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

Bittersweet

Remember the day we went for pancakes, on that place on Byres Road? One of our long afternoons, those drops in the ocean that ripple out towards the edge of the world. I’m here at Granny’s thinking about it, like I always do. But today it feels different; sharper, somehow.

You know, Granny is sick; she won’t say it but I know she is. Whenever I’m round her house she always asks about you, and I haven’t the heart to tell her. I’m watching her knit by the fire right now, and we’re listening to the dulcet tones of a Radio 4 presenter talk about some conflict abroad.

“You know, you should have some more biscuits,” is all she says, “you’re getting thin as a rake!”

I remember it so clearly, sitting across from you as you poured syrup over your pancake, watching it ooze over the mushed banana and sprinkled cinnamon. You took so long to eat it, neatly cutting the tiniest forkfuls. There was no reason why it shouldn’t have been the perfect day. We even agreed to split the bill. After the food we walked along the river, all dappled by the afternoon sun, the green water dripping in the bridges we passed under. I liked the way our voices echoed in that close darkness; the way that down here where the Kelvin flows alongside bracken and trees you could be anywhere, anywhere but the city.

You were working yourself up to something, I could see it in your face.

I wonder now if I was worried; before it happened, I mean. Sometimes, sure, there were things you did that I couldn’t make sense of. A way that you used your silences. It was as if you wanted to erase yourself when I spoke to you, but it wasn’t like this all the time. We were great in the starry nights back home where we could walk around the village and sit on benches in the graveyard pretending we were old folks, nattering all sorts of nonsense and talking of war and ghost stories.

We were great, too, in the rare days out in the city; days like this. I swear.

You waited till dark to do it. It must have been a comfort to you. We were in Botanic Gardens, and all the children had been driven home, the dogs gone, the air itself seeming a stranger. I didn’t recognise such quietness in the city; even the busy road outside was oddly depleted. You were still talking to me when the man was driving about in his van trying to get people to leave so he could lock the gates. I don’t know why you did it but you held my hand the whole way through, telling me what I suppose I should have already knew.

But I didn’t and I didn’t want to and I still don’t.

You got the clockwork orange to take you back to the station and I watched you descend the escalator as if I wouldn’t see you again, not ever. I sat at the bar in The Curler’s Rest and drank whisky for the first time, not noticing the way it scalded my throat. I slept in a hostel that night in a room with a bunch of teenagers discussing their sex lives; when I woke up my pillow was sodden with tears and I felt purged and hollow as a weather-beaten dream.

I suppose you remember that day differently.

Granny always said you were lovely, and I wish that loveliness would stop haunting me.

“Johnny, would you like me to make you some pancakes?” she asks. She is a darling, the only person in the world that would remember that it’s Shrove Tuesday.

Together by the fireside we sit and eat. I bite through the crunch of sugared lemon, feel the slipperiness on my tongue. Bittersweet.

(Prompts: pancake, sun, knitting)

by Maria Rose Sledmere

Golder’s Green

Home to the ashes of Enid Blyton, Doris Lessing and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. A shabby grandeur adorns the forest canopy, the winding trails of graves, the cuts of light casting gold on the ground. There’s a peculiar magic to the lush peridot leaves that flourish with life amidst so much death. You suppose that here perhaps death has its own tangibility. How easy to disappear, to sink into the soil and join the rest of them. The trees speak to you with their distinct whisper that only you can hear; they have heard centuries of voices speak to them, hushed and yearning, from beyond the grave.  You feel now all those voices echo hollow, rising up through the sweet earth beneath your feet.

“James!” she screamed, her voice a shrill cry through the dappled light. Startled birds scattered from the clearing that she stood in. She clung to the key hung around her neck and tried to stay calm. All that returned to her was the echo of her own shout, her own shout that you can still hear, even now.

She tried to look, tried to look for hours. She wandered down many a forgotten path, overgrown with nettles that gnarled at her bare legs with vicious rashes. She kept calling, calling your name. She lifted up bramble branches and stumbled over headstones, great slabs of granite and crumbling rocks from long ago. Gothic designs and Celtic knots, chunks of greenish mould eating into what was once precious stone. The falls were painful more from shame than anything else. She found herself lying behind some humble tomb, the thorns of rotting roses piercing her thighs as she kept trying to call out your name, her voice growing hoarser and hoarser until it was hardly a whisper. If only she were less solid, then you could have watched her.

