#writephoto: The world afterwards

For Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt.

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We have longed for this for so long. The weeks turned to months, and now that the restrictions are finally lifted and the army has left the streets in a cloud of dust, we pour out into the familiar silence, and we have forgotten how to show our emotion. No one sings or shouts, or embraces strangers with joy. Sparrows flutter and garden songbirds flash with coloured wings. Grass has begun to grow between the paving stones; the river laps and washes banks lush with marsh flowers.

It hasn’t taken long to discover there is nothing left in the food shops, no petrol in the pumps. The shops that were forced to close are empty, no stock, no staff, no orders. I walk, like many people, following the river to the ocean. It isn’t far, though for months it might as well have been in another galaxy. Soon the rioting will begin, the destruction, because too many have no idea of how to build, but for the moment, in this brief interlude of adjustment to the world of afterwards, there is quiet.

I walk to the beach, the long straight beach that stretches parallel with the waves and the ranks of clouds that layer the sky with hues of red. The waves roll with a sigh and a hiss, licking away at the land, sucking it back into the cradle of the ocean. I wonder if the water will eventually reclaim all the land.

Dolphins and seals, porpoises break and dive. Birds call. We watch the sunset because there seems nothing else or better to do. Tomorrow it will start, the end, and the dolphins will laugh. The birds won’t care either. They will sing as they have always done whether we listen or not.

#writephoto: Unquiet bones

Just finished my WIP and as usual, Sue’s photo for the #writephoto prompt fits the theme perfectly.

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Cecilia stopped out of breath at the crossroads. The place held no terror for her, but she was close to her time and the child would hear them calling as clearly as she did. She looked across the valley, the town huddled along the beck, out of sight, but the column of smoke from the mill chimney rose straight and black, a finger pointing at the indifferent sky.

The place held no terror for her, but it was full of a restless sadness. The quarry that was not a quarry gaped. She felt the pattering of footsteps beneath the earth, heard the scrape of clawed fingers on stone. He had never listened, never wanted to know. Perhaps he would not have cared anyway. His kind rarely did.

She sighed and turned back. Soon it would come. There is a time for everything, seasons, births, reckonings. She looked at the spire and the turrets that poked in their absurd monstrosity above the tree line. He had thought to build a mansion for himself and his heirs. He had built it on bones of the unquiet dead. She winced as the child stirred, and the wind blew cold. The saddest part was that when the flames came, he would not understand why.

#writephoto: Running

For Sue Vincent’s weekly challenge.

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The virus spread and multiplied, gobbling corpuscles and sucking them dry. The dead went unburied and the vultures began to reappear. We fled the black tide, leaving population centres behind, preferring the prospect of starvation surrounded by the beauty of returning nature to the vain hope of salvation, a vaccine, or simply a cache of food if we stayed in the city.

We had found our way north, taking back roads, travelling as stealthily as we could, and our food had almost run out. It was high summer. Perhaps we would learn what we had forgotten, how to fend for ourselves, or perhaps we would find a deserted dwelling and brave the possibly lurking virus spores to look for supplies.

We drove off the road, hid the car in the bushes and watched the sunset. Never had the silence been so profound. The black cloud that had enveloped the earth and smothered the sky for the last two weeks, hung low and menacing as ever, but a crack had appeared above the line of hills, and last stream of light lit up the lake below like liquid gold.

It was a sign, we thought. The virus is faltering, perhaps dying back with no new hosts to feed upon. You stood, your face aglow, mouth open to shout out your new-found hope, when suddenly your face paled. You grabbed my arm and pulled me down out of sight. But not before the eyes that had opened in the cloud had seen us, and the crack of light on the horizon curled up in a broad grin.

#writephoto: Millrace

For Sue Vincent’s Thursday challenge, a sort of prose poem with WIP in mind.

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The millrace runs but there is no more a mill, and trees grow now where wagons once stood with their head-hanging horses, waiting to be loaded with their bolts of finished worsted.

The beck still babbles, its leaping waters clearer than they ever were in those days when wild nature served one purpose—to be harnessed to the fiery chariots of the fiercest of men.

Fierce and proud, with a blindness when it came to the suffering they caused, with their grasping greed for profit, were the men in paunch-vast waistcoats.

If they didn’t see the misery in the humanity around them, how could they have noticed when the mill streams fouled were running black or blue or cimson with dyes from the washings of the vats?

But their ferocity was puny in the face of wakened nature, when the stones had had enough of blood and desecration, and the sacrifice of beauty on the altar of greed.

The mill race runs forever, leaping crystal clear, sunlight glinting on the ripples and cascading woven water.

Where is your monument in stone, in black Millstone Grit, your dark, satanic symbol of industrial success?

We know where you are now, Mr Mill Owner the Mighty, you are in the deep dark hole where the dead men go.

#writephoto: Listening to the ripples

For Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt.

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Still water holds memories, of love and loss, death and growing, peace and tumult. A cloud mirror sometimes, speckled with bird wings, and sometimes a raging, silent fire with the trampling boots of soldiers, flame-haired and steel-coated. Sometimes.

