Flash Fiction Month 2016 Week 3

Solstice is coming closer, and I can feel it in the air. The day’s are tainted with darkness when I do leave the house, and winter is gaining a momentum. We brace ourselves for contact.

While I haven’t gone for a theme (that would be too much pressure while writing thirty stories) there is a definite thread running through my stories this year. I’ve always leaned toward a moor and leaf mould setting for my stories. For 2016 the folk horror feel is stronger. This is intentional and has a lot to do with the material I’ve absorbed over the last few months. See what you think to the seven latest stories.

Day 15

And the Bluebells Did Ring

This was inspired by an article on Atlas Obscura. (www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-hidden-signs-that-mark-britains-ghost-forests)

The hikers did not know they were in the ghost forest until they heard bluebells ring out a funeral dirge.

They’d seen the signs of course. Old Ministry of Works plaques, bolted to the side of barns on the walk up. Stamped letters saying “You are now approaching one of England’s Ghost Forests. Walk with care.” The hikers thought them a prank or anachronism.

Once inside the ghost forest the hikers ignored the advice of the long forgotten Ministry of Works. They stumbled over dead trees and half chewed spines that hid in the sunlight. Each step they took crushed petals of flowers not alive for millennia.

Careless in their walking they collapsed dens in the ethereal woodland, though the hikers themselves did not hear the cries of sleeping animals disturbed with their passing.
But the things that made their home in the Ghost Forest heard the hikers, and shadowed their meandering route.

The sun dropped and the Hikers had still not left the ghost forest. Predators with too many teeth, and dried fur sticking to their claws, shuddered from the long dead past. Slowly, over several miles, they unveiled themselves, and when the hikers were little more than meat soaked in fear, the ghost forest had its feast.

Day 16

Jack Frost Hidden

When Spring came the warmth tore Jack Frost apart, and he hid himself throughout the fields and forests. On the return of winter, memory evaporated by the long hot summer, he searched for his body, carrying a single thread of spider silk to stitch himself together once more.

His breath was hidden deep in the lake, pressed down by stagnant water and rotting carcasses of fish that every so often floated detached scales to the surface.

He found his sight between the sapwood and bark of a dying yew tree. Breathing on his vision he blew away the splinters and insects ambered within.

His limbs were compressed into the mud of four forest paths, each leading in a different direction. The first to drowning, the second to mania. The third and fourth ran to a quarry in the middle of the trees where the only sound was a single echo of fire-cracked stone that had never found its way out of the hollow.

Jack Frost looked at himself in his own skin and though his face was stitched back on, and his legs carved mirrors of ice into the soil, there was still something missing. He held up his arms and stared at the ten rounded stumps, knucklebones exposed to the last of the year’s heat. His fingers! How could he forget his fingers.

They were hidden well, and hidden deep, and it took many nights of searching to find each one. Some hung from the stems of leaves, only veins remaining as a memory of their shape. Others were squeezed between the plates of a fox skull, his fingerskin crushed and misshapen after many long months in their hiding place. His thumbs he’d hidden together in the chest of a single brown robin, deep in the most knotted part of the woodland. With both hands he pressed nails through the feathers and withdrew the small bird’s heart, staining the robin’s breast red as he reclaimed what was his.

Then he used a single pine needle, and his one thread of spider silk, to stitch his fingers back in place. Once he was whole he breathed out his breath of winter killing, carving the gossamer of frost into ferns. A tribute to the deep forest that had hidden him so well through the long summer months.

Day 17

One Foot In Front Of The Other

 

Bill’s first mistake was stepping onto the path of fallen blossom.

His second was to not immediately sprinkle powdered ashes of his favourite book around himself.

Underfoot, the path turned to stone, then slate, sand then salt. Around him the scene stayed the same until it didn’t. The faces of people powdered to a dust of skin, bone hollowed and threadbare. Eyes of rosehips.

Bill tried to place even a toe beyond the path. A great sadness pressed out of him and he could not.

Barely more than six foot long, the path led nowhere, yet he felt unseen pedestrians brush against him as they passed.

With no food in his pockets, he harvested bitter nuts from amongst the leaf litter.

No one came to save him. Not the children with skin of shredded ivy, or the commuters with feathers for tongues.

With nowhere else to go, and no way to leave, he put on foot in front of the other, stepping onto where the path became unseen, until he too disappeared from sight.

Day 18

Enamel

“And when your teeth drop out, because you’ve eaten too many sweets, then he will come and take them.”

There was always the intake of breath when the child saw the sketch drawing, the tooth covered figure standing in a bedroom doorway.

