Predator of Flame

Good news everyone, I will have two blog posts this week! Because I will not skip on my promise to continue the series on game writing on Wednesday, yet Chuck Wendig has a challenge out to which I actually want to post a response. So you get both. Lucky you. (edit: I failed you, I’m sorry)
Short note: I consider this sort of a companion piece to last year’s Master of Man, hence the similar title.smoke

Predator of Flame

Laura awoke to heat and light and red and yellow eating up the walls around her. To thick dark smoke spreading in the place of clean air. The house was on fire!
Recalling her training from school, she let herself fall out of the bed instead of standing up, to crawl underneath the poisonous smoke toward the door of the bedroom. The handle was warm, but not hot, so she opened the door and got out. The flames were everywhere already. Burning carpets blocked the way to the stairs, so she crawled the other way.
There was a window just above a garage the other way. Low enough to get out and let herself fall down on the garage’s roof safely.
She crawled ahead, passing a room with no fire but filled with a column of smoke that seemed to come in through a hole in the floor. Around a corner and – parts of the roof had already collapsed, blocking her way in this direction, too.
What she needed now was time to think. The room from before. There was smoke, but she could keep her head down. At least there was no fire yet, this could give her precious time. So she went there, careful not to close the door behind her.
Think. Somebody must’ve seen the fire yet. The firefighters had to be on their way. Was waiting for them an option? No, too risky. Maybe if she could find another way to the first floor. Where did that smoke come from, anyway? A hole in the floor was all she needed to get down and hopefully out.
That smoke column. What was that? It just stood there in the middle of the room. But it did not seem to dissipate or fill the room, quite the opposite. It looked like smoke from around the room flowed toward the column to be absorbed.
There was something in the smoke. Not really a form, more like a recurring pattern in the vague shape of a human fading in and out of the dark layers of thick smoke. A face there, an arm here, flickering in and out of existence as if the fire wanted to mock her.
More a form of modulated wind then a voice, words reached her ears: “Hello there.”
“Who’s there? Help! I’m here!”
“So am I.”
Needles filled her chest, but she managed to cough out the pain in her lungs.
“Where? Who?”
The smoke formed a more pronounced form now. A featureless human shape emerged, fading from solidified ash into thin air at its edges.
“What the hell are you?”
Snickering from nowhere. “I am me. One of my meals called me the Predator of Flame. One of the few who could still talk for a while, like you. A wannabe poet, I think. So few of you manage to stay conversational as I prepare to nourish. But I like those that do. It is a special quality of some to become even calmer than usual when meeting things like me.”
“Nourish? D’you wanna eat me?”
“In a way.”
“And you think I’ll be okay with that?”
The smoke snickered again. “Even if you would ask a pig before eating bacon, would you accept its answer? It is not like you could fight me.”
“Then why are you talking to me? Why bother? Entertainment?”
“Yes, entertainment while I wait for you to burn. But I would not know the concept had I not learned from your lot. I saw your struggles and through instinctual emulation I found consciousness. Then language. The sense of enjoying my life. Some of your most beautiful traits. I am quite fond of arrogance, for example. What a terrific notion.”
“What about guilt?”
“What about it? I do not do anything. I do not kill you I consume the exhaust of fire’s kills. This is how I became, this is how I persist, this is my nature. I am smoke. This is the most solid I’ll ever be. I could not kill if I wanted to.”
“You’re clearing your conscience, then?”
“I chose not to have one. No, I entertain myself. After all, you cannot change your fate anymore. Already, I taste your burning flesh and hair nourish me.”
“I’m not even on fire yet.”
“Do not lie, I can taste it. You started burning, it cannot be anybody else. There is nobody here. You are alone. You burn.”
At the edge of her sight, something dark snuck through the fire. Were there two of these smoke creatures? Another one to mock her? The dark figure appeared again, barking at her. The dog wore a fire department jacket, but it had caught some fire on its tail. Acting like that was not an issue, the dog barked again, to then start trying to pull Laura out of the room. She jumped up, and her lifesaver immediately starting walking out, showing her a clear path through the debris and the flames. It was way easier than before. Laura had not thought the carpets would burn up as fast as they did, and now the path to the stairs down was clear.
In the kitchen, she managed to grab hold of the dog and extinguished the flames gnawing at its tail by squeezing it in between her arms and belly. Pain advised her not to ever put out a fire this way again, reason likewise advised her not to do this right then. But depriving the smoke creature of some food seemed worth it.
She did not see it again until well after she had finally reached the back door of the house and fled into the garden. If she saw it after that, she was not sure. There was that particularly dark huff of smoke bursting out from a window and drifting away just before the firefighters closing in from the front of the house got the flames under control. Off to taunt its next meal.

