The Lookout – #writephoto

lookout

Colyn trudged over the rocky outcrop towards the Lookout, hands jammed in pockets and head bowed against the wailing coastal winds. The sea looked bleak and lifeless, mirroring the dull skies. Hardly a scintillating view to entertain him over the next few hours.

“About time too.”

The watchman on duty eyed Colyn as he entered the cold stone hut. Colyn shrugged.

“If you’re late again, I have no doubt the Commander will have something to say about it. Perhaps he’ll double your hours.”

The man rose from his perch on the bench and handed Colyn his spear.

“As if I’ll need this,” Colyn scoffed, “The sea is just as tame today as always.”

The older man shot him a reproachful glare.

“Underestimate the ocean at your peril, boy. Keep your eyes open or they’ll be plucked from their very sockets before you can say ‘sea savage’.”

Colyn rolled his eyes as his fellow watchman shuffled out of the Lookout, leaving him alone to scrutinise the muddy grey seas for their most dreaded enemy: the Sirens.

 

It had been decades since the last sighting, but everyone in the town knew the stories. A few centuries previous, the ocean waters had writhed and boiled, and the Sirens of the sea had emerged to mount an attack on the peoples occupying the coastal stronghold of Cragshead. The air had been thick with the solemn sound of Sirensong, and the overwhelming scent of blood. The massacre was brutal, unprecedented. The men were lured to their deaths by the Sirens’ irresistible beauty, leaving the unarmed women and children to be slaughtered where they stood. Only an intervention by the King’s army put an end to the bloodshed of innocents, and the remainder of the Sirens were driven back into the watery depths of the ocean. The King posted a permanent battalion of soldiers in Cragshead, and built a lookout on the craggy outcrop to ensure that the bloodthirsty ‘sea savages’ remained underwater. Since then, there had been a few minor skirmishes, but ultimately the Sirens were always defeated. Now, Sirens were very seldom seen at all, many sightings were dismissed as drunken illusions, and the number of soldiers manning the Lookout had dwindled down to one.

As far as Colyn was concerned, the Sirens were gone, never to return, and his three hours in the freezing hut every week were a considerable waste of time. Besides, he knew the tales, everybody did – who could possibly be so stupid as to fall victim to a little sing-song and a strange creature emerging from the waves?

 

Two hours into his shift, and Colyn found himself dozing off at his post, battle spear tucked unceremoniously between his armoured legs. A small sound caused him to stir. At first he thought that maybe he had dreamt it, but then he heard it again – a soft, melodious strain carried on the breeze. An unusual hour for music to be playing in the fort, he mused, sleepily. He yawned and stretched and blinked. And started. There. Out in the middle of the sea, he could have sworn he’d seen a head of golden hair bobbing between the waves. Surely it wasn’t-? Perhaps he was still asleep, or hallucinating from boredom and tiredness. All the while, the song hovered in the air around him, slowly but steadily getting louder. The voices were beautiful, lilting, harmonious; the tune simultaneously sweet and melancholy, but seemingly without source. The sky was darkening and yet the sea was calming, the gentle waves easing to an eerie and uneasy silence, broken only by the song, and then, suddenly, a splash to his left. Colyn leapt to his feet, spear clattering to the ground, and ran to the water’s edge. Despite the stories, he was not prepared for what he saw.

A semi-submerged woman with pale olive skin and long, lustrous, golden hair stared back at him with iridescent aquamarine eyes. She was fully naked, her velveteen skin glittering with droplets, her plump raspberry lips open, serenading Colyn with the unceasing, wordless, haunting melody. She held his gaze intently, never blinking. As Colyn looked closer, he noticed water-slicked feathers on her shoulders, and her raking, claw-like fingernails drawing ripples in the ocean.

He knew that he should raise the alarm. Light the beacon. Warn the soldiers and the townsfolk of the imminent danger. But the Sirensong was invading his thoughts, muffling their urgency, and her radiant beauty was all that he could focus on. How could she possibly pose a threat?

“You’re no monster,” he purred aloud.

The woman stopped singing and smiled, an alluring and attractive smile that made Colyn’s heart ache with longing. He could resist no longer. He leaned over the sea, reaching out for the seductress. With only eyes for her, he saw not the other dozens of heads popping up above the water. He saw not the once-calm sea broiling and bubbling. He saw not the Siren’s eyes flash crimson, her claws elongating, her toothy smile growing razor sharp fangs.

The angelic music stopped. Talons shot out of the sea, grabbed Colyn by the neck, and dragged him into the murky depths before he even had time to scream.

Licking bloodied fingernails, the army of Sirens rose from the ocean, their silver-scaled legs hoisting them onto the rocky shore. Hundreds of years they had patiently waited to take Cragshead and the entire kingdom from the hold of weak, stupid men. And this time, all the swords in the land would not stop them.

