Hear my prayer

Ride the wave. When you eat, really eat, let all the luscious sensuality of food explode in your mouth. I don’t care what it is as long as you love it. When you sleep, really sleep, let the warm cave of covers sink you into oblivion. When you run, really run, stretch yourself to breaking point and then let yourself break.

I love this world. Love it to tears and laughter. There is nothing like the sky, nothing in a hundred million years could ever equal the depth and width and beauty of a sky. Turbulent, colourful, joyful, peaceful, infuriated, black as pitch or marbled grey and pink.

And this is the only lesson I can ever learn. I learn it again and again. That when you hold back you die, and when you plummet you might fly. I am an animal. I love and grieve and hunt and sleep and prick up my ears and listen to the whispers of a world in constant motion. I predict the future and learn from the past. Your Gods are dust and metal, my Gods are wind and rain and sun.

We plug ourselves in. Strap ourselves down. Cover our ears. Close our eyes. Then we wonder why we cannot move, cannot see, cannot feel. Never be trapped. The whole fucking world is out there. You are a shining mass of energy and flesh. Revel in it! You’ll die no matter what, however much you hoard for the rainy days, however wisely you plot your immortality. You’ll die, and you’ll have never lived. Travel cross-country. Tip the last of your change. Give all of yourself to whatever you love. Let your fiction blaze the trail, let your poetry cry out to the ends of the world, let your play be inspired, live your fiction. Live your story. Carry us with you.

Waiting for the end of the world

The world is alive, changing every second, breathing through me, breathing through you. Someone, somewhere is drumming, stamping out the beat of life. Someone, somewhere is singing – for pleasure, for sorrow. We are united in flesh, in sweat and fear, in love and laughter. We are strong, striding out along these unexplored paths. We are weak, coming to the ends of our lives, but with the paths still branching out ahead of us. Here is my wisdom, here is my reason for being. Carry on. Range far, see the mountains tipped with burnished gold, find the people scattered to the winds.

Find the people scattered to the winds. When you are strong, lend them your strength. When you are weak, let them lend you theirs. We are united in flesh, in sweat and fear, in love and laughter. We are a shared story that unravels over the generations. When you are broken, crushed with night terrors, when you know the face of the monster; find something to cling to. Hold on with everything you have. One day the sun rises again, one day the monsters turn to dust. We are born in fear, pain, blood, and love. We die in fear, pain, blood and love. But in between we range far, we are strong, we see the mountains tipped with burnished gold, we find the people scattered to the winds.


So be good, for goodness sake!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a flash-fiction here. Life’s been busy! Luckily, the Christmas holidays are on the way… so here’s a bit of Christmas Cheer for you. Written for the terribleminds Flash Fiction Friday challenge: Holiday Horror Extravaganza!

So be good, for goodness sake!

We watched them. For seven years we had crept after the boy, Tommy. Watched his dark curly hair and followed his growing obsession with marine life. Shadowed him, close to his heels, watching as he poked about in the river and spent hours in the pet store studying the tanks of bright tropical fish.

We watched them. For five years, silent as ghosts, we had followed on the heels of Sandra, as she stubbornly followed her brother everywhere. She was less interested in the fish, but stared at them because Tommy did.

Every year they had been good. So good. Tommy had protected and looked after his sister, slowing his pace so she could keep up. Making sure she had her coat and hat and gloves during the cold weather and her sun hat in the summer. Sandra had worshipped at the heels of her brother, bolstering his confidence and expressing her admiration for his feats: jumping from rock to rock in the river and persuading the pet shop owner to let him feed the fish each day. Every year they had been good, had left out a mince pie and a glass of milk for Santa. And every year Santa had stopped at their house, peered at us with those icy blue eyes and shaken his head: no.

This year we both felt it. A change. Tommy impatient, hurrying his pace to try and lose his sister. Sandra shouting and wailing, fearful of losing her beloved older brother.

We watched them. A grey February day, the children’s breath steaming in the cold air. Tommy half ran down the river bank to try and lose Sandra. Sandra slipped and flailed as she tried to follow, until her feet went out from underneath her and she plunged into the water with a shriek. She scrambled out, soaked and covered in mud. The wind cut at her like ice. She hugged herself and looked around for Tommy, but he had gone.

She trudged home, frozen to the bone and crying silently.

When Tommy returned from the river, Mum berated him soundly.

“I didn’t know she’d fallen in,” he objected. “I thought she’d gone home!”

We knew the truth. We had watched him look back at the sound of the splash, had seen the moment of indecision on his face. Then he had started running, away from Sandra.

But still, it was only February.

In June, Sandra asked if she could feed the fish at the shop. Tommy refused her indignantly. “You’ll only mess it up, you’re too stupid to do something like that.”

“I’m NOT stupid!” Sandra shouted, fists clenched and cheeks red.

“Yes you are,” Tommy said. “You’re so stupid you don’t even know you’re stupid. Anyway, the pet shop owner said it was a responsibility and I had to do it right. I can’t trust you.”

The next day Sandra came to the fish shop before Tommy, and emptied all the fish food containers into the bin when the pet shop owner wasn’t looking. Then she went home.

Tommy returned home later, sullen-faced. The owner had been furious when he’d discovered the feed missing. “You’ve been drastically over-feeding them! You assured me you would do it properly.”

We watched them. Tommy as he stomped upstairs and slammed his door. Sandra as she smiled a little to herself.

But still, it was only June.

In August, when heat wrapped the country in a sticky blanket, they fell to fighting over a lego piece. Sandra had built a car, Tommy an airplane. Both needed the same part to complete their models.

“It’s my lego.” Tommy gripped the piece so tightly it left a red mark in his fist.

“It’s our lego,” Sandra spat, standing with her hand held out. “You’re meant to share.”

“You can’t have it.” Tommy went to click the piece into place and Sandra made a grab for it. Tommy swung away and Sandra fell on him, her fingers clawing at his hand.

