Thursday, 9 March 2017

Clocks, Collectors, Change: Flash Fictions 5-9

The Account of Eve Undermountain

After the first four days of writing flash fiction, I'm continuing on with it, albeit with the occasional rush to get it written at 11pm after nearly forgetting.

This time around I have five pieces to share, perhaps a little less morbid than the first three!

House of Hands - A story about a woman with a rather unusual collection
The Account of Eve Undermountain - The tale of a land without sun
The Truth Behind the Propaganda - A reimagining of a faerie tale 
End of Time - A world of dust, about to change
Oversleeping - About people who live by the Clock...

House of Hands
Date: 5th March 2017
Prompt: Hands

Elizabeth liked hands. She had a collection of them. She used to show them off in the front windows of her cottage, which stood on the main street and could be seen by any that chanced by.
Then the parish council said it was a little too strange, and didn't suit the nature of the village, and could she please refrain from displaying them in public view in the future, please?

Elizabeth didn't understand why they had such a problem with it. The hands were...educational. They weren't even real hands, at least not in a physical sense. The bejewelled reliquaries on her living room window sill were all reproductions: the hands inside the gilded cases mere copies of the real thing. The 'mummy's hand', as she'd labelled it, was fake too: paper mache over a wire frame, made in her summerhouse one lazy august evening and half-wrapped in dyed and aged bandages from the chemist along the road.
Then there were the artworks: paintings, lino prints, sculptures, bronzes, photographs--all shapes and sizes, cluttering up the sills and ledges of her front windows.
The council sent her an official letter, asking her to take them all down.
Elizabeth displayed it in the window, as meticulously labelled and detailed as everything else.
The council chairman called around. Elizabeth poured him some tea, and took out a large fruit cake that she'd been saving for the occasion.
The chairman had nice hands, Elizabeth thought. She'd like to display them in her window.
She told him so, as she cut him a big slice of cake, with a long, shiny knife.
He didn't stay for tea and cake, in fact, he couldn't get out of there quick enough.
Elizabeth didn't receive any more letters.
Her collection of hands grew, as did the number of people who came to look, until there came a point where Elizabeth began to open up her hand-filled living room to visitors.
She served tea, and cut them big slices of cake with a long, shiny knife, and displayed their hands the newly-built shelves labelled, 'Visitors'.

Elizabeth became famous for her casts of people's hands, and the collection grew ever larger, the very best ones dressed up and displayed on the window sill. Celebrities visited to have casts made of their hands, hoping they would be placed among the best.
But Elizabeth had a special spot on the sill, reserved for one pair of hands that she decided would be her last: her own.

She was ninety-seven when she made them, and the silicone forms were so wrinkled and gnarly that once she was done painting them, they looked real.
Elizabeth labelled them: 'Elizabeth Rossetti, b 1914. Proprietor of House of Hands'.
Then she locked up her house, and left a sign on the door advising that whomever wished to take over the running of the place could collect the key from her friend the chemist. She would be travelling to broaden her horizons--but she would check that the house was being run correctly. 

Elizabeth never returned to the House of Hands, and the village never heard anything from her again. But several years later there was a story, just a tiny snippet in an obscure magazine, about an old woman with a penchant for feet...

The Account of Eve Undermountain
Date: 6th March 2017
Prompt: Sunshine

Our ancestors used to worship the sun, or so our history tutor says. They'd leave their cold, wet lands behind, and make a pilgrimage by aeroplane to a beach, where they would spend all their time stretched out on the sand.
I've never seen an aeroplane, or a beach either. I hadn't even seen the sun.
There was nobody alive who has seen the sun. 

Another weird thing about our ancestors is they used to be afraid of the dark. Evil lurked in the dark, they said.
We know better than that now.
The dark is safe.
The dark protects us.

We have 'light' of course. The streets are filled with them, evenly-spaced along the walls to light the way. Our houses are filled with light, just like in the old, old pictures that survived the Great Burn at the end of the last war our race ever had.
Some of the elders talk about that war as though they were there, but everyone knows they heard it from their elders, and those long-departed elders were the ones who saw it with their own eyes. They were the survivors, and their stories are now our history.

The story goes that the sun never harmed us, but gave life.
We had already begun to choke our planet with our thoughtless pollution, we fought over insignificant differences, we fought to be supreme over all others, inventing new methods of killing, each deadlier and more efficient than the last.
Then our fragile human race developed the Weapon, and began the War to end all wars.
Through the release of the Weapon, the sun became deadly.
The elders of our elders are the ones that managed to escape underground, into bunkers and sewers, into and catacombs and caves. Those with some authority organised those without, and those without often lost their lives as they toiled to make these underground places into new towns and cities.
The human race came to live underground, and people have to get special permission if they want to travel through one of the tunnels to another city. There are earth tremors sometimes, and the tunnels have been known to fracture and let in the sunlight. When that happens, the entire network is closed down whilst an alternative route is decided.
Our history tutor told us that the Authorities used to send prisoners through the tunnels to repair the fractures, but the prisoners disappeared and never came back--vaporised by the sun's light.

