Storybook Perfect

Always quirky, sometimes sweet speculative fiction

Category: Samples

Happy Mother’s Day (+ free fiction!)

As the title says, happy Mother’s Day to all of my readers who are mothers. In particular a huge happy Mother’s Day to my own mother for whom my appreciation can never be fully articulated (and for a chatterbox like me – that’s something!).

If anyone out there is looking for a last minute gift may I suggest a copy of the anthology 18, containing my most recent story Nightfall? Or for hero-loving mums Oomph: A Little Super Goes A Long Way.

Ha ha, shameless plugs aside, as a special gift for my mother (and I suppose everyone else can read it too) here’s a flash fiction about a new mum.

Back To Work

by Kirstie Olley

“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” Shona asked, trying to keep her voice even, her eyes flickering between her husband’s face and the rugged up bundle in his arms.

“I’m more worried about you,” laughed Dave as their daughter, Monique, wriggled in his arms, turning to stare up at her mother with big blue eyes.

Shona’s heart turned to mush at the sight of Monique’s tiny nose, shaped like a racing car lolly. She stooped and kissed it.

“Are you really ready to go back to work?” Dave asked, his brow creasing.

Shona sat down, tightening the laces of her boots. “I have to, besides we discussed this. You always wanted to be the stay at home dad.” They had discussed it. A lot. But the last three months had changed her feelings somewhat.

Struggling through the sleep-deprived first six weeks when Monique woke every two hours had been a form of torture she’d never endured before, but even amidst that haze there had been moments of magic. The soft, new baby smell that made her insides squiggly. The warm, floaty feeling when she cradled Monique while she breastfed. The elation when Monique smiled at her for the first time (sure some silly scientist claimed Monique couldn’t be smiling, that it was just gas, but Shona suspected soon another scientist would disprove the first). All those wonderful feelings made her reluctant to leave her daughter. Despite that she still felt the urge to get back to work. It beat in her, like a second pulse in her veins. Each time she blinked she changed her mind again.

“I know but…” Dave trailed off, looking at her as she pulled her hair back in a tight ponytail. His eyes lingered on his wife’s shape, a smile taking over his face.

“Is my uniform too tight?” she asked, worriedly glancing down at herself, unable to ignore the fact there was a little more skin around her stomach than there had been last time she’d worn these clothes.

“It always was pretty tight,” he teased, grinning broadly.

Monique cooed in her father’s arms, raising a pudgy fist up, demanding the attention of both parents be returned to her.

The ache returned as Shona looked at her daughter. She hadn’t thought it would be this hard to leave. After all she loved her job, she was passionate about what she did and couldn’t possibly give it up. But to leave Monique behind? The infant uncurled her fingers and clutched at the air between herself and her mother.

Shona’s phone gave an agitated beep. She rolled her eyes and peered at the screen where the words HURRY UP were written all in capitals followed by a ridiculous number of exclamation points. As hard as it was to leave, there were people relying on her.

“I love you,” Shona said, leaning in to brush her lips on Dave’s. “Both of you.” She bent to kiss Monique again.

“When will you get home?”

Shona smiled weakly. “You know I don’t know the answer to that,” she replied as she affixed her domino mask over her eyes.

“Come back safe.”

“I always try to.” Shona winked before she stepped out the door and flew off, cape streaming behind her.

Flash Fiction – Kina’s Climb

Another Chuck Wendig flash fiction challenge accepted. The challenge for those too lazy to read it was to write a story inspired by this amazing discovery.

As always, happy for feedback. Gimme, gimme, gimme!

third-1

Kina’s Climb

By Kirstie Olley

When you started the climb you either finished it, or it finished you.

It wasn’t easy, going up the spire every few days. Dragging the weight of herself and the bulbs up over the dome at the bottom wasn’t all that difficult, but the pinnacle itself was too tall and too straight. The surface stuck to Kina’s hands, giving the illusion of safety, but each time she moved a hand or foot she had to tear it free. When she was tired, when she wanted to sag back and rest her weary limbs, the wall’s grip didn’t have the strength to hold her in place though. She had to keep her body close, distribute her weight evenly and keep soldiering on.

Kina looked up. The summit was in sight. Long thin strands stretched out from the tip of the top, slinging down to the fence, supplying the charge to the protective barrier around her home.

With an oomph she pushed on, struggling upward. Her muscles were a fire under her skin, and though she’d started while dawn was still a grey smudge of light now the sun pummelled her with heat, reddening her skin.

The bulbs bounced on her back, slapping her spine, kicking her kidneys. Kina wasn’t new to the sensations however, the wet goop sticking to her palms, the burning inside and out. She did this every week, it was the only way to keep the charge in the fence, to keep the Others out, and to cry for help to anyone who could hear.

