#Three line tales: Trapped

For Sonya’s Three Line Tales prompt.

photo by Peter Gonzalez via Unsplash



When he moved them to the city, drawn by the lights, the life, the bubbling creativity (and the shops, it has to be said), she had acquiesced; they could always get out again.

That was years ago, and the city has grown, tentacular and voracious, eating up the countryside around, even the agricultural land disappearing under concrete and tarmac, until now it has meshed with the outskirts of the neighbouring cities.

These days, he takes her out in the car to get a change of scene, to watch the traffic lights change colour.




A piece of flash fiction for the Daily Inkling prompt—beaming.


Why does she smile at me so broadly, the woman on the tram? She doesn’t know me. Is it to disarm; is she short sighted and fears offending, stepping on toes, not recognising a friend?

She showers her sunny beams on anyone who catches her eye. I half expect her to get out a tambourine and start a sing-song for Jesus. She smiles as though her good humour will make the rest of us feel better. It doesn’t.

I guess she smiles because it makes her feel good to distribute her largesse with such generosity. I can hear her arteries applauding. But the old man hunched next to her might have just lost his wife, the man behind, coughing into his hand have an incurable cancer. Her undiscriminating bounty is offensive to those who have nothing to smile about.

I glare at her and turn away, look out of the window. In the grimy glass, I see her face reflected, a brief relaxation of the facial muscles when she thinks no one can see, and for a fleeting moment, as her fingers fiddle aimlessly with the strap of her bag, her eyes fill up with desolation.

#writephoto: Eventide

Doesn’t fit my WIP for once. For Sue Vincent’s Thursday Photo prompt.

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The spring sun has been warm today, warm enough to bring bathers into the cove. Most have left now that evening is drawing the bright colours and the glitter from the air. A couple are still here, enlaced, oblivious of the growing dusk, wrapped up in themselves. I expect they welcome the darkness and the solitude.

The tide has rolled in and rolled out. Sun is setting. I shall wait here a little while longer, in the cool where water pools and captive fish and shrimps wait for the next high tide and release. I wait for the sun to sink behind the headland and the wind to rise, slopping the choppy waves on the sand with the sound of dying porpoises flapping feeble fins.

The caves at the far side of the cove are full of moving shadows now. The others are stirring. I will wait for the last shafts of sunlight to shoot overhead then I will join them, when the dark seeps into the luminosity of the horizon. Ink. There will be no moon. No stars. Just the wind, the waves, and us.

The couple high up above the tideline are whispering. Do they hear? It makes no difference now. Night has fallen, and we bring our shadows into the open, trailing our darkness, wrapping it around cold flesh. Perhaps they do hear. They sit up, listening. Do they hear waves or the grinding of bones? Do they hear the wind or the grinding of teeth? It makes no difference—for them, it is too late.

Three Line Tales: End of story

For Sonya’s Three Line Tales photo prompt.

photo by Clem Onojeghuo via Unsplash


Every market day for the last twenty-seven years he has set up his stand, laid out his merchandise, books stuffed with magic between their shining covers, and waited for customers.

In the beginning, he had sold books; people had stroked the bright coloured covers and dipped inside, tasting the contents first, and he had watched their faces grow absorbed, the worries of their hum-drum lives put on hold.

Things change, laws and attitudes, and today, as the police make him pack away the shining friends that no one has glanced at in weeks, he knows he has to leave and find a place where people still need magic in their lives.


Black Moon

A short story inspired by this image chosen as the prompt by Diana Wallace Peach for her spec fic writing challenge.

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Sand crabs chitter as the boy runs. His bare feet make no sound in the dry sand. He runs down the middle of the avenue in the light that is slipping from red to blue, keeping away from the shadows cast by the empty buildings—empty of human habitation, but who knows what else may be lurking there? Who knows anything any more?

He runs at a steady desperate trot, as he has since he entered the city and found that there was no one there to turn to. How long since he last ate or drank, he doesn’t remember, and although hunger and thirst are slow killers, what he has seen terrifies him more.

Sand is everywhere, in dunes and flats, ridged by the wind in some places, in others smoothed like a dull mirror. They had been learning to cultivate it, the people who lived around the lagoon. There had been fish too, once the sand settled. If only there had been nothing worse. Images crowd behind the boy’s eyes and he sobs. Tears blur his vision and he stumbles, utterly weary but he dare not stop, dare not look back.

The city seems endless. He had hoped to find people there, people he could tell about what happened. He wanted someone else to take the decisions for him, find him a place to sleep, a safe place. But the city is silent as only dead stone can be silent. There is no one to help him, and no one to tell what is coming out of the sea. He runs. Runs.

Houm. Houm.

Faint, but terrifyingly familiar, the booming rolls through the empty city, funnelled down the narrow streets, swelling louder to fill the avenues. He sobs again but still refuses to look back. He runs.

At either side the buildings have dwindled from eight stories and more to a mere three, then two. The majestic avenue wavers and gives out. Gaps appear between the houses; sheds replace stone. Suddenly, beyond a dune of compacted sand, the city ends, and beyond he sees hills, real hills not dunes. He gives a gasp of relief; hills mean safety.

He decides to scavenge for food and water in these last derelict dwellings before attempting the trackless plain that spreads at their feet. He has not much idea of judging distances, but he thinks the hills look closer than the city looked from the lagoon. He peers about the poverty-stricken neighbourhood and chooses a place less dilapidated than the rest. He is about to try the door, when he notices the light on the hills. The gentle red is dying, and blue is swelling up from the plain.

