This story was written for Microcosms last week. My prompts were gardener, castle, fairy tale.
This story was written for Microcosms last week. My prompts were gardener, castle, fairy tale.
“At the Altar” was written for Microcosms last week. My prompts were weather forecaster, temple, and crime. It turned out quite… interesting.
At the Altar
The people had chosen him on the day the weather forecaster came to town. Selected unanimously, his hands were bound behind his back and he was marched towards the temple.
“You know not what you do!” he shouted as he tripped over the first step that led up the side of the hastily built altar outside the temple.
“We cannot have a sinner in our midst,” one of the men holding him said calmly. “You see the drought. You see our crops withering and our children dying. There is no place for you, here.”
The bound man struggled, but it was to no avail. They forced him to his knees in front of the forecaster.
“You have brought this upon yourself,” one of his captives said.
The forecaster stood closer. “Uncover his eyes.”
“Look!” one of the men said. “His one eye is the colour of the soil, the other the colour of the sea.”
“You have done well,” the forecaster said, taking out a knife. The bound man struggled, shouting for help.
“He’s a demon!” he shouted, nearly dislocating his shoulders as he struggled. “Spawn of evil! He’ll take your children and make them slaves!”
The forecaster bent down and whispered in his ear, grinning. “Their souls are mine. And you can’t stop me. Not this time.”
Warm blood stained the altar. The forecaster looked down at his handiwork with a smile. “Now I shall take the payment due to me.” Fifty people clutched at their aching hearts.
“We’ve given you gold!” one said, his face pale.
“Useless in my line of work. I need souls. And now that you’ve killed your guardian, I can have as many as I want.”
“The rain?” the other man asked.
“Will come when it comes.” The forecaster grinned.
Behind the story
Partly inspired by the current drought and severe water shortage in Cape Town and David Kramer’s song “Die Verlosser”* (The Saviour) this story took a very dark turn very quickly. I also wanted the guardian’s difference to be subtle while still setting him apart from his fellow townsmen. And the different coloured eyes just seemed to work in the context of the story.
* “Die Verlosser” is an Afrikaans song and tells a story a la “Pied Piper of Hamelin” of a man who comes to dance and bring rain to a drought-stricken community in return for the most beautiful girl in town. Rain comes, but the townsmen will not give up the girl. When they awake the next morning all the children have disappeared, never to be seen again.
Written for Microcosms (for which you have a maximum of 300 words), the prompts for this piece was “isolated teen”, “ball”, “sci-fi”.
Lights flickered on in the empty hall. Old Classical music started playing as couples entered through the large doors. Long dresses swished and swayed as a waltz played and the dancers started moving across the polished floor simultaneously.
Marian watched from the side of the room, her eyes following the dancers. She smoothed a frail hand over the fabric of the now too heavy dress and felt her eyes burn as she watched the dancers turn and sway. With a push of a button the orchestra appeared at the end of the hall – she knew she’d forgotten something. She placed the controller down and slowly walked to the centre of the room as the hologram couples danced around her.
This had always been her favourite piece of music – one of the old classical pieces from the home planet that was now so far away. It was only fitting she relived her favourite memory on board the ship.
The taste of the last food ration coated her mouth – some sweet concoction she had kept exactly for this day if help did not come. She wiped at her eyes, leaving behind smeared makeup. Her final entry in the ship’s log had been in her own, shaky voice. Words she had thought about for weeks had evaporated as she spoke and cried into the microphone.
“Marian Smith, 16,” she said. “I am the last survivor of Eden.” She still wondered if anyone would find the message – if it would maybe reach back even to Earth. It had been too late when they found the carrier of the illness. “They call me Typhoid Mary in the files.” Her voice broke.
A new song started playing. The couples paused for a second before continuing their dance. Marian closed her eyes and swayed to the music.
“The Exorcism of CJ” was written for last week’s Microcosms competition. The elements I had to work with, were: exorcist, rural town, sci-fi.
The Exorcism of CJ
The exorcist arrived two hours late.
“You know how they are,” Josephine said, wiping her hands on her apron. “And they don’t care about what happens in the small towns.”
Obadiah nodded and let out a deep sigh then got up from where he was reclining. He strode towards the exorcist, hat in hand, and greeted him.
Dressed in a t-shirt, loose pants, and flip-flops, he got his kit out of the transporter and slung the bag over his shoulder before shaking Obadiah’s hand.
“Where is she?” he asked.
“Over here,” Obadiah said, leading the Exorcist to a room at the back of the delivery centre.
“CJ usually does the mail packages,” Josephine explained, falling in beside them. “With the drought and people moving though, she started looking for a… hobby. She seemed to have stumbled on something while researching the town’s genealogy though.”
“Ah, of course. The witch scare of 2136 that turned out to be demons.”
