The Practical Differences Between You and Me

“Damn.” Sam put the knife down he was using to chop a red pepper and examined his finger. “Slipped.”

“Let me see.” Yann got up from his seat at the table, took Sam’s hand and examined the damage. The tip of his left index finger was sliced through. “I’ll get some glue.”

“I can get it, there’s no need—”

“Let me. You sit down.”

Sam’s silvery eyes crinkled at the edges. “I don’t bleed. I’m not going to faint.”

“Yes, I know, but…” Yann pushed his fingers through his hair. “Please, let me do this?”

Fully smiling now, Sam sat down. “Okay,” he said.

###

Hours later they sat on the sofa together, watching an old film in which someone jumped around wearing a lot of red leather. Sam sipped from a glass of glucose, salts and ethanol. Yann drank wine. After a while, brain humming with a gentle alcoholic buzz, he dropped his head to Sam’s shoulder.

Sam slid his arm around his waist and pulled him closer. After a few minutes, he dipped his head and kissed the top of Yann’s head.

Yann pulled away, staring at him.

“I’m sorry,” said Sam. “Weird?”

“Uh. No. It’s… sorry. I…”

“It’s okay. I understand. I’m not human, it’s—”

“No! No. I mean, I’ve thought about… and… that’s not… it’s more. Uh. Is it… a… a choice?”

“What?”

Yann’s words came out in a rush. “Is it something you’re doing because you think I want you to?”

“I’m fully self-actualised, Yann. You know that. I learn and make decisions.”

“Yes, yes, but. But. If I said ‘do this’ would you… would you do it anyway? Because I said so? Could I… force you?”

“You could force a human,” said Sam, reasonably. “You’re one-hundred and ninety-one centimetres tall, you have enough muscle mass to generate power and leverage and your balance is excellent.”

“I don’t mean like that!”

“You have above average intelligence and good emotional awareness. You could psychologically manipulate someone, if—”

“It’s not the same thing!”

“How is it not?”

Yann made an exasperated noise. “I mean, can you say no?”

“Of course.”

“Would you?”

Sam gazed at him. “I wouldn’t.”

Yann gazed back. “Why?

“I don’t want to.”

“If… you changed your mind and did want to, you’d say?”

Sam reached out and touched the edge of Yann’s jaw. “I promise.”

Yann leaned into his fingers and sighed. “All right, then.”

###

Days later, they lay in bed, limbs tangled.

“Your skin is so warm,” whispered Yann. “And it tastes of salt and… and skin.”

Sam smiled. “It’s designed to. So does yours.”

“It evolved to, I suppose.” Yann traced circles on Sam’s chest. “I love you.”

“You’re only saying that because your brain is full of endorphins and oxytocin,” said Sam, chuckling. “I love you, too.”

“You’re just saying that because of… programming and electrical signals,” retorted Yann.

“Mm. Do you think it makes any practical difference?”

Yann considered it. “You know,” he said, “I don’t think it does.”


Author’s notes
Something soft and fluffy, because we need that right now. Also informed consent is good. Do the consent thing. Check the consent thing. If everyone’s motivations are good, it should be easy. And if not, well.


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© 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.


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© Kat Day 2021

‘Twas, by Samuel Poots

It is a strange fact that any story about Christmas worth its cracker should always start with “‘Twas.” There is no reason why this should be; if anyone were to use “‘twas” in conversation you would know there is no hope for them beyond a swift ding around the head with a frying pan. But such is the convention and so…

‘Twas the night before Christmas. And two elves were standing on a rooftop. You could tell they were elves, because they had pointy ears and pointy hats. They would have had pointy shoes too, but you had to draw the line somewhere. Currently, they were both staring down the house’s capacious chimney.

“He’s late,” said one.

“I know.”

“He should have been back out ages ago.”

“I know.”

“You don’t fink he’s…” The first elf made a glugging motion.

“Nah. I made sure he didn’t have his flask on him.”

The two continued staring down the chimney for a moment.

