Tag: short stories

The Chicken & The Universe – A Slightly Weird Short Story

The Chicken & The Universe – A Slightly Weird Short Story

Short story week, and I normally put a little ramble in here about how the idea for this particular (and slightly weird) short story occurred to me. You know, a kind of “behind the scenes with the author” type thing. Minus the empty tea cups, cat hair-festooned desk, and cookie stash in the top drawer.

Which is all well and good, except when you sit down to write a story, and the story you write has no relation to the story you intended to write, and you have no idea where it came from. I guess I just call that the creative process?

I intended to write about a vegetarian werewolf who runs a bookshop, but when I actually sat down I realised that I didn’t really have a story to write about him. Not yet. It’ll come. But I wanted a short story for this week, and I spotted a Lovecraft book on my shelf, which set me wondering what would happen in the strange little universe of my stories if someone got all keen about summoning ancient cosmic beings into existence (please don’t shout at me about the fact that this story has, in fact, very little connection to the Lovecraftian universe or the Cthulhu Mythos. Let’s just call that a starting point).

And then the SO said that there needed to be more stories about chickens, because chickens are cool.

Fair enough.


Chicken & the Universe - A Slightly Weird Short Story - lovecraft, fantasy, humour,

The Chicken & The Universe

The sunset had been low and red, staining the stretched black clouds that littered the horizon and turning the leafless trees into blasted, skeletal remains. In the darkness that followed, the fire was the only light on the moors, and the wind whined and spat around it, stealing embers and flinging them aloft. Somewhere in the distance a dog howled, but up here was only rocks and brooding silence, and a grinding, angry dark that seemed to resent being held at bay.

“Here, move the tablecloth,” someone said. “It’s going to catch light.”

“It’s not a tablecloth,” another man said, sounding irritated. “It’s the cloth for the altar.”

“Well, it were a tablecloth when I bought it. And it’s going to be a fire hazard in a minute.”

There was some grumbling, then someone emerged from the deep shadows around the fire and crouched to gather up the altar cloth (which still had a Tesco Home sticker on it), a bag of black candles, and a cardboard box that clucked in alarm as he lifted it. He tripped on the hem of his dark robe as he turned to move away from the fire, and almost dropped the box.

“Careful! She’s a good layer, that chicken. Don’t want to lose her.”

Still clutching the box, Scott glared at his companion, a big man with thinning hair wearing a large plaid dressing gown over a worn winter fleece.

“Why on earth did you bring a chicken you don’t want to lose?”

“She was easy to catch,” the big man said, and took a mouthful from a can of lager. “Not that she probably will be again after this.”

“Well, no. She’s – it’s – a sacrifice, Glen. You won’t need to catch her after this, because her soul will have been offered to the Eldritch Ones.”

Glen frowned. “You didn’t say anything about a sacrifice.”

“I told you we needed to make an offering.”

“Yeah, but I thought we’d just sort of offer her up, and they’d say, well, thanks, but we don’t really want a chicken. No one ever really says yes to that sort of thing, do they?”

Scott put the box down safely out of reach of the fire and pinched the bridge of his nose. What had he been thinking, getting Glen involved in this? The man was wearing a dressing gown, for the Old Ones’ sakes. He tugged on the sleeves of his own black robe and took some comfort in the heavy material. With any luck the Eldritch Ones would just eat Glen and his damn chicken at the same time.

“Glen-” he began.

“Have a lager. You’re very stressed.” The big man was holding a can out to him, smiling encouragingly. “Look, it’s a beautiful night and you’re all wound up. We can sort this chicken thing out later.”

Scott took the beer with a sigh. He may as well. It was only six o’clock. He was going to have to put up with this sort of male bonding ridiculousness until midnight.

#

Scott watched as Glen threw another log onto the fire, sending sparks belching up into the darkness. The stars were out, cold little pinpricks above them, but there was no moon. Not tonight. It was the perfect night to bridge the gaps between dimensions, to draw unseen terrors into being and send the world reeling into madness. He sipped his beer and smiled contentedly. The only downside was having to put up with Glen, but he had needed some extra muscle for carting all the wood about, a Landrover to get them here, and also the potential for a human sacrifice handy in case the chicken didn’t do the trick.

He’d been planning this for a long time. A long time. His grandfather’s old books had held all sorts of hints and conjectures, and it had taken Scott most of his teenage years to really understand what the old man had been hinting at. Power. Eternal life. Riches. Adoration. But most of all, yes – power. He’d spent the last two decades deepening his research, even earning a PhD in obscure religions and philosophies. Amazing the material libraries and museums gave you access to as soon as you mentioned writing dissertations. And now – here. Here, in the heavy night of the winter solstice, on one of those terrifying nodes of land where nothing wanted to grow, that even the birds avoided, here with the fire burning and the darkness pressing down around them, and he could almost touch the cosmos, almost taste the glory of-

“You want a sandwich?” Glen asked. “I’ve got roast beef and horseradish or cheese and pickle. I couldn’t remember if you were vegetarian or not.”

Scott almost crushed the half-full can, and forced his hand to relax with more than a little difficulty. “You realise this isn’t a picnic?” he snapped.

Glen regarded the sandwiches, one in each huge hand. Scott could see thick slabs of white bread through the clingfilm, and his stomach grumbled unhelpfully. “I don’t see how you can do your ritual thingy on an empty stomach,” Glen said. “I mean, it must be tough work, summoning ancient gods and so on.”

Scott peered at him in the uncertain light, not quite sure if his cousin was joking or not. He was such an uneducated lump of a man, it was hard to tell sometimes. Still, at least he hadn’t objected to Scott’s “experiment into the beliefs and rituals of certain early cultures that inhabited the area.”

“Cheese and pickle,” he said. “Too much red meat is bad for you.”

Glen handed him the sandwich, and sat down cross-legged on the rough ground. “Maybe. Probably more so for you office types. The rest of us burn it off.”

Scott opened his mouth to point out that it was less about metabolism and more about arteries and cholesterol, then took a bite of sandwich instead. There was no point arguing with someone like that. He’d be irrelevant before long anyway.

#

Midnight took a long time to arrive. Glen marched around their perch high atop the moors, dressing gown flapping about his legs in the wind, pointing out favourite constellations and talking about some irrelevant local history, while producing a seemingly never-ending variety of snacks from the cooler in the back of the Landrover. He even started singing at some point, and Scott seriously considered making some sort of pre-sacrifice of him, just to shut him up.

But finally the alarm on his phone went off, and he scrambled from the front of the 4×4, where he’d been sheltering both from the cold and Glen. Thirteen black candles circled the fire, nestled into tall glass sleeves to protect them from the wind (Glen had called them “very designer”, but Scott figured the Eldritch Ones wouldn’t mind too much), and he crouched to light the first one. He was surprised to find his hand shaking, and it took three attempts with the long kitchen lighter to get it started. Blood was roaring in his ears, and he started to mumble the words of the chant under his breath. They worked like a mantra, the harsh syllables focusing his mind, his tongue struggling with the familiar yet clumsy shape of them.

“Bring the chicken,” he commanded Glen, drawing an ancient stone knife etched with ugly engravings from under his robe.

Glen looked unimpressed. “I thought we were offering her to them? What’s the knife for?”

“I told you it was a sacrifice. What did you think – I was going to put a bow and a gift tag on it?”

“She’s not an it. Her name’s Elsa.”

“Elsa?” Scott managed to ease his grip on the knife’s cloth-wrapped handle. He didn’t want to damage it. If this didn’t work he was going to have to smuggle it back into the museum in Alaska. Only of course it would work, if his cousin would just give him the damn chicken.

“The girls named her.” Glen had picked up the box and was cradling it protectively.

“I’ll replace her. It.” Scott beckoned impatiently, and his phone beeped. Five minutes.

“You can’t just replace her. It wouldn’t be her!”

“It’s a chicken!”

The men glared at each other across the ring of firelight, the candles guttering in the wind and smelling faintly of liquorice.

“Give me the chicken,” Scott said, in the manner of someone who knows he will be commanding dark forces within the hour.

“No,” Glen said, in the manner of someone who loves his chicken.

“Glen. I need the chicken.”

“No.” Glen took a step back. “I did not agree to you slaughtering Elsa.”

“Stop calling it Elsa! You’re making it worse!”

“Stop calling her an it! And put the knife down. You always were weird.”

“I am not weird!” Scott forgot all about preserving the ancient knife, and ran at Glen with it raised over his head, shrieking the gutteral words of the summoning spell as he went. The night shivered and pulsed. Glen, half-turned to run for the Landrover, stopped mid-stride and stared in horror as colours writhed across the sky. They were greens and purples and reds, but not like any either man had seen before. They were the colours of putrefaction, of old bruises and rotting wounds, but worse, much, much worse, and they moved with unseen life, as if something terrible pushed against the sky from beyond.

“Yes!” Scott screamed. “Yes, yes, yes! Come to me, ancient ones! Come to me!”

