Sunday, 19 March 2017

You Reap What You Sow: Flash Fictions 10-14

Though I've been completely lax in updating with flash fiction, I have been writing it, and as a result have ten new pieces to share here.
Rest assured, I'm not posting them all today. Even with short stories, that can still amount to a lot of words!

For today, here's flash fictions 10-14:
Sour Child - A gentle story about tradition and superstition
Over The Wall  - A tale of overcoming obstacles
Tailed and Chased - About seeing what is around you
The Herbarium - A story of a flower collector, and karma
Tongues - An unpleasant tale of death and vengeance

The first three stories are pleasant. The last two, not so much...

Sour Child
Date: 10th March 2017
Prompt: Lemon
Notes: I know nothing about lemons and their growth cycles, and the first three links I clicked on after searching were pretty vague and unhelpful, so don't imagine I know what I'm talking about.

After the trinity of Winter, Spring and Summer, Autumn was the Lemon Season, when - as the world lost its colour and most trees dropped their leaves, the sacred lemon trees bore their fruit in brightest abundance.

There is a tradition, here in the southern borderlands, that during the Lemon Season, a man was to walk three times around a lemon tree with his beloved, then with eyes closed, pluck a lemon from the branches and present it to her. The lemon would then be taken and cut into two, and they would eat the lemon together, and its flavour would indicate the future that lay before them.

Those that observed the tradition were superstitious folk, and many relationships were ended over a lemon that was far too bitter or too sour, and likewise a lemon that was far too flavourless.
The most desired lemon was one that was bright and firm of skin, and had a flavour that was sharp to the tongue, yet sweet.
On the occasion that such lemons wear shared between a man and his beloved, a marriage was brought about, often before the season was up.

But the sacred lemons of the southern borderlands were not always a fair indicator of the future. Sweet marriages turned sour; those who persevered despite a prophesised future filled with bitterness found that through patience, communication, and empathy, their relationship - their marriage, their entire lives - became sweet in just the right measure.

And so as a child of the southern borderlands, born of a couple whose lemon foretold  a sour future, I give you gentle counsel: heed what prophecy may tell, and think on it, but do not let prophecy alone shape your future.

Over The Wall
Date: 11th March 2017
Prompt: Wall

Deep in thought, Miranda didn't stop walking until the ground turned soft beneath her shoes.
She stopped, heels sinking into the mud as she stared at what lay in her path.
The Wall loomed ahead, a stark unfeeling grey, mottled and dented with time.
Miranda hadn't crossed this wall since she was seventeen and on the run from those that would have her in chains.
It had been easy then, her body youthful and enduring, her mind certain and determined. Crossing the Wall had been little more than a hop, skip and jump into freedom.
Back then, Miranda had got as far away from the Wall as she could, and for a few blissful years forgot about it. Forgot about all those who she'd left behind.
Life hadn't been easy, at first. Miranda had worked hard, often relying on the kindnesses of those around her in order to get by. But it was still better than if she had stayed.
If she'd stayed, her life would never had been her own. It would have been shaped by others.
It was because of him that she'd escaped.
He'd helped her realise she would never be free. He'd offered his hand in help, and shortly after her eighteenth birthday, she had given him hers in marriage.
And so she'd become Mrs Peter White, and people had congratulated them whilst muttering that they were too young, that they wouldn't last.
Twenty-five years together had proven them wrong.
It was Peter who had persuaded Miranda to go back. The Wall had begun to play on her mind, especially after their eldest was born. It haunted her thoughts during guilt-ridden sleepless nights, and gave her nightmares when she was too exhausted to stay awake any longer.
It only got worse when the twins were born, and by the time their youngest came along, Miranda had agreed that perhaps therapy was a good idea.
The therapist listened to her talk about her fears, about how The Wall had always been her prison as she grew up, that she had escaped and tried her hardest not to look back, not to think of the life she'd led there. But the life she could have led if she'd stayed was what frightened her the most. The Wall, which her younger self had seen as a mere obstacle between herself and her dreams, was now an immovable perimeter, an impassable barrier, and an end to the reality she knew. She couldn't go beyond the wall. Her life would be over if she did.
Through several sessions, the therapist discussed the Wall with her, and listened to her descriptions of her life before her escape. She had suggested that Miranda pass by the Wall, just to look at it, and become used to its presence: to accept that the Wall was not, and would never become, her prison.
That things weren't the same as they once were.
That she was free--as free to pass it, to pass over it, as she wished.
Miranda didn't want to go, but the guilt didn't stop, and after talking it over with Peter, she decided that all she could do was face her fears.
She would go back, and she would leave again, proving to herself that her life was still her own.