“It seems she unlocked something she shouldn’t have. We only realised it once her programming was affected.”
The exorcist turned the door handle and entered the makeshift cell.
CJ was sitting cross-legged on the floor in the centre of the room. Her head swivelled back to the door as they entered.
“Oooh, a new playmate,” she said in a deep, otherworldly voice, and stood in one swift movement.
The exorcist sighed, scanning the body for signs of tampering.
“You were right not to do a factory reset. They love that. Gives them all the power they want. More than a human can offer.”
He opened his bag and she quailed when she saw the crucifix.
“Cruz sacra sit mihi lux,” the exorcist said and CJ’s body contorted, metal scraping and bending. Josephine looked away, tears in her eyes.
* Note: The quote in Latin means “Let the Holy Cross be my light” and is the beginning of the Vade retro satana, a Medieval Catholic formula for exorcism, recorded in 1415.
This piece was originally written for the last Microcosms of 2017 ( a flash fiction competition of 300 words). I quite enjoyed writing this one and it took me in another direction than I had initially thought it would. Enjoy!
John stared into the machine through the thick glass. His fellow scientists recorded the readings from within the capsule. John mumbled and twisted at the multitude of knobs that lined the outside of the machine.
“We need more heat, more power.”
A scruffy-looking boy kneeling at the furnace fed the fire.
“Is anything happening?” one of the scientists asked as he threaded the paper from the readout through his fingers.
“Nothing.” He banged on the table. “What good is this to us?” he asked, motioning around the room. “All the knowledge we could want, but nothing that is helping us one bit. There is not even a spark!”
“What do you expect? There is no living matter in that thing. We tested multiple times. You will get nothing to grow in there.”
John went to the glass-encased scroll and read the first line again. “But these are the words that set the universe in motion! It must work!”
The other scientists laughed.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” the boy’s voice piped up.
“So you went to Sunday school — good for you,” Andrew mocked.
“Maybe it doesn’t work when a human says it,” the boy said, ignoring Andrew.
John stared into the machine again. “We’ll all starve if this does not work. It has to work.”
“We are already working outside our field,” Andrew said. “We are wasting time.”
“Nil omne,” John said. “Maybe everything is nothing. Maybe nothing matters.”
“I’ll pray, maybe that’ll help,” the boy ventured.
“Maybe that’ll shut you up,” Andrew said.
There was a spark inside the machine. From the spark wheat sprouted and started to grow on the bare metal.
“What is it?” Andrew ran closer.
“Hope,” John said. “Hope remains.”
This flash piece was written for Microcosms last Friday. My prompts were “soldier”, “aftermath of war”, “post-apocalyptic”.
And He Wore Green in His Beret
“You know what tomorrow is, don’t you?” his son asked, looking up at him, his eyes large and brown.
Aliel sighed and glanced at the rusted metal trunk that held his uniform.
“How can I forget?” He stood, his chair creaking almost as much as the house did in the wind. The house was old – 30 years. Built before the war, it was one of the few places that was still inhabitable after the war.
He took his crutches and walked to the doorway. Across the yard stood a row of graves. Some held bodies, like that of his brother. Some only had a roughly hewn tombstone, like that of his mother. Perhaps, he thought, after tomorrow the ghosts of the past will go to rest. He looked down at his calloused hands, pushing away the red-and-black memories that still haunted his dreams.
Aliel waited on the road that led into the town. The only part of his uniform that he wore was his beret. After all, he had promised his wife that he would never put it on again until his funeral.
She was standing amidst the crowd with their son, and he tried to spot them as they walked by in the procession; men of nondescript age who was left to use canes and crutches and wooden limbs after the war that changed the face of the planet.
He stumbled when something landed at his feet – many of the men did. Then he saw what it was – a small, budding branch of one of the trees, its bright green leaves only just unfurled. He bent, picked it up, and stuck it in his beret, the same as he did twenty years ago when he asked his wife to marry him. The day the war ended.
This story was written for last week’s Microcosms flash fiction competition (where you have 300 words max for the story). The elements I had to use for the story, was creature, in the dark, and steampunk.
What the Ether Let Through
Ether shimmered in the dark alley as the creature appeared and stalked along the cobblestones on all fours. With only dark holes for eyes, it had to rely on its sense of smell and, even now, it sniffed and blew its stinking breath at the slit beneath one of the alley doors. It knew very well where its prey was hiding. The smell of decay hung in the room on the other side of the door. But it was not the decay the slime-slicked creature had come for. It had come for the living person hiding behind the door. It took a deep breath, feeding on the scent of fear and, for a moment, its eyes glowed a sickly green.
