The Wind Waker

Confined to the bedroom, he saw every afternoon as a potential adventure.

“Nathan,” his mother would harp at him as they sat by the television, eating their lunch, “I hope you spend the rest of the day on something productive.”

“Yes,” he’d reply, stonily, trying to glean taste from another cheese sandwich, ignoring the dramatic mundanity of another episode of Doctors.

“Like doing your homework.”

What’s the point?

“I would like to see your homework done,” she’d add again, in perfect monotone, popping the last piece of rye neatly in her painted mouth. Then off to work she’d go, walking the neighbourhood dogs in her leopard print coat. She’d be gone till six; it took that long to return them one by one, Alsatian, labrador after labrador, pug, schnauzer, dachshund.

She kept the leads, all seven of them, hung up on a peg by the door. More than once, Nathan had contemplated hanging himself with one of them. It was a thought that caught him, now and then unawares, standing in the kitchen with the light fading and night coming and all the world draining of potential. But diligently he’d hobble back to his room, crack open one of the cans stashed illicitly beneath his bed, turn on the GameCube.

There was always Zelda. No matter whether Ryan or Ben bothered to answer his texts, there was always Zelda. His favourite was The Wind Waker. Waiting for him, his bag full of artefacts, the hearts of life on the screen’s top left, the endless possibilities of that deep cobalt sea. Could you sail to the edge of the horizon? He’d never tried. There were other games where the horizon was just a glitch, a hazy chimera you could never reach. Sometimes when you got there you’d fall off the edge, as if the world were still flat and the abyss that consumed you wasn’t just the absent code of a console, but rather the death was real. He’d feel it, the black lump slipping as sludge from his chest to his stomach.

He hadn’t seen the real sea. He knew it would never match up to The Wind Waker’s cel shaded graphics: the beautiful white spray and ring-like ripples, the cyan skies and promise of distant greenery. That soaring accompaniment of music. He had no interest in plots, in the dungeons you were supposed to visit to defeat enemies and bosses. Rarely did he open the map. All he wanted was to sail around, let the wind catch his sails so he could taste the currents of life ripping past in saltness and coldness against the hot blue air.

By the time his mother got home from her suburban odyssey (twice right round the town it took to wear them out, to pick up their shit), Nathan was quite drunk on the feeling of drifting. Some would say seasick.

“Have you done your homework?” she’d ask, standing on the threshold of his bedroom, hands on hips. She smelt of barbecues, cut grass, clematis, summer. He curled up on his bed with the mounds of paper.

“Yes,” he said, “I’m exhausted.”

/ Maria Sledmere

(fff prompt: odyssey)

Liminal Preparations

FullSizeRender 51.jpg

There are cracks where the light breaks down and all the darkness left is nougat for shadow. I devour all I have; which is just this small room, a cabin that sways all night and day. When the sad hours come I fold into a question mark, hoping for nothing but sleep. The sea will rock me to sleep. This is less being than breathing.

As the hours pass, the honey crystallises in the jar on the window. I am always in water and yet the memories are hard and congealed. A lump of obsidian brought back from disaster. Black glass, hardened felsic lava. It’s smooth and slick enough to lick, a sliver of very dark chocolate. Bittersweet howl of the elements.

Sunshine feeds me nothing. The moonlight on the decking is lovely. My skin is like frosting, covered in crystals, white and shining. Gulls come in from the west on the thrust of the wind and we hear in our sleep their shouting. I live in the thin space, the evening whisky, the wafer of salty obsidian. I dream of a firth where the seaweed clogs the gorge of the sea and all is a dark, gelatinous, bottle green. You could float and not drown and the world would have you like that, microbial.

These hexagons dripping with golden honey, these desolate soundscapes of gun-coloured grey. If I close my eyes, close my eyes…If I am adrift like this for long, the mariner I’m sure will come for me. He knows these waves, these tides, like I know my childhood streets. He is still in his own way alive; still fighting for that acrid day, the old promise of solid concrete. Until then, I must blow this skin into glass, glow molten for a dawn that may not arrive.