There had to be others out there, didn’t there?

Just because everyone else who’d sheltered behind these walls had died didn’t mean there were no other survivors anywhere. Right?

Even internally her voice carried the quaver of a lost four year old.

And then she was there, the receptacle open before her, the juice almost empty inside.

Kina wrapped her legs around the stalk as if it were a lover and struggled with the first of the bulbs. She pulled it around by the short rope that attached it to the harness on her chest and drew it in front of her. Her stomach muscles pulled taught under her ragged shirt as she kept her torso upright.

With a wrench and a pop the cork came out and Kina poured the sloshing liquid inside into the receptacle. The lines streaming down from the spear quivered and made a short, sharp shzt that brought a smile to Kina’s face.

Every time she wondered if the source might become less potent, if the current would weaken. The Others would come in then. Despite the sun’s heat she could feel the chill of that thought.

She emptied the other three containers until the liquid lapped at the brim. Re-corking the bottles Kina scanned the area. There were no signs of any Others, but no signs of help either.

With the hem of her shirt Kina wiped the sweat from her face. She corked the last container and prepared herself for the journey down.

The world flashed. Brightness that shamed the sun seared her eyes and Kina lost her grip on the bulb in her arms. It swung behind her and slammed into her other side hard enough to bruise. The bottles bashed each other, causing a clamour.

Kina wrapped her arms around the needle, adhering every part of herself to it while she waited for her eyes to readjust. Her temples throbbed, even her body pulsed with the pain. For an instant she considered that she might have touched one of the live wires, but she knew she hadn’t, there’d been none near enough to brush.

Before she recovered the flash came again, stabbing through the air, enveloping the world.

Was this the end? Had she survived the Others all this time only to die like this? Tears stung her eyes. How could she fight this? Her spire, her fence, they could hold the Others at bay, but not this world-consuming lightning.

Something rumbled. It was a waterfall’s roar, but with a depth and resonance she’d never dreamed possible. It was as all-encompassing as the light had been.

The tower trembled, like it was trying to shake her loose. No, that wasn’t it – the tower was as terrified as she.

The noise surrounded her, her ears ached like her eyes, but somewhere through the roar she heard words, impossible as that seemed. Clinging to the pinnacle, weeping for her life, the words washed over Kina.

“Hey, come over here, check this out. What do you reckon this thing is?”

Her vision came back while another voice joined in. She looked up past the receptacle, everything was blurry, tears gushed in response.

The eye loomed over her so huge it blotted out the sky. Just its damn eye and she couldn’t see anything else of it. Even the first time she’d climbed the spire her heart hadn’t pounded like this.

Every day she’d prayed for someone to come, someone to save her. This creature, gargantuan beyond conceivability, could never see her. She would be too tiny to it. She would be smaller than a dust mote drifting in a sunbeam. Someone had come, but they were no saviour.

Kina clung, their words reverberating through her chest, their lights coming again to blind her. Kina gripped to the tower and held on to her life. If she could survive this, then the Others would be nothing.

Worm’s Comet – Super Flash Fiction

A little flash fiction inspired to life by Chuck Wendig’s weekly flash fiction challenge (I swear I’m going to go back and do a few old ones since I seem to be raring to go today).

You use a random title generator which is friggin’ gold for inspiration (though some of the results make you cock an eyebrow).

Anyway, the first of my random titles and some seriously flash flash fiction at only 101 words,

image shamelessly stolen from Game of Thrones

image shamelessly stolen from Game of Thrones

Worm’s Comet

Fingers clawed through the dirt. Stones ripped nails from fingers, blood soaking into the soil. Grit ground in teeth, grating as the taste of loam filled his mouth.

His head broke through the surface at last. He spat out the dirt and sucked in the fresh air. Free at last.

Overhead a crimson comet lit the early evening sky, streaking southerly.

He looked at the sky, stars winking to life. He admired the crimson glow. That blood-red comet, that harbinger of doom, that was his comet. It warned the world that he was here now, Worm was coming for them all.

Sneak-Peak: Keys, Clocks and Quests

I really do wish I actually had a final title for the novel before putting up sneak peaks for it, but I still haven’t quite finished the first draft, so that’s not happening(it’s usually sometime during the second draft or later that a good name finally comes to me). However I love this passage and want to share it. It’s a fight scene involving the protagonist and his best friend/perhaps more against a horrific beast.

Without further ado, enjoy this scene from chapter 6:

Battle With A Butengram

Hayd followed Even, placing his feet just as the young monster hunter had taught him. He kept his eyes on everything, looking for signs of prey, his bow half drawn just like Even’s.

