Monday, 28 April 2014

Songbird (Angry Hourglass)


No one has heard her sing.  The years have passed without incidence.  She occupies an elevated station at the palace, behind gold bars, as opposed to the usual gilded gilt, cage above even the emperor’s throne.  Honoured, yet bound by the limits of the metallic enclosure.  Needed.  Heeded in spite of her silence.  Because of.

Her plumage holds myriad colours within its depths.  It shimmers when the sun shines.  They visit her then in their tens, hundreds, in humble homage to her beauty.  Still, they hope not to hear her sing.  She is preferable in the safety of silence.  The community touch a hand to the constructs of the coup; press a finger to their lips and reach towards her or place a penny in the wooden box for offerings.  Pray that their time will pass without occurrence.  Only she knows, can tell them.  They hope never to hear.

She watches as they pass to and fro before her, about their business, in the world outside her walls.  Flits from side to side, wing span stretched to its confined capacity.  Fleeting flight.

It begins without warning, the volume muted; a few notes, followed by a trill, before she bursts into song.  Those nearby freeze fast, as they catch hold of the chorus; hear the refrain.  They know what it means.

Word travels by mouth, as she conveys her message lacking language, understood perfectly by those who have always known what it pertains.  She will not stop now; not until the end.

Within hours they set her free.  No need now to keep her caged, as they hear the strains she sings.  As her song takes flight, they gather about her, pauper, peasant, privileged alike.  People sit cross legged, hold the smaller ones in their laps.  Find spaces on the polished parquet where they can.  The floor fills fast.  They are one now, unified in their reception.   

No one knows how long it is before she ceases to sing; falls mute.  The notes have held them fast amongst them – her boon before the inevitable.  Now, her wings spread wide and she is airborne.  They watch her leave in silence.  They wait. 


Another piece for The Angry Hourglass "Flash Frenzy" Challenge (Round 17).  I started thinking about birds in the context of canaries, which led to the above..

Sunday, 27 April 2014

A Friendly Face (HorrorBites)

Image courtesy of - Horror-Bites Challenge 3)

A Friendly Face

Peyton catches sight of her; watching, from the other side of the glass.  Her image sister; features familiar, even in reversal.  They smile at each other – a welcome and greeting.  She is gone by the time she reaches her destination; glimpse and gone.  Still, they have seen one another now.  Introduced themselves. 

Peyton spots her again the next day – following, tracking, as she walks the pavement in the sun, alongside the series of shop windows.  They keep pace with one another.  Peyton cannot resist a casual wave.  Sees the hand raised to her right in reflection.

She is there now, wherever Peyton looks.  Unsurprising, given she cannot resist looking, now she knows she is there.  Her second shadow.

Peyton thinks she imagines it as the days pass but finds herself pondering whether the outline is more distinct as it travels with her, across mirror, water, glass; shining surface.  The expression stays with her, though she seeks to leave it behind.  Eyes watching, ever.  They follow her movements.  She wants to shut them out.  Impossible.

They face each other instead, the silica partition the only divide between them.  Peyton knows now where this leads.  The double feature pupils, left where right should be, tell her so.  They are without compassion; compelling her to understand they are competitors now.  Pretence of friendship abandoned.

She wants to win.  She wants to cross over.  To trade off.  To perform the switch.  The problem being, Peyton doesn’t know how to stop her.  To do that, she has to stop seeing.  Stop looking.  Into the face of the reflection which has no intention of abandoning her.  Peyton wonders how long she will last.

(277 words)


Another flash fiction piece for the "Horror-Bites" challenge.

Food For Thought (VisDare)

Photo Source (via VisDare-58)

Food For Thought

Watching and waiting.  Bored now, at the end, ignored and unseen.  They haven’t even filled my glass.  The table stretches away from me, each seat occupied by an adult body, dressed to the nines.  It strikes me as funny in the circumstances; the suits for fine dining; necklaces and rings for the women.  Their heads are down; forks in hand, as they trough.  Mouths filled, time and again.  Again.  No time for talk; food the only fuel for the evening.  The movements are mechanical, as they shovel it down; picking up the pace.  Where once they took care; morsels concealed behind clamped teeth, now remnants escape.  Liquid dribbled down chins, no napkin to take care of it.  Table manners disregarded; forgotten.  Mine are much better and I haven’t even got a plate to demonstrate.  Their worship continues.  I wonder when they will realise they can’t seem to stop.  If, even.

