Category Archives: Short Stories

Isa Loves my Pod People… and so did AutoCrit. Revisiting the happy moment below

Sam and Priss are super loveable Pod People… more stories for them in the works. Don’t you love Isa’s fairy wings?!! Find it on Amazon with bonus … …

Isa Loves my Pod People…

Revisiting the End of a Challenge

It occurred to me that the comments from the amazing contributors at AutoCrit are technically a book review. Huh! Not sure why I didn’t think of it that way until now.

This happy moment starts at 24.43. But all the writers who made the anthology deserve a listen.

AutoCrit is a great editing platform and I wouldn’t have grown as a writer without it and the community.

Priss Starwillow & the Wolf is available at your favorite sellers.

The Guardian – A Dragon Story

~ Mareduke is the last of his kind, and if the humans have their way, no dragons at all will exist in Kassia. Then, he meets two remarkable beings intent on changing his fate. ~

I hope you enjoy this story I submitted to a contest where the prompts required a dragon meet a toddler in the forest, and what followed. This was a joy to write.

Mareduke’s bloody, scaled head froze mid dip. He reeled his tongue back into his mouth and stared at the child across the water. A long, cool drink was critical to his state of near-death, but he gave it up to inspect the reflection cast into the mountain lake by the tiny person on the grassy ledge.

An image of a girl not much more than two, wrapped in a cloak, wavered over the surface. The sun glinted on that spot as if shining a beacon on the proof he sought. He raised his eyes to the embankment again.

The toddler was real, and she was staring back.

His snort displaced the water below his face. She would just have to watch while he got his fill because he was losing blood faster than his magic could heal him. There were too many wounds. Enough to end him if he didn’t hydrate and rest.

The humans’ trap this time was multilayered and rigged with an exorbitant number of blades that had pulled Mareduke farther down a natural pit with every move he made. They must have spent weeks designing all the intricate hazards. He had come close to losing his head to a sawblade, and a broadsword missed his heart by inches when it lodged between his ribs. But when he quit panicking long enough to halt the agonizing plummet, he was able to gather his magic and break free with enough momentum to gain altitude and escape the armed contingent of dragon assassins waiting for him on the surface.

He’d spit his wrath at the failed murderers as he flew away, but they jeered at him when his usual rain of fire barely amounted to a drizzle and his wounded body kept listing sideways. He didn’t care. At this stage of his life, he was accustomed to the humans and their collective superior attitude towards him and his dying species.

Still, he couldn’t understand their brutal solution to his thievery. He wasn’t there to hurt them, just grab a meal, a plump sheep or two, because they had a penful of the tasty morsels too tempting to resist. Why did all humans insist on trying to kill him before his time? As far as Mareduke knew, he was the end of the line, and the idea, when he let himself dwell on it, that humans couldn’t share the whole of the Kingdom of Kassia with even one of his kind offended him.

The dragon managed to stay aloft all the way to this refuge to recover his strength. That was the idea anyway because no humans came to this lake high in the mountains. Yet, inexplicably, he beheld one of their children standing at the edge of the water by herself, appearing as if she were on a picnic. By now, he was sure the toddler was alone because even as he concentrated on recuperating; he’d been watchful. Nothing but the two of them stirred in this place.

He settled on his haunches this side of the dark green expanse and rested his chin on his front paws, so he could better observe her. She hadn’t made a sound, only sticking her finger in her mouth as she looked around, then back at him. This was the most bizarre thing he’d experienced so far in his young dragon life. What was she? He presumed human, but she could be anything.

He gave some thought to how he might find out since neither of them could speak to the other. So, he tried to pick out clues. Her cloak was made of fine, blue-dyed cloth with a glimmer weaving through that spoke of magic. Her wavy mop of strawberry-blond hair and clothes appeared clean, though her feet were bare.

That made him wonder if she was cold but then he thought not. It was mild this time of year, even at this elevation.

While he sorted her out, she made herself comfortable as well, plopping down on a fluffy tuft of grass, her stubby legs sticking straight out, and her toes wiggling as they stretched towards the water. She got busy plucking nearby wildflowers until she had a short bouquet gripped in her hand. In between peeking at him, her finger absently returned to her mouth as she observed other bits of life in her immediate vicinity. He watched in amusement when she sniffed the pungent flowers, and her nose wrinkled, but she smiled happily at her collection.

Mareduke grew more entranced when nature began to react to the tiny being in its midst. Just like it had done to her reflection earlier, the sun shone a beam of light on her, and dust motes danced around her head. Two bees drifted towards the flowers, then darted in to sip at the nectar. Butterflies flitted near her face, which made her smile widen.

Next, woodland creatures inched closer. A rabbit stood above the grass and wriggled its nose at the air. A pair of doves settled in a branch above her and cooed. A doe and her fawns watched it all from underneath the tree. Squirrels, hedgehogs, and even a young fox made an appearance. None of the creatures paid any attention to Mareduke, their fascination centering on the happy child.

Mareduke thought that even with her mysterious aura, she must have parents worried sick somewhere, but even more curious than where she was from was how she came to be here.

The dragon froze at the sound of crashing through the trees. All the life clustering around the child scattered, leaving her blinking at their sudden absence. She stood and turned towards the increasingly noisy disturbance, which now included thundering growls amid the sound of cracking branches.

A mountain troll was coming. Mareduke could smell the vile creature. He should have before now, but he’d been distracted. He must decide what to do about the abandoned child directly in its path. The troll would sooner snack on her than look at her, and the only thing to stop the voracious brute was Mareduke, but he was still weak from his injuries.

When the bulbous head made an appearance at the edge of the trees, Mareduke wasted no more time thinking. He flapped his wings and in two strokes, landed between the oncoming threat and the helpless toddler. The troll’s red-rimmed gaze fixed on Mareduke, and he bore down on him with a makeshift club he held in both hands.

Mareduke laid his wing over the ground and motioned for the little one to hop on. But she just stared at him. The beast closed in, making the ground shake under them, its growls deafening.

The absurdity of his situation made Mareduke want to snort in protest. Here he was, a perpetual target of human violence, getting ready to lay down his life for one of their offspring, if that’s what she was, because she couldn’t grasp that it was imperative to climb on.

