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 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

Something in my eye

london-959482_960_720“I don’t want to!” I watch the small girl as she tugs on her father’s hand. Her hair is sunrise red, her eyes are the shifting green of stormy seas, and she is as reluctant to move as a boulder lodged in soft earth.

“Rowan, you’ve been pestering me all day. We’ve paid, we’ve queued, we’re going. You’ll like it once you get on.” The girl’s father looks down, sighs, then picks her up with a grunt of effort and tucks her on his hip. She is a little too old to be carried, I think, but nevertheless she buries her head in his shoulder. They step across the line, into the oval-shaped capsule with its clear, glass walls.

I follow them. I’m last, and the doors close behind me with a shhhnick. The air inside feels thick with people. I catch a hint of aftershave, or something like it. It’s thick and sweet, but with acrid undertones. I wrinkle my nose and look for the source. A man, wearing a thick jumper with a shirt underneath. The woman he’s standing too close to is hunched slightly, a large handbag clutched in front of her stomach. Her red lips are smiling, but it’s an unnatural thing, like blood on a cobweb.

“Did you know,” he says, in a voice that seems to have bypassed his lungs and come straight through his nose, “that there are thirty-two capsules on the London Eye, but the numbers go up to the thirty-three because, haha,” he gives a little snort of a laugh, “people believe that number thirteen is unlucky?”

“Really, Graham?” says his companion, as she stares through the glass.

“Yes. Aren’t these old superstitions ridiculous? Why is thirteen unlucky and not, oh, twenty-seven?”

“It’s something to do with Jesus’ disciples, isn’t it?”

He waves a hand, “yes, yes, but how is that relevant in this day and age? Such silliness. I expect it was a woman who made the decision. Typical female thing, all that superstitious rubbish.”

“I suppose you wouldn’t want bad luck on this thing,” his companion murmurs, fiddling with the clasp on her bag.

He snorts again, and she recoils from the puff of warm air. He doesn’t notice.

“Hello,” says a small voice behind me. I haven’t noticed that my red-headed child has wriggled away from her father’s grasp and crept up behind me.

“Hello, Rowan,” I reply, straight-faced.

Her eyes widen, like green pools swollen with rain water. I touch my nose and wink. I turn towards the glass wall of the capsule, pull a coin out of my pocket and flick it into the air. It spins, its shiny surface catching the afternoon sunshine, glinting and then… there is no coin. Only a remnant of light that fades away.

She stares at my tightly pinned-up white hair and long black dress. “Are you… a witch?” she whispers.

I smile. “Oh, witches don’t ex-”

“Rowan, are you bothering this lady?” her father is behind us.

“Daddy, she’s a witch!”

He flushes. “That’s very rude! I’m so sorry!” He scoops her up again and moves to the other end of the capsule.

“exist. Anymore,” I say softly.

We have reached the top of the arc. I stare out at the whole of London, stretched out before me. A messy carpet of buildings and roads and tiny cars and buses. Directly below us, the river, its glistening surface painted with the shadows of the tall buildings on its banks.

I worked in one of those buildings once, when there was still something for me to do. Before everything changed. Before I retired. Before so many years drifted by.

Something snags the corner of my left eye. I turn my head, there’s nothing there, but I have a sense of unease. I rub my thumbs against my forefingers in response to the strange prickling sensation there. Something I haven’t felt for a long time. I look around but everything is normal. The soup of voices has no anxious flavours. Graham is still too close to his companion, but she’s staring at the doors with quiet determination. Rowan is trying to swing on her father’s arm. The only smells are wood, and plastic and Graham’s oppressive aftershave. I look outside again.

Another flicker, now on my right. This time, I don’t look. I stare straight ahead. Another flicker. I still refuse to look. Another, and another, and then…

I can’t not look, because it’s right in my eye-line. I knew it would eventually tire of being ignored. Still, my mouth drops open a little. I hadn’t really expected to see this. Not now, not in this time. It’s been… how long? I try to remember. I was little more than a child, trying to help.

Kolim.

It’s small, less than the span of my fingers. Green-gold scales catch the sunlight. Tiny rainbows flicker in wings so fine they’re like the surface of bubbles. But I know from experience that these will not fall apart at a simple touch. The creature might be beautiful, if not for the eyes that glow with the dull light of coals after the yellow flames have died away. And the claws that curve gracefully into hypodermic points. It looks at me and grins. Its mouth is too wide, and too full of teeth. I can’t hear it through the glass, but I’d swear it’s laughing.

I look around. We’ve passed the apex of our circuit and we’re moving slowly down, but it will be several minutes before we reach the ground. None of the other passengers have seen what I’ve seen. My fingers tingle, and I reach up to the glass. I tap my forefinger and middle finger against it and a tiny spark of light appears. My aim is good. It hits the creature and it rolls up, ball-like. Its wings freeze, motionless, and it drops.

