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.

 

 

Giftmas 2018 – Seeing With Pollen

Giftmas

Every year Rhonda Parrish organises a blog tour to raise funds for the Edmonton Food Bank in Canada, and this year I was asked to participate as one of a happy band of writers creating a story advent calendar. Each writer hosts a story on their blog, and readers can contribute to the fundraising via this Canada Helps link.

Every $1 raised goes straight to the food bank, and every $1 can buy three meals for those who need help. If you’re in Canada you can receive a tax receipt for your donation, and due to the exchange rate between American and Canadian dollars, US donors will get fantastic value for money.

This type of cause is very close to my heart. As most of my readers know I spent three years after I was kicked out of home at sixteen either homeless, no fixed abode, or vulnerably housed. At times I relied on food banks to have enough to eat. Food banks provide a safety net for vulnerable families, to make sure they can get food. The goal for 2018 is to raise $750, which translates into 2250 meals.

None of the money goes through any intermediate account. Every cent goes straight to the Food Bank. You can donate at the link below;

www.canadahelps.org/en/pages/2018-giftmas-blog-tour-to-support-the-edmonton-foo/

In conjunction with the blog tour, Rhonda has also set up a Rafflecopter with some fantastic prizes, including your name in a Beth Cato novel, free critiques, magazine subscriptions, signed copies of books, and free audiobooks. You don’t need to donate to enter, but it would be great if you could signal boost the fundraising.

You can find the story before mine, by Julie E Czerneda, at Rhonda Parrish’s blog. Tomorrow’s story is The Last by Premee Mohamed and can be read at Premee’s website.

Donate, share, signal boost, and I hope you enjoy my story Seeing With Pollen.

 

Seeing With Pollen

 

Throughout summer the eyes of the boy and the girl bloomed. Petals of red and azure edged hidden pupils. They walked in walled gardens and glasshouses of humid air, skin scented with honeysuckle and brushed with pollen. Faces tickled by the kiss of bees and the whisper of butterflies.

Autumn came. Petals curled and fell to the ground to be trampled into the lawn. Food for worms. Upon the frosted grass irises shattered like glass in the cold.

Winter clawed across the fields, dragging itself on broken plough furrows.

Stumbling through the woods the boy and girl leant upon each other. Neither had eyes. Just brittle stems and rose thorns that lay upon their cheeks and scratched their skin.

In the darkness of tree trunks they held each other close and curled away from the world. Away from the breath of wolves and the shout of snow.

Winter was long and spring came slowly. When the ice melted, the boy and girl bloomed flower buds from their eye sockets. They saw each other as if for the first time, and as the bees returned to skim across their lips they fell in love once again.

END

Donate To Edmonton Food Bank

 

2018-GiftmasBlog-Tour

Seeing with Pollen was originally inspired by the artwork of Canadian artist Hazel Ang.

Newsletter Giveaway

FOTWT

As some of you know, I also run a newsletter every couple of weeks. The format is pretty simple. It contains updates about my work, a bit of waffle about stuff I’ve found interesting, the occasional bit of archaeology, or art, but mainly it’s a delivery system for free flash fiction. Every newsletter includes a flash fiction story, just long enough to read on the train or while you’re having a coffee.

At the moment I’m having a bit of a membership drive. Anyone who is on the subscriber list on the 9th May will be entered into a draw to win the t-shirt at the top of the page.

The design is by William Cunningham and is from my story Flick of the Wyvern’s Tale in the anthology BUILT FROM HUMAN PARTS edited by Cameron Callahan.

To be in with a chance to win the t-shirt all you have to do is sign up for my newsletter at www.tinyletter.com/stevetoase (remember to check your spam filter for the confirmation email). That’s it. I’ll do the draw on the 9th and in the meantime you’ll get some hopefully enjoyable, definitely unsettling, flash fiction in your inbox.

Runs on the Board Flash Fiction Part 4

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These are the last of the stories in the Runs on the Board book. Tomorrow I’ll share other pieces of flash fiction written for the project. Out of all the pieces I wrote inspired by the cricket matches we watched, I think that 53.71704 N  is my favourite. It combines cricket, myth, and landscape. It also influenced the way I frame my newsletters.

 

Beating the Bounds

Law 20.1-Wisden 1963

“If flags or posts are used to mark a boundary, the real or imaginary line joining such points shall be regarded as the boundary”

 

These men from across the county, wearing white knit mummer’s guize, are of the travelling parish of the three trees. This is a fragile ward able to be dissolved by rain, or worn through by the fading of dusk.

