Author Archives: wombat37

Love

A horrific short tale for Miranda Kate’s Midweeker, riffing off the picture below. TW: self-harm.


Bing Wright“Why can’t you see it?” I bawled. “My veins pulse with love for you! You’re my forever!” The air between us crackled with anger and agony.

“Fuck you!” she howled, and flew out of the door, a screaming rocket trailing fire. It slammed behind her. The mirror fell from the wall and smashed as it hit the tiles. I followed it to the floor and sat there, gulping for air, my eyes stinging, my cheeks wet, my head about to explode with pain.

My hand touched the mirror, as broken as my shredded heart. I ran my fingertip along one of the cracks, slicing the sensitive skin on a jagged shard. Blood beaded there, and I licked it off. I was right. It tasted of her. She was in me. In my blood. Why did she doubt that?

I eased my nails under a section of glass and teased it free. I pressed the sharp point against the thin skin of my inner arm, just below the elbow, and dragged it down towards my wrist, raising a red welt jewelled with sparkles of blood. They too, tasted of adoration.

I repeated the action, raising more crimson to the surface. Opening my skin gave me back a level of control I had lost in the roaring fury of the argument. I could choose now. I was the one in charge.

I moved to the other arm, cutting open the skin in three long strokes. Red spattered the floor tiles. The hurricane in my mind eased a little. By the third slice, the glass had become slippery red in my fingers. I wiped them on my shirt, then pulled it off.

I began the next slice at my left shoulder, parting the skin in a long line down past the nipple to my stomach. A second cut paralleled it no more than half an inch away. The pain in my head moved to my skin. I found I could handle it better there.

I cut across the two vertical wounds, running red, and eased a point of mirrorglass beneath the skin, prising up a tag of flesh. I gripped it between my fingers and pulled a sliver of tissue away. It tasted of love, as I knew it would.

I cut more at my right shoulder and down across my belly, criss-crossing my torso, releasing ever more love into the world. My mind calmed with every slice. When she came back, I would show her the blood, have her taste it herself. Then she would see. Then she would know.

Blood coursed down to my lap, soaking my shorts, so I slid them off and cast them aside. I carved a heart into the flesh of one thigh, and her initial into the other. I continued down my legs to my feet. The glass sang whenever it parted skin, a gentle ringing keen of joy, our love song. Our tune.

I lifted my penis from my thigh: the centre of physical love. Before I could slice it open, her key rattled in the front door. She had returned! I staggered to my tattered feet and slid, one foot after the other, across the bloody tiles towards the slowly-opening door, flaps of torn skin dragging on the floor behind me.

How happy she would be to see how much I loved her.

A Cloud of Swallows

Screenshot from "Everybody's Gone to the Rapture"I took a deep breath, held it, and stepped through the window. It shlukked behind me, closing, and I breathed again. First thing you learn, that is: if you don’t want shredded lungs, hold your breath when you go through.

He didn’t recognise me, of course. I’m almost seventy, bald and fat, my massive beard as white as a dandelion clock. My scarecrow eyebrows sprout more hair than does the top of my head, and my eyes have gone, well, wonky. I walk slowly, with the help of an old, twisted length of hazel that I had cut long ago and fashioned into a thumbstick. If he had looked closely at the words and symbols I had carved into it over the years, his suspicions might have been aroused, but his eyes were fixed on the shadows that fluttered and whirled above the bright field.

He leaned on an old farm gate, looking out across sunsodden greengold wheat, margined brightly by hawthorn and willow-herb. Atop the far hill my familiar old windmill stood, young and unbroken, the sails turning leisurely in the summer heat.

“Owdo,” I said. “Grand day.”

“The birds seem to think so,” he nodded towards the swooping, tumbling host above the hot golden field. The dark arrows tumbled, dashing and zig-zagging, swivelling and diving, chasing invisible insects. Our sluggish eyes struggled to track them as they slalomed across the sky. They danced upon the air, innocent of the devastation that was about to be unleashed.

