So I stayed up – inadvertently – until around 0300 last night/this morning. I wanted to get a good strong jump on my NaNoWriMo project.
3115 words isn’t bad, right?
I fully admit to using no contractions to buff the word count slightly, but overall I think I put out some somewhat decent content. Got the prologue and first chapter out, at least – or at least a short first chapter.
If you’ve not seen me talk about this before, I’m working on the expanded world found in my Flash Fiction story Counting Down.
Here is the prologue for your reading entertainment (I can kid myself, right?)
Fifteen Years Earlier
He checked the clock tower. Twelve oh two. Eight minutes, he mumbled, looking down to the two loaded pistols on his lap. Greasy fingers fiddled and fumbled with the latches and locks. The weapons were old, but they would do the trick, if they didn’t kill him in the process.
He was not the one who was supposed to be dying today.
The crowd cheered faintly somewhere down the road. Trumpets sent up a fanfare of song. It would not be long now; that much he knew. This plan was supposed to go down without a hitch; every detail had been mapped and remapped. Now it was just a matter of waiting. He was but one small cog in this machine, but the wheels had been set to turn and his time to shine was upon him.
He looked up at the clock again, squinting in the midday sun. Twelve oh six. A thin trickle of sweat rolled down the side of his face, but he did not bother to wipe it away. It was his own fault, wearing the heavy wool jacket in the middle of summer. His wife had smiled in curiosity as he pulled it from their closet. “I need to look nice, lovely,” he grinned. “Should I be lucky enough to meet the queen.” She had giggled in her girlish way, kissing him twice as he slipped out the door.
That would be his last kiss from her. He planned to disappear in the madness afterward. Let her think she was widowed. Sweet thing, he thought. Such a catch. Maybe I should have brought her in on this. He shook his head. She loved the queen, loved everything about the royal family. She would have balked in an instant.
No, this one he had to do on his own. The meetings in the back of the tavern were written off as dice games, the coded letters were business documents. She was so trusting, he knew she would never go looking for anything out of the ordinary. That sweet smile…
A blast of trumpets shook him to ready, and he looked up at the clock tower. Twelve oh eight. Time to get into position. He pocketed the pistols and began to scale the roof. The flags of the royal procession could be seen, the red and gold silk waving hellos like the royalty beneath them.
Silk. Of course. The man sneered, a ball of rage unfurling in his stomach. They would use silk for something as trivial as flags, while we starve and scrape down here. The clock ticked forward. Twelve ten.
Around the corner they came. The day was beautiful, perfect for the festival. Like every monarch before her, the queen walked in the middle of the crowd, laughing, waving, touching outstretched hands. Children danced in front of her, playing. A piper whistled a merry tune, and the queen turned toward the tall man next to her and gave a dazzling smile.
The man on the roof hesitated. Maybe I should not be doing this. Maybe this is wrong. Maybe…
He shook his head. No. NO. I have to. This is not what is wrong, they are what is wrong. The procession drew closer. He could smell the rose petals the little girls in the crowd were scattering. What a waste. Those flowers could make tea, the hips could be a base for soup. We could use the fabric of the flags for clothes. They are killing us down here.
The crowd pressed against the building. For a moment, the man was dizzy, caught in a turn of vertigo as he stared down at the throng of jubilant faces. How could they all be so blind? How could they not see the failure?
He saw it. He knew others saw it.
And then it was all a blur.
A little girl stumbled in front of the queen. The woman smiled and picked her up; the girl turned and returned the smile brightly.
“Go, child! Keep dancing!” The queen laughed, and took her consort’s hand. He squeezed it tightly. “You are well, my lady?”
“Of course, my love. It is festival day. I love the festivals.” The woman turned to watch the children dancing again, a small smile on her face. Her consort matched her expression, his eyes drifting to the swell of the woman’s belly. “Soon, our own will dance with them.” The queen looked at him, laughter in her eyes. “He will.”
Another laugh. “Yes. Or she.”
A shout went up from the crowd, but neither turned. There were shouts everywhere today, what was one more? Fireworks popped to their left.
