What Pegman Saw: The grieving widow

The room was unassuming, the furnishings plain but clean, old but well kept, very much like the landlady, Mrs Hollis.

‘A month’s rent in advance,’ she said. ‘No lady visitors in the rooms, please. We’ve had unpleasant moments. In the past.’

My gaze lingered over the sloped ceiling, the low window that looked over a square of clipped lawn, gaudy sentries of begonias and geraniums.

I paused, feeling her watching me, enjoying her confidence shift into uncertainty.

‘Is everything to your satisfaction?’

‘Everything, Mrs Hollis? No, not everything. But the room? Yes.’

A little sigh escaped her and I felt glad I’d made her wait for my approval.

‘May I ask, is there a Mr Hollis?’

‘He passed.’ She shook her bowed head. Not a bad imitation of a grieving widow, though I’ve seen better.

I turned my attention to the shadow behind the door.

Mr Hollis, I presume.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as its inspiration. This week we visit Delaware.

I tried to be inspired by the location itself, read about Maryland and Delaware and this house – Great Oak Manor – that has been host to John F. Kennedy and Ernest Hemmingway in its time.

I’m afraid, though, my mind is too tied up with ghosts to shake them off and Mr Hollis jumped out at me at the last moment.

What Pegman Saw: Her past beyond the curtain

Image: Google Street View

Mila peered through the mesh of net curtains, frustrated by the hazy view. If she pushed them aside she might see better, but then she risked being seen and the very thought made her forehead damp with anxiety.

‘Jaap?’ she called behind her.

A pan clattered in the kitchen out back. Jaap’s way of telling her he was too busy to come running.

‘Jaap, that child’s in the street again,’ she called.

A boy of around seven or eight years of age. Dusty red and blue striped tee shirt, skinny legs poking from wide shorts, the knees sticking out like knots in lengths of string. He’d come every day for a week, stood in the middle of the dirt road for an hour before leaving.

A cupboard door slammed. ‘What do you want me to do about it?’

‘Tell me it’s not him,’ she muttered.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as its starting off point. See here to join in and to read the other stories.

Weekend Writing Prompt #139 – Devour

Piotr didn’t notice the hunger at first.

Since he’d become wealthy his opinion was required on any number of subjects such as who should pay for the upkeep of the jail. He’d assumed the authorities would, but the council and guilds decided the populace should meet the bill, as it was they who languished within the prison walls most frequently. The wages of the constables, the maintenance of the stocks and the gibbet were added to the charge through the same logic.

As Piotr listened to the learned men of the town debate, he wondered why the contents of a man’s purse should determine how closely he was listened to. He didn’t recall being asked his opinion before he was wealthy, back when he was the one sitting in the stocks, the one pelted with wormy cabbage hearts and green potatoes.

He almost suggested the populace pay for a cushion for the stocks – he remembered the seat being very hard – but it probably wasn’t the sort of thing a powerful man should concern himself with.

The banquet after the meeting was the first time he noticed.

He’d grown used to the rich food, the range of wines and ports and Madeiras. He was admired by his fellow worthies for his slim frame, the bones still visible at his wrists and collarbone, where their’s were masked in fat. He smiled, flushed, assured them he would soon put on weight.

But as he picked at the feast, he realised something – since having money he had never felt full. When he was poor and ate a large meal (a rare occurrence) his stomach would swell and harden as if he were a sheep suffering from Bloat. Now he could eat and eat – gorge, even – and was never full.

Always the rat of hunger gnawed at his belly, scratched at the back of his mind.

He tried every food on offer – thick cut meats heavy with Burgundy sauce, glazed fig puddings pocked with chestnuts… Even the pea pottage that had once been his only sustenance left him hollowed and bony.

Hunger filled Piotr’s every waking hour, his every thought, his every dream. He took to chewing pine twigs between meals to busy his jaw, to stop him gnawing at his own fingers. His nights became restless, his days sluggish. He took to walking the country after dark, snaring and eating wild animals, searching for something that would fill him.

