Olivia Brannan

Olivia Brannan is the alter ego of Erica Peck, a mild-mannered stay-at-home mom and lapsed drama major who likes to write stories. She is currently working on two novels, both in the realms of fantasy and romance. As a longstanding member of The Flash Lit Collective and regular contributor to Alameda Shorts, she also allows herself periodic forays into the world of short stories and poetry. You can find much of her fiction (and the occasional poem) on her blog, Soundchecking The Void.


June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #1:

Image credit: Eric C Carter @dizzypixel.
Photograph + illustration by hand; no filters.
Like his work? Let him know:
https://www.buymeacoffee.com/Dizzypixel

The Birdwoman

[a continuation of Mercy and the Fox]

Mercy and the Fox is a fairytale-based story about a girl with an unusual eye and her adventures as she searches for her missing father in the dark enchanted forest. The original piece was written as a Red Riding Hood retelling for Alameda Shorts in early 2018. In 2021, several Flash Lit prompts from February and now June have inspired Olivia Brannan to continue with what is one of her son’s (and our) favorite stories.

If you would like to read the complete story to date, 500-1000 words at a time, this is the order:

  1. Ghost Eye: Mercy has lived all her life at the edge of the Great Forest, in a village full of ignorant, superstitious people who treat her as an outcast because of a physical difference. When her father goes missing, she is the only one who can save him.
  2. What Floats My Boat: Mercy shows generosity to a mysterious stranger and is rewarded.
  3. It’s the Cheesiest: Mercy is given a quest, and meets a fox in need of help.
  4. Third Time’s the Charm: Fox joins Mercy and tells her his story.
  5. If it Quacks Like a Duck: …it’s not necessarily a duck.
  6. The Nays Have it: Fox and Mercy encounter a mutual acquaintance.
  7. Feeling Some Kind of Way: Fox suffers the consequences of his impulsiveness, and so does Mercy.
  8. The Birdwoman: Mercy and her companion meet an unusual person on the path.

The Birdwoman

It felt strange to ride a talking horse that had once been a fox that had once been human, but as it was likely even more strange to be such a horse, Mercy didn’t mention it.

They rode for some time in awkward silence, the only non-forest noises the squeaking of leather or the jangling of some metal part or other. Mercy wasn’t sure of the name of said metal part, for she had never ridden before, as her family—indeed, most of her village—was too poor to own a horse for riding. All she knew was that the complicated arrangement of padding and straps was the only thing keeping her from falling from what seemed like a great height.

“Oh bother,” she muttered to herself.

“What’s wrong?” asked the Horse.

“I just realized that I will eventually have to figure out how to get this contraption off your back, and back on again. It must chafe terribly.”

“It’s not too bad,” he replied. “I’ll walk you through it just as I did when you mounted.”

He pulled up short as something dark swooped out of the trees, just missing Mercy’s head, and landed with a dry flutter on the path ahead of them. It was an enormous grackle, closer to a raven in size, and as they watched it grew even larger, staring at them all the time with eerie, unbirdlike intelligence. Spindly legs lengthened and thickened, toes fused together, beak receded into a flattening face, and feathers on its head grew into a tumbling mane of brown hair. Within seconds, a young woman stood before them, only a few years older than Mercy. She looked mostly human, but her face retained a sharp, birdlike quality, with a fringe of long, feathery eyelashes, and feathers covered her body like a suit of clothing.

“Hello,” she said, cocking her head to one side. “Is that a talking horse?”

“No,” said Mercy.

“Maybe,” said the Horse at the same time.

The Birdwoman clapped her hands. “Wonderful! Do you have anything to eat? I’m sick unto death of worms and acorns.”

They found a clearing just off the path and Mercy dismounted clumsily. She opened the satchel, revealing more of the delicious lamb pies nestled atop an abundance of hay.

As they ate, Mercy and the Horse offered abbreviated versions of their stories. The Birdwoman listened attentively, and then gave them hers.