/Maria Sledmere

An Orange in the Morning

If she stared out at the ocean long enough, she knew that God would drop more ink in; that the colour would flower out to a deep, lapis blue, gathering its darkness in the distant shadows, the lay of the horizon which was, to her at least, the end of the world.

It was easy to forget that she was being held prisoner, with the ocean so close, its ebb and sigh mingling with the sad, weeping birds, sounding like the croon of an oboe across the bay. Lyra had spent many days on the turret, crawling out from her tiny room in the fortress tower to stare out at the vastness of water, whatever the weather. In glittering sunshine, she felt immortal. In storms, she held her arms up to the crackling sky. The rain and wind sometimes buffeted her, soaked her hair, her face, her tunic. The guard warned her, but she would not heed him. He sneaked in oranges from the Eastern cargo ships, and she ate them greedily, kneeling on the high walls, oblivious to the drop into the ocean below.

“Your time will come soon,” the guard once said, watching her as she watched the ocean. He even leaned forward, touching her arm.

“Don’t,” Lyra said. She knew the gulls were watching; that they had their master to report back to, swooping back and forth with their beady eyes. The guard’s hand fell away, dropped like a bird shot from the sky.

He was her friend, in a sort of way. While he slept, she hid out in her room, biding the hours. In the darkness she clawed at the brick walls, feeling for their texture in the way that a child feels the skin of a leaf for the first time. She stopped going outside, hoping that the world would stop turning without her in it. Maybe she could stay in this limbo forever.

One day, an Admiral arrived at the fortress, wearing his royal blue and white suit. Lyra was reminded of her days at sea, the men she used to kiss like rough cut diamonds and the sweet dark mouthfuls of rum. The Admiral conversed with the guard and she heard war and betrayal and whore escape the snatching hiss of their whispers.

“Your time will come soon,” the guard said again that night, closing the door of her chamber. This time, it sounded like a warning. He slipped something into her cold hands.

Two strangers came for her, early that morning. She offered her wrists to them as they bound and dragged her down the spiral staircase, through dimly-lit corridors and out into the pale and waiting dawn. A crowd had assembled, swinging their banners and screaming. Torches were lit on either side of the gallows.

Lyra stood before them, tall and angelic in her white nightgown, soon to be spattered with crimson blood. A fragile shaft of milky light gleamed off the silver blade. Lyra felt for the orange in her pocket. She was glad that she had saved it.

In front of everyone, she bit into her orange, savouring the sour bright taste in her teeth. She imagined she was biting into the sun, feeling its heat spread through her as it sunk down into her mouth, down into the strong blue ocean, softly dissolving as she swallowed, feeling the juice go down like the world going down to the darkest depths of the sea, sinking, sinking…

She saw the light beyond the horizon, the glimpse of white, of starry light – and as the blade sunk deep she knew she was free.

–Maria Sledmere

(Flash Fiction February prompts: arm, prisoner, img_0019.jpg)

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)

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 Viscosity of Thought

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I miss myself before,” she said.

(Prompts: Rorschach blot, haunted, glitter)

by Maria Rose Sledmere

The Preciousness of Water

A bright morning, something calling… though who knows what because for so long I’ve been alone, so long I’ve forgotten what it is to hear something – anything at all – that wasn’t my own two feet trudging upon soil. I was standing by the ocean’s edge, the sand etched in my toes, thinking how weak the sea looked; so still as if the moon had given up trying to pull it. It didn’t make the usual hush and shush that the sea is supposed to make. If it wasn’t for that distant pattering sound, I would think the accident had deafened me after all.

