Friday Fictioneers : For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson


 

Pristine white arches stretched over the dark corridor. The starship’s floor was warm beneath her feet, the restless air scented with plastic and engine oil. Machinery hummed – a dull, comforting throb.

She tried to control her breathing, tried not to glance into the alcoves as she followed the trail of winking lights. She knew what lay inside – egg-shaped pods, their glass lids sealed, the placid oval of a sleeping human face visible in each.

She was the last awake, the only one who’d heard the distress call from home – to know the heartbreaking truth.

‘Sleep well,’ she whispered.

 


Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers. See the prompt photo and write a 100 word tale. See here to join in and to read the other stories.

The title comes from Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1, from the speech beginning,

To be or not to be?

FFfAW : Hemmingway’s Shoes

This week’s photo prompt is provided by Shivangi Singh. Thank you Shivangi for our photo prompt!


 

She flies at the workmen, claws at their arms, her grey hair flying. They swear, drop their chainsaws, grapple for her hands, pin her arms. When she spits, they back away cursing, shaking their heads.

‘Mad old witch.’

Sinking to her knees, she weeps, stares at the sawn tree trunk, at the treasures tangled in its branches. For years people have come to tie ribbons and leave notes, photographs, beads … teddy bears.

For Jane. For Simon. For Grandad, with love. 

Somewhere among the snapped twigs and crushed leaves is her own offering, the first, the one that brought this wishing tree to life.

Two objects. Together they can balance on the palm of her hand. Salmon coloured leather, pinked flower design round the toe, the buckles now dulled, silver flaking.

For my own, sweet Beth. I hope you’re still dancing x

 


Written for Priceless Joy’s Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers. See the pic and have a go. See here to read the other tales.

I’m sure many of you writers out there are aware of the – probably apocryphal – story of Ernest Hemmingway taking a bet that he could write a complete story in six words. He wrote on a napkin,

For sale : baby shoes, never worn.

and collected his winnings.

I thought of this story as I wrote my own.

#tuesdayuseitinasentence : Buried with all haste and little love

 

Charity, Hope and Patience Godwin were three spinster sisters from out Chelmorton way.

They lived at Dolly Farm with their mother, known to all – with a wink and a nod – as Nana Godwin. The name was ironical as no woman – from the black belching chimneys of Sheffield to Manchester’s rattling looms, across the hunched and heathered hills of the Peaks – was less prone to being motherly, or to human warmth and kindness than Nana Godwin. And it was judged from when her daughters were pinched and slender figures huddled in the school playground, that she would never be a ‘Nana’.

The townsfolk would chuckle and tut at the four of them as they clogged up the hill to the market just as the stalls were leaving their pitches, canopies folding with a slap and rumble. The Godwins haggled for stale loaves, scavenged muddied turnips from the gutters, beat down the stallholders with eight tight, shrewd eyes. After their purchases they would trudge home, Nana’s laced poke bonnet bobbing beneath Hope and Charity’s flattened busts and flatter smiles. Patience always strode ahead, skirts flapping silky black.

‘Crows’, the townsfolk whispered as they passed,’Rooks’, ‘Starlings’. Though the wittier minds would call ‘Magpies’, due to the stories.

There were rumours, you see, as there will be of women without men, living alone on a scoured hill, buried in the shadow of gnarled yew trees. Gold, they said, wrapped in sacking and wedged up the chimney, hidden under the lifting floorboards, even in the sisters’ own cotton drawers. Enough to buy a horse. Enough to by a stable.

The years went by. Nana curved in on herself, until her poke bonnet reached no higher than her daughters’ waistbands. The sisters grew tighter, faces lined and crumpled as old grey satin.

One Monday the doctor was sent for. On Tuesday the priest. On Wednesday the undertaker, a measuring tape tucked in his breast pocket, a glitter tucked behind a sympathetic smile.

Nana Godwin was buried with all haste and little love, in a cheap coffin in a damp corner of the churchyard, stacked on top of another casket to save unnecessary expense. The three sisters stood together, skirts and bodices, capes and shoulders packed so tightly, they resembled one large woman with three, pale faces.

The grave was a shallow one then – a fact the gravedigger was glad for, as a week after the sombre internment, Nana Godwin was up and out of the ground again, the tiny box and its shrivelled contents loaded onto a dray and drawn up the hill to the police station where a coroner waited, impatiently tapping the toe of his polished black shoes.

For the doctor had smelt bitter almonds on the puckered old lips and a travelling tinker passing Dolly Farm, his load chinking with the force of the rain, glimpsed three figures in sodden black, lugging floorboards and hefting mattresses, night stands and a blanket box out onto the cobbled yard, as if searching for something lost.

The townsfolk, it seems, weren’t alone in believing in the whispered gold.

Once the trial was over and three black crows had flown from the earth, Dolly Farm was emptied, the furniture auctioned, even the stone walls dismantled, the blocks sold off to build other, warmer homes.

