Burnt Dreams

Each weekend his daughter would arrive with her dollhouse, the one he had bought her. While she played, he watched her, smoking and drinking. As the smoke circled the room her eyes would water and the coughing would begin.

In the dollhouse, none of the family smoked or drank. The son had made it past one year old and the parents weren’t divorced. Things were perfect for them. He could see how much that perfect family comforted her; often she would fall asleep beside the house, smiling. She loved that family.

He, on the other hand, despised that family with all his heart. It was like being subjected to your least favourite TV show every night; he knew reality and after a few beers, he’d wish his bitch of a daughter would face it too. The booze often made him angrier, yet at the same time, it helped numb the tortuous experience.

One weekend he had bought himself an especially expensive bottle of whisky. Why, he wasn’t sure; he just felt he deserved it. When his ex-wife came by to drop off his daughter, it was hard not to grab it and smash it across her face. But he managed to control himself; that was something to be proud of at least.

It was the usual routine; his daughter acted out a variety of perfect scenarios while he sipped the whisky. He stared at the cheap plastic dolls, wishing he could melt them with his eyes. Those perfect scenes; at least give me some conflict, some drama, he thought to himself.

As he finished off the last drop of whisky, his daughter drifted off to sleep on the carpet, with the same smug smile she always wore.

He got off the couch and walked over to the house. He stared down at it, feeling suddenly like an all-powerful God. And he felt the need to smite. Staring at the blank-faced mother, he thought she had the same emotional coldness as his ex-wife. He lit a cigarette and dropped it on the house.

Unexpectedly, the fire caught quickly and the house erupted in flames. After a moment’s shock, he watched it and found it a pleasant sight. He heard coughing and turned to see his daughter staring up at the dollhouse. Tears filled her eyes.

He stamped down on the house, extinguishing the fire with his shoes. But it was left in ruins, blackened wood scattered across the living room. He laughed when he saw the melted faces of the families. But his daughter cried.

She never came on weekends again. But he didn’t mind. Now he could enjoy his whisky in silence.

 

by James Hunter

(prompts: cigarette, dollhouse)

Knowing Destiny

The acorn fell far from the tree and landed in the dirt. He knew that he himself was destined to be a tree.

 

But he wasn’t.

He was eaten by a squirrel.

 

It filled up the squirrel and made him proud and strong. The squirrel returned to the branches of the tree from whence the acorn fell. The squirrel knew he was destined to become king of his tree. To find a mate and have many children, to have ultimate rule and keep at bay the other males and keep his mates safe. And eat all of the nourishment of the tree and grow in to greatness.

 

But he wasn’t.

He was eaten by a large bird.

 

The bird scooped the squirrel, in reverie, from the arms of the tree and lifted him far away across the fields. The bird dug in his long claws and pecked voraciously at the squirrel’s warm flesh. Once the squirrel was consumed the bird felt satisfied and superior. He knew it was his destiny to become a great predator, a fearful shadow in the skies reigning dominion over all below.

 

But it wasn’t.

And before he could stretch his wings he was felled by a ginger cat.

 

The cat took the bird, which seemed very small to him, in her mouth. She strutted back across the fields to present her well-earned prize to her domestic keepers. Her destiny was not grandiose but pure. She knew she was destined to return to her keepers, to frolic in her garden, to keep herself warm and well, and live a contended life.

 

But it wasn’t.

And she was hit by a car.

 

She had carried her prize so long across the fields but her journey was abruptly halted as she tried to traverse the few feet from the wilds of the fields to the haven of her garden. The driver got out, he was panicked and concerned. The death of this animal was of no benefit to this man. Recognising her home was near his own, he bundled the cold little body in the back seat and continued on his way. His day had not gone well. He was agitated. But he told himself that his destiny was greater than this. That he was destined to get that promotion and one day he would start his own business, he would finally go to Egypt and see the pyramids, settle down and have kids, and retire to the South of France.

 

But he wasn’t.

He crashed his car in to the old oak tree outside his house.

 

The impact shook the wise old tree but it held itself stoicly. Only a single acorn dropped from its branches. The acorn fell far from the tree and landed in the dirt. He knew that he himself was destined to be a tree.

 

by H.R.

(prompts: Acorn, “If you don’t turn your life into a story,

you just become a part of someone else’s story.”)

