#writephoto: Unquiet bones

Just finished my WIP and as usual, Sue’s photo for the #writephoto prompt fits the theme perfectly.

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Cecilia stopped out of breath at the crossroads. The place held no terror for her, but she was close to her time and the child would hear them calling as clearly as she did. She looked across the valley, the town huddled along the beck, out of sight, but the column of smoke from the mill chimney rose straight and black, a finger pointing at the indifferent sky.

The place held no terror for her, but it was full of a restless sadness. The quarry that was not a quarry gaped. She felt the pattering of footsteps beneath the earth, heard the scrape of clawed fingers on stone. He had never listened, never wanted to know. Perhaps he would not have cared anyway. His kind rarely did.

She sighed and turned back. Soon it would come. There is a time for everything, seasons, births, reckonings. She looked at the spire and the turrets that poked in their absurd monstrosity above the tree line. He had thought to build a mansion for himself and his heirs. He had built it on bones of the unquiet dead. She winced as the child stirred, and the wind blew cold. The saddest part was that when the flames came, he would not understand why.

#writephoto: The Stone

For Sue Vincent’s #writephoto challenge. Gothic again.

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He thought he had got rid of the unsightly obstruction, hadn’t thought about the stone once since the house was built. He had had far too much on his mind since then to worry about where the thing had gone. There had been the fire, and the winter wind had been full of voices. The winter had lasted longer than usual that year; the cold had bit deeper. Misery lurked in heaps of rags at the corner of every street.

He had not wanted the deaths. Why did they not understand that it was not in his interest to kill off his workforce, and if an arrangement could have been found that avoided deaths he would have accepted it? But it hadn’t been possible. How could it have been? In a mill there are always workers, and in a fire, there are always those who can’t get out in time.

The house had never been easy. Stones and paint have no souls, no hearts. There is nothing in the construction of a building that can bear a grudge. And yet, and yet, the house had never been easy. Cecilia had encouraged it, nurtured the grudge. She was part of it, born with rancour in her blood. He should never have married her.

But he had, and she had brought his nemesis into the heart of his household, his castle. She had called back the stone, the vengeful mother, and he could see it from his bedroom window. Even though the curtains were drawn, even though the winter night was shut outside, he could feel the stone eyes blazing. He could smell the scorching of plush velvet, hear the small crickle crackle sounds of a blaze at its beginning.

The sounds of running feet and shouts of alarm came to him, but they seemed far away, too far to be of any help. The door to his bedroom was locked. He could try to break it down but all the other doors would be locked too. The casements wouldn’t open; the glass, he had tried already, wouldn’t break.

Flames now, frank and open, no more pretence that something had been left to catch in the kitchen, a scalding iron, a batch of bread. Red and roaring they raced up the plush, that dripped to the ground in a cascade of flame, baring the window glass, revealing the night sky, and silhouetted against the stars, the Stone.

#writephoto: The stones remember

Okay, WIP calls. For Sue’s Thursday Photo prompt.

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The beck still flows as it has always done, quieter now that the mill has gone, quieter now that the ghosts have gone, but the water that is always different and always the same remembers. The stones remember and the wind and the great- great- great- grandchildren of the crows remember, the trees that bend, bowed but not broken, on the rocky hillside all know the story and will never forget.

Hawisa watches over this melancholy place and soothes the chattering bones. I have seen her face in the running water, strong, solemn and wise, and at night, those who dare, whose consciences are clear can see her weaving her dance of flame among the russet leaves of autumn, leading fox and deer and weasel and redbreast to the place where it all began and ended.

The beck still flows about the foot of the stone, and the February dance wreathes its mossy bulk in flames. Hawisa, wise and silent as stone opens her hand. Will she let it go, the soul that writhes in her palm?

She contemplates the mouth that opens and closes, still demanding even after all these years, and her fingers close about it again, stifling its piping. The bones cease their chattering clattering and lie still. The crows take up the clatter in their voices and their wings and fly. The russet creatures slip away until only I am left to see the woman stone turn her face to the town in the valley and say a silent, no.

#writephoto: Empires

For Sue Vincent’s #writephoto challenge. It just so happens that this photograph fits my new WIP like a glove. This is not an excerpt, but a taster.

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Jessop told them to use the stone from the quarry. He was damned if he was going to pay to ship stone from elsewhere when he had perfectly good building materials on his own land. The foreman tried to explain that it wasn’t a quarry, that he’d never get local men to dig stone out of that hillside. So Jessop fired the local labourers and hired immigrants, half-starved men who would work for a meal a day.

The skeletal workforce dug and hewed and dragged the millstone grit up the hill to the site, through the winter when east wind blew bitter across the moors and the wind from the north brought snow. If he lost a few labourers there were plenty more. A whole country full of them, he snarled when a delegation of Quakers reproached him on the subject.

He had to bring in masons from the south. None of the northern folk would touch the stone and the work dragged. It was autumn before the house was finished, the dressed stone shining pale gold in the late sun, and Jessop, mill owner, builder of empires and mansions fit for emperors installed his family and servants in the Hall. On that first golden evening, he stood beneath the chestnuts of the alley, thumbs stuck into the pockets of his ample waistcoat and looked down on the valley town with its smoke and smells and thought himself a king.

Later, when the house was quiet, when the last scullery maid had stumbled into her attic bed, and the butler had locked every door and window tight, the quarry that wasn’t a quarry sighed a dark sigh, and through its dark entrance, the starved and the crippled, men, women and children of Jessop’s broken army of labourers and mill workers drifted into the dark. Their feet made no sound as they followed the passage in the hill that was not a quarry, that passed beneath the foundations of Jessop’s new house, and opened with a sigh into the deepest of the cellars.

