Theirs but to do and die

I haven’t done one of these in an age. For the dverse prosery night.

The general finally wound up his speech.
‘So, if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.”
His horse shook its head and the general raised his, to stare into the middle distance, a heroic poise. He pulled on the reins, and to whoops and cheers, turned his horse around to ride off majestically to the rear.
“They need not fear the firing squad for insurrection, he means.” Alfred spat on the ground and nudged Bill in the ribs. “He wasn’t talking about that lot out there.”
The two men stared over the sandbags at the line of men, advancing through the dust raised by armoured cars and tanks. Bill wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Because they’re going to do more’n harm us. They’re going to fuckin’ wipe us off the face of the fuckin’ earth.”

In the constellation of Homarus Gammarus

A story Visual Verse didn’t want, but here it is anyway.

In the constellation of Homarus Gammarus

The waiting room is empty, she picks up a magazine opens it anywhere, as you do, just to give her hands something to do, to focus her eyes on something because there’s nothing else, nothing on the walls except a poster with line drawings of toddlers with blue faces, their heads inside plastic bags, or toddlers with red faces being held down in baths full of water hot enough to boil eggs. She wonders what kind of parent sits in a doctor’s waiting room staring at this kind of poster and thinks, hmm, maybe I should stop giving Jayden/Emma/Butternut/Jigsaw plastic bags to play with.
She picks up the only magazine and opens it in the middle. It might be a story, she doesn’t know, she just lets the colours run. Her own pastel colours drift across the ceiling making a dream landscape you might find over the bed of a luckier toddler than the red and blue ones in the poster. Drifts of clouds, moons and stars, all sunlit and rippling with tame water fill the pale room. The colours gather in banks and billows so thick the doctor can barely open the door.
“Amy Narwhal?”
The girl uncrosses her legs and closes the magazine, blows a kiss to the rocking moon, and follows the doctor into the surgery.

Another girl enters the now full waiting room, pushing her way past a bouncing lilac cloud and sits down. She glances at the poster and wonders, are there really parents who don’t know that babies are like lobsters, that if you boil them they change colour and die? She picks up the magazine, opens it in the middle and the colours shrink and change like jumpers or lobsters, and the room darkens. The girl flicks on the light and begins to read.
Once upon a time, in the deep dark ocean depths there lived a lobster. As everyone knows, the universe is peppered with constellations of lobsters, each bigger and more brilliant than the next, and this was the biggest, brightest of them all. One night, the biggest, brightest lobster climbed out of his pot—
The door opens. The girl looks up.
“Is this Dr Beluga’s surgery?”
“It is. Sit down and I’ll read you a story.”
The lobster clicks his way across the waiting room and takes the seat next to her. He peers at the magazine and taps the page with a blue pincer. “I know this one. Great writer.”
The girl smiles and begins again. Her voice mingles with the dark green clouds, and soon the water has risen over her ankles. Somewhere, a toddler gurgles with laughter.

Vengeance

This is the piece of short fiction (which wasn’t chosen for publication) I wrote for the Ekphrastic challenge, the prompt painting After the Storm, by Istvan Farkas. I love the colours in this, purple and green together is among my favourite combinations.

Vengeance

The heavens opened five minutes after the Abbé left the presbytery. A real summer storm, short lived, but violent, driving rain and wind that thrashed green branches. The only shelter was at the top of the hill where the road wound beneath a spinney of oak trees. Someone was already there, a raggedy woman. The Abbé’s nostrils pinched in distaste and he nodded curtly. Clutching his useless umbrella, he turned his back on the woman and gazed firmly out across the heaving landscape.

“You’ll be late for your lunch if this keeps up,” the woman said. “Who is it this Sunday? Lefebvre? Fabre? Meunier?” Her voice was steady as the rain, and the Abbé heard insolence in it. He would not taint himself by replying. “He keeps a good table, Meunier, so I hear. And with the son a courtier at Bordeaux, the wine cellar’s bound to be good too.” The Abbé shuffled, and his stomach rumbled inopportunely. “But they’ll all feed you well. Any of those people. People worth traipsing the countryside in the rain for.” A malcontent, a starveling. The Abbé closed his ears. The wind howled and he heard the crack of thunder. “Not like poor folk. They’d not get you away from your warm fire. Not poor folk who have nothing to pay for a Mass with.” Bitter and envious. “You’d not stir yourself for them, not even if their bairns were dying.” He heard a catch in the steady stream of words. He had no idea who the woman was, but he had nothing to reproach himself with. The clouds hung black, swollen. “You’d think a man of God would have a bit of compassion though, wouldn’t you? Make an exception. A prayer wouldn’t have taken long, would it? It wasn’t the bairn’s fault that her mother had nothing to give.” The sob was unmistakeable now. “If she’d had the money, she’d have given it to the doctor. She might have still had a bairn now, not just a mound of fresh-turned earth outside the cemetery.” The Abbé cast his eyes at the sky, looking, not for spiritual guidance but for a let-up in the storm. “If there was any justice…”

The woman’s voice petered out, and the Abbé found his at last. “Do you dare threaten a priest of the Church?”

She stared through him. Her eyes were sunken, famished. She laughed, a dry, hoarse laugh that ended in a cough. “There is no justice, not here, not from men. But we all die, one day. I’d bear that in mind, Abbé Collet, if I were you.”