He shoved her away. Sandra growled and kicked out at him. Her foot connected with his shin and Tommy’s face went red. He grabbed her car and threw it against a wall. Lego scattered across the floor. Sandra stood frozen, staring at the mess. Then she let out a shriek and flung herself on Tommy, pummeling with her fists until he managed to grab her wrists and push her back onto the floor. She glared up at him, tears in her eyes, and he glared back at her.

We were excited now. Watching them fight. Our tails lashed back and forth, and we felt drool collect in our mouths and leak down to the carpet where it dissipated like mist.

But still, four months to go.

In October they went to visit their grandmother, out in the country. Their mother drove. Tommy and Sandra sat in the back.

“Can we listen to the Rainbow CD?” Sandra asked.

“I don’t want to listen to those baby songs.” Tommy crossed his arms. “Put on War of the Worlds.”

“I don’t like that, it’s scary.” Sandra stuck out her lower lip. “We always listen to the Rainbow CD when we visit Gran!”

“We can listen to the Rainbow CD on the way there, and War of the Worlds on the way back.” Mum glanced in the rear-view mirror.

“The Rainbow CD sucks!” Tommy kicked his foot against the back of the seat. “I don’t care what we listen to, just anything except that stupid baby CD for idiots.”

Sandra’s face screwed up. “We always listen to the Rainbow CD.” Her voice wavered into a sob.

“Sandra, you and I can listen to it together when we get to Gran’s house.” Mum drove them around a roundabout.

“I want to listen to it NOW!” Sandra bellowed.

We looked at each other, hunched over each child, our tails curled up together and pressed against the rear windscreen, our shoulder spikes jammed against the roof of the car. Seven years I had waited, five years we had waited. Two more months. We stretched our jaws open, lowered our heads to let drool mist away around each head.

In December they strung fairy-lights around each window. Tommy helped Mum carry the box with the Christmas tree inside. They pulled the tree out slowly, reverently. Sandra squealed with excitement as green branches were revealed. They pulled each branch straight.

“I’ll put the fairy lights on the tree,” Tommy said, already reaching for the looped wire.

“I want to do it!” Sandra reached the other end of the wire.

“Come on you two,” Mum said. “It’s nearly Christmas. Tommy, why not let your sister have a go this year.”

“She’s too little, she won’t do it right.” Tommy frowned.

“You did it when you were her age.” Mum took out a bag of baubles. “You can hang these, with me.”

“I want to hang the lights!” Tommy yanked the wire out of the bag. Sandra clung to her end and for a moment they played an intense tug-of-war. Tommy suddenly let go. Sandra, taken by surprise, fell backwards and cracked her head against the edge of the coffee table. She let out a wail, and Mum swore, jumping to her feet.

“Can’t you two get along for five seconds? You know Santa’s watching right? You’re meant to be good!”

Our claws curled around Sandra, the glittering knife edge millimeters from her tear-streaked cheek. We lowered the tip of one claw to her eye, imagined thrusting it home.

Twelve more days.

On Christmas Eve we watched, two shadows in two bedrooms. Sandra awake and excited, listening for hooves on the roof. Tommy half-critical, half-hoping, pretending to sleep. Our hunger yawed inside us, a great and empty space. We longed for flesh.

The clock ticked down. They had been naughty, such naughty children. Santa’s sleigh flew silently overhead without stopping. As his shadow flickered across the window we knew he would not be stopping at this house. Not this year.

We loomed over each child. Sandra’s eyes widened and her mouth opened but we closed our jaws about her head and her scream was cut off before it could begin. Tommy tried to roll from the bed, but we tore his lungs through his spine with a single stroke.

The next morning we woke at the same time. We each moved to the door of our bedroom and smiled at each other as we emerged into the hallway. I touched my small hand to his.

“Merry Christmas, Sandra,” we said.

“Merry Christmas, Tommy,” we said.


I hope you enjoyed it! Let me know what you thought in the comments :)

Other ‘horror themed’ Christmas Stories for your enjoyment:

ZORK Owner’s Manual

The latest terribleminds flashfiction challenge was a throwback to those old-school ‘interactive fiction’ video games. You know the ones: ‘PICK UP KEY’ … the key is too far away. ‘WALK TOWARDS KEY’… you fall into a hole.

Anyhow, the challenge was to grab a randomised inventory list and turn them into a story. The items in my inventory were:  a gold coin, a platinum bar, a key, a tool chest, Emergency Oxygen Gear, a shim, a ZORK owner’s manual.

The result is a somewhat meta story that doesn’t really stray too far from the source material and will probably only make sense if you’re familiar with the grand-daddy of interactive fiction games: Zork. Apologies to infocomm.

ZORK Owner’s Manual

“What the fuck is a zork?” Sanjay Chopra crossed his arms and leaned back on the metal chair. It creaked under his weight, and a shower of rust fell from it. At some point he would have to get a new chair. And a new desk. His was made from a couple of filing cabinets with a sheet of metal — pockmarked with rust — balanced on top. A metal shim had been wedged under one leg to keep it from listing.

“Insufficient data,” the robot said. The most expensive piece of equipment he owned, this robot, and the most frustrating. It could dig like a motherfucker though, and so far had not broken any of the 20th century debris that it had helped bring to the surface.

Sanjay looked again at the ragged remains of a cover from what had once been a hardback book. The title, spelled out in that long dead language ‘English’, read simply: ZORK Owner’s Manual.

“It could have been a car. They were big on cars back then.”

“I have a record of every known car model ever produced,” the robot said. “It was not a car.”

“So you know everything, but you don’t know what a zork is. Maybe you translated it wrong.”

“It’s a four letter word,” the robot flashed its lights angrily. “You are the archeologist, I am merely a repository for every piece of information we’ve already discovered about life before the Stupendous War. They owned cars by the millions. Cars have not been difficult to learn about. As you well know, Chopra-saab.”

