Thursday, 23 March 2017

Seas and Change: Flash Fictions 19-23

Though it's the only thing I've been posting this month (life has not been going to plan) here are more flash fictions.

This time, flash fictions for days 19-23!

Brighton, 1919: A sequel of sorts to Folk Tales of the Sea People, about Cadogan's son Julian.
Message in a Bottle...: A side-story to Folk Tales of the Sea People, about listening to Siren-song.
Travel Without a Ticket: A story about pushing againt barriers
Within: A tale of taking care with one's inner self
A Dragon's Name, A Dragon's Place: A sequel to How Helle Found the Monster (from Folk Tales of the Sea People)

I can't believe I ended up writing three new pieces in the Folk Tales... universe!

Brighton, 1919
Date: 19th March 2017
Prompt: Sea
Notes: A sequel to Folk Tales of the Sea People

The tide was out, and the bitter winter wind left the beach deserted but for one man.
Julian Browne, only a few days off his thirty-ninth birthday, ambled slowly over the pebbles, his coat fastened all the way up and a scarf wrapped around his neck to fend off the wind.

He wrapped his arms around himself as he continued along the beach, feeling the sheaf of papers concealed beneath the thick wool.
They were important, these papers. Ground-breaking, in fact. But in this, King George's England, they were considered the ravings of an unbalanced mind.

The writings had belonged to Julian's father, Cadogan, a scientist and explorer, whom Julian had spent his entire life looking up to, even in the ten years that Cadogan had been missing, presumed lost at sea.

Cadogan had been buried three months ago, having passed away in his sleep, his seventy years so packed full of adventure that they had become legend.
Few believed that Cadogan's ten year absence had been spent in the company of 'Sea People'--of Mermaids and Siren and Selkie and other such mythical, sea-dwelling creatures.

Most people thought he'd met another woman overseas, and spent a few good years having some fun with her before he returned.
Some thought he'd fallen foul of the law in some far-off land, and had spent a decade in prison, serving a sentence for who knows what crime.

Julian had, for a brief period in his twenties, doubted all that Cadogan had told him. He'd been but three years old when Cadogan disappeared, and almost a man when his father returned.
But he'd believed what his father had told him. He'd believed that his father's ship had been wrecked, that his father had almost died in the rough and stormy waters--and would have drowned, if not for Mayim and Neith, a pair of Siren who had rescued him and brought him to land.

Julian believed, wholeheartedly, that his father had spent ten years living on an undiscovered island, where he became something of a fascination for the Sea People, who came from far and wide to talk to him, and tell him the stories of their ancestors.
Cadogan had met Siren, he'd met Mer-folk, Selkie, Swan People, Nereids and more. He'd heard the stories of the dragons that once roamed the sea, of grand octopi and precocious young Siren boys, of polite, webbed-footed gourmets from foreign waters, of vain Mer-folk and lonely Näkki, playful Fossegrimm and the cleverness of Selkies.
Cadogan had written it all down, and when fate brought him home via a passing cargo ship, he tried to have his old colleagues listen.

They hadn't believed him. They thought he'd gone mad in his decade of isolation.

Julian believed him.

Julian hung on his every word, and questioned him relentlessly. He knew his father could never had made any of it up. His father had never been creative. He simply didn't have the ability to make up such full-fleshed, life-filled stories. Cadogan had barely been able to read a story out of a book and make it sound convincing, so said Julian's older sisters.

Therefore, it was obvious to Julian that Cadogan had told the truth.

Perhaps it was this faith that had led Cadogan to specify within his will that his writings must become the property of his only son, Julian Morris Brown.

Julian wanted to publish them, but the past weeks had proven that the world was not ready. No scientific journal would discuss the work, whilst newspapers wanted to edit the writings to be bawdy, and publishers of books were uninterested on account of Cadogan's collected stories not being of the intellectual level they liked to pass through their printing presses. Or as the most recent publisher had responded, "We do not publish the ravings of a madman."

There had been talk, within the family, of destroying the papers, to erase Cadogan's work and hide the shame of having a madman in the family.
But Cadogan hadn't been mad. Right up to his last day on earth, he had been perfectly sharp-witted and astute.
He'd known that the family might try to destroy his work, which is why he'd left it to Julian.

So there Julian was, walking along the beach with Cadogan's paper tucked inside his coat, and wishing that somehow, just somehow, one of Cadogan's old friends of the sea would stick their head from the waves, mistake him from his father, and call out to him.

