Insects rustle in the darkness. You would not consider this crossing in anything but full daylight even though hordes of lamp sellers and guides pull at your sleeve. Lanterns are carved from complete sections of the giant bamboo, and carried on gracefully bending poles so that parties of travellers cross the dark like shoals of anglerfish trawling for unwary small fry.
I see her, out here, testing the thermals, finding the dead spots, the cold that never goes, the sucking of Shadow. She hunts out from the Edge, and she mates above the valley, I see how she drops prey and suitors with equal indifference, and watches the way the bodies fall, testing the air. I imagine her coasting the darkness too, flying through Shadow like an owl, I can almost believe she has a plan.
I walk past the door twice, working myself up to go in. Pathetic.
I suppose it’s an identity thing. I’m used to working alone, keeping work separate from family, doing strong silent. This feels like a risk, more dangerous than the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done, and believe me, I’ve done a few. I’m not a quiet librarian all the time: I’ve moved mountains and rescued children from burning buildings, yes indeed, and I don’t expect thanks, no, and I don’t court publicity. Sometimes I wonder why I think of myself as a public servant.
So what am I doing here?
Joining has been published online at Litro
Knitting for Demons
I realise now that the clicking is coming down the phone. I listen, trying to identify the noise.
“Are you… knitting?”
Yes, she says.
“What are you knitting?”
Well, there’s a pause and I imagine her turning the needles for a new row; right now, I’m knitting a Fair Isle jumper for your insect demon. What colours would you like?
The Twelve Months of Christmas
The voucher for the balloon trip for two was the plum gift, because I proposed to the girl of my dreams on Valentine’s day; three hundred feet above the Badminton estate in a golden sunset, and she accepted.
I expect you are feeling pretty smug at the success of your presents right now, but those hankies you always include came in handy when she dumped me in March… and in April when the firm went bust and I lost my job.
We Apologise for the Delay…
As Ade said,
“Rats is one thing, but those things are above and beyond the call of cleaning.”
And the rest of the cleaning gang had nodded emphatically and taken up positions of heroic resistance. Health and Safety was invoked, and their manager called the RSPCA to remove the offending brood.
The RSPCA came, looked, and climbed the escalator to call the Zoo.
The Zoo came, examined, and trudged back to street level where, after some hesitation, they called David Attenborough.
David Attenborough came, viewed and leapt up the still static escalator two steps at a time. He put in a call to a friend at the Metropolitan Police, and after some consultation, a further call to Immigration, who refused to believe him, and insisted on calling back in case he was really someone from Dead Ringers playing them a line.
What Mr Attenborough said, once immigration were convinced he really was who he said he was, what he said, and he should know, was:
“These animals, if indeed they are animals, do not originate on this planet.”
We apologise for the Delay is available as an e-story from Cut a Long Story
The Midwinter Wife
“Why are we doing this?” Martin asks.
What I want to say is “why wouldn’t we?” what I actually say is
Martin nods slowly.
“That’s what I feel too, got to… but why’ve we got to?” I shrug, and start looking at shoes, trying to judge the size of her feet.
“Ned,” he says anxiously. ”Why?”
I settle on slippers, an unappreciated gift from some aunt I never see. I shake my head, bewildered. My tongue doesn’t seem able to shape the thoughts jumbled in my head, which I hope are nonsense; but I can’t shake the feeling of obligation, a taint of danger, a whiff of fear.
“I should go home,” Martin says with difficulty, an unfamiliar vein standing out in his forehead.
“Don’t leave me alone with her,” I manage to whisper. He sobs. The door opens, and she stands there, jumper and jeans waistband barely meeting, Martin’s coat over the top, and her hair tied in a dripping knot.
The Midwinter Wife has been published in Latchkey Tales: Clockwise – Midnight Blues
The Queen’s Safety
Beatriz is sitting in the garden, under a tree, playing with the horn cups that fit so neatly inside one another, and can be made to stack into towers, so delightful to knock back down. The cups are scattered across the rug her playmate brought to protect them from the damp.
The playmate has just finished saying something about when she was a child. She cannot imagine the playmate was ever a child, great hulking thing – but her breasts are warm and accommodating, so she nods as though she understands, and begins to gather the cups together.
Then the man arrives, and makes her playmate cry.
Why are you crying?
The Queen’s Safety has been read at Liars’ League.
I made him dig his own clay from the slippery banks of the river, he refined it himself, and at first he enjoyed the damp slip of clay beneath his barely formed fingers, proudly bringing me offering after offering, the misshapen, the lumpen, the grotesque. Each I flattened back into its earth and demanded he start again. He formed bowl after bowl as I taught him how the curve must sit in the palm, how the rim must fit to lip; how the surface must be free from grit, or finger print or blemish of any kind. He was patient, for a while.
As I crushed many more of his offerings than he thought just, the frown grew between his brows, and I smiled, thinking he was driven to seek more, but I was wrong – he was growing impatient, angry, resentful.
At last, a perfect offering. I nodded, and handed it back, expecting him to glow with pride at my approval. He crushed the soft clay in his fist as I had so often done. The next day I found thirty perfectly formed bowls laid carefully to dry.
© Cherry Potts 2013