Reborn

How are you all enjoying ‘Women in Horror Month’? I am really enjoying celebrating women writers, directors and more, as well as having my socks scared off daily!  As part of my daily challenge, here is my ghostly short story ‘Reborn’.

Reborn

He tried his best to contain his excitement as the small bundle was pushed into the cave, but the little squeal that started deep in his stomach burst past what passed for his lips, alerting the others. Soon, seven little ghosts were looking at the dozing baby, wrapped in thick woollen blankets to stave off the chill of the cave.

‘A baby,’ whispered one of the ghosts, slowing stretching one of her rainbow coloured tentacles towards it. She screeched as the stinger of one of her companions penetrated the tentacle. The rainbow colours rapidly dulled to black and it hung uselessly against her gelatinous body.

‘Don’t touch that child,’ her attacker warned. He was shaped like a foot, with three large toes, each with a sharp stinger on the end.

A third ghost moved between them, his two frilled antennae gently separating Rainbow and Toes. The antennae were attached to a spherical, clear body in which bobbed an ever watchful eye. The Watcher spun his antennae gracefully upwards, mindful not to touch the dripping walls of the cave.

‘Now, we must not disturb the child until the decision is made.’ His eye spun and one of his antennae whipped out at one of the ghosts who dared get too close to the child.

A bell-shaped ghost edged towards the group. He rippled as he spoke, the oily surface of his skin reflecting what little light penetrated the cave, ‘But which of us is it to be?’

Rainbow swatted the Watcher’s antennae away and drifted closer to the child, the others ready to pounce on her if she touched the pink, warm skin. ‘It should be me. My son needs me,’ she said, her voice breaking a little.

Bellringer pulsed as he laughed, ‘Your son’s been dead for generations, you stupid witch. Your pathetic attempts at magic were no more effective than that fools attempt to kill a god.’

The antennae folded around the Watcher. ‘I would have killed him, had I have had more men,’ he huffed.

A worm-shaped ghost with a spotted crest inched closer. ‘Your army was washed away by the same god you were trying to kill.’ Her crest quivered as she giggled.

‘His plan was no more ludicrous than taking a life just so you can keep your bath filled,’ a small, furry ghost muttered.

The Worm writhed angrily. ‘You mock me? I was trying to keep my youth. You were taking body parts to try to rebuild your deceased mother. That’s ludicrous,’ she shrilled.

The ghosts froze as the walls of the cave shifted, dislodging stones, dust and salt residue that the dripping water left behind. Several of the ghosts cried out as the salt hit them, causing their skin to sizzle and peel.

‘Be quiet,’ hissed a diamond-shaped ghost, the small spikes which covered his body clicking in agitation. ‘Any more loud noises will kill us all.’

The ghosts watched in silence as the dust slowly floated down, each all too aware of the nature of their prison. Only when the constant dripping of the water from the walls had resumed and the last particles of dust had hit the floor did they dare to speak.

‘The child is mine,’ proclaimed the Watcher, ‘I have had time to realise my mistakes and will not make them again.’

‘Which mistake is that? Attempting to kill a water god by stabbing the water?’ mocked Bellringer.

The Watcher snorted. ‘No. I need more men. Then, I’ll kill the water gods.’

Toes flexed his toes and flicked out his stingers. ‘Pah! You talk of killing a god. I plan to resurrect one! I was one kill away from my thirteenth and then my dark lord would have arisen from his fiery pit.’

‘It should be me,’ said the Worm. ‘I meant no harm, merely to bring beauty to the world. My beauty.’ Her crest rippled, the spots reflecting the dull light.

The hairs on Fuzzball bristled. ‘No! I should go. Mother needs me,’ he whined. The Watcher slapped Fuzzball with one of his antennae, sending him spinning dangerously close to the salt-covered walls. Fuzzball hissed in anger but dared not move closer to the group.

‘I had ‘em running scared, those filthy whores. Let me go back so I can finish the job. I can still remember the feeling as my knife gutted ‘em. Gotta cleanse the streets. Vermin they are, running around spreading disease every time they spread their legs. I’ll slice ‘em up real pretty with my knife.’

‘Please, you don’t understand. My son is at war and I need to keep him safe. If I continue making the sacrifices, he comes home to me,’ begged Rainbow.

The ghosts huddled together, arguing. Their movements causing a blur of colours until it was difficult to discern one from the other.

A short, sharp whistle brought them all to a stop and they turned to see Diamond-spike floating near the dripping wall.

‘You pathetic creatures. You argue and fight for the right to be reborn, for your petty beliefs or desires. You all want a chance to return and continue doing whatever ridiculous thing it was that got you sent here. But me? I was born evil they said, never had a chance to go topside.’

‘You mean, you’ve never….’ Rainbow trailed off.

‘If you’ve never been up there, then what right do you have to claim the child?’ demanded Toes.

Diamond-Spike spun lazily, his spikes grazing the wall but he didn’t flinch as the salt burned his skin. A slash of a grin appeared on one side of his body. ‘I seen a lot of your types come and go. All have their reasons for killing, for pleasure, for pain, their gods to serve or sacrifice. Some got ideas about purifying their race, others about keeping loved ones alive. But me?’ Diamond-Spike let the question hang in the air between him and the other ghosts. The others drew closer to him, eager to know his reasons for being sent to the cave. Diamond-Spike’s grin grew larger.

