Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 12

Today’s story is inspired by a bit of childhood folklore and the darkest of futures.

The Sound of the Shell

The shell was huge and for a moment Sarah shuddered at the thought of the creature that once lived within. Outside the shop, Saturday crowds went about their business, the noise crashing against the shopping centre walls and echoing in return.

Striped in red and white, the shell was large enough for Sarah to slip in her hand and feel the ridges, imagining the flesh of the now dead, now rotted, now lost creature, pressing up against the inside.

Tipping it to one side, she placed her head against the opening, listening as she was shown to as a child. Listen to the sound of the ocean trapped in the curls and turns.

If she could hear the water. maybe by glancing within she could see the distant waves.

Sitting down on the rough carpet, Sarah placed her face to the opening and stared into the polished blackness within. A few moments passed until her eyes adjusted to the darkness.

She saw the waves, saw them creeping up the beach, each year relentless and endless. She saw the ocean claim the lands. First the low-lying fields and towns, pushing people further and further inland, then higher and more distant until cities became enclaves, families forced up the highest buildings, the water below filled with the bodies that didn’t make it. Above the remaining homes the sun baked the dead water stagnant, salt and corpses turning it undrinkable.

She watched people die of thirst like the Ancient Mariner, and saw their friends and family slit open bodies to recover what little moisture there was available. She saw the world die slow and then the people die fast, and when she rocked the shell away from her across the shop floor there was little to do apart from curl in upon herself and hide away from the coming world.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 11

Today’s story is about mining, stained glass and breaking rules.

Stained

The mine was little more than a pasture with a deep collapsed pit in the centre. Though small, this one excavation had supplied stained glass to all the temples in the county for generations. Signs pinned to the fence warned trespassers not to cross the boundary, to not enter the sacred site, but every year some did. If lucky they were found by the clergy and only put to death.

Simon Patretous was not so lucky. Wishing to show disrespect for the old order, Simon waited by the fence until the sun dipped and the sky darkened. When he felt safe to work by shadows, he threw a rope over the barrier and climbed up.

Inside, night silenced the mine as much as it silenced the surrounding countryside. Simon waited by the fence until he was sure no patrol was going to uncover him, then taking his shoes off to mute his steps further, he walked across the grass to the mine itself.

When they found him in the morning, the stained glass had first cut into the soles of his feet, from there becoming molten until it flowed into his features and reset his eyes and mouth and cheeks to coloured glass.

The clergy thought about harvesting the glass for use in one of the lesser temples, but whatever happened after he was turned to glass had powdered him to dust and splinters and there was little to save.

Instead, they trampled the remains into the dirt and told the story to the children in the local schools as a warning to never to ignore the notices, though they knew there would soon be another Simon Patretous to press into the churned up dirt.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 10

Double figures!

Morning. How are you? New week and new story. This one was inspired by hearing the water under the street last night. I’ve never known if it’s a main drain or a hidden river, but something about the sound got into my head and inspired this story.

Dust

Stood in the kitchen, I listened to the water under the street.

We’d always known about the hidden river, tumbling the bones of the dead against bedrock until the remains powdered, gritting our kettles and food. In our knowledge we paid them no attention.

No-one took the necromancers threats seriously, the ransom note written in ash and pinned to the Town Hall door.

A council meeting was convened and dismissed in quick order. We gave little thought to the deadline as it passed.

When the dead returned, by shadows and gifted words, they did not walk the streets. They came alive within us, dust speck by dust speck agitating until they eroded their way out.

We tried to pay the necromancers then, but it was too late. One by one we were perforated by the remnants of the dead, only a few of us left to pass on the price of not agreeing to the necromancers’ demands.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 9

Today’s story is based on a what3words code, catch.sound.unwell

Billy didn’t know he could catch a noise like a cold, a single tone embedded in his head as deep as any virus.

He wasn’t sure when he caught the sound, but thought it likely that the infection began while in town. There were so many noises he was exposed to, from window rattling dirty bass beats to the deceptively sterile shop music. Now he knew that all contained their own traps.

Specifics were difficult, the noise felt rather than heard. He experienced it in his bones, as if the marrow itself was a speaker. This was not tinnitus or over-exposure but a winnowing down from within.

The first time he realised how unwell he was, was when he felt the noise in the tendons of his hand, hardly able to hold a pen with the vibrations. When he slept the tone translated to his sleep, voicing characters made of dreams.

He woke the next day with it stuck in his rib cage, and throughout the morning felt his spine transformed to an amplifier only he could here.

About ten o clock the doorbell rang, and Billy struggled from the table, the ringing in his limbs almost robbing him of movement. Arriving at the door, he glanced through the glass and saw the postman waiting, a parcel in his arms. Billy opened the door held out his arms and went to thank the deliverer.

