Now Available: In A Flash

IN A FLASH

COLLECTION

CLINT WESTGARD

An inquisitor sets out on a journey to find a monster. An inventor creates a time machine and is horrified to discover it works all too well.

A living ship comes to give birth at edges of space. Wizards do battle for eternal supremacy.

Sleeper agents under deep cover are activated and must leave everything behind. Love affairs blossom and fade in springtime.

Hunters become the hunted and dwellings turn upon their inhabitants. And a warlock provides unique and particular advice on romance.

These and many other stories make up In A Flash, a collection of very short fiction that explores the vagaries of time and space, journeys to exotic realms, and the curious ways of the heart. From horror to westerns to romance to far-flung space opera and all points in between, In A Flash collects more than fifty stories.

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In A Flash: The End

Writing a short story a week for a year, that was the challenge I set myself in 2016. The stories had to be no more than 1500 words and they could not be connected in any way to other worlds or characters I had created. Once written, I would publish them here for the world to see.

Why did I decide to do this?

It’s not simply that I enjoy torturing myself with arbitrary challenges that inevitably end in tears and disappointment, at one’s basic inability to follow through on anything and the sure knowledge that failure (and ultimately death) awaits us all. That gets me through the night, as I’m sure it does everyone else, but that couldn’t be all this was about.

I wanted to push myself as writer. I felt I had become too complacent in some ways and I wanted to see if I could challenge myself. To force myself to write things that I might not otherwise. Whether this was a genre or a style I didn’t normally write in, or a tense, tone or perspective I didn’t normally adopt, I wanted to see what would happen if I didn’t do what came naturally.

I also wanted to see if I could get myself to write with more brevity, and what better way to do that than to force concision upon myself with a word limit. Practice is not something people often talk about with regards to writing, but that was a fundamental part of this challenge. If I made myself write a short story a week, with a strict (kind of) word limit, by the end of the year, I should have a better idea of how to write with concision and focus. That was the theory anyway.

Along those same lines, I also wanted to get better at writing when I had no inspiration and no ideas of what to write. Muses are fickle, tedious creatures in my experience, not to be relied upon. As a result, the majority of these stories began with a blank page and no sense at all of what I was going to write about that week. I began with a sentence and then another and let my mind take me where it wanted to go.

Finally, and most importantly, I wanted to have fun. Writing, is a pleasurable exercise. At least I think it should be. But, like anything else, it can grow stale if you keep doing the same thing over and over. By starting fresh each week, I ensured that I was always doing going down new and different paths.

As expected, there were a few failures. There were trips to Machu Picchu. Sickness. Health. Miscreant geese. Recalcitrant alpacas. 1500 word stories morphed into a multi-volume book series. The usual run of life, in other words. But I also managed a few weeks where I got more than one story written, with the end result that I ended with more than the 52 stories I had planned.

All the stories that resulted from that challenge I set for myself can be found under the In A Flash category. They will also be collected and published in a volume. Details will be posted on Lost Quarter Books.

As I write this, having successfully completed 52 plus weeks of writing short stories, I can say that I succeeded in meeting all the goals I had when I set out. The merits of the stories themselves, I will leave to the readers to judge. I know that I enjoyed writing them all, and I hope that you enjoyed reading them.

In A Flash: The Dame

There’s a woman here to see you. Real looker.” Daisy said, sticking her head in through Murphy’s door.

Murphy nodded to send her in. He got a good look at her as she came in through the door. Eyes downcast to look demur, but there was a light to them that said otherwise. Her lips were the kind that always seemed to be smiling, or on the verge of it. A beautiful girl, no doubt about it.

What can I do for you Miss…?”

Adeline Sandos. Thank you for seeing me, Mr. Murphy. I have a problem. I’m not quite sure how to explain it.”

Just start at the beginning,” Murphy said, with a generous smile, his eyes intent upon her.

