The Need for Sleep

I wrote this story for the ‘Hour of Writes’ competition a few weeks ago. If you haven’t heard of Hour of Writes then I recommend you pay the site a visit. The idea is simple: the theme is set each week and participants are encouraged to write a story, poem or non-fiction piece based on it. A timer is set for one hour, and away you go! Each participant must read and mark three pieces of submitted work in order for their own to be considered for the prize, so it has a real community feel to it.

The theme for that particular was ‘Live the Dream’. Here is what I was able to come up with. I hope you enjoy it.

 

The Need For Sleep

By Adam Dixon

The weak morning sunlight trickled into the hotel room, promising a day of brightness and warmth. For Tomasz, the day could not seem any brighter than it already was. He reclined against the plump pillows on the large bed as the breeze from the open window raised pleasant goose-bumps on his arms. He selected a piece of warm, crispy bread from the tray on his knees and held it up to Justyna’s lips. Justyna, glowing from happiness and from their recent love-making, giggled and opened her mouth to accept the offering. She had never looked so beautiful and Tomasz fell in love with her all over again. Justyna crunched the bread and poked around on the tray for a moment. She lifted a piece of sausage and wriggled closer. The bed sheets she had gathered around her fell away, revealing her naked body for an instant before her raven-coloured hair covered her breasts. She placed a hand delicately on Tomasz’s chest and raised the other to his mouth. Tomasz breathed in the scent of the meat, detecting the sweet herbs added to flavour it. His stomach rumbled and Justyna laughed, bird-like and full of life.
“Eat, my love,” Justyna said, smiling sweetly. Tomasz stared into her pale blue eyes and opened his mouth. He relished the rich, succulent flavour of the meat almost as much as the feeling of Justyna’s fingers on his lips and on his chest. Desire awoke within him again and he gently cupped her face. He leaned forwards and moved his face towards hers…

A bell sounded, piercing and urgent. Tomasz awoke with a start and immediately cried out in despair.
“No! Not again!” he wailed, covering his eyes with his hands. Tears coursed down his leathery, wrinkled face and fell to the floor. The bell rang again impatiently.
“Oh, Justyna!” Tomasz moaned as he swung his weary legs from the warmth of his single bed. He could still taste the sausage on his tongue, and her fingertips still lingered on his lips… Tomasz dressed quickly in a simple shirt and trousers, shoving his feet into his reliable old boots. He stood and gazed at himself in the small, grimy mirror on his bedside table. His rheumy eyes took in the image of an old man, crumpled and heartbroken. His eyes strayed to his left arm and he sighed. He hadn’t removed the Artifact; he detested that part almost as deeply as waking up. He unclasped the leather binding as swiftly as his arthritic fingers would allow before pulling it away. He winced as the sharp stud pulled free from his flesh, dripping blood in a thin crimson river down his forearm. Tomasz wrapped a simple bandage around the wound before shrugging on a battered overcoat. The bell rang again as he tucked the Artifact into a secret compartment next to his bed. Tomasz swore.
“I am coming, you cretin!” he said through clenched teeth. “You had better have a lot of work for me today, I wish to sleep for longer tonight!” He patted the unassuming wooden panel hiding the Artifact for reassurance, then he shuffled out of his tiny room. His employer awaited.

“Tomasz, what the hell kept you?” the mage demanded, his ridiculous green eyebrows arching in annoyance. Tomasz bowed, causing his back to crack audibly.
“My apologies, Master Aleksander,” he wheezed. “I must have overslept.”
“This is happening too often, old man!” the mage snapped, crossing his arms in his voluminous golden sleeves. “Honestly, if you ever came to your senses and ask for proper payment I would dismiss you and hire someone younger!”
“Do not fear, Master Aleksander,” Tomasz said with practiced humility. He glanced up with a sad smile. “All I require is for my tasks to be exhausting and for somewhere to sleep once they are complete. Nothing more.” Aleksander eyed Tomasz with distaste. The man had been using the Artifact again; he positively reeked of the ancient magic. Aleksander shuddered at the idea of using fresh blood to awaken a spell, it was almost medieval. For a moment, Aleksander’s coldness evaporated. If only he could find a way for the Artifact to work with magically-induced sleep…that would give Tomasz a bit of an easier time…if he could just- but no, Aleksander did not have time to waste researching such frivolities.
“Good,” the mage said stiffly, regaining his poise. He jerked a poultice-stained thumb towards a set of wooden stairs. “I have twelve barrels of healing potions which need decanting into the one-hundred-and-twenty flasks you will see in the cellar. They have already been laid out, and they will each need to be stoppered and labelled. Do not spill a single drop, Tomasz, it is expensive stock!”
“Right away, sir!” Tomasz said eagerly. “I do apologise once again for my lateness. I will make it up to you, I promise.” With that, he hurried off to the cellar steps and descended into darkness. Aleksander frowned after him. He was almost certain that the old man was thinner than before. He looked almost skeletal.
“You’re not eating properly, are you?” Aleksander mumbled. He shook his head; he had no time to care about the whims of an old labourer!
“Bah! If he wishes to tread this path, so be it!” he said to himself. “I’m not his keeper! I’ll not interfere!”

Tomasz fell asleep almost as soon as his head hit his pillow that night. He had willed his aching, fatigued body back to his claustrophobic room and had attached the Artifact as soon as he could. The brief sting followed by the unnatural throbbing as the magic leaked into him did not prevent him from slipping away quickly. His eyes opened within a dream almost right away. He looked down at his hands. They were old and wrinkled, so it was not a dream of younger times. A shame, but it couldn’t be helped. He glanced around him, and his heart sank in his chest.
He was in a hospital. Sterile white walls surrounded him on all sides and the reek of stale urine and futile disinfectant invaded his nostrils. A corridor stretched out in front of him, and at the end of it was a single bed. On it lay a shape which he couldn’t quite make out, but he knew it was Justyna.
“No, not this one…” he croaked, closing his eyes tight and willing himself to wake up. The offensive odour grew stronger and he heard a weak voice call his name.
“Tomasz? Tomasz, where are you?”
“Justyna!” Tomasz opened his eyes and lurched forward as a strangled sob escaped his lips. His footsteps boomed on the floor, echoing loudly around him and lancing into his ears like daggers. He staggered into a run, seeing the bed moving closer, but slowly, oh so slowly!
“Tomasz? Tomasz, are you there? Tomasz…I’m frightened…”
“I’m coming, my love!” Tomasz called desperately. “I’ll not leave you!” Tomasz hauled himself along the corridor, his old legs protesting and his chest tightening painfully as his breathing came out in short gasps. After what seemed like hours Tomasz reached the bed. It was a simple affair, just a thin mattress on top of a bench, but that was all the space the hospital had been able to provide them with at the time. The Plague had spread so quickly…
“Tomasz?” Justyna tried to raise herself in the bed, her wasted arms trembling with the effort. Her once-radiant face was gaunt and discoloured by the consuming disease, and the light in her beautiful eyes was dim. Tomasz gently lowered her back down and took both of her hands. He forced a smile and blinked away tears as he fought to catch his breath.
“I am…here, Justyna,” he said. “I will…always be…here,”
“Oh, Tomasz, I hurt so,” Justyna said miserably. Her back arched and she winced in pain. Her bony fingers gripped his weakly, and Tomasz felt her wedding band slide up a few millimeters at the movement.
“It’s alright, my love,” he wheezed, leaning down to kiss her cheek. It was so cold, and so thin. She even smelled wrong, like the disinfectant on the floors. Tomasz’s lips trembled as he kissed her and he fought to the urge to cry out in despair. Instead he whispered in Justyna’s ear.
“I love you, Justyna,” he said, channeling all of his passion into the words. “Gods, I love you so much…”
“I love you too, Tomasz,” Justyna said, cradling his head with her arms. They clung to one another in silence, neither knowing what to say. Tomasz wished he could do something, anything for her.
“Tomasz, will we see the Grand Budapest again?” Justyna asked, breaking the oppressive silence with a faint voice. Tomasz choked down a sob; the Grand Budapest was the hotel where they had spent their honeymoon.
“I think so, my love,” he whispered. “You just need to get better first. The doctors will make you strong again, you’ll see.”
“Oh, that’s good,” Justyna said, lying back down with her eyes closed. She wore a smile, and Tomasz smiled as well. Justyna’s breathing became less labourious, and she appeared to relax. Tomasz still held her hands in his, and felt the tears splashing on to them. He opened his mouth to speak to her…

The bell rang sharply. Tomasz was jerked awake and ran a hand across his wet cheeks.
“Oh, Justyna,” he said, shaking his head and groaning. He sat up and pulled away the Artifact, not caring that the blood spattered onto his pillow. He stood and dressed himself, preparing for the next day of work. He stared into the mirror once again, and then staggered off. He sincerely wished for a better dream that evening…

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Out of Retirement

Merry Christmas, everyone! 😀

 

Out of Retirement

By Adam Dixon

 

“Voila! What do you think, mon ami?” The old reindeer turned at the sound of the cheery voice, his legs creaking and his back threatening to cramp up. He lifted his shaggy white head at the newcomer as he stepped in through the door and into the tiny cabin. A large old man dressed in green cloth grinned and turned his flabby jowls towards the roaring fire. The orange and gold light flickered across his clean-shaven face.

