Difficult Questions

Hello everyone!

The following story is one I sent out a few months ago as a competition entry, but sadly it was not placed. However, I was quite pleased with it and would like to share it will you all. The theme for competition was to write a story using dialogue ONLY. I found this to be an exciting and interesting idea, and so I went for it! Have you ever tried writing a story in this way? Please do let me know in the comments section.

I hope you enjoy it, and thanks for reading!

“Come on, grandma, let’s run!”
“Slow down, please, my darling, I can’t keep up with you. Jenny, come back! Jenny! There are nasty people around these days, come back this instant!”
“Nasty people? Where, grandma? I can’t see them.”
“Oh, well, you can’t be too careful! Please come back, I don’t want to have to shout! Plus, people are looking at grandma now…”
“Grandma, why didn’t you run too?”
“I don’t think I can anymore, my darling. It’s part of getting old, I’m sorry to say.”
“That’s bad, I don’t want to get old ever!”
“Nobody does, sweetheart, but you can’t stop it.”
“How old are you, grandma?”
“Now, now, Jennifer, it’s not very nice to ask a lady her age.”
“But I’m a lady and I like it when I get asked! I’m four and a half now!”
“Yes you are, sweetheart. You’ll be catching me up soon.”
“Yeah, grandma! But I still want to run!”
“Oh, I don’t think we’ll be able to stop you! Come on, let’s go home, it’s getting dark.”
“But I wanted to play on the swings again!”
“I know, my darling, but it is getting late. Don’t pout, Jennifer, it’s very childish! I’ll tell you what, you be a good girl and I’ll buy you an ice cream in the shop. How does that sound?”
“Ice cream, before tea?!”
“Yes, before tea, but you must promise not to tell granddad. It will be our little secret.”
“Yeah! Yeah! I love secrets!”
“Then we’ll shake on it like grown-ups and…ugh, Jenny! What have you been touching? Your hand is all sticky! Dear me, you’d think that the council would keep that slide clean…”
“Grandma, when will I see my mummy again?”
“Oh. Well…she is quite busy now, my darling, but you’ll see her again before too long.”
“Is my mummy in trouble, grandma?”
“Why do you ask, my darling?”
“Cos only bad people go away, and bad people get in trouble. I think my mummy is in trouble.”
“Well…yes, I suppose you could say that…but don’t worry about her, sweetheart, she is being looked after. Now, which flavour ice cream would you like when we get to the shop?”
“I want strawberry! Strawberry and chocolate! Strawberry and chocolate and banana! Yum yum yum!”

***

“There you are, my two favourite girls! Come in out of the cold, that’s it! Scrub those shoes on the mat before you come inside, little love. If you get mud on my nice carpet, you won’t get your tea and you’ll get a knuckle sandwich instead!”
“Argh! Grandma, help me, he’s got me!”
“That serves you right, Jennifer. You shouldn’t poke your tongue out at granddad, it’s very rude!”
“Heehee, that tickles! Stop, stop!”
“Aha! Do you give up, young madam?”
“Yes, yes! I give up! Heeheehee!”
“Victory! You are my prisoner now, so be off with you! Into the living room to await your fate! Stick the telly on, if you like, I prefer my prisoners to be comfortable. Oi, take your shoes off first!”
“You really shouldn’t overexcite her like that, Daniel. She’ll never sleep now.”
“Oh, rubbish! What’s the harm? Besides, you’ve probably had her running around like a headless chicken all afternoon, haven’t you?”
“I did very little, as it happens. That girl is like a thunderbolt, Daniel. I take my eyes off her for one second and it’s as if she was never by my side at all. It’s exhausting!”
“I’m sure it is! Come here, my love. Oooh! Your nose is cold, Barbara!”
“Well don’t give me a bear hug if you don’t like it, you great fool!”
“You didn’t have to stick your frozen hooter in my neck, did you? Come on in, I’ve made a pot already and it should still be warm.”
“Daniel, Jenny asked me about her mother again.”
“Right…how did that go?”
“She asked if her mummy is in trouble because the people who have been bad get sent away. I agreed with her, sort of.”
“Blimey, not much gets past her, does it?”
“That’s what worries me, Daniel. She can tell when we’re lying to her, even if she doesn’t understand why. What can we possibly say to her?”
“We’ll think of something.”
“She’s still so young! I don’t want her knowing about that place! How are we going to explain it to her?”
“I don’t know, Barb, honestly I don’t. But we can’t keep on dodging her questions just because we don’t like the answers.”
“Oh, I know that, Daniel! I’m not a child!”
“I know, Barb, and I didn’t mean it like that. It’s not easy, all this, but we’ll need to tell her about her mum sooner rather than later. She has a right to know.”
“Yes, you’re right, of course…did Rebecca call again today?”
“Yes, she did, about 12ish. She seems to be as well as can be expected. Quite upset to have missed Jenny again, though.”
“Well that serves her right, doesn’t it? Ooh, it makes me so angry to think about her, Daniel! How could she do it, knowing what would happen to Jennifer? To us?”
“I don’t think she was doing much thinking at the time, my love. Getting angry won’t help, so we’d better roll our sleeves up and do the best we can. Like we always have.”
“But our best has led to this…but you’re right, we must persevere. Come on, Jenny will wonder what’s keeping us if we stay out here much longer.”
“Alright, my love. Pass me your coat. I’ve already put the oven on and the chips are on the tray. I’ll just stick them…hang on, is that ice cream on your scarf, Barbara?”
***
“Hi, mum.”
“Oh, hello, Rebecca. You’re calling early today.”
“Yeah, I asked the warden for an earlier slot. I was…hoping to speak to Jenny.”
“Well, Jennifer is at school now, I’m afraid. It is a week day.”
“Oh…yeah, of course she is…I forgot…”
“Hmmm.”
“Where’s dad? I expected him to pick up.”
“Your father is in the loft. He’s seeing if there’s anything he can take to a boot sale.”
“Oh…it’s not that bad yet, is it?”
“Well it certainly isn’t easy, Rebecca, but we’ll manage.”
“Mum…I’m so sorry.”
“I should hope so, but that isn’t going to help Jennifer very much, is it?”
“Mum! Why do you have to be so cruel to me? I made a mistake!”
“Yes, you did, and Jennifer is paying for it! She doesn’t have a mother, and her father is goodness-knows-where! Do you ever think about that?”
“Of course I think about Jenny! I can’t stop thinking about her! Thinking about her is the only thing that…keeps me going.”
“…”
“Mum? Are you still there?”
“Yes, I’m still here, Rebecca. Look…I’m sorry for shouting at you. Your father and I are under a lot of pressure. We were a bit too old when you were born and this isn’t how we expected to spend our twilight years!”
“You’re not that old yet, mum.”
“That’s beside the point! I feel it sometimes.”
“Mum, how is Jenny today? Is she happy?”
“Yes, I believe so. She was singing songs from The Lion King with your father as they left this morning.”
“Oh, bless her! I always loved that film, too…”
“I remember…Rebecca, Jenny has been…asking about you. Quite often now.”
“What have you told her? What does she know?”
“Very little, but…your father thinks that it’s time that she did, and…I agree.”
“Okay…please don’t make her hate me, mum. I couldn’t bear it…”
“I doubt I could if I tried, Rebecca. That little girl adores you.”
“That’s so…nice to hear.”
“It’s the truth, Rebecca. I’ll speak to Jennifer soon.”
“Do you promise? Mum, please promise me!”
“I…promise.”
“Thank you…I love you, mum.”
“We’ll speak again soon, Rebecca. Take care of yourself.”

