Friday Flash - Crocodile Tears

Friday, 26 August 2011

A single tear
Image by Lisa Humes
The steady tick of a grandfather clock filled the afternoon quiet of Madame Duval's Bazaar and Emporium. The madame inspected the wares for sale in the glass display case that served as a counter. She picked an errant ball of fluff from the surface of the travel-sized scrying mirror.

The antique bell over the door jangled and the madame looked up. A tall man in an astrakhan coat looked over his shoulder and slipped into the shop. He walked up the central aisle of the shop, casting glances either side. Madame Duval didn't think he was interested in her collection of esoterica. No, she knew a furtive expression when she saw one.

"Good afternoon, sir, and welcome to my Emporium. Do you require any help?" she asked. She fluffed up her mass of unruly red curls and straightened her green robe.

"Do you, um, are you, er, have you been busy today?" asked the man. He stopped in front of the counter, but stayed several feet away. His fear of the occult clung to him like an objectionable smell.

"I have made several small sales, yes, although as you can see, at present you are the only customer," replied the madame. She hopped up onto the stool behind the ancient brass cash register.

"Ah, I see. Capital, capital," said the man. A small section of his moustache had come away, revealing the small patch of glue beneath. Madame Duval guessed the black hair beneath the top hat was not his, either.

"May I show you anything? Do you have something particular in mind?"

"I, er, I heard that you're the person to come to for unusual items."

"Indeed, my shop is the only place to buy these items," said Madame Duval. She gestured to the display case behind the man. He looked at the beautifully illustrated tarot card decks and shuddered.

"It's not something like that I'm after. No, what I need is probably more of an...under the counter item."

"And this is not something you can purchase from the apothecary?"

The man shook his head. Madame Duval suppressed a smile.

"Sir, it is a crying shame that you cannot purchase said items from a reputable trader," she said. She placed heavy emphasis on the word 'crying'. The man's face lit up.

"Exactly! Exactly! So, er, do you have any?"

"I do indeed. Do you have anything particular in mind?"

"Whatever's the most popular will be fine."

Madame Duval slid off the stool and removed a small panel from the floor. She lifted a wooden box from the hollowed out space and placed it on the counter. Ten glass vials of different colours lay nestled on black velvet inside the box. The man's eyes roved across the bottles.

"How much is that one?" he asked. He pointed to the lavender vial.

"That one is £10, four shillings and tuppence."

"That's ridiculous! I can't afford that!" Horror and indignation burned in the man's grey eyes.

"How about the green one? It is only £4 and seven shillings."

"And the pink one?"

"£3 and two shillings, sir."

"I'll take that one." The man fumbled in his pocket for money. Madame Duval removed the small pink vial from the box and wrapped it in tissue paper. He handed her the money.

"Now, remember, sir. Falsifying tears is a grave offence. Six years in the workhouse, last time I checked. If anyone catches you, you did not get these from me," said Madame Duval. She handed him the package.

"Don't worry, no one will know. I only need them for tomorrow. It's my wife's funeral, and, well, we weren't exactly happy, but I need to look upset or her family will never let me inherit anything," said the man.

"I do not need to know particulars, sir. All you must do is put two drops in each eye approximately ten minutes before you need to cry, and no one will know they are not your tears."

"Only two drops per eye?"

"These tinctures are incredibly potent, sir. I would not wish to bore you with the technical details."

"Oh...well, thank you very much. Good day, Madame."

The man shuffled out of the shop and hurried away down the street. Madame Duval returned the box to its hiding place beneath the floor and ducked through the velvet curtain behind the counter.

Madame Duval followed the narrow corridor around a tight bend. She turned up the gaslight at the top of the crooked staircase and stepped down into the gloom.

The stairs took her into a low room with a vaulted ceiling. Light flickered in glass orbs set at intervals along the central rib. A wooden rack filled with test tubes and glass flasks took up the far wall. A stout woman worked a foot pump beside a small distillery in the centre of the room.

“How does the distillation go, Amarine?” asked the madame.

“Well, it goes very well. I shall have another bottle of our finest Blue ready by the time you close this evening,” replied the woman.

“Good, good. I shall also need another bottle of Pink.”

“Consider it done, Madame.”

Madame Duval nodded and headed back up the staircase to the Emporium. Amarine turned a dial on the distillery control panel and left her seat. She waddled along the room to an iron door set into the far wall. It swung open with a protesting squeal. Pale light fell into a narrow chamber, dancing across rusty bars and scared faces. Amarine reached for the padlock of the first cage.

“Come on, Number Eight. Your turn to cry.”

* * *

A note on money
I used a currency converter to work out the money. £3 and two shillings would be worth approximately £150. £4 and seven shillings would be £210, and  £10 and four shillings would be approximately £493.