She and her two older sisters had each been betrothed in turn to an evil sorcerer named Fitcher, she said. He had murdered her sisters, but she was able to restore them and disguise herself with the sorcerer’s grimoire before she killed him.

Mercy and the Horse listened with avid interest, particularly when she got to the part where she transformed into a bird to trick him.

“I don’t suppose,” he said when she had finished, “that you could use that grimoire to turn a horse into a man?”

“I certainly could,” she said. “If I still had it.”

Read more Olivia Brannan.


June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #2:

Artwork by Jessica Warren. 
Like her work? Send her a token of your appreciation: https://www.paypal.com/paypalme/stu23

The Muse

She comes to me in bleakest night
In icy goddess guise,
With flesh as warm as porcelain
And flame-bright coins for eyes.

She speaks to me on silent days
Of spheres behind the sky,
Of dormant voices in my head
And glass shards in my eye.

She rises up on waves of sound
And peels their foaming rind;
She draws apart the curtain-clouds
That veil my hiding mind.

Her brow is wreathed in violent blooms
That seep a poisoned dew;
Her whisper is a butterfly
With dagger-wings of blue.

Her thorny tendrils rip and rend,
Her unseen fingers prod;
I wait alone with labored breath
For her affirming nod.

When words are fickle phantasms
And sand spills from my pen,
She draws my blood, washes me clean
And says “Begin again.”

Read more Olivia Brannan.


June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #3:

Artist: Wesley E Warren, https://wesleywarren.com/ 
Like his work? Support him here:
https://www.paypal.com/paypalme/stu23

The Betrayal

[a continuation of Vox Ossa]

Vox Oss takes place in The Grey Caverns, a sprawling ossuary that houses uncounted generations of bones and lies beneath a massive city ruled by a cruel Patriarch. The Voces Ossa are a mystical order responsible for the disposition and care of the dead. Egan and Mikaela are thrust together by fate for reasons yet to be discovered.

This story began in a Flash Lit piece in 2019 and has been developed as each scene has been inspired by following Flash Lit prompts. It has a YA Fantasy feel but Olivia is not telling where it will lead.

  1. The Young Lovers: Egan, a young apprentice to a Vox, is tested by his master and sent on an errand.
  2. On Your Feet: Mikaela, a young woman of mysterious origin and intentions, is lost in the Grey Caverns and encounters a stranger.
  3. The Extra Key: Egan finds a refuge and performs a good deed.
  4. The Standoff: Mikaela satisfies her hunger and her curiosity about her savior.
  5. No Longer Alone: Egan learns about Mikaela’s unpleasant past.
  6. What I Heard When I Listened: Egan takes a risk to learn an unpleasant truth.
  7. The Betrayal: Mikaela wakes up and finds Egan upset.

The Betrayal

Mikaela awoke to a hitching breath and a muffled sob, and was surprised to discover that they were not her own. She lay very still, barely daring to breathe, her mind racing to remember where she was.

She was warm. The hunger pangs that had troubled her for weeks had lessened. This was neither her own room in her father’s house, nor the space underneath the footbridge where she taken shelter until…until the night she fled into the Grey Caverns. Ah, yes. Egan. The boy with the apple, and the awful tea, and the oatmeal. The boy who had saved her life.

She sat up slowly, wondering how long she had slept. An oil lamp flickered on the tiny table in the center of the cave, casting a frail light on the low ceiling and upper walls, leaving the lower half of the room shrouded in darkness.

“Egan?” she called softly. “Are you all right?”

A bundle of shadow huddled on the floor against the opposite wall shifted and let out a shuddering breath. “No. But don’t worry about me. Would you like more to eat?” Egan’s voice was faint and thick as he stood stiffly and fiddled with the lamp until its flame grew brighter.

Mikaela shook her head. “Please tell me what’s made you sad,” she said, scooting over and patting the cushion beside her. He had seemed so strong and steady earlier, but now he moved as if he carried a weight too heavy even for his broad shoulders.

He sank onto the couch and sat with his elbows on his knees, his head buried in his hands. “It’s too much. It’s too awful. There are so many of them. So many like you.”