Julian would go with them in a heartbeat, if only to confirm to himself - to the world - that Cadogan hadn't been lying.

But no Siren or Mermaid surfaced from the water, and an uncomfortable chill was settling into Julian's bones.

He'd come back tomorrow, once he'd found a suitable hiding place for the papers.
He didn't trust the family enough to leave them at home anymore. They would destroy Cadogan's work, and his collected stories, his legacy, would be lost to the world for good.

One day, Julian knew, the world would be ready.

Julian turned his back on the sea, but it remained in his thoughts as he paced back up the beach.

From the water, barely-discernable amongst the choppy waves, two pairs of eyes watched him leave.
Upon returning to their people, Mayim and Neith would report that Julian Browne looked remarkably like his father.

Message in a Bottle 
(Washed Up in Tristan da Cuhna, March 2017)
Date: 20th March 2017
Prompt: Song
Notes: A side-story to Folk Tales of the Sea People

To whom it may concern: a note on Siren-song.

Most humans will tell you that a Siren's song is deadly.
A Siren will tell you that humans simply do not know how to listen, and it is their own feeble-hearted inattention that causes them to bring about their own doom.
It is said that no Siren song caused harm to a human until those humans became men of science, and learned to sail upon the seas, and left their instinct behind with their childhood toys.

The Siren sing not to lure seafaring humans to their doom, for what use is a dead body, or a wrecked ship, or any of its cargo, to a sea-dwelling Siren, who has all he or she wishes for in the comfortable depths of home?
No, a Siren's song is self-expression, an innate part of one's identity.
Learned from childhood, every tribe has their own songs, which have been passed down through the generations since time immemorial. Some songs use words of which the meaning has been lost over time, but every song has its intention and its purpose, and every Siren to sing it adds his or her own touch, to make it more personal.
Though the source of two Siren songs may be the same, no two Siren will sing it in an identical way, and no song is exactly like its original.

Siren have songs for all occasions: for the joining together of two people, which humans know as marriage, for the birth of new family members, and the passing on of others. They sing songs for departing adventurers, and more songs when they return.
They sing songs of lament, of love, of loss. Songs of delight, songs of distress, of death.
Often, when a human hears the song of a Siren and becomes distracted, enchanted, he is hearing with only the selfish half of his heart.
Those seafarers who survive hearing a Siren's song are those who have listened wholeheartedly, listened like a Siren: listened to understand. To empathise.

For a Siren song is often a song of feeling, a personal exorcism of emotions that have become too intense to be communicated by spoken words or expression. Just as a human might cry to release extreme feelings of happiness or despair, so does a Siren sing.

It is unfortunate that so many humans in this age have become privy to the distressed song of a bereaved Siren, or the romantic trill of a Siren wooing his sweetheart.
But until the humans learn to listen with both sides of their heart, there is nothing Siren can do but watch out for shipwrecks, and try their best to rescue as many sailors as they can from the unforgiving waves.

Such happened to I, Cadogan Browne, who at thirty-five was wrecked in such fashion, rescued by two Siren who have since taught me the way to listen to the songs of their people.

I advise you to learn too, dear reader, for a Siren's song is among the sweetest music upon God's own earth.

Cadogan Browne
Siren Colony, 1887

Travel Without A Ticket
Date: 21st March 2017
Prompt: Turnstile

Katie Gray spent part of her childhood helping her grandfather man the turnstiles at the railway station.
Her grandfather was the station guard, which in their little seaside town meant he did a bit of everything, from helping old ladies on and off the trains with their little dogs and their large luggage (they always had little dogs and large luggage) to sweeping up wrappers and cigarette butts dropped by lazy commuters, and, of course, manning the turnstiles.

The turnstiles had been a simple affair--you put your ticket in, the machine read it, and then you pushed through the turnstile to other side. Occasionally the tickets jammed, and sometimes the turnstiles jammed, and grandfather took out his special key and unlocked the side of the broken turnstile, and fixed it.

Then the railway company decided to modernise, and the old, clanky turnstiles were replaced by electronic barriers, which beeped alarmingly if a ticket was put through the wrong way, and randomly rejected tickets (requiring grandfather to use his gate pass to let people through). Sometimes, the entire system malfunctioned, and grandfather had to take out another key and leave all the barriers open, so travellers could pass through without producing a ticket (and likely, grandfather told Katie, without buying one).

