Tuesday 29 October 2019

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 131

This week's photo prompt was taken by American photographer Phil Koch He has some incredible photographs and they are also available to buy on his site (click on his name) and you can also check out more at his page on 500px

I wanted something different, but in the end I went with an old idea I'd had years ago. 

The General Guidelines can be found here.

How to create a clickable link in Blogger comments can be found on lasts week's post here.

There is also a Facebook group for Mid-Week Flash, if you fancy getting the prompt there.




Arctic Ark


We had finally arrived at the water. It had been a hard slog across a frozen desert on snowmobiles, and then pushing them through a scrub forest, but we were here at last; there was hope.

There was still snow on the beach but it wouldn’t last long. It didn’t matter how high up we travelled, anymore there was no escaping it.  But there was still time, enough time to build a boat – at least we hoped there would be.

We’d look at the trees as we had come through the scrub. It wasn’t going to be easy, but there was enough here.

I sat on the shore looking at the view with Jake Hanson.
‘It’s red, even this far up.’

‘You knew it would be.’

‘I hoped it wouldn’t be. I’d thought we’d still have some blue sky days.’

‘I think they’re gone from the earth for now.’

Rob Peterson came over and joined us. He had an armful of driftwood with him which he arranged in a pyramid.

Hanson looked around. ‘Where are the others?’

 ‘They’re getting started on some shelters. And Amy and Marcus have gone off to mark some trees ready for felling tomorrow.’

‘Okay. I think Kani brought the tools on his sled, didn’t he?’

‘Yep.’ Rob started fanning the spark he had made.’

I stared at the little flame. ‘It’s crazy, isn’t it? It’s what’s killing us but we can’t live without it.’

‘The irony of life.’ Jake pulled me closer into him and wrapped an arm round me.

We heard barking and saw Kani coming over the ridge between forest and beach, his arms full of equipment, the huskies dancing round his legs. Hanson got up to go help him. I waited for them to arrive before receiving doggy kisses as they barrelled into me, their tails almost catching light in the beachside fire. It was one of the few pleasures left.

He looked the sky over the water. ‘Magnificent and eerie. I’ve never seen anything like it up here.’

‘No one has. When was the last time this water flowed?’ Rob pointed at the ocean in front of us.

‘I’ve never seen it flow. When it cracked open last month there was no one in the village who had ever seen it thaw. It’s crazy.’

‘I wish you’d managed to persuade them to join us, they would have been invaluable.’

Kani looked sombre. ‘Me too. But they don’t believe it is the end, they think it is a new beginning.’

I shivered. It was a new beginning of sorts; the fires would cleanse the earth. Taking to water was the only way to survive, and our little band of engineers would hopefully build something sturdy to endure and wait for them to burn out. We had all brought skills. Mine was navigation. I could get us anywhere with my eidetic memory for maps. The trick was keeping healthy and fed. If we managed that we just might make it.



Wednesday 23 October 2019

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 130

This week's photo was taken by Michael Wombat, a writer friend on Twitter. It is Hawick Town Hall. I thought it looked very moody and was worth writing about. 

Okay, so this story ran away with itself, and actually turned into 1500 - and wasn't all done, so I might have to return to it. I saved it at that length and cut what I could, but it's come out at 950 words, so for this week all of you can have up 950 words too! 

The General Guidelines can be found here.

How to create a clickable link in Blogger comments can be found on lasts week's post here.

There is also a Facebook group for Mid-Week Flash, if you fancy getting the prompt there.





Recognition 

They crossed the street to the town hall and went round the back of the building. The moon was high and the night was crisp so they didn’t have a problem seeing where they were going. When they reach the side door Russell revealed a key he’d got from a mate that worked there.

They snuck inside, Marina took the opportunity to link her arm through his and grasped it with both hands. He quite liked that – and not just as an excuse to be close, it felt comforting in the eerie darkness.

They didn’t speak as they made their way into the building. Russell had been here plenty of times, so he easily found the stairs to the clock tower where the reports of ghost sightings had been. He was excited to see if they were true.

The thick carpet underfoot helped them move silently as they ascended, but by the time they reached the top they were out of breath.

They stood on the landing catching their breath, looking round at the three doors that faced them, one glass where the clock was housed. They could see the back of the clock inside.

‘Where to now?’ asked Marina.

