Kernel

Kernel 

You would have given anything to trade these white walls for the impossible depths of the forest. Sometimes, when time refused its submission to the laws of physics, you applied your third eye to the blankness, trying to conjure the trees and the passages of mosses and curious flowers. The child who found comfort in the smells of peat and fern, the pollen of trees.

“Water?” The voice at the door. Sometimes, reflections shifted along the metal grate and you mistook them for rats. There was a reason for the nibble marks at the corner of your bed sheet.

Back in the summer of your most significant year, you spent all your days in the forest. She taught you it all: how to use moss to squeeze out drinking water, how to make garlands from branches of ivy, how to select edible mushrooms, to pick special berries which made you sick for days in a wild coma. Nobody cared where either of you were. The first time with the berries you had tangled yourselves in a fall of leaves and lay there for what felt like a week. The changes from dawn to dusk, twilight to midnight, startled your heightened senses. Dark lashes upon gold would gorge your eyeballs. She found you endlessly hilarious in a way nobody has since. Her limbs around you like tree roots, securing. She was three years older; she knew everything. She would talk about the early days when the country was ravished by conflicts. It was a fairy tale, a terrible fiction cloaked in the dust of her accent, its gravel, its distance. Impossible to predict that such a thing could happen again.

“Water?” The door banged open, a bowl was set down. A shadow turned and left.

Sometimes in dreams you’re under a waterfall. The deepest grove in the forest. The sun from above refracts and sparkles in the downward surge, which you see from beneath as a converging spiral of quartz-bright light. When you wake the white of the walls is blinding. The water tastes metallic. The bruise round your eyes never heals; its permanence is the nightshade power of poisoned safflower, a strong red tint that blurs your vision. He comes in the morning to beat it again, beating the sight out of you. You focus on the white, on the waterfall, the shimmering distance of the forest.

Your ribs have been cracked. Your spine twisted like a thread of rope pulled tight in a coil, each knot clicking out of place, screech after scratch. The searing quality of this pain you have channelled back into the white. The edges shiver. Your skull has been cracked against the cistern. He holds your hair in a fist, calls it torture. You have no answers. You are only white.

There is a hollow inside you. A child inside you. She is cold and quivers in the bowers of pines, her skin scored raw by the coarsest hide. She listens for the girl who would tell her the secrets. She has not been broken; she lives in the hollow like the seed of an oak tree, her breathing remembering a dream of eternity.

One thing he cannot crack.

She taught her how to tie a necklace from dark elastications of pitch and sap. The little acorn pendant hidden in the crest of her neck, a bead between two chest bones. How she relished those chest bones, the unbroken curves, the bead of the acorn, impeccably shelled. The child inside her, cold, quivering, alone?

/ Maria Sledmere

(fff prompt: acorn)

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cherry melancholia

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Photo by Manuela Hoffman

cherry melancholia
Maria Sledmere

rain on the lawn; the greenness
dark and deep. a handful of shells
clotted in the mud with the blossoms,
the pink ones
from the cherry tree.

she walks out slowly,
snow petals swirling round her,
silent.

in the garden she will lie
where the grass is softest. she will lie
staring at the glass sky,
a sleepful of memory.

just love, the garden will say,
just love.
she forgot the place where he kissed her once—
it wasn’t here

but she returns anyway,
the grass feels sweet underneath her,
the air tastes golden, the first taste
of crab apples in autumn. love
set her going in spring, a silk cut
from a willow tree.

smoke rises in the distance
to the smell of cherry pie.
once he kissed her eyes, her cheeks;
he told her she was cinnamon.

in the garden now she is older,
older as the trees are, ring after ring
in each year, each reel of string
that she unwinds.

they come to bind
the sweet peas with twine.
bitter berries,
summer wine.

she is older
and the pie in her mouth now
is cloying; she is older
and the leaves are dying,
falling with the raindrops, the poor branches.

The garden speaks
now she is older, the rings round her eyes—
old pools of light, cherry pie,
speaking
of melancholia.

(prompts: eloquent, garden)

A Whisper of Wonder

So these are the two sonnets Maura, Maria, James and Heather came up with. The prompts were ‘wonderful’, ‘hurt’, ‘whispers’ & ‘a tragic love story’. Since we were talking about Yeats earlier in the seminar, we went with the theme of fairies. When it’s finished it’ll be a wee sonnet cycle on the subject of a grove of fairies in the woods, and a young man who, tempted by the sweet music made by the small creatures, finds himself fatally enraptured by one of them. They work sooo much better when read aloud in unison, by the way. Kind of uncanny.

