Flash fiction: Pine cones

As an introduction to this story, an explanation is probably called for. Like most families, we have quite a few traditions. Some of them are complete fabrications, like husband’s pine cone fire tradition. All year he collects pine cones. There are lots of pine trees hereabouts so by December we have a huge basket of them. We shake out the pine nuts, and on Christmas morning, husband burns them in the fireplace while the children open their presents. He does this every year. So, pine cones…

For months now I’ve been sleeping badly with hours of wakefulness in the middle of the night. For the last ten days my head has been full of big brown cats, strange houses and David Bowie songs. Branwell and Bowie are obvious; the strange houses is because we’re house hunting and every so often I think we’ve found ‘the one’ and can’t stop thinking about it.

Last night was no exception, waking about thirty minutes after putting the light out, then lying awake until five in the morning. When I did drift off eventually it was into a most peculiar dream. The night before, I’d woken up screaming because I’d had the nightmare again of something horrible standing in the bedroom doorway behind me. Last night’s dream was just…strange. Here it is in the form of a short story.


I wake and stare at the low, bare beams of the roof, through a hole in the tiles at a scrap of pale grey sky. Who’s in the bed with me?


Where am I?

New house.


No answer. I throw off the pile of white sheets and heavy quilts. There’s a noise, a scuffling, scrabbling sound, an animal with claws, coming from…the roof.

Under the moonlight

I stand on the bed and climb out through…a skylight onto a flat roof with a concrete block bird nesting box about two feet by three feet by two feet high, and on the far side, over the guttering, a big hole for the birds birds? to get in.

If you say run

Hanging over the lip of the hole is a large, black, reptile skin glove. The scuffling is coming from inside the box. I reach out a hand

If you say run

and the glove whips back inside the box and is pressed against the hole.

They don’t want you to see.

Let’s sway

If you should fall

I fall backwards, into the…bathroom. Bathroom? Don’t make me laugh. There’s an enamel tub, the same low, dusty, cobwebby beams as in the bedroom and a howling gale through the broken, dirty window.

Put on your

The floor is covered in mouldering cardboard boxes and pieces of broken furniture. My breath makes clouds of vapour. I get in the bath.

While colour lights up your face

Oh my God, am I really doing this? I get in the bath and sit in the water going numb.

Put on your

There’s a soup tureen perched on one of the boxes. A white porcelain tureen covered in dust and bits of plaster. The lid doesn’t fit because there’s a plastic bag full of something stuffed inside.

Pine cones.

Of course, why wouldn’t there be? I watch as the lid wobbles.

I’ll run with you

It wobbles because the contents of the plastic bag are moving. I stare. A scaly, clawed foot sticks over the edge. A bright black eye stares back at me. Whiskers twitch. The lid tips onto the floor and a creature bounds out of the tureen, a cross between a pineapple and an armadillo. I scream.


Pine cone.

Pine cones, says husband coming into the bathroom and letting out the animated pineapple pangolin. He’s holding a box with a pair of black, reptile skin gloves hanging over the edge. He shows me the wriggling, scaly creatures inside, with yellow teeth and twitching whiskers.

Pine cones.

The pine cones roll onto the floor and sprout legs. We open the door to let them outside into the garden. For, thank goodness, there is a garden.

I see the pangolin scuttle into the hedge. Then I take husband’s arm and squeal with joy. Creeping back through the hedge there are more pine cone pangolins, a mother and two…kittens.

Tremble like a flower

The mother pine cone is…a large, beautiful Bengal cat/pangolin and the kittens are just plain ordinary honest to goodness brown cat Branwell kittens.

Can we keep them? I ask.

They live here, husband replies. Pine cones.

Let’s sway under the moonlight, this serious moonlight.

Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

17 thoughts on “Flash fiction: Pine cones”

  1. Wow–this is. . .amazing. With a soundtrack and everything! (I’ve had dreams like that, too, of course.) 😉 I thought it was a nightmare, but then, it wasn’t. I love the ending.

    1. I’m glad I wrote it down straight away. It was a wild dream. Branwell and David Bowie died on the same day and there was a double rainbow in the sky. I was still feeling upset, but why pine cones I’ve no idea. I’d love to have had one of Branwell’s kittens, but ‘he’ was also neutered so…

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