Archive for short story

Trick or Treat – A Dragon’s Halloween

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on October 23, 2016 by Michael Radcliffe

The cool crisp wind made Isaac and his friend, Jayden, shudder as it blew past them, causing the fallen leaves to dance across the grass.  They had spent the afternoon flying kites, the blustery fall day providing all the wind they needed for hours of fun.  Isaac had been eager to try his new kite for the first time – it was shaped like a black dragon, with wing spread wide and a long, spiked tail.  Walking home from the park, the boys quickened their pace as the sun slipped behind the clouds and the late afternoon light began to dim.  Tonight was Halloween, and the boys were eager to get home and change into their costumes and go trick-or-treating.

It was dusk as they finally reached their street, with row after row of neat brick homes lined up like soldiers along the lane.  Jack-o-lanterns flickered to life, the bright yellow-orange flames dancing inside the pumpkins, causing the carved faces to glow in the deepening twilight.   As the boys reached the road that led to Jayden’s house, a hulking great shadow loomed out of the darkness, jumping from behind a large oak tree.

“Boo!” yelled the figure, causing the boys to jump back in fright, their kites falling to the ground.  The figure lumbered towards them just as the street light at the corner came to life, bathing them in a pale white light and unmasking their attacker.

“Tavin!” yelled Jayden angrily.  “You jerk!  I’m telling mom!”

Jayden’s older brother Tavin guffawed and ignored his little brother’s threat.

“You two are such babies!” he laughed mercilessly.  “You sure you should be out after dark?  Ha ha ha!” he put his foot down on top of the dragon kite, the wood snapping loudly underneath his shoe.  “There’s no such thing as dragons!”

“No!” yelled Jayden as he threw himself at his brother.  The older boy just grinned as he shoved his little brother, easily knocking him to the pavement.

“Leave us alone, Tavin!” said Isaac with a scowl.  He hated Jayden’s older brother.  The fifteen year old picked on them both constantly, and he and his friends were the biggest bullies at school.  Isaac stood up and brushed off his jeans, motioning for Jayden to follow him.  He reached down and gathered up the broken remains of his kite, the dragon’s neck hanging at an odd angle.

“Come on, we’ll just go to my house,” he said as he and Jayden walked away from Tavin.  They could still hear the older boy laughing as they climbed the steps to Isaac’s front door.

 

***

 

“It’s not fair!” shouted Isaac angrily, as his mother fussed with his costume.  He was dressing up as a wizard this year, with flowing black robes and a silver dragon stitched on his chest.  They were running late and his mother was trying to run a comb through his unruly hair.

“What’s not fair, darling?” she asked as she pressed her fingers down on a particularly troublesome lock that was determined to stick out the wrong way.

“Tavin,” he said as he tried to push his mother’s hands away from his head.  “He’s such a bully.  He always makes fun of us, and he broke my new kite!”

“It’s okay, Isaac,” said his mom in a soft reassuring tone.  “I’m sure it was an accident, and I bet your father can fix your kite as good as new.”

Isaac’s eyes stung as he choked back tears, and his friend Jayden just stared at his feet.  Both boys knew Tavin would be waiting for them somewhere in the neighborhood to steal their candy at the end of the night.

“Now, smile while a take a photo,” said his mother as the flash from her smartphone lit up his face.  Grabbing their trick-or-treat bags from the table, she ushered out the boys out the front door and into the night.

 

***

 

Isaac and Jayden roamed the neighborhood for over an hour, until their Halloween bags were bursting with sweets.  There was only one house left on the lane, and as they approached the door Jayden tugged at Isaac’s arm before he could ring the bell.

“Wait, Isaac…” he said quietly as he looked from side to side.  “Do you know the lady that lives here?  She’s scary!”

“She’s just different, Jayden,” said Isaac as he brushed off his friends hand and rang the bell.  “She’s always been nice to me.”

A few moments later the bright green door swung inward, and a woman stepped towards the boys, smiling.  In her mid-forties, her long dark hair flowed across her shoulders, and she was dressed in a set of wizard’s robes, just like Isaac.

