Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Not What You Might Think: Flash Fictions 15-18

Here's another batch of flash fictions, written for goal #26, as I try to catch up on posting what I've written!

Flash fictions 15-18 are:
Name Your Child Well - A story about names being the making of a person
Dirt and Diamonds - A scene in which some settlers get very cold
Passengers - The musings of a boatman
Morning People - A morning spent with a Morning Person
These tales may not all be what they initially seem, so please do give them a read!

Name Your Child Well
Date: 15th March 2017
Prompt: Autumn

She was named not for the season she was born in, but the next to come, named for the little tufts of red hair sprouting from her tiny head, for her rosy cheeks, and her brown eyes that peered out, inquisitive, from the pram.
Autumn grew up surrounded by friends. People flocked to her, drawn in by her warm smile and outwardly genial nature. They thought fondly of her when apart, remembering her glossy, fiery curls and chestnut eyes with that nostalgia that people think of the season she was named after: mild, comfortable, that sigh of relief after the heat of summer and that deep, leaf-scented breath before the freeze of winter.

Nobody thought about the tougher, less pleasant side of autumn: the dreary grey skies, the pouring rain, the mud and the slow fading of colour from the world.

Autumn herself was much the same way. Her mild manner could dissolve into the unforgiving harshness of a chill wind, she blew matters out of proportion as easily as the breeze tore red and orange leaves from trees. Her tantrums were tantamount to a sudden storm, tears falling over her cheeks like a downpour, sobbing utterances of displeasure thundering from her lips.
And when her mind was made up on some matter, she was unmovable as though caught knee-deep in mud, and when miserable her outlook was bleaker than the greyest of skies.

People tended to forget that side of Autumn, at least until they invoked her wrath.
Her crueller, more wintry side was unforgettable.
Those who knew her well, knew how to avoid that wintry side, knew how to invoke the more summery part of her personality.
And when introduced to her newest acquaintances, they would, out of her earshot, issue a friendly warning:
Autumn by name, autumn by nature.

Dirt and Diamonds
Date: 16th March 2017
Prompt: Cold

There were five hours left of the day, and the chill had already begun to creep in across the windswept settlement.
They huddled down in the dirt as if doing so might keep them warmer, hard-faced and bulky, their skin as grey as the dreary sky above.

Four hours, and the air fell still, three and the insipid sun's descent toward the horizon made dark, slowly-moving shadows of their humped forms--shadows that moved as the minutes ticked by, until only two hours of sunlight remained,

One hour left, and the iciness of dusk crawled across the earth, smothering grass and crops and pathways with frost. It spread like a plague, claiming everything it touched--the settlers included.

The sun sank out of sight, and the temperature plummeted rapidly, as the sky turned darker, darker, darker still.
In the cold beneath the moonless night, huddled and unprotected from the elements, the settlers froze, stony faces turned toward the eastern horizon.

At dawn, the pale yellow sunlight swept slowly across the landscape.
Beneath its rays, the frost-covered stone circle glittered like diamonds.

Date: 17th March 2017
Prompt: Greed

Hardanchor had always been impressed by the creation of the world. Were he a holy man, he would have blessed the human population for all their doings (and their undoings). He did bless them, in his own way, but a blessing from Hardanchor was little more than misfortune.
Humans were a simple race. Sure, they had their discoveries and inventions and technologies (which they would have had centuries ago, if they hadn't been so...human) but at heart they were simple, or to be more accurate, sinful.

"All sinners..." Hardanchor muttered to himself, clinking the coins in his pocket and watching a drunkard stumble down the hill.
His boat bobbed gently on the water, and Hardanchor smiled to himself: Lucy was eager to go downriver. But they awaited a passenger, so he and the Good Lucy would stay at the jetty for some time yet.

Hardanchor thought of his last passenger, who had refused to pay for her journey down the tempestuous river. Her eyes had shone with greed as though she were possessed, whilst her bony hand curled so tightly around her money that the impression of fingernails and coins scarred her palm.
She paid eventually, when the harbourmaster came to find out what was holding them up. The coins which now jingled in Hardanchor's pocket, and Hardanchor admired the immensity of the greed that had swallowed her soul.
Such straightforward greed took years to nurture--a lifetime, even.