Well, Pierre, I didn’t realise you had quite so many chins,” he replied, sending the thought with a mischievous wink. The old man’s smile faded and he huffed, flopping his bulk down on a nearby armchair.

“Oh, you are a scoundrel!” he declared “Ah, but you are right, of course!” There was a small wooden table next to his armchair and upon it stood a bottle of wine and two clean glasses. Pierre uncorked the bottle and helped himself.

“So, the big night is upon us again, no? It comes around so quickly!”

Yes, it does,” the deer nodded. “I still get the old feelings of anticipation, you know. I suppose they never go away, even after retirement. How long as it been now?

“Twenty-five years for me,” Pierre replied. “And I believe that it will be twenty-two for you. Mon Dieu, how time flies!”

Hard to believe that the new Santa is the second one after you,” the deer said. “And the Rudolph is the third after me. We seem to be getting through them these days. Pity about Seamus, he was a wonderful Santa.

“Oui, he was,” Pierre said sadly. “But a bit too fond of whiskey, in the end. He shouldn’t have drank so much before flying through that Pacific storm…such a shame…and that was three years ago now, no?”

Yes, that’s right. Still, the new Santa appears to be finding his feet,” the deer sent. As soon as he had finished speaking, there came a knock on the door. A moment later an elf poked her head inside, an expectant look on her face. The cold night air rushed in and disturbed the fire, sending shadows dancing around the room in a panic.

“Evening, sirs,” she said, curtseying as she stepped inside. The small bells on her tall, pointed hat jingled. “Santa would like speak with you. He’s a bit nervous about tonight, I think.”

“Speak of the devil!” Pierre said with a broad grin. “Wiggles and I are not up to much, please send him in!” The elf curtseyed again and left the cabin. The reindeer growled and glared at Pierre.

Why do you insist on calling me that?” he sent.

“It is your name, is it not?” Pierre asked, pouring out an extra glass of wine as he refilled his own.

That’s not the point, you know I hate it!” Wiggles sent, scowling. “That was the hardest part about retiring, having to lose my first decent name…” Before Pierre could begin laughing in earnest, the door to the cabin swung open again. Another very fat man strode into the room, resplendent in his red-and-white clothing and shining white beard. His dark face was creased in happiness as he walked over to Pierre and seized his hand.

“Pierre! Ça me fait toujours plaisir de te voir!” he said with enthusiasm. Pierre smiled at the compliment and nodded towards Wiggles.

“And to you, mon ami! But let us speak in English for the sake of our valued steed, yes? He is not intelligent enough for two languages!” Pierre yelped as Wiggles bit him on the hip.

I have a working understanding of the language, you fat fool!” Wiggles chided. “Half a century of listening to you wail your old songs gave me that much at least!

“Those are ballads of great beauty and skilled composition, I’ll have you know!” Pierre said with a laugh, rubbing his hip. “Now, what can we do for you, dear Emmanuel? May I offer you some wine?” The man in red smiled and spoke up, stroking his beard with his fingers.

“Nah man, I’d better not,” he said slowly, sampling the less familiar words with care. His accent was thick and exotic for the North Pole. “Pierre, I don’t like the take-off, man. Reindeers are all ready, but I’m the scared old goat! Ya both helped me last Christmas, an’ so could…could ya come an’ see me off this time? I’d be grateful.” Emmanuel’s eyes moved imploringly between Pierre and Wiggles. It was Wiggles who spoke first.

Of course, Emmanuel!” the reindeer sent, shooting Pierre an eager look. “The fat fool and I were just discussing the old times, as it happens. I think we both miss the job more than we’d like to admit.” Emmanuel’s grin split his beard in unequal halves and he nodded with vigour.

“Oh, thank you, thank you!” he said with excitement. “I bet you do miss it, man! It’s the best job I ever had! The kiddies are so happy in the mornin’, an’ I get to make it happen! An’ seein’ Haiti again always brings me joy!”

“Oui, that is wonderful!” Pierre said with longing in his eyes. “I am envious, Emmanuel. I would love to see Lille again…to be frank, I would love to see the world again, but I am too old to travel away from here now.” Emmanuel seemed struck by a thought and he cocked his head to one side.

“Maybe not, man,” he said slowly. “Ya should come with me! Both of ya! Think about it, man! Up in the sky again, feelin’ the wind in ya hair and hearin’ those sleigh bells jinglin’!” Pierre’s eyes widened and Wiggles was too taken aback to say anything.

“Emmanuel, that is a magnificent idea,” Pierre replied, choked. “I didn’t realise just how much I missed that creaky old bucket and the stink of the reindeer blowing in my face until this evening. I’d love to do it all one more time!”

Eloquent as always,” sent Wiggles. “You can count me in, as well, Emmanuel! That is if the Grand Elf sees fit to let us, and if we can get the ‘creaky old bucket’ off the ground with you both in it!

“Aha, you a cheeky one, man!” Emmanuel said, grinning from ear to ear. “Come, come! Let’s go an’ speak with him right now!”

***

The Grand Elf was an old being who radiated knowledge and wisdom. His small face was cracked and creased by innumerable lines from innumerable years on the earth, and his long white beard trailed the floor in twin lines behind him. Standing in the large, decadent Grand Cabin, supported by two young elves who held him at the elbows, he looked hard at his audience. Despite their own long lives and their familiarity with him, the trio were struck dumb with awe at the elf. They fidgeted before his gaze, scuffing their feet on the floor and clearing their throats as he pondered their question.

“This…is most irregular,” the Grand Elf rasped. His voice sounded like sandpaper scraping across a wooden toy. “There is no precedent for a former Santa Claus and Rudolph taking part in Christmas Eve so long after the termination of their duties. Why should I allow it?”

“Master Elder, sir,” Emmanuel began, wringing his hands together. “I’m still scared about the take-off, an’ I could use the help.”

“The elves working here can provide ample instruction,” the Elder wheezed, frowning.

“I know, sir, but I would feel much better to have my friends with me,” Emmanuel pressed. “An’ also, they wanna fly again! You’d be doin’ them a great favour, too!”

“Hmm…” the Grand Elf mused, rubbing his chin with a trembling, time-withered hand. “It is not simply a question of missing the journey into the sky, but of the magic of Christmas. Do these two still hold that magic close, I wonder? Or has it faded with the decades of inactivity?”

“Tch! Don’t be silly, man!” Emannuel said, affronted. He was immediately contrite. “’Scuse me, sir! I mean, of course the magic is still there. These two are walkin’ Christmas spirits!”

“I would ask them the question and not you, young man,” the Grand Elder said with a stern frown. Emmanuel blinked at the comment but held his tongue.

“Sir, I don’t know where I ought to begin,” Pierre said with confusion. “I… Christmas has always been special to me, and I tried to spread my happiness every year when I was living in France. I helped charitable organisations feed the homeless and visited the elderly in my younger days….” Pierre trailed off, thinking. The Grand Elder stood in silence, waiting. Pierre gulped and continued.

“But I must talk to you about the work itself…I still remember the first time I was given the honour of being Santa…” Pierre stared into the distance with a smile on his face. “Mon Dieu, it was fantastic! To wear those wonderful clothes, to see the world with sturdy animals and the starlight to guide me…. incredible! But…but most of all I loved to imagine the smiles on the faces of the children on Christmas morning. Ah, the rosy glow of happiness! The cheer in their eyes! The laughter and the love! That, to me, is the real joy of Christmas!”

Pierre is right,” Wiggles sent. “It’s been a long time since I was a foal, but I have spent every year since trying to make humans happy. The children and the old, the merry and the glum, they all deserve to be joyful at Christmas. Serving mankind as Rudolph for forty years has been the highlight of my life. I’ve never been happier, and I still want to spread my happiness across the world with my friend Pierre.

“We did it together, mon cher ami,” Pierre said with great affection. He laid a meaty hand on the old reindeer’s head. Wiggles nuzzled Pierre’s hand and bleated fondly. The love between the two friends was palpable and one of the Grand Elder’s aides sniffed loudly. The other dabbed at her eyes. Gradually, the air inside the Great Cabin became warmer and seemed to shimmer around Pierre. The fat man laughed in delight as he flexed his tingling fingers, his eyes growing wide as soft, white sparks danced along his skin. His belly shook as he laughed, the happy, rich sound booming around the room as he sparkled with light. Next to him, Wiggles began to croon in the back of his throat, bucking his legs and shaking his head. He squeezed his eyes shut, snorted twice and then sneezed. As he lifted his head, a crimson light shone around his nose, lighting up the astonished onlookers. His face looked as close to a bright smile as a reindeer could get. Bathed in the light from the two friends, Emmanuel clapped his hands together and bounced up and down, his bulk making the floorboards creak.

“You see! You see! They’ve still got it!” he said, his wide smile threatening to burst from his face. “What did I say, man? I told you!”

“Yes, this is quite a display!” the Grand Elf said, beaming through his own beard. “The magic of Christmas is still strong within you both! Excellent, excellent! I see no reason for you not to accompany Santa, if you are both able. Blast the irregularity, it is Christmas!” Emmanuel seized Pierre’s hand in both of his and pumped it vigorously.

“Oh, Pierre, my heart sings for you!” he said, still bouncing on his heels. “This will be the best Christmas ever!”

