Acutus Lepus

road-1072823_960_720“The rabbit–”

Bocci ducked as his Aunt’s heavy besom swung round in a wide arc. The springy birch twigs caught his hair, leaving his scalp stinging. “Blasphemy! We do not question The Creator – May He Be Always Revered!

“But–”

“One more word, boy, and I swear, I’ll have you digging out the privy. WITHOUT a shovel,” she added, with a glare that could have fired pottery.

Bocci’s nose wrinkled. He stayed silent.

His Aunt’s eyes softened. She looked around and scuttled a little closer. “Listen, child,” she said quietly, “this talk is dangerous business. If the high priest hears of it, it won’t go well for me. Old women have been used as kindling for less.”

She raised her voice again. “Away with you! Finish your chores!” She glanced around once more. “And your prayers!” she added. Just in case.

#

Bocci stomped through the forest, huffing away the heavy scents of leaf mould and rot. Shafts of cold sunlight slipped through the tangle of branches above. He sat down on a log and picked up a fallen leaf, letting his fingers trace the sharp edges and smooth surfaces.

Bocci’s thoughts were scattered by the thick scent and sound of moving earth. A rabbit poked its head through the newly-formed hole and looked around. It was holding a carrot.

“What’s up, Boc?” it said.

“Don’t talk to me,” muttered Bocci.

The rabbit shrugged and bit the end off its orange snack.

Bocci listened to the noisy crunching for a few moments. “The priests say that The Creator gave only humans the power of speech,” he said eventually. “So rabbits can’t talk. So you must be my imagination.”

“Interesting,” said the rabbit. “What about the dwarves?”

“What about them?”

“They’re not human. They talk.”

Bocci rubbed his sore scalp. “I think,” he said slowly, “they have a different creator.”

“Not ‘the’ creator, then?” asked the rabbit.

“Um…”

The rabbit swallowed. “Some rabbits think the Almighty Buck made all of us in His image.”

“But you don’t?”

“Makes no sense. Why go to all that effort? You just need two rabbits, then, you know,” the rabbit coughed, “you get two more, and then they get bigger and have more rabbits – before long, there’re loads.”

“But who made the first two rabbits?”

“Dunno. Common ancestor?”

“What?”

“Never mind. Gotta go. I’ve got eight mouths to feed.” It paused. “Might be thirteen by now.” The rabbit fixed its liquid eyes on Bocci. “May as well keep pondering the world, Boc. You don’t get off it alive either way.”

With that, it tossed away the end of its carrot and dived headfirst down the hole.

Bocci stared at the space where the rabbit wasn’t. After a few moments he remembered the leaf and held it up, eyes following the stem as it split into smaller veins, and then split again, and again.

He stood, brushing the damp from his backside. Whistling a complicated little tune he headed back towards his Aunt’s cottage.


Author’s notes

This little tale is inspired by Fibonacci and his sequence, and of course his rabbits. Really, this is about those people (or even animals) who are willing to think beyond what they’re told to think, even if doing so might make their life more difficult. It ends on a forward-looking note, which seems appropriate for the end of December. Happy New Year everyone!

© Kat Day 2016

The only winning move

death-valley-sky-597885_960_720

A landscape of barren, dark-grey stone. Above, a black sky dotted with pinpricks of light – as though someone had taken a piece of paper, repeatedly shoved a pin through it, and then put it in front of a something extremely bright. Like, say, the lights of an oncoming train.

There was no breeze. No sound. No moon.

Since the last thing David Snacknot remembered was playing Go with one of his colleagues at the University, this all seemed rather strange.

“Where in the hell am I?”

“Interesting assumption.”

David looked over his shoulder, giving the impression that while his head wanted to see what was going on, his feet wanted to stay pointing in the direction which might provide a clear run.

He found himself looking at a figure with its arms folded across its chest. Its black robe covered it entirely. Even its face was completely hidden by the fall of the heavy cowl.

At this point, David realised he wasn’t breathing.

He tried to take a breath, and found he couldn’t. Then, more out of habit than anything else he tried to panic, and found he couldn’t do that, either.

The cowled figure pushed back its hood. “Do stop opening and closing your mouth, Professor. You look like a goldfish.”

Unbidden, David’s feet shuffled around as he stared. The face before him was not what he’d been expecting. Not that he knew what he’d been expecting, but whatever it had been, it wasn’t this.

