Challenge answered! And in a record number this week. Thank you for your fantastic stories inspired by last week's prompt, what you've written makes me want to know more, each and every one!
This week…what's say you do it again?
We again have fewer words, so more of the ones you write come from you, not me. These prompts are meant to get your fingers typing, nothing more. If you never use a single one of these words or images but you accept the challenge and write a wee marvelous thing, you're doing it right. Or write.
So pass this link on to a friend. To someone who wants the tiniest, friendliest, most colourful writing push. Let's see more stories, let's be gleeful together.
Blue, Blossoms, Backs, Births and Pyres
May last week's responses to falling ashes get you primed for sharing your own.
A tiny flake of blue split away from the ceiling, and another, and a third: drifting down like falling ash.
Onto Ameenah’s red-eyed face. A flake into her left eye, a flake onto her lip (and licked unconsciously away) and a flake below her nose so that when the next sneeze began, she inhaled it sharply into her sinus cavity.
Blue. Right there. In the centre of all the trouble.……The sleeping part of her blinked, took a deep, deep breath and…
## Volcano eruption in 15 minutes!
The computer voice is too loud and too shrill. I blink awake and almost fall off the chair.
My back hurts and why am I on a chair? It takes a few seconds for my brain to catch up. I was on guard duty, sitting near the computer and I must have fallen asleep, feet up on the console.
I drop my feet to the ground and only then does it register what the computer just said.
It’s the stupid blue shower puff that does it.
It’s unravelling a little at the edges, a tidemark of dried soap bubbles fragile across an edge, and she reaches out with a tentative hand. It’s crisp and dry, sharper against her skin than she expects. She pulls away, brings trembling wounded fingers to her lips, feels a thin high sound rise up like bile in her throat, helpless and bestial. It echoes…
They say that to be a martyr is a holy thing. They say it is a gift.
The thing we must remind ourselves is that it is never martyrs saying these words, for the martyrs are dead. It is the living who fill their silence. It is the living who spin reason as flowers wilt on a martyr’s grave.
“It is god’s will,” they’ll say, “it shows our faith,” they’ll say and say and say, standing on tiny squares of ground beneath which there are no bones, the bodies of the martyrs burned to ash on foreign pyres.
Recall her yellow rays?
A mem’ry now, for falling ash
Enrobes the world in grays
No birds can sing, no flowers bloom
‘Neath endless winter’s veil
That we once lived above the ground
Seems like a fairy tale
We were so foolish, arrogant
Too full of pride to see
The signs were there, we should have known
There is no Planet B.
Her grandmother had come from Yavin IV to collect her, reassuring little Kel that things would get better. “The firsts are going to be hard Kelar, but the sharp edges will wear off with time.”
And things had gotten better.
She still visited that day in her dreams though. The images would come back fresh, drawing her up and out of sleep, tears streaming down her cheeks.
falls like ash
trees silent witness
the curve of his back
the sweep of his hair
Keep going. Keep the momentum. It's what makes all the difference in writing, I promise.
“Could you be any slower?”
Mez stares down at me in anger. We are early, so I really don’t know why he’s so agitated. He waits until I come up on his left side.
“What’s going on?” I try to whisper, but it’s hard when you’re panting like a steam loco because you just climbed a 50-floor building up to the 30th floor.
“I just got troubling new information.”
“We have company.”
I assume he means right now and look around wildly, almost losing my footing and slipping down the wall. Mez grabs my arm and scowls.
“Oh… sorry.” I feel a little sheepish and wait for him to go on.
“The Kindness is here.”
I jerk so bad that I actually lose my footing and start slipping down the wall. Mez grabs my arm again, but this time he doesn’t scowl, probably because he knows he should have waited until we were inside to tell me.
The Kindness is an infamous assassin. His victims never have any wounds and they always smile happily. Nobody really knows how he does it. There are rumours of course, the most prominent one that he is some kind of vampire who feeds on gratefulness instead of anger or fear.
I wonder of we should abort the mission, but Mez is already climbing again, so I shrug and follow.
20 minutes later we are inside and have split up to suss things out. I turn a corner and almost walk into a beautiful woman. Her grown shimmers in all kinds of colours and looks like it is made from the wings of a million beetles.
We both blink in surprise because this is a restricted area and we both know it.
She recovers first and offers me a dazzling smile.
“I see I’m not the only nosy guest this evening. How about we investigate these rooms together and then return to the party. I won’t tell if you don’t!”
This seems like the best offer I have heard in a long time.