Mr Fortnum never showed it without the parent’s permission. Only when the mother or father were at the end of their tether. Struggling to get their offspring to take care of themselves. See a future beyond the next foil wrapped sugary treat.

The child shuddered and took the free toothbrush and small tube of paste. He watched her swill and spit the pink liquid, before leaving the room with her smiling mother. Much calmer than when she dragged her daughter into the surgery.

She was the last patient of the day. Now alone, he reached under the trolley, feeling around until he found the small metal tray holding that day’s extracted teeth. Plaque and strands of gum discoloured the enamel. He held each in turn, running a finger over their shattered edges.

Reaching for a scalpel, Mr Fortnum made an incision in his chest and pressed the teeth one after the other into the pocket of skin.They clattered their way across molars already in place, and settled into empty hollows, severed roots knitting into his ribs. His stolen outer skin was starting to feel too tight as his hidden, enamelled, shell grew.

Soon the crowns would show through, then lacerate their way out. Soon he would have to shed his disguise. Soon it would be time to feast.

This story was inspired by a photo of a Channel Zero costume on Buzzfeed (http://boingboing.net/2016/12/06/full-body-costume-made-of-arti.html)

Day 19

Streetlight Laments

We hid in doorways and listened for the rustle of their paper faces. The beasts only came out on deserted streets. Hidden feet left no spoor for us to track. Just the sound of their skin and their bellows.

Passing under street lamps they became visible, the cone of sulphur burning away any disguise. The spells scratched into their hides glowed with the orange light. We wrote them down in our notebooks, so we knew what we were up against. So afterwards someone would remember.

Getting ahead of the creatures, we ran to the roundabout. Laid out sigils in road grit along the kerb. The beasts stepped in and became solid, the tarmac struggling to bear their weight. We turned away from their Polaroid paper eyes so we would not be trapped in their gaze.

Walking around the circle of lights we burnt effigies papier-mâchéd from free newspapers and rat bones. Their voices drowned out the cries of the beasts circling the grass. We watched smoke rise to settle in the air as clouds. Then the rains came.

The beasts did not scream in pain. We didn’t even know if they could. Over the next twenty four hours their origami hides soddened. Became pulp that clogged the gutters. We scraped it up with our bare hands and we sang laments for the last of their kind.

Day 20

The Peacock Man

Today’s story was inspired by this display I saw in a Munich shop window. Have a great weekend!

Glitter-faced and brittle-beaked the Peacock Man lurked in the December streets. Drunken singing and clinking glasses had tempted him from his nest of broken champagne flutes and discard bottles. Through frosted windows he watched work parties in full swing, his gibbet of fingers scraping along the wooden sill.

They never saw him, but he saw them, his cheek pressed against the stone. Saw the Prosecco glances that passed between co-workers under cheap paper garlands. Reaching out he stole those shared moments from the air. Let them dangle from his mother-of-pearl fingernails like dying rodents.

He turned the gazes over on his feathered palms then dripped them into his mouth. Tasted the honeyed smiles and bitter laughs. Let the vodka drowned flirtations sit upon the plumage of his tongue.

The party-goers never noticed the Peacock Man had stolen their precious moments from them. They barely registered sharing them with friends and crushes in the first place.

The stolen glances settled into the Peacock Man’s iridescent train as yet more blind blue eyes. Inside the party, the revellers’ skin turned a little greyer. Their laughter a little more hollow.

Day 21

Sleeping in Splinters

Today’s story was inspired by a display in Cotswold Outdoor Shop

The campers found the head of glass hidden in a crevice between two blocks of millstone grit. Lichen discoloured the dappled surface. Once cleaned with Sam’s shirt, they saw the thin slices of hazel inside.

The stoma in the neck was barely wide enough to slide in a finger. They forced their hands in anyway, stretching the glass edged hole in their eagerness. It pulsed and gripped at their touch.

Each hazel disc was marked with oak gall ink, dragged into lines by sharpened twigs. The campers could not read the writing, but made their choices anyway. Jill took the last and the glass head melted like sugar in rain.

With nothing else to do they each placed the chosen disc against the roof of their mouth and waited.

Splinters tore apart their palates, pressing through cheekbones and sinuses until they spined eyes to eyelids.

Unable to see, the campers stepped cautious, but not cautious enough. Each stumbled into a new world only they occupied, razor thin and a leaf’s breath away from us.

Sometimes a breeze blows through the pocket where they are trapped blind. We smell the moss growing on their skin. We run our tongues over the roofs of our mouths to check for hazel bark, and finding none we weep for our friends sleeping in splinters

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Flash Fiction Month 2016 Week 2

No week in this challenge is easy, but week 2 is always a bit tricky. I’m not quite into a rhythm yet, and I’m not yet stockpiling story ideas. Mainly working from day to day. However, there are a couple below that turned out better than I hoped.

