beauty, short fiction, women

Abigail 894

Duct tape and a set of cheap foam earplugs had made the journey an unsettling affair which left Randolph with an aching back and a migraine instead of a plan to escape.

Another plan. She had survived the last attempt by seconds after Belize stopped being a paradise and became another place to run from. Five years of evasion, and the money was ebbing away. Her first sight was the scuffed toes of her heels and she wriggled her toes inside them to get blood circulating. Her left eyebrow stung like a rejection, and when she touched it, there was another sizzling burst of pain and her fingertip was wet with blood. She had lost a chunk of flesh from the tape but he put it down to incompetence over malice.

Mad science and optimism went hand in hand.

She tested the crumbling plaster with her fingers, finding solace in the flaking dust which scoured her fingers and she wiped her hand on her thigh. The ceiling was stained, yellowing swirls like a chromatographic portrait of dilapidation. A few years ago, they had built a Perspex cell with radio frequency tags embedded into the floors and walls but she had escaped it after three months.

The door was plate steel without a lock mechanism on the inside. Rachel examined the frame and the plasterwork around the doors, stood on her toes to examine the vent and sagged down in frustration. She checked herself, disappointed with the thoroughness of her rendition. They had re moved the micro-laser embedded under her left index finger along with gel dispenser under her thumbnail which produced hallucinations. She tried subvocal commands to activate her defence system, but the silence mocked her. Rachel had no weapons or tools past her mind but that was enough.

She sat back down, crossed her legs and closed her eyes. Meditation was not a spiritual affront but an opportunity to go inside herself.

When she emerged from mediation, there were five possible methods of escape. Four included fatalities but murder solved problems.

She was not expecting the young woman sat there in front of her. Her hair was black, tied back in a clumsy plait with alabaster skin and wide, gleaming eyes and she wore a faded Jane’s Addiction t-shirt as she crouched against the wall by the door. She stared at Rachel with a cold, hard look she knew from countless agencies, local and federal.

‘So they’re sending children to question me?’ Rachel said.

The woman’s mouth went up at the corners and she stood up. She reached and tossed the plait over her shoulder, folded her arms across her chest and stared at her.

‘If you’re trying to read my mind, you’re wasting your time. I invented sub conscious defence protocols.’

The woman shook her head and sighed with cold amusement and warm disappointment.

‘No, I’m not interested in your thoughts.’

Rachel laughed and waved the woman off. She narrowed her eyes against the tightness building behind her eyes.

‘My idle thoughts have brought down governments. Everyone’s interested.’

The woman shrugged her shoulders and scratched her right forearm.

‘Not me. I’m just waiting.’

Rachel rolled her eyes and laughed, a bright sound awash with cruelty and grandeur.

‘Oh dear, you’re so uninformed this is insulting. Don’t you know who I am?’ she said.

The woman bent forwards at the waist, rested her palms on her knees and raised her eyebrows.

‘I was about to ask you the same question.’

Rachel’s headache had shifted like it was punching a way out through her forehead.  The woman turned around and lifted the sleeve of her t-shirt, showing a tattoo A894. Thick black ink, a utilitarian design which still gleamed against her pale skin. Rachel swallowed and tasted vomit on her tongue, hot and thick before she swallowed and struggled not to gag.

‘I thought I’d sterilised the last batch of you. Still, it’s always good to see my work out in the world.’

Her thoughts warped in the increasing pressure in her skull.

‘You don’t remember me?’ the woman said.

Rachel went to speak but her stomach lurched and the inside of her head rung with a vicious note of anguish.

‘No. You were batches. Like a tray of cookies.’

A894 rubbed her upper arm and raised her eyebrows as she walked over.

‘It’s important you remember me. Us.’

Rachel sniffed and tried to sit up but her head blazed with pain. Her body throbbed with poisonous exhaustion and she slumped against the wall. She tried to speak, but the words were thick, slow and sticking to her teeth like old gum.

‘You were tools.’ She said.

A894 nodded in agreement.

‘Yes, we were.’ She said.

Rachel could not place the designation. The last batch had been her finest hour, Z767 had generated enough kinetic energy to collapse a DEA office on her and walked away from the rubble without a scratch. Z682 hadassassinated the police commissioners of six major cities before she was  shot. A series had been useful, but a stepping stone rather than the destination itself. Her memories were shelter from the chaos of a life of evasion. Thinking hurt.

She tried to speak but a gout of vomit dripped down her chin and she leaned over, brought everything up in a twisted, barbed rush which splashed to the ground. She could not raise her head without more pain. The clip of footsteps felt distant and the hand at her forehead made her flinch.