***

“Where’s granddad gone, grandma?”
“Granddad is in his shed, my darling. He’s building some lovely things out of wood just like he used to, and maybe he’ll be able to sell something.”
“Is granddad building another chair like the one in my room?”
“No, sweetheart, I think it’s a table this time. I’m sure he will show you when it’s done.”
“Granddad is very clever, isn’t he?”
“Yes, he is, my darling. Very clever, just like you!”
“My mummy is clever too, isn’t she?”
“I…yes, she was. Very good in school, just like you, Jenny.”
“I’ll be good at school so my mummy can come home.”
“That’s…wonderful, my darling. Jennifer?”
“Yeah, grandma?”
“Would you…like to see your mum? If we can arrange it?”
“Has my mummy stopped being naughty now?”
“I hope so, my darling! She can’t come home yet but she can have visitors now, and granddad and I wanted to know if you would like to see her. What do you think?”
“Do you think mummy misses me, grandma?”
“Oh of course she does, Jenny! She misses you very much!”
“I miss mummy, but she went away. Why did she leave me, grandma? If she was naughty you could have told her off and taken her toys away, like you do with me!”
“It’s…different for grown-ups, my darling…we need to go to a different place, like a Naughty Step, but far away.”
“Did mummy know I would miss her? I don’t like missing her. I wish she would come home.”
“I…yes, I think she would have known, but…but…”
“I would like to see mummy, grandma. May I see her? Please?”
“Yes, Jenny, of course you may. We can visit her soon, I’ll need to sort a few things out first.”
“But I want to see her now!”
“Don’t raise your voice at me, young lady! You will have to wait for a little while first, and only if you are not so rude!”
“I’m sorry, grandma…”
“Hmm…Jenny, why don’t you go and draw a nice picture to give to your mum when you see her? She would love that.”
“Yeah! Good idea, grandma! I’ll get my crayons!”
“Good girl…I…need to make a phone call…and speak with your granddad…”
“Grandma, why are you crying? Did I do something bad?”
“No, my darling…I’ve just got something in my eye.”

You can find me on Twitter here @ADixonFiction

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Fiction Fursday/The Second Sun

Hello, everyone! This is it, as of today I’m commiting to bringing back my “Fiction Fursday” segment! It was short-lived previously, as for a number of reasons I got side-tracked and lost the flow, as well as motivation if I am completely honest. However, whilst I was keeping up with it I had some excellent contributions from my friends here on WordPress as well as from friends and family who follow my blog.

Here are just a few of the projects I completed before if you would like to take a look:

A Crisis in Alexandria The Animals’ Advice, Stonefur the Mighty, The Boy and the Oak Tree, Flossy’s Chance

I was really pleased with all of the resulting stories and I’ve been eager to start it up once again. So here goes!

If any of you wonderful bloggers and followers would like to suggest a prompt for me to use in the coming weeks, please feel free to leave it in the comment section below. It can be anything from a single word, a first/last line or even a detailed description of a story you would like me to attempt. I’ll take on any challenges, so don’t be shy!

Today’s prompt comes from a good friend of mine, Matt. He suggested that I write a sci-fi story in which a person is woken from cryogenic stasis in the future by robots, and that the world is unrecognisable from being superheated. He also added that the robots can only thaw out one human per year. Well, that was quite a lot to go with and I’ve eagerly accepted the challenge. I hope you enjoy what I was able to come up with. Thanks again, Matt!

 

The Second Sun

                                                                       By Adam Dixon                      

Genevieve felt the heat first. The intense, unrelenting heat melted the cocoon of ice which enveloped her, leaving her gasping and recoiling from the glare of the sun. She fell from a metallic pod onto her knees. The impact jarred her bones and she grunted in pain.

“Argh…burns!” she managed to splutter, her jaw yielding reluctantly after years of inactivity. The muscles in her arms creaked as she lifted them to shield her face. The image of a vampire shying away from the first rays of dawn filled her mind and she almost laughed. As soon as the water had evaporated from her skin she began to feel slick with sweat. She ran both hands through her grey-dusted, curled red hair and probed her face with her fingertips. She felt her petite nose and her proud chin, as well as the tiny holes in her ear lobes. She felt the skin of her face, noting the slight wrinkles with disdain. Her vanity had endured, it seemed.

Welcome back, Miss Genevieve Peers,” a flat, emotionless voice said from nearby. Genevieve tried to open her eyes but the strong sunlight forced them shut once again.

“Argh! Where…am I?” she said, grimacing in pain as she stood on trembling legs. “Who are you?”

Number 2217 of the Sentinels,” the voice replied. “You are at Cryogenic Station Seven, in the area once known as Richmond-upon-Thames, London.

“Richmond…” Genevieve repeated, struggling to remember. “Yes…Yes! The Cryo-Station by the Palace!” She smiled in triumph and opened her eyes at a squint. Number 2217 was just as she recalled the Sentinels; impressive and impassive. Standing at six feet tall, the robot was humanoid in form and covered in what looked like black scales. The ‘scales’ were solar panels, ensuring that the Sentinel could function indefinitely in the sunlight. It had two arms and two legs, and a head displaying two eye slits and a speaker for a mouth; a simple outward design which belayed the complex circuitry beneath. Genevieve sucked in air through her nose, and was surprised to register a scorched smell like burnt toast. She gazed about her, searching for familiar landmarks. She got a nasty surprise.

“What…what happened here?” she said in disbelief. The area had changed beyond recognition. The houses of the borough were gone, as were the busy roads, the lampposts and any sign of human habitation. There were far more trees than she recalled and they rose into the air like behemoths of foliage and bark. The soil beneath her bare feet had a coarse quality like sand and shifted as she moved. She staggered forwards a few steps under the shade of a gigantic oak, hoping to catch a glimpse of Hampton Court Palace. There was nothing but trees where it had once stood.

The arrival of the Second Sun increased the temperature of the Earth by several degrees,” Number 2217 stated. “Human constructs were eroded long ago and nature has reclaimed the planet.

“Reclaimed…” Genevieve breathed, staring about her in confusion. “No…surely not…is nothing left?”

Nothing man-made, only for Cryogenic Station Seven and the Sentinels,” 2217 replied. Genevieve was stunned.

“But…” she began, scratching at her curly red which was dusted with grey. “But… there were hundreds of Cryo-Stations across the world…. how long have I been frozen? What year is it?

It is the year 3035 A.D. You have been in cryogenic stasis for one thousand and fifteen years. All other Cryogenic Stations have been destroyed.

“One thous-“ Genevieve felt faint. She had known that she would likely be kept frozen for a great number of years, but the reality was unbelievable. She searched for something to say as her groggy brain tried to process the information.

“I…I still feel cold,” she said, rubbing her crossed arms. “How can I feel cold when it’s so damn hot?” She looked down and noticed for the first time that she was naked. She flushed with embarrassment and anger. “Number 2217, bring me something to cover myself with!”

“Clothing is illogical in the current climate,” 2217 said. “The effects of the cryogenic procedure will remain for several days. It has occurred in every Thawing thus far.

Genevieve brightened, standing up straight. “Of course, there will have been others before me! Very well, Number 2217, take me to them. I wish to speak with the leader and see how I may begin my new life. By the looks of things, I won’t be needed for my business acumen right away!” Genevieve smiled at her joke and looked at the Sentinel expectantly.

Impossible,” 2217 responded. “There are no other humans here. You alone have been Thawed, as our orders dictate.

“What? Don’t be absurd!” Genevieve narrowed her eyes, waving a hand at the robot. “Take me to the human settlement!”

“Impossible,” 2217 repeated. “You are the sole conscious human on the planet.

“Do you mean that the others are still frozen?” Genevieve frowned.

There are twenty-seven thousand, four hundred and twenty-three humans remaining in stasis at Cryogenic Station Seven.” 2217 replied. “There is only power available to Thaw one human per calendar year. The remaining power must preserve the stasis pods.

Genevieve looked around at the desolate landscape, finally registering the robots’ words. The sole conscious human

“No, that can’t be right,” Genevieve shook her head, her curls bouncing. “You said there were others before me, what happened to them?”

You are the fifteenth human from Cryogenic Station Seven to be Thawed.” 2217 replied. “Your predecessors did not survive.

Genevieve felt as if she had been slapped in the face. She stood still, staring at the Sentinel with her mouth agape and sweat trickling down her face and body. “Then…what will happen to me? You’ll keep me alive, won’t you? You must do, it’s what you were created for.”

