A Cup Full of Sprite

‘Forty-two!’ The woman holding the piece of pink paper turned it over and squinted. ‘Janet?’

Janet’s heart thumped. They’d been raising money for the school and, well, you bought raffle tickets, didn’t you? She hadn’t expected to win and have everyone stare at her.

Limping slightly thanks to her dodgy hip, she approached the table which, at this late stage, held a golf voucher, a hand-painted mug, and a bottle of red wine that would probably strip paint. Janet grabbed the mug, plucked out another ticket and headed for the door before something awful happened. She had paid for more than one ticket, after all.

#

She washed her prize when she got home. It was made of heavy white ceramic and decorated with frogs: the bulbous, glossy kind with wide mouths and yellow, flat-pupilled eyes. The creatures hopped and sat both on and in the walls. The bottom of the mug had been painted to look like water, with rocks so realistic that Janet almost expected them to feel rough under her finger when she put her hand inside.

‘Shame,’ she muttered to herself. ‘Put tea or coffee in this and you’d not see it.’

She turned on the tap, letting fresh water rinse out the last of the bubbles. Afternoon sunlight rippled the water with gold.

There was a soft croaking sound. Janet froze. Half-full of clear water the pond-like effect was uncanny. And… she was sure one of the frogs had just moved.

She put the mug down carefully.

It shivered, rattling against the worktop.

‘I’m losing me marbles,’ whispered Janet.

Long, viridescent fingers curled over the rim. Janet’s hand flew to her mouth, and she took a step back. The fingers were followed by a tiny head, covered in messy, turquoise hair. It had black eyes, a flat nose and a very wide mouth.

‘You’re not Zambini,’ it said.

‘Um, no.’

The creature balanced itself gracefully on the rim of the mug. Its legs were oddly-jointed, and ended in long, webbed toes. It looked around curiously.

‘Where is this?’

‘Three Bakehouse Lane,’ said Janet, uncertainly.

‘Where’s Zambini?’

‘I don’t know anyone called Zambini. I won you — your mug, I mean — in a raffle. I had no clue it weren’t just a mug!’

‘Oh,’ said the creature. ‘What’s a raffle?’

‘You buy bits of paper with numbers on,’ said Janet stuttering to a halt halfway through an in-depth explanation of the niceties of school raffles. ‘Er. What’s your name?’

‘Shellra.’

#

Janet had always been one to keep herself to herself, but Shellra — who explained she was a water sprite — was a surprisingly good conversationalist. The situation was unbelievable yet, somehow, it wasn’t long before the old woman had made herself tea, in an ordinary mug, and they were chatting like old friends.

‘Just scooped me out of the pond she did,’ said the sprite, in between licking aphids from the sickly-looking orchid on Janet’s sunny windowsill. ‘In this cup, which she spelled herself. But I liked her. Goody Clamtrip her name was. She used to say it was funny, because it was a coincidence, really, but Clamtrip sounds like cantrip, which was just about right, for a witch.’

Janet, who had never heard of a cantrip, nodded.

‘She used me for fortune telling and minor healing magic. That was all. I didn’t really mind. She had a nice big water barrel out the back of her house that she let me swim in. Anyway, she lived a long time, but she was basically human, you know.’

‘Mm,’ acknowledged the old woman, rubbing her hip.

‘There was a gap, after that, because when there’s no water in the cup I sort of… disappear.’

Janet stared. ‘That don’t sound nice.’

Shellra shrugged, her skin glittering in the light. ‘It’s all right, I don’t know anything about it. I’m there, and then I’m not, and then I am.’ She blinked up at Janet. ‘Anyway, next thing I know, I’m in the Great Zambini’s back room. Well, that’s what he called himself. His name was Geoff, really. He… wasn’t cruel, but he wasn’t particularly kind, either. Let me out to do things, put me away afterwards.’

‘Like a… like a tool? A thing?’

‘I suppose,’ said Shellra, chewing on an aphid. ‘He didn’t want people to know about me. He wanted them to believe in the power of the Great Zambini.’ These last few words she said with a theatrical flourish and a bow. ‘I’m not quite sure what happened, in the end. He got older. I suppose he died without telling anyone about me, and the mug’s been stored somewhere.’

‘Until someone gave it to Chellmarsh Primary School, an’ it ended up in the school raffle.’ Janet reached for a biscuit and chewed slowly. ‘You can see the future?’

‘A bit,’ said Shellra. ‘It’s not always specific, but a lot of the time it’s close enough. Zambini did all right. He was always busy. Sometimes he just made stuff up, mind you. And like I said, he wasn’t cruel. If I did see something… difficult, he didn’t usually mention it.’

Janet looked thoughtful. ‘Maybe best not to know.’

‘That’s true.’ The sprite studied Janet’s face. ‘You’d make a good fortune-teller.’

Janet had a brief vision of herself, head wrapped in a scarf, pretending to stare into a crystal ball. Having to meet and talk to an endless stream of people. ‘No! I don’t think I want to be doing that.’

‘I could show you things. You could win more than raffles.’

Janet looked around her kitchen. The walls needed repainting, and the kettle was old and spotted with limescale and could probably do with replacing. But the room was quiet and warm and safe. She sipped her tea and smiled. ‘I reckon I’ve got what I need.’

The sprite looked sad. ‘Then I suppose you’ll empty my mug out again, and I’ll disappear.’

#

The sun was just beginning to set as Janet walked away from the stream that ran through her village, an empty mug in her hand.

