Beam

The beam of sunlight shines through the window, a golden glow suffusing onto the carpet, broken up by the shadows from the window panes. The motes of dust floating in the air are curiously visible in the sun, dancing and whirling in odd and unexplainable patterns, seemingly unrelated to any wind currents in the room.
A cat stalks across the carpet, poised and alert, stepping into the beam of light and pausing, turning around and around and then finally, finally lying down in the solitary ray of light. It kneads the carpet gently with its claws, claiming the space, claiming the light and the warmth. It curls up and closes its eyes and sleeps, warm and happy and languid in the beam of sunlight.
By MK
(Prompts: beam)

Exchange

It was the worst punishment his parents could have given him. Spending the best part of the year far away from his beloved city of Cologne, locked up in a small Scottish town to improve his English. Yes, he had always wanted to be an exchange pupil. He knew that English was an important language but didn’t come along well with his teacher and never achieved as high as he would like to. But first of all, why had his parents chosen Scotland? The people here didn’t even speak English! At least it was not the English he was used to from school. And second – and worse – why did they make him go during the second term knowing that he would miss Karneval, the big street party with people dressing up, huge parades with flood that were full of sweets and a lot of music and dancing? What else could it be than a punishment for his stepping over the line last Karneval, when he had more beer (one of the few alcoholic drinks he was allowed to have at his age) than he should have had, ending up in a police station for doing stupid things he didn’t even remember properly?

They could have given him any punishment: take away his mobile phone, lock him up in his room for a month or two or even make him accompany his grandmother to her weekly knitting circle. But they had not done any of these. His father had shouted at him the next day, his mother had told him how disappointed she was and his older sister had looked at him with disdain – nothing new here – but that had been all. Until half a year later when he got accepted for the exchange programme and he had noticed that it would be during the Karneval season. “Well, at least we don’t have to pick you up at the police station” had been all his father had said and he knew that this was the punishment his parents had planned for him.
The last five days had been the worst of his life. All these pictures of his friends on Facebook wearing costumes, celebrating Karneval in school and on the streets and watching the parades in the brightest sunlight. If it only had rained. But no. There was not justice in this world. At least it would be over this day. Once the big straw figure called Nubbel was burned, Karnval would be over and lent would begin.

He got up and put on his school uniform. It still felt unfamiliar, as if he had been wearing a costume for the last two months. He went downstairs and heard his host mother being busy in the kitchen. There was a delicious smell in the hallway. Was it pancakes?
“Pancake Day!” His host brothers, an eleven-year-old pair of twins shouted with joy, running into the kitchen. What?
He followed them and spotted a huge pile of pancakes in the middle of the table. Why did they have pancakes on a – as far as he could thing of – ordinary Tuesday? Usually all he got for breakfast was a wide range of cereals. Nothing to complain about but pancakes were far better.
His host mother must have noticed his confused looks. “It’s Pancake Day today. Don’t you have it in Germany?” she asked.
He shook his head.
“See, the day before Ash Wednesday we eat pancakes because lent is about to start and traditionally you can’t have them then” she explained.
Eating something sweet before you had to fast – that sound a lot like the main idea of Karneval. He grinned and helped himself with some pancakes. Pancake Day would become his second favourite day – after Karneval of course.

Rut Neuschäfer
What were your prompts?: Pancakes, Knitting, Sun

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

Hats

I like Shrove Tuesday.

My husband’s making the pancakes – Joe does that now. Has been for about five years; since the day I saw that wonderful cross on the test.

“You sit out there and you relax!” he had smiled. I liked that he was proud of me. It was hard to see any of the work my body had done back then, strange not having a bump. I didn’t even get sick. Joe lets me sit out on the porch, because he knows how much I like seeing the sun in winter. I like to see warmth and feel cold. All the beauty, none of the heat.

I learned to knit on that day too. I made a hat for the baby – first thing I ever knitted! Joe was even more proud.

“Blimey, you’ve finished!” he had cried, “Well done darling, I’ll put it away safe”. I felt like a proper mum. Didn’t even know what that was then, but I guessed it had something to do with protecting the baby from the cold.

