Abrasions

He has left his knife behind.

This is not the kind of mistake he makes. Normally, he would pick up his things with such precision it was as if he were articulating some private symphony. Everything in order: gloves, coat, scarf, rope, knife. The rules of his hunt are simple enough. He always said that tools were crucial to a man’s success. We are not human without our tools; without our tools, we are no better than animals.

He likes his statements strong, like his liquor.

I suppose he would not think twice about leaving me with his knife. Maybe something distracted him this morning; maybe the chickens were scrapping in the yard, or he did not like the way I slept as he stood over me, brooding. I like when he does that. I feel small but powerful, because he does not know that I am actually awake. He sees me in my smallness alone, a fragile animal. So I like to sleep for him; it is a performance.

He does not know the way I think sometimes. I think about my body and what it can do for him, what it can do without him. I know all the places where I have scratched and scratched, where my nails have abraded the skin, worn it to a raw red patch. Places he does not see: the bone of my ankles, the back of my knees.

I am to prepare a marvellous lunch for him. He will return to some hearty casserole, heavy with beef and laced with star anise. I will lure him back to me with that strange, sweet fragrance.

I curl the peelings from the vegetables with his knife. It is a treat to use, so sharp. The shavings fall away from me, down onto the floor, dropping, dropping. I cut the tip of my finger accidentally, and a bright bead of blood forms on my skin like a blob of fresh dew. I lick it clean off. It gathers again and some of it splashes into the stew. Inevitable, I suppose. It is tempting, of course, to make another elision – to practice this art upon my body, to reestablish the terms of my own possession.

But I don’t. I leave the food to cook and go to the window, where I will watch for him in the raw morning, the hanging cabbage untouched, swaying behind me mysteriously. I have not used this cabbage in the stew; I prefer its abstract presence, just as I prefer the scratch and itch of my fingers, so much stronger than any tool.

— Maria Sledmere

(Flash Fiction February prompts: waiting, still life of fruit & vegetables)

 

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Waiting

It’s silent. Well, that’s not quite true. It’s never truly silent here- the leaves rustling and animals sleeping and insects busy and the wind murmuring through the trees. It’s as close to silence as I’ll ever get, though, and honestly, I think true silence would drive me mad. I like the quiet, me alone with my thoughts (although that’s not always a good thing), poised and ready to pounce, sure, but calm and collected. This is the only free time I get, this waiting pause before my prey appears, and it’s easy to be patient when it’s the only time you get to be still.
My mind drifts, snagged on odd snippets of thought. I wonder why the wind blows so quietly, barely moving the leaves. When it is strong it is wild, tearing branches away and leaving us shaken, but when it’s calm like this it is a balm, soothing, bringing far off noises and smells that I catalogue carefully.
Although that too is an issue that must be worked around, to insure that the animals I hunt are downwind of me, that this playful breeze is not unwittingly carrying my scent towards them.
And it’s funny where your thoughts go when there’s nothing solid to focus on, and the questions you find yourself asking when your mind wanders. Why is the moon only sometimes round and why do the stars move and why do some plants go away at night and why do some only appear at night and why is dirt soft and what is dirt actually made of and- and then I tense as my prey appears and my mundane, half-formed thoughts and questions vanish like mist, replaced by the ice-cold clarity of the hunt.

By MK
(Prompts: patience)

The Crow Rr’karva

The Crow Rr’karva
Ailsa Williamson

English:

A crow sat high on the wall
Cawing so loud, all heard his call
People looked up from field and road,
Wondering what terrors he foretold
Times and change and times of woe
Lips parted, expressing pure sorrow
But as they listened to his echowing caw
They realised he was not calling to them at all.

Gengen’vor (language in development):

Karva mea’di sha kakata rr’ethr
Korvok’ni kat’val ranna mesh’di lelne efat
Enepis pepe’di volk komp sharat e megmali
Ava’ni ven tandes lel vanashika’di
Garshais me’draka e garshais me’falhi
Banies govo’di lelami’ni finita falhi
Ta’a as lelnn bane’ni ot lelne korvok
Lelnn pafi’di lel gm’di nen efat’ni ot lelnn nen ranna.

