Tag Archives: prompt words

Flashfabulous Friday

Happy Friday! For today’s rather weird post, I used a random word generator to source the following words:

fur :: arch :: frost :: migraine :: search

Read on to find out what I made of them, and happy weekend…

The Elder Grove

Image: 123rf.com

Image: 123rf.com

Word came with the first frost. She was dying: this time, they were certain. We made ready to leave, packing our things in haste.

‘Do not fret,’ said my man. ‘If all goes as I hope, we will not be leaving the House this time. You will have opportunity to purchase what you need, and more.’

So, we travelled light. Within a day and night, our journey was done. Torches burned around the walls, either to welcome us or to warn that there was strength within, still.

We dipped our heads beneath the low arch as we crossed onto her property, as customary. Despite myself, I admired the woman who made the entrance to her home such that none could enter without bowing. When this place became mine – as, in time, it would – I resolved to keep this gateway. The rest could burn.

At her bedside, shadows kept watch. Her breaths were short and wet, and her eyes sealed shut.

‘Mother,’ said my man. ‘We are here.’

I knelt at her feet. It is easy to show deference, when one has need.

‘Mother,’ I said, though she was nothing of the sort, to me. ‘Greetings.’

‘And so the vultures gather before the meat is even cold,’ she said, her voice like a corpse being dragged over gravel. I couldn’t be sure, but I thought she was trying to laugh. ‘Have you mounted a search of my person yet? My rooms? Should I draw you a map, perhaps, to the choicest baubles?’

‘Mother, please.’ My man folded his hands around one of hers, but she ripped it free. ‘We are here to pay our respectful homage. To bid you farewell, if necessary.’

‘You will bid farewell, certainly. But not to me,’ she said, and died.

We buried her in the grounds of what had been her home. Snow settled on our hair as we bent our heads, and our blood ran cold as hers as we waited for them to pack down the soil. We retired to our chamber as soon as was decent, where fire and food awaited us. I locked and unlocked with keys that had been hers, like a fool. I spoke of destruction and rebuilding in my own image. We laughed, my man and I, and drank to a new beginning and a glorious end.

An ache – a migraine, but worse – started to throb behind my left eye as I settled myself at his side late that night, like a spear thrust through my skull. I closed my eyes and hoped my pain would lift and let me rest, for it had been a trying day. In time, it did. But I should have known it for what it was.

In the morning, the bed was empty beside me.

The servants did not know, or could not say, where my man was. Eventually, I begged them to help, and one girl – they were all girls, though I did not understand the importance of this, not then – told me to check the elder grove.

‘By the lake, ma’am,’ she said, barely whispering. ‘That’s where they all end up, eventually.’

I ran.

Halfway there, I found my man’s fur – a wolf he’d stalked and slaughtered single-handedly, barely out of childhood. He would, I knew, sooner die than part with it.

My steps faltered, but I carried on, the fur clutched close.

The grove was thick with trees, tall, naked of leaves, sturdy-trunked. Each tree bore many branches, and on each branch was a man. Some – like mine – were recognisable; others mere scraps of fabric and bone. Tree and flesh were one, each growing into the other as though nature had fashioned them thus. The elder grove. The grove of the Elders.

My head burst with pain, and I fell to my knees. My man’s fur never left my hand for a moment, but my senses scattered. When I woke, I made my way back to the House silently, and the women received me without a word.

In time, I gave birth to a son my man would never see. I found myself raising him at a distance, with the whip, just as my man had been raised, and as for the House? Not a brick, nor a mote of dust, was altered. If the idea ever crossed my mind, the pain which gripped me left me comatose for days on end, and I soon learned to modulate my thinking.

Over the years, the faces of the servant girls all grew to look the same. We labour together, my women and I, to keep the House safe.

The first frost has fallen, and I feel the cold hand of death upon me. My son and his woman are almost here. I will not warn him about the Elder Grove, even though the memory of his father’s fate pains me, alone, in the dark.

I will not warn him, for the House must survive. If I fail in my duty, I know it will find a way, and it may not be as merciful as I.

Writerly Wednesday

This week, my prompt words are taken from CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In #10, originally held in 2012.

paperback :: bounce :: crushing :: liquor :: root

Image: corbisimages.com

Image: corbisimages.com

Character Study

His sarcasm is crushing.

