Five (Count 'em!) Flash Stories

Or, I’m Busy With a Writing Challenge!

Hello again Dearest Reader,

This week I’ve been busy with a writing challenge hosted by Hope Writers on Instagram and I thought that it’d be a good way to force me to write something “fictionney” every day instead of getting so stuck into non-fiction (i.e. work) that I end up not writing fiction at all. And what a lot of fun it’s been!

The sixth and seventh stories are yet to be written, but they’ll be up on my Instagram on Saturday and Sunday.

Day 1: Voice

It started with a breath. The cold morning dew smell sucked deep before being exhaled slowly, like whistling with no sound to make the dandelion clock dance. But the dancers heard the voice of the faded flower and danced into the air towards the sun.

Day 2: Refresh

Green foliage covered the rust of the forgotten front gate. Inside the grass and weeds knotted knee high. The house's curtains drawn, the lace long-stained a brownish-grey with dust. The pile of mail and newspaper had become a hardened clump of paper maché that a family of mice called home. Bats flitted from the rafters at dusk.

"They said she just went and locked herself inside one day... and never came out again."

The other children shivered and looked back at the witch's house.

"You think she's dead?"

"No. You sometimes see a light in the window. A light."

The light flickered on in the room as the gust of wind followed her from the large wardrobe. The bedroom was dustier than last time, she noticed, but only just. She opened the sock drawer and drew out a couple of the handknit pairs. She'd forgotten how cold winter could become. On second thought she grabbed a dusty handbag and emptied the sock drawer into it. Much faster than starting to knit now that winter had already started.

She looked around her for a moment and realised that she missed none of it. Not really. The memories, perhaps, but not the things. She drew aside the dusty curtains and creaked the window open. She took a deep breath of the smell of summer before closing it again, refreshed. She stepped into the wardrobe again, leaving the cold of winter in her wake.

Across the road five kids gaped at what they'd just seen. And ran.

(One thing about Johannesburg – there’s more than enough palisades, barbed wire, spiked walls, and burglar bars to photograph. Not joking. This particular piece of palisade I found in the garden while walking Sir Tristan the Wonder Cat. Why hadn’t it been painted like the rest of the complex’s palisades? I’m guessing that it’s stuck in a time-space continuum flaw. Or whoever painted the palisades couldn’t be bothered to move the branch in front of it. Nah, must be that continuum flaw.)

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Day 3: Story

The old man led her up the narrow, creaking stairs to where the spinning wheel stood among the detritus of generations' unwanted and forgotten possessions. A thick layer of dust had settled over everything, turning them into phantom shapes in different shades of grey.

Near the small window, next to a spinning wheel much older than himself, the man stopped.

"Here it is." He took a handkerchief from his pocket and proceeded to try to remove at least some of the dust covering the spinning wheel. "See, the gold it... well they say it turned back to straw when the old queen died." He shrugged. "Shame if you ask me. I wouldn't have minded some gold. My family were some of the rich folks back then." His neck and ears flushed and he stepped away from the spinning wheel, clearing his throat. "All poppycock and balderdash, of course." He forced a laugh. "No one believes that you can make gold from straw. Otherwise everyone would be doing it." He fell silent when her expression didn't change.

She stepped forward, her long black dress leaving patterns in the dust on the floor. She reached out to the tangle of threads piled atop the spinning wheel, but stopped short of touching it. She knew spun straw when she saw it.

"How much do you want for it?" she asked, taking out a coin purse. The chatelaine at her belt tinkled as she brushed the find gold filigree work.

The man's eyes darted from the gold to her hands.

"How much are you willing to give me? It's worth a gold piece at least. Antique like this."

"I thought so." The woman replaced the purse and the man's face fell.

"You know what happens to greedy men?" She asked and stepped closer to him.

He shook his head, stepped back.

"They get turned into frogs or mice or beasts... or worse." She smiled, touched the spun straw, and turned it into gold. "You can have it. Buy a house if you want. Keep it. I don't care. Just remember. If anything happens to me, it turns back to straw.

The man nodded, his eyes fixed on the gold.

