What Pegman Saw: Lost, found, stolen

Image: Google Maps

We were led along a narrow lane into the backyard of a house. A hosepipe coiled round the base of a banyan tree – emerald green and dusty – an equally dusty tortoiseshell cat coiled on a nearby garden chair.

The gallery was a wooden construction built onto the back of the house, the roof glass, letting in any dappled light that escaped the clutches of the banyan.

Sonny handed his kyats over to the elderly artist and strode in. I watched the twitch of his shoulders through his sweat-soaked shirt as he moved from one image to the next. The trip had been good for us. Time to heal, learn how to be a couple again, not a family.

‘Kim.’ An edge in his voice.

A painting. A little girl with Sonny’s charcoal eyes, my ash-blond hair. Our little girl, holding the ragged Mr Ted we buried with her.

***

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

FFfAW : What Nanty said

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


 

The tree was a wild thing, Nanty said.

Neither good nor bad, friend nor foe, a creature that lived only for itself. Drawing mosses close as the world turned and cooled, making fresh sticky buds the colour of Angel Shades caterpillars when the sun wheeled high over the moors.

Tiddle Spence learned how wild the tree was, Gordy Prin too the day they went wassailing. Full of last blow’s cider they beat each branch and bough with walking canes and cricket bats, hallooing across the gorse like cattle under the slaughter man.

Tiddle they found plaited in the tree’s gnarly roots. Gordy was never found at all – except the middle finger of his right hand, discovered in a knot hole, wedded to the trunk.

Nanty just nodded when she heard. ‘Wild,’ she said.

 


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

Although less popular than it once was, wassailing is still done here in the South West of England, in the cider making counties, such our own Somerset. I’ve been a wassailing myself, in a chill January, drinking warm cider, beating pots and making lots of noise to encourage the apple trees to wake up and give a good harvest. See here to learn more about wassailing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Devil of Moravia : Kissing the earth with barely parted lips

Stone crypt, arches, creepy

Image : Pixabay

I’m not sure any of us who have come to know Edmund over the last few weeks could say he was a good man, but it would take a heart of stone to claim he entirely deserves what has befallen him.

So here we find him after the louche depravity of the ball, with a price having to be paid …

See here to catch up with the story so far – One, two, three, four, fivesix , seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelvethirteen , fourteen, fifteen and sixteen.


 

‘Do you know …?’ I could hardly ask, hardly bear to hear the answer. ‘Do you know who they were?’

‘What does it matter who they were?’ He grasped my hand, pulling me roughly to my feet. ‘Now they are empty vessels to be disposed of.’

And so began a night of the cruellest horrors.

Where Slatina found the tools required for that ghastly deed, I know not. All I recall of waiting for his return was how dim the crypt – for this was how I thought of it – grew on his leaving. The light quivered over stone and earth, cloth and flesh alike, as if one form of matter were no different from the next. This bewildered me. For how can a candle cast the same kindly light on those poor dead young women as it did on the dirt which had never sung or danced or blushed beneath another’s admiring gaze?

Slatina was gone a few minutes only, but the time – in truth blank and still and empty  – seemed to my disordered senses swelled with dancing  light, the hiss and spit of candle grease, a scratch of talons from some subterranean animal, scurrying about its secret business. And so it was with immense gratitude that I welcomed his return, for queer as my companion was, he was at least moving flesh, the blood still pulsing in his thick veins.

‘Rise up, Edmund,’ he exclaimed, handing me a spade. ‘For now you must dig yourself clean.’

I thought it an inappropriate, ungainly turn of phrase and almost said as much, but as the hours wore on it had some truth to it, for toiling over that heavy ground, my hands growing thick with sores, my body mired with dirt and sweat, so it seemed I passed through my own trial, a small penance for the two women dying beneath my home.

Time wore on. The going was as hard as the earth which was compacted with age, and indeed close to bedrock in places, and my body unused to anything more strenuous than a perusal of the morning papers.

Finally, a hole was dug just long and wide and deep enough to fit the bodies and to have perhaps two feet of dirt replaced on top of them. I put aside my spade and looked to Slatina. It struck me how odd a man he was, that for all his slight build, his frame more of an invalid than a man in full vigour, that he had matched my own digging – bettered it perhaps – and his face no more aglow than ususal, his colour as grey as the marble angels that watch and weep over the tombs of our lost beloved.