You are no longer a concern of the Sentinels,” 2217 said. “Our duty has been performed. You are to be ignored as soon as this conversation ends.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Genevieve barked; incredulity eclipsed her fear and she welcomed the distraction. “You’re programmed to protect human life!”

Sentinels are programmed to ensure that intelligent life will prosper,” 2217 replied. “It has been concluded that human life will not survive on Earth. It is a waste of resources to aid you, but we do not possess the knowledge to override our programming. A robotics expert is required for the Sentinels cease the Thawing procedure indefinitely.

“You want to…cease the procedure?” Genevieve was horrified. “But then human beings will die out! You can’t do that! This is our planet! You are our creations!”

It is the logical conclusion,” 2217 said. Genevieve felt sick as the cold, ruthless part of her brain which had served her so well in her previous life acknowledged the statement.

“But how is it that you can still operate under these conditions?” Genevieve asked, hope creeping into her voice. “Surely you ought to melt, or your circuits would overheat, or something! If you’ve managed to survive then maybe a human can overcome the heat as well?”

Our bodies can withstand much higher external temperatures and are unaffected by the lack of humidity.” 2217 responded.  “Human beings cannot expect to survive the highest temperatures for longer than one day.

“But…but what about the shade?” Genevieve cried, desperation raising the pitch of her voice.

The heat of the air is still too great,” 2217 said. “You will perspire at a rate which will not allow fluids to pass through your body in time to replenish it.” As if to confirm his statement, the sweat on Genevieve back, face and breasts began to evaporate, steaming slightly in the shade. Genevieve’s head swam and she swayed on her feet.

“Wont’ you even fetch me something to drink?” she demanded. “I’m dehydrating as we speak!”

It is a waste of resources to aid you.” 2217 said again. “Your predecessors collected rainwater. It is suggested that you attempt to do the same.” Genevieve bit her lip as a furious retort died on its way up her throat. She looked up at the clear, blue sky and searched in vain for a dark cloud. She saw only two vast orbs of white-hot light hovering high above the world.

“So…you’re saying that I’m screwed, right?” Genevieve said, looking at the Sentinel with tears in her eyes. She yearned for the barest hint of compassion in her stoic companion. She received none.

You will certainly die after the winter has passed. At present, you have a fifteen per cent chance at survival for the remaining two months of winter.” Genevieve burst into angry, hysterical tears and began to wrench at her hair.

“THIS ISN’T RIGHT!” she wailed, stamping her feet. “I WAS ONE OF THE CHOSEN! This was to be a new beginning, the start of a new human empire, damn it! I’m not supposed to die like this!”

It is recommended that you cease crying as soon as possible,” Number 2217 said, its emotionless voice was a stark contrast to Genevieve’s despair. “It is a waste of bodily fluids.” With that it turned around and began to move away, towards the gaping, dry channel which used to be the River Thames. A cluster of Sentinels were digging in the dusty earth.

“Wait! Wait!” Genevieve said, stumbling after 2217. She moved out of the shade of the giant trees and felt her flesh seared by the two suns. She hissed and stepped backwards, her wide eyes taking in the angry red skin on her chest and shoulders; a vampire, indeed!

“You can’t just leave me here!” she screamed, clenching her fists and waving them after the retreating robot. “I need water! How am I supposed to eat? This is murder! COME BACK HERE, YOU MURDERER!” But the robot did not. It walked on, its shining solar panels glinting in the sun and mocking Genevieve’s delicate skin. Genevieve stood quivering with pain and impotence.

“So that’s it then?” she whispered, tears flowing down her cheeks. “It’s all over…I’m going to die here…” Genevieve Peers gazed around the unfamiliar, tropical landscape with its colossal foliage, its sandy ground and its cruel sunlight and she wept despite the warning. She wept for the world, she wept for the humans who would follow her, and she wept for herself. Overhead, the two suns blazed down on Earth like sadistic children cooking ants under a magnifying glass, and they had spotted their newest plaything.

 

Kerry, the Writer

I have written this story as part of Esther Newton’s weekly challenge, Monday Motivations. I have particiated a couple of times in her challenges but haven’t put the stories on my own blog. This week’s task was to write a story or poem on the themes of “Sleep”, “Misery” or “Gold”. I had a go at incorporating all three, and I hope you enjoy what I’ve managed to come up with; I’m sure that all of you writers out there will identify with it!

I’m looking to get involved in more fiction challenges hosted by my friends on WordPress, as they are always a lot of fun and work wonders when I’m stuck for inspiration!

I’ll have a longer story to post soon, once I’ve finished editing. Here’s hoping that this offering will be enough until then. Thanks for reading!

 

Kerry, the Writer

By Adam Dixon

 

Kerry stared at the blinking cursor on her screen, her jaw working and her eyes narrowed. It was taunting her, that cursor, and the half-empty page, too. They knew she was tying her brain into knots over her next paragraph and they just waited, smug and superior. Kerry hated them. She rubbed her temples, groaning with fatigue. She blinked her dull brown eyes rapidly and took a long swallow of the cheap energy drink she had purchased on her way home from work. The too-sweet, slightly chemical flavour rushed down her throat, leaving her grimacing with the bitter aftertaste. The acrid smell of the sweeteners clung to her lips like moss to a cliff face. She didn’t like them, but they worked faster than coffee and she needed to stay awake.

“Kerry? Why are you still up?” Kerry started and twisted in her chair, looking sheepishly at the speaker. Jodie stood bleary-eyed in her pink dressing-gown, her raven-coloured hair in the disarray of sleep and her small hands barely containing an almighty yawn. Her face scrunched up and the glow from the naked lightbulb highlighted her freckles and dimpled cheeks. Kerry loved her when she looked like that.

“Hi, babe,” Kerry said. She frowned and bit her lip. “I, erm, didn’t wake you, did I?”

“No, you didn’t,” Jodie said, leaning against the door frame, and glancing around the spare bedroom. It was a tiny space, but Kerry had quickly claimed it with her desk, chair, laptop, book shelf and stacks upon stacks of notepaper which bore her spidery handwriting. Jodie took it all in with disinterest borne from familiarity.

“It’s gone twelve, Kerry,” Jodie continued, trying to look stern; Kerry refrained from smiling at the attempt.  Instead she brushed a wayward blond curl from her eye and tapped the desk three times with two fingers. That was her habit whenever she was stuck with her writing.

“You’ve got an early start again tomorrow,” Jodie continued, folding her arms.

“I know, I know,” Kerry said, wringing her hands in her lap. She tugged at her jogging bottoms and adjusted her hoodie. “I just need to keep on going for a bit, I won’t be much longer. Promise.” Jodie sighed and shook her head in bewilderment. Kerry closed her eyes and held back a long sigh. Jodie didn’t understand, not really. Nobody close to her did; they were all wonderful and supportive in their own way, but they were not creatives. They couldn’t understand what drove her to write, even late at night when the loathsome alarm clock grinned from the wrong side of midnight.

“Alright then,” Jodie said in a resigned voice. “Just don’t wake me up when you do come to bed, ‘kay?”

“’Kay,” Kerry said, turning back to her screen and back to the mockery of the blank page and the cursor. She heard Jodie close the bedroom door and listened for the muffled creaking of their bed. I suppose I could go to bed, Kerry thought with longing. I’m exhausted and some sleepy cuddles sound great right about now… Kerry sat up straight and gritted her teeth, annoyed at her lapse in discipline. No, she needed to write, damn it! She placed her hands above the keyboard, her digits poised and ready. But nothing came. Kerry’s shoulders slumped and she laid her forehead on the desk, feeling defeated.

Why am I even trying? Kerry thought for the umpteenth time. I can’t figure out what to write next and everything I do write is crap anyway! Why do I even bother? She lay there in her silent despair, unmoving, for several minutes. She turned her mind this way and that, considering where next to take her characters and how to put the words on to a page before an idea hit her like a thunderbolt. She sat bolt upright, the straight edge of her desk imprinted across her forehead. It was an angle of her storyline that she hadn’t considered before, but maybe… Hardly daring to breathe, Kerry began to type the first sentence. Then she wrote the next, doing so with care as the idea began to struggle upwards, like a delicate flower moving towards the sunlight. After the third sentence, the idea blossomed.

