What Sparks

Everything hurt.  The sight stunned the boy and almost knocked him senseless.  His bones shook and his head span; his eyes watered and his skin flushed beneath the sudden flare-up of heat, then shrank under the icy blast of cold that immediately followed.  He stammered out incoherent words in an unending stream – was he trying to apologise for intruding?  He hadn’t meant to intrude.  Was he asking for help?  He wasn’t sure if he needed help.  Or was he trying to express wonder and welcome?

The angels watched him with unblinking eyes.  Their taloned hands clutched the branches of the trees and they hung there, gazing down.  The boy stared up at them and scanned their faces – he saw smiles and he saw frowns.  He wanted to run.

With an effort, the boy stopped himself from speaking that incoherent language he’d never heard in his life before.  At once, he regretted it; the silence that closed in around him felt fathomless and eerie.  Turning, cautiously, he made to go.  Home was nearby and he needed to get back there, but all the while his teary eyes stayed glued on the towering angels, searching for any hint of what to expect.

Seeing the boy’s intention to leave the angels launched into the sky, wings howling with every beat.  All the fields of Peckham Rye shimmered beneath their bright wings, bespangling the clouds like stars.  Dazed, the boy tripped and fell; scrambling along on his hands and knees, eyes clamped shut, he hurried on with his escape.

An oppressive burning smell choked the boy and brought him to a stop.  Sounds of scraping metal clanged heavily about.  Flinching, expecting some impact to come clattering down on his head, the boy’s eyes peeped open, anxiously.  Thick reams of smoke drifted across a landscape he didn’t recognise anymore.  Dense and tangled foliage blocked his path wherever he looked.  The air was cloying in his lungs, tasting sickly and decayed.  He gagged and, with an effort, found his feet again.

Bewildered, he pushed his way through the forest with difficulty.  The angels who had first awed him, then spooked him, were nowhere to be seen.  He scanned the sky for any sign of their blistering wings but it was still now, silent, and suddenly night.  The shadows engulfed the boy’s senses and swallowed him whole.  Arching above him, the symmetry of the bleached tree trunks formed a ribcage that locked him in; the black and orange leaves rustling as they knitted together, tighter and tighter, like a skin.

The boy ran wildly in circles, searching after an exit.  In his panic he tripped and fell over the dreadful heart that lay shrivelled and dormant on the forest floor.  At the impact a spark fizzed across its surface and made the blackened flesh glow red.  Thunderously, it started to beat.

From the dark sky spears of torrential rain flooded down.  The sound of roars filled the forest.  Blinded by confusion, tears streaming down his face, the boy turned and ran directly towards the source of the roaring and there found the only exit before it snapped shut at his heels.  Looking back over his shoulder as he sprinted towards safety he saw nothing but ravaging fires and teeth and claws.

But it was over – the fields of Peckham Rye loomed about him again, sedate and unchanged and welcoming him back.  Returning home with a dazed expression and blood caked on his hands and knees, his parents scolded him for the mess he’d gotten into.  The boy stammered as he tried to explain, tried reporting the tremendous vision he’d seen of bizarre flocks of angels that roosted in every bough.  At that his mother shook her head, sadly, while his father swore and grabbed the boy by the collar. Angrily, the old man said it was too much to stand and listen to those excuses, and it was only through his mother’s desperate intervention that he escaped being thrashed for telling lies.  He didn’t tell about the tyger yet.

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 This story was written in response to the yeah write challenge #176 – The following sentence must be the FIRST line in your submission: “Everything hurt.   You must also include a reference to the media prompt.

 

The other stories in the link-up can be read by clicking on the image below.

speakeasy 176

Have You Seen the Rain?

“After I killed my father it got easier, it made sense.”  There was the merest crinkle of a smile playing on her lips as she gazed out of the ornate window, where the rumbling clouds flashed with sheets of lightning in the distance.  “The storm will arrive here next,” she added, to no purpose.

“Miss Harbinger,” the doctor said, kindly.  “Estelle.  May I call you Estelle?”

“If you must.  I never liked the name.  But it is my name, after all.”

“Estelle, you’ve killed no one.  No one has been killed here.  You’re simply distressed, over-tired.  You need bed rest for the next several days.  I will prescribe sleeping tablets and your family will see that you receive the very best care.  Soon this will all be forgotten.”