You know that this place holds the remains of Sigmund Freud?

You know that there is a certain grave which, when lifted, holds only a void?

You know that this is sacred soil; that serene strains of magic seep through the top moss and the undergrowth? You might walk through it now and you will notice the fungus thriving in the damp tree bark, the robins twittering cheerily from the tallest memorial, unaware that their song is lost in the deep presence of death. Nature here is a darkness that you cannot touch.

But it touches her, it touches her harshly. She feels it in the lashes and rashes and purple bruises that mark her legs, in the rain that now pours from the sky and coldly scolds her flushed cheeks. The place where now the woodlice and squirrels will eat her key, until the winter takes it with layers of frost. She feels the dead mocking her; for if they are one thing it is not lost.

She is wrong of course. For you will never be settled as they are; you will never return home as you forever wander the forest. And she will call for you, but still you will not hear her cry.

Prompts: graveyard photo, lost, key

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

Dear Sweetheart

You think: maybe this is it. The moon shines through the skylight and you sigh and rip up the page; the page made painfully white by the unwanted brightness. All the words that had only moments ago bubbled up in your chest now sink down again, forming a rock in your stomach. Another day now wasted.

What is it about these cool autumn nights that drive you to the silence of the attic? It is the children, who exhaust you with their endless longing. You love them really, but your love is a kind of virus, something that spreads and eats away inside of you; that mutates and morphs into a hard and enduring endlessness. You can rely on it, its certain dwelling. Sometimes you forget about it, but it will come back to you when you are not expecting it. That drawing on the wall: the crayon is fading but the shape is the same. Seeing yourself in your son’s image; you never thought it would turn everything inside out the way it has.

No, it is something more than the virus that drives you here. As you climb the ladder with your wearied limbs, you feel the thread again; you feel the thread pick up and you can visualise it, clear as the dark clot of leaves in the bottom of a teapot, clear as your first day at school and the image of his face. You are at work stacking shelves and suddenly you feel it all unravelling, as if you were having a panic attack or going into labour. You see the threads spiral out from the coiled knot, loosening and flailing like snakes. It leaves an empty feeling for days.

A summer evening of long ago; it happens on you by chance, as it always does. You click the keys of your typewriter, eking out words like it might kill you. You rely on the words to make things solid again: you need the feel of their tangibility. Crisp scent of grass and starlight in the air; he leans his head on my lap, he tells me about the time his cat died when he was five. You bite your lip. Everything seems fickle and silly against the cleanness of the page. It is a shame to spoil the whiteness. We bought strawberries; we whispered our thoughts about the future. He would buy a camper-van and travel America, and I would go with him after my degree. We would end up clever intellectuals on a lovely salary, then we would be free. Was it even true? Even once? The letters flash back at you and seem hollow and false. You light a cigarette and painstakingly stab a smouldering hole through every word. The smoke fills your lungs and you are calm. But still the thread unravels, and still you cannot weave it tight again.

The sound of crying downstairs. It will be your little girl. You do not go to her, though she is still a baby. You feed a new page into the machine.

In August you got ill. The typewriter echoes round the room, sounding loud and somehow alien, as if another person were typing it. You feel as if the moon could hear you, and the effect is uncomfortable, a conscious voyeurism. They took you to hospital and for months we could not speak; nobody would let me see you. I clung to alcoholic nights by the river with friends, the daydreams charred from the dull glow of so many winter fires. I let anyone kiss me, anything to take me away from you and your memory. You feel something rise up inside of you: the image clarifies. You hear it stronger despite the loudening sound of your daughter’s wailing cry. We only met once again; you probably don’t remember. A cold day in December, the streets powdered with snow, Christmas shoppers clogging the space between us. But I stopped and called for you. You talked of the weather and your mother and you did not look in my eye. You are addressing him directly now, imagining the glitter of his green irises gazing back at the text as you fire it out upon the paper. Electricity simmers through you, shuddering to the pulse of the typebars clicking upon the ribbon. I have thought about it for so long – that awful vacant day. I think about you now, where you are and what you are doing. All the letdowns, the disappointments. I gather up all the gossip I can, try to lace the threads together; you see, no matter what happens I still feel connected to you. I have two beautiful children and I wish they could meet you. I cannot explain it, but I know that if you wrote to me I would travel anywhere in the world to get to you. It streams out of you now and you are not thinking about what you are writing. When you are finished you release the paper from the machine and you do not read over it because it is no longer anything to do with this moment, this cataclysmic silence. The moon disappears behind thick sooty cloud. Now you are truly alone.

