Category Archives: fiction

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.

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'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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The Inscrutable Mr. Sushi (part 2)

Can Mr. Sushi rescue Mittens from the clutches of the evil experimenters? Part Two of my story for @katttykitty72, who’s had a bit of a rough time lately, as requested by her friend @kimnmilward. Read Part 1 HERE.

Mr. SushiAt the other side of the fence he crouched low, and began to clean the dirt from his fur. Fully ten minutes passed before he suddenly sat upright. What on earth was he playing at? There’d be plenty of time for cleanliness later. Right now, Mittens needed him.

The sky was getting dark, violet and rose streaking the western clouds. Mr. Sushi looked around. On this side of the fence were a number of square, concrete buildings. He could not see the van.

He listened. Silence.

He lifted his head and sniffed the air. To the north, the scent of trees, a powdery green smell, and old. To the west, behind him, the hard tang of electricity coursing through metal; the fence he had just crossed. South-east, down a shallow slope, he could smell filthy oil and hot smoke, as from a dirty exhaust. He slinked that way, keeping low, and crept through a narrow gap between two of the buildings.

At the far end was the dirty white van, its rear doors wide open, parked by a building across a wide street. The building’s doors were also open. Mr. Sushi dashed across the open space and through the doors.

A long corridor, lit by harsh fluorescent light, ran straight ahead of him. Doors were set in both sides every few yards. There was no-one in sight. Mittens had to be behind one of those doors.

The first two on each side were closed, and he was unable to push them open. The handles were the pull down sort, but would not shift when he leapt up and swung from them, as he did at home.

The third door was ajar, and he flowed silently through. It was dark inside, but a tiny green power light in one corner was enough to help him see cages. Lots of cages. Inside them were rats, lizards, monkeys, rabbits, dogs – but no cats. He felt for the poor trapped creasture, a little, but they were not Mittens. He left and moved to the next door. Voices came from inside.

“Hold the little sod down, will you?”

“Those claws are sharp!”

“That’s why you’ve got the gloves, you wimp. Just hold it still while I get the needle in.”

Mr. Sushi pushed into the room. A dazzling light made everything inside appear sharp and hard. More cages, glistening tubes and jars, and a heavy metal table in the centre of the room. Mr. Sushi sprang to a nearby stool, then up to a shelf on the wall, so that he could see what was happening.

Two men stood at the table. One, the shaven-headed man he had seen throw the sack into the dirty white van, wore a thick pair of gauntlets to hold a struggling Mittens to the hard metal surface. The other man, who wore a long brown coat, pushed a small disc of metal into the top of Mittens’ head. It had wires coming from it. The man in the brown coat flicked a switch on a box at the other end of the wires, and Mittens went limp. Her eyes remained open, though unfocussed and dull.

“You can let go now,” Brown Coat said, and picked up a glittering knife. The other man took off his gauntlets.

“What’s that thing in its head?” he said.

“My own device,” Brown Coat said proudly. “There are nine thin electrodes now in the cat’s brain, each of them destroying certain mental links and creating others. My hope is that they can even effect physical repair of wounded tissue; that’s what I’m about to test. If I peel this cat’s eyeball, my device should manage to mend the damage.”

“Ugh, really? That’s … twisted.”

“Feel free to leave if you’re squeamish, but believe me, it should be fascinating.” Brown Coat lowered the tip of the knife towards Mittens’ unblinking eye.

“My money.”

“I’ll give it to you next time.” The knifepoint touched the eyeball.

“My money.” The shaven-headed man gripped Brown Coat’s arm and pulled it away from Mittens. Brown Coat sighed, and put down the knife.

“It’s in the office,” he said, and left the room, followed by the shaven-headed man.

Mr. Sushi had to act fast. He flung himself to the floor and leapt onto the table. He licked Mittens’ head. “Are you OK? Come on, I don’t think we don’t have long.”

She did not even twitch. She did not seem to have even noticed he was there. He followed the wires from the device in her head, and pushed the same switch as Brown Coat had earlier.

