Snowstorm

It’s funny how different everything looks when it’s just snowed. The white covers everything, makes it look so pristine and clean. Little hats on fence posts, blankets on hedges, cushions on benches. The dead trees almost have leaves, the snow on the branches making them heavy, making them look almost sluggish (if trees can ever really look lively). The grass and the pavements and the roads look fresh and smooth, covered in white, every sound muted as peace surrounds you. The snow hides the bloodstains under the cleanness, and the piles of bodies could just be snowdrifts, and you could almost be back in time, before it all started, after there’s been a snowstorm.

By MK
(Prompts: snowstorm)

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Through the Gate

The bitter cold tore at my skin as I walked the trail. I couldn’t tell if it was dawn, noon, dusk…the blankness of snow and sky were a shroud over time. Only nightfall was apparent, when the clouds turned to coal and the snow to sapphires.

The mountains were so thick with snowdrifts that all visible landmarks had vanished. Footprints seemed to disappear as quickly as you made them. My guide was ahead of my somewhere. There was a figure in the snow that I was following, at least. Perhaps it wasn’t him. Perhaps it was some Yeti, or ice-giant, or a mountain troll…but he was a little too small, or at least, he looked it from this distance. Perspective, too, was a lost cause.

Eventually I caught up, and found that it was indeed my guide, bundled in furs, his face scarcely visible. He was beginning to set up camp.

“No!” I refused. “I’m going on. I know that we are near, I feel it.”

He yelled at me as I stormed away. He would not go on, for night was drawing. I knew he was right, that I would likely die in pursuit of my goal. And yet every impulse said that by morning it would vanish. After all I had been here before. This hopeless quest had taken years off my life, stolen my family, my academic reputation, my very self. The obsession would not be sated until I had found proof of the vision I had seen. The beautiful gates, stretching into the heavens, crowned in clouds, and inside, skies of lapis blue, and the heat of the sun, so warm, the fragrance of otherworldly plants so green, flowers so bright, fruits so ripe and sweet…it was heaven – the gates to Shambhala.

But all had faded. They had blamed the cold, the delirium of hypothermia. I had seen the beautiful gates again only in dreams, and my memory could not recreate their true beauty and power.

I forged ahead, though the cold was gripping my limbs, the acid in my muscles dragging me back. The drifts of snow were deepening, and I felt as though I might be engulfed at any moment. Darkness came over me, at first I thought that night had fallen, but I realised that I had entered a tunnel of ice and snow, high enough to walk through even standing at full height. I forced my weary legs to continue, and my tired mind to register the glinting of a dim and distant light upon the glittering cut-glass edges of the ice cave. The light was coming from beyond, sparkling along the facets of ice, from somewhere far ahead. I fell to my knees, overcome with cold and exhaustion, but I crawled onward. The tunnel floor began to rise on an incline, toward the light, and I saw brilliant sunlight. Too brilliant to be filtered through the snow-burdened clouds. I could hear birdsong, water trickling, voices laughing and quiet songs of prayer and celebration. I knew it could only be a trick, my desperate mind calling up long-forgotten memories, but the voices were familiar ones; my wife, my son and daughter, playing and laughing.

A breeze caught my frozen face, and it was warm, and fragrant. Soft spices, exotic fruits, sea salt, fresh rainwater on spring grass. I was pulled to my feet by a stranger, he was hooded in brightly coloured silk, his face obscured. He did not speak to me, but ushered me on, supporting my weight. I felt the cold ebb away, replaced by the warmth of sunlight seeping into my bones, and I felt light and full of energy. I looked back, for a moment I was afraid, but the ice-cave behind me was snowed under.

There was no turning back.

 

By Rachel
(Prompts: snowstorm, excavation)

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)

Sophie

Sophie had always been sunny. Born in June with sunlight locks and seared cheeks. Like those old Italian paintings, she was the female cupid – all cherub-like and delightful, whacking great smiles on the stiff, oil lips of the heroines. She sang single lines of nursery rhymes with greater warmth than any heavenly choir could muster.

“Fetch the engines! Fetch the engines!”

Ever curious and on the hunt for anything new, Sophie would take things without me knowing, just to discover them herself. She didn’t like being told what was the wrong way or what was the right way: she had confidence in HER way, and nothing else could matter. She’d tell me sometimes how to do things “properly”, with the imagined wisdom of someone ten times her age.

“You can’t make tea like that”.

“Mummy, put the milk in the pot before you warm it”.

“I can warm the milk better”.

