Fugitive in a Cave

channelled from my chaos muse Ino. Once again we both had a go at flash fiction, and I decided to keep hers!

I always used to sleep in a cave hewn out of the cliffs when I came to the seaside town. No hotels for me- I live on the road, on the street in fact, and I’ve been called a beggar. But I don’t beg; I take temporary jobs in the places where I happen to be. If you ask for one of the jobs that no-one else wants, you can always find employment. Then if you sleep in the open air, or on rainy days inside a cave, you don’t waste money paying for a bed for the night.

Being a footloose rover has its advantages. Any trouble and you need never go back to that place. There was trouble one time under the cliffs, when I found a horde of gold bullion stashed at the back of a smuggler’s cave. The smuggler wasn’t convinced that I would keep quiet, so I tricked him into looking the other way and taking his eye off his gun, and then I ran into the sea and swam beneath the surface until I was far enough away.

He was right, I didn’t keep quiet. But nothing could be found later, when searching with a band of heavily armed volunteers. So I’m still on the road, but I don’t really regret it.

There was a red stripy bear in the cave as well, which I didn’t point out to the smuggler. I bet you don’t believe me about that- you think it’s a tall tale. But the human bones in the cave were probably the smuggler’s. I wasn’t counting those when I said that nothing could be found.

 

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Relaunched

The folk songs of my youth are always played in a bluesy style now. Maybe this is not an auspicious time for my last-ditch attempt to make it as a singing star, but when I met the sugar daddy I just had to give it a try.

Now I’m up here on the vertigo heights of this stage, leaning over the microphone as I cajole the audience to look beyond the mundane consciousness of every day to something wilder, which refreshes like a spring of mineral water.

Belting out the song I am not; my natural voice is soft, and the rhythm section says it better than I can with even the most basic beat. Just close your eyes and any rhythm is a path to an altered state. Under the stage lights the shadows of amplifiers lengthen unexpectedly and gyrate to the music. Dissolution follows, at least for the concert hall, yet here we all stand at the end, so our shadow play cannot be over.

He doesn’t care whether I’m here to sign autographs or to lift hearts; it’s just a gig to him, and who am I to pretend to have met a sugar daddy? It’s really the Devil.

 

 

 

 

Margaret

I am Doctor Faust’s girlfriend Margaret, famous among the university scholars. You there! You think it was the string of pearls he gave me that persuaded me to be his love, leading to a tragedy which almost outshone the Greek ones he was giving his lectures about.

And you over there- you think it was his handsome face, and not the pearls at all.
Really, it was that someone knew the spell to make pearls become tears, and she tried to tell it to me, but I turned away and put my hands over my ears. As if that would stop a fairy of that sort- nothing would, but I still had to try.

pearlThose fairies very nearly tied me up. They threw me down, and there I was lying stretched out on my back, on the flattened grass all wet with dew. I managed to escape their ropes. I shan’t escape them all, though: in this version, they hang me.

Toothpaste Tube

 

We set ourselves this title. My story:

When you buy the miniature toothpaste, it means the holiday has started. Time to pack; time to make an effort for the family.

Nothing looks as lonely as the pier in an English seaside resort, pointing out bleakly to sea. Do you remember the days when you were supposed to sit on the front eating fish and chips out of newspapers? That was such a strange custom. Now it’s all multiplexes with sports and entertainment going on in different rooms. We should really go abroad; we could afford to, but some of us in this family never seem to get around to obtaining a passport.

We got off the train on a Saturday afternoon: Brighton again, and as we wheeled the suitcases along the platform the children shouted, pointing out places in the distance that they recognized from last year. We did manage to find something old-fashioned, donkey rides along the beach, and we’re hoping it will be here again this year. A photo of a child on a donkey looks like it could have been taken any time during the last 50 years. It’s as if time had never moved on. But in another way, that makes it boring.

In the newsagents, buying sandwiches and daily papers, I glance at a brochure for mountain-climbing holidays in the Alps and I want to apply, even though I haven’t got a passport, and we would probably all fall down the mountain.

The children are screaming outside the shop. They sound happy.

 

Ino’s Story:

 

She squeezed the toothpaste tube as hard as she could. There was no toothpaste left, and only a thin dribble of minty white stained water seeped out through the end.

How is it possible to empty a toothpaste tube completely? Usually when people throw toothpaste away there is at least some residue of the paste itself at the very end of the tube, or in one of its metallic creases. But her boyfriend John had managed it somehow.
He’d completely emptied the cat food as well. Not even one granule in the bottom of the box for the cat to search for with its tongue. If he was so good at emptying packets, she thought, why couldn’t he at least replace them? Instead he always left all the shopping to her.