Adeline hesitated, looking away and then back at Murphy. “Well, it’s my husband, you see.” Murphy nodded, as though he had expected her to say that. “He’s gotten mixed up with some bad people I think. And I’m worried…”

Here she hesitated again. Murphy leaned forward slightly. “What worries you, Miss Sandos?”

Well, I’m worried there may be another woman.”

Murphy nodded, as though he had expected that too. He made her tell him everything, even those things she seemed reluctant to talk about, asking questions about particular details. When he was done he sent her on her way with some reassurance, telling her to put a retainer down with Daisy. He watched her leave the room, his eyes lingering on her as she left, his lips pursed in thought.

***

Adeline left the detective agency and took a cab across town to the Hotel Bellmire, an old and majestic place downtown that seemed a little faded, as though it were a picture on a postcard that had sat in the sun too long. She did not stop at the front desk, heading straight up to the fifth floor where she let herself into one of the rooms. The Brides were waiting for her there.

They were a set of twins, handsome and youthful, though less youthful upon closer inspection, with glittering eyes and smiles with edges.

How did it go?” one said.

Just like you said,” Adeline said. “I told him everything, just like you told me to to tell it.”

And he didn’t suspect you of anything?”

Adeline shook her head. “It didn’t matter what I said. A whiff of innocence and desperation was all he needed. He was in all the way.”

Good girl. Fix her a drink,” the one brother said.

The first brother glared at him, as if to tell him to do it himself, but he got up and poured Adeline a whiskey. She drank it off in one gulp.

There’s the matter of my payment,” she said, fixing them both with a steady eye.

“All in due time, all in due time.”

Adeline shook her head. “How about now instead?”

The first Bride brother gave her a thin smile. “Very well.” He fished an envelope from within the breastpocket of his suit and handed it to her.

Ignoring the two men, Adeline counted out the bills. She glanced up at them. “This is half what I’m owed.”

“Yes, you see our little scheme is only workable if you make yourself scarce. You will do so tonight and, at the conclusion of the affair, you will receive the remainder of what was agreed.”

“This wasn’t the agreement,” Adeline said, shaking her head. “I get it all now, or I leave here and go straight to the police and sing my song.”

“That would be unwise,” the first brother said, with a disapproving shake of his head. The second brother pulled a pistol out from the waistband of his suit. “Most unwise.”

Adeline looked at the gun and shook her head. “You think you can scare me? You don’t need a body on your hands. You need me gone.”

“That can be arranged.”

“Not the way you want it, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation. No, you’re not going to kill me. Too messy. Too easy to tie to you. I made sure to talk to the front desk and let them know whose room I was headed to. So, I’ll just take the rest of what we agreed and be on my way to disappearing. Otherwise, you can expect visits from Murphy and the police.”

The second brother cocked the pistol and raised it up so that it was pointed directly at Adeline’s head. She stared at him without blinking, her face expressionless.

The first brother made a disgusted sound and waved at the other. “Put that away. We can’t be taking chances at this juncture of the affair. Very well, Miss Sandos.” He pulled out a thick roll of bills from his suit pocket and counted off ten. “This should square us, I think.”

Adeline tucked them into the envelope with the rest. “Pleasure doing business, gents,” she said with a curt nod. “You won’t be seeing me.”

She turned, not bothering to wait for a reply, and headed for the door.

***

Murphy was waiting for her when she came home.

“See, I knew it didn’t check out,” Murphy said to her, an amused, but superior expression on his face. The cat that had the mouse in its paws and was going to play awhile. “It smelled a little funny. All of it. And then I get to looking into you and it seems there is an Adeline Sandos, but you ain’t her. And that’s when I knew the Bride boys were up to something.”

Adeline’s face betrayed no emotion. “Am I supposed to congratulate you now, or something?”

“What are they about? What’s their game?”

“Shouldn’t you be over there asking them that?”

“In due time,” Murphy said. “In due time. First, there’s some things I need you to clear up.”

Adeline sighed. “They sent me. I’m supposed to disappear and cause you some problems. That’s my end of it. Anything else you want to know?”

Murphy seemed taken aback. He swallowed, his triumph not seeming so complete now. “Why are you telling me this?”