There never was any gold found at Dolly Farm. And precious little patience, hope nor charity neither.

 


Written for Stephanie at Word Adventure’s #tuesdayuseitinasentence. Today the word is PATIENCE. See here to join in and to read the other tales.

The Devil of Moravia : A body separated from its soul

Candlelit drawing room

Image : Pixabay

 

Last week we left Edmund, fleeing from the home of rake and all round scoundrel, Samuel Gordon, leaving death and destruction behind. Surely, our hero’s fortunes can only improve …

To read the opening instalments of The Devil, visit here, why don’tcha. One, two, three, four, fivesix , seven, eight, nine, ten and eleven.

Now, read on …


… He was quite dead, his eyes clouded and fixed. Perhaps it was through the shock of his mishandling or the pistol’s sudden report.

Whichever. He would not be the last innocent to fall through this unholy meeting …

For several days after our visit to Samuel, I retired to my chamber, unable to face Slatina or his servants. I could not bear to speak of that night, or my part in it. I was angry at Slatina for using my connections in such an offhand manner, blamed the mysterious foreigner for the horrors that had overcome the evening, railed against Gordon and his tawdry companions for staining me with their filth, exposing me to their pestilence.

I allowed myself to wallow in this delusion for full half a day before I could admit the truth – that it was my own greedy heart, my own desire for rehabilitation and my need to return to my previous social standing that had made me fall to the darkest place my soul had then yet reached. I was aware of Samuel’s reputation. I knew the murky depths in which he dwelt and if I had not seen his unspeakable acts with my own eyes, I had heard reliable report of them and knew the truth.

Samuel was a demon made flesh. A lost man, a body separated from its soul, destined – if the priests tell it true – to fester in Hell, suffering tortures of the Devil’s own construction.

And I had led Slatina to him. Willingly. Selfishly. Hoping for my own redemption whilst riding on the crooked back of one long cursed. How could I have believed any good would come from such a meeting?

For three days, I listened to the rhythms of the house, to the trails of Red Men who circulated through the halls and stairways, rooms and passageways of my home like blood through a recumbent body. From the loud tramp of footsteps, their numbers seemed to grow daily. I was constantly slipping into a disturbed slumber, merely to be wakened by the slam of a door or the tap-tap-tap of leather shoes on boards.

I imagined how they looked as they patrolled the house, a constant river of men, their scarlet coats turned crimson in the darkness, pale faces floating in haloes of candlelight. I confess the thought scared me a little, kept me shrunk in my chamber when I might have ventured forth. They were Slatina’s ghostly army – intruders in my ancestral home – and they were not mine to command.

On the fourth day I woke, the pulse of movement outside my door insistent. It echoed through the room, the sound rising and falling, beating like a silversmith’s hammer against my temples. Why were there so many servants in the house? And what could they possibly accomplish late in the evening and on into the haunted hours?

It was this thought that finally shook the melancholy from my shoulders and led me to rise from my bed. The sun was not yet full up, but still a slice of grey dawn light crept below my curtains onto the floor and this gave me courage, for I had conjured such spectres in my wild imaginings, if it had been one hour earlier, in my frousty bed I would have stayed.

Instead, and with an air of superior determination only the disgraced nobility can muster, I flung wide my chamber door and step out onto the landing, my robe flapping about me, my feet bare.

One Red Man passed and then another, each dipping his bewigged head in my direction before hurrying on his way. I attempted to speak to a slight Red Man – in truth more a Red Boy if his pimpled chin and downy lip were any guide – to ask the whereabouts of Slatina, but he shot me a worried look, ducked out of my reach when I attempted to restrain him and hopped along the hallway with his burden of gold embroidered damask.

After another attempt and then another, I finally reached the end of my – admittedly short – patience. I stood at the ballustrade and shouted for the palid Moravian, calling him each foul, low name my tongue could bend itself around, calling his parentage into question, accusing him of every deviant, base and low act I could imagine and many I would rather not.

‘Lord Edmund.’

I believe no creature on this earth could move as quickly or as silently as Slatina. Before my last curse had fallen to silence he was beside me, his mouth bent to an amused smile, brow raised in question.

Taken aback, I struggled to find my words, by which time Slatina spoke again. ‘I trust you enjoyed your rest and are eagerly anticipating this evening’s ball?’

‘Ball?’ My mind raced.

‘Lord Samuel has proved most helpful in sending forth invitations.’

‘Samuel?’

‘Of course,’ he said, brightly. ‘I paid him a visit four days since – Tuesday last – and together we drew a list. In one hour, Lord Edmund, you and I shall host the finest, most accomplished ball London has ever witnessed.’

‘One hour?’

He pointed to my grandfather clock, the only piece of furniture in the house which I could truly class as my own. The hands told me it was twenty eight minutes past six.

