Flash Fiction – Late Again

I fly down the pavement, barging old women out of my path. Wait for me! I yell at the hulking bus idling at the roadside.

I make it just in time. I climb on, haggard and panting.

I take my wallet from my back pocket and open it, hands trembling. Frantically I search for the right money. Once again, luck was not on my side.

“Do you have change for a ten?” I ask with trepidation.

He begins to chuckle, then breaks into a full-blown guffaw. Small flecks of spittle hit me as he laughs in my face.

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Flash Fiction – New Decking

Welcome dear readers! Gather round and soak up the soothing and life-giving warmth of another blog post.

This is a piece of flash fiction I did for the fun weekly competition over at the Carrot Ranch (link here). The piece has to be 99 words – no more, no less – and the prompt was “property values. I hope you enjoy!

New Decking

We found a body in our back garden. Right where we wanted our new decking. What are the chances?

The estate agents obviously never said anything about it.

Of course the local media soon caught wind and documented the whole thing: forensic tents, police detectives, us.

Months later and they’re still camped outside our door every day.

We’re sick of the attention and want to move; start again somewhere else. But we can’t because the property is now worth pennies, and no one wants to live in a suspected “murder house.”

And we still haven’t got our new decking.

Flash Fiction

Good day to you all dearest readers. You join me again in the swampy mire we call reality for another post. This time, I bring you a piece of flash fiction. Flash fiction is always interesting to write; its tiny word count makes it a good challenge. This piece was written for a competition with the prompt “stock.” I hope you enjoy!

The Search

The supermarket stood desolate and abandoned. The windows were smashed and a thin layer of radioactive dust had crept into the foyer. Inside it was dark and the air smelled stale. No one had been here in years.

“Do you really think we’ll find any here?”

“Have faith.”

They crept into the gloomy depths of the store, guns at the ready. Anything could be hiding in here. Their breaths escaped in short, laboured bursts, and echoed faintly off the empty shelves.

Sunlight barely penetrated this far, but they couldn’t risk torches. Plus they needed to save the batteries. Supplies were running low.

They turned into aisle 12. This was the right one. She remembered from before the world ended.

They searched the shelves fastidiously. There! She grinned. Tucked away were three packs of glorious coffee, six jars in each.

“We better stock up. We don’t know when we’ll find more.”

Hello!

Hello again dear readers! I have surfaced from the dark and gloomy forest of “real life” to bring you another post! This one is a creative writing assignment I submitted earlier this year. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. I hope you enjoy, and see you in another year!

Aellonor

Aellonor sat at the window, hypnotized by the crashing waves. The cool breeze tickled her cheek and ruffled the loose strands of her matted hair. This was the closest she got to freedom. Melodic whispers sprung from her mouth and floated into the wind. To the untrained ear they sounded like birdsong. The setting sun bathed her tower-top cell in its dying light and she shut her eyes to its glare. Her whole body quivered as she muttered.

Suddenly Aellonor was back in her woodland home. The heady aroma of damp leaves replaced the salty tang of the coast. A broad smile spread across her face as she felt the grass beneath her feet. The forest sighed; “welcome home.” Her small hovel nestled amongst dense undergrowth still looked how she remembered. The wood had protected it for her, kept it safe while she was away. It knew she would be back soon and it had missed her.

One day a party of dangerous men had stumbled upon her while she was out picking mushrooms. They had enjoyed chasing her through the woods, hunting dogs snapping at her heels. She knew the forest well, but she was outnumbered and unprepared. After many hours of relentless torment they trapped her in a tight gully. She lashed out at them; fought tooth and nail, like a mother bear defending her young. The dogs cowered in fear and would not go near her.

“Pelt her with rocks!” one hunter shouted, “She ain’t strong enough to beat rocks.”

“Don’t damage her too much,” said another malevolently, “I’ve got a plan for her.”

Eventually Aellonor became too weak to resist their torment. They dragged her away, back to their homes as the ultimate trophy. She let out a long, primal wail that the forest seemed to echo back at her.

The click of the lock snapped Aellonor out of her trance. The haggard old crone shambled in through the door and watched Aellonor warily through her one good eye.

