Free Short Stories

I met UK author, Debbie Bennett, on Facebook, and I'm delighted to welcome her to my blog. She's offered us a free short story, Daughter of Lir--short-listed in the David Gemmell cup short story competition. It’s taken from Debbie's fantasy collection Maniac & Other Stories.

In Debbie's words, "Daughter of Lir is a re-telling of the celtic myth surrounding one of the old gods who allegedly turned his children into swans. I’ve always been fascinated by celtic mythology (as told by Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising trilogy, through to Tom Deitz’ Windmaster’s Bane & follow-on novels) and the idea of parallel worlds and alternative universes."

                                                       Daughter of Lir

There’s a keen wind off the cliffs tonight. Banshees wail in harmony with the mournful cries of the seagulls that circle above the waves. The tide is in too, a rhythmic pounding on the rocks – the sea’s heartbeat growing stronger as the hour approaches. There is a feeling of anticipation in the darkness; lives have changed, battles been won and kingdoms lost on nights such as this.
Standing on the headland, by the edge of the crumbling chalk with hair stinging his face like a thousand tiny insects, he waits and watches as he’s waited and watched for what may be a hundred lifetimes. If he closes his eyes, faces the wind and looks with an inner vision, he can see forever out there in the ocean.
But it’s not forever he’s looking for. Not tonight with the memories strong and the image of her so clear in his mind it’s as if time itself has looped back for him, giving him another chance to reach out for her, hold on to her and keep her as he’s kept her love in his heart for so long.
Aisling is her name. Daughter of the Gods and forbidden to one of his kind. Aisling, who came to him on a night like this and left him with such a longing that life became meaningless without her. A sea vision, the sailors said – a child of the ocean sent to snare mortal souls with such beauty and song that could charm the angels from heaven itself and make them seem pale shades, ghostly silhouettes against the spell of the children of Lir. Superstition and yet he believes, for he can hear her now, hear the haunting melodies in the wind and the sea.
There is a power in the song, and power still in the singing.
But his Aisling has no need of such weapons. He is already under her spell and willingly. They have pledged their love for one another and though he knew her time was short, he has her promise to hold onto. And when her father called her home, she swore to return one day, to love him as only a child of the Gods can love.
So each year he waits on the headland and listens to the voices of the sea, secure in an unearthly love for a woman who is not mortal. Each year he listens for the song and hears only the banshees’ cries, premonitions of a death for which he can only dream until he finds her again. For the love of a God carries the price of eternity and he knows he will never find peace without Aisling.
The wind stills to silence. The tide ebbs. There is magic in the air tonight.
Aisling? He dares not look, but forces himself to step closer to the cliff edge. Down below, wet sand shimmers in nacreous light. The sea has withdrawn, exposing rocks like black teeth, the mouth of the ocean come to swallow its prey. Behind the rocks something moves, glistening in the shadows and he can make her out now, a slim figure in a pale shift, her hair like seaweed dressed with pearls. She is watching him, one hand touching the rock, the other outstretched towards him, pleading with him. She can come no further; Lir will not allow it. This is as far as she can keep her promise and it is not enough.
There are tears on his cheeks now, as he knows he cannot see her again. She has risked much already. But how can he live, knowing they can never be together? He sighs. Take me with you. He has no need of speech. She will hear him, if she chooses.
A flutter in the air around him and suddenly there are swans. Four white birds fly above him, majestic in their splendour. Slender white necks outstretched, they circle him for some moments, climbing effortlessly only to swoop down, then rise again. Up and down, round and round, until he is dizzy with exhilaration.
Aisling! There is joy in him as he knows the waiting is over, the promise kept. Yet still the swans circle, as reality crashes back in with the boom of the sea against the cliffs below. The wind howls again, the savage and ancient anger of a God defied. Aisling has betrayed her father by falling in love and he will not give her up lightly.
The swans are flying away from him now, buffeted by the wind. And then they are gone, white arrows speeding out to sea. His body shrieks with the loss, a part of him ripped open and exposed to the wind and the night. But this time it is different, now he knows he can fly too, that all he has to do is believe.
Five white swans soar high above a deserted headland. She has stolen his soul, taken what she laid claim to all those years ago and he is no longer human. And if he is no longer human, then he is free.

I love this beautifully written story. Read more of Debbie's stories in her collection, Maniac & Other Stories available on Amazon and Smashwords for just .99 cents.

