A Rum Deal
So, this year I'm doing the Flash Fiction Draw challenge and the resulting tales, such as they are, will be going up here.

January's Draw consisted of a fairytale, a tattoo machine, and a prison.


A Rum Deal

 Once upon a recent time, in a place not so far from here, a young woman covered her face with her hands and wept. The tattoo of a cat, which had been curled on her arm, shook itself disdainfully when a tear rolled over it. It flowed off her arm into the air and hovered there like a not quite tangible shadow. "Why are you crying, Rum?" it asked.  

"I can't get out." The sobs were doing nothing to dissolve the ache in her guts - always a sign that this was trauma-fear rather than anxiety-fear - and she fought and failed to hold a steadiness despite them. There was a harsh edge to her breath and the pitch crept up as she repeated. "I can't get out!" She pressed her back against the old stone wall, as if she could somehow slide through it and escape. 

The cat purred, long and slow, encouraging her to match it with her breath even if the tears kept falling. "Why can't you get out?" 

She folded her hands prayer fashion and pressed them into bone, thumb against chin, finger tips against forehead, as she grounded herself. "Because I'm locked in this prison cell. With a tattoo machine that I'm supposed to magically turn into one that makes living tattoos. Because his lordship wants a tattoo he can control, unlike you and the other assistance tattoos." 

The cat was silent for a long moment. Then it flowed back onto her skin, and she felt it kneading the acupressure points with its paws. Some of the fear flaked away from her heart as it worked and she brought her hands down long enough to stroke the cat with a finger. "It's ok. I won't do it. I can't anyway. Living things get to make their own choices. Even tattoos." 

The kneading stopped and the cat appeared in midair again. "I do?"

Rum nodded. "You do, my friend. Always."

 The cat prowled across the cell, slid through the crack between the door and the frame and bobbed up to hover in front of the locking keypad with a barely audible yowl of triumph. 

The tears dried as the fear wilted in the face of new hope. "Can you manipulate the keys?" she asked and the cat threw her a look of withering scorn through the viewing portal. "Silly me. Of course you can. Try to guess - my name perhaps." The cat kneaded the keys as easily as her nerves. R. U. M. P. L. E. S. T. I. L. T. S. K. I. N.

The door hesitated, then opened. 

Rum darted through, leaving the tattoo machine where it lay, and held out her hands to the cat. It leapt onto them. 

"So," it said, as she closed and locked her cell door behind her, "friendship is better than magic?" 

"Friendship is always better." Rum looked up and down the corridor. No guards were in view. "And freedom tastes good. Let's see what other friends we can free on our way out..."