The Cell of Snares

You received a letter from the state explaining you were chosen in a lottery to come and rescue an animal. The shelter is being closed due to the owner’s untimely death and his will instructed for his estate to be divided up randomly. Being the animal lover you are, you decide to follow up on this mystery and pop on down to look at a potential pet or two. The address typed on the back of the letter is unfamiliar to you, but your Saturday is wide open. You fill up your gas tank and head out. Why not?

Once you reach the destination, a prison complex at the literal end of the road, all outside communication is cut off and the ‘animals’ are not quite what they seem

—–

Despite my rising alarm at the lack of guards, cell phone service, working car, existence of a cassette player, gouge marks, shackled creature that shapeshifts –Okay, okay, that’s enough thinking that way. I focus, instead, on the gently swinging ivy above me. I breathe in and out. “All right, Beth,” I whisper to myself. “Think positively. What can you control?” –Not that my therapist ever suggested I’d literally be trapped like this, with potential death a mere inchesBreathe, Beth, breathe! Maybe Dr. Querk should have had me run through a few practical situations, but it’s too late to consider that now.

*Greetings, traveler and welcome to The Prison for Dangerous…* begins playing for the sixth time since I entered the creepy room. Nothing irritates me more than repetition, even a supernatural being that might be able to tear my head off. I turn to the apparition within the first cell and glare daggers at it.

“KNOCK IT OFF!” I bellow.

The being within blinks a thousand rainbow eyes at me, squawks, and disappears. I stand on my toes to see where it’s gone: into a bottom corner, rodent-like, somehow still shackled. The tape has stopped. I give the mouse thing a stern nod, in case it gets any ideas.

I let my breath out and look around again. Now fully within the room, I can see that Freaky’s box isn’t the only one with damage to the interior. Of the ten cells, only one or two seem undamaged. Box Four, near the end on the left side, has scorch marks. Number Six -or One, depending on how one wished to count- to the right is dark and molding. The last cell in the row to the right is not only scraped and dented, but the cause of the damage is clearly visible in the form of a large, glowering minotaur.

“Well, Beth, are any minotaurs not glowering?” I tease. A chittering laugh just beyond the shapeshifter draws me forward. “It’s fine. They can’t get out,” I say as I walk, though I certainly won’t go tap on #10’s glass to test my theory.

As I near the source of the laughing, I note signs attached to the outside of each cell. The first reads:

SHIFTER

Charles is the perfect companion. He not only fits most occasions, he fits any occasion or any species. Ever wanted a rabbit one day, then a pony the next? Charles is right for you!

I laugh a bit; again, echoed by Cell Two. “Are they serious?” I ask the open room. It reads just like the plaques at the animal shelter in town but, surely, I can’t literally walk out with something as incredible as a shapeshifter?

I glance at the affixed plaque of #2:

SPRITE

Honeyblossom is the light of the party or room. Besides a natural effervescent personality, she has a natural effervescence. A bit flighty, Honeyblossom would do well in an open environment without the temptation of mischief.

A tiny pair of eyes peers over the sign through the glass front. They blink and a tiny nose and grinning mouth appear as well. I smile a bit in return but immediately look away. Sprites and mischief are practically synonymous; sorry, Honeyblossom.

Mostly due to the very large, heavily-breathing presence on the end, I examine the other labels from a safe distance. They outline a Mouther, Phoenix, Satori, Boggart, Imp, Baby Dragon, Unicorn, Tokoloshe, Taniwha, and that Minotaur. I catch names like Chatterbox, Imka, and Bob.

I also see that the door of the unicorn’s cell is slightly ajar; her sign askew. Either I am not the first visitor to this strange place, or Rainbow Sparkles, III figured things out on her own… I look around, twitching this way and that. My eyes meet those of a few remaining creatures and no one else, whether that’s a comforting audience or not.

“Oh-kay,” I exhale. Before Charles stopped the recorded message, it’d said all I had to do was activate a cell with my letter. After that, the creature inside was mine. But, do I want to bring one of these home? A Satori was pretty awesome in theory; in practice, not so much. He’d likely run away or hide, knowing precisely when I meant to throw him in the tub or tell him it was time for bed. And no way would I consider bringing home something larger than my car.

Which left at least three animals I’d dreamed about since childhood. Three mythical creatures I’d pored over in storybooks and often said aloud, “Oh, I wish it was real!” Three that would be really awesome to own.

One of those, if J.K. Rowling were correct, that would make the use of an exit vehicle unnecessary.

“What the heck, Beth? The letter and the recording said to choose one.” I pull the crumpled bunch of papers from my back pocket and smooth them out. Before I can change my mind, I walk toward the smoking glass of Cell #4.

phoenix-500469_1920

—–

This was in response to Peregrine Arc’s story prompt. You can join in, too! Just click here to read her amazing introduction.

 

Photo Credit:
Image by Mystic Art Design from Pixabay

 

© 2019 Chelsea Owens

If You Could Be Any Mythical Creature, What Would You Be?

