FFM 2021 24: Plumeria Blossoms and Bird Cages

Challenge: The story must include a color, a texture, a flavor, a scent and a temperature and there must be twenty words of dialogue at most. As a bonus, include three different scents from the answers to question 4 on this year’s sign up page.

My picks of smells are: “the bird cage needs cleaning” from NobodysSon, “An elusive fragrance of plumeria blossoms.” from KiriHearts and “Tea. The smell is tea” from telempathicangel. Plus, this is one of the stories I planned for the week’s sidequest; in fact, this is the most planned — this is the only one of the three planned stories that got a proper outline!


The wind had turned during the night. That was the first thing Sylvia noticed when she stepped to the balcony with a cup of morning tea. While last evening the scent of the stark white plumeria blossoms had downright blasted her when she had opened the window, now she had to take a deep breath to get even a hint of that now elusive scent.

No matter. She could enjoy the views anyway; this was the best time of the year, everything blossoming to its fullest. For once, she also had the chance to fully enjoy it, sitting at the balcony and sipping her… bitter… tea. Sylvia scrunched her nose at the taste. She must have left the teabag in the water for just a bit too long — just the right spot that the tea tasted bad but smelled good. Sylvia sighed and put the mug aside; she had previously used a timer to get her tea just right but it did not work as well as it used to for her, and getting used to that was taking time. No wonder she had gotten so much time off to get used to how she perceived the world now.

She had better make a new cup and pay more attention to time or else the day would be even worse. Sylvia returned to the kitchen to prepare a new cup only to perceive a new smell, one even worse than overly bitter tea.

The bird cage needed cleaning.

Sighing again, Sylvia turned to the bird cage in the living room. It was probably for the best to get to cleaning now and not later; even though she could no longer tell when the the budgies complained, her neighbors could — and her neighbors had the means of getting the message to its recipient.

Picking the cleaning equipment, Sylvia moved the budgies out of the cage and got to work. The smooth, cold metal was once comforting, but now it was one of the only things she could perceive about her birds. Now, she had to look to the side every so often to make sure that the birds were still there.

As much as it hurt to admit it, the little birds probably needed a better home than she could provide nowadays.

When Sylvia returned to the balcony, cage clean, hands washed, and a new cup of tea in hand, she could not help noting that the scenery looked strange. It was not just because of the smoke — probably yet another wildfire — or at least it should not be. It was as if the horizon was emptier now.

Sylvia checked her plumeria camera’s footage. As she rewound the footage, her jaw dropped. Behind her back, the city in the distance had been reduced to rubble.

It was probably for the best to check the phone for news and concerned text messages.

FFM 2021 18: Help Offered

This story is a direct continuation to FFM 2021 14: A Choice for the Short Run, so make sure you read the earlier stories in this chain.


Levi looked at the dark skies. The forecast on the car radio said that it would rain tonight.
“If he spends the night outside, he’ll freeze to death,” Warren muttered.
Like a swan song, Levi mused but knew better than to say aloud. He did not know what exactly had happened to Warren’s son, but it took even less social skills than he had to tell that Raiyo’s situation was bringing up some memories.

When they arrived at the park, it turned out that Warren had been right. There Raiyo was, curled up on a bench.
“Now what?” Levi asked. “He’ll probably run away from us again.”
“If we can get close enough before he sees us, we might be able to reach him and convince him that we won’t put him into danger.”
Levi was not a fan of the idea of sneaking up on his coworker — someone he had been training, no less — but he had to admit that he had no better ideas. “Let’s go then.”

Raiyo startled when a familiar voice called his name. His eyes flew open only to reveal that Levi and Warren had found him. A quick look at the escape routes revealed that he could not get away; the duo was most likely prepared for him bolting.
“We don’t mean you any harm, young man,” Warren — Raiyo was quite certain that was the man’s name — told, his voice soft. “We are merely concerned about your wellbeing.”
Sitting up, Raiyo looked at Levi, who was standing awkwardly a bit behind Warren but had a hint of concern on his serious face. When their eyes met, Levi nodded and said, “Please let us help.”
Raiyo shook his head. “Leave me be.” His voice was weak from exhaustion. “I don’t need help.”
“You don’t plan on spending the night here, do you?” Warren asked. He looked at the clouds. “It’s going to rain tonight. You’ll freeze out here.”
Raiyo shrugged. “I’ll be fine.”
Levi sat down on the other end of the bench to speak without having to make eye contact. “Raiyo, please listen to us. We do not know what is going on in your life, but it is clear that something is wrong.”
“It’s none of your-“
“Hear me out first, please.” When Raiyo did not protest, Levi continued, “If you do not want our help with whatever is going on, that is your prerogative. However, we would prefer not to let you die of hypothermia.”
“And how would you help with that?” Raiyo asked, trying find even an iota of faith that the apathetic man was actually going to help him.
“I have an empty guest room. You staying the night there would not be a problem.”
Raiyo looked at Warren.
Warren nodded.
“And you… you would not tell about… this?” Raiyo asked.
“If you insist on keeping whatever is going on a secret,” Levi answered.