Standing before the Wall, it appeared to grow taller and more uninviting, even as she looked at it.
Miranda glanced back to see Peter and the kids, smiling encouragingly: they believed she could do this.
...but the wall looked so high...
Miranda gulped, reminding herself what the therapist had said: she was free. The Wall could not imprison her anymore. Her life was her own.
Narrowing her eyes, Miranda took a deep breath, preparing herself.
Then she set off towards the Wall, over the grass verge and onto the pavement.
Miranda stepped over the Wall, as she'd done all those years ago, walked up to the door and rang the bell.
The woman that answered was wizened and elderly, but her sharp, skinny frame and narrow features hadn't changed one bit. She looked up at Miranda in shock, for the first time in Miranda's life having nothing to say.
But Miranda had plenty to say, and now Peter and the kids were walking up the path behind her, and Miranda wasn't scared anymore.
She began at the beginning, just as her therapist had suggested.
"Hi, Mam. It's been a while..."

Tailed and Chased
Date: 12th March 2017
Prompt: Kite

The kite was huge, but at first it was barely visible in the sky. With trailing white lines and a blue cover, it blended in amongst the clouds, glinting occasionally in the sun. Up there, the wind currents were strong enough to keep it floating, though to those below it appeared to have taken on a mind of its own, for it danced through the air as though putting on a show: twirled around the church spire, dive-bombed towards the old bridge only to swoop beneath at the last minute, emerging triumphant on the other side.

It sailed across the schoolyard where the children were being let out from class, and loop-the-looped past the care home where the old folk were sitting down to lunch.
It shimmered past the town hall, where a crowd had gathered to protest a rise in council tax.
And it flew onwards, through the town, gathering more and more followers as it went.
They chased it along past the old mills, where it seemed to jump its way up the old water wheel.
They raced up the grassy green hill, as the kite glided over bluebell-strewn woods.
At the top of the hill, the kite stopped, trailing lines snagged in the branches of the old, dead oak tree.
Panting and puffing, the people reached the top of the hill, some of the older residents helped by the younger, the mayor up to his knees in mud and the town's most senior resident looking more refreshed and upright than she had in years.
Some of the children began to climb the tree in pursuit of the kite, not heeding the warnings words of worried parents.
But then one of the children gave a shout and pointed down the hill, and all eyes turned to gaze at what he had seen.
Looking down upon the place they called home, the place they only ever saw up close as a grey, mundane town just like any other, they saw how marvellous and picturesque their town truly was.

For below them, past the bluebells and lush green grass, the town shone like a jewel in the afternoon sun, a jewel ensconced in the rolling emerald landscape, the river running through it like a streak of silver.
And they forgot about difficult sums, and mushy flavourless lunches, and sermons and taxes and the tiny grievances aired over a pint at the pub.

Smiles graced the most severe of faces, and together the townspeople made their way back down the hill, talking of the coming of summer, of the impending town fair and of market day and playing at the rec, and of strawberries and cream, and hearty soups and happy news heard but seldom shared.
Behind them, a gust of wind tore the kite loose from the tree, and it flew off towards the next town, a town that gleamed like gold amongst the pastures.