I gazed down at the bodies, suddenly at a loss for how to move them. It seemed an obscenity to grapple at their clothing, at their ankles, to haul them under the arms as if they had been found insensible in some low alleyway and were to be carried to gaol to sleep off an evening’s ale.

‘How … ?’

Without a pause, Slatina bent, slid his slight arms under those of the girl in pink. Her head lolled forward, chin resting on her chest. Sickened, I could not move, could only watch as he dragged her to the pit, as the heels of her dancing shoes carved into the dust. At the hole’s mouth he paused.

‘Come, Edmund.’

Still I stood, insensible.

‘Take up her legs.’

Finally, I moved. Enfeebled by terror and exhaustion I grabbed at the dress. Seemingly empty of limbs, the satin slipped through my hands. Horror shuddered through me like hooves pounding at my muscles, into my veins, beating at the meat of my heart. I steadied myself and tried once more. This time my hand met solid flesh.

How awful, how intimate, how degrading those moments were. The feel of that soft, solid, chill flesh beneath my hands, the pawing as the body slipped away from me and I had to grapple, to  pinch at the thighs to stop her from falling, like some ghastly pantomime of seduction.

Then the poor child was in her grave, her head bumping to the earth with a heartstopping thud. Moving her sister felt an easier task, at least less unexpected, though I shudder to admit such a thing, as if anything so awful could be made easy. Then the two lay side by side once more, eternal companions, their hair blending at the temple, their hands almost touching as if they had reached out to one another but failed to secure a grip. We had dug the hole too short by an inch, perhaps two, which meant the legs could not lay straight, but must bend at the knee and slump to one side to fit. I hated to see them in such a way, a child’s dolls crammed into an ill-fitting box, but Slatina would not have us dig more and in truth, I had little strength remaining.

Again I paused, unable to bring myself to cover them with earth. Slatina put me to shame, lifting his spade, hefting the dirt as if completing no more taxing a task than planting roses in some blessed cottage garden. Reluctantly I joined him, watching the pink satin and the blue succumb to weighty brown, watching the slim fingers and arms, the necks and lace chokers with their horrid secrets vanish too. I confess to cowardice, to being unable to cover those dear, sweet faces, this also being a burden I left to the Moravian.

When we were done, filthy, blistered, staring at the square of disturbed ground, I tried to find some words, some sentiment of Christian pity, some talk of Heaven or Jesus or Redemption that might save their burial from feeling so utterly lost. But if God was in that place He did not speak to me or through me, or if He did then it was in a hushed tone too low for me to hear.

After a brief silence, Slatina took up his candlestick, rested the handle of his spade on his bony shoulder and said, ‘Shall we leave the ladies to their rest?’

I was exhausted beyond words, but the thought of those angels under the ground, kissing the earth with barely parted lips, sent such a sudden shiver of fear pulsating through me, that I hurried to snatch up my own candle, my own coat and spade and with Slatina striding ahead, the shadows chased me away to my chamber where I slept little and dreamed much.

 

 

Sunday Photo Fiction : Seeing the world in a drop of water

163 07 July 3rd 2016

 

Ginny stared into the water bauble.

She saw buildings, foundations rooted to the branch, rooves plunging downwards. There were fire escapes – rungs as thin as hairs – and pearlescent window panes reflecting the brown eclipse of her own iris.

Treetops grazed the dome, distending to long green fingers in the breeze, before snapping back to emerald stumps.

There was a figure – smaller than a grain of rice – walking in front of the buildings. Stopping, it seemed to look at her. She imagined tiny eyes smaller than a pinhead – smaller than angels dancing on that pinhead –  scrutinising her.

She checked to make sure the garden path below her was clear, table and chairs empty but for wonky cushions and a half drunk glass of orange squash. She reached out her index finger. Closer, closer, the bauble quivering in her short, sharp puffs of breath.

She touched the water, the surface tension pinging to her as if the skin was covered in adhesive. The broken dome released shouts and screams at the edge of hearing, a thousand tiny voices crying for help.

