Friday, 13 June 2008

The sight of summer

Lillies and rosemary dappled her hair, his lady blossomed in the sunlight. He reached out his hand to help her and she stepped down three garden stairs onto the dew spattered grass.
They were welcoming the dawn in summer, the solstice was upon them.
It was the 21st day of June and they had sneaked over a high wall using a borrowed wooden ladder. They balanced along the tops of the thick brick wall that housed one of the many gardens of Hanley Hall, until they reached a sturdy trellis they thought they might use to descend.
Though it creaked and it strained, these two lithe creatures did not break the wooden latches that allowed tangled vines and creepers to flow upwards, closer to the glowing sun.
And then, running through the Victorian garden, barefoot upon cool morning stone, their clothes and locks flowed with the movement of their youthful grace, their joy and love, like wild ponies prancing.
He bounded now, ahead of her, and jumped through the open gate (left unlocked the day before) into the wonderful hillside meadow at the edge of Lord Hanley’s estate.
Before him the beautiful patchwork of the English countryside cascaded down to the valley and villages below. An amazing sight, the sight he had come to see, paying true homage to the first rise of the midsummer sun.
It was then that he turned around. Turned around and saw his love standing in the gateway of the old garden, staring not at the view but at him. Her eyes told him this was the view she’d come for. Not the first auburn flares of the seasoned sun; not the field and hedgerows, birds and foxes, bathed again in the magical warmth of midsummer. She had come for him.
And as he helped her down into the meadow’s thick green grasses, even he, this lover of the dawn and worshipper of the ever travelling sun, could not unlock his gaze from the wonderful reflection of her eyes.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Stormy weather

Imagine if you spent time labouring over every decision you ever made, every step which took you in a new direction, every person you looked towards.
That was Colin, this was how he was, how he approached most situations.
You see, Colin thought about the future. Colin realised that when he boarded a train he needed to be careful. The decisions he made could change the entire course of his life.
The correct choice of carriage might offer something as simple as a pleasant and quiet place to sit and read. This was important. But then, upon boarding, which side of the carriage to sit on? One may contain that boring guy from the office that Colin always tries to avoid; or it may be holding Chris, who owes him money.
Then, choice of seat is important too. Sitting in the right seat may give the opportunity for some eye contact and subtle flirting with a girl. She might be the girl he’s going to marry, or she might just be willing to sleep with him. Either way, he realises that choice of seat is imperative.
Of course, if he thought about this for too long, and in too much depth, his brain would start to frazzle a little as he realised that stepping inexplicably to the left at any moment might take him out of the path of some unseen falling masonry, or bird shit at the very least!
The difference between a clean and excrement covered shirt might be the difference between a job offer, an interesting conversation with a stranger, perhaps a woman noticing him.
But he realised, almost immediately, he couldn’t live his life like that, constantly second guessing what nature and physics had planned for him. And even if he did, like in the case of the train, realise that his choice was stark and potentially meaningful, should he set himself a rule for decision making such as ‘always go with your first instinct’, or perhaps ‘always do the opposite of what you first consider’? Would such a rule even help him to choose what was the right thing to do?
In the end, all this pondering left him with the realisation that we are all whims to the breezes of fate. Who knows if the right people are going to blow into our lives or not; who knows if we will blow into theirs, and at the right time to affect them?
Colin didn’t believe that luck was anything more than a superstition, but good fortune could be described as having these whimsical breezes work out for you, once in a while.
As Colin sat in the middle carriage, to the right of the train doors, in the second row of seats, first seat on the left facing the direction of travel, he wondered if he was sitting in the eye of a whimsical hurricane.
He stared at the drunk brunette sitting across from him for a few seconds before she stood up and blew away from him forever.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Too much salt

