A – Z Challenge Day 26

It’s finally here! The final story for this April’s Challenge! I can hardly believe that it’s over, it has been a fantastic month! I’ve really enjoyed taking part and I am rather impressed with myself for managing to write as often as I did. I’ve had a couple of stumbles along the way, but I’m here on the last day with my twenty-sixth short story so I am pretty bloody pleased with that!

This prompt is once again from Viki, who has been a fantastic help. The word she chose to end my Challenge is “ZANY”. I don’t know about you lot, but whenever I hear that word I automatically think of Dr. Seuss and his wacky creations! My idea for a story is significantly darker than the friendly Cat in the Hat, just as a warning!

Anyway, here is my final story for this April. Thank you to everyone who has been following my progress and a bigger thank you to everyone who has found the time to give me feedback on my stories. As a side-note, my previous story which I uploaded earlier today was my 50th post since starting out WordPress, which I am really pleased about. Thank you, everyone, for helping me to keep doing what I love.

ZANY

By Adam Dixon

Rosie heard the music before her sister did. It filtered into her dreams, the beautiful, haunting melody of the simple pipe dissipating her innocent imaginings like a breeze through smoke. She allowed it to gently caress her senses and pull her slowly towards wakefulness. Once awake she lay still in the darkness, listening to the lonely pipe calling to her very soul. After a few minutes, Anna begin to stir in the bed next to hers and soon they were staring at one another in excitement.

“It’s him!” Anna breathed, smiling sleepily. Rosie nodded and sat up. Her neatly-trimmed brown hair was in disarray and she had been dribbling as she slept. Wiping her freckled face clumsily with the back of her hand Rosie got out of bed and hurried over to the window. Anna joined her a moment later, jittery with nervous anticipation. They stared out at the fields beyond their village, trying in vain to spot the source of the music. They could not, and Anna looked at Rosie expectantly. Being the Big Sister, it was Rosie’s job to make the decisions when Mummy and Daddy weren’t around. Rosie drew herself up to her full height of four feet two inches and assumed an important pose.

“Well, Anna, we’ll have to go and find him!” She said, nodding for emphasis. Anna gasped and clapped her hands together.

“Oooh, we’re going to have an adventure!” She yelped, bouncing up and down. Rosie clamped a hand over Anna’s mouth, eyes wide as she listened to the sounds of the house. She could hear nothing from their parent’s room, only the distant playing of the pipe.

“You need to keep quiet, Anna,” she whispered, removing her hand. “We can’t wake Mummy and Daddy up! They wouldn’t let us go and see him!”

“But we promised!” Anna replied, pouting. “We promised the Colourful Man that we would come and visit him if he played his pipes! Mummy and Daddy always say that we should keep our promises!”

“Yes, they do,” Rosie agreed, putting on her slippers and searching for Anna’s. “But they wouldn’t like it if they knew we were doing it at night time! Give me your feet, Anna, you need to put these on. Find your coat, too, it will be too cold for just a nightie outside!”

Rosie and Anna busied themselves for the next few minutes as they gathered provisions for their exploit. Soon, they both had coats, slippers and woollen hats on, and Anna held a plastic bag containing a packet of crisps each and half-empty bottle of fruit juice which they had saved for a midnight snack. Rosie put the spare blankets and pillows under their bedsheets just in case their parents looked in on them. It was unlikely, but she judged it to be a good idea nonetheless.

“Right!” Rosie stood, hands on hips as she observed Anna and the bedroom. She smoothed down her stubborn hair with her hand before attacking Anna’s darker curls with a brush. “Off we go then! Make sure you tiptoe past Mummy and Daddy’s room, Anna, and watch out for the creaky steps on the stairs!” Anna nodded eagerly, brimming with excitement. The two girls carefully moved through the house and down the stairs, unlocking the front door and stealing out into the night. The low amber glow from the few streetlights guided their way as far as the edge of the village, and from there Rosie used her Barbie torch to light their path. She held onto Anna’s hand tightly, whispering to her that the Colourful Man would be so pleased to see them.

***

Less than a mile away, hidden in the nearby wood, the Piper stopped playing. He knew that the girls would reach him soon, his pipe’s magic always saw to that. He stretched his arms and legs out as he sat on the tree stump, scratching his long white beard and yawning. His colourful robes were dulled by the darkness but he would still be easy to spot because of them. The children had been captivated as he had put on his ridiculous act for them at the village fete, jumping, twirling and juggling for them. He even told nonsensical stories in order to make them laugh and had howled along with them like a wolf. They enjoyed his clownish persona, and they always wanted more. He would wait until their parents were distracted before whispering into their ears that they would be able to play together again if they only promised to come to him when he played his pipe. The children readily agreed, completely ignoring the “Stranger danger” ethos that their parents had drilled into their heads. They were just as gullible now as they had been a century ago.

The Piper didn’t know why he had lived for so long, but he suspected that it had something to do with his diet. He grinned as he sharpened his skinning knives with a whetstone; young children were simply so nutritious!