“Don’t try no funny bisnuss,” she said, “I don’t wanna hafta tie yew down for bein’ foolish.”

Aellonor said nothing; only glared. Hatred smouldered in her eyes, and the crone felt the rage burning into her as she set down a basin of water and some towels.

“Yur lordship is comin’ tomorrow, so yew need to do summin’ about the smell. Wash yersel’ down and change yer clothes. I’ll be to check on yew later. Yer a disgustin’ creature, I dunno how he can stand to put his cock in yew.”

Aellonor hissed and spat as the crone backed out of the room. She would do no such thing. She didn’t care if his lordship wasn’t happy. He could hardly treat her any worse. Her stomach growled as she returned to her birdsong. A crowd of seabirds answered her as they flew about the cliff-face at the bottom of her tower.

A lone bird, she recognized as a Chough, broke off from the flock and flew up to greet her. Aellonor held out her hand and the bird landed on it happily. It cawed and fixed its beady eye on her filthy face. They stared at each other for a moment, and the bird seemed to give the faintest nod of assent. It knew what needed to be done. Aellonor smiled, showing sharp, discoloured teeth, and clasped the bird gently in both hands. It didn’t struggle as she hopped down from the window ledge. She closed her eyes and said a small prayer. Then, quick as a flash, she snapped its neck.

Aellonor tore the bird’s chest open and sunk her teeth into the warm flesh. Blood squirted through her fingers and down her face. Its metallic tang filled her nostrils and awoke a hunger in her. His lordship was sparing with her meals, he thought it made her more docile. Little did he know nature was sustaining her. Body and mind.

With the greatest care, she peeled off the Chough’s skin in one piece and set it aside. Usually one bird would last several days, but there was no point in saving any this time. One way or another it would be her last night in this tower.

Now that her cell was illuminated only by candlelight it felt smaller than ever. The only furniture, a giant feather bed that dominated the room, cast massive shadows that flickered and danced on the bare stone walls. It was made up with thick cotton sheets and soft animal furs. Only the best for his lordship. The crone had been in to change them earlier in preparation for the visit. He would only stay one night, but the sheets would smell of him for days after. Tangy sweat and cheap wine, his personal fragrance. She refused to ever sleep in the bed. For her it was a prison within a prison.

The shackles had been her own fault. The first time his lordship had clambered on top of her, deep in his drink, she had fought back viciously; clawing at his face and wrenching his cock. She almost pulled it off. The next time he visited, he made the foolish mistake of leaving her ungagged. As he ran his blubbery lips up her neck, breathing wine fumes on her, she sunk her teeth into his ear and wrenched it as hard as she could. The bite didn’t go all the way through, but almost. The lord screamed; wailed with sheer animal rage. He beat her so hard and for so long that she cracked several ribs, and lost a tooth. He didn’t care too much what she looked like. All he wanted from her was a cunt and a heartbeat.

Every time since then, and there had been so many now she had lost count, the crone would supervise her restraint. It took four burly soldiers to capture her, even in that tiny room. Aellonor screamed at them; she kicked, clawed, bit, spat. Anything she could to fight them off. But they always got the better of her. Sometimes it took a smack to the head for good measure before they would pick her up. When she was tied to the bed she would writhe like a snake, throwing her body around like she was possessed.

“You’re a fucking feral bitch,” his lordship would say. “But that’s what’s so great about it, I feel like I’m fucking Mother Nature herself. Hopefully our kids will have your spirit.”

She would not give him the satisfaction of bearing his children. Twice now the worst had happened, and she had felt them growing inside her. But they didn’t last long. She knew how to destroy them, even with limited tools at her disposal.

Aellonor shuddered at the memory. It had crept up on her while she devoured the bird. She threw what remained of its carcass aside and turned her attention to the skin. It was the last one she needed. Aellonor scuttled over to the bed and reached under it, pulling out a great cloak. It was a patchwork of feathers; grey, black, white. Tones of purple and green shimmered in the candlelight. The way she had sewn it mimicked a bird; great wings spread out from a downy body. It had taken her many years to finish, but now she had the final piece.

