Flash Fiction Month 2019 Week 4 (and a smidgen)

Here are the final stories of my flash fiction month. As with the previous three weeks each is linked to a location which you can visit via the hyperlink. Hope you enjoy them.

Day 22

marriage.geology.like

The couple decided to hold their wedding outside. Begin their marriage between sky and stone, not wrapped in brick and plumbing. Feel the geology underneath them, the hawthorn wearing the wind like rags.

Every word they said to each other was stitched with love, and time, the time behind them and the time to come. Hands bound with cloth, they sipped honey wine and made honeyed promises, oaths as sweet as anything the bees feasted upon.

Like shimmers from another world they stood upon the outcrop of rock and reached into the future; one year, ten years, twenty and many more.

With hands enwrapped with promises they spoke words that enwrapped them with memories to come and stepped upon their own bonny road toward a world of their own.

 

Day 23

shattered.swimmers.cuts

The swimmers stand on the glittered shore, feet coated in sand sharp as razors. When they swam out to the island, before the sun went down and chilled the land, the sea was soft and warm.

They watch waves erupt to swallow themselves. Soon the ground where they wait will gnaw upon itself. They can already feel it waking to taste the soil beneath them. The sea swirls and shifts, and with arms bare and lungs filled, they dive.

The sea is no longer soft and warm. Now it is brittle and murderous. They try to make progress, but are overwhelmed. The sea of shattered knives cuts the swimmers to the bone and continues slicing, smearing crests of waves with blood and severed tendons. There is no drowning, just muscle trimmed with a thousand cuts until the swimmers are carried beneath the sharpened tide.

Day 24

worksheet.renamed.obstruct

They renamed her in the hope it would rob her of her power. Take the magic from her hair and bones.

Whenever they pinned her identity to a worksheet or receipt, they changed the letters of her name. Misspoke it when gossipping on the street, and whispering before sleeping.

She did not care. While they shuddered at having the syllables of her slide over their lips or brush their tongue, she went to the overgrown ponds and dressed in lilies, swam in reed choked waters, and sat in meadows where the grasses scratched all the names they called her into her back.

Some days, when she lay in her bed as the summer sun scorched the streets, she heard them talk about her. Call her Joanie, or Helena, or bitch (if they were feeling brave), but none of them had the nerve to obstruct her while she knelt in the street collecting gutter herbs or road ash.

None of them had the bravado to misname her when she bought calf hearts from the butchers, and collected blackthorns on the way home. None of them had the guts to criticise her to her face when she fed the stray cats gathered in her garden, that did not quite look like cats.

While they shuddered at her shadow and stayed silent, she spoke kindness to all those who showed it to her, and any chance she got whispered her own name to herself, and smiled.

Day 25

lowest.whiten.comedy

Since starting her comedy career JoJo had bombed many times, but tonight was bad. Really bad. Tonight JoJo had hit her lowest point.

She stood on the stage, staring beyond the dust covered lights to the bored audience. That was the worst. Not the jeering or heckling, but the sheer boredom pressing back from their passive faces, stifling her attempts at jokes. Killing them before they were even born. The corpses of her humour lay around her feet.

She did not need to do anything else. The sacrifice had been made. From the side of the stage the compere tried to get her attention by glances, then sighs, then hands. She shrugged off his interruptions and refocused. Looked for the micro signals amongst those watching. A hand tapping a rhythm here, and an eye twitching in spasm there. Angles made by skin and the cloth of sweat stained shirts. Her words changed from attempts at humour to calls so quiet she barely heard herself speak.

The first portal opened up in the tear duct of a drunk stag sitting by the front of the stage. What came through was dressed in thorns and each one grazed sigils into the dying man’s eyes. The last thing he saw were the words that powdered his muscles, turning him to bone and dust. The second portal started as a single point in the chest of the compere. JoJo watched it grow and whiten, until it was pure light, though that was just the herald for the corruption that followed. What followed that light was tainted with infection and wounds. It paused before JoJo and recognised the names chiseled into her bones, then moved on through the crowd, defusing them cell by cell until they were little more than scrapings of dust on the cheap plastic chairs.

JoJo watched the things clasp together their rewards; the squirming souls of those shattered and eroded. They would not get all the cultural references in her routine, the dwellers from behind the meniscus of the world, but at least they would listen, and wait until she had finished before passing judgement upon her performance.

Day 26

harps.cook.bunny

Constanza sat upon the stage surrounded by instruments with no-one to play them. Even with no other musicians in the room the strings and skins resonated just below hearing as if the ghosts of all those past performances could not stay silent. As if they needed to find a new home in the polished wood and brass that littered the stage.

She tipped her chair back until only balanced on two legs and then back forward, letting her bow find the tune in the cello. Call back all the performances lost over the years in that ancient hall.

Across the room the harps resonated an answer, finding their own voice in the tune she danced from memory.

The animals started to come in as if the tune she played was food. As if it could give them nourishment that they could not find in the desolate world beyond the building. She watched them skitter down the aisles; deer and wild boar. A bunny leading its family over the red velvet chairs.

They came closer as if she was not there at all. As if there was only the music and the music alone would fill their bellies. She knew this was not true, or she would not be near starving herself. Soon her own stomach would be full. There would be plenty to cook tonight.

Day 27

recited.excavated.basecamp

Basecamp was deserted when Sally returned from the trench.
The rest of the team hadn’t had time to become unsettled by the most recent find. She cradled the artefact in her hands, the cuts and cracks in her skin full of clay and grit.

Now excavated, the object was smaller than she expected. She turned it over, watching as the last of the day’s sun caught each facet in turn, glittering with the dust of many deaths.

All the site huts were empty, traces of recent activity everywhere. A cup of tea cooled on top of a pile of paperwork. In another office a cigarette smouldered in a full ashtray.

She caught sight of herself in a murky hut window, just able to see her lips moving, saying the same thing over and over again. The invocation had already been recited, every step from site, like a penitent on pilgrimage. The world had already been changed. She glanced down at the artefact. Now she saw the faces. Now she saw the others. Now she saw the end of the world, and it came from muttered words that she could not stop from repeating over and over and over.

Day 28

amends.dart.frozen

Bill would not make amends for what happened on that night two weeks ago. That walk back from the club at three in the morning.

Seline shuddered at the memory and carried on arranging icewort flowers on the kitchen table. The evening had gone smoothly; good music, good dancing, the floor not too crowded, then it was time to leave. Outside was warm and the moon was high, so rather than get a bus or call a cab they decided to take their time and go on foot.

From the bag by her feet she took out the blood soaked grit and piled it in the middle of the circle of blossoms.

The cat wasn’t doing anything, just being a bit loud. Trying to get some affection. Bill didn’t touch the animal, didn’t even pretend to hit it. Instead he stepped around the other side, cutting off its escape and giving it nowhere else to go when he shouted. The cat shot out in the only direction left, toward the road.

Seline didn’t blame the car driver. He had no time to stop. She had knelt by the side of the cat, but there was nothing she could do except take the collar and hope to track down the owners.

“It’s not my fault. Stupid creature,” Bill had said, showing no remorse. There had been a coldness in his voice. A disregard for death. If he could be so dismissive over that casualty?

From her pocket she took out the five small half moons of fingernails and dropped them on top of the pile of grit.
The words were easy to remember as all good magic was. She felt her mouth go cold and spat into the centre of the circle.

The dart was barely bigger than her hand, frozen, solid and sharp. She picked it up and whispered Bill’s name, his full name, not that it was strictly necessary. The fragments of him would guide the point to its destination, but ritual was ritual.

Opening the window, she watched the ice dart shimmer for a moment then take off in search of a heart to stop. Sat at her kitchen table, Seline remembered a cat no-one else had a chance to mourn.

Day 29

salon.snow.lasts

Cathryn walked into the salon, feeling the blast of heat from above the door. She shook off her coat and let the assistant take it from her shoulders to hang it in the corner with those of the other customers.

“Morning, madam,” the stylist said as Cathryn lowered herself into the chair. The seat was difficult to settle in, but that was her, not anything she could blame on the establishment.
“What would you like today?” The stylist fastened the cape around her neck, smoothing it down.

“Just a trim please,” Cathryn said.

The stylist ran a manicured finger over Cathryn’s antlers, lingering for a moment at the branch of two tines.

“Are you sure? I have some new styles I’d really like to try out on you.”

Cathryn thought about it. She really did only want a trim, but maybe.

“I can do you a discount,” the stylist said quickly. “As long as I can take some photos.”

She had never been tempted by such delicate work before. Maybe a geometric pattern for a special occasion. Her friends who did spend their money on scrimshaw always managed to damage it during rutting of both types.

“Does it last?” She asked, still not certain.

“It lasts,” the stylist said. “I use a special technique that hardens the antler as I work. Am I okay to start?”