"Now then. Bring me straw and be quick about it." She smiled to herself. It was about time the old magic ruled from the throne again, and kingdoms could be expensive.

(Never thought when I took this photo I’d write this story! I was just thrilled at seeing the spinning wheel. It was in a “museum” that’s actually just a guy’s attic filled with [dusty] family heirlooms. It was still very cool to look through and photograph simply because you never know where a story will pop out… I had to crop the photo quite a bit because I basically just photographed everything haphazardly that day as there wasn’t a lot of time. Plus, I’m not so sure I was allowed to take photos, come to think of it. Well, they didn’t tell me not to!)

Day 4: Story

"Play for us while we finish our tea," my mother said and I went over to the piano, leaving my sewing project behind on the kitchen table. I paused, my hands hovering for a moment above the keys before deciding on a slow prelude by Chopin. After the intense storm that lashed our village, everything was returning to its normal, quiet self even though the ship hadn't returned yet.

I listened to my mother make small talk with our neighbour, Klara, while they sipped their rooibos tea. Mother always said that the rooibos worked better than tea leaves when it came to reading.

They fell silent as the last tea was drunk and the leaves prepared for the reading. I held my breath even as I played.

"Is it... good news?" Klara asked after some time.

I looked around to see my mother shaking her head. She prepared the leaves of her own cup and stared at them for some minutes in the silence before doing the same to my leaves.

"What is it?" Klara asked, her eyes searching for clues in the tea stuck to the inside of her cup.

"Owls and broken anchors," my mother whispered. "They're not coming back."

*

I walked along the shore, just out of reach of the water, and watched the horizon. The water was dark, as if it knew it had to hide the worst of the men's fate from our eyes. A flash of red, white, and blue caught my eye and my blood ran cold. A ship's flag.

Wading into the waves, I retrieved the piece of cloth that was heavy with salt water. No sooner had I touched it, than the last moments of the ship flashed across my vision.

I saw the boat flounder, and the men slowly drown. And, as if he knew that I'd know, Charles whispered to me his final farewell before closing his eyes and sinking beneath the waves before his soul rose up, bright, into the air.

(Talking about heirlooms, the cup and saucer is part of a tea set that I inherited from my grandmother.)

Day 5: Middle

The rosebush stood in the middle of the garden. The rest of the garden was seldom looked after, but the rosebush - whose flowers bloomed throughout the year - was pristine even in midwinter. The owner of the property was rarely seen. Groceries left at the filigree garden gate seemed to disappear into the house without anyone ever fetching them.

Some had whispered that Lily had lived there her whole life just as the rose had been blooming there her whole life. Others told how the rose was planted on the day she was born, early on a frost-bitten winter's day. The rose bloomed on the first day, the one who remembered it, said.

She was eighty now, even though Lily of the rose scarcely looked over forty.

"Strange family," she said as she leaned back in her chair on the veranda and sipped Earl Grey tea, staring at Lily's home. "Lived there all these years. As long as anyone could remember even in the days of my grandfather. It was as if they had just always been here. And always a rose bush blooming come rain or snow. Even during the drought of '05. And that year everything had shriveled. Everything. Except that rose."

"Lily's lived alone all these years?"

The old woman nodded. "She did have a lover once, long ago. Old John's brother who died in the war." She sighed a long sigh. "The one year the rose stopped blooming. Lily was beside herself with grief, nearly died if you ask me."

"And since then?"

"Since then it does a heart good to see the roses. It's like knowing all is well in the world."

*

Lily waited for midnight before going out into the garden. The moonlight formed a halo around the rosebush and, if you looked at it at just the right angle, you could see the dark doorway between the worlds that it guarded. She took the pruning sheers and snipped off a few of the dying leaves. No use making anyone worry that the town's future was balanced on the edge of a knife.

She touched one of the blooms and drew some of the power from it. The bloom faded, but the wrinkles around her eyes disappeared. She had to keep going for them. She was the only one left, now.

(Unfortunately this particular rose was destroyed that same afternoon by a stray soccer ball being kicked into the rose bushes - it’s in the complexes’ communal garden. I wanted to take a photo every day showing how it opened up. Go figure.)

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Until next time, stay safe!

Love,
Carin