#writephoto

Tempting the gods #writephoto

a flash-fiction piece

I stand high on the cliff’s edge observing the one below; I cannot make out their sex. My head spins and my knees feel like jelly from acrophobia, though it’s not the height that worries me so much as what’s below my feet. Solid earth all the way down or just an outcrop of unreliable rock and then nothing but unsupportive air? All that and the look of the unimpeded edge, and this fallen angel on my shoulder who may, for reasons of mischief, cast a spell of impetuousness in my mind, urging me to step forwards.

But the scene below entices a curiosity. The person stands stock still looking towards the sea which, by stealthy degrees, creeps ever closer to their feet. I begin to count the waves. There is a rhythm of seven: six in a row simply tease and never appear to advance before the backwash reclaims them. Then comes the seventh, stronger than before. Taking all by surprise, it rushes the shore, an inch or two, or three, a line closer than before. Yet the person stands firm.

I think of King Cnut, poised on a throne brought by attendants to face the waves. The purpose was to show he had no rule over nature and could not command the tides. Mother Earth treats all her kin the same, whether pauper or king. She gets on with the business of running her house and we all have to fall in with her scheme, like it or not. It is better to like it, I think, and speaking of falls; what plans has she for this cliff edge now? I decide not to tempt her, nor my impish angel. I step away from the cliff, and leave the person below to a fate of their own choosing.

(300 words)


written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto prompt – “Choices”

Transition #writephoto

a flash-fiction piece

All the time when we lived opposite and she was alive, I would envy the woman her house across the courtyard from mine. It was serene: the wonderful stone gable, the stout, reliable oak door, and a small, teak garden bench for sitting out, catching the morning sun, while my own was cast in morbid shadow. Then, in the afternoon, when my half was scorched in a blistering oppression of the merciless sun’s heat, hers was sheltered, and shady, and cool. I’d notice her seating outside, on her bench, under her window, sipping wine, or maybe some cold cordial; a book open upon her lap. She was often smiling; contented.

And then she died. A brief illness, I don’t know what. An ambulance came one day last Spring and took her away, and the next thing I knew about it was the agent’s man coming around to fix up a board. “For Sale”. Of course, I bought it; a ridiculous price but I had to have it, see? After all those years, looking out upon it.

There is a new family in my old house now. Two children play in the courtyard after school, in the afternoon sunshine, while the couple cuddle up on my old bench, under my old window. They are always laughing. Sometimes they notice me looking out and they give a little wave, and occasionally mime a friendly “hello”. They seem happy and at home, in my old house, and I envy them.

(287 words)


written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto prompt – “Transition”

The Crooked House #writephoto

a flash-fiction piece

Of course, it wasn’t a fact how Shadie came into possession of the house at Warping Leer, and it was only rumoured he had loaned the previous owner a sum, knowing it couldn’t be paid, and raised the interest by precipitous degrees until the poor man either faced debtors’ prison or relinquish ownership at a knockdown price. He chose the latter and Shadie moved in.

It was a strange house with neither a true right-angle nor a straight line. Its load bearing beams had been acquired from the docks and had once been integral parts of the fleet, and during extremes of weather, the timbers groaned, cracked and creaked, as if the ghosts of the ships they had been were recalling great voyages across the tropics, or a particularly bad storm.

It was also found to be infested. The mice were even a match for Shadie’s nefarious nature: there wasn’t a cupboard strong enough to hold the weekly provisions where a mouse, in the space of one night, could exchange half a pound of good cheddar for a neat hole in the door. He needed a cat.

There was a woman who sold cats. He asked her for a good mouser, explaining the situation, and she offered him one she assured him would be as wily, if not more so, than the thieving rodent. She asked for sixpence which he gave her but when she held it in her palm, she was curious to know how it had come to be so misshapen; it appeared to be almost bent in half. He had found it thus, he said, a mile back along the twisting lane to her place. He was climbing a rather decrepit stile, putting his very life in peril, he thought, when he saw something glint upon the step on the other side. He presumed some earlier climber-over had had as much difficulty as himself and had not noticed the coin fall from his pocket. Still, he said, finders-keepers!