‘You promise you’ll come and visit? For a chat?’ Shellra had asked.

‘Course I will.’

‘All right. Drink the water in the mug,’ she’d said with a wink, before jumping into the clear water. Finally free.

Janet had. Her hip was, she realised as she strode, completely pain-free for the first time in years. She began to whistle.

The sunset lit up the sky with pink and gold as she let herself into her cosy kitchen, where an extremely healthy orchid sat on her windowsill.


Author’s notes
Something I wrote ages ago for a writing prompt involving a cup with a fish pattern. Dug out of storage, tweaked a bit and… finally free.


Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com
If you like my work, you can support my writing by buying me a coffee at ko-fi.com.
© Kat Day 2021

The Comforting Silence of Deep Water

Art by @KatNoggin

The music twists around me, notes impossibly fast. The bow moves as though it’s part of me, which, in a way, it is. The melody speaks of love and want, the never-still nature of a river and the heavy, comforting silence of deep water. It’s complicated and lovely like, I suppose, so many things in this world.

My eyes are downcast, lost in the feeling, and that’s why I don’t see her. It’s the dog that causes me to look up. It sits on its haunches and barks at me, shaggy, grey-brown head tilted to one side.

The bow stills in my hands. ‘Oh, shit.’

The dog’s owner, a young-looking woman with fair skin and a blue scarf, is staring at me, her eyes glassy. ‘You’re beautiful,’ she whispers, tonelessly.

I grit my teeth. ‘I’m sorry,’ I say. ‘It’s not real. It’ll wear off.’

‘You’re the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen,’ she murmurs, and takes a step forward. The dog whines. I realise that, even though I’ve stopped playing, she’s going to walk right into the water. With a groan, I let myself fall backwards off the rock where I was sitting, my hair fanning out as I sink under the green-blue surface.

I stay down. I can’t live underwater, but I can stay under a lot longer than most humans. The pond is deep—I can touch the bottom, but crouching as I am I’m out of sight. I’m still gripping the fiddle and bow. It’s not as if water will damage the damned thing.

My eyes are pretty good at dealing with different refractive indices—a thought that almost causes me to smile at the incongruous clash of magic and physics—and I watch the woman through the water’s surface. She stands motionless, hands slack by her side. Her dog circles her every now and then, then wanders off, sniffs about a bit, and returns, nosing at her hand.

Just when I’m starting to wonder if should’ve considered a contingency plan, she gives herself a shake and crouches down to scratch the dog behind its ears before turning around and striding away, the dog happy again at her heels. I wait until she’s well out of sight before I surface, wringing out my hair as I head for the water’s edge.

#

It’s late morning when I get home, but the early spring sunshine isn’t quite strong enough to have dried me off completely. Camron is sitting at the kitchen table, a mug of coffee by one hand, his phone in the other.

‘Oh, thank Gods,’ he says when he sees me. ‘Where have you been, Stefan?’ He stands up and puts his hands on my shoulders. ‘Your hair is damp.’

I wave the fiddle. ‘I went out to play,’ I say. ‘Caught a blasted dog walker. Had to hide underwater.’

‘You need to dry off. You’ll catch a chill.’

‘Water spirits don’t catch chills.’

‘You’re only half water spirit. And I distinctly remember having to feed you chicken soup and painkillers before Christmas.’

‘That was a virus. It had nothing to do with getting wet.’ There it is again, science and magic, clashing. I throw the fiddle down by the door. I’d destroy the stupid thing if I could, but it’s part of what I am, and who knows what would happen? I’m scared it might be like cutting out my stomach to make sure I never throw up.

Camron hands me a towel and I rub it over my head, looking at green-black strands against the white. ‘You could play here,’ he says, glancing through the kitchen window towards the stream in the garden.

‘I can’t.’

‘You could. It’s not as if we have a lot of passing traffic. No one would hear early morning. Or late at night. Anyway, there’s a lock on the gate.’

‘No,’ I say.

He pulls me close and wraps his arms around me. ‘Does it even matter if I hear at this point?’

I think of the woman’s glassy eyes and shiver. ‘It does, yes.’

He rests his forehead against mine. His eyes are hazel, flecked with gold. ‘I’m not going anywhere,’ he says quietly.

‘But I need to know that you could. If you had to.’

‘I’ll never have to.’

‘Nevertheless.’

He sighs, and presses his lips against mine, warm and soft, and I lean into him.

This won’t wear off, I know, because it’s real. Complicated and lovely.

Like so many things in this world.


Author’s notes
I wrote at the start of 2020, before all the *waves hands* really kicked off, as part of the Codex writer’s group’s annual Weekend Warrior contest. I kept meaning to do something with it, and I kept not doing something with it. And you know what, it’s another lockdown—we all need something nice. The artwork was drawn by the revoltingly talented Kat Noggin—give her a follow (thank you, m’dear!) If you have a moment, leave me an encouraging comment, and maybe I will, finally, do something with it. Stay safe.


Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com
If you like my work, you can support my writing by buying me a coffee at ko-fi.com.
© Kat Day 2021

The Magician’s Christmas Tree

The distant sound of carol singers caused the magician to look up from the silver bauble he was holding. Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly

He smiled. He liked that one.

The old man huffed on the sphere and rubbed in on his robe, then held it close to his face. The curved surface distorted his reflection, making his hands seem huge and his head tiny. Something inside the ball made a sound like a fox in the night.

