In the deep of the night

The Secret Keeper’s words don’t usually keep rolling around in my head, but today they have…says Queen Procrastinator.

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In the deep of the night,

When the bold stars stare,

And the moon swings low

Over fields, beware,

For the harm that is done

When the sky is dark,

In the folds of the sheets

Before calls the sweet lark,

And the acts without thought

For the long years ahead,

Will come back to haunt you,

Where lost innocence bled.

Microfiction: End of the struggle

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Rain slashed their faces and the wind tore at their coats, but she urged her mother down the road. At either side, the ditch had filled and the road was rapidly becoming a raging river. More than once the woman stopped and her chest heaved with the effort. She looked like a dog at the end of its chain, her daughter thought. The downward path had twisted and turned more times than she had counted, and the house was behind and above them, its dark eyes turned to the valley below. She felt its presence even though it was long out of sight among the enraged forest trees, and she feared she would never be free of it.

She felt the rumbling before she saw the car. Her mother stopped in her tracks, trembling with terror. Headlights, a livid yellow, ploughed through the slanting rods of rain and blinded them both. A car door slammed.

“Get in,” he barked, his bulk black and massive against the light. “I said, get in!”

Her mother whimpered, her limbs jerking to obey the command. The daughter overcame her reserve and grabbed her arm.

“No. We’re not going back.”

She said no more, didn’t wait to see the effect of her words, dragged her mother out of the beam of light and past the bulk, the car, the old life. The woman moaned and hung heavy, a dead weight, but her daughter was merciless, like her father. She knew what was coming, couldn’t avoid it, almost didn’t want to. The fist hit her mother in the face and she sunk to her knees. It was what the girl had been waiting for, dreaming of for so long. She bared her teeth in a grin of desperation and desire and pulled the pistol, his pistol, from her coat pocket. The light was in her eyes. He was just a black mass against the headlights. But at point blank range she couldn’t miss.

The sound of the detonation was lost in the first crack of thunder as the storm broke overhead.

200 word story: Blood-red tree

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Out of the blood-red ground a tree rose and bowed to the ocean. Beneath its bark, blood-red sap surged, each cell a memory. Ocean waves tinged with red picked up the message and carried it to the shore, where it hissed in the foam, the scuttling rattle of crabs, and the sighing of kelp drying in the sun. The great golden fish breathed it in and out through lacy gills, sending it trembling through the currents of the deeps.

On a distant shore, the waves found a peaceful river, rolled landwards, between green banks where kingcups climbed and tall rushes whispered. There the message seeped into the rich earth, following the burrows and galleries of water rats and earthworms. And the fruits of this earth nourished the spirits of the people who lived there, and they understood. They let in the souls of all the dead, those mown down in war and starved in famine, drowned in their frail boats, gunned down in the street, and they said.

We will not let this happen here.

I will search until I find this place where the message of the bloody tree is heeded. Perhaps a lifetime will not be long enough.

It could have been different

In response to Elizabeth Frattaroli’s writing prompt, here’s my reconstruction of the nasty little scene I witnessed yesterday and that is still trotting in my head.

* * * *

An angry voice shattered the sound of the rain and my concentration.

“Get outta that, I said! You filthy…get over here. Now! Move it!”

A dull thud, a muffled cry, and the violence in the words sent me hurrying to the door. A child? No one would hit a child in public, surely.

In the middle of the street, a young, thin-faced man stood with raised fist. The dull light caught the twisted metal of rings on all his fingers. His other fist gripped a dog lead attached to a cringing, famished-looking dog wearing a muzzle. The fist fell again, and the dog gave a strangled yelp.

“What use are you to me if you don’t even do what I tell you?”

“Stop that,” I said, putting all the severity into my voice that my diminutive aspect would fail to convey, “or I’ll fetch the police.”

He glared at me from the depths of his grimy hoodie. “It’s my fuckin’ stupid dog. I’ll do what I fuckin’ well like with him!”

“Touch him again and I’ll fetch the police,” I repeated. “Give him here, if he’s so useless.”

He glared at me, an interfering woman, standing on the doorstep of her comfortable house, while the rain slid to the edge of his hood and dripped.

“What’s your problem? It’s just a useless mutt.”

“If you don’t want him, I’ll have him,” I insisted. The dog trembled and raised its troubled eyes. That was enough. In a fury he unwound the lead from his wrist and thrust it at me. The fist clenched and darted one last time. The dog closed his eyes and flinched but the muzzle silenced all but a faint whine. Thrusting his hands in his pockets, the man stormed off down the street, his trainers stomping in the puddles.

The dog whimpered and strained after him. I hushed him and pulled gently on the lead, towards the warmth of the house. He looked at me with eyes full of fear and maybe hope. His skinny flanks trembled, but he took a step towards me. My own dog came to the door, curious, wagging his tail. The new dog stepped cautiously over the threshold.