Really, dearest? You’re sure that’s the best course of action open to you – or, I beg your pardon, me – at that particular juncture?’

My leg starts to bounce, my ankle like a spring. I suppress it straight away. It’s a tell. He’ll know, and he’ll use it against me.

‘I really don’t think anyone, be they reader or critic, could possibly bring themselves to root for me if you force the issue like this,’ he continues, swirling the glass in his hand. It’s half-filled with some sort of golden liquor.

Wait.

Liquor? Where did he get that?

I frown. I focus on my fingers. Move, I tell them, but they don’t care.

‘If you want this to go to paperback,’ he snarls, his voice right in my ear, his hot breath trickling down my cheek and under the collar of my shirt, congealing in a pool beneath my sternum, ‘you’ll listen to me.’

I close my eyes. Slowly, his shadow lifts. He settles himself back in the easy chair, crossing his legs with a deft flick.

‘Begin.’ His voice is distant thunder.

I take a deep breath, and start to type.

Writerish Wednesday

Today’s words – two girls  ::  thick braid  ::  peel  ::  heavy traffic  ::  allergic reaction – are unashamedly borrowed from CAKE.shortandsweet‘s Wednesday Write-In #3 (originally held in September 2012). CAKE has been offline for the past few weeks, and I’ve missed it terribly. Let’s hope it comes back soon.

two girls :: thick braid :: peel :: heavy traffic :: allergic reaction

Image: lovethispic.com

Image: lovethispic.com

All The World’s a Mountain

She carried the thick braid with her everywhere she went. It lived in her pocket, wrapped up in a fine linen cloth, tightly bound around itself like a never-ending loop.

She didn’t look at it very often, but its weight was always there.

‘What is with this rush hour, huh?’ muttered her neighbour, a tall and heavy-set man with skin so dark it absorbed the day. His voice made her fingers tremble, and she realised she’d been clutching at her coat, squeezing the lump of hair within it like a totem. ‘You ever seen such heavy traffic?’ The bus they were riding in sat, honking, amid a sea of metal and glass. The windows were beginning to run with moisture, and the air was too heavy to breathe.
She did her best to smile at him, but he – already forgetting her – rose sharply to his feet.

‘Hey! Yo! Driver, man! What’s happenin’ up there?’ He squeezed his way past, his elbow slamming into her shoulder. He did not bother to apologise, and she felt something sharp at her heart. Another layer of her patience began to peel away.

She ignored the yelling that kicked off around the driver’s cabin as she smothered the fear, the growing anger, the rising rage.

Her hand found the braid again. Through the fabric of her coat it felt cold, and wet, and heavy. She squeezed it, clenching her eyes against the noise and the heat and the stench

No two girls could be more alike, mama had always said. Born the same day, each with hair like evening and eyes like the dawn. We were friends. Always friends. Our hands fitted together like they’d been carved as one, and we were so rarely at odds that the older folk smiled and said of us that we could read one another’s minds.

But what is sweet and lovely at five is not so at fifteen, and still less at twenty.

My friend’s mama took her away before she turned twenty-one and sold her to a man from the mountains. He became a husband more bear and hair and growl than human being. She called out to me, her words not formed by tongue and teeth; I heard her, but not with my ears. She was so far away. To say I missed her is to make a mockery of the words. An oozing void gaped within me where my heart had been.

And then, one day, her voice stopped.

I packed a bag and left, mid night, on feet grown so used to silence that mama never knew. She slept as I climbed out the window; she slept as I slid into the shadows. She slept as I made my way to the mountains.

I arrived as they pulled her from the lake. Her hair – my hair – dark with dark water, sodden with cold, swollen and dripping and dead, flopped around her neck like a serpent. Her braid was neat and perfect, but her eyes were sealed.

‘She had an allergic reaction,’ blustered her husband. ‘She ate some berry or other and ran into the tarn, out of her senses. Stupid townish woman.’

They commiserated and sympathised and filled him full of their sorrow, but I could see the laughter at the core of him. He’d had what he wanted, and he’d got what he wanted.

Before they buried her, I took her hair.

After they buried her, the mountain man vanished.