He inhaled with everything he had in him for one good burst of fire, even as he indulged in images of the stories told of his sacrifice on behalf of the enemy… until he remembered there was no one but a baby to witness his death. And if he was destroyed, she had no chance.

He launched his fire. It stopped the oncoming troll… for all of ten seconds.

The child tucked beneath him tapped the bottom of his chest with a fist so small he could barely feel it, but it got his attention. She smiled up at him and clapped her hands, and Mareduke experienced an entirely new sensation. The air turned heavy, then seemed to curl in on itself. His stomach lurched, and he closed his eyes.

When he opened them, they were in a flower-covered meadow surrounded by jagged mountain peaks. He didn’t recognize the mountains, and there was no sign of the troll.

***

Mareduke’s world stopped tilting, and he took in his surroundings. A hut squatted near a giant oak tree with a stone fireplace taking up an entire end. Smoke curled from the chimney. There was a garden with neat rows of vegetables, and a milk cow poked its head through a half door in a miniature barn as it chewed its cud. A raven cawed at them from the roof, and the child’s face split into a wide smile. She waved at the bird, which elicited a louder squawk as it stretched up and flapped its wings, then flew towards them.

The raven landed at the dragon’s feet, and proceeded to change to a tall, bearded man with flowing robes who looked down at the child and said, “Well done, Eliana. You found him.”

He looked up. “Can you understand my words, dragon?” Mareduke dipped his snout, and the man said, “Judging from your abundant wounds, your guardian was nearly too late.” Guardian? He looked at the small, grinning face. There was a sparkle in her eyes.

At Mareduke’s inquiring look, the man said, “Have you no knowledge of the Western Woodland Fae?” Mareduke stared at him, and he continued. “The fairies, who guard all living things in Kassia other than the two-legged kind, though their kinship with dragons is the most sacred. A Fae like Eliana is born only every eight hundred years, give or take, with a special affinity for dragons, and a destiny that compels her to do all in her power to preserve the species. A necessary service when you have a hereditary enemy bent on wiping you from existence.

When Mareduke continued to stare, he added, “You must have raised yourself, young dragon, just like I theorized. You are truly alone, then?” The dragon’s snout bobbed again, and the man said, “What is your name? Wait, allow me to place my staff over your heart. I will be able to hear you in my mind.”

Curious to experience this, Mareduke allowed it. The oaken staff was strangely warm and comforting, which made it easy to respond. I am Mareduke. Will you please tell me who you are and where this is?

The man stepped back and said with a poignant smile, “Eliana. Meet Mareduke. Quite possibly the last of his kind… Though Eliana and I have hopes that isn’t the case. Don’t we, child?” The tiny person laughed and said Mareduke’s name in a musical child’s voice that touched something in his heart.

After a bow and a sweep of his staff, the man said, “I am Pantheos, young Mareduke. An old wizard, retired from the academy where I spent a lifetime studying dragons and their history, all in preparation for meeting up with little Eliana here when it was time. Your time, Mareduke. Finding you is one part of our task. The other is to find your mate. If we don’t, then all hope for the dragons is lost. What do you think about this purpose?”

The dragon snorted and shook his great wings as the staff again touched his chest. Then he said, I hatched alone and believed I would die alone, accepting that fate marked me as the last of my kind. I never considered another dragon waited for me somewhere. Could it be possible?

Pantheos bowed his head and said, “In fact, we have evidence she exists, or at least existed. Her name is Cindra.”

All at once, Mareduke’s weakened state got the better of him, and he plopped on his haunches.

The wizard cried out. “Please. Forgive my thoughtlessness!” He pointed his staff at the well behind them and a splash sounded from a bucket dropping into the water, followed by creaking when the wizard’s magic operated the crank to pull it back up. Then Pantheos stepped to the well, retrieved the bucket, and brought it to the dragon, repeating the process until he was sure the exhausted creature wouldn’t keel over.

While Mareduke drank, Eliana settled on his front leg close to his head and patted his cheek.

He flinched when a voice spoke in his mind, sounding anything but childish. I am sorry you suffered such abuse today, Mareduke. Allow me to introduce myself. I am the part of Eliana who always exists and very pleased to meet you. I would have found you earlier if my information had included your foray on that village. But everything Pantheos and I knew of you pointed to the lake once you ventured out for food.

He tilted an eye at her. Your kind must hatch fully developed, like dragons. Otherwise, how can you sound like a grown person? Her little girl laughter lifted his heart, and he was sure his healing sped up by a day.

She explained more. I am an old soul aware of my occupation of this organic being who must grow in a mother’s womb before existing. I am both child and your spirit guardian, and my entire purpose is to see you survive to have offspring of your own. But we must first find a way to make peace between dragons and humans.

How are you speaking to me now, and why not at the lake?

You needed to get used to the idea of me as a child first, and I needed to observe you. When your heart opened to the possibility, we were able to connect.

When Mareduke woke this morning with an empty stomach and the misguided plan to raid that village, no one could have persuaded him that by the end of the day, he would no longer be alone.

He puffed out a tiny bit of air to ruffle her hair, making the child laugh. Her ancient voice sounded again. So long as Pantheos and I draw breath, you will never again feel the bite of loneliness.

Mareduke aimed his snout at Pantheos’s staff, and the wizard nodded, touching it to his chest. I understand a little now of the soul called Eliana, but please tell me more about the child and how she was able to retrieve a grown dragon on her own and bring us here. His big green eye swiveled back to the tiny being. Don’t you have parents?

Pantheos said, “Eliana is my ward, and her strong Fae magic is why we have this arrangement. It is part of my destiny to train her to manage the abundant powers she was born with as a guardian. Though her soul has experienced this before, the child must learn how to function in this role. Her parents knew what she was as soon as her mother gave birth to her, and they sought me out. She has a mark, you see.”

The pintsize Fae swept her cloak over her shoulder and showed Mareduke the small dragon’s eye on her forearm. The mark was more proof that what they told him was true, and he wondered how he could have lived all this time without knowing about the Western Woodland Fae and the guardians.

