In the same week when I managed the Judge's Pick at Microcosms 60, I was also runner up with this poem which included the elements: night manager, remote road and poetry. I wanted to create a sense of place, of nighttime isolation but also a feeling of tranquility and belonging. I like to think I achieved that.
Neon colours my life
Signing my presence
Across the night
On this nowhere road
Occasional gold dazzles briefly
Beams picking out
Before zooming away
Behind me, the jukebox stirs
Plays the blues
A desolate soundtrack
Drowning out the silence
Of my isolation
I stand at the door
Surveying my kingdom
A cool breeze riffling my hair
As I measure the miles of nothing
In either direction
Me and the landscape
Fit together perfectly
Deserted and desolate
In our solitary selves
This little tale was the Judge's Pick for Microcosms 60. The spinner gave me the following elements to include: veterinarian, horse ranch, horror.
Cold metal hit stone. An anxious whicker, then silence. Margaret walked between the stables. She didn’t mind the nightshift, preferring the muffled dark, the sense of calm, of tranquility. Somewhere, an owl hooted and, as she raised her eyes, a silvery ghost flew across the velvet sky.
Margaret walked on.
The call had said the mare was in the end block, a distance now seeming further than it did in the light. The green mile, she thought, suddenly nervous, noticing how the horses became more restless the nearer she got to her goal. And it was no longer just metal on stone. Hooves kicked at wood, splintered timber; wild eyes and rabid mouths hung over rotting gates, the concrete beneath her turned to mud. Margaret looked behind her, saw only a void.
Another whicker at the end of the darkness.
Despite her terror, the sound of animal pain drew her on until she stood before an open stable; inside, a shape her eyes registered as a horse, but her brain denied the classification. Grotesque and swollen, something writhed beneath the animal’s skin.
“Deliver us,” murmured a voice in the darkness. “Deliver me.”
Margaret backed away only for the horse to turn its pitiful eyes on her, its suffering forcing her forward once more. Reluctantly, she probed the birth canal, grasped skin and bone, pulled the creature from its nightmare womb. From nowhere, skeletal hands reached out and ripped the amniotic sac from the newborn. Sick with horror, she watched it struggle to its feet, grow, become fully-formed. Then dark-shadowed Death mounted its pale horse and rode out into the world.
But Margaret didn’t see them go. A dormant blood clot lurking inside suddenly shifted, claimed her with a stroke. Death had been kind, delivering she who had delivered the End.
This was my Runner Up entry for the Angry Hourglass Flash Frenzy Round 127.
Looking at the picture (courtesy Ashwin Rao) on the Saturday I really couldn't think of anything and was considering not entering BUT just as I was about to fall asleep that night, the first lines 'I have a house. It sleeps with one eye open' popped into my head.' I didn't suddenly leap out of bed and start writing but the line stayed with me, disturbing my dreams and waiting for me when I woke up. And when I finally put pen to paper, the house told its own dark story, finishing full circle on the opening lines. They demanded to be repeated. They haunted me then and still haunt me now.
I Have a House
I have a house. It sleeps with one eye open. Watchful in the wilderness, it keeps me safe. I lived there in an isolated childhood, hidden from view, never seen by anyone except the house and its guests. Its jewellery of locks and bolts kept me safe from prying eyes.
Visiting hours admitted strangers with masked faces and the house became a theatre with me as the star of the show. Sometimes I would give a private performance – just myself and one other. The floorboards both my stage and my casting couch.
I remember the wood, cold against bare skin, unyielding, unforgiving in the darkness of this nightmare womb. It was a long labour, contractions of pain lasting hours until I was delivered into silence and a mother’s hands. She would look at me with unfeeling eyes. Food and clothing meant I had passed the test; their absence, failure and another type of reward.
But I was outgrowing my role, becoming an aging star and my performances were fewer and fewer. The laws of supply and demand had struck. I had nothing more to give and everything had been taken.
Eventually, the house wrapped me up in its arms when no one else would, buried me in the cradle of its foundations, became my forever home.
I have a house. It sleeps with one eye open. We haunt each other
The following story was my entry for last week's Flash Frenzy at the Angry Hourglass. It was written in response to the photo prompt (courtesy Sean Igo) prompt below.