There is a faint tingling in the back of my mind, like something I should remember, but she still smiles at me and takes my arm and everything else is forgotten.
“Thank you,” I reply. “You are very kind.”
Cal knew it wasn’t done to climb statues, but he did it anyway, there in the middle of a Melbourne night. The metal was cold – colder than the night itself – but Cal was so cold already it hardly mattered.
Being held, or at least holding someone, that’s what mattered. Months of alone, months barred from touch. Months in an inverted world.
His chest ached and his breath wheezed on the ascent, but he made it.
Some joker had attached a mask to the statue’s face. Adam Lindsay Gordon, bush poet, his noble features concealed behind the message: breath was dangerous, lately. Cover up, protect yourself, protect others.
Gordon’s statue depicted him sitting loosely in a chair, the accoutrements of his riding days underneath the chair, a pen in one hand, a book in the other, his index finger marking a page. On the verge of writing another poem.
Poetry had been the death of him. The printing debts, and the acquired brain injury of one fall too many from the saddle.
Cal sat in Adam Lindsay Gordon’s lap and leaned his head against the metal folds of his shirt. Cal was still cold on the outside, but he felt warmer inside, and he recited his favourite of Gordon’s lines.
Life is mainly froth and bubble
Two things stand like stone
Kindness in another’s trouble
Courage in your own.
Clumsily, Cal removed Adam’s mask and fixed it on his own face. It was a kindness in others’ trouble; it was courage in his own. Homeless, hungry, haunted. But he could do this. Protect others. Protect himself.
‘You all right up there, son?’
Cal, cradled in metal arms, looked down towards the face looking up at him. A man in a puffy coat, a beanie pulled over his ears. A big fellow, with broad shoulders and big arms. Masked. Maybe like a bandit; or like a superhero. Hard to tell which these days.
Cal coughed behind the mask, a nasty, chesty cough.
‘Do you have a home to go to?’
Cal shook his head and coughed again, a nasty fit of it that left him exhausted. He leaned against Adam Lindsay Gordon’s solid torso and closed his eyes.
‘How about we get you somewhere warm?’
Cal was surprised the man was still there. Coughing fits were a sure way to clear a bench, a room, a whole fucking side street these days.
‘I’m sick,’ Cal said.
‘I’ve already had it,’ said the big man. ‘You shouldn’t be out here in the cold.’
‘Nobody wants me,’ said Cal, and wheezed again. ‘I’m not safe.’
The big man didn’t ask why, so Cal didn’t have to tell him about the shouting at home, the hitting, being trapped indoors with a father who hated the difference in his son, who was mainly different to him. There were loads of people just like him, really, out in the world.
‘Come on. Let me take you somewhere warm.’
Cal peered over Adam Lindsay Gordon’s arms to the big man. His eyes had adjusted to the gloom and dear god, the man was huge. Like a bear. Like a statue come to life. His eyes seemed kind, but Cal had been fooled by kind eyes before.
On the other hand, here he was, sitting in the arms of a statue, waiting to die of cold and loneliness.
Cal tried to climb down again, but a coughing fit seized him. The mask protected the Bear Man but made it harder for Cal to catch his breath.
But then the Bear Man climbed up the statue too, and helped Cal. Arms around that thick neck, across those broad shoulders. Bear Man was warm, the heat soaking into Cal’s chest and belly and it made him want to cry.
‘Hold tight. Here we go.’
The bandit/superhero reached the ground again and scooped Cal into his arms.
‘You’ll be safe with me, I promise,’ he said to Cal, walking across the park to the blocks of flats on the opposite side of the park. ‘We’ll get you fed and warm and work out if I should take you to hospital.’
Cal should have had an opinion, but all he felt was safe as this stranger took him home and wrapped him in a doona and gave him soup and pillows and paracetamol and care.
Then there was sleep, deep and long, and fourteen days in isolation, during which Cal learned he had a chest infection but not a virus, that some people really were as kind as they looked, and that the hero-bandit’s name was Adam.
Of course it was.
There’s a picture of Adam Lindsay Gordon’s statue here:
Kl’yd and Kel spread a blanket out on the wispy, pale green grass that was growing under the canopy of trees that bordered the clifftop. Waves were breaking themselves against the cliff’s face, sending salty spray into the air. Kel still didn’t know why it was called the Cape of Despair, not when it was so pretty and seemed so idyllic. She was working up her nerve to ask Kl’yd to marry her, but the right moment hadn’t presented itself yet.