Trepidation struck him. Eliana felt it and turned to her mentor. Once again, the staff covered Mareduke’s heart, and the dragon spoke his worry in their minds. If humans are my enemy, what about those who come to my aid? A spark of warmth flared in Eliana’s eyes.

Pantheos said, “Well. Yes. You’ve grasped the tricky part. That is why you do not recognize these landmarks. Eliana brought you through a portal to a place the humans cannot find, the land of the Kassian gnomes. You won’t see them, but the nature-loving beings are all around this clearing, watching, never having seen a dragon.” Mareduke glanced around in interest as Pantheos continued. “And you’ve addressed the other reason her parents left her in my care. Our best chance to meet our destiny and the challenge of your enemy is to combine our strengths.

“The plan is for you to join us in locating your mate. Time is of the essence because the last known female dragon faces the same hazards as you. We’ve determined the location of her territory, which is the region in which Eliana’s people dwell. But we have not received word of Cindra for some weeks.” After this troubling news, the wizard rubbed his hands together. “Now. Did you consume any sheep in that raid? Or do you require a meal?”

Eliana pressed her hand to Mareduke’s chest and conveyed his answer in halting toddler words, as if the ancient one had retreated. “He ate one before he was caught in the trap. He’s good for a day or two.”

“Fine. We’ll catch you up and plan our expedition while you finish recovering.”

Mareduke’s head was spinning. Yet, everything his new friends said felt right. Eliana felt right, even if her dual nature was a bit disconcerting, and he knew this little glen was where he was supposed to be at this moment. As for the future, he thought to himself, could there really exist another dragon in Kassia? What if something has happened to this one called Cindra? What if it hasn’t and we meet, and she hates the sight of me? Or worse, I can’t stand her?

He snorted, filling the air with small puffs of smoke. None of that mattered if it meant he was no longer the last of his kind.

***

After the third time Mareduke had to insert himself between the villagers and the magnificent silver dragon belching molten fire, he began to seriously question the necessity of paring up with his own kind. No one told him female dragons were bigger than males, stronger, and could set half a town on fire with one blast.

And he’d made her angry.

It took two weeks to investigate the leads the three had narrowed down, and one more to pinpoint the most likely location to find Cindra. Having left Pantheos and Eliana in a safe place, Mareduke arrived at the south edge of the Western Woodlands, just in time to save what was left of a town under attack by the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen.

Cindra had strategically wiped out the village center, including those who could organize a defense. Humans were scattering in all directions, disappearing into the woods, jumping in the lake, and hiding in rock crevices up the side of the adjacent mountain. And still she circled her quarry, laying down fire to cut off retreats and destroy crops, livestock, and any other industry critical to the inhabitants’ livelihoods.

His best guess, if anyone were to ask him, was that his female counterpart didn’t like humans. And she just added him to that list, judging by the way she bore down on him now, which made Mareduke grateful for his smaller size. She might be a powerhouse, but he could fly circles around her, and he proceeded to do that as he led her away from the village by stages, and to the secluded mountain meadow where his friends waited for them.

He just needed to figure out how to calm her down on the way.

Did the humans offend you? He tossed that question her way as he dove under her belly.

She twisted her body and flew backwards, aiming fire at him when she had a clear shot. It hit a shelf of snow and caused a small avalanche. He circled around a mountain spire disappearing from her view, then found a spot behind her, so he could try again. Is this how you treat all your new friends?

I have no friends; you muddy-colored dragon. Who do you think you are, interfering with my retribution? Flames shot from her nostrils. Are you a coward, hiding behind my back?

Mareduke snorted. I can’t help it if your size shields me from your eyes even as it blocks out the sun. Cindra roared.

But Mareduke had stopped feeling intimidated, and he went on, even as he ducked her fire. The humans try to kill me on a regular basis. But I am bigger than them, and I don’t believe in using my advantages to harm others.

Well. Aren’t you the saintly one? Is this why you showed up out of nowhere? To protect humans.

Uh… Sort of. My friends and I have heard of you. You do realize there aren’t many of us around?

So what.

Why are you angry?

Why do you care? And where are you taking us?

Hmmm. So, she noticed. He didn’t think anything other than the truth would work, so he went for it. My friends have been searching for you and want to meet you. They only recently found me, and when they told me you existed, I wanted to meet you, too. I’m Mareduke. Will you be peaceable if I take you to them? They are beings of the two-legged variety.

Since you’ve made me curious, I promise not to harm your puny friends, but I’m not promising to stick around. I have things to do.

When they circled over the meadow, Eliana was in full sight, grinning at them and clapping her small hands in delight.

What is that? Cindra’s voice in his head was scathing as she emphasized each word. That tiny being is one of your friends?

Her name is Eliana. Mareduke made sure to put plenty of warning in his own tone. And yes, she is my friend.

Where are your other friends?

There are only two. Now, will you land with me and let us explain?

I said I would, and I will.

***

Eliana’s toddler charm had little effect on the dragon with the bad attitude, but Cindra’s reaction to Pantheos when he stepped out of the trees surprised Mareduke. She went down on one knee and bowed her head.

Pantheos bowed back and said, “You know who I am?” The silver head bobbed, and the wizard said, “Would you be amenable to drinking this potion, so that I can hear you? It is how I communicate with Mareduke.”

Cindra agreed with another nod, and Pantheos spoke in an ancient tongue as he turned his staff halfway around, then back again, and a bucket of water appeared in front of each dragon. It was only then Mareduke realized he was parched.

The huge dragon waited patiently for Pantheos to add a few drops to her bucket. As she drank her fill, Eliana stepped close enough to reach out and touch the silvery, scaled face. Cindra ignored her until the small hand caressed the bridge of her snout. She stiffened, then aimed a sable eye at the bold child. When Eliana’s laughter bubbled out, Cindra pulled away and rose to her full height. Mareduke spotted the warmth in her gaze before she hid it.

Pantheos said, “I am pleased to finally meet you, Cindra.”

It is an honor to meet you, High Mage. My mother told me the story of how you came to her aid. It was your intervention with the humans that allowed her to make it to the nesting grounds. Otherwise, I might not be here. Cindra’s visage darkened. The humans managed to kill her not many years after.

