FFfAW : The frostbitten heart

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


 

Each time the snow fell, covering the land in gnawing cold and ankle deep crunch, she went out looking. And when ice turned the world to a hard snap … she searched then too.

Looked for the lamp post with its prism of glass, for dancing, gaseous shadows falling on hard packed earth. Looked for the faun and his presents clothed in paper and trussed with string.

Sitting under the fir trees, waiting for chattering beavers, for sleigh rides and Turkish Delight  – Always Winter, never Christmas – she was filled with so much yearning, such a need for magic, it was as if the frost had bitten her heart, as if it was in shards in her chest, cracked like a broken ice puddle. Beneath her feet there was never magic, only the parent of grey, gritty slush.

She’s old now, still searching. Still driven by that frostbitten heart. But sometimes, I swear her breath smells of rosewater and lemons and I wonder  …

 


Written for Priceless Joy’s Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers.  See here to join the fun.

And if – dear, bereft reader – you are ignorant of the land I am describing, then you merely need to step this way. Mind those moth balls, now.

 

 

 

#tuesdayuseitinasentence : Hard and black and heavy

‘It was just an accident. There was no reason.’ He wants to sit down, you can see it in his body language, the uncertain bobbing between standing and the hard backed chair.

It’s ridiculous, of course. There are always reasons. He was rushing home to watch the match on TV; he only had a provisional licence and was driving alone; the road was wet and the brake pads were worn. All small decisions he made that led to this.

There’s a spot of dried blood on his neck from where he’s caught himself shaving and his shirt’s grey from overwashing, crinkled as if it’s just been pulled from the laundry basket.

The sight makes me furious. That he didn’t deem this day important enough to buy a new shirt. That he’s too lazy to iron the old one.

That my son isn’t worth the effort.

Finally he sits. I sense his relief at being out of the spotlight and my anger rises again. So much has centred around him – what he did, what he thought, his excuses – and not around Jamie. As if the loss of our boy is merely a supporting act to the main attraction.

Someone speaks, but I’m not sure who and he’s rising from his seat, being led from the dock. Just for a moment he looks up, looks right at me, quickly looks away.

But not before I’ve seen him, seen his smallness, how his fear has shrunk him, has burrowed inside, hollowing him out until there’s nothing but terror, hard and black and heavy. His shoelace flaps loose, pattering on the floor tiles. He’s so young, so very young.

And I’m crying.

 


Written for Stephanie at Word Adventure’s #tuesdayuseitinasentence. The word today is REASON. Why not pop along here and join in?

The Devil of Moravia : Old Noah, via Dead Man’s Lane

River, lights, nighttime

Image : Pixabay

Edmund has a race against time to save Frances … and endangers his very soul to do so. To read his previous adventures, see below.

Onetwothreefour, fivesix , seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelvethirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty one, twenty two, twenty three, twenty four, twenty five and twenty six.


… ‘Fortunately, I enjoy the company of you and your friends and wish to keep it for a long, long time. So go and I shall watch your Frances. Take Samuel with you. I would not wish you to come to any harm and the man is so wonderfully useful in matters of violence.’

And so it was Samuel and I went forth on our dreadful mission. To entrap an innocent to their bloody fate so that my love might live.

Dusk was falling as we ventured into the street, and a fine rain was falling with it, misting the air with a warm dampness that soon gathered into glittering beads on our lashes. At first neither of us uttered a word, for there was an air about Samuel’s house, a shadow so black and fearful that it occluded all attempts at conversation. It was not until we had walked over half a mile that Samuel spoke.

‘I was ever a bad man, Edmund.’

This much of his character was self-evident, so I made no further commment.

He continued. ‘But I only ever took what others were willing to give. What was owed me.’

As this was so clearly a falsehood, I made no reply. He seemed about to say more, but then we heard the crowing – loud as a hundred dawns – from the cock pit at Whitehall and he sank once more into a festering silence. The Thames wallowed before us wreathed in vapours and when we reached the narrow flight that is Whitehall Stairs the treads were slippery with grease and rain, but I glimpsed the waterman’s lamp as we approached the jetty and we were soon boarded on a wherry, wrapped in blankets, scudding downriver, enveloped by the tang of the city’s heart.