My bag has grown threadbare over the years. My clothes are clean but out of date. My name changes every time I am asked for it. I leave no trail.

And I look into the eyes of every man I see, waiting for the spark of recognition. When I find it, I will know what to do.

She sweeps to her feet and grabs her battered travelling case from the overhead rack. The braid drags down her coat on one side, making it swing. She strides up the aisle and asks to be let off the bus in a voice she doesn’t recognise, and before he knows what he’s doing the driver has pulled the lever, the door has hissed aside and she is off, striding between the rows of unmoving cars.

A man – shrunken now, and shaven, eyes hidden by a cap – watches her pass. Before the door can slide closed again he runs for it, squeezing through the narrowing gap and plunging out into the melting light of a city day. His own pocket is heavy, but not with a token of love.

He was born to the life of a tracker. All the world’s a mountain, if you need it to be.

 

Flashilicious Friday

Somehow, Friday seems like the perfect day for celebrating the art of flash fiction. It’s a celebratory, happy sort of day, and writing flash makes me feel happy, too. It all fits. It’s probably part of the Unified Theory of Everything, or something.

Or maybe it’s just a fun way to while away a Friday morning.

In any case, I set myself three flash challenges today – three short pieces, two under 200 words and one under 300 words, and each of them based around a different set of five prompt words thrown up at me by this random word generator. Easy, right?

Well, you be the judge.

Theoden King's hall from 'The Lord of the Rings'. Image: therpf.com

Theoden King’s hall from ‘The Lord of the Rings’.
Image: therpf.com

Words for Story 1: Spine, salt, pillar, fur, trap

The Bride

He laid a trap for me so fine, so gentle, that I placed my head inside the noose like a pet dog nuzzling at its master’s knee. He allowed me to destroy myself through my own pride, but even now, I admire him, as I must.
As a warrior, he is unsurpassed. As a hunter, he is finer still. As a husband, he was better than some, but that was not enough.
The door stands open. The air tingles across my face, drying my tears to frozen salt. The spine of the mountains stretches out before me, white and blinding; I close my eyes against it.
‘Your fur,’ he commands, holding out his hand. I slide out of it. The wind bites, savaging me through the thin linen shift which is all I am permitted to bring. I hand it to him, my fingers steady. I am proud of that.
‘Your blade.’ He stands like a pillar, immovable. Fixed. Holding up the world. My betrayal has cost him nothing; he is eternal. I hand him my knife and sheath, my grip shaking, just a little.
‘Farewell,’ I whisper, stepping barefoot into the snow.
He says nothing, and turns away.

***

Image: flickr.com

Image: flickr.com

Words for story 2: Prophet, colony, mouse, cup, gutter

Failure

It’s not supposed to be like this, Sue whispers. The prophet said –
I know what he said. My eyes fix on the mouse, lying on its side, curling and blackening like overdone toast. Our last test subject. So much for ‘ten generations of prosperity.’ Some prophecy.
If the mice are dying, that means conditions outside have changed.
Yes. I cup my hands and slot my face into their warm hollow. It does.
So what do we do? Sue turns to me like I have the answers. I feel her gaze like a red-hot brand.
We seal the ship. I turn to her. We leave. Now. Today.
Abandon the colony? Sue pales.
We have no choice.
But the people… Sue’s voice trickles away. She is sentimental, but no fool.
This was only ever an experiment. I try not to sound cold. It always had the risk of failure.
We should hurry, then. She clears her throat. Before they realise. Before – A thump brings her to a premature halt, followed by another. Louder. Her eyes glitter as she faces me.
It’s too late, I say, just as the cabin lights gutter out.

