Category Archives: Odd Shorts

Miscellaneous short stories and flash fiction

Upside Downside

Look! These new pills make my hairs stand on end and wave at people. Amazing, right? I don’t mind, but it makes my head itch, although nowhere near as badly as the old pills. Look at them go, luv. Medusa man, right? Thousands of tiny snakes wriggling up top. Unless I wash my hair, and then I can’t do a thing with it.

Read on at Kraxon Magazine…

Edgewise

It’s a sure sign of a dissatisfied customer when my toes can’t reach the ground. Nevin the blacksmith was at least as big as the battered warrior holding my throat, but he just stood back and watched. No loyalty there, just a business arrangement.

“Broke.”

That’s not my fault. In fact, that is Nevin’s fault. He does the metalwork, I add the magic. That’s how magic sword manufacturing works. The magic can’t stop the steel from breaking, but the really good stuff can make it cut through sorcerers, demons, other magic swords and…

Urk?

“Broke how?” Nevin asked gruffly.

“In battle.” The warrior lifted me higher, which was fine because toes far off the ground hurts just the same as almost touching.

“Broke how exactly? You hit something with the sword, or something hit you?”

The warrior dropped me, turned on Nevin, and then thought better of it.

“Another sword did it.”

Nevin scratched at his beard. I used to think he must have a really itchy chin, but it’s his way with stroppy warriors in the smithy. It reminds them that his fists are big and his forearms are thicker than the average leg.

“Show me the bits.”

The warrior kicked at the rough sack he’d dropped when he first came in – you want to see, you pick it up.

Nevin scratched his beard again until the warrior crouched, rummaged, and held up a sword in two parts. It was one of the really cheap ones Nevin knocks out and calls a Bearkiller, because the sort of fool who buys a cheap sword will always go for something called Bearkiller, or Demonslayer. I’m no expert in this stuff, but I know swords break, and I know that the Bearkillers can snap if the user sneezes too hard.

“Fix it.”

Warriors are like children. It broke, fix it. They don’t ask can it be fixed? With a broken blade like that, Nevin would hammer out the pieces and make something like a chunky dagger, and one of the skinny, flashy blades he calls a Windslicer – cheap, fragile, but makes a really impressive whistling noise cutting through the air.

“Needs magic to fix,” Nevin said, more to me than the warrior. “I’ll get the heat going.”

I don’t do magic, I collect magic. Applying it to the swords is easy, but nothing I’ve got can repair a sword. Like I said, Nevin does the metalwork.

The smithy is poorly lit and once Nevin starts pumping the bellows, all you see is the glow of the coals, unless you know where to look. While the warrior was bedazzled by the sparks, Nevin slipped a freshly-made Bearkiller off the pile and set it close by. We ought to practice this misdirection routine for the next dissatisfied customer, but there’s no real point. Warriors who buy cheap swords rarely live long enough to complain about workmanship.

“Come on, man,” Nevin growled, and he was right – I was daydreaming, whilst the warrior was inching closer to where he might see what we were doing.

“Stand back,” I said, as commanding as I could be, and the warrior inched closer instead.

I picked a jar of whispering prayers off the shelf and tossed two into the fire. I like the prayers – I buy them a dozen the farthing from a decrepit monastery a half-day’s walk away. A sword bound with one of those prayers will tell the wielder how fine and proud they are. You can see it the moment they pick one up in the smithy – yes, yes, I am!

Never burn a whispering prayer. A banshee scream of terror ripped through the smithy driving the warrior two clumsy steps backwards. I already had my fingers in my ears and Nevin – well the big lump doesn’t hear so well after so many years of hammering.

Next I took a sun potion and flicked a drop into the cherry coals and just for a moment a blinding noon light flared out. I usually use a drop mixed with a little brandy and work it into the blades to give them that alluring glint in the dark that says look here, I’m a magic sword. I’m told that glint can attract goblins in the night, but none of our customers has ever complained about that.

“Are you ready for this?” I called out, reaching for the edge charms. “This can be…”

I had no idea what would happen to an edge charm in the fire. When I attach one to a blade, it holds the edge forever, provided you keep the metal out of the sun. I suppose I ought to mention that when we sell a sword.

