old and new

At just before midnight last night, and thanks to a writing prompt from Chasing Dreams Publishing, I got the motivation to write a brand new piece of flash.  The writing prompt was simply some words which had to be included in the story – those words are the penultimate line, if it still matters.

I didn’t exactly know where it was going at first, but then slowly I got the idea that this character was racing death to do something for herself, and it all went from there.  I hope you enjoy it.

Old And New

In the morning they sailed into the sun. It lit the water ahead and either side of them, turning the waves to molten bronze. She stared. Over the side, wood and tar meshed into one, living materials bound together to make new life. Brown wood and black tar, it stretched away until it all turned to gold. If the ship hadn’t been so damn tall, she would have thrown her arms into the water to the shoulder, soaking up the light and washing the old world from her like soot.

With the sun overhead they sailed on. Blue above, blue below. The old world was far behind them now and there was nothing to be seen in any direction except that blue, so empty. So alone. They told her to wait below while the day was at its hottest but she couldn’t bear it – somebody had to care for the sea and sky. She coughed into her handkerchief, put it away without looking at it.

When she did that twice more, they urged her below decks with their hands on her forearms.

She dreamed that the sun was at her back, that it opened her dress up like a sail and swept her up into the sky. She sighed with relief – the blue would be alone no more! But like all dreams it ended, and she awoke, and through the wood that was once alive she heard all the others shifting, snoring, moaning. She went back on deck.

Now the sun was nowhere, and this time she looked into her handkerchief when she coughed, wiping the viscous fluid from her lips and inspecting it in the moonlight. The romantic part of her saw silver; every other part saw dark red.

The captain was about. He inspected his crew briefly, giving soft orders and small, inconsequential corrections. He was a good man, they said. A brave man. Satisfied, he left the deck and went back below.

In the port, he had kissed her hand.

The days slipped by. She spent more time below decks, mercifully cut off from the other passengers’ sight – but they could hear her. Some made soothing sounds to her through the timber, though in the end most of them begged her to stop. Stop coughing and let them sleep. She didn’t blame them. It was a noisy, unpleasant business. In the old world she would have been bedridden. In the new world, perhaps, too. But this was neither, this was a world of silver and bronze, a world of blue skies and black tar where sunlight made you fly.

But like all journeys, it ended, and they carried her to the shore, and her dress flowed through their hands, and her necklace clinked softly with every step. She didn’t speak. Her eyes fluttered. They held her still. Finally she forced her eyelids open, her pupils wide, then narrowing slowly as the smile grew on her lips.

“My lady?” they asked.

She didn’t speak. Her tongue was dry. The new world was good.

It wasn’t quite what she expected, but still . . .

But still . . .

Emblem Black (2)

the roots of education

It has been an eternity since I last posted.  You will hear no excuses from me – it is how to is.

Without further ado, here’s something I wrote just now.  I would appreciate any feedback as the style is, I think, a little different from how I normally do things.

Bitter Roots

My whole life, I’ve only ever grown one tree. People say to me: Mateusz, if you only grow one thing, you can’t call yourself a farmer.

They may be right – but I do not accept their truth.

For I, Mateusz, know that I am a farmer, and will always be.

The only place this tree can grow is in the desert. It grows quickly and it grows slowly: quickly undergound, a hulking, twisted mass of roots that goes deep, deep, but never shows – slowly, unbearably slowly above.

Other trees put up a shoot, grow tall, then grow strong, but not this one. It pushes up from the ground, already so thick the stoutest man couldn’t embrace it, but still so small that even a child could step over it.

Every day I walk miles to bring it water, and I eat its bitter roots. Every day the tree grows more roots and I choke them down.  With my teeth I grind the brittle, dusty things to powder. The powder cloys, it sticks, and I spare myself a little water so I can swallow. But I am a farmer and I do it gladly, for the tree teaches me.

It teaches me how to mend my shoes, how to protect myelf from the sun, and how to walk all day without getting lost. It teaches me gratitude for my rare visitors with their gifts of honey and beef and bread. It strengthens my will every time I refuse to leave with them. When they are gone, it teaches me who I am.

When the wolves come, it teaches me how to fight.

I will only ever grow one tree, and it is a tree not often farmed. You must toil to grow this tree, and never stop, and live a bare life, and spend much of it alone. If you are lucky, it may take only twenty years to bear fruit.

But then.

You take that fruit back to your village – it’s the sweetest and most delicious fruit in the country, they say – and they sell it, and merchants come from far away, and they buy it, because it is not just the most delicious fruit in the country, it is more than that: there is no other like it in the whole world.

And only you know the secret.

Only you know how to care for the tree.

And still they won’t call you a farmer, for there is no word for what you are now.