“Oui, mon ami,” Pierre said, sharing the excitement with tears in his eyes. “It certainly will! Now, I must prepare! I will need my old suit, my old hat and my old boots! Oh non, will I still fit into them? I have gained so much weight since then…Oh, Mon Dieu, why did I decide to shave today of all days?” Emmanuel burst out laughing as the old man hurried off towards his own cabin, muttering to himself and fretting about the cold night air. Wiggles shook his great head and sent his amusement to Emmanuel.

That old fool never did have the best timing!” the glow from his nose waved merrily as he laughed. “Now, I’d best get ready myself. See you on the runway, Santa!

“Not soon enough, Rudolph!” Santa answered with a wink. Wiggles scampered off, feeling as happy as a foal at feeding time. What a wonderful Christmas it was going to be!

 

 

Christmas Story reblog

It’s that time of year again! Everyone is either rushing around doing frantic last-minute shopping or relaxing with all their presents bought early, their feet up and smug smiles on their faces. Today I was one of those unorganised louts in the former category. I hope you’re all faring well and are getting ready to enjoy the festivities!

Today I thought I’d share a story which I wrote last year. I can hardly believe that so much time has passed since I posted it! Take a look at the teaser and follow the link below to read the full story. I am currently writing another which I will have ready either by Christmas Eve at the earliest or Christmas Day at the latest. I’m enjoying reading through some of my fellow blogger’s Christmas-related posts too! It’s almost enough to get me out of my Scrooge-like introspection and find some holiday cheer! Almost…

Happy holidays, everyone!

The Elves’ Hot Chocolate

By Adam Dixon

“Well, I’m glad that’s over!” Barry the elf exclaimed, slumping back into the padded seats and closing his eyes. His green pointed hat slid over his mousey fringe. The large red sleigh bucked as it sailed over the clouds, jerking him forwards with a yelp.

“Oi! Pay attention, Baz!” barked a gruff voice beside him. Gary rubbed his head and glared at Barry. “You knocked off my hat, you clumsy oaf! It’s gone right over the edge! What am I supposed to say to Mrs Claus when we get home?”

“Sorry, Gaz,” Barry said sheepishly. He took the reins in a firm grip and surveyed the night sky.

An Update & a Reblog!

Good evening, all! Happy Hallowe’en and have fun with your ghoulish night of tricks, treats and stuffing yourself to the eyeballs with sweeties!

Now, some of you may have noticed that I have been a bit lax recently with my blog. Whilst my inactivity saddens me, it is mainly due to the fact that I have been gearing up to take part in this year’s National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo for short) and that has taken up a large portion of my writing time. Because of this, I have been unable to pen a horror story for this evening, but I will instead provide the link to a short story I wrote back in April, entitled “Unreal“. In fact, I wrote this piece as part of a different writing challenge, which was actually undertaken as a warm-up to Nanowrimo! I hope that it will suffice and that you enjoy reading it if you haven’t already.

I have a small pile of completed stories, both new and old, which I will be posting throughout November, as well as providing updates on my Nanowrimo progress as I slog through it. I apologise in advance for the lack of routine, and I will get straight back on to working on my ‘Fiction Fursday’ stories in December, which I am thrilled to say have been quite successful!

Enjoy your evening, one and all, and if any of you are getting involved in Nanowrimo , please get in touch!

 

UNREAL
By Adam Dixon

Jack could hardly believe the realism of the game. As soon as he pulled down the visor-screen he could almost swear that he was standing in a meadow during the height of summer, rather than sat in his ergonomic gaming chair in his draughty South-London flat. He could nearly feel the grass tickling his feet and taste the pollen in the air. The box containing the virtual reality system boasted “A gaming world so real, it’ll leave you drained!” It certainly was visually impressive.

“Wow,” he whistled in appreciation. “Pretty good start!” He glanced down at himself and marvelled at the physique of his chosen character. He gazed in wonder at a bare torso covered with rippling, solid muscle and saw equally strong legs supporting him. He almost whooped in delight. He was just like Conan the Barbarian!…

Click here to read on, if you dare…

Fiction Fursday/Lost Fairy (Continued)

Today’s story was prompted by my fellow blogger and friend, Nathalie from arwenaragornstar. Nat wrote a thought-provoking story back in August called Lost Fairy, and when I stated my desire to know how it ends, she suggested that I find out and use it as my prompt. I thought this was a wonderful idea and I was excited to be writing with such vibrant, ponderous material. Thanks again, Nat, and I hope I’ve done your story justice!

Please check out Nat’s story before reading mine. It’s rather good! I hope you enjoy what I’ve been able to come up with as well.

P.S. If any of you would like to suggest a prompt for me to use on another Thursday, please feel free to do so by leaving a comment. I’ll give anything a try! Thanks again for visiting.

 

Lost Fairy (Continued)

By Adam Dixon

The fairy sat upon the low concrete wall and watched the humans with sad, green eyes. How they moved to and fro with such haste! It was as if stopping to take a deep breath and relax would ruin their rigid plans for the day. Not that they would want to, as the air was heavy with pollution. It made her feel dirty inside and outside and she flicked her once-shimmering wings in disgust. The humans hurried over to their cars and darted away into distance, adding to the unclean air. She didn’t see a single smile. What a cold, uncaring world to exist in.

The wind blew stronger as time wore on, snatching at her hair and wings. The fairy shivered and pulled her legs up under her chin. A distant rumble of thunder confirmed her fears but she didn’t have the will to fly away as the first raindrops fell. In all of her years the fairy had never felt so wretched and she wept bitter tears.

The fairy didn’t know how long she had sat upon the wall when she became aware that something had changed. She wearily lifted her head and saw a young boy watching her from the window of a car. The car was sat idly in a parking spot just outside the supermarket. For a long moment her blank, disbelieving expression mirrored that of the child’s. Then, scarcely daring to believe it, the fairy raised her arm and waved. It was a pathetic movement, just a slow gesture from left to right, but it had the effect of dropping the boy’s jaw to his lap. The shining screen of his tablet was forgotten as he pressed his hands and face against the glass, eyes boggling. The fairy found his reaction amusing and invigorating. She began to feed off of the boy’s amazement and drank it in like it was nectar. Her wings fluttered and she began to feel hope rekindling in her breast.

“Oh, sweet little boy,” she whispered, a smile touching her lips for the first time in what seemed like decades. “Aren’t you magnificent!”

The child was captivated. His open mouth revealed a missing tooth at the front and his cheeks were smooth and healthy. His brown eyes gleamed with excitement and the fairy rejoiced at the sharp burst of life that it granted her. The fairy beckoned, projecting her relief and assuring him of her good-will. The boy hesitated for the barest of moments before dropping out of sight. The car door clicked and swung open and the boy peered out of the car with one scuffed plimsoll on the ground. He wanted to go to her, but he was anxious about the driving rain. The fairy stood up on wobbling legs.

“Come closer, sweet child!” she called, her voice less musical than she remembered. She had been away from the Forest for too long, it seemed. “Do not be afraid!” The boy paused for a moment longer before leaping from the car and hurrying towards the fairy. The rain lashed down, spotting his white polo-shirt with grey splotches which consumed the fabric like a virus. His feet splashed in puddles and were soaked through but the boy did not seem to mind. He shook rain from his short, frizzy hair and smiled playfully at the fairy, who grinned back. He approached her wall and stood before her, his eyes drinking her in.

“Hello there,” the fairy said. She pushed her wet hair from her eyes and blinked water from her lashes.

“Hi,” the boy said. His voice was breathy with wonder and his hands twitched by his sides. “Are you a pixie?”

“No, child, I am not a pixie,” the fairy said, chuckling at the mistake. She had never been so thrilled to be called a pixie before! “Although they are very like me, and I expect that I currently look like one.” She gestured at her dirty dress with a sigh. “I am a fairy.”

“A fairy?!” The boy’s eyes grew impossibly wide and an open-mouthed grin spread across his face. It was a delight! The fairy shivered in appreciation. “Like in my books? Like Tinkerbell?”

“No, no, sweet boy, Tinkerbell is a pixie!” the fairy laughed. “There is a world of difference, but that is a lesson for another time. Please tell me, what is your name?”

“I’m Ayo,” the boy replied. He stood still, fiddling with the hem of his shirt. “I didn’t think fairies or pixies were real.”

“Oh, we are real, Ayo. I am proof of that, aren’t I?” The fairy turned around in a full circle, fluttering her diaphanous wings as she did so. The movement sent rainwater cascading gracefully over them, with the amber of a streetlight reflecting in them for a moment. Ayo gasped at its beauty.

“You’re so pretty…” he breathed. The fairy laughed and her soul lifted at the sound.

“Thank you, Ayo!” she replied, suddenly feeling shy. “You are very kind to say so! Tell me, why are other children not like you?”

“What do you mean?” Ayo frowned and scratched his head.

“The other children cannot see me,” the fairy said sadly. “Neither can the adults. They all seem so…distracted. Nobody smiles and they are all in such a hurry.”

“I dunno,” Ayo said, shrugging his shoulders. “Maybe they don’t have time to see fairies and pixies.”

“But you have time,” the fairy said eagerly. “That makes you different. That makes you special.” Ayo fidgeted, but he was pleased with the compliment.

“I hoped you were real,” Ayo said, glancing up at the fairy again. “Everything is more fun if magic is real!” With those simple words, the fairy found her former strength returning. She stood up on her tiptoes, lifting her face to the sky and hardly feeling the fist-sized raindrops driving against her delicate features. The boy’s words sent a warm, happy feeling oozing through her veins like a river being fed by streams.  She closed her eyes, sighed and spread her wings to their fullest. She felt radiant and alive.

