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)

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Aidan & Ariel

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The pair of them, born under Gemini in two different continents and yet here they were, together in a tent that was perched quite precariously on a mountainside out in the Cairngorms. The natural darkness of an evening made them sleep far earlier than they would’ve at home in their busy city lives. Ariel suffered perpetually from bouts of insomnia and the sound of the crickets humming kept her awake, even here in the stillness. She crawled out around midnight, leaving her sleeping bag in a shrunken ball, and decided upon a miniature hike up to the crags of their chosen mountain.

Only yesterday Aidan had said to her, By god you’re weird. He meant something about the way she crumbled her food into bits before she could eat it, or how she had to comb her hair 33 times each night, or how she wouldn’t stop singing that old Tim Buckley song, ‘Song to the Siren’ at all hours of the day. Ariel couldn’t help it; it was a damn fine tune and a treat to hear her voice in reverb, soaring out across the valley and shivering in the pines.

They had met at a business conference in Edinburgh only a year or so ago. Aidan worked for an old-fashioned company who made money from burning coal; Ariel for a startup who sold trendy mineral water at what Aidan considered an extortionate price. His whole brand was money to burn, while hers was clean and pure. They’d become good friends by ripping into the hypocrisies of their mutual employers while sneaking coffee breaks behind the corporate screens; after the interval for lunch, they sat next to each other and he’d scribbled funny notes on her ring-binder. When the day was over, they exchanged Outlook accounts and spent the next few months writing hundreds of urgent, enthusiastic emails to each other. They gushed about a mutual love for the wilderness, their craving for air and light and the shelter of mountains beneath sunset skies. Aidan quibbled with Ariel’s definition of the sublime. They argued about music: she was a ballad girl with a heart for folksongs and lost shanties passed down through her father’s radio; he liked fiery punk rock, the kind where the singer had to spit frequently onstage as if the words had congealed in his mouth.

Now they were here. By some miraculous alignment of mystical equations, they found themselves cooking pasta together on a cheap stove and taking long, leg-killing walks over burns and hillsides. The weather had at least been intermittently kind. Ariel and Aiden had gotten on so well, talking incessantly about their respective lives and admiring the scenery; but things had changed as of yesterday, when they visited the Wells of Dee. It was almost dark by the time they found the treasured landmark, neither of them being particularly adept with maps – in the city, you could just trust Google. All afternoon, they had traipsed for hours through boggy terrain, the land around them smelling of coldness and snow and pale sweet heather. It was summer, but they suspected that here it would always smell of snow. At the Wells, the dusk rose its lilac shroud around them as they stood before the river’s source, its outflow splashing off the mountainside in dramatic ripples of silver. There was a deep sense of mystery contained in that lake of water, an opaqueness of grey that would not give up its secret even as one broke the surface with a boot or a stick or a finger. Standing by the water, Aidan observed a change come over Ariel. She shook out her French plait, which had gathered considerable dishevelment from three days of hiking. She pulled off her socks and shoes and rolled up her oil-black leggings and waded into the pools. Come in, it’s lovely. He shook his head and just stood there, watching, an impenetrability suddenly coming between them.

In a sense, this was the zenith of her being before him. She was purely, utterly in her element. She splashed the freezing water on her face, arms flailing playfully. Later that evening, cooking her soup on the stove, he burnt the back of his hand quite badly.

She had felt for the burn in the dark of the tent. Its tender red tissue was swollen; it felt like touching the mulch of a distant planet. She unravelled her body and entered the night alone. The crags found her as if by instinct and soon she was sitting in her night slip and cardigan knit, bearing her body to the moon.

She knew that soon he would wake at the sound of a kestrel bursting from the forest, its firework snap following rumbles that shook the bristled tops of trees and spread like a spell across the mountains, like the promise of some imminent eruption. She knew that he would open his arms and there would be a gaping space where she was supposed to be. Then the igneous lump of his heart would incur its first melting. Until then, what else was there to do but study the constellations?

