Mad Betty’s house

The hut nestled under the bank at the end of the lane. We crept towards it. We could hear her singing – a wordless song, or, if it had words, they were in a language we couldn’t understand.

Jack sniggered.

“Mad old bat!”, he whispered. “Grab some ammunition!”

The boys gathered up handfuls of stones and mud, as silently as they could. Nobody spoke. Jack led the way. When I tried to follow, he turned and stood in front of me, legs apart, hands on hips.

“No girls allowed,” he said, ginger head cocked back. “This is men’s work”.

Men! They were a bunch of smelly, scruffy little boys. They were a bunch of pigs.

I didn’t care. I wasn’t even going to watch them. I climbed the bank, and found myself a place to sit, back to the trunk of a beech tree. The light through the leaves made a pattern on my skirt. I could hear Mad Betty singing her aimless song, and I think I fell asleep.

I woke to a commotion – shouts and cries, the sound of stones pattering on a wooden roof, and the splat of mud against a wooden wall. Nothing from Mad Betty, no screams, no shouts. Not even the wordless song. There was silence for a moment, as if the world paused, and then a squealing sound, the sound of some terrified animal.

A herd of pigs went helter-skelter past me, into the undergrowth. I swear that one of them turned to look at me as he went, his ginger bristles shining in the afternoon sun. I turned to follow where they went, but was distracted by Mad Betty starting up her song again. The pigs suddenly didn’t seem important. I sat back down, and let myself drift away.

For Sue Vincent’s photo prompt.  I’m enjoying getting back into a bit of flash fiction.

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Stone story

I’m the last one awake, now. My sister, Emerald, was admiring the snow on the mountains when the sun came  up. Standing on tiptoe. Ha! She never learns. She’ll wake up stiff this evening, and she’ll be complaining all night. Ruby, Beryl and Jasper were curled up nicely, like little piglets, while I told them a bedtime story, and they just drifted off. I could see them petrifying while I watched.

At least the days are short this time of year, and tonight the moon will be full, so they’ll be able to run around. I’ll make some tasty mud pies, and we can play some games. Dad might come home. He’s been gone a week now, and we all miss him. He went to look for mum. I don’t think he’ll find her. I think she was Taken.

Aunty Quartz got Taken last month, and the month before that it was Uncle Granite. Cousin Shale went some time over the summer. He’d moved over to sleep on the other side of the pond, but he’d wave at us regularly, and then one night we noticed he wasn’t there.

Don’t tell the little ones, but I’ve heard it’s humans that Take them. They hoist them up with special slings while everyone’s asleep and stony, and then they carve them up, and turn them into garden walls, lintels, ornaments. It’s disgusting! Emerald says she’s seen them, but she’s a terrible liar.

Dad says it’s not true. He says not to worry, but I do. I don’t want to be made into a wall. I’d love to stay awake and keep an eye on everyone.

I’m so sleepy, though, and my legs are heavy. I can’t move my head any more…yawn…I’m just going to close my eyes…

Rooks

Starlings form one being,

that moves and spins, each bird

part of the whole. Rooks,

on the other hand,

travel as a company

of individuals. I’ve watched them,

loosely linked, peeling off singly

or in pairs, coming together

for food, or fighting.

They are a company of swords,

the mercenaries of the skies,

choosing their companions,

committing fresh each day.

 

For Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt. I have a minor rook obsession. It might show.  

The window

“Did you hear that?”

“Sorry, darling, I was deep in my book. What was it?”

“Oh, I don’t know. It’s so silly. I seem to hear it every night. There’s a rustling noise, and then a gasp. The first time I heard it I thought someone was climbing the trellis. I actually went to the window and looked out, but there was nothing there. Perhaps I’m going a little mad!”

“It’s probably mice”.

“Mmhm”.

 

The spirt of Lady Casabella stood at the casement gazing down. Her lover, Sir Montacute, had been so close. Just as their fingers had touched, he’d slipped and fallen. She reached for him in desperation, but to no avail. He fell silently, mindful of her honour, his eyes fixed on hers.

Casabella watched him fall, and waited to hear her husband’s footsteps behind her. Tonight, as every night, he would rush to the window, and see the broken body far below. He would turn to her, knife in hand, and thrust the blade – once, twice, thrice – into her bosom, and then stand over her as she bled to death.

