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Archive for the Short stories Category
Bent low over the handlebars, Shusta revved the engine of his bike, extracting every ounce of speed possible. Known as the dark knight of the road, he was determined to win this impossible challenge. He’d seen off all other competitors, crushing them beneath the wheels of his mechanical beast. Twisted, broken bodies littered the road behind him, its cracked and dangerous surface stained with fresh blood to add to the old.
Shusta’s eyes blazed red, almost rivaling the brilliance of his headlight. His black helmet gleamed in the moonlight and his leathers creaked with every turn he made. Flames roared from the exhaust, lighting up the road known as Hell’s passage.
The bike almost took flight, as it raced up the hill, leading to the foot of the mountain called Devil’s peak. Sweat poured down Shusta’s face. He was going to make it – he was going to be the first to complete the run unscathed! Many had died attempting it, none had come as close as this.
The road began to buck and twist beneath him, trying to bring him down, but he rode it like a surfer rides the waves of the sea. The tarmac cracked and split in an effort to swallow him whole, but he dodged and weaved. The sky above him filled with clouds. A gale sprang up, roaring its fury at his arrogance. Rain sheeted down, trying to blind him, but Shusta raced on.
Nothing could stop him – he was untouchable! Then he saw it, the gaping, tooth filled maw at the foot of the mountain. Too late he tried to brake. The smell of burning rubber filled his nostrils. The bike’s engine screamed its agony – then he was gone – swallowed up by the mountain.
Shusta had crossed the final finishing line. He’d won the race and received his prize…oblivion.
Daisy lay in her narrow bed, the blankets tucked in so tightly, she couldn’t move. She lay in the darkness, filled with terror, soaked in sweat as she listened to the tiny footfalls pattering around the room and making the floorboards creak.
Why would no one believe her? Why had she been locked away in this attic and left to rot? She knew the answer – it was punishment for what she’d done.
She’d always hated her sister with a passion that knew no limits. Yes, they were twins, but there’d never been that bond between them that other identical siblings had. Not that they were – identical that is. Oh they shared the same features, but whereas Dolly had been perfect, with golden ringlets and skin like porcelain, Daisy’s face was a pudgy caricature of her sister’s and her hair a tangled, straw-like thicket.
The only member of the family to give Daisy any attention was old Uncle Bartholomew. He was a strange man, living alone in a run down house filled from attic to cellar with books and various odd items he’d gathered on his travels through deepest darkest Africa. He’d talk to her for hours about the witch doctors he’d met, he even went so far as to show her his diary, filled with spells and recipes for potions and lotions.
One day when Uncle Bartholomew was busy in his study, Daisy took the diary from its place on the library shelf and opened it to one of the spells her uncle had often talked about.
At the top of the page, in his spidery handwriting, Bartholomew had written the fascinating word: Transmogrification. Her eyes skipped down the page, committing the spell to memory. Ever since Uncle Bartholomew had shown her this particular piece of magic, Daisy had come up with a plan.
Up in the attic of her mother and father’s house were two china dolls, consigned to the dust and spiders because they were so ugly. Daisy had felt sorry for them, left alone in the dark, so she planned to give at least one of them some company. It’d been so easy, enticing Dolly up to the attic, persuading her it was all a great adventure. Once inside the cramped room, she’d slammed the door shut and to add to her sister’s obvious unease, held the candle just below her chin, so that her face appeared to be floating in the dark.
Dolly had begged and pleaded to be let out, but Daisy, reveling in her cruel plan, refused. When Dolly fell to her knees, hands clasped together in appeal, Daisy spoke the words of the spell.
Eerie, whispering voices filled the air. An ice cold breeze sprang up, causing the candle flame to stream sideways. Dolly gave a strangled cry and her eyes rolled up, leaving only the whites showing. She keeled over and the heels of her patent-leather shoes drummed on the bare floorboards. Then the candle went out.
Terrified by her own success, Daisy fumbled the door open and heaved a sigh of relief, when light from the landing window poured in. She stood in the doorway and stared towards where the two china dolls usually sat side by side. The hairs on the nape of Daisy’s neck stood up. One of them was lying on its back, one leg raised high, as if it was in the act of drumming its heels.
She never went up there again, at least not until many years later. Her parents never recovered from the disappearance of Dolly and both died of broken hearts a few years later. Daisy, riddled with guilt, ended up alone in the crumbling house. But she wasn’t quite alone. The sound of tiny, running footsteps and the voice of her sister, calling her name, haunted Daisy’s every waking hour.
Now here she was, locked in the attic by grasping relatives only interested in her money. Just lately the footsteps had become more frequent and her sister’s voice louder, still calling her name. Then she felt it, a tiny, cold hand touched her throat. It’s fingers, surely too small to do any real harm, dug into her throat until she could no longer breathe.
