Red Lettering

Stories will not be written easily. A story without a heart is dead, and the only place it will get a heart is from the author.

Archive for the category “Shiny Things”

Rooglewood Press Fairy Tale Contest 2017

  • Happy June, my friends! Springtime is beginning to wane and ever-impatient summer is pushing at the barrier between. Along with summer comes many things, like mosquitoes, watermelons, and exciting writing contests.

It was back in 2015 when last Rooglewood Press last unveiled a cover reveal and drove the internet to excitement with their previous “Five Something Something Contest”, Five Magic Spindles Now the time has come for it to happen again, one last time. Some of you may be familiar with their previous contests: this one, and this one, and this one.

The books? Five retellings of well-known fairy tales by five different authors.

The challenge? To be one of those authors.

THE FINAL FAIRY TALE CONTEST
Rooglewood Press invites you to join the adventure of the Five Poisoned Apples creative writing contest!
Cover model/photographer Wynter Clark.
Cover design by Julia Popova

Flash Fiction Challenge: One Chance

Today I’m participating in Rachelle O’Neil‘s Flash Fiction Challenge. In this challenge, participants are paired to receive a prompt from a participant, and give a prompt to another. I gave a prompt to Leined, and received this dialogue prompt from (my sister) Caiti Marie.

  “One chance. You know that, right? You have one chance.”

Since I have a certain love for secret agent stories, I decided to write about that. My flash fiction ended up at exactly 1000 words, by Word’s counter. I’d love to hear what you think of it!

One Chance

Photo Source (In the public domain)

Edit: WordPress seems to have eaten my formatting… :/ I’m sorry about that. It should be fixed now.


One Chance

Athelas Hale

Dusk covered the landscape of Western Europe. The last rays of a dying sun cast light upon Henry’s face, illuminating his fingers as he stirred sugar cubes into two cups of tea.

Odd little things. Hardy big enough to take two drinks from, he mused, but kept his commentary silent. Anderson, though he didn’t look like an overly sentimental man, was imperative to the operation. It would be best to avoid antagonizing him—or his country’s teacups.

They only had one chance.

“Of course, you have the codes,” Anderson murmured, voice deep even when quiet.

Henry smiled. “Of course.”

The sun slipped behind the horizon. Henry struck a match and lit two candles in one fluid motion. “You have your authorization?”

Anderson face remained still; no smirk, no frown, no expression. Those types always made Henry edgy.

“Are Americans so idiotic as to think I would come without them?”

Henry extinguished the match and pushed a teacup across the table to Anderson. No comment.

    Anderson glanced at Henry before politely reaching for the tea, and drank nothing. Henry waited.

After briefly pushing his hand into his pocket, Anderson lay several papers on the table.

A breeze from the open window rustled the papers. Henry lay a hand over the pages to steady them, glancing through them with a disinterested face that belied the nerves that fluttered in his stomach.

The open window felt like more than a breach of security, but in an abandoned hotel near a humid river in summer, the building simply became too stuffy to put up with—especially when meeting an agent you hoped to keep on good terms.

Hoped. Henry silently scoffed at the casual word. Desperately needed came closer to the truth.

This mission would be his most important—the agency’s most important. He couldn’t risk failure. Other agents patrolled the building, and no electronics would work within a mile, but there were a million and one things a person could do without electricity.

   Example, fire a gun.

After glancing through the documents, Henry looked up. “Verbal identification.”

Anderson rattled it off flawlessly. Though Henry didn’t smile, he mentally praised the work of the Linguistics. Nothing quite like a barely pronounceable sound for a password—no amount of torture or leak would have enough coaching to reproduce that.

Navajo code talkers all over again. They needed the security just as much.

A case in his pocket, apparently a metal mint box, used a fingerprint to unlock as Henry opened it. Sliding the papers out, he handed them over to Anderson.

For the first time, Henry’s contact smiled, and Henry allowed himself a small relieved breath, though he didn’t relax. It had gone well so far, but this was too important to slip up half way through.

“And the other part?”

Henry rose, both teas untouched, and nodded toward the door. “This way.”

Dust crowded the halls, mold gathering where the dinghy carpet met stained walls. Anderson wordlessly followed as Henry walked through three halls and two staircases. They stepped into the lobby at the bottom.

Broken glass doors opened outside, and long-dead elevators stood to the right.

Henry scanned the room, then glanced to Anderson. “This way.”

“Pardon me,” a French accent said from the direction of the elevator.

Mouth going dry, Henry half-turned. His right hand moved automatically toward his gun. This couldn’t go wrong—not when they were so close.

This building was supposed to be secured.

“No, no,” the man standing before the elevator said. “Don’t trouble yourselves for your weapons, please.”

Clad in black to blend in with the night, with red hair poking out from under the hat, the young man held himself with confidence—down to the cocked automatic in his left hand.

While Anderson swore, Henry smiled. His every instinct focused on the mission, leaving emotions behind. “Hello again, Percy. Or is it Benedict this time?”

How he had gotten past the other agents, Henry didn’t know—he hoped they were all right.

“Neither, this time.” He inclined his head slightly toward Anderson. “But I would like the codes, if you please.”

While the gun seemed relaxed in his hand, Henry knew he could shoot both before either managed to draw.

“Oh, well. Frenchie wants the codes, Anderson.”

“Drop them on the floor, please,” Frenchie politely requested.

Again swearing under his breath, Anderson tossed them.

Gun still trained on Henry and Anderson, Frenchie bent and picked up the papers. “Pleasure,” said he, and walked backwards to the window. Neatly, he slid through the open glass.

Henry was calling for back-up and running toward the window before they heard him hit the ground. Sliding out his gun, he strained his eyes to see.

Clearly, once again, they had a leak. What a joy to work with Intelligence.

It took Drake three seconds to reach the river and launch into the boat.

“Got both,” he told Frederick, dropping the French accent. Automatically, he reverted to his Irish brogue as Frederick powered up the gasoline engine. Their first priority now was speed.

They roared out of there.

By the time they were five miles away, Drake had every code memorized, the papers in ashes on the boat floor, the object in his pocket.

Within minutes, Fred pulled the boat into the harbor and, as they scanned the skies for choppers, both dashed toward the waiting car.

Ten minutes of a lightless car drive later, Fred was dropping him off at a waiting vehicle.

“One chance. You know that, right? You’ve got one chance.”

Drake pushed the door open. “I know.”

Fred almost smiled. “Blow the operation open.”

Drake smiled and temporarily reverted back to his French accent. “As an agent,” he said, “it’s in the pride.”

Stepping out of the car, he paused, dropping the accent. “As a human, I’m not considering the consequences for failure.”

He closed the door as silently as possible, and Fred pulled away. Running the codes through his mind, Drake smiled grimly.

One chance.

WINNER of the Short Story Contest

 

WINNER of the Short Story Contest

 

For eleven days, O thou contestants, thou hast waited in anxiousness (or maybe not) to see the verdict of the voting.

Though thy stories were all excellent, wondrous, even, there could be but one winner (though there was very nearly five with how close the voting was).

Await no longer.

The winner of the short story contest is…

Hannah!

Winner of the Short Story Contest: Hannah

(And, Hannah, you can take this and put it somewhere if you want to. Or leave it here. Whichever.)

 

Every single one of the stories were excellent, and the voting grew incredibly close. Well done, to each of you!

 

Voting Period Extended

Voting Extended

About an hour ago, in preparation of the end of voting for the short stories at midnight tonight, I counted up the votes as they now stand.

And noticed something.

In the voting, we have a three way tie. 

Therefore, the voting has been extended. You may now vote all of tomorrow, too, and voting will end at midnight on January 11th. 

It’s not much of an extension, but I think—I hope—that it will be enough to break the current tie. Get friends and family to vote, share on Facebook, whatever you do. Share your stories!

Check out all the stories before you vote… Read about “Elves Don’t Carry Guns”

By T

By Esperanza 

By Faith Song

By Hannah

By Jessi L. Roberts

By Savannah

By Konstantinos Buttonwood

Email your votes to craftingstoriesinred@gmail.com

Short Story Contest Entry by T

“Shots and Shadows”

by T

“Never would I have thought it of you, Dawson!  How could you do such a thing?  Elves are said to be loyal, not traitorous!”

Mr. Ainsworth, pacing to and fro, waved his hand like a conductor.  Usually the motion would catch the attention of Samuel Dawson, his long-time business partner.   Not so, this time.  The elf remained as he was, seated with head and shoulders bent, as if the glares of the two bobbies on either side of him weighed him down.  His dark business suit was plastered with mud, and one trouser-leg was pulled back, revealing a freshly bloodied bandage.  One would no longer recognise him as the respected associate of Mr. Ainsworth, owner of one of Britain’s finest country hotels.  Ainsworth, further irked by Dawson’s silence, turned to the police sergeant with a huff.

“I’ve had quite enough with this scoundrel, sergeant; take him out of my sight!”

Sergeant Beake sniffed loudly, causing his mustache to stretch and making him look just as dissatisfied as he felt.

“Let the inspectors come first.” He said

“What would there be for them to do?  That miserable elf admitted to everything already.”

“I’m afraid it’s not that simple, Mr. Ainsworth.”

Ainsworth muttered something, and motioned to his butler.

“Chadwick, go see if the inspectors are on their way.  They’ve taken quite enough time as it is.”

Chadwick promptly left the room and made his way to the main door.  Upon opening it, he thought that he couldn’t really blame the inspectors for their tardiness.  It was a perfect night for a crime, and a miserable night to be called upon.  Blankets of mist mirrored the clouds above.  It was difficult to see anything, much less approaching inspectors.  Chadwick shut the door, blocking out the biting November chill, and turned back.  But just before he was about to return, he glimpsed a flicker in the window.  It was a weak light, but it stood out in the darkness and was coming closer at a good pace.  Chadwick stood at the window, waiting until the light came to the gate, and again he opened the door.  A flood of warm light rushed from the house, illuminating the outlines of a horse-drawn buggy, and two figures stepping out of it.  One was a man with the build of a bear, his white hair glowing in the darkness. The Inspector, Thought Chadwick.  The other was unexpected.  Much smaller, walking with an odd gait and with ears so long Chadwick at first took the figure to be another elf.

“Thank you for coming, Inspector, especially on a night like this one.”  Chadwick said as the new arrivals hurried into the warmth of the house.  He looked down at the odd little one.

“This is your secretary, I presume?”

She looked up.  Her blunt brown nose wrinkled slightly, but her reply was in a steady voice.

“I am Inspector Maclean’s associate actually, Inspector Rose Chaput.  His apprentice, if you will.”

Years ago, she would have given him a swift kick, which is a dreadful thing to receive from a faun.  But years ago, she was still working off the bad habits picked up by her life as a criminal.  Her first case with her mentor found her as the guilty suspect.  Few would have seen the little thief as a potential investigator, but few had the perception of Hamish Maclean.

Chadwick apologised, and led them into the study.  Sergeant Beake came up to greet them.

“Glad you’re here, Maclean.”  He sniffed, mustache tilting.

“The suspect’s admitted to it all.  Thing is, I don’t like his story.”

At Maclean’s request, the Sergeant showed them to the scene of the crime, in another room.  What was left of the massive singular window lay scattered on the floor, along with a smattering of bullets.  The wind flew freely in, swirling the curtains and lighter shards, making a soft sound like skittering mice.   The sergeant’s voice took on a tremor from the cold and his fingers quivered as he pointed across the room.

“Around 11 at night Mr. Ainsworth heard the gunshots and breaking glass.  When he and a few of his servants ran out to investigate they found none other than Mr. Samuel Dawson, his business partner, whom had left the house an hour before.  Dawson admits that it was a burglary attempt, he shot the window to get into the room, but he won’t say what he was after.” The sergeant ended with a shivering sniff.

Maclean scanned the room, frowning.

“Was anyone near the room at that time, any lights?” He asked

“No.” Sniff.

