The Artifact

the white horse pub

© A Mixed Bag 2014

Ross Murdock sat in Dover’s White Horse Pub sipping ale, silently cursing Gordon Ashe for staying behind. Ashe was the archaeologist. Murdock, a former thief, was Ashe’s student and did what he was told to avoid prison.

“Is this seat taken?” The tall man, dark hair, full beard, spoke heavily accented English.

“Pull up a chair.”

“Merci.” The Frenchman sat, putting his glass on the table. “I’m Alex Besnard. You were expecting me.”

“Ross Murdock.” Neither man attempted shaking hands.

“Actually, you were expecting this.” Besnard reached into his pocket and pulled out something wrapped in cloth. Murdock took it and unwrapped the “prize.”

The stoic cynic’s eyes widened. It really was a Forerunner artifact.

“Dated to 2,000 BCE, give or take. Found a few kilometers from here.”

Murdock put the object into his pocket and then used his mobile to send the payment.

Besnard checked his cell. “Merci beaucoup.” The smuggler stood and walked away.

Concrete evidence the extraterrestrial Forerunners visited Earth over 4,000 years ago. Ashe would be able to date the artifact more accurately so the time portal could be set. It was now a race with the Soviets as to which one would reach the Forerunner technology first.

NOTE: To read the next story in this series, go to The Traders.

The first story in this series is The Recruit followed by Escape.

I was able to identify the location in the photo above as Dover after magnifying the image and reading the sign in front of the White Horse Pub. Archaeological finds have determined that Dover has been inhabited since the Stone Age, which gave me my hook.

When I was in Junior High (many decades ago), I discovered a book in the school library called The Time Traders. It was the first of a series of science fiction novels written by Andre Norton (pseudonym for the late Alice Mary Norton). The first novel was published in 1958 with the premise that a race of advanced alien beings, later identified as “the Forerunners” had visited Earth sometime in the last ice age.

Thief Ross Murdock is recruited by the government for a team, along with archaeologist Gordon Ashe, to travel back to Britain’s Bronze Age posing as traders in order to gather information and maybe direct access to a Forerunner ship. The problem is the Soviets also have time travel technology and know about the Forerunners, so it’s a race against time (literally) as to which side will acquire advanced alien technology first.

I updated this cold war thriller to suit my purposes. I still have copies of “The Time Trader” and its immediate sequel Galactic Derelict. I did manage to read one of the more modern “Forerunner” novels some years back, but there was such a gap between the late 1950s stories and the one I found at my public library that it was more frustrating than satisfying to read.

I wrote this in response to the Sunday Photo Fiction – July 9th 2017 challenge. The idea is to take the image above and use it as an inspiration to write a piece of flash fiction no more than 200 words long. My word count is exactly 200, cut down from about 306.

To read more stories based on the prompt, go to InLinkz.com.

Thurren’s Cairn: A Brief Love Story

the dragon and the princess

© A Mixed Bag 2011

“Now we can be together forever, Charlotte.”

“I hold you dearly in my heart, Thurren, but you are a dragon and I am a Princess. We can never be together, forever or otherwise. I will grow up and one day be Queen. You will grow large and mighty and be a prize sought after by every Knight in the realm.”

The two, secret companions since childhood, sat by Thurren’s Cairn, their favorite meeting place. The roses were in bloom and the vines crept up and around the stone pillar speaking of a love which could not be.

Charlotte we really can be together forever. Come away with me.”

“But how can I abandon my responsibilities, no matter how I may feel for you?”

“Actually Princess, but you already did, the minute we fell in love.”

Thurren’s Cairn stood near a pond. He took Charlotte’s “hands” and led her there to her reflection.

“It’s like ‘Beauty and the Beast’ in reverse. Your love for me has freed you.”

Charlotte gazed at her reflection with a combination of horror and fascination. She was now a dragon. She and Thurren would have to flee quickly to escape her Knights.