One evening he walked abroad. A Hunter’s Moon swelled behind thin cloud, the land clean and grey beneath it.

He paused to drink at a brook and that was when he saw it – a hump he’d at first mistaken for a rise in the earth but as he drew closer resolved into a man. The body lay on its front, hands beneath it, head slumped forward into the water. Ripples formed and broke about the right cheek and jawline, water tumbling into the ear, rushing back down on itself.

Piotr’s first instinct was to haul the stricken man to dry land, to have him washed and laid out for burial.

He bent to grip the man’s wrist. The flesh was surprisingly soft and cool, the muscle tender, relaxed in death as it might never have been in life. A calm knowledge washed over Piotr…

The next night he slept well and the night after that. His restlessness would gradually increase but a night roaming the country setting his traps, devouring his prey, would sate him.

Piotr no longer remembers the discomfort of the stocks or the taste of pea pottage.

***

Written for Sammi Cox’s Weekend Writing Prompt #139 – Devour. Come and join in here.

Don’t ask me where the idea for this came from, only that the word Devour suggests not merely hunger but desperate hunger and from there I imagined a man who might never be satisfied.

What do you think Piotr has become? Merely a capitalist exploiting the poor? A psychopath or something much darker?

Crimson’s Creative Challenge #61: Burrowed deep inside

#CCC61

Liz sat at the kitchen table. The tea pot was still full, the tea cold.

Open on the table was a brown paper package with an illegible postmark. Instead of bubble wrap, the wadding was sheep’s wool, the lanolin having left a greasy film on her fingers.

The packet had contained a single giant seed, rounded at one end, pointed at the other, curled like a speech mark. The seed was enamel hard, the surface patterned with oily rainbows as if it had lain for years, burrowed deep inside the mouth of a hungry oyster.

At first she’d cradled it in her left palm, coming to terms with its weight, the heat of its skin.

Then the seed shivered. Lay still. Shivered again… As if a tiny heart beat inside.

That was when Liz decided she didn’t want to hold it anymore.

***

Written for Crimson’s Creative Challenge #61. See the pic and join in here.

And if you’re wondering how I came to write a story about a giant, pulsating seed… Well, the image looks like a giant hothouse to me.

What Pegman Saw: The Desert Kin

Image: Google Street View

The shack had been the post office of a mining town, now deserted. Sunbleached boards across the windows, tiles missing from the roof like a reptile shedding scales.

‘This it?’ Roddy’s usual cocky smile had slipped as we’d driven further into the desert. Now he was a fifteen-year-old boy again, arms tight folded, fear skulking behind his eyes.

‘It’s okay, kid,’ I said, smiling. ‘Soon have a fire going. Go fetch the bedrolls from the pickup, would you?’

I scanned the plain, the distant ridge of smoke grey hills. At least we’d see someone coming. Any vehicle would kick up a dust trail and as long as we were vigilant –

Something cold brushed the back of my hand. Instinct made me look, but there was nothing. Of course not. You don’t see the Desert Kin. Not unless they want you to.

‘Roddy, I’ll take first watch,’ I called.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as its starting point. This week we visit Cloverdale, New Mexico. See here to join in.

A frostbitten heart

Image: Pixabay

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

She looked for the lamppost’s prism of glass, for dancing shadows falling on iron earth, for the faun and his parcels of paper and string.

Standing under heavy white firs, she listened for the chatter of beavers, for the sleigh bells’ frosty chime. 

Always Winter, never Christmas.

The lack of magic became a physical pain, as if the cold had bitten her heart, broken it into glassy shards. Even the brilliant snow held no pleasure for her, as if it was already easing to slush.

She’s old now, still searching. Still driven on by that frostbitten heart. But sometimes, as she plants a powdery kiss on my cheek, I smell rosewater and lemons

and I wonder…

***

For those unfamiliar with the references, do take a look here.

I’m unsure if this is a cautionary tale about fruitlessly seeking magic in a world where none remains, or one cautioning against giving up hope too soon. You decide.