“I see,” she turned sharply to face him, turning her back on the window and the vast estate outside.  “You think I’m a spoiled heiress with nothing better to do than tell lies and invent murder mysteries.”

“No, I’m sure that you’re not deliberately telling lies, Estelle.  Young persons of your station in life, when they reach maturity and begin to realise the responsibilities they will shortly face, well, it can be bewildering, overwhelming.”

“Of course.  Why is Dr Newson not here, prescribing pills for me?  He’s our usual doctor.  He always cared for me before.  And he cared for mother on her deathbed.”

“Yes, Dr Newson and I are different.”

“How?”

“I’m a specialist.”

“Explain.”

“I’m… a psychiatrist.”

“Hooray,” she clapped her hands.  “So, I am being taken seriously at last.”

“Naturally, everyone views this… episode in an extremely serious, though sympathetic, light.  Your family is concerned about you, rightly so.  But, you have to understand it was your father who called me in to see you, Estelle.  He wants you to feel better, as do we all.”

“Oh, no.”

“You believe there’s a plot against you?”

“No, it wasn’t my father who called you in.  That would be a paradox – is that the right word, paradox? – if my father called you in to treat me with your pills and such because I happen to have killed my father.  You see the problem with the logic of that?”

“Estelle…” his reassuring words faltered and he flinched as a flash of lightning struck directly overhead, the crack of thunder rattling the furniture.  Hard rain could be seen and heard slanting down.  “Mr Harbinger…”

“Is irrelevant.”

“Now, Estelle!” he practically raised his voice, even if she was his patient, and an heiress.

“Mother explained it all to me on her deathbed, in private: our entire family lineage and what it all means.  It was… ‘such a chain of travesty and scorn and judgement,’ she said.  It haunted me to see her like that.  It isn’t what she deserved.  But… have you seen the rain?”  She crinkled that smile at him again.

“Terrible,” he frowned, as he strolled across the plush conservatory towards the window.  “I have to try to drive back into town through that godforsaken storm.  It’ll be a struggle to see more than half a dozen yards ahead.  The rain looks so dirty today.”

“Red.”

“Pardon?”

“Go closer to the window pane.  It isn’t dirty rain; it’s red.”

“But…”  Leaning nearer to the window, his breath made the glass mist up.  He wiped the pane clear with squeaky fingers.  “How would it…?”

“You see, Mr Harbinger is not my father,” she added, casually, as she joined him by the window.  “It took me so long to meet my father.  I searched and searched, ever since mother died, raving and eaten away as she was at the end.  But I was determined.  I inherit that from her, along with so much else.  And finally the search was fruitful.  I invited father here.  No, I lured him here.  This estate is a tempting lure.  It’s so tempting that he decided to remain here as a guest, today, tomorrow, always.  I lodged him in the guttering that runs above this room.  Gutters are where he belongs.  It’s his blood you can see now, streaming down the glass in that red rain that’s got you so bewildered, overwhelmed.”

“No, Estelle, that can’t be…”

“Psychiatrists are a lot like fathers, too,” she said and slashed the blade across his throat; still slashing as he crumpled at her feet, until her arm grew sore.

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This story was written in response to the yeah write challenge #175 – This week’s optional prompt is: Have you ever seen the rain?  The other stories in the link-up can be read by clicking on the image below.

summer175

The Flying Problem

The brothers had a vision and having a vision is an awkward business.  It excludes you from so much that other people take for granted.  Visions start out by being innocuous and end by being all-consuming.

How innocuous do visions start out?  Well, for the brothers it began when their father brought home a toy helicopter.  Made of paper, bamboo and cork with a rubber band to twirl its rotor, it was about a foot long.  The boys played with it until it broke and then built their own model.

That’s pretty damn innocuous, right?  But it was a slippery slope.

The models they worked on evolved and people got hurt.  The brothers saw it as a mission.  And then they saw it as a business proposition.

The family business was paramount and neither brother would ever marry; lawsuits and patent wars, accidents and deaths, took priority.  But they presented a unified image to the public, sharing equally in the credit and blame.

The brothers understood that progress was due to be made and they would usher it in.  Events and opportunities lodged in their consciousness in a way that seemed beyond their control.  They wrote a letter to the Smithsonian Institution requesting information about the latest innovations.  Once the latest designs and publications were placed in their hands their experiments began in earnest.  Who knew where the experiments would lead?  It was a fascinating and dangerous path.  They stumbled along it, groping for the right direction.