For a Kingdom

They say that full fathom five a goddess lies, in a shark-bit sepulchre worn by waves.
They say that she hangs in chains there, locked away in the deepest of dungeons.
They say she waits, for something.
For someone.
And they are right.
The crown prince was thrown, amulet of office and all, over the cliff and down
To find his own way back from the storm-tossed sea. He did not find his way back,
In the end, but his way forward.
He was dragged down to the darkest depths, where the sun does not deign to light,
Anyone’s way, but leaves that duty to the things better suited to it.
The Amulet his father gave him, to be passed on to his queen when he was a man grown,
Was stolen away from him to lie amongst pearls, another sunken treasure.
When he found air and light again he was amid candles and stained glass, and the
Soft clanking of thin chains.
His amulet lay on the stone before him, and when he snatched it up he found himself
Staring into eyes like bubbles of jet, over rough coral lips and a jagged shark’s teeth grin.
There she knelt, chained in her own temple. The Nameless Queen, cast from heaven,
Her name never to be spoken, not after her little war so shook the earth.
“What do you seek?” she said, in a voice like clacking shells. “What sad pilgrim makes
visitation here? There are no gods this deep save those pulled apart by crabs.”
“I seek my birthright,” he said, clutching his amulet so hard his hand bled. “My kingdom.”
“What would you give for it?”
“Anything.” He grasped the necklace. Responding to his unspoken resolve, the chain slid open.
“Then give me your hand. Slip it through my chains, and be bound here with me. Give me
The life taken, the soul stolen. Give me the love, fill the void that binds me here.And so bind the
world above.”
The amulet wound over her chains, dangling around her neck. “What will I call you, my lady?”
“A man might call his lady love, he might call her his sweetest dove, but I…I was called…I was called
harpy and I was called whore, I was called to by sailors who yearned for the shore…I was called
by the hermits who prayed themselves mine, but now you shall call me, I shall be…Undine.”
The temple shook. The windows broke, and water poured in in torrents.
“What would you have of me, my lord husband?”
“A riot, first. A rebellion. A war. A conquest.” said the prince, as water lapped at his ankles.
“A kingdom.”

 

by Thomas Boyle

(prompts: riot, necklace, sunken temple)

Faraway From Home

How I long to see Scotland again! I’ll perish in this Chinatown. Shrouded in smog so thick one can’t even discern his own feet from the ground! Even the sad neon lights have been snuffed. The whole city’s shut itself down and everyone I pass is with masks.

And the moon—poor soul!—smudged in the sky like a chalky mistake on a blackboard. A carcinogenic splutter from below—from man!—is emanating upwards: soaring into the ether and billowing, like a blanket over the land. Pitiable Mother Nature, we have besmirched her! She’s coughing now. God help her, what have we done! Please don’t be anything serious! It’ll pass I promise, just give it a couple of days. Soon we’ll all be able gaze once more, at a sky as clear as quartz. Soon, the hoarseness of your cough will give way, and in its place a determined tempest. And no sooner will you be blowing the murky vapours as though they were mere cobwebs on your bedpost!

Such are the ruminations that contend me; futile hopes and promises, useless reassurances—the likes! Scotland, O’ bonnie Scotland, with your dells and clean water; with your brooks and boughs and bespangled sky. Take me there, take me there once more! Let me smell again that Scottish verdure!

 

by Marcus Bechelli

(prompts: smog)

Ashes to Ashes

If you flick the ash from the butt of a cigarette and there’s no wind, then the ash just falls. No wind to carry it, the ash just drops. Like Newton’s apple, crashing on your head, it’s like a revelation. It makes you think doesn’t it. Standing here in the muddy grass surrounded by tombstones, I think that breath and wind are kind of the same things. The wind is the world’s breath, I suppose. I flick my own cigarette a little more, just to make sure, and there’s no wind so the ash just hits the ground. The grass is only this muddy cos our procession has turned the ground up. I blow the end of my cigarette just so I can watch a couple of bits flake off and float away for a second, but once my breath stops they don’t get very far. They just fall. Into the ground, where we just put Uncle Nick. My own breath stings my throat a bit, it makes my eyes water. I flick the rest of the butt to the ground. The ground where we just put Uncle Nick. He didn’t want cremated. Too ironic. To let the ashes consume you in death as they did in life. I watch the glowing embers of the cigarette turn to grey dust. Like Uncle Nick, in the ground, who’ll be dust soon too.

 

by H.R.

(prompts: gravity, cigarette)

The God of Thunder

The rage of the storm is not the frightening thing, it is the frenzy. The cacophony of clattering sounds which crash! in to effervescent madness. The thunder of raindrops which draw the rolling clouds like stallions dragging their laden chariots. Thor’s boots as he marches defiantly above the black sending white tendrils darting sharply to the mortals below. The hammer on anvil of the angered atmosphere bursting flashes and clashes so bright and so loud. And then the silent centrepiece. The iris of the action which is motionless, dangerously calm and yet poised. And the on all sides of this eye, this balm, the frenzied air swirls pulling apart its own winds.

by H.R.