When she woke again, hours later, her body felt curiously stiff. She tried to raise her arm and the joint creaked, as if from disuse. She touched her cheek. She felt nothing, as if her flesh had been frozen. Then as she continued to tap at her face, she heard the clink of china on china and realised what had happened.
Alone in the dusty, dark silence, the two dolls sat side by side. Across the room, an unmoving figure lay in the bed.
Daisy tried to weep, but dolls don’t cry.
Sorsha looked up at the clear, star sprinkled sky. Not a cloud to be seen, just the diamond twinkle of millions of tiny jewels. As she watched, one of the precious pinpoints of light began to plummet towards the frost covered field in which she knelt
Although only sixteen years old, it took the girl a moment to struggle to her feet. The biting cold left her bones aching and her flesh shivering, but she had no choice. Winter was the best time to look for stars fallen from the sky. If she found enough, she could sell them at the next market and make enough coin to buy bread and pay the rent on the hovel that even she, desperate as she was, refused to call home.
She pulled her threadbare shawl around her cotton clad shoulders and began to trudge towards the spot where the star might hit. Of course she knew the star merchants sold her gatherings for far more than they paid her, but what else could she do? Alone in this world, there was no one to feed her or put a roof over her head. There was no one to speak out for her and no one who would employ her because of her disability. Cursed they called her, damned and devil’s spawn. Tears formed their own stars in her sad grey eyes.
Wiping them away, Sorsha looked down at her withered arm and shortened right leg. A sigh escaped her. To be as other girls would be wonderful. Normality meant having a job, finding a husband and perhaps children. Shoulders hunched against the cold, she pushed the thoughts into the darkness where they belonged.
A glimmer of blue light sparkled in the near distance and she limped towards it as fast as she could. The glow lit up her face as she gazed down at the fallen star, where it lay on the stiff grass. Then the colour changed from the usual blue, to a rosy red and from that to a glorious gold. Sorsha’s heart leapt in her throat – a wishing star- she’d found a wishing star!
The fingers of her good hand flexed, as she stooped to pick up the prize of all prizes but then she paused, her fingertips mere centimeters away from the star gem. Yes, it was well know the rare and wonderful wishing stars were supposed to grant favours, but they weren’t always what you thought you wanted.
Sorsha straightened up. What did she wish for? Wealth, health and a life free from pain. To be able to walk the streets of her village without having stones and curses thrown at her. To never again see the sign people directed at her to ward off evil. To be treated as a human being instead of a species of mad dog. Was that so much to ask?
Her thoughts turned hot when she remembered how badly she’d been treated by those who should’ve shown compassion for her plight. She glanced down at the wishing star again. It now pulsed blue once more and driving away her doubts, the girl snatched it up.
At once her crippled body was suffused with a sense of peace and well being she’d never known before. Her awkward limbs felt light as air, when her feet left the ground. Up and up she rose towards the firmament, changing all the while. Her body fragmented into a million particles of light, then coalesced into one glittering ball of depthless beauty.
Even as she reached the heavens and joined her fellow stars, she was still Sorsha, but no longer a crippled and loveless child; she had become a queen of the heavens, far above the muck and reek of humankind. Never again would she know deprivation or the scorn of her so-called fellow creatures. She was a celestial beauty, far above and far away from all that had brought her down.
The following dawn two farmhands, on their way to work, found the huddled body. They stood and stared, until one of them turned the corpse over. For the first time ever, pity filled them when they recognised the pinched little face.
‘Ah well,’ one of them said, ‘she’s at peace now.’ He looked at his silent companion. ‘You wait here with her, I’ll go fetch the undertaker.’ He shook his head. ‘Most like they’ll bury her where she lies, they won’t want her in the churchyard alongside normal folk.’
High above, hidden by the growing daylight, the star called Sorsha danced and twirled with her new brothers and sisters, rejoicing in her freedom.
…I left the study and staggered upstairs. As I slumped onto the bed, I tried to block out the memory of that hand reaching for my throat. My effort was in vain. As though a dam had burst, my mind was flooded with other memories.
In my profession, one cannot afford such emotions as sympathy or pity. One has to block them, fight them off or suffer the consequences. My conscience, never my greatest asset, had lain dormant for years. Now it resurfaced with a vengeance.
The faces of every man, woman and child I had gathered over the years, suddenly surrounded me. They peered down at my prone body with expressions of malice. I tried to sit up, but found myself pinioned by the force of their will.