“It’s not my problem their little scheme is blowing up in their face. I got my money. Now run along and confront them. They’re probably hoping you will anyway. That’s what you all want isn’t it?”

Murphy frowned, but he stood and put his hat on his head. “Just tell me your end of it,” he said, shaking his head.

Adeline laughed. “I already told you. I got paid. Now, you don’t want to keep those boys waiting. I’m sure there’ll be a lot of yelling and threats and such.”

Murphy looked as though he wanted to disagree with her, but instead he walked out the door, leaving her alone. Adeline pulled out the wad of bills from the envelope and tucked them underneath the coffee cup at the back of one of the cupboards. Then she pulled out a bottle of whiskey and poured herself a shot.

***

In A Flash: read a new story every Thursday…

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In A Flash: Dime Novel Denouement

This moment does not seem to be a moment. It seems endless, interminable. An internment camp. The holding pen before the gulag. Devoid creatures wander through the night along empty streets, straying from the light. I am one of them now.

Rain begins to fall, softly at first, and then in staccato bursts. I scuttle across openings, clinging to the security of the damp mildewed walls. There are eyes everywhere, but none look for me. I am worth nothing to anyone. No price will be paid. Yet, I refuse to expose myself. I am no martyr, whatever else I may be.

You speak and I shiver and clutch my hands in my pocket. This parched feeling that holds and won’t let go. I fight for words; silence is like a wound, like a lie I always tell. You do not care whether I speak or stay quiet, all you care is what I do.

The thousand betrayals of a life leave the birth of the malformed. I’ve clawed at my own skin, it does not fit right. Nature seems dead and wicked dreams abuse.

***

I’m looking for a taste of ecstasy, I’ve had delight and it lost its potency. With you at my side on this long, damp and dark road.

I long to taste the sunrise in your mouth, as my tongue slides past your teeth and the morning dew is fresh on my lips. I want to smell your sweat on me, the heat of my flesh on the heat of yours, shivering, shimmering to a glow.

Oh, to look upon you now, through the blur of the rain. If I could take you in this doorway I would. Continue reading

In A Flash: The Warder

Xan the Warder stared at the newcomer with a skeptical eye. The man was a sorcerer of some kind, to judge by his robes. Xan knew little of magic, but enough to know that its users were not to be trusted. They were fiends, as likely to summon some demon from the depths of the many earths as to cast a curing spell and mend a broken leg. She had heard tell of a man, desperate in his affections for a woman, who had begged a wizard for a love potion, only to find himself short six coins of the realm and madly in love with a toad.

“What brings you this way, stranger?” Xan said. She swept the cloak back from her shoulders and let her hand rest upon her sword. A message of sorts.

The newcomers gaze followed the movement of her hand and a small grin touched his lips. “I’ve heard the air in these parts is restorative.”

“If you can restore something that’s been froze solid with your magic, then perhaps it might be,” Xan said, looking out over the frigid wastes that extended in all directions before her.

The newcomer laughed, his breath clouding the air. “My name is Ves. You are?”

“The Warder,” Xan said, refusing to be enticed by his friendliness. The wind swirled around them and the sorcerer shivered.

“Where’s the prison?” Ves said.

“Do you think I’m a fool?”

Ves laughed again. “I suppose not. It is a rather remote clime for a prison, wouldn’t you agree?”

Xan did not reply, staring hard at the sorcerer.

Ves shrugged, as if he could not understand her reluctance to talk. “Come now, Warder. Surely you must get bored being here, all alone in the cold? I’m only asking for a moment of your time.”

Xan rolled her eyes. “No one comes here to pass the time. I’m not much for conversation. Get to the point.” She moved her hand to the pommel of her sword.

“Easy now,” Ves said, holding up his hands. “Don’t you think you should be careful? You don’t know what kind of sorcerer I am.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Xan said, her voice sounding of death.

Ves smiled. “If you say so. You needn’t worry about me anyway, Warder. I’m just here to meet someone.”