‘But me?’ he repeated, ‘I got a plan.’

He spun, flinging the droplets of salty water which had accumulated on his spikes at the other ghosts. They all howled and screamed as their bodies began to smoke.

Diamond-Spike floated down to the baby who had begun to stir with all the noise. The child gazed at the tiny speck which bobbed in front of its eyes. However, it let out a scream as Diamond-Spike forced himself inside its nose. The child thrashed its chubby arms around as a small droplet of blood dribbled from its nose and across its face. As quickly as it had started crying, it stopped, its blue eyes turning to black with tiny blood-red flecks. A thin grin spread across the baby’s face and it disappeared leaving the other ghosts in complete darkness.

 

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My Life and Death as a Plant

Daniel woke up and groaned. His mouth tasted awful, and his eyes were crusted over. His skin tingled, all the way from the base of his toes to the roots of his hair, feeling as if a thousand ants were skittering across his body. What the hell had they been drinking last night, he thought as he tried to move his aching limbs.

‘Let’s go out to the Wislow farm,’ suggested Sam, taking a swig from his can of beer. He belched loudly and laughed.
Billy grunted his agreement, too drunk to put up much of a discussion.
‘Dunno mate isn’t Old Mrs Wislow a bit odd,’ ventured John.
Sam jeered at his friend. ‘What’s wrong, you pussy? Afraid?’
‘Nah, mate, just something I heard. Bunch of people went up there to talk to her about burning her fields or cutting down trees or summ’at and didn’t come home,’ argued John.
‘Yeah, I heard that too,’ said Daniel. ‘I heard she’s a witch. Why don’t we just go to the woods? I can nick my brothers are air gun, we can shoot cans.’
‘You’re a bunch of pussies,’ shouted Sam, throwing his empty can at them. ‘Get in the car you mummy’s boys and let’s go find your balls.’
Daniel and John looked at each other and didn’t move. Even in their drunken states, they remembered the stories of what went on up at Wislow Farm.
‘Oi!’ shouted Sam, blaring the car horn. Billy was slumped in the back seat, snoring loudly.
John shrugged and walked towards the car, Daniel dragging his feet behind him.

Daniel’s neck was stiff and shrieked with pain when he attempted to move his head. He’d had bad hangovers before but nothing like this. Perhaps Sam had slipped something into his drinks? Nah. He could be a dick, but spiking drinks wasn’t really Sam’s style. More likely he had caught a cold or something, running around the Wislow farm in the middle of the night.

Sam had crashed into the fence leading to Wislow’s farm. They had fallen out of the car, spilling cans and rubbish in their wake. Daniel and John helped drag Billy out of the car and dumped him by the boot. Sam screeched with laughter as Billy slid down the side of the car and face planted in a bubble of mud. A wind whipped around them, icy tendrils piercing their thin coats, sobering Daniel and John. Sam had strutted towards the small house, the pathway leading to the door was lined with pots of herbs and to one side was a vegetable patch. Candle-light danced in one of the ground-floor windows but it otherwise looked deserted. The wind caught the door of the shed to the right of the house, the banging causing all the boys to jump.
‘This place is shit,’ moaned Sam, throwing stones towards the shed, smashing one of the small windows.
‘Let’s just go, mate,’ said Daniel, kicking the flower pots over and stamping on the plants. ‘Billy’s out of his head. It’s cold and there’s nothing going on.’
‘Witch my arse. Load of bullshit and you wankers were scared. Alright, we can go smash up windows around the school.’ Sam kicked the flowers again and stomped over to his friends, roughly grabbing Billy and pulling him to his feet. He staggered under the weight of his friend as he turned. ’Where’s the car?’
Daniel spun. The car which had been nudging the fence-post was gone.

The skin on his hands felt as rough as sandpaper and flexing his fingers was an effort as Daniel slowly remembered the details of the night before. He remembered running and falling so perhaps he’d badly skinned his hands. That would explain the rough scabs. Man, he felt rough. He should have listened to his mum. She’d never liked Sam and said he would get Daniel into trouble. Well, starting now, Sam was no longer his friend. He was done with all his crap. Last night was the final straw. He’d not wanted to go to Wislow’s Farm, it was dumb and now he hurt all over. A sound behind him made him attempt to wrench his neck around, causing a loud crack as his vertebrae popped yet he saw nothing.

John’s focus had not shifted from the house since they arrived. He stood, unmoving whilst his friends looked for the car.
He slowly raised his arm, pointing to the front door.
Daniel grabbed John’s arm. ‘What are you pointing at? Stop arsing around and help us find the car. John refused to move. ‘’Oi, Sam, get over here. John’s gone nuts,’ shouted Daniel.
Sam tried to turn around but was hampered by trying to hold up a semi-conscious Billy. Finally, dragging his friend, Sam turned. He frowned, following John’s arm.
He dropped Billy and ran into the trees.
‘What the fu….?’ muttered Daniel. A yelp behind him and he turned to find that John had disappeared. Spinning, he heard Billy groan but just as Daniel moved to help Billy up from the ground, he slid across the ground in the direction of the shed, his hands grabbing at unseen hands squeezing his neck.
‘What did you do to my garden?’ a voice screamed from the house. Daniel didn’t see the face of the witch but heard her cane smacking the stone footpath as she hobbled along the path. He turned and ran. Then it all went dark.