“Are you okay?” Ayo was alarmed, and he reached for the fairy before stopping himself. The fairy opened her eyes and looked him, resplendent in her joy.

“I am well, dear child,” she said, her voice as sweet and delicate as birdsong. “And I have you to thank. Bless you, Ayo.” Ayo looked relieved and was about to reply when a sharp, angry voice sliced through the air.

“Ayo! Get back in the car, you naughty boy!” Ayo jumped and turned around with a guilty look on his face. The fairy saw a large, attractive woman with the same frizzy hair as Ayo standing by the open car. She clutched four shopping bags laden with provisions and her car keys, and she looked furious.

“But Mama, I saw a f-“ Ayo began sheepishly.

“AYO! GET. IN. THE. CAR!” There would be no excuses. Ayo’s shoulders slumped and he sprinted back towards his mother, stealing a glance over his shoulder. The fairy smiled and raised a hand in goodbye. Ayo waved back and clambered into the car. Both he and the car seat were soaked from the rain, and his mother was not at all happy.

“Ayo, what were you thinking?” She was saying as she dabbed at his face and hair with tissues from her handbag. “Look your shoes, and the car! Oooh, you are a naughty boy, sometimes!” She pulled the door shut with a snap, muffling Ayo’s protests. The fairy felt a pang of regret at having gotten the boy into trouble, but she also sensed no ill-will from his mother. She was merely concerned at having found her little one wandering alone during a shower. She could sympathise, as she had her own children to hurry back to.

“Thank you, dear Ayo,” she whispered as she beat her wings. She could almost see the myriad of flowers of the Enchanted Forest; she could almost smell their perfume and feel the grass tickling her toes. She sighed and took flight, spiralling into the air higher and higher and laughing as she soared with the wind. She was going home!

 

 

 

Fiction Fursday/Death Vision

Today’s story prompt was provided by JustAnotherTeenager over at Solitary Haven. The prompt was to write about characters who know that they are going to die, but not how they will die. I thought this was quite an interesting one so I dived right in. I ended up gravitating towards a fantasy story this time, which I’m always happy to to be writing. Thanks, Teenager! 🙂

I hope you enjoy what I was able to come up with.

P.S. If anyone would like to suggest a prompt for me to use in the coming weeks, please feel free to let me know via the comments section. I am using any and all prompts, so don’t be shy!

P.P.S. I currently have enough prompts lined up for four more weeks, so don’t be dismayed if I don’t use one of yours right away. I will get round to it, I’ve got a list and everything!

 

Death Vision

By Adam Dixon

“I remember the day you were born like it was yesterday,” the old man said, his rheumy eyes misting over. “You certainly gave your mother a hard time! Ten hours of labour and nothing the witch-doctor did seemed to make you want to hurry up! Ah, but you were always a stubborn one!”

“That’s great, dad, now will you give me a hand, please?” The young woman was painting an intricate warding spell on one of the bare walls of the small room. The paint was blood red and bold against the grey plaster. The old man sighed and placed the jug of water he was carrying on the windowsill. He leaned down and picked up a brush, completing the warding with ease. The room was not ventilated and the pungent, nauseating smell of the paint was strong. It didn’t help that it was so warm in the room, either, and the old man began to feel dizzy. The woman regarded the warding and nodded, brushing a loose strand of blond hair from her eyes.

“Great, thank you!” she said with relief. “You always had a better eye for these things than me.”

“Your mother taught me the difficult ones,” the man replied, rubbing the small of his back. The woman poured herself a glass of water and drained a huge gulp through a straw before picking up her paintbrush again.

“I’m going to miss you, Jennifer,” the old man said, his eyes brimming with tears. “I wish it didn’t have to be today.”

“Dad, it doesn’t!” Jennifer turned on the old man. She had a wild look in her eyes borne of desperation and determination. “I’m not going to die today, stuff what the doctor says!”

“Jennifer, I know it’s hard to accept,” the old man said, resting his hands gently on her shoulders. “Believe me, your mother and I barely accepted it ourselves, but the witch-doctor is never wrong. He tasted your blood the day you were born and we’ve known ever since. Why fight it?”

“Why not?” Jennifer retorted, glaring at her father. “I can do so much good in the world, so why shouldn’t I try to stay alive? Because some blood-drunk freak had a vision twenty-four years ago?”

“That’s exactly why, Jennifer, and you know it!” the old man said. “The witch-doctor’s Death Vision is never wrong, and it’s been that way for centuries! In a way, it’s a blessing to know when our lives are due to be over, that’s what your mother always said.”

“Yes and you didn’t try to save her either,” Jennifer said, shrugging off his hands and returning to her painting. The old man stared at her, deeply hurt.

“Your mother knew that her time was near, just like I did,” he said, his voice quivering. “We knew since the day we first met, but that didn’t change anything. In fact, she always said that it encouraged her to enjoy every day as much as she could. I was grateful to know that she wouldn’t suffer the indignities of age, something which you ought to be grateful for as well.”

“Well I’m not,” Jennifer replied, dabbing at her new warding. It was a powerful one, the strongest defensive spell she knew. “I want to grow old, I want to have that chance. Anyway, mum didn’t know the exact day like I do. You don’t know the exact day you’re expected to die, either!”

“That’s down to your rare blood type, my darling” the old man said, smiling. “It’s as if the universe singled you out as someone special and allowed the witch-doctor to be more precise! Come on, Jennifer, please don’t be like this. I…don’t want my last memory of you to be of us having an argument.”

“Dad, it’s not going to be your last!” Jennifer said in exasperation. The old man looked at his feet, his face the picture of misery. After a few minutes of listening to Jennifer muttering to herself, he approached her and pulled her into an embrace.

“Goodbye, my darling,” he said, smiling through his tears. “Be at one with Our Magic again, and I will join you soon.” Jennifer dropped the paintbrush, splashing her leg with red paint as she hugged him back. She broke down and began sobbing in earnest.

“Oh, dad, I love you,” she whispered. “But I’m not going anywhere without a fight!” The old man rubbed his weathered cheek against her smooth one, savouring her warmth and the wetness of their mingling tears. He pulled away and cupped her face with his hand, nodding and gazing into her eyes.

“I love you too, Butterfly,” he said. “I’ll be with you and your mother again soon.” Jennifer squeezed his hands tight and stepped back, drying her eyes on her sleeve.

“You’d better leave now, anyway,” she said quietly. “I’m about to set up a Circle and I don’t want you to get hurt.” The old man nodded again and moved towards the door. He shuffled past the threshold and took a lingering look at Jennifer as she began sprinkling a large sack of herbs around the room. She glanced up and winked at him.

“See you tomorrow, dad.” Her smile was weak. The old man smiled back sadly and closed the door. He sighed and leaned his back against it, suddenly feeling older than ever. Knowing that the day had been coming for years didn’t make it easy now that it had arrived. He stood listening to Jennifer casting spells and chanting incantations until the light faded. He fought the desire to enter the room and keep her company, warding spells be damned. But he did not. He became dimly aware of his knees aching and of his back sliding down the door frame…

He awoke sitting on the cold wooden floor with his knees bent and his joints as stiff as a rusty bike chain. He groaned and heard bone and cartilage creak and scrape together as he struggled to get up. His knees, hips and back cracked as he stood, dragging a rare expletive from his lips. He rubbed his body, fuming at its betrayal and thanking the universe for his wife’s early death. The thought stopped him in his tracks. He turned and faced the door, his heart heavy as he noted the silence behind it. He turned the handle and pushed it open, knowing what he would see. The room was colder than it had been the night before, and the stench of paint was gone. Lying in the centre of a huge circle of herbs, salt and animal bones was his Butterfly. Jennifer was dead.

The old man approached the corpse slowly, paying no mind to the crunch of the scattered detritus as he stepped on them. They were useless anyway, the spells would have died with the user. A mixture of scents assaulted his nose, some bitter, some sweet and others sour, but he barely noticed them. He fell to his knees, ignoring the fresh, angry waves of pain which lashed out from his bones. He looked at Jennifer’s beautiful, pale face and noted with relief that there was no trace of pain etched into her features. He hadn’t wanted her to suffer. He glanced over to the jug of water he had brought her the night before and saw that it was empty. He nodded.

“You drank it all,” he said, smoothing Jennifer’s hair from her face. “Good girl. I hoped you would do…it would have made it quicker.” He knelt over Jennifer’s body and gazed at her through hot tears.

“I love you, Butterfly.” he said. He took comfort in the fact that he wouldn’t live past the end of the year and so would have very little time before he joined her. He didn’t regret what he had done; the witch-doctor’s prediction had been fulfilled and everything was correct in the universe. Just as it had always been.

Fiction Fursday/A Missing Belt and Fine Shoes

Another Thursday and another story! This week I was provided with a prompt from Jason over at Aethereal Engineer. Jason has given me some great prompts before and he has done so again. His suggestion was that “a person discovers a portal to ‘somewhere else’ in their closet. What happens?” I thought that was a pretty good one!

Here’s what I was able to come up with. I hope you enjoy it.

P.S. If anyone would like to suggest a prompt for me to use another day, please let me know in the comments.