“Swallows,” I said.

“Yeah?” he said. “I’m never sure whether I’m looking at swallows or swifts.”

“Look close, lad. See how the lower third of their body looks bulky when they fold their long wings? That’s because the wing-tips extend to the end of their tails. Also, swifts don’t tuck in their wings at all when flying. And sithee, the tops of their wings look oddly large an’all, like …” I struggled to find a simile.

“Like epaulettes,” he said. We shared a grin.

“Aye.”

“You know a lot about birds, then?”

“Hellfire, no. But once upon a summerday long ago, a man older than death told me the way of swallows, and it’s always stuck in my head. I love to watch them enjoying their time in the sun, dancing in a strip of sunlight for a brief summer, while the winter darkness is at an ebb.”

“Like people,” he said.

“How do you mean?”

His eyes flicked, watching the swirl of swallows. “We’re born alone, pieces of rough driftwood on the shores of an endless dark ocean, and we’ll be carried away again soon enough by the swell. But in between the ebb tides of oblivion, in a single summer of life – of dancing in a strip of sunlight, if I might steal your words – we find relationships, love, and the companionship that makes us whole. Makes us human.”

“You’re a poet, then?”

“Forester,” he grinned again. A thunder-growl tumbled across the cloudless sky. Above the wheat, the swallows suddenly gathered, weaving themselves together into a dark seething cloud, and swept away across the valley.

“Ah, look, they’ve buggered off,” I said. “It’s time. Come on, poet, we’ve got to get inside.”

“Inside? Where? Why?” He laughed.

“There’s a cave just down the path here. And why? Because your dark tide of oblivion is about to flood this earth. Humanity’s dance in the sunlight is ending. Look to the sky.”

He raised his eyes, and saw, slashed across the blue like a thousand raw wounds, the blood-red streaks that heralded the downfall of humanity.

“What the hell is that?”

“I’ll tell you in the cave,” I said.

“No offence, you seem nice enough, but I’m not interested in your cave, as you call it.”

“Look, sunshine, here’s your choice: you can either die screaming in a fiery inferno, or you can shelter with me and instead live a long life of struggle against the alien invaders, and eventually, with the aid of their stolen technology, invent a time machine.”

“What?”

“Besides, you already have come into the cave. I’m proof of that.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“You still haven’t recognised me, have you?”

He stared at me for a moment, frowning. Across the valley the first emerald explosion of plasma energy left the windmill a smoking ruin. Then the shock of recognition dropped his jaw and his eyes widened, reflecting more green flashes as the valley was destroyed.

“Hellfire!” he said. “Yeah, take me to your cave.”

Thanks to @alexbrightsmith for the title.

How Kevin Foiled the Alien Invasion of Earth

A short tale for Miranda Kate’s Midweeker, riffing off the picture below, after I noticed the creature at the top hiding his eyes.


Auschwitz by Anton Semenov“Kevin—”

“No!”

“Just look up at the lens.”

“NO!”

“Kevin, we all agreed.”

“You lot agreed, Susan, I didn’t.”

“If you’ll just look up at the lens, we can finally get out of here.”

“What, and have my eyeballs sucked out like yours? Fat chance.”

“It doesn’t hurt.”

“It makes a nauseating sound, though, like somebody pulling a grape out of their nostrils. I don’t understand why they need my eyeballs, anyway. They have all of yours already, what difference would mine make?”

“The Voice Above said they needed forty pairs or they couldn’t take off.”

“Take off what? Our heads?”

“Their ship. They use human eyeballs to drive their starship.”

“Do they bollocks. Where are you getting all this?”

“I had a quiet word with The Voice Above. He told me. We had quite a nice chat, actually.”

“What? When was all this? We’d all have heard you.”

“You know when they lift us out of here sometimes and, like, probe us and stuff?”

“Oh yeah, I enjoyed that.”

“Well, it was then. I was all manacled down, having my orifices probed, and … we had a little natter.”

