beauty, fairy stories, short fiction, women

Snow Day

wasted_and_confused_by_cosmiksquirel

https://cosmiksquirel.deviantart.com/art/Wasted-and-Confused-67105480

Corrine’s day started as a low grade headache as she looked out at the window and saw the flurries of snow  She massaged her temples and swallowed. Her tongue was thick as she scraped the edge of her front teeth over it.
Corrine looked at the bruising under her eyes from too little sleep or too much dreaming, she couldn’t tell anymore. Her hair was in clumps and locks from where she had tossed through the night. Weeks of bad dreams, words crawling to her as she sat on the toilet, paralysed and clutching her head.

 

She heard her grandfather call her name and she called back, saying she was in the bathroom. The dreams had been awful, loud and discordant, recalled in pieces which returned to her as she tried to make the most of the snow day. No college but also no distractions from her exhaustion and unrest.

 

‘No college today, then? Just you getting under my feet, girl.’ he said.

 

He smiled at her as he pointed towards the kettle and asked if she wanted a cup of tea. She rubbed her eyes and nodded and he got a second cup from the cupboard. He opened the tin which sat on the side and muttered under his breath.

 

‘Out of tea bags, girl. Want to pop out and get some? Loaf of bread too, I fancy some toast’ he said.

 

Corrine ran her tongue over her lips as her head throbbed with pressure.

 

‘OK, grandad.’ she said.

 

She bundled on a thick coat, gloves which looked like someone had skinned a care bear but kept out the cold, and jammed on a hat before she went outside. The snow had fallen in drifts and she shoved her hands into her pockets as she made a cautious pace down the road.

 

The pavements were slick, burnished from where children had been skidding across them, and she remembered reading how innocence was still children pulling the wings from flies. Joe Hill’s NOS4R2, which she’d picked up from the library. It was a book which spoke to the malevolence of winter, and standing still in one place, unable to recognise the damage we do to ourselves. She had loved the book but found too much of herself in the main character to read it again. She didn’t have to, she told herself.

 

She got tea bags and a loaf of bread, relieved she hadn’t slipped over as she walked back as another flurry of snow flew in her face and she squinted against it.

 

The blue Astra belonged to a neighbour. Corrine had walked past it, grinned with irony at the ‘powered by fairy dust’ decal on the back but there was something different today. Where the snow had gathered on the bonnet, someone had written a message.

 

YOURE NEXT

IMG_20180227_180012522.jpg

Corrine stared at it, looking around her to see if anyone was watching. The randomness of it disturbed her and she walked away from it, grimacing as she tongued the roof of her mouth and recoiled at the taste of sour dreams.

 

When she got to the house, she saw the front door was open and she ran inside, calling her grandfather’s name and dumping the carrier bag as her heart pounded with alarm.

 

Corrine heard the clashing sounds from the kitchen. A grunt of concern made her charge forwards, driven by a violent panic as she pushed open the door.

 

Her grandfather had a deep cut on his right cheek, deep enough to show his teeth through the gap as blood voided down his neck but his eyes were bright with determination as he stared into the face of his attacker.

 

It had his back to her, showing the insectoid plates of armour which moved and flexed as it struggled with her grandfather. It turned and hissed at her, revealing sharp, uneven teeth protruding from a lipless mouth as its nostrils flared with disgust.

 

‘She isss alive.’ it said.

 

Corrine saw the curved nails on its fingers as it sought to overpower her grandfather and her mouth flooded with thick bile and she tasted the bitterness of her nightmare. The sunlight streamed in through the window, and she recalled one image from her nightmare form before her eyes.

 

It eased the pressure in her head to look at it. She breathed and stared into it, working on a sense of right action, like the first breath after a long time holding it in.

 

The creature wrestling with her grandfather shuddered as it lifted its chin and screeched as blood streamed from its eyes. It let go of her grandfather and he staggered backwards, reaching behind him for the knife as he squatted into a horse stance and stabbed it upwards into the creature’s belly. It sagged forwards and vomited blood onto the lino before it looked up at Corrine, all feeling gone bar a blind malevolence before its head ripped apart, like wet tissue pulled between two strong hands.

 

Corrine stood there and watched her grandfather reach down and pull the knife from its stomach. He wiped it on the sleeve of his cardigan and she watched as he poked his tongue through the slit in his cheek. There was a terrible clarity in the aftermath of what she had done.

 

He walked over to her.

 

‘Snow days are different. The world we know, it becomes somewhere else. I never thought they’d find us, girl, but they have and we need to get out of here.’ she said.

 

Corrine stammered as she pointed at the body on the floor.

 

‘What is that?’

 

Her grandfather looked down and kicked it as he sneered, opening the wound in his cheek before he hissed and picked up a towel and pressed it to his cheek.

 

‘A shadow thief. Their souls were extracted and they were altered to hunt you down. If one has found us, they’ll send what they have available.’

 

Corrine stepped past the body and put her arms out as her grandfather held her with one arm around her as he held the sodden towel to his cheek.

 

‘None of it makes any sense. I don’t have creatures coming after me.’

 

He sighed and squeezed her close to him. She felt him grunt with pain and looked up at him.

 

‘But I do now?’ she said.

 

He nodded and closed her eyes

 

‘Your father called you his little princess? There was a measure of truth in it, which was why I chastised him for it.’ he said.

 

She told him about the shape she had seen and he breathed out a sigh of relief.

 

‘You’ve come into your gifts. Look for signs which form shapes, they are sources of power.’

 

He patted her on the shoulder and said they needed to get moving.

 

‘Where are we going to go?’ she said.

 

He pulled the towel from his cheek.

 

‘Stitch this up then run.’ he said.

 

Corrine shivered as she pulled the hat from her head and struggled with how much sense it made. The restlessness, graffiti crawling along the walls

 

‘There’ll be more of them?’ she said.

 

He nodded as he glanced upstairs.

 

‘We need to pack and get moving. I’ll clean this up.’ he said.

 

She looked down and grimaced.

 

‘How?’ she said.

 

Her grandfather grunted and bent down over the body.

 

‘Just pack. I’ll be up in a minute. Get clothes in a bag.’

 

She ran upstairs and grabbed a rucksack, stuffing clothes in without a thought beyond the crawling horror of the moment before she heard the crash of a broken window and spun around as a shadow thief crouched in the doorway and hissed at her.

 

Corrine felt another image come to her and she sent it into the creature’s stomach like a zen, invisible bullet which made it fall backwards as she grabbed her rucksack and ran downstairs, legs hollow with panic. Everything had gained speed and each moment flashed before her as she shouldered the rucksack and called her grandfather’s name.

