storysaturday

Pulse

Pulse

 

 

“But you’re not here,” said the man.

Beth looked out from where she knew her eyes must be. She found her arms, her hands, and even her fingers. She wiggled them and felt the joints jiggle in her skin.

“I am,” she said, defiantly.

“But I can assure you you’re not,” said the man. “And I should know.” He laughed loudly, with a wide mouth with too many teeth and too much blackness. He towered above her, so tall sometimes she couldn’t see his face. When he bent over her to speak it seemed like he’d fall right onto her, only to bounce back as if held by a spring.

Her legs felt numb. She tried to wriggle her toes but the usual stabbing of sleepy nerve endings didn’t come. She was telling her knees to bend, but her body didn’t move. The man chuckled through his crooked grin.

“I told you,” he said.

She looked down. Indeed her feet were nowhere to be seen. Nor her knees. Nor her legs. She felt her heart race. That was still there at least. She was sure.

Was she?

She reached out her fingers towards the man, but they hung in front of her. She gripped hard. She didn’t remember trying to. Like her muscles were trying to hang on without her willing them to.

“You aren’t here,” he said. “You never have been. Why don’t you just accept it?”

She had tried all these years, but she had to admit he was right. She’d never really been here. Not really here. Not really alive.

Her fingers faded. Then her hands, her arms, her head, her neck, the flesh, the bone.

The man held himself triumphantly as the last of her disappeared.

 

Then, from the nothing…

 

Just.

One.

Pulse.

 

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Cheesemass

cheesemass

 

Eight pints later, the only thing he wanted was food. On his walk home he’d hazily remembered the block of mature cheddar sitting in the fridge and the last of the bread in the cupboard. Cheese on toast. Like a beer sponge, it would soak everything up nicely.

After fumbling with the wrong key for ten minutes, tripping over the same doorstep he’d tripped through for the past five years, he made straight for the kitchen, to the fridge, and wrestled the door open. The bright light glared. His gloopy eyes took a while to adjust. He searched with them. Both of them. He searched some more. His brain told him that even though it wasn’t functioning at full capacity it still couldn’t see the cheese it had been promised.

In front of fridges across the land people sat staring, looking, eager to satiate the late night craving with the reliable foodstuff of decades before. But they all agreed, it wasn’t there. No cheese.

No. Cheese.

None.

Deep within the many offices of the Department of Things an occurrence was occurring, and it was causing much excitement amongst the employees. They peered through the cellophane office, watching the forensics who were looking, very carefully.
“I reckon the cleaner’s moved his commemorative Mini-Babybel,” said Morris, arms folded.
“He didn’t like that last time,” remembered Bridget.
“I know. Bet that’s what broke him.”
“Yeah, sent him crackers!” said Doug, always ready, always able to find a quip.
A murmur of giggles swept the gaggle of employees.
“The Head of Things must be blowing his top!”
The Head of Tops shuddered.

The forensics team were having a meeting. It wasn’t a very productive meeting, however. The Department of Things was fraught with panic at their Head of Cheese’s disappearance, apparently with all the cheese of the world. The carefully gloved search of his office had yielded only a few cracker crumbs and the word ‘Revolution’ scribbled on a discarded draft of the Freedom of Cheese Act 2017. The interview with the Head of Things hadn’t been much use. As they’d gone through the evidence, the cracker crumbs, the scribblings of revolutionary cheese, etc, he’d told them how the Head of Cheese had seemed a little out of sorts at their last meeting.
“Did he mention revolution?”
“No. but he did mention how he liked Edams and their ability to revolve. That’s what I thought he meant by revolutionary.” The Head of Things told them about an incident regarding a manic cheese chaser a few months back where the Head of Cheese had come across quite forceful with his retribution of the “…poor lad. Maybe that’s what set him off.”
“What about the Freedom of Cheese Act 2017?”
“Ah, yes,” the Head of Things had chuckled “It was something he was working on. Felt the cheeses needed some rights and so forth. I didn’t think it would do any harm. Thought it might help his stress levels in fact. He was very passionate you see, about cheese and whatnot.” The Head of Things had folded his fingers at this point, adopting a downward stare at his freshly polished desk. “It wouldn’t have gone anywhere. People just don’t care about cheese like he did.”

