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.

Gathering pebbles – microfiction for Jane Dougherty

We gather pebbles. I don’t know why – it’s what we do. Every morning, we dress in our prettiest clothes and head down to the shore. We trail along, picking up whatever pebbles catch our eye – the colour, the shape, the pattern – each of them has something unique. We gather them in baskets. At noon we sit and watch the sea. It’s different every day. Sometimes we play games, tossing pebbles into a circle we’ve drawn in the sand, or maybe playing jacks with a handful of them. We talk, lazily, wondering if today will be the day we find the right one. We eat our lunch – bread, cheese, an apple – and drink clear water. In the afternoon we gather yet more stones, or examine the ones we’ve already chosen.

Then we carry them home to mother. She will have made soup, or a thick stew, and there will be freshly made bread. We eat and talk. Maybe one of us will sing. We patch any holes in our baskets. And while we do this, mother looks at the stones we have brought, turning each of them in her hand, muttering under her breath, and finally discarding them.

We will go back down to the shore again tomorrow. We will keep searching, even though no-one can tell us what we’re looking for.

For Jane Dougherty‘s latest microfiction challenge. The glorious image is by Frederick Leighton. 1024px-frederic-lord-leighton-greek-girls-picking-up-pebbles-by-the-sea-1871

 

Gaia II – microfiction for Jane Dougherty

Yesterday I watched some newly hatched spiderlings dispersing on the wind, each hanging from its own, fine thread, each looking for a home.

It made me think of Gaia II, launched seven years ago. Hardly believable now, that we could build that amazing biosphere, with its ecosystem designed to maintain itself for millenia, if necessary. And those uterine chambers, filled with embryos – human, of course, and larger animals, all waiting to be born into a brave new world.

We all waved the ship goodbye, and wished it well. We followed it on television and on the internet, bought apps to track its journey. Now it is silent. Signals take too long to return to us, and anyway, since the war it’s been hard to coordinate any kind of international effort.

So, yesterday was the first time in months I’d thought of it, and I’m one of the lucky ones. As well as my two daughters here, I have an embryonic son, sleeping in amniotic fluid in an artificial womb, somewhere out there. My chance at some kind of immortality. I wonder what his life will be like – the synth-mothers teaching him basic technology, and co-operative skills. I hope he helps to build a better world than this one.

I’ll never know. Nor will my daughters, or their children, or theirs. We won’t know how this story ends.

We have cast a bottle, with a message written in DNA, out into the dark ocean of space. All we can do now is pray for it.

Image by Makis Wilarmis. Prompt courtesy of Jane Dougherty. I am really looking forward to reading these stories…1017px-2010_utopien_arche04

Choosing a bride

He preened in front of the mirror, arranging his golden hair, just so, admiring his own glorious skin. He knew himself to be irresistible. At last he was ready, and made his way down to the great gallery, where they waited for him, a line of living works of art. All he had to do was choose one.

He strutted down the line of women, rating them: a seven, a three, a six, another seven, definitely an eight. They kept their heads down, demurely. He was not to be rated. He was to be obeyed and adored.

Outside, the mob roared, pitchforks shaking in angry hands, torches raised. The city was burning. In here, there were only his footsteps, and the quiet breaths of the women.

He made his choice. He stepped forward to claim her, to grab what was his right. He didn’t expect the flash of metal from every sleeve as each young woman pulled forth a silver blade. He didn’t expect the pain.

They left him there, alone in his great gallery. He heard their footsteps as they ran, down the long hallway, out to freedom.

 

Microfiction for Jane Dougherty. sedovgs_vybornevestalmihgtg

The Isle of the Dead – microfiction for Jane Dougherty.

“The Isle of the Dead”, Lucy announced, looking up from the guidebook, doubtfully. “It looks rather gloomy”

“You were the one who didn’t want to spend another day at the beach”, Richard reminded her, as they watched the water-taxi depart. The driver shouted some kind of warning at them, but their Italian wasn’t good enough to understand him. Something about drinking?

“I wouldn’t drink the water here, anyway. Disgusting”, Lucy said, flatly. “Pass me the bag, though, I’m so thirsty!”

But Richard didn’t have the bag. Somehow it had been left on the boat, and Richard wouldn’t take responsiblity for that, and so they argued, raising their voices in the baking air, and then storming apart, looking for shade and solitude.

The island wasn’t big, but Lucy seemed to walk an awfully long way before she came to a stone bench in the shade. An elderly lady was already sitting there, looking out over the water. When she saw Lucy she smiled, and patted the bench beside her, and Lucy accepted the invitation. She felt dusty and dehydrated, so she gratefully accepted the sticky peach juice, and even the rather dry biscuit that the lady offered.