Some Background

I’ve had this idea of a creature living off the ashes in the smoke from great fires for some time, yet never employed it so far. I have the plot for a complete fantasy novel revolving around them ready, but other stuff takes top priority before I come to that.
In the meantime, I took that concept and ran with it for this short. The being is now smoke itself instead of being a normal solid creature filter feeding from smoke much like large whales filter feed from the oceans. Feeding off the victims of fire makes it the malevolent counterpiece to the more neutral or even benevolent (if manipulative) fire elemantal encountered in Master of Man.
The Master of Man is a symbiont. The Predator of Flame is a parasite or, well, a predator. I like this creature and the more ethereal quality it grew to assume for this short.


And Peace on Earth

hollyjollybloghop_banner_12152016So, this is a day late due to the Berlin attack taking top priority in my topics for Tuesday. Living in Germany and being active in politics, that was a major event for me. But now, on to some levity.

True to the banner above, this short is part of Elizabeth Barone’s Holly Jolly Blo Hop 2016 that has various authors publish a short each on their blogs. The unifying topic here is The Wrong Gift. In my case that does become a more sci-fi variation on Christmas stories, this being my favourite genre. This marks my third sci-fi Christmas flash, the others being one unpublished story and one in German. I might do a Future Christmas collection next year if (or when) I manage to do at least 20, preferably 24 to make a kind of scifi advent calendar.
You may find all the other entries to this blog hop via Elizabeth’s site for your enjoyment. Quite a varied selection, there’s something for everybody there!

And Peace on Earth

As always, the delivery was on time. The invading Gurnock fleet had surrounded Earth to intercept the cosmic Santa entities packages to the planet in order to both take away hope and gather intel on its denizens. The plan an empire was built on.
“For the glory of the empire!” Shoobed shouted to the advisor staff as he opened the door to the delivery room. A multicolored mass of items poured out, mostly plastic. A few small animals ran off barking and meowing. At least the meowing ones made the impression to be useful in dealing with some pests from last year’s invasion. The empire really needs a policy on this, Shoobed thought. “Now sift through this for information on the enemy’s technology and abilities!”
“Sir, this planet is weird. Most of these are models of creatures and vehicles. I mean, is this world so easily conquered that of all the weaponry they could wish for from Santa, they wish for this stuff? And look at their actual weapons!” Tukard shoot one to demonstrate, its foam ammunition harmlessly bouncing off a metal beam. “They’re all like this!”
“Something has got to be wrong here. Keep searching, I want to know if these creatures can possibly be this squishy or if we are being tricked. Take as much time as you need!”
“But those humans aren’t worth it. I mean, look at it!” Körtag next to Tukard held up the scale model of a human that seemed to be very common in the package, marked as a 13arbie. “Look at them, all scrawny and long. No edible meat, no muscle for slave work, what would we even do with those? They’d just slow down the empire!”
“We do not know that this is an accurate model. There are others here.”
“But all of them are either thin or so lacking in fat, they’re all stringy with muscle. Maybe we could use their newborns as popcorn, but that’s it!”
Shoobed sighed. “Could we please concentrate on the plan? And Glypüroq, would you please put away those Legos?”
“Lego! The plural of Lego is Lego”, the answer came irritated.
“How would you even know… I mean, is that really important right now?”
“No proper argument without proper grammar.”
“Alright, that’s it, the invasion is off!”

Making Of bonus stuff

Well, that was short, wasn’t it? So why not add some background info to it?
The story changed quite abit. Originally, the invading army was wishing for weapons to invade Earth only for Santa to qwitch the gifts between Earthlings and invaders, resulting in the aliens giving up and the humans expand into space using the technology delivered a few years later, having formed a space-age cargo cult around the failed invaders.
In the end, I kept the idea of Santa as a cosmic entity and the invaders giving up based on Earth’s gifts. I decided to keep it short and sweet, not to water down the initial concept.
If you want an idea on what these aliens look like, I imagine them as massive centaur-like creatures featuring a pair of tusks and two rows of spikes each along their backs that can be folded away. During battle, the tusks and spikes are covered with poison generated by glands at the base of each structure. Often, tusks and spikes are covered in harmless crystalline residue of that poison. Imagine a cross between a Kentrosaurus and a centaur on a really bad day.
So yeah, ain’t that christmas-y?
For anyone guessing about the gifts, those are, off course, a couple of pets (btw, please don’t gift pets, I know it happens, but, please don’t), a Nerf gun, a Barbie doll, and some Lego.

Fun fact: This story was written backwards, the last line being the first I wrote.

Again, please check the other stories in the blog hop, I quite like what I’ve read so far and I hope you will, too.