Fire

“Wake up! Wake up! Fire! Fire!”
“Fire? Where?”
“The library. Hurry, brother!”
“Brother Jérôme, wake the abbot! Brother Jacques, take some of the brothers and rescue the books! The rest of you, follow me!”
Chaos. A fire in the middle of the night. Someone must have forgotten to blow out the candle after the evening Bible studies. This will be investigated later. Right now they have a more serious problem. The wooden roof of the library is ablaze. It has not rained for five weeks. The buildings of the monastery and their surroundings are dry as bone. The water level in the well has dropped drastically.
“Fire!”
The red flames lighten the black sky as the monks form a chain to hand on the buckets of water.
“Save the books!” Among many others, the nearly finished set of liturgical books that the monks decorate with colourful miniature and that the abbot wants to give the archbishop of Avignon for the anniversary of his consecration is inside the burning building. The Brothers Jacques and Jean-Baptist as well as four novices ran into the library and return with their arms full of scrolls and leather-bound books.
“Fire!”
The first bucket filled with water is handed to Brother Ambroise who is standing the closest to the fire. Another bucket. And another.
The abbot is awake. He takes an empty bucket and joins the chain.
“The fire has spread to the stables!” somebody shouts.
“May the Lord have mercy with our souls!” an old monk mutters under his breath.
Where should they go next? The chain resolves. Men are running in different directions. The goats trapped inside the stable bleat in terror. Brother Jérôme trips over a pitchfork. Is this night ever going to end?
Suddenly, something falls from the sky. It is drop of water. The monks look up in grateful anticipation. Only a few seconds later the rain rushes down.

Rut Neuschäfer
What were your prompts?: picture of a book, rain, pitchfork

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Charlotte’s Letter

The vague, half-real shapes came down the mountainside, silhouetted against the dull shine of distant moonlight. Charlotte perceived their shadows with the awe she felt owed to her by the mysteries of this silent scene. ‘Twas just like the landscapes she had read about in novels. Looking up to the moon, she jutted her neck out to make her hair billow just so, in the imitation of the sirens whose images she had seen in picture book illustrations. Harry was always taking her to those peculiar bookshops which stocked all sorts of strange hardbacks, often with beautiful velvet covers and stories about dragons and wicked landlords and heroines who swooned under the glaring monstrosity of their captors.

The wind began to shriek as the night wore on, and Charlotte was beginning to lose all sensation in her toes.

“How long must I stand here?” she muttered in complaint. However, there was a way of taking the sting out of her waiting. Charlotte imagined what she would write about all this in a letter. It was important to render exactly the interplay between darkness and light; between the gleam of the snow-capped mountains and the dark spectres of endless cliff-faces, the leafless trees and husks of rock. The way her mind shifted in the expanse of darkness to the shimmering abyss offered by the white horizon, where clouds had settled under the spell of moonlit silver. The dim violet of the sky and its jewellery case of stars. The luxurious feel of the grass beneath her feet, the scent of heather and fresh flush of the cold on her face.

Still, the cold was really getting too much for her and so she decided to move on. She took dainty paces up the mountainside, where she had spotted signs of a little cavern. It would be perfectly fine to rest a night there; Harry was sure to come and pick her up in the morning. In fact, she even spotted a trace of amber light coming from a nook in the rocky ridge; and light bore the promise of hospitality.

All she was really supposed to do was wait, of course. She had trekked all the way through fields of ice and mist and snow and now her task was simply to wait. The love of her saviour would be strong and pure, and so forever in his arms she would be secure.

It wasn’t Harry that found her in the end, but a wandering poet who was savouring the glow of vertigo as he traipsed along the cliff edge, dangling in one hand a pen and the other his paper. Occasionally he burst into spontaneous overflows of powerful feeling, bearing his voice to the singing wind:

O martyr of mist and myriad spirit
how music mingles with the passion in it!
A chance encounter with these holy hills,
enough to ease the mind from all its ills!

