death

Winner

Winner

 

She held the card in her hand. It felt powerful. She felt powerful. The purple hue at the top felt regal. The rest of them had tried, missing by a one, a two, an extra roll or a wobble. Then he’d got it. With his dog. She’d watched his face almost in slow motion as the realisation had hit him, the luck had sunk in. She’d seen the glow in his eyes, the superiority wash over his body, swelling with pride as he took the tiny fake £400 and placed it at the banker’s elbow. The coveted card had been found and passed into his hands with hardly much ceremony at all, yet she could feel the overwhelming pulse of emotion rush through her body like the wrong king had just been crowned after a bloody battle.

A bloody battle.

She held the purple topped card in her blood stained hands and grinned. He was almost grinning too, between the drips of blood and brain, the matted hair stuck to his motionless face. The crooked teeth, broken at their roots, only added to the elated moment. It was a shame everyone else had run away. Still though, it was the best game of monopoly she’d ever had.

 

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Frost

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Long ago, in the village where I grew up, Summer came to us. We were so happy. The kind of happy that only comes amidst bird song and never-ending blue skies.

Then the clouds engulfed our family. My Grandfather was very ill, and my Mother told me he was going to die. All the things he’d taught me, I remembered. All the things he was yet to show me about the world, I would never learn. This, I couldn’t bear.

My sadness must have caught her attention. The Goddess of Summer appeared whilst I was catching the sun’s light in a pool of water. She was so beautiful. As bright as the sun itself. She told me of a way to ease my sadness. And, as I held on to her and her words, followed her desires, my Grandfather lived. He couldn’t do much, but I took him almost everywhere with me, pushing him in his wheelchair, and he sat and watched. I couldn’t tell you his mind. I don’t know his thoughts. But as long as the Goddess of Summer was there, so was he.

It had been Summer for so long. I played and laughed, danced with the butterflies and sang with the birds into the late sunny evenings, while my Grandfather watched on.

The seasons can be fickle. They can be early or late. I remembered that the sun hadn’t shone when my birthday had come the year before, and the trees bore only the last of their colourful leaves. The apples had been picked and made into cider, and the berries had ripened and been preserved. My father had harvested the crops, and the whole town relaxed in the knowledge that Winter would pass in comfort ready for Spring’s renewal. But this year, as my mother set my birthday table, I knew none of these things had happened yet. The trees were still green, and the apples and berries were still in their youth. The crops were yet to mature, wilting in Summer’s heat. But my Grandfather still watched on as I blew out my candles. My wish had already come true.

Then, one day, a while after my birthday, when I was lying in bed one night, something scratched on my window. I ignored it at first, thinking it away; a moth or a bat perhaps. But it persisted. Tap, tap. Scratch, scratch. Cautiously I went to investigate. But when I opened the window there was nothing there, except a delicate feather of frost on the window pane. Which was strange, seeing as it was still Summer, don’t you think? In the morning the feather had gone, but in its place a frost laden message lay. It said…

‘HELP US’

The Goddess of Summer was happy. I knew that. I believed in her so much. I met with her every day, and she reminded me of special times with my Grandfather, like when we went fishing at the lake, catching the tiniest of tiddlers, then throwing them back, or making lopsided corn dollies after the harvest. My Grandfather would always laugh and whisper, “Perfection is nothing next to uniqueness.”
Now, he didn’t say, but I knew he remembered those times too.

That night, filled with warm memories, I lay in my bed and listened to the same tapping as the night before. I tried to ignore it, but it was so adamant. This time, when I peered round the curtain I saw an icy face staring at me. I was so surprised I nearly called out to my mother. But instead of evil eyes, the face seemed to plead with me. So I opened the window. A cold chill wisped past me, and icicles started to form on the inside of my window-sill. The face was cold, but held warmth within. He told me his name was Jack Frost, and he had been sent by the God of Winter. He asked if I knew why Summer was still covering the land. I told him of Summer’s promise, and how much I loved my Grandfather. I didn’t want him to leave me, you see.
“Do you not miss playing in the snow made from a thousand snowflakes?” he asked. “Plucking icicles from the tree branches? The silvery tinged dawns?”
I remembered gathering coals for the snowman’s cheery face with my Grandfather, and Jack Frost smiled. He understood. Then, he asked for my hands, which I held out towards him. And there, from his frosty palms, a bird made of ice appeared. It sparkled in the moonlight, which gave it some kind of life. He placed it in my hand, and it did not melt. Then, with his misty breath he blew upon the frozen figure and at once the sparkle twitched and twinkled, and the ice bird flew into the midnight sky.
“There is life’s magic in all the seasons,” Jack said, and disappeared in a flurry of white dust, leaving one imperfect snowflake on my window, which I watched as I fell asleep. In the morning it had melted in Summer’s fiery dawn.