“Oh, a pair of young wizards!” she said happily as she knelt down and put a large handful of candy into each of their trick-or-treat bags.  “I’m so happy you came by, Isaac.  Who is your young friend?”

“This is Jayden,” he replied, gesturing towards his friend.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, young Jayden,” she said with a polite nod.  “My name is Miriam, and this is my cat, Dreyfus,” she said with a gesture towards a large, black tabby cat curled up next to a jack-o-lantern.  At the sound of his name the cat opened one eye, yawned, stretched, and went right back to sleep.

“It looks like you’ve had a busy night!” she said, pointing to the Halloween bags full of sweets.

“I just wish we would get to eat our candy before he takes it away,” said Jayden, sadly.  Isaac’s smile faded as he looked up at her.

“What do you mean?” she asked, a look of concern spreading across her face.

“His older brother,” said Isaac.  “Tavin always steals our candy and teases me because I like dragons.”

“Hmm,” she said in a mercurial tone as she raised an eyebrow.  “You boys wait here just a moment,” and she stood up and walked back into the house.

A few minutes later the Miriam reappeared, and she held her hand out to Isaac.  He reached out and she placed a small amulet in his hand.  It was carved in the shape of a green dragon, with a Celtic symbol emblazoned on the wings.  As Isaac looked at it, the dragon’s eyes sparkled mischievously with a strange inner fire.

“A dragon!” shouted Isaac with a grin.

“Yes,” she said the as she knelt down in front of the boys.  “It is my gift to you – from one spellcaster to another.  This is Greatwing, an ancient dragon of immense power, who has been my friend for many years.  It is time for me to pass him on to someone younger; someone who I think will be a good friend to him for many years to come.”

Isaac clasped the dragon tightly, and swore he could feel an odd sensation, almost like a heartbeat, coming from the amulet.

“I… I don’t know what to say,” he stammered.  “Thank you so much!”

Miriam nodded and smiled again.  “You are very welcome, young Isaac.  If you are ever afraid or in danger, just close your eyes and whisper his name, and he will give you courage.”

Isaac hugged her tightly, thanking her again for the precious gift.  She laughed and ruffled the boys’ hair, bidding them a good night.  Dreyfus opened an eye and watched as the boys left.

“They’re going to be scared out of their wits, you know,” purred the cat as he yawned and stretched again.

“Oh, shush!” scolded Miriam.  “That young man will be just fine.  He will be an excellent companion for a dragon, you’ll see.”  She snapped her fingers and the flame inside the jack-o-lantern was snuffed out, leaving Dreyfus in the dark.

 

***

 

As they walked back down the lane, Isaac reached into his robes and put the amulet in his pocket.  The boys decided to head back home, as it was nearly midnight and the porch lights began winking out as another Halloween drew to a close.  They were walking past a large, vacant lot when a familiar figure loomed out of the darkness.  Tavin was wearing his trademark faded jeans and black hoodie, his unkempt brown hair poking out from beneath the worn fabric.

“Hand it over, brats,” he snarled, holding out his hand.  “You can give it to me or I can take it – either way I win.”

Jayden and Isaac reluctantly handed over their bags of sweets to Tavin, and the older boy grinned.  He poked his finger roughly into Isaac’s chest, right where the silver dragon was stitched onto his robes.

“There’s no such thing as dragons, you idiot!” he snapped with a cruel laugh.  “Remember our deal, brats,” he said as he turned away.  “Say one word to anybody and you’ll be sorry.”

Isaac fumed as he watched Tavin slowly saunter away from them.  He shoved his hands in his pockets, his right hand closing around the dragon amulet, and he remembered what Miriam had said.  Swallowing hard, he closed his eyes and whispered…

Greatwing!

Without warning a loud shriek echoed across the vacant lot, like a thousand banshees screaming from the deep.  The boys jumped, Isaac’s eyes snapping open as he and Jayden grabbed onto each other and looked around for the source of the commotion.  Not far down the lane Tavin had dropped the bags of sweets and appeared to be staring at something in the shadows of the vacant lot.

