His Photographer’s Gaze


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.


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.

Needles and Tears


needles and tears

the only bright sparks of life

below rotting skylines


crime trampled so thin

it learns to grin like an x-ray


he rents a stool

where the cheap signals are loud

waiting hunched, bewildered


nothing is so tactful

as a stalker’s tactful hate


on stage she shows

a blonde aura of solemn marble,

a glazed closeness


lonely masks are hung up

she whispers to non-entities


their blood squirms –

her heart has small hands, clutching

silent assassins


he sees bloody particles

of the moon and howling beds


fuelled full of goodbyes,

all love tastes of questions –

he sees no remedy


he stands with the scattered rhythms

of a dying man’s heels


lurching from the bar

he greets the carcass of the night

under creeping stars


shadows excuse excuses

where night’s coiled to a cold trap


collar turned up,

her breath makes cryptic ghosts

as winter kissed her mouth


she whistles, unsuspecting

though stray dogs hear his fists clench


in puddles and piss

in sour struggles, they meet –

like the last dregs of sex


passers-by pass them by

in the trivial night


then look askance

where roses of powder-burns

draw circusing flies


This poem was written for Carpe Diem Ghost Writer #36, Haiku Noir, in which Jen of Blog It Or Lose It asked us to write a “haiku noir”, inspired by Raymond Chandler. This is another great prompt hosted by Chèvrefeuille at Carpe Diem Haiku Kai and all of the poems in the link-up can be read here. Although I wrote this as a direct response to the prompt I haven’t added it to the link-up since, having got carried away, I realise I went in a slightly different direction to “haiku that explores the darker parts of nature – nature at the dirty edges of humanity.” Ah well, you gotta go where the inspiration takes you, right 🙂

Kingdom of the Bronze Spider


In the Kingdom of the Bronze Spider I marched among the king’s retinue and waited my chance.  As a visiting dignitary from a neighbouring land it was a simple matter to get so close as that, but no closer.  The cordon around his majesty bristled with the tips of ornamental spears.  Yet it was imperative I got closer.  I had a message to deliver.

Following the traditional route of the age-old procession, sanctioned by the footsteps of generations, we jostled together along the winding thoroughfares, wilting from the heat and claustrophobia.  Despite the forced proximity, I tried keeping my distance from the local politicians and commanders.  Although protocol made it seemly I should be invited to attend the festival I wasn’t an entirely welcome guest.  The political situation was seldom less than tense between our nations, even while diplomatic niceties were mostly still observed.  So, my invitation was doubtless sent reluctantly and I attended grudgingly.

Occasionally, as if by accident, the black standard with the glowing spider was left to dangle in my face.  And I overheard odd mutterings about “Waspers” and that “poisonous, stripy country where they can’t really talk, only buzz at each other.”  But I wore the insignia of the Colliding Swarms on my chest, with venomous dedication, as always.  The safety and prosperity of the land of my birth depended on the success with which my message was delivered, I was informed.  That consideration alone swayed me.  It motivated all that followed.  And I manoeuvred myself accordingly.

It was rumoured that the ruler of the Bronze Spider lands had become half a cripple now, that his powers waned and he stumbled to mouth the right words when discussing policy at court.  It was argued by his political enemies that this alteration only made him more of a threat, since the weakness that racked his limbs made him over-compensate through random bouts of savagery and hubris.  It was argued by his political allies that any alteration only made him more of a force, since the longevity that shook his limbs made him wise enough to apply surgical remedies and reprisals when needed.

I observed all the nuances of this as they played out around me in the huddled cliques and backbiting of the retinue.  I weighed options.  I guessed at the risks involved.  I bided my time.  The sun blistered down on us as the procession dragged on.  Sweaty condensation dripped from inside the bronze helmets of the guards and sprinkled down their backs.  I gagged on the stink of those people, whose unctuous foods gave off cloying odours that seeped from their pores.

Close by, I occasionally glimpsed that land’s queen, matching our progress amidst her own decorous retinue.  However, the traditional routes laid out for king and queen never crossed, so she remained a mysterious, shimmering mirage across the plain in that oppressive heat.  I forgot about her and resumed my focus on how best to deliver the message I was entrusted with.  I sought the proper platform, that slender opportunity which would offer me what I craved: a few seconds of direct access to the king, uninterrupted and brutally candid.

Finally, having weaved our way to the highest cliff top that overlooked the hallowed canyons, the heat and lack of shelter was too much even for the reeking locals.  So, a royal pavilion had been built there for the king to rest in its shade a while.  With only a few guards and the most notable dignitaries from abroad, I among them, the king retired inside.  Once the pavilion was sealed from prying eyes my fingers made discrete adjustments to the insignia I wore, unsealing the disguised locket.  Instantly, the narrow chamber filled with toxins: airborne agents that caused paralysis within seconds, to which I was immune.  I stepped across the prostrate bodies to where the king slumped on a makeshift throne, limbs twitching at ragdoll-ridiculous angles.  I pressed my face close to his and breathed in the royal fear.