Sonnet I

On the top of the hill the fairies play
Around the flowers they frolic and dance
And beckoning you close, they whisper “stay.”
Unwary travellers may take a chance
Follow the fairies wherever they go
Along the beauty of some ancient tune,
With glittering notes the stars start to glow.
While the sprites soak up the light of the moon
The Seelie Queen sits in her flowered shrine;
Her gentle smile, her sweet benevolence
Her beauty, her love and her kindness shine.
You slowly move forward with hesitance.
What you thought you saw was purer than gold,
But deep in the shadows are stories untold.

Sonnet II

A tale passed down from each father to son,
A warning to all seduced by the call
Who blindly pursue what cannot be won–
The hearts of fairies in love will not fall.
One moonlit night a boy strays from the trail,
Drawn into the trees by enchanting sounds
He walks through and pulls back the willow veil.
Driven by desire he enters their bounds.
The fairest creature of alluring face
Came forth from darkness and ensnared his soul:
The maiden moves and sways with serene grace–
Stunning to see but her heart is a hole.
And now he will dance till the day he dies,
While fairies laugh as their song fills the skies.

Sonnet III

In the deepest, darkest depths of the wood
There is a place to which the fallen go
When their footsteps no longer walk the earth:
A sad and ancient place misunderstood.
Some say it bears the most famous of graves,
A shrine to the fallen sprung up among trees;
A holy space for errant knights and knaves—
Those who met love’s cruel fate among the leaves.
In winter sprites will lay down white roses
As they sing out the sorrows of snowdrops,
Wishing for spring when lovers bring posies
And lovely the sound of all those blood clots:
For what mortal male would stand but a chance
With fairies who spin in such fatal dance?

Sonnet IV

Across the sweeping valleys, fields, and hills
Where children imagine, run, and play
Mothers warned, play out in fields if you will
But never in the faerie woods do stray.
And though they knew to heed their mother’s word
When dancing lights glittered in the darkness
And sweet strains played as they had never heard
The children ran to the shadows’ caress.
Merrily they skipped in time to the charm
There was not one boy or girl left behind
And their parents searched for them in alarm
Though nought but small footprints were there to find.
So never in the faerie woods do stray
For they will happily snatch you away.

The Plum Tree

They tied the box with a bright red ribbon.

It was small and doll-size, like it would hold a hat for a childhod play thing. Held delicately between the fingertips of two small young children it was carried through the quiet hall, up the stairs and onto the dais. Once there it was placed on the plinth and left. The priest said a brief farewell, then the children left. The priest left.

Leaving the small box to the silence of the hall.

The next morning a crow flew in and landed on the box. It teased open the bow of the ribbon with careful precise movements of his beak – then tucked this in his satchel. Alone and unseen he replaced the ribbon with a piece of barbed wire, then stole away while the sun was still young.

Later that day a girl pricked her finger on the barbed wire and succumbed to a deep sleep. In her dreams she was taken up on clouds like white gossamer and silk into heaven, and shown where the hearts of the good people are kept. In tiny jars they line the rows of the shelves of the Great White Palace, tended to by a hundred arc-angels, all smiling all day long.

When she awoke again she found she had in her hands a plum stone, round and with a pointed end. The priest wanted to take it off her, but the girl refused. Instead she kept it, then took it home once they had burnt the box.

She planted it in her back garden. And tended it, and fed it for years. And when the plum tree grew it had branches that looked like wires with barbs, and the flowers had bright red flowers that looked like frayed ribbons.

by Ailsa C. Williamson

prompts: barbed wire, ribbon, plum

Disappear

I listen to the fire crackle, spitting bits of spark and stick on the carpet. It’s toasty warm here, with the cat lying languid and the smell of soup wafting from the stove. I am safe, as the walls embrace me with the spirit of home. Yet I still fear the abyss, this endlessness of being alone.

***

There is a cottage out in the wilderness, where she lives and sleeps in solitude, where sometimes she disappears. Folk from the villages say she does things, has powers in her hands. They wonder where she goes. Sometimes she’s sighted like a shadow slipping through trees. The children sneak with clandestine excitement into the forest, watching her pick mushrooms in the gloam. They wonder how a person’s hair could be that peculiar colour, that strange shade of violet that catches the starlight. As they wander home for tea, they swap stories about her mystery.

