A piece I wrote for a flash-fic contest, based around the topic “A Street Corner in November.”
Like it? Hate it? Let me know your thoughts.
The Frost Prince
Tiny ice crystals clung to the dirty stone wall of Hudson’s Bakery, each crystal a minute speck of pristine white which glistened beautifully in the moonlight. Mary studied the tiny crystals as she stood beside the street corner; watching each one grow larger as the temperature dropped helped to take her mind off how cold she was, helped her to ignore the way her breath frosted when she exhaled, how numb her toes felt inside her thin leather shoes. Not for the first time, she cursed God for sending winter so early to London this year.
A stone’s throw away from her usual corner, a dozen ships were moored at the old stone dock. Two of them were newly arrived, one carrying goods from Africa, another come to collect passengers to take back to the New World. Freedom was the name emblazoned on the hull of the transatlantic ferry, and for a brief moment, Mary toyed with the idea of trying to sneak onboard, to stowaway, to find a new life and fortune in America.
It was a fanciful dream. She knew she would be severely punished, if she was caught. Even if she wasn’t caught, she had no skills to speak of; the only thing she knew how to do was lie on her back, which was all a prostitute needed to know. But whether you were a prostitute in London or a prostitute in New York, it was still the same old song. The same men, with their grubby hands and breath reeking of stale alcohol, paying the same meagre fee for a quick roll in the sack.
Besides, George was waiting for her, back home. If she didn’t return before dawn, he’d wonder where she had gone.
A group of men approached from Freedom, and by their garb she saw they were sailors. Mary smiled and hitched up her dress, exposing one pale, slender leg. As the men passed, boisterous and jovial, two of them carrying bottles of rum or gin, she exhaled slowly, letting her barely-covered bosom rise and fall seductively. One of the men glanced at her, and she smiled with all the coyness she could muster, but he walked on, trailing after his friends. The noise of their merry-making died away, leaving only the sound of the Thames gently slapping against the side of the ships at dock.
Mary let her dress fall back down over her chilled leg. It had been a long shot at best. Sailors were good fare during their shore-leave, but only if you caught them alone. Once they were ‘out with the boys’ it was hard to separate them.
“Are you working tonight?”
The voice was deep and scratchy. It came from behind the shop, from the shadows clinging to the alley between the bakery and the cobbler’s workshop. Mary narrowed her eyes, squinting into the darkness, trying to see who spoke. Some men hid in the shadows, paranoid about being seen near a working girl. But a customer was a customer, and as long as he could pay, Mary did not judge.
“Aye, sir,” she said, leaving the ice-crystal corner, strolling towards the alley. “If you’ve coin to pay, of course.”
“Of course.” He stepped forward, into the pale moonlight, and she caught a glimpse of his face; narrow and clean-shaven, it was a face of harsh angles. That didn’t matter to Mary. After four years of working the streets, she no longer saw faces. They were all the same; indistinct featureless blurs. Even when she saw the same man twice, it was rarely his face she remembered.
“Here you go,” he said. He took out a small coin purse and counted several silvers. When he handed them over she pocketed them, glancing through her lashes at the dark suit he wore. Clearly he was no sailor, and no labourer. Why a well-to-do member of society would want to hire the services of a working girl, she did not know, but then again, she did not particularly care.
“Come along this way,” he said, stepping back into the alley. The darkness swallowed him, and Mary hesitated. As a rule she tried to keep to the main streets, which were well-lit and populous. But this man was a customer, and that he had paid her in advance proved he wasn’t likely to swindle her.
Lifting her head a little higher and fighting the unease she felt in her stomach, she followed him into the shadows. It wasn’t easy to see, in the alley, and twice she tripped over broken pieces of wood which had been casually strewn aside, but she could hear his footsteps up ahead, and she hurried along after him, trying to keep pace.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Mary Nichols,” she replied.
“Well, Mary, what would you say if I was to tell you that I’m going to make you famous?” There was humour in his scratchy voice.
“What do you mean?”
She heard him stop, and in the dimness of the alley she could just about make out that he turned to face her.
“My name’s Jack.”