“Ready,” the warrior grunted.

“Just give me a moment. This third one is tricky.” Instead of the edge charms, I eased the stopper from a jar of whitefire I bought from a warlock. It was supposed to be pure magic – I think he lied, but far safer than edge charms. “Here… third one…”

I tossed a piece of whitefire into the forge and bright, white light even stronger than the sun potion blinded everyone. When my eyes cleared, Nevin was standing before the forge, holding forth a brand new Bearkiller, smoke just curling around the blade. I still don’t know how he does that, but it impresses the customers.

“Your weapon,” he said and held it out.

The warrior took it, almost reverentially, and then tried a few test swings.

“Do that outside,” Nevin growled.

As soon as we were alone, he pulled the broken pieces of the old sword from the forge.

I went to the door and watched. The warrior took a few more good swings, gave me a glare, and then stamped off eastward which is where they say the armies are currently fighting.

“That third one…” Nevin pushed me out into the daylight so that he could see the warrior go. “Was that a charm?”

“No.”

###

I wrote this in response to the #BlogBattle prompt of Charm.

Image from Pixabay

Hurry

In the car, hurry, worry,

Running late, worry, hurry.

Turn the key, come on, start it

Clicks and whirls but doesn’t catch it.

Growl and grind, and fading power

Turn and turn, and turning slower

Wretched beast, I hear what happened

Click and nothing, battery flattened

Out the box, the biggest hammer

Instead choose the ratchet spanner

Turn and turn the clicking ratchet

Drop it, curse and fail to catch it.

Down beside the engine block

Out of reach and really stuck

Scrape my knuckles, fail to reach it

How I hate the wretched ratchet.

I hate the car, its fickle state

All the worse when running late

Now I’ve really lost my cool

Gotta have the wretched tool

Dripping blood I gotta get it

Cursing blue of course I blew it

Straining hard could barely touch it

Failed to reach the wretched ratchet.

Need a stick to poke it loose

Saw the hammer resting close

Reached and grabbed and… darn it… NO…

The wretched hammer hit my toe

Darn it all, the wretched rush

Now can’t walk to catch the bus.


This piece of vaguely rhyming alliterative nonsense  was brought to you by the July #BlogBattle prompt of Wretched.

Outside The Box

Hey, Chazos, you gonna open it, or what?”

Maybe…” There’s a sinking feeling when you realise you’re talking to a god, and you know that never ends well. “I mean… didn’t work out so well for my sister.”

Chazos, man, you gotta have faith… I mean, honestly, your sister has the brains of a mouse. The Gods gave her a box with all the ills of the world in it and… well… I did say…. I mean they did say, don’t open it. I kept telling them that free will is nothing but trouble. So… you gonna open yours?”

It’s true about Pandora, not the sharpest tool in the… never mind. They gave her this jar, not a box, but telling her not to open it… that’s like a big sign, open here. If they’d said, it’s fine, open it any time, she might never have let all the ills of the world loose.

Some hope, but it might have bought a day or two.

My jar is different. It could do with a label to tell me what’s inside, but they never said not to…

Wait… who are you, exactly?”

Hermes. You know, messenger of the gods. Get about a bit. Everyone knows me. I was thinking of changing my name. How does Mercurius sound? A bit pompous, maybe? I was looking for something a bit more low-key, but hey, this all about you… So. Opening the box?”

Jar. It’s a jar.”

Hermes shrugged and did a little shuffle-dance with those winged sandals. “Call it a box. Trust me. Everyone else will. There’s marketing potential in calling it a box. Think of the publicity. Everyone’s heard of Pandora’s Box, but let’s face it, Chazos’s Jar… doesn’t really cut it.”

Apparently, one day, people will say there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Tell that to Pandora. She’s never got over being blamed for everything bad in the world.

What’s in my jar… I mean, box?”

Apparently, one day, clear labelling and safety information will be the norm.

In the box?” Hermes did that shuffle again like he wanted to be somewhere else. “Nothing much. Just all the wonders of the world. Go on, open it. It’s gonna be great.”

Gods are tricky at the best of times and when one drops by for a chat, that’s it, your life is basically over. You can’t even say no, go torment another mortal. Once you’re it, you’re it, and doomed.