He continued the verse with the surge of impassioned timbre, until suddenly he came upon a glint of light in the mountainside. Curious, he pocketed his pen and paper and scrambled up the rocky ledge to see better. He began to hear the hum of sweet sweet music; the hum that filled the thin air as if it were the ambient sounds of the mountains themselves. The poet could not help but fall into song:

Perhaps a maiden fair and bright
might come from dark and dreamy heights;
dressed in her gown of fairest white
will she succeed in fighting night?

He paused at the entrance to the cave to look back at the portion of mountainside that he had just climbed. All dropped wide and deep below him into a chasm of snowy fog and sinuous cloud. He felt a great gape in his stomach and struggled not to curse aloud.

But the horror of this sensation paled in comparison to the horror that faced him over the ledge. The poet clambered to his feet and what he saw poured poison through his delicate veins. A maiden she was, yet dressed in navy, her once-coiled hair now loose and undone. And yet he could barely see what beauty she bore for the calamity around her: great pools of blood and blackened flesh that seeped and festered beneath her dress. Her golden hair was leeched with bloodied spots, and her limbs were twisted in curious knots. Most disturbing were the things that ate her: great hoards of fireflies, descending from the back of the cave with their thunderous buzz.  Their very wings were aflame with wicked glare. Through the blur of the poet’s tears, the whole swarm seemed an inferno sent from hell. The poet blinked and blinked and staggered back, so disturbed he was at this most vivid ravishing of beauty.

But he stumbled too far, and so toppled down the mountain, his final word a distorted roar.

T’was but a year or so later that poor Harry was hiking through the mountains, when he came across this enchanted cavern and found dear Charlotte’s letter. And what a marvel and masterpiece it would have been – the prize of every museum! – if Harry too had not succumbed to those ravenous fireflies. Yet still the letter sits inside this cave, the jewel kept safe by those sacred, flaming insects. Maybe some other Romantic one day will come to take it; or maybe nature will slowly reclaim its place and consume it.

Prompts: chiaroscuro, fireflies, vertigo

by Maria Rose Sledmere

The Preciousness of Water

A bright morning, something calling… though who knows what because for so long I’ve been alone, so long I’ve forgotten what it is to hear something – anything at all – that wasn’t my own two feet trudging upon soil. I was standing by the ocean’s edge, the sand etched in my toes, thinking how weak the sea looked; so still as if the moon had given up trying to pull it. It didn’t make the usual hush and shush that the sea is supposed to make. If it wasn’t for that distant pattering sound, I would think the accident had deafened me after all.

You get a kind of deja vu, standing here looking outwards with everything unfolding in the distance. Once these ashen lumps beneath my feet were tufts of grass and mounds of soft pink heather. There were sea-flowers and elegant sand dunes. Now the beach is blotched with the remains of fallout: blackish dust and fragments of rock that haven’t yet been swept away, like the tide’s lost its power to barter with the earth. The news told us that there could be more fallout to come, a shower of dark rain to fall in a few days or weeks or even months. That was before the screens flashed off and haven’t lit up again since. What I miss most are cigarettes and the smell of lemon shower-gel, the cry my baby made in its crib.

I was thinking about all these things when the noises grew louder. At first it sounded like the distant beginnings of rain, but then there was a clattery thumpiness to it and a rhythm you don’t get with rain drops. I waited and waited, hoping this wasn’t to be another explosion, though half wondering what it would be like to see that shattering of mushroom-cloud that first bloomed in America. A secret part of me longed for the shock, the cataclysm. I watched a storm breaking against the bay; handfuls of seconds being snatched from the world. The pounding got louder and louder and the ground was vibrating and I was about to turn round when the wind whipped past me with the force of so many bodies and there they all were: a band of wild horses torn from nowhere, galloping fast towards the water. It was all I could do to catch my breath, staggering backwards. They were magnificent creatures, all chestnutty-coloured and shining in the whiteish light. I hadn’t seen such beauty in so long. The horizon seemed almost to open to them, its silky jaws of melty yellow parting as they splashed into the ocean with their powerful legs. I couldn’t help but run closer to them; I ran and ran till I was touching the sea with my bare feet, knowing the water was full of radiation but still not stopping, not stopping till I was closer to those horses. One of them neighed like a wolf howling to the moon, and it shook its head dramatically like a proud actress. I was thinking how strange it was and wishing someone else was there to see it with me. I stood still watching the last of the horses bound deep into the ocean; they kept running through the delicate waves as easy as scissors ripping silk; they kept running till even their heads had dipped underwater. I wondered if horses could swim, but then I remembered that these days there’s no point doubting anything. It all could happen. All of it; anything. Maybe they had gills, and maybe there were other horses with wings. The water gathered in pools around my feet and already I was feeling the tingling.