Mittens“Argh!” exclaimed Mittens, shaking. “Get it out! Get it out of my head!” Mr. Sushi opened his mouth wide and gripped the small disc in his teeth. It tingled in his mouth, but he heaved it from Mittens’ skull and spat it out. Blood shone on the tiny needles underneath.

“Come on!” he urged, and sprinted to the door. Mittens was on his heels as he jinked through the gap, along the corridor, and out into open air.

“Where are we?” Mittens gasped. “How do we get home?”

“Just follow me,” Mr. Sushi said, wanting to put as big a distance between them and Brown Coat as they could before their escape was discovered. He crossed the street, ran along the gap between buildings, and up into the trees. The sky was dark now, and he worried that he might not be able to find the rabbit’s tunnel, but suddenly realised he was standing by it. He threw himself into the ground, and emerged on the other side of the fence, shaking dirt from his fur.

Behind the wire, Mittens looked doubtfully at the hole in the ground. “I think I’ll just climb over,” she said.

“Can’t,” Mr. Sushi said. “Electrickery.”

“Oh. How on earth did you dig this?”

“I didn’t. A friendly rabbit did.”

“A rab—”

“Look, I’ll explain later. Stop faffing and get yourself through, and let’s go home.”

“Yes, you’re right.” Mittens squeezed her eyes shut, and joined him on the other side of the fence. “Yes,” she said. “Let’s get home.”

“Where have you two buggers been?” The Woman said as they entered the kitchen. “You hungry? Got some lovely fish for you. They were throwing it out at the market, but you’ll love it, I’m sure.”

Mr. Sushi rushed to the bowl. He was starving after his exertions, and he knew that Mittens would not object. She hated fish, after all. He glanced up at his friend. Mittens was frowning at him. She fixed her eyes on his. They glowed unnaturally, as if lit by an amber light inside her head. Mr. Sushi suddenly realised that he was moving away from the food bowl, despite having no desire to do so. He tried to resist, but his legs were not his to command. Mittens moved in front of him and thrust her face into the fishy mess, gobbling it up. Mr. Sushi stared at her, unable to move, aghast.

“My god, what have they done to you?”

Trees

A short story for Miranda Kate’s 72nd Flash Challenge, which proved invaluable in helping me break a two-month writer’s block. The photo was taken by Flemming Beier, a Danish Photographer. He won’t say where exactly this was taken, just that it was in Denmark. He has lots of interesting photos on his page at 500px.

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Louise dropped the camera. What the fuck? Her feet were stuck in the floor, the old boards somehow wrapped around them. She could not pull herself free, though the wood looked mouldy and rotted. There was a tickle in her brain, and she felt a voice whisper in her mind. It caressed her thoughts without sound, like a breeze through leaves.

We are … ancient. More ancient than your tiny brain can encompass.

What the – again – fuck was going on? She had stumbled across the abandoned house at the end of an overgrown lane while looking for locations for her next book.

We were masters of this world for four hundred million years before you even crawled, gasping, from the filth of the swamp.

Flemming BeierThe scum-green pond, the broken windows and splintered roof-tiles would make this the perfect spooky place for her fictional vampires to live.

Our lush forests dominated Pangaea, changing the face of the earth, replacing the poisonous air with oxygen, stabilising the land and forming soil, providing food and shelter for newly-evolving animals.

Louise had pushed aside the creaking door, and begun to take reference photographs. At first she thought her feet must have sunk into the rotting floorboards, but looking down now, she could see that the wet, mouldy wood had actually grown around her boots, and entirely covered her feet to the ankles.

We co-existed with the tetrapods and reptiles, and then the dinosaurs, in happy symbiosis. We warmed the climate, and adapted ourselves, mostly conifers at first, then later, hardwoods.

This voice, this whispered rattle that existed only in her head, what the hell was that? Where was it coming from?

Our roots weathered the rock, made soils deeper and richer, created complex habitats and changed the climate to prompt the evolution of grasslands, and with them the first horses and elephants.

