Recent Publications

Hi. How are you? I’m having a gentle day, easing myself back into work after Worldcon 2019 in Dublin.

This was my first Worldcon, and was enjoyable, inspiring and a lot of fun. Most of this was down to the people, especially the friends I got to spend time with. More of that in a dedicated post.

The past few weeks have been busy for publications.

I wrote an article for Folklore Thursday about how Mad Max within the films can be interpreted as a mythic figure. You can read the piece here and see what you think.

https://folklorethursday.com/creative-corner/mad-max-the-mythic-hero-of-the-wasteland/

Look at this artwork. Isn’t it beautiful?

Earth-Lg

This is the cover for the Earth: Giants, Golems, and Gargoyles anthology, the latest in a series of elemental themed collections from editor Rhonda Parrish. I’m very happy that Earth contains my story Kiln Fired. You can pick it up at the usual outlets, such as Amazon (UK/DE/US)

My first article for Kerrang.com is now available to read, looking at the influence of poetry on the bands lyrics.

(www.kerrang.com/features/the-unsung-influence-of-poetry-on-iron-maiden/)

Once the band shared the article it got a lot of traction (I took the screenshot below when it hit the most appropriate number of shares). What surprised me was seeing it shared by both The Poetry Foundation in the US, and The Poetry Society in the UK.

68778216_10156175088342251_6100864296504262656_n

 

My latest published piece is for Daily Grail. A couple of weeks ago I watched Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria, and started thinking about the parallels with dance in Weimar Germany. Here’s the article if you’d like to read more about my thoughts on the subject.

www.dailygrail.com/2019/08/dances-of-vice-horror-and-ecstasy-suspiria-and-dance-as-a-magical-act-in-weimar-germany/

And that’s me up to date. I have some stuff coming out soon, but can’t say where just yet. More when I can

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.

It’s Been A While

Cover reveal

Hello, (taps mic). Is this thing on?

Well, that summer was long and hot and yet over too quickly. (Time is weird like that).

I’ll be honest I’ve neglected this place a bit. Between settling into life in Munich, writing as much as I can, and writing my fortnightly newsletter (sign up here www.tinyletter.com/stevetoase) I’ve not really given this blog much love. I’m hoping to change that.

So here’s a quick catch up.

It’s been a good year for publications. Since June (when I last posted here), I’ve had stories accepted for;

Fiends in the Furrows: An Anthology of Folk Horror

Pantheon Magazine: Gorgon-Stories of Emergence

Mad Scientist Journal

Mystery Weekly Magazine

Not One of Us

Shimmer Zine

A couple of publications have happened since I last posted.

Flick Illustration

(Artwork by William Cunningham)

My story The Flick of the Wyvern’s Tale has now published by Cameron Callaghan from ACDP in BUILT FROM HUMAN PARTS

100-biker-237_196235(1)

I’ve also recently had an article in British magazine 100% Biker about the Rustic Racer Ride, a café racer show here in Bavaria.

Last year British Fantasy Society published several of my flash fiction stories in Horizon. Recently I found out Mask made Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year 10 Honourable Mentions Longlist, and was also given a shout out in the summation.

I’m busy behind the scenes with several articles, and have just finished the first draft of a novella. More on that later.

I’m heading back to the UK for Fantasycon and will be appearing on a couple of panels. Again, more on that later.

The big news is that I have a collection out with longtime collaborator Hazel Ang.

Ruby Red and Snowflake Cold: tales to warm the heart, is a distillation of my fiction and Hazel’s art into a beautiful booklet that gives a really good overview of the work we’ve done together. If you’re in Munich this weekend we’ll have some copies at Munich Comic Con, and I’m hoping to bring some to Fantasycon.

I think that’s everything for now. Have a good weekend and see you soon.

 

Flowers and Lips-New Stories Published

31947274_858134007714492_3536494234943094784_n

“Blumen, Blumen selbst pflücken

Kommt mit mir nach Hause

Du bist süβ und sehr, sehr schön

Drinnen oder Draußen

Eine ist weiß, eine ist gelb

Einige begann sich zu röten

Ob im Boden

Auf dem Tisch

Immer für die Toten”

(Song from Verwelktag)

This week has been a busy week for publications.

On Monday Asymmetry Fiction published my story ‘White Lips’. This is a story about strange neighbours, childhood fear, and getting yourself into situations you can’t easily extract yourself from.