No more speech passed between us as we eased into the pull and pause of the boat. But as we alighted at Tooly Stairs by London Bridge and watched the waterman ease away with his next fare, Samuel spoke again.

He laid his hand upon my arm, staying my progress from the river to the dark, matted maze of Southwark. ‘You have not asked me,’ he said.

There had been no linksman waiting at the Stairs. All I could see of my companion was what the night was willing to reveal to me and that was a hollowed man, a man of deep eye sockets and deeper sorrows.

‘What am I to ask you?’

He fussed at his neck with trembling fingers. ‘You know some of Frances’ tale, how you and she are linked. But I carry my own burden.’

It was dark, the only light was that which reflected from the river and its bobbing cargoes, but still I knew what he held forth in his fingers. A rectangle of dark metal hung upon a silver chain. I knew he wished to tell me all, to share the weight of his horrors with another soul who might show him a little of what Slatina never could – pure, human pity. It was all I could do not to strike the man where he stood, not to curse and spit on him for all the tragedies that now befell my Frances. For surely, if she had not fallen under his spell then she would not be lying in that bed, turning to a living shade.

I held up my hand as if to fend him off. ‘Do not speak to me. I will not hear it.’ I shook him off then, heading away from the water. ‘We must find Old Noah. He will have what we need.’

It is with shame I admit those low, dank streets are second home to me. Dead Man’s Lane, Crucifix Lane, Dirty Lane, all as well known to me as the flecks and markings of my own cheek, and any man who passes through the Borough wishing to taste its dubious delights must deal with Old Noah or else be washed up on the foreshore, a curiosity for the mudlarks to chuckle over.

We walked to the Dog and Bear through the pits and pools of the tanneries, our eyes stinging, throats burning from the stench and rot. Under the low, dripping eaves we passed, below a drooping thatch so blackened with smoke from the mills it seemed to weep ink.

On the threshold of the inn, Samuel took my arm again, the locket clutched tightly in his palm. He gave me such a beseeching look, a look of such worldly pain, I could not help but be moved.

‘Who were they?’

He shook his head sorrowfully. ‘I think perhaps the girl was named Esther. Though it may have been Sarah. I have it in my mind it was a name from one of the Testaments. The other …’ Tears welled in his eyes. ‘I cannot remember, Edmund. And when I am in my senses that thought pins me through more than any other. That I do not know his name.’ He looked about him.  ‘They were young, alone, unworldly. Innocents come to this ungodly hole. They wept, Edmund. Clutching at these hands, begging me for mercy. They were so afraid.’

‘What happened to them?’

‘What happens to all who fall in Slatina’s web. Death. What else is there?’

I thought of that cupboard with its terrible hoard. ‘How long … How often?’

He held up a trembling hand to silence me. ‘I cannot say how many have died for us. Only that I am too weak, too afraid of pain not to kill again.’ He gripped my hand then, pulling me to him. ‘Release Frances from this agony, Edmund. Leave her to starve, to die.’

He smelled of hung game, warm and meaty. I forced him away, pushing wide the door and walked into the inn.

‘Better to let her die,’ he called after me, ‘than for her to live with what she has become.’

But all I could think of was her hand in mine. Of somehow freeing her from her curse. Of killing Slatina.

 

Always old fashioned

They sat in Terry’s office on stiff-backed chairs. Two untouched mugs of tea and a plate of soggy Bourbons perched on reams of paperwork on his desk. Terry didn’t like tea, but he always made himself one when visitors came because it seemed to make people less self-conscious than when they drank alone. Now things such as tea and biscuits seemed old-fashioned in this newly made world. But Terry didn’t mind that. He’d felt old-fashioned since he was a small boy.

The surface of the tea had formed a skin,  wrinkling under the air conditioning like geriatric flesh. He thought of mentioning his observation to the man from the Government – Donald was it? Or Dennis? – but his thoughts often made other people feel uncomfortable. Though Janey had never minded.

