Evaluation M-047

I have something different to share this week–a Throwback Thursday. Not an image, but words. In 2011, I wrote a short piece of fiction (flash fiction) for StoryADay. It won honorable mention in a contest they held that year. I always intended to return to this story, to breathe more life into the world and characters. It’s an odd feeling reading something I wrote five years ago. I have to stop myself from editing the little eyesores. So many things scream at me when I read this piece. Maybe it will be incentive to dive back into the words.


Evaluation M-0147

Evaluation M-047

She wouldn’t break eye contact. A film of anxiety glistened across her forehead. In her hands she turned over a small trinket, again and again—a good luck charm. She’d need it. The baggy hand-me-downs didn’t hide the frail condition of her body, nor her spirit.

I glanced at the paperwork in my hands.

Mary Emerson – 8 yrs – Sole Survivor of Glendale

Eight years old is too young to be a trainee, too young to be sitting the across the table from me tonight. I’m the evaluator. I’m the one who gets to choose who will stand watch in the night. It’s the job no one wants.

Each evaluation begins with a simple statement: This is not a test. But the young are eager to please. When I was a child pleasing our elders involved passing Math, or cleaning our rooms without being asked. Now, childhood ends when you can aim and shoot a target at fifty feet. This ghost of a girl wasn’t ready.

I made motions to cross her name off the list, when her small voice broke the silence.

Chocolate!”

That’s what you miss the most?”

Chocolate. I tried to hide my amusement. When was the last time I’d had chocolate?

No, wait,” she said. “Batteries!”

Better answer. Why?”

Because, batteries generate electricity and we can use them to power machines, like flashlights and Thomas’ defibrillator.”

Eager and intelligent, she could be a malnourished version of me ten years ago. I’d been twelve and eager too. I’d sat with a group of ten other children, in the rain, shivering, waiting to be called inside. The room had been dark, like this one, but instead of a single candle there’d been a single dim light bulb.

Damn. I miss those generators.

Okay, next question. You’re on the wall. You spot Leuks. What is the first thing you do?”

Her fingers squeezed the life out of the trinket in her hand. I’d had one of those too, a lucky rabbit’s foot. The silly souvenir was a gift from my father.

I confirm with my binoculars. If there really are Leuks, I ring the bell four times.”

I pretended to make a few notes. There was no right or wrong answer, only reactions to measure.

Next question. Leuks breach the wall. What do you do?”

Tomorrow could be the day. A raid now would obliterate this settlement. I wish my brother were here. Were we fighting the inevitable?

Ma’m?”

I tore my thoughts away from what I’d lost and focused on her fear filled eyes. Her need to prove herself had hidden the truth. But now I saw the jagged nails and torn cuticles. Who had she lost?

What is it, Maggie?”

Ma’m, are we are going to make it?”

What?” Then I heard them. The bells were ringing. Shouts and screams began to pierce the darkness. Stay calm.

Of course, we are,” I said and forced a smile.

I pulled a tattered white rabbit’s foot from under my collar and placed it around her neck. We all dealt with the stress in our own way. Some survived. Some became shells of their former selves. Some heard the call of the blood.

© Amanda Makepeace

The Stiletto

The Stiletto

* * *

I knew it’d be a mistake the moment it was over.

But I did it anyway.

He was a ghoulish old king. He’d extorted, terrorized, and murdered to fill his coffers. His brothers were thieves. His wives…both of them…were daggers in every man’s back.

His subjects hated him. His enemies feared him. The ground he walked turned black beneath his boots. His bathwater reeked of death.

Every family who’d even a chance at sniffing the throne, he’d exiled, poisoned, or butchered. When his cousin’s coup d’état failed, the ghoul burned the usurpers’ children alive, drowned his cousin’s mother, and hung the collaborators’ bodies from gibbets so high even the crows dared not a single sniff.

It was time for the King to go. Everyone knew it. Everyone wanted it. His black towers had too long stood like knives on the kingdom’s throat.

When the three exiles came to me on autumn’s second eve, I knew what they wanted. One carried a chest of silvers. The other dropped a satchel of ingots on my table. The third stood in my doorway, the moonlight shining on his back. He was a weathered, ancient thing. Twenty years in the sand had done him poorly. I smirked, my dagger folded against my wrist in case he did something stupid.

“Lady Lusia, will you?” he asked.

“Will I what?” I pretended not to know what he meant.

“The Ghoul…the King…the hundred-year old nightmare haunting the eaves of every house in Lyrlech. Will you?”

“No.” I glanced out my window. I couldn’t see the black towers, but I knew they were there.

“Why?” asked the weathered man.

“He’s only a few more years left in him,” I scoffed. “Not worth it. I’m too pretty for the gibbets.”

“You don’t understand, Lusia,” he sighed. “If he dies, his brother becomes king. It’ll only get worse.”

I considered it for a moment, then countered, “Exactly. If I kill the Ghoul, it does nothing. The noose around our necks just gets tighter.”

“But Lusia, his family will be there. His brothers. His sons. His grandchildren. All under one roof for the first time in years.”

“So?” I smiled.

“You can save us,” he pleaded. “You’re the best. Everyone knows it. The Stiletto, they call you. You’re the only one who can deliver us from darkness.”

“You’re right,” I smiled. “I can. But I won’t.”

I got tired of waiting. I flicked my knife and split the three men neck to belly. They died quietly. Their blood drained onto the floor, but the night moved none at all.

I knew it was a mistake the moment it was over.

…but the Ghoul had paid me well.

 

* * *

The Stiletto, along with a volcano of other dark, eerie, and fantastical tales, appears in:

Machina Front Cover

Machina Obscurum features a host of writers doing their best to darken your world with short, deadly stories and quick-as-knives fiction.

It’s available right now.

J Edward Neill