Flash Fiction: The House with the Blue Roof

The man of the moon lived at the end of a quiet street in a small cottage that had a curious thatched roof the colour of the sky on a clear spring day. A low fence overgrown with brambles enclosed a small front garden and larger backyard. Although the front garden of the cottage was immaculate, the back garden held a chicken coop with five hens, a large tabby cat (who enjoyed the taste of scrambled eggs more than a mouth full of feathers), a tangle of birch trees, shrubs, and a jumble of buckets and containers. These seemed to have little use, but the man of the moon refused to part with them, even though the neighbours complained and gave him stern, sidelong stares.

In the centre of the garden stood an oak tree that was much older than the cottage, the neighbourhood and even the whole of the long-lived town. It’s boughs stretched upward and outward to touch the birch leaves and form a shaded garden of dappled sunlight. The man of the moon looked after the oak tree day after day, even talking and singing to it during the bleak midwinter when everything seem to lose its colour. Then, on the nights when the moon had waxed fully and the silver light of the moonbeams struck the oak and birch trees, the man of the moon would be outside and clattering about with his containers and buckets well past midnight to the chagrin of his neighbours. Placing the containers just so to fill them with the dripping dew of the moonbeams could take the whole afternoon. Balanced on his rickety, silver-splashed ladder, the man of the moon would hang pails on some of the middle branches of the oak tree, adding more silver-splashed pails, buckets, and even glass jars beneath the trees in the garden where the dew would drip from the heavy summer leaves. By the time the sun finally set, the whole garden would be set aglow as the moonbeams gathered among the trees and the moonlight-filled, silver dew drip from the leaves into the waiting containers. As one container filled, he ran to empty it into the large water tanks that he kept in the corner of the garden, rushing back again, splashing through the silver dew to replace the receptacle before emptying the next filled container into one of the water tanks. So it would go on the whole night. Rushing from one jar to the next, from one bucket to a dangling pail that he deftly hooked and unhooked from the height of the old groaning ladder.

By morning his clothes and boots were as silver-splashed as the garden, but he would quickly close the water tanks before the sun rose and go scrub his face and hands while the jumble of containers settled noisily in their heap next to the water tanks.

By the time the first people up the street left their homes for the day, the garden with its oak and birch trees would look like any other; the moonlight dew faded to nothing but water that dripped-dripped onto the leaf-strewn ground below. The boots by the back door were no longer silver-splashed, but muddy, and even the tabby would have washed the last remnants of silver from its coat. She, of course, would be sitting by the front gate with such a look of malice and disdain for the people of the street that none would dare to come and bother her owner while he was trying to eat breakfast without falling asleep at the table.

It would be with new moon that the man of the moon’s next task would begin. This night, after all, was the best night to see where he painted the stars that would swirl, shine, and shimmer for the next month. The rig that he built to pump the moonlight dew from the water tanks to the roof was almost silent and he turned it on after everyone had headed inside for the day and he was left alone outside. Standing on the blue thatch, he took a large paintbrush from a bucket at his feet and ran his hand over the bristles to make sure that they weren’t clumped together. He dipped the brush into the container of silver at his feet and, with broad strokes of his arm, painted the light swirls of the Milky Way, stippling the stars of the sky and paint the constellations in place with a fine brush. By midnight the swirling night sky was alive with silver light again and he looked at his work with a smile. He headed back inside after taking down the light dew’s rig and climbed into bed dreaming of dancing silver swirls.

The Starry Night (1889) by Vincent van Gogh, Wikimedia Commons

This is the first story that I’ve written that will make up part of the collection titled Where the Stars Used to Sing.

Cover for Where the Stars Used to Sing (2020)

The COVID-19 Lockdown Chronicles — Day 1, 27 March 2020

Well, here we are on day 1 of the 21-day lockdown of South Africa because of COVID-19. It is also the day of the first two deaths from this illness. For a few weeks now, the inevitable creep of the illness and then arrival of the illness in South Africa has featured prominently on the news. On Monday evening (23 March) President Ramaphosa told us about the 21-day lockdown that started at 12am today.
Because I’ve still been at the office until Wednesday, I’ve seen the streets empty out day by day as the schools closed and offices closing one by one. On Wednesday I went to pick up my chronic meds — the first time that I’d been in a shop for almost 2 weeks — and the new security measures were quite a shock. I also had to venture out on Thursday morning for some human food and pet food before setting up for my first day working from home.