/ Maria Sledmere

(fff prompt: zenith)

 

Liminal Preparations

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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

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)

No Surface All Feeling

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For so long he has stared into mirrors. The passing, fleeting kind: shop windows, car windows, the sunglassed eyes of strangers. What he sees will always follow and taunt him.

It is better when the rain falls and all is blurred and distorted.

“You need to get out your own head for awhile,” is what his flatmate said. It reminds him of his mother, all those years ago, scolding him for the time he spent alone in his room.

“There’s nothing attractive about a narcissist,” she’d chide, poking her head round his door, “you’ll never make friends if you stay like this.”

“I’m sorry,” he’d reply, staring at the floor, “I’ll try harder”. The trouble was, it wasn’t narcissism that kept him trapped inside himself – it was fear.

Always he was fighting the mirrors. What was it about their silvery, slippery surface that so taunted him? He hated to see himself, hated the way his cheeks bulged and his stomach poked out like a bag full of water. In the world outside, there was no way of avoiding his reflection. Just being around people was enough: their curious stares provided the chasm of mirrors into which he lost himself. Once, in a supermarket, a young woman pointed at his legs and whispered, loudly, to her mother:

“Gosh, look how skinny he is!”

But she knew nothing. How could she know how wrong she was?

He was only ever happy in the afterglow, the slump against the bathroom wall after puking in the toilet bowl. In the mirror his pallor was otherworldly, and for a moment he felt invincible, having cheated the weakness of his own body.

He drinks in the afternoon with or without his flatmate, watching the sun melt like a flaming ice cube, dripping down the cold blue back of a twilight sky. The alcohol is a solvent, in which sorrow and fear dissolve together. He could do anything when drunk: go dancing, write a song, kiss a girl, stay out all night long, running through the city streets. Instead, he doesn’t. He lies there, supine and unreal in his bladdered paralysis.

In the morning he wakes with a headful of nasty memories. He has to fish them out, one by one, like a child picking unwanted peas from their plate of dinner. He feels purer when he stands at the window. It is raining and the rain covers the streets with sheets of lucent alabaster; almost snowlike, the way it glows in lamplit puddles. The sky, these days, is far too white. He likes to stare into its abyss; seeing not himself cast back in the glass reflection, but a hundred other monsters, blinking their hungry eyes back at him. Feeling, feeling. He knows this is the life he must seek, the life so far that he has missed.

–Maria Sledmere

(Flash Fiction February prompts: rain, “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”–Friedrich Nietzsche)

 

The Bluebell Cliffs

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The woods are very calm and still.

We used to come here at dusk, taking the car out after work, driving along the coast road. There were days when I could so easily give up my worries to nature. I thought I was a forest child; I thought at heart, like you, I was something free and wild.

As you walk, the sea is on your right, the woods on your left. The light comes down in gold cascades, catching the gold green filter of the leaves, casting dapples dancing on the path before you. In some memory it is June and the bluebells are out. They spread across the forest floor, tipped with pink and gold, swaying in the haze of a mystical dream. It is so easy to retreat into the trees, their sleepy sigh of imminent twilight. I took a picture of you once, with the bluebells behind you, the branches around you and a handful of leaves in your hair. So beautiful I could have left you there.

We always sat, out of breath, on our favourite bench overlooking the ocean. You used to joke, “this is where I want my ashes scattered,” and god how I thought you were so morbid! There were stories you told me, about the faeries that lived in the forest, that kept watch over the ocean, guarding sailors and smugglers from a terrible fate on the rocks.

“The cliffs here are deceiving,” is what you told me. You grew up here; you knew this place like the inside of your own mind. I wanted to explore every turn of the path, every flower and whorl of wood. I never had the chance. I’m still trying.

I am bitter about the irony – the cliffs are deceiving. So you should have known their depth, their statuesque peril. You, who knew everything.

But not the cloak of nettles and the drop beyond.

And who knows what you were doing, that autumn evening with conkers shining on the ground and the last of summer fading with you, like the daylight giving way to cold, sweet stars?