 

(Prompts: crow, lips, change)

The Magpie and the Spider

- Micolo J. https://www.flickr.com/photos/robin1966
– Micolo J. https://www.flickr.com/photos/robin1966

Lucy had a secret. A secret she hadn’t told to her father or mother or even her best friends.

She knew a magpie that came to see her almost everyday. She had a special connection with this magpie. She would feed it scraps of bread or handfuls of seeds, and in return, every now and then, it would bring her little treasures. Sometimes it was just a paperclip or a pin, but Lucy’s magpie had also brought her marbles, tacky rhinestone bracelets, a plastic heart charm, a set of silver keys, a heavy metal screw, chain necklaces and once a solid gold wedding band. Such a magical time it had been when the magpie brought her that wedding band; he had dropped it in their hiding place behind the garden shed, where it glinted happily amidst the filth and compost. Scraping away the crumbling mud, Lucy had tried on the ring. It was beautiful and heavy, though somewhat too big for any of her fingers. She had not stowed it away in her special drawer along with all the other gifted trinkets, but rather wore it on a rope of string around her neck, hidden beneath her t-shirt. A few days later, she had heard her parents talking about an advertisement for a missing ring in the local newspaper, but Lucy had not said a word. The ring was hers and while she wore it she felt safe; she knew she had the luck of a magpie’s love.

The magpie had been coming to see Lucy for years. At first she thought it was just chance that this bird decided to reward her efforts at sneaking food from the kitchen, but she had entered into a psychic relationship with the creature. She swore to herself that she could read its thoughts. Really, the magpie wanted the same things as her. A secret, special friend. The magpie never came to the garden in a pair, unlike the other birds. He was always alone.

Even in these winter mornings, Lucy would get up early to wait in the garden for the magpie. She would leave piles of crushed-up crisps or cereal out on the tree stump at the back of the garden. A little chaffinch danced on the branches of her mother’s apple tree, tentatively shuffling its wings as if deciding whether or not to fly. Nasty, pecking blackbirds would often swarm upon the lawn, digging their sharp beaks in the dewy soil for worms. With the wedding band thumping against her chest, Lucy had to chase them away so that they would not eat her magpie’ s breakfast. For the magpie was truly her soulmate, and she would not let other birds pillage her precious offerings.

One evening Lucy was returning to her room from brushing her teeth when she saw on the wall above her bed a massive spider. It was obviously a remnant of the winter spiders, who occupied her parents’ house from September to March to find shelter from the cold. It was late at night – too late to wake her parents – and Lucy could not go to bed with such a thing in the room. It was a horrid blot upon the perfect cream of her bedroom walls; a blot that unfortunately was often moving. She watched with disgust as it extended its creeping legs, wiggling the black mark of its body. Sometimes, the legs lifted and bent and lifted again as if they were pincers. Lucy was really starting to feel quite sick.

It was too high up to catch in a jar, and there was no use throwing something at it because it would only fall straight down and bury itself in Lucy’s bed.

So she clambered onto her windowsill and pulled open the heavy window. The night smelt fresh and cool, almost like a summer night, though those were still far away. There were the usual suburban sounds, the glow of other windows; but nothing more, nothing more at all. Underneath her nightie Lucy stroked the ring for comfort, beginning to sing her favourite song. Her voice left the house slowly, the haunting melody travelling through the night like a fly struggling through thick black molasses. There was a thin moon watching her. It was the only thing in the universe that knew that Lucy was calling, calling out for her magpie familiar.

And it came. It landed on the dark grass and looked up at her with its flashing amber eye.

“There’s a spider in my room. A nasty wicked spider. You must kill it for me, Mr. Magpie.”

The bird screeched with its habitual rattling cackle. It tilted its head just so.