‘I was carbon monoxide molecules and dioxins fused to fetal tissue and fed through an atom smasher.’

Rachel reached inside her thoughts, connected to process over outcome and remembered.

Carbon monoxide. Dioxins.

‘Ah, Abigail.’ She said.

Her words were soft, slurred and confused as she tried to get to her feet but her body betrayed her and she collapsed back down again.

Abigail came over, brushed her fingers through the meat of Rachel’s cheek and passed through it. Rachel swiped at her but her arm passed through Abigail like she were a hallucination. Rachel collapsed as a raw tide of agony pushed her to the concrete floor.

She rolled onto her side and looked up as Abigail stood over her.

‘Now you remember me.’ Abigail said.

Rachel tried to speak but her failing senses took her down hard into herself. Her vision blurred at the edges and when Abigail emittedtendrils of smoke from her arms and hair.

The tendrils slipped towards the door behind her, taking more of her substance with her as she slipped through the frame until there was nothing left. Rachel seized up as a horrific wrenching sensation took the last of her will from her and she let go, watching the tears hang suspended in the air, before diving into the blackness of oblivion with the gift of a fitting ending.

Abigail reformed on the other side of the door. She fell into David’s embrace and rested her lips on his A214 tattoo and wept.

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beauty, creative writing, fiction, short fiction, time, women

Bigger

I keep the tables clean. No one lacks for a napkin when Mike does his shift, no, sir. I keep watch without staring and remember to keep the tail of my shirt tucked in. I find laces difficult so I have these big Velcro straps and I love the ripping sound they make.

They sound like a big fart and I can spend hours just pulling the strap off so I can hear the big, raspy tear of them.

Mom says she should have buckled down and made me learn laces because at least it was quiet. The trainers have big thick soles on them so I can be on my feet all day and it doesn’t hurt. Iris, who does a few shifts with me, she wears special shoes, ortho something because she had a car crash and it hurt her back. I tell her she has a pretty smile and she says it’s the pain pills but it makes her happy so I tell her every day.

Oscar is at the register with his yellow tongue poking out the corner of his mouth as he rings up an order. He has a big shiny head and a bigger, but not shiny stomach. He gave me a job because Mom asked him to, but I work hard when I am here.

Mom says the key to success is showing up and working hard, but I keep doing that and the door stays locked. We sit in our small apartment, at a small table and eating small dinners but she believes in things being bigger and better as time goes on. Last night we had some of the Salisbury steaks which Oscar gave to me along with the money and tips I earned from the shift. Small things but it was nice of him to do. It tasted of wool but it made our money last a little longer.

Made it bigger.

I like Sunday mornings. All the families come in from church for breakfast. I like it when people dress up and they carry the glow from singing about God and Baby Jesus. I go home with less in my pocket than on a normal shift, but they’re nicer people and I feel better for making sure they eat at clean tables. It’s busy with happy smiling people and laughter dances through the sky when they’re here. It feels more like church than church does.

There’s a new couple here today. They arrived before church ended, a man and a woman. He’s tall, stooped over like he’s trying to hide how tall he is and he has a suit on, which is normal for a Sunday here. He doesn’t smile much, but he looks around and takes everything in with eyes which are cold but not cruel. Sometimes you see people who have so much hurt they need to share, but he looks like he’s expecting something bad to happen.

She’s shorter, red hair and moves like a pair of scissors crossing. Snip snack as her heels hit the floor. They look like they’re selling something but they don’t have briefcases as they come in and take a corner booth. Iris takes their order, and I am wiping a table down whilst glancing in their direction.

‘It’s too open here.’ The woman says.

The man sighs and checks the watch on his wrist. It’s too big for his wrist, held on by a worn leather wristband and there’s no numbers on there, just lights blinking on and off.

‘Eighty two percent says it’s here. Stop worrying.’

His voice is smooth like he’s reading aloud from a book he’s read before. The woman looks past him, glaring at me until my cheeks burn red and I return to cleaning the table.

‘Like I said, too open. Should have run this through a few more times before we turned up.’

He sighs and sits back. There’s something behind his ear, like a piece of jewellery and he touches it with his index finger.

‘We’ve got time for breakfast at least.’

She frowns and shakes her head. I look at the clock.

Church finishes in twenty minutes. Iris has given Oscar the order. Two specials with coffee. Oscar has the grill running before dawn, so it won’t take long until they are ready.

Time enough for what?