Even moved like a spirit, ghosting through the wood with silence and speed that belonged more to a Shain than to a human. He stopped, feet well grounded and raised his bow, aiming for something Hayd couldn’t see yet.

Hayd stepped forward to try and see what Even was aiming at. Whatever the creature was, it was unlikely to be a bird from the way Even was aiming at roughly his own shoulder height.

A twig snapped underfoot as Hayd shifted his weight to his toes and sighted the deer.

The deer’s head jerked up, large dark eyes looking straight at where Hayd stood. He tried to freeze so the deer might think he was merely an unusual tree. The deer clearly possessed more intelligence than that, because in the next instant it bounded off into the bushes.

“Well Light-foot.” Drawled Even. “There goes probably the best meal we would have enjoyed between here and Elta Capa.”

“I’m sorry.” Hayd let his shoulders slump.

Even’s head snapped up and turned slightly, his eyes staring into the bushes beyond Hayd. There was more than a passing resemblance between Even and the deer.

“Get up the tree now.” Even whispered.

“Huh?”

“Tree. Climb, now!” Still a whisper but the urgency twice as powerful.

Hayd still didn’t understand, but he grabbed the low hanging branches of a camphor and swung up, clambering up another branch as Even sprang up after him.

As usual Even was quick, quiet and agile, several branches above him in moments. Even paused, seated carefully in the fork of a branch, re-nocked his arrow and drew the bow, aiming for the ground.

Hayd looked down and saw nothing.

A snuffling noise, thick, bordering on a growl announced the beast. A long hog’s nose wriggled, scenting the grass. The bulky beast held its hairy weight low to the ground, six legs keeping its belly from sliding along the grass.

Upon reaching where Hayd and Even had stood only moments before it sniffed with extra enthusiasm and looked about from side to side, the rolls of fat on its neck limiting its movement. It sniffed again, slower, as if savouring the scent. It snuffled along the ground nearby, searching for the continuation of the scent, unable to understand where this captivating new scent had vanished to. It looked about again, grunting all the while. It tried to lift its head, but was incapable of looking directly above itself, where the prey it wanted hid. Hayd breathed a sigh of relief as quietly as he could.

The creature snuffled the air, such deep breaths they sounded like a reverse snarl. A bird in a nearby tree took flight startled by the noise. The sound of flight snatched the beast’s attention only momentarily, it drew in more breaths and stumped its way over to the tree trunk.

Snuffle-snuff. It sniffed the bark, the end of its nose bumping chunks away. It had the scent. Ponderously it lifted its forelegs onto the trunk, propping its body so its beady dark eyes, all six of them, could catch sight of the tasty morsels in the tree.

The beast’s cry was like a horse’s whinny, but thick with malice. The long sniffing snout opened like the maw of a crocodile, bristling with fangs.

A cry tore itself from Hayd’s chest and his muscles stiffened through out his body.

Even showed no such tremors. He fired the drawn arrow down, but missed the goal of the soft interior of the mouth. Instead the arrow head drew blood in a nasty gash along the beast’s cheek. It shrieked, the noise horrendously like a woman’s cry. Thick, bristly brows wriggled and set low. Even swore.

“What is that?!” Hayd wished he didn’t sound quite so high pitched.

“Butengram. Female by the looks, which means we’re for it if we can’t kill her.” Even was already nocking another arrow and aiming at the whinnying beast below. “In fact, the way butengram feed they’re a danger to their own environment. I’m surprised there was a deer left around for you to startle.”

The arrow flew, sinking into one of the butengram’s eyes.

She reared, shrieking that human scream again. Even drew another arrow from his quiver, shifting his weight as he did so, wrapping his legs tight around the branches of his fork perch.

“Hold on.” Even advised, aiming with care and waiting for the thrashing to stop so he could gain a clear shot.

The butengram slammed its front hooves into the tree trunk. The whole tree shook with the fat beast’s force. Hayd screamed again as he was jostled from his seating. His hands were scraped by the rough bark as he caught the branch that he, only an instant ago, had sat on. With great strength he kept his legs from hanging low, pulling them up and wrapping them around the branch as well. Through every inch of him he could feel his pulse pounding.

Though he did not see it he certainly felt another rear and stomp on the tree trunk. The wood splintered beneath the force of the hooves, the powerful scent of camphor rushed up and flooded his nostrils. There was also a reek of rotted meat, rising out of the gaping mouth of the beast below.

The world shook. At least to Hayd – hanging from the branch for dear life – it seemed to. He pulled himself close enough to the branch to feel the bark scratch his cheek.

A twang sounded, letting him know another arrow flew from Even’s bow. Another horrid scream followed a thick, meaty thwump as the arrow sunk into its target.

Taking advantage of the small gap in the butengram’s attack, Hayd swung back up to sit atop the branch.