‘I’m not sure.’ Russell’s warm breath left plumes in the air.

‘I didn’t think it was that cold in here,’ observed Marina noticing.

‘It shouldn’t be.’

Marina started to shiver. ‘Is it getting colder?’

Russell’s eyes lit up. ‘A sudden drop in temperature normally precedes a paranormal event. This could be it!’

Marina returned the look of excitement, and they waited. The only sound was the clock ticking away the hour. Then they heard footsteps. Marina moved closer to Russell, and he took her hand, pulling her into his side, his eyes glued to the clock room door where they came from.  

They grew louder and the handle on the glass door moved, yet no one could be seen on the other side.
Russell felt a mixture of curiosity and fear as it swung open. The footsteps stopped when they reached the carpet so he had no idea if whatever had opened it was still there.

Then the handle on the door to their right moved. He could feel Marina clutching his arm and waist. It opened and closed. No sounds, no footsteps – there was carpet in that room too.

They continued to wait, but nothing happened. Russell felt Marina’s hands relax. He went over to the door on the right, to look inside, but it wouldn’t open. It was locked.

‘What the ...?’ he whispered.

He glanced at Marina. She’d seen it too and looked at him wide-eyed.

‘That’s insane.’

‘I think we should get out of here.’

‘It might come back.’

‘I don’t want to be here when it does, Russell.’

He looked at her. She was shaking, although the freezing air had past. Then they heard footsteps at the bottom of the stairwell.

‘Shit! Someone’s here!’ he whispered.

Despite the carpet, they could hear someone climbing, and the shuffle of cloth against the wall. Then a glow appeared.

‘We need to hide,’ he hissed. He knew one door was locked, but were the others? He was relieved to find the glass door open, and pulled Marina through, gently shutting it behind them.

They pressed themselves up against the wall to one side of the door, hoping they wouldn’t be seen if someone looked in.

The landing filled with light as the person reached the top. Russell wanted to peek but daren’t, and held his breath as light filled the room. They were moving toward the clock room.

The handle turned, and he could see his own breath as well as Marina’s. The temperature had dropped again and he realised this might not be a living person.

It opened and they stepped in. Russell had assumed the light had come from a torch, but it hadn’t; the ethereal being emitted it. Dressed in some kind of uniform, not quite military, when it turned from closing the door, Marina gasped.

‘Dad?’ she whispered.

The apparition turned and upon seeing her, smiled. It shook its head.

‘Nay child, great grandfather I believe – you’re Geoffrey’s daughter, yes?’ Its deep voice resonated through the room.  

She nodded. Russell could see tears sparkling in her eyes.

‘Yes, is he here?’

It gave a sad shake of the head. ‘Nay, he has passed over beyond the light.’

She frowned slightly. ‘Why haven’t you?’

‘My work here is not done; I must wind the clock.’

‘But there’s someone else doing that now; it’s not your responsibility.’

‘I must, otherwise she will be late and doom will fall.’

Its face dropped and it turned away continuing its walk to the clock, but vanished as it reached it.
The two of them stood in stunned silence. Then they looked at each other.

‘Do you know what he was talking about?’ Marina asked.

‘No.’ Russell was bewildered by his words.

‘I need to know. I need to find out. Maybe it will release him.’

‘Maybe.’

Marina shuddered. ‘Can we go now? I don’t think I can handle any more.’

‘Me either.’

They left the room and descended in silence, sneaking out the way they’d come in.

Out on the street, Russell grabbed her hand. ‘Are you okay? Do you want to come back to mine for a cuppa before you go home?’

Marina had seemed distant on the way out, but now she came back to herself.

‘I’d love to.’

‘Great, and you can tell me about your dad and who that guy was.’

‘I’m not sure I know. I think I’ll need to do a trip to the library tomorrow.’

‘I’ll come with you.’

She squeezed his hand and they walked off down the street, still trying to process what they’d just witnessed.



Wednesday 16 October 2019

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 129

This week's picture prompt appears to be by artist Marcos Garcia, a Spanish artist known for painting royal family. He shared this picture on a site called Foati, where he has a page. I believe it is a photo he took in Marbella, in Peurto Banus. (I don't think it is a painting as it doesn't seem to be in his style at all, but I can't be sure!)

Pirate stories aren't my forte but this one sparked off more easily than expected. 
The General Guidelines can be found here.