“You psycho little -” Glen lunged out of the smaller man’s way, losing his grip on the box as he stumbled over the rough ground. “Elsa!” The box tumbled end over end twice before the seams split, and a pretty but bedraggled bantam hen squeezed herself out and bolted, swerving drunkenly from side to side as she ran. “No, Elsa!”

“Shtlothgh! Agnoztheng! Grgneth bethngals!” Scott stood with his feet planted wide, his head flung back. He could hear blood roaring behind his eyes like the beginning of a migraine, and the colours swimming across the sky felt like they were drowning him. “Shtlothgh amngeron bectith! Awake! Arise! Come to me!” He knew the last words weren’t entirely necessary, but they sounded good. Wait until Glen saw what came down out of that terrible night to serve Scott. Let him see what the weird one could do. Let him see power. “Come, take this sacrifice I lay before you! Come, for he is yours!” Scott waved the knife meaningfully at Glen, and the bigger man looked at him in astonishment.

“Buggar off, you little monster. I try to help you out, give you a bit of family support, and now you think you’re going to sacrifice me? Bollocks to that.” Glen took a wary step towards the Landrover, not taking his eyes off his cousin.

“Don’t move,” Scott hissed. “They’re coming. Can’t you feel them coming?”

The fire gave a great, belching roar, lifting high towards the hideous sky then flattening out across the ground as if under an immense downdraft, burning green at the edges.

“All I feel is the need to get away from you,” Glen said, and scuttled off sideways, trying to keep an eye on Scott and not trip over at the same time.

“Shtlothgh! Agnoztheng!” Scott sprinted after Glen, the sickly light running off the knife and splintering at strange angles, describing arcs and ugly, meaningful shapes as it fell. The sky was pressing low, like the belly of some pregnant beast, and the movement within it was hungry and violent. The wind was building, cold and furious, tearing at the sparse vegetation and raking angry fingernails over the men’s clothing. Glen broke into a run that would have impressed his old rugby coach, who had always said he was never built for speed, and the world shivered and bled and groaned.

It was the robe that did it. That beautiful, expensive, special-order-from-America robe. That long, majestic robe that was really made for someone rather taller and broader than Scott (large had probably been the wrong choice). Scott stepped on the edge of it and pitched forwards with a yelp of fright, and Glen spun around in time to see his strange cousin go face-first into a cairn that collapsed obligingly. The sky shook with fury, rent with ugly splits that bulged open onto some eternal darkness then re-closed, as if some immense beast was struggling to tear its way out. Something howled at the edge of hearing, something that wasn’t a dog. It was a howl of terrible, furious pain and endless hunger, and Glen raised his hands instinctively to fend off something unseen.

Then it was gone, the echoes still rippling around the rocks and scrub of the empty moorland. The sky healed, folded, became smooth, and faded from green to purple to the plain velvety black of deep winter night. The stars ventured cautiously out again, and the fire crept back to its proper place as the wind faded away.

“My ndose!” Scott wailed.

“Ow,” Glen said, not entirely sympathetically. There was blood dribbling generously from his cousin’s face, and he appeared to have a sprig of heather embedded in one cheek.

“Ndamn you!” Scott said, struggling to his knees. “You bruined it!”

“Hey, you just tried to kill my chicken, and I’m pretty sure me as well. I’m not sorry.”

They glared at each other, then Scott looked down at the knife, still clutched in one hand. The blade was snapped off where it had been driven into the ground. “Ndammit.”

“What were you even trying to do? What was that?”

“De Edlritch Ondes,” Scott said, pinching his nose to try and stop the bleeding. “Dey would have gibend me grabe power.”

Glen regarded the smaller man, his robe pulled off one shoulder to reveal a skinny chest and a blood-spotted thermal undershirt. “I see.”

“I would habe ruled de world.” Scott looked at the knife sadly. “All ruined becaude of your stupid chicken.”

“Whatever.” Glen skirted his cousin. “I’m going to put the fire out. Then I’m going home.”

#

There were ice packs in the cooler, and Glen took them to Scott, still seated morosely in the ruins of the cairn. “They’ll help the swelling.”

“Danks.”

“You don’t deserve it.”

Scott watched as Glen turned the Landrover headlights on the dying fire, swigging from a hip flask as he collected the tablecloth and the candles. It was true, he didn’t deserve it. He’d been so close! That pregnant, bulging sky, the screaming wind – it had been going to work, but all because of a stupid chicken… He closed his eyes and put the ice pack over them. He shouldn’t have involved Glen. That was clear. Next time he’d just hire a 4×4 and buy a goat or something. If there was a next time. The conditions wouldn’t be right again for another twelve years, and he’d have to find another meteorite knife in the meantime. That wasn’t going to be easy. The museums were starting to cotton on to the fact that things went missing when he was around, although they couldn’t prove anything. Plus he was getting older – what good was eternal life if you had bad knees and got up twice in the night to pee?

“Scott?”

Glen’s voice sounded strange, and Scott supposed it was stress. Probably had no idea how to deal with what he’d just seen. Probably on the verge of a breakdown. Feeling somewhat superior, he took the ice pack off. “Yes?”

“Come look at this.”

Groaning, Scott pulled himself out of the wreckage of the cairn and tottered over to his cousin, crouched next to the remains of the fire with a torch in one hand. “What?”

Glen pointed with the torch, wordlessly, and Scott followed his gaze. For a moment he couldn’t see what Glen meant – it just looked like a little scrap of shadow, maybe a small piece of cloth torn from his robe. Then it moved, and as it moved it swam with ugly, ancient colours, with the flesh and texture of different dimensions, and Scott heard an echo of senseless howling in his ears.

“What the hell is that?” Glen asked.

“I – I’m not sure.” The creature, the terrible scrap of horror, was still moving. Moving towards them, scuttling over the ground with many legs, or none – it was impossible to see. There might have been tentacles, or tendrils, teeth or claws or horns, but the mind turned firmly away from identifying them. The mind, in fact, refused entirely to accept what it was seeing, and the thing crept closer, carrying with it a stench that stained the soul more than the senses.

“Is that what you were summoning? Your shag-zag thingy?”

“I – well, I don’t know. No one’s ever described one before.” The creature made a sudden dart towards the men, and they both straightened up and stepped hurriedly back.

“Well, command it or something.”

“I don’t think that’s an Eldritch One.”

“If no one’s ever described it, how do you know?”

“Well-” The thing made a rush for Scott’s foot, moving with a horrifying stop-action stutter, and he shrieked, falling backwards over a clump of heather and kicking himself away.

“Tell it to stop!” Glen shouted, keeping the torch on the creature. “Command it, go on!”

“Stop!” Scott screamed. “Stop, stop, I command you, as master and – and – nooo!” Because the thing went through the heather as if it had no concept of how physics worked in this dimension, heading single-mindedly towards the man that had called it so clumsily into being. Scott could hear that howling, lonely and gleeful and greedy and utterly, utterly soaked in madness, building as the thing got closer, and he was aware he was still screaming, but he couldn’t stop. His vision was swimming with terrible colours, and the night was colder than anything he had ever experienced, ever imagined, and oh, he’d made a mistake, he’d made such a mistake. This was why no one talked about his grandfather, this was why he’d just been forgotten, this was why the books had been put out to be burned before he’d saved them in his teenaged foolishness, and now what had he done? He would be lost, lost

Something small and round and brown dashed over his belly, and suddenly the howling was gone, cut off as completely as a power cut. He could hear nothing but his own screaming, and the night was dark and clear and star-pocked above him. He blinked, gulped, and gave another hesitant little half-scream, but his heart wasn’t in it. Two wide yellow eyes peered into his curiously, and the chicken swallowed hard a couple of times, then jumped off his belly and pattered towards Glen, who was clutching the torch in one hand and a large rock in the other.

She pecked his boot and looked up at him expectantly.

“Good girl,” Glen said, his voice uneven, then put the rock down and tucked the chicken under one arm. “Well done.”

She burped, swallowed again, and clucked a few times.

“Will that thing kill her?” Glen asked Scott.

Scott pushed himself onto his elbows and stared at Elsa. “I have no idea,” he admitted. “Nothing in any of the books said anything about Eldritch Ones being eaten by chickens.”

“Well,” Glen said, then stopped, thought, and shook his head. “I’m taking her home. I don’t know how I’ll explain this to the vet if she gets ill.”

Scott stayed where he was until he heard the Landrover start up, wondering if a chicken had just saved the universe.

She had certainly just saved him.

Chicken & the Universe - A Slightly Weird Short Story - lovecraft, fantasy, humour,


And there we go, lovely people – never underestimate a hungry chicken…

I was going to say that’s my only chicken story, but that’s not quite true – here’s one that features dragons and chickens, so that’s got to be a win.

Do you keep chickens? Are they more family or egg supply? And are you a Lovecraft fan? What’s your favourite story? Let me know below, and thanks for reading!

An Unconditional Rescue – A Short Story

An Unconditional Rescue – A Short Story

Blog post? What blog post? Time for an addition to the short stories instead.

For a couple of weeks in the very early spring, every time I went down to walk by the sea, there was a log or a tree trunk or something submerged a couple of hundred metres offshore. All you could see of it were two sticks pointing straight up in the air, and ignoring the swells that tried to move it on.