“What if he’s –”

“Jesus Christ, Bill, let it be will ya? You’re making me nervous.”

“Alright, Mick, no need to—”

“Hide!” Mick cried. He grabbed his companion’s head and shoved it down behind the chimney. A second later, there was the crunch of tyres on gravel. The still, winter night was broken by the brief flare of a siren.

“Is it the police?” Bill asked.

“Well, those lights on their car don’t look like bleedin’ Christmas lights, do they?”

A door slammed shut. Moving cautiously, the two elves peered down over the edge of the rooftop. They were just in time to see a man, dressed all in red, being led out of the house. He was bundled into the car, which took off down the driveway, its blue and red lights painting the night in disco colours. Bill thought he caught a glimpse of a mournful expression looking back at them through the rear window.

The still of the night flowed gradually back into place. Bill looked over at his companion. “Well… shit.”

“I guess that’s it then,” Mick whispered.

Bill started to nod. Then froze as a thought occurred. “’Ere, did he have his sack with him?”

Mick frowned. Then horrified realisation spread across his face like a sunrise. “Oh. Hell.” They both peered back over to the chimney.

Mick could feel a certain inevitability forming about his near future. It loomed ahead of him like… well, like the chimney stack stretching up towards the night sky. He could already feel Bill’s eyes on him and it took all his will not to push the bugger off of the roof. “No.”

“I didn’t even say –”

“Doesn’t matter. I am not going down after that sack.”

“Oh, so you want them to find it all, do you?”

“You go and get it then.”

Bill stretched dramatically, both hands pressed into the small of his back. The gesture set the stupid, little bell on the end of his hat to tinkling. “What, with me bad back? And me asthma? And me dicky tummy? And me—”

“Alright, I get the picture.” Mick looked down once again into the blackness of the chimney. The knotted length of rope they had lowered was just visible in the gloom. But it was as Bill said, they really didn’t have much of a choice. He shuddered to think what would happen if anyone opened that sack and found everything in there. He swung his legs over the lip. “You better pull me up sharp, you hear?”

“Yeah, yeah. Get your arse down there.”

Mick pressed himself up against the sides of the chimney. Everything stank of smoke and toasted sparrow nests. It was a bit of a tight fit and the brick-work was crumbling a little, but if he just jammed his foot up like so, and his elbow like so then he could –

The brick gave way.

Mick had just enough time to yell “Oh, bugg—” before he disappeared down the chimney in a cloud of coal dust and profanities. He landed in a heap in the fireplace, looking for all the world like the angriest yule log that had ever existed.

Trying to smother his coughs, Mick stood up and brushed the soot from his pointy hat with his sleeve. Since it too was covered in soot, this just succeeded in moving the soot about a bit for a change of scenery. After a while he gave up and looked about him. The living room looked like something out of a Christmas movie. Tinsel hung from everything, somehow endeavouring to sparkle in complete darkness. Little comedy reindeers with idiot grins sat upon every surface, fighting for space against snow globes, Christmas cushions, and, for some strange reason, a giant stuffed pig wearing a santa hat. At the centre of it all lay the tree.

It was easy to see how their guy had got caught, Mick thought. He wasn’t exactly known for his grace at the best of times. Three households with three accompanying glasses of whiskey; it had been a miracle he made it down the chimney at all. A large tree standing on its own had apparently been too difficult an obstacle for the big idiot. The thing now lay on its side, shedding baubles and strings of lights everywhere. And there, tucked down beneath the branches, was the sack.

Mick made a grab for it, but just as his hand closed around the rough hemp a light flicked on upstairs. A shadow appeared. “Hello? Anyone there?”

Footsteps. Mick looked around. Despite all the clutter there wasn’t anywhere to – Ahah!

“If it’s another of you buggers, be warned; I have a gun!”

A torch beam cut through the dark of the room. It passed over Mick, just as pushed himself into the fallen tree’s branches.