The blood in my veins congealed, the beat of my heart slowed to a crawl, as the ghosts of my victims drew on my life force, leeching it from my body, drawing it into their own spirits.
It was a kinder death than I deserved, I suppose, given my many bloody, inventive ways of gathering the lives of those who had erred. There was no physical pain, only mental, which was infinitely worse. Guilt for the taking of lives poured over me in an avalanche, burying me beneath its weight. With leaden inevitability, my spirit was forced from my mortal frame, over the threshold between life and death.
I looked around the ring of faces surrounding me and realised that now I was on the same plane as my former victims, the torment had only just begun.
The first time things started to go wrong, began on a cold midwinter night. I was bringing my ledger up to date; every gatherer is required to keep a record of their kills, so that it can be audited by the Emperor’s clerks at the end of the fiscal year.
The clock had struck twelve and I sat in my study, the ledger on the desk before me. I lifted the heavy cover, preparing to write down my latest gains and losses. My pen skittered across the parchment, as I bent to my task. Then suddenly the nib snagged and ink sputtered and splattered, like an arterial blood spray.
I swore and prepared to tear the page out, when the paper rippled, then rose up. It formed itself into a hand, with long, bony fingers. The nails were black and split. The “flesh” grey and scored with hacks and slashes, as though its owner had tried to defend itself against a knife attack.
I’m not often surprised, as you may guess from my profession, but this sudden apparition left me rigid with unaccustomed fear. The hand reached out towards me and grasped my throat with a strength I’d never encountered before. It squeezed the breath from me and no matter how I fought to free myself, it would not let go.
Realising the futility of fighting the hand itself, I seized the ledger’s heavy cover and with desperation fueling my desire to escape, slammed it shut. I leaned back in my chair, mouth agape as I strove to feed my lungs with air. I glanced around the candlelit room, the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. Apart from the flames in the hearth and the ticking of the great clock, nothing moved and all was silent.
With one last glance at the ledger, I forced myself to my feet. Nothing had happened, I’d imagined it all. My work had been hard and frequent of late and I was tired.
I went to lean on the mantlepiece, determined to resume my writings as soon as I’d calmed down. Imagination – that’s all it had been. I glanced up and when I met my own gaze in the mirror above the mantle, I froze.
The livid bruises on my throat gave the lie to my self-delusion…
Just lately my conscience has been troubling me – strange -because it never has before. I’ve carried out my work with dispassionate efficiency, never straying outside the professional bounds of my calling. But glitches have begun to appear: a jolt of my hand, a pinching of my arm, even a shove in the back from someone who isn’t there.
Even as a child I excelled at my calling; maiming and finally throttling that small bird was my first kill - mother and father were so pleased. So, egged on by my parents, I moved on to bigger and better things.
My mother and father were two of the empire’s gatherers, collecting up the lives of those who reneged on their taxes, or stole from the Emperor’s treasury. Not one single enemy or wrong-doer escaped their creative attention.
So it was natural, given my latent talents, that I should follow in their footsteps. I killed, maimed and tortured, all in the name of our glorious leader. I excelled at it, became even better than my sires.
Then one day it all went wrong…
Bouquet of happiness
Roses are for deep down joy, glowing velvet red and filling my mind with thoughts so bright I could almost burst with glee.
Daisies gift me a happiness so fresh and rare, I hardly dare think it real.
Violets bring the serenity such contentment craves.
Lilac’s heavy scent intoxicates me, lifts me above the doldrums and frees my soul.
Apple blossom fills me with the longing to dance with steps so light it feels as if I’m treading on air.
Long may such a bouquet thrive and prosper and spread its wonder far and wide.
I’m filled to the brim with happiness, from the top of my head to the tip of my toes. I’m so full of glee, I feel as if I could fly.
In my mind I skim above pure white clouds, tinged orange by the rising sun against the glorious backdrop of a pale blue sky. It surrounds me like a silken curtain and my ears are filled with the sound of fluting birdsong.
I descend to earth again, lightly, softly, sliding down shafts of sunlight that fill the air with bars of pale, misty gold.
My descent does not restore me to normality, rather it heightens even further my feeling of joy. This is a glad new day, filled with prospects both wonderful and sweet.
A diamond in the rain
Raindrops trickle down the windowpane, sparkling almost as brightly as the diamond on my finger. It was placed there by my true love, now gone forever.
Life can be cruel, the parting brought about by death even crueler. To never see him again, never feel his touch or the warmth of his breath upon my cheek – what could be worse?
I suppose I should take the ring off, put it away, lock it into darkness, but I can’t. It’s part of me forever
They tell me my sorrow will pass and be lost in the mists of time…I don’t think so, because that too is mine and like a diamond in the rain I will never, ever let it go.