Aellonor snapped the wings off the skin in her hand and lay the body flat on the cloak in the last blank spot. The wings she arranged carefully in their place at the very edge. She ran over to the darkest corner of the room and muttered to a spider that lived there. It gifted her with several yards of fine spider silk, which she threaded through a small bone needle. She sewed the final pieces into place deftly, aware that the crone would soon return to make sure she had washed.

Finally the cloak was complete. Aellonor draped it about her shoulders and felt the weight of the feathers shifting as she tied it about her neck. There she stood; dark and resplendent, draped in feathers. She clutched the corners in her hands and lifted her arms, admiring the way her wings flapped. The feathers sounded like wind in the leaves as they rustled against each other. The sound make her shudder with excitement. She could taste freedom already. She said a prayer of thanks to the birds that had helped, and to the spider whose silk held her creation together. Without them she would have had no hope.

The stone felt cool under her feet as she climbed onto the window ledge. Moonlight cast an ethereal glow over the now calm sea. Aellonor let it wash her clean. She looked down at the waves breaking on the rocks. Each crash reminded her of the risk she was taking. She said one last prayer to her Earth Goddess, the one who had kept her alive all these years. Live free or die.

Short Story Writing Competition

Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good summer.

A few months ago I entered a short story writing competition. The theme was hope, and the word limit was 1,000 words. I was awarded second place for my piece! I hope you enjoy.

 

Have Hope

 

He could leave him behind.

It would be easy. All he’d have to do was just get up and walk away. William would never catch him.

The paltry fire that they’d kindled had burnt out some time during the night.

He sighed, clenching his frostbitten fingers stiffly. ‘William,’ he rasped, ‘wake up.’

He half hoped that he wouldn’t. It would be easier then. But William stirred with a groan.

‘Come on, we have to get moving.’

‘I can’t, I’m too weak,’ he mumbled, his teeth chattering like the muffled echo of machinegun fire.

Alfred’s lips curled down into an ugly grimace. If William was just going to give up anyway, he wouldn’t have let him have the blanket. He looked down, measuring his own worth as a man – as a soldier… As a human being.

He rose in a moment of waning strength and laid his hands on the prostrate figure of his rear gunner, rolling him over to get at the edge of the thick woollen covering. William knew what he was doing, and said nothing. He simply looked up at him with defeat in eyes. Alfred met the apologetic stare and faltered.

He swallowed hard, his thirst riddled throat grating. ‘Come on,’ he muttered, ‘I’ll carry you if I have to. I’m not going to leave you here to die.’

William only nodded, meekly proffering his arms like an infant to its mother.

With the last of his waning strength, Alfred heaved him to a crooked stance and pushed William’s makeshift crutch against his ribs. He winced, but didn’t make a sound. He was trying dammit – with everything he had. He just didn’t have anything left.

No water, no food. Everything had been lost in the fall. What were they thinking? Sixty miles inside enemy territory. Of course there would be AA guns. Six crewman strewn across the country, lost to the white-washed tundra. The plane had gone down like a top, spinning towards the frozen earth backed by the dying scream of the engines. Alfred and William had leapt together, hand in hand, brothers until the end, but the wing had clipped William, and sent him spinning into the clouds. It was a miracle he wasn’t killed then and there, and even more of a miracle that Alfred had heard his cries before an enemy patrol. He’d found him strung from a conifer, all tangled in his own parachute cords like some mangled marionette. It’d taken Alfred an hour and a half to cut him down. By then night was upon them, bringing with it a wind that scythed through the trees and whispered of death.

Morning broke as a sick reminder of their circumstances, and there was nothing to give them any notion the others had survived. The only sign of the plane was the thin pillar of black smoke that rose into the sky over the dusted treetops. They took solace in the thought that the crash site might draw the enemy troops for a little while. Hopefully it would give them something of a head-start. They were resting their survival on might.

Progress was pitiful, and by Alfred’s reckoning, they still had the best part of fifty miles together. But they had to try, didn’t they? If they could get to the front maybe, just maybe, they could find a way to slip through and call for help. Hopefully their troops would recognise the accents, and they’d be rescued. It was all that they had to cling on to.