I’ve been trying to find words to write for the blog, but there just seem to not have been any. I’ve also been struggling with really bad panic attacks over the past few weeks. I can’t say my anxiety is suddenly a lot less now that I’m home, but I do feel safer because I’m not constantly surrounded by other people.
I’m hoping that I will be able to write my way through this strange time. I wrote a short piece yesterday, the first fiction I’ve written in a while (I’ve put it right at the end of the post). So I hope that that’s a good sign.
I also watched the video of Chris Fox that came out today (I’ve embedded it below) and find what he says to be very helpful.

I’m trying to keep my eye on as much positive content as possible instead of only focusing on COVID-19 stats. This includes some daily vlogs and my favourite podcasts, some of which I’ll share here in the days to come.
While one part of me is scared out of my skin at the thought of what could happen should the illness get into the informal settlements outside the large cities (not to mention rural areas where medical help is well… basically nonexistent) and I feel sick to my stomach, another part of me knows that this needs to be documented — even if it’s just for me to look back on. (The other part of me is probably trying not to throw up or have another panic attack.) I find focusing on one country’s plight at any one time is a bit less nausea-inducing that only looking at the world as a whole all the time.
So, in light of that, I’m going to try and blog here daily during the lockdown.

I’ll share the projects I’m busy with (you can probably expect a lot of stress crocheting and knitting!) as well as other content that I’ve found helpful.
Oh, and there will probably also be pictures of Sir Tristan the Wonder Cat, and the budgies Frodo and Samwise.

To everyone reading — keep safe and keep healthy! Until tomorrow.

The Woven Stars

The tower was older than the city. Much, much older. Where the city’s walls were of finely cut stone that was yet to show wear, lichen and moss covered the pockmarked, ancient grey stone of the tower.
A single door at the bottom of the tower had long ago been shut and locked so that it could never be unlocked until the world had wholly changed.
There was one window high in the tower. Some, if they squinted in just the right light, could see that a few of the panes had been shattered by storms during the long, long years.
Some even said that they saw a figure at the window at times and a faint light could be seen on the darkest nights.
She sat at the spinning wheel while the world went scurrying about beneath her window.
The wisps of straw that she spun into the finest of yarns and knotted into patterns were coloured by snatches of voices and music that drifted up from the city, by emotions that she remembered or still felt, by the birdsong and eagle cries and thunder and wind and rain and other nature sounds that drifted in through the broken window — blue, silver, and gold.
The dark clouds came without warning and, with it, a foul air that made people dash inside, locking their houses and peering in fear through the windows as a figure of pure midnight approached. Best Knitting Needles for Scarves/Shawls
There were no stars anymore, no moon, no night sky with wisps of silver clouds.
At last, the figure came to the door of the tower and hammered upon it.
She rose from where she had been kneeling and knotting the fine threads, went to the window, and pushed it open for the first time in a hundred years.
She peered down to the void the figure left.
“Think you won this time?” she called out to the figure with its strange face and long beak.
A laugh that seemed to emanate from the bowels of the earth shook the city.
“I have won. The darkness is complete.”
She stepped away from the window for a moment and then, with a flash of light, the threads she had woven and knotted fell from the window and rose with the winds, light as a feather, to cover the darkness of the night sky.
And the woven stars shone.

Flash Fiction: A Cup of Tea

I stare at the tea menu. Darjeeling or Assam? Perhaps white tea. Green tea. Oolong? I go back to the Darjeeling, then smile at the waitress and order. At least, I hope it was a smile and not a grimace. It’s difficult to smile when your heart is lying crushed in a box on the seat next to you. “You too?” a dishevelled-looking man with a shoe box under his arm asks me. I glance from his face to the shoe box and back, then nod.

To my relief, he shuffles to a table in the corner, carefully placing the box on the table. Then I catch my own reflection in the window, red-rimmed eyes partly blocked by the back-to-front letters of the tea shop’s name. The waitress returns to my table with my tea.

“You’ll need this one,” she says with a shy smile and an accent I can’t quite place. “On the house.”

I stare at the glass teapot and the flowers slowly opening on the bottom. Cream and red and green.

“It’s called Heart’s-ease,” the woman at the table next to me says, not taking her eyes from the flowers. “Supposed to be able to cure anything. I’ve only ever seen pictures of it.”

I pick up the old delivery box and open it. Inside is my stinging, half-beating heart, its cogs and wheels and pipes all scattered. No wonder my chest ached so. I take a small screwdriver and go to work, the tea’s healing aroma filling the air. I glance over at the waitress and smile.

