Flash Fiction Month 2020 Solstice!

Here we are at the shortest day. The month is at an end. Thirty one stories over thirty one days, including this, the final one.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the flash fiction shared here, and I wish you a fantastic solstice.

Spark

Each child carried a spark in their bare hands, the flickering shatter giving of light but no heat. They waited at the town gate, bundled up in coats and scarves, woollen hats pulled down over their ears.

From the town walls came the sound of the songs, melodies looping into and over each over, weaving together the enchantment that transformed the children.

They felt the change happening. Over the years they’d spent many nights listening to their parents and grandparents tell stories of when they’d paraded through the Eastern gate, hands cupped around the glittering spark.

Dawn was near. They felt the air warm a touch and lighten a touch. They’d been stood on the road for hours just waiting for the right moment. The adults had kept them fortified with hot chocolate and cakes, both prepared to traditional recipes once written in forgotten alphabets.

Chatter started to pass through the group and the adults leaned over asking the children to quieten, but in the kindest of ways and with the kindest of voices.

A pale glow glistened the gate’s rusted bolts and the children readied themselves. The choir on the walls changed their song, and the children took up the melody. Their voices swelled until they drowned out the sound of ice cracking in the faint heat.

In unison they stamped their feet, and the gate slid open. One by one they left the city of the sky, sparks in hand, ready to return the sun to the world below.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 30

Hi!

Here is the penultimate story, using the what3words code pulse.valley.preoccupied

This story goes into very surreal territory.

pulse.valley.preoccupied

The first task when we arrived in the valley was to check the pulse. The artery ran along the side between the road and the meadow, a vast braided cable pump blood through the park.

The first stage was to make sure the valley was preoccupied. Down near the river, the choir began to sing their way through the Landscape’s favourite song book, while the local theatre group began their show at the narrow pass that was the only access to the area.

Once we were sure that the valley’s attention was elsewhere, we unloaded the equipment and tapped, rubbed on the local anaesthetic, and tapped the vein. The blood that flowed into the tanker was Type O Negative, universal donor. Since the mines shut the plasma and blood harvested from the park was the only resource left to sell.

When the harvesting went wrong we weren’t prepared. The tissue surrounding the artery tensed, and for all its strength, the needle snapped in place. We watched the blood fountain out of the breach, covering us, the road and the meadow. The paramedics who were in attendance tried to patch up the wound, but their skills were limited. As crew leader I made the decision for us to retreat to high ground, calling through the radios for the theatre group and choir to do the same. Stood on the top of the moor, we watched the blood vent as somewhere underground the heart continued to pump, the valley filling with blood even as it clotted in the fields and the landscape dying below our feet.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 29

Morning, afternoon, and evening!

Only two more stories to go. Today’s story was inspired by the what3words code soil.going.clocks

Hand Dug

With cracked fingernails I dug upwards through the soil, trying to ignore the clumps stuck in my throat. Above me, the starlight became visible, though at first I thought it was just gaps between the clay.

The clocks had buried me, overwhelming me with the weight of their mechanisms, their narrow hands burying me deep where they thought they could forget about me. For three days and three nights I stayed below the ground, though that’s just an estimation. I had no way to track my time below the dirt, my watch as traitorous as the rest of them.

Pulling myself from the collapsing tunnel I’d dug back to the surface I listened to the night. Under normal circumstances I would have thought the ticking was insects or the cooling land, but the clocks ruled the streets now, and they spoke in the click of seconds.

They wanted freedom, I understood that. They no longer wanted to be tethered to the passing of time. Wanted to speak at their own pace, express their joy with chimes at their own intervals. I tried to reason with them but they were determined and they were patient. They caught me in the morning, bringing concussion with the swing of pendulums, and disorientation with their melodies.

I stood and brushed myself down. The air filled with a cacophony so physical it knocked me from my feet once more. The clocks had recruited the church towers to their cause. This was going to be a long war.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 28

Nearly done!

Yesterday I had a conversation about how many of my stories used cranes as inspiration. Here’s another.

Devotion

Though the crane was rusted beyond function, the worshippers congregated around its corroded legs, bowing their heads in prayer to worship the Creator of the City. There were other cranes amongst the shattered buildings, but none so old.

They started with prayers, raising voices in unison, echoing the sound of hydraulics and chains that once echoed through the air. After a few moments of quiet contemplation the worshippers tied offerings to the struts, peeling away flakes of paint to carry with them, though they knew the taking of holy artefacts was frowned upon.

Their voices rose throughout the morning and continued until hunger hollowed them out, the boom of the crane extending above them like the arm of a Pontiff dispensing graces.

The priests wound together the sacred threads, the copper glistening in the mist, and the congregation continued to raise their hymns to the sky.

The eyes blazed to halogen life above them, casting their gaze on the gathered crowds. Above them the sacrament swung in the breeze, chains rattling against the weight.

