Short story #writephoto: Forest Dog and River Pig

I’ve missed a fair few prompts over the last weeks, so I’m not sticking to any order, just going where inspiration strikes. This story is inspired by Sue Vincent’s last but one photo prompt. It fits in well with the folk tale series I’ve been polishing.

river-wye-weir

Forest Dog fell into the river and was carried away by the fierce current. Hearing the terrified barking, River Pig pushed out into the white water, standing firm across the dog’s path. Gratefully, Forest Dog clung to the pig’s back as the sturdy boar carried him back to the safety of the bank.

“One day, I will return your kindness,” Forest Dog said. The pig snorted gently in disbelief, but grunted a polite, ‘Safe home’ and ambled back to the river.

Years later, when the leaves on the trees had fallen and grown green again many times over, and the river had run dry and swollen to a furious torrent again many times, and many piglets had been born and grown to adulthood, and many puppies had grown to form packs of their own, the old river pig was growing short sighted, short winded and hard of hearing, and the few teeth that he had left made him picky about his food. One fine autumn day, he got an irresistible longing for acorns. The forest was full of oaks, and the joyful sound as acorns rattled from the trees was too much for him and he left the foaming river in search of the delicacy.

It was a fine autumn day, and so the hunt was out. The boar neither saw nor heard the hounds, fixed as he was on the scent of acorns. When the first of the hounds burst into the glade where he was snuffling through a pile of oak leaves, he finally understood the danger and let out a pig roar of fury. He was too far from the river for the other river pigs to hear, and too old to make a run for it. So he stood his ground, head lowered and tusks gleaming in the late sunshine.

The hounds gathered, baying and belling, and River Pig pawed the ground. He saw only blurred shapes, quivering with excitement, but the voices were wild and frantic, and he knew it was only a question of moments before the bravest hound attacked. He swung his head from side to side, and readied himself for the shock that never came. Instead, a huge shape swung between him and the quivering hounds, and a deep voice bayed into their furious faces.

“Go. This is a dog friend. Your masters know nothing of dog friendships. Leave. Just for once, obey the dog laws.”

The frantic hounds were silent, and their quivering calmed. With a final bark, they turned and bounded away along a different track. Forest Dog sank back on his haunches, his tongue lolling, then slowly lowered himself to the ground and rested a weary muzzle in the drift of oak leaves. River Pig nuzzled him gently.

“Thank you, friend. You remembered.”

“Just in time, friend,” Forest Dog replied. “It is time for us to be leaving, I think.”

River Pig nodded. “Where?”

“Can you still carry me?” Forest Dog asked.

River Pig snorted. “Come on.”

So the two friends made their way to the river. Forest Dog nosed one last time through the dark, earthy mould, and River Pig savoured one last time the soothing caress of the rushing water on his skin. Then Forest Dog wrapped his paws round River Pig’s neck, and the two old creatures gave themselves up to the spirit of the wilderness. The river rushed over them in a wave of dazzling icy foam and turned them to stone. The forest laid a soft green blanket of moss over their still forms, and there they rest to this day, Forest Dog and River Pig in a friendly embrace, to the end of time.

Flash Fiction Folk Tale: The reluctant bride

This tale is inspired by Jeren’s poem which in turn inspired the challenge to write a folk talk from his original idea. If you’d like to try your hand at inventing a real folk tale, the details are here.

Zhar-Ptitsa

Imma’s eyelids fluttered, her lips moved slightly as if she was about to whisper a secret. In her sleep, her eyes were open, mere slits, but through the mists of her dream she was aware, or thought she was aware, of movement, of other flutterings filling the room. Caught by moonbeams, the flutterings became silver wings, and her lips fluttered too, trying to speak, to call out to the owners of the wings to stay. But the night wore on, she remained trapped in sleep, and in the morning, the painted tiles of the floor were scattered with tiny wings, and her eyes were filled with tears.

Imma was to be the bride of the prince, a man not unlike her father, who looked at her with bored eyes and stroked his short, pointed beard with fingers laden with rings. She tried to imagine those fingers stroking her own face, and couldn’t. The wedding was to take place at the end of the month. Remembering her mother’s sad eyes, Imma vowed she would rather throw herself out of the tower window.

For the next seven nights she had the same dream, saw the same silvery wings caught in moonbeams, and each morning, she would slip from her bed before dawn, to search through the fallen wings for a sign, before they disappeared in the first light of the sun.