“Are you here for the day?” Lucy asked, making conversation.

Ah, no, I live here” the lady replied. Lucy looked round, nonplussed. There was no sign of any kind of house. She must be a caretaker of some kind, Lucy decided. After that, she must have fallen asleep. It was terribly hot.

She didn’t wake up until the cypress shadows had lengthened, and the sun was low in the sky. She seemed to hear someone calling her name, but very distantly, as if in a dream. She saw a little boat pulling away from the jetty, but it held no meaning for her.

“Where am I?” she murmured to the old lady who stroked her hair gently off her face.

“You are home, my darling, home”, came the whispered reply.

Poor old Lucy. I think she only fancied a bit of light shopping. Anyhow, this is for Jane Dougherty, who gives us this rather gloomy picture as a prompt. File:Arnold Böcklin - Die Toteninsel III (Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin).jpg

Leverett Island transcripts #22 – for Jane Dougherty

So, you’ll have heard plenty of stories from the island now. It’s a shame my mother isn’t still with us, she had a fund of stories. To hear her talk, the island was a dangerous place in past times, what with fairies in the hills and sea-folk down by the shore.

This is a story she swore was true. When she was a young girl, 16 or so, her best friend was Jeannie. Jeannie was the prettiest girl on the island, and maybe would have been the prettiest girl on the mainland, too, if she’d ever gone there. The two girls would often walk down by the shore, and out to the little headland where the sea-pinks grow. They would sit and talk, like girls do, about the man they’d marry and the lives they’d lead.

Only didn’t one of the sea-folk fall in love with Jeannie, for her yellow hair and her blue eyes? He’d stick his head out of the water and call to her:

“Come and be my bride, Jeannie, I’m dying for love of you!”

“Come and be my bride, and be queen of the sea folk!”

“I will drape you in pearls and crown you with white lilies, and you’ll never have to work again!”

And Jeannie would tell him to be off, her mother was waiting for her back home.

Still he called, and still she went to be called to, until he told her one day he had a magic pearl she could pop under her tongue, so she could breathe under the water.

Well, Jeannie waded out to him. My mother swears she watched her, and saw the Sea King pop something small and shiny into her mouth before they disappeared. My mother ran back  to the house, shouting and wailing, but there was nothing to be done.

Of course, nobody knows what happened next, but not a soul saw Jeannie for seven days. And then her poor body washed up on the strand, all crowned in white lilies, and draped in pearls. He’d told the truth about that. But my mother said everyone that saw her whispered she could only have drowned that day, and not before, so where she’d been and what had happened, I couldn’t say.

They buried her in her crown of lilies. I don’t know what happened to the pearls. If you go to the graveyard, out by Steadman’s place, you’ll see the grave. White lilies flower there every year.

This is a short (not quite micro) story for Jane Dougherty, who offers this beautiful prompt, a painting by John Bauer. The italics in the story are the adjustment I made at Jane’s suggestion. She’s always worth listening to…

sjoekungens_drottning_by_john_bauer_1911

Leverett Island Interviews: transcript 17.

My people have always lived on the island. This is a story told to me by my grandmother, who was told it by her mother. It concerns my great-grand-uncle, Padraig.

One Sunday morning, when he was quite a young man, he went down the the strand to look for pickings after a storm. He came across a young girl, not from the island, all alone and crying. She was quite naked, and cold, so he gave her his coat. He tried to coax her off the strand, but she wouldn’t go. He ran for his parents, and by the time they got back to the girl she had fainted away. Padraig and his father carried her up to the house, his mother calling out for help all the way.

She stayed in house three days and three nights. She wouldn’t talk at all, and wouldn’t eat, only the mackeral heads that the mother was throwing away, and she ate them raw. On the fourth day, she left, still saying nothing. Nobody saw her go, and nobody knew where she went.

That’s the whole story, as I heard it.

This is for Jane Dougherty’s microfiction challenge. The image is by Olav Johan Andreasson.andreassen_olav_johan_stormnatten_olje_pa%cc%8a_lerret

Going to Church – microfiction for Jane Dougherty

“Ah, my dear, come, walk with us. Such a special day – we’re going to hear the bans read. Yes, little Marta. Young Ivan, from the mill? No, my dear, not him. Oh yes, she fancied herself in love, but as I said to her: no promises were exchanged.