A sliver of cold dread pierced her sternum. “What do you mean?”

He sat up and turned to look at her, his face a mask of sorrow. “It was one of the Voces who put that mark on you. Maybe one I know. Maybe even my own Vox, a man I respect.”

Her hand crept up to her neck where she knew the golden mark glowed faintly, declaring her Property of the Patriarch. “Maybe the Patriarch forced them to.”

“The Voces exist under their own authority, separate from the Patriarch. That script on your neck is sacred, used only by the Voces, and theoretically only on bones. But someone is using it to mark living people, and those people are dying. Dozens every year.” He covered his face with his hands. “And I didn’t know, so I didn’t help them.”

“But you helped me.” Mikaela patted his knee with a shaking hand.

Egan dragged a sleeve over his eyes and dropped his hand over hers, trapping it against his knee. “I’m sorry,” he said after a deep breath. “You’re the one in danger, and here you are comforting me while I blubber and moan. Are you all right?”

“Not really,” Mikaela replied. “Not yet. But I’m closer than I have been in weeks.”

Read more Olivia Brannan.


June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #4:

Photographer: Shannon Marsden.
Like her work? Let her know:
Venmo @Shannon-Marsden-1
This is a new installment in The Flightless, which takes place about fifteen years after
a mysterious apocalyptic event in which a plague of vampires was unleashed upon the world.

The Scuttle

The blue-white glow of Skaggsville on the horizon had teased Blaze and Arthur with its nearness as they reached the delta, but the sun’s rapid descent had crushed all hopes of getting home before dark, leaving them to shelter in the nearest bolthole until morning.

Just across the slough from Skaggsville, the Scuttle was far from luxurious, but they’d slept in worse over the past week. Canted to one side and accessible only by a soggy spit of land that all but disappeared at high tide, the old wreck didn’t look at all habitable from the outside. The inside wasn’t much better; a few boards had been laid across the slanted floor to make a more level sleeping or sitting surface, the walls were slimy and damp, and the whole thing was drenched in the briny, rotting-vegetation, dead-fish smell of the delta.

That was the beauty of it, though. The smell masked their scents, and there was the added benefit that the bloodsuckers tended to avoid salt water. Still, one couldn’t be too careful. They kept their voices low, huddling against the wall opposite the one porthole left clear.

Blaze sat cross-legged onto the rough floorboards, sighing deeply as she dug through her pack.

“Sorry,” Arthur said as he unbuckled his own pack and rummaged around for something to eat.about:blankREPORT THIS AD

She shot him an irritated look. “For what?”

Arthur flinched under the heat of her glare. “It’s bonfire night. We’re missing it. I slowed you down, and I’m sorry.”

Blaze produced a tin of dried smelt and popped it open. “It’s no big deal. We were never gonna make it before dark anyway.”

She was always gruff and short-spoken, but her face seemed stonier than usual. She was disappointed, he decided, but she’d never admit to it. She wasn’t big on emotions.

The porthole framed the scene quite aesthetically, Arthur mused as he chewed a nugget of spicy rabbit jerky. The UV perimeter lights reflected on the gathering clouds above, and the comet hung in the sky as if poised to crash into the town. His dad had told him the comet’s name—his dad knew stuff like that—but he’d promptly forgotten it. It had last been visible just before the Fracture, he’d said. Arthur had been too small to remember.

Beside him, Blaze stiffened. “The fuck is that?”

“The comet?” Arthur asked.

“Not the comet. Look.”

As he watched, a section of UV light blinked out, then another. In a few seconds the blue-white radiance had darkened, and in a few more an orange glow bloomed in its place, rising higher and sending up dark plumes into the clouds that now obscured the comet.about:blankREPORT THIS AD

He felt all the blood drain from his face as he turned to Blaze to confirm what they were seeing. A tear slid down her cheek, leaving a streak of moisture that glistened in the orange light that shone across the water.

“The bloodsuckers took out the UV lights,” she said. “Skaggsville is burning.”

Read more Olivia Brannan.


