Flash Fiction Friday: The Dream of Flight

 

pexels-photo-919606

The young man danced atop the rusted, wingless husk to a song of his own making accompanied only by the beatings of his heart.

His feet clanged and clattered against the metal, the roof and frame creaking our a warning beneath his weight. But he was high above and far away lost in dreams and memories and did not listen.

He had come here many times as a boy in the days of grass and wings. Before scavengers had wrenched and torn everything of use or value from the metal carcass.

Before the Blight had descended from the cloud-choked skies and taken everything from the fields but dirt and rock.

There had been stories then–tall tales of man-made birds that soared through clear skies and of gleaming cities forged from tall cut-glass–given truth by the old men and women who claimed to have seen such things with their own eyes.

And by the wreck and ruin of the aeroplane.

***

The dance ended slowly until only stillness and sadness remained. And the cold, bitting wind as it howled across the plain.

This was not a place for song or music or memory.

The boy had dreamed of wings once, of taking flight in that old, rusted metal bird and soaring far, far away.  The man dreamt only of a fully belly and a fire hot enough to warm him down to the bone.

He had been far beyond the horizon to places where the sea met the shore and where a thousand shards of glass and steel scrapped the sky in vain. Their jagged, shattered edges as empty as his childish dreams of flight.

He knew the truth at last. Wings would never save him.

There was nowhere else to fly.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Flash Fiction: On the Evening of the Comet

pexels-photo-753994

It was nearly sunset when the comet streaked overhead, trailing ice and rock. My feet were sore after a day of hiking and eager to return home, but still I stopped and stared and wondered.

At first I thought it was a plane, but the more I watched the more certain I became. There was nothing earthly about that sight. Nothing human.

Its official name was X/-271 R9, although I did not learn that until much later, but for me it was always the comet. What use are names in the face of awe? Where is the wonder in a series of numbers and letters, dashes and dots?

I had a camera in my hand that night, a proper one with a 50mm lens. I was old fashioned that way like my mother.

She had been a photographer of some small renown in her youth and our house had always smelt of chemicals.

She would have loved to see the comet–that gorgeous flash of white across a sky of  blues and pinks and purples–and would have treasured my photograph for the rest of her days.

I was too slow, however. Too busy staring. And as the comet blazed its icy way across the heavens, my camera waited in vain, resting limp and unthought of in my hand.

The thought didn’t even occur to me until I lay down in bed that night. Opportunities lost.

I never told her. She would only have been disappointed. But I still have my memories and my wonder.

And my regret.

 

Flash Fiction Friday: Mrs. Inglethorpe’s Birds

 

Art Gallery Antique Frame Concept

The birds were all neatly arranged, catalogued, and positioned not according to species, size, or beak but in a system all of her own. Mrs. Inglethorpe was a very exacting woman with a very precise set of standards, ones she was reluctant to share but expected everyone to understand intuitively. The birds were not the only example, of course, but they were the ones I knew most intimately.

When I first met her, she already possessed the third largest collection of bird drawings and watercolors in North America. By my seventh year in her employ, her collection had more than tripled and had long left the Audubon Society in the dust. An achievement that caused Mrs. Inglethorpe no small amount of glee. She had even been known to giggle at the thought. although in later years her laughter would invariably fade into a chorus of ruinous, hacking coughs.

There was nothing, it must be said, about either my inclinations or my background that recommended me as a curator of avian paraphernalia. I had trained as a lawyer and initially became acquainted with Mrs. Inglethorpe through her husband’s foundation for dispossessed children.

One day I made the mistake of commenting on one of the watercolors in her office. This simple comment resulted in a long, confusing chain of events which left me in charge of procuring ever rarer and exotic bird prints, drawings, and paintings.

There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to her selections. Neither species, nor artist, nor quality was a reliable indicator of choice. I was simply expected to guess. And, in truth, I guessed wrong more often than not.

I was paid well for the privilege, of course. Certainly far more than Mrs. Inglethorpe’s daughter considered appropriate. She accused me more than once of taking advantage of an addled old woman.

I almost wished she was right. It would have made more sense than truth. Whatever the truth was. I remain as much in the dark as anyone. Especially since Inglethorpe’s death.

She left me the birds, you see, and not a penny more.

Her final joke.

Flash Fiction Friday: The Theater in the Woods (Part the First)

tumblr_oagkb0eogv1sfie3io1_1280

When I was young, they set up a theater in the woods outside my house. I don’t know who they were or where they came from. Friends of my father, perhaps. He was always bringing home strayspoets, artists, milliners, cabinetmakers, bee keepers, and on one memorable occasion a pair of aeronauts.

My mother was often less than pleased. She had believed, not unreasonably, that she was marrying into a life of wealth and leisure. No one had mentioned anything about the parade of strange characters who would claim so much of her husband’s attention.