The Swing of the Pendulum
The grey-washed dawn rises early and my murder is almost upon me. My old friend Poe couldn’t have set the scene any better: the gloomy solitude, the shadows shifting at the edges of vision, the birds gathered above me in the ghost of trees. Those damned birds. Every single beady eye fixed on me, waiting. At least I know I can only die once, I am no Prometheus. My liver, in this instance, is safe although my doctor has long disagreed with me, warning me of the dangers of my over-indulgence. He has set the clock ticking, bequeathed me a time-frame and I have filled every minute, every hour, every day knowing that each sunrise would bring me to this moment—my last day.
I want no witnesses.
It tickles me to think that I, the one everyone declares to be easily led, a simpleton and – in muttered asides – a cuckold, will leave a mystery behind. One for you, eh Edgar?
My bones ache from the damp, a bodily discomfort I will not have to suffer much longer, so I tolerate it and my jaundiced eye remains fixed on the path ahead.
I listen and Nature listens with me. My feathered friends, those harbingers of doom, cock their heads attentively. A hundred tiny heartbeats and my own telltale heart pounding to the beat of time.
Something has disturbed the silence and I strain my hearing further. The snap of a twig. The crunch of dead leaves. The swish of a skirt. Soft guilty breath eddying towards me.
The swing of the pendulum is getting shorter.
I watch, as I have watched her so often before – although in happier times. Still the birds remain, bearing silent witness until that instance when she sees me … and the blade in my hand. Her screams disturb the watchers and the air vibrates with the thrum of their wings, their own shrieks drowning out her cries for help. And when she falls silent, I lay her down in our new marriage bed taking my rightful place beside her, closing my eyes, allowing the wind that rises to hide us beneath a coverlet of leaves.
Couldn't resist this parody - that's what a long drive up to Wales in the pouring rain does to you ...
’Twas the night before Christmas, in the mansions of Hell
Not a creature was stirring, not even an elf
For the traps had been laid out at the fireside with care
And each little elf had met his end there
The sinners were nestled all snug on their racks
While torturous visions were lashed on their back
And Azazel with his dagger, blade bloodied and sharp
Carved out young brains and dined on their hearts
When in the Stygian marsh there arose such a clatter
The Furies stormed out to see what was the matter
And Cerberus disturbed, appeared in a rage
Tore open, in anger, those he had caged
While the blood moon on the breast of flesh dead and exposed
Gave the lustre of crimson to the tormented below
When, what to my lunatic eyes should appear
But a miniature sleigh, pulled in misery and fear
With a comatose driver, no longer lively and quick
I knew in a moment, ’twas our master Old Nick
More rapid than demons, his coursers they came,
And he screamed and abused them in Lucifer’s name
‘Now Nybbus, now Abaddon, now Balaam and Balan
On Charon and Chax, on Kobal and Lilith
To the pit, to the pit, to the bottom of Hell
Dash to the place where the fallen now dwell’
As the matches that kindle a funeral pyre
When they meet with an obstacle, they set it on fire
So down to the pit, the demons they flew
With a sleigh full of torments and Old Nick too
And then in an agony, I heard more abuse
As demons tore skin with each cloven hoof
And I drew in my head, to avoid being found
When behind me, Old Nick, leapt down with a bound
He was cloaked in flayed flesh, from his head to his foot
His nails and his horns were tarnished with soot
A bundle of Harpies, he had flung on his back
The monster he was, now began his attack
His eyes how they glowed, how yellow his teeth
As the Inferno’s fires circled us all like a wreath
He had a goat’s face and a distended belly
That writhed when he laughed, the remnants of many
He was skeletal and clawed, in horrifically good health
And I screamed when I saw him, in spite of myself
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Gave me to know I had so much to dread
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work
And bound me in harness, and turned with a jerk
And smashing his fist across the bridge of my nose
Gave me a nod and of me disposed
He sprang to his sleigh, gave his demons a howl
And away they all flew, the grim and the foul
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere I drew my last breath
’Happy Christmas to me, and to you, a good death.’
A small festive offering from me this week. This was my entry for the Janet Reid, Literary Agent competition which required a story (100 words max) to contain the words: gut, lash, whip, shot and straight. The words can be part of a larger word.
A guttural roar escaped Santa’s lips as the sleigh overshot the landing and catapulted him straightinto the chimney flue; his fall, however, was broken by the whip which he still held tightly. He looked up to see Prancer holding the other end.
“You’re on the naughty list this year, Santa,” the reindeer growled. “Mrs S saw your selfies, the fluffy handcuffs, the tinsel thong …”
Prancer backed away, leaving him dangling.