The next day something happened that changed me. In the balmy heat I was following a flittering butterfly through the woods. It seemed to insist, and you should never ignore a butterfly. Suddenly everything turned chilly. I could catch my breath before me, and the ground crunched beneath my shoes. There he was, Jack Frost, right there in the midday sun. In his hand was a thick woolly scarf which he wrapped snugly round my neck. He promised not to bite me. I wasn’t scared. He was taller than me. I wonder if he would be now.

The butterfly I was chasing fluttered past me again, this time with frosty wings, which didn’t seem to impair its flight. Jack told me to go after it, so I did. I nearly crashed into her, so engrained into the big oak’s trunk she was. Ivy draped about her soft mossy dress, caressing daisies and snowdrops alike. Her hair was scraggly, like the branches of a tree, and rainbows danced around her. Her kind face held wisdom of ages long since gone and yet to come. She knew my name, and she said she understood now that she could feel my power for herself. She told me I had a gift, that it was a precious energy that Summer had seen in me and used to her own end. She said the Goddess of Spring was so very unhappy, and that I was the only one who could make things right. I could see in her soft eyes that she was honest and true. Her name was Mother Nature.

I was just a child. I didn’t know, see?

This wise woman explained that Spring had held council with Autumn and Winter, who were just as upset and worried about Summer’s hold on the land. Without Autumn and Winter to clear the way, Spring could not make new life. I think I understood even then, but I didn’t want to let go. I remember it hurt inside, very much. I remember she held my frozen fingers in her warm hands and explained that nature’s way was to accept that all living things must leave this world so that they may be reborn anew. Time must pass, and life must move on. Only in memory is life immortal. My tears warmed my rosy cheeks. A glimmering print danced across my fingers when she took her hands away, then it faded as it soaked into my skin. It tingled, but it didn’t hurt. I knew then what I had to do.

I walked through the town, taking my Grandfather home. He was tired. The people sat outside their houses, beaten by the sun. The grass crunched beneath me, though not from frost. The dry air stuck in my throat. My friends gathered around the well, trying to lick the stone of its last moisture. Summer sat next to the treehouse my Grandfather and I built when he was strong and I was innocent of his fragility. She beckoned me to her, and I went. The warmth of her inside me pulled me to her. She showed me memories as if they were real. Us, amongst the wood of the treehouse yet to be. My Grandfather giving me a wooden mouse, carved by his own hand. Me vowing to place it above the door to protect my makeshift home. I would have believed in her until time gave up. I wanted to bathe in this world she gave forever. A snowflake fell from above, and melted before it could moisten the craving grass.

I told her she had to go, that I couldn’t hold on anymore. She tried to persuade me. The images she showed me more vivid, more irresistible against the pain of what would be if I didn’t believe in her, if I let go. I could see the anger in her eyes, then I could feel it. The warmth in my chest started to burn; a pain like no other. I pleaded to her to let me go. She burned harder, brighter. Her fire crippled me to the crisp grass. I cried out for her to stop. She said I must believe. She said I HAD to hold on. The core of me was searing white hot and I thought at that moment I would feel death myself. I grasped at my pitiful strength and took a breath that could have been my last. I stared deep into the soul of Summer,
“Life needs death to live. I can’t believe any longer!”
Suddenly her beautiful face turned from rage to flames, lapping around her white eyes. I covered my reddened face, unable to watch. The flames grew wilder, engulfing her head, her body, burning her out into a bright scream of light.
Then she was gone.

