Giggle – quadrille for dVerse

The giggle started wriggling
In the corner, over there,
Rolled over tables,
Wrigglegiggled round chairs
Snuck past the lady
Taking careful notes.
Jumped the projector,
Started to float,
Grew just a little bit,
Grew a little more,
Walloped into me as
A mighty roar.

 

De Jackson – Whimsy Gizmo – is dishing out giggle water over at dVerse. Forty four words, one of which must be giggle. Keeping it light…

Katia and the Garden of Death – for Jane Dougherty’s Sunday Strange.

Once upon a time,when the world was younger than it is today, there was a girl
who yearned for wisdom.

Her name was Katia, and she lived in a village in the forest. There was one road through the village, and everyone knew that if you went west you would reach the village of Even, where they held a fair once a year. If you went beyond Even, you would find another village, and another, spaced out like beads on a thread, each with their village green, their inn, and their annual fair. As far as anyone knew, this went on to the end of the world.

If you went east, you would eventually reach Mornington, the largest town for miles. There was a market there once a month, and most of the villagers had been there. If you journeyed on beyond Mornington, eventually the forest ran out, and there was a great grassland, and if you continued over that you would reach a mighty river. If you followed the mighty river, you would reach the Capital, where the Emperor and Empress lived in a great palace. Nobody from the village had been there for many years. Anyone who had gone had never come back.

If you went north or south, there was nothing but forest, stretching on and on. Everyone knew that.

Katia was pretty enough and clever enough. She was a good enough cook, and a good enough housekeeper, and two or three boys looked warmly at her, so that she knew that if she chose she could marry a husband who was handsome enough and healthy enough, and have a home that was comfortable enough and a herd of goats that was big enough. Katia, however, wanted more than this. She wanted to know all the songs and stories in the world. She wanted to know why people are sad, and how the hare changes her coat in the winter. She wanted to know the language of the birds.

In the forest villages, winters are long and dark, and the villagers huddle round their wood fires to keep warm, singing songs and telling stories. There are many stories in the forest, but there was one particular story that burrowed its way into Katia’s heart. This was the story she thought about when she lay in her bed at night, or stirred the soup, or kneaded dough. It went something like this:

If you walk north through the forest, you may find the Garden of Death. Only a few people manage to find it, and of them, only a few are brave enough to enter. It’s a strange place. The gate to it is carved to look as if it is made of bones, and inside the garden peculiar plants grow, with flowers that look like skulls. If you choose one of these skull flowers and carry it away, it will teach you the secrets of the world.

Katia thought about this, and wondered if she could find the garden. It kept her awake at night, made her burn the soup. or stand still at the kitchen table with the dough forgotten under her hands.

Finally, she decided to try. She got up very early one morning, before it was really light, took some bread and cheese and a handful of dried apple and set out. It was hard going at first, in the dim light, and she tripped and stumbled often, but soon the sky brightened. She stopped to eat at noon in a small clearing, and then went on, keeping north all the time.

When dusk came she settled herself down at the bottom of a large oak tree, reasoning that she couldn’t tell which way was north in the dark. As she nibbled a piece of bread she noticed a strange, greenish light coming through the trees. She stood up, curiously, and made her way towards it. It wasn’t long before she came to a pathway made of stone slabs which seemed to be leading in the right direction.. She followed it, and came all of a sudden to a gate that was carved to look as if it was made out of bones. The story was true, then.

For a moment she paused, and then pushed the gate open, and walked into the Garden. All around her were skulls, and the eerie light was coming from them – streaming from the empty eye sockets. Then the whispering started. The first skull she passed whispered:

“I grew from the heart of a chef. Choose me and I will teach you to make pastry so light that one breath will send it floating to the tea table of the Empress. I will teach you to make cakes so soft that they will make the Empress weep. She will load you with diamonds and pearls and praise you above all others”.

And Katia paused for a moment and thought how wonderful that would be. But she moved on, and the second skull she passed murmured:

“I grew from the heart of a great soldier. Pick me and I will teach you swordplay, and the placing of troops. I will make you a mighty general, and the Emperor himself will load you with gold, and praise you above all others”.

Katia listened, and thought how wonderful that would be, but she moved on. The third skull she passed whispered:

“I grew from the heart of a poet. I will teach you all the songs and stories of the world. I will teach you why there is sadness, and why there is joy, and how the seasons change, and the language of the birds”

And Katia stopped then, and put her hand to the stalk of the skull, and picked it, saying:

“You are the one for me!”

When she got home the following evening, her parents were worried, and angry, and finally overjoyed to see her, and everyone in the village gathered round and wondered at the skull. Over the days that followed, the skull talked to Katia, and Katia alone, and taught her all the songs and stories of the world, and the language of the birds. Katia learned why there is sadness, and why there is joy, and how the seasons change. She started to look around her, and realised that people were sad because they were trapped in stories they felt they couldn’t change.

One woman in the village thought she was Cinderella, but no handsome prince was coming to rescue her. Katia talked to her gently, and a few days later the woman headed off to Mornington and apprenticed herself to a milliner.