But then it was snatched from them. A crack, like twigs under foot, echoed through the silence of the forest. William cried out and buckled. He fell to a knee, his left leg crooked sideways at the shin. Alfred had known it was likely broken, but they had to push on. He dared not even roll up his trouser leg to look. He could see the jagged end of the bone pushing against the fabric. The crimson stain spread, black against the milky snow.

Alfred sagged backwards and sat down hard. ‘We’ll camp here,’ he said flatly.

William sobbed.

Alfred reached into his pocket and pulled out a tarnished silver case. He’d not dared light a cigarette before. His sergeant had always said that you could spot a burning cigarette from two miles off. Five in the dark. But it didn’t really matter now. Alfred was spent. All his remaining strength had been used to keep William on his feet, and now it was over. Alfred lit two and passed one to William. When he didn’t take it, Alfred stuck it between his weather-beaten lips instead.

‘Just leave me,’ he mewled, the ember dancing as he spoke.

Alfred narrowed one eye at William, took a deep drag on his cigarette, and let it out though his nose. ‘Bit late for that now.’

‘Go on, you can make it.’

‘And what, just abandon you here to die?’ He scoffed, ‘What would Christina say?’

He winced, reaching for his leg, ‘She would understand.’

Alfred laid his head back and stared into the slowly darkening sky. He didn’t want to focus on the puddle of blood that was widening around William’s leg.

‘I’ll go and get some firewood in a little bit. Let me finish my cigarette.’

‘There’s still hope, Alfred.’ William breathed softly, ‘Don’t forget that there is always hope.’

Alfred smiled sadly and looked at his brother, ‘Of course there is. There’s always hope.’

They stayed there for a while, speaking little, but saying much. And then, just before dusk, two gunshots rang out and muzzle flashes lit the undergrowth.

Two snipers, clad in grey with rifles slung over their backs, approached the snow-covered corpses and inspected them. One still had a half-smoked cigarette burning between his blackened fingers.

‘You got this one in the head,’ One said haughtily. ‘What about that one?’

‘He was already dead. Bled out from this,’ He remarked bluntly, kicking William’s broken leg.

The first one snorted. ‘Good. I’m glad he suffered. Nazi scum.’

‘You think there are any more?’

The sniper looked around and a sinister smirk crossed his lips. ‘I hope so.’

My second short story

Hello everyone!

Apologies for the long absence. One thing led to another and this blog unfortunately got put on the back-burner a little bit. Hopefully I’ll be able to pick up again now I have a whole summer of nothing ahead of me.

Anyway, here is the second piece I wrote as part of my course. I feel like I’m moving in the right direction with it, and that it’s quite a bit more emotive than my first piece.

I hope you enjoy it!

 

A loud crash woke him with a start. It didn’t sound good.

Arthur let out a wheeze as he put his creaking joints into motion. He prayed it wasn’t an emergency. He couldn’t move fast enough for one of those. Damn, he’d left his walking stick somewhere. He steadied himself on the door frame and braced for the next leg of the journey. It was only four feet, but right now it seemed like four miles.

He eased the door open, afraid of what he might find. He was greeted by the odour of sickness. It was a clinical smell, like the disinfectant used in hospital wards. He had always found it stifling, and oppressive. Mary was hanging out of bed in a tangle of sheets and wires, like some sort of woeful marionette. She was a sorry sight, and he felt sick with pity.

“Mary, what are you doing?” He asked, unable to hide the frustration in his voice.

“I want my nice hat and gloves. And I need some makeup. Arthur is coming home and I must look my best.”

Arthur let out an exasperated sigh. She was completely oblivious to the mess she was in. Her mind was in another time. A happier time, hopefully.

“Mary, I’m Arthur. I’ve been home a long time now.” He thought there was a flicker of recognition in her glazed eyes, but it was nothing more. “Come on, let’s get you back into bed.” It was a struggle to lift her. She was no help, merely hanging limp like a piece of wet lettuce. His arms strained with effort as he heaved her back onto the soiled mattress. He pulled the sheets up to hide the mess. He was panting. It had been too much effort. His knuckles turned white around the arms of the chair as he tried not to fall back into it.

