Free-Range Fiction: GREEN & BROWN IN RIVERLAND (Part II of 4-Part Story Challenge)

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Below is my contribution to the second part of another writer’s story. In Italics is the original story by DangerDean. Regular text below is my contribution. Thanks Herr Wendig for the challenge, again. Danger Dean didn’t give it a title, so I’m calling it:  GREEN AND BROWN IN RIVERLAND

The hunt would be successful, Birdkin thought, and all because of him. None of the River tribe had caught any meat this time, and it had seemed like they would dine on nuts and greens because of it. But now he, Birdkin Riverson, was poised to fill the larders of his people. He had spotted a vole sniffing and scratching its way through the forest and he was poised to fall upon it. He was stretched taut on a branch above, camouflaged. His skin was already as brown as the bark, and his long hunting coat—brown with hints of green—hid the rest of him. Once the rodent approached his blind he would drop on its back and cut its throat with the his knife. He would claim the heart as his warrior prize and mount the teeth as a necklace, or on a war club, or maybe a war club necklace, he wasn’t sure.

The animal came nearer, twitching its whiskers as it scrabbled in the dirt for seeds. Birdkin started to loosen his grip, then froze. Across the feeding trail the vole was using, past Big Cedar, but definitely in River Tribe territory, was a Village Tribe scouting party. Three that he could see, crouched in a thicket chewing on trail rations. They weren’t making any effort to hide, but he wouldn’t have seen them if he wasn’t up on the branch. He let out a birdlike chirp, which alerted Blackwhisker and her sister Greywhisker, perched in a crook of Gnarled Oak. They looked toward him and he pointed toward the hostile patrol. More subtle chittering and chirping alerted the entire hunting party, which began converging on the three Village people.

Birdkin watched his vole trundle through the brush past him and sighed. No meat for now, but this was more important. If the Village Tribe was bold enough to break an age-old truce something had to be done about it.

This had been a wide-ranging hunt, and riverfolk spanned the area around the enemy patrol. Now with a few well-timed signals they moved silently over the forest floor, weapons drawn, and before the villagefolk saw what was happening they were surrounded by surly, growling River people brandishing bows, swords, pikes and knives. Shinetooth Eightfingers stepped forward and addressed them.

“You are in the land of the River People, which is ours by ancient truce, and in which the presence of People of the Village is proscribed.” The three Village people seemed unperturbed.

“State your business, and explain why we should not make you a fine meal for ravens.” A lanky, green-skinned warrior of middle years stepped forward.

“Our business? We wanted to take an afternoon stroll to a part of the forest we’ve never seen. You have pretty lands here. I can’t tell you why you shouldn’t kill us, except that we made it onto your lands undetected and more of our people may decide to take afternoon strolls. They would not take kindly to our deaths.” A squat, heavily-muscled nutbrown thug piped up.

“And we killed your sentries without you noticing so we—“ A green woman in an acorn helm swatted him in the back of the head.

“Shut your seed-hole, Dirteater.” Two River Tribe scouts ran up to the group.

“We found Thistle and Mossbeard! They’re dead! Garrotted with spider silk!” A collective growl rose from the assembled River people.. The green patrol leader grinned slyly, but his satisfaction was cut short by fierce whistles from Blackwhisker and Greywhisker.

“Cat!” Everyone yelled in unison, and scattered as the animal, a striped tom, landed in the clearing. It swatted its massive paw toward the three Villagers, knocking Dirteater unconscious several feet away. The animal leapt to him and held him down with a paw, not noticing that Dirteater’s two companions were now attacking it. They first threw pikes at its flanks, then before it wheeled around began hacking at the back of its legs with their swords. The River folk were stunned. No-one they knew had tried to take on one of the cats in battle. It was unheard of, until now.