For my part, I gave little thought to the oddities. They had been a part of my life since birth and, in truth, some had been far more interesting than others. The milliner for instance had been a fussy little man with well-oiled hair and oozing manners, who possessed only one topic of conversation—hats. I once spent a stifling hour in his company learning far more than I had ever wanted or needed to know about the difference between a bowler and a homburg hat, and the relative uses of ostrich feathers.

The actors were different, though. They arrived slowly in twos and threes, trickling in from across the globe with tall tales and engaging, watchful smiles.

They took to me, or perhaps I took to them. I would listen to their stories for hours, and watch as they bantered and rehearsed their lines, but they never told me their names, and something dark and unknowable lurked beneath their teasing and laughter. It still gives me chills.

My father had written a play for them. A tragedy in nine parts. But no one wanted to produce it. It was the great failure of his life. He spent many years trudging from theater company to theater company, offering increasingly exorbitant amounts of money, but one by one they turned him down.

Too long. Too strange. Too dark. 

My father should have listened.

He should never have built the theater in the wood.

Flash Fiction Friday: The Stargazer

life-of-pix-free-stock-sky-stars-man-stefanstefancik

He had always loved the stars, ever since he was a little boy. When he was four years old, his father had bought him a telescope kit and brought him out to a field.

They were miles away from home, far from any road, only he and his father. And the stars.

There were hundreds of them. Thousands. More than the eye could see or the mind imagine.  But his father knew all their names, those that had names at least. Cassiopeia, Scorpius, Andromeda, Taurus. Each with a myth and story to call their own.

But his favorites were the ones without names. The ones whose stories had never been told. So he would name them. Silly names at first, names to make his father laugh. But over time they turned more serious. He named one after his first crush and made a story for her star. He thought about telling her once, but was too afraid. She would have laughed anyway.

His first wife didn’t laugh, when he pointed to her star. It had take forty minutes to drive from the city, and she had to use the restroom badly, but she hadn’t laughed. Later when she left him screaming and heartbroken, he had considered renaming her star, but that would have been a lie. Not all stories had happy endings and not all stars were kind.

He didn’t give his second wife a name until they had been married almost ten years, although he gave their son one on his first birthday. He felt guilty about that, but he had learned his lesson. Names were as precious as stars.

So when his son was four years old and his wife was thirty-eight, he took his old telescope set down from the attic where it had been collecting dust, drove them to a distant, secluded spot, and showed them their stars.

They were beautiful.

 

Flash Fiction Friday: Full Fathom Grave

underwater-divers-helmet-diver-historically-54306.jpeg

They lowered him to the ocean floor slowly and with great deliberation. The rope twisted and swayed in the cold and the current, but held firm.

Down, down, down the man fell, encased in iron and brass. He couldn’t hear anything but the silence raging in his ears, or see anything but the fog of his own breath on the glass. His helmet was heavy and confining like a prison, and his diving suit kept his limbs locked in position. He wasn’t truly a man anymore so much as the flesh component in a heart of metal.  A blind and deaf witness to the miracles of the deep,

It took nearly an hour to each the bottom, or as close as geography and rope would allow. In this part of the sea, the ocean floor was not a plain or a field but a series of slopes and ridges, like the foothills at the base of a mountain range, but these peaks delved deep in to the watery depths rather than upward towards the sky. More than once, the man thought he had reached bottom, only to stumble forward and tumble further into the abyss.

The fish abandoned him first, followed by the light. Darkness rose to meet him swallowing him whole in his stiff, soundless blindness. And that was when the ocean spoke to him. There were no words, no sensations, but he understood the message clearly. He felt it in the the creaking and cracking of his diving suit and in the chill that burrowed deep into his bones.

You do not belong here. Take your metal and your horded breaths and leave. 

The man wanted to obey, but it was out of his hands. The men on the surface would lower him until there was no more rope and only then would they haul him out from what might prove his watery grave.

A thousand fathoms down.

 

Flash Fiction Friday: The Hospital of the Dolls

deca1898823a19b9680bcc57cdc95ea5No one ever went into the doll’s hospital. It had been there for years, perched grotesquely on Main Street between the post office and the ice cream shop.

Children hurried past, casting grim, curious glances at the dismembered doll heads and little bodies, the same morbid collection as ever. One of them even seemed to wave at passersby as they hurried along.

Once when Jefferson Hinchcliffe-Jones was seven years old and eager to prove his bravery, he waved back at the doll, creaking back and forth on its string. It was the scariest moment of his life. All the dolls stared back at him.

The owner of the hospital was a delightful little man. Mr. Whitaker was a favorite at the local bar and was always full of laughter and stories, always willing to help his neighbor.

“Shame about the shop,” his friends would murmur to each other in secret. “He’s such a nice man otherwise.”

No one doubted Whitaker’s dedication or his craftsmanship. The few pieces he was known to have repaired, mostly antiques, were restored, even transformed under his touch. As good as new or better. But neither could it be denied that there was something creepy about them afterwards.