Looking down at the butengram he felt his stomach clench. The beast weighed ten of him easily. Even’s arrows, lined up closely along the eyes of the beast, did nothing to lessen the visual ferocity of teeth and hairy leather bulk.

Even swore from his perch above Hayd, and Hayd looked up. “I can’t nock and draw fast enough to shoot inside its mouth.”

“I can help.”

“Your arrows are on the ground.” Even pointed to the splintered remains beneath the butengram’s hooves with his arrow head.

“I can borrow yours.”

Even glanced to the quiver. “I only have three left.”

The tree vibrated again, but Hayd kept his saddle this time. Even rode like a rodeo expert.

“I can do it.”

“You’ll be under pressure.”

Hayd scowled. Did Even think he couldn’t do it? He might not be much of a hunter yet, but he was a warrior damnit, a bit of pressure wasn’t going to affect him. He hoped.

“Fine then.” Called Even. “Catch.” He tossed one arrow down. “You aim for the eye as soon as you see an opening.”

“Why not the neck?”

“Skin’s too thick on top, only soft right near the bottom.” It was unusual to hear Even speak improperly. It was the most potent proof that they were in real danger. During the fire-water slaven attack Even had still managed to speak properly the entire time.

“Ok, so eyes.”

“Yep, I’ll aim for the mouth, when it opens it’s a harder target.”

Hayd nodded, and aimed with care, reciting mentally every tidbit of advice Even had given him about archery. He bit his lip and shot.

The arrow sunk into an eye. Hayd couldn’t keep his cheer in, though the sound of it was utterly swaddled within the butengram’s scream.

Even’s bowstring sung again, followed shortly after by a swear word so nasty Hayd had always been told the word came from the Shain and could be used to summon their ire. He looked up to Even with a paling face for the word’s use.

The butengram was still screaming.

Hayd turned back to face the monster.

Even’s arrow sat wedged between two fangs on the top jaw, buried in fleshy pink gum. His heart faltered. He could understand why Even had used that word now – they already appeared to be Shain-cursed.

The hooves pounded the trunk again. The splintering, tearing noise louder. The tree swung away from the offending hooves, but did not spring back as before. Even cried with horror, his own scream a girlish in its pitch.

The butengram wailed, thrashing her head, stomping her back four legs in rage while blood striped the side of her face.

Hayd felt like his mind took a step back and out from his body to survey the scene. The tree trunk broken, leaning back. Would those hooves strike two more blows before the tree was felled, or only one? Even was struggling to regain his seat, still gripping his bow, the last arrow in his other hand.

“Can you make the shot this time?” Asked Hayd.

“How will we get the mouth open?”

“I’ve got it.”

“Hayd, no!” Even’s terror was genuine, but Hayd was already shifting his weight. His sword scraped from its sheath and he took his own sort of aim as he hurtled himself toward the neck of the butengram.

Even’s scream faded in Hayd’s ears, not because it actually silenced, but because Hayd was so focused.

He was running a gauntlet straight into the realms of the Shain. The reek of camphor made his eyes water, but it was gone in an instant as the smell of unwashed carnivore slammed into him. He ran through the walls of scents, eyes on the beast’s jaws. They were slowly opening, no doubt intending to snap down on some part of him.

A sharp thrust with his left leg and a slight twist of his body and the straight ahead momentum of his body shifted. He would loose a lot of power now he had altered course, but all that power would have given him if he had kept driving forward would be a new home in the butengram’s stomach.

His feet fell into the grass and he ignored the jarring, bending his knees to try and accommodate it somewhat, then used his bent knees to propel him, allowing himself to spring in, this time from the side.

Once the revolting smell of dirt and meat and sweat and sick was all around him – smothering him like the sinking bog had tried to – he thrust the blade at his side forward with all the strength in his arms.

Skin tore. The flesh on the butengram’s neck resisted. It was thicker than leather, tough like Hayd imagined armour might be, but it yielded. Skin tore and crimson leaked out. The bright blood drenched his blade, it splattered his hands, coloured the grass. Skin tore and the butengram raged. She raged with her voice, crying louder than before, loud enough to echo through the forest with vibrant power. A hoof flew and Hayd lost his breath when the limb connected. The force of the kick flung him back, tearing the sword from his hands while it stayed buried in the rolls of the beast’s neck.

Hayd hit the ground. The force would have pushed the breath out of him had the hoof not already done that job. He skidded through the grass, his clothes gaining green and brown streaks in his progress.

He couldn’t get up again. There was no breath and his body was nothing but pain. He could hear the screaming of a woman. As the shrieks faded to nothing he realised those were not the cries of a woman, but the butengram.

Even’s face, haloed with his bizarre hair sprung into view.