Cathryn nodded, the tip of one of her antlers touching the mirror. Beside her a faun laid back in his chair, eyes closed as the junior stylist carefully sculpted his horns, working away with a small saw.

From a small black table the stylist picked up a craft drill and changed the blade. Settling Cathryn’s head in place, she started to work.

The air filled with the smell of burnt hair as the stylist began to sculpt and carve. While she worked it was very hard for Cathryn to see what minuscule changes the stylist made with each cut. Up on the wall were photos of previous work; minotaurs with religious scenes carved into their horns, and minor woodland gods with bonsai forests of their own shaped into their horns.

After several hours the stylist put down their tools and stepped back, moving Cathryn’s head a touch to one side, then holding up a mirror so she could see the entirety of the sculpture; the delicate bridges with willow trees above, a glistening of snow on the branches, below that the figures sat around the campfire that seemed to move as the light caught them, brewing tea in precise teapots balanced in the flames. Further away, a small boat docked against a jetty while two more floated out into the middle of the river.

“Is it OK?” The stylist said, clasping their hands together.

Cathryn couldn’t speak, but as she nodded, the boats seemed to rock upon the carved water, shimmering through the tears in her eyes.

Day 30

after.unburied.magnificence

The trees tasted the power on the air and one by one uprooted themselves from the forest floor.

Unburied taproots became tendrils to drag them down hillsides and across tarmac, onward toward the cities that glistened in the distance. At first no-one noticed, though the ground itself trembled with the magnificence of that shift, that movement of pine and firs down toward where the people still went about their jobs and hobbies as if nothing had changed. After everything was finished, we realised that was the moment we should have paid attention.

The trees arrived at just the right time of year, clustering in toppled piles by the side of the roads, waiting for families to load them into cars and trailers. Waiting for families to take them home.

Once in living rooms the trees were decorated, covered in tinsel and glass baubles in the shape of fruit they would never grow. None of these interested them. Not the red and white candy-canes or the jagged snowmen made by tiny hands. The trees only cared about one thing; the lights and the energy they carried within them.

While the households slept the trees used their branches to cleave the bulbs to their trunks, shattered the fine glass casings, pressed the prongs against their bark, and as the electricity sparked through them they drank the energy directly into their timber, feeling it change them. Outside the streetlights flickered with the drain.

Pine needles smouldering, the trees left their living room perches, and found their way through darkened houses, lighting their own way to silent bedrooms. Twirling in the dark they unfurled the broken strings of lanterns onto the silent figures and watched without remorse as the families twitched and smouldered in their beds. The world had once belonged to the trees and once more the world would be nothing but forests.

Day 31

 yelled.magic.tornado

The stones themselves yelled to cover the screams of the grass and the soil and the earth beneath them. From one side to the other, the circle was crammed with people, their heads turned in worship, no matter what they were worshipping.

Each person carried a little magic, a spark of a spell or curse buried deep in their heart. Not a lot, but enough.

The stones tasted the magic on the air, felt it dragged out of worshippers by the rising sun, held in the sky between the cold and the heat to come.

As the stones screamed and chorused so loud that no one could hear, they spiralled the enchantment into a tornado of devotion that enveloped the sky and the sun and the land and every single shimmer of life between.

 

 

 

 

 

Flash Fiction Month 2019 Week 3

Week 3 already? How time flies!

Day 15

alive.radio.takeover

No-one in the village was left alive. All the buildings were still standing, the streets filled with the unmoving dead.

Gail landed the plane on the football field, and did her post flight checks while the inspection team gathered together their equipment ready to inspect the bodies. She watched them shoulder backpacks full of medical supplies and cameras. She watched them struggle under the weight and disappear amongst the trees.

For three hours there was nothing but silence, and Gail lost herself in the cracked spine book she held on her lap. When the radio creaked she dropped the book and looked through the windscreen.

The trees had gone, and the villagers had returned. They were getting closer, dragging the inspection team between them. Over the sound of a thousand rotten feet grinding themselves to paste, Gail listened to her colleagues whimper.

Soon they would complete their takeover of the football field, the plane. Of her. She glanced behind her. There was nowhere left to go.

Day 16

snapped.sting.dome

Covered in lichen the geodesic dome had long since started to rot, stained polygonal panels sliding free to collapse and shatter on the meadow grass.

Niamh knew what lurked inside. They’d heard the buzzing from across the valley and knew that if they didn’t clear out the nest, the insects would soon outgrow their squatted home and swarm for a new place to occupy.

With practiced hands she snapped the protective clothing in place, waiting a moment for the visor to clear. Walking toward the abandoned structure she wondered if the shape had attracted the creatures. Some echo of a memory deep inside their collective mind.

Sweat ran down her arms and collected in the tips of her gloves. She reached up and held the frame as she lifted first one leg, then the other inside, and walked to the middle.
The noise was overwhelming, shifting shadows against the green filtered light.

Undoing her bag, she primed the device that would bring silence to the hive, and barely noticed the first sting near the base of her back. The next few got her attention and, sensing blood in the soil, the insects swarmed until she was nothing but a blackened mound of shifting pixels on the meadow, tiny jaws tearing her apart to further build their nest.

Day 17

funds.stews.reheat

Sam sheltered in one of the bedrooms, no light to see by and no windows to keep out the cold. His sleeping bag was still wet from a bucket of bleach water chucked in his direction two days earlier, already starting to smell of mildew and mould.

The only heat came from the small stove in front of where he sat cross-legged.

His mum had taught him how to make stews when he was a child, him peeling the veg while she chopped them to chunks. “Always chunks Sammy, not too thin. You’ll lose all the flavour otherwise.”

How to put everything together and how to make the best of what was left over. How to let it simmer for hours until it softened and blended.

He didn’t have that luxury now. Hard to find the fuel for his stove in the city. If he did have the funds, the shopkeepers always thought he was going to settle his stomach with the fumes from the cannisters rather than with food cooked above the flames.

In front of him the pan warmed and the stew inside began to reheat.

He hoped the windowsill where he stashed the tupperware container had been cold enough to keep the food healthy. He still remembered the last dose of food poisoning, and how he’d nearly not made it through the week.

He watched the flames, smelt the warming food and thought of his mother once more.

Day 18

formless.shovels.overjoyed

Emily drove the mattock into the ground, watching spoil spray up as the blade bit into the dirt. When she had finished breaking up the pit’s fill, she stood back and waited while the other diggers climbed in with their shovels, letting them load up the barrow before taking it to the spoil heap.

They’d been on site for two weeks and the pit was the only interesting feature. Everything else was land drain or natural so she was overjoyed to finally have something to show in the trenches.

The pit was broad and deep. For the last couple of days they’d tried in vain to recover any finds but there weren’t any to recover. Then the remains started emerging through the dirt.

The skeleton seemed to be made of human bone, but globular and formless, as if fused together. Once the remains were completely uncovered, Emily taped up a drawing board and started to plan each rib and fingerbone, only getting part of the job done before the lack of light robbed her of the ability to finish the job.

The next day the drawing did not match the feature, and at first Emily thought she’d made an error. After dinner the bones had changed again.

Uncertain how to stop the shifting, she reached out and touched the skeletal material, stroking her fingers down a complex knot of bones.

The scorching sensation started in the tips of her fingers and soon spread up her arm like an infection. She looked down at her limbs. Her tendons were bare, fingers and wrist bones welded, both to each other and the bones in the pit. Slowly but surely, she felt herself dragged under the soil, the last of her skin scraped off against the soil as she became absorbed into the net of bone.

Day 19

simply.expansion.touches

The stones were crumbling. Every day more and more turned to dust to be carried away on the breeze.

Harry stood in the centre and looked around at monuments that had stood for millennia now simply disappearing with the breeze. No need for even the most gentle of touches. This was not the erosion of expansion or contraction, but the air itself stealing them from the world.

“Maybe we don’t deserve them anymore,” he said, sitting on the granite covered grass, his head in his hands, palms now stained with dirt and tears.

Day 20

rust.tests.revealing

Carlo had been investigating the infection for three days, crawling about under the tower block, carrying out tests, though he was not sure what he was looking for when he started. He knew now.

He stared at the screen revealing the results. The infection didn’t sound unusual. A series of holes edged in rust. Not exactly uncommon in steel framed buildings.

For three days he’d crawled around, breathing mask on to protect his lungs from dead pigeon dust and forgotten asbestos. Above the mask his skin bare.

He lifted the mirror and stared once more at the holes in his face, each one edged in rust. Inside there was no bone or muscle, just shuddering darkness as something hidden crawled its way through slowly but surely ready to scrape its way into the light.

Day 21

variation.definite.places

Violet had safe places, places she could manifest without becoming trapped in trees or stone. This was not one of those places.

She was definite the ritual had been correct, the projection exact. The visualisation specific.

Her arms did not move when she tried to change position, and she abandoned any attempt. Normally it was easy for Violet to transition from place to place; concentrate on her memory of where she wanted to go, and picture it in her head, hold that idea in her head and enwrap herself with the solidity of the location.

