Microfiction: Endings

This photo, for Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt, gave me a hard time to begin with. I thought I’d post both pieces as an interesting study in how a piece of writing can change and develop as new ideas and angles impose themselves on the original thoughts.

This is the first response to the image, which I saw as the sun rather than the moon.

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Once the sky was bright, they said. Once the world was the colours we see in films. Once things grew outside, beneath the bright blue sky, and birds flew free, and there were animals that lived their lives in the growing things beneath the blue sky. People were different then, they didn’t know how to make their world safe. They allowed birds that were not edible to use up resources. They allowed wild animals that carried diseases to wander near human settlements. They allowed wild things that were of no use to proliferate, savage and dangerous.

The big change was the fault of the sun. It upset the climate with its rays, sent tidal waves and droughts, freezing winters and baking summers. Then it began to die, and we had to learn how to do without it. Now we manage the planet so much more efficiently. There is no waste, no disorder. Our crops are protected, beneath an artificial sky, lit by artificial light, from all harm and disease. Our animals live safe beneath the ground, fed and watered and butchered in a humane and sanitary way. The parts of the planet that are useless are abandoned. The people who proved unable to adapt, we abandoned. We have kept only the best.

They say the sky in the day was the absurd colour we see in the films, and at night they claim we could see the stars! They say people dug in the dirt for pleasure and listened to birds calling. They didn’t mind that the earth was creeping with wild animals, and they even kept unhealthy tame animals in their homes. People loved all these things and protested in their millions to preserve them. It’s hard to believe people were so stupid once.

Looking at the picture again, just before I went to bed, I wrote this. I know which version I prefer.

On the plain beneath the black sky and the pale light of the cooling sun, the grass withered and died. No colours glowed to mark the end—the reds and rusts and yellows of distant autumns gone with the light, and dust blew across the crumbled dirt and desolate stone. When the last mouse had been eaten and the last cricket, and nothing more stirred in the dead earth, the last vixen curled her brush about her nose and drifted into a place of ancestral memories, where long grass brushed her glowing flanks as she padded through morning dew, where moonlight fell from a clear sky where stars glittered, where the earth swarmed with warmth and life and food. She shifted and curled tighter. In that place, there were bundles of warmth huddled close beside her, cubs, fidgety and quick, sleeping only when they were sated. Slowly, she let go of life, taking with her the last vivid splash of colour in the world. In her darkening mind, the cubs wriggled, and the grass bent beneath drops of dew, and the pale gold sun rose on a new morning.

 

 

#writephoto microfiction: Clandestine

Getting back into writing mode with this piece of flash fiction inspired by Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt.

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They told her it would only be for a few hours. Already it seemed like a week. The entrance to the building was cavernous and draughty and few people either came in or went out. It was in a quiet, tree-shaded street in an expensive part of town. They would be looking for her in the tenements and the derelict shops of the poor quarters, they said, not here among the doctors and lawyers.

She shivered, her skimpy jacket unable to keep out the cold late autumn wind, her eyes fixed on the narrow slit in the stone where the post arrived. There was a box beneath to catch it. The servants came down in the morning to sort it and take it up to their respective employers’ apartments. She was not waiting for the post though, as the light dimmed and the short afternoon drew to a close. She was waiting for a package containing her false papers and a little money, enough to get her out of the country. She strained to see any movement outside, struggling to to keep her fear under control.

A blurred shape moved towards the door. She stiffened, unable to breathe. She caught the outline of a man’s face as he looked furtively right and left, before his bulk blotted out all light, and she heard the slither and clunk of the parcel as it fell into the box. The slit filled with pale light again and the man was gone.

Stumbling from her hiding place she grabbed the thick envelope and with trembling fingers, ripped it open. In confusion she stared at the contents: a door key, her door key; a photograph of herself and Stéphane sitting in the park, smiling, from before when they had still been together; and a folded piece of paper. What did it mean? She unfolded the paper. It said:

And now we have come for you.

#writephoto microfiction: Gateway

For Sue Vincent’s photo prompt

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As far as I can remember, the gate has always stood open. Not held open by a tangle of brambles, old car tyres or other urban rubbish, nor rusted open, hinges refusing to swing the other way. It is simply open. The grassy ride beyond is short and inviting. Not mown short or worn by passing vehicles, just short as if rabbits or sheep have been busy on it. It is a gate nobody uses in a wall nobody notices around a domain without a big house. The high wall, in perfect repair, encloses trees, tall and stately, and the rabbit or sheep-cropped turf. Nothing else. No ruins show where a once proud house once stood, no charred remains the evidence of a devastating fire. The grass rolls unhindered to the far walls and back again, unchanging, day after day.

At night, the gate stands open still, and the grassy sward is silver beneath the moonlight and the starlight. At night, the tree-lined ride leads to a house of silvery stone, with a graceful perron and tall, airy windows. From the open windows come the faint sounds of music and laughter, and your heart will yearn to join the happy crowd. But you must not enter through the gateway, nor walk the grassy silver sward, for the ghosts will take your hands and lead you in their never-ending dance of forgetfulness, and from the inside, the gate is always closed.

#writephoto microfiction: Refuge

For Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt.

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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.

#writephoto: Chains

For Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt.

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Dusk. Twilight. Bats create flickering visual noise. The sounds of the city subside here, on the edge of the suburbs, into an uneasy murmur. I should go home, but home is empty. Dark. Echoing with memories too fresh to be neat and tidy. I have things to do, but nowhere to do them. You filled my space with your angry presence, hollowed it out like an army of termites and left it to rot.

