Kernel

Kernel 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One thing he cannot crack.

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

/ Maria Sledmere

(fff prompt: acorn)

Advertisements

Flash Fiction: Now You’re Gone

 

14458330683_bc5720a107_z
~ * Source * ~

[This piece was inspired by two workshop prompts: BREAKDOWN and SHARP]

Now You’re Gone

It starts like this: thrum after thrum, the slick build of a Eurodance tempo that seems to shower serotonin on my brain. I always found it heart-breaking, that cute wee detail: I’ve been waiting here by the phone…

It was our favourite song! We shared it with a fondness reserved for the act of splitting an ecstasy tablet; pirouetting our way across the continent, spilling our limbs over a thousand discos in Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Berlin. They were even playing this tune in Prague! Being a cultural city doesn’t preclude a penchant for crappy Swedish ~trance lite~ and holy shit did we milk it. The whole summer, Jenny on my shoulders, fist pumping to that tune. So fucking beautiful. Cut me open and I’ll bleed Jagerbombs.

Last stop: Magaluf. End of the trail. Our livers ached and sleep kept dragging us back into absence. On the train, I dreamt of a dark forest where I could drink from a lake of Lucozade. Electrolytes restoring my sanity. I woke up to Jenny pulling on my arm, trying to steal my mp3 player so she could drown out the chants from a carriage of rowdy Geordies.

I’m coming up again in a strip club where girls in wigs are sliding their oiled-up bodies round poles. All those sensuous serpents. Everywhere you look: another girl, a different coloured wig. Jenny finds it hilarious, throws fivers at them as if our precious euro funds were just Monopoly money.

“Show us your vagina!” she shrieks in broken Spanish.

Just when I reach the high point, the DJ cracks out ‘Now You’re Gone’. Jenny is scrabbling for my shoulders but I push her away; this high is entirely mine. I’m deeper in the crowd now and the bass pounds through me like I’m in the belly of a whale.

That’s when it strikes me. That A minor. I never noticed it before, but now it’s an irretrievable spasm of sadness. Cuts me wide open. I’m spilling my guts up, hurling on the dancefloor. Pot noodles shoot from my throat like I’ve been harbouring a nest of worms. Everyone’s shouting and parting, backing away from me. I’m literally owning the dancefloor, triumphant in my puddle of vomit. Now you’re gone……the way that A minor hits you! Belting it out! All this time I thought there was a sharp in there; by god I was wrong!

My brain was wrong. In that moment, seriously wrong.

Now you’re gone
Now you’re gone
Now you’re gone
I realised———-

What is air? Breathing, breathing, a word that means breathing! Are we hitting the breakdown yet, the transcendent solo where he really wrecks those decks? I gasp and a girl shoves me back, the sick still dripping from my teeth. I’m back in that forest. Jenny, help me?

I’m Basshunter. I’ve literally become Basshunter. The sexy Swedish motherfucker, wow. Look how clean and smooth my face is. The stars shout back how cool I am. The dance poles are now trees, taller than lampposts. They’re everywhere. Yep, a fucking forest. What do I do? I’m a Basshunter. What does one do as Basshunter? I guess I should… hunt bass.

Bass is everywhere. Bass is the timbre of the trees breathing, the earth turning, plates shifting. Bass is the sound of bees laughing at wasps dying in saccharine cesspits of jam. Bass is a fish an old man once held up with a knife stuck clean through it. Saltwater, tongue-bitten tears. My mother spitting in her whisky. Jenny with the stereo cranked up in the car. Bass is an instrument banging against my chest. Bass is anchoring the melody, drumming a gong of oil from my heart. Bass is where we end, we start. Jenny? Jenny…?

I end up in the base. They call it a base, but I know it’s a cell. They have taken me; they have based me. Debased me. Everything pounds and it’s so trashy, ecstatic; one day someone will make a PowerPoint out of my misery. Jenny, come back to me? Just one little text? I’ll go crazy…what’s the next line? Now you’re away, without your face…?

[ [ [ Eat it up man, it’s just the bass ] ] ]

/ M. Sledmere (dj misty)

… and the darkness stared back

The moment the viravijn tore Midhail apart at the seams, time seemingly froze entirely, fixed on the frame of a splatter of blood spreading through the air, and Andris knew something had gone terribly wrong.

She couldn’t bring herself to move, stuck in place, straight as a spear, as utter chaos unfolded before her eyes; some wise soul tried to conjure up a fireball to fling at the monster, but the creature simply swerved to the side menacingly easily, and the flaming sphere flew right past, sparks catching onto the branches and leaves of the trees of the grove until it exploded against a hazel bush further off in the distance, setting the forest violently alight. The brightness of the blaze clashed obscenely with the ambience of the night, with the sombre, pale light of the moon that flooded the clearing.