Eventually the railway company decided to modernise their staff, too, and grandfather lost his job. The lady in the ticket office could do his job too, they decided. The station was small--they needed to streamline.

Katie was disappointed that she couldn't help her grandfather at the station anymore.
Grandfather was disappointed too, but he accepted his redundancy pay, and treated her to an ice cream.
"Life is all about turnstiles, Katie," he explained, as they sat on a bench on the windswept promenade. "You must push to get through, but sometimes the damn things won't accept your ticket."
Eight-year-old Katie didn't understand what he meant, but they were eating ice cream together instead of sweeping up the station platform, so she didn't think it was a bad thing.

Until she grew up.

By seventeen, Katie started to understand what he meant.
The first turnstiles had been easy to pass through: tests, sports and exams at school.
Others were harder, and needed a good, determined shove to get past: bullies who had picked on her for being in 'the idiot class' for English, and her English teacher (who was not, altogether, a good teacher).
Katie pushed past them all, and by her final year of school had a lot of friends and a steady B-grade in the subject she'd struggled with.

Then one turnstile proved harder to pass: Katie wanted to be a train driver, like her father. Her entire family had worked for the railways. She wanted to ccontinue the tradition.
The recruiter at the train company thought otherwise.

"Women simply don't drive trains," he said, in the smug, condescending manner that Katie was becoming accustomed to men using when they spoke to her. "Why not apply to work in the ticket office? You'll have a nice, dry booth to sit in, a proper uniform with heeled shoes, and proper office hours."

Katie applied for driver training anyway, only to receive a letter telling her not to apply again.

The turnstile was jammed, with no friendly guard to help her through.
She would have to try another.

So Katie thought about it, with the rather unhelpful input from the careers advisor, decided to apply to college (the advisor's suggestion) and study engineering (not the advisor's suggestion).

The engineering course leader warned Katie that she could be the only female on the course, and whilst he couldn't prevent her from signing up, perhaps she would be more comfortable studying something different, like catering, or child development.

Katie, visualising an old, clanky turnstile in front of her, insisted upon engineering.

The course was tough, and contrary to what the course leader had said, there were other women on the course: four of them, in a class of thirty. Katie made good friends with everyone, but knew that the other women had, like her, pushed much harder to get there.

She studied, passing through turnstiles with varying levels of ease, until it came to finding employment.

Nobody wanted to employ a female engineer.

Frustrated, Katie pushed and shoved unsuccessfully at every turnstile she reached.
Her qualifications and knowledge didn't matter to employers, who saw engineering as A Man's Job, just as they thought of train drivers.
But Katie couldn't stay unemployed forever, and eventually, begrudgingly accepted a job as a receptionist for an engineering firm.

The office was a few stations along the line, so every day she had to pass through the temperamental barriers, and ride the train, and work A Woman's Job for which she was overqualified.

For a long time, she felt trapped, surrounded by turnstiles that had rusted shut forever.

Then one day, whilst she was serving tea to the men in the boardroom as they were puzzling over how to implement a new bridge for a new branch of the railway, Katie had an Idea.

This time, she didn't even try to push against the turnstile. She saw it as a faulty barrier: a barrier that was locked open.
She didn't have a ticket, but the guards were too busy scratching their balding heads to stop her.

Katie set down the teapot, approached the board, and - ignoring the annoyed exclamations of the boardroom - drew a solution to their problem.

"It's quite simple, really," she said. Then she wiped the solution from the board. "I'll be at the reception if you'd like to discuss it further."

Katie got a promotion.

Life was still full of turnstiles, but the world had begun to modernise, and those turnstiles became barriers--barriers which occasionally broke down, and had to be locked open.

Date: 22nd March 2017
Prompt: Ugly
Notes: I have no idea what happened with this story! But it is written, so here it is.

It is said that a person is the sum of the five people they spend most time with.
It is also said that it is what's inside that counts.
And to complete the trilogy of pastel-printed proverbs on the poster in the coffee lounge, it is said that beauty comes from within.

Bernice never found the statements particularly reassuring, as for the most part she was surrounded by crooks. Highly critical crooks, at that.
They called themselves bankers, but Bernice, a lowly cleaner with more than enough brains behind her ears to realise her employers weren't the most honest of people, thought of them as crooks.

