Microfiction: Monsters

My mother told me there was no monster under the bed. I didn’t believe her then. I pulled the sheets over my face each night, leaving only my eyes exposed so I would be prepared when it crawled out.

Eventually I grew older and moved out of that room, into the real world. I graduated from high school, chose a major, entered the workforce and explored the rotating doors of love.

None of it was easy. My heart was broken over and over, and at times I didn’t know whether I was fighting my adversaries or my own self.

I remembered that bedroom from my childhood with fondness. And I realized that my mother had been right. The monster was never under my bed. It was prowling the streets, waiting for me.

 

The Dark Witch (Part 1)

My name is Onyx, and this is not my true form. I chose this shape so I could dwell in the hazy margins of humanity – a flicker, a shadow, nothing more.

I have been on this planet for two thousand years. My soul is older than that, but it’s when my true story began.

I don’t want this to be a sad story. It is full of pain, of hurt and betrayal, and loss. But, as we say on my home world, for every tear there is a star. I will find those stars and make them glow. When my galaxy is full of light, she will return to me.

She was lost to me a long time ago, but she appears every now and then in a different shape. I try and turn her tears into stars, but every time it is the same. Every time she meets the same fate.

So this is my story as well as my apology.

These are my tears that will never be stars.

 

Microfiction: The Realness of Things

Sometimes I wonder about the realness of things. Am I real? Are you real? Am I as real as you? Are you as real as me?

I feel the cold of rain as it hits my skin, and hear the whispers of trees as they send shivers my way. And surely this means that I’m a real girl.

But dream rain is just as cold, and dream trees whisper too. In the morning they are nothing but ghosts.

One day I, too, will be a ghost.

Then perhaps I am nothing but a dream.

Beneath #writephoto

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Everyone’s afraid of the lake. It’s a beautiful lake. You can see the whole world reflected in it. But I guess that’s what they don’t like about it. They see things they don’t think should be there.

There’s the old woman who used to sell trinkets along the promenade. They often see her face watching them from beneath the reeds. But she never tries to hurt anyone. She just likes to watch and watch, with those large absinthe eyes.

Then there’s the kitten with the bite wound to its neck. He’s the one who scares the younger children. He’s always scrabbling to get to the top, pawing at the surface he can’t break. He gets so excited when he sees people. He still loves to play.

I was afraid of the lake too. I didn’t want to go that day, but Max was going to ask me to the prom, I could see it in his eyes, and I already had my little pink dress ready.

But Max wasn’t himself that afternoon. He was as still as the lake’s surface, and colder. Really, I hadn’t thought going to the ice cream parlour with Robbie was a big deal. We were just friends after all. But Max didn’t see it that way. We had a terrible fight. I thought I’d never forget the rage on his face as his hands tightened around my throat.

But that’s all a bad dream now. I still want what I wanted before. I want to go to the prom in my little pink dress. I want to feel like a fairy princess. And I want Max to hold my hand – not the Max from my nightmare, but the old Max, my Max. That was the promise life made to me. And promises are made to be kept.

The people above the surface are afraid of us. There’s really no reason to be. We’re not the other. We’re just like them. It just wasn’t our time to go.

 

(Image courtesy of Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo)

Written for Sue Vincent’s Writephoto prompt: Beneath

 

Flash Fiction: Arabella’s Heart

The Grimm Brothers have it wrong. Their tales are but a wisp of what really happened. I am old and my mind grows frail, but I know this. I know this because I am the great-great granddaughter of the demonic being who was and was not the one they called Snow White.

*

Strange beings lurked in the Forest of Elders. Queen Anne was one such being, though not many knew it. Her mother had been a pond nymph with skin as luminous as pearl, but her father was a demon known for devouring human flesh.

In looks she took after her mother. It was her beauty that had ensnared the king. He was wandering the forest in grief for his wife when he happened upon her pearlescent form in the shadows of a pond. They say he fell to her feet in worship, and all thought of his beloved wife was lost.

The queen was a very vain woman. She had in her possession a certain mirror within which was the captive soul of an Arabian demon.

Every night she would bring her face to the mirror and ask “Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”

The demon, cursed to forever tell the truth, would reply “I swear by the heat of the desert sands, you are the fairest in all the land.”