 ***

If only she knew what lies beneath my floor, what dark wonders wait in store for her. She would love me less, then.

***

I have known these walls for a lifetime; more than a lifetime, a generation of twisted roots reaching back to gnarled old ancestors. Grandma and the things she smoked, the accidental fire and the rebuild. Father’s callused hands. The knotted sorrows of the worn-out land. No-one left, now.

***

She lights fires for warmth. She does not know how I absorb her thoughts.

***

There hasn’t been a sighting for over a week. The children have found other games to play: they chase each other through trees, tripping over roots, letting their laughter mingle with the bird-cries, the buzzing of bees.

***

A canvas of coruscating light covers the autumned canopy. Something wonderful is alive in the fading beauty, the softly falling leaves. The children are falling in love; a million kisses pressed on wind-flushed cheeks. They have forgotten her, forgotten the way her shadow disturbed the silence, disturbed matter.

***

I heard a mouse beneath the floorboards; or what I thought was a mouse, or something else…a whirring, insistent sound. Its presence became a blackness that scratched at my mind; I had a sense of an ending, of some kind of doom.

***

Something happened a millennia ago, when fairies inhabited the woods, when spirits and goddesses fought over the sweetness of the land. A power was released in the mis-direction of a spell, a rupture was cast upon the soil. In the blood of slaughtered sprites, the earth opened, churning and whirling with its angry flesh exposed to the night. And what was beneath had been covered by centuries of charms, of careful woodwork and strong command.

***

Months passed: winter stole the forest’s colour, froze every dew drop into glass. Everything gleamed white and pure and sad; all nature was untouched as the villagers hibernated in their cottages, far off across the fields. It was April before a soul set foot through the forest glade. A young man, seeking out the loveliest of roses for his sweetheart, dared to venture through the woods. The soil sprang beneath his feet, new and clean and speckled with the buds of spring.

***

He walked in circles for seven miles before he found his roses. Beside a sleeping cat lay a bunch of white ones, already picked, holy like a new-born child. At his presence, the cat’s tail sprung up, his green eyes glaring at the man. He stepped back, for what he saw struck him with terror: it was not the cat, but what lay behind it. A small whirlpool, sucking gradually fragments of stick and seed and stone from the forest floor, chucking up bits of ice from within. As he looked closer, fear glowing in his breast, he saw that through the whirlpool rippled streams of red. It seemed as if the whirlpool hissed at his presence, and his heart quivered in horror as he saw bloodied flecks spray from the water upon the roses. As if the water was lashing out a warning. The roses’ pale glory was stained before him. He knelt among the undergrowth, before the cat, and wept. He realised, then: the children of the forest had abandoned their mother.

 by Maria Sledmere

prompts: whirlpool, cottage, romance

The Witch’s Son

The trees on the bare mountainsides creaked and bowed down in the sudden wind like an orchestra leaving the stage, and a vast, dark shadow moved over the entire valley. The weak sun was blotted out, and the witch’s son looked to the sky as the wind brutally shoved him back like a playground bully. The dragon was so large it could have swallowed a zeppelin whole without any trouble, and its wings spread like a mile of translucent red sails over a bony, reptilian framework. A voice, like a thundercloud talking, shook the rocks under his feet so hard he fell to his knees.
SHOW ME YOUR FIRE
As a child, he’d watch his mother for hours at the hearth, making her potions. She never told him to stand back, or to be careful – “can’t fear fire if you’ve never been burned” she’d say, as she dropped handfuls of dandelion heads into the brew. It was an unfortunate saying, because the witch’s son loved fire. He’d watch the fire under the heavy black pot more intently than his mother sometimes. The way the flames danced and flashed enthralled him. When he turned sixteen, the witch’s son dyed his hair for the first time. Autumnal red at the base, fading into lurid orange, then soft gold, then white, then finally a cold, almost icy blue at the tips. He wanted it to look like his head was surrounded by flames.
His skill at general magic wasn’t much to talk about. He could charm cards, make short-term, deplorably bad love potions, passable glamour and occasionally levitate things a couple of inches off the ground. But what he was good at was making the flames dance. He could make them into shapes, draw them out like party streamers, make fire of his own creation crackle and spit around his hands with only the slightest feeling of warmth on his skin. What he wanted was hotter flames, that burned brighter, and for that he needed the hottest, brightest fire of all – dragon fire. Dragons were few and far between, and generally lived in great, empty mountain passes and not near the small, smoky city than the witch’s son presently inhabited. So he packed a bag (it was his schoolbag. He might have been a witch’s son but his mother couldn’t teach him algebra as well as alectryomancy) wrote a note to his mother which he left on the kitchen table, picked up a map, and left in the search of a dragon.
Fire was the one thing he’d been good at, the one magic he could do, and he had a point to prove. He showed his fire. The fire illuminated the valley, and lit the undersides of the clouds gold and red like Chinese lamps. He pulled the fire from himself, throwing it up into the sky and screaming because in the presence of the dragon, his fire burned hotter, burned so bright it hurt his eyes. The dragon’s shadow flickered and grew in the changing light, and in the roaring of the superheated air he heard a deep chuckle.

