Inktober 2019 – Pattern

“Please come inside. You’ll get sick.”

I had left my mentor alone with her reading to prepare our lunch, and as was not uncommon, which I returned with the plates I discovered that she had wandered out of her study. She was the grand scholar, after all, and her whims were the guiding force of our lives. I was starting to wonder if she wasn’t going senile, though. I wouldn’t have thought to look outdoors on a day like this if she hadn’t left the door open.

“No, come here, come here, you must see this.” She beckoned to me from the apex of the bridge, sodden sleeve flapping. I went, and when I stood beside her I put the umbrella she had walked past into her hand. Her fingers were ice cold.

“It’s very picturesque,” I said, glancing out over the lake that held her interest. The rain hazed the usual view, throwing a grey veil over all but the nearest houses of the village. None of the fishers had taken to the water today, their boats tied up on the shore, and the windless downpour made the lake into a pale slab, as flat and blank as cutting board. “Why don’t you come and have your lunch? I’ll make up a fire and…”

“Hush.” It was not the harsh tone she usually used when I vexed her. She almost sounded awestruck. Thoughts of senility gained strength, especially when she said, “I could hardly believe it when I heard it.”

I listened, but heard only the patter of raindrops on the umbrellas and the hiss of the broader rain dropping on the lake and surrounding landscape, white noise under random percussion. I put a hand under her nearer elbow, tried to gently get her moving in the direction of our cottage.

“Fool!” There was the tone I was used to. She drew back, furling the umbrella I had pressed upon her. She swung it against the backs of my thighs, the blow sharp if not too hard. “This is why you study. Now, look at the lake.”

I looked again, and when she pointed I followed the gesture. Not far from the bridge, I watched the unremarkable reunion of rain and lake.

“What to you see, youngster?”

I weighed whether I  should try to be clever. Not with her in this odd mood. “Raindrops hitting the lake.”

“Yes.” Again, the low tones, nearly reverential. “A drop makes ripples, yes?” I agreed. “Look again. What do the ripples make.”

Which ones? was at the back of my throat, ready to jump out, but then I started to see what she meant. Each drop had its ripples. The countless impacts sent peaks and troughs across the lake, high and low, light and dark. I knew I wasn’t seeing what she saw, but there was something in the way those tiny waves moved together.

“Close the umbrella and listen.” Hardly even a whisper, right by my ear. I did as I was told. “See and hear.”

The lake ceased to be a uniform flatness before me. Light and dark. Dark and light. High and low. All churning, cooperative and antagonistic in turns, to make the image of a great face, as big as the lake was wide. The sound of the rainfall was a voice, whispering in a language I hadn’t known that I understood until this moment.

I shivered, although the damp had yet to penetrate my clothes. I trembled at the sudden knowledge the world was revealing to me, and before the storm ended I fled to the cottage, leaving my mentor all alone to face that enormous unrepentant confession.

“Inktober 2019 – Pattern” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Enchanted

I lost the path hours ago, and sunset is upon me. The woods are certainly deep, and they grow darker by the moment, but I no longer think they’re lovely. I wonder, not for the first time today, how many idiots like me Robert Frost has sent to their doom

I think I hear something, away to the right, and freeze, straining to listen. The last thing I need now is to stumble in front of a bear.

Definitely a sound, but not the crunch of stealthy paw on leaves, nor a warning growl. I’d almost swear it’s someone humming a tune. I’d cry with relief if I was sure of what I’m hearing. I turn my head one way and the other until I’m sure of the direction.

I find myself standing in… well, not a clearing, exactly. It would be a clearing, if not for the gigantic tree in the middle of it. I don’t remember seeing any other oaks during my wandering today; I guess this one used up the whole oak budget. It has to be more than eight feet across at the base, and I can’t begin to guess how high.

A moment after I come into the clearing, the source of the tune appears. A young woman is dancing around getting the tree, and before I even get a clear look at her, I feel elation, because I can any least get directions to town.

But now I have had a clear look at her, and which way to town? is not the first question that I want to ask. I realize that there’s more light in this clearing than there was outside, and I wonder why I can’t make out any lamps up in the tree. There’s just a pervasive illumination, a little greener and bluer than daylight, as if the clearing is slightly underwater.

And I also wonder whether it’s the light or the length of time since I last had some water that’s making my vision go funny, because with this much light around, I should be able to tell what she’s wearing. I blink, and then I rub, trying to clear the problem, but it’s still there. Her face is clear enough, clear enough that I can see how striking her eyes are, wide and hazel, as she returns my stare, and I can see the small bright teeth shown as she smiles at me.

And so I don’t know why I can’t tell what she’s wearing. A part of me is trying to suggest that she’s not wearing anything, which is ridiculous, because it’s too cold for that, and because no one is going to be so completely unembarrassed to be naked in front of a stranger, and because I have seen a naked woman before and I know what one looks like and she doesn’t look like that. For some reason I can’t quite put my finger on.

But she has a very nice smile, and when she starts singing I think it’s about the nicest thing I’ve ever heard. She sings to the tree, but that makes sense. The words are a language the tree knows. I sure don’t.

It would be a shame to interrupt, though, so I withdraw to the edge of the clearing, to wait for her to finish her song. The mossy ground looks comfortable enough, once I kick a couple of these skulls aside, and I settle down cross-legged to wait.

Such a pretty song. I sort of hope it doesn’t end too soon.

