Short Story: See What’s There

The first time I met Dorian, I was hiding in the branches of a holly tree, tucked in a space at its centre behind the sharp leaves. I was hiding from the elves who had taken to playing in the wide fields beyond the edge of our garden. If that sounds a wonderful thing, then you’ve never seen elves play.

They are curious about how things are put together, but they define any living creature that isn’t an elf as a thing. While they are creatures that provoke wonder, you don’t want them to play with you. They had, just on this afternoon alone, taken apart a wheelbarrow, the remains of an old bedstead, a family of squirrels, and my pet rabbit when he escaped his cage run and squirmed over the stones of the low boundary wall.

The other problem was that the fields at the end of my garden weren’t always there, so telling my parents or indeed any other grown-ups about the elves was difficult as they weren’t there when I dragged anyone along who would listen.

The elves knew I was there. When my parents turned their backs on the wall to tell me off again about wasting their time I would see their faces in the trees and bushes. They would smile, revealing sharp teeth in wide mouths, and beckon to me. My parents thought I was trying to hide tears of childish remorse rather than tears of terror.

The doctors told me it wasn’t real, and I really wanted to believe them. I tried to agree with them and deny what was right in front of me, but I know they could tell I was lying to them. They wanted to give me pills, but my parents refused to let them, and I wasn’t sure if in that moment I loved or hated them more for it.

So there I was, hiding in the holly bush one afternoon because the elves were right next to the wall and I didn’t want them to take me away to play. I could smell the copper taste of fear, adrenaline, and blood in the air and felt frozen in place.

And Dorian walked into the garden, accompanied by my parents. I didn’t know who he was of course, he was just a tall thin grown-up in a suit, with short hair and a slightly floppy fringe. My parents were talking to him in the serious way they did with the doctors which told me everything I thought I needed to know; and he was nodding in that slow way the doctors did.

He looked straight at me, through the camoflage of the holly tree, and then did something the doctors never did. He winked at me. Then he did something no other adult had. He looked at the elves, and he frowned.

And you know what? The elves looked at him, and took a step back from the wall. They’d never done that before.

My parents retreated back towards the house. They were still in the garden, but far enough away to give us space. That’s why, when Dorian waved to me, I crawled back out onto the lawn and went over to him.

“You see them?” I said, and I couldn’t keep the suspicion from my voice.

“Oh yes,” he said, in a soft voice that made me think of my mum’s voice when tucking me in bed at night, ” and they’re not going to frighten you any more. Promise.” He held his hand out to me and after a glance at my parents, I took it.

The world shivered a little around us as we turned to look at the fields and the elves in it. The sun and clouds looked different on their side of the wall, more like a Summer’s day than the early Spring that kept threatening rain.

“They want to play because you can see them. It’s not something that many people remember how to do when they’re not babies any more. You’re right not to trust them though.”

“They’re horrible. I don’t want to see them any more.” I said. The elves were watching us, hands resting on the hilts of their wicked knives. Dorian crouched down to talk to me, face to face.

I can make them go away, or I can make sure you don’t see them again. Which would you prefer?”

“Are you going to give me medicine? Is there something wrong with me like the other doctors said?”

“There’s nothing wrong with you, no. You’re better at paying attention and seeing what’s really going on if that’s any better?” For some reason I just felt that I could trust him. I nodded, slowly.

“They’re scary.”

“Yes they are. Hiding in the holly bush was a good idea. There used to be hawthorn bushes along that fence weren’t there? I’ll tell your parents to plant new ones. Now, how about we tell them to go away?”

“They won’t listen.” I’d tried shouting at them before. It never worked. Dorian smiled at me.

“They’ll listen to me. Trust me.” The strange thing is, I did. I gripped his hand as tight as ten year old me could. He looked across at them. “Hey! Longshanks, Knifenose, and Prettyboy! You know who I am, so go away. The wall’s going back up and you don’t want to get caught in it.”

There was a moment where I thought they were going to come and get us, and I really needed to go to the loo all of a sudden. I crossed my legs. The shiver in the air around us got stronger, making me feel like we were a plucked guitar string.

“Don’t make me call the missus.” I heard him say, and then, just like that, the shiver stopped, the field was gone, and so were the elves and the blood. Rain had started to fall at some point, so we all went back indoors and I was properly introduced to Dorian, who had been hired as my counsellor.

My parents did replant the hawthorn bushes after that, and the elves and the field never came back. Nonetheless, Dorian and I did talk about the elves, or at least about my memories of them and how they had faded like old dreams over the following weeks.

