… 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)

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The Bluebell Cliffs

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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 Turtle Dove

Out on the rocks. The seagulls were calling ceaselessly. It was the same each day, they screamed and screamed, but I wondered why…why did they screech so, when they were free?

I had a little turtle dove, I had raised it from a chick. It perched upon my hand, so light and fragile. Each morning, I would let her out through the open window of my little tower room, overlooking the sea. She would wheel and wheel away, further and further, until she was lost in the mist. Then I would come for my daily walk, meander across the rocks, perch at the edge of the outcrop of the bay. Warmer days I would bathe my feet in the stinging salt sea, colder ones I curled up in the bay, wrapped in shawls. I spent hours each day watching the tide move in and out in its tireless dance. Back and forth. Out and in. Just like me it spent each day the same. I could no sooner change my rhythm than the tide could – not until the boat came in.

When I returned to my bedroom, I always found my little turtle dove, perching on the windowsill. No matter how far she flew, she always returned. I thought, my love must come back too, like my turtle dove. He will find me again. But at the same time, each time I let her fly free I thought, this time…this time she will not come home.

That is why each time I stayed a little longer on the rocks. I waited a little longer, because I was afraid to return to an empty room. And because my eyes were so trained upon the horizon, I sometimes froze there like a figurehead. Come back to me, come back…I willed it, I willed it so hard, wished so hard with my eyes tight shut, some days I was sure some spell would awaken inside me and I would open my eyes to see his boat coming in to the bay, shining a light, the bell ringing; he waves at me, he is all brown and his hair is a little grey…

It is so cold now on the rocks. Today I stayed an hour and ten minutes. I can’t feel my feet, and it’s starting to drizzle. I climb the stairs of the tower, I climb and climb and I open the door, and there’s nothing on the windowsill, and the cage is empty, in fact there is no cage at all! Where is my cage! Where is my turtle dove! Where is my lover!

“Mrs Perdew,” says the nurse. “Come and sit down. It’s cold, I’ll put some more coal on the fire, and I’ll get a pan to warm the bed. You mustn’t wonder off like that. You must eat something Mrs Perdew. My word, Mrs Perdew, you’re quite pale…”

By RN
(Prompts: crave, rock, [painting of woman with bird])

The Last Titan

His great eyes looked out of the stone of the mountain, and they saw everything. Not just everything that was, but everything that ever had been.

He had seen the world when it was a barren place, a world of twisted rock and foaming seas, where ice clashed with fire, where the elements battled in unending enmity. He had fought, too. His battle scars were plain to see, his craggy face was scarred: ice flows, rain’s lashing, the hot, searing lava rushing across his flesh. But now he was old, and still. His ichor was growing dry, the veins now nothing more than veins of rock. Men came, they chiseled and tunneled, they tore ores from his belly and stole diamonds from his heart. They no longer feared his hails of boulders, no longer ran in terror, afraid that he would unfold his giant limbs and storm across their lands. They did not know that he watched them, that he could feel their hammers within himself.

The great titan looked out upon the world. All his fellows were gone, made one with the world. Still he waited. Still the eagles landed, made nests upon his rocky shoulders. His crown of snow was splendid in the sun, but none knew the majesty of his youth. He was growing into the mountain, growing mortal, soon to be dead and cold as stone. All he could do now was watch the world grow, watch the gods vanish one by one, and wait for the tides to rise, and dash him to pieces. Then he would be a titan no more: just another fallen king.
By RN
(Prompts: titan, recollection)

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)

West Coast

West Coast

I paced the beach a lot as a teenager,
supposing it was a way of being lost,
going lost, finding my lostness
in the sound of the waves, seagulls
in the eaves of a sky cast black
by fire and onyx.

There were shells stuck in my skin,
bits of them sharp and ridged as glass. Adolescence.
Bottles of Bacardi and Glens
in remnants of lovelorn summers—
each one dug deeper as I walked
and I felt the call of the sea
like a summons. Come back to me

—the waves were strange consolation.
I loved
the loneliness of the sea, its sense of otherness,
of distant worlds, blue and green.

Salt spray
in the faces of children;
sand dunes
where we gathered for drinking and smoking,
wasting time
in the dry ice of shared menthols.

You dig your heels deep
by the shoreline, where your feet sink soft
through the mulch of watery sand,
sinking as if to drift down,
to ease yourself out of matter.

I paced the beach a lot on weekday evenings,
while cars passed behind me, while
normal people went home.
I learned to love
the gulls that croaked on the rocks,
crying cormorants, gannets
and black-feathered auks—
I always longed to spot an albatross,
imagining its body swooping
out of the sea fog
like an omen.

I thought I had forgotten these shores,
the way it felt to know nothing
of what would come; great drawings
dissolved in the tidal pull—come with us.
I thought this world was lost;
I thought
I had lost it all.

by Maria S.

(prompt: seagull photo)

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)

cherry melancholia

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Photo by Manuela Hoffman

cherry melancholia
Maria Sledmere

rain on the lawn; the greenness
dark and deep. a handful of shells
clotted in the mud with the blossoms,
the pink ones
from the cherry tree.

she walks out slowly,
snow petals swirling round her,
silent.

in the garden she will lie
where the grass is softest. she will lie
staring at the glass sky,
a sleepful of memory.

just love, the garden will say,
just love.
she forgot the place where he kissed her once—
it wasn’t here

but she returns anyway,
the grass feels sweet underneath her,
the air tastes golden, the first taste
of crab apples in autumn. love
set her going in spring, a silk cut
from a willow tree.

smoke rises in the distance
to the smell of cherry pie.
once he kissed her eyes, her cheeks;
he told her she was cinnamon.

in the garden now she is older,
older as the trees are, ring after ring
in each year, each reel of string
that she unwinds.

they come to bind
the sweet peas with twine.
bitter berries,
summer wine.

she is older
and the pie in her mouth now
is cloying; she is older
and the leaves are dying,
falling with the raindrops, the poor branches.

The garden speaks
now she is older, the rings round her eyes—
old pools of light, cherry pie,
speaking
of melancholia.

(prompts: eloquent, garden)

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