Tag Archives: writing practice

Flash Friday – ‘Sunken Treasure’

Your Hand in Mine/Goodbye. CC2 photo by Tony.  Image sourced: https://flashfriday.wordpress.com/2014/11/28/flash-friday-vol-2-51/

Your Hand in Mine/Goodbye. CC2 photo by Tony.
Image sourced: https://flashfriday.wordpress.com/2014/11/28/flash-friday-vol-2-51/

Sunken Treasure

Every step sucks at my feet like I’m walking through wet sand. Invisible waves push me gently, side to side. Pressure builds like a fist closing. My knees feel weak. My breath.

I could almost be walking into the sea, even though we’ve always lived in the desert, Mama and me.

She came home drunk again, filling the trailer with her foul mouth, her eyes blazing with pain even as she screamed I hate you! Parasite! I know she loves me, somewhere, but it’s buried deep. Sunken treasure, maybe.

I’ve been saving for six years, now. Buried in a tin can in the backyard. Thank the angels she never found it. I stole some. I worked for more. Now I’ve got enough, and I’m leaving.

But I feel her with me, like a parasol over my head. My memory-Mama, who held my hand and told me I was her precious baby.

I let the memory sink, and keep on walking.


Phew! My dears, it’s been a busy morning. This post is extremely late, for which I can only blame the vagaries of fate.

In any case, this week’s Flash! Friday is based around the prompt image above and the concept of ‘Coming of Age’, which – I’ll admit – made me think for quite a while. What constitutes coming of age? It varies, of course, with culture and history; sometimes, it’s reaching a particular age or hitting a developmental milestone. It’s taking a spouse. Passing a test, Getting a job. But then I thought that common to all ‘coming of age’ stories is the decision to leave home, strike out on your own, and leave aside the structures set in place for your life by your parents, whether they’re for good or (as in the case of my character) for ill. And so, the story was born – after a bit of wrangling with another tale, which didn’t work in the way I expected or, indeed, at all.

So, it’s Friday once again, thank the saints and little fishes. Tomorrow’s book review will be on the sort of tome I don’t normally read (there’s love in it – yeuch!) but you might be surprised by what I have to say, so stay tuned. Until then, I hope this tiny tale tides you over, and my best wishes for a happy day and a restful weekend for all. Bon voyage!

Flash! Friday – ‘Monkey on Your Back’


Barbary Macaque, Gibraltar. CC 2.0 photo by David Stanley.

Barbary Macaque, Gibraltar. CC 2.0 photo by David Stanley.

Monkey on Your Back

Tired. So tired.

My last success a distant memory. Scraps, and leftovers, and charity, have been my portion ever since, but the sun is warm, here; the pace slow. It is the perfect place to start looking. The ideal spot in which to begin again.

I swing, lightly, onto a pitted metal balcony. My nose twitches with the scent of effort. Through an open window I hear muttering, the clack-clacking of a typewriter.

Soundlessly, I pad toward the room. A man sits at a desk. Novels, all bearing his likeness, lie scattered around, but he struggles, it seems, with today’s words.

I smile. I can help with that.

He screams as I climb onto his back and sink my claws in, but then his fingers reach for the keys. He begins again. It is good work. His best. With every word, I feel my strength returning.

Soon, and until it is too late, he won’t even notice I am here.


Years ago, I’m sure I read a vintage short story about a monkey which acted as a sort of ‘twisted Muse’ to a writer, driving him mad as he strove for greater and greater success. I can’t remember how it ends – and I also can’t remember the name of the story, so if anyone can help, please let me know – but when I saw today’s prompt, I knew this was where I had to take my tale. Flash! Friday‘s nefarious rules for today’s challenge stated that we had to write a story based on the image prompt above, and ‘a famous writer’ – not necessarily a named famous writer, but simply one which features in the story. So, what was a gal to do?