You get a kind of deja vu, standing here looking outwards with everything unfolding in the distance. Once these ashen lumps beneath my feet were tufts of grass and mounds of soft pink heather. There were sea-flowers and elegant sand dunes. Now the beach is blotched with the remains of fallout: blackish dust and fragments of rock that haven’t yet been swept away, like the tide’s lost its power to barter with the earth. The news told us that there could be more fallout to come, a shower of dark rain to fall in a few days or weeks or even months. That was before the screens flashed off and haven’t lit up again since. What I miss most are cigarettes and the smell of lemon shower-gel, the cry my baby made in its crib.

I was thinking about all these things when the noises grew louder. At first it sounded like the distant beginnings of rain, but then there was a clattery thumpiness to it and a rhythm you don’t get with rain drops. I waited and waited, hoping this wasn’t to be another explosion, though half wondering what it would be like to see that shattering of mushroom-cloud that first bloomed in America. A secret part of me longed for the shock, the cataclysm. I watched a storm breaking against the bay; handfuls of seconds being snatched from the world. The pounding got louder and louder and the ground was vibrating and I was about to turn round when the wind whipped past me with the force of so many bodies and there they all were: a band of wild horses torn from nowhere, galloping fast towards the water. It was all I could do to catch my breath, staggering backwards. They were magnificent creatures, all chestnutty-coloured and shining in the whiteish light. I hadn’t seen such beauty in so long. The horizon seemed almost to open to them, its silky jaws of melty yellow parting as they splashed into the ocean with their powerful legs. I couldn’t help but run closer to them; I ran and ran till I was touching the sea with my bare feet, knowing the water was full of radiation but still not stopping, not stopping till I was closer to those horses. One of them neighed like a wolf howling to the moon, and it shook its head dramatically like a proud actress. I was thinking how strange it was and wishing someone else was there to see it with me. I stood still watching the last of the horses bound deep into the ocean; they kept running through the delicate waves as easy as scissors ripping silk; they kept running till even their heads had dipped underwater. I wondered if horses could swim, but then I remembered that these days there’s no point doubting anything. It all could happen. All of it; anything. Maybe they had gills, and maybe there were other horses with wings. The water gathered in pools around my feet and already I was feeling the tingling.

You can see all the dead fish and crabs and other slimy things being tossed about underwater like any old rubbish. I leant down to pick up a starfish which was fossilised in a coating of ash. If you pull their limbs off, they grow back. I held it in my hand, the ash flaking off of it, a thing so precarious. Looking down, you could see the dull yellow glow coming from odd areas of the sea bed. I sighed and threw the starfish into the distance, watching it spin away like a frisbee. It made me feel a little freer.

I stood there with the radiated water churning its forgotten neutrons and fishy detritus and plastic litter; stood there until I felt the very sand below my feet begin to sink. As usual, the day would not come as it should. The storm’s aftermath of dark grey clouds bloomed in the distance and already I could smell the pungency of all their nothingness. The whole horizon was a plume of flowery mist.

I closed my eyes and remembered the time the baby and I were on this beach, making sandcastles out of soft bright sand and in the warm sun eating strawberries. I opened my eyes to blink. A veil of ash still covered the sky, cloaking the world with unnatural mortality. I closed them again, to stop the sting.

And now when I close my eyes, I think of the horses. I cry and cry, thinking of those horses; though water is too precious to waste, a memory of some ocean that’s light years away.

(Prompts: photograph of horses, mortality, fall-out)

by Maria Rose Sledmere

Depth

The twisted ribs of a cruise liner, clouding over with life. Creeping things with claws and tendrils jut from cracks in the hull, and the deep bears down on bodies, long lost to sun and breeze and laughter. Day and night are foreign whimpers.

The rumble of ancient depths- The loud void unfolds in every direction, hiding buried terrors and towering phantoms. A wail, a magnificent, droning wail, drifts through vast shadows, telling of a titan unseen. The abyss shakes as another howl sounds out over the metal corpse- Perhaps some private elegy for bones that sleep in sand and rust.