She returned to the bedroom, where she not only got dressed but also made the bed and tidied up the room. Then she began to write a shopping list. She went around the house and checked everything that needed replacing, and that was when she discovered that John had also emptied a tin of steel wool. Whatever did he want with a substance like that?

After making her list she went out to the garden shed. She unlocked the door and pulled the battered light cord for the battery-operated light that John had installed. It illuminated a lot of spiders in various corners and strategic spots in the shed, all of which were well within reach to jump on her very easily. Then she noticed the webs were all made of steel wool. That made them strong enough that no casual brushing with a feather duster would ever be able to break them. John was somehow in league with the spiders, and had exchanged unbreakable web material with them, but what had he exchanged it for? How had he managed to communicate with them?

She was afraid to leave the shed to do her shopping. Now finish the story- you know you want to.

Boat

 

We both wrote a micro-story called ‘Boat.’ Ino’s is a little vicious- these egregores are definitely demons!

My story:

What dream is this? It must be the restful dream sent to the weary in which we lie back and drift in a boat on a lake. I know I’ve dreamed about this lake before and I remember something white: something to do with swans or clouds. But the details have gone in a puff: a powder puff bursting so the air is full of powder and everything obscured, the way my memory so often is now.

Maybe other memories, and dreams both pleasant and jangled, have crowded out this boat and the mental picture of my head reclining back on wood while the oars drag lazily at my arms on either side. It has become faded and yellowed, like old paper. But once again the boat draws near.

 

Ino’s story:

I am paddling this canoe and thinking all the while how my paddle is my magic wand. No one would ever suspect that is what it is.

For if I were to stop paddling I would soon be lost under the rapids, therefore everyone will think the paddle is an essential part of my sports equipment, and nothing more. I can hide the magic I am doing with it. Be careful not to offend me, otherwise I will wave my paddle over you, and then it will be a wave over you all right!

I can also slice the paddle through the water at all different angles, each of which has a meaning as I chop it here and there. A loaf of many slices with which I feed the world around me exactly what I think it deserves at any given moment. It can melt into sugar in your mouth or it can block up your throat. In every case, I’ll decide.

 

 

City Park

Children are jumping through hula hoops in the field opposite the duck pond. There’s so little green open space here; it’s all endless city streets that smell like the inside of a used tin can. That’s why the children like to come here: to feel grass under their feet, to see water and wild birds and boats.

There has been a scare about the algae, though. It may not be safe to stand near the green and white crust that spread over the pond last year, and the park was closed for a few weeks while it was cleared away. That looks like a bit of it growing again, in a corner of the pond. My throat feels tight; I hope I’m standing far enough away.

Perhaps I should phone up and report it, especially as there’s a child on her knees now, hoop abandoned on the ground and her face turning blue. I so much hope I didn’t spoil this area when I planted the algae. It was just an experiment: mixing plants from the secret witch’s herb garden into habitats of the inner city.

Roast Potatoes

roast potatoes

Channelled from my dark muse Ino. All I could think of for this flash fiction prompt was boring tales about cooking disasters. Ino wrote this:

I love crispy roast potatoes straight from the oven. Usually I put them with roast beef and greens, ladling copious amounts onto the dinner plate. One day I was just sitting down to eat my roast potatoes when a bird flew up to the window. It tapped on the window with its little beak and held up a message scroll in its claw.

I opened the window and took the message, and as I read it the bird came in and began to peck at one of my roast potatoes. “Don’t eat my dinner!” I snapped, “or you will end up as part of it!”

The bird pecked the potato again, and I noticed the message read,” whatever you do, do not harm or eat this bird.” They must have known who I was, to write that. But why send a message that is only about the messenger? You expect one line about the messenger, and that to be followed by the message itself.

I threw the message onto the table, grabbed the bird and put it in a canary cage. (It wasn’t a canary.) Then I ate the rest of my dinner. I threw a tangled knot of worms into the cage for the bird to eat and put in a pot of water. It gave a mournful twitter. I resolved to let it go the next day but did not tell it so.

Later I went to bed. During the night I heard the bird singing, and I reflected that usually only nightingales sing at night. In the morning it had turned into a large mermaid and was sitting in my bath with the cold tap running. The cage was in pieces on the floor, having split when the bird grew.

“What’s the matter with you now?” I asked irritably, turning off the tap to prevent flooding over the bathroom floor.

“You didn’t say you were letting me go,” she replied, “so I escaped.”

“I was going to open the cage this morning and put you out of the window,” I answered. “What’s the idea of the message, and being a bird in the first place?”

“You’ll have to ask the person who wrote it,” she said. “The person who has got this entire house in a box. Look- here comes their hand through the window, helping itself to potatoes from the vegetable rack. We’ll be roasting them.”

