by Ben Zackheim | Oct 7, 2014 | Writing |
Here’s a free story, starring Maille Rose! Maille (pronounced Molly) has become a favorite of The Camelot Kids’ fans. Read on to find out why. You can also download this story to your device for later. (PDF) (epub) (mobi)
Maille Rose’s wand hand was asleep. Sitting in a closet will do that. As a rule, something is going to lose blood flow when you’re scrunched up in a pile of dirty laundry for seven hours.
Her target had been due to return to his bedroom at 7 pm. At least that was the routine according to the Survairys who had scouted ahead the previous week. But 2 am rolled around and faded into 3 and she still found herself browsing the clothing tags. She even invented a new game called “Percentage Polyester?” but she just couldn’t go on when it actually became enjoyable.
Maille wished she could doze off, if only to escape the smell for a while. But she had a job to do. Maybe she could leave the closet for a few minutes to stretch her legs? No way. She wasn’t allowed to leave her entry point until the target showed up.
“When I’m in charge,” she thought, “I’ll update every ridiculous rule in Rules of Magic.”
“Then maybe I shouldn’t put you in charge,” a man’s voice said in her head. “Your target is walking up the stairs.”
“About time,” Maille thought back.
“Your right hand is asleep,” the voice grumbled. “How are you going to do your job when your hand is blopping around like a rotten pumpkin?”
“I have no idea what that means,” she thought. “But don’t worry about it. I got it covered.” She hoped her cockiness was obvious. Nothing got under his skin more than cockiness.
“Oh, you do, do you?” he grunted.
“I came up with a spell!”
“You came up with a spell.”
“A spell. That’s what I thought. Did my brain stutter? Yeah, the spell gets the blood flowing. It’s pretty cool. Did I remember to feed Mrs. Howl’s chickens?”
Maille didn’t mean to think about the chickens just then. The stray thought was what wizards call a Randumber. Randumber’s are when you think about something without meaning to, which interrupts the conversation you’re having with whatever cranky wizard is using your head as a motel. Randumber’s are considered quite rude and a sign of poor form in the wizarding world.
But Maille didn’t care.
She cared more about the fact that no, she had indeed not remembered to feed the damn chickens now that she thought about it.
She plopped her limp hand on her lap and held the wand over it. It was a bit awkward in that small space because Maille Rose’s wand was once a normal Louisville Slugger bat — before she chose it as her primary wizarding tool.
“Influit,” she whispered.
Within seconds Maille could move her hand normally. Just in time, too. The door to the room creaked open.
She held her breath. She didn’t want the target to hear her breathing. In Maille’s experience, a gentle, quiet entrance (even from freaky entry points like closets) was the best way to avoid the target’s death by abject fear.
She Eyenapped the eye of a nearby fly to get a good look around. The door had indeed been nudged open slightly, but the room appeared empty. A single bed-spring with no mattress sat in a corner, covered with a couple of blankets. The paint on the wall flaked off like dead skin and left an army of flesh-colored chips on the rotting floorboards.
Back in her own head, Maille’s non-magic ears concluded that her target must have gone back downstairs.
“That’s it. I can’t stay here any longer,” she thought. She wasn’t going to wait one second more for this ninny to show up while chin-deep in his boxer shorts. He could discover the truth about his life some other day.
“Now see here, you whipperscrapper…” the voice in her head started, getting his words wrong as usual.
It was too late. She’d already nudged the closet door open with her foot, wand raised high. Just in case she needed it.
But her wand wasn’t enough.
Maille’s target, now more aptly named her attacker, had been cloaked in the shadows on the other side of the closet door. He kicked the door closed, trapping Maille’s leg in the doorframe with a sickening CLUNK!
“Sounds like that hurt,” the voice in her head said, so loud that her head throbbed.
“If you won’t help me, then zip it!” she screamed back, this time out loud.
Maille rolled forward, dodging a baseball bat to the head. She punched her opponent in the nose and blocked the second blow with her own bat.
But, unlike the attacker’s weapon, Maille’s bat had magic.
And it had been dented. So it was now mad bat magic.
It lashed out with a burst of purple flame, chest-high, that cut across the floor and lay down an eerie glow. Maille immediately feared that her wand had overreacted because… well, there’s no other way to put it… her target was the cutest boy she’d ever clobbered.