You can read the story online here; www.asymmetryfiction.com/white-lips/

In some ways ‘Verwelktag’, published in the latest Lackington’s, is a very different story, yet there is still that sense of compression by the place where you live. This is my attempt at writing my own take on a Schauerroman, a German tradition of Gothic story.

The magazine is a real treat, with stories by Premee Mohamed, Kate Heartfield, R.M. Graves, Laura Friis, A.J. Hammer, and J.M. Guzman. Subscribers will also get an Exquisite Corpse story by Mike Allen, Amal El-MohtarVajra Chandrasekera, Natalia Theodoridou, and JY Yang.

You can pick up the issue, or subscribe here www.lackingtons.com/issues/issue-17-spring-2018/

 

More Publication News and Cover Reveal

May is a busy month.

My new article for Folklore Thursday is now up and available to read. #folklorethursday is a hugely popular hashtag, covering the vast scope of folklore. The website collates articles about various subjects that fall into the subject. This article is about the Maibaum and Kindsbaum throughout Bavaria.

You can read the article here. May Day, Weddings and Births: Folklore Trees and Traditions

I’ve also just signed the contract on my first pro fiction story sale. Third Flatiron Anthologies will be publishing my story The Kromlau Gambit in their upcoming Galileo’s Theme Park.

To finish the publication news for the moment, check out this fantastic cover for the Lackington’s Gothics issue. If you glance at the left of Richard Wagner’s illustration you might be able to spy a vase of flowers. That’s important. Remember that.

31947274_858134007714492_3536494234943094784_n

A Month of Flash Fiction-Week 4 (and a bit)

 

IMG_9970.JPG

Apologies for the delay. Unfortunately a trip abroad, Christmas and my birthday got in the way. If you’d like to read more flash fiction throughout the year I now have a newsletter you can sign up to. The plan with be to send out a flash fiction story once a fortnight. http://tinyletter.com/stevetoase

Flash fiction month – Day 22

(This was written for my wife’s birthday)

Repairs

Taking me by the hand she led me inside, through the door sprinkled with glitter, below the roof shaped from whispered words.

Inside, she invited me to recline on the bed. Underneath me was a blanket crocheted with wool of many colours. As she made a pot of tea I pulled away strands and chewed them. They tasted of cinnamon and snow.

We drank from chipped mugs and she told me stories of who we would one day be. Her hair was woven through with stars the size of pine needles. She pointed at them and named the constellations. The swimmer and the embrace. The whispered name and the moth.

Then I slept.

When I woke she had taken out my heart. There was no scar. This was surgery, not theft.

On her table my heart lay in a Wedgewood bowl. Around the rim she had lit pale candles that guttered and sent soot toward the ceiling.

With a pair of bone tweezers she worked through the night. Straining her eyes in the candlelight she pulled loose splinters of rotten sash window frame and metal swarf from a Coventry cast engine casing. Scorched paper from a thousand abandoned story drafts, and the ice from too many nights spent shivering.

These were easy to find. Next, she reached for a magnifying glass and searched for the ephemeral. Words of dismissal spattered across the heart so long ago the serifs had been obscured by regrown tendons. She ran her fingers over the surface until she found several half forgotten glances in government offices, and she pressed into the blood vessels to find burrowing conversations, hidden by scar tissue, even I had no memory of.

By the time she had finished repairing my heart, dawn hung in the air outside.

She walked out of the door, collected mist and knitted it around my heart to hold it tight. Then, while I slept, she placed my heart back in my chest and kept me safe in her house, with the door of glitter and roof of whispered words.

Day 23

Spine Barked Trunks

Emma heard the same rumours as everyone else. Tales of trees erupting in empty houses. Stories of how they shaped needles from sponge soft floorboards and carpets frayed to ghosts. Spine barked trunks filling the air with the scent of snow, ragged fox pelts and bones picked clean by unseen grubs.

Some in the village went looking through dirty windows for the out of place branches. Made brave by cheap Christmas whiskey they pulled away chipboard shutters and went into the derelict buildings with bowsaw and felling axe. Their tools were often found rusting against the porches, though the amateur lumberjacks were never seen again.

By mid-December the trees appeared in the corner of family homes, including Emma’s. Where glitter and glass bedecked pines already stood, the newcomers dragged them to the floor, pulping them with sap thick as bread sauce. While families slept the trees wrapped bones in fresh pressed paper, scratchy embossed patterns uneven and twitching.

Out of sight, fibril mats of roots spread through rooms, anchoring themselves to the house foundations with tendrils pale as breath.