I am nothing like Sophie. Quiet and safe, I don’t explore or discover or try anything new. She was adventure enough for me, my little girl. A supernova. When I tried to explain action and consequence she couldn’t listen to me, and it grew more difficult as her audaciousness increased.

It’s a strange thing, to see the snow of Winter and think of her. The way she tramped about the garden in her boots in Summer – chasing the frogs and the damselflies – made her stand vibrant, even against the blue sky. Snow seemed to restrict her from her adventures, the clouds dulling her buttery curls with the sky.

The heating broke last month. I hadn’t the money to replace it, having spent it all on hosting the family for Christmas. We were surviving on hot milk and multiple blankets.

Sophie had grown entirely contrary. I was never right, always to be questioned, always doubted. I held my quiet patience until two weeks ago, when I was heating our milk before our bedtime.

She had reached to touch the pan, and I warned her to be careful because of the heat. She asked me why, indignantly, and I explained carefully that she could burn her fingers on the fire, because it was very hot. She was insistent. Fire wasn’t hot, it was cold. I bickered with her, against usual practice, but she wouldn’t give in to my gentle reasoning. And though I knew she was fully aware that fire wasn’t cold at all, I broke.

I screamed at her, hysterical with frustration. Frustration at having my family for Christmas, at being a single parent, at not having any bloody heating in January, at having to constantly, constantly battle with a child telling me left was right. I don’t know how much I let out at her, only that it was too much. She cried and apologised and looked so heart-breakingly beautiful I could hardly summon words to address her. I managed to tell her everything was fine – that there was nothing to be sorry for, but despite my efforts, we both went through the motions of her bedtime routine in guilty silence.

For Sophie, having to sleep with three extra mismatched blankets was a fantastic game. Warm milk and soups and cuddling was something special to her, she couldn’t have known how unhappy the boiler was making me as I emptied kettles and pans of hot water into the bathtub for us.

I can imagine her making the connections. Mummy was suddenly angry, and it had something to do with her, something to do with the cold and something to do with the fire.

Sophie always had to figure it out for herself, I thought, stood in the icy presence of my black-clad family. The police had asked me why I hadn’t heard her before the alarm, as I slept in the room beside her. I could feel the scrutiny and suspicion through my own guilt like a salted wound. They found my matches hidden under her bed like a secret diary. She wouldn’t have cried for me: quiet and safe, I had taught her that when Mummy was right, she was scarier than anything she had ever seen before.

And for once, my little girl had proved me right. Fire was hot.

Louie Houston

What were your prompts?: “Bitter cold leaves site of Philadelphia fire encased in ice”

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

To a Father

 A river flows lazily through a spring meadow. The flowers flaunt a palette of vibrant colours. I walk at the rivers side, following the current. I’m not alone, a man walks with me. A dog plods along further away, plunging in and out of the fluttering water. The man tells a joke and we laugh together. I play with the dog, I fall, accidentally, into the river. I founder, I can’t breathe. The man shouts, I try to hear. He pulls me out, he holds me in his arms.

A lake is frozen over, snow falls slowly to the ground. It builds a shroud of white and blankness. A woman shouts, I refuse to hear. She comes to me, she stands beside me. We gaze out at the lake together, a thousand unspoken words exchanged. I cry in her arms.

by Scott Dallas
What were your prompts?: Snow, clandestine, Armour

New Morning, Snow Falling

 She uses your body as protection from the outside. You think she adores you with the softest parts of her, and you think you’ve touched her delicate underbelly. You are wrong, very wrong, you handsome boy. Her clothes protect her skin, her skin protects her bones, her bones protect her mind and her heart. You are yet another layer of armour against the snow that falls silently outside your window. You’ve always delighted in the way it falls and sparkles when the light hits it. She finds it too white, too bright. Everything is less blinding through closed eyelids, so she draws closer to you and buries her face in your neck. You think she might be in love with you. She thinks the world kills its darlings with pretty, glittering ice shaped into daggers.

Arms around her mean that she is yours, or so you believe.

Do you assume she slurs your name across her third whisky and coke? Do you think you possess someone because they listen to your heavy breaths as you dream about floating down from the sky like the gently drifting flakes that decorate the chillingly flat landscape?

