Remains. (sci fi flash fiction)

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They were almost in sight now. He craned his head to see, the translucent walls of the craft enabling perfect vision. He glimpsed something far ahead a dingy grey/brown splurge on the horizon contrasting with the intense greens with which he had always been surrounded.

He’d never totally believed it, couldn’t comprehend this side of his own humanity, but there it was before his eyes a vast wasteland of decaying iron and concrete. Here and there a feeble tree or bush strove to bring life to the empty mounds, shriveled and corrupted. No, the “trees here were of another nature, bare metal poles and girders, once the support frames of the towers that had been inhabited, what they had been taught was a “city”, a place innumerable humans dwelled encased in glass and concrete, brick and steel. It was beyond his young comprehension.

It was mandatory to make this trip before taking on an adult role in the community, to learn from the mistakes, to take paths of peace, to understand where greed and anger could lead, to be content with the simple life of forest and lake, grasslands and sea. They were safe now, but the lesson had been learned at great cost. It must always be remembered. Hence this trip and so many others as each generation came of age.

The pilot inclined his hand and the vehicle circled whirling back towards the welcoming green haze on the horizon. He of course had no need of the craft, could have been there in an instant. The vehicle was for them, the earthbound, forged of the immense power and light of the being before them. He had always been in awe of the angels.

Nice ‘n nasty.

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It was hard to stay “nice”. Sometimes it hurt.

Sarah, her twin had no such qualms, had risen to the top, stepping on whoever dared get in her way. Sometimes Jenny felt like a failure by comparison.

The day had been awful, an argument at home, a put down at the school, nothing was going right. What a birthday!

It slipped out at recess. Her year four pupils had been discussing star signs.

“When’s your birthday, Miss?” an eager voice chimed. Should she lie?

“March 12th.” She hoped they didn’t notice, but they did. Jace caught on right away.

“That’s today! Is it your birthday today?” She nodded. Her eyes moistened as the word caught on and “happy birthday” squeals and songs sped around the playground. it didn’t stop there… Grubby hand written cards appeared, candies wrapped in pages stolen from exercise books and a small bunch of ragged daisies and dandelions appeared on her desk. Best of all was the shy hug from Eisha, the girl that hardly ever spoke.

Back home nestled contentedly with a cup of tea she surveyed her  news feed, predictably full of her sister’s birthday posts, food, wine, luxury presents and false smiles. She grinned into her tea cup. She’d had something better.

“Putting your feet up love?” a voice whispered in her ear. “I managed to get off work early. I felt so bad about this morning. I forgot it was your birthday… thought we could go out, do something.”

“It’s OK, I had the best day ever!”

“Really? I’m so glad… Here … for you.” Embarrassed he thrust a bunch of daffodils into her hands. She knew they were only Tesco, he’d forgotten to take off the label, but to her they were perfect, as all her presents had been.

Shepherd. (Christmas flash fiction)