The queen would then smile and cover the mirror with a dark cloth.

There was only one nuisance in Queen Anne’s life. The king had a daughter, the princess Arabella, who the people loved dearly. The princess had skin as white as snow, hair as black as coal, and lips as red as blood. For this she was known as Snow White.

The queen tolerated her as a child, but as Arabella grew she became more and more beautiful, and the people’s love for her grew to feverish proportions.

The queen’s window looked out upon the apple orchard where Arabella spent her days playing and reading books. The girl always had a smile on her face, which annoyed the queen. What was there to constantly smile about? One must only smile when they had good reason to do so.

More annoying was the way palace staff and visitors came to admire her as she frolicked. She would dance and laugh and twirl with joy, her billowing skirts catching apple blossoms as they floated down from the trees.

No one paid Queen Anne such attention. No one brought her gifts or blew her kisses. It made the demon blood in her veins boil.

Arabella’s sixteenth birthday was a day to be remembered. The entire palace was draped in apple blossoms, and crowds of thousands gathered to wish her well. Gifts of books and flowers were laid at the princess’s feet, so many that soldiers had to cart them away by the barrel.

Arabella’s cheeks were flushed with happiness.

And the queen’s blood boiled.

She went to her chambers, removed the cloth from the mirror, and asked one last time:  “Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”

And the mirror replied, “I swear by the heat of the desert sands, you are the fairest in all the land.”

This answer enraged the queen. “Then why do they love Arabella more than I? Why?”

The being in the mirror contemplated this. “Love hath eyes that see-eth apart,” it replied slowly. “And fairest of fair is Arabella’s heart.”

”Her heart?” the queen spat. “What does that mean, demon? What is a heart to a face? That which beats but cannot be seen? Tell me!”

But for once the demon did not answer.

The queen paced back and forth, repeating the mirror’s words over and over in her mind. Arabella’s heart. Arabella’s heart.

Then I must have Arabella’s heart.

A sly smile spread across her face. “Do you not wish to see the Arabian sands once more, O djinni of the mirror?”

The mirror was silent.

“It was my father who bound you to this trinket, and only I can set you free. And I promise you this – if you bring me Arabella’s heart, I will release you from this prison for evermore.”

The demon, loathe as he was to follow the queen’s wishes, agreed. He took on the form of a huntsman and sought Arabella as she played amongst the apple blossoms.

He lured her to the Forest of Elders, where he did a terrible thing.

That evening he returned to the queen’s side with Arabella’s heart wrapped in a cloth. He watched as she devoured it, her eyes shining with a demonic light.

When she was done she kept her word and set the demon free. The magic mirror has not been seen since.

In the morning palace servants sounded the alarm that Princess Arabella was missing. Searches continued for months to no avail. Rumours circulated – Arabella had run away with her true love, she had been kidnapped by dwarves, a witch had poisoned her with an apple. Only Queen Anne knew that Arabella’s body lay limp and cold in the Forest of Elders.

As for the queen herself, she was having a bit of trouble. Debilitating emotions were beginning to intrude upon her mind. She was starting to feel things like regret and sympathy, and in all manner of inappropriate situations.

These emotions came upon her when she snapped at a servant, or when she saw the poor begging for food. She could not will them away. Seeing others unhappy made her heart hurt.

She also developed a craving for apples. Their sweetness beckoned to her from the orchard where Arabella once played, and she found herself spending more and more time there. The apple blossoms gave her an unmistakable urge to smile.

Her love for the orchard eventually overcame her. She spent her days frolicking there, dancing and laughing and twirling with joy. She smiled at the servants and blew kisses to children who had come to admire her. She accepted their gifts with gentle gratitude. Her days became a swirl of apple blossoms and happiness.

In the villages they whispered that Snow White was back.

*

My great-great grandmother Anne was a strange woman. She was full of joy and kindness, but sometimes at night she would cry to my grandmother about terrible things she’d done to a young girl in the Forest of Elders.

My grandmother knew her as a frail woman with little movement left in her, but even in her last years she held onto her ability to speak. And speak she did. She spoke of strange things, dark things. There was a sorrow in her, a remorse that had stayed with her all her years.

She told my grandmother of the time palace guards tried to kill her. They’d surrounded her, swords drawn, and accused her of having done something wicked to her stepdaughter Arabella.

