Friday Fictioneers : Owt or Nowt?

 

PHOTO PROMPT © Kelvin M. Knight


 

The sun squatted low, puffs of apricot cloud still bubbling along the horizon. The colours brought to mind summer, despite the cold that had snuck into her boots.

Edith waited patiently outside the bakers for a loaf, a roll or perhaps a chunk of parkin too misshapen or overcooked to grace the shining tables of Clifton. She wasn’t particular – a full stomach for a ha’penny was hard to come by these days.

The baker’s boy tugged the door with meaty fingers. ‘Nowt today.’ The door slammed, snapping off his words.

Sleeping rough was always colder on an empty stomach.

 


Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers. See here to join in and read the other tales.

If you’re wondering what ‘parkin’ is, look here. And if you’re wondering what ‘nowt’ means … why, it’s the opposite of ‘owt’ of course! Nowt meaning nothing or naught and owt meaning anything – Northern English slang dropped down from the Old Norse and still very much alive up north and in our house, we being defected Northerners! So when someone asks is there ‘owt or nowt’ they’re saying is there ‘anything or nothing’.

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What Pegman Saw : The flooded orange grove

The space is cramped, the air hot enough to snatch the sweat before it pearls on his skin.

Below breakers crash, hiss to silence before building again, a sound that fills his dreams with frilled waves and sharpened rocks. He used to dream of home, of orange groves and trees speckled with flowers, a thousand stars in a sky of polished emerald leaves. But each crash of the sea has stripped an inch of his past until there is nothing but the fort, the rocks, the waves.

He will die here.

It’s a certainty that he doesn’t know so much as feel, a knowledge hammered into his bones, a thread spun through every tendon and muscle.

Night begins to fall, the cold beam of the lighthouse a lance subduing the sun until it retreats below the sea.

The waves crash louder in the darkness.

 


Written for What Pegman Saw, a writing prompt using Google Streetview. See the pic and wander. Go here to join in and to see the other stories.

I saw the fort, saw the little turrets on the side called garita or bartizan and wondered what it might have felt like to be a soldier in there, looking out on a foreign sea.

 

 

Three Line Tales : Miss Salome’s world stops spinning

 

three line tales week 84: glamping

photo by Niv Rozenberg via Unsplash


 

Miss Salome was nervous of her new home at Lombardi’s World of Physical Wonders.

She was used to the contented cluck of the hens, the rhythms of a farmhouse bound by sunrise and seasons. But Lombardi’s was a like a city, all noise and bustle under canvas and always a new face – Atarah the alligator woman, Sherman the dogfaced boy, the half and half Charlie, Abdu who they called the leopard skin boy … too many to remember.

She had once lived rooted to the earth, now the soil beneath her was forever changing from red to brown to grey, back to red with the rumble of cartwheels.

Then one day she saw him, a man in miniature, so small and perfect he could be cast from porcelain. He sat on the top step of the neighbouring caravan, hands resting on his knees, watching her.

‘Welcome to the neighbourhood,’ he said smiling and for once she was pleased of her beard, pleased it hid the flush of pleasure that rogued her cheeks.

 


Written for Sonya at Only 100 Words’ Three Line Tales. See the pic … and you know the rest. Go here to read the other stories.

To learn more sideshow acts and terminology see here.

 

 

The Devil of Moravia : I could not leave, I could not stay

 

 

It seems Peg Fair is lost and Edmund along with her. Can he save Frances before she is lost too? To read all previous instalments, 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, twenty six, twenty seven, twenty eight and twenty nine.


 

She made to run and for a moment – one sweet, short moment of hope – I thought she might yet escape.

Then something fell from the sky and the world was blackness. There came a sound like a flag snapping in the wind and the black resolved into a man. I saw a pale hand reach out, grip Peg’s wrist and she fought no more.

Rising above Peg was that blackness, though it was more than a shadow in the night, more than the absence of light before the coming dawn. It was a hole in the world, an absence of kindness, a sucking, wrenching gateway to another world, a place damned eternally.

I stared into the void. I glimpsed an icy sea – frozen, yet in constant agitation – crashing against rocks of iron that bled red rusted water, flaked their crust like scabs. And creatures moved upon the rocks, haunted creatures, soulless eyes, deep and empty and without end, their pitiless claws scraping and grasping at the rocks, at each other.

But worse than all of this wretchedness was the feeling of hopeless anger, of hatred, as if every ounce of kind humanity had been stripped from that place, those creatures, ever to be forgotten.

And then the void closed, the pale grey light of dawn returned and with it a solid form, a form like and so unlike a man.

Slatina.

And I knew if I had not before, that all who were touched by this beast were doomed. That the creatures I glimpsed in that other realm were not of mere imagining, but real. That Frances and Samuel and myself would one day join them. Bereft of love. Of hope.

‘Edmund,’ said the Beast, sweeping a low bow. ‘You have returned as I knew you would. And you have brought something with you.’

With one smooth movement he scooped Peg up onto his shoulder, as effortlessly as if she was a poppet discarded after a child’s game. And as he did, she groaned. She was pale as ash, her head bruised from the fall … but alive.

With wary, bloodshot eyes, Slatina shot a glance at the rising sun. ‘Let us within. Make haste.’

It was perhaps the first time I had seen the man look any less than comfortable or furious and I took that small uncertainty in him and puzzled over it.