What were your prompts?: Recordings of whale-song

by Paul Inglis

A Serpent

This morning is bleak, but whether that’s a novel observation at all considering the fact it’s February is up to the reader. I’ve just lurched into a little cafe-chippy place for a bite to eat and a cup of something. The thing on the plate is breakfast in name only- It bears the texture of rubber gloves and smells like melted flip-flops. I decide I need to look at something other than that old misshapen lump, so I check out the street through the little window to my left. A dull fog, the kind of fog I like getting lost in, is snagging on the branches of trees across the road.

A fine bleak morning, then. The hangover might be ruining it a bit, but nothing short of buckshot will sort that. May as well make the best of it and go exploring.

Eventually the supreme beak of a serpent cuts the mist, painted in drab grey. The rest of it crouches in the white abyss, stretching off for what could be miles. Were I of more valiant composition, I’d have a go at it with a lance, but for the moment I’m just content to loiter on the pier. Some halo’d templar will show up soon enough to behead the thing anyways, no need to worry. Then again…

I decide to get out of there- The kind of man that runs about swinging swords with the intention of butchering giant creatures sounds like the kind of man that gets carried away and cuts down the next two or three or fifty bystanders by accident. As I leave I pass an old man fishing, and worry that the next one to bite might end up being the monster lurking further down in the fog. He flashes me a grin of mostly gums and shows off his earlier prize: A stumpy little mackerel, still twitching despite its broken neck. On second thought, he seems more than capable of dealing with the beast. After wishing him luck, I slip off into the rolling gloom, intent on wasting a few more hours.

What were your prompts?: Picture of a ship, breakfast

by Paul Inglis

Ole and the Whales

Visstad is a fishing village as any other in northern Scandinavia but it is the only one to have a choir singing whale songs. Nobody knows for sure why the people of Visstad sing these songs or how they learnt Whalish but the legend goes that it all started with a boy called Ole.
Ole was the youngest son of a fisherman. He was a rather shy boy and people said that he also was not the cleverest one. During the day he helped his father and brothers with the nets and the fish but in the evening he enjoyed sitting in his father’s boat listening to the waves, the wind and the seagulls and – if he could catch the sound – the singing of the whales.
One evening the boat he sat in was not moored properly at the quay and was driven to the open sea. Ole was busy listening to the waves and the wind, so he did not notice that the boat was moving. Only when the coast was so far away that it could not be seen at the horizon did Ole realize that something must have gone wrong. He panicked. He looked around to find the oars but the must have stayed at the quay in Visstad. Terror overwhelmed Ole. How was he supposed to come back?
Huge dark patches floated under the boat. Whales! They could become dangerous for him. The boat was so small that even a tiny stroke with the whales’ tail fins could turn it over easily. Their presence, however, did not make any difference Ole realised. He was going to die anyway. This realisation did not comfort him at all. He clutched the rail and starred into the water with tears in his eyes. To calm himself down he began to sing. At first, he sang nursery songs and lullabies his mother had sung to him when he was little. Then he turned to the traditional fishing songs of his village.
After three or four hours someone seemed to join his songs. When Ole listened closely, he heard the deep whale tunes that seemed to carry through everything and making the water, the boat and Ole’s body vibrate. The whales’ singing had a soothing effect on Ole and he tried to join their song. His eyes fixed on the dark patches underneath him Ole modulated his voice trying to imitate the sounds and find syllables that matched them. The whales seemed to acknowledge his effort. More and more dark patched gathered around Ole’s boat and the singing grew louder. The boat moved gently with the waves the fins produced.
When the sun rose, the boat hit against something. Ole looked up. He was back at Visstad. The whales had brought him home.
It is said that since then people in Visstad learnt to sing with the whales and every time a fisherman gets lost on the sea, people gather and sing a whale song. They hope that then whales will return the man to them.

What were your prompts?: whale sounds, terror

by Rut Neuschäfer