(Note: I started to participate in Chuck’s weekly Flash Fiction since January this year. I know I’m not really good in writing yet and most of my short stories are in need of revisions. But I noticed one thing, I love writing. Please feel free to comment and suggestions on my flash fiction page. Thanks!)
[Sidenote: Well, I wasn’t here for a few weeks. Truth is I forgot. I forgot about this unfinished page (I’m designing/editing currently a blog in wordpress) and I forgot about Chuck’s Flash Fiction Challenges (I was busy writing on my own book). Hahaha. But enough excuses!
As always, feel free to comment.]
This week’s challenge is tricky. The title says it all. A story with only 100 words no more.
“State your full name, condition and age or ages.” I said to the customer next in line, a tall heavyset man.
“Harry Alexander Johnson. Dead. 34 and…“ The man stopped and counted using his fingers. “21.” He smiled to me, revealing his fangs.
Great. A dead guy again. I typed the info into the computer. “Occupation?” I asked. I was wondering – not for the first time – how it feels like to celebrate ones 34th birthday for the 21th time.
“I was a doctor. M.D, but…”
Uh-oh. “Okay. What’s your new occupation?”
“Coroner.” The man said and somehow added unnecessarily “Less problems for everyone.”
Chuck’s flash fiction this week is to write the first quarter of a story. Any story, any genre, anything would do. Here is my Part One.
“A Blind Spot”
The old man sat in one of his perfect places in the city. It was dry, clean in comparative - for his standards at least - and had the advantage of many people passing by. Here the old man could watch the young and rich, the busy and successful.
The wind was howling through the busy intersection tossing a plastic bag into an impromptu dance. He hummed contently as he watched the bag until it disappeared around the corner.
An unnoticed thing of beauty, he thought.
The biting wind couldn’t touch him through the various layers of clothes he was wearing. He sat protected by a massive stone bench and a large plant pot on either side of him protecting him like a mother hugging her child in a cold night. The cozy illusion fell apart by the smell of freshly brewed coffee mixed with cigarette smoke and urine. It was worse in summer when the stench of rotting garbage was added into the mix.
“Please, do you have an extra penny, Sir?” He asked the pedestrians.
He watched their reaction, their behavior. Most didn’t acknowledge him in any way. For them he didn’t exist in their important busy life. He was not worth their interest. He was not worth their time. The old man preferred to see people giving him a disgusted look, an annoyed look, or in rare occasions a shy smile (mostly from young woman). At least, they gave him a reaction - an emotion - even if it was only pity or disgust. They acknowledged him.
Lunch time was almost over. The street was now even more packed with men in dark suits and their standard black leather cases, and women wearing tight skirts and blazers. The constant sound of their heeled shoes followed them like their own shadow. Click-click click-click.
Like nails driven into a wooden coffin, he thought bitterly.
It was time for the business people to rush back from their lunches to their banking or lawyer offices.
“Please, do you have an extra penny, Sir? Miss?” He asked more often, now that the people moved nearer to his cup which was placed in front of his feet on the ground. The sidewalk was filled.
A woman dropped some loose change into his plastic cup and quickly disappeared back into the crowd without a glance or word. He thanked her anyway, rattling his cup.
After a few more minutes of hopeful waiting and unsuccessful luck the old man moved, packing his faded blanket into a makeshift roll, and rattling his cup with a few dollars in it. It was time to move on to another of his so-called perfect places. He would return back to this very spot tomorrow or the next day.
He stood up and looked around, waking his legs and lower back from their sleep. Their waking was painful. He wasn’t getting younger, and sitting on the cold ground in November with only a thin faded blanket as cushion didn’t help his health either, he crumply noticed. He glanced at the buildings on the other side of the street. Two designer coffee shops flanked the above-everything-else towering luxury hotel. A place he as a homeless man would never be able to enter. But he dreamed about it anyway. Dreaming didn’t cost a dime.
That’s when he saw him. A tall lanky man with a shock of curly dark hair jogged out of the luxury hotel. The man was clearly in a hurry, which wasn’t unusual. Most people in this part of the business district were in a hurry. But the tall man was nervous. Too nervous. His head looked up and down, right and left as if he was followed by unseen ghosts. His curly hair jumped back and forth as if trying to catch up the movement of the head. The man whistled for a taxi and waved both his arms in a panicky but comical way. The old man smiled. That tall man must be really late for a meeting.
Or the man was simply trying to leave the hotel in a big hurry.