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“Get out of my way scum! Get these beasts off the road!”
He could have said he had as much right on the road as they did, but he held his tongue. He knew better. Instead, nodding in a servile manner, he attempted to clear a path for the merchant and his retinue. The sheep, as always, were not co-operative, milling in confused circles.
“Incompetent imbecile!” the merchant muttered striking him a passing blow with his riding stick as he forced his way through. He said nothing, what was there to say. He was a shepherd, lowest of the low. Shepherds had a bad reputation and it was not altogether unfounded, He, himself, was no innocent, well what else was he meant to do, a man had to eat…
Settling down for the night he pulled the sheepskin cloak around him. It was cold out on the hillside, but the sheep must be guarded. He’d be out here for days seeking winter pasture.
When young he’d dreamed of having his own sheep, but that dream was long passed, as were dreams of a family. No, he’d be out here with the sheep, alone, abandoned till the day he died.
The sheep were restless, perhaps there was a predator? Grabbing his staff he looked around. Nothing! There was an odd stillness, a light wind blew up and the night sky slowly became defused with light. Fascinated he watched. Suddenly a face loomed in the darkness, glowing with power and light.
Terrified he ran cowering among the sheep. God had sent an angel to judge him! Surely an angel of death!
“Don’t be afraid, I bring good news!” a voice like water rang out. Speechless and trembling he cringed, not daring to move. “Good news, to bring joy to all people.” It was somehow the way he emphasised “ALL” that took away the fear. “For you is born today, in David’s city, a saviour, Christ the Lord.” A saviour, for me? The words resounded in his heart “ FOR YOU!”
“This shall be a sign. You shall find the baby swaddled and lying in a manger.” At these last words the sky exploded with light. Hundreds of angelic beings glowed, lending their voices to a chorus of, “ Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace to men of good will.”
His heart burst with joy, joining the heavenly chorus, for he had understood. The saviour was not only for the rich and mighty, for the holy and righteous, but for him also, and he had been chosen, above the merchants, even above princes, to hear the glad tidings and gaze on the messiah.
Grasping his staff, he’d dropped in terror, he left the sheep (surely God would care for them) and strode off towards Bethlehem. He was not alone he noticed, others had seen also. He chuckled, like him they were shepherds, the lowest of the low.
(This story was inspired by learning the view we have of shepherds is very different to that held in the Middle East back then when they were considered little more than dishonest vagabonds. Which makes the choice of shepherds even more meaningful.)

Another kind of leper. (flash fiction)

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She stood out in the crowd, not so much for her beauty, apparent even under the plain headdress overshadowing her face, but for the way people moved away from her, even in such a crowd, distaining to touch her. The smear of red, still staining her lips from the previous application, gave the clue. She was a prostitute. He smiled, seeing the heart within.
She looked away, confused. He must not know, she told herself, but she knew he did. Embarrassed, her bold front crumbled, scorn she could handle, but not compassion.
His smile haunted her dreams that night. Could a man care for her, not just use her for her body? She’d had men mad for her, in love with her, but always secretly, behind closed doors, never an open smile like that one. There had been no sweeping look of the eyes, lingering on her bosom. It was not a look of lust…
Her hand trembled as she knocked at the door. It had been easy to find him, everyone was talking about him, but why must he come here of all places? As she’d expected, the door and was abruptly slammed in her face, but she wasn’t accepting that. Slamming her body into the attendant, she pushed her way in. He recoiled, not at her meagre force, but in horror that she’d touched him, sullied him. It was the same with all of them as she forced her way into the gathering…
There he sat amidst the throng of angry, staring faces. But his face was not angry, instead a look of welcome, even …empathy? He smiled again.
“Master don’t you know? This woman is a sinner!”
“I know.” Mary collapsed at the sanctuary of his feet. He didn’t pull away. Gushing tears washed over his feet and as she wiped them away with her hair he said…
“Your sins, and I know they are many, are forgiven because of the greatness of your love.” He smiled and light embraced Mary’s world.

strange bonding.

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He had to go – one last time, while he could still make the climb.

His companion was not the best, but everyone else “had commitments”. He’d met him in the park sleeping rough, a turbulent young fella Chase was, with hard, rebellious eyes.  He hadn’t understood but he’d been willing, for the pittance Jim was able to pay, (already sleeping rough, what had he to lose?) He was sullen, but, considerate of Jim’s aging frame, he carried the rucksack, appreciative of the new sleeping bag and use of bed and shower as they prepared.

The slope steepened, the going was harder. Jim had to stop frequently to catch his breath.

“Why are you doing this?” Chase asked. “If I were your age I’d be curled up in an armchair.”

“ You’ll see when we get there.” Chase thought the old duffer mad, but he’d been kind, besides he liked crazy folks, he was half crazy himself. He didn’t care. Help the old duffer up the mountain and maybe he could doss with him for a while after, till things turned sour…

The road lay far behind, the car a matchbox toy. Things were quiet up here. They sat and ate sandwiches feasting their eyes on the growing panorama.