She supposed that didn't make her a very nice person, and if the series of proverbs quoted constantly by the young, hipster types in the offices bore any truth, she supposed it made her a rather unattractive crook.

Bernice had been looking for a new job since last May: a job with nice people, who she could think good things about.

Yet she was stuck with the bank, thinking ugly things about ugly men, and thinking herself less and less of a good person with each unkind thought that crossed her mind.
It was hard to stay charitable when surrounded by people who criticised your every move.

"You're too slow."
"You missed a spot."
"Clean that again."

Bernice quietly got on with her job, wishing they would leave her be--wishing she could tell them to shut up, but wary of losing her job. So she swore at them in her head, insulted them without speaking a word, and entertained thoughts of dumping a bucket-load of filthy water over their smug heads.
And if her reflection seemed to look more bitter each evening, it was probably just her imagination.

"Are you stupid or something?"
"Hurry up, slowpoke."
"You're not very good at this really, are you?"

Bernice wanted to argue, and point out her twenty-six years in cleaning gave her ample experience. Yet she kept her head down and dropped food into the upstairs office heaters where the crooks worked, so that come winter, the food would have rotted, and would stink to high heaven.
And if, when she looked at herself in the mirror in the mornings, and saw more grey hairs, and wrinkles, and a slight stoop, well, some people aged faster than others.

"There are crumbs here, clean them."
"Do you have to make such a noise with that vacuum?"
"It's a wonder you got a job."

Bernice hated her job. She hated her employers. She even hated herself, hated the person she had become. Each day, Bernice went to work thinking of scenarios in which she could get the upper hand on those cruel, critical crooks, everything from finding evidence of fraud that could see them imprisoned for life, to seeing them having some mishap that left them filthy dirty and feeling suitably sorry for themselves.
Bernice knew it was wrong to think that way, but her employers practically encouraged it with their behaviour and cruel words.
When she glanced at her reflection to see sunken eyes and a withered mouth, it was nothing more than a trick of the light.

"Can't you even empty a bin properly?"
"Even a trained monkey could do a better job."
"Watch it, or you're sacked."

Bernice didn't hate herself anymore. She'd stopped caring about the mean thoughts, because they were there all the time. She focused all her energy on how much she hated the crooks, how much she wanted to shut them up and teach them a lesson.
And when she turned up that day, and screamed and stomped her way through the crooks' fancy offices and boardroom, causing destruction and havoc with her mop and her bucket and her vacuum cleaner, the crooks commented on how ugly she was.

And when she was giving her statement to the police, down in the main offices, Bernice remembered the poster, and realised she'd become an ugly, vicious hag.
She didn't need to worry about changing her job anymore, because after this, she would certainly lose the one she had.

The office workers peered cautiously over the partition, watching.
Bernice could hear them whisper.

"I can't believe Bernice did that!"
"Good on her, they had it coming."
"...She looks tired, doesn't she?"
"Poor ol' girl needs a holiday."
"Think she'll be okay?"

The policeman shooed them away, and whilst he was turned to address them, Bernice spotted a postcard pinned to the partition, which depicted a calm nature scene with white text:
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

And when Bernice began to cry, it wasn't that she was exhausted from the abuse she'd put up with from the crooks.
It was that she'd spent so long fixating on that silly poster, and hating her job and hating herself to the point of numbness for her desire for revenge, when, by and large, her job wasn't all bad. The ordinary office workers were...ordinary. Nice.
Bernice was ordinary, too. And ordinary was okay. It was nice.
Maybe now she could find a nice new job, with nice new people, and rediscover the niceness inside herself.
It had to be in there somewhere.

A Dragon's Name, A Dragon's Place
Date: 23rd March 2017
Prompt: Dragon

After the Selkie-girl Helle found the Dragon at the centre of the sea, and discovered that the waters were very much his home as they were hers, she returned to her people, unable to solve the problem caused by the Dragon's heat.

Over time the heat faded and the waters became cool and comfortable again.
Helle sometimes wondered what became of the Dragon. The grandmothers and grandfathers said that he had likely died, but Helle had heard about the steaming waters of a distant land, and wondered if her Dragon might have some responsibility.

It happened that the Dragon, too, heard of the hot springs. His hearing was very sharp, so he could hear gossip from far away.
The rumours were that the fearsome Golden Dragon had been spotted with a Siren girl and a Selkie boy, and the trio had travelled far away to another sea, where Dragons once dwelt in their plenty.