Written for Sunday Photo Fiction for July 2nd 2017. The idea is to use the photo prompt as the basis for crafting a piece of flash fiction no more than 200 words long. My word count is exactly 199.

To read other stories based on the prompt, go to InLinkz.com.

The Funny Looking Bird

eagle

© A Mixed Bag 2012

Generalissimo Ramon Carlos DeLaVega, his revolution successful and his dictatorship now well established, ordered his family symbol placed upon all government buildings to inspire the public’s fear and awe of him.

The largest one was placed on the wall over the main gates to his compound. He had lights and cameras positioned to record how everyone reacted when seeing the powerful avian predator.

“Why are they laughing?” DeLaVega asked the same question day after day as he reviewed the morning videos showing the children walking to school. They would all stop in front of the gates, point up, and laugh, then gleefully skip along.

Unfortunately, Generalissimo DeLaVega’s family symbol bore a striking resemblance to the muppet Sam the Eagle. The children loved muppets.

I wrote this for the Sunday Photo Fiction – June 18th 2017 writing challenge. The idea is to use the image above as a prompt to write a piece of flash fiction no more than 200 words long. My word count is 123.

Yes, the first thing I thought of when I saw the photo was the muppet character Sam the Eagle.

To read more stories based on the prompt, go to InLinkz.com.

sam the eagle

Found at muppet.wikia.com

It’s Never the Same Twice

© A Mixed Bag 2012

Artie and Paul played chess in the cafeteria of “the old folks home” every Sunday afternoon.

“I got the pieces set up this time. Prepare to lose, you old bastard.” Paul chuckled as he ominously fingered one of the clear glass pawns.

“You prepare to lose you son of a bitch. You don’t even know how the game is played.” Artie insisted in always having the white pieces. They made him feel more virtuous somehow.

“I’ll get you now.” Paul moved his hand to one of his knights and jumped three squares forward.

Artie countered by having his right hand castle switch places with the pawn directly ahead and then moved it diagonally across the board.

Before the game was over, they’d attracted the usual crowd. Artie and Paul had never learned to play chess, but they were so much fun to watch. The “rules” they used to play by were never the same twice.

Written for Sunday Photo Fiction – June 11th 2017. The idea is to use the photo prompt above to write a piece of flash fiction no more than 200 words long. My word count is 155.

I saw the chess pieces set up and ready for play and had two thoughts. The first was the short Simon and Garfunkle song Old Friends (YouTube video). I got a very clear image of two old men, friends for decades, playing a game together complete with friendly jibes and the warmth of deep familiarity.

I also recalled a piece of trivia about the 2000 film X-Men. Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Eric Lensherr/Magneto (Ian McKellen) were supposed to have a scene together where they played chess, but initially neither of them knew how. A chess master had to be hired to teach them.

As I was writing, I also thought of the “Calvin and Hobbes” game Calvinball, a game where the rules are made up moment by moment. In real life, it would be incredibly difficult to accomplish, but in fiction, it’s a lot of fun.

To read other stories based on the prompt, visit InLinkz.com.

A Time to Go Home

winchers stance

© C E Ayr

Colin wasn’t the only one to stop and admire Winchers Stance at Glasgow’s Buchanan Bus Station, but it had a meaning to him no one else would understand. He too was hoping for a tender reunion after being away from home so long. The late John Clinch had captured the young man’s emotions in this bronze sculpture all too well. Colin held back his tears as he turned away. He had to make the bus to the Edinburgh Airport if he ever wanted to get back to where he belonged.

Sitting by a window near the back of the bus, he tolerated the nearly hour long ride imagining how she’d be there to greet him. He couldn’t get a message to her, but the date and time of his return had been established long ago. Once he arrived at Heathrow, it would be a simple matter to make it to Holborn’s abandoned Aldwych platform. The gate back to his own time was there. It was time for the historian to go home to his wife.

I wrote this for the Sunday Photo Fiction challenge for June 4th, 2017. The idea is to write a piece of flash fiction of no more than 200 words based on the image above. My word count is 175. Once I looked up the image, I was able to get enough background information to craft my wee tale. I’ve put links in the body of the story to help readers see what I discovered.