 

A – Z Challenge Day 17

 

 
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Today’s prompt comes from the brilliant Geoff Le Pard. Geoff has written some very interesting posts about London during this challenge, and he has been kind enough to provide me with two prompts for mine. The theme for my own challenge has been heavily influenced by Geoff, as he wrote a short story every single day last November for NaNoWriMo. I was astounded to learn of this feat and have been inspired to have a crack at something similar ever since!
Geoff’s suggestion for today is “QUISLING”. This is a great word which I have only come across a few times and it presented a fun challenge. Thanks again, Geoff!

Here’s what I was able to come up with. I hope you enjoy it.

QUISLING

“You would bite the hand which feeds you, woman?” Captain Siper asked as he stared at Alesia over the top of his clasped fingers. The inside of his command tent was cramped with the huge wooden desk and two burly guards flanking him. The air inside was stuffy and smelled of sweat and leather. Alesia shrugged, irritated by the question.

“That is why I am here, is it not, captain?” she replied, folding her arms and raising her chin. “The people in this village have done nothing good for me in the last year.” Her angular face was held with pride despite the dirt covering it. Captain Siper found this behaviour extraordinary.

“So it would seem,” he said slowly. He leaned across his desk, splaying his hands over the rough maps of the surrounding area as he peered into Alesia’s face.

“Tell me, woman, is there any truth to the rumours my men have heard about you?” He asked, an unpleasant smirk curling his mouth. “They have learned that you were once a respected woman within the village, and a favourite of the local lord, no less. They also learned that you were tossed aside like a soiled blanket once a fairer, younger maiden was made ready for said local lord! Could this be the reason for your traitorous scheme?”

Alesia’s eyes blazed with fury and her breathing quickened. Oh, how she would love to hit him right in his smug, self-satisfied mouth! She stood straighter and her voice was cool as she answered him.

“They are not quite true, captain,” she said, narrowing her eyes at Siper’s stoic guards. They were watching her with same alertness as a fox would watch a rabbit.

“I was indeed favoured by the local lord, as I was once his mistress,” she continued. “But that time has passed, as you may have deduced by my slovenly appearance. I was not “tossed aside” as you so delicately put it, but there was another woman embroiled in my fate and that was the lord’s wife. She has seen fit to wield her influence on these simple-minded villagers, and suffice it to say my fortunes have declined of late.”

“Yes, that much is quite obvious!” Captain Siper barked a short, cruel laugh. Alesia sniffed but maintained her composure.

“Well, will you accept my help or not?” she demanded. “I know that your leader desires this village for its strategic position along the trade routes and you know that the villagers won’t let you take it without fierce resistance. I can help you minimise the losses on your side considerably.”

“Perhaps we don’t require any aid, hmm?” Captain Siper sneered at Alesia, who was beginning to loathe the oily little man. “Our numbers are enough to flatten that miserable village and put every man within it to the sword. We know this and the villagers know it, too.”

“Whilst that is true, you must also realise that it will not be so simple,” Alesia said, with a wry smile of her own. “The villagers have vowed to burn the entire place to the ground if it seems as though your army will succeed. They would rather see their homes burn than fall into your hands. I can help you prevent this from ever being a possibility.”

“Go on,” Siper said, his smile vanishing. Alesia allowed herself a moment of silent triumph.

“I know the schedule of each and every man who will be on sentry duty over the next week,” she said. “In three nights’ time I shall open the main gate for you, so that your men may enter the village under the cover of darkness. You can then occupy it from within and do whatever you will with it and its people.”

“How will you get the gate open if there will be men guarding it?” Siper’s tone was scornful as he sized Alesia up. She was tall and slight, with small hands and feet; she was not a figure which inspired physical prowess in any way. Alesia merely laughed at the implication.

“Oh, captain,” she said, shaking her head and grinning. “If I only ever know three things about men, they are that they believe all women are weak, unthreatening and desperately attracted to them. There will be one guard on duty that evening, a dullard called Thom, who most certainly thinks those things of me. Simply put, I shall kill him and open the gate. Understand?”

“And how, pray tell, would you benefit from this betrayal, woman?” Siper asked, his expression guarded but interest gleaming in his eyes. Alesia approached his desk, and leaned closer to the captain’s face. Her grey eyes were alight with ambition.

“I would benefit by being permitted to rule the survivors!” she replied, as if it were the most obvious question in the world. “That is my condition! I will allow you entry to the village if you will grant me control once it has been tamed.” Siper gave another bark, this time sounding relieved and astonished.

“By the Gods, I like you, woman!” He chuckled. He stood up and extended a gauntleted hand towards Alesia. “On my honour as a man of the Empire, it shall be done as long as you uphold your end of the bargain!” Alesia grasped the offered wrist and shook it.

“Then it is done,” she said, holding his gaze with intensity. “Assemble your men outside the main gate in three nights’ time. The way shall be clear.” She moved towards the tent flaps, but paused as a guard lifted the canvas.

“One more thing,” she said quietly, looking over her shoulder. “I’d like it if you could capture the lord and his lady alive, and then bring them to me. I have…plans…for the two of them.”

“My lady, consider it done!” Siper gave a mocking bow. Alesia exited the camp and stole back to the sleeping village with the captain’s laughter ringing in her ears.