Naturally, this made me think of sea monsters. If it had been in Australia, maybe I’d have thought of crocodiles wearing antenna, but maybe not. I’m inordinately fond of the idea of sea monsters. I adore any map that has monsters on it, and when I’m actually at sea I like spending time peering into the depths, hoping to catch a glimpse of… something. (To be fair, I’m mostly hoping to spot something cool like a sailfish, and mostly I only ever spot plankton, but I could be searching for sea monsters. I probably did when I was a wee small person).

But all that aside – here’s a short story about a sea monster, because why not? Read on!

free short stories - An Unconditional Rescue - Kim M Watt

 


“Thinking of going out?” Mrs Mallow asked Tim.

He looked up from his coffee, wondering why it tasted greasy, and nodded at the landlady of the B&B. “It looks like a nice day. I was thinking I’d go rent a boat in town.”

Mrs Mallow nodded, and whisked some crumbs off the table next to him. They joined a fine carpet of older debris on the floor, and Tim regarded his full English suspiciously. It all looked fine, but the milk jug had congealed circles inside it, marking older breakfasts like tree truck rings, and his fork had someone else’s egg stuck between the tines.

“Go see old Fred,” the landlady advised him. “Tell him Ruby sent you, and he’ll give you a good deal. Nothing fancy about his boats, but you don’t need fancy for a bit of fishing, do you?”

Tim agreed that he did not, and pushed beans around his plate with a piece of toast. He wondered if life-jackets were considered fancy.

#

The sun was high by the time he wound his way down to the waterfront. Fred, he’d been informed, kept his boats down by the fishing docks, so he avoided that particular area and wandered into the marina, his fishing pole case over one shoulder and a backpack over the other. Mrs Mallow had offered to fix him a pack-up, but he’d told her he couldn’t eat on the boat due to seasickness. He’d stopped off at Boots instead and bought up sandwiches and crisps and biscuits, as well as a breakfast wrap that he gnawed on contentedly as he walked. The day was looking up.

The first place he found was shut, which he supposed was only to be expected. It was out of season still. He took a photo of the phone number, and ambled further along the docks. He found a second boat rental not far from the first – the office had the blinds drawn, but there was a young man with his shirt off scrubbing the floor of a boat moored just outside it.

“Hello?” Tim said. “Are you from the rental place?”

The young man straightened up and regarded Tim without much interest. “Yeah.”

“Oh. Well – great. I want to hire a boat. For fishing,” he added, when the young man’s expression didn’t change. “Self-drive.”

“We do that,” the young man said, not moving.

Tim looked at the logo emblazoned on the hull of the boat – it matched the one on the dock. Self-drive and captained boat hire, it said. “Yes. So I see. Um – do you have any available?”

“When for?”

“Today. Now.”

The young man gave an exaggerated sigh and turned his attention back to the cleaning. “You should have booked ahead. We’re full.”

“Full?” Tim looked around at the empty mid-week marina. The summer crowds, such as they might be, were still a month or so off.

“Full.” The young man didn’t look up.

“Well – where else can I try? Your neighbours there are shut.”

The young man’s expression finally changed – he frowned, as if Tim had asked him to solve for y, if x was shut fishing shops and z was a beautiful day in late April. “There isn’t anyone,” he announced eventually. “You’ll have to call later and book for tomorrow.”

“Can I book now?” Tim asked, although he didn’t really want to extend his stay in the B&B past tonight.

“No,” the young man said, dipping the scrubbing brush in a bucket of soapy water. “You have to call. Talk to the boss.”

“So I can call now?”

“No.” It was said firmly, in a way that suggested the young man though Tim might be a bit slow on the uptake. “There’s no one there, is there?”

Tim looked at the shuttered office, and sighed. “I guess not,” he said. “When will they be there?” Wondering what small business owner didn’t have a mobile these days.

“I dunno. I’m not the boss.”

Tim decided that it was best not to answer that, and trailed off down the dock again, wondering if he should just give up and go read a book on the beach instead. That might be nice. Have an ice cream. Take his shoes off and paddle in the sea. But he’d come here to go fishing, dammit. That had been the whole sort-of point. That he’d finished the latest contract, and he and Patty had agreed to do more of their own things these days, so they didn’t become one of those boring middle-aged couples that had no life outside each other. And he hadn’t been fishing in so long. So he’d decided that this would be his thing. He straightened his shoulders, a small man with small hands and calm eyes and a gracefully retreating cap of fair hair. He was going fishing.

#

Fred didn’t have a sign out. He didn’t have an office, either. But he did have two small aluminium dinghies pulled out of the water by the fishing dock, and they had rod holders on the sterns, and the outboards were padlocked to a beam inside a rotting wooden shed that stank of old fish and tobacco.

“Sure you can take one out,” he said to Tim, scratching his belly through a hole in his yellowing t-shirt. “You know how to use one?”

Tim admitted that it had been a while, but that he was pretty sure he remembered the basics.

“Course you do. Like riding a bike.” Fred gestured the younger man to help him slide one of the dinghies into the water, and stepped into it in his wellies, making it bob alarmingly. “Nice day anyhow. Can’t get into much trouble on a day like this.”

It felt alarmingly quick, the speed at which Fred got the engine in and showed him how to start it, then ran through the controls, clapping Tim on the back and laughing when he almost fell over backwards trying to get in. Then the old man was hooking a mildewed life-jacket over Tim’s head, telling him to stay in the bay and clear of the rocks at the eastern point, and the painter dropped into the bottom of the boat with a painfully loud clang, and Fred had pushed him off, and then it was just him and the growling motor. Tim stared at it, then back at the dock, then out to open water. Oh, he thought. Oh, I’m doing this, then. And he carefully pushed the gear lever to forwards, and grabbed the throttle on the tiller a little too tightly, and puttered towards the sea.

#

Out in the bay, the water was as silken calm as it had looked from the shore, although a long, slow swell rode in from behind the horizon. The little dinghy barely noticed it, cutting a slow V through the green water as Tim started to relax, the sun warming his bare head and face, and the wind of his forward motion tugging at the collar of his shirt and ruffling his hair. Out here, he could smell nothing more than salt and the not-unpleasant tang of outboard fuel, and the horizon looked bowed and close enough to touch. He loosened his grip on the throttle, tugged his life-jacket down, and smiled. This. This is what he’d been imagining. Not badly-lit guest houses that smelled faintly of old porridge, or even the sleek modern dinghies like the one the young man had been cleaning. This – the vibration of the engine humming under his hand, the sound of the water sluicing past the hull, and the cries of the seagulls following him hopefully. His smile broadened, and he opened the throttle a bit further as the dinghy described an arc across the wide, empty bay, and the sun turned the spray to rainbows.

By the time he slowed the dinghy and started to think about fishing – reluctantly, because he felt he could have driven about all afternoon, just for the sheer joy of it – he was only barely within the confines of the bay, the town looking small and squished under the green hills. The water out here was deeply green, sunlight forming shafts that ran down to meet in the depths below him, the surface pocked with floating mats of seaweed. There were bigger boats bobbing further out, no doubt fishing themselves, and he felt an almost uncontrollable urge to keep going, to just arrow out towards the horizon, past them and then further, seeing how far the little dinghy could take him. But that was silliness, so he turned the bow back towards the shore and tried to remember what the old man had said about fishing. That he should be near the rocks on the eastern shore? No, that he should keep clear of them. So which one was the eastern shore?

There was a compass sunk into the midships seat, but it was so yellowed by the sun that he couldn’t see anything in it. He supposed his phone would help – would Google maps work for this sort of thing? Maybe, but he didn’t entirely trust himself not to drop it, and there was an un-alarming but not insignificant amount of water sloshing around his toes. He tried to imagine the bay’s orientation on a map of the country, but he couldn’t, so he just motored slowly back in towards town and decided to stick himself somewhere in the middle of the bay. It seemed safest.

#

The afternoon passed pleasantly, to say the least. As the dinghy drifted in the centre of the broad bay, watched by the seagulls, Tim ceremoniously unpacked his fishing rods, baited the hooks, and dropped them over the side. Then he settled the rods into the rod holders and lay back in the bow, watching the birds wheel across the clear sky and trailing his fingers in the cool water. He knew quite well that this was not something he’d done as a boy, not where he grew up, but it felt like living a childhood memory anyway. He drank root beer and ate his sandwiches, and every now and then reeled the lines in and replaced the missing bait. He didn’t move from his fishing spot, though. It was all too perfect to be ruined by actually catching something.

He was sitting comfortably astride the midships seat, baiting a hook, when he noticed a shadow. It ran under the boat and was gone, and he felt the back of his neck tighten. It had been big. He looked up hopefully, but the sky was still cloudless. A basking shark, maybe? They were common enough. And harmless, he reminded himself. Still, he hesitated before dropping the hook carefully back into the water. Whatever it was, it wasn’t interested in the dinghy. And if he did snag it, it’d surely break the line. He stayed where he was, examining the dimpled green water around him. No dramatic fins cutting through the water, no menacing music. Whatever it was, it was gone.