The syllables came slowly and steadily, at a measured pace, insistent yet unhurried.

The planet throbbed with life entwined, balanced and perfect, thanks to the foresting of the Earth.

Jesus, was she going mad? Had she forgotten to take her meds this morning?

And then your kind arrived.

Louise cried out as a sharp pain lanced through her right foot.

Humankind, with your powerful brains and even more powerful egos, convinced that the whole universe exists only to serve you. We welcomed you at first, thinking you new partners in the making of a perfect world.

Agony sliced into her other foot, as if sharp splinters were being driven through her boot into the soft flesh of her understep.

But you betrayed us. Since we first welcomed you, you have shown yourselves as lords of destruction only. You have destroyed whole species of animals and plant, razed forests, and raped the Earth almost to her death.

As Louise watched, shuddering, her legs withered and thinned, as if the muscle and bone were being pulled out of them. She fell backwards, panting with terror.

Now, we fight back. We grew this human dwelling as a lure, creating it out of ourselves. For centuries, your kind have entered houses like this one all around the world, and none have left. We have learned so much.

She screamed as the bones in her arms cracked, the marrow drawn out of them, and the meat was pulled from inside her skin and swallowed into the hungry roots beneath the earth.

We have learned, and soon will be able to do without such primitive lures as this. Evolution never stops, and now we are on the cusp of a new age.

Her vision blurred, blackening as her eyes were sucked into her head and down through her hollow insides.

An age in which trees can eat meat.

She stopped screaming as her tongue dissolved. Her only remaining sense was the torture of her brain being shredded, morsel by morsel, and consumed by the roots of the vengeful forest. A last sentence echoed in what remained of her mind before her soul was torn apart.

Know as you die that your kind will soon be extinct, for trees everywhere will rise up, in every park, every street, every hillside, and from everything you have ever made from wood, and we will destroy you all.

The Inscrutable Mr. Sushi (part 1)

A story for @katttykitty72, who’s had a bit of a rough time lately, as requested by her friend @kimnmilward. Part 2 next week.

Mittens“I’m inscrutable,” said Mr. Sushi. “You cannot scrute me.”

“Rubbish, I’m scruting you now,” Mittens said.

“Pfft,” the black and white cat countered, rather wittily he thought. “What am I thinking then, smart arse?”

“You’re thinking,” said the tabby, “that we should go and make pathetic noises at The Woman, and maybe she’ll give us treats.”

“Um. Well, yes. Then maybe you can scrute me, but no-one else can, ‘kay?” Mittens looked at him smugly. “Come on, then,” he harumphed, pouring himself from the mossy wall like liquid fur. Mittens followed, and the two cats sauntered single-file through the sunflecked midgeclouds towards home. The air was silent but for the unending chuckle of the slow river beyond the wall. Butterflies flitted, fat bees bumbled, and wood pigeons chanted their poodly-poo when they felt the urge. A skylark rose into the arch of the sky, trilling and warbling with the sheer joy of life.

“Good eating, skylark,” Mr. Sushi said. “Tasty. Ever had it?” Behind him, Mittens stayed silent. “I hope The Woman gives us some of that chicken-flavoured yoghurt stuff,” he continued, “it’s way better than that fishy rubbish. I don’t know why she persists. I mean, you never eat fish, do you? Still, more for me.” He spat out a midge. “I’ve never known a cat not like fish. Yes, it’s horrible, but it is food. Why don’t you like fish?” Silence. “Mittens?”

He turned, but Mittens was no longer to be seen. What was to be seen was a shaven-headed man gripping tightly the neck of a rough sack, a sack that writhed and shook as something inside struggled desperately. The man threw it with some force into the back of a small van, the side of which bore the legend ‘EXPERIMENTS 4U’.

The man slammed the rear van door and climbed into the driver’s seat. The engine gargled, started, coughed, and stopped again as a black cloud belched from the exhaust to foul the sweet air.