Seagull

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We both wrote a flash fiction story called ‘Seagull.’ My story:

My colleague passed round photographs, and I remembered my photo of a seagull alone in the blue sky. Then I remembered my many photos of flowers, the album I put them in, and later the folder on my computer.

But these were photographs of a wedding, and my wedding had been postponed on a rainy May afternoon and in the end, had never happened.

The bride and bridesmaids in my colleague’s pictures held bouquets of flowers framed by tufty, trailing leaves and starred with a smooth loveliness, just like the flowers in my album. The expanse of sky above the wedding party was a deep blue; they were lucky to have had a fine day. But no birds could be seen there, flying.

 

Ino’s story:

I announced that the subject of my lecture was ‘seagulls’, and everyone turned their heads away and muttered about seagull droppings landing on car windscreens.

“Why aren’t seagulls more popular?” I wondered, and an albatross flew by outside flapping its long, long wings in a slightly overlapping way, right by the window of the lecture hall.

I began by speaking about pale blue and pale green coloured eggs in nests, precarious on a windy cliff side. Mentally, my audience climbed and leaned out to see the eggs more closely, and then some stole them, and some smashed them, and only a few nurtured the young birds.

After all, who wants unpopular birds which do not hatch until the audience are back home and putting their dinner in the cooking pot? I can see them hatching, and I hear the crack.

 

 

Tombstones

We both wrote a flash fiction story called ‘Tombstones.’ Ino’s:

I brought my cine camera to make a vampire film among the tombstones. Unfortunately there was a notice up proclaiming,  ” do not disturb the graves,” and a verger with a hand-bell, looking for all the world like a town crier, also came up to me and said, “you are not allowed to film here.”

How do the great classics of gothic film ever get made? Is it essential to have the money and clout to construct an imaginary graveyard? I’m only an amateur film-maker and cannot stretch to that. Although perhaps I should try, in my back garden, and then it would be more authentic because all the real ghoulies would flock to my unconsecrated ground which was mimicking a place of burial. Then they could star in the film.

“Look, Mum, here comes a monster!”

The clergy would be perfectly happy with all these creatures from Hell coming into my back garden and then appearing at the local film club in all their glory on the silver screen. It would be better than me trespassing.

My story:

Gravestones used to be white. Now they are grey or black, and the next generation upon seeing them will think we have consigned our dearly departed either to Hell, (the black ones) or to an abode of sackcloth and ashes which must be Purgatory (the grey ones). They can’t be going to Heaven, because there is no longer a row of white tombstones, standing tall like incisors against the horizon.

I tried erecting a tombstone in pale grey, in the hope it would look more like a white one. It just ended up looking more like ashes than ever before: like the remains of a smouldering pyre that had been lit cautiously upon some consecrated mound to circumvent the fire regulations. It was like soot in the grate, rather than the blacker soot in the chimney.

But when did anyone last use an open fire? We are in the age of dehydrated central heating, shrivelling up the atmosphere faster than a blocked chimney can choke the air in a room, and leaving no residue to be seen- or incorporated into a tombstone design.

Tassel

We both wrote  a flash fiction story called ‘Tassel.’

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My story:

I caught one of the tassels in my gown on the door handle of the drawing room, and it temporarily arrested my flight from the great house. It gave me a moment longer to contemplate the finery of my surroundings as I struggled, hooked to the door, to free myself from the restraint.

Where would I go when I managed to escape- to the poor house? Would I be scrubbing a filthy floor, and afterwards be handed one scrap of bread as my evening meal?

At last I pulled myself away and resumed my journey, adjusting the comb in my hair as I ran. I wanted to keep the comb. Perhaps I could hide it in my pocket and no-one would know it was there. If they knew they would probably take it away from me, just as everything else was about to be taken, starting from now.

 

Ino’s story:

The tassel swung. It swung and swung. It had a knotted silk loop on the end, and the knot hit the wall with a thud. Then something burst, up above in the unseen world from which the tassel had originated.

Brown silk flew everywhere, and it looked like a tulle dress tucked up and worn by a model on the catwalk as it flew into clumps and frilled, gathered areas which stuck to the wall, giving an impression of horrible gothic sleeves.

More tassels appeared at centre stage: a whole row of them like a glockenspiel; tassels being hit by little hammers all along the row, xylophone tinkles as the hammers hit: thud, thud and thud again, right the way along. And the whole stage split. The wings spread out as they cracked from bottom to top, and now the ceiling fell in on our many phantoms of the opera who were seated silently in the amphitheatre, waiting for something to happen.

Well, it wasn’t long to wait after all, and someone at the back called out, “eschaton.”