(150 words)


This week's word prompt was "ennui".

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Voodoo Hoodoo (HorrorBites)

Photo Image courtesy of Office (Horror Bites Flash Fiction Challenge-2

Voodoo Hoodoo

The pins and paper lay scattered about her on the wooden worktop, latent trouble stored in their sharpened edges.  The doll’s carelessly splayed limbs mocked her, though the fabric face remained expressionless.  No eyes, no mouth to speak of.  Still, Jade could hear the voice.  Do this and disturb the balance.  Nothing she didn’t already know, practised practitioner of loa.  Unfortunately, now, she knew too much.  She would command; compel; complete the curse.   

The circle was ready, rosewater and salt surrounding it, little though it would do.  Jade coated her fingers in clay, splaying it across the petite poppet, transferring it from herself to the hair filled figurine.  Time.  It would represent her, before she was finished.  The one.

Jade took the tiny pot of red varnish. Dots for eyes.  Ole rouje.  Rage red; scarlet passion – shades chosen with care, for both name and inference.  Hers.  Colours scarcely used, not easily missed, taken over a number of weeks.  Planning and precision.

A dash of perfume at the neck and wrists.  Kohl pupil in the eye, left and right.  Jade wrote the name, the vengeance, down.  She had the words by heart, as she – the One – had held his in her grasp for months, had Jade but known it.  Poppet became mummy, as she wound paper bindings about the body, hiding its mocking gaze from view.  Not so triumphant now.  Her time.

Jade drove the pin right through the bandaged doll, fastening the photo to it and it, in turn, to the bench beneath.  No escape.  Her time now.  She lit the flame, the candle’s flickering wick contrasting with the midnight wax.  The sharp scent of lemongrass mixed with the musk of perfume, left by the ritual coating of the poppet.

There was only room for one queen in this neighbourhood.

(300 words)


A new fortnightly flash fiction challenge I came across during my internet travels.  This one is a horror based flash fiction photo prompt challenge which aims to encourage writers to share their horror tales.  The challenge is to try to scare (a little!) or create "a little bit of darkness".  The word count is 200-300 words. 

This is what I came up with, inspired by Louisiana voodoo and a little poetic licence.  Strictly speaking, Louisiana voodoo involves dolls, not poppets, as I understand it.  Generally also the voodoo doll would be used positively, as opposed to negatively, to curse.  This being a horror story, however, I took things in the alternative direction...

Centre (MWBB)

Today’s the day.  I see you in the distance, in my mind’s eye.  Centre.  We’re near, though still at a distance.  Left of Centre.  Great name for it, incidentally.  Guess they couldn’t come up with anything better.  That, or simply ego.  Centre must be – and is – central to everything and all that.  Truthfully, I suspect they had other priorities in the aftermath.  As They would.  You wouldn’t know, unfortunately.  Not now.  You certainly didn’t then.  I tried to convince you but you were stubborn.  Had to have it your own way, for all the good it did you.  So now you’re stuck there, me out here.  Separated by time, space and a god awful row, built up by pressure and circumstance. 

Though I want to, I can’t take the words back.  They’re out there, freer than you are.  Now.  For me to regret, at least.  I would recant them if I could, though you won’t recall them.  Not now.  Not at the centre of Centre, right in the hub.  Now it’s up to me to sort things.  To try to get you out by getting in.  Crazy idea, really, though I feel I owe it – not just to you – to try.  You’d laugh if you knew.  About the suggestion of kamikaze behaviour; being one of the revolutionaries.  We’re outlawed for what we did - simply by leaving, for failing to submit to testing; for product processing.  Terrorists.  If caught, what they’ll do to us is worse than what they’ve done to you.  Worse still, if we fail, you won’t even know it; safely slumbering mind hive, deep amidst the grounds of Centre.

