Diana Pharaoh Francis | Diana P. Francis | Diana Francis

Short Fiction

Too Soon To Quit

The new alchemy building appeared at dawn on the summer solstice. Everybody knew it was the new alchemy building because it hadn’t existed previously, and because Alchemy had been carved into the glowing blue stone over the lintel. The doors were made of a black substance that might have been rock and it might have been glass. Roots and vines made of platinum snaked over the door’s rippled surface. Electric blue pulses shot through the silvery metal at irregular intervals.

The building itself was only one story and appeared to be no larger than one of the greenhouses behind the Astronomy Center. The exterior size meant nothing, however, since the interiors of many buildings were much larger or much smaller than earthly physics allowed. The exterior of the building was constructed of the same substance as the door, carved all over with unfamiliar symbols, all chased in vines of platinum. The roof was domed, glowing blue like the sign above the door.

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All Things Being Not Quite Equal

First published: Dreams of Decadence. Spring 1997: 37-48.
Reprint. The Best of Dreams of Decadence. New York: Penguin/Roc, 2003.

An ugly vampire with a frizzy perm isn’t exactly effective, not even at closing time at the sluttiest bar in the city. There didn’t seem to be a man or woman among the drunk and leering desperate enough to take Esther up on her too obvious invitation. Not even when she was wearing a blouse unbuttoned nearly to her navel, tight leather pants and four inch zebra-print heels. Not that she didn’t have a reasonably good body a little straight up and down maybe, but not repulsive. It just wasn’t enough to overcome her face. There had been that one guy whose friends had dragged him off in evident pity before he could make a terrible mistake. Oh it would have been a mistake all right, just not the one they anticipated.

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Blood on the Knife—A Love Story

Some people always look for the good in others, the bright side of life, the silver lining… I don’t. Fuck me, but it’s too hard and boring besides. Bad is always more entertaining and, when you get right down to it, more predictable. I suppose that’s why I hooked up with Jameson Rose. No one had ever accused him of anything approaching goodness, decency, honor, integrity, benevolence—the list goes on. In fact, mostly he tended to be characterized by friends and enemies both in terms of demons and satan, scum and slime. Suited me fine. I always knew where I stood with him, and while that might not have always been comfortable, I like knowing what’s what.

Ours was neither a sexual or romantic relationship—and no, they aren’t necessarily the same thing. In my experience they most often aren’t. It’s true I may be cynical, but then again, I may just be a keen observer of the human condition. I worked for him as a kind of administrative assistant/watchdog bitch. I had my nose in all his dealings (I’m very discreet and don’t fold under pressure). Never met a polygraph I couldn’t pass neck deep in bullshit. I headed off all intruders—business and personal—and on occasion, I even had cause to arrange his girlfriend’s abortion and fold his socks (he doesn’t wear underwear)—though not all in the same day. I was pretty essential to him and he paid me well. I will say that I did like the job. I felt needed. I was the best he’d ever had. Or so he said. I wonder if he still thinks so.

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Circle Balanced

Eliash sighed and rubbed at a particularly stiff and soiled spot on her cinch. The saddle grease slicked her roughened hands, her brown skin hashed white with old scars. She smiled to herself. Surely no one in their right mind would seek the runaway Princess Luen Shenyv of Skan in the stables, cleaning her tack in preparation for the afternoon’s patrol. Still, she always kept her sword near. The prospect of the searchers’ return, of their trying to force her to go back, made her very careful. She snorted softly and readjusted the cinch across her knees. Why did they even want her? Skan hated magic. Enough to use torture on a small child. And now? What did they think they’d find? Definitely no pitiful, beaten girl. Eliash was a pillar of Ter’s Inner Circle now, not to mention a well blooded captain of its army. Whatever prompted this quest for her, she sincerely doubted that it was to her benefit. She thought of her father and venom burned her tongue. Maybe he wanted to finish what he’d started. Her lips tightened. He could try.

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Honey Bones: A Fable

First published in Glyph. Fall 2000, Issue #3: 34-41.

There is a jut at the northernmost point along the headlands of the Isle of Susay where it is said, if you look hard through the shadow mists, you can see past the edge of time. But no one goes up to the headlands, not for eight hundred years, not even to harvest the lightning blossoms which grow nowhere else in the world, and whose properties are necessary for the most powerful magics. The purple flowers with bloody hearts circle an odd hunching lump of black stone on the edge of the cliff. The bones of Merwin of Romail at one time rested beneath this stone, once a porcupine oak, its trunk carved with arcane symbols of great power. The queer carvings remain sharp as through freshly cut on the tree’s petrified remains, but the underside of the cliff exists no longer. Gnawed by storm and years, its stone belly at last crumbled into the angry sea below, carrying with it an old sorceress’s ancient bones.