That’s it from me until after Christmas. As you read this I’ll be at work, selling holly and ivy and glitter to the good folk of Bristol.

Happy Christmas all and see you once the glorious madness is over.

Friday Fictioneers: Sparkle

PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

All existence was slate to him now.

The pressing clouds. The lake veined with ripples and reflected woodland. The lawn, preserved in ice. His own body – heavy, cold, grey. Even his heart felt sluggish, the beat glacial slow.

A flicker out on the water caught his eye. A glow – soft as candlelight – danced towards him. The ice, the sky, the dull, flat water, all shimmered gold and silver, sparkling.

A sigh of music, a sweet song of family from long ago, caught on the breeze and was gone. Through tears, he reached towards the light.

And was home.

***

Written for Rochelle Wisoff’Field’s Friday Fictioneers. Write a story based on the prompt photo, share, read others and enjoy. See here to join in.

What Pegman Saw: Underneath the bridge

Image: Google Street View

‘Meet by the Green Wood,’ we’d say and share a smile.

A smile cos there was nothing green or wooded about that spot under the bridge on Greenwood.

The concrete was pitted, iron bars showing like bones through broken skin. We’d joke about bodies in the pillars, old gangsters and drug dealers who’d been holding up the road since the bridge was built in the sixties.

‘Putting something back into the community,’ Manny would say.

Con always laughed too hard at that, spluttering into his can of beer, making a show of wiping the spray from his face, his stone washed jeans.

But Con would always meet up with someone else on his way to the Green Wood, say he was passing Gerry’s anyway, running errands in Hop’s neighbourhood. Never would be there alone.

The place was always filled with voices, even when no one was speaking.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as a starting point. See here to join in.

Note

I confess, I clicked straight on the prompt image and wrote this story before reading Josh’s guidance about the horrifying events of 1921. I shall try to write another, more fitting, post.

Crimson’s Creative Challenge #52: The world turned on its head

CCC#52

The ground was autumn-crisp with leaves despite the heat. The oaks along the rivers’ edge black fingers, bare as winter.

‘Not right,’ muttered Clem, knocking the underbrush with his boot.

A fir cone tumbled through the dead leaves and came to rest against a fleshy crescent of Maid’s Bane fungus. Bluebell spikes shivered.

‘World’s turned on its head,’ said Clem.

The sheepdog, Tab, looked up at his master, uncertain.

Gramma Cora – all gums, mottled scalp and whiskers – had told tales when Clem was small. When winter takes summer’s hand, when spring lifts her skirts and dances autumn’s jig … He frowned how did that old rhyme end?

Tab came suddenly to heel, his flank quivering against Clem’s leg.

‘What is it, lad?’

A feather of snow fell on the back of his neck. Soon the ground was white, the air a haze.

‘The Final Winter shall fall,’ he whispered.

***

Written for Crimson’s Creative Challenge. It’s a pleasure to join in this week to help Crispina celebrate a year of CCC. Do visit here to join in – it’s huge fun.

Three Line Tales: By the pricking of my thumbs

a cathedral ruin

The battle was over. Mab didn’t know which side was the victor, which the loser and she cared even less. Static fizzed through her wrists, conducted along the nerve endings to settle beneath her thumbnails – the familiar signal evil was approaching.

‘Sorry I’m late,’ said Moll, dusting ash from her sleeve. ‘I was watching the firestorm. Beautiful, the way it cleanses a city.’ She looked round her, at the fallen masonry, the ivy snaking over graffitied walls. ‘Nice. Oh, by the way, Cass won’t be joining us.’

Mab sighed. The two witches just didn’t have the same ring.

***

Written for Three Line Tales.

Despite loving the photo, I wasn’t going to take part in this challenge after reading Jane Dougherty’s TLT – Jane had done such a good job, there could be no better interpretation.

Then for some reason, the Macbeth witches sprung to mind. I thought the derelict cloister would be an appropriate meeting place for their modern counterparts – slightly more sheltered than a ‘blasted heath’.

There’s an interesting analysis of the witches here.

The title is, of course a quote, from the play.