Never Never

Exactly 150 words. For Crispina Kemp’s creative challenge, inspired by this photo.

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She had always thought it was a magical place, the slow stream that babbled if you listened hard enough, and the wood that had somehow escaped the developers, where blackbirds sang and jays and woodpeckers chattered. The stream disappeared into a culvert, carrying its leaf-boats into the dark, and she had walked the length of the wood countless times but never discovered where it came out.

The town grew, estates sprawled, but the wood remained untouched. Pastureland formed one boundary, a lane another, and a low wall bounded the rest. Something drew her back to the wood that end of summer day, drew her along the stream that entered the domain from the farmland, to the culvert where birds sang and the leaf-boats disappeared.

Without hesitation, she stepped into the stream and followed it into the dark to find out where it came out. It didn’t, and nor did she.

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#writephoto: Ocean

I’m not this far on yet, but it’s helpful to sketch out a scene when inspiration strikes. Thanks Sue again 🙂 This snippet of WIP was suggested by Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt.

 

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Jon raced beneath the dark trees that towered above him, creating a tunnel where no light reached the leafy floor. He was almost out of breath before the tunnel ended in a pale circle, not bright daylight, but more shadow, the shadow of the mountain that leaned away from the forest. Not a glade, but a mountain pasture, high and cold, swept up to a coll between two jagged pillars of rock. The sky was clear. Tide’s out, he thought with relief. He refused to believe in the fairy stories of ghost birds and flying water demons, but he was quite prepared for something nasty to roll in with the tide.

The sky was clear and icy blue, and the short grass was green, true grass green. His heart swelled and he discovered he was still capable of running. He remembered with a jolt that Halli had spent at least one night alone up here without even Hrolf for company. Even? The swelling of his heart became a pang, and he wondered if Hrolf was the final tribute, and would his loss be enough to allow both of them to pass.

He slowed as he reached the col. There was no path, not even a goat track. The grass was sparse, and loose stones slid beneath his feet. The breeze gusted through the col bringing with it the overwhelming scent of the ocean. He hesitated between the stone pillars on either hand, his breath stopped by the sight of the golden water stretching as far as he could see. The blue of the sky was suffused with gold too, a veil that drifted and shifted as it rolled closer.

The tide was turning. He’d soon see what truth there was in the stories. But even more than at the sight of the open sea and the potential terror of the approaching mists, his heart pounded with the fear that Halli might not be there. From the rocks above, a pair of puffins squabbled, a gull swooped in a gale of laughter, and a voice called out.

“Jónsi! What kept you?”

He almost imitated the gull and laughed aloud. She had waited for him! Then came the question he didn’t know how he would answer.

“Where’s Hrolf?”

Latent defect

Inspired by Lynn Love’s tremendous piece of flash fiction, I thought I’d have a go at Crimson’s Creative Challenge too. The springboard is this photograph.

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It seemed perfect. Rehabilitated churches were so cool—pricey, and you had to be prepared to spend a fortune on restructuring the interior, but the result could be stunning. Saint Peter’s had been mucked about with over the centuries. The foundations were thirteenth century, but Henry VIII had hammered it, then Cromwell. It was burnt down during a factory revolt in the nineteenth century and bombed in the Second World War. When the congregation dwindled to nothing, the diocese decided to sell it.

Steve and Lucy decided to go for it, signed up the architect, swooned over the plans. Then the priest came for the de-consecration. It should have been done before the sale, but somehow it had been overlooked, he explained with an unctuous smile.

With a few words of release, he broke the bonds of eight hundred years, and all the nightmares came to stay.

#writephoto: Borderlands

An excerpt from my WIP, illustrated by Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt.

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The year was turning quicker now and dry leaves lay in deep drifts beneath the trees. They were brown, dull mainly, but just occasionally, Jon caught a glimpse of russet as if the unseen sun caught at a memory. The eye could see further in the Borderlands, see clearer, but there was a sense of oppression, of fear.

They had crept past the village and seen the big house in the centre where the boys were being taught the stories that made heroes of children. They were taught how to obey, how to wield a sword, but most of all they were taught that they were nothing, worthless unless they were chosen. It should become the ambition of every one of them to be the sacrificial offering, if not this Ebbtide, then the next. For three years, from the ages of eight until ten, they would be gathered together at the spring equinox and the autumn, and the name of the chosen child would be called out.

“That was Jussi’s village,” Halli said as they left it behind in its silence. She stared at each of the houses that huddled together yet apart, and wondered if his parents still thought about him. They wouldn’t be among those who took food and comfort to the refugees in the mists. For them, Jussi died the day he was taken to the borderline with his wooden sword strapped to his waist.

“This place was rotten before ever Ed got here,” Jon said. He looked up through the thinning leaves at the pale light that passed for sky. Birds darted among the tree trunks and he even heard their gentle autumn piping, but there were no sounds of human activity. Were they so oppressed by their stupid laws and customs they had stopped speaking to one another?

Then he caught sight of movement at the edge of the village, where the strips of cultivated land ended and the forest began. Men, holding dogs on leashes. Broad, stocky men with a strange rolling gait. Then one of the dogs reared up on its hind legs, raised its muzzle to the wind and began to howl.

Hrolf had already turned off the path and into the deeper forest.

Jónsi being quick. Hare-quick.

Halli followed without asking why. Jon cast a last glance over his shoulder before he plunged after the hound. The dog was still on its hind legs and it was running in awkward ungainly strides in his direction.

