Flash Fiction Month Day 26

Today’s story was inspired by the first line which came to me out of nowhere.

Eyes as Mouths

Mouths appeared where eyes once were and with miniscule tongues licking our lashes we begun to taste the world. Our new mouths were very sensitive to the variety of flavours we encountered. At first the world was cut off from us, until we learnt how to explore once more.

Instead of red and green our views were flavoured with woodsmoke and rain on tarmac, a hint of oil and diesel in the air. Books were not read but enjoyed for their flavours, the different gums and papers entrancing us as much of their words.

The young suffered most, teething three times over, tiny petals of enamel dropping from their eye-mouths.

After a while we learned to cope with the world experienced in this new way and became so distracted with the sensations we did not notice the other transformations. We did not pay attention when our skin hardened to plates of iron, we were not aware of our hair becoming copper strands. We did not pay realise when our torsos hardened to stone, and when the creatures slipped through the cracks in the world they already had a vast supply of bodies to occupy.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 25

CW Grief

Grief occurs a lot in my work. That feeling of loss can apply to so much. Not just losing people but losing things and situations. That sinking feeling as something is irrevocably altered forever. This is something I struggle to express and every attempt is imprecise. This is my latest.

Shatter

Clive never realised the mum was ceramic until one morning when she shattered. Pottery organs tumbled out of her to break on the floor, and no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t repair her.

He tried to fix her with kitsugi, because he felt the faults were precious to remember, and when that didn’t work he tried to smear slip over the cracks. Still, he was not able to make her whole. Sat on the floor surrounded by the sherds of her, he realised he too was pottery and shattered beyond repair amongst the remains.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 24

Today’s story is inspired by an Oblique Strategies card. If you’ve not seen the cards before, each one has a vague phrase designed to break creative blocks and approach your work from a different directions. When I have a writing day I tend to draw an Oblique Strategies card as a way to set the tone for the day. Sometimes I work with the suggestion, and sometimes I work against it. Others I just share it on Twitter, but it always helps me start the day. The card I used for this story also forms the title.

Remember .those quiet evenings

The first quiet evening was a Friday in November, a fire crackling in the hearth, flames blackening the bare stone. I sat on the rug playing with my toys while my grandparents polished the horsebrasses. What I saw in the reflected flames was only briefly there but vengeful enough to hook in as a memory.

The second quiet evening was in the woods, a small clearing where we gathered when the clubs shut and the pubs was a distant memory. Sitting in nests of empty cans, the sting of phet in our noses. The figure was only in the flames for a moment. Maybe it needed me to see it before it could drag itself out. Become a creature of the shadows instead of the burn.

The third time I was alone and the only burn was the cheap vodka in my throat long enough to clear the way for the next glass. I saw the vengeful thing beyond the window, glittered by the outside lights, its skin only existing where in sodium hit.

The fourth quiet night was the last. On that evening I sat in the doorway watching the rain tumble down to stain the concrete in alphabets I could not read. There was nowhere left to go apart from inside and the silence in there sat too heavy. On the fourth quiet night the vengeful thing walked up to me. It wore skins of all who accepted it, and those who let it look out from its eyes. I knew it tasted my rage, my dislike for the world. On the fourth quiet night I let the vengeful thing in and the only reason was so there would be no more quiet nights again.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 23

I love cup and ring marked stones, such as Roughting Linn. There’s something transitional about them, as if they mark the centre point between two worlds, whether horizontally divided territories or vertically separated worlds. The designs are also reminiscent of a gaming board. All these ideas inspired today’s story.

The Stone Game

Sat amongst the heather, we weighed the pebbles in our hands and played papers, scissors, stone to decide who would take the first throw for our side. The rest of the villagers stood behind us on the moor, watching our movements, our gestures, our breathing. Sarah won with scissors against paper and chose to go first. She tossed the pebble through the air watching it land on the rock carved ripples.

The air above the slab shimmered and a similar sized pebble arced out of the clear sky to land close to Sarah’s. Neither had hit the precise centre. I weighed the stones in my hand, chose one and threw it toward the ancient designs. My throw almost hit the middle point, but lodged on the nearest circle. I felt the crowd gasp as for a moment they thought we’d won.

The air shimmered once more and a second pebble came from the other side. We watched it land and for a moment said nothing as it nestled in the depression at the centre of nine concentric rings.

No one was surprised. No one was shocked. In over two hundred years the village had never beaten the other side.

Sarah and I sat in silence. We had no way to know how the other side chose. After a moment she turned to me.

“Can you hear it? Can you hear the music?”

I shook my head.

Without saying another word, Sarah stood and climbed the rock, standing on top of the cup and ring marks, her feet awkward on the pebbles. For a moment I smelt pond water, stagnant and weed choked. Then the stone turned to liquid and far too quickly Sarah dropped below the surface, her fingers leaving concentric ripples that stayed even when the water returned to rock.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 22 (The Birthday Story)

Every year my wife’s birthday is during Flash Fiction Month and every year I write a story to celebrate. Here is this year’s tale.