“Sir? Can you please leave this area? You are bothering the customers.” A young man in an officer suit interrupted his thoughts. The old man looked at the young man, amused. He was standing on near the bench, on his left the entrance of the now-half empty coffee shop. The officer looked too young to wear a uniform, but for the old man everybody was young. The name tag identified the officer as Johnson.
The old man remembered Johnsons Baby Oil and felt a tinge of self-pity. It was a product he had bought in regular basis in another happier lifetime.
“Sir? Can you-“ The officer began again.
“It’s a free country, son. I stay or leave whenever I want.”
“But I planned to leave anyway.” The old man continued and turned away only to turn back again. “And thanks.”
“For?” The officer asked, looking puzzled.
But the old man only nodded politely to the officer. Because not many people call me sir anymore, nor do they use please, the old man wanted to tell the young officer, but he changed his mind. The old man shuffled off instead to another location leaving the place to the rich and busy.
The old man didn’t thought about the tall panicky man with the curly red hair anymore, nor about the young officer. It wasn’t important.
A new week, a new flash fiction from Chuck Wendig, a new challenge! This time I rolled the subgenres Haunted House and Noir Detective. Though I’m not sure if the story is Noir-Detective-ly enough. *shrugs* The story turned out to be a little creepier than I first expected. Haha. (Sidenote: I know it needs some revision. Haha.)
Harry walked briskly along the sidewalk, hunched over and hands jammed in his coat pockets. He ignored the happy chatter of playing children and barking dogs around him. He hated children. He hated dogs. He even hated this very street. Wallington’s Lane was everyone’s dream example of how a perfect friendly neighborhood should look like. No trash or unwanted plants could be found growing on the sidewalk. A candy wrapper would stand here out like wolf in a hen house, Harry realized as continued on. Clean and green.
Yes, Harry hated it the moment he stepped off the bus stop.
After two blocks he arrived at his destination. A small house with a large covered porch. He double checked the address with the one he wrote down on his battered notebook. Wallington’s Lane 146. Check.
Harry was about to take a step when a six year old girl old hurried toward him. He hadn’t seen her where she came from. Probably she was the daughter of a noisy neighbor.
“Mister, I wouldn’t go in there.” She told him.
“Why not?” Harry snapped. Mind your own business, little ice-cream coated brat, Harry wanted to add, but refrained himself. Barely.
“My mommy and daddy told me that it was bad.” The little girl in pigtails said, pointing at the house. It was a small two-storey house neither old nor new, neither clean nor dirty. Just completely ordinary looking. It was the lawn that was a need of cleaning and watering. All kinds of garbage and litter accumulated the corners and bushes like dust bunnies. The lawn would be the candy wrapper on the sidewalk.
“Care to tell me why it’s bad?” Harry said, wondering why he asked. He didn’t much care one way or other. He told the dispatcher he would check about the phone call and that’s what he will do. The little girl couldn’t stop him with her horror story.
“’Coz it’s haunted. A haunted house, mister!” The girl licked on her chocolate ice cream, getting more on her chin than in her own mouth. She continued. “You know, there is always fog in their backyard! It’s really scary mister. Really! And people entering the house never return. Really!”
“Fog. Fog? What fog?” He looked at the house. No fog. Harry looked around the street. No fog. It was a peaceful neighborhood. He hated it. Harry, single and childless (at least to his knowledge) rather stayed in his own small apartment where the noise of traffic and the smell of exhaust and garbage kept him company. He liked it that way.
“Yes, mister, fog. Are you deaf? Can’t you see it?” Now it was the girl who sounded impatient.
“No, I’m not. And watch out how you talk to an adult. Don’t your parents teach you to respect adults?”
“Yes. But they also told me to be honest.”
“Mister? Can’t you see-“ The girl started again.
“Damn it kid! Don’t you have anywhere else to go?”
“I didn’t think so. But this is an adult business, okay? Scramble off. Shoo.” Harry didn’t care if he made the girl cry. In his opinion children nowadays grew up way too soft. Walking towards the so-called haunted house, he observed that there really was some kind of fog in the back of the house. But girl was wrong. It wasn’t fog, it was smoke. He smelled grilled barbeque in the air.
“Mister?” The girl called when Harry was half way to the house.
He turned to her, ready to scream at her to leave him alone, when he saw that a younger boy with blond hair had joined the girl. The front of his t-shirt was wet with ice cream.
“Yes?” Telling himself to stay calm. They were just kids. They are naturally curious and annoying.
