Flash Fiction: Body and Heart

Work has been stressing me out, so I felt like writing about healing.

 

Body and Heart

by Heidi C. Vlach

In her fifteen years of massage therapy, Carly had met some remarkable patients. This lion, though, was something else.

Animals are animals, people always told her. Can’t change their nature. Can’t control their urges. Let down your guard and you’re as good as dead. Yet, this lion was on his third session of laying still and letting Carly sink her fingers into his musky, sand-coloured fur, down into the stress-bound muscle underneath until it released and went smooth.

Thank you, the lion told her afterward, as was his custom. He shook out his mane and yawned; Carly was mesmerized by those ivory fangs until they vanished back into his mouth, and then she caught herself and smiled.
It was her job to help, she replied. Was he sleeping better?
Much better, yes.
Good. He still had that therapist appointment?
Tomorrow morning.
And how about that terrible foot wound?
Rumbling a laugh, the lion lifted his forepaw to once again show Carly the bandage strip — still there between his massive toes, the smiling cartoon mice still afixed even though the thorn puncture must have been thoroughly healed by now.
He hadn’t thought one little thorn could change his life, the lion said. He had never considered seeking help, from mice or humans or anything else. But he was glad all this happened.

As a medical professional, Carly could say the same.

——–

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Flash fiction: Growing Pain

I asked Twitter to choose a story prompt, and this time the winner was a magical plant. Works for me! I’m starting seeds for my own garden right now, so I’m definitely in a plant mood.

Growing Pain

by Heidi C. Vlach

She was drifting toward the brink of sleep when the mandrake’s voice came again.

“Hey. Hey! Human!

No rest for the well-intentioned. Florence dragged upward from the night’s embrace, yanking her robe about herself as she stalked back to her greenhouse room, back into the smell of newly laid boards and paint.

Inside its rune-painted ceramic pot was the young mandrake sprout: draped with silver moonlight, its stem stiff and its spade-shaped leaves held high. Florence didn’t have to see its face to know what its pout looked like.

“What is it?” she asked.

“I’m too dry.”

Rubbing her aching eyes, Florence muttered, “You can’t be, I just watered you yesterday.”

“I’m the one with roots, and I’m telling you they’re dry.”

“This couldn’t wait until morning?”

“I might wither before morning!”

The plant was being dramatic: Florence had practically memorized the Beginners’ Guide to Magical Botany and she knew mandrakes were as tenacious as any garden weed. But she was going to humour it. She crossed the room on bare, silent feet and she pushed a finger into the mandrake’s soil.

“Feels damp to me. You aren’t confusing dryness for something else, are you? Mildew? Rot? Maybe regret for being so difficult with me?”

Its beady eyes flashed in the dark. “Mandrakes know more about mandrakes than apprentice humans ever will. Now, hurry up and water me. With fresh river water — I don’t want that chlorinated filth you put into your own body.”

“Honestly, this late at—”

“Do it,” the mandrake said, “or I’ll scream.”

And Florence didn’t want that, now did she? She left the greenhouse, sighing through her teeth, grabbing the empty water pail along the way. And she promised herself again that she wouldn’t rest — literally, if need be — until she was a plant mage.

 


 

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Flash Fiction: Some Like Bones

I was looking at other people’s cute dogs on Twitter before writing this.

Some Like Bones

by Heidi C. Vlach

What the dragon couldn’t figure out was why humans insisted on running from him. He bore the magic of Everytongue; he spoke words that perfectly matched human chattering; why, then, did they flee even when he uttered words of peace?

After some thought, the dragon asked one of the misshapen wolves guarding a human town — dogs, they were called. This dog hackled and growled at first, but melted into tail wagging once the dragon spoke a bark-like greeting and allowed his scales to be sniffed.

“I thought humans were friendly,” the dragon asked. “Why do they run from me?”

The dog tilted his head. “Humans are friends! Dragon is friend. Why …” He harrumphed and scratched at his floppy ear with a back paw. “I don’t know. Ask humans.”

“I’ve tried that,” the dragon repeated.

“Oh.” The dog continued thinking, only briefly distracted by a passing fly. Eventually, he decided, “You need to be a good boy.”

It sounded simple enough, this riddle. The dragon asked, “How does a creature be a good boy?”

The dog opened his mouth in a wide grin. “I can show you!”

It turned out to be an absurd practice, full of grovelling, tail-wagging and biting back his fire. But after some weeks of practice, the dragon got it right.

——

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Flash Fiction: Grow In The Dark

This scene came to me while I was thinking about human beings figuring out, through historical trial and error, which mushrooms and fungi are edible. I can only imagine the process would be even more, uh, exciting in a magical world.

