Tales From The Golden Fleece Inn

“Stupid,” Sarah mumbled to herself as she trudged along. “That was stupid.”

She shouldn’t have gotten involved, should have done a better job of hiding those papers. Now all her accounts were gone, and she was alone and cold. She touched her hand gingerly to the side of her face. It was still tender. Would it bruise? Probably.

Where was she?

She looked around. She had taken off running from her apartment and how she was on a street she didn’t recognize, and she was severely underdressed for the weather. Her watch said it was nearly midnight…

This is the first story in a series set in The Golden Fleece Inn, an ancient establishment located outside of the material plane. Continue reading on Wattpad.

Lotto Winners

This story was also posted on Wattpad.

“Begin final boarding. Take off in twenty minutes.”

Marshal and Alice leapt up from their molded plastic seats and into the scragly excuse for a line that was forming quickly in front of the gate. The city’s disheveled dreggs, the last to board the evacuation flights, who had been waiting over a week to find out if they would even get a spot on one of the last flights out, now seemed ready to fight each for a spot in line. It didn’t matter that all their spots had been guaranteed by their ticket purchase. Everyone in that line, Marshal included, still feared the prospect of being left behind or being told than an excess of tickets had been issued.

He wondered what he would do in that case. He of course liked to think that if it came down to it he would make sure his wife got aboard even if he did not. Marshal imagined such a thing happening and pictured himself muscling his way past the attendant only to be gunned down by the two marines who stood guarding the gate. Fortunately, suicide by marine did not seem to be in store for him, he managed to insert Alice and himself in about the middle of the line, well within what he thought must be the ship’s margin of error.

There were still other concerns of course. The military could find a sudden need to commandeer the ship and leave them all stranded. It had happened to a few others already. Or their ship could suffer some crippling malfunction and leave them stranded. It was after all, not actually built for its new task. Only necessity had made them resort to converting battered freighters and loadings docks into passenger liners and lobbies. If the colony was not staring at certain ruin the same room where Marshal, Alice, and all the other passengers were currently jostling for a place in line would instead be full of crates of generic drugs and ingots eagerly awaiting to be loaded onto a ship for some out-of-system buyer.

The whole thing was tragic, and a little ridiculous. Marshal couldn’t help but be sad about it. New Bismark was hardly the pinnacle of civilization, but generations of his family and everyone else’s had worked hard to build it. Now they all had to flee because of war that didn’t really matter to anyone living in the colony and because, as many would argue, it shouldn’t have been built to begin with.

Marshal’s great, great grandfather had been one of the original colonists. Back when telemetry data was still unreliable and warp engines even more so. When the original settlers had reached their new home, they had found it to in fact be in an irregular orbit around its gas giant. This coupled with the moon being so small that its own gravity just barely held itself together meant that the colonists had not been able to count on anything even approaching geological stability. But the settlers hadn’t had enough fuel to go anywhere else, so they resolved to make do with what they had. An impressive system of dampeners and glorified springs had been built to keep the colony in one piece, and New Bismark had fared surprisingly well since. Over the decades it had grown to become a modest but respectable trading center on the edge of the NATO sphere. Until the bombardment.

No one living in New Bismark had ever really expected the Neo-Soviets to come knocking, but knocking they came. The initial attack had been repulsed at great cost and after a bit of callous accounting work had been done the admiral commanding the 23rd Battle Group had decided that New Bismark simply wasn’t worth what it would cost to defend. That the bombardment had destabilized the moon’s already unstable tectonics did not help the colony’s case. And so, after a few days of deliberation the decision had been made to evacuate everyone who could be evacuated. That there were not enough ships to carry everyone was seen as unfortunate, but unavoidable.

Marshal had spent the next month watching his home fall apart. Anyone rich enough to own their own ship or important enough to warrant a seat on an outgoing fleet ship left first. Then private companies began offering seats on luxury liners, those were snapped up quick, leaving still thousands without an out. Finally, a lottery was announced. Evacuees would be chosen at random with appropriate weighting given to skills, age, and family size, and those that won would be able to purchase tickets on converted freighters like the one that Marshal and Alice were currently in line for. Marshal hadn’t been concerned. He had pulled out his savings early, before the rush on the banks. He had figured that with his two years in the service and six years as an engine repair technician, and Alice’s master’s degree in ecological design that they two of them would be shoo-ins for one of the early departure groups.

