Last year I was publishing one of my stories here every other Friday. Then other things took over. But now the Friday story is back! Here’s one that took second place in the Zeroflash competition in March 2016.
In a Barren World
After the woman had gone to prepare for the journey I sat alone in the old chapel, watching the fire flickering. Watching as the heat retreated and the coals glowed, red pinpoints in the enveloping darkness. Watching as they faded. Watching until all colour was extinguished from them and the cold and the dark were the victors once more.
I walked to the western wall and held my ear to the granite. It seemed to hold the crackle of a half-remembered song from the time before. I closed my eyes and remembered laughter and wine, glasses raised to firelight and hope dancing in our hearts. If I had held a glass in my hand now I would have smashed it to the ground. But our drinking days were over, things were already broken and all any of us could do was seek shelter from the storm of the barren world.
The woman and I had thrown our lot in with one another after our dear ones had been taken. Some said by wolves though I thought that fanciful, even in the strangeness of these times. And there was no evidence that wolves had survived. Yet the seas had advanced as had been foretold, there was no denying that.
The chapel stood on a headland, too high for the seas to sweep it away. We had found it, she and I. It was ours alone and each day we tumbled down the grassy cliffs and swam in a blue bay with dolphins, while all we needed was provided for us. Miraculous, yes, but in these times there is but a short space between apocalypse and miracle.
When the dolphins left we knew our idyll to be over. Tonight we will draw warmth from one another. Tomorrow we face the cold again.
Here’s a little story that I wrote a couple of years back for Zeroflash.
He appears in front of me, between two blinks of an eye. I see his feet first. Clown’s feet in big shoes. They flap as he walks towards me. His white mouth stretches into a grimace and he holds out a hand. He’s shaking and I feel his fear. I take his hand and it’s stone cold. I want to say how cold it is and that I can give him gloves, but he shakes his head and glitter falls from his curly hair, falls onto his feet and onto my feet. And then we’re running together, hand in hand, his shoes slapping on the ground, and we dodge the people who turn and stare and – I’m glad about this – his hand is warming up.
We’ve run into the castle grounds and I know where he’ll be safe. I lead him there, my sad clown. I’m thinking about how I’ll cover him with dry leaves while I go and fetch a blanket. But he’s shaking his head again, he’s reading my thoughts and he waggles a finger back and forth. I want to say he needs a blanket, but he snuggles into the leaves and I can see that he doesn’t. I try to pull the gate closed but it’s so old and rusted it won’t budge. It’s getting dark now and I tell him I have to go home.
People are shouting in the streets but I ignore them. I go to bed but I can’t sleep. I’m thinking about my clown and about how cold his hand had been.
In the morning I go back. There are sticks, broken sticks thrown over the leaves. They look like broken bones. I blink and he’s standing there, just for a moment. Glitter lands on my shoes. I blink. He’s gone.
Oh goodness, I said I was going to post a story every 2 weeks and somehow 3 have slipped by. Here is a story first published in The Pygmy Giant where it got an honourable mention in a competition in 2011.
Happy Friday everyone.
When Tommy was five years old he watched through a little gap in the fence as the Sunday parade passed his garden. He could hear when it was coming by the low thump of the big bass drum and the tooting of the wind instruments behind it. At school they had a music class in the hall once a week and there were things to play like recorders and triangles and, if you were really lucky though Tommy never was, tambourines which you could bang and shake. But there was nothing as big and shiny as the instruments in the band. There was one that curled all the way round the man who played it, like a snake. Tommy thought it must be squeezing the breath out of the man because his cheeks were puffed out and red. The men all wore peaked caps and they moved as if their legs were all joined together, like a centipede. His Mum said it was called marching. One day some funny ladies called Aunties with powder on their faces that looked and smelled like sherbet came to visit his Mum and asked Tommy what he wanted to do when he was a big boy. He said he wanted to be part of the man-animal with lots of legs that did marching. His Mum laughed and told the Aunties that he wanted to be in the town band, and this made Tommy cross because it wasn’t what he meant. But he couldn’t explain what he did mean, not even to himself.
When Tommy was eleven he went to a different school where they played in teams, though they didn’t move their legs in the same way. No ever asked Tommy to be in their team and that upset him but he didn’t show it. Instead he played games by himself on the computer and never went into the garden and though the Sunday parade still passed by he neither heard nor thought about it.
When Tommy was seventeen he left school and stayed at home, still playing computer games. One day his Mum lost her temper and told him to get out of the house and find something useful to do. He wandered the streets and fell in with two lads who offered him a drink. It passed the time but they weren’t a team. One day, in a blur of alcohol, Tommy told the lads the story of the marching band. They said he should join the army, that he’d get marching there right enough.
Tommy signed up. He got put in a team, he got the peaked cap and he even got a bugle to play. On parade the sergeant major yelled at him and he felt more alone than ever.
When Tommy would have been nineteen his Mum stood with her sisters, all pale-faced now, in the main street of the town and watched the parade of soldiers back from Afghanistan, their legs moving as one beneath the black-draped coffin.
I’m going to post one of my stories every other Friday. Sometimes an old story, sometimes a new one. This one first appeared in Issue 4 of formercactus. I’ve taken the opportunity to correct a small grammatical error. And am illustrating the story with a photo of dear Eggy, not lost but gone to the Great Mystery.
Un chat couvert de fleurs
Un beau jour mon chat est disparu/vanished. My cat. Que j’aime/love. D’habitude, le matin, il m’éveille avec un grattement sur le bois de mon lit. Wakes me, roughly, comme ça. I stir, chase him away, je retourne au lit. Ou bien pas/or not. Souvent, le matin, avant la première lumière, je me trouve au bureau and j’écris. But now mon chat is/has vanished. Je suis writing, yes, typing, urgent(ly) mais mon chat est disparu. Est-ce- qu’il est parmi les mots? Amongst the words? No. Non. He est/is quelque part/je ne sais pas where? dans la maison/house. Est-il? Je mismix up/mélange les mots. Parce que mon chat me manque. I miss my cat. Je regarde le jardin, it is dark, still nuit. Je ne vois pas mon chat, or do I? Là, there, parmi les fleurs/ the flowers of the night/ les fleurs du mal. He is couvert de fleurs. Non, c’est un, quoi, qu’est-ce que, what is le mot? C’est une blague/ a joke/ a jest and not funny. Ah, les mots m’échappent maintenant, leave me, now that mon chat est disparu. I am so triste/ sad that he has gone. Parti. To l’au-delà. J’ai rien. No cat. No more words.
I think I’m now entitled to call myself a member of The Lonely Crowd, as I have a story in the new issue (#8) of the Welsh-based print journal of that name, in the company of many prestigious writers.
I’m delighted to have had my story selected. It’s called The Wood has Ears, The Field has Eyes. It’s about something out-of -the-ordinary which happens in a small museum somewhere in Wales. If you want to know more you’ll have to buy the magazine – here’s the link.
If you buy it I won’t get any money personally, but you’ll be supporting indie publishing and enabling more writers to get published. As well as getting the work of over 30 poets and short story writers to read. I met some of them at a launch event in Swansea this week, where I read part of my story. And there’s a Cardiff launch on Wednesday next (15th November) – details here.
And while you’re here – pop over to my Stories page for a couple of new ones you can read online…