#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: Spiral

This is a microfiction piece in response to Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt.

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The stair went on forever, winding round and round, higher and higher, but the small window, the winking square of daylight came no closer. He stopped, to ease the fire in the muscles of his legs, and to scratch a mark on the stone with the edge of a coin. He climbed again, searching the walls, anxiety heavy and dull in the pit of his stomach. Round and round again. And the mark appeared. The bright, new scratched cross. He wanted to weep. The light laughed and he threw the coin, aiming for the window. The coin twisted and glinted once, twice, then disappeared. He couldn’t even tell if he had aimed true.

There was only one choice—up or down. He turned and peered back down the winding stairwell. Darkness rose to meet him, thick, impenetrable and suffocating. One by one, the stairs were swallowed by the rising shadows, and from the shifting depths came the sound of the pit, the moaning and the mad chuckling, following him. With a cry he turned back again, cursing the winking, laughing window and the light of a day he would never see, to climb the never-ending stair.

Flash fiction: Tree magic

An expanded version of the 100 word story for Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt.

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She loved him from when she first set eyes on him. Easy enough, tall as he was, and his red gold hair falling in a wave of sunlight onto his shoulders. His smile across the hall caught her fast, and his eyes blue as lake water on a summer’s afternoon drew her in. He came to bear arms for her father and was welcomed for his strength and his sure eye, but he came without wealth and was not likely to earn much. The black looks of her father’s men guaranteed that.

She was to marry a king, that she had always known, but had not yet given her word. When she saw him, she knew that she never would. They met in secret and loved in secret. In the darkest hours of the night, in the forest or at her foster mother’s house where no one would question her. They met and loved as the trees came into leaf and the forest grew summer green and full of birdsong. Until, on the eve of the sun’s festival, the bright sun god who had looked so kindly on them, they were betrayed. Red-haired Aodh, jealous and angry at being spurned by her, told her father, and on the eve of Lughnasa, her father was waiting for him at their trysting place.

Her father forbade her to leave the fort, threatened to marry her to the least, the oldest, the poorest of his vassals if she dared follow. But follow she did, for she knew where they were heading. They had caught him on the edge of the forest, her father and his men. Tied him to a tree. She begged for his life, offered her own in exchange, but honour was all her father cared for. Love had no place in his world.

His eyes met hers, full of suffering and sadness, but he smiled. She called his name and he told her he loved her. There was no other choice, no life to look forward to, only death, so she shook away the tears and cast the spell.

Her father’s knife stopped in its cruel arc and he let out a cry of rage. Her lover, one now with the ash tree, raised free branches to the sky. Pain could touch him no more. She ran, pushed aside the men and wrapped her arms around the ash trunk. Her father reached out to pull her aside.

His hands never touched her. She had turned herself into a vine, rooted deep, inextricably entwined about the ash tree, her arms forever embracing her beloved.

Microfiction: Sunset #writephoto

Another enchanting photo from Sue Vincent for her weekly prompt, a 99 word story inspired by the photo.

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They had run out of time. There were no more moons left, no more hope. Nothing more would rise in the sky, night or day. The stones stood and watched but they refused their help. The magic that lay beneath them slept. And it would sleep now forever. The sleepers would never waken, though this was surely the end, and they were the only ones who could avert it. So said the stories.

The fox watched the setting sun and called the vixen. Together they walked through the gateway between the stones and left the earth to its dying.