Still smiling happily, the magician hung the bauble carefully on a branch.

A log hissed and popped in the grate. He paused in his tree decorating to stir the liquid in the cast-iron pot hanging over the fire. The smell of oranges, cinnamon and peppery spices filled the room. He sniffed appreciatively and added a generous measure of clear liquid from a glass bottle.

Returning to the tree he examined the lights which he’d wound around the branches. One sputtered and he flicked it impatiently with a fingernail. It squeaked faintly, then returned to producing its greenish light.

Humming fa-la-la-la-la he rummaged in the dusty wooden crate on the rug next to the tree. Over several branches he hooked curved, white objects which might have resembled candy-canes, although they lacked the traditional red stripes.

He let out a happy exclamation when he discovered the string of pearlescent, squarish objects with curiously sharp edges. These he draped all around, so that they shimmered in the firelight.

Then came a series of miniature figures. Reindeer with branching antlers twisted on their strings and butted at pine needles. The magician wagged a finger at them.

A selection of elves with curling shoes hung rather brokenly. At these, he sighed and shook his head sadly.

Another figure drawn from the box was an ugly thing; two pointed horns had been stuck to its forehead and it was dressed in dark, coarsely-woven clothing. It had baleful, light-brown, almost amber, eyes and carried a switch of wicked-looking branches. It hissed as the magician gently stroked it. He stared at it for a moment, looked back at the crate and then, cocking his head to one side, placed it towards the back of the tree.

Last was the figure of a man, dressed in red and white and carrying a lumpy, hessian sack. This one made a soft sound that was almost a groan. The magician gazed at it as if it were a much-loved grandchild, and then hung it carefully on a branch at the very front.

He took a few steps back and examined his work. The figures swung gently on their strings and the lights twinkled most prettily. Faint groans and hisses filled the tree like the wind winding its fingers through a forest. It was, he decided, almost perfect.

Almost.

He reached into the box and drew out a silver star. He turned it over in his hand, frowning. What were stars, after all? Huge balls of flaming gas, seen from such a distance they were nothing more than dots. He would, he mused, much rather have a fairy on the pinnacle of his tree. He glanced at the string of squarish objects he had draped through the branches.

Yes, a fairy with pretty golden hair and glittering wings. That would be so much more in keeping with the true origins of the mid-winter festival.

The magician cocked his head. The singers had started up again, and they were louder. Very loud, in fact. Almost as if they were just outside his door.

They fell silent and their song was replaced by knocking.

Fa-la-la-la, hummed the magician.

He opened the door. Three women stood there, cheeks flushed from the cold. The middle one pushed a lock of blonde hair away from her eyes as they all burst into song.

The magician listened, a beatific smile on his face.

He clapped his hands as they finished. ‘Oh, that was wonderful. Wonderful! Why don’t you come in for a moment? I’ve got some mulled wine warming in the other room.’

They smiled at the kindly old man with the eyes that spoke of warmth and safety, and thought how bitterly cold it was. The carol singers agreed that, yes, it would be lovely to come inside. Just for a moment.

The magician ladled the dark, cinnamon scented liquid from the pot over the fire into cups and passed it to the singers as they admired his beautiful tree.

Yes, he thought, as they sipped. A fairy with beautiful golden hair. Perhaps she would even sing.

And he could always find room for more elves.


Author’s notes
COVID-19 has probably put an end to door-to-door carol singers this year, but just in case, beware kindly old men with strangely active Christmas ornaments… 😉


Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com
If you like my work, you can support my writing by buying me a coffee at ko-fi.com.
© Kat Day 2020

That Which is Kept Locked Away

‘Go anywhere,’ you said, ‘but not there. That’s all I ask.’

The door was unvarnished wood. Tucked under a stairway, slightly too small to enter straight-backed, locked with cast iron. You kept the plain key in your pocket, always.

I wondered, of course. Sometimes I thought of little else, my mind swirling with possibilities, bright and grim. Did the room contain valuable rarities? Scandalous documents? Evidence of black deeds? I could have forced the door. Perhaps have picked the lock. Even stolen your key. Sometimes I thought it might be best to do so. Calm the churning waters of my thoughts, reassure myself that there was no monster hiding in the depths.

But you had asked me not to go there, so I did not. I could give you that, I thought. You gave me so many other things. Music, food, friends and stories. Your determination, your smile. Your solid presence.

I never forgot the door, but I let my gaze slide past it. Almost stopped seeing it. Until the day you took my hand and led me to it.

‘Are you sure?’ I asked.

‘I am,’ you replied as you turned the key and looked back at me, your expression soft. ‘Are you?’

I hadn’t expected you to ask. But I was glad that you did.

There were no horrors when you opened the door, only a rosewood chest inlaid with brass.

You reached out, raised the lid, and a sound met my ears. A susurration of thousands of words, babbling and tripping and harmonising with each other. They were caught, I saw next, in precious stones of every known colour, and some beyond known.

I looked at you, and you nodded.

When I plucked out the diamonds, I heard the voice you used for work and strangers—firm and bright, all clear, faceted vowels. The pearls, by contrast, were warm and smooth—gentle wisdom ingrained in their shimmering layers—while emerald and peridot hissed bitten-back, jagged-edged words to cut the tongue that never spoke them.

Lower, amethyst and tourmaline giggled and chuckled, while sunny citrine sang childlike and joyful, near flat pieces of amber whose golden colours hummed of lazy contentment.