A flash of light below gave Santa hope until the spark became a flame became a fire. Santa was in for a roasting of a different kind.
This was my entry for the Angry Hourglass Flash Frenzy competition last weekend. It told itself in about 10 minutes which was surprising and when I looked at the result it turned out to have quite a psychotic tone to it. However, I really enjoyed writing it so should I be worried?!
Below is the story written in response to a roadsign bearing the phrase 'From Here to Eternity'.
Composing a Sonnet
Funny how no one ever gets the message. You have to spell it out for them … literally. And even then the illiterate morons don’t get it. Take tonight for instance. They’re at it again. At the entrance to my driveway.
Mine. Mine. Mine.
Have I made that clear?
Yes? Good. Then you’ll know I have a job to do and I’m sorry. But it’s there in black and white. ETERNITY. Now with your obvious educashun, do you know what that word means? Do you, do you? You’re both looking at me as though I’m some sort of madman. Hah, you don’t know the half of it.
Eternity means forever.
And I live at that house. You can keep your Dunroamins and your Bide-a-Wees. My house is ETERNITY. It is FOREVER. So now, and I’m sorry, but there’s nothing else for it, you’re coming with me.
Him, him we can leave behind.
We can leave him HERE.
You, you are coming with me. Now please, please don’t struggle there’s a good girl. You boy, you stay put. I told you, you stay HERE. No? You don’t want to? Well, I can soon put that right. There, there, all done.
Now don’t you fret girl, I’ve got some fresh clothes you can wear, although I must say crimson is a most becoming colour against your skin. But look at you, why you’re a veritable Snow White. A rosy red apple just waiting to be bitten, just waiting …
Hush, don’t you waste your time screaming. No one’ll hear you. Not out here. Nobody ever comes out here. Except young couples like you. P’raps that’s why I opened my little guesthouse in this here vicinity. It’s back up there, off the track. Blink and you miss it. I’m not the sort to advertise. I’m what you might call exclusive. A word of mouth kind of guy. A poet even. And I have so many words for you, words to whisper in your pretty little ear. But I’m getting carried away. Come, Eternity’s waiting for us and for you I will compose a sonnet.
My found poem, Lifespan Cancelled, features in this month's Unlost Journal. Gaming insert sources are given at the end.
Maybe you’re psychic
But your iron sight
Does not make you invisible
Imprisoned since childhood
You crouch, a lone wolf
In the forge of your shame
The clock is ticking
As locked in a killing frenzy
You create your own boneyard
A dangerous covenant
Of flesh wounds and dead morals
Disguising the zealot spawned
Your thunderstorm tears
From a pool of unlimited life
For you there is no absolution
Inserts from: XBOX 360 Hitman Absolution, XBOX 360 Borderlands2, XBOX 360 Bioshock Infinite, XBOX 360 Halo
Every now and then I enter the flash fiction competition at the literary agent Janet Reid's blog and the other week I tried her 'A Lot of Books Contest'. Normally I don't get very far and again in this competition I didn't make the long list. However, she did pay me the nicest compliments ever for one of my pieces of flash:
This might just be the creepiest entry ever. In fact, I may never recover. (in other words, damn good writing)
That comment is something I will treasure!
Below is the story that prompted her comment, words in bold within the text were required elements.
His reflexes had slowed, every impulse succumbing to the cold. Slaughtered carcasses kept him company, blood congealing on bone.
“You’ll go to Hell in a handcart,” his mum had said.
It had taken her 100 minutes to die; he’d counted every one. The police thought she’d slipped on the stairs. How long would he take?
Beaten and imprisoned all for a stupid debt.
“And she was right you know,” said a voice, “although the Devil’s discarded the handcart, preferring something a bit more … compact.”
Luke stared at the ice box. Behind him an electric saw whirred into life.
Kids by Jack Rollins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Normally with an anthology I'll dip in and out over a long period but I kept reading this book until I'd finished - two evenings actually which says a lot for the quality of the stories. Enjoyed the mix of tales with some very definitely not for the squeamish. Couldn't quite work out whether little girls or little boys were the most evil, The Bones of Baby Dolls by Feind Gottes, definitely gives the girls an edge whilst The Butcher' Apprentice by David Basnett redressed the balance.
View all my reviews
A writer - I think that says it all.