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!

Where I Disappeared To, Medium Articles, and Fiction

So, I got booked off work for two weeks… Turns out that, without realising it, I’d spiralled down into a depressive episode during the past few months.

As Murphy’s Law would have it, I only really realised that it was depression and not just being tired when I almost hit rock bottom. Oops.

The good news is that I’m feeling better now after some rest and a change to my meds. More good news is that my brain seems to be working again and I feel more creative than I was feeling in some time. Yay!

In other news, I’ve added to my Medium articles one entitled “When You Need a Break Because Of Depression and Burnout” (wonder where I got that idea from…). Here’s an excerpt as well.

When You Need a Break Because Of Depression and Burn-out

A Perfect Storm

I see my psychologist, walking to the office with limbs so heavy I feel like I’m barely moving. It’s tears from the moment she asks me how I’ve been.

I see a GP. Spend the night at my sister’s place. I see my psychiatrist, who manages to squeeze me in between two other patients’ appointments.

My body and mind are drained. I’m burnt-out. Deep in a depressive episode. Anaemic to top it off.

I am booked off from work. My meds are changed slightly.

Other Medium Articles

What you can read at the moment, though, is my articles and pieces on Medium!

The pieces at the moment are two creative non-fiction essays and a writing productivity article. The first of the essays can also be read here on the blog: A Green House and Sweet Peas.

“Offering Tea to a Stranger”, which is the second essay, was actually written on 24 August in one go after an event that happened on that Friday. I really just couldn’t shake it off.

Here is the first part of “Offering Tea to a Stranger”:

“I hate shopping. Not so much the act of buying food, but the number of people at the local shops (which is what you get when you live in an enormous city, I guess). See, I get panic attacks — and, boy, do they like showing up when there are too many people and too much noise.

Last Friday, however, when going to the local supermarket, I saw a woman who must be in her seventies, walk down one of the isles. Tinted sunglasses hid half her face. Her crutch was balanced in the shopping trolley, her hands shaking slightly as she slowly walked towards me.

I got out of the way to let her pass, hearing a soft ‘thanks, dear’ as she moved past me. She went to pay at the till next to the one I’d chosen. As usual, I chose the queue that took way longer than it should have and ended up looking at her again. Memories of my grandfather flooded back into my mind.

I remembered well his shaking and trembling as Parkinson’s slowly took hold of his body and the Alzheimer’s emptied his mind of all memories of his family and the world around him.”

Photo by Jijie Forsythe on Reshot

The Ruon Chronicles & Patreon

I am busy with the outline of the whole of the Ruon Chronicles series, and the first (new) Patreon article will go live tomorrow. Worldbuilding!

I’m still figuring out the exact timeline for The Knowledge Stones and should be able to finish that this weekend. It’s turning out to be not as much a rewrite as “adding stuff to make it better”.

I’m also adding another POV in order for the reader to be exactly in the know as to what is going on where in the world.

Grove of Graves will then flow out of The Knowledge Stones before book 2 of The Ruon Chronicles starts. I was planning on creating the first full and revised draft of Knowledge Stones by the end of September but, alas, after my two weeks’ rest there is no way I’m going to push myself that hard.

More info will follow on my Patreon page, where you are also able to read the first draft of Knowledge Stones almost in full.

Other Fiction News

In other fiction news, I did write a story for Paragraph Planet and am now waiting to hear if it will be published. Keep an eye on my Twitter feed!

Now that I’m feeling better, I should be back to a normal blogging schedule (not to mention writing schedule), including writing some worldbuilding posts, Friday stuff, and other cool bits and pieces.

Patreon Is Up and Running!

Well, at last I’ve updated the Patreon page! Both the summary and the tiers have been updated (although tiers still start at $1).

Here is the summary in which I also show where The Knowledge Stones and Grove of Graves fit in.

The summary of The Ruon Chronicles

During the Achtarion War between the Airus and Khaldun, the Knowledge Stone was found by the Airus Ira-laleth. Keeping the stone, which was imprinted with the very words of creation, secret from the Khaldun, Ira-laleth found that she had received the gift to add and imprint other knowledge on the stone as well.

Safely sequestered for three thousand years, the Keepers of the Stone was at last attacked in their shrine — but not before the stone was broken into many pieces to be taken to safety. Given to Airus who fled into the wilderness in order to keep the stone’s knowledge secret, the Khaldun set out after them, slaying many and taking the slivers of stone for themselves. It was also at this time that Ira-laleth and her entire family was slaughtered by the Khaldun. 

The remaining Airus heeded a call in their dreams to flee to the Midlands and the Sanctuaries there and, so, most of the Knowledge Stone pieces were saved when the First Sundering tore through the lands of the Airus and Khaldun, and much of the land sank beneath the waves. After the Sundering, many of the Airus went into hiding throughout Airtha-Eyrassa, fearing that they would still be hunted by the Khaldun. Yet none forsook their oath to keep the stones safe.

The Age of Blood and Sorrow dawned on the lands of Airtha-Eyrassa, only ending with the Second Sundering.

***

Many years pass while the Knowledge Stones become a part of Airtha-Eyrassa’s legends and folklore. With the pieces of knowledge stone now scattered throughout the lands, the long search of the lost Stones by the Seekers of Knowledge begins.

When two Seekers find a Stone that contains knowledge about the Khaldun and how they could once and for all be defeated, a fire is kindled in Airtha-Eyrassa.

  • The Knowledge Stones takes place
  • Grove of Graves takes place

What were only legends suddenly become truth and plunges Airtha-Eyrassa’s lands into war. 

The Ruon Wars covered the Midlands, the enemy led by the Vidolf Elame; a Ruon turned against her own kind to follow the Khaldun. Finally, Elame and her captains are captured and locked inside a pillared prison on an island to spend the rest of their days.

