• Jabe Stafford

One Page Worlds - Smoke Left Behind

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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Second at the head of the column, Lieutenant Haversmith shouted at the drummer over her cadence. “Keep following the spirit. No matter what the barbarians shoot at us. For family.”

Musician Bethany nodded once, her copper curls caked to the sweat of her cheek as she led the Seventy-Third Foot Regiment into the valley. Late summer heat that had smothered them during the march lingered in their uniforms even into Cornucopia Valley’s evening mist. A wavering spirit with curly hair, lit from within, capered and skipped along the dirt trail gouged into the hillside by their wagons and horses over the years. The dead boy gleamed more brightly than the full moon above the line of soldiers two thousand strong. It even shone through the grasses and the shrubs that had grown up through the ruined town’s cabins on the valley floor.

“They killed our Prince,” shouted Haversmith, tongue coated in road dust. “But fear not. The Prince is with you. The barbarians feared him and his smoke, but it is his smoke that will protect us. They tried to take the place where we belong, but the future will be ours.”

Bethany’s war cry shrieked above the others’. “For his memory! For our future!”

Haversmith readied twin smoke pistols, made by the Prince himself for the leaders in his wars, and raised them both skyward. “For our future!”

Men readied their muskets and took aim at the stony outcroppings covering most of the valley’s ridges. Shadows emerged, crouched, and took aim with gatling muskets along one ridge to the east. Rather than stop and engage the eastern barbarians, Haversmith’s line kept marching, training their muskets to hit targets while moving. Cracks erupted from hundreds of the Seventy-Third’s muskets, the lead balls streaking upward to strike stone and flesh and bone. Smoke poured into the air. Men and women screamed, but their effort did not earn as many cries of anguish as a dedicated firing line would. Many barbarians would still be in condition to fight once the Seventy-Third took the hill.

Smoke billowed from the musket barrels and those who had fired first in the regiment did not bother to re-load. Mist and smoke swirled within Cornucopia Valley as the line snaked undaunted up the hill’s north-eastern side.

Return fire erupted from the barbarians along their right flank, who had the high ground.

Haversmith had chosen their battleground well. The valley was their protective bowl.

Shot after barbarian shot lost all momentum when they struck the walls and ceiling of smoke surrounding his soldiers. The Prince’s smoke curled among the soldiers the same way the spirit’s hair curled.

Seconds later, the repeat fire of the gatling muskets ceased. Confusing the smoke for natural mist, they would be assuming they decimated Haversmith’s ranks, re-packing shot into each barrel of their weapons at a leisurely pace.

That would take time.

Bethany and Haversmith led the column forward through the smoke, ascending the hill at a faster pace than they’d gone all day. The drummer’s cadence roared to a crescendo, then halted once they gained the northeast hilltop.

She shrugged off the drum and tossed the sticks away, producing twin smoke pistols from her belt at the back. The same make of pistols as the lieutenant’s.

Bethany and Haversmith put their backs in a triangle formation with the spirit forming the third side at the hilltop. Musician and lieutenant took aim at the thick lines of barbarians too busy re-loading their weapons to charge them and engage. The smoke that emanated from the spirit now was the same shade of copper as Bethany’s hair.

As his mother the Queen’s hair.

The Prince’s transparent mouth formed the same words as the musician’s and lieutenant’s. “For family.”

The family pulled the triggers together.

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