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Tendrils & Tentacles

Tendrils & Tentacles cover
Our first anthology
of genre micronarrative.

“Surprising quality”
—John O'Neill, Black Gate editor

Sample flash fiction from Tendrils & Tentacles

Red, Gold
by F.J. Bergmann

The throne is empty. A golden crown floats above it, poised to receive the head of the next king. There is a legend that when a usurper took the throne and placed the crown on his own head, it contracted suddenly to the size of a child’s finger-ring—with results that may be imagined. The throne is (predictably) cushioned in red velvet. The walls of the room are also red, the red of savage anger and bloodshed. All the decisions made here lead to grief for someone, somewhere.

Ornamental niches in all the walls hold the kingdom’s
minor treasures: the skeleton of the fish inside which the last king discovered his predecessor’s signet ring, complete with a finger bone (the fish was duly eaten at that banquet, and was said to have been delicious); a diminutive statue of a headless, armless sea-god riding a snail; an allegorical personification of Responsibility in colored porcelain, its shards swept into a dismal little heap; a vampire aloft, poised to swoop down upon a hapless maiden attempting to flee on horseback; an ivory replica of the deformed fetus born to the first wife of the second-to-last king; a turtle mounted and stuffed, its shell encrusted with tacky paste jewels; an ormolu hunchbacked hermaphrodite bearing the symbols of Mars and Venus locked in mortal combat.

At the other end of the throne room, where the king will always look upon it, is a statue cast in black iron, representing the Fool—a subtle reminder that risks must be undertaken with caution. The dog is shown already tumbling down the cliff.

The warded doors—three-and-a-half times the height of a man—open suddenly, and a stumbling procession of pale, wide-eyed youths, all with the weak ankles and pointy ears that distinguish the royal bloodline, are herded in at spearpoint and prodded toward the throne. Each one is trying to push another ahead of him; as they close in, the effect is rather like a demi-wreath of netted, writhing herring. On the balconies above, courtiers are placing bets in lowered voices. They giggle as one unfortunate drops to the floor and is impaled when he attempts to slither between the legs of the guards. As the spears pin the rest, thrashing wildly, against the dais, a selection is made.

The weakest, buffeted above the shoulders of the rest, is flung upon the empty cushions, and given up for lost. As he struggles to push himself away from its carved arms, the throne arches its clamps across his wrists and ankles (heavy gold, glowing with a thousand rubies) and the crown snaps to his skull as a lodestone to iron. Applause spatters down from above, and a phalanx of trumpets blares.

The guards spin on their left heels and march out in tight formation. The other pretenders relax, clapping each other on the back and gossiping in overly loud voices as servants move among them with glasses of dark wine and trays of hare confit and jellied scorpions. Occasionally someone will surreptitiously cast a glance at the new monarch, slumped and silent. If they look closely, they can see his twitching jaw and the thin red streams flowing from the corners of his eyes.

The major treasures of the kingdom are (of course) intangible.

(first appeared in Brain Harvest)

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