But when the pillars of Elame’s prison fall and those inside are set free, Selena Tellah and others of the Ruon must find a way to stop the dark forces once again amassing against them.

Time is running out and across the Midlands and rumours spread of the Airus returning to remake the Stone. The rumours also talk of the ghosts of Sjahra that will return and set in motion the events of the Third Sundering.

Enter the world of The Ruon Chronicles

To see what my Patreon is all about or to become a Patron, head on over to my Patreon page.

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!

Flash Fiction: It Began With a Whisper

It began with a whisper.

The dragons are coming.

The leaves rustled it in their song when the hot winds blew from the south.

The dragons are coming.

It came to the minds of the magicians before the messengers had reached the cities. It clouded their mirrors of magic and dragon tails curled in the smoke from their alchemical fires.

The dragons are coming.

Faces of the rich and poor turned towards the west with each red sunrise, waiting to see if the new light would speed the dragons on their way.

New whispers started.

Only the true king can control the dragons.

Knights and warriors armed themselves and waited for their orders. Gold and jewels changed hands behind closed doors and messengers stole away in the witching hour. 

Only the true leader can control the dragons.

Armies readied themselves on fields soon to be stained with blood. Banners bearing the colours of lords and kingdoms unfurled in the hot summer air.

Only the true leader can summon the dragons.

“The dragons will show us a new leader,” an old woman said, sitting beside the kitchen fire, telling stories to her young grandchildren. “They will choose who they will follow.”

The true leader will summon the dragons.

The Seafolk heard the whispers of the world as they drifted on the wind, turned their eyes to the western horizon, and watched the movement of the water. They wondered at the person who would summon the dragons of old.

“I want to see dragons one day,” the child said, staring at a drawing in a tattered book. “Look, are they not beautiful?” The child leaned closer still, long braids brushing the pages. “I wish there were dragons here.”

The dragons heard.

Flash Fiction: 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.

Blog header Flash Fiction The Statue

Flash Fiction: The Statue

They put a statue of her on the island outside the city after she died, her likeness forever captured in bronze. At first the statue was kept polished by the people of the city who loved and remembered her. Soon, however, other articles fill the newspapers and the woman who sang the dragon to sleep was forgotten.

A few of the elders of the city still took the worn ferry over the water to the now deserted island as a ritual once every season to clean away the blue-green patina that would inevitably form on the metal.

Singing the old song of the dragon, they would walk the overgrown, winding path to the top of the hill where the statue stood between stunted and burnt trees.

This year, the last of those who had been alive during the dragon’s attack went to the island.

“Go back,” she told the bored ferryman as she stepped onto the island. She turned her back on the lake and the ferry and started to sing the song.

Her words drifted away on the wind as they spilled from her lips. She ran her fingers along the budding bushes that lined the path and gingerly stepped over gnarled roots. The spring sun shone down on her head and shoulders, warming her as her heart soared with the song.

The birds of the island fluttered and flitted around her as she walked the winding way, singing along to the old melody.

When she at last reached the hilltop, she stooped picked up a dragon scale that glinted in the sun. Turning the warm disk over and over in her hands, the memories of the fiery day filled her mind and the song faded away. She slipped the scale into her pocket and stepped up to the statue.

The cleaning of the statue went slowly with just one person working on it, but when the sun started to set, she finally dropped her cloths on the ground.

Tears filled her eyes as she started to sing the song for the last time. She took out a pocket watch and glanced at the slowing hands. She nodded once at the statue of her mother and sat down at its feet, finishing the song with her last breath.

When she opened her eyes, it was to her mother standing in front of her, smiling and looking as if dragon’s fire had never touched her.

“No more waiting,” she said and took her daughter’s hand.

Blog header flash fiction The Stairs

Flash Fiction: The Stairs

Our writing group has a challenge on at the moment where we have to write a story for each of the photos one member of the group is sending from New York.

You can do any genre, etc. as long as the photo inspires it somehow. This is the second photo and my second story.

Read the first story here.

Stairs in New York City

The Stairs

The sweltering heat from the summer reflected mirages even in the alleyways where fire escape ladders led from every floor of the tall apartment buildings. She sat on landing of one of the flights of stairs, huddled in the bit of shade that the landing above cast, and stared up at the sky.

“They said that there would be a solar eclipse today,” she called through the window to where her family sat, unmoving, in front of the TV. A few grunts told her that they’d heard her.

“They say a dragon will eat the sun,” she added softly, hoping that it was true. That a dragon would at least eat half the sun and cool down the oven-like city.

She gazed up at the blue sky again, her eyes watching the few cirrus clouds merge and flow in the winds that did not reach to the ground but only mocked from the air.

Wiping the sweat from her brow, she closed her eyes and listened to the faint ringing in her ears, imagining that it’s the sound of the ocean.

“It’s showing on the TV,” one of her siblings called in their robotic voices. Which one it had been, she could not tell. They had all started to sound the same to her.

She scooted out from under the landing into the sunlight and lifted the film in front of her eyes, making sure that she did not look at the sun directly. Slowly, ever so slowly, the dragon appeared and started to gnaw away at the sun. Slowly, ever so slowly, the sun became little more than a sliver, its jagged crescent shape looking like a golden moon.

The clouds that had been little more than filaments of white started to pack together, swirling in the unseen and unfelt winds. They drifted to where she was, obscuring the feasting dragon and she removed the film from in front of her eyes. With a last look over her shoulder at the family she no longer felt was her own, she started to climb up the stairs. Around and around she climbed, her feet clanging on the metal, until she reached the roof of the building. There the clouds hung low, as if they were waiting for her. She lingered for a moment on the precipice of the roof’s edge before stepping onto the cloud, her arms outstretched. And she flew.