Monday, 20 September 2010

Seaweed, Seaglass

Brought to you by Nishatalitha and the word 'paperweight', way over 200 words.

Seaweed, Seaglass
There are parts of ourselves that we don’t share. We all know it. Everyone has felt the walls go up at some time or another. This is mine, and hers. Or it was.

The paperweight accuses me from its position on the half-finished draft of a new law on my desk. It’s a big piece of bottle-green glass threaded through with olive and blue, like slimy, grasping fronds in dark water. Of course her blood would dry differently to us. She wasn’t like us, for all her protestations.

She was barely out of her teens, when we first saw her, walking naked along the shore. We took pity on her- a mistake. Took her in, gave her clothes, tried to find out where she came from. But she was far, far more beautiful than her years. And she wanted the same man as me. She sang to him and that was it.

When I lost him, I was resigned. I told her one day- one day- there would be a man she wanted and couldn’t have. On that day, she would understand what it was to be me. But then I saw her for what she really was. I had read the old stories, I knew that she didn’t want him the way I did- knew what it would cost him to love her. I could handle her stealing his heart- with effort- but not this.

I followed them to the beach one night. I was very nearly too late. She was lying in the shallows, holding his head under the water, and there were only a few bubbles. I tried to grab her around the waist, but her scales slipped through my fingers. Fewer bubbles. I struck at her- I had not realised I had picked up the piece of sea-glass in my blind panic. I heard the crunch of bone, saw her sink- grabbed him and pulled him to the shore. Tried the kiss of life, willing him back to me. He coughed and spluttered his return, and I held him, watching the shimmer of a silver fish tail, and the cloud of red hair as it was washed away by the tide.

I never told him what happened, and he forgot about her, after a while. We’re happy enough. The paperweight is there to make sure I know my own strength. But you know, on our wedding night I could have sworn I heard her singing.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

We Need More Ladies

Brought to you by Hownowbrowntao and the word 'rhinoceros'.

We Need More Ladies

Captain K’mss-qa looked displeased. Tr8’jaq shifted nervously from foot to foot. When the Captain looked displeased, it generally involved pain of some description. Va’13, still in her coat, on the other hand, looked surprised, and not at all worried. Well, she was new. She would learn.

"You told us to bring back more females from the planet," she was saying.

Captain K’mss-qa hissed, and turned green, a sure sign his anger was barely contained.

"It doesn’t look like the others," he said.

"Well, it’s definitely female."

A lieutenant, who brought out the cage with the pink-and-yellow creature. He turned on the translator.

"You!" K'mss-qa barked, "Is this one of your females?"

The creature in the cage cowered.

"I don’t know." It said. "It might be female, but it’s not one of us."

The Captain turned back to Va’13 and Tr8’jaq, who was at least ready for the sting from the tentacle that slapped across their faces.

"Idiots!" He snapped. "I’m working with idiots! Did you even check the computer banks? It’s female, alright, but according to this, it’s a female rhinoceros, not a female human!"

"To be fair, sir," said Tr8’jaq, "you did say that they came in different colours."

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

More Loved Than Sane

Story in a minute, but first news! 365 Tomorrows, which is a brilliant Sci Fi burst culture, have published another of my stories- it's up now, soon it will be available in their archive, get it while it's hot! And before you ask, yes, I would say they're brilliant even if they hadn't published me.

And now, without further ado (because let's face it, there's been quite enough ado already), 200 words long, and courtesy of Anord, Morbane and the word 'arrow':

More Loved Than Sane

As the orderly hands me the clipboard to sign in, I wonder who I will meet today. Last week he threw a chair across the room and had to be restrained. The doctors say he is getting better.
He is subdued when I come in, sitting on a plastic chair that glows hideously orange amidst the soothing beige. I wonder if he feels lonely- most of the time they keep him in a cell by himself. I wonder if the people in his head keep him company.

He’s put on weight again. Strange how someone his size can still seem as fragile as the day the doctor handed him to me- an arrow through my heart; utter, irrevocable love. When he is himself he is changeable as a butterfly, flitting between subjects, restless, gentle, and slow. I think he is too big for his body, has always been. He takes my hands in his, and I marvel at the size of them.

He looks at me and smiles in recognition. For a moment, he is my son. But then I see it is not him there, though it is one of the kind ones.