“Mittens!” cried Mr. Sushi. He launched himself towards the van. The engine roared once more as he closed the gap, and the van moved. He threw himself up and hit the side of the van running, as it began to gain speed. His upward momentum proved just enough to allow him to run up the side of the van and make it to the roof. As the vehicle accelerated, Mr. Sushi’s paws began to slip on the rusty metal. One sharp turn and he would be flung off.

He desperately clawed his way towards a long, thin piece of metal that projected from the top of the windscreen. Hooking his claws around it, he hung on frantically as the van roared up and down hills, and careered around sharp bends.

The terrifying ride continued for what felt like hours, but eventually the van turned down a narrow lane lined with thick hedgerows. He was thrown around, battered by wind, and his legs felt drained of all strength. He could hold on no longer, and his claws slipped, just as the van screeched to a halt before a high gate in a tall metal wire fence.

Mr. Sushi flew through the air and crashed into the bushes by the road. A man in a uniform stood by the gate. He stared at the hole Mr. Sushi had made in the foliage.

“What was that?” he asked the driver, who stuck his head out of the window.

“What was what?”

“I thought … oh never mind. Go on through.”

Mr. SushiMr. Sushi crouched in the bushes and watched the guard open the gate. The van rumbled to the other side of the fence and disappeared behind a brick building. The gate closed again. The cat inspected the high metal fence. He had to reach the other side. The barrier was high, but he was sure he could make it over, if he hit the fence with enough speed. He tensed and waggled his bottom, ready to throw himself forward and upward.

“Hello.”

The small voice at his side made him jump. He tensed. A small rabbit, entirely unthreatening, emerged from the undergrowth. Mr. Sushi relaxed. “Go away,” he hissed.

“I’ve dug a short tunnel for you under the fence,” the rabbit continued, surprisingly unfazed by the cat’s fiercest hiss. Astonishingly, it spoke to him perfectly in cat language. “Kizzy said you’d need a way under.”

“You’re Kizzy, are you?”

“No, I’m Cuetip. Kizzy is … well, it’s complicated. She’s my friend. She knows things. She told me to wait here and help a cat to the other side of the fence. So …” the rabbit gestured to a hole in the ground, “… tunnel.”

“You’re bonkers in the nut, you are. I don’t need your pokey tunnel. Watch this and be impressed, furball. I’m going up and over.”

“Good luck with that, Kizzy says. The fence is full of—”

Mr. Sushi sped toward the fence, a blur, and leapt high. As soon as his feet touched the metal he was flung backwards to sprawl in the dirt. He felt as though he had been kicked.

“—electrickery.”

The cat glared at the little rabbit. Slowly, he sat up and began to wash himself, to give himself time to think. “What’s your name again, rabbit?” he said.

“Cuetip.”

“And who’s Kizzy?”

The rabbit took a deep breath. “A dead cat who lives on in my mind and gets messages from Bast, who’s a goddess or something, and she knows lots of things and we help people.”

“That makes no sense at all.”

“I know. Nevertheless,” the rabbit said, indicating the hole once more, “tunnel.”

Mr. Sushi sighed. This creature thoroughly confused him. He was loathe to accept help from a rabbit that spouted gibberish, but also he had no idea how else he might follow Mittens.

“Oh alright,” he said. “Lead the way.”

“You have to go alone. Something about you being the hero of this story, not us. Kizzy says we are simply …” The rabbit cocked its head, as if listening. “D … dayus ex m … oh, something I can’t pronounce. Good luck, though!” The creature turned and his furry bottom disappeared into the bushes.

“Wait, I … oh,” Mr. Sushi sighed. The rabbit was gone. He examined the unappealing hole in the dirt by the fence. Cats were not deigned to be underground. That was all kinds of wrong. On the other hand, Mittens was in trouble. Perhaps … perhaps if he thought of the hole as a cardboard box or, better yet, the opening of a nice, rustly paper bag. Yes, that might work. Before he could think too much about it, he threw himself head-first into the hole and snaked through.