Greed, thought Hardanchor, was the most powerful of sins. It was the only sin, in Hardanchor's book. Never mind the seven that all the holy men harped on about.
In his years on the boat, Hardanchor had met many who had proven greedy at heart, despite the initial impression of their sinfulness (Hardanchor always looked for sins, surreptitious in his idle questions as they sailed).
He concluded that greed was the supreme, all-encompassing sin. Nobody had yet proven otherwise.

For what was lust, but a greed for pleasure, as he'd seen in the married couple who passed along the river some decades ago. So distracted in their affections for each other, they never noticed the scenery, nor how choppy the waters were, and nearly upset the boat with their passionate embrace. (Hardanchor had averted his eyes, and watched from the corner of them. Lucy had sailed slowly that day, creaking quietly on the waves).

What was wrath but a greed to have things one's own way, a greed for vengeance? Hardanchor had seen that in a burly man who had argued with his wife all the way to the jetty. She guessed the winds would take them downriver--he wished to go upriver. She'd been right, and the he'd pushed her into the water.
"Now you're downriver," he'd uttered smugly.
Hardanchor had said nothing, had encouraged Lucy faster over the rough waters that day, to be rid of them sooner. The man spent the journey gloating, boasting--proof that pride, too, was nothing more than grandiose desire to be first, to have the best, to be the best, all dignity was lost in favour of showing off.
Though pride was the sin, greed was the instigator.
As for the wife, bedraggled and silent in the cold air, a mere glance told Hardanchor that she was deeply envious of her husband. Her hunger for his success, his drive, his confidence and selfishness was written in the resentful, hungry admiration in her gaze.
Yet again, greed was the root: greed for another's assets.

Sloth was greed too.
There once been a man who Hardanchor spent some time waiting for. He'd almost given up when the man arrived, dishevelled and dozy-eyed, long after his appointed time. He'd fallen into Lucy's waiting stern, and got comfortable, no comment on his lateness. When Hardanchor attempted conversation, he was met with a shrug of sloping shoulders, a mutter of 'dunno'. The only time the man said more was when Hardanchor inquired whether sir was a holy man.
The passenger had laughed and shaken his head. "Too much Thou Shalt This and That. I'd rather mind my own business rather than get involved with my neighbour's."
Ah yes, thought Hardanchor as he steered Lucy onward down the rapidly-flowing river. Sloth: the greed for inactivity despite the necessity of action.

A slurred singing brought Hardanchor's attention back to the present: the drunkard was approaching, a bawdy song escaping his lips as he staggered down the jetty. Despite his intoxication, he'd arrived in a timely manner.
Hardanchor appreciated timeliness.
Once the drunkard had boarded, Hardanchor steered Lucy through the tumultuous waters, and listened to the chatter of his passenger: inane babble of a brain rotted by alcohol.
"Got any beer on board, mate?" the drunkard asked. "I'm darn thirsty."
Hardanchor shook his head. Gluttony, he thought, was the sin most obviously rooted in greed: greed for more, to gorge oneself on one's vices, beyond the point of the body's needs.
The drunkard grumbled of his thirstiness the entire journey. When he disembarked the other end, he handed over his coins and stumbled off, murmuring his desire for another beer.

Clinking the coins in his pocket, Hardanchor watched the drunkard disappear around the bend in the rock-strewn road.
This had been his last passenger. He could retire, if he wanted.
Withdrawing his hand, Hardanchor looked at the assortment of coins in his fist: gold and silver, copper and bronze, shiny and dull and dented and clipped. He'd done more than enough that he might leave his position, and pass on to an existence more peaceful.

Yet wasn't that desire nothing more but that old sin greed, rearing its head within his heart?

Giving the coins one final glance, Hardanchor cast them into the water. Greed would not catch him in its claws again.

Hardanchor loosened the moorings and turned Lucy out of the harbour.

The breeze bore them upriver, the waters of the Styx still and tranquil as a mirror.