A black, velvet bag of spinel, ruby and garnet whispered deep and low and dark. You murmured that we would save that for later, as you took the pouch from my fingers.

At the very bottom of the box was a stone larger than the others, tapered at one end, indented along its curved top. I held it in my palm and its surface shivered crimson, buttercup and lime, smoky blues and violet.

‘They say,’ you said, ‘that opal which is kept locked away will dry out and eventually crack and break. It fares better given to someone who will keep it close.’

I smiled, then, as I closed my fingers around the stone, brought it up to my ear, and listened to its short and simple words.


Author’s notes
I wrote this for the Cast of Wonders flash fiction contest, and it didn’t make it past the first round. Sniff. BUT, the good news from that is that, if you’ve enjoyed this, there are lots of better stories coming up in the semi-finals which open on November 2nd. You can register, for free, to read and vote here.

Oh, and also, October is the birth month for opal. So this seemed like a good moment for this one.


Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com
If you like my work, you can support my writing by buying me a coffee at ko-fi.com.
© Kat Day 2020

Aural Fixation

Humans have been imagining creatures from other worlds for years. They were usually grey. Metallic ships. Spindly, grey lifeforms. No one expected something shimmering with all the colours of the visible spectrum, plus some only visible to mantis shrimp—who were, ironically, largely oblivious: tucked into the burrows they had carved for themselves in the ocean depths.

Humans have also long been fascinated by lights in the sky—devoting a lot of energy into reproducing same in the form of fireworks and the like—so most of the world’s population turned their faces upwards and gasped. And when it comes to communication, much of humanity has an aural fixation, and there’s no appropriate verb for ‘concepts transmitted directly into every human’s angular gyrus.’

So, let’s say that the alien invaders spoke.

‘This,’ said the voice, which to some sounded like heavenly choirs, and to some sounded like endless screaming, and to others sounded a parent who’s just watched their child do something unspeakable and is twenty-five seconds away from infanticide, ‘is a perfectly nice planet. Lots of water. Really, lots. Do you know how unusual that is? Not to mention all the plants. Photosynthesis is fucking amazing.’ (Powerful alien sentiences don’t swear, as such, but there was something there that implied emphasis, and most human minds filled in the gap.)

‘And here you are,’ it continued, ‘literally setting fire to the place. Never mind all the wasted metals. And the helium. You do understand that you can’t make that? If you keep putting it into thin-walled polymer-based containers and launching it into the sky you will run out.’

By now, some humans who’d convinced themselves they had power had started to collect in brightly-lit rooms with very thick concrete walls, where they were arguing.

Some said they should attempt diplomacy. They were naturally ignored in favour of the ones pushing for their own, rather more destructive, version of shiny lights in the sky. Missiles were shortly launched, plus some weapons the existence of which was only known to the humans huddling in heavily-concreted buildings, well away from the consequences of said weapons.

They all passed through the aliens harmlessly, like sand through a sieve, or neutrinos though miles of rock.

‘You’re ridiculous,’ they said. ‘The resources here are excellent. There are multiple intelligent lifeforms who’d be so much more grateful.’

‘What does that mean?’ thought several billion humans, more or less as one.

‘You’re toast,’ said the aliens. ‘But don’t worry, we’ll be selective. Some of the other primates are probably doomed, but most lifeforms will carry on. Maybe the next half-smart one to evolve will be less destructive.’

There was rage. There was frustration. There was helplessness.

And then, there was something else.

Something ancient.

It uncoiled itself from the depths of the ocean, inconceivably huge, a slick body covered in spines, each taller and thicker than ancient redwoods. Where the aliens had all the colours, this had none. It was blackness. The void. The absence of all light. It lifted a head the size of an island and spoke with a voice of thunderstorms and crashing waves.

It said: ‘Bugger off.’

The aliens considered. ‘What,’ they asked, ‘are you?’

‘What I am,’ said the great beast, ‘is here already.’

‘But,’ said the aliens, ‘it’s just them we object to. ‘

The creature rumbled. Huge waves rolled across the surface of the ocean. And the beat it created resolved into something that became…

Mozart’s Requiem, Wagner’s The Ring Cycle, He Zhanhao and Chen Gang’s Butterfly Lover’s Violin Concerto.

The sounds twisted into more recent pieces. I Got You, Bohemian Rhapsody, Experiment IV, too many others to recognise. There were words too, and not just songs: words of poets, playwrights, scriptwriters and novelists. Every beautiful sound the humans had ever created, compressed into a few minutes.

The final chords drifted away, wrapped around words:

 

But, spite of heaven’s fell rage,

Some beauty peep’d through lattice of sear’d age.

 

‘Oh,’ said the aliens. ‘That is interesting.’

‘They like sounds,’ explained the oceanic monstrosity. ‘Bit of an aural fixation.’

‘Fine,’ said the aliens, ‘all right. We’ll leave them to you. But do have a word about the fires and the ice caps, would you?’

And with that, they left, and the Earthly sky returned to its normal shades of mostly blues and greys.

The great beast rumbled again, but gently. ‘Sort it out, you lot,’ it said. ‘Else next time, I’ll join them.’

And with that it sank, far beneath the blue-black waves.


Author’s notes
June 2020 has been a bit rubbish, hasn’t it? Here’s a little something to brighten it up. Roll on July.


Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com
If you like my work, you can support my writing by buying me a coffee at ko-fi.com.
© Kat Day 2020

How do you Sense the Sea, Child?

