The trip of a lifetime

Dear Han and Lettie,

Having a wonderful time in E. California. It’s so different from the forest – the rocks are the colour of cinnamon and chocolate and the sky is clear and bright, like peppermints. Tomorrow I’m going to visit the local “Nut and Candy Store”. I’m sure I’ll find some lovely knick-knacks to bring back. Maybe something pretty for the gables. I hope there’s air-conditioning. The heat here is ferocious. They say that if you crack an egg into a pan and leave it in the sun, it will cook. I can believe it – the ground is so hot it’s like a stovetop. It’s tough on my old bones! Thanks again for spending some of your windfall on little me – it’s been the trip of a lifetime,

Baba Rosina x

Furnace Creek Ranch, Death Valley

P.S. Look after the cottage, darlings, don’t eat me out of house and home!


Author’s notes

This piece came from this idea: What if Hansel and Gretel didn’t so much as push the witch into an oven, as send her away to one? All the places mentioned – the Nut and Candy store, Furnace Creek Ranch, Death Valley – are real locations. The witch’s name is an amalgam of the old “Baba Yaga” myths and Rosina Leckermaul, from the Engelbert Humperdink opera. 

© Kat Day 2017

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A woman, turning

The silhouette twirled endlessly on Janet’s computer screen. It was the ponytail, she thought, that reminded her of her daughter. It was black of course, in the animation, but the outline… that was like Abby’s wheat-coloured hair had been, once.

If you see the girl spin both ways you’re using both sides of your brain!” yelled the caption. Janet chewed her finger. To her, it was always going the same way.

She looked at her phone, then pressed a button. It began to ring. Janet glanced back at the computer screen and smiled as, finally, the graceful dancer changed direction.


Author’s notes

This is an attempt to write something in exactly 100 words. Such pieces are sometimes called drabbles. Can you see the girl go both ways? I always see her moving clockwise. Maybe I need to make that phone call I’ve been putting off… 

© Kat Day 2017

Check out the PodCastle flash fiction contest!

This is a little break from my usual thing, namely (mostly) flash fiction stories, to write a little something about an organisation that does great work getting writers’ work out there for everyone to hear.

Escape Artists produce weekly, free audio fiction

This post is about Escape Artists, and Podcastle, and the Podcastle flash fiction competition, which you can go and participate in, right now.

For anyone who’s thinking, wait, Escape what? Pod what? Here’s some background… (if you already know all this, skip the rest and go and read the free, awesome, stories and vote, vote vote!)

Escape Artists produce FREE, weekly audio fiction. Yes, free. I know they say nothing in life is free, but this is totally, actually free. They do pay their authors and voice artists, but they mostly rely on voluntary donations to do so (via their Patreon and good old-fashioned PayPal).

There are four podcasts and they are all brilliant with incredibly high production values (seriously, ditch your Audible subscription and just subscribe to all these):

Last month (June) PodCastle accepted entries for this year’s Escape Artists Flash Fiction Contest. The criteria were that stories had to be fantasy (at least arguably, it’s a pretty flexible genre) and had to be 500 words or less. That was it. Simple.

In June PodCastle accepted 500-word, fantasy story submissions to this year’s Escape Artists flash fiction contest

And now it’s July and the contest is closed! But that’s cool, because it means you can read all the stories. And vote on them.

To protect authors’ publication rights the stories will be published on the PodCastle private forum. You have to register to access it, but that’s simple and quick and, once done, you can head straight over to the Flash Fiction Contest IV board and start reading, and voting.

In case you’re wondering, yes, I do have a story in the contest. But I’m not allowed to tell you which one – that might be cheating. Just go and vote for whichever stories you love.

There were quite a few entries and so they’re being managed in leagues. Like football only, much, much more fun (!) The stories with the most votes in each group will go forward to semi-finals, and then the best of those will go onto the final at the end of August.

Right-ho, so, here’s a quick summary:

  • Escape Artists are awesome, subscribe to their podcasts.
  • PodCastle is their fantasy podcast.
  • Sign up to access the Escape Artists forums and you’ll be able to read, and vote on, all the awesome stories from the recent PodCastle flash fiction competition.

That’s it – have fun!

Have I mentioned that you should sign to PodCastle podcasts? You should totally do that.