The Government man’s suit was as creased as his face, as if he’d used the jacket as a pillow. His skin was greasy, grey as the ring of dirt around his shirt collar. Yes, standards had dropped since the beginning of the outbreak.

Donald / Dennis scratched his forehead with bitten down nails. ‘Doctor Goddard, if you can tell me anything about Doctor Faber’s movements over the last few days. Anything at all.’

The man looked exhausted, but then they all were. He and Janey had taken to napping on the chaise longue in the corner of the office rather than bothering to drive home. They were both single. No one missed them. He gazed at the sofa now, at the threads of gold that could only be strands of her hair.

‘Doctor Goddard. Please. This is a matter of national security.’

‘We were trying to find a cure -‘

Donald / Dennis leaned forward, his tie shifting the papers on the desk. ‘A cure funded by the government, with key research and statistics supplied by our departments.’

All Terry knew was that she had been there one evening, peering over her notes, twisting her hair on top of her head with a biro, and gone the next morning. He hadn’t noticed the slides were missing until the phone rang.

The Government man’s jaw clenched. ‘I cannot stress how important it is we regain those samples.’

He didn’t mention Janey’s safety, that she was out there alone, the world dying around her.

When Terry had picked up the phone, her voice had been faint and breathy through the receiver. He thought she might have been running. Or crying. ‘I’m sorry, Terry,’ was all she’d said. ‘I’m so very sorry.’

Donald would take the words as an admission of her guilt, but Terry knew them for what they were. A goodbye.

 


I fancied revisiting Terry and Janey, two scientists caught in the jaws of a catastrophic disease outbreak. To read their first outing, When the time comes, see here.

FFfAW : The dandelion’s nod

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


 

The precision of her neighbour’s manicured garden unnerved Maeve. The hedging with its right angles and sharp edges – so controlled. She imagined him on his hands and knees, snipping at the grass with nail clippers, producing a set square and spirit level to ensure everything was ‘just so’.

She eyed her own patch, the moss springing in the lawn, the dandelions nodding their downy heads, buttercups, valerian, nature in mid-riot.

She’d seen him peering over the fence when he thought she was out, pristine garden gloves on his slim fingers, mini sheers in hand, poised.

‘You bloody dare,’ she’d murmured.

So far he hadn’t. Though he might if he caught her on moonlit nights, tufty dandelion heads in hand, watching as the wind caught the seeds, tugged them up, over the fence. Parachuting a little wildness into his life.

 


Written for Priceless Joy’s Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers. See here to join in and to read the other tales.

 

 

Friday Fictioneers : Green, amber. Red

PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields


This set of lights is so slow. Red, red, nothing but red lights all the way home. His heel bounces impatiently, knee tapping the steering wheel.

He hates the colour red, always has. Something threatening about it, something he can never quite put his finger on. Trina says, ‘red wine, cosy fires – my hair. What’s not to like?’

But still …

Finally, the light shimmers amber, green. Home, then, and fast.

Something flickers in the wing mirror. A girl on a bike, scarlet coat flapping like a broken wing. She’s there then gone.

Horns blare. Red, red, nothing but red.

 


Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Fields’ Friday Fictioneers. See the prompt pic and write a tale, but do visit here to read the other stories.

The Devil of Moravia : Dreams forsaken, mocked and crushed to dust

 

 

Finally, Edmund is learning the truth about Slatina and tragically about his love Frances too. But can he save her and himself from the Devil of Moravia’s clutches?

Onetwothreefour, fivesix , seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelvethirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty one, twenty two, twenty three, twenty four and twenty five.


‘… But I can take take this puny clay and make it last at least a little longer than its usual span. Sadly, there is a price to pay for my generosity.’

The dead child, the locket that had hung so guiltily about my love’s neck – her sudden illness. Finally, realisation shattered through me. ‘Frances has become your creature.’

Again that laugh, parched as a sealed tomb. ‘Yes, Edmund. Frances is mine. Frances, Samuel … And yourself.’

