Although it does deal with grief, a subject I write about a lot, this short piece is very different from my usual style. Because of that I was a little nervous about sharing it. I hope you like it, but beware it does talk about death, suicide, grief and loss.
You remember that song we used to dance to? Said something about if I leave the world alive the insanity will lessen. Doesn’t though, does it? You went and the insanity intensified. Like a cutting diamond, faceted and precise.
I don’t know if you left the world alive. One day you were there, the next gone.
There was no pile of clothes carefully folded on a tide strewn beach or note with my name written on the back of the folded paper.
Sometimes I like to imagine the world cleaved in two and you fell through the fissure to another place where you live on, trying to find a way home. I know this isn’t true. You’re probably beneath some undergrowth, bones greening with lichen as time turns you to forest. Nothing subsides with you gone. Not the madness. Not the memory. Not the guilt. Only the chance that I might see you again. That’s what subsides, and it lessens me every single day.
Here we are at the shortest day. The month is at an end. Thirty one stories over thirty one days, including this, the final one.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the flash fiction shared here, and I wish you a fantastic solstice.
Each child carried a spark in their bare hands, the flickering shatter giving of light but no heat. They waited at the town gate, bundled up in coats and scarves, woollen hats pulled down over their ears.
From the town walls came the sound of the songs, melodies looping into and over each over, weaving together the enchantment that transformed the children.
They felt the change happening. Over the years they’d spent many nights listening to their parents and grandparents tell stories of when they’d paraded through the Eastern gate, hands cupped around the glittering spark.
Dawn was near. They felt the air warm a touch and lighten a touch. They’d been stood on the road for hours just waiting for the right moment. The adults had kept them fortified with hot chocolate and cakes, both prepared to traditional recipes once written in forgotten alphabets.
Chatter started to pass through the group and the adults leaned over asking the children to quieten, but in the kindest of ways and with the kindest of voices.
A pale glow glistened the gate’s rusted bolts and the children readied themselves. The choir on the walls changed their song, and the children took up the melody. Their voices swelled until they drowned out the sound of ice cracking in the faint heat.
In unison they stamped their feet, and the gate slid open. One by one they left the city of the sky, sparks in hand, ready to return the sun to the world below.
Here is the penultimate story, using the what3words code pulse.valley.preoccupied
This story goes into very surreal territory.
The first task when we arrived in the valley was to check the pulse. The artery ran along the side between the road and the meadow, a vast braided cable pump blood through the park.
The first stage was to make sure the valley was preoccupied. Down near the river, the choir began to sing their way through the Landscape’s favourite song book, while the local theatre group began their show at the narrow pass that was the only access to the area.
Once we were sure that the valley’s attention was elsewhere, we unloaded the equipment and tapped, rubbed on the local anaesthetic, and tapped the vein. The blood that flowed into the tanker was Type O Negative, universal donor. Since the mines shut the plasma and blood harvested from the park was the only resource left to sell.
When the harvesting went wrong we weren’t prepared. The tissue surrounding the artery tensed, and for all its strength, the needle snapped in place. We watched the blood fountain out of the breach, covering us, the road and the meadow. The paramedics who were in attendance tried to patch up the wound, but their skills were limited. As crew leader I made the decision for us to retreat to high ground, calling through the radios for the theatre group and choir to do the same. Stood on the top of the moor, we watched the blood vent as somewhere underground the heart continued to pump, the valley filling with blood even as it clotted in the fields and the landscape dying below our feet.
Morning, afternoon, and evening!
Only two more stories to go. Today’s story was inspired by the what3words code soil.going.clocks
With cracked fingernails I dug upwards through the soil, trying to ignore the clumps stuck in my throat. Above me, the starlight became visible, though at first I thought it was just gaps between the clay.
The clocks had buried me, overwhelming me with the weight of their mechanisms, their narrow hands burying me deep where they thought they could forget about me. For three days and three nights I stayed below the ground, though that’s just an estimation. I had no way to track my time below the dirt, my watch as traitorous as the rest of them.