Jin 2: the slipper

Rina looked around, trying to blink away the memory of a strange, glossy blackness.

“It’s a tent,” she said at last. Cream-coloured canvas walls rippled in a gentle breeze which smelled of thunderstorms and something thick and floral. Cushions were scattered all around, jewel-bright colours darkened by lighting that gave the impression of candlelight, although Rina couldn’t see any candles. The space was large, with plenty of room to stand and walk about. A low, wooden table had been placed near one wall, more cushions around its sides. Little clusters of books lay on the floor, some open, some closed, some with their spines bent painfully back.

Jin nodded cheerfully, as though being transported from a room full of shouting people to a wedding marquee which the bride and groom had decided would make a nice first home was entirely normal and everyday.

Rina picked up one of the books from the nearest pile. “Mushrooms of the Northern Isles of Araniae?” she asked.

“I like to read,” said Jin, settling on one of the cushions near the table.

Dozens of questions bubbled in Rina’s mind. For some reason, the first sentence to make its way out was: “you said this was a craft.”

“So it is. The Slipper can move outside of what you understand as space and time. Which, I am certain, is very little,” she added.

“I did physics at school.”

“Of course you did, child. But-”

“Why do you keep calling me child? I’m not a child!”

“How old are you?”

“I’m nineteen!”

“I am four thousand, five hundred and sixty-seven of your years, approximately,” said Jin, calmly. “You are a child. As I was saying, human understanding is very limited. You struggle to comprehend anything you cannot describe with language. You know that there is no concept of the colour blue in your famous Homer’s Iliad? Blue did not exist in your minds until you invented a word for it.”

Rina’s knowledge of Greek mythology was limited to playing the part of Medusa in a school play, and she wasn’t even sure that was in the Iliad. “That can’t be right,” she protested. “What about the sky? And the sea?”

“Have you ever looked at the sea? It is only ever blue in childish drawings.”

“But…” Rina shook her head. “Why am I arguing about this? I don’t care. The only thing I know about Homer is that a cartoon character was named after him. I think.” She walked over to one of the canvas walls and pressed her hand against it. It gave slightly, but only slightly, and merged seamlessly with the floor and the ceiling. Where was the breeze coming from? “Thanks for rescuing me and everything, but how do I get out of here? I need to get home.”

“You do not.”

“I do. Mum hates it if I don’t get back when I said I would.” Rina felt in the back pocket of her jeans for her mobile.

“I meant, you do not get out of here. You cannot get ‘out of here’ without my leave, and I say that you stay,” said Jin cheerfully, glancing at her book. “Your plastic and glass thing will not work,” she added.

Rina stared, a terrible sensation of wanting to press ‘undo’ filling her gut. “I can’t go home?”

“You cannot. Do not make me eternally repeat it,” said Jin, waving a hand dismissively. “Accept it. Explore. The Slipper is larger than it seems.”

For the first time Rina noticed what looked like a fold in the canvas to the right of the table, a sliver of blackness behind it. A thought worked its way around her growing panic. “What if I wish to go home?” she asked slowly.

Jin inclined her head slightly as if inviting her to try it.

“I wish to go home!” said Rina.

Jin chuckled. “Very good. Now we have resolved that. You still cannot go home, because I cannot safely return to your world, and you cannot get there without me. You can demand it, or even wish it, as much as you like, but it will quickly become a very tiresome and circular dialogue.” She turned her attention back to her book.

Anger elbowed its way to the top of Rina’s emotions. “You’ve got to be kidding me! I helped you! I called that stupid dog because you told me he was lost, not some bloody guard dog! And now I’m trapped on your… your… this!”

Jin did not look up. “You requested that I take you.”

Rina moved towards the old woman. “I just wanted you to get me out of there!”

“And so I did.”

“You didn’t explain that it was a one-way trip!” Rina was now just two feet away from Jin, who was still staring at her book.

“You did not ask,” said Jin, mildly. “I suggest, child, that you cease this tantrum.”

“STOP CALLING ME CHILD!” Rina reached out and made a grab for Jin’s book, intending to fling it aside and make her meet her eyes.

She blinked. She was back on the other side of the tent, and Jin was still in her spot by the table. Rina ran at her, only to find herself moved back to the same spot. Again. And again.