The footsteps started again, the soft slip-slap of slippers sounding like the tread of doom. “I swear, if I find anyone in here the doctors will have to feed them via suppository!”

The sack was right up against Mick. He could feel its reassuringly full weight. The chimney beckoned, his one way of escape if only this bastard would leave him alone!

“Come out, come out wherever you are.” There was the click of a gun being cocked. “I’ve got some nice Christmas cake for you.”

A branch kept poking Mick in the back. He tried to move a little and the bell on his hat gave a treacherous jingle. At once, the torch beam swung towards him.

Slip-slap came the slippers. Mick could barely hear them over the hammering of his heart. Desperately, he scrambled around for something, anything he could defend himself with. His hand closed on something round.

“Let’s take a peek behind here—”

Mick threw the bauble. It bounced away, setting up a satisfyingly loud clatter. The torch beam swung around to follow it and Mick was away, scrambling up the chimney as fast as he could, the sack dragging behind him. There came a loud BANG, followed by the splintering of brick, but Mick was free. He flew up the rope so fast that he shot out of the chimney like a cork from a champagne bottle.

“Mick!” Bill hurried over to him. “Did I hear a gun there?”

Mick spat out a mouthful of soot. “No, it was a bloody big Christmas cracker, what do you think?”

“Oh, that’s alright then.”

“Yes, it was a bloody gun!” Mick hissed. “Come on, we’ve got to get out of here.”

“Right, right.” Bill pointed at the sack. “It is all in there though, yeah?”

Mick opened it up and peered inside. “Let’s see…TV, radio, blu-ray…Yup, looks like he got it all.” He threw the sack at Bill. “Get this down to the van. And if you ever come to me with an idea this daft again, Bill Hackett, I will stick you on top of the damn tree!”


Author’s notes
Something a little different for Christmas: a story from a guest author – thank you, Sam! And Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all our lovely readers.

Samuel Poots is a writer from N. Ireland who communicates primarily through Pratchett quotes. He can usually be seen clambering around the north coast muttering about dragons. If found, please give him a cup of tea and send him home via the nearest post office. Follow him on Twitter at @pootsidoodle


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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.


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© Kat Day 2020

A Pocket Void

I close my eyes and put my face in my hands: the tips of my ring fingers pressed into the corners of my eyes, forefingers on my temples, thumbs resting on my jaw. I can feel the tremble.

I force myself to breathe.

After a while I reopen my eyes and stare through the blurry pink triangle, slowly focusing on the cupboard door in front of me. I push myself to my feet, open it, reach in, and pick up the only object sitting on an otherwise empty shelf.

The round, gold-coloured tin says Sour Cherry Drops on its lid. A smaller circle proclaims that the contents are made with real fruit juice.

It’s a little larger than my palm, just the right size to allow my fingers and thumb to curl around the curved edge and hold it securely. I pull off the lid.

It does not contain icing-sugar-dusted boiled sweets.

The inside edges are the same brassy colour as the outside, but the base, or rather, the thing on the base, is black. Not dull painted-metal black but really black. The blackness of absence. Of nothing.

I reach in, wedge a fingernail underneath, and extract it. A circle of darkness that unfolds to something larger as I put the now empty—or perhaps fuller—tin back on the shelf.

I hold the void’s edges where it forms a sullen, uncomfortable boundary with the light and colour of the world around it. It’s heavy, yet light. A closure, but also an opening.

An end, and a beginning.

I gaze.

There’s something pacifying about nothingness. All my spinning, whirling thoughts drain into it. The deadline I worry I can’t meet. The neighbour who parks on our front path. The pain in my right arm. The world I fear might be broken. The person who refuses to call me by my chosen name. The long-sightedness that is not quite bad enough for reading glasses, but not quite good enough to focus without strain. The colleague to whom I wonder if I said the wrong thing. The friend to whom I definitely said the wrong thing. The love to whom I did not say enough.

