audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

Inktober 30 – Catch

 

boat moon_photo-graphe
Image by photo-graphe via pixabay

Listen:

Fishermen were prone to exaggeration. Long weeks at sea did strange things to a man’s mind, and he’d start seeing things. Night fishing might bring him face to face with things he couldn’t quite explain. The feeling of being watched, or the sense of something moving unseen below the surface.

Every fisherman accepted the unflinching right of the sea to bestow life or death upon those who dared venture from the safety of dry land. No wonder they drank.

Bryn thought all those stories were tall tales told over too many jugs of ale. Unusually for a fisherman he dismissed superstition. He taught himself first to swim, then to dive for crabs. In his free time he played a flute made from a piece of red coral he found on the sea bed.

One night he rose, unable to sleep, and took his small boat out. A fat white moon reflected in small ripples on the water, and he gazed at it for a while. There was no reason to cast his net, but he did anyway. A moment later something tugged at the floats.

Bryn hauled in his catch, spellbound by shining silver eyes and pearly skin, blue hair floating around her waist. He leaned closer and she wound her arms around his neck.

“Come with me,” she sang. “I answer your call.”

When his boat washed ashore days later everyone assumed he’d drowned. He should not have learned to swim, they said. He didn’t show proper respect to the sea. But afterwards some who fished on the night of the full moon swore they heard music, coming from below the waves.


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audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

Inktober 29 – Injured

adult ancient arena armor
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

listen:

Queen Eleanore regarded the two knights recommended by her Master at Arms with her usual regal disdain, but inwardly she worried. She had few choices, and none appealed. Least appealing of all was marriage to the power hungry oaf who ruled the neighbouring kingdom.

But a year of war had exacted a heavy price, and she cared deeply for her people. Her father’s sense of duty ran in her veins. She would do what she must to secure peace, and a battle of champions would end the bloodshed.

“Sir Tauthe of Denham, why should I choose you as my champion?”

Tauthe returned her gaze with a bold look of his own. Eleanore schooled her features into well-practised blankness. She liked curly hair on a man and he wore his well, complementing a strong jaw and bright, clean armour.

“As your majesty knows I am unbeaten at the joust. My sword training was undertaken with the great Dirke of Greenhill, and I have proved myself in battle. It would be the greatest honour to defend this land as your champion.” He bowed low, one hand on the pommel of his sword. “My life and my sword are yours.”

Eleanore nodded and turned to the other knight. His bowed head revealed silver scattered among dark, cropped hair. His armour, though of fine quality, was marred by a scratched crest and dented breastplate. This was how he presented himself to his monarch?

She didn’t miss Tauthe’s sideways glance.

“Sir Gerann of Bree.” She looked him up and down, cool and distant. “Why should I choose you as my champion?”

Gerann raised his head. His left cheek bore a long thin scar, and another ran vertically on his scalp to a damaged right ear. Eleanore blinked at the fire in his eyes and he dropped his gaze immediately.

“If it please your majesty, I would give my heart and soul willingly for our land.” He drew his sword bright and unmarked from its battered scabbard, then knelt and offered it to her with both hands.

Eleanore weighed the confident ease of a man unbeaten in battle against the scarcely older but shabby, combat-scarred veteran. She had to choose the right one if she hoped to keep control of her throne and her life.

The queen took a breath. A silent prayer, and she nodded at Gerann. Master at Arms wore the ghost of a smile as he brought her pennant forward.

Eleanore needed a man prepared to get close enough to risk injury, and tough enough to fight on despite it. She trusted Gerann would fight to his last breath. And if he lost, they would each accept their fate with honour.


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audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

Inktober 22 – Ghost

washington-dc_David Mark
Image by David Mark via pixabay

listen:

I walked down a street that seemed much bigger in my memory. Where were the dangers our mothers warned us about? It was a perfectly ordinary row of houses. Small front gardens were tucked behind hedges in every stage of growth from tight restriction to careless abandon.