Henry pressed his ear against the wood of the door and listened to the snuffling. As intrepid explorer he had done away with many a predator and tonight would be no different. His eyes drifted over the room. His specimens had cooperated very well and was now catalogued and pinned in place. All but one – the one which emitted the awful stench. That one he would not keep – the photos he’d taken were enough to make anyone insane; that eyeless face, the matted hair covering the body, the all-too-human-hands clenched into fists.
An insistent scratching started at the door and Henry jumped.
“Devil take you!” he shouted and headed for the table with the abomination. How could he have known that a simple steam-powered machine could rip a hole in the ether?
Henry picked up the creature, carried it to the hearth and tossed it in. Flames licked at the fur and face even as the door was rent and the parent creature stormed in and ripped at the explorer with razor claws.
“A Father’s Kiss” was written for last week’s Microcosms flash fiction competition. The prompts were reporter, airport, and memoir.
Flight MN101 from Cape Town to OR Tambo in Johannesburg landed 30 minutes late. Neil pulled himself from the cramped chair and dragged himself and his laptop bag down the carpeted corridor towards the luggage collection point. He wasn’t sure how many times his suitcase had passed him before he grabbed the handle. The cold plastic brought him back to the present. The din of the airport rushed into him, crushing his chest.
Behind the glass doors families, friends, and taxi drivers waited. Some more patient than others, a few holding gifts for family who most likely came to visit from their new homes overseas. He swallowed. Today only a taxi driver would be waiting for him. And he would not cry in front of these strangers.
Neil scanned the row of taxi drivers until he spotted his name on a placard. Feet stuck in molasses, he dragged himself past the families sharing kisses, handshakes, and greetings in a cacophony of languages.
His father still kissed him hello even though he was in his twenties, greeting him with a hand filled with balloons. He didn’t think he’d miss it so much, but his father always reminded him that his work as a reporter was fraught with danger. Seeing his son safe and whole over Christmas and Easter was a godsend, he always said.
He held out his hand to his taxi driver.
“I’m Neil.” He tried to smile, but it didn’t work. Tears started streaming. “They killed my father. Robbery.”
The driver nodded knowingly, took his suitcase, offered a tissue. There was nothing else to do.
“It wasn’t even important enough for the newspaper to cover.” New tears.
“My brother as well.” The driver’s eyes turned red.
Everyone knew about the faceless, nameless ‘they’ – and no one was left untouched.
“Expedition Z-1925 was written for the Microcosms flash fiction competition. My prompts were “Qilin”, “Camelot”, and “Science Fiction”.
“It’s a giraffe.”
“In the records it’s called a Qilin. Quite apt. According to old earth mythology-”
“Looks like a giraffe to me.”
“It has scales and can breathe fire.”
“The last giraffe died more than three centuries ago. On earth. And you know the kind of stories that lot could come up with. For all we know they could breathe fire.”
“What? And that’s where the veldfires came from?”
“What the – veldfires? Don’t act all smart Mister-I-read-everything-about-earth. Most of the crew didn’t want you along to begin with.”
“Thank you for that. Like I didn’t know it already. If you send your men out there to catch it, they had better be ready, that is all I’m saying.”
“Animals can’t breathe fire. Scientific fact.”
“I thought so too – until the Qilin did this to my camera.” He held up a melted hunk of plastic, metal and glass.
“And the locals?”
“We couldn’t find them. Well… we found traces of what could have been the colonists.”
The captain answered with a string of curses.
“What did you expect? Between pathogens and new fauna and flora –“
“Stop talking for a moment, will you!”
“Making me stay quiet will –“
“Shut up! Listen!”
Somewhere the hull of the CA-melot exploratory vehicle creaked. The captain ran his hand through thinning hair.
“Could the giraffe have followed you here?”
Another creak. A sound like a furnace igniting.
“The Qilin?” Silence. “Perhaps.”
“We leave now.”
“What about the president’s –“
“The president can go –“
A loud rumble shook the vehicle. Metal crumpled, melted. Glass cracked.
The Qilin stared at the metal husk that had invaded her territory. She breathed fire on it three more times for good measure then ambled off towards her nest. Her young were waiting.
May has been a month of fiction started, but not necessarily finished. The reason for this is that the stories were written either for Patreon (part 4 of The Box of Secrets) or the writing course I am currently taking through The Open University and FutureLearn. Unfortunately I was not able to take part in all the Microcosms and Cracked Flash Fiction competitions.
The flash fiction I did write, was:
All the fiction will now be available in one place, while the ‘behind the scenes’, like the worldbuilding, will still be posted here and (usually in more detail) on the Patreon page.
The INK anthology has now been published (containing to of my works) and it is so pretty! Just have a look –
I’ve decided to use July’s Camp NaNoWriMo to work on the short stories started in the fiction writing course. Although these started out being exercises in, for instance, character sketches, I realised soon that I want to build on them and also complete the stories.
These stories include (not the final titles!):