“Hayd, are you alright?!”

Hayd croaked.

Even chuckled then asked, “Were you turned into a frog?”

“Don’t laugh at me.” Hayd wheezed, slowly rolling onto his side, raising himself on one elbow while his mid-section throbbed with agony.

“Should I get Mannandam? Do your ribs hurt? Are you getting your breath back?” Even dropped to his haunches like a puppy and watched Hayd with shaking hands.

“My breath’s coming back, but I hurt like a Shain cursed me.”

“Shain don’t actually curse people you know.”

“Really? Met many?”

Even chuckled again. “None I suppose.”

“I’ll take that healing, as long as there’s no more of those ghastly beasts around.”

 

As always I’d love to hear any feedback, though if you dislike it please do tell me what you dislike about it – it would be much appreciated! I’m particularly interested in whether the name Even makes people want to stab me in the face with a pen or not.

Flash Fiction: Eyes On The Sky

Another piece for the Chuck Wendig flash fiction challenge (which is a great prompt, because it encourages me to create on a weekly basis beyond my own ideas).

This time the random number generator gave me 10, 10, 1, which is ‘the moon’ for my motif, ‘mythpunk’ for my genre and ‘a train’ for my setting. Technically I got 4 for setting, which was a labyrinth, but I’ve recently written a labyrinth story, so wanted something different, so rolled the die on that on again (cheating, naughty naughty, though this time I did manage to stick to the 1,000 word limit).

Well, without further ado:

picture courtesy of the creative commons

picture courtesy of the creative commons

Eyes On the Sky

I first saw him when I was forced to stay back at work, labouring over an Expression of Interest for a contract my company was desperate for. They were so desperate they actually paid me overtime, otherwise I would have left the office long before the moon rode in the sky.

He sat, elbow propped on the very thin sill beneath the train window, staring through the scratched-on graffiti up at the moon. She was fat and full in the sky and his eyes were full of her.

He was tall and slim – not an underfed slim, but that lean, muscular slim that hides more strength than you expect. His eyes, shimmering silver with the moon’s reflection, were blue under all that light and his blond beard was kept trimmed close to his face while his hair flared out in loose golden curls.

I wondered who he was, watching the sky with eyes full of melancholy. My heart ached and the next day all I could think about was him.

Desperate to see him again I worked late, this time unpaid, and left in time to catch the same train. I wasn’t sure he would be on the train, he had been dressed casually so may have been visiting a friend on a once-in-a-while trip. I walked the entire length of the train, checking every car. My heart skipped a beat when I found him in the front-most car, elbow on the sill, staring up at the moon.

I sat across from him, hands folded in my lap, and watched him.

He didn’t glance at me once, but that did not deter me.

The next day I didn’t care to stay back at work, so I sat at the train station reading as train after train clacked by.

When my train pulled up he was seated by the window directly in front of me. His eyes bored through the concrete roof of the station. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that his eyes were trained where the moon hung in the sky.

I sat across from him again, admiring the strong cut of his jaw and the beauty of his expression as he watched the moon. Again he didn’t notice my presence.

It was the weekend and I couldn’t get him out of my mind. I wanted the weekend to be over so I could go back to work, stay late and catch that train. My friends dragged me out to go dancing with them, and though I went I insisted on dancing by the window so I could look up at the moon – knowing he would be doing the same somewhere.

When Monday arrived I don’t think I’ve ever been happier. But something was gnawing at my stomach too. He never looked at me. He didn’t know I existed. Fine, tonight I would change that.

At the station I read my book, pulse thrumming, while I waited to finally talk to him. What would I say? What would he say? What would happen after that? I could barely focus on the story in my lap. Then something caught my eye in the tale.

Star-crossed lovers were the focus of this tragedy. The Sun and the Moon, Apollo and Artemis, in love, but never able to meet. During the night, when he could roam the earth she rode the sky, and during the day, when she was not trapped in the sky, he was instead.

The train screeched to a halt in front of me.

I boarded the train, my head hurting. It was a coincidence, wasn’t it? I just happened to read a story about a man in love with the moon. Right?

He wasn’t in the car I boarded, but he was in the next one along.

I sat myself beside him and stared at him. His golden hair ruffled out from his head. I swallowed as the thought crossed my mind that his hair was like the sun’s rays. I was being silly. Gods don’t walk the earth and myths are just stories.

His eyes shone, sad and silver and full of her. There was no mistaking his expression.

I swallowed hard and opened my mouth.

“Are you…” I trailed off; I couldn’t say it.

Slowly, reluctantly, he tore his eyes away from the moon. He looked at me, eyes a little wide, like he never expected there to be another person on the train.

“I’m sorry, did you say something?” He asked, his voice like a creaky old door from lack of use.