The Whisker Sisters drew their bows and let fly volleys of arrows at the beast, while the rest of them surrounded it and aimed arrows and spears. The bravest and most foolish closed with the creature and tried to stab it with their small weapons. Birdkin was one of these, climbing tufts of fur on its leg and hacking tendons before he was thrown off again and again. The cat was not used to its prey fighting back and attempted to flee, but it could not shake off its attackers. The green woman in the acorn helm spun a weighted length of woven silk above her head, then released it to spin around the cat’s front legs. She pulled it taut and the animal began to topple, yowling in fear. Most of the warriors who had been climbing its flanks jumped clear, but Birdkin, who had made his way almost to a shoulder, kept hacking away, unaware that he was about to be crushed. The green woman, seeing this, leapt forward and into the air, tackled him around his midsection, and propelled him out of danger. He looked up at her, and tried to thank her, but hitting the ground had knocked the breath out of him. He mouthed the words just as his own people surrounded her and dragged her away.

Once the cat was down and they had access to its throat the crowd made quick, if messy, work of the beast, then took inventory of the situation. Three River warriors lost their lives, as did Dirteater and the Village patrol leader. With the work of the rest of the tribe they would have meat to last for many moons, which was fortunate, as they didn’t know when the Village Tribe would make its attack. They withdrew for the night, and Birdkin, snug on his moss bed, dreamed of a green woman in an acorn helm.

Part II

During the River Tribe’s common meal at midday, Birdkin went to find Shinetooth Eightfingers. Around the glen where the Gathering Circle was, there was much chatter about the events of the day before. Birdkin spotted the Whisker Sisters; they stood in front of the prison hut. A couple of kids chased the River Tribe’s domesticated water fowl. The Honwoos honked and barked, and the children giggled and yowled in delight. Greywhisker nodded towards Birdkin as he crossed the glen to the far end and moved closer to the prison hut, giving him awkward pause. Greywhisker always went out of her way to greet him, which sometimes irritated her sister, Blackwhisker. He approached the fire circle that stood about six stones from the prison hut; five of the old women of the River Tribe were processing the hide of the big cat and preparing other pieces of the carcass for use.

“Birdkin,” one of the old women inside the fire circle and closest to the prison hut called. She motioned for him to come to her.

Birdkin approached, kneeling down in front of the matriarch. “How shall I serve you, dear wise one?

The old woman’s dark hair was streaked in white. She let out a giggle that denied her many moons with the River People, “You are a right respectful lad, Birdkin, but it is not how you shall serve me, but how I shall serve you.” Birdkin raised his head to look at her, tilting his head to one side like one of the Honwoos did when checking for predators. This made the old woman chuckle, “Relax, Birdkin. Old Tannerlass means you no trickery.” She stood up, her old bones now giving her age away in her stiff movement, and came to him and placed a beaded leather necklace around his neck. At its center was one of the large teeth of the Cat his hunting party had killed. The old woman had cleaned and shined it and layered it with fish fat to make it glisten. “We thank you for your bravery yesterday,” said the old woman, Tannerlass.

“Thank you for such a blessing,” Birdkin said. The old woman nodded and Birdkin left the fire circle, heading back to the Whisker Sisters.

Grey Whisker smiled at Birdkin’s approach. “Stand your duty,” Blackwhisker growled, a long scar on her right cheek growing taut with her irritation. Unlike her sister, Blackwhisker had no patience for Birdkin, save as a hunting party member. She gave Birdkin only the most cursorily respect.

“I am not here to tear you from your duty,” Birdkin said. “I just wondered about the condition of our captures.” Greywhisker and Blackwhisker sandwiched between him. Greywhisker painted all in the powder of white river rock and Blackwhisker painted all in the powder of black river rock. They were born on the same day, Blackwhisker during the end of the night, and Greywhisker born at the beginning of the day. They had always been a part of his world, but weren’t in it always, though. There was comfort and discomfort with them always for Birdkin.

“They are as fine as any capture,” Blackwhisker said. “Shouldn’t you be seeing Shinetooth right now?”