They ate the picnic that she’d prepared – lots of little bites that combined some of her old favorites with new things she had discovered since making Boone’s Planet her permanent home. She’d fed him the gooeyest dessert items by hand, and Kl’yd licked the sticky sweets from her fingertips.
After the food, and a little extra something for dessert, after dessert, they flopped down onto the blanket and looked up at the trees. Kel noticed there were webs strung from tree to tree.
The webs were rainbow colored; shimmering blues and pinks and purples. Gold that waxed into red that waned into green. And they weren’t the dainty little spiderwebs that Kel was used to – spun by the spiders that always seemed to find their way onto space-faring ships. Be it commercial transports or a smuggler’s hulking relic, there were always spiders on board, somewhere. Those webs were fine and clung to the high corners of the ships, gathering space dust. These webs though? These were substantial. 2 millimeters in diameter, easy. You could knit these webs into a pair of socks. She was certain her grandmother would have given it a try.
“What was that darlin’?” Kl’yd said from his spot next to her, “You said somethin’ about your gramma.”
“Oh, sorry. I was just thinking that if she saw these webs, she’d want to knit them into a pair of socks or a goofy hat. She liked goofy hats.” Kel rolled to face Kl’yd and smiled. “You’d have liked her, and she would have loved you.” He gave her a squeeze.
“Well, she’d have had fun with these webs alright. They’d make great socks too, ‘cause these webs are real durable. Bogue worms spin ‘em and the silk from them gets made into all sorts of stuff, like fishing nets and cargo straps. Sometimes though, ‘cause of the pretty colors, they get woven into soft cloth for things like ceremonial robes or fancy dresses and sheets. You know? Fancy bed linens.”
This was it, ths was her moment.
“Like bed linens for honeymooners?” She sat up.
“Sure, I ‘spose so.” Kl’yd sat up too. He turned so they were facing each other.
“Could be, we might want to track down a set?”
“We should look into getting some.”
They were talking over top of each other’s words, and began to laugh.
“Wait,” Kel stopped him with a hand over his mouth, onto which he promptly pressed a kiss. “I got you out here because I wanted to ask you something. Stars, this shouldn’t be so hard to get out…”
Kel took a deep breath and made the leap, “Kl’yd, after my grandmother died, I never felt like anywhere was home. I locked up all my feelings in a box and just took off. I promised not to care about anybody again, because everyone I had cared for had left me. Then, by total chance, I found you. I came here with nothing and you gave me food and a job and friendship.” The words were pouring out of her now. “The seal on that box was broken by kindness. Your kindness towards someone you’d never set eyes on before, the chance you took giving me a job. And a home. I love you so much for all of that.”
She took another breath in, “Kl’yd, will you marry me?”
Kl’yd had been sitting patiently, listening carefully to all that Kel was telling him. When she finished, he sort of scrunched his lips together and crooked up one side of his mouth in thought.
“Well, now, you kinda stole my idea.” He was smiling now and reaching for his clothes, which were balled up in a heap.
“Oh, no. Are you? Did I?” Kel was shaking her head and starting to laugh again.
After rummaging around a bit, Kl’yd held out a tiny box, “I guess you might want this then?” He opened the lid to reveal a ring with a sparkling purple stone set in silver.
Kel extended her hand for the box, and then paused. “Wait, I asked you a question that you still haven’t answered yet.”
He gave her the lopsided smile that she had seen the first time they’d met, “Of course I’ll marry you darlin’.” He took the ring out of the box and slipped it onto Kel’s finger.
They stayed at the Cape of Despair, making plans for the future, until the sun went down.
The creak of the door brought Cora’s head up. She smiled at the stranger who hovered in the doorway.
“Come in. Can I help you?”
The man glanced around, scanning the room slowly from side to side before coming back to Cora.
“I hear you might have food here,” he muttered.
“Yes, we do.” Cora came around from behind the reception desk and extended her hand. "Welcome. My name is Cora.”
He looked down at his grubby hand, but Cora’s remained out, steady, and her smile didn’t waver. After a moment’s pause, he brushed his hand against his jeans before giving hers a quick clasp. "Ma’am,” he said.
“The dining area is in through here,” she said, pointing down a hallway. “We’re still serving lunch. Do you have a place to stay?”
He nodded, but stole a longing look at the cots in the next room, with their clean sheets and blankets neatly folded on top.
“Okay,” she said, knowing better than to push. His eyes jumped back to hers, almost guiltily, but Cora’s gaze held only acceptance.
“The chili is pretty good. Be sure to get some cornbread to go with,” she said.