“You are a passive-aggressive little bundle of wires and circuits,” Sanjay heaved himself up from the desk and reached for his protective suit and oxygen mask. More expensive equipment, but without them he would die. Strapped to his belt was a sharp knife. He’d not needed to use it yet, but there were too many stories of mutated monsters out there — ants the size of people, dogs that ran on two legs — for him to ever leave his tent without it. “Let’s head out to the site and see if we can find anything that might shed some light on this little mystery.”

He had constructed his camp near the site, not enjoying long walks. The second he stepped outside the tent — a reinforced steel structure with massive air filters and radiation shielding — the winds started buffeting at him. Screeching, directionless, they pulled him one way and then another. He could see only a few feet in front of him, thanks to the swirling dust and the heavy smoke layer that turned the sky a dingy orange-black. Frost glittered and sparkled underfoot as he walked towards the dig.

The robot followed behind him, its densely packed squat body unaffected by the winds.

They had first dug into the frozen soil a week ago, after the robot had reported traces of metal below. Since then they had cleared the remains of what had once been houses. Only bits of wall remained, tracing out the shape of rooms. A bit of broken off pipe and a smashed cistern had told Sanjay where the bathroom had been. Some melted, misshapen lumps of plastic might have once been kitchen appliances. The metal the robot had detected had been radiators, also melted and twisted. Sanjay had carefully hauled the metal out of the dig and packed it away in the tent. The Collective paid for scrap metal, it was the material from which their civilisation had been built.

There were few possessions left, most of the houses had been raided by the surviving populations: anything that could burn had been burned, anything that could be eaten had been eaten.

Scattered around the perimeter of the house, Sanjay had discovered three empty tin cans. A quick analysis from the robot, and it had told him they had contained: a soft fruit known as peaches, flavoured pre-cooked beans in a sweet tomato sauce, and a kind of pudding made from rice, milk and sugar.

He had eaten his reconstituted cockroach and algae meal pack that night speculating all the time what those ancient foods might have tasted like.

Now, however, he was on a mission. He was determined to find out what a zork was. The Collective would pay good money for new information. If a zork turned out to be important, he might even make enough money to refit his entire office. He allowed himself to dream of it: a desk with a special place for his pens.

“Robot,” Sanjay said as he surveyed the site. “I’ve got a good feeling about this ‘zork’ thing. We don’t leave until we know what it was.”

“You’re the boss,” the robot said.

Two hours of digging and dusting, and Sanjay leaned back on his heels and noticed the tiny, thread-like shape on the horizon. He stared at it, a sick feeling in his belly. Already it swelled in size as it came closer; a twister.

“Fuck.” Sanjay grabbed his tool chest and yelled at the robot to follow him. He raced towards the camp and started to dismantle the tent and throw it onto his conveyor. A quick look back over his shoulder, however, and he abandoned everything except the robot, hustling it aboard the vehicle. The twister had already reached three times the size, the winds picking up around him.

“Come on, come on.” Sanjay jammed the ignition key in and set the conveyor to its top speed. They rumbled away from the site on fat treads. Sanjay clutched the steering wheel tightly to stop his hands from shaking. The wind tore at them, trying to tip them, but the conveyor had been built like a tank; all thick metal and sloping surfaces.

Even a conveyor couldn’t stand up to a twister though. Glancing behind him, Sanjay could see the forks of lightening flickering within the great spiralling body of the twister. The earth screamed beneath it, yawing and shifting, torn upwards and flung aside as the twister fed.

Bits of his tent were flung past him, rolling along the ground. The conveyors Emergency Oxygen Kit ripped clear of its straps and went flying backwards, into the gaping maw of wind behind him.

“Shit, shit shit shit shit shit shitshitshit” Sanjay yammered as he leaned on the accelerator. The soil shifted and rumbled beneath them, the conveyor almost tipping over.

“Move at a forty-five degree angle,” the robot buzzed. “To the west. The twister’s course should take it beside us on the east. With luck we may survive.”

Sanjay jerked the steering wheel to the left and the conveyor’s treads screeched to obey. The wind sucked at them greedily. Sanjay gritted his teeth and willed the conveyor to stay attached to the ground. Something slammed into the dashboard next to his gloved hand. Glancing down, Sanjay saw a gold coin half buried in the metal. The conveyor moaned as its treads started to lift off the ground.

“I will not die here!” Sanjay shouted. The conveyor bumped back to the ground. Sanjay glanced to his side, saw that the twister had drawn level with them but was angling off in the other direction. He was so focused on tracking it, that he never even saw the building emerging from the soil until the conveyor slammed into it. Sanjay catapulted over the handlebars and slammed against a brick wall. He slid down it, thankful for the protective helmet and suit he wore and collapsed in a heap at the foot of the wall. There, he waited for the storm to die down.

An hour later, the sky was a flat, hazy orange and the dust had dropped. The land had been reconfigured by the twister, Sanjay had no idea which direction he’d travelled from. The tread marks of the conveyor had all been blown smooth, and the conveyor itself smashed beyond the limits of his portable tool kit. His tent, survival gear and salvage was gone: buried somewhere in the wasteland around him.

“We are a seventeen day walk from the nearest Collective outpost,” the robot announced. It shook itself, dust showering from its sides. “My battery will not last that long.”

“I won’t last that long.” Sanjay sucked on the nozzle at the side of his helmet that led to his water canister. He looked over the conveyor, pulling the gold coin free from the dashboard and examining it. At one point there had been a portrait of a person in profile, but it had worn away so that Sanjay could not tell who it was meant to be. He stuffed the coin into a pocket and turned to the building.

It was one of those rare buildings that had survived the war relatively unscathed. Only the top story was visible, the rest buried in sand. A blown out window stood at elbow height. At one point it had been painted white, flecks of paint peeled away from the brick.

