Category Archives: fiction
Dorothy eased her needle through the thick material and sighed deeply. Court gowns again. Why did the agents always want court gowns? Surely they could go as peasants occasionally? And what did they do in the past to so often destroy her beautiful creations? It was depressing to see something she had spent hours creating brought back in tatters. She looked up as the door hissed open.
“Agent Wilson.” This one wasn’t so bad, and at least seemed to appreciate the effort involved in Dorothy’s work.
“Call me Alexa, please. Dorothy, I need a fourteenth century kirtle, suitable for court. I’m sorry, but it’s a rush job. Something big’s happening along the timelines and there’s a Code Red. Anyway, I thought blue, studded with pearls and—”
“Where’s the hamerock?”
“That beaded Viking dress. You’ve not returned it yet. It took me ages to make.”
“Ah, yes, that. Sorry. That sort of got burnt.”
“Of course it did.” Dorothy sighed. “What happened this time?”
“Oh, you know. Erik Bloodaxe. Pillaging, raping … burning women’s clothes.”
Dorothy sighed again. Why were agents incapable of looking after their garments? They managed to look after their time-gauntlets, after all; why couldn’t they treat their costumes with the same care? She’d never heard of a time-gauntlet being destroyed, and they were flimsy things, not unlike fingerless gloves. Yet they always survived, while over half of Dorothy’s exquisitely-crafted outfits either were so damaged as to be unusable or never came back at all. She looked Agent Wilson in the eye. “Which half?” she said.
“Which half of the fourteenth century?”
“Oh. Does it matter?”
“Of course it matters. In the year thirteen-hundred, clothes were straightforward, simple and practical. Three decades later it all changed, with different sleeve-cuts, more figure-hugging shapes, and ridiculously pointed shoes. I thought time agents were supposed to know about history? I thought that was the point?”
“We don’t sweat the boring stuff. We—”
The door hissed open again, to reveal a furious man with a bristling beard. He was wearing the shredded remains of a red and yellow silk kimono. “Dorothy, Code Red! You fucked up!” he spat.
“Excuse me, Agent Rehnman,” said Agent Wilson. “I was here first.”
The man ignored her, glaring at Dorothy. “They attacked me! Wealthy, refined chonin in eighteen-seventeen attacked me!”
“Eighteen-seventeen? You told me eighteen-seventy,” Dorothy said.
“Same thing,” he said with a dismissive wave of his hand.
“The fuck it is! Before the eighteen-sixties, sumptuary laws restricted the kind of fabrics and colours chonin could wear. Especially bright reds! No wonder they set about you. Why don’t you time agents know these things?”
“Look, I wasn’t there to peacock about like a fashion—”
The door hissed again, and three agents strode into the ever-more crowded Wardrobe Department. Agents Gebreel, D’Hulster and Karezman, all engrossed with their time-gauntlets, spoke at once.
“Code Red! This could be the big one! I need an outfit for third-century Cornwall, now!”
“Timequake, Dorothy – Code Red! I desperately need a nineteenth-century crinoline.”
“Fit me out with a fifteenth-century codpiece, large, as quick as you can. Code Red, woman!”
Dorothy put down her sewing. She stood up, fists clenched. She glared at the time agents, and bellowed at them.
“Third-century Cornwall? Does it look like I have time to dye wool? And I made four crinolines last week. You can wait till one of them gets back. And you?” She threw a block of wood at Agent Kerezman. “Carve as big a fake cock as you want!”
She reached forward and tore Agent Gebreel’s time-gauntlet from him. She thrust her hand into it, made frantic time/location signature-shapes with her fingers, and disappeared with a soft phut.
“Bollocks,” said Agent Wilson.
“Did you watch her gestures?” said Agent D’Hulster. “When and where did she go?”
“I’m not sure, but … Pleistocene Africa, I think,” said Agent Gebreel.
“Blimey,” said Agent Kerezman. “She was hardly dressed for prehistory, was she? I wonder what they’ll make of her?”
The Neanderthal fingered Dorothy’s sleeve. “Ungh?” he said.
“Yes, dear, it’s called a cardigan. I could make one for you if you like?”