“Wait till we get up.” Jim whispered, “It takes your breath away.” It was beautiful, Chase thought, but not worth this whole expedition – Jim must be in his seventies, maybe more! A cold thought hit. Suppose the old man was to peg out up here, would they hold him accountable? He’d have to leg it if something happened…

Nothing did happen. They camped under the stars, Chase gathering wood, Jim starting the fire. Chase watched the flames as the bacon and sausages sizzled on their sticks and the foil wrapped potatoes steamed. Jim knew what he was doing that’s for sure.

“You must have been a bit of an adventurer when you were young?” Chase ventured. He wasn’t much for conversation, but he was curious.

“You could say that,” Jim beamed. He went on to tell tales of his youth and how he’d found this place. Chase listened entranced. Despite himself he liked the old duffer.

“So why the mountain?”

“I was pretty wild back then. I could be myself up there. It puts everything in perspective, everything is small, seen from up there, only the important things are big – like the sky! … and you can see the horizon…”

They made the summit next afternoon. While not requiring much in the way of hard climbing it had been long and arduous, Jim was exhausted.

“Just help me on that big rock up there and I’ll rest a while.” Chase was concerned. Shedding the pack he picked Jim up in his arms. He was surprisingly light.

“You’re a good lad Chase,” Jim whispered. “Don’t let folks ever tell you otherwise.”

Together they sat above the world looking down on scattered clouds, distant hills, and swathes of pine forest. Chase gasped, awestruck, head turning to appreciate the 360 deg. horizon.

“I think I understand now,” he breathed.

“I thought you would. It’s not something you can explain, but I just had to feel it one more time before I go, kinda get me ready.” Chase looked alarmed. “Now don’t worry son, I’m not gonna peg out on you, still got a bit of strength left. I just need to rest a bit”

“Just as well, ‘cos I’m sure not gonna carry you all the way back,” Chase teased. Then he realised – yes, he would if it came to that, and bugger the consequences. He liked the old duffer – he liked the mountain too.

Incredulity. (Flash fiction)

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The craft gleamed, rainbows of colour scintillating back and forth as Jasper took his seat. Beside him his peers chatted excitedly. He heard a subdued whoosh as trees and meadows sped by beneath at alarming speed as they headed north toward the wastelands.
He’d heard of them, everyone had, yet the notion seemed somehow unreal, the lush vegetation below giving lie to the notion. They said his ancestors made them, that they had never healed; a legacy of hate and greed. Each year graduation students would visit to see for themselves. Now it was his turn.
Nothing could prepare him. Description paled in comparison. Death as far as the eye could see. Dark silhouettes cluttered the skyline where people once lived in tiny cages, huge walls of cells, deserted, abandoned, falling in decay. No trace of green remained; the vital earth lay grey and haggard. No birds flew, and without their songs it was strangely silent.
A feeling of horror struck his soul. What must it have been like to live imprisoned in these walls, like ant colonies, but people teaming forth? He could not imagine such a thing. No wonder they turned to greed and hate, no wonder they destroyed themselves, he thought. Losing touch with all that was human, the nature that surrounded him every day, they had become perverted.
He’d heard of their strange system of commerce, where man competed against his fellow man for power and an archaic medium called “money”. Why should someone want more than their needs? Why would they fight and die for greed (especially not their own)? How were the people manipulated into agreeing that some were more deserving than others? How could some have squandered the earth’s resources living with the knowledge that others died every day of neglect and starvation? How could they have destroyed everything?
He still could not believe it, it staggered his comprehension. Only the tall sentinels rising from the debris below gave credence to the truth. Tears slowly edged down his face, his initial anger replaced by pity.

Bear (Flash fiction)

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It was so long since Sam had let someone touch his heart it was all but frozen over. Yet, somewhere beneath the ice, warm currents of life still flowed, hidden, protected, waiting still for the thaw of spring.