To read other stories based on the prompt, go to InLinkz.com.

Traitor

traitor's gate

© A Mixed Bag 2009

Traitor’s Gate. Entrance to the “last mile”. It describes the final moments of Dr. Marcus Young Smith.

The gate rose before him and his silent guards. He wore the traditional white shirt and black trousers of the condemned.

At thirty-nine, he would be neither the youngest nor the oldest person executed for high treason, but he would be the only one terminated because he was innocent of all charges.

The Governor was standing beside the steps of the gallows rather than seated in the gallery. Smith stopped at the foot of the steps.

“You maybe leave us,” Governor Drake ordered the four guards. They looked at each other puzzled.

“Go.” Drake whispered the command but it had the force of a shout. They retreated.

“Any last words, Dr. Smith?” The traditional question the Governor asks of the condemned, but this time it wasn’t heard by the public in the gallery.

“You are the traitor Drake, but to avoid civil war, I give my life.”

“A good little soldier to the end, Smith.”

Smith gave his life for his country to avert war. A generation later, revolution broke tyranny’s back and Dr. Smith’s name was venerated as a hero.

Written for the Sunday Photo Fiction for May 21st. The idea is to use the photo prompt above to write a piece of flash fiction no more than 200 words long. My word count is 198.

To read other stories based on the prompt, visit InLinkz.com.

The Long Memory

piazza navona

© Sally-Ann Hodgekiss

“This is the man I saw when I was in Piazza Navona, Officer. The one who vandalized the Fontana del Moro.”

“Thank you, Mr. Russo. We have your statement and the court will contact you about his trial.”

Giovanni Russo left the police station and two police officers escorted the vandal to an interrogation room.

“Sir, you have no identification. Who are you? Why did you decapitate the figures on the Fontana with a rock?”

“Stop questioning him, Romano. He should have a lawyer.”

“He isn’t asking for one, is he, Bianchi?”

Both officers looked at the mysterious man. They’d never understand the thoughts transpiring behind those ancient, haunted eyes.

Piazza Navona had been built on the site of the 1st century Stadium of Domitian where the Romans went to watch the games. That was where he’d died for the first time. Since then, an endless stream of reincarnations brought the horror back with each lifetime. Now in 2011, his current incarnation was quite insane.

Written for the Sunday Photo Fiction – May 14th 2017 writing challenge. The idea is to use the photo above as a prompt to create a piece of flash fiction no more than 200 words long. My word count is 164.

On September 3, 2011, the Fontana del Moro was really damaged by a vandal, though he was photographed by security cameras rather than seen by a live witness.

Also, the Piazza Navona really was built on the site of the Stadium of Domitian. I used these two bits of history to craft my wee tale this morning.

To read other stories based on the prompt, go to InLinkz.com.

The Secret Device

cell phone

© A Mixed Bag 2012

Remember, Z’kin. You’re holding one of the most sophisticated computing devices ever conceived. It has multiple scanners to gather data on their entire environment, communications circuits allowing you to contact our ship in orbit, and a voice interactive interface which can instantly answer any question.

“Not, Z’kin, Commander. My code name is Gary Evans.”

“Right. Of course. We’ve landed in a wooded area just outside of one of their communities. It’s just before dawn, so after you leave the shuttle, we should be able to launch undetected.

“Thanks, Commander. I’ll contact you daily during my scouting mission.”

“Good luck Z…uh, Mr. Evans.”

His alien form altered to look human, “Gary Evans” exited the shuttle and walked the five miles to the city. By the time he got downtown, the streets were bustling with people going to and fro.

The alien reached into his pocket secure in the knowledge that his secret device gave him mastery over his mission.

Then he saw them. They all had one. Every person he saw was looking down at their screens, rapidly tapping out messages or talking to “Siri”. His secret device was all too common here.

I wrote this for the Sunday Photo Fiction writing challenge. The idea is to write a piece of flash fiction no more than 200 words based on the photo prompt above. My word count is 192.