Relief and exhaustion wash over me, followed by a spike of concern. I look impatiently around. There’s nothing to do but wait until we reach the bottom and the doors open again.

“I mean, no offence or anything,” Graham is saying, “ but you women do fuss over things that are completely unimportant. Take my ex-wife for example. No, please, take her!” He laughs at his own joke. The hands of the woman with him clench into fists.

There’s a sound, like someone gently but firmly dragging a fork across a plate. My head whips to the doors of the capsule.

We’ve stopped moving, and the doors are opening.

They can’t be, because we’re still high in the air.

But they are. They’re slowly pulling apart as though hauled by invisible hands. I catch a flash of green through the gap.

Several flashes.

I take a step towards the doors, and then things happen fast. Three little balls of gold-green appear and grab Graham, one by the hair and one on each shoulder, and drag him towards the widening gap. For a second I wonder why him. Perhaps they like his aftershave.

“Help!” he squeals in a suddenly high-pitched voice. His companion stares, mouth open. She doesn’t, I can’t help noticing, move.

For a moment I can see two outcomes in my mind. Crisp and cold. Like a fork in a mountain stream; same water, different rocks. In one, I turn around and let the obnoxious man go. It will be a tragic accident. A “technical fault”. I will reach the ground and walk away, and then I’ll report it properly. Let the right people deal with this. It’s not my problem.

In the other…

I sigh. “No,” I say calmly, as I reach out and grasp Graham’s arm. His other hand is now gripping the edge of the door, knuckles white. His bottom is wedged in the gap, but it will soon be wide enough for him to fall through. One of the other passengers screams. Another shouts something. They cannot see the Kolim – to them it must look at though Graham was leaning against the doors and they’ve somehow given way. I haul on Graham’s arm, but he’s heavy, and the Kolim are pulling in the opposite direction. He starts to slip, and I realise that if I’m not careful, I’m going to follow him.

I try to find the tingle in the fingers of my other hand, but there’s nothing. So many years.

“Nononononono!” squeals Graham, his words whipped away by the wind as his head tips back into empty space. The doors are still sliding apart.

Worse, I can see more flashes of green and gold. More than three. Many more.

A hand grips Graham’s arm in front of mine and the wrench on my shoulder lessens. It’s one of the other passengers. Everyone else is pressed against the back wall.

“What are the fairies doing?” It’s Rowan. She’s a few steps away, I realise it’s her father who’s grabbed Graham.

“Get back against the wall, Rowan!” he shouts. Then, “he’s going to fall!”

“No!” I say.

“I can’t hold him!”

“No,” I say, “I mean, Rowan, come here!” Rowan stares and our eyes meet and lock and once again I have that sense of splitting. Of two different realities. And one is bad.

And one is really, really bad.

She steps towards me. I breathe out.

“You can see them?” I hiss.

“Yes,” she says.

“They’re not fairies,” I say, breathless. The soles of Graham’s shoes are tilting see-saw like on the rim of the door. His face is white.

“What are they?” she asks.

“I’ll tell you,” I say, “if you help me.”

She nods, eyes wide.

“When I say go, grab my hand. Understand?”

She nods again.

I count in my head. One. Two. “Go!” I let go of Graham and drop my right hand to Rowan’s. She grips it and…

The world falls away, as though everything is a cardboard set. There’s just Rowan and me, and she’s bright, as though lit from inside with a giant spotlight. Or maybe a small sun.

I draw her light into me. The tingling sensation grows and spreads. Every single cell in my body seems to stop for a moment, readjust itself and then…

The world rebuilds itself around us from the inside out. Energy is crawling across my skin. I can still feel Rowan’s fingers, but her grip is loosening.

“Hold on,” I say.

I feel her small fingers grip more firmly for a moment, but then her weight is heavy on my arm, and then it’s gone. Her fingers have slipped from mine, and she’s crumpled to the ground.

It’s all right. It’s enough. Less than a second has passed. Rowan’s father is still focused on Graham, who’s holding onto the edge of one door with his fingertips. I look past him and concentrate. It takes no effort, it’s terribly, terrifically, easy. I almost have to hold back.

There’s a flash as a ball of pale blue fire appears behind Graham’s head. Kolim hiss and pop as it touches them. It spreads out, splitting into fine tendrils at the edges.

And then it is gone. And so are they. And Rowan’s father hauls Graham back into the capsule. He falls onto his face, hands spread on the floor as though trying to hold onto the flat surface. The doors slide slowly shut as if they have all the time in the world.

I look down at Rowan and feel a surge of relief. She’s sitting on the floor, apparently unscathed. I crouch down and she looks at me, and I look at me in her eyes.

