The Blood Issue
Quick as a Flash - Week 14
Fact and Fiction
Already it’s time for another issue, so let’s do this!
You all inspired me to go for the jugular this time, for this issue is all about the blood. Don’t worry, I didn’t do anything I felt was too unsavory.
Enjoy the Blood issue and I will see you again in two weeks!
Red Water Rafting
“I can smell it, Mama,” Mina said, face pressed against my life vest. She was hemophobic, and the earth was literally bleeding. Our lands were sinking, and the nearest village taking refugees was a choppy river ride down an earth-vein.
“It’ll be okay, dear,” I lied.
Blood Bonds and Saftety Nets
Harry and Cam took turns slicing their palms and shook hands.
“It’s settled,” Cam said. “If one of us is harmed, the other will be there to help.”
Weeks later, Cam is teleported to Harry. He’s shaking something awful. A panic attack, and not his first.
“Hey, it’s okay. Breathe.”
Lost in Thoughts
His father died and left behind a closet full of thoughts, each kept in a little pouch. Mark sipped on them like a vampire at a blood bank, hoping he’d learn the safe combination. Instead, he found fond memories of times spent together. His father never knew he had a scumbag son.
Power and Curse
Human innards terrified him, whether blood, bone, or tendon. He couldn’t bear to look at his family, coworkers, or acquaintances for very long without passing out. It was so bad, he took to wearing a heavy blindfold. X-ray vision is only a luxury if you can turn it off at will.
You Want Scary?
Yes, the house was haunted. Each day, Emmit woke in blood-pooled sheets with putrid odors emanating from the walls. Yes, the screams and taps on the shoulder from the poltergeist startled them. But they got used to it. They’d have to, what with the current housing market.
Hounded with Guilt
From the young age of four, he could feel each grain of sand flow through the thin waist of the bottomless hourglass that was his life. Each second past was a second gone forever. And intuition told him that he had relatively few left. In fact, he had fewer than five years to live.
It was his ninth birthday, and his home was on fire. His saint of a father had boarded up the doors and windows, leaving him and his mother to burn. Smoke and poor health had left her on the floor, struggling to breathe. He made his way toward her, only for falling rafters to foil his attempts. There was no way to climb the infernal rubble. The air was getting thick even from the floor, where he crawled on skinned knees and clammy hands.
This was it. Just a few grains of sand, and it’d be over.
"You can have more time," said a voice behind him.
He turned and saw a blue-skinned woman sitting at his burning dining table. At her sandaled feet were a pair of sleeping hounds, their size rivaling that of a wolf.
"You have a choice to make, and it cannot be taken lightly. Forge a pact with me, and you will live." She held out a fist and opened it. Sand poured out like rivulets between her red-clawed fingers. "I will extend your life another decade."
Ten more years? That would more than double his life. “But my mother, she’s—”
"Not part of this." She tilted her head and met his eyes, glistening yellow meeting ordinary brown. "She's already gone. I'm sorry." She blinked and looked down. "One more thing. You will be allowed to live past the decade, but it will come at a price." She gestured to her companions. "Agneya and Laon will be hungry, and I will ask you to provide for them."
"How will I—”
"Don't ask questions you don't want to hear the answer to," she said sharply. "Please." She stood and stepped over the resting hounds whose ears only twitched in response. She held out a hand. "Just tell me if it's a deal."
Tears welled in his eyes. This was what he secretly wanted, wasn’t it?
This was not what he wanted. At nineteen years old, he was spending his birthday in a dark alley, clutching a bloodied knife and watching the fading eyes of a dying woman. He led her here, both to the passage and to her death.
A hand touched his shoulder. "Nice work. Nobody goes hungry, and everyone, er… nearly everyone lives." The kennel mistress gestured, and Agneya and Laon stalked around her to feast on the warm corpse.
He looked away, and upon the first sounds of teeth crushing bone, he ran for a corner and lost his lunch. He leaned his head against the cold brickwork, gasping for air.
"It gets easier, if it's any consolation," she said. "Unfortunately, your victim only had five years of life left. She was fated to get the plague. Ten percent of that is half a year added to your lifespan. You'll be doing this again soon."
He groaned. “She barely seemed older than me.”
She ran her fingers through his hair. "You could go younger. There's an orphanage down the way. With their living conditions, you might be doing them a fav—”
"Very well. The targets are yours to choose."
For two centuries, this arrangement continued.
He was lying low in the apartment of an old man he'd killed three months ago. Nobody would miss him, but the death added only a mere week to his dwindling lifespan.