If I twist my head round enough I can see him through the glass doors. He’s frowning, but I think that’s just him concentrating on the pancakes: they can be quite fiddly. That first Shrove Tuesday he was far too pleased with me to stop smiling for anything.

I turn back to my knitting. I knit a hat on this day every year. Each year it gets just a bit bigger, and my knitting is always much improved from the last time. Joe keeps them all in the desk in his study. He takes them out sometimes and looks at them, all four of them. I spy him crying into them sometimes, all salty tears mingling with the fibres. He’s just so proud of me, and I cry too behind the door. It’s because we did such a good job.

I hear the hiss of cold water on the hot pan, which means the pancakes are done. We’ll all eat together.

Joe brings out the pancakes and smiles at me. He goes back into the kitchen, then comes and sits with me. He hands me a plate, then takes his, and halves the pancakes between us. He notices my knitting.

“You’ve finished,” he smiles sadly, takes the hat from my hands and kisses my forehead. I blush with pride.

“Well done darling. I’ll put it away safe”.

Louie Houston
What were your prompts?: Knitting, Sun, Pancakes

Pancakes

The gentle bubbling hiss as the smooth, satin batter slipped into the pan was a satisfying sound. I scattered some blueberries on top as the bottom began to cook and turn golden brown and spongey…these weren’t those thin pancakes like we used to flip onto the ceiling as kids on shrove Tuesday, the kind you have with lemon and sugar or jam and cream. These are fat, juicy, sexy American-style pancakes, the kind you stack with butter and smother in syrup.

He doesn’t need to know that I spent all of Thursday night practising how to make them without them being burnt on the outside and raw eggy goo on the inside. This morning at least they’re turning out perfectly and I’ve already got a sizeable stack building up on a plate beside the cooker. I’m hoping the smell and the soft sounds of the radio and the sizzle of batter will wake him, and he’ll come through, in his boxers, hair tousled, rubbing sleep from his eyes, and plonk himself down at the kitchen table, watching my backside peep at him from beneath his crumpled white shirt as I cook him the best breakfast of his life.

As it is though, I hear no sounds of movement as I’m spooning butter and syrup, and if I wait any longer they’ll get cold. I put the tray on the plate along with a coffee and a glass of fresh, squeezed orange juice, and suppress a smile as I sneak into the bedroom.

My face falls a little as I find him, wide awake, on his phone texting away.

‘Honey, I’ve made breakfast.’ I say tentatively. He glances up at me for a brief moment, barely registering my presence.

‘Oh, sweet. Yeah just put it on the side, I’m having a conversation.’

Rachel Norris
What were your prompts?: Pancakes, Sun

Bittersweet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I suppose you remember that day differently.

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

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

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

(Prompts: pancake, sun, knitting)

by Maria Rose Sledmere

Tracks

I won’t bore you with some trite poetic musing on footprints and their latent metaphorical qualities. To be frank, I’m much more concerned about the footprints I’ve been following for the last day. Have you ever set foot in a small-ish forest clearing, only to find that the edges of this clearing are rather, well, toe shaped?

I’m not seeing things, either. The clearing most certainly follows the shape of a colossal foot, complete with a large dent in the ground where the heel would have fallen. And this clearing isn’t just some lone foot-shaped anomaly- There are lots of them, all the same shape, and all headed in a single direction.

Fortunately, the tracks are far from fresh. There is no proof of recent devastation in any of the clearings, no torn trees or flattened vegetation. Instead they host thick carpets of grass and adolescent pines, still learning to stretch their arms. The prints may have been left around a decade ago perhaps, but I’m not sure. Certainly a long time, anyways.

The distance between each stride is monumental, and as I walk between them a picture assembles in my mind: A nomad, never satisfied with the gentle rhythms of homes and gardens, ranging forever on blank sands and blue hills.

As the sun begins to falter I come to the end of the woods. The last print has left a sort of indented clearing, half of it within the forest, the other half outside. From here on there are rolling plains and glens walled by craggy peaks. The open lands make it harder to determine tracks now- What once was obviously the depression caused by a big toe now seems like a dimple in the dirt among many other pocks and bumps.