#writephoto: Tidelands

For Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt.

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Rags of mist scattered, and a crow bird landed in a heap of ragged feathers at the edge of the clearing. Jon picked up a stone and aimed at the bird. Hrolf growled and Halli looked bemused.

“What’s the maggot pie done to you? It’s half-blind and ancient.”

“They’re bad luck when they’re on their own,” he replied sheepishly but he lowered his hand all the same.

Wise. Bird knows.

“Does it know how to get out of here? Oh, I forgot. Birds can fly, can’t they?”

The magpie tilted its head on one side and opened its beak. It clacked its tongue in a series of hoarse calls, the familiar unmusical utterings of all magpies, but the images that fluttered behind Jon’s eyes made him blink at their brightness. How long was it since he had seen colours, real colours dense enough to draw a finger through and paint with? Blues shading from blue-black through turquoise to the palest of china blues streaked across his vision, pink-purple-violet cupped in tender green, haloed in gold and nasturtium orange. The bird tilted its head the other way. A milky eye peered at him.

Jónsi be listening.

Hrolf was watching him, his ears slightly raised. The bird’s tongue clacked again and he saw waves, a rolling green swell. His vision skimmed the wavetips, and a shoreline grew on the horizon, a forest fringe, hills, but before them rose a line of black cliffs, where the vision broke like impotent waves. The bird sight fluttered again and again, each time repulsed. Jon’s heart sank.

“It’s there. Just over the horizon. But I can’t reach it. It won’t let me in.”

In a rage, he threw the stone across the clearing and into the barely seen trees that huddled about its edge. In the silence that followed the rustle of its flight through the dripping leaves, they all heard the plop of a stone hitting distant water, the slap of a wave against rock.

Halli got to her feet and looked down at Jon with the expression she wore when he had done something particularly stupid.

“If we’re looking for the ocean, we could try that way.”

The magpie gathered its ragged feathers together, leapt into flight and beat its way into the mist. Hrolf barked. Jon knew he was laughing.

#writephoto: On the borderline

I wrote this piece in prevision of a scene that’s coming up in the WIP and then got bogged down in the writing of it and never got round to posting.

For Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt

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Halli slumped against the trunk of a birch tree, among the golden pennies of its fallen leaves. The breeze was chill at evening now and the sun set early. Jon shuddered at the idea of being stuck in this place, that was as much a limbo as the Mistlands, when the winter came and the real cold set in. Halli picked up a handful of birch leaves and shredded them moodily.

“We can’t stop here and we can’t go back. They said… the stories said…everybody said this was a good place if you could get in. Well, we got in…”

“I know, and it’s as big a pile of shite as the place we got run out of.” Jon meant what he said, but somehow, he wasn’t as pessimistic as Halli. “The stories are just a bunch of lies that chiefs like Ragnar and my dad encourage because it suits them. But what if one of the stories is true? I mean, they all believe in the Mistlands and the Ebbtide combat. Both sides respect the outcome, beat it into the kids that their lives depend on them following the rules to the letter, the sacrifice and all that. But they don’t talk much about the Heartlands do they?” He turned to Jussi. “Have you ever even seen the Tidelands?” Jussi shook his head. “Do they tell you it’s full of bogey men to stop you going to have a look?”

“They don’t talk about it. The Tidelands is just the edge of the ocean. Why would anybody want to go there? And the Heartlands is just a story. Nobody believes it’s really there.”

“See?” Jon was triumphant.

Halli threw the shredded leaves on the ground. “See what?”

“If they don’t spread stories about the Tidelands and the Heartlands, it’s because they want people to forget they’re there.” He gazed across the darkening valley to the west, wondering how far the forest stretched, how far until the trees ended at crashing cliffs and the heaving ocean, wondering how far from the cliffs across the waves lay the Heartlands and the end of his journey.

As he watched, a cloud rose from the forest eaves and swirled through the red light of the sunset like ink in a glass of bloody water. Even at such a distance the shrill bird-cries were audible. The flock of birds swirled, a tatterered black cloak, darkening the sky, a cloud that swirled about itself then streaked away westwards, towards the ocean. He watched until he could see no more, until the cloud became a smut on the bright backcloth of evening and dropped beneath the horizon, heading out to sea.

“The birds know. They’re going to the Heartlands,” he murmured. “If they can, so can we.”

 

 

They wouldn’t believe us

The ‘prosery’ prompt over at dverse is to write a story of exactly 144 words including this line from a poem by Jo Harjo:

“These memories were left here with the trees”

I haven’t used exactly the same words, just the sense from them. We lived for almost ten years among the French battlefields of the Great War and the atmosphere of the entire area is a very special and very melancholy one.

 

She had always found it a sad place, the landscape, the people—too rural, enclosed like the big fortified farms, no outlet for any feelings. There were mature trees growing around the foxholes now, and shell craters were filled with bracken. The mutilated and the broken lay almost hidden, but she imagined she heard their cries as they were blown from their roots. Men were turned to bloody soup in these woods that became cellulose soup, then oceans of bloody mud.

The fields were tilled again and flowers blew at their edges, but beneath the trees memories lingered. If she dug her hands into the deep earth she could pull them out. They whispered in the delicate woodland flowers, but it was the trees that held her in their spell, the horror of their stories, the unquiet memories that were buried in their roots.