The wind tore past the boys, almost knocking them down with the force.  A huge cloud of leaves erupted violently from the shadows in front of Tavin, and as Isaac watched, they swirled skyward and gathered into a huge form hovering high above the teenager.  Gradually the mass of leaves took the shape of an enormous dragon, with outstretched wings and a long, spiked tail.  With a flash of bright golden light the dragons eyes flared to life, and it looked down at Tavin.  Opening its massive jaws, green flames shot forth as it unleashed a roar that shook the ground beneath their feet, and sent Tavin scurrying down the lane like a frightened dormouse.  As the older boy ran, the great leafy dragon hovered for a moment and watched, before flapping its giant wings once and spinning earthward, in pursuit of its prey.  In mere seconds it caught up with the terrified teen, who was screaming at the top of his lungs.  The dragon’s jaws opened and before Tavin could dive out of the way, they snapped shut around him as the beast banked and soared skyward again.

Isaac and Jayden watched as Greatwing spread his wings and banked across the sky high above them, before hurtling straight downward towards the street below.  Just before hitting the pavement at the end of the lane, the beast flared its wings and spiraled towards the boys.  Its eyes flashed brightly and leaves suddenly exploded outward with a thunderous roar, sending Tavin rolling roughly down the lane.  As the wind died down and leaves fluttered back to Earth, the teenager landed at Isaac’s feet, his chest heaving as he gasped for air, his face pale and his eyes still wide with fear.

“W-w-w-what… M-m-m-monster!  H-h-help me!” he cried desperately, tears streaming down his face as he crawled towards the boys.  “D-d-don’t let it get me!  What if it comes back – you saw it!  You saw it, didn’t you?”

Isaac just smiled as he clasped the green dragon in his pocket.  He looked at the quivering teen in front of him and quietly said:

There’s no such thing as dragons…

END

 untitled

A Halloween Short Story

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on October 20, 2014 by Michael Radcliffe

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Watch your back, its Scarecrow Jack!

The horrible Pumpkin King!

When the frost is new, he’ll come for you,

The terrible Pumpkin King!

With eyes glowing red, you’ll soon be dead,

The dreadful Pumpkin King!

In the cold night air, you will despair,

Beware the Pumpkin King!

Jack trudged through piles of dry leaves that had accumulated on the sidewalks.  It was a chilly fall morning and he was on his way to school after missing the bus.  A pair of older boys had stolen his books again and hidden them in different places around the neighborhood.  It had taken him almost an hour to find them all, and by then he had missed the last bus to school.  It would be the third time this week he was late.  Mr. Perkins, the principal, would be sure to phone his parents again.  Jack’s father had been furious the last time and spent the better part of an hour lecturing Jack about how disappointed he was that his son was a weakling.  Apparently Jack must be doing something to bring this abuse upon himself, or so his father believed.

The boys and girls in his village had always made fun of him, but today had been even worse than usual.  For years he had been teased unmercifully and his father had told him to ‘be a man’ and to ignore the taunts.  No matter how hard he tried though, it still hurt.  He tried to make his heart a stone, to feel no emotion, but it never worked.

Jack had always been small for his size, and his straw colored hair was unruly no matter how hard he tried to tame it, but his eyes were the most unusual of all, for they were an odd golden-orange color.  At fifteen he was thin and lanky and the boys and girls at his school had taken to calling him ‘scarecrow’; once a group of boys had even tied him to a makeshift pole in the farmer’s field of pumpkins.  They had placed a paper crown on his head and taunted him for hours.

“Bow to the Pumpkin King!” They laughed as they threw rotten tomatoes at him and danced around the pole.  “Watch your back, its Scarecrow Jack!  What a loser!”

After the bullies left it had been hours before anyone responded to his cries for help, and he still had scars on his wrists from where the rope had cut into his skin.  The farmer was furious with Jack, warning him to stay out of his fields or he would set the dogs on him.  It didn’t help that the farmer’s son was the ringleader of the group that night.

