Ripples

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Thanks to Jane at Making it Write for nominating me for this challenge.

He’d known it would come when the atmosphere began to crackle, when the hairs on his arms, nape- even those furring the backs of his hands- bristled. The feeling built as one hot, airless day followed the next- the need growing with the heat.

The storm seemed to follow him from his cottage to the church, turning the cobbled street to a riverbed, making the slates shimmer. The water was dazzling, each drop a mirror for the lamplight. At first, he tucked his chin to his chest, wrapping the threadbare coat around him, puny defence against the onslaught.

Darts of rain stabbed his eyes, rivulets channelled to the corners of his mouth. Finally he relented. Opening his coat, spreading wide his arms, he welcomed the elements. The eager wind probed his chest, skimmed the backs of his knees, until every inch of him was wet and shivering.

He searched for his reflection but found none. Only broken, unstill water.

***

Sitting in the pew, water puddled around his boots. He enjoyed the drip and splash on the stone.

The stained glass rattled with every crash of thunder, colours trembling in slack lead. A bleached instant of lightning showed the altar, the rood screen with its hacked, faceless saints.

He was always comfortable with the dead. Nothingness was fascinating and now it softly surrounded him: in each wall niche, below slabs where the water seeped: deep in the crypt, where the coffins turned to powder. Being near a corpse made his breath run smooth, caused his fingers to uncurl from their habitual fists. The living made his teeth grind.

He knew it wasn’t normal. He’d watched the world sidelong through squint eyes and it disturbed him. Other people kissed- mouths soft and gluey moist. They laced arms and drew comfort from the sensation. He had practised smiles in his looking glass but each turned rictus- he long ago decided smiling was not a skill he owned.

Another roll of thunder. It grew soft, turning to a grumble.

The door latch squeaked open, clicked shut. For a moment he was lost, then his mind returned to him and he smelt stale incense, tasted dust on his tongue.

‘James?’ The voice sounded wary.

‘I’m here,’ he said and rose to his feet.

The Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge rules require you to post a photo each day for five consecutive days and attach a story to the photo. I have chosen to use photographs from Pixabay as I’m terrible at taking them myself! It can be fiction or non-fiction, a poem or simply a short paragraph – it’s entirely up to you.

Then each day, nominate another blogger to carry on this challenge.

Accepting the challenge is entirely up to the person nominated, it is not a command. Today, I’m inviting Divya from Another Teenager’s Time Capsule to join the challenge.

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“I’m covered in bees!” ― Eddie Izzard

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Thanks to Jane at Making it Write for nominating me for this challenge.

Papery temptation has been falling through my letterbox of late, flashing its bright colours at me like a roadside trollop’s knickers, luring me with its heady promise of soft, blousy afternoons.

No- it’s not a Victoria’s Secret catalogue, but literature of a muddier nature. I’m talking plants and seeds.

Problem is, I can’t stop myself. I have a postage stamp front garden, a patch of cat litter tray gravel at the back, but I just have to have more plants. These stamen-packed mags are all designed to manipulate the weak – so vibrant and dazzling, each perfect petal soft as velvet, warm as skin, sweetly scented as Palma Violets. The names are there to entice: Dizzy Heights, For Your Eyes Only, Awakening, Atomic Blonde… And they’re only the roses.

Experience should have taught me better- every chubby little root ball that enters the house becomes a leggy, slug-nibbled skeleton of its former self within weeks, my lack of horticultural skill in limp chloroplastic form.

I do it for them, you see. Those furry-arsed, nectar guzzling, pollen junkies… the bees. They need an oasis of floral voluptuousness in this urban sprawl, right? A haven where they can buzz and bumble and waggle-dance their stingers off.

That’s what I tell myself, as I hunch over those shiny pages, my back aching, squinting through the small print. And as I reach for my credit card I cry, ‘It’s for the bees, man. All for the bees.’

The Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge rules require you to post a photo each day for five consecutive days and attach a story to the photo. I have chosen to use photographs from Pixabay as I’m terrible at taking them myself! It can be fiction or non-fiction, a poem or simply a short paragraph – it’s entirely up to you.

Then each day, nominate another blogger to carry on this challenge.

Accepting the challenge is entirely up to the person nominated, it is not a command. Today, I’m inviting Samantha from fictionwriterwithablog to join the challenge.