Flash Fiction: The Souls of Trees

I wrote this one a few years ago, but I really want to return to this world for a short story…

The Souls of Trees

The buyers stared at the last of the acorns enclosed in the pen. Rising from each was a wispy, humanoid figure veiled in green light. They flickered as they danced to hidden music. Only the chosen could hear the music this far from the forest.
“Got them new from the forest just yesterday,” the tree-soul farmer said.
“They look…” one man began, teeth chattering. His words curled pure white in the air. The farmer struggled to read his lips.
“Sickly,” the second added.
“They become strong when planted,” the farmer said, opening the pen.

The figures danced around them to the music that charmed people into the woods with fairy lights, will-o’-the-wisps, and wilis that made you forget about a world beyond the forest. But the town needed their light to survive winter. They were hope.

“I’ll take this one.”
The farmer sent the fluttering figure sleep with a few words and wrapped the acorn in a cloth. He took the last acorn for himself and planted it in the corner of his room, where it flickered and danced and grew into a strong sapling. Where it lit the long dark of winter. Where it sang to him of spring every night until he fell asleep.

Micro Fiction: We sat on the bench outside the oncology ward

We sat on the bench outside the oncology ward. The sun was bright and the sky clear. Roses were blooming in the prayer garden. We laughed and talked as if we were carefree. You got up to go; left me behind with a hug goodbye. I waited until you were in your car before I said what I wanted to. “I love you,” I said and rubbed at the bruise the IV left on my chest.

This story first appeared on Paragraph Planet on 10 October 2019.

Flash Fiction: Beacon

Grandmother always told me that our light shop was a beacon that would one day lead all our loved ones back to us. The elderly and children were all who were left in the communities after the ships came and needed people to work for them. People left as their names were called one by one and one by one the lights in the shop were left to burn night and day.

I once asked what it meant when a bulb bursts. Grandma only said “be quiet” because we were with other people and you didn’t talk about the lights in public. It was our secret, she said.

Yesterday they called grandmother’s name.

Grandmother had shown me where the extra bulbs were kept in case I needed one and she wasn’t around. So I lit a new bulb for her this morning and stayed to stare at the lights; waiting for those who had been called away to return.

Flash Fiction: And the Shadows Danced

I wrote “And the Shadows Danced” a while ago, forgot about it, and found it again while sorting out some files. I would actually like to write another story in this world…

And the Shadows Danced

The fire dancers were preparing for the midsummer feast on the beach. Most were by now stripped to their waists in the gathering twilight. Shallow fire pits adorned the beach of fine, white sand beyond the reach of the waves. The pits were arranged in gleaming bands radiating from the centre platform where the dancers were. If the stars were to look down they would see a second sun burning upon the earth itself, drowning out the fickle light of the moon.
As the sun set and its fires died upon the waves, the drummers started to beat out a rhythm for the dancers.

Magicians of great power, the dancers were a chosen few who could control the elements. With the control of fire you could lay your enemies waste, but you could also make the heavens cry for the beauty of the fire dance.
The five dancers gathered in the centre of the platform started moving to the beat. Their feet stamped faster and faster to the beat of the midsummer dance and then, when the music reached its crescendo, the fire joined them in the dance. Flames sprouted from the pits, some high, some low, some burning red, others nearly blue. All in a pattern that followed the dance and the movements of the dancers.
The people standing on the dunes cheered. Some shuffled where they stood, clapping their hands to the tune of the drums. From where they stood they could only see part of the pattern, but the rain dancers would be able to see the whole sun medallion from the high cliff where they were ready to call forth the clouds for the midsummer rain.

Inanna stood between the cliff and the dunes. Her hair was blowing in the wind and when she closed her eyes she imagined that she could feel each strand moving in its own little dance. The light grey smoke of the fires curled high into the sky as the fires burned hotter and faster with each passing minute of the dance. She stretched out her arms. This was her moment to show off her own talent.
She screwed up her eyes and concentrated on the smoke. Gathering it. Twisting it until it was like clay in her hands. The dance stopped, as did the drums. Only now people looked up into the sky.
Inanna pulled sparks from the fires and sent them swirling into the smoke, creating the shadowed outline of men and horses. Galloping between them, and then downward to the platform – so that the dancers scattered – came the legendary hero Milkilu on his horse. The rest of the scene slowly faded until only his shadow figure remained.
The people were stricken dumb in awe and wonder. The figure of Milkilu threw his arms in the air and a banner unfurled from the spear he was holding. Inanna dragged sparks onto the banner to form a miniature of the sun medallion still burning on the beach.