I wish I’d tried harder, to get you to leave.  It got too late to convince you.  You didn’t believe - the rumours, a casual whispered word here and there.  Too casual to carry weight, for you.  I heard; I listened.  I ran, to stay safe.  For the chance to stay awake, not to be drugged and dumbed down; to sink into silence.  That subtly induced sleep.

They said it was about species survival; ensuring we came through things safely.  Thus - the trials and testing.  Coma subjects for comparison.  At the end, whenever that was.  Who knew.  No-one ever said where the “they” had found out from – or who they were.  Perhaps the chain of whispers was its own protection.  For the “them”.  For us.  We had realised there were disappearances, of course.  Officially, people had simply had enough; gone over the community walls, to seek new life.  Though no-one knew what lay beyond Centre.  Not really.  Not now.  Nor whether it was actually possible to leave.  We knew no-one who’d tried.  Just what was said.

It was a sheltered existence post-Breakdown in Centre.  The scavengers brought food; the committee took control.  There were few questions.  Sustenance and shelter bought grateful goodwill.  From most.  I kept quiet.  You didn’t comment.  The non-conversation lay between us.  I knew.  One too many coincidental “disappearances”.  You disregarded.  Until the day.  The day They came.  For me.  For us.  Our turn.

We had some warning.  Not much.  The “them” sent word through whisper.  I moved, straight off.  My family; friends too.  You took the time to hesitate.  Too much, with too little left to us.  Harsh words, spoken in haste, whilst seeking to persuade.  I remember.  You don’t.  I hate that you don’t.

Still, they tell me there is hope, those whispers.  Their networks run outside, through secret means.  The who and how scarcely matters.  You are there - deep at the heart of Centre, where my thoughts stray most.  Waiting, though you don’t know it; can’t see it.  Not your turn.  Not yet.  Not ever, if I am able.  If we are lucky, though it will take much more than that.

We plan here, left of Centre.  We’ll find a way to break you out somehow.  To do that, we’re breaking in.  Aiming right for the heart of Centre.  To break the systems down; to wake the sleepers.   To grant the choice to take a chance on what lies left or right of Centre.  The outside.  The unknown. 

Now.  Today’s the day.  We are coming.  Towards the heart of Centre.


Another piece for Mid-Week Blues-Buster (Week 2-5) - this week's prompt was Suzanne Vega's "Left of Center".  This turned into a dystopian closed community-type tale...

Edit to add - this placed second for this week's challenge

Friday, 18 April 2014

Time Ticks (VisDare)

Photo Source (via VisDare-57)

Time Ticks

Time is running.  Out.  That’s the challenge, Hallie knows.  The djinn cheers from below – mocking; miniscule in proportion from her height, arms stretched above, taking the strain.  The rope is hard; unyielding between her fingers.  Has created callouses and burns on her palms already.  She slid down more than once, before she got the knack.  Precious seconds wasted, never to return.  Tock post tick.  The premise is simple – the escape hatch above.  Glass without ceiling – an irony not lost on her; unattainable as it may be.  Hallie has yet to near it.  Onwards.  Upwards.  Reaching with rhythm, hand over hand.  Seems so simple, save for that little detail.  The one left unspoken.  The flames flicker brightly; catch her eye cast upwards, as they burn through the hessian.  Anyone’s guess how long before it breaks.  Before the inevitable fall.  Hallie hurries, hand over hand over hand.  It’s a long way down.


Another VisDare challenge.  The word prompt this week was "escape". 

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Dog Eat Dog (Flash Frenzy)

Photo by Ashwin Rao (via The Angry Hourglass Round 15)

Dog Eat Dog

The streets are silent as his paws trot, searching for amblers to befriend.  He is lonely again.  Wants to play.  He makes friends easily, given half a chance – a brief grin and deal done, if he’s lucky.  Though there are fewer bodies out and about than there used to be.  The parks and open spaces are empty, unoccupied, in the fading light.  Sign of the times.  Dinner time now, which might explain things.  His jaws are salivating with the thought, lolling tongue dripping.  Fresh meat!  He is hungry too; needs a friend to help him out, for the night.  Tomorrow he can try someone else.  That’s the deal.  How it works.  His routine is practised now, having run it through once or twice.  Maybe a couple more times than that, truth to tell.