Daniel’s eyes were still stuck closed. He tried to move his hand to remove the gunk from his eyes before remembering the crustiness covering his fingers. He tried flexing them again, then wiggling his hands but they barely moved an inch. Trying not to panic, Daniel focussed on moving his legs but like his hands, they wouldn’t twitch. He couldn’t feel anything binding him or holding him down yet he couldn’t turn his head or open his eyes to check. Becoming frantic, he strained his eyes, silently begging them to open. He rocked his entire body but nothing happened. He was stuck.
‘Ah, I see you’re waking up,’ a voice cackled. Daniel tried to move his head to find out where the voice was coming from but despite his straining couldn’t sense anything.
‘Don’t bother to move my little pretties. You damaged a lot of my crops last night and winter’s coming in. I need to restock my shelves, else I’ll go hungry.’
Daniel felt himself being lifted and heard ceramic hit as he was put down. ‘Now, you’re lucky my boy. I’ve strung up your friends in my shed. I think their meat will cure nicely. Whilst I’m waiting I’ve decided to have a nice leg of brat for my dinner, and whilst it’s already beer-soaked, I will need some herbs to go with it.’ Daniel felt his arm being tugged, then excruciating pain. He opened his mouth to scream but all he could taste was dirt. ‘I think this rosemary would go lovely,’ the old witch laughed, ‘But maybe I need more.’ Daniel screamed as the witch continued pulling pieces off of him.

Rosemary bush

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Things That Go Bump In The Night

‘Monster!’ Christopher pointed a small, pudgy finger towards the wardrobe, hugging his teddy bear tightly.

His mum, Sarah, lay him gently down in his bed. ‘No, sweetie, there’s no monsters in your wardrobe,’ she said, tucking his blankets around him.

Christopher sat up and pointed again. ‘Monster, mummy.’ Sarah looked into his saucer eyes and signed inwardly.

Forcing a smile to her face she rose and crossed to the wardrobe in the corner of the room. She made a dramatic show of opening the doors and rummaging through the few items of clothing hanging on their small hangers. She lifted out the boxes of toys and even lifted out his tiny shoes and peeked into each. ‘See? No monsters. Now, time for bed.’

‘Bed. Monsters. Bed, mummy.’ Christopher started waving under the bed, tears springing to his eyes.

‘That’s enough Christopher,’ his father, Mike, stood wearily at the door. Sarah threw him a sharp look. ‘What?’ he asked. ‘We go through this nonsense every night. There’s no monsters in the wardrobe or under the bed. Playing along just encourages him. Come on, you little monster. You’re the scariest thing in this room, so off to bed.’

‘Dr Jenkins said we shouldn’t dismiss his fears,’ hissed Sarah.

‘Well Dr Jenkins can spend three hours putting him to bed every night as I’m fed up with eating cold dinners.’

Sarah glared at her husband before quickly forcing a smile to her lips and stroking her son’s cheek. She reached under his cot and pulled out a stuffed toy. She brought it to her lips and whispered in its ear before handing it to her son. ‘Now Chris, I’d like you to meet Mega Mo. He’s a monster eater and I’ve just asked him to look after you all night, ok?’

Christopher looked at his mum, then at the toy. he chewed his lip as he studied Mega Mo. Mega Mo had a small, squat body, clad in denim dungarees. Small black leather boots stuck out the bottom, laces tied neatly in a bow. His arms were disproportionally long and muscular, the stitching etching out his fingers of his broad hands. However, it was his face that Christopher spent the longest studying – it was circular with two small, black eyes made from buttons, two cloth ears stuck out at 90degrees from his head and wool stuck out the top to form hair. It was his mouth which Christopher spent the longest looking at as it was overly wide, almost slicing his head in half. Velcro stuck his lips together, but it opened easily as Christopher pulled. Mega Mo’s mouth was empty, just a cloth bag.

‘As if he wasn’t already seeing monsters, you’re giving him one to sleep with,’ muttered Mike.

‘Dr Jenkins suggested it as a comforter. Mega Mo isn’t afraid of anything, Christopher and he look after you, ok? Now, lights out, time for sleep.’ Sarah rose and before Christopher could complain moved to the door, flicking off the light. His parents paused in the doorway, giving their eyes a moment to adjust to the assorted night lights Christopher insisted light his room. ‘Night, sweetie,’ said his mum.

‘Night son,’ his dad called, already heading to the kitchen.

Within a few minutes Christopher head the ping of the microwave as his parents reheated their dinners and the television as they flicked through the channels.

Christopher hugged Mega Mo to his chest as he sat in his cot. He knew they were out there, waiting. Every night since they had moved into the new house was the same: the monsters under his bed would wake him up. Christopher didn’t know why they did these things, other than to torment him. He’d hear them giggling, their long fingers curling around his blankets before dragging them off of him. He’d feel their breath on his face as they flicked his ears and their sandpaper skin as they yanked his feet. Christopher squeezed his eyes closed tightly and pretended to go to sleep. Sometimes they didn’t bother him if he was asleep. Sometimes.