Weeks had passed. He had watched scores of people that weren’t him be selected by lottery, and even more get rejected. Finally, he had woken up in the middle of the night to message on in terminal that he and Alice had won a spot on the last ship out. With just minutes to spare on their purchase window he had reserved for them one of the last private cabins on the Majesty, a battered old container ship that had been converted for the evacuation and would be their home for at least a year. Looking at it through the terminal’s windows Marshal could wondered if it would even get off the ground. He had worked on several of the other ships and knew that some had been destined for the scrap heap before the attack.

Alice squeezed his hand as they approached the gate and he felt his own pulse quicken. All the anxieties that he had kept down since the attack surged forward. It was ridiculous what was happening to them. Here the two of them were, in the middle of the city that their families had helped build, leaving it with only each other and what they could carry on their backs. It was a scene reminiscent of the nineteenth or twentieth centuries, not the twenty sixth. It shouldn’t have been happening, but it was.

The attendant smiles and scanned both their boarding passes, checked that they matched their biometrics, and waved them through. Marshal felt the hard gaze of the marines boring into him as he walked past. Up close he realized they were just as tense as he was. Did they expect another riot? Or even a bombing? There had been several attempts by fringe groups to disable the evacuation ships so that all of New Bismark would have to face them same fate together. Some of those attempts had been successful and their would-be passengers had been left trying to figure out what they would do next.

Marshal’s agoraphobia kicked in as they walked through the vestibule. It was a common enough condition in the colonies that he had thought his time in the service had trained out of him. But the combined anxieties were too much to bear. He caught himself staring through the windows into the abyss of the blast chute. Only Alice’s tight, steady hand allowed him to keep his composure long enough to make it across.

Once inside, he saw that the Majesty’s cavernous hold has been cut up and subdivided by sheet metal bulk heads and rough plastic panels. It was a sloppier job than he had seen on the ships he had helped to retrofit. The air was filled with smell of setting epoxy and new air recyclers. Exposed conduits and pipes told him how their plumbing and electrical systems would work.

Following the directions on their boarding pass brought them to Cabin 241. The number had been painted hastily on a plastic sliding door set in the metal bulkhead. It shuddered as Alice pulled the latch and slide the door open. Marshal didn’t say anything, but he knew both of them were thinking about all the atmosphere that the door would fail to seal in if the ship suffered a hull breach.                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Inside was a ‘common room’ that they would be sharing with another couple. The room was barely the size of a standard elevator, with just enough for a set of folding chairs, a collapsible table, and a shower unit that unfurled from the wall. Their private room was 241A, to their left behind another shoddy sliding door.

Their private quarters had two parts. The first was a narrow, arched section just inside the door. One side of this arch housed a sink-toilette combination with a small curtain for privacy. A kitchenette stocked with frozen and freeze-dried foodstuffs too up the rest of the arch. Marshal opened the cabinet and saw that the liquor he had ordered had already been stored there. That small luxury had been painfully expensive, but there was no guarantee his money would be worth anything once they reached their destination, and he saw no reason to be sober during their forced exodus. The second part of their little cabin had two narrow seats that faced each other and would fold together to form an approximately twin sized bed with room for their bags to be stored underneath.

As an afterthought he noticed a space on the wall where a collapsible crib folded out. For the first time in their marriage Marshal was thankful for Alice’s insistence that they wait for her to be established in her career before they had children. Caring for a child in such a small space would have been a nightmare.

The single luxury in their cabin was a small display hanging on the wall from a swivel mount. After they had stowed their belongings Alice fiddled with the controls on the side and feeds from the ship’s hull cameras flickered into view. Turning a knob at the base cycled through several cameras and a few channels playing preset movies on a loop. Eventually she settled on the feed from a camera pointed directly down the blast chute before finally taking her seat.  

“I hope my parents will be okay,” she said, and produced a microfilament library from her bag. Her neutral expression did little to hide the concern in her voice.

“They’ll be alright,” he said trying to sound reassuring. “They’ve always been resourceful, and in good health.” That part wasn’t wrong. Alice’s father was a retired marine and her mother an engineer. Only their age had disqualified them from the lottery. “They’ll be fine. We’ll see them after the war, once it’s safe to send ships here again. The admiral promised, the fleet will be back.” Even as he said them the words felt like a lie. There was no guarantee that there would be a New Bismarck to come back to, or that the war would end for that matter.

“Uh huh,” Alice said into a book.

Marshal stopped talking. Burying herself in her work was her way of avoiding unpleasant truths and this truth was not one that Marshal intending on making her face for the moment. In a way he was lucky, both his parents had passed. That didn’t make up for the void that had existed at their wedding or a dozen other life events, but it was a small comfort that Marshal chose to hold on to as he kept watching the feed from the blast chute.