Maclean noticed Rose shaking her head; she met his gaze and mouthed cover-up.  She was right.  Maclean and Rose had both seen their share of crime.  This attempt at burglary was far too amateurish to be anything short of a scheme.

“I’d like to speak with the accused, if you don’t mind.”  Maclean said, turning back to Sergeant Beake.  The sergeant, glad to come out of the cold room, nodded and sniffed.

 

***

 

Ainsworth and Dawson remained as they were before.  One pacing and muttering, the other bowed and silent.  Maclean picked up two chairs and placed them in front of the accused.  He sat in one, and it creaked in protest; Rose sat in the other, her deceptively delicate pointed feet barely reaching the floor.

“Mr. Dawson, I’m Inspector Maclean, and I’d like that you be honest with me.”

Samuel Dawson, keeping his head low, tilted it to look towards his former business partner. His sharp ears quivered, perhaps listening to Ainsworth’s muttering.  Then he looked Maclean in the face.

“So would I.” He said, his eyes never leaving Maclean’s. The stare of an elf is no small thing.  Their almond eyes, without whites, can pick up the smallest detail from even a far distance.  Maclean sensed the power in Dawson’s eyes, and did not avert his gaze.

“Then tell me what happened.”

The accused’s stare never wavered, although he would occasionally tilt an ear towards Ainsworth.  He spoke evenly, as if his words were rehearsed.

“I will not deny my guilt, Inspector.  I was planning my theft even as Ainsworth and I were planning renovations.  I left the house at 10, but stopped the motor car a mile away and walked back.  I waited, hidden in the hedge, until every light was out, and I could see my target in the window.  Then I broke the glass, shooting along the rim with a pocket revolver.  Before long Ainsworth and his servants came and caught me.”

He indicated to his wounded leg.  Evidently Ainsworth’s party had been carrying their own guns.  Dawson returned to his steady stare at Maclean.

“I am guilty.”

“That is all you will say?” Maclean asked, squinting

“That is all I can say.”

For a moment the only sounds in the room were Ainsworth’s pacing and the sergeant’s sniffing.  Finally Maclean excused himself, then he and Rose retreated into a quieter room.

“That was little better than a repeat of what the sergeant told us.” Rose said in a hushed tone.

“That’s not how I saw it.” Maclean responded as he pulled a newspaper from his pocket and unfolded it.

“You mean to say you understand what happened, just from Dawson’s flawed confession?”

“The clues were there, Rose.  You noticed the flaws, think on them for a bit.”

Maclean retreated to his paper, and Rose knew she would get no further help from him.  It was a recent trick of his, letting her take over the cases as he prepared for retirement.  It was both honouring and irritating.  Rose sighed, closed her eyes, and thought back to the interrogation.  She pictured Dawson, miserable but with a certain fire in his all green eyes.  Envy?  No.  Anger?  Somewhat.  Passion?  Why passion, what for?  She pictured the way he tilted his ears towards Ainsworth.  What was he listening for?

“Mr. Dawson, I’m Inspector Maclean, and I’d like that you be honest with me.” 

 “So would I.”  Unusual thing for a criminal to say.  Something was holding him back from telling the truth.

“I will not deny my guilt, Inspector.  I was planning my theft even as Ainsworth and I were planning renovations.  I left the house at 10, but stopped the motor car a mile away and walked back.  I waited, hidden in the hedge, until every light was out, and I could see my target in the window.  Why would Dawson wait an hour, when he could simply return at a more preferable time?  But as for that window, that was the biggest flaw in the statement.  With all the lights out, he wouldn’t be able to see inside.  The dark window would instead act like a mirror.  Rose frowned, and wondered if perhaps the target may have been outside instead.  In that case, what was the point in Dawson’s next action?  Then I broke the glass, shooting along the rim with a pocket revolver.  Before long Ainsworth and his servants came and caught me.” Breaking glass with a pistol was no quiet way to commit burglary, nor was it the safest.  When she thought about it, Rose realised that she had seen no tracks through the broken glass to indicate an entry. Yet the oddest point of the statement was that Dawson used a pistol at all.

“Elves don’t carry guns…” she mused

As a dwindling race, all elves take vows to never use a gun for either defence or offence, in an effort to preserve life.  It was elfish nature to remain true to a vow until it was accomplished or until the vow’s witness released them.

 “I am guilty.”

“That is all you will say?” Maclean asked, squinting

“That is all I can say.”

Again, there was the indication that Dawson was forced to restrict his words.  Rose opened her eyes and blinked.  She couldn’t help but feel she was missing something.  She looked over at Maclean, and the main headline of his newspaper caught her eye.  Even if it was from last month, the announcement of the end to the 1908 Summer Olympics was still attention grabbing.  She might not have noticed a smaller column, if the tiny headline hadn’t had the word ‘elf’ and ‘Ainsworth’ printed on it.  She squinted and leaned in closer to read.  Maclean took no notice of her, or at least pretended not to.  There was not much said in the column; only a few words about some elves disappearing during their stay at the Ainsworth country hotel in Scarborough.  Rose tilted her head, her ears pricked in realisation.  She grabbed the paper and pulled it down to face Maclean.

“I think I know what Dawson was doing, and where ‘they’ are hiding.  Excuse me a minute, please.”

Rose ran out of the room, down the hall, and then out the door into the night.  She dashed around the side of the manor to where the broken window was.  Rose studied it for a second, and then turned in the opposite direction.  She estimated her target and took off, keeping in a straight line.  She sprang over the stone wall, agile as any goat, and continued running, never wavering.  The fog remained heavy as ever, so that she didn’t know she was on the road until she felt the ground change under her pointed feet and heard the clattering of stones.  Then she smelled petrol and gasoline, and stopped abruptly.

“Hello?” she called.  No answer.

“I am Inspector Rose Chaput, assistant to Inspector Hamish Maclean; we are here to help you!”

There was the faint sound of rustling, like someone struggling to stand up, and before she could react, Rose was blinded by the sudden burst of motorcar headlights.  She smiled in triumph.

 

***

 

Maclean continued to scan his paper after Rose had left.  He waited ten minutes or so, underlined a few key headlines, and then folded the paper again.  He did not return it to his pocket, but kept it under his arm as he strode into the room where the others still were.

“Pardon me, would you mind looking for my assistant.  She ran off a while ago, but I don’t know where you’ll find her.”  He said to the Chadwick, and then turning to Ainsworth he said

“Would you go as well?  Rose is a slippery creature, difficult to find.”

Ainsworth shot a glance towards the elf, who returned the look.

“Harrumph…Chadwick’s sure to find her, she could not have gone too far, Inspector.” He said, lowering his hefty frame into a chair.  Maclean saw that it would take quite a bit of work to remove Ainsworth from his seat.  But he had prepared for that.  He sat in his own chair, facing Dawson, and pretended to read his paper.   Dawson looked up.  Something flickered in his almond eyes.

“The Summer’s Olympics brought your hotel some nice business, I assume.” Maclean said, tapping the headlines.

“Yes, and some of our guests even stayed a while after the event was through.” Dawson replied.

“All that profit, you didn’t really need to attempt the robbery, did you then?”

Dawson was silent for a moment, his ears tilted towards the muttering Ainsworth.

“I had my reasons.” He said at last.

Maclean flipped through the papers, saying no more.  After a time he folded the paper and laid it on his lap, his hand rested above an underlined article.

“I suppose the Olympics also gave you a chance to see a few of your fellow elves from across the world.  That must have been pleasant…”

Dawson’s eyes flickered again, but before he could speak Ainsworth snorted loudly.

“Inspector Maclean, is this an interrogation or a tea-social?  I want this crime over with as soon as possible!”

He was interrupted by a motor-car horn bellowing from outside like a monster goose.  Maclean smiled.

“I understand, Mr. Ainsworth.  Sergeant, you will want to come with me.”   Maclean trod out the room, the sergeant followed with a sniff.  Outside they found Rose, sitting in the passenger seat of a motor car as if she was Her Majesty the Queen. In the driver’s and back seats sat more elves.  There was certain pallor about their faces and eyes, not from the cold, but from something worse.  On sight of the policeman, their eyes began to glow hopefully, and one even stood.  Rose stepped primly out of the car, her own eyes glowing.

“I have the testimony of three witnesses, sergeant.  You are arresting the wrong man.”

As soon as the other elves were brought into the main room, everything changed.  Ainsworth burst out of his chair, and Dawson made a motion as if to do the same, before he remembered his leg and the police men beside him.  But whereas Ainsworth was bewildered, even upset at the new arrivals, Dawson was overjoyed and laughed.

“You saw it!”  He gasped

“You saw it!”

“What is he talking about?” Ainsworth blustered

“Who are these elves and what are they doing here?”

“You will be answering those same questions in court, Mr. Ainsworth.” Rose said.  Although she had to tilt her chin to look at the man, she did it with authority.

“However, the elves already told me their part.  It seems you have another business besides hotel work.  I suppose you prefer a pretty penny over clean hands.  Crime-lords will pay an attractive sum to have a sharp-eyed elf as a spy or lookout.” Rose’s ears flicked, as if she were flinching.  She did not have to be told about the workings of the underworld, she knew from experience.  She turned to Samuel Dawson, and grinned.

“Mr. Dawson was beginning to look like the fool of the crime kingdom, shattering a window when he was around the house so often he could have slipped away with anything.  But you were not stealing material things, Mr. Dawson.  You were stealing captives.  You prepared for them a getaway car, waiting at a mirror-like window to see that they were safely gone, and then shattered that window so that no-one would see the lights of the escaping car, as well as for distraction. I`m told that elves don`t carry guns, not to end life at least.  But I see that an elf would carry a gun to save a life.”

All eyes turned to Dawson, who sat erect and gave his one-time partner a final glance, this time victorious.  Whatever had held him back before no longer applied.  He was a free elf.

“It`s true.  I didn’t know about Ainsworth’s activities before this summer, but when I found out he forced me to vow never to tell anyone about them, neither verbally nor through writing.  But these are my people, and I could not let them be taken into a miserable life of forced crime.   I decided to help them escape.  The plan was as you said, and originally I was meant to escape with them.  When Ainsworth caught me and brought in the police I knew that things could go either way.  On one hand I could find better help and even justice for the victims; but on the other hand I could be convicted, while the true criminal continued his work. Because of my vows, I could not tell you exactly what happened.  Even so, I chose my words carefully so that I would still be truthful, and perhaps give you a clue as to what happened.  I cannot say how relieved I am that you understood!”

The policemen transferred themselves from Dawson to Ainsworth.  Ainsworth’s jowls quivered with supressed anger, but he submitted regardless.

“Well done, Rose.” Maclean said as he placed his large hand on her shoulder.  He was free to retire now; the inspection business was in good hands.

 

If you would like to vote on this or any other short story, email me at craftingstoriesinred(at)gmail(dot)com.

Short Story Contest Entry by Esperanza

“Elves don’t carry guns.”

by Esperanza

I had just entered my room after a quick shower when the Elvish Network manager, who also just happened to be my roommate, barged in. I tightened my grasp around my towel calmly as I continued to dig around in my suitcase for something to wear. I had recently moved in to the apartments that the Elvish Network commanded at the top of the human apartments a few weeks ago, and was busy settling in while still working at my job.

“Need something, Ciara?” I said breezily as I went back into the bathroom to put on clothes.

“Emmaline Lilac is ready for her first outside job,” Ciara replied through the small crack in the door.

“Who is she?”

Ciara sighed. “Daughter of Rosie and Aaron Lilac, they’re in the police force, and that’s what she’s going to do as well. Lives up one floor at two forty seven, thirteen years old, very short.”

“When is she going to go into the field?”

“When she turns eighteen, Wren,” Ciara said with another sigh. “You should know that.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I said, emerging from the bathroom fully clothed. “But I am still adjusting to this new lifestyle, and therefore my brain does not have time to focus on little trivial things.”

