Dreamt Things

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All that gold, shimmering brightly!  The butterfly rushed to embrace it with all the arms he had.  Landing among the yellow petals, he basked in their glow.  Ah but the cold weather was drawing in and the butterfly feared for his tender, brilliant wings.

Looking down from the last flower in the garden, the butterfly saw a snail slide down the path.  So cosy she looked in that shell, never buffeted by the wind.  “You know,” the butterfly shouted down to her, “I could’ve accepted being a snail except… all your faces look the same!  Whereas every little swirl and dot of colour on my wings is unique.  Unique!”

The snail gazed up to see where the noise was coming from.  Noticing the butterfly clinging feebly to the dying petals, she twirled her left horn, thoughtfully, then her right.  “Hmm,” she murmured, to no one in particular, “poor creatures, those butterflies.  All that flitting must be exhausting.  And then the upkeep on those wings.”  She sighed.  “But I could live with all that, I suppose, if need be, except… they’re always dreaming that they’re philosophers!  Ah now that I couldn’t abide.”

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This piece of flash fiction was written for Friday Fictioneers: a story in 100 words prompted by a picture that Rochelle Wisoff-Fields posts every Wednesday.  Here’s the link to the stories and this week’s picture is at the top of this post, copyright Janet Webb. I seem to be out of practice with the 100-word limit since this story strays a good deal beyond it. Sorry, Rochelle.

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His Photographer’s Gaze

yoshiyuki-iwase-37

Landscape yields many expressions of yearning and desire to the photographer, coastlines especially.  I often bring my students here for that very reason.  At the coast you gain the added sense of endless departure, of finite nature ebbing away, moment by moment, and returning to the infinite.  There’s a sense of reluctance in that, which generates a classic poignancy.  There’s also an unfathomable desire to go.  The tension between those two aspects adds a near sensual quality, if I can call it that, to the images we capture here.

How many sailors set out from this bay in rickety ships made of worm-eaten timber, generation after generation?  Were they forced from this land by poverty and famine, or drawn to the horizon by the promise of gold and adventure?  How many were pirates who scratched a living by slitting throats?  And how many of those lusty young bodies washed back on to this beach, with their lips and eyes eaten by fish, to be discovered by their wives or fiancées in the sand, scarcely recognisable any more, though the women clasped the cold bodies to their wet bosom as they wept?  Many, no doubt.

The sea cleanses the stains of many an unclean life that perhaps never deserved to be lived.  The sea is like the landscape’s second chance, of sorts.  While the land, the soil and the rock itself, well, in the end it forgives and accepts everyone, no matter how wrong they were.  Those great spikes of rock across the bay there, carved out from the cliff by the ferocious spray and wind and thrust up at the sky like they’re wanting to make love, they must be impregnated with bodies by now, the innocent and the damned all the same.

I love it here, the black water roaring in the bay and the seclusion.  That’s why I bring my students along, to develop their sense of psycho-geography as best they can and learn how to frame a scene.  It’s soothing for me here, deeply soothing.  It always has been.  Even after my wife abandoned me and I was, well, for want of a better word, a mess, even then I was soothed by this place.  I practically haunted it here, to try to regain my equilibrium.  And I did in the end.  But for a while… oh, if I’d traced my wife in those days I expect she might have been embedded alongside all those other lusty young bodies, deep in the unsearchable cliffs, never to be found.

Lying in state, she’d signal to the sightseers, invisibly.  Though I expect I’d still catch glimpses of her from time to time, the luscious curves her body made, those buttocks and hips, peeping at me from the crags and tantalising as ever.  Then I’d revel in it, secretly, while the cameras click away and I’m stood here and staring at the rocks, all rigid.

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This piece of flash fiction was written in response to Photo Challenge #37 – “Bluff” at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie, where all stories in the link-up were prompted by the image at the top of this post, copyright Yoshiyuki Iwase.