The familiar scratching started at his wardrobe door, one long fingernail dragged across the wood, slowly at first, then in faster, shorter bursts until the door creaked open. A low buzz filled the room, causing the bars on Christopher’s cot to rattle. He closed his eyes more tightly, covering them with his small hands, fingers splayed over his face.

His cot was moving now, bouncing on the carpet as the creatures bounded out from underneath. Christoper started shaking. It sounded like more of the creatures were coming than had ever before. The giggling creatures moved around the room, their long claws plucking at the carpet as Christopher continued to shake, tears free-flowing down his cheeks.

The sound of velcro ripping made him pause. He desperately didn’t want to take his hands away from his eyes, but curiosity finally pulled them down to his sides. He started to reach for Mega Mo, only to discover the toy was no longer by his side. Christoper quickly scanned his bed, his blanket rumbled beside him, his bottle the other side, but the stuffed toy was nowhere to be seen.

A squeak from under the bed drew his attention. He hesitantly reached for the bars of his cot, but pulled back when he heard another squeak, followed by a thump. His cot rattled, then stilled.

Swallowing hard, Christopher peered through the bars. He saw Mega Mo on the floor, his broad arms swinging like a windmill, his club hands knocking the creatures down. He paused, scooping up several of the creatures and, grinning widely before opening his mouth and dropping the screaming creatures into the chasm. A blue felt tongue whipped around, licking his lips before he started chasing more of the creatures around the room, gulping them down as he caught them. Christopher watched as Mega Mo ate all of the creatures until there was one left, cowering in the corner. He chittered to Mega Mo who smiled before launching himself at the creature. In one fluid move he swallowed it whole. He stood upright and surveyed the room. Christopher followed his gaze and for the first time, he listened to the silence of his room.

‘Wow, I can’t believe he’s asleep!’ whispered Sarah, retaking the blankets that had slipped from around Christopher’s shoulders.

‘I know, he’d normally have screamed by now,’ muttered Mike. ‘Told you it was just a phase.’

‘Or Mega Mo helped. Where is that toy anyway?’ Sarah’s foot nudged against something. She looked down and saw Mega Mo. ‘What are you doing out of Christopher’s cot? I told you to protect him.’ She bent to pick up the toy. ‘Blimey, you’re heavier than I remember.’

‘Forget about the toy,’ hissed Mike, ‘Just enjoy the tranquility.’

Sarah tucked Mega Mo in next to Christoper who instinctively hugged him. He smiled in his sleep, dreaming of monsters, and those who ate them.

I saw….

I saw the tadpole in all her grace

I saw the queen weaving lace

I saw the old woman burn like fire

I saw the trees floating higher

I saw the plane fall from above

I saw the rain enter the dove

I saw the bullet cut off my nose

I saw the blade like a summer rose

I saw the girl shining bright

I saw the day turn into night.

Thank you for calling

Still buzzing from ‘Train to Busan‘ last night, I was reminded of this short story I wrote a while ago. From memory it was written during a protracted battle with our telecom provider (or as was the case, non-provider!) and I’m sure it’s an issue many people will know well.

***

Thank you for calling

‘Thank you for calling. Have a nice day,’ Peter disconnected the call, took a deep breath and hit the flashing read button.

‘Hello, your through to TalkPhone. My name is Peter. How can I help you today?’

The female voice on the other end of the phone tersely explained the issues she was having with her mobile telephone.

Not bothering to refer to the script the company ordered all employees to follow, he had long ago memorised it, Peter suggested that the woman turn off the phone, take out the battery and sim, then replace them. He waited patiently as she followed his instructions. Hearing a beep at the other end of the line told Peter that his recommendation had worked.

‘Thank you,’ cried the woman.

‘You’re welcome, madam. Is there anything else I can help you with today?’

‘No, thank you.’

‘Ok, then. Well, thank you for calling. Have a nice day.’

He didn’t mind the work. It was better than his old life and at least he wasn’t hungry any more. They had called him Peter when he first started working there, telling him to forget his old name, that having a Western name was much better. In time, they had been right, he had forgotten his old name. He had forgotten a lot about his past.

Another call. Peter automatically ran through the script, his voice dry and devoid of emotion. However, the man on the other end of the line would not be pacified. Evidently his internet connection had been interrupted and he demanded an explanation. Peter flicked through his script until he reached the section about the internet.

‘There has been a problem at the exchange, sir. Please be assured we are doing all we can to rectify the situation and normal service should resume shortly,’ said Peter, reading the first excuse on the list.

‘The exchange?’ spluttered the man, ‘Do you think I’m an idiot? There’s no problem at the exchange. Where are your offices? Are you in India? I bet you’re in India,’ sneered the voice.

Peter quickly looked at the board at the front of the cubicles, ‘I can assure you, sir, I am in London. It’s cloudy out and I can see the 10.40 tourist boat cruising along the Thames.’