He does it when he needs to.  If he needs to.  He needs to a lot.  The only way to keep from stringy and starving.  He looks for the young ‘uns.  That’s what he needs.  The younger the better.  The older ones are hard – made so by their experiences; times passing.  Brittle.  Unyielding.  No good to him or for him.  He knows that.  Those he steers clear of.  They mostly ignore him, anyway, non-receptive to his gambolling and grimaces.  Sometimes they group together; something he skirts warily.  Outnumbered means captured.  He likes giving them the run around.  Has no desire to give it up.  Not now.  Not ever.  Stay several steps ahead, that’s the plan!   

He looks for slow shufflers; those he can catch up to.  The guaranteed meal.  They are the ones he can use his grin on.  Sticks to known pathways; clear entrances and exits.  Avoids the back alleys and housing; it smells strange there.  Off.

It is hard to track how long has passed since the beginning.  The thing which brought them down.  The people; his previous owners.  They lay everywhere, for a while.  Didn’t want to play; before they rose.   No desire to then, either.  None, save to feed.  Two can play at that though.  They taste good enough, the young ‘uns.  At least, he’s suffered no ill effects he knows of yet. 

(360 words)


Another piece of flash fiction written for The Angry Hourglass "Flash Frenzy" flash fiction challenge.  The photo prompt is shown above.  This one became a post apocalyptic take on zombies and flesh eating dogs from a fairly innocuous looking photo...  Clue in the title, maybe! ;)

Hostale Takeover (VisDare)

Photo Source (via the VisDare challenge)

Hostale Takeover

The signs were subtle, at first.  Until Theo looked closely.  That was when she saw.  The charcoal claws pointing away from and emerging from the wooden framework of the door.  She put a finger to them, scratching back and forth.  No change.  Wetting a tip slightly, she tried again.  Still nothing.  At first, she dismissed it as a random quirk; the interplay of light with shadow.  She knew even then she could not convince herself; completely or at all.  Still, she slept, which had been her aim.  The morning after, the paws reaching forth were longer.  Marginally.  Curled forwards, with direction.  Theo shivered.  She thought she knew where they came from now.  Crossing to the bookshelves, she flicked through the selected hefty volume.  Sure enough, she spotted space amongst the typescript of the tale.  The tail was coming.  Following the fur and fangs.  Focused fiction.  One aim.  Capture and corner.

(150 words)


Deliberate typo in the title, which hopefully makes sense once you've read the story.  The word prompt for this week was "cornered".

Saturday, 12 April 2014

The Calling (Flash! Friday)

Photo - Mill Creek Watershed 1949.  Public domain photo by Helmut Buechner (via Flash! Friday Vol 2-18)

The Calling

It is blinding; the light around her.  Brilliant white cushioning she struggles through, clogging her feet.  Kate knows she must be there.  Somewhere.  The reason is buried deep beneath the sludge.  She may find it before the end.

They call her home. She hears them, in the distance; knows she has strayed from her path.  Distracted by crystal facets; the graupel reflective of the world she knows   A myriad spectrum filling her vision – symmetry she must battle through.  She is late.  She knows it.  They tell her, in whispers.

Kate is saturated by it.  Precipitation clings to her; weighting her down.  Snow seeking to weld her to the floor; molecules attempting supercooling anew.  She must not form their nucleus.  Must break through the intricate barrier.  Beyond.

They need her.  Want her.  Her name.  Her summons.  She longs to answer.

The clusters break momentarily.  Kate strikes forth; wanderer with purpose.  Compass set.  Their love her guide.  Belatedly safe from threatening storm.

(160 words)


Did a bit of research for this one on snowflakes to keep the terminology (hopefully!) accurate.  Whilst it's deliberately a little ambiguous, I'd envisaged a scenario involving a bed ridden patient (whether by coma, illness or close to death, is subject to your own interpretation or spin on things) being talked to by her family.  In this instance, she hears their voices... 

