Haibun: Explorers

A memory for the dverse picnic prompt. We weren’t great picnickers. There was always some small catastrophe. This was the first picnic we went on after we moved to Picardie and got our lovely 1973 Series III Land Rover, one of the original South African station wagons.


First foray into the countryside in the old Land Rover for our little city kids, they lurched in unison as the lane meandered then petered out into a track, and the forest enveloped us. Nowhere looked like the sunny, glade-dappled woods of picture books. We were intimidated by the dark, moss-hung mass of it. We piled out into silence, picked out way over fallen trees, feet sinking into sphagnum moss and sundew plants. Jays screamed. We walked through tall green silence, Papa striding on ahead carrying the youngest, the rest strung out in an uneasy line, until number three sat down by the side of the path, tired, prepared to sit there as long as necessary. Number two, almost hysterical screamed, We can’t leave him there. The wild boar will eat him. We made out way back to the Land Rover. Children huddled in the back to eat the picnic, peering out at the silent trees, peering through the slanting light, looking out for wild boar.

Forest darkness

a living silence growing

cell by green cell.


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.


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.

The wild princess

I was wondering when something would crop up that would be a suitable use for this lovely painting. Sacha’s prompt just fitted the bill.


Once upon a time there was a forest, deep and dark, that no one ever entered, not even the king, because it was said to be haunted. One day, the royal hunt chased a deer into the forest. The prince cursed the hounds and had the kennel master thrashed, and turned his horse for home, for he didn’t dare venture beneath the threatening eaves.

In the dark green shadows, the deer slowed to a trot, then a walk, and then she stopped to drink from a stream. She listened to the fading sounds of the hunt, of the prince shouting his anger, the horses whinnying, whips cracking and hounds whining in pain. When she was satisfied the hunt would not follow her, the deer turned back into a girl.

The girl picked a handful of berries and remembered. She remembered her cradle in the castle where her brother’s voice gave her baby nightmares and nobody cared about an unnecessary third princess. She remembered the breath of forest air that lifted her from the cradle, carried her to the forest and brought her up in the ways of the wild things until she was half wild herself.

The deer girl ate her red berries and listened to the murmuring of the trees. Soon, they said, the forest would roll like a slow, green ocean over the castle to drown the cruelty it harboured, and she would run with the trees. Soon, her brother the prince, their parents and all the court would learn the meaning of the stories of the haunted forest.


#writephoto: The glade

This flash of fiction is for Sue Vincent’s photo prompt. Why not visit her site and have a go yourself?


The stories spoke of this place, a wicked world engulfed by the ocean. For aeons it had lain beneath the waves, a turbulent, capricious sea that boiled and tossed within the rim of the horizon. The coast was deserted. No fishing boats ever cast off from this shore to risk the strange and treacherous sea that muttered low and evil on calm days and howled with the voices of the damned in a gale.

Now the ocean has retreated and left behind squat, algae-covered ruins, bare trees, black and dead to the core, and the deep brown sludge of a thousand years of decomposed human refuse. The rumours say that vengeance walks the slime among the dead things though no one has dared venture beyond the sheltering forest to see.

A strange compulsion draws me to the edge of the known world. Curiosity? Or does blood reach out to blood, and my stained hands itch to sink into the corruption of the dead world and feel the remnants of pain slip between my fingers, my ears to thrill to the echoes of those last screams? I shiver and follow the ghastly path deeper into the murk.


Like my short fiction? Try the novels here, or sign up for news about further publications here.


Microfiction: The spring dance part II


The gnarly roots gave way to bouncy loam, pungent with fallen leaves and the busy business of decomposition. The child skipped over a branch where mushrooms clung, over a patch of spongy moss full of tiny snap-jawed plants.

This is yours, said the rose.

If you want it, said a voice from a hazel thicket.

What would I do with all this? The child asked in puzzlement.

Why, love it, of course! The voices laughed.

The girl laughed too and danced around a clump of kingcups. Wagtails and Great Tits sang their refrains back and forth until she had them by heart. Water rippled close by and the breeze rattled the poplar leaves like castanets. Bees hummed and blackbirds sang deep and fruity. The hazel thicket moved, and a blue black fox sniffed the air.

Dance me a story, he said, and I’ll sing you a tapestry.