I open my mouth and make a sound. A howl, a screak, a scream. A long thread of a thing, that gets drawn into the void and pulled away. Dissipating into a place where there is so much emptiness that, no matter what you send there, it rounds down to nothing.

It fades away.

I fold up the void, place it back in its tin, and close the cupboard door.

My brain, of course, will make the thoughts again. But now, for a while, there’s peace.


Author’s notes
I missed August. So, yeah.


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© Kat Day 2020

MRS GREN

The book is heavy, bound with oxblood leather, thin pages the colour of clotted cream, letters remarkably black and crisp.

Let us consider that there are seven characteristics of life, easily remembered with the mnemonic MRS GREN. All must be present. The first, M, is movement.

The book does not move.

I could stop here, except, I feel the spine creak. I allow the pages to turn. On a short timescale, after all, one might imagine a plant does not move, and yet they gradually stretch to reach towards the sunlight.

So, let us continue along the list.

The second is respiration, which is not the same as breathing. Rather, it is the conversion of carbohydrates into energy. One could check for its occurrence by looking for carbon dioxide, but that gas is tasteless, colourless and odourless, and I certainly shall not be plunging the book into water to look for bubbles. This, we may have to put aside.

Sensitivity refers to environmental responses. Now, the book’s text does seem sharper when the light is brighter, but this only leads us to the perennial question of any good scientist: how does one distinguish changes in the observer from changes to the observation?

After MRS, we come to G, which stands for growth. I am certain the book has the same number of pages it had when I first found it, and is no thicker.

If it takes me longer to read now, well, it could be explained by my own reduced reading speed. The most obvious explanation is usually the correct one.

There may be more books on my shelves now than there were, but I very much doubt this constitutes reproduction, which is R. I daresay I have procured them.

Even if I don’t remember every acquisition.

Next is E for excretion… perhaps one might make a case for that. The scent of biblichor is  certainly present, although, my memory flags and I forget: is that inherent to books, or caused by some sort of secondary organism?

Finally, N, for nutrition. Plants use energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugars which they both store and use themselves during respiration. Animals consume those sugars when they eat.

The book does not eat.

It is not as if it could take ideas from my mind, and consume them, and use them to power itself. To flick its pages. Sharpen its text. Grow. Make new books.

In the face of limited evidence, I must conclude that the book is not alive.

It is not alive, and thus it is safe to open it again. Smell its scent. Feel the spine creak. Allow its pages to turn.

There are seven characteristics of life.

The first,

is movement.


Author’s notes
A creepy little piece of science-themed flash fiction. You won’t forget MRS GREN now, will you?


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© 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.


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© Kat Day 2020

Proud

Jorininki Castroflame, Necromancer of the Seventh Order of Wrivaca, pinched the bridge of her nose and turned over the page in the grimoire she was studying. It was bound in human skin. It smelled funky.

She muttered words to herself, trying to fix them in her memory. She left careful pauses, of course— it wouldn’t do to accidentally summon the undead hordes— but she had to know her spells. There would be a battle tomorrow, and Lord Alstaz would expect things to work.

The words slid away from her, slippery as freshwater eels. A ball of black anxiety settled in her stomach.

The magical garnet of Ifera set in the heavy gold bracelet on her left wrist glowed red and emitted a cheerful chiming sound. Jorininki sighed and tapped it.

A voice spoke. ‘Jori, is that you? Can you hear me? Hello?’

‘Hi, Dad.’

‘Can you hear me?’

‘Yes, Dad, I can hear you. Are you okay?’

‘Oh, that’s good. We’re fine. How are you?’

‘I’m fine. Look, Dad, I’m kind of busy here… big thing tomorrow, you know. Is it urgent? Can I call you back tomorrow evening for a proper chat?’ That is, she thought to herself, if Lord Alstaz hasn’t thrown me into his dungeons because the undead hordes turned out to be three tatty skeletons with missing bits and a couple of zombie rabbits.

‘Yes of course, darling. But before you go. Um,’ her father paused.

‘What is it?’