Back home, the cat did indeed prove to be wily. Shadie wasn’t too sure he wasn’t being had. The cat would not hunt on an empty belly and was as partial to the contents of the larder as was the mouse. Once fed, it would simply bat the mouse around for while, between paws, until it grew tired of the game and the mouse, having feigned death, would then make its escape and live to raid the cupboard another night.

In time, Shadie grew philosophical about it all. He had somewhere to live, the cat was company, and the mouse became a talking point at the tavern: with a bit of tall-tale embellishment, these days he often didn’t have to stand a round. Life was good, as long as the house remained standing. And, despite appearances, this is exactly what it did.


written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto prompt – “monochrome”

Beyond #writephoto

Everything alive here, now and before, is the favour of the sun; its light and warmth. In the cold of late winter, before the spring, before the earth has warmed and, in its turn, warmed the air which remains chill to our senses, our sun can give its warmth directly: the wonderful experience of feeling its heat on your body as you walk outdoors, or through a sunlit window as you sit.

To think of all the sentient creatures of the world which have sensed this too. From the time of insects energising their gossamer wings for flight, and upon the scales of giant lizards, the dinosaurs, and the feathers and down of early birds, then the mammals and us.

It is believed, with the irreversible stresses we have placed on the Earth, that the next life forms will not be organic but cybernetic, in order to survive the heat and extremes of the environment. What will a cognitive machine make of the sun’s radiant energy, if it analyses it through an electronic sensor chip, with artificial intelligence; or even senses it at all? What meaning will such an experience have for the soulless beyond?


written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto challenge – “Beyond”.

The Sign Writer’s Decision | #writephoto

a flash-fiction piece

The carpenter had done his job: a sturdy monument to his trade; the fencer had brought it directly to the site and sunk it firmly in the ground; the surveyor, having previously measured out the respective distances, had paid the sign writer a florin to finish the work. And so the painter walked the mile up from the village of Long Standing and stood before the unfinished post with the coin jangling in his pocket, a brush behind one ear and, amongst the few possessions in his knapsack, a can of fresh white paint.

The surveyor had instructed him thus: the post being a mile from the village, two miles to “Great Risingham”, and two and one half to “Little Risingham”. He would be along shortly to oversee the work.

The painter, satisfied to be at the right place, sat resting his back against the post and waited on the surveyor. Over time, not being of those parts, he wondered idly which way the two villages of Great and Little might be set. As he saw things, either way could boast the same. He plucked a stem of tall grass from the side and sucked on its sweet fractured end for inspiration, though nothing came.

Not even any sign of the Surveyor by the time the sun was at its zenith. An hour later, he took a quarter of game pie, an apple and a water bottle from his sack and began his lunch. When he had gnawed the fruit to its core, the Surveyor still hadn’t shown. He threw the core into the hedgerow and sighed. His paint was thickening in the heat; his patience was running thin. He stood to look at the post and, thrusting his hands into his pockets, felt the hardness of the coin within. Taking it out, he played with it in his agile fingers and, wanting to go home, an idea came to him. Little and Great Risinghams? He would toss the coin.

And this he did and just before dusk he had completed the work, packed his sack and was on his way, back towards Long Standing. He would, of course, give half the fee back to the Surveyor, if he met him; it was only right and fair. And any traveller wanting to know the way, and coming upon the sign, would have to do what he had done: toss a coin, or simply choose, being forewarned, for the painter’s coin had chosen “Little Risington”, and this is what he had placed upon both markers, his contract fulfilled for precisely half the bargain.


written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto prompt – “Decisions”

Threshold #writephoto

a flash-fiction piece

“It’s a bit big.”

“What is, woman?”, said Mr. Neanderthal regarding Mrs. Neanderthal with despair.

“The door”, she replied. Mr. Neanderthal turned to take in the enormity of the threshold to the world outside as if for the first time. It was a bit big, he thought.

“Give over, missus!”, he said at length, “This is what you’ve said you’ve always wanted.”

He turned imploringly towards the woman, gesturing with his arms outstretched.

“Look at all this space; you wanted new open plan living, a nice sea view, cold running water, five minutes walk to the gathering bushes… and now you’ve got it. So stop your whining.”

“Neighbourhood’s not all that though, is it?”