I lay huddled on the ground, fearful to let my eyes see again. The wind breathed a sigh. The trees whispered. Something brushed my cheek. Then another something. I stole a peek, and saw the flurry of autumn leaves falling gently towards me. Then I realised my face was wet. Too wet for tears. The rain smelled good against the thirsty ground. Everyone stood round with their mouths open, letting the soggy outburst soak them through to their roots.

Snowflakes fell from the sky, and within a week snow had covered the ground. Jack Frost visited me every day, leaving a frosted pattern on my window with a cheeky grin and a wink.

At the funeral something caught my eye. I slipped away after my Grandfather had greeted the earth, to the big old oak tree at the edge of the cemetery where Jack Frost wrapped me in the snuggly scarf. Mother Nature held me for what seemed an age whilst I sobbed myself anew. She told me about my Grandfather’s Grandfather and how they’d played together just like we did. He’d died too, of course. Now they were together again in the earth, the wind, the rustle of the trees.
“From the dust of stars he had life, and now he returns it so that life may live on.”

The crops were bountiful every year after that. The apples were big and round. The trees bursting with berries. In Spring’s domain, in gratitude to the mischievous soul, Jack Frost was given pass to paint silver an early morning or two. He still does, just as the daffodils raise their heads from the sleeping earth. Summer always tries to hold on past her time, but autumn soon wins out, and my birthday has its colours back. This is when I visit this spot. My Grandfather’s grave, covered in daisy laced ivy. And every year is the same, one imperfect snowflake lays here till Spring, unique and beautiful.

 

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Stupid Bitch

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Her mates had laughed as hard as she had as they’d watched the flames take the house. That weird house with its weirdo occupant. She deserved it. Stupid bitch.

The day before she’d screamed at them to get lost from her porch, threatening them with some law or other, which they’d laughed off. They’d threatened her back and she’d huffed at them before slamming the door, as if she didn’t believe they’d do it. Ha! Silly cow. Now she’d know what they were capable of. They’d ran to the fields as the fire engine had approached. Too late, as it turned out.

She remembered now how she’d felt then. No remorse. The joint satisfaction between friends at a job well done. How her mangled body would have been burnt to a crisp in her dilapidated house. How they’d justified their actions to each other, made up their alibis, and vowed to keep quiet. She had deserved it. Stupid bitch.

But as she lay in her bed, unable to move, unable to cry out for her mum, unable to defend herself, she realised there was no way she could make amends for what she’d done. The smell of it permeated the bedroom. The smoky waft of crispy skin. The scratchy sound of its half burned bones as they creaked around the bed. As it hovered above her she could see the charred form in the bright moonlight. The red eyeballs bulged from the still glowing blackness of its face. The body was still burning, but from within. The fire, fuelled by rage, wanted its next victim. A charcoaled hand reached for her. An ember fell from the tip of its finger and landed on her throat. She tried to scream but the shock caused a delay long enough for the ember to burn through her skin and onto her vocal chords, through her neck, her spine, and onto her mattress. Terror filled silence was all she could make. The figure’s skeleton cracked as the jaw widened and it laughed with a croak and a wisp of smoke, “Stupid bitch,” it said.

 

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The Extra Hour

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The way your hair sparkles in the moonlight while the twisted breeze plays. The blue of your eyes always melts my mind. The touch of our skins. My flesh has hungered for you, the same as it did when your heartbeat walked with mine. When we dreamed and planned and held each other together in this world. Before you went away. The familiarity of you never fades, even with these days apart.

Why we are given this moment once a year I do not know. I do not question something so precious, even if it is inexplicable. The clocks adjust, and our hour begins. The extra hour. The only hour I live for. We just stay here. Remembering when our days were spent together. Remembering when the universe took us from each other and you began your new existence in some other time, some other part of space. Time has no master within your smile. I know what forever feels like now. Even though it ends.

Once a year is all we can have, and that fleeting time is nearly up. The clock edges to the end of these anomalous minutes. Until the next time when the hours cross and I can exist with you once again.