She did not move even as her own fair hair and white cloak were splattered with the blood of another of the viravijn’s victims; only her jaw hung agape, as the abomination turned to face her.

Andris stared into what looked like empty, pitch-black holes in the bark of an ancient, overgrown tree; or least that’s what you could have called it, were that tree not moving on six long, spider-like legs, and had that tree not possessed two lean arms, thin as sticks but hard as granite, each with dagger-like, narrowing fingers. But this was no tree, and those were no holes; those were eyes, and from within them grinned – grinned, though it had no mouth to speak of, and no other features that would give that away – a spirit, a spirit that radiated an intense aggression and hatred the likes of which she had never seen.

She could not say why it seemed as though time had slowed so much, that though it took her only a second, it felt like she spent ages on a single turn of her head to the side, where a dozen lifeless bodies, or broken pieces thereof were strewn about the clearing. Another second, long as a century, and her hand reached for her sword as her eyes turned back to stare into the darkness in the eyeholes of the viravijn. The darkness stared back.

This was meant to be a normal summoning, same as many others. This was not the first time their coven had bound a demon; it had no reason to go wrong. They weren’t new to this. The pentagram was drawn by people who had done it a hundred times before, and they had checked a dozen times, before proceeding, whether everything was as it was meant to. This was their first, and last, mistake.

The monster screeched – a violent sound of violent intent that reverberated through her ears like the sound of a hundred pots falling to the ground. Andris closed her eyes, and gripped her sword. As tightly as she could. The viravijn charged.
And then, what seemed like an eternity later, it screeched again.

by Dovydas Kuliešas

(prompt: 12.2.16: havoc, moonlight, summon)

The Bluebell Cliffs

401136_10201122285129666_1925696498_n 2

The woods are very calm and still.

We used to come here at dusk, taking the car out after work, driving along the coast road. There were days when I could so easily give up my worries to nature. I thought I was a forest child; I thought at heart, like you, I was something free and wild.

As you walk, the sea is on your right, the woods on your left. The light comes down in gold cascades, catching the gold green filter of the leaves, casting dapples dancing on the path before you. In some memory it is June and the bluebells are out. They spread across the forest floor, tipped with pink and gold, swaying in the haze of a mystical dream. It is so easy to retreat into the trees, their sleepy sigh of imminent twilight. I took a picture of you once, with the bluebells behind you, the branches around you and a handful of leaves in your hair. So beautiful I could have left you there.

We always sat, out of breath, on our favourite bench overlooking the ocean. You used to joke, “this is where I want my ashes scattered,” and god how I thought you were so morbid! There were stories you told me, about the faeries that lived in the forest, that kept watch over the ocean, guarding sailors and smugglers from a terrible fate on the rocks.

“The cliffs here are deceiving,” is what you told me. You grew up here; you knew this place like the inside of your own mind. I wanted to explore every turn of the path, every flower and whorl of wood. I never had the chance. I’m still trying.

I am bitter about the irony – the cliffs are deceiving. So you should have known their depth, their statuesque peril. You, who knew everything.

But not the cloak of nettles and the drop beyond.

And who knows what you were doing, that autumn evening with conkers shining on the ground and the last of summer fading with you, like the daylight giving way to cold, sweet stars?

I walk here now and the sea is on my left, the trees on my right. I could count all the steps, the traces of all the times we came here before. Still I smell the wild garlic, the salt breeze lifting and cooling my skin. I sit on our bench and look out to the ocean, and who knows where you are, faerie that you are, flying to distant islands, silent and thin?

–Maria Sledmere

(flash fiction February prompts: flower, desolate, “Of it’s own beauty is the mind diseased” – Lord Byron quote)

The Grene Man

Quha douttis thair ane twa een;

Forenicht I had wanderit in ane midow grene

And thair I meit ane unco littill man,

Quho was dancin as he can.

Me thocht him the king of farye

And he sade “Cum with me.”

I haid herd of riches littill men kepe

So I followit him to tha forest depe

Me thocht sevin year the journay tuke.

Quod he “A gift to ye I’ll give but ye maun no luik”;

Me thocht he micht gif me a jasp

So I held oot my haun to clasp.

Bot than I herd a laff fra the littill man in grene,

And quhen I darit to luik, he pluck’d oot baith my ene.

 

By H.R.

(prompts: green man picture, passage)

Forest

Forest

The trees are knotted
in the spot where the bluebells grow
in June.