But I, Mateusz, know that I am a farmer, and will always be.

Emblem Black (2)

jack london’s three paragraphs

A lie, really, because it isn’t by Jack London, and it isn’t even three paragraphs.  I was looking for inspiration and saw a quote (which London did write).  Immediately, something within me said: flash fiction.  So I got ready to write three strong paragraphs and produced this desperate, clichéd trash*.  It just goes to show that forcing yourself to have an idea, even with all my practice, produces mixed results.

*Author’s appraisal.  Reader experience may vary.

His hunger fed upon what he read, and increased.”

I suppose I should have known by the way his glasses had that opaque kind of shine to them. That’s something that only really happens in comics and films. I know that now. In my defence, I don’t think there was ever any chance for me. From the first moment he opened his little black notebook and began to scribble, that was it.

I saw them all, a whole wall of soft, leather-bound notebooks. When he wasn’t writing them he was reading them. I saw his chair, the upholstery almost worn through but the seat as firm and proud as if the springs were put in that morning. I don’t even know what I was doing there; I just was. I don’t know why I put my hand on that particular notebook but I did.

I should never have begun reading but, when you think about it, how could I not?

Because there was everything in there. Everything since I first looked into those opaque glasses at the park. Everything including breaking into that house and seeing the notebooks. Everything except what I do next.

Even this thought process – these exact lines – it was all in there. But I can see out of the corner of my eye that the writing will stop soon. And then what? Do I have to wait until he comes back and writes more? What happens when he closes the book forever and puts it on his shelf?

I already know the answer: it will be the end of me.  After that I’ll exist only for him. After everyone who ever knew me is dead, there he’ll be, reading the story of me in the same chair, and when he’s sucked every last breath of me from my story I expect he’ll throw the book out.

He’s got plenty more.

Emblem Black (2)

channelling poe

NeedleInTheHay.net called it “lyrical beauty”.  I like that.  The challenge this time came, fittingly enough, from a dead man: Martin Heidegger.

Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man.

I say ‘fittingly’ because the brief called for 600 words of horror, into which contestants also had to somehow work the theme of the “power of language”.

Those of you who know me know that I am not the kind of man to write about ghosts and ghoulies and that, when I dip into the horror genre, I like to do so in a more creeping, subtle way.  When the themes of language and horror came together in the same brief, I thought about Poe.  What would he do?

If you go and check out the WINNER ANNOUNCEMENT, you’ll see that Sophie Macdonald took the trophy with her excellent story My Best Friend, a story with remarkable – but not obvious – links to my own.  In both our stories, we explored the question: ‘Can you be cursed by language?’  And although Ms Macdonald and I both said ‘yes’, the way we went about it is different.  In her story, it is a quite literal curse, and in my own – in a humble homage to Poe – the curse comes entirely from the mind of the protagonist.

Following judges’ feedback, I have made some minor improvements which have pushed it over the 600-word mark, but – as always – I am glad to receive any and all feedback from my readers.  Enjoy!

Read up on Sophie Macdonald HERE

Swallowed Whole

It’s time to go out.

The poem will never be finished. I understand that now. For when it’s finished, it will swallow me whole. How arrogant to even imagine I could capture you, trap you down on paper.

The diamond of her face as she slept

Her scent, drawing me as a beacon draws ships to the safety of harbour

The silver sheen of her hair at night. . .

Pure arrogance.

Outside, the night is black and full of everything. Everything. A year I’ve been trapped, exiled in that room, eating because food was brought, sleeping only from exhaustion, my head upon the desk.

And still it isn’t finished.

But outside: Everything. My bare arms prickle with sweat in the warmth of the night, my feet moving as if they’re only now learning what it is to truly walk. Not to pace. Not to pace one room, endlessly, from wall to window, but to stretch and move.

So many smells. So many good smells: seafood; the sharp tang of spices; rich, greasy meat; baked bread; cocktails of sauces and dressings; piss from the alleyway, strong with ammonia – but that’s good, too. Everything is good.

Lanterns festoon the street, end to end, and the colours . . . had I forgotten about them? I must have written the colour of your hair. I must have, but now . . .

All the things I’ve missed, my year alone. You weren’t there.

You aren’t here either, in this street lined with bright pools of light, with tacky jewellery stands, with mountains of deep-fried doughnuts lost in clouds of sugar, all of it undeniably alive. Of course you aren’t here. You don’t belong here any more.

I drink the Everything in, I touch every surface. My senses draw me on, ever further from my door. I want to remember, not to disappear again. At home, there is only silence, and a poem that can’t be finished.

I open my mouth, taste the air. Midnight approaches and still people boil along the market street. Elbows scrape against my ribs, hair brushes my arm, something wet and cold – I don’t care what – splashes my leg.

