A Month of Flash Fiction-Week 3

Day 15

Inspired by 6music Make Art

Nine Plough Furrows

Lighting the peat fire in the morning Callum and Damon watched strands of thousand year old trees burn into the breeze. From each field on the hill they brought handfuls of clay. Some red, some yellow. Others grey as the sky. Throughout the morning they teased features from the mud and wiped grit down the sides of their jeans. Above them clutters of ravens gathered to watch.

The figure stood three feet high, swirls of colour in his limbs. With aching backs the two men laid him upon a bed of embers and covered him with sawdust and sticks. Sparks glittered through the afternoon as the fuel burnt to cinders, then a smear of ash. The sun set and the only light on the hill was the spatter of flames that burnt on under the clay back. Callum and Damon crouched beside feeding the fire sticks and themselves nothing.

Across the valley church bells hooked midnight from the sky. The two men stepped back nine plough furrows. At a safe distance they watched the fire shudder apart and life scorch through the finger shaped limbs. The pottery man stood and with blank eyeslooked north, south, east and west. Heavy footed he walked toward the village leaving smears of clay with each step. The men ran through the fields, mud clagging their shoes as they tried to catch up, and as the pottery man tore his way through the thorned hedge doubt burnt through them.

Day 16

Inspired by 6music Make Art

Six Strands of Music

Sofia saw the six strands of music glittering in hidden places across the landscape.

The first was light as air and had become entangled in the branches of a silver birch, bark pale as ghosts. She teased it loose with numb fingers, the sound of bells like mermaids whipsering filling her ears.

The next was at the bottom of a stream, weighted down by river cobbles. Taking off her shoes, Sofia waded into the middle, water cold as words. She held it high, the tail still fluttering in the current, and as the breeze made the strand of music dance the morning echoed with the sound of rich baritones and tenors.

To find the third strand Sofia fought her way to the middle of the woodland. Hard coated beetles danced on her arms to their own tunes, their shells the colour of spilt oil. The music was tangled in roots and it took until dusk for her to tease it free, swallowing the tune to feel the notes tickle on her tongue.

Returning to the town she found the next strand dangling from a lamp-post, glittering like amber in the sodium light. Hand over hand Sofia climbed up, wrapped the free end of the music around her waist and jumped, the song breaking her fall. She lay on the pavement, letting the words take her away.

Opening her eyes Sofia was back in her front room. A fire blazed in the hearth, flames dancing to their own tune. In the fallen ashes she spotted the fifth strand, twitching in the heat. Using a pair of tongs she pulled the music free. Once cooled she brushed away the grey ash and listened to the old folk song, each word echoing around the small room, singing of bowers, wax dolls and death.

Sofia searched the whole house for the sixth strand of music with no success. Tiredness overtook her and she burrowed into her bed. Her eyes blossomed sleep and she saw the last piece of music, a silver seam between sleep and waking, a lullaby, simple and clean, the notes carrying her into her dreams.

 

Day 19

Hatch

The hatch was no bigger than a postage stamp, made of thin planks and embedded in the back of Dani’s hand.

In the early days, when she was at Primary school, she would unhook the latch and poke her finger between the bones inside. Sometimes she let her classmates hook their nails in to make her fingers dance. That was a long time ago. The metal fittings had long turned to rough Verdigris that flaked off into her food.

It had been a hard night as most Christmas parties were. Sat by herself on the sofa she drained the last of the stolen Prosecco and started to fiddle with the hatch. The lock held, at first. Wrenching it open, the metal snapped, broken half falling in to lodge between her muscles. She folded the hatch a little too far against the frame and one of the hinges gave. Inside something crawled.

Her secrets mostly had three, five or seven legs, as if every one of them had suffered amputation to survive so long. They were blind, snuffling out. Some stopped to gnaw the twenty five year old timber with sharp mandibles, ignoring her skin and bone. She picked one up, reading the secret’s name scrawled in the fabric of its wings. Memory flooding back she crushed the thing between her fingers. The secret smeared across her skin.