Helle's Dragon, so long away from his kin that he no longer remembered his name, became curious. With a slow shake of his huge body, he left the place where he'd lived for many years, and began to swim.

Fire-belly creating great currents of boiling water,  he swam further than ever before, following the threads of stories he overheard, about pools of hot water and Dragons in deep caves.

One day the Dragon met a Halfling girl, with the dark eyes and rich skin of a Selkie, yet the lustrous hair and scaly tail of a Siren.
The girl swam with a young dragon girl, who had striking red eyes, and blue scales that shimmered gold.

"Hello!" called the Halfling girl. "I thought the water had become rather warm. Have you come for the party?"
The Dragon was confused by her friendly manner. "Party? I was seeking the land of Dragons, where I might live out my days without bother to any."
The young dragon swam closer. "It's father's two-hundredth birthday. Are you another Uncle?"
"Two-hundredth?" The Dragon laughed and shook his head. "I am no Uncle, and I am unfamiliar with your father. I am merely an old traveller."
"How old is old?" The Halfling girl tilted her head. "Aunty Tiamat - that's Anat's mother - is two hundred and seven! Uncle Takumi teases her sometimes, but she tells him that he's getting older too, now he's turning two hundred."
The Dragon laughed again. "I am old enough that my memory is fading, but I am certain that I passed my five-hundredth birthday some time ago."
"Come home with us," said the young dragon, Anat. "Mother and Father will welcome a visitor, and my siblings are there, and Uncle Gursel and Aunty Aysu, too."
"Gursel and Aysu..." Those names were familiar to the Dragon.
"They're my parents!" the Halfling girl said.
"A Siren girl and a Selkie boy..." The Dragon murmured, and turned his grand gaze to Anat. "Would your father happen to have golden scales?"
Anat laughed. "Father is legendary! See, I told you, Maristela!"
"But my parents are legendary too, because Mister Dragon knew about them!" Maristela, the Halfling girl, smiled. "Come on Mister Dragon, we'll introduce you to everyone!"
The Dragon hesitated. "I cannot. My fire-belly will boil the water, and cause sickness and death to your kin."
Maristela shrugged. "Only your fire-belly does that, but you are grand enough in size that you might greet everyone without causing harm. Besides, my family has become accustomed to these warm waters."
Anat nodded. "Uncle Gursel is a Selkie from colder seas, but he's used to my parents heat. He might not come close, but he'll make you welcome! Please come with us, Mister Dragon."
Being unaccustomed to such pleasant treatment, the Dragon agreed without a second thought. "Very well then."
"It's this way!" Maristela said. "But what's your name, Mister Dragon? We can't keep calling you Mister Dragon. It's rude."
"I don't remember my name."
"Then we'll have to call you Grandpa, on account of your five hundred years," decided Anat, who swam alongside him.
The Dragon decided that was acceptable, and he waited outside whilst Maristela and Anat went into the caves and explained his situation to their parents.

Takumi and Tiamat welcomed him, as did Aysu and Gursel (though the latter did keep his distance, on account of the heat). They insisted that the Dragon - who was pondering hard upon his name - stay for the party, and he discovered the merriment that could be had amongst friends.
When the party was over, Tiamat advised him that there was a pleasant network of caves a little further north, where only those he had met today tended to wander. He was welcome to make his home there, and visit as he pleased--but if he could recall his name, might she sent word to her distant brethren, and inform them of their new friend?
The Dragon thought harder, and a name came to mind, a name that he was certain was his. He nodded to himself, more certain with every passing moment.
"My name is Adetokunbo," he said.
"A good Dragon name," Tiamat replied approvingly.
Maristela and Anat had been listening, and popped up from behind the rocks. "Grandpa Adetokunbo! Can we visit you in your new cave?"
Adetokunbo looked at them, and saw the friendly earnestness in their eyes.
And he nodded, happy to have found friends amongst whom he could live in harmony.
He said his goodbye-for-nows, and swam north, easily finding the caves of which Tiamat had spoken.
It was a homely place, and Adetokunbo lived out his days in contentment, never short of visitors, or people to visit.

With this post, I'm all caught up sharing these...Until tomorrow.
I'll probably post the flash fictions for the rest of the month over two separate posts, so keep watch for them!

Previous days: [1-4][5-9][10-14][15-18]

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