“I wouldn’t go in there.”
“You already told me that kid.” Harry said and sighed.
“Are you a cop?” The boy asked, excited.
“Yes, I’m a cop.” Harry immediately regretted his answer.
“Wow! That’s so cool!” The boy exclaimed, eyes sparkling. The waffle cone with strawberry ice-cream now forgotten – melting – in his hand. “When I grow up I wanna be a cop too!“
“Can I see your gun?” The girl asked, interrupting her younger brother. Harry couldn’t help it. He laughed. That question would mean something completely different for her ten years from now. “You can ask me that question when you’re a little older, babe.”
Harry walked on, not waiting for a reply, turning his back to the kids. After mounting the creaking porch steps, he reached the front door. He knocked.
After counting to twenty, Harry was about to knock again when he heard footsteps behind the door. An old man opened the door, squinting from the harsh sun the old man asked “Yes?”
“My name is Officer Harry Coleman. May I speak to a Mrs. Greene?”
“Oh. That’s my wife. She is quite busy in the kitchen. Backing cookies for our children and grandchildren. They will visit us in two weeks, all the way from Maine! Can you believe that officer? In two weeks already!” The old man said with a big smile, revealing yellowed teeth.
“Yes. I can. But I’m here about the call your wife made today? May I ask-“
“My goodness! Yes. Come in. Come in.” The old man threw the screen door open barely missing Harry. Good arms, Harry thought. The old man led him inside. Harry looked back over his shoulder and caught a last glimpse of the little girl and boy still standing where he had left them, then the screen door closed with a bang, shutting out the outside world.
Harry was immediately greeted with the smell of freshly baked cookies. He couldn’t help it but to take a deep breath through the nose. Mr. Greene watched him, smiling.
“Smells good, doesn’t it? My Annie is the best backer here in the neighborhood.” Mr. Greene shuffled toward the living room, taking slow painful steps. Harry, who could have reached the living room in four big strides, strolled respectfully along the old man. He was considerable calmer, now that the kids were out of his sight and, well, out of his life.
Oil paintings in various sizes covered the walls in the hallway. They were all portraits. Some showed children, some adults, but they shared all the same kind of paleness and impassive face. Somehow they looked familiar to Harry. Probably they were relatives of the Greene.
“What would you like to drink, Officer? Coffee, tea?” Mr. Greene asked as they finally reached the living room.
“Just coffee. Black. No sugar. Thank you, Mr. Greene.” Harry said politely. The old man sauntered off, closing the massive living room door. Harry was now left alone in the room. He sat in one armchair facing the fireplace and waited in content silence.
Harry, impatient by nature, stood up and strolled toward the fireplace mantel, looking at family pictures of the Greene’s and small porcelain figures. After half an hour, he went back to the armchair and continued waiting.
Ten minutes later, Harry was about to call Mr. Greene when he stared at the large bay window. Sun was streaming through the thin white lace curtains. He saw something outside that made him worry.
Twenty minutes later, he paced back and forth, not wanting to go near the window. He had briefly peeked outside and what he saw made him even more worry. No, he was in panic.
“I didn’t see that.” He said to himself. “I didn’t see that. I didn’t see that. I didn’t see that.”
He checked the door, it was locked.
It was a graveyard he saw. Fog lay like a white blanket on the graves.
At the same moment Robert Greene shuffled very slowly along the hallways. He wasn’t yet halfway to the kitchen. He stopped when he realized that he forgot what the officer wanted. Was it coffee? Or tea? He turned and walked slowly back, planning to ask the officer.
Harry was getting nervous alright. He was telling himself that he hadn’t seen the graveyard. No, sir, it wasn’t there.
There was no clock in the living room that could tell him what time it was. He guessed he must have waited already for hours. Or days. Or weeks. Hell, a year!
He had tried to break the window and the door open, but with no success. He had even tried to hurl the armchair through the window, but with no avail. The opening of the fireplace was too narrow for him to crawl through. He had hoped that the walls or the ceiling were made of plywood, but instead they were made of concrete. Now, physically and mentally exhausted, he sat back on the faded rug, thinking.
Late this afternoon, Harry and his partner Nick had gotten a call from the dispatcher, telling them to check with a Mrs. Greene about some domestic disturbances in the neighborhood. Harry, realizing that his partner was drunk once again, left his partner Nick in a local bar. He then went to check on his own. He knew that the neighborhood around Wallington’s Lane was quite safe. Leaving their patrol car in the parking lot of the bar, Harry took a short ride with a bus. He had expected it would go fast. Finding the place, taking Mrs. Greene’s statement about whatever that seemed so important and then leaving again to join his partner in the bar. It would have taken half an hour.
