Spears and Marbles

Eria wriggled her fingers and let them drift across the wooden countertop. It was warm in the shop. She looked longingly at the door.

Obligingly, it opened, letting in a draft of ice-tinged air.

A man ducked under the lintel and stomped in, snow falling from his boots. His body was huge, almost too big for his tattooed head. He wore armour made of dark leather padded with sheepskin. A battle-axe hung from his belt.

‘Hello,’ said Eria, ‘how may I help you today?’

He looked at her. ‘Where’s the old man?’ he grunted.

‘I’m minding the shop for Master Winga.’

‘You’re a child.’

Eria ran her hands down the front of her dress as though brushing away dust and nodded thoughtfully. ‘I’m older than I look,’ she said.

There was a sound from the back room. The man narrowed his eyes.

‘Master Winga will be several hours, at least,’ said Eria. ‘You can wait, of course, but I am more than able to help you.’

‘Give me that spear up there,’ said the man eventually, tipping his chin upwards. She turned to follow his gaze. The spear had been hung horizontally and ran almost the full length of the back wall. Its head was diamond-shaped, forged from reddish metal, and behind it sat wicked barbs which would make it impossible to remove from a wound without catastrophic damage.

‘Big fight?’ she asked.

‘Dragon.’

‘Have you got any identification?’

‘Huh?’

‘That spear is a dangerous weapon. I can’t sell it to just anyone.’

The man pulled out a leather pouch turned it over so that its contents spilled across the countertop. The gold glinted in the light. ‘Here’s my identification.’

‘I’m sorry,’ said Eria. ‘I need to see some paperwork. Have you got a dragon-hunting licence?’

‘A what?’

‘A dragon-hunting licence.’

‘No! What is this nonsense? I am the Warrior Philip Elfweard and–‘

Eria made a tiny snorting noise. He glared at her.

‘Give me the spear, impudent child, or I shall take it for myself!’ he thundered, drawing his axe.

‘Why waste time asking for things in the first place if you can just take what you want?’ she asked calmly, catching his eyes with hers.

‘It is– It is not–‘ His voice faded. She saw smoke and flames and tasted metal and salt. Underneath it all, though, was the scent of lavender, a song, and a child’s laughter.

Eria had a knack for seeing things in people’s eyes.

She reached into the pocket of her dress. ‘I think your daughter will like these,’ she said, holding up her hand.

Eyes still locked on hers, Philip reached out and took one of the objects she held. It was a perfect, green sphere with a graceful swirl of gold in its centre.

She blinked and his eyes snapped to the marble he was holding. It sparkled as he turned it. ‘How did you know I have a daughter?’ he asked, after a moment.

‘Lucky guess,’ said Eria, lightly. ‘I made these myself,’ she added. ‘I’m good with glass.’

He nodded.

‘I won’t sell you the spear,’ said Eria. ‘The dragon doesn’t deserve to have her eye pierced. And you,’ she continued quickly as she saw him start to speak, ‘don’t want to be so badly burned by her flame that your daughter screams every time she looks at you.’

‘The reward…’ he started, but tailed off as he stared at the marble he was still holding.

‘There are greater rewards than money.’

#

Eria waited for a several minutes after he had left before she turned and walked into the back room. She untied Master Winga from his chair and removed the gag. He spluttered and cursed, but she laid her hand on his arm and caught his eyes, and he calmed soon enough.

She left the old man’s shop and stood outside the door. She shivered and stretched, breathing in the chill air and bathing in the red-gold rays of the sunset.

After a moment, her skin began to shift from human softness to something harder and glossier. Wings burst from her back, the joints in her arms and legs clicked and snapped into new positions, her neck lengthened.

A gout of flame shot from her jaws and hit, with extreme precision, a nearby rock. It melted into a glassy puddle.

The dragon dropped from the mountain edge and caught a thermal, hovering in the clear air. She watched the tiny figure walk down the mountainside for a few moments. Then, finally, she headed home.