“Aye,” Birdkin said and puffed out his chest and straightened his shoulders back, to give Blackwhisker a reminder of his elder status above her. He had 24 moons on the Whisker Sisters. “I know that he will ask about the captures. I will just be sure that they are ready for their trial.”

Graywhisker immediately moved to allow him to pass. Blackwhisker grunted, but acquiesced.

Inside the confinement hut sat two of the members from People of the Village patrol that had broken the ancient truce. The green acorn woman and another scout found after the Cat was dead.

Birdkin approached the green acorn woman. He stood only a stone and a half away from her. “I wanted to properly pay my respects and give my gratitude to you for your actions with the Cat yesterday.

The green acorn woman said nothing. She just stared at him, her eyes that of a practiced hunter.

Birdkin took a step back, surveying her sinewy, muscled, green arms. They held such strength like he had not seen in a woman before, he tilted his head in curiosity.

“I see why they call you Birdkin,” the green acorn woman said.

“And what do they call you?” Birdkin tilted his head to the other way, blinking rapidly.

The green acorn woman met his question with that silent stare he’d given him after his reverent sentiment.

Birdkin was not flustered, “Very well. I shall just call you Green Acorn Woman.” He laughed at himself, and then went around to the other prisoner. He was a young boy, barely to hunter status as The River Tribe. Unlike Green Acorn Woman, he wouldn’t look at Birdkin, and clearly had been weeping, as stripes of tear tracks streaked his face. He was very lanky, as if he hadn’t quite finished growing. Both the capture’s green skin was so interesting to Birdkin. It had this luminescent almost. It was like stars in a night sky, but pulled down to the Riverland.

“What do they call you, lad?” Birdkin nudged the boy’s foot trying to get him to look up at him.

A scream rose from behind him, a battle cry. Birdkin spun around grabbing his knife in one fluid motion, before him was a charging Green Acorn Woman, her teeth bared and fingers curled like a Cat about to attack.





Free-Range Fiction: I’ll Take Monday

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If you’re here, you’re here because you are linking back from Chuck Wendig’s site and his Flash Fiction Challenge as of Feb. 6, 2015, The Four-Part Story (Part I). Okay, you might be here because you read my blog regularly. If so, thank you and keep checking back for the progress of this challenge, as it will not be complete for a few weeks. 

My “entry” for this challenge is a piece I started so long ago. I’m famous for starting stuff that pops in my head and then abandoning it. Rather, life makes me abandon it. This challenge was perfect for me to bring it out and dust it off again.  It was only two paragraphs when I first opened it up. The rest of the words were started today. Herr Wendig gave us 1,000 words for the first part. This is creeping in at 858. I wanted to give folks some wiggle room for the middle. I always need more words in the middle. At any rate, really curious to see where another writer is going to take this. 

By the way, whomever picks this up to go for part II, I can very much share this with you in google docs if you prefer. Super simple. Ahh, modern technology makes being a writer so much easier. Because, you know, it’s not hard at all. 

In all seriousness….Read Word Nerds:

I’ll Take Monday

Thursday was out to get me. Most people hate Mondays and call it their worst day of the week. However, mine was always Thursday. This Thursday was already a beast and it wasn’t even 6:45 a.m. My neighbor woke me with his bag pipe playing. When I yelled at him, he apologized and said the mused has attacked him and he couldn’t resist. I would mind being awoken by the sounds of two geese committing Hari-kiri much less, truly, if he could play something other than Brian Boru March and actually played it well. But badly was my neighbor’s playing style.

He continued to play even though I yelled at him. I tried to pretend it was a soundtrack for my shower. Not very sexy or invigorating.

Looking in the bathroom mirror, I found a pimple in the middle of my forehead. Strange desires to take my razor and shave off the zit hit me. I honestly couldn’t stop myself. Blood ran everywhere. The hand towel looks like it was tie-dyed in blood. Not attractive in the least. Eventually I got it to stop bleeding and put one of those stupid-looking circle bandages over where a simple blemish had been. At that point I was late to catch the bus to work. I needed coffee and shoes. I dashed to grab a travel tumbler of coffee and felt my stocking feet ooze into something wet and sticky. I looked down. Cat puke.  I love Mr. Waffle, but he truly is a cocksucker sometimes.