***

Image: avintagegreen.com

Image: avintagegreen.com

Words for story 3: Bib, sugar, address, bill, steering wheel

Wife and Mother

You feel it as soon as you set foot in the kitchen, that crunch under your sole that says Jeremy spilled the sugar again this morning, and again neglected to sweep it up. Before you even flick the light-switch, you know what will greet you. Dirty cereal bowl stacked on top of the dishes he’d promised to do last night while you were feeding Lucy. Fag butt swimming in the sink.
You breathe.
The baby monitor in your hand coughs, crackling. A wail pierces you.
‘Christ almighty,’ you whisper, crushing your fingers around it. Your eyes fall on the fridge, where the phone bill is still pinned beneath the novelty magnet you bought on honeymoon. It smiles at you like it’s apologising for not being paid, for allowing Jeremy to forget it again. Your name – half you, half him – and this strange, leafy new address stare at you.
Is this you? Is this all?
The monitor sobs. A snuffle.
You turn, knocking off the light. You wrap your dressing-gown tight. You chuck the monitor onto the hall table and grab your car keys. Out the door. Down the steps. Across the pavement.
Behind the steering wheel, you sit and shiver. It’s early. Silver sky.
You glance in the mirror and Lucy’s car seat is there, empty. A stray bib, covered in yellow gunk, lies crumpled within it.
Your knuckles whiten on the wheel. Your keyring spins, slowly, hanging from the ignition.
You slam the door so hard when you go back inside that Lucy wakes, her screams like fingernails raking down your face.
You place the keys gently on their hook, concentrating hard.
‘Coming, darling,’ you mutter to the wall. ‘Mummy’s coming.’

***

I hope you enjoyed these. All feedback (of the good, bad or indifferent variety) is welcome. Schöne Freitag, lieblings.

Wednesday Write-In #91

outfox  ::  couture  ::  spell  ::  grate  ::  willow

Image: spartacus.wikia.com

Image: spartacus.wikia.com

Prey

I stop at the willow tree. Heart galloping. Fast – so fast! Breathe. Look. I can hear them – smell them. Not far. Hallooooing trumpets, their dogs in a frenzy.
I have nowhere to go.
They are coming.
I blink. Breath tears through me. Thirsty so thirsty so tired… Instinct takes over. The world looks strange as I run. Behind, not far enough, the howling starts again. They have my scent, and they are coming.

I had been cleaning out the grate when it happened. I froze as I heard the Ladies coming back into the Great Room; I’d been sure they’d left for the day, but I must have been mistaken.
Or, they’d changed their minds. It wasn’t unknown.
Their voices tinkled in the hallway, and I doubled my pace, fingers trembling, praying…
‘Ah! Look, sister. Our little soot-boy is still here.’
‘It cannot be!’
‘I assure you.’
‘But, whatever for?
‘I presume he has been lazy, and has left his tasks undone until the last moment. Wouldn’t you think so, sister dear?’
‘No other explanation presents itself, certainly.’
I stumbled to my feet, turning and bowing low. I hid my filthy hands from their cool, clean gazes; I shrank my plain, worn garments from their gowns, elaborate, couture, worth more than my life.
I knew.
‘My ladies, I -‘
‘Do not speak, boy,’ spat Lady Mary. ‘Have you been given permission to speak?’
‘Milady, no -‘
‘Again! He spoke again!’ crowed Lady Elizabeth. ‘Did you hear him, sister?’
Lady Mary did not answer. She crossed the room, her steps quick, her shoes click-click beneath the rustling of her skirts. She stood three feet from me, and I could hear her breathing. I crunched my eyes shut.
‘You. I tire of you, boy. Your insolence upsets me.’
I said nothing. My eyes burned.
‘A punishment, sister!’ called Lady Elizabeth, from the door.
‘I have just the thing,’ replied Lady Mary. The hissing of silks and two careful steps, and a giggle.
And then the pain.

I wake in her arms. Lady Mary’s. Her fingers cold. Cruel. Like metal. My breaths too quick. No voice. No hands. I kick. Her fingers dig in, deeper, like a claw. Like a trap.
‘Peace, soot-boy,’ she hisses. ‘The spell is yet to settle fully. If you disturb it now, it will be worse for you.’
I do not believe her. I try to cry out again, but nothing comes.
Striding toward the door. A hand reaches to unlatch it. Sunlight, air, a bright day.
Distant yapping makes my spine contract. I struggle. I try to bite.
‘You beast!’ screams Lady Mary.
She flings me from her and I fall. I miss my footing. No – I cannot find my feet, because they are not there. Before I can move, a savage pain bursts through me and I spin, splayed, out onto the lawn.
She has kicked me.
And then I see it. I am covered in fur.
The keening of dogs makes me heartsick. I know without knowing that they are coming for me.
‘Let’s see you outfox us now, little hare,’ I hear. Lady Mary. Lady Elizabeth stands beside her in the doorway, laughing. Her eyes dance.
‘Run, soot-boy!’ she calls, waving.
Once again, as I have always done, I obey.

