the murky stuff clear as crystal. Its meaning, too, was clear: unicorns purified. Giggling, Terebina left it a sugar cube she’d meant for their horses, and left it to its lunch.

Unicorns, she was discovering, were a lot more fun than angels.

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