Handsome Face (as Maille would call him until she learned his real name) leapt over the wall of flame and took another swing.
But this time she was ready. The spells rolled out of her mouth in the following order:
ContraPlaga (accompanied by waving her arm dismissively) disarmed him.
Stipatio (a spell usually reserved for putting babies to sleep) made his eyes get heavy.
ModusObligatus gave real weight to the darkness of the room, keeping her attacker contained, just in case he managed to beat down the Stipatio.
Handsome Face kind of lolled to the floor and lay flat on his back, frowning at the ceiling. Maille stood over her target. She was short of breath because ModusObligatus added about seventy pounds to everyone in the room.
And because this guy rattled her in a profoundly irritating way.
Maille Rose reminded herself who was in charge here — square jawline, piercing eyes and wide shoulders aside. She got ready to launch into her standard pitch.
Instead, she said, “Hi! I’m Maille!” She closed her eyes and shook her head. That was as far off-script as she could have possibly managed.
“What are you doing, silly girl?” the noggin voice echoed in her skull.
Handsome Face glared at her, like he’d take a bite out of her leg if he could move.
“I’m not sure how you got to be such a fighter,” Maille said, trying to keep her tone light. “But that’s a good thing.”
“Stick to the script, Maille Rose,” the gruff voice spoke behind her right ear.
“I’m trying!” she yelled.
Handsome Face lost a little of his frown. It was replaced with concern. Most likely concern that he was stuck in a room with a nutball.
“Okay, listen up,” Maille started. “Have your parents told you about The Prophecy?”
Handsome Face’s concerned look got more intense. She was freaking him out now. Fine. As long as she kept the upper hand no one would get hurt.
“Here’s the deal, and I’m sure you’ll listen to me because you can probably tell I’m a wizard.”
“You’re not a wizard yet, you little liar,” the head voice said with a condescending cackle.
Handsome Face’s expression was now one of terror. She followed his stare to her hand, the one that had been asleep a minute earlier.
It was the size of a basketball.
Her new spell was malfunctioning.
“Oh, look at that,” the voice said. “Who could have guessed that an untested spell could backfire?”
Maille decided to do the only thing that would buy her time. Pretend nothing was wrong…
“So,” she continued, “you’re the great, great, great, great…” She paused.
“Great, great grandson of Sir Hoel, one of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. You may think, ‘okay weirdo with the mutant hand, so what?’ Well here’s what needs to happen. We’ll need you to give this note to your parents or guardians.” The hand was so heavy that she lay it on the ground, bending over as casually as she could, and dragged it across the room. She placed a slip of paper on his chest. “Don’t read it! It has a pretty potent spell that will make anyone who’s not meant to read it sweat soy sauce for eight hours. Okay. Next, you’ll need to wrap up any personal matters because you won’t be seeing this world for a few years if all goes well.”
“You missed a whole paragraph, Ms. Handy” the voice scolded.
Maille collected her thoughts. She hadn’t forgotten her lines since job #4. “Oh! Yeah. As a descendant of Sir Hoel you have been chosen by Merlin to join the descendants of the Knights of the Round Table in New Camelot where you’ll be trained in preparation for the return of King Arthur.”
“Time of return is inconclusive.”
“I know, Merlin,” she said to the voice. “The time of his return is inconclusive, so don’t ask. We’ve been waiting for generations so it may never happen.”
“Maille Rose!” Merlin hollered.
“Any questions?” She smiled her most comforting smile just as the bedroom door slammed open.
A small man, almost as wide as he was tall, looked at her with eyes the size of surprise itself.
“What the hell is goin’ on in here, Tongueless?” he said as he stepped on the boy’s shoulder.
Maille lifted her wand but the deformed hand slowed her down. The back of the man’s hand smacked her face hard sending her onto the bed-spring.
She tried to remember where she was.
“You brought a girl into my home, you freak? You know what happens when you break the rules around here. Now get up!”
But Maille’s spell kept him flat on his back. So the man kicked him across the face. It wasn’t a hard kick. It was more like he was checking to see if a wounded animal was still alive.
The runt of a man unbuckled his belt, looped it into a circle and snapped the leather together. His drunken frown morphed into a drunken smirk.