His voice had crumbled, shut down, decayed and now was replaced by the singular tone, a note that scorched his vocal chords. As he looked at the postman’s expression, Billy knew he was no longer the only one infected.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 8

Today’s story is about mirrors. I think there’s always something unsettling about them. The way that the world fades to darkness beyond the visible.

Candle Arc

Chris only arced the candles in front of the mirror to save money, doubling the light in the reflection. Sat on the sofa, he didn’t notice the candles multiplying at first, the fresh ones pushing out through the shimmering glass. By the time his attention shifted from his book to the glass the original four tea-lights on the wooden floor had increased to eight then sixteen. Placing the novel to one side, he walked across the room and stared at the circle half formed by reflections.

Scuffing his hand over the flames he winced. The heat was real. More emerged across the floor until they surrounded him. He glanced at the mirror, his reflection glanced back, then without a movement from Chris to echo, stood up. Across the reflection’s arms Chris saw sigils etched in ash, and in one hand a dagger of glass. His double, who should be anchored to every gesture, revelled in its independence and inscribed the air with the point of the blade. A circle scratched itself on the reflective surface.

Chris tried to step back, but any attempt to cross the line of candles was blocked by an unsen barrier. With the glittering dagger still held in one hand, the reflection reached through, grasped Chris by the throat and slowly dragged him through the mirror.

On the other side there were no symbols are circles, there was nothing but the reflections of the room and beyond just shadow. He stared out to the room, the one attached to a world he could no longer reach. Hammering on the glass he watched as the reflection blew out the candles one by one, then covered the mirror with a thick sheet leaving nothing but darkness.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 7

We reach the end of the first week. Seven stories in seven days. Twenty four more to go. Deutsches Museum here in Munich have a huge variety of sundials, but none like the ones in this story.

Shadow Time

There were sundials in the cities, vast and scarred, though the crowds passed them by without noticing. Most were buried in the hearts of buildings, gnomon embedded in brick walls where no sun or shadows could reach.

They found the first one in a shopping centre, tearing apart the plaster panels, vast metal needle rising amongst the demolition. Metal panels cast with star charts. Guides to planets unknown and unmapped.

Astronomers tracked the position of the shadows, computer modelling sending shade across white block cities on flickering screens. When the new sun arrived it was exactly where they predicted.

The surface boiled infection yellow, and the light was tasted rather than felt or seen, flavoured with charred hair and sodden paper. For three days and three nights we watched it scorch the sky and graze away top layers of skin. Hiding inside was no protection.

The planets arrived a week later, orbiting both the new star and our own now damaged home. Telescopes scanned the surfaces for life, and found something else. Structures erupting like sores, and populations who clustered beside the polar wounds. We watched helpless as they tumbled through the gap between us and them, landing amongst us with seeping mouths and dreams that infected us even while we were awake. Our minds were not designed to endure the openness of their thoughts. Even lead walls could not keep out the vividness of their impulses, nor rock as we found out when we retreated below ground.

They did not follow, the Parchment Children and the Uncles of Sepsis. Instead they built stone circles around our entrances, stitches that wounded the land as they wounded us, and when we emerged their thoughts gnawed through our threadbare skulls leaving us as little more than ornaments for them to decorate the scars that once were our cities. The scars where they now nestled.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 6

Today’s story is another inspired by a dream. Is anyone else dreaming more at the moment?

River Stone

“Come down to the river bed.”

Mac grasped my wrist and led me across the worn down limestone, not caring whether I struggled to find footing amongst the weed covered rock. I followed best I could, stepping into the water to save myself from falling. Soon we stood at the centre of the shallow river, a small plateau of smoothed stone surrounded by veins of water.

“What are you showing me?” I asked, trying to ignore the chill in my feet and keep the ice from my voice.

“The foundations,” he said. “The Abbey was here.” His arm curved wide, taking in the whole of the channel surrounding us and returning to point to the expanse between us.

I shook my head until he sighed and knelt.

“Look, here, below the fossils. The Abbey once stood here. The monks came here to worship.”

“That’s not the Franciscan site we’re looking for,” I said.

“I know,” he said. “This is much older. The Twisted Church of the Boiling Sea. The Holy Order of the Gasping Dead. The Congregation of the Eroded Eyes.”

I looked once more at his evidence. Between the fossils all I saw were the scratches of his trowel on the stone.

That night I dreamt of the Abbey. Saw the narthex rammed with gasping worshippers, the nave and cloisters carpeted with those barely alive clawing at the bare bone pillars. The ceilings hung with intestine garlands. In my dream I waded through the bodies, stepping in rib cages as I approached the altar. The black volcanic stone block was pinned with a single cover. Approaching, I recognised several tattoos in the preserved skin and woke with my fingers tracing the ink in my own arms.