You can see all the dead fish and crabs and other slimy things being tossed about underwater like any old rubbish. I leant down to pick up a starfish which was fossilised in a coating of ash. If you pull their limbs off, they grow back. I held it in my hand, the ash flaking off of it, a thing so precarious. Looking down, you could see the dull yellow glow coming from odd areas of the sea bed. I sighed and threw the starfish into the distance, watching it spin away like a frisbee. It made me feel a little freer.

I stood there with the radiated water churning its forgotten neutrons and fishy detritus and plastic litter; stood there until I felt the very sand below my feet begin to sink. As usual, the day would not come as it should. The storm’s aftermath of dark grey clouds bloomed in the distance and already I could smell the pungency of all their nothingness. The whole horizon was a plume of flowery mist.

I closed my eyes and remembered the time the baby and I were on this beach, making sandcastles out of soft bright sand and in the warm sun eating strawberries. I opened my eyes to blink. A veil of ash still covered the sky, cloaking the world with unnatural mortality. I closed them again, to stop the sting.

And now when I close my eyes, I think of the horses. I cry and cry, thinking of those horses; though water is too precious to waste, a memory of some ocean that’s light years away.

(Prompts: photograph of horses, mortality, fall-out)

by Maria Rose Sledmere

The Firebrand

Evelina Maplin was a figure shrouded in mystery and Turkish tobacco smoke.

Hector Maplin, former owner of the once-respectable Maplin’s Printmaker’s, had died over a decade ago, and even he had outlived his business. But his daughter and heir, Evelina, still found a use for his clanking old steam powered press. She was the author of some sixty-eight printed works of a political and dissident nature, under the pseudonym of Everard Cartouche. What’s more, these were not the intellectual musings of the bourgeoisie suffering from chronic ennui – far from it. These were pure vitriol: outlandishly anti-establishment raving, often accompanied by viciously-scrawled satirical cartoons, from an utterly degenerate working-class, unmarried, formally uneducated woman of loose moral character, who, despite her almost legendary standing amongst her supporters, simply could not be tracked down by the appropriate authorities.

I, however, took it upon myself to discover this singular woman, and give her the place she deserved among the chronicles of the poor. My project was not an easy one, but it was my life’s work, and I could not bear to see it published without at least a perfunctory article on this typewriting- troublemaker. It had taken over a year and much careful probing of the most knowledgeable (and lucid) inhabitants of the more dilapidated boroughs even to discover that the name Everard Cartouche was a nom-de-plume, and that, indeed, the writer of these monstrous attacks on the hierarchy were in fact the work of a hand belonging to a member of the fairer sex. After three tireless years of questioning and trawling birth registers and old police records, I was able to patch together a vague profile of this girl, and only a matter of days ago, a name and an address. And finally, there I stood, upon the doorstep.

Her headquarters were the dingy attic above her father’s out-of-business print shop, though to this day I never discovered her permanent abode. The street was as narrow as they come, the buildings on each side leaning toward each other like two infants exchanging a sheepish, tiptoed kiss. The blacked-out windows belied the lively history of political dissent and rabble-raising that was once achieved in this ancient printing quarter, on rickety wooden machines punching out elaborate pamphlets challenging religion and royalty, society and science.

The front door was firmly padlocked, but on closer inspection of the premises I found a passage leading to a back courtyard, with an ancient and (I hoped) out of use privy, and a few lines of sorry laundry, floating on a weak breeze. The sun was setting, and the yard, with its weeded clutter of cobbles, was filled with a ruddy, stifled light.

