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.
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.
On The Forest Floor
Today’s story was inspired by a newsclipping that went viral.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Man of silence
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.