A count down appeared in the upper right corner starting at sixty seconds. He held his breathe and waited while he envisioned all the unfortunate possibilities of the next few minutes. A timed explosive could disable the engines, or the launch could shake their improvised cabins to pieces, or the turbulence of launch could tear open the old hull and kill all of them. There was a horrible moment when the counter reached zero and thought one of those might have happened. Then a massive explosion of light erupted across the display and he felt the unmistakable rumble of take off.

Marshal squeezed his hands around the armrests until his knuckles turned white while Alice continued with her pretense of being absorbed in her book. Once they took off the blinding light on the display receded and Marshal could see New Bismark shrinking until it was nothing more than a smudge of silver on the surface of a pock-marked moon.

Soon the moon itself would be nothing more than a smudge, then the planet and star with it. And then what? Marshal had been on in a ship under warp before but had never looked outside of one before. Would there be anything to see? More likely, he thought, their options for entertainment would just decreased further as most of the cameras would be rendered useless. He thought about his own collection of books that he had brought and realized after some thought that it wouldn’t be long until they were forced to socialize with their cabin mates.

He sighed and waited.

Gravity returned once the Majesty reached far orbit and the ship’s acceleration stabilized. He stood up from his seat and picked a bottle of whiskey from the cabinet. They were going to be on the ship for awhile, he might as well make friends with the neighbors.

A Fondly Remembered Abduction

I responded to another writing prompt on reddit. The original post can be found here: https://www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts/comments/9jowun/wp_you_lie_in_a_grassy_field_on_a_sunny_day/e6u5dos/?context=3

When most people imagine being abducted by aliens they imagine being woken up in the middle of the night by little grey men who poke and prod them. The reality is really quite different.

I had just left my friend Tom’s when I met them. It was Tom’s birthday and he had decided to throw a rager. I’ll admit that I had a bit too much to drink and on my walk back I tripped and fell into the path of a moving car. My head hit the pavement, and everything went black. I was sure that this would be the end. But they saw.

I woke up in an examination room. Everything was grey, cold, steel and plastic. I’ll admit that at first, I had a panic attack. I thought that I woke up in the morgue. That someone had mistaken me for dead and that I was about to be cut open. In my muddled state of mind, I searched around for something that I could use to defend myself. A pair if scissors on the counter was all that I could find.

I waited there for what seemed like forever. I was convinced that at any moment the morticians would rush in and tie me to table before cutting me open while I was still alive. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

When the door finally opened I was greeted by a diminutive figure, who by my guess was only about four feet tall. Its big amber eyes looked at me, and then down at the scissors that I was holding out like a cross as if I was trying to fend off Dracula.

“You,” it began. “You know that isn’t really needed, right?”

I kept the scissors pointed towards the creature. “What do you want with me?”

“Want with you?” It seemed confused. “You just looked like you needed help. That car was about to squash you. So, we teleported you here to our medical bay. I can promise that you are in good hands.”

My body wouldn’t stop shaking but going against every instinct I had I lowered the scissors. I remembered the car, but why would they help me? Why wasn’t I dead?

“Why?” I asked tentatively. “Why would you save me?”

“Normally we wouldn’t,” it said. “Our mission is simply to observe. But we saw that you needed help and we couldn’t just stand by.”

I let the scissors drop to the floor. I didn’t entirely believe them yet. But I didn’t have the energy to fight and decided that I might as well take this creature at its word. It wasn’t like the scissors would have been much good anyway.

“Anyway,” it continued. “We could use your help justifying this to our superiors.”

“Justify?” I asked, a little confused.

“Yes, justify. You see, we have very strict orders to not establish contact with any humans. Command was very specific after the Roswell incident; no contact.”

“But, you saved me?”

“Yes well. We happened to be nearby, and we couldn’t just do nothing. We’ll need something from you in order to justify this.”

I reached for the scissors again and paused. “What exactly do you want?”

As it turned out all the aliens wanted was the rules to football. They had some of the most advanced technology that I had ever seen but despite their best efforts they couldn’t figure out the rules of the game. I spent an hour or so explaining yard lines and touch downs to them. Then we split a case of beer and watched super bowl reruns.

I spent two days just hanging out with them. As it turns out aliens are pretty chill. But in the end, they told me it was time to leave. Having learned the mysteries of football they couldn’t justify keeping me any longer. In my time on board their ship I had already seen them answer a few calls from their higher-ups. They seemed pretty heated.

I was sad to go. Hanging out and watching football with aliens was way better than going to work every day. I like to think that they were sad to see me go as well. They sure seemed it. They promised that they would keep looking out for me, and I like to think that they kept their word. It’s nice to have some guardian angels of your own. It’s even nicer to know that you’re both rooting for the same team in the play-offs.



