The result of my fifth #bookstorewindow fiction writing exercise, inspired by the late Harlan Ellison, based on writing prompts supplied by Colchek, Enigmatic, Lamia, and Azureus. Wrote it live on our Slack site in about an hour and a half:

“Breadsticks?” the harpy asked, sliding the wicker basket across the table toward the dumbstruck treant, who stared in horror at the basket.

“Cannibalism,” he rasped.

“I ordered the chicken,” the winged woman with the beak-like nose snarled. “Do you see me whining?”

They sat in a dimly lit corner booth in Remembrigans, which most people agreed was nothing more than a front for the Pineapple Upside Down Mob, but likewise didn’t care as long as the lolo wine kept flowing and Fiffen the Were-Chef served nightmare cuisine.

The treant, who called himself Birch, grunted in disgust as he pulled a brown twist of dough from the basket, dipped it in some kind of black gravy that looked like the ichor of a dying Soul Spider, and gnawed on it with bark teeth.

The harpy, who called herself Shrewd, crouched on the cushion of the booth, clutching the end with the talons of her feet. She smiled as Birch started eating, but kept one hand on the holstered slugthrower and the other on the hilt of a throwing knife. Her amber eyes took in the crowd, scanning for threats.

Birch followed her gaze. “No one knows. You worry too much.”

Of course, like always, he was wrong. First, he saw Soup sidle in through the North Arch, his wet, leathery flippers equipped with neutralizer pistols. Then his own cousin, Salad, whose canopy of green had gone more orange and brown in recent years. The treant with the crossbow lurched in through the South Arch, knocking aside a grumpy-looking Nar-lamb. The Nar-lamb turned with his mouth open, ready to bleat a few choice curses, but ceased and whinnied apologies instead.

FInally, through the double doors of the East Arch, the oozing slug in charge of the Pineapple Upside-Down Mob slithered in and brought the music, amiable chatter, and high-stakes bargaining to an absolute standstill.

“Shrewd!” Fudge Pop roared as the crowd parted before him. “You’ve crossed me for the last time!”

The harpy drew her knife and pistol. Birch fumbled for the fighting staff slung over his shoulder.

Shrewd assured Fudge Pop: “Don’t know what you’re talking about. You got your money.”

“Fudge Pop don’t take croats,” Soup burbled through his gills as he aimed his neutralizers at the harpy and her treant companion.

“Yeah,” Salad rumbled over the sight of his crossbow at the pair. “Who does that?”

“Right,” the mob boss said, pointing a slime-dripped digit across the room at Shrewd. “Those coins might’ve been worth something on Earth in the 11th Century, but they’re just ballast here in the Bleak.”

“Croats?” The harpy shrieked as she scowled at Birch. “You paid them in those old metal shavings? You idiot!”

He opened his mouth to protest, but never got a word out before the blast from her pistol punched through his trunk above his eyes and into the pulp of his thinkbud. He sagged back in the booth. A hundred people in the pub raised their mugs and shouted “Timber!” in unison.

Fudge Pop eyed Shrewd with understandable suspicion. Salad, on the other hand, seemed ready to fire a few bolts into her chest. “Not just yet,” the slug insisted. “I want my payment.”

Shrewd nodded at the red Coleman cooler on the booth next to Birch’s corpse, which was already losing leaves and peeling bark. “It’s all there.”

Soup flapped his floor fins back and forth until he arrived at the booth. He used his bottlenose snout to nudge open the cooler. He peered inside. Looked toward Fudge Pop. Gave a series of squeals and squeaks, then said: “Nice-looking blueberries.”

“Picked them myself,” the harpy assured him. “Birch whined about it the whole time, called it an atrocity and a war crime.”

Salad lowered the crossbow, but said: “He wasn’t wrong. Those are…”

“Delicious,” Fudge Pop replied, glowering at Salad. “Those little blue children are a tasty treat, so rare in the Bleak. Don’t you agree?” He glanced toward the rotting treant with half a breadstick dangling from its mouth. Salad said nothing more.

Soup closed the cooler and collected it under one fin.

“All good?” Shrewd asked the mob boss.

“For now,” the slug said.

By Brody

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