People gasped with delight and some cheered, looking around to see who it was that was doing the conjuring. But Inanna dispersed the smoke, letting it drift up into the night sky and the waiting rain clouds.
And it started to rain.

But the next year the rain did not come. Neither did it come the year thereafter and the people stopped believing in the magicians’ powers. Too soon the magicians themselves stopped believing. The midsummer and midwinter dances stopped. Soon all the dances stopped. And yet the sun kept on rising and the stars kept shining. And the fickle moon kept on waxing and waning.
Their enemies, hearing that the magicians were no longer and how almost all had been run from the lands, came to take the fertile tracts of land and the great stone city for themselves. And the people cursed the magicians who had failed them and who had left them when they most needed them as the great city was burnt and laid waste.

It was twelve long years before adequate rain started to fall once more. Though some of the elderly who had survived the severe drought remembered the magicians and wished that they would return, most had set all such thoughts behind them through the long years of suffering, thirst, hunger, and death.

With renewed fervour, the people fought their enemies and slowly regained their city and burnt what had been rebuilt before they again started to rebuild the city from the ashes of the previous. Soon a kind of normalcy returned to the land.
The fairy tales of fire dancers and magicians that could make it rain slowly died out with the elderly and the magicians who, in their new identities as simple citizens, slowly passed on to the next life. But there were some who still remembered.

Inanna sat by the fire in the inn’s common room. Around her most were drunk, but a few still had their wits about them enough to call for a story from the old wizard. She listened to them talking about the great battles and the great victories she remembered quite differently. She listened to the forgotten sorrow replaced with faded memories. And she conjured from the sparks the sun medallion she had seen so many years ago.

“It was midsummer,” she said, moving her hands and the smoke obeyed her, casting shadows and filling all with wonder. “And all the fire dancers were ready to dance just as the sun died upon the waves of the ocean.” From the sparks she conjured the dancers, swirling and stamping their feet, jumping into the sky against a background of smoke rippling like water. “It was the happiest night of my life,” she whispered. Her hands moved slower and the conjuring unravelled as fatigue overtook her. Slowly she fell asleep to the voices of those few elders who remembered the old festival, the drums, the dancers, and those tiny honey-scented sweetmeats they all use to have as children. In her dreams, the shadows came alive and danced.

Getting Back Into the Swing of Things

It actually feels great to be getting back into the swing of things, especially writing-wise.

Though I can feel the remnants of the anaemia still, I am doing so much better. And writing at a proper pace again, which is — to say the least — awesome.

The one thing I do like about warmer weather is the longer days. Indeed, it’s getting much easier to get up earlier (or at least get out of bed earlier and not sit and read, thinking that it’s a lot earlier than it actually is!).

This, in turn, means that I get to work much earlier, leaving myself time to write before I start on emails and all the rest.

On Flash Fiction and Short Stories

Good news! Last week, my story “The whispers of forgotten phone calls” was published on Paragraph Planet (be sure to check them out, they have new fiction every day!) and I’m also very close to being done with “The White Road to Cremation”.

“White Road” is another flash piece that I got inspiration for when I read “the white rose and carnation” wrong. It was really small print on the screen, ok? Ha!

It’s set in a secondary world of some sort, and I think I may have also taken some inspiration from Porselein for it. Porselein, by the way, is still coming, I just want to get The Ruon Chronicles’s Knowledge Stones and Grove of Graves done first.

I think if I’m going to try and write in too many secondary worlds at once, my head’s going to implode in any case! It seems that I work better when busy with one big project at a time and just adding little projects like flash fiction or short stories to it. Otherwise it’s kind of like me trying to juggle a whole lot of burning torches — not a good idea.

What I’m Reading At the Moment

I’ve also grabbed some new — or newish — books to read or finish reading. (But, I’ll admit it, I usually forget to update Goodreads when I start or finish a book.)

Anyway, one book which I’ve finished is The Story Solution: Re-Write Your Life* by Sean M. Platt and Johnny Truant. It’s copyrighted 2018, but I’ve actually only glanced at it while on Kindle or Kobo until a few weeks ago.

I’ll do a proper review of the book probably next week, but, in short, I really enjoyed it and it came at a very good time in my life as well. (Not to mention being an affordable little volume, cough-cough.)