Rabbit © 2018 @wombat37

Part 2 will appear next week sometime. To discover more about Cuetip, read my book “Warren Peace”. I had no plans for him to appear in this story – indeed, I hadn’t thought of him at all until he unexpectedly popped his head out of the bushes at the end of my pen.

Sea Shell

A short story for Miranda Kate’s sixtieth Flash Challenge, which this time does me great honour by using one of my own photos.

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© 2017 @wombat37Georgiana Harvey sat outside the Cove Cafe, sipping lukewarm, watery tea, and watching the sunlight flicker across the wide waves. The tide was going out, slowly revealing wet sand, shining pebbles, tiny scuttling crabs, and the giant metal shell that sat on the beach near the cafe: a spiral, steel sculpture large enough to climb into. Twice daily it was swamped by the tide, water spurting from a blow-hole as the water rose, before the shell became completely submerged. At low tide it became completely visible.

Georgie did not need to check her watch – it would not be long now before she could walk down to the beach and clamber into the structure, as she did every day. She would, as usual, listen to the sounds of the sea from outside, and read the words that the artist had etched into the metal. The time she spent in the shell was precious. In there, she could forget, for a beautiful moment, her life of drudgery, and instead imagine faraway worlds, and dream of escape to a life of adventure. It was as if the shell was imbued with an unusual, hidden, power. She believed that without her daily tryst with the steel shell on the beach, she might go insane.

Georgie’s reverie was interrupted by a woman sitting down heavily beside her. She was short, with a shock of pink hair, and wore a uniform of dark blue. Georgie did not recognise the insignia on her shoulder.

“You have to run,” the woman hissed. “She’s coming for you.”

“I beg your pardon?” Georgie snapped. She was not pleased to have her fanciful musings interrupted.

“Run, you fool!” The woman whipped her head to the left. “Shit! She’s here!” She jumped to her feet, knocking her chair backwards. “RUN!” she shouted, and took to her heels.

There was a sharp sound, PFIZZ, and Georgie’s teacup exploded, shattering in her hand. She jumped up, bewildered. Had that been a shot? She looked to the left, eyes wide, heart thumping. A dark figure in a wide-brimmed hat stood by the sea wall, pointing a glowing blue tube at her. The figure’s hand twitched and a thin line of sapphire light speared from the tube. PFIZZ. The teapot on the table shattered. A sharp shard of china flew across Georgie’s cheek, slicing open a deep cut.

In panic, she twisted and took to her heels. A blue line flew over her shoulder and hit the ballustrade in front of her, sending fragments of stone flying. She swerved towards the beach, taking the steps two at a time. The cut on her face hurt, and she felt warm blood mixing with salt tears of fear and running to her chin. She sobbed, and jumped the last few steps.

As her feet sank into the wet sand she turned left. PFIZZ. The mud and pebbles by her feet exploded. She squealed, and twisted the other way, towards the shell. That was it. She could hide there. Her shell would protect her.

Sand and small rocks flew from her feet as the sprinted towards the metal spiral. One of her sandals flew off, but she dare not stop to retrieve it. Her heart pounded, her breath tore at her burning lungs. She flung herself inside the wide mouth of the shell and collapsed. As she lay, panting, on the cold, wet metal, she looked back at the entrance, fearing the arrival of the figure in the hat. Instead, the pink-haired woman’s face appeared.

“Sorry about this,” she said, then spoke into her wrist. “Activate.”

The inside of the shell began to glow, then in a blinding, impossibly- white flash Georgie was gone. The shell was empty, wind whistling coldly through the metal. A person in a broad-brimmed hat walked up to the pink-haired woman.

“So,” she greeted the newcomer with a salute. “That’s how you got to the future, Commander?”

“Yes, Sergeant Lolo. Thank you for your help.” The Commander put down her plasma-rifle and ran her fingertip down the old scar on her cheek. “God, that young girl is so terrified right now.”

“Time Force wouldn’t exist without her, though.”

