Three Line Tales: Treachery

This is a very strange photo. For Sonya’s Three Line Tales photo prompt.

photo by Danny G

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“Erm, those characters up ahead, is this Game of Thrones cosplay, or who are they?” she says with a nervous giggle, taking his hand.

He slows down and raises their hands so that the guy on the horse with the sword and the wolfdog can see and recognise the sign.

He smiles, shaking his head at the bemused expression on her face and says, “Sorry, Jen, but they won’t let me thought unless I pay the toll—it’s you.”

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Flash fiction: Casting off

Flash fiction for the Daily Inkling’s prompt—sink or swim.

With thanks to Paul Militaru for the photographic inspiration. This one’s for you, Paul

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They had often stood on this bridge, out in the middle of the river where the current appeared to rush fiercest, though it seemed to her a lifetime since she had watched the rushing water with excitement. Once, she had felt carried along on the back of some great animal or bird, to places she had never seen, to be someone she had not yet met. She felt like the river, rolling and racing to the sea, longing to throw herself helter-skelter into its huge embrace. The world was vast then and there was no horizon.

He stands next to her in silence. Once, she would have known what he was thinking. Once she would have cared. Doesn’t she? She has to ask herself. There’s a twinge of pain, because the answer is, yes, she does care. She twiddles the stem of a red rose in her fingers. He has always bought her a rose when the Gypsies come around the restaurant tables. She used to think it was romantic. Now she sees that he simply doesn’t want to look like a cheapskate.

She twiddles the rose and looks along the river to the horizon, because there is a horizon now, and she knows that whatever is beyond it will stay hidden, out of reach. What you get is what you see. He shuffles, and she thinks she hears a sigh. She moves closer. Their hands touch and he doesn’t move away. They are on the edge, of the bridge, the horizon, the rushing water, the unseen ocean. One way is back to the bland indifference until they wake up one morning and find that somehow, the other is no longer there. The other way is onward, to watch the coiling water and follow where it leads. How to know which way to fall?

She lets the rose drop from her fingers. They both watch as it falls, head first, red and unopened. They watch as it is caught by the current and dragged out of sight. The water squirms, dark green and rapid. She realises she is holding her breath. Then she sees it, the red splash bobbing, twirling in a little whirlpool before shooting off after the rest of the river. To the sea. She turns and he is looking at her, an idiotic grin on his face. Reflected in his eyes, her face smiles back.

A better place

Strange image calls for strange story. This is D. Wallace Peach’s February speculative fiction prompt.

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How long she had stood in the falling cold, the baby couldn’t say, but her back wore a white blanket now, and her toes were covered in it. It was longer again before she realised she didn’t feel cold anymore, that her thoughts were unfreezing and she could remember. There had been so much sorrow, crying and death. Tears filled the baby’s eyes, but the image of the woman with fiery hair smiled at her, and the tears dried.

She remembered the fiery woman who had swept down from the hill where all the others were lying dead or dying, and how the woman screamed in anger and threw bolts of flame from her hands until the sadness became a forest of flames. The flames swirled and twisted and carried the baby in strong fiery arms and left her in this strange, quiet place where cold white fell from the sky.

She shook her head and found that her forehead was butted up against a tree, and in the tree was a tiny human house and on the roof of the tiny house was a family of mice, white as the falling cold. She pushed. The house lurched, and from inside came the shrill miniscule shrieks of humans. She pushed again and the tree cracked. The mice twittered and leapt to the ground. Instead of running away they watched, intrigued. The baby’s unfrozen thoughts grew clear as spring water, and suddenly she knew. The mouse family knew too. The fiery woman smiled inside the baby’s head from within the flames of her hair and the baby smiled back.

The baby nudged a third time and the tree trunk broke. The tiny house slipped and fell to the ground, splitting open like a coconut. The tiny people rushed out then back, in and out, in and out of the wreckage unable to resign themselves to leaving behind this or that piece of useless junk. Then one pointed. Their movements froze just for a second, before they screamed in unison and ran. The baby stretched out her trunk and trumpeted a baby war cry. The mice squeaked, the baby stomped on the matchwood human house, and the cold stopped falling. The fiery woman spoke inside the baby’s head.

No more. Never again.

No more, agreed the mice.

Never again, agreed the baby, and started off into the great forest where the white cold had never fallen, to look for others like herself.

#writephoto: A piece of the past

This short story is for Sue Vincent’s photo prompt. It isn’t finished so I might have to go back to it. For once it has nothing whatsoever to do with my WIP. Thanks goodness…

 

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The crisped muscles of her face relax into a smile as the warm breeze bathes her in the heavy scents of rose and lavender. Memories stir and she seems to remember being here before. How long is it, she wonders since she was outdoors in the warm? Her hand goes to her face, touches the place where the sunlight falls.

She closes her eyes, pulls the flower heads from a spear of lavender and walks slowly, guided by the bushes at the side of the path, or perhaps by memory, to the love seat at the end.

The scents are so heavy. A bird sings. She opens her eyes to see what it is, blackbird or thrush. The sun glares, suddenly fierce and she blinks. The sky is too bright, not blue, grey and metallic; the love seat tilts. A bird screams.

She casts about, unease replacing pleasure. She has been here before. Voices come from behind, sharp and agitated, the sound of running feet. She has been here before, she remembers now. Panic rises. It was when—

Reading matters

I finally finished Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety and I’m so glad she ended it with the echo of little Maximilien at his mother’s knee. It was a beautiful bit of writing, only a couple of hundred words, but I have carried it with me out of all the 876 pages that preceded it.