Or I could choose not to open the box. Just because Pandora was told correctly not to open hers doesn’t mean this isn’t some sort of double bluff.

Maybe if I just open it a crack…”

It was a perfectly ordinary box, that just happened to look exactly like a jar, red clay, nicely fired, decorated with depictions of the gods in black. The cap was a carved piece of wood, caulked with some wax and painted with Hermes’s wings. I gave it a little twist, broke the seal and just lifted it for a heartbeat.

Wowza!

A hurricane blasted past me, wild and hot and yet strangely comforting, leaving me filled with joy in its passing. For a moment I couldn’t breathe, and then I looked at the world anew.

Good one, huh?” said Hermes. “We call that one love. A truly great wonder of the world. We had a few false starts, but don’t worry, we put the rejects – lust and greed and obsession – in another box. Oh. Damn. That was Pandora’s box.”

I had never felt anything like it. “So… that was love. Right. So is that it?”

Hah. Of course not.” He did that shuffle dance again and then caught me staring. “I can teach you, if you want. Heel to toe and a little slide… Gonna be all the rage one day… or you could just finish opening your box.”

I was tempted – learn the dance of the Gods – but that wasn’t going to end well, was it? Look at the fella as stole fire from them. Whichever way you cut it, gods are a bloody vengeful bunch. I could just see it – learn the dance and then spend eternity pushing a rock up a hill or having my eyes pecked out by enraged sparrows. When you think about it, gods are not the smartest – why the same rock, up the hill, forever? Imagine the commercial possibilities of people condemned to move an infinite pile of decent building stone to a conveniently placed builder’s yard.

Come on, you know you want to,” Hermes said and I cracked the box open gain.

Oh… my… that is… ahhhh…”

Yeah. I wanted to call that one ooh-ooh-ohh, but I got overruled, so now we call it beauty.”

I wanted some more of that, and amazingly it had already spread out and was all around me.

Right…” I pulled the cap off my jar… box… and let out all the remaining wonders of the world. Except for something small and pale, like a tuft of wool, stuck in the bottom. “What’s that?”

Hermes did the dance again. “Not sure. Give it a poke.”

I did.

Ow. That’s sharp.” I poked more cautiously, and it spooked, leaping out of the box and biting the end of my nose in passing. “What was that?”

Surprise.”

Yes. Very. But what was it?”

No. The second greatest wonder of the world – surprise.” Hermes pointed to a tree where the little tuft of wool was perched. “See… oh. My bad. It’s not surprise after all. Another failed prototype. I was supposed to put that in the other box. But I thought, and it really is a wonder of the world.”

My nose was bleeding.

What is it?”

Stupidity…” Hermes shrugged. “A wonder of the world. It’s out now. Sorry. People will always wonder why you thought it was a good idea to let it out. Anyway, got to dash…”

What did I say?

Never ends well.


“Outside the Box” was written in response to the #BlogBattle prompt Liberate.

Images from Pixabay.

Short Fantasy

And for our trusty dwarf… there’s a map to the Orchard of Lyre.”

Locrian of the pointy-ears knows I hate being called a dwarf. I’m not. I’m really not. I just need more time to reach my full vertical potential.

Lyre? Really? Is that a joke? You know I can’t sing.” Which is another point that says I’m not a dwarf, because everyone knows that all the little fellas can sing like a bird.

No, no, it’s just the map says it’s not far, and you’ve got the shortest legs.”

One day I’m gonna rip those pointy ears off his head and shove them up his nose. Instead, I took the map, which looked genuinely old and potentially real, and went to gather supplies. It’s hard to stay angry with Locrian when he waggles his ear-tips, and this was serious stuff – questing time to fend off the latest attack.

This year, Dark Lord Agnion has sent a plague of ravening gator rats. There’s not many of them just now, but by harvest there will be hundreds of thousands, devastating our crops. So, I got the Orchard of Lyre, and the possibility of a magical instrument to tame the gator rats and lead them out of our lands.