She tried opening her eyes, but they were as sealed in place as her arms. She felt the crust of corrosion inside her limbs at the point where they extended beyond the statue where she was trapped. The statue that had only recently been erected in the square, the variation that had caught her out. She felt the circulation stop reaching her fingers.

Somewhere people started screaming. One of them was her.

 

 

 

 

Flash Fiction Month 2019 Week 2

Hope you enjoyed last week’s stories. Here are the next seven.

Day 8

nasal.buzz.grape 

“I’m afraid you do not get any choice in the decision.”

When the Assessor spoke it was with a nasal whine that made Carla’s head hurt. A buzz in the top of her spine.

She leant over to pick a grape from the fruit bowl, saw the Assessor’s expression and cradled her hands on her lap.

“Do I not get any say in the matter?” She asked, already knowing the answer. He plucked the fruit that she had been going to eat only moments before. Slowly, he used his tongue to pop it against the roof of his mouth. A small amount of juice seeped between his thin lips and down his chin.

“Of course, you could have chosen not to attend this morning,” he said, grinning. She saw bits of skin between his yellowed teeth, but couldn’t tell if they were fruit or flesh.

“And if I hadn’t?”

He smiled wider.

“Please, Miss,” he said, the title spoken like an infection. “The door is open. Your only choice now is whether you go through voluntarily.” There was a moment’s pause. “Or not.”

Carla pushed the chair back, straightened her dress and placed her cloche upon her head, adjusting it until it sat just right. Slowly, she slid her gloves on. With one more look of defiance toward the Assessor she walked toward the open door, already feeling the heat blistering her skin.

Day 9

funky.shadows.snowmen

There was nothing funky about the nightclub any more. Damp had rotted all the cheap cardboard decorations and curled the floorboards like rotten petals.

Hannah wrapped her arms around her knees and tried to keep track of the shadows, but they kept shifting and twisting.

Around her were fifteen heaters, the only noise the diesel generator shuddering in the entrance. Beyond the circle of warmth were pools of water, floating in each one was a scarf, a hat, and blood clots from their victims.

Soon the generator would run out of fuel. Soon the circle would cool. Soon the snowmen would find their form again. Soon there would be nowhere warm left for her to hide.

Day 10

inhales.delighted.bulge 

The Captain stands delighted in the middle of the playground. Above him the moon is full and though he feels the cold he does not choose to acknowledge the way it chills his muscles.

There are scars in the Tarmac below his feet that he put there many years ago. He lets his feet scuff the lines to wake them up. The scent of bitumen rises into the air. He inhales the taste of cough sweets and burnt skin.

The pile of papers barely reaches his knees; old exams and school reports. The breeze flutters the pages and he catches sight of scuffed ink.

Starting quiet he begins to speak the words. Some he learnt in the playground where he stands, others in shadowed temples that smelt of copper and charred bone.

Below his feet the Tarmac glistens the green of compass pricked tattoos. He scuffs the ground again, feeling it start to bulge, reaching out to his words.

Turning his head to the sky, the Captain watches the stars brush the dark as they fall, delighted to hear the words they thought long forgotten. He does not tell the night what he has planned. The night will find out soon enough

Day 11

latter.wept.premises

Council garages always had a feeling of loss to Marty, as if those corrugated steel doors held back grief as well as forgotten engines and mummified rats.

He walked down one side, then back up the other, running his hand over the metal and prefabricated concrete, searching for something that could not be seen or touched, but he felt as a prickle inside his teeth.

At the end of the row there were three units converted into premises for a shadow garage, repairing cars for those who could not afford to pay men in matching overalls. Two ghosts lurked inside. The first was the shadow of something that had hidden here long before people cleared forests from the land, the second a child whose body had turned to yellowed bones between the pebbledash walls and grass bank that rose toward the distant towers.

The latter spirit did not want to be there. There was no vengeance or message to be carried, just confusion and fear. No one had found the body. No one had even noticed the child missing, apart from Marty, looking for one thing and finding something completely different lurking amongst the spilt oil and diesel stains.

Kneeling down on the floor between the two rows of garages, Marty closed his eyes and searched in the shadows for the fear clustered in upon itself, and when he found that bundle of confusion he did what needed to be done; wept and mourned a life lost and a child forgotten until the ghost that still lingered could see the cord and drag itself away from the council garages to somewhere better.

Day 12

reframe.hung.scouted

Faith spent weeks watching the gallery. Scouted out the guards, changing her appearance every day with wigs clothes and padding to alter her body shape. By the end of her preparation she knew where every painting hung, how often it was patrolled and when she could exploit the best window of opportunity to fulfil her client’s order; steal The Condemned Witch, a painting long lost and only recently restored.

On Tuesdays they spent the day on maintenance. Chose one piece of art to reframe. That way there was always a nearly full collection for the visiting public. If she got in before they removed that week’s painting to take it to their workshop, no-one would notice. Administration error would be blamed for long enough that she would be long gone.

On the next Tuesday she lurked around the entrance, Stanley knife hidden in her coat. The painting to be repaired that week wasn’t due to be taken from the wall until after lunch time. She waited and watched.

The opportunity came early, the exact pattern of the curators in the gallery just right to allow her to approach the canvas. She lifted the knife to cut free the painting, reached out, and on the wall the witch’s scarred hand reached out in turn and grabbed Faith’s wrist.

The blade fell from her numb hand, dropping to the floor. With more strength than paper and paint should possess the painting lifted Faith into the air, dragged her over the gold frame and slowly but surely her skin shivered to pigment until there was no sign of Faith expect on unused blade clattering upon the tiles.

Day 13

bubbles.grass.shadows

They caught him by the town ditch, pinning his arms against the crushed grass and thistles.

He tried struggling but there were too many of them, two or three to a limb with far more standing in the shadows.

With bubbles they sealed his eyes, blowing globes of shimmering translucency straight into his sight, then plucked sodden grass from the ground and stitched his mouth to silence.

Reaching into his coat they emptied his pockets until they found proof of his theft, several days clustered against each other, the hours scuffed and barely usable. They stretched them out, laying them on the ground in the hope the heat of the sun would fix them. Return the days to their pristine condition.

After seeing his vandalism compounding his theft, with many hands they carried him into the fields, staked him to the soil using his own bones to hold him in place, and with words first spoken by the now long dead they left him to the crows.

Day 14

pretty.flying.downward

The valley had never been pretty. This was not a place tourists came to take photos, balancing selfie sticks with one hand, their other grasping their loved one’s side. Instead it was a place of concrete and pollution, where any plants that could grow browned and wilted by the effort.

Nathan would try and take any other route into the airport that lay several miles further on, but that morning the choice had not been given to him, the instructions from Air Traffic Control clear, the navigation directions precise.

Flying over the ridge, he dropped the plane down a little, watching plumes rising from grates rusted into the slopes.

An eruption of fumes reached the starboard wing, and instead of just flowing around the engine the gas began to grind its way through the fuselage.

Nathan watched one side of the plane disintegrate, and no matter how much he tried to gain control the plane twisted as it fell downward into the valley where nothing grew.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Week 4 and a bit

I’m a bit behind on this, because holidays happened, and Christmas, and birthdays.

Here are the last ten stories of my flash fiction month. Thirty one days and thirty one stories. I hope you enjoy this last collection.

 

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 22

On Wings of Fire

Lanterns lined the path through the snow, each glittering with a different colour.

She walked along the lane, bathing in the glow of each one. The multicoloured chrome of Goose Fair on a late autumnal night. Shades of a complete rainbow seen from a Canadian mountain. Sparse sunlight dancing through rain showers high in Nidderdale. The shudder of reflections on bicycle spokes. A single candle in a silent room, hiding wooden elves with its shadows.

Soon she reached an unlit lantern, balanced in a snowdrift, waiting for her to pick it up.

With no matches she ignited her memories. Castles at the meeting of three rivers, and labyrinths low in the grass. Wild boar hunting acorns in the mud, and snowmen with mohicans of sticks. The pride of Einschulung and the joy of poems read in a six year old’s voice. Kirsch Eis in the height of summer, and tiffin in the depths of winter. The clack of needles in the warmth of the night, and the sound of guitars in the dark of a wooden floored hall.

Using her memories she drew flames from last year’s lantern. Danced them through the sky on wings of fire. Sparked the candlewick to life. The final lantern lit, she raised it in the air and used the light of all her past joys to guide her into the coming twelve months.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 23

Dark Hearts

Sarah baked gingerbread hearts, each with a centre of jam covered in thick dark chocolate. In some the filling was the rich crimson of raspberries, though no raspberries were used. In others the dark blue of blackcurrants, though Sarah never harvested the canes outside her window.

Only on special occasions did she serve the soft baked confectionary, and only ever one type at a time.

For some the gift brought them to a new path, leading out of a darkness. To the sun until then only glimpsed through a forest of knives.