“I am sorry. I was informed of the tragedy and tried to find you, but you’ve kept yourself well hidden, other than coming out for those raids that have made you notorious.”

Do you know of my father, High Mage?

“Please, call me Pantheos. Yes, and I was there to help your mother through her despair. You have my deepest sympathies for the loss of both your parents, maiden dragon. That is why my young apprentice, and I did not give up our search. But it was Mareduke’s abilities that allowed us to finally succeed. It is our purpose to ensure your parents’ fate does not befall you, or Mareduke. You are the last of your kind.”

Cindra cast a scornful eye at Mareduke, then looked down her snout at the toddler still smiling up at her. Who, or should I say what, is this child?

She is a dragon guardian. Do you know of such ones?

I’ve heard of these Fae. I have respect for her people and leave them out of my reckoning. It is only the humans who deserve my wrath. And you are keeping me from my next engagement. So, I’m afraid I must take my leave.

Mareduke scoffed. That’s it? You can’t give us any more of your precious time to learn about your other choice?

Let me guess. My other choice involves mating with you. No thank you. I’m fine on my own.

Mareduke’s brownish scales glowed bronze, and green eyes blazed with his indignation. A chuff of surprise was Cindra’s only reaction to the impressive sight, and she spread her wings in preparation for taking off. Mareduke got in the last word when she was aloft. We might be fine on our own… but should we be?

The last four words were louder in their heads than intended because Cindra was already a mere speck in the distance, and the reverberation elicited a squeal from Eliana as she plopped on her bottom. It was the ancient guardian who spoke next in a voice that covered the distance to the departing dragon. We will meet again soon, dear friend.

***

Mareduke was not sure why he made the effort to track down the unpleasant maiden dragon … again. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand her pain. Part of him would like to give in to vengeance for the violence that ended his own parents. But he’d long ago come to terms with his principles over killing. Nothing good came of it.

He thought Cindra might believe that deep down, somehow sensing her destructive ways ate at her. Convincing her to change was another matter. Eliana and Pantheos assured him it was worth a try, so they flew with him to yet another human village they had pegged on their map of Cindra’s territory. Mareduke didn’t want to admit it, but he could feel her in his heart, which assured him they were on the right path. He put the idea away for now that his sensitivity was due to a mate bond already forming.

They saw the blaze rising above the trees before they spotted the silver dragon camouflaged against a low cloud.

Sending his thoughts to his passengers, he said, She is one headstrong beast. But this village was prepared. Do you see the trebuchets lined up around the perimeter? The brave ones are determined to load them even as some die under her fire.

Pantheos added, “And it appears half contain buckets of tar, while half are fireballs. That’s quite a defense.”

The guardian said in a grim voice, I foresee those wicked devices causing her death. We must disarm them.

I will not risk you, Eliana. We should put you down somewhere safe.

You needn’t worry about me, Mareduke. We have one shot at a pass while they are focused on her. Let’s go.

The little one was right. Mareduke flew low and fast, knocking the legs out from most of the machines before the humans realized another dragon had descended on them. The flaming ammunition dropped to the ground, and the villagers scrambled to put out their own fires. But they were prepared, tying cloths over their mouths, and pulling covers over each spot to snuff out the flames.

Still, Mareduke couldn’t fly to them all fast enough.  Pantheos shouted, “To your right!”

The trebuchets still standing were repositioned, tar buckets set ablaze and aimed their way. Besides the tar, fire from above rained down from a device before he could topple it. Mareduke twisted and shot up, managing to dodge the tar, but the flames hit his flank, and he faltered under the searing pain.

Hang on! He shouted to his passengers. I can get us away.

Even as he listed to the side, he managed to power his wings enough to lift above the machines, but not out of range of a tar bucket, which hurtled towards his chest. If he ducked the wrong way, the missile would hit his precious cargo, so he braced himself for the pain.

A silver scaled wing appeared between them and the tarry danger. Mareduke roared out his fear for Cindra. The bigger dragon smashed the bucket to the ground with her outstretched wing, which collapsed the remaining trebuchets, but not before her wing was doused with the thick, flaming goo. She listed horribly sideways, then crashed to the ground, and the smell of gaseous tar and her burning flesh filled Mareduke’s nostrils.

The humans closed in with more tar and torches.

Set us down next to Cindra, Pantheos commanded.

Mareduke wasted no time landing, then rose to his full height to shield the dragon struggling to stand. Her voice, full of pain and frustration, sounded in his head. What are you doing, you murky dragon? Go! Get that child out of here!

Beams of brilliant light flared from Pantheos’s staff in every direction, like a prism. The humans stopped in their tracks to shield their eyes, then looked to the source atop Mareduke’s back.

“I am the High Mage, Pantheos. I bring a decree from the King, who swears to protect the last of the dragon kind, provided my apprentice and I found the last two alive. It is not right to destroy them.” He paused, “Or that they exact revenge on you. That will change. There will be peaceful coexistence. Eliana and I will see to it. Now, back away and let us leave with the injured dragon.”

One of the men stepped forward. “Many have died today. What does King Lathan say about that?”

Eliana reached for Pantheos, who picked her up, so she could face the crowd. A beam of sunlight washed over her, and the sweet, halting voice of a child sounded across the smoldering village. “There has been much death on both sides. It must end here.”

Though many in the crowd appeared swayed, the man shouted. “Until there is another king who will decide differently. My descendants may yet avenge our dead.”

The toddler guardian bowed her head and said, “That may be, if you decide that is your legacy. For now, let there be peace, and let me go home with my friends. I promise you, one day you will need them.”

Artwork by D. L. Lewellyn using Photoleap and Canva, and the funky-limbed dragon came from Shutterstock.com. I love him anyway.

Priss Starwillow & the Wolf, Enchanting Characters in an Enchanting World, all in 5,000 words.

Free on Smashwords this week to Celebrate Read an eBook Week 📖🫖

On Smashwords

I’m working hard to get this out to the world, and this weekend would be the perfect time to enjoy a FREE short story. It was a winner in a writing …

Priss Starwillow & the Wolf, Enchanting Characters in an Enchanting World, all in 5,000 words.