‘I know you’re busy, I expect you’re working. You work so hard. Very important stuff. I know I couldn’t do it.’

‘Dad, you have no idea what I do.’

‘No, no, I know. Protecting a kingdom. It’s a lot of responsibility. I can’t imagine. Me, I’ve been a farmer my whole life. I don’t know anything about politics—’

‘Dad, I really am busy…’

‘Yes, yes, of course. Anyway. Look. We were at your aunt’s funeral on Tuesday.’

‘I know. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it.’

‘No, it’s fine. Everyone understands. They all asked after you. It just made me think, you know, it does, doesn’t it? A funeral. Everyone saying things they couldn’t say, you know, before.’

‘Mmm-hm,’ said Jorininki, turning the page back on the grimoire.

‘Well, I just wanted to tell you that we’re very proud of you, Jori. Very proud. You’ve achieved so much. You work so hard. We love you very much, your Mum and me. That’s all, really.’

Jorininki pushed the heavy book away before the tear could splash onto the yellowing paper. ‘Oh, Dad.’

‘I don’t say it enough, I know that. I wasn’t brought up to talk about these things. It’s different these days. Anyway. I just wanted you to know that even if I don’t say it all the time, I do love you.’

‘I love you too, Dad.’

‘That’s good, that’s good. Well, bye, bye, sweetheart. Don’t work too hard. You need your sleep.’

‘I’ll do my best.’

‘All right then. I’ll talk to you tomorrow?’

‘I promise.’

‘Bye, bye.’

‘Bye, bye.’

Jorininki Castroflame, Necromancer of the Seventh Order of Wrivaca, smiled as the red light of the magical garnet of Ifera blinked out.

Then she wiped her eyes and pulled the grimoire back towards her, the words now seeming that much easier to remember.


Author’s notes
It’s a trope of fantasy fiction that the parents of heroes and bad guys are dead. This piece came about after I wondered: what if the evil necromancer still has a Mum and Dad, who like to chat to their daughter every now and then? (And what about grandparents, that’s what I always want to know — maybe that’s for another day.)


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© Kat Day 2019

Excerpts From the Browser History of Item 662-70519MP, Location 2

1) https://www.healthline.org/health/insect-bites#pictures

“Bites appear as welts, blisters, pimples, or hives […] try to avoid scratching […] It is safe to use over-the-counter anti-itch medications like hydrocortisone cream or to take mild painkillers such as paracetamol […] If symptoms do not improve, see your doctor.”

2) https://www.healthline.org/health/paleness

“Paleness, also known as pallor, is an unusual lightness of skin colour compared with your normal complexion. It may be caused by reduced blood flow, or by a decreased number of red blood cells.”

3) https://www.sleepfoundation.net/insomnia/what-do-when-you-cant-sleep

“If you get into bed and cannot fall asleep after 20 minutes, get up and engage in some other relaxing activity, such as reading or listening to music. Avoid brightly-lit screens.”

4) https://www.medicalnewsnow.co.uk/loss-of-appetite

“A loss of appetite can be physical or psychological […] It can be caused by infections or digestive issues, in which case your appetite is likely to return once you have recovered.”

5) https://www.livelong.com/article/allergic-reactions-to-silver-jewelry/

“The skin around and beneath the piece of jewellery can become inflamed, itchy and dry […] Allergic reactions to silver jewellery can take years to develop, however once sensitivity has developed it is best to avoid further contact with silver, as the reaction may become more severe with time.”

6) https://www.harvard-health.edu/sun-allergy-photosensitivity

“A sun allergy is an immune system reaction to sunlight […] Symptoms are commonly mild, but can be more severe, for example hives, blisters or even small areas of bleeding under the skin […] It is important to avoid sun exposure as much as possible.”

7) https://www.yorkest.org/do-you-have-a-garlic-allergy/

“People with garlic allergy can suffer from rhinitis (runny nose), skin problems such as urticaria and dermatitis, and even asthma […] In very sensitive individuals, garlic may result in anaphylactic shock, but this is very rare.”