“Inktober 2019 – Enchanted” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

The Fruits of Contest Participation

Back at the beginning of a summer, I heard of a contest being run by Owl Canyon Press, for their 2018 Short Story Hackathon. It was open as far as genre went, and had a fairly interesting set up.  The story could only be fifty paragraphs long, but the contestants could only write forty-eight. The first and last were provided, and were not to be amended in any way. To keep people from turning it into a very tall, slender flash fiction, there was also a requirement that paragraph be of a minimum number of words. I imagine that an urge to keep from padding that word count with “umm, well, you see, errr” led to the final restriction, which demanded that there be no directly quoted speech.  One could write He began the opening oration from Shakespeare’s Henry V but He took a deep breath and said, “Oh, for a muse of fire…” would be a disqualification.

The prize was publication, and an invitation to attend a shindig… even in a small town with a somewhat mysterious name. Well, heck, I like shindigs and getting published, and there was no entry fee, so I joined something like nine hundred other writers in offering a story.

Guess what?

I did not win!

Given the size of the field, and the relative infrequency of any given writer impressing any given editor, this is not unexpected. I do not mourn, nor tend a bruised ego. Indeed, I built a silver lining into this whole affair.  Even as I was writing the story, I resolved that if it failed to capture the prize, I would not put it into the submission carousel, but I would directly pass it along to the readers of this enterprise.

So, here we are.  Prolonging the Inevitable is a bit of a frolic in the region of weird that butts up against both fantasy and horror. It is, ironically enough, a bit of contemplation on what the real nature of life’s defeats might be.  Remember the old saying– every time a door closes, the things outside start wriggling down the chimney.

Fallout of Friday the 13th

This is not the BIG ANNOUNCEMENT I said would be coming this week.  It is still coming.  Never fear.

This is an announcement of merely average dimensions, to let you know that a new story has been added to the heap here.  Lucky Day is an outcome of yet another of the Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Friday challenges, and since it fell on the 13th last week, the challenge was something to do with luck.

Luck was with me, and I finished briskly, so there will be the two announcements this week.  Hopefully, you will feel that this is also a stroke of luck (“Oh, boy!  Extra words, and all of them free!).

The challenge was not concerned with what flavour of luck was involved.  I decided, because the world needs more of it, to go with good luck.  Of course, me being me, there’s a particular slant to the interpretation of “good luck.”

(Not) Alone in the Dark

Alone in the dark?  Oh, heavens, no.  It’s the solstice, and thus dark for everyone in the northern hemisphere… although I guess those below the tropic line will hardly notice.

It being that time of year, I am once again offering a story for Christmas, because it’s something Charles Dickens and M.R. James did; I am weak enough to hope for if not to quite believe in sympathetic magic, and so try to do what they did with an eye to becoming what they were.

…perhaps, now that I think of Dickens’s last days, this is not a great plan.

Anyway, this year’s story is Snowman.  The title is a bit of a giveaway; there is a snowman mentioned in it.  They’re a staple of kids’ songs and Rankin animations, but the snowman is something of a rarity here in the land of the living skies; we get snow, but it’s usually so dessicated that you can’t form it.

I hope you enjoy reading it, and I also hope you have plenty of people of cuddle up with in this season of long nights and chill winds.  The dark is more tolerable when there’s someone to share it with.

Something Short About a Tree

The season of incandescent ursine juggling has passed, and I am able to bash out a story in pursuit of the Friday Terribleminds Challenge.  The most current item is to be about a tree.

So that’s what I’ve done, and it’s called Sheltered.  Like the last time, it’s more fantasy than anything else.  I appear to be running all my horror into the novel… and into my reactions to current events, which I will not mention in any further detail.

Picking a Side

Well, look at that.  I’m holding to a resolution, at least for a second week, and developing a story for the Terribleminds Flash Fiction Challenge again despite huge if unconscious opposition from the non-writing elements of my life.  This week’s challenge was a quite simple one: a story about good versus evil.

He who provides the challenge declares that its inspiration was no more than the fact of watching a horror film.  I will admit that I allowed a little of current events to colour the small not-quite-steampunk fantasy of Between Good and Evil, Some Grey; there are some things that you just can’t claim neutrality in without at least tacitly supporting one side.

What? New Content?

Yes, indeed.  While I am still devoting the largest part of my creative energy and time to the novel, I’ve decided that I’m going to make a serious effort at posting some fresh fiction here more than once every… six(ish) months.  I am motivated in this by reading the work of other authors.

Particularly, by the blog of Chuck Wendig.  He does a regular flash fiction challenge over there, and while spending idle moments at the day job reading through back numbers, I was struck with this thought– a prompted flash fiction is something that I can probably do during these same idle moments, and a prompted flash fiction with a deadline means I might actually put words where people may enjoy them (hopefully) before the projected end of the second draft effort on the novel.  Which may, possibly, be done by early December.

So, today we have I Held Your Heart Once.  The title comes from the challenge, as do the first and last sentences.  I might have been at this sooner, but those three elements were the products of the previous three challenges.  You can, therefore, understand me to be blaming a famous and rather good author for keeping me from posting any new writing here for a month.

You can.  But I think I’d prefer if you didn’t.  I’ve been busy.

A Traditional Holiday Story

Well… not really.

There is the British tradition of creepy stories at this time of year, as exemplified by most of M.R. James’s output, and I can more or less hang Occasional Lapses of Service on that hook.  I suspect James would probably chastise me slightly for stepping away from one of his very useful guidelines in the writing of ghost stories, one which I generally cling to pretty firmly– but it’s not really a ghost story either, so I will nod my head in admission of the departure without feeling that I’ve actually strayed from the path.

It is also not a traditional Christmas story in most other senses of the that phrase, even though there is a passing reference to carol singing.  It is, however, presented only days ahead of Christmas, and is meant as a gift to the world in general.

And now, as last year, it’s time to get seasonal liver damage through the fat and alcohol content of egg nog, and cuddle my son while we decide if that noise on the roof is a reindeer, a lead-footed squirrel (of which we’ve many in the neighbourhood), or something else entirely.  Wæs hæil, everyone!