The door to the old print shop was ajar, leading to a wormy wooden staircase which climbed into the thick darkness. The scent of tobacco could already be detected, and this is what I followed to the object of my several years of study. I climbed as quietly as I could manage, though the rickety boards groaned and shuddered with every step. As I grew nearer to the top floor, I could see a dim yellow light around the frame of the trapdoor leading to the attic, and I could hear a furious clacking sound amidst a cacophony of whirring and hissing. Abandoning my usual courtesy, I decided it best not to knock, lest I startle my prey into locking the door and hiding herself away. Instead, I quietly raised the trapdoor and climbed the dusty ladder.

Miss Maplin had her back to the entrance, and she was tapping at the keys to a monstrous typewriter – the beast had to be some twenty or thirty years out of date – whilst an equally gargantuan steam printing press chuntered behind what can only be described as a mountain of miscellaneous pages, both loose and cheaply bound, forming almost a half-wall in the centre of the room. She had not heard me enter, but, alas, my figure created an eerie shadow in the light of her single oil lantern, and she ceased her typing and whirled about, causing the fat cigarillo she held to spray a flutter of ash onto the desk at which she worked. A lick of flame erupted on a stray page, and quickly spread to a large stack nearby. Stifling a scream, she attacked the fire with a moth-eaten shawl, but her in her panicked state she knocked the lantern off the desk, and a new, greater blaze emerged as the burning oil spread over the piles of dry paper – perfect kindling. Cursing like a sailor, Miss Maplin attempted to put out the flames with her foot, but envisioning the disaster if her petticoats were set alight, I intervened, dragging her away from the growing inferno.

“We must leave, Miss Maplin!” I pleaded, and half-carried her through the trap-door, kicking and screaming.

Once we had fled the building, which was fast filling up with smoke, I caught my breath and attempted to address the terrible misfortune of my visit to the clandestine malcontent. Before I could muster a word of comfort, she throttled me:

“That’s my life work!” She shrieked. “Up in flames! Who are you? Saboteur!!”

“I am…a fellow writer, Miss Maplin.” I panted. “A journalist. A chronicler of the poor, to be precise. I…I simply wanted to meet you, to learn about your business…to write about you, for – for posterity. I never meant…”

“Well…” She spat. “That’s all very well then. For the poorhouse is where I’ll be going after this.”

Rachel Norris
What were your prompts?: Curiosity, Introvert/ink

Fire, Ice and Other Remainders

Four in the morning and this has happened many times before. The distant alarms, the rising flames. The dead malls are prone to it, with their hoards of cardboard and flimsy walls. The paper remains of what was once a kind of wonderland; now just a labyrinth of skeletal stairways, abandoned shop fronts, shrivelled pot plants, abandoned coat hangers.

The firefighters come, stumbling in their layers of clothing, pulling hoses from their great red engine.

It isn’t the kids that called them. They have made the mall a sanctuary, a place of escape. They live in the catacombs of old stores, smoking dope and surviving off crisp packets and handfuls of Walmart pick’n’mix, exchanging tired conversations and pornographic magazines. This time it was a real fire that started the blaze: the freezing February temperatures have spread even this far east, and the kids are living in sub-zero conditions. Their existence revolves around cheap nylon scarves, blue lips and the warmth of each others’ bodies. For weeks now they’d been starting fires in tyre rims pinched from the hardware store; only this time, somehow, the fire had caught. It flickered and twisted along the walls, licking the handles from doors and stealing sales banners from the ceiling. As it grew, monstrous and distorted, the kids ran and screamed, gathering what few possessions they had and seeking shelter in the toilets. The basement toilets, where at least there was water.

Explosions were heard in some distant zone of the mall, probably the electrical department of the supermarket. So it had spread that far.