The rest of the secrets swarmed from within her, chattering and descending on the crushed body of their kin, gnawing upon its thorax. Their cloud of chemicals was so dense it rose to cloud her face and stung her eyes.

She tried to swipe them away. More came, childhood deceit and adult lies, until they covered every inch of her skin and she collapsed to the carpet with the weight of the hidden.

Day 20

Strands of White

Friedrich’s father told the authorities that his son had run off to the woods. He was an unreliable witness, and will not feature again in Friedrich’s story, but in this fact he was correct.

Like most, Friedrich thought he had the skills to live under the canopy of leaves. Like most, Friedrich was wrong.

After the first few days sheltering under piles of leaves and sticks, stomach rumbling and mouth dry, Friedrich realised he could not survive by himself.

Friedrich asked the animals of the forest for help. They turned their heads from him. He could not hunt. When he walked his feet crushed the casings of nuts and the scent of his skin warned the prey they were coming.

Friedrich asked the birds for help. They turned their heads from him. He had no feathers or wings. Just skin, and when he tried to fly he spun to the forest floor, limbs snapping like dried twigs.

Friedrich asked the trees for help. They turned their low branches from him. He had no leaves, and when he tried to turn sunlight into food his skin just erupted in blisters. The only water he had seen in days.

With nowhere else to turn Friedrich asked the fungi of the forest for help. Speaking for all the mushrooms and fungi in the forest, the fool’s mushroom dipped its head and said yes..

The honey fungus shared their mycelium with him, because he had none of the fine white strands of his own. They slid their network into his skin, between muscle and bone.

Next the truffle showed him how to camouflage his skin, turning it brown, and the green of sunfed moss. Better to hide from those humans who would come and pluck him from the forest to take back to the knives and ovens of the town.

The fungi knew that Friedrich still had much to learn to become one with the colony. Encouraged by their silent pupil’s progress, fly agaric taught him to split his skin as he expanded, tatters hanging on like flags.

Yet still he was too large to conceal himself from those who harvested the forest floor. With desperation and love for their new charge the avenging angel mushroom taught him how to separate himself into tiny white stems. Friedrich’s were of mineral and hollow, easily concealed in the dirt and mosss of the living soil around the shifting roots of the trees.

Months before Friedrich had asked the fungi and mushrooms of the forest for help. Now, finally he was hidden from those who would hunt him down.

Day 21

The Crow’s Gifts

The crow first appeared on the red gate at the entrance to Stacey’s garden, then the lilac tree at the far end.

Every morning Stacey fed the crow, leaving piles of peanuts in the nooks and gaps of the porch for the bird to find. Every afternoon the crow brought her gifts, laying them out across the the steps for her to gather.

Stacey took the gifts inside and rested them on the windowsill, a pane of glass between the offerings and the outside world; a spring from a wooden peg; a pink hair clip, metal tarnished to green by the wettest Autumn on record; a length of red ribbon with strands of blond hair still entangled in its knot; the ivory coloured hem of a wedding dress, rain sodden confetti still stuck to the lace; a pebble that turned the colour of the sea when wet; the wires of a pacemaker, insulation frayed and fibres of muscle still attached; a paper thin retina, the shadow of the last thing it saw ghosted in the surface; a single memory of childhood snatched from a woman in the final stages of alzheimer’s disease; the sound ‘ee’ from a toddler learning to speak.

Stacey arranged them all on a sheet of sunfaded red velvet, so the crow could see she loved the gifts.

The victims of the crow’s thefts cared nothing for the red velvet, sunfaded or not. Skin faded to transparency they crowded Stacey’s garden, more joining them every day to stare through the glass.

Between the red gate and the lilac tree they waited for the day Stacey joined them in their paper thin world and they could steal back what was theirs, and take compensation for their loss.

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