 

He clutched his stomach as the man stood there, too wide and tall as he sheathed the short sword on his hip with one hand as he pulled the helmet from his head. His long blonde hair was matted to his scalp and his skin was mottled with exhaustion despite it being the dark green of chlorophyll as he smiled at her.

 

‘Your highness.’ he said.

 

She looked into her grandfather’s face as he stared at her and a symbol pushed into him. He opened to her and she learned about herself.

sigil (9)

 

2.

 

Once upon a time, there were two families who fought over the kingdom. They were both much alike in dignity, but blessed with gifts which gave rise to amusing and horrible events. This war receded into the past until a young prince offered the olive branch and the other family, more interested in exploring their powers, focused through images and movements into producing particular effects. The hope of peace had spoken to their new focus on the spiritual.

 

It was their downfall and at dinner, they were slaughtered apart from one prince, his pregnant wife and their bodyguard. They slipped from one world to another. Somewhere without the florid powers where they could hide and raise their child.

 

Her parents were pragmatic and adaptive people. The borrowed memories spoke to a heroism which she would honour by surviving. Her grandfather was not hers by blood, but by choice and it did not diminish his love for her.

 

There were nuggets of knowledge amongst the history. Movements as an expression of magic and her limbs flowed with power as her body moved into position, ready to defend herself.

 

His name was Yifbam Tow Diglax, a cousin from the other family, interested in the chance to hurt others and persistent. The name and pronunciation came to her lips and she spoke to him in their native tongue.

 

‘You should have left me alone.’ she said.

 

This second was too fragile to contain her feelings. Survival mattered as the armoured man came towards her. Corrine felt through the movement and read his intentions before he reached her..

 

He wanted to take her alive. It was his mistake as she turned her hip around and brought her right arm under his and helped him to the ground, using his momentum against him as he crashed against the floor. He gave a deep moan through a broken nose and jaw, as he spat teeth to his side. She leapt on top of him and pulled the short sword out and jabbed it into the back of his head.

 

She slipped the belt from around his waist and buckled it up as she put the sword back and shouldered her rucksack. Her grandfather rolled onto his back and reached for her. She came over and kneeled by him.

 

‘Where do I go?’ she said.

 

He stroked the hair from her face and gazed at her with a luminous, gentle love.

 

‘You saw the words in your dreams and felt the distance from who you are. You must follow it through, girl. There are friends here, but you have to find them.’ he said.

 

She kissed him and he squeezed her in his arms before he exhaled through his teeth and told her to go. Corrine sobbed as she got to her feet and looked at him, bloodied but regal as he pressed his hands against the wound in his stomach and laid down, his watch ending with her alive and aware of herself when she needed to.

 

‘I love you.’ he said.

 

‘Now go.’

 

She ran out of the back and through the gate, there were fields ahead, blanketed by snow and she felt dizziness before the next breath she took reminded her of the will to live. Corrine knew wherever she slept tonight, it would be peaceful and powerful enough to keep out the cold.

 

Advertisements
Standard
beauty, love, short fiction, women

Eight Years Rehearsal

He had left before I awoke, pausing only to kiss me on the cheek and leave me a cup of tea. It would be too cold to drink by the time I woke up, but I appreciated the gesture. My house had seen dark times, none of which he had been privy to, but his presence, tentative at first looked to a point where there were more happy memories than sad ones to look forward to.

Ben had gone to pick up a new door for Jenny’s bedroom. The old one was covered in stickers, and she wanted her privacy, to play and write stories. Ben sat with her when she read them to him and she would stand in the doorway and watch him as something shifted in her chest and she had to look away.

David had slammed my head into the wall. He had been drinking and high on something which sent his neuroses into overdrive. I was being punished for confronting him about his infidelity, on a night where our kids were with my mum. She spent the night waiting by the phone for me to call but I couldn’t face her.

I had run downstairs, dizzy and bleeding from the impact and I had run into the kitchen, reached for the drawer and looked out onto my studio. I wanted to work out there in the summer, and I realised, if I didn’t stop this, I never would. He stomped downstairs and I reached for a carving knife, tested its weight in my hand and backed against the cupboard.

He came in swinging, his lips pulled back over his teeth, electrified with rage and pain and I pushed the knife forwards, low and upwards The impact jolted through my arm as he gasped and reached up to where the knife had sunk in. He bled onto the knife, and I cried out in rage as I pushed it into him as I wept. Everything went white, and when I came to, slumped against the cupboard, he laid on the kitchen floor, with the knife jutting from his stomach. His head had rolled onto side, and his eyes were empty, lips slackened like he’d heard the punch line to a terrible joke.

I got up and went through to the hallway. I knew where I could put him, and how to keep it safe. I had planned on getting him somewhere, but I saw it as more of an art project, a thought exercise. My head throbbed and I cleaned up as much as I could in the bathroom before I hacked into the wall.

I had to make a trip out to the supermarket and a few garages, grabbing air fresheners from each one. I had a hat on, a cap with the brim worn low to hide my face. I had one assistant help me with the lime and plaster.

I used David’s credit card to do it. I destroyed it on the way out, snapped it and threw it between two different bins. The bags were heavy, but I thought of my daughter made me strong enough to drive back and heave his body up the stairs put him into the cavity, fill it with lime and air fresheners then plaster him up. I drew the sigil into the wall with the knife and stood back, charging it with my hate and my fear.

The most difficult part was the most delicate, drawing the sigil into the wall, the same words used to awake the golem, or in this case, command it to remain still and inert.

Much of magic is the actual doing of things. You drew the cards; you chanted the rituals and drew the sigil to enact your will onto the universe.

sigil (6)

I told my mum he had walked out. I wept on the phone, but I told my mum I wanted to be alone. I also had to keep the heating and the hairdryer on to get the plaster dried. It was my greatest creation and it kept David in there where he couldn’t hurt me ever again. He had a record with the police so they weren’t too keen to look into him.

Seven years and I never brought a man home. I stayed at theirs, but I needed my space.

None of them persisted, but I still missed the mornings where I woke up alone. I had to wait seven years before I could declare him dead. His parents were both dead, and he had been an only child. I made a lot of sculptures, most of it in clay, little in plaster because I had produced nothing with as much urgency as replacing a section of wall to look utilitarian and benign.

I met Ben at a gallery show of my work. He took me out for coffee. It was very polite, and he made me feel safe. There was something girlish and silly about this. I had a dead man in the walls of my house and yet the first night he came; we cooked dinner and watched films together. I trembled as I walked to him where he laid on my bed.

He made me feel beautiful and he was gentle until I needed him not to be. Afterwards, he held me as I cried and didn’t ask why. He had been wounded in the past too, with his own baggage but it made him gentle rather than bitter. It never crossed my mind to tell him because he was a good man but I would burden him, test him with my darkness and I wasn’t sure I could do that to anyone.

