This morning, just like any morning, she looked out of the window as soon as she rose from bed. Just like any morning she could see the sea. Some days she could see for miles — almost to the mainland, she was sure – across the bright blue waters. Other times the ocean was grey, reflecting the storm clouds overhead, when the waves were like the team of off-white steeds she remembered leading her father’s racing chariot. But today she could barely see anything, so heavy was the sea-fret billowing towards the land. Nothing would be coming to harbour until the mist lifted, she was sure.
Not long ago – it may be yesterday – there were two children called Alice and Bran. Now Alice and Bran lived in the last house at the end of the estate on the outskirts of a large town. You won’t have heard of this town, so it probably doesn’t matter what it’s called. Every day, Alice and Bran’s parents drove to work in the town and Alice and Bran caught to bus to school. At the end of the day they all came back home, did what they had to do and then went to bed.
On the other side of their house was a wood. Alice and Bran were told never to go into the wood because it was dangerous and you could lose yourself, so they never did. Instead, if ever they went for a walk they took their dog Cerberus around the estate and then came straight back home. And so it went on for some time.
One day, Alice said to her mam and dad, “It’s a small wood, you could never get lost in there, and it doesn’t look dangerous. Why can’t we go in there?” But her parents said, “No, Alice! You must never go there, nothing good will come of it!” Though she asked more than once they would never give her any reason why they couldn’t go into the wood.
There came a day when it was the school holidays and her parents drove to work as usual and Alice and Bran were at home all on their own. “Shall we go for a walk round the estate with Cerberus?” suggested Bran, but Alice said, “Maybe later.” Well, later came, and Bran called to Alice and said, “Shall we go for that walk with Cerberus now?” But there was no answer. Bran knew then that Alice had gone into the wood.
Things come in threes: he’s about to drop her off at the shops when he realises he’s left his phone at home, so can’t liaise about where and when to meet up.
Next, after he’s filled up the car with petrol, he discovers his wallet is in his other man-bag. At home.
After some frantic running around the money problem is solved when he spots her coming out of a shop. But later, returning from a visit to the local library, he finds his everyday glasses are no longer on his nose — and the library isn’t open for another two days.
“Is it nearly time for the pillow over the head?’ she murmurs, sultrily. And so it begins.
She drew the diary from her shoulder bag, and its weight seemed portentous.
Feeling a sudden chill she picked up the poker with her other hand and stirred the glowing coals, breathing new life into the fire.
As if on impulse, she deftly threw the book into the flames.
Take that, 2016! she thought, fiercely.
Flash Fiction Fifty Five, a story made up of 55 words including the title
He’d never been close to death until then.
Yes, he’d seen dead bodies – his grandma, his father, a body in a road. True, this was death, but death as it had happened to others, deaths already tainted by premonitions of their passing or tinged with the innocent curiosity that characterises the young. This was not imminent death as it might apply to him: a moment of reckoning, a brief interval pointlessly proffered to put his house in order.
For those who’ve lived through it, even if memories have faded, the Cold War was a time of surviving on a precipice. Sometimes its edge visibly crumbled at one’s feet, as it did during the Cuba crisis. Sometimes there was just a feeling of vertiginous malaise watching grainy news footage of CND marchers, whether or not they were really cranks or communist stooges.
But one day death really came knocking at his door of his consciousness. It began with a huge hole opening up within his chest: this first inkling of dread was immediately followed by absolute certainty that this was the point of no return. There was rarely any sound – rather like newsreel and archive footage then – but instead a white light banishing all subtlety of shading or substance. The blinding was only temporary as the eye strained to make out a skyscape in which a growing and rapidly expanding organism gradually revealed itself. Sometimes it might be a roiling brain obscenely expanding upon its stem; or it might take the form of a superheated fungus, its cap haloed by multiplying lenticular clouds, the annulus a secondary fist about to fulfil its threat.
This dire image he knew as prelude to a period of slow, lingering extinction when mind and body succumbed to invisible poison. And as heavy limbs and numbed brain feebly but ineffectually struggled with debilitation and despair his being would rise up from the depths of lethargy, surfacing trapped by the sweat-soaked sheets. Awake he would relive the images, so real it was hard to believe they hadn’t just happened; and bit by bit the realisation would dawn that there had been a reprieve. Annihilation hadn’t yet occurred, even though it would only be a matter of time.
Time: it had been decades since he had last had the dreams. Somewhere around the eighties they had faded away like morning mist in a river valley. But surreptitiously, secretly, they had crept back closer and closer to his unsuspecting consciousness, conspiring with the worsening crises here, there and everywhere. And as atrocity after atrocity and bellicosity after animosity obtruded into current affairs his dreams became darker and his fears became stronger, until the certain knowledge of man’s inhumanity and unstoppable stupidity took physical form and death exploded into his vision and its dark cloud rolled once again.
“I like what you guys are usually up too.”
Um, there’s only me here.
“This type of clever work and reporting!”
Reporting? I’m not a reporter.
“Keep up the good works guys, I’ve added you guys to my blogroll.”
A threat then? Well, two can play at that game. You’re added to my spamroll.
• Flash Fiction Fifty-Five: the whole story, including heading, is told in 55 words.
“I’m the winner!” shouted Romulus (or was it Remus?) as he teasingly leapt over the stone wall that Remus (or was it Romulus?) had made round his new city.
“No, you’re not,” said the other crossly and knocked him down dead. “The first shall be last,” he said, and laughed. “Or should I say … late?”
My first — and hopefully not my last — attempt at Flash Fiction Fifty-Five, where the whole story, including heading, is told in fifty-five words on a given theme, here provided by Leslie of Colonialist’s Blog. Rome’s founder is, of course, Romulus who according to one account by Livy killed Remus because his brother belittled his new city wall by leaping over it.
Mum’s nagging again. “Make sure you fit everyone in.” Yeah, yeah, I didn’t want to do this anyway. Except anything’s better than actually being in the picture.
“Check the flash is on if it’s too dark. Actually, don’t do that, the sun’s just come out — there should be enough light now.” OK, OK, do you want the flash on or not? Sophie’s making noisy sighs, shrugging her shoulders, wish she’d stop showing off just because it’s her birthday.
“Come on, Mandy, hurry up, before we lose the will to live!” Ohhh, Mummy, I can’t do everything at once, I’m trying my best, it’s too fiddly and you’re fussing me! Now James is asking Dad when we can start having some cake and Dad is trying to keep things quiet by whispering so no one can hear. And now Sophie’s sighing again.
“Mandy, what are you waiting for? Sophie…
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I shall be reblogging some of my flash fiction from my book review blog calmgrove here, as I gradually expand Zenrinji content from pure micropoetry to micro-prose.
For TV dramas set in hospitals the general rule is that nothing – neither sets, costume nor location shots – should include the colour red. Why? This is because it may limit the impact when blood is first introduced into the action. Apparently the shock of that crimson fluid staining a largely monochrome palate produces an atavistic reaction in most people, especially when it’s allied to a storyline that raises expectations of an immanent coup-de-theatre.
Of course, I knew all about colour palettes,
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