“You realise,” said Jin, after the fourth attempt, “that I could destroy you? I am simply choosing not to. It is quite possible that I will get bored with this game. Are you sure you want to see how long that will take?”

“Why did you bring me here, if you didn’t have to?” spat Rina, breathing hard.

“You amused me.”

“So, what, I’m some sort of, of, dancing monkey?”

“Finally you understand,” said Jin cheerfully. She reached out and pulled on the fold in the fabric, creating a triangle of darkness. “It really could be very much worse. You are alive, you have not been disfigured by a vicious dog, and you find yourself on a craft which can travel through multiverses in the blink of an eye. One might imagine you would be excited. Now,” she waved her arm at the gap, “explore!”


More to follow soon…

Jin 1 – the beginning

Breathing hard, Rina looked around the room she found herself in. Its walls had been painted plain white, and it was lit with bright spotlights. The air was dry and cool. There were no windows, and no furniture except for a single pedestal in the centre which held some sort of brass antique thing.

There was only the one door, and she’d come through it. No other exits. Outside, she could hear the ear-slamming sound of the alarm, mercifully muted in here, and the sorts of bangs and thuds made by, say, people opening and closing doors quite violently whilst running around in heavy boots. They were not, on the whole, friendly sounds.

On the other side of the room, Jin smiled. Rina had thought she was… elderly when she’d first met her. A little slow on her feet. Perhaps a touch of arthritis here and there. Now, standing with one hand on her hip, she seemed considerably more sprightly. Old, yes, but more the kind of old person who ran marathons at weekends, waving cheerily at youngsters who were puffing and throwing water over their heads as she passed by without even breaking a sweat.

There was no way she’d ended up in this room by mistake. “So, how do we get out of here?” asked Rina.

Jin shrugged and nodded at the door. “You can always go that way,” she said.

Rina noticed the emphasis. “And you?”

The woman said nothing, but the wrinkles around her eyes twitched.

“Come on, you have to help me! I can’t go out there! I’ll be caught, arrested! I can’t have a criminal record!”

“You should not have followed me.”

“There was a huge dog about to rip my arm off!”

“I taught you the whistle.”

“You taught me the whistle to make the damn thing attack me so that you could get in here!” Outside the door, Rina thought she could hear raised voices. It had clicked when she’d slammed it behind her. Had it locked?

“Perhaps. But you had a choice. You could have run the other way.”

“Funnily enough, I had the idea that the very fast dog with four legs might catch up with me!” There were bangs from the door. Rina thought she heard someone say something about a key.

“They’ll be in here in a minute! How are you going to get out?”

Jim grinned again. “I have a way.”

“Are you going to tell me what it is?”

“I am not.”

“Come on!”

“But,” said Jin, slowly, appearing to decide something as she spoke, “there is one thing you could say.” Her eyes flickered to the pedestal in the centre of the room.

“Oh, god, it’s not please, is it?” said Rina in desperation. The door behind her rattled.

Jin shook her head, looking a little disappointed. Her long fingers reached for the brass object on the pedestal. It had a loop of a handle attached to a wide section that tapered to a narrower spout. It was sort of shoe-shaped, if a shoe were placed on a small, upturned saucer and had a handle stuck on its heel. Rina thought she’d seen something like it before, somewhere. This was larger, and probably older, but…

Several things clicked into place in her mind. It was a lamp. An ancient, brass lamp. And the woman she’d followed into this room had said her name was Jin.

The lock rattled in the door behind her. “I wish you would take me with you!” she said.

Jin threw her head back and laughed. The door flew open and someone shouted something, but the sound dropped away. Rina’s skin tingled, her vision turned first black and white, and then, just black.

***

“Where am I?” said Rina, pushing herself into a sitting position.

“Welcome, child!” said Jin, cheerfully. “This is my craft. I call her The Slipper!”


Author’s notes

Unlike the other pieces on this site this is not a complete work. It’s something which starts here, with this first scene between Rina and Jin. These characters had been bouncing around in my brain and my notebook for some time, and I decided to let them out. And then, once they were out, they started clamouring for more.

You can read the next part of their story here.

