Short Stories

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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Every Last One

Every-Last-One

She couldn’t see it, but she could feel it. The thick woollen fibres stood even more on end than usual. Her home bristled with the vibrating air. Her babies huddled where she’d laid them, oblivious to this world. A world that was in danger. She couldn’t move them now. She could move herself, but her instincts wouldn’t let her. She had to protect, but all of her being told her that was an impossible task. The noise began to get louder. It’s tubular screaming hovering around her, here, then there, then here, then over there. It wavered around her senses in a directional mess of confusion. First it was coming from this way, then that. She turned, then turned again. It was impossible to keep track of where it would come from when it came.

And she knew that it would come.

The noise grew louder still and she felt the wisp of sharp breeze push her off her feet. All eight of them. All of her eyes widened. Her body hairs tensed. She looked to her babies huddled in a pile for the last time. Then it came.

Brian was sure his wife would be placated after their argument last night. Amongst the many failings of himself she’d pointed out, his lack of completion of household chores seemed to come up most. After he’d worked out how to switch the vacuum cleaner on he’d hoovered from top to bottom. He’d even done behind the book shelves where the thick pile of the carpet seemed to have been covered in layers of cobwebs. He was sure he’d disturbed a nest of some kind when he saw thousands of little bodies with lots of tiny legs scatter across the floor. It was ok though, he’d managed to suck up every last one of them.

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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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Black Friday

Black-Friday

The disinterested voice over the tannoy said, “Special offer today only, women’s wear, practical pants, three for the price of four.” Or something like that. I walked past the perfume girl. Blood trickled from her left made-up eye. Or something like that. The consummation of products bustled around me, the departments grasped for eyes to catch, for money to snatch, on this Friday, black and disgruntled at the words, “No, thanks.”

I could feel the slime round my toes as the sales person approached. His slippery smile engulfed extra white teeth that usually dazzled his victims into buying the silk scarf, handmade in India by babies strapped to rotten wooden high chairs.
“Hello madam,” he grinned. “Would you be interested in this superior quality neck adornment?”
I must have looked puzzled at his fancy description. His need to qualify burst from within.
“A new scarf? It’s ten percent off for Black Friday.”
“Not really,” I manage, without any hint of piss-the-fuck-off in my voice.
“How about a pair of real leather gloves, ripped from the backs of ostriches in the most deserted parts of Karoo?”
I’m sure that’s what he said.
“No.” I say.
I turn to leave. I could feel his frustration bubble at my back. Unable to fulfil his inner desire that enabled the lifestyle to which he’d become accustomed thanks to the exploitation of those in need, at all ends of all spectrums. Why should he get away with it? Surely it was his turn to relinquish something of himself on this day of darkness.
“Excuse me,” I venture to the vulture like human.
“Yesss,” he sneered.
“Would you be interested in a deal?”
“What sort of deal, madam?”
“I’ll buy your scarf and your gloves but I require one more thing from you to seal the arrangement.”
“And that is, madam?”
“Your soul. Presented on a silk cushion, with tassels and a large chocolate brandy.”
“My soul, madam?”
“Yes.” I stood defiant against his flaring nostrils, preened and trimmed, dark and endless. “That’s my final offer,” I said.
“Oh,” said the sales man, now looking more awkward than shocked. “I’m afraid, madam, that is just impossible.” He bared too many teeth at me, white and unnatural, and said, “I am in sales, my dear. I already have no soul.”

 

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Forever Autumn

Forever-Autumn

The slime was at least a foot deep. The layers of death stagnant with unwilling time. Her boots only just managed to stay on her feet as the ground sucked them in like hungry mouths. The naked trees whispered in worried breaths. They knew this wasn’t how things were meant to be.

The silence of the outside deafened her mind. The unreplenished foods it had once provided sang no more. Her weakened body felt the pain, not only of the loss of abundance but of the choice she would have to make when survival poked at her last will.

She held onto his hand. A hand once so tiny only a few years before, when creation still made the world and the Gods gave equal reign to the cycles so required for a life to live. His hand wasn’t chubby, but still it held some flesh. Some meat. Some sustenance. Could she stop herself? A question for the soul, that was.

The ground sucked at the feet that trod upon it. Hungry. All hungry. Thanks to the test of the Gods. A game that would have its end, for them and for their Earth.

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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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