Sometimes, the parish is found below chiselled stone moors or pressed against the inside of a walled garden. On other summer days it weighs down on the corrugated earth of a thousand years. The boundary is vulnerable, soft and porous and must be walked to remember its course.

Like Yeoman Warders, in Pathé’s newsreel gaze, these men step out in ones and twos with willow under their arms. Pausing, they let linseed soaked wood rest between white flags. Each second motionless pins the boundary to the grass before the walkers set off once again.

Moving anti-clockwise they pass the black faced house, whose sightless windows flicker with white numbers, while one man faces eleven. By the ground tethered sail they wait while pace plays out and the grove at the centre is defended. On the far side of this smallest of parishes they walk tight between fence and flags. Not once do they cross the stuttered line, all the time marking the circuit with spiked steps. The men in white knit mummer’s guize return to the lime-washed hall, where they wait for their turn to stand in front of the three trees.

END

Distracted by Shadows

Law 41.6-2000 Code

“While the ball is in play and until the ball has made contact with the striker’s bat or person, or has passed the striker’s bat, no fielder, other than the bowler, may have any part of his person grounded on or extended over the pitch”

 

Waiting by the pavilion the shadows attached themselves to the spikes of players walking out to take the field. Each time the sun emerged from behind strands of cloud the shadows became young once again.

They played their own game, leeward of these men whose height did not change with the lengthening of the day. The players ignored their tissue paper companions. Except when the shadows lay across the footworn pitch and the unchanging men turned to statues, as if waiting to catch the shadows moving on their own.

Staying still the shadows wove themselves into the grass. They kept their arms solid and their legs planted, even as the afternoon stretched them across the cracked ground. Then, when they heard the snick, the shadows ran for the ball, elongated by the shifting sky.

END

53.71704 N

Law 9-Wisden 1963

“The popping crease shall be marked 4 feet in front of and parallel with the Bowling crease. Both the Return and Popping crease shall be deemed unlimited in length.”

 

Kneeling on the worn turf he brushed thin whitewash onto the ghosts of old popping creases and reincarnated the line once again.

Reaching the return crease the line became too faint to see, picking up speed as it headed toward the boundary. Outside the ground it coasted across the moors, drawn on by the scent of the sea. Listening to the songs of fallen rocks before slipping under the water.

The crease continued. It could have floated on the waves, or plunged through the water where nets and lines draped from boats. Instead it sank to the sea floor. Drawing itself through Doggerland the crease marked across long drowned valleys and long forgotten forests, now only remembered as archaeologist’s survey data.

Making landfall on the island of Nordeney it passed to the north of the hospital. None of the ambulances noticed the fine, thin, mark under their wheels.

Travelling across North Germany the crease continued east, passing through the heart of forests so dense only trees whisper folktales about them.

In Belarus it touched the northern shore of a small lake, watched from under the surface by three reed dressed sisters with sand coloured eyes.

Making harbour at Portage Bay on Wislow Island the crease mixed its flecks of whitewash with the cooled, grey dust of Makushin Volcano.

Through Canada the crease stayed in open country, to the north of Hwy. 37. The road markings whispered to stay with them. To press itself to the tarmac where they hid when the season of darkness came, but the crease paid them no heed and carried on its route.

Outside Edmonton dawn turned the sky rust and corroded through to the day behind.

From the western side of Lake Michikamu the Toad Man whispered,

“You will always stay here in the Lake.”

The crease shuddered fit to blur its edges, but kept on moving.

Avoiding the  grasp of fish jaws and blind ocean dwellers the crease made landfall in Ireland. In Muckloon it saw the shell of George Moore’s house and heard from deep inside the hill the song of Drithliu, a sound like trees burning in autumn.

Crossing the Irish Sea the crease found itself at the junction between the M65 and M6, where it nearly ended up heading toward Lancaster. Realising its mistake in time it continued on, back across the county border.

Passing through Luddenden Foot, where there is a full moon every night, the crease felt on safer ground and accelerated on.

Breaching the ground’s boundary the unseen line came to rest against the return crease, where the groundsman applied the last brush of whitewash onto the ghosts of old popping creases, reincarnated once again.