Some of the kids were shivering so hard they couldn’t think. Their speech came out slurred as they voiced jokes or regrets. Many sunk into a deep sleep, the smoke coming under the doors to fog up their eyes, their throats, their brains. They start to hear the shouting – loud men’s voices – as if it were the sound of someone shaking them, waking them from a dream. Their world closes up and everything is muffled.

It was never an easy job, putting out a mall fire. The problem was the open planning, the way the fire could spread as easily as germs multiplying over a plate of left-out food. It didn’t help that the firefighters were working in the coldest conditions anyone here had known for twenty years or more. They worked for three long hours, a bustle of bodies and roaring of water. Their cheeks were flushed but they had lost all sensation in their toes and fingers. By the time they had finished, they saw that it was minus 16 degrees.

It took them a long time to find the kids. Nobody had responded to their voices, so they had assumed the place was empty. By chance they found them in the basement, strewn across the floor of ersatz marble. Most of them were passed out, their faces either bright white or burning red, a layer of frost laced across their lips. Only a couple were still conscious, though their breathing was sharp and rapid.

“The-the fire-” one of them stuttered as he saw the man in the glowing uniform approach him.

“It’s all put out. Safe.” The man looked down on this kid who barely looked a day over eighteen. He wondered why so many were running away; why so many were drawn to these wastelands, these remainders of the cosy capitalism that had nurtured them from infants. He was strong and a logical thinker, and yet he couldn’t understand this whole-scale…abandonment.

The firefighters pulled out all twenty four kids from that grubby basement toilet. They wrapped everyone in whatever sweaters, throws and coats they could salvage from the burnt-out stores, then spent a good hour or so trying to revive those that were unconscious. Some of them opened their eyes with incoherent mutters, but others remained out cold. Their pulses slipped to a dull throb, then were still.

When all of them finally left the basement, they saw that the fire was extinguished, but the water lingered. It lingered in thin icicles that clung to the ceilings, window-ledges, escalators. In sheets of shining ice that skirted the laminate floor, bubbles of frost that stuck to the surfaces of upturned chairs and tables, slushy pools surrounded by chunks of miniature icebergs. It ornamented every object with its steely glint.

The firefighters packed the kids into three ambulances, their blue lights flashing shadows across the canvas of rime that covered the mall’s outer walls. As they worked, white crusts of frost slowly fell off in the timid warmth of dawn sunshine.

A final firefighter stood in the shattered glass of the sliding door entrance, staring inside at the wreckage. It was hell frozen over; the glacial remainder of a wonderland he himself had frequented as a boy. That shiny, plastic joy had been scorched, transformed, made molten. Those ghosts of shoppers and the exciting items they longed for were now purged by fire; by this inferno of the starving, the fire of those left behind. For a while the place would be nothing but a sublime temple of ice. God was trying to tell them something, of that he was sure. Out of all the kids the firefighters had rescued from the mall, they had managed to save only four.

(Prompt: Philadelphia fire photographs)

by Maria Rose Sledmere

Yesterday

Sirens fall all around us. This is the place we were when it happened, when it began to happen. Where the roses bloom full under the unnatural moon, and stray dogs sniff about in the shattered concrete. The place where all was once safe and calm. I walk with you, not because you are a stranger but because you are the one that knows me better than I know myself.

As I write this there is a place in the solar system where a planet bursts like sunlight on the old town green, scattering fire and debris for millions and millions of miles; each tiny star of matter expanding outwards, growing huge with weight and heat, its surface coruscating with the white flicker of its infinity. I remember a time when the world was small, and it was an age to walk to the garden wall, where ecosystems flourished under my child’s paws. Snails with shells cracked by the boots of adults, woodlice hiding under bark, worms squirming after the rain. I think this must be the most beautiful world, almost as beautiful as the world of microbes, with their bubbles and tiny fibres swaying as if to some cosmic beat, inaudible to human ears; but pulsing, pulsing beneath the surface. Every particle surrounds me now, leaves me to my own unravelled being, my own devices. There is a story to what has happened. I wish in your pride you might tell me, O Stranger who has come here. What has happened? Why have I happened? The wailing remains in the cries of the night and I am frightened to admit that I am frightened.