“I… er, I wanted to tell you…” I frowned and looked away. “Sorry, no, I wanted to ask you…” My eyes flicked down to the book in my lap.

His eyes followed mine and widened again.

“It’s tough being a celebrity.” He sighed.

I couldn’t talk for a few moments. He watched me, calm, waiting for me to collect my thoughts with the sort of patience only an immortal could possess.

“So you are? Apollo, I mean?”

“In a fashion. Apollo is just a name I’ve been given. I have thousands of them. But essentially, yes, I am the sun.”

My heart burst while my mind broke.

I don’t know why I didn’t doubt him, I just knew that he wasn’t lying. But that wasn’t what mattered, what mattered was that he was there, on the train, looking at the woman he loves and can never have.

The train pulled in to a stop.

I glanced at the sign and was shocked to see it was my stop. I apologised, dipping into a curtsey because that was all I could think of to do when departing the presence of a god, and I exited the train.

On the platform I watched as the train hissed back into motion, clutching the book to my chest with tears in my eyes.

Apollo looked up at Artemis and I watched as the memory of me faded from his eyes and filled with the sight of her.

I seem to be fond of a theme of obsession. Also, I think I kind of bludgeoned the reader to death with my motif. What do you think? I don’t love this one with quite the passion I have for Emily’s typewriter, but this was still fun and another chance to write a little out of my comfort zone.

Please, let me know what you think. I’d love to hear your reactions.

Flash Fiction: Emily’s Typewriter

This is a piece of flash fiction I penned for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Competition, a super-fun competition using a random number generators to pick your story’s genre, primary conflict and another aspect.

I was hoping for a few specific options from the list and luckily got one of my desired ones – Lovecraftian for genre, though I think it has come out much more Lovecraftian in voice than in genre.

This isn’t my usual voice with writing, but that is mostly because it’s a first person piece told by a man from a much earlier time period. I imagine my husband would be quite amused to read it and see some similarities between his own wife and Emily ;p

So, without further ado, I give you “Emily’s Typewriter”

picture courtesy of the creative commons

picture courtesy of the creative commons

 

When first I laid eyes upon that infernal contraption I at once knew it would be the death of me. Where this mysterious shade of prophecy came from I know not, but I knew it for the fact it was.

My wife bought the typewriter home on a cool autumn afternoon, her cheeks rosy with her delight. Emily loved to pen stories, but found the nib and ink pot a frustrating method for her pen could never keep pace with her mind. This device she assured me could keep pace with her ever expanding ideas.

She set the typewriter down on a desk by the window that overlooked her beloved garden, the gourd plant she tended daily’s leaves framing the scene. The view was pleasing to her and she insisted it would be good for her inspiration.

Her inspiration had the opposite effect on her garden.

Enveloped in her ideas my wife forgot herself. She never left the house to tend her treasured garden, instead she typed. As the leaves of the gourd plant browned and curled in on themselves I noticed the neglect inside the house as well, dust on surfaces, cobwebs lacing the corners and grime smearing the windows.

I would return home of an evening to discover she had not cooked dinner. At first I was furious, but it dawned upon me I had never noticed the extent to which Emily worked each day to make this house our home. It was after this realisation that I began to worry.

She sat ensconced before that typewriter every day tapping away at the keys. The only time she moved from the typewriter was to sleep and more and more it seemed she came to bed later and rose earlier. One day, in a fit of fear for her well-being, I stayed home from work.

All she did was sit there. The entire day passed and she did not even notice I had not left for work. All she did was type, push the small silver handle to begin a new line and feed new paper into the roller. She did not rise to eat. She did not rise to use the outhouse. It was not until I went to retire to bed that she rose from the desk and came to bed.

The next morning I woke to the sound of metal arms flying up to stamp through inked ribbon onto paper. The sun had barely risen and she was already typing.

I knew that something was wrong as I sat there behind her, watching her fingers fly. The sounds of those metal stamps pounding the paper made my stomach wrench as if it were a dish rag Emily was wringing out. Except she no longer did that. The reek of food, still caked onto dishes and rotting wafted from the kitchen where the plates piled so high I wondered if adventurous mountaineers could not be called upon to assist me in cleaning them.

I desperately wished to speak to someone but had no idea whom I could talk to.

Too ill to go to work I sat at her side, softly calling her name while she had eyes only for the letters on her keyboard. I made lunch and placed it on the table beside her typewriter, but it was ignored. I offered drinks and suggestions to take a stroll together by the river, holding hands as we had when we were newly-wed. She did not respond to anything but the tale she was typing.

As the sun set I lit the lamps and wondered what story was eating her alive.

I picked up a small sheaf of papers bound together with string from the bottom of the pile and read.

