Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Ling and the End

We stand at the edge of the cliff, Ling and I. I look down into the gaping abyss below.

“I can’t see the bottom.” I hear the quaver in my voice.

“There is no bottom. There is nothing down there. You know that.” Her voice is small and gentle.

“That’s where you’re going? Into nothing?”

“That’s where we’re all going.”

I look again. The deep darkness seems to rush up at us both. I take a staggering step away from the edge.

“Don’t go. Please stay here. I know we have to go eventually, but not now. Stay with me a while.”

“Okay.” She puts a small hand in mine. “Soon, though. You must know that I have to go. I can only stay with you a short time.”

A sob escapes me. “Why? I love you so much. Why do you have to go? Why can’t you stay longer?”

“My time was always shorter than yours.” Her green eyes are full of compassion. “You always knew that.”

“I didn’t think about that when I met you. I just wanted you with me.”

“I wanted to be with you.” She turns around. “Look behind you. Look at where we’ve been.”

I do as she says. Behind us, stretching for miles, are the years of joy. I see every time she made me laugh. I see every time she comforted me when I was upset. I see nights curled in bed together and days spent quietly enjoying each other’s presence. I see her fear every time I left and relief and joy every time I returned. I see more than a decade of love.

“All that is what you gave me. Do not grieve that I go. Be glad that I was with you.”

“I must grieve.” Tears roll down my cheeks. “You have to go, but I don’t have to like it. I can’t let you go without feeling the pain that your absence will leave.”

She tucks her head under my chin. “You will grieve. And you will heal. And you will love again. Don’t let the loss stop you from having all those years of happiness.”

I stroke her sweet, beautiful head as we walk back to the edge. “I will always love you. I will never forget you,” I whisper.

“Then I will never be truly gone.” She gives me a last, sweet kiss and lets go of my hand.

I watch with an aching heart as she disappears over the edge of the cliff.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Afalia's Skin

Afalia dozed on a rock, warming herself in the midday sun. Her eyes were half closed, keeping part of her brain alert in case of danger, but mostly she rested, content. Her sticky lizard toes gripped the rock, ensuring she stayed in place. Her scales absorbed the sun’s rays and made her feel sleepy.

An itch near the base of her tail made Afalia squirm. She’d been expecting to begin shedding her skin for several days now. It had lost its usual deep hues and had turned a dull brown, the color of sand. The itch was a good sign. She rubbed her tail against the rock to ease the itch and pull the layers of skin apart.

The itch intensified. Afalia opened one eye fully and turned her head to look at the spot. Rather than the molting skin she expected to see, the base of her tail showed a red, angry splotch.

Afalia opened her nostrils and sniffed deeply. Something was wrong. The itch continued, making concentration difficult.

She stood and carefully climbed off the rock. On the ground, where the sun’s rays were more dappled, the shade cooled her body. But the itch continued. She lifted one clawed foot to scratch at it as she walked. When the claw snagged the swollen flesh, pain shot through Afalia’s body like knives. She carefully avoided scratching too hard after that, choosing instead to endure the itch.

Afalia climbed into a tree not far from the rock and scuttled onto a high branch. “Etudie!” A sparrow poked her head over the edge of her nest. “I need your help!”

Etudie hopped onto the edge of the nest and turned her head to look at Afalia. “What do you need?”

“My tail itches,” Afalia said. “It hurts when I scratch.”

“You’re just shedding skin,” Etudie replied. “It’s natural. Don’t worry about it.”

“No, I don’t think that’s it,” said Afalia. “It smells funny.”

“Relax,” said Etudie. “Just give it a few days. It will be fine. Rub some mud on it if the itch bothers you.”

Afalia sighed. “Thanks, Etudie.” As Etudie returned to her nest, Afalia climbed back down the tree. Mud wasn’t a terrible idea. She headed to the pond.

Afalia skirted the edge of the pond, looking for good mud. She found a spot almost in the water where moss had grown into the dirt. That would work! She walked into the mud and settled herself deeply, working the mossy mud into her skin. It soothed the itch somewhat, although Afalia could still feel the itchy prickles.

“Good, isn’t it?”

Afalia looked around quickly to see who had spoken. A brilliant green frog blinked up at her from the water, only its eyes and nose poking above the surface.

“Yes, it is,” Afalia replied. She worked her way deeper into the mud.

“We don’t often see lizards around here,” said the frog.

“I needed some mud. There’s something wrong with my skin.”

“Will mud fix it?” The frog blinked each eye separately.

