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.

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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.

Flash Fiction Month Week 2

Week 2 of my Flash Fiction Month

The idea is that I spend the month running up to Short Story Day (Winter Solstice) writing a piece of flash fiction a day.

This year I’m using the 17th century book ‘A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne’ by George Withers, as a starting point. Ignoring the poems, I’m using the illustrations to kick off ideas. (You can see the book at The Gutenberg Project.

I put a new story up every day at my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/stevetoase1) and then collect them here. For each one I’ll put the link to the illustration from George Withers’ book

 

Day 8

The Moth and The Spider

Timid and fragile, the moth carried seeds within its wings. Not knowing what flowers would blossom unnerved the moth. He landed on a hawthorn branch beside the spider.

“I do not know if they will become lilies or roses. Whether they will bloom once a year or if they will bloom once in a lifetime.”

The spider thought for a moment.

“Come here I will help you answer your question. Fly into my web.”

Rising into the air, the moth flew into the strands of silk, not worrying when it could not move. Not fretting when the spider cocooned him. After all, what was more natural for a moth than to be constrained, and the silk was much softer than any cocoon.

By the time the spider softened and feasted on the wings the moth was past caring. Not interested in eating the seeds, the spider let them tumble to the soil.

Over two months the spider watched them grow, then bud, then blossom. Beautiful lupins as purple as the moth. As faceted as his eyes. Eyes that would never see the beautiful flowers from the seeds he carried in his wings.

(http://www.gutenberg.org/files/50143/50143-h/50143-h.htm#Ill_18_1)

Day 9

Bringing In The Crops

The harvest turned to snakes. Instead of digging up potatoes, the people’s spades found vipers nesting in the soil. When children picked blackberries from hedgerows the fruit turned to garter snakes on their gloved palms. Wheat collapsed to thousands of rattlesnakes as the combines reaped the fields. In the orchards apples became windfall and turned to pythons, tangling in people’s hair, and around their necks.

With no food in the storehouses the people called meetings to decide what to do, and with nothing else to do they searched the internet for recipes. By the evening they had menus ready, with stir fry and fritters. Soups and breaded strips. That night they slept, knowing they would not starve in the coming year.

But the people were the harvest and the snakes found their way into the houses, into their bedrooms. Into their mouths. By morning the land was a writhing knot and the reptiles born of soil and wheat seed were fed and fat, and slept amongst the bones of the dead.

(http://www.gutenberg.org/files/50143/50143-h/50143-h.htm#Ill_5_1)

Day 10

Cutting
Bill knew all the prohibitions about taking the flowers that lay within the hurdle fence, but knew of no such rules covering the hurdles themselves. With his saw he severed the willow from where it was pressed into the soil and carried the armful of wood back home. Stacking them on the back porch he went inside and sat down, falling asleep from the effort.

By the back door, the willows staves sprouted, sending fresh branches into the air, and finding the thin garden soil. Spreading multiplying. Looking for nutrition to fuel their growth.

Their roots spread under the door, and across the carpet. Creeping over the sleeping man and softening him for food. Pressing roots into his skin and muscle, until they were ready to grow, filling each room until nothing inside the house remained apart from willow.

(http://www.gutenberg.org/files/50143/50143-h/50143-h.htm#Ill_6_3)

Day 11

Fused

The three moons were distant relations by light on their mother’s side, but had never met. Their lives around different planets in different galaxies kept them apart. One spoke of a valley on a nearby world where a river ran clear with crystal, each gem so tiny and precise that fish of iron swam the currents.

They agreed to meet, and over many centuries shrugged gravity and shed orbits to make their way to the distant planet. By the time they reached the unfamiliar skies the river had dried to solidity and the fish rusted within.

With disappointment they hugged each other, and the light from the double sun reflected from them to the still crystal river, and back into the air.

The moons were too close, embraced, and when the returned light hit them it melted rock and fused their crescents together. There they are there still, interlocked, waiting for the planet’s gravity to drag them smashing into the crystal river.

(http://www.gutenberg.org/files/50143/50143-h/50143-h.htm#Ill_49_2)

Day 12

The Left Hand

The mayor went first, placing his hand on the wooden block as the old man chewed through it with the metal teeth. Next came the parents, mothers and fathers, each giving a single hand to the fence that ran all around the village.

When they were finished the fingers curled toward the fields and the townspeople wrapped their wounds.