“What a lovely image. Nice. So when’s the wedding? ‘I, Susan, take thee, Voice Above…’”

“I’ll ignore your sarcasm about what was a very touching moment, actually. The point is, eyeballs make their space-engine work…”

“How you can say that with a straight face is beyond me.”

“… and once they’re off this planet they’ll set us all free and look after us properly.”

“And you believe that, do you?”

“After someone’s probed me I think I know whether I can trust them.”

“You’re so naive, Susan.”

“Oh shut up, Kevin. You’ve had your chance to be reasonable. Grab him, fellers! We’ll force him to look at the lens.”

“Ha ha! Sod off!”

“Shit, where’s he gone? Damn it, Kevin!”

“Can’t catch me!”

“He’s ducked down by your feet, the squirmy little bastard. Grab him, someone!”

“Oh dear, you missed again! If only you were able to look down, eh?”

“Damn, he’s like a kid in a ball pool. Kick him in the head or something!”

“OW! Ow, fucking AAAAARGH!”

“Wait, wait! Don’t kick his eyes, though!”

“Too fucking late, you bitch! Jesus, that hurts! I hope your boyfriend’s happy with thirty-nine pairs of eyes.”

“Oh, Kevin.”

“S’not fair.”

Wombat’s Overcomplicated Pie Cricket Rules

#PIECRICKET

Basically #SausageLeague with pies, but with an added twist, #PieCricket runs on Twitter on Fridays, between the end of one #SausageLeague season and the start of the next. It’s based on pie-guessery, and here’s all you need to know in order to WIN WIN WIN! Yes, there’s a prize this year – the Pie Cricket champion will win one of my pocketbooks.

imageI’ll take a photo of the pies on display at my local takeaway. All you have to do is predict two numbers – the total number of pies on display, and how many of those will be upside-down (known in pie circles as a “whoopsie-daisy”).

image You score points depending on how close you are to the total pie number: 5 minus the difference.

image If you’re spot-on with the total, you get a bonus point. If you ALSO guess correctly the number of whoopsie-daisies, you get another bonus point.

image But wait, there’s more! Correctly guessing the number of whoopsie-daisies allows you to take an opponent’s wicket, regardless of whether you got the TOTAL prediction right.

image You start with 3 wickets. If they drop to zero, you’ll score no points at all the following week UNLESS you hit a spot-on with the total. The following week your wickets will bob back up to 3.

Such Stuff

Here’s another short tale for Miranda Kate’s Midweeker. It’s clearly the opening for a much longer futuristic thriller that I have already plotted out, inspired by Twitter friends @mamacrow‏ @hugeshark @QuantumTree @askceil and @cryptidbones. It stars three of my Patreon patrons, @cdlcreative, @greyduck & @lemurlotte — just a small perk to say thanks for supporting me. (and yes, I realise this has Red Dwarf echoes, but it is not that, I promise.)


A sculpture by ARS THENEA called The Ash.Karel squinted through ice-rimmed goggles. Was the horizon getting nearer? The voyage had been long to these frozen, grey seas. Thirteen men had been lost to the ice-hearted ocean in the twelve months since The Cindered Rose left port. The ancient ship’s timbers were cracked and warped by salt and time. The rim of the world was now startlingly close.

Karel cupped the blackened rose petals in his rough hands. He had carried them all the way from Khirsh, and now was the time for them to work their magic. The time, and the right place, he was sure. His Lotte would soon be back in his arms. He rubbed his palms together, reducing the petals to powder, and inhaled the dust. Through cracked lips he whispered the first words of the spell.

Zhe repla kij Lotte mij—”

Before he could finish the incantation his vision faded, and all sound stopped. The icy wind ceased to needle his frozen cheek. He could no longer speak. A female voice broke the silence.

“Your credit has expired. Thank you for dreaming with Such Stuff Incorporated.”

“No!” His frustration exploded from his lips. He had been so close.

“I am sorry, sir. Your purchased time has run out. Please vacate the pod, and follow the arrows on the floor to the recovery room, where you may buy a refreshing beverage.”

