Microfiction: A pleasant seat

A late entry for Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt.

ruin

 

There had always been a house there. It was a good site, close to the river but high enough to be out of reach of flooding. There was a big tree for shade and the land about was rich. The highway ran close by, and there was a small town an hour’s ride away.

There had always been a house on the hill above the river, built on the same spot from the same stones. Always, since long before anyone could remember, a house had stood there, a ruin except for one gable wall, waiting to be rebuilt again. The stones were old, some of them carved with strange patterns. The lintels were unworked, the door low, almost like a mouth opening into the earth. The stones would lie scattered on the hillside for so long that no one remembered what the previous house had looked like, who had lived there, nor why it lay in ruins. They called it the Prince’s House, though there was nothing to suggest that it had been owned by someone of wealth and importance.

The house was rebuilt one last time, in the days of photography and enlightenment, by an amateur scientist, intrigued by the strange carvings on certain stones, and by a shallow pit at one corner of the foundations beneath the gable end. The scientific gentleman excavated the pit and found human bones, small bones, a child, curled in a foetal position. He had the bones exhumed, moved and disturbed by some deep instinct. The bones should be buried with respect, he said, in the local churchyard.

The mason was sent, unwillingly, with the bones to the priest who, as he expected, refused their interment in consecrated ground. The two men replaced the bones where they had been found, and the mason, by the light of a lamp held by the priest, covered them with a stone slab and filled in the pit with earth and stone.

The scientific gentleman was none the wiser, and the house was built, snug and tight with a solid roof of red tiles.

On the first night of winter, the Prince, as was his custom, rose up in anger to expulse the intruder from his home in a black wind of pure fury, and the scientific gentleman learned the taste of inexplicable fear. It was the last thing he ever learned.

His thoughts on the bones found in the foundations of the house, the photographs he took and the paper he wrote on the subject for the university escaped the Prince’s grip, flew through his immaterial fingers, caught up in the new wave of scientific fervour that he could not stop. The story of the sacrificial offering became known, and the house was left in ruins. Charred and broken roof beams litter the hillside to this day. Strangely carved stones lie scattered in the long grass. But the gable remains, sturdy and unblemished, as it has stood since the days of darkness, when the Prince arose and made the pleasant seat his home.

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#writephoto microfiction: Home

Inspired by Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt.

broken

For centuries it had been home. Built by some lordling, little more than a gentleman farmer, who lived surrounded by his fields and his folk in a gentle fold of the land, peaceful and mild. Then his line dwindled and died, the land was swept up by more powerful lords, and the house retreated within its copse of trees, on its little hill, and looked down on the old lands as they were ploughed under and transformed.

The years went by, and colza and cabbage lapped the foot of the little hill without ever climbing to the door of the house. From the arrow slit in the tower, crows peered down on waving crops, searching for the small movements of mice and lizards. Gradually, the roof fell in and rain washed the stone clean on the inside too. Grass filled in the cracked pavements, and foxes flitted in and out of the great hall on summer nights.

Perhaps the house would have gone to sleep forever, in its ring of ash trees, on it’s quiet hill. But I wandered there one day and the ghosts took my hand. Its worn pavements rang with dance steps and laughter, and it took me to its heart.

 

#writephoto microfiction: Refuge

For Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt.

cave1

Once it had been a refuge. A wall three feet thick had ringed it about, and in the winter the snow lay so deep against the gate no one could get out. Once she had lived there with her father and brothers, through the cold, hungry months of the winter, and the star-filled nights of summer. Winter and summer alike, a fire roared in the hearth, the dogs lay by the wall, and the watch kept his post on the tower.

One summer, when the gate stood lazily open, and the watch snoozed, and only the dogs kept half an eye open, they had fallen on her father’s hall. Mercenaries, between one war and the next, looking for easy pickings. She wasn’t the easiest of all, but she was no match for a dozen armed men, not when her father and her brothers lay in their blood with the dogs, and the serving men fled. So they took her and they did with her what all soldiers do with women they find. Later, when they had done, night fallen and they were sleeping, she cut the throat of their leader. They caught her and they ran her through, of course, but her spirit came home. She still waits for the band of soldiers to dare to come back to her father’s hall. Once it had been a refuge. Now it was a trap.

A dream come true

I finally wrote a story for Sacha Black’s prompt, the rather creepy Doll Island theme.

Photo©Miloš Hlávka

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The agent cut the motor and helped her out of the dinghy. John jumped out behind her, and the agent tied up the little boat. There were no other boats on the jetty. She gazed at the woodland ahead, the placid brilliance of the lake behind her, and sighed deeply.

“Gorgeous, isn’t it?” The estate agent smiled with all his teeth.

“I can hardly believe we’re really doing this,” she said, her voice drifting on the breeze, and her fingers reached out for John’s hand.