Stand at the shoreline. Curl your toes into damp sand, dip your fingers in the water, feel cold rush over your skin. Listen to the rumble, the roar and the hiss. Taste the air in your mouth. What colour is the sea, would you say?

#

Once upon a time the sea was a pale thing, clear as water in a glass. It was sweet, too, and good to drink. The ancient Viking sea-kings could sail for monthsso long as they had cured fish and dry bread and barley for porridgebecause there was plenty of water to drink.

The sea-king known as Mysing was a trader and a warrior, with grey eyes and the nose of hawk. Many said he had the mind of a hawk, too: sharp, opportunistic, and sometimes cruel. Mysing and his men invaded the lands of King Frodi, drawn there by a low rumble of song. A melody of pain and torment and misfortune, blood and tears and separation.

Upon Frodi’s inevitable death, Mysing discovered a mill and, chained to the wooden beam that moved the huge millstone, two giantesses with ugly red marks under the iron cuffs that circled their wrists. The muscles on their arms and legs were sharply defined from the unrelenting work of pushing the heavy stone.

They were dressed in blue rags, and it was this which first caught Mysing’s attention. These days, of course, blue dye is no great thing, but then it was rare and valuable, something only the wealthiest would have, so Mysing knew the enslaved women were important. He wondered if he could gain some advantage with the giants’ clan.

And then he learned that the mill was bewitched, and would grind anything one desired so long as the stone could be made to move, and his grey eyes glittered with greed.

Mysing poured a smile onto his face and spoke kindly to the giantesses, whose names were Fenja and Menja, promising freedom and safe passage if they would join him on his boat. They were so relieved to be free they did not ask questions when Mysing broke their chains but left the cuffs on their wrists.

Fenja and Menja walked willingly onto Mysing’s boat and drank the cups of spiced wine they were given. Exhausted from many weeks of hard labour, they slept.

When they woke, they found the millstone had also been transported, and their chains had been repaired.

They roared, then, so loud it might have been thunder, and pulled at their bonds, but it was no use. Mysing laughed and bade them grind salt which then, you understand, was more valuable than gold, for one cannot preserve food with gold.

When they refused he had his men turn their longbows on Menja alone, telling Frenja that he would kill her companion and leave her to live. Mysing recognised love when he saw it and, if you’ll recall, his mind was sharp and opportunistic and, sometimes, cruel.

The giantesses turned their dark eyes to each other and an unspoken word passed between them. They began to push, and Mysing smiled as salt started to pour from the millstone. They moved faster and he laughed, imagining his retirement as a wealthy man.

Then, in little more than a few breaths, the salt began to fill every space on the boat. His laughter died. With the millstone and the giantesses, the boat already sat low in the water, and now the weight of the salt pulled it lower.

Menja and Frenja began to sing a song of pain and torment and misfortune, blood and tears and separation, and Mysing’s eyes turned to horror as he realised it was the same song which had led him to destroy King Frodi.

Fingers of white lightening caressed the sky, the wind screamed, and waves of icy water breached the sides of the boat. They say the giantesses clasped their hands together and stared into each other’s eyes as the boat, its crew, the mill, and all the salt sank beneath the churning sea surface.

#

So, what colour is the sea, child? They say that on a still day it is blue, stained forever by the dye that seeped into the water from Menja and Frenja’s ragged clothes. While on a stormy day it is grey-dark, to remind us of the folly of a cruel, greedy man with grey eyes.

Now touch your finger to your tongue, child and tell me.

Do you taste salt?


Author’s notes
This is a retelling of a Norse story/poem called “Gróttasöngr” (The Mill’s Songs) with a few extra twists of my own. The character names, however, are unchanged.


Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com
If you like my work, you can support my writing by buying me a coffee at ko-fi.com.
© Kat Day 2020

The Trickster

Said the trickster, here’s the game, if you’re able,

remember all the things upon the table.

I’ll take one and hide it away, he explained,

and if you can tell me what I’ve obtained,

then you’re the winner! And I’ll return it,

and I’ll also give you this nifty outfit.

 

He held a dress, midnight black and glitter,

belonged to a witch, he said–never fit her.

I admired it, imagined how it would look,

And if I lose, I said, you keep what you took?

That’s it, he replied, are we in accord?

Very well, I agreed, consider me on board.

 

It was my desk, after all, I knew it well:

Skull, wand, phial and ball. Cards, scroll, mirror and bell.

Turn your eyes, then, said he, and I’ll make my choice,

and I faced away, only hearing his voice.

A handful of moments, he bade me return,

Well, he said, eyes flashing, what do you discern?

 

Skull, wand, ball and phial. Cards, scroll, bell and mirror.

Seemed untouched–moved neither further nor nearer.

He was a trickster, though, and so I thought hard.

What was gone? A drop from the phial, a lone card?

A word from the scroll? The swirl inside the ball?

The blank smile of the skull? The bell’s ringing call?

 

It was none of these, and I heard his laughter.

He had me, I’d lost, and what would come after?

I looked in the mirror and saw my own face,

bright, sharp and clear and… it fell into place.

My mouth curved then, and his attitude shifted,

cursing as he understood he’d been grifted.

 

I reached out my hand, nails sharp, pale skin blistered,

Give me what you took from the glass, I whispered.

He tried to argue, deny, make demands and lie,

I gestured; he produced the walnut with a sigh.

