Would you Like That Toasted? – Furious Fiction August

Another month and another Gretchen tale, because who doesn’t want to know what a sandwich has to do with a fiery standoff with a dragon. Hope you enjoy this one!

And so, your August Furious Fiction story criteria are as follows:

  • Your story must contain HUMOUR/COMEDY (see below).
  • Your story must include the following five words: DIZZY, EXOTIC, LUMPY, TINY, TWISTED.
  • Your story must include a sandwich.

Would you Like That Toasted?

Gretchen screeched and rounded a jutting rock in the illuminated cave, the reeking stench of sulphur and singed hair filling her nose.

“Come here, witchling,” the dragon hissed. “It’s been too long since I’ve indulged in such an exotic morsel.”

“Exotic?” Gretchen’s breath came in ragged gasps. “Witches are everywhere! Sure, few are stupid enough to go willingly into a cave, but—”

Fire blasted over her head and she scrambled further into the darkened abyss, the cave mouth a tiny pin of light behind her. If she kept running around in circles, she would only make herself dizzy, but she couldn’t string a coherent thought together, much less a plan. As she launched toward the shelter of another stalagmite, she twisted her ankle and fell. With her breath punched from her lungs, she rolled off the awkward protrusion under her hip.

“You can’t hide from me,” the dragon hissed. “And you’ll only spoil yourself with all that adrenaline.”

Gretchen fumbled inside her pouch for something useful. “Wait,” she called. “I might have something more appetising in my infinity pouch. You ever heard of one of those?”

Gretchen screwed her face up, waiting for the onslaught of flame, but the sound of thoughtful rumbling sounded beyond her makeshift shelter.

“An infinity pouch?” he hissed.

“Oh yeah,” Gretchen’s heart hammered in her chest and she reached shoulder deep into the leather bag. “All kinds of powerful things in here. And you can forget opening it after you devour me. Those talons would split it in two.”

Gretchen could think of nothing suited to tight negotiations with a dragon stowed among her supplies of wart serums and canker balms. Her hand moved to a paper-wrapped bundle, and she yanked it out with a frown. She’d forgotten about her half eaten lunch from last week. With no other ideas, she launched it in the dragon’s general direction.

“A sandwich,” she announced.

Gretchen sagged at the sound of interested snuffling and waited. There was no chance it could work, she thought, and tried to reckon with what explosive compounds she had at her disposal.

“This sandwich is old,” the dragon grumbled. “And lumpy.”

Gretchen rubbed the bridge of her nose, both relieved and irritated. “I can assure you I am both older and lumpier than that sandwich,” she held up a finger. “And not in the right places.”

“Hmm,” the dragon huffed. “Does it have any pickles? Or those fish eggs everyone talks about?”

Gretchen tried to recall what she’d stuffed in between the slices of bread and came up with nothing. “Is that what you’d like? Because I can make more.”

“More?” the dragon asked with more than a little awe. “You’d bring me more?”

“Sure,” Gretchen pulled out a pencil and notebook. “What’ll you have?”

The dragon launched into a babbling list of condiments and fancy cheeses, and after Gretchen jotted the last of them down, she called, “Would you like that toasted?” Blinking, she shook her head. “Never mind.”

I have to admit, having a caveat on humor made me nervous.

Because trying to be funny is decidedly unfunny. But I had fun putting this one together in the end and think its a worthy edition to the Gretchen catalog. Have you signed up to take part in Furious Fiction? You should. It’s plenty of fun and has an incredible group of people on Twitter who come together each month to grumble about criteria and spur each other on.

Looking for more stories? Check out the short stories page.

Going Out With a Bang – Furious Fiction July

Another month brings another Gretchen Furious Fiction entry and ‘Going Out With a Bang’ is the tale of what happens at a dwarven funeral. I had fun with this set of criteria from Australian Writers Center and have managed to put the story to good use already.

Your July Furious Fiction story criteria are as follows:

  • Your story must take place at either WEDDING or a FUNERAL.
  • Your story must include something being cut.
  • Your story must include the words “UNDER”, “OVER” and “BETWEEN”.

Going Out With a Bang

‘So you’re telling me that dwarves spend all their lives under the ground and then get cremated?’  Gretchen wrinkled her nose. ‘That just doesn’t make any sense. I didn’t even see a pyre set when I arrived.’

Nora gave Gretchen a warning look and nodded toward the procession of Tomas’ bearded kinfolk waiting to pay their respects. ‘Well keeping bodies in their living rooms wouldn’t be sanitary now, would it?’

