In A Flash: The Face of the Empress

Blan was known to all in Agash for the sweet confection of fruit, candy and shaved ice he sold, called h’al-h’al. He worked at stall near the market where traders would pass by. Agash lay on one of the salt roads, so merchants and strangers were the norm. But Blan had never seen someone like the woman who appeared at his stall one afternoon.

It was a particularly hot day and her face was streaked with dust from the road. She purchased a cup of h’al-h’al from Blan, paying with an old coin. In studying it, Blan did not recognize the empress stamped upon it.

“How much is this in standard? I don’t know what change to give you.”

The woman waved him away. “No matter. I’ll have no need for it soon enough.” She spoke with an odd accent, a lilt that Blan was certain he had never heard before. Her eyes and her dress were strange as well, even by the standards of Agash, where it was said the known worlds passed by. It was an old phrase, and no longer true, for there was only one world now.

“I hope you’re not in any trouble.” Blan said, though he didn’t know why. He knew better than to involve himself in the lives of strangers. Doing so led to problems, and those he could not afford.

She gave him an odd smile. “We’re all of us in trouble, more or less. Some of us just realize it better than others.”

Blan gave a wary shrug. “I guess. You like it?”

“Delicious,” she said, still smiling, and asked for his name. He told her, after a moment’s hesitation. “I will see you soon, Blan of Agash,” she said, and took her leave. Continue reading

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In A Flash: An Afternoon Shower In The City

The first spatter of rain hit Aada on the arm as she walked down 35th Avenue. She grimaced and looked up at the sky where ominous clouds were gathering. The first signs of the coming storm had been there when she ducked out of her apartment to run a few errands, but she had hoped to beat its arrival—the grocery store and bakery were only ten minutes away after all. Now, her arms heavy with full bags, she faced the prospect of a downpour, or worse.

It was only a little more than five blocks to her apartment, but she had no umbrella and could not run, loaded down with groceries as she was. And she did not want them, or the contents of her purse, to get soaked. The rain started, a few drops here and there splattering down, and she told herself that maybe this was all it would amount to. Even as she was thinking it, the drops turned into cascades of water and she drenched. She saw a flash of lightning on the horizon and heard a low rumble of thunder in response.

A few white pellets of hail bounced off the pavement as well, telling her that things could very quickly turn ugly if she did not find some sort of cover. She cast about and saw that she had just passed a three story building that had a short awning extending out over the stairs leading up to its entrance. “That’ll do,” she said to herself and ran, as best she could, toward it.

It was only once she was up the stairs and at the building door that she saw she was not alone. A man stood in the corner of the entryway, leaning beside the intercom, staring out at the falling rain. He straightened as she came up the stairs, and gestured to the buzzer. “You need this?”

She shook her head, her long damp hair flapping into her eyes. “Thanks,” she said, as she set her grocery bags on the steps.

As Aada straightened up, turning to look out at the descending rain, she could feel the guy’s eyes upon her. She was suddenly conscious of the fact that her clothes were soaked, the t-shirt she was wearing now accentuating her form more than she was comfortable. Pushing aside the sinking feeling in her stomach, she shot the man a quick glare, and set her expression at what she hoped was a solid, don’t fuck with me kind of indifference. Continue reading

In A Flash: The Smell

The smell was evident as soon as Neil walked through the door to his apartment. He winced and swore under his breath. “Forgot the fucking garbage again,” he muttered to himself.

That was the first place he went, once he set his keys and mail on the kitchen table, not even bothering to take off his shoes and coat. But when he opened the cupboard under the sink, he saw an empty bag in the bin that he must have put there after taking the garbage to the dumpster. He stood up, momentarily unsure of himself, for he had no recollection of doing so.

The smell was still evident—if anything it had grown stronger since he arrived. He ducked his head into the cupboard where the garbage bin was, to see if somehow something had leaked from it without his noticing. But the stench was not any more noticeable there, and he could see nothing that might be causing a smell. Next he checked the sink above, thinking some food had become trapped in the drain, but nothing seemed amiss there.

