In 2013, Zack was a finalist in the Flash Fiction Challenge. A Smile for Adin was his highest placing story.

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Lightning split the southern sky.

With the rains dripping off his face and the winds whipping his flesh, Adin turned to Dani, “I never should’ve trusted you.”

“Keep moving.” Dani was an elf and elves couldn’t be trusted. But Adin had succumbed to her charming beauty. Dani was slightly shorter than him, had blond hair as bright as the lightning striking in the distance, and a little nose that made her cuter than any human woman. Her smile made Adin’s knees wobble. They traveled through the Forest of the Flames but there was neither heat nor fire. The storm made the woods dark, wet, and loud with thunder. But Adin had a quest to finish. No storm or contagiously beautiful Elf smile would stop him.

Adin’s father, King Hart, had given Adin the quest almost two weeks ago. Adin was to travel into the Forest, infiltrate the Covenant’s cooking class, and prevent the witches from brewing a new spell that could possibly wipe out Adin’s kingdom.

“Okay, Adin. Let’s rest.” Dani covered the cigarette in her mouth as she brought her torch to light it. All elves do is lie and smoke, thought Adin. This was Dani’s tenth cigarette since Adin had met her two nights ago. The journey had been long and treacherous. Blood had been spilled.

“You said keep moving.” Adin did just that.

With her torch near her face, Dani’s smile was an ignited orange. “Why keep moving? We’re already here.”

Lightning struck. Adin saw the small fortress within an opening in the Forest. A single watchtower hovered over the black-bricked structure. The cooking class would be inside. Adin unsheathed his short sword from his waist and charged. Dani yelled something behind him, but thunder masked her words. Adin slammed his shoulder against the wet, black bricks and he breathed heavily. He didn’t know much about the Covenant, only that every year they gathered for a cooking class to teach new witches how to brew deadly spells – deadly spells that would likely be used against Adin’s kingdom. At least, that’s what Adin’s father had always feared. “You can prevent a war,” his father had said. “You can kill them while they’re young.”

All Adin wanted was to make his father proud.

Peeking carefully through a tall, skinny window, Adin saw at least eight witches sitting in the cooking class. Some were kids, others old and grey. The wooden room was a bright orange. Two witches sat at each desk. Adin had expected them all to be women but several male students were in attendance. They look just like us. Adin had never met a witch – nor an elf – and all elves do is lie and smoke. All witches do is cast spells on the innocent, mused Adin. I’ll stop them. My father will like that. 

Before Adin stepped from the window, a hand wrapped around his mouth and tugged him from the black bricks. He squirmed and thrust an elbow back but Dani caught his arm and spun him around. She unsheathed both her curved daggers. “You’re reckless and confused, Adin.”

Adin clenched his teeth. Rain trickled off his lips. His black hair was drenched around his skull. “I go in there, I kill them, that’s all.”

“You don’t understand,” said Dani, “they’re not the ones to fear.”

Adin lowered his sword as his eyebrows raised. “What?”

Before Dani could answer, a light blue aura glowed behind Adin. He spun and swung his sword as the light blinded him, sending his world dark.

When Adin awoke, he was on the floor in the cooking class. All the young and old witches stared at him from their desks. The Teacher stood over him. She was old, fat and ugly, and Adin hated her. Even worse, Adin hated his failure. He would not complete the quest and make his father proud. But I’ll die trying. 

Adin’s wrists were tied together on his lap. “Release me,” he hissed. His legs were unbound.

“No,” said the Teacher. “You must learn.”

“Learn?” Adin’s eyes wandered through the class and at the room’s far end, Dani was leaning against a wall. Her pointy ears glowed orange and she had a cigarette in her mouth. “You betrayed me!”

“You need to open those small human ears of yours, Adin,” Dani turned and left.

“I’ll kill her,” his breath was sharp and quiet.

The Teacher’s fat hand touched his shoulder. “You’ll listen to the truth.”

“Truth? You want to destroy my kingdom.” On the Teacher’s desk in the corner of the class was Adin’s sword.

“No.” The Teacher pulled Adin to his feet.

“My father said so!” Adin shoved his shoulder into the Teacher’s face and rushed to the desk and grabbed his sword. Even with his wrists tied in front of him, Adin would fight to the death.

“Drop it,” said the Teacher. Some of the students stood from behind their desks. They seemed scared, more scared than Adin. They want to destroy my kingdom, they do! Then Adin sighed within. My father said so. . . 

Dani soon returned. “What are you going to do, Adin?” she touched the hilts of her daggers on her belt. “Kill all these harmless people?”

“They’re witches, not people!” Adin’s hands trembled.

“They don’t want to harm you.”

Adin’s chest burned. “MY FATH -”

“Your father knows nothing but lies and he passed those lies to you,” Dani stepped through the classroom. Adin raised his sword but Dani had no fear in her eyes. Her fingers touched his blade lightly. She lies. Came then Dani’s smile, and it was brighter than any flame or bolt and more reassuring than any of Adin’s thoughts. “The truth will be yours for once,” said Dani. Her lips touched his cheek, but Adin’s hand tightened around the hilt of his sword. I’m sorry. 

“No,” whispered Adin. Like the lightning outside, he struck, and the last smile Adin saw lacked Dani’s beauty, for it was full of his father’s approval.

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