Dumb as an ox, my mind reeled to make sense of the conversation. What I had taken to be sunrise must have been the last pale fingers of daylight. What’s more, I had lost several days, having woken in the misapprehension it was Sunday, when if Slatina was to be believed, it was the following Saturday.

I felt bewildered and not a little frightened. However, there was no time to put my enfeebled senses to solving the mystery, as I had to wash and dress before the first visitors arrived.

As I slipped on my linen shirt, a pair of midnight blue satin breeches and silk stockings, the anxiety began to fall from me, comforted as I was by thoughts of candlelight and music, dancing  and pleasant company.

But if I believed the worst of my distress was past, then I was mistaken. For little now lay ahead of me but blood, blood, blood.

The Daily Prompt : Him, the king and the snow

Image result for alfred jewel

 

A snowflake flutters onto his lashes, melts, is blinked away before another lands. What began as a flurry is falling heavier now, snow settling in the pits and dips in mud grown solid under days of frost and bitter wind.

He doesn’t notice. Doesn’t see the bare trees, black lacework against the solid grey sky, or the vixen crossing the barren field, her belly sunk with hunger, her brush thin, the dull russet hair. He doesn’t see her stop, raise her nose to sniff the air – to sniff him – and hurry on her way, too cautious, too experienced to stay where the meaty, lactic tang of humans hangs.

The world passes unseen.

All he knows are his breathing and the exquisite crystal teardrop that’s nestled in his palm, the golden wires that twine and coil along the edge, that twist into the snout, the flaring nostrils of a fierce beast, that whirl into two great, fathomless eyes, protecting the king, his emerald gown, the coal black stare.

His hands grow hard with the cold, as if the stone has sunk into him, made him stone too. The snow falls harder, blotting out the sky, the vixen’s tracks, the spindle trees – leaving him, the king and the snow.

 


Written for The Daily Prompt – today the word is EXQUISITE.

There was one object I though of after reading the prompt word – The Alfred Jewel. Twelve hundred years old, it’s one of the finest examples of Anglo Saxon goldsmithing in this country.

Commissioned by King Alfred himself, as the inscription “aelfred mec heht gewyrcan” (Alfred ordered me made) attests, it’s always seemed like a perfect, magical object to me and I tried to imagine how the man who found it in the late seventeenth century might have felt as it lay in his hand.

See here to learn more about the jewel.

What pegman saw : A fiery serpent crosses the Mojave

 

Norm sat on the porch watching the line of tail lights weave through the Mojave. The traffic coiled back and forth, miles along the road to the east and so far back to the west, it faded to dust.

The screen door banged. His wife, Jeanie, placed a cold beer down, the glass already beaded with condensation. She rested a hand on his shoulder, groaned as she lowered herself to sit.

The distant red lights grew fainter, finally vanishing over the horizon. The sun was almost set, scorching the hills scarlet and purple. Something small and scared scuffled under the creosote bushes. The untidy flap of a bat cut the sky.

‘You think it’s what you heard on the radio?’ said Jeanie.

He nodded. She sighed, slipping her hand into his.

‘Got shells for the shotgun?’

‘Yep,’ he said, reaching for his beer.

 


Written for What pegman saw, a prompt based on Google Street View. See here to see this week’s original image and to join in.

 

Monday Motivations : An end to silence

Wooden staircase

Image : Pixabay

 

Silence was the melody to Nancy’s life.

No doors were permitted to bang in their house – no radio played. The windows were locked tight even through summer’s moist, thundery days, in case a neighbour’s harsh bray or the sound of children clanking sticks along the railings should penetrate inside.

Her movements were always smooth, measured, design to be quiet – ballet with no accompaniment.

The routes from kitchen to hall, from hall to stairs and on, upward through their skewed box of a house, were well worn zigzags from mats to rugs to runner. Her weight would shift as she reached for the correct step, avoiding the loose boards and leaning newel posts that prised such distress from Mother.

Occasionally – years ago – Nancy would be in the middle of washing dishes or scrubbing clothes on the washboard, lost in the soothing, repetitive action and a melody would spring to her lips, escaping in a reedy whistle. But she’d soon learned that the tunes were safer kept inside where they couldn’t cause harm. Mother didn’t like music.

One day, the silence was broken.

A sound like air battling through water pipes, shuddering through the house, making the boards flex and newel posts creak, making the pictures shudder on their hooks, frames tapping on the walls like a hundred eager fingers. It came from upstairs, from the attic, where Mother paced and paced in stocking feet.

There was a thump, a tumble of heavy objects on the floor above, then nothing.

Nancy wasn’t sure exactly what had caused the noise but she knew one thing.

It heralded the end of silence.

 


 

Written for Esther Newton’s Monday Motivations. This week there was a choice between DISASTER, LOVE and SILENCE. I of course chose SILENCE. See here to join in.