END

 

Corridor

Law 31-Wisden 1963

 

A light flickers in the panelled ceiling above me. No, not one. Two. Three maybe. The rhythm is syncopated, slightly uneven. Just when I think I’ve nailed down a pattern it throws in an offbeat. The candle dim glow doesn’t quite reach the walls. I know there is no entrance behind me in this corridor, nor an exit in front.

I can just make out three doors in the long wall to my right and, if I squint, one to my left. I walk along, running my hand over the frames and the doors themselves. All feel in need of sanding and several thick coats of varnish. No-one takes care of this narrow ginnel.

An inquiring mind gets the better of me and I open the first door, by my right shoulder. The scene is warm, not the height of summer, the sun dressing the field in a fine webbing of heat. The grass is empty apart from the echo of footsteps crossing the outfield toward the pavilion. I follow the sound. The scene changes. Now the view is from inside the changing room. Outside I can see my team-mate (at that moment I can’t remember his name). Next in the batting order he takes his position and taps his bat against the popping crease. I try to close the door, but the wood is warped, or the frame has shrunk. A little pool of light leaks through onto the corridor floor and I step to avoid it.

Though doubt sets in I open the second. There is nothing to see. The view is scrubbed out. The emptiness of a scoreboard waiting for the white to appear. There is only noise, the repetitive echo of the fielder’s appeal. I was wrong. There are no options left through this door. I lift it closed, preparing for this one too to be warped against my efforts, but it shuts easily. Moments later, as I step away, it swings open once again and I can hear that appeal looping on itself.

The third doesn’t wait for me to turn the handle, instead drifting open. The scene is from my perspective. I am unbuckling my leg pad as if all the games ills are stitched into its gambeson-like surface. Once undone I drop it into the kitbag and rub my shin before leaning on the window frame to watch the rest of the game I will no longer take part in.

My curiosity is depleted. Little is left, yet there is a little. With a pause to take a breath I open the single door on the left. The view is toward the boundary. The flattened patch of grass beyond the line of flags tells me all I need to know. The scene through the door pivots and is now staring at the white coated umpire whose arms grow vertical as if hydraulic. I have no intention of closing this door.

Turning, I stare deep into the gloom at the end of the corridor. A single red pixel appears in a sea of between-station noise. With four doors open around me I wait.

END

Runs on the Board Flash Fiction Part 2

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Here are the second group of stories I wrote for the Runs on the Board commission. (To find out more, please see yesterday’s post.)

 

Never Play Chess With A Cricketer

(With apologies to Henry Normal)

Law 17-Wisden 1963

“The umpire shall allow such intervals as have been agreed upon for meals, 10 minutes between each innings and not more than 2 minutes for each batsman to come in.”

 

Kasparov would have won the chess game if the cricket player hadn’t thrown away the board, placed the chessmen on the green baize of the card table, and insisted the Russian could only change the position of his pieces after every six turns.

Kasparov waited for his opponent to hit the timer to mark the end of his turn. Instead the cricketer picked up the small double faced clock and threw it out of the window.

Halfway through the afternoon the cricketer called for tea, dropped cake crumbs all over his opponent’s pieces and sipped noisily from his cup.

Every time Kasparov attempted a flanking pawn advance the cricketer called it wide and removed one of the Russian’s pieces from the field of play.

When the grand-master picked up his Queen to move in for checkmate a draught extinguished the candle and the cricketer announced that day’s play at an end due to poor light.

After twelve days the game was declared a draw when Kasparov had to return to the docks before his boat left for Russia.

END

Between Galaxies

Law 5-Wisden 1963

“The Ball shall weigh not less than 5½ ounces, nor more than 5¾ ounces”

 

Each bowled ball was a red dwarf, long burnt out in the spin of energy as the bowler released it toward the wicket. Each conversation and pavilion debate was an echo, like thousand year old starlight travelling between galaxies.

END

 

Moonlight (Grey Fox 1)

Law 12-Wisden 1963

“The Batsman may beat the pitch with his bat”

 

The grey fox walked onto the empty field, stepping through the pools of moonlight. He did not bite at the glow like his younger brethren who chewed up turf and dirt, leaving divots in the once pristine earth. Instead he turned and brushed the white light with the tip of his tail, pinning the crease to the grass and waiting.