They turned towards the fort, and resumed their song.

 

Emma H, age 26, 29/11/2017


A new short story for Sue Vincent’s “bleak” #writephoto challenge.

Thursday photo prompt – Bleak – #writephoto

This week’s eerie photo could have inspired many different stories, but I eventually opted for the creepy fantasy route. Let me know your thoughts! 🙂

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Filicide – #writephoto

ebb

We were some of the lucky ones.

I remember staring, horror-struck, as the waves that usually lapped the craggy coastline near our house receded at pace towards the horizon. The briny seaweed clinging to the rocks, coating all in an unpalatable slime-green. The newly-uncovered seabed stretching out for a mile or maybe more. The thought of all that raw, destructive power hurtling westwards, filling my heart with dread. This was Mother Earth unleashing her vengeance upon a hateful and hurtful humankind.

Decades of dithering and denial from our politicians left our once beautiful planet at the mercy of global warming and its devastating effects. Worldwide temperatures soared, ice shelves on the poles detached and melted, seas swelled substantially, and droughts, floods, and extreme storms became the norm. Coastal cities succumbed to the oceans biting hungrily into the land, turning streets into canals. Scientists wracked their panicked brains for geoengineering solutions, each idea as farfetched as the next. Nature had become unbalanced, unhinged, wrathful, and we had no clue how to placate her.

Storm Eve was born in the mid-Atlantic late one scorchingly hot and humid summer. The whole world watched fearfully as it mutated rapidly into a hurricane of unprecedented size and strength, careering uncontrollably towards the east coast of the United States.  The satellite photographs showed her monstrous body covering more than a quarter of the Atlantic Ocean. Many anticipated death and damage from the screaming winds and torrential rain. Few predicted the impact of the consequent storm surge, as the ravenous tide rose to swallow America’s eastern shore.

It was on the day of the tidal surge that I witnessed the shrinking of the Cornish seas, as the climatic cataclysm dragged the water from one side of the Atlantic to the other. A sight both terrifying and awe-inspiring. It was the first such phenomenon, but not the last – just the first link in a chain of deadly storms that roamed the world in the following months and years and wreaked havoc.  Very few regions on Earth remained untouched by the planet’s vengeance. And millions perished.

The weather systems have stabilised now that the human population has been curtailed, and we survivors must investigate whether any of our damage can be undone. We have to learn to live in symbiosis with our Mother who birthed us, loved us, suffered our abuse and took retribution. Else, she will be a mother no more.

 

Emma H, age 26, 31/10/2017

 


It’s been a long time since I last wrote a short story or participated in Sue Vincent’s #writephoto challenge – so here we are! There was something about this week’s photo that inspired dystopian thoughts… To take part in the challenge or read other entries, you can follow the link below:

Thursday photo prompt – Ebb – #writephoto

 

 

Tradition – #writephoto

fading

I wandered along the puddle-drenched promenade, head bowed against the bitter coastal breeze, hands jammed firmly in my coat pockets. It was a late winter afternoon and the weather had chopped and changed all day. The last rain shower had chased off the seaside strollers, so I was alone, save for the squawk of a buffeted seagull out at sea.

I sat on a damp bench and gazed out at the horizon. The fading sun was attempting to break through the shapeshifting clouds, sunbeams shining spotlights on patches of the rough grey sea. Despite the gloom, it was still a beautiful sight. With a heavy sigh, I pulled the tiny ceramic box out of my pocket and opened it to the wind, which snatched the ashes within and scattered them out towards the ocean.

Every year at Christmastime we had come here. We’d spent many hours here, in all weathers, relaxing on our favourite bench and admiring the boundless view. When the tide was low we would paddle our feet, laughing as the icy cold Atlantic tickled our toes. And no matter how much we were shivering, we would always buy an ice-cream. It was tradition.

My wife had died four years ago, quietly, in her sleep. But each year I still came here and brought her with me to share the view. It gave me peace to know that she could become part of our favourite place, at one with the elements.

Aged joints creaking, I got to my feet and plunged my withered hands back into my pockets. Time to buy that 99 with flake.

 

Emma H, age 26, 12/09/2017

 


Today’s short story was written in response to Sue Vincent’s “Fading” #writephoto challenge. If you’d like to participate or read other entries, you can follow the link below:

Thursday photo prompt – Fading #writephoto

This week’s photo has captured both bright and gloomy weather so I wanted to include both elements in my story. Thanks Sue for the photo prompt 🙂

Waiting (a 100-word story)

waiting3

Veronica tapped her lacquered nails on the mahogany table. The wall clock ticked deafeningly in the dim room, lit only by fading candlelight. Shadows flickered over her tight red dress, her glossy brown curls, her painted crimson lips. Her glazed eyes stared at the empty chair opposite and the cold plate of untouched steak and chips.