“A-are you… Death?” he stuttered.

“I dislike that name. Such negative connotations,” said the figure. The face was feminine, and it definitely had skin. Admittedly, very pale skin, and skin stretched tautly over angular – one might even say bony – features.

“Er…” said David, then stopped to consider the fact that, despite not breathing, he still seemed to be able to speak. He fought back an inexplicable urge to whistle. Just to see if he still could. Then he had to fight back the urge to giggle.

“I rather prefer Entropy,” continued the figure.

What is it called, thought David, when actors are laughing so much during a performance that they can’t say their lines?

“Because that other name, it’s really not what I do. I don’t actually have anything to do with the D-word. That happens before people get to me. My role is merely to move things forward.”

Oh yes, thought David. Corpsing.

“So,” said Entropy. “Shall we begin? Or perhaps I should say, end? Ha ha.”

“Ha ha,” repeated David.

Entropy beamed. “That’s the spirit! Hardly anyone laughs at my jokes! Oh! Spirit! Ha ha!”

David smiled weakly. His eyes slid from her face to the surrounding landscape, and something strange behind her left shoulder caught his eye. “What’s that?” he asked, pointing.

“What? Ah, yes. Well, once upon a time, it would’ve been a pale horse. But we all have to move with the times.”

“A combine harvester?”

“There are a lot of you these days.”

David nodded slowly. I must be hallucinating, he thought. Just how much did I drink?

“The scythe just wouldn’t be practical.”

“No, I suppose not.” His rational side gave up. If he was dreaming he might as well go along with it. “Er, don’t take this the wrong way, but I thought Dea–, sorry,” he said quickly as she frowned, “I mean, in books and things you’re usually male.”

“How can you tell?”

“What?”

“I’m usually drawn as a skeleton.”

“Oh. Good point.” David resolutely fixed his eyes on her face.

“The people who draw me,” pointed out Entropy reasonably, “are not, generally speaking, people who’ve actually met me.

“Of course, yes. Makes sense. Wait a minute. If there are so many of us that you have to use a piece of heavy-duty agricultural equipment to do your job, why am I here on my own like this?”

Entropy smiled enigmatically. “Good question, professor.”

“Is it?”

“It is.”

“Is it a good question with an answer?” asked David, after a few moments.

“If you flipped a coin ten times, what would happen?”

“What’s that got to do with it?

“Just answer.”

“Well… I suppose you’d get a mixture of heads and tails. You’d expect half of each, but in just ten flips,” he shrugged, “who knows? Could be all heads, could be all tails, could be one to nine, or two to eight, or anything, really.”

“Very good. And if you flipped it one hundred times?”

“Then, assuming you had an evenly-weighted coin, it ought to come out closer to fifty-fifty. But I don’t see–”

“A thousand times? A million? A billion?”

“Closer and closer to an even split. And sore fingers,” he grinned. Entropy didn’t laugh, which seemed rather unfair, all things considered.

“Can you, perhaps, conceive of any other alternative?”

David frowned. “Not if the coin is evenly weighted…”

Entropy dipped her long, pale fingers into the folds of her robe and pulled out a coin. It glinted silver in the non-light. Slowly and deliberately, she pressed her thumb against her index finger, then balanced the metal disc on her thumbnail. With a soft ‘fthick’ the coin leapt upwards, turning over and over in a slow arc. David’s eyes followed it as it reached the apex, and then fell downwards, still spinning.

Clink.

He stared.

“You see,” said Entropy, “you’re like the coin.”

“On edge?”

“Exactly.”

The both considered the disc of metal for a moment, perfectly balanced on its side.

“Are you saying,” asked David slowly, “that I’m somehow between states? I could fall one way, or the other? I could… go back?”

“Perhaps,” said Entropy.

“Perhaps what?”

“Traditionally, in this circumstance, you would challenge me to a game.”

“Really?” asked David, champion Go player, “then I choose–”

“But in this case,” she interrupted, “I think perhaps not, given what happened the last time you proposed a game.”

Memories crawled through David’s mind like a drunk getting back to the house at 3am. They missed the lock, knocked over the furniture and set fire to a frying pan. He’d been playing Go with his friend Jian. And they’d been drinking. A lot. Because, because…”

Entropy shuddered. “Spit all over the playing pieces. Revolting.”