Nothing could dissuade them.  Other experimenters had already forged ahead.  The brothers watched and learned.  They were patient and practical, biding their time.  They were undeterred and unmoved, even when the outcome was tragic.  Lilienthal plunged to his death, yet they insisted on following his lead.  Pilcher crashed and died, but it only reinforced the opinions they already held about how to proceed.

They identified control as the unresolved third part of “the flying problem.”  Sufficiently promising knowledge of the other two issues – wings and engines – already existed, they felt.  With this in mind, they paid careful attention to how birds changed the angle of their wingtips to make their bodies roll right or left.  The brothers decided this would also be the best way for a flying machine to turn – to bank or lean like a bird.

They puzzled over how to achieve the same effect with man-made wings and finally discovered wing-warping when Wilbur absent-mindedly twisted a long inner-tube box at the bicycle shop they owned.  It was the breakthrough they needed.

At Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, they began their manned gliding experiments.  Powered flight was attempted a few years later.  During engine tests at Kill Devil Hills they endured weeks of delays caused by broken propeller shafts.  Following repairs, the brothers finally took to the air on 17th December.  The first flight, by Orville at 10:35 am, achieved an altitude approaching 10 feet above the ground, travelling a total of 120 feet in 12 seconds.

As the rickety airplane stuttered off the ground and went bobbing into the air, a deep rumbling was heard from the swirling clouds that loomed overhead.  “S-i-x… six point eight… miles… per hour,” god managed to force out the words with a bit of a struggle, mid-yawn.

“Pardon me?” the devil frowned.

“Oh, it’s something I always wondered about – the airspeed velocity of a flying monkey.”

“I see, yes,” the devil nodded.  “Although… they will get quicker, you realise.  Much, much quicker,” she smiled.  At that, the devil went on her merry way, her mind aglow with all sorts of appealing prospects: Pablo Picasso smearing paint onto the canvas of Guernica; the extreme cosiness of Dresden on a chilly February night; the gleaming miracle of Enola Gay; a blizzard of drones hailing down.  It tickled her to realise just how much entertainment there was to be had from all these peculiar little visions of flying monkeys.

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This story was written in response to the yeah write challenge #174 – This week’s optional prompt is: what is the airspeed velocity of a flying monkey?  The other stories in the link-up can be read by clicking on the image below.

summer174

Dance Partners

Perched and waiting for my chance to cut in.  I have the patience of a saint when I’m eyeing a potential dance partner, angling for a chance to appear on the scene.  Ah, I love to see their limbs glide and circle.  They glide and circle so easily, almost weightless, like they’re in rhythm with the prompting of the fluttering breezes.  Their bodies sway back and forth, and they tempt me.  How they tempt me!  Oh, the pleasures of the flesh –

That sumptuous promise of skin that’s so revealing; then the head-first slide into delight; that tingling moreishness… It still makes the creaky bones of this old buzzard sing out!

True, when I was younger I chased after it more.  But then it’s also true that we had more of these dances back then than we do today.  They went a bit out of fashion, I can’t say why.  Luckily, they never disappear entirely.  Oh, no.  They go on at random, here and there, dotted about.  New dancers still get the chance to go and haul themselves up into the limelight, demanding attention.  And I always still give them my best.

What else would I do?  The constant whirr of the buzzing music, ah, I love it!  This is what life’s all about!  You’ll never convince me otherwise.  No, sir.  So, I perch and I carefully weigh-up this latest spinning dancer I’ve had my eye on for a while.  It’s so grand a spectacle to watch that same old dance happen, again and again.  Maybe it’s not strictly elegant, true.  And it’s not as if there’s a long queue of eager partners all rushing to get an invite.  But it’s what makes the world go round.  And so I gather up my energies, my appetites and instincts.  I feel my heart race about and I’m even drooling, I don’t deny it.  All this waiting’s made me frantic, I want to have it done and dusted.  So, I preen myself a bit and I’m all set to start making my move.

And yet…

On the hilltop yonder there’s another black branch where I could just as easily perch.  And underneath that black branch I see there’s another lynch mob getting busy.  Bless their little hearts, they’re arranging another dance!  And the specimen they’re stringing up, who’s soon to go cavorting about in mid-air, looks altogether plumper than this other dancing partner I’ve earmarked here.

So, should I flap over in that direction and stake my claim to cutting in?  Or should I start tucking in where I am?  Slurp up the burst eyes before the buzzing flies spoil the juiciest bits completely?