 

A Missing Belt and Fine Shoes

By Adam Dixon

Jerry Mackintosh was drunk again, but this time he was angry too. He had slaved ten years away at the local mill only to be replaced by a machine. Jerry had walked out of the gates clutching his final wage packet and straight into the pub, and had proceeded to spend half of it on stout. Upon staggering home, he had worked himself into a foul, dangerous mood.

“Jerry, keep your voice down!” Mary, his petite wife pleaded. “You’re frightening the children!”

“Oh, I am, am I?” Jerry sneered, casting about in search of the brats. “Mustn’t do that! Can’t scare the ungrateful little sods, can I?”

“Jerry, don’t, they’re not ungrateful,” Mary said, wringing her hands together. “They don’t like it when you come home late and start shouting, that’s all…”

“I’ll do whatever I bloody well like!” Jerry shouted, balling his hands into fists. His watery blue eyes were bloodshot and angry. “I’m the man of this house, and by God you’ll all know it!” Jerry swung and punched Mary in the stomach. She doubled over, the breath whooshing from her lungs. Jerry followed it up with a backhanded swipe which knocked Mary to the ground. He towered over her, swaying and breathing heavily. Mary began to sob and curled herself into a ball; she knew this part all too well.

“Where’re those fucking kids, anyway?” Jerry cried, his voice hoarse. “I’ll get those little brats! Teach them some respect!” He rolled up the sleeves of his shirt and reached for his belt. He then realised that he hadn’t worn it that day and cursed aloud. Jerry stalked up the rickety old staircase and into the tiny master bedroom. Wrenching open the wardrobe he began searching inside it, throwing moth-eaten trousers and dresses onto the single bed. He knew it was in there somewhere! Growling and gnashing his teeth, Jerry took a step forward and tangled his foot in a pair of stockings. He bellowed as he fell, bracing for the impact of hard wood against his head.

He was stunned when he landed sprawling on the ground. He lay blinking and felt gravel under his fingers and an unpleasant smell under his nose. He raised his head and glanced around him. He appeared to be in a small village, surrounded by people bustling to and fro, all of them wearing strange, dirty clothing. Jerry got to his feet with some difficulty as his anger gave way to confusion. It had been dark when he’d gotten home, so why was the sun burning down on his bald patch? Glancing around he saw wooden houses with thatched roofs leaning against one another and cobbled streets littered with straw and excrement. Jerry rubbed his temples. He didn’t realise he was that drunk!

Jerry’s attention was drawn by giggling nearby. He turned and saw two grubby children, a boy and a girl of roughly the same age, dancing around in a puddle. Jerry’s confusion was forgotten as his rage rose up once again like dead leaves touched by a flame. Sod the belt, he was going to give those brats a good hiding! He snarled and lumbered towards them. As his shadow fell across them the two children looked up. If Jerry hadn’t been so drunk or so angry he might have realised that both children had brown hair, whereas his children had blond hair. But he didn’t, and he cuffed them on their ears, knocking them into the murky puddle. Jerry heard gasps from people close by but he ignored them.

“Take that, you little shits!” Jerry said, towering over them as they sat up. The boy was rubbing his head and staring at Jerry in disbelief and the little girl began to cry.

“Don’t you give me those crocodile tears, young lady!” Jerry raged, seizing the girl by her hair and hauling her upright. The boy protested, getting to his feet and clinging to Jerry’s wrists. Jerry knocked him down again with his free hand and held the girl with ease.

“Ha, that’ll teach you!” Jerry said. “You’re not a man yet, sonny-Jim!”

“Oi, what d’you think yer doin’?” A voice called. Jerry turned, still gripping the young girl’s hair. A woman in a dress which may have been yellow once was staring at Jerry, her eyes wide in shock. There were other women in similar dirty clothes next to her, wearing the same horrified expression.

“None of your bloody business!” Jerry retorted. “Stay out of this, whoever you are!”

“I shan’t!” the woman replied. “Who d’you think you are to come waltzin’ in our village with yer fancy clothes an’ beatin’ our children? You wait til Big John hears about this!”

“You’ll shut your mouth if you know what’s good for you!” Jerry said. He turned back towards the children but was caught by surprise when a skinny man with a white beard stepped forwards and shoved him in the chest. It was a weak shove by all accounts, but Jerry was so drunk that it threw him off balance and sent him stumbling into a fence. He gripped the fence and eyed the old man with contempt.

“Oh, you’re in for it now, old fella!” he said. The old man swept his bony arms around the children and hugged them tight. His mouth was a thin line of anger and his eyes blazed.

“I dunno who y’are, stranger, but no-one attacks my grandchildren!” the man wheezed, gritting his blackened teeth. “My boy’ll have yer guts for this!”

As Jerry’s stout-addled brain tried to process this information, a huge man with a black beard and a leather apron came charging towards him. Jerry had just enough time to stand up straight before he was lifted from his feet. Jerry was a tall man, but this brute was almost a giant. He choked as a gloved hand gripped his throat and lifted him two inches off the ground. He was brought close to the face of the bearded man and looked into furious green eyes.

“NO-ONE TOUCHES MY LITTLE’UNS!” the man said, tightening his grip. Jerry struggled and gasped, catching the sooty smell of the man’s apron and the sweat on his brow. The man grunted and threw him across the street. Jerry bounced off the cobbles and landed in a heap next to an empty wooden trough. He tried to stand but the man beat him to it again, hauling him to his feet. Stars exploded in Jerry’s eyes as the man hit him hard in the cheek. He felt the skin tear and was dimly aware of blood flowing down his neck. Jerry grasped the man’s wrists with shaking hands.

“No more!” he said, suddenly sober through fear. Like all bullies, Jerry was a coward when challenged. He knew he was in big trouble.

“I THOUGHT YOU WERE A MAN!” the man said, punching him again, this time in the ribs. Jerry thought that his chest would cave in if he had to endure another hammer-blow like that. The man walloped him on the other cheek before dragging him down the village, his feet drawing meandering lines through the straw.

“You’re goin’ to the Town Watch!” the man said, throwing in another punch for good measure. “That’ll teach you! Beat up my little’uns, will ya? Yer a disgrace!”

 

An hour later, Jerry was lying in a dark, smelly cell complete with iron bars and a pile of straw for a bed. His clothes were ruined, covered in mud, dirt and his own piss. He stank, his cheek and ribs ached and his head was raging with a hangover. He had never felt so miserable and he still didn’t know what was going on. He wasn’t dreaming, he knew that much; you couldn’t dream pain so vividly.

“Why did I go into that bloody wardrobe?” he groaned, massaging his head. He knew perfectly well why and as he sat in the cold and the dark, a familiar feeling began to creep into his heart. It was an emotion which had dominated his life ever since he realised that he drank too often, ever since that frightened look had appeared in his wife’s eyes. Jerry drank to stifle that emotion but that only made it stronger the next day. That emotion was shame.

“Oh God, what have I done?” Jerry said, burying his head in his hands. He began to sob and tug at his hair, promising the cell that he would mend his ways if he could only get home to Mary and the kids.

“Do you mean that, wretch?” a sibilant voice whispered from the darkness. Jerry almost yelped in fright and scanned the cell for the source of the noise.

“Hello? Who’s there?” he called, shrinking back against the wall.

“Your cell-mate, wretch,” the voice replied. It was coming from the other side of the cell, not three steps away. “I’ve been watching you since the Watch tossed you in here. You are in a sorry state, aren’t you?”

“I deserve it,” Jerry said, wiping snot from his nose with his sleeve. “I…I’ve shamed myself with my behaviour.”

“But you wish to make amends, do you not?” the voice said. There was a scuffling of straw. “Perhaps…I can help you.”

“How?” Jerry asked, squinting. He could make out a shape nearby, but he couldn’t see any features. “Come closer.” There was a moment of silence before the figure slid closer. As the meagre light from the window fell upon it, Jerry saw with relief that it was just another prisoner like himself. The man was thin with sunken brown eyes, his clothes were ragged and filthy and he stank of stale sweat. He was grinning at Jerry, revealing a dazzling smile which contrasted weirdly with his dishevelled appearance.

“I can send you home!” the man hissed, his eyes widening. “I can see you are not from this world: that much is plain. I have met a few wretches like yourself and I have helped to send them back.”

“You…you can get me home?” Jerry’s mind raced. He wasn’t sure what the man was talking about, but he was so desperate to get out of the cell that he was willing to believe anything.

“I can,” the man said, running a dirty finger along his stubbly chin. “For a price…”

“I don’t have anything to give!” Jerry said, on the verge of tears once again.

“Your shoes,” the man replied, pointing.

“My shoes?” Jerry was perplexed.

“Yes, the Watch did not deprive you of them, but I would like to,” the man said. “The leather is very fine, better than anything I may find in this village. Give me your shoes and I will send you home.” Jerry almost twisted his ankle as he tore his shoes from his feet and thrust them towards his cell-mate. The man received with a smile, running his emaciated fingers across them lovingly.

“Ahh, many thanks, wretch,” he said. “These will aid me more than you realise…”

“Now send me home!” Jerry whined. The man nodded and placed the shoes on the ground. He stood up and walked over to the corner of the cell. Jerry couldn’t see what he was doing, but he heard a low chanting in a strange language and the padding of the man’s feet. A blast of cool, fresh air struck Jerry in the face, raising goose-bumps on his flesh and sending loose straw scurrying across the cell like fleeing insects. A glowing rectangle stretching two metres high light up the man as it pulsed on the wall of the cell. The man turned towards Jerry and flashed his smile.