He came at Maille first. She got a quick glimpse of his mess of a face. His three day beard pulled back to reveal a mouth filled with broken, blackened teeth. His small eyes almost squeezed shut under the pressure of his smile.
He snapped the leather again and raised the belt over his head. It came down on her leg.
That woke her up.
“AngerIbidem!” she yelled.
“I’ve got to hand it to you. That’s some good thinking,” Merlin said in her head. Maille made a mental note to have her revenge on the old wizard sometime soon.
The thug grabbed his own throat and strangled himself. His tongue rolled out of his mouth, shoving chunks of chewing tobacco to the floor. Maille planted her feet hard, determined to convince her body to wake up. She picked up a flashlight that sat next to the bed and clocked the creep upside the head. He fell to the floor.
Disgusted with the whole predicament, Maille lifted the spells on Handsome Face.
What had the monster called him?
It occurred to her that the young man hadn’t spoken a word, or even made a sound since they came to blows.
He propped himself up on his elbows, then sat up and rubbed his shoulder. Maille could see a blood red scrape running from his neck to his t-shirt’s collar line.
“That looks bad. I can’t heal it but I can clean it and dull the pain if you’d like,” she said.
He locked eyes with her. He was thinking about it. Then his face relaxed, he got to his feet. She hoisted her hand up and rested it on her shoulder, then approached slowly. She gently placed her bat on the wound. The blood evaporated and the scrape was clean by the time she pulled it away.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
He didn’t answer.
She signed the question with her good hand, in case he was deaf or mute.
But he just stood there.
She summoned a dot of green light. It was the size of a penny and it floated between them. She lifted a finger and moved the dot across the stale air.
“Maille Rose” …
… she wrote in light.
“That’s pronounced Molly,” she said. Then she slid the bright dot toward him. It slid across the room and came to a stop right between his eyes.
She was worried that whatever this revolting man on the floor had done to the boy over the years had damaged him beyond repair. Her concern grew as she watched him go cross-eyed looking at the light, as if he didn’t know what to do next.
But then he took a purposeful step back. There was something reassuring in the motion. It showed her that whoever this guy was, and however he’d been damaged by his life, he did things on his own time and in his own way.
He took the light with his palm and the glow grew to match the size of his hand.
… he wiped into the air in big, thick letters. The handwriting was uneven. Yes, there would be work to do with this guy. But she’d seen the patience of Merlin’s team at work many times. It always worked. Every time.
Maille glanced down at the man under their feet.
“He your dad?”
Tom nodded, unable to look at him.
“Do you want to skip the whole ‘letter to your parents or guardians’ part of my speech?”
“Grab what you want.”
He didn’t move.
“Okay, let’s go then,” Maille Rose said, turning toward the closet faster than she should have. She almost lost her balance but Tom caught her humongous hand and cradled it under one arm.
She smiled, he smiled back and Maille Rose led Tom into the closet to take him home.
by Ben Zackheim | Jun 18, 2014 | Writing |
Tommy told her to stay away from the edge seven times. But Beth didn’t listen. He couldn’t very well stop her from being a fool when she was clear on the other side of the barn, could he?
“Mom told you to be careful,” he repeated. Usually, using the “M” word was the only thing that could make her listen. Many moms can make us behave with just a faint warning from the past. Tommy and Beth’s mom was most definitely that kind of mom.
But Beth wasn’t like you or me. Beth was, and still is frankly, a misbehaver from toe to hairtip.
Tommy, too, was no sample of sweetness, and frankly still isn’t, but he fancied himself packed with sense. Or, as he liked to call it, Sensibles — because that made him sound blessed by spirits.
They were in the barn that Mom told them to stay clear of. They were doing things Mom told them not to do inside the barn (the one that she told them not to be in). All in all, it was a disaster waiting to happen.
The roof, as it was, wore more holes than Mrs. Whisker’s swiss cheese. Sunlight poured into some areas of the barn, and not at all in others. The resulting shadows could move, dance, fly or do just about anything else your imagination allowed them to do.
Old piles of damp hay emerged from the floor like warts. They stunk the place up in that dreamy, moist cloud of decay that’s somehow pleasant if you’re in the mood to enjoy it.