Gnarling, their roots twist
into strange, exotic shapes—
Spirals and triangles, spikes
like barbed wire.

We used to sit here
as children. We knew the notch,
the dark hard eye,
the tender part which you cut
to get the sap out.

Everything here is a cycle;
there is no flow of time,
no regress or
degeneration.

In summer the frost fades
to forget-me-nots;
through the canopy, long
into the evening, light lingers
in splinters and sparkles.

So I return;
the trees seem to whistle.
You hear their singing, its softness
like pining. Walk with me.

The greenness changes with the seasons.
Now I look upon it,
these tufts of grass, these oak leaves
glow with yellow fire—
chocolate, chestnut, cinnabar.

I look upon the colour, my fingers
scratching the eye. Its hardness
comes apart like ice.

I stare into that black spot,
the cavernous passage laden with frost,
the eye like a moon.

In the copper of twilight I see you again:
grass in your hair,
bluebells in June.

by Maria S.

(Prompts: green-man.jpg, passage, degeneration)

The Legend of Maurelle

They say that all that was left to recognise her was a strawberry birthmark on her wrist. 

Maurelle was running through the woods. All was disintegration; all was the feeling that she had no choice. The spirits were upon her and she had no sense of what right she had to be. To be, to be; to be was nothing but the hum of the bees and the dull pain of a distant infinity.  There was only the voice of her father, thundering in her ear; the voice of her mother, small and far away. As she flew through the greenish gloom, she felt the years shed away. All was renewed; all was soon renewing.

All the creatures kissing in the rain and yes she’s heard that somewhere before. She’s kicked her shoes off, running bare feet and leaping over thick roots and clumps of nettles. There’s an energy she’s found from nowhere. A bramble lashes out and catches her, but the blood is only wine on her fire. She trails her finger over the jagged wound and brings it to her lips. It tastes metallic and rich. She looks around and there they are, all those creatures kissing in the rain. They are ghosts.

Lost now in darkness; not quite darkness but the kind of twilight stasis that falls upon a forest. Birds returning to nest with fragile song and somewhere above an eagle swooping but only its shadow touching the ground. Maurelle comes to a clearing, where the sense of space is startling. Look around again: crisps, fag packets, an empty bottle of whiskey. The earth sighs beneath her feet. She runs on, following the river and its silver trickle, ignoring the hot pounding of her heart. There is a place she longs for, she can smell it almost; and yet still she is lost, still just following the river.

Somebody or something calls her name, though it is more a distortion – a susurration – caught up in the gush of the river flowing. A foxglove ugly in crimson sings to her as she passes. It opens one eye and releases a bee.

Once upon a time she was starving; now she craves only cigarettes. The world churns out its rot and rubbish. She moves on, the smoke filling up in her head.

She comes upon rows of bluebells, purple blue and beautiful; so startling a sight that momentarily she stops. The sun pours molten gold through the silhouetted trees, bringing light to the swaying bluebells. So many of them, so serene they seemed. There was something hazy about them, a mystical quality. Maurelle wanted nothing more but to crawl up among them, fade back into the soil and become a child again, endlessly sleeping and wandering. As she trod carefully among them, they seemed to speak to her; only their voice was a sparkle of a whisper, and who could hear? Who could possibly hear them? The breeze was upon them, and that was all.

Something was shifting as the sun set in the west and a cloud of violet light came down from the canopy; a kind of filtered moonlight made strange by the sinuous shapes of plants and flowers. What are these trees here? Maurelle cannot recognise the trees here. They are not native trees, but perhaps imports from foreign lands. She rubs her fingers over their coarse trunks, feeling the etching patterns of bark and enjoying the solidity. A secret unfolds inside every leaf. She would come here again in another life. These are not the trees she thought would grow here.

She cannot read the carvings in their trunks nor the words they seem to be saying, saying in the quiet moan of the night-born wind. Saying incantations.

A distant roar strikes up in the distance. Maurelle grows closer.

Running again, her skin flakes off as she sees the trees swell up around her. She notices that one has the same shape as the birthmark on her wrist, a dull pink strawberry. It is a wounded tree, its branches shattered and black as if recently struck by lightning.

The roar is louder now, becoming a kind of glistering cry, prolonged by the spray of sharp sound echoing out along the darkening space. Maurelle runs as if something were chasing her, as if she were running towards the thing that was calling her –

Waterfall. It smashes its liquid silver in spattering torrents down to the clear bright pool which shimmers with moonlight. The spray is cool and splashes upon her face as she stands there, absorbing herself in the ambient shout of water hitting upon rock and water hitting upon water. But not for long could she stop. Maurelle plunged deep into that enticing pool, the icy water enveloping her entirely, sucking in her body. All above was white, melting opal. Pulses of it like sound waves and she felt it dark and deep in her brain. The water is hungry and clear and pulling, and she feels her body pressing down, down; feels the gorgeous descent of the rushing currents and the roar in her freezing ears. The world is wiped out and she is a silky fish. Her cries are little giggles upon the water’s surface, and who would know her but the trees that watch the verdant scene like thirsty voyeurs. Who would know her? She is but a spirit of the forest, a distant ripple of some other mystery.

