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

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

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

Clockthumb

The room is brightly-lit and smells of warm air, lavender and tea tree. As I wait I stare at my left hand, opening my fingers as I have done so many times before and turning my palm awkwardly so that I can see the stretch of skin that runs from the tip of my thumb down to my palm.

There, marked in brown-black, are the numbers. They’re familiar, in a way. And yet, in another, not. Because they change every day. Today they say 257. At one second past midnight, the last digit will change, and the number will become 256.

They call it clockthumb.

I’ve always been this way, although the number was bigger once, of course. Others have it, too. No one knows why, or exactly what it means.

For many, the numbers end when they do.

#

I am ten years old, and it’s the middle of summer. I’m excited and curious. My thumb reads 10,000. Will there be a zero at the front tomorrow? Will the first digit just fade away, forever? I’m desperate to stay up to see it change. Mum says no. We argue about it, but she’s Mum – she wins.

I stay awake anyway, pinching the skin inside my elbow to stop myself falling asleep. I’ve hidden a torch under my pillow and I use its light to stare at my thumb until my eyes water.

At midnight the number 10,000 completely disappears. My skin is unmarked. For a moment I hold my breath, wondering if it will stay that way. And what it will mean if it does. But then dark dots reappear. Like ink spreading on blotting paper, lines grow and curl until the same area of skin is marked as before, each new digit just a little wider and fatter than the old ones.

I’m so excited that I roll out of bed and run out of the room. The light is still on downstairs and I head for the landing, the carpet bristly beneath my bare feet.

I stop at the top of the stairs, though, because I can hear my mum, and she’s crying.

“Janie,” says Granny’s muffled voice, surprising me. I hadn’t known she was in the house. “It’s still twenty-seven years. That’s a long time. And it may not mean what you’re worried it means.”

“It’s hardly any time,” said Mum, her voice cracking and gasping, like there isn’t enough air for the words. “What if it is that, and I outlive my own daughter?”

#

The numbers switch from 1000 to 999 a few weeks after my thirty-fifth birthday. Now we have the internet, and I spend ages trawling forums, reading posts. Some people do die when their clockthumb runs down, I learn. But for others it seems to mark some other significant event.

One woman, I discover, arranged her wedding for day 1. Everyone else was terribly paranoid, wondering if the brakes might fail on the bridal car, or if she might choke on a canape. But I’m still here, she writes, posting a picture of her unblemished thumb. The numbers ticked down, and disappeared, and never came back.

I wonder if it’s true, or if she’s made the whole thing up for likes. How would you ever know?

Either way, not all the stories are so happy. One man decided to amputate his own thumb at the age of twenty-seven with a 6 on his clock. The numbers on the amputated thumb did stop changing, but he died of sepsis five days later.

#

It’s my wedding day and my thumb says 481. Not a big number, anymore. In the bridal suite that evening Ethan touches my thumb and says it doesn’t matter.

“We’ll face whatever it is together,” he whispers.

He’s said it many times. I think he’s trying to convince himself more than me.

#

The numbers swim in front of my eyes and I blink. The extractor fan is whirring loudly above my head. The toilet seat is hard, and my buttocks are starting to go numb. I take a deep breath.

I have never been able to believe that it means what I know Mum and Ethan fear it means. Perhaps I’m in denial.

257.

I pick up the long rectangle of white plastic I left on the sink and stare at it. Not that I need to, really. I knew what it was going to show me.

Eight months, twelve days.

It can’t be a coincidence.

Of course, things could go wrong. But I have a feeling that they won’t.

I’m going to plan for day zero.


Author’s notes
This story was written in response to a prompt which involved a random combination of two nouns. Something about the word “clockthumb” just appealed to me.


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© 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).


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© Kat Day 2018

Will you Dance with Me, in the Pale Moonlight?

‘Will you dance with me, in the pale moonlight?’ asks the Devil.

I laugh, then, but I take his hand and let him lead me onto the dance-floor beside the marquee. His skin is warm, of course, but it no longer smells of smoke, as it did the last time.

That was so many years ago. But still the same time of year, late April, when the evening chill is softened by the smell of newly-cut grass and drifting cherry blossom.

The moon is full. A ball of silver and grey in an indigo sky. It seems to twirl with us as we sway and step to the band’s music.

‘Beautiful,’ says the Devil, and I’m not sure if he means the moon, or the music, or the bride, who whirls past in a blur of crystals and silk. He surely does not mean me. Life has marked me. There are lines, now, where once there was smoothness. My hair is thinner, my waist thicker. There are long-healed scars too, although they are mostly hidden. I wear these marks with pride, but it would be fanciful to claim they make me beautiful.

‘Yes,’ I agree, drawing closer. We are almost the same height, the Devil and I, and his eyes are liquid brown, so dark it’s hard to tell where iris ends and pupil begins.

‘Come with me,’ he says. ‘Be with me.’

It’s not the first time he’s asked. The last time I had a whole life ahead of me. There was more to do, more to experience. I couldn’t give myself to him. It would have been foolish.

Sometimes I think that we all end up losing ourselves, one way or another. It is only a matter of whether we choose it, a moment’s decision, or whether it slips away over years. Either way, one day we look back and realise that that person, the person we were, is gone. A memory. Did she even exist? I surely would not do the things she did. Perhaps I have acquired someone else’s memories; someone who once looked a little like me.

The music begins to fade. The Devil grips my fingers. ‘This time,’ he says, ‘come with me.’

I look around at the people drinking and talking. At the other dancers, laughing and glowing. Would they miss me, really, any more than the silvery moon, eternally dancing across night skies?

I know the answer to my question. And so does he.

‘They’d get over it,’ he whispers, his voice a cool breeze on a hot night.

‘No,’ I say, a touch wistfully.

He lowers his thick eyelashes and dips his head in the slightest of nods. ‘I should have persuaded you the last time,’ he says.

‘Perhaps,’ I murmur, glancing at my daughter, the bride. ‘But if you had, this wouldn’t have happened. And who knows what’s still to happen?’

The Devil laughs, then, and drops my hand, and walks across the dance floor, into the night.


Author’s notes

I suspect this is one of those pieces which will cause some readers to say, “eh?”

But I don’t care. I love this story.


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© 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

 

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