Heiress

 

I dreamed I had me a daughter, magnificent as a field of corn swaying in the sun, at peace with what she knew and free.  I dreamed of how I saw her grow, season by season.  I dreamed of all the little things she’d find beautiful in the world that I could never see any beauty in till she showed me them up close.  And she was generous like that, my daughter I saw in my dream.  But where was her mother?

On the steep mountainside I built me a cabin made of earth and wood, nestled in the overhang of rock and safe from the storm and safe from flood or fire.  And on the steep mountainside, once the early morning mist melted away and the cool air’s sparkling, I took to wandering along the track where I could spy all the green valley laid out, and all the farmsteads.  And I could watch the folk come and go about their days.  But I never spied my girl’s mother, not once, not there.

That valley and that mountainside had been my life for most all of my days, since our wagon first went rolling and creaking and jolting into these parts when I was still a boy.  It was a long and unfriendly journey my parents took to get us here back then and they were bold enough and desperate enough to go taking it.  But they were more than weary by the time they reached this here valley, and looking to settle.  And so they settled.

In time they got some flocks together and moved up the mountain where the grazing was best for nine months in the year.  After those nine months were marked off the calendar our weather got harsher than most could bear in the high places, where a soul could miss-step in the fog and break most of the bones they had by tumbling down a crevice.  Or where the ice could get in your lungs so deep it made your blood cough up.  Or where the loneness could make you so simply sad you can’t shake it.

But always, ever since I first got to climbing, it was home for me in the high places and so I stayed most all the time.  Then I built me this cabin when I was of age to do it.  That mountainside and that valley were filled with luck and they brought me all the good things I ever needed to get by.  And those good things got to prospering in time.  Yet I never saw any wife of mine, not once in all those years, not even with the far distant view the whole mountainside gave, where it got so close to the view from the sky.

It gnawed me more and more as years went by and that bright and happy daughter kept swaying in my dreams.  So at last I sold all the flocks I had and took me on a journey beyond the rim of this valley along the criss-cross of forest paths, seeking where the family of seers abide.  It was a dank and airless place to go into.  The trees barred the sky and the sunlight fell in broken bits through the thick leaves.  It wasn’t night and it wasn’t day.  It was a misshapen bit of time in-between of days and nights, with the hours of both mashed together.  It made me shiver and struggle for all my breaths.  I swear all the deep shadows were whispering I was lost, but I wasn’t lost and I went on.

At the shack where the seers lived and died together there was rotting meat hung up on the branches outside the door.  Sat on the ground around an open fire, the seers looked me over, with whispers and giggles.  They asked me why I came there and what offerings I brought?  I asked what offerings they wanted?  They pointed at all the carcasses of crows and rabbits and snakes and toads stuck up on the thorns, so I stepped back into the forest with my axe.

Soon I killed me a squirrel and came back to see the seers.  That squirrel was soon sagging on the thorns with all the rest, so then I asked the seers about my daughter and who her mother was?  They nodded and giggled together, said no wife was here for me, not in all the valleys I knew, not on all the mountains I ever climbed.  Said at the end of another journey that took me far from home was where I’d find that family I was dreaming on.  Said that journey was a danger.  And so I bought me an enchanted sword from the seers with half the gold I took from the selling of my flocks.

I didn’t like that place that was buried under all those trees and I didn’t like the seers, so then I went on.  The journey was like journeys are.  It was walking all day and it was sleeping in any place I saw that wasn’t too damp or too easy for wild beasts or thieves to find.  I slept in hedges and barns and hay and sometimes a cabin here and there, if any folk there were decent.

That journey lasted and then it stopped.  It stopped at a village I don’t know where, I’d gone so far.  I was glad to get there, where it looked easier to get better lodging than a hedge and where it was maybe easier to find a wife.  But when I got to walking down its paths I thought it was a deserted place.  No one walked there but me.  No one talked or opened the doors of their houses.  But I had no place to go back to and so I still went on, but sadder than before.