When her bones escaped into the depths, some whispered that Merwin of Romail, her soul harnessed above by the power of the oak, had the last laugh.

Merwin had been a worker of the blackest magics and many was the village child who went missing on a full moon night. It was never told how the seven wise women of Heble countered her power, but it is said that they buried her alive and planted the porcupine oak over her heart to capture her spirit for all eternity. And so even to this day her soul remains locked within its implacable grasp.

But her bones are gone.

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Local Work

First published in Twisted Ink, 2007

In Scircleville, along the Moody River, there lives an assassin. Not the garden variety with muscles, guns, a dead eye stare and bombs in his back pocket, but the kind only the heartland town of Scircleville could produce. A steadfast, upright sort of man, with a strong sense of small-town community and loyalty. The town’s forefathers had mispelled its name, not knowing any better and perhaps wishing to err on the side of caution. Thus the redundancy of the first two letters. The townspeople had never once considered correcting that mistake. They chose instead to adhere to that steadfast loyalty and devotion to the forefathers of their community—loyalty shared by Morley Long, hometown killer.

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Native Spinsters

This story was published in LCRW last year. I hope you enjoy.

…and William Osbourne shot his sixth tiger in as many months, and the jamadars ran before the elephants all the way from camp, lauding his victory in quite a ferocious manner. I shot nothing and was forced to trail behind in disgrace.

Fanny paused, her eyes gritty. She scanned again the brief missive she’d begun drafting three hours before. It said nothing of any consequence. But how did one broach such a subject as she must do?

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Nothing Left To Lose

This story is now republished in Wolfsongs 2 along with some other really fabulous stories. I did some revising and adding to Nothing Left to Lose for this anthology. You should definitely check it out!

The Ease of Destruction

The necroid ball bounced through a gap between the grate and the support beam where the grate hadn’t been properly latched down. Phil didn’t see the opening until it was too late.

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The Fine Print

The pens stank of shit and vomit, sweat and blood. Joel curled his lip in disgust, more at himself than his companions. He couldn’t recall the last time he’d been clean, or even just dirty. Grime and filth filled his pores, clogged his nostrils. And he’d thought homeless shelters stank. He’d been so full of himself—now he knew better. His lips twisted into a snarl of self derision.

He reached into his waistband and scratched his crotch. Lice infested every square inch of his body. The guy lying prostrate beside him gave a sudden yell and jerked up, flailing at the air. Joel cuffed him on the side of the head and Kadith woke up, his hands curling into fists. Seeing Joel, the Rodite grimaced and lay back down.

Guy. Like he didn’t have scaly rust colored skin with holes in the side of his head to serve as ears and round, taloned feet the size of dinner plates thickly padded to protect him from the sharp digs of the rocky ground. Looked like some monster out of a bad B movie.

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The Road Taken

The length of round oak in his hands was smooth and dark from long use. Dirt and grass clotted the blade of the hoe, but underneath it was sharp and new—new for the spring’s planting, for the year’s harvest. The red of rust had never touched it, though he’d sanctified it with the red of a richer hue. His own, for he’d never seen the point in baptizing a blade, be it a hoe or a sword, in anything less precious. It was a sign of strength and respect. In all his years, he’d never had either let him down in a moment of crisis.

He straightened, the graceful bronze arc of his back unfurling until he stood tall in the sun. The skin of his body was hairless—smooth but for the numerous white hashes of old scars, indicating where, during the winter, he suffered the aches of the cold. Sweat dampened his scalp, trickling down his forehead, neck and arms, and making a dark arrow over his groin and buttocks. His shirt lay wrapped around his waterbag in the shade, keeping it cool. It didn’t matter though. He was long inured to the sun, even after the long winter spent bundled in felt and fur, even after nearly a decade in the mountains. He flicked the shaggy, still brown lengths of his hair from his eyes, smoothing it back over his skull, using his salty sweat to slick it into place. His face was turned up to the sun, his many times broken nose jutting like a mountain’s edge, his lips thin and unsmiling above his narrow chin. Though his eyes were closed and his arms slack, he listened intently.

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