June 2021 | Flash Lit Challenge | Prompt #5:

Photographer: Jesus Manuel De Haro.
Follow him on Instagram: @grizzlydeharo
Tip/donate: Venmo @jesusdeharo
This is a new installment in The Flightless, which takes place about fifteen years after
a mysterious apocalyptic event in which a plague of vampires was unleashed upon the world.

The Beach by Moonlight

“Do you know why I hate them so much?” Blaze asked as they watched the fire consume the only home that Arthur had ever known. “Apart from the obvious?”

“Tell me,” said Arthur. It was past midnight, and the fire still raged. How did it keep burning so long? How was anything left to burn?

“When I was little,” said Blaze, “we lived by the ocean. There were tidepools nearby. On full moon nights, my dad took me beachcombing.”

Arthur shivered with revulsion.

“That’s right,” Blaze said, “you wouldn’t remember. You would have still been a baby, so you’ve only ever known moonlight as theirs.”

“Why not go during the day, when it’s safe?”

“Because that’s when the tides were lowest, and there were some creatures that only came out at night. Little ones, not vicious bloodsucking ones.”

“Because they hadn’t come yet.”

Blaze wiped away a tear. “Yes. And when they came, they stole everything from us. From me. They stole my parents, friends, safety, food security, and they also stole those nights from me.” She closed her eyes and took a deep, shuddering breath. “Sometimes I dream I’m with my dad on the beach. He smiles at me, holds out a shell or a rock, and then one of them comes and rips his throat out.”

Arthur couldn’t say anything to make that better, so he settled for squeezing her hand.

As soon as the first rays of dawn lightened the sky, they climbed out of the Scuttle and made their way across the series of hummocks and bridges that led to the town. They donned kerchiefs and goggles against the smoke and the smell of fresh death, but it wasn’t enough. Nothing could have prepared them for the devastation that awaited them.

Every wooden structure was reduced to ash. The door of the cinderblock armory had been wrenched off its hinges, its contents strewn around the yard, mostly melted or discharged or exploded.

And then there were the bodies.

They were everywhere. In ones and twos in puddles of blood, huddled together inside ruined structures, and worst of all, in the charred remains of playpens or cradles.

“We can’t just leave them,” he told Blaze as they surveyed what used to be the creche. Parents often left their smallest kids in the care of a few volunteers during the monthly bonfire nights, so they could relax and have fun with the other adults.

Blaze ran a hand over her dark red hair. “I don’t like it either, but we can’t bury four hundred bodies before sundown. We have to get to safe shelter before dark. Then we have to spread the word about what happened here.”

“I only counted three hundred seventeen,” said Arthur. “The others must be alive somewhere. Is it possible—”

“I’ve checked all over, there’s no one hiding.” She wouldn’t meet his eyes. “You know where they are as well as I do.”

Taken, and presumably Bitten, which was even worse than dead.

Read more Olivia Brannan.


June 2021 | Flash Lit Challenge | Prompt #6:

Image credit: Eric C Carter @dizzypixel.
Photograph + illustration by hand; no filters.
Like his work? Let him know:
https://www.buymeacoffee.com/Dizzypixel

Sharing

When did I learn that my joy is not my own?
This slice of cake
   This turn of phrase
      This fragrant blossom
         This sweeping vista
Have value only when shared with someone
(worthy)
Who agrees that they are good?

Who taught me that my pleasure is selfish?
That each choice morsel of myself—
My brightest smiles
   My clinging dress
      My cutting wit
         My secret flesh
Are worthless until other eyes consume them,
Better tongues sing their praises?

One day I want to hide alone in the sunshine,
Crouched beneath a wild breezy canopy of sky,
And hoard my kindest words for myself
With only my joy for company.

Read more Olivia Brannan.


June 2021 | Flash Lit Challenge | Prompt #7:

Artwork by Jessica Warren.
Like her work? Send her a token of your appreciation: https://www.paypal.com/paypalme/stu23

House of Truth

We tell our children not to lie,
Let the truth—the virtuous truth—be their salvation, their guide,
Their home
A place of purity

Build yourself a pure white house where only truth resides.
Never cheat, never steal, never lie,
Or Santa Claus will know and pass you by.