“Please Mr. Magpie,” Lucy called out. She held her arms out to the dark night and with this beckoning the magpie suddenly swooped up and flew right past her into her bedroom. Squawking loudly, it flapped about with an air of mania until Lucy switched the light on. She pointed to the slowly-moving spider on the wall.

“There,” she whispered. The magpie seemed reluctant at first. It turned its head to gaze at Lucy. And how could any human being fathom what that strange bird was thinking; what lay behind the opaque brilliance of those amber eyes? But Lucy knew; Lucy knew her magpie would do whatever she asked. She watched as it raised its wings and soared into the wall, clutching the spider in its gnarled claws and crushing it into a tangled ball. Lucy watched with a kind of horrified delight as the magpie shrieked triumphantly, before swooping through the window again and out into the darkness, bearing the spider with it. Trying to stifle her laughter, she slammed down the window and admired the lovely canvas of her clean wall. Not a trace of death; not a trace of the spider. She climbed into bed and slept like a baby, oblivious to the distant rumbles of a gathering storm. In fact, only once did she drift from her slumber, seeing her window lit up with fiery lightning; but quickly she fell back to sleep again.

In the morning, Lucy awoke to mellow sheets of sunlight pouring through her window, and the sound of her mother knocking on the door.
“Come in.”
Her mother entered and handed Lucy a glass of milk.
“What was all that commotion in here last night?” she asked, her voice tinged with a hint of dread.
“Oh, what commotion? It must’ve been the storm,” Lucy said innocently. She drank the milk hungrily and wiped the traces of it from her lips.

Once she was dressed, Lucy headed into the garden to put the washing out for her mother. The storm had left behind a perfect day, with fair blue skies and the twinkle of birdsong and blush of hopeful crocuses. Spring would be coming soon. In her bare feet, Lucy stepped across the grass, which gleamed lushly with beads of rain and felt soft against her skin. The sun was warm on her cheeks as she pegged up the damp scraps of washing.

When she had finished, however, she noticed a scorched patch of grass and something dark at the back of the garden, by the shed. Perhaps the ground had been struck by lightning in last night’s storm. But as she crept closer, Lucy’s heart seized up like a frightened animal. Just there, lying on the grass beside the burnt patch, was her magpie. For the first time she noticed the fine jewelled beauty of its feathers: the blue, green and burnished red that gleamed in the sun like powdered sapphires. The glossiness of its black and white body, the marble jewel of its knowing eye. With shaking fingers, Lucy lifted back its wings, and alas it did not respond to her touch. She was certain it was dead; but that was all she knew. A bead of a tear escaped her shining eyes. Kneeling down, not caring now that the neighbours might see her, she took off the necklace with the wedding-band. Carefully, she placed it beside the magpie, and turned it gently over to face the sky. As she did so, a tiny spider crawled out from underneath its body, scarpering out over the scorched soil.

And there was nothing or nobody to hear Lucy’s frightened cry.

Prompts: spider, treasure

by Maria Rose Sledmere

The Viscosity of Thought

Photo by Tom Hodgkinson: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hodgers/
Photo by Tom Hodgkinson: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hodgers/

“I want you to try something new today.” The therapist let the statement hang in the air, chewing his pencil in thought. Jemima sighed. She had not slept for seven nights, and the grey office walls did not soothe with their neutrality but rather reminded her of the inside of her eyelids. Old, swollen, shell-like.

“Well, will you?” She wished she could eat his enthusiasm; chew it and spit it out like rotten food. But Jemima hadn’t the energy to do so. Blinking slowly, she murmured her vague acquiescence.
“Great!” The therapist pulled open his desk drawer and fumbled around before carefully placing a sheet of paper on the wooden surface between them.
“I want you to tell me what you see,” he said. “Be spontaneous; be truthful. Be crazy, if that’s what comes to you.” Jemima raised her eyebrows.
“Unfortunate word choice,” she muttered.
“I – I’m sorry. I didn’t mean –”
“No, you meant quirky and creative and honest!”
“Anyway,” the therapist ignored her sarcasm with an urgent glance to the clock, “just have a look.”