Ten minutes later, I was finally out the door. At the bus stop, I was alone. The next bus didn’t arrive for another fifteen minutes or so. However, I felt like I was safer leaving the house than staying. I was deep into a puzzle app on my phone when I smelled something foul. I looked up and a few feet away stood a woman. She was just barely a senior citizen, I reckoned. She didn’t look at me, but only at the zit on my forehead, or rather the bandage that covered it up. I hoped she wouldn’t’ ask me about it. The fact that she hadn’t showered in quite some time was assaulting my nose. I tried to covertly stick my nose deep into my shirt. This, I remember, is why Europeans where scarves all the time. I put my phone away and tried to make a mental note of everything I had to get done at work that day.  Ugh. I still hadn’t gotten in my weekly report to my supervisor and she was going to be all over my ass as soon as I walked in the door.

The bus arrived and I took to my normal seat, although because I’d  missed the earlier bus, this bus was less crowded. The seating options were plentiful. But, I’m a creature of habit – about a third of the way back in the bus on the right-hand side, against the window. The stinky lady took her sweet time getting on the bus and then scanned around. She took a moment longer to look at the seat next to me. Shit. I put my bag on the aisle seat that was vacant. It didn’t work. Stinky lady sat down right next to me. She’d nearly sat on my bag, but I ninja’d it back into my lap before her noxious gas was on my bag, too. There were more than a dozen other seats she could have sat in. I would have gotten off at the next stop if I wasn’t already late for work, so I had to ride all the way into downtown, nearly gagging all the way there.

In the elevator at work people looked at me funny, and when the mailroom guy, Toby, got on at one of the stops towards my floor, he flat out told me, “Killian, You stink!” I stammered about a hobo lady sitting next to me on the bus, but nobody listened.

This is why so many people keep a spare set of clothes at the office.

At my desk I sprayed air freshener hoping it would eat the stink fumes I’d inherited on the bus. I made the guy in the cubicle next to me cough.

“Sorry,” I meekly offered.

The message light on my phone was blinking. It made me feel annoyed. First message was from my boss:  weekly reports. I deleted it. Second message was from my friend, Frannie. “Killian, you have to call me right now, it’s an emergency!” Her last emergency was trying to decide between a Main Coon or a Scottish Fold cat.

Frannie’s likely non-emergency or my boss?

I let my computer warm up and just sat there a moment. Just being. Doing nothing.

When I could justify no more “downtime,” regardless of Bag Pipe Alarm Clock, I opened my email.

My mother had sent me an email and the subject line read YOU NEED TO CALL ME RIGHT AWAY. My mother still did not understand that all caps meant you were yelling.

Boss, Frannie, or Mom?

Then I opened up the spreadsheet to populate the report.

I was just about to export the data and the phone rang.

(Here’s the rest of the tale: written by electrcrngr and ToniJ).



Free-Range Fiction: Out of Touch and In Danger

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Holding a ChronoFact to be decoded. (What my Free-Range Fiction voicemail was changed into by the Future Coast team.)
Holding a ChronoFact to be decoded. (What my Free-Range Fiction voicemail was changed into by the Future Coast team.)

By Casondra Brewster

This week our Free-Range Fiction challenge came from a group using art to build awareness. Future Coast is a project aimed to be authentic fiction. In my world, or as I teach my students, that’s called realistic fiction. Some might even call this project a collaborative science fiction project. In a manner of speaking, I think that’s true.