Oh yes. The classic Go variant: I bet I can fit more of these playing pieces into my mouth than you can.

“We’d been drinking,” he protested. “I wouldn’t do that normally.” Thirty-four, he’d managed. Then, before anyone could say Heimlich manoeuvre, here he was having a cosy chat with Dea– Entropy.”

“Traditions,” she mused, “are a very human idea. You spend all this time and energy inventing new and more efficient ways of doing things, but every now and then you insist on making life difficult for yourselves because great-great-grandma would have approved.”

Why had he drunk so much? They’d been celebrating, because…

“I don’t have a ancestors. Or descendants. I remember how everything was done, and I know how it will be done.”

“… brandy. They’d been drinking brandy…”

“And I do have a job to do. I can’t sit around playing complicated strategy games.”

“… because…”

“So with that in mind, pick a number.”

“What?” asked David, jolted away from his fractured memory.

“You say that a lot. Pick a number.”

“Any number?”

“Yes.”

“But there are an infinite number of numbers!”

“I didn’t say it would be easy.”

“Can’t you at least give me a, a, range?”

“I can say nothing.”

“What about fractions? Decimals? Irrational numbers?”

“It’s a round number.”

His birthday! They’d been celebrating his birthday! Jian had been meant to be keeping him away from the surprise party he wasn’t supposed to know about!

“Come along, Professor Snacknot, before the universe reaches heat death, if you wouldn’t mind.”

“Fifty! It’s my fiftieth birthday! That’s a round number!”

“Fifty is your choice?”

“Yes!” It was an hallucination! His brain had just been trying to process everything. He’d been trying to find a way back to consciousness! Now he’d remembered, he could go back!

Entropy nodded and raised a finger. Arm outstretched, she drew a spiral in the air, the line picked out with glittering silver. The shape pushed outwards, creating a cone-shaped tunnel. In the distance, David thought he could see colours. The brown of a battered wooden desk, the green of an old carpet…

She pointed.

David ran towards the tunnel.

He could see the desk. See the toppled brandy bottle. See his carpet with round, black and white pieces scattered across it. See the two paramedics. See the figure lying prone on the floor.

He was close. He reached out. Almost there.

And watched in horror as his finger dissolved into a thousand glittering pieces.

Tried to cry out as the fragmentation spread up his arm and along his chest.

Felt his larynx splinter before he could make the sound.

The essence of David Snacknot scattered into trillions and billions of particles and drifted away on the silent winds of the universe, never to be joined again.

#

In the grey-stone dessert, Entropy climbed into the cabin of her combine harvester and patted its dashboard. She sighed. Despite what she’d said about traditions, she had rather preferred the horse.

“You’d think a physicist would’ve worked it out, wouldn’t you?” she said to the silent piece of heavy machinery. “There’s only one number where entropy cannot be. And only one number of playing pieces a very drunk, middle-aged man could survive having lodged in his windpipe.”

The combine harvester, of course, said nothing.

“I gave him clues. ‘I can say nothing’ I said. I mean, short of actually telling him the answer, what else could I do?”

The combine harvester rumbled and rose into the air in an upwards arc.

The silver coin toppled from its edge and fell heads up, a single, round disc of silver against the dark stone.


Author’s notes

This story began life as a piece inspired by the Fibonacci sequence. It didn’t really work, and I didn’t like it. But I had a sense that there was something there, particularly in the character of Entropy, so I picked it up again. I ended up gutting the original tale, chopping up and rejigging more or less everything bar the very beginning and some parts of the end. I hope you like it, and if you do it just goes to show: a writer should never throw anything away!


© Kat Day 2016

Dear Customer

unnamedCongratulations on your purchase of a BioSynthon product, produced exclusively by BiSyInc! We are certain that you will enjoy many happy and mutually beneficial years of wear from your garment but, to make sure, please do study this information carefully and follow the guidance stringently.

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DO NOT WASH BioSynthon. It is self-cleaning.

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Author’s notes
This piece came out of a challenge to write something inspired by the photo at the top of the page. I thought it looked like it could be fabric, but on its own that would’ve been too obvious. So I took a slightly sideways approach – this obviously isn’t a story as such, but it is (I hope!) a bit of fun.


