Saturday, 4 March 2017

An Octopus and Some Cautionary Tales: Flash Fictions 1-4

At the end of February, I decided that March would be the month I attempted to complete another goal from The List:
026. Write 1 flash fiction per day for a month
For this, I'm considering 'flash fiction' to be any story 100-1000 words wrong, and I'm giving myself a writing time of 1 hour. I'm working from a list of single-word prompts.

Since I don't want to bombard this blog with story posts any more than I want to bombard it with photography posts (oops), I'll be posting them a few at a time.

Today, I'm sharing the first four stories:
Pips and Stones: A story about food and waste, and not believing everything you read.
A Fresh Start: A cautionary tale about adapting to one's surroundings.
Pride Comes Before...: A short story about an angry, loud man
The Octopus Goes North: A sequel to Yam and the Octopus from Folk Tales of the Sea People

These stories are not all pleasant. Future stories may not be pleasant either. People come to sticky ends, people are not nice. And the Octopus? The Octopus Remembers...

Pips and Stones
Date: 1st March 2017
Prompt: Stomach

When it came to food, Diana hated waste. Especially when it came to the pips and stones usually ejected from fruit. It seemed absurd to buy a bag of cherries only to throw out a third of each one.

Therefore she ate them instead.

Same went for the pips in oranges; apples she ate core and all.

It wasn't hard to eat them and it wasn't even unhealthy. She stopped buying peaches after a horror story in the newspaper about cyanide in the stones, but if offered one she certainly would have chanced it, not wanting to waste food.

Pips were easy enough to swallow, anyway. It was the stones that were harder. Diana liked to smash them up and grill them, sometimes with a sprinkling of paprika or Himalayan salt.

People told her that eating the pips and stones wasn't any good for the digestion, but Diana ignored them. They weren't Experts.

Then again, Experts now said that avocado stones were bad for you.
Diana ignored that, too--last week, another panel of Experts had stated there were multiple health benefits from eating avocado stones.

The stones certainly weren't easy to eat; it was virtually impossible to swallow one whole (Diana tried, and nearly choked herself, but got it down with a glass of water and was certain she felt perkier the next day).
Her favourite use for avocado stones was to grate them over food--a salad, cheese on toast, or even better, the avocado itself (the skin? Of course she ate the skin, stuffed with pulses and chopped vegetables and roasted in the oven like a potato).

No amount of official advice or articles printed off the internet could dissuade her. Experts in her most trusted of magazines had said it was okay, therefore it was okay.

And if her stomach was a little bit bloated lately, and her skin looking slightly wrinkled and a tad darker than usual, well, she probably needed to cut back on the wheat and stop going out in the sun so much.

Diana carried on eating avocado stones, turning plumper and darker as the months went by. She took the stones to work with her, and nibbled on them in the back room during her lunch break. Her stomach was so bloated that people joked she might be pregnant.

Then one day, she stopped showing up to work.

Four days passed with no sign of her, and when her colleagues went to her house, there was no answer but that of a strange thumping.

The police were called, and when they broke down the door to look for clues, they found her on the kitchen floor, still in her dressing gown.

Diana's skin was wrinkled and dark, with a weird greenish hue that would later be put down to the first stages of decomposition. Despite the wrinkles, Diana was huge. Her bulging stomach had forced its way through her nightclothes and stood proud of her robe.

"She looks like an avocado," one of the policemen muttered, astonished by the sight before him.

As he spoke, Diana's body convulsed against the wooden floor--her colleagues recognised the thumping sound they'd heard outside.

Then her stomach exploded into a mass of green pulp and foliage.

The young avocado tree unfurled itself into the kitchen, its pointed leaves trembling in the fresh air. Nine months had it been incubating in its moist, dark cavern, nine months growing, fed by the flesh of its siblings. Many had passed through Diana's body, but this tree had grown from that very first stone, swallowed whole with water and determination.

The avocado tree was surgically removed and thrown away, and the coroner recorded Diana's passing as 'Death by misadventure'.

A year after Diana's burial, a fresh green shoot sprang up from her grave...