She’d cowered, wanting to confess as the head guard put his sword to her throat. She looked into his eyes, willing him to do it, but instead he faltered. His grip grew limp and a tear sprang into his eye.

He could not do it. He could not kill her.

A part of him looked at her and saw the joyful girl he’d held as a child.

He loved her, despite the wicked things she’d done.

After all, she had Arabella’s heart.

 

 

 

Flash Fiction: The Razaklaw’s Game

The Razaklaw is no campfire tale. I’ve seen it with my own two eyes, heard it whispering in the shadows. Four steps, it whispered. Always four steps.

The Razaklaw and I were locked in a game which we had to play every night. We had to play because it was his rule. Every night as soon as the lights went out I had four steps to reach my bed. I could run or leap, but if I took more than four steps the Razaklaw could get me. It could get me if I strayed from my bed after that, for from that moment on the night belonged to him.

I made sure I never took more than four steps. Ever.

The first time I saw the Razaklaw I was just shy of three years old. We’d just moved into the house, and it was my first night in my new room. I heard something breathing in the dark, slow and hoarse, and I knew I was being watched.

“What’s your name?” I said.

There was no response at first. After a while I heard a tapping sound at the edge of my bed. And then an exhalation, like the sound of branches slowly scraping against the wall. Raa…zaa…klaaaawwwwww.

As I grew older I began to wonder if I was imagining the Razaklaw. None of my friends saw him, and my parents told me there were no such things as monsters. I thought if I stopped believing in it, it would go away. But it didn’t work. Every night there it was, its bark-like fingers cracking in the dark. Four steps, it continued to whisper. Four steps.

I began to research this creature. I was tired of living in fear. I wanted this thing out of my life.

I scoured the library, the internet, and any other resource I could find. There was no mention of the Razaklaw anywhere, or anything like it.

I contacted occultists and ghost hunters, spoke to academics who studied ancient lore, and even went through old newspaper clippings. No one had heard of such a being.

I started to give up hope.

On the last day of the school term I flopped down on the couch and groaned. “I’ll never find the Razaklaw,” I said. I put my head in my hands.

After a few seconds I had the distinct feeling of someone watching me. I looked up to see our elderly neighbour Erin Rotherfield scrutinizing me from her recliner across the room. She spent most of her afternoons at our house, chatting with Mum or knitting, but she barely ever said a word to me. We dismissed her as “Old Erin”, lost in her own world.

But she was definitely looking at me then, and I didn’t really know what to do about it. I shuffled uncomfortably.

Old Erin chuckled. “I haven’t heard that name in a long time,” she said.

“What name?” Then it clicked. “The Razaklaw? You know it?”

“The Razaklaw.” A sad smile flickered across her face.

And then she told me an astonishing story. She told me of a young boy named Sam who’d lived in the house ten years before we moved in. He hated going to sleep and threw tantrums every night at bedtime. So his mother told him a scary story to get him to go to bed. She made up a creature called the Razaklaw, who would catch him if he took more than four steps to get into bed after the lights went out.

Old Erin sighed. “I never approved of this game. It terrified the child. I told him, I told him Sam. You have to conquer your fears. The best way to do that is to become your fear. If the Razaklaw makes the rules, you be the Razaklaw. You make the rules.”

“What happened to Sam?” I asked.

“The poor child. He was so scared the Razaklaw would get him that he scrambled to bed without a thought for his own safety. One morning they found him at the foot of his bed. His neck was broken.”

Old Erin’s words stayed with me well into the night. Sam died quickly, but in those last moments he must have been terrified. Terrified of the Razaklaw’s prickly fingers closing around his neck…

…and all it had been was a scary story.

But it was more than that now. The Razaklaw was real.

I wondered…those last moments…

I told him Sam…you be the Razaklaw. You make the rules.

That night when I heard its slow, rasping breath fill the shadows I didn’t close my eyes. “Sam?” I said.

The breathing stopped.

I didn’t hear anything more that night.

The next night I was ready for him. I stood at the foot of my bed with my hands planted on my hips, ready to face whatever came out of the shadows. I could feel the Razaklaw’s displeasure hanging in the darkness. Four steps, it reminded me.