“I don’t know.” Afalia sighed. “I don’t think so. It just makes it itch less.”

“Want to show me?” The frog pushed his head out of the water. Afalia saw that, in addition to his bright green skin, he had orange and blue stripes.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“I’m called Bogsi. I’ve seen many ailments. Sometimes I find ways to help.”

Afalia regarded Bogsi and his brilliant colors. “You’re poisonous, aren’t you?”

He let out a large, croaking laugh. “I can be, yes. If you ate me, you’d die. But you don’t want to eat me.” He shook his head. “My secretions can help too. In small enough doses, they ease pain and give comfort.”

Even covered in mud, Afalia’s tail itched. In fact, the itch was working its way up her belly and down her back legs. “Okay, I’ll show you. I don’t know how you could help, though.”

She waded into the water to clear the mud off her skin. Bogsi paddled near and peered at the itchy places. He looked at her tail, and her legs, and her belly. His large eyes blinked independently, giving him an odd look of concentration.

“Yes, very interesting. I see your predicament.”

Afalia scrambled back to the bank and squirmed into the mossy mud again. “Yes?”

“Your skin has got to come off. All of it.”

“No, that’s not it.” Afalia scowled. “This isn’t what shedding skin feels like.”

“You misunderstand me. I don’t mean you’re molting. Your skin is diseased. You need to get rid of it.”

“Get…rid of my skin?” Afalia stared at Bogsi, nonplussed. “I’m pretty sure I need it.”

“You might be surprised,” the frog replied. “Anyway, it’s doing you no good as it is. It’s trying to come off, itself.”

Afalia twisted her head so that she could see the itchy spot, which had now grown to encompass most of her underside. Sure enough, the inflamed skin was beginning to split, and not in the way it did when she molted, peeling back the surface. Deep cracks had appeared, running down into the muscle beneath.

Afalia sucked in a breath. “I can’t live without my skin. It’s going to hurt if it comes off, and then my body won’t be protected.”

“That skin is diseased. It’s hurting you by being attached.” Bogsi hopped so that he was nose to nose with Afalia. “Give my back a lick. My secretions will calm you, and dull the itch. And ease the pain, when it happens. Because this process is going to be painful.”

Afalia’s eyes grew wide. “What happens after my skin comes off?”

“I’m not sure. But you’ll heal. You’ll be rid of this problem.”

“I do want to be rid of it. It’s getting worse by the moment.” Afalia considered her options. Bogsi did seem to be correct: Afalia’s skin was going to pull away of its own accord if she didn’t do something. “Okay, we’ll do it your way.”

Bogsi nodded. “Are you ready?”

Afalia shook her head. “I’ll never be ready for this. But I suppose it has to be done. Will you help?”

“Of course.” Bogsi turned so that his back was to Afalia, and she licked. He tasted sweet and tangy, and she was overcome with a feeling of peace and calm. The world seemed slightly fuzzy.

“We’ll do this together.” Bogsi’s voice broke through the fuzzy, foggy world. “I’ll pull. You push.”

Afalia nodded. She hooked a claw into the place where her skin had split along her belly. Bogsi wrapped webbed fingers around the edge. Together, they tugged the skin away.

The feeling was as bad as Afalia had suspected. It was like fire and ice all at once. She felt parched and hot, then freezing and wet. She tried to cry out, but choked on her own sobs. A muffled whimper escaped her throat as her skin ripped open along her belly. She was glad for Bogsi’s secretion. Without it, she didn’t think she could bear being torn apart this way.

She felt him tugging at her leg and suddenly something popped free. Fearfully, she looked down. As much as she didn’t want to look at the place where her muscles and bone now stood naked in the mud, she had to know how bad it was.

Her leg was gone. Her small, greenish-brown, lightly scaled leg had been replaced. Attached to her hip, and definitely part of her body (she could feel the mud against it) was a large, emerald leg with scales so thick and large they were like armor. Enormous curved talons sprouted from her toes, deep purple in hue. She wiggled them, and they shimmered slightly.

“It’s working!” Bogsi tossed aside the dull skin of her old leg. “Look how much you’ve done! Let’s keep going.”

Emboldened by the change, Afalia wriggled and tore at the rest of her skin. It came away in sheets and in ribbons. Every place the old, brown skin tore free, her beautiful new body emerged. The pain was immense, almost unbearable. But it felt wonderful, like picking away a scab.

Finally, the last of the old skin fell away. Bogsi’s wide frog mouth stretched to an enormous grin. “Just look at yourself!”

