Spirit Slips Away

Another flash fiction tale for you lovely readers. This one started life as an Open University Creative Writing course exercise, and then grew into a story for the local newspaper. Rock fans may guess who the fortune teller sees from the title and the image…

**********

Eva stared at the tattered card. ‘Gypsy Petulengro’ it read. ‘Fortune Teller to the Stars’. Of course, nearly every woman by the name of Petulengro called themselves that. You fell over them on every seaside pier and promenade. She had been the real thing. Both the famous and the ordinary had flocked to her for readings. Until it all went wrong.

She didn’t remember what she had been looking for when she went to the desk. Scrabbling in the drawer, pulling out pens, paper clips – and then the card. She used to have hundreds of these made up. She glared at the picture next to the writing. The woman in the photograph mocked her. The knowing smile. The hooped earrings – how predictable. The auburn mane framing a face that was more striking than pretty. The chin was too pointed, the nose too long. Yet the bright green cat’s eyes, sparkling with mischief, had fooled many an admirer into calling her beautiful.

Eva coiled a strand of grey hair round her finger. A brittle end snapped. Something snapped inside at that moment, too. Why was she hiding here, alone in her flat with only spiders and dust for company? It wasn’t her fault. Nobody except herself had thought so. Most people didn’t even believe in what she did. But she had never seen anything as clearly before. And when it happened…she couldn’t face something like that again.

Where had hiding away got her? Maybe it was time. She searched the drawer again. Yes – there it was! Still in date, thank goodness. The box of hair dye, luxuriant brown. That would be a start. There was something stuck to the box. She tugged the piece of paper away from the cardboard, and unfolded it. Her breath caught.

She remembered it as though it were yesterday. The curly haired young man, a musician, like so many who came to visit her. Laughing and asking: would he make it big? She had answered truthfully: yes, yes he would. His band would be huge, respected throughout the industry. But then she saw what came with the lifestyle: the partying, the indulgence. And after that…

How she had hidden the vision from him she would never know. He was getting ready to leave then, having heard what he wanted. He didn’t notice her face go white, her hands grip the table edge. Her body swaying with horror and pity.

Squeezing her eyes shut for a moment, she steeled herself, then opened them and faced the newspaper clipping. It was a story that had happened before, and since. Except this one was her bright young star. No more laughing. No more singing. No more music.

ROCK STAR, 27, DEAD OF LETHAL COCKTAIL OF DRUGS AND ALCOHOL.

Advertisements

The Sirens Call – Issue 25 – Things That Go Bump in the Night

I was very flattered to be offered the chance to showcase my photography in this month’s issue of The Sirens Call eZine. There’s a little interview with me as well. Thanks very much to Nina for thinking of me when it came to the artwork for this issue.
The eZine also features poetry, flash fiction, and short stories from an all female line-up, in honour of Women in Horror Recognition Month.

Click here to download your free copy!

Imprisonment

Here’s another little tale of Arith the dragon. No Ellie the witch yet; this is kind of a prequel to Don’t Cheek Witches and Through the Rainbow. There will be more to come, because of course we need to know how the two get together. 😉 This part of the story came about when writing to a prompt from my writers’ group. The prompt became the last line of the piece.
(This story originally featured in my local newspaper, the Falkirk Herald.)

