Thursday, September 15, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge: The Distiller's Daughter

Because "The Alchemist's Daughter" was taken, repeatedly. The challenge was here (it was a picture, you should go look). I'm clearly influenced by the book I'm reading about prohibition right now.

We burned the still with lots of people around. This way, it would be a story in itself, how it went up in a bonfire with all the eight families watching. On a hill above town, we'd spent the day making the pyre, and benches, and racks for casks, and torches to lead the way up.

Will's family showed up before the sun was properly down. None of them had even started drinking. They were here to drink ours, to keep their own for emergencies.

"What are you going to do, after?" I asked, handing him a mason jar with one of my father's exotic blends. They were brewed with rituals and herbs or animal bones, and I sometimes wondered how much he kept track of which family got what. I'd hoped he'd leave Will's family out of the experiments, so they wouldn't be as mad as everybody else. But Dad had a pretty strong use-and-them mentality, and no matter how much I liked him, Will was "them".

We sat down on a bench facing the fire my mother was lighting. The still loomed over it, malignant, too high to touch, shining bluish on a platform all its own.

"Probably go away," said Will. "School, or something." Something would be a job in the mines, enough to pay room and board and a little left over, to spend on liquor. It wouldn't be the same, though. No one could match Dad's interesting effects.

"You could come back to school here," I said. "You've probably not even lost the year."

Kegs were set up so anyone could serve themselves, and I figured none of them were pure, because Dad would be keeping the safe stuff for himself. The more rowdy things got, the more epic, the better the stories that would be told about the night.

Will slid closer on the bench and put his arm around me. He looked at me in the eyes like he used to, and his breath smelled just a little fruity. I knew he hadn't drank that much of my Dad's more questionable stock, because his teeth weren't rimmed in blue like his brothers', or ground down to the guns, like his father's. "Your father still has a stockpile," he said.

"A little." I wasn't in the habit of monitoring it. I don't even think my mother did, and she even drank from it occasionally. He made her special things, imbued with chocolate or cherries. "Not enough to last your family more than a day or two, I'd guess." They wouldn't know how much my dad drank, sitting in that urine-soaked chair very late every night, after monitoring the townspeople as they ran screaming through the forest.

"You could say something to your dad, talk him out of this," Will said, slipping his hand down near my breast. His mouth was so close I could have licked it.

"I don't think so," I said. "His mind is made up." There were clean brews he did, and sometimes he would give me a little of those to try. I would sip them politely, then hide the rest, save it up, give it to Will. I figured he would give them to his family -- his father, his older brothers, to try to placate them. It never really crossed my mind that he would drink them himself. Until he stopped coming to school, of course. So I figured burning the still would be good for him.

"He enjoys a drink as much as the next man." The bonfire was taller than Will, and very hot. When we had set them up that afternoon, the benches had seemed too far away, but now they seemed perfect.

"He doesn't want to get in trouble," I said. "Law men, tax men, too many people are interested."

"We can all keep our mouths shut." A band my dad had hired played off-balance dance rhythms on fiddle and banjo. I had to concentrate to pick out Will's words.

"He would argue we haven't already," I said.

"Just say he burned it," Will said. "Everyone here would testify." People danced, trampling the unmown hay.

"Not the same as a real story," I said. "This will make news." I trailed off as he kissed me, not that hard or that long, more of a promise. But he got up to fill his jar again. I could see he wobbled just a little as he walked.

Maybe my father had seen, and disapproved. Or maybe all the eight families were here. With a horn fashioned from the still's tubes and pumps, he blew a fanfare to get everybody's attention.

He wasn't much of a speech-maker, and maybe he was drunk, too. "Thank your federal representatives, if in fact you rue this day," he shouted, and pulled a rope. The still tipped into the bonfire. Amid hissing and crackling, the leaky bits popped first. Then the whole thing lit up.

Will came back over and sat down beside me, not too close, and no arm around me this time. "That's not how I expected it to burn."

"Oh? What did you expect?" I said. It was metal. I didn't expect it to burn at all.

"I don't know, colors or something," Will said.

I laughed as a small explosion puffed out, green to the fire's standard orange and red. That would be some of my father's cheaper alchemical pyrotechnics, but good enough quality for tonight. It even smelled like some of the things he'd sold to the townspeople.

"That's more like it." Will took another swig, and edged a little closer to me on the bench. I could see the wildness growing a little bit in his eyes. But what did it matter? It was only one night. I turned a little towards him, sipping my lemonade, felt my skirt pulling up a little.

That wasn't the real still, anyway. Packed with alcohol fumes, it would have exploded, not burned.


Lindsay Mawson, Thriller Writer said...

Interesting story. Feel like I was there!

Jo Eberhardt said...

Great, vivid setting. I liked the descriptive elements of this story. And the reveal at the end was nicely done.