Day 8

Why the Sea Tastes of Salt and Why the Moon Always Looks Toward Us

 

The Witch of the Red House fell in love with the moon. With no wings to lift her through the sky, she went to the marsh and asked the stagnant waters for advice.

The drowning pools spoke in the voices of the hurdle crushed and the slit throats.

“You must slip off your skin. Lay it by the north wall of your house at the new moon. Until the full moon scrape the fat from the inside of your hide, the hair from the outside, and shape both into a candle. When the full moon rises, light the candle, and your skin will become a carpet of honeysuckle and magnolia to carry you to your beloved.”

When the new moon came, the Witch of the Red House peeled off her skin, stemming her blood with salt, the agony making her choke out the names of all Five Dead Gods.

For one month she scraped fat from the inside of her own hide, and hair from the outside, shaping both into a single candle.

When the full moon rose, and the light fell on the Red House, the Witch lit the candle. She stepped onto her cracked skin, hooking her feet into the eyeholes and grasping the now limp scalp to steady her balance. The skin rose into the air, fissures becoming petals of honeysuckle and magnolia.

Skitter-footed beetles and gnaw-toothed mites fell in mists to the garden below. The platform of flowers climbed through the clouds to orbit her beloved, the moon.

And the moon saw The Witch of the Red House without her skin. He saw her as a thing of tendons and tissue, of muscles and marrow. He saw her as a thing of gristle and gore, and slowly he turned his vast face from her.

In fury the Witch of the Red House tore out her ribs, turning the moon with the broken shards, and pinning him to look forever at the Earth.

With nothing else for her on land, and nothing else for her in the sky, the Witch of the Red House threw herself into the sea. The currents dragged her to the ocean floor. To the hidden land of scavenged whales and the pressure of one hundred fathoms. As she fell, the salt crusting her wounds spread through the sea, so all who sipped it would remember her pain.

Every month the moon tries dragging the Witch to him, begging her to snatch out the slivers of bone, but she is too deep, feasting in the dark on sailors whose lungs hold cold oceans of their own.

Day 9

On The Forest Floor


Today’s story was inspired by a newsclipping that went viral.

The Owls knew the men were coming with their Hi-Vis and Hymacs to cut down the woodland. The owls smelt the bearing grease and exhaust fumes on the breeze.

Aware that of all the creatures of the branch they must take the lead, the owls hunted nightmares hidden under roots and tree-fall. Plucked them from the forest floor like harvest mice.

They taloned the screams of children left amongst the trees to grow wild and matted. They swallowed mould bloomed breadcrumbs dumped in a root bole hollow by a stepmother turned glitter eyed and ragged skinned with jealousy. The owls drank water from five toed spoors of the three times turning hut, and pecked the last flesh from the skull fence, abandoned when the iron toothed woman flew the sky. The owls feasted on all the stories abandoned to rot under birch bark, until the words dripped black as oil from the end of their outstretched wings.

Then the birds flew to the clearing where the men would camp, far away from the fields and towns. Deep amongst the trees where the only food would be the skinned rabbit and the foraged bounty.

There the owls gathered on the forest floor, compressed themselves into the sweetest, gilled mushrooms, the lurking retching things compressed deep inside. Waiting until the mushroom knife’s blade and the cooking oil’s heat released once more.

Day 10
The Wept Family

The orphaned girl sat up in bed, catologues piled on the pillow beside her. Sipping her juice she flicked through the pages, only stopping on those with perfect families. Mothers and fathers playing boardgames with their children, content dog curled up at their feet. Staring and longing would do no good. She put the catalogues to one side and let sleep take her.

In the middle of the night, while dreaming of eight hundred ways too die by sharpened metal, the orphan wept. Her tears flowed over the duvet to collect on the floor, more and more until a pool stretched from bedroom door to the foot of the window.

Through the glass moonlight glittered the room. Under it’s drag the pool of tears rose into three peaks, a fourth staying low to the carpet. The mother and father born of her weeping stretched their arms around each other.
The transparent brother reached down to stroke the sodden fur of the dog. Reaching out, the mother stroked the orphan’s face, a trail of tears left across the sleeping girl’s forehead.

In the hours after midnight the wept family stood beside the bed, no way to express their own sorrow that their child would never know they came night after night. Then, as the sun rose, and the family evaporated to condense against the window, the orphaned girl woke to another day spent alone.

Day 11

Skitter

It started when Mrs Leopold was wrong about spiders, and Sam found a family of wild boar stood in his living room.