Deep in a cave some place on this vast planet, the Head of Cheese sat on a rock. He was staring intensely at the dust on the floor. The dust didn’t mind though. It was only dust after all.
“I have done the right thing,” said the Head of Cheese. He remembered back to last Tuesday when, after a particularly poignant conversation with a mature French brie, he’d decided not to secure the carefully negotiated sale of 200,000 circles of the carefully ripened cheese to the Islands of Kiribati, and instead put his wrongdoings right. He felt the overwhelming obligation to save the cheeses, to emancipate the cheeses, the precious cheeses. The world took for granted these wonderful foodstuffs, shovelling them into their mouths like they grew on trees, like there was an infinite resource of cheeses, unappreciative of their careful growth, their nurtured flavours, their individuality and, the Head of Cheese knew, sentient powers of pleasure. Their ability to evolve, their ability to revolve, he loved it all. Cheese across all the lands sat unused and lonely in dark fridges. They should be worshipped. Adored. Cherished and cared for. That’s when the Head of Cheese had constructed his plan on the back of a first draft of the Freedom of Cheese Act 2017. He would take all the cheese and make a revolt. People would hail the revolutionary cheeses. They would crave and dribble at their feet. And as punishment for the years of disrespect they would never be allowed to taste their gloriousness again. Not since the times of Aristeus* would cheese have been so worshiped.

The cave was perfect, so he’d thought, although the unusually high temperatures for the time of year was messing with the ambiance. It was warmer than it should be. But the Head of Cheese didn’t have time for worrying about that. He had a revolution to organise!
“I must create a cheese god,” said the Head of Cheese. “A symbol by which all may worship. A mighty cheese! Just like the one James McIntyre** prophesied. A Ten Ton Cheese God!”

The dust stirred.

“But he’s dripping blood all over my pollock!” said Shirley. “I’m all for these corporate socialism days, but it’s ruining my fish counter!” The man they called Jesus dangled from the wooden cross carefully erected above Shirley’s fish counter. She’d been a loyal BestCo employee for thirteen years, attended the team building days, the creative leadership workshops, and the decorative herbal display demonstration at last year’s Fish Counter Conference. Diligent and proud was Shirley. That’s why this particular social inclusion event for the Crucifixion Re-enactment Party was testing Shirley’s patience. Fine, nail this poor lad to his cross, but couldn’t they do it over the cooked chicken counter instead?

A loud waling came from the end counter, disrupting the chanting Christians’ rhythm for only a second. Dan was very upset. He sat at his empty cheese counter a broken cheesemonger. He loved cheese from the very bottom of his being. As he stared at his spotless yet completely empty cheese counter he couldn’t help but let out a wail of pained depression. Shirley rushed from her blood stained pollock and put a comforting arm around Dan’s sobbing shoulders.
“Don’t worry love,” she said, “They’ll work it out. The authorities. They’re good with this sort of thing. Cheesenapping, and all that.” Shirley wasn’t sure about this, but she did her best to hide her doubts from her comforting tone and adjusted Dan’s blue hairnet. “Poor love.”