by Morgaine DV
What were your prompts?: childhood, potion, dragon

The Fox

Lula glanced at the armchair across from her. In it sat a large red fox with a bushy tail something like a feather duster. He was dressed in a purple chequered suit with a emerald green tie and shoes to match. The fox spoke with a melodic and eloquent voice, explaining to Lula the wonders of nature and the singular beauty of a sunset, only pausing mid-sentence to puff on his pipe, which spouted enormous shimmering bubbles. Lula stared at the fox as he began to twiddle his bristly whiskers with one of his paws.
“I gotta stop taking LSD.” She sighed.

by Hayley Rutherford
What were your prompts?: Bubbles/fox/psychosis

Dinosaur Girl

The Dinosaur Girl by Maria Rose 

Once upon a time there was a little girl, who awoke one morning to find she was turning into a dinosaur. At least, a dinosaur was the first thing that sprang to her mind, but she had to check her picture books to be sure. She had gotten out of her small bed and stretched as usual in front of her mirror, only to notice a peculiarity in her reflection. Standing in profile, the girl scrutinised her appearance with her forehead crinkling in sharp curiosity.

What caught her eye first were her elbows and knees. She was only wearing her short frilly nightie, and against her ivory smooth skin the dark patches made themselves obvious. Upon the ridges of her flesh had formed scales of a peculiar glittering green, rough as her Grandmother’s old leather handbag, and when she peered closer she noticed little hexagon patterns upon the surface. As the girl cautiously stroked the alien skin, sinister chills shot down her spine,

Just then, her father had called her down for breakfast, so she had thrust on a jumper and some woolly stockings and checked that everything seemed normal, not bothering to comb her hair. As she tumbled down the stairs and entered the kitchen, she smelled the waft of bacon, eggs and toast and her stomach groaned. She realised she was vociferously hungry. Her father had been very startled when she’d gulped down the plateful in less than five minutes and scampered to school with barely a moan of her usual complaint.

The girl and her father lived in a cottage by the edge of a forest, a cottage which was overshadowed by an enormous pine tree that had stood there for centuries. In the crevices of its roots were the hieroglyphics and sketchings and writings of many generations of children from the nearby village, where the girl went to school. Often in the summertime, the girl would get up early at dawn, while her father was still snoring in his room, and she’d curl up with the roots and watch the sun rise in splashes of pastel over the hilly landscape. She liked to feel the steady hum of nature and the solidness of the ground beneath her little hands.

When she came home that day, the first thing the girl did was rush into the little parlour where she and her father would eat. She opened all the cupboards and gobbled up all the cold hams and cheese and bread she could find. When everything was gone, she stood in the middle of the room, gasping for breath. She could feel her stomach churn, and she was still very hungry. Perhaps her father would bring a rabbit home for dinner. Although she was flushed from running and eating, she barely noticed that she was not sweating, and that her hands and face and indeed whole body remained cold as stone.

II

The little girl then dashed upstairs and threw her schoolbooks upon her bed and stared once again in the mirror. This time, she noticed something new. She grinned and flashed her small white teeth, and saw that her canines had grew longer and sharper, giving her a face a menacing appearance. The girl shivered and draped a blanket over her shoulders and prayed that perhaps she was still dreaming.

