That Old Chestnut

Photo by Jade Seok on Unsplash

“Look what I got!” Phil walked in with a large paper bag in his hands. “Chestnuts.”

“Why?” Mica asked.

“What do you mean, why?” Phil said. “It’s autumn, it’s October. We can roast chestnuts on an open fire and tell fortunes from how they roast.”

“We haven’t got an open fire.” Mica said. “We’ve got gas.”

Phil frowned. “I’m not sure how you can tell the future from a chestnut. I’ll just check.” He got out his phone.

“I suppose we could try the frying pan.” Mica said. “I’ll have a look.”

“I’m not getting anything about telling the future with chestnuts.” Phil said, sitting down at the kitchen table and flicking through his phone.

“The frying pan looks a bit scary.” Mica said, flicking through her phone. “Do they taste nice?”

“What?” Phil asked.

“Chestnuts. Do they taste nice?”

“I don’t know.” Phil said, still checking his phone. “Apparently you can roast them in the microwave, but I can’t see how that would help.”

“You can’t tell the future from a microwave.” Mica said. “Not unless you’ve left the tuna in the tin. Then you can tell that you will need a new microwave.”

Phil looked embarassed. “It’s the sort of mistake anyone could make.” He said. “But I’m sure I heard about chestnuts and Halloween.”

“There’s a nice recipe here for soup.” Mica said. “I’ve got everything else in. We could try that.”

“It’s not quite the same as fortune telling by an open fire.” Phil said.

“We still don’t have an open fire.” Mica said. “But we can have nice soup by the gas fire and then some wine and a film.” She smiled. “We can have candles.”

Phil looked at his wife and smiled. “It will do.” He said, and gave her a hug. “Candles it is. We can make our own traditions.”

I Kept My Word

Another snippet from 2014

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

‘Tell them I kept my word,’ he said

As the storm clouds gathered overhead

With the setting sun tainting them red

‘Tell them I came, as was my right’

But the locked Great Hall was shuttered tight

And the echoes mocked in the fading light

He rested his head on the deep grained wood

The sunset glowed on his travel stained hood

‘Tell them I came as I said I would.’

‘Tell them I travelled over the seas

Across the great rivers and under the trees

But I kept my word and I held the keys’

A raven cawed in a twiggy nest

The wind was rising in the west

‘Tell them, say that I did my best.’

‘I saw strange stars and stranger skies.’

But he listened in vain for the listeners sighs

‘I kept my word, all else is lies.’

At the edge of the sky the thunder growled

And the rising wind wept soft then howled

At the dead Great Hall the traveller prowled

‘I kept my oath and now am free

I no longer approach on bended knee.’

He opened his hand and dropped the key

It seemed like no stroke of luck or chance

That the heavens threw down their fiery lance

As he rode away with no backward glance.

He felt the heat hard on his back

The Great Hall flamed from the lightning’s crack

But he still rode on down the weedy track.

Skimming Stones

Photo by Paul Jarvis on Unsplash

This post is part of the Across a Misty Bridge series of stories, and this instalment was first published in May 2014. You can find the whole series on my other blog, here, and I will be posting other snippets throughout this October.

The imp belched in Steve’s ear.  “Someone’s coming, boss.”

Steve didn’t look around.  He skimmed another stone across the lake.

“I see that the imp has its uses.” Lord Marius said coolly.

“His name is Armani.” Steve said, still gazing across the lake.  He picked up another stone.

“On account of my style, yer highness.” Armani leered at Lord Marius.

Lord Marius took in the scruffy and torn miniature t-shirt, the filthy jeans and stained boots.  “I can see that only a normal could call you that.”  The imp chuckled coarsely and spat onto the rocky shore.

Lord Marius walked closer to Steve.  “There is no door to a magical kingdom here.” He said.

“I know.” Steve selected another stone.

“You are not meeting anyone?” Lord Marius was sure he knew the answer but asked anyway.

“No.” The stone skimmed for four bounces across the still water.  Steve bent to carefully select the next stone.

“But you are here.” Lord Marius persisted.

“I wanted a bit of peace and quiet.” Steve glanced a little bitterly first at Armani and then at Lord Marius.  “And Armani is quiet enough.”

Lord Marius watched Armani roll one of his foul cigarettes.  “Elaine is in Iberia.”

“Spain.” Steve skimmed another stone.  It was only three bounces this time, but he seemed satisfied enough.  “She’s gone to Spain with a friend.”

Lord Marius shrugged.  “Spain used to be part of Iberia.  No matter.  Is she coming back?”

“To England, yes.  She’s got a flat in Manchester and a good job offer.”

“Is she coming back to you?” Lord Marius asked.

Armani took a long drag of his roll up and gave Lord Marius a disbelieving look.   As the imp oozed smoke Steve took his time selecting his next stone.  Eventually he glanced up at Lord Marius.  “No, she’s not coming back to me.” He said finally and skimmed the stone.  It shot five bounces across the water sending ripples across the stillness.

