#writephoto: The world afterwards

For Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt.

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We have longed for this for so long. The weeks turned to months, and now that the restrictions are finally lifted and the army has left the streets in a cloud of dust, we pour out into the familiar silence, and we have forgotten how to show our emotion. No one sings or shouts, or embraces strangers with joy. Sparrows flutter and garden songbirds flash with coloured wings. Grass has begun to grow between the paving stones; the river laps and washes banks lush with marsh flowers.

It hasn’t taken long to discover there is nothing left in the food shops, no petrol in the pumps. The shops that were forced to close are empty, no stock, no staff, no orders. I walk, like many people, following the river to the ocean. It isn’t far, though for months it might as well have been in another galaxy. Soon the rioting will begin, the destruction, because too many have no idea of how to build, but for the moment, in this brief interlude of adjustment to the world of afterwards, there is quiet.

I walk to the beach, the long straight beach that stretches parallel with the waves and the ranks of clouds that layer the sky with hues of red. The waves roll with a sigh and a hiss, licking away at the land, sucking it back into the cradle of the ocean. I wonder if the water will eventually reclaim all the land.

Dolphins and seals, porpoises break and dive. Birds call. We watch the sunset because there seems nothing else or better to do. Tomorrow it will start, the end, and the dolphins will laugh. The birds won’t care either. They will sing as they have always done whether we listen or not.

#writephoto: Running

For Sue Vincent’s weekly challenge.

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The virus spread and multiplied, gobbling corpuscles and sucking them dry. The dead went unburied and the vultures began to reappear. We fled the black tide, leaving population centres behind, preferring the prospect of starvation surrounded by the beauty of returning nature to the vain hope of salvation, a vaccine, or simply a cache of food if we stayed in the city.

We had found our way north, taking back roads, travelling as stealthily as we could, and our food had almost run out. It was high summer. Perhaps we would learn what we had forgotten, how to fend for ourselves, or perhaps we would find a deserted dwelling and brave the possibly lurking virus spores to look for supplies.

We drove off the road, hid the car in the bushes and watched the sunset. Never had the silence been so profound. The black cloud that had enveloped the earth and smothered the sky for the last two weeks, hung low and menacing as ever, but a crack had appeared above the line of hills, and last stream of light lit up the lake below like liquid gold.

It was a sign, we thought. The virus is faltering, perhaps dying back with no new hosts to feed upon. You stood, your face aglow, mouth open to shout out your new-found hope, when suddenly your face paled. You grabbed my arm and pulled me down out of sight. But not before the eyes that had opened in the cloud had seen us, and the crack of light on the horizon curled up in a broad grin.

Saying it with roses

 

A 130 word piece of flash fiction for the dverse prompt, including the line from Jane Hirshfield’s poem, I want to be surprised:

I don’t know why I was surprised every time love started or ended.

 

He brought roses. I put them in a vase straight away while he opened a bottle of wine. It was our anniversary, a whole year of being together. I’d prepared something special for supper. Shame because I won’t ever be able to bring myself to make it again. He had always enjoyed my cooking, said I was better than the restaurant. Cheaper too.

He waited until the meal was over before he told me. Well, that was predictable, I suppose. Apparently ‘we’ were over. The sparkle had gone; it was time to move on. I looked from the roses to his face—concerned, but probably only that I would get unreasonably upset. I don’t know why I was surprised. Every time, love started or ended the same way, with flowers.

Flash fiction: When they came

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A knock on the street door in the night and we don’t answer. We look furtively through the louvred shutters and see nothing, nothing definite, but we know it’s there. You go to check the locks, I watch, see the faintest flutter of movement, a sliding up the wall of the building.

I want to call out to you but daren’t break the night silence. I don’t want to be alone and leave the window, looking for you. There are only two rooms in the apartment, and you are in neither of them.

The front door is unlocked. I fling it wide in panic and the darkness surges forward. I slam the door closed, lock it, pull across the bolt and I think I hear you calling, far away.