Today was meant to be a fresh start for their fractured marriage. But she should have known by now that he couldn’t – no, wouldn’t – avoid temptation. She could wait a lifetime and nothing would change.

Veronica rose calmly. She had a bag to pack.

(Word count: 100 words)

Emma H, age 26, 06/09/2017


This piece of microfiction was written for Tara’s 100 Word Challenge at The Thin Spiral Notebook. To partake, you can follow the link here:

100 Word Challenge: Waiting

I have always struggled with word limits. They have been the bane of my student life. Too many times I was forced to cut literally hundreds of words from my essays, each deletion like a wound in my writer’s soul. Conciseness was never really my strong point. But as difficult as this was, I actually enjoyed the challenge; so I might be taking part more often! 🙂

Stolen – #writephoto

sight

Jasperine collapsed against the tall stone wall, panting hard. She wanted to keep running, but her burning lungs needed some time to snatch at air, her aching limbs a moment to relax. Otherwise she would never make it.

As her breath steadied, she gently patted her inside jacket pocket, reassured by the firm lump she felt there. But as a flock of startled birds flapped, squawking, into the sky not far away, her relief shattered into fear. Her pursuer was approaching.

Jas perched on her tip-toes to peer through a watch-hole bored in the thick wall behind her. The small opening looked out over the expansive empty field she had traversed not long before. Her only route home was back in that direction, where she would be in plain sight and horribly exposed. The coast appeared to be clear, but for how long? Adalbert was surprisingly fast for a troll of his size; once he got up to speed, with his large strides, he could easily outpace her. And she did not want to be within reach of his spiked truncheon.

She turned back to examine her surroundings. Around her were the ruins of a grand castle – elvish, judging by the carvings on the keystones of the arches that were still standing. The garrison had mostly crumbled, succumbing to the thorny brambles that strangled the pillars and the weeds bursting through the cracks in the flagstones. The castle was most likely attacked, destroyed and abandoned during the Elven-Giant Wars a couple of centuries previous. Many such fortresses and lands became occupied by trolls, gremlins, spectres and other scavengers once the Wars were over. Now, these particular woods were home to Adalbert the troll.

Adalbert was a thief. Or rather, he recruited others to thieve on his behalf. Two such henchmen had crept into Jas’ homeland in the dead of night and stolen an item of immense value from her people. And Adalbert, in stark contrast to the troll stereotype, was wily and cunning and had managed to conceal the whereabouts of himself and his prize for many years. Unfortunately, he had not reckoned on Jasperine’s superior sleuthing skills. Using her network of friends and allies, she traced Adalbert to the Oaken Woods. The neighbouring jackalope community dug her a long tunnel that started from their shared border and ended in the field near the castle in the Woods. The tunnel had been tight and claustrophobic, but Jas had crawled stoically until she emerged on the other side. From there, it had been easy enough to locate Adalbert’s cave deep in the woods and find his stolen trinket, sparkling atop a pile of other loot – after all, it was just a shiny decoration to him. Jas doubted he knew its true significance.

Luckily for Jas, Adalbert had been asleep upon her arrival, snoring like an erupting volcano. Unluckily for Jas, Adalbert had awoken just as she got her hands on his ornament. Taking advantage of his drowsiness, Jas had managed to escape his clutches and flee into the trees. But the troll inevitably gave chase, and feeling her legs tiring, Jas had been forced to stop and hide amongst the castle rubble.

Now, energy regained, Jas prepared to make her final dash across the field. She stretched up again to peek through the watch-hole and check that her path was clear – and gasped. A big, bulbous eye was glaring at her from the other side.

“Gotcha, you pointy-eared pest!”

Jas scrambled hurriedly away from the wall as Adalbert demolished it with his club, sending debris flying and falling around her.

“Give me back my TREASURE!” he bellowed, thumping after her.

“It’s not yours!” Jasperine squealed defiantly, weaving through the fractured stones, “It belongs to us!”

She wished more than ever that she had her wings. If she could take to the air she would be out-of-reach; safe and home in no time. As it was, she was still more nimble than the troll, even on the ground. He was at least thrice her height and five times as wide. She so led him on a labyrinthine chase around the stone walls, knowing that cover and small spaces were her best chance of survival. Once she was out-of-sight, she commando-rolled under the roots of a towering oak tree, crawling as deep as she could manage into the earthy space. If she could remain hidden for long enough, perhaps Adalbert would give up, or get distracted long enough for her to make a break for it across the field.