The sun went down and the creatures dragged themselves from the hedges, wearing skins of blackthorn and hawthorn. Berries pale and rotting hung from branches knotted into limbs, dragging on the floor as they slouched across the furrows.

Walking across the fields they became clotted with soil until they reached the fence of hands, just where the old man had said it would be. So far their prey had been down to luck and opportunity. Now they knew where to find them and they would feast until their thorns were white with marrow.

(http://www.gutenberg.org/files/50143/50143-h/50143-h.htm#Ill_36_4)

Day 13

Drawn

Abel drew things as he supposed them to be, bearing no resemblance to what they looked like in real life. His crocodiles had ears flattened to their heads. Elephants with manes and necks like horses, and the feet of large cats.

So when the demon appeared to him as a small child caught up in a hedgerow, caught by thorns from ambitious brambling, Abel failed to recognise the lord of hell. The demons of Abel’s paintings were armour plated, horned creatures. The blond haired, smudge-cheeked child did not have the lava red eyes of Abel’s paintings, but blue and pale. Questioning and lost. The fingers sunk into his chest, teasing away strands of his soul, were not talons. Instead, small fingers with blackberry skin under their nails.

There would be no chance for him to correct his drawings.

(http://www.gutenberg.org/files/50143/50143-h/50143-h.htm#Ill_50_2)

Day 14

Rasp

The rattle that Carver found was made of bone and gold, much larger than the tiny door he found it beside. He turned the object over and over, careful not to let it make a noise until he’d examined the sphere and the handle for warnings.

Finding none, he shook the rattle in the air, letting the sound change volume and tempo. From the tiny slits in the sphere the smell of rasping bone seeped out to coat his hand.

He wasn’t sure what he expected to happen, but when nothing did he found a rhythm and continued scenting the air with burnt knuckle bones. Still nothing happened, so Carver sat beside the tree and let sleep take him.

The skeletons had heard his call, but it took them time to dig themselves free and walk across the fields. They found the sleeping man beside the tree, the death rattle resting on his lap. Now silent. Its call still playing in their teeth.

First they set up their table, placing out their tools. Then they drew lots. Who would get the muscles, who would get the skin. The tendons. The nerves. Many more people would have to scent the air with the rattle before they would be complete again. They were patient, and their return had begun.

(http://www.gutenberg.org/files/50143/50143-h/50143-h.htm#Ill_1_1)

I hope you’re enjoying them. It’s interesting writing within the restrictions placed by the book, though there are a lot of symbols to choose from.

If you do like the flash fiction please consider hopping over to Ko-Fi and buying me a coffee. Two more weeks to go. I might need it! https://ko-fi.com/stevetoase

 

 

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

Story by Steve Toase Art by Calliope Den Ouden Twitter/Website/Instagram

 

calliope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Flash Fiction Month 2016 Week 4 (and a bit)

A little bit late in posting the final group of stories, due to Solstice, Christmas, birthdays and New Year. Hope you enjoy these.

Day 22

Shrieking

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Ears clogged with doll wax, Celine walked the short distance from the village to the Shrieking Pits. Even with her hearing clagged by melted down legs and arms she still heard the retching cries that tattered the willows.

In the first pit, blood bubbled up, drying in the air into thick, hand sized clots. She rubbed garlic on her upper lip to block out the scent.

In the second pit soil tumbled aside, as if hands playing the parts of rodents shuffled under the dirt. Celine walked around the edge and the shapes tracked her. She paid them no heed. They were simulacra of death throes, and to Celine had no meaning.

The third pit was full of water. Under the surface things with faces of pondweed tumbled through tree roots, shaking them so catkins rattled and fell to choke the pool.

At the fourth pit the shrieking grew louder. Celine stumbled down the dirt bank, landing on hands and knees in the mud. At one side she dug down, uncovering the small fragile bones, not much bigger than a bird’s. Toothpick thin. Wiping them to ivory clean she spread the skeleton out and laid dried flower petals from her pockets on the small chest.

Dragging herself to the other side of the pit, she scooped out soil. Here the grave was shallow, her husband’s face barely below the surface. Iron nailheads just visible above his cheekbones. The knife she had found him with, she had left in his chest. She couldn’t stop herself turning the handle, turning the blade, though he was one year past feeling the pain. She buried her head in her hands. One day the Shrieking Pits would be silent. One day Celine would have no voice left.