“Whatever,” she said, and looked up at me. “She is in classroom five zero one, and is going to go on your next assignment. Inform her of everything she needs to know. You got that?”

“Yeah,” I said carelessly before making for the door.

Ciara grabbed my arm and pulled me back. “No, I mean it. Everything. Humans are getting advanced, we need to be more vigilant. A new employee in the Elfish Resources department just got killed ‘accidentally’ by a small seven year old boy with a gun.”

“Yeah, yeah, I got it Ciara.”

I smiled quickly before wrestling out of her grasp and hurrying out of the room and down the stairs towards the classroom. As I entered, the young girl stood up in greeting as I examined her features. This Emmaline Lilac was a spry, wiry little thing, with a look of dangerous innocence about her. She had wide purple eyes, a short, extremely thin body that only consisted of muscle, and purple hair with brown streaks. Her traditionally pointed ears were small and easy to hide, which was fortunate.

I approached her. “Emmaline Lilac, I am Wren Wendy Wess, you may call me Wren, never Wendy, occasionally Miss Wess. I am to be your mentor until you reach the ripe old age of eighteen, when you will go into the world as a police officer. Now. Introduce yourself.”

“Well,” she said hesitantly, “I am Emmaline Lilac, I am thirteen years old, and I am to be a police officer of the Elvish Network.”

“Good. Where have you been going to school?” I asked, looking over her files.

“United States Elvish Academy,” she said quickly. I nodded in response as I thumbed over the papers.

“Any experience with a gun?”

“Yes, I was the top shot in the academy.”

“Hmm, very good,” I said, pleased, as I put away her files. “Now, first exercise before we go out. Examine me.”

She paused before looking at me with a perplexed expression. “Sorry?”

“Examine me.” I said quite bluntly. “What can you deduce about me from the way I look?”

Emmaline looked horribly confused, so I breathed out a sigh of exasperation and said, “Just tell me what I look like, now.”

“Well, you have dark brown hair with streaks of light blonde coloring, you are somewhat small and very skinny, like a pole… You have small bright blue eyes. You are wearing a black leather jacket over a white shirt, and you have on dark jeans and boots.”

“Good. Now, what can you tell about me?”

“You’re not a feminine elf, you like to be dangerous most of the time, you don’t take great care in how you look by the way your entire outfit is not ironed at all, I can see a gun in the inside left pocket of your jacket, which suggests that you are involved in the outside world, and your figure suggests that you are naturally small, since you can’t get muscles if you are on an insane diet.”

I looked over her. “Good. Maybe you aren’t so slow after all. You have a gun with you?”

Emmaline just tapped her jacket in response as she looked up at me.

“All right then.” I walked over to the large board and tapped the first line of words. “Rule Number One, don’t associate with a human unless you have to. Rule Number Two, always carry a gun. Rule Number Three, don’t attract attention. That means, keeping your ears hidden. Rule Number Four, don’t dawdle. Rule Number Five, don’t stray from your assignment. Rule Number Six, know what you are capable of. If you need backup, just call for backup. Rule Number Seven, think before you act. Rule Number Eight, observe everything at all times. Be alert. Rule Number Nine, be physically and emotionally fit. I cannot stress that enough. And finally, Rule Number Ten, don’t die.”

Emmaline looked at me unflinchingly as a smile spread slowly across her face. “No problem, Wren.”

I nodded sharply at her. “Good.” I moved towards the big brown cardboard box that was tucked away in a corner, and started digging around. “Now,” I said, my voice muffled as I continued to search the box. I grinned as I spotted the very thing I was looking for before grabbing it and straightening myself up. “Now,” I repeated, holding up the object, “this will be your communication device. Use it well, make sure that it is in good condition in every waking and sleeping moment of your life.” I tossed the device over to her, and Emmaline caught it effortlessly. I continued to talk as she turned it over and over in her hand, scrutinizing every little detail. “It is just like a cell phone for the humans, but we invented this when they first discovered fire.”

Emmaline made a little noise of laughter and merriment as she customized it for herself. The standard black communication device soon transformed into a light purple, modern, techy-looking thing that could turn invisible to the human eye at will.

“Nice,” I said, looking it over. At that moment, Ciara’s voice blared from my black communication device that had a picture of my motto as its cover.

“Don’t blink,” Emmaline read as I answered my communication device. “Don’t even blink. Blink and you’re dead.” She looked at me as I listened to Ciara blabber on in a breathless, wild sounding voice. “Doctor Who.”

“Yes, Doctor Who,” I said as I turned off the communication device. “You’re in luck. I just got called in to a Code Ten.”

 

“A Code Ten?” Emmaline said as she struggled to catch up with me. “What in the world is a Code Ten?”

“A bloody infidel trying to break into the entry gate for the Elvish world.”

“Bloody infidel?”

“Human.”

“Oh.”

We continued to run past other elves, who parted for us like the sea as if we were Noah. “This way,” I commanded, and took a sharp left towards the teleportation station. Emmaline huffed and puffed as she followed me. I glanced at her before looking ahead again. “We’re going to have to put you on a fitness regime.”

Emmaline scowled and rolled her eyes as we stopped to get our tickets. “Wait,” she said, looking up at me with startled eyes.

“What?” I said, and thanked the man for the tickets. “This way.”

“What about my hair?”
I looked at her purple hair and shrugged as we waited in line. “What about it?”

“It’s purple, Wren! The humans will know for sure that I’m an elf if they see it!”

“No they won’t,” I said as the line moved forward. “Tons of humans are dying their hair elvish colors now. It will look completely normal.”

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely,” I said as we stepped into the teleportation unit. It was shaped like a cylinder, tube-like thing, and could hold only one elf at a time. They were lined together in clusters, with four in one cluster. “Have you been in one before?”

“No,” she said, looking frightened.

“Well, don’t be scared. It won’t help you,” I said somewhat cold-heartedly as she started to hyperventilate. “Oh for goodness sakes, get your act together!” I snapped at her. “You won’t feel a thing. You just go whoosh and zoomp and then you arrive at your destination. Your body will have to stabilize itself once we land, you might feel disconcerted, but after a few times the feeling will go away.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it,” I confirmed. “Now get ready.”

“How do I do that?” she screamed.

I sighed and yelled back, “Do whatever! I stand as straight as a rod, others like to place their hands on the sides, some like to crouch down low.”

Emmaline decided to crouch down low on the ground as the manager of our teleportation units started to count down from five. We both braced ourselves. Whoosh. Zoomp. I blinked my eyes and hopped out of the cylinder, and it whisked away. Emmaline, on the other hand, was still huddled on the floor, rocking back and forth on her heels.

“For goodness sakes Emmaline, get up! Other people need to use the teleportation units!” I said, dragging her out.

“Am I alive?” she said slowly.

“Yes,” I said flatly, “now come on. We also need to work on your speed.”

We ran towards the large archway that read gibberish to the untrained human eye, but actually said “Entrance Gate to the Elvish World.” I motioned for Emmaline to hurry up as we passed through the gate. Inside, there stood a brown, old door that had an aura of magic around it. I spotted a human boy about my age examining the door, and shushed Emmaline and told her to follow me.

I charged at the male, kicked at his shins, stomped on his feet, and punched at his chest, which stood a good two inches above my head. Unfortunately, I could not get to his head unless I jumped up and down or stood on my tiptoes, so I just aimed for his neck as I hit him again. He sprawled out onto the ground, holding his hands up in surrender.

“Who are you?” I demanded to him, my gun out. “Emmaline, call for backup.”

“Jack,” he said, not one bit scared. He winced as he tried to get into a better position. “I thought that elves don’t carry guns.”

“Well,” I said coldly, pointing my gun at his forehead, “I’m not an elf.”

“Yes you are,” Jack said calmly, sitting up. “You hair isn’t damaged from hair dye, which obviously suggests that your hair is actually natural, even though it is an unusual shade for a human, you are extremely small for someone your age, your communication device is peeking out from your pocket, and oh, your ears aren’t covered.”

I glowered at him and quickly uttered a spell that tied my hair back into a convenient ponytail, revealing my pointed ears. “Fine,” I said approvingly. “Why are you here?” I touched the barrel of the gun to his forehead menacingly to remind him that I was not “softening”.

Jack just looked up at me with a weird expression that I had not seen before. “I was out camping and I saw this sign that read ‘Entrance Gate to the Elvish World.’ Was curious, so I went in.”

While he was talking, I stealthily moved to face his back and handcuffed his hands behind him as my gun touched his temple. I glared at his seemingly humongous hands that dwarfed mine in comparison as I fastened the handcuffs on. I did the same with his feet, and sat back across from him to enjoy my handiwork.

Emmaline sat down behind me as she whispered that she had called for backup. “Good,” I said. “We’re going to need it. This guy’s a freak, he knows Elvish.”

He coughed. “I heard that.”

“You were meant to.”

Jack shifted his position as he continued to look at me. “So, what’s your name?”

“None of your business.”

“Fine, None of Your Business. Purple hair, what’s your name?”

Emmaline smiled sheepishly before answering as I jabbed in her the ribs with my incredibly sharp elbow. “Next lesson,” I said. “Being wisely discreet. You also just broke Rule Number Seven, think before you act.”

I stayed silent and pressured Emmaline to do the same as Jack continued to ask questions that remained unanswered. Minutes passed before I heard the familiar sound of a teleportation unit. It had to be backup. I was looking forward to an elf as my backup for this mission, but was sadly disappointed. I groaned as the excruciatingly happy laugh of a stupid fairy invaded the gate area.

“Did you call for fairy backup?” I asked Emmaline.

“Yes, no, I don’t know,” she squeaked as I glowered.

“Augh, I hate fairies,” I grumbled as I stood up. “So happy and cheery.” Jack just laughed, and I quickly kicked him in the ribs as I went to meet with the idiotic fairy.

She was a small little thing, even smaller than me or Emmaline, and had dewy wings and a lightness about her. She wore a horrendously small and short blue dress that dipped low in the front and low in the back. This scandalously dressed fairy looked to be about my age. She seemed lithe, and had big blue eyes and blonde hair- the American ideal, I was told some time ago.

You’re the backup?” I asked her as soon as she was within listening distance.

“Yes,” she said happily, and giggled like a truly stupid fairy girl. Her eyes lit up when she saw Jack, and then she turned to me saying, “So he’s the intruder?”

“Yes,” I said sharply. “Couldn’t they have sent anyone else?”

“Nope!” She chirped, her eye still on Jack. “I was the only one left on duty.”

I glanced over her tiny outfit again. “Fine,” I spat out. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Adorabelle-”

“Here it comes…”

Adorabelle looked indignant. “I said, I’m Adorabelle Weathersnapper.”

“Fine, Adorabelle Weathersnapper,” I said. I rolled my eyes at Emmaline as I made my way towards her with Adorabelle in tow.

“Hi!” she said girlishly, as if she were not on a mission to extract this human from the premises of the Elvish World’s gateway. “I”m Adorabelle!”

“Jack.”

“That’s such a lovely name!” she gushed.

“Oh great,” I muttered as I sat down.

Emmaline tapped me on the shoulder lightly. “What do we do now?”

“We go through the process of asking him if he would kindly leave and never speak of this again,” I said, loud enough for Jack to hear, “or we just erase his memory and send him on his merry way.”

Emmaline frowned. “But then you wouldn’t have his consent.”

I flipped my ponytail to the other side. “Don’t need one.”

Emmaline just frowned before looking away. I sighed, and turned my attention to Jack, who looked mighty uncomfortable as Adorabelle scooted closer and closer to him with fast blinking eyes that seemed to almost go out of control.

“Jack,” I said. “Will you hereby promise to go out of this place and to never speak a word of this to anyone, ever?”

Jack thought about this for one split moment before giving a resounding, “No.”

“Fine.” I said, shrugging, and shooed Emmaline out of the way as I got a syringe and filled it with a clear watery liquid. “Adorabelle, introduce yourself to Emmaline.”

