Flash Fiction Friday: The Green Mistress

Erik slammed down the empty glass, the bitters of wormwood still dancing across his tongue. “Another,” he said to the bartender.

The bartender said nothing as he picked up the bottle of absinthe and poured more of the green shimmering liquid into the empty glass.

“Not real, none of it,” Erik said, taking the glass and knocking down its contents. He glanced over his shoulder at the beautiful woman who stood behind him. The curly locks of her bobbed hair, glinting green in the dim lights of the bar, framed her delicate face. Her eyes, sultry and blue-green, blinked slowly at him with that knowing come-hither look. Her pale green skin shimmered as if dusted with pearls, and her deep green satin dress folded around her in highlights and shadows.

“More,” her vivid lips whispered, as she twisted a curl around her finger. “Don’t leave me empty. Don’t leave me alone.”

“Not real,” Erik muttered, shaking his head. He slid the glass back to the bartender. “Another.”

“I think you’ve maybe had enough,” the bartender said.

The woman behind him gently caressed Erik’s throat with her hands. “More. I can’t be alone.”

“I said, another one,” Erik said.

The bartender shook his head. “No. I’m cutting you off, buddy.”

The woman let out a hiss and dug her nails into Erik’s throat, drawing long scratches over his Adam’s apple. “Give me more.”

Erik let out a vile curse and jumped to his feet. “Give me another one!”

“Get outta my bar.”

“Don’t you know I’ll die?” the woman cooed into Erik’s ear. “Don’t you love me? I love you…so much, so much.”

Erik threw money down on the counter, put on his fedora, and shrugged into his trench coat. He turned away from the bar and staggered toward the door. The woman collapsed to the floor and grabbed his ankles, forcing him to drag her every step of the way.

“You can’t do this to me!” she wailed.

“Not real,” Erik said. “None of it. Not real.”

“But you love me.”

Erik paused, looking up and down at her slender, alluring curves. He reached down and offered a hand to her. “When we get home. I hid a bottle in the basement. But I can’t drink it ‘til my wife’s gone to bed.”

“I said, get outta my bar!” the bartender shouted from across the room. A large bouncer came over to the door and seized Erik by the collar of his trench coat.

“I’m going!” Erik said, pushing the bouncer away.

“Then get going,” the bouncer said.

The woman climbed up from the floor. “Let’s get out of here, Erik. Take me home. Love me there, like you promised.”

Together, they stepped through the doors and walked out into the bitter cold air. The woman shivered, pulling her green mink shawl tighter around her shoulders.

“Not real,” Erik said again, brushing a finger across her cheek. “But so beautiful. So, so beautiful.”

“I’m as real as you want me to be.”

“You’re shivering. Here, take my coat.” Erik slipped out of his coat and helped the woman slide her arms into it.

“So much better.”

Erik blinked, and for a moment spotted his trench coat lying rumpled on the ground as new snowfall dotted it. He shook his head and saw the woman again, warm and beautiful in his coat. He offered her an arm and they stumbled down the streets, slipping and sliding in the snow and laughing like new lovers.

It was past midnight by the time Erik and the woman made it to his house. His wife had given up on him and lay in bed, breathing softly. In the moonlight, Erik thought he glimpsed tear stains smeared across her cheeks. A pang of guilt surged through him.

“The basement,” the woman insisted. “Love me like you promised.”

Erik stared at his wife, knowing how much he had hurt her, knowing how fragile the thread of their marriage was. Every day that thread crept further between the scissors of the Fates, waiting to be snipped in two, sundering their marriage like death.

The woman’s silky lips brushed across his. “Why won’t you love me? Don’t you know I’ll die?”

Heart pounding, Erik stumbled toward the stairs. At the top, he paused, thinking of the stains on his wife’s beautiful soft pink cheeks. “Maybe you should die. Leave me alone. You’re not real.”