**********

Arith’s chains rattled as he was marched through the town. The guards had left him enough slack to walk, but only just. The rest of his body was bound too, so tightly that the metal round his torso made no noise. He didn’t care. He deserved it. Deserved the mutters and curses of the crowd. Head down, he walked until a yank on his chains stopped him. The voices were louder now, angrier, and there were more of them. He had reached the castle courtyard.
‘Arith the Red!’ At that voice, he had to look up. He had expected the Mayor, maybe even one of the Princes. Now he understood how serious the situation was. On the platform before him stood the King himself.
‘Arith the Red,’ the King continued, ‘You have committed the most serious of crimes for your kind, the destruction by fire of the village of Lymeth, and the death of six villagers, and two unidentified others. Do you have anything to say?’
Arith tried to speak, but only a hiss escaped his dry mouth. Huge tears rolled down his cheeks.
‘What’s that?’ The King barked.
‘I’m sorry’, whispered Arith. ‘It was an accident…’ Then realising how ridiculous that sounded, he stopped.
‘An accident.’ The King spoke softly, terribly. ‘How can you call what you did an accident?’
‘I was angry…’ But Arith tailed off. It was no use. Whatever had happened before the village burned, it did not change the awful thing he had done. There was no point in trying to explain further. He hung his head again.
The crowd were murmuring again now, and a few brave souls jeered.
The King sighed. Somehow, he knew there was more to the story, but the prisoner hadn’t explained, and without witnesses, the explanation would be no help, anyway. For the creature’s own safety from the mob, (or indeed, the mob’s safety from Arith), he had to act.
‘Arith the Red, you are hereby imprisoned in the castle dungeons until I see fit. Your dungeon will be of ice, like the chains that bind you, lest you decide to disobey the law again and use your flame to escape. Take him away!’
Arith the Red Dragon of Rethmore stumbled forward as the guards pulled his chains once more. The crowd receded, some now cheering; others still booing and shouting insults. Through the inner gates, then down a winding stair that seemed to go on forever and was scarcely wide enough. As he stepped into the ice cave, his guard released the chains, coiling them and stepping back. Arith tried to stretch his wings, but could only open one at a time in his narrow prison.
The door shut, and he heard the key turn.

Women in Horror Month

I’m gruesomely delighted to be featured today on Nina D’Arcangela’s blog, Spreading the Writer’s Word, for Women in Horror Month. Join me as I chat about my favourite horror books and films. And don’t forget to check out the other posts – Nina has been doing at least one a day, the tireless lady. You may discover some new favourite writers.

Oh yes, and here’s a link to find out what else is going on for Women in Horror Month.

Hmmf, Didn’t Get A Dragon For Christmas

Pic courtesy of stuffpoint.com

Pic courtesy of stuffpoint.com

I did get lots of lovely presents for Christmas this year, but sadly still no dragon, unicorn, or even winged horse. Oh well. I’ll just have to continue writing about the ones in my head. 😉

This story featured on the BBBGals blog a few months ago, so now it gets to appear on mine. The tale follows on from my flash fiction Don’t Cheek Witches (Even If You’re A Dragon). Arith and Ellie have already acquired a few fans, who will be pleased to know that I’ve written another story about them (well, about Arith), and I have yet another partly done. So they’ll be back in the future sometime, too.

I had the song ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ as a prompt to write this story. It’s a beautiful song and Judy Garland’s voice is amazing, but funnily enough The Wizard Of Oz was never a favourite of mine – too cutesy. (I prefer the darker tone of Wicked.) It got me thinking: what if going over the rainbow wasn’t so nice? I wanted to portray the rainbow as something sinister. I’ve channelled a bit of Oz, Harry Potter, and Terry Pratchett in this fantasy piece. Its tone is quite light, but I’ve hinted that what’s on the other side of the rainbow isn’t…

Through The Rainbow

‘So,’ Arith grumbled as his tail swished out the last embers of the fire, ‘Can we go up the castle, or not?’

Ellie hid a smile behind her sleeve. ‘Yes. I promised, didn’t I? A witch doesn’t break her promises.’

Arith snorted, promptly starting another small blaze. ‘Oops!’ he said, and stamped on that to put it out.

‘I’m not sure a majestic dragon should be saying “Oops”‘, remarked Ellie. ‘Have you been playing with my little sister again?’

‘No,’ muttered Arith. He flexed his claws, to show what a majestic dragon he really was.

‘Come on, idiot,’ Ellie said affectionately. ‘We’re done with spell casting for today. Let’s go and make some mischief.’

The young witch climbed onto Arith’s back, her bare toes gripping the rough armour plating, fingers clasped round the spines on his neck. With another snort, this time of joy, the dragon took off. Their camp at the water’s edge shrunk to the size of a match head as Arith caught an updraft. Ellie looked down, her eyes squinting against the red-gold sparkle of the dragon’s scales.

The river became a silver snake winding below them, leading the way to the castle. The rainy morning had given way to a bright afternoon, and Ellie unclipped her ponytail, letting her fair hair dry in the breeze.

‘Did you cast your invisibility spell?’ Arith shouted above the whoosh of his wing beats.