Night after night she endured this. Night after night, dimly aware that the castle had changed around her, that people came and went, seasons passed. This was the price she paid for her dream of freedom.

For Sue Vincent’s Thursday prompt. 

Spring

There was snow all around, but her houme was a haven for spring. Around the little cottage the grass was green, and the air was scented with primroses and bluebells. Birds flitted here and there, and petals floated down from the cherry trees, echoing the snow falling on the fields and hills all around.

Spring would come in the outside world, and for a few days her garden would be aligned with the land. Summer would leave it behind, and she would watch wistfully as wild roses blossomed in the hedgerows, and fledgelings left nests. Cherries ripened in the orchards, but not in her garden. Autumn brought blackberries, ripe apples, and leaves turning gold and amber, drifting down to form great carpets of colour, but her garden remained green and fresh and young.

She sighed, and turned away from the window. Would she have chosen eternal youth if she had known that it would be this lonely? She ran her fingers through her long, dark hair, and glanced at her reflection in the mirror. Her skin was smooth, her eyes were bright. She smiled.

Yes. She would make this choice again.

 

This is for Sue Vincents #writephoto prompt. 

The Quest

The Quest? That’s the stupid game my stupid brother plays. And half the boys in the school. And quite a few girls, too. My brother’s been playing it for a couple of years now. I know ALL about it – he never shuts up about it, that’s how I know about it.

He’s a Mage. An apprentice Mage. Everyone’s an apprentice. You do this test at the start and it puts you in a group. Like the Sorting Hat. Mage, Warrior, Trickster, Minstrel, Merchant.

There have been SO many fights at school about it. Like, last week two Warriors got into a fight over some gold, and then a Trickster came in and stole it while they were fighting, and so they both beat him up instead.

It’s not real gold. It’s all AR – augmented reality. You follow trails, solve clues, have magical encounters, collect gold to bribe goblins and trinkets to charm elves. Like, we’ll be on our way to the shops and he’s suddenly “Wait, wait, I have to collect that gold!”

Mental.

I don’t know ANYBODY who’s completed it, but they say if you do, you go through The Portal and get some kind of mystical powers.

Double Mental.

My stupid brother talks about it ALL the time. Mum was tearing her hair out, he wasn’t doing any schoolwork, not a tap. He got straight As in the end of term exams though, so what can she say? He reckons it’s because he’s a Mage. As if.

It’s all got serious now, though. He went off yesterday, with a bunch of mates. They formed a Questing Company, apparently. One of each – Mage, Minstrel, all that. The final quest, he said, to find a dragon, and then they get to go through The Portal.

Stupid.

And they haven’t come back. Mum’s beside herself. The police are out there looking for them.

I’ve got a plan, though. I’ve signed up for The Quest. See – I’m a Warrior. Cool, huh? Warrior Maiden plaits and everything. What do you reckon? See, I’ going to follow this stupid Quest until I find my stupid brother.

This is for Mindlovemiserymenageries prompt The Quest. 

Empty – #writephoto for Sue Vincent.

They’d just got the big field cut when they were called away. My dad and my brothers headed off to town one Tuesday morning, in the early, misty morning. They were just going to a meeting, they said, but they didn’t come back. By Saturday the corn was dry, and the men still gone. We hadn’t heard anything. Our nearest neighbour came over on Sunday, and told us her husband and nephew had gone, too. Not a man left over 14 and under 70 anywhere from here to Plymouth, that’s what she told us, before she headed back the couple of miles to her own place.
Mam rolled up her sleeves, then, and headed out to the field, taking me with her. We spent the afternoon raking and piling up the dried stalks of corn, ready to load them onto the cart. It was hot and dusty, and we didn’t talk much. Mam looked out over the hay meadow and shook her head. That needed cutting, too, and drying. Losing a week’s work at this time of year was disastrous.
When we went back to load up on Monday, we found the hay had been cut. Someone had been in there overnight. There was a strange shadow lying across the field, which wafted away as we approached. On Tuesday the hay was ricked up, drying nicely in the sun. Thursday morning, it was piled in a great stack in the corner of the meadow. The shadow was there again, running up the field ahead of us, seeming to float up into the blue sky.
“Thank you”, Mam shouted, seeing no harm in it. There was no reply.

 

This is for Sue Vincent’s #writephoto challenge.

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.