The man on the other end of the line grunted to show he was impressed, but he was not convinced.

‘As I said, we are aware of the problem and our engineers will have it resolved shortly. Is there anything else I can help you with today sir?’ enquired Peter politely, not rising the the anger he heard in the man’s voice.

‘Yes, you can just go and …’ started the man.

Peter cut him off before the man could continue his rant, ‘Thank you for calling TalkPhone. Have a nice day.’

Peter disconnected the call but imagined he could still hear the man swearing. Customers would frequently rant and swear at him. He didn’t really understand why they got so angry and couldn’t empathise with their frustration.

The truth was, Peter, and all those who were around him were in India. The whole village had been suspicious of the white men in expensive suits who had arrived unexpectedly a year ago, offering a solution to their problems.

The red light was flashing. It never stopped flashing, no matter how many calls Peter took.

‘Hello, your through to TalkPhone. My name is Peter. How can I help you today?’

‘Yes, I hope you can help me. I think there’s a problem with my telephone connection.’

Peter looked again at the board in the front, covered with photographs of London, schedules for events, a large clock and the local weather reports. He watched the hands on the clock as they completed their loop and started again, continuous, never-ending. He had never been to London, had never even left the village and now, with his job at TalkPhone, the possibility seemed even more remote.

Around the call centre, there was approximately one hundred of his assorted neighbours and members of his family. All had been recruited when TalkPhone had come to town. They each had a small cubicle just over a metre square, with a desk, chair, headset, phone and the ever-flashing red light. No one had bothered to decorate their cubicles; they only ever looked up to check the board at the front of the room, so why bother? It was just them and the red button.

Pushing the insistent red button once more, Peter said ‘Hello, your through to TalkPhone. My name is Peter. How can I help you today?’

* * *

‘Do we need a bigger workforce?’ asked the man in the expensive charcoal grey suit which matched the colour of his eyes. His features sharp enough to cut glass as he stared out of the office window, overlooking the call centre.

‘I’ve got the boys out scouting for suitable candidates now. TalkPhone has increased it’s sales by 50% in the last quarter and the boys in accounting project it will continue,’ the second man, his face blurred in the blue smoke of his cigar as he creaked back on his chair. His suit was made of the finest materials and rippled over muscles honed not in a gym, but on the streets. While many entrepreneurs were forces to be reckoned with in the boardroom, he had made his fortune by forced takeovers using fists and muscle. ‘Well, when you have a workforce this cheap, you can afford to offer cheap phone calls.’ He barked a laugh while his companion looked out over the hunched figures, huddled in their small cubicles, the red lights on their phones twinkling like stars.

‘Do you think they know?’ the grey man asked.

‘Know what? They don’t know anything, except what we tell them. They don’t feel, they don’t think, they don’t eat and they don’t shit. They never need to take a break and they don’t stop working until we tell them to. Hell, they’re the perfect workforce.’

Despite his earlier nonchalant air, the charcoal grey suited man looked troubled. ‘But what about the smell?’

‘What smell?’ another puff of cigar smoke wafted towards the ceiling.

‘Of decay. They’re decomposing, despite the freezing temperatures in here.’ The man hugged himself involuntarily. The walls of the call centre were thick to keep out the blazing sun and industrial coolers whirred constantly. A light mist descended from the ceiling, coating the workers in a sheen of damp but none moved to brush it away or even seemed to notice it.

Outside the once vibrant village had been turned into a dried mud pool: crops had been abandoned, houses deserted, and cars untended, left to rust on unkept road. Dogs and cattle wandered unchecked with eyes glazed.

‘So? The smell don’t bother them,’ came the reply from behind the cigar.

‘And what happens when their bodies finally give out?’

The laugh barked again. ‘As long as they have a finger to push the buttons and their voices boxes don’t fall out, they work. Besides, there’s plenty more where they came from. Like I said, the boys are out recruiting as we speak. There’s a village downriver. We’ve already started pouring the chemicals into the water. They won’t know a thing. Soon as they start dying off, the boys’ll be there to grab them and bring them back here. Don’t worry.’

Unconvinced, the grey suit turned back to the window.

* * *

‘Hello, your through to TalkPhone. My name is Peter. How can I help you today?’

‘Hello, your through to TalkPhone. My name is Victoria. How can I help you today?’

‘Hello, your through to TalkPhone. My name is Daniel. How can I help you today?’

‘Hello, your through to TalkPhone. My name is Laura. How can I help you today?’

The voices drifted up, mingling with the freezing mist as the zombies kept answering the call of the red button.

Writer Wednesday: The Battle In the Blue I Didn’t Win…..

I’ve been pouring over my assorted writings in an attempt to get organised and I came across this piece, written but never submitted for a competition/anthology (it was written a long time ago so I can’t remember which). For assorted reasons I never finished it and have never returned to it until now.

Sometimes a story comes to you and it’s easy, a joy, simplicity itself to write. The characters are chatting and responsive to your guidance, the landscapes pour onto the page and as always the villain gets their comeuppance after a suitably exciting battle. And then there are the stories which, frankly don’t work. There’s no one reason why: could be that the characters aren’t fully formed in your mind, or your plans just aren’t fusing. Could be that you’ve only seen one ‘scene’ and there’s not enough for a complete story.