Adorabelle left Jack’s side and chatted up a storm with Emmaline, with Adorabelle talking and Emmaline nodding and confirming that she was, indeed, listening to her fascinating stories.

I gave a kick to Jack’s ribs and then a punch to his stomach for good measure before grabbing his arm and searching for an injection site. Not having done this in a long time, I labored over every vein, deciding whether it was safe or not.

“Stop looking at me,” I finally snapped. “You don’t want me to plunge this into the wrong spot, do you?”

He just shrugged.

I shook my head and injected the needle into his arm, not caring where it went, since it seemed that he didn’t care much about it either. I took it out and tucked the syringe into my bag.

“Now,” I said to Emmaline. “This is going to take effect in a few seconds. I suggest we get out of here before he comes to.”

We thanked Adorabelle, who graciously accepted our thanks, cast a wistful glance at Jack, and flew away. Emmaline and I called for teleportation units and stepped inside. My back to the entrance of the tube, I talked with Emmaline soothingly as she stooped back to the ground and started rocking back and forth on her heels. As the doors of my teleportation unit closed, I felt that it seemed much smaller than usual. I turned to face the front of the cylinder, and screamed as I saw Jack smiling down at me.

“You’re in the teleportation unit!” I shrieked as I hit him. “What were you thinking?”

Jack just shrugged as he protected his face from my fighting hands.

Infuriated, I hit him as he calmly took the blows, wincing and cringing as my fists and feet made contact with his flesh. Whoosh. Zoomp. The doors of the teleportation unit opened and I dragged Jack out of there and towards Ciara’s office. Everybody had gone to dinner, so nobody was roaming the halls.

“Ciara!” I boomed, flinging open the door. She was at her desk, busy typing up a document on her computer, probably a report or something like that. I dragged Jack into the room and told Emmaline to go get dinner. She bounded off towards the cafeteria as I pushed Jack deeper into the room.

“Who’s this?” Ciara said, smiling at Jack as she turned her attention away from her computer.

“A human,” I seethed. “A human found his way into my teleportation capsule, and now he is in the blasted Elvish Network!” I tightened my grip on his arm as I presented Jack to Ciara. “I gave him the MLL, but it didn’t seem to have worked.”

“Good evening, young man,” Ciara said to Jack. He gave a bow in return.

“Good evening?” I said hysterically and hit the table with my free hand. “Good evening!?”

“Yes,” Ciara said, seemingly confused by my reactions. She turned back to Jack. “You seem to have displayed quite a bit of intelligence in the Elvish area, young man. What’s your name?”

“Jack.”

“Well,” Ciara said briskly. “It is nice to meet you, Jack. My name is Ciara, and I am sure that you know her name.”

“Oh yes!” He said, nodding. “None of Your Business.”

Ciara looked sharply at him. “Excuse me?”

“None of Your Business. She said that her name was None of Your Business.”

“Don’t try to be clever,” I hissed at him. Unfortunately, I had to look up to talk to him, which must have diminished my threatening look quite a bit.

“Wren!” Ciara said, rebuking me.

“Wren,” Jack said, trying it out. “Hmm, it suits you.”

At that, I flew into a rage, kicking and screaming and hitting while he just stood there and allowed me to work at him like he were a punching bag that I could take all of my anger out on.

“Now, Wren,” Ciara said in a tone that made me stop. “Apologize. At once.”

I made a “face” before saying, “Apologies.”

“Apology accepted.”

“Now hug,” Ciara commanded.

“No,” I said as I put a hand out to stop Jack from taking one more step towards me. “No way, no how.”

“Do that, and you’ll get demoted.”

“Fine.” I said, and hugged the abominable Jack. He didn’t bother to bend down to accommodate my height, and I didn’t like wrapping my arms around his waist, so I just did the worst thing imaginable to me and stood on my tiptoes in order to wrap my arms around his neck.

“I wish that I can choke you right now,” I whispered into his ear before letting go.

“Now that you have made up, reintroduce yourselves,” Ciara commanded. “Jack, meet me after you guys are done. I want to discuss something with you about being a resident.”

“Great!” Jack said, beaming at her before looking back down at at me. He stuck out his hand for me to shake. “Pleasure to meet you. I’m Jack.”

I shook his hand and allowed myself a painful smile. “Wren Wendy Wess. Pleased to meet you.” As he smiled at me, I said, “Call me Wren, never Wendy, occasionally Miss Wess. Call me Wendy, and you’ll regret it.”

Jack just shrugged and said, “Wren it is.”

 

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Short Story Contest Entry by Faith Song

“Elves Don’t Carry Guns”

by Faith Song

The telephone rang.

I lifted it to my ear, holding the microphone near my mouth.

“Jimmy Clementine.”

“Are you the private investigator from the newspaper?” The voice asked.

“That’s me.”

“I would like to meet with you to discuss a murder.”

“Ah.” I said. “What place?”

There was a moment of silence. “What location do you suggest?”

My eyebrows inched upward. “Joey’s bar, just a few minutes south of the police station.”

“Agreed. I will attend.”

There was a quiet click. I set the telephone down, shaking my head slightly.

“I’ve always found murders fascinating.” I said, sarcastically.

 

* * *

 

It took fifteen minutes to walk to the bar. As I opened the door, I was greeted by the smell of people, alcohol, and cigarette smoke—an altogether unpleasant combination, but it was the closest public place to the police station. Besides a playground, that is.

I walked over to the counter, scanning the room for any sign of my mysterious customer.

He found me first, and crept up behind me soundlessly. Or at least it seemed that way in the chaotic noise around me.

I turned around when he touched my shoulder, and was rather surprised by what I saw.

He was a tall, majestic sort of fellow, with long, silvery-white hair. His fedora did nothing to hide his very definitely pointy ears.

I drew back without realizing it.

Amusement lit his eyes, and he tilted his hat toward me with a leather gloved hand. “Fear not, buster. I shan’t harm you.”

I raised my eyebrows at his phrasing.

“You said you wanted to talk to me about a murder. Take a seat, and have a drink, on me.”

I faint smile crossed his face. “I do not drink alcohol, or I would accept your offer to pay. But I thank you despite my distaste for mortal’s drinks.”

I raised my eyebrows again.

“Ah, yes. The murder.” He said.

“Harold Spears.” I responded.

It was his turn to raise his eyebrows. “You know of whom I speak?”

“Saw it in the paper.” I said. “Some thought it was about time that crook left this world.”

“I think differently.”

“You know him?”

“Alas! I knew him not.”

“Then why do you want me to find the killer?”

“Actually, while I would very much like to find the one who caused him to kick the bucket, I am hiring you to find the poor mortal’s body.”

“Oh?”

“Yes.”

I crossed my arms. “If you don’t know where his body is, how do you know he’s dead?”

“There was much blood around the spot he died. Far too much for him to have survived. And his wife briefly saw the body.” The man said. “He has been pronounced dead.”

“Hm.” I said. “So you want me to find the body, eh? I’d have to find the killer first, to find where he stashed it.”

A few seconds passed in silence. “Why do you want the body, anyway?”

I wasn’t sure if it was my imagination or not, but I could have sworn his eyes darkened a shade.

“You might say it is for personal reasons.”

I didn’t believe him, but I knew better than to press the matter. “I see.” I said, then paused. “There is the matter of how much you will pay me.”

There was slight annoyance in the man’s tone, but his words nearly made me choke. “Three hundred American dollars.”

I breathed in slowly. It seemed this business could pay, after all.

“Who are you, anyway?”

He gave a brief bow, spreading his arms wide in a flourish. “Alohir Celobrith, fourth son of Enlaes, the great Elven lord of the east country.”

I looked at him skeptically. “Elven?”

Alohir nodded slightly. “Yes, Elven, though you may not believe it.”

“You got that right.” I said.

The elf raised his hands in a helpless gesture. “That is your decision, mortal. Shall we be off?”

I shook my head, watching him walk away. This man was definitely slightly pixilated. But he paid well.

I stood up and followed him.

 

* * *

 

“So you don’t have any suspects?”

The sergeant shook his head. “Nope. The guy’s an ex-convict. He could have hundreds of enemies.”

“What about his wife?”

The sergeant shrugged. “Apparently she was in the other room with her daughter, who was having nightmares. Two guests were in the room with her, and they testified to this.”

“Hm. And the guy was dead when she got back?”

“So she claims. One of the guests went with her, a Mrs. Brooke Adams. They found the body, and Mrs. Spears went to call the police. Mrs. Adams saw the two little girls up, and went to put them back to bed so they would not see the body.”

“Wait, two little girls?”

He nodded. “One was a Spears girl, the other Adam’s girl. Apparently they were having a sleepover.”

“Mm. And then the body went missing?”

“Aye. When we got there, Spear’s wife was still on the phone, hadn’t gotten off it. Mrs. Adams was huddled in the room with the children. There was a nine millimeter bullet drilled into Spears’ mattress, and one of the windows was pried open.”

“Uh-huh.” I said. “Can you give me the address of his wife, and Mrs. Adams?”

He scribbled the addresses on a piece of paper, and handed it to me. “Don’t get yourself into trouble, Jim.” He said, glancing at Alohir. “I’m not sure Spears is worth it, no matter how dead he is.”

I paused for a second. “He didn’t go straight after he got out of jail?”

“Huh! He went straight alright. ‘Least to our records. Disappeared a few times, but what were we to do about it? He was always back before forty-eight hours had past.”

“I see. Thanks, Sergeant. We’ll get back to you if we need any more information.”

I walked out, and Alohir followed me. Once the door had closed, I turned around. “Must you follow me around?”

He raised his eyebrows. “I can walk before you if it gives you the creeps for me to be at your back.”

I shook my head. “Skip it.”

 

* * *

 

I drove to Mrs. Spear’s house, but learned nothing new. Her story was the same as the Sergeant’s.

And though she was sad, it was really her child that tugged at my heartstrings. Something about big brown eyes staring up at me expectantly.

As I pulled into the Adams’ driveway, I was determined to find that body and return it to his wife—and the three hundred bucks was a nice plus, too.

Alohir watched the taxi until it disappeared around the bend, and then lead the way toward the house.

I rang the doorbell, waiting for several moments in silence. “Do you think she’s home?” I said, at length.

Alohir scanned the building. “She is at home.”

A moment later, a woman peered through an upstairs window, then dropped the curtain, disappearing into the house.

I looked at Alohir. “How do you do that?”

He smiled slightly. “I am an Elven lord, Clementine. I have many abilities.”

“Ha.” I said, “Elves don’t wear trench coats and fedoras.” His next words were cut off by the door opening.

A small, pale, nervous-looking woman stood there, holding the door partially closed.

“Mrs. Adams?”

She nodded.

I fished my wallet out of my pocket and showed her my card. “Jimmy Clementine, private investigator. I’m investigating the murder of Harold Spears.”

She nodded slightly, but seemed confused. “The police have been here already.”

“I know, but I’d like to get it straight from you. Mrs. Spears is devastated, and I’ve been hired to recover the body, and, hopefully, catch the one who knocked him off.”

She opened the door fully, gesturing inside, though she still seemed slightly shaky. “In that case, come in.” She said. “Would you like some coffee? Lemonade?”

I shook my head.

“Not now, my lady, but I thank you for your generous offer.” Alohir said, tipping his hat in her direction.

She gave him an odd look, but led us into the living room. “I’ve been a bit nervous lately, since…” She shook her head. “My husband is on a business trip, so I can’t be too careful.”

I nodded. “I understand.”

She gestured to the couch. “Have a seat.”

I waited until Alohir sat, then followed his example. “Can you tell us what happened that night?”

She sat down. “Oh, I’m not sure I can even think straight any more, I’ve told it so many times.” She said. “There was someone from the FBI here a few minutes ago, and I had to tell it again.”