On the eighth night, the dream changed, and the fluttering was of butterfly wings, hundreds and hundreds of painted wings, delicate as flower petals and all the colours of the rainbow. For the next seven mornings, she rose before light to gather handfuls of petal wings and sigh, before they too disappeared. She knew that the dreams, the wings were a sign and in the sign was a wish. Her lips fluttered like her eyelids, like the wings, but she could not seize it.

On the sixteenth night, Imma’s half-opened eyes watched as bats flitted and swooped, soft and sleek as flying kittens, their wings fine as stretched silk. The bats left their wings too, tender and pale, all the shades of moonlight, that she stroked gently, thinking of the wish that was gradually taking shape in her thoughts.

Seven days later, her father’s house was in a fever of wedding preparations and Imma’s days were spent in fittings for her wedding garments, selecting and folding all the clothes and finery she would take with her to her new home, and attending the ceremonies of purification and preparation for her new role as wife of a prince. She was losing hope of finding the wish among the bright debris of her bedroom floor, and eyed the window in despair.

When the wedding was only six days away, she dreamed of birds, bright, singing birds whose voices filled her with joy, but their fallen wing feathers, so beautiful and quivering with almost life, made sadness return. For three nights, larks, finches and thrushes sang for her and left feathered tokens on the painted floor tiles.

Three nights before the wedding day, the birds were geese and cranes, storks and herons, egrets and all the long-necked, long-legged birds she had ever seen or heard of. In the morning, the floor was covered in long white and grey feathers, but through her disappointment, the wish crept to the tip of her tongue.

Two nights left, and she shared the excitement of the falcons and hawks, owls and eagles that hovered and plunged through the night dark of her room, their yellow eyes shining when the moonlight caught them. Before dawn, she leapt from her bed and gathered armfuls of brown and grey and cream and white feathers to her heart and this time the tears were of joy. She had found the wish.

On the night before the wedding, Imma’s wedding gown lay on a chair, glittering like the sheath of a giant insect. On the table were arranged her wedding jewels, diadem, earrings, rings, and necklaces and bracelets as heavy as a galley slave’s chains. Her eyelids fluttered at the light scraping sound on the windowsill. Her eyes half-opened at the folding of giant wings. Her eyes opened wide when the great winged horse leapt down into the room. She jumped from her bed, wide awake, the wish in her throat, and threw her arms around the horse’s neck.

“Fly me away,” she whispered so the guards at the door would not hear, “Fly me to the place where dreams don’t have to fade, where wings don’t have to wither and fall, and where there are no chains.”

And the horse did.

Flash Fiction Challenge: Lost Wings

Something to occupy your holiday leisure hours—a writing challenge. It’s one Jeren of itsallaboutnothing and I concocted between us. He wrote a haibun about flying termites which I told him could be the subject of a folk tale. We have challenged one another to write a folk tale based on Jeren’s poem which you can read here.

Don’t be put off by the termites, it’s the wings that are important, that the termites lose or discard in the night, and the dreamer too, perhaps.

If you’d like to join in, leave a link to your story either here, or on Jeren’s blog post. We’d love to read your ‘fake folk tales’.

Sunday Strange: The house on chicken’s legs

793px-%d0%b1%d0%b8%d0%bb%d0%b8%d0%b1%d0%b8%d0%bd_img606

She had no one else to turn to. The neighbours had stopped her going into the house, prevented her seeing the remains of her family one last time. They knew who was responsible for their murder, but none would say. She might have been only sixteen years old but she condemned them as cowards and ran into the forest, with little idea of where to go, and one thought in her head, revenge.

The house on chicken’s legs appeared in a clearing. Attached to the surrounding tree trunks by rotting cords were the skeletons of unfortunates, discontents, criminals, the despondent, who had all come searching the help of the ambiguous one. The girl knew she risked the same fate. The ambiguous one did not heed every petitioner, nor spare the weak-spirited, the miserable or the frail. Neither did she listen to every braggart, every angry noble brandishing his wealth and his sword. The girl looked into the empty eye sockets and saw as many powerful as humble dead. She clenched her fists and held her head high. Death did not frighten her. All her dear ones had already passed through the door, pushed violently it was true, but they would be there, waiting for her. She had nothing to fear from death, and only one thing left to live for. She would offer her death to the ambiguous one, and hope her boon was granted.

The chicken claws scratched in the dirt and the little house shuddered. The girl’s mouth was dry but she found her voice and shouted.

“Baba Yaga! Give me the lives of my parents’ murderers and I will give you mine. Refuse and I will kill myself, and you will never have me.”