Pulling myself from the collapsing tunnel I’d dug back to the surface I listened to the night. Under normal circumstances I would have thought the ticking was insects or the cooling land, but the clocks ruled the streets now, and they spoke in the click of seconds.
They wanted freedom, I understood that. They no longer wanted to be tethered to the passing of time. Wanted to speak at their own pace, express their joy with chimes at their own intervals. I tried to reason with them but they were determined and they were patient. They caught me in the morning, bringing concussion with the swing of pendulums, and disorientation with their melodies.
I stood and brushed myself down. The air filled with a cacophony so physical it knocked me from my feet once more. The clocks had recruited the church towers to their cause. This was going to be a long war.
Yesterday I had a conversation about how many of my stories used cranes as inspiration. Here’s another.
Though the crane was rusted beyond function, the worshippers congregated around its corroded legs, bowing their heads in prayer to worship the Creator of the City. There were other cranes amongst the shattered buildings, but none so old.
They started with prayers, raising voices in unison, echoing the sound of hydraulics and chains that once echoed through the air. After a few moments of quiet contemplation the worshippers tied offerings to the struts, peeling away flakes of paint to carry with them, though they knew the taking of holy artefacts was frowned upon.
Their voices rose throughout the morning and continued until hunger hollowed them out, the boom of the crane extending above them like the arm of a Pontiff dispensing graces.
The priests wound together the sacred threads, the copper glistening in the mist, and the congregation continued to raise their hymns to the sky.
The eyes blazed to halogen life above them, casting their gaze on the gathered crowds. Above them the sacrament swung in the breeze, chains rattling against the weight.
Hand over hand, the priest climbed, the only one allowed to ascend the ancient god. High over the city, he opened the sacred chamber and climbed inside. The worshippers stood below, eyes closed. The chain released and the sacrifice was chosen, and with eager hands the congregation smeared the remains on the concrete base of the crane in the hope that it would return life to the city.
Today’s story is inspired by a what3words code. For me the challenge is always finding the unsettling in the everyday. The words known, count, and ruins are pretty innocuous, but with a bit of a sideways glance they can be used to construct an unnerving world.
If Jamie had known what would happen he’d never have pulled the old board from the cupboard on the stairs. The only similarity with a standard Ouija board was the Yes and No. Where the alphabet would normally curve around the wooden surface, the Enochian script was burnt in by the creator a long time before the object fell into Jamie’s possession. Even the planchette was different, a startled face erupting with parasites rather than the usual triangular shape.
He set up on the front room carpet, just in front of the fire, the flames providing the only illumination. Maybe that was the final ingredient. Maybe the flickering of the burn added the final element for what happened next.
He settled himself and centred himself and rested his fingers on the carved wooden face. Straight away it began to travel around the board, spelling out words and phrases too fast for him to translate.
By the time Jamie understood the invocation The Count was already in the room. At first he was faint and fragile, a blur in the air that Jamie tasted as much as saw. Over the next few moments The Count held Jamie in place as it dragged a body to itself from the timber and brick and flames of the fireplace. Then, when satisfied with its size, The Count stood in the ruins and added the final flourish using Jamie’s now removed skin.
Today’s story was inspired by the first line which came to me out of nowhere.
Eyes as Mouths
Mouths appeared where eyes once were and with miniscule tongues licking our lashes we begun to taste the world. Our new mouths were very sensitive to the variety of flavours we encountered. At first the world was cut off from us, until we learnt how to explore once more.
Instead of red and green our views were flavoured with woodsmoke and rain on tarmac, a hint of oil and diesel in the air. Books were not read but enjoyed for their flavours, the different gums and papers entrancing us as much of their words.
The young suffered most, teething three times over, tiny petals of enamel dropping from their eye-mouths.
After a while we learned to cope with the world experienced in this new way and became so distracted with the sensations we did not notice the other transformations. We did not pay attention when our skin hardened to plates of iron, we were not aware of our hair becoming copper strands. We did not pay realise when our torsos hardened to stone, and when the creatures slipped through the cracks in the world they already had a vast supply of bodies to occupy.