I’m not sure if the monkey in the original story was a soul-vampire (or whatever the monkey in my tale is; I’m afraid to really look) – I just know that it was about an unhealthy relationship between hard work, inspiration and mental and physical health, which is why the phrase ‘monkey on your back’ has come into use now as a shorthand way of describing a drug addiction, or something which is a burden but which the sufferer cannot, or will not, part with. Writers and their muses have long had a tortured relationship in fiction, but usually it’s the writer who torments the Muse – just check out the way Calliope is treated in Dream Country if you don’t believe me – and so I like the idea of it being the Muse tormenting (and quite possibly destroying) the writer, this time around.

Anyway. Whatever your feelings on monkeys, Muses, or drama-queen writers, I hope you enjoy my tiny tale this Friday. Tune in tomorrow for a book review (it’s fun, I promise), and I’ll see y’all next week for more travels through the labyrinthine torture chamber that is my mind. Adios!

Wednesday Writing – ‘The Year of Alison’

Image: unsplash.com. Photographer: Kelly Bozarth

Image: unsplash.com. Photographer: Kelly Bozarth

The Year of Alison

Then, there came the year you started to call me ‘Alison’, instead of ‘Allie’ or ‘Al’ or ‘sweetheart’, when you wanted to call me in for tea or attempt to tell me off. It hadn’t come out of the blue – you’d already started gently removing me from your lap or unwinding my arm from yours as we walked, tapping me awkwardly on the shoulder instead. When I’d frown, you’d say something, quick and irrelevant, as I drew breath to ask you why. Your words were a wedge between my old life, and this new one I wasn’t so sure about.

You’d raised me. You were my only family. But you were getting old, and so was I.

It was hard to do everything by myself. Dressing, bathing, dealing with my own nightmares. I’d had you for all that, before. I wondered, sometimes, whether you missed our bedtime stories as much as I did or whether you were relieved not to have to think about this half-crazy kid who’d been dumped on you, a bundle of warm blankets barely moving, more than eight years before. I was your daughter’s daughter, the child of your beautiful lightning-bolt child, and you loved me like you loved her. Maybe you feared I’d leave you, too. Maybe you feared I wouldn’t.

Hallowe’en was our favourite time of year. You’d bake a cake and make it look like a pumpkin, and we’d play games long after I’d come home, pinch-cheeked, from my rounds of the neighbours’ houses. I knew you’d be watching from the end of our garden as I trudged from one to the next, collecting coins and sweets and chocolate from the kind people who shared our tiny cul-de-sac; I’d pretend to ignore you even as I stole reassuring glances, my mind already half-full of home.

I’d been looking forward to our Hallowe’en for months, this year of Alison, wondering if it would set you back on track. Hoping it would fix things.

‘Go on out, now,’ you said, when it came to the right time. ‘Enjoy yourself, love.’ I stood, witch-bedecked, face-painted, in the kitchen, and stared at you.

‘But aren’t you going to watch for me?’ I asked, wondering why the thought made my heart pound harder than the thought of any shadow-dwelling demon.

‘You’re big enough to bring yourself around now, surely?’ You bent, slowly, to peer through the oven door. The pumpkin cake was baking, unconcerned.

‘But –’

‘Go on, Alison,’ you said, straightening. You smiled, clutching the dishtowel, from across the room. ‘I’ll be here when you get back. I promise.’

And you were. We ate, and shared my spoils. Our laughter held notes of awkward relief.

‘Let’s go out in the garden,’ I suggested, on a sugar high. ‘We have sparklers left from last year, right?’ I loved to watch them dancing in the darkness, held between your steady fingers, far out of my reach. All I could do was look, but that was enough. I didn’t want that power. Not yet.

You grunted and got up, and we wrapped ourselves in coats and scarves. You reached down the box of tiny fireworks and the matches from over the stove, and out we went. The garden was dark and still and quiet, the stars overhead like shimmering dreams. I wanted to spin on the spot until it all blended into one.

The flare of the match drew my eye back to you just in time to watch you set it to the sparkler’s tip. It exploded into life, spitting and hissing like something enraged, a flower of the gods. Your hands were starkly shadowed and your face like a hollowed skull, squinting against the glow. Your eyes were hidden in the light.