You lay the letter on the desk and take up your pen to sign the bottom. It has been so long that your signature seems odd and impersonal. You hover over it, hesitant.

The fountain pen bursts and its ink sprays out across the page. There is a fold in time when all sense slips away. But still you see the words underneath, enduring like the love you feel for your children. Enduring like the memories of that enchanted journey, the future promise of each sparkling place. You close your eyes and look again at the paper, and every speckle of ink reminds you of the freckles on his face.

(Prompts: journey, soulmate, ink)

by Maria Rose Sledmere

Flash

“I have your class test results,” the psychology teacher descends upon them from the doorway. Lucy looks over at her pal Kate.

“I know I’ve failed,” Kate whispers. Lucy knows this is a lie; Lucy knows that Kate is good at everything. The class fall into chatter as they pour over their papers; the teacher drops Lucy’s on her desk and she is absorbed in the big red F. Of course it was her fault, it wasn’t as if she studied. The teacher’s circled it and Lucy feels herself falling into that circle, the empty, biro-lined disappointment…

A scream. Several screams.

“The hell?”

Lucy stands up to see what’s going on. There’s Kate, prostrate on the floor, a slight trail of blood escaping her forehead.

“What happened?” Someone asks.

“Is she having a fit?”

Kate gives a sudden shudder, but then her body freezes stiff again, like she’d just got an electric shock. Her eyes roll open so that only the whites are visible.

“Oh God, Kate, Kate! Are you okay? Can you hear me Kate?” Lucy pushes past the other students to kneel by her friend.

“You mustn’t touch her,” the psychology teacher puts her hand on Lucy’s shoulder. She feels a hot lump catch in her throat. An awful retching noise.

Thick black sticky oil pours from Kate’s mouth. It drips and trickles down her chin and forms a pool on the floor. The class steps back in collective disgust. Lucy is frozen in fear and disbelief. She turns around to the teacher, but she too seems stunned with shock.

An oil rig, somewhere in the North Sea, a chilly wind ripping raw against their skin. They work hard at this; they don’t see their family for weeks. The lifting and the climbing carve muscles out their limbs. There will be a nice pay packet on the mainland, waiting for them. 

“What do we do?! What do we do?!” Lucy seems to be the only one capable of reacting. She ignores the teacher’s advice and gently shakes Kate’s arm, but to no avail. The oil keeps on pouring, streaming faster now like tar glugging from a mixing lorry. It was catching in her delicate blonde hair, congealing like melted gummy bears. Lucy steps over her to avoid the stuff getting on her shoes.

The report said it had been a safety check error; nothing out the ordinary would have happened if they hadn’t bothered with the check that day. If they hadn’t bothered with the safety check that day, it would have been okay.

Suddenly Kate lifts an arm and pulls herself up. Her eyes remain flicked back to the whites. A horrible gurgling sound comes from her throat, with the oil still flowing free.

“I wish, I wish, I wish…” she repeats. By now, everyone else has vacated the classroom. The teacher has disappeared to phone an ambulance.

“I remember…” Kate continues. Lucy bites her lip, tastes the iron tang.

There was a spark that went off in the safety area. The gas caught and fired then BOMB. 

“Kate, Kate what is it?” Lucy holds her hand out to touch her friend’s face but a drop of oil spills on her skin and it’s hot, ever so hot, and she doesn’t expect it.