Like the rest of the village, when Christmas morning came, Emma sat with family around the tree in the corner of her living room. Over a breakfast of selection box chocolate they started to unwrap the shuffling gifts. Behind them the roots tore themselves free of the carpet, rose into the air and pressed into the pliable napes of necks.

Day 24

Muted Grey As Stone

The cold winds came and fluted down the hollow bones of the bifrost coloured birds, chilling them inside and out. They knew winter was coming, and they knew what they had to do.

First, they muted their colours. Each dawn they tore off sheets of the sky in the hours before dawn and used their beaks to rub the darkness into their feathers. Over the first week of November they turned themselves the tint of wet stone. As they flew the colour leached out into the sky, brushed against the sodden air, deepening the early nights and thickening the winter mist. The greyness spread from therm like watercolours on dampened paper.

Camouflaged, they dipped and rose through the sky, gripping every sound and tearing it free from the now dull days. They did not care about the source of the sounds. The now grey parakeets stole engine sounds of a spluttering black cab and the drunken singing from a Christmas party gone on too long. They swooped down on carol singers, taking every last note like greedy fledlings grasping food from their parent’s beaks. Perched on the open windows of nightclubs they stole the beats and the breaks, dragging them upwards, the torn tails of tunes buffeting against the frosted walls.

The days darkened and the sound of the city muted, until the parakeets clung to the glass of the highest buildings. Below them the city lost its voice, while they Knotted together the sounds they hadstockpiled. High above the city all 60,000 disguised parakeets hid, warmed against the winter in their nests shaped from noise.

Day 25

Roofs of Branches, Doors of Blankets

(Today’s story was inspired by something Dr Anna Macdonald told me about ants.)

Outside the gates of the city Belinda leant back against the chalk walls. Running off around the foot of the defences were small timber huts, with roofs of branches and doors of blankets. She reached into the bag on her belt, undoing the seal and shifting her hand inside.

The thieving ants crawled over her fingers and palms. Some bit her, but she ignored the pain and scooped out a handful, watching the insects stream across her skin.

Bringing her hands together she crushed them to paste and smeared the mixture across her brow, then down her cheeks, and finally over her lips. The broken pincers felt like grit. She carried on until every showing piece of skin was coated.

From behind her the smell of cooking rose into the air. Pomegranate and pumpkin soup. Rich stews of lamb and parsnips. Syrup treats with the texture of snow, and the lingering taste of one thousand different sugars.

Across the motorway the City of the Dead rose in mud clumped towers, shedding dust into the air. Belinda stepped carefully across the tarmac and tried not to cough as the powder caught her throat. The dead never coughed. Taking the first step into their streets a jolt went through her. What if the scents on her skin did not fool them? A group walked toward her, their limbs tattered and transparent. They passed by, ignoring her flesh and her breath.

She went from house to house, finding the hearts beside the hearths, and rested each in a lead lined box, the shape of a lover’s sigil. Using a copper nail she scrawled the name of each in the soft metal. By sunset she had collected twenty in the second bag upon her belt, and the dead had not stripped her skin from her muscle.

Walking back across the six lanes, the barrier in between, she placed the lead lined containers of rescued hearts beside the doors and stepped away from the entrance to the city. In her absence her fellow citizens had come out and built a new wooden hut, with a roof of branches and door of blankets. This was her home now. She would never see inside the chalk walls again.

Day 26

Not Surgery

Callum stood outside the house at the end of the cul de sac. The neighbour shuffled three children into an estate car and tried not to catch his eye.

The yellowed uPVC door opened and a woman left, cradling something to her waist. Callum could not see what it was. He did not want to.

“Go into the living room,” the old man said. “Lay down on the sofa.”

Callum did as he was told. The small coffee table beside him was covered in dirty coffee mugs and overflowing ashtrays. The old man re-appeared, the heat of a fresh cup steaming his glasses.

Taking a sip he put the drink down and picked up a piece of cheesecloth from the carpet. To Callum it looked like an old shirt with the arms cut away, scars of an unpicked pocket just visible.

The old man placed the fabric over Callum’s face.

“Close your eyes,” he said, and Callum did.

The cheesecloth smelt of bucket sand and candy-floss and seaside rock and then nothing.

When he woke his death was on the table. A small white figure, skin cracked like porcelain. It twitched its arms and flexed its fingers, painted lips shuddering. Callum’s hands went to his stomach.

“There’s no scar,” the old man said. “This isn’t surgery.”

He held the little death. the tiny figure flinching from the nicotined touch. Next he picked up the fabric. He wrapped the little death until only the face was showing. From under the coffee table he brought out a small wooden coffin and slid the parcel inside.