You have gone. Left. Taking only a bag. All you consider of value—a few shirts, toiletries, silk scarf. Behind you left the furniture, your old clothes, the bills. You left me. I wish I could go. Pick up and leave. But someone must stay to pay the bills, go to work, feed the cat. I stay. But I can’t go home.

The wind rises as the light fades. Bats flicker and something else. A creaking. A rocking. I raise my head and stifle a scream. The streetlight is no longer a banal concrete post but a scaffold. I hang, enchained, rocked by the wind. Silent, voiceless. I can’t go home because home no longer exists. I close my eyes and let hot tears squeeze out between the lids. I clench my fists. Take a deep breath. When I open them, the rocking, creaking cage has gone and the moon is rising.

#writephoto: The Island

This is inspired by Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt.

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So many years have rolled by, but the memories are still as bright, the pain as sharp. Perhaps I shouldn’t come here and gaze across the sea to the pale grey hump on the horizon. Only on a fair day can I see it through the cloud and sea mists, but always I know it is there.

The sea is never the same, sometimes smooth and inviting, and I kid myself that I could cross it if only I had a boat. Other times, the waves crash angrily on the rocks that rise like the teeth of a trap, encircling the shore, and my half-formed plans scatter like drifting foam. Even when the storm rages, I cannot keep away, though I see nothing but the fury of the sky and the ocean barring my way.

There is no hope for me. I will never shake off the chains of love and longing. One day, my children may forget for me, and learn to live in peace with this place. But my lot is that of the exile, to gaze from afar at the unattainable—the green hills of home.

 

#writephoto: The Door

Trying to get back into writing and doing a dozen other things at the same time. This is inspired by Sue Vincent’s photo prompt.

It also fits the Daily Post prompt, voyage, so here goes, killing two birds with one stone.

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Their fathers had slaughtered the monks when they arrived at the settlement. Their longship had glided up the estuary on the windswept coast like a grass snake through the rushes, and the battle was short and fierce. It was a good place, hidden from sight of the sea by a line of low hills, and sentinels had such a view across the broad river valley that invaders would never surprise it. If, of course they thought to keep watch, which the previous inhabitants hadn’t.

Times were quieter now and the sons of the sea wolves were farmers and homesteaders in this peaceful place, where the winters were mild and the land rich. They had even adopted some of the local beliefs and built their own place of worship of the dead god, the man on the tree, because he reminded them of Thor, the oak tree god. They worked dragons and sea serpents, longships and merpeople into the carvings that decorated the entrance to the holy place, and they set amulets and spells into the great door that protected it.

Twenty years after the invasion, the first monks dared to return, brandishing their crucifixes of the dead god. They chopped down the holy oak tree that grew by the door and flung open the heavy door. The tree god was angry, and the amulets screamed vengeance, but the monks, in their ignorance, couldn’t hear. Pale-faced and hostile, they marched into the holy place, and the door, when it closed behind them, muffled the sound of their screaming.

#writephoto: Pale bones

For Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt : pale

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She crouched in a corner of the hut until it was over, her apron over her head, trying to pretend she couldn’t hear the pleading in their voices, but that was all she could hear—that and the chanting of the men in black.

Her father would occasionally kill one of the wethers, if there was a nasty one, because they were vicious some of them, or if one got injured. They would have meat for a long while then, and she would eat it like everybody else and be grateful for it. But this was different. The men who came, all in black, they took the new lambs. They took the lambs she had played with. She heard the ewes bleating now, crying for their babies. They could smell the terror and the blood. She sobbed in helpless anger.

Her father had told her to be still and quiet, and he’d piled a heap of skins over her and pulled her mother’s loom across the floor so no one would see her from the door. His face was white. She had never seen her father afraid before. When the men had gone, he let her out, took her in his arms to comfort her, but he couldn’t bring them back. ‘Sacrifice’ he’d called it, and spat out the word as if it tasted bad and bitter.

The men in black had left the bones in the fire, blackened and stinking. A greasy smoke curled around them, and her breath caught in her throat. When the ashes were cold, she took the head bones and washed them white again in the spring. She laid them on the rocks where the sun would warm them, brought them flowers to replace their springy white curls, and vowed that the next time the men in black came to take the lives of her flock, she would kill them.

#writephoto: Isolated

Another photo prompt. This one is Sue Vincent’s Thursday prompt. Follow it here and join in.

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Wind howled down from the moors in a familiar way, like an old dog locked out in the rain. She wanted to tell it she’d heard it all before and she wasn’t impressed. The sun was setting. It was always at least half-dark when she arrived at this point of her journey. And often raining. In the winter there would be snow thick on the ground and she would walk in the middle of the road in the tracks of intrepid pioneer walkers.

The air was brisk, spring air, full of birds settling for the night, and the wind in the new leaves, rattling the branches black with rain. The road wound up the hill, into the teeth of the wind. Not a gale. Just wind. Noisy but not dangerous. Like that dog waiting to be let indoors. She took a deep breath and shifted her bag to the other hand. The last bus had gone hours ago and she liked this walk anyway, up the winding road, beyond the last straggling houses, and onto the moor. Round the next bend, after the ash trees, she would see it, set down like a sculpted rock, black and solid as the surrounding hills, thick-walled, strong-backed, amid twisted crab apples and ancient roses. Home.

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.