That was odd. There were to be no fireworks until later that night; they were all packed on a ship in the harbor to light up the skies over the great grey sea. Maybe a sailor–
The queen stumbled, a sharp pain in her knee blossoming into a vibrant red against her pale skirt. She looked up at her lover in time to watch him fall face down onto the hard packed dirt. Had he tripped, as well? She turned in time to see a man in a wool jacket walking toward her, his hand out. Then all there was was the flash of a firework, bright gold and white, searing her eyes to darkness.
The man fired the pistol. The queen stumbled. The crowd around him screamed. He fired again. The consort fell. The queen looked to him. She looked right at him, and he nearly faltered. Her eyes were the same color as the sea he loved.
And he fired a third time.
The crowd was in a frenzy. Guards were on him in a heartbeat, and he felt his jaw shatter under a heavy boot. He laughed, weakly, as the blood poured from his broken nose.
“It is started. I did what I must.”
His own firework exploded in his head as a heavy gauntlet wrapped into a fist and pressed down against his face.
From a window, Vaughn watched the madness unfold in the streets. A scream tore through the alley behind the building as his men began to unleash the plot. Soon, he thought. Soon, it will all collapse, like a house of cards caught in a gust of wind.
Heavy footsteps pounding up the stairs brought him to turn toward the door, brow raised. This was unexpected. He set down his mug of tea and waited. The door burst open, a scrawny boy with a scraggly chin of fuzz stumbled in. “They caught Madrigo, sir.”
Vaughn frowned. He was afraid of that. “And?”
“And I do not think he will be getting up after the guards did what they did.”
The frown deepened, creasing Vaughn’s brow. “Bugger that. I have a job for you, and a reward for after.” The boy grinned and Vaughn winced internally. What an ugly fellow this boy would grow to be, he thought. No matter.
“Any favor for the cause, sir.”
Vaughn nodded toward the table; the heavy satchel sat bulging full. “Seal that and make it disappear. Forever, if possible.” The boy nodded.”
“And the reward?”
Vaughn pulled a small box from his pocket, opening it. “Ever had a chocolate from across the sea?” The boy’s eyes widened. “No, I can honestly say that I have never been so lucky.” The box snapped shut, and Vaughn tossed it to the boy. “Enjoy them all. After you have made everything disappear.”
With a fumbling catch, the boy snagged the box from mid-air, stuffing it in a pocket greedily. He nodded and grabbed the satchel, shoving it under his arm. “Should I toss this in the sea?” Vaughn shook his head.
“No. It would be too easy for it to float right back to shore. And there is not enough time to bury it. Just.. make it disappear. I know you know how.” The boy nodded with a wicked grin, then turned and hurried out the door, not bothering to close it behind him.
Vaughn crossed the small room, shutting the door softly, and turned to watch the boy slip into the streets. Two birds with one stone, he smiled. Even with the hiccup of Madrigo getting caught, everything was going precisely to plan.
The boy looked around then crawled into the open sewer pipe. His nose wrinkled as the pungent smell filled his nostrils and he tried not to retch. The box of chocolates bumped against his thigh and he smiled. A lovely treat, that. Maybe he’d find a whore and share them with her, after he finished.
A turn, and then another, and he was at his destination. The slow flow and bubble of the open sewer pit sat like a foul lake fifteen feet below. With a small grunt, he heaved the satchel into the viscous fluid, watching as it plopped and started its slow sink. When the last of the thick leather disappeared with a popping bubble of filth, he turned around, gasping his way toward the light and fresh air.
Twenty minutes later, he sat under a tree, inspecting the chocolates. Each one was cut into a perfect square, swirls and flourishes of glittering color decorating the tops. He picked one up and tossed it into his mouth, the flavor bursting on his tongue like some sort of small magic. He chewed with a grin and swallowed, then shoved two more in, his cheeks bulging like a chipmunk as he chewed.
His grin faded as his tongue began to go numb. He tried to spit but found his throat was closing around him. Panicked, the boy tried to scream for help, but all that came out was a sickly gurgle of green and blood-colored foam. He looked down at the chocolates, eyes wide.
A label from a bottle of poison peeked out from the empty spots.
“Vaughn, you bast–”
And he fell forward into the dirt.