For others, who ate the hearts containing something as shadowed as that lurking in their own chest, the treat only led them to a future of dark water and thorns. The clasp of mud and of the choke of silt.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 24

Rising

The men drowned though they were nowhere near the depths of the sea.Their chests filled with salt heavy water. Bloated with ebbing seaweed that swelled in their throats.

The women tried to clear the lungs of the choking. Turned the men on their sides. The recovery position remembered from school. On their fronts. Ribs splintered against cobbles and kerbs.

Still the water came. Torrented past shattered teeth. In desperation the women clogged mouths with towels and torn shirts. Closed them with cotton wool and stitches. They no longer cared to bring the men to breathing. They were past saving. Now they just wanted to stem the flood they knew was coming.

The pressure was too great. Split the skin of the men’s gullets. Overwhelmed the gutters and backed up drains. Rose up the walls of shops and homes alike. Took breath from sleeping children and the women who could not escape until they floated above bones smoothed and polished by seawater far from the sea.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 25

Sun and Moon

The two showmen stood in the middle of the square. Backs to each other, faces turned out to the crowd. One wore makeup to disguise himself as the sun, the other the moon.

The crowds stood at a respectful distance, no barrier needed as the wolves circling the two performers kept them back, the fragrance of their pelts overpowering every other scent.

The people did not know what the entertainment would be, but the excitement was in the air. No shows ever visited their little town.

Once the magic tricks and tumbling were finished the crowd did not want the performance to end. When the two smiling men asked for the children to be sent forward parents pushed their precious quilted bundles toward the middle of the square.

The wolves parted and the two showmen stood aside to reveal a cloth booth that was not there before, the fabric embroidered with pear trees and snow drifts.

One by one the children walked forward, scrabbling past each other to pass between the billowing curtains.

The parents did not forget as soon as the showmen packed away the fragile tent, nor when the two strangers wiped the sun and moon makeup from their faces with cloths soaked in vodka, but once the showmen rode the wolves out of the town all the parents remembered was the sun and moon shining in the marketplace at the same time.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 26

In case you’re wondering, by this point in my annual challenge I have no idea what I’m doing. This was inspired by finding a feather under the radiator.

Pellets

The owls living in Paul’s radiators made their nests from rust. He only found them by the fall of feathers on the tiles. Bleeding the valve, the birds flew out and perched on top of the pipes. Every day he brought them mice and they brought up pellets of bones.

Over time the birds grew and so did the pellets, the ribs syruped together far larger than any rodent Paul laid by the bathroom door. He noticed the window smashed by the owls’ vast wings, letting them out to hunt the skies.

One morning leaving for work he saw the owls returning. Each carried a prone body, talons digging in between hip and spine. He watched them drop into the bathroom, turned down faces of the people scraping on the shattered window.

Going back into the house Paul stood by the closed door, listening to the vast birds chewing their food. Soon there would be more owl pellets and less neighbours. Each room of his house was now filled with undigested bone. The only person in the street not swallowed for food was him.

He did not know why the owls ignored him, and did not know if it was luckier to survive, or better to wish for a quick death at the point of the talon and beak. Going back downstairs he shut the door and walked through the silent town, smashed glass and giant soft feathers underfoot, and when he reached the entrance to his work he kept on walking.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 27

Today’s story was inspired by a photo artist Becca Thorne shared.

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Instructions to Summon the Ancient Dead

1 Sprinkle powdered skull pansies into water collected upon the oldest stone in the circle.

2 Ask your familiar to breathe on the water until the surface cools to the temperature of Judecca. You will know when the right temperature is reached when you can hear souls screech as the ice scrapes the rock.

3 Lacerate the ice with a flint blade. The charms will form where the lines cross without any intent from you.

4 When the skull manifests from the trapped water, count the bubbles. If there are an even number, smash the ice and walk away. Do not return to the place until thirteen months have passed.

5 If there are an odd number take a single length of mildewed straw, ask your question, then pierce the ice allowing the trapped air to sigh out.

6 Listen to the answer. Do not let your bare skin touch the stone or your skull will be below the water and your brain will be encased in ice until the heat of your blood turns it to meltwater.

7 Leave one bubble untouched and one question unanswered.

8 Place your familiar on the ice and let it lap up the ghosts trapped under the surface.

9 Feed your familiar well. If it craves meat bring it the finest cuts. If it wishes for wine, open your finest bottle. If it returns in the early hours with things once living stuck between its teeth, do not question it about its night-time hunts. It may just tell you the truth.

10 Do not return to the site of the ancient dead until thirteen months have passed.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 28

The planet’s atmosphere pressed down like an old sodden blanket smothering everything green and living, the air thin and only caught in gasps.

Spoken words fell to the ground, heavy and unheard. To hold conversations people caught sentences in tree leaves. Held them out like gifts. Gossip collected against kerbs, windblown and rotted. Composted. Dense and pinned under that sodden alien air.

When all the trees were gone, the people wrote their messages on stones. They carried pockets of arguments and small talk down to the marketplace, piling them in cairns against the cross.

Searching for the words of loved ones, broken ribs became as common as reading. Mothers sat around tracing chiselled words with crushed fingers. Workers carried sonnets and proposals from home in shattered hands.

Finally, even the faintest trace of air was gone, their lungs scarred and heavy as if filled with gravel, and there was nothing left to mark their conversations except stone and silence and the splinters of bones.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 29

Melt

Melted snow marks the place the landers came to rest, rock below smoothed to mirrors by the heat.

The vehicles are long gone now, trundling through the town, searching in the wooden buildings for any survivors. Families crouching in basements and behind locked doors.

In the twilight sky the transporter waits for the landing party to return. Monitoring their progress. The crew are hungry. Tonight they will feast.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 30

The Coat of Waves

When Muirreann stripped off her sealskin to walk on land, she wore a coat of waves. Vast teal curls that fell over her shoulder to drape on the pavement and leave seawater pools between with each cautious step.

The coat was vast, wrapping around her, knitted together with fine skeins of coral and krill. Each fibre pitted with shimmering algae that danced in the day and glowed blue at night.

When the cold winds came, because she did feel the cold winds without her sealskin, Muirreann fastened the coat of waves shut with buttons of sailor’s bones, and when she slept the waves within the coat rocked her to sleep in a way no blanket ever could.

Once she tired of walking the land on her unfamiliar feet she returned to the coast, and cast the coat of waves back into the tide. As the fibres fell apart they whispered stories of bright lights and cliffs of clay embedded with sheets of vitrified sands. Stories carried on currents through the oceans, far further than Muirreann would ever swim.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 31

Happy Solstice!

Here’s a cheery* story to celebrate the Solstice.

Pale Sun

At the winter solstice the surface of the sun was cool enough for the dead to enter. They scraped out of the dirt, shuddering free from mats of white roots. Ate worms to sustain them on the journey through the atmosphere.

They said nothing, but sometimes the wind howled through their rot hollowed throats and the crowds gathered below heard words in those sounds. Words that comforted or horrified. The dead did not care. They turned their gnawed eyes to the rising sun and continued to float toward the destination.

All flights were cancelled to allow them to make their journey. The corpses climbed through the sky, though never in columns. Each one took their own path, as they had done in life. As they rose they got smaller and smaller, folding in on themselves until they became like apples of marrow. Compact and hollow.

Of course some of the bereaved tried to stop their lost ones leaving the earth. Chained down their burial plots, or covered them with old ghosts nets. The dead did not care. What compelled them to rise could not be stopped by rusted iron or hemp rope. Minced and diced by the obstructions, the dead floated up toward the sun, the memory of who they were holding them together. The mourning below shattered by the spectacle.

And when the pale sun set on the night of the solstice it absorbed its new congregation into its heart, their thoughts, memories, skin and muscle fuel to brighten the world in the coming year. A sacrifice to bring light and heat to the world once more.

*I lied about the cheery bit.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Week 3

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, but I’m still on course with my flash fiction challenge. Here are the next seven stories.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 15

(Nearly halfway through!)

Two paths led from the lake back to the house, and Rachel knew almost straight away that she had chosen the wrong one.

Concentrating on placing her feet upon the riverbank’s wet grass, she ignored the teeth glistening in the water until there were only rocks and jaws.

Kneeling, she tugged out a lock of hair, draped it across the mud choked shallows and watched the dead grasp at the strands. Become tangled up in the follicles that knotted into rotted gums.

With the other end wrapped around the fingers of her left hand, she dragged their corpses from the water. Scraped them along the path back toward her apartment, ready to render them to paste. There were some advantages to taking the wrong route home.

 Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 16

This was inspired by a place name I recently spotted on a map.

The glitteringstone floated six feet off the ground. Each time geologists approached with their hammers and curiosity it rose further out of reach. With every attempt to rise higher (chair, step ladder, cherry picker), the glitteringstone responded staying beyond human hands.