“Listen closely, your majesty.  I have a message and an apology.  I apologise for how unseemly this is, but you must be made aware that certain interests within your court seek to overthrow you.  They seek to ally my government to their cause.  They believe that I am here as an executioner, but I am not; my government’s interests are not served by such upheaval in your kingdom.  So, heed me when I say…”

Abruptly, my speech ended.  The pavilion doors slid open and the queen marched in, unattended and undaunted, gliding by the spasming guards and politicians who littered the floor.  “Your majesty,” I made a brief bow in her direction, “I assure you that this scene is not how it appears, I am…”  Swiftly reaching her husband, she cradled his head in her hands and then sliced open his throat with a blade I hadn’t noticed.  A glut of blood vomited into his lap.  I staggered back, appalled and stupid.

Quicker than my numb mind could work, the queen sprang to close the distance between us; jamming the knife to its hilt between my ribs, she spat in my face, “It was I who hired you, fool.  There was no petty political intrigue.  This was a divorce.  We wives of this realm have a history of devouring our husbands.  Did you not believe the legends?  Ah I suppose you reasoned that all the guards with spears were for the benefit of you outlanders?  No, fool, they were organised in deference to the threat that springs from the marital bed.  Only within the confines of that bed was the ex-king truly safe, by virtue of commandments that sanctify the need to breed.  Otherwise he was forever ringed about by protectors in my presence.  Protectors you disabled.  See how sincerely the new ruler of this realm thanks you, in person, with no vestige of royal protocol setting barriers between us.”  The knife twisted deeper between my ribs as her kiss twisted on my mouth.


This piece of flash fiction was written in response to the Wordle Challenge #27 at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie, where all stories in the link-up were prompted by the wordle at the top of this post.  The rules are that at least 10 of the given words are to be used.  I missed out “Argyle” and “Upholstery”; I also adjusted “Locker” into “Locket”, which is hopefully ok.

Las Vegas Widow

In stunned silence the lion tamer realised his mistake.  The roar from the lion’s gaping mouth was deafening.  It sent out bone-shaking reverberations, which the audience loved, as always.  But tonight the lion tamer loved nothing about it.  No, the lion tamer’s blood froze and time froze with it; time seemed to hang suspended over the vast chasm between his last heartbeat and the next one, if it ever arrived; as all the while his thoughts went racing after answers.

Why?  His act had always been a roaring success until now.  “Roaring success” – even in his current predicament the lion tamer winced at the terrible pun, which he always resented using in his marketing bumpf but could never escape from.  You had to trumpet success in whatever fashion you could, no matter how corny.  And the act that he and his wife originated together, when they were just starting out and still practically kids, had always won rave reviews and put bums on seats.  It was a perfect combination of their talents: he with his uncanny affinity for big cats, no matter how fierce; and she with that radiance she could project into crowds, holding complete strangers transfixed, especially when she was younger, the Lovely Tsaritsa.

They toured throughout Europe, gaining fame and a million Facebook likes, whilst mostly keeping on the good side of the animal rights campaigners.  After that, they headed to the Far East and their lifestyle became more luxurious.  Luxury suited them, he thought, and they took to it with gusto in their different ways.  Then they brought the act to Las Vegas.  The crowds there had been wowed from the start, but tonight it looked as if they might get more of a show than they bargained for.  Why?

The USA had promised so much, as Promised Lands are supposed to.  Husband and wife settled down in a secluded beachfront property, basking in everyday sunshine and ease.  They reaped their rewards and he was proud of that.  She hoped for kids, little boy and little girl.  He hoped for an American lover with nubile limbs and a carefree approach to life and love.  He got what he wanted, while her wishes remained on the to-do list as their career took precedence.

But tonight all those rewards hung in the balance, only inches from destruction.  Why?  His mind was still racing.  Then it came to an abrupt conclusion: what would happen if a once radiant wife (who maybe hadn’t got what she wanted from life, who was maybe now wanting widowhood?) took secretions from a lion’s scent glands and worked them into the hair gel of a past-his-prime lion tamer immediately before he stuck his cheating, scheming head into a rival lion’s gaping mouth?

Time resumed.  The lion’s immense jaws slammed shut and gleaming incisors punctured the lion tamer’s skull with a pop.  The proud head deflated rapidly, like a bloody balloon.


This short story was written in response to the latest TipsyLit writing prompt: For this week’s prompt, the theme is taking a big risk.  All of the stories written for the prompt can be read by clicking on the image below.  

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