This is a story prompted by Miranda Kate’s Mid-Week Flash Challenge, although when I reached the end it had become an entirely different story to the one I envisaged at the start. Beautiful @lizcrippinmusic and @rachaelkanute (Twitter links there) also gave inspiration to the tale.
A love unrequited is not a small thing. It is a bitter monster that gnaws away your entire reality. The woman who constantly haunts my reality has found her own love elsewhere. I constantly picture her kissing a mouth not mine, opening her body to another man’s eyes and fingers, and it hurts. Now is not the time for such visions, but I have no control. They stab into my brain, and my eyes brim with despair.
I blink, lay my hand on the rough bark of the jabuticaba tree, then close my eyes. The tree answers my request, and shows me what it senses through its interconnected siblings. Life teems throughout the jungle, violet sparks and magenta glows spatter the darkness behind my eyelids.
“I sense countless insects,” I say. “Many snakes. A pair of sloth. Beetles rattle everywhere. Howlers … a jaguar … rats. There, a human! Perhaps a thousand paces to the west.”
“Do you think it’s him?” Elodie says, hope lighting her beautiful eyes. I wipe my own dry. I don’t think she has noticed my tears.
“I can’t tell,” I say, “but whoever it is, they are still. A native would be moving towards shelter for the night.” I thank the tree, and we push through the thick undergrowth, moving towards that arc of sky made fire by the lowering sun.
I hold back a thick vine to let her pass, and watch her hips sway around the obstacle. I picture the tattoo that meanders over her skin there. Another man now tastes that delightful trail of ink to her thighs, the soap and salt on her skin, his nostrils wide at the heady scent of her. He now makes her giggle in a bar with a terrible joke, and has his thigh squeezed in reward. I no longer drink the light from her hands, and I despise this other man. Yet here I am helping Elodie to find him. Perhaps that was why she left me. Perhaps I was too accommodating, too eager to please.
We pause again, and I put my hand to a tree root, asking its permission. The tree responds.
“Closer now,” I say. “Perhaps six hundred paces.”
Elodie lays her hand on my shoulder. “How do you do that?” she says.
“The jungle talks to me. It always has, I don’t know why.”
“I didn’t know you could do that. Why did I not know this?”
“You never did know me the way I knew you,” I tell her. “To you I was a passing shower. You are … were my monsoon; I was drenched in you. You filled my entire being.”
I stand and shake off her hand. The last thing I need is her pity. She sighs, then gives me a smile that briefly lights fireworks in my lonely heart, before that organ shrivels at the realisation that I can no longer brush aside that stray, dark tendril of hair from her forehead. My God, even the mundane things wound me.
We move on through the darkening forest, more slowly now as the light turns umber. I caress the tiny hairs on the surface of a huge leaf the colour of deep ocean. It trembles. Not far now, the jungle tells me.
“Not far now,” I tell Elodie.
“Are you OK?” she says. I do not answer, because I do not fucking know. The answer would be too complicated. Which part of me is she asking about? My conscious thoughts? My dreams? My physical health, feelings, sanity? There are so many seeds of sadness, all grown to different levels: tiny things that, taken individually might cause a slight ripple. Put them together, though, and the crests of their individual waves build to make a bigger tide, something enormous. When Elodie left me I was flattened by a tsunami of despair, a never-ending anguish that even now does not wane. It erodes the shores of me, ripping away the stable structures of my past, present and future. I am free-falling, like dust folding into the hollow cavern that she left inside me.
“Anyway,” she continues, “thank you so much for helping me. No one else would. They all said it was too late, too dangerous. Otherwise I wouldn’t have …” She bit her lip. “I know … I know I treated you unforgivably, and don’t deserve your help, so thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
“We’re here,” I tell her, and stand aside so she can see the man on the ground. He sprawls against moss-dressed rock, his legs hidden by the undergrowth, his hair matted with dark blood, his face streaked with filth. His eyes flicker and open.
“Elodie!” he croaks, and it is immediately obvious that he adores her. Elodie’s face lights up with a joy that I never saw when she was with me. She rushes to kneel by him, and takes him in her arms. More dust smothers my lost soul, thick and dark. Dust to dust.
They are trapped in each other’s eyes, crylaughing. I do not hate this man any longer. Elodie has ensorcelled him as she did me. Now I only hate myself for failing her, for not being enough.