Feldspar and quartz, caught the sun, reflecting the shine across the marketplace. When someone in a flat let the radio play a bit too loud the glitteringstone began to spin, keeping time with the music.

The parish council turned spotlights on the glitteringstone, and as the light danced so did the people. Local DJs took turns playing tunes, the whole marketplace becoming a dancefloor. They danced until the day faded and until it began once again. They did not stop to eat or drink,
And though the dancer’s legs weakened they could not stop.

Feet swelled and bruised with exhaustion, until one by one the dancers slumped to the floor, legs still twitching.

Then the glitteringstone stopped spinning and descended from the sky.

Hovering along the floor it absorbed each broken dancer one by one, expanding with the addition, faces picked out in feldspar and quartz. Once no more bodies lay on the floor the glitteringstone rose into the sky, the last of the music playing on to an empty town.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 17

The Boat

The boat was river wrecked, timber rust-stained from the steel of his staples and sutures. We dragged it up the bank and shattered the planks with blunted axes, building a fire that sent smoke up through the damp trees above us.

He found us. Sat down on the edge of the circle. Sparks shadowed his skin so we could not see where it slid off in strips.

Greyed flesh underneath came alive in its own way with the twist and flex of those who make their home in the already dead.

He did not eat, though the meat on the spits was fresh.

“I have more in common with them than you,” he said, pointing to the roasting rabbits dripping fat into the glowing ash.

By morning he had left us, the timbers nothing more than charcoal and the rabbits nothing more than bones.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 18

Traces

A single filament of glass draped from the moon, kept soft and pliable by it’s constant movement through the atmosphere . At night it would filter the reflected light from the cratered surface down toward the Earth, sliding across mountains and forests. Each place the filament touched it left a trace of glass.

Simon knew the locations it brushed the land were not random and he set out on an Autumnal night to chase the filament as it marked its orbit upon the ground.

Seeing it approaching he steadied himself. As the narrow thread of slightly molten glass passed by Simon reached out with gloved hands and grasped it in two tight fists.

First the filament slowed, then stretched, and as Simon held on longer it cooled. He tried to let go. Too much lay in his hands. The moon hauled across the night sky, and the filament paused. Stretched. Shattered. Coated Simon in shards of glass.

The filament no longer draped from the moon to leave traces of molten glass upon the earth, and the world was less beautiful for its loss.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 19

Branches from the willows clattered the water, spreading ripples and leaves downstream.

No-one paid them any attention. Didn’t notice the way the buds slicked under the surface, soaked and hungry. Children still swam nearby. Families and dogs.

Each fragment that the trees absorbed was too small for the victim to notice, but over time the swimmers were lessened and the willow grew broad on the souls it sipped.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 20

Carol-Ann sat in her front room and watched the rain rivulet down the window. Erode in channels and deltas. Testimonials of mistakes made a generation earlier.

The glass bubbled and slid down the outside walls, pooling into the gutter. Three days more and the walls would be gone again.

She picked up the phone and rang the repair company once more as rain-drop by rain-drop the house dissolved around her.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 21

I took the photo this morning, and it inspired today’s story.

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Snowscape

Campbell was stood by the window when the ice shifted, giving a glimpse of the world outside. Distant trees were cracks in the sky. Other houses erased by the weather.

The snow had fallen for thirty eight weeks straight, pausing only occasionally as if catching its breath. Coating the house in a silken coat so vast that the world outside was a forgotten shimmer.

Campbell glanced out again. The trees seemed closer now. Each one larger, though it could have been a trick of the light. Perspective. He hadn’t seen anything further away than the other side of the room for months.

Going to the kitchen, he made tea from stale water, then went back to gaze on the outside world once more. One last time before snowfall encased the house and sealed him off.

Whether through weight or pressure, the tap root smashed the window, covering Campbell in splinters of glass, and ice just as sharp. Finding purchase on his legs and arms the tree dragged him out of the house and lay him on the snow. Roots rasped away skin scalded to blisters by spilt tea.

It took time for the trees to force their roots into his arms and legs. Find the minerals hidden in his bones.

By the time they were finished he was powder and skin and covered by the next snowfall.

They still felt the gnawing emptiness the never-winter had brought them, the weakness in their branches, but they were not done for yet. There were still many houses hidden under the snow, and many minerals hidden in the bones of those within.

 

 

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Week 2

Fourteen days and fourteen stories down. Nearly halfway through.

Last year I wrote stories based on images from the 17th century book, A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne by George Wither. (You can see those, and the stories from previous years, by following this link https://stevetoase.wordpress.com/tag/flash-fiction-challenge/ This year I decided to give myself a bit more flexibility and go back to writing about anything that inspired a story.

Here are the next seven.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 8

One by One

Each bee in the hive needed to be exorcised individually. Smoking the colony to drowsing, the priest took worker and drone out one by one. Passed them through the steam of holy water. Placed them to one side and moved onto the next. Minuscule and cold, the 60,000 homeless demons searched for new lodgings.

The priest was so caught up in the half remembered ritual he did not notice the demons crawl through the pores of his skin. Did not feel them scrape out hovels in his marrow. Did not hear all 60,000 screaming obscenities inside his chest, until he could hear nothing else.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 10

My fellow writer Premee Mohamed gave me a title of ‘The Mars Portal’ on Twitter. Here’s the story I wrote in response.

The Mars Portal

Marked with blood and the rust of swords, the door to the Son of Juno was closed with wax the colour of torn muscle. Lighting the lambswool wick Castonadi melted the seal, watching the impressed woodpecker pattern drip to collect on the floor and harden once more.

The door crumbled and Castonadi stepped across the threshold of shattered stone, into the room beyond.

The god sat alone, surrounded by sheaves of corn, his helmet by his side, spear across his lap. Castonadi knew he had to walk slow. Place each foot with care. Above him the woodpeckers circled with no tree to alight in, and somewhere in the distance a wolf shuddered the crop with its howl.

Castonadi had to stop himself from reaching out to touch the god’s face, streaked with corrosion from his rotted armour. Instead he took the spear and held it to the sky. The god raised his gaze.

“I need that.” he said. “In case they arrive with ill intent.”

“No-one’s coming here,” Castonadi said, and drove the spearpoint into the plough furrows. The wood fell away and erupted into a bushel of corn. “Tend your crops and mend your fences. This place is forgotten and the better for it.”

The god nodded, and Castonadi walked toward the door, turning his back on the bringer of war.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 11

Breath

Gaunt and gauze-like, ghosts do not have the purchase to cling to their places of death. Instead they tangle themselves in the breath of those who mourn them the most. Allow themselves to be inhaled by those who loved them, nestling in damp, moist lungs. Until they are exhaled and flutter like pennants of forgetfulness, singing torn memories to those who can no longer hear.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 12

After the Last Song

The King of the City’s Night wore strands of frozen beer in his hair. Shattered bottle glass for fingernails. The glamour of mirrors wedged into cracked eye sockets. When he spoke his voice was not heard but felt in his ribs and lungs.

After the nightclub lights came on and the cloakrooms emptied, he walked the city streets. Ran fingernails of shattered bottle glass down the necks of those sheened with the sweat of others. Sipped memories and love and joy. Took something the revellers didn’t know they had but they would forever miss.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 13

A Charm for the Lost

If you have lost your way home, follow these instructions.

  1. Take from your pocket a single stone with a chalk line running through its heart. Always carry such a stone with you for this purpose, but only one.
  2. Place the stone upon the road in front of you.
  3. Sprinkle the stone with;
    One pinch of salt
    Two crushed flowers from Lane-Wort, found alongside
    corpse-roads. Make sure any stems are completely
    discarded and not used in error.
    A single eyelash plucked from your left eye, while the
    stone is in place.
    Three splinters from a crossroad gallows.
  4. Once this has been carried out cover the stone with moss and ignite. The smoke will bias in the direction you are seeking.

Beware, that this method is fraught with risks.

If the stone used has many veins of chalk then you will become lost on the county’s green lanes until your own bones become dust.

If you drop many stones upon the road, by the end of the year your body will be quartered and displayed on the entrance to four royal towns across the nation.

If the stalk of the Lane-Wort grazes the surface of the stone, the dead of one year and a day will find you wherever you may journey, and scratch their crimes into your skin.

There are many ways to be lost in the world and sometimes it is better to walk further and find the road home than exchange one lost for another.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 14

Kulning

Stood in her white cotton dress the girl sang the cattle call across the valley.

The living cows did not know the notes, but the dead heard, and recognised the tune. Shivered themselves from the soil. Stamped their clay marked hoofs across the fields.

When they reached the girl the cattle from the graves and middens tried to get her attention, but they were like so much dust in the air.

Turning her back she walked away, leaving the herd alone in the mist drenched field.