Karel opened his eyes. A brightly-lit sign before him announced ‘We are Such Stuff, as dreams are made on’. Shakespeare would be so proud.

“Shit,” he said. He missed his wife enormously, and had hoped to meet her once again in this dream. Oh, the SSI assistant had been friendly and open enough. She had warned him that the company could not guarantee his dream content in a short ten-minute session. Apparently the dream-machine had to build towards giving you the thing you wanted – something about the way synapses work in the brain – and in order for SSI to guarantee that you would dream about what you requested, you had to book an hour-long session. However, ten minutes was all he could afford, but he had hoped he might at least catch a glimpse of Lotte once more, maybe even hold her for a dream-second. So much for hopes and dreams.

He stepped out of the Dreampod (™ Such Stuff Inc and followed the floor-arrows. He sat at a small table and stared sadly at his lukewarm tea. His thoughts were disturbed by a man sitting next to him.

“My name is Hutchings,” the man said, “and I believe you can help me to change the world.”

“Please leave me alone. I’m not in the mood.”

“My commiserations about your wife, by the way.”

Karel looked at the man. He was unshaven, and wore a ragged harlequin coat. He did not look like one of Lotte’s friends. “You knew Lotte?”

“No.”

“Then how—”

“Look.” Hutchings laid a gnarled hand on his. “You know that unutterable hollowness that inevitably follows your sessions in the Dreampod? When you find that your dearest life, love or want is naught but a gossamer wisp temporarily made whole and then cruelly whisked away?”

“You speak very poetically for a lunatic.”

“You’re feeling it now, aren’t you? Flat, colourless, depressed beyond measure at how small and insignificant you are?”

“Well … yes.”

“SSI does that. They inject you with depressant. It keeps you docile. At the same time they introduce certain addictive chemicals into your bloodstream to ensure that you will return, whether you want to or not.”

“What are you talking about?” Karel pulled his hand away.

“They’re collecting information. Think of it – millions of people, dreaming about their desires, their secrets, their lusts. SSI collects all that information, and uses it to direct people’s actions in real life. At the same time they plant ideas and compulsions into dreamers’ minds. They control people; everyone who has ever used a Dreampod. They can shape governments. They can shape the world. They can keep us all under control.”

“You’re deranged. Just go away and leave me alone.”

“I want you to help me to destroy them. To free the world.”

“Why on earth would I help a madman?”

“Because they murdered your wife.”

I Don’t Believe I’ve Had The Treasure

A five-minute read for Miranda Kate’s Midweek Flash. Thanks to @moorseyl and @beckyfyfe for giving me their names.


Stone Stairs by Kurt Gordon

Linda slid beneath the scything blade, losing a lock of hair as it barely missed her head. Who the hell built these traps? First it had been the tiled floor, some of which sent poisoned darts flying through the air. Then the stupid rolling boulder which, sorry Mr. Trap-designer, was pathetic. She had simply stepped to the side and watched it roll by. Now this massive swinging axe. Why go to the trouble of building all these overcomplicated mechanisms, rather than just a sturdy door and a strong lock? Becky would have said it was because they were designed by men, and men do love their toys. Becky would have been right, too.

Ahead, moss-covered steps curved up to a high opening in the wall. Light shone from beyond. This far underground, though, she knew it could not be the sky. The light was a sign. What she desired lay beyond that small opening.

She climbed, carefully, the slippery steps, and eased herself through the hole. She was in another cavern, maybe half again as long as it was wide. It was flooded with light, an almost blinding white glow that emanated from a vast table at the far end. Or rather, from what sat on the table: an enormous pile of jewels; sapphires, red beryl, diamond, rubies, black opals, emeralds. Scattered amongst the gems was a multitude of gold and silver objects – sovereigns, torques, bracelets, diadems. A dazzling light emanated from within the treasure heap, casting a kaleidoscope of colour on the stalactites that crowded the roof of the cave. Unimaginable wealth covered the enormous table but for one corner, at which sat a giant of a man reading a scroll.