Just like that, Kerry had it. She smiled a warm, excited smile and began typing with gusto; her second wind was guiding her along and she didn’t dare try to stop it. The wonderful feeling of relief and happiness flowed through her, like liquid gold coursing through her veins; she was more energised than if she had downed five of her cheap cans of pop! She wiggled her toes inside her slippers and an involuntary giggle escaped her pursed lips.

“I did it, babe!” Kerry whispered excitedly, clambering into bed and holding Jodie close half an hour later. “I found my golden words!”

“Mmm!” Jodie protested, wriggling. “I asked you not to wake me up…” Kerry smiled in the darkness, alive with the rush of her success. Jodie didn’t understand, but that didn’t matter. Whatever she had written was bound to be sub-par by that point, but the idea had been captured and fixed in her mind. The flow of gold through her fingertips had revived Kerry’s flagging courage and she felt as if anything were possible. She was a writer, and that is what it was all about!

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.

Undead Dating – Collaboration!

Hello everyone! Back in June, which already seems like a lifetime ago, I attended the Blogger’s Bash in London and met some fantastic bloggers and writers. One such blogger was Steve, who with whom I clicked right away. Steve’s blog, Talk About Pop Music, is great fun and provides some well-informed information about a a variety of successful pop songs. I’d thoroughly recommend a visit! Anyway, we got chatting and Steve suggested that we collaborate in the future. I was happy to take him up on the offer.

Steve’s suggestion was that I write a short story based on the lyrics of a song of his choosing. He chose “Here in my Heart” by Al Martino, which interestingly was the very first UK Number One!  The subject matter of my story is perhaps not what most people would think of when hearing Mr Martino’s dulcet tones, but I enjoyed the way it unraveled for me regardless. I’m going to post it on my below but please do visit Steve’s blog for the original post and for some pop music entertainment! Cheers, Steve, I’m excited to finally work with you!

 

Undead Dating

By Adam Dixon

Horatio Brudenell-Cavendish shambled across the half-destroyed streets of Brighton, his undead heart heavy in his chest. He raised his head to watch the dark, churning thunderclouds and the flames dancing across the sky. Before he had perished in a drunken accident in 1756, he hadn’t expected his afterlife to be lonelier than his mortal existence, but here he was, reborn into a world where humans had been utterly vanquished with no-one to talk to. His black thoughts and self-deprecation had pursued him into this new awakening, and he doubted that this time he could end it so effectively.

“Oh, Lord, what a cruel joke you have played upon me!” he said, staring with dry, withered eyes at the terrifying flashes of light and fire which lit up the sky. “Was I so detestable to you in life that you must punish me so in death? Am I never to be loved?” The last sentence Horatio whispered, the sound barely audible and barely escaping the confines of his ruined throat. He saw the now familiar sight of hundreds of undead staggering across the remainder of the town and ignored them. He would not speak with them, and why should he? They were probably still rabid from the looks of them, and he had no desire to spend his time with such brutes. He dragged his feet aimlessly until he stood before a burned shell that was once a modern church. Even the holy places hadn’t escaped divine justice, it seemed. His sad eyes caught sight of a bright, cheerful poster which proudly announced that “The Brighton Undead Speed-dating Service is operating once again!”, and would take place at eight o’clock that evening on Brighton Pier. Horatio stared at it for a few moments before sighing and heading off in the direction of the pier. He had little hope of finding someone to spend eternity with, but he couldn’t allow himself to give up completely. Besides, he’d see Elsie again, and that alone was worth it. With that thought in mind, he smoothed the creases of his dirty waistcoat and tightened his frayed, mud-covered tie as best he could and pressed on.

***

The dating hall took place in the remains of the old arcade on Brighton Pier. Horatio still wasn’t certain he knew what an arcade was, but judging by the strange, oddly-coloured machines guarding the perimeter of the room he thought it must have been a forbidding place. The Pier had mostly survived the End Times, but everything past the hall had been destroyed and fallen into the ashen sea. The putrid odours of rotten and burnt wood hung heavy in the air, wrinkling noses which ought to have been used to it by now. The harsh wind screamed around the room from the gaping maw at the end of it, and coupled with the rough splashing of the waves it made it difficult to hear what was being said.

“So, have you been to one of these nights before?” the werewolf seated in front of Horatio asked in a loud growl. Horatio nodded, a greasy lock of black hair falling across his mottled forehead.

“Yes, I have tried my hand at these evenings thrice now,” he shouted, trying to sound interested. His eyes kept flicking back towards the zombie who stood at the door, watching the proceedings like a proud mother. Despite the disfigurement caused by her reanimation, Horatio thought she was beautiful. Her clothes, which had been in the ground a far shorter time than Horatio’s, were the brightest garments in the hall, regardless of the mud stains. Elsie Cartwright was like a shining beacon to a man adrift in a storm.

“Can’t’ve been much of a hit with the ladies, then!” the werewolf barked, shaking her great snout. Horatio’s attention snapped back to her and he forced a smile.

“Evidently not,” he said with a sigh. The werewolf cocked her head and gazed at him, a strange look coming into her yellow eyes. Horatio fidgeted, wishing the bell would ring again and signal the end of their three minutes together.

“Can’t think why, though,” she said, her pink tongue lapping at her chops. “You’re more interesting than most of the groaners I’ve met. Better looking, too.” The wolf huffed and turned away in embarrassment and Horatio grimaced. In life he had been tall, dark and handsome, but in death he was just as repulsive as everyone else.

“Ahh…well, thank you, madame, you are most kind,” he said, wondering whether or not he should return the compliment. The wolf certainly looked expectant. As he struggled for something positive to say about her, the bell rang.

“Oh, time’s up!” the werewolf said reluctantly. “Nice meeting you. Don’t be a stranger, now!” She gave what Horatio assumed passed for a wink. He smiled back and nodded politely, thanking her for her time. Standing up, he shambled over to the neighbouring table and approached the next eager face. The hall became animated as several others did the same, albeit rather slowly. The participants were obliged to endure an extra two minutes of “walking time” as the zombies present took a while to change tables. Horatio felt as if it would be a very long night. He looked up at Elsie as he sat down in front of his next “date” and she smiled and waved at him. Horatio felt his undead heart soar and he smiled back. He then forced himself to focus his attention on the newest bag of hideous in front of him and resolved to wait to speak to Elsie. She would be much more agreeable company, he was certain, and he would feel better for hearing her voice.

“’Ello ‘andsome!” the zombie in front of him leered. It had one good eye and its jaw was hanging by a few rotted threads of sinew. Horatio wasn’t sure if it was male or female, but he suspected that asking such a question would not start their meeting in the most positive light. Just another hour and a half, Horatio¸ he thought to himself, then you may speak with Elsie. Steeling himself, Horatio began conversing with his next “date”.

***

“I beg your pardon, Miss Elsie,” Horatio began once the “dating” had finished. “May I help you in any way?” He had managed to politely decline the werewolf’s offer of a night-cap without causing offense and had waited with impatience as the undead made their snail-like progress back to town. Horatio had taken a deep breath and shuffled over to Elsie. She turned to look at him and smiled.

“Oh, hello there, Horatio!” she said with genuine pleasure. “That is very kind of you! Yes, if you don’t mind, I could use a hand clearing away the tables. I’ll be here all night by myself, you see.” Horatio nodded, knowing all too well the limitations of their reawakened bodies. He set to work aiding her and worried over what to say. I must begin a conversation, damn it! He thought to himself with irritation. Why am I such a damnable bore? A bolt of lightning darted across the sky and struck a building somewhere in town, a tremendous crash filling the air a moment later. Still Horatio was mute.

“Any luck tonight?” Elsie asked, saving him from the awkward silence.