Harry laughed madly. Boy, he had been wrong.
The officer wanted coffee, black and no sugar, Robert Greene finally remembered. Smiling, he turned and made his way back to the kitchen. He stopped occasionally to rest. He would need a while to reach the kitchen with his snail pace, he figured. Plenty of time, mister.
The first hunger and thirst pings announced themselves, tormenting Harry. He had already urinated in the corner, but there was no food or water in the room. He couldn’t get out, nor could he call anyone with his phone lying snugly in the patrol car. His drunken partner was no help. There was no family that would miss him. Harry regretted that he hadn’t eaten lunch. He had only a dry bagel for breakfast. The hours ticked by.
Robert Greene sat snugly on a chair in the hallway, taking a rest. He had fallen asleep.
He understood now why the portraits in the hallway looked familiar to him. Those weren’t pictures of relatives of the Greene. They were paintings of dead corpses. Harry had seen plenty of dead bodies in the morgue as police officer.
Harry realized that something inside him gave away. His sanity that wasn’t healthy from begin with, faded, madness steadily replaced it. For the last half an hour, he had laughed and cried, talked and screamed to no one but himself, confessing his sins.
One of his last sane thought was that the girl with her ice cream was right after all.
“I think the officer is dead, Annie.” Robert Greene said sadly, after returning from the living room. He was holding a silver tray with a mug of cold black coffee.
“Too bad, Robert. It’s not your fault.” His wife said distracted. She was too happy about her children’s and grandchildren’s visit in two days to care about anything else. “Robert? Can you air the house? It’s smelly.”
“Yes, dear. “ Robert stood in the kitchen, unmoving. “It’s just if I hadn’t fallen asleep or forgotten if he wanted coffee or tea, if I simply hadn’t taken that long, maybe the officer would be still alive.”
His wife came to him then and gave him a hug and said. “We can’t just help it, sweetie.” She continued in a brighter tone. “But at least you got someone new you can paint!”
Robert nodded, smiling now, ancient laugh wrinkles spreading in his face. Yes, his wife was right. She was always right.
“A Gift and a Curse”
Ryan stood in his empty bedroom he once shared with his wife Sarah. His pocketwatch weighted heavy in his right hand.
He inherited the pocketwatch from his grandfather, an old wise man who always knew the right answers on the right time.
“It’s an old fashioned watch, but it’s still running just fine, Ryan. I want you to have it. It’s a little reminder for what is important in life.” His grandfather had told him a long time ago.
“And what’s that, grandpa?” Little Ryan had asked.
“Love.” His grandfather had answered with a smile.
“Yes. Love. You are still too young to realize that love is everything a man wants, Ryan. But someday you’ll know. Love is both a gift and a curse. Sometimes it’s more destruction than healing, sometimes it’s…” His grandfather had trailed off as he often did in his last few week of living.
Now Ryan stood in his empty bedroom he once shared with his wife Sarah. The faint flowery smell still lingered in the air. It was Sarah’s favorite perfume, but what brand it was Ryan did not know. It made him sad. He should know his wife’s favorite perfume, shouldn’t he? Did they grew older together only to find out that they became strangers living in the same house?
He gazed down at his grandfather’s watch. What would it tell him if it could talk?
“Ryan, it’s true that life was once easier. Time became more important for the world. And life wasn’t the same as it used to be.
Man had time. He used it to paint, to build, to invent, to love. Beautiful paintings were born, great churches and castles were built through centuries, and man invented electric light bulbs, cars and planes.
At that time, time was still a friend, and man embraced it.
How can I tell you that time became your enemy, Ryan? And therefore it became her enemy too. Time is not waiting on your welcome mat in front of your cold wooden door. It’s already in the backyard, Ryan, digging its own grave.
I know you tried your best. You always did and always will. Just for all the wrong reasons.
But here you are. Your cold empty home is now absent of laughter it once filled. The pictures which were once stacked neatly in a shoebox are now laying on the faded Oriental rug. The sun is shining through the lace curtains. The pictures on the ground reflect the light, making themselves indistinguishable with each other. The happy images of the Europe trip are now hidden by the glare, creating the effect of golden tear drops the sun itself must have shed.
Sarah left. This time for good. You didn’t deserve her anyway.