© Kat Day 2017

Making a Packet

Emma’s fingers curled around the mug of coffee, her knuckles white despite its heat. The Ikea kitchen clock hanging on the wall opposite ticked loudly, almost accusingly. She raised the mug to her lips and sipped. The pain of the hot liquid on her mouth was a welcome distraction from the knot in her stomach.

The door opened and her daughter, Hannah, flew into the room, all hair and gadgetry. She saw Emma’s face and froze.

“Sit down,” said Emma, quietly.

“Why, what’s–”

Do. It.” The words were like gunshots.

Hannah dropped her school bag and sat at the scrubbed pine table, her posture alert.

“Would you like to tell me,” said her mother, “what this is?” She picked a small, plastic packet full of something fluffy and green up from the table, and held it between finger and thumb.

“Oh, crap.” Her daughter’s face instantly dropped two shades paler. “Look, Mum, it’s not what it looks like, I swear!”

“Really? Because it looks like I found skunk in your bedroom, Hannah. I can’t believe how many times I’ve talked to you about this sort of thing!”

“I know, I know, Mum! But, honestly, it’s not mine!”

Emma snorted and raised her eyebrows.

“It’s not! I swear! I took it for N–, um, a friend. Look, you know that trip I went on today? To the power station? For physics?”

“What on earth has that got to do with anything?”

“They’re taking the whole year group, only they split us in half, on separate days, so’s it wouldn’t be too many at once. My friend’s group went yesterday, but, like, in form time their tutor told everyone that the security guys might search them.” She gulped a breath.

“Are you telling me, Hannah, that one of your friends had cannabis at school?

“Um, yeah, but, like, not to use.

“That’s all right then,” said Emma, dripping acid. “I’ve half a mind to call the Head.”

“Nononononono! No, Mum, don’t do that!”

Emma shook her head despairingly. Of course she would never do such a thing. That would be madness. She sighed. “And where do you come into this?”

“Well, she couldn’t leave it in her locker ‘cos she shares it with someone else and she could hardly leave it lying around and she didn’t dare risk it so…”

“She asked you to look after it, and you said yes? Hannah, what were you thinking?” Emma’s voice became momentarily shrill. She coughed and took a deep breath.

“I know I know I know, I’m sorry, Mum, I know it was stupid. But she was stuck and I felt sorry for her and it was only meant to be until the end of the school day.”

“What if a teacher had found this?”

“Oh, they wouldn’t. I put it at the bottom of my bag. They can’t go in my bag without your permission. Um, I think.”

Emma put her face in her hands. “I’m reassured by your in-depth knowledge of school policy. So why did I find this in your bedroom?

“Yeah, well, her coach was delayed on the way back so I missed her, and I was going on the trip today so, so, yeah, I hid it in my pillowcase.”

Emma picked up the plastic packet again and waved it at her daughter like a referee with a red card. “Hannah, this is a class B drug. It’s illegal to possess it! I do not want to see the police at the door.”

“It’s just cannabis, Mum, they just give you a fine–”

“That is not the point!”

“Well they–”

“Hannah!”

Her daughter stopped talking, chewed her bottom lip and looked at Emma. For a long moment they stared at each other. She had grey eyes. Exactly like her father’s.

“Do you understand what a stupid risk this was?” asked Emma, eventually.

“Yeah.”

“You’re grounded for a week. And I changed the wi-fi passcode,” said Emma, expecting protest. Given a choice between losing a toe and losing internet access, she would not be at all surprised to find her daughter removing her sock and shoe.

“Okay.”

Emma’s eyes widened.

“I’ll go and put my bag upstairs,” said Hannah, meekly.

“You haven’t got a router up there I don’t know about, have you?”

“No, Mum.”

“You’d better not have. Tidy up while you’re up there, it’s a pigsty.”

“Yes, Mum.”

After her daughter had left the kitchen, Emma stared at the packet again. Even through the sealed plastic she thought she could smell the distinctive, green scent. She took a mouthful of her coffee, letting the now-cooler liquid sit on her tongue for a moment, and considered.

The sun was sinking by the time Emma reached the house, its light painting the whitewashed walls in shades of red and gold. She stood on the pavement and looked up at the building. The house was detached, with a neat driveway bordered by carefully-tended delphiniums and hostas. Its back garden overlooked some fields. Quiet, but not too far from a train station. A decent school nearby. House prices rising steadily. A good investment, she’d thought. But then the first lot of tenants had trashed the place. Thousands, it had cost.