“No,” I said firmly. “Not this time,Sam.”

A footstep, not far from my bed.

Four steps! Forceful now, angry.

“You have to wake up, Sam. You are not the Razaklaw. You don’t have to play this game anymore.”

Another footstep, closer now.

I stepped into the darkness, following the scrape of its breath. One step, two steps, three steps, four…

FOUR STEPS!

Five.

Something lunged at me from the shadows. Rough fingers closed around my throat. And in that moment I felt a horror so fresh it left space for nothing else.

It hadn’t worked.

The scream was torn from my throat.

Pure horror, horror…

I did the only thing I could.

*

My death no longer pains me.

The game is the only thing that matters.

Four steps, and I win. Four steps, and they’re mine.

It fills me with a hunger, an excitement that leaves space for nothing else. I make the rules. I am the fear. And the night is my domain.

Sometimes thoughts come to me unbidden. They float into my mind with the sunlight, filling me with memories of a life I once knew. In those moments I feel a sadness, a yearning for what I have lost.

Sometimes I even remember who I am.

This is one of those times, but it will not last for long. The night approaches and the game must begin once more.

As I said, the Razaklaw is no campfire tale. It is my story and I thank you for listening to it.

********************************************

StrangeBeings_IsabelCaves

 

 

My free flash fiction collection Strange Beings is coming soon. It will contain stories in the genres of fantasy, sci fi, horror and mystery. Keep your eyes peeled for it 🙂

 

 

Flash Fiction: The Moon Tree

My name is Andromeda, and I was a gentle being once. I watched over you all, and I loved you. I protected you with my light. Your people were my reason for existence, until I was murdered at your hands. Things had to change after that.

I was the moon goddess. Your people couldn’t walk in the sunlight. Your skin would burn and you would shrivel to nothing. You needed my moonlight to keep you alive. It nourished your skin and kept it strong. I was happy to bestow it upon you.

You had to lock yourselves away during the day, and I did pity you for it. There were rumours about your people, about you drinking blood to stay alive. But I knew the truth. You drank only moonlight.

It was a cold autumn night when He came. He was a scholar and he’d found the legends about the moon tree. He was adamant that your people should walk the day as well as the night.

All you needed was a constant supply of moonlight.

All you needed was me.

I see you marvelling at me now. I am beautiful, or what has become of me is. I can see my reflection in the lake. A lithe tree with leaves of soft lime, and in each leaf a pool of glittering moonlight.

Your people feign ignorance. You pretend you do not know that I am buried here.  That the moon tree springs from me, and my never-ending grief. You convince yourselves that the legends about Him are false. You are happy to walk the daylight. You give thanks to the mysterious moon tree, forever in bloom.

But it is not a happy ending for your people.

Moonlight is pure, but it can be tainted.

I am full of hatred for Him and all your kind. Every so often I pour my poison into the moonlight and smile as one of you drinks.

The poisoned light makes you ravenous. It burns through your veins and leaves them dry. You become as death itself and you crave fresh blood to replace that which you have lost.  You will do anything for it. You will kill for it.

I make you the monsters people think you are. The monsters I know you to be.

But I must be careful in choosing my victims. I can only do this once or twice a decade or suspicion may fall upon me.

You are at my feet now, marvelling at my beautiful leaves. I don’t fully know why I chose you. You have something of Him in you. Perhaps it is the determination in your step, or the way your brow furrows when you are in thought. Perhaps it is that light in your eyes, that hope, that longing that so easily turns to greed.

You cup your hands. One of my leaves is in your palm. I see the cold glitter of moonlight reflected in your eyes.

The moonlight touches your lips.

And so it begins again.

 

The Sad Tale of the Swan #writephoto

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She was once a swan, beautiful and wild. Her feathers were as snow and her eyes as opal. Every morning as she glided along the lake people came to admire her. See the swan, they would sigh, on her bed of turquoise silk.

It was an unusually cold summer when misfortune befell the swan. She ran afoul of a witch in the black woods next to the lake. The witch, in her fury, turned the swan’s snowy feathers to ash and her eyes to hard steel.

Heartbroken, the swan returned to those same turquoise waters in which she had always swum.

But the people were aghast. It is not the swan, they cried, but an imposter! And they chased her from the lake. She hid in the dark waters of the woods, afraid to return.

