• Jabe Stafford

One Page Worlds - Gaslight Queen

A whole world on a single page!

The short story morsels of One Page Worlds are flash fiction adventures of all flavors. Every Wednesday will feature a complete story in one page, or the first page of what could be a novel or novelette.

Sharing the fun and geekery is the best part of writing! Please tweet or comment with your guesses on what genre, character, and job is central to each tale. Enjoy touring new universes each week with One Page Worlds!

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Let the papers get it wrong. Only one woman needs to know my true name.

I stalk the gaslit streets past midnight, seeking the one too proud to remove her crown. Crusted newspapers lay in a bound stack on the corner and I lift the bundle in my two front paws. A talon slips and nearly guts the wavy-haired queen and her elaborate golden crown in the headline. By Crown Charter - Queen Arms Worshippers, Condemns Phialhounds, Bethena Faine.

My hound name.

Sinuous muscle shifts under the fur and I lope across the street on both hind legs. Keeping all twenty talons retracted is almost a bigger challenge than finding my prey. Gunpowder and drunkard’s piss wafts from the shippers-only tavern two streets up. What hits my nose harder is a single element. I’d recognize that crown in a pitch-black cellar.

Gold. Sharp to my nose and flaky to the tongue. Pouring out of a public house one block past the tavern. The queen going out in public. A mistake, or worse.

I snag a second newspaper bundle, this one reading, By Crown Charter - Report Rec-Bombings on Worshipper Houses. Swinging both bundles in my fists, I cross half a block, padding past banks, butchers, and boutique labs all closed and dark. One block to the tavern. More labs advertising flavor enhancements and rec-bombs. Recreational explosives. All the legal uses for chemistry with this queen still stealing the throne. Bet she had different ideas for those rec-bombs.

Drawing even with the drinkers’ den, I hurry away from the aura of gaslights into the public house’s doorway. Gold reeks here more than ever. Two shippers poke their heads out from a balcony above the tavern one block back. Neither makes a sound before returning inside.

As a pitcher on the mound, I wind up, then hurl both bundles into the only two lighted windows on the public house’s top floor. Residents shout, shriek, and scamper inside. A man bellows, “Rec bombs. Get out and fetch the Deputies. We got night rioters.”

A grin slides along my teeth. Gullible shippers. I step sideways into the house’s shadow.

Women and men rush out the doors and run for the tavern to escape the explosions they think are coming. No one notices me there until one wavy-haired woman dashes out, crown in one hand, phial in the other.

I pounce, spitting as all ten front talons pierce her gown and her flesh. We crash to the cobbles, but my prey isn’t screeching. She yanks a revolver from inside her nightgown. I don’t bother swatting it away. She’ll never hit my eyes in this darkness.

The woman looks just like the queen in the headline photograph. The crown does not. It’s simply a ring of gold. I seize it out of her hands and raise it high, blood running down the metal. “A murdered decoy should tell your queen to quit destroying my life.”

She raises the phial. The acid green dust within matches the runnels dripping from her nostrils. She’d already snorted it.

As her flesh shifts and transforms beneath my talons, a growl bubbles from her lips. “Apologies, Liz. Your sister Lacia approved all means for killing you on site. Crown Charter.”

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