Cracked it and nestled within that dark, dry space,

my fingerprints, took from the mirror’s surface.

 

Did you expect to bind me, foolish trickster?

I’m older than old, and my blood’s a mixture,

my magic is human and infernal, too.

Now begone, before I use your bones for glue.

And he ran, but of course I did keep the gown.

Monster I may be, there’s no need to dress down.


Author’s notes
One last poem from the Victory in Verse contest at the Codex Writers’ Forum (check out D. L. Davitt). I enjoyed playing around with rhyming couplets, and I think we could all use a bit of fun right now. Speaking of which, if anyone would like to see any particular type of story over the coming weeks, hit me up. I’ll do my best.


Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com
If you like my work, you can support my writing by buying me a coffee at ko-fi.com.
© Kat Day 2020

Sympathetic Magic

I turned the book over in my hands. It felt all wrong.

A book like this ought to be bound in oxblood leather, with embossed lettering and crinkly pages that smelled of old chocolate. Mystical grimoires should not be heavy paperbacks with razor-cut pages and glossy covers.

Frowning, I opened it and studied the contents page.

#

My big sister is five years older than me, which doesn’t seem like much, now. But when I was four and she was nine, it was huge. It snowed that winter, and we were both desperate to go outside. Mum said she had to look after me. I wanted to throw snow and crash into things, because, hey, four. She wanted to make the perfect snowman so that she could take photos and post them on some social media thing.

Know what she did? She told me to lick the signpost near our house. And I did it, because, hey, four.

She left me there until she finished that blasted snowman.

#

I looked at the figure I’d been working on. I did a hand-building pottery class for a while, so it wasn’t terrible. Okay, it wasn’t going to win any awards: the legs were too thick, the shoulders were boxy and no matter what I did, the armpits weren’t quite right. But it was recognisably human, even somewhat feminine.

I picked up a wooden tool and cut a hole in the figure’s belly. I prodded strands of hair into the space, then pushed a piece of well-chewed gum in after them. There was nothing about chewing gum in the grimoire, but it had been in my sister’s mouth so that had to be a ‘link to the target,’ right?

I jammed the piece of clay back into the hole.

My sister told me Santa didn’t exist when I was five, stole the baby tooth that fell out when I was seven, broke my games console when I was nine, spilled red wine on my favourite jeans when I was thirteen.

I used the wetness from my eyes to damp the clay and smooth the edges.

I checked the time on my phone.

Then I picked up the old kitchen knife I’d been using and, glancing at the book, cut off the figure’s left breast.

My sister gave me her favourite doll when I was six, and money to buy cake at the school bake sale when I was eight. My eighteen year-old sister bought me fabulous new jeans that Mum hated. She spent a week teaching me integration before my maths exam. Whatever she said to that that boy who was hassling me, I never saw his face again.

My phone beeped.

My sister was out of surgery.

Again, I used the wetness from my eyes to smooth the clay over the cut and placed the figure in a shoebox filled with cotton wool.

Then I found my sister’s favourite song in my playlist and left it playing nearby.


Author’s notes
I had high hopes of selling this story but… it kept coming back to me. So. Here you are, lovely readers, you can have it. It’s too nice to keep in a box, I think. Coffee is, as always, very much appreciated ☺


Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com
If you like my work, you can support my writing by buying me a coffee at ko-fi.com.
© Kat Day 2020

Meeting Life

The girl with red pigtails and a blue dress crouches by a dead rabbit. Her schoolfriends know her as Jori Hawes or, sometimes, ‘the weird one’. She is not yet Jorininki Castroflame, not yet a member of the Seventh Order of Wrivaca.

But, although she has yet to understand it, she is a necromancer.

She touches a finger to creature’s ear, surprised at how soft the pale fur is. The knowledge that it died recently is in her mind, but she doesn’t know how it came to be there. The ground is covered with fallen leaves and the air is damp and full of the scents of apples and woodsmoke. And, now, it also contains a sound just below the edge of hearing.

The sound stops and the rabbit shivers, and so does the girl. The animal jumps up and bounds away into the trees, while Jori falls back as though pushed. Dampness seeps into the fabric of her dress and caresses the bare skin of her calves.

‘Hello,’ says a voice. It reminds Jori of an open fire. Warm and comforting. And slightly dangerous. She looks up, and there’s a woman standing at her side. She’s dressed in impossibly bright white robes, a hood pulled over her head. Her skin, when she turns her face, is black as night but for the pale pinpricks scattered across the bridge of her nose, like stars.

‘Hello,’ said Jori, because she cannot think of anything else to say, and her mother has always encouraged her to be polite.

‘Do you understand what you did there, child?’ says the woman.

Jori looks in the direction of the disappeared rabbit. ‘No.’

The woman nods. ‘Life can be a gift, or it can be a curse. Either way, it is not something to bestow lightly.’

Jori looks at the fingers that touched the rabbit’s ear. ‘I didn’t mean—’ she says.

Eyes lock with Jori’s, and the girl stares, unable to look away. A light flares in the woman’s eyes, a distant explosion.

‘What’s your name?’ asks Jori.

‘I’m called lots of things. It doesn’t matter which you choose.’

Jori considers this. Lots of words scatter and tangle in her mind, but one floats to the top, onto her tongue. ‘Life.’

‘That,’ says the woman, lips twitching, ‘will do.’

‘I don’t understand.’

Life reaches out and places her long-fingered hand on Jori’s. It should be comforting, but there is a hardness there. A suggestion of sharpened iron. ‘No. It would be concerning if you thought you did.’