Afalia scrambled to the edge of the pond and looked at her reflection in the water. Her scales were mostly emerald, although her belly was a bright yellow, the color of a canary. Like those on her leg, the scales themselves were thick and hard, like armor. She tapped a purple claw against them and found that they didn’t give at all. But they slid smoothly against each other when she moved, light and flexible. Her snout was long and tapered, ending in wide, flared nostrils. Her teeth had even changed: they now protruded over her mouth, her four pointy fangs. A yellow crest ran over the top of her head.

But best of all, when she turned, she found that two enormous emerald wings sprouted from between her shoulders. She rolled her shoulders and found the muscles that controlled the wings. She shook them out, and their tips stretched widely away on either side of her body.

“I’m a dragon!” Her declaration of the obvious made Bogsi chuckle. “I have wings!” She took a breath and breathed out through her mouth. She wasn’t at all surprised when a jet of flame shot from her throat. “I can breathe fire!”

“I told you that old skin had to come off. Aren’t you glad you listened to me?”

Afalia took several steps around the pond. She’d have to get used to this new body, and especially the wings.

“The transition will take some time.” Bogsi spoke her thoughts aloud. “You’ll have to learn to fly, and to understand your new body. But you’ve made an excellent start.”

“Thanks for all your help.”

Bogsi watched from the pond as Afalia leapt into the air, beat her wings, and took off on her first of many flights.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Strange Lights

Justin parked the pickup, and everyone piled out. The lights were there again! Red, green, and blue, blinking one after the other in the same slow rhythm as they had done every night for a week.

Liv helped Mari carry the camp chairs while the boys brought the cooler. They set up the chairs in a semicircle around the cooler. Everybody grabbed a beer and a seat and stared up at the lights.

“They’re kinda peaceful, don’t you think?” Mari popped the top of her beer open.

 “Peaceful?” Tyson snorted. “Until they probe you in your ass, sure.”

“Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it.” Mari winked at him. Tyson gaped at her while everyone else chuckled.

“They might not be aliens.” Liv took a swig of beer. “I mean, it could be lots of things.”

“Yeah? Like what?” Justin’s tone made it clear he disagreed.

“I dunno.” Liv shrugged. “A government test ship or something.”

“Like our government could build anything that does this.” Justin waved a hand dismissively at the lights.

“Did I say it was our government?”

“Well if governments are testing space ships, I wanna know.” Justin jumped up and cupped his hands around his mouth. “Put me in space, you MIB jackasses! Gotta be better than this shithole town!”

“Christ, will you shut up?” Tyson lobbed a small stone at Justin.

“Afraid they’re gonna hear me and come over?” Justin grinned at Tyson. “What, you scared of going to space?”

“No, just tired of listening to you, you colossal jackass.”

Justin shoved Tyson in the shoulder as he sat back down.

“Seriously though, I’d go to space. Aliens, government, I don’t care. It would be cool,” Justin said.

“What if you never came back?” Liv dug the toes of her boots into the dirt beneath her chair. “Like, what if they just took you to some other planet and you never saw anybody from Earth ever again?”

“I dunno.” Justin smiled. “Be some adventure, wouldn’t it?”

Mari shook her head. “You’re crazy. They could turn you into one of those monster things like in Alien, just using you for experiments. ‘Kiiill meeeeeeeee!’”

“You mean Aliens, the second film, not Alien, the first one,” Justin corrected her. “Where they were incubating the chest busters inside humans.”

“Ugh, yeah, whatever.” Mari shuddered. “It was gross. And that could be you.”

“Nah.” Justin finished his beer. “I don’t think aliens would really be like that. They’d keep humans alive, maybe breed them. Make lots more incubators.”

“I feel sorry for whoever has to breed with you.” Tyson laughed at his own joke. Nobody else did.

Above them, the lights blinked off one by one.

“Looks like the show’s over.” Tyson stood up and folded his chair. “You sober enough to drive, Justin?”

“Shit, I only had one beer. Short show tonight.” Justin grabbed one end of the cooler while Tyson lifted the other.

Everyone was quiet on the drive home. Justin broke the silence. “I wish they’d do something besides just blink. Anything. Just to let us know what they are.”

A sudden shockwave knocked the truck clear off the road, and a sound like an explosion thundered from their left.

“What the fuck was that?” Tyson shouted.

The truck had been thrown sideways in the blast, and its headlights now shone into the field across the road. Visible in their paltry beams was a dull, metal hull containing a row of red, green, and blue lights, which were slowly blinking back to life.