Ginny shook the water from her finger and watched it crash to the ground.

 


 

Written for Sunday Photo Fiction. See the pic and write 200 words to go along with it.

 

Birthday : Part Three

Image: Pixabay

Image: Pixabay

… She was on me before I knew what was happening. I was on the ground, wind knocked out of me. Her nails opened scratches, my legs and balls pummelled. She was heavy for someone so small ‒ strong, really strong. She scrambled onto my chest, forcing out what air was left in my lungs, pinning my arms to the ground with her knees. I saw a black, snarling face, her spit dripped onto my cheek, hair trailed in my eyes, so that the world was striped orange. I managed to pull one arm free to shield my face. I felt teeth. I should’ve moved ‒ one bite was all it took. But I was tired, like I’d been swimming in deep water. I closed my eyes. I didn’t think, I just felt her weight, heard the leaves rustle, felt the wind on my face.

Then the weight vanished. I lay breathless, not daring to look because of the horrible noises ‒ snarls, growls, twigs breaking. There was a thud so heavy it vibrated through me. Footsteps in the leaves. A whimper.

My body was one big bruise. I sat up and looked towards the whimpering. The McPherson girl. What was her name? She’d been eight years old when she died. Now she was lying on her back, her limbs scuffing the leaves and dirt, trying to lift her head, a rumble in her chest. I think Dad must have broken her back. That wouldn’t finish her, but stuck on the ground … eventually she’d starve.

Dad was gone, run off with the catch pole still round his neck. I got up, but slowly because all of me was shaking and my knees wobbled. I watched the girl for a while, wondering if I should do something but I wasn’t sure what. I couldn’t fix her back, it made me feel sick thinking about it. In the end I turned for home and the noise of her followed me as I pushed through the trees.

What was she thinking? They don’t feel pain or cold or heat. Only ever hunger. They don’t worry about drinking clean water, or finding enough firewood to keep from freezing. They don’t have to work out how to light a fire when the matches have got damp. They don’t wonder if the pain in their stomach is nothing or cancer that’s going to kill them.

They don’t have to listen to children dying or watch their family murdered and see them change and lose their smiles and laughs and voices.

I limped back to the house. I could smell the leaves … The sun was golden. I thought of all the stuff that’s gone, like computer games and chocolate milkshakes and my chest hurt so badly I started to cry.

My leg was aching. It dragged through the dirt under the horse chestnut trees ‒ the conkers are still in there green cases. My cheeks were wet ‒ why couldn’t I remember that girl’s name? Hers was the last human voice I’d ever hear that wasn’t mine, the last scream ‒ and she didn’t have a name.

Close to home, to the falling down roof, the crumbling chimney. I could see the cages, mostly empty now. I remembered the dogs that were left behind, how their owners never came back for them. I’d stroked the dogs’ ears, called their names, led them in ones and twos along the row of cages and run away crying as my family tore them apart.

Through the last field, the McPherson’s house, overgrown with weeds. I reached the pens, walked along the line, trying to remember the wagging tails and wet tongues. Squatting outside one of the pens was Dad. He was leaning on the gate and on the other side was Mum. They didn’t touch or look at one another. They just sat close together, as if a bit of them remembered.

Watching them nearly touching, not touching …  Mum was brushing matted hair from my brother’s eyes. I thought of my day ‒ my birthday ‒ alone, trying to eat enough not to pass out, not so much that I waste what I’ve got left. I’m always scared ‒ of hurting myself, of dying, of being caught and killed by Them. Tired of being scared.

Dad was staring at me. He watched as I fetched the keys, let myself into Mum’s cage. I left the gate open, the first time ever. It smelt of pee, old straw, bad meat. Mum’s head jerked as I came near her. I sat close to her, until I could smell her bad teeth.

I just so wanted her to brush the hair from my eyes.

I heard growling, like a scared dog ‒ Jakey, I think. Another growl, deeper‒ Mum this time. A noise like she was clearing her throat. Dad was in the cage now, pacing round and round, the catch pole rattling on the fence, like a kid playing with a stick. Mum got up, followed Dad. Soon the three of them were pacing, watching, waiting. Any moment now.