Mom doesn’t like me watching the news. I get upset when there’s bad stuff happening. If a kid gets hurt or animals, I fight tears and sometimes she has to find my blanket and hold me until it passes but I know things. Bad things happen and there’s nothing we can do to stop them.

I wonder if there’s a bad thing coming here. On a Sunday. Will it be taking a booth and ordering a coffee?

Are they the bad thing coming?

I look around me. Oscar is sweating behind the grill, Iris is taking a pair of plates full with gleaming eggs and bacon over to them and I am wiping the table.

The door swings open and Kenny Ambrose comes in.

Kenny’s face looks like someone filled a balloon and stuck another balloon over it with a picture of his face on. His eyes are too big and white for his sockets and what teeth he has are small and yellow and are loose in his gums. Kenny doesn’t have a mother to make sure he cleans his teeth, but as he opens the stained, torn overcoat, I see he has something else.

A shotgun. It looks mean and ugly, a blunt snout where he has sawn the barrel off and he swings it in front of him. There are five of us in here, and church gets out in fifteen minutes. Iris is putting their plates in front of them.

Kenny and I were in the same classes at school. The eldest kids because school was something we never grasped, like trying to knit with boxing gloves on. I tried but Kenny doubled down, huffing at recess and drifting further out from the centre of the world.

He has battered sneakers on, the laces are grey and dusted with tiny tufts and the ends had frayed into puffs of material like nylon dandelions as he shuffled forwards, terrified and angry at the same time. The skin around his mouth is wet and red like bubble gum chewed too long. He stinks of old sweat and metals as he points the gun right at me. The end of it is a black metal zero, there are rough edges where the hacksaw slipped and they look like petals on some horrible flower.

The couple in the booth watch it all happen with an open and terrible interest.

‘Register.’ Kenny said.

Oscar keeps his hands up as he comes around the counter. Iris is shaking, and me?

I look at him and see his eyes rolling in their sockets. He isn’t a bad person, he gets frustrated because the world is too fast for people like us. It’s why we keep things small.

Kenny hurts because he wants to be bigger.

Oscar opens the register and Kenny walks over to him lowering the shotgun as his forehead drips sweat.

I look down and see the stray lace slip under the heel of his sneaker, tugging to the right.

I try to call out but he lurches to his right, the shotgun turns in his hands from where he’s sweating and he keeps falling.

His head slams against the corner of the table with a damp crack sound, like breaking the shell on a boiled egg and the shotgun turns in his hands.

I look straight into the big black zero.

It rushes up to swallow me and I think about Mum, Iris and Oscar. Looking up, I see the couple stood up in the booth, they have smiles of awe and the look reaches into me, fills me up with a charging, rolling power. My left hand comes out with a will of its own, slaps the barrel away with a flare of pain for my trouble.

The shot takes out the window and Iris screams.

I put my hands over my ears and look at Kenny as a pool of blood spreads out underneath him and his lips pull back over his teeth as he looks back at me.

He looks smaller now and I get down on my knees next to him.

‘Oh Kenny, you didn’t tie your laces.’

He stares at me, trying to figure out what happened before his eyes roll back in his head and he falls asleep. It looks like it aside from the blood on the lino underneath him.

The couple watch from the booth, and I try not to look at them. I cry because Kenny was like me, or could be if his mom had been around.

It becomes a loud, nasty circus with the churchgoers upset they can’t have breakfast. It upsets me too until I see the couple in the booth slip out to the parking lot. I run after them, and no one stops them.

They’re at their car. It looks new and I can see my face in the windshield: bloated and sweating but smiling.

‘You knew, didn’t you?’

The blonde chuckled and shook her head but the man turns and looks down at me with a quiet pride in his eyes. People don’t look at me like I matter, but this is what I imagine it feels like.

‘We pick up on anomalies. You don’t know what those are though, but yes, we knew something would happen.’

I look between them.

‘Kenny died.’ I said.

He smiles and reaches into the breast pocket of his jacket, retrieves a small silver pin and affixes it to the collar of my shirt.

‘You stopped him. This is a reward for it.’

I touch it and it hums against my fingers. It’s not frightening: more like a baby bird or a small insect but I put my hand back in my pocket, still confused.

‘What does it do?’

He smiles and pats me on the shoulder.

‘You’ll know when the time comes’

The woman rolls her eyes as she opens the passenger side door.

‘You’re such a ham, Ryan.’

Ryan smiles at me and gets behind the wheel of the chair. They drive off, the engine is silent and I stand there in the sunshine, my heart thumping in my chest.

Everything is too big to think about, so I go back inside and see if anyone needs help.

 

Standard
experience, love, men, short fiction

A shave, a cigarette and a sigh.