He was just starting to relax when there was a swirl of turbulence on the corner of his vision. He turned jerkily enough to set the dinghy rocking, but there was nothing to see except spreading ripples. His heart was pounding. He’d caught something out of the corner of his eye. Something big, and – and green, maybe? Were basking sharks green? He’d never had to ask himself that question before. Or anyone else for that matter. He searched the water anxiously, half-standing with one hand on the warm engine cowling. Nothing, no shadows, no more turbulence. Maybe it was gone. Maybe it had even been a turtle, something like that –

One of the rods went. Not far, just an angry little rattlesnake hiss as the line was pulled out, then stopped. Tim sat down hard and started to reel the other rod in. He didn’t want whatever it was to try this line too – the reel snarled suddenly, the line spinning out, and he gave a little yelp of alarm. It stopped just as quickly as the first, both lines hanging limp into the green depths, and after a moment Tim started reeling one in carefully. It didn’t take long – he hadn’t put much line out, and it came up quickly. He turned to bring the second one in, then sat and regarded them anxiously. Both hooks were gone. It wasn’t strange, not with the size of that thing out there, but it made him uneasy anyway. Then dinghy suddenly seemed very small and fragile, the town very distant. He stood up again, searched the water for more shadows, then tugged the starter cord for the engine. He’d had enough. The day had lost its joy.

The engine coughed, then fell silent. He tried again, and again, sweat forming on his shoulders as he tugged stubbornly on the cord, almost falling backwards into the bow more than once. He played with the throttle, and the choke, and swore at it in a creative manner that would have surprised Patty. And finally, with the skin between his fingers raw from clutching the toggle on the end of the cord, he gave up and sat staring at the sea. No more ripples or turbulence, except those made from his own panicked movement in the boat. No shadows, either. He sighed, wondering if he’d imagined it, then unclipped the oars from under the seat and set them in the rowlocks. He could phone someone, he supposed, but he thought that maybe the engine would start again if he waited. He’d had an old car when he was younger that was like that. It seemed to sense urgency. He dipped the oars in the water and back out, and was gratified to feel the boat start slipping forward. Okay, so this wasn’t so hard. Good. He put his back into it.

#

This was hard. This was so hard. His back was aching, and his hands were sweating on the oars, and every time he looked over his shoulder (because that was how the professional rowers did it, with their backs to their destination, so he assumed it must be right), the town had slipped to one side or the other as he zig-zagged across the bay. Plus it didn’t seem to be getting any closer. He tried the engine again, but it still wouldn’t start, and he felt oddly determined not to call anyone. It wasn’t as if he had Fred’s number, anyway, so he’d have to, what? Call Mrs Mallow? He didn’t like the idea. And what could she do anyway? He settled himself back down at the oars, then gave an involuntary little yelp as a shadow slid across his stern. Long and tapered, but hard to get any other sense of it from here. The size of it, it had to be a basking shark. But it was fast. Were basking sharks fast? All the photos he’d seen of them they had their cavernous jaws open, and they certainly didn’t look as if they’d go very fast like that. He leaned into the oars. It wouldn’t be interested in him, anyway. He didn’t even have any dead fish aboard.

There was a bump from the bow, gentle but distinct, and Tim added a new level of creativity to his swearing. He never swore at home. It must be a sea thing, he thought, and craned his neck, hoping to see some debris bobbing away. There was nothing but a swirl of turbulence that made his stomach contract. Just keep paddling, he thought, then remembered the kids’ movie – although that was just keep swimming, wasn’t it? A bubble of nervous laughter rode up from somewhere, and he tried to speed up.

Another bump, but it was more of a tap, wasn’t it? Like someone knocking a walking stick against a door. Tap, tap, again, and he tried to ignore it, to paddle harder. Tap. TAP. A dent appeared in the bottom of the dinghy, popping up next to his foot, and he shrieked, and thrashed at the water with the oars. But now the boat wasn’t moving forward at all, in fact it was tilting, the bow rising as the stern was caught by something, and he tried to tell himself that it was a log, he’d just run over a log, that was all it was, a stupid log, and it was caught around the leg of the outboard, and he should just go clear it, just lift the engine over it and he’d be away again, and maybe he should call Mrs Mallow, or the Coast Guard, or the bloody National History Museum, because whatever was drifting towards the surface behind the boat was no log, and no shark, and it was twice as big as the dinghy at least, and it had one paw – claw – something – on the outboard, and as its head surfaced Tim screamed, then fainted.

He came to with the sun beating down on his eyelids, and a dull pain at the back of his head. He groaned, disoriented, and wiped drool from the corner of his mouth. For one foggy moment he was back on his stag do, passing out at lunchtime on a beach in Cornwall and waking up at 2pm with a thumping hangover and heatstroke. Then he smelt outboard fuel and something fishy, and he sat straight up and screamed again. The large, scaly head peering over the side of the dinghy screamed back, blasting Tim with fishy breath so strong it made him gag.

There was a pause then, as they stared at each other. Tim could hear blood rushing in his ears, and the – the thing at the back of the boat blinked at him with big silver-grey eyes. It had a ruff of fins sticking out just behind its head, little nubby horns, and a large collection of very sharp-looking black teeth. One heavy paw rested on the stern, and it had long grey claws. The rest of it was green and glossy and, admittedly, rather sleek and elegant. It cleared its throat, a gunshot of sound that made Tim flinch.

“Holy crap. What the hell. Holy Mary Mother of God. Bloody hell. Umm – Jesus Christ. Crikey. Holy cow.” It bared its teeth at him, then continued, swearing enthusiastically in a BBC world service accent. It finally finished on an expression that Tim had never even heard before, but that sounded anatomically impossible, then peered down at him expectantly, teeth still bared.

Tim licked his lips, and wondered if he’d been out in the sun too long. But, imaginary or not, at least the thing didn’t seem about to eat him. “Umm. What?”

The creature stopped baring its teeth and its eyebrow ridges drew down in something that looked remarkably like concern. “Did I miss something? You all say so many different things. I’m never sure what the correct greeting is.” It scratched its chin with one long claw, then hopefully added something that would have made even old Fred blush.

“Definitely not that,” Tim said.

“No? Someone said that to me only a year or so ago.” The creature looked so crestfallen that Tim smiled.

“They’re more, ah – expressions of surprise.”

“Really? I do knock. You heard me knocking, right?”

“I – I did. But no one expects a – a – what are you?”

“I’m a sea dragon,” the creature said, and Tim could hear the ‘obviously’ it had left off at the end of the sentence.

“A sea dragon?”

“Well, yes. What else would I be?”

“I was actually thinking a hallucination, possibly from toxic mould on the B&B shower curtain. Or food poisoning from the coffee.”

The creature looked puzzled, then shrugged. “Well, I’m not.”

Tim looked at the scratches the sea dragon’s claws had left in the aluminium stern, and thought that it really was a particularly vivid hallucination. “Okay, so, sea dragon-”

“Audrey.”

“Audrey?”

“It must be an unusual name for you humans. You always have to repeat it.”

“It’s – it’s not an unusual name for sea dragons?”

“Not really. I mean, my aunt’s called Fandance. That’s unusual.”

“Okay. Yes. Okay.” Tim ran a hand over his head and noticed that his scalp was quite hot. Sunstroke, obviously. He should have worn a hat. “So – Audrey – are you – I mean – are you planning to eat me?” It was easier to ask than he’d thought. But then, she was a hallucination, so she couldn’t really eat him.

Audrey looked horrified. “Of course not! Why in sea would I do that?”

“Umm – you have big teeth?”

“That’s a very personal thing to say.” She actually sounded upset now. “I’m very friendly. And no one eats people, not any more. Well, no respectable dragons do, anyway.”

“I – I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you.”

Aubrey sniffed, a little dramatically. “Well, I guess if you can’t even recognise a sea dragon when you see one, you can’t be expected to know these things.”

“You are the first sea dragon I’ve met. First any dragon.”

They regarded each other for a moment, then Aubrey said gravely, “Pleased to meet you…?”

“Oh. Tim.”

“Pleased to meet you, Ohtim.”

“It’s – um, yes. Pleased to meet you, too.”

There was another moment’s silence, and Tim could hear gulls crying further inshore. Aubrey scratched her head somewhere in the vicinity of where her ears probably were, and bared her teeth at him, making him squeak again.

“Are you okay?”

“I am, yes – but I should probably be getting back to shore. I have to give the boat back.”

“Yes, of course – you might want to use the engine, though. You won’t get back against the tide, rowing.”

Tim looked around in alarm, and added to Aubrey’s unsuitable vocabulary when he saw how far away the shore was. He was further away than he had been when he’d started rowing. “It’s broken. I’m going to have to call for help.”

Aubrey sank down in the water and gave him an unmistakably disappointed look. “Humans. A few people get eaten by sea serpents, a few rogue mermaids dress up and sink some ships, and you just can’t see past it. Why do you think I stopped by?”

Tim stared at her. “You’ll help?”

“Of course. I thought you were just some silly tourist, rowing for the fun of it, so I was just going to tell you to start the engine.”