Regardless, it’s produced by a group out of the Columbia Climate Center with a grant from the National Science Foundation, FutureCoast endeavors to spark collaborative exploration of possible futures, including climate-changed ones, and create an open channel for sharing visions of how people – like myself – and systems respond and adapt to change. Anyone can be creative and join in this project. You can find the voicemail that I did here:

For those that can’t understand what I’m saying through all the 2065 “The Raiders Are Coming” panic, here’s the script I wrote for it. I know this isn’t necessarily in script format. I don’t know how to do that. And it was just for me to read and cue my background support (kid, dog). But I do know how it would feel to have resources be scarce, to work hard to get those resources for your family, and a group of criminal marauders threatening to take it, while your partner is MIA. For those that follow my gardening escapades, you know how I feel about the rabbits, imagine them in human form with much more ability to destroy. With that, I give you: Out of Touch and In Danger:

[ARGGGGHHH! Hon, do you ever answer your phone? Why do you even have one when you don’t answer it when your wife needs you the most. You were just supposed to get the prescriptions and get home. (subdued panic sound) Listen, I don’t know what your ETA is here to the homestead, but the Raiders are headed our way. (Kid crying in back) (off phone:  ‘it’s okay baby, go to the shelter)…Those weren’t rumors, as we thought. Crud. I can see smoke to the North and the East. I think they’ve already hit the old pig farm. The goats and chickens are in the hidey hole. They’ll likely decimate what crops we got, but…I’ve killed the main power save what’s in the fallout shelter. The kids and I are headed there as soon as I get off the phone. (dog howling in back?). Shoot, shoot. Hurry babe. I love you. Please hurry.]

As you can see, there was some improvisation in my actual recording. But, the gist of it is there. I had to keep it PG, which when I’m trying to act in a panic, is not normal. I had to do like three takes to keep the S&*^ and F-bombs out of there. Even given having to clean up my Old Soldier mouth, I really enjoyed doing this project, and it gave me some more experience doing multi-media work. If you decide to participate in this, won’t you tell me so I can add your voicemail to my personal Timestream on the project?

Free-Range Fiction: Fairy Tale Redo, The Red Shoes, with a Southern Gothic bent

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Chuck Wendig once again got me pushing my craft further with his Friday Flash Fiction Challenge. This week’s challenge was to do a fairy tale redo. The randomization that Herr Wendig created made me have to write it in a Southern Gothic subgenre. I’ve read Southern Gothic, but never written it, or attempted it. This is my inaugural attempt. Let me know what you think. 

As a side note:  When I was visiting Denmark some time ago, I strolled into a community theatre and saw a dramatization of this Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, “De røde sko.” The story has always stuck with me. I can’t see a woman wearing red heels since without shivering. At the end of this post is a music video by Kate Bush from her 1993 album also entitled The Red Shoes. If you can’t stand the story, at least there’s that. 🙂

Without further ado, here is my version of The Red Shoes….


gorgeoous-red-shoesMama didn’t want me to wear the red shoes to church. She said it drew too much untoward attention, especially from the Ladies’ Auxiliary. What she really meant was attention from the college boys who were home for the weekend.

“Those are for dance class only,” she said. That’s the only reason I had them was because they were part of the costume for my spring recital – a modern jazz piece which also drew a lot of attention. Mama much preferred me in ballet and tap.

I pitched a fit, demanding she not make me change my shoes. I told her she was killing my creative and expressive spirit. She told me to stop acting like a preschooler. I told her to stop pretending she was Granny.

Now Granny was the one I need to thank for even having the red shoes, because Granny didn’t want me to have them, but Mama didn’t like Granny telling her what she could or couldn’t do for me. So, I wore the red shoes.

The pastor droned on and on. I starred at my shoes and smiled, thinking about dancing with them in front of the cute boy across the aisle who kept looking back to stare at me. He had such luscious lips and his hair was like a waterfall over his forehead, begging for me to push it out of his puppy-dog eyes.

I began tapping my foot on the kneeler, paying more attention to how the stained-glass dabbled light shone on my pretty red shoes.

Mama leaned over to my ear and said, “Child, you need to leave the sanctuary and come back when you pay attention.” I nodded and excused myself. Hardly a head turned as I departed content to think I was just having a lady’s room moment.