Linda stepped forward, to a loud crunch from beneath her boot. She looked down. The floor was ankle-deep with bones. Human bones; ribcages, skulls, legs and arms. Every step she took towards the treasure table caused a crack that echoed across the cave.

The giant at the table looked up and put down his scroll. He unfurled himself. An aurora of silver hair surrounded his head. A long beard, intricately plaited with small gems, fell over heliotrope armour that shone in the gem-glow. He covered the yards between them in one stride, the muscles in his treetrunk legs flexing powerfully.

“You did well to avoid my traps,” he boomed in a voice like a mountain awakening, “but, wanderer, know this. I have guarded this sacred place for a thousand years. I am undefeated in battle; you walk upon the bones of your predecessors. I will kill you here, unless you can show me that you have that most precious quality, wisdom. To avoid death, you must now answer me riddles three.”

“Fancy speech,” said Linda, “but I’m a Dubliner. We don’t do fancy. Go feck yourself.”

She punched the colossus hard between the legs and he collapsed to the ground, clutching his undercarriage. “Fucksake!” he whimpered.

“We don’t do riddles either,” Linda said, and stepped over him as he whined softly, clutching his nethers.

She picked up the battered scroll, turned her back on the gold, and left the glowing jewels where they lay. She carefully placed the rolled parchment in her backpack.

“Okay, so. Bye. Bye-bye,” she said, and left the cave. This was what she had come for. This was her treasure. One down, four to go.

Twantas Revealed

PhotoFunia-1540831011For those who still don’t know, here is a full list of this year’s Twantadors and their gift-givers.


This twantador
was sent a gift by
@_polyhymnia @secretstef
@alliterative @flylilypad
@anise44 @helibobs84
@approvedproduct @louisehector
@avensarah @jaxtipsyknits
@azzathepirate @cherries109
@babalooblue @lemurlotte
@basdriver @sundayhandbag
@becmajor @basdriver
@bilbobaggins2k @chrisridd
@blossomxcat @davidtims
@bywordandstitch @joraamn
@captain_doodle @lockiebaws
@cara_erin @superkrispydj
@carly_whyborn @leontia2001
@cdlcreative @kirstywarner
@cherina82 @zipperdidoodah
@cherries109 @captain_doodle
@chrisgn @alliterative
@chrisridd @missmastery
@ClaireWithAn_I @confusedlinnet
@confusedlinnet @magentakoru
@craftsboy @dbrereton
@crazyladywriter @owlbird
@cumbrianblondie @carly_whyborn
@davidtims @ninjaworrier
@dawn1968 @fannyingabout
@dbrereton @_polyhymnia
@dutch_bitch @theweeyin15
@emma_esl @taffy3rock
@evermoreanon @lovelockou
@f41rygirl @blossomxcat
@fannyingabout @jayalay
@fantasticpru @LolInKent
@fisher1946 @babalooblue
@flylilypad @crazyladywriter
@gemmajoobjoob @cara_erin
@ginlington @NicolaCubes
@greythorne @purplequeennl
@helibobs84 @greythorne
@hugeshark @cumbrianblondie
@iainlj @kizletwiggle
@jaxtipsyknits @sharonmcg1971
@jayalay @squeakysays
@joraamn @hugeshark
@katobell @starlitwolf
@kaylou_4 @gemmajoobjoob
@kirstyhalton @katobell
@kirstywarner @mrsashboroscat
@kizletwiggle @f41rygirl
@kjhighsocks @iainlj
@ladyjuliejools @sarahhanner
@lemurlotte @craftsboy
@leontia2001 @chrisgn
@lgh95 @nikki_sinc
@Lisey_loo @rachamuffin
@lockiebaws @approvedproduct
@LolInKent @vspearson85
@lottacraft @becmajor
@louisehector @lgh95
@lovelockou @sarahtregear
@LucieMR @sparkleytwinkle
@LydiaMNicola @miladycheryl
@magentakoru @maggie_dolores
@maggie_dolores @mrssimontemplar
@mallrat_uk @LydiaMNicola
@manctoby @LucieMR
@michigander58 @avensarah
@miladycheryl @patellagirl
@misslockstock @ladyjuliejools
@missmastery @sarahv1982
@mrsashboroscat @cdlcreative
@mrssimontemplar @mallrat_uk
@nickatthemill @emma_esl
@NicolaCubes @bilbobaggins2k
@nikki_sincl @sumarumi
@ninjaworrier @anise44
@obibronkenobi @phantom_blonde
@owlbird @saltwateritch
@patellagirl @fisher1946
@phantom_blonde @kirstyhalton
@purplequeennl @ClaireWithAn_I
@rachamuffin @obibronkenobi
@saltwateritch @ginlington
@sarahhanner @misslockstock
@sarahtregear @woodpeckergreen
@sarahv1982 @Lisey_loo
@secretstef @michigander58
@sharonmcg1971 @kaylou_4
@sparkleytwinkle @azzathepirate
@squeakysays @nickatthemill
@starlitwolf @kjhighsocks
@sumarumi @dawn1968
@sundayhandbag @titchfairy
@superkrispydj @bywordandstitch
@taffy3rock @evermoreanon
@theweeyin15 @dutch_bitch
@titchfairy @lottacraft
@vspearson85 @cherina82
@waysidehealer @fantasticpru
@woodpeckergreen @waysidehealer
@zipperdidoodah @manctoby