Yet he had gone out that morning to pick up a new bedroom door.

Jenny was at my mum’s. I got out of bed, walked through the hallway and tapped the plaster. My punishment had been watching Jenny grow up without her dad. I hadn’t pushed Ben to interact with her; it had just come to him and she showed an interest in him, through the medium of the things she liked to do. He was a man who knew how to play, and it felt like a poor deal. I decided Jenny was better off with her mother than her father because David had forced that choice upon me.

I had spent eight years rehearsing for a better life. Ben, I hoped, would be part of it and he had not disappointed me. If that changed, if my instincts betrayed me, I knew there was room for him in the walls.

I got up and stood in the hallway, listening for the sound of David’s whimpering and was pleased to hear only the thump of blood in my veins. Jenny would be home soon, with all the noise and activity she brought to everything, but in the meantime, I heard the rattle of the key in the lock and smiled to myself as I heard my name called.

 

Standard
beauty, love, short fiction, women

The Door Is Always Open

the_door_is_always_open_by_xbastex-d4bdne1.jpg

 

https://xbastex.deviantart.com/art/The-door-is-always-open-260977321

 

1.

 

Gloria had been at a book launch for one of her clients, promoting a bombastic thriller which played on modern female fears with the exacting due of a spreadsheet, when she bumped into the woman. She was ostentatious and feline in her long purple dress and headful of loose, auburn curls. The woman caught her eye, and came over to her, extended a hand heavy with rings and bracelets which Gloria took with polite care. Her hand was warm and soft in Gloria’s before she withdrew it.

 

Isabelle Durant was, she told Gloria, an author and a magician. Gloria smiled with the practiced care which came from handling authors of all stripes, from the obsessive to the flamboyant. Gloria asked what brought Durant to the launch.

 

Isabelle smiled and leaned in close.

 

‘Free food and drink, mostly, but I’ve helped Jenny out before.’ she said.

 

Gloria nodded, fighting the urge to look around for anyone she could go to, without offending the woman.

 

‘Financially?’ Gloria said.

 

Isabelle shook her head and gave an inscrutable smile.

 

‘No, not that she needs it now, of course, it will be a successful book.’ she said.

 

Gloria sipped her gin and tonic, fighting her curiosity at the enigmatic but possibly insane woman stood in front of her, another conversation which she filed for entertainment purposes in advance. She had her author stories available on a moment’s notice.

 

Jack Kerouac wrote On The Road and presented it as one length of manuscript, the individual papers taped together into a lengthy scroll of text.

 

James Joyce wrote in blue crayon, lying on his stomach and wearing a milkman’s coat to compensate for his failing eyesight.

 

Virginia Woolf wrote standing up because her sister painted in a similar position.

 

John Steinbeck insisted on twelve sharpened pencils being present on his writing desk to the extent his agent replaced the hexagonal models with round ones to alleviate the calluses on his hands.

 

Truman Capote wouldn’t begin or end a piece of work on a Friday, would change hotel rooms if the room phone number involved the number 13, and never left more than three cigarette butts in his ashtray, tucking the extra ones into his coat pocket.

 

Gloria considered a self-identifying magician as one for the anecdotal library.

 

Isabelle’s eyes narrowed as she studied Gloria.

 

‘The door is always open.’ she said.

 

Gloria’s stomach ached like the space between a thunderclap and a flash of lightning as her skin exploded with a sudden burst of gooseflesh like she had been drenched in cold static as she fought the urge to back away.

 

‘What do you mean?’ Gloria said.

 

She controlled her reaction, but Isabelle smiled and retrieved a card from her purse. Black, recycled cardboard and smooth to the touch as she pressed it into Gloria’s hand.

 

‘I think you know, Gloria, but it’s not too late’ she said.

 

Gloria’s mouth was leached of moisture and the gin stung the inside of her mouth as Isabelle demurred and walked away. Gloria tucked the card into the pocket of her jacket as she searched for the bathroom. Her glacial, bloodless expression lasted until she was in a cubicle with the door closed.

 

She sobbed with a force which frightened her. All those years and the phrase, coming up from the depths of her memory, like a shark scenting blood in the water. She put her hand over her mouth to stifle her cries as she sat on the toilet until they smoothed out into hitches of desperate respiration. The surprised barbs of agony faded and she looked at the card, just a name and an email address.

 

Gloria fixed her make up and came back to pose for a photograph with Jenny. With an arm around her waist, she asked how Jenny knew Isabelle, and watched her face glow with a burst of delight. She smiled and whispered into her ear.

 

‘She’s amazing, isn’t she? She made me promise not to share what happened, but honestly, Glo, go see her.’ she said.

 

Jenny kissed her on the cheek and Gloria flinched with bemusement before Jenny turned and waved to a man in the corner, who strode towards her with a primal confidence. Gloria slipped away as she watched Jenny bring her hands to his face and kiss him with a lover’s lack of self-consciousness.

 

They were one of ‘those couples’, Gloria thought, with a sudden and sharp twist of envy. She made her excuses and left, took a cab back to her house and did not breathe easily until she was inside with the front door closed.

 

The phrase turned in her head like a burning wire.

 

Gloria sent an email from her laptop and Isabelle replied a day later. The email consisted of an address and a time, which slotted into Gloria’s schedule with a mechanical ease.

 

Isabelle lived in a cottage on the outskirts, made from appealing but ramshackle brickwork with wooden window frames and a stout oak front door, squatting in the middle of a large flat stretch of land, some of which were turned to vegetable patches and a chicken coop. A russet coloured mongrel sauntered up and licked Gloria’s hand before Isabelle poked her head out the window and called for her to come in.

 

The thin scream of the kettle added to Gloria’s unease as she came in, looking at a cottage which appeared to be insulated with a fine layer of animal hair, but the cottage smelled of cinnamon and citrus which eased her concerns.

 

‘You said something to me, Isabelle, where did it come to you from?’ she said.

 

Isabelle took two china cups and saucers from the cupboard.

 

‘I’m sensitive to certain frequencies of being. The kind of things you can’t google. Plus I pay attention.’ she said.

 

Gloria watched her as she measured out loose leaf green tea into a pot.

 

‘None of that makes sense to me, but call me curious, and Jenny spoke well of you.’ she said.

 

Isabelle grinned and gestured towards the round oak table in the living room, draped with a purple cloth, told her to sit down which Gloria did. Isabelle put a crystal ashtray in front of her, and Gloria lit up with gratitude, eager to have something to hide the shaking in her hands. It took three attempts to light it but she managed it as Isabelle brought over tea and a small plate of candied ginger.