‘Of course,’ Ellie replied primly. Dragons were invisible to those who didn’t have magic, but witches lived in the everyday world as well. They could be seen unless they spelled it otherwise. It wouldn’t do to be spotted whizzing through the air on the back of – nothing. In fact, it wouldn’t do to be spotted whizzing through the air full stop.

The dragons who guarded the castle – unseen by the general public, of course – were a stuck-up lot, proud of their duty and forever letting everyone know how important they were. Arith (and secretly, Ellie as well) liked to take them down a peg; challenging them to duels, reminding them that they weren’t free to roam where they wished, and generally making a nuisance of themselves.

Today, however, as they approached, all was not as it should be. At first, it appeared to be an ordinary rainbow, arching above the turrets and keep. Then, Ellie noticed that it was dropping in height, enveloping the highest towers – which shimmered, then vanished.

‘What the heck…’ began Arith, as he too saw this strange occurrence, just as Ellie shouted ‘Faster, Arith! The castle’ll be gone in a minute!’

Arith often described his witch as bossy, but this time he heard the genuine urgency in her tone, and beat his wings as fast as he could. ‘What do you mean, gone?’ he yelled.

‘That’s a doorway to another world!’ Ellie was muttering incantations between her explanations. ‘A parasite world, come to steal from ours. We have to stop it!’

‘Oh great.’ muttered Arith. ‘What about the castle warlocks? Can’t they do anything?’

‘If they haven’t already, they’re probably trapped.’ Ellie was now rolling a ball of magical energy between her palms. ‘Besides, you were the one who called them a bunch of doddering old fools.’

Arith grinned, but then frowned. Much as the castle spellcasters and their snobbish dragons annoyed him, he didn’t like the thought of anything bad happening to them.

‘Get as close as you can, but don’t touch it!’ Ellie jumped to a crouch on Arith’s back.

The dragon realised she was about to throw her spell. ‘Don’t you fall off, either,’ he warned, banking smoothly.

The rainbow had now engulfed most of the castle. It had dropped so low, Arith realised, that he could get higher than it. He glided up until he was safely above the last arc of colour, then looked down.

There was no sign of the castle. A black-edged hole in the swirling colours revealed a confused impression of fields of wild flowers and – cabbages? There was a forest, and a strange red and yellow road.

Ellie yelled ‘Keep still!’ and hurled her spell.

The ball exploded with a bewildering roar of noise. Ellie dropped flat on Arith’s back, and he didn’t need to be told twice. He rolled away from the disintegrating colours and shot off as fast as possible. Looking back, he was just in time to see the rainbow twinkle out of existence and the castle take its place, seeming none the worse for wear for its ordeal.

‘Did we do it?’ he asked, as Ellie struggled to a sitting position. He circled so they were facing the right direction.

‘Yes, thank the Goddess.’ Ellie patted his neck. ‘Great flying, gorgeous.’

Arith snorted a small flame, but Ellie knew he was pleased.

‘I suppose we better go and see if everyone’s all right,’ he said, ‘Now that we’ve saved the day.’

They landed on the roof of the Great Hall, out of the way of the tourists milling below. The general public seemed unaware that anything momentous had happened, although a few were muttering about how dark it had got for a while.

‘I wonder what they’d have done if they stepped out of the castle into a different world?’ Arith mused. ‘It looked – weird…’

Ellie shuddered. ‘Don’t even ask. I know the non-magicals are annoying, but no-one deserves to live there.’

Arith resolved to ask Ellie more about parasite worlds. It sounded like she knew the one he had seen. His little witch was a mystery to him much of the time.

An elderly warlock was hurrying toward them, followed by others, streaming like ants from the door to the roof. Robes flapped around the skinnier ones, while the fatter gentlemen puffed and panted at the rear, not accustomed to so many stairs.

‘Ellie!’ The old man exclaimed. ‘Was that you? By the time we realised what was happening, we were stuck in the dungeons!’ No longer needed to house prisoners, the dungeons were the warlocks’ usual abode.

Arith growled. ‘Where were the dragons? They’re supposed to guard the castle. Where are they now?’

‘Look!’ Ellie pointed to the nearest tower. A stone dragon sat atop it, snarling, a front paw raised with claws unsheathed.

Everyone gasped.