Twanta 2018

At the risk of being stupidly cheesy I would like to share what Twanta has meant for me this year. So due to various things we are having a very quiet Christmas, my children and I. My family are hundreds of miles away and my ex ‘accidentally’ forgot to send my present from my children so a gift less Christmas was very much a reality. My Twanta gift was a Ray of sunshine. I also loved a soupcon of stalking and hope my twantee loves their gift. Thank you so much for a little light in the darkness.

louisehectorThat’s a a message I received yesterday about this year’s Twanta, shared with permission. It kind of sums up what this annual sharing of pressies between strangers means to me: a feeling of inclusion, and of friendship, and that the world might not be entirely made of cack after all. So (as you young folk are prone to begin your sentences these days), it’s Christmas Eve, and I thought you’d like a little Twanta update. First of all, and bringing a big smile for me, there were no Twumbugs. Every single person who asked to take part this year has posted their gift, and for that you have my sincere thanks. It’s you folk that make Twanta work, not me, with your generosity and fun-filled enthusiasm and astonishing skills with sellotape.

I just wanted to drop you a message to thank you for organising such a wonderful event. Twanta2018 has lifted my soul after a really shitty year. You are the epitome of Christmas Spirit.

ssOther stats leap out of my massive, multicoloured Twanta spreadsheet. On average, gifts sent within the UK took 4 days to reach their destination. Presents sent from one country to another took 8 days. There have been a few snags along the way, of course, such as the courier who couldn’t read the number 7, and someone having to prove to the Post Office that their ‘wacky’ twitter id was actually them. I’m not beyond mistakes, either, giving out the wrong address to one Twantador. Hilarity ensued.

taffy3rockAs I write there are still 12 Twanta gifts ‘in transit’, which is about usual. Some will arrive after Christmas, I’m afraid, but we are subject to the winds and whims of postal services. Others will be simply that the recipient forgot to tell me their gift arrived. Be that as it may,tomorrow is TWANTA REVEAL DAY! I know that you’ll all be busy, but if you could please take the time to take a pic of your Twanta gift and post it to Twitter with the hashtag #TWANTA2018 we can all have a rollicking time admiring each other’s gifts.

Thank you @twanta2018 for another year of festive feel goods. As always, I am both humbled and heart warmed by it all. Roll on Tuesday!

doodleFinally, I really do appreciate all your messages of thanks for this years Twanta. I’m delighted that you all enjoy it every year, but do remember also to direct some gratitude to our inventive captain, @captain_doodle, who thought up this whole thing. There he is on the left, look, peering in my bathroom window again, the big perv.