So the girl danced the story of her home and the walk to school and the pavements with the cracks, the smell of hot tarmac, the cars sweating in the heat. Her dance faltered and the fox pricked his ears. He tugged at his fur where a flea was biting. The girl stopped and bit her lip. When she began again, she danced the wall of smooth shiny stone, the trees and the curly roots, the buttercups in the long grass. The fox grinned.

That was pretty. Now, watch.

And he barked the falling leaves, the russet and the golden, the wind through bare branches and the wind through summer leaves. The birds picked up the threads and wove their snippets of nestlings and bright blue eggs. The wind blew a blast of winter and scurrying snowflakes. The girl watched and saw the forest in all its seasons and colours.

Keep it safe, said the fox, and led her deeper among the singing trees.

Microfiction: The spring dance

Painting ©Helma Petrick


She knew this was the right place, because of the wolf face smiling at her from high among the smooth stones.

Here, it whispered.

I know, she replied eagerly.

We’re waiting for you, said the rose nodding gently among the branches of the big tree.

She hesitated and looked back along the path towards the road that wound about until it reached another road and the house where she lived. But the path had gone. The cart ruts filled with pale sandy soil and separated by tall wavy grass were no longer there. She crouched down and parted the tall yellow flowers, felt the ground until she found the indentation made by a metal-rimmed wheel long ago. She picked a flower and smiled at its yellowness. The path was still there if you knew where to look. And she did.

Come, the wolf said. Come and dance.

Dance, said the rose, and a wave of perfume broke over her face.

Can I go home, after? She asked.

If you want to, said the wolf.

Only if you want to, said the rose and the spreading tree.

Only if you want to, repeated all the trees in the great forest beyond the wall.

Then I’ll come, said the little girl.

The wolf howled with delight, and the wolves and foxes of the forest picked up his song. The spreading tree leant gracefully to one side, and the wall opened to let the child pass. She skipped through the narrow, root-curly gap and joined in the spring dance that only ever ends if you want it to.

200 word story: Forest eyes

The tree watches. In its branches perch a world of birds. Insects trundle and burrow beneath the ridges of its bark. Nuthatches, tits, finches creep and dig, tiny claws clinging, beaks pecking. In the forest silence, the small sounds ring out bell-clear. Sunlight filtered through its dwindling leaves falls softly golden on my face, but I am not fooled. There is no acceptance here, only dull, eternal hostility. Yet I stay because the eyes of the tree compel me.

I shrink beneath the towering silver-grey trunk, hold out my hands to show the watching eyes that they are empty. The implacable stare is unflinching. The pecking stops. Birds flutter and are lost among the dapples of sunlight and shade. Eyes, lidless, dark wounds where limbs once grew, stare at me, the intruder.

No more, the breeze murmurs. No more.

I won’t, I say. I never have done, never would.

But the breeze has flowed on and on and doesn’t listen.

Times change, whisper the last golden leaves. Trees change.

Dusk falls slowly here, dimming light, the setting sun reflected from the clouds along the horizon. Roosting birds shuffle. Yellow eyes blink. Around me, the rustling of dead things grows louder.

In the forest

In the forest a leaf falls

And feeds the snail

That feeds the thrush

That the fox takes to feed her cubs.


In the forest a tree falls

And the fox wakes

To catch a rabbit sniffing green shoots

So the shoots grow.


The rain from the ocean pours

And the earth drinks

Feeding the shoot

That grows to a tree.


In the shade of the tree

Fox lies where snails glide

Watching the rabbits

While the thrush sings.


The sun shines

The rain falls

And the ocean rolls

While in the shade of a tree

Young foxes tumble

Among the first falling leaves.


Poems for tourists


Sunbathers on a beach
slumber, oiled and indifferent
to the grandiose history of a grain of sand
or the dark, unsoundable depths
of the waves’ home.

Destroying the magic

Footsteps in the wilderness
no matter how quiet
make the wilderness


I feel no need to touch the pyramids
to see my footprints in desert sand
or stalk a tiger with native guide
or be the first to leave a plastic bag
in a virgin forest.


Floating hotel squats
obstructing the riverfront
spewing its load of credit cards
into the waiting boutiques.

New camera

Better to watch and observe
than snap and snap and snap.