Prompts: strawberry, waterfall

by Maria Rose Sledmere

The Firefly That Woke Up Too Soon

Coco was in shock. Her world had suddenly been turned inside out and upside down, and her many legs clung desperately to the branch while she stared around her. Coco was one of many suns, illuminating the thick darkness of the swamp. She was also new sun, only now learning her route, the dances and the power of her light. The universe around her was a dark mass that she and her kin illuminated every day. Her world was simply made up of light and dark: but not this kind of light.

Coco had woken up early. The cold light around her was nothing like the fire she carried around everyday and the world suddenly seemed so large. Everything around her now stood out in sharp, weird hues that she had never seen before. Crawling forward, still in shock and still dazed, she reached the edge of the branch and looked down. Coco shuddered and her body flickered uneasily. The world spun around her as she attempted to judge the distance between her and that thing called ground. She dared not look up, as the stories she had heard – but never believed – invaded her mind.

The ‘other’ sun. An even bigger sun than they, which shone a very different kind of light on the world, but a sun that never came out during the day. Coco had never really believed it and now she was afraid that if she looked up it would all be confirmed. She closed her eyes for a minute, then opened them again. The world started spinning, the vertigo gripped her so fiercely this time that she had to back away from the edge. Coco attempted to flex her wings, surely in the air she would be safe? – it was her element after all. But only hoovering over the branch proved impossible. Bewildered and scared she crawled back under her leaf and settled down, blatantly ignoring the light and the colours around her. Feigning sleep she waited for the hideousness to go away, for the darkness to return and her day (and her universe) to be restored once more.

The darkness came not long after and it did not take long before Coco started to forget the light and the vertigo. Although the memory never completely left her. It resided as a faint echo in her mind, occasionally surfacing when she touched down on a new branch or settled down to sleep. It was the faint notion that something else, something bigger, was waiting just beyond the darkness and the trees. But even that soon moved into the realm of legend.

Nina Lindmark-Lie
What were your prompts?: Firefly, Vertigo

Whore In The Forest

Adventure-land was already waiting. We just had to find the key first.

Trees grew crazy around us, like Gaia this time had seriously gone mad. It wasn’t just trees either, it was ferns and flowers and grasses and fungi, all fighting for the light as they strove ever upwards. A great rush of green met our eyes – a wonderland of forest, jungle, harlequin with rushes of emerald, dark spring, thistle and even a hint of olive. We gazed around, some of us with wonder, me especially as my smiling mouth fell open to express the sudden onslaught of joy I felt, but others did not quite appreciate the beauty.

Karkarbard strode forwards, with his hefty and weighty axe slung over his shoulder. A lumberjack by trade it was apparently the first thing he had decided to pick up for our excursion of fates, despite the fact we no longer lived in the medieval ages. He had a severe scowl covering all of the front of his head, and if skin beneath hair could express anything I would imagine that would show it too.

“Darn it, Melanhathrin,” he roared, turning straight on me. “You said this was going to be fun. FUN?!”

My smile began to fade, lost as it was to all his anger and negitivity. Folding my arms over my chest (one hand holding a colt revolver, because I knew what it was to live in the darm 19th century), I raised my chin, looking back at him just as boldly.

“Oh excuse me, bastard,” I shouted back. The others in our party, all men and still not used yet to a woman having balls, gasped loudly. Rolling my eyes I ignored them and kept addressing Karkarbard. “It will be fun, Karkar-bum,” I mocked him, “I said from the start that we had to have patience. Patience.”

“I did have patience, whore, until I lost it back in the mouth to these gods-forsaken woods.”

“Pffftt.”

I flipped him a nice single-fingered bird, and walked round him. My eyes danced across the colours of the forest, but no longer devoured their gorgeous radiance because of the situation. The others in our group waited behind as I stormed off, right down the path that was hardly a path and more like a fairy’s trail to elf-land. My feet took a little skip, trying to ignore the adverse use of my profession. They carried me away from the people who did not want to dance under the canopy of nature, and took me away to another place with a white tower and a time when I was a princess.

Ailsa Williamson
What were your prompts?: forest picture, lost, key

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