 

Grow In The Dark

by Heidi C. Vlach

This was putting him behind schedule, thought the delivery boy. He held his tongue and ducked under yet more stiff bundles of dried herbs, holding his pocket cloth over his mouth to defer all the dust. When an elderly woman of great repute — such as this Madam Korozie des Florelle — invited one inside for tea, there was no polite option but to accept.

And so he followed the Madam through her cluttered storage closet of a home. All of the furniture was old, and some of it antique. Books and other treasures stood in off-kilter piles. The Madam herself was unknowable under her layers of skirts, cloaks and wraps, though he could definitely discern a hunched back and tawny skin spattered dark with age spots.

They talked about the recent rainstorm, of all innocuous things. He agreed, politely. And he sat under the stares of polished skulls and painted sigils, taking larger sips of his odd-flavoured tea until he was sure he liked it.

The Madam’s smile began to worry him, though. Knowing even for an elder, with her night-dark eyes pinched delighted at the corners.

The delivery boy was trying to muster another banal statements about the town aquifer, when the Madam cut in asking if he knew who she was.

Sick of the lump in his throat, he replied yes, he did. She was the first Grand Magus to ever dissent with the King.

Her gaze changed mercurially; he was holding the gaze of a rook, a wildcat, the heart of the whole enormous world. And, she said?

And what? What was he supposed to think of someone risen and fallen while he was still yet to be born? The delivery boy set down his suddenly flavourless cup and said that he was not present when she was Magus, good Madam. He tried not to pass judgement on such things.

Smart boy, she said on a flick of a laugh. Tell her the truth, though: what did he know about Madam Kororzie?

And, as was polite, he answered the lady’s question. Madam Korozie des Florelle was the first female foreigner ever to become a Grand Magus. She developed many of the standard healing spells still used to this day. She disagreed with the kingdom engaging in a war not theirs. And, the delivery boy added on a spur of drunken fear, the good Madam now foraged wild herbs for a living.

A harsher flick of laughter from the Madam, a shaking within her fabric coccoon. Just gathering herbs, she cried? A dotty old woman picking some bits and pieces for her dinner? No, dear boy, she said as she pushed herself up from the table — and she stopped to spear her gaze into him again. What was his name, again?

She had never asked for it. He was Santis Fowlue of Dunmore, he said, that dull name that was plain and sad and his.

Santis, the Madam confirmed.

Her accent leaned hard on the second syllable, which was wrong but at least interesting.

Well, Santis, she went on, she had been keeping busy since her Magus days. She focused on mycosis, the study of mushrooms and the many ways they could enhance a person’s magic. They could also poison a body and kill them quicker than a wink, the Madam gravely added — but anything on this earth worth doing was risky. Had he also heard of the dragonstooth toadstool?

Madam Korozie was shuffling now to a dust-coated cabinet, removing something that Santis couldn’t see past her hunched, cloaked back. It was still unclear whether he ought to be here; he tamped down his nerves and said no, ma’am.

If he had, she added, it would mostly be stories of fools trying to earn riches.

He was sorry, ma’am, but he hadn’t.

She hummed. She was at the hearth now, bending over one of the pots Santis had assumed to be simmering dinner. The dragonstooth toadstool, the Madam told him, was said to have sprouted from a shed tear from one of the gods. That fact had been translated ten times forward and back. Left out to go rusty in the rains of time. But if it was true, and if the toadstool could be picked, it could raise some brave human to their fullest potential.

Madam Korozie was still bent, working with the pot’s contents. Scraping echoed up into her chimney while Santis shifted in his groaning old kitchen chair.

So, Santis ventured, did she find it?

The Madam laughed. Not a flick of a laugh but the whole mirthful thing, the sound of a wise woman who understood the entire joke.

Santis shouldn’t have come here, he tried to suppose. He was already behind pace on his afternoon assignment. But in this strange, cosy home, he asked his elder, so, ah. It was worth the search, then?

Madam Korozie turned and approached him, a shuffling mound with smile-cornered eyes and a teaspoon held before her. A teaspoon full of meat broth — no, it was a magic potion. No meat made a liquid that deeply coloured, like saffron except oilier.

The Madam held the spoon out at Santis between her trembling, expert fingers. Held it out like a mere sip of soup and she said, why don’t you tell me?

——-

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Flash fiction: Come Flying Forth

I’m going to try something. Since long-form fiction has been a struggle for me the last few years, I’ll be focusing for a while on posting short, experimental flash fiction. That method helped me build strength as a younger writer, so hey, maybe it’ll help me now.