A light-hearted romance full of fluttering eyelashes and accidental brushing of hands came from the page. These were the stories my wife loved to read and she told them beautifully, easily a rival for any tale of that ilk. I grabbed another sheaf from the middle and read.

A similar story of lovers. Before long I noticed the setting was unfamiliar. The landscapes were misshapen, houses watched with dark eyes and the horse-drawn carriage was pulled by a beast of scales and claws with a sunken multitude of eyes.

My heart in my throat I threw the sheaf to the ground and snatched the latest story from the top of the pile.

What I read called forth lunch from my stomach.

I opened the back door to deposit my partially digested meal. I put the paper down with a shaking hand. The tears that blurred my vision were only slightly from the acid taste of bile.

My wife sat at her desk undisturbed by the ruckus I had created.

I doused the lamps and went to bed. There I cried myself to sleep like a child.

I was roused in the night by a stirring in the bed. My heart leaped with hope and fear simultaneously. Emily had come to bed at last, but was the woman sliding under the covers beside me still the woman I had married?

I edged closer, trepidation making my pulse thrum through my veins.

“My dearest,” I asked, my voice breaking like a pubescent boy’s. “I was thinking we should go to church tomorrow and talk to Father Peterson…”

My words died in my mouth as my hand touched her cheek. Her skin was slick and oozing. My hand recoiled and I threw back the sheet, fumbling to light the bedside candle.

My wife lay there, eyes closed, her skin pallid like a corpse’s, her cheeks sunken, but this was not what was disturbing. From the pores of her skin seeped a viscous fluid, greenish in colour and it bubbled out, the stream slow but continuous.

I screamed and ran from the room. My feet tore me through the biting chill of the late autumn night to the church where I thumped on the old oak doors until my fists hurt and the Father opened them.

My words tumbled from my mouth. Father Peterson did not believe me, but he followed me like a dutiful parent would follow a child back to their room to show them no monster hid under their bed.

The priest’s face paled upon sighting my wife, lying in the puddle of green ooze on our mattress.

Father Peterson turned at once to the desk that entombed my wife daily and grabbed the typewriter. He raised the damned machine overhead and smashed it upon the desk. On the bed, still laying prone, Emily shrieked, her cry so shrill it stabbed at my ears. He raised and struck the cursed contraption repeatedly, despite the screams of my wife, until it lay in pieces.

Satisfied with the fragments on the ground the priest took the cross from his neck, slid it over my wife’s head and gave her a benediction. He left, visibly shaking, assuring me he would return in the morning.

Trembling I swept up the mess and threw it outside. I then took a damp cloth and sponged my beautiful Emily clean.

In the morning Father Peterson returned with more crosses, holy water and acolytes. There was no need for the ceremonies he performed. My wife sat there at the battered desk by the window with the view of a withered gourd plant. She stared out the window, hands on the desk, fingers twitching amongst the splinters typing on unseen keys.

She sits there still, every day staring sadly out the window, her eyes as soulless as her body.

I thought the machine would be the death of me, but it was far worse than that. It was the death of my heart.

Feedback is always appreciated.

picture courtesy of the creative commons, original posting here.

The ‘Look’ Challenge

I’ve been challenged by fellow writer/blogger Elizabeth Barone, to do the ‘Look’ challenge. To complete the look challenge you take the work you’re currently toiling on, go to the first time the word ‘look’ appears therein and post the surrounding passage on your blog. I went with my manuscript for Storybook Perfect since I’m working on it for the Harper Voyager open submissions for spec-fic rather than the short story I’m currently doing (which is not going quite so well, but as I’ve said before, I sometimes struggle with short stories).

So here you go, a little sneak peak of early on in chapter 1 of Storybook Perfect:

 

Brione blinked.

Where am I? The thought wafted out of the shock. She hadn’t blacked out, at least she didn’t think so. Aside from a slight ache where her seatbelt had held her in place she couldn’t feel any injuries so the impact must not have been severe. Despite her pose Yui had not been speeding, though perhaps she had been driving faster than she should have on the shale. Yui was already unbelted and clambering out her door to inspect the damage. Brione took a long deep breath and closed her eyes, letting the relief swell.

Madison breathed hard behind her. The breaths started off rapid and terrified, but Brione could hear them turning into angry pants. This was not the first time Madison had been in a crash when Yui drove. While none of the accidents were any more severe than this one, Madison did not appear to be taking that into account.

Yui knelt beside the front driver’s side tire to inspect it.

“Ugh! The mudguard’s up against the tire. Give us a sec.” She told her friends without looking away from the damage. The half-Japanese girl drew herself up high and aimed two solid low kicks against the mudguard, expanding the gap. She leaned down to consider it again. “I don’t think the frame underneath is damaged. Just a little body work needed.” She peered back inside the car, dropping herself back into the driver’s seat. “I’m turning off the radio though, gonna keep an ear on the engine just in case.”