I walk here now and the sea is on my left, the trees on my right. I could count all the steps, the traces of all the times we came here before. Still I smell the wild garlic, the salt breeze lifting and cooling my skin. I sit on our bench and look out to the ocean, and who knows where you are, faerie that you are, flying to distant islands, silent and thin?

–Maria Sledmere

(flash fiction February prompts: flower, desolate, “Of it’s own beauty is the mind diseased” – Lord Byron quote)

Upon the Granite Steps

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There are always people with backpacks, who enjoy running up and down flights of stairs. Their faces wobble like red jelly and their legs seem ready to snap from the movement and weight. You can see the bulging muscles, the eking curves of flesh. It would be fun to get one of them to sit still for long enough so that you could draw those muscles, the rather peculiar sculptures of those legs.

Lucas likes to come down to the steps sometimes, but not to run. He hasn’t run since college, when they made everyone do laps and tryouts for the football team, and he felt as awkward and gangly as an oversized pixie. No, Lucas just comes here to sit, to stretch his long limbs down the steps. He gets out a book maybe, but rarely does he read it. He likes being in Park Circus, surrounded by all the pretty houses and the vintage cars; he likes looking into the oval-shaped park in the middle, though it is always locked and closed to outsiders. Lucas tries to read, though the view is always so distracting.

From the top of these steps, you can see right out over the city. The Hydro, looking like a silver UFO, glittering in the chance appearance of sunlight. The SECC, like some ugly, metallic insect sent up from the Underworld. In the far distance, you see tiny windmills spinning invisible threads of energy. A handful of birds, bursting out of the skeletal trees. Lucas first came here in summer, when the trees were thick with leaves and you could hardly see anything past them, as if they were motherly, protective. Now, in winter, they are bare silhouettes. It would take hours and hours to draw their intricate, spindly branches.

Blue-grey clouds loom like plumes of industrial smoke. Lucas packs up his things. He has brought a sketchpad, and a few drops of rain have splashed onto the open page, blurring the ink. The skyline is a molten combination of black and blue, shallow water, spilt ink.

He thinks the clouds are like titans, the old gods who preceded the Olympians.

The rain comes down, thick and fast. It’s funny how sometimes rain can seem apocalyptic: it’s all in the pelting, diagonal motion. You could easily imagine those droplets as fireballs or bullets.

A random man comes round the corner, starts running up the stairs. He’s heaving the weight of a massive backpack, a grimace stuck to his face. Lucas, skinny in his jeans and impractical hoodie, watches with interest.

That is when the man slips. Face first, he collides with the concrete steps. Rain keeps pouring on top of him, its rushing filling the crushing space. He scrambles at the granite like a fallen child. Lucas, light as the wind, leaps down the steps to help the runner to his feet.

No man is a titan, he thinks, but maybe I can be Ariel.

— Maria Sledmere

(Flash fiction February prompts: Titan, diversity)

The Middle-Aged Marijuana Smoker

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The only colour in her apartment was the red cushions, scattered like poppy blushes across the white sofa. The walls were not quite white, more of a wheyish shade of grey. She had an aluminium fridge, grey kitchen surfaces with a faint metallic sparkle, a bed frame made of steel. Everything was sharp and clean; all objects reflected a futuristic sheen.

Five years she had lived here. She had moved once she got the promotion to senior partner at the law firm. B… had carved out her pristine habitat from the initial slum of antique junk, scrubbed the dirt from the walls, installed the latest in laundry technology so as to ensure the flawless condition of her garments. Hired the finest interior designers to select her metals, spent hours perfecting the colour scheme. In this world of gleaming mirrors, B… felt pure. She could live this fantastic, unfussy existence. She very rarely cooked or even ate in her apartment; food introduced colour and smell and roughness of texture – all of which were dirty. There was, indeed, only one dirty thing which polluted her apartment.

The estate agent said she’d have to watch that. The ashtray.