“Can you tell it just once more? We really are trying to get this case solved.”

She took a deep breath. “Okay. I was in the room with the girls—we were having a sleepover. Now, Lois—that’s Brooke’s little girl—started crying. I guess she was having nightmares or something. I tried to comfort her, but she wouldn’t have it.

“Then I heard someone coming down the hall, and Brooke came in to comfort the poor child. Once she had just about settled down—Lois, not Brooke—we heard a gunshot… We ran back to her room. She was ahead of me, and she ran over to Harold, and screamed! I ran after her, and… I’ve had some First Aid training, and he was dead already.” She shuddered. “She went to call the police, and I heard the children. The gunshot, or maybe the scream, had wakened them, and they were in the doorway.

“I didn’t want them to see…” Her voice trailed off. “I took them back to their beds and stayed with them until the police arrived.”

“And that’s it?” I asked.

She nodded.

“Are you sure? Are you sure you haven’t missed any details?”

She shook her head, sighing softly. “I’m not really sure of anything now.”

I paused for a moment. “What was your relationship with Spears and his wife? I mean, most people wouldn’t want to be associated with an ex-con.”

She gave a glare big enough for a woman twice her size. “Harold Spears was a very nice man, and less of a crook than most folks. Very law-abiding, no matter what the newspapers say. And Brooke was even nicer than he, a gentle girl.”

I nodded. “I see. Thank you for your time. Alohir, do you have anything you want to ask her?”

He shook his head. “No, I believe you have asked her quite enough.”

I nodded. “Yeah.”

We walked out to the front, and I was about to call a taxi when a voice stopped me.

“Hey, you there.” I turned around toward the teenaged boy emerging from the evening shadows.

“You tryin’ t’find the guy who done in ol’ Spears?”

I nodded, glancing at Alohir. “Yes. Why?”

“’Cause I know who done it.”

I raised my eyebrows. “And how much is this going to cost me?”

“’Nuthin’. I liked the guy.”

“…Well, then. Why don’t we talk?”

“Not here.” He said. “We gotta go somewhere where there ain’t so many people.”

I glanced around. “Why, are you running from the law?”

He gave me an odd glance. “You’re not a cop. What d’you care?”

“How do you know I won’t turn you in?”

He smirked. “’Cause you won’t get your information if you do.”

“That is a point.”

He barely gave me another look as he slipped into the alleyway.

I followed, but for the first time, Alohir hung back.

“Coming, elf?” I asked, looking back at him.

His eyes were narrowed, but he nodded. “I am coming.”

I slipped into the alleyway, glancing around.

“You carry a gun, buster?”

I quickly located the teenager as he stepped out of the deeper shadows. “Why?”

“’Cause you might just need it ‘round here.”

“Got it.” I said. “So who killed Spears?”

“I dunno his name.” He said. “Some guy. Got a grey suit on, real fancy-like. He got outta the house a few minutes after the missus screamed, and carrying sumthin’ big.”

“A description?”

“Oh, kinda tall. Grey suit—”

“You said that already.”

“I know, but it’s important. He was wearing it both times.”

I straightened. “Both times?”

“Sure. He came to the Adams’ just a few minutes b’fore you showed up. Says he’s FBI.”

I nodded. “Well, that makes sense. Know where to find this guy?”

He shook his head, glancing at Alohir. “Nah. I tried to follow him, but I lost ‘im.”

“Just lost him?” Alohir asked, an odd tone behind his words.

“Yeah.” The boy said, giving Alohir an equally odd look.

Alohir walked forward until he was very near to the boy. “I do not know where you come from, boy, but you do not belong in this world.” He said, his voice low.

The teenager flinched, then looked at me. “Are you gonna nab him or not?”

“I would if I knew where—and who—he was.” I said, glancing rapidly between the two of them.

“You do know where he is.” A voice said.

I pivoted, reaching for the pistol hidden in my jacket.

“Don’t touch that.” The man said, stepping out of the shadows. A handgun was pointed directly at my chest.

I froze.

“What are you doing here, Merlasul?” Alohir said. “You have what you want.”

“I have the key, yes. But I have a bit of a score to settle, as well. You know how much I adore you.”

“I have noticed that, yes.” Alohir said. “So you came to kill me, though you have the key?”

“I don’t have it with me, obviously. But yes, I have it. And yes, that is why I came. I can’t afford you following me.” The man, Merlasul, said.

“Ah.”

“I suppose that means we have to die, too? As witnesses?” I said, raising my eyebrows. One man. He can’t kill all of us. I thought.

“No, of course not. You can go. Go ahead and tell your police that an elf shot your fellow elf. Give them my description. They’ll never find me. Not unless they can travel the worlds.”

I clenched my teeth. “What happens if I shoot you?”

“You’re not that fast, mortal.”

“Want to bet?”

Merlasul ignored me, watching Alohir. “Are you going to admit you were wrong? You only have one more chance, and I’ll kill you either way.”

Alohir shook his head. “Never.”

I pulled out my gun, and heard two quick gunshots before it was out. There was a flicker of light, and the teenaged boy was standing in front of me, holding his hands up as if holding up some unseen barrier.

Alohir dropped the gun he was holding and ran over to Merlasul’s prone form.

I blinked, and the boy stepped aside. “What…?”

Alohir’s mouth was pressed into a thin line when he looked up. “You made me shoot him, Clementine. He meant it when he said that you would not be quick enough.”

I blinked again. “How did you do that so fast?”

Alohir pressed his fingertips against Merlasul’s forehead, and the tips of them started to glow even through the leather gloves he wore. “I am an elf.”

“Elves don’t carry guns.” I said.

“I am wearing gloves. I did not touch the metal. Thank the boy; he is the one who really saved your life. Even I was not fast enough.”

“Thank you.” I said, looking to where the boy had been. But he was nowhere to be seen. I shook my head.

“I must depart. I will retrieve the body for you so you may return it to his wife. But I must go quickly; we do not have much time before Merlasul passes.”

“Great.”

Alohir grabbed the gun out of Merlasul’s hand and threw it across the alleyway.

“Farewell.” He said.

Then they both vanished.

I blinked twice, my head reeling. If it weren’t for the guns on the ground, I would not have believed that any of them had really been there.

I knelt, picking up both pistols, and opened the cartridges of both, one at a time.

They both shot nine millimeter bullets.

 

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Short Story Contest Entry by Hannah

Why Elves Don’t Carry Guns

by Hannah

Elves don’t carry guns. It is a well-established, accepted, and applauded fact.

Arenden Silverwing cared not a whit.

The young elf strode gracefully from tree to tree, as comfortable on the swaying branches as on firm ground. Though only a youth, he carried himself with the air of a king, careless of any reproof towards him, including that pelting after him.

“But Arenden,” his friend wailed, for the seventieth time. “It simply isn’t done!”

At last, as if hearing him for the first time, Arenden halted and swung around to face his friend, neatly balanced upon two twigs. The long musket rested upright on his shoulder like a battle standard. “Why?” Arenden asked, his beautiful little nose tipping into the air. “Why isn’t it done?”

Most children his age would have blanched at his tone, a tone he’d learned from any number of proud elves who had lived enough thousands of years to have actually earned their pride. But Braisel Leaftwin had been his constant cohort since before walking, and was not easily cowed. This fine young fellow, righteous in the eyes of his elders, set his hands on his hips, and glared Arenden down.

“You know perfectly well why not,” Braisel said. “They are loud, inelegant, inefficient, vulgar, and furthermore, they scare birds!”

This last statement might have been the deciding force for many an elf, but Arenden rolled his eyes and continued on his way. Braisel hurried after him as he always did, even when in complete opposition to the quest. Eventually, they descended to the ground and flitted through the foliage until they reached the top of a hillock.

“There they are,” Arenden whispered, his voice husky with excitement.

Some distance below them, as raucous and unpleasant as a murder of crows, huddled several goblins. They snarled and slavered over a meal, if a few dead hares could be called a meal. Goblins, as everyone knows, are a despicable lot and have a long running feud with the fair elves. These certain goblins were rather foolish to have come this close to the dwelling of the elves, but goblins have never been remembered for wisdom.

Arenden’s eyes glimmered in glee, resembling a woodland puck far more than a stately elf. He sat back against a tree and tore open his cartridges. “They’ll never know what hit them,” he snickered. “Just wait till you see them jump and yell.”

Curiosity dampened Braisel’s disapproval, but he still stared ominously at the unusual weapon. “Do you even know how to use this?”

“Fah! The mortal hunter showed me everything I needed to know,” the daring young rebel scoffed. Indeed, he primed and loaded his weapon with as much grace and confidence as everything else in his elven perfection. When at last he finished, he held the musket up to his shoulder and pointed it down to the unfortunate gaggle of goblins.

“How are you supposed to aim?” Braisel asked, overwhelmed by everything wrong with this situation. “Will it deafen us? What if it explodes in your face?”

Ignoring him, Arenden pulled the trigger.

A terrific flash and bang burst from the muzzle, and the recoil of the gun sent Arenden tumbling backwards. The goblins quite forgotten, Braisel leapt to his friend’s aid. “Oh! Oh, are you dead?” he shrieked.

Arenden shakily tossed the musket aside. “No,” he murmured, dazed. “Oh, but my shoulder hurts. Ah!” Grimacing, he scooted himself up against a tree trunk and massaged his shoulder. Pale with pain and surprise, he stared reproachfully at the gun. “The hunter should have warned me.”

“It’s a wicked weapon,” Braisel declared. “Vile.”

“I just didn’t know how what to expect,” Arenden argued. “We had to be taught to be aware of the bow string’s snap. This isn’t much different.” He wondered how he’d explain the bruise to his mother without seeming the clumsiest elf in the kingdom. “I’ll do it better next time.”

“It’s horrible,” his friend said, shuddering. “And look—it did scare the birds!”

“It scared the goblins too,” Arenden remarked in satisfaction. “Listen, you can’t hear them at all. They must have run for their lives.”

Scarcely had the words left his mouth than the goblins, all unharmed and all in very bad temper, sprang out of the bushes. The young elves yelped in alarm and scrambled for the trees, but they were caught fast by the gangly hands of the monsters. The youths twisted and fought, but they were soon pinned and trussed like hunted game.

Cheek pressed into the ground, Arenden had a fine view of his discarded musket. Forlornly, he realized it would do no good even if he reached it, for it took a terrible long time to prepare it.

Braisel sputtered in outrage beside him. “That’s another thing! The sound and smoke gives away your positon!”

The goblins congratulated themselves with much slapping and slobbering. They’d expected to find a hunter, not two juicy young elves. One picked up the musket, greatly perplexed. It squinted an eye down at Arenden. “Elves don’t carry guns,” it growled.

“See?” Braisel snapped. “Even the goblin knows it!”

“Can’t you face death in dignity?” Arenden snapped back, though he really just wanted his friend to stop proving himself right.

The goblins gathered around the one holding the gun, poking the weapon like naughty children. In a matter of moments, each one was tugging it back and forth, and soon there erupted another burst of fire, as apparently the first one hadn’t emptied all the powder. The goblins jumped and yelled just as Arenden hoped they would. Of course, the boys jumped and yelled too, so it spoiled the fun.

The goblins were only startled and slightly burnt, and they turned on the elflings with a vengeance.

This might have turned into a very sad story, the sort of awful story told to children by merciless adults seeking to impress upon them importance of virtue. This could have been turned into a poem called, “Arenden Who Played With Guns and Was Eaten.”

Instead, all the goblins were pierced by arrows in a matter of seconds, and we can now call it, “Goblins Who Tried To Eat Little Elves and Were Shot To Death.”

Arenden and Braisel blinked at this unforeseen turn of events, and twisted upwards to look into the trees.

There upon a high branch stood a terrible figure, terrible because it was Arenden’s father and he was frowning. He dropped lightly to the ground, and severed the boy’s bonds without a word. He didn’t even look at the musket. He didn’t say anything as they climbed back into the trees and headed for home. But when they reached their front porch, he turned and looked into each of the boy’s shamed faces.

