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 #3:
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.
- The Young Lovers: Egan, a young apprentice to a Vox, is tested by his master and sent on an errand.
- On Your Feet: Mikaela, a young woman of mysterious origin and intentions, is lost in the Grey Caverns and encounters a stranger.
- The Extra Key: Egan finds a refuge and performs a good deed.
- The Standoff: Mikaela satisfies her hunger and her curiosity about her savior.
- No Longer Alone: Egan learns about Mikaela’s unpleasant past.
- What I Heard When I Listened: Egan takes a risk to learn an unpleasant truth.
- The Betrayal: Mikaela wakes up and finds Egan upset.
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.”
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #2:
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.”
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #1:
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:
- 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.
- What Floats My Boat: Mercy shows generosity to a mysterious stranger and is rewarded.
- It’s the Cheesiest: Mercy is given a quest, and meets a fox in need of help.
- Third Time’s the Charm: Fox joins Mercy and tells her his story.
- If it Quacks Like a Duck: …it’s not necessarily a duck.
- The Nays Have it: Fox and Mercy encounter a mutual acquaintance.
- Feeling Some Kind of Way: Fox suffers the consequences of his impulsiveness, and so does Mercy.
- The Birdwoman: Mercy and her companion meet an unusual person on the path.
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.”