Tim looked at the rods, the line coiling limp and useless. “What about my hooks?”

Aubrey dipped her nose like she was embarrassed, then said, “Okay, so I was hungry. Then I realised you might need help.”

“Oh. Well, that’s okay. I didn’t want to catch anything anyway, really.”

“Why did you have the lines out, then?”

“It was a reason for being out here.”

Aubrey lifted her snout out of the water and stared at him out of those silver eyes, then shook her head. “Humans,” she said again, then put one paw on the transom and started to swim.

#

They stopped just outside the breakwater, Tim sat in the stern with one hand on the outboard tiller for all the world as if he wasn’t being propelled by a large underwater dragon.

“There you go,” Aubrey said cheerfully. “Home safe.”

“Thanks,” Tim said, still fairly sure he was imagining the whole thing.

“No worries,” she said, and raised one paw to him. “Be more careful next time.”

“Will do,” he replied, but she was already gone, the water swirling in her wake. He put the oars back in the rowlocks and paddled back to the boatramp, sheltered from the tide behind the breakwater. The sun was still warm on his head and the seagulls were fighting behind the fishing boats. It was all very normal, and very dragon-less, and he thought it was time he got out of the sun.

#

Fred put a hand on the engine and grunted. “When did she die?”

“Just outside the breakwater.”

“Cooled down quick.”

“I guess,” Tim said, and gathered his gear together while the old man carried the outboard back to the shed. He was just pulling his shoes gingerly onto his sunburned feet when Fred stopped next to him, the oars in one hand and the fuel can in the other.

“Used to be, mariner types made offerings to the sea,” Fred said. “To ensure safe passage.”

Tim looked at him, feeling a dehydration headache starting behind one eye.

“Before the voyage, after the voyage, and other times too. You know, an offering to Neptune as you cross the equator and so on.”

Tim still said nothing.

“It’s worth thinking about. No one offers thanks, why should the sea look after you?”

“So, what – I should leave a fatted calf on the beach at full moon just because I went out in a dinghy one afternoon?”

Fred snorted. “You could. But I find some biscuits left on the end of the breakwater at sunset work a right treat.”

Tim summoned a laugh from somewhere. “I guess I could do that. Be in the spirit of things.” He definitely had sunstroke – or the old man was a bit strange. Probably both.

Fred handed him something from his pocket, a hard flat scale with a filigree pattern of waves running through it. The sun turned the fine edges into emerald glass. “There go. Little souvenir from the back of the boat. And I recommend chocolate hobnobs. Everyone likes chocolate hobnobs.” And he stumped away in his wellies, the oars swinging over his shoulder, ignoring the small man with the red nose making little squeaking noises at the edge of the boatramp.

 

free short stories - An Unconditional Rescue - Kim M Watt

 


 

Are you fishing or boating types, lovely people? Do you do it for the fish, or for the experience? Any sea monster stories to tell me? Let me know below!

Glenda & the Horsemen Are Not Sure – A Short Story

Glenda & the Horsemen Are Not Sure – A Short Story

Between one thing and the other at the moment, I’m not getting a lot of what I term ‘my’ writing done. That is, writing that’s not blog writing or work writing. And while I still enjoy my blog writing and work writing, it’s all rather closely related to real life, which is not an area that I like to spend too much time in. In case it’s, you, know, catching or something.

But a lovely online friend who writes some wonderfully nasty flash fiction suggested to me that trying something similar might be a good way to feel I was still doing ‘my’ writing, in bite-size chunks. Which seemed like a wonderful idea, although I’m fully aware that my last attempt at writing a short story under 1000 words (let alone 100) resulted in an almost 6000 word monster. So I didn’t expect it to be short.

I didn’t expect it to be this long, though, either.

But it was most certainly fun, so thank you so much Jimmie for the nudge to jump back into my short stories!

For those of you that have been around a while, you may remember Glenda, who had some rather unexpected visitors (one of whom gave her cat fleas). If not, you may want to jump over and read Glenda & the Horsemen of the Apocalypse before you start. Otherwise, read on and enjoy!

 


 

 

The sky was low and heavy, fat with thunderous clouds and the sort of determined rain that makes umbrellas futile. The road that trailed across the face of the hills between the post and wire fences was awash with muddy water, and the few sheep standing morosely in the fields looked thoroughly put out. It was heading on for midnight, and was, in fact, a very dark and stormy night indeed.

Flickers of lightning lit the angry underbellies of the clouds, and thunder rumbled like cosmic indigestion, threatening something more explosive at any moment. Col pulled his hat down more firmly over his ears, for all the good it did. He was soaked through.

“Jess!” he bawled into the teeth of the wind that was skirling threateningly around him and flinging rain in his face. “Seek! Seek, girl!”

The bedraggled mongrel trailing at his heels gave him a pleading look, and he waved vaguely at the field, his quad bike abandoned on the farm track behind him. The fields were rapidly becoming swamps, and he had no intention of getting stuck out here.

“Get away back!” he yelled at the dog, and she heaved an enormous sigh and launched herself across the slick grass, squinting against the rain and casting about for a scent. Damn lambing season. Why did they always lamb in the middle of the night, during a storm? It was like clockwork. He’d brought most of the ewes into a field closer to the house this evening, but of course there was always one he couldn’t find, and of course she’d be out here, and he was too bloody soft to just leave her, out in the cold with the roar of the sea pummelling the shore at the bottom of the cliffs fighting with the steadily increasing howl of the wind, and – and. He frowned. Was that engines? Who the hell would be out here, in this? And they sounded like motorbikes, as well.

Col stood there with the rain running down his face and back and through the holes in his jacket, and listened to the sounds of the engines increase, a doubtful look on his face. He couldn’t see any lights on the road, and the sound seemed to be coming from everywhere at once. He jumped as a wet, anxious nose shoved into his hand, and looked down at the dog. She nipped his sleeve and tugged anxiously.

“What?” he said, more sharply than he intended. He could feel the engines rumbling in his chest now, shaking the bones of his legs as if the very land was reverberating beneath him.

Jess whined, darted away, circled back to snap at him, then darted off again.

Could he hear – could he hear voices? In this?

Jess gave a short, sharp bark, growled, and nipped at his boots. He waved her off ineffectually, feeling exposed despite the rain and darkness, still looking for the machines that those massive engines were driving so recklessly into the heart of the storm, his heart pounding in some terrible double-time in his chest, sure now that there were voices, snatches of conversation riding in on the wind.

“…any left?”

“…don’t be…”

“…but he had…”

“Honestly, I just…”

Jess was barking hysterically, her ears flat to her head and the whites of her eyes showing, the sound continuous and harsh, and all but lost under the roar of those dreadful, inhuman engines. Thunder smashed over the hills, so close that Col let out an involuntary little scream and stumbled backwards, tripping over the dog and sprawling into the mud and sheep dung.

There was a moment of startling silence, and a woman’s voice said very clearly, “Are we here for him?”

“Hm. No,” another voice said, deep and musical.

Col blinked as a woman’s head appeared above him. She had bobbed grey hair and was wearing a pearl necklace over her pale blue cardigan. He felt suddenly and inexplicably guilty for leaving it so long since calling his gran.

“Are you sure?” she said. “He doesn’t look well.”

“Death is always sure,” the deep voice said, and a new face, all high sharp cheekbones and dark eyes looked down at him. It was joined by two others, one round and flushed, the other grinning like a toothpaste model.

“I thought you were going to give that a rest, D,” the toothpaste model said.

“I cannot change who I am,” D said, straightening up and looking across the fields. “Why are we here?”

“Not so sure, then,” the model said, grinning even more broadly, and the woman frowned at him.

“Behave yourself, Pest,” she said. “Don’t think I didn’t see you drop chicken pox in that town we came through.”

The young man rolled his eyes, and said, “You never want me to have any fun.”

“Your sort of fun tends to end in diseases of the unmentionables,” the woman said, and put a grease paper packet on Col’s chest as the round-faced man staggered off laughing, Pest following him with an aggrieved look on his face. “There you go, dear. You’ll feel alright again once we’ve gone.”

Col made a squawking sound that set Jess barking again, although she kept her distance.

“They’re good boys, really,” the woman said. “Well, as long as they’re not here for you. And I don’t think anyone knows why we’re here, so you’re safe.” She patted his shoulder reassuringly, then walked off.

Col spluttered as the rain started falling again. It had stopped while the strange little group had been crowded around him, the wind falling to nothing, but suddenly it was howling in his ears again, sending tight bands of coldness around his head. He sat up and watched the strangers trailing across the field. The toothpaste model – Pest – had taken the woman’s arm to help her across the uneven ground, which made sense, because she appeared to be wearing those little slip-on house shoes older women seem to like so much. The tall man called D was standing with his hands on his hips, staring around in the perplexed way of someone looking for a new doctor’s office, the round-faced man standing next to him with his hands folded over his ample belly, rocking on his heels.