How to create a clickable link in Blogger comments can be found on lasts week's post here.

There is also a Facebook group for Mid-Week Flash, if you fancy getting the prompt there.



Last Man Standing

It wasn’t his job to care about the prisoner, but he couldn’t help it. She’d been found in the water off the coast and they’d hauled her in, jeering about their luck and stowing her away for later use.

She shivered as Johns cleaned, and he considered bringing her a blanket, something to put round her narrow, frail shoulders. He heard whispering as he pushed the broom past her cell, and glanced up. She was rocking and muttering. He couldn’t make out what. It sounded like gibberish. He assumed it was some kind of prayer. I mean, who wouldn’t be praying in her situation, locked in the hold awaiting the return of a gang of pirates to wreak havoc on your body as many times as you could stand and then some. He knew he would be. As the youngest of the crew, he’d had to tolerate some of that attention himself. And even though he hated to admit it, he was grateful she was here.

In that moment he decided he’d provide her with a blanket, it was the least he could do, even if it did result in getting a swipe from McLaughlin. He was a bad-tempered Quartermaster even on good days, so Johns didn’t care.

When he took her the grey, scratchy rag that served as blankets on the Prentiss, she glanced up at him, her stark jade eyes catching him off guard as they regarded him with contempt rather than fear. He wondered if she would be as easy to break as they suspected.

‘Here lady, a bit of comfort, the least I can offer in this hell-hole of a scallywag’s ship.’ He grinned at her, but her expression didn’t change. She snatched the material and drew it round her, unspeaking. He withdrew, locking her in, a sick feeling settling into his stomach.

***

As dusk fell that evening, a keening sound was heard off starboard causing the crew to rush to the side of the ship to try and ascertain its origins, but nothing could be seen in the dimming light. Lasting only a few minutes, they lost interest, instead going to fill their bellies in the Captain’s cabin and prep for their night of debauchery.

Johns kept himself busy on deck, not wanting to be present. If he saw no evil and heard no evil, he couldn’t speak of any evil. But they were loud as they went below deck and the sounds carried on the still ocean air. The screams grew loud and he hummed to himself to block them out, until he was forced to sing to smother the shouts that followed. Then there was silence. He assumed they’d broken her. She might look feisty, but it wasn’t enough to ward off the likes of them.

He waited for them to return, moving with his bucket along to the bow of the ship, but there were no footfalls on the stairs, and the silence continued, growing eerie.

He stopped mopping and listened. Maybe they were worn out and had gone to sleep it off. But there was no shuffling, or mutterings, or general movement of bodies. The earlier foreboding increased.
Then he heard shuffling coming up the ladder in the middle of the main deck. In the nightlight, the white skin of the woman gleamed as she surfaced from below. But was it a woman?

The creature Johns witnessed arriving on deck might have the bedraggled blonde hair and striking green eyes of the woman below, but the similarity ended there. Blood dripped from its mouth and teeth – teeth that belonged to a shark they were so jagged and plentiful – and its eyes shone out like lights in the night, its skin all aglow. Its hands and feet were now webbed as it dragged itself to the side of the ship.

Johns shivered as it loosed a keening causing him to cover his ears and move behind a barrel to hide, while watching it lean over the side. A matching sound replied far out to seas, and he was relieved when the creature jumped overboard to return to its companions, rather than invite them here. He considered going below to see the destruction it had wrought, but decided to wait until morning, instead heading to the helm, where he would now need to navigate the ship alone.

But to where? The world was now his oyster. His mind raced at the possibilities once he’d dumped the bodies. 




Friday 11 October 2019

Review: Violet by SJI Holliday

VioletViolet by S.J.I. Holliday
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I never did the Trans Siberian Express although I thought about it after spending a year or so backpacking. I did do other long train journeys, like The Ghan from Adelaide to Alice Springs, and all the way up the east coast of Australia, and I used to talk to people all the time. That's part of the backpackers life. This book certainly grasped the feel of the backpackers life - even though you don't often come across people who are quite like Violet ... thankfully.

This book reminded me of the film, The Beach, which shows the highs of backpacking and going off grid and the people you meet, and then exposes the dirty underbelly and the true characters of some of them. Violet does this, but in a slightly different way: more psychological, and insipid. The slow drip effect of realising the deeper you get into it, the more off kilter it gets. And that is how Carrie gets to feel about Violet. And SJI Holliday also manages to do this to the reader too, and not just about Violet.