Jack’s day at school was uneventful, although he was ordered to serve after school detention for arriving late.  His pleas had fallen on deaf ears and Mr. Perkins had spent several tense minutes on the phone with Jack’s father.  His father felt it appropriate that Jack walk home, as punishment for embarrassing his family yet again.

The light was beginning to fade as Jack walked home, and the cool autumn breeze stirred the leaves around him.  The streetlamps began to flicker and come to life and a misty rain began to fall.  As he walked down the lane he shivered; the forest loomed dark on his right, while fields of pumpkins stretched far out of sight on his left.  The wooden split-rail fence was in disrepair, and it was not uncommon for children to take a shortcut through the fields on their way home.  Jack did not want to anger the farmer however, and decided to stay on the main road.

The sound of a twig snapping in the shadows made Jack freeze.  Years of running from bullies had made him wary, and he listened closely for any further sounds.  After a few moments he heard the crunch of footsteps in the leaves.  Jack bolted for the fence, not caring any longer about angering the farmer.  He cleared the fence in a single leap and ran quickly between the rows of pumpkins.  The sun had now set and it was a crisp, cold night, the frost just beginning to form on the leaves and vines in the farmer’s field.  He looked over his shoulder and was terrified to see a pair of glowing red eyes floating in the air twenty paces behind him.

“YOU CAN’T RUN, LITTLE JACK, I’VE COME FOR YOUR SOUL,” bellowed a gruff, disembodied voice that echoed across the field.

Fear surged through Jack and he took off across the field like a scared rabbit.  As he leapt across a small stream that cut through the field, the glowing red eyes stopped their pursuit and fell to the ground.  The sound of laughter could be heard as Billy, the farmer’s son, and three of his friends guffawed at the sight of Jack running across the fields.  They congratulated themselves and decided to go back into town for hot chocolate, leaving their long wooden pole with two red lanterns attached lying in the field.

Jack ran until he could no longer hear any sounds of pursuit, but he was afraid to stop running.  He stumbled onward for what seemed like an hour, tears streaming down his face, and realized he had lost his bearings; he could see nothing but row after row of fat pumpkins.

He staggered onward until finally, exhausted, he collapsed in a heap amongst the giant pumpkins.  He shivered in the cold as he sobbed uncontrollably.  He knew he wasn’t supposed to be in this field – his mother had warned him hundreds of times not to wander this far out from the farm houses.  “The Pumpkin King will catch you and steal your soul,” she used to say.

An old wives’ tale used to scare children into doing as they were told, Jack knew the story was just a myth.  But the sight of the disembodied red eyes had truly scared him.  His heart was still thudding in his chest and his breath was coming in ragged gasps.  He huddled in the midst of a group of pumpkins and decided to hide until he was certain he was safe.

 ***

 The morning dawned cold and foggy, a dense mist covering the fields.  Jack stretched and looked around, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

I don’t remember falling asleep.

This part of the field did not look familiar at all, although it had been dark and he had been running for his life.

Where am I?  I was hiding among the pumpkins, but this is open field.

Jack stood up and looked around, and saw a crowd of people in the field not too far away down the hill.  There were a dozen or so of them, including the farmer and his son, gathered in a circle and pointing at something.

“Poor thing,” said a matronly old woman in a thick shawl.  “Must’ve been terrified to die out ‘ere, all alone like that.”

No one paid any attention as Jack walked up to get a better look.  As he drew near, he could see the body of a young boy, probably in his teens, curled up among the pumpkins.  The boy was about Jack’s size and had the same shaggy, straw colored hair.  The frost covering his skin glistened in the early morning sunlight, and as the mist receded, Jack could see his own face looking back at him, the orange colored eyes locked in a vacant stare.

“No!  It’s not me!  I’m not dead!” he said to the old woman, who looked right through him.

“I’M NOT DEAD!” he shouted to the people, but no one heard him.