Author’s notes
I really want a set of dragon marbles.


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

Advertisements

Magma on the Inside

Content warning: violence, abuse

***

Don’t cry. If you cry, your lamina won’t form.

Adamite the troll forced the sting from his eyes as he stared at his damaged knee. He had fallen on the scree, and the sharp stones had bitten hard. There were specks of dirt and ragged pieces of torn skin in the centre of the wound, but its edges were already beginning to darken. Streaks of red, like veins of ruby running through rock, glinted in the sunshine. His leg burned like a stone left in the noonday sun.

He was young, and his skin was still soft. For now.

In time, a scab would form, and then it would fall off leaving a new surface of smooth rock, and the warm softness would become hard and cool to the touch. It was called a lamina, and it was how trolls became stone. It was how they became truly trolls.

Don’t cry.

The air in the mountains was crisp, almost crystalline. It chilled his skin and, just for a moment, he felt sadness that he might lose that sensation, soon.

Adamite took a deep breath and stood up.

#

It was not long after that day that his grandfather was broken. Men had come to the mountain with their red tubes which hissed and made smoke that smelled of overripe fruit. The men looked harmless – too fragile to harm a creature such as a troll – but humans could be remarkably, surprisingly destructive.

His grandfather had been too old to move much, preferring to sit and let the thin sunshine warm his rhyolite skin. The men’s sticks called the thunder and focused the lightning, and the old troll’s head had shattered into a hundred thousand pieces.

The men had taken his calcite eyes. Amazingly clear, they said.

Adamite and his father studied what was left of the broken remains.

“We must be the trolls he can no longer be,” said his father, quietly.

Then he scraped the flint-sharp side of his foot down the back of Adamite’s still-soft legs. The pain was excruciating, but he didn’t cry.

“You must be strong,” said his father. “This will make you strong.”

#

Shattering stone. Breaking skin. Adamite cried out as Psilomelane’s fist slammed into his cheek. His mouth was full of wet copper. His father had left his face untouched, but other trolls had no such hesitancy.

The rock beneath his back was too hard, and that was wrong. A real troll marks the ground, not the other way around.

“Stupid baby,” hissed Psilomelane, through amethyst teeth. “You’ll thank me for this.”

Psilomelane was mostly stone. There were, Adamite noticed with a strange sort of detachment, only a few patches that were still unchanged. One was around his neck. The matt skin there contrasted sharply with the dark grey that covered his face.

Adamite wondered how it would feel to lock his fingers around that soft neck.

It wasn’t only the outside of trolls that changed, of course. They had to become stone all the way through.

#

It was a summer day when Adamite first broke his own son’s skin. Harebell flowers were scattered over the landscape, and the air was full of grass and sunshine. Adamite’s lamina was long complete. He glittered in the sunshine, smooth stone which almost seemed polished, dotted with flecks of silver and green crystals. His eyes were perfect ovals of green chrysoprase. His teeth were shards of yellow corundum.

His son was still soft and warm to the touch. When Adamite looked at him, he felt a twinge of disgust.

He had to do it. His son had to be strong, as he himself had become strong.

And so he picked up handfuls of sharp gravel, circled his son’s arm with his own hands, and forced the small stones into the child’s skin. In, and down.

Dark fluid welled in the wounds. The young troll didn’t cry out, and that was good. His eyes, though, were too bright.

“Don’t cry,” said Adamite sharply, “it will stop your lamina from forming. Trolls must never cry.”

The child nodded. “I know,” he said.

His voice was full of the determination of youth. Somewhere inside, Adamite felt the heat of molten rock. The energy could not escape; it was locked in by his cool, rocky surface. The fires inside roared, and swelled.

He looked away from his son, and his chest burned.


Author’s notes
I wrote this story 9 months ago and it has nagged at me ever since. It was difficult to write and it is still, even though of course I know what it says, difficult to read. And I’m agonising over the submit button even now. But it’s here because I feel it’s imporant. I’m a woman and I fully support women’s rights, but I also understand that it can be hard to be a man in modern society, particularly if you are not a man who fits traditional male stereotypes. When you force someone, anyone, into a box that doesn’t fit them, they have two options: to defy and break the box, or to become misshapen. Both of those options involve pain.