Then, you handed the sparkler to me.

‘Here,’ you said. ‘I think it’s time for you to hold this, now.’

I stood and stared at you as it fizzed between my fingers, not even caring that it burned, until all that was left in the garden was its dying red end and the faint starlight, bleached out by its dancing afterglow.

Every year was the year of Alison, after that.




Writerly Wednesday

Pestles and mortars, taken by Tomas Laurinavicius Image sourced: getrefe.tumblr.com

Pestles and mortars, taken by Tomas Laurinavicius
Image sourced: getrefe.tumblr.com


‘Aw, nice one,’ the lads had said, almost in one voice, when I’d slid her photograph across the table. ‘You’d never be able to pull a bird like that on your own,’ Jimmy’d muttered, after a few minutes, his jaw clenching. None of them had been able to take their eyes off her – Magdalena. Lithuanian, and looked it. The pints sat untouched on the table, the football unwatched. Magdalena lay before them, a desert island to a drowning man.

‘Yeah, well I’m the one dropping over to her house later, right?’ I’d said, grabbing up the photo again. Jimmy’d blinked, shaking his head slightly, and Gerry’d straightened up. George had cleared his throat with a sound like an excavator, but he’d said nothing. I shoved Magdalena back where she’d lived ever since the agency had sent her over – my right jeans pocket, within easy reach. I’d looked at her photo so often I knew it by heart; the particular green-gold of her widely spaced eyes, and the beautifully peculiar turn to her lip. The tumble of her hair. The exact length of her slender neck.

‘Here, mate!’ Gerry’d said, settling himself back onto his stool. ‘What’s the number of that bloody agency, again?’ Jimmy’d been the first to laugh. Gorgeous George, who’d grabbed up his pint and downed most of it in one gulp, said nothing.

‘They’re not looking for lads like you, fellas. Sorry,’ I’d said, lifting my pint. ‘Only the quality, like meself. You understand, I’m sure.’

George had rumbled, then. ‘How much you payin’ ’em?’ he’d asked, from out of his beard.

‘Paying?’ I’d said, licking the froth off my top lip. ‘What makes you ask that?’

‘Experience,’ he’d said, but that was all.

I’d been buzzing from the beer when I made my way to Magdalena’s. ‘Come around ten,’ I’d been told. ‘She’s working until then.’ I wondered as I walked through the rain-speckled evening what sort of work a woman like Magdalena did. Modelling, I thought. And the rest. I picked up my pace. I’d mapped out my route days ago; I knew where I was going. I’d memorised the address.

Nothing was going to go wrong. Not tonight.

When I got there, I searched for her buzzer. Fourth floor, the instructions had said; a button marked ‘M’. I found it, and leaned. A gentle click, and the gate moved under my hand.

I was in.

I trotted down a tiled corridor, the lights flicking on as I went. Everything gleamed. Doors either side stayed shut as I passed. I stepped into a lift at the far end, and it smelled like honeysuckle. The ride was smooth. Fast. Expensive.

All I could see when the doors opened was a giant entrance, ten foot tall if it was an inch, leading through to a dark, shaded room as big as an aircraft hangar. I could barely make out the ceiling, and the walls were soft, distant smudges.

I blinked into the gloom and finally saw a brightly-lit desk in the centre of the massive room. There was a suggestion of movement around it, but I couldn’t see clearly enough to be sure.

‘Alistair?’ came a voice. It mangled my name, but I didn’t care.

‘M-Magdalena,’ I replied.

‘Come on in,’ she said. ‘Forgive the dark. The light has faded too far for me to continue my work this evening.’

‘Sure, sure,’ I said, even though I had no idea what she was on about. I took a few steps forward, but it was weird walking into the murk. ‘What’s – well, if you don’t mind my asking – what’s your work?’

‘Oh, there’ll be time for that, later,’ she said, and a laugh warmed her words.