One man thought he was a woodcutter, defending his daughter from wolves. Katia talked to him softly, and a year later he was dancing at his daughter’s wedding.

The days passed, and the years passed – as they do – and Katia could no longer be called a girl. The young men who had looked at her warmly had found they felt a little cooler towards a woman who spent her nights talked to a skull, no matter how magical it was. They married other young women, and had children of their own now, but Katia did not regret the choice she had made.

People from outside the village heard about her, and travelled to see her. Eventually, even the Empress came, and Katia listened to her, and talked to her gently – but what story she was trapped in, Katia never told.

Katia grew older, as is the way of things, and by now the young men who had looked on her warmly were old and stooped, and their children were grown, and their grandchildren growing. The villagers were proud of Katia, but perhaps they praised her more than talked to her, and feared her more than loved her, but still she never regrettted the choice she had made.

Eventually, when Katia was grown old, and her strength was gone, and her golden hair had turned silver, the skull whispered to her and said:

“The time has come. Take me back to the garden”.

And Katia looked into the skulls empty sockets and answered:

“Yes. It will be our last journey together”.

Next morning they set out, before it was light. This time the skull lit the way, and Katia did not stumble or trip. She found, to her surprise, that the further she walked the stronger she felt. By noon she was striding like a woman in her prime, and by dusk she was skipping like a young girl. If she could have seen herself she would have seen that her skin was smooth, and her hair a golden cloud about her head, as if all those years had been but a dream. And as dusk fell, she saw the eerie light again, and she carried the skull along the stone path, to the gate carved to look like bones, and the Garden of Death.

Katia opened the gate, and carried in the skull.

“Set me down here, by these purple flowers” said the skull, and Katia dropped a single kiss on his shining dome and set him down.

“Now” said the skull “You have a choice, Katia. You can go back to the village, and be with your own people, or you can stay here with me”.

And Katia smiled as she looked at the skull who had been her constant companion for all these years and answered:

“I am the wisest woman in the world. I know all the songs and stories of the world, and I can look into people’s hearts. I think I know my own story, and I think I know where it ends”.

And she curled herself into a ball on the ground by the purple flowers, and let herself sleep.

 

793px-%d0%b1%d0%b8%d0%bb%d0%b8%d0%b1%d0%b8%d0%bd_img606This is for Jane Dougherty’s Sunday Strange. It’s not at all micro. Sorry.

The Balloon – microfiction for Jane Dougherty.

“Dammit, Evans” Jacobson hissed. “We weren’t supposed to be seen!”

The woman had looked up and seen the probe, gesturing to them. The distraction was fatal – they watched the bullet find its target, and the woman slump to the ground, dropping her bayonet as she fell.

“This was purely observational” Jacobson went on, frantically skimming the pages on his reader.

“I’m sure she was doomed anyway”, Evans responded, irritably. Jacobson was right, of course. He’d failed to monitor the visual shields properly, enthralled by the battle unfolding below.

Jacobson slammed his hand on the dash. “Not for another twenty minutes. She was due to gun down two young men, and wound an enemy colonel…” more frantic skimming – ” who died two weeks later of gangrene. This is a disaster. We have to head back, right now”.

Evans turned to look at him, fear in his eyes. Who knew what they would find when they headed back to their own time.

They had changed the past. Had they changed the future?

Jane Dougherty gives us this picture by Pierre Puvis de Chevannes. It’s strange, but that’s what this challenge is all about.

Tall story for Mindlovesmisery’s Menagerie

My grandfather had a pig that grew so big we couldn’t keep it, but had to set it loose, to forage for itself. Disaster! It gobbled a field of turnips in one night, an acre of corn in one afternoon. Soon it was pushing down whole trees for food, knocking down barns to get at the grain inside. There was nothing for it – the pig had to go.

The bacon from that pig gave the whole town breakfast for a month, and the skin? How do you think we put a roof on that fine town hall?

Bridge for Sue Vincent #writephoto.

beneath-the-bridgeI sat under the bridge because that’s what trolls do. It’s a shade thing. Our skin is sensitive to sunlight. That’s why we often seem grumpy. “Sun-touched”, we call it. We wonder about you guys, striding around in all that light. You cover up your bodies, that’s obvious, but your faces are exposed all the time. It’s no wonder you have so many wars.

I’m talking too much. Most trolls don’t say very much. We’re shy and retiring. We like to curl up in the shade, spend time watchin and listening, rather than endlessly talking. My uncle curled up under a tree one time, and a bird thought he was a big rock, and built a nest in the hollow under his arm. He had to wait three months for the eggs she laid to hatch, and the baby birds to fly away. He told me later it was the best three months of his life. He spent his days watching the sunlight move over the grass, the rain clouds coming in and passing away, even the grass itself growing.