A count. I know – who would have thought a count would stumble on our little establishment? As soon as he saw her, he wanted her. Love at first sight. He is a good deal older, and he’s a widower. Three wives, I think – but, my dear, so wealthy! See my fur? A gift – from my future son-in-law. So funny to call him that.

She refused him at first, but my husband put his foot down. Such an opportunity! Her own establishment, a carriage – with a coat of arms. Servants. He’ll take her back to Moscow with him, it’s all arranged. No, she’d be a fool to turn down this opportunity.

Marta’s not with us today, no. I know it’s customary, but she’s ill, poor child. It’s the excitement, I think. She’s been in bed for 3 days now. Not eaten a thing. Still, the dressmaker arrives from Moscow tomorrow. I’m sure she’ll feel better then.”

Another tantalising image from Jane Dougherty. Do we like this couple? No, it seems, we don’t. They are “Going to Church” and they were painted by Antos Frolka (I think. It was hard to know where his name stopped and where the title began…)

File:Antos Frolka Auf dem Weg zur Kirche.jpg

The pursuit -for the Secret Keeper.

Eve hadn’t been told much at the briefing, but in fact, there wasn’t much to tell. She’d been issued with one gilt-edged invitation card, one standard issue revolver with (check them) 6 silver bullets, and a chitty to hand over at Maison Amande in return for one pink and cream ball gown. Mandy (sole prop. of Maison Amande), adjusted the waist and hem herself, added a cascade of rosebuds and demonstrated the pocket where Eve should keep the revolver hidden – well disguised by the voluminous skirt.

They both rolled their eyes at the sight of Eve’s reflection in the mirror. Bright eyed and innocent – perfect prey.

“Try not to rip it this time”, Mandy advised. “Bring something back within 48 hours and they won’t be able to dock your pay. And hope that next time you get assigned to a century you can run in.”

That was eight hours ago. Now Eve was standing on the terrace, breathing pure night air into her lungs. The ballroom smelled of sweat, perfume and hothouse flowers, and she’d done her best to dance and flirt and make polite conversation. Out here the sky was clear and the moon was rising over the woodland that marked the edge of the formal garden.

She heard a noise and leaned forward to catch a glimpse of a young woman sitting on the ground, struggling to get up. An elegantly dressed man bent over her, to tend to her exposed ankle. The woman whimpered, and Eve heard him reassure her.

“That’s my brave girl. There, how’s that?”

And then she saw him take her hand and lead her towards the woodland. The girl was giggling now, and hardly limping at all.

Eve barely hesitated. She glanced quickly round to make sure she wasn’t observed, then threw herself over the parapet, landing in a soft flower bed. She gathered up her massive skirt, cursing softly as it ripped on a rosebush, and set off in pursuit.

Even that short time had been too long. They were lost in the shadows. She stood still, holding her breath and listening. Then she heard it – a scream of pure terror – and was off at a run, heading towards the woods.

She realised she was too late when she found the body, and cursed more loudly looking at it. Still elegantly dressed, but with his throat ripped open, and a great jagged wound from breastbone to pelvis, the man lay lifeless across the herbaceous border.  And there was no sign of the werewolf – she had got away.

Microfiction – monsters and maidens – for Jane Dougherty.

For how many years has this been happening? So many that the original story has been half forgotten. All that remains is the monster in the tower, and the price of peace – a girl who draws the wrong ticket in the lottery, and is left as payment. For too many years mothers have wept and fathers have raged, and then accepted that this is the price that must be paid.

And in all those years, nobody has attempted a rescue, until now. This young man battled through those ancient spells of protection, scaled the tower wall, forced his way through the bars of crumbling iron, until he stood before us.

I was sure he had come for me.

He looked at us both – her: young and beautiful, golden hair spilling over her white dress, blue eyes filled with fearful tears; me: wizened and ugly and obviously evil. Too vile to trust, too pitiful to kill.

He knelt before her, dazzled, and she smiled at him.

“Have you come to free me?” she asked, and he, of course said yes, and kissed her out-stretched hand. That kiss broke all the spells. He led her out, into the twilight, forgetting me, never seeing my chains, or all those other wrinkled husks piled round the edges of the tower room. The husks that once were girls who drew the wrong ticket in the lottery.

Just like me.

If I could reach the window, I would call to him, tell him how she drained me of my youth and beauty and left me lying here like this. I’d warn him of what he has unleashed. I’d tell him that sometimes beautiful maidens can be monsters, too.
This is the story I tried to write yesterday, but got really wrong. This is closer to what I was hoping to get across. It’s the same picture as yesterday – Lovers by Felix Nussbaum, and it’s for Jane Dougherty. lovers_1928