“Just something I remember…”

The workers tried to get out, they really did. They carried each other and screamed but their voices were lost like the lives of the fish who were caught in the clammy substance that spilled from the ship. The flames burst in mushroom clouds, flaring in blazing tongues of yellow and orange that spread fast across the ocean’s surface. Birds fell from the sky, their wings still on fire. From the mainland, it looked like the end of the world. 

Something happened; the room shuddered. Lucy rubbed her eyes and looked down at the paper in front of her. She had to rub the surface clean because it was covered in strange black flakes, like ash…or…burnt plastic? She did not understand. She looked at the heading of the test: A Revision of Flashbulb Memory. She saw the green ink in the corner: she got an A.

Then she thought about Kate, who was in the corner, crying over her inevitable F.

Lucy remembered that it was ten years ago today, ten years since the tragedy with her father. It was admirable that Kate even turned up to class.

She closed her eyes and the vision came back to her, vivid from the telly screen, sharp as glass.

Prompts: oil rig photo, flashbulb

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

Love and Other Visions

Christmas time and the fair had come to George Square again. Alisha went with her friends and watched as they whizzed around on the waltzers and queued for the chairoplane.

“Why aren’t you joining in?” they asked her. She told them she was afraid of heights.

The colours and lights were giving her a headache. Nicki Minaj blasting on a sound system that was illegally concealed in a carousel. The smell of hot chips and donuts and the slobbery breath of too much drinking. Alisha was almost thirty; she was too old for this.

The more she stood staring, the more her head started pounding. A flush spread over her cheeks and the tingling stung the surface of her skin.

“Oh fuck,” she whispered. It was returning. The screams shrilled louder, merging into white lines of terror in the air. They fired light into her eyes that burned and burned, and she could not stop shaking with the sensation that her brain was swelling, swelling, her skull tightening and the throbbing not stopping. She tried to close her eyes but then the visions came to her: she saw the amoeba dance with all the shimmer shapes coming off of it in trails of hail, needles stuck through bullet holes tattooed along a body…her boyfriend’s body. The boy she had not seen in years…and his mouth was a jagged hole punched in glass; she reached for his cheek but her fingers went through it, felt the silvery liquid pixelate against her skin. People flying through the sky, screaming, falling – the chaos of things colliding. A metallic taste on her tongue and she felt herself falling backwards, her body involuntarily shuddering, slipping down, down to that gaping space below her – a chasm of fiery stars, insects dripping horrid oil  and the putrid smell of cordite that she could not place – not quite – she looked at her arms, trying to find something solid, but they opened up to her – she saw the red flesh of muscle as in a medical textbook, veins oozing and wriggling with the heads of snakes. The ache, the ache, the ache.

“No!” she cried out, but no-one was listening…

Children’s laughter, echoing out, morphing into banshee shrieks. The veins criss-crossed to form a colossal knot that pulsed and juddered like a human heart. She wanted to touch it, to untangle it, but the black slime stuck to her fingers like molasses and now there were shadows coming towards her and her tongue was – she could not feel her tongue! – she felt the clammy swallow of absence in her throat and sank back against the railings. A luminous sun was upon her, bright rays raging over her face. Love, love, love it sang. Love, love – then there was distortion, radio-crackle and harshness…she thought how all she wanted to do was fall back into that starry space…that blackness…

Something strong hauled her up and she felt the world reassemble again. Patches of reality: a pram, a carousel, a string of Christmas lights blinking in her vision. Some terrible pain lurched in her chest and still she could not speak. She waited and waited, struggling to breathe.

“Alisha, what’s wrong?” She recognised, finally, the face of her friend Sarah standing with a security guard in a high-vis jacket. Alisha could not help it; she turned round and vomited over the railings. She felt the disapproving stare of mothers; she was too old for this to be happening.

“Was it the donuts?” Sarah asked, looking concerned. The security guard disappeared to deal with a bunch of teenagers drunkenly trying to kick in the ice sculptures. The sound of glass shattering burst in Alisha’s head.

“N-no,” she stuttered, “it’s just…I…something bad happened here once.” She stared down at the smooth surface of her wrists and felt a swell of relief; the sight of solidity, of her own milky skin – even the gurning of her jaw and gums – that was real, that was love.

(Prompts: fairground photo, accident, flashback)

by Maria Rose Sledmere