I sharpened my sword, took up my walking staff, and strode off westwards towards the fabled Orchard of Lyre. It was a truly uneventful journey, no more than three gangs of bandits that barely slowed me down, a grove of beguiling maidens that took me a week to escape because leaving too soon would be rude, and a really nasty splinter gathering firewood one evening. After barely a month, I found myself in a field of blue bells, graceful stalks higher than my head, and impossibly vast trilling bells that summoned rabbits from all around. Given a heavy cart and a team of oxen, I might have been able to get one of them back home in a year or two.

A ragged wind-chime bush clinked and chinked, and I could have stripped it and gone, but as any magical gardener will tell you, wind-chimes are just noise, not music, and will never tame any sort of beast, let alone a gator rat.

Beyond the blue bells lay the orchard itself, long lines of tall and stately fiddle trees, with bark so smooth I could never climb it, and the windfalls were nothing but smashed wood and broken strings. In the heart of the orchard I found a ring of duets, plump golden fruit in pairs, singing sweet arias, and easy to reach, but picking pairs is impossible – one fruit always comes away first and then they both shrivel and die.

Then I came upon the orchardess, who looked me up and down, but mostly down, and she told me,

Go down the far end.” She gestured and the bangles at her wrist glinted in the dappled light – simple brass bands but powerful symbols of her devotion to the orchard. “You might find something in your size.”

I thanked her and walked on, out of the towering fiddle trees, through a rolling rock garden, and then behind a rough hedge of wild plectrum shedding their flaky seeds, dotted with soulful jasmine and clusters of lively bluegrass. I skirted round a compost heap of faded melody, weedy arpeggio and chord wood, and there were the nursery beds of experiment and improvisation. Hybrid poppies and whistling reeds jostled with wild drum trees, humming reeds of all sizes and grumpy bass staves, but nothing was properly ready or seasoned, or even well-tempered.

In a corner, almost forgotten, was a shrubby piccolo tree, still too tall for me to pluck, and adorned with thorns to keep me from climbing. After all my efforts, my quest was going to end in failure, so I sat under the tree to think. From the low vantage point I saw a shadow, a hint that all was not lost. At the back, barely visible and tangled into a stand of whispering willow, was some wind-damaged wood, a branch slightly bent and drooping. Just in reach, and fully ripe, I found a low-hanging flute.


(This was written in response to the #BlogBattle prompt for May – Flute.

Image from Pixabay

https://pixabay.com/users/schwoaze-4023294/

https://pixabay.com/photos/subject-musical-instrument-3647587/

)

Memories Going Pop

What flavour of pop would you like?

That’s a question I’ve not really thought about for getting on fifty years, but it was a part of any visit to my Welsh grandparents in Bristol. Sometimes it would be the question on the day, or it might be in preparation for the next visit, but it’s a part of three intertwined memories in a magical land of choice and adventure.

Going to see them was not a major expedition in itself – about three minutes walk – but once there it was a step into a huge and marvellous house. Actually, it was a pretty normal-size house, but I was small so it looked big, and it had more rooms than my parents’ house – a lounge, a dining room, a kitchen, and in the middle the games room. Somehow that made it special, something beyond the normal defined by my parents’ place.

With the benefit of hindsight, it was an ordinary family home from a time when there might be a single live-in servant, probably living in the attic room reached by a cramped little staircase. I wasn’t allowed up there very often, and only under supervision, probably because there were no locks on the hatches through into the rest of the roofspace. I do recall that access to those spaces was important – Grandpa had to get in there to empty the buckets and bowls under the leaks in the roof.

I’m not even sure that my grandparents’ house had any bigger footprint than my parents’ house which was built in the thirties, before the modern trend of creating estates of cramped shoe-boxes. That “games room” was probably meant to be the “parlour” whilst the dining room at the back was probably a “rear parlour”, or something like that. But, when I was four, the games room was a huge empty space, with old-fashioned lino and French doors out into the yard, past the rear dining room and kitchen, thence to the tiny garden where Grandpa would mow “roads” into the lawn and make “traffic lights” with a stick, three tin cans and some candles.