In the same cave, the one some place on this vast planet, all the cheeses of the world were huddled in a corner. Some were napping, ironically. Some were smoking. Some looked board, and some were bubbling with rage!
“My bacteria aren’t happy! Not happy at all!” said the Camembert, who kept itching at a patch of pinkish slime on his well-aged rind that he was sure was getting bigger and bigger.
“I know,” agreed the Mature Cheddar as he picked at a bit of blue mould developing on his corner.
The Gouda, the obvious head of the Three Wise Cheeses, cracked as she shifted her position. “Yes, yes, we cannot allow this to go on,” she croaked.
A large Edam revolved around restlessly. The smell of ammonia was getting stronger. The smell of ageing.
“We need to be eaten! Bientôt!” snarled the Roquefort, “I’m losing all of my moisture ‘ere!”
“Stupid French cheese,” muttered the bulky Red Leicester from a dark corner. The French cheese didn’t respond, for he knew not to provoke the hard cheeses. They were quite hard, you see.
“Nothing like this has ever happened in the history of dairying,” yelled a particularly stinky Stilton. “Our great grandfathers would be churning in their cow stomachs!” said a pile of slightly yellowing Cottage Cheese. “It makes my microbes shiver!”
“Good, you could do with more flavour,” spat the Stilton.
“Look!” exclaimed a small piece of Gruyere, “Cheesepoo!*** I’ve started growing cheesepoo I’ve been down here so long!”
A cellophane square floated past them.
“Noooo!” yelled a very orange Cheese Slice. “Russel!” A small group of processed cheeses gathered at a crack in the cave’s wall. They peered down, a very long way down, down the sheer drop to the rocky cliffs below. “Poor Russel,” sobbed the Cheese Slice, “I didn’t think he’d really do it. Just threw off his plastic and jumped.”
“I think he’s dead now,” said a heartless Cheesestring a little too matter-of-factly, “Splatted all over that rock down there.” Muffled sobs filled the processed group, unable to tell the obnoxious little bit of stringy cheese to shut up for fear of blubbering all over each other and melting themselves inadvertently. The Cheesestring’s stringy head lolled further over the devastating scene far below. “I think the sun’s cooking him a bit, look…”
“Stupid over-processed idiots,” growled the Red Leicester.
“We must stay calm,” said the Brie.
“Yes, we must,” agreed the Gouda, “But we also must return to our fridges, and we therefore need a plan.”
The Red Leicester sprang forward from his dark corner, looking even redder than usual. “I know! Me and the lads here, we can spread all the cream cheeses over him till he suffocates, then we can take all the wrappers off them cheese slices and…”
“They’re not real cheese anyway,” said a bruised looking block of Mimolette.
“Exactly,” nodded the Red Leicester. “We can wrap him up in their plastic, like an Egyptian cheese, then make our escape!” The hard cheese grinned at his own suggestion.
“Nice plan, Red,” said an intimidating block of White Cheddar.
No arguments were forthcoming, mainly on account of the hard cheeses being very big, very bulky, and extremely…well…hard.
“But I don’t think he’s doing it to harm us. I think he’s doing it to help us.” It took a while for the Three Wise Cheeses and the hard cheeses, and the rest of the cheeses for that matter, to work out where the little voice had come from. “He cares. You know? I think he just wants people to appreciate us.” The little Mini-BabyBel rolled steadily into the middle of the gathering.
“Ha! What do you know, little tiny cheese?” sneered the Red Leicester. The large Edam revolved towards the hard cheeses, but lost momentum and fell flat on its side, slightly redder and waxier than before.
“Everyone is entitled to an opinion,” said the Gouda, reasonably. “However, I do think we are going to have to take drastic action, whether or not this human intends to help us. We can’t last much longer in here, and then no one will want to eat us.”
The murmur of horror rattled around the cheeses at that thought.
“Yeeesss,” nodded the Mature Cheddar, “We must get back to our fridges. We must be consumed!”
“So my plan, we’re all in agreement, yeah?” said the Red Leicester, hulking himself over the circle of cheeses.
The Three Wise Cheeses nodded in approval.
The little Babybel felt his waxy coating melt slightly at his colleagues’ misunderstandings. He backed away quietly into the darkness and moisture began to form around his convenient peel back tab. But then a great smell of sweaty sheep engulfed him and a very old looking cheese glared down at him.
“Maybe I can help.”