Day 23

Section 25

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Campbell and Simon never went equipped. There was always some rubble nearby. He picked up a nearby brick and pitched it through the Vauxhall’s window, glittering the footwell. Prising off the steering column cover was easy, then hot-wiring the ignition. The house owners never noticed, motorway two streets over too loud with traffic noise. Inside, they wound down the window, covered up the shattered glass with a bundled coat. Drove into the night.

They were three streets away when Campbell lost control of the car. Steering wheel wrenching from his grip. The air freshener no longer reeked of pine, but stagnant water and giant hogweed. He held the wheel once more. No matter how much he turned the steering left or right, control was not his.

The car moved sedate and steady down the street.
With no way to influence the direction, and Simon sweating in the passenger seat, Campbell tried to lift his hands. The leather of the upholstery covered his fingers, stitching snaking through his knuckles, thread sharp as needles. Sobbing, he looked over at his companion.

In panic Simon tried reaching through the shattered window. Attract attention. This was about survival now. A thick transparent membrane flexed as Simon’s hand pressed through where the window used to be. He held the arm on his lap, skin scalded and blistering. The wooden spheres of the seat cover pressed through his chest, clagging his throat to suffocation.

Still having breath and voice, Campbell screamed. The scent of drowning pools overpowered him and he retched until his throat burnt acid dry.

He had no idea where the car finally came to a stop. He vaguely registered the noise of branches scratching the side, just audible over Simon choking beside him. When the engine died there were oak trees arcing over him. Figures standing around the edge, faces masked with bark.

Someone lit a match and dropped it to the ground, a circle of flame erupting around the car. In the smoking light he saw number-plates, 57 of them. All cars he’d stolen in the last year. From the edge of the clearing a figure stepped forward, laying ferns thick with paste and oils on the roof. On the bonnet.

The car began to creak, metal compressing in. Campbell tried to loosen himself, but the knuckle stitches stayed tight. Simon pressed against him. Where his arm touched Campbell’s muscle became soft. Pliable. Joined with Campbell’s exposed skin. He tasted rotten meat in his mouth. The roof got closer. Campbell turned his neck. Brought himself nearer to the door. Window glass, still intact, molten when it touched. With nowhere else to go he bent his face forward to his arms. The roof scraped the back of his neck. Welded to his scalp.

Twenty minutes later the car was little more than a fridge sized block of fused metal and bone. Skin and glass. Hard to tell where thief ended and vehicle began. Welds started off in steel and ending in muscle.

Sophia stepped forward from the circle. They had all chipped in for the car. Not cheap. Valuable enough to attract attention. Inside the block she heard breathing. Lungs now coated in paint and oil but still working. Returning to her place she started the next ritual. There were creatures below the roots that needed feeding, and they did not care if the marrow was filled with copper wire. Spine column with brake fluid. They had no taste, just hunger, and that hunger would still be satisfied.

Day 24

Between Wing and Limb

Late summer, the grasshoppers returned to the village. They wore masks of pig skin to fit in, eyeholes and mouth slits chewed in with jaws more suited to foliage. We gently helped them unfasten the faces, there true appearance much less frightening to the children.

We spread fans of grass at their feet, our sons and daughters lifting handfuls to our guests.

Around the edge of the square we waited for them to start playing. The tunes were complex, intricate and needed an experienced ear to appreciate. This was not an event that attracted tourists. Only us villagers stood by the pub door, swigging beer and swaying to the delicate tunes played out on wing and leg.

Beer was passed over for whiskey and the dancing started. Our steps as knotted as the tunes, until the uneven ground of village green and too much single malt tripped our feet.

When the grasshopper’s skin blistered from the pace of their tunes, we rubbed in salves and creams. Massaged joints at risk of dislocation from the speed of their playing.

After the pub shut its doors we carried on drinking from hip-flasks. Watched Jennings try and outplay the grasshoppers, splintering another cheap fiddle with the ferocity of his attempts.

The children sat transfixed around the man-sized insects. We tried not to watch them. Tried not to see which ones paid the most attention to the playing. Let drunkenness cataract our eyes.

When morning came, with hangovers and aching limbs, we did no head-counts. We knew some parents would be go back to houses and attic-pack toys. Burn cartooned bedding on small garden bonfires. We told ourselves that they would see their children again in a years time. Playing tunes for us to dance the harvest in. Jaws best suited to chewing foliage hidden behind pig skin masks.

Day 25

Hedge Roads

On the first day the roads turned to hedges our main concern was how we would commute to work. Even those who worked near their homes struggled. These were not the neat box privets of country houses, or suburbia, but knotted twisted things of blackthorn and bramble. Living traps, bitter they were not forests.