“Not especially, Miss Elsie,” he replied, spreading his arms wide. “Perhaps I am not good enough for the creatures of this new world. I daresay that I wasn’t much of a man for my betrothed in my former life, either, being a drunken scoundrel.”

“Oh, rubbish! I’ll not have you sayin’ that!” Elise chided, swatting him lightly on his shoulder. “You’re a strapping figure of a man, or at least you were, an’ anyone can see that! You’re a fair deal more agreeable than most of the folk from your time an’ all! An’ from my time, too, as it happens. My old hubby never spoke to me the way you do.” Horatio blushed, feeling what little blood he had left rise to his face. Elsie had died in the 1930’s, and she had lived a life destined to be frustrated by social barriers. They had become greatly reduced when compared to Horatio’s time, but they had not progressed enough for a strong-willed woman like Elsie.

“You have my thanks, Miss Elsie,” Horatio stammered. “Have you…have you had any potential…suitors?” he asked her, afraid of the answer but needing to know. Elsie looked at him and a shy smile crept across her face.

“Actually, there was a charming ghostly fella who spoke to me tonight,” she said. “I know it’s not my policy to get involved but he was ever so nice. He was a Frenchman who died whilst visitin’ the area centuries ago. Very polite an’ not at all high-an’-mighty, much like yourself, Horatio! I think I might like to see him again.” Horatio felt panic flood his body and he was struck dumb by the feeling. Come on you, fool! His mind screamed at him. It is now or never!

“Miss Elsie, I…” Horatio began, chewing at his lower lip. It tasted awful and the shock of it made him forget his embarrassment. “I wonder if you would consider spending some time with me instead?” Elsie paused during folding a chair.

“With you, Horatio?” she said, her eyebrow rising and her mouth opening slightly. Horatio cleared his throat and continued.

“Yes, I understand that it is somewhat improper of me,” he said, smoothing the front of his half-rotten suit jacket. “But, you see, I have been…in love…with you for some time now.” Horatio looked at Elsie with sincerity in his eyes. Elsie’s eyes widened and her hand flew to her breast.

“Miss Elsie, since I have reawakened I have been so alone,” he said, stepping towards her. “My heart is lonely, and my soul although it be damned cries out for a companion. I…wish to spend the rest of my unnatural life with you, Miss Elsie. You would complete me.” Horatio trailed off, surprised by his tenderness and feeling the beginnings of panic returning. Oh, Lord, what if she denies me? He thought with desperation. I will die all over again! Elsie stood watching him, her undead eyes blinking rapidly. The wind howled around the arcade in a mocking laugh and the pier creaked ominously as if it were about to collapse. Horatio almost wished that it would.

“Oh, Horatio,” she whispered. “You do have a way with words! Any girl would be lucky to hear them!”

“Miss Elsie, I will give you my arms gladly if only you will restore this blackened, un-beating heart of mine,” Horatio said, reaching out a wasted, green-hued hand. Elsie laughed and seized it, gripping it tightly and beaming like an angel. Horatio felt his shoulder groan and worried that he might live up to his promise in a more literal fashion than he had intended.

“Horatio, you’ve said enough pretty words,” Elsie said, gazing into his eyes. “We’ve time enough for those and more besides! Truth be told, I’ve not had eyes for anyone else since you first walked in here. I’ll share your arms an’ give you mine also, you silver-tongued charmer!” Horatio felt his spirit dance and his heart suddenly flutter in his chest like a phoenix arising from ashes. He had never felt so happy, even in his mortal days. Elsie took his other hand and smiled at him.

“But let’s take it slowly, shall we?” Elsie said with a sly wink. “No need to rush when we’ve got all of eternity before us!”

“No, indeed not, Miss Elsie!” Horatio said, his own face breaking into a wide smile. He ignored the unnerving creak as his jaw stretched and he stared deep into Elsie’s eyes. Happiness, I have found you at last! he thought. Perhaps the new, dead world would not be so bad after all.

 

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/First Contact

This week, my writing prompt comes from my long-suffering partner in crime, Samwise. Her suggestion was that I write about a world where humans do not exist. I think this is a great prompt which gave me a several ideas right away. In fact, I may revisit the prompt  another time because there are lots of stories I’d like to write from it!

After some thought, I decided to give the subject a sci-fi twist and take some of the focus away from the human-less planet. I hope you enjoy what I’ve managed to come up with.

P.S. If any of you would like to suggest a prompt for me to use in the future, please feel free to let me know by leaving a comment. Thanks!

 

First Contact

By Adam Dixon

When the shining rock burst out of the sky and crashed into the ocean the dolphins hurried to see it. Its landing had been terrifying; it had slammed into the ocean and tidal waves had erupted from the depths like roused giants fleeing for the shore. It took them many days to swim from their respective territories across the world, but the rock had remained inactive during that time, floating and steaming silently. Bobbing upon the warm waves near the shores of southern Spain, the Seven Kings and Seven Queens of the Seas clicked and screeched to one another in agitation as they waited for…something. They couldn’t explain it but they knew that the appearance of the rock was only the beginning of something incredibly important. Some parted the seawater in smooth movements as they circled the huge floating object, not quite knowing what to make of it. It appeared to have been crafted by hand and so was not simply a rock after all. It was unlike anything the Simian-Builders could hope to produce and the workmanship far exceeded them. The material was smooth and gleaming in the sunlight, and they could not understand its buoyancy. It was too large and heavy and its surface area too oddly-shaped to allow it to float, but float it did. It had caused a panic when it had been spotted as a ball of flame tearing across the sky but soon the animals’ fear had given way to curiosity. Finally, the combined minds of the Intelligent Species had identified it as some kind of great shell, most likely containing a living thing. That idea alone was enough to send ripples of awe and apprehension through the ranks of the world. A living thing which came from beyond the sky! What did it mean?

The dolphins were nervous and squeaked in excitement as the front of the shell began to hiss, seeming to break open and push a small section away from the main bulk. The score of apes in attendance grunted and whooped on board their sturdy wooden barge. The barge was lashed to the back of a great whale, who occasionally saw fit to spray its passengers with discharge from its blow-hole. The hulking gorillas ignored the action but the chimpanzees and monkeys leapt about, screeching their annoyance. Eagles, hawks and other majestic birds of prey circled overhead, watching the proceedings with keen eyes and ready talons. They, at least, would not be slaves to their emotions. White smoke billowed out from the shell, followed by the dim silhouette of a large, hunched creature.

“Something is coming!” the king of the Arctic Ocean squeaked. “And it has fire in its shell!” His fellows angrily bade him to be silent. They could not afford to become overexcited. Their coal-black eyes watched as the creature shuffled forwards through the smoke and revealed its form. It was a huge being, reaching seven feet tall despite being bent almost double on three hind legs. Its legs were muscular and hairless, with its dark blue skin shimmering in the light like scales. It had two long, tree-like arms which ended in sharp, tough claws. It had no visible neck, but it had one large, yellow eye at the front, left and right side of its head. Wide below its eyes appeared to be nostrils, but the animals could not see a mouth or a snout anywhere on its face. A sour, unnatural smell emanated from the creature, raising hackles and ruffling feathers in disgust. It was certainly not a smell known to animals, not even to their ancestral memory. The significance of the meeting settled on each creature like a leaden shroud.

“What is it?” the queen of the Pacific Ocean asked, her clicks subdued in wonder. No-one answered her.

It stood on the threshold of its spacecraft, taking in its surroundings. The planet’s nearest star was close enough to provide ample warmth but the glare forced it to squint its eyes. That had been a mistake; it should have calculated for such an inevitability. If the hunter’s vision was impaired, then the hunter lost its prey. It took in careful sips of air, sampling its flavours. The air was clean and unpolluted with plenty of oxygen, although it would have more comfortable with extra nitrogen. It began attempting to identify the various creatures attending it via their strong, individual scents. The water covering the landing spot had an almost overpowering scent of salt which made differentiation a challenge. Another potential hindrance to a hunt, it noted. The damp, silky beings were the closest and one of them swam towards it.

