Flash Fiction

This Is It

Licking candyfloss, cold biting skin, laughing at gossip. Hull Fair draws us in: bright lights, loud music and roasting nuts. Fair folk shout and spin, sharp grins for all, risking limbs with callous aplomb. Lilly gasps and points; I watch as it turns, dismay closing my throat.

This is it. Climb on board: icy bar clicks shut, snicking skin, trapping limbs. Hands into fists as it jolts into motion. Hotdog onion sizzling in crisp air, distant and soon lost. Fist into mouth—can’t stop imagination tipping us out into vast dark arms. Lilly laughs and flicks and taunts and… too much, too far… my world stops as our chair sways, its bar swinging out.

Old horror twists into a bright, sharp now. Lights pinprick and loom, distant but look just a jump away. Lilly pants, fast light gasps. Music thumps through my body, thrums through iron, sings of flight.

Hands up, wind snatching at hair, grinning so hard my jaw hurts. My turn to shout: This Is It.

Our world spins away.

Lost to us.

No, this is definitely not the place.

When we got there it wasn’t what either of us expected. Not that we’d talked about it, you understand. We stood, hands resting on the bonnet of the car, the sun a hammer blow barely warded by sun-hats and shades.

‘So,’ I said.

‘Yeah,’ she said.

The so-called cottage looked more like a shack, corrugated tin roof sloping to a squint over windows blinded by mud and dust. I turned on one heel, hoping we’d pulled up outside an out-building by mistake: scattered gaunt trees in various russet shades stood watch, a few scratty bushes hunched in untidy gangs, and in the distance I caught the lumpy shimmer of the outcrop that marked the quarry.

Nope, this had to be it.

‘Might as well take a look?’

She shrugged but followed, one hand waving a zigzag defence against the insect whine, her shoulders tight, lips pressed together. I had to shove my weight against the door, but I got us inside. Stepping into shade, an instant of relief before years of accumulated heat snatched our breath, dust-dry air coating throats, making it hard to swallow.

‘Shit,’ said together, in the same I-don’t-believe-it tone.

The edges of the room were crammed with guessed at boxy furniture with improbable stick-like appendages, crouched beneath yellowing sheets. The dust-smoothed concrete floor held a tracery of movement. At the centre, warmed by an invading shaft of sunlight, curled the largest snake that I have every seen. Its flat wedge of a head turned to stare, tongue tasting the air.

The distant sound of hammer striking stone echoed around the quarry walls, repeating until the original sound was lost with its copies. A shout, indignation tapered by distance, muffled by the scrape of booted feet: my feet, impatient to be away, while hand and eye continue to work, capturing detail, blurring lines. Is that thunder? Rocks tumble and slide, promising death to those who labour beneath the overhang. I snatch a breath, mouth stretched to cry a warning. The screech of a hawk on the hunt fills the air; trimming feathers to an arrowhead it dives.

This is the place to walk: where shadow encompasses the meadow and the only sounds are the buzz of insects and the inconstant digestion of sheep. Walk slowly, experience the brush of wide skirts against brittle stems, the soft scrunch of leaves underfoot. And there, on the edge of hearing, the cry of a hawk. The wildness, the raw edge of it, wakes a longing for alien vistas beyond the farmstead.

A door slams in the distance, a familiar voice shouts. It’s time for chores and supper, and perhaps, a story under the stars.

We move from sound to sound, not realising that we are encased in noise. Only unexpected silence or a sudden muting draws the clamour to our attention. And then we sigh, relieved, one less burden to carry. And then we take one more step and the cacophony that is life snatches us back.

We shared a glance. It was all we needed. A shaky step back, then another, pursued by a rattled warning. Diamond patterns picked out by fingers of sunlight, flexing, arching, making new patterns in the dust.

No, this is definitely not the place.

Climbing back into the car, arms and legs sticking to sweaty leather, doors and windows sealed against the reality of this place, waiting for the aircon to kick in. Our retreat was marked by dust trails of our own. Curling fingers of hot air, spun out by hard acceleration, grabbing at the bumper.

Third Time’s the Charm

The air is laced with threat, intent growing as each heaving wave splinters into arcing fingers. She stands still, breathing deep. Salt-spray pricks cold, leaving a bitter coating on skin and lips. It can’t reach her. Can’t take her. Not yet.

Temptation rises from groin to chest filling her with dizzy anticipation.

Twice the sea has laid claim to her. As a child, a freak wave tried to sweep her into the belly of the ocean. As a mother, the gentle swell drifted her deep. It took a son’s strong hands to save her, towing her back to shore.

Now, this is as close to the raging heart as she can get: perched on the edge of a low broken cliff, the land’s defences eroded into scattered shards. Rocks slice each attack into nets jetted high. Wind snatches foam into the air, cream tainted with old blood, the last gift of the dying day.

Shadows merge rock and wave, opening a path to the boom and thrash below.

Third time’s the charm.

This moment has waited for her, wrapped in layers of time. One step. Two. A gritty tilt of rock—knees wobble, feet stop. Her body has more sense. She stands at the edge of the abyss, accepting the lash of salt, lost in the roar of condemnation.

She breathes deep. Drowning slowly.

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