The Herbarium
Date: 13th March 2017
Prompt: Flower

Rick had always been proud of his Herbarium, and had been an avid flower collector since he was seventeen.
His first had been a Daisy, and his Herbarium contained not pressed flowers in the traditional sense, but polaroids of the virgins he romanced and ceremoniously deflowered before casting aside.
Rick's friends thought he was funny, when they were teenagers. After Daisy (so simple and easy to pluck from the hands of chastity) there had been Rose, a little spiky towards him at first yet soft, so soft when she finally let him in to her heart.
Then there had been more, over the months and years, and they had all been named after flowers. That was one of Rick's self-imposed rules: the girls in his Herbarium had to be named after flowers. It wouldn't be a Herbarium if they weren't.
By his twenties, his friends didn't think it was funny so much as eccentric, and suggested he was going to run out of girls soon, so maybe he should stop?
Rick didn't stop. He was fortunate to have been born in a generation where it was trendy to name girls after plants, and in his twenty-first year had bedded a Heather (she'd been lucky number thirteen), a Violet (dainty, and pretty darn blue once he was finished with her) and a Poppy (hairy legs. That had been an odd experience) all in the space of one month. Granted, the rest of the year had been pretty quiet, but there had always been someone, some pure flower waiting to be plucked.
Over the next few years there were so many others, but come his late twenties he'd stopped bragging about his Herbarium to his friends. 
They didn't laugh anymore.
They didn't call him eccentric.
"Isn't it time you settled down, mate?" they said.
Rick didn't think so.
His Herbarium grew in the wake of girls' tears; as the supply of virgins ran out in his age group, he looked to those younger: the innocent 18-25s who were more than happy to have an Older Boyfriend.
There were Jasmines (always exotic in their own way, even the most white and local of them), and Ferns (several of them, it had been a popular baby name some twenty-odd years ago), an Iris (tall and slim, with a long and satisfying tongue), several Lilies (so big-headed, were Lilies) and a couple more Daisies (fairly plain, the pair of them).
He spent some time considering whether Blossom would count, but her rosy cheeks and burgeoning breasts were too appealing, and since she was so chaste and a blossom was, for all intents and purposes, a flower, he went with it.
She was the forty-ninth in his Herbarium, and, having nobody to show off to, he quietly patted himself on the back for his good work.
There were plenty others in there, and he'd found some unusual names amongst the flowers he'd picked: Dahlia and Gardenia (twins! But so different in nature. Different in how they cried, too), the striking Acacia and pink-faced Azalea, and the beauties Petunia and Primrose (the latter of whom had certainly been prim; he spent months trying to bed her, and she hadn't really been worth it).
Rick wanted his fiftieth flower to be special, a woman more unusual than all the others.
She had to meet all the regular criteria, of course, but he'd only take a woman whose name was not already in his Herbarium. No Heather or Violet or Blossom or Fern would be his number fifty. It was an important number, a grand one, one to be proud of in his twenty-ninth year.
She had to be stunning - he wouldn't take any dowdy virgin like that Dahlia or that Poppy. She had to be younger than him. She had to be doe-eyed and sweet-looking, the kind of woman who would cry with pleasure as he deflowered her.
Rick found her one evening. She was hovering at the edge of the room, dark eyes scanning the party hopefully. She was stunning, her hair black and glossy, her body lithe, swathed in silk.
Most importantly, he heard the party's host pass by and address her by name--the name of a flower he had never plucked, a flower he had never even met.
She was unique.
He had to have her.
(Provided she met the other criteria.)
He honed in on her, introduced himself and over the course of the evening they got to know each other better. She had blushed, ever so slightly, when he started his usual spiel - the things he said to discover if a potential flower were still.
She confirmed it, claiming it was somewhat embarrassing when she was nearly twenty-five.
He suggested they went elsewhere so they could talk in private.
When the other partygoers saw them leaving together, they felt pity in their hearts. They knew what would happen tonight, knew they were powerless to stop it--that once a strong mind was made up, it could not be changed.

Rick never gained his special number fifty.
The fiftieth woman in his bed, from whom he had unwound the silk to discover black leather and a spiky, commanding personality, had always been brilliant at playing a role, at luring men in and bending them to her will.
Rick had expected her to writhe in pleasure beneath his ministrations, to beg for more, but that night, their roles were switched, and he vowed to never play with women's hearts again.
He hadn't expected a sadist.
Belladonna floored him.

Date: 14th March 2017
Prompt: Shoes

The camp had a large storehouse, filled with shoes. Brown leather, black leather, buckles and lace-ups, shoes nearly new and shoes worn thin on the sole, shoes scuffed across the toes, tongues lolling out where the leather had softened and laces had been loosened.
Shoes that had belonged to persons long disposed of.
Dietrich thought it was a waste, but knew the powers that be had a plan, and it was an even bigger waste to bury those tainted bodies with their worldly possessions.
They wouldn't need them where they were going, anyway.