The voices . . . a mad grindwheel, scratching at my ears like passionate fingernails. After the silence of my room, it’s agony, but if I had the power to stop it, I wouldn’t. I’m alive. You died, I remain. Perhaps I forgot to die with you, perhaps I wanted to finish your poem first. Perhaps, even, I hoped it would bring you back.

Foolish.

Arrogant.

It lies unfinished, and I’m alive And I know now: I want to stay. I cannot embrace your cold, lingering traces any longer. It’s time to colour our memories with new experiences, fresh ones to flavour the old. It’s time to–

. . . drawing me to her . . .

Your scent.

No.

I take the alley, forging into darkness. Here it’s cooler, with vague silhouettes lurking from the shadows. I must escape. I burst out into a street lit not by lanterns, but by streetlights. More puddles lie on the road here, shining–

. . . silver sheen. . .

No!

I run. Why has it come? Why now?

Ahead, the harbour. The last place you ever were. We met here, once. But now I see: my poem isn’t at home.

It’s here, waiting for me at the jetty.

And here’s how to finish it:

A kiss.

It washes my feelings away, washes everything away. The silence feels like bliss. The waters close over my head, harbour lights shimmering above me. Below me, the diamond of your face.

Finally finished.

Emblem Black (2)

in my nightmares

How do you cure a non-biological disease?  This week you will be able to read the conclusion of the story which started HERE and was rewritten HERE
Please enjoy, and don’t forget to provide feedback, should you have any.

I don’t hold out much hope of recovery. I think there is a good chance it’s already too late for this quarter; that it is no boil at all but a cancer, and one that has eaten too deep. Certainly, it can not be cut out. Or, indeed, perhaps I am no more effective than the spiritual healers of my homeland, whose trade survives on fabricated tales, on coincidence and serendipitous recoveries. My studies were never so nebulous. I pledged to first do no harm, and then to balance risk and benefit.

If I do nothing, or if I talk but take no action, the plague will one day come to me. That violates the first principle. If I unleash my rage against the perpetrators – once I have located them, of course – I risk damaging the host while strengthening the disease, in the same way that a drinker simply absorbs his first bottle with no noticeable effect. And this without even mentioning the inevitable retribution against myself, which would make a second dose impossible.

With both inaction and direct action out of the picture, what remained to me for my decision? For fifteen years now, I have patched, repaired, cleaned, and replaced. I come here as often as I can – mostly once a week, though sometimes my work keeps me away longer. So, why do I do it?

I do it because I haven’t given up; I do it because I can. I do it because this is the only thing I can think of to do. But there is also one unspoken reason, a reason that keeps me awake in the few hours I have to sleep – I do it because, deep within, I know that this is my life now. Even in my dreams, paint drips from the walls, and glass plinks down from cracked panes. As long as I live, there’s work to be done. No one helps.

And in my nightmares, I live forever.

Emblem Black (2)

still living forever

Hello, Monday!  Breaking with tradition, I’ve decided to upload something on time.  Please enjoy an update to the story from before entitled: I Live Forever.
I give you the next part, plus the first part again, rewritten for style, sense, and a tie-in to the world of Eormen.
If, for some reason, you want to see the original, it is still available HERE
See you in a week!
Update: the final part is available to read HERE

 

I Live Forever

Why do I do it? I suppose that is the question that most comes to mind when people see me at work. In one or two months, three at the most, everything is going to look exactly as it does now, so why do I do it? Why bother, when nobody else makes the effort? Why waste my time and silver when others clearly have no intention of doing the same?

Why do I do it?

Tonight, I’m working on the window. It is the fourth broken window this year, and it is only April. After the pieces have been taken out and the hole boarded up, after the empty space has been prepared to receive the new window (already ordered, of course), I’ll move on to cleansing the obscene daubings from the windowsill.

I recognise the signature, though naturally I wouldn’t recognise the author if I met them on the streets. There are probably a thousand possible candidates. It is now impossible to count the number of gangs roaming the streets in this quarter of the city; poor gangs, apprentice gangs, some slightly-more-progressive mixed gangs – the rich gangs, more properly called ‘bands’ do not come to this part – and then our new addition: the refugee gangs.

You surely do not need me to tell you that peace, whether through victory or defeat, is the most distant of dreams. My generation was the last to know what it meant.

Happily, I am no refugee, in as much as I never fled from war, though I will never belong here, either. When I was young, coming to the city to study the medicine at the Great College of Thenos, my colour clearly set me apart. When I returned to my own land, I was still the outsider; I had learned too much. I was able to watch as freedoms were removed, as whole families were removed – first from sight, and then from the face of the earth.