END

Uncertainty

Law 13-Wisden 1963

“The choice of innings shall be decided by tossing on the field of play”

 

Uncertainty sits by the pavilion, raincoat not blocking out the scent of sun-cream on his skin. He holds a thick yellow book. One hand is smooth and tanned, the other dry and creased. Drought cracked. Around each wrist he wears a single stitched band. Underneath his nails are snags of turf.

The batsman recognises Uncertainty’s eyes first, the same colour as skies that have haunted many games he has walked out for. The type of sky that can scorch the ground to dust or drown it for a season.
He walks over and Uncertainty smiles the easy smile of an old friend. The batsman leans forward on his bat, keeping it just out of reach.

Uncertainty puts aside his copy of Wisden. The batsman catches a glance before the cover closes. The pages are blank.
“Will the game go our way?” The batsman asks.
Reaching into his pocket Uncertainty brings out an old, tarnished coin and tosses it into the air. As it lands upon his left hand he covers it with his right, never showing it to the batsman. Instead he gives the same non-committal smile he has for the past 40 years, gets up off his seat and walks into the pavilion.

END

Runs on the Board Flash Fiction Part 1

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In 2013 I was commissioned to work with photographer Lucy Carolan on Runs on the Board, a Cultural Olympiad legacy project based around the Grey Fox trophy, an over 50s Cricket tournament held in Yorkshire.

As I had no real prior knowledge of cricket, my approach was to interpret the language of the game through my own filter of myth, folklore and magic realism, relating each story back to the laws of cricket. (If you want to read about Runs on the Board from the perspective of a passionate cricketer I’d recommend reading the quotes from Nick Ahad, the writer for the second 2013 creative team, here in this article).

As with many things the stories are no longer online, so I’m sharing them here over a series of posts. I hope you enjoy them.

 

Planting Time In Season

Law 10-Wisden 1963

“Unless permitted by special regulations, the Pitch shall not be rolled during a match except before the start of each innings and of each day’s play”

 

“Our groundsman puts a lot of time into the ground.”

Collecting moments during the week the Groundsman saves them up for when he walks over the outfield, and the worn turf between the creases. He keeps them warm in his shirt pocket. There is no pattern to the moments he chooses, though each is selected with care. An instinct that comes through many years on the roller. Making his way from the pavilion he carries five minutes from a bank queue and half an hour waiting in for a delivery. In the weeks when he has not collected enough seconds to plant the ground he rings around the players. They donate time spent on hold or waiting to get the barman’s attention. With an orchadist’s touch he lifts each moment out, moves a blade of grass to one side and slides it into the soil.

After he has mowed the grass and rolled the pitch the groundsman stands on the boundary satisfied, watching the sprinklers water the outfield, the moments planted shimmering in the spray.

END

 

Vestigial Chicken Feet

Law 4-Wisden 1963

“All runs shall be recorded by Scorers appointed for the purpose”

 

The grandchildren of Baba Yaga’s hut crouch on the edge of cricket grounds throughout the country. Out of sight their vestigial chicken feet cling to the soil. Some bred with local buildings, sheds and outhouses. Now their skin is brick and lime planking rather than barked lengths of knotted fir trees. Baba Yaga’s twice turning hut was scented with kvass. Its descendant’s timber is soaked with the steam of steeped tea. All have flickering eyes that record every batting stroke and catch played out in front of them, and they never forget.

 

Baba Yaga’s hut is almost as well known as Baba Yaga herself. Standing on two chicken legs the hut would turn to face the woods when Baba Yaga was flying the world in her mortar and pestle, pivoting back around upon its mistress’ return.

END

 

Willow

Law 25-Wisden 1963

“The ball shall be held to be “dead”-on being in the opinion of the Umpire finally settled in the hands of the Wicket-keeper or the Bowler or pitching over the boundary”

 

With a gardener’s steady hand he planted the willow shallow in the short grass. Roots take well here. Branches sprouted in all directions, each bearing a single red fruit, skin like bruised pomegranate. He chose one curving bough and watched it arch to the left. Those rejected crumbled to dust on the breeze until the one remaining fruit settled in the grass. Seed to windfall in a glance.

END

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

Image may contain: sky, grass, nature and outdoor

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

No automatic alt text available.

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

No automatic alt text available.

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.

Thanks for taking the time to read these stories. If you’ve enjoyed them I have a storyletter that I send out every couple of weeks. Normally there is a bit of news, but the main focus is a free piece of flash fiction written exlusively for the mailout.  You can sign up at; http://tinyletter.com/stevetoase