Raiyo considered his options. He could either die tonight in the cold or accept the shelter for tonight and hope that it would not come back to bite him later.

Raiyo looked at Warren again. The grave concern on the man’s face convinced him that if nothing else worked, he would take matters into his own hands and alert authorities.

In the end, it was the easiest to accept the help and hope for the best.
“Fine. I’ll come with you.”

FFM 2021 15: A Fake News Cake

Challenge: Include one strange item “that is typically not involved in the whole baking deal” – it cannot be shoes – and write a 369er.


Fighting the amusement, you looked at the bright red fake news button next to the flour, chocolate chips and other ingredients. You wore a mask to make sure that you would not contaminate the cake whenever you thought about this whole deal and burst out laughing mid-baking. The last thing you wanted was someone getting sick because your spit ended up into the ingredients while baking the ‘Apapane-colored cake.


The pandemic had one good side: even after its ending, you could wear a mask without looking strange, which in turn hid your grin as you waited for the pretentious speech about faithfulness and friendship to begin and segue into cutting the fake news cake. You could barely wait for the moment you could call off your engagement and reveal your so-called best friend for exactly who he was.


The uproar that started from your engagement cake screaming “fake news” was glorious and even sweeter than the overly-sugared juice your now-ex-fiancé had insisted on. You had your Speech of Truth prerecorded and ready to be played — you only needed to press the button.

The moment your now-ex-fiancé turned to you, your grin under the mask widened as you lifted the remote for her to see and pressed play.

FFM 2021 14: A Choice for the Short Run

Today, I decided to tackle the slow pacing of this week’s sidequest. This story follows up directly from FFM 2021 12: Seen, so you should read it before reading this one.


“We should try to look for him,” Warren remarked. “Something’s wrong.”
“It’s not our business.” Levi kept his eyes fixed on the cereal selection to avoid Warren’s eyes. “If he wanted our help, he would’ve approached us instead of walking away.”
“Not everyone has the courage to ask for help, Levi.” Warren shook his head. “I know that outside of work he’s not your responsibility, but my gut is telling me there’s a lot more going on than he’s letting on. He might need help.”

Levi thought back to the times he had spotted (usually) poorly-covered bruises and cuts on Raiyo’s head, arms and hands. Something fishy was going on indeed, but neither of them had brought it up as a silent agreement. Whatever was going on, it was most likely too unsavory for him to deal with — chances were that he would rather anger a golden eagle than whoever had injured his coworker.

“Levi,” Warren spoke up when his employer stayed silent, “please. I’m concerned about him.”
Levi made the mistake of looking sideways and saw his butler’s pleading eyes. He did not know how Warren could do it, but those eyes had a way to persuade him that he had not been taught to resist. It was probably just that Warren was too humane, too sincere in everything he did and said. He was the antithesis to everything he had grown up around — fake smiles, condescending swank, manners that were just a millimeter away from being contemptuous — and learned to navigate. Knowing that Warren was a father who had lost his own son years ago only made matters worse for Levi’s conscience.

He made his decision and sighed. “Fine, let’s look for him. But where do we even start?”
“I’ve seen him at the nearby park every so often. I think we should look for him there first.”
“Very well.” Levi did not want to get mixed up in whatever business left Raiyo regularly injured, but appeasing Warren’s fatherly instincts was most likely going to give him less headache at least in the short run.

When they had gotten back to their car with whatever groceries they had managed to pick before running into Raiyo, Levi could only hope that this would not backfire in the long run.

FFM 2021 12: Seen

This week, the sidequest is about pacing: you need to write a story with a slow pacing, one with a fast pacing and one with a bit of both.

I initially started to write this as one with slow pacing, but the result turned out to become a mixture of both.


Raiyo slouched in the supermarket, praying that he would not come across anyone who knew him. He was no longer bleeding, but dried blood was caked on his chin and he was certain that he was already sporting either a black eye or a bruise elsewhere on his face. If he had had any idea where he could stay the night without going bankrupt that month — already a constant risk every time he had to unexpectedly diverge from the cheapest pasta he could get — he might have felt better about his current predicament. If only he could find a living arrangement that cost less than the so-called “rent” he was paying his mother…

Raiyo’s legs brought him to a halt faster than he fully realized that, like always, his prayers had not been answered.

