The Concrete Warrior

The Concrete Warrior

He peels the stripping from an incense stick, with such precision as to suggest it’s been his life’s goal to discover what was hidden by sawdust paste and sandalwood slivers. It turns out to be a mere bamboo reed, ancient tool of inscription. There’s a sense of the inevitable here. What good would it do to now lick the coating? It tastes of terrible regrets. His concentration lacks thrift; thrives on the excessive.

You could cure depression, he argued in last semester’s essay, by drinking from city rivers. The amount of oestrogen in the water was warping school after school of fish; contraceptives left the body in women’s piss and slowly diluted their chemicals through the current. Not to mention the lithium deposits, the Prozac mass surreptitiously making sediment of riverbeds, embedding its serenity in sand particles, gemstones, fish eggs. Pesticides were supposed to remove residues, but inevitably contributed to further contamination. He drinks freely from the river, drinks like he’s making a statement. Back at the tower block, the others survive on stolen Lucozade, but he maintains a healthy faith in l’eau naturelle.

His skin, they often said, has that uncanny glow. Like it’s been purified with butane, the acne blasted away. Unnatural. Not sleeping, he wrote screeds about the lovely truth to be found in raiding bins. No other method could reveal the secrets of our governing corporations. The titles were varied and strange:

Haunted Monopolies: How Our Supermarkets Invoke the Waning of History
Circuits of Trolleys: What Your Shopping Basket Says about Fertility and Self-Governance
Euro Trash Girl: How Nightclubs are Hotting Up the Biosphere
Junk Hook: Washing Up Culture on the Brink of Extinction
Alice’s Mirror: Looking Back on Our Selves through the Broken Glass of Suburban Play-parks 

Perhaps there wasn’t a quick logic to his method but the tutors seemed to like it. Scholarships promised like the neon lights of a Vegas strip, but he managed to resist the allure. He wanted to remain digging deep in the dirt; could never see himself imprisoned, shimmering, in the ivory tower, crowned with the laurels of knowledge. He knew his work was utter sludge, the bullshit pulled straight from the earth and recycled with choice and sensitive words.

Morphine pulses through his sleepy veins, night and day. He snaps the stick in his mouth. There’s a new immediacy to his presence of being. Stay in the moment, he scribbles, it’s the only way to resist the messianic pull of the past as it threatens to sandblast every particle of your purified being. Switch off your smartphone, before it’s too late. Toss that transient saccharine pleasure away. Crunch the coke can to cut your mouth.

When the riots broke out, many youths came past the tower block on their passage of looting. The sky crackled with ersatz thunder, which he concocted himself from the safety of an 8th floor window, occasionally dropping M&Ms on the crazed kids below. Some of them relinquished their grip on the stolen televisions, the screens of which smashed on the concrete. Others waved their fists with invisible placards, making wild proclamations about the vengeance of the earth. By sundown, everyone feasted on pizza, leaving the cardboard boxes to grease the streets. He waited until their cries died down then left the building to pick up the mess. Single-handedly, he cleaned his street. Not out of pride, or civil duty; but a robotic sense of necessity.

The incense wafts through the 8th floor window. He assembles his collection of needles. There’s an archive of noise he hasn’t yet tapped, an ecstatic whole that would affirm itself in the choir of angry shouts. He feels their riots at night, remembers the orgiastic disarray of society as something he once needed but now didn’t. The tower block seems to rise, its roof of concrete block threatening the fiery tips of the sun. Eventually, he knew this would all be molten. The sun would fall. He’d bite off each piece of the candy necklace, marking the end of another day. The sugar would mix with the heroin in his veins and he’d feel the calm come over him, wave after wave; the residue waste of the river washing up, swirling its gurgles in his seashell ears, threatening the spillage of sewage, the sludge-work of words, the colliding extravagance of year after year. The leftovers, the children. The silt of the earth, rising and winning.

/ Maria Sledmere

(FFF prompts: underwater photo, riot)

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24 Hours

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It was the summer of being totally numb. I woke up every morning with the sensation of being dragged down some strong gulf stream, warm and foggy and going nowhere.

I smoked cigarettes leaning over the harbour wall, watching the waves curl over the lisp of the sand, gathering in little billows. I worked a job at one of the out of town supermarkets, driving my car around in the day, stacking shelves at night. I worked from midnight till dawn, driving home as the birds sang and the junkies collapsed into their hellhole flats. I sort of enjoyed the boredom, the routine sense of drifting; the way the hours and days just dissolved away. I had a vague sense that something had to happen by the end of the summer, but never paid much attention to prospects of the future.