Xan had to resist a laugh. “I doubt there is someone else in the realm foolish enough to wander out onto this wasteland for a chat.”

“But there is,” Ves said, gesturing with his hand as if to point out the person.

Xan followed the movement of his hand and the world went black.

She blinked, worried for a moment that the sorcerer had put a sleeping spell upon her. But it was just that the light had gone from the sky, which, now that she thought about it, was considerably more concerning than a mere sleep spell. The light returned a moment later, the vast wasteland of ice, snow and rock, appearing again before her.

The sorcerer, however, was gone.

Continue reading

In A Flash: Joe’s Shoe Repair

There was a place on 14th called Joe’s Shoe Repair. It had a small storefront, with a two storey ranch style house erupting out behind it, as if a tumor had metastasized in the shop’s rear wall, resulting in the development of some entirely new construction. Or perhaps it was the other way around, perhaps the home’s front porch had metamorphosed into a square, simple store. Either way, it was an oddity on a stretch of road dotted with strips malls, fast food joints and flat-roofed, anonymous buildings inhabited by lawyers and plastic surgeons and convenience stores.

Frank had noticed its incongruity driving by a few times before, but it was only when he moved into the neighborhood and began making regular trips to a nearby convenience store, for smokes and lotto tickets, that its angularity struck him as truly peculiar. Stranger still was the fact that the store was never open. There were a number of shoes and boots set out against window, displaying Joe’s handiwork no doubt, and he could clearly see a counter with a ancient-looking till and various tools of the trade set out on it.

None of their positions ever seemed to change—something Frank made a point of looking for after the first few times he went by. The lights were always off in the store, with an ever present closed sign hanging on the door. He never saw lights in the house behind either, though the shutters were always closed, so it was difficult to say for sure.

“That’s a front if I’ve ever seen one,” Frank would say to all his friends, though what it might be fronting he could not say. It just didn’t seem possible that the owner could let a piece of real estate like that sit idle and useless. There had to be a reason. “Joe ain’t fixing no damn shoes, let me tell you.”

His friends would nod and shrug at these pronouncements. What did it matter what went on in the place, odd as it was? But Frank could not let it go. The constantly closed store, the shuttered windows, the absence of any human activity on a busy stretch of a humming city, all worked at his mind until his fascination was absolute. He found reasons to pass down the street, would take walks by it even in the bitter depths of winter, just to see if there was any change. For over a year, there was none.

That all changed one long summer evening, the sun still setting after ten, and the air languorous. Frank walked by on his way to get a pack of cigarettes and saw the door to the house, off to the side of the storefront, standing open. He stopped to stare at it, almost unable to believe what he was seeing. Before he had a chance to think any further, he walked past the store, up the steps of the narrow porch, and into the house. Continue reading

In A Flash: On Down The Road

“Thanks for coming Cliff,” Walter said as they both climbed into the pickup, the dog nestling at Cliff’s feet.

Cliff nodded, but did not reply. The day was hot and the truck, which had been sitting out in the sun, was hotter and his back was already damp with sweat. He rolled down the window and rested his arm gingerly against the scalding hot metal. The dog looked up grinning at him, in spite of the uncomfortable position it had contorted itself into.

Walter rolled down his own window and started the truck, humming to himself as he did. The radio, as always was tuned to 770, the talk radio station from Edmonton. In afternoon’s, which it was now, Rutherford was on. Cliff found him insufferable. Walter did too, but he enjoyed listening to him. Enjoyed disagreeing and getting annoyed and laughing at how wrong he was.

Walter headed out to the road and turned north, the dust from the gravel leaving a broad wake behind them. It had been a dry year, the pastures were already more brown than green, and the green of the fields was fast turning to yellow. Harvest would be only a couple of weeks away, or sooner, if the warm weather held. It would be a poor one as well—there had been little rain that spring and none in the summer. Walter said it was as bad as he had seen it, as bad as when he was a kid in the thirties.