So, inside this nest of wretchedness, Beth fell from the second floor.
It was a short fall, as most falls are. But Beth’s brain, being a rocket, managed to pack a lifetime inside three seconds.
When she first lost her balance and her right foot didn’t feel the floor in that special way it does when we’re grounded, she thought, “I wonder if my funeral will be sunny.”
She saw her parents sobbing. Her little casket perched above a hole in the ground in such a way that it could be shoved off its pedestal and slid straight down into the Earth.
She spotted Tommy playing her Nintendo DS while the priest spoke about what happens to girls who don’t listen to their mothers. Tommy winked at her, which meant he knew she was watching her own funeral. Then he dove back in to try to beat her high score in MarioKart.
By the time she was pondering the barn from an angle she’d never considered before, namely upside down while twirling, her thoughts had turned to the barn.
It upset her, as she fell to her death, that they would likely respond to her accident by tearing the old place down. Which would hardly be a reasonable way to face such a tragedy!
After all, if one girl could die in an abandoned building at any time then couldn’t all empty buildings be killers-in-waiting? Why not tear all of them down? The barns, the warehouses, the schools…
That’s where Beth’s head settled as she saw the ground below her get significantly closer at a good clip. She wouldn’t really miss school. Not only because she’d be dead and wouldn’t be around to miss it; but also because school was her least favorite way to measure the day:
Jump in mud
That’s a thousand times better than any school day, even one with a substitute teacher.
She caught a glimpse of Tommy the moment she hit the ground. He was yelling something. Probably, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”
Beth felt bad for her brother. He’d probably feel guilty when she was gone. He might not even play video games for three whole days. Okay, maybe more like two days. But still, their parents would…
Would they blame him? Would they blame Tommy? Would it be like the time Tommy let the dog out by accident and she got caught in the fence?
So Beth did what any other sister would do in her situation. She hit the ground hard. But as she hit the ground hard, she thought, “How strong are these floorboards anyways?” And, as if to say, “We’re not very strong at all, Beth,” the floorboards cracked under her butt, dropping her straight into a muddy soup below the barn.
Time slowed down to normal, as did Beth’s brain. Or what passed for normal, as there was almost nothing normal about what had just happened.
Tommy was still hollering above her, his fingers clenching his hair. Finally, he managed, “ARE YOU OKAY?”
“I think so,” Beth said, a little short of breath.
She didn’t really hurt anywhere at first. But later on, when the excitement had died down, she found a large splinter in the back of her leg. The scar would always be there to remind her to mind her brother.
On the long walk home they decided to keep the whole thing to themselves. Most parents will grimace at such a decision, but tough luck. The brother and sister had a secret and it welded them together in all the ways brothers and sisters should weld.
“Did your life flash before your eyes?” Tommy asked as they walked up the steps to their back porch.
“No, but the future did. And I’m having none of it.”
That, Beth thought, will be my secret for me, myself and I.
by Ben Zackheim | May 26, 2014 | Writing |
He used a pencil to say goodbye. Maybe that would make it less permanent. Words are only as strong as their intent and he didn’t want to leave.
His parents had once hinted that they knew the truth. But by the end of the day their heads were back in The Good Book — their eyes on everything but him.
So with a whisper he crafted his goodbye on paper.
He made the sentences sharp. His points were daggers. An eraser could make them go away. But he knew his parents wouldn’t see that.
“That’s why I have to go in the first place,” he thought.
And when he took his first step into the world as an honest man he felt fixed.
He’d left the note next to the TV. Burnable, tearable. Eraseable.
Maybe after they did all that, they’d remember he was just their son.
Stepping Out, With Pencil is a 150 word story that’s part of a series of short stories that I’m working on. I’m fascinated by the idea of crafting a tale with a tight restriction like this. It may seem arbitrary, but I’ve noticed something happens for me when I limit the word count to 150 words. I find that the stories end up being 150 words exactly.
Not 147, or 151.
I’m not sure why this happens time and again, but when I finish the first draft I do not check the word count. I make my edits until I’m happy with the story and then I check. Every time but once the count has been 150 words. Naturally. No affectation.
I hope you enjoy the stories!
Other 150 word stories:
Bridge of Laughter