Ten words – use all of them in your story. That was the challenge from Chuck Wendig in this week’s flash fiction challenge. I went blank to start with, then was tempted to do a little backstory since one of the words was Willow, and Willow is Hugo’s number two in his original journey down the time tunnel in The Traveler in Black and White. There was one word that gave me trouble, since it is really too modern for the Princelings world. I ended up deciding they have good enough scientists to have discovered molecular structure! This is 995 words – amazing how much you can edit to get within the 1000 word guideline.
The list of words is at the end – you need to find eight more of them!
Willow’s Day Off
Willow’s brush smoothed the blue paint over the woodwork below the window. No one could fault his workmanship, either inside or outside the little office, set into the side of the canyon that formed the market place. At the centre was the Inn of the Seventh Happiness, surrounded by coaches and wagons.
If an observer was pedantic, Willow was taking too long. It didn’t need perfection. Willow’s mild deceit gave him the appearance of being busy while his mind was elsewhere. He already planned to scrape away some clay holding the internal wall together, remove a brick and provide a perfect hiding place. The safe was entirely unsafe for his purpose. Records of manufacturing dates in the future for stock being held now were entirely confidential. It would certainly be Willow’s funeral if anyone knew. The safe was bait, in case anyone wanted to investigate their business.
The kid from the inn came across, holding a large envelope.
“Letter from Vexstein, Mr Willow,” the kid bounced to turn around after he’d handed it over.
“Thanks, kid – say,” he called after him, “what’s your name?”
“Well, Victor, would you like one of these?”
Willow disappeared inside and returned with a packet of balloons, abandoned in the filing cabinet. Victor bounced up and down, grinning.
“Shall I blow one up?”
Victor added a nod to his bouncing. He stopped, eyes wide, as Willow put the tube to his lips. That’s the way to captivate an audience, Willow thought as he blew.
Victor bounced off across the yard, the inflated balloon grasped in one hand, weaving skilfully past the passengers piling onto the stagecoaches about to depart. He slipped into the inn calling to his father. Willow smiled. Nice kid.
The envelope contained an appointment for Willow’s boss, Hugo del Novo, with the Honourable Smallweed of Vex Breweries Limited, for the third afternoon from now. Willow sucked his lip. That would be close. Hugo would barely be back from his trip up north by then.
Willow packed his things away, slipped up the back stairs of the inn to his room and freshened up. He and Hugo had seen something odd at the Vex Breweries Open Day – their own bottling technology, shipped in from one of their own subsidiaries. They’d also met someone who had visited them in the past. A trade mission on an illegal trade route? That was even more suspicious than their own operation. But Hugo saw a business opportunity and asked for a meeting. The Vexstein people had responded quickly.
Willow decided to sleep on it.
He breakfasted early, then checked out the market stalls for certain innocent supplies. One fellow sold rocks and coloured stones. Willow lingered at his stall, picking up pieces, holding them up to the light, just like a tourist, and got into conversation with him. The stallholder delved in a box underneath his stall, and brought out some chips and waste stones.
“This might be what you mean,” he said, passing Willow a slightly yellow rock the size of his fist. “Brimstone, we call it.”
Willow smelled it. “Yes, that’ll do, and I’ll take this one too.” He hefted a crystalline piece of about the same size, a browny-purple colour. “Where do you get them from?”
The stallholder told him the main locations. “There’s plenty more stones around if you’re interested.”
“I might be, thanks,” said Willow. “I’ll buy you a few drinks in the inn later.”
“Right friendly of you. See you around.”
Willow kept his promise, then took the last stage to the Prancing Pony, an inn two hours away. He spoke to the barman, ignoring the scar that disfigured his face from ear to lip, who promised to pass his message to Hugo del Novo, checking every stagecoach from Sowerby for the next two days. Willow took a room, ruffled up the bedclothes and slipped out of the window onto the fire escape.
After two hours climbing up steep slopes, avoiding the road to the heights of Castle Vexstein, he lay on a rocky hill overlooking the brewery. He expected security. He’d noted obvious aspects at the open day. There was a smooth metal door for deliveries and another smaller one for visitors. The walls were smooth too. Not a surface he liked. The castle walls were rougher, and there was an arch high above, a bridge from the castle to the brewery. He strapped his small bag closer about his body and leapt up the castle wall, finding handholds among the smallest of imperfections in the surface. He stopped at the bridge, controlling his breathing as he looked down into the brewery.
The visitor area had a strange sculpture in the yard outside it; a “representation of the atomic structure of beer”. That meant nothing to him. It had twinkling lights in the round balls at the ends of the rod connectors. Willow frowned. Why would it be twinkling now, and not during the visitor day? He smelled security; was it some sort of sensor? If he could get into the building up here, he should be able to avoid it completely. He checked the windows and found one with a cracked pane. Five seconds later it was paneless, and Willow was inside.
His target was the office above the bottling plant. He got in, checked the records of the bottling plant and got out again. The brimstone and saltpetre made locks and safes superfluous. The evidence was clear: Hugo’s Spanish subsidiary had sold the bottling technology and someone had lined his own pockets on the deal. He copied the key facts and put everything back. No one would know he’d been there.
Willow always cleared up afterwards. Some things took longer than others. People in Spain had some explaining to do.
He picked a different way down the hill and took the day off to hike back to the Inn of the Seventh Happiness the pretty way. It was good to think.
(c) J M Pett 2013
The words were: Funeral Captivate Deceit Brimstone Canyon Balloon Clay Disfigured Willow Atomic