Without further chatter, here’s a story for today. I asked Twitter what my prompt should be and the answer was (unsurprisingly) dragons.

 

Come Flying Forth

by Heidi C. Vlach

Each morning, the dragons emerged from their cave. Flying on wings so nimble they never did collide, flying out in a rush of glinting scales and fiery eyes. They were every colour and size imaginable, those thousands of dragons; they were a kaleidoscope made liquid to pour upward and fill the sky.

The humans, frightened though they were, turned their faces up toward each morning dragon flight. They murmured in their throats, they pointed at the turbulent flock. Generations passed and, in the footnotes of time, some humans crept closer to the cave. They listened to roared words until understanding began. They left food offerings — including the ripe, fragrant fruit that dragons did covet.

“Why do you fly like that?” asked a brave youth one year. “Why do you always emerge together?”

The dragon addressed — a dog-sized example of her kind, lavender-coloured, licking mango juice from her snout — replied, “Because we can.”

“That’s all?”

“We fly. We are one. What else is there?”

When other humans arrived, the youth told them. Those humans told others. The wisdom spread.

Because we can. Because the dragons were all different, all fierce and vividly alive, but under their myriad colours they were tied together by same hearts.

It took more years, but the humans held a walk. An event for all, a pouring of humans down the same street, the colours of their faces and clothing making another kaleidoscope. All together.

Popular as it was, more walks were scheduled. More and more frequently until the dragons came to watch, perching on roofs and by roadsides, watching the human masses with a dancing fire in their eyes.

And when a dragon gifted them with fruit — a small, lavender dragon dragging a tooth-punctured watermelon to lay at the king’s feet — that was when the times of joy began.

—–

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All Things Blended: a short story

 

I wrote a story based on the prompt word blue.

 

 

All Things Blended

by Heidi C. Vlach

 

The apprentice lost track of how many months passed, as she travelled under the shifting sky on her two dusty feet. Gradually, she gathered all the components.

In the secret depths of mountains she found lapis lazuli, a vivid-hued thing like a jungle bird. On the salt-sprayed coast she found a sea snail, plain and viscous but its chroma was hidden inside. In markets and bazaars, she bargained for treasures: azure crystals; a velvet pouch of cobalt powder; a lovely turquoise gem polished to a pearlescent shine; desiccated leaves of indigo. When her coin ran out, she walked herself through green-flourishing places, for woad, and cornflower, and periwinkle.

She had all that the earth could give her. With feet sore and blistered, and her face weathered like wood, the apprentice returned to the workshop. The dust-cloaked space was hers now, its original master long since departed. There was no alchemist here — not yet, not until this apprentice claimed her true colour.

Over and over, she read the spellbook, with her knuckles brightly sore from gripping the pestle. The instructions were distinct for each shade and each preparation; she left fingerprints, cobalt smudges glaring against the yellowed pages.

She crafted a nerve-wracking array of fine pigments, all heaped onto tin plates. The apprentice waited some hours, tried to summon her soothing choice of colour in her heart, and finally she could stand it no longer and she spilled of her powders all onto a hammered gold platter beneath the sky. Carefully, with a knife’s edge, she arranged the powders into a ring. All her tints fanned together now, blending.

She bent close over the pigments, her dun robes a shield against the breeze. She read the spellbook with purpose now, running its words through her mind’s voice like sand through her fingers.

Combine with the hue of the sky, the claiming spell said.

Her heartbeat welled up underneath her. She had hoped the journeying would grant her wisdom, hoped that she would be a lightning rod to revelation but she was no master just yet.

Patience was key. A cool presence like her chosen colour. She closed her eyes and sat there breathing, aware of her mundane body’s outer husk. The apprentice was a fleshy thing rent in common earth’s colours but she was blue inside, she knew she was. She returned to the passage at the end of the spell, the one lodged in her mind like an eloquent fishhook:

When blended, the ingredients will produce the very colour of a productive life: equal parts calmness, confidence and clarity. Know the colour blue and you shall be as the sky, the sea, the ice never melting.

Really, she thought, a clear and oceanic life was all an alchemist could want. Breeze fingered the apprentice’s robes and she was calm regardless. She had her ingredients gathered; she could persevere a little longer.

Combine with the hue of the sky, the book said.

She turned her face upward, poised over her azure and turquoise and ultramarine. The apprentice spent a little more of her time as the daylight waned and waxed, as the winds turned and the sky showed her more of herself.

She would know the right shade when she saw it.