Hellhounds were very good at consuming their prey, willing to even eat bullet casings and toxins. But they were not perfect. These days, one trace of his DNA was enough to lock him in a jail cell until he took his final breath. He could feel the walls of his drafty dwelling closing in around him. Heat licked his face and ash dusted his cheeks.
He shook his head. Maybe it was time to call it. He'd lived enough lifetimes. He'd married twice, and while the pact had made him infertile, he had had enough friends with children to be made an honorary uncle—albeit one that mysteriously vanished when they got old enough to wonder why he didn’t age. At least he never touched a hair on their precious heads and, in all but one case, did the same for their parents.
The door creaked open. He grabbed the shotgun against the wall and stepped into the living room.
The kennel mistress raised an eyebrow. “You know that won’t do anything to me, dear.” Agneya and Laon watched from her sides, tails wagging.
He sighed and set the gun on the shoddy coffee table. “What do you want?”
“You’re running out of time. Have you chosen your next target?”
“…I see.” She sat down on the patchy couch. “I shouldn’t be surprised. You’ve lasted longer than most.”
He winced. He wasn’t sure if that was a compliment or merely an observation. He scuttled over to the armchair and had a seat. “I have five days.”
“You’re hoping to break it off early?”
It was her turn to sigh. “One way or another, my dogs feed, and there’s more where you came from. But I have to admit, you might be my favorite.”
He kept his gaze away from her, pressing a hand to his mouth. Tears welled in his eyes.
“Won’t you reconsider?”
He shook his head vigorously, not trusting himself to speak. However, he couldn't keep himself from taking one last look at her.
She smiled warmly. “So be it. My pets and I will grant you this final mercy. Thank you.”
She nodded, and the hounds approached him. He had no doubt that they would make it quick.
Generated prompt: A serial killer and a kennel master are haunted by a countdown.
And here are the final results, for those interested. Don’t forget to vote on the new prompt!
Note: I’m trying something new and writing a bit about how this story came to be! If you’re not interested in these “how the sausage gets made” sort of writings, please feel free to skip to the Share Corner!
I really enjoyed how this one came out! Out of the three options from the poll, this was probably the one I had the fewest ideas for, and I’m almost glad for it.
When it looked like this prompt was sure to come out on top, I started brainstorming more. I figured no matter the prompt, the two protagonists should work together rather than be at odds. So how do a kennel master and a serial killer work together? One does the active killing, and the other disposes of the evidence, of course. And the countdown? This had to be a countdown for life. They were killing to add to their own lifespans, which they were actively aware of.
But that didn’t feel like enough of a story to me. Where are the emotional stakes? A skilled killer and a master in charge of some well-trained monstrous dogs could do this ad infinitum.
I often use Dramatica theory in my work. The model helps serve as a basic framework that I can build on top of. I’m familiar enough with it to know that one part of this story was Knowledge (of one’s lifespan) vs Thought (consideration of how to lengthen it). I looked to the model for additional ideas and landed on this block:
Change vs Inertia stood out to me. How do the characters change as the story goes? How does the world around them change as they avoid death? And that’s when I realized that as crime scene investigation gets better, so will the odds of them getting caught. So, in the end, it becomes better to not get in the way of death (Inertia) than to go through the constant worry of getting caught.
I then shifted the power balance between the characters. It felt better to have one owe the other and experience the journey differently. The otherworldly kennel mistress will make pacts with one human after another to care for the hounds (again, Inertia). Still, even she can’t deny this particular human left his mark on her (change). All of this is wrapped in the fact that they had formed a pact (Developing a Plan).
Of course, many of these details were ironed out as I wrote. But knowing that part of my theme was Change vs Inertia was the kernel I needed to truly feel like I had a goal to write toward.
Let me know if you enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look. I may do them more often!
I’d like to give a shoutout to Peter Chiykowski (@rockpapercynic) in this issue. First off, he’s an excellent storyteller and webcomic artist. I am a huge fan of the microfiction he posts on Postcards Stories from Impossible Worlds. This is one of the simpler ones, but remains one of my favorites:
He’s also a huge influence on this newsletter because he created the product I use to randomly generate my story prompts! The Story Engine is a really cool product storytellers of all sorts can use to generate ideas. It consists of five decks of cards featuring different elements that, when used in conjunction, can generate different prompts. Definitely worth looking into if you’re a fellow creator!
(Note: I’m not getting any sort of benefit for linking to this product, I’m just a fan)