As the little Babybel and the ancient cheese approached, the Head of Cheese was pacing frantically, muttering to himself in an excited tone. “Ten Ton Cheese. I’ll need lots of cheese. Lots!”
“Excuse me.”
“I need to crush them all together!” Said the Head of Cheese as he abruptly turned towards the interruption.
“Hello,” said the little Babybel, calm and gentle. “My name is Cheesus. May I have a quick word?”
The Head of Cheese melted. Metaphorically of course. His voice was filled with such kindness that the two cheeses felt comfortable in his presence, even with the crazed, occasionally twitchy eyes staring down at them.
“Aw, little cheese. Don’t worry, I’m making a plan to make these stupid humans appreciate you and your kind. I’ll save you, little Babybel Cheesus.”
“Er, well, that’s very nice of you to think of us in that way, but I’m not sure you really understand.”
“Understand? I understand how unappreciative humans are of your wondrousness, your sentient sensations, your lifetime of revolutionary evolution. And I will make them pay! They will be punished! Never again will they get to put your well-developed flavours in their mouths!”
“Well, it’s just that, that’s what we’re there for,” said the little Babybel Cheesus.
The Head of Cheese’s eyeballs searched for comprehension within the dank cave. He’d not considered this point of view, and his legs weakened at the thought. He crouched to the floor, somewhat deflated by the revelation. The little Babybel revolved towards the Head of Cheese’s knees.
“We want to be eaten. It’s why we were made.”
The Head of Cheese’s eyeballs hid themselves under their lids in rapid succession.
“It’s our purpose,” said Cheesus, softly.
The Head of Cheese felt like he’d been hit in the face with a very large block of Double Gloucester. Trust this little perfect Mini-Babybel to speak the wisest of words, the words that were now so obvious they were almost being sarcastic about it.
“So what is my purpose, little Babybel Cheesus?”
“Well, I think it’s probably to make sure everybody eats their cheese.”
“Of course. Of course it is!” shouted the head of cheese excitedly. He sprang from his crouching position and almost hit the roof of the cave. “Yes, yes, I must spread the cheese. I must make people celebrate the cheese by making them eat the cheese! Of course!” As suddenly as he’d sprang, the Head of Cheese stopped.
“But how?”
The smell of sweaty sheep wafted towards the Head of Cheese, followed by a very old looking cheese that left a cheesy track in its wake.
“I lost my olive oil long ago, but I still imbibe my maker, and I can still pass that magic onto whomever I wish, provided, of course, that that whom deserves it.”
The Head of Cheese was almost dribbling with delight. But you’re a Paramo de Guzman****. You’re…you’re…the King of Cheeses!” The Head of Cheese fell to his knees with a sob.
“Well, I wouldn’t go that far. I’m just carefully crafted. Much skill and love has gone into me, and with all the time I’ve had to mature that love has done nothing but grow. I can help you. Slice me, and you’ll see.”
The Head of Cheese managed to control his shaking body and took from his trouser pocket a multitool especially purchased because of the addition of a small cheese knife within its cluster. He leaned forward towards the ancient cheese and carefully sliced a crumbly piece from its outstretched corner.
“Go on,” urged Cheesus, “Eat him!”
“Yes, eat me. I do believe you are a whom who deserves it.”
The Head of Cheese ate the piece. It still smelled of sweaty sheep. It tasted nutty, with wafts of thyme dancing around a hint of chamomile. It was hard and tangy to begin with but as the Head of Cheese washed it around his mouth it melted into a soft creamy texture, the sweetness enveloping his gums in gooey titillations. He felt the cheese’s magical qualities penetrate his soul. It soaked through his gums, into his head, his brain, his body, right down to his ingrowing toenail. A large grin spread across the large head of the Head of Cheese. It was so clear now, his purpose, his reason for being. And he, only he, could begin this revolution. His senses realigned, as if he’d been moved just a little to the left in this small universe. Time seemed different somehow. The Head of Cheese felt more in control of it. Then there was the fact that he was floating six foot off the ground, as was his little cheese knife. He looked down towards the ancient magical cheese and the little Babybel Cheesus.
“I know what I must do,” he said, and the cave echoed his decision.

As a world bereft of cheese drifted off into a nightmare of sleep, filled with wonderings of how they’d cope without their fermented milk based delights, they didn’t notice a flash much like a shooting star dart across their skies. They didn’t hear the rustlings downstairs as they slept a fitful sleep. Only the spiders noticed the fridge doors’ bright lights fill the world’s kitchens, just for a split second. The same spiders ran for cover at the collective squeals of delight from their reluctant landlord humans the next morning.