“But you can’t be. My Arthur is young, and you’re so old. Who are you?” She eyed him warily, cautious of the stranger in her house.

He hobbled over to the dresser and found their wedding photograph amongst the discarded pill bottles. He wiped off a thin layer of dust and looked at the grainy picture. The sunlight through the trees had illuminated her dress perfectly. She looked like an angel descending from heaven. He took the photograph back over to the bed and showed it to his wife.

“Mary do you remember this? Do you remember the beautiful church, and the service? It was the most perfect day, remember?” It was a long shot, but it had worked in the past.

“No, no. You’re wrong,” she said, visibly distressed. “Arthur has been stationed away for months. He’s due home today. I must get ready for him. He would be ashamed if he saw me in my night-dress at this time of day.”

Arthur gave up. It was obviously no use this time. He had stashed a bottle of Diazepam in her bedside table for just such occasions. He loathed using them, but sometimes he had no choice. He tipped one out into his hand and snapped it in half. She only needed enough to calm her down.

“Here Mary, take this and then we can see about finding your nice gloves.”

Mary eyed the pill in his outstretched hand, cautious like a wild dog being offered a treat. “What is it?”

“Medicine. You haven’t been well, remember?”

At his prompt Mary snatched the pill out of his hand and stuck in her mouth, swallowing without water. The pill seemed to have a placebo effect, and calm washed over her almost instantly.

She looked Arthur in the eye, happier already. “I’m rather excited to see him you know; I have so much I want to say. I think you’ll like him. He’s a noble man.”

Arthur’s heart fluttered. Even through the illness she knew she loved him, as if it was innate. She relaxed back into the pillows and began to sing. It came in fits and bursts, and she was very out of tune. She used to be such a good singer.

“What are you singing Mary?”

“Delilah. I like that Tom Jones, he’s such a handsome man. I sing to the children when they won’t settle.”

Arthur smiled. At least some of her was still in there. He reached out and took her hand. She flinched at his touch. It was almost invisible, but he felt it. The smile quickly left his face again.

Her hands had been so beautiful. She had long, elegant fingers, and she had always kept her nails neat and painted. She had been so talented with her hands. She could cook and sew, as any woman worth her salt back then could. But she had also loved to paint. They used to go out into the countryside and she would paint landscapes for hours on end. He would sit and watch her, always in awe of her talent.

He remembered how she always used to rub cream into her hands every night before bed. Lily of the Valley. That had been her favourite. He could recall the smell; it had become part of her after so long. Her hands were frail now, gnarled by arthritis. Her skin was thin and translucent, like tracing paper. She was a spectre of her former self.

How much longer could they continue like this? How much longer could he care for her? He had his own ailments, but they were nothing compared to Mary. He didn’t sleep much anymore, and when he did it was his tatty old armchair. It didn’t feel right in bed without Mary next to him. She hadn’t slept upstairs for months. Not since the fall. There wasn’t room for two in her new bed, she had too many machines keeping her alive.

He had taken it all in his stride. It was his duty as her husband. What kind of man would he be if he couldn’t even care for his wife? The kids had suggested that she be taken into care so professionals could look after her. But what kind of life would that be? Keeping her body alive long after her mind had died.

Eventually it would become too much for him, and then they could waste away in a home together. No, that wouldn’t do. They couldn’t lower themselves, become dependent on other people for their basic needs. Pride prevented him from accepting help, even if he wasn’t capable any more.

Arthur sat until dusk, deep in thought. Mary had drifted off to sleep some time ago, her delicate hand still enveloped in his. He knew what he had to do.

Arthur’s joints were stiff after being sat still for so long. He slowly made his way to the small kitchen at the back of the house and fetched two mugs from the cupboard. They used to have a little tradition, a glass of warm milk in the evening. Not since Mary got ill though.