And that’s the case with ‘The Battle of the Deep (or The Battle of Ineray)’. I remember the submission asking for a short story set under the sea. I immediately saw a battle brewing between different sea creatures, with two ambassadors trying to stop the battle. I think I was partially influenced by the Gungans undersea home from Star Wars: Episode One, the Phantom Menace (say what you like about the movie, some of the concept art for the sets was impressive) and ‘The Blue Planet’ BBC show, narrated by David Attenborough. The characters are fairly ‘flat’ by which I mean, I didn’t hear their individual voices, style of speaking but most importantly I didn’t hear what they wanted and needed to say to get the story moving. Whilst my ideas for the characters were only half-formed (I could visualise them and my description didn’t ‘fit’ or do them justice) I wanted a really bright, vibrant and critter-filled underwater world which again didn’t really work out. However, the main issue was that whilst my ideas were vivid, I had no realy story. All stories start with an event, then some action followed by a resolution and with many of my stories I may not have a full map but there’s more than a vague idea but here, nothing. And frankly, all these issues show. It was a struggle to write and while I have no plans to extend this piece at the moment, never say never! Perhaps a rewatch of ‘The Blue Planet’ will help.

The Battle of the Deep (The Battle of Ineray)

*Translated from ancient slan-garr

Viceroy Glimpt looked around him, taking in the encrusted walls, the high scalloped archways and the large open windows. By now he knew every crack, every piece of peeling paint like the back of his hand by heart. He cast a furtive look at the two guards at the end of the corridor and tried not to let his agitation show: his every movement would be reported back to those in charge and he could not afford to cause an incident. Looking at the guards they watched him impassively.

A slight noise to his left altered him to the arrival of the Clerk to the Council. The Viceroy forced his face into neutral.

‘They are ready for you, Viceroy,’ the clerks bulbous eyes stated calmly as he gestured with one of his many arms.

The Viceroy uncurled his long tail. He was long, even for a merman, and his chest was broad, his gills on his neck undulated, fins spreading out from under his arms, silver tail ending in a whip snap, covered in scales, ‘And in what mood is the Council today?’ asked the Viceroy, a snap of his tail bringing him alongside the Clerk.

‘Grey, sir,’ replied the clerk,

‘As bad as that? It does not bode well for our meeting.’ The clerk did not respond to the Viceroy as they reached the large doors which signified they had arrived at the Council Chamber.

The slan-garr were perched around a large table, shaped like a toadstool a single root going down into the ground with the domed top in shades of red. The slan-garr were similarly shaped, with a large dome shell of interlocking plates currently flaring different shades of grey.  Pin-like legs protruded from under the shell, continually moving and filtering tiny food particles from the water and easing them up and into their beaks.

‘The dragons are angered, Viceroy.’

‘What do the dragons care? They are creatures of neither sea nor land, but of the air.’

The king nodded his head solemnly, ‘Aye, but their spawning grounds cover both our lands. We have agreed to adhere to the old ways, honour agreements made by our forefathers. You cannot say the same.’

The Viceroy struggled to maintain his calm composure, but the knowledge that the dragons would fight on the side of the slan-garr turned his water cold.

He thought for a moment, then his predator grin slashed across his face.

***
If you’d like to read some of my completed work (with characters I really liked), why not check out my other works, including my novels ‘Akane: The Last of the Orions’, ‘Weird Wild‘ and my children’s book ‘Ghoulsome Graveyard’.

The Last Dragon Keeper

Dragon-Avatar

When I was first venturing into writing, I started submitting to different competitions. ‘The Last Dragon Keeper’ was submitted to the Fantasy Faction Writing Competition way back in 2012. I was amazed that people voted for it and I ended up winning that month! I keep planning to return to this world, with Eui and her brother Rowan and their voices have become a little more demanding of late, so you never know. Here it is ‘The Last Dragon Keeper’…..

The Last Dragon Keeper

Eui watched as the waves surged towards the shore. Ice had formed on the water, the motion turning it to mush as it covered the smooth grey rocks that acted as boundary between land and sea. She wrapped her arms around herself, trying but failing to keep out the wind which threatened to tear her clothes and pick at her bones. She knew that her mother would scold her for forgetting her jacket but in her desperation to get out of the house, she had left it, stowed snugly in her wardrobe. Eui stamped her feet to try and warm them but the wind kept forcing it’s way through her thick boots, biting her toes.

The ground began to shake. It started with a slow trickle of the smaller rocks which quickly blended with the mush of the ocean water. The larger rocks began to vibrate then roll down the hill and into the water. Eui stood her ground as rocks large and small snapped at her heels, flinching as the larger ones bruised her. Eui breathed deeply, inhaling the familiar ash scent which covered the island more deeply than the perma-snow.

The earth juddered to a stop and Eui carefully stepped out of the pile of stones which covered her feet. The icy slush boiled along the shore then all was still once more. Eui turned as she heard footsteps crunching on the gravel and smiled at her father.

‘Your mother is worried about you,’ he said, not looking her in the eye but focussing on the ocean.