“I am in contact with an elfen marriage guidance expert who…”

“Don’t you dare!” Steve whirled around and glared at Lord Marius.  “Don’t you even dare.  You think you know people, but you don’t.  You don’t understand emotions or love or caring, and you don’t understand me.  Elaine’s gone!  That’s it.  I can’t force her back.  She couldn’t cope with the magic, the elfen, the weirdness.  And even if I wanted to I can’t walk away from that because of Armani.  And I don’t.  This is who I am.  This is what I am.  And Elaine doesn’t want it.”  Steve sagged.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to take it out on you.”

“I understand.” Lord Marius said quietly.  “And I also am sorry, sorry that your love affair failed.”  He picked up a stone.  “We don’t understand, really.  We try, but the elfen never quite understand the marvel that you are.  We do love, in our own way, but not in yours.” And he skimmed his own stone across the cool water.

Still Hunting

Photo by Signée 2.s on Unsplash

The nights were drawing in and the frosts had started. Mice and voles burrowed deep in their nests, hid beneath the leaf litter or fled into outhouses and homes. The cat that stalked the edge of this woodland knew her prey had all but disappeared, but still watched from her vantage point. The live prey may be hiding, but the ghosts of their fallen kind still scuttled, and that was sport enough.

Seeking

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

It took me a long time to learn how to see fairies. I don’t mean the sort that you see in children’s books, but the fair folk, the shining ones, the quiet presence in a country lane. I trained myself to see a shimmer in the corner of a garden, a hint of rainbow as I walked down a dark country lane. I watched for an unexpected glimmer. I listened for a hint of tune that shouldn’t be playing. I waited for the scent of honeysuckle on the winter air.

An old man waited at the gate, grabbing my arm and pulling me to one side where my mum couldn’t see. “They’re hunting you. You need to stay safe. Carry salt or iron – or both! Or you’ll be trapped.”

I laughed and pulled away. How could they be hunting me when it was me that was searching them out, looking for the rainbows in dim places, listening for strange song. The glimpses were getting longer and I knew I was getting closer. I skipped school and found strange corners on the industrial estates where bindweed wound its way through the fences and flies hung in the shade of scented elder bushes.

I read everything in the library and on the internet. I joined groups and forums. They didn’t help. But I started noticing, through the long summer holiday, that I saw more of the glimpses near elder bushes and trees. I searched them out. I found clusters of them near abandoned warehouses and around the edges of neglected parks. I saw glimpses of the fair folk now, just a brief look at a face, glorious with beauty, lit from within by their wild, magical nature.

As the year turned, I ignored school and gloried in the change of the weather, watching the wind swirl the dead leaves around elder bushes drooping under heavy, purple berries. I saw more of them. They wore green and brown and the ladies had wreaths of autumn leaves in their hair. I stayed as still as a cat, watching. As the nights grew longer and the arguments with my mum got worse, I got closer. I could hear their singing and their soft conversations. Finally, I saw them enter the fairy realm. I saw them slip between two elder stems and I followed through.

The sky was alive with colours and shapes. The trees whispered in shock as I walked into the forest and called ahead that a mortal child was here. I could see the Lords and Ladies, the fair ones, riding towards me, their harness jingling and the sun glinting on their shining hair.

The doctor put down the latest report and shook his head. “I’m sorry Mrs Taylor. All tests for drugs have come back negative, but your daughter continues in a persistent, catatonic, hallucinating state. We’ve tried everything to reach her, but I’m afraid that there’s nothing more we can do. She’s lost to us.”

Writing Challenge 30 September 2019

The reason I’m posting this prompt because I like writing a little flash fiction. It’s something I treat as going to the gym for my writing muscles. If you want to join in, that’s brilliant, but there’s no pressure. If you want to leave a comment with a link, that’s great, but if you don’t feel ready to share yet, that’s also great. Or you could decide that you had a good session at the ‘gym’ and want to submit it somewhere, or use it as the basis for other work, which would be amazing. It’s up to you how you use this prompt. The only thing I would like to insist on is that you enjoy yourself.

Here is a picture and a quotation. The challenge is to write something that is sparked off by one or both of them. It doesn’t have to be directly related to either, just the story you hear when you see them. It’s limited to 500 words (or less, lots less if you need to, or a little more, and I don’t check), and you should try and finish it by next week. It can be prose, poetry, fact or fiction – just have fun.

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

False enchantment can last a lifetime

WH Auden

If you wish, leave a link in the comments and I will drop in, read and comment, and I encourage everyone to do the same. I’ll also be sharing stuff on Facebook and wherever else I can think of. There are no prizes and no end goal, unless it is to have fun writing. I hope I get to see some awesome stuff sparked by this. Good luck!