There was a flash of something cold and bright, which reflected the moonlight as the ice crystals had, and Mary felt a searing pain across her neck. Ice flashed across her skin, chilling her. But then something warm began to pour down her chest. She went light-headed and sank to the ground. Her life did not flash before her eyes, because she’d had no life to speak of. Just one more painted face in a city of filth and sin. The last thought that crossed her mind before it ceased to work was that George would wonder why she hadn’t come home. Her son would grow up believing his mother had abandoned him.
When the sun rose over London, the tiny ice crystals on the wall of the bakery began to melt. And a tiny river of red ran along the ground, spilling into the dirty gutter.
Another flash-fiction piece for Chuck Wendig’s Friday flash-fic challenge. We were to click the following link and write about our destination. I have posted a picture of my destination at the end of this story. (http://www.safestyle-windows.co.uk/secret-door/)
Beyond the Door
I have a vague memory, one that is already fading fast. It’s dark, and I’ve just left the cinema with my friends. The movie, some action flick, was mediocre at best – a generic hero with generic muscles fought a generic enemy – and a hundred and fifty-eight minutes of my life had been wasted on stupidly large explosions and over-the-top CGI. Our Hero had saved the day and got the girl.
Real life isn’t like that, I remember thinking to myself. You don’t get a perfect ending in a hundred and fifty-eight minutes.
My friends wanted to go into town, to continue being social. I was starting to develop a headache, brought on by loud explosions booming from the cinema’s surround-sound with enough force to set off seismographs in New Zealand, and by the flashing lights on the big screen. Loud music and copious amounts of alcohol were the last things on my mind. I said goodbye to my friends.
“I’ll see you tomorrow.”
They returned my farewell, waving as they left.
It started to rain – it does that a lot, in England. The bus shelter, just across the road, was my one chance of salvation. Squinting, trying to shield my eyes from the water pattering against my face, I stepped off the pavement.
I found myself in an action movie. There was flashing light, something loud blaring at me, the scream of tyres on wet tarmac, echoed by the scream of some damsel in distress standing on the pavement behind me. But this movie had no Hero. I remember seeing one word; Volkswagen.
Then I wasn’t outside the cinema anymore. I wasn’t cold, getting wet by the falling rain. I was inside a room, and in front of me were two doors, one white and shining, above it engraved the image of an elephant, impressive tusks curled beneath its trunk. The other door was some shade of brown, and above it an image of a mountain goat with curved rams-horns was depicted in the stone.
I had been here before. As memories of the other place – the cinema, the movie, the Volkswagen – drifted from my mind, new memories entered, to replace what I had lost. This place… this place was not what it seemed. I had learnt my lesson long ago, and now I knew what I had to do.
I stepped towards the brown door, and it opened at the slightest touch of my hand. I smiled; the door had always done that, as if it sensed my desire to enter it. And as I stepped through, I already knew what would be waiting for me.
I found myself beneath a blue sky, not a single cloud marring that perfect expanse of azure. Beneath the sky, set into a small depression in the ground, was a model village. It was not the same model village I had seen last time, for it changed with each visit I made. This one was more intriguing than its last incarnation; right before me was a small information post, the words ‘Victorian Houses’ written at the top, a lengthier description of them beneath. Behind the houses was a green park, tiny bonsai trees planted here and there.
To the left of the Victorian houses were multi-storey rectangular buildings on straight streets which ran at right-angles to each other. I could not see the information post, but judging by the way they stood in perfectly neat blocks, I suspected they belonged somewhere in the United States. I had been there once, during the Great Depression, and recognised some of the architecture.
Off in the distance were some sky-scrapers; it could have been New York, or it could have been Tokyo. I was sure I had seen King Kong and Godzilla having their wicked way with some of these buildings… but that was part of my previous memory-set, and they weren’t important, now. I did, however, have fond memories of Tokyo; I had been there during Japan’s Edo period, when the great city had been nothing more than a fly-speck village. But it had been a nice fly-speck village.
As I was considering my next destination, the door opened behind me, and a man stepped through. He gave me a smile, and approached me with a spring in his step.
“Hey, first time visitor?” he asked.
“No, I’m a frequent flier,” I replied. “You?”
“Oh yeah, yeah. I love this place. Every time I come here I think, ‘this will be my last time, I’ve seen it all by now’, and then it throws me something new!” He squinted at the sky-scrapers. “Is that New York?”
“I think so,” I replied, not wanting to admit my lack of knowledge to this stranger. “Any idea where you’d like to go next?”