“How?” he coughs. “How did you find me?”
“I wouldn’t have, but for—” She turns to look at me, but I’m already gone. Tree-spores drift across the space where a second ago I stood. The dust folds down again, catching a last dagger of sun as I move silently away, following the path shown to me by the jabuticaba.
My ragged breathing alerts him as I approach. I feel his growl low in my belly, long before my ears register it. Death, cloaked in fur, emerges, brushing the leaves with a luminous absence. This jaguar is black, sovereign of the dark, though I can just make out the rosettes of his coat. His eyes drill through the gloom. I take out my knife.
“You are hungry, brother,” I tell the cat. “Come. Eat.” I slice open the veins in my wrists and toss the knife aside.
Dennis. Yep, that’s my name. Dennis; beagle-hound extraordinaire and proud warrior of the road, at your service. That’s me, right up front with the wind tossing my ears, stalwartly leading the way as usual. Of course my hat and scarf are more a muddy grey-brown these days rather than their original vivid colours, but such are the signs of a true road warrior. My being lashed up here in all weathers is bound to have an effect. My job is vital, however. Without me cable-tied to the front of their dustcart the team’s morale would soon plummet, and they’d be constantly dropping rubbish all over the road. I’m the essential glue that holds them together, really. So essential that the bin lorry even has my name in huge silver letters across the front. Quite how the team coped before they found me I just can’t imagine. Of course, before they managed to free me and adopted me I wasn’t called Dennis. Back then I was called …
Please No Duvets. Yes, yes, I know. It was a ridiculous name. You see, I’ve always tried to conduct myself according to what Mr. Kaczmarek said all those years ago, and that sign stuck to the side of the recycling skip was the only thing nearby that had words on it. So ‘Please No Duvets’ I became. I wasn’t there long, luckily, for it was a place of endless tedium and discomfort. It stank, for one thing. Inside the skip flies and other unseen crawly things moved over my bottom, and outside my face gazed out over a tedious dirt car park. The worst part was when people said bad words at me for blocking the opening and they had to throw their unwanted detritus onto an ever-growing pile on the ground. Some folk tried to pull me out, but Gwynedd, as angry as a thunder sky, had jammed me in there as tightly as the stuffing in my paws. In her incandescent rage, she had lost any love that she once had for her cuddly …
Bythie. Apparently Gwynedd’s name for me was short for ‘bytheiad’, which she had told Huw meant ‘hound’. This had been the second time that a human had named me, and I rather liked it. Life with Gwynedd and Huw was joyful. They loved and laughed together constantly in their little house on the hill, or at least they had until that last day when Huw had loved and laughed with Mrs. Probert from the corner shop instead. When Gwynedd found them together in the narrow bed everything cracked apart. I was devastated. I had held such a special place in their now-shattered hearts, having been part of their first evening together when they met at the fair. Huw had won despite all of Mr. Llewellyn’s sneaky tricks, such as weighting the hoops differently, and when he asked a delighted Gwynedd which prize she wanted she said “Can I have the ci hyll, please?” She had kissed Huw and he had kissed her back. Their future together seemed so bright when I first saw them, back when my name was …
Hoopla. In those days I dangled by my ears from a string at the back of the gaudy, flashy stall. Fairground music played every night and coloured lights dazzled my glass eyes. I looked down on an endless stream of people happy to give Mr. Llewellyn a pound for the chance to fling his oddly-weighted hoops at stubby candy-striped wooden pegs. Very few people managed to get even one hoop over a peg, still fewer two. I was a three-hoop prize, there more for decoration than for winning. The occasional person who did somehow manage to ring three pegs never wanted the ugly dog in the bright hat, and would choose a fairy or amusing hat instead. It had been just the same before Mr. Llewellyn found me, too. No-one wanted me then either, and I was stuffed into a wicker basket, half-forgotten, until that fateful day when I heard Mr. Llewellyn say “Got any cheap stuffed toys?”
“In the basket, cariad,” the shop-woman said, and I felt large hands rummaging through and around me before lifting me out into the light.