Houm houm houm houm.

The sound is louder, louder than the pounding of the blood in his ears, and he turns slowly, reluctantly, and looks back in the direction of its source. Blue light creeps down the sandy street with his footprints speckling its untroubled surface. He raises his eyes, and fear forms cold, knotted coils in his stomach. The eclipse.

The Black Moon has risen and has almost obscured the dying sun. The Black Moon will draw up the Great Tide, the greatest tide of all, even greater than the tide that washed over the world to leave the lagoon when it withdrew. Since the Black Moon began to rise, each successive tide has been wilder, higher.

He remembers the waves of the last high tide that flooded the lagoon and the thin fields around it. He rode out the flood, hanging onto a broken door, miles across the plain. He had hoped there would be help or at least comfort in the city, because he had seen what came out of the lagoon on the flood tide, but the Black Moon also brought the Black Plague.

The chittering of the sand crabs sounds like mocking laughter; there is no help to be found in the city, or anywhere. The boy looks to the hills, but his eyes are dead, dead as his hope. When the blue light vanquishes the red, and the Black Moon vanquishes the sun, they will leave the ocean depths and reclaim the world—the Behemoths.


#writephoto: Inferno

Sue Vincent’s #writephoto image this week invites a story in the same vein as last week’s. More of the same nastiness maybe.

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He came from the little town in the valley, owned most of it, not farming stock at all. We never liked the little braggart who swaggered around as if he was royalty. That was before the fire. He didn’t swagger much afterwards, kept a low profile, not that the masters were ever called to account, whatever they’d done. He kept the place locked up, ringed the park with a high stone wall, bristling with broken glass, like a prehistoric serpent. He had a wife, though she never went out, a pale-faced wraith of a woman. No children. Not that he owned to anyway.

We always said he’d come to a bad end, after the fire, the first one. Nearly two hundred died when the mill went up, mainly women and kiddies. Slept under the looms at night, too exhausted to crawl home after sixteen hours of work and get themselves back again for a six o’clock start. Well, they’ll crawl no more, God rest their poor souls.

We knew he should never have built there, on that hill, and if he’d asked, maybe somebody would have told him why. But he never asked owt of the likes of us. More fool him. We knew there was summat up when we saw the big gates open. Not much, not wide enough to let a carriage through, just a little, as if someone had crept in and out and not bothered closing the gates behind him.

It was the end of the afternoon before a group of us got together and decided to have a look. There wasn’t much to see, but when we got close, we heard it right enough. The roof was gone but the fire was still roaring, curling through the empty window frames, lapping around the sills, eating the stone away. Must have been burning all night. Small wonder we never saw the flames. They were black as pitch.

The face in the mirror

A little procrastination for a Daily Inkling prompt from a few days ago.


She always sits in the same seat at the same table, to the back of the cafeteria by the window. I see her most lunch times, every lunchtime maybe. She has a way of crossing her legs so they stick out into the aisle, a way of colonising the chair next to her with her coat and bag, spreading out a magazine on the table, personal objects, that discourages anyone encroaching on her space, or even walking past. She creates a void around herself, a cordon sanitaire, and behind it, her face wears an expression of armed peace that says, as much as the physical barrier, keep your distance.

Today, occasional gusts of wind lash rain across the window. The pavement is black and slick, people hurry, trotting by, umbrellas bob, rain bounces. The woman’s gaze turns from the watery blur to the busy cafeteria, same hurried movements but in the warm and dry. Her gaze is bland, uninterested, until the shabby woman piles in, shedding rain and the outside cold from her inadequate clothing.

There’s a whiff of unwashed human as she shuffles past, looking for somewhere to sit. Eyes slide away, bags are thrust onto empty seats. The shabby woman shuffles past, hesitates at the woman’s table—four seats and only one occupied. She sinks into a seat and sighs, stretches out her feet, pushes her carrier bags out of the way.

The woman sits up straight and motions to the waitress, beckons her over.

“Get her out of here. This isn’t a soup kitchen.”

She glares about her, defying anyone to defend the shabby woman, with her smell and her wet coat and the unmentionable things in her carrier bags. Nobody speaks, nobody looks in her direction at all. The waitress looks about helplessly.

“She hasn’t ordered anything and she stinks.”

Silence, punctuated by exaggerated chatter.

“I think you’d better leave.” The waitress’s eyes say, ‘please’. “I don’t want to have to get the police.”

Joe pokes his head around the kitchen door. “What’s the problem, Matty?”

“Nothing. This lady is just leaving.”

“I can pay,” the bag lady whispers. “A coffee. I have the change.”

She takes a purse out of her pocket and tips a mountain of tiny coins, strands of tobacco and bits of greasy fluff onto the table.

“Oh my God! You’re surely not going to touch that?” The woman cringes and throws another defiant look around. We all keep quiet, hoping the bag lady will just leave quietly.

I get to my feet, a weight compressing my chest, making breathing difficult. I open my mouth, fumble in my repertoire of revolutionary phrases, never uttered, but can’t grab the right one. People are looking at me, as if I’m some kind of accomplice. They frown, perhaps they’ll recognise me another time, say, she’s the one who tried to bring a stinking homeless woman in here.

I thrust my arms into my coat and grab my bag, turn my back on the scene, and catch the eye of the man at the table across the aisle. We exchange a glance of complicity, wrinkled noses and eye-rolling. I turn my back on the scene, the shabby woman being encouraged to her feet and the other, the woman I finally recognise as myself.