Imposter Syndrome

A cold wind swept over the surface of the tiny lake, buffeting Erik as he sat down on the gravel shore. He shivered, he had been gone a long time and was no longer used to the weather. Behind him, his new body guards stood ever watchful and seemingly unbothered by the wind. He looked out over the lake, examining the curve of it’s shoreline, and the gentle ripples that travelled along its surface.

As he sat there a singular thought consumed him, the same though that had occupied every waking moment he had had for the past week; he should not be there. No, he decided, it was more than a thought, it was a feeling, an instinct. One that reached deep into his core. He was neither worthy enough, nor suited for the task before him, and yet it was he who had been chosen.

He reached into his pocket and retrieved the crumpled letter that had been delivered to him just days before. When it had arrived, they had found him living in a small fishing hut in greece, the valkyrie that had delivered it was stern, as was typical for her type, but through her facade he had sensed a deep worry. It was then that he had found out that his brother Poul had died two weeks earlier, and he had learned what was to be his own fate.

You, Erik. Who have strayed far from northern shores and wandered for these past eight years, have been chosen by decree, vote, and fate, to rise to the demands of destiny. This is both a great honor, and burden, one that you have been judged capable of bearing. You will return to the land of your fathers with all haste. All travel arrangements have been made. Synnove, whose presence now indicates both the validity and urgency of this message, shall be your guide in whatever path you choose. We, your humble servants, eagerly await your return.

It hadn’t been a choice, not really. Returning home would have been the only way to find out what happened to his brother, and he knew that Synnove would have killed him if he refused. It never helped to have potential rival claimants running around. A flight out of Athens, with a connection through Germany, had brought him to Stockholm. Where yet another plane had waited to fly him to the little valley in which he now sat. All through the journey, Synnove had been a perfectly silent and infuriating travel companion. As she stood behind him now he was just as annoyed by her imposing presence as he had been when she watched him sleep on the plane.

Not that she was the only one watching him. A score of valkyries had dispersed themselves around him, trying their best to look disinterested. Meanwhile, if he looked around the lake and to the compound that sat on it’s northern shore, he could see security details bearing a dozen different family crests. Each house was especially suspicious of the other. He had learned on arrival that his brother had been killed in the most recent of ten assassinations that had taken place over the previous year. Everyone he had asked had heard a different rumor, all about a supposed new and unnamed Loki that was behind the assassinations. A few, although those were in the minority, thought that this might finally herald the arrival of Surtur, and the beginning of Ragnarok. Erik was partial to the idea that some foreign actor was trying to drive a wedge between the houses, but he didn’t go so far as to claim that this was the beginning of Ragnarok.

In such a tense environment each of the houses was accusing the others, and all feared that someone might interfere with the coronation. The Norns had bowed to the intense political pressure and allowed each house to send security details, on the condition that only the valkyries would have direct access to Erik.

Taking another look at the openness of his surroundings, he was surprised that his guards had let him come outside. Without trying he could spot half a dozen places around the lake that would be perfect for a sniper. No doubt Synnove was cross with him. The thought of her seething beneath her expressional face gave him a small amount of satisfaction, but was of little comfort.

Poul’s reasons for choosing him were clear. As his brother, Erik was unlikely to have killed him, and being away for eight years meant that he was distanced enough from the local politics that the houses would accepted him as a relatively neutral party. Thirdly, his travels had been extensive, and for a community that could at times become so consumed by its internal affairs that “worldliness” was correlated with wisdom in their minds. He glanced up at the compound, there was still time to escape. Not that the valkyries would let him get that far. He pushed those thoughts away. It was his duty to go on with it, both as a northman, and in memory of his brother.

A bell tolled in the compound.

“It’s time to go,” announced Synnove. It was the first time he had heard her speak in days. Erik brought himself to his feet. Might as well get it over with.

They followed him to the lake’s northern shore, where a set of covered stone stairs led up to the rest of the compound. The stone stairs were ancient, Erik would never have dreamed of trying to guess just how old they were, and the Norns weren’t inclined to reveal much about themselves. The steps were lines by wooden columns carved into the shapes of trees that supported sculpted roof of wooden leaves. To Erik’s displeasure it didn’t do much to stop the wind.

The stairs winded him. There he was having spent eight years walking across Europe, and still he could be defeated by a set of stairs. “Some All-Father I’ll be, huh?”

“A fine one indeed, sire,” said Synnove beside him.

Erik looked at her, surprised that he couldn’t detect any hint of sarcasm. “Do you think so?”

“Of course,” Synnove replied. “The best leaders are the ones who don’t want to be. It keeps you humble.”