“A dream come true,” he echoed.

“Let me show you the property,” the estate agent said, setting off along the ride lined with beech trees. The alley ended in a meadow that looked as though it had once been a tended lawn. Here and there, flowering shrubs cascaded wildly from the confines of what had once been strict beds. The agent put down his briefcase carefully in the grass and waved one arm from horizon to horizon.

“The property stretches from the wall over there to the right, and as far as the wall you can just see through the trees to the left. This is where the architect has planned the house. The garden will run down to the beech wood and the driveway, and from the first floor you’ll have an unobstructed view of the lake.”

“Wouldn’t it be more logical to put the house up there, at the highest point?” John pointed to the top of the rising ground. “We could see the lake from the ground floor too then, have a terrace looking right down on it.”

A faint look of unease flitted across the estate agent’s face before it was replaced by a smile. He shook his head. “Land’s not been cleared there yet. You’d have to wait until the…investigations were over to start building. Could be a while, and in any case, that section of the property hasn’t been checked for seismic activity, subsidence, flooding—”

“Flooding?” John raised an eyebrow.

The agent grinned. “I admit, it’s not an obvious problem, but you know, the regulations.”

“Can we look?” she asked, already moving up the hill.

“Certainly,” the agent hurried to catch her up. “But there’s nothing to see.”

There wasn’t much left of the building, just the foundations, cellars, some of the retaining walls and a lot of charred timber. John whistled.

“Must have been quite a fire.”

“Terrible,” the agent agreed. “The architect has prepared plans for this section too. Gardens and a summer house.”

“What happened?”

The estate agent smiled evasively and shrugged. “Nobody knows. And nobody…survived to give any clues.”

“That’s why the investigation is still going on?”

“I expect it’s just a formality now.” The estate agent opened his briefcase. “I have the plans here, if you’d like to have a look?”

She wandered off again, not wanting to stand still, just staring. Something in the air that she found oppressive made her fidgety. There was a low stone building, an outhouse of sorts, looked to be still intact. Poppies and cornflowers and various climbing plants grew up to the walls as if they’d been sown there. A little garden. Like the kind she had had when…She unlatched the door and it swung open. The room was bare stone walls and stone flagged floor. It was full of boxes. The sense of oppression increased, the air, heavy, full of vibrations. She listened. It was almost like voices. She took a step backwards. Looking over her shoulder, she saw John and the estate agent making their way towards her. It was their voices she had heard obviously. She stepped into the dark room and peered into the nearest of the boxes. She gave a gasp. John’s hand on her shoulder steadied her. The estate agent appeared at her side, his face white in the gloom.

“It’s probably not a good idea to—”

She interrupted him. “What’s all…this?” She swept a hand around the room and bent to open the box fully. “These?”

Dozens of dolls, some dressed, some not, all sizes, hair colours, all with fluttering eyelids and big glass eyes, gazed at her.

“The house, it was an orphanage. Didn’t you know?”

As the estate agent shepherded them out into the sunlight, she thought she heard the pattering of feet on stone flags, and a breath of laughter followed her down to the beech ride.

The tower #writephoto

Here is the photo for Sue’s Thursday prompt.

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The honeymoon suite, he’d said. A honeymoon to remember, he’d laughed. Can’t wait, she’d said.

They arrived after nightfall. The tower that looked like a crag grinned down at them. The top-most windows of the candle-lit room watched their progress. He stopped the car.

“Well?” He turned to her with a questioning look. “What do you think?”

She clenched her fists and stared ahead, straight into the palely flickering window eyes. “You’re kidding.”

He laughed. She glared at him, unsure what the laughter meant.

“I’m not getting out of this car,” she said, keeping her voice steady with an effort.

He leant across and kissed her on the cheek. “You are silly sometimes,” he murmured. “I’m just teasing. The hotel’s a bit further down the road, overlooking the beach.”

She shot him a look of relief and her fists unclenched. “Let’s go then. I’d kill for a hot bath.” She kissed him back. “And other things.”

He grinned and the car moved off along the winding coast road to where the hotel crouched on the cliff overlooking the rocky cove. Behind them, the tower windows of the ruin blinked and went dark. Eyes followed them, satisfied. In a little while, shadows gathered at the foot of the tower and slid along the narrow impasse that led to the hotel, but not back again.

Microfiction: Lost temple VIII

Final episode.

Ruine_Oybin_bei_Mondschein

Tears of rage and of sorrow blinded the acolyte. He knelt at the edge of the pit and wept until the images faded and he became aware of the whispering of hundreds of voices.

I hear.