She saw the photographs, Ryan.
If you had listened to her you would have known that she planned to clean the basement. It’s in the basement where you hid the shoebox. But you didn’t pay attention. You were busy with work even during dinner.
You also didn’t pay attention to her as she talked – dreamed – about having children, Ryan. Not now sweetie, you told her, I’m way too busy.
But when is now, Ryan? When are you not busy?
Time is your enemy. And time is Sarah’s enemy, for as a woman time runs faster. She can’t wait any longer. She can’t wait for her husband to embrace and love her as he once did. That’s you, Ryan, Sarah waited for you.
All she wanted was a family. And you didn’t give her that.
You were too busy with work and meeting clients abroad.
She found the photographs instead. Pictures of a happy couple with famous cities in the background. A happy woman with wavy blond hair and a smiling man kissing her.
The smiling man is you, Ryan.
But Sarah, your wife, doesn’t have wavy blond hair, does she?”
Ryan stood in his empty bedroom he once shared with his wife Sarah, his grandfather’s pocketwatch heavy in his right hand.
“…Sarah, your wife, doesn’t have wavy blond hair, does she?” The pocketwatch seemed to tell him, accusing him for what Ryan was holding in his other hand. A farewell note from Sarah.
His grandfather was right. Love is both a gift and a curse.
I got No.3 and No.12: The Lord of the Rings meets Indiana Jones
Once again a short story with elves, dwarves and humans.
“Found but Lost”
The elves sat around the table. The setting sun painted the large table golden. Beautiful ancient symbols had been carved into the surface a long time ago, a time when humans were still unknown. But nobody present cared about the table or even the breathtaking scenery. They had important matters to discuss. Their soft voices rose and fell, seemingly to mimic the sounds of the forest around them.
“We can’t let this happen.” A young elf said, impolitely. Nay was his name. He was the son of the elven king. “It will be humiliating if others will know!”
“Too late. It is done. The dwarf king knows. We needed his help.” The elven king said.
“This is embarrassing. Why can’t we just ask a wizard to find it?” Another elf asked.
“Because they are all gone, and with them most of our kin.” The elven king said. “All through middle-earth we searched for it. And when we didn’t, we searched for someone who could find it. And when we didn’t, we asked for help. It was the king of the dwarves himself who suggested the human named Brun! We should be thankful…“
An elf approached the table. A servant. He whispered something to the king and left again.
“Apparently, the king of the dwarves thought this meeting important, for he sent his own son. They just arrived.” The elven king said as he stood up and nodded toward the forest line. Already sounds could be heard. Footsteps of at least a dozen. The metal clang of armory. And the pungent smell of sweat and leather.
“We didn’t invite them, did we?” Nay said, disgusted. He hated dwarves. They were dirty and rude most of the time, and they had a weird sense of humor; much like humans.
He felt also betrayed from the dwarf king. They – the elves – demanded this very meeting and this whole matter a secret. Only the elves and the dwarf king himself were supposed to know about this whole business. Nay looked at his father’s face and saw that he too wasn’t happy about the dwarves.
“Hullo there! I apologize for our delay. Our cart was stuck in the mud down by the river. Horrible! After hours of pulling and pushing, we had to leave it.” The strongest looking dwarf glad in finely made mail said as he approached the table. His curly but tidy beard hung down to his knees.
“Who cares?” The young elf Nay muttered. The dwarf glanced at him and turned back to speak to the elven king.
“My father, the king of the dwarves himself, planned to travel to this very meeting, but, alas, he is too fragile for this kind of excursion.” The dwarf continued. “My father told me everything, but I assure he only told me. My companions-“ The dwarf nodded toward the other dwarves who were standing in a respectful distance from the table, and whispered. “-have no idea about this whole matter. It’s a business trip. Nothing more, nothing less.”
The elven kind nodded gratefully. “My heart gladdens to hear this, but darkens when I hear your father is not well. I will send my best healing elves to your father, the king, as soon as possible. I will also send my swiftest elves to the river to retrieve your cart.”
“You are most kind elven king.” The dwarf bowed, and with that his beard touched briefly the ground.
Brun knew he was in trouble the moment he saw his cards. No queen, no king, nor an ace card was among his stack. He didn’t even had cards for a full house or a street. Just a jumble of nothingness and senselessness.
“So, Brun. Everything or nothing. It’s show time.” A large man Johnson with no visible neck said. He was grinning and fanning his cards dramatically.