“You’ll do, boyo,” Mr. Llewelyn nodded, paying twenty pence for me and fifty for a fairy that he also pulled from the bric-a-brac in the basket. That was the moment my name changed from …
Oxfam, I’m pleased to say. Oh, I loved my life in the odd little shop full of people’s cast-away treasures. There was plenty of time for people-watching from my high shelf above the books, and on the whole the customers were kind people. My name had to be ‘Oxfam’, of course, even though to my mind it was an ugly name with its spiky ‘X’. The word was written all around me, and had even been painted in enormous letters above the door when Emily’s mum had brought me here. I had been so nervous at what to expect as she had carried me through the door. Emily’s mum had told the shop-woman that Emily had gone away to learn how to be something called a lawyer, and so she was taking the chance to have a bit of a clear out. That day was a tremendous shock to my system, I can tell you, after years of being …
Cuggly. Years of being hugged, years of being loved, years of having the bobble on my hat sucked by Emily when she was very young and very tired. Oh my, we had such a wonderful life together. We had tea-parties on the carpet in the front room. When she went off to school I was always there to welcome her home. When she cried because Danny Potts had ignored her, I was there to comfort her. I sat on her desk during exams, bringing her the luck that helped her to get into university. So many long years of friendship and love since that long-ago day that she had pointed at me in the toy shop and said “Cuggly!”
“Are you sure?” her mum asked, “There are far prettier cuddlies.”
“Cuggly!” Emily had insisted, and so I became hers, leaving behind my life as …
Ten shillings. There were four or five of us sitting above the sign that said that. We were surrounded by bright notices and shiny cellophane-wrapped boxes of vivid colour that contained new toys. The laughter of happy smiling children rang around the shop, competing with the musical box tinklings of ‘Teddy Bear’s Picnic’ emerging from the display on the shelf below us. This gaudy, noisy world fascinated me. Its entertainment value had been apparent immediately I had arrived, and it helped me to get over the initial shock I had felt when I was taken out of the dark, stifling box after hours of being thrown around and jostled. The happy, lively toy shop lifted my spirits, easing my transition from my previous existence as …
Wyjście pożarowe. That was my name when I was born. Those words in white letters on a green sign were my first sight as my eyes were stitched into place. I was passed from hand to gnarled hand, having my head stuffed, my paws sewn on and my tail attached. Mr. Kaczmarek spread glue liberally around my head. Ever the poet, as he stuck the gaudy hat permanently to my scalp he said the words that have stuck with me through all of my eight lives.
“It is odd to think,” he mused, “how all of these identical fabrications of cloth and glass will eventually end up with different names depending each upon their circumstance. People, and I daresay even places themselves, will name them and give them character.” He looked straight into my glass eyes.
“I wonder what your name will be?”
NOTE: In the UK and across Europe, many/most dustcarts are made by Dennis Eagle, and have DENNIS writ large across the front. See here http://www.dennis-eagle.co.uk/
A short story for @Crowmogh, who introduced me to the legend of the Owlman, & for @MrsTrevithick, for being the inspiration for, well, Mrs. Trevithick. The illustration is a drawing by someone who claimed to have seen the Owlman in 1976.
The sound was a howl of ancient evil; the despairing moan of an old, dying race.
“Th’piskies are abroad,” said Mrs. Trevithick. She frowned at the empty cup before her, as the noise rose and fell, like the ghost of a long-dead smuggler.
“It’s only that warped window,” Kirsten said. “It whistles that way when the wind is coming straight in off the sea. Pour yourself a cup of tea. I’ll just get some sticky tape and close the gap.”
“Thank ‘ee,” said Mrs. Trevithick. She poured tea from the warm pot into the floral cup on the small table at her side. “You might want to try blue tack.”
“Good idea. The tape does leave horrible marks.”
“Of course, stopping th’hole won’t keep pobol vean out. They have ways.”
“It’s not the little people I worry about.”
“You should. Kernow is special. There are secrets here that no-one can fathom. And while humans go about their little lives, so sure that this world belongs to them, shadowed creatures of legend are hiding in plain sight.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Kirsten said, taking a ball of blue tack from the bureau. She moulded it between her fingers, softening it with her warmth. “Last week I went to Gwennap Pit. A troubled place, I felt. There was a whole pig’s leg left out on the stones. I’ve felt … haunted, ever since.”