“Looks like you got your wish,” Mari whispered.

Justin opened the door and stepped out. “Justin, what are you doing?” Liv grabbed his shirt. “Don’t go over there! Let’s just go home, please?”

“Are you kidding?” Justin pointed at the field. “A spaceship just crashed right in front of us, and you want to go home? This is, like, the biggest thing that has ever happened in the whole world!”

Justin shook Liv’s hand off his shoulder and trotted across the road. Up close, the ship seemed less ethereal than it had in the sky. Its hull looked like it was made of aluminum, or maybe titanium. The lights were just circles of LEDs, like traffic lights. He could hear the electric switch as they blinked on and off.

Justin walked around the ship. In the back was what appeared to be a hatch. A gasket lined the edge of it, and there was no visible handle.

As Justin stepped closer to it, the hatch swung outward. A light from inside the ship blinded him, and he squinted and threw an arm over his eyes to shield them.

A hand reached out from the ship, not grabbing him, just offering. Justin took a step closer. He still couldn’t see inside the ship, or even the rest of the person offering him a hand. But it looked human enough….

Justin grabbed the hand and hoisted himself into the ship.

“Jesus Christ,” Tyson muttered as the ship lifted away. “He did it. The bastard really did it. He went with the aliens.”

Three astonished faces watched as the blinking lights disappeared into the distance.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

On the Floor

Christopher spotted something on the floor. He crawled to it, picked it up, and popped it in his mouth. It left something sticky on his fingers, but he didn’t mind.

He explored it with his mouth. It tasted salty and slightly of metal. It was heavy but soft, sort of like his teething toys. It had a smooth texture, smooth but not slick. Christopher liked it.

He bit it, his four tiny teeth doing nothing to mar the object’s surface. It gave a little between his jaws but didn’t come apart.

He moved it around in his mouth and noticed it was making its own wetness, in addition to his saliva. He swallowed the wetness. He wasn’t sure he liked it. But his teeth found things to grab onto around where the wet parts of the thing were: tiny bits that were smaller and softer than other parts of the thing.

Christopher chewed. The texture where the tiny bits were was varied: hard, soft, spiky, smooth, springy, wet. He chewed and licked and chewed some more, deciding he liked the thing. It felt nice, even if the taste was a bit funny.

“Christopher, no!” Mama had spotted him chewing. “No, take that out of your mouth. What is that?”
Papa reach down and scooped Christopher up. “Whatcha got, little man? Spit it out. It’s not food.”

Christopher didn’t want to spit the thing out, but Papa pinched his cheeks and fished it out himself.

“Darling, he got the finger. Do something with it, would you? And don’t leave any more bits on the floor. You know how this kid gets into everything.”

“Oh, Christopher, really. What are we going to do with you?” Mama kissed Christopher on the cheek. “Clean him up, will you, love? He’s got blood on his chin.”

Papa wiped the smear from Christopher’s chin as the wail emanated from the basement. Christopher didn’t like the noise, but he liked Papa’s shirt. He burrowed his head into Papa’s chest.

“That’s my good little man. One day you’ll be able to have the fingers, but only after we’ve cooked them. But for now you’re going to have to be content with strained peas, I’m sorry.”

Papa made the spoon fly like an airplane to Christopher’s mouth. The peas weren’t as nice to feel as the finger, but they did taste better.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Three Frogs

Once upon a time there were three frogs, Alphonse, Corbert, and Ingerbottom. These frogs were brothers. They spent their days sitting on lily pads in the frog pond, basking in the sunshine and generally being happy. They were very pleased that they were frogs.

One day, Ingerbottom noticed something shiny at the bottom of the frog pond. “Brothers,” he said, “have you ever noticed that shiny thing down there?”

Alphonse and Corbert both looked down. “Interesting,” said Corbert. “It appears there is a shiny thing at the bottom of our pond, and we’ve never noticed it before.”

“Come to think of it,” said Alphonse, “I’m pretty sure we’ve never had a conversation before. This is a very strange day. At any rate, one of us should definitely go investigate that shiny thing. We must find out what it is, and why we’ve never noticed it before.”

“Let’s all go!” cried Alphonse. “It will be our grand adventure!”

So Alphonse and Corbert both dove to the bottom of the frog pond.

“Ah,” sighed Ingerbottom, lacing his fingers behind his head as he looked up at the warm, sunny sky. “Peace at last.”