“I just don’t feel comfortable heading up to the pastures by myself anymore,” Walter said, as if the silence of the last minutes had not happened. “Not as young as I used to be. Of course, before I would’ve taken Jane.”

Cliff opened his mouth but did not reply. He didn’t know quite what to say, didn’t have the words. Jane had been Walter’s wife for over fifty five years. She had died the summer before, a summer as hot and dry as this one.

Clliff didn’t have to say anything though. Walter kept talking, as he drove down the road at an ambling pace.

“That calf is probably dead, but we have to go see if we can find it. Might’ve just gotten separated from its mother. I remember we had a heifer, got her head stuck between the branches of a tree and couldn’t figure out how to get out. Almost died before we found her.”

Cliff nodded. He had heard the story before, as he had heard so many of his grandfather’s stories. In spite of the open windows on the truck, it still felt stultifying. Or perhaps it was just the same old conversations, the same old trips down the same old roads. That fall he would be off to university. He was counting the days until he would be free of this tedium. Life felt as though it were happening somewhere else, while he chased after presumably dead calves in pastures somewhere off in the middle of nowhere. Continue reading

In A Flash: Only Love Can Break Your Heart

“Hi. Anjali?” A lopsided grin and uncomfortable eyes.

“Yes,” she says, her own eyes downcast, but taking him in all the same. “You must be Ryland.”

“That’s right.”

A pause, both of them waiting for the other to speak. They both start at the same time and stop together, wincing.

“Shall we?” Ryland says, gesturing and gulping for air.

Anjali nods and leads the way to the nearest table. They sit across from each other, taking the measure of the situation. A buzz of conversation settles over them, reminding each of them of their own silence. They look away at others, trying to ignore the awkwardness.

A waitress flits by and smiles conspiratorially. “How are you guys tonight? Can I get you started with some drinks?”

Relief. They order. He gets a beer and she has a mojito. The waitress nods, pleased by their choices and disappears. Ryland watches her go, before reminding himself not to and turns his attention back to Anjali.

“So, how was your day?” he says with an attempt at joviality. He winces at the sound and hopes she doesn’t notice.

Anjali suppresses her own grimace. These same damn questions. “I’m just glad it’s the end of the week.”

“Any big plans?” Ryland says, not wanting to lose the momentum he feels he has started.

Anjali shrugs, knowing she can’t say she will most likely spend the day on the couch in her pajamas watching Criminal Minds reruns. “I’m just getting together with some friends.” A safe, non-specific lie. “What about you?”

“Not too much planned,” Ryland says, considering and rejecting several possible answers, none of which involve him staying up until two in the morning playing video games and drinking beer with his roommate. “I was thinking of going on a bike ride on Sunday.”

The waitress arrives with their drinks and asks if they would like food. The both decline and she leaves them alone. Anjali asks about where he likes to go biking and he provides an overly long, detailed answer that he knows is utterly boring her and yet he cannot stop himself from seeing through to its end. He asks her what she likes to do for fun and she tells him something.

God this awkward, she thinks. This isn’t going as badly as I thought, he thinks. Continue reading

In A Flash: The Emissary

The leaves on the trees were all turning yellow and red as Jhern of Norne headed into the river valley. He took no pleasure in their gorgeous splendor, or the feeling of them beneath his feet, how they spun into the air as his boots struck them. The sound of the leaves meant anyone in the river would hear him coming—a dangerous enough proposition at home. Here in the Duke of Auzurn’s territories, he might pay for it with his life. And their changing colors signaled the arrival of colder nights and stiff, miserable mornings, to say nothing of the fact that soon enough winter would be here.

It would be nearing winter by the time he arrived at his intended destination, assuming he made it there. Perhaps it would already have arrived, for he had heard that winter came early in Allemar, that fearsome place of bearded warriors. Before he reached that land, long before winter came, he first had to cross the Duke’s territories and survive the Pass of Ghosts, which so few had managed to cross. And if he made it that far, there were the fiendish Skeletal Swamps, which it was said swallowed men whole and stole the souls of those who survived.