And because I had learned too much, I knew that they would come for me too, one day. My knowledge of freedom was a threat, my ability to speak my mind, to speak through the filter of experience, and not of prescribed doctrine, was a threat. I returned to the city that had educated me from my land, and I returned to making sick people well. But I was not a refugee. There was no war.

Not yet.

Why do I do it?

During my college years, I had some neighbours unlucky enough to have their window put through by some drunkard on their way home. This window was replaced not with glass, but with a rough cut of wood that I suspect they had liberated from an unattended warehouse. I’m sure it kept the wind out, but it also very perceptibly changed the character of their dwelling.

Was it perhaps due to this that empty bottles began to accumulate before their door, and that it became necessary to step over the unconscious owner of said bottles some mornings? A definitive answer it difficult, but the fact is that, not long after, their house – that precise board, in fact – was chosen as target practice for some rather foul eggs, while my own was spared.

It was when a group of quite ordinary-looking men who should know better started pitching stones at the upstairs window, hitting the houses either side – including my own – that I decided that not only people but places, too, could get diseases. This, I realised, was how a quarter became a slum. It took only one broken window, one daubed wall; without immediate treatment, that wound became infected, and the boil began to rise.

And then I went home, to the land of my birth, and saw how the mind could be as diseased as the body, and twice as contagious. The Black Prophets came, spouting their ‘wisdom’, and my people succumbed to it in their droves. The older I get, the more I realise that there are very few things that can not become diseased. But the question is why do I do it?, and I’m not doing a very good job of answering it.

Emblem Black (2)

gorge yourselves

Although it appears I have seriously fallen off the wagon when it comes to regular updates, let me assure you that I am, at the least, gainfully employed in my craft.  The flash fiction trade is keeping me nice and busy, and as a special gift to you, I am giving you the complete and whole story of my shortlisted flash fiction piece: An Ugly Harvest
All questions, comments, and out-and-out abuse gratefully received.

An Ugly Harvest

Bill sits through another eighty-minute commute. Today is Friday, a day usually marked by nothing much – but today, for the first time in seven years, he will go home on time. The flesh-tinged aroma of recycled air barely bothers him; his mind is, for once, in a rosy future where the breeze is sweet and at four pee em on the dot, he will go home.

On time.

The agency receptionist gives him her trademark eastern-European scowl as he punches in. He bites his tongue; now would be a terrible time for over-confidence. Last week he returned her grimace and, as punishment, Perce pitched a flash drive at him at fourteen minutes to four – with a wink and a double-point and a ‘Top priority, Billy!’ Nobody ever calls him Billy. Only Perce.

Of course, it is laughable to think that Perce somehow went downstairs to talk to the receptionist, scoured the departments for buggy code, waited until just before quitting time and then gave it, specifically and personally, to Bill. Laughable. But still . . .

Bill is no writer, but a fixer. He is good at it. And he hates it.

He hates the way the coders never explain anything like they are supposed to; he hates their lack of finesse, the way they just mash line after line together until it runs – on their system, at least. The mammoth, lumbering, convoluted pile unfailingly lands on Bill’s desk before the client can actually use it.

But today . . . today he will go home on time. There are no projects to complete, no reports left to file. He has only to top and tail the week’s work. His thoughts wander to the evening ahead, and his fingertips begin to sweat.

No less than three episodes of his favourite series to watch!

A pizza with meatballs on it!

Meatballs!

And some expensive German beer that you can only get from that international boutique on the edge of town (that is for after dinner, of course. With dinner, there is actual, real, Coca Cola).

And then, as four o’clock approaches, Perce’s disembodied head floats past the office screens towards Bill and tells him that some bad code was sent to him attached to an email, an email that has just pinged back to sender due to a host error, but an email that was nonetheless actually sent yesterday.

Naturally, it is top priority.

He might need to come in on Saturday.

Maybe he could work from home over the weekend.

A big bug.

A salmonella.

And as Bill eats his now-tasteless meatball pizza in front of his laptop, the figures before him slowly spiralling into nonsense, he knows already that he will work on the program all weekend in order to be ready for Monday’s roll-out.

He knows that, even if he watches his series, the spectre of the approaching deadline will watch, clucking its tongue like a disapproving, puritanical nun, until the experience is as bland as his overpriced dinner.

Bill’s news feed auto-scrolls towards infinity. His friends and colleagues live their lives. Each new post twists into his guts like a worm.

Why can’t he just couldn’t close the tab?

But then, he has always known his place. Always. It is he alone who sowed the seeds of his life, and now they are grown, and the fruit is this pizza, on this night, that passes his lips and clogs his arteries, but brings no pleasure.

It is an ugly harvest, but he grew it himself, and it is all he has.

Emblem Black (2)

The website who originally posted this competition is http://needleinthehay.net/