The wife’s mother had an annoying habit of saying the wrong thing at the worst times. She sat in a dark corner of the cave, sucking on a tusk. He felt the blood rise to his cheeks at the same time his heart seemed to fall into his aurochs-skin boots. It was something he might have considered ironic had he any notion of human physiology, but he hadn’t. He had only raw gut instinct and a few things his father taught him about flints and never to approach any wild animal downwind.

“What are you saying, mother?”, he said after a lengthy sigh.

She took the tusk from her mouth and spat something onto the floor before jabbing the tusk’s sharp end vaguely towards the scene outside.

“Place is full of them bloody Homo Sapiens, isn’t it? Coming over here, diluting the gene pool…”, she began. He’d heard it all before and he wasn’t having any more.

“Look, mum, there’s nothing wrong with them, they’re good people. I’ve hunted with them and they’re okay, very cooperative, very generous too, with their skills, give you their last…”

“Bah!”, the woman interrupted, “Well, the Great Elder has called us to have a vote and we say an end to it. We want tighter control on who comes in, and we don’t want them telling us what to do: the size and shape of the berries we should be picking and how many fish…”

“Don’t talk daft, woman!” Mr. Neanderthal’s dander was up. “You’ve been reading the wrong cave paintings again. You don’t want to believe what Boris drew on the side of the cliff – Many More Mammoths = Neanderthal Health Service. What is a Neanderthal Health Service anyway? Look, it’s our kids future; you’ll be dead soon, that’s all I’m saying.”

“Charming, I’m sure”, the old woman said quietly. He regretted mentioning the D word to her now. After a while, she spoke more,

“So you reckon our kids will have a future then?”, she said.

If he was honest, he’d say he wasn’t sure. The world seemed to be forever shrinking and the last ice age seemed generations ago. He’d like to trust there’d be Neanderthals while there were still flints to knap and elephants roaming the south downs, but who knows really?

“How about I fetch some skins and you and mum can make some curtains?”, he said, “Might give us a little privacy, at night, when we light a fire.”

He got no answer. The older woman was breaking the tusk open with a lump of granite while Mrs. Neanderthal busied herself with some ironing. He shrugged his shoulders and turning to the mouth of the cave, walked out into the evening light.

(567 words)


written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto prompt – “Threshold”.

apologies to one of my favourite authors, William Golding, who wrote “The Inheritors”. This is more a reflection on Brexit, its probable causes and the aftermath, the sorriest mess I hope ever to see in this country of mine.

Rift #writephoto

a flash-fiction story.

There were once rivers of rock, oozing, bubbling, living, white hot streams, rumbling rivulets flowing under dense, murderous skies. Then, during the cooling, they’d set, contract and fracture. The fractures would often tear along the site of an anomaly, something in the mixture of stone which ought not to be there, a weakness.

In this rent, the anomaly was an empty scotch bottle, a large, plaid neckerchief, and a child’s shoe: size 3, blue leather, with a buckle strap. This anomaly, it goes without saying, is not the cause of the geological fracture but it might be the reason for its presence. For what use is a thing without a purpose? The bottle held the liquor, the neckerchief held something we have yet to determine, and the shoe held the left foot of a boy, identity unknown.

He placed the items in a row along the rent’s edge. Then he opened a tape measure to about thirty centimetres, locked it and placed it in front of the row before sitting down on the opposite side. He took photos with his mobile phone but, to be safe, he opened his notebook and with a pencil began sketching the items in turn, along with some dimensions and relevant notes. He spent a little more time on the shoe, not because it was difficult but he felt somehow it was the most important. He wondered what had happened to its other; he hoped there was a good explanation; he didn’t want to imagine anything sinister.

Just then, he heard his name called. He was some way off from the rest and Miss James was crouching low and doing something with Tim’s leg. Tim was crying. Tim always found something to wail about on school field trips. Miss James called his name again. Don’t wander too far, or something like that, caught on the wind. He’d just about done anyway. Picking himself up, he closed the book, put the tape in his pocket and then he nudged the objects back into the cleft. He wondered again about the shoe, whether it belonged to Tim, and whether it was why he was crying.

He looked across at the class and saw they were heading back to the bus. Only Miss James stood still, waiting, and looking very stern. Next year, he would drop geography and concentrate on art.