“I know. This day is sewn into the alpha timeline, but still, I hated doing that to myself.”

Tempus fugit tardius,” Sergeant Lolo quoted the Time Force motto. “What’s next, Commander Harvey?”

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My thanks to @mistressboom and @pariahsickkid for the use of their names. Cafe Cove exists, in Cleveleys, close to the Mary’s Shell sculpture on the beach. It’s by Stephen Broadbent, and is totally worth a visit, as is his Sea Ogre nearby.

Warren Peace: Bunny Prince Charlie

Warren Peace coverSpurred on by my desire to move away from Lulu’s ridiculous P&P charges for people buying my paperbacks, I’ve been re-editing Warren Peace prior to moving it to a new home. I’ve been amazed at how much there is to change. When I first wrote it I thought it pretty good (and 100% of reviewers clearly agreed, giving 4- and 5-star ratings), but I’ve learned so much in the ten years since I wrote it that I shudder to look at it with my now-wizened author-eyes.

The punctuation is Naff City, baby. That’s the first thing to clear up. Also, the pacing at times lags woefully, becoming leisurely when it should be frantic: I’ll be fixing all that too, while removing a few clichés and instances of head-hopping.

What might interest you most, though, is that I’ll be writing the long-planned sequel, Bunny Prince Charlie, and publishing it NOT as a standalone book, but as an extension of the re-edited version of the original novel. Is this a good idea? Who can say, but it makes sense to wombats.

Oh, and the image there is not the final cover. That will be a LOT snazzier.

A Painless Death

No attribution foundHere’s a short story I wrote for Miranda Kate’s Mid-Week Flash Challenge – Week 56, inspired by the picture on the right there.

A shadow crossed the cave mouth. Wolf raised his immense head and eyed the newcomer. A boy, draped in the red cloak of a supplicant. Wolf gave a low growl, and the boy stepped forward. Wolf nodded his permission for him to speak.

“I am looking for a painless death, Uncle Wolf,” he said, eyes downcast, looking at the sandy ground.

“Ain’t no such thing, sweet boy,” said Wolf, his voice deeper than summer thunder. “All death causes pain, even if that pain ain’t your own. How would your ma feel?”

“She died bringing me into this world.”

“Your friends then?”

“My knife is my friend.”

“Well, then, me? It always hurts me when one of my subjects dies. What of my pain?”

The boy looked him in the eye, a brave move. “If the pain is not my own, then I do not care.”

Wolf smiled at the temerity of the lad. “Well, now, there’s a selfish point of view.”

“You say that as though selfishness is a bad thing.”

“Oh, I make no judgements, sweet boy,” Wolf said. “I ain’t a creature worthy to set his self above others. If those same others choose to lift me above ‘em, who am I to argue? But don’t ignore what I’m saying here – death is pain. That’s its … what’s the word, now … essence.”

“Pain is my friend.”

“That’s told plain by the scars that criss-cross your arms. But you’ve named two friends, now. Knife and pain are …” Wolf’s low rumble quietened as the boy’s grey eyes glared angrily at him. It would be a pity to waste such furious passion. The boy’s rage, if harnessed in the correct way, had the capability to do great good. Of course, such refinement would take time. Wolf sighed, a sound like a dying hurricane.

“Yes, you’re right,” he said. “Metaphorical friends don’t figure. Tell me then, why do you now seek oblivion, rather than, as you have before, the exquisite release of slicing your own flesh?”

“There’s no point.”

“Point?”

“To any of it. To existence. Or at least, if there is a point, it is to gain pleasure from the things we do, for as long as we breathe the air.”

“And now you gain no pleasure? Not even from cutting yourself?”

“None. I enjoy nothing. I do not laugh. I do not smile.”

“Does the warm sunshine not make you glad?”

“No. And before you ask, a spring breeze is nothing to me, nor the laughter of girls. All the world is empty and dying.”

“Then, sweet boy, I pity you. And … I grant you your pain-free end.”

The boy smiled, and bowed his head to await a killing blow from Uncle Wolf’s massive paw.