 

Isabelle sat down and rolled a cigarette, enhancing it with a finger pinch of green leaf from a small battered tin which sat at her right elbow like a patient dog. She lit up and sat back in the chair.

 

‘You never forgot him, did you?’ she said.

 

Gloria blinked and gritted her teeth before she shook her head.

 

‘I don’t know the details, but I see the gestalt and how it pulls at you. It’s a big part of what I do.’ she said.

 

Gloria leaned forwards.

 

‘If you’re a con artist, I’ll see to it you go to prison or I fuck your career into the ground. I would say that to anyone who claims knowledge of me they shouldn’t have.’ she said.

 

It was the tone of voice she used to push recalcitrant writers to meet deadlines and there were bestselling authors who used it to goad them on, long after the time when they had moved on to great success.

 

Isabelle shook her head and took a puff on the cigarette before she sat back and exhaled.

 

‘It comes off you in waves, Gloria. Right now, you look like a perpetual firework with all the orgone you’re generating.’ she said.

 

Gloria grimaced and sniffed her tea.

 

‘What the fuck is orgone?’ she said.

 

‘Sexual energy. A great man by the name of Wilhelm Reich believed it could be harnessed for any number of uses. He was half right before he was ruined by the authorities.’

 

Gloria shook her head and tittered as she ground out her cigarette in the ashtray. Isabelle maintained an expression of serene interest as she smoked and drank her tea.

 

‘So, you can see I’m soaked in sex juice, and you know a phrase I’ve had inside me for a few years, what does it entitle you other than my time?’ Gloria said.

 

Isabelle leaned forwards, clasped her hands together as she gave Gloria a look of frank intensity.

 

‘Tell me about him.’ she said.

 

Gloria’s indignation felt affected beneath the warm interest Isabelle showed in her, so she sat back.

 

‘You think there’s enough time.’ she said.

 

Isabelle nodded and let Gloria tell the story.

 

A chance encounter in a bookshop. His gentle but frank interest in her, packed into an idle lunchtime browsing session back when she had been a junior associate at the publishing house, and how he had recommended a few titles to her, before asking for her number. Joel.

 

She gave it to him, went back to the office with a hardback and her uneaten sandwiches, smiling to herself with a quiet delight.

 

Drinks in the evening then making out in his car by the river, his hands all over her as she fought the urge to ask him home and deciding to make him wait, fighting the fluttering uncertainty of intimacy.

 

She had pushed him away, smiling as she told him. He agreed with a quiet grace which inflamed her all the more.

 

The first night in her bed. Subsequent nights between his place and hers, adventures which made her chuckle and inventive intimacies which made her feel girlish and silly. He had not clung to her but in his arms, she felt safe and adored without questioning it. Poems written and left for her to find.

 

The last conversation as they had an exhausted breakfast before Joel left for work. She expressed her fears about where they were going, all the tiny concerns which came on the heels of a decision towards or away from intimacy. He had not said he loved her, but he showed it through his actions and a smooth, but genuine ability to share space with her as she went about her own writing.

 

He had smiled, kissed her on the cheek along with the soft rasp of his facial hair against her skin which made her sigh.

 

‘The door is always open.’ he said.

 

He had not answered his phone. She went around to his flat, found it full of red-eyed strangers as her legs went weak with the news and she fainted.

 

A drunk driver ploughed into him as he crossed the road. It tossed him into the air until he fell, broken and bleeding. It took her a long time to move past it, the senselessness and the isolation, the lack of meaningful engagement with what might have been.

 

Isabelle sat back with her hands folded over one another.

 

‘I can read it in you, Gloria. I don’t want your money, any more than I did Jenny’s but I can offer you something you’d believe impossible, if you’re interested?’ she said.

 

Gloria wiped her eyes and shook her head.

 

‘Don’t be stupid, i’d rather you throw some stupid phrases and burn shitty incense than pretend you’re doing anything other than opening old wounds.’ she said.

 

She was pleased with her eloquence but it did not upset Isabelle’s serene expression.

 

‘The flow of love, orgone, chi whatever you call it, is in and around everything. It can be channelled or harnessed, even shaped if you wish it.’ she said.

 

Gloria looked up at her, exhausted but intrigued by Isabelle’s words. She asked her to go on.

 

‘Do you know what a tulpa is?’ she said.

 

Gloria laughed and asked her to explain.

 

Isabelle went about the process in a practiced orderly manner. It was a ritual without pomp, a series of tools and readings which required Gloria’s focus and attention as well as a willingness to be open to the possibility.

 

A five point spread tarot reading which made Isabelle murmur to herself as she took out a loose leaf pad of paper and a stick of charcoal. She wrote out Gloria’s full name and some numbers then Joel’s name with further numbers and symbols underneath it.

 

She drew the figure out several times, refining it according to a set of criteria which she did not explain.

 

A tulpa, Isabelle said, was a tangible thought form. It was formed from your memories, existing in your consciousness and gaining sentience through contemplation and time. Gloria shook her head as she pointed at the sheets of paper.

 

‘I do remember him, that’s the worst part. It fades but christ, I can still feel his hands on me when I close my eyes -‘

 

She lowered her head and wept as Isabelle put her hand atop hers.

 

‘What I offer is something a little more robust than that, if you’re interested?’ she said.

 

Gloria looked up and nodded.

 

‘Is that who Jenny’s with? An imaginary boyfriend?’ she said.

 

Isabelle chuckled and shook her head.

 

‘No, but I won’t tell you. The best proof is direct experience, and if not, you’ll have something to tell people at dinner parties, won’t you?’ she said.

 

Gloria shuddered at the quiet insight, apparently snatched from the inside of her head as she stared at Isabelle. The rasp of his beard brushed against her, made her insides ache with a poignant longing, a homesickness for a person over a place.

 

‘Tell me more.’ she said.

 

4.

 

Gloria walked to the stone bench and sat down by the river as she fished in her handbag to find her phone and cigarettes. She had walked from work and the heat of the afternoon had made her skin damp underneath her arms and at the small of her back. She lit a cigarette and sat up straight to alleviate the tension in her lower back and shoulders.

 

She smoked through her nerves, looking for a portent in the silences and shadows. A faint sense of silliness permeated her thoughts as Isabelle’s instructions echoed in her head. She opened the image file on her phone and remembered her instructions as she stared at the symbol.

sigil (4).png

 

Isabelle explained it as a point of focus, a bomb sight and her will was the bomb.

 

She stubbed out her cigarette, breathed in through her nose as she felt a prickling sensation between her eyebrows. Thoughts wandered into her forebrain but she kept breathing through, letting the sensation swim through her head as the temperature rose by a few degrees.