She pulled her shawl tight around her throat and, head bent, hurried out into the rain, back towards the village. The Abbé’s eyes narrowed and burned with what he was not allowed to call hatred. There was a time when the Church had been allowed to deal with witches like that. He glanced at the sky, looking for approval perhaps. Thunder growled and a flash of lightning winked at him from over the church tower.

He wondered what that wink signified later, in the last few agonising moments as he choked on a fishbone from Meunier’s otherwise excellent sea bass.

Story in Prairie Fire

I am thrilled to announce, not another baby, but a story. I am so proud to have a short story published in Prairie Fire magazine. It’s a magazine that deals with the big issues, those that really count. The story is one I care about a lot, and Prairie Fire is the ideal home for it.

They have been lovely people to work with and it’s an additional thrill to find that something I have written resonates with people so far away!

Conspirators

This short piece is inspired by Sonya’s three line tales prompt. You’ll notice it’s rather more than three lines. This is the first time I’ve gone into the realms of true flash fiction with this prompt. Must be something in the air.

photo by Marco ten Hoff via Unsplash

Screenshot 2021-03-25 at 10.09.49

We had answered the call, the secret, furtive summons on our group’s private notice board, and we waited with bated breath in the narrow room for him to appear and tell us what we wanted to hear.
His words had thrilled us, so full of the obvious that our leaders denied, pointing out their falsehoods, the coverups, urging us to take to the streets and show them we were duped no longer.
He burst into the room, a giant, backlit in silhouette, wreathed in smoky light, and we roared his name, stamping our feet. He silenced us.
“Your time has come, your moment of glory. They are here, outside the building, the dogs of the conspiracy of corruption, to silence us. Their guns are pointed at the doors and windows. Go! Meet them, like the heroes you are!”
We looked at one another, licked dry lips.
“And you, Master? Will you lead us?”
“I will be behind you, praying for your success, to wade through your blood to take power.”
Even in the murky half-light, his wide grin shone white as bone.

Can we redirect the spotlight please?

I’ve been trying to write something for today, and I’m not getting anything. It’s a strange sort of irony that has made International Women’s Rights Day coincide with the international bleeding hearts for Meghan Markle day. The international outpouring of support for an extremely rich, extremely privileged woman who feels she’s been incredibly badly treated.

Feminist ideas used to be simple, basically that the only differences between men and women are physical—men are generally stronger. If the fridge needs moving, I admit, it’s beyond me, though I know women who can shift fridges and more power to them. The important things though, like teaching, leading a team, building bridges, designing buildings, inventing a can opener, piloting a space ship, running a country, understanding why people get sick or lonely or depressed, are all within a woman’s scope.

That is what feminism means to me. That you will assume that I can do, and I do know, rather than that I can’t and I don’t. Feminism used to be simply about women, all women, and our (equal) place in the world.

I don’t understand what it means anymore. Instead of equality and inclusion, it has developed a hierarchy of grievances and causes to defend. It has become exclusive, separatist and intolerant. It has its black list of ‘fascist’ ideas, people and groups, and has been side-tracked into the defence of ideas that have nothing to do with feminism. It can condone girls being denied the same education as their brothers in the name of cultural identity, but be outraged at a white-skinned woman wearing her hair in braids. It seems to have forgotten that the world of equality, economic independence and liberation from the different forms of patriarchal oppression has not been created, and at this rate, it won’t be.

Smoke

For the dverse prompt, including the lines from The Song of Wandering Aengus by WB Yeats:

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head.

Caillou High

I went out to the hazel wood, because a fire was in my head, but the fire, I took with me, and the rushing stream couldn’t quench the flames. I listened to the blackbird, but his song was out of kilter, and the sun streamed slantwise through the pale green leaves.

They say the world is spinning to its end, the heaving oceans empty of their fish are filling with our discarded plastic. I listen to the blackbird but his song is not for me.

They’re shooting in the chase, I can hear the horns and the coarse voices shouting, coarser than any dog giving tongue. As if we needed more blood. The world is drowning in it.

Listen, blackbird, to the pale-winged moths, their song is more in keeping with these end times. Hush. I hear the ocean rushing over the world’s edge.

#writephoto: Dark pool

A short story for Sue Vincent’s weekly photo prompt. You’ll have to go to Sue’s blog to see the prompt as WP refuses to upload it here.

The river flows as it always did, in turbulent pools where the bank is broken by the deep stone walls. Impregnable, they always said, with the cliff behind and the river before, and my father laughed at the notion of siege.
“We have stores enough for two years within and the wells never run dry.”
When he said I was to marry the neighbouring seigneur to make our joint lands the wealthiest in the county, the fort became a prison. You vowed you would come for me, as I vowed I would be here when you did. No walls would keep me in if your arms waited on the other side.
So I was here where the river rolls, with its whirlpool of autumn leaves carried round and round in the current, trapped between buttress and bank, when you guided your boat with muffled oars silently beneath walls. I was here when you raised your sweet face and opened your arms.
You were there, below, when I climbed the parapet, a cord about my waist and tested the strength of the knot about the merlon. And I saw your face, smiling, one last brief moment before my father’s archers leapt from the tower and your smile turned to a grimace of pain and despair.
Only I am here now, watching the river. My father believes women have no courage and doesn’t even think to put a watch on me. The FitzHugh is coming tomorrow to finger the goods, the prelude to my sentence, but by then, I will be where you fell, among the autumn leaves carried round and round in the cold, clear river water beneath this wall.