Go to sleep, boy, and dream about what you can only touch, never hold.

by Lindsay Weiss

What were your prompts?: snow, clandestine, armour

Thoughts on a Snowflake

It was snowing hard, the flakes slapping their cheeks and making a mockery of their boots.  They started to run over the chilling blanket that was already covering the ground, their hoods pulled low, eager to get home.  It wasn’t until they were in the warm kitchen and had closed the door on the icy flurries, that Lauren noticed Gabby was crying.  She looked away.  Gabby was Steph’s friend, and Lauren didn’t know her well enough to ask what was wrong.

Gabby felt the tears on her face, so scalding when she had been outside, cool as the temperature lifted.  She sniffed, trying not to make a sound.  She was pretty sure Lauren had seen the traitor tears, but she hadn’t asked what was wrong.  Oh God, please don’t let her ask.  What would she say? What would she do? Cover them all with her darkness? Make them drown in the fathomless pit of her memory? she bit down on her lip, but her mind wasn’t listening, pushing the thoughts to the front of her eyes, and out of them in salty drops.

She was back in the graveyard, the snow hard under her feet.  It had not been coming down in great flurries as it was now, outside the window of Lauren’s house.  Only a few tiny flakes were still falling, desperate to make their mark before it was too late, to kiss the ground and then be swallowed up by its greed.  She saw the white marble headstone, the snow a perfect mask on its face.  She strained, but could not see the top where the writing was.  She probably wouldn’t have been able to read it anyway.

“Shall I lift you up?”

That was her grandad.  She nodded, and felt his strong arms go around her tiny body.  He hoisted her with ease on to his shoulders, and reached forward to push aside the film of snow.  The writing shone through, curly and gold, a light in the darkness. The soft, cold, white darkness.

“What does it say?”

He was silent for too long.

“What does it say?” she repeated with a child’s persistency.

Grandad hesitated, swallowed.  His voice was all croaky as he read, or perhaps quoted from memory: “Here lies Lisa Ranford, aged sixteen.” He paused, voice wobbling like the jelly her gran made for pudding, and cold as the ice-cream that went on top.  “Heaven is the only place for an angel.”

“What does that last part mean?”

He set her down gently, her feet crunching and sinking into the snow.  She shivered.

“Where’s mummy?”

Grandad coughed to give himself time to answer.

“Well, mummy’s the angel darling.  She’s gone up to Heaven.”

“But why?”

Grandad swallowed again, and his eyes were all wet.  When he answered, he was looking at the snow.

“You see these flakes all falling down to the ground?”

“Yes.  They’re pretty.”

“Yes they are.  They’re pure, and exciting, and beautiful, and there’s nothing like them in the world.  But in the morning, the sun will come out, all warm and bright, and he’ll melt them and they’ll disappear.” She nodded.  “You see, sweetheart, the snow and the sun are both marvellous things.  But they can’t exist together.  You see, some things are just too perfect to stay on this Earth.”

“Gabby, what’s wrong?”

Steph’s voice was distant, as if she were speaking from far away, calling across a snowy landscape, the sound smothered by the softest blanket of all.

Gabby opened the door and ran, across the garden, out of the gate, down the sloping lane.  Her feet pounded over the new-born flakes, turning them into her footprints.  They slapped her cheeks in protest, and she felt them stinging her skin, as her tears, scorching once more, fell to mingle with them, turning them into pain-wracked thoughts, just as they themselves froze to become snowflakes.

by Sarah McLean

Flash fiction prompt: snow

Katiyana

Katiyana

We meet without time, without thought. Fleeting encounters slip through the hours like ice into water.

I thought I knew you, once before. Sometimes I see you again; we swap our eyes in the brightness of wonder and maybe recognition.

There were nights where I’d climb out my window just to feel my bare toes freeze in the snow. I wanted to know what it was to be burned hollow, to have agony surge through every nerve. Perhaps there was jealousy, seeping out from the wound we reopened, the stitches we tore. Every wave of pain made it better, made our minds stronger. So we keep meeting, our memories melting like rosemary healing a wearied sore.

The moon scorns our kisses, knows the sins that slip from lip to lip, the secrets that catch in our saliva. We are bitter, gorged. A night black as opal shines around us as we fall.

This feeling steals us from what we were before.

Marble flesh, mottled by the cold. Starving for an idea of ourselves, for our auras that bleed in rainbows. Lie here in ivory light, revel in perplexity. This isn’t here; this is another, hidden home.

In every snowflake I see your eyes, dewy flickers of glitter. The words drift from these eyes, sometimes sealing themselves in my tongue. But there is no thinking, no time; no one. I rise to you with the light every morning, wondering if you’ll come.

by Maria Sledmere

flash fiction prompts: snow, clandestine