It was frustrating. For two days we had been sitting down in the hot, humid cellar. Our wine was warm, our food was cold. At least we could breathe down here, unlike in the street above. The choking fumes clogged our nostrils, the tiny wind-blown cinders got into our throats. Everyone was coughing and the stench was unbearable.
From what they said it seemed to be getting worse outside. Last night only a few of us had come down but today more and more people started arriving. Most had not brought anything down with them in their panic. They were just concerned with getting away from the ash cloud that sat like a dragon atop the hill. The very ground had started to groan and shudder as if all the denizens of the underworld were on the move.
My father had told us that we need not worry as this had happened many times before.He stayed in the villa thinking that it would soon pass but the Gods appeared to be really angry this time. No-one was sure how to placate them. Even the priests from the temple had decided to join us.
As the daylight, what there was of it, due to the sun having been smothered by the dark cloud, began to fade for the second day we heard a strange noise. It was like a low moaning and it seemed to be getting louder.
I shouted for everyone to be quiet and as our babble subsided we realised that the sound was coming from a great wind that was flowing through the passageways. Some of the women started to wail and before long both men and women started to sob as we realised something terrible was about to happen. Strangely there was no panic and I could hear my companions starting incantations. Before long even the chanting ceased.
Wrapping my cloak around my shoulders \I took my wife and daughter in my arms. We huddled against the wall and the stifling air grew steadily hotter. I can write no more. I will sleep and hopefully return to my beloved Pompeii home in the morning.
“Navigator’s yeoman to the bridge at the double,” the pipe was loud and clear and I could see the panic on Able Seaman Ralph’s face as as he raced across the mess to the forward ladder.
“Looks like old Ralph is in for a hard time,” I thought.
I decided to follow as it could be something everyone could have a laugh about later so started to make my way up to the bridge.
The navigator was pointing the finger at the chart on the table at the back of the bridge and saying to Ralph, “Now are you sure you haven’t missed an alteration to the chart, do you how serious that could be? ”
”No Sir, I heard the siren but thought nothing of it.”
”Well have a bloody look up ahead, is that or is it not a starboard buoy when all the rest are port?”
”Navvie, you’d better have a look at this,” the Officer of the Watch, laughing, interjected.
”What is it now, “ irritation in the Navigator’s voice apparent.
”Well, that so-called buoy is just a couple of idiot holidaymakers with a bright green umbrella , we’ll radio the harbourmaster to go and pick them up.
The great stone edifice had been standing sentinel for over a thousand years. With it’s tower and four storeys it had served as the seat of all authority, it’s imposing presence casting fear into the hearts of some; security in the minds of others. Providing a home, and employment for the servants, the garrisoned solders and a ready market for the market-traders who had seized the opportunity to set up their stalls in the shadow of the high walls. Eventually was formed a thriving community, nourished and encouraged by the needs of the Lord of the Manor and his retinue. All unaware of the nightmare to come. On the third Sunday after the Feast of St. Joseph a travelling fair had arrived in the town. Their wagons loaded with with hawkers, jugglers, dancing bears and a hidden cargo. On their second day in the town the performers realised that they had brought a legacy that would be remembered only as swift, deadly and disastrous. The plague was relentless, reducing both the village and, despite locked gates and armed guards, the castle itself, to an empty shell. The survivors, believing the land accursed, moved away to the towns that had escaped the catastrophic events. The thatched dwellings and the limestone battlements gradually eroded, their stones carried off to build and repair houses far away. It did not take long for the tower to remain only as a home for bats, owls, spiders and beetles. In time, visitors to the district could find no-one who knew when it had been built or who had lived in the ruin on the hill. Folk memories suggested that something bad must have once happened. Hence the reputation that the old stones were haunted by some unknown entity, but despite no-one having seen or heard anything supernatural, the rumours of ghosts persisted.