Slatina slammed the larder door, sending the black specks flying into the air. He pulled a kerchief from his sleeve, wiping his hands as if keen to rid himself from any possible contagion.

Still my thoughts buzzed, flitting into confusion as if they were the same dots of rank insect life. There was so much I failed to understand. ‘What have you done to her? How can she be so close to death, when last I saw her she was so well?’

His lip twisted into a bitter curl. ‘It seems your Frances has had a change of heart. When first I met her, she had sunk so low, I believe I might have convinced her of any depravity and she would have leapt at it like a hound at the kill. But now …’ He scowled. ‘Now she has some fancy that she might still live a good and decent life.’

He stared deep into my eyes then and I held his gaze, I think seeing him clearly for the first time. The whites of his eyes were not pure white or even yellowed with age, but crazed over with red veins, the network so complex and knitted, one might say they were more blushed than not. The irises were not brown as I had previously believed, but reddish, the colour of an oft-used butcher’s slab, of liver, of ox’s blood.

Gripping my wrist, he pulled me close to him, I unable to resist. ‘Believe me, Edmund when I say – the lady has gone too far to return to needlecrafts and homemaking. She imagines running from me, does she not? I found her skulking about the house like a light fingered maid pilfering bread and blankets. She imagined she could slip in and out without my knowing. She imagines she can begin life anew – with you.’ He laughed then, low and rumbling like storm water through a culvert. ‘She. Can. Not.’

I confess the presence of the man – those liverish eyes – had left me for a few moments incapable of speech, robbed me of all fight and movement. But at his disdain, the open mockery of our hopes now crushed in his clawed hand, some courage returned to me. ‘Who are you to deny us our future? She is a free gentlewoman. She has a right to leave this hellish pit and come away with me now. In fact I demand it.’

He smiled then, his flaking lips stetched so wide I felt the skin were like to snap, revealing the flesh beneath. ‘Ah, Edmund. Your childlike hopes have been a pleasant distraction.’ The smile snapped closed, quick as a trap on its prey. ‘But they will be put aside. Hear me. Frances is a creature caught between two worlds. She is not a human woman anymore, neither is she made of eternal flesh as myself. You yearn to make her well again, to return the roses to those dear cheeks? She must do but one thing.’ His eyes flicked to the horrid larder and its festering contents. ‘Feed.’

One word. It was but one word. And yet in its utterance all my hopes shattered about me, falling as shards, each with a dagger point sharp enough to pierce my foolish heart. I had entertained escape, freedom, a future filled with love, sweet industry … children. All had been turned against me, each fancy pressing into my soul creating the most keenly felt of wounds.

I felt my body sag beneath the weight of my reality. ‘What must I do?’

The smile returned, merriment flashing in those offal-coloured eyes. ‘It is simple. Go out into the night and procure your love a fresh meal.’

‘How …?’

Finally he released me, smoothing my sleeves, picking specks from my coat. ‘You are of a class used to getting whatever you wish. You must know the stews, the boroughs, the narrow alleyways running with filth where a gentleman may hire his fancy for the night.’

I dropped my head in shame, for of course he was right on every count.

‘Go forth into London and find meat.’

‘What of Frances? How I can I be sure …’ I dared not voice the dark thoughts that had begun to boil in the back of my mind, but I did not need to. It was as if he could read them imprinted on my face.

‘You think I would hurt her while you are trawling the squalid haunts of the city?’ He raised his finger. ‘Edmund, I could kill her – I could kill you all – with one touch of my finger. You live through my indulgence.’ The room seemed to heat then, as if a furnace had been lit beneath our feet. In the deep wells of his eyes seemed to burn coals, red hot, sparking with the potential for destruction, for the destruction of the whole world. ‘Your every breath, your every movement is permitted because I wish you to exist.’ The coals dimmed a little then. ‘Fortunately, I enjoy the company of you and your friends and wish to keep it for a long, long time. So go and I shall watch your Frances. Take Samuel with you. I would not wish you to come to any harm and the man is so wonderfully useful in matters of violence.’

And so it was Samuel and I went forth on our dreadful mission. To entrap an innocent to their bloody fate so that my love might live.