‘Over there!’ another warlock exclaimed. ‘And there!’ All four of the castle dragons sat atop a tower, ready to defend their abode, and each one had been turned to stone.

‘We can undo it!’ The warlocks huddled together, discussing the best way to change the dragons back. Ellie looked on, amused.

Arith head-butted her. To her surprise, he looked as though he was about to cry.

‘Is that what would have happened to me if I touched the rainbow?’ he asked.

‘Maybe. Or maybe it was some magic sent ahead to neutralise the castle’s first line of defence.’ Ellie scowled. ‘I hate parasite worlds.’

‘They’ll be able to change them back, right?’

‘Oh yes. They may be a bunch of crazy old men, but they can unpetrify someone like that.’ Ellie snapped her fingers. ‘Why, Arith,’ she teased, ‘Don’t tell me you’d miss those stuck up, snobbish…’

‘All right, all right!’ Arith glared at her, after sneakily wiping a paw over his eyes. ‘I’d have no-one to – annoy, that’s all.’

‘Come on,’ said Ellie. ‘I think we’d better come back another day.’ Sparks were beginning to fly from the warlocks’ fingertips. A few of them landed dangerously close to Arith’s tail.

‘When they set the castle on fire, we’ll come back and rescue them again,’ Arith agreed. ‘I always thought it would be one of those idiot reptiles who would do that.’ He crouched a little to make it easier for Ellie to climb onto his back once more.

‘Ellie!’ The warlock who had been first on the scene was hurrying towards them. His face, indeed his whole bald head, was rather pink. Arith paused.

‘Um…I just realised we didn’t say thank you. For dealing with the parasite world. So, thank you.’ The old man gave a beaming smile which Arith recognised at once.

Ellie beamed back.

‘You’re welcome, Grandpa.’

Fallen (A Creepy Flash Fiction For Halloween)

I wrote this nasty little tale for The Sirens Call ezine, last December. The story had to feature Death (with or without the capital ‘D’). With a tiny tweak, here it is for All Hallows Eve. Enjoy (although I’m not sure that’s the right word)…

**********

At first, he doesn’t believe he’s falling.

It’s only when the black-blue bruise of the sky is rushing away from him that he realises he’s gone over.

He grabs for something, anything, but she’d had more power than he thought possible. He can’t reach anything to stop his fall. How could something so small have such strength?

Forever and no time at all passes. The air is unforgiving as it gashes him with frozen knives. His body twists into shapes it has never made before; an echo of the pointless writhing and squirming she once did to escape. He tries to scream, like her, but his voice is pulled from him in a pathetic squeak. Fear savages his mind. The stars flash with laughter as they watch his final moments.

He evacuates all his waste as he hits the ground with a sickening thud. He doesn’t hear that, or smell the stench of his bodily fluids. He doesn’t feel the blood exiting the back of his head and pooling around his neck. But his mind is still working, in a body beyond repair. He wonders what happens next. Some primal part of him knows he is dead, or dying.

The sky changes from a bruise to a wound, as a red maw opens above him and regurgitates a nightmare.

Etiolated fingers reach for him, ragged lips stretch in a rictus of evil. The thing has his own features, warped into the face that truly lies beneath his own skin. He whimpers as it speaks.

“Come, Steve,” the creature whispers, “It’s just a bit of fun. Don’t tell Mummy, remember? This is our little game…”

His blackened soul yells and screams and begs, but his Death ignores him as it scoops him up and carries him towards the hideous rip in the night sky.

She still stands on the crag, little hands balled into fists at her waist. Smiling as she surveys his broken body below. Grinning at the creature that carries his soul to his ultimate fate. Her lips form words he can’t hear.

Death enlightens him, bringing its hideous mouth close to his ear. A putrid stench caresses his face, stinking of beer and chips and cigarettes. His own breath.

“She says, ‘Happy Halloween, Father’.”

The Sirens Call – Issue #22 – Supernatural Horror

I’m a busy bee just now! I’m so pleased to feature in the fantastic FREE ezine The Sirens Call this month. Check out my twisted tale on page 4, along with lots of other great horror stories, features and artwork.

(For my short story, I had another little play with a local legend, but in a more sinister and gruesome way…)

The Witches Craig, pic by Karen Soutar