Perhaps, as a society, we could decide to stop forcing people into boxes in the first place.

If you need support, please know that there organisations who can help. One is the Campaign Against Living Miserably, or CALM. Follow the link for more details.


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 2018

The Wisdom of Scarecrows

(c) Steve Thompson

“The sky is a lovely colour,” said the scarecrow.

Angela adjusted her baseball cap against the May sunshine. She was leaning back-to-back against the scarecrow’s checked shirt. Bits of straw poked her.

“You’re lucky,” she said. “It often rains this time of year. It might’ve been pouring down for your one day alive.

Angela and her Dad had made the scarecrow for the village competition, to be judged at the May Day Fête tomorrow. They’d stuffed a pair of jeans and a shirt with straw and made a face out of papier-mâché. She’d painted it bright pink.

She’d been surprised when he started talking. Scarecrows, he’d explained, get one day of life once they’re made. Angela was sure most people didn’t know this.

“What’s rain?” asked the scarecrow.

“Water that falls out of the sky.”

“How does it get up there?”

“Um,” said Angela, trying to remember what her teacher, Mrs Pilady, had told her. “Something to do with bicycles, I think.”

The scarecrow looked, as much as someone with painted-on eyes can look, at Angela’s bicycle, leaning against the side of the shed. “Does someone put it in the basket and ride it up there?”

“Something like that,” said Angela. It probably didn’t matter. Mrs Pilady wasn’t likely to spring an impromptu test on them in the next few hours.

The scarecrow nodded. “Tell me again what happens tomorrow,” he said after a moment.

“Why do you want to hear it again? You won’t see it.”

“I know, but it sounds so nice.”

Angela smiled. “We’ll put you in Dad’s trailer and drive you to the fête. There’s a big display of all the scarecrows. The best one gets a red rosette. There’s a maypole that the preschool kids dance around. I did it a few years ago, but I’m too big now. There’s ice-cream and a barbeque and a coconut shy. And a bouncy castle!”

The scarecrow sighed happily.

The smell of smoke and crack of burning wood crept treacherously across Angela’s mind. There would be a bonfire in the evening. But why mention that? The scarecrow would never know.

“It’s beautiful here,” said the scarecrow. “I’m glad I’ve seen it. Even if it was just for one day. I’m glad I met you, too, Angela. If you hadn’t come outside, I would’ve spent all my time alone.”

Angela touched the scarecrow’s hand. The old ski glove was warm from the sunshine. “I think,” she said slowly, “that we should always try to enjoy days. They might run out for any of us.”

“Yes,” said the scarecrow.

They sat in silence, then. A bee buzzed by. Angela took off her baseball cap and rubbed at her nearly-bald scalp.

A few minutes later the back door opened. “There you are, sweetie,” said Angela’s dad. “It’s time for your medicine.”

“Hi, Dad. I was just talking to the scarecrow.”

“Were you now? Did he say anything interesting?”

Angela looked at the now-motionless straw man.

“Yes,” she said. “He did.”


Author’s notes
This story makes me cry every time I read it, which you might think is strange, because I wrote it. But as Robert Frost famously said: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” I’m proud to say that this story won the first ever BeaconLit Beaconflash competition in July 2018, and you can also read it on the BeaconLit website. Thanks to the lovely Steve Thompson for the image above (and the rest of the beautiful drawings which aren’t here to see… yet).


Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com
© Kat Day 2018

A little something for Christmas

The tinkle of distant bells, a thump, and someone swearing. Loudly but… oddly squeakily. James started in his chair. He’d been wrapping Christmas presents and, possibly, there had been one too many mugs of mulled wine. He was sure he’d only sat down for a moment.

“Bugger,” said a voice from the direction of the fireplace.