I pass the school and then the fire station, where black chars cover the signs of what once might have been called architecture. Or maybe not architecture; maybe just a building with a roof and walls, a place to sleep. I find nourishment nowhere. Every step that I walk wastes my body away; I feel the flesh melt as a person feels their room melt when they fall into sleep. I have forgotten what sleep might be. There is just this darkness, this ever-enduring reality.

You hold me in the dark and for the first time I look to the sky. I am a child again and the vast depths of velvet smother me; I want to touch every diamond that offers me its sparkle; its sparkle growing closer and bigger, but I can’t, I can’t.  The sky holds its sway over me, just as I feel you fall away and crumple like the dust from whence you came. I look to the sky that is not my mother, nor my father; nor the brush of a whisper – these words that I pray. The roar of thunder comes and I know that it is happening; happening with the sad hour that hangs as a snowflake clinging to some precious tree branch that overlooks the edge of the universe… a final crystal cold, a final light with which to play. I close my eyes, I am awake. And this is yesterday.

Prompt: *choose a music lyric*

And I stare at the sky / And it leaves me blind / I close my eyes / And this is yesterday

(Manic Street Preachers, ‘This is Yesterday’)

by Maria Rose Sledmere

Therapeutic Ride

“Are you sure that you want to do this?” He watches me half concerned, have admiring. He knows that I’ve been carousels and especially swing rides for the past fifteen years. And he knows why.
I stare at the column with the rotating chairs and flashing lights in red, green and yellow. I nod. I am sure.
“You know, you don’t have to do it.” He insists.
I know that I don’t have to but I want so much that it seems like an obligation. I can’t avoid fun rides for the end of my live. I used to love them and I love them still in spite of me fear that dominates my mind since this fateful day fifteen years ago.
He and one of the men working with the carousel help me in one of the chairs and fasten the security chain. I try not to think about the fact that the chain will not help in case of a real emergency and bite my lips. Then I feel his hand in mine. He sits in the chair next to me and smiley encouragingly. We can do this together.
The ride starts. The huge round top of the carousel begins to rotate. Faster. Faster. The chairs swing through the air. My hair is blown by the wind. I begin to smile. This is great. I hear the first screams of joy.
Screams. Sparkles. Chairs spinning in the air, having lost the attachment to the rotating platform. More screams. Screams of fear. I cannot make noise. My mouth is opened but no sound escapes. I crash to the ground and feel a sharp pain in my back before I faint.
But not this time. I hold Daniel’s hand and we fly through the air until the carousel slows down and we return to the ground safely. I feel a bit shaky but I’m happy. I’ve done it! After avoiding them for a long time I’ve finally ridden a carousel again.
The carousel-man brings me my wheelchair and he and Daniel help me into it. He waves when I roll of. Daniel walks besides me. Grinning. “Cotton candy as a reward?” Definitely.
Nobody knew what exactly made the swing ride collapse fifteen years ago. I must admit, I never really cared. My fourteen-year-old me’s mind was occupied with the question how my paraplegia would affect me going to school, continuing horse riding and finding a boyfriend. Whether my condition was caused by an electric fault or corroded metal struts was less important. I was angry with the swing ride’s owner anyway and swore never to come near a carousel again. But sometimes you have to overcome your fears and today is the day.

What were your prompts?: carousel photo, accident, flashback

by Rut Neuschäfer

One Night at the Carnival

It happened over cup of coffee. Often the images came back to fluttering back to her through her untrained subconscious. Only in dreams, but that morning as Hera sat in her usual spot in the coffee shot which she frequented every morning at 11 the entire episode cracked forcibly back in to her mind like a bolt of lightning.