Connect with Debbie on her blog where she says, "I talk rubbish occasionally, but otherwise not much happens." And at Authors Electric in the UK where Debbie blogs on the 6th of each month in the company of mostly traditionally-published authors who are releasing their backlists as ebooks,

 I just brought out a new collection of short stories, Ghost Plane and Other Disturbing Tales. Several of the stories were inspired by my job at an airline. And Blue Angel was inspired by a particularly bad boss. The stories range from Flash Fiction to Gothic. And, of course, all of them were inspired by my own insanity.

Blue Angel

            There are a lot of ways to die at the airport.
            I don’t mean in a crash or at the hands of terrorists. Other ways.
            I work at this small airport in the Rocky Mountains. Been working here for years. I liked my job just fine, till the new boss showed up.
            She’s got her favorites. Not me—newbies who do her bidding without question, even when it’s all screwed up or against airline policy—eighteen-year-olds who’ve never worked a job before and have no clue what’s what. She makes them supervisors, gives them weekends off, never writes them up for sleeping through a shift or pretending to be sick.
            Meanwhile, she writes me up for nothing.
            Maybe I didn’t smile right. Maybe I have an opinion. She tells me she wants, “cookie-cutter-agents.” That could only work for me, if I were the prototype.
            I try to keep my mouth shut, but she’s always on me.
            “Just because you’ve been here ten years doesn’t mean you know anything,” she announces in front of everyone at our station meeting. “You have no more authority than someone who’s been working here two weeks.”
            So people who got the job yesterday don’t listen to a word I say.
            I see them loading suitcases wheels-down, so the bags are rolling off the cart, sliding around the cargo pit. I tell them to stack the big bags on the bottom, on their sides, handles facing out, then lay the smaller bags on top. But they don’t listen. When bags are jumbled in the pit, when the count is off and the Load Sheet doesn’t add up—when we get a hit with a delay—the boss yells at me. Suddenly, I’m a senior agent: responsible. 
            “I don’t like your attitude,” she says.
            “What attitude?”
            “Your tone of voice.”
            I shut my mouth, don’t say a word.
            But I’m always thinking. 
            They fly turbo-props into this airport, Dash-8s. Prop planes do well at this altitude, better than jets. Those propellers are powerful. They spin so fast that you can’t see them. It’s easy to forget they’re there.
            Say you’re tired—which you always are, getting up at 3am and working a sixteen hour split-shift. Say the flight is running late and the pressure’s on. You’ve got to do a quick turn, get those passengers back to Denver in time for their connections. You’re in a rush. The captain hands you the release—the paperwork the FAA audits—the flight attendant closes the door, the engines rev, and the propellers start to spin, move so fast you see right through them. They kick out a lot of wind, rip the release out of your hand. You need those papers. So, without thinking, you chase them down and run right into the props.
            Body parts and blood all over the ramp. 
            It happens.
            I’ve almost done it once or twice.
            Maybe you’ve never noticed me, working out on the ramp loading bags. We all wear uniforms and these florescent orange vests, so everybody looks the same. Sometimes, when I’m out here humping bags, breaking my back for less than I could make at McDonald’s, I get these thoughts.
            About my boss.
            When we’re short-handed and just the two of us are working—like tonight, for example—how hard would it be to push her into the propellers?
            Accidents happen.
            This guy I know fell out of the bucket when he was deicing. That glycol we spray the plane with is slick. And you’re spraying it in bad conditions, wind and snow blasting your face, trying to beat the clock and get the plane out before the holdover time expires. So there he was in a blizzard, way up in the bucket, spraying. No harness. Who has time to put on that straight-jacket? When you’re deicing, the person in the bucket is dependent on the driver of the truck. Ideally, the person in the bucket radios the driver, tells the driver where to go: along the fuselage, above the wing, around the tail. But things go wrong. Say the radio is broken. Say it’s snowing so hard the driver can barely see. Say the bucket slams into the wing. Maybe the driver hits the brakes too hard, and the bucket sways, tilts crazily. The person in the bucket slips in the glycol, can’t get a grip, slides out. If you’re wearing a harness you’ll hang there, dangling in the air. No harness, and you’re falling twenty feet or more onto the tarmac. This guy bashed his head. Never been the same.
            Maybe he’s lucky. He got out before the new boss arrived.
            She’s a piece of work. Mandoed me on my day off, even though she knew I had plans tonight. We’re short-staffed, and no wonder. Who in their right mind would work here? Tonight, it’s just the two of us.
             There’s always electrocution.
            The Ground Power Unit supplies power to the aircraft. We hook it up whenever a plane pulls into the gate. At night we leave the GPU running, so we have light for cleaning the cabin. One ramper brings in the plane, signaling with lighted wands, while the other ramper drives the tug attached to the GPU—this big silver generator. The driver hops out of the tug, unwinds the GPU’s electrical cord, unclips the panel in the aircraft and plugs the GPU into the prongs. Meanwhile, the other ramper waits until the plug is secure before switching on the power. Switch the power on too soon, and the jolt could kill the person plugging in the cord. Especially if the connection is faulty.
            I’m here in ops, sitting by the radio, waiting for the captain to call in range. The weather’s going down tonight, a slow-moving storm. My boss is in her office, pretending to push papers, but I know she’s on Facebook monitoring her friends. She sent me a friend request, but I ignored it. That pissed her off.
            But everything I do annoys her.
            She needs to chill.
            I imagine her floating, face-down in a vat of blue juice.
            Peaceful. Finally at rest.
            Blue juice is what we call the lavatory fluid. It’s bright blue, more turquoise than the Caribbean. Chances are you haven’t given much thought to the toilets on a plane. Most people don’t. Maybe you think all that crap just gets magically flushed into some other universe. Well, someone has to dump it, and that someone is me. Every night I drag this cart up to the plane, unclip a panel, unscrew a cap, and attach the hose. Sounds easy, but it’s tricky. If the hose isn’t snug, or if some bozo up in Denver didn’t latch the cap right, the contents of the lav dumps all over the ramp, all over you: blue juice, clumps of toilet paper, all kinds of nastiness.
            Happened to me twice one night. Instead of hooking up the hose, I got soaked in a shit-shower. Hazmat all over the tarmac, all over me.
            I took it as a message from the universe.
            My boss thinks it’s hilarious, started calling me The Blue Angel.
            That got me thinking.
            It doesn’t take much liquid to drown a person. People drown in bathtubs. They even drown in their own vomit.
            She says I have an attitude, but I don’t think it’s bad. I think my attitude is great.
            Gotta go. The plane is calling in.
            You know what?
            Tonight I really like this job.

