Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge: The coming of the sea king



‘And how often do you have the dream?’ she asks.

Every part of me feels heavy, as if I’m bloated flesh washed up on the shore, seaweed laced in my hair. I begin to drift away again, the chemical smell in the room, the lights that slice my eyes like blunt razors fading to points.

‘Sophie.’ Again that sharp voice, like a hook trying to pluck thoughts from my head, dragging me back. ‘Sophie. When do you have the dream?’

My lips open, words slip out, slimy on my tongue. ‘What dream?’

This is what the voice doesn’t understand. I don’t dream. Never. I’ve no use for fantasy, only for my other life.

I can hear the impatience in the voice as she says, ‘Perhaps we should talk another day.’

It’s then I smell it. The metal tang, the scent of the deep ocean, of sand and shale, starfish and baleen, the waft of coral after a storm. I open my eyes. Sunlight has been swallowed. Instead the world is green, walls rippling, my hair suspended about me, pulled by the current, questing through soft waves.

A hand touches my cheek. He’s come for me.


Written for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge. See the gorgeous painting and write a story to go along. See here to join in and to read the other tales.


Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge: Under the lychgate


Painting by Antos Frolka


My hands shiver under my furs and though the wind cuts across the brown meadow, I know it’s not the cold that causes me to shake.

We pass a young beech, leaves quivering, the sound like tiny bones – shrew, mole, unfledged robins – rattling in a purse. The church is up ahead, squat as a matron, the roof like a hat of red felt pointing heavenward.

I keep my eyes locked on the church, turned from my soon-to-be husband, his drooping lids, his idiot smile. The thought of those hands, those over-moist lips on mine …

It’s as we pass through the lychgate that Hilda Goodchild catches my eye. She presses ahead but seems to stumble at the last moment and Joshua – my almost husband, her ever loving son – dashes from my side to save her from falling.

Her look of triumph tells me the stumble is a sham, a way to draw my attention to the yellowed paper flapping in her hand. The moment I see it, see the scarlet ribbon flutter at the base, I know it’s the deeds to my father’s farm – my farm.

How fitting, this pause in the shade of the lychgate. I shift my feet, wondering if I have the spot, whether it’s here or here the coffins pause before their final journey to the church. My father, my mother, my sisters, all waited here – patient as only the dead can be – before moving on.

Soon it will be another’s turn. I feel the blade tucked in my sleeve, the metal warmed through by the heat of my wrist and I smile.


Written for Jane Dogherty’s Microfiction Challenge. See the lovely painting and write a short story to go along with it. See here to join in and to read the other stories.


Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction challenge: Hurry


Lovers by Felix Nussbaum


‘Hurry,’ whispered Con.

His breath was warm in the cold air, salted with Scotch, his whiskers brushed her cheek, a spider’s leg tickle that made her itch.

‘I dont understand why now. And why the oast house?’ Her voice was a child’s whine, tired and tetchy from a day at play. She hated it.

‘We don’t decide the where and why, Sian. They tell us and we jump.’

His arm pressed her tight to his side, as if he was afraid she’d stumble on the cobbles – or run.

Then the brewery was ahead of them – gate thrown back wide on sagging hinges – and the air grew thick with the green scent of hops, of woodsmoke, of bricks baked to rock by years in the kiln. Sian suddenly wanted home and the fire and Ma darning socks, eyes straining in the light of a single oil lamp.

A figure emerged from the shadow of the oast house. A tall man, cap pulled down low. The clouds fled, the moon shone full, bouncing off a pattern of metal loops, a pole cradled in the man’s arms.


‘Forgive me Ma,’ whispered Sian as she was led inside.


Written for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge. Use the well chosen painting as the springboard for a story. See here to join in and to read the other tales.

Jane Dougherty’ Microfiction Challenge: The Freedom of Rybka


Tanya felt the wave coming before she saw it – an extra hard tug on skirts already soaked, anchored to her thighs. She smelt it too, the metal brine scent of the deeper sea, chill water churned from below, lifting fragments of seabed, scraps of broken shell and fins – the sea’s graveyard.


She tightened her grip on his hand, felt the moist leather of her glove, salty now, slippery as fresh peeled skin.

Seeking a reflection of her own fear in his face, she saw only joy, his arms flung wide, wings ready for flight. A flicker pierced her chest – she should have known. All these months he’d spoken of escape – from his father, from an imposed future of tenants and rents and broken backed harvests. But when she’d pressed him for details, he grew poetic, talked only of eternity, the moon and distant stars.

‘Freedom, rybka!’ he gasped as the wave scampered up his back, tumbling over his shoulders.

Freedom? To drown? To drift, puffy, grey, needled by blue crabs?

She imagined his boots – buffed to a fine shine, soles kept slick for dancing (how he loved to dance!) – slipping on the little pier, leather gliding over lichen …

… she released her grip.

The wave hit him, carried him from her. Then another hit and another, white crests battering his head, an avalanche forcing him down, burying him under endless ocean. His cap buoyed for a moment – swirling on an eddy brown as drainage water – then sank.

Tanya fell to her knees, wave after wave pulling hungrily at her clothes, smothering her face. Then she realised – beneath her was the submerged pier. Her fingers dug into crumbling wood, hooking barnacles, muscles trembling under the barrage of shivering water, flowing into her ears, nose, mouth until she was unsure where the sea ended and she began.

When the wood gave way to oozing sand, she flung herself on the beach, hacking brine, lungs and stomach scoured, eyes salt singed.

For the longest time she lay still, waiting for the land to reclaim her, for the sea to give up its hold for good. When strength returned, she unlaced her boots, numb fingers peeling off her jacket, her over skirt, the second skin of her stockings.

Her knees were still soft as jellyfish as she stood.

‘Freedom,’ she whispered, walking along the shoreline, footprints swallowed by each fresh wave.


Written for the very talented Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge. See the picture and write a short piece to accompany it. See here to join in and to read the other stories.

By the way, my dear, ‘rybka’ (according to this site) is a Russian term of endearment meaning ‘little fish’.