The pavements went next, stone slabs cluttered with rose prickles and ankle breakers of fruit runners, tying themselves to door handles. Sliding into locks.

We knew creatures lived amongst the branches. Black caps and song thrushes calling from their nests. We did not know they were hunted. We did not notice the hunters. Their thorn skin disguised them, until they moved. Until they climbed over our doorsteps, and windowsills, with their hoods of newt-leather, crests decorated with the juice of blackberries.

They scratched warnings into the panes with their spines. We could not read the alphabets they used, and there were many. We recognised them as threats, and we shuddered at their razor teeth.

The hedges grew bigger, feeding on the bones of those who ventured out. We saw them, trapped in hawthorn, sharpened branches constricting muscles until they fell off to be scavenged by those who hunted birds in the hidden parts of the hedges.

We have not been able to leave our houses for days now. There is nothing outside anyway. Apart from the hedges. The hunters bang against the windows, then start to scratch once more. It won’t be long until the glass shatters. There is nothing left to do now but wait.

Day 26

Mask

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They fitted the death-mask over Farmer Campbell’s still breathing face. Loose shards of bark scraped his cheeks as the carved bracket fungus was tied to his head. Pinning him down, the villagers forced his arms into the mould stained donkey jacket. Fastened the buttons over the tattered trousers. Down his collar they rammed a hazel rod, thick as a man’s arm. Another along the seams of the sleeves. Then, using bailing twine, they raised him into the air, the foot of the post deep in the plough furrows.

He had scared his wife. Scared his children. Left marks on them the colour of December skies. Now he could scare crows, but they did not frighten like children. The seed was deep in the ground, or rotting in the storms. The birds were hungry. Farmer Campbell’s eyes were very easy to reach through the gaps in the mask. His flesh through rips in the jacket. This winter the crows would not starve.

Day 27
(by Hazel Ang)

Neighbourly Gifts

With no bodies of their own, the Elves shaped limbs from dried grass, and faces from the splinters of snail shells. Rotten cobwebs held their jaws together, eyes the sulphur smoked burnt tips of matches.

The house-owners had been generous throughout the year. In the ice mirrored months of winter they left out bowls of cream, and small crumbs of bread, though they had little enough to spare. When autumn came they cleared the fairy paths of leaves. Piled up rotten crab apples for their unseen neighbours to drink themselves into a stupor. Now was the time for the Elves to deliver gifts in return.

The locks proved no barrier. They and the Elves were kin. No Rowan hung over the door to spite their entry. Soon they sat on cold pillows watching the home-owners twist in their sleep.

First, the Elves rubbed pale foreheads with salve. Then they took up their flint blades. Cut away skin. Scraped through bone until small plumes of smoke rose in the dark. Underneath, the hidden pupil twisted blind in dreams.

When the homeowners woke at dawn they would see everything that was hidden. The corpses that could not leave the site of the gibbet. The boggarts that clung to the eaves, licking salt from the bricks. The Hobgoblins that spat at travellers from willow branches. To see the world as it really was. This was the elves most precious gift.

Day 28

The Pit In The Garden

The children never believed their parent’s’ warnings. The pits had been at the bottom of their gardens as long as the children could remember. Grass covered hollows, shallow and empty.

No-one had ever gone missing in the pits. No-one had ever fallen into one to break their neck. When a new pit opened up in Bradley’s garden, the sides bare rock and mud, the children decided to explore.

With ropes fashioned from sheets, and packed lunches fashioned from whatever they could find, they clustered around the edge trying to agree who should go first. Rather than picking lots, they decided that as it was in Bradley’s garden, just beside the trampoline, he should have the honour.

First, he tied a sheet around his waist, then slowly turned to walk down the edge. Found footholds like his uncle had shown him, though the slope was far greasier than any climbing wall.

Clustered around the top, the children watched him until he reached the bottom, anchoring the rope as best they could. In the pit, Bradley fell to his knees, his forehead sinking into the mud. He let go of the rope and forced his fingers through the dirt. For a moment the children held their breath, unsure what to do.

When Bradley stood, they relaxed, and braced the rope to pull him back up. When he smiled, they smiled back. When he started to drag them into the pit, they had no way to protect themselves. When Bradley’s smile continued to widen, revealing teeth he did not have before, the children began to scream.

Day 29

The Wick

The wick of human hair reeked when lit, but was as necessary as her eel skin gloves for the invocation.