The Forgotten Season

The Forgotten Season was not like other divisions of the year, clustered around days and weather. Instead, it was hidden in the angle of sunlight and the glitter of leaves. Moments disguised amongst the slide of other seasons.

Annie knew where to look. Each day she searched the hours for The Forgotten Season. When she sipped hot chocolate after a frosted walk she collected the moment and clasped it close. Finding a fragment of The Forgotten Season in the glitter of blue in sleepy eyes just after storytime and just before lights out, she caught it in her palm and slid it into her bag.

In the early hours of a summer morning, she sat on the balcony with a book and cup of tea, reached out and let the sliver of Forgotten Season settle on her hand, watching it curl around her fingers.

As the projector flickered and the pawns clacked across the board, she reached out for the Forgotten Season moment and placed it with the others, delicate and fragile.

Over the rest of the year, that damaged and fractured year, she searched for minutes and seconds adrift from the time she lived in.

Sometimes she found moments of the Forgotten Season in slices of cake or glasses of rum. These she placed upon her tongue, savouring their flavours before adding them to her collection

When the deepest winter arrived, with its frost and darkness and isolation, Annie took out her collection of the Forgotten Season. She placed the sound of peaceful sleep next to a midnight hug. Stitched them together with the steam from a fresh mug of tea, and coated them in laughter, and a hard fought for half smile. When the gloom and the night threatened she dressed herself in the Forgotten Season and revelled in the joy she’d found in the most hidden of places.

The Forgotten Season was not a time of high suns or blossoms, of patchwork leaves or snowdrifts. The Forgotten Season was a time of whispered kisses and whiskey, of Hygge and Gem├╝tlichkeit. A time of laughter and restful sighs, and Annie treasured every single moment.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 21

Today’s story is once more inspired by a what3words code, this time robe.envoy.beans

This is also inspired by reading Clive Barker at a young age.

robe.envoy.beans

The envoy was dressed in the finest robes, the fabric precisely cut and coated in several different types of oil so it shimmered as they waited to be received.

Walking fast, the King’s Representative reached out her hand and tried not to flinch when the Envoy grasped it. Their skin was covered in mites that shifted at her touch. She repeated the Royal command over and over in her head, but treating this creature with respect took all her willpower.

“Follow me,” she said, not really caring if they kept up. They walked down the narrow corridors. Each turn she caught a glimpse of the sheen and shuddered once more.

In the throne room, the King sat on the seat of bones, his bodyguard arrayed around him like a fence of blades.

“Welcome Envoy,” he said.

The envoy inclined their head and clicked their jaws together. The King’s Representative watched the Envoy’s hands disappear into their robes and emerge with a handful of beans. She looked to the King for guidance.

“A gift. Please,” he said. The King’s Representative nodded and held out her hands as the Envoy gave her the beans.

The bodyguard parted ranks to let her through and closed up behind. She laid the offering out on the dais and stepped back, watching both the King and the beans for any change.

When the beans began to hatch, she tried to stamp on as many as possible, but there were too many and what emerged too armoured. First the creatures gnawed through the stone, then the bodyguard. The King’s Representative felt them in her bones, and as they eroded her insides to dust she watched the Envoy step over the slaughtered ranks, split the King in two, empty the Regent out and seal themselves up in the now vacant skin.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 20

All the twenties! Today’s story again started with a what3words code.

I hope you’re enjoying these flash fictions. If you would like to chuck me the price of a coffee, I have a ko-fi account here where you can make small donations. Anything is gratefully received. https://ko-fi.com/stevetoase

rear make ghost

The bridleway was narrow and edged with hawthorn. Reaching branches snagged at the horse’s flanks. Joan had ridden the route many times. On this day, with the clouds pressing down from the sky, something felt different. Patting Stoneheart on his neck, she ducked below a low branch and glanced behind her, unable to shake the sensation of someone following. The lane behind her was empty of people.

When Stoneheart reared she was still looking back, and had no way of knowing what made her horse react. Normally he was such a calm horse. Neither car nor storm could make him react. She tumbled from the saddle, the first impact smashing her ribs against the rough stone surface, the second Stoneheart landing upon her.

The first ghost to approach had no face, and when it spoke the words came from everywhere at once. Arms free, Joan tried to push Stoneheart off her, but her strength was not enough. More and more ghosts crowded around her, reaching down with cold fingers to drag her free. She looked at Stoneheart, though his breathing was laboured his chest still rose up and down.

“Don’t worry,” a voice behind her said. “They will find him. He won’t leave you alone until they come, and we have a horse ready for you.”