The doctor put me on these antidepressants, you see. I don’t know what they were supposed to be doing, but they made me very numb. I felt weightless, as if my skin wasn’t my own. There was an agitation, a twitchiness to my existence. I couldn’t help scratching, shivering. I worried the sores that rose in welts on my arms. Every time I tried to eat, I felt nauseous. Only the cigarettes helped.

I was getting through thirty a day, a pack and a half, that summer.

Then I met Oliver. I used to know him, years ago, at primary school. I was standing outside a club, watching the thin blue moon disappear into dark clouds, watching some sixteen-year-old kid throw up on the pavement across the road. Oliver came out of nowhere, wearing this flamboyant shirt, a shark-tooth necklace, his hair wiry and long. I don’t know how he recognised me; I barely recognised him. I wanted to melt into the wall.

But then we started talking about childhood. I guess it seemed like forever ago, this whole other world of messy innocence. The games we used to play, running over the fields, throwing clumps of hay at each other. Days out with the school, teasing one another over the contents of our packed lunches. We walked around town all night, waiting for the sun to come up, sitting shivering underneath a slide at the park, sharing a half bottle of vodka.

He gave me his number, refused the cigarettes I offered. Said we should talk again, but he had to go to work.

I never did text him. I went straight home, teeth chattering on the bus, then lay in bed all day, staring at the ceiling. I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking about the person who used to run around those fields, laughing and shrieking, throwing wads of hay and falling back into the soft long grass. I smoked so much my room was a grey, tarry haze. At some point I must’ve slept.

I woke up and the world was brighter, clearer. The smoke was gone. I drove to work and the strip lights of the supermarket glowed in my brain, the colours of all the signs and products seeming ultra saturated, a pleasure to stare at. Everything felt so intense, so real. I guess I was feeling again. It was a joy to just touch things, finger the labels of tins and packets, brush my feet over the vinyl floor.

I’m not even sure I took down the right number. I never did text him.

It was a joy to stand over the bridge on my break, watching the cars pass on the dual carriageway, biting into something sweet, maybe a donut, maybe a piece of carrot cake. I didn’t think about falling over that bridge, about smoking a cigarette. I thought of Oliver, of the little girl asleep in the backseat, going nowhere through the night. Falling asleep on someone’s shoulder. That sense of safety. I don’t remember much else about how I felt, but I know that something had changed, even though in the end I didn’t text him.

I guess it was just that in those 24 hours, I’d forgotten to take my antidepressants. For once, it felt good to go nowhere.

— by Maria Sledmere

(Flash Fiction February prompts: ‘nowhere’)

Intervals

This all must follow a pattern, don’t you know?

My eyes follow the Siberia of semibreves, stretching out across eighteen bars at least. I can tell they don’t trust me with this piece.

“Why’ve I only got the long notes?” I go straight to the conductor, holding back my French horn, cradling it defensively against my chest.

“Oh, it’s just the part we need you to play,” he says idly. I’m telling you though, it’s a pattern. First they start ignoring you, stop commenting on your pitch and tuning, your tonguing and rhythm. It’s nice for awhile, not getting the abuse, but soon you find yourself suspicious. The saxes and trumpets are getting hounded for their dodgy rendition of melodies while I’m sitting at the side, content and stupid. No, it’s not right. The pattern’s coming out.

“Do you even want me here at all?” I find myself asking, against my better judgment.

“Oh, it’s not a case of wanting, darling, it’s needing. We absolutely need you to blast out those long clean notes for us.”

“Oh for f—”

“Now now, go do your warm up.” I hate the way he shuts you down like that. I haven’t eaten since breakfast and I feel nauseous; the thought of blowing lungfuls of warm air into that piece of metal doesn’t exactly appeal right now. Everyone around me is getting boisterous, laughing and kidding around, knocking sheets off their music stands, the trombonists playing loud and silly glissandos.

I have a theory that they start like this, then kick you out. When you start to feel like the one sane person, silent and still amongst the hurricane, that’s when you know it’s time to leave. No need for dead weight in a band like this, as he’d say. Everyone must communicate, must work together. The rests and breaks mean something too. It’s probably bullshit.

“You know, it’s a shame you’re standing around doing nothing, cos that French horn looks so damn pretty against your skin when it’s played.” Oh god. I turn, trying to source the location of this sudden bout of shitty banter. Melanie. The flute player, the little elfin embodiment of musical perfection. She once did an impromptu solo from the balcony of Kings Theatre, during a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I heard she lured a guy into bed with renditions of the ‘In Dreams’ melody from Lord of the Rings. I also heard the guy cried afterwards. You can fill in the blanks there.