There is an expectation from the start that something will be revealed about Violet, and you are waiting for it, but then things go a bit strange in the middle, at a particular event, and you become unsure. I was no longer certain which way things were going to fall and who actually was the twisted one. That is down to the talent of the writer.

Holliday manages to weave a tale that twists and turns, not just writing about unsettling characters but able to unsettle the reader about the characters and what the truth is behind the story, making them unsure which way is up - explaining the brilliant design of the cover. And at the same time I felt a certain sympathy for Violet, more so than for Carrie in the end.

The characters were depicted perfectly to me; I could envisage them both. I felt I almost knew them, being British and having been a backpacker. They drew you in and captured you as you waited to see how it was going to turn out. And you get to know it all, with a tiny little kicker at the end too, just to bring it full cycle.

If you want a glimpse into a broken mind and a broken person, and how this can play out, and how dark and sinister it can get, then this is the book for you. Psychological thriller at its best.



View all my reviews

Wednesday 9 October 2019

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 128

This week's prompt photo was taken by Richard Shilling, an Environmental Artist - you can find his own art on his website. He also has a large collection of photography of environmental art on his Flickr page (worth a look)

The piece of art photographed is a sculpture by Andy Goldworthy, who also does incredible creations. If you want to visit this one, there are direction on this website. 

The General Guidelines can be found here.

How to create a clickable link in Blogger comments can be found on lasts week's post here.

There is also a Facebook group for Mid-Week Flash, if you fancy getting the prompt there.



Home


He stood in front of the hand-built stonewall with its intriguing design that looked like a door. Others claimed it was just a piece of art by some long ago ancient artist, but he knew differently – he ‘saw’ differently. He knew there was a trick to opening it. It was in the pattern and the numbering.

People didn’t believe in numerology and geometric patterns anymore; they thought it was all mumbo-jumbo, some sort of religious idea. They only saw the world in their stark, flat, two dimensions – well, they liked to tinker with the idea they saw in three dimensions, but there were infinite dimensions and they didn’t fully understand the concept.

But Randolf did. His mind had always seen more than the average person – and that was the thing: he saw with his mind, not his eyes.

And as he stood in front of the stones, he used his mind to reach out to the configuration. His eyes only read the information.

The pattern of a door wasn’t coincidental, it was deliberate, and he knew that deciphering the numbers and the layout would mean opening something. But to what?

He stared at it and slowly the configuration became visible to him. It was like staring at one of those three dimensional patterned pictures until the image appears and you can’t unsee it. He ran through it with his eyes a few times to be sure, before touching the stones.

Once his fingers touched the last stone, the entire centrepiece shifted. The stones seemed to vapourise into a darkness that was foreboding.

Randolf didn’t know if it would be a good idea to step through. Would the place beyond be a different dimension? The entrance system would certainly indicate one of a geometric kind. And would he be able to perceive it correctly if that was the case? So much to ponder, but without stepping forward he would never hold the answers.

He lifted his foot and stepped in, leaving most of his body outside. He wasn’t sure what to expect: maybe his left leg would disappear, get bitten off, or just cease to be. But none of those things happened, so he shifted his entire body through the opening.

Randolf anticipated darkness, but it wasn’t dark as he knew it, it was more vacuous. And within it there was visual movement his eyes tried to catch. It seemed to circle him. His conscious mind interpreted something outside of himself, but his body had changed. It had become light and ethereal, like it was no longer solid, like his physical state was no longer solid. And the lighter he felt the more visible the movements became in his mind.

They were flashes of colour, like those that appear behind closed eyelids, but they were appearing in some kind of pattern, and shapes appeared within them. Randolf realised he could ‘read’ them; they made sense to his brain and to his intellect. They were another existence, another people, but one way beyond anything the human mind could conceive. And he understood that they were not new, they were always there, existing alongside humans, in some ways a part of themselves they didn’t know existed.

And as he grasped this and his conscious processed it, his own energy level raised. He felt a sense of calm and belonging, like he’d finally found his place. A place where he was a part of something significant, something worthwhile; a  much needed cog in a machine that couldn’t work without him. He was home. Nothing else existed, only being in this state.