 

Faith was difficult to maintain, so she reached inside herself, to the well of emotions which sat inside her, each drop of its water tasting of his skin, his mouth and she shifted on the bench as sense memory ran rough fingertips against her skin, through her clothes.

 

She committed the symbol to memory as she closed her eyes, reached within and drew up all the feelings she had for him, good and bad. The pressure grew between her eyes as she visualised the symbol before her, all straight lines and circles and imagined it aglow with tongues of golden flame before she felt it grow in her consciousness, expanding into the final, qlippothic thought before she felt something twist in her perceptions and she sagged forwards, feeling like she had failed at something ridiculous and impossible.

 

A child’s prayer.

 

A placebo.

 

She flinched at the warm hand on the nape of her neck, hands up ready to lash out at whoever touched her.

 

His eyes were soft and warm with surprise as he looked at her. She moved backwards as the phone dropped from her grasp, babbling and shaking her head. He bent down and picked it up, brushed off a leaf from the front and held the phone out to her.

 

‘You dropped this.’ he said.

 

She took it from him, unable to speak as she took him in. Her fingers ran over his, found he was solid, real and warm. He stepped towards her and smiled.

 

‘Hello, Glo. ‘ he said.

 

She slipped the phone into her handbag and stared at him. Her heart thumped in her ears as she stepped towards him and watched his lips part with anticipation as he moved in to close the distance.

 

People saw them together and no one asked about their history. He was flesh and blood, and Gloria helped piece together a story which no one asked to clarify, not when there was such happiness between them. He said less than her in any conversation, and at night when she was draped across him, flush with the worthwhile rush of endorphins and a sense of honourable victory snatched from chaos, she remembered the last thing he said and wondered at a world where such a door was possible, let alone able to walk through.

 

One day, she drove out to the cottage, driven by a need for explanation to make sense of the situation. The doors and windows were boarded up, and she walked around the cottage, noting the divots in the soil where the vegetables had been dug up. She stood there, placed her palm on the door and whispered her thanks before she drove home to her man. There was a halting conversation with Jenny, which devolved into more rational subjects due to a poor connection but otherwise there was no explanation beyond a simple ceremony and a belief in his actions, and the truth of his last words.

 

The door was always open.

 

Standard
beauty, love, short fiction, women

An Ocean Communion

walking_on_water_by_ahermin

https://ahermin.deviantart.com/art/Walking-on-Water-53526844

Ursus looked up and  watched a lone gull battling against the wind before he brushed the sand from his robes and got to his feet. It had been a long night awake, meditating on the ocean before him and his eyes burned with fatigue. He adjusted the belt on his robe and picked up his staff, leaning on it as he walked towards the water.

 

‘Stop there.’

 

He turned and saw the three men, climbing down from their horses, the clink of chainmail coming to his ears as a crisp ringing which made him turn and face them. He smiled and opened his arms without letting go of his staff.

 

‘Can a simple pariunt not enjoy communing with nature?’ he said.

 

The soldiers looked at one another.  The Cradle had been independent of the ruling families since their inception, men and women trained in physical and mental disciplines who fought against the forces which besieged humanity and inspired a fierce goodwill in the people of the kingdom. In these times though, there were rumours spread to undermine their authority and these poison whispers gave King Patrick permission to drive any of them from his lands. Lone pariunts were easy targets for anyone with a grudge or an order.

 

Ursus Senex sighed as the soldiers came towards him.

 

One of them snarled, showing brown, uneven teeth as his moustaches dripped with saliva as he pointed at Ursus.

 

‘You’re forbidden from these lands, pariunt.’ he said.

 

The second man had his hand on the hilt of his sword and Ursus smiled at him as he glanced at the third man, who held a short bow ahead of him, an arrow cocked and ready to fire.

 

‘The ocean is the source of all life, my good man. We wander the lands and commune with life in all its forms. Let me commune here, and I shall leave no trace of my passing.’ he said.

 

Ursus had a low, soft voice. He sounded reasonable, unafraid to stand before three armed men with intentions towards him. Ursus knew a show of fear would end with a blade or an arrow in him so he affected an air of humility towards these men.

 

Behind his eyes, he gauged the possible lines of attack and how best to break them. The clarity of his thoughts were part of his Cradle training and Ursus was a pariunt of long standing. Magic would see an arrow in his throat before he uttered a word. He put his staff into the sand and drew a straight line then without taking his eyes from the men, drew lines in three directions and stamped a divot of sand into the end of each line.

 

They did not see his work as they stood there, torn between apprehension and aggression. Ursus stepped backwards and stared at each man in turn.

 

‘I point out you wanted this to happen.’ he said.

 

The archer brought up his bow and fired in one fluid motion as Ursus took his staff in both hands and pointed it towards the archer.

 

The men watched in surprise as the arrow splintered  and fell to the ground, having hit nothing but air. The two men charged Ursus, drawing their swords as they yelled their fears out of them.

 

Brown Teeth stopped as he ran over the sigil. Blood shot from his nostrils and ears as he fell over, choking on his tongue as it slipped to the back of his throat. His sword fell from his fingers as he twitched and choked out his last breath.

 

Ursus jabbed the staff into the centre of the second man’s face as he came forward. The wet crunch of his nose breaking made Ursus swallow with distaste but not so much that it stopped him from kicking the man’s legs out from under him and drive his staff into the flesh of his throat hard enough to break it.

 

The second arrow whistled past him and Ursus threw his staff at the archer as it hit the man in the cheek, upsetting his third shot. Ursus closed the distance and drove the fingers of his right hand into the soldier’s armpit and threw his palm up into the soldier’s face. He felt the cartilage shift as it drove his nose into his brain. The archer fell away and landed on his side with an ungainly thump onto the sand.

 

Ursus leaned forward and rested his hands on his knees. His throat burned with each breath and he trembled as he breathed through the nerves of combat.

 

Not combat, he thought, murder. They had acted first, but it did not lessen the impact of their deaths on his conscience.

 

He looked up at the sky, grateful to be alive.

 

If they had bested him, it might have undone everything.

 

A pariunt had gathered at each point of the compass. Ursus stood at Irident, the most southerly point in King Patrick’s domain.

 

Catherine was shivering through a vigil at Hunter’s Point in the North, waiting for the appointed time.

 

Justin stood at the most easterly point: an outcrop of sand on The Poison Shore, his face wrapped in soaked muslin as he chanted a mantra to ward off the worst of the fumes.

 

Miriam laid on the western shores of Apara and summoned the vultures above her to form his own sigil.

 

Ursus staggered to the water and traced a sign in the air.