The dogs are upon me. I can smell them. I can taste their hunger. No matter where I run, they are there.
Trumpets. Shouting. Howling. Heartache. Agony.
I taste my own blood on my tongue.
A flash of light draws my eye. Through a haze, I see. Sunlight. Sparkling on water.
The river!
A snarl to my right makes me veer left; a howl to my left makes me redouble my pace. I cannot breathe. These limbs, not my own, are numb.
Screaming from behind me. I cannot hear the words. I do not need to hear to understand.
I stretch, further than I think I can bear. Feel like I am being torn in two.
The dogs’ breath burns like an open flame.
Then the water, so shocking, so cold, so fast, so clear, and the pain, the pain, the thumping, deafening, whirlpooling agony, the popping and bursting, the groaning of muscles and sinew, the stretching and rending of bone…
I drag myself up on the far shore. My fingers run red. I am shivering, naked. I turn, blinking through my own eyes, through a film of exhaustion, at the hunters.
The water washed the spell away, along with my scent, but the dogs play at the shoreline, dancing with the water, waiting for the word. They don’t need to smell me to tear me to shreds.
A hunter raises her bow, and cocks it.
‘Wait!’ calls another, a slender girl, her skin flushed. ‘Not yet.’
‘But they will ask for his heart,’ replies the other. The bow does not tremble.
‘We can find another hare,’ says the slender girl, turning to me. Her dark eyes fill with fire. ‘Leave him for another day.’
‘But -‘
‘Just do as I ask,’ says the slender girl. She smiles, but it is not gentle. ‘He has given us the best chase in years. Would you destroy him?’
The bow is lowered.
‘And, as we well know,’ says the slender girl, ‘men make much easier prey than hares.’
She blows me a mocking kiss and pulls her horse around. The others follow, reluctantly, and soon I hear the howling start again.
They will know the heart is not mine.
I do not have long.

 

Wednesday Write-In #88

plastic  ::  verdant  ::  gingham  ::  lighthouse  ::  bathe

 

Image: camperlands.co.uk

Image: camperlands.co.uk

The Sleeper

The wind rippled across the surface of the rain-sodden plastic, lifting it into sharp-edged waves. It crackled and snapped, spitting water up at me like it was angry. It was like an animal protecting its young.

‘Between me and you,’ said Brennan, ‘d’you think this is it?’ He didn’t look at me. He just stood on the far side of the sea of plastic like a lighthouse, passing his worried gaze back and forth over it with gentle sweeps of his head. The rain ran down the lenses of his glasses.

‘I hope so,’ I said. Brennan blinked and glanced over at me, frowning. ‘You know what I mean,’ I muttered, and he said nothing for a while. I shrugged deeper into the collar of my coat, feeling cold droplets bathe me right down to the bones. I wondered if I’d ever feel warm again.

‘I suppose it’d be a comfort for the family. What’s left of them,’ he said, eventually.

‘Exactly.’

The plastic reared again, and I caught the barest glimpse of faded, dirt-encrusted gingham embedded in the claggy, dark soil. It made the bile rise inside me, and an image flashed across my mind; a tiny, smiling face, straw-coloured hair in one long plait. The little checked sundress she’d worn that day in June when she’d vanished, disappeared from the verdant fields around her house, never to be seen again.

Never, until now.

‘Jesus,’ said Brennan. ‘Grab that rock, there, and weigh it down. We have to preserve the scene until Forensics gets here.’ I turned to do as I was told, and caught a glimpse of the farmer who’d found her, standing cap in hand behind a line of luminous tape. I could hear someone talking to him, asking him questions, but all he was doing was just staring, feet planted in the soil, eyes full of water, up at the makeshift grave that had been on his land for the better part of forty years. Maybe he’d raised his own family in sight of it.

I turned back to see Brennan struggling with the groundsheet, and hurried to help. We smoothed the plastic down over her like it was a blanket, tossed by a bad dream or a too-hot summer night. She settled into peaceful sleep once more.