“I give up, Johnson.” Brun threw his cards on the table, frustrated. He glanced one last time at his satchel full of gold and left. He had lost the game.
“Ohhh, Brun. Don’t just go. I’ll buy you a beer!” Johnson called after him, but Brun simply waved him off. Both of them knew that Brun would return for another game.
“Is that him?” Nay asked the dwarf. The two of them stood in the shadows of a building across the dusty street. They had watched a shabby tall man with a shock of blond hair leaving the tavern in a hurry.
“Yes. That’s Brun. Must have lost a game. I can tell from his expression. Haha!” The dwarf laughed.
Nay and the dwarf followed the man. Brun was walking fast, taking big strides. Always looking around, glancing left and right, but to their luck he never looked back. Or so they thought.
The elf saw in his amusement that the dwarf was barely keeping up. His short legs weren’t made for a fast pursuit.
“I can follow him by myself. You just stay here and…” Nay offered. Both of them stopped when they realized that the man was gone. They now walked faster looking around. No sign of a tall man with long straw-blond hair.
They just passed an alley when two strong arms shot out from the darkness, taking hold of their collars. They were both dragged into the dark alley.
“What do you want?” The man asked the smell of ale was in his breath. “What does a dwarf and an elf want from me?”
“We need your help!” The elf said. He was the first one who composed himself after the scare. “To find something. Something that’s very valuable for my kin.”
“Why do you ask me?” The man Brun asked impatiently.
“Somebody important suggested that you were the perfect man for that job.” The elf said.
“Because you are the best hunter in this part of the world! A treasure hunter!” The dwarf chimed in.
Brun ignored the dwarf and continued to watch the elf and said. “And?”
“And we will pay you handsomely, of course.” The elf said. His father told him the ways of man and he learned that man always did work in exchange of money or other valuable goods.
“Now you are talking!” The man grinned, slapped the startled elf on the shoulder. “Let’s go get some drinks and tell me.”
“A map?” The man was holding his ninth glass of ale. The elf was surprised. He thought only dwarves could drink ale in that amount without getting drunk or sluggish. But for an half an hour he watched the man Brun keeping up with the dwarf’s excessive drinking and Brun still looked very much alert. Nay had felt already tipsy after only one glass.
“Yes a map.” Nay said.
“And what does the map show? A buried treasure perhaps?”
“That is not of importance, Brun. It is the map we want.”
“Fine, and where do you think it is? Or where should I start looking, if I may ask?”
“Near the Grey Mountain-“ The elf began.
“The Grey Mountain! Don’t you know it is infested with orcs? Like you and your kind, sightings of orcs became rarer and rarer over the years. The area around the mountain is the only place where you find them for sure. And now you are telling me, I should stroll into their den and ask politely about your map?”
“Yes!” The dwarf said.
“No.” The elf countered. “I didn’t tell you that. I only stated that the last sighting of the map was near the Grey Mountain. We know of the orcs. Their number is not great and most of them lost their will to fight. I, the son of the elven king and Linio, the son of the dwarven king will accompany you.” Nay was proud of his speech. He tried very hard to live up his father’s expectations.
“That sounds all great, but I’ll rather go alone. I don’t want to babysit-“ Brun nodded toward the dwarf. “Anyone. You’ll slow me down.”
“We will accompany you. It’s nonnegotiable.” The elf said with as much authority he could muster.
“Fine. But don’t go squealing and hysterical when you see orcs coming for you.” Brun said. He elbowed Linio the dwarf. “And keep up.”
The elf was right. The orcs, they had met during their short journey toward the Grey Mountain, were lazy and impassive. Both parties ignored each other.
Brun was in a grumpy mood in the beginning of their trip. He didn’t like company in the first place, especially an elf and a dwarf. But every time he thought about the reward he would get – a chest full of gold – his mood gradually lightened. Also every time they came to a tavern, he and the dwarf Linio would compete with each other, betting who would be drunk first. To Brun’s surprise, he became friends with the dwarf. The elf was another story.
The once dark and dangerous roads were now safe to travel. Other humans, farmers most of the time, passed them frequently.
To Brun’s and others astonishment they reached their journey’s end – finding the map – in a matter of days. They found it in a small library in a bustling village of humans. As simple as that.
Brun was happy for the absurd fast win. He just earned a chest full of gold in a matter of days. Linio was cheerful to have found a drinking companion who could keep up with him; he didn’t seem care about anything else. Only the elf wasn’t cheerful. It clearly embarrassed him that they had found the map so easily, and the elves had lost a lot of gold because of that. And their reputation.