Once upon a time, I had a boss who thought each employee on his team might benefit from sitting in on an interview. At the time I was working as a Quality Assurance Engineer for coded litigation documents. That fancy title meant I wore the most comfortable clothes possible without their being pajamas, worked in a cubicle corner that looked more and more like a cave every day, and frequently talked to my coworkers so that we didn’t start gnawing the upholstered walls out of boredom.

Quality control is mind-numbingly dull.

I was thus attired and thus mindsetted when said boss (we’ll call him Jim) alerted me to the interview and his expectation that I be there. I had no training in what to say but certainly knew I ought to have put on something fancier than jeans and a sweatshirt. At least I had shoes.

And so I went, attending my suit-clad supervisor. We met an expectant young man in the conference room. His name was(n’t) Mike. He also wore a suit. We shook hands all around and sat and organized papers and I pretended to know what I was doing.

“I see from your résumé that you worked at X…” Jim began. Fortunately, the questions and responses ran just like I’d seen in movies. I nodded at appropriate points, looked stern and interested at others, and added a (hopefully) relevant query when requested.

We were nearly finished, when Jim asked, “If you could be any mythical creature, what would you choose?”

Mike thought for a few seconds, then responded, “A ninja tiger.”

Besides the usual gamut of “Where do you see yourself in five years?,” “What experience do you feel you bring to X Company?,” and “Have you ever been in a stressful situation and how did you handle it?;” I knew some quirky interviewers pulled out a random question for fun (or, to my paranoid mind) for psychological assessment. When Mike, by all appearances a QA nerd, answered the way he did, I was surprised.

But Mike was/is a bit of an odd duck. I knew that because we hired him and I worked with him for at least a year. He enjoyed sitting at home and introvertedly watching hours of television, yet also bowled. And was quite good. He was quiet and reserved but walked the halls in a sort of sliding fashion. Yes, like a ninja. I believe he told me he had a black belt in karate despite having the physique of a toothpick.

Yes, this could very well be a post about judging people. Bad, bad Chelsea. Don’t judge.

I’m more interested in answering the same question posed to Mike: If you could be any mythical creature, what would you choose? I’m interested because of how that classifies us. People are complex beings. Sure, we relate to certain groups and often lump ourselves together with similar personalities and interests. Through a simple question about preferences, however, we can reveal a deeper aspect.

We can reveal a ninja tiger.

I’m not that cool. Most days I behave like a Grick, a “darkly colored worm or snake-like creature” that lays around caves and waits to grab things with its tentacles. Since I get to name my own preference, though, I’d love to be a phoenix or an imp or a dragon.

Flying, right? No-brainer.

How about you? What mythical creature would you choose? For bonus interview points, what do you think that might say about your personality?

Draconika

—————-

In the real world, here’s what I wrote last week:
Wednesday, May 15: Wrote “Just Another Day in the Life,” and learned that I need to stop dusting.

Thursday, May 16: “Suddenly Spring,” a poem about …well, suddenly spring.

Friday, May 17: Winner of the Weekly Terribly Poetry Contest. Congratulations to Deb Whittam!

Saturday, May 18: Announced the 26th Weekly Terrible Poetry Contest. The theme is engineering failures, real or imagined. PLEASE ENTER!

Sunday, May 19: “Tree Search Exclusive Tours, Ltd.,” in response to Carrot Ranch‘s prompt.

Monday, May 20: An inspirational quote by Timothy Leary.

Tuesday, May 21:”Wilhelmina Winters, Ninety-Four.”

Wednesday, May 22: Today.

I also posted all this week at my motherhood site. I wrote “Don’t Be so Hard on Yourself,” “Special Projects Take a Lot of Time and Mess,” and “A Poem, I Think.”

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

Directions from a Druid


By Stefan Keller

 

“Just past The Swamp of Misery,” Alvin huffed. “Just past The Swamp of Misery…”

Though his whisper was barely audible in the frigid air, the man just ahead stopped and looked back. An icicle-crusted cloth obscured most of his face, yet he still managed to scowl. “I swear,” he said, his speech muffled, “If ye dunnae stop, ye’ll shortly be asking yer ANCESTORS about The Swamp of Misery!” He faced forward again and continued walking.

Alvin hadn’t even the breath to sigh. Given that, he doubted the other man’s threat had much clout behind it. They were all worn out, cold, and on edge. They’d been at this quest for the longest fortnight of any man’s life: rising in the dark, stopping after the next night’s dark, and sleeping round a sorry excuse for a campfire. And the weather was always, always cold.

If not for a small supply of bottled ale, Alvin felt sure he’d be as frozen a man as that statue up ahead.

Statue? Statue?! “STATUE!!” he yelled, stopping so suddenly he was hit from behind by the next man. Alvin fell to the ground but scrabbled up again. Snow flew from his waving arms and dusted back. “Giant! Statue! We made it!” Pointing and almost hopping, he shouted through his own mouth scarf.