Sienna played with her food. Her pasta tasted too salty, there was never enough pepper on it. She ground out some more and sniffed at the food so that tiny granules of pepper dust tickled at her nostrils. She tried to see if she could stand the tingle, ignore it and control the temptation to sneeze.
She held herself perfectly upright and waited. She blew a little air out of her nose, snorting like a bull. She was calm and in control of her body. She stared with burning concentration out through the kitchen and down the hall where her husband lay.
She’d pushed him down the stairs earlier.
After the palpitations had stopped and she was no longer shaking, she plucked up enough courage to descend the staircase and see if he was still alive.
When she reached the hallway, taking care to step over his body, Sienna found it difficult to be certain of his state of health. She always had difficulty taking a pulse, so she didn’t bother with that. He may have been breathing, shallowly; all she could be sure of was that he was unconscious. He was definitely unconscious.
It was at that point that she realised she was quite hungry. She thought she may as well prepare some pasta. The pappardelle softened and flowed around in the bubbling water on her stove like seaweed or huge tapeworms.
She strained it before it got too soft, added a tomato sauce and grated mozzarella on top. It smelled delightful, but she couldn’t eat it. Just too salty for Sienna. It was always something with Sienna, she would always be complaining about something, always whingeing and moaning and asking her husband for something. No wonder he got angry with her.
Outside her husband groaned. Sienna sneezed.
Her left hand was shaking a little so she pushed her fork slowly into the skin on her left forearm until the shaking stopped. Then, rising purposefully, she moved around the edge of the kitchen table, passed through the open door and stepped along the hall.
Her husband’s head jerked spasmodically and his hands seemed to be reaching, slowly, for the bottom of the balustrade.
She sneezed again and this time she saw him open his eyes and look right into her.
Time hung around her like a curtain made of bridal silk. She was lost in her life for a moment, lost in her youth and beauty, lost in the words he had said to her.
She remembered every time he touched her.
Then time came crashing down around them both and she peeled her eyes from his, allowing them to rest instead upon the baseball bat they kept by the door: ‘to deal with intruders’.
She didn’t even take the time to think of the best place to hit him, in order to keep his injuries consistent with a tumble down the stairs.
Stifling a sneeze, Sienna just swung away.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

The right thing

We ran like wolves in the morning air and the farmer chased us home.
Diving over stone lain walls and through fair thickets of gorse, we flew, Joey and I.
I looked back at him as we raced through Crockett’s Field; my little brother, carrying a pig under his arm and still bounding away from the pursuing farmer like we were racing in play. I smiled back with pride and he smirked - we were nearly at Crockett’s Wood and the farmer would never find us in there.
Before we reached the tree-line, the cruel farmer stopped running, readied his weapon and squeezed off both barrels of his shotgun. I immediately slowed and turned around to make sure Joey had made it. He careered on by me without a care in the world and I gestured my disapproval towards the farmer with my right hand, while picking up a hard grey stone with the other. The farmer readied himself to fire again as I ducked into the cool dark of the wood.
Joey was nowhere to be seen, but I could hear the squealing of the baby pig issuing from the woodland depths. “Kill the damned thing,” I hissed through gritted teeth, “stick it now!” Up the slow roll of the sloping field trudged the farmer, gun-toting and steely.
There was little time to find Joey and silence the swine. We had a chance to escape the hot buckshot by using the tree cover, but the idea had been to climb and hide in silence. Now this small animal threatened both our lives.
I skipped between the trees, my eyes on the ground, my ears pricked for the piglet. Bounding over the ageless roots that grew like twisted tumours in the ancient recesses of the forest I heard the cracking of twigs and the shifting of branches that said the farmer was not far behind. When this was followed by the report of a weapon and the sound of shot thudding into a trunk, I had to end my pursuit of Joey and climb the nearest tree for sanctuary.
Heart pounding I scanned the forest floor below for signs of movement. The pig whimpered on somewhere nearby, but I could not see it or my brother below.
And then came the farmer into the scene. I remember him, a brooding presence in cap and weather-beaten coat, his face was never clear. He seemed to have locked onto something now and advanced with stealth and purpose, gun poised and pointed at some large green ferns nearby. As he came towards my tree I pulled out the cold grey stone from my pocket and held it over the edge of my branches, waiting for the target to pass underneath.
I was sweating so much and felt that the noise of my pounding heart would surely give away my position at any moment. Still, he was beneath me now and all I had to do was open my hand and put him down.
“Drop it, drop it now,” the words ran repeatedly through my head, but I found myself fighting them hard. It wasn’t me, to do this. I couldn’t maim this man, no matter what harm he had suggested to do me.
As he passed by safely, without hope of return and another chance of falling under my stone, I remember being struck by such pangs of guilt. Yes, I had avoided the possibility of causing serious injury to this man, but I had left him to my brother; I had deserted Joey.
I find it hard to describe this feeling, but it was like something nearly frozen was being pumped all over my body, that’s all I can say about it.
There he was, the farmer, parting the ferns now with the end of his shotgun, getting ready to catch and then punish my poor brother. I sat there though, remained in my tree and did nothing while the scene unfolded, while the farmer slowly prodded inside and the pig began to squeal. He then stamped the ferns down flat and I closed my eyes, waiting for the scream.
But no more noise came.
I opened half of one eye and squinted to see the farmer bending down to retrieve a lone piglet. He rummaged around the rest of the thick vegetation but found nothing. Joey was nowhere to be seen and relief flooded my senses, melting my juddering body.
He soon gave up and, with a stern look about him, the farmer marched away from the ill twilight of Crockett’s Wood.
I waited up there, in the tree, for what must have been five minutes before risking the drop to the floor. Once on the ground I crouched and gave our secret call - three croaks and a twitter - like the woodcock. Suddenly, Joey crashed to the forest floor behind me.
“I dropped the pig, I’m very sorry Henry,” he said and looked like he was going to cry. “I did try hard to find him again, very hard, I swear I did.”
I wanted to hug him then and tell him how scared I was for him and that I was sorry I didn’t do a better job of protecting him, but my brain was numb and I couldn’t order my thoughts any longer.
So I just grabbed him by the collar and turned for home, dragging him through the forest with contempt.
He was my little brother, you see. I was wretched and he was my responsibility, so we just always did what we did.
Somehow, this always seemed to be alright.