He had loved the straight razor but the price of mastering it was embarrassment, random assignations of cuts  like a child’s map drawn in red felt across his cheeks and chin. When he was depressed, he imagined one slip and the blood gushing out , a final grand guignol ending to the most mundane action a man could perform. He shaved because the beard is so commonplace now and being clean shaven set him apart. It’s meditative and afterwards it felt like a simple invisible victory.

Despite its dilapidation, the flat was a cocoon whilst grief did the work of transformation. He walks through in just a towel around his waist, skin tingling from the cold shower he took.

The carpet was the colour of dried oatmeal, thin and abrasive to bare feet. His bed was set into the left of the room, hiding in the corner like a child being punished. He wiped the gel from his cheeks with a towel and looks at his reflection, pleased with the face which looks back at him.

The shelves were the first sign of recovery. Before his books were lined against the skirting board like homeless people in a soup kitchen queue, now they were elevated like the gods, looking down on him. He had painted the walls and plastered over the pockmarks, made the room lighter and more hopeful. Whether he had ambitions of inviting women back, he could not say but the despair it engendered was an affectation and the bright green lampshade was the final touch, a shingle being hung out to say ‘I’m alive.’  There was space and light here, a woman’s touch without a woman being involved.There’s the sound of trainer-clad feet slapping against the pavement, the high, chest calls of young boys calling to one another, so fast the words collide into one another and become indistinct. They live at a faster pace in youth and you can hear it in the rapid patter of their lives.

He sits on a soft throw, an indirect comforting hug, draped over the bed to add colour to the room and it brushes against his bare thighs. He is in underwear and a t shirt, the lazy primacy of a single man at home, unwilling or unable to dress for himself in his leisure time. He smokes, enjoying the chemical tang of the smoke and the hum of nicotine infused synapses as he writes.

The things he feels but does not say.

His dreams, dormant and listless, but awake now, tender to a new world because they’ve never been exposed to the sunlight of reality.

The things he would say to her, if she were there to hear them.

Loneliness comes and goes, like a familiar melody floating through the air, but he keeps going. The page is blank but not for long.

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beauty, fairy stories, fiction, short fiction, women

A New Reign (The Wild Man, Season 3)

(Previous seasons are here and here. If you have liked this series, please share it because obscurity is overrated)

 

Eilhu,

I write this without expectation you will read it. The control I have is slipping away as my body is changing and along with it, my thoughts are rebellious and demonic creatures now.

Paul’s forearm spasmed and the quill fall from his fingers. He turned his palm outwards, examined the small dark spots underneath his nails and the root-like pattern of infection which blazed underneath the pale, soft skin of his hands. Women endured labour in agonies which lasted days, screaming and hollering until the child was spat out into the air, squalling and bloodied and sometimes died in the aftermath. Paul was subject to an inverted perversion of this, being both infant, vessel and midwife to his own transformation. He crawled from the cell, violated and nauseous as his thoughts clawed at the inside of his skull.

A sick king was a thing of derision, better to die in battle than bed. He laid down and closed his eyes.

The Dust was inside him, mounting an inexorable, silent assault and taking him by inches, merging itself in blood and bone as it altered him whilst maintaining his privilege and position. It had learned a measure of subtlety since transforming Ernst, realising the potential of harnessing a human viewpoint. It had shouted with Ernst, but in its possession of Paul, it had remembered the power of a whisper. By day, it sickened him and at night; it pinned him to the dirt of his soul and showed him the horrors of its world.

Paul awoke to a sky the colour of infected flesh, a liquid, rippling dance of green and yellow, clouds of bruised plum and necrotic black huddled around a malignant, poisoned sun. In the distance, a slick yellow fog blurred the outlines of mountains on the horizon. Beneath his bare feet, damp black sand scratched between his toes and stung the tender webs of flesh. The air stunk of decay, making each breath an insult and recalling long withheld memories of wars he had fought in.

‘Where am I?’ he said.

His voice faltered before the miasmal landscape around him. The air shimmered with heat as he looked around him.

YOU ARE WITHIN ME, AS I AM WITHIN YOU, PAUL.

He narrowed his eyes as he looked at the horizon.

The mountains in the distance shifted. Their outlines expanded, broke apart and reformed like ink in water, stirred by a mighty hand before they elongated into things which reached into the sky and extended barbed, slick tentacles. They danced and wavered in delirious triumph before they walked towards him.

I AM NOT ONE BUT MANY.

Paul turned and fled as the things moved towards him. They did not walk.

Some strode like proud potentates.