Patrick reached up to the last berry on the low branch. Nervously looking to right and left while occasionally stretching his neck to scan the skies above. No dark shadows were visible, no signs of a soaring bird above. He felt safe, camouflaged in his brown, mottled gold and fawn, feathered coat but one still had to be wary or they could be unlucky. A badly timed movement could be notification to watching eyes on the ground or in the skies, then with a pounce or a swoop life could rapidly be cut short. Patrick listened intently and sniffed the air, he felt something amiss. Gradually, like a mist forming in front of him he saw small feathery white flakes starting to fall all around. “On no, he thought, I will be caught out here in a minute, the snow has come too early. Quick,quick, I must go and hide”. With a rush he ran into the heather and nestled down onto the cool pine mat, crouching as low as he could. With his head tucked under his wing he soon relaxed and pondered his best methods for keeping warm. His feathers provided excellent insulation and if it got too cold shivering for short periods warmed up the blood. He hated the snow, he would have to dig through it every time he went to eat and often the water would turn to ice so he couldn’t drink or bathe. Like most birds Patrick enjoyed a bath, fluffing his feathers right up and letting the water splash over his exposed flesh. Of course there were times when water wasn’t available and this meant he had to take dust baths, this was quite exhilarating too especially when he could sit on top of an ant’s nest. Though feeling guilty he knew that the ones he beheaded and rubbed into his skin were so soothing. Getting rid of any itchy little ticks that had fastened on, irritatingly sucking his blood and so difficult to scratch and dislodge. Anyway now was not the time or the place to daydream. He would have to run back to the copse before the snow covered the ground like it had the hills in the distance where his white cousins lived. He didn’t envy them sitting out in the cold snow. He was happiest when he sat dozing with just one eye open in his warm heather and bracken bed
Yes! It’s that time of the year again. Fellow speculative fiction fan, Sheri Yutzy, and I are hosting a flash fiction contest and this time Laura L. Zimmerman is joining us! We’re so excited to see the amazing flash fiction work YOU come up with. We’ve got some great prizes lined up to feed your […]
via Do You Love Flash Fiction? Enter Our Contest! — Jebraun Clifford
Summer died that night. It was a time of celebration, the deep fire-pit, filled to the height of a man with peat, brush, bracken and branches ready to be lit. The cattle, pigs, sheep and fowl driven in to the central enclosure ready for the elders to carry out their grisly task,
The children had asked the usual questions which we had asked when we were young. The answer was always the same throughout the years. “This is the way it has always been.”
“The beasts we have nurtured lovingly throughout the year must repay our kindness. There will be feasting for everyone before the dark days come as they surely will. There is not enough goodness in the fields to keep and sustain our flocks and herds. Only the necessary few will be kept for our daily needs.”
“The offering we make now will be noted by the sky-dwellers and if pleased they will send the bright sun back to lighten our days once more when the time is right. This is as it has always been.”
As we watched the great fire was lit. Bright scarlet and yellow tongues of flame leaped into the not yet dark sky. Our animal’s eyes rolled at the sight. As each one was led through the narrow entrance between the stakes into the very heart of the village the remainder started to grow restless and were snorting, bleating and clucking wildly. We could hear the loud cries of pain from within and panic started to spread through the now terrified animals. We beat them furiously to try and stop the by then dangerous mayhem.
A greasy cloud of dark smoke hung motionless in the air above the cluster of thatched dwellings and the smell of animal fat was strong in ours and the remaining animal’s nostrils. The addition of the animal fat helped the flames to reach high above the height of the palisade for all to see.
The last beast was lead through the opening, their dark, deadly destiny assured. Gradually we heard the sound of drums performing an increasingly louder, rhythmic, hypnotic beat. It was hard to stop our feet from stamping and dancing in time to the music.
Finally the last of the sun’s rays died and only then were we able to pass through the portal to join the great feast marking the change of the seasons.
The Clevedon Community Bookshop is offering a flash fiction workshop from 7-9pm on Thursday 4 October 2018 delivered by Gail Aldwin.
Everyday lives are packed with tasks and activities that leave little time for reading or writing at length. Flash fiction has the ability to fit into the breaks and provides satisfying stories with all the elements of a longer piece of fiction. This workshop will explore opportunities to incorporate flash fiction into your writing and welcomes those who are already writing flash fiction and those who would like to start. Through activities and prompts you will be able to develop new pieces of flash fiction and understand more about the process of writing in this a short form.
Gail Aldwin is an award-winning writer of short fiction and poetry. Paisley Shirt(Chapeltown Books, 2018) was longlisted in the best short story category of the Saboteur Awards 2018. She is a visiting tutor on the Creative Writing BA at Arts University Bournemouth and Chair of the Dorset Writers’ Network.
Booking is through the Clevedon Community Bookshop. Email: email@example.com or telephone 01272 218318
The sun simmered red as it slunk towards the jagged horizon. Nightfall always followed shortly after the sun set in the desert wastes. Janvers knew that if he and his companions did not pitch their camp shortly it would become too cold for them to survive. No-one without desert experience would believe that after the baking temperatures of the day the desert could become so cold at night. The tall, minaret-like pinnacles in the distance were giant outcrops of red sandstone that formed pillars stretching high into the cloudless sky. If they were lucky they would be able to shelter in the caves found at the base of these towers. If not they might provide tethering points for their single tarpaulin.
Pausing in his forced trek Janvers suddenly motioned for everyone to stop and be quiet. Turning his head from side to side he listened intently, looking round them in all directions. It was unmistakable. To the West, where the red disc of the sun was casting it’s last glow in the darkening twilight sky there was a faint sound. It was a monotone, low, moaning that was not the sound of any animal. He felt a slight lifting of the breeze and he was sure he could just make out low eddies like miniature typhoons in the sand between them and the mountains. There was no doubt in his mind, a storm was coming.