2018 Twantadors

PhotoFunia-1540831011Here’s a list of people taking part in Twanta this year. You might like to follow a few of these to mask who your actual twantee is. Thanks to @becmajor for reminding me to post this.

@_polyhymnia @alliterative @anise44 @approvedproduct @avensarah @azzathepirate @babalooblue @basdriver @becmajor @bilbobaggins2k @blossomxcat @bywordandstitch @captain_doodle @cara_erin @carly_whyborn @cdlcreative @cherina82 @cherries109 @chrisgn @chrisridd @ClaireWithAn_I @confusedlinnet @craftsboy @crazyladywriter @cumbrianblondie @davidtims @dawn1968 @dbrereton @dutch_bitch @emma_esl @evermoreanon @f41rygirl @fannyingabout @fantasticpru @fisher1946 @flylilypad @gemmajoobjoob @ginlington @greythorne @helibobs84 @hugeshark @iainlj @jaxtipsyknits @jayalay @joraamn @katobell @kaylou_4 @kirstyhalton @kirstywarner @kizletwiggle @kjhighsocks @ladyjuliejools @lemurlotte @leontia2001 @lgh95 @Lisey_loo @lockiebaws @LolInKent @lottacraft @louisehector @lovelockou @LucieMR @LydiaMNicola @magentakoru @maggie_dolores @mallrat_uk @manctoby @michigander58 @miladycheryl @misslockstock @missmastery @mrsashboroscat @mrssimontemplar @nickatthemill @NicolaCubes @nikkisinclair64 @ninjaworrier @obibronkenobi @owlbird @patellagirl @phantom_blonde @purplequeennl @rachamuffin @saltwateritch @sarahhanner @sarahtregear @sarahv1982 @secretstef @sharonmcg1971 @sparkleytwinkle @squeakysays @starlitwolf @sumarumi @sundayhandbag @superkrispydj @taffy3rock @theweeyin15 @titchfairy @vspearson85 @waysidehealer @woodpeckergreen @zipperdidoodah

Aschenputtel

A short story for Miranda Kate’s 75th Flash Challenge – do read Miranda’s own tale there, it’s a cracker. Once again I revisit a fairy tale; you can easily guess which one from the pic. Maybe I’ll put all these in a book together one day. This week’s picture prompt is by Patricia Brennan, an artist from the UK. She calls this one ‘At the Stroke of Midnight’. You can view it over on her page at Deviant Art.

mnc divider

'At the Stroke of Midnight' by Patricia Brennan“For you, Mama.”

Her mother had always taught Aschenputtel to be honest and humble and true, and she tried to show her gratitude by visiting the grave whenever she could slip away. The marigolds brightened the small headstone, half hidden by ivy, a smudge of gold in the monochrome predawn.

Aschenputtel stood and turned. A small bird chirruped from the tree above, the first of the chorus. She looked back down to the ancient, crumbling stone house. It squatted below the hill like a fat, black toad. They would be awake down there in an hour. Beautiful to the eye, they certainly were, but their hearts were ugly-foul and black. If a fire was not already burning in the grate when they appeared, they would punish her once more. She plucked a burdock leaf and rubbed it gently on the half-healed, burned skin of her forearm.

A flicker caught her eye. An ochre mote blinked in the near distance. It was a light, buttercup yellow, bobbing along the track through the wood, flickering through the dark trees. It came accompanied by a growing sound, all rattles and jingles and the thump of hooves. A carriage, pulled by two white horses, emerged from the trees and swept to a halt in front of the house. The driver jumped down and banged on the front door. A second figure seemed almost to glide from the carriage after the first, who once again thumped the door with mighty force.