I left the church foyer and went out into the sunlight. It was such a glorious day, with the sun warm and bright and spring kissing summer’s hand by way of birds, flowers, and green everywhere. I skipped to the church yard, giggling with my good fortune that Mama had dismissed me from that boring ol’ sermon.

I hummed a tune I knew from dance class and began to dance. I didn’t care if anyone saw me. The shoes felt good, the sun felt good, and I was happy to just dance in the grass all by myself. After awhile, I started to get tired. I danced over to a bench in front of the graveyard, which was stationed behind the church. I went to sit, but my feet – the shoes – just kept on dancing, dragging my fanny right off the bench and forcing me to stand up and continue dancing moving back towards the front of the church. My feet, again, rather the shoes, were leading the rest of my body. I was sweating and panting and desperately trying to make my feet stop. I tried to kick the shoes off, but they wouldn’t budge. They just danced and pranced and danced and pranced without end.

It was then I noticed the people coming out of the church, so I maneuvered my dancing shoes and my now nearly limp body back towards the graveyard. As I entered the open gate, it seemed the cherubs and seraphim on the gate were clapping and smiling at me, as if I were the day’s entertainment – me and my red dancing shoes. I see the big oak in the southwest corner, near the caretaker’s shed. I will myself to go there, but thoughts of kicking my heels back to the church and dancing in front, on top of, those cute college boys, fills my head. In a flash of my eyes, I see myself stripping down to nothing right on the church steps. I cry out and realize I’ve just danced right into the big oak. I feel light headed. I’m so exhausted. For a second, I think I can’t breathe, and then things go black.


Next there is lights, a smell of cedar and mowed lawn, and I can feel my feet moving, but the rest of my body is still, no, not still, restrained. I focus and find I’m on a table, tied down like Frankenstein’s monster. There are tools hanging on the wall next to me. I think I might be in the caretaker’s shed. There is someone mumbling behind me. It’s cold. I look down. My clothes are gone. But my feet move, still in the red shoes.

“Hello? Is someone there? Can you please help me?”

A wet cloth goes over my eyes, it smells of bourbon. It feels someone is pulling my hair. There is more mumbling. Then silence. The next thing I hear is a whirring sound fills the space and then I feel a metallic hot on my skin above my ankles. The pain nearly lifts me off the table, but the canvas tow straps keep the rest of me firmly put. The cloth over my eyes stayed put, despite my screams. I scream and scream and I can feel one, and then the other, shoe release its hold on the rest of my body. The whirring stops. Moments later, someone takes the bourbon rag off my eyes. I look down and soft white bandages, already soaking in with blood are at the end of my legs. The Red Shoes are gone. But so are my feet. I scream again, then promptly give into the shock and pass out.

My next memory is of crawling in the mud, of the darkened graveyard, without a clue where to go next. The graveyard looks just like the one behind the church, but the church is gone. Instead, a forest of white trees, filled with a glowing fog stands in its place. I continue to crawl, the stumps of my legs throbbing with every pull of my arm to move forward, towards what I don’t know. All I know… I have to keep moving. So I do.


And now Kate Bush:

Free-Range Fiction: Popeye’s Child

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Editor’s Note:  Due to a hardware crash with our site’s server, this is being reposted. It may not be completely as it’s original content, but as close to it as we can get. Thank you for your understanding.

I’m trying to get back into the habit of posting Free-Range Fiction weekly. My freelance life has picked up some, so ‘disposable’ writing time, as it were is at a premium. However, I saw the artist’s portrait below (if you click on the photo it takes you to his web site), and have been struggling with some very personal family issues. Wa-la, 

Popeye Art – Realistic Drawings by Lee Remao

Popeye’s Child

Where you hide

I stand naked,

I’m an easy target

In my easy abandon
I stand brave
While you cower
in comfort

In you I see
and busted

My honesty
My exposure
is freedom