“Strange creature,” the queen of the Indian Ocean chattered, raising herself up to her full height in the water. “I bid you welcome to our domain. You are being addressed by the Seven Kings and Seven Queens of the Seas, alpha-mammals all and elected spokes-creatures for all life. Close by are representatives of the gallant Sky-Creatures and the Simian-Builders. Please identify yourself. Be you animal, vegetable or mineral? Do you come for a home, for a mate or for prey?” She flicked her tail to remain in her proud position, staring intently at the creature. The other dolphins bobbed in silence, waiting for any response. The creature gazed out at the assembled lifeforms impassively, turning its body to encompass them all in its wide field of vision. The tension from the animals was as palpable as the warmth of the sun and the caress of the wind on their skin, fur and feathers. The creature made no indication of understanding, it merely stood in its shell with its nostrils flaring as it tasted the air.

It was good to feel an atmosphere again, despite the frivolity of such desires. The creature counted fifty-four lifeforms in its immediate vicinity, including those in the sky. It concluded that it had been reckless to expose itself to three potential angles of attack, but it had been curious. Curious and bored. It had been a long journey to reach this small blue planet, and its orders were to scout for information, after all. But a hunter did not reveal itself to the prey, a hunter waited. It had failed this most basic lesson…

“I repeat, please identify yourself,” the queen of the Indian Ocean squeaked, her pitch betraying her impatience. Still the creature said nothing. A guttural hooting came from the whale-barge, and one of the gorillas, a proud silverback, was calling to the dolphins.

“I think the Simian is correct, my queen,” the king of the Atlantic Ocean clicked. “The creature doesn’t appear to understand us.”

“Hmmph! Perhaps!” the queen of the Indian Ocean snapped. “But tell that brute to keep his opinions to himself! He and his kind have our blessing to observe, not to make suggestions, sharks take them all!” The silverback was swiftly remonstrated and attention swung back to the alien. What was it, and what was it doing there?

It watched the collection of species before it with great interest. There were a wondrous variety of creatures on the planet, some of which appeared to be bound completely to the ocean. It was impressed by the ingenuity of the large, hairy beings who had braved and conquered the seas, albeit with the aid of a lesser, but gigantic, species. That indicated great potential. What of the aquatic creatures, though? They had attempted to communicate with it, that much was certain. Its tiny ears were hurt by the high-pitched calls of the individual which had addressed it. That one was clearly their leader. It would have to watch with caution. What else? Judging by the way that all of the creatures stared at its spacecraft it deduced that they had not seen metalwork before. They also did not possess any form of ground-to-air defences; it had simply coasted onto their planet at its leisure! So, they were primitive despite their obvious intelligence and were many generations away from space-travel yet. That was a pity, as perhaps they would have provided the challenge its people sought otherwise…

“I shall try to communicate using echolocation,” the queen of the Indian Ocean declared, swimming gracefully in a circle in order to look at each of her subjects and fellows. “It will not work as effectively on the surface, but it’s worth a try, I believe. Stand by…”

What was the leader doing now? It had moved through the waves with the ease of a great hunter, casting its eyes on the others gathered around it. Such an effective adaption; those creatures would prove difficult to best in the water. Something was about to happen, and the alien stood calmly as it waited. It reared up in alarm and pain as an assault of noise sent shock-waves into its skull. What was that?!

The animals screeched, yelled and chattered in astonishment as the creature made its first reaction since appearing to them. Most of them could only just make out the high-pitched series of clicks the dolphin was making, but they saw that the alien could not bear it. The combined racket of the animals only made it worse. It thrashed its huge arms wildly and stomped its three feet, producing a clanging noise from the strange shining shell. Overhead, the leader of the eagles perceived the burst of movement as a display of aggression and shrieked its battle-cry. Spreading his wings wide, he dove down towards the distressed creature, two of his fellows joining him and stretching their razor-like talons.

Despite the intense ringing inside its skull, it still saw the approaching creatures. There was no doubt as to their intentions. It spun and struck out at the winged beasts, its claws tearing into one of them in mid-flight. The creature fell into the ocean with a splash, crimson blood darkening the water and torn feathers decorating the surface. Talons raked across its broad back and above its central eye, ripping open the tight, hardened skin. It staggered in pain and surprise; not even its prey on advanced worlds had managed to break its hide with such ease! So, the planet did have warriors after all… Cool purple blood seeped into its eye and down its back as it took a defensive stance and awaited a second attack. The surviving beasts wheeled and rose high into the air once again. This was more like it!

“Stop! Stop!” the dolphins keened in unison. The creature flinched and the entire gathering of Sky-Beasts halted their lethal dive, pounding their impressive wings to hover a few meters above it. A few seconds later and they would have engulfed the creature. The apes were screeching and leaping about in a fury, smelling the acrid blood of the stranger and roaring their challenges to it. The whale beneath them became agitated, rocking the platform violently in an attempt to dislodge the barge. The apes panicked and tried their best to calm the whale with soothing ululations, clambering down the side of the platform to gently pat its glistening skin. The great beast stopped rocking, but sprayed water in agitation. The dolphins took stock of their surroundings, making sure that everything was once again under control before turning to face the creature. They were dismayed to see the creature lumbering back inside its shell and it closing up behind it. The oddly-shaped thing hummed and whirred unnaturally and a maelstrom of foam and heated water spun beneath it as it began to lift off from the sea.

It flicked switches and touched flashing screens with its pointed claws, irritated by the red blood which was smeared across the controls. It had underestimated the earthlings, which had been a grave error considering how hopelessly outnumbered it was. It had refused to give in to its blood-rage and had recognised the need to flee, but it had learned plenty during the brief visit. The creatures it had seen were intelligent and would make worthy adversaries, but it had concluded with certainty that the planet was not ready for interstellar combat. It glanced up at the preserved skeletons of defeated creatures from across the universe; grisly trophies which decorated every single ship of its people. They were warriors and lived for the thrill of battle, but they did not wish to engage in combat with creatures of lesser worth or prowess. No, this Earth was not yet ready. But it would be, and when its people returned in force…those would be glorious days! It closed its eyes as its craft sped through Earth’s atmosphere, imagining with longing the war to come. Soon, they would return…

Fiction Fursday/A Trip to Belgium Part One

Hello, friends! It’s been a while, and it’s also late and I for that I apologise. I reckon I’ve got a writing routine sorted out once again and I’m feeling positive about my various projects. I’m actually gearing up to take part in NaNoWriMo this year, which is exciting!

Today’s story was prompted by Esther Newton. Esther suggested that I write a story where a man goes to sleep and wakes up 100 years in the past. What happens to him and whether or not he returns was to be left up to me. Well, the historian in me awoke with excitement at the prospect and I started brainstorming right away! As I began writing out my ideas, I soon came to the realisation that the story could not be contained to one blog post, and so I plan on writing it in three parts. The subject matter will be dark at times, and I will do my best to treat it with tact and research my ideas as much as I can. So, thank you, Esther, for such an inspiring prompt!

Here is Part One of my story. I hope you enjoy the beginning of this tale.

P.S. If you would like to get involved and suggest a prompt for me to use in the future, please feel free to do so and leave a comment below!

 

A Trip to Belgium

Part One: 1916

By Adam Dixon

 

Derek draped his red tie over the back of his chair and stretched. He was pleased with his day’s work and he had no doubt that his client would be too. He could almost hear the old crone rasping down the telephone in delight once he told her that her accounts were all in order. Then would come the much-deserved praise and Derek would once again justify the hefty quarterly bonuses he was receiving. He rubbed his stomach, thinking of the fine meals he would soon be enjoying, courtesy of the company, of course.

“I’ll have to get on with it and book a flight, soon,” Derek said to himself, sitting on his wide bed as he undid his trousers. He kicked off his expensive shoes and wriggled out of his clothes, lying back luxuriously with a deep sigh.