Tradition said winds were fickle and flighty. Changed at the drop of a hat. Sabine knew that winds were ones for routine and ritual, following the same paths around the globe. Bringing the same gifts. Snow or summer. Pollen or pestilence. To call them away from their trod roads, ceremony must be followed. She watched wren fat and marrow sap soak up the wick. Gutter into crimson flames.

The first winds to come were shallow, thin creatures. Whitebait to catch the pike. She nailed them to the table with plucked eyelashes. Watched them struggle to free themselves. Call to their siblings. Call to their parents. And their parents answered.

The typhoons battered the oak door and window shutters, screaming for their children. Seasalt leaked through the gaps in the walls. Sabine kept her nerve.

Waiting until the storms were at full anger she reached out of the attic room, unfurling thick curls of rope, hemp rubbed with samphire and hooked with crab shell.

The typhoons were too busy to notice the knots. Too distracted to feel themselves dragged between the fist tight fibres. Their voices quietened as the rope compressed them.

The storms would need to be hung for six weeks before they were ready to eat. Enough to feed her through the coming winter. The baby winds writhing on her kitchen table? Those were best dined on fresh, still twitching. She pulled the eyelashes out of the wooden top, gripped the first breeze between her fingers and dropped it down her throat.

Day 30

The Two Villages of Giant Footprint

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In December, two fires burnt in the Giant’s footprint, one of flame and one of frost. The village of Ball gathered around the frost and played drums, the villagers of the Arch clustered around the flames and sang.

Dusk came and the noise rose to a cacophony. All attempt at tune or rhythm was lost as summer distilled spirits were brought out of caves hidden in the Heel. First supped from glasses, then bottles, before handfuls were scooped from spigots in oak barrels. Smeared across lips. Tipped down throats.

As midnight came the villages intermingled. Those of Ball carrying kindling burning with frost. Those of Arch brought soil scorched to pottery.

They laid their markers in the land between their homes. They took off their shoes and they danced. They danced apart. They danced with each other. Sometimes their dances looked like fighting, other times rutting, They danced and did not stop until the sun rose above the horizon of the Giant’s Footprint.

When the first rays crested the cliff of Instep all the dancers from both villages sat in a circle, soles facing inward. Over the next hour the oldest of each village walked around, until they found the one person without a mark on their feet. Without a single smear of dirt. Without a single cut or bruise.

Some breathed a sigh of relief. Others wept for their lost loved one. Not a single villager from either settlement refused to trample over the unmarked, turning their bones to soil in the hope the giant would accept their sacrifice and return to the land.

Day 31

Buried

Back in the height and heat of summer, Kelsey buried the stars in the forest to cool them, ready for the Winter Solstice. Now she returns to the woods once more. She has no map and her memories are vague. Neither matters. She has all day.

Kelsey brings no spade to break through the roots. Her fingers are her only digging tool. Nails cut short so they do not break on clods of clay.

The first she finds nestled in a hollow below a silver birch, bark of the tree glowing a little brighter from the starlight below. She clears the dirt away from the star as best as she can, lifts it from the ground. Holds it in the air until it starts pulsing once more. There are skeletal leaves and rotten bark stuck to the surface. She does not worry about these.

The following three stars are knotted together by shiro, the white strands creeping over and through the constellation’s burning heart. Kelsey teases out as much as she can and slips them into her bag woven from washed up fishing nets.

The next has not fared well. Hollowed by the tunnelling of badgers, edges gnawed away by bugs and wood lice. The remaining parts of the star still glow, but it takes Kelsey an hour with nettle thread and loom waste to patch up the pathetic looking thing. Finally she is happy and places it in her bag with the others.

The final stars are scattered in abandoned fox dens and beneath fallen beech trees.

She spends the rest of the afternoon finding them, humming Tam Lin and The World Turned Upside Down to herself. Dusk is coming. She is running out of time.

Kelsey is out of breath by the time she reaches the hill top, netting bag rubbing blisters into her bare shoulders.

One by one she lifts out the stars. Whispers to them all the secrets from that year. Tells each about the three names cats now call themselves, and where the sun goes when the fields burn. The expressions of the forty two princesses living in a hazel shell in a Saltburn delicatessen, and the way to transform feathers to oysters.

Each star rises with the power of these hidden words, and as they claim the sky once more she watches for those that fall, noting where they land. Ready to bury them beneath the cornfields until six months have passed and the next solstice arrives.

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