I stopped outside the wildest hedge of all, overgrown and formless. Branches glossy with recent rain reached damp fingers towards me. A faint scent of unseen roses blew past. The pale green front door was peeling and the windows were blank. Still, your voice drifted down to me.

“You’re early!”

“You’re late.” I tapped my watch in mock anger but my lips betrayed me. “As usual.”

“Sorry, wait for me.” You flashed that unforgettably brilliant smile, and vanished.

Alone again, I turned my collar up against light but persistent drizzle. Suddenly colder, I wished past and present would unite into the future you promised before we slipped through each other’s fingers, and were lost.

Wait for me.

That’s what you always said. And I did.

I came back, but all I found were ghosts whispering in the wind.


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Inktober 20 – Tread

hide_Sandra Karuna
Image by Sandra Karuna via pixabay

listen:

I can hear them downstairs, but I don’t think they’ll find me.

Daddy and me played hide and seek a lot. At first he would stamp on every stair so I could hear him coming, but later on he’d sneak so, so quietly. When I found this spot and stayed hidden for ages, he was very proud. He hugged me and gave me chocolate. He said I was his good boy, his clever boy.

So when he shouted Danny run and hide right now I did. My nose itches but I mustn’t sneeze or give myself away. It’s dark and too small in here but it’s not time to come out, not yet.

I can hear heavy boots on the stairs. My heart beats so, so fast. Tramp, tramp, tramp. Here they come. My eyes are wet. Please go away. I breathe fast, quiet as I can. Please, please.

Yes! The footsteps are leaving but now I can hear Max barking. He doesn’t like strangers. I’ll stay hidden until they’re gone.

Then the barking stops.

“Good boy, clever boy,” a man’s voice says. “Go find Danny.”


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Inktober 18 – Misfit

cocktails_bridgesward
Image by bridgesward via pixabay

listen:

Lovely afternoon, perfect for a garden party don’t you think?

 She nods and smiles, sips her Pimm’s. Strawberry and orange slices are fine, but cucumber doesn’t belong in a cocktail.

Jeremy made partner and our eldest goes up to Oxford this year. Time flies, doesn’t it?

 She wears a new summer dress of fluttering silk with wedge heels. Stilettos and lawns don’t mix, and she won’t make that mistake again. Everything is going well. She talks, smiles, laughs when appropriate, passing among well groomed and apparently happy people.

Range Rover Caribbean mergers options

Her smile is a rictus grin, concealing scars left by her climb from the grim pits of hell to the favoured, sunny uplands of success. No pain, no gain so they say, but you must hide your wounds under layered politeness so no-one knows.

Tax haven stockbroker horses Dior

 A headache forms, throbbing at her temples. They might be in the same place now, but they’re not the same. All these years she thought this was the pinnacle but now, up close and personal, she’s not sure she can fake it any more.

It’s cold at the top and the air is too thin. Her breathing is rapid, shallow.

And she hates Pimm’s.


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audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

Inktober 17 – Ornament

 

girl-figurine_Sofie Zborilova
Image by Sofie Zborilova via pixabay

listen:

I worked my way through each room, bagging things for the trash or for donation. Who knew how much stuff one person could accumulate? Well I did, even then. When I finally escaped that overstuffed space I could finally breathe. My own taste is pretty minimalist. No surprise there.

Now I find myself staring at shelves filled with china ornaments. I always hated those winsome shepherd girls and grinning sailor boys. Mum made me clean them weekly with a feather duster under her eagle-eyed supervision. She said they were Royal Doulton, collector’s items. A collection is pretty meaningless without the one who pulled it together, but maybe she left me something valuable after all.

I check the mark on the base of the nearest one. The words ‘Made in China’ leap out at me. Did she trick me, or did she fool herself? What was it all for?

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry as the figurine slips from my shaky hand and shatters on the floor. The rest make the most satisfying sounds when I hurl them at the wall.