“Might as well take shelter in here for the night,” Sanjay said. “Work out what to do in the morning.”

He stepped into the building through the window, the robot following him. Sanjay flicked on his helmet torch. It flickered over white walls and came to rest on a sword and a lantern, both gleaming as if new. Sanjay blinked at them, stunned by such an anachronistic detail.

He tracked the light across the floor and up onto the wall. Plastic letters had been stuck to the peeling paintwork. Sanjay blinked as he read them. “Zork? Does that say Zork?”

“Affirmative,” the robot said.

“What the fuck is this place?” Sanjay moved towards the door and stepped out into a hallway. A couple of bags had been dropped halfway along, and Sanjay kicked one of them open. A pile of plastic blocks fell out, each one stamped with the words ‘platinum bar’.

“This is some weird shit.”

The robot, a few steps behind him, did not reply.

Sanjay opened the other sack and discovered a lunchbox, the food long since rotted away, and a withered root of some kind.

The hallway led to a flight of metal stairs. Sanjay descended them, drawn to the lower levels of the building as if by instinct. He’d always been a digger, had always believed the greatest treasures were the ones you had to extract from the soil.

Cockroaches scuttled over the walls, away from the light of his torch. Sanjay kept descending the stairs until they expelled him into a stone basement. There were no windows down here, and the floor had only a thin layer of dust.

Sanjay shone his light around. No furniture, but in the very centre of the room there was a round trapdoor.

“It might be another group of survivors.” Sanjay rushed towards it, examined the seal. Groups turned up every now and then. Often just a small interbred family, with hollow bones and white skin and no idea of how many generations had passed. Sometimes, however, they found another group, with equipment, skills and a different culture. Sanjay couldn’t even imagine how much he’d get paid if he found a group like that.

“There is writing on the wall,” the robot said. “It reads: the wise traveller bewares the Grue.”

“Zork? Grue? I’m starting to think we’re about to discover something pretty major.” Sanjay hooked his fingers under he trapdoor and prised it open. His helmet torch penetrated only a few feet into the inky darkness below, enough to see the rusty ladder that led downwards.

Sanjay looked up at the robot. “Coming?”

“I don’t like this.” The robot whirred. “I hope you’re right and there is another group of survivors down there.”

“What other explanation could there be?” Sanjay grinned at the robot.

The two of them descended into the darkness.

Other stories inspired by randomised inventories

Great Acting by antipelican. A funny story about a drunk actor on a path to learning some life lessons (maybe).

Never Swindle a Swindler by D.J. Davis. Swashbuckling thievery pretty much always amuses me. There’s a great sense of a bigger world as well.


No trouble

Another week, another terribleminds flash fiction challenge! This time the prompt was bad parents and we had 1,000 words. I really wanted to stay away from the whole ‘starvation, drunken rage, cigarettes getting stubbed out in painful places’ kind of story. Not because those things don’t happen, but because there’s only three ways for those stories to go. It either ends in tragedy (kids die), triumph (kids escape and/or kill parents) or stasis (isn’t it dreadful).

At the end of this post I’ll link to a few of my favourite stories that other authors have written in response to the prompt.

No trouble

I throw the slivers of chicken into the pan with the onions and stir. The pink meat turns white, the oil hisses and spits

“Sarah?” Her voice, thin and scratchy, crackles over the baby monitor. I bite my lip, stir the chicken and add a splash of stock to stop it from burning.

I go upstairs and open the door to my mother’s bedroom. She lies there, propped up against her pillows. Thin, skin translucent, crazed with wrinkles. You can see all the veins in her hands, wrapping up and around those knobbed knuckles. I stare at her hands and avoid looking at her face.

“What is it, Mum?”

“I’m thirsty.”

“Would you like a glass of water?”

“A tonic water,” she says. “With a slice of lime. A thin slice. I don’t want the lime to overpower it.”

My heart sinks. “We don’t have any lime.”

“Can’t you go to the shop?”

“The corner shop won’t have them. I’ll need to drive to Tesco, and that’s fifteen minutes there and back. I’ll go after I finish lunch, okay?”

Silence. I stare resolutely at her hands.

“I don’t want any lunch,” she says. Her voice quavers.

“You need to eat. It’s almost done. I’ll get the lime as soon as I’m done cooking.” I try to make my voice firm.

“If your father was here—“

“But he’s not here,” I cut her off. “I’m in the middle of cooking. If I leave now it’ll be ruined. I’ll go after lunch. Do you want a glass of water?”

“No.” Her voice is sulky.

She starts to sob as I close the door.

While the chicken and carrots finish cooking, I take a separate pan and make the gravy. Butter, flour, stock, herbs, a slosh of white wine. I add pepper, hesitate, then add another shake of pepper. Last time she told me there wasn’t enough pepper, that it made the meal bland. I take her plate, the special china one with the blue swirls around the edge. I shape the carrots into a pyramid and place three pieces of chicken in a fan shape next them. I use the back of a spoon to swish an arc of gravy on the other side of the plate and stand back to scrutinise my handiwork. I add a garnish of fresh parsley, dropping it onto one of the chicken pieces.

I put the lid on the pot to keep the heat in, then put her plate on the tray. I take out a tumbler and pour some tonic water into it. I’ll take it up to her, and then go and buy the lime.

When I open her door the sobbing starts again, little hitches in her throat.

“Please don’t work yourself up, Mum.” I carry the tray over and put it down on her lap.

“No lime,” she says.

“I’ll go and get you one now.”

“Don’t bother,” she says. “I don’t want to cause you any trouble.”

“It’s no trouble. I just didn’t want to go while lunch was cooking, and—“

“I know how hard it must be, looking after your old mother. I remember how hard it was for me, when I had to look after you.”