He’s teaching me how to focus on what’s really there and to tell the difference between that and what most other people see, but I’m not noticing the difference much these days. Dorian always seems a little sad around the eyes when I say that, but mum and dad are happier that I’m not seeing things any more, so that’s what’s important.

Isn’t it?

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Short Story: A Short Trip

We tumbled down the grassy slope together, sliding and rolling out of control, pulling and being pulled by our own intertwined limbs and the demands of gravity and momentum. The sun beat down on us with a dry haze that threatened to transform lush grass into harsh hay. We didn’t care. Birdsong trilled somewhere above us; a skylark protesting our intrusion here. In that moment it was just a detail to be recalled later, rather than a signpost or warning.

Over and over we rolled. Sometimes it was fast, with the shocks of our bouncing bodies forcing air from our lungs in exulted protest. At other moments our journey threatened to stop, and we consciously hauled ourselves forward to start a further burst of tumbling.

Over each other, arms locked, and legs flailing, challenging dare accepted and yet regretted. Somewhere above us our respective parents were probably either praying that we didn’t ruin our clothing or break each other’s necks. Rueful expectations of bruises and shouted promises of deprivations to come did nothing to dissuade us from our erratic downward trajectory. The threat of early bed barely registered in the face of our adrenaline rush.

Down and down, until the slope became steeper, and old molehills and the soft tussocks conspired to separate us. We bounced and rolled faster, and perhaps in that moment we remembered fear and the stone wall waiting at the bottom of the field. Topped with barbed wire and seated in churned mud that was surely mixed with sheep dung from when flocks roamed here, we hadn’t thought about it until now.

And then we stopped rolling, breathless and muddy, with scraped knees and scuffed shoes. Our shirts were smeared and ripped, and at some point we must have gone through nettles because painful blistered welts were visible on our exposed skin. The tingling pain began to filter through, but the blood racing through our veins was pounding too hard for either of us to care.

Something silvery flashed on the slope above us – and we remembered the teatray we’d started our descent on mere moments ago. It felt like years. It probably felt even longer for our parents up there at the top of Box Hill.

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A Day In Town

I’ll admit it was a bit of an impulse, but we decided to break with tradition and actually do something with our day off. I suggested the Victoria & Albert Museum, mostly because I’ve never been before.

With Lady M’s resurgent interest in dress design and cosplay, it seemed as good an excuse as any to look at the design elements of fashion and the items around us – and we spent hours happily admiring beautiful things.

The V&A is a huge building; I hadn’t appreciated how much they have on display. From silver reliquaries and stained glass windows, to consumer electronics and protest posters, by way of a history of fashion over the last four hundred years or so it was a visual feast.

It was too much to take in, and we’ll have to go back for targeted, bite-size, repeat visits. Was it a grand day out? It was fascinating. It’s also given me a few prompts for stories, so there’s an added bonus…

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At Last, The Weekend

It’s a Bank Holiday – a chance for a long weekend. Well, it would be but I worked on Saturday so today is the first real day of my break. 

A nice slow wake-up, with neither myself or Lady M needing to rush anywhere, was a good start. Body Balance class is done now, and the house is resounding to the sounds of combat in Assassin’s Creed 3 as Lady M continues her rampage through the whole game series.
This evening we’re meeting the Charleesi and the ex-Lady M to go see Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2, and on any given weekend that would be a brilliant day in its own right

But then neither Lady M or I are working tomorrow either! How civilised.

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Short Story: The Obsession

He always bought red cars, because he honestly believed they went faster. It was a myth he’d heard in his early teenage years, relayed with wide-eyed enthusiasm by another boy who had not understood his own father’s sarcasm at a rising car insurance quote. He had laughed with the rest of his friends at the time, but the seed found fertile ground in his eager mind.

What had begun as a joke stuck like a catchy tune; and every knowing laugh or passing reference watered it so that he couldn’t tell you when it changed from a catch-phrase within the group of friends to a heartfelt belief.

He painted his bicycle red when he was sixteen. He and the small gang tore around the estate, in and out of pedestrian areas, always with him pedalling quicker than anyone else to be out at the front. The rush of wind in his hair and cutting across his eyes didn’t bring as much colour to his cheeks as the belief that his magical colour choice continued to work.

The first car he stole was a black Ford, and he blamed his capture on the fact that it wasn’t his preferred colour. He worked his community service in a sullen funk, and then made sure that the first car he bought was a bright cherry red in colour. It was only a small Fiat, but it was light and the engine gave it a tremendous burst of speed from a standing start. He maintained his belief in the face of quiet ridicule from his oldest friends. He didn’t care.