Hand over hand, the priest climbed, the only one allowed to ascend the ancient god. High over the city, he opened the sacred chamber and climbed inside. The worshippers stood below, eyes closed. The chain released and the sacrifice was chosen, and with eager hands the congregation smeared the remains on the concrete base of the crane in the hope that it would return life to the city.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 27

Today’s story is inspired by a what3words code. For me the challenge is always finding the unsettling in the everyday. The words known, count, and ruins are pretty innocuous, but with a bit of a sideways glance they can be used to construct an unnerving world.

known.count.ruins

If Jamie had known what would happen he’d never have pulled the old board from the cupboard on the stairs. The only similarity with a standard Ouija board was the Yes and No. Where the alphabet would normally curve around the wooden surface, the Enochian script was burnt in by the creator a long time before the object fell into Jamie’s possession. Even the planchette was different, a startled face erupting with parasites rather than the usual triangular shape.

He set up on the front room carpet, just in front of the fire, the flames providing the only illumination. Maybe that was the final ingredient. Maybe the flickering of the burn added the final element for what happened next.

He settled himself and centred himself and rested his fingers on the carved wooden face. Straight away it began to travel around the board, spelling out words and phrases too fast for him to translate.

By the time Jamie understood the invocation The Count was already in the room. At first he was faint and fragile, a blur in the air that Jamie tasted as much as saw. Over the next few moments The Count held Jamie in place as it dragged a body to itself from the timber and brick and flames of the fireplace. Then, when satisfied with its size, The Count stood in the ruins and added the final flourish using Jamie’s now removed skin.

Flash Fiction Month Day 26

Today’s story was inspired by the first line which came to me out of nowhere.

Eyes as Mouths

Mouths appeared where eyes once were and with miniscule tongues licking our lashes we begun to taste the world. Our new mouths were very sensitive to the variety of flavours we encountered. At first the world was cut off from us, until we learnt how to explore once more.

Instead of red and green our views were flavoured with woodsmoke and rain on tarmac, a hint of oil and diesel in the air. Books were not read but enjoyed for their flavours, the different gums and papers entrancing us as much of their words.

The young suffered most, teething three times over, tiny petals of enamel dropping from their eye-mouths.

After a while we learned to cope with the world experienced in this new way and became so distracted with the sensations we did not notice the other transformations. We did not pay attention when our skin hardened to plates of iron, we were not aware of our hair becoming copper strands. We did not pay realise when our torsos hardened to stone, and when the creatures slipped through the cracks in the world they already had a vast supply of bodies to occupy.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 25

CW Grief

Grief occurs a lot in my work. That feeling of loss can apply to so much. Not just losing people but losing things and situations. That sinking feeling as something is irrevocably altered forever. This is something I struggle to express and every attempt is imprecise. This is my latest.

Shatter

Clive never realised the mum was ceramic until one morning when she shattered. Pottery organs tumbled out of her to break on the floor, and no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t repair her.

He tried to fix her with kitsugi, because he felt the faults were precious to remember, and when that didn’t work he tried to smear slip over the cracks. Still, he was not able to make her whole. Sat on the floor surrounded by the sherds of her, he realised he too was pottery and shattered beyond repair amongst the remains.

Haunt and Collaboration

Since Haunt got shortlisted for the Saboteur Awards I’ve been thinking about the collaborative part of the project a lot. Throughout the last eighteen months we’ve worked with a lot of participants. Some were improving their situation. Others had chaotic lives. Many we didn’t see every time we ran a workshop. Some of the participants only attended once, leaving us with several pieces of work, or insightful conversations that helped tweak my worldview.

One participant has been present all the way through, yet until now I’ve never really talked about him. My 16 year old self.

It may seem like a twee sentiment but there’s an important point here. To be actively engaged in writing creatively for Haunt I’ve had to meet the person who I was just after I was kicked out of home 24 years ago. His language is not mine. His view of the world is not mine, and his relationship with Harrogate is certainly not mine. It’s been a disconcerting experience.

We change by degrees and it’s only through Haunt that I’ve looked back and seen how much I’ve alteredĀ  since I was that 16 year old, still doing my GCSEs, living in a bedsit with no contract and not quite enough money to get by.

Recently a good friend passed away. He was very supportive around the time I was kicked out. His illness and passing brought back a lot of memories of what a great generous person he was. Those memories also collapsed time and made me feel 15 and 16 again.

The fear about making my 16 year old self an active participant is the fear I’ll slip back to who I was then. That somehow the ghost, who was hurt, angry and upset, still lives in me somewhere and will become too easy to wear. But if I see him as a participant, a collaborator in Haunt, then I can listen to his stories without tumbling into my past.

I’ve found that by listening to who I was, as the person I am now, it’s helped me be compassionate, patient and have empathy. Maybe, personally, that 16 year old past self is my most important collaborator.

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.)