But after the last class I went to, my best friend had told me that the Gentlemen travel through the Old Tunnels all the time. We're not supposed to talk about the Gentlemen, or even know about them, but everybody knows about the Gentlemen. They're the ones that sneak between cities without permission, bringing in products that would cost many more credits if bought from an importer.
Nobody quite believes they travel through the Old Tunnels. They think it's all about bribery and craftiness.

I had questioned whether the old stories of the vaporised prisoners were true, because if I was a prisoner, and I was sent unsupervised into a network of tunnels, I would take the opportunity to run away.
Hearing about the Gentlemen made me curious. My best friend was curious too.
So we snuck out, pretending to be Gentlemen ourselves, bundled up in thick old coats with food shoved into the pockets. We had to hide from the Watchers, but it turned out easy enough to get into the Old Tunnels. The barriers had been cut - by the real Gentlemen, we guessed - so we pulled them aside and slipped into the tunnels easily.

The tunnels were dark, but we'd come prepared. Our torches showed that others had walked down these tunnels, because there were many footprints in the dirt.
We walked and walked, as the tunnel curved and rose and fell and rose again, steeply.
Then we saw a light shining through a crack in the tunnel wall, far ahead.
My friend got scared, and decided to go back.

I never went back.
I ducked around the light at first, finding it painfully bright, and with a rush of fear expected to burn up on the spot.
But I didn't, and once my eyes had got used to the brightness, I found I could climb up to the crack in the rocks, which turned out to be an opening wide enough to crawl through.

I'd never seen grass. I'd never seen melting snow either (I'd never seen snow at all) or looked down a mountainside to the fields and houses below.
But it was all there, and it was more vibrant than any history tutor had described it. The fields and houses had people around them, toiling away, unaware that I was watching them from the mountainside.
Beneath the bright blue sky, and in the gentle warmth of the harmless sunshine, I followed a little path down into the village.

And now here I am, enjoying the once-feared sun, and telling my story to you, the descendents of those we thought gone.

The Truth Behind the Propaganda
Date: 7th March 2017
Prompt: Eyes
Notes: A reimagining of the Tam Lin story

The faeries hadn't wanted to give him eyes of stone. That's what he told everyone, and besides, he could see through them quite fine.
The townspeople spoke of the faeries as 'the gentlefolk', but their stories - told in hushed voices around the night fires, with plenty of charms to keep the immortal beings away - were far from gentle.
In a way, the stories were true, but Thomas had been amongst the faeries long enough to understand the tales were full of self-serving, mortal propaganda.
He'd tried to tell them that at first, upon his return.
The didn't listen to him, too afraid of his stone eyes and his years spent among the faeries. He was tainted, they said.
Jeanette was the only one who listened, the only one who didn't avert her gaze at the sight of his pale eyes, or tremble if he spoke too loud.
But she was the reason he'd returned in the first place.

After stumbling upon him in the forest where he dwelt, Thomas had fallen instantly for Jeanette's sharp-featured face and icy blue eyes. She could almost have been a faerie herself, if not for the laboured plod of her footsteps and the fact she didn't notice the faeries about her.
Jeanette returned to the forest many times to see him, and they came to know each other secretly, intimately.
When Jeanette returned the last time, she confessed to her pregnancy.
And the Faerie Queen gave Thomas an ultimatum: he could either continue to live among the faeries, and forget about Jeanette and their unborn child. Or he could return to the town and a mortal life, and forget about the life he had led amongst the faerie folk. If he chose the latter, he would never be able to see faeries again.
Thomas had spent most of his adult life amongst the faeries, and understood the harshness of the ultimatum. Faeries and humans did not mix well, in great numbers. They accepted him into their brethren solely because he had been young, and injured, and had the gift of sight: the gift that Thomas gave up, in choosing Jeanette over the life he had known.

A faerie marriage was a strange affair. The bride had to pull the groom from his horse - to symbolise the end to his bachelor life - and hold him fast as the faeries changed his form into that of many creatures, which represented that she would remain by his side regardless of what fate may befall them. The final transformation was when the faeries turned the groom into a hot coal. The bride had to drop him into a well, to symbolise that should he lose his temper, she would be there to ensure he calmed down. The ceremony ended with the groom's emergence from the water, naked and in his natural form, and the bride's covering of him with a large brown cloak.
And that was, more or less, how the marriage of Thomas and Jeanette had gone. The exception being that rather than immediately leaving with his bride, Thomas had to return to the queen and give up his eyes.
It didn't hurt, and the queen spoke of how regretful she was to take away such a beautifully green gaze. In their place, she gave him eyes of grey stone, eyes with enough magick that he could still see, but not such that he could see the faeries any longer.
After it was done, Thomas had walked out of the forest and back to Jeanette, seeing nobody else around but knowing that the faeries would follow them as far as the gates of the town.