Slowly, Jemima pulled the paper towards her and held it up so the dim windowless light could shine through the whiteness. It was a black gelatinous mass of indefinable shapes; the kind of thing you’d stumble across at a surrealist art exhibition. She was sick of the old man thrusting his avant-garde tricks upon her.

“It looks like… a vagina.” She said bluntly, thinking she knew how to please him.
“Come on, don’t be so obvious – you can do better than that!” Jemima huffed and squinted again at the picture. There was something peculiar about the internal pattern of the outlining lines, something about the way they curved around each other in weird intersections. A hazy sense of familiarity seemed to hover around the gaping middle shades.

She dug her fingernails deep into the soft wood because she was feeling everything slip away; the particles were splitting and the room was coming undone. A gasp provided the sufficient portal through the trauma. She heard the old man speak to her, but only as a swimmer gurgles through fathoms of water, his sound swallowed by the churning current. The walls were closing in…

Silt stuck between her toes and in the clammy air she sniffed the iodine stink of seaweed… Gulls whooping above her in endless, trailing circles. Chunks of wood eating into her nails; almost like flesh they tenderised under her touch.
“Mum!” she shrieked. She loved the sound of her childish voice. The shrillness of sweet innocence. And why would her mother not reply? The beach rang clear with its silence. Just the gulls and their cry, cry, cry. She began running, running out of nothing. She wanted to make it to the rocks. She leapt over slimy detritus, shattered glass, dead crabs, clusters of washed-up jewels and driftwood.

It was night now and a howling came from the end of the bay.
“Mother, I’ve been stung!”
She thought she saw a ship coming deep from the waves; a ghost ship which glowed with the midnight moon. A blue, curious glow from a curious moon. Jemima was a child, alone under the midnight moon. She closed her eyes and all of it glittered; all glittered in fragments of distant pictures.

She looked at her feet where the beached jellyfish still lay. It was a piece of molten mousseline glass, coloured inside with claret and lilac ringlets, the fine membranes strung from the centre like spider-silk. The white light would dance upon the crystal shell, and Jemima could just about make out her reflection in its shimmered surface. In this image Jemima saw her body distorted and bloated. So venomously with a stick she would poke it; piercing a stake through this picture of mockery. But then it became a wobbly, oozing thing: splayed and ugly as a laboratory experiment. Her leg throbbed with the sting and as she glanced at the shredded jelly meat she felt the becoming of her monstrousness.

The wood splintered thinly through the membrane of her fingertips. Something slammed upon the ocean. She looked up and saw the ship collapse through the water in hoary flakes of ash. The waves kept breathing, soft and sullen.

“Jemima!” He was shaking her arms, shaking her as if to send shots of voltage down her nerves.
“What is it you see?” Not bothering to conceal his frustration, the therapist gestured angrily to the picture that lay in front of them. Jemima pulled her nails out of the desk and seized the paper. Without a glance at its contents, she crumpled it into a ball, feeling her heart fall with the weight of lead.

“I miss myself before,” she said.

(Prompts: Rorschach blot, haunted, glitter)

by Maria Rose Sledmere

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

Little Lamb

Little Lamb who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

(William Blake, ‘The Lamb’).

A cloudless morning with the glint of spring and smell of distant woodsmoke. Graham was shifting hay for the horse, the strain in his back wrenching every time he bent and lifted the pitchfork. The horse kicked and snorted in the stable opposite, impatiently awaiting her new abode. Jasmine was a haughty one, a retired racehorse whose bulging muscle helped drag the old carts over the field when the trailer broke down – which, these days, it often did. Every now and then, Graham stopped his work to give Jasmine a Polo mint and a hearty pat on the flank.

“Makes me sad to see you upset,” he cooed to her, “I’ll be finished soon.” Jasmine sniffed.