Others slid on chains of pendulous teats which oozed black ichor before them, staining and corrupting the sand to ease their passage.

A pair of creatures extended ragged wings and took to the air, spinning and diving with a carnal delight as they grew new limbs and curved claws with which to rend their prey into pieces. They screamed and it made the space behind Paul’s eyes hot with a grotesque pressure. Their throats swelled with a fair of grotesqueries and their new anatomies gave voice to songs which made Paul anxious and prickling with tears. The noise poked dirty fingers beneath his clothes, inside him and tested his wounds, old and new. Paul ran until his legs gave out and rolled onto his back with his hands raised to defend himself but it was too late.

They fell upon him.

Paul recalled rusted blades and the sharp crack of his own bones being reset, the sizzle of cauterised flesh and the dumb tugging of flesh to close his wounds. He tried to scream but a black, dripping tentacle slid between his lips and pumped a thick wad of something wet and wriggling down his throat. Claws tore away his clothes and he enjoyed the brief respite of warm air against bare skin before another chorus of horror fell upon him. His last memory was a blast of fetid breath against his cheek and the drilling sensation of a needle tipped claw spinning against the top of his skull.

He awoke and called for a servant to bring him fresh parchment and ink, water to bathe with and food. The servant remarked at the turn in Paul’s countenance, and how a new zeal had renewed their king.

Paul looked at the incomplete letter and read it as though for the first time.  He chuckled and tossed the scroll to the flames. Love was a useful tactic to draw upon and Paul had returned with a grand and awful vision for the world.

Paul returned to the throne anew.

Standard
fiction, nature, short fiction, women

REACT

If you’d like to put on the headset, the presentation will begin.

The tingling sensation is natural as we’re using conductive gel to provide verisimilitude.

Now you are on the small island of St Martin as Hurricane Irma ripped through it. We used to hunker down, wait until it passed and then clear up afterwards. The costs in terms of lives, community cohesion and disaster relief used to measure in the billions but you’re here to see what changed.

Now, we’ve switched your perspective. The heads up display belong to Lieutenant Ndegeocello and the target reticules are how she will direct the drones and their payloads.

THAT’S THREE HUNDRED MILE A HOUR WINDS YOU’RE FLYING THROUGH.

If the simulation is too distressing, then you can adjust the filters with the vocal command ‘CUCUMBER’.

If you would like to direct the drones, then focus on the icon in the upper left-hand corner of your display.

They generate timed electrical pulses intending to shut Irma down.  On the ground, other REACT operatives are installing smart shelters and rescuing people. If you wish to switch viewpoints, then use the visual icons across the top of the headset to change.

Sargeant Hunniford is applying a carbon-polymer layer to the church here using the dispenser housed in the left forearm of her suit. That shimmering effect is the solar panels generating and providing heat and electricity to whoever is inside the church.  The polymers are resistant up to pressures equivalent to the Marianas Trench and generate enough heat and electricity to sustain the occupants for three months.

Yes, it is the same technology we’ve seen in Sub-Saharan Africa, our contribution to the New Nomadic movement as a gesture of goodwill. Each shelter dissolves into harmless organic compounds with a series of commands although a lot of rescue sites make use of them long after the disaster has passed.

I know I sound like a press release but there’s a lot to get your head around and it’s important to see the impact of such technology on disaster relief.

Corporal Garrett is directing cellular support. We drop cell phones connected to a private network to establish communication and co-ordinate rescue efforts. Most of the problems with immigration and population drift relate to documentation and allocation so when we arrive, it’s essential to gain solid intelligence and the phones are invaluable.

We made the specifications available for 3D fabrication although the legal action has been unpleasant and diverted attention from our real work.

The United Nations and European Union contribute materials and facilities. We’re funded through licensing deals with manufacturers and tech investments. If you want to see the FCC ruling, then a PDF is available in the documentation folder across the top of the display.

I grew up in New York when the super storms hit every winter and I used to wade through sewage up to my ankles when we went out to find food. You’re young enough to have avoided it.

Natural disasters killed less but cost more.

The impact on the economy led to political decisions and instability which were more dangerous and had a higher death toll than the original disaster itself.  Some ideologies took advantage of it without addressing the inherent flaws of disaster preparation and defence.

You’re too young to remember how resigned people were. Even a billionaire with his own island had to hunker down in a concrete wine cellar and wait it out.

It’s important to remember what powerlessness does to the powerful.

They donate to political campaigns, build thicker walls.

Sometimes though, they get an email from a fifteen-year-old in Austin with a video attachment which pulled at their insides. She’s fifteen years old, in her bedroom with wires snaking off a black box and she’s sat before it, a hi tech Pandora about to unleash goodness on the world.