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The Last Fall

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“But I don’t want to go!” wailed Chester.
“You have to,” said Lea.
“But it’s so far down, and I like it up here.”
Chester stared fearfully towards the damp grass below. He felt the breeze tickle his underside. The underside that was once bright green, now orange with tinges of yellow. He likes his spot. His mid-branch. It was comfy.
“I shan’t go!” he said defiantly. “I just won’t! I’m staying here and that’s that.” If Chester had arms he would have surely folded them. He curled his slightly crispy edges instead.
Lea sighed. “If you don’t go the master will be angry,” she said. “It is your fate. It has been since you were a bud. You know that.”
Chester curled even more, as much as a leaf could anyway.

The rumbling began from the roots. A squirrel forgot his half dug hole and ran for a nearby ash tree. The peeling bark began to break up. The first branches shook with terror, and Chester could almost hear the screaming rustle of his friends below.
“Chester, come on!” Lea rattled against her branch, trying to dislodge herself, like the good little leaf she was.
“I’m not going anywhere!” shouted Chester. “You can’t make me!”
The rumbling grew, the vibration rushed to the top of the tree’s trunk and every branch, every twig, every leaf quaked under its wrath. Then Lea fell.
“Byeeeeee Cheeesterrrrr!”
Her voice fell away from him and Chester felt alone. He watched as his friends dived to their last resting places, ready to be blown and kicked, trampled and crumbled until nothing of them was left. One after the other the rainbow of dying comrades left him. Until he was the last little leaf on the whole tree.
“CHESTER!” a booming voice said. “YOU NEED TO GO NOW.”
“But…” said Chester, quivering from his tiny midrib.
“IF YOU DON’T GO,” said the voice from within, “I CANNOT MAKE ANEW. IF YOU DON’T GO THEN LIFE CANNOT CONTINUE.”
Chester drooped. His curl loosened.
“IF YOU DON’T GO,” boomed the voice, “I WILL HAVE TO MAKE YOU.”
Chester considered himself. But he considered himself for too long. Then he felt his branch shake, hard. As suddenly as it had begun, the shaking stopped. Then silence. Then a prod, right in his petiole.

As Chester fell through the air he knew that his end was necessary. He resigned himself to his required death, and landed gently on the moist grass. The squirrel returned for a final look at his half dug hole, then relieved himself with a satisfied smirk.
Chester sighed.

 

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Days of Dreams

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His crooked fingers curled around themselves like hundred year old twigs. He let out a breath that filled the air with rancid rotting mists and dust of decay.
“When will it begin?!” he cried.
He could only dream.

The brightness of Summer’s smile hurt his eyes. He squinted into her domain, still strong, still full with creation. The bees buzzed about him. The ladybirds sipped on aphids’ guts. The hover flies taunted the breeze, flitting and flirting to there and here. Sprouts of life shouted at the sun, announcing their presence with open faces. Their roots pushed into the bed he’d prepared in a time before now. His time.
Frustration rumbled beneath his cracked veins.
He could only dream.

Then he felt it. The cool waft of Death’s call. The ache of Mother Nature’s wish. Summer’s smile loosened as she watched her children fall limp. Her bees searched for a place of rest. The ladybirds sought cover within crevices and cracks. Preparations for the long sleep began.
Now she must dream.

He stretched away his enforced slumber and readied himself for his duty. The beginning of the end. He must prepare the world for its death.

 

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Billy

 

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Outside the corner shop, lookin’ for my pot. Couldn’t find it. I was so out of it though I couldn’t find my own feet! Louise was there, and Zoe. Zoe felt ill, what with being six months’ pregnant. Not sayin’ she’s easy. Maybe a bit keen, and she still ain’t got no rock on her finger. But why not? Girls can have fun too. While Louise went to get some booze Zoe went to the hat shop doorway opposite to be sick. I was still trying to find my pot, and enough money somewhere in my pockets so I could buy some cigarettes. That’s when Billy turned up. He asked if I was going to Captain Zeez later. I really wanted to, but didn’t fancy it on my own. Zoe wasn’t coming, that’s for sure, and even if Louise came she’d always wander off. I think she was embarrassed to be seen with me. She can be frosty sometimes, and I know I can be kinda gloopy sometimes, too. So I said yeah. To Billy, that is. Louise came out of the shop. She gave me some money for cigarettes and ran to look after Zoe in the hat shop doorway. I think she was annoyed with me. Again.