 

Four points of will, each of them performing an act of meditation, linking their wills to one single end, and drawing sigils of their own to strengthen the power of their intention.

 

If you were to look from above, you would see the scar of their actions burned into the land like a brand.

 

Ursus breathed in, tingling with power as he stepped out onto the water. His steps held as he walked out.

 

His role was the most difficult, for he had to call upon a fifth pariunt.

 

Eleanor, lost beneath the waves, asleep and waiting to be called. She had been the most vocal of the voices within The Cradle, calling for a state of preparedness against the day when the kings saw them as a threat over an ally. Ursus, her lover and counsel, had urged her against the course and she had taken a ship to discuss alliances with The Caliphate. A storm had dashed her ship to pieces, and Ursus, asleep in the bed they shared, awoke and howled with grief.

 

Over the roar of the waves, he listened to her heartbeat. He paid attention as he stood at the point where the feelings were strongest. He looked down into the water and called her name.

 

The ocean bucked beneath him, as it gave her up.

 

She shot out of the water, waterlogged hair falling down her back in a shining curtain, festooned with seaweed and shells. A crab hung from her robes as she returned to the surface of the water and smiled at Ursus. Her skin was white and soft as he smiled at her.

 

‘If I say you were right, will it be the end of it?’ he said.

 

She chuckled and kissed him on the cheek.

 

‘Oh Ursus, you worry too much. Why did you wait to call me back?’ she said.

 

He gestured behind him.

 

‘It took four of us to summon your location. I searched for you, and found nothing but you hid yourself.’ he said.

 

She reached for him and kissed him on the lips as she shook her head.

 

‘They used a spell singer on me, lashed me to ocean’s floor with wards of great power and made me watch you grow older, made me watch the Cradle beseiged by enemies at every turn.’ she said.

 

Ursus wrapped her in his arms and kissed her over and over until she put her hands to his chest and pushed him away. For all his power and focus, he was quite the romantic when called for.

 

She took his hands and stared into his eyes.

 

‘Let us call the others and end this.’ she said.

 

They chanted together, staring into one another’s eyes as they stepped backwards, into the position where the lines of energy laid, connecting what was real with what was imagined.

 

As one, the five of them focused their energies into the single image shared amongst them creating a ward over the land.

 

King Patrick was atop his mistress, enjoying the frightened look in her eyes as he felt a small twinge in his back. He frowned and stopped fucking his mistress as a sudden pressure ballooned in his skull and his eyes rolled back in his head. He had a vision of the sigil float before his eyes before he collapsed onto the bed and let out a sonorous, single note fart.

 

His counsellor, David, clutched at his head and fell onto his knees as the council of spies and soldiers devoted to the murder of The Cradle followed suit. They were found, bloodied and lifeless, faces sculptured into final expressions of disbelief.

 

Ursus and Eleanor walked back to the shore. He took her hand in his and smiled at her with a quiet disbelief.

 

‘Is it done?’ she said.

 

Ursus looked at the sky and watched the gull flying around, cawing with the savage joy of existence before he pulled her close and brushed seaweed from his lover’s hair.

 

‘I hope so.’ he said.

 

He felt the mixture of relief and invigoration from his fellow pariunts as they left their positions. The Cradle had protected itself, and all the loss came down to a few bad men, buried in the places they had plotted murder from.

 

He nodded and gestured to the gull flying above them.

 

‘I watched him earlier, and it gave me hope.’ he said.

 

Eleanor chuckled and rested her head on his shoulder.

 

‘You’re such a romantic, trusting to fate.’ she said.

 

Ursus chuckled as they walked on the sand, leaning into one another as they carried on into the rest of their lives, holding the light of their love above them to guard the way.  

 

 

sigil (1)

Standard
love, nature, short fiction, women

Down By The Pier

down_by_the_pier_by_shikoro

https://shikoro.deviantart.com/art/Down-by-the-Pier-106775394

 

Jenny was wiping down the counter when she watched Shirley hobble to the end of the pier, a carrier bag of stale bread swinging from her left hand as she looked out at the sunset.

 

The burger bar was hot, uncomfortable work and she went home each day with a fresh burn and the perpetual fog of grease and onions clinging to her skin, no matter how often she showered. A few of her friends at university didn’t have to work, but Jenny’s parents struggled and so she spent long wearying hours on Britannia Pier, serving burgers and hot dogs with shining pyramids of onions, watching people drench them in mustard and ketchup.

 

Shirley came every day to feed the seagulls, having them flock to her. There would be one, in particular, she had trained to feed by hand. It amused Jenny enough to ask Dave, the owner when he came in to cash up. Dave snorted and shook his head.

 

‘Ah, Shirley. She’s a nutter, but she’s harmless enough.’ he said. He didn’t look up from the cash count as he spoke.

 

‘Maybe she could get together with the Puppet Man.’ Jenny said.

 

Dave kept on counting.

 

Jenny was disappointed, hoping for a good story out of it.

 

She was starved of entertainment in Yarmouth. Old friends had passed their sell by date, and it took torrents of false effort, nuggets of nostalgia sealed away in the amber of the everyday. She had tried, but friends were so draining, as much because she put too much stock in it, only to be disappointed when they’d all been bitten by change.

 

So, her interest honed onto Shirley, a yellowing woman in her late seventies, with a walking stick and a nest of tight, steel coloured hair who fed a seagull every day at sunset.

 

Jenny came with an offering, a clear bag of stale hotdog and burger buns. She stood as Shirley peered at her over the rims of her spectacles.

 

‘Thought you might like these.’ she said.

 

Shirley grunted and snatched them from her grip, faster than Jenny thought possible. Shirley cackled and pointed her stick at her.

 

‘Think I’m slow because I’m old, don’t you?’ she said

 

Jenny blushed and shook her head, tripping over her words as her head blazed with embarrassment.

 

‘No, just I see you feeding the gulls every day and I was only going to throw these away.’

 

Shirley shook the bag.

 

‘I don’t feed all the gulls, really. Just my Reg.’

 

Jenny bit the inside of her cheek, thrilled for this encounter to slide into novelty even as Shirley’s tone made her feel uneasy.

 

‘It’s sweet you name one of them.’ she said.

 

Shirley laughed again, a high, twisting shrill laugh which made Jenny’s fillings ache.

 

‘That’s his name. My Reg.’

 

Jenny breathed in and asked Shirley what she meant. Shirley gestured over to the end of the pier, then passed back the clear bag of bread products and Jenny took it as they walked over to the end of the pier.

2.

 

He was a ladies man. Reg Pointer, down from London to get out of a situation with someone’s wife, said he was on holiday. I was born here, and he was something new. Smooth, fancied himself enough for the both of us, and I was younger then. Good legs, bit of a bum and my hair was long and black, down my back.