In spite of its tiny size, my grandparent’s garden was as huge as the house. At the far end, hiding under a shrub, was a fern, just like the myriad that grow all over our farm in Cornwall, but my grandmother assured me that her fern was where the fairies lived. It’s amazing what you believe when you’re four, but then I also had a wheat field, so these things were obviously true. I know that only a dozen or so wheat plants graced my field, all germinated from the seeds on a single ear my parents found in a layby on a drive back from somewhere. It doesn’t matter – a wheat field two feet by one and fairies under a fern formed a self-perpetuating belief. I must have been at least five before I started having doubts about those fairies, even though the ongoing wheat crop was still real.

Another important feature of my grandparent’s house was the all-weather facilities. When it was wet, I could run around the games room, or even pedal my tricycle, trying not to trip over the skittles board (circa 1940) in the corner, and brought down from that mysterious attic because it fascinated me. The games room was a malleable space, vast and flexible, waiting on the whims of my imagination. My grandfather added extra magic in the form of boxes. Really big boxes. OK, calibrate really big with four years old. Even so, they were genuinely on the large size because next door to the family business was a television hire, and these were the boxes that held new TVs. Not only were there boxes, but inside lurked an intricate array of cardboard packing that could be stacked into a shanty town from the edge of tomorrow. Or a spaceship. Or a boat. Or… Like I said: magic.

In one corner of the games room, tucked up by the chimney breast, was a metal meat-safe hanging on the wall, complete with a perforated zinc door. Inside would be a leg of lamb for roasting, and on the floor, underneath, a crate. I think it was grey, but that’s uncertain, because all that really mattered were the bottles of pop.

Does anyone still call it pop? Back then it came in glass bottles and maybe you could buy it in the shops, but my grandmother bought it from the van that delivered around the area. The Corona brand is gone now, but when my grandmother asked what flavour of pop? I knew exactly what I was getting. There was lemonade, and lime, orange and I think something in red, but like the Corona brand, that memory is gone. What I remember clearly is that my Grandmother always had a selection available, and my only challenge was to choose.

Whatever the flavour, those are the three enduring memories: the vast house, the wonder of the games room and the crate of Corona.

And roast lamb, of course. You can’t be much more Welsh than roast lamb. Even if it was from New Zealand.


This was written in response to the June #BlogBattle prompt of Corona.

Airtight Zeal

Roger went off this morning, which was pretty inconsiderate. I thought we were getting along so well. I still have David, of course, but that’s just not the same. It’s just as well I that I picked up Ian last night, although I suppose I’ve known for some time that Roger was going.

It’s a shame, but honestly Roger was losing his hair, and I really liked it the way it was when we first met. Perfect, pitch black and very straight, cut short so it would lift slightly as a spiky halo. Ian’s hair is pretty dark, but more a deep brown than black, but still there’s a lovely crisp straightness. I hope Ian will be with me for a very long time.

David’s hair is beautiful, or it was. I still brush it for him, but the lustre isn’t there any more, and I just find him too cold.

So, Ian…” His fringe was a bit disarrayed and I brushed it straight. I think he smiled – just a twitch of the lips, a teasing invitation. It’s hard to tell and I need time to get used to a new man. “What do you think?”

A whisper, so soft, but I caught the words. “You are beautiful. Your home is beautiful.”

I stroked his hair again. “Breakfast?”

Not for me, but you go ahead.”

He has such lovely eyes to go with that hair. So fresh and clear.

I put some toast on, brewed coffee and got out my best knife. “Sure you won’t have any?”

Well…”

There you go.” I put more toast on and went to the fridge. I had bottles in there, which is silly because they don’t need to be kept cold. “I got these for you.” I think he smiled as I put them on the breakfast bar, just a tiny curl in the corners of his mouth. “I think it will work.”

He tipped his head to one side, contemplative, and that ghostly smile was still there. “Yes.”

And this.” I got a perfectly clear plastic box from the cupboard behind him. “I made this. Airtight. What do you think?”

Perfect,” he whispered, so softly that I might have imagined it.

I have to go out first. I won’t be long.” I stroked his hair again, for reassurance. Such beautiful hair. “It’s Roger, you see? Now don’t be jealous. It’s all over between us. He’s really gone off and that airtight bag is starting to leak.”

Ian still smiled and I straightened his head. Such beautiful clear eyes. Formalin would do the trick.

I put David back in the freezer. He makes such a mess if I let him thaw too much.


I wrote for the May #BlogBattle prompt of Airtight.