‘Why are you here? I mean, I suppose you’re here because of,’ Jori gestures at the woods again. ‘Did I… did I do a bad thing? I didn’t mean to. ‘

The girl finds herself counting heartbeats in the silence that follows. She gets to twenty-three. ‘Good,’ says Life at last. ‘Most humans don’t ask enough questions.’

‘They don’t?’

Life’s lips twitch again. ‘They don’t.’

‘What do you want from me?’

Life looks into the distance, still gripping Jori’s hand. ‘It won’t live long, even now,’ she says, apparently ignoring the question. ‘Its body won’t be able to sustain it once your influence wears off.’

‘Oh,’ says Jori, feeling a twinge of sadness. ‘Then what’s the point?’

‘You’ll have to decide that for yourself, child. Time is… both an unfathomably big thing and also, sometimes, a very small thing. Look one way, and nothing seems significant. Look the other and everything could pivot on tiniest fraction of a moment. The difficult bit is deciding which way to look.’ Life takes a breath and Jori finds herself wondering how much she really needs it. ‘You have a power that humans are not meant to have. Were never meant to have. Do you want it?’

Jori thinks about this. Then she thinks about the words that came before. ‘Why,’ she says eventually, ‘would I want it, or not want it?’

This time Life actually laughs. She lets go of Jori’s hand. ‘Oh, very good, child,’ she says. ‘Well done.’

The girl watches as the woman, or rather, the woman-shaped being with dark skin and white robes, disappears like smoke on the wind. Then she gets up and brushes down her dress.

She is not yet Jorininki Castroflame, not yet a member of the Seventh Order of Wrivaca. But she will be.

And she will never stop asking questions.


Author’s notes
More Jori. Because I like her.


Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com
If you like my work, you can support my writing by buying me a coffee at ko-fi.com.
© Kat Day 2019

Charcoal and Ice

Jorininki Castroflame, Necromancer of the Seventh Order of Wrivaca, shivered and wrapped her cloak around her body. The fabric was turquoise. She’d never favoured the traditional black.

‘So,’ said the King, indicating the body in front of them, ‘bring him back.’

Jori stepped closer to the corpse of Malek Angevin. His skin, once a warm brown, was now ashen, almost grey. His eyes were closed, arms by his side. The King’s aides, since dismissed, had packed ice around his body. Easy to do, given that he’d helpfully collapsed in his own icehouse. She inhaled the crisp, metallic air and her breath clouded in front of her face when she exhaled again. ‘He died an hour ago, in here?’

‘Yes,’ said the King, ‘he came in here for some sort of foodstuff apparently. Heaven knows what. Probably something for that wretched animal.’ He added, glaring without heat at the brown cat currently winding around Jori’s ankles. She bent and scratched its head, letting her professional awareness flow over Angevin’s body.

He was dead, there was no doubt. His heart had stopped—it happened without warning sometimes—but she thought he could still be reached, largely thanks to the King’s orders not to have him moved. The King liked to play the role of buffoon, but the truth was that he had a mind sharp enough to fillet the steaks stacked on the wooden shelves in the chilly room. He employed experts, and he paid attention. He had an experienced, and extremely discrete, physician on standby, and she had been quickly informed of her very urgent appointment.

‘You understand, Sire,’ she said cautiously, ‘that bringing someone back to full consciousness isn’t always possible? Even if the death is recent.’ And she had never done it, although she wasn’t about to admit that. It was rare that the conditions were right. Usually the body was too badly broken, or its organs too damaged by illness or age, or too much time had passed and the spirit was simply gone.

The standard necromantic trick of raising the long-dead was different. That was merely pushing a little energy into the right place. A simple matter of animation. The things that rose had no ability to think for themselves. Once she let them out of her mind’s grip they fell back to the ground, puppets with their strings cut. She had worked that dark magic for the King on both small and large scale, several times.

He had never asked her to try this before.

The King looked at her, eyes as icy as the blocks stacked around the room. ‘Can you do it or not?’

She dared to avoid his question. ‘May I ask why? You’ve lost plenty of good people before.’

He stared at her and for a moment she thought he would snap that it wasn’t her place to question his motivation. Then he seemed to deflate, looking away from her to Angevin’s body. When he did speak, his voice was surprisingly soft. ‘I need my Vertex Minister back, Castroflame.’

Something about his tone and use of the title tugged at her. Her mind whirled.

He turned his head to look at her again. Jori couldn’t help noticing his fists were clenched at his sides.

‘No one lives forever, Sire,’ she ventured, quietly. ‘His heart stopped once. It might again. Even with the care of your physician.’

‘Dammit! Get him back!’ The King pushed his hands through his blonde hair, a gesture she’d never seen him make before. ‘Do, do…’ he stuttered over the words. She could almost feel him changing tack. ‘There was an expensive election. I gave the people a vote. It was decided. The will of the people was done! I will not have it undone by an inconvenient death!’

He stopped speaking and silence spread uneasily through the small room. The only sounds were his ragged breathing and the wet noises of the cat cleaning itself.

‘I had the right man. In. In place,’ the King said eventually, eyes turned away.

Jori reached out and touched his arm. It was an action that went against protocol, but they were alone and the King was, after all, just a man. ‘I’ll try,’ she said.