“Oh! I slaved over your food, and you wouldn’t eat a bite. I tried everything, organic baby food, pureed dinners, I spent an hour once making a special soup out of roasted squash and you just threw it on the floor.”

“I was a baby.”

“You were always as good as gold for your father. He’d come home and you’d eat any old rubbish. You never really loved me, of course.” Her voice cracks. She knows I can’t stand it when she talks like this.

“I love you Mum, you know I do.” I pat her hand awkwardly. “Look, just eat your lunch. I’ll go to the shop now, you’ll have your lime slice as soon as I get back, okay?”

She heaves a deep sigh. I head for the door, but before I can reach it there is a clatter and crash from behind me. I spin round.

She’s knocked the tray onto the floor. Gravy, carrots, chicken, all over the carpet. The tumbler rolls across the floor until it knocks into the leg of her bedside table. I bite my lip.

“Oops,” she says. Smiles.

I don’t answer. I pick up the tumbler and the broken bits of plate and put them on the tray. The food goes in the bin. I get the vacuum cleaner and suction up the rest. There’s a gravy stain, but I can deal with that later.

I go downstairs, put on my coat. I’ve worn through one of the elbows.

Tesco is busy. I don’t see anyone I know. Most of the people I went to school with have moved away. Sometimes I see Kate, but she’s always too busy running after her toddler to see me. She isn’t here today. I buy the lime, smiling tentatively at the woman behind the checkout. She gives me a blank smile in return.

When I get home I stir up the remaining carrots and chicken and give it a quick blast of heat to bring it back up to temperature. I take out a new plate, build the pyramid of carrots. I fan out the chicken, swirl the gravy.

I pour the tonic water, slice the lime nice and thin. The tonic fizzes when I drop the slice in.

I carry the tray upstairs. She smiles as I bring it to her bed.

“Oh, you sliced it just right. And look, you made such a pretty gravy swirl.”

“Thanks, Mum.” Happiness blooms in me at her words.

She cuts a tiny piece of the chicken, puts it in her mouth, chews. “It’s a little dry. You left it standing too long. And there’s too much pepper.”

“Sorry, Mum.”

“Don’t be silly. I don’t expect you to take any trouble over your old mother.”

Some other stories about bad parents

These were my favourite stories written in response to the ‘bad parents’ prompt.

Beneath One Wall, Inside Another by JP Juniper. Great sense of time and place in a short word-count, and just enough detail about the children to whet your imagination.

No such thing by Chris White. Such a fantastical story and original setting. I would love to see this world developed further.

Deals with the Devil by Alex. A sharp toothed story about the way society regulates women’s bodies, especially those of mothers.

Blind Abbot

Another Flash Fiction written for a terribleminds prompt. In this case the prompt was a list of cocktail names, and I randomly drew Blind Abbot. I’m not sure how well this works as a story, but I like the Blind Abbot character.

Trigger warning: implied child abuse.

Gary caught his foot in one of the tree roots bulging up through the cracked and twisted flagstones. He staggered forward, clutching at a branch to stop himself plunging face first. A cloud shifted, and moonlight illuminated the old, decrepit stone mansion. Turrets twisted up into the sky and bats flittered from the shadows beneath stone eaves.

Think of Alice.

An imposing door loomed out of the shadows: dark, weathered wood punctuated with the muted gleam of iron. Gary wiped the sweat from his forehead with one hand and used the other to grab the snarling gargoyle knocker and hammer out his arrival. The knocks reverberated through the old wood and dust showered down. Gary wiped his forehead again. Nobody had been here for a long time.

Seconds ticked by, turning to minutes. Gary shifted from foot to foot, staring at the rage-filled face of the gargoyle. A chisel had been taken to it, leaving a stony scar where the gargoyle’s eyes should be. Another minute ticked by. Gary lifted the knocker again just as the door wrenched open with a screech of rusted hinges.

A robot, made entirely of mahogany, every joint a carefully constructed wooden ball socket, stood before him. Gary looked into the blankly polished sheen where a face should have been and forced the words out, his throat still raw from the outburst he had indulged in last night. “I’m here to see the Blind Abbot.”

The robot glided into the hallway. Gary followed, taking in a confusion of jumbled objects piled up against the walls: a huge copper disk, tarnished green; coiled rugs, bright with golden threads. He picked his way through a collection of marble statues, each with a missing limb or two.  A slender women wept over her missing hands. A man leaned sideways, gazing in slumped horror at the jagged stone where a foot should have been. Gary pulled his gaze away and found himself staring at an oil painting of a young girl, her hand held out as though to clutch at the hand of an adult. No hand claimed hers, and Gary blinked away tears.

The robot continued to glide along the hallway. Gary dashed the tears away with his knuckles and jogged to catch up. They ended up in a library, shelves filled with leathery tomes; wreathed in shadow and dust. Embers smouldered in the fireplace, the dull red glow the only light. A massive wing-back chair faced the fire. Gary took a step toward it.

“Come no closer.” The voice rich and clear, each syllable oiling into place.

“Blind Abbot?”

“So they call me.”

“They say you can find things. Things that are lost.”

“My price is high.”

“I would give anything in my power.”

Silence from the chair.

“It’s my daughter, Alice.” Gary felt the shiver of grief in the back of his throat and paused to take a ragged breath. “She’s been gone three weeks. The police… they just aren’t getting anywhere. I have to know where she is. If she’s been taken, or-“ He couldn’t finish the sentence.

“Or killed. You must understand I can only find. I cannot intervene or change what has happened.”

“I understand. But I have to know.”

“Do you have something of hers?”

Gary fumbled in his pocket and brought out the silver daisy-chain bracelet Alice had liked to wear.

“Give it to the robot.”

Gary held the bracelet out and the robot took it in polished wooden fingers. Gary felt his heart clench as the robot carried it to the chair and the bit of silver — all that remained of his daughter — disappeared behind the imposing leathery surface.