The photo prompt is shown above.  The word prompt involved a missed appointment.  I interpreted that obliquely in my reference to Kate as being "late" in her return to consciousness.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Bite (MWBB)

I need to leave her.  Before it’s too late.  Perhaps it already is.  Perhaps I know that, really.  Heather was gone tonight when I woke, darkness surrounding me.  Pitch.  I reached for her and she wasn’t there - the sheets which should have held her warmth cold, no dint indicating she had been there recently.  We fell asleep together, curled around each other, my hand caressing the puckered scab at her shoulder – the ridges already healing; indentations becoming less distinct.  Somehow, she has managed to move from me; to evade any conversation over why she strolls the night.  A new burgeoning, burning light behind her eyes.  Signalling the inevitable.  What will come.  The becoming.  Beckoning heat.  Neither of us has managed to say the words.  Not yet.  Not until the inevitable.  Until it falls apart.  Maybe not even then.

I remember the night too well.  The one which matters most.  To us.  She stumbled through the door, hair tangled about her shoulders, clumped with dirt, leaves; remnants of congealed blood.  Jacket lost, top frayed.  God alone knew how she had made it home that way.  Her fingers left smudge marks against the wood and wallpaper; streaks of mud, mixed with the aftermath of what had gone before.

“It’s not as bad as it looks,” she said.  Still, she refused to meet my eyes.  That told me enough.  “They just grazed the skin.  Hardly anything, really.”

“What? They? What?”  The words refused to collate; to form solid sentences.  “I – what?”

“The teeth.”  Her lips quivered slightly, unshed tears beneath her lids.  “Should have just phoned a taxi, I guess.  Stupid.”  There was a brief lift beneath the words before the slump.  Literal and figurative, as Heather used the wall as her prop.  The paper would need replacing – sooner rather than later, if it wasn’t to act as reminder.  I would see to it, I told myself.  Without fuss. 

“I heard it coming.”  A tremble in her voice.  “I wish I hadn’t.”

I thought that was the worst.  Then.  Now I know better.

It crept upon us slowly.  The realisation.  That there would be consequences.  Darkness made her restless.  She tossed and turned a lot.  To be expected.  Her temperature ran high – not dangerously so.  The GP administered injections to prevent against lingering infection, the fear of fever.  We thought that the end of things, save for the delicate ridged scar gracing her shoulder.  The preternaturally quick to heal, lasting reminder.

Night taught us better, as insomnia gave way to wilful wandering.  Too little, way too late.  Nothing could have prevented it.  I think I knew that first night; knew without knowing.  The moon’s crescendo towards apex.  Waxing.  Could scarcely fail to notice the night Heather came home, the cool of after hours amongst her locks, the taste of copper on her lips as I kissed her a welcome.  Reddened by something over than natural high colour, though that was there too.  Heightened above normality.  Heat in her gaze; amber in her eye, once chocolate in colour.  I purposefully forgot copper that night; concentrated instead on amber and gold.

Try as I might, I should have – must have – realised matters would reach their climax.  Moon full, white above, no avoiding the merciless light.  Her gaze burns through me, fever pitch, on her return.  Flames fanned by whatever went before.  Tonight I see the evidence stained across the white enamel of her teeth, cherry red matching grin accompanying it.  Breath rich with the scent of others.  Information I did not need access to. 

No more avoiding.  Secrets will out, one way or another – especially those which have been open for a while.  Tonight they may consume us.   Or one will be consumed.   

Even seeing her this way, it’s hard not to want what we had; what went before the now.   I feel myself falling, plunging deep towards the dark.  Pull myself back from the brink.  Barely.  I know her name.  Sadly, much as I try to delude myself, it’s no longer Heather.  It is the other.

We face off.  Now’s the time.  Fight or flight.  Focused versus fearful.  Predator.  Prey.  Now.  Teeth reach towards me, to administer a final lover’s caress.  To bite.


Another Mid-Week-Blues-Buster piece.  This one uses Tito & Tarantula's "After Dark" as it's inspiration.  It came in second place for the week's challenge, which I hadn't really expected and made a nice surprise. :)

Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Day The Puppets Danced (Flash Frenzy)

Photo Source - TheShakes72 via The Angry Hourglass Flash Frenzy challenge

The Day The Puppets Danced

Yeye tinkered.  It wasn’t a serious addiction, as far as we, the family, could tell.  Until it was.  We had gotten used to his new-fangled “devices”.  Sometimes they even came in useful.  With time’s passing, they grew more intricate.  Diagrams of increasing complexity on scraps strung about the house; scrawls captured late at night.  They made sense to him, at least.  It wasn’t until the plans which reinvented, yet simplified, looming that the province – and, indeed, those closest to him – looked less than askance and with something gravitating towards respect at our introverted elder.  He relied on his gadgets to speak for themselves, continuing to vary and experiment.  We presumed he knew to what end.  Knew better now than to interfere.  Yeye would come to his conclusions in his own time.  Practically.