Durango Airport at Night


                                                   Ghost Plane

  She preferred the airport at night after all the passengers had gone. Preferred the quiet.
   Out here on the high plateau wind swept away the jet fuel and brought the pungent scent of sage. A tumbleweed, spindly and skeletal, cart-wheeled across the tarmac. Miles away in town lights twinkled against a backdrop of the moonlit Rocky Mountains.
   Carrying her bucket of paper towels and Lysol, she trudged back inside the terminal.  
   It was her job to clean the planes, empty out the seat pockets, vacuum popcorn off the floor, dump the lav--jobs the
day crew shunned. Tonight she was the last to leave, but she didn’t mind the closing shift. Since the divorce no one waited for her back at home.
   Computers glowed along the ticket counter. Fly High. Fly High. Fly High. Purple letters floating in a sea of stars as the screensavers kicked on.
   "G’night Chuck," she called out to the maintenance man.
   He didn’t seem to hear her; no nod of his cowboy hat, just kept walking down the terminal past the car rentals.
   He paused to check the automatic sliding doors, making sure that they were locked. Small town, small airport. Come midnight everything shut down. When he reached the bag belt at the far end of the lobby he switched off the lights.
   “Leave ’em on, Chuck. I’m still here.”
   She hated when men did that--pretended not to hear you, ignored you like you were invisible.
   Her ex had been like that.
   The door clicked behind him and he headed for his truck.
   She ran down the terminal calling, “Wait!”
   Through the glass doors she saw a gray plume of exhaust, red eyes of the taillights growing fainter in the dark.
   She snapped the light switch on and nothing happened. She had no idea where to find the breaker. Walking back through the terminal she searched the gloom for familiar shapes--a potted palm, cushioned benches, unlit signs of Avis, Hertz, Budget. Behind the ticket counter, she fumbled for the doorknob, pushed open the door leading to the SIDA area where a badge was required.
   The garage stunk of diesel. The electricity was working. A single bulb swung from the ceiling, casting shadows on the floor.
   Her footsteps echoed on the concrete as she hurried to her locker. Soon she would be home, putting up her feet, watching television.
   The radio kicked on in operations. A staticky, “Durango do you copy?
   No aircraft should be calling in. The last plane had arrived an hour ago. 
   She skirted an empty bag cart, squeezed past the Ground Power Unit--the GPU’s heavy electrical cord snaked across the floor and nearly tripped her. Fighting to maintain her balance, she scrambled to the radio.
   She depressed the button, spoke into the microphone, “This is Durango ops.”
   “In range,” the radio crackled.
   She turned up the volume. “What flight is this?”
   “Emergency landing...” More crackling.
   “Durango ops,” she shouted into the mike, “do you copy?”
   No answer.
   Opening the door, she peered out at the ramp. Planes perched on the tarmac like great winged beasts, and the crane of the deicing truck loomed like a dinosaur. A string of blue lights glimmered along the runway.
   A plane would be landing soon.
   She grabbed the telephone, punched in the numbers for dispatch. Waded through prompts, punched in more numbers. The phone rang and rang and rang.
   She slammed down the receiver, hurried to the emergency radio, and tried to reach the fire station.
  “Anybody there? Pick-up!"
   Gone for the night.
   Roaring engines of a plane sent her running to the garage door. She pressed the button and the metal door rumbled open. She hooked the GPU to a tug, jumped into the driver’s seat and revved the engine then tore out to the ramp.
   Across the runway a coyote howled.
   The Navajo say coyote is a trickster.