The Prize - Part 3 of 3

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Part One : Part Two

Liss turned back to her own target. She took a deep breath, and raised the gun to her shoulder. She needed to hit the bullseye if she was to stand any chance of winning. It’s not even about the stupid bet, she thought. I just don’t like losing.
The roar of the crowd faded to a dull hum in her ears. She aimed the gun, closed her eyes, and squeezed the trigger.

“Well I’ll be damned!” cried the red-nosed man.

Liss opened her eyes, but could only see two bulletholes in the target – one in the dead centre of the bullseye, and one in the 4 ring.

“What happened? What did I hit?” she asked.

“Your first bullet hole!” replied the young woman. “You shot the exact same spot!”

Liss fought the urge to grin, and simply shrugged, as if this were an everyday occurrence for her. A weight lifted from her shoulders. After all, unless the young woman did the same, she couldn’t lose.

“Remember, miss, the first young lady has fourteen points now. You have nine. Make this last shot count,” said the red-nosed man. Liss frowned. He’d clearly picked a favourite. Fixing her gun sight must have really wound him up.

The young woman lined up her shot. Something fluttered past Liss’ face and she reached up to brush it away. The moth landed on the gun, opening its black wings as the woman took her shot. The bullet went wide, slamming into the ‘1’ ring. Liss looked from the moth to the target and back again. A white shape glowed in the black fuzz of its back; a white shape that looked a lot like a human skull.

“Oh bad luck, my dear, bad luck indeed!” said the red-nosed man. He reached out to brush away the moth but the young woman grabbed his wrist. She looked up into his eyes. He gasped and tried to recoil but her grip was too firm.

“That is a Death’s Head Moth. Do not strike it,” she said. She dropped her voice low, the implicit threat sounding like angry waves breaking across the deck of a sinking ship. Lightning crashed in the depths of her black eyes. The moth fluttered away into the noisy air above the crowd.

“Hey, here’s my gun back,” said Liss. The red-nosed man broke eye contact with the stranger and snatched the gun from her. He reached out a trembling hand to take the young woman’s gun.

“I believe you owe my friend here a prize,” said the young woman. The dark cloud passed across her face, and she broke into another of her wide grins. Liss shuddered. She couldn’t help liking the young woman, but those teeth would take some getting used to.

The red-nosed man fumbled behind him for the wooden figurine, and handed it to Liss. Liss smiled, and led the stranger away from the range before the man could call the militia.

“It seems you won, my new friend,” said the stranger.

“Indeed I did, except that moth was bad luck for you, wasn’t it?” said Liss. She might have pressed the distraction with the stallholder if he hadn’t dismissed her own bad luck.

“Not at all. She was good luck for you. Maybe you should consider her a sign,” said the stranger.

What an odd way to think about it, thought Liss. For the first time, she noticed the silver scythe hanging from the young woman’s black velvet choker.

“It seems you may keep your life, Miss Hunt. I’m glad of that – I like you,” said the young woman.

“I like you too,” said Liss. Her hand flew to her mouth to stop the words but they were said before she could stop herself. The young woman chuckled, and Liss grinned.

“In fact, I’m going to give you a gift, my new friend.”

“Oh you don’t have to do that,” said Liss.

“No, I don’t have to, but I want to.”

The young woman reached forward, skimming her frozen fingers behind Liss’ ear. She pulled out a flat black coin, and dropped it into Liss’ open palm. Liss flipped it over. One side was complete blank, and the other was marked with a flame.

“That is a very special coin, Liss. When you’re ready, and only when you’re absolutely sure, all you have to do is put that coin on your tongue, and whistle. I’ll come for you. But this is important – I will only come for you if you do this,” said the young woman.

“So I won’t see you again?” asked Liss.

“Not until you’re ready.”

“Exactly who are you?” asked Liss, narrowing her amber eyes.

“I’ve got a lot of names. But you can call me Morta.”

A strangled cry of excitement cut across the babble of the crowd. Liss craned her neck to spot Teva plunging towards her. Liss turned back to Morta, eager to introduce her to her sister. Morta was gone. Liss kissed the black coin and slipped it into the deepest reach of her pocket for safekeeping.

“Oh that fortune teller was amazing! She knew everything! And I know she was right because I’ve already seen everything she predicted,” said Teva. “You have to come and see her! You have to!”

Liss looked down at the wooden deer in her hand, and thought of the black coin in her pocket. Somehow she didn’t feel like she needed to know what the future held. Liss Hunt had all the time in the world.

* * *

If you liked Liss, then maybe you'll enjoy The First Tale! It's 99c from Amazon or Smashwords.