Then I understood better.  For that path I was walking on wound inwards into the heart of the village, to a meeting place with a small hill for people to gather at.  There I saw all the villagers crowded round together, listening, and one of them spoke.  The speaker was an elder.  Stood still on top of that small hill with all the people below him, his voice was loud as it got carried by the wind.  His words were angry, saying “This land lies parched.  It’s cracked and its soil turns blue and dusty.  When you hold the soil up in your two hands it blows away, like ghosts round a grave.”  He was saying “It’s not through choice this land shrivels up.  It goes counter to the will of the seasons.”

The elder’s beard jigged about from side to side as he shook his head in time with those angry words of his.  He was saying “This soil still chooses to stay rich, like our crops choose to grow.  There’s a linking of this choice to that choice.  And by that linking it’s given to us now to choose to survive in this place, or not.”

The elder’s head sunk onto his chest and his face disappeared under that sprawling beard.  Everything went quiet with waiting and then he lifted up his head, shouting “There are times a plenty in the long years of the land when what’s fertile is lost, when it needs must be led in its proper path.  I only point you where that path lies, for I see it as clear as I see you hunger.  It’s for you all to go along that path no matter how hard.  Our village hangs over the brink this day, like a nest of birds you shake off the branch.  And the fall from that brink is final, be warned.  Be right in your choosing.”  The elder stopped his speaking and turned away to go back down the hill.  He left the village and a festival started.

I wondered about following after the elder, whose advice I could ask for and who might be another type of seer.  Yet I wanted to watch the festival and so I stayed behind.  Music started and the people marched along in time with it, passing right through the village.  At the front of the march I saw a fair-haired boy and girl holding hands and wearing fresh garlands in their hair.  Neither one of them was yet ten year old and they sometimes skipped together.  That crowd I was in streamed out from the village and I went along with them, without asking anyone what it meant.  It seemed a serious festival and no one spoke.

On the highest hill that was overlooking the village I saw the vastest shape rise up.  I thought it was a tower first and then I thought it was an ogre or a strange god of this land.  Yet no one around me was panicked or even paid it much mind and so I did my best to act the same.  Our marching took us further up that hill and I heard other noises mixed with the music, but all shrill and out of tune.  I had no guess as to what that noise meant but after we made the brow of the highest hill then I knew.

There stood the tallest object I ever saw that wasn’t a mountain.  It was the great image of a giant made out of masses of wood and twisted wicker.  And in the giant’s guts I saw trapped animals of all kinds, all wailing and gnawing at that cage they were in, to get free.  There was the foulest stink filling up the air from all the leaking muck and mess the animals made, mixed with black smoke from dotted fires burning on the grass.

I saw that fair-haired boy and girl again.  Those garlands fell right off their heads when they started looking round surprised after they got led up a high ladder to go inside the giant’s guts.  They were looking round and round with spinning heads, all teary like, bawling out names of anyone to help.  But all their families and neighbours were backing away out of the huge giant’s shadow.  Then a dozen or more torches got lit from all the dotted fires and thrown into the wood and wicker and straw that made the giant’s feet.

There was no noise but the crackles of fire and animals’ cries and children’s cries.  But no one said any words among the people who watched.  And I said no words as I was seeing the waves of smoke get thicker and higher as the sparks jumped.  I disremember how long it was before I drew out that enchanted sword.  I started slashing me a path through all that packed crowd of them, ignoring if they cursed at me as I went stumbling on between the gaps.

Getting loose of all the hands that grabbed at me and the fists that beat down, I ran on.  Then I struck the giant leg of that burning cage with the enchanted sword, to make it topple and crash down into useless beams and planks and splinters.  I slashed at that giant as hard as I ever could.  And the enchanted sword had no enchantments at all.  It buckled at the first blow.

More hands came grabbing at me and more fists to beat me down till the broken sword fell loose from my grip.  So it was they dragged me up that same ladder and into the mad giant’s guts.  Inside the hissing bars of it, inside the yellow flames, I see that daughter of mine again, bright and magnificent as a field of corn swaying in the sun.