They went back to the town they had first met. Nay left with the map immediately for his father after giving Brun his reward, for the elf had left the gold in a local town for safe keeping. The dwarf stayed behind with Brun, clearly enjoying the company and the taverns with their ever flowing ale supply.
“Congratulations my friend! Never would I have thought that finding the elven map would be that easy. I would do everything to see the face of the elven king when Nay will tell him that we asked an orc about the map. And that the orc pointed us to the local library. Library!” Linio laughed helplessly. Ale was dripping on his tunic and beard. The dwarf didn’t mind.
“I don’t think Nay will tell the truth. He will invent something. Anything that would show us – him - in a better light.” Brun said seriously. He was curious what the map showed. He had only a short glimpse of the map with its spider web-thin markings and the obvious red x mark somewhere in the middle.
“True. True. But I’ll tell my father the truth. We will get a good laugh! A library!” Linio laughed another round.
“Say, do you know what the map shows?” Brun tried to sound as casual as he could.
“It’s a secret. My father swore me an oath of silence.”
“Come on, Linio. We are friends, aren’t we? I won’t tell a soul.” Brun said, smiling innocently.
“Well…” The dwarf said, not sure.
“Tell me my friend. Please?”
“Okay.” The dwarf gave in. That was fast, Burn thought. He knew that some people simply couldn’t keep secrets. He smiled.
“The map pinpoints the spot where the necklace is hidden.”
“A necklace? That was all about some jewelry?” Brun was surprised.
“Not just any jewelry!” The dwarf took a swig of his ale and made himself more comfortable before he continued. “The necklace, or should I say the pendant, was actually part of a crown. That crown was apparently made by the high elves in ancient times. Some say it gave peace, power and wisdom to those who wore it. Some say that the crown was cursed. Others say it was just a nice crown. After a battle, the king who wore the crown fell and thus the crown broke apart. Those who thought the crown cursed collected the broken pieces and threw the shards into a fire. One piece of the crown was never recovered until someone found it and evidently made it into a pendant.” The dwarf stopped to take another swig.
“And? That’s the whole secret? That doesn’t sound too important.” Brun felt disappointed.
“I know. Right? Damn elves. Always making a fuss about nothing.” Though, the dwarf remembered his father saying something about the end of the world if the pendant wouldn’t be destroyed.
Two days passed. Brun for some reason couldn’t shake away the feeling that he forgot something. The pendant and its whole secret were still very much in his mind.
“Say, can you tell me more? How does that pendant look like?” Brun asked as both of them sat in their usually corner of their by-now favorite tavern.
“I thought we are done with that.” The dwarf eyed him in wariness, but he answered anyway. “It’s out of gold – obviously – and has a large square gemstone set in the middle. How big or what exact shape it is, I do not know.”
“What color is the gemstone?” Brun asked. He remembered something, but didn’t want to believe it before he heard it from Linio.
“It’s a very dark purple, almost black. That black stone is framed by a clear white stone. By father told me it looks like an eye. He said an elf once described it to him.” The dwarf shrugged clearly not interested in the pendant.
Brun was silent. He couldn’t believe it. The pendant Linio just described was now a brooch. Two weeks ago he had found a shattered mud-crusted pendant with a still intact gemstone. He had discovered it during a quest about some buried treasure and brought it along in hope to sell it. He had let it made into a brooch for it was an accessory women loved to wear these days. Nobody wanted to buy it and in the end he had lost the brooch and his satchel full gold in the last card game with Johnson.
“How much do you think it is worth?” Brun asked, grinning. A plan was forming. Johnson was a lazy man and rarely left town, or the tavern that is.
“Hell should I know? But I’ll bet the elves would give their own immortality to have that pendant back.” The dwarf laughed. He stopped when he saw Brun not looking at him. “Why? What are you thinking?”
“What am I thinking? Well, my friend, how good are you in playing card games?”
"A Clean Beard"
They were a weird looking company, a dirty dwarf with his long forked beard walking alongside a graceful older elf. A low nameless mountain (or a high hill, depending on who you would ask) stood behind them and a vast wasteland stretching in front, the Sullen Desert. For each step the elf took, two were needed for the dwarf to keep up. And with each step they puffed more dry dust around them.