These lessons are necessary but temporary,
Like the stepstool at the sink until you are tall enough,
Like the confining car seat until you are big enough,
Like the clip on the sharp knife drawer.
Some truths devolve—archaic, discarded.
Some lies are passed down from ear to ear,
The most precious of family heirlooms.

A truth about Truth is that it’s a tool.
The Kindly Ones can never lie,
But their cunning words are sharp as knives,
Vicious as biting black-winged butterflies.
Their twisted truths can maim and strangle,
Or send you down a perilous path
That leaves you lost forever.

A truth about Lies is that they are tools too.
They can be kind.
I believe you
You look beautiful
Everything will be all right
They can keep you safe.
I don’t live alone
I’m here with a friend
I’m married already

Look between the stark white truths
And the swirling black corruption of lies:
Stories live there,
And power
And kindness.

Read more Olivia Brannan.


June 2021 | Flash Lit Challenge | Prompt #8:

Artist: Wesley E Warren
Like his work? Let him know:
https://www.paypal.com/paypalme/stu23
This is a new installment in The Flightless, which takes place about fifteen years after
a mysterious apocalyptic event in which a plague of vampires was unleashed upon the world.

The Survivor

Arthur followed Blaze through still-smoldering rubble toward the looming western perimeter gate. His boots crunched on the broken glass from the shattered UV lights and his newly-acquired rifle felt strange and heavy in his hands. They had managed to salvage a handful of undamaged weapons, but no food.

“There’s no way they took all of them,” he mumbled. “How would the bloodsuckers carry nearly ninety people?” Because then his father would definitely be among them, if he weren’t one of the corpses too burned to identify. It might have been easier if he had found him; at least then he would know.

As it was, he held onto his composure by the barest thread. He knew he would snap sooner or later, that he’d have to break down and allow himself to feel the crushing awfulness and loss of what had happened. When he did, he needed to be somewhere secure, preferably alone, but now there was work to do.

“They hit all the lights within seconds.” Blaze’s voice was husky and whisper-soft, muffled by her kerchief, or maybe by the same tightness in her throat that Arthur felt. “There had to be a lot of ‘em. Could have been a hundred or more swarming the walls.”about:blankREPORT THIS AD

“I’ve never heard of more than twenty or thirty in a hive.”

“I’ve never heard of them attacking our tech before, but here we are.”

An armored truck had crashed into the left side of the gate, knocking the metal slab off its lower hinge and up onto the truck’s roof, along with sections of corrugated siding from the sentry tower. The truck’s rear doors were open, the cargo hold half-full of supply crates. The passenger door was also open, and blood pooled on the front seat and floorboard.

“Perfect,” said Blaze. “If we can get this running—”

A wet cough came from the front of the truck. Shadows shifted between the ruined gate and the truck’s hood. “Someone’s trapped under there!” Someone he knew? Arthur rushed forward, but Blaze stopped him.

“Arthur, wait. We don’t know what shape they’re in.”

“Help me!” He shrugged off her grip and grabbed a piece of siding, flinging it aside.

Arrrrthurrr.

The ragged, hissing voice turned his blood to ice even before he saw the bluish-white long-fingered hand. Its claws had dug grooves into the hood. It reached out, and he scrambled backwards with a yelp.

“Careful.” Blaze shoved him behind her and brought her rifle up.about:blankREPORT THIS AD

The bloodsucker lay on its back, bent at an unnatural angle across the hood, its legs crushed between the grille and the gate. Two gaping wounds had opened up in its abdomen like giant eyes, revealing yellow bone and red muscle, steadily seeping thick purple blood. Its eyes were red pits, its hair matted into thick, tangled cords. Its left hand clutched something to its chest: a narrow blue pyramid-shaped object.

“What’s it holding?” whispered Arthur.

“Fuck if I know,” said Blaze.

Read more Olivia Brannan.


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