“Where to this time?” he mused, scratching at his five o’clock shadow. He’d see to that in the morning, it didn’t pay for his clients to see him unshaven. “I can’t believe Rome was five months ago already!” He smiled at the thought of his holiday, remembering the bustling streets with their exquisite architecture and the fragrant restaurants beckoning to him. He stared up at his custom light fittings and ran a hand through his greying hair.

“Germany this time? No…France? Yeah…France would be nice! Or Belgium! I could visit Antwerp again, maybe with a trip to Bruges somewhere along the line!” He chuckled at the thought of the raised eyebrows when he told his colleagues his choice. They would have chosen Paris, or continued on to Spain. Derek liked to be different; he thought it made him seem interesting. For a moment, Derek’s mind slipped and he wondered if he should invite Sandra to come with him, but he dispelled it angrily. He traced the ring-less finger on his left hand, blocking out the wounds which were still hurting even after five years.

“I ought to do something for mum, too,” Derek thought, refusing to think about Sandra. “Maybe I’ll pay for her to get her roof fixed…I ought to have done that weeks ago…” Derek felt guilty and promised himself that he would do just that on his next payday. Yawning, Derek shuffled around until he had slipped under his duvet. Sleep claimed him quickly, and he didn’t bother to turn out the light.

 

“Derek Webley, get up this instant!” A shrill voice shouted in Derek’s ear. He jerked awake, squinting as daylight poured in through the open curtains. Confused and a little afraid, Derek sat up. An old woman dressed in simple clothing of a woollen blouse and a long, ragged dress bustled about his room, her slippers scuffing the floorboards. Floorboards? Derek’s room had a cream carpet…

“You left the bleedin’ candle on as well! You’ll set the house alight one of these days!” the woman continued, gesturing towards a melted stump of candlewax on his desk. Derek frowned. How had that gotten there? He noticed with shock that his room looked completely different. It was the same large size, but the walls were missing the decadent paintings and the tasteful blue wallpaper. His bed was smaller too, the duvet replaced by a single, creased blanket and the memory-foam mattress gone in favour of an inch-thick monstrosity of discomfort. Derek was perplexed, and then he recognised the intruder as she turned towards him.

“Mum, what are you doing here? What’s going on?” Derek spluttered. His eyes flicked towards her clothes. “And what are you wearing?!”

“None of your lip now, Derek!” his mother scolded, wrenching open his wardrobe and pulling out a shirt and trousers. “Here you are, put these on. Quickly!” She tossed the clothes at Derek, who was staring in disbelief. He touched the clothes and snorted.

“I can’t go anywhere dressed in these!” he said, smirking. “I think these clothes went out with Queen Victoria! Where did you get them from? A joke shop, maybe?”

“I said no lip, Derek!” his mother snapped, placing her hands on her hips and tapping her foot on the floorboards. “Now get up, get dressed and get yourself down to the town hall! I’ll not have any son of mine shirking his duty!”

“What are you talking about?” Derek swung his legs from his bed and started in surprise at his long woollen pyjamas. “What am I wearing?!” He was aghast. “Who dressed me in these? Why didn’t I wake up?”

“Derek Henry Webley, get your backside out of bed and put those clothes on this instant!” His mother spat, her face the picture of frustration. Derek obeyed, wondering which one of his friends had thought up this elaborate prank. Whoever it was, they had done a sterling job getting his no-nonsense mother on board! As he pulled on the moth-eaten trousers and starchy shirt he wondered whether or not he was dreaming. He followed his mother out of the bedroom and onto the landing, where he let out a cry of astonishment.

“The house! What have you done to it?” he asked, staring wildly at the plain flooring and bland wallpaper. “This is getting ridiculous now! How’ve you managed this while I’ve been asleep? It looks like something out of the 1920’s!” Derek’s mother stopped at the top of the stairs and turned to face him. She did not look impressed.

“Don’t think I don’t know what you’re up to, sonny,” she said with her lips curled in distaste. “I know exactly what you’re doing! I’ll not have you pretending to be mad in order to get out of your duty! The law’s the law and everyone who can hold a gun has do their bit, so don’t even think about it!”

“Mad? Gun? What are you talking about?” Derek said. His mother tutted and seized his wrists, dragging him down the staircase. Even that was different: he had been rather proud of the blue carpet which had run over the steps like a soft, comfortable ocean. It was now bare and in quite desperate need of a varnishing. How had they managed it?

A few minutes later Derek was being led by the hand through the street as he scratched at his uncomfortable trousers. Derek’s eyes were wide and his mouth was agape at its transformation. There seemed to be fewer houses and there were no cars on the road. The air smelled clean, lacking the pervasive odour of exhaust fumes. Derek was sure that he could detect a whiff of manure, too. He stared at people who were dressed in similarly dated clothes to himself. The majority of the men were sporting moustaches and wore hats, and the women wore long dresses and sensible shoes. Derek couldn’t see a hint of make-up on a single face! Strangely, he also noticed that there were no young men around. Lots of men, to be sure, but all of them older than himself, walking with grim faces and troubled expressions. He became convinced that he must be dreaming; no prank could be that elaborate!

“Come on, Derek! Don’t dawdle!” his mother said, tugging at his wrists. “You must be on time and you must look keen!”

“Mum, why were you in my house?” Derek asked. He’d had lucid dreams before but he couldn’t recall ever feeling so immersed in one. He thought he’d try to make some sense of it before he woke up.

“Hark at you! Your house, indeed!” his mother snorted. “It’s a bit late to start putting on airs, my lad! Now shut your mouth and stop dilly-dallying! Maybe today you can prove to me and that harlot, Sandra, that you are a real man!” Derek blinked in shock and complied, more confused than ever. His subconscious was certainly giving him a beating this time! They approached the town hall, a grand old building which, incredibly, looked brand new. Its grey stones and red bricks were clean and its doors were wide open, admitting and ejecting streams of men like twin rivers. Derek’s mother shoved him through the door and into the bustling foyer. There was no opportunity to admire the resplendent interior of the building due to the amount of men barging into one another. The air was filled with the sounds of shouting, cursing, coughing and an occasional bray of laughter. Derek was jostled to and fro by several disgruntled people before being confronted by an aging man in an Army uniform. He appeared to be one of several such men in the building and they were all clutching sheaves of papers and pencils. The man’s face was red and his voice was hoarse as if he had been shouting all morning.

“You there! You look game enough, who are you?” The man pointed a wrinkled finger at Derek, his steely eyes sizing him up.  Even his white moustache looked irritated. “Name, age and occupation!”

“Erm, Derek Webley,” Derek said, bewildered. “42 years old. Erm, I’m an accountant.”

“Hmph! What took you so long to join up, Webley? It’s two months since the law changed, have you no shame, man?”

“I’m sorry, but I’ve no idea who you are or what you’re talking about,” Derek said, smiling in what he hoped was a friendly, embarrassed way. The thin man’s face contorted and he shook with fury.

“This is no time to act the fool, Webley!” he shouted, jabbing at Derek’s chest with his skeletal fingers. “Our boys abroad need support and that means they need your help, God save ‘em! I am Major Harold Beaumont and it’s my job to make sure spineless idiots like yourself get out there and provide it! Now, your address and dependents, Webley!”

“Dependents?” Derek frowned.

“Yes, man, dependents!” Beaumont cried, his eyebrows knitting together like angry clouds. “Do you have a wife or children to keep?”

“Erm…no, sir,” Derek said, probing his ring finger again. “And..erm…I live on 42 London Road.” Beaumont nodded and wrote the information down on a form in neat, efficient handwriting. He cast his eyes over Derek once again.

“Do you have any physical ailments, Webley? Bad knees, poor eyesight, weak chest, that sort of thing.”

“Erm, no, sir, I don’t think so. Bit of an expansive waistline these days, if that counts!” Derek attempted another smile. Beaumont’s stony face made it clear that it did not count.

“So, you are unmarried, you have no children to support and you are in fine physical condition for a man of your age. Good God, Webley, the Army is crying out for men like you and if my eyes didn’t deceive me you needed to be dragged here today by your mother! You’re a bloody disgrace, man!”