She rummaged in her Radley handbag. Lips pressed together, she strode up the front path and slid the key she was holding into the lock.

Emma waited for her breathing to slow again after climbing the two flights of stairs to the large, converted attic. She pushed open the door. The air inside was thick with scent, catching in her throat.

She closed the door firmly behind her.

“Oh, hello, Mrs Davison! I wasn’t expecting you today, was I?” asked Jas, turning towards the sound. His crisp vowels and polite tone contrasted oddly with his ripped jeans and greasy hair.

“I thought I’d drop by,” replied Emma, curtly.

“Ah, well, everything’s fine, as you can see. Should have a new batch ready to go by Thursday.” He sounded calm. “Is there something you particularly wanted?”

“Yes, Jas.” Emma’s eyes scanned the rows and shelves of plants lit by purple light. She forced herself to take a deep breath of the pungent air, trying to relax the knot which persisted in her gut, a thrill of fear twisted up tight with strands of guilt.

Emma reached into her handbag again. “I want to know how my sixteen year-old daughter came to have a packet of my own product hidden in her bedroom.”


Author’s notes

Another thriller-type story, with a twist. It perhaps has the feeling of the start of something, rather than a complete work, but I think it just about stands on its own.

© Kat Day 2017

The Silvery Spoon

Detective Inspector Lisa Anderson stared at the iPad she’d been handed, then pinched to zoom in on the image.

“It’s a spoon,” she said, eventually.

“Not just a spoon, Guv,” said Detective Constable Ben DeSouza, adopting a pretentious tone, “it’s an ‘insight into the inconsistency of our future via the medium of a replica of a mundane object.’”

“It’s a spoon, Des.”

“Yeah,” he conceded, “but it’s a spoon worth over a million quid. It’s an original Junion.”

Lisa whistled. She considered her surroundings. The house was Edwardian, spacious, but not enormous. Round here it would be worth a fair bit, but hardly millions. The furnishings were tasteful, neither super-modern nor antiques. The parquet floor was probably original. Smells of leather and polish drifted in the overheated air – yesterday’d been the hottest day so far this year. There were a few framed photographs on the wall, but none of the usual detritus that accompanied a family. In short, this was the home of a retired, single man who was well-off, but probably not hugely wealthy.

Everything seemed to be in place, apart from a Perspex box lying on the floor below a shelf containing a small, but conspicuously empty, white plinth.

“I’m thinking Mr Ekal isn’t a millionaire art collector. So how’d he end up with a piece by Daniel Junion?”

“He was given it a few years ago by the artist, he says. Knew him before he was famous. Family friend, apparently.”

“Some people get all the luck, eh?”

“Yeah, until he got robbed, I suppose.”

“True. What happened yesterday?”

Des looked at his notes. “Mr Ekal left yesterday afternoon at 1pm. Locked everything, set the alarm. Spent the evening with friends. Came back 2am, found the back door lock smashed, spoon missing. Nothing else touched.”

“Did the alarm go off?”

“No. But logs show it was definitely set.”

“What about the cleaner?”

Des frowned. “What cleaner?”

“This place smells of polish. Maybe Mr Ekal is a lover of lemon Pledge, but I think it’s worth checking.”

“Good point. Will do.”

Lisa lowered her voice. “Is it likely he took it himself?”

“Maybe,” murmured Des, “thing is, he was massively under-insured. Says he hadn’t realised how valuable this thing’d become.”

“How much?”

“He’ll be lucky to get a hundredth of its value.”

“Ten grand is still a decent chunk of money, especially if he’s still got the damn thing to sell on.”

“Don’t reckon that’d be easy, guv, Junion’s pretty famous. Something like this up for sale would be hard to keep quiet. And if Ekal really wanted to get rid of it, why not just sell it publically? From what I can make out, he’d easily get seven figures at auction, especially with some publicity. Why go to all this trouble for a measly ten grand?”

Lisa drummed her fingers on the iPad’s screen. She had to admit, if it was an insurance scam it wasn’t the smartest she’d ever seen. “Anyone hear anything last night?” she asked.

“Nothing from the neighbours. And before you ask, the only fingerprints are Ekal’s.”