Happy Read an eBook Week! Free on Smashwords!

Click here

She pelts him with bunchberries the first time they meet. The black wolf would suffer the sticky mess an entire day if it meant listening to her sweet laughter and the soothing sound of her wings, but he has a job to do.

My Story in a new anthology!!

Song of the Siren, a Dragon Soul Press Anthology

Just got my story Beneath the Prismed Light accepted by Dragon Soul Press! I am over the moon 🌝 Stay tuned for presale information.

Hellbound Hiatus – A Gods vs. Man Short Story

If you were a giant god sentenced to eternal torture, how would you entertain yourself during your vacation?

Artwork by Hugo Puzzuoli

Hellbound Hiatus

By D. L. Lewellyn

Tityus gave only half a thought to punching the obnoxious birds in their wrinkled bald faces because doing so was an act of futility. He knew this because he’d done it a million times over thousands of years, and it hadn’t yet stopped the two giant vultures from chewing out his liver every twenty-eighth day, starting precisely at six p.m., Eastern European Time. It was now seven.

The voracious creatures will finish digging into his side in exactly one hour, after which Tityus will endure more agonizing pain with the regrowth of his immortal organ, only to have the endless punishment repeated at the next new moon. In the lulls between, the giant often wondered who suffered the worst torment, the birds who were sent to Hell to eat the same meal every month for eternity, or Tityus from having to provide it.

He decided it would feel good to punch the bobbing heads anyway. It was worth the extra pain as strips of flesh were wrenched from his body by the force of his own blow. At least he’d caved in half their ugly faces, and there was immense satisfaction in all the flapping of black wings and screeches through shattered beaks. It was even better when they went aloft to find a ledge and wait for their skulls to mend.

A sound between a moan and a sigh seeped from the giant, echoing through his stone and moss-covered grotto nestled deep below the base of Mount Parnassus. Zeus might be liberal handing out sentences to his dozens of offspring when they went astray, but it didn’t mean he wasn’t keeping track of every single one, always watching, always ready to condemn. Tityus hoped his father just witnessed his act of bored defiance.

Since he’d been given a bonus reprieve, he took the opportunity to recline more comfortably on his loamy pallet, which stretched along with him across his nine-acre earthen home. He picked up the remote and flipped through the three programs his sister had selected for him to view on the eighty-foot screen, which hung on his southern limestone wall. It was only recently that Persephone had come up with the ingenious device in her efforts to give him a diversion between bouts of torture.

He smiled at the thought of his sister. 

She was the only one who believed he’d been goaded into his crime of passion by Hera and pleaded his case every chance she got. Even the goddess who bore him and the one who raised him didn’t believe his side though both had reason to blame Hera for their problems. It seemed everyone stuck together when it came to condemning him, but not Persephone. His sister’s loyalty and affection never wavered.

She also understood that finding what he sought through his view to the human world was the only thing keeping him sane and that on those rare occasions when he found the perfect distraction, he could ignore the prospect of the gnawing and gnashing at his flesh, and the pain when red ropes of liver were tugged out and slurped up like so many earth worms that shared his home.

***

It took the better part of the first week, once the vultures finished their meal and his liver grew back, to select his target, and Tityus was in the middle of planning how he would go about the couple’s torment when a leafy vine began winding up his leg. Since his limb was the length of three stadiums, it took some time for the greenery to get close to his face, but Tityus waited patiently for his sister to make her appearance. 

The vine stopped its horizontal travels at his hip, then shot straight up as it thickened into limbs that stretched into a torso. A neck and head appeared next, and soon the dulcet tones of the Queen of the Underworld chimed through his grotto.

“Hello, Brother. Have you made your selection?”

He had to dial down his voice to keep from blasting Persephone off his hip. “I have. Though each couple was as tempting as the other. Thank you for that. Choosing was half the fun.”

She clasped her hands together and grinned. “That is just what I hoped for. It has been too long since you’ve enjoyed yourself, Tityus, and I’m happy to do my part to make the point to Father that the retribution he inflicts on his offspring just as often spreads to mankind. You must know I have been pleading your case again. Not only were you manipulated by the jealous Hera, but your crime was incomplete, and this punishment has gone on long enough. Not to mention, it is agony to hear your groans of pain as they shake the very core of the Underworld.”

Green eyes as big as moons brimmed with affection, and he nudged her gently into his waiting palm. “Ever my champion, dear sister. I don’t know what I would do without you. Won’t you recline and stay for a bit?”

“That is why I’m here.” She reached out and patted his thumb. “I will convince Father one day soon. Meanwhile, you deserve a reprieve to toy with humans.” She laid back on her elbow and propped her head in her hand, while her vines wove a canopy over her, anchoring them themselves around her brother’s fingers. “Now, who did you pick?”

“If I only have time for one, this pair has the best potential to give us a top-rated show.” He clicked the remote, and the giant screen came to life. The sibling gods looked down on two people crouched in a square pit divided into grids in the middle of an archeological site not far from the west bank of the Nile.

***

Sarah had no clue what she did to Nathan with that earnest look of concentration. Parts of him clenched enough to be uncomfortable when she pushed her glasses higher on her pert nose, which was smudged with red dust. Not only did his heart thump erratically, but he almost groaned out loud.

That embarrassing prospect broke the spell she was weaving over him, and he cursed to himself. If she could read his lusty, turbulent thoughts, she would for sure request his replacement. He reminded himself that she’d shown him a few signs these past weeks to give him hope.

Nathan turned his attention back to the brush he held in his hand and focused on the shard of pottery they were easing in stages from the three-and-a-half-thousand-year-old soil. This section of the dig had turned up another small cache, which was laid out on a cloth next to them, consisting of tools, a handful of human bones, two delicate cat skulls, and three nearly intact clay jars.

The shard wasn’t even the most exciting thing they’d unearthed today… except… “Is that cuneiform?”

Her sweet, yet husky voice got him going again when she said, “Yes. I believe our theory has been confirmed. Do you agree?”