“Elves don’t carry guns,” he said, and that was all.

Arenden sighed. Clearly, he’d been born in the wrong age of the world.

 

If you would like to vote on this or any other story, email me at craftingstoriesinred(at)gmail(dot)com

Short Story Contest Entry by Jessi L. Roberts

“Elves Don’t Carry Guns”

by Jessi L. Roberts

Fern peered over the wall that surrounded the town of Refuge. A rider and packhorse trotted down the road while a huge dog ran beside them. It had to be Robiel. Only he had a diredog and the horses were both duns. Good thing they’d made it before night. Then again, Robiel didn’t fear the night, or the vamps that came with it.

“Get off the wall, elf,” Nelgen, one of the guards snapped.

Fern glared. “I’m only half elf, stupid.”

Nelgen lifted his hand.

“Just try it,” Fern snapped. “Robiel will feed you to the werewolf.”

Nelgen’s hand dropped.

Below them, the gates swung open. Robiel rode through, the dog at his side and the packhorse trailing behind.

Fern ran down the stairs and to Robiel. He dismounted and swept her into his arms. “You’ve grown.” He released her from his embrace. “Now, where’s that twin of yours?”

Fern rolled her eyes. “Probably mooning over some girl.”

Robiel smiled. “I was the same way at his age.”

The people of Refuge were now surrounding them, waiting to see what news Robiel had brought back.

“Uncle!” Ash ran through the crowd. As usual, the humans parted. His silver hair, which he kept short, tended to remind the humans of werewolves, especially after the incident two days ago. “We have a werewolf in jail. The mayor thought a scout would know what to do about it. The guards captured him in the fields. He’s huge.”

“Slow down,” Robiel said. “What’s this about??”

“A couple days ago, the guards caught a werewolf poking around when we were weeding.” Fern clarified. “They thought he might be a threat so they locked him in the jail.”

Robiel’s copper eyes widened. “Did he bite anyone?”

“Nope.” Ash ran a hand through his hair, making it stand up in spikes, like werewolf fur.

“Good.” Robiel led his horse toward the stables. “I’ll check it out after I get the horses unsaddled.” His dog trotted toward the stables. The crowd gave the huge beast a wide berth. Fern couldn’t blame them. If it had been much bigger, a small person could have ridden it.

“Is there any news?” A man in the crowd shouted.

“I heard an airplane last month.” Robiel walked into the stables and closed the doors.

“We should tell Barry that Robiel’s coming to look at the wolf,” Ash said.

“Do you think werewolf bites would turn us?” Fern asked.

Ash shrugged. “No idea. The way I see it, we have to avoid werewolves and werecats since there’s no telling which one would turn us into something.” Ash began jogging. “Keep up.”

Fern and Ash ran to the jail and stepped through the doorway.

Barry sat with his feet on his desk and an old hat pulled over his eyes, the lamp by his desk dark.

Fern held her finger to her lips. She crept to Barry’s side and took a deep breath then threw back her head and howled, loudly as she could.

Barry’s hands flailed and his chair tipped.

Ash grabbed Barry’s arm, saving him from a nasty fall.

Barry climbed to his feet and grabbed his hat. He jammed it over his balding head and brushed himself off. “What are you two kids doing here? The other kids hassling you again?”

“Nope.” Ash glanced toward a door in the back of the room that led to the cells. “Robiel’s going to check out the werewolf.”

“So Robiel’s back. That’s good.” Barry rubbed his wrinkled face. “Only advantage of having that monster around is that no one wants to get tossed in a cell next to it.

At that moment, Robiel stepped through the door, his thick build blocking most of the light. “Where’s this wolf?”

Of course, Robiel had to guess where the werewolf was, but he had the sense to let Barry lead him to the cells.

Barry grabbed the keys and paused. “Eva might not want her kids back there.”

“My sister can’t shelter them forever. They’ll have to leave Refuge eventually.”

“I’d rather deal with a few bullies than vamps,” Barry snapped. “The wild’s no place for kids.”

Robiel shoved past Barry and into the cell. “You’ve never been out there.”

Fern and Ash followed.

Two cells stood against the walls, leaving a narrow hallway between them. In back right cell, a prisoner sat on a bench. The darkness of the prison almost hid him from view.

The prisoner stood and stretched. He walked to the bars, his moccasins silent on the hard floor. The light shining through a barred window hit the man’s face, exposing golden eyes. Two deep scars, one on the bridge of his nose and another to the left of his left eye, ran down his face. Judging by the lack of wrinkles, he couldn’t have been any older than thirty, though the gray fur, which grew where human hair normally grew, made him appear older. With only a leather vest and pants, his muscular physique stood out.

Robiel strode to stand a foot from the prisoner, his own copper eyes betraying no fear. “I know those are the scars of an outcast.”

Fern stood closely behind Robiel. If this was an outcast, he could be even more dangerous than first assumed.

The werewolf met Robiel’s gaze. “Last full moon, an airplane crashed. When I pulled the human out, my teeth broke his skin. He turned. It saved his life. The alpha exiled me for biting because he considered me a threat.” The werewolf ran his hand over his face. “I couldn’t handle being on my own so I came here.”

“I know some other packs,” Robiel said. “I’ll talk to the mayor and see if I can get you released into my custody.” Robiel scratched his beard. “What’s your name?”

“Thorne of the valley pack.”

“There are other packs that might take you. I’ll see what I can do.” Robiel left Thorne and strode out of the cells prison and through the office.

“What are you going to do about that thing?” Barry demanded.

“He got exiled for accidentally biting a human.”

“You know he’s probably lying about his exile,” Barry said.

Robiel stroked his beard. “I don’t think so. He mentioned a plane wreck. A lot of people heard or saw that plane but the sitings stopped near the full moon. His story matches up.”

#

Ash cut off a grape shoot. “So, you think being a scout like Robiel would be a good idea? He tossed the shoot away and cut another one.

Fern did the same to another vine. “We’re halfbreeds. We’ll never fit in.” She glanced at Nelgen, who stood on a mound of dirt at the edge of the field. He cradled a rifle and scanned the forest surrounding Refuge. Though the forest was technically part of Refuge’s territory, no civilians ever went farther than the edge. Vamps hunted in the dark places.

Fern clipped off a few more tendrils. “Let’s hurry. Robiel’s probably discussing trader stuff and I want to hear it.”

“Why?” Ash asked. “Scouts only do trading stuff, and they’re always getting  ambushed by vamps or bandits. Not much of a life.”

Fern glanced at Nelgen. Instead of watching the trees, he watched them. “We’re barely welcome here.” Why couldn’t Nelgen have guarded the people planting potatoes in the other field? Had he just wanted to annoy Fern?

“Some people like us.” Ash shrugged.

Nelgen stepped off the mound of dirt and walked to the nearest trees.

Fern looked away. The last thing she wanted to see was a guard relieving himself.

Hoofbeats thundered toward Fern and Ash. A trio of horses charged past the edge of the fields and between the rows of grapes.

Fern and Ash ran. A rider on a brown horse cut them off. “Help!” Fern shouted.

Ash charged the rider.

A huge tawny feline burst from the trees, leaped over a grape arbor, and pounced on Fern.

Fern punched the cat in the nose.

It roared.

Fern punched it again. Her fist slammed into the cat’s teeth.

A gunshot rent the air. The huge werecat stumbled, then ran. Another bullet slammed into the cat. It fell in a heap.

One of the riders swung off his horse and returned fire. The other two bolted. One of them had Ash slung over the saddle.

Fern leaped to her feet as the last rider, the one who had shot at the wall, swung back onto his horse and raced after the other two.

Fern ran after the riders, but they made it to the forest and out of sight.

Guards raced through Refuge’s gates and into the open fields. More guards and gardeners ran from one of the other fields.

Fern searched for the telltale blonde hair her mother sported, the hair Fern had inherited. Finally, she spotted her mother stumbling through the field. One of the girls, probably Ash’s girlfriend, held her arm.

She raced to her mom. “They took Ash.”

“Are you okay?” Mom’s cloudy eyes gazed past Fern, unable to see her.

“Everyone get inside!” A guard shouted. “Now!”

Fern grabbed her mother’s arm. “This way.”

The guards herded them through the gates and into Refuge.

Two guards dragged Robiel through the gates ahead of Fern.

Once they were through the gates, Fern shepherded her mother to Robiel. The guards had eased him to the ground. Blood stained one shirt sleeve and his ankle twisted at an odd angle.

“What happened?” Fern asked the nearest guard.

Robiel propped himself up on his good elbow. “Got shot in the arm and fell off the wall.”

“He was trying to get a good shot on that cat,” a guard said.

“Are you okay? Did it bite you?”

Blood dripped from Fern’s hand. She stared at it. She’d been bitten.

Around her, the guards backed away. Two or three pointed their rifles at her. A buzz ran through the crowd of gardeners around her.

“She’s going to turn.”

“Throw her out.”

“Poor thing.”

Fern clutched her bleeding hand and rocked. It couldn’t happen, not to her. She wasn’t some rabid animal.

Robiel gasped in pain and crawled to her. “Fern, I’ve got an idea. It’s a long shot, but it might work.”

“You can save her?” Eva asked. She wrapped her arms around Fern.

Robiel glanced farther into the town, toward the jail. “If the werewolf bites her, it might counteract the werecat’s saliva.”

The mayor strode through the crowd. “What’s going on here?”

“They kidnapped the halfbreed boy. The girl got bit by a werecat,” a guard said.

“Get her to the jail, now.” The mayor waved his arms.

“You heard him,” a young guard said. He pointed his rifle at Fern. It shook in his hands.

They’re terrified. Fern stood. Eva clung to her. “Take care of your bother,” Fern whispered. She pried her mother’s hands from her shirt.

A half-dozen of the guards circled around her, too afraid to come close. They’d always been wary, but now, they were afraid.

“Get the wolf to bite you,” Robiel shouted.

Fern strode to the jail.

When Fern opened the door, Barry scrambled to his feet and tried to look like he hadn’t been asleep again.

One of the old guards followed Fern through the doorway. The others hung back, afraid to be in a confined space with Fern.

“She’s been bitten. You need to get her locked up,” the old guard said.

“Bitten by what? That monster of Robiel’s?”

“A werecat.”

Barry’s eyes shot wide. “Okay. I’ll get her a cell.” He led them to the back of the jail and opened the cell next to Thorne’s.

Fern stumbled to the hard board that made the bed. She sat on it.

Barry closed the door. “Sorry about this. I’ll get a blanket for you.” He left Fern alone in the shadowy cell.

Tears blurred her vision. She tried wiping them away but more took their place. Ash was gone, and she’d be turning into a monster with the next new moon.

“You got bitten?” Thorne demanded.

Fern looked up. Thorne peered through the bars of his cell, his eyes narrowed.

Fern nodded. “A werecat.” Robiel’s idea came back to her. “Robiel said maybe a werewolf bite could counteract it.”

Thorn lifted a hand and scratched his ear. “It works on vamp bites, though they turn into a werewolf. A werewolf bite certainly wouldn’t make things worse, but we need to do it soon.” He knelt by the bars. “Stick your hand through. I’ll be gentle as I can.” A shudder tore through Thorn. Fur flowed from his tail and grew over his leather vest. Soon, a gray wolf the size of Robiel’s dog stood in front of her.

Fern backed away from the bars.

“It’s okay.” Even though he’d shifted forms, Thorn’s words came out clearly. “Hold out your hand.”

Fern put her injured hand through the bars and closed her eyes.

Thorn’s teeth sank into her arm.

Fern cried out and pulled away. Four holes from his canine teeth had punctured her arm. Blood dripped from the holes and mingled with the drying blood on her hand.

Thorne shifted back to human form just as Barry burst through the door. “Is he hurting you?”