Callum sat up and the old man passed him the bundle.

“You only have so long until it recovers its voice, so bury the coffin soon. Somewhere old. Somewhere between stone and soil, and until dirt covers its face don’t try and lipread the mumblings.”

Callum nodded, and left the house. Shutting the door he felt the still clinging air of the house slew from his skin. Clinched in his palms the death struggled against its bindings. Callum tried to concentrate on the tarmac of the path, but the cold skin was against his hands. The lips stilled for the moment. The eyes watched him, wanting Callum to keep looking. Then it started again.

Instinct kicked in and Callum’s thoughts followed the twitch of the mouth. He mouthed the words. Like found like. His words became the death’s words.

With cold porcelain hands the death reached up and started to pull Callum’s breath from his lungs, and did not stop until it’s white cracked skin was clothed in the thing that used to be Callum.

Day 29

Glitter in the Tarmac

The whiskey in Sampson Brown’s breath fogged the wndscreen and fogged his eyesight. Not that it made much difference. Outside, the fog littered with strands of orange light. Something in the motorway didn’t move quick enough. An animal glanced off his bumper and became vapour behind him and then nothing. Sampson Brown did not notice, all effort going into fighting the pull of malt and peat in his neck.

In the road they sensed the peat and marsh mixed with spit, so out of place in the three lanes they called home. They blinked and stretched, some green and others red. The car passed by and they turned to follow the red lights that juddered between their kin.

They bristled the tarmac around them into fur, each strand thick as treacle and hard as stone. Tongues red with the blood spilt upon the lanes. Then they ran. They chased the mist of single malt, their whisper thin whiskers brushing against the rear lights of the car. Their legs never tired. This was their home, and nothing could outrun them.

Climbing the boot the cats crowded out the rear window. Turning liquid they seeped over the now blistering metalwork, pulling loose flakes of atomic silver paint that glittered like their eyes when they moved. Covering the passenger windows they pressed against the window seals until the rubber perished at their touch and the tang of whiskey was replaced with the throat hook of tar. The temperature of the car rose and inside the alcohol found its ignition point and burnt light blue. The cats of the road danced to the heat, their eyes glittering in the flames.

Day 31

Branch Children

Bark skinned and knot eyed the branch children turned up on Mary’s doorstep one solstice morning.

“Would you like to come in?” she said, as she would any visitor.

They just stood in the rain, paper thin fingers brushing the painted timber of the door.

“Would you like to come in?” she asked a second time, but the branch children did not move.

“Can you speak?” she asked.

When they answered their words were all stitched from stolen sounds. A branch falling from a tree to crush its own seedlings, the panic of a badger as it hears the edge of steel collapse soil into its sett. The snick, snick, snick of a trap around the almost severed limb of an animal it was never meant to snag.

Making no progress Mary knelt and stared the two children straight in the eye, rings rippling out like echoes of a drowning. They held her gaze.

She felt the pressure of the soil as a seed forced out the first shoot, the first questing root. The crush of teeth pulping leaves to paste. The swipe of the coppicer’s knife as he winnows and shapes. The burn of lightning scorching to charcoal.

When Mary had finished she tried to stand, but she was bark skinned and knot eyed, and with the two branch children who were now her kin she walked up the path of the next house in the street.

CaféStadt

IMG_9539

CaféStadt could be navigated by scent alone. Most places in the south held to the tradition of Kaffee und Kuchen. None followed it with the religious fervour of CaféStadt.

Not the real name of the small river bound settlement, but real names count for nothing. Given names have old magic.

Arriving by train was different than anywhere else in the Free State. Most central stations, Hauptbahnhof in the local language, hung thick with the death reek of oil, the burning of diesel or sparks scorching the air. In CaféStadt oil stood no chance. The platforms were thick with two competing aromas. The beginning and the end. The beginning was the rich cracking of the roast, coffee beans toasted deep in the fireboxes.

The end was above. The vast boilers of the trains, stoked on their journeys across the alps, in any other principality would be filled with water to be wasted. Here their work was doubled by crushed arabica, taps on the side of the engine to fill grande and venti cups held by weary travellers.

This was mass production, weak and vague. The only richness came from bulk rather than refinement.

The streets piped out from the station, ribbons of craftsmen, working fruit and flavours into small hearts of pleasure to be consumed after the sun had peaked. Each street housed bakers specialising in different confections.