The chain clinked as the Abbot held it. Gary closed his eyes and wondered what creature sat in the chair, what claws-or-tentacles-or-decaying-flesh played with the bracelet. His mother had told him the fairy-tale; the ancient story of a creature nobody had ever seen, a creature blind to the darkness and ruin it lived in and yet capable of seeing everything in the world.

The tale always changed in the telling, but the central motif remained the same. Somebody lost something precious and went to the Abbot to ask him to find it. The Abbot warned them the price would be high and located the missing object. Several days later they had to give payment. Almost always the Abbot took something the person wished to give up even less than the object that had been lost in the first place. Family heirlooms were found, but the family taken. Runaway pets returned home, but the home torn away.

Gary could not imagine anything in the world he would prefer to his daughter, returned safe.

“She lives,” the Abbot said.

Gary sagged with relief. Tears sprang to his eyes. “Thank God! But where?”

“With her mother.”

“Her mother?”

She lay curled up on the bed, sound asleep despite everything, her hand interlocked with Gary’s. Gary sat by her, stroking her blond hair. They had found her drinking water from the dog bowl. Her mother had taken a knife to one of the police officers.

A clunk at the window.

I’ll never let her take you again, Gary promised her. I’ll keep you safe, no matter what.

Clunk. Harder this time.

Gary gently unwrapped Alice’s fingers from his own and stood up.

Clunk. No doubting the knock’s urgency now. The next one would smash the window. Gary hurried over to the window and pulled the curtain back.

The blank, polished wooden head of the Blind Abbot’s robot stared back at him.

Gary pulled the window open. The robot held out an envelope in those slender mahogany fingers. Sweat collected in the hollow of his back.

He opened the envelope with shaking fingers. The letter inside simply said PAYMENT DUE in red capitals.

“What do I have to do?” Gary asked the robot. It tipped its head to one side, raised its hand and made a beckoning motion.

“I can’t leave her alone.”

The robot beckoned again.

“Alright. Give me… give me fifteen minutes.”

Gary pulled the curtain back across and checked Alice still slept. Closing the door softly behind him, he went into the hallway and called his neighbour, Penelope. A good sort, and the only one who knew he’d been to visit the Blind Abbot.

“Pen? I’m sorry for calling so late, but I need your help. Will you come and watch Alice for me?”

Penelope turned up five minutes later, wrapped in a dressing gown and wearing an enormous pair of fuzzy pink slippers. Gary let her in, glad the robot stayed out of sight. He didn’t want to scare her.

She gave his arm a sympathetic squeeze as she came in the house. Gary pulled on his coat and stepped outside. The night air carried a bitter chill.

The robot glided smoothly around the corner of the house. Gary followed it, jogging to keep up. Dark houses lined deserted streets. Gary already knew where their destination, so it did not surprise him when they left the town behind and struck out into the dark countryside towards the Abbot’s crumbling stone mansion. Up the shadowy path, through the hallway cluttered with broken artworks, and into the library. Once again Gary’s gaze flicked to the ancient books, but the dust stood so thickly along the spines he could not read the titles.

“Your payment is due,” the Blind Abbot said.

“I know.” Gary wiped the sweat from his forehead. “What will you take?”

Gary fumbled the key in the lock, and felt relief sweep through him when he stepped across the threshold. Home at last. Shrugging off his jacket he went into the kitchen and grabbed a can of coke out of the fridge. He popped the tab and took a swallow when he heard someone walking across the hallway.

“What the hell?” Gary grabbed the first thing to hand, a rolling pin — a rolling pin? Since when had he owned a rolling pin? — and stole forward to apprehend the intruder.


Penny, his neighbour, blinked at him in confusion. She wore a dressing gown and slippers. Had he invited her to spend the night? Gary felt the start of a headache form behind his eyes.

“Penny? What are you doing here?”

“You asked me here to watch Alice, remember?”

“Alice? Who’s Alice?”

The lure of The End

Here’s the thing about the apocalypse: it makes you free.

Here’s the thing about zombies: all you have to worry about is the zombies.

In this shitty world, this world overflowing with food that people can’t afford to buy, this world overflowing with medicine and kids dying of dirty water, this world that houses dolls that cost as much as some people earn in a month – well, there’s a whole bunch to worry about.

Here’s the thing about the end of civilisation: who the fuck wants civilisation.

Give me the zombies and I’ll sharpen my axe. Give me the werewolves and I’ll polish my silver. Give me the monsters in the dark and I will light the campfire.

But I can’t kill the grinding necessity of earning enough to rent a patch of someone else’s land to rest. The office politics and the boring meetings. The car repairs and the traffic at 9.30am. Matching socks and fear of failure. The restless urge to chuck it in, to go where the water meets the land and the sky. The endless circle of conversation: how’re you? I’m good, how’re you? I’m good, how’re you? I’m good, how’re you? I’m good.

My eyes are buggered, and my shoulders are hunched, and the flickering world beyond the screen is always just beyond reach and the world on this side is so desperately mundane. Text alerts from your bank to let you know you’ve dropped below a certain limit. Spam in your inbox. Meme’s of cats and doge. Kicking up the dry dust of arguments long since parched of meaning.

The photographs of starving children come through your mailbox, and petitions clamour for attention and the Government sells out another group of people and the Daily Mail sings of blood and fury.

Here’s the thing about the end of the world: clean slate.

The Hand of Doom: A Lovecraftian flashfiction

This is a flashfiction that I wrote back in March, and never ended up posting. It was in response to the Terribleminds SUPER-ULTRA-MEGA GAME OF ASPECTS challenge.

  • Subgenre: Lovecraftian
  • Setting: An Opium Den
  • Conflict: Political Maneuvering!
  • Aspect: A severed hand
  • Theme: Chaos always trumps order

The Hand of Doom

“You’ve brought the thing?”