And Col could see them. It wasn’t bright as day, but it wasn’t moonlight, either. The field was washed in a cold pale light, like a night scene in a black and white movie, and if that wasn’t the most ridiculous thing he’d ever imagined, then he didn’t know what was. Col investigated his head carefully, looking for broken bits. Everything seemed to be where it should be, so he got up and trailed after the strangers, unwrapping the grease paper packet as he went. It smelt of mushrooms and blue cheese, and Jess whiffled hopefully after him.

#

“D, seriously, why are we here?” Pest asked. They’d drawn into a little huddle around the tall man in his skinny jeans and Panama hat.

“It’s not clear yet,” Death admitted. “But this is where we were drawn.”

“Is this New Zealand?” Glenda asked. “It seems like it could be New Zealand.”

“It is,” War said. “I remember it. Great warriors down here. Wonderful.”

“I thought it’d be sunnier. It’s very muddy.”

“We’re in the middle of a storm,” Pest pointed out.

“Still.” Glenda peered across the hillside. It just looked grey, and there was gorse ranging along the fenceline. “It looks like Scotland.”

“Ooh, don’t tell them that,” War said. “There’ll be trouble!” He sounded gleeful, and Glenda frowned at him. She still hadn’t quite adjusted to how much pleasure the horsemen took in their jobs. Although – she’d given that poor man a pasty, hadn’t she? It had just seemed like the right thing to do. A bit of food always helps you get over a shock. She looked around, wondering if he’d recovered yet, and saw him squatting on the the grass trying to look inconspicuous, sharing the pasty with his dog and watching them with an expression that was somewhere between disbelief and terror. She gave him a little wave, and he ducked like she’d thrown something at him. Poor thing. He seemed like quite a nice young man.

“Over there,” Death said, and strode off through the stubbly grass, surprisingly graceful with his long scarecrow limbs.

“Come along,” War said, offering Glenda his arm.

She scowled. “You don’t have to treat me like your gran. I’m your colleague.”

“I don’t have a gran,” War said. “But suit yourself.” He strode off after Death, leaving Glenda to flounder along behind them, cursing her house shoes and wishing she’d had the foresight to die in her hiking boots. She was sure there must be a way to change your outfit, but she hadn’t figured it out yet. She certainly hoped there was – she was already quite sick of her blue cardigan.

“Plenty, love,” Pest said, appearing next to her. “You still have such an endearing human trait of thinking you’re actually walking on the ground.”

“Glenda or Mrs Holt,” Glenda said sharply. “I don’t need an extra name.”

“It does lack a certain ring,” Pest said, pursing his rather perfect lips. “But as you wish, Glenda. Now let’s go.”

And just like that, the mud and rabbit holes and sheep dung were gone, and it was rather like walking barefoot in a deep and luxurious carpet, like the one that had been in that hotel she and the late Mr Holt had stayed in on one of their rare weekends away. She’d always wanted a carpet like that. It had been like walking on air.

“I do need how to learn to do that,” she said.

“You do,” Pest agreed, releasing her elbow as they stopped next to Death and War. “I’ll start thinking you’re pretending you can’t just so I’ll hold your hand.” He winked at her, and she gave him an exasperated look, then turned her attention to the others.

There was a long pause, while the sea and the sky raged against the land outside their little bubble of stillness, and the darkness beat itself against their pool of light. Glenda could smell crushed grass and seaweed and the wild electrical smell of the storm, and somewhere she thought she heard a gull crying.

“Um, D?” War said eventually.

“Yes?” Death’s attention was on the figure in the grass in front of them. It was struggling weakly, still clinging to life, but there was too much blood, and the scent of something final in the still air.

“That’s-” War hesitated, glanced at Pest and Glenda.

“It’s a sheep,” Glenda said. “We came all the way to New Zealand, in a storm, for a sheep?”

“It would appear so,” Death said, sounding mildly interested.

“Are you sure?” Pest said.

Death didn’t look away from the sheep. “Death is always-”

“Always sure, yeah, I know, but – a sheep?”

“So it would seem.”

War grunted, folded his arms, unfolded them, then blurted, “First Glenda – no offence, Glenda, but you’re not exactly a Horseman – now a sheep? Doesn’t it just seem – I mean – well – I just -” He faltered to a stop as Death finally looked away from the sheep. “Guys? Back me up here?”

“I’m very good at my job,” Glenda said, offended. “I got that whole sugar-free raw cooking class eating Dunkin Donuts last week.”

“But a sheep!”

No one said anything for a moment, and Death watched War until the round man put his hands behind his back and hung his head like a scolded toddler. Then he admitted, “It is odd. But remember the butterfly that can start the hurricane. Or Twitter, if you want a more modern example. That’s one you’re quite fond of, War.”

“Well, yes,” War said. “It’s very handy. You can whisper in a lot of ears, all at once.”

“Then may I do my job and reap this sheep?” Death asked, his voice mild.

“It just seems a little – beneath us,” War mumbled.

“This is too weird,” Pest said. “Since when have you reaped animals?”

“Animals are never beneath you, Pestilence. They’re your weapon of choice.”

“I- but that’s different. You’re Death.”

“Oh, honestly,” Glenda snapped. “The poor creature is suffering. Someone do something!” The Horsemen gave her a startled look. “What? My feet are wet, and I want a cup of tea.”

“You can’t have wet feet, Glenda,” Death said. “Horsemen don’t get wet feet.”

“This one does.”

“You see?” War said. “Everything’s gone weird since Famine quit.”

“Don’t you be trying to put the blame on me, young man-”

“I’m not! I just said he quit!”

“Famine was such a bore, anyway,” Pest said. “And he never had Jammie Dodgers.”

“Do you have any Jammie Dodgers?” Death asked. “I’d quite like one. To keep the chill off.”

“Excuse me?” a small voice said.

“Of course I have Jammie Dodgers,” Glenda snapped. “But we need to work first. Honestly, how have you boys ever managed to get anything done? You can’t have your tea before you’ve finished the job!”

“Aw, Glenda-”

“Excuse me?” the small voice said again.

“Surely we could have one Jammie Dodger. For sustenance.”

“Excuse me!”

Glenda had her mouth open to point out, yet again, that you had to do the work before you got a treat, and War was still mumbling about things not being right, when the rather alarmed voice finally registered with her. She turned and looked at the farmer, his dog shivering behind his legs, the grease proof paper still clutched to his chest.

“Oh – hello, dear,” she said, and nodded in what she hoped was a reassuring manner. “Can we help you?”

“That’s – that’s my sheep,” the man said. “What are you doing with my sheep?”

“I’m going to reap it,” Death said.

“I’d rather you didn’t,” the man said. “She’s a great mum. Always get good lambs from her. Good wool, too.”

“I think she’s nearly gone already, dear,” Glenda said gently.

“She’s not. The lamb’s stuck. He’s probably gone, but I reckon she’ll be just fine if I can get to her.”

“I’m quite sure I’m meant to reap her,” Death said, sounding not very sure at all.

“Well, can I get the lamb out first? Then we can see.”

“Er. Well. Yes?”

“Right then.” The man skirted the little group warily and went to his knees in the mud and muck next to the sheep, the dog watching anxiously from a few metres away as he pulled his jacket off and pushed his sleeves up. “There go, girl,” he said. “Let’s get you sorted, shall we?”

There was a collective “Ew!” from the the watchers as the man rather unceremoniously stuck his fingers into the bloody mess hanging from the sheep’s hindquarters, and War turned a strange colour but couldn’t seem to look away. The man kept chatting away to the sheep, his voice low and crooning, and a moment later he pulled two sharp little hooves into sight, eliciting an “oooh” from everyone except War, who gagged. “Legs were folded back,” he explained, still digging. “Pretty common.” He tugged at something, and a moment later a small nose edged into view, followed rapidly by the rest of a lamb, spilling motionless and bloody onto his lap.

“Poor thing,” Pest mumbled, and War retched onto a thistle.

The farmer wiped the muck off the lamb’s nose and blew on its face while the ewe raised her head wearily, giving a faint bleat. “I’m trying,” he told her, and picked the lamb up by the hind legs, shaking it gently.

Glenda had both hands pressed over her chest, and when the lamb twitched she gave a little scream that made War stagger away from her in fright. “Famine wouldn’t have screamed,” he mumbled, but no one paid him any attention. They were all watching the lamb intently.

“Come on,” the farmer said. “Come on, come on.” He blew on its nose one more time, and it wriggled, gave a choking cry, then started to struggle weakly against the man’s grip.

Glenda, Death and Pestilence cheered. War rolled his eyes and tried not to look at the blood, and the farmer placed the lamb next to the ewe’s teats. She bleated weakly as the lamb latched on and started to feed, little tail beginning to work.

The man rocked back onto his heels and wiped his hands on the grass, not looking at the Horsemen. “You really going to reap her?”

Death squatted down next to the sheep, petting the lamb’s little head with skinny fingers while it ignored him. “No,” he said. “It seems it wasn’t the sheep after all.”

“What, then?” the man asked, then looked suddenly alarmed. “Jess! Jess, get in behind!” The dog ran to him, and he grabbed her collar. “What do you want?”

“It’s done,” Death said, still petting the lamb. “Glenda, feel how soft it is!”