8) https://norapax.net/why-cant-you-look-at-yourself-in-the-mirror/

“If you find it difficult to look at yourself in the mirror, you may be struggling with low self-esteem.”

9) http://www.phobiasinfo.org/hierophobia-an-exaggerated-or-irrational-fear-of-sacred-objects-or-priests/

“Hierophobia may manifest with the following symptoms:- irrational worry of sacred objects; feeling of panic; feeling of terror; feeling of dread.”

10) https://www.wikidinfo.com/Know-if-You-Have-Renfields-Syndrome

“Throughout human history, people have consumed blood for nutritional and ritual purposes […] However, if you have a strong psychological desire to drink blood, you may be suffering from another condition.”


Author’s notes
This piece won the Writers’ Forum Magazine flash fiction competition, in issue #213, July. Hurrah! The prompt was simply to write a story in the form of a list. By the way, none of the links are real, but I cannot persuade WordPress to ignore them — if you click on them you will get ‘not found’ errors, which is pleasingly ominous, in a way…


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© Kat Day 2019

Under My Skin

I sat heavily on the wooden bench. The bus shelter was an old one, built from stone, scented with leaf mould.

Jackie, my German Shepherd, sniffed at my left hand and whined.

I heard the woman before I saw her. She was wearing a lot of bangles and they jangled. She sat next to us in a cloud of patchouli.

There was one second of silence.

‘It’s a lovely day, isn’t it?’ she said.

‘It is,’ I agreed.

‘Of course,’ she continued, ‘I have to be careful with the sun. I’ve got this mole on my leg,’ she hitched up her long skirt to show me a small, brown mark.

I nodded.

‘I showed it to my GP and she said it wasn’t anything, you know,’ she lowered her voice, ‘suspicious, but it looks like the photos I saw online. They’re always in such a hurry. I might get a second opinion. Ooh, they say dogs can detect things like that don’t they?’ She looked appraisingly at Jackie. ‘Hey, boy, have a sniff, what do you think?’

Jackie shrank backwards, putting her head on her paws.

‘Well, I suppose they need to know you.’

There was a rumble of traffic and both Jackie and I looked up the road, but it was only a lorry.

‘Ooh it’s nice to sit down. My left hip has been playing up something chronic. My doctor suggested I look up physiotherapy videos on the internet. I mean, really. I’m going to see an acupuncturist. They used to offer that on the NHS you know, but budget cuts and all that. I don’t know what I pay taxes for.’

Jackie snuffled my hand again. I scratched behind her ears.

‘Headaches. I had one the other day, honestly, I thought my skull was going to split. I nearly went to A&E, I mean, what if it was a blood clot? But after last time… anyway it eased off, but still. One of my friends goes to a craniosacral therapist. He charges £60 an hour, so he must be really good.’

There was another rumble. I felt a surge of hope as I saw a bus approaching. ‘Are you waiting for the 54?’ I asked.

‘Goodness, I was miles away, yes!’ she leapt nimbly to her feet and put her arm out to signal the driver.

‘Hip doesn’t seem to be bothering her, eh?’ I whispered to Jackie.

‘Are you getting on?’ the woman called back.

‘No,’ I said, pushing myself to my feet. ‘We just stopped for a rest.’

‘Bye, then!’ she said cheerily.

Jackie pushed her nose against my left hand again. I looked down at the patch of pinkish, too-wrinkled skin that she always seemed to focus on. ‘You know she’s a total hypochondriac, right?’ I said.

Jackie gazed at me with resolute, brown eyes.

I looked down the road. The sign to the surgery glinted in the afternoon sunshine.

‘Oh, all right,’ I said. ‘I suppose I could pop in and make an appointment.’


Author’s notes
This piece came out of a writing prompt to write about a conversation at a bus stop. I hear a lot of stories about people using ‘alternative’ therapies to help their various conditions. It’s very easy to cure a condition that was never really there in the first place.


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