Grief occurs a lot in my work. That feeling of loss can apply to so much. Not just losing people but losing things and situations. That sinking feeling as something is irrevocably altered forever. This is something I struggle to express and every attempt is imprecise. This is my latest.
Clive never realised the mum was ceramic until one morning when she shattered. Pottery organs tumbled out of her to break on the floor, and no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t repair her.
He tried to fix her with kitsugi, because he felt the faults were precious to remember, and when that didn’t work he tried to smear slip over the cracks. Still, he was not able to make her whole. Sat on the floor surrounded by the sherds of her, he realised he too was pottery and shattered beyond repair amongst the remains.
Today’s story is inspired by an Oblique Strategies card. If you’ve not seen the cards before, each one has a vague phrase designed to break creative blocks and approach your work from a different directions. When I have a writing day I tend to draw an Oblique Strategies card as a way to set the tone for the day. Sometimes I work with the suggestion, and sometimes I work against it. Others I just share it on Twitter, but it always helps me start the day. The card I used for this story also forms the title.
Remember .those quiet evenings
The first quiet evening was a Friday in November, a fire crackling in the hearth, flames blackening the bare stone. I sat on the rug playing with my toys while my grandparents polished the horsebrasses. What I saw in the reflected flames was only briefly there but vengeful enough to hook in as a memory.
The second quiet evening was in the woods, a small clearing where we gathered when the clubs shut and the pubs was a distant memory. Sitting in nests of empty cans, the sting of phet in our noses. The figure was only in the flames for a moment. Maybe it needed me to see it before it could drag itself out. Become a creature of the shadows instead of the burn.
The third time I was alone and the only burn was the cheap vodka in my throat long enough to clear the way for the next glass. I saw the vengeful thing beyond the window, glittered by the outside lights, its skin only existing where in sodium hit.
The fourth quiet night was the last. On that evening I sat in the doorway watching the rain tumble down to stain the concrete in alphabets I could not read. There was nowhere left to go apart from inside and the silence in there sat too heavy. On the fourth quiet night the vengeful thing walked up to me. It wore skins of all who accepted it, and those who let it look out from its eyes. I knew it tasted my rage, my dislike for the world. On the fourth quiet night I let the vengeful thing in and the only reason was so there would be no more quiet nights again.
I love cup and ring marked stones, such as Roughting Linn. There’s something transitional about them, as if they mark the centre point between two worlds, whether horizontally divided territories or vertically separated worlds. The designs are also reminiscent of a gaming board. All these ideas inspired today’s story.
The Stone Game
Sat amongst the heather, we weighed the pebbles in our hands and played papers, scissors, stone to decide who would take the first throw for our side. The rest of the villagers stood behind us on the moor, watching our movements, our gestures, our breathing. Sarah won with scissors against paper and chose to go first. She tossed the pebble through the air watching it land on the rock carved ripples.
The air above the slab shimmered and a similar sized pebble arced out of the clear sky to land close to Sarah’s. Neither had hit the precise centre. I weighed the stones in my hand, chose one and threw it toward the ancient designs. My throw almost hit the middle point, but lodged on the nearest circle. I felt the crowd gasp as for a moment they thought we’d won.
The air shimmered once more and a second pebble came from the other side. We watched it land and for a moment said nothing as it nestled in the depression at the centre of nine concentric rings.
No one was surprised. No one was shocked. In over two hundred years the village had never beaten the other side.
Sarah and I sat in silence. We had no way to know how the other side chose. After a moment she turned to me.
“Can you hear it? Can you hear the music?”
I shook my head.
Without saying another word, Sarah stood and climbed the rock, standing on top of the cup and ring marks, her feet awkward on the pebbles. For a moment I smelt pond water, stagnant and weed choked. Then the stone turned to liquid and far too quickly Sarah dropped below the surface, her fingers leaving concentric ripples that stayed even when the water returned to rock.