I liked to sit under the bridge, and think. I watched the water change colour as the sun moves overhead. I saw the movement of the wind. I heard the sound of voices and footsteps as people crossed the bridge above me – always chatting, laughing, quarrelling. So quick to move and change. More recently, I heard the rumbling of cars and lorries, shaking the bridge just a little. Sometimes there were fish in the water, or ducks – almost as quick to quarrel as humans.

That day was a little different. I heard two voices, one deep, one light. They sounded angry, and that made me sad. Trolls don’t like anger. I tried to concentrate on the shape of the rocks in the water, and how the water rippled around them, but the voices grew louder. Then there was a splash. Somebody had thrown something off the bridge. I watched it move through the water, settling at the bottom on the fine river sand, reflecting the sunlight as it went down. There was silence after that.

I don’t often move from this spot, but this little thing was so tiny and so sparkling that it intrigued me. Very slowly I got up and waded into the water. It was hard to find – my movements made the water swirl up silt and sand from the river bed, but finally I had it in my hand. A tiny ring of gold, with a sparkling stone set in it. A diamond.

How I howled. Don’t they realise, those flashing, shifting, quarrelsome humans? Each diamond is a baby troll. Once they’re plucked from the earth they can’t grow any more. Poor little diamonds – they’ll never have the joy of watching a daisy open, or a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis. They’ll never feel the difference between a wind bringing gentle showers and one bringing rain. They’re just a little stone, chained onto some human’s finger.

And that is why I shook the bridge. I shook and shook, until it shattered into fragments. Down it came, crashing and thudding – cars, too, and a couple of humans – not so quick now, not so fast to move. I still felt sad, though. It didn’t help.

I don’t sit under that bridge any more. I have a little spot up on the hillside, where I sit and watch the clouds form and float away. I keep the little diamond close by me, and tell her what I see. Maybe if she stays close to the earth she will get her chance to grow.

#writephoto

This is for Sue Vincent’s Writephoto prompt. I couldn’t think of any other reason to be under a bridge. 

Suburbs for dVerse

One summer afternoon,
we girls
made a daisy chain,
that stretched the whole way
up the avenue –
we plundered the rectangles of grass
set between each driveway,
cleared them of daisies,
split each stalk carefully
with greening thumbnails,
threaded the next flower through.

It was hot.

And quiet enough
that no dads came home
from their alien offices
to drive over our precious
garland. No mums called
us in for tea – hard boiled eggs
and sliced tomatoes, and
soft lettuce, summer teatime.

The boys rode bikes
up and down the tarmac.
I think they were impressed:

we chained the whole avenue
that afternoon, not thinking
we would find ourselves chained
one day, sitting in our
pretty bedrooms, dreaming
of teenage dirt.

This is a suburban poem written for Oloriel over at dVerse.

The best things in life are free – haibun for dVerse

We’re climbing in the dark, in the snow. There are lights strung along beside us, strings of lights dipping between poles and branches, showing us the way – and of course the snow reflects back the light, so that it seems to be shining all around us. The texture of the snow is like loose sand, and it’s slippery, and hard going. It’s uphill all the way. If we look up we can see the stars, and the shape of a great mountain, craggy, pointing towards the sky. There’s a moon, too, not quite full, tinged with gold. A couple of people have gone past, heading downhill, sliding down on toboggans. Here and then gone a moment later. Our voices hang in the air, in that peculiar silence you get in deep snow. I think it must muffle any echoes, any resonance, leaving only the clear true note of one person calling to another. It’s beautiful here. I want to be here, I love this moment. I have always wanted to be here, to do this, and never known it.

Stars glisten on snow
Moonlight shimmers on mountain
Silence enfolds us

 

Toni at dVerse has given us this lovely prompt. I’m just back from Germany, and a taste of winter – sliding on frozen canals, sledging in the Alps. Back home it’s muddy, and damp, but the daffodils are out and there are snowdrops in all the hedges. 

 

Midnight Villanelle

Some of us cannot resist
The haunting owl’s cry:
Maybe we are midnight-kissed.
Soft twilight soothes us,
Moonlight makes us sigh,
Some of us cannot resist,
Fire burning in the darkness,
Watching the sparks fly –
Maybe we are midnight-kissed.
The bat’s swift darting thrills us,
And the fox creeping by,
Some of us cannot resist
A pale moon, dripping stardust,
Dark clouds rolling by.
Maybe we are midnight kissed.
The night world is our play place
I’ll tell you why
Some of us cannot resist –
It’s because we’re midnight-kissed.

I might be too late with this villanelle. It’s for Mindlovemisery’s menagerie. I think I could do better…need to try again at some point. Maybe not today. 

Drunken Rooks – for dVerse

This old bitch earth
is still holding out on us –
and yet you sky dance
sozzled. Three sheets,
two wings, one black beak,
giving it all to the wind.

I think you’re whiskey
sipping death, taking it neat,
straight up. What else is there?
Carrion on the rocks,
roadkill chaser. I see you
hanging round the edges,
hammered.

I’m not blaming you.
I’m just reminding me
that my sky tumblers
are resourceful. Always there

for the last call.