A Fresh Start
Date: 2nd March 2017
Prompt: Couch

The couch came from a quaint second-hand store that Deborah and Mark found when exploring the village. It was actually new. Made to order by a bespoke furniture retailer in London, the proprietor had said. The original customer had taken a dislike to the couch the moment it was delivered and had sent it to the store.
Mark was pleased to have found it. Buying the house on the new estate in the north-east part of the village had taken a hefty chunk out of their bank balance, but neither he nor Deborah were willing to put up with their old sofa. It was two years old, and didn't match their decorating plans.
Deborah was obsessed with the trendy Scandinavian Hygge thing, and spent hours trawling the catalogues of Copenhagen's finest to find the perfect items for their home. Happy to let her take charge of the redecorating, Mark lounged on the couch and watched as his wife painted various test swatches onto the wall.
"Which one, Mark?"
"I like the second one."
Deborah smiled in that winning way she always did when he'd given the right answer. "I like it too. How are the cushions?"
The purchase of the couch had warranted the purchase of new cushions. These were plump and soft-knit, and reminded Mark of his favourite cashmere jumper.
"Really comfortable." He smiled. "The living room will be amazing, darling. Pity it looks out on that awful field."
Deborah went to the living room window, which was open to get rid of the smell of paint fumes. "I know. I may want a sheepskin rug but I don't want to look at sheep."
"We'll have blinds made," Mark promised.
"The sooner the better. I feel we were mis-sold this place. During our viewing, there was nothing in that field other than green grass. Now it's all mud and livestock."
"And stink..." Mark wrinkled his nose and shut the window. The muck-spreading had begun two days ago, and he didn't know how the locals could handle it. The smell spread across the entire village, yet these country bumpkins went about as if it was nothing!
"Still, we're the envy of our friends for getting our country pad," Deborah smiled. Her friends had been green with jealousy. Mark's friends were desperate to check out the golf course just outside the village, but the couple were adamant that nobody could visit until they'd decorated. They wanted to put their own Harper Family stamp on the place.
They wanted to stamp on the whole village, really. Deborah had signed up to yoga classes and joined the local knit 'n' natter group (and had already suggested multiple improvements for both). Mark was working his way onto the committee for the village fair, and intended to land himself a position on the parish council, too. The village was their fresh start. The village itself needed a fresh start too, and they were just the people to make it happen.
"Once I'm on the council, I'll stop that smell," Mark said as he went to the open-plan kitchen. He opened the wine cooler. "Sauvignon or prosecco with dinner?"
"Sauvignon. We'll save that prosecco for the yoga girls' party. They wouldn't recognise the taste from champagne anyway," Deborah sniffed and settled herself artfully on the couch, awaiting her wine. The couch felt a little lumpy, she noticed. If it didn't improve, they would have to get rid of it. "We'll host a wine-tasting event once the house is ready," she decided, rearranging the cushions behind herself. "Teach these locals a thing or too."
"We'll civilise them yet," Mark handed her a glass. "We'll get that local vineyard involved. They'll appreciate the publicity."
"With our help the village will become a wonderful place. The locals are the only thing letting it down. They're so stand-offish. If not for the ladies from the city at my clubs, I wouldn't have anyone to talk to!"
"The locals are too--" Mark was drowned out by the grinding, roaring sound of an engine. He glared outside at the passing tractor. "Bloody tractors. There'll be no more of them! Or those sodding church bells that wake us each morning."
Deborah didn't reply.
Mark turned to find that she was gone, wineglass and all. There was a damp patch on the seat of the couch, and he rolled his eyes.
"Did you spill wine on the new couch, Deborah?!" he called out, prepared to get mad. Deborah was too careless.
There was no answer, so with a huff Mark sought out some upholstery cleaner. Deborah certainly appreciated the finer things in life, but if she wasn't more careful, Mark would have to clean her up along with the horrendous locals and all those outdated farm practises.
She still hadn't returned by the time Mark had finished cleaning. Assuming she'd spilt wine on herself and gone to change (in which case she'd be gone a good hour) Mark settled on the couch and sipped his drink
The couch felt bumpy, he thought. It creaked rather a lot, too.
Well, if it turned out no good, they could send it to the tip. Nobody would want a lumpy, creaky couch, no matter how pleasant it looked. Besides, Deborah had spilled wine on it.
Mark leaned forward to set his wine on the designer coffee table, unaware of how the couch cushions were slowly parting behind him.
A groan erupted from the couch, loud enough to make Mark turn around, enough to draw his attention to the gaping, toothy mouth that had formed between the cushions.
Mark jumped to his feet in terror, only to trip over the coffee table.
As the couch bore down on him, his screams for help were drowned out by the noise of the tractor on its return journey.
The church bells rang seven o' clock, resounding merrily through the fresh evening air.

Pride Comes Before...
Date: 3rd March 2017
Prompt: Thunder

He had a voice like thunder, loud and booming for all to hear within a good hundred paces.
And he used it to his advantage as much as possible.
He was a bully, he bent people to his will using his domineering, booming voice.
He was angry, words rising above all others as he cried out his opinion as though it was the only one that counted, the only one that was right.
He was egocentric, demanding everyone's attention down at the local as he told tales of his latest escapades, and bought another round for his buddies.