The woman laughed a deep cruel laugh. “If I die, you die.” She gave him a fierce shove and he tumbled down the stairs headfirst. As he lay at the bottom of the stairs, dazed and in pain, he watched her descend the steps, every move graceful and terrifying. Soon, she loomed over him, dragging her nails across his face and laughing. “You might be rid of me for now, but you’ll come back to me, love. You always come back. I am the heart of you. The taste of my lips fills your every waking moment.”

“Erik? Oh, no…Erik!”

Erik looked up through fluttering eyelids to see his wife running down the stairs toward him.

“You’ll come back to me,” the green woman whispered.

“Not real,” Erik said.

“Of course I’m real,” Erik’s wife said.

Erik reached up a hand and brushed it across her pink tear-stained cheek. “Yes. Yes, you are.”

“Let’s get you up the stairs, you drunken old fool,” his wife said, her voice a mixture of anger and concern. “I swear, Erik, if you come home like this one more time…”

But Erik couldn’t hear her anymore. As they struggled up the stairs, his green mistress sang softly to him with siren voice:

“She’s the one who isn’t real…”

And for one moment, Erik spied his trench coat lying on the basement floor.


“The Green Mistress” copyright 2017 by A.L.S. Vossler.

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Review: Stormdancer

 

Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff is the first book of The Lotus War Trilogy. It was named one of the best teen books of 2012 by Kirkus Reviews. The fantasy world Kristoff creates is imaginative and rich, full of mythology and great plot twists. The book is marketed as “Japanese Steampunk” and does not disappoint. It has chainkatanas—and yes, a chainkatana is a katana that is also a chainsaw. It has shuriken-throwers—weapons that spit out throwing stars like a machine gun. It is all pretty cool, truth be told.

The story is set on the fantasy island of Shima—or as I like to call it, the island of It’s-Totally-Not-Japan-You-Guys. Shima’s technology is all powered by “chi,” a fuel derived from a plant called the blood lotus (or as I like to call it, It’s-Totally-Not-Fossil-Fuel-You-Guys). The pollution from the chi exhaust has devastated Shima’s ecosystems, and it has induced a fatal disease called blacklung in a large portion of the population. To avoid this, everyone must wear filtered breathers or cover their mouths with cloths in hopes of preventing the deadly smog from ruining their lungs. The atmosphere has become so depleted that the sun’s radiation is no longer filtered properly, so everyone must wear polarized goggles to protect their eyes during the day. Almost all of the island’s animal population has been decimated.

The blood lotus itself is an interesting plant—not only can it be converted to chi, it also can be smoked for recreation. Many people—known as lotus-fiends—are addicted to it. The roots can be used to create a deadly toxin, which in smaller doses can be used as a sedative. It is such a lucrative crop that almost every farmer on the island wants to grow it—except for the region of Daiyakawa, which is reserved for the nation’s food growing. Blood lotus has an unfortunate side effect on the environment, however—it eventually depletes the soil so that it can no longer yield anything. Crop rotation does nothing to prevent this. However, the use of the fertilizer “inochi” (provided, incidentally, by the same people who provide the lotus seed) can stave off the killing of the land. Already, however, a huge portion of Shima has been consumed by dead lands, known as “The Stain.” The Lotus Guild (or as I like to call it, It’s-Totally-Not-Monsanto-You-Guys)is responsible for everything pertaining to blood lotus and chi, as well as developing the technology.

Because Shima’s resources are becoming so depleted, they are waging war on the neighboring country in order to procure more lands—and also, they claim, the gaijin are just plain evil.

The plot begins with the emperor of Shima deciding that he wants a griffin—or as they are also called, arashitora (literally Japanese for ‘stormtiger,’ though often translated in the book as ‘thunder tiger’). He sends his royal hunter out to find one, despite the fact that arashitora have been extinct for decades. The hunter, Masaru, brings his sixteen-year-old daughter Yukiko (the protagonist) along. Yukiko is blessed with a gift known as the Kenning, which allows her to commune with the minds of beasts—however, the Lotus Guild is obsessed with eliminating everyone with this gift from the island, calling it a sign of impurity. Yukiko has been careful to keep her gift hidden, though she makes a mistake which almost gets her caught. However, nothing happens and so they proceed with their seemingly futile hunting trip. However, they do find an arashitora and even successfully capture it—except it destroys their sky-ship in the process, causing them to crash. Yukiko is separated from everyone and finds herself alone with the arashitora, whom she names Buruu, and they begin to form a tenuous relationship.