Monday, 9 June 2008

The curse of Berabenar

Berabenar had cursed himself. A transformation spell gone horribly wrong, his body was in disarray surging into uncontrollable creatures, shapes and other ungodly things. Only the Green Witch could help him now, could stop his bodily flux. So he set off on a tiring and bewildering journey to her door, as his body pulsed into everything you (or he) could imagine.
Great boils pockmarked the wizard's flesh, before it became bark and the boils were simply gnarls in the wood. He had been walking for a mere thirty seconds before his legs, at once horse and lizard, became pond weed and he collapsed like harvested corn.
His fingers oozed, but every now and then they became solid enough for him to drag his infinite carcass another step or so along the road. The night was as black as the soul of Azamoth, and he was thankful that the sun's tyrant master had sewn up the very eyes of the stars so that no light could illuminate his grotesquery.
He oozed ever onward. Two hours had passed and his blasphemy had ailed Berabenar. Longing for sustenance, he saw that his form became more gelatinous, more able to spread across the dark lane. A huge spider happened across his path. His teeth were leaves but his tongue was of a frog and he lashed the spider with horrible force and spontaneity. It retracted into his beak, biting horribly at his feathery cheeks, and then it was gone, crushed into the lava of flesh and fauna beyond.
He guessed he was still an hour's slide from the door of Hulldimble, the Green Witch of the North Pastures. She lived on the village's north-eastern edge so he needn't risk detection and certain immolation by passing through the streets of Casterdale.
Then, growing the strong legs of some giant tarantula he found the strength and speed to scuttle onward to his goal, the spider had burned in the furnace of his body and revitalised him. As he approached the village boundaries his legs began to pool. They flowed like ugly syrup now, and he felt himself collapsing into this sludge. A horse whinnied and he looked in horror as a lone rider approached him.
The shadow of the forest canopy provided cover from the eyes of the rider. A strong man, probably travelling home after some secret assignation, rode as quietly as possible over the cobbled ground. He hushed the horse, who no doubt smelt the rotting of a creature in the forest before him. The wizard had no control and his tongue slithered greedily and flatly across the forest carpet to the edge of the sturdy Casterdale pathway.
The horse stepped onto the simple slime that was now Berabenar and reared up. The rider caught hold of the reins and steadied. The horse bucked and turned around, its legs seemed to sink into something acidic and it cried out. Thrashing frantically the steed loosed the rider and gained the strength to bolt away though its limb twisted and broke and the horse collapsed into a verge.
The rider had fallen face-first into the puddle of moss and scum. Ferns grew and twisted around his head so he could not scream, would never scream. Roses grew through his body and leech like arms attached themselves to his body or vanished into orifices. His body convulsed in seeming agonies but no cries could be heard.
At last the flesh formed again and engulfed the man. The wizard took on a truer form, though he was now eight feet tall and carried the bulk of a man who had feasted on man. Replenished, and in some control of his flux, he staggered onwards. Torches now flickered in the village, stirred by the neighs of the broken horse. The wizard faltered, sweating, but his path was straight now and time evaporated until the moment he crashed through the door of Hulldimble's cottage.
She was feeding a serpent from her breast. She looked up and smiled…

Thanks to Matt for the inspiration for this tale.