 

I lived by the sea and it taught me things.

 

We met on the seafront, he swaggered up with his chin held high and a fag hanging out the corner of his mouth. I had been in communion and was looking forward to a cup of tea and a pink of whelks. He offered to walk me there, and I was, well it were like he cast a spell on me.

 

It was like he knew, he could smell the want on me.

 

He looked like he knew what he was doing, so I went with it. Thing is, with everything else I had going on, it was nice for someone else to take charge of things and he did. He didn’t hurt me like that, when it was just us, he was lovely.

 

Reg Pointer had too much love in him though.

 

I forgave the first one. She went blind on the train back to Ipswich.

 

The second one and the third, well I threatened him. I told him you didn’t cross a Yarmouth girl and he laughed at me. He never raised his hand to me, but he could still hurt me, and laughing at me was the worst. It leaves bruises on your heart, love, and they never heal right.

 

He slept in the spare room. I went out about midnight, down to the beach and gathered a few things.

 

Simple acts were the most powerful.

 

A ring of seaweed.

 

Stones, but you have to feel them in your hand. After a while, you know the right ones to use.

 

A prayer, but you would never say them in church. They’re older than any church you could walk into so you say them outside.

 

I walked back when it was done, crying for the both of us.

 

I shut the door to the spare room.

 

A trapped bird is dangerous if its cornered. I had to take a broom to him, to get him to fly out. He had the loveliest eyes, but now they were small and cold, like grapes.

 

Thing is, I missed him. So I would come to the beach, see if any of them reacted.

 

He found me, squawking and flapping but he wouldn’t hurt me. I had taught him how to behave himself. So I agreed I would come feed him.

 

FIfty bloody years though, and I ache all the time but he’s loyal now, though.

 

He’s loyal.

 

3.

 

Jenny saw Shirley every day of the summer. The following summer, she was interning at a theatre company in London but she came home for the last, lazy weeks of a summer in Yarmouth. Dave joked about her asking for her job back and Jenny got straight to it.

 

‘Does Shirley still come here?’ she said

 

Dave frowned and shook his head.

 

‘Poor thing. Died in her bed. Leaky boiler, it was all over the Mercury.’ he said.

 

He still didn’t look up, but as Jenny asked him for a favour, she was glad of it.

 

She walked up with the hot dog roll, ate the sausage and sucked the mustard off her fingers as she watched the bird land on the wooden rail. Its grey plumage looked translucent and it had a scar running down its chest but it stared at her as she offered the sodden bun ahead of her with a hopeful smile.

 

‘She’d have wanted me to bring you this.’ she said.

 

Standard
grief, love, short fiction, Uncategorized, women

Customer Complaint

january_3rd_by_framedbynature-d70pwjn.jpg

https://framedbynature.deviantart.com/art/January-3rd-424471811

Ivor walked out of the mall, putting more weight on his cane as he adjusted his cap to alleviate the thin layer of perspiration. The canvas shopping bag was gripped in his left hand, swollen knuckles turned pale from the pressure of his grip. It swung with the weight of its contents as he looked up at the restaurant.

 

He ran his yellowing tongue over his cracked lips and said a name. The association raised the hairs on the back of his neck, gave him a boost which alleviated the pains which came from the simple act of motion, deepening as the years went on.

 

People milled around him as he made slow progress.

 

They had come for their anniversary. Katya, their eldest had warned against it, said the food was made like play-dough, preformed and packaged. She chided her mother, telling her she could make a better meal at home. Bettina’s eyes had narrowed, a flush of blood rising in her soft cheeks as she folded her arms.

 

‘Your father never takes me out. It has movie star pictures on the walls and impersonators.’

 

Ivor overheard from his position on the recliner, reading the scarred, leather bound book with his spectacles perched on the end of his nose, muttering words in a language thought lost to time and decided to make the reservation after all.

 

They played music at an ear splitting volume, served with a desperate theatrical quality which made his blood pressure go up and the food was late and cold.

 

She had cooed and pointed at the pictures and the staff, dressed as movie stars or characters. Ivor remembered their server had been the drunken pirate and how Bettina had mistaken his sloppy stoned attitude for attention to detail. Ivor sipped his cola and fought the rising indignation like a dose of indigestion, smiled at his Bettina and took her hand.

 

The server, Jay, had smoked a blunt on his break and it got him through his shifts in a warm, bubbling haze of intoxication. Sure, he missed details but most people wanted to eat or stop their kids from ruining the entire evening and he was convinced of his charms with people.

 

Sure, he missed details.

 

Bettina’s allergy.

 

Ivor told people his last memory of her was lifting the dripping burger, giggling as something warm broke across his chest with pleasure. All these years and he never loved her more.

 

He lied to people.

 

His last memory was watching her seize up with anaphylactic shock. Clawing at her throat as her eyes bulged in their sockets, disbelieving and watching how her brilliant, magical Ivor could not save her. When he lurched towards the idiot server, barking curses in a language which made people ill to hear aloud, it became an awful cartoon.

 

The lawyer explained it. They were a franchise with money and an army of lawyers. One stoned server doth not make a summer, he had quipped and regretted it for the rest of his life.

 

It was two weeks.

 

An embolism in the pool of the motel he had been living in since his divorce. Ivor had dropped a pebble into a bowl of water on a night his grief whipped his soul into action.

 

Jay, the stoned pirate threw himself into traffic after giving his deposition to the franchise legal team with something of a smile on his face. Ivor twisted the bandana he had snatched from the idiot when he had rushed at him.

 

It was not enough.

 

The items he needed were available in the mall, although his disdain for the commercial was mistaken for the simple awkwardness of an elderly man but he muttered something about standards as he left.

 

The restaurant had not closed. It bulged on the corner of the main street, and he felt offended by its existence. It was not open for business at this time of day though, which suited him and soothed the small voice, a perfect impersonation of his Bettina which asked him why he had gone back to practicing again.

 

Because you were my reason not to, he told her.

 

He stopped on the kerb opposite and set the bag down, reaching inside for the snowglobe and the hammer as he shifted his cane from one hand to another, gritting his teeth against the pains in his hips and knees.

 

‘FYN CUN PRXA DUHA GHUT WYM AS LOW’

 

His voice was low and rich, bristling with operatic power. It made people stop, turning towards the source with a bizarre curiosity, like they had seen something take wing from the ground.

 

The hammer took out the globe and Ivor watched the air twist and shimmer above the building before he raised his hand and scattered the spray of blood, water, glitter and glass onto the road. It had been a warm, sluggish day but people stared at the building, now encased in ice. Its garish, plastic logo was now lost behind thick opaque ice, razored chandeliers hanging from everywhere and all of it making people lose their minds with shock and disbelief.