© Kat Day 2016

There’s a monster in my house

old-clockThere’s a monster in my house. I see its shadow flicker under the door. It smells of sweet, and must, and life. It trickles its detritus into corners and along shelves. Sometimes, as we eat our breakfast porridge, or walk on bright, autumn leaves, or drink hot, steaming tea it seems very far away. I think we are safe. But then I blink. Cherry blossom drifts like snow. The monster has been again. Tick. Tock.


Author’s notes
This is another piece of micro fiction written for Paragraph Planet. Entirely coincidentally, but rather aptly, it was featured on their website on my youngest child’s first birthday. There’s nothing like a first birthday to make you wonder where the last twelve months could possibly have gone!


© Kat Day 2016

Hidden

 

dinosaurWhen he looked, it wasn’t there.

The plastic hangers in Olly’s wardrobe squeaked along the metal rail as he pushed them back and forth.

He screwed up his nose. In amongst the usual smells of pinewood and clean laundry was something else. It reminded him of the greenhouse on a hot day, and honey, and dust.

‘Mum! MUM!’

She appeared in the doorway. ‘What’s the matter, Olly?’

‘I can’t find my red t-shirt!’

‘Oh,’ she touched her face, eyes darting upwards. ‘Isn’t it in the wardrobe?’

‘No!’

She chewed her lip. ‘I’ll look in the airing cupboard.’

He watched her head up the stairs to the top floor. He picked up his T-Rex and stomped it around his room for a few minutes, then followed.

‘No, I haven’t.’

Mum was talking on her phone. He sat down on the stairs just out of sight. His fingers caressed the bumpy surface of the small, plastic dinosaur.

‘He might’ve said something to Peter–’

Below, the front door clattered. Olly dropped the toy and hurtled down the one and a half flights of stairs to the hallway. ‘Dad! You’re home early!’

His father slipped his mobile into his pocket, then swept Olly into his arms. His breath was thick and sweet. ‘Where’s Mummy, sport?’

‘She’s upstairs, looking for my t-shirt.’

‘Okay, kiddo. Go and find that book we were reading yesterday. I’ll be down in a bit.’

He put his son back on his feet and started up the stairs.

Olly walked into the front room. He heard his mother say ‘Peter!’ and someone must’ve dropped something, because there was a thump. It probably wasn’t anything important though, because he didn’t hear anything else. Olly thought about the book. He was sure they’d left it on the coffee table.

But when he looked, it wasn’t there.


Author’s notes
This was written in response to a challenge to write a 300-word story that both started, and ended, with the words “when he looked, it wasn’t there”. I came up with the idea of a parent ‘putting something away’ while their child wasn’t there (as I was tidying some old bits of artwork ‘away’ in the bin) and then asked myself for a more dramatic reason for a child’s things to be packed away.


© Kat Day 2016

Her dress was the colour of the summer sky at midnight

eye-637552_960_720Her dress is the colour of the summer sky at midnight; her shoes the hue and lustre of amethysts. Eyes once fresh blueberries have drifted nettle-green. Tiny fingers clutch the fur of a tangerine teddy bear, while mine stroke soft strands of hair the colour of fresh popcorn. I caress the dot of strawberry birthmark. She smiles, brilliant as the sun after a storm. Today, I remember her never-born brother. She is my rainbow baby.


Author’s notes
This was written for Paragraph Planet, and was featured on that site on the 8th of September 2016. The only requirement for Paragraph Planet is that submissions must be exactly 75 words long. There are many, lovely pieces there – do pop along and have a read.


© Kat Day 2016

Let me come in

lift buttonsPagett gazed sadly into the mirror on the back wall. On the store dummy the pink suit had looked bright and trendy. On her, after a long day, creases and bulges had appeared. Combined with her naturally shiny skin and the hot, metallic-scented air of the lift she felt uncomfortably like partly-cooked sausage.

She turned as the doors opened. A woman stalked in, dressed a dark suit so sharp you could use it to perform surgery. She smiled, glossy red lips peeling back from white teeth.

“Pagett! Just the person I was hoping to run into,” said the newcomer as the doors closed.

Pagett took a deep breath and smiled weakly. “Am I, Wilfreda?”

“Absolutely, darling.” She examined a perfectly-manicured nail. “I was chatting to that friend of yours earlier. What’s his name. Oh yes, Shay.”

“Were you?”

“I was. And, you know, I was saying I need something good this month. Something to really blow through my targets. And, funny thing, I happened to remember hearing something, oh, I’m not sure where from now, about Shay’s previous experience.”