Ignore the old goat

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Thanks to Jane at Making it Write for nominating me for this challenge.

‘Ignore the old goat. We’ve paid our money to stay here, ain’t we? You use the hot water if you want a bath.’

They’d just returned to the room after a baking day on the Sands and Gordon was flushed pink as a shrimp, the end of his nose just beginning to peel. Whatever Gordon said, Sylvie was loath to be on the receiving end of another fierce glare from the B & B’s owner, so out the bowl and jug came from the washstand. Another day sluicing in chilly water, cloudy as carbolic-scented lemonade.

‘You’ll see,’ said Gordon, leaning back against the pillows as she washed, ‘we’ll hear the old devil tonight, splashing around like a seal in that tub, singing ‘Mademoiselles from Armentieres’ while the rest of us are trying to get some shut-eye. A day in that tweed suit of his and he must be steaming like a Burmese jungle.’

Sylvie thought the Major looked rather dapper in his jacket and plus fours, as if he dressed especially to do battle with the crazy golf course or the penny slots.

Her new husband Gordon‒ ‘husband’ was still a strange word on her lips, though not as peculiar as ‘wife’‒ had spent the day in rolled up shirt sleeves and trouser legs, a knotted hanky perched on his head, while he sank his toes into the sludgy sand. He’d twined his fingers through hers, dragging her into the water, even when she screamed and protested that he’d ruin her sundress.

He was always relaxed, always smiling, always confident and she envied him for it. Perhaps over the years some of that confidence would rub off on her.

The Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge rules require you to post a photo each day for five consecutive days and attach a story to the photo. I have chosen to use photographs from Pixabay as I’m terrible at taking them myself! It can be fiction or non-fiction, a poem or simply a short paragraph – it’s entirely up to you.

Then each day, nominate another blogger to carry on this challenge.

Accepting the challenge is entirely up to the person nominated, it is not a command. Today, I’m inviting Sonya from Only 100 Words to join the challenge.

Eviction from paradise

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Thanks to Jane at Making it Write for nominating me for this challenge.

‘What is the clamour, Mercy dear?’

My boss at the milliner’s, Miss Flint, had appeared on the pavement behind me, stern as a figurehead, eyeglasses wedged on her bulbous nose. She pongs of rotting feathers and mothballs like any hat maker, but when I brush against her what I smell most is Macchione the organ grinder, though that last could be my fancy. Miss Flint says that what passes through my head would be better to stay there, as most of it ain’t respectable.

‘Don’t know, Miss Flint,’ I said, which was the truth.

The ruckus was not of the day-to-day variety; usually between breakfast and supper, there’s not a thing that will stir Miss Jessie Flint from her workroom, her stool and her stitching. Polly says that if the Good Lord came calling, Miss Flint would ask if he could take a pew while the tea mashed and she tied off a ribbon or made fast an edging.

‘Is that sword swallower back? Feeble-minded way to earn a crust, that.’ Polly was in the doorway, her apron stuck with needles trailing coloured thread, sleeves prickling with pins, like a startled hedgehog in a rope corset. There was a hat in her fist so confused with net and bugle beads that the glass-eyed hummingbird quivering on the brim would scarce be able to stretch its stumpy wings. If it weren’t dead as a doornail, that is.

Miss Flint scowled. ‘Polly, why are you out here gaping? Mrs Younger’s touring hat will be steeped in drizzle and have a waft of the chophouse when you’re done. Must I alter her bill of sale to explain that the fug of red beef and a hint of the Thames are included in the seven and six charge?’

Polly smiled, showing teeth blackened by years of smoking a daily pipe of navy cut. ‘I’ve got ta put you right there,’ said Polly, ‘on account of the sun shining and there being no hint of wet. Also, the breeze’ll blow out the whiff of last night’s mutton, which is worse than an undertaker’s parlour in July.’ She knocked me with her spiky elbow. ‘Anyhow, Mercy’s watching.’

Miss Flint crossed her arms so tight I was sure she’d burst her stay lace. ‘Mind your cheek, Miss. Mercy is on the street to sell what you make and if she fails, we all go hungry.’