 

Ivor felt the first twinge of pressure in the base of his spine, how it sent a million love letters imploring him to give up and as the pavement rushed up to meet him, he felt his Bettina’s breath at his cheek and smiled for the first time in months.

 

Standard
fiction, women

The Oldest Story (The Wild Man, Season 2)

(Previous episodes are here)

Mirabelle had faced darkness and all its nuances but this represented a new stage in her journey. She shuddered but kept on walking down into the bowels of the earth.

The djinn, a race of elemental beings who waged a guerilla war against the Caliphate and The Crow King, the Dwarven Realm. The elf kind, carnivorous and insane, remained in the mountains, lost to the madness of their biology.

It fell to a last alliance of men and dwarves to repel the invaders, a final assertion of order against the chaotic innocence of the djinn. Asra had lost her brother, twice in the final battle against the djinn and her mother lapsed into a terrible melancholia which caused her heart to fail. Bawwabat Jinn, where the last rift was, and the djinn sent back into their own dimension.

Mirabelle wondered if she had fled from one horror towards another, but Asra walked ahead, hands on the hilt of her twin scimitars.

‘How far down are we?’ Mirabelle said.

Her voice had a muted quality to it, which provided an answer. Asra raised her hand and stopped.

‘Far enough. If you wish to know The Dust, the djinn will know.’

Mirabelle swallowed and tasted the grit of the desert sand between her teeth. She missed Eilhu but could not allow herself to drink deep of her grief. Shallow sips to see her through the day, but part of her wanted to wail and wallow in the absence. Horror, poised to tear her world apart, and all she wanted was to see her golden-haired lover again.

She put it away. Her leadership demanded courage and she would wield it to light her way through the darkest hours.

A wave of slow warmth rushed down the tunnel and made them stop.

‘Can they get out?’ Mirabelle said.

Asra shook her head. She reached out and touched Mirabelle’s forearm.

They turned the corner to face the heart of Bawwabat Jinn.

2.

It was a scar, forever frozen in the state of febrile infection, lit between its puckered folds by a flickering flame which gave off a persistent and powerful heat. The air prickled and Mirabelle stopped.

‘Our prayers keep the rift stable. I will call one of them to speak with us.’

Asra stepped forwards and drew her scimitars in a gesture as smooth as breath. The light caught the blades, and Mirabelle shielded her eyes from the glare. Asra swung the swords forward as she lunged from her hips and slid her right leg behind for support and balance. She lowered her chin and breathed in harsh, deep lungfuls of air.

The temperature rose a few degrees and Asra sheathed her swords.

‘WHO CALLS US?’

The voice came from Asra, but it was different. A thick, clotted rumbling with a hissing undertone, huge and inhuman. Mirabelle shuddered and stepped forwards.

‘I do. I seek knowledge.’

Asra remained frozen in place. Mirabelle drew closer.

‘YOU TAUNT US WITH YOUR EXISTENCE. WE SHALL NOT SPEAK.’

Mirabelle’s heart thumped against her ribs as she clenched her hands into fists.

‘I COMMAND YOU.’ she said.

Asra shuddered and the air thickened with the rising heat before the temperature dropped into a sharp chill.

A thick chuckle arose from Asra.

‘WHAT DO YOU WANT, YOUR HIGHNESS?’

Asra turned her head, eyes twitching beneath her eyelids and her hijab soaked with sweat.

‘Tell me about The Dust.’

Asra sheathed the scimitar in her right hand with blinding speed. Mirabelle had time to cry out before Asra’s fingers closed on her throat without pressure. The contact was electric, and the edges of Mirabelle’s vision blurred as a series of images rushed into her mind.

3.

Bile-green clouds coat the sky as leprous, twisted things taste the air like maggots in dead flesh. A dying sun smears light on the earth and Mirabelle realises she is somewhere terrible. Every breath tastes of sickness and she spits onto the cracked, yellowing earth.

She sees a mountain in the distance, their outlines blurred by the thick, miasmal fog. There is a break in the cover, and she sees the mountain is moving, shifting with a relentless, orgiastic energy. A tentacle emerges from the mass, its tip blooming like a flower made of meat and a fat, pale tumour swells and bursts into the air. The mucus takes to the air in shuddering droplets which float towards her.

They move against the wind and Mirabelle reaches for the dagger on her hip.

She looks around her for shelter but there is nothing.

Something bellows behind her and she turns.

A giant, covered with dense brown fur looked at her with curiosity. She knew his name, had believed him capable of murdering her father.

The Wild Man.

‘You have no cause to be here yet, your highness.’

His voice boomed as he looked at the shimmering droplets moving towards them.

‘The Dust is the chaos of sickness, a disease with ambitions beyond the flesh. It is not a God but the sickness of Gods and it is patient beyond belief.’

Mirabelle appreciated the poetic but here it did not serve her needs.

‘Were you this obtuse with Eilhu?’ she said.

He chuckled and shook his head as he dropped to one knee, still towering over her.

‘We learn through stories and allegories, your highness. This story is the oldest of all stories.’

Mirabelle frowned and drew backwards.

‘I’ve no time for stories, people are dying.’

The Wild Man smiled with all his teeth at Mirabelle. He was the beauty of tree bark and rich, tilled earth. He smelled sweet and each breath she took in his proximity, enamoured her to him.

‘This is the story where order must confront chaos and if it wins, it will create a new world from its remains.’

Mirabelle glanced behind her.

‘Is it chaos or order?’ she said.

The Wild Man chuckled and rose to his full height.

‘I am of nature, which is outside of the games of Gods. But I will tell you what you seek.’

Mirabelle’s stomach fluttered as she glanced up at him.

‘Words, your highness. You must find the words.’

She grimaced.

‘I have words. Entire libraries of them, I came to talk to the djinn because there’s so little in the archives. Words won’t do.’

He sighed and gave her a look of concern.

‘You must travel further. When you return, look towards The Eternal City. Asra will help you.’

Her heart sunk at the thought of further travel.

‘The dagger is good, Mirabelle, but you will need more than blades to reach The Eternal City. When you get there, sit beneath the World Tree at fifth sunset and listen.’

She babbled questions, but he reached down and put the tip of his index finger between her eyebrows.

‘He fights for you still, and he loves you.’

Everything went black.

4.

Asra stood over her, wiped her forehead with a damp cloth as Mirabelle blinked and stared at the burnished stone overhead.

‘Mirabelle, I came to and found you like this. Are you sick?’

Mirabelle sat up and sighed.

‘Only of my burdens, Lady Asra. I need your help.’

 

 

 

Standard