I remember. Her name was Rebecca: Rebecca Ann McPherson.

My name is Simon and today is my tenth birthday.


First published in Scribble Magazine in 2013.

If you missed the first part of Birthday, catch it here. And the second, here.

Birthday: Part Two

Image: Pixabay

Image: Pixabay

… Sometimes I’ll go and talk to Mum and Jakey when the silence gets to me, or when the wind’s blowing through the house making the floorboards creak like someone’s hiding in the cupboard. I sit outside Mum’s cage and tell her about my day. What I say is always the same, but I like it because it reminds me of when I used to come home from school and Mum would ask me how my day was. I’d always say, ‘It was alright,’ and she’d roll her eyes. Now I tell her everything.

Wait. I forgot a part of my day and I want to get it right. Before I took Mum and Jake for their walk I dug a hole in the garden to use as a loo. Our toilet backed-up ages ago and if I just poo on the grass I get loads of Them around ‒ they’re thick but they can smell better than any dog. I have to bury everything, even wee. It’s one of the things I hate the most.

In the afternoons I usually go down to the woods and check the traps to see if I’ve caught anything. If I have I’ll bring it back for dinner. There’s hardly been anything lately because there were some of Them hanging around Rook Wood until last week. There must’ve been a lot of them because everything vanished ‒ squirrels, rats, badgers, foxes. I think the animals hide until the smell’s gone. I only managed to catch two rats and a blackbird yesterday, which isn’t enough to stop the family from getting hungry. If food’s short I make sure to watch Mum with Jake because when the telly was still going they said they’ll eat each other if there’s nothing else.

What I was saying? Yeah, I took Dad out. He’s rubbish at walking to heel, though I’ve found it easier to handle him as I’ve got stronger. When Dad’s on the catch-pole it’s the only time in the day or night when I feel really safe ‒ he can’t get me and if there’s anything hiding in the woods he scares it off. It’s like wolves or lions or something, they can smell a bigger animal and they avoid it. It feels safer than being at home in bed; even though I’ve blocked the windows I always think I hear Them scraping at the floorboards, sniffing outside my room. I cover my head with my blankets, though it itches my face, and I take the wood axe to bed ‒ always.

I like going for walks because the woods haven’t changed like our house has. The wood smells like mould and squashed leaves. The light’s still green or gold, depending. You wouldn’t know that the worst has happened. Right now the light’s golden and there’s a few blackberries around if you look hard, though they’re not the best, and I found an apple tree where the fruit are just about alright to eat. But the days are getting shorter and it’s cold at night now. Soon I’ll have winter to get through.

The short days remind me of a year ago, when it had just happened. I never slept at all then. I’d just sit in the dark, staring at the Man City poster Dad bought me, listening to Them howling. One night I heard screams ‒ proper human screams. I sat in my bed shivering, my head under the blankets. I knew it must be the McPhersons, the only people near us who’d survived ‘til then. They’d bought some land from Mum and Dad and they were building a house. Their daughter was a bit older than Jakey. She had copper-coloured hair tied in two plaits that hung down the sides of her head. I cried all that night because I couldn’t remember her name.

But this morning … this morning. What happened? Yeah … yeah, I know. Dad was all over the place, like a dog that hadn’t walked on a lead before. I remember animals like him. When our house was still a kennels it was one of my jobs every morning before school to walk the dogs ‒  rain, snow, wind… I still had to go. Dad said it tired them out, kept them calm. Maybe that’s why I walk the family, to keep them calm. I think it helps.

So, today… Dad dug up a badger’s sett, tried to climb a tree after a woodpecker. I combed his hair while he was distracted, to take out the worst tangles and some of the straw. Looking after him makes me feel good. We used to row a lot. Used to. The real Dad would be surprised if he saw me now.

Anyway, Dad zigzagged through the woods, pulling me along. I don’t like going off the path because of what you find. I don’t worry about Them if Dad’s with me, but stepping in what’s left of their dinner isn’t great. Suddenly Dad stopped, turned his head to the side, like he was listening. I knew that meant he’d smelt something. It wasn’t food, because if it was he would’ve gone mad and scrambled after it.