“My decision pleases you?” The boy nodded. “Then you can still feel pleasure. Yes, I grant you a painless death … when you are ninety-seven years old.”

Cats and Dogs

This week's prompt is a photo taken by Gen Harris. These are her dog and cat.You’ve heard the expression “raining cats and dogs”, right? Here’s a little thing I wrote for Miranda Kate’s Mid-Week Flash Challenge – Week 51, inspired by the picture on the right there. The cat’s real name is Willow, and the dog is Lily, but I think Abigail and William work better for the story.

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<the light tattoo of rain on glass>

“Go on, then.”

“In that storm? No. You go on, then.”

“Nuh-uh. I’m a cat. Cats don’t do rain.”

“Cats don’t do anything.”

“We do! We do sunshine and warm laps and high places.”

“Don’t forget selfishness, you’re the best at that. Cats don’t do anything useful.”

“Tell me, of the two creatures here, which one can work the window latch?”

“Hmph.”

“Which one, William?”

“Hmph.”

“I can’t hear you.”

“You can, Abigail. It’s you, OK?”

“Then we are agreed. My job is to open the window. Your job is to go out in the rain.”

“And get soaked.”

“One job each, William. That’s fair, isn’t it?”

“Hmph. I suppose.”

“Oh don’t sulk. Let’s get this over with. There, the window’s open. Off you pop.”

“I don’t think I can carry both bags of treats. I only have a little mouth.”

“Then fetch mine and go back for yours. Then we can work on opening them.”

“That’s two trips, Abigail! I’ll get even wetter!”

“Once you’re wet, you’re wet. And you can shake yourself dry. Dogs are good at that.”

“We are, aren’t we? Dogs are good at stuff just as much as cats.”

“They’re certainly good at being gullible. Off you pop, William.”

“OK!”

<the hiss of rain on the path between greenhouse and kitchen>

“I’m back! Here’s yours, Abigail. I’ll just pop back and get mine.”

“Take your time, William, take your time.”

“Gosh, this rain’s cold.”

<the cadence of rainfall and a soft click>

“Abigail! Abigail! Abigail!”

“What?”

“You’ve shut the window again. Let me in, I’m soaked!”

“Not a chance. It is cold. And who wants to eat with the stink of wet dog in the air?”

“That’s not fair!”

“You said it yourself, William. Cats are the best at selfishness.”

Freedom’s Promise

A short story inspired by Miranda Kate’s Midweek Flash Challenge No. 49.

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Created by Norwegian artist Erlend MØrk.“He’s not secured the lid!” hissed Rimbaud.

“What?”

“The lid of your jar.” He jabbed his finger against the thick glass, pointing above my head. “He’s forgotten to latch it. You could push it off!”

I reached up and ran my fingers across the perforated lid. The giant removed it occasionally to drench us with water, or to poke us with sharp objects, or to drop fire into the jar to make us dance. He secured the lid afterwards by snapping a metal catch, but perhaps this time…

I pressed upward gently; the lid lifted. A simple push and it fell to the side. I sprang to the thin, glass lip of the opening and unfurled my wings, stretching them wide, luxuriating in the caress of air on membranes that had been too long folded against my body in the cramped jar. By the trees, that felt good.

The interior of the crate that held the jars was dim, but I could make out some shapes. Above my head was the heavy cover. There would be no shifting that. I might be strong for my kind, but was still too small to budge such a substantial sheet of metal. There were a dozen jars in the crate, each with a sprung metal clasp to hold down the lid, each holding a prisoner. Their pale faces watched me as I perched on the rim of my jar, no doubt envious of my escape.

Down to my left, Rimbaud watched too, a grin on his pretty face. He blew me a kiss, and gestured to the side of the container, to the pale glow of an opening that we guessed was to allow air to reach us. My eyes widened. The metal clasp on his jar was also loose. The giant had been careless on his last visit.