“I hope you’re right…say, which way do we go now?” They had reached the top of the stairs, putting them in the middle of a long, curving hallway that went along the outside of the building.

“This way sire. We’ll take the long route.” Synnove led him down the hallway, which was lined on the outside wall with statues of past Odins and other warriors of note. Along the inside wall was the massive tapestry that the Norns labored on endlessly. Anytime something of note happened in the world the Norns wove its story into their great tapestry. Layers and layers of vibrant fabric were wrapped around the center of the building. Synnove took him to the leading edge of the textile, where a pair of younger norns were working on the tapestry.

His brother’s statue sat regally at the tapestry’s end, and upon closer inspection Erik noticed that they were adding his brother’s death to the weave. A stylized image of Poul was shown clutching a gunshot wound to the chest, and without any information on the shooter, an image of loki was used instead. The Norns had always favored style of fact.

“We don’t have time to wait,” Synnove reminded him. “Here, take these. They’ll help with the pain.” She handed him a pair of white tablets. Erik nodded his thanks and swallowed them quickly. Now that he was so close to the coronation he was filled with an overwhelming desire to get it over with.

The inner wall had a single arched entryway that the tapestry was woven around to accommodate. Inside was the great courtyard that took up most of the compound. In the center grew a massive oak tree, with a gray stone slab placed among its roots. The three eldest of the Norns presided over this slab, flanked by valkyries and various dignitaries. A host of arctic dwarves stood off to Erik’s left, and in the oak’s branches he thought he was able see the flutter of the elvish delegations. No words were spoken as Erik approached, and took his place at the slab across from the Norns.

“Erik Larson,” spoke the the most prominent of the three. “Do you accept the mantle that has been offered to you?”

“I,” Erik paused and looked around him. Most coronations were done with a sense of melancholy, it was a chance to say goodbye to the old ruler and welcome the new. He could see that his coronation would not be like that. On every face he saw sadness, worry, fear. It wasn’t about what he wanted, he realized. It was about what he needed to do. These people needed someone to lead them, who they felt they could trust, they needed him. “I do.”

Her wizened old face smiled sadly, and she nodded. Around the came the below of hunting horns, and a group a valkyries emerged from the arch behind Erik carrying a body obscured by  funeral wrappings.

The lead Norn drew a knife from beneath her robes and stepped around the slab. In unison they began to speak. “As we commend the body of the All-Father to the heavens, we welcome into our midst a new ruler. Erik Larson. Fate and circumstance have chosen you to lead us. Circumstances that once forced you away from our lands have now caused you to return, and fate decrees that it is you who will become our next Odin. Kneel.”

Erik lowered himself to his knees, and the Norn moved closer.

“Having accepted this burden you will now pay the price of wisdom. As have all those who have walked before you,” they declared.

Erik braced himself for what was to come. The lead Norn grasped his head and brought the knife close, and with a well practiced flick of the blade she removed his left eye. Erik recoiled and pressed his hand to the now empty socket. He fought every urge to cry out. He had to remain stoic. He had to prove that he could take the pain.

This was the price that every Odin paid for wisdom. It was felt that a leader could not lead until he knew pain. That before he declare war he must know something of it’s costs. That a leader must be willing to sacrifice for his people.

A pair of valkyries came and took him. Carrying him between them as if he were a sack of flower, they brought him around the slab, behind the Norns, where a small pond sat between the roots. He was dropped in, the strong arms of the valkyries holding him beneath the surface as he struggled for air.

Be patient, he told himself. He knew that this was just another part of the coronation, but what if it wasn’t? For a moment that thought entered his mind that it could have all been a ruse to eliminate the only person with reason to avenge Poul’s death. Where the Norns to blame? They were not ones to take such overt actions. No. He had to trust in the Norns, he had to let this happen.

As his struggling stopped he no longer felt the pressure exerted by the valkyries. A single hand reached down and grasped his, pulling him from the water. He gasped for air as he broke the surface and was pulled to his feet. Before him stood Synnove, his hand firmly grasped in hers. Behind her stood the Norns, watching, as they always did.

“Hail Odin! Father of all!” Cried the Norns. Synnove and the Norns bowed, followed by the host of assembled dignitaries. An attendant hurried up to him and kneeled at his feet, offering a lit torch. Erik accepted the torch and looked to the slab. The oiled and bound body of his brother had been placed upon on the slab, and piled high with oiled logs and cuttings from the tree.

Erik walked towards the slab. Reaching under his collar he pulled forth a medallion which Poul had once give him as a gift. He placed in over his brother’s heart, and lowered the torch to start the pyre.