She would have work, if there were visitors. Her rough wooden shoes picked a careful way down the precipitous path that wound down the hill. Voices from below welcomed the surprise visitors, with first anger, then a tone of query, surprise, and, oddly, effusive welcome. It was not like her father to welcome anyone, let alone with enthusiasm. The dawn visitors must be special indeed.

The sky paled. She slid down the last few feet on her backside, dirtying further her filthy, brown smock. She tried to open the back door silently, but it could not resist a throaty creak. She paused, holding it ajar. Voices rang inside.

“…also is not the right one,” a man said. “I can see the blood where your daughter has disfigured her foot to make it fit!”

“I assure you—” Her father’s voice, cut off.

“Have you no other daughter?”

“No, sir. But … perhaps if you were able to describe the girl in question, I would know her?”

“As you well know, man, it was a masked ball. Masked.”

“Aschenputtel‼” The screech made her jump. The door slipped from her fingers and swung wide. Her father and his wife stood with a man in a dark cloak, who sported an impossibly wide moustache. He held a small object that glinted in the candlelight. A second stranger sat at the table, his face hidden beneath a hood.

“Why lurk you there, wretch?” her step-mother snapped. “Make haste and light a fire! Our guests are cold!”

Aschenputtel scurried to the hearth, and lifted two logs onto the grate. Her fingers shook as she separated enough kindling to take a spark. She would pay for this later with a beating.

“Chamberlain?” A new voice, a liquid purr.

“Yes, sire? Oh! Are you sure? She’s filthy. Her arse is caked with, well, who knows what?”

“This girl?” laughed her father. “This stunted scullion was left behind when my first wife croaked. She cannot be the one you are looking for. As you see, she never bathes, and you can likely smell her across the room.”

“Nevertheless.” That purr again, soft like a warm hug on a cold night.

“But she never leaves the house! Last night she was here, sleeping on this very floor—”

“Be silent, man. Chamberlain?”

“My lady, if you please?”

Aschenputtel felt a hand on her shoulder. My lady? Did he mean her? Her fingers shook, and she dropped the kindling. She kept her grimy face lowered, but turned her eyes up. The cloaked man took her arm and helped her to her feet. She wondered how he managed to make his whiskers project horizontally fully two inches past his cheeks.

“Will you sit?”

He gestured to a stool, and she warily eased her buttocks onto the hard seat, aware of the dampness of her mud-caked smock beneath her. The moustachioed man swung his long cloak behind him with an elegant movement, and knelt at her feet. Her mouth gaped as he drew her foot out of the heavy wooden shoe. A rich stench wafted from her feet, and she lowered her head in shame, but the cloaked man seemed not to notice. The thing that he held glinted as, with cool fingers, he slid it over her foot. It was a golden, filigree slipper, a little blood-stained at the toe. The tips of the man’s moustache twitched upwards as he grinned. He stood, helping her to her feet.

“It fits!” he laughed. “It fits perfectly, sire!”

The man at the table crossed to face her, and shook off his hood. He was beautiful.

“It’s you, isn’t it?” His voice caressed her ears. She said nothing. “You came secretly to the ball last night, and you danced with me.”

Aschenputtel frowned. She had, as her father had said, slept through the night on the kitchen floor, left alone when the others had gone out in their finery.

“We kissed in the garden, you and I,” the handsome man continued. He reached up and took a twig of myrtle from her hair. “I fell in love with you at that moment. When you ran, you left behind your golden slipper.”

She had never in her life even seen such a slipper, nor ever a man as handsome as this.

“I knew I could use it to find you, for no other’s foot would fit so dainty a shoe. And I was right, was I not?”

She stared at him, wide-eyed.

“Will you marry me? Be my princess and live at the palace with me?” A small frown wrinkled his brow. “It is you, isn’t it? You did dance and kiss and sing with me at the ball last night?”

Her mother had always taught her to be honest and humble and true, but where had that taken her? To a life of filth and servitude, a misery of existence. For the first time in her life, Aschenputtel lied.

“Yes,” she said. “It’s me. I danced with you. I kissed you. Take me away from this shithole.”

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