Inheritance

“Mistress? You wanted to see me?”

The elderly-looking woman glanced up from the table. “Ah, Thomas. Just a moment.” She wrote a few more words before putting her pen down. Thomas knew it was a mistake to take the Mistress’s appearance as genuine. She used illusions all the time, and he couldn’t be certain he had ever seen her true face.

“Thank you for waiting, Thomas. I dislike leaving a thought incomplete. Now, how are you doing?”

“My recovery seems to be complete. I would like to thank you, again, for opening your house to me over the past few months. You have been most generous.”

“Thomas, you are too serious for your years. Your master and I were old friends; I couldn’t not take you in.”

“Still . . .”

“Yes, yes.” She waved her hand absently. “I have two things I need to speak to you about.” From a small stack of papers, she pulled out a folder and handed it to him. “Inside is the final report from my investigating team. At least three different mages were involved in the attack on your master’s house. Unfortunately, the team was unable to identify any of them. Neither were they able to determine a motive for the attack.”

Thomas thumbed through the pages, not really absorbing any of the information. He hadn’t expected much, but this was less than that. An attack like this was unheard of. And they had managed to carry it out without leaving any identifying traces.

“I am sorry, Thomas. I hope you know that I will keep looking into this. I don’t like the idea of my friend going unavenged.”

“Thank you. I appreciate your efforts.”

“The second thing I have for you is likely to be bittersweet for you.” She handed him a large envelope.

“What is this?”

“Just open it.”

Inside was a letter addressed to him, written in obtuse legalese. He skimmed the two pages and found a check behind them.

“Your master was clearly fond of you. That represents the bulk of his mundane wealth. Money may not be important to us, but you may still find it helpful as you begin heading towards your future. It’s yours to do with as you will.”

Thomas had already begun to think about what he might do next. This unexpected windfall would allow him to move forward more quickly.

“Take your time, Thomas. You can stay here while you sort things out.”

“Thank you. Again. I do have an idea.”

First Meetings

*This story takes place before Thomas established his own house.*

Before there was anything else, there was pain. The air around him was warm and acrid. At first, Thomas was only aware of the pain in his head, but when he tried to move, he discovered that it was everywhere.

“You’re still alive?”

He didn’t recognize the voice. Thomas opened his eyes but blood flowing from his forehead obscured his vision. Wiping it away with his sleeve, he could make out the man standing over him, but he was a stranger. He was in his lab, but it was almost unrecognizable because of the destruction that had taken place. Trying to cast a spell to stop time nearly caused him to pass out.

“Who are you?” he asked, weakly.

“Don’t worry about it. You won’t be alive long enough for it to matter.”

How did anyone get into his master’s house? And this much destruction should have triggered the failsafes. None of this should be possible. Now this intruder was going to kill him? Everything was too chaotic, Thomas couldn’t make any of it make sense.

Six men appeared, all of them facing the intruder and ignoring Thomas. He hadn’t seen them come in, and they weren’t from the house, either. There was something else off about them… They were identical, Thomas realized after a few moments.

“I don’t know who you are.” The first intruder didn’t seem to be talking to anyone Thomas could see. “But if you are going to use an illusion to try to scare me, don’t make it so obviously an illusion. All six of these guys look alike.”

A female voice came from somewhere nearby. “Illusions work best when they let you hide something in plain sight.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“In this case, there are only five illusions.”

“What . . .?”

Electricity arced from the hands of one of the men and struck the intruder. He flew back, hit the wall, and slumped to the floor. The other five men faded from existence.

The remaining man bent down next to Thomas. “Are you okay?”

“I seem to be alive. Beyond that, I’m not sure.”

“Can you move?”

“I . . . I think so.” With the other man’s help, Thomas managed to get on his feet.

“Matthew? What are you doing? We shouldn’t be moving him.” The person behind the other voice was now visible. Appearing next to them was a young woman whose hair was constantly shifting colors.

“Sarah, we need to get him out of here. We don’t know what other dangers might be nearby.”

Sarah glanced around the room. “Fine. Help him. I’ll go first in case there is anyone else around.” She vanished as Matthew supported Thomas to help him walk.

Slowly, they made their way out of the lab. The destruction was everywhere; not a single room had been spared. The power required to cause all of this had to have been immense.

“Where is everyone else?”

Matthew ignored his question.

After several long minutes, they stood outside the ruined house, and Sarah reappeared.

“There is no way only one person did this,” she said.

“That sounds like an excellent reason not to be here any longer,” Matthew replied.

“Shouldn’t we figure out what happened?”

“I expect your Mistress would want you to get Thomas to safety and have his injuries looked after.”

“You know, Matthew, you’re a bit of a suck up.”

“And you’re mad that I’m right.”

Sarah looked at Thomas. “Can you hang on? We’ve got a car nearby, and we can get you to some help.”

Thomas managed to nod before slipping back into unconsciousness.

Stealing Too Much

The cloudy evening made it easier for Frank to hide in the shadows. He was growing impatient waiting for his partner. Their window of opportunity was closing, and he had begun considering whether he could do the job on his own. Before he could act, however, he heard a whisper from above.

“Psst! Where you been, Frank? I’ve been waiting for you.” George, his partner, was peeking over the edge of the roof two stories up.

“You’ve been waiting for me?” Frank muttered to himself. “Help me up.”

“Sure.” A rope ladder dropped down the side of the house. Frank climbed up, and George helped him on to the roof at the top.

“Okay, we still have time before they return. You remember the plan?”