“When?” she says.

“Soon,” I say.

Her father scoops her up then, and people are crowding around me now, the brave old lady who tried to stop the silly man from falling out of the malfunctioning doors. The old lady who took the hand of the scared little girl and kept her from getting too close.

Hah.

There’s a lurch as the capsule starts moving again. Some of the other passengers cheer. It’s a brittle sound, tinged with hysteria at the edges. Oh, yes, there was a flash. Ball lightening, they’ll say. They always blame ball lightening. A freak electrical storm. No doubt it caused the doors to malfunction, too.

A woman touches my arm and hands me a bottle of water. I take it gratefully. I swallow. The cold liquid is like a coating of snow on a dirty landscape.

The capsule reaches the bottom of the circuit and, finally, we can get off. Paramedics are waiting to help Graham. A man in a uniform wants to talk to Rowan’s father. Me too, I expect, but I have a knack of avoiding this kind of thing. People will say, “she was here a moment ago…”

But they won’t find me again.

Unless I want to be found.

I catch Rowan’s eye. We both nod. She will find me. I owe her.

I take a deep breath and start walking.

And then I freeze, because I’ve just caught another flash of green-gold.

I turn my head slowly and I see the woman who was with Graham. His bored companion. She smiles at me with very red lips.

Then she snaps her handbag shut.


Author’s notes

I wrote the first version of this story a year ago. There was something pleasing about that initial effort, but it was a bit of an uninflated balloon of a story – there was room for a lot more in the middle. I tinkered with it, and then ended up leaving it partially finished in a folder. Wanting something for February, I came back to it – and remembered that I rather liked it. Suddenly, the middle section seemed to come together, and here you see something a lot more substantial. It just goes to show – never throw anything away…

© Kat Day 2017

Out of the Doorway

supermarket-507295_960_720Jem let the heat of the shop wrap around her like a blanket. She stared at the rows of bright packets. Saliva filled her mouth.

“Have a nice evening!” The door swished as the customer left. Jem’s fingers caressed warm metal in the pocket of her jeans.

Coins. But not enough.

She headed for the door. Claws of cold air reached out to claim her as it opened.

“Did you forget something?”

Fingers gripped her arm, pulled her round.

Three packets of fig rolls fell from underneath her jacket, thudding softly as they landed, one after the other, on the linoleum.

“Cat got your tongue, eh? God, I’m so sick of you lot. Bloody freeloaders, think you can come here and just help yourself to everything.”

Jem kept her eyes down, letting the words wash over her head, like a wave. Hold your breath. Stay calm.

“I’m calling the police.” He reached into his back pocket and pulled out his phone.

“No,” she looked up. “Please.” Not that. “I’m– I’m sorry.” She looked up, pleading.

“Oh, so you speak English, eh? Well that’s something!” The shopkeeper peered at her. “Here, how old’re you?”

Jem didn’t answer. His mouth was hidden by a huge, ginger beard, but his eyes had a touch of kindness around the edges. She was short, and skinny, and it was a long time since her face had seen makeup. With luck…

“Oh for chrissakes. When’d you last eat?” He shook his head. “I’m too soft, that’s my problem. Here,” he picked up one of the packets and thrust it at her. “They’ll be damaged, anyway. Now get out of my shop.”

“Thanks,” mumbled Jem, blinking. She stepped into the night before he could change his mind.

#

“Haha, lookit this guy, Jem.” Her friend, Kev, rubbed his hands together, more out of habit than of any hope of generating warmth.

Jem squinted across the road where a bearded man was running, huffing and puffing. A yellow light blinked in the distance.

“E’s missed that cab,” said Kev. “He’ll be lucky now, this time of day.”

“Yeah,” muttered Jem, watching as the man leant against a lamppost and reached into his back pocket for his phone.

“What a muppet! Now he’s dropped his mobile!”

Instinct had her legs moving before her brain registered what was happening. The man was lying on the pavement by the time she got there.

“Shit, he’s had a heart attack. Kev, call an ambulance!” Jem thrust the dropped phone at Kev as she started chest compressions. A black chuckle bubbled up as she remembered her army instructor’s advice: ‘Use Another One Bites The Dust by Queen for the right rhythm. Keep it in your head, though.’

“Why’d you care? He’s probably a gonner. As if he’d give a fig for one of us.”

“JUST DO IT!”

She heard Kev mutter something, but then, a few seconds later, she also heard him say ‘ambulance’.

“He did give a fig,” she muttered, between presses.


Author’s notes

A story inspired by Aesop’s Fable of The Lion and the Mouse. It also seems appropriate, given current events, to remember the importance of a little compassion.

© Kat Day 2017