James blinked. Hang on, he thought, we haven’t got a fireplace.

“Hey, what happened to the TV? And who the hell are you? What the hell are you?” he asked, pushing himself out of his armchair. The space on the wall where the flat-screen TV had been had, indeed, turned into a large grate. Complete with the charcoaled remains of a log, a sprinkling of ashes, and a rather nice cast-iron surround with twiddley bits. The whole thing was three and a half feet off the ground.

On the floor underneath, brushing dust from her clothes, was a small creature wearing a long, yellow coat and a hat with a large needle pushed through it. There was something that looked like a brush stuffed through her belt, and strips of brightly-coloured cloth poked out of her pockets.

“All right, all right, keep yer hair on,” said the creature. “I’m just helping out. S’all hands on deck these days. The Big Man can’t get to every house with kiddies in it on Christmas Eve. He has to del’gate. Not just elves these days, neither. Us brownies get collared, too. Even the tooth fairies has to help out. Mind you,” she added, “that works out quite well. They bring presents for all the kiddies wot asks for money to save up for stuff.”

“Oh,” said James, looking suspiciously at his empty mulled wine mug. “That… makes sense, I suppose.”

The brownie nodded and rummaged around in the sack. She pulled out two boxes wrapped in red and green paper and peered at the labels. “Mabel and Maria,” she read, “they’re yours, right?”

James’s eyes drifted to the framed family photo on the wall. It was slightly crooked. No matter what he did, it always ended up hanging slightly crooked. He thought of the girls asleep upstairs. It would be their first Christmas without their mother. He’d been determined to make everything perfect. But now there were scraps of wrapping paper all over the table, bits of sticky tape on every surface, and he didn’t even want to think about the mess in the kitchen. He wriggled his big toe which was sticking painfully through a hole in his sock. Amelia would’ve bought him new socks. It had been a sort of joke between them. Socks as a present, always: birthdays, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, she’d even given him a new pair as a wedding gift. He sat back down in his chair, pulled off the offending sock and threw it on the floor.

“Yes,” he said.

The brownie had followed his gaze to the photo on the wall. “S’a lot to do at Christmas,” she said softly, turning back and studying him.

James nodded. It had been busy enough with two of them, in the years before. Now the mountain of jobs seemed un-scalable. “I meant to clean up,” he said, waving a hand tiredly around the room, “and maybe make some cookies. My wife always used to make cookies at Christmas.” He pulled off the other sock.

The brownie pushed Mable and Maria’s presents under the tree. “Got any milk?” she asked, thoughtfully.

“Oh, yes, I did manage milk!” said James ruefully. “Over there.” His daughter Maria had been very insistent that they had to leave a glass of milk for Santa. James had suggested that he might prefer a nice brandy, but his older daughter, Mable, had said firmly that even Santa shouldn’t drink and drive.

The brownie trotted over to the glass, sniffed it cautiously, then picked it up and downed it.

“Yum,” she said, wiping her mouth on her sleeve. “Right-ho, I’d better get going, lots more deliveries to do this evening. Y’know how it is. You get to bed. It’ll be all right, you’ll see.”

“Will it?”

“We-ell, maybe not all right,” she conceded, looking at him again. She had the eyes of a Labrador, full of warm intelligence. “That ain’t possible, really. Nothing’s perfect. And you can’t just replace wot’s missing. But people appreciate a bit of effort. There’ll be more smiles than tears, and who can ask for more than that, eh?”

James smiled, blinking away blurriness.

“Go on, now,” said the brownie, nodding at the door to the stairs. “Those girls’ll have you up early in the morning, if I’m any judge.”

“But I have to…” James looked at the paper-strewn table.

The brownie put the empty milk glass down. “Don’t you worry,” she said. “They’ll only see the tree. And then there’ll be paper everywhere anyway, right?”

James chuckled. “Right.” He looked at the wall and thought of something. “Um, you are going to fix the TV, aren’t you? I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I don’t think I’ll manage to sort out lunch without some sort of support from Pixar.”