“Hmm… I don’t know… hmm, wait a minute!” His eyes lit up as they fell on the information post. “Victorian, eh? That sounds promising! I’ve never done Victorian England before. Have you?”
“No, but I was there for World War Two. You should really see St Paul’s Cathedral before it gets blitzed.”
“Oh, I will. Thanks for the tip.” He smiled, an eagerness in his eyes that I envied. My last experience had been rather unfulfilling, and I was in no rush to get back down there. Perhaps I would wait here for a while, until something piqued my interest.
“Well, I hope I’ll see you around again,” I said, not wanting to force him to leave, but not particularly in the mood for company right now. The word Volkswagen was still emblazoned across my mind, and refused to leave me alone.
“I certainly hope so too,” he said with a smile. “Who knows, maybe I’ll even meet you down there.”
“Yeah, maybe.” But we wouldn’t recognise each other.
I watched as he stepped into the model village, and he disappeared before my eyes. Down there, I knew, some Victorian woman had just gone into labour, and within hours her new son would be born. She would never know his true nature; nobody would. That was just the way things worked.
Another flash-fiction piece for Mr Chuck Wendig’s latest challenge.
From Beyond The Veil
It was a dark, stormy night.
It was the sort of night when people bolted their doors and pulled down the storm shutters over their windows. When woollen blankets, that smelt of mothballs and grandma, came out of storage and were wrapped around shoulders, held closed around shivering bodies by chilled hands. The wind had a way of sliding its icy fingers into every nook and cranny, of finding its way inside regardless of how well closed up a home was.
One person did not shiver, or huddle beneath a musty, rarely-used blanket. Eleanor Dupuis lived in luxury; her 10 year old mansion had been built purposely to look archaic, but it lacked the flaws older properties possessed. The window frames were perfectly level, allowing not even a breath of wind to enter. The floorboards, each one hand-cut from expensive English oak, never creaked – they would not have dared. The roof tiles did not rattle in bad weather, and the roof never leaked, not even a single drop of water making it into the house.
As a particularly strong gust of wind shook the windows of her mansion, Eleanor smiled to herself, and looked around her private library from the warmth and comfort of her armchair in front of the roaring open fire. This room was her pride and joy. She had nursed and nourished it as a new mother doted on her firstborn child. Into the creation and growth of the library went the obsessive care and attention that parents lavished on their children, and for good reason. From a young age – around nine or so, roughly the same time she’d learnt where babies come from – Eleanor had decided that she wasn’t going to be one of those women who popped out baby after baby and stayed home to look after her family. Eleanor had Plans. Very nearly they were Grand Plans.
Her grandfather had been an archaeologist, and to this day, ancient monochrome photographs of him posing in various countries at various dig-sites amongst various local peoples were amongst Eleanor’s most treasured possessions, and now she too was immortalised in print, her pictures framed upon the walls beside Grandpa; her first ever dig in Egypt, where a tip from an elderly local man who’d asked for later payment but then never returned to claim it, had helped her to unearth the lost tomb of an ancient Pharaoh; the expedition of university students she’d led to Machu Picchu when she was thirty six, in search of ancient Incan secrets; her very last expedition before retirement three years ago, a trip to England, to a newly discovered Neolithic settlement which had the potential to rock the boat of the archaeological world.
As Eleanor looked around her library, reflecting on the greatest moment of her life – and there had been many, because she had been a very successful and renowned archaeologist – the room began to shake. At first she ignored the shaking, dismissing it as a symptom of the storm, but when it grew in intensity, causing some of her books to work themselves loose off the shelves, she began to worry. The final straw came when the prize of her collection, an exquisitely hand-crafted jade dolphin figurine she’d unearthed in China, fell from the mantelpiece; victim of gravity and the hard English oak floorboards, it shattered into pieces, and Eleanor’s heart fell from her chest into her stomach.
She pushed herself up from her chair, stepping carefully around the small pieces of jade which littered the floor. Though the room still shook, she made her way to the mantelpiece – one did not become a famous and respected archaeologist by allowing a little earthquake to unnerve them – and pushed some of the other figurines back, securing them in place with her hands.
The shaking stopped. All was quiet, except for the storm outside. Eleanor looked up, into the mirror above the fireplace, and froze. Behind her stood a man in dusty brown robes, his feet clad in brown leather sandals, a wooden staff held in one hand to be used as a walking aid.