To read the stories each day, you can visit my writer page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/stevetoase1/ or come back in week to read the next seven stories.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Week 1

For the past few years I’ve spent the time between November 21st and December 21st scrabbling for story ideas to post a flash fiction piece every day. Thirty one pieces in thirty one days. This year is no different. Every year I wonder why I do this to myself. This year is no different.

There are a couple of reasons why I keep up this tradition. Firstly, it’s a great way to lock in the writing each day discipline. Daily writing doesn’t work for everyone, but I’m very much a creature of habit, and I’d rather those were good ones like writing. Secondly, over the years Flash Fiction Month has developed a small but loyal audience who come back each year to read the daily stories, and for that I’m very grateful. Thirdly, it’s a way of playing with ideas that may develop into a short story or more. In effect it becomes an incubator for all those ideas I jot down on my phone and never do anything with.

If you’d like to read the stories as they go up, you can follow the link to my Facebook writer page

Here’s the first week of stories. I hope you enjoy them.

Day 1

Remnants

After they chopped down the movie prop, they left wooden stumps to rot in the coastal fret. Splinter and split in the salt air.

Magic isn’t always intentional and the wood remembered what was amputated. The curl and flex of osiers. The friction of willow hurdles against each other. The scent of smoke and charring wool.

Slowly, over a generation, the timber unfurled, knitting itself together out of memory, and when the first people came to wonder at its reincarnation it clasped its door open, ready to welcome them in.

Day 2

Keeping Up Appearances

Pasted on grins were the latest thing. The season’s gimmick. Held in place by a new organic glue, they let Simon get through the holidays, joyful expression intact.

Feasting finished and relatives returned home, he stood in front of the bathroom mirror. Peering at the packet, he followed the instructions to remove the paper thin smile. First he used water, then soap, and finally a mixture of white wine vinegar and salt. Nothing worked.

Late that night he woke to a sensation of creeping across his cheeks. Half asleep he groped around for his phone and used the camera as mirror.

Fibres at the edge of the pasted on smile stretched out, knitting to his skin as if ridged with a thousand tiny needles. Running to the bathroom he tried to wrench the mask free. Ragged paper enveloped his fingers, sewing through the bone and holding his hands in place.

The only way left for Simon to express himself was via his eyes, and they were doing anything but smiling.

Day 3

Flutter

1024 cocoons waited upon the console. Once the upload was complete 1024 butterflies emerged, the data stored in copper designs etched into their wings.

With a shudder of verdigris they took flight, brushing against others to transfer the code along the network.

Some fell, caught by gusts of wind or battered by rain. Others were netted by hackers transfixed by the intricacies of their wings, not noticing the other colours the butterflies still wore. Colours that warned of the brush of hairs still covering the insects abdomens. Hairs that burnt skin and flourished visions of personal hells.

Most of the butterflies made it to their destination. Sipping nectar from the upturned blossoms, they delivered the data to its destination and rested before death, their life’s work done.

Day 4

Gnaw (with apologies to Ray Harryhausen)

Measuring the length of a person, the ancient teeth were too large to lift from the dig. The excavators left them in the trench, smeared with silt and plaster.
Overnight, the rain came down, seeping through the dirt and flooding the vast canines. Found its way through cracks in the dentine.

From inside the teeth, skeletons shattered through the enamel. Birthed to a new world. Rainwater filling empty eye sockets hidden for so long.
In skinless hands the skeletons grasped splinters of tooth. Tore aside the metal fencing. Clattered down the Tarmac.

Reaching the first house the vast figures smashed their way in, finding the sleeping family within. Down the street the pattern was repeated as they opened each building, one by one.

The skeletons lacked stomachs to feast on those they captured, but they still had teeth, teeth that could gnaw and grind, and soon their bare ribs were smeared with a fine paste of skin and bone. Skin and bone that was not their own.

Day 5

Velvet and Wood

In the corner of the courtyard stood an empty chair, across the stone flags three mattresses just as vacant. Carol stood in the doorway for a few moments longer than normal. She knew they were there, watching her. Invisible. Could smell the perfume of coffins on them. Mould stained velvet and wood rotting even through the varnish.

“There’s nothing here,” Mark said wiping his forehead, and she knew that he would not tolerate her “ways” for much longer. She shrugged, let him take her fingers in both hands, and lead her back into the streets of people and cardamom and coriander.

In the courtyard the chair juddered away from the wall then fell back. On the mattresses the sheets lifted a touch, then dropped once more. Many years had passed since anyone had sensed the dead of the city. Now someone knew they waited, they needed to wait no longer.

One by one the sleepless fell in step behind Carol. Their path away from the scent of mould stained velvet and rotten wood. With broken fingernails and shattered bone they traced their names in Carol’s skin so that she would remember them and their lives would be spoken once more.

Day 6

Float

Drowned men sing no songs. They cannot recall the melodies in the salt scoured grasp of the sea.

Instead they grind out the air trapped in their bones and whisper the names of their loved ones. Push the bubbles of words into seaweed to float up to the surface where it might pop upon the waves for the mourning to hear.

The sodden strands of bladderwrack wash up on the beach to be ground against rocks and under the feet of children, where all words are lost in the crush of sand.

Day 7

Litter

The tree grew dogs. All breeds. Some sprouted from amongst the roots with stiff ears of bracket fungus. Others curled upon themselves amongst petals, wet stamen noses pushing out into the world.

One had tangled fur that snagged on low hanging branches, others long backs that unfurled as they grew from puppy to dog.

Soon they reached the time to loosen from their stalks and run through the woodland on coppiced legs.

These dogs were made of timber and thorn, and when they yawned the tree rings that ran through them were visible in the back of their throats.

No matter whether they were filled with oak galls, or shuddered with blossom when they walked, all the dogs knew one thing, and that one thing was this. They all knew that they were very very good boys.

Flash Fiction Month and a bit.

Here are the last three stories from my flash fiction month.

As I mentioned at the start of the month, this year I was trying something slightly different. All the stories were inspired by images from the 17th century book, A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne by George Wither.

This could have backfired, heavily restricting the subject matter. Looking back on the month it’s been a mostly positive exercise. The content of Wither’s book is so numerous (over 200 entries), and varied that I never felt limited by only using this single source. It also meant that when I was lacking inspiration (after twenty or so days it can get pretty hard to find that fresh spark) I only had one place to go for it, rather than trying to pin down everything in my surroundings as inspiration. November is now a long way away, so I’m not sure what I’ll do for 2018. I think I’m unlikely to recreate this with another source.

So from my perspective, it’s been a success. I hope the stories have been enjoyable. If you would like to get free flash fiction in a similar vein every couple of weeks, you can sign up to my newsletter here.

 

 

Day 29

Reverse

Bernard found the book on his grandfather’s shelf.Page 134 described how to gain sight behind as well as in front. See in both directions at once.

First, he built the arch on his property boundary using only hag stones. Then he made a door to fit the gap, coating it in ancient skin found by the peat cutter’s spade. He used glass eyes prised from taxidermied animals as upholstery buttons, finishing off the portal with a silhouetted cameo of his own head, mirrored to look both directions.

Stepping through the now finished entrance, Bernard found a man with scalpels and intent.

First, the man of blades cut Bernard’s shadow from his feet, and stretched Bernard’s skin to fit two instead of one. Then the scalpel man slid Bernard’s shadow into his back, stitching its body of smoke to his spine with fishing line and cat gut.

Once Bernard’s echo was in place, the scalpel man flourished a vintage buttonhole maker and cut eyeholes for the shadow to see through.

Back through the door, Bernard tried to gaze behind him with his new eyes. All the shadow saw was the suffering in the world, and soon Bernard no longer saw anything but darkness.

Day 30

On Trend

The new candle sticks were the season’s must have. Five branched plants, each tip carrying a different flame. The instructions were very specific. Water the soil, use the enclosed plant food and don’t light them until Christmas Eve.

Soon the shops were emptied of the moss coated gifts, their stone plant pots balanced on window sills across the country.
The small packets of feed did not list the ingredients, but smelt of old frying pans and rotting herbs left to long in the rain. No-one cared. To not have the new candle sticks in your house? Well, one didn’t want to be behind the times. One didn’t want to be off trend.

As darkness came on the 24th mothers and fathers gathered excited children around the living candlesticks to light the wicks.
Flames caught and the bark fell away, exposing the mummified skin underneath, grey and shrunken against preserved tendons. Bones outlined underneath taut, dried out veins.

Smoke rose from each burning finger of the Hand of Glory, and reached the lungs of the waiting families. Across cities and villages parents and offspring fell asleep. The one handed thieves with rope burns on their necks were free to empty houses of goods and gifts, and when the families woke with the dawning of the sun, the only present left was a single mummified hand with fingertips scorched to charcoal.

Day 30

Lantern Light

When the old woman and old man arrived in the town there had been no winter for three generations. They called all the citizens to the marketplace and promised to bring snow to the streets in time for the solstice. The people were cynical and did not believe them, but promised to do what the couple said if it winter returned.