From his post, Dietrich could see another line of prisoners being led across the yard. They were thin and tired-looking, and caused no upheaval when herded past the doors where Dietrich stood.
He waited, listening to the muted sound of their chatter, picturing them undressing and carefully setting their grubby clothes and shoes aside, eager to be cleansed yet not so eager they would be careless with their clothing.
He waited, heart pounding as they were led on through the building, their voices becoming quieter.
He waited, a smile slowly spreading across his features as they realised something was wrong, horribly wrong.
The prisoners were not there to be cleansed of dirt. The population was being cleansed of them.
Dietrich's favourite part was when silence fell within the building.
Then the left belongings would be gathered, and transferred to the storehouse.

Dietrich liked the storehouse. During his breaks, he strolled around it, humming the newly-penned songs of their righteous and wonderful ruler.
He'd heard rumours that the storehouse was haunted, but considered them nonsense, born of weak-minded men undeserving of their positions.
Nobody liked patrolling the storehouse, especially not at night.
Dietrich had never been assigned the area, but wished he was, so he could show those young recruits how foolish they were for believing stupid ghost stories.

One day, his wish was granted.

A sudden sickness within the camp had left the number of guards thin on the ground, the infirmary packed with groaning, pale men. The remaining number were spread out more thinly across the confines of the camp--one per zone, rather than the usual two to three.
Dietrich didn't care. Assigned to patrol the storehouse area, he went to serve his night-shift post alone, humming as he always did.
Night drew on, and the inhabitants of the camp began to settle in for the night.
Soon enough, the camp was completely quiet, yet Dietrich remained on high alert. No prisoner would escape on his watch. 
But the night was peaceful, silent, just the kind of wonderful night Dietrich dreamt of for his country.
And then he heard the voices: just two at first, whispering--
"I thought we were leaving."
"Yes, but things changed."
"Well, what now?"
Dietrich drew his gun and took out his torch, following the sound of the voices. More had joined in now. They sounded like a group of youths, until an older voice spoke up.
"We'll get through this. We'll find another way."
"What if we don't?"
"I'm scared."
Stopping at the storehouse door, Dietrich frowned. The building was meant to be locked.
He tried the door, discovering it was locked. Finding the relevant key on his keychain, he unlocked the door and shone the torch inside.
Nobody was in sight.
"Hiding..." he thought, stepping in and sliding the door shut behind himself. It was noisy, and he'd be alerted immediately if they tried to escape.
"Help," called a voice to his left.
"Shush. It's one of them," hissed another.
"But only one of them..." another voice murmured, in a voice that incited others to rise up excitedly.
"Think we can take him? All of us together?"
"It's only one guy."
"We can do it..."
Dietrich scowled as he searched, unable to find anybody hiding amidst the piles of shoes. "Come out!" he called into the darkness, angry.
"We're right here," spoke a voice, close to his ear.
Dietrich jumped around and shone the torch where the voice had been.
Just a pile of shoes.
Beneath the glare of his torch, one of the shoes - a brown lace-up, missing its lace - slid from the pile and landed on the floor with a resounding slap.
"Made you look," a voice said smugly.
"Enough. Come out or I'll shoot." Dietrich cocked his gun.
"Why? Haven't you done enough?" Another voice at his ear--again, nothing but shoes.
Dietrich scowled at the pile when the shoes shifted. "Are you in there?"
He reached out to push some of them away.
"You're a bit thick aren't you?" The shoe said, tongue flapping as it spoke.
With a gasp of shock, Dietrich snatched back his hand.
Voices rose up all around him then, angry and sad and demanding and reproachful.
"Why did you do it?"
"Why didn't you help us?"
"We're the same as you."
"Damn you to hell!"
"Die, die just as we have!"
"Only your death will be deserved, murderer."
"Murderer! Murderer! Murderer!"
The voices chanted, rising up to a howl as the wagging-tongued shoes slid from their piles.
"Shut up! Stop!" Dietrich dropped his gun and torch, and put his hands to his ears, terrified. He stumbled towards the door, tripping over shoes in the darkness and falling to his knees.
The shoes avalanched pummelling him with heels and harsh words, smothering him with leather uppers and angry tongues.
When his screaming stopped, the laughter of a thousand soles echoed into the night.

That's it for now. I'll post the next few sometime over the next few days!

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

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