“How do you mean, dear?” Mrs. Trevithick sipped from her cup and twisted her mouth.
“I don’t know – certainly I’ve had nothing but bad luck since then. It’s…” she looked at Mrs. Trevithick, who gave her a small nod of encouragement. “It’s as if an ancient malevolence was dogging me. So yes, I do believe, somewhere in the core of me, that there is true magic here – but the little people don’t concern me.”
Mrs. Trevithick allowed unswallowed tea to dribble back from her mouth into the cup. “No?” she said.
Kirsten pushed the putty into the warped window frame. Outside, the leafless oak swayed like a skeleton scratched onto the furious sky by some dark god. Behind the tree, the slate sea was veined by froth whipped up by the same wind that was making her window cry.
“No,” she said. “The thing that puts the willies up me is a much larger creature indeed.”
“Jan Tregeagle, th’howling demon?”
Kirsten shook her head as she stood up. Her efforts had made little difference to the banshee-howl from her window. Behind her Mrs. Trevithick emptied her cup into the pot-plant on the table.
“As far as I know,” Kirsten said, “Jan Tregeagle doesn’t kill folk so much as play tricks on them. No, the creature that terrifies me is said to live close by where we met today.”
“Indeed. It is a pretty village, but I’m gripped with fear whenever I pass the church. Do you know the story of the Owlman?”
“A monstrous owl-like creature, the size of a man, with clawed wings, dark and ragged. Its eyes glow red even in the golden light of a Cornish afternoon. Its legs and body are as a human’s, though swathed in feathers the colour of charcoal, and its beak is cruelly curved, as are the claws that adorn its feet. They do say as it carries people off in those mighty talons.”
“Off to where, though? And what becomes of them?” Kirsten drew in a shaky breath.
“Legend do say the Owlman carries its prey to the top of th’church tower, where it eats their faces, so it can mimic their appearance and walk amongst us.”
Kirsten shuddered and poured herself a cup of tea. “Above the church porch it says ‘Da thymi nesse the Dhu’,” she said.
“It is good to draw nigh to th’Lord,” Mrs. Trevithick said.
“Yes. Does that sound a bit like a threat to you? Sort of implying that death will find you soon, and you were a fool to go anywhere near the place?”
“Well, now, I thought ‘ee looked a little shaky, dear. No wonder, if you’ve been having those kinds of thoughts.”
“Is there any prospect so unnerving as becoming the very thing that terrifies you?” Kirsten said. “I was proper shook up today. Thank you for walking home with me. I appreciated the company.”
“Oh, the Owlman is quite the other way round, dear,” Mrs. Trevithick said. “In his case, he – th’thing that terrifies – becomes you.”
Mrs. Trevithick stood. Her body seemed to undulate and shake. Kirsten rubbed her eyes.
“You just, well, die,” Mrs. Trevithick continued. “I mean, if you’ve had your face eaten off, that’s going to happen, ent it?”
Mrs’ Trevithick lifted her arms, and they became wings, clawed, dark and ragged. Her eyes widened and glowed red. Her tweed skirt and silk blouse shifted and became instead charcoal-coloured feathers.
“Legend do not say what the Owlman does with th’corpses he collects, but I see no reason not to tell ‘ee now. I eats ’em, bones and all. I reckon you’ll last about a week.”
Mrs. Trevithick’s face was gone, the transformation complete, the beak in the now-feathered owl face was cruelly curved, as were the claws that protruded from the creature’s feet.
Kirsten finally broke out of her horrified stupor and scrambled towards the door. The Owlman descended upon her, tearing and ripping at her flesh, and gripped her in its sharp claws. It smashed through lamenting window, and rose into the grey sky towards Mawnan Smith. Kirsten’s last sight was of her life pouring from her and tumbling like red rain to the distant earth.
Disturbing yuletide tales for grown-ups. The perfect stocking filler for the reader in your life. Available on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1076599419
A horrific short tale for Miranda Kate’s Midweeker, riffing off the picture below. TW: self-harm.
“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.
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.
“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.”
“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.
A short tale for Miranda Kate’s Midweeker, riffing off the picture below, after I noticed the creature at the top hiding his eyes.
“Just look up at the lens.”
“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.”
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.)
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?”
“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.”