Fern shook her head and clutched her bleeding arm to her chest. “I’m okay.”

“You don’t look okay.” Barry glared at Thorne.

“I’m fine.” Fern prayed Barry would leave. After watching her for almost a minute, he did.

“How did this happen?” Thorne asked.

Fern told Thorne the whole story.

“I’ve heard rumors,” Thorne said. “Werewolves going missing. Some think humans are experimenting, testing to see if they can harness our powers.”

“Why did you get captured?” Fern asked. “You knew humans hate you”

“We werewolves can’t last long on our own.” Thorne told her his story, how he’d been exiled, driven away from his mate and pups, and how his loneliness had forced him to seek human companionship, even though he knew going near humans could get him shot.

#

The door to the office swung opened. Robiel limped in on crutches. Eva stood next to him, one of her hands on his shoulder. She held a set of keys in her free hand.

Fern stood. “What’s going on?”

“Be quiet,” Robiel whispered. “We’re breaking you out.”

“There’s nowhere to hide,” Fern whispered.

“There is if you leave Refuge.” Robiel limped toward her cell.

A chill shot through Fern. After what happened in the fields, she knew she couldn’t survive in the forest.

Mom unlocked the door to her cell and opened it.

Fern stepped out of the cell. Robiel grabbed her injured arm and peered at it. “He bit you?”

Fern nodded.

“Do you trust him?”

Fern glanced at Thorne. “He’s okay.”

“You know how to shoot, correct?”

“Of course.” What was Robiel planning?

“No one in town is willing to mount a search party to reduce Ash. I can’t travel so it’s up to you.” Robiel tensed. “I want you to take my horse and Thorne. My guns are still tied to the saddle. We’ll help you two get out of Refuge. If you’d rather hide or stay here, I won’t look down on you. It’s your choice.”

Fern glanced at Thorne. If she did this, she’d need to take him. Could she trust him? Part of her wanted to go back in the cell and stay there, but Ash needed help. “I’ll do it.”

Mom unlatched Thorne’s cell door. Thorne stepped out and rolled his shoulders. “Thanks.”

Robiel dropped a crutch and grabbed Thorne by the throat. “I’m letting you loose because we need you to find the boy. If anything happens to Fern, I will hunt you down and rip out your throat. That is a promise.” Robiel released Thorne.

Thorne lowered himself halfway to the floor. “You have my word I will not harm her.”

“Shift into wolf form and curl your tail over your back. They’ll think you’re my dog.”

Robiel and Thorne crept through the office. Fern and Eva waited a bit longer before sneaking past Barry, who slept in his chair.

“I’m surprised he didn’t wake up,” Fern whispered once they were out of the jail.

“I drugged his coffee,” Eva whispered.

They crept down the path toward the gate. Ahead of them, Robiel hobbled along with Thorne at his side. In the darkness, Thorne almost looked like Robiel’s diredog.

At the stables, Fern saddled Robiel’s horse. He gave her a quick rundown of what supplies and weapons she had, including a sword, pistol, rifle, extra ammunition, a water purifier, and enough dried meat to last her two weeks.

Robiel peered out of the stables. “The guards are awake, but they’re all looking out.”

The foursome crept to the gates. Eva lifted the beam keeping the gate closed.

“Mount up,” Robiel whispered. “When the gate opens, run for the trees.”

Fern climbed onto Robiel’s horse. “Are you two going to get in trouble?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Eva whispered. “Be careful. I love you.” She reached up to Fern and hugged her.

Robiel swung the gate open.

“Goodbye!” Fern dug her heels into Robiel’s horse. The mare shot forward.

Shouting erupted on the wall.

“Don’t shoot,” Eva yelled. “It’s Fern.”

The horse ran faster, trampling potatoes and crashing through corn. Thorne kept pace beside her, his tail now low and all pretenses of being a dog gone.

Once they made it to the trees, Fern pulled the horse up and looked back. Refuge stood barely visible in the light of the half-moon.

Ahead of them, the forest thickened, the perfect place for vamps.

Thorne sniffed the ground. “I need to pick up the scent.”

Fern rode after Thorne as he loped along, his nose low to the ground. He made it to the area Fern thought the riders had vanished. He stopped and sniffed deeply, then turned into the forest. “This way. They didn’t take the road.” He paused. “There are four riders and a pureblood werewolf. It’s a male.”

“I only saw three riders,” Fern said. “And a werecat.”

“I think one of the humans is from Refuge.”

“Nelgen,” Fern spat. “He snuck into the trees right before we were attacked.”

Thorne raced into the forest. Fern stared at the dark shadows that stretched ahead. “What about vamps?” she asked.

Thorne sniffed the air. “If we stick together, the small clans will probably leave us alone. They don’t like tangling with werewolves, even if we don’t have the full moon to back us up.”

Fern kept the mare right behind Thorne as they traveled and the rifle close.

The night wore on with no sign of vamps.

At dawn, Thorne stopped near a stream.

Fern yawned. “Why are we stopping?”

“Get the horse a drink and rest. You’re tired.”

“I can keep going.” Fern rubbed her eyes.

“I’m resting.” Thorne walked to the stream and took a drink.

Fern sighed. She couldn’t find Ash without Thorne. She slid off the horse. Her muscles protested to  the movement.

Thorn lay down. “We can move on in a couple hours.”

Fern hobbled the mare and sat under one of the numerous trees. “Should one of us keep watch?”

“Vamps only come out at night and we’re off the human paths,” Thorne said. “I’ll keep my nose open. You get some sleep.”

Fern closed her eyes. Thorne had a point. They needed to be fresh when they caught up to the enemy.

#

Thorne sniffed the leaves on the forest floor. They’d been churned up by horses. “If we press on, we should catch up tonight.” With the moon only a couple days from being full, his size had increased until he was at least the size of a large black bear.

A strange hot feeling, like her blood had been warmed, shot through Fern. She leaned against the horse and rubbed the wound on her arm. The tooth marks had been healing well, but the heat and tingling skin told her something was amiss. The sensation had been going on all day. It had gotten worse when the moon rose.

“Is something wrong?” Thorne asked.

“How do I know if I’m going to turn?” Fern’s words came out as a sob.

Thorne hurried to her side. “What do you feel?”

“It’s like something hot is just under my skin and wants out.” Fern wrapped her arms around herself. Was it her imagination or were her arms hairier than usual?

“Maybe we should wait for the rescue until after the full moon.” Thorne glanced north, the direction they’d been going. “If your adrenalin kicks in, it won’t be good. You’ll shift.”

“Then we need to get them tonight, before I shift. I’m not letting that werewolf bite Ash.” Even if she couldn’t save herself, perhaps she could save her brother.

Thorne’s ears drooped. “No. He’s a werecat, Fern.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Fern snarled. How could he keep it a secret from her?

“It wouldn’t have done you any good to know,” Thorn said.

“He’s my brother!” Her hair bristled. Fern froze. The tingling sensation had turned into a burning. She fell to her knees. “Thorne, I’m turning, help!”

“Look at me, Fern,” Thorne snapped.

Fern looked at Thorne.

“Now, concentrate on your human form. Think about breathing, not anger or excitement. Do it.”

Fern concentrated on herself. The burning eased. Finally, it went back to the tingling she’d felt before. She gazed at the moon. If the wolf fought this hard to get out, she wouldn’t stand a chance on the full moon. “I’m turning into a monster,” she sobbed.

Thorne growled. “You are not a monster. Neither is your brother.”

“I’m going to be one, when the full moon comes, just like him.”

Thorne growled. “Do you think I am a monster?”

“You were born that way. It’s different.”

Thorn stepped closer, until his face hung inches from her own. “You’re only a monster if you let your instincts control you. When you turn, you have to control them.”

Fern hugged herself.

“Do you want to go after your brother or wait until after you’ve shifted?” Thorne asked.

Fern took a few deep breaths. “We can go now.” She climbed onto the mare. “They might be hurting him.”

The moon hung high above them when Thorne stopped, his hackles on end. “Tie the horse here. From now on, we go on foot.”

Fern took some extra ammunition for the rifle and tied the mare to a tree. Hopefully, if things went bad and they didn’t make it back, the mare would rip loose and head back to Refuge.

Fern followed Thorne through trampled leaves. Her hair stood on end.

Wood smoke hung in the air. Soon, Fern spotted firelight.

Fern and Thorne moved into thicker brush and crept closer to the camp. Four horses were picketed on the far side of the camp while five shadows slumbered around the fire. One was a short distance from the others, farther from the fire. A man leaned against a tree, his head bowed. For a guard, he wasn’t doing a very good job.

Thorne sniffed the air. “I scent one pureblood werewolf, three halfbloods, a man, and Ash. Those riders have been bitten. Whatever they’re up to, they’ve turned themselves into halfblooded wolves. Lucky for us, there’s only one pureblood. I can deal with halfbloods. They’re weak.” Thorne sniffed the air again. He let out a low growl. “Thought so. They’ve got Ash drugged up on wolfsbain.”

Fern’s stomach turned to ice. “What’s it do to him?”

“It makes shape shifters able to go into animal form with ease, but we have more trouble controlling our instinct or shifting out of animal form. They probably figured it was easier to confine him if he was trapped in one form.”

A growl rumbled in Fern’s chest. “What do you want to do?” They couldn’t leave Ash, not like this.

“He’s got to be chained. See if you can get him loose. He might panic if he sees me.”

“Okay.” Fern crawled forward, every muscle tense. Something wild welled up in her, telling her how to creep quietly.

“Fern, be careful,” Thorn whispered. “He might be violent.”

Fern nodded.

The pair stalked forward. They circled the edge of the camp, where the undergrowth hid them from the guard.

Moonlight shown off the silver-furred feline in front of Fern. She belly crawled next to him.

His eyes opened. He sprang to his feet and hissed at her. A chain around his neck rattled.

“Ash, it’s me, Fern.” She crawled closer and reached for the chain.

Ash growled.

“What’s going on over there?” The guard shouted. Nelgen.

Part of Fern wanted to leap at him, to sink her teeth into his throat. That would teach him for messing with her brother. The hair on the back of her neck stood on end. Her skin burned.

Ash turned toward Nelgen and roared.

Taking advantage of the distraction, Fern unclipped the chain around his neck.

He turned on her. His huge silver paw slammed into her side, bowling her over.

“We’re under attack!” Nelgen shouted.

At Nelgen’s words, Ash charged. Nelgen lifted his rifle. Ash bowled him over.

The camp sprang into action. The werewolves charged Fern.

Fern unslung her rifle and stood.

Thorne leaped into the fight. He grabbed the nearest werewolf, a small one, and shook it.

The pureblood werewolf grabbed Ash by the scruff and threw him off Nelgen.

Ash lowered himself to the ground, submissive. Nelgen’s blood covered his face and paws.

The rifle trembled in Fern’s hands. He’s a monster.

“Kill the elf,” the werewolf ordered. “She doesn’t care about you. She knows you’re an animal now.”

Ash stalked toward Fern.

“Make him stop or I’ll shoot!” Fern yelled at the wolf. Behind her, Thorne fought the trio of smaller werewolves.

The werewolf’s ears pricked. “Elves don’t carry guns.”

“This one does.” Fern’s words came out as a snarl. The wolf within clawed at her, trying to rip free of its prison.

The huge werewolf turned to Ash. “Attack her.”

Fern aimed the rifle at Ash. “Ash, it’s me. Don’t listen to him. Please.”

Ash growled and stalked toward her. What had they done to him?

Fern backed away. “Ash. Please stop.” Tears came to her eyes.

Ash leaped.

Fern fell under his weight. The rifle fell from her hands.

Ash stared down at her, his blue eyes narrow.

The wolf inside Fern pushed harder, telling her she had to fight, not lay like a victim. “Ash, don’t do this. I’m your family. I love you. You’re not a monster.”

Ash glanced at the werewolf.

“Kill her.” He stepped closer and licked his lips.