The people mourned their swan. She is dead, they lamented. That terrible creature with the steel eyes has killed her. They built a shrine to the swan’s memory by the side of the lake. It was a stone monument engraved with graceful images, and water lilies were laid to rest at its feet. To all passerby they told the sad tale of the swan, set upon in the safety of her own dwelling.

The swan herself remained in the black woods. She swam its dark waters and made peace with them. But every so often, in the early hours of the morning, when the light fell upon the water in such a way that it seemed like turquoise silk, she visited her lake. She glided along its waters and rested among its reeds. And, if she felt so inclined, she stopped by the lakeside too, and gazed upon the shrine that bore her name.

 

(Image courtesy of Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo)

Written for Sue Vincent’s Writephoto Prompt: Shrine

 

 

 

Flash Fiction: The Snowdrop Queen

The queen was not human in origin. Some said she was a spirit born of the Great Winter Tree, a snowdrop that walked the earth in human form. She had fair skin that glittered like frost, eyes of the most wintry blue, and hair that was soft and cold like spun snow.

She was beautiful, but she was missing something quite vital.

She did not have a heart.

Where a heart would be in anyone else she had simply a slab of ice in the shape of a snowdrop petal.

The queen did not cry when the king died. She was pleased that she would now be the sole recipient of the people’s admiration.

And admire her they did. She threw lavish balls every night where she would drift past her subjects in a mist of bells and lavender scent. She had four self-portraits commissioned in the first year, eight in the second. Only the most beautiful things were permitted to touch her being – pearls that shone even in the dark, hairpieces made of frozen snowflakes, and satins that put starlight to shame.

The funds for all this came from the palace treasury. This did not cause the queen any distress. With the king gone his wealth was hers to do with as she pleased. She was satisfied whenever she heard people gush that the queen grew more beautiful with each passing day.

When the famine came she spared what little she had left to save her people, for they were no use to her if they were dead. But many started to say this was not enough. The masses were starving. Reluctantly she parted with some of the money reserved for parties and finery, but the body carts still made their rounds every morning. She watched them rattle past, but shed no more tears for them than she had for her husband.

The situation grew worse and worse. Sickness ravaged the villages, and even some in the palace became ill. Rioters hurled rocks at anything bearing the royal emblem. The whispers about the queen were different now. “The queen is beautiful,” they said, “but she has no heart.”

The queen’s advisers insisted she cease her extravagant spending. They stressed that the people needed food more than she needed fine clothes. But she remembered how she came to be queen from a simple flower growing in the shade of a great tree, and knew she needed admiration to remain in this form.

So she continued to spend, and her people continued to starve.

One morning the queen looked in the mirror and her eyes were not quite so blue anymore. It does not matter, she thought. I am still beautiful enough.

The next week her skin had lost its frost-like glitter. I shall commission a new dress and the glitter shall return, she determined.

But it didn’t , and the next week not only had her hair turned brittle but she was forced to retreat to her bed because her limbs had become weak and flimsy.

She grew weaker as the days passed. She remembered the time when she was tied to the earth, unable to do more than bob her head of petals, and she was scared.

Soon all were forbidden to enter her chambers save for her most important advisers. No one else saw the queen, but whispers circulated in the villages. They said the queen’s hair was now green and her skin was rough and wrinkled, like withered petal.

The queen herself did not understand. Centuries ago the first human had crouched at her side and said “what a beautiful flower you are”. His words fell upon her petals like drops of dew, and nourished her like no rainfall ever had. He came to admire her every day, and every day she shone that much brighter, until her form could no longer contain the beauty she held.

The humans had always loved her. Why had their love for her died? Her beauty had not waned.

She did not understand.

When the queen failed to summon her advisers one morning the most senior of those advisers entered her chambers to check on her. Finding them empty he searched the tables and drawers for notes or any clue as to her whereabouts.

When he came to the bed he frowned. There on the pillow, tucked gently beneath the bedsheets, was a single snowdrop.

He picked up the flower and examined it. It had been beautiful once, he concluded, but now there was a jagged brown scar running down its side.

He traced the scar and his frown deepened.

It can’t be, he thought.

But it was.

If he held the flower out and tipped it just so, the scar made the shape of a human heart.