(393 words)


written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto prompt – “Rift”

The Standing Stone #writephoto

a flash fiction

For a billion revolutions since its birth, itself not a fleeting moment, the rock communed deep within the soul of the Earth, amongst kith and kin. Suddenly, there came the violent, shifting erosion of glaciers, three, or possibly four, moments in succession. What had been concealed was revealed thereafter; a bleaker experience, the dual wearing punishments of air and water in motion. Still throughout, it reposed in quiet submissiveness beside the mountain’s feet.

When the animated ones first arrived, they showed little interest. The stones watched them skitter and slide, grow and alter: larger, quicker, smaller, taller, slower, and all multiplying until the stones began to discern subtle differences between them; in particular the thin upright ones which took an interest in them as not before.

No sooner had the stones noticed them when a number came with woods and vines, and attacked the ground upon which the greater stones rested. Brutally, they felt themselves being hacked away from their brethren and dragged indignantly to a foreign place. There, these thin creatures hoisted each stone arbitrarily, and without regard to the stone’s sensibility, onto one end and shoved it down into a hole.

No great time has passed yet for a great stone to quell its anger; it burns hot and the energy is immense; it calls out yet the creatures who did this thing appear, in the main, oblivious to its cry. The stone, against hopelessness, must learn patience. As quickly as they came, the thin ones will be gone and the ground will continue to shift and break, and be unable to restrain the great stones. They will find rest again and their dignity will be restored.

In time.

(279 words)


Written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo Photo Prompt Challenge – “Timeless”.

Honour #writephoto

A rose plucked and laid
red across a pallid stone
for love enduring,
memories of adonis’ wounds
mingled with a turmoiled earth
which, amongst the remains,
bore blossoms of a different kind
though red, not of a rose,
though dead, not for love
but honour.


written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo Photo Prompt Challenge – “Honour”

Up against Quintus Horatius Flaccus and Wilfred Owen, I ought not to try for a poem this time but I simply didn’t have a story.

I then wondered, in my ignorance, whether poetry was a higher form of literature and should therefore be truthful. From the heart, so to speak. I don’t think I believe in the sentiment of “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”.

Amour sans frontières.

#writephoto: Before The Flood

Removing themselves from the tent, the three of them sat cross-legged on the sheet of tarpaulin, and looked skywards.

“Red sky in the morning, shepherds’ warning”, said Japheth.

“Red sky at night, shepherds’ delight”, added Shem.

“Baked potatoes on lamb, shepherds’ pie!”, said Ham.

Shem plucked a sod of grass and threw it at Ham. It struck the top of his head and bounced away; they all laughed at that.

Outside of the city, the sky appeared vast and overwhelming, its shocking redness increasing its imposingness; the broken plane of cloud resembled a sheet of bloody tripe.

“I imagine it’s like being inside the belly of a dragon”, said Japheth.

“Like a belly of fire?”, asked Shem.

“Do you think the dragon’s fire starts in its belly?”, said Ham, “wouldn’t it more likely start from its lungs?”

“Don’t be daft. If we were inside its lungs, it’d have a coughing fit. It’d cough us to the other side of this field!”, cried Shem.

“It’s commonly held that the dragon makes fire from its pyrotid glands, situated at the back of its throat”, said Japheth.

“Are they very big, these pyro whatsit glands?”, asked Ham.

Japheth shrugged in ignorance and said, “Dunno. Why?”

“Well, they’d have to be to get us, this tarp’, the tent, the field and all these trees inside…”

Shem plucked up another sod to throw at Ham and caught him squarely on the side of his face. Pieces of grit flew into his ear. Just then, the dragon coughed and expelled all three across the field and over the trees in a plume of flame. They screamed but Ham screamed the loudest.

He woke in the dim half-light of new day with Shem barking hotly into his left ear. A rasping, congested voice, something about his turn to light the fire, put the water on, and make breakfast. He’d been dreaming again. Outside it was raining; he could hear it softly pattering on the canvas overhead. It looked like another wet day ahead, like the six before; and how many more?

Removing himself from the tent, he crouched down and lifted a corner of the tarpaulin which covered the fire pit and the wood. The wood seemed dry but the pit was waterlogged. He looked skywards and cursed until the rain burned his eyes and he had to turn again to the ground. It was a good job they weren’t shepherds, he thought, because they sure hadn’t heeded the warning.

(415 words)


Inspired by and written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto prompt – “Renewal”.

image by Sue Vincent.