Gretchen pursed her lips and shrugged. Tomas had spent his latter years running a tavern above ground, and she imagined his soul would rest easier with his remains returned to the earth. ‘Got any explanations for why they’re cutting off his beard?’

Each mourner who passed the deceased dwarf took a snip using a pair of gilded scissors passed solemnly between them. No eulogy appeared forthcoming, and the dwarves remained tight-lipped when Gretchen had attempted to make small talk.

Nora’s brows furrowed, and she rubbed her chin. ‘Magical properties, perhaps? It must be particularly powerful.’

‘How do you figure?’ Gretchen asked.

‘A dwarf wouldn’t be parted from his beard for anything less,’ Nora snorted.

Gretchen caught sight of Jurgen, the troll proprietor of the tavern, coming from the kitchens and waved to get his attention. 

When he sidled up next to the witches, Gretchen jerked her thumb toward the coffin. ‘You’d know. What’s with all this fuss over the beard?’

Jurgen gave her a level stare and folded his arms. ‘I’d know because I’m a troll?’

‘A troll with a wealth of useless tavern trivia.’ Gretchen smirked.

Jurgen held a hand to his mouth, but it didn’t hide his amused expression. Gretchen was about to give him a sharp poke in the ribs when a keening sounded from the coffin. An ancient dwarf stood with his hands held up, and the rest of the kinfolk joined the chorus. The cacophony reverberated through the timber floors, and Gretchen held a hand to her chest, eyes transfixed on the spectacle. She reached to clasp Nora’s hand.

When the dirge reached a crescendo, the dwarves held fistfuls of Tomas’ beard aloft, and an explosion rocked Gretchen where she stood. Holding an arm up against the blinding light, she huddled with Nora against the wall. 

When no further assault came, Gretchen blinked to clear her vision, and a purple haze hung thick in the room. Gasping, she pushed through the dusty cohort of mourners, and stared at the pile of ash where the coffin had sat only moments earlier.

‘Holy smokes! Exploding beards? No wonder I didn’t know about this.’ Gretchen turned a grin to Nora and Jurgen. 

Nora coughed and waved at the air as she stepped closer. ‘A little warning would have been nice.’

Gretchen chuckled and shook her head. ‘Imagine the pranks we could have played on the old fella. He’s probably up at the pearly gates grinning from ear to ear.’

Nora sniffed and wiped a stray tear from her eye. ‘He always did like to have the last laugh.’

This story has already been put to good use!

In Episode 0.5 of Gretchen’s (Mis)Adventures, Troll Hunter: Witch for Hire, Tomas’ decline is a catalyst for the events that unfolded. I got a few questions about what happened to the old dwarf in the end, so have included this story as an epilogue for my newsletter subscribers. Neat, huh?

If you’d like to read Troll Hunter: Witch for Hire, you can pick it up with your preferred book retailer here.

For more quick Gretchen stories, head back to the Short Stories page.

Jitterball – Furious Fiction June

Titled Jitterball because… Well this is my thirteenth entry to Furious Fiction, and I need to stop naming these posts by month! I almost didn’t get this story done, and wasn’t sure at the start of the weekend if I was even going to try, but I just couldn’t break my streak!

Again, I bring you a Gretchen and Nora tale, and I was surprised to learn Nora was a rusted-on fan of the game Jitterball.

This month’s criteria;

  • Each story’s first and last words had to begin with J.
  • Each story had to include a game being played.
  • Each story had to include the phrase MISS/MISSED THE BOAT.

“Jumping jellyfish! Is that even allowed?” Gretchen pitched her voice so Nora could hear her over the roaring crowd.

Nora kept her eyes on the field below where the team of goblins were gaining on the ogres. A particularly squat ogre lay prone on the grass, and Gretchen imagined he would sport a mean headache for the rest of the week.

“He took him on.” Nora held up her arms, clenching her teeth. 

A goblin streaked forward, a leather ball tucked under his armpit, and narrowly avoided a defender before scampering up a tree on their scoring end. As he cleared the dense branches toward the wide nest at the top, the ogres launched smaller balls in the goblin’s direction. Nora clawed Gretchen’s arm and hissed.

“Since when have you been a fan of jitterball, anyhow?” Gretchen winced as one of the smaller balls smacked the goblin’s shoulder. He wavered, and the crowd fell to silence, then he planted the ball into the nest and howled with victory.

Nora flew out of her seat with a screech. When she sat down with a wide grin, she turned to Gretchen as the field rearranged themselves to prepare for the new ball. “You should have seen me back in my heyday. I had plans on making it to the major league.”

Gretchen snorted. “Well, I think you missed the boat on that one.”