She reached inside her jacket and pulled out the stolen item. It was a small orb which fit snuggly in the palm of her hand – obsidian black, but glistening and glittering and glowing with an opalescent aura. It was beautiful, mesmerising – so no wonder that Adalbert lusted after its lustre. But to Jasperine, and her pixie kin, it was more than just a gemstone: it was an enchanted amulet. When activated, the charm released the magic that enabled pixies who had come of age to grow their silver gossamer wings. Ever since the theft, this power was lost, and young pixies were left bereft and wingless. Over time too, the wings of older pixies had begun to decay and fall apart. The sorrow in the pixie community was unbearable. Jasperine, daughter of the Queen, had come of age just over a year ago. The disappointment and fury had driven her to use her royal connections to find the thieves and finally retrieve the long-lost amulet.

She rolled the stone between her fingers, then deposited it carefully in her pocket for safekeeping. If she dropped it now, she would never forgive herself.

Suddenly, there was an almighty smash. Jas screamed as Adalbert swung his club into the oak tree, sending shards of wood splintering through the air and the trunk crashing to the ground. With his warty fingers, he plucked Jasperine from the soil by the collar of her jacket, dangling her in the air in front of his face. She winced as his rancid breath washed over her.

“Pathetic, pesky, poxy pixie,” he spat.

“Let me go!” Jas wailed, trying in vain to free herself.

“Baby pixie still has no wings,” the troll simpered, “Poor baby pixie thief.”

He paused, then roared:

“Give me back my JEWEL!”

Jas had two options. Give him the amulet willingly, or be maced to pieces as he searched for it. The second option didn’t seem too appealing. Her hand twitched towards her pocket, when she realised that Adalbert had a grip on only her jacket – maybe, if she manoeuvred just right, she could get free. Twisting and writhing, she wriggled out of the jacket, plummeting to the ground and landing in a cloud of dust. With the troll caught unawares, Jas knew this was her moment. She dashed off through the castle and towards the field as fast as her legs could carry her, skipping over boulders and ducking under arches. The hapless troll flung the jacket away and stumbled after her, shouting profanities. Jas burst clear into the meadow, speeding through the long grasses that grazed her knobbly knees.

“Keep going, don’t stop now,” she muttered to herself, heart pounding.

She could hear Adalbert behind her, and just as she’d thought, he was making up ground on her. She glanced backwards over her shoulder, saw his face contorted with rage, twirling his lethal truncheon above his head. The entrance to the tunnel was close. Would she make it?

Adalbert charged up behind his quarry, breathing down her neck. She had nowhere to hide in this open field. Soon, he would be spilling worthless pixie blood and his favourite treasure would be back where it belonged. He raised his club a little higher and prepared to bring it slamming down.

With a desperate cry, Jas dived for the jackalope tunnel and vanished into the ground. Adalbert tore over her head, looking around in confusion. How could she have vanished like that? He tried to skid to a stop but tripped, hitting the floor with a thunderous thud. Dazed and concussed, he watched the diminutive figure of Jasperine swim into view.

“Go and pick on someone your own size,” she scowled.

She spun on her heel and returned to the mouth of the tunnel, where she nervously patted her skirt pocket. The amulet jiggled reassuringly. She smiled to herself, grateful that she had instinctively switched pockets beneath the oak tree. One lost jacket was a small price to pay to save her life and finally get her long-awaited wings.

She disappeared back underground to make the long crawl home.

 

Emma H, age 26, 05/09/2017

 


Short story penned in response to Sue Vincent’s ‘Sight’ #writephoto prompt. I went back to fantasy this week although the brilliant photo could have taken my imagination in many different directions! To participate or read other bloggers’ entries, you can follow the link here:

Thursday photo prompt – Sight #writephoto

My piece ended up being a lot longer than expected, so congratulations and many thanks if you made it to the end! Any feedback would be greatly appreciated. Thanks to Sue again for a great prompt! 🙂

 

Window Pain – #writephoto

window pain“So, what do you think?”

Matthew flashed his fiancée an enthusiastic smile. A room in an actual castle, with original features, stone walls, king-size bed, booked for a steal on some website. Perfect for their pre-wedding getaway.

Stephanie gave him a reproachful glare and tentatively stepped into the room. There were freezing draughts attacking her from every angle, cobwebs strung from the rickety beams and a carpet of dust on every surface. She creaked over to the window, where the tumultuous storm raging outside was leaking inside beneath the leaded pane. The room’s amber lamps flickered eerily as the gales pummelled the power lines.

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Dreams – #writephoto

wisp.pngAsh stared at the landscape, sapphire eyes glittered with wonder. The rising sun greeted the rocks with a caressing golden glow; the horizon was tinted candyfloss pink over the moss-green hills. In the azure sky, wisps of cloud were hung like cobwebs, as fleeting and fragile as one’s breath on an icy morning. In every direction the beauty was boundless. This was a place where man had yet to impose his borders and barriers on Mother Nature. And the air was crisp and clean and refreshing. Ash inhaled deeply.

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