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This story was written in response to the yeah write challenge #172 – This week’s optional prompt is: Should I Stay or Should I Go?  The Clash reference brought to mind the band’s record covers, particularly Give Em Enough Rope, which directed the story.  The other stories in the link-up can be read by clicking on the image below.

summer172

Alack

The war was unstoppable. It had raged back and forth for so long that the combatants had lost any conception of its meaning. Only the endless, bloody skirmishes remained, only the hourly struggle against fatigue. It had taken on a logic of its own, which would grind on to its conclusion, no matter the cost. It was grinding up everyone who fell under its influence. Numbers dwindled as countless lives were grabbed up and made to vanish from the scene.  It felt abrupt and meaningless to those who were left behind, who waited their turn.

Arthur Hotspur and Kenneth Lilywhite were foot soldiers in the militia. Humble men, and dogged, they marched where they were told to march, pikestaffs gleaming in the rain or in the sunshine. Heading towards this enemy or that, they grumbled as much as they fought and they fought as hard as they grumbled. Once proud of their station, of their service to flag and throne, they’d come to see their only duty as being to each other and their common preference for survival.

“Forsooth, Kenneth,” sayeth Arthur one day, as another cold dawn bit into his bones. “Dying’s a fool’s errand.”

“Tis, tis true,” sayeth Kenneth, and spat. “And war’s the cruellest mistress the likes of us’ll ever see. Damned expensive mistress, at that. Cost me kith and kin and all that ever was mine.”

“Aye,” nodded Arthur. “I even wonder how it is the likes of us get invited to sample such expensive fare. Tis more to your noble’s taste, surely. Am I right?”

“Surely. As right as this here hand of mine that’s been my only bedfellow since last I saw the inside of my wife’s goodly chamber.”

“Well, there was that whore in Cheapside, Ken…”

“Aye,” Kenneth spat, fondly. “But my point still stands. And what I do say is this: since all this warring is mite too rich an indulgence for such fellows as you and me, tis best we bow out. Let yon monarchs have all the guts’n’glory they can stand. They can afford it, so let them and them alone battle it out.”

Arthur gazed through the morning mist to where the royal encampment was erected on the hill. Soon the True King would step out to survey the remnants of his troops, and at his side would stand the Free Queen. Arthur was disillusioned and he had a marked preference for not dying, yet he still loved his queen. He loved both his queens.

Indeed, Hotspur and Lilywhite were the loyal servants and protectors of two noble queens now, since, in the madness and confusion of wartime, two queens had been crowned. “Aye, maybe it was madness,” Arthur reasoned with Kenneth one day, “yet maybe there was method in the seeming madness, too.”

“How’s that?” Kenneth sayeth.

“Forsooth, another crowned head serves to protect the rightful line of succession,” Arthur nodded.

“Line of succession my arse,” Kenneth spat. “You’ve been talking to the bishop again. Warned you about that more than once, I have. ‘Sides, these fair queens of ours give you the horn is all.” Arthur chuckled and didn’t deny it.

Be that as it may, as the vagaries of war raged, one of these beauteous queens had been captured and set in chains, to Arthur’s dismay. She was henceforth called the Trapped Queen while the other, by contrast, became the Free Queen. And it was she, the Free Queen, appearing like an apparition through the dawn mist on that day, who would rally the shattered forces to her standard. They would follow her to hell and back if only she gave the sign; if, from her vantage point, she surveyed the enemy lines, saw them buckle and yield, and ordered the rout.

The sun rose higher and musket shot and cannon balls clouded the sky as they rained down. Waiting for the order to engage, Kenneth grumbled all the louder and Arthur squinted through the missiles to where his queen stood, imperious. Short-sighted at the best of times, the constant need to duck for cover hindered Arthur’s vision all the more, as he tried his damnedest to interpret all the frantic comings and goings atop the royal hill.

In desperation Arthur turned, as always, to his brother-in-arms. “Are we to charge then, man? Speak up! Was that her signal that we’re set fair? Well? What’s the Free Queen see, Kenneth? Ken?! Oh alack…” Arthur groaned, as his friend split asunder. “They killed Kenneth!”

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This story was written in response to the yeah write challenge #171 – This week’s optional prompt is: What’s the frequency, Kenneth?, which I managed to include, phonetically, at least.

summer171