I can sit on the bank of any lake, toss a pebble and watch the ripples, knowing that in the tiny bore radiating out from a central force is a story in momentous movement.

Sedge fringes stories and water birds illuminate the margins. Listen and you can hear the voices of the past, the crying in pain and anger, laughter in the sunshine, weeping beneath the rain.

Wind bends the dry stalks, ruffling and rippling, but when the wind holds its breath, when I listen, watch, deeper than the drifting clouds, I see the faces with eyes the same as mine or yours.

Words, though the tongue is not one I know, roll into the ear and the story they tell is universal, never dies, a longing to be loved, to find peace, to find peace.

#writephoto: Cappamore

I’m trying to let go of this story, but Sue’s photograph won’t let me. For her Thursday photo prompt.

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Cappamore. It was tumbled down long ago because the heart had gone out of it. No one lived there after Aoife died, after her murderer died, after the old animosities and tragic misunderstandings had been put to rest. Isobel saw to that. She remembered it only as the place where her mother had wandered like a wraith after Richard died, unable to come to terms with her loss. Isobel didn’t remember her father, no more than she remembered her brother who died too, both in the lake, both at Cappamore. But she felt his warmth and the passion of her parent’s love in the stones, in the air.

Her husband had wanted to claim the place for his own once Aoife was dead, but Isobel refused him it. She was the heir, not him. Sometimes she wondered if it wouldn’t have been better to let him set up a household in the old keep, let him swagger along the banks of the lake, let the lake see to him. Because it would have done, of that she had no doubt. But finally, she decided that the revenge fate had arranged for him was sweeter, slower, more devastating than death for one so full of his own importance as William.

Isobel had borne him ten children, five girls, five boys, and the boys she had cut out of her heart as soon as they were weaned. They were too like their father, antipathetic and arrogant, but with the violent nature of his detested father. None of them produced an heir, none kept a wife, three died young, violently and needlessly, and the other two were childless poltroons. The girls had daughters, lots of daughters, and at each new granddaughter, she had laughed. All of it, a lifetime’s manoeuvring, ambition, judicious changing of sides, had garnered a wealth of lands and titles for William, yet nothing he had done would prevent his name dying with him. Isobel, daughter of a Norman earl and an Irish princess would inherit it all, and she would pass it all on to her daughters.

She savoured William’s despair. After all he had done to get his hands on her father’s lands, titles, to usurp his place in history, he would see it all revert to Richard’s granddaughters. He would leave no more trace than a dying ripple on the surface of the lake. Isobel watched as he was forced to accept the inevitable, the gnawing anger and frustration that spoilt his every pleasure, turned every taste to bitter bile in his mouth. She knew the part he had played in her father’s death, and when he lay dying, she whispered as much in his ear, and placed on his soul the curse the Guivre had cried out in her sorrow.

On his deathbed, she described to him how she was having Cappamore pulled down, stone by stone. Later, she would have the lake filled in too, but not yet, she said. She let him watch in the water mirror as all the ghosts were put to rest, all except one, the ghost that would never be still, the ghost he recognised, all in white samite dressed and her hair golden as ripe barley in the morning. His eyes widened with terror as she stepped from the lake; Isobel made sure he saw. He turned to her, his old man’s watery eyes pleading. He tried to call out, but who could he ask to protect him from a ghost? Was his great castle not protection enough?

She forced him to watch as the woman left the lake and left the mountains, walking the hills and forests, drawing closer. The she sent away the servants and let the woman in white into William’s bedchamber. She closed the door behind her, letting the woman take her revenge alone.

 

All is at peace now. The lake gone, the ghosts still, but the wind still murmurs the lovers’ names. All three.

#writephoto: Reunited

A not very hopeful story for Sue Vincent’s photo prompt. I could have written a bit of the WIP, the photo fits (as usual!) but don’t want to give the entire story away.

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The land had been forested once long ago, too long ago for anyone to remember, too long ago for anyone to believe in it. Forest was a myth, fabulous, like the stories of the beasts that lived there. I can see a vestige of it from here, though the light is never bright any more. I can see two tufts facing one another across an arm of the ocean, tiny remnants of woodland, not even very old, orphaned children of the great forests.

The world is almost all ocean now and the land piled a million high with people in boxes, like bees in a hive, but their industry is driving them further and further from a thriving community and closer to the precipice. Even the sun can’t find the energy to light and warm. Without the warmth, without the song of the birds in their leaves, the last trees are dying. I see them shrink day by day, the water creeping closer and closer to their roots as it rises, and in the flabby breeze, I hear their voices, so I know what will happen.

I watch because someone has to record it, even though it will be the saddest sight of all. One morning or evening soon, beneath the dull red glare of the dying sun, the last memories of the forest separated by water will rush in a cascade of earth, roots and shed leaves, to join their sister and brother trees in the icy grave of the ocean.