The next day, getting undressed to wash in the tin tub her father had filled with steaming water, the girl noticed with horror another change to her body. Her toes had become webbed with an elastic, scaly membrane, like a duck’s. Her nails had grown narrow and sharp and when she got into the tub, she kept accidentally scratching herself as she washed. The tears spilled from her cheeks and plopped into the water, mingling with the swirling trails of her blood. No matter how hard she pinched herself, she would not wake up; it was not a dream.

A few days passed and, having no other choice, the girl tried to get along as usual. Her father, however, had observed a peculiar change in his daughter. She had taken to spending evenings in her room, instead of going out to play with her friends after school. He found that food was going missing. She was normally a bright, laughing child, but now she would only respond to his attempts at conversation with stuttered phrases and grunts. Luckily, he didn’t notice her physical changes, and so just thought his daughter was going through a phase.

The girl already sensed her father’s suspicions. She avoided him more and more as her body transformed before her eyes. Each day she awoke with more scales, and now her thighs, her tummy and her shoulders were coated with the green platelets. She awoke in the middle of the night, starving with hunger, and had to sneak out of her window into the woods to find food. She was out the whole night, sparking fires and hunting. With a strength she did not know she possessed, she would seize small animals, skinning them alive with her long nails and roasting them to eat. Before dawn, she covered her fire with dead leaves and kicked away all the evidence of her nightly feast. It made her sick in her heart, as she walked to school, thinking of all those sad glossy eyes of all the animals she had slain. But she could not help herself, it was becoming beyond her control.

School was becoming difficult, too. She had to lie to her teachers to skip gym class, and it was becoming excruciating sitting for hours in the stiff little classroom chairs, as if her legs had grown. The girl had never thought of it before, how sedentary people were. She longed to run and stomp across the landscape and swallow the air of mountains and valleys, taste earth and flesh.

Soon the girl lost the patience even to read her books. One night she was squinting her eyes, trying to do her homework by the pale moonlight that gleamed through her window, when all of a sudden she felt a shooting sensation surge through her fingers. As she shook with terror, a layer of scales crept out of nowhere over her skin. And then there was another blaze of pain in her fingertips as a set of claws – curved sharp talons – sprung forth and expelled her nails, which scattered around her.

She tried to flex her fingers – if she could call them fingers – but could not move them as easily as before, and soon she had dropped her books all over the floor. With a scrambling effort, she tried to pick them up again, but it was no use. Wherever she moved, she tore something, and soon her clothes were in rags. Burying her little face in her pillow she cried and cried.

She would not come down for supper when her father called. Eventually, she heard him go to bed and she sat up, trembling. She could not get to sleep. She listened to the owls hooting around her and the other night-birds making their calls. She wished she was a child again, her soft body entwined in the roots of the great pine tree.

The thought did not last long, before she realised how hungry she was again; how positively ravenous. Involuntarily, the image of her father, slumbering next-door, entered her head. How delicious he would be to eat, she thought. Her gut stirred hungrily, and her nostrils flared, but her heart shrivelled in horror. She could not help but think of his ample, meaty flesh and how it would feel to sink her teeth into his arm, or his leg; to chomp down on all that muscle and soft skin and sinew. Her mouth watered and she felt dizzy and dazed. It was all she could do not to squeal with her longing as the craving consumed her.

So the little girl crept from her room, following the gnawing throbs of her stomach. Her shadow loomed on the wall of the hallway and then shifted into sinuous lines of darkness as she approached her father’s bedroom, which emitted gentle snores like a long trail of zzz’s.

Her claws clasped the cold handle with a delectable scratch.

She was about to turn the door knob when an unearthly chill passed over her and she felt herself turn around. Floating there in the hallway was an old lady, a shimmering ghost with tumbling tresses of silver hair. Around her neck was a little hourglass pendant, and her translucent eyes seemed to stare straight through her.

“W-who are you?” the girl stammered. All at once her appetite had left her, and now she was chilled with fear.

“I am Mother Time,” came the uncanny lilt of the ghost’s voice.

“And what are you doing here? Am I dreaming?” The possibility formed itself, hard and bright as a diamond, in the girl’s mind. Perhaps, indeed, none of this had been real.

“You are not dreaming, child, you have become entangled in a destiny that is not your own. Pray, come away from the doorway now.” The ghost’s voice captivated the girl, and yet there was a note of anxiety in her words, as if she were tempting a lion away from its prey.