It was made of finely cut crystal, and it never occupied the same place consistently. The ashtray was the one thing from the original apartment that B… had kept. She’d found it underneath the Ikea coffee table which the previous owners had left. Of course, B… would have gotten rid of it – along with the grandfather clock and the vintage cutlery – but she had a problem. She smoked a lot of cannabis, and quite frankly needed somewhere to tap the ashes.

That was her connection to the outside world. She would open a window and light a freshly-rolled spliff (not once did she spill tobacco on her carpet) and let the city air mingle with the sweet-smelling smoke. The warm haze would swathe her brain and so she would lie back against her red cushions and close her eyes and think of nothing. It was beautiful, the nothingness of everything; the haze coming over her, warm and red.

It was like the dancing of bees, spreading their wax and making combs of honey. B… could see all those hollows of nectar form in her brain, gooey and sweet, like forgetting. The more stoned she got, the more she would fall through those sticky catacombs.

Recently, she had been smoking a lot more because of her troubles. She had lost her job. She was struggling to sell her apartment. The agent said she was asking too high a price for it, so she lowered her offer; then they said nobody was interested because the lower price cheapened it. She was reminded of the early negotiations she had with her dealer, the one who drifted in and out of prison, but never failed to deliver when she made her fortnightly pilgrimage to his dingy bedsit.

The problem was, she’d recently lost a case. A very important case. It had cost her law firm millions, and now she was close to bankrupt. She liked the law because it was clear cut, appearing to her in clean strings of logic and declarations; but this case had dissolved all that certainty. She found herself swamped in micro-clauses and tangles of dissonant opinions. She would start to binge eat late at night, leaving chocolate wrappers like beached purple fish on the perfect surface of her kitchen.

She smoked more weed, lost more money.

She tried to clean up her life again.

One day, the agent brought round three hopeful tenants. B… met them at the door in a snow-white bathrobe. They appeared to be students, but since students had money too she let them trudge round the rooms, inspecting everything and making jibes to each other.

“Maybe she has OCD,” one of them whispered, thinking B… was out of earshot.

“I think I can smell weed,” another giggled.

After the tour, they signed the lease agreement straightaway and B… closed the door behind them in mild triumph. She took off her white slippers and started to run a bath. She had a good fat blunt waiting for her in the secret ashtray.

She was just taking off her bathrobe when she noticed the mark on the floor of her hallway. It was a dirty scuff mark, vermillion red, from something stuck to someone’s shoe. As if a minuscule creature had been crushed into her carpet. Just like a student to do a thing like that, bringing insects into the house.

The thing was though, B… didn’t seem to care. She shrugged and didn’t even bother trying to clean it. What use was a clean world now? In fact, it was nice to see something tainted. Cathartic, even.

Naked, she sank into her steaming bath. She lit up her spliff and took a long, hot drag from the smouldering embers, letting the smoke spread round the room, the ash curl and flake into the water. It wasn’t long before she was drifting off, the familiar hum and buzz filling her ears again, the terms of contract unravelling before her, melting into the bubbles. She was free.

— Maria Sledmere

(flash fiction february prompts: minimal, sold, daze)

The Distant One

I remember so little   of the many lives that I have lived.

The sea-wide echoes   stray in distance,

And return to the shore,   telling stories I have forgotten.

Were those my tales   that thrummed over the waves,

And reached the edges   of the otherworld?

Those plundered dreams,   like pebbles in the surf,

Have a smoother face   when seen anew,

And seem no longer   such a load to bear.

If in another land   a lone figure walks with purpose,

Let it be her   to whom the whispers speak,

For she is in the newer life,   and should I forget all,

The distant one will live,   and I will die gladly.

 

By Rachel Norris

Prompts: memory, distance

The Legend of Maurelle

They say that all that was left to recognise her was a strawberry birthmark on her wrist. 