There were a lot of things I really liked about this book. Kristoff’s writing style is rich and descriptive, and he is masterful at producing suspense. The action he writes is so easy to visualize, it many times feels like you are watching an anime. The best descriptive moment in the book is, in my opinion, when an individual gets shot: Kristoff describes it so vividly and accurately it’s chill-inducing. There are a lot of great moments besides that, but that particular bit was so memorable. The plot twists are also great. I also loved the mythology—I’m not versed enough in Japanese mythology to know whether or not Kristoff is simply borrowing mythology or has invented his own, but I like it a lot. The arashitora is a cool spin on the griffin—it is half tiger, rather than lion, and it has the ability to send massive claps of thunder from its wings. And, I admit, I was a sucker for the chainswords.

I also liked the fact that, despite the fact that the story is essentially a man-is-destroying-the-earth story, Kristoff was quite creative in how he portrayed it. While it becomes obvious that the blood lotus is a metaphor for fossil fuels, and the idea that wars are being fought over fossil fuels, and so on, it is still creative. I loved it, actually. It’s one of the few pollution-apocalypse stories that I really enjoyed. It feels less like the message is being shoved down your throat and more like it’s simply part of a fully realized fantasy world. This is one great thing about fantasy: it allows you to explore real-world issues in a nonthreatening way, and Kristoff did an excellent job with it.

One thing I did not like about this story, though, is that Shima is essentially Japan. It’s not a fantasy world that resembles Japan—it’s just straight-up Japan with a different name. While I get that the idea was for this to be Japanese steampunk, there could have been a few more differences. They use Japanese for everything, and even call the gangsters “Yakuza.” Hence, it feels like the author is shouting, “This is totally not Japan, you guys, except that it is.” It still made for an enjoyable story, and I realize the story would not have worked if it was actually Japan, being as the other fantasy elements would not have fit in. Nevertheless, I felt like it was a little too much. It’s one thing to model a fantasy culture on an existing one, another thing to simply lift the culture entirely.

In a similar vein, it would seem that Kristoff did not do quite enough research on Japanese stuff—at least in one case. First off, chi is a Chinese concept, not a Japanese one. Second, I’m not that versed in Japanese, but I have a textbook of basic Japanese on my bookshelf and I have done my fair share of perusing on Wikipedia. I know enough to understand how honorific suffixes work—and that they are just that: suffixes. Kristoff uses the suffix “-sama” (basically equivalent to ‘master’ or simply an address to someone significantly higher in rank) as an address—for example, “Thank you, Sama.” This is blatantly incorrect and made a lot of reviewers on Amazon mad. This is another issue with completely lifting another culture—you have to get it exactly right or you’re in trouble.

All in all, I recommend this book. However, as a caveat to those who might be researching this book to see if it is appropriate for their teen, be aware that two teen characters do have sex with each other. It is glossed over with a cutaway, basically a sort of “They were kissing passionately, and then afterward…” thing. This is at least tasteful, but some parents may still object to their teens reading this. Also be aware that there is a fair amount of language: D, G-D, F, etc.  There is also a lot of violence—enough that the book might earn an R-rating if an exactly faithful movie was made of it. In some ways, it reminded me of the gore you see in martial arts movies and anime—extremely exaggerated bloodshed.

Stormdancer is an exciting story with lots of fun plot twists and great characters. Its foibles are, in my opinion, far outweighed by its good moments, making it worth reading. People who like lots of action and excitement will love this book.

Have you read Stormdancer? What are your thoughts on it?

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