Morning People
Date: 18th March 2017
Prompt: Morning

There's a poster on the shuttle bus between the village and the control centre, which depicts a grumpy-looking wizard with a cup of coffee, and, printed in bold, capital letters, the phrase, "I'M NOT A MORNING PERSON."
It's meant as a joke, but Claudia Day takes her mornings seriously. She and her co-workers were all Morning People; whoever made the poster was likely one of the Night Owls who had suffered the misfortune of a pre-dawn shift. Claudia didn't find the poster particularly amusing, but supposed it must brighten the spirits of those denizens of the night shifts.
The Night Owls hardly had a difficult job to do. It was night, after all. Claudia had tried the shift herself, before discovering she was so much more of a Morning Person.
Nights were easy.
Mornings were trickier by far. Mornings required careful consideration, a slow and measured turning of the dials, repeated checking of the meters and the green, zigzagging lines on the generator screens. 
Mornings were hard work. They were no mere flick of the occasional switch, unlike nights.

The bus arrived at the control centre, and Claudia alighted into the pale murk of dawn. Not long before the sun would appear at the horizon, and then her shift would begin.
She swiped her ID card at the entrance and walked briskly to her position, where her Dawn Broker counterpart, Cameron Knight, was finishing up his work.

"Quiet one today," he commented, vacating the seat at the controls.
Claudia nodded tightly. "A tad misty, I notice."
"A command from Ms Spring," Cameron said by way of explanation. "Have a good one, Claud."
Claudia didn't respond--she was already hard at work.

Misty mornings were harder than the regular ones. She'd need absolute concentration and pinpoint accuracy to ensure the morning went as it should:
First, the sound. It began eerily quiet, almost silent until one strained one's ears to note the drip of water from a broken gutter, or the distant kerfuffle of small animals in the rime-coated undergrowth.
Then, the slow brightening of the sun as she eased it higher into the sky, its path sluggish and partially invisible behind the gradually diminishing clouds, the air temperature carefully increased by a dial to Claudia's left. 
And then the mist, ghost-like in the sun's mellow rays, soundlessly lifting from the ground to vanish in the air.
Alongside it all, as the sun brightened and lifted higher, as the temperature rose and clouds shrank and fog lifted to reveal a blue, spring-like sky beyond, Claudia gently raised the volume of the carefully coordinated morning symphony of birdsong and distant traffic.

As the numbers on her display reached 12:00, the sun hit its peak position in the sky, and the Afternoon Ladies filed into the room.
Claudia exchanged a few words of greeting with her counterpart, Shii Esther, before leaving the rest of the day in her capable hands.
Then Claudia left the control centre, swiping out with her ID as she did every day, and climbed on the shuttle bus back to the village, where a group of Evening Lads were playing a ballgame in the square with some of the Dusk Men, the Dawn Brokers were sitting down to a well-earned supper, and of course, the Night Owls were still fast asleep in their beds.

The Morning People had worked hard to bring about the appropriate conditions for this pleasant, sunny afternoon, so that oblivious mortals right across the country could enjoy their short lives, unaware of the work that had gone into perfecting the atmosphere of each and every single day and night.

Beneath the mild afternoon sky, Claudia Day stretched. This had been her best morning yet. Then she went about her day, hopeful that the afternoon would turn out as beautiful as the mornings she and other Morning People had created, and that the current Head Controller, Ms Spring, would not call in an unexpected downpour: the slightest error in the morning's calculations, and the Head Controller could make it rain as much as she wanted.
Yet Claudia was confident that she, at least, had done her job to the closest possible degree of accuracy.
Mornings might be the trickiest, but Claudia was most definitely a Morning Person.

We're over halfway through the month now, and I'm surprised at myself for managing to sit down and write a short piece every single day so far!
There are several prompts where I knew what I was going to write, others where I didn't know until I sat down and forced my brain to come up with something, and then some that turned out completely different to how I intended!
This is true of some of the stories I have yet to post... Perhaps in a few more days, I'll post stories 19 and onward.

Previous days: [1-4] [5-9] [10-14]

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