Maurelle was running through the woods. All was disintegration; all was the feeling that she had no choice. The spirits were upon her and she had no sense of what right she had to be. To be, to be; to be was nothing but the hum of the bees and the dull pain of a distant infinity.  There was only the voice of her father, thundering in her ear; the voice of her mother, small and far away. As she flew through the greenish gloom, she felt the years shed away. All was renewed; all was soon renewing.

All the creatures kissing in the rain and yes she’s heard that somewhere before. She’s kicked her shoes off, running bare feet and leaping over thick roots and clumps of nettles. There’s an energy she’s found from nowhere. A bramble lashes out and catches her, but the blood is only wine on her fire. She trails her finger over the jagged wound and brings it to her lips. It tastes metallic and rich. She looks around and there they are, all those creatures kissing in the rain. They are ghosts.

Lost now in darkness; not quite darkness but the kind of twilight stasis that falls upon a forest. Birds returning to nest with fragile song and somewhere above an eagle swooping but only its shadow touching the ground. Maurelle comes to a clearing, where the sense of space is startling. Look around again: crisps, fag packets, an empty bottle of whiskey. The earth sighs beneath her feet. She runs on, following the river and its silver trickle, ignoring the hot pounding of her heart. There is a place she longs for, she can smell it almost; and yet still she is lost, still just following the river.

Somebody or something calls her name, though it is more a distortion – a susurration – caught up in the gush of the river flowing. A foxglove ugly in crimson sings to her as she passes. It opens one eye and releases a bee.

Once upon a time she was starving; now she craves only cigarettes. The world churns out its rot and rubbish. She moves on, the smoke filling up in her head.

She comes upon rows of bluebells, purple blue and beautiful; so startling a sight that momentarily she stops. The sun pours molten gold through the silhouetted trees, bringing light to the swaying bluebells. So many of them, so serene they seemed. There was something hazy about them, a mystical quality. Maurelle wanted nothing more but to crawl up among them, fade back into the soil and become a child again, endlessly sleeping and wandering. As she trod carefully among them, they seemed to speak to her; only their voice was a sparkle of a whisper, and who could hear? Who could possibly hear them? The breeze was upon them, and that was all.

Something was shifting as the sun set in the west and a cloud of violet light came down from the canopy; a kind of filtered moonlight made strange by the sinuous shapes of plants and flowers. What are these trees here? Maurelle cannot recognise the trees here. They are not native trees, but perhaps imports from foreign lands. She rubs her fingers over their coarse trunks, feeling the etching patterns of bark and enjoying the solidity. A secret unfolds inside every leaf. She would come here again in another life. These are not the trees she thought would grow here.

She cannot read the carvings in their trunks nor the words they seem to be saying, saying in the quiet moan of the night-born wind. Saying incantations.

A distant roar strikes up in the distance. Maurelle grows closer.

Running again, her skin flakes off as she sees the trees swell up around her. She notices that one has the same shape as the birthmark on her wrist, a dull pink strawberry. It is a wounded tree, its branches shattered and black as if recently struck by lightning.

The roar is louder now, becoming a kind of glistering cry, prolonged by the spray of sharp sound echoing out along the darkening space. Maurelle runs as if something were chasing her, as if she were running towards the thing that was calling her –

Waterfall. It smashes its liquid silver in spattering torrents down to the clear bright pool which shimmers with moonlight. The spray is cool and splashes upon her face as she stands there, absorbing herself in the ambient shout of water hitting upon rock and water hitting upon water. But not for long could she stop. Maurelle plunged deep into that enticing pool, the icy water enveloping her entirely, sucking in her body. All above was white, melting opal. Pulses of it like sound waves and she felt it dark and deep in her brain. The water is hungry and clear and pulling, and she feels her body pressing down, down; feels the gorgeous descent of the rushing currents and the roar in her freezing ears. The world is wiped out and she is a silky fish. Her cries are little giggles upon the water’s surface, and who would know her but the trees that watch the verdant scene like thirsty voyeurs. Who would know her? She is but a spirit of the forest, a distant ripple of some other mystery.

Prompts: strawberry, waterfall

by Maria Rose Sledmere