Even so, the commission surprised us.  That the Emperor should make such a request.  Questioned whether it could be done.  Yeye seemed unfazed, as far we could tell for someone of so few words.  At least, there was no change in his expression on surveying the request.  Perhaps he saw it as one more challenge.  Certainly, there would be no refusal.  He would take on the task.  To make the puppets dance.

It was known to all that the Emperor had a theatre of puppets; motionless, frozen in place, scene by scene.  What he demanded was simple in concept, complex in potential execution.  He demanded to know if they could be made to move.  He wished for the ingenious.  To see them dance.  The wish took wings amongst the populace.  Then, all waited to see if Yeye completed the command.

We, his family, watched with wondering eyes, as wood was fashioned into horizontal rotating wheel powered by, as far as we could detect, unseen water.  Thus dawned the day the puppets danced.  Amongst the array of figures, a flautist accompanied a full choir, as others danced in time.  Men beat drums behind them, whilst government officials went about their business in alternate scenes.  A myriad of differing variations, with all in constant motion.  We danced with them in delight, scarcely able to help ourselves.  The Emperor simply smiled.

(360 words)


This one owes its origins to the Chinese mechanical engineer Ma Jun who really did use a water wheel to power and operate a large mechanical puppet theatre for the Emperor Ming of Wei - and, of course, the picture prompt courtesy of @TheShakes72 credited above! 

Friday, 4 April 2014

Relics (VisDare)

Photo Source (via the VisDare challenge)


They all knew the story; wanted to beat the odds.  Earn a relic of their own.  The ultimate prize.  Honour’s older sister already had hers – and didn’t she just know about it already!  It wasn’t worth trying to cheat and swing things her way by asking how she’d done it.  That would go down in infamy – forever.  It looked so easy – reaching the key.  All you had to do was reach into the effigy’s body cavity.  In theory.  Some had tried.  Some had lost a finger doing so.  Others a hand.  You just never knew what would happen until you tried.  Honour was understandably reticent.  She spent time studying her.  Mother; maiden.  Grey cloaked crone.  Seeking to understand her.  Perhaps to understand herself.  To find that metaphorical key.  She lost track of the hours.  Finally, the day she had it.  The day the effigy smiled infinitesimally.  Honour reached out, forwards…


The word prompt this week was "protective".  I think my take on this was implied, as opposed to overt.  This seems to be set in an alternate universe where relics are prized above a number of other things.  Interesting concept...

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Non-Covert Experiments (VisDare)

Photo Source (via VisDare)

Non-Covert Experiments

Alexander hurried along, hat pulled low across his brow – ostensibly as cover against the driving wind and snow.  In reality, to hide his consternation.  It had all gone wrong; horribly, badly so.  How could he have miscalculated so critically?  So horrifically.  He blamed himself, despite the informed consent.  Had they really foreseen this kind of consequence?  The silk brim covered his eyes and yet he could not stop himself seeing it, again.  Imprinted behind his eyes, on his mind.  Guilt enforced, indelibly.  Marked upon him, as she was now scarred by the searing heat from the misadventure.  Blown gasket, full force steam, escaped from pumping pistons.  He had heard the scream.  Too late, too late!  Careful checks and balances, so wrongly weighed.  A minor miscalculation, in theory.  The practice, so different. 

They were to change the ways of the world with their invention.  Instead, he had simply changed hers.  Incontrovertibly.  


This week's word was "covert".  As ever, I switched this up.  Steampunk - sort of.  Possibly a longer story here, all things considered.  Research involved trawling the internet archives for Victoriana, top hat materials and timelines for advances in steam invention and scientific theory.  Plus - suitable names for Victorian males.  Quite a lot for such a short piece and far too much to fit into 150 words!