That’s me, by the by, Mercy Lynch, She-Barker. I’ll collar anyone passing‒ toffs or Haymarket Hectors, ladies or night flowers‒ give them a bit of patter and send them on their way fuddled as new-borns, juggling bonnets and toppers with pockets many shillings the lighter.

‘Must the entire staff of Flint and Flint stand on the street like costers? Mr Turnbull will rub his hands to think that we have so little custom,’ sighed Miss Flint.

‘Old man Turnbull’s nosing too,’ said Polly. And there, across the street, was Mr Alfred Turnbull Esq, Milliner to Ladies of Quality, standing on an orange box, shirtsleeves rolled back to scabby elbows. ‘Curious happenings,’ said Polly. ‘I know. Oi, Bill! What’s ‘appening?’ A bill-sticker was watching the to-do, leaning on his cross pole, gluepots swinging at his hip. Polly calls all the bill-stickers ‘Bill’, and strange to say every one answers to the name.

‘Eviction from Paradise,’ he shouted, scratching his nose with a brush handle. ‘There’s a Ma, a babe in arms, and six‒ mebbe seven‒ barefoot scraps in tow.’

‘Ah,’ said the three of us.

Little Paradise is a rookery crushed between Cranbourne and Bear Street with roofs so low you must palm your hat or lose it, alleyways so dark, narrow, and thick with trapped smoke your outstretched hand will vanish as if sliced off at the wrist. You’d think the Fleet’s been channelled over the roof, looking at the filthy water that runs down the walls, at the mud and rotting stuff that slides under your boots. The whole mess would fall towards Leicester Square if the landlords hadn’t wedged joists against the walls. They remind me of dying men held up by crutches. Little Paradise ain’t the Old Nichol, but it makes me thankful for my pallet bed and for a bowlful of eel stew to warm on the range.

Some gents waiting on repairs had filled Hawdon’s Tailors and Outfitters’ narrow doorway, their borrowed coats striped like humbugs. Mr Hawdon, a froglike chap with a greasy baldpate, stayed crooked over his work, the only soul on Cranbourne Alley whose head wasn’t turned. Delivery boys buzzed round, stumbling into the road, unmindful of ruts, horse apples and an unhappy-seeming constable. Then a dray shouldered through, the boys skipping left and right as giant horse hooves threatened to mash one after another.

A lopsided version of ‘Daisy Bell’ started from a handbarrow organ, jumbling with the cry of a wink man. ‘Fresh periwinkles- Daisy– a penny a pint- crazy…’

‘Ooh, look, Miss Flint, if it ain’t Mr Macchione,’ shouted Polly, pointing at the organist. She caught me again with her elbow, my arm stinging from the pins.

Miss Flint reddened. ‘Enough of that! The spectacle’s over.’

She was right. The winkles and the organ grinder’s string puppets had lured away the boys, the gents had returned to their waiting. The family from Little Paradise vanished before I even saw them. I wondered where they’d sleep: St Martin’s workhouse? Under a damp railway bridge?

‘Back to work,’ said Miss Flint. Perhaps she fluttered a lash at Macchione, but that could just be my fancy again. As she followed a chattering Polly into the shop, she turned, saying, ‘There’s a mourning bonnet that was home to a family of mice ‘til an hour ago. It’s half price, so look out for widow’s weeds.’

I breathed deeply. ‘Bonnets! Bonnets! Parasols to shield the sun from faces fair!’

Images of chattering teeth, of goose pimples raised in the damp shadow of Waterloo Bridge were my close companions until well past sunset.

The Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge rules require you to post a photo each day for five consecutive days and attach a story to the photo. I have chosen to use photographs from Pixabay as I’m terrible at taking them myself! It can be fiction or non-fiction, a poem or simply a short paragraph – it’s entirely up to you.

Then each day, nominate another blogger to carry on this challenge.

Accepting the challenge is entirely up to the person nominated, it is not a command. Today, I’m inviting bluechickenninja to join the challenge.

Summon the Nine Dancers

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Thanks to Jane at Making it Write for nominating me for this challenge.

I wait and watch for her.

The cotton-grass fights the wind, bending its tresses to tangle with the heather.  The cold is pitiless as the night rises: it swells my fingers. There’s the blue-grey dash of a wheatear in the grass; one flick of his tail and he vanishes as if he was never there.  If I had been one of the Nine Dancers, villagers turned to blocks of stone for their sin, I could have watched the moor change from brown to purple to silver-frost until Judgement Day and I would never have caught her eye.