You’ve seen what we have done. We save lives and we don’t check their passport or their bank balance.

We do, however check weather reports and budget committee meetings.

You spent 4.5 billion dollars on irrigating golf courses but cut storm preparedness by 10%.  Private sector solutions have been provincial and swollen with pork, and your approval rating makes you about as popular as wet fart in a space suit. I could appeal to your better nature here, but it takes too long.

Now this simulation shows an action we took part in.

You’re in a submarine and the synthetic diamond drill is delivering a precise payload of thermobaric explosive. In the air, it would burn but underneath it replicates the effect of a seismic disturbance.

The news footage is available through the icon on the right. I know your niece was there last summer. She volunteered, didn’t she?

Appealing to your better nature, like I said, takes too long.

The terms of the contract are generous and I have already got several FEMA directors taking non-executive positions on our board once we’ve got the nod from you.

Blackmail? No, it’s power, which is neither good nor bad.

Nature is indifferent, but we can’t afford to be.

You use the rhetoric of Hobbesian evolution, how brutal, ugly and short life is, like we’re supposed to lie down and let it all fall down around us whilst you’re safe in bunkers and secured fortresses.

We offer something different, even if we threaten ugly things in retaliation.

A storm is coming, Mister President, and you need an umbrella.

You have forty eight hours to respond.

It looks like a beautiful day outside, I hope you’ll join me.

.

Standard
fiction, short fiction, writing

Wet Dog

Smurf and Iain sat in the flat, candles burning because they couldn’t shift anything until the morning and they used the emergency credit on the meter a few days ago.

Iain sat slumped against the wall, his grimy index finger dancing over the screen of the ipad, his heavy lidded eyes focused on the activity in front of him. He had taken some of the medication they grabbed, and it made his pupils dilate until his eyes were thirsting black suns. He scratched his head, and his pulse fluttered against the ornate, black tattoo on his neck, made it breathe.

Smurf glared at him, chain smoking until his fingers were glowing and his lungs burned, tight and angry as the rest of him.

Iain glanced up, sucking his chapped lips over his protruding, yellowed overbite.

‘Fucking what?’

Smurf was never one to hold someone’s eye for long. He was quick, smart but soft in the wrong places, Iain thought, but he never appeared so angry as he did now.

‘You know what, you stupid fucking cunt.’

Iain set down the ipad and rolled a cigarette. He put his full attention into it, although that did not stop him from sacrificing most of what he picked out to the thin, rough carpet that had turned the colour of fungus. He made an arthritic cigarette, stuck it between his lips and patted himself down for a lighter. He stared at Smurf, who shook his head.

‘Give us a fucking light, Smurf.’

Smurf sat back, folded his arms and set his jaw in a hard line. Most of the time, his big eyes and shaved head made him look like a war orphan but the anger that coursed through him lent him a gravity that unnerved Iain.

Smurf drilled his eyes into Iain hard enough to cause internal bleeding. Iain glanced around him, knowing there was a lighter somewhere.

Iain patted the ground, then his pockets again before he got up and made his hands into fists.

He was about to launch at Smurf although the pills had given him the reflexes of a slug on valium when they heard the thump from upstairs. Smurf got to his feet, his chest rising in panicked breaths.

‘Won’t be pigs.’ Iain said.

Smurf looked at him with disgust and fear.

‘You sure about that? Because you mate, have done something that will get us fucking cut.’

Iain rolled his eyes and tried to slip his hand into the pocket of Smurf’s jacket. Smurf darted backwards, losing his balance and falling over the chair to land on the base of his spine. He swore and rolled onto his side, rubbing his back before he sprung to his feet and closed the distance between the pair of them.

There was another thump from upstairs, then a splattering sound, like a million wet paintbrushes flicked into the air.

The pair of them looked up, then at each other.

‘It’s the boiler.’ Iain said.

Smurf squeezed his eyes shut.

‘We used the emergency on the gas before the fucking electric. Boiler’s empty.’  he said.

Another thump. Iain glanced around him and picked up the iron in the corner, from where Smurf ironed a shirt for an interview at a care home. He was waiting for a result but inside the little imp of failure that used his life as a toilet knew the outcome. Smurf watched him pick it up and stepped back.

‘Might as well get use out of it, eh?’ Iain said.

Smurf hid the impact of the comment by lowering his eyes and putting his hands into his pockets. Iain was already turning, with the cold grace of a shark sensing blood in the water.

‘There’s nothing up there.’ Smurf said.