While he waited for the milk to warm, Arthur stared out the window at the dying sun casting its warm glow over the garden. Mary had taken such pride in their garden. She loved to grow flowers; carnations, chrysanthemums, tulips and lilies. Tulips were her favourite. By summer, the garden would be a sea of colour; pinks, reds, yellows, and blues. It was beautiful. It was her. Tears welled in Arthur’s eyes. He wiped them away. This is how it had to be.

Arthur took the bottle of Diazepam out of his pocket and poured the contents onto the counter. He separated out five pills, savouring the crunch of each one as he crushed them with a spoon. He tipped the powder into one of the mugs and filled it with warm milk. Then, hastily, almost as an afterthought, he crushed up the remaining seven pills and tipped the powder into the other mug. Till death do us part.

“Mary,” Arthur gently stroked her hand to ease her awake. “I’ve made you some warm milk. Sit up and drink it.”

Mary roused and sat up, meekly accepting the mug, like a baby accepting a bottle. She inhaled the warm, soothing aroma and took a sip. She looked at Arthur and surprise crossed her face.

“Oh Arthur, it feels like an age since I saw you. How I’ve missed you!” She sounded happy, relieved almost.

He felt the tears coming, and didn’t hold them back. “Mary, my love. I’ve missed you too.”

Arthur climbed into bed next to his wife. He needed to feel her warmth on his body, one last time. She took his hand. He looked into her eyes and saw something new. It looked like understanding, or acceptance.

“We’ve had a good life, haven’t we?”

“Yes my dear, yes we have.”

“I love you, Arthur.”

“I love you too.”

Mysterious Skin – Scott Heim. A review.

Mysterious Skin is certainly not a novel that is approached lightly.

 

Scott Heim’s coming-of-age story centres around two young boys who are connected through a life-changing event, and it explores the very different ways they are affected. Heim certainly doesn’t hold back in this novel, and chooses to explore some very dark themes in the protagonists’ journey to realise who they are.

 

The story begins with a young Brian Lackey being found bleeding in the crawl-space beneath his house, seeming to have lost five hours of his life. After years of strange dreams, he eventually he becomes convinced he is the victim of an alien abduction, and devotes his life to discovering the truth. The second protagonist, Neil McCormick, is fully aware of the events that led to this moment, and realises he is the only one who can help Brian deal with his missing time.

 

Neil is certainly the anti-hero of the novel. His life is centred around the events of his childhood, and the love he believes he has found in his baseball coach. Fast-forward ten years, and Neil, having come to terms with his sexuality, works as a teenage hustler with dreams of something more. He moves to New York with his soul-mate Wendy but eventually falls back into his old ways, landing himself in more trouble than ever. Some of the events that take place with the New York “johns” are genuinely some the most harrowing the book, and that’s saying something. Neil is a very complex character with an incredibly strong sense of agency, he knows exactly what he wants and is willing to manipulate anyone to get it. He also has a soft side however, taking his friend Eric and Brian under his wing to guide them through their own troubles. Neil is wise beyond his years, and loyal to a fault, and for me was the break-out character of the novel.

 

Brian however is a sweet kid. He deals with his experience by becoming introverted, and after his dad walks out on the family becomes rooted to his home town. His inability to move on from his supposed alien abduction forces him to become obsessed, eventually befriending another abductee; Avalyn Friesen. With her help Brian is able to uncover more details in his dreams, leading him to Neil. The closing scenes between the two characters are some of the most emotive I have ever read, and it is incredibly satisfying for Brian to finally find closure. Brian’s quiet obsession perfectly balances out Neil’s explosive voice, and their narratives are linked in complex and interesting ways. They are yin and yang, light and dark.

 

A special mention should be given to the supporting cast too; Wendy, Eric, the moms. It is with their help that Neil and Brian are brought together, and are able to move on from their traumatic childhood. Something from which they can all benefit.

 

I think this book can only really be summed up with my opening statement; do not approach it lightly. But I don’t say that as a warning, simply guidance. The novel deals with its themes in a mature and sensitive way, and is certainly thought-provoking literature. So if you haven’t read it, please do. And if you have read it, read it again.

Thanks for reading!