Abraham Marlow threw the brown-paper wrapped package onto the low table next to the hookah. He sank down onto the tasselled, faded cushion and looked around warily. Marlow didn’t belong here. Lithe, blond, tan; he rippled with good health and clean living. The opium smoke, hanging in thick blue clouds around every table, made him flare his nostrils and choke back a cough.

I sucked on the end of my pipe, tasting the bitter-sweet drug. Smiled. I, unlike Marlow, did belong here. Sallow, greasy, small and pot-bellied. This was my territory, not his and I revelled in his discomfort.

Reaching forward, I peeled back a corner of paper from the package. Three fingers, white with death, the nails embedded with crusty blood. A gold signet ring that proclaimed the owner’s identity. I took the prints quickly and checked that they matched.

“You got the money?” Marlow wanted out of this place. He’d done his job – a grim, unpleasant job – and now he wanted to get back to his ordered life. He had a beautiful wife and two small children. If he was discovered here, the scandal could ruin him.

“How did you do it?”

Guilt in his brown eyes. Poor boy. He’d never square this act away with the image he had of himself. Successful, healthy businessmen with families did not commit murder. They did not bring severed hands to dingy opium dens. But he had. Would it eat away at him, this foul deed, until, mad with shame, he ended his life? Or would he push the deed away, to some dark corner of the mind where it would fester and stink, the rotting memory poisoning every aspect of his life?

“When he was swimming, like you said. In the sea. I swam out to him and stabbed him. He drowned quick enough.”

I slid the briefcase across the table. One hundred thousand dollars this Governor’s life had cost me. A bargain.

Marlow opened the case and looked at the notes blankly. He shut it again quickly. His gambling mistakes would be wiped clean with this little fortune. One hundred thousand dollars to settle his ledger and return to his ordered life. I blew a smoke ring. Marlow was haloed in a soft light and left trails of movement behind him that faded softly into the blue air.

“Can you at least tell me why?” Marlow stood up, clutching the briefcase.

“Oh… for fun.” I smiled, enjoying his disquiet. “Take care now.”

I watched him leave. He had killed the Governor, and he went now back to normality. Out of the smoke, to settle his debts and pretend none of this had ever happened.

I picked up the severed hand and stood up. My legs shook a little under me. Opium was a hard drug to take in moderation. It blurred the lines between this world and the next. I saw death, sometimes, standing next to me. His skull wreathed in smoke, drifting through those empty eye sockets like snakes.

I stumbled upstairs to my private room. The air here mercifully cool and clean. I opened a window and tried to let my head clear. The hand was the last ingredient, the hand of an honest man. The Governor had been an honest man. Perhaps the last honest man left in politics.

I went to the table where the book lay. Bound in pale leather, the text writhing unnaturally across it. There were, perhaps, a handful of men in the world that could translate that spidery text. The alphabet, after all, is a system of order – a method by which we take loose, unformed concepts and bind them into named entities. Such binding is the antithesis of the ideas this book contained. So a writing system had to be invented, one that did not bind concepts but let them flow, so that the text became a mirror, a conversation between reader and book that left both of them changed.

I dropped the hand next to the other items. Powdered horn from the last black rhino that had lived. A vial containing H1N1. A fragment of dinosaur bone that I had stolen from a museum. My hands shaking, I began the ritual, words bubbling up from the cavernous place in my soul where He lived.

He lives in all of us, even in Marlow, who runs ten miles three times a week and sticks to a careful ratio of macronutrients in every meal. He took Marlow to Vegas, not often but often enough. And so He makes Himself known.

Marlow is home now, hugging his wife. Sitting down to a lovely dinner. His girls beam at him. He feels relieved, his debts are settled. He resolves never to gamble again. A resolve that may last a day, a week, a decade, but a resolve that will be broken as surely as death.

Not that it matters. Be delivering the hand to me he has settled the fates of every human being on earth. My mouth shapes the guttural words, they twist in my mouth, burning my tongue.

A wind with no origin springs up in my room. It rattles the windows, flings papers to the ground, and slams open the leather-bound book on my desk, rifling through the pages greedily. I see the scattered letters, writhing, changing shape, blurring before my eyes. I hear a sound, like nothing I have ever heard before, the kind of sound that might be produced by giant crickets sawing their legs in a frenetic non-rhythm. There is something hideous in it, a bone-crunching violent undertone that makes me squirm. My chant wavers, losing its sonorous resonance, breaking down into shrill stutterings. I can taste blood. The wind has stopped rifling through the pages of the book, it lays open now. The ink is stretching and reforming before me. Everything else is falling into shadow.

I look at what is written and terror engulfs me. I have made a terrible mistake. The words are stark and fixed, showing me exactly how badly I have misunderstood. The noise surrounds me, fills my ears, I am lost in the roaring, crunching chaos of noise.


The fire that swept through Forty-Second Street on the 27 April, killing twenty three people, was started in an opium den. Investigators say that the speed and strength of the blaze is still unexplained, but that the fire began on the second floor of the drug haven at around 10.20pm when a man known only as Curwen set light to some unidentified objects in his private room. Curwen himself survived the fire, and has been remanded to a mental institution.

Doctor Lucy Miles, who is treating Curwen, was unavailable for comment.

Article from the Sunday Times, 1 March 1987


The death of the late Governor Patham has been ruled an accident, following a three week investigation. Authorities recovered his body, and it was apparent that he had drowned at sea after being pulled out by a strong current. An election has been called for the 10 May. Abraham Marlow, successful businessman and father of two, announced he would be standing as a candidate. “This great city has helped me thrive, and it is my desire to see it thrive in turn.”

Article from the New Herald 10 March 1987



Photo credits: pangalactic gargleblaster and the heart of goldastique and cellardoor_

Man of the hour

This story was written for the terribleminds flash-fiction challenge. The aim was to smash two sub-genres together and somehow come up with a story out of the messy remains. My genres (randomly generated) were: Sci-Fi Humor/Satire and Superhero. (Many thanks to Burning-liquid for the image of the planet.)