“Well you are the expert.” Teased Brione, teeth flashing in a cheeky grin.

Madison wordlessly screamed and jumped out of the car, slamming the door as she got out. “I’m walking the rest of the way.” She told them with a fury that could burn your ears.

Yui shrugged and started to reverse. Madison was prone to furious outbursts, if she wanted to explode, let her do it some where far away.

Madison shrieked as the car reversed past her and when Yui stopped to change back into first gear Madison tore open the door and flung herself back inside. Evidently the thought of walking a kilometer along a deserted country road by herself was a scarier prospect than getting back into the car with the crumpled front.

Madison’s muttering was louder than the engine and Yui tried her best to focus on how that was a good thing because that meant the engine was fine. Brione barely heard the grumbling because she was pondering a statistic she had heard of which claimed most drivers automatically drove to defend themselves. Yui had not and it prickled Brione’s interest.

I use omniscient third person POV, which is a different to usual so I’d love to hear what anyone thinks. Also if you’d like to take the challenge let me know and I’ll post your link here.

Two Years Ago On This Day

Two years ago on this day I stood in a traditional Japanese room in Kyoto while a woman wrapped me in a blue kimono.

It was an experience I had longed for. Just visiting Japan was a dream I have had since sixteen. I have countless old notepads filled with handwritten budgets for a trip to Japan, but year after year my hopes were dashed by financial ineptitude (ie/ I kept spending my money on books, comics, manga, video games and DVDs). Even later when I began to enjoy the financial freedom of a dual income with my lovely husband my plans kept being dashed by an animal becoming sick ($3,000 worth of sick) or a car breaking down and eventually the plans just faded into the back of my mind as both T-J and I sweated it out in 40+ hour work weeks.

Then T-J stepped up the pressure for wanting kids. I know, a bit of a role reversal, but T-J always wanted kids and while I was not anti-kids I knew I had nowhere near the maturity level I needed just yet. I always knew I was warming up to the idea, but it wasn’t until I became drastically ill with a (still undiagnosed) vertigo disorder. One of the first things they tested the crazy, dizzy girl for was pregnancy. And when the test came back negative I was disappointed. Ok, you got me T-J, it’s kids time, but first take me to Japan. My sickness was in October/November. I was in Japan the following March. Told you he wanted kids.

So there I stood, Kyoto out the window as she pulled the obi tight around my waist. The room was lightly heated against the chill of spring, but outside it was so cold I tottered straight for a vending machine that sold hot coffee cans so I could warm my hands.

We walked together around the temples of Kyoto. The Shinto gods chose to be generous by not making it too chilly and keeping the rain to only a light drizzle in the afternoon. I had prayed at every temple for the five days previous for the weather to be kind just this one day, and the day before we had taken a walking tour of Kyoto that took us to no less than 10 temples.

The kimono was snug against my hips and thighs and my method of walking had to alter to accommodate this. I found myself moving my knees very little, taking small tottering steps. Considering the many slopes in the area of Kyoto we were travelling this led to burning calves after a few hours. The obi and its elaborate bow forced me to stand with better posture than I was accustomed to also, creating a dull ache in my lower back. These things meant almost nothing too me however as nearly every woman who walked past would compliment me with the word ‘suteki’ (pronounced steki due to the silent u), to which I would bow graciously and reply with ‘arigatou’. Suteki translates to stunning and who could bother with mild pain when they were being told such a thing?

Being early spring, the time of cherry blossoms, the temple paths were alive with stalls selling trinkets and food. We ate cherry blossom flavoured ice cream, so delicate and sweet in taste and savoured the smell of roasting squid (though sadly weren’t game enough to try it because we weren’t certain it was squid). Bags full of Studio Ghibli goods started to pile up on my arm and as the light drizzle started its misty fall we sheltered together under my SquareEnix umbrella as we continued on to Kiyomizudera.

At the temple we found a particularly beautiful sakura tree for me to take my dream picture under. I stood there, in a suteki kimono, in front of a blooming sakura tree with a pokewalker on my obi. That photo remains my portrait to this day.

Eventually even being told I was suteki was not enough to abolish the growing pain in my calves and back. We made our way back to the rental store, stopping briefly for a quick meal to be undressed by the same skillful hands as had dressed us that morning.

This is a memory I will treasure forever.

If you want to see or experience any of these things for yourself here are links to the Kimono rental store, the walking tour I mentioned and the ryokan we stayed in. Temples we visited included Kiyomizudera, Gokoki Shrine and Ryozen Kannon and here are some pictures to illustrate the day.

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