When I saw the photo prompt, I thought of how the hand-held communicators in the 1960s TV show “Star Trek” seemed so advanced, but now, today’s cell phones are so much more sophisticated. Imagine an alien race who wants to scout Earth thinking some of their technology is so superior only to discover we have the same thing.

To read other stories inspired by the photo prompt, go to InLinkz.com.

The Cherry Blossoms Are Blooming

garden

© John Brand

I used to hate gardening, but that was before. Now I find it gives me a sense of peace. I remember that he liked gardening. He found it relaxing, even in the heat of the day, which used to drive me crazy.

I wear his old gardening hat. The brim shields my face and removes the glare from my eyes.

It’s springtime, the season of life. The cherry blossoms are in bloom. I have to clean them up of course, but now instead of just being work, it’s a duty and a privilege. I use his old wheelbarrow, the one that reminds me of the difference between belief and faith.

I hadn’t realized how deep his faith ran, while all I had to fall back on was belief and an intellectual’s arguments to defend it.

His death shook me in a way I hadn’t anticipated. It’s tremors disturbed my beliefs and threw me into the deep waters of faith. I drowned in that faith, and rose again like my Dad will someday in the resurrection, just like trees bloom again in the spring.

I wrote this as part of the Sunday Photo Fictioner challenge. The idea is to use the photo above as a prompt to write a piece of flash fiction no more than 200 words long. My word count is 183.

As some of you may know, my Dad died suddenly last Wednesday afternoon. My brother and I have been going through Dad’s things and our Dad never seemed to have thrown away anything. It’s been quite a chore.

But it has let us know our Dad in a way we never really did before. We discovered his passions, his habits, and how he saw his life. Unlike the story above, he wasn’t quite the avid gardener I’ve painted, but in viewing the green and growing things in my parent’s house, and now it’s my Mom’s house, I find hope for the future, a transition from belief to faith.

Oh, in the body of the story, I included a link to an essay I wrote based on a parable of a man who pushed a wheelbarrow across a tight rope. I think it is quite illuminating.

To read more stories based on the prompt, go to InLinkz.com.

The Demon’s Cup

demon's cup

Buck was a strange old man, but he had the best collection of vintage science fiction and horror paperbacks and comics in Las Vegas. Every Saturday, I ride my Schwinn Sting-Ray to “The Fantasy Express” looking for rare or out-of-print books. I’m only twelve, so my budget is small, but one of the things about Buck is that he gives big discounts if he likes you.

“I see you’re staring at the Demon’s Cup. Interested?” Buck jerks his thumb up at the object of my interest on a shelf behind him. He takes it down and puts it on the counter.

“What is it?”

“Legends say it’s made from a pigmy skull sacrificed to demons.”

“How much?” I picked it up. It was really metal and maybe bone and it was heavy.

“Ninety-nine cents.”

One of Buck’s special bargains. I had the money, but how would my folks react?

“Not today, Buck.”

“Your loss. Someone else will buy it soon.” He picked up the skull goblet and put it back on its shelf.

I finished shopping and felt relief as I walked out.

Buck had a week to sell the artifact before the curse of the Demon’s Cup claimed him.

This flash fiction story was inspired by a photo prompt at Sunday Photo Fictioner. You can read other submissions to this writing challenge at InLinkz.com.

When I was twelve years old, I really did ride my bike to a used comic book and paperback store in North Las Vegas every Saturday. I don’t remember the name of the place or the owner, but in retrospect, he wasn’t that old, maybe in his early 50s. He talked a lot about serving in the Navy during World War 2.

He didn’t sell cursed artifacts, which is lucky for me, but my comic book and paperback collections swelled thanks to my shopping there.

When I saw the photo, imagination collided with memory, and here we are. I just hope Buck makes it okay, but I feel sorry for the person who buys the cup. And to think my friend tried to foist it off on me.

The word count limit for this challenge is 200, and I just barely made it.