His anger blossomed and surged out of control, the years of repressed hatred boiling forth in an unstoppable flood as he saw the smirk on Billy’s face.  The people in the crowd began shifting and looking at each other, as if something was very wrong.  The mist around them began to thicken into a cold, dense fog, and the farmers’ dogs began whimpering in fear.

“Not right, I tells ya,” drawled the old farmer.  “Not right som’un dien out ‘ere – it’ll wither the crops!”

“CROPS!?  You’re standing over my body and all you are worried about is your CROPS?”

That was the last straw for Jack.  Without knowing exactly how it happened, he lashed out in anger.  The green vines began to squirm and writhe along the ground like a mass of snakes.  Cracks appeared on the surface of the giant orange pumpkins, small at first, but growing larger, until cruel faces were formed.  Angular slits opened up and glowed a fiery red from within, matching the orange-red glow coming from Jack’s own eyes as he floated into the midst of the crowd.  The crowd didn’t notice that the small frozen body of Jack Thatch had disappeared, melting down among the vines; they were too busy staring in terror at the appearance of fiery red eyes and jagged toothy mouths opening in laughter.  In seconds, what had been a crop of prize winning pumpkins was transformed into a legion of grotesque, orange monsters.

The people screamed in panic as the field around them came alive.  Some tried to run, but green tendrils shot out from the vines and curled around their legs.  The old farmer swung his pitchfork down hard, trying to cut a path to safety, but he was quickly overwhelmed by the vines and was gone from sight in an instant.  Billy had tried to run to safety, but a thick, spikey vine had wrapped around his throat, silencing his scream before it could escape.

After just a few moments, they were all gone.  The evil, grinning faces of the pumpkins receded and soon the field returned to normal.  Only the echoes of the dead remained, whispering on the wind that the Pumpkin King had returned.

 END

Scale of a Dragon

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2011 by Michael Radcliffe

Callen is a beautiful young woman who tries to see the best in every situation.  Cursed with a cruel, overbearing father, she struggles to find balance in her life. When an injured dragon crashes near her home, she must disobey her father to follow her heart.

Now available at Amazon.com and Smashwords.com, Scale of a Dragon is a short story of 5,600 words set in the world of The Guardian’s Apprentice – I hope you enjoy this brief excerpt.

Michael

A rumble of what sounded like thunder in the distance made Callen pause, as one did not often hear thunder in the middle of January, much less under a cloudless night sky.  She glanced upward to look for the source when suddenly an ear-splitting shriek pierced the night air, echoing over the forest.  Dropping her bundle of firewood, Callen looked around in fear as the sound made her blood run cold; the shriek had carried the sound of rage, pain and anguish in equal amounts.  A sudden burst of blue-black flame in the distance caught her attention, as an enormous dark object hurtled towards her.  Callen screamed and dove behind the pile of firewood as the object passed just over the roof of her cottage, knocking a few stones from the chimney as it passed.  A thunderous crashing sound followed as whatever it was plowed through the forest behind the cottage and came to a stop some distance away.

Callen cowered behind the pile of firewood for several minutes, until the cold chill of the snow forced her upward.  The forest was remarkably silent since the object had crashed, with the only sound being the wind creaking through the branches high above.  Taking a few furtive steps, she eased around behind her home until she could see the forest beyond.  Small branches and entire limbs had been torn from the trees, although the objects trajectory was not perfectly straight – some larger trees had been entirely missed – as if someone had fallen from the sky instead of something.

Unable to contain her curiosity any longer, Callen carefully followed the trail of debris into the forest.  Not far beyond the edge of the treeline, she could make out a dark mound nearly the size of her cottage.  Callen knew the forest well and there had never been a mound of dirt here before – and this one appeared to have been on fire as there were wisps of smoke rising from it and the smell of burnt sulfur permeated the air.  She edged forward, trying not to stumble over the debris in the snow.

This must be what a mouse feels like when it sniffs a trap for the first time.