Running down toward the main bridge the street was lined with pâtissier specialising in pâtisserie flavoured with flower petals. Though rivals they avoided too many conflicts by each only using a single flower.

Herr Bansett owned the shop nearest the top of the road. He made his concoctions only using the flowers of the honeysuckle. Once picked they hung to dry above his doorway for three days. On the fourth day he picked the best flower heads letting the others fall into the gutter.

Across the road his estranged brother, Herr Bansetter, made the same recipes, only using Jasmine. It was not clear if his choice of scent was the reason or result of their feud. One opened only during daylight hours, the other between dusk and dawn.

Further down, rosehips and violets suspended from racks, petals picked off in the breeze. No matter what time of day a visitor walked down the street their boots crushed the skin of petals into the cobbles refreshing the air with tones of forgotten gardens and childhoods hiding in bushes. The pâtissier had no need of adverts. Visitors carried the taste of their cakes enwrapped in their clothes if not within their stomachs.

Running cardinal opposite was a different kind of street. LuitpoldStrasse only sold one type of torte, each MeisterBäcker claiming to make the best. The finest in CaféStadt if not the nation. In the morning each MeisterBacker would send his apprentices down to the river to buy the best apricots from the morning’s barges. Each seller would hand around a sample of their cargo. Each apprentice would examine the fruit in turn. Test the firmness, run their fingers over the hair. Bruise the skin and scent the fruit on their fingers.

The MeisterBäckerei of LuitpoldStrasse did not choose their apprentices for their baking prowess, but their speed and aggressiveness in the street. The route from the docks to LuitpoldStrasse ran with blood every morning, and it was said the poorer quality PrinzeRegenteTorte tasted more of iron than Apricot.

In the alleys, behind the main street narcotic bakers, used purple apricots, but anyone tasting them was sworn to secrecy on pain of drowning.

Across town were the coffee yards, each one a self contained world where the fumes were cycled back in to try and prevent rivals from guessing at the blends each tribe of Baristas used.

Some yards were vast complexes, walls so stained with caffeine it was said to touch one would absorb enough through the skin to burst a person’s heart.

Others were nothing more than a single chair in front of a single table that held a single espresso cup. Reservations were passed down generations like green eyes. They called it The Death of Drinks, because when the flavours filigree’d over your tongue every beverage afterwards paled to ghosts.

In the centre of the city sat the House of Geshmackpassenden, whose experts wore cloaks of pure dew to keep their skin free from the fragrance of the city and blindfolds to mark their devotion to taste. Each spent a lifetime finding the perfect pairing of cake to each blend of coffee and their word was sacrosanct.

This was written as an exercise for the writing group I meet up with when in Munich

Publications and Projects

SB1.2

It’s been a busy year. In terms of writing probably the busiest I’ve had. Therefore I thought it was time for a little update.

Publications

I’ve just had three new pieces published.

Strangelet Journal have published my story Start The Day With An Espresso. You can read a sample here.

Goreyesque have published two of my flash fiction pieces. You can read Fold and Masks here.

In the next couple of months I’ve got work coming out with Cabinet des Fees, Mad Scientist Journal, NonBinary Review-Alphanumeric and Not One Of Us.

Projects

I’ve been busy working with Becky Cherriman and Imove Arts on Haunt. We’re very pleased to have work from the project in the Harrogate Stories exhibition at the Royal Pump Rooms Museum in Harrogate.

We’ve also been busy working on the anthology, which will be out later in the year.

We’re regularly sharing work from Haunt here.

Haunt is very close to my heart and seeing it become such a multifaceted project is fantastic.

I’ve recently been asked to contribute to a project by Munich Artists.

My other big project this year is my novel. I’m about half way through my first draft. The aim is to spend August editing to get it into some kind of shape before the end of the year.

Apart from that I’m still reviewing for Fortean Times on a fairly regular basis, and writing short stories in the background.

Have a good summer!

Schwermutgeist

Every snowflake hit the ground, leaving a ghost until fields and hedges choked with melancholy. The winter weather spoke a language even the birds could not translate.

From the window I watched Sally walk down the path, carrying the bundle we’d wrapped so warm. I wished I’d said goodbye outside so my tears had frozen to glass beads. I would have collected them to wear on a string of wool from his blanket.

By the door I wait for her to return, knowing her footsteps will be shallower in the snow.

In the fields and hedges ghosts grow in number.

(First published issue 29 streetcake magazine. Taking inspiration from Ben Schott’s project Schottenfreude Schwermutgeist is a German compound word I made up that translates as the spirit of melancholy.)