Except it didn’t happen like that. The man in the hoodie started when I opened the door, his raised fist hanging in the air. He lowered it, glaring at me, and instead grabbed the dog by the muzzle and snarled, “Useless fuckin’ animal. You disobey me again and I’ll fuckin’ massacre you.”

He yanked on the lead and as he passed, turned to me with a steady stare, daring me to speak. The dog raised eyes full of hurt and incomprehension to him and, his tail between his legs, followed his lord and master. My own dog came to the door, curious, and barked at the retreating stranger. I closed the door feeling sick with this world full of casual brutality, and my silence. The rain fell harder.

Book review: Land of Midnight Days by Katrina Jack

Land of Midnight Days is a story without the usual fantasy tropes, and the familiar elements (elves, ogres) are altered in such a way as to appear completely original creations. The hero is a lonely, mute boy, whose sole possession and tenuous link with an unknown past is a silver flute. The setting is out of the ordinary too. There are no orderly Hobbit-type Shires, desolate howling deserts or leafy, elf-filled forests; this is a mucky, violent, industrial city.

These are perhaps the story’s greatest strengths. The city is a character in its own right, ever-present and menacing. The underbelly of our large cities with their gang violence and underground economies becomes in this story the reality for everyone. There seems to be no escape from the street gangs, the despair, and dirt for the apathetic population. Into this grim, monochrome setting is introduced Jeremiah Tully, an engaging, intelligent waif-like boy who, as a half-breed, is an object of revulsion even in this city where nobody seems to give a damn about anything. Katrina Jack doesn’t clutter the storyline with explanations about the history behind her world. She doesn’t need to; we can all understand prejudice, and know it doesn’t need a reason.

This was my favourite aspect of the book, the atmosphere of indifference and menace, in which Jeremiah’s blundering search to find out who he really is seems doomed to failure. Circumstances push Jeremiah out of his fragile nest and into the maw of the city, and as he searches for clues that might lead him to a link with his lost family, the reasons for his very existence start to appear. The clues lead to real people and the action takes off into surprising realms.

If I were to make a criticism of this magical story, it would be that the introduction of the other characters in the second half occasionally seems rushed. Zebediah takes form gradually (and very surprisingly!), but the others appear already made; credible and original, but for that very reason I would have liked a bit more background about them. The action moves into a higher gear, and the intimacy of Jeremiah’s perspective has to take a back seat. But this is YA, there is a limit to the amount of introspection a younger readership will tolerate, and the action is very well done, ending with a fabulous, demonic tableau.

Land of Midnight Days is the kind of story that stays with you, and I am looking forward to reading the next instalment. From what we know of Katrina Jack’s world, we can be certain it isn’t going to be all beer and skittles.

See Katrina’s blog for details of where you can buy this wonderful book

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Migraine and worse

Today has been a migraine day. One of those days when I wake up with a crashing headache and what feels like morning sickness. Vision is fuzzy, ‘things’ flit about in front of my eyes, and my head feels as if somebody is pounding my skull, just over the left eye with a mallet, possibly to find out if my head really is stuffed with old newspaper, or Kapok.

Migraine sufferers will know what I mean.

The only thing to do is to take one of mother’s special pills and go back to bed. Not to sleep—sleep is impossible with the disjointed images, snatches of music, conversation, passages from the book I was reading the night before—simply because I am of no earthly use to anyone in an upright, or even seated position.
The worst aspect of a migraine for me is the nightmarish world it pitches me into. Everything seems hopeless, ‘change and decay in all around I see’. I find myself unable to stop the thoughts of suffering, held at bay when I am absorbed in work, that surface when my defences crumble. The images that flood the internet, rapidly glossed over with a grimace, are still there, recorded on the retina, tidied away, until the physical pain and the scattering of mental resistance lets them out.

Tomorrow the pill will have worked and the pictures will have gone back in their box. But the box is still there, and what it hides is the awful reality for all the helpless victim of man’s violence and unthinking cruelty.
Today an anniversary service was held in Toulouse for the children and the young father who were murdered, shot dead at their school by a stupid, deluded, ignorant young man with a chip on his shoulder. He was shot too, the angel of death, and frankly, who cares? He doesn’t have to see the eyes of the woman whose husband and two young children were butchered, so casually, random victims because one Jew is a good as another. Their lives have been snuffed out, but the mother is left, and the murderer does not have to see the emptiness in her eyes. We see them though, the eyes of all the victims of violence, looking into the camera with a depth of suffering most of us will never know.

Tomorrow the pill will have worked, but today, with no defences, the eyes watch me and all I can do is weep.

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