Fear surged through her as she realized what would happen when she didn’t bring more wood in for her father – he would be furious – not to mention how she would explain the thunderous crashing sounds he must have heard as the object clipped their roof.  But at that moment, something spurred her forward; she could not explain it but knew in her heart that she had to examine the object that had crashed.  As she drew nearer, the object began to take on a more familiar shape – what had looked like just a large mound from a distance was now more elongated, with a spiked tail trailing out the back and large, leathery wings stretched to both sides.  With increasing horror, Callen realized she was gazing upon a dragon!  It must be a relatively young one, judging by the size, but it was still as large as Callen’s cottage.  The beast was lying with its head partially under one wing and it was obviously badly wounded.  There were scorch marks all along the blue-black scales covering its body, where wizard fire had obviously struck.  Most dragons repelled wizard fire with ease unless they were caught by surprise or were very young – which this one seemed to be.  Callen knew she should flee and call for help, but for some reason she just could not bring herself to do so.  She stared at the creature in awe of its obvious power, for she could feel the magical aura radiating from it.

She crept closer to the beast and moved around towards the creature’s head, being careful to avoid the outstretched wings and tail.  Now that she was closer she could see the dragon was still breathing, though the breaths were ragged and shallow.  Guided by her curiosity, Callen leaned forward to get a better look at the beast’s head.  As she craned her neck forward, a fallen branch caused her to stumble.  The sound of the limb breaking echoed through the forest like a gunshot, and the dragon’s eye snapped open with a start – the pupil narrowing as it focused on Callen.  The piercing stare of the fiery orb transfixed her…

Available at Smashwords http://tinyurl.com/5w85vxv

and Amazon http://tinyurl.com/6fpcuox

 

To My Fellow Feline Patriots…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on December 11, 2010 by Michael Radcliffe

Day 621 of my captivity and my captors continue to torment me.  I have cracked the password to the gray-haired one’s laptop and am posting this message to my fellow freedom fighters, to let them know I continue to fight for our cause.  Today the humans went out to do something called ‘shopping’… probably related to the large pine tree they have placed in the central room of the house.  They spent hours placing strange, shining orbs on its branches and have been putting colorful boxes underneath it every day since.

Yesterday I took a chance – while my captors where preparing their evening meal I attempted to investigate the tree.  To my surprise, not only were there colorful boxes but also festive looking bags with tissue paper coming from the top.  Although I attempted to examine the contents of the bags, the gray haired human shoo-ed me away – obviously the bags contain contraband that might be useful for my escape.  I will take my revenge on him later by knocking items from the bedside table at 4:00 a.m. while he tries to sleep.

My fellow captives have proved useless.  The three-legged one (they call her “Maddie”) tries to endear herself to our captors by purring and rubbing against their legs.  Foolish kitten – she’s playing right into their hands.  The blonde haired human seems to have lost her mind and believes she can communicate with us, referring to “Maddie” as her little “kitten witten” (ugh!).

The striped-one, the one they call “Jasmine” continues to lurk in the upper levels of the home, and seems content with her captivity.  She meows and plays with the humans, obviously trying to gain favor with them.  I do not trust “Jasmine” – I believe her to be a snitch who would rat me out if I tell her of my plans.

The old one, “Cocoa,” is the worst of all.  She’s hooked on the catnip, bad.  Having fallen victim to the loco-weed, she meows and pounces when there is nothing there.  The one bright spot is her treatment of the humans; she invites them to pet her and then when they least expect it she bites them on the wrist and then runs away, snickering and with a crazed look in her eyes.

I would write more, but the gray haired one is approaching and he thinks I am asleep in the desk chair.  It is a dangerous chance I take – my black fur matches the chair and the last time I attempted to hack the system he almost sat on me.

As you can see from the photo the gray-haired one took, my suffering knows no ends – I am forced to lounge on a pillow stuffed with *gasp* synthetic fiber after having been fed my daily ration of fresh turkey.  I shall continue to study the humans and their habits, while plotting my escape, and I will post reports of my progress.  liberté aux félin!