It was perhaps inevitable that he would gravitate towards working in logistics. He loved the speed and risk of driving bikes and vans to deadlines, and the challenge of a difficult commission completed. He may have been forced to drive white vans after the Royal Mail shed most of the drivers at his local depot, but his pride and joy was a deep red Subaru. The throaty noise of its passage always made heads turn. He saw no dissonance in tuning up the car to match the potential implied by its colour – the one fuelled the other in his mind.

I still maintain it was the obsession that colour was linked to speed that led him to superstition. His pre-journey habits became pre-race rituals as he engaged in drag races late at night on the motorways and main roads heading out of town. He had his car re-upholstered and detailed in as many shades of red as he could, and took to wearing red in some form or other in his clothing.

His friends gave him a new nickname – the Flash – after his favourite show, and the mantra of the main character that he adopted for himself. “I need to get faster” became his rallying call, and “I’m not fast enough” a lament when success eluded him.

Obsession can warp perceptions and, when strong enough, the world. And he seemed to prove that point with faster and faster speeds set. People began to not want to race the vision in red that left smoking tyre tracks and outran police patrols. They were there for a challenge and a thrill, not to be trounced by some avatar of velocity.

I’m told that the night he disappeared he was trying out a new mixture injected into his cars systems. There was a throaty roar, a blossom of flame from his exhaust and every window in a block’s distance shattered as he broke the sound barrier from a standing start. Everyone assumed and then reported that the car had exploded or crashed; but wreckage was never found.

I think he’s still out there, pushing faster and faster, a red flicker in people’s rearview mirrors before the storm front overtakes them. I kind of hope he is, it makes for a better story I think. I hope you agree

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Short Story: Worship Woes

It has to be said that having lesser gods take an interest in your picnic makes for a good story after the fact; but the actual experience in the moment is not all it’s cracked up to be. The problem is that they assume the spread of food and drink on the blanket is an offering to them. The thought that it might be your lunch doesn’t even seem to cross their tiny but specialised little minds.

If that sounds disrespectful that is entirely your right. I call it simply a pragmatic and empirical assessment of the situation. These small kerbside gods – the locus genii so beloved of the Romans – are basically elemental manifestations of their immediate surroundings. Unless you’re in a library – in which case the librarians are already annoyed by your bringing food near the books – most places aren’t intrinsically intelligent, self aware, or even cogniscent that there’s any difference between you, a sheep, or even the small pile of rocks by your feet.

They just want to be adored. Your implied worship when you admire the view is like bread and butter to these things, and when sacrifices are made, they positively glow. You might see it as a few dropped crumbs, or a spilled drink, but to a small god that’s fuel. With animist thought being pretty thin on the ground these days they’ve had to get creative in finding more.

They can’t control much of their surroundings – well, not usually, but please don’t go picking a fight with Father Thames to test that theory. It never goes well. But if you’ve ever wondered where the wasps come from that fall into your drinks, or the ants that spontaneously get into your fruit salad and clothing are doing there well perhaps the jigsaw puzzles are starting to fit together.

Whether you discard food that’s been ruined, or just knock it over while being divebombed, it counts as far as the small gods are concerned. It’s like being mugged by babies while they throw tantrums.

For the most part people can’t see them, which does spare some blushes as the more anthropomorphic small gods tend to not quite understand the concept of clothing, or indeed modesty. That shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, we did invent the concept after all. Every so often though, they try it on with someone who has the Sight, and that’s often when things start to get thrown around the place.

Kay really should know better, especially with her background, but I’m sure you’ll agree that the sight of an angry buxom redhead chasing a naked river god around our car to get her bottle of rioja back absolutely deserved to go up on Instagram. The river god didn’t show up in the picture, so it looks like she’s falling over her own feet to catch an airborne wine bottle. The picture has three hundred “likes” already. Here’s hoping the small gods don’t work out social media any time soon!

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A Mixed Week

I’m slowly coming out the other side of a low patch, hence the hiatus in posting and writing. Most of the last week was spent curled up and struggling to get out of bed or off the sofa, but at least it was in company while Lady M and I had a week off.

We did get some nice walks in, and it was good to recharge our physical batteries; there’s been a lot of stress going on so we both needed to shut down a bit.

Now we’re back to work and I’m brushing myself off to get back up to speed. I’m not one hundred percent, and won’t be for a little while yet, but I’m keeping my head down and plodding forward.

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