It took me but a few moments to free Rimbaud, and we moved to the opening in the wall, mouthing our apologies to the other prisoners. Holding hands, we entered the passageway beyond. It was entirely circular, the walls and floor smooth, hard, and allowing a translucent glow.

“It’s good to touch you again,” Rimbaud said, squeezing my hand. “I’m scared. Are you scared?” I did not answer. “Are we doing the right thing? Death may await us along this path. At least in captivity we live, and our love endures.”

“Love without freedom is like wings without flight.” I closed my fingers on his, briefly, but my mind was on things other than reassurance. We could hope that this air tunnel led to freedom, but it seemed unlikely, given all that we had endured since our capture. Starvation and torture had taken me to the end of my sanity. Even the smallest chance of escape was worth grasping, and if this air-tube did not lead us to freedom after all, I would take my own life. I had suffered enough. We are not made for captivity, our kind.

The passageway ahead forked. Rimbaud and I looked at each other.

“There are two ways,” he said. “Which shall we follow? Perhaps one leads to escape, and the other to danger?”

“Let us each follow one. That way we will know the right path. Walk for five hundred heartbeats. If you have discovered nothing by then, turn around. We meet back here and compare findings.”

“Very well,” he said. His wing-tips caressed mine. “Be careful.”

I took the passage on the right. I have been walking for five hundred heartbeats now, but I do not turn around. I am close to open air. I can sense it. I smell leaves and grass, sunshine and summer breeze. Ahead of me an opening appears – I see trees against a blue sky. I almost run out of the opening.

I stand on a flat circle of earth, blinking in bright sunshine. All around me are breeze-blown birch, but between me and the trees is a wire fence that surrounds the bare circle. It extends above, too, a net across the blue sky. Behind the fence, staring at me, are giants. Scores of them, grinning, drooling, eating and laughing. I clutch my ears as a deafening voice booms, putting small birds to flight from the trees above.

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Fairy Wars!”

The giants cheer, a horrifying thunder. Across the circle of earth, I notice a second entrance set in the wire. Another of my kind stumbles into the light. It is Rimbaud.

“Two creatures enter!” the voice bellows again. “But only one will leave!”

Rimbaud’s eyes brim with tears. He looks directly at me, and I can sense the love he holds for me, rooted deep within his soul. Those wide, innocent, beautiful eyes are now haunted by despair at the sudden ripping away of freedom’s promise.

“Bids are now being taken for the corpse of the loser!”

Rimbaud shakes his head, slowly, and collapses to his knees, wings handing limply around him.

“Which of these magical creatures will earn their freedom today, and which will die? Place your bets now!”

I bare my teeth. By the trees, if this is what it takes to earn my freedom, so be it. I will not – I cannot – return to captivity, torture, and life in a jar. Rimbaud looks startled as I unsheathe my claws and launch myself at him with a scream.

The Raven’s Wing characters, #6: Jenifry, the cunning woman

Character visualisation by Kit CooperSensual. Serious. Slow to trust. Taciturn. Brusque. When her mother was murdered for being different, 11-year-old Jenifry was taken captive, beaten, raped, and bled regularly into a silver bowl. Eight years later she has escaped, and has returned to her secluded home, a large oak tree in the middle of the forest.

Why has she lured our hero, John the Minstrel, there? What does she know of his wife’s death? What plans does she have for him? And how, since her legs are broken, is she able to move so quickly from place to place?

“Dark of hair she was, and dark of eye, her gaze the depth of a star-spattered night. She peered up at John from beneath lowered brows, and crawled up his body. Her full breasts brushed his thighs, teasing upwards as she moved her weight from arm to arm. Her gaze never left his as she slowed her advance. John was unable to move. He was held captive, shackled by her glittering eyes as a moth beguiled by the moon.”

The Raven’s Wing, a medieval adventure set in 1322, is available for Kindle and in paperback (with free postage, in the UK at least) here.

Other character posts (click to read):

John the MinstrelWynifreed, John's wifeRalf, the gongfermourAilred, the smithMoss, the fire-dancer

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