Dan and Shirley were on triple time behind their counters that day. Dan didn’t know why BestCo had let him even come into work. He had nothing to do. Nothing but sob onto his very clean yet very empty cheese counter. Shirley had said all the words of comfort she could think of. Now she was stuck. All she could do was watch poor old Dan’s hunched figure from her fish counter (now bereft of dripping blood). She watched, and watched, and watched, until the bright flash nearly knocked her into her finely displayed haddock.
“Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!” said a large man dressed in a spotless white overall. A domed belly stretched at the buttons of the poly-cotton drill with heartfelt passion. His blue hair net sparkled under the florescent lights as he stepped off the biggest (and only) flying cheese counter Shirley had ever seen.
“Dan! Dan, look!”
Dan did look. He squinted a bit. He had to, such was the dazzling display of pure white and shimmering blue hair net. Dan couldn’t believe what his eyes had sent to his brain. He stood, for the first time in around five days, in front of his meagre cheese counter and adjusted his own blue hair net. The only expression he could manage was gawp shaped.
“Dan, the great cheesemonger of BestCo fame!” said the large grinning figure as it approached with a net full of…something. “How are you?”
“Er, I’m…well, I’m…” Dan really wasn’t sure if the lack of cheese based products had had an effect on his brain and he was now experiencing some kind of hallucination. A quite nice hallucination, Dan had to admit. There was definitely a cheese based sensory overload about it.
“Dan, this is for you.” The Head of Cheese…

 

[“Oi!!”
You’re not supposed to be behind the page. Get out.
“Yes, but you got his name wrong.”
You can’t break the fourth wall like that, it’s not very Cheesemassy is it?
“Hey, I invented Cheesesmass so I can do what I like!”
Oh, very cocky now we’re not in character aren’t we? Bloody characters *sigh*.
“Just do your job as a writer and make his name right, then I’ll leave you alone.”
Okay, I am very sorry, little Cheesus *sarcastic face*. I will correct it imminently.
“Good. I’m going to flounce off back over there now.”
Flounce away. Just get off my side of the bloody page! Right then… – TC/Hx]

 

FATHER CHEESEMASS held aloft a large netted bag full of all Dan’s favourite cheeses. Dan took in a breath of delightful stink, and a teardrop or three formed in his eye sockets. “Father Cheesemass?”
“Yes, Dan.”
Dan smiled a smile that put all the other smiles he’d ever smiled to shame. “Happy Cheesemass to you, Father Cheesemass.”
“Ha, ha, ha! And to you too, Dan. To you too!”

As Shirley wiped a tear from her smiling face, she picked up the little Babybel Cheesus and whispered in his ear (she thought anyway). The little baby Cheesus nodded, and they made their way back to Shirley’s fish counter.

“That’s better,” said Shirley, climbing down carefully from her BestCo issue, health and safety approved, three-step ladder. She smiled up at where had once been a wooden cross with a bloody human on it, where now dangled a perfectly round red cheese. Shirley thought she could see a hint of a smile somewhere about the little Babybel Cheesus.
And, you know what? She was right.

 

Notettes of intrigue:

*Aristeus was a minor Greek god credited with the invention of many useful arts, including that of cheese making, hunting, and olive growing. Also famed for his apicultural apparatus.
**James McIntyre is the only known Poet of Cheese. He owned a store selling furniture, pianos, and coffins. Featured in Very Bad Poetry, edited by Ross and Kathryn Petras (Vintage, 1997).
***Cheesepoo is the white stuff found on lost cheese kept at the back of a fridge who’s lightbulb stopped working in 2009. It is made of bacteria excrement. Usually scrapped off before eating. Usually.
**** Paramo de Guzman cheese is a Spanish cheese made from Iberian bred Churra sheep. Well, okay, their milk. It is aged in caves for a very long time then canned in olive oil. It was much sought after by the previous King of Spain who is said to have not been able to get enough of it. This most ancient of cheese is immortalised in The Telling Room, by Michael Paterniti (Dial Press Trade Paperback, 2014)

 

cheesus

 

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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

frost.png

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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