His neighbors to front and back looked where he motioned in a comically slow fashion and blinked their frosted lashes. They pointed, they shouted, they turned to men near them and relayed the message. Soon a chorus of muffled male voices was crying out in disarrayed joy. Arms waved, mittened hands gestured, and petrified limbs found life.

Hope renewed, the company trudged onward with greater speed. Alvin’s feet crunched in time to the rest: Frosted. Giant. Frosted. Giant. It was just as The Druid had described -albeit much farther a walking distance than they had all anticipated from her, “…just beyond The Swamp of Misery” direction.

Up the whitefold hill they trudged; and up, and up. Alvin’s sweating breath exhaled cloudy puffs with the beat of his boots. Though still excited, the men’s synchronized hike faltered on icy rocks and the powder-coated trail. After a half day’s exertions, however, all managed to clamber to the great, gaping base of The Frosted Giant.

Alvin and his companions stared at the dragonlike mouth carved before them, traced its mouth to a pair of nostrils, followed the nostrils to the upper part of a bearded man, then ended at the sunset-glinted, shaggy head of the giant himself.

“The Frosted Giant,” Alvin whispered, and was promptly punched in the arm. “Ow!”

“Told ye I’d teach ye,” a familiar, cloth-wrapped voice said. The man behind it ambled off behind a few others, whom Alvin could see were setting up camp. He followed, rubbing at his arm. Soon the whole company of men were warming themselves around their usual, ineffective fire.

“Right,” grunted the leader, shifting his scarf to below his bearded chin and smiling. Given the frozen state of his facial hair, the friendly expression was more of a grimace. “We made it.”

Eighteen heads bearing varying levels of frost nodded ascent. A few grunted as well.

Alvin could hardly contain his excitement. Forgetting his sore arm and what caused it, he blurted, “Now, we’ve only another fortnight or so till the next destination: The Scorching Phoenix!”

 

Thanks to D. Wallace Peach, a most excellent writer, for the prompt.

The Real Illusion

Dragon

(From draconika.com)

Her nightdress billows in moving mists of rainbows; toes curl precariously over cloudforms.

She cannot see, so closes her eyes.

And now, appears the wooden bridge. It skips across to the sandy seashore
-the shore outside a castle’s wall
-whereat lies a fearsome dragon, curling smoky out-breaths in the sun.

A shining knight advances, drawing schlinking steel to fight the fiery, glinting, scalesome beast.

“Oh, dear,” cries Princess, from above. Her swooping scarf-hat trails the crumbling window ledge.

The nightdressed girl smiles, treading where adults fear. She perches, perfectly happy, at the cliffside edge of fantasy.

And jumps.

 

Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge

Wet Ink

Neon Dragon

“Nearly done, darlin’.” Her makeup-lined lips pursed over prominent, yellowed teeth; a purpled tongue-stub protruded in concentration.

“Sue’s the best,” they’d said, in town. “Just ask for Sue.”

I flinched, involuntarily. “I wouldn’t do that,” she warned. Her potato-skin face never changed expression. Cataract-blue globes never strayed from the machined needle beneath her age-veined fingers.

“Just don’ get the snake,” an old-timer warned. “You’re not gettin’ a snake, are ya?”

A stool creak, a whoosh of compressed vinyl stooltop, and Sue was done. I peeked, tentatively, and gasped in amazement. Slowly, I shifted my shoulder and neck-view forward and backward to see the deep golds, reds, and blues of the dragon’s ink-birthed scales.

“Tommy got the snake,” the diner owner supplied, not looking up from her countertop rag-wiping circles. The group all shuddered and returned to their lunches. Morbidly determined, I’d headed out the door and down the single-lane road to the flicker-light neon of the town’s only tattoo parlor.

Sue looked …the same. Her shriveled glare-stare blinked once or twice as she methodically cleaned the tip of the needle. “Don’t you forget to let ‘im dry,” she scolded, wagging the tool my direction.

Who was Tommy? Why did it matter that he’d picked the snake?

I nodded to Sue, paid, and left through the tinkle-ting of the chipped-paint shop door. A light snow was beginning to fall. Absentmindedly, I slipped on my jacket. It was cold, everywhere except my still-wet arm…

 

This is my fuller-length version of Wait for It to Dry.

Photo credit: Mendar Bouchali on Unsplash

Wait for It to Dry

Neon Dragon

“Nearly done, darlin’.” Her purpled tongue-stub protruded.

“Sue’s the best,” they’d said, in town.

I flinched. “I wouldn’t do that.” Her potato-skin face was expressionless. Cataract-blue globes never strayed from her age-veined fingers.

“Just don’ get the snake,” an old-timer warned.

A stool creak told me Sue was done. I peeked, gasped, and shifted my shoulder to view the deep golds and blues of the dragon’s ink-birthed scales.

Sue looked …the same. “Don’t you forget to let ‘im dry,” she scolded.

I nodded, paid, left. Absentmindedly, I slipped on my jacket. It was cold, everywhere except my arm…

Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge

Photo credit: Mendar Bouchali on Unsplash