I came closer. The desk, I now saw, was cluttered with stuff; jars and bottles full of pigment, brushes stuck in water, pestles and mortars which looked battered and war-worn, splashed with paint. Lumps of solid colour like soft gemstones lay carelessly strewn about, and a large grater like one you’d use for cheese dripped hues from its blades. Things glistened in saucers, green and brown and blood-rusty. The air smelled funny, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was.

‘You’re an artist,’ I said, finally. ‘Wow. That’s interesting.’

‘After a fashion,’ she said, still bustling about in the shadows. I heard the slither of what sounded like fabric, and strained to see.

‘What do you paint?’ I reached out and touched the handle of one of the pestles with a fingertip. It felt cold, and slimy. I grabbed my hand back, wiping it quickly on my jeans.

‘Portraits, mainly,’ she called, her voice muffled. Is she undressing? I thought, and quickly squashed it back.

‘Right,’ I said. ‘So, um. Should I come back there, or..?’

‘So eager!’ her voice said, straight into my left ear. I yelled, and spun around, but there was nothing there except shadows and the vague suggestion of a giant canvas looming over my head.

‘Th-that was a good trick,’ I said, trying to laugh.

‘Patience, Alistair,’ she said. This time, I couldn’t tell where her voice was coming from.

‘So, am I going to get to see you at all?’ I said, my eyes hopping from dark surface to dark surface. ‘Only, the agency’s email said… well. It said we’d do stuff – you know?’ I shoved my hands into my pockets; they were trembling, and I didn’t want her to see. I stroked the cool surface of her photo, and tried to squint at the giant painting. It was a human figure, I thought, splayed out. A man. Muscles straining. His face in shadow. Organs shining…

I never saw the blade coming.

I dropped like a rock, clutching my midriff, and Magdalena stepped into the light. I couldn’t help but look. She sank to her knees before me, beautiful and terrible, inhumanly tall, perfectly made but for her face…

‘Jesus,’ I muttered, trying to drag myself backwards. The pain of movement ripped through my gut. I glanced down; my blood was pooling beneath my hand. Spreading like crimson. She could’ve dipped her brush in it, I thought.

‘What are you?’ I asked. My teeth clenched. ‘What’s going on?’

‘You can see, I’m sure, that eyes are all I lack,’ she said, crawling towards me. ‘As I paint my picture, I complete myself. But painting eyes which look real – well. That’s the challenge, Alistair.’ Every word she spoke, she crept a little closer. In her hand, she clutched another blade, scalpel-thin. ‘So I realised, why paint them at all?’

‘No,’ I muttered. ‘Please. Please!’ I tried to slide again, but understood – too late – that all I was doing was retreating further into her lair. The door was miles away, and she was between me and it.

She hefted the blade and smiled, too widely.

‘Count yourself lucky,’ she said, as she pounced, ‘that I only require one heart.’


Friday Flash

Hardanger, Norway, 1917 Image: New Old Stock, http://nos.twnsnd.co/

Hardanger, Norway, 1917
Image: New Old Stock, http://nos.twnsnd.co/


Shush, I must shush, for I am hiding. Mama always said shush, Andreas, I am working! Shush, Andreas, Papa’s speaking! Shush, Andreas. Always shush.

Shush, Andreas! You must run, my darling. Now! Don’t stop. Don’t wait for me. I will come for you.

But Mama –

Andreas, please. She grabbed me up like she was cold and I was her favourite blanket. You must do as you are told, like a good boy. You’re a good boy, aren’t you?

Yes, Mama.

Don’t cry, my love. Her fingers felt like the tongue of our cat, Petter, except Mama’s hands were rough from needle-pricks and washing. I will be coming, right after you.

But what’s happening? She pulled on my cap and hurried toward the back door, the one that led to the fish-stinking alley. She smelled sharp and her breath was hot on my face. She got on her knees and buttoned up my coat and her eyelid was twitching, kik-kik, like a fly’s wing. Outside, a man started shouting, but not close by. He used bad words. I wanted to put my hands over my ears.

Nothing for you to worry about, my sweetheart. But you must get away from here. I promise – I promise, Andreas – I will be right behind you.