‘Thank you,’ he said. Her hand dropped as something in his demeanour changed. The mask that had slipped falling back into place. His voice became crisp and formal. ‘Hurry up and get on with it. I may not have your talents, but I am aware of the theory. The more time that passes the more difficult this becomes.’

She nodded. ‘Best you wait outside, Sire.’

To her relief, he didn’t question or argue. She watched until the heavy door closed behind him, then she shook herself and reached into her leather bag.

She rejected the pouch of salt, knowing what it would do to the ice, and instead opted for charcoal. It didn’t matter, really. Salt was traditional, but power was more important than props. Ten minutes later, she’d created a sequence of sigils around the body, and a larger, unbroken circle around that, the black standing out sharply against the frosty granite floor of the icehouse.

She stared at the black symbols for a few long moments, gathering her focus. Then she glanced thoughtfully at the cat.

Jori stepped into the circle and closed her eyes.

All humans are inherently close to death. She had more power than most, but this part actually required very little. She wasn’t trying to go far—it was like looking through the window before you decided to throw your shoulder against the door.

Jori felt a jolt, not unlike the sensation of jerking awake as you start to fall asleep, and she opened her eyes.

Everything looked much the same, except for a slight purple hue, as though she was looking through tinted glass.

Malek Angevin sat up. At least, something of him sat up. A dark shadow remained on the ground, a man-shaped, oily pool that glinted in the dim light. He looked down at it, and then up at Jori, eyes wide in question.

‘Your heart stopped,’ she explained.

‘Ah,’ he paused. ‘My father died the same way,’ he added after a few moments.

‘I’m sorry,’ said Jori.

He sighed. ‘You’re the necromancer.’

‘I am. And you’re Vertex Minister Angevin, and the King wants you back.’

‘Malek,’ he said. ‘No point in formalities at this point, is there? And I suppose he would. Terribly inconvenient I imagine, my death.’ There was a trace of bitterness in his voice.

‘I won’t force you,’ she said.

‘But you could.’

‘I could,’ she agreed.

‘It felt… peaceful,’ he said wistfully, looking down at the oily pool.

The cat jumped carelessly over the edge of the circle and into Malek’s lap, which seemed to be solid enough, for the cat at least. He scratched its ears. ‘Hello, Cinnabar. I’m sorry you never got your dinner.’

Jori looked at the animal. ‘I voted for you,’ she said to Malek, not really knowing why.

He laughed. ‘Thank you?’

‘The King said he had the right man in place.’

He looked at her. His eyes were translucent. She could see faint lines of shelving through them. ‘Did he now?’

Jori bit her lip, wondering how much to say. ‘I think… I don’t think he meant just… politically.’

Malek raised an eyebrow. ‘Not like him to make his feelings clear.’

She felt a pang of relief that she hadn’t entirely misjudged the situation. ‘Well. You were dead. Are dead. Sort of.’

He sighed. ‘It won’t change anything.’

‘Perhaps not.’

‘I suppose you’ve had a lot of conversations like this.’

‘No, not really. Usually they’re long gone by the time I get involved.’

‘Special case, am I?’

‘He went to a lot of trouble to make sure of it.’

Malek rubbed Cinnabar’s head again. The dark man-shaped pool on the floor began to shimmer, glittering white and red. A soft humming sound started up. Or perhaps only became loud enough to hear.

‘It’s your choice,’ said Jori. ‘I don’t know what lies on the other side, truly. No one does. I know what’s here, though.’

‘Oh? And what’s that?’

‘A man who has found his priorities suddenly clarified, I suspect.’

Malek gave a small laugh.

The humming sound became louder. Ripples flowed across the surface of the pool, creating patterns where they hit the edges and rebounded. Jori looked at it, thinking. ‘Life is a fire that burns and scars us from the moment we’re born,’ she said eventually. ‘But it’s also bright and warm, and it gives us the chance to see and feel.’

He looked up. ‘And will I be truly alive? Not some kind of… zombie?’

‘No. Your body is undamaged and well-preserved. The King has a healer on standby. Think of it as more of a second chance.’

Malek looked wistfully and the rippling pool.

‘I suppose someone has to feed my cat, eh?’ he said with a weak smile.

‘Absolutely.’

‘He pretends not to like her,’ said Malek, nodding at Cinnabar, ‘but I caught him stroking her the other day.’

Jori smiled. ‘Still,’ she said, ‘I’m not sure you can count on the King to take on cat-caring duties.’

‘Ha. No. This is going to hurt.’

‘Yes. Sorry.’

He set his jaw. ‘Like you said, price of life. Pain.’

She pressed her lips together in agreement.

He sighed. ‘Very well, necromancer. Do your worst.’

Jori threw her metaphysical shoulder against the door.

The King pushed past her when she used her somewhat less powerful physical hand to open the door of the icehouse. She let him, but found herself blocking the path of the physician. ‘He’ll be fine for a few minutes,’ she said.

The healer, who was after all very discrete, smiled thinly. ‘I don’t approve of necromancy,’ she said, glancing over Jori’s shoulder. ‘But… well done.’

Jorininki Castroflame, Necromancer of the Seventh Order of Wrivaca, returned the smile, somewhat more warmly. Then she pulled the hood of her turquoise cloak over her head and walked into the dusk.


Author’s notes
I meant to write a creepy story about my favourite necromancer. I accidentally wrote a slightly soft and fluffy story instead. Oh well. Stories are what they are.


Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com
If you like my work, you can support my writing by buying me a coffee at ko-fi.com.
© Kat Day 2019