It was a day as other days, riding the train home behind the newspaper, suit neatly fitting, briefcase at his side. He noticed the pretty woman as she came to sit opposite him, noted the ringless finger, but stopped at that. He hid behind the financial section, catching glimpses of her smile beaming at the toddler beside her.
Strangely it was “Bear” that made the introductions. Opportunity being literally dropped at his feet, he seized upon it without thinking. Their eyes met as he thrust the furry body into groping hands. Something passed in that instant. He glimpsed beneath the sunny exterior and saw pain. It was quickly covered, disguised by smiles. Yelling stopped, the youngster clutched the ruffled animal to his chest, eyes tumultuous.
“His daddy gave it to him,” she rushed to explain. “He’s very attached to it.” He noted a slight quiver in the lip. “He was killed in Afghanistan,” she whispered.
He couldn’t help but double check the finger. She noticed.
“We were to be married at Christmas,” she added defiantly. “He was an American officer. We met in transit. Things happened. He loved little Alex.” The eyes were tinged with sadness, underlying water showing clearly.
“I’m sorry, I wasn’t meaning to pry.”
“I know. But we’re OK now, aren’t we Alex?” She hugged the petulant youngster to her. “At least I have Alex.”
“He’s a cute little guy.” Sam’s smile was repulsed. The child had eyes only for Bear. Sam had never been good with kids. He retreated behind his newspaper, but it was no good, the ice had cracked.
He glanced over the rim, noting the tears she brushed aside. He couldn’t help himself. Moving to sit next to her he put a tentative arm around her shoulder. She didn’t push him away; rather she lowered her head to his shoulder seeking to hide the tears. Possessively Alex scrambled onto her lap.
“I’m sorry,” she sobbed, “I thought I was over it.”
“Some things in life we never quite get over,” he responded, a far off look in his eyes. “You’re coping remarkably well.”
“You think so? Even when I got your suit soggy?” a glimmer of a smile appeared, as sunshine through the rain.
“I think you’re a remarkably resilient woman, and a pretty one at that.” He kicked himself. Stupid idiot! Why had he added that? She merely laughed.
“Guess I need to be – baggage!” She nodded at Alex, but there was no hint of bitterness. “Love me love my Bear,” she joked.
“I don’t think that would be so hard to do.” Sam replied. They’d each found a way to protect themselves, but the sun of her shield was melting his ice at an alarming rate. He didn’t mind.
Reflected in the train window the young sergeant winked, misty eyed, at Bear. He no longer needed the link. With a sigh he let go. They’d be OK now.

So it has been, so it continues… (flash fiction)

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snow

Pain gripped her. There was nowhere to go. Nobody wanted to take them in. She couldn’t have the baby out in this cutting wind. Her husband looked around anxiously as he draped the blanket tigher around her. Even were his remaining money sufficient, no one would take her in in that state.

Snow was beginning to fall. “God help us!” he screamed. A curtain pulled back, a withered face pressed against the window, opening it to see better amid the flurries.

“There’s someone out there in the snow!” It warbled. A younger face joined it, peering hard through the snow.

“Please help us! My wife is having a baby,” the snow clad figure waved its arms.

“It’s more of those damn refugees. None of our business. They should have stayed where they were.” He closed the window firmly gesturing the old lady away. She took one last furtive look of compassion before re-joining her grandson near the Christmas tree at the fireside, her own place in jeopardy.

Forest.

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forest

Leaves of orange and red rustled in the breeze above her. She loved the forest, the solitude. Here she could be truly alone with her memories, indulge her senses to the full with no eyes to watch. She danced, spinning in circles, trancing passing patterns in piles of past years leaves now brown and gold. She smiled, giving voice to her joy, for the birds and woodland creatures alone.

Stopping to recline on a weathered stump she glanced at its aged rings. So had her life been, circles growing outward, growing stronger. Within lay the marks of time, the storms, the years of want, the years of plenty, the years its heart had near frozen. She stroked the smooth surface in understanding. The tree no longer lived here, converted to furnishings it now enjoyed a different existence, yet its roots remained, the story of its life embalmed like a woodland throne.