"Good morning, your majesty," he says.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Lord Knave, Virgin Bride

From a challenge by Maudlinrose, featuring the word 'stallion'.

Lord Knave, Virgin Bride
The new Lady Montjoy drummed her fingers on the coverlet. She looked over at the chair over which her wedding gown was draped, a cascade of gold embroidery over ivory silk. It was a beautiful wedding- their mothers both in tears, her best girlfriends supportive, then excited, then spectacularly drunk. There had been a few reporters outside the church, there to write about the woman who had finally tied down the ‘wild stallion’ of the aristocracy.

She knew about his past. It hadn’t much bothered her, because she had not understood, until now, what it meant.

When the last of the groomsmen had left (with… was that one or two of her bridesmaids?), Lord Montjoy told her how privileged he felt as her husband and how much he loved her. Then he had dropped the bombshell. One of his previous partners had, as he put it, left an unpleasant reminder of their time together. Until it was cleared up- which it would be, the doctors said, after another course of antibiotics- they couldn’t consummate the marriage.

She had been very understanding, after all, she loved him, and he didn’t want to hurt her. But this whole abstinence thing really sucked.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

The Day The Devil

This episode of Fast Fiction Challenge was brought to you by morbane and the word 'longhair'. It was a lesson in the ending you want not being the ending the story needs.

The Day the Devil
Sam McCallister sold his soul sitting outside Bob’s bar. It had been another disastrous gig for his rock cover band, Longhair, and he sat picking the glass out of his clothes. Some guy came over. Then the guy started talking, and Sam knew him for The Devil. Good people don’t talk like that.

Playing guitar was the only thing Sam was ever good at. His Mama gave him a guitar when he was 13, and he took to it as natural as breathing. Bob had taken him aside after Longhair came off stage.

“Son,” he said, “you’re real talented, but your friends suck somethin’ awful.”

The Devil pointed out that Sam deserved success. He could help. But one day he would come for Sam, and Sam would have to go with him. Sam made the deal. He left ‘Longhair’, joined another band. They were a hit. He started looking over his shoulder, expecting to see the Devil. It was time.

That day, The Devil showed up.The Devil looked different from when he bartered stardom for Sam’s soul, but Sam knew who he was.

“Was it worth it?” asked the Devil.

“I guess I’ll find out” said Sam.

© Ellen Couch, 2010

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Tetrapods and Teapots

Brought to you by cabaiste84 and the word 'milkshake’.To quote Kate Beaton, "what a ridiculous thing I just made". This morning it became moderately less ridiculous. I like it a lot.

16:20- edited because morbane was right, I think, about the end.

Tetrapods and Teapots
There were more appropriate places for an afternoon tea party. But Mortimer, her beloved, was eccentric, so they were taking it in the glasshouse, in August. Fortunately, she simply glowed in the sweltering heat.

Poor Carruthers, the butler, looked decidedly unsteady, trundling in the trolley, piled high with tiny, crustless sandwiches, little cakes, rosebud madeleines, macaroons (Mortimer’s favourite, she suspected, because he liked saying the name), scones, curls of butter, best raspberry jam, cold pots of clotted cream and, of course, a brown betty filled with carefully steeped Lady Grey, steam curling upwards from its spout.

Mortimer considered tea “poorly flavoured hot water”. So he had his milkshake.

The problem, she reflected, nibbling a scone (jam first, then cream), was that this was Mortimer’s glasshouse, his ‘sanctum sanctorum’. Mortimer loved a very specific kind of zoology. So the place was full of lizards.

“Oh my dear!” Mortimer announced happily as a Komodo Dragon scuttled out of a nearby bush and ran under the table, making her female friends shriek, “having tea here is such fun! Better than Claridges, eh?”

She smiled back. Lizards made most women shriek, but then she wasn’t most women. Not unless any of them were half-salamander.

© Ellen Couch, 2010

Monday, 21 June 2010

The Way You Look At Girls

Brought to you by jenni_talula and the word 'chair'. For this one I was given special dispensation to write a longer story, which oddly made it more difficult to get started.

The Way You Look At Girls
Her chair is empty. I stare at it every morning, over breakfast. A breakfast that gets increasingly undramatic. I just can’t be bothered with home-made Eggs Benedict, Florentine, Montreal (depending on fridge stocks) when there’s nobody to be impressed and thankful- and she was, every morning, even after 15 years. It was always the most delicious thing, just what she wanted to eat. She loved that I cooked for her, I loved that she loved my food.