Once a day it would rain in the Sullen Desert. Clouds would slowly form around noon, darkening the sky. Then a light drizzle would announce what would yet to come, a rain shower that immense it literally filled the wasteland knee-high with water. It would dry mystically overnight, and the whole cycle would start again the next day.
The clouds were already forming over them, which worried the dwarf. He didn’t want his dirty beard wet.
“This sucks.” The dwarf said not for the first time since they met.
“It’s only a cloud. It will move away or disappear soon.” The elf wizard replied wondering why he even bothered to answer the grim dwarf. Both of them knew very well that the cloud wouldn’t simply disappear. Not before it finished its business.
“Why can’t you make it go away? Aren’t you a wizard?” Though, the dwarf himself was a wizard, albeit a very lousy one.
“I could and I am. But it’s wrong. As a wizard you don’t mess with the weather. It’s an unwritten rule.” The elf replied dutifully. He was a lousy wizard too.
“Rule my ass, Mior. You know that the cloud is not just a cloud. It’s a rain cloud.” The dwarf looked up challenging, glaring angrily at the elf or at the cloud, the elf wasn’t sure. But the sun hit the dwarf’s eyes and spoiled the moment. The dwarf moved on, grumbling.
They had accidentally met two suns ago near the foot of the mountain, both with the same destination, but for different reasons. They knew each other from the Forgotten Elven Monastery, a tavern that was neither forgotten nor a monastery (the owner had died long time ago, and with him the reason of the strange naming).
The dwarf had been drinking his ale alone in the corner as the elf entered the tavern.
“Where can I find the town Davinc?” The elf with a pointed hat had asked.
“It’s at least two suns from here. North-east.” The bald bartender, a mere human, had said, dismissing him. Elves were not liked in this part of the world, especially elf wizards who were known to create confusions instead of peace. The elf had left soon after.
The dwarf had suppressed a laugh. He too was on his way to Davinc, a growing town known for its various markets and entertainments. But the dwarf knew Davinc was at least four suns away and it could only be reached by one narrow path at the foot of the high hill in the north-west face. The elf would end up walking the long way. The dwarf had laughed anyway, his dirty, smelly beard wagging up and down with each laugh.
Eventually, they had ended up together, the dwarf peacefully strolling along the right path and the elf who had lost his way and only by luck and swift feet had followed the dwarf’s foot prints catching up with him.
“Why do you have a problem with rain, dwarf?” The elf asked as they walked on through the desert.
“Stop calling me dwarf. I’m Simuge, Son of Simmorge, the greatest of all the Bearded.” The dwarf said with pride, his beard was getting dusty and sandy which was a good thing. But by now the sky was darkening faster and faster. A cool breeze picked up the dust, creating small whirling shapes. He picked up his pace, fearful of what would surely come. The first rain drops began to fall.
“Pardon me, Simuge, Son of Simmorge, but why then didn’t you tell me that the human lied? Curse those mortals! You heard me that I was on my way to Davinc. I used up half my food and water, because of the detour.” Elves liked to ask questions.
“Not my problem.” The dwarf said, distracted. How could he protect his beard? The dwarf thought. He couldn’t hide his beard inside the tunic.
A light drizzle started.
“It’s starting-” The elf said as he looked up at the dark sky in wonder.
“Please! Stop it! Stop this! This, this RAIN!” The dwarf screamed hysterical in a high-pitching voice that was almost comical if not for his horror stricken face. The elf stunned by the dwarf’s sudden outburst jumped back a few paces.
“Simuge? Are you well?” The elf carefully approached the dwarf. By now the drizzle turned into a rain shower. Each drop darkened the dry crisp ground, turning it into mud in seconds.
“It’s the rain. I can’t stand the rain. I hate it. Hate it!” The dwarf said pitiful, who now simply stood there, head bowed as if in prayer, defeated, his arms hanging limp on his sides, his dirty beard dripping. He was too ashamed to look up as he felt the elf’s presence beside him.
“It’s just rain.” The elf said impatiently, clearly annoyed.
“It’s just rain, I know.” The dwarf gazed at the elf, embarrassed. “But the rain – the water – cleans my beard. And if my beard is clean, then it’s CLEAN!”
The elf turned away wondering why he put up with this dwarf in the first place. He left him there in the Sullen Desert.
After two suns the elf wizard finally arrived in Davinc. Here he would meet his kin and talk about this year affairs in the land beyond the High Mountains.
But on his way to the meeting, the elf saw a poster that made him laugh. The large poster said in brightly colors: “Who’s got the dirtiest beard in the world?