Soon enough I’ve lost the path entirely. It was going to happen eventually, of course- Ten years of wind and rain does not make for well preserved footprints. Ten years of distance, too- The giant I seek will be long gone by now, wading rivers and roaming valleys on other continents.

That night I set up camp on the forest’s fringes, in the last crater left by that grand heel. Next morning I’ll be moving on, too- Perhaps some day, in some other land, I’ll find these tracks again, and follow them a while longer.

What were your prompts?: Picture of footprints, curiosity

by Paul Inglis

Dreams in Cerise

He awoke from cerise dreams of her blushing cheeks to find the water had taken him at last. The sun bore down upon his bare chest, warming him with the sadness of a knowing mortality. He had been told that there were five days left, just as the trees in Arden had five leaves left, but the fact that he had been tricked by prophecy was of no consequence to him now. The forest was far away from him and so was she; with her voice becoming the wind itself, blistering his cheeks as they sank into the sea.

He remembers this moment with vague precision; as a string of words might assemble into a glitchy mass of pixels. He has written it down many times and tried to understand it. The tide of wireless has brought him streams of emails; emails from the time to come; messages that he might make sense of. In the small hours of the morning he types her letters about what has happened to him. He dreads being sucked into the past again; for the future is certainly a strange place, but he is only just starting to get used to it. He sees himself in flux and knows that she will be much older now. Dead, perhaps. He imagines all the particles of her earthly body slowly dissolving into the soil, mingling with the insects that take their homes from the filth and the litter left by humans. And all the time, the stars in the sullen sky echo a warning.

He lives in a world of barren land and beaten trees, of snowfalls that soften God into the molten endlessness of his oceans. The survivors who live on their tiny islands, connected only by their computers. In his heart he returns, frequently, to the wormhole which brought him to this future. In its memory he sees himself brilliant and glimmering. He cannot bear it: the pain of atoms tearing shreds from the world’s membrane, the layers of his skin. But he knows about the Sun: she too hurts, fading as she falls closer towards him in the whitening sky. Somehow, in his loneliness, he finds this presence comforting. For in the mist of her rays, and the bleeping dust, the signals are always reverberating.

(Prompts: ecology, technology, Shakespeare)

by Maria Rose Sledmere

Embers

On television we watched the forest fires blaze across Australia. We wondered how something so intangible could catch so quick. Desperate for understanding, we put our hands through the yellow tongues that licked the top of bunsen burners in science class, but nothing happened. That evening I sat alone, watching the smouldering coals die quietly in the fire. When you came up later to see me, we kneeled again in front of the flickering images, oblivious to the shadows that billowed on the wall.

You said you wanted to touch earth, to breathe the metallic scratch of smoke.

We were thousands of miles from the fires, but driving in your father’s car we felt the energy surge beneath the tyres. It was so cold, so frostily cold that night when we camped in the forest. We sat up in that clearing we found, resisting the urge to sleep in the car, sharing our only blanket. We’d built a crap fire, with childlike flames and incessant spits of woodspark. We’d jump as every moment or so another crackle would pierce the dark. Your bare hand was violet and cool on my arm. I wouldn’t look in your face, for fear of realisation. We talked little, watched a lot. The fire burnt out before us, giving itself up to the misted damp of rain. Among charcoal spots, in the darkness, I saw glows of amber fade.

In the middle of the night, I got up to smoke cigarettes in the forest depths, tripping over branches and roots in the darkness. I scorched a small blackish circle on my thumb with my lighter. I was going to show you it, later. This place was perfectly void, except for the pine scent and owl calls. I inhaled each drag as if I were in the fires, sucking in a vaporous death. When I finally got back to you, you were frozen and shaking. Your eyes rolled to the moon and flashed like irises, whiter than white. Everything was going to be alright, I kept saying, relishing those silver tears. In silence we held pure fear. Under the stars, in the undergrowth, we curled together like fledglings without their mother.

In the morning we rose numbly, our bodies taut with confusion. You took me to the forest edge to watch the sunrise, the blazing pools spilt over the horizon. We tried to speak, to make sense, but we could only let out sighs.

I think we were missing television.

by Maria Sledmere

prompts: forest, sunrise