   Sweat prickled on her brow as she veered across the tarmac, palms slick against the steering wheel. She hit the brakes and jumped off the tug. A white prop-jet barreled down the runway. No insignia to indicate the carrier. She held up the lighted wands guiding the aircraft to its parking place then chocked the front wheels.
   The engines powered down, propellers slowing to a stop. She unclipped the side panel, plugged in the GPU, and felt a disconcerting jolt as power surged into the plane. A faulty cord was dangerous and she’d have to report it, but the cabin lights flickered on so she gave the thumbs-up sign. Thought it odd she saw no pilot in the cockpit.
   The plane’s door opened like a gapping mouth. She stood at the bottom of the stairs waiting for passengers, but none appeared.
   “Hello,” she called and climbed the narrow steps into the plane.
   She glanced down the cabin’s aisle, saw thirty-seven empty seats. No flight attendant.
   “Are you ferrying this flight?”
    No answer from the cockpit.
   “I couldn’t get a hold of dispatch. Do you need a mechanic?”
   She pounded on the cockpit door.
   “Anybody home?”
   The door squeaked open, revealing a deserted flight deck.  The control panel flashed yellow, red, and green--a Christmas tree gone haywire.
   What was that annoying dinging sound?  
   She backed out of the cockpit and surveyed the galley. Pressed her hand against the coffee canister. Still warm.
   Could the crew have left by some other exit?
   She stood still, listening.
   Heard moaning. High-pitched keening.
   The noise came from the lav.
   The door said vacant.
   She turned the knob, pulled open the door. The toilet gurgled, and she peered into the bowl. Not blue juice. Crimson. A rotten stench attacked her nostrils, made her gag. The toilet lid fell with a thud.
   Bending over the tiny sink she splashed water on her face, glanced at the mirror and thought it odd that she didn’t see herself--only the reflection of pale plastic walls splattered with what might be blood.
   She bolted back into the galley, slammed the lav door shut and leaned against it, listening to the grumbling GPU.
   The cockpit’s ding, ding, ding.
   Her thumping heart.
   Nerves frazzled she wanted to scoot, to clock out and go home. But the securing the aircraft was her responsibility. And she needed this job.
   Stay calm.
   An automated voice called from the cockpit, warning, warning, warning.
   From the aft of the fuselage, she heard knocking on the thin wall that separated the cabin from the baggage pit.  
   “Who’s there?” she called.
   Knees trembling, she clutched seat backs, steadying herself as she walked along the aisle. 3B, 4B, 5B. She glanced at a overhead bin. Heard scratching, someone whispering.
   She turned and ran back toward the cockpit. But as the she reached the galley, the cabin door slammed shut.
   The GPU groaned and sputtered. Died.
   Then silence.
   Even the incessant dinging stopped as the cabin swallowed her in darkness.
   She pounded on the door. Tried to release the latch, but the handle didn’t budge.
   “You’re one of us, a voice whispered.
   “One of who?”
   The engines fired, and the propellers turned, faster, faster, becoming invisible.
   “This is your captain,” a voice announced over the intercom. “Sit back and enjoy the ride.”
   She glanced around the cabin. Every seat was occupied by faceless passengers.
   One seat remained empty.
   The aircraft rolled out of the gate, and with a lurch she sat.
   “Prepare for takeoff.
   She screamed. Kept screaming as the aircraft accelerated. Screamed louder when the wheels left the ground. 
   Wind carried her shrieks up into the mountains, up into the stars.
   And in the distance a coyote howled.


Ghost Plane will be included in a short collection of short stories to be epublished in September, 2011, Ghost Plane and Other Disturbing Tales.

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