 

Pale and gaunt with smouldering fire in their dead eyes they drifted, silent as falling snow up the stone stairs to the cellar door. The only door in the house without a lock.

#Three Line Tales: Gothic

Microfiction for Sonya’s weekly photo prompt.

photo by Watari via Unsplash

tltweek194

 

Inspired by the stories of Walter Scott, he built the house, mimicking the Gothic he never really appreciated or understood, believing vaulted ceilings and cloisters created a ‘sophisticated’ atmosphere.

When his cruelty to the womenfolk of his household shaped Gothic horrors that haunted the nights of the mock-up castle, his line dried up, faded, and he died screaming in a straitjacket.

Now junkies haunt the lonely rooms and fake cloister, weaving their own horrors, painting the walls with their own madness.

#writephoto: The unknown

This is for Sue Vincent’s Thursday Photo prompt. The standing stone looked eerily familiar to me. There has to be a link somewhere.

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The house has gone now, burned, pulled down, the stones scattered, the park reverted to wilderness and the gate walled up. There is nothing left of the people who once lived and died there, and no living memories of their persecutor. But there is a strange stone on the hill that casts a shadow even when there is no sun, where no grass grows and where frost glitters even in August. And in the local museum there is a painting with no name and no date that is fixed to the wall and cannot be moved.

Strange cries are sometimes heard in the park at night, cries that no bird ever made, and the room where the painting hangs is locked now, the other exhibits removed and displayed elsewhere.

*

In the big house that stands alone beyond the last bend in the lane, the electricity has become erratic, doors and windows stick and locked doors open. There was a guard dog, but after a couple of weeks of howling, the dog has fallen silent. Its kennel is empty. The owners pass, fleeting and white-faced as ghosts. In the village, we watch and wait, and wonder how long before it happens again.

Odilon_Redon_-_The_Monster

 

Flash fiction: Harbingers

Here’s a taste of the next series, Angel Haven. Also YA fantasy it follows on from The Green Woman. It’s jumping the gun a bit (a lot) but it’s what I’m reading and writing at the moment.

Harbingers

The last rays skimmed the oak grove while shadows swallowed up the forest paths. Scyld stared down the mountain, across the treetops, his gaze unfocused. Deep in thought he did not hear the creaking of the ropes, the sighing of the branches beneath the dead weights. He did not hear the noise of his feasting thegns or the raucous cry of the birds.
Scyld was reliving his blood dream. His fists clenched and his lips parted as he watched himself splash across the ford, a war cry in his throat. His thegns were about him, axes and swords swirling, throwing up great fountains of river water. In the dream the river ran red, red blood splashed and fountained, and the warcry in his throat was the death knell for the fools in the unguarded settlement.
The dull thunk of a heavy blade slicing through human flesh, the screams and shrieks of the villagers taken by surprise filled his dream ears. The river ran red, and the earth was black with blood. His parted lips curled into a smile. Donar was with them; the god sang in the sweep of the axe stroke, laughed in the whistle of arrows, and roared in the sacking of the wattle huts.
At his back the bodies twisted in the breeze. Sacrifices to Donar. He stepped closer, and peered with cold curiosity at the swollen tongues and bulging eyes, his nostrils flaring in distaste at the smell from the soiled breeches. A price well worth paying, he thought as he pushed the redheaded corpse, setting it twisting slowly.
The sound of feasting reached him at last, and a sudden thirst dried his throat, a desire to be with company to celebrate the sacrifice that would bring certain victory in the coming raid. He licked his lips and turned towards the fort. Deep in the grove yellow eyes stared, unblinking. Scyld looked from the yellow eyes to the twisting redhead.
The god comes for you, Hrothgar. He grinned, almost laughed, but that would have been unseemly in the holy place, and left the wolves to their own feast.
Feasting, he heard, and the raucous sound of birds. Scyld raised his head. Against the fire-streaked sky above the fort two black birds flapped with ragged wings.
More guests for the feast, Osmund.
This time he laughed out loud. The blood dream had shown him war and slaughter, he had made two sacrifices from among his finest warriors. Donar would be pleased with his offering; he would be in Scyld’s right arm on the morrow.
The raucous cry of carrion birds broke into his thoughts of massacres and bloodletting. Scyld paused at the gates of his fort and frowned. Two ravens. Flapping with their steady, powerful wing strokes they flew over the fort, then turned and back they came again. Scyld followed them with his eyes, waiting for them to reach the sacred grove. Suddenly uneasy, he started back; anxious to see them settle on the god’s feast. Before he could move they turned about, not reaching the grove, ignoring the enticing smell of dead men. Against the fiery sky they turned about, gracelessly, flying low, back through the open gates of the fort.
Fear gripped Scyld as the harbingers circled the houses, passed over the huts of wattles, and the finer halls of the wealthy thegns, circled once and settled on the roof of the big hall. Scyld’s hall. Cold settled in Scyld’s stomach. Harbingers.
The blood dream came rushing back. In consternation he saw the fording of the river, the bloody water splashing before his face, heard the war cries, the screams and shrieks as blades sliced through flesh. He heard the whistling of arrows. Cold turned to ice. He heard the whistling of arrows growing to a whine. The whine grew to a shriek, and he heard at last the death song the air crooned in his ears. Silhouetted against the blood red sky, two birds waited. Harbingers.