The book that I’m currently busy reading is The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface*, by Donald Maass. I’d bought it a while ago already, actually, but have only read the beginning up until now. The “problem” is that the book is so dense (in a good way)  and has so many wonderful exercises, that you want to savour every page!

Once you start reading, though, the pages just fly by. I’ll also do a proper review of this book once I’ve finished it.

*Both Story Solution and The Emotional Craft of Fiction were bought by myself on KOBO and Kindle.

What Writing This Week Holds

This week I’ll be working on finishing up “The White Road to Cremation” as well as a few Medium articles. Over the weekend I’ll then focus on Knowledge Stones and all things Ruon Chronicles. There is also an outline that I want to do for a new Speculative Grammarian essay. Mwahahaha!

To read my other Medium articles, you can click here.

Flash Fiction: The whispers of forgotten phone calls

The whispers of forgotten phone calls made his skin crawl as he unloaded the last telephone box. He looked around the phone box graveyard. Many felt that some needed to be preserved. He pressed his hand against one of the boxes, remembering all the times he’d used them. His cell rang and he answered, climbing back into his truck. “Goodbye,” came a whisper from the box, followed by the sound of a phone hanging up.

“The Whispers of forgotten phone calls” was published on Paragraph Planet on 19 September 2019!

Behind the Fiction: White Horses

If you missed the flash fiction story “White Horses” last week, you can read it below before I get to what happened behind the scenes while writing it.

White Horses

Lenie gazed at the waves and imagined Adriaan beside her. In one hand she grasped her hair, broken red strands caught on her wedding ring. In the other she clutched a gold locket her mother found after a tempest ripped apart a merchant ship.

She wanted to believe in happy endings. Like her Adriaan who would become a doctor after almost dying in a shipwreck as a child. Like the tall man on a horse riding into the waves to free those drowning amidst a wreck in rolling waves while clouds poured like devil’s smoke down the mountains.

But other endings also needed remembering.

Like those who nursed broken survivors while the rider grew weary and floundered unseen.

Like brine stinging mortal wounds.

Like shallow graves in fine sand.

Like a body never recovered.

Like those once saved returning to the sea.

Like a figure trapped on horseback dragging Adriaan’s ship beneath the waves.

Behind the Fiction

This flash fiction story was written a few years ago, actually, as part of one of the weekly flash fiction competitions. The photo prompt that week was John William Waterhouse’s artwork “Miranda – The Tempest”.

‘Miranda” by John William Waterhouse (Wikicommons)

While it depicts a scene from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, I decided to do a story closer to home, set on the South African coast. (It was only later that I read the wonderful Caliban’s Shore by Stephen Taylor, about the sinking of the Grosvenor off the coast of South Africa in 1783.) 

Initially I’d wanted to include The Flying Dutchman in some way. Unsure as to what to do with it that didn’t smack of Pirates of the Caribbean, I just started writing, figuring that I would just see what happens.

It ended up being one of those stories that just plonks itself down on the page in one go. As soon as I started writing, the figure of Wolraad Woltemade seemed an apt real-life event to steal from.

Wolraad Woltemade, with the sinking of the ship De Jonge Thomas in 1773, actually did ride his horse into the waves eight times to rescue a total of 14 men before both he and his horse drowned when too many of the doomed sailors tried to hold onto him and his horse.

‘Wolraad Woltemade” (Wikicommons)

As my brain usually does, it couldn’t just write a normal story and it turned into a ghost story after all, just not with The Flying Dutchman! How much more creepy, I thought, if the rider in this world ended up as a ghostly figure that made ships sink. And voilá.

I ended up also tipping my hat to the legend of the Devil and Van Hunks having a smoking competition on top of Table Mountain (and causing the clouds — or then smoke — to cover the top of the mountain).

The idea for the gold locket that’s found after a shipwreck came from Kringe in ‘n bos (available in translation as Circles in a Forest) by Dalene Matthee (read it!) in which there is mention of one of the woodcutter families having a porcelain cup that they picked up on the beach after a ship sank and its cargo washed up on shore. I’m actually not sure why that specific detail of the book stayed with me some 10 years after first reading it. And now I find the need to read some of Dalene Matthee’s books again and return to the Knysna Forest…

 I’ll admit that my fiction is usually such a concoction of stuff in my brain that I hardly know where it comes from. And then, sometimes, there are those stories that you seem to start with one idea and then end up adding some Easter eggs for yourself!