“Damn. Looks professional.” But, she mused, why would a pro silently disable the house alarm yet clumsily smash a lock?

Lisa stepped towards the plinth on the wall. It was a small, slender cylinder with “Number 31” etched onto one side. A hairline crack split the letters. The top surface was slightly concave. She looked again at the image on the iPad, which showed the elaborate, bluish-silver spoon balanced vertically in the dip, handle upwards.

“No crack here. When was this photo taken?”

“He said two days ago. A friend wanted to see it.”

“Follow up that ‘friend’.”

“Already on my list.”

“Why Number 31?”

Des shrugged. “That’s what the sculpture’s called. It’s an arty name, I suppose.”

“How does it stay upright? I can’t see any wires.”

“There’s a spike on the rounded bit at the bottom. It sticks in here.” Des pointed. Standing on tiptoes, Lisa peered and saw the small, dark hole.

“Why,” she muttered, half to herself, “would you leave the plinth?”

#

Mum? You never listen to me!” complained Lisa’s daughter, Ella, as Lisa opened the front door of their home.

“Hm? Sorry, I was… never mind. What did you say?”

“I said, can I go round to Ruby’s tonight?”

“How much homework have you got?”

“Nothing, honestly.”

Lisa raised an eyebrow.

Ella scowled. “I’ve got a bit of chemistry to finish. It’ll only take ten minutes.”

Lisa’s eyebrow remained raised.

“All right! History. And art, but I’ve got another week to do that.”

“You can go when you’ve finished chemistry and history. And don’t leave the art until the last minute.”

“I won’t, Mum.”

“You say that, but last…” Lisa stopped, staring at one of the books Ella had just opened on the kitchen table. “Why’s this bit a different colour?” she asked, pointing.

“Oh, yeah, Mrs McCastra told us this story. It was, like, quite interesting. I coloured that in as she was talking,” Ella shrugged.

“Really? Tell me.”

#

“I think,” said Lisa, that you know exactly where the spoon, or should I say Number 31, is, Mr Ekal.” She picked up the plinth. It was heavy in her hands.

Mr Ekal ran his hand across his balding head. “I don’t, I told–”

The cylinder hit the wooden floor with a crunch. “Oops,” said Lisa, “butterfingers.”

“How dare you! I’ll sue, I–”

Lisa prized apart the plaster to reveal a lump of silvery metal. “Goodness me, what’s this?”

“I have no idea!”

Lisa gazed at him, letting silence fill the space. Mr Ekal’s left eyelid twitched.

“It’s the spoon, isn’t it?” she said eventually. “It was made of gallium metal, element 31. It melts at thirty degrees Celsius. It was very hot yesterday, it must’ve tipped over that with all the doors and windows closed.”

For a moment, it looked as though Mr Ekal was going to argue. But then he made a sound like a deflating balloon and slumped into a chair.

“We’ve spoken to Daniel Junion. He insists that he warned you.”

“He didn’t! Not properly! He… told me not to handle it. He said people used to make joke spoons out of gallium, because they melt in hot tea.”

Lisa smiled. It was the same story Ella had told her when she’d asked why the square for element 31 was coloured in pink in the periodic table in her chemistry book.

“He never said it would melt in a room,” continued Mr Ekal. “When I found it missing I thought it had been stolen.”

“But then you saw the plinth was cracked and… what? You picked it up and realised it was heavier?”

He nodded despondently. “I… panicked.”

“So you smashed the back door and reported a theft.”

“I wasn’t sure my insurance would pay out anything if I just admitted…” he tailed off. “Are you going to arrest me?”

She paused, “I should. This has been a serious waste of police time.”

“Oh.”

Lisa took pity on him. “But I think you’ve probably suffered enough, losing a million quid’s worth of spoon. Tell you what, though, I could murder a cup of tea.”


Author’s notes

This is my attempt at a mystery, and naturally I wanted to include a dash of chemistry. Poison seemed a little obvious, but I’ve always liked the story of the disappearing gallium spoons (I also wonder if perhaps this is the secret behind certain spoon-bending “psychics”?) Mr Ekal’s name, by the way, is a little nod to Mendeleev – the scientist who developed the periodic table. He predicted the existence of the as-yet undiscovered gallium, and named it eka-aluminium.

© Kat Day 2017