(prompts: storm, dance)

Comets

I’ve got a comet dangling from my lips. Somehow, some way, it got itself into my capsule with me. Only friend I’ve got up here that isn’t the whispering light of a distant star. It’s burning itself away in a sad little spiral as we go round and round together, watching the big blue marble in the distance. We float together, looking out through the window into space, and I think of the marbles ma used to buy me at the fair. I used to knock them together, try to crack them. Never did. Never could. Was never quite strong enough.

I’m feeling strong today.

Something whirs. The camera in the corner’s spinning too, into focus, and down on the surface of that marble maybe somebody’s spinning out of their chair to go screaming at whoever let me smuggle cigarettes onto a space station.

You won’t go to prison, they said, while they told me just what I would go to. I’d go to the limits of human endurance up here at lagrange-3, and they’d watch what me waste away of Van Allen Syndrome.

Camera’s light’s blinking. I’ve got a message waiting.

I’ll just bet.

They put strings on me, when I came up here. Not tight enough. Maybe this is their dollhouse, but I’m no doll.

I take my sad little comet and let it strike home. It melts through a protective casing, shorts a wire, a panel by the window goes from red to green.

It’s not a window anymore. Now it’s a door.

I’m out in a heartbeat, out to say a fond farewell to those whispering stars, and to take my place among them. My strings are cut. They won’t even see me go.

I’m not a doll. I’m a comet.

Feels like today I could crack one of those marbles.

 

by Thomas Boyle

(prompts: gravity, cigarette, dollhouse)

White Rose

Her eyes glistened with greed as she stretched out her pale hands. A golden ring on her finger was the only colour that broke through the smoke. Smoke that slowly engulfed her hand, nesting itself in every crack of her skin. Her index finger and thumb balanced the joint ever so delicately.

The glowing fire crawled up further along the paper with every inhale she took. While the leaf burned away, ashes remained. White, crispy flakes of burnt paper and a drug that was far too easy to come by. A smile began to spread across her face, replacing her stiffness with an uneasy calm and eagerness to forget. Looking down at the thin, rolled up paper in her hand, every barrier that she had every put in place to control her thoughts, broke down. One after the other. Until there were no more controls. No more boxes to allocate ideas and no more logical, separate strings of thought. Instead, her freshly cleansed mind constructed a web, stringing all thoughts in one endless, new mesh.

Her eyes bore deeper into the end of the joint, where the fire devoured the contents of the rolling paper and spat out dust and smog. She could hear the crackling as the paper first began to glow, then turn black and then all that was left were ashes. The more she smoked, the more the paper burnt away in front of her and peeled off until grey snowflakes danced to the floor. Each inhale revealed a new layer of ashes, like a flower whose most inner petals could only be seen once the outer ones were plucked off. It was a white rose that only existed as long as you smoked.

by I.H.

(prompts: smog)

 

He who listens

William’s heart broke first, but his laces followed swiftly after. As he fled the scene, racing through filthy puddles down stinking smoky alleyways those laces split and sent him flying.

For longer than was comfortable he considered not getting up from the puddle he landed in.

Spurned as he was, he might spurn in turn and call that fair. Denied love as he was, he might deny the world his life and call that just.

But something soft patted his head, and then strong fingers were lifting him by the roots of his hair. Dropped suddenly back on his heels, he rocked against the slick stones of the wall.

Through the smoke he could see a tall hat, a wide grin, a pair of eyes, but it was only intuition that told him they belonged to a man.

A handkerchief dabbed at William’s face, though he could make out no hand holding it. Hidden in the smog, he told himself. Blurred and lost in bitter tears.

“Poor boy,” said the stranger. “I could hear your screaming for miles.”

“I wasn’t screaming,” William sniffed.

The smile widened, and the smog grew thicker. William coughed against the sudden scent of sulphur. “But you were, William. That’s always been the difference between the two of us. God speaks,” said the stranger, “but I listen.”

by Thomas Boyle

(prompts: shoelaces / Smog / The Prince of Darkness Is A Gentleman)

Dance With Me

So different, to be joined at the hip.’

Twins. One with curled hair, one with straight; one with careful makeup, one bare-faced. Suzie hobbling around a tennis court with Sally grumbling at her side, Sally curling up to read aloud on the couch with Suzie pretending not to listen.

It was never an option, for one to leave the other behind.

They danced together. People whispered about whether or not this was because no one else would ask them, but they were mesmerising to watch. It seemed to be the only thing they agreed on; moving utterly in sync, as one.

Four arms swaying up towards the ceiling.

Two feet stamping in rhythm on the floor.

 

by Molly Duffield

(prompts: dance, [image: night & day])