All right, Mama. I kissed her on the cheek, right where it was red, like I did after church when it was time for Sunday school. Maybe if I’m good she’ll make krumkake when we get home. Her face was cold and wet. The shouting man was getting closer. Witch! he called. Devil wife! Mama turned to look at the front of the house, and I wanted to ask her why he’s shouting but she turned back to me and her eyes were shining and round.

Go, now. Run, darling. Don’t look back. I love you. Her fingers dug into me as she slid the bolt on the door and shoved me out. I caught my foot on the top step but she held me steady. The alley was icy but the fish-smell was still there. It’s always there. Snow was falling.

Mama smacked the door shut before I could say I love her, too. I wanted to bang on it, so she’d open it and I could tell her, and she’d smile and kiss me, but her voice was in my head. Shush, Andreas! Run! And so I do.

I get as far as Gjertsen’s store, and then I stop. Gjertsen’s is far away – any further and I’d be out into the wilderness, where the skogsfru lives, and I don’t want her to catch me and take me away. I know Mama wouldn’t mean me to go further than here. I hide behind the fence, peeking out, waiting for Mama. I can see the hotel across the bay, and my friend Nils’s house, and the schoolhouse high up on the mountain.

But no Mama.

And then I see a man, someone bigger even than Papa, tall as a moose. His breath is a cloud around his head. He is walking quickly across the dock, and he is looking at the ground. He’s following something, like a tracker. Like a hunter.

I look down at my shoes. They’re warm and soft, because Mama made them so, but now there is a line of frozen snow around my soles. I hold my breath and look back at the man, and he has stopped walking. He’s staring through the fence, right at me.

My footprints in the fresh snow are neat as Mama’s stitches. If Papa was here he’d smack me for my silliness, but he’s not here. Mama says he’s on a boat to Svalbard, but he’s been on it a long time.

Then the man moves, and so do I. I rub away my tracks, my mittens soon thick with dirty snow, and I roll, quick-quick, into the shadows of the store on my elbows and knees.

I crouch low and watch the man. He’s still coming. His face is bright red, but not with cold.

Shush, Andreas, Mama says. Shush, and I will come for you.

I know, Mama, I whisper. I’ll be here.




Writerish Wednesday

Image: birds by nandadevieast on flickr; pinned to 1000 words' Pinterest board

Image: birds by nandadevieast on flickr; pinned to 1000 words’ Pinterest board


When the birds came, they hid the sky. The streams were endless, a liquid black flow of flesh and feathers, all converging on the horizon. It was the sign we had been waiting for, but we watched for two whole days and nights before the choice was made.

Like all the other girls of my age, I was ready to leave, but when my name was called the sigh of relief from every other mouth was a warm wind, and I felt light-headed as it passed me.

Being chosen was a huge honour; this, I knew.

I returned home to collect my pack. I could bring one small loaf and one water-skin, as well as my tinderbox and a spare pair of sandals. The empty golden box weighed more than everything I owned, but it had to be carried, too.

‘Go quickly, by night,’ advised my father.

‘Take care where you place every footstep,’ muttered my brother, holding me close.

I bowed to my mother’s picture, asking her blessing, and left while my family slept.

The way was hard, and the further I went the colder it got. I shivered in my thin robes, walking hard to keep warm. For three nights and days I travelled, resting only during the brightest hours of the day. I kept away from the main paths, and spoke to nobody. I kept the pulsating, beating darkness in my sights, training my ears for the cries of the ravens.

Then, one day, I was forced to loosen some of my robe and place it over my face; my breaths became shallow and fast. The air smelled hot and foul and full, and my steps fumbled their way across the rocky ground. It was drawing near.

On the eighth morning, I found the first of them. Pecked almost clean, his armour still shining despite his violent end, I touched his bones and wished his soul free. The next lay a spear-length from him, and the next, and the next… Again and again, my own bones and blood aching with exhaustion as I bent and stooped and prayed.

The birds hissed, circling. I ignored them.