It was late. The carnival appeared as a swirling vortex of darting stars against the black curtain of the night sky. The squeals and shrieks subsided as one by one the lights glowing from the rides fell still and were slowly extinguished. The last of the revellers traipsed in pairs with clasped or in groups with their arms linked towards the exit. The rest of the carnies set about tending their rides or clearing their stalls. Hera was the only lone figure who trudged wearily through afterglow of amusement and delight. Although barely yet 19, she was by no means a small girl. She towered above even most of the men at almost 6ft5 and every inch of her carried a substantial roll of weight. In any other setting this may have made her undesirable but beneath the lights of the carnival it made her a statuesque figure of indignation and intrigue. The Gnasher had told her many times that she’d make a wonderful sideshow act if only she were willing to take up a gimmick. Strongwoman, he’d said or perhaps she could take up belly dancing? But Hera had always been most content operating the Waltzers. It was the legacy that had been left to her by her father and no one could spin the cars quite the way that Hera did. Sure, any carnie could make the kids squeal but hitting the buttons but for Hera it was an art. The turning of each car was like the sultry sway of a tarantella. She could make that ride bend beneath the elegant touch of her fingers. She had been doing the last few rounds of the evening when the pain started. The pain that flew through her stomach and down her legs like the tigers swiping restlessly through the bars of their cage at feeding time. She had reluctantly handed over her controls to one of the dull seasonal carnies and had crawled towards the refuge of her trailer. However she did not make it that far. Less than halfway to her haven Hera found herself crouched behind the throbbing generator to the Ghost Train. Doubled over with the pain Hera opened and closed her mouth as if to scream but only the hoarse squeak of a tearful “Help” escaped her raw throat. Hera could not recall if she tried exactly she lay on her back behind that generator with her nails digging in to the late summers dust. She drew her knees to her chest and before she could even fathom the pain she had drawn the accidental thing from between her legs. But it was barely whole, just sot and pink and limp. So she released it from her awed clutch and let it roll from her. She laid her exhausted head back against the cool rusting metal of the generator, like her eyes roll back in their sockets and wept bitter, silent tears.

What were your prompts?: funfair, accident, flashback

by Hayley Rutherford

The Carnival Is Over

I left the bar on Virginia Street. I won’t name it. It’s familiar enough to the community who use it. Down Virginia place and onto Ingram Street I was heading for Queen Street Station and home. I hadn’t been drinking, I don’t anyway. I was just socializing with some friends. It was Christmas and we always have Christmas lunch in ESCA on Chisholm Street then those among us who don’t feel like going home just yet go to a bar and sit, drinking and reminiscing on the year(s) past. Then, we disperse mid evening to return home that we might prepare for the coming festive season … or maybe just continue to drink until the memories go.
I waited at the lights on Ingram Street as the buses and cars flooded the street. No point in risking running across, just wait for the green man. Up North Fredrick Street and into George Square where the carnival is in full flow, I cross St. Vincent street at ‘The Piper on the Square’ pub and walk into the area of the square where the shows are. Suddenly, I stop at the foot of Sir Walter’s Column. I have a sudden flashback. I am standing here twenty years ago on another cold December night just before Christmas. I am not alone. My soulmate is by my side. I don’t remember what we’re talking about. We are happy. We are looking forward to another year like the last. We both have good jobs. The future is bright. Suddenly I am standing in silence. The sounds of the carnival fade into nothing. It’s as if I am standing in a time warp. I look at the ATM across the street. It’s not there now. The buildings have been altered in the intervening decades. I don’t hear the screech of brakes. Or the impact. The sickening thud. I do hear the words of the seekers 1966 hit go through my head
‘The joys of love are fleeting for Pierrot and Columbine.’
That song was playing on that long ago night. I wonder where HE is. The drunken bastard. I remember him in court. His smart arse QC pleading with the Sherriff not to impose a ‘custodial sentence’ as he had a good job and would lose it.
‘A good fucking job? My partner lost their life …’
The fat, slimy overpaid bastard got four years of a ‘custodial sentence’ and life driving ban. I hope he’s cleaning a lavatory somewhere now.
I hear a siren approaching, I feel faint. I’m going to fall … I don’t, I take deep breaths and pull myself together. A modern Rapid Response Unit in the ‘Battenberg’ livery screams out of Queen Street. Someone has been taken ill outside the counting house. The green-clad paramedics jump out with their kit and begin treatment.
The sounds of the carnival come back. I force myself to walk. Across to the station I go. Past ‘Berlin’ that used to be Sadie Frost’s where we first met. I get my pass out and pause at the station entrance. One last look at the lights of the fair before I turn away and walk into the station and the late train back to Kildoran. For me the carnival is truly over.