“It’s so gross,” War said. “It’s all sticky and gross.”

“It’s adorable,” Glenda said, crouching down next to Death. The sheep didn’t seem bothered by them. “Pest, don’t you dare go near it!”

“I’m not, I’m not,” he said, sighing. “It’s so unfair, though. I want to pat the lamb!”

“Don’t touch the lamb,” Death said severely.

“What’s done?” the man demanded. “What did you do?”

Death pointed without looking up. “There.”

There was a pause while everyone looked at the small body on the ground.

“A rabbit?” War said finally. “All this way for a rabbit?”

“It would seem so,” Death said, giving the lamb a final scratch behind the ears and standing up.

“That’s stretching, D.”

“No more so than a butterfly.” Death helped Glenda to her feet. “Now may we have tea?”

“I wish we could take him with us,” she said with a sigh. “But yes – now we can have tea.”

“And Jammie Dodgers,” Pest said, falling in step on Glenda’s other side.

“Is no one going to mention that we came all this way for a rabbit?” War demanded, not moving. “Apparently?”

“I may even have scones,” Glenda said.

“Scones? With cream? Not that I’m forgetting this, but – clotted cream?” War hurried to catch up with them, and they walked together across the sodden grass without touching it, the three Horsemen and one Horsewoman of the Apocalypse.

#

Col watched them go, his heart pounding in his ears, wondering what the hell he’d been thinking. Why hadn’t he run? The sheep shifted next to him, rolling upright as the lamb drank its fill, and he heard those vast engines start up again as the rain began to fall around him, and the wind dragged wild fingers across his drenched clothes. He waited where he was, wondering what sort of terrible horses the riders had, for them to make a sound like that. He was still watching when they passed him, Glenda waving cheerfully, both there and not there as the storm raged around her sky blue Vespa, while Death led the way with a tea in one hand and a Jammie Dodger in the other, his own Vespa white and gleaming, and Pestilence followed on a black one that sparkled with chrome, and only War still rode something huge and red and monstrous that could have been a horse from some nightmare realm. The effect was spoilt somewhat by the scone he was spreading carefully with clotted cream as he rode past in a thunder of too many hooves.

Col waited for a moment, but they didn’t come back. Then he crouched to tuck the lamb in his jacket pocket and to pick the sheep up, staggering under the weight of her sodden wool, and stumbled up the hill to his quad bike, Jess following close enough to his heels to almost trip him more than once. He didn’t mind. He was going to go home, put the sheep and the lamb in the garage with the wood burner on, and make himself a fry-up. He deserved it after a night like this.

Besides, he was starving.

 


 

Apologies for any inaccuracies in sheep midwifery – it’s been a long time since I delivered a lamb (and I only did it once or twice, but it was so cool! No wonder Death couldn’t bring himself to reap them…).

Are you a reader or writer of flash fiction? Let me know some of your favourites below – or yours, if you write them! I’d love to read more, and still hope that one day I may write something under 1000 words. I’m not aiming any lower than that for the moment 😉

Roald Dahl & Twisted Tales

Roald Dahl & Twisted Tales

In which I talk about still being in awe of Roald Dahl’s ability to put an amazing twist in his stories, but also discover that, on rereading as an adult, some of his treatment of female characters doesn’t really do it for me (although this was only really in one collection out of the five in the book, so I’d still recommend the other four, because not many people can tell a short story quite as well as this).

One of the things I particularly love is that there’s no guarantee that the bad guys will get their comeuppance in his stories – you’re never quite sure until the end just how things are going to unfold. And while that can make it a little too much like real life for comfort, it also lends a quite wonderful uncertainty to the reading.

But, well. This is the man who wrote about Little Red Riding Hood killing not just her Big Bad Wolf, but also the huffing and puffing one, and his three little pigs into the bargain. So we really can’t expect them to be nice stories.

And I’m not complaining…

 

 

How about you, lovely readers? Have you read any of Roald Dahl’s short stories? Any other good twisted tales you’d recommend? Let me know your thoughts below!

 

A Nasty Little Sentence – A Short Story Update

A Nasty Little Sentence – A Short Story Update

Hello lovely readers – if you’ve been around for a while you’ll know that at the start of the year I scaled my short story writing back to just one story a month, which would go out in the newsletter. Which was a fine and lovely idea, as I was struggling a little to get a short story out every second week and still work on the BBN (Big Bad Novel). But then I realised that this meant I had to write blog posts for the rest of the month. And that when I wasn’t working on a bigger story, my short story muscles would become all flabby and atrophied, and I’d miss it horribly. Which I do. I find it extraordinarily hard to write things without dragons and talking cats on a regular basis.

Which is just a long way around to saying that, three months in, I fell off the wagon and wrote a short story instead of a blog post.  Although, in my defence, it’s less a short story than a continuation of a short story – last month’s story, in fact, which you may want to read here before you start, so you’re not left wondering who Albert is and why he has so many tentacles.

Otherwise – enjoy, and don’t forget to sign up for the newsletter to get the monthly short story!


 

 

“So, you see, it was entrapment. I was tricked, fooled, had the wool pulled over my eyes. I was misled, deceived, hoodwinked. Bamboozled, even. A businessman carrying out business dealings on behalf of our fine firm, toeing the company line, touting the company values, stretching our reach, expanding our influence, broadening our hor-”

“Albert.”

“Ma’am.” Albert took a deep breath – more for effect than anything else. Demons don’t need to breathe, but rather absorb what they need through the mucus-y coating on their skin. The thick yellow-tinged air of the deep earth was particularly invigorating, and he wished he’d taken his suit off so his tentacles could roam around freely. But appearances were appearances, and now he settled his hat more firmly on his head and straightened his tie. It was a new one, from some fancy tailor in Saville Row. Personally, he missed the cravat, but he was sure it would make its way around and back into fashion again. Things always did.

“You went to a sorcerer’s house, putting yourself fully in the path of danger. Your banishment led to the collapse of over seven hundred contracts, and we’re only lucky that the last council amendment was rejected, otherwise we’d be having to give up thousands of souls already acquired.”

“Seven hundred and forty-three,” Albert mumbled.

“I really wouldn’t be boasting,” the judicial demon said. She had nine heavy breasts, each painted a different colour, and a pear-shaped body.

“Two more and I would have beaten Frank.”

“You got greedy,” the other demon said. “And careless.”

“In my defence, the sorcerer was drunk. All I could smell was vodka.”

“And you’ve never encountered a sneaky sorcerer before? You know they’ll use every trick they can think of to get to us.”

“Ah, but I almost got to her. She was tempted, she was considering. Her heart’s desire I offered her, the age-old trade, the traditional exchange, the precious, hallowed commerce, one small and promised soul in exchange for all she could wish for -”

“Albert. Your sales skills are not in question here. Please stop the grandstanding.”

Albert subsided. He wasn’t sure he even knew how not to grandstand, if that’s what you called it. He didn’t think it should be called that. It was merely a way of communicating, a method, a manner, a-

“Are you even listening?”

“Sorry. Yes.” He blinked the four of his eyes that were visible in a trustworthy manner, and the judicial demon sighed.

“Look, I appreciate that you have a good track record. You’ve closed some great deals, and really adapted to the whole digital era better than most. The crytpocurrency work you’ve been doing is a thing of beauty.”

“Thank you,” Albert said, inclining his head modestly.

“However, that doesn’t change the fact that we’ve now lost all those souls. Now, usual punishment would be dismemberment, impalement of the still-living pieces within sight of each other so that you’d constantly be trying to reassemble, and regular dousing in hydrogen peroxide for a couple of millenia.”

Albert shuddered. Everyone thought holy water was pure poison to demons, but it just made them damp. Hydrogen peroxide on dismembered body parts, however – the sight of the foaming alone could send you into madness after a few decades. Like the celebrated Frank, poor creature. Young demons still amused themselves by drinking fairy liquid and blowing bubbles out their ears at him.

“In light of the fact that you’ve never had a deal go bad, and that your conversion rates are excellent, I need to confer with myself. Go have a break and I’ll call you back when I’m ready.”

Albert doffed his hat and swept a low, exaggerated bow without a hint of mockery to it. “Please allow me to extend my sincere gratitude to you, your dishonour. It is truly the greatest of luck to have you judging me, as we all know that from you can only be expected the most balanced of sentences, the most carefully weighed of proclamations, the most considered and deeply reflected-”

“Get out!” each of the judge’s seven heads bellowed, and Albert bolted for the door.

#

There was a bar just outside the judiciary offices, and Albert found himself a seat in the corner, avoiding the many-eyed gazes of other penitent demons. Some had tattoos stamped on their slimy skin proclaiming such misdemeanours as petting puppies or not tripping small children when the opportunity offered itself. One hapless monster with dull pink eyes had ‘helped an old lady across the road’ emblazoned between his eye stalks. Albert sympathised with him. But it really was such a young demon error, letting your worse nature get in the way of work.

“Getcha?” the bar demon asked. He looked bored.