‘I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said what I did.’ Eui risked a look at her father but could not read his expression. The silence settled over them, only slightly comfortable.

Finally, taking a deep breath, Eui said, ‘The dragons are dying father.’

‘As are we, Eui, as are we. We can only hope that they die before we do. A dragon alone in this world, without a Keeper, would soon fall prey to the blades of the Sagar.’

If they’re lucky, thought Eui, but she did not pursue the matter. Every Keeper knew the challenges faced by the dragons. The Sagars were hunters who sold dragon meat and their scales and teeth which held magical properties. For over a generation they had hunted and killed dragons, depleting their numbers in an unending quest for the perfect hunt: A mythical beast, defined by its purity and beauty. With each retelling of the myth, the dragon grew in grace and size until Eui, who had been told stories of the Sagar which had kept her awake at night, did not recognise the creature as being a dragon but an animal of pure virtue. Knowing no dragon had ever been born matching the myth kept the Sagars hunting and Eui from peaceful dreams.

However, the biggest threat was the dragons themselves. Females would lay between 15-20 eggs and would continually defend her nest from attacks by males. Of the eggs which survived, not all would hatch, with some being trampled. Finally the female, tired and undernourished, would die. If she was lucky, she might see the one or two of her offspring who would emerge from their eggs, snorting flames and growling to be fed.

In the absence of a mother, when the infant dragons smashed from their eggs, they would bond with a Keeper. The Keepers were almost as old as the dragons themselves but they to had slowly grown fewer and fewer until Eui and her brother Rowan were the only none bonded keepers. The last surviving female was guarding her egg, waiting to die.

‘It’s a very special time for your brother. He will be bonded, probably today,’ said her father, his eyes remaining on the waves.

‘And what about me?’ asked Eui. ‘A keeper with nothing to keep.’

‘Is that why you wish to leave?’ Eui flashed a quick look at her father. He would claim that it was the wind which brought tears to his eyes, but the clench in Eui’s stomach reminded her of the argument with her mother.

‘There is a world beyond the isle, father. I wish to explore and there is nothing here for me. There will be no more dragons once this has hatched and bonded with Rowan. A keeper with nothing to keep,’ Eui’s eyes flooded with tears which threatened to fall. Her father swung an arm around her and gently pulled her close for a brisk hug.

‘Come, Eui. They are preparing for the ceremony. I have to get to the Great Hall. Greeson and the elders are waiting for me.’ Together they walked slowly up the beach, slipping occasionally on the loose gravel. Kissing her on the head before gently pushing her towards the settlement, Eui’s father walked towards the mountain. Suddenly he called Eui and she ran to him as the wind stole his words.

‘Eui, Keepers are like the seasons. We are currently in the darkest winter we have known, filled with darkness and despair but after the winter, the spring warmth always comes. Remember, your name means spring in the old tongue. Wait, and you will see the beauty when we emerge from the darkness. I know you feel there is nothing for you here, but your brother will need your support and love. Being a Keeper is not easy and he still has a lot to learn.’

Eui gave her father a small smile, then turned and jogged into the settlement, flinging open the door. Her mother looked up from where she was sat by the table, her sewing needle raised. She regarded Eui with a stony expression.

Eui paused, looking contrite under the glare of her mother. ‘Father said you might need some help preparing for the ceremony,’ she said finally.

Her mother carefully laid down her needle. She studied the garments laid out across the table then quietly said, ‘Go and wake your brother. He needs to get dressed. The ceremony starts soon. The egg is hatching.’

Eui dipped her head and avoided eye contact with her mother as she wound around the large table and up the stairs. Launching into her brother’s room, she jumped onto his bed, bouncing up and down.

‘Wakey, wakey,’ she called as Rowan swatted at her.

‘Get off,’ he shouted as Eui continued jumping.

‘Mother says you have to get up. The ceremony is going to start soon so you need to get into your dress,’ teased Eui.

‘It’s a robe,’ roared Rowan, sitting up and pushing Eui off of the bed. She landed with cat-like grace, giving him a smug smile.

‘Whatever. The eggs hatching. You’re about to become a Keeper.’

‘Yeah,’ said Rowan without enthusiasm, pulling a t-shirt from the floor and sniffing it. Deciding it didn’t smell, he dragged it over his head, then ran his fingers through his hair.

Eui watched her brother. Three years older than her thirteen, his training made him appear older but seeing him first thing in the morning always reminded Eui of how young her brother really was.

Playfully kicking him, she ran from the room, calling ‘Your dress is on the table. Hurry up or I might spill my breakfast on it.’

Eui charged into the kitchen, Rowan a few paces behind. They both stopped when they saw their mother’s stern face.

‘Hurry up,’ their mother said, handing Rowan his robe. Smoothing her hair, she stood a little straighter and scowled at her children. ‘I will see you at the Great Hall,’ she said, leaving them.

Eui grinned at her brother. Rowan ignored her and carefully picked up the robes his mother had spent weeks embroidering. Slipping the delicate fabric over his head, he felt it cascade down his body. Checking the sleeves were straight, he tugged at the hem. Eui bit her cheeks to stop from laughing while Rowan slipped into his boots.