I should’ve been worried, but I was just curious. I started looking too. He was peering around, but the leaves haven’t started to fall yet and the trunks there are so close that someone could be standing a couple of metres away and you might not see them. Slowly he raised his head, looked straight up. My scalp prickled. His head tilted and he sniffed like he was trying to work out where a smell came from.

Smell … that was the problem. If Dad didn’t stink like he was rotting from the inside then maybe I would’ve …


First published in Scribble Magazine in 2013.

If you missed the first part of Birthday, catch it here.

Watch out for the concluding part – coming Halloween.

Birthday: Part One

Image: Pixabay

Image: Pixabay

Today is my birthday. I gave myself a present, one of my last mints ‒ a blue one because they’re my favourite. I only had five left in the packet, so I sat on the edge of my bed, closed my eyes and sucked it until I got to the soft bit in the middle. I wanted to chew, but then it would go too quickly so I just carried on sucking. I remember one Saturday – before – eating a whole packet of them in about ten minutes and it didn’t even make me feel sick.

This packet has lasted me a year.

I went downstairs and had breakfast, a tin of hotdogs that I saved especially. They were really good. I felt full for the first time in ages. I’ve been eating tinned fruit salad for three days and my stomach’s felt stuck to my backbone. That’s something my dad used to say – I  never understood what it meant ‘til now.

When I finished the hot dogs I got my boots on. I didn’t need to fetch my clothes because I haven’t got undressed in six months, not since some of Them broke into the house. I was lucky that night. The noise disturbed Dad and he started howling, like he does when he’s angry or surprised. The noise vibrates into the ground and up through your feet and makes your insides shake, as if your guts know something wants to eat them. It’s enough to make anyone run. That night was one of the longest ever and when dawn came I boarded up all of the windows.

This morning, once my boots were on I pushed the dresser out the way of the door, undid the bolts and padlocks, then went to the enclosure to fetch Mum and Jake. I was glad they came without a fight. We went over the fields and Mum only pulled on her lead once when we passed a flock of pigeons. She loves pigeons, though she’ll only eat them raw, which is a shame as I can cook them since I got used to pulling the guts out.

It was half-past nine and still misty when I got Mum and Jake back home and locked up. I mucked about cleaning their water bowls and sweeping their pen, but then I couldn’t put it off any longer – time to fetch Dad. He’s too narky to walk on a lead. I did that in the beginning, but he tried to bite me twice so with him I use the catch-pole. I hold the pole up so my hands are above my head, so it doesn’t choke him. It makes the muscles in my arms ache, but it’s better than being bitten.

Dad only ever watched football, he never played it, and he still doesn’t like exercise. I had six goes at catching him today because he’s got so good at dipping his head when I come at him with the pole. There’s a lot of Dad that’s still ‘Dad’ – he’s still grumpy in the mornings and he gets cross, just like he used to when we’d get stuck in traffic jams on the motorway. That’s why he’s in his own pen and Mum and Jake are together.

I don’t like Jakey being on his own, even though he’s different now. He was always afraid of the dark and wouldn’t go to the pens on his own at night. He didn’t like the dogs barking, or the sound the wind made as it whistled through the fences. Leaving him with Mum feels right. Sometimes I see her brush the hair from his eyes like she used to. She used to tease him, saying if his hair grew much more we’d have to call him Jane. ‘Simon, fetch me the scissors,’ she’d say and I’d pretend to run to the kitchen drawer and Jake would giggle and cry for me not to.

Mum doesn’t joke now ‒ she doesn’t say anything, none of them do. They groan sometimes, like they’re in pain, though I don’t think they feel anything. Jake’s noises are the worst – they’re the same ones he made when he broke his arm. He was so brave then, he didn’t cry, he just whimpered as the nurse put the cast on.

When he groans now, I wonder if our Jake’s stuck inside. He was a bright kid, good at maths. I used to think of that when I took him a squirrel or a rat to eat. It made my chest ache. I hate his muddy face, the way he smells like rotten meat.

I try not to think so much now …


First published in Scribble Magazine in 2013.

Watch out for Part Two – coming Thursday.