“It is done,” he said. “Pass through this doorway, wretch, and you will return from whence you came. Farewell.” Jerry stood on weak legs and shambled towards the doorway. The pale glow hurt his eyes after so many hours in darkness, but he didn’t care. He moved as fast as he could and passed through the wall with a cry of desperation. A warmth seeped into his body, rejuvenating his aches and lifting his soul like a hot bath. For an instant, Jerry was blinded by intense light and at bliss…

Jerry hit the floorboards with a thud. Winded and shocked, he looked up. His heart leapt as he recognised his bedroom. He twisted round to look behind him. There was the wardrobe, with its doors flung open and clothes strewn on the floor. Jerry kissed the wooden floor and scrambled to his feet.

“Mary!” Jerry called, his voice hoarse with emotion. “Mary! Kids! Where are you?” He staggered towards the doorway and descended into the kitchen. Mary was standing at the bottom, looking up at him with wide, relieved eyes.

“Jerry!” she said. “Where have you been? It’s been three days! Where are your shoes?”

“I’ve been away, Mary,” Jerry croaked, reaching the bottom of the stairs and pulling his astonished wife into a tight embrace. He breathed in the soapy scent of her neck and felt the flour dusting her cheeks.

“Jerry!” Mary said in surprise as he nuzzled her neck. “What’s gotten into you? Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, Mary,” Jerry said. “I’ve just realised what a brute I’ve been. But no more, I’m a changed man. I’ll never hurt you or the children again, I promise.” Mary was taken aback by the emotion in Jerry’s voice. She returned the hug, patting his back with a bewildered expression.

“That’s wonderful to hear, Jerry,” she said, pulling away from him and smiling. Jerry beamed at her and held on to her hands.

“Where are the kids? I need to tell them I’m sorry.”

“They’re at school, Jerry. It’s nine o’clock.”

“Oh, good. I’ll tell them later, I need to tell them.”

“Of course,” Again Mary was stunned by the depth of Jerry’s emotion. She fidgeted as she thought of something to say.

“Jerry, I know about the mill,” she said at last. “I’m so sorry to hear about that, really I am. But there might be a job for you in town. There’s a man who has just moved here, a stranger, and he’s set up a shop near the baker’s. He said he’s looking for hard workers to get his business going, so maybe you could speak to him?”

“Yes, yes, I’ll go right away!” Jerry said, grabbing his wellington boots and shoving them on. He walked out into the murky morning and breathed a long sigh of relief. He was home again, and now he realised what was important to him. He walked into the town, greeting astonished neighbours who had been worrying about him and assuring them all that he was very well, thank you very much. As he approached the town centre, he saw the new shop. It was a cobblers, with a freshly-painted sign boasting “Shoes of Fine Leather Inside!” Jerry smoothed his clothes before pushing the door open. A merry jingle filled the cool interior as the bell above the door was jostled. Jerry looked around and saw shoes of all sizes stacked on shelves and the almost-pleasant smell of leather filled his nostrils. He walked to the back of the shop and rested his hands on the counter, searching for the proprietor.

“Hello?” he called. “I’m sorry to disturb you, but my wife told me that you are looking for workers. I would like to offer my services.”

“Ah, I think I might have some use for you!” a voice hissed behind him. Jerry whirled and was stunned to see a familiar face. The man rubbed his now clean-shaven cheeks and flashed his dazzling smile.

“It is very good to see you again, wretch!” the man said. He threw his head back and laughed as Jerry stood dumfounded before him. He wasn’t sure what to make of this development, but it had to be better than sharing a cell. He swallowed and shook the man’s hand. For better or worse, he was a changed man now and he intended to prove it. He couldn’t help wondering what other surprises his life had in store for him now.

 

Paintings of the Past

This is a story I wrote a couple of weeks ago for the lovely Esther Newton’s Guest Post. She kindly provided the prompt for me and this one was a joy to write. It seemed to flow from my mind to and on to the page more so than some of my more recent efforts. So thank you, Esther!

 

 Paintings of the Past 

By Adam Dixon

Joe opened his eyes and looked around the room; where the hell was he? He was standing in a long hallway with white walls, wearing nothing but a pair of boxer shorts. He blinked a few times to make sure that he was awake. He was, and with a clear head and calm stomach too, which dispelled his second idea that he must be drunk. He turned his head and stared down the corridor. It was a very long one and he could barely make out the end of it from where he was standing. All he could see was a crimson carpet running along the floor like an elongated blood stain and what appeared to be a series of paintings or photographs hanging on both walls. He glanced behind and saw only another blank wall blocking his path. He scratched his head in confusion and tried to figure out what had happened.

“JOSEPH PEEL, PLEASE MOVE ALONG. THE GATEKEEPER AWAITS,” a clear voice boomed from above. Joe almost jumped out of his skin and cast about to and fro, seeking the cause of the noise. He saw nothing but the walls and carpet. After calming down a bit Joe concluded with a degree of satisfaction that he must, in fact, be dreaming after all and that by approaching this Gatekeeper the dream would reach its conclusion. He would then wake up in his over-priced but stylish flat in Brighton and wonder at the significance of it for a moment before getting on with his day. Maybe it would even feature in some of his writing in the future. Regaining his dignity, Joe took a deep breath and began to stride down the hallway.

The objects mounted on the walls were all paintings. Joe knew little about art but he appreciated the realism of each one. They all boasted a central image of a man or woman staring off into the distance surrounded by a snapshot of their lives. One showed a tall, bearded white man wearing blood-spattered armour standing amidst several fallen soldiers, the cross of Saint George proudly displayed on a flag behind him. Another depicted a white woman on a wooden stage, gesturing wildly as an audience gazed at her with rapt attention. Another saw an Asian woman wearing colourful clothing watching a fierce battle with horror and sadness. Joe noticed that the paintings appeared to be displayed in chronological order in terms of their historical period. He rather enjoyed the grotesque painting of what surely must have been a victim of the infamous Vlad the Impaler in Russia. The suffering of the naked, bleeding man was exquisitely and disgustingly detailed. The painting of a primitive black woman protecting her children from a white man with a rifle was as inspiring as it was horrific. After half an hour of walking and not paying complete attention, Joe walked into a solid wooden desk and stubbed his toe.

“Ahh, bugger it!” he yelled, bending over to grasp the injured digit and hopping about in fury.

“Oh dear, that is most unfortunate!” a woman’s voice tutted sympathetically. Joe ceased hopping and looked up. He had reached the end of the hallway. A small, plump woman with a kindly face was seated behind the offending desk, her soft brown eyes gazing at Joe with concern.

“Are you alright, Joseph? I really ought to have said something, but I saw how engaged you were with the Artwork! Oh dear, silly old fool that I am!” The woman was about sixty, with curly silver hair and wearing a practical woollen cardigan over a simple green dress. Her voice was friendly, if a little bit high-pitched, and Joe found himself liking her instantly despite his situation.

“Erm, that’s alright,” he replied, unsure what to say. “So…are you this Gatekeeper, then?”

“I am indeed, Joseph!” The woman clapped her meaty fingers together in delight and beamed at him. “I am your Gatekeeper and I must say that it is a pleasure to see you again!”

“Erm…right,” Joe gingerly set his foot down and stood up straight. “So, what happens now? Are we going to have a tea party or something until I wake up?”

“I don’t follow you, Joseph,” the Gatekeeper frowned. “There won’t be a tea party, although I could have prepared one if I knew that’s what you would have wanted. You won’t be waking up either, I’m afraid. Well, not like this, anyway.”

“Oh…kay…” Joe scratched his head again. He looked behind the woman. There were two doors set against the sterile white walls, both just as plain and unassuming. The way out, perhaps?

“I wouldn’t approach the doors just yet, dear,” the Gatekeeper said, reading his intention. “Not before I tell you about them first. I always forget that you won’t remember the last time!”

“What last time? How do you know me? You’re just my imagination, a figment of my subconscious!” Joe was becoming annoyed. “I know I shouldn’t’ve eaten that bloody stilton! Look, just say what you need to say and let me wake up. I’m a busy man, I haven’t got time for this!”

“The dead have an eternity in this Waiting Room, Joseph Peel,” the Gatekeeper said solemnly.

“The dead? What the hell are you talking about?”

“You are dead, Joseph,” the Gatekeeper said with regret in her voice. “You died on Wednesday 3rd of May 2016 A.D. You are currently approved for Resurrection in 2030.” Joe stood dumbfounded, staring. After a moment he began to chuckle, running his hand across his face.

“That’s not bad, actually!” he said, grinning. “Although I’d have thought that my subconscious would’ve come up with something a bit more exciting. Maybe that’s why my first books haven’t sold! Haha!”

“Joseph, I am not jesting,” the Gatekeeper leaned across the desk and looked intently up at him. “You died at four thirty-two A.M after your lit cigarette dropped from your fingers and onto a pile of discarded writing paper. Your flat went up in flames a few minutes later. Your severe inebriation prevented you from waking up in time to save yourself.” Joe stood still again.

“You…you must be joking,” Joe stammered. “I can’t be…dead…I was only-“

“Thirty-seven years old,” the Gatekeeper interrupted, glancing at a sheaf of note papers in her hand. “You were unmarried, living in Brighton, England and you were working as a freelance writer. I know all about your life, Joseph. This life and all of your previous lives, too. Did you enjoy the charming paintings of them? There are quite a few now!”

