Here are two pieces of flash fiction (500 words each) that I wrote for WRiTE Club, a flash fiction contest hosted by D.L. Hammons. This contest requires entrants to submit a 500-word piece of fiction under a pen name. A panel of judges chose the top 32 entries; these faced off in head-to-head bouts until only two remained.
As writers progress, they must submit new 500-word pieces for subsequent bouts. For the final bout, a panel of agents and editors chose their favorites.
I was ten steps from the ballroom door, my pockets stuffed with stolen jewelry, when I stepped on someone’s foot.
“Watch yourself, you oaf!” a man spat.
I tried to ignore it, but he grabbed my shoulder and spun me around. That shook something loose from the stash hidden in my jacket; it fell into my right boot. Felt like one of the sapphire earrings.
“I called you an oaf,” he said.
He was a highborn noble of the worst sort, young and fat-cheeked and angry. I wore the plain dyed woolens of a servant. It made me an easy target.
“Apologies, m’lord,” I said. I kept my body still, to minimize the clinking of coins in half-a dozen purses tied to my belt. “I was just-“
“Wipe it off,” he said.
Oh, wonderful. This flabby brat was actually looking to start a fight. I took his measure while pretending to think it over. Soft was the word for him. His hands were uncalloused, no surprise there. He hadn’t done a hard day of work in his life. But I noticed the tan lines at the wrists. A gloved swordsman, then. A showoff. Probably got his practice on the household servants, ones who were afraid to draw their master’s blood. The least-capable man in my crew would have gutted him like a deer. There was no time for that, though. And we certainly didn’t want the attention.
“Pardon, m’lord?” I asked.
“You scuffed my boot. Wipe it off.” His breath carried the mingled smells of wine and spiced meat.
I couldn’t refuse outright, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to oblige him. Obfuscation seemed like the best option. I made my voice cheerful.
“Can’t say I see it, m’lord,” I said.
A girl in a silk-and-taffeta gown (recently relieved of the gems on her bodice) tittered with laughter. Ah, so that was why he was putting on this display. Sure enough, his cheeks reddened even further.
“It’s right there!” he said.
The pearl-and-silver necklace I’d nicked just five minutes ago was threatening to spill out of my left sleeve, so I thought it best to head him off.
“I’ll be sure to have my eyes checked, m’lord,” I said. “But right now I’m to fetch another bottle for my master.”
“Who’s that?” he demanded.
I needed him to back off. That was the only way this would end quietly. So I spoke the name of the meanest and most dangerous noble that came to mind. “Lord Peyton,” I said.
Recognition bloomed in his eyes. He wasn’t as drunk as he seemed, and even the most wine-addled fool would know to be cautious, here. Peyton had challenged and killed men for smaller offenses than quarreling with his servants.
“You’ve heard of him, I take it,” I said.
“I’ve more than heard of him,” he said. “He’s my father.”
Of course he was.
Say what you will about smugglers, but they have a flair for creativity. I pondered this as I crouched in a hidden compartment, somewhere beneath the bilge of a leaking ship. The stench was like a living thing. It burned my lungs with each shallow breath.
The ship was a two-masted trader bound for New Kestani. If she made it halfway, I’d be truly surprised. But I’d seen worse, even smelled worse than this. I would again, if the queen’s agents found me.
A trapdoor creaked open overhead. I gripped the hilt of my dagger, but it was only Legato, the ship’s bearded captain.
“Get up on deck,” he said. “Double quick.”
“Why? We’re not even out of the harbor yet,” I said.
“We’re about to be boarded for inspection. They’ve got a gods-damned witch with them.”
I cursed. If her delving magic found me hiding down here, they’d probably search me. The loot from her majesty’s gala would be hard to explain away.
“I’ll need a shirt from one of your men,” I said. “Something grubby, so she doesn’t get too close.”
“One whiff of you should do the trick,” Legato said.
“Captain!” I said in falsetto. “You make me blush.”
I changed out of my rumpled finery and raced up to the deck. Armed women were everywhere. They wore the queen’s colors, and swarmed over the deck like angry termites. Which the ship already had aplenty, judging by what I’d seen below. I slipped into the line of sailors at the leeward rail, hoping to avoid notice.
On the wheel deck, Legato made his displeasure known to the severe-looking woman who seemed to be in charge. She kept a hand on her sword-hilt, ignoring him. I forgot them both when I saw the other woman. She was short and dark-haired. Not unattractive, if you forgot what she was. Her slate dress was iridescent, and shimmered when she moved. My eyes wandered down the neckline of their own accord. Until I saw the medallion. Then I remembered.
I stared too long, and she caught me looking. Damn.
She glided over, across the tarred ropes and other filth that covered the deck. Legato kept it that way while in port, to discourage inspections like these. I hoped she’d go past, to no avail. She halted before me. I tried to look away. But her eyes were slate, too, and they had me.
“See something you like?” she asked. Her voice was soft, her words like a song.
I shook my head, not trusting myself to answer.
She leaned close, and I realized my mistake. I was the only clean-shaven man on deck.
“You don’t look like much of a sailor,” she whispered.
“You don’t look like much of a witch,” I replied.
She never moved, never even blinked. But an invisible arm scooped me up and held me over the rail. Dangling upside-down. With gold and pilfered jewels raining from my pockets.
“How do I look now?” she asked.
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