I went in to buy cigarettes. I was so woozy, I can tell you. That pot was good! I swear I nearly collapsed on the floor. Somehow I came round a bit when I got to the tall counter. I nearly had to stand on tiptoes to reach it. It helped that they were changing over cashiers and I had to wait a bit for them to sort out the cash in the till. I smiled at them too. Always wins people over. I knew the woman behind the till with the downturned eyes. I don’t know how.

When I came out Louise and Zoe were gone. Billy was still there, leanin’ on the phone box with his red neckerchief below his double chin and full toothy grin filling his happy round face. His bit-too-tight t-shirt was printed with dark comic book scenes and his protruding belly made the stretched material shine under the streetlight. He kept his hands in his jeans’ pockets, ruckling up his brown leather jacket. His dark hair danced in the warm breeze. I said I needed to go home first. He said we should go to his first so he could drop his Triumph off and have something to eat, his dad will have made something.

I was sat there with Billy and his dad watchin’ some show on telly. I wanted to watch the show but not tonight. Tonight I wanted to go dancing. I told Billy, and then I said to his dad that we’d have to go because we were going out and we’d be late. His dad didn’t seem to mind. He’d made extra beans on toast for me, which was a shame because Billy hadn’t touched any of his. As I left I heard his mother say something and his father replied.
“She’s just a nice girl needs some comfort, let her alone.”
“You shouldn’t let her in,” I heard his mum say as his dad shut the door.

We walked up the street, all the cats were out in the sharp suits and duck-butt hair, piling out of the dance halls, off up to Captain Zeez. I was so cranked up! But I had to go home and get changed first. Billy said I looked fine, but I wanted to. So we found a bus. It was one of those bar buses that served drinks, with seats around the edge facing the middle. Billy sat on the opposite side to me, next to two mums. I shouted to him to come sit next to me, but he didn’t seem to hear me. I heard one mum say his name within a whisper, “Billy Ray Beans,” Cool name, huh? I sure thought so. Their whispers mingled with the clang of sherbet cocktails and the fizz of soda water, “That young lad. Poor soul. His mum works in Laycocks, that little corner shop down Miley Street.” Fizz! Fizz! “They say she looks awful sad all the time.” She said somethin’ else in a sad tone, but I wasn’t paying attention. Billy had disappeared. Couldn’t see him anywhere. I looked all round the bus. When I got back he was sat there, right where he was before. We got off the bus and I made it clear to him this was nothin’ like a date. I was only going to the dance with him because he’d said I was a bit of an oddball and he liked my kookieness, and I felt the same about him. Pure coincidence. And I liked banana and peach smoothies with lime. So did he. That was the only reason. Nothin’ else. He agreed it was too. I couldn’t see his face when he said it, but I think he sounded a bit disappointed.

I got changed and we went to Captain Zeez. It’s always a blast at Captain Zeez. I danced on top of the plastic boat. I could feel my petticoats swinging around me, and with my yellow fitted shirt I must have looked amazing up there. People tried to bash my ears, but I didn’t want to stop. Why should I? I told them to get bent. The music was still playin’. Billy was still there, watchin’ me on top of that plastic boat. No gingles for me! The song finished and I slid down the boat on my petticoats. My shoes had gone though, so I went to find them, and Billy. I couldn’t find either. I was still lookin’ when they found me, all concerned eyes and soothing voices.

I will always remember that night at Captain Zeez. It was only a few months after the accident, so the nurses told me anyways. Billy had said it was okay, so I knew it would be. When I flew through the air it was like slow motion. Riding on the breath of the world. The nothing of our lives. The nothing that Billy filled. I don’t remember the funeral, but everyone said it happened. I stopped going round to see Billy’s dad once the doctors took me over. I wonder now what he must have thought, sitting there with his beans on toast. I miss Billy. But he’ll always be with me, on the bus, or outside the corner shop, or watching me on that plastic boat.

I never did find my shoes.

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