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.

a6yhnhmo

Instructions to Summon the Ancient Dead

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 Leave one bubble untouched and one question unanswered.

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

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

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

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 28

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

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

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

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

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

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 29

Melt

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

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

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

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 30

The Coat of Waves

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

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

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

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

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 31

Happy Solstice!

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

Pale Sun

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

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

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

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

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

*I lied about the cheery bit.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Week 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 2017 Week 1

It’s that time of year again.

If you’ve not followed my annual project before the idea is that I spend the month running up to Short Story Day (Winter Solstice) writing a piece of flash fiction a day. Normally I search for inspiration where I can get it.

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 1

Stained Glass

The skulls wore stalks of wheat when the people of the town dug them from the fields. Discoloured with silt and too many years in the ground. Watermarks around the jaws and clay impressed between the bones.
The townspeople did not like to disturb the skulls, but the crops had wilted to ash, and the diagrams on the Church’s stained glass windows were clear.
They got their spades and mattocks, and lined the skulls up atop the blackthorn. Lit candles of pale blue wax to give the dead voices. Pressed husks into their own ears to hear what the skulls said.
What the skulls said was this. Next year there must be more of them to dig from the field.
The townspeople did not ignore them. Their crops had turned to ash for too long. They went to their sheds and barns. They readied their tools. Those that cut through clay. Those that cut through necks.

(http://www.gutenberg.org/files/50143/50143-h/50143-h.htm#Ill_21_1)

Day 2

Our Lady of the Cloaks.

Sophie collected cloaks. Some were woven from sea glass. Others from thickened mist. One cloak was knitted from laughter collected in 18th century Vienna, a second from the sighs of dying men.

She wore them on special occasions. The hooded one of living coral when comets bisected the sky. The cloak of drowned bones when she slept on windowsills, just to be near the heat of the living.

One cloak she never wore. The glittering cloak cut from the skin of her father who fashioned the world, and still whispered her childhood name. There would be a time to dress herself in that cloak and that time was yet to come.

(http://www.gutenberg.org/files/50143/50143-h/50143-h.htm#Ill_31_2)

 

Day 3

Invocation

Mandy was desperate to raise the ghost of her mother, so at the correct time she went to the graveyard. From the first grave she saw she took a single syllable, from the next a scrape of lichen the colour of bloodless skin. From the flower borders she collected stems with the texture of old paper, and from the trees she tore free handfuls of leaves, drying each one with her own breath.

She built the fire on her mother’s grave, piling the coal directly on the tilled soil. Iron nails around the outside to hold the smoke in place.

Her jaw ached from saying the words and her arm numbed from the cold when she drew the charm on her skin with charcoal.
Her mother’s ghost heard the call. Rose through clods of dirt into the curls of smoke. Mandy tried to speak to her, but didn’t have chance. More ghosts came, clattering out of other graves. From under the walls. Dragging themselves up the tree roots.

They pressed against her skin. Crushed the air out of her lungs. The words she was going to speak stayed unsaid and they took Mandy to join her mother in the ground.

(http://www.gutenberg.org/files/50143/50143-h/50143-h.htm#Ill_15_1)

Day 4

Old Dresses

Each tree in the woodland had its own door. Some at head height. Others in the roots.

Daisy opened them in turn. Inside each one was a doll made from old dresses and yarn. Each doll stuffed with webcaps and destroying angels.

In some trees the dolls lay on tiny beds of straw or sat at tables with meals of powdered oak leaves before them.

Daisy walked past and the dolls turned to watch her go. Lowered themselves from the doors to the woodland floor. Followed Daisy’s footsteps and the scent of her perfume. Found the hidden knives inside their clothes of old dresses and yarn.

(http://www.gutenberg.org/files/50143/50143-h/50143-h.htm#Ill_23_1)

Day 5

Time Waits for No Man

The hourglass appeared in the town centre, frame stretched from the tarmac of the road on which it sat.

Inside, the two glass halves were not joined. The union between the two bulbs was wrapped with ship rope and wax. On the first day Jack Sinders climbed the upright, opening the hatch to access the upper half. Undoing the clasp he dipped into the powder with an old mug.

“Cremated bone.” There was no doubt about it. Teeth and unburnt finger bones stayed once the breeze blew away the dust.

No-one knew what would happen when the sand ran through. They tried lifting the hourglass to turn it, but the base was part of the road. Tried cutting it loose. Tried digging. Slender roots spread deeper into the soil. Far deeper than their machine buckets could reach.

And all the time the sand ran through.

They tried to siphon the powder from the lower half. Nothing broke the glass. Diamonds barely scratched the surface.

They kept the hourglass topped up with the recent dead. At first. Cremated bodies and carried ashes in sacks to pour in the hatch. Soon, though those who passed naturally could no longer provide enough to raise the level.

The neighbouring town was easily subdued. They attacked in the morning before everyone woke. The guilt gnawed at them, but they could not risk the unknown threat once the sand ran through. But soon that too ran through. They took the next town, and the next, until their town was the only one still standing, and fear of the unknown turned them on each other to keep the hourglass from emptying.

(http://www.gutenberg.org/files/50143/50143-h/50143-h.htm#Ill_49_1)

Day 6

The Sup

After he drank from the cup of charred marrow, Sam saw death everywhere. His shredded cloak staining car bonnets with lichen, and snagging on pub garden walls. He saw him balled up in cribs like kicked loose blankets, and nestled in the metal tubing of hospital beds, his slivers of fingers clutching through oxygen masks.

Sam saw many deaths. Except his own. Swallowed from the cup of charred marrow. Nestled under his ribs. Waiting to unfurl.

(http://www.gutenberg.org/files/50143/50143-h/50143-h.htm#Ill_8_1)

Day 7

Heart’s Desire

The eye opened up in Jimmy’s heart. At first, he only saw the inside of his chest cavity. Meat stretched out over ribs, red and opaque. After the first day the eye showed Jimmy other things. Objects he desired. Places he wanted to visit. People. Lives he hadn’t lived and lives he wanted.

Everything was stained with blood. Hard to see beyond it. He tried to blink, but the eye in his heart would not listen and kept staring. Showed him new scenes. How to get the life he wanted. What he needed to do. What tools to use. What words to say. Which people to cut away.

The eye did not rest, and Jimmy did not rest. Each scene more opulent. Each stage to reach it more visceral.

Jimmy knew that unless he took action the eye would not let him sleep. He rose from his bed and found his carving knife. Sharpened it against steel until sparks flew across the room. Cooled to grey steel on the floor. The eye in his heart blinked faster and faster at the grind of blade.

By the time the Medical Examiner reached the scene the blood had dried. Jimmy lay in the centre of the floor, ribs open. Knife in one hand. His heart, now nothing but grey meat, in the other. Taking off his glove the M.E. reached out and ran a finger over ventricles, over the atrium. Inside his own chest eyelashes scraped against his ribs.

(http://www.gutenberg.org/files/50143/50143-h/50143-h.htm#Ill_43_1)

I hope you enjoy them. The next ones will be up soon, and if you would like to read the next a story a day for the next couple of weeks, please visit my FB page, www.facebook.com/stevetoase1