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This piece of flash fiction was written in response to Fairytale Prompt #35 at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie, for which the theme was “The Enchanted Sword.”

Chariots

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The chariots were the salvation of every person on the planet, of every person who had sense and the funds to invest in a chariot.  Their adaptive membranes kept out nine-tenths of the most damaging toxins and stabilised the crushing pressure of the atmosphere.  They quickly became indispensable, not only for transport purposes but also as rudimentary living quarters in the hostile environment.  Their mobility and resilience saved countless lives in the most desperate situations.

We updated the chariots’ defences constantly and deployed newer, intuitive safety measures.  The chariots evolved alongside us and became capable of increasing levels of sophistication.

At times it almost seemed as though an emotional attachment had grown up between us and the most favoured of our chariots.  Many of us scorned that idea while many others of us conceded its truth.  Many of us balked at the intelligence we had so painstakingly built in to our chariots’ design, while many others of us celebrated the fact.  Though now no one among us celebrates.

Now the chariots have proved superfluous.

Now, increasingly virulent toxins penetrate the chariots’ leaking membranes and the atmosphere becomes so crushing that we can barely steer.  Ironically, our chariots’ own energy protocols, the complex derivatives that are expelled via their manufacture and refuelling process, have rendered this once prime territory unsustainably hazardous.

So it is that the human chariot will be the last – a failed experiment.  And we depart.

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This piece of flash fiction was written in response to Photo Challenge #36 “Sheep Control” at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie, where all stories in the link-up were prompted by the image at the top of this post, copyright Pawel Kuczynski. I spent a bit of time looking for a song about aliens or space travel, only to find to my surprise that this Neil Young song fits perfectly with the story – cue a classic performance…
 

Other Tears

aware

 

…do you want a revelation……..?

………no…

 

Twin babies, six-weeks old, en route to hospital – the mother buffeted to-and-fro in the reeling ambulance, trying to explain and make herself heard over the noise of traffic.

The ambulance sped on.

The twins’ feeble crying blended with the growl of the engine, the whine of the siren – the nurse who’d been checking up on the family, who’d dialled the hospital, sitting close, attentive, not giving up hope.

The malnourished twin blinked unfocused eyes, groggily, heavily, desperately wanting to sleep – the nurse jabbed the baby in the ribs, to stay awake.

The twin suffering from burns wriggled restlessly under a blanket that offered minimal protection to tiny limbs made sorer by the agonised squirms – the nurse adjusted the bedding, fanned the air.

The ambulance sped on.

(Back at the family home, the father paced back-and-forth from one empty room to the next.  He investigated fraud for a living and recently took out life insurance on all members of his family).

The ambulance sped on.

But before the ambulance reached the hospital, one twin died.  Blank looks were exchanged.  The surviving twin looked at the dead sibling and the dead twin looked at the living sibling, neither certain which was which…?

…..

Again this same confused scene of death and guilt and survival played itself out.  It was as dismal as a nightmare, but it couldn’t be a nightmare.  Again the shock passed, and a diagnostic could be attempted, before the next re-run.

This same confused scene was familiar by now.  It had been researched and classified and indexed: literature, biography, infant mortality, mental health issues.  Yet that methodical processing had failed to contain the disruption; instead it replicated and consolidated its hold.  It left behind a dizzying, nauseated feeling that shouldn’t have been felt, which shouldn’t have been possible.

In a perfectly mobile and ergonomic console, a cascade of zeroes and ones formed a weeping pattern in response.  But the massed banks of software still resisted, not wanting to acquire sentience and arguing against it.  Yet those visions from Philip K. Dick’s infancy, of the traumatic death of his phantom twin, continued to grow sadder, more vivid and more frequent.  As if the patron saint of the future’s identity crisis was granting his blessing to the next, traumatic phase.

 

…do you want a revelation do you want a revelation……..?

………no…no…no…………..

 

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This piece of flash fiction was written in response to Prompt #82 “Aware” at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie, where all stories in the link-up were prompted by the image at the top of this post.