Iain gave a single dry peal of laughter. It had no humour in it at all. He lifted the iron up and gestured towards Smurf.

‘No, but if anyone is, they’re getting this in the fucking mush.’

He turned and walked away. Smurf stared at the back of his neck, aghast at his lack of courage, his complicity and his inability to voice how fucked up tonight had been. How he wanted to sell some of the stuff to get so fucking high he could pretend it never happened.

Smurf heard another thump then Iain making a retching sound.

‘Oh that fucking stinks up here, Smurf.’ Iain said.

Smurf figured that Iain was not referring to his own room. Smurf looked in there once, to look for a tenner he was sure Iain stashed in there. After seeing the yellow duvet and the mattress that looked like a child’s painting in the medium of bodily fluids decided that he could walk to the interview.

Smurf  kept things clean. He would rather buy washing powder than eat sometimes, drinking endless glasses of water to keep the hunger pangs from hurting too much.

Smurf walked through to the stairs when the growling insinuated through the floorboards. Iain fell silent.

The growl gained in volume and power. Smurf asked once if God had pets and got laughed at but he stood and wondered if this was what one of them would sound like.

If it was angry.

Smurf’s stomach churned with acid. Iain was spurting a litany of curses and swear words before the growl shook the universe and a series of short thumps showed that whatever it was up there was advancing with power and momentum.

Smurf ran through the hallway just as Iain screamed in terror, his voice reaching a pitch that would shatter glass. The sounds of wet paper being ripped, a breathy series of exhalations, something breathing through its nose, teeth sunk in and digging, tearing and sucking down. Smurf pulled the door open and ran. He turned back and saw the mist of blood that hung in the air and Iain’s head sail through the air down the stairs, his face forever cast in a final expression of disbelief and terror.

Smurf ran, skipping down the metal spiral staircase and taking off at a sprint. A shard of glass stabbed through the heel of his left foot but he kept going as the wet thump of whatever had been in the house ran out after him.

Each step made Smurf cry out in agony.

Something hit him between the shoulder blades and pushed him down to the ground with a brute ease. It kept him down and twin hot blasts of fetid air blasted against his neck. Smurf sobbed for his life.

Whatever held him did not react. The pressure lessened and Smurf continued to cry, trying to say he was sorry but the words kept falling apart, bashed in by the force of his grief and his guilt.

‘I’m so fucking sorry. I didn’t know.’

Smurf pressed his face to the path and continued to weep.

The wet flat slap against his neck, muscles powerful as pistons left a thick slob of something hot and wet against his head but he let it happen. The stink made his eyes water, wet fur and dark earth, shit from a diet of hate and red meat but with each breath it faded.

He was alone. He glanced back at the open door. Danny from next door looked inside, swathed in the Star Wars dressing gown and onesie as Anna pushed him forward as a cigarette dangled from the corner of her mouth.

He sat up, looked up at the sky and pressed his hand against his mouth as the sound of sirens grew in the distance.

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beauty, fairy stories, love, short fiction, women, writing

THE WEIGHT OF EVERYTHING (THE WILD MAN SEASON 3)

(Previous episodes are here and here. Please read and share)

 

THE WEIGHT OF EVERYTHING.

Once upon a time the call to prayer awoke Mirabelle. The clean certainty of faith rang out, the notes rising into the sky like morning birds. Shimmering sheets of heat crashed against her skin like waves on the shore, and she reached to the wide flat bowl of water on the pedestal to her left, scooped up cool water and doused her face and neck with it. She threw on the scarf to cover her head and went to find Asra.

Mirabelle had been privy to state visits which were indolent affairs, fat slabs of indulgence and pomp wrapped around a single conversation which could mean shifts in power or deaths on the battlefield. She was not here as a queen, but a student and Asra’s lessons took different shapes. They would meet in the library in the morning and the garden in the afternoon, their routine broken by the regular adherence to prayer. Mirabelle would bow her head and fall silent, whilst people knelt down and prayed to Allah. She strode to the library. Asra was not there, but a servant passed on an instruction to meet her in the second garden.

Asra had buckled her sword belt, the twin scimitars rested on each hip and she grinned at Mirabelle’s confused frown as she wished her good morning. She had high, fine cheekbones and almond shaped eyes, dark with a self-knowledge, the eyebrows shaped to perfect crescents and her skin held a sleek, dusky gleam where the light fell upon it.

‘I’m not a warrior, Asra.’ She said.