Ash glared at the wolf. “No.” He took a few steps toward the much larger wolf. His ears were flat against his head.

Fern crawled toward the rifle. She had to keep focus or she’d shift.

A black halfblood pounced on her. Its teeth sank into Fern’s leg.

The wolf within her exploded in a roar of rage. Fern turned on the halfblood as her jaws shifted into the jaws of a wolf. She grabbed the werewolf by the neck and shook.

The rest of her body followed her head. Blonde fur flowed over her body. Her bones bent and stretched.

She released the halfblood and stood, her lips drawn back. The halfblood backed away, blood dripping from his neck.

Ash yowled in pain. The big werewolf had him by the scruff.

Fern sprang on the wolf. Her teeth sank into his shoulder. Blood spurted into her mouth. She pulled at the wolf.

He turned on her, his jaws snapping.

Fern sprang away.

Ash leaped to his feet and tore into the wolf. His jaws sank closed on the huge werewolf’s spine.

The wolf spun, his jaw snapping at Ash.

Fern attacked. Her teeth sank into his throat and held him, stopping him from reaching Ash.

The werewolf fell to the ground. Fern kept her hold on his throat. He thrashed, but his struggles weakened. Finally, he lay still.

Fern released the wolf and licked her lips. Satisfaction shot through her. She’d won.

Ash still held the wolf’s back, his jaws clenched. He growled at Fern. She backed away from the kill.

Thorne limped to them. “Get hold of yourselves, both of you.” He stepped toward Ash, his tail uplifted. “That is not your kill. Stop acting like an animal.”

Ash released the dead werewolf and backed away, his body lowered in submission.

The horses tugged at their halters.

Ash stalked toward them. Fern’s mouth watered. She could already imagine her teeth sinking into their tender flesh.

Thorne leaped between the horses, Ash and Fern. “Control yourselves,” he growled. “Follow me, now. We’re going hunting. You two need to burn some of that bloodlust in a constructive way.”

#

Five days later, after the full moon had come and gone, Thorne led the group back toward Refuge.

“They’re not going to take us back,” Ash said. He rode one of the horses they’d taken from the kidnappers.

Fern sighed, her mind flashing back to the bloodlust she’d felt, first taking down the huge werewolf, and then hunting and eating a deer. I didn’t even feel guilty about killing him. If she turned around humans, could she control the bloodlust, stop herself from killing innocent people?

Thorne stopped, his tail upraised.

A man on horseback trotted toward them, a huge dog at his side.

“Robiel!” Fern urged the mare to a faster speed.

The horses met. Robiel examined Fern. “You shift?”

“Both of us,” Fern said. “Wasn’t your leg was broken?”

Robiel smiled. “Werewolves heal fast.”

You’re a werewolf?” Ash stared.

“It’s a long story.” Robiel turned his horse toward Refuge. “I know a pack that will take you in. We’ll pick up Eva and go there. I can teach you to control your instincts.”

 

If you would like to vote on this or any other story, email me at craftingstoriesinred(at)gmail(dot)com

Short Story Contest Entry by Savannah

“Elves Don’t Carry Guns”

by Savannah

The Christmas Eve I first met Claire was, in retrospect, a terrible evening.

It was my first time as a deliverer, and I promptly broke about thirty-two of the Code’s forty rules.

I was quite near the beginning of my route, when it happened. I was starting to feel confident as I jammed my transporter into a drift on the roof of my next house. Checking the stun gun strapped to my hip, I pulled my black gloves back on. I hadn’t had to use the weapon yet―it could leave a human disabled for a short amount of time, and wipe any extremely recent memories―but it was standard procedure to check your weapon before entering a home.

I snuck in through the upstairs window nearest me and promptly set my bag on the carpeted floor, pulling my ski goggles up onto my forehead so I could see more clearly in the dim hall. My navigation pad said that there were four in the family―the parents and two children. I had two more houses in this neighborhood, and then I’d move to the next town. If I stayed on schedule, I’d have enough time for a coffee break at ten o’ clock.

“Five minutes, no more.” I mumbled to myself.

“Don’t. Move.”

I looked up and froze. A human was standing in front of me. She was holding a gun pointed at me, and I was certain it would do more than simply knock me out.

“Put your hands in the air.”

I obeyed, thinking frantically. The human was young―at least, no older than me―and she looked as frightened as I felt. Maybe all I needed to get out of this situation was a little false confidence.

“You’re just a kid.” she said suddenly. I shrugged.

“So are you.”

We stood in silence for a long, awkward moment before I said,

“Can I put my arms down now? They’re getting kind of tired.”

The girl hesitated before nodding.

“Okay. But don’t try anything. And hand me your weapon.”

I lowered my arms slowly, noting that her gun was still trained on me. Pulling the stun gun from my belt, I handed it to her reluctantly. I had a brief thought of shooting her with it as she reached for it, but she might shoot me as she fell, and the last thing I wanted to do was end up full of holes.

“Are you a robber?”

I looked down at my black clothes.

“No.”

“Then what are you doing here?”

“I’m, ahh, here with the power company.”

“Sure. Dressed in black and sneaking in through a window? I don’t think so.”

I gave up on finding a plausible lie and pulled up my license on my navigation pad.

“I’m here for the CDS of North America. Why are you awake?”

“What’s the CDS?”
“Christmas Delivery Service.”

“I’ve never heard of it.” She crossed her arms skeptically.

“We try to keep a low profile, seeing as you humans are kind of inquisitive and all.”

“What do you mean, you humans?”

“Well you don’t think I’m a human, do you?” I said with a derisive snort.

“You look like one to me.”

“Well, I’m not. I’m an elf.”

“Really? Where’s all your tinsel and bells and candy cane striped tights?”

She didn’t sound convinced.

“You really expect me to silently deliver presents all around the world wrapped in jingle bells and Christmas lights?” I asked dryly. “You have no idea how difficult it is to keep humans asleep, even with my extraordinary skill and cat-like reflexes.”

She snorted a laugh.

“But I thought Santa delivered presents.” Her tone made it obvious that she had long since grown out of that belief.

“In, like, the sixteenth century. That was before improved medicine, and the huge world population growth, and Walmart.”

“So now you do the work?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I don’t believe you.”

“Why not?” I assumed my best wounded expression.

“Elves don’t carry guns.” she said bluntly.

“I do.” I said, raising an eyebrow and crossing my arms defensively. “Do you have a problem with that?”

“Whatever.” she shrugged. “So what’s your name?”

“Owen.”

“Owen? Shouldn’t it be something more…elvish?”

“I hate to break it to you, but this is reality, not Middle Earth.”

“I’m Claire.” She paused before asking, “How do you deliver presents? You don’t have a bag or anything.”

“Of course not.”

I held up my navigation pad and typed in the delivery code. Authorizing the load, I put my fingers on the glass and pulled them up. A 3D digital model of a wrapped gift hovered above the screen.

“Take it.”

“Are you crazy? It’s not real―it’s just a projection.” she protested.

“Do you want your present or not?”

She reached out and took it. As she did, it suddenly grew heavy and real in her hands, and she almost dropped it on my pad.

“Watch it!” I warned, but the first time she didn’t reply for several moments.

“Whoa.” she breathed, her blue eyes sparkling. “You were telling the truth.”

“Of course.”

“Well, you lied about the power company.”

My cheeks went red, and I scratched the back of my neck awkwardly.

“Yeah―sorry.”

“I forgive you. At least you aren’t here to rob us.”

“I wouldn’t have been here to scare you if my nav-pad hadn’t said you were all gone. It must have had the wrong house.”

“We were supposed to be at our church’s Christmas Eve service, but our car broke down and we had to ride with our neighbors, so there wasn’t enough room for me.”

She sounded a little sad.

“Well, I’d better finish up here.” I said awkwardly, pulling up another present. “Where’s your Christmas tree?” I asked as it loaded.

“Downstairs.”

I followed her down a flight of steps and we put the remaining packages around the tree with others.

“I bet you have a lot of fun doing this.” She said as we finished.

“Yeah. Until you get caught at gunpoint.” I said with a grin.

“It’s my brother’s pellet gun.” she said, blushing.

“Well, it works great for inducing heart attacks.”

We were quiet for a moment before Claire asked,

“Can I come with you?”

“What?”

“Just for half an hour.” she explained in a rush. “I could help you deliver presents, and still get back home before everyone else. Please?”

“Sure, bring a human girl along with me for the evening.” I shrugged, considering her plan. “It would only land me back at base for the rest of my life!”

“You get grounded?”

“If we blatantly break the CDS Code, yes.”

“I’ll give you back your stun gun.” she bargained. “And I won’t tell a soul―not ever!”

“You can’t be serious.” I felt my heart sink. “You will not get a single present next year―I can guarantee that.”

“There’s always birthdays, you know.”

“I will contact the Birthday agency myself.”

“Please?”

I groaned inwardly. If I said no, she’d have my gun and she probably tell her family that she’d caught an elf breaking in through the upstairs window. After that, every human in North America would be trying to catch us, and I’d be toast back at base. On the other hand, if I let her come, I might have a chance to survive. Besides, I was eating away at my break time.

“Fine. Half an hour. I get my gun back, you keep quiet.”

“Yes!” she said, jumping with excitement. “Be right back―I’ll grab my coat and boots!”

“You’ve got three minutes.”

I headed back up the stairs to the window I’d entered and pulled my ski goggles back down.

Two minutes and thirty-four seconds later, Claire and I were crawling out onto the snowy roof of the house. It wasn’t steep, but her boot laces weren’t tied, and I steadied her as we stood.

“So where’s your reindeer?”

I choked.

“Reindeer? Do you ride a horse-drawn carriage to school?”

“I wish.”

I pulled my transporter out of the drift I’d wedged in and activated it. My nav pad had already calculated the next address I needed to visit, and I stepped into its glassy, circular surface.

“Coming?”

Claire stepped onto it beside me, I hit the transport button, and we were gone in the blink of an eye.

We popped up at my next destination, and I stepped off, looking up at the dark, quiet house in front of us. Claire didn’t move.

“That was amazing.” she breathed. “What just happened?”

“It’s a transporter. You type in the address, and it takes you where you want to go. Quite simple, really.”

“But how does it work?”

I shrugged.

“I’m a deliverer, not an inventor.”

We snuck in through the living room window, dropping onto the carpet as silently as possible. Unlike Claire, this house had no stray humans wandering about, and there was little difficulty in dropping off the gifts and sneaking back outside.

“I feel like a robber.” Claire giggled as I shut the window softly behind us.

“Now do you understand why I wear black?”

She grinned.

We managed to get in and out of the next several houses without waking anyone, although a close call with a large dog nearly made me fall over with fright. Claire, surprisingly enough, did not wake the neighborhood, although she did hum Christmas carols under her breath for the majority of the evening. By the time we’d finished with all the nearby houses, I’d caught up to my schedule, and was trying not to acknowledge that having a friend with me―human or not―was nice. We transported back to her house, and sat side by side on the rooftop. I watched her tip back her head, gazing up at the stars like she’d never seen them before.

“Shooting star!” she gasped, her face lighting up as she pointed to a streak of light. “Hey, do you grant wishes?”

“I’m an elf, not a genie.”

“What can I get for a shooting star?”

I pulled a candy cane out of my pocket and handed it to her.

“Merry Christmas.”

“Thanks.”

After a moment, she pulled the stun gun out of her coat pocket and handed it to me.

“Here. Thanks for letting me help.”

“No problem.”

A car turned in at the far end of the street. “I think that’s my family,” she said. “I’d better go. See you next year!”

She ducked into the window and disappeared before I could tell her that I didn’t know whether or not I’d be back next year. After all, I might end up as a packing elf.

But she was counting on me to come.

“Okay. Next year.” I said. “See you soon.”

 If you would like to vote on this or any other short story, email me at craftingstoriesinred(at)gmail(dot)com

 

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