It was essential that Jhern do all this, risk life and limb for his Prince. The fate of his people, the fate of all Norne, depended upon it. The seas were rising and they would swallow their cities soon. Only the Allemar, with their magic, could spare them the terrible fate that awaited them.

And Jhern, emissary of his Prince, was the one entrusted to bring that word. Along with his companions, but they were gone. Had all died so early upon this journey, to ensure that he would survive, that the message he carried, would be delivered. He had so far to go that it seemed impossible, but he knew he would have to. There was no other choice.

As he came to river’s edge, he saw the narrow bridge ahead that the road he was on led to. He stood and looked it over cautiously, to see if there was any movement. This valley was home to woodcutters and the odd shepherd, but few others. The Auzurn authority barely extended here and Jhern did not expect to encounter any of the Duke’s men. But one could never be too careful. There was too much at stake.

When he was satisfied that there was no one waiting for him, he started forward again, moving at a quick pace, not wanting to linger on the bridge or in the open for long. As he did, he was certain he saw a flash of movement across the river. It might have been a trick of light, but he thought not. He paused for an instant before continuing on, his hand straying to his belt to confirm that his sword and dagger were handy. He felt sure they would be necessary.

The bridge was a narrow, flimsy thing, strung across with rope and layered with boards. It swung slightly in the wind, the rope creaking in a way that made Jhern wonder how ancient it was. How many shepherds and woodcutters had made their way across it?

That was not his immediate concern though. More important was what awaited him on the other side.

He did not have to wait long to find out. Before he was even halfway across, a figure emerged from amidst the trees to block the way on the bridge’s far end. It was a towering man, dressed in the Duke’s colors, with a long broadsword at his side. Even from this distance, Jhern could see the ugly scar that ran from his eye down his cheek, disappearing beneath the armor. He paused for a moment to gather himself, drawing a deep breath.

Across from him the giant crossed his arms, a thin smile spreading on his face. “I know who you are little one. You are the Emissary of Norne.” Continue reading

In A Flash: Midnight

Midnight was the what they called her, although she was calico colored with splotches of orange and white fur intermingled with the black. Black was the predominant color within that swirl, and she was often invisible, seeming to appear only when she chose, as if she moved within a perpetual night, so the name seemed fitting. Her every movement had a calculated wariness, as though she expected the universe to bare its claws at any moment.

When it did, she would reply in kind. They all could recall the day the neighbor’s dog took it into his head to attack her. He charged, fangs bared, as she emerged from under the step. Though they expected her to disappear back under where he couldn’t reach her, Midnight stood her ground, not even flinching as the dog approached. Just as he arrived, looking to snap his muzzle into her neck, she struck, one quick paw, barbed with claws, on his snout. He scurried away whimpering, and seemed reluctant to look in her direction again, while she went upon her way.

There were harder things in the world than her, though she refused to bend toward them. One day, as the weather turned crisp and leaves began to change their colors, she left the step and her four kittens, crossing over through the garden, under the fence and into the haystacks. These were always teeming with mice, which she would catch with ease. Some she would take back to the kittens to play with and to learn the lessons they needed to learn.

As she stalked one mouse through the maze of of hay bales, intent on its scurrying form, she failed to notice the coyote. It was there as both she and the mouse burst out from the bales, staring at them as if it had expected her all along. With a snap of its jaws the mouse was dead. Midnight came to a sudden halt and glared, while the coyote snarled at her.

Another cat might have fled immediately, but Midnight knew better. She hissed, her hair standing up on end, even as she crouched lower to the ground. The coyote froze in turn—for only a second—unsure what to make of this cat, pondering whether it would be more trouble than it was worth. That was all the time Midnight needed. She was gone, fleeing into the bales and beyond, back to the yard and the trees that surrounded it. She was halfway up one before the coyote even realized where she had gone.

Who knew how many such near misses she had. She never counted them. It was simply another day on the knife’s edge of life and death. And she had dealt out enough death to have no illusions of what would come for her someday. But not that day, and not for so many that followed.

Continue reading