The townspeople had welcomed him with some discomfort, and Jeanette's father somewhat reluctantly consented to their mortal marriage. Thomas had been a young knight when he came into the care of the faeries, and he looked young still. Though his eyes struck fear into the hearts of the weak, and his tales of the faeries painted them as far more just and traditional than the townsfolk wished to believe, Thomas was strong and brave and clever.
And so Jeanette and Thomas were wed a second time, this time beneath the eyes of God.
Few townsfolk attended the wedding, but as the new Mr and Mrs Lane left the church, the faeries applauded from where they filled the pews: unheard, and unseen.

End of Time
Date: 8th March 2017
Prompt: Rain

Dust. It was all that could be seen for miles, a barren, wind-torn landscape of cracked earth and crumbling ruins.
Clouds rolled across the sky, blotting out the sun that oftentimes scorched the dried up planet. Grey and foreboding, the clouds loomed up from the horizon in the east, and spread forth into the west, until the sky was nothing but grey over the decrepit, sallow earth.
The People of the Dust lurked in the shadows of the rocks, peered out from their mountain caves, swathed in red as they cautiously eyed the sky.
Their prophets had said this day would come.
The sun would go out, and their blessed dust would turn to blood upon the soil.
Huddled together, they prayed, smothering themselves in holy dust and crying out for the deadly heat of the sun.

The first drops of rain fell from the sky, plopping into centuries of dry dust.
People cowered from the unknown liquid, recognising it not from the underground streams that ran through their underground streets, kept them alive.
As the rain fell harder, they retreated back some stranded beneath overhanging rocks, unable to escape to the caves that led below ground.

The prophets had said this day would bring an end to the Time of Dust.
They thought it was the end of the world.

Soon the rain was falling in torrents, splashing beneath the rocks where the stranded trembled.
Drops of water fell on a bare, dusty feet, onto jutting elbows and faces, turning the dust into bright red liquid.
People screamed, thinking themselves injured, then saw it was not so--the liquid was but water mixed with dust, and did no harm.

Looking out across the barren valley, they saw the rain wash down ancient rocks. Dry, cracked channels became blood-red rivers, overflowing in the intensity of the downpour and engulfing the ruins of the plain.
And they saw that the world was not coming to an end.

The Time of Rain had come.

The green world of their myths would start anew.

Date: 9th March 2017
Prompt: Clock

The Great Clock told everybody what to do.
Nobody questioned it--that was how it had always been.
Rise and wash and dress at the stroke of seven, eat at the chime of the three-quarter-hour; begin the journey to work when the hands reached eight-ten to arrive by the half-hour chime
Then it was work. Work and more work, until the peal of bells from the Great Clock declared noon: lunch time, a half-hour for the Lowly Ones (recalled to work by the regular clang) an hour for the Higher Ups (summoned at one precisely by the merry hourly chime).
And on they worked, waiting for the evening bell, which rang six times to bring an end to the working day. Once the hands reached six-ten, the workers were in the streets, home again by the half-hour chime which called for the commencement of dinner preparations.
Then at the second daily stroke of seven, they sat down to eat, finishing by the half-hour.
It was then that they had a little free time, before the chimes of nine-forty-five served the reminder that evening was drawing on.
And in that time, before the nightly toll of the half-hour after ten called for the people to wash and prepare for bed, some might find themselves wondering--
What if the clock fell silent?
What if the bell ceased to toll?
What if they could do things as and when they pleased?
But the night would resound with the eleven gongs of the bedtime bell, and everyone would climb beneath their sheets, tired and grateful that the Great Clock was there to regulate their days.

Until one day, when the Great Clock did not ring at seven. It did not chime for breakfast at the three-quarter-hour, and its hands did not reach eight-ten, stuck instead at just a little past six-and-a-half.
Workers opened their eyes blearily to find the sun already high in the sky, the streets filled slowly with people bewildered by the silence of the clock.
They dressed and washed and ate anyway, and went to work with a mild fear of how they would know it was lunch time without the Great Clock to tell them.
Some left early, and stayed away longer than they expected. Others continued working, only realising their underestimation of the time when the sky turned dark, and their bodies felt weak for lack of food.
The lack of the clock messed up the day, leaving families eating dinner at what was really four in the afternoon, or what was really ten at night.
They talked worriedly of the chaos, and what might become of the world if the Great Clock couldn't be repaired.

Then, during the precious free time before bed, some came to think that it was pleasant to live without the clock. They had awoken and risen when no longer tired, eaten when hungry, and now they were tired, they would sleep, not knowing if it was the correct time for it.

The Great Clock was working again the next day, and everyone returned to their routine.
But amidst the relief there came a murmur, a murmur which spread through the population with a soft, almost undetectable tone of agreement:
It would not be terrible if the Great Clock should fall silent again.

Nine flash fictions down, 22 to go!
Previous days: [1-4]

1 comment:

  1. This second group was just as good - if not better - than the first! I like how versatile the stories you've included are, it makes the collection as a whole even more interesting. Looking forward to the next ones!