One day, a storm came.
He went to the pub anyway, ready to regale his 'boys' with the tale of how he had belittled some weakling nobody in the supermarket, and how he had embarrassed the trainee mechanic at the garage when he took his Jaguar in for a service.
As usual, his voice boomed through the building, reaching the ears of everyone, whether they wanted to hear him or not.
Thunder growled overhead, and he raised his voice louder.
"Silly old boot, she could barely lift that bag. I told her that maybe the dog should own her, not the other way around! Why anyone would have a dog when they can't even carry its food, I don't know!"
Around him, the men laughed and muttered agreement.
He grinned smugly, swollen with pride, and continued his story. "Anyway, I went back to the garage to collect the jag..."
Thunder boomed, muting his next words, and lightning flashed, turning his scowl into a glare better suited to a demon.
"As I was saying--!" he cried out. "That irresponsible little pleb hadn't even dried the wheels by the time I'd returned. And I said to him--"
The thunder crashed--closer, louder than ever, followed immediately by a crack of lightning that took out the power.
Furious at the interruption, he stomped out onto the pub's patio, four straight whiskies down, full of self-importance and ignorant to the pouring rain.
"I'm talking!" he screamed at the sky.
The thunder rumbled again, and the lightning flashed, forks of electricity snapping like angry tongues.
Climbing up onto one of the sodden picnic benches and grabbing hold of a patio heater to keep his balance, he yelled louder.
"Shut up! It's my time now!"
The next roll of thunder was so loud it was ear splitting, and the lightning strike was so powerful it sent the picnic bench through the pub's front window.
Everything on the patio was obliterated.
As his 'boys' rushed out to witness the fall of his blackened form, the thunder rumbled, distant yet foreboding, furious yet somehow satisfied.

The Octopus Goes North
Date: 4th March 2017
Prompt: Octopus

"There are many things to be seen beyond this barren landscape."
That was what the silly little fish had said, when he so rudely awoke Myrddin from his slumber. The octopus had spent centuries in his beautiful dark cave, only to be awoken so abruptly that he caused his cave to collapse as he stirred.
Of course, Myrddin had been angered by the little fish - Yam, the others had called him - and had spent some time making the lives of Yam and his village miserable.
But the village in the middle of the sea was too bright, even with Myrddin's black ink blotting out the light, and the people were too noisy, so when Yam put it to Myrddin that he'd be better off going to a deep, dark sea in the far north, the octopus did not need too much convincing.
And so off he went, leaving the nosy boy and the noisy villagers to go about their lives.

The journey to the northernmost sea was a long one, even for a creature as fast as Myrddin. But the further north he went, the cooler the waters became. Unlike the middle of the sea, which had always been a little too warm (except in his demolished cave), the seas here were pleasant and comfortable.
Myrddin began to swim more slowly, and look about himself as he travelled.
Yam had told him there were things to be seen. Myrddin had thought the boy was being precociously rude, and was glad that the annoying little fish wasn't there with him, as it would have necessitated the admission that Yam was right.
The landscape was flourishing with life here, with colourful seaweeds and red rocks and tiny, delicious-looking fish that scurried out of his way when he passed by.

As he swam on, taking his time, looking at the world about him, Myrddin began to remember his life before he went to slumber.
It was when the different peoples of the sea still fought amongst themselves over the most insignificant differences. Octopi were numerous then, and the most united species amongst all others. Like the merfolk and selkies and sirenfolk, the octopi had people of different races, yet race was irrelevant amongst the octopi. Peace and quiet was most important to them. Unfortunately, octopi were easily angered, and soon their anger was directed at the conflicting tribes of 'little fish', who made too much noise with their wars.
The little fish put aside their differences, and united in a war against the octopi...
Myrddin remembered that now.
He remembered how beautiful the sea had been on the day the army of merfolk hunted down his family.
He remembered why he had chosen to sleep in the deepest, darkest cave he could find.
He remembered why he hated those little fish so.

Myrddin realised the time of the octopi had ended long ago. It was the time of the little fish now. The time for vengeance was past, gone as he slumbered. Now was a time for peace, for reflection.

Myrddin felt very, very tired.

He swam on, until the seas were icy and sparsely populated. He swam further still, until the waters became deeper, darker, ventured into by nobody.
None but Myrddin himself.

Settling deep in the sea, where no light could reach him, Myrddin relaxed his tentacles and drifted off into a dreams of a time and place where octopi were many, the landscape beautiful, and everything was so peaceful and quiet.

Yet any little fish that might interrupt his slumber would certainly come to regret it.

That's it for the first four prompts! I'm hoping to have time to add little illustrations for future posts, though they'll likely be doodles rather than full-blown artworks. Hope someone found these enjoyable...I'll try to make some future stories happier!

1 comment:

  1. These are wonderful! Particularly 'Pips and Stones' and 'The Octopus Goes North' (love that it's a sequel!). It would be great to see some illustrations for them, but you described the scenes vividly enough that they're just as good even if you don't end up adding any.

    Going to read the second lot now!