I rested amid the battlefield that night. All around me unquiet souls tossed and turned in their pained sleep, like children lost in a crowded place. I could sense their fear and confusion, and in my dreams they plucked at my clothes, their eyes hollow. Do you know the way? Where is the light? Bring us home, they whispered.

I am sworn to do it, I told them, but they didn’t seem to hear.

The birds attacked midway through the following day, beating me with their wings and snapping at me with their sharp, bloodied beaks. I did not have time to do anything besides cover my head as best I could and carry on, bending and praying and releasing, one by one by one. My arms ran with my own blood and my ears rang with raucous calls.

I hid beneath a shield that second night, the spirit of its former owner gallantly defending me against all comers despite the fact that he was no more substantial than a thought, now.

He was the first I released the following morning. I had no other means of thanking him.

In the deepest part of the battle, where bodies lay ten-deep, I found myself drowning in death. I had to continue, because there was no other choice. The birds screamed overhead, wheeling and striking like lightning, forcing me to take up the weapons of the fallen to stop them from adding me to the sacrificial pile.

Throughout it all I bent, and stooped, and prayed.

Finally, I found a body without armour, bearing a short and notched blade and a simple helm, and I knew. Weeping, I searched his wounds as I said the prayers of release, and finally I slid the ring from his finger.

The birds fell like battering rams as I took my tinderbox from my pack. I set the sacred fire as I had been taught, using the lost king’s hair and sinew as fuel, cleansing his ring in the flame before placing it carefully in the heavy golden box I’d carried all this way. Then, with a word, the flames leapt from man to man, and I ran in terror even though I was beyond their power.

The birds wailed in rage as the conflagration claimed their prize.

I limped into the village ten days later. My father had been watching for me since they’d seen the smoke rising, and he alone had not given up hope.

Three children had been born while I was away, and they were brought before me without delay. One slept throughout, another laughed without cease, and the third – a girl – grasped the ring with eager fingers when I showed it to her. She brought it to her tiny lips as though to kiss it.

She gazed into my eyes as I held her, frowning up at me as though trying to place where she’d seen me before. I smoothed her softly wrinkled brow and laid her down, hoping she would never remember.

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.

Wednesday Write-In #89

The prompt words this week were:

disown :: doldrums :: narrow :: curse :: assemble

Image: colourbox.com

Image: colourbox.com

The Prodigal’s Return

Aix-en-Provence, 23.III.34

Oppressive times here, old chum. Oppressive indeed. This morning’s post brought a missive from Pater regarding my apparent ‘profligacy,’ ‘throwing away the family coin on women and wine,’ &c., and threatening the dreaded cut-off if such damnable behaviour does not cease forthwith. Blithering old fool. What business is it of his how I conduct myself here, far from his maddening grasp? Curse him. What irks most is how on earth he’s aware. Of course, he doesn’t know the half of it, but the half he does know, he appears to understand with perfect clarity.

All I wish is to be left in peace to write. Once my novel is completed, and I am being fêted on the London literary scene, we’ll see who requires money from whom.

I say, you couldn’t assemble a small packet of necessities, could you? A razor, some soap, a little cologne if you can spare it, some ink and nibs? Would be most grateful, of course. Recompense at a later date, and all that.

Must dash –


Aix-en-Provence, 05.IV.34

The doldrums continue apace, their sole lightening your letter, received yesterday with childlike gratitude. I thank you most sincerely for the ink and sundries you were good enough to send. When I came upon the inner package and found just how far your generosity had extended, I was quite moved, old boy. Assure yourself that I shall use it to pay for the roof above my head and the cuisine – victual as opposed to venereal, naturally – of which, perforce, I must partake.

Work continues well. I am all but finished the first draft. Not that Pater cares: along with your wonderful package came another ‘I Shall Thee Disown’ decree, filled with the most dreadful vitriol. It’s enough to make one dizzy.

Off for a walk in the Spring sunshine before returning to my narrow quarters, to sleep perchance to dream – perchance to write.