The brownie waved a hand airily. “Don’t you worry. S’magic innit. All back to normal once I’m gone. It’s only cos you ain’t got a chimney. It was a good idea, a few years ago, using TV screens,” she added darkly, looking up at the wall, “before people started putting the bloody things half-way up the wall.”

“Sorry.”

“Oh, you weren’t to know. Right, go on, off with you to bed,” she said, making a shooing motion.

James turned obediently and put his hand on the door handle. He looked over his shoulder to see the brownie standing there, eyes twinkling in the dim light of the Christmas tree lights. She made the shooing motion again. Shaking his head, James opened the door and trudged up the stairs.

***

“Daddy, dadddeeeee!” The bedroom was dark, but for every bit of missing light there were seven doses of extra noise. “Dadddddeeee, it’s Christmas!” squealed Maria, jumping on the bed and landing heavily on James’s chest.

“Ooff! Be careful!”

“It’s Christmas it’s Christmas it’s Christmas get up, Daddy! There are presents! Father Christmas has been!”

“All right, all right,” said James, pulling his daughter’s unruly hair away from her face where it had become stuck to a small patch of snot. “You’ll have to get off me though, sweetie.”

“Okay,” she said obediently, rolling off and accidentally kneeing him in the side.

James swung his legs out of bed before there was any more damage. He reached for his dressing gown. “Where’s Mable?”

“She went downstairs. Hey, Daddy, did you bake cookies last night?”

James pulled on his dressing gown and headed for the stairs. “I was going to, but I ran out of time. We’ll make some lat–” he opened the kitchen door and stopped, staring. There was a huge plate of cookies on the worktop, beautifully iced with snowflake and Christmas tree patterns. Not only that, the dirty dishes he was sure he’d left in the sink had disappeared. The floor looked spotless. The stainless-steel sink gleamed. There were no crumbs anywhere.

“Good cookies, Dad,” said Mable, from behind him. She crunched. “Just like the ones Mum used to make.”

James nodded slowly and walked into the living room. Maria had darted down the stairs and was now sorting through an artfully arranged pile of presents under the tree, which looked rather more symmetrical than it had last night. The carpet looked better than it had in years, the table was clean and, when James ran his fingers over it, the wood actually smelt faintly of polish. He looked at the wall. The family photo still hung at its familiar, slightly crooked angle, and the television was where it had always been.

“Daddy, there’s a Christmas card in with the presents!” said Maria, handing him a white envelope. James turned it over. There was nothing written on the outside, but he could just make out a jolly, red Santa printed on the cardboard through the white paper. He tore it open.

Inside was printed the usual “Merry Christmas” greeting and, underneath in irregular, smudgy letters, another message.

Thanks fer the milk. I dun yer socks.

James looked down. Lying neatly over the arm of his chair were his socks, perfectly darned. He picked them up and smiled.

Somewhere, in the distance, there was a faint tinkling of bells.


Merry Christmas! xxx

© Kat Day 2017

 

Something in My Eye

london-959482_960_720

“I don’t want to!” I watch the young girl as she tugs on her father’s hand. Her hair is sunrise red, her skin pale as mist, 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 sound. The air inside is stuffy, thick with the scents of people past and present. I catch a hint of aftershave, or something like it. It’s tangy and sweet, but there’s an acrid undertone. 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 the upward curve feels unnatural, forced, as though it might spring into some other shape at any moment.

“Did you know,” he says, in a voice that seems to have bypassed his larynx 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 the 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, 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 finish, 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. 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 an unnaturally high-pitched voice. His companion stares. 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. A few quick strides and I reach 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 yells 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 at her ear.

“Yes,” she says.

“They’re not fairies,” I say. 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 film set. There’s just Rowan and me, and she’s bright, as though lit from inside with a spotlight. Or maybe a small sun.

I draw her light into me. The tingling sensation grows and spreads. Every 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. Someone cheers. 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. Makes perfect sense.

Someone 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.

And 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

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