Dolls that went into Whitaker’s hospital seldom returned, and if they did, then they were never the same again. Well-known companions became strangers, watching from behind familiar, glass eyes. They could never quite put their finger on what had changed, and no one dared ask Whitaker.

And so, slowly, year by year, people stopped bringing their dolls to the hospital. But the storefront never changed; the door was always open; Whitaker was always waiting.

And the dolls were always watching.

Flash Fiction Friday: Dreams of Snow

tumblr_ojhlsf1wqk1sfie3io1_1280

They slept in two tents side by side, the scientist and her wife. It had started as a joke back at base camp. Like those poor married couples in old  Hollywood films doomed to spend their onscreen marriages in separate beds. But the joke had taken on a life of its own.

The ground was covered in frost and snow, and a cold, biting wind was blowing from the north. The tents flapped and shuddered and more than once they seemed to be lifted bodily from the ground.

The scientist lay in her sleeping bag, listening to the groans and creaks of the storm. This will pass. She told herself. One day all this will be just a memory. 

One day your wife will forgive you.

It was a prayer as much as a hope, although the scientist believed in no god but the snow.

She hadn’t wanted her wife to come to the Arctic. There had been a litany of reasons and arguments, but her wife hadn’t listened. She never did.

“This is our chance to be together!” she had said. “You’re always running all over the place, and even when you’re home you’re still dreaming of snow.”

The scientist had sighed unable to think of an answer. She was right. Over their two years of marriage, the scientist had spent all but four months in the Arctic.

“It’s too dangerous,” she tried half-heartedly.

“I’ve climbed Everest,” her wife replied.

“Yes,” the scientist agreed. “I suppose you did.”

But she still wasn’t happy.

The Arctic was hers. The solitude. The snow. The dreams.

“I just want to be alone!” she said finally.

Her wife came anyway, but she slept in another tent.

Flash Fiction Friday: An Apocalypse of Alpacas

m4zn0da

The Alpacalypse? Llamageddon?

Where were you when the apocalypse came? When the alpacas descended in their thousands and lay claim to our cities, our homes, and our fields? Do you even remember the time before?

My brother is too young. George was only three when our alpacan overlords arrived. He has known no other world but the mist and the Alpacaracy–one llama one vote. But I remember.

I was nineteen and cycling through Belgium, the last summer before real life was supposed to start. Jobs and rent and mortgages. A thousand and one worries. Two thousand and one dreams. All gone in an instant.

We were just outside the town of Lambert Saint-Martin, peddling up the winding hills when the fog rolled in, thicker than I’d ever seen. We could barely see the path in front of us, let alone the curves in the road or the sheer drop waiting for us.

Jake and I wanted to stop, to find a safe nook or cranny, snug against the mountain where our footing was secure, and wait out the fog. But Molly was having the time of her life, laughing and yodeling at the top of her lungs. We had no choice but to follow her into the mist.

It was a long, slow, nerve-wracking ride and I was certain that at any moment I would ride my bicycle over the edge and plummet to my death. To this day, I’m not sure how we survived. Perhaps Molly’s pure, unalloyed joy was enough to hold back the grave.

After what felt like hours, but was probably twenty minutes at most, we reached Lambert Saint-Martin, an isolated outcropping of houses clinging to the mountainside and drenched in mist and fog. There was not a soul in sight.

Apart from the alpacas.

They were everywhere. Lying insolently on the road and along the edge of the cliff and staring. Their eyes were terrible to behold. They seemed to look right through you, as if humans were barely worth their notice.

It wasn’t until that night, huddled around a tv set and the local pup, that we learned the alpacas were all over the world–in every city, town and road–as if they had multiplied over night.

Even listening to the Belgian newscaster’s breathless report, none of us took them seriously. They were alpacas for christ’s sake. The world was supposed to end in nuclear war, or global warming, or asteroid impacts. Or aliens. No one expected the Invasion of Alpacas.

Then the killing began.

Flash Fiction Friday: The Telephone and It’s Dog

tumblr_oea9xyvulo1sfie3io1_1280

“Operator,” the dog barked. “I would like to make a long distance phone call.”

He was becoming quite indignant. The stupid human on the other end was being surprisingly unhelpful. Clearly, he had never been properly trained. Man might be a dog’s best friend, but he was a stupid animal, barely able to function without canine supervision.

“Operator!” he barked again, enunciating carefully.

“Is this a joke?” the man asked.

“No!” the dog replied, his ear twitching angrily. “This is not a joke!”

But the human still didn’t seem to understand. “Hello…?” he asked tentatively. “Is anyone there?”

“I am, you bipedal moron!” the dog snarled.

“Look, if you’re not going to make a call,” the man said. “Then get off the line!” He sounded cross himself, although human emotions were difficult.

“I would make a call,” the dog barked, “if you let me!”

The operator hung up.

The dog erupted in a series of highly agitated barks and snarls, some of which are untranslatable, none of which were remotely polite.

“Humans!” the dog barked finally. “The idiots never listen!”