What were your prompts?: Accident, Carnival, Flashback

by Jane Jones

The Bobcat

Gedali Kastner, jack of some trades and man of partial talents, never expected that his life would depend on a borrowed revolver. The midday sun hung in the sky like the blade of a guillotine. High noon- The best time of day for shooting people, apparently.

His foe, Bart ‘The Bobcat’ Phipps, rose over the dust and weeds as Nephilim did in elder days. He had a face that put bricks to shame.

“Alright, you bottle bellied son of a bitch- you ready to apologise for what you did to my hat?”

“Look, how was I supposed to know it was of any value? If you ask me a hat full of holes is of no use to anyone.”

Phipps clenched his fists. “Goddamn it! Thats not the point! I loved that hat!”

“Well, I didn’t mean to sit on it, but why did you leave it on a chair if you loved it so much? Seems to me like it was just asking to be sat on.”

“If you weren’t so pig brained, you’d of known that when The Bobcat goes out to take a piss, he puts his hat on the chair so people know not to sit there.”

“Well, call me pig brained, but where I’m from a hat is no sort of reservation, holes or not.”

“Well where you’re from, they don’t got me to be scared of, eh? And round here nobody crosses The Bobcat and lives.”

“Ah, I’ve had worse. You’re not exactly a Tsar.”

“A Sar? Whats that? Some sorta animal?”

“I suppose he’s something of a beast, yes.”

“Psh, well you can keep your Sar. He ain’t nothing compared to a tiger like me.”

“I thought you were a bobcat?”

“Argh! Just shut up already! You curly haired, cactus suckin’, chicken shit bastard, I’ll feed you to the vultures!”

Phipps made for his revolver, and had it pointed at Gedali before he could even react.

Nothing happened.

Phipps was visibly distressed. He pulled the trigger again.

Nothing continued to happen.

“Aw, shit, why’d you have to break down on me now?” Phipps opened the revolver, only to find an empty cylinder. “What in hell?” With a start he realised that it was now Gedali’s turn to shoot.

Gedali laughed, and put on his best macho accent. “Its your turn, punk. Just gimme a second to think of what I’m gonna scribble on your tombstone.”

Struck dumb by the sheer cold-blooded flair of Gedali’s remark, a woman watching the showdown from a window fainted with such force that she broke through her floorboards.

“Don’t kill me! I swear, the hat was trash! You’re right, I shoulda thrown it out years ago. Just- just let me go and I promise I’ll never bother you again! I swear, you can have all the seats in town, just don’t shoot!”

“You know, that doesn’t sound so bad. Alright then, go. Get out of town and don’t you even think of coming back till I’ve left.”

A short while after Bart Phipps had fled the town in a gust of snot and tears, Gedali stepped into the local gunsmith’s store.

“That was some show you put on out there, mister.”

Gedali pulled out the gun and handed it back to the smith. “My thanks for the colt.”

“Now, how the hell any man walks to a duel without any ammunition and wins is beyond me. What if his gun didn’t jam?”

“Think of it simply as a lucky guess on my part.” He doffed his hat and turned to go. “I’ll be going now, got some wandering to do. Farewell.”

“Wait a minute.” The gunsmith gave Gedali a strange look. “There’s more to this, isn’t there?”

Gedali nodded.

With some trepidation, the smith checked the revolver. Six cartridges.

He held up the open gun. “And I suppose you won’t be explaining these?”

“Not at all.”

“Well, I have no idea what you’ve done, but I have a feeling it wouldn’t be smart to be poke my nose into it… You take care of yourself, alright?”

“You too, friend.”

And with that, the odd fellow went striding out into the afternoon, trailed by the breeze of Volhynian fields.

Prompt: accident

by Paul Inglis