I can feel it, Robinson. The acclaim. Time, o Time, that blessed mistress; Time is all I need.

Yours in gratitude


Bridgwater House, Taunton, 17.V.34

I hold no ill-will, old chap. I’m sure you felt your hand forced, your conscience pricked without cease, and all that. I saw his top hat, first of all (nobody in Aix wears such things – he stood out like blood on a wedding gown); I tried to run, but could not decide what to leave, and what to bring. I froze, like a fool. He came straight to my door; there was no other way he could have known. I hope he made it worth your while, at least.

He flung my work upon the flames. It is ash, as am I.

No matter. Chin up, eh? Summer is high. The family coffers are, once again, sealed. Rejoice, o Israel.

Remember me, won’t you? With affection, if you can?

Yours eternally, in comradeship most fond,

Tiger and Turtle

Image: layoutsparks.com

Image: layoutsparks.com

Tiger and Turtle

Truth be tol’, I feel like hell the day Turtle and me decide to ride the rollercoaster.

‘They ain’t gon’ let us on,’ I say. ‘Les’ jus’ bounce.’

‘Fool, I know the ticket guy, ai’ght? No sweat.’ I can’t do nothin’ but shrug, and hope my head stops hurtin’ soon.

Eventually, we facin’ the top of the line.

‘You two jokers, right?’ says Ticket Booth guy. ‘Git. You gotta be this tall –‘ he points at some grinnin’ fool on a billboard – ‘to ride.’ But Turtle, he knew a back door. Soon, we on board.

My head bustin’ like a neverendin’ punch, an’ Turtle talkin’, but I ain’t hearin’. Two seats in front, there’s a tiger sittin’, stripes an’ tail flickin’. He turns, growlin’, an’ I smell his meat breath.

Coaster starts movin’, an’ I lean across to Turtle, real slow.

‘Turtle, man,’ I say, so low he can’t barely hear.

‘What you sayin’?’ he yells, leanin’ in. He soun’ like a freight train.

‘Turtle, man! Up front. Up front!’ I’m flickin’ my eyes in Tiger-boy’s direction but it ain’t no good. Turtle, he refuse to see.

‘What in the hell wrong wit’ you, boy?’ He fling hi’self back into his seat and fol’ his arms like he waitin’ for church to start. ‘You crazy.’

‘You don’t see nothin’?’ The tiger smilin’ at me now, his teeth shinin’ gold. Plenty o’ room in that ol’ mouf for me an’ Turtle too, and then some.

‘Ain’t nothing there to see,’ Turtle say, lookin’ out at the world. ‘No, sir.’

My head fit to bust, then. Feelin’ like my skin gon’ split, startin’ right at the top o’ my head, flayin’ down to my footsoles. The ol’ tiger, well. He turn, his shoulder ripplin’ like a black an’ yellow ocean, like a cornfield full o’ shadow. He turn s’more, one giant paw comin’ to res’ right on the seat in front. My brain screamin’. The tiger’s eye like a dyin’ star.

‘Turtle, man – I ain’t feelin’ so good,’ I say, an’ it the truth. My eyeballs fit to come pop right out my skull and lie, fizzin’, on my fool cheeks. I need to get out my seat, but the coaster flyin’ by now. I strugglin’, Turtle beside me suckin’ his teeth, leanin’ out the side.

‘Quit yo’ wrigglin’!’ he snap, turnin’ to me with his eyes wide.

An’ then the tiger, he pounce. He fall like a hammer, like a mountain. He brung night with him, pure dark, full o’ noises and danger and the stink o’ death. Then I hear Turtle screamin’, an’ my head explode. I bust up an’ out, th’owin’ off my skin, my self, an’ my arms ain’t arms no mo’, my hands ain’t hands.

I got claws longer n’ my ol’ body. I got pelt. I got teeth.

So I sink ’em, ever’thin’, into ol’ Tiger-boy.

As we fallin’ out the coaster I hear him laughin’.

Welcome, chile, he say. I knew it was you.

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.


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.