The thing that all desert dwellers and travellers dread, a sandstorm. They often came without warning and could last for days or just stop within minutes as abruptly as they started. He knew that they would have to run, to try and gain the shelter of the rocks. If it was a full storm they would stand no chance of survival if caught out in the middle of the rippled, sandy plain. Trying not to show panic but emphasising the urgency he cajoled his team to start running across the soft treacherous sand.
After only a few minutes the wind was noticeably stronger. This served as a hastener to the team of semi-exhausted men. Their feet were leaden and every step became harder as the wind pushed into their faces. By sheer bad luck that was the only direction they would gain any shelter. Janvers felt the coarse sand granules whipping his face. He wound the blanket tighter around his neck and struggled on. He could not afford to show any weakness in front of his team.
Twilight is brief in the desert and there was now no distinction between the sky and the rocks ahead. Their only guide was to try and remember the star formations that were beginning to appear overhead. The sound of the wind increased in line with it’s strength. Janvers kept up his exhortations depite his own flagging strength. The ground started to get harder beneath his feet and he knew that they were no longer trying to run on sand but stone. This could only mean that they were close to the base of the hills. Almost too dark to see more than forty paces in front the wall of stones loomed like a black, empty void ahead. To their left was a gigantic boulder which leaned at an ominous angle. It was enough to offer some shelter to the three men.
They crouched at it’s base and with heavy blankets wrapped around them prepared to sit out the storm. Their only hope was that it would be brief. Within twenty minutes they detected a lessening of the wind. The rushing sound akin to a passing express train faltered and stopped almost in an instant. Looking out they could make out the flat landscape illuminated by a rising moon. The sand flurries ceased and all was quiet once more. In silent prayer the team relaxed and smiled, each with their own thoughts. After a short time of this meditation they huddled together prepared to discuss their course of action for the remaining hours of darkness and the next day. Janvers knew that once past this range of hills there were only a few kilometres before they crossed the range of dunes known as the Sea of Sand and they would be safe on the Namibian coast.
After a walk of about thirty-five minutes we came to a clearing before the trees lost their erratic spacing and stretched out before us on either side of what appeared to be a green lane. My first thought was that it must have been an old Roman road as it looked so straight but Gerry told me that it was probably far older than that. It was one of Alfred Watkin’s possible ley lines. Probably the straighest one that could be traced on the ground as well as on the map. I realised that by looking back over the way we had come I would probably have been able to see the trilithon we had been admiring earlier that morning. I was curious as to what the next point may be on the line. The answer was the old Hemingford Grey church which was just visible at the end of the avenue, especially if I used his binoculars. I took them from his hand and sure enough in the distance was the tall, grey spire just visible on the horizon. The sun appeared to be shining brightly over there, glinting off what was probably a weather-vane or perhaps a lightning conductor. Even with the glasses it was too far to make out. Gerald then turned and told me that before the war the church tower was quite awe-inspiring but sadly a spitfire pilot had come to grief at the very spot. Curious as to the story I pressed him to tell me more. I knew that this part of Cambridgeshire had many airfields during the war and there were a lot of pilot training facilities. It transpired that after one sortie a young pilot on only his second mission had been returning to his base having only one engine serviceable. Being inexperienced and not inured to the trials of war he was still quite headstrong and was certain that he could make it back to his base only twelve miles further on. The aircrew’s usual landmark for return was the spire of the church but sadly this time his second engine failed as he was passing the spire at low altitude ready to turn for home. With an injury to one arm he was unable to slide the cockpit canopy back and eject. Through sheer bad luck the plane spiralled down with him still inside, demolishing the whole spire as he plummeted to the ground and his death in the ensuing blaze. In memory of this event the authorities had left the spire un-repaired leaving it as a rather lower square tower. But to me that was impossble for had I not just seen the spire through the binoculars. I raised them to my eyes again and this time I could see only the flat crenellated tower as described. This left me in quite a severe state as I knew that earlier I had seen the church as it was more than sixty years previously. A chill came over me probably brought on by the thought of that poor airman but also because I was worried that this ley line might have some more curious tricks up it’s sleeve.
Based on the true story of hemingford church
“Wow, look at that Dad,” The dad in question was trying hard not to show his own excitement.
They were standing high on the cliffs watching waves crashing into the beach below. Not only waves but numerous figures standing on multi-coloured surfboards rushing in with each breaker.
“Dad, “ his son pleaded, “can we get a surfboard?”
“Sorry Davey but you know that they are expensive and how often could you use it?”
“Awww,” the disappointment showed.
The afternoon was spoilt.
Next morning Davey went out before breakfast. Worried, his father went to find him. Then he saw the fence.