Pagett nodded slowly, looking at the blue numbers above the door. It took a while to get down from the seventieth floor.

“And, I can’t think what came over me, but I just happened to suggest that it would be a terrible shame if Anderson were to find out that Shay’s last job was less executive assistant more, shall we say, shop assistant.”

“It was?” said Pagett, eyes widening.

“It seems so,” murmured Wilfreda, “because when I said that, he immediately told me that interest rates are going up. I thought he might just be clutching at straws, you know, but no – apparently he’s seen the paperwork.”

“Gosh, he shouldn’t…“ Pagett tailed off as the lift slowed.

Both women looked out as the doors slid open. The corridor was empty. Wilfreda casually tapped the toe of her glossy, black stiletto shoe. “Anyway,” she continued, as the doors closed again, “after that, would you believe it, I just happened to run into Rick. You know Rick as well, don’t you?”

“Er,” said Pagett, brushing some imaginary dust off her jacket, “a bit… we’ve chatted a few times.”

“Yes, I thought so. I happened to mention in passing a few bits and pieces I’d heard about last year’s Christmas party, and would you believe it, little Ricky immediately up and told me that Birch and Billet are about to announce a loss.”

Pagett chewed on a nail and said nothing. The lift stopped again but, once more, there was no one there.

“Here’s the thing, Paggy,” said Wilfreda, turning to fix her gaze on the other woman. Her eyes were a brilliant shade of grey that reminded Pagett of the sun behind clouds. “None of that is very juicy, is it? Interests rates, huh. And everyone already knew B&B were up the swanny. I need something else. Something really good.”

Pagett’s eyes widened again. “But… Wilfreda, you know I can’t.”

“Pish. Of course you can. Who will know?”

“That’s not the point.” Pagett looked at the descending numbers over the lift door.

Wilfreda narrowed her eyes. “I may have nothing on you, little goody-two-shoes Paggy, always working hard, never partying, never speaking out of turn,” she growled, “but you know what? It doesn’t matter. I’ll make something up. Something suitably… illegal. No smoke without fire, everyone will say. She had the means, they’ll say. Poor Paggy, I expect she wanted some extra cash to buy a decent suit, they’ll say.”

Pagett chewed her lip.

Wilfreda continued to stare at her. It felt as though she was trying to suck all the air out of the small space.

“All right,” said Pagett eventually, “but if I tell you this, you have to promise to leave Shay and Ricky alone from now on, okay?”

Wilfreda looked away and waved a hand. “Whatever.”

“Okay,” said Pagett, staring intently at the numbers which were finally ticking down into single digits. “Terracube Limited. They’re about to announce the result of their oil exploration.” She lowered her voice, even though they were alone. “They found a huge field.”

“Really?” Wilfreda’s eyes glinted.

Pagett nodded, and stared as the display finally flicked from 1 to G.

Wilfreda stepped out without looking back, high-heels clicking on the marble floor of the foyer. Pagett didn’t leave. Instead, she leant against the lift wall, letting her heartbeat return to normal. Then she pressed a button. The doors slid shut and the lift started to move upwards.

She straightened up, took a deep breath, and smiled. At school she’d always been the one with her head in a book, reading, learning, writing notes. But, funnily enough, she’d always liked drama lessons. It was fun, pretending.

After Ricky and Shay had been to see her this morning she’d spent her entire lunchtime staring into the mirror, practising her nervy, anxious look. And it looked like the hard work had paid off – Wilfreda had believed every word.

In fact, Terracube were about to announce that the oil field was a bare as a wheat field after harvest. With a bit of luck, thought Pagett as the lift doors opened again, Wilfie will blow so much money on the deal that she ends up fired.


Author’s notes:

The first version of this story was written for a competition which specified the lift (elevator, for my American friends) setting. I tried a few things, but they all seemed very predictable or boringly bleak (hospital lift, sigh, someone leaving an office party, yawn) so I decided to have mess about with it instead and threw together a spin on the classic fairy tale: The Three Little Pigs. I wasn’t completely happy with my effort, but the deadline was looming so I entered it anyway. It didn’t win, but it did get highly-commended, which just goes to show that you can’t always predict how things will be received. Still, I’ve since re-written it fairly substantially to make more of the ‘hard work pays off in the end’ theme of the original fairy tale. I hope you enjoyed it!


© Kat Day 2016