“Previous lives…” Joe’s face scrunched up in confusion. “Are you trying to tell me that I’ve lived as those men in the paintings that I’ve just walked past?”

“No, Joseph, that’s not what I am saying,” the Gatekeeper said with a frown. “I am trying to tell you that you have been ALL of them, both the men and the women. Every single painting you wandered past before reaching me is a depiction of the person you once were, during a single stage of Resurrection.”

“Resurrection…”

“Yes, Resurrection, Joseph,” the Gatekeeper sighed. “It really is unfortunate that you don’t remember all of this when you come through here. It’s rather tedious having to explain it all over again! Simply put, Joseph, your soul has lived forty-seven lives throughout its existence and it is my duty every time you die to guide you onto your next Rebirth. Understand?”

“I…” Joe was lost for words. He scratched his head, a look of defeat creeping across his face. “I’m…dead….but…it’s not fair! I was finally getting somewhere with my life! My book sales were picking up and I’d started dating again! Why now?”

“Life is rarely fair, my dear,” the Gatekeeper said sadly, cocking her head to one side. “After doing this job for a few millennia you’d see that, too. You’ve had much worse luck in previous lives, if that makes you feel any better? You were wrongly accused of murder in Texas in 1843, for example; you were hunted down and lynched by the townsfolk! It’s shocking that they would even do such a thing to a woman back then…”

“No, it doesn’t make me feel any bloody better!” Joe cried, slamming his fist down on the desk. The Gatekeeper jumped, her curls bouncing and her pearl necklace jostling around her throat.

“Come now, Joseph! There was no need for that!” she said, adjusting herself crossly.

“Like I give a toss!” Joe retorted. He began to pace before the desk, stomping his feet deliberately.

“Why now? What’s the point?” he said, half to himself. “Why let me die in 2016 if I’m not due for Rebirth or whatever until 2030? Surely I could’ve lived until then!”

“Then you would have come here slightly older but no less annoyed for it,” the Gatekeeper replied, folding her arms across her chest and leaning back in her chair. “Now, Joseph, you must make a decision. You have two choices: to spend an eternity in this hallway with nothing but these walls and paintings for company, or accept what has been planned and be Reborn once again. To do so you need only open the door on the left. I know which one I would choose, given the opportunity.”

“What about the other door?” Joe rounded on the Gatekeeper. “What if I choose the door on the right?”

“That door…” the Gatekeeper’s tone and expression was grave, “is where Death awaits. If you walk through that door, Death will embrace you and He will reap your immortal soul. Your death that time will be final; no more Rebirths, no more lives to lead. It will be the End.” Joe shivered, hugging himself against the chill which passed through him.

“Do…do many people choose that door?” he whispered. The Gatekeeper shrugged.

“Some,” she admitted. “But not many. Most find the very idea too awful to contemplate.” Her expression revealed what she thought of that option. “You do not have to make your decision right away, but if you delay for too long then I will assume that you do not wish to be Reborn and I shall leave you here. By all means take a few moments to think it over. I shall wait.”

Joe’s mind whirled with emotion as he tried to make sense of everything he had learned. He raised a hand to his eyes and wandered back down the hallway aimlessly. He thought about his life, or the one he remembered at least, and longed to return to it. He felt crushed by the weight of his misfortune. Life really had been improving! Sure, he’d never have become the next Stephen King, but he was all set to make a halfway-decent living from his writing.

“A bloody house fire! How could I have been so stupid?” Joe groaned, recalling the countless instances when he had glanced up at his broken fire alarm and reminded himself to get it fixed. Maybe it was natural selection at work…

Joe opened his eyes and saw that he was standing in front of a ghastly scene. The painting before him showed a man lying on the back of a wooden cart with a dozen other corpses, all emaciated and riddled with disease. A village was burning in the distance, with a line of identical carts moving out from its gates. Joe was repulsed by the scene and suddenly grateful that he couldn’t recall this particular fate.

“Okay, I’ve made my decision.” Joe said, looking at the Gatekeeper with a pained expression. The Gatekeeper nodded and looked at him expectantly.

Joe straightened and took a deep breath. He stepped past the desk and with a trembling hand he opened the door on the left.

 

Fiction Fursday/The Animals’ Advice

Today’s Fiction Fursday story was prompted by my wonderful blogger friend, Kate. Kate gave me a flurry of excellent prompts during my A-Z Challenge in April, so I knew that she’d suggest something brilliant for my new weekly project! Her suggestion was for me to write a story where a bloke who is down on his luck sneaks into a zoo and tells the animals about his problems. I loved the idea from the start and was excited to get writing! Here is what I was able to come up with. I hope you enjoy it.

Also, if any of your would like to suggest a prompt for me for my Ficiton Fursday posts, feel free to do so in the comments. It could be a single word, a first/final line or even a theme. Use your imagination and to kick-start mine!

The Animals’ Advice

By Adam Dixon

“She just wouldn’t listen to reason,” Bob sighed, taking a slow swig from his beer can. “She wouldn’t listen, then she left me…just walked out the door…haven’t seen her in four weeks now…” Bob lowered his head as a tear forced its way through his closed eyes. “Oh, Xena, what am I going to do?” Bob looked pleadingly at the sleek lioness in her enclosure. She sat as still as a statue, watching him with amber eyes and flicking her tail to and fro as he spoke.

“You come here at this hour, disturbing my rest, in order to spout this drivel?” she replied. The noise came from within Bob’s head rather than issuing from her mouth and her voice was cold and calculated. Bob fidgeted on his perch on the wall above her.

“Erm, yes…” he replied, feeling sheepish. “I was hoping you might have some advice for me. You know how to deal with your mate and his pride so I figured that you might have an insight I could use.”

“I care less about your trivial relationship problems than I do about tasting your warm flesh, human,” Xena growled, licking her lips. Bob shuffled further away, for once grateful for the iron bars ringing the enclosure.

“It is merely an instinct, human, take no offence,” Xena said with a lazy swish of her tail. “Nothing personal, although I must insist that you take your problems elsewhere. I require sleep or else I shall be cantankerous in the morning; the cubs will not enjoy that. Good evening to you.” With a regal bowing of her head, the lioness turned and gracefully walked away. Bob sat watching her, marvelling at the strong muscles and beautiful fur whilst at the same time feeling quite put-out.

“Yeah, whatever then, princess,” he muttered as he shuffled further into the zoo. He gulped at his beer as he wandered, enjoying the cool breeze and shade offered at night. He had been working there during the sweltering heat of the daytime, guiding packs of sweating tourists around to gawk at the basking animals, making him grateful for the drop in temperature. Gravel crunched under his boots as Bob approached another cage, this one filled with trees and wooden climbing frames. He sat on a wooden bench next to it, cracking open another beer.

“Hello? Anyone home?” he called. There was a rustling of movement within the trees and a dark human-like face ringed with white fur peered out at him. Bob waved.

“Evening, Scamp,” he said. “Aren’t you up a bit late?”

“Could say the same to you! Heehee!” The gibbon replied playfully. Bob raised his can.

“Touché!” He said, and took a long swallow. Sighing, he watched as Scamp swung up to a stronger branch in order to converse with him comfortably.

“Scamp, where’s Ursula?” Bob asked. “I thought you two were always together?”

“Not tonight, she’s resting with our young,” Scamp grinned, his throat-sack enlarging and shrinking as he laughed. “They gave her a good run-around today and now they’re all exhausted! Works for me! Heehee!” Bob smiled and shook his head. Scamp’s voice echoed in his head more resonantly than the other animals, and Bob assumed it was due to their evolutionary closeness. Scamp leaned closer from his high perch, gazing down at Bob. He lifted a horned finger and pointed.

“Say, Bob…could I have one of those?” Scamp asked hopefully. Bemused, Bob pulled a beer can from his pack and tossed it up into the tree. Scamp leaned backwards and caught it deftly, whooping in delight. He snapped open the ring-pull and cackled as foam erupted over his hand. Leaning further backwards he splashed beer down his face and chest as he gulped noisily. He balanced precariously on the edge of the branch for a few seconds before sitting upright once more. Scamp barked a quick laugh and belched.

“Ahhh, thanks! Heehee!” Scamp imitated Bob’s salute, tilting his raised can and nodding. Bob shook his head again.

“That’s alright, I suppose,” he replied, chuckling. “I just hope the guys at security aren’t watching! They didn’t mind letting me in at this hour but they’d have something to say if they saw me giving alcohol to the attractions! Technically you’re a minor, too, so I’d be in loads of trouble!”

“Our little secret then! Heehee! Why are you here, anyway?” Scamp asked, hanging from a branch one-handed as he sipped more beer. “Don’t we get enough of your ugly mug during the day? Heehee!”

“Woman troubles,” Bob admitted. “You’re always happy with Ursula, Scamp. What d’you reckon I should be doing?”

“You could try singing for her, that’s what I do,” Scamp replied, leaping back on to the branch and rubbing his throat-sack with pride. “My Ursula has always enjoyed my singing. Or if that doesn’t work, find another male to fight and prove your worth that way! Rip his fur out and toss him in the bushes with his bottom smacked! Heehee!”

“Hmm…well I can’t sing and I doubt there’s anyone relevant I could beat up,” Bob frowned. “It doesn’t really work like that with humans, anyway.”