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 19

Today’s story was inspired by two things. Firstly by two place-names on a map I was working with (which gave the title), and secondly a piece of art by Hester Cox. It’s maybe a little more of a vignette than a story. Looking at it now, this feels like an opening to something else. I hope you enjoy it.

Green Eyes by Hollow Hill

There were bones within the cairn, green stained and weathered. Once they had been a man. Once they had been a woman. Once they had been a god. Now they were land and they were more godlike than they achieved while drawing breath.

Kate sat upon the rocks and rescued the remains, cradling them in her numb hands. With care she placed them on the ground, laying them in patterns never held together by tendons or skin.

Sprinkling salt over the bones, she scraped the lichen free and smeared her lips with the green slip.

The words came fast, though her throat struggled to shape them, guttural and ancient as they were. She let them slide out, watching the phrases stick to the skeleton before her, softening the bones to spectres.

Hooking her fingers below the ghost, she raised it from the heather and pressed it into her skin, twitching as the guest settled into the host. She felt her eyes become leaves, her gaze seeing through the surface to the origin and all the life and death between. She was stone and beast and sky and ghost and god, and the land would worship her once more.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 18

Today’s story is inspired by a spelling mistake.

Scarecraw

The birds kept coming and eating apart the fields. The farmers set up scarecrows of old clothes and baling twine, their rag covered bellies straw stuffed and distended. With sharpened beaks, the birds tore them apart and scattered the torn limbs across the furrows.

When the man arrived the sun had already set, and he took a corner table in the pub drinking nothing and eating little.

“I hear you have a problem with crows,” he said, words muffled by the scarf he wore high over his face.

“What’s it to you?” Someone said from the bar.

The man reached below the table for his bag.

“I may have the solution. For a price.”

The drinkers went back to ignoring him, and he returned to staring out of the window, but by the end of the night two of the farmers had drunk themselves to curiosity and courage.

When he showed them the plan the cries of disgust were enough to put off anyone else inquiring, yet, the next day a small group found him at the lodgings, agreed his price and took him to the morgue to begin the harvest.

From each corpse the stranger sliced away the larynx, piling them slack and wet on a surgical tray, then tipping them into his bag.

With uncertainty, they followed him into the bird plagued fields.

The curious watched him stitch the slack flesh into the man sized doll, larynx after larynx filling the torso. When he’d finished, he lifted the figure vertical, sprinkling dust and herbs around the barked wooden pole.

The screaming started small, barely a muttering, before rising in volume and cadence, the choir of amputated voices infecting the sky.

The birds tried to flee but as they took flight they perished as if the air itself scorched away their wings, until the soil was littered with the avian dead. Horrified, the farmers watched the stranger walk around the field, picking up the birds one by one and pushing them between his distended jaws. Unable to bear any more, they returned to the village and tried to drink away the image of feathers and teeth.

That night the stranger returned to the pub and stood in the middle of bar.

“And now for payment,” he said, but the patrons turned their faces from him. He did not approach them or speak again. When they still failed to respond, he picked up his bag and left with a shrug.

The scarecrow looked similar to the one the stranger had built in the fields. This one was tied to the market cross, mud covered ropes holding it in place. As people woke they gathered in curiosity and watched the stranger sprinkle herbs around the figure.

When the amputated chorus within began to sing, the adults dropped first. Writhing on the ground, they tried to scratch away the sound. With mud stained fingers the stranger distended his jaw, walked through the agonised bodies, and slowly began to feast.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 17

Today’s story is another what3words inspired tale. I collect these codes when I go out. Some are places on my morning runs and others on my motorbike rides. I store them until they inspire a story.

raving.utopia.indices

Jonas looked at the map once more. The indices laid around him, different pages marked with dayglo post-it notes. Entries about shimmering fields and clustered predators underlined in shaky pencil.

The research had taken several years, each turn of the calendar drifting further and further from family and friends until he was alone in the basement room with his books and his maps. Only the walls witness to his raving.

Utopia was a place. All the indications were there. In the way the golden leaves fallen from still branches lined the pavements for him to step along, and the cracks in the tarmac spelling out ancient names for the place of joy.

Utopia was the wrong word. Utopia was a human phrase for a place of no conflict. The place Jonas searched was the negative of conflict, and after so much destruction in his life, he craved that absence more than anything. More than human touch, more than indulgence, more than food or water or health.

He drew a third line across the creased paper landscape before him and placed a finger on the point of intersection, tapped it three times and stood up.

Encased within his largest coat, Jonas walked through the crowds to the centre of the road. Closing his eyes he saw Utopia begin to manifest around him with glitter and glances, the fabric of the sky and the street fraying as it made contact with his determination.

The roars of the cars around him became the roars of waves crashing on the perfect beach, the city beyond the dunes shimmering in his dust clagged eyes. The crest of the hill was lined with people, arms stretched to welcome him, and with shaky legs he stepped into the roar of water.