Talk about blanks. Just look at this bloody part! It’s literally all rests and semibreves, not even a cheeky quaver or two to liven things up a bit.

“What d’you want me to do?” I retort to Melanie, who’s now standing over me, eyeing my sheet music. “I mean, it’s not like a lot of practice is needed or anything. Think I can nail those silences easy enough.”

“Oh, I see.” She brushes her pinkie finger over the staves. “Gosh, he really hates you.”

“Right?”

“Wanna take some time out?” I look at her in earnest.

“I think I’ve got enough time out in this, don’t you think?”

“I meant—”

“Oh I know, come on then.” She leads me down a corridor or two until we’re outside, standing on a wet and windy street. There’s nobody about, it being Thursday evening, long after the closing hour for late night shopping. Musicians work at ungodly times.

To my surprise, she draws a fat joint from her pocket, rolling it round her fingers as if pondering whether or not to light it.

“Oh Melanie,” I say, grinning. She lights it and I watch her cheeks compress to little dimpled hollows as she sucks in the first draw. We pass it round and don’t talk.

“He’s a bastard anyway,” she says, after a pause.

“He means well. Talented guy.”

“I don’t know.” I’m thinking about how interesting her mouth is, the faint pink stain on the end of the spliff. How is it possible for her to play so well when she fills her lungs with this shit? The weed swirls round my empty stomach.

She must’ve heard it rumbling.

“I’ve got an orange,” she says, drawing one out from another pocket. I swear she must’ve been a pilgrim in a past life. Carries her life around with her, as if waiting to arrive somewhere.

I watch her dainty fingers peel the orange. As her nails claw into its skin, a sharp sweet smell lifts my senses. My head is swimming. I can hear every scrape and pull as she pares away the rind. Takes the first piece and pushes it between my lips. Nothing ever tasted so good.

So nothing happened. So we stood around outside the practice hall, finishing the spliff, sharing the orange. I watched her lick the juice from her lips as she watched the passing traffic. The lamplights stretched out into the distance, down the road towards the shop buildings, whose windows were closed up for the night, the bright city sinking into its disappearance. After a while, I felt better. We went back inside. We played through the song, and I guess it went well.

I’m getting better at intervals.

by Maria Sledmere

(Flash fiction February prompts: orange, theory, picture of sheet music).

… 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 Muse

He was fleeting. He flitted. He never stayed still. He would appear on the subway and in the shop, in glimpses and lingering looks and every time he wore a different face. Scarved in december, hunched into his own coat with eyes you hoped were haunted. He had fallen out with his mother, or his brother was poorly or maybe he had lost his job. There was wine in your flat to soothe his sorrow but he is fleeting and had disappeared into the crawling beam of a headlamp. You see him in flashes in a nightclub, orange hair turning to flame under the strobe light and you know he is passionate. He would be quick to anger and quick to forgive, because quickness is in his nature. And when April comes, he is new like the spring, bearded and brunette and as gentle as dawn as he cycles past your bedroom. An artist, maybe, framed within your window panes for a fateful second before the film burns and he is gone, curling into the wind like ash. It is a soft summer evening and he has soft summer eyes, his hair golden and competing with the sun. His sleeve brushes against a bush in bloom and a flower sighs to the ground. You follow behind him and pick it from the path and pose it against the picture frame on your book shelf. But he is fleeting and winter bursts upon the city once more and the flower shrivels into the polaroid.

Prompt: ‘Fleeting’

By Louise McCue.

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)

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 Crow Rr’karva

The Crow Rr’karva
Ailsa Williamson

English:

A crow sat high on the wall
Cawing so loud, all heard his call
People looked up from field and road,
Wondering what terrors he foretold
Times and change and times of woe
Lips parted, expressing pure sorrow
But as they listened to his echowing caw
They realised he was not calling to them at all.

Gengen’vor (language in development):

Karva mea’di sha kakata rr’ethr
Korvok’ni kat’val ranna mesh’di lelne efat
Enepis pepe’di volk komp sharat e megmali
Ava’ni ven tandes lel vanashika’di
Garshais me’draka e garshais me’falhi
Banies govo’di lelami’ni finita falhi
Ta’a as lelnn bane’ni ot lelne korvok
Lelnn pafi’di lel gm’di nen efat’ni ot lelnn nen ranna.

 

(Prompts: crow, lips, change)

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)