Just a few meters in front of him was the man who had done the bulk of his training — and probably noticed his bruises — at work, Levi, with an older man whom Raiyo had seen driving Levi to and from work. If his memory served him right, Levi had called the man Warren.

To make matters all the worse, the man noticed him and waved. That attracted Levi’s attention. The black-haired pale man’s rising eyebrows sealed his fate.

Raiyo turned on his heels. He had to leave now.

Once he got out, he ran. His legs were already screaming but he ran. He had to cover as much distance as he could.

Suddenly, a change in the paving. Into the air and back onto the ground. Luckily, it was the park’s smooth sand road.

Raiyo picked himself up. He had to cover more distance. He had to… he had to…

He probably had to rest at the bench first. And contemplate resigning. No, no, that would doom him. And tell the others that something was amiss. Levi would talk, surely he would talk after this. Levi would tell about the bruises for sure. And if Levi talked, someone would take action.

And if someone took action… his mother would kill him.

Raiyo closed his eyes. It was probably for the best to sleep on this bench through the cold night. Maybe he would never wake up.

A raven laughed at him somewhere among the trees.

FFM 2021 11: Birbs

Fun fact: What Melinda tells about the Korean crow tit is true as far as my Google Fu could tell.


Bzz!

Levi turned his eyes to his phone. A new message in the workplace’s group chat. “What now?” There was only one way to find out what was going on: open the chat.

Melinda: OMG look at this cute birb!

Levi opened the attached image. It was a small white bird on a branch. It was cute, Levi had to admit that, but he rolled his eyes at the word birb nevertheless. Still, it was for the best to write something. Someone else was, fortunately, already on it, so he could take his time to formulate his reply.

Diego: <3

Diego: What birb is that? :D

Melinda: It’s a long-tailed tit!

Tabitha: Awws that’s way too cute! <3

Tabitha: Where’d you see that?!

Melinda: Online haha

Melinda: Ran into some talk about a Korean crow tit with a pic of a birb like this attached to it, but it turns out a tit like that doesn’t exist

Melinda: Some more Google fu told what this cute lil thing is instead

Levi: Love it <3

Sally: asdfgh

Sally: thats so cuuuuteee!!!

Levi rolled his eyes, his focus now completely broken. The flood of messages continued.

Raiyo: <3

Sally: id love to have a birb like that as a pet

Tabitha: I’d be happy with a plush (:

Raiyo: Btw, “birb”? Never seen that word

Sally: what? you live under a rock raiyo??

Tabitha: Sally!

Raiyo: Maybe? ^.^’

Tabitha: Sorry about that, please ignore her Raiyo

Raiyo: Ok ^^’

Melinda: Birb is a word for a really cute and fluffy birb

Melinda: I mean bird!

Melinda: Birb is a cute bird!

Raiyo: Okay ^o^

Why must they use that word? Levi rolled his eyes again and opted to return to work. If someone wanted to hear more from him, they would tag him.

FFM 2021 8: Gold Under Ice

Challenge: Get a challenge/challenges in the form of a descriptive art prompt (1-3 sentences long) from someone else (and challenge others, of course) and use the challenge(s) you pick to make a story.

I picked the challenge I got from b4k4-san: Icy blue gives way to shining gold. Something that was hidden is about to reveal itself.


You jump as a voice breaks the chilling silence. An Atlantic puffin calls out in the horizon. You are glad that it’s not a predator you should be worried about. The fire you have lit flickers like a pathetic beacon. It does little to keep you warm, but at least it’s melting you a burrow of sorts where you can be safe from the wind once it’s deep enough. Nevertheless, you wish the ice was melting faster. The rescue team is still days away from you, so you need to get a safe spot sooner rather than later.

To your surprise, the icy blue starts to turn golden as your clock ticks away. You think it’s a mere trick of light or imagination, but the gold intensifies while the blue diminished still. Puzzled, you dig next to the fire and the golden spot until your hand hits something solider than slowly melting ice. Metal.

Even though by that point you can hardly feel your fingers, you keep digging, revealing a golden bracelet. It would not keep you warm, at least not without heating it with your flame — this, of course, assuming that you had the tools to do so without setting your clothes on fire, which you don’t — but if you managed to survive until the rescue, this mess might just as well be worth it to you. It was too bad that it wouldn’t save your fellows who were already too far gone somewhere out there.

You warm up your fingers until you can feel them again and figure it’s for the best to keep digging or else you will freeze too soon.

At this point, you have no idea about what else is hidden underneath you and your weakening fire.

FFM 2021 6: Overly Stingy

Challenge: Pick one of these three: the main character has one great character trait but now it cannot do them any favors, the main character has one character trait that causes all your problems but today it’s their saving grace or both AND the story has to be 567 words long.