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Witch's Visitors

There was once an ugly old witch who lived all by herself on the edge of a forest. She hadn’t asked to be ugly, or old, or a witch, but that’s how she had ended up and she intended to make the best of it. She dutifully stirred her cauldron, which simmered and hissed appropriately. She stroked her black cat, who purred happily. She hummed to herself and wondered what to make for dinner.

Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. The witch opened it to find two rosy-cheeked children looking quite anxious.

“Excuse us,” said one of the children, maybe it was a boy, the witch never could really tell with children, “it’s getting dark and we’re a long way from home and we were wondering if we could stop here for a while? This forest houses many dangerous creatures and we wouldn’t want to be caught out with them at night.”

The witch had absolutely no idea what to do about children, but she opened the door wider. “Of course, my dears,” she said. “I was just about to start making supper. You’re welcome to stay.”

The children came in and the witch closed the door behind them. They noticed the cauldron simmering and hissing. They spotted the black cat.

“Oh no,” one of them said, looking at the other one, “I think we’ve gone and stumbled into a witch’s house!”

“Well of course you have,” said the witch. “Didn’t you know that’s where you were?”

The two children shook their heads. “Are you going to eat us?” one of them asked.

“Eat you?” exclaimed the witch. “Whatever for? Are you volunteering to be my supper? No, of course I’m not going to eat you. Come on now, sit down and I’ll see about getting something together that we can all enjoy.”

The witch flicked through her grimoire, hoping to find a spell that would tell her how to make a roast pheasant or something. “Sorry,” she said, “looks like the best I’ll be able to do is stew.” She spoke the incantation, and three bowls of stew appeared.

The children took the stew hesitantly, wondering if it was a trap. “I promise, it’s not poisoned,” the witch said. “Look, I’ll go first.” She took a bite.

Seeing that the witch wasn’t poisoned, the children both began to eat.

“So why were you children out in the forest in the first place?” the witch asked.

The children shrugged. “We’re children in a forest in a story about a witch,” one of them explained. “Wandering around and getting lost is kind of what we do.”

“Oh,” the witch replied, thinking. “Is it fulfilling, that line of work?”

The children shook their heads. “Not really.”

“No, mine either, if I’m honest,” the witch said. “Well, look, I’m a witch. Why don’t I just cast us a spell to stop being a witch and children lost in a forest, and make us something else instead?”

“That sounds great!” the children both replied, clapping their hands.

The witch consulted her grimoire and waved her wand. With a poof! and a cloud of emerald smoke, the children became mice. “Is that better?” she asked.

The mice squeaked shrilly and shook their heads.

“Hm,” murmured the witch, flipping a few pages in her grimoire. She waved her wand again. Poof! A pair of wolves stood where the mice had been, snarling and baring their fangs.

“Nope, no good,” said the witch, quickly scanning the grimoire.

Poof! The wolves were replaced with snakes. “Better?” A forked tongue hissed disagreement.

“Look, I just don’t know what you want,” said the witch. A wave of her wand turned them back into children.

One of the children asked the witch, “What do you want to be? Maybe that will help us figure all this out.”

The witch tapped her warty chin with a gnarled finger. “Honestly, I just want to be left alone. Not hunted by knights or sought by princesses or thrown into an oven by frightened children.”

“Thrown into an oven?”

“It happened to my old friend Maude. Kids can be really terrible, you really have no idea.”

The children looked dismayed. Then one of them brightened. “What if we stay here and call you Granny? And we can help with the cooking, and feeding the chickens, and we’ll cut firewood and tend the well.”

“Call me Granny, eh? So I wouldn’t be the witch in the forest, I’d be the nice Granny to the wayward children. Now that’s an idea.”

So the children stayed with the old witch and did their best to earn their keep. She didn’t really need their help with the chores, but it was nice to have someone to talk to, and pretty soon knights and hunters and other fairytale heroes stopped dropping in unexpectedly to try to slay the villain witch. Before long even the nearby village had heard about the nice foundling children in the forest and their kind old Granny who looked after them all by herself. They worried slightly that she could be eaten by a great wolf, but the children assured them that the only wolves nearby were quite pleasant and really only came around to chew the stew bones Granny tossed out.

And they all lived happily ever after, without anybody having to be shut in an oven.


Welcome to Rubio's Pen! This blog houses flash and short fiction, and may include excerpts from longer works. Contact the author at Comment with critiques or criticism on each story if you like. Enjoy the stories!

All content copyright Elizabeth Rubio 2016.