Her eyes reached up to the sky above, shafts of sunlight patterning the canopy, as the sun broke through the cloud transforming the air to gold. She sucked in her breath at the beauty of it all. Why couldn’t life always be like this? Why didn’t people seem to understand?

She thought about the ugliness of her job, the sordid squalor of the city streets. She wanted to help, to make a difference, yet it so often ended the same. Young lives grew distorted in the urban landscape.

Perhaps if she brought them here, perhaps here they too could be free to grow, to expand? Funding was always short, but she had wealthy clients also. Perhaps they’d see it if she brought them here. Perhaps they too might benefit? A picture formed in her head, something simple, nothing grand, just a place they could come out here in the woods where rich and poor might mingle, might learn from the world around them,  might grow strong and healthy.  Despite her studies she fought a losing battle, but here, perhaps here, one might turn the tide?

A Christmas dream.

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granpa

The old armchair squeaks companionably as I edge my equally aged frame down into its depths. The fire is really only fake electric logs, but if I squint my eyes, minus glasses, it could pass for the real thing. Alone at Christmas, hugging my masculine independence, like a tattered security blanket, to my heart, I close my eyes. Not for me care homes with immaculately scrubbed walls. Let me rather linger here and remember what once was. Thoughts drift…

 

I see, through falling snow, a man chopping pine. He looks up, beckoning me as he carries in the logs, motioning me to come inside. Hesitantly I dust the snow from my boots. The house is modest but roomy. A girl and boy of eight or nine, rush up to him, their cheeks rosy, as if they’ve been helping with outdoor chores. Little faces peer around the door, shy of this stranger in their midst, whist mother comes in with a tray of steaming drinks.

A real wood fire burns in the grate and I hold out my hands relishing the glowing heat. Muffins follow as the three little faces come in, drawn by the treat. Father heaves one on each knee, laughing, merry, peeking at me from the corners of their eyes

A Christmas tree stands in one corner. A real one, I note with satisfaction, taking in the brisk smell of pine needles. There’s a natural joy about this family that seems to bubble over into laughter, as if they are just so happy to be alive and together. I begin to chuckle too. I just can’t help myself.

Life has a different perspective for them it seems, no hustle or bustle, no vying for gifts. Father proudly shows off his little brood, mother loving and affectionate towards him and them. I‘ve missed this I realized.

Seeing my glance, finger to lips, she motions me to accompany her into a side room. It’s full of half made things, embroidery and needlework, magnificent half completed cushions, paintings, mixtures of dried herbs that give off a wonderful aroma, woodwork, carvings and a beautiful mural set in the floor and I realize it is a workshop, not only for her but for their whole family. I see gaily painted blocks (a project of the elder boy?) A panel of somewhat messy embroidery and a rough half carved rocking horse. I run my hands wistfully over the pine, memories stirring.

I hear music coming from the other room. Mother nods and we return. They’re dancing, the girls giggling and swirling gaily, as father prances around, a fiddle in hand, from which he gleans a scratchy melody. I clap and stamp in time as mother invites me to my feet…

 

But I can’t dance, my slippers are soggy. I look down at my spilled mug of tea. A dream, just a dream, but it sure was a good one! I glance at the plastic fire, the fake tree with its store bought decorations and sigh.

Just then the doorbell rings. Shuffling along in soggy slippers I peer through the frosted glass. It couldn’t be? Could it?

“Surprise!” I’m almost bowled over by two rambunctious, young teenagers. My son grabs my shoulder to steady me.

“Now calm down you two hoodlums,” he yells. “Gramps is not as strong as he used to be.”

He looks into my eyes, “We couldn’t leave you on your own for Christmas again dad. I just couldn’t come last year… the whole thing with mum, it was too much. But I… I kept remembering about the time we made that rocking horse for Emmie’s Christmas present. Do you remember? It was so wobbly she could barely ride it, but I always remember building it with you.”

“Yes, I remember son.” Eyes tearing I hug him close.

Returning to the living room the fake fire and tree didn’t seem to matter anymore. I had my dream, my Christmas dream.