I Still Remember

Photo by Mahfuzur Rahman on Unsplash

The plague came with a pedlar from over the mountains. First I buried my mother, then my wife. I buried my eldest son, then my father, then my youngest son. I buried my neighbours as their bodies lay in the street and even the crows stayed clear. I huddled at home with my daughter and we prayed and tried to keep our minds in the firelight.

As the cold nights crept in, the deaths stopped. I dug our vegetable patch, rethatched the roof and joined the rest of the village who survived in prayers at the church. Together we dragged together plans for the autumn ploughing and sowing. We organised the care of the orphans and the old. But the gaping loss continued. The new priest did his best and blessed our houses.

Then the dead moon came, the turn of the old year, the time the old priest warned us about and the new priest feared. The graves in the churchyard moved and shifted, like the blankets on a bed. We heard murmurs in the night and taps at the window. Dogs had to be chained up as they barked at shadows and cats went missing. Nanna Marie was found dead, savaged by something wild.

The new priest took charge and we scoured the village and he blessed our homes and fields. He blessed the small patches of herbs and roots we kept near our doors and the leaves stopped turning black. He held prayers just before sunset every evening. It wasn’t quite enough.

The graves were more disturbed. We took hunting dogs into the woods but found no wild beasts. Adela was found dead next to her gate, and her husband went mad with grief and hung himself. Rumours started about the dead returning.

I saw my wife, my darling wife, bloated and bloody, at the gate, right at the edge where the priest’s blessing ended, calling to me, calling that she was cold, that she was hungry, how could I turn my back on her love? I hid my daughter under the blankets and prayed by the fire. Nobody slept.

The priest called us together and persuaded us, ordered us and put us under a ban unless we dug up our recent dead. I sobbed as I obeyed. They were foul coloured and writhed in the sunlight. We burned them, all of them, and kept the fire going all that day and through the night and all the next day. We then knew peace and the village is safe now. The spring has come and the fields flourish. Too many of us still suffer and struggle with sleep, but it fades for the younger ones.

I will never forget the screams of those burned.

Writing Challenge 23 September 2019

The reason I’m posting this prompt because I like writing a little flash fiction. It’s something I treat as going to the gym for my writing muscles. If you want to join in, that’s brilliant, but there’s no pressure. If you want to leave a comment with a link, that’s great, but if you don’t feel ready to share yet, that’s also great. Or you could decide that you had a good session at the ‘gym’ and want to submit it somewhere, or use it as the basis for other work, which would be amazing. It’s up to you how you use this prompt. The only thing I would like to insist on is that you enjoy yourself.

Here is a picture and a quotation. The challenge is to write something that is sparked off by one or both of them. It doesn’t have to be directly related to either, just the story you hear when you see them. It’s limited to 500 words (or less, lots less if you need to, or a little more, and I don’t check), and you should try and finish it by next week. It can be prose, poetry, fact or fiction – just have fun.

Photo by Mahfuzur Rahman on Unsplash

Nothing fixes a thing so instensely in the memory as the wish to forget it.

Michel de Montaigne

If you wish, leave a link in the comments and I will drop in, read and comment, and I encourage everyone to do the same. I’ll also be sharing stuff on Facebook and wherever else I can think of. There are no prizes and no end goal, unless it is to have fun writing. I hope I get to see some awesome stuff sparked by this. Good luck!

Dimming

Photo by Elijah O’Donnell on Unsplash

He left yesterday morning. He wanted me to go with him, but I insisted on staying. Someone needed to look after the chickens and keep an eye on things. He said he would be back before I knew it with someone to sort out the generator.

It seems a long time ago. It’s a long time since I had a charge on my phone, and longer still since the last log burnt out of the fire. Now all I can do is watch the flame ebb on the lamp and wait.

And all the time the pad of paws pacing around the house grows louder. I hope the lamp lasts the night.

Writing Challenge 16 September 2019

The reason I’m posting this prompt because I like writing a little flash fiction. It’s something I treat as going to the gym for my writing muscles. If you want to join in, that’s brilliant, but there’s no pressure. If you want to leave a comment with a link, that’s great, but if you don’t feel ready to share yet, that’s also great. Or you could decide that you had a good session at the ‘gym’ and want to submit it somewhere, or use it as the basis for other work, which would be amazing. It’s up to you how you use this prompt. The only thing I would like to insist on is that you enjoy yourself.

Here is a picture and a quotation. The challenge is to write something that is sparked off by one or both of them. It doesn’t have to be directly related to either, just the story you hear when you see them. It’s limited to 500 words (or less, lots less if you need to, or a little more, and I don’t check), and you should try and finish it by next week. It can be prose, poetry, fact or fiction – just have fun.

Photo by Elijah O’Donnell on Unsplash

Never make a defence or an apology until you are accused.

Charles I of England

If you wish, leave a link in the comments and I will drop in, read and comment, and I encourage everyone to do the same. I’ll also be sharing stuff on Facebook and wherever else I can think of. There are no prizes and no end goal, unless it is to have fun writing. I hope I get to see some awesome stuff sparked by this. Good luck!