“Acorns in the corners. That’ll get rid of the little web grafters,” she said. Of course now he knew it was conkers to discourage spiders.

The wild boar were peaceful, but trying. They rooted the carpet up looking for food that simply wasn’t there. They gnawed wallpaper until it hung off in great chewed leaves. Ground their tusks against the walls, scratching deep grooves into the plaster.

On the third day Sam noticed a pattern to the marks. Noticed they weren’t random, but design repeated over and over again. Sigils. A summoning in no language issued from a human throat.

The trees came next. Oaks first, erupting from the acorns he’d brought into the house willingly. Their roots tapped through the floorboards. Branches scraped against the ceiling, bursting through the joists to the floor above.

Once the forest arrived the boar were nowhere to be seen, though he heard them snuffling in the undergrowth. Beetles scritched under bark and gnawed on the bones of things that had not been there a week before.

Sam sat in a clearing, drinking tepid water from pools soaking through the mud of the forest floor. Out of what remained of the windows he saw the woodland spread across his garden.

Mrs Leopold skittered along the edges, too many limbs, joints bending the wrong way. Trailedsilk between the leaf heavy branches that she snipped with jaws no longer fitting under the skin of her face. She knew more about spiders than she let on, and she was never letting Sam out.

Day 12

Lead The Way

Looking for alternatives to electricity, the town sent children out to the moors. Each held a trap to capture will’-o’-the-wisps. Jars rubbed with charred reeds and foxglove petals, tied on ash polls to dangle under the floating marsh lights.

The sons and daughters caught many, fastening on rusted wire lids, and fitting the next trap to their ash poles. When they returned to town their backpacks were stuffed with twisting hinkypunks. Enough to fill every streetlamp in town.

The adults worked all afternoon, chasing the will’-o’-the wisps into glass cages. By dusk all the streets were lit without a single kilowatt of electricity used.

They woke and dawn had not come. The adults, thinking they had all overslept, went to wake their families. The children had gone, bed hollows filled with charred reeds and gorse, a light frost coating the sheets. Foxglove petals on the pillows.

The adults tried to leave their houses. Faces of peat leather pressed against the windows, scraping the glass with blackened teeth, sharp as gorse.

The keylocks were filled with mist. Stagnant water seeped through the walls between crumbling bricks. Outside there was nothing but mile upon mile of marshland. Hinkypunks circled the smeared sky. The doors in the town would not open. It did not matter. There was nowhere left to go.

Day 13

Ashen

 

No one knew who set the fire, apart from the jackdaws.

When the embers had cooled they perch on sodden furniture, once clear varnish now bubbled loose. Hopping across the melted carpet the birds rubbed their already blackened faces in the ash and took flight.

The arsonist’s house was easy to find. The stench of petrol trailed from the fire to his front door.

Perched on sills, the jackdaws rubbed their faces against the windows until grey streaks were left in the shape of their feathers. They ground further until the charred marks pushed through the glass.

Then they sang. They sang to the bonfires of midwinter and the funeral pyres of the moor. They sang to the beacons of the cliffs and to the peat stained hearths of long gone cottages. They sang to lightning struck trees and man scorched heather, and when the jackdaws finished singing smoke seeped out of the ashen marks, finding the arsonist’s lungs and filling them to choking.

Day 14

Man of silence

The straw in Sally’s hand had dulled since late Summer when she’d wandered the fields. Picked it from amongst clods of turned soil. Back then, the short lengths of dried barley had been golden in colour. The sky too. Now both were greyed and past their best.

She walked down to the tarn edge and held her hand high, letting the breeze pluck the offering from her palm. Tiny stalks tumbled to turning. The frozen breeze bore them out across the water, searching for somewhere to settle.

The patch of still water was far from Sally, ignored by the compress of waves that dare not cross it. The straw floated down onto the silent spot, then spread out until they edged arms and legs, a rickety head and a crooked back.

The Man of Silence drew himself up, away from the tarn-water and strode toward her. Sally dropped a ring of acorns into the sand. Oak trees erupted around her. The Man of Silence held out his hand.

Reaching into her coat, Sally held out the photo. She’d taken it from the work website. Jeanine in her new job, sat in the office that should have been Sally’s. She gave it to the Man of Silence.

For a moment the photo swilled around the water of his palm like a child’s boat then fell to the ground, drenched and rejected. From deep inside himself the Man of Silence dragged out an earlier offering. A knot of lambswool and iron nails, their points hammered through another photo, this time of her.

He stepped across her barrier of oak as if the branches were nothing more than mist. With fingers of silt and algae he reached down her throat to take her voice and unravelled who Sally was, until she too was a thing of silence.

14 days in. 16 more to go. Come back next week for seven more stories.