From their vantage in the nosebleeds, Gretchen watched the spectators grumble and shuffle in their seats. The odds were on the ogres, and she figured Nora was the only person who’d placed a wager on the goblins. Although knowing nothing about jitterball, Gretchen had seen goblins climb trees, and thought the bookkeepers daft for favouring the stockier species.

The referee blew his horn, then things happened too quickly for Gretchen to keep up. Ogres tackled goblins to the ground, the ball lying forgotten on the turf. They herded the battered goblins toward the middle and piled them into a mass of writhing limbs. One ogre meandered to the ball. 

Nora growled, but Gretchen didn’t write the green guys off. She waited, watching even as the others screeched at the ogres to pick up the pace, until the goblins broke free and swarmed ahead. Their speed caught the ogres off guard, and one goblin snatched the ball while the others ran interference, running every which way, their elbows out like they each had the ball. By the time it became clear which of them held the real deal, he was already halfway up the tree. 

The goblins on the ground joined the fray and pelted the ogres with smaller balls. Gretchen thought the outcome was a forgone conclusion when a chorus of drums sounded behind them. Nora spun with a murderous glare, and the sound of the horn on the field announced the end of the match just as the goblin emerged at the top of the tree.

The referee held his arm toward the victorious ogres and bellowed, “Jitterball!”

Well there you have it.

I may have to include a game of Jitterball in the series. For those who’d like more information on the (free) Furious Fiction short story competition, check out the Australian Writers Centre and sign up to get your prompts delivered each month.

Or take a look at my Short Stories page where I keep all my entries cataloged.

Furious Fiction May

Okay, Furious Fiction May is another Gretchen story. But hey, we all like Gretchen, so that’s cool, yeah? The criteria for this month was;

  • Each story’s first word had to be FIVE.
  • Each story had to include something being replaced.
  • Each story had to include the phrase A/THE SILVER LINING

Swizzle Sticks

“Five?” Nora pushed her specs up her nose and frowned at Gretchen. “Whaddya need five lengths of Ash for?” 

Gretchen rolled her eyes and nodded to the merchant who turned to locate her order. She wished Nora would have gone about her own business and not stuck her nose in. “It’s about time I replace my broom.”

Nora stood frozen for a moment, her eyebrows furrowed. “And you plan on burning yours with five expensive lumps of wood?” 

“I’m going to enchant the next one myself.” Gretchen lifted her chin, ready for the ridicule.

Nora leaned over the counter, bursting out in cackling. Gretchen pressed her lips together and waited for the laughter to subside. 

“You,” Nora snorted. “Are planning on enchanting your own broom?”

“Who says I can’t?” Gretchen folded her arms. “Witches do it all the time. They say the broom is always better when the connection is personal.”

“Gretchen,” Nora shook her head. “You couldn’t enchant your way out of a paper bag. And ash? Nobody uses ash anymore. What you want is yew. Got a good bit of flex to it and—”

“Us Murkwood’s ride on ash,” Gretchen said. At least, that’s what her spell book had called for, and she wasn’t going to tempt fate by using anything different.

“Do you know how dangerous this is?” Nora tried to school her face to calm. “Get this wrong and you could take a tumble from a significant height.”

“Well, that’s a fifty-fifty proposition most days for me. Besides, I’ve been practicing.”

“You mean that chair at The Salt and Bog? It’s been scooting around the taproom for a full week now. I’m surprised Jurgen hasn’t used it for kindling.”

Gretchen was pretty sure he’d tried, but the chair was smart enough to keep its distance while Jurgen was holding an axe. It was one of her first attempts, and she’d had a few too many ales before she’d decided it was a good idea. There was a silver lining, though. The chair had taken it upon itself to deliver sharp kicks to the shins when patrons got out of hand.

“Well, I’m doing it. There’s nothing you can say that’ll stop me.”

The merchant strode back into view hefting her order. Gretchen paid the man in gold and strapped the timber to her broom, keeping a good hold on it before her vehicle got any ideas.

“You still haven’t told me why you need five.”  Nora fell into step with her as they wound their way through the marketplace. 

“I’m not stupid. I know there’s a good chance I’ll turn the first four into swizzle sticks.” 

Nora chuckled, and Gretchen’s mouth twisted in a wry smile. She didn’t need to admit she’d been to see the merchant every day this week. She was amassing an impressive collection of swizzle sticks.

And Furious Fiction May marks my…

12th consecutive entry to the competition. A whole year of stories. Didn’t miss one of them. So there’s no excuses. Sign up to get the prompts delivered to your inbox at The Australian Writers Centre website here.

Or to check out my other entries, they are all in one spot on my Short Stories page.