“Ah, my good demon. Let me see – this is not a celebratory day, not at all, yet neither is it a day for wallowing in sadness and regret. There is yet hope, my friend. There is yet hope. So we shall drink to said hope, we shall raise a glass and let our fellowship of suffering believe, just for a moment, that everything will turn out just the way we wish, that deals will still be made, that souls will still be captured, that-”

“Vodka,” the bar demon said, slopping a pint glass down in front of Albert and sliding away again. “Bloody salesdemons.”

Albert stared at the glass, sticky sucker prints plastered all over the outside, then looked around the bar again. No one looked back – all eyes were on their own drinks and their own concerns. Someone was crying in the corner by the slop barrels, and the jukebox started up with a cacophony of wailing cats.

Albert loosened his tie, rolled up his sleeves, and drank.

#

The big hearing room was uncomfortably warm for a demon in a suit, but Albert kept his back straight and his eyes on the floor, feeling sweat dripping between his tentacles. It tickled.

The judiciary demon examined him severely. Two of her heads wore glasses, and one was smoking. “Albert, demon spawn of the third tier of inner Earth, you stand accused of careless behaviour, unsuited to a salesdemon, which brought you to the attention of a sorcerer. Your subsequent banishment by said sorcerer led to the loss of over seven hundred recruited souls. Please confirm your plea.”

Albert nodded gravely, removed his hat, and, holding it against his chest, said, “It is with a heavy heart and tortured spirit that I, Albert, admit to such terrible and crushing errors. My pride is injured, my ego fractured, and my shame is great. To have been brought so low by such a ploy! By such trickery, such deceit, such underhand dealings! I humbly submit that I was bested, that I was outwitted, the wool pulled over my eyes-”

“Albert! Guilty or not guilty, by all that is filthy! Then STOP TALKING!” The smoking head went into a paroxysm of coughing following the chorus of outbursts, and there was a pause as the judicial demon patted herself on the back and drank some water while her other six heads glared at the salesdemon.

Albert opened his mouth, closed it, opened it, then managed, “Guilty.”

“As I thought.” The demon glared at him for a moment longer, then added, “You are far too good a salesdemon to leave chopped up for a millenia. So I have devised a new punishment.”

Albert ventured a very small smile. “Training young demons, perhaps? Their oratory skills leave much to be desired. It physically hurts me to hear them speak at times.”

“Hmm. No. But that is an interesting proposition once you have served your initial term.”

“Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear. Not – not telephone sales?”

The judiciary demon looked as if she was enjoying this a little too much. “No. You’d get far too much satisfaction from that.”

Albert thought she was wrong about that – only the baser demons could really derive pleasure from interrupting people’s dinners and forgetting their names. “But then, what? Multi-level marketing?”

“This is a punishment, Albert, not a demotion.” She held out a sheet of paper to him. “The details. You start in one hour. And you may as well get out of that suit and get comfortable. You won’t be doing any door-to-door for quite a while.”

He took the paper carefully, reading the heading with disbelieving eyes. “But -” he whispered.

“It’s better than dismemberment,” the judicial demon said, and rapped the floor neatly with a large wooden hammer held in one of her feet. “Next!”

#

Wow ur so butiful!

I no rite? Shes gorgus!

N I luv ur hare!

The educational standards on display here are so staggeringly low that it’s no wonder you are unable to grasp the fact that this young woman is either a)photoshopped or b)in possession of a large inheritance that has been spent on structurally unsound plastic surgery. As she is taking the photo in a particularly unattractive bathroom, I will guess the latter. You are all cretins, and I despair for the human race. You have no need of us to bring you low. You do it yourselves.

Albert sighed, took a large mouthful of vodka, highlighted what he’d just written, and hit delete. He glanced longingly at the hat hung from a hook above his neatly made bed, then looked back at the screen. Dismemberment was looking pretty good. Just reading this drivel was causing his brain cells to shrivel, and the vat of vodka he was getting through each day was nowhere near enough to scrub his brain of all the pouting lips, flexing muscles, and text speak he was wading through. Yes, it was harmless. But it was also so pointless. And so was what he was doing.

“It was the cat’s fault,” he told the empty room with its clean white walls and artful taxidermy. “I almost had her. If it hadn’t been for that damn feline-” he shook his head. There wasn’t time for this now. Right now he had to do the penance that had been set for him. Later, though. Later. He drained his glass and leaned back over the keyboard.

Ur all stoopid, he typed. Shes a dog. He thought about it for a moment, then added a crying with laughter face and hit send.

Yes, he thought. There would be a later.


 

 

So, tell me, lovely people – what’s your preferred writing when you get the chance? Leave me some links if you’ve got them!

And don’t forget to sign up for the newsletter to get this month’s actual short story…

 

I Don’t Know What I’m Thinking, Either

I Don’t Know What I’m Thinking, Either

It’s short story week! Jump on over to read Glenda & the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, or read on for a few thoughts about the story itself.


Yeah, and my bedside table is just as tidy as that. *snorts*

I do that writery thing you always read about, where I keep a notebook and a piece of paper by the bed. It seems like a reasonable thing to do, right? I mean, who knows what pearl of genius may rise to the surface in the night?

But this is what really happens:

If I wake up in the night, it’s because I need the loo, and I’m mostly concentrating on not walking into any walls or tripping over cat toys. If I survive that excursion, I sink gratefully back into bed and hope I haven’t woken the cat up. Because if I’ve woken the cat up, then she wants cuddles/play/food, and I have to either provide the first two or ignore the last, in the hope that she gives up and goes back to sleep. This is an unusual occurrence. She’s a very persistent cat.

However, assuming I survive this, I have every intention of going back to sleep myself rather than attempting to pen an inspiring note by the faint light filtering in through the curtains. My writing’s pretty illegible at the best of times. Half-asleep and in the dark, it’s going to look like the local spiders are sending us ransom notes.

Of course, I have tried, because it seems very writery, and I like pretending to be writery. But I’ll tell you now – my 3am dream thoughts are not lighting papers of story. They’re somewhere between a 5-year-old’s Christmas list and the ramblings of someone on a morphine drip. I mean, what do you do with “Rabbit. Green snow – bees. Yeah.”?

Not a lot.

However, I was evidently both relatively lucid and able to hold the pen like a normal human being when I wrote this one down: “Glenda & the Horsemen of the Apocalypse”.

I mean, it’s not a story.

But it was a seed.

Read on and enjoy!

 

Yeah, not QUITE like that.

 

Do you write down your dreams, or ideas that come to you in the night? Have they led you down some interesting paths? Tell me in the comments!

 

Dragons, & the Stories We Tell Ourselves

Dragons, & the Stories We Tell Ourselves

It’s short story week, and we’re joining Beaufort Scales, High Lord of the Cloverly dragons and barbecue aficionado. Jump straight to the story here, or read on for a chat! (And if you’ve not encountered Beaufort before, there’s a Q&A with him here, or you can ask me about his other short stories!)


Dragons don’t swim! That’s a truth.

One thing I have always known, is that I am terrible at drawing. I failed art at school (somewhat like PE (sports), I doubt anyone knew it was possible to fail art until I came along). I have a terrible sense of proportion and no spatial awareness whatsoever. Hence, I spend a lot of time measuring and using spirit levels before drilling holes anywhere, as eyeballing it is not an option for me (and pictures are still usually wonky, because even if I get the holes in the right place, I can’t sit them straight), most of my photos have horizons with more angle than the Tower of Pisa, and cakes are never cut evenly.

And this generally doesn’t bother me. Drawing has never been a passion for me. I love other people’s drawings, and admire anyone who has the talent to create such beautiful things. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to do.

But. I have a dragon. And of all my characters, he’s the pushiest and the one I’d most like to see. Plus I can only illustrate his stories with so many cups of tea and slices of cake, especially as the latest one has no tea or cake in it. (Sorry, Beaufort.)

But I can’t draw. This is one of those truths I know about myself.

Like, I can’t dance. I’m no good at maths. I’m terrible at sport. I’m even at worse at small talk.

All these things I know, although, when I think about it, I’m not sure how I know. I dance at home and scare the cat, because I’m not one for going out. I haven’t had to do maths since I was at school. I haven’t played sports since I was at school. And I go into every social occasion so convinced that I can’t talk to people that I’m stressed out before I even begin.

The only one of these truths I’ve tested is the drawing.

Hands up, they’re not brilliant, and I’m not digging for compliments there. I can only draw his little dragon face at one angle, and it’s best you don’t look too closely at his paws. However, he is recognisably a dragon, which was more than I’d hoped for. So maybe I’m not as terrible at drawing as I thought.

Maybe I can still learn these things.

Of course, high levels of motivation will be required before I tackle sport or small talk. And I’ll probably keep the dancing at home, and the maths to my phone. But, y’know. I could try.

Truths. Aren’t they funny things, sometimes?

And, on that note – Beaufort looks at a truth he thought he knew about dragons in this week’s short story. Enjoy!

Beaufort Scales & A Rather Difficult Flying Lesson

PS – the drawings are actually mostly of Gilbert. I’m still working on Beaufort.

 

 

Do you have any truths about yourself you’d like to test out? Let me know below!

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