Eleanor turned on the spot. She didn’t need to look into the mirror to know the colour had drained from her face. Her eyes felt wide inside her own head as she faced the man.
“Y-you can’t be here,” she stammered. “You should be dead!”
The man did not speak. He merely walked towards Eleanor, his stick held aggressively above his head, and she screamed as the makeshift club was brought down towards her head.
– – – – –
The great lord Osiris, undertaker of the ages, leant his weight against his sturdy shovel as he stood above the fresh grave in front of the tombstone. It was, he thought, and not for the first time, such a shame that Westerners were so fond of interring their bodies in the earth. It made the raising more traumatic for the souls, when they had to rise up through the ground. The Egyptians had gotten it right. Mummification, and eternal rest of the body inside a tomb. Nothing at all traumatic about that.
As he watched, the pale, ethereal form of Eleanor Dupuis rose from the ground. She looked around in fright, and her eyes fell on him once more.
“I don’t understand,” she said. “Why did you do this to me?”
“It is not what I did to you, but what you did to yourself,” he replied. “Do you remember what I said to you, back in Egypt?”
“You said you could make my career, for a price.”
“And you said..?”
“I don’t remember,” she lied.
“You said, ‘For that, I would give you anything.’ So now I am claiming my fee. I have come for your soul.”
“But I wasn’t being serious!” the ghost objected.
The great lord Osiris waved his hand, returning himself to the underworld, and the ghost of Eleanor Dupuis went with him.
Entry for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: They Fight Crime. Based off the randomly generated text; ‘He’s an underprivileged arachnophobic boxer with a robot buddy named Sparky. She’s a cynical paranoid angel from a family of eight older brothers. They fight crime!’ from theyfightcrime.org
They Sold Me A Dream
‘And it was all just a dream.’
They were the words writers used at the end of the story to sell the audience a lie. To protect innocent minds from the harsh truth of a reality they just weren’t ready to handle. Other lies of reality included ‘if you eat your vegetables you’ll grow up to be big and strong’, ‘if you treat people nice, they’ll return the favour’ and, of course, ‘if you leave a tooth under your pillow, the tooth-fairy will take it away and leave you a quarter.’ The truth of reality was much, much simpler. Some people were destined to never grow up no matter how many vegetables they ate. Some people walked all over you even if you were nice as pie with a cherry on the top; sometimes they did it especially if you were nice as pie (including mandatory cherry). And, in reality, the tooth-fairy was a vicious little bastard who just wouldn’t quit. People thought they lost their baby-teeth as they aged. They simply didn’t see the tiny, winged monstrosity who snuck into their bedrooms at night and quietly chipped away at those little teeth with a minute pick-axe.
For Avril, the lies were of a different nature. ‘Of course there is a purpose to your existence.’ And, ‘yes, you can certainly make a difference in people’s lives.’ But that’s what you got when you were the youngest of nine children, and the only girl by simple virtue of the fact that Dad wanted to ‘try something different.’ So she’d spent eight or nine thousand years sitting on her cloud in heaven, looking down at the green and blue marble her family called ‘Earth’, watching her brothers given human after human to guide and protect. Dad’s excuse was always the same: “But this one’s a very important mortal. I need <insert name of random brother> to handle it. You can have the next one born, Avril.”
After nine-thousand years, she’d been forced to confront her own harsh truth, the bitter reality of her own existence. Dad just wasn’t going to let her do the job her brothers had been doing since the beginning of time. For whatever reason, he didn’t trust her to see it through. So, armed with her newfound insight which she’d teamed with unrepressed disappointment, she’d done the only thing an angel could do when planning to rebel against God. She’d run away from home.
Now, her view of the Earth was no longer obscured by clouds. Standing atop the generically bland New York skyscraper, she could see it all. Humanity, in all of its glory, in all of its filth. It had been the filth which had affected her most. As a righteous being of virtue, crime and corruption were an affront to her, a mockery of all that heaven stood for. Taking on the responsibility of fighting those twin demons had not been so much a decision as a calling which had been literally thrust upon her the first time she’d walked down one of the streets at night, and some thug had thought she would make an easy mark because she was a woman alone (or so he had mistakenly believed, before she had been forced to terminate his existence for the greater good).