Friday 4 October 2019

Free short story, exclusive to my newsletter subscribers

I recently came across a story I wrote several years ago - in fact a serial short story I wrote in eleven flash pieces for a blog called Daily Picspiration which is now defunct. 

I really enjoyed reading it again, and I thought others would too, so I've prepared it as a little ebook and am giving it away to my newsletter subscribers only! 😃

Here's a glimpse:



It had been called an ‘evacuation’ by the military, but no one had left the town alive. Now that Daniels and the remaining survivors were faced with frozen water pipes, their only hope was to move to a mountain cabin in mid-winter.  

Snippet:

“The snow fell away from the frost encrusted windows, revealing a dark shape inside the car. It started to strike the windows at the movement outside, eventually pushing its face up against the glass. The bright iridescent blue of the infected eyes shone through, confirming that there was no one to be saved inside.”

Wednesday 2 October 2019

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 127

This week's photo is from American photographer Jerry N Uelsmann. He has some interesting pieces, definitely work checking out. This particular image is not on is site, but is on other art sites attributed to him. 

I had this story in my head from the second I saw the picture. It helped me return to my darker writing roots. 

The General Guidelines can be found here.

How to create a clickable link in Blogger comments can be found on lasts week's post here.

There is also a Facebook group for Mid-Week Flash, if you fancy getting the prompt there.






Lies

As she stuffed the last bag into the ground, Gwenda thought about how it had all started: the chairs.

It had been a simple enough thing on a weekend away with her husband’s friends, all sitting outside enjoying the sunshine in the dreaded ring of chairs they all insisted on sitting in. It always had to be a circle; they’d been raised to sit that way since nursery school and did it at every gathering.

Then she’d got up to go to the toilet and by the time she’d come back the sun had moved, and so had they. They’d moved all the chairs back into the sun resetting them in the same ring, except for hers. Hers was still sitting there on its own in the shadow on the other side of the lawn.

She’d paused for a second, deciding it was nothing, until they did the same again the following day. And then they’d done it with the games too; all getting up to go and play cards leaving her there sitting alone, uninvited as though she was invisible.

From that time on she had noticed every time they had deliberately excluded her during an event or gathering – and even from one entirely. Her husband was good at ‘forgetting’ to tell her until the last minute, making it impossible for her to join. They also ‘forgot’ to include her in emails or messages. Each time it had twisted inside her, like a poisonous snake that kept on biting. It had filled her with venom and bitterness, until she could stand it no more. She decided something had to be done.

And she’d done it.

She’d waited until it was her and her husband’s turn to organise a weekend away, and then picked a place that was remote and off the grid, citing a desire to reconnect by playing some paintball.  She knew she couldn’t exclude her husband from her plans, but as he had always dismissed her feelings and not supported her anyway, it hadn’t been hard. She’d spent ten years devoting her life to him; given up everything for what he wanted, believing that being by his side would make her valuable to him, but it had been a lie. And now it was time to correct that lie; now it was time to put herself first for a change.

They’d loved the idea of paintball, and obtaining the equipment hadn’t been difficult. However, obtaining a gun had been. She’d worried at one point that she wouldn’t be successful, but at the last moment it had all come together, indicating to her that it was meant to be.

And then the games had begun.

She’d deliberately chosen to start the game late in the day, so she could use the darkness to her advantage and it had worked. The forest surrounding the property was deep enough to cover the sounds of shots and screams, and didn’t edge on to any main roads. In fact, the road to the house had been nothing but track for a good twenty miles, it had been perfect. And should questions be asked, evidence of paintball was everywhere. She’d been the only one with a real gun.

The only problem was making sure she killed each one quickly. It was only a small handgun and she’d done target practice for weeks beforehand to make sure she wouldn’t run out of bullets on the day. She knew the last one would be the hardest, as by then they would have cottoned on, but they had frozen in fear rather than run for their life.

And now, the depth of the forest had served her in the options for disposing of bodies. She’d picked a variety of locations, and scattered them about to lower the risk of anything being discovered. The biodegradable bags she’d found had been a God send; a few months down the line there wouldn’t be much to discover. And the big bonfire she’d gained permission to have would see the end of all their belongings.

Then she’d drop the rental bus they used to come here off at a local handler and disappear herself. She was looking forward to the freedom of finally being able to live the life she wanted, and no longer living a lie. Although being invisible this time would be an advantage.