Man of the Hour

His cape glittered in the light thrown off by the fire. To the screams of the crowd, the Golden Hawk smashed through a window of the burning school. A gout of flame exploded out behind him. Someone in the crowd fainted, whilst others quickly made bets on how many of the children the Hawk would rescue. The worst odds were on none, but those who bet the Hawk would manage to save all twenty were also playing a risky game.Ambulance sirens wailed and throbbed. Mrs Jones, wrapped in a dressing gown and wearing fuzzy cat slippers, launched into a long monologue about each of the children trapped inside — focused mainly on their predisposition to take her bin and move it halfway down the street on bin day.

Then, to gasps of wonder, the Golden Hawk reappeared. Children clung to his arms, his legs, his torso, like scorpion babies clutching their mother. His cape fluttered over them.

Bookies groaned as they counted the number of children, but started to pay out. Winners grinned and praised the Hawk. Paramedics rushed to get oxygen masks on the children. The Golden Hawk saluted as the photographers rushed to get their shot, then gently lifted the last child, kissed it on the top of its head and passed it to a reporter. Before anyone could ask any questions, the Hawk leapt into the air and zig-zagged away.

“I’m telling you,” Chambers said. “The reporters don’t give a damn how that fire took hold. All they are talking about is the same old, same old. Who is the Hawk? Where does he come from? Where does he go? What if he turns into a super-villain? They don’t care about the financial situation of the school, and how come it ended up with exposed wires and plywood so old it was turning into dust.”

The Prime Minister opened a bottle of incredibly expensive water and sniffed it dubiously. “I do wish we would hurry up and arrive at this Alpha Centuri 95-whatever it is.”

“Another twenty five years yet,” Chambers said. “And in the meantime, the deficit must be kept down. You know that, with all due respect.”

“Of course, of course,” sighed the Prime Minister. He carefully poured the bottled water into the cat bowl on his desk. Jessie, his Russian Blue, jumped onto the table and started to lap the water. “The bloody deficit. I just don’t understand why we had to sell off the whole of England to make a repayment on it.”

“We owed twenty-five trillion pounds to the Chinese,” Chambers said. “And they cashed their IOU.”

“Yes, but I thought one of those, you know, African countries owed us a pretty penny or too.”

“The previous government,” Chambers said. He poured himself a glass of port. “You know that too, sir, with all due respect.”

The Prime Minister brushed down his suit. “The Hawk won’t satisfy them forever,” he said. “We need to get something else in there. The Sentinel has been asking difficult questions again.”

“You didn’t answer them, did you?” Chambers said, horrified.

“Of course not,” the Prime Minister said. He scratched Jessie on the head, and watched her eyes crinkle up. “But all those children died when they reached the hospital. Some mix-up with the paperwork or something. They ended up going in for a heart bypass, and then half of them caught some kind of super-bug and the other half starved to death. We need more nurses, Chambers!”

“Well, if you’d bloody privatised it when I told you to, it wouldn’t be our problem, would it?”

“They public wouldn’t go for it,” the Prime Minister stood up and paced uneasily. “Look, Chambers, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking…”

“Bad for your health, sir,” Chambers said with a frown.

“Well, here’s the thing. If we sold off England to pay our debt to the Chinese, how come the Chinese still had to head off to Xerion Han 45-whatever it was?”

“Oh,” Chambers said. “Because the Chinese owed three hundred trillion to the Japanese.”

“But the Japanese are on their way to—”

“Delta Five, yes, I know. You have to understand, sir, that the debt situation on Earth had become very complex.”

“All I want to know is…”


“Who exactly is left on Earth?”

Ricardo Brandon threw his champagne glass at the wall.

“No, no, no!” he said. “I want England to be a hedge maze, get it right! The biggest hedge maze in the world! And I want lions in it, real lions mind you. Not ones made out of bushes.” He glowered at the map in front of him. “America… you might as well leave Las Vegas alone. Good memories. But get rid of the other cities. Actually, build me a palace in New York. We can go there on the weekends.”

The butler bowed and hurried out to make sure the servants were aware. With a staff of five hundred, it was difficult to co-ordinate people across the whole of Bandon’s vast estate, but the butler couldn’t help feeling pleased. Thanks to his position, he’d been able to stay on Earth when almost ten billion people had been evicted.

Brandon sat down in his leather chair and stared gloomily out of the window. He’d won. He was the richest man in the world. In fact he was one of the only men in the world.

Then he brightened up. He had an outpost in Alpha Centuri 957, and had set up a Real Estate company there. He phoned them now.”

“Hey Brian, how’s it going? Just wanted to check up on the profits.”

“Great news sir,” Brian replied. “Profits are up 12%!”

An erotic elven fairy-tale

Another flashfiction – this one for GAME OF ASPECTS, REDUX, at Terribleminds. I got “erotic fairy-tale, high-school prom with elves”. Hmm. I dispensed with the high-school prom and still came in over the word-count, at 1800 instead of 1500.

Warning: this is an erotic fairy-tale, so it contains some sex. Otherwise, suitable for all.

Oh my dear. That little spark in your eye, your chin held high. You love him! You say it as though it made you special, as though I, old as I am, had never known what it was to love.

Oh, flounce all you like, my dear! There is no telling the young. I can see you love him, there’s no need to shout about it. Though as to whether he loves you, well, that’s a little more tricky to know.

You look just like your mother when you pout like that. Come now, here’s a towel, rub yourself down. You’ll catch your death, and then where will your sweetheart be? You know he loves you? Is that why he left you out in the rain half the night? No, no, I’m sure you’re right. He sounds a foolish sort of boy, but that’s exactly the sort I expected you to go for.

Continue reading An erotic elven fairy-tale