He wiped his eyes on his sleeve and got to his feet. The pavement rippled, and the monk’s body slid into the pit. The acolyte watched, and, full of shame for all it represented, he undid the beads about his own waist and tossed the rosary after Brother Constantine. The shadows returned, soft as doves’ wings, to fill the space. The ravens wheeled, sending the darkness swirling, like giant wings, and departed, their silhouettes black against the moon. He took the amulet and hung it around his neck. The amulet spoke.

Go now and keep the secret. This is a holy place. Let not the barbarians return to profane it.

The acolyte nodded, his face set, a cold glitter in his eye. The dove wings, children’s hands, touched his hands, his robes. Older hands stroked his face, gentle as a summer breeze. Moonlight filled the ruins, softening the rough edges, washing the pavement with silver.

The acolyte made his way back to the waiting horses and turned their heads towards a new life.

Microfiction: Lost temple VII

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Shadows rolled back from the high windows, and moonlight flooded the ruins, pale and silvery. There was no altar. Only a pit where it had stood. Fragments of white marble littered the pavement, and among the shards lay the crumpled body of Brother Constantine. His outflung right hand still clutched part of a broken crucifix, and even in the moonlight, the acolyte could see that it was a seething mass of burns. The air was still. The light pure and unwavering, but the young man knew they were there and waited for them to speak.

The amulet grew hotter and agitated in his fingers. He had no need to press it to his brow to see the images, the awful bloody images of the brown-robed priests cutting down the worshipers with their steel swords, snatching children and babies from their mothers, smashing skulls, splitting and slicing and gouging until the marble pavement was awash in blood. He saw the old images of the earth tree and the generous curves of the earth mother dashed to the ground and the terrible stark crucifix dressed above the bloody sea.

Microfiction: Lost temple VI

Ruine_Oybin_bei_Mondschein

The white fluttering smudges flew together, holding aloft…a crucifix—it had to be—and terror gripped the acolyte’s entrails twisting them until he thought he would vomit. Could he not tell? Did he not realise?

“Brother! No!”

It made no difference. The monk was jabbering with fear but he continued to brandish the hated symbol. The acolyte was held fast in the coils of the amulet but he was undecided now, torn between his duty to his superior and a deeper duty to the dead.

The voice of the darkness rumbled and snarled. The pavement buckled like a stormy sea, and the jagged pinnacles of the ruins shuddered. The voice of the older monk rose to a terrified shriek then fell silent. Stones fell about his ears, but the acolyte found that he could once more command the muscles of his legs, and he ran to where the shadows piled thickest. He ran, the amulet throbbing in his hand, and the darkness parted to let him pass.

The air filled with the beating of wings as the ravens descended, flying in their disorderly fashion in a ragged circle. Displaced air flowed like a stiff breeze around his head and he sensed the antipathy so keenly he could almost feel it scratching his skin.

Microfiction: Lost temple IV

Ruine_Oybin_bei_Mondschein

Clouds moved across the moon’s bloody face, but even the wind was silent. No trees murmured; no leaves rustled. The acolyte, his fingers gripping the amulet, moved cautiously after the old man, his eyes fixed on the shadowy apse. There was something odd and unnerving about the darkness that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. His feet dragged as if he were walking through thick mud. The amulet in his right hand grew hot. Hot enough to burn, but he dared not let go.

The ravens shuffled and rattled their ragged wing feathers. The acolyte cringed and his shuffling steps came to a halt. He raised the amulet fearfully and pressed it to his brow. Pain seared, but he gritted his teeth, letting the images of blood and death wash, like a filthy tide, into his thoughts. Suppressing a cry, he thrust the amulet back into the pocket of his robe.

A pale smudge moved back and forth at head height—the monk—and the acolyte wondered if his superior had found the altar or just the place where it had been. He was on the point of calling out when fear froze his tongue to the roof of his mouth.

Microfiction: Lost temple III

Ruine_Oybin_bei_Mondschein

The older monk stopped his muttering and raised his head.

“Eagles!” He pointed to the birds, black against the lurid sky, flapping with unhurried wing beats to perch on the crumbling arch of the crossing. “Another omen.”

The acolyte shook his head but the shadows hid the movement, and he dared not openly contradict. The moon hung in the still glowing sky, and by its light he watched more birds wing their way to the ruins. Not eagles. Ravens. And the omen was not a good one. He glanced at the older man’s ecstatic expression and knew that he had not seen the harbingers, or had not wanted to see.

“Now, to the altar,” the old man said, almost to himself and strode towards the apse. The acolyte wondered why the shadows seemed so dense, why he could not make out the shape of the altar. Perhaps it had been destroyed? Perhaps there was nothing to find after all. The old man in his dark robes melded with the shadows and the acolyte could no longer see him. His steps made no sound on the marble flags. The acolyte listened, struck by the silence. It was total. The moon had moved to the next window.