This was the last spring that Graham would spend on the farm. He was fifty five years old and had lived there all his life. The thought of leaving pained him more than the crick in his spine.

The task was to clean up the land and the barns and sort everything before summer. The architect kept ‘popping round’ to inspect the grounds and survey the house, but aside from dishing out cups of tea, Graham and his family did their best to ignore him. It was unbearable to be reminded of what was soon to happen.

Graham’s wife, Marjorie, had pulled down all the old junk from the loft. There were books with mouldy pages, miniature soldiers, a typewriter they had sold for twenty pounds in a local jumble sale. One of the few things they had kept was a toy lamb. Its label was frayed and it had lost some of its fluff, but was still soft and awfully sweet, with bright little marble eyes. Marjorie had hand-washed it in the sink, gently scrubbing the attic’s must and muck from its fur. Watching her in the kitchen through the twinkling dust particles, Graham felt he had never loved his wife more. Thirty two years and nothing came between them.

Graham decided to give the lamb to his grandchild, Ella. She needed something to remind her of her roots. When his son Andrew had told him he was going for a job in the city, Graham had tried not to show his disappointment.

“It’ll be a good life, Dad,” Andrew had said as they looked out over the wheat fields, “with good pay and security. Times are changing.”

Yes, times were changing. There was no denying that now.

There was the ever-plunging price of dairy; the endless inspections; the cost of upgrading machinery. People leaving the village because rural life simply wasn’t feasible these days.

Once, Graham had held visions of his daughter inheriting Jasmine, galloping across the fields with her glossy copper hair streaming behind her like reeds underwater. There would be homemade jam and Sunday breakfasts, early mornings of pearly dawn, showing his children how to milk and lamb and clean the cows. But his son was a lawyer, and his daughter had died, years ago now. Her ashes were scattered out in the hills, where the wind-turbines went on endlessly spinning. Soon, when they were forced to leave all they had ever known, there would be nothing left of her memory.

It was getting towards twilight now, and Graham had set off to bring the animals in. The sky was darkening with amethyst clouds as the crescent moon revealed herself, tired and wan. He too had never felt so weary. The collie dog was on her best behaviour and soon the sheep were under shelter, but he was having some trouble with the cows. He stood upon the hill shouting as if he were calling to the elements themselves. He shook and howled; he knew he was losing it. Droplets of rain began to fall on his face, mingling with his tears. Growing ever more violent, the crying sky splashed down on the soil and filled the holes in his boots.

Finally the cows were inside and Graham was trudging back towards the farmhouse, soaked to the skin. Just then, he saw a familiar car pull up in the drive. It was his son’s immaculate BMW, now apparently streaked with a line of mud. Graham heard the doors slam shut and the sound of voices. It was Ella, singing! Even with the cold rain dripping down his neck, the simple melody filled him with warmth. He rushed inside to join them.

“Bloody bushes caught the side of my car, you need to get them cut back Dad.” It was the first thing Andrew said to him. This time, however, Graham ignored his whiny voice.

“What’s the point when we’re leaving so soon?” He sighed.

They all sat down for Marjorie’s best steak pie, but when she looked at her plate, Ella protested that she’d become a vegetarian. Surprised but with a smile, Marjorie rustled up some pasta and ruffled the girl’s ginger hair as she served it to her.

“It’s just wrong to hurt animals,” Ella explained as she tucked into her dinner. And as Graham lifted a forkful of pie to his lips, he paused. He thought of the sorrow of market day, the poor beasts he’d had to sell because they were getting next to nothing for their milk. He thought of the chickens killed for their dinners, and the people that came in trailers to take away the lambs.

“You know, that reminds me of something.” Decisively, he put down his knife and fork and pushed away his plate. He left the room and Andrew and Marjorie exchanged confused glances, though nothing would keep them from their food.

A few moments later, Graham returned with the cuddly lamb. Something Ella had said struck a chord in his memory.