He hesitated, then blurted out, “Don’t… don’t you need to know my name, or something?”
“I don’t need to know it. But I’d like to, when you’re ready to tell me,” she replied.
He looked surprised, but nodded again and headed towards the dining room. His gait was stiff and halting.
This one was like so many others she’d seen: men and women who’d held themselves together by sheer fortitude and desperation, self-fashioned baling wire that kept them upright and going, but trapped in constant pain. Cora ran a hand through her salt-and-pepper hair, sighing softly.
Lucas, her office manager and friend, came striding down the hallway with a box full of canned goods.
“He don’t look familiar. A new one?”
She nodded, then pointed at the box and said, “Now that’s what I like to see.”
“A well-stocked pantry?” he said, teasing.
“No. Well, yes,” she amended, “but also what it represents: that the community supports us. Their generous donations help keep our doors open, after all.”
“You’re doing good work, Cora,” Lucas said. “People in this town, they’re learning that if they find themselves in a bad place, you’re the one who’ll give ‘em a helping hand, help them climb out of whatever hole they’re in.”
She shook her head a little, a rueful twist curling the corner of her mouth.
“Don’t make me out to be a saint. When you offer someone your hand and they accept it, that connection goes both ways. You’re meeting in the middle. Your life gets woven in with theirs.”
“Maybe that’s true. Still, when you see folks, the ones that are proud as all get out, them that won’t yield to nothing or no one, when you see them break down with tears of relief? Damned if they ain’t been broken by the simple kindness of a meal and a safe place to sleep. Well, that’s something powerful.”
“I don’t want them to be broken, by kindness or otherwise. I want them to be—”
“Converts?” The teasing tone was back in Lucas’ voice, and Cora smiled before she answered.
“Whole. I want them to be whole, and to have dignity.”
“Well, amen to that,” Lucas said with a firm nod. “Still. ‘Cora’s Converts.’ I like how that sounds.”
Cora started to laugh, but a jerk of Lucas’ chin made her turn her head. The stranger was back.
“Is everything okay?” she asked.
“It’s good, like you said,” he replied, waving a bit of cornbread. “I… I just wanted to tell you, ma’am.” He flushed and looked embarrassed, but Cora gave him a delighted grin.
“Right? It’s one of my favorites. But please, call me Cora.”
He smiled back, a little shyly, then said, “Jake. My name’s Jake.”
“I’m very pleased to meet you, Jake.” Cora said, tempering her grin into a softer, warmer smile.
“Pleasure’s mine, Cora,” he said, and with a slight bob of his head at them both, he went back to his lunch.
“Another convert, looks like,” Lucas said, bending to whisper it into Cora’s ear, then laughing and dodging as she swatted at his shoulder. He picked up the box and headed to the storage room.
“Not broken by kindness,” she murmured to herself, “but maybe, one day, rebuilt.”
Fifteen minute sprint. Prompt: Broken by kindness; climb; two images.
Wait, shiny wasn’t right.
Sarah blinked, though even that small movement was enough to swirl reality again. She couldn’t see. Well she could, but it was shiny. All shiny.
How come my head is so heavy?
It was impossible to move smoothly, and the jerk as she heaved herself to roll over sent everything reeling. Bracing made it better; she breathed deeply, working hard on that small piece of control until it might be possible to open her eyes again.
As she tried to make sense of it, the flickering lights matching up with the pounding in her head, Sarah realised it wasn’t in her head at all. Wherever that deep, resonating sound was coming from, it wasn’t her body. Something outside of her, something connected to the lights.
It was music. Identifying it was too hard, far more than her brain could handle, but she held onto that single word. Music. She was somewhere with music, but her limbs didn’t work, and her mouth was dry.
Who was I here with?
Before she could answer it, a face appeared before her. A hand landed hard on her cheek, tilting her head, fingers and thumb turning her to a convenient angle for the smiling eyes now studying her face. It wasn’t quite right, though. The smile was more predatory than kind, the eyes assessing in a way that implied a less than personal interest. The lips moved, and Sarah thought they might be saying something, but the pounding beat had found a new source, each cell of her body reverberating in time.
The fingers tightened, her face wrenched uncomfortably hard to one side. Hot breath in her ear; it would have elicited a shudder had she any control at all. This time, the words snaked into her brain, unmissable even over the music.
”You broken yet, baby girl?”
Did she whimper? She might have, but there was no way to know. Incredibly, the voice took on a sing-song quality, jarring against the pounding bass.
“Gotta be cruel to be kind…”