Slatina hurried inside, Samuel close on his heels. My brain turned feverishly. I had to get the girl from the house to safety, but how? In moments, she would be taken to Frances, submitted to an ordeal I could not bear to dwell on and then I felt a cold stone forming in my heart, a dreadful certainty about my future and my love’s that the dreadful vision of Hell had given me. Frances was damned. There was no saving her soul. If I saved her life now, more death would ensue, more innocents drained for Slatina’s puppets.

And I held my hand to my chest, made a pledge to the hammering of my own, feeble heart – no more shall die because of us.

If I was to keep my oath, I had to act quickly. Slatina was already striding up the stairs, nimble as a grasshopper, the girl’s head flopping up and down like a ragged doll. In moments they would be outside the chamber door. Moments more and Peg would be … I could not allow myself to think it.

I raced after the demon, catching his coat tails just as he reached the sick room.

‘Slatina!’

He stopped, a momentary irritation crossing his features, before his face relaxed into a sly smile. ‘Of course, my friend. You wish to deliver your prey yourself. The hunter proudly home.’

He dropped Peg to the floor and it was all I could do to stop from wincing at the sound of her head hitting the floor. He gave a bow then, so low and long I felt the mockery of it deep within my bones.

‘The prize is yours to give,’ he said.

As I made to carry the girl within, he took me roughly by the shoulder, squeezing so hard I believed I might snap under his grip. ‘Do not think to best me, Edmund.’ His breath came hot against my cheek. ‘You are weak, a worm in human form. You will never best me.’

And so, with his words of sure defeat echoing in me, Peg and I entered the room.

The stench was too dreadful to describe. It was the stink of a decay, of a body someway to putrefaction and it was with a dread weight of fear upon me that I laid Peg gently upon the hearth rug and approached the sick bed.

The curtains were pulled to, shutting out the day, the room lit by just a single candle stub on the night stand, spilling its meagre light on the head of the occupant. I could not believe my senses as I drew near, for such a change had come about my dear girl, I could hardly reckon her for the person she had once been.

Her lids were closed, the skin so tight against her eyes, it seemed they might no longer be capable of opening. The cheeks were sunken, yellowed hollows, the lips pale and thin. All vigor and colour had left her and her flesh seemed to have shrunk about her skull, as of her life’s fluid was leaking away. I sat beside her, taking the bony hand in mine.

‘My Frances,’ I whispered and at the sound, the lids did lift a little, the lips part in an attempt at a smile.

It is my conviction that she uttered my name then. It may be a delusion on my part, but if so it is a happy one that sustains me in this darkest of places and it is one which I have no desire to find corrected.

I leaned in low, then, hoping that she might yet hear me. ‘I hate to see you thus. I wish with all my heart, with the very essence of my being that I might have saved you. But I cannot see another die for this evil curse which has befallen us.’

I knew what I must do – believed it was the right thing, the decent thing, the Christian thing – but still there was a part of me, a selfish part that yearned for her to live in any way possible, that could not bear the thought of the world without her. I squeezed her hand as much as her frailty would allow, praying she would understand.

‘I must save this girl if I can. And in doing so, I must leave you. Frances. Do you hear me?’

It was too much to hope that I might have her blessing, that she might send me hence with a full, loving heart. For we both knew what my departure would mean for Frances herself. She smiled a little more I think and all I could hope that this was understanding, a sweet assent at our parting, at her own departure from the Earth.

I could not leave her. But more so, I could not stay and with every moment that passed, Slatina would grow more impatient and I might be discovered. I bent low then, pressing my lips to hers for the last time in this mortal form, wishing, praying that we might yet be worthy of mercy and be reunited in the next life.

Pulling away from her, I left her hand to drop to the counterpane. Lifting Peg from the rug, I turned my back on Frances.

I must write this last, reader. That through all these long days and nights she has never – and will never – be far from my mind.

 

 

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.

 

What pegman saw : All’s quiet in the Brazen Head

Dublin courtesy Google Maps

Dublin courtesy Google Maps


 

‘Will you sit, Tom?’ Pat was there as arranged, toying with his pipe, filling the bowl with threads of chestnut tobacco.

Tom nodded, chose the stool beside him. Both men wanted their backs to the wall.

Pat worked the pipe, tamped and lit it, drew the smoke deep and long before exhaling. A slattern wiped dregs of ale from tables and benches with a filthy cloth. An old man was slumped at the bar, snores rumbling through the wood. Too quiet for Tom’s likiing. He preferred a crowd, a melee to be lost in.

He felt something brush his knee, felt the package in its oil cloth wrappings and his pulse raise with the holding of it.

Pat winked. ‘Mind how you go.’

With the package under his coat, Tom stepped back into the hive of Lower Bridge Street, back into the melee.

 


Reading more about the Brazen Head, I learned it has been a meeting place not only for thinkers and writers but also revolutionaries, so I thought I’d conjure a couple of the latter.

Written for What pegman saw, a prompt using Google Streetview. See here to join in and to read the other tales.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Fictioneers : A mournful song of home

PHOTO PROMPT © Jennifer Pendergast

PHOTO PROMPT © Jennifer Pendergast


 

Moonlight broke into a thousand bright strips on the rolling ocean. The lamps had been lit, the smell of burning whale oil mixing with pipe tobacco and brine. From somewhere came the rasp of a squeeze box, a mournful song of home.

‘Do we have a heading, Mr Harrison?’ Captain Nash looked flushed even in the dim light, the smell of brandy seeping from him. A good man, if not a sober one.

Harrison stared down at the compass, broken in the storm. He shook his head.

Nash nodded and lumbered away. ‘Mr Guinea! Extra grog ration for every man.’

 


Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers. See the pic and write a story. See here to join in and to read the other tales.