From her vantage point, her steely eyes picked up the shape of her partner, former heavy-weight boxing champion Jimmy Alessi. He, too, loathed the corruption. Fed up with the match-fixing and crooked gambling that went on behind the scenes at the boxing rings where he’d made his name, he’d given it all up to oppose it, and now his fists punched for justice instead of fame. For Jimmy, who had been raised to believe in hard work and sacrifice by his widowed mother even whilst she had struggled to put shoes on his feet and food in his belly, to see his passion turned into a parody by those who cared only for the achievement regardless of whether they had earned it, was more than he could bear.
Avril stretched out her wings and flew down to his position, gliding past unlit office windows, landing silently beside him before folding her feathery appendages behind her back. Jimmy glanced at her briefly but said nothing.
“All is in place?” she asked at last.
Jimmy nodded, the spider tattoo on his cheek moving along with the motion. The spider had been a joke. Arachnids were the only thing Jimmy feared, so Avril had suggested he have one tattooed in a place he could see, so that he would be forced to confront — and hopefully, overcome — his fear. That was the day she had learnt that you couldn’t use throw-away lines like that when Jimmy was around.
“Yeah. Sparky’s monitoring the exchange. He’ll let us know when we can swoop in.”
Sparky. The robot Jimmy had bought from a junk sale and turned into his own personal spy-bot. One of the duo’s greatest tools in the fight against crime, and Avril still had no idea how he’d reprogammed the damn thing.
“D’ya think we’ll ever get them all?” Jimmy asked. But there was no hope in his dark brown eyes, and Avril wasn’t going to even attempt to lie. Jimmy deserved more than that, and for some people, ‘it was all just a dream’ was not a worthy ending. Some people deserved to see the harsh truth, no matter how bitter it tasted. For some people, the story never ended, it just continued on a new page.
In silence they stood, waiting for the robot’s cue.
Since my previous communicaé I have taken the opportunity to study several human subjects at considerable length, and am pleased to make the following report.
Human beings are a species of hairless ape, referred to by themselves as homo sapiens sapiens. A mammalian species, they reproduce by the method of sexual reproduction, an activity which appears to take up an inordinately large portion of their time and their thoughts.
The humans are, as a species, incredibly frail. The things which can kill them include, but are not limited to:
- Large animals
- Medium-sized animals
- Small animals
- Microscopic organisms
- Their modes of transportation
- Large things falling on them
- Small things falling on them
- Falling over
- Too much heat
- Not enough heat
- Too much water
- Not enough water
- Too much food
- Not enough food
- Sharp things
- Pointy things
- Blunt things
- Their own planet
- Their own bodies
- Each other
To the casual observer it would seem that life itself is opposed to the existence of the human species, so it is remarkable that they are so numerous on their planet. Not only are they easily killed, they also possess the curious habit of making excuses for death. These excuses are many and varied, but some common ones are:
- An act of a supreme creator-being they call “God”
- An act of an evil being they call “The Devil”
- Their upbringing
- Their genetics
- Video games
- Poor judgement
- Intoxication or addiction
- Mental illness
- and, my favourite: “That’s Life”
I have attached a data packet of information pertaining to human biology which I am certain the Supreme Head of SCOLIS will find useful. Unfortunately, I have reached the limits of what can be learnt about human biology with the technology currently available to me. The only way to learn more about these creatures would be to extract several of them for detailed probing, which, as I’m sure you are aware, is forbidden by the current Coalition for Intergalactic Peace, Prosperity and Trade (CIPPT).
I would be grateful if you could direct the topic of my next communication.
-Mr Urban Spaceman
I have set up this “blog” so that you may review my reports as soon as they are made.
I arrived at the designated co-ordinates above the Earth’s surface as predicted and have entered a geosynchronous orbit. The cloaking device is working and I am undetectable by the primitive technology of this world. The humans are completely unaware of my presence above their planet.
In lieu of making contact with the natives I have established an identity on Twitter, which will allow me to monitor various humans and their organisations. Should you wish to observe this experiment, the identity I have created is @mrurbanspaceman
Finally, please allow me to express my most sincere apologies for questioning the wisdom of this experiment. I most humbly request that I not be banished here for the next 1,200 years as threatened by the Supreme Head of the Science Committee for the Observation of Less Intelligent Species (SCOLIS).
-Mr Urban Spaceman
P.S. Have attached first image of Earth from my ship