I can’t say I particularly enjoyed the novel, was interested, but not gripped. I didn’t really care about who was speaking at which club and what was said about it on the committee afterwards. There is an awful lot of talking about people speechifying. Danton undoubtedly was a brilliant rabble-rouser, but we have to take it on trust, not being able to quote from any of his speeches, since he didn’t write speeches, just made them up as he went along.

The book is probably too long, has an unnerving way of switching tense in the course of a paragraph without any particular reason that I could see, and I didn’t really believe in most of the female characters which is a shame as they were added expressly to give the historical giants a more human aspect.

All that said, it’s an extremely impressive work in its scope, and the writing is technically tremendous. It has made me dump all the recently published historical fiction I had on my reading pile after the first page or so in irritation either at the sloppy research, improbable plot, or because of the over-attention to period detail, the kind where the story gets lost in the meanders of the fabrication of the worsted, the quality of the carpets, or what was a bargain on each market stall.

I’m rereading Maupassant instead. He is just so good. Barking mad, but brilliant. Why can’t modern writers be like Maupassant, write intricate description only when it is an integral part of the story, and sketch a whole character in two brief phrases?

I finally read La Horla—a story my husband had always said I shouldn’t read, because he knows I get grotesque nightmares, and it would be too upsetting—mainly because he read it and it scared him rigid. It was quite a revelation as the ‘presence’ of the Horla was exactly the same as a nightmare I had a couple of weeks ago, that something got on the bed, pinned me down and was strangling me. I couldn’t move or call out, and I couldn’t see it, but I could feel its lips at my ear, whispering something I didn’t remember afterwards. It drove the character in the story potty.

I’d love to be able to write as well as Hilary Mantel, but not as much as I wish I could write half as well as Guy de Maupassant.

The Third Coming

D. Wallace Peach is running a month long writing challenge. The prompt is the picture below. Thanks for the challenge, Diana!

by Stefan Keller

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The Jötunn places a warning hand on Fenrir’s head. There will be time for action, even revenge later. First though, they will observe. Unlike the mortals, they will not act in haste, without thought. The rainbow bridge is broken; there is no going back, but even after such destruction, the little men seem to think that is not enough.

Ymir gazes through icicles at the blue earth in the sky above his head. His cheeks are aglitter with frozen tears at what men have done. The gods have their part of responsibility, allowing their own petty quarrels to blind them to the wars of men who watched the anger of the gods and copied it, refined and honed it, until they had weapons capable of destroying the world. Add to that an incommensurate greed, selfishness and cruelty, and the fall of Bifrost was a mere side show.

Now they are here, looking for some cave where they can begin again, to swarm and spawn, and suck dry. Ymir’s icy gaze returns to the string of explorers, the vanguard, striding resolutely across the snowy wastes. Like so many waves of invaders before them, they have nothing to lose. They have burnt their boats; the home they left is a wasteland. Ymir had hoped that the inhospitable face of this planet would deter them, but he sees he was wrong. And as soon as they pierce the secret, when the dimensions shift and the summer planet returns, the floodgates will open. Men will flow from the stricken earth like rats from a burning barn.

Is that what you want?

Ymir strokes Fenrir’s head gently.

No. Not this time. They have had their chance.

Fenrir lets out a blast of burning breath and the men stop, sensing the change in temperature. They look around, note the melting snow, dig, scratch, find the grass beneath. The leader sticks a banner in the ground and unfurls his colours. A spring breeze tugs at the fabric. The invaders cheer.

Now?

Ymir sighs. Now. Make an end.

Fenrir surges to his feet and shakes the snow and ice from his coat. The men flinch in the avalanche and seize their weapons. The sky darkens; the wolf-shape blots out the light of the sky. There is no target. The men look in every direction but see nothing in the blizzard and the darkness. Their last sight is red, a cavern of red, like the mouth of Hell, and eyes, deep and fiery as the pits of Hell. In the instant before the flames engulf them, they see, reflected in the flames, the last vestige of the last forest, and the last deer lowering his antlers to face the final inferno.

#writephoto: Dublin cathedral

For Sue Vincent’s photo prompt. Another one that was obviously intended for my WIP. I haven’t got to the end of the story yet, but since it’s history, we know how it ends more or less.

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Aoife never thought she would come to love him. It had been a marriage to seal a bargain, the price her father paid for the Norman’s help. Diarmait had won his war and the Norman had wanted paying. Yet from such an inauspicious start had blossomed more than she had ever imagined possible, so much more than the passion that had existed with Art. She had ridden into battle at Riseárd’s side, defended his title though it was her own brother who defied him. In their time together she had been wife, lover, mother, counsellor and confidante. And Art had never forgiven either of them.

He would not have wanted to be buried in the cathedral, but Henry had insisted. Richard Earl of Pembroke had been one of the foremost of his barons, he’d said. He must be buried with all the honours due to his rank. She had demurred, because the dead are dead, and she had to look to the living. So here she is, to tell him that the Quinns are making trouble once again, and once again she is preparing to defend Cappamore from their raids. She tells him that his Leinster lands are all safe, and Henry is keeping Pembroke from the jackals for Isabel when she comes of age.

They have come to an arrangement about Pembroke, the white lady of the lake and Aoife. No male issue will ever have it. The female line will always prevail. She places a kiss on the stone brow, so little like the living brow she had so often kissed. She gathers up the white lilies that she always finds strewn over Riseárd’s likeness and puts the luxuriant blooms, damp with dew, in a vase by Riseárd’s head, not in the side altar, Evienne wouldn’t like it. A final gesture before she leaves, to meet the death that Art will send her— on his heart, she places a single red rose.