I put my hand on the sodden plastic and I swear I felt it rise, like a little, contented breath had been taken beneath it, and finally released.

Wednesday Write-In #87

This week’s words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In were:

fly in the ointment  ::  suspect  ::  fairytale  ::  green  ::  shame

Image: coloringinthedark.wordpress.com

Image: coloringinthedark.wordpress.com

Prime Suspect

‘So. You’re paying us another little visit, are you?’ Sergeant Grehan lowered himself into his creaking chair with a sticky exhalation of breath, shifting a pile of shedding paperwork as he waved vaguely at the seat opposite. I took it with every show of gratitude.

‘Just keeping up with developments,’ I said. ‘You know yourself.’

Grehan raised a flabby eyebrow. ‘Hmm.’

‘So, about this new suspect,’- I reached into the pocket of my coat, where an envelope, stuffed fat, was sitting.

‘Now, now, let me just stop you there,’ said Grehan, holding up a moist palm. ‘You know as well as I do that whatever you have in that envelope could be prejudicial. It could be damaging. It could be a fairytale, for God’s sake!’ He slapped his hand off his desk, tutting loudly. ‘Just, listen to me for a minute. Will you get out of here and let us get on with our jobs. Will you do that?’

I licked my lips. ‘The only fly in the ointment with that,’ I said, slowly shoving the envelope back into its hiding place, ‘is that I might have information which you lot need. Did you never think of that?’

Grehan chuckled, his face wobbling. ‘Now, now. A high opinion of ourselves, haven’t we?’

‘I’m good at what I do,’ I said, my eyes flicking around the framed photographs and certificates on Grehan’s walls.

‘And what’s that, exactly?’ he sneered, drawing my gaze back to him. ‘Wasting police time? Poking around in cold cases? Destroying evidence, making mistakes that no officer – no matter how green – would make?’ He wiped his sweating face with one large hand. ‘Get out of my office, now, like a good man. Will you? I’m sick of pandering to your nonsense. Any more of this sort of carry-on, and I’ll see what I can do about having you brought in for questioning.’

I put my hands up. ‘Right, right. I’m only trying to help. In all honesty.’

‘In all honesty, Frank, you’re a pain in my rear end,’ said Grehan, hauling himself to his feet. He stuck out one warm, damp hand. ‘Will you give me your word, now, that you’ll leave this alone? I don’t want to see you in this office again. Let the poor girl rest in peace. There’s nothing you can do. Leave it to us, now.’

After a second’s frowning hesitation, I shook Grehan’s hand. I felt his sweat cooling on my skin as I stood. ‘Right, so. I’m sorry, Officer. I – look, I won’t be back. If ye hear anything,’-

‘God, Frank, of course we’ll let you know,’ said Grehan, blinking, lying to my face. ‘Straight away. Make sure you leave your contact number with the desk, there.’

‘I will. I’ll do that. And, Sergeant Grehan?’ He was already back in his chair, turning towards his ancient, clapped-out computer. He frowned at me before raising an eyebrow in polite, patient inquiry. ‘I just wanted to say thanks. For all you’ve done, I mean. Fair play to you, and all your lads.’

‘Grand, grand, Frank,’ he said, waving his hand again. ‘I hope I won’t be seeing you again for a long time. No offence to you, now.’

‘Oh, God, I think I can guarantee you that,’ I said, chuckling. I turned for the door.

‘Good luck, Frank,’ called Grehan as I stepped out into the corridor. I nodded, throwing him a quick grin.

I winked at the officer behind the desk as I left the station, ignoring the mocking light in her eyes, and I stepped out into the warmth of the bright spring day, putting my face to the sky and dragging in a few deep breaths. The thick envelope was making my jacket uncomfortable and so I dragged it out, wondering for a few seconds whether I should put it in the bin just outside the station door, or if that’d be hubris. Eventually, I strode off into the bustle of the town, the envelope held lightly between finger and thumb, like it was nothing.

I’d wanted to confess. God knows the truth of it. I’d had everything Grehan needed, right there. My confession was stapled to the front of the photographs I’d taken of Maisie’s body, signed and everything. I’d been ready.

What a shame, then – what an absolute crying disgrace – that he’d given me another chance.