Before searching further, he went to open the windows, hoping to reduce the pall by getting some fresh air into the apartment. The window in the living room cranked open easily, but the one in his bedroom—difficult to budge at the best of times—refused to move, no matter how much he tried to force it. It was the cold probably—it had to be twenty below outside—and there was heavy frost on the glass. He could get a hair dryer and probably get it unstuck, but he decided not to for the moment. Finding the location of the smell seemed more important.

He started in the bathroom, opening the cupboard beneath the sink to check for any leaks and continued through the apartment, searching every conceivable place possible. There was no sign of anything he could see that might be causing the terrible stench. The smell seemed to have no locus either, lying heavy across the atmosphere of the entire apartment. It hadn’t dissipated at all, in spite of his opening the window.

When he was done searching the apartment, he sat down on the couch letting out a quiet oomph of frustration. It didn’t make any sense. There was nothing in here that should be smelling, certainly not something as rancid and rotting as this was. As he sniffed it further, he detected notes of acid and the sweetness of rotting meat.

“God this is vile,” he said, going to the bedroom to try to pry the window open further.

It was still stuck and, after a futile few moments of trying to shove it open, he gave up and went to the other window to make sure it was cranked fully open. Seeing that it was, he went to the door, thinking that maybe he could create a draft if he opened it. When he turned the handle of the door though, it wouldn’t open. After checking that it was unlocked, he tried again, with the same result.

He stepped from the door, staring down at it, utterly perplexed. “What in the hell…” Continue reading

In A Flash: The Conquistadors

“The world’s a simple place, once you understand it. People will talk of Our Lord—and they’re right to. Make no mistake, we are His chosen. They’ll talk of humility and kindness and justness. All the things they think we should be. But in the end, what matters is who can take what. Remember that. If you can take something—take it. Because rest assured, you’ll be a fool to think someone else won’t.”

The man speaking these words wore a finely tailored doublet, though a close inspection would reveal it was worn and faded, as were the rest of his clothes. His name was Don Luis Farajo, and he led his companion—a ladino youth named Juan—along a winding trail that passed through villages with names he did not know.

“Now that’s something your kind just don’t understand. Oh, you listen to all the priests have to tell you, I’ve no doubt. How else did you learn our tongue, after all? But you take it all on faith. You trust. Damned fools, the lot of you. Look at Atahualpa with Pizarro. He had no intention of keeping his word. None. Yet the whole empire was lost because an emperor did not understand the fundamental rule of the world. Takers always take. And always will. Mark my words.”

Juan did not answer Don Luis, his eyes on the trail ahead. It was early morning, the sun still climbing above the mountains which towered around them. They had started off before dawn from the inn they had spent the night in, passing men and women carrying goods for the day’s market down the steep paths they were climbing. It was exhausting work and Juan chewed coca leaves to ward off his appetite, though Don Luis scoffed at his habit, calling it uncivilized.

Don Luis had opinions on all matters, which he was never shy to share with anyone who happened to be at hand. Especially Juan, who he seemed to view as a child who he had a solemn duty to properly educate in the ways of the world. This despite the fact Juan could speak Spanish as well as any Peninsular, having been taught by the Dominican friars he served in Pisac. Of the two of them it was Juan who had the rudiments of his letters, though the ladino never dared mention that to Don Luis.

“See, now pay mind to these people,” Don Luis said, gesturing at the family that was making its way down the hill, their backs heavy with baskets filled with alpaca wool clothes. “They have not done a thing different than their fathers or their father’s fathers in all their lives. Wake up and walk down to the valley. Spend the day at market and then go back up. Now, you at least have started your education. Those friars taught you a thing or two.

“But so many men—even Spaniards, by God—can’t be bothered to do more than what their fathers did. And what do you think they accomplished? Nothing. No, I will not be like them. Not me. I’ve seen to that. Come across to this New World and these godforsaken villages. But we won’t be idling here long, will we Juan?” Continue reading