‘It’s a robe,’ he growled. Eui couldn’t contain herself and started laughing. Looking down at himself, Rowan sighed, then he started giggling. ‘Ok, it’s a dress. Can we go? I have a dragon to meet.’

Together they walked from the settlement towards the Great Hall, Rowan complaining about the cold and the snow getting into his boots. Entering the cave that would take them to the Great Hall they could hear the Elders singing, and the pained final breaths of the female dragon. The Great Hall was a large cave which had formed in the mountain, decorated by generations of Keepers. There were designs showing the bonding ceremony, the history of the keepers and dragons, with some designs used to train young keepers.

Eui and Rowan joined their parents, stood on a large platform just above the pit where the dragon rested with her last remaining egg. The female dragon was large, her scales a burnt orange turning to red on her belly and yellow on her wings. Her breath was shallow and laboured and the keepers knew that it would not be long before she would join her brethren in the flame halls of the underworld.

Eui stole a peek at the egg. It was about the size of a boulder, with mottled brown spots and she heard the frustrated squeaks as it’s occupier nosed its way out. The Elders stood on the opposite platform, their chants rising and falling with the breaths of the female. The large dragon’s head drooped, rose, then fell again.

Greeson silenced the Elders with a raised hand. ‘She has passed to the underworld,’ he said.

No one made a sound as they watched the dragon ease its nose, then it’s body and finally its long tail from the egg. It opened its mouth and coughed, sending a ball of flame harmlessly against the wall. Shaking itself its wings unfurled and the Keepers stood amazed. The baby dragon’s body was a paler colour than it’s mothers but its wings were pure white, veins highlighted in golden scales which caught the light. Shaking its head, it emitted a small bark before experimentally flapping its wings. Its dark green eyes took in the unmoving body of its mother before it spotted Rowan stood on the platform. Another flap of its wings and it was eye level with the platform, barking happily.

The Elders began chanting in the ancient tongue. Eui did not understand all the words but knew it was the song to encourage the dragon to choose its Keeper. Rowan grinned as the dragon looked at him and bowed deeply as he had been taught. The dragon started to dip its head when it caught sight of Eui behind Rowan. Cocking its head to one side it forgot to move its wings, flapping quickly as it began to fall. Rowan remained bowed, but his mother shifted nervously. Rowan dared to peek and frowned when he saw that the dragon was not returning his bow. Finally he stood and looked at his father, who shrugged his confusion.

Standing, Rowan blocked the dragons view of Eui. The dragon craned his neck to look around the boy. Eui looked back wide-eyed back at the creature floating effortlessly before stepping past Rowan and raising her hand towards the dragon.

The dragon swooped close, it’s sudden movement causing Eui to step back in surprise until the dragons long black tongue flicked out, licking her hand. Eui giggled, running her hand along the dragon’s muzzle as it growled contentedly.

‘The dragon has chosen it’s Keeper,’ called Greeson, his voice echoing.

Eui stopped playing with the dragon as the words struck her like a physical blow. She looked at Rowan, his face contorted with anger, her mother with her hand covering her mouth in shock and finally her father who was smiling at her. Stepping forward he lifted Eui onto the dragon’s back. Eui hugged the dragon’s neck as it rose and circled the Great Hall.

‘Spring has come with the last Dragon Keeper,’ Eui’s father said.

 

If you’ve enjoyed this story, why not check out my other works, including my novels ‘Akane: The Last of the Orions‘, ‘Weird Wild‘ and my children’s book ‘Ghoulsome Graveyard‘.

The Forgotten

A bit of flash fiction to enjoy with your Saturday. This was written a while ago as part of a speed-writing challenge and when I was still working for a hospital, which obviously influenced the content. I saw the hard work of the nursing staff and how often their contributions went unnoticed by others and frankly, hospitals after hours are CREEPY, very quiet despite all the people bustling around. Not going to lie, it’s not my usual style but I always aim to challenge myself in my writing so hope you like it.

The Forgotten

We are the forgotten. We drift these halls unseen, day and night. We hear them calling, crying out, begging for mercy. But we are powerless to end their suffering. How we wish we could take their pain from them, pull it into ourselves and save them from their fate but that is not within our power and so we continue our eternal vigil. 
One of them is weeping in the corner. We glide by, but know that even our gentlest touch will be of no help: where they are they cannot be comforted by us. Another is crying out for water. We move, but there is somebody already there, helping them drink. 
Many people complain of the smell but we have been here so long we do not even notice it: the mix of blood, urine, chemicals and drugs can burn the noses of even the most devout veteran but for us it is nothing. It clings to us, penetrates us, is one with us. 
Another whimper from one of the beds. We do not move, waiting to see if it grows into a full cry or dies out to a whisper. A hush. This is often far worse than a louder noise and can only foreshadow a bleak end. We move closer, offering soothing noises which mean nothing. Wide eyes greet us, a tremor of the lip and a small mew. They see us but do not recognise us, or fully register we are here. So often we are ignored but we are the ones there at the beginning and the end. Looking down we know it is nearly their time. We smile kindly until the last of the tremors have passed, and their eyes close. They are at peace. 
A clatter and padding of unclothed feet tells us we are needed. With one final look we turn and drift away.