#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.

#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.

Tactics

For Sonya’s Three Line Tales prompt.

photo by Michal Vrba via Unsplash

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There is something about the sight of children absorbed in a tactical game of skill, wits and intelligence that gives me the creeps.

I imagine them later, older, sitting together again, but this time around a conference table in a boardroom.

Older, the tactics refined and put to other uses, children who never acted the maggot at school plot with cold, dispassionate moves the fate of millions.

Story in Visual Verse: The blue bus

I don’t often send anything to Visual Verse, either the image inspires or it doesn’t. When I saw this month’s image it fell into the latter category…then fell out of it again. The beauty of it is exactly because it inspires nothing at all, and that’s how it led despite itself, to this piece of prose.

The blue bus

VV-December-2019

#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.

#writephoto: Wandering

For Sue Vincent’s weekly photo prompt. Moving onto another WIP.

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The cold hit him as soon as he broke through the saplings at the edge of the copse. If he hadn’t been running so hard, he would have noticed it earlier. If he hadn’t been so afraid of being caught, he’d have noticed the change in the light too. He hurtled into the open; what should have been a field on an autumn afternoon, now seemed full of shadows. He stopped, his breath heaving, the only sound the blood pounding in his ears and the crackle of frozen grass beneath his feet.

He listened, despite the strangeness, the fear of his pursuers stronger than the evidence of his senses. Nothing. Not even a dog barking. Not even the faint rumble of traffic on the main road that passed through the small town as the bottom of the valley. He flung himself around, wild-eyed now, his feet cracking the ice that had formed along a sinuous path that led…he had no idea. He stumbled forward, aimlessly, teeth chattering with the cold, heading for the shadows he imagined to be the hedge at the field’s edge.

His breath made clouds in front of his face, misting his vision, his feet slipped over the same misty hoarfrost, until the shadowy line at the edge of sight towered over his head. By the faint light of the stars he saw he was standing beneath the eaves of a forest. It was cold as feck, and he had no idea where he was.