He was struck by her eyes that glittered with excitement and had to give himself a mental shake before answering. “It’s harder to deny when we add this to the rest. But Sarah, we’ve been breathing the dirt in this six-foot square hole for eight hours. Let’s cover it up, stash our findings in the locker, and get out of here. It’s time to go to the city for a night of celebration.”

“You really want to finish the day’s work without cataloging these beauties? Don’t you want to know what these symbols tell us?” She cocked her head. “Have I worked you that hard?”

He laughed. “I just need to get clean and go sweat at a club with dancing and liquor. Morning will be soon enough to study our treasure.”

“I suppose getting sweaty for a different reason would be a nice change of pace. You’re on.”

But those words passing through full pink lips and the vision of her moving on a dance floor forced him to stay crouched for a minute longer while waves of yearning rushed once more through his lower regions. Maybe torturing himself with an evening in her company wasn’t such a grand idea after all. On the other hand, it could be his long-awaited opportunity.

***

Tityus paused the video feed, and when he spoke, small boulders slid down the embankments surrounding his prone form. “You can see he’s got it bad and has no idea she’s been exploring her sexuality. I’ve got a few moves set up to help her decide things.”

Persephone’s eyes gleamed. “I can assume her decisions won’t include poor Nathan?”

“That’s the plan, but only after we squeeze more entertainment from them first. You did good, Sister. I can already smell his pathos,” and he closed his eyes and inhaled the pungent air to demonstrate the sensory input, which caused a small cyclone to whirl a path around them and rattle her vines. “His suffering and their confusion will go a long way towards helping me endure my next round of torment. I’m already collecting images for my dreams.” He cracked an eye open to peer at his sister. “And we might even enjoy some collateral damage. There’s a third party involved.” The quiet when the giant ceased speaking left a vacuum in the subterranean chamber.

The walls shook again when he chuckled and said, “Is our uncle aware of your new penchant for misguiding love-struck humans?”

The Queen of the Underworld let out an undignified snort. “Hades does not care how I occupy my time, only that he can call me to him whenever he wants. And speaking of the demanding one, I feel his pull now. I promise to be back for another installment. But don’t wait for me, you can catch me up.”

Tityus was used to Persephone’s spontaneous appearances and abrupt departures and didn’t mind when the forest of greenery disappeared with his sister in a wispy puff. He clicked his remote to open the next scene.

***

Nathan was sweaty just as planned, but he’d never had so much fun getting into this state of bodily dampness. Sarah had arranged for several of her friends from the university to meet them at the discotheque in Luxor, and the girls had made it their mission to keep him on the dance floor for the past two hours. He finally had to beg them for a break, so he could go cool down and freshen up.

Revived and happy enough with the results, he pushed his way through the crush of dancers and back to the bar where he’d left his charming companions with their drinks. When he was close enough to spot them through the crowd, he came to a dead stop. His heart plummeted like a stone. 

Sarah sat on a stool facing her friend Eman, who had her lips buried in Sarah’s neck. At first, it looked like Eman was simply trying to be heard. Then, he saw their clasped hands and a pink tongue darting in Sarah’s ear. Sarah laughed and pulled back, her eyes glittering with excitement, and something else.

He couldn’t believe he had things so wrong!

The shock wore off almost immediately, but that only let a whole slew of other confusing emotions overwhelm him while he stood there gaping, until the thought of what he must look like penetrated the fog.

Sarah spotted him before he could shake it off and act normal. Her smile froze, then she frowned.

Eman turned to see what Sarah was looking at, and it was clear she had no idea his world had just collapsed because she grinned at him and waved, then raised the drink she had waiting for him. His arm went up in a halfhearted answer, and he somehow got his legs moving again.

After another hour passed of being dazed, he had to wonder how he was still sitting in this raucous place hunched over his whiskey in the middle of the table Eman had expertly snagged for them. All he could feel after his third drink were the constant sharp jabs to his heart as he strained to hear the drowned-out chatter from the four girls still having a great time. If anyone asked him the topic of their conversation, he would not be able to relate one bit of it… for all the above reasons.

On the one hand, the pain confirmed his feelings for Sarah went much deeper than he realized. On the other, he feared it would be his new constant companion. The intensity that felt so good at the dig today now ripped him to pieces, and he thought he might be on his way to suffocating in this night club that had turned garish and stifling. He had to get out of there.

“Will you be good with getting Sarah back to the site, Eman?” He’d spoken so abruptly they each turned to him in surprise. He cleared his throat. “I’m going to call it a night and head back.”

Sarah laid a hand on his arm. “Are you okay? Maybe you should have a coffee first.”

That was sound advice, but the thought of watching Sarah and Eman whispering together another minute made him want to throw up. “I’ll be fine. I’ll see you at eight tomorrow. Don’t be late.” He attempted to smile at his lame humor, but judging by Sarah’s furrowed brow, his face must look as wan as he felt.

He slapped a few bills on the table mostly to make sure she had enough to get back to the dig. “Enjoy the rest of the night. It was a pleasure meeting all of you.” Sarah nodded then turned to her friends without another glance in his direction. He forced his shoulders not to slump in defeat and left.

***

This time the flowering vines trailed down the side of the cavern before finding purchase on the giant’s arm that stuck partly up from the earth. The writhing greenery tickled, waking Tityus from a satisfying dream that kept playing back the moment Nathan’s puny human heart was crushed to a pulp.

He cracked open a giant green orb and waited for Persephone to materialize on a dirt mound that covered his shoulder. The more he buried himself in the earth, the better he dreamed. He didn’t dwell too much on the reasons for that, though Zeus would be the first to tell him he had a mother complex.

Persephone wore her favorite skull crown today and leaned on her staff to peer into his eye. “Well? Was it as entertaining as you hoped?”

The damp soil covering him rippled, and a myriad of stones were tossed up from the vibrations when he said, “Even better.”

“What do you think Nathan will do now? Will he be able to endure working so closely with Sarah?”

“You made it just in time for the next installment. When Nathan left the club about two in the morning, he was in a state of mind that made him the perfect mark for the rare Luxor mugger, which I ensured crossed his path. The thief took all his cash, then beat him senseless. That event alone will last me a good while, and the violence wasn’t even due to me. Sarah is about to discover he never made it back.”