“Can’t help you then, sorry!” Scamp laughed and crushed the empty can in his hand. He raised his arm and threw it, whooping with glee when it bounced off the side of Bob’s head.

“Heehee! Gotcha! Can I have another one?”

“No, that’s enough for you,” Bob said flatly, standing up to leave. “I’ll see if anyone else can help me.” He trudged off down the winding path, feeling more and more like he was wasting his time. Why should the animals have any kind of helpful advice to give me? Bob thought, cross with himself. They don’t know how humans behave! After a few minutes, however, Bob found himself leaning over the edge of another enclosure, chatting with a beautiful male peacock.

“So what do you think I should do, Narcissus?” Bob asked after he had explained his situation. He was watching the blue bird strut around and flick his gorgeous feathers to and fro.

“Well, what I would suggest, darling, is that you flaunt your natural beauty to win her back!” the peacock said eagerly. “Flaunt it, darling! Flaunt it shamelessly! Show her what she is missing!”

“Erm…okay,” Bob was unconvinced. “The thing is, I don’t really have a lot of natural beauty to flaunt. The moles and the receding hairline hardly make women swoon, and I can’t say I had better luck when I was younger. My parents were a bit on the plain side, you see.”

“Oh, daaaarling! That is unfortunate!” Narcissis crowed with genuine sympathy. He fanned his own natural beauty for effect. “Then I simply don’t know what to suggest! That course of action always works for me! See how stunning I am! What female could possibly resist?” He spun his feathers with a flourish, sighing with delight as the radiant colours flashed in the night sky. Bob sighed too and thanked the peacock, leaving him to prance about as he walked on. He began to wonder if he should just go home and drink his remaining beers in solitude, but he knew that he wouldn’t. I don’t want to be alone anymore, Bob thought miserably.

Bob came to a wider cage near the end of the park and gazed at the impressive shapes moving around within it. Two elephants were sleeping peacefully in the centre of the cage, a great bull elephant and his calf. The baby, who was nearly as big as Bob, was snuggled up against her father with her small trunk draped over his neck. Bob felt a pang of regret as he stroked the cold, oppressive bars of the cage. The cruelty of their fate upset him profoundly.

“I’m sorry you’re in here…” he whispered.

“The fault is not yours, young man,” a kindly voice said in his head. “Do not assume the guilt for it.” Bob glanced towards another shape as it moved closer to him. The baby’s mother was massive and beautiful, her intelligent brown eyes meeting Bob’s without fear or hesitation.

“I know, Maggie” Bob replied, scratching the back of his head. “But it doesn’t make me feel any better about it, especially not since I’ve been moaning about my life all evening. I don’t have it this bad! Stupid, selfish bastard that I am! At least I’m free!”

“Oh, you needn’t feel too bad, Robert,” Maggie said, her eyes creasing with amusement. “You help us in your own way through your Gift. If you did not come and talk to us all during the day, I am sure we would all have gone beserk by now. Do not be too hard on yourself, my dear.”

“I suppose so,” Bob replied, feeling slightly better. He turned to look at the sleeping baby once again.

“She is growing so fast, Maggie!” He breathed, his eyes widening and a wondrous smile creeping across his face. “Soon she’ll be as big as you are!”

“Oh, hopefully not too soon!” Maggie chuckled. She looked at Bob seriously, her large ears flapping as she frowned.

“Now, Robert, tell me,” she began firmly. “What is all this about you moaning about your life? What is the matter?”

“Oh, that,” Bob scratched his head again nervously. “I…erm…my partner left me. She doesn’t…erm…She wants to get married.”

“Well, that sounds like wonderful news!” Maggie exclaimed. “Why has she abandoned you? Is this how you usually operate? I don’t understand human couplings, I’m afraid.”

“No, it’s not the usual way…” Bob replied, feeling ashamed. “I…erm…it’s my fault. I told her…that I don’t want to get married.”

“I see,” Maggie’s expression became stern as she moved closer to Bob. Her great head moved to within inches of his, separated by the iron bars of the cage. “Why ever not, Robert? Do you not care for her?”

“Yes! Of course I do!” Bob said, hurt by implication. “I love her dearly! I can’t imagine life without her! I don’t want a life without her!”

“Then why do you hesitate?” Maggie asked, holding Bob’s gaze. Bob was flustered as he found himself unable to answer the simple question.

“I…she…oh, I don’t know!” He cried, throwing his arms in the air. “It’s just not something that has ever meant much to me as a concept, that’s all!”

“But it seems to mean a great deal to your partner,” Maggie said, twisting her trunk as she spoke. It was almost like a shrug. “Perhaps you need to consider whether your indifference is more important than your mutual happiness. Take myself and Rameses for example.” She swung her trunk and gestured at her slumbering mate. “Rameses was a wild one, that’s for certain, and he never considered having children before I explained to him how important it would be to me. Putting his pride behind him was the best decision he has ever made; he adores our little one and he would give his tusks for her in a heartbeat.” Maggie turned her gaze back towards Bob. “You must think about what course of action will make you and your partner the happiest. Make your decision soon, whatever it may be, before you regret it.”

Bob rested his forehead against the cool bars of the cage and reached his arm through to stroke Maggie’s trunk. It was thick and strong but full of warmth. Just like Maggie, Bob thought.

“Thank you, Maggie,” he said, tears filling his eyes. “I’ll do that. You are very wise, you know that, right?”

“Oh, it has been implied!” Maggie chuckled and tenderly wiped an escaping tear from Bob’s cheek with the end of her trunk. “But you do not reach my age without learning a thing or two about life! Now off you go, Robert. The dawn will soon come and I daresay that you have a female to speak to.” Bob straightened and wiped his eyes.

“Yes, I suppose I do,” he replied, smiling. “Bye, Maggie. I’ll see you soon.” Maggie raised her trunk in farewell before moving back towards her family. Bob strode back the way he had come, feeling lighter than he had felt in days. Maggie’s words had lifted a great weight from his shoulders and her simple probing had unlocked answers he had kept barricaded deep in his heart. He glanced up at the lightening sky, breathing in the cool scent of the approaching morning and looking forward to the day ahead. He knew what he was going to do. As he passed the Ape Section, Bob whistled and tossed his final beer can into the trees. Scamp the gibbon caught it and his surprised laughter rang out across the zoo, and Bob laughed with him.

 

The Second Coming of Olympus

Zeus walked carefully across the charred wasteland, both awed and repulsed by the world he once knew. The soles of his feet burned from contact with the scorched earth and he stepped over hundreds of blackened corpses as he made his way towards the ocean. A breath of wind which was far too warm brought the putrid scents of decay and harsh chemicals to his nostrils, making him grimace. The planet he loved had until now teemed with life and its population had grown impossibly high. It had seemed as if there were more humans on earth than there were leaves in the trees at one point, but now there were none.

Zeus had been amazed at the progress of humanity; amazed, and fiercely proud. Long gone were the days when the King of the Olympians had felt anger towards them for turning their back on the gods. Unruly children rebelled as they grew, and Zeus knew this fact all too well. In fact, abandonment had given him the opportunity for self-reflection and consideration, and he now clearly saw where the Olympians had gone wrong. If they had spent less time enjoying the fruits of the earth and basking in their own glory they may have retained the respect of their creation. Only Hades had remained occupied over the millennia, and even he had become overwhelmed…

But oh, how far they had come! Discoveries had been made that were beyond the comprehension of the gods themselves! For what paltry gifts could the Olympians offer mankind in the wake of such treasures of science and technology? No, they had realised early on that they must become obsolete. The world had become bigger than Greece and stretched further in the minds of men than Persia and Egypt. Men were hungry for discovery and adventure, and quickly threw off the shackles of Mount Olympus.

But who could have predicted this? Zeus stood silently among the rubble and ash which had once been Athens and gazed out towards the ocean. There were no sounds anymore, save for the sighing of the waves. The Aegean Sea had swollen beyond all proportion until it now lapped against the foot of Lykavittos Hill. Zeus waded out into the warm, stinking water and moved past the ruined shells of houses and restaurants. The waves were black with soot and detritus bobbed sadly in them; Zeus noted the wings of aeroplanes, missile casings and shredded tyres. Floating among them were the irradiated corpses of millions of sea creatures, rotting in the blistering heat of the nuclear fallout. Zeus shook his head, running a hand through his long, matted beard. His brother, Poseidon, had been the most deeply affected by the carnage, so much so that he had not uttered a word for centuries. Zeus feared he may never speak again.

So, the hubris of mankind had proven to be its downfall and the long-forgotten gods were the last beings standing. Should that be considered a victory? Zeus could see nothing victorious about the circumstances. The planet was broken, of that there was no doubt. But could it be fixed? Zeus had spoken to his brethren and they were in agreement; they would come out of their long, long dormancy and reclaim dominion over the world. They would have a Second Coming, so to speak, and in doing so would create life on earth again. This time, however, they would learn from their mistakes; there would be no more toying with their favourites, no more jealousy and no more intrigue and betrayal between them. They would secure that cursed Box and Hephaestus would bind it in the strongest chains he could forge. They would also take steps to ensure that Prometheus would never again be left alone with fire…

Zeus was confident about his plan. The Olympians would flex their dulled muscles and be almighty once again! They would create a new world in which they and other lifeforms could prosper forevermore, and this time it would be completely untainted by the fury of mankind. Zeus took a last, lingering look at the engorged Aegean before striding back towards Mount Olympus. There was a great deal of work to be done.