She took a knife from her belt and pressed the blade to her chest while the leaves of the trees shivered in a sudden breeze and the house on chicken’s legs trembled. The breeze carried a tinkling sound like distant laughter and the girl held her breath, waiting for Baba Yaga’s answer. No sound came from the house, but by her ear, a hissing voice said, “Take me with you and I will show you what you are looking for.”

Startled, the girl turned and stared into the dead eyes of a skull. Without hesitating, she plucked the skull from the skeleton and brandished it high on a stick.

“Thank you, Baba Yaga,” she shouted. “When I have done what I must, I will return.”

Again, the silvery laughter floated in the wind, and the chicken legs stomped around and crashed through the trees that closed behind them and the house of Baba Yaga. Before her was a dark green wall; she was alone with the skull.

“Follow where I lead,” it said in the low, hissing voice, and light, pale and green, poured from the empty eye sockets onto a path the girl had not noticed before. The path wound between tree trunks, over streams and through glades, and the girl followed it through the night, and through the cloudy darkness of the following day. Her resolve and her grief were so strong she never tired. She heard not another word from her guide until she reached the forest edge. Beyond the last trees she could see that night had fallen again and a new moon shone. The skull spoke.

“In the shade of the fir trees, you will see an iron railing that encloses a small plot of land. Look beyond the railing and you will see four mounds of newly turned earth.”

The girl peered over the iron railing, and it was as the skull had said.

“Who lies here?” she asked, dreading the reply.

“Your uncles Ivan, Pyotr and Dmitri, and your cousin Fyodor.”

The girl’s face went white as chalk. “What new horror is this?”

The tinkling laughter drifted on a breeze from nowhere and the skull replied, “The ambiguous one granted your request. These were the murderers of your parents, your sister and your brother.”

The girl sank to the ground as images of her laughing, bearded uncles, and her smiling, bright-eyed cousin ran before her eyes.

“Why?”

“For the land, of course,” the skull replied.

Vengeance should have felt sweet, but the girl felt only emptiness and misery.

“Take me back to Baba Yaga and let her take my life. There is nothing at all left for me now.”

“The house and the land are yours now, and a young man is waiting for you, the young man who followed the murderers and showed the soldiers where to find them. A young man with broad shoulders, hair the colour of ripe corn and eyes blue as the sky.”

“Anton,” she murmured. “But, what about my promise to Baba Yaga?”

The skull was silent, and the green light in its eyes was dead. The faint laughter grew louder as a wind sprung from the ground, wild and joyous as a young horse, plucked her into the air and whisked her through the night, into the dawn, and set her down in front of her home. The skull had spoken the truth. In the doorway of her house, was a young man, a pail of feed for the pigs in each hand. Anton was smiling.

“Welcome home,” he said, and putting down the pails, ran to her and swept her into his arms. Somewhere, far away, silvery laughter turned to birdsong before drifting into a contented silence.

Book review: The Crooked Path

51i1czortel

As an antidote to the dull, formulaic novel I gave up on yesterday, I’d like to say a few words about Harriet Goodchild’s new book, ‘The Crooked Path’, a beautiful example of the kind of writing I wish I could master.

A new story from Harriet Goodchild is guaranteed to be a joy to read. ‘The Crooked Path’ is high fantasy, if myths and fairy tales and folklore count as high fantasy. The world will be familiar to anyone who has read ‘After the Ruin’, or to anyone who knows Scotland. Because the colours and the atmosphere are north country folk tale, highlands and islands with a touch of sea wolves on the horizon. The Crooked Path is a love story, a triangular love story between two beings who are not quite human but very much of the world of the story, and a humble, heroic potter.

The story is pure magic, danced across a vivid canvas. It’s rare I can see a place in such clear, strong colours as Goodchild’s world. The mountains are purple, the sky blue, the gorse yellow, the sky black set with brilliants. Even the roses are red or white, never pink. There are no pastel shade, no half tints. The sun is high and flaming gold at midsummer or the world is black and white at mid winter. Yet there is no long, florid phrasing in this writing; Goodchild paints this glorious canvas with an astonishing economy of words.

The hero is the potter, and the reader is free to like or dislike all of the other far more lordly, rich and important characters. Possibly one of the most likeable aspects of folk tales is turning the established order on its head as surely as magic can turn the commonplace into treasure. There’s no point going into the details of the plot which builds up, brush stroke by brush stroke, adding details and depth as the journey proceeds until the sunburst of a conclusion when the whole painting is revealed. You will love this story if you love the magic of folk tales that contain in a familiar setting a world that is so very different to the one we know.

You can buy it from

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com