As you can see, I went for option number 2.


“Hey, Ben, we’re heading out for drinks tonight.” A cockatiel shrieked in the background. “Shut up, Marge.” The cockatiel’s shouting continued. “Just a sec.”
“Take your time, Meredith.” Ben rolled his eyes. He already knew where this was going.
After some shuffling and more cockatiel noises, Meredith continued, “So yeah, you wanna come with?”
“No thanks. Even a glass of water is too expensive, you know.”
A snort. “Of course. Overly stingy as always…” A sigh. “Well, it was worth a shot. I’ll see you at Svensson’s lecture on Monday then.”
Ben chuckled. “Don’t be there in a hangover.”
“I’ll try. Bye!”
“Bye.”
Click.

Ben sighed and logged on to the online bank service to take look at the balance on his account. 253.66. Just enough to cover the next month’s rent and get him something cheap to eat. If he got lucky, he would get his pay before it ran out and he — the one whose stinginess was called “good financial management” (which it wasn’t) — would not have to borrow money from his friends.

Honestly, this was one of those days when he would rather starve than suffer through the jesting he would face.

Little did he know, that was the last time he spoke with Meredith or any of his other drinker friends.

FFM 2021 2: A Hidden Bruise

No prompts used. This story is set some time after FFM 2020 28: Awkward Stranger.


Once Raiyo was absorbed in the day’s tutorial and mostly still, Levi was free to observe the younger man. Now, he was able to confirm that the splotch he had spotted on his newest coworker’s cheek was indeed a bruise. One half of him wanted to ask where it had come from, the other half to just stay quiet and mind his own business. Interfering with others’ business would only cause more trouble than it was worth.

It was easier to stay silent. As long as Raiyo did not bring the cause of the bruise up to him, it was none of his business.

A part of him hoped that Raiyo would not make any kind of trouble that was not related to work his business at any point.

“Uh, Levi?”
Levi startled. “Yes?”
“Do you mind if I take a quick bathroom break? It won’t take long, I swear.” Raiyo twisted his hands, unsure where to put them.
“Oh, of course not. Go ahead.” Levi made an effort to smile, but it felt too fake to be convincing.
Raiyo made an awkward smile in response. “Thanks.”


Raiyo leaned against the sink and took a few breaths, trembling. Being under Levi’s silent watch was even more unnerving than the earlier days. Maybe it was just that he was hiding his bruise and Levi was close enough to spot it if he was attentive enough. Maybe it was just the fight and lack of sleep last night. Maybe it was the magpie that stole his bread while on the way to work. Maybe it was…
“Fuck it,” he hissed through his teeth, took yet another deep breath and left the toilet. He had to keep this job, and that meant not taking long extra toilet breaks.

“Everything all right?” Levi asked out of courtesy when Raiyo returned to the desk.
“Eh, yeah. Just… just too much coffee in the morning.” Raiyo forced a chuckle out of his mouth, but he could tell that it was the most unconvincing lie he had told ever since he dropped out of school last time.
This time, Levi’s smile was more sympathetic than awkward. “Don’t worry. It was the same for me when I started out, except that I drank tea.” He paused, trying to figure out how he could lighten the tense mood. “Not that I ever learned not to drink too much tea. Now no one just knows how many bathroom breaks I take during the workday since I’m working from home.”
Raiyo made an effort to look amused. “Figures.”
Levi’s smile turned awkward again at the obvious failure of his efforts. He gestured at Raiyo’s tutorial. “Shall we continue?”
“Y-yeah.” Raiyo sat down and resumed his training.

In the meantime, Levi watched the trainee work through the tasks and prayed for the work day to be over soon. He wanted to get back home.

Actually, once the official break would begin, he had to text Warren to get him some cake for the evening. He desperately needed something sweet to make up for today’s awkwardness.

FFM 2021 1: You Just Won’t

In addition to writing in worlds that already exist unless I’m sidetracked elsewhere by a challenge and/or prompt, I chose to pick one of my own community challenges: Birds of a Feather: Every single story must include a bird of a species of your choice. Each day, you must pick a different species. Real-life birds are encouraged, but fictional ones are allowed as well.

The bird of the day is Bananaquit.

Challenge: 55 words, the main character’s actions must be rooted in fear but you are not allowed to tell that the character is afraid.

This story was inspired by a close call I had while driving yesterday. That definitely scared the hell out of me.


You look at your car. It’s fine. You heard nothing unusual — except a bananaquit singing — while driving. You see no new damage. The tires are undamaged as far as you can tell too. The car is fine, and it will take you wherever you want if you just hop in and drive.

You just won’t.