“I’ve got a little present for you,” he knelt by his granddaughter’s chair as he handed it to her, “I think you should have it, more than anyone else in the world.” Ella looked at him with shining eyes as she took the lamb and pressed its softness to her pink cheeks.

“Oh she’s lovely!”

“Lovely indeed,” Graham agreed. The toy had, of course, belonged to his own daughter. It was the missing piece; the only thing they could take away when they had to leave. And in Ella’s hands, Graham knew she would live on in the sweet innocence that had so suddenly been stolen from her.

Jasmine, now, would only live on as long as her legs weren’t lame, and the other animals would probably be taken away. The land might be tainted with steel and concrete. But at least Graham could leave behind the cruelties he now recognised. He could pass on the tiny piece of spirit that would never leave these hills. The spirit of sunlight and sadness, freedom and laughter; the spirit of his daughter.

(Prompts: rain, pitchfork)

by Maria Rose Sledmere

The Deserters

They found themselves lying on baked ground that, upon closer inspection, turned out to be grit and sand. Their bodies throbbed with thirst and only a rasping sound escaped their throats. They were like lost children, stumbling in the light of a new horizon. Sam and Tina had no idea how they had got here. They had just…woken up.

Only a moment ago, they were asleep in their bed with the chilly wind rattling the walls. Messages flashing on their phone, gloriously ignored. Now they were here in this unimaginable space, the feverish heat clawing at their bodies. There was nothing here; only endless, yellow desert and a sky so pale it seemed to become the ground they stood on.

What’s more, Sam and Tina were naked, utterly naked, and already their skin was starting to peel from the sun’s glare.

“How the hell-?” Sam croaked, shielding his eyes.

“This is hell.” Tina kicked a stone and looked up to the sun. She was angry, that was all. She didn’t think this would happen.

They began to exist in this torrid landscape, their bodies slowly crisping, shedding flakes of skin like snakes, living off the charred bodies of lizards who had dried up in the random desert fires which occasionally flared up in the afternoon sun. They ate the lizards’ eggs too, cracking the shells with their scaly knuckles and trying not to gag as they swallowed the runny contents. They got used to it, though they could never feel at home. Everything they did felt like an intrusion, like they were stomping over holy ground. This was a place stripped pure of everything, and only the lizards and snakes and scorpions remained; the hard, scabrous creatures left upon a parched planet.

Their bodies shrank and withered and so did their brains. Soon they had no memory of who they were or what their lives had been like before this dream. All thoughts were of survival. Sometimes, Tina wondered what she had done, but the thought soon slipped away. The bare heat cleansed them of their confusion.

They walked along endless dunes under the relentless sun; they walked until they knew death would be there at last, clutching at them. For they were hungry for an ending; to death they would be hospitable.

And yet every time they thought it would happen some miracle saved them. One day they stumbled upon a clump of strange roses with spiked, shrub-like clusters underneath them. The pinkness of these flowers was almost too much for Sam and Tina: how luxurious it seemed against the acrid sand and sky that seemed to blend together. They scrabbled at the ground and soon they found a pool of water from which they could drink. It tasted of memory.

Sated, they lay back to wait for the cool relief of evening.

You might think Sam and Tina were dreaming they were Adam and Eve, atoning for some worry or other in their dreams. You might think somebody was writing about them, forcing them into a repenting situation, painting the scene of their fate. You might think this desert some symbolic landscape, a projection of psychological space. Probably, you would be wrong.

They are destined to wander forever. For they are not some relic of original Man. They were the people who stole all they could from each other, who burned and burned in their brutal desires until they were both starved, any trace of sentiment stripped from their skeletons. It is a harsh thing to wake up beside the same person every day and wish you were dying. But it is a harsher thing to wander forever with this person, to feed off what bare necessities the world will leave when your mind is gone and there is nothing but your mortal body to fill the time. To fill the final space, to spread out your life among the sweepings and leavings of the blind and forsaken. To be the selfish ones, the deserting.

Prompts: space, lizard

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