First, the couple asked the families to bring them all the cow horn and brass they had in their houses. Once all they scavenged stood in the centre of town the man began to thin the horn to translucent. The woman cast the alloys into strips, then pinned and hinged them in place.

The old man called the town’s children to him.

“Paint snowflakes on these panels,” he said, holding out the lamp horn.

The children looked at their shuffling feet.

“We don’t know what snowflakes look like,” they said, and in this they told the truth.

The old man opened his coat and took out a fold of wax paper.

“Look and memorise, because you won’t have long,” he said, and held out the tiny bundle. Inside was a single snowflake.

Though the children wept at its beauty they memorised the shapes of the arms, and delicate branches, even as the snow melted away.

When finished, the old woman fitted the panels into the lanterns and climbed the lamp-posts that lined the streets. Removing the bulbs, she hooked the lanterns in place and lit the candles inside.

As the sun shuttered for the night, snow fell from the glowing lamps, and the children danced below catching snowflakes on their tongues. And with the snow came other things. Hearth fires and stories. Shadows of antler figures on the edge of the woods, and barrels of glühwein between the houses.

When the sun came up the streets were white with snow and full of stories. The people could find no sign of the old man and the old woman, except for two smiling figures shaped from snow stood right in the middle of the town.

Flash Fiction Month Week 4

Day 22

(Every year I write a story for my wife’s birthday. This year it was Speckled Stars)

Speckled Stars

Stars grew under the hill. Not the vast balls of gas that hung in the sky, holding planets in their rapture, but tiny speckled glowing ones you could hold in your hand. Their scent drifted across the fields. Apples and nectarines. Nutmeg, ice-cream and elderberries.

The girl climbed the hill, though it tired her and she stopped often to drink tea. At the top she laid out a circle of summer flowers. Using a paper blade she sliced through the soil and reached her hand into the hollow below the turf.

With cold fingers she lifted out each star, clasping it in her right hand until all were uncovered and freed. Balancing them in two toppling towers, she climbed down the hill, again stopping regularly for cups of tea, cake and occasionally sandwiches, because sometimes climbing down is more tiring than climbing up.

#

On the path leading away from the hill a man sat in the road dirt, hands in pockets and face toward the ground.

“Are you OK?” Said the girl.

“I’m lost and don’t know where I should be going,” he said.

“We all feel like that sometimes,” the girl said. “Hold my hand and you can come with me.”

“But your hands are full of stars.”

“Nonsense,” the girl said, which was one of her favourite words when she heard nonsense being spoken.

“They are small and fit in one hand,” she said, and held them in one palm. The man placed his fingers in the other.

#

The child was at the edge of the road, looking lost. When the girl saw them, she asked, “What is the matter?”

“I don’t know how to make my way,” the child said, looking at the girl’s boots, because the girl’s boots were fabulous and warm looking with blue fleece and several buckles.

“Where are you going?” She said.

“To the next place,” the child said.

“Hold my hand, and I’ll help you get there,” the girl said.

“But you already have the man’s hand in yours, and in your other hand many stars. I’ll just wait here.”

Taking the stars in turn the girl slid them into her eyes where they sparkled and shone. She held out her hand, which the child took.

And the stars still shine in her eyes, and she still holds the hands of the child and the man as they travel along the path.

Day 23

Germinate

Dead wood started growing again.

Tables and chairs unfurled branches, carved legs sending roots deep into the soil. Front doors fluttered with fresh leaves. Fridges shattered by vegetable trays sprouting and cupboards became coverts.

Forests grew from window frames, pushing bricks apart from each other.

Inside people, in the churn of their stomachs, vegetation germinated in the darkness, until ribs and skin burst from the pressure of the green world finding life in death.

 

Day 24

Tethered

They hauled Marianne into the village square and chained the anchor to her feet. Said it was for straying, though they never told her what she had strayed from. Her duty? Their expectations? A husband she did not have?

Night and day she stayed on the cobbles, that vast hook of iron shackled to her ankles as her clothes got more ragged in the gales they did not protect her from. Eating the scraps she could reach, though the metal links were few and her reach was limited.

The magic was hidden in a rhyme told to her by a grandmother, scented by fire ash and the steam of tea.

“Come sail, come sail, come sail with me.
Transform and we can crest the sea.
Skin to cloth and bone to plank,
Past the pubs where sailors drank.
Come sail, come sail, come sail with me.
Transform and we can crest the sea.”

The nightwatchman took the bribe, though she knew he would pocket more valuables from her house than they agreed. He brought her the box of salves leaving it just within reach. The top layer for scalds, the middle layer for burns. The lowest, hidden, layer for transformations.

The mast grew from her spine, pushing her skull forward as the vertebrae extended to the main boom, her skin stretched as sails. Ribs stayed as ribs, but softened to wood, then hardened once more as they coated with tar. Arms and legs filled between as planks, nerves caulking the gaps between. By midnight she was fully ship, and still woman, her face, wood carved, where the figurehead would normally hang.

With chains of her own she raised the anchor onto the deck and let the breeze carry her through the village. To the harbour where she would sail away from these people and their shame that they made others wear.

 

Day 25

Bees of the Battlefield

The first thing the scavengers noticed was the lack of flies over the battlefields. The lack of stench that came from skin and muscle turning to rotted meat. Rusting limbs littered plough furrows. Circuit boards snapped in two. No life thrived on the battlefield at first.

Frayed wiring exposed to the air became anchors for spider webs. Meadow flowers thrived through the gaps between metallic jaws and shattered fingers. Then the bees came.
Upturned robotic heads became hives, swarms finding paths in through corrugated necks and the shattered glass of blind eyes.

They festooned the lifeless heads of never living metallic men, building up their wax to host their young and their food.

Soon, beekeepers shaped their hives in forms , carving in eyes and unspeaking mouths. The bees strayed from the robotic dead to the timber replicas.

The honey did not taste much different, a slight metallic tang hidden in the sweetness. No-one paid any attention to their lack of exhaustion, and the improvement in vision. The hardening of skin. The bees noticed, and they found new homes in skulls and tissue turned steel. In the ribcages of the people who would harvest their food. In the mouths of those who would eat their honey, and soon, very soon, all the bees lived in echoes of those who were themselves echoes of the living.

 

Day 26

The Sea of Eyes

The chains they bound him in were embroidered with the words he inflicted on others, the venom of those sentences branded into his skin.

On a pallet of bones they carried him to the Sea of Eyes and lowered him under the vitreous surface. In the gloom the stares of his victims pivoted as he dropped lower and lower, pressed against him, slick and damp.

As he slid toward the seabed they showed him. In those irises and pupils they reflected back the fear and anger. Hundreds of eyes in turn returning his gaze unflinching. The press pinned his own eyes open so he could not glance away. By the time he lay still breathing on the sea bed his skin hung in grey tatters from the wet friction of unblinked tears, and still those stares did not look away.

Day 27

Seeds

May came with a rush of weather. The villagers walked into the fields to replace the scarecrows. After a winter of breath stripping frost they knew each field guardian would be flensed and frayed.

At the foot of each cross of brooms sat a child, not dirtied by the mud or blue lipped by the spring winds. Forty in total, all identical from eyeteeth to eyelash.

They fed the children grass and ash because the food of the table bloated their stomachs and made them cry in pain. They drank only rain collected in barrels below the eaves, and they thrived.

Soon the babies were not babies but children, though little more than a month had passed. They did not speak to the villagers, only amongst themselves. What they said the villagers did not understand, but they cared for them anyway.

Winter came with frostbite winds and lung splitting cold. The children hibernated, curling up in season long sleep that they could not be roused from. The villagers rested them by hearths and nesting them in haystacks, but nothing woke them from their slumber. Until snowdrops cracked the crust of soil.

The children of the field hatched into scarecrows with the first thaws, the now abandoned shells lying around the villagers’ floors like broken dolls. The scarecrows were bare, and crept upstairs on limbs of mildewed crop, surrounding the villagers in their beds. First, the scarecrows emptied the villagers’ skins to fill their empty stomachs, then they emptied the villagers’
wardrobes to clothe their mould spotted bodies. Dressed and fed they dragged themselves to the plough furrows. In the fields crows and gulls flocked, ready to be feasted upon.

 

Day 28

Written

When they first rose from the pages of abandoned books, the owls were novelties, far tamer than their wild cousins. With eyes of marbled endpages and wings feathered from spine stitching, they capered on desks and sat calm and quiet on the arms of the curious.

Everyone knew their cardboard talons left ink words upon their perches and the paper they bedded down in at night. Those sentences were a curiosity, though no-one took the time to read them. The warnings hidden in the scratched letters.

When the pools of ink flooded out of the pages of abandoned books people were unprepared. They did not hide themselves away as the owls had tried to warn them, instead stepping across the tepid blackness, unable to escape when the hooked teeth that grasped their ankles. Dragged them under, to be coated in words human throats could not form.