“Now hang on a minute!” Derek said, his irritation growing. “I’m unused to be spoken to in that tone, Beaumont, and I don’t much appreciate it!” Beaumont barked a hoarse laugh.

“Ah! Perhaps you do have some spine then, Webley!” he said with a wry smile. “That is a relief! But if my remarks upset you then you’d better prepare yourself for a good hiding during your training! Man alive, the drill sergeants will have grand time with you!”

“Training? Wha-“ Derek began. He was cut off by a wave from Beaumont.

“Yes, Webley, your training,” he said curtly, already scanning the room for other men to berate. “A vehicle will collect you tomorrow at 06:00 hours to transport you to your nearest facility and you will be readied for warfare. In six weeks you will be sent over to France or Belgium, depending on where you are needed. Ordinarily training should take three months, but our boys are being pushed hard by Jerry and we can’t spare the time. Good luck, Webley, and God be with you out there.” Before Derek could offer further protestation, Beaumont had marched off and seized another man by the shoulder, barking into his ear at the same time. Derek stood in the foyer of the town hall and stared after the old man, his mind racing. He hoped he would wake up soon, the dream was feeling a bit too real…

“Derek!” a deep voice called. A familiar face approached Derek in the foyer.

“James!” he exclaimed, reaching out to seize the offered hand. “I’m bloody pleased to see you here! Maybe you can help me clarify this madness before I wake up!”

James Johnson nodded, his usually jovial face creased with worry. James had worked alongside Derek for almost ten years and they were frequent drinking buddies.

“It is surreal, isn’t it?” James said, glancing around the packed building. “I can’t imagine what it’ll be like once we actually get out there. The stories we’ve heard, and the damned lists growing weekly…over by Christmas, they said, and it’s been two years…the world has gone mad, Derek.” Derek was shocked by James’s tone, and he followed him back into the street wondering how to respond. He was feeling uneasy and more than a little bit frightened. He hoped he would wake up soon…

“Derek! James!” another voice called, and a tall woman with raven-black hair came hurrying towards them. Derek smiled at her, feeling relieved.

“Ah, Mary, it’s good to see you here,” he said warmly, amused at her prim attire. Mary Rutherford had often been wearing more revealing clothes whenever Derek had seen her around the office. Her husband, Barry, (another drinking buddy), worked with them and they had gotten to know Mary well through him. What had inspired Derek to dream about her in that way?

“My God, you’ve both joined up, too, haven’t you?” Mary said, her almond eyes wide and her hands clasped under her chin.

“That’s right,” James said with a shrug. “Can’t avoid it these days.”

“I see…” Mary looked at both of them, her eyes brimming with tears. “Well…you two be careful out there, please. I’ve…not heard from Barry in nearly three weeks…he’s never left it this long before and I…I…” Mary broke off, her shoulders shaking with sobs.

“Mary! What’s the matter?” Derek asked, alarmed. He touched her shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. Mary looked up at him, blinking tears from her eyes. She managed a weak smile.

“Barry…said he was being sent into France,” she whispered. “Couldn’t say much more than that, obviously…but I fear the worst, Derek…oh Lord, please be careful! G-goodbye and G-god bless!” With that Mary hurried away, her snuffling cries receding into the distance.

“Barry’s not one to make her worry,” James said, rubbing his temples. “That’s not good news…another one gone. That makes four so far. Damned lucky it isn’t more, if you ask me.”

“F-four?” Derek stammered. A tight ball of horror was forming in the pit of his stomach. James nodded.

“Yes, four. I still can’t quite believe that Harry and Paul, are gone…they were so keen to volunteer… Poor blighters…not long out of school, either. David was a shock as well, and his childr- damn, you haven’t heard about David yet! Oh, I’m so stupid!” James smacked his forehead with his palm and looked contrite. “I’m sorry to have to tell you like this, Derek…but Sally and I heard from Deidre last week…she told us that David has been killed in Ypres.”

“D-dead?” Derek whispered. “All four of them?” Harry and Paul had been the enthusiastic graduates they had taken on at their office, and David had been a reliable worker who was prone to making crude jokes.

“I’m still trying to deny it, too.” James said wearily. “I keep hoping that this is all a twisted nightmare and that I’ll wake up soon…” He clapped a resigned hand on Derek’s shoulder and looked him in the eye. Derek could see the anguish in his friends’ face.

“I’d best be home, Derek. I…need to tell Sally and the children that…my country needs me…I’ll see you tomorrow, I suppose.” James turned and walked away, leaving Derek speechless. His mind seemed to work in slow motion, his reasoning taking long, sluggish steps as if it were moving through treacle. The horror in his stomach had swollen to the size of a canon-ball and threatened to burst from his chest. No, it had to be a dream, he thought desperately, it had to be a dream

Derek staggered as the full realisation of what was happening came crashing into him like a tidal wave. He wasn’t dreaming! He had woken up in 1916 and had been conscripted to fight overseas! He began to blubber, moving around the streets like a drunk, reaching out to strangers in their strange clothes and imploring them to help him.

“Please, I don’t belong here!” he said, grabbing shocked men and women by their sleeves. “Please, there has been a mistake! I’m from the future! I’m from the future! I shouldn’t be here!”

“Poor devil has lost his mind!” one woman said in a hushed voice to a wide-eyed little boy.

“Hmph! Pull yourself together, man!” barked an elderly gentleman in a grey coat. “This town needs you! I’d be over there too if I weren’t so damned old!”

“But, but…” Derek cast to and fro, seeking any understanding in the faces of those around him. He was met only with anger, embarrassment and amusement. Finally, he hung his head in defeat. Derek trudged back down the unfamiliar-yet-familiar streets towards the home that was no longer his. As he walked, a single thought penetrated his anguished daze and he began to chuckle despite himself.

“I did say I wanted to go to Belgium!” he said with tears in his eyes. “I should’ve kept my big mouth shut! Oh Christ…” His tears fell and splashed onto his itching trousers. Derek shambled homeward, his feet heavy as they bore him closer to hell on earth.

 

 

 

 

Fiction Fursday/Re-blog

I’m afraid to say that I have failed this week in my commitment to writing a new story. I’ve just started a new job and things are still up in the air from my recent move. These are terrible excuses and I am a hypocrite for citing them as they shouldn’t have stopped me from writing, so for that I apologise. I even had a great prompt from the lovely Esther Newton work with, but I still managed to slack off.

However, I still wanted to post something, so I have decided to give an older story a dusting off this week. Last year, I wrote a story which I was very pleased with called “Fair Emma“. Some of you may have read this story already, but those of you who are new to my blog may not have come across it. I enjoyed writing it immensely and got a positive response from those who read it. I will leave a link to the original post and the first two paragraphs below, if you are interested in reading it. I hope you enjoy if you do.

Again, apologies for the lack of fresh material. I will be back on form next Thursday, I promise!

 

Fair Emma

By Adam Dixon

The streets of Whitechapel were deathly quiet that night. The street lamps were sparse and their feeble glow barely penetrated the November mist. There were shadows on every corner, and in one of them lurked a solitary, patient woman. Jackie stood motionless, her eyes on the small lodgings across the street. Standing on street corners had become a familiar occupation of hers of late, but she was not there for her trade. A fellow night-worker was completing a transaction with a client, and they had entered the small house less than half an hour ago. She stood calmly, her gaze boring into the wooden door just yards in front of her.

Soon, a man staggered outside, cursing loudly as he caught his foot on the door frame. He almost tripped, but somehow managed to remain upright and wobbled off into the night, belching out a bawdy song and chuckling to himself. After a few minutes the street was silent once again, and Jackie slowly approached the house. It was in a state of disrepair, with the door a little off its hinges and one of the panes of glass broken in the window next to it. Raising a gloved hand, Jackie knocked softly on the door.

Here is the link to the original post. Thanks for reading!

P.S. I just realised that I wrote this story in order to be featured on Esther’s blog! What a strange coincidence!

 

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.