All in a day’s work

Day 11: Farmhouse
No Novel November 2019

It’s not actually a farmhouse. That would require a farm. More accurately, it’s a homestead.

The house is nestled in the crook of what passes for a highway in these parts. According to the brief, there’s a vegetable garden, a gang of chickens, a solitary cow, and a well of the sweetest water in this zip code; there’s also indoor plumbing and wi-fi. These folks don’t need much from the outside world, but they’re not cashing in on this scrap of countryside.

You check the coordinates again. This isn’t your first rodeo, and you’re confident you’re right for the job. It’s just the rumor you heard about Harrison last week. Sometimes the psytech spits out the wrong address or wrong name, and then you’re up the Styx without a paddle.

Gravel crunches under your tires as you pull up to the garden gate. You leave the engine running as you get out.

A twiggy, mousy-haired teenager trots up to the fence. “Hey, mister, you lost?”

“You Reynold Cole?”

“Uh, yessir.”

“Your parents Finnegan and Esmerelda?”

“Yeah? What’s it to you, mister?”

“Nothing personal.”

The property’s dense treeline mutes the sudden pop and thud.

You pocket the aneuryser and get in the car. If you hurry, you can be back in the office before Laurie’s birthday cake is gone.

It’s the first thing they teach you in the academy: When a heroic call to adventure disrupts the primary timeline, always kill the farmboy.

This story is part of No Novel November, a daily microfiction challenge. If you'd like to know more and/or join in, click here.

The sins of the chef

Day 10: Delicious
No Novel November 2019

A decadent chocolate cake with a slice on the side and a cup of coffee - Chocolate torte by theresahelmer via Deviant Art

It’s not the worst cake I’ve ever eaten, but it’s damn close. The center is nearly liquid, drying to a sedimentary crust where alleged frosting smoothes the whole thing like adobe. The menu proclaims it “better than sex,” which knots my stomach worse than the leaden ball of pastry; what is this person doing in their private time?

And yet my fork keeps moving, bite after horrendous bite, until the entire slice is gone.

I sit back with the exhale of a triathlete crossing the finish line, then check my notes on the ordeal. This is going to be a hell of a review.

Delicious.

My eyebrows shoot up at what I’ve written. Brow furrowed, I look at the rest of the cake revolving in its case. It’s perfectly normal: moist, chocolatey, light. Nothing like the monstrous confection I just ate.

The sinking feeling that follows has everything and nothing to do with cake.

I peer through the counter window at the chef, her head drooped between bowed shoulders, face thick with tear-streaked makeup, jaw set hard.

My stomach churns and groans loudly. As if my gastrointestinal distress is a signal, the chef’s face brightens and her body unbends. She looks around questioningly, but I’m gone.

I toss a $20 at the waitress and duck out, crumpling my notes. I’ll find another joint to write up—right after this lady’s issues settle themselves in my gut. I should have known.

Food critic by trade. Sin eater by fate.

This story is part of No Novel November, a daily microfiction challenge. If you'd like to know more and/or join in, click here.

What sleeps in winter

Day 9: Blanket
No Novel November 2019

Bright street lamps in a snowy scene at night - In bright white snow when everyone sleeps by maaykeklaver via Deviant Art

Silence falls on snow falls on leaves falls on the sleeping earth, tucked in tight with her secrets to dream slow dreams until the coming of spring. We walk arm in arm down the empty sidewalk, sliding between the night’s blankets, each keeping secrets of our own.

This story is part of No Novel November, a daily microfiction challenge. If you'd like to know more and/or join in, click here.

Pulling up stakes

Day 8: Season
No Novel November 2019

Photograph of three old frying pans against a wood background - Frying pans by Lestrovoy via Deviant Art

Butter and oil.

Salt and pepper.

Seasoned side down. Don’t jump when it screams.

More salt.

Three and a half minutes. Don’t touch.

Flip.

Three more minutes. Resist.

Onto the plate.

Rest.

I sit at my end of the table, knife and fork in hand, looking straight down at my plate and not at the seam in the center where I took out the leaf to make the room less empty.

A single slice through the crust, top to bottom, left to right.

It’s perfectly seasoned: butter and oil and salt and pepper and time and distance and relief and sorrow.

But it will never be as good as yours.

This story is part of No Novel November, a daily microfiction challenge. If you'd like to know more and/or join in, click here.

Take a flying leap

Day 7: Jump
No Novel November 2019

Photograph of sunset at a rock canyon with a pine tree forest - The Knob by jonathanjessup via Deviant Art

No. Oh, nonono.

He skitters to a stop just before plummeting into a chasm hidden by dense pines. Rocks and leaves leap down the side and into oblivion. He listens for them to hit bottom, but all he hears is the baying of hounds closing the distance.

His eyes trace the ragged edge of the landscape for a crossing. There’s none—but in a stroke of good luck, he realizes he’s standing at the narrowest point of the gorge.

A sharp howl pierces the moonless night. His rubbery legs jolt into motion, churning backwards toward the forest. His brain screams at him to stop, to find another way, but lacking a better suggestion, it’s overruled by adrenaline.

He crouches next to a dead birch for the second it takes to fill his lungs with what might very well be his last breath. Then he bunches up and heaves forward.

The frozen ground hits back as he pounds across it full tilt.

Fifty feet.

Forty.

He drops his eyes to a point on the near horizon like an anchor and secures his will there.

Twenty feet.

Ten.

He waits to jump until his toes dip over the rim. Then he launches through the air with the grace of a cannonball: smooth and heavy, soaring and weightless. The icy wind slaps the breath out of him, but he doesn’t care. He’s almost there. He’s going to make it.

That’s when the teeth close on his ankle.

This story is part of No Novel November, a daily microfiction challenge. If you'd like to know more and/or join in, click here.