The next day I’d agreed to meet Mac at the river once more, but when I arrived I was alone. I searched the banks and the channels for any sign of him, worried in case he lost his footing in his fervour. With no sign of him I walked out to the limestone once more. Stood there alone I shuddered at the memory of that cavernous church and knelt down to settle myself. Amongst the fossil shells beneath my feet I saw the shattered ribs that I so recently stepped over. Kneeling down, I brushed a smear of dirt and rubbed the away at the stone.

Even with an expression of agony, even below the compressed shells, I still recognised Mac’s face pinned down and stretched, and as I stared at his trapped distress in the limestone I felt the temperature drop and knew the Abbey would be rebuilt and once more gather worshippers to its halls.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 5

Morning! How are you today? Today’s flash fiction is about music and voices, and beauty. At the start, anyway.

Silvered Voice

The wings fluttered the silvered surface of the pool. Not both wings at once, but each in turn. Feather tips scraped across the metal, tearing through the crust and letting the molten steam rise through the air. The angel drinks it in, and as the silver cooled to line its throat, the creature began to sing.

We watched from a distance, hidden in the undergrowth, the charms we wore at neck and wrist hiding us from its gaze. The angel raised their head to the sky, and we pressed record as their voice erupted once more. Hidden within the modulations were the notes that would free us from this world.

Back in the recording studio we started the ritual at first light, reinforcing the equipment with incantations and invocations, both demonic and angelic, in hopes our preparations would allow the mixing desk to bear the pressure of the voice within.

With dried toads thorn pinned, and rook’s feathers fanned between speakers and floor, we played the recordings.

The distortion was noticeable straightaway, the crackling and deforming of the purity until it become debased and impure.

After the voice came the angel. Not the one we saw singing silver above the pool, but the one shaped by the song erupting from the shattered notes in the amps. We watched as it dragged itself through the fine mesh of the speakers, lacing together torn strands until it stood before us and slowly, piece by piece, dismantled us. We are now one voice. We are the distortion and the signal decay. We are the fade and the interference. We are the singing angel and we do not sing the world silver any more.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 4

Just a little warning that today’s story is a bit graphic, and fairly heavy on the body horror. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy. (The inspiration for this was a dream, so I had this living in my head…)

Salve

We never expected the dead to start religions.

They stood between us and the way out of the city, thousands of them worshipping under ragged carrier bag banners.

When they finished their devotions, the congregation would come in our direction, so hiding was no option. We watched their rituals and tried to come up with a plan.

The priest stood dead centre of the road, torn arms raised to the sky as her damaged throat wheezed words we didn’t understand. Around her, the dead mimicked her invocations.

Some of the gathering still looked human, just at the beginning of their transformation, others little more than sentient pools of muscle, softened bones erupting from the surface. Windblown grass-seeds and corn husks peppered their rotten flesh. Even from a distance we saw where the wounds were tattooed with road dirt and grit.

But the priest? She had been one of the early infected yet still held her shape, and this is what she offered them. Coherence. Identity. The ability to remain whole, even beyond death.

The prayers stopped and she gazed around her flock. When the infections started we thought the dead lost language, but that too was transformed.

“Our calls will be heard by the Lords of the Third Circle,” she said, staring lovingly at a family melted together into a single wall of meat. “We will be delivered to the next world in our true forms. Our brethren who have already succumbed will be returned to us.”

We were so distracted by the proceedings, we did not notice the working party surround us, grasping our hands to our bodies with gloved hands. They walked us down to the centre of the makeshift church. With gasps of joy, the Priest turned toward us.

“Truly the Soured Lords have answered our prayers.”

The gloves should have been the first clue. We expected them to feast upon us, or leave us to be transformed. Instead they kept us alive and healthy, peeling us apart one by one and applying our fat as salves.

While we still held onto rational thought through the pain, we knew it would do no good. The infection did not work that way, but religion was a powerful drug, even amongst the melting dead. We were medicine and cure. Henbane and Belladonna.

We were hallowed and revered, even as they prised us meat from bone, and boiled us down to smear on their skin. We were the most holy of holy and they showed their reverence with each cut of the knife. 

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 3

Meadow Mist

Today’s story was inspired by a photo my friend Lynn Hardaker shared.

Dog in hand, she watched the mist rise from the meadow and confer with the morning sun before transforming into ghosts.

Some were a long time dead, others less than a year lost. She sprinkled desiccated herbs in the air, throwing handfuls into the freezing sky.

The faery scented the hollowed seeds as they fell to the floor, crawling out of the bark and dirt, to gnaw on the boon.

They noticed the woman first, but she had taken precautions, circling her feet with dried mushrooms and blessed bones.

Instead, the faery turned to the ghosts, tasting their confusion and sensing no threat. With twigged hands, they reached up and cradled the fragile tapered dead. Then, with words the woman only vaguely understood, the faery led the lost away until they found a path once more.