I suppose part of me hopes that if I look long and hard enough at where she should be, were she was at this time every day for all that time, she’ll be there again. Or at least, I might be able to imagine she’s there. But she isn’t coming back.

I hadn’t guessed her truth until she told me. We were best friends for a long time. I was so caught up in my own angst I hadn’t noticed she was going through the same thing.One day, she broached the subject. She said she’d noticed the way I look at girls. Told me I looked at them like boys did. Said she knew, because that was how she looked at them, too.

We were two sides of one coin. 17 years old, our bodies and minds raging with love and hormones. All our dreams for the future had each other in them. Most people don’t live those kinds of dreams, the ones about staying with your first love for the rest of your life. But that day, there in my bedroom with the posters of Take That and Boyzone that I had up to keep my parents happy (with the obligatory copies of ‘Oranges are not the only Fruit’, ‘The Well of Loneliness’ and ‘The Rainbow’ hidden under the bed, and pictures of girls taped to the inside of my hope chest), still in our deliberately haphazard school uniforms, we kissed and I felt as if all those dreams were possible. I didn’t have the nerve to tell my parents. It turned out I didn’t need to. When I finally broke down one night over dinner and made my tearful announcement, I expected them to go spare. They just traded looks and Mum told me they’d guessed as much, and asked me if I was seeing anyone. They were delighted when said yes, and told them who.

Mum still tears up whenever she comes round to the house. Dad is all stony silence. None of us knows what to say. They’re not sure whether or not to talk about her, and to be honest, neither am I, so we dance around the subject, awkwardly. There’s an elephant in the room, and it’s so big that it’s hard to move. When they’re not around, it’s still there, and it crushes me. Some mornings I wake up, and realise I never slept, just lay on the sofa in a daze, watching overnight TV. I only notice when the children’s cartoons come on in the morning.

That last morning, she praised the breakfast, but there was almost no tone in her voice. She’d been snapping at me for weeks. I knew something was wrong, sat by her, took her hand, asked her to tell me- insisted, in fact.

She cared about me very much, she said, but… she fell silent, trying to find the words. It was only then I realised I’d be wandering around with the Sword of Damocles above my head, and had been for a long time, if she was finding the words I thought she was.

“You remember when we got together? When I talked to you about the way you look at girls?”

“I remember”

“I’ve been looking at girls that way again, for a while now.”

She told me other things, but thinking about them is like pushing needles under my fingernails. By the time she’d finished talking, I knew I was never going to see her again.I let go of her hand, and the next two days are a blank. I know she packed her bags at some point, packed, in fact, boxes and boxes of things. I know because she took everything of herself with her, leaving a hole just big enough to be filled with the elephant in the room. When I came back to myself, I was lying in the foetal position on the kitchen floor, howling.

Nobody else saw it coming. Or if they did, they don’t dare say anything.

I’ve been given cards for The Samaritans, for psychiatrists, psychologists, gay singles bars, dating websites, and friends of friends who might show me a good time- obviously I’ll be attracted, aren’t people like me attracted to everyone without a Y chromosome?

A couple of friends, friends because of knowing each other for a long time rather than having things in common, have nervously given me leaflets about those centres where they ‘cure’ you. I’m almost tempted. I’m sure no man could hurt me like this.

Everyone’s afraid of what I might do. If I’m honest, I am too. It’s only human to be afraid of the unknown.

Maybe I’ll call one of the numbers. Maybe I’ll even read the leaflets about the ‘cure’.

Maybe I’ll get drunk, and stay drunk. The elephant in the room could be pink.

Maybe I’ll move back in with Mum and Dad, and try not to think about her every time I look at the little single bed in my room. Maybe I’ll still be there in 30 years, caring for them both, lonely and martyred.

Maybe I’ll travel, meet new and exciting people, and never really let any of them get to know me.

Maybe I’ll just wake up, try to remember to breathe, and stare at her chair, every single morning for the rest of my life, hoping that one day, if I wish hard enough, she’ll be there. Or maybe, if I’m really lucky, tomorrow will be the day when I can look at girls again the way I did when I was 17.

© Ellen Couch, 2010