There is a creak, a gust of night air and I know a window has been opened. It’s there, in the bedroom. I back up against the apartment door. The bolt rattles, eases itself free. I watch mesmerised as the key turns by itself, clicks.

There is no point resisting.

I just hope it will be quick.

#writephoto: Home

Finished the rewrite. It’s in the lap of the gods now. Sue’s photo prompt is as apposite as ever.

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All has changed since Richard ordered the castle built on the promontory, but is that not always the way? Nothing except the salmon stays still in the current of a rushing river. Men build and other men pull down. Men make sons so they too may die in the same way as their fathers. She did not expect to see the tower as she remembers it, that it is now only a tumble of stones is not too hard to bear. But what digs deep into her heart like a flung javelin is the loneliness.

She remembers feeling the same loneliness at Dún Ailinne when the king and his company left with their banners and their feasting, to return to more comfortable houses where wives and children awaited them, a roaring fire in the hearth and hounds to greet them. The ancient seat of kings was a sorrowful place, ignored and abandoned unless a coronation required the dust to be chased outside, wall hangings shaken out, the mouse and bat droppings swept from the great table. When the ceremony was over, the dust returned and the solemn loneliness.

This is different. This was home, the castle built by the first of the Northmen for his wife and queen. There used to be love within these stone walls and the laughter of children, and if there were also tears, is that just not part of every story? She places a hand on the ruined sill where the wind from the sea blows and the rain blows. All gone. Even their names.

Another hand covers hers. She turns her head, away from the sadness of the lonely ruin, and his eyes are smiling, gentle and grey as ever. They know more than names, have lived more than love. She links her arm with his and they go back to join the wind blowing, the gulls crying, beyond laughter and sorrow.

Sabotage

A 144 word story for the dverse prompt.

 

A cow is screaming across the arroyo.

I read the paper again, wondering, before I toss it into the fire, what in the name of all that’s holy that’s supposed to mean. These code messages are getting weirder and weirder. Last week when the Villefranche road had needed disrupting it had been some garbage about wounded guinea fowl in the rhubarb patch.

I sling the duffel bag over my shoulder and leave the house. The lads will be waiting by the bridge, Jackie, Manu and the others. I’m the explosives boy, stick it where the bastards won’t notice it then scarper, doing my bit.

The bridge looms ahead through the darkness. Nothing moves. They should be at the rendez-vous. I listen, first to the silence, then a mournful bellow puts the heart across me. A cowshed door creaks open, someone swears. Fecking cow!

#Three line tales: Shoot

For Sonya’s Three Line Tales photo prompt.

photo by Egor Vikhrev via Unsplash

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She had always dreamed of fame, being featured in magazines, seeing her face on the front covers, and wherever she went she behaved as though she was surrounded by press photographers.

She never just bought a sandwich or waited for a train, she posed, hoping that someone would notice, which is what she was dreaming of—a photo shoot for Rankin—while she stretched out her long legs over the platform edge.

She did make the front page in the end, but not in the way she intended, when the High Barnet train shot out of the tunnel and swept her away.

Northern Lights

A 144 word piece of flash fiction inspired by (but not including) the quote from Jane Kenyon:

if it’s darkness
we’re having, let it be extravagant.

Photo ©Anders Jildén andersjilden

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If this is darkness, she said, then let it fall. If this is to be the end of all I have ever known, then let it come. Above her head, the lights of the north glowed a curtain of green, red and blue; all about her, icebergs drifted, slow and ponderous as great white bears over the still water black as night.

If this is cold, she said, grasping ice ropes in her hands, then I will warm it, let it encircle me like the Midgard serpent and I will teach it who is mistress here.

In the cold and the dark, her hair aglitter with the northern lights, she stood on the headland at the end of the world and waited for the final spasm of the old earth and the birth pangs of the new to open the door to her realm.

 

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.

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.