The owls tried to save them, but were not strong enough with their spine stitching wings, and could do nothing but watch with eyes of marbled endpages.

 

Flash Fiction Month Week 3

Here are the stories from week three of my flash fiction challenge, all inspired by George Withers’ A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne.

Day 15

Stone Harvest

On the corner of Benbachstrasse and Lindengasse stood a single tree. Though old, with tripped over roots and soot stained buds, it was the only tree in the city grew stones, but it grew them all. Granite pebbles hidden inside clasps of leaves. Limestone boulders weighed down branches, until they brushed the ground, collecting blown in rubbish around them. Rose quartz glimmered amongst the highest branches, and occasionally, very occasionally, sapphires and opals erupted from fissures in the bark.

No one tried to covet them. Everyone remembered what happened in ’61 when the gang of men came to the corner of Benbachstrasse and Lindengasse, searching for rubies and diamonds amongst the fallen leaves around the foot of the tree.
The men discouraged any interference in their endeavours, but the shop owners and residents of nearby apartments were not put off so easily. They had harvested stones from the tree at the corner of Benbachstrasse and Lindengasse for many years.

Going into their cellars they brought up cobbles and sheets of marble. Sandstone and geodes. Nodules of flint and fist sized pieces of basalt.

They weighed stones in their hands and said nothing. Took up position in silence around the men who came only for the precious stones, and when the shop owners and residents finished their task white and red glistened amongst the leaves though there were no diamonds or rubies in sight.

Day 16

Eyes of Bone

Vermin ran rampant in the town since the cats all deserted the streets. The ratters did what they could, but the rodents snatched nets from their hands and gnawed on their limbs until they retreated behind locked doors. With no other option open to them the townspeople turned to conjuration for a solution.

First, they dug up skulls from graves where the soil had not settled and placed them upon the inscribed stones. Next, they rubbed clay into the scalp and filled the empty eyes with the flowers of the oak, and broom, and meadowsweet.

Nothing happened for the first few days, though the rats all deserted the graveyard. On the ninth night the owls emerged from the skulls, cracking them like eggs. Taking flight they surveyed the streets of the town with eyes of bone, and grasped the rodents with coffin nail talons. They coughed up owl pellets, each made up of hundreds of mice, until the gutters were filled with their sculptures of their feasts.

When they were done the owls clustered on roof ridges and waited for the people to emerge from the houses. When they saw their soft, hair covered scalps the owls swooped down to crack them like eggs.

Over the next few days more owls emerged from the freshly dead until nothing lived on the streets, apart from the birds with the eyes of bone.

Day 17

Sheaves of Corn

With no children of their own, and an ache for descendants, the couple sprinkled red raspberry and milk thistle around the last two sheaves of the harvest. They wove torn bedsheets into religious icons and wore blackthorn around their necks, saying the five tiny prayers every time blood was drawn.

When the scars spelt out two names on their skin they returned to the field. To the last two sheaves of corn. The children emerged from inside, a girl and a boy, hair of wheat stalks. Fully grown they ran to their human parents, to be carried back to the house. To beds, open fires and warm food. And everything carried on that way. For a while.

When harvest time returned the husks fell away and the children’s thoughts rattled to the ground. Finding water and food on the dirt floor, the kernels of dreams and nightmares sprouted in the warmth of the house.

Tooth faced demons rose from the soil, anchored by thin roots that threatened to tear free. Cities made of glass growing in the cast of sunlight through the window. The shimmer of a sickle blade sending runners of light across the kitchen floor. More and more the dreams the children shed germinated to plough furrows, the sound of crops rasping in the breeze. The texture of dirt compressed as roots found their way to water.

With heavy hearts the couple led the children back to the field, to a corner where the scythe and plough never reached. From a distance they watched them shrug off their skins and return to two stands of wheat. Every year the couple visited to tell their once children about their lives until they too were in the soil.

 

Day 18

Resting

Stilt strapped and bone footed he rested against the hazel tree to catch his breath. The road was metalled and would turn a normal ankle. Not the marshland of his home province, hundreds of miles at his back.

From his left pocket he took out a napkin, spreading it across the high branches, from his right some bread and the last of his ham. Reaching into the tree he plucked hazels fresh from the branch and shelled them, letting the broken pieces scatter into the roots.

“Are you a giant?” The children were sat upon the leaf litter, legs crossed, their hair the colour of tree bark.

“I am not,” said the man from Landes.

“Oh,” said the girl. “Are you an ogre?”

“No,” said the stilt walker, taking a bite of an apple, and two more hazelnuts, the broken shells landing beside the small boy.

“Are you perhaps a Prince of Hell wearing a human skin to disguise yourself in the world of people?”

The child’s voice sounded genuinely curious, as if this is a question he often asked,

“I am none of these things,” the man from Landes said, opening a bottle and taking a sip of water. “I am travelling down the road, and resting against this tree while I ease my hunger.”

“Resting against our tree while you ease your hunger. It is a pity you are not a giant, or an ogre, or a Prince of Hell wearing human skin. We would return below the roots. But you are not. You are just human. Soft and breakable. And we are hungry too.”

The girl widened her jaw and gnawed away the left stilt, and the boy widened his jaw and gnawed away the right stilt, stopping only to pluck the man’s hair from between their teeth and spit splinters of bone into the soil.

 

Day 19

Twenty One Pebbles

The plant pot had been in the garden when Vicky bought the house. Narrow necked it never carried any plants. Every day she watched from the kitchen window as a crow flew over the wall and dropped pebbles into the plant pot. In the morning the bird would drop seven, in the afternoon seven and in the evening seven. Some were rounded and glistened in the rain as the crow carried them in its beak. Others were jagged and sharp like razors. All were dropped inside the plant pot. Twenty one every day.

Curious and bored, Vicky got up early, before the crow’s first delivery, and fitted a piece of gauze over the opening where no flowers grew. Held it in place with cable ties.

The bird flew around in circles, dropping its gift so it could cry its displeasure, finding it in the grass to try and force it through the metal gauze. By breakfast the plant pot was rocking from side to side. By lunch it had fallen and was rolling across the lawn. By tea the first cracks appeared in the sides.

The creature that shattered out had too many teeth to fit in its mouth, and too many eyes to fit in its face, all blinking in the darkness. First it ate the crow, squatting on the pristine lawn, sucking at the bones of the wings, then it came up to the house. Hidden inside, she heard the creature gnawing through the doors. Through the walls. Through the kitchen cabinets. All the time getting closer.

There was nowhere left to hide. Vicky had no pebbles to give the creature with too many teeth to fit in its mouth and too many eyes to fit in its face.

 

Day 20

A moment of distraction had allowed the magistrate to capture Mother Stein.

Cat shaped, she was easy to force into the rowan cage, the wood scorching away patches of fur. She would not know if the burns would carry scars into her skin until she changed back, if she changed back.

Every morning the magistrate took the cage down from the dresser shelf and left her in the middle of the floor. Every day the rats tormented her.

Mother Stein did not know if the rodents had been transformed like her. If they laboured under the same enchantment they did not keep their human voices, though that was no indicator. Forcing her feline vocal chords to carry human language tired her to exhaustion, so she kept her words inside. The rats had the run of the house. If she had the run of the house, away from the cage of rowan, she would run past the weed choked ditches and frozen fields, back to her house to the north of the willow tree.

The rats were getting braver. Their teeth sharper. They circled the cage, nipping her tail. Retreating under cooker and cupboards.

All it took was one of them not paying attention. She nipped the nape of the rat’s neck. Let its blood splash across the bark that encased her. She forced her voice to shape the words even a human throat would struggle with. The bars dissolved and she stood, unfurling into her own shape. Stemming the blood, she found the enchantment knitted through the rat’s skin and unravelled the threads . Then the next, and the next.

She explained the plan to them as they stretched bone and muscle into their human skins once more. The magistrate had many knives in his kitchen. Mother Stein took one. Passed out the others. Their captor would be back soon. They would be waiting.

 

Day 21

Intaglio

Bill had been curious about the carving at the edge of town since he was a child. A stone plinth with a face carved intaglio. No-one cared for it, and over the years moss and ivy claimed the stone as the years claimed Bill until curiosity finally won out.

With a scythe he cleared the flowered weeds from around the foot of the sculpture, and slashed away the climbing weeds from the stone.

With cloths and detergent he scrubbed the surface until the word long hidden gleamed. Terminus. No surprise as it lay on the boundary ditch marking the end of town and beginning of fields.
Freshly shaved he pressed his face into the carving, feeling the stone shift against his skin, and gazed through the eyes.

He saw the end of all things. He saw his own cascade into the earth where his bones were powdered by the crush of soil. He saw the wash of saltwater erode walls to dust. He felt the heat of the sun as it consumed its children and the chill of nothing that followed, and when he had finished gazing through those eyes of marble he carried the death of worlds inside.