Persephone raised her cupped hand and a bloodred mist swirled in her fingers. When it dissipated, she was holding several bunches of purple grapes, the size of which no human had ever seen. She plucked half the fruit off one and tossed it into Tityus’s mouth, then asked him a question. “Is he alive?” Tityus nodded as he chewed, and she said, “You realize having him harmed could make your plans head in the wrong direction.”

Her brother jolted her with another nod, swallowed more grapes, and said, “The gamble that humans might find their way despite our interference is what makes this so satisfying.”

She smiled. “Then, let’s get comfortable and watch.” 

Tityus clicked his remote, and the shadowy grotto lit up from the desert scene now spread across the limestone wall like a portal had just opened to Thebes. The morning sun gleamed across the sand and the ancient pyramid, and the archaeological encampment looked small in its shadow. A lone figure crouched in the pit under an umbrella and worked with meticulous care on a spot in the strata at the level of her eyes.

But the anxious archaeologist bobbed up the ladder at every sound to check the dirt track meandering towards Luxor. Her voice was overly loud when she called out, “Hey, Charles. Have you heard from Nathan yet?”

A man crouching in the adjacent pit answered her. “Not since you asked me fifteen minutes ago. But I’m concerned, too. I sent Jack to hunt for him this morning. I’m sure he must have holed himself up in a hotel room to sleep off the whiskey. You know what a lightweight he is. We should both quit worrying.” 

As soon as that last word drifted over the sand between them, the sound of a car had them springing up their respective ladders to peer over the edge of their pits.

Back in the grotto, Persephone said from where she reclined in her vines from the spot on Tityus’s shoulder, “That must be Jack with Nathan. If I’m wrong, I’ll find you eight victims for next month’s program.”

Tityus’s deep laughter stopped abruptly when he spotted an eagle much too large to be natural swooping over the dig site and around all the tents to land on a clothesline strung with colorful blankets flapping in the breeze. “Uh… Persephone. Do you think… ”

“Yes,” she drawled. “It’s Father. Hell’s gate! How did he find out?” She barked out a laugh. “Never mind. Stupid question. We’re better off working on our plausible deniability.”

They looked over the scene again to find the car arrived at the encampment and parked under a cover. A burly, bearded man stepped out of the driver’s side, then opened the door to the backseat to help out a slighter man who was clearly in pain and struggling to move. 

“Nathan!” Sarah shouted as she scrambled the rest of the way up her ladder and ran to the car.

The eagle made another pass over the scene, and Tityus and Persephone eyed each other when a screech that could only belong to the powerful god who was their sire sounded all the way to them in the grotto, even as the humans beneath the winged creature were oblivious. 

When Nathan heard Sarah call his name, he forced himself to straighten and face her. She came to an abrupt halt and gasped. “Oh my god. What happened to you?”

Embarrassment was visible through the damage on his face, but he summoned his dignity and said, “I had a little run-in on the way to the taxi stand and woke up in an alley with my pockets inside out. Thankfully, Jack thought to check the police station where I ended up this morning because I had no way to identify myself.” This time, they all looked up when another screech rent the air and watched as the bird of prey disappeared over the horizon.

Sarah turned back to her colleague who was turning wobbly before her eyes, and her voice hitched. “You scared me to death, Nathan.” She stepped closer and softened her words. “I’m aware of what I did to you last night. I’ve been confused about things, and I’m sorry. Today, everything is different. Will you forgive me?”

Hope bloomed on Nathan’s face, which looked somewhat grim with his distorted lips and puffy eye. He cocked his head at her. “What are you saying, Sarah?”

“Eman is finishing her doctorate at Cambridge. We said goodbye last night. For good. You’re the one I want to be with. Can I hope for the same?”

The burly Jack cleared his throat, which effectively brought the two back to their present surroundings, and he said, “While it’s clear this exchange is doing Nathan a lot of good, he’s about to drop where he stands. Are you ready to have a lie down, kid?”

Sarah raised a shining face to Nathan’s as she wrapped her arm around his waist and walked him to the med tent. The look in her sea green eyes was the final nail in the coffin for Tityus’s schemes this hiatus. The giant punched the button on the remote violently enough to crush the entire thing, and the view to the desert went dark, throwing the grotto into shadow.

Persephone was already turning wispy with her disappearing vines. “I’m sorry, Brother. But you understand I must return to Hades. I promise to do what I can to cool our father’s wrath.”

His laughter was full of both irony and resignation as he said, “You will do better for me staying clear of Zeus for now, and away from here, but don’t wait too long for another visit, dear sister.”

In the lull after her departure, Tityus settled his huge body deep beneath the earth in his lonely grotto and hoped for nurturing dreams of humans suffering unrequited love, while he waited for the next new moon… and the vultures to circle.

The End… Until the Next New Moon

I wrote this for a short story contest. It didn’t make the top three, but I absolutely adore this premise. A friend is writing his own version of the tortured giant, Tityus, and how he might use a grotto-sized TV to spy on mankind and wreak havoc for the sole purpose of providing a diversion from torture. Most of you know the story of Prometheus, the lover of mankind, who endures a similar punishment exacted on him by Zeus, but here is the lesser known story of Tityus, tortured for being a cad.

What kind of story would you come up with for my bored giant’s entertainment? Let me know in the comments. I’m thinking of doing more of these to collect for an anthology. What do you think about that idea?

Artwork by Ygit Danacioglu

My 250-Word Bomb

As In It Didn’t Even Make it Through the First Round of a Micro Fiction Competition

So, I’m just releasing my thoughts about this into words. Thanks for allowing me to indulging in this exercise with you.

At the very least, it has been a huge learning experience participating in the NYC Midnight writing challenges. The prompts and random genres are hard! But I was bit by the competition bug and have been compelled to torture myself in a few of these events where you only have a day or two to write according to prompts. I managed to score points for two stories in the flash fiction contest, but not enough to go to the third round. So, failing to even get an honorable mention in my latest endeavor put a big dent in my day yesterday.

Why am I whining? I’m not really. I have learned so much from these competitions, and the feedback from the judges is detailed and well thought out. I had the idea that I could share this with a few readers (if anyone is willing) to shine some light on what the judges say was lacking.