“Go back into your room,” the ghost commanded. The girl automatically obeyed, and found herself once again in front of her bedroom mirror, with the apparition of the woman hovering behind her. Beside the ghost’s perfect female form, the girl felt hideous, disfigured, a monster. Her green scales gleamed with the light of the moon.

“Come, child, I must show you.” The ghost removed her hourglass necklace and carefully placed it over the girl’s neck. She felt a frosty shudder pass along her nerves as the transparent arms passed through her flesh.

All at once the four walls dissolved around her, and the little girl found herself in a towering landscape of mountains and enormous trees and colossal boulders, of strange shrieking birds and monsters that stomped and trampled and sent tremors through the ground. The sky was an acrid amber yellow, and a stifling heat dried up the shine from her scales until they were coarse as bark, or weathered sea-rock.

“Where are we?” the girl asked, her eyes marble-wide, perceiving all around her.

“This is the land of the dinosaurs. A land which had its own time…A land where I leave you.” The girl was slow to take heed, she was so caught up in the wondrous, terrible sights.

“Wait!” she cried, but it was too late – the ghost had vanished.

And so for ten days and ten nights, the girl – half human, half creature – explored the land of the dinosaurs. She saw beasts that resembled herself, and at the sight of their scaly, grotesque forms she felt sick of herself. She watched them devour each other and consume the landscape. From behind giant rocks and from lofty tree branches she spied on them and felt the whole weight of her humanity rest itself on her chest, as if she had fell ill with a cancer that stopped her breath. The scenes of savagery, of base hunger and horror, that she witnessed before her, made her sick and she was reminded of all her little friends, her little teacher, the little animals she’d hunted, her father – who even seemed little now. How fragile and perfect were all the people she knew, and how awfully she missed them! But she could not go back, not looking like this. Not with the dark, inexplicable desires that burned in her body. She supposed Mother Time had taken her back to where she belonged, back in the Age of Savagery.

During this time the little girl dined on all the meat she could eat, and her body expanded and hardened and grew hungrier by the hour. With every swallow, she felt the sharp pangs of guilt. The brutal environment took her in with its fist and chewed her up – but it had not spat her out.

Yet more and more she felt as if she did not belong.

And so after ten days alone in this harsh wilderness, the little girl, stumbling over a desert terrain with her webbed little feet, suddenly remembered the hourglass around her neck. But then she remembered how close she had come – how close she had been to killing her own father!

It would be wrong to put everyone in danger, she considered.

She was there in the driest of desert landscapes, and she felt as if she had been sucked dry and left shrivelled and brittle as a discarded snakeskin. She felt hollow, barren as the landscape. Aside from the odd sweeping pterodactyl, unleashing its piercing cry over the barren air, the whole plain was lonely – more lonely than anywhere else in the universe.

It had been hours since her last meal, and though there were scorpions and snakes and other meaty reptiles beneath her feet, the little girl hadn’t the stomach to eat anymore. She was very, very weak. She missed her father terribly. Soon the warm, fat tears began to slide down her scaly cheeks, melting into the hot sand with a hiss. They came thicker and faster, until she was sobbing and wailing for the loss of her humanity.

And then suddenly, in the distance, blurred and shimmering as a mirage, she saw another girl. She was approaching her cautiously, a strange object in her hand. At last she stood before the girl, with her raven hair and ashen face and glazed eyes. The object she held was a bone, and she chewed it with a kind of unearthly longing, her little sharp teeth gnawing the smooth marrow.

“Hello, I’m Angelica.” Our little girl said, momentarily forgetting her tears and her hideous body and everything that had changed. It was as if she was meeting a strange new girl at school. The other girl didn’t say a word, only stared back with wide, alien black eyes. She didn’t seem to understand, didn’t seem to know what was before her. She just chewed. And chewed. The grating noise tipped Angelica over the edge, and she broke down again, the floods of tears streaming from her eyes, blue sapphires gleaming in the colourless desert.

“I have suffered!” she cried, her words dissolving with the dust bowl wind, “you must know how to get back! Please set me free!”

The little girl did not seem to comprehend Angelica’s words. She did not even seem to acknowledge the change in her behaviour. Instead, she put down her bone, and knelt on the ground as if about to pray. But then she lay right down, pressing her face into the scalding sand and clay. Angelica wept with confusion and grief, and could think of nothing but the primeval birds swooping like demons above, and her own rasping breath.