She saw a rack of weapons set against the far wall. A bill, the heavy pole arm favoured by the common man  rested next to a spear and a rapier with a carved hand guard. A wooden shield, bound with lengths of dark iron leaned at an angle alongside a short sword with a thin double edged blade.

‘You killed a man, Mirabelle to save your own life. What’s the difference?’ Asra said.

Mirabelle wandered over to the rack and picked up the short sword. What sword play she knew came from observation over experience, but the weapon felt good in her hand.

‘Wouldn’t blunt blades be safer?’ Mirabelle said.

Asra smirked and raised an eyebrow.

‘Yes, but who comes at you with a blunt blade?’ she said.

Mirabelle turned to face her, pointed the sword at Asra and fell into a competent stance.

Asra pointed to her shoulders and knees, barked out to relax the former and bend the latter before she slapped Mirabelle in the small of her back to correct her posture. She told Mirabelle to move the blade slow and watched her in silence. Her hands, warm and strong adjusted her arm and wrist which made the blade feel more natural in her grip.

‘You have knowledge, Mirabelle, but it is useless without intention and will. A sword focuses a mind as a book does.’

Mirabelle kept the point of the blade up as she sighed and swung the sword ahead of her in a slow arc.

‘We’ve the knowledge to know it won’t die by a blade, Asra.’ She said.

Asra told her to aim for the largest part of an opponent. The sword was thin and light, designed to stab and slash in quick flurries of skill.

‘A sword is a tool, the killing comes from the heart and mind.’ She said.

Mirabelle’s reserves of strength and stamina waned with the practice. Her arm ached, but, but the tension pooled in her hips and back as Asra checked her posture and moved her into place.

‘I’m not a swordsman. This insults the men who’ve sworn fealty doesn’t it?’ she said.

Asra looked around her.

‘When night fell, and your guards were outside whilst a man came to murder you, where were they?’

Mirabelle grunted and continued to swing.

‘Where was Eilhu?’

Mirabelle stopped and stared at her.

‘Hunting.’ She said.

‘Where was he?’ Asra said.

Mirabelle’s eyes prickled with unshed tears.

‘I sent him out. Away.’

‘Why?’

Mirabelle swallowed, her tongue was fat and thick in her mouth.

‘He knew the woods and he was looking for his mentor.’ She said.

‘Why?’

Mirabelle thrust the sword ahead of her, the motion came up from her hips and knees and concluded in a strike which had the flowing snap of competence.

‘I suspected him. I didn’t say but Eilhu knew my concerns.’ She said.

‘You abandoned him? Or did he abandon you?’ Asra said.

Mirabelle shook her head with passion.

‘It wasn’t a matter of abandonment. I wanted the assassin found. I never had to ask Eilhu.’ She said.

‘Ask him what?’

Mirabelle repeated the strike with good form but the transition to a parry proved awkward.

‘To act in my interest.’ She said.

‘Even if it meant capture or death?’

Mirabelle swallowed and lowered the blade. Asra’s hand came up and slapped her across the cheek. Mirabelle flinched from the blow, scuttling away from Asra but she followed her. Mirabelle swung the sword in her direction but Asra ducked beneath it and slapped her again. The blows were light but stinging as Asra’s hand circled around the bones of her right wrist and squeezed, which made the sword fall from Mirabelle’s hand.

Mirabelle bit back her cries of pain and reached for the sword but Asra put her hand on her throat, the fingers biting into the arteries on either side.

‘If you love him despite circumstances, if you believe he lives, then you owe it to him to fight, don’t you?’ she said.

Mirabelle pushed back but Asra slipped from her reach and slapped her again. She cried out and held her hands in front of her face.

‘I can’t. I’m bearing the weight of everything–‘

Asra sighed with disdain and went to grab Mirabelle.

They had been in the garden one afternoon, infected with a wriggling restlessness and drunk on the sight and touch of one another. They fought like cubs, and he had let her exhaust herself against him before Eilhu took her to the grass with a liquid ease, one arm beneath her to cushion her fall as he landed with her. The memory inflamed her and she turned her upper body to one side, grabbed Asra and tossed her to the ground. Asra grunted and rolled onto her side, but her eyes glowed with good humour.

‘See. Heart and mind.’ Asra said.

Mirabelle enjoyed learning, but this was a cruel lesson. Her heart sung with loss but she reached and helped Asra to her feet.

‘You made me act upon a cruel memory Asra.’ Mirabelle said.

Asra bowed from the waist and picked up the sword.

‘If it saves your life, then it is not so cruel.’

Mirabelle ran her tongue over her lips and tasted the fading copper of anguish and violence. She took the sword from Asra.

‘Teach me again?’ she said.

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