I was assigned Action/Adventure, Catching an Insect, and the word Clean to use in my story.

Now I admit, Action/Adventure is not my thing, though I had fun with it in my short story, A Leap Through the Elder Oak, which I shared for winter solstice. But I gave it a shot because I do love a challenge. I was pretty happy with the plot that popped into my head as I mulled over the prompts. 

The main issue was that the story failed to have a direct action scene. Oops. I’m fairly certain Action/Adventure needs a direct action scene. I thought dodging between skyscrapers in a squirrel suit was pretty direct, but that’s just me. Kenji might have been a little too contemplative for an action story. At least the judges said it was a compelling story despite the lack of direct action, and Kenji was a compelling protagonist. I’ll take it! 

Then they said I needed more backstory for the brothers. I get that. The judges were confused about the purpose of the story, was one brother good, one bad? Both bad? But backstory in 250 words? Hmmm. And I think my main theme was pretty clear. It was about family, so it didn’t matter if either of them were good or bad. One brother was desperate to save the other, and he risked himself to do it. Again, 250 words… how do you give them both a backstory plus the story in 250 words? Sorry. I’m repeating myself.

They discussed the idea that the omen of the moth could be bad, or it could be good depending on the reader. I’m okay with that. It’s what I intended. This lovely moth in fact represents portents both good or bad depending on the culture. I wanted to leave that up to the reader, whoever you may be.

Finally, they said the paragraph where I use the required prompt word “clean” could have been shorter, less descriptive to allow room for more backstory. But how the heck would “clean” fit in without Kenji looking around his environment? That’s a stumper, but that is probably the main reason why I need to work more at writing good micro fiction.

I asked a couple friends. One thought I’ve been mulling over is that my point of view might be confusing. It felt like it was always Kenji, but let me know what you think about that.

Well, here it is for better or worse. And thanks again!

I’d love any feedback to help me make it better because I never let my losing stories just die, and you might have the perfect idea how to get that backstory in. That would be a fantastic thing.

The Death’s Head Omen

Kenji suited up, knelt on one knee, propped his elbow on the other, then used his mini scope to confirm the coordinates. His target was locked in.

Jumping from a high-rise balcony in the dark to land on the roof of a warehouse three miles away was crazy. The wingsuit flight might kill him any number of ways. An accurate parachute landing would be a miracle. Doing it in the middle of a drug deal raised the stakes impossibly high.

But he would arrive unseen, and it was his best option to save his brother. Kaiyo would do the same for him.

Still, prickling sweat mocked him. Made him doubt his abilities. Kenji needed an omen. As the thought entered his head, a shadow flitted across his vision. A death’s head hawkmoth. Up here so far, and all alone? Like Kenji in his desperation.

Swiveling, he scanned his surroundings one last time. It was beautiful amid the tops of the gleaming buildings. Muted, like the outer reaches of space. Pristine. The glass wall behind him was so clean he could see through to the east end of the hundred and first floor.

He captured the portentous insect between cupped palms, absorbed its fluttering life, then spread his hands. It flew free. He aimed his body and did the same. Familiar excitement took hold, and the air currents gripped him as he hurtled twenty-five miles an hour between gleaming skyscrapers and flashing neon, zigzagging towards the only family he had left.

Change With Me, My Love – A Dystopian Fantasy Love Story

A lonely man in a dying world seizes a chance at happiness with a mythical being. Grab a cup of tea and settle in with your favorite snuggly blanket for an eight minute story that feels like getting lost in a novel. While you’re there, I would love to know what you think.

Click on the photo above to go to my Vocal Media story and feel free to comment and like. I would greatly appreciate it.

Excerpt

The outside world was unknown to her, but she could see a glimpse of it through the window in his room. The view from this high place included a blue sky interrupted by puffy white clouds tipped in pink from the rising sun, and their shadows moved swiftly over a patch of turbulent sea. That spot was the focus of her longing.

It was the vast land flowing away from the sea that comprised the unknown, the part of this world she had never experienced until now, the part that required a pair of feet to traverse it. She looked at her toes in wonder, curling them just to ensure it was her will operating the strange appendages.

***

Have you Ever Worked Furiously on a Short Story Submission, and Nearly Missed the Deadline?

Still, I managed it with fifteen minutes to spare! And I hadn’t even figured out the title yet. Yikes! My closest call yet. I had the deadline wrong. I’m typing away and thought I should check the submission requirements again. Due in Two Hours! What!! The story that resulted still has me reeling. I love it so much, I don’t even care if it doesn’t get a win. It is dear to my heart, and that is all that matters.

The prompt was to write a dystopian tale using the first sentence, “The outside world was unknown to her, but she could see a glimpse of it through the window in his room.” I couldn’t resist this one! It’s short. Eight minutes to read. I’d love to know if it captures your imagination, too, only if you have a few minutes to spare, and need a dose of magic. If you do, click the photo.

A lonely man in a dying world seizes a chance at happiness with a mythical being.

The outside world was unknown to her, but she could see a glimpse of it through the window in his room. The view from this high place included a blue sky interrupted by puffy white clouds tipped in pink from the rising sun, and their shadows moved swiftly over a patch of turbulent sea. That spot was the focus of her longing.

It was the vast land flowing away from the sea that comprised the unknown, the part of this world she had never experienced until now, the part that required a pair of feet to traverse it. She looked at her toes in wonder, curling them just to ensure it was her will operating the strange appendages.

A Little Cannibal Comedy, Anyone?

I dare you to ride along with the masked passengers and their eerie pilot in this story that came from a random prompt in a genre you don’t get …

A Little Cannibal Comedy, Anyone?

Browsing Vocal Media for Engaging Short Stories?

I’m there. I would love you to stop by and check out my growing and eclectic set of short stories. Fantasy fiction, an adult fairy tale, a romance triangle with a twist, a pair of aquarium fish who witness murdering mayhem, a historical fiction tale of a pioneering aeronaut, and even a cannibal comedy with an ending that will raise your brows, await you. If you enjoy them, like and comment while you’re there. Thank you!

Click on image to visit my profile and stories.