But instead I wait for her and I pray she doesn’t come… and I pray harder that she does.

***

I first saw her shoe: grey kid with a pinked trim. The girls I know wear bulled leather on their feet, proofed against farmyard muck and bog water. I glimpsed her skirt next; a pale blue ground sprigged with red roses, like a garden growing in a clear sky. I believed myself already in love.

Then her face appeared from behind the Priest- the broadest of the Dancers. One look from her grey eyes and I was lost. She was hiding from my sister Anne, the two of them playing hide-and-seek like they were children again. The girl with the sky-blue dress caught my eye. She smiled; she shook her head and held a finger to her lips to seal a promise. I nodded, blushing with pleasure to be her accomplice.

She had me then, with one look, one finger, her lips curled in a smile.

***

She watched me over the edge of the box pew. Even though my back was turned I felt her eyes burn through my collar stud, heating the skin beneath until I flushed and my neck grew damp. I didn’t hear a word of the sermon.

In the churchyard afterwards she stooped to tie her lace, leaning against a headstone cracked by frost and rain. Shaded by a bough of yew she sank into a tangle of ivy, crunching fallen epitaphs underfoot. She was blinkered by the wings of her bonnet and couldn’t see me. I thought to speak, but my tongue felt swollen, trapped behind my teeth, so instead I passed by, her skirts brushing against my legs. A sudden wind tangled me in petticoats; I stumbled free, leaving her to stand alone.

I thought of that moment often; the brush of her poplin dress on the back of my hand and the smell of lilac and skin.

I knew she was not human the first day she took my hand.

It was May Day. The sun was so hot that we tied wet kerchiefs round our necks to cool us. The fiddler stood beneath the market cross, his foot keeping time. I do not dance, but she took my hand anyway. I followed like a sheep follows the lead ewe even though it can hear a blade on the whetstone. Her bones were so slight that I daren’t close my fingers around her hand in case I crushed her. Her skin felt cool but my palm burned. She smiled. I couldn’t.

The music ended and the fiddler sank to the grass to drink his ale. I was left gasping. She walked away, stealing one backward glance.

***

There were other times: her hair twisted around my fingers: the touch of her lips on my neck: her smell that lingered on my shirt. There was a time in the darkness, the scratch of hay against my arms. That day her skin burned me again and on coming away I felt scarred down to the bone.

There were other times: watching her turn away when I tried to catch her eye: her cheek flushing under another man’s gaze: waiting alone in the dark, not knowing if she would come, my fists bruised on the wall.

***

By the time my skin turned cold under her touch it was too late for us both. A worm had burrowed inside me, leaving me hollow; each wink she threw made me shiver, every stroke of her finger was like the scratch of a nail. I would check myself for wounds and was surprised when I found none.

I was cruel. But that was when she loved me best.

***

Last night we were together by the Dancers. It was dark when we arrived. It grew darker still; the only light the moon and its reflection in a blade.

Now I can feel myself growing solid again, the hollows in my body filled. My toes are planted in the shallow soil and soon bog moss and sundew will grow around my ankles. I am turning to rock, but the change from flesh to stone doesn’t hurt me. All my pain has vanished and the burning of my skin has eased. My heart slows; I can feel the pulse through my arms, in my head, but soon it will stop. My skin will turn grey-green like the other Dancers and I will swell their ranks: the Priest, the Surgeon, the Midwife, the Blacksmith, the Brewer, the Thatcher, the Dame, the Fiddler and the Hound. And beside them, us: the Lovers. We are drawn, one to the other, the damned to the damned.

Something moves, like the sun has risen from behind the moor… like a garden of roses planted in a blue sky.

She takes my hand.

First published on the Everyday Fiction website.

The Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge rules require you to post a photo each day for five consecutive days and attach a story to the photo. I have chosen to use photographs from Pixabay as I’m terrible at taking them myself! It can be fiction or non-fiction, a poem or simply a short paragraph – it’s entirely up to you.

Then each day, nominate another blogger to carry on this challenge.

Accepting the challenge is entirely up to the person nominated, it is not a command. Today, I’m inviting Susieshy 45 to join the challenge.