“I’m sorry. I wish I could help you. You must be lost too.” Her tears spilled upon the other girl’s face where they dissolved like water upon the surface of milk.

And then all at once, the ground began to shake. The little girl sat up, her eyes suddenly struck with life and fire. She began to metamorphose before Angelica’s eyes, and Angelica drew back in terror. Slowly, she stood up, staggering, her arms outstretched to the sky. A jagged, spiked tail thrust itself from her back, scales grew all over her marble-white skin and when she at last triumphantly smiled, her teeth flashed sharp as a row of knives.

At the same time, Angelica felt a clean rush of energy shower over her. It was warm and cool together, it was pure and smelt of everything she once knew, all the comforts and pleasures and all the beautiful freshness of soap and cut-grass and hot buttered toast. She suddenly felt lighter, as if she could fly. Her scales began to disintegrate, to flake off and fall like snow from her body. The skin beneath felt new and smooth as a baby’s.

She was whole again. She was human.

And then she stared up at the girl, the dinosaur girl, who crushed her precious bone beneath her leaden feet and flared her nostrils and flicked her eyes. With sudden realisation, Angelica became terrified. But now she knew what to do. What she could do.

She seized the hourglass and thought of her room, thought of the mirror and her dolls and the homework she had left on the floor. Of her father, waking up for his morning coffee, wondering perhaps where she was.

The landscape continued shaking and shaking, shuddering with increasing violence, until at last she had blacked out, and the world was nothing more.

Angelica woke up, at dawn, curled cat-like in a nook in the roots of her favourite tree. Clutched in her small fist was a miniature hourglass that had shattered, and the sand scattered pure as gold dust upon the earth. Somewhere in the distance she could hear her father, shouting her in for breakfast and for tea. Immediately she got up, feeling light and springy and very, very hungry.

 

Brewing Candy

A dark shadow, a hellish cloud of hail,
had settled that night upon Feline Street.
It brought a metallic stench of nails,
scared off the cats prowling round to eat.

By the witching hour, the Spar was shrouded,
It had a smell that suggested sin,
blurred in fog with the other houses
concealing the evil deeds within. 

Shiniqua had shed her Spar-branded apron, and was draped in black, with her hair hanging ragged and loose like rats tails around her neck. She was bent over a cauldron, a spectre of red ruby death gleaming in her eyes. She was stirring and stirring the noxious concoction and warbling unnaturally an incantation:

Mystic cauldron make my brew,
a sugar potion to pollute
the minds of my naïve youths
and rise in rank in the witches’ crew.

Candy wrapper curled up small,
Morsels, grease and sweets and all,
crumbles of a Cadbury Flake,
create a habit hard to break,
Nicotine and Nestle Crunch,
The finest of an evil lunch,
Stir in syrup, sugared plums,
And caramel to make them plump.

Mystic cauldron make my brew,
a sugar potion to pollute
the minds of my naïve youths
and rise in rank in the witches’ crew.

Ecstasy that spins and spits –
A sugar-pill to kill them quick,
And to the pot add jelly-babies
with lollipops laced with rabies.

Throwing in some powdered coke,
just enough to make them choke,
then sherbet sprinkles like crystal meth,
liquorice to catch their breath,
Hershey bars spiked with crack
my formula to make their muscles relax,

Mystic cauldron make my brew,
a sugar potion to pollute
the minds of my naïve youths
and rise in rank in the witches’ crew.

And stir in a giant bar of Mars,
deep-fried and coated in luscious lard,
While an Aero makes it bubble,
a Wispa gives a bite of trouble
and Skittles lift the bitter tint
left by the drops of Arsenic. 

With this potion I will rise
from confectionary to child demise;
soon reputation will be mine
when I have the kiddies bottled in brine. 

As the clock on the wall ticks into midnight, a roll of thunder grumbles and the shop shudders. The brew begins to viciously spit, and bubble and boil and shriek in fits. 

“It is finished, it is time. My alchemy, I must say, is awfully fine.”  

The spell is broken and the electric strip light flickers on. Back with her broad Manchester accent she cackles with triumph as she makes preparations for the rest of the night. Somewhere far away, a car alarm begins to whine. 

by Maria Sledmere [inspired by fairytale workshop]