“Yes, Frank. You told me a bunch o’ times. I go in, get the book and come back out. No noise. Don’t let anyone see me. You wait here in case they come back early. Easy.”

“Where is the book? What does it look like?”

“If you don’t trust me, you can go in, and I can stay here.”

“No, of course not.” Frank looked at his partner. George wasn’t sharp, but he was good at remembering and executing plans. He was the taller and thinner of the two, and he was quiet as a mouse. “It’s just that this is important, and I’m nervous.”

“It’s okay, Frank. I memorized everything you told me.”

“Okay. Here’s your earpiece.” Frank handed him the small button. After George put it in, Frank tested the transmitter. “Can you hear me?”

George gave a thumbs up.

“Good. I won’t call you unless there’s a problem. Get going.”

There were two attic windows built into the roof. George walked to the far one and began working on it. It didn’t take him long to get it open and disappear through it. Alone, Frank scanned the street in front of the house while trying to listen for sounds below him. Everything was quiet so far.

The book – really a ledger – was important to a lot of people, but Frank only wanted it to get rid of a debt. It should be enough to satisfy Roberts, and he would be able to stop looking over his shoulder. Then he and George would be free to do whatever they wanted.

Just as Frank was starting to worry that George was taking too long, his partner came back through the window. He turned around and pulled something out after him. It took several moments before Frank realized what it was: a wooden rocking horse.

“Uh . . . George? That’s not the book.”

“Don’t worry.” George pulled a ledger from under his shirt. “I got the book.”

“So what’s with the toy?”

“It’s cute. I thought my nephew might like it, so I grabbed it, too.”

“George, you know the rules. We only take what we came for.”

“I know, but . . .” George looked dejected.

“Well, it’s too late now. Come on. We need to get out of here.”

They began making their way back to the rope ladder, but before they got halfway, the other attic window opened. It was between them and escape. Frank tried to scramble up and over the peak to the other side of the roof, but his foot slipped. George grabbed and steadied him before he fell.

“Mister?” A child stuck it’s head out of the window. Both of the thieves pressed themselves against the roof to try to remain unseen. The child probably couldn’t see them unless he or she came out further.

“Mister? Could I have my rocking horse back?”

Frank shot George a disapproving look. The other man just shrugged.

“Please, mister. My mom gave it to me.”

Frank’s look turned to a scowl, and George’s shoulders slumped. He crawled closer to the window and held out the rocking horse.

“Here you go, kid. Sorry about that.”

The child grabbed the horse and pulled it inside.

“Thank you! And don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone you were here.”

The window closed, and the two men just stared at each other for a long time.

“Let’s go before anything else happens,” Frank said finally.

George nodded, and they made their way to the ladder.

“Hey, Frank.”

“What?”

“Do you know where I can buy one of those? I really do think my nephew would like it.”

“Shut up, George.”

This week’s story was submitted for the first round of the NYC Midnight 2021 Flash Fiction challenge back in July. I wanted to wait until the judging was finished before posting. This week, I’m working on the second round’s entry. Everyone participates in the first two rounds, so I won’t know if I advance until the judging of the second round concludes.

In Absentia

The apartment building looked like it was on the verge of being condemned. Most of the lights in the hallway were out, and the ones that weren’t revealed scuffed floors and the occasional stain of unknown origins. The walls were peeling, and there was several unpleasant odors in the air. Despite the poor lighting, Julia was able to find room 9 and knocked. After waiting a minute or two, she knocked again.

Finally, a voice came from the other side. “Go away.” Rather than angry or belligerent, it sounded resigned.

“Lou? Come on, open up.”

“Who is that?”

“It’s me. Open the door.”

“Me who?”

“Dammit, Lou.”

The door cracked open. A chain hung on the other side, and a single eye peered through the crack. “Julia?”

“Yes. Now let me in before a rat eats me out here.”

The door closed, and she could hear the chain slide back. It reopened wide, and she stepped across the threshold. The room inside was cluttered but otherwise taken care of. It stood in stark contrast to the hallway she had just left. Lou closed the door behind her. He had always been a large man, but he had become gaunt since the last time she had seen him.

“What’s going on? Why haven’t you been at the bar?”

“Nice to see you, too,” he gruffed as he pushed past her. He sat down on a couch facing a television that was on with the sound turned all the way down. He didn’t look at her as he picked up an open bottle of beer.

“Lou . . .”

“I sold the bar, okay? It’s no longer any of my concern.” He put the bottle to his lips and tilted it up.

“You sold the bar? Why?”

“What do you care? I haven’t seen you in years. Business dried up, and I got an offer. I took it.”

“I thought it wasn’t about business. It was about . . .”

“I know what it was about. Like I said, you stopped coming round. Pretty soon, no one would take the big cases. It wasn’t working any more.” Another drink. He still hadn’t made eye contact with her.

“There’s something you’re not telling me.”

He shrugged. “There’s years of stuff I’m not telling you. I wouldn’t have to tell you if you’d been around. But the place isn’t my problem any more. From what I hear of it, you should probably stay away, too.”

“So that’s it? Just washing your hands of it?”

“I know this is news to you, but for me, it’s in the past. I’d nearly forgotten about it. I assumed you had, too. Thanks for stopping by. Don’t forget to the close the door behind you.” He never looked away from the television.

Something was off about the whole situation, but it was obvious he wasn’t going to tell her anything else. She turned and left without another word. Maybe she was misreading it. Maybe everything was just like he’d said. Still, she couldn’t make herself believe that. The question was, where could she find out more.