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audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

Inktober 16 – Wild

 

boy-attic-blue_Myriam Zilles
Image by Myriam Zilles via pixabay

listen:

I suppose you’d call me soft-hearted. I can’t bear to see any creature suffer. Though I normally keep pretty much to myself, preferring to observe from a distance, something about this one called out to me. He was wary of me at first, and cried but that was to be expected. Distress makes anyone skittish, so I held him tighter to make him feel more secure.

He looked like a Matthew, so that’s what I called him.

I had to quiet him down. It was for his own good and people were staring, judging me. The nice checkout girl understood why I had to rush through buying his things, but once I got him home he was even worse. He kicked and screamed like a wild thing. Those were the difficult days but I knew it would be worth persevering, for both of us.

I’m pleased to say he settled into his new home after a while. Now he sits where I put him and stares at the wall. I’m not sure of his actual birthday, so we’ll celebrate the anniversary of the day he came home with me.

He’s such an obedient, quiet little boy. She didn’t deserve him, but I’m going to give him everything a mother should.


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Inktober 15 – Legend

 

Man-sunset_zoltan tasi
Image by Zoltan Tasi via Unsplash 

listen:

Mankind is facing annihilation – yet again.

Apparently people are calling my name.

I can’t believe you’d expect me to lay myself on the line for them. I am not the legend I was. I am not as strong, as fast or as foolish as I was and the world has no right to ask any more of me. For God’s sake. I gave up my one and only love, my peace of mind. I risked everything.

Yes, people chanted my name, put my picture on magazines, even made movies about me. But they didn’t want the rest of the story, did they? Didn’t want to know how my spirit was broken. Didn’t want to hear about the nightmares that haunted me day and night. I see all those faces still. They told me it was a price worth paying. Tell that to the ones I couldn’t save.

Yes, I got a medal from the president, but I was alone. I am alone.

So why should I come back now? I’ve had twenty years to figure out that people want you when they need you. And when they don’t need you any more, you’re dead to them. The fate of the planet lies in my hands, and my hands alone? Don’t be absurd. It’s never that simple.

If I take on this fight and win, what’s in it for me? I already know what the world’s gratitude consists of. And if I try and fail, what’s in it for me? I already know the bitter taste of rejection. There are many less painful ways to die.

How dare you come here to weep and beg for my help. How dare you pretend to care about anything other than yourselves. Guilt and fear is written all over you. Save us, you cry. We’re all human, all in it together. Well then.

If that’s true, let us all burn together.


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Inktober 13 – Ash

Gold dragon breathing fire
Josch13 via pixabay

Conclusion to Inktober 12 – Dragon

listen:

Shackle your greed and curb your desire, lest all be consumed by brimstone and fire.

Sulphurous air filled my cave, stealing through every gap around the stone door. I lived in almost complete darkness while the sun rose and fell unseen. The earth trembled under the heavy tread of an enraged dragon whose shrieks pierced my ears, even underground. I could not eat the food stored with such care when my stomach was sick with fear.

Days passed.

Eventually my craving for light and the need to know drove me out again. I heaved the stone aside with a great effort, weak from lack of sleep and hunger. And stepped out into a silent hell.

Grey ash blanketed the world. Blackened tree stumps and shattered dwellings were all that remained of the once thriving town. All that remained of its inhabitants were piles of bones huddled together, small and large, remnants of people and their pets, people and their hopes for a better future.

“Enough is better than riches,” I whispered, pulling my scarf tighter over my face. Choking on tainted air, I stumbled back to my cave. There I threw myself down and wept. Grief scoured out my heart and left it hollow.

After three days of mourning I bathed in the stream nearby and combed out my hair, then ate my first meal of porridge and fruit. That night, I slept without nightmares. The next day, I dressed in my work clothes and returned to Kasparenya with a shovel.

Day after day, I buried bones. Amongst the remains of Kasparenya I found gold; jewellery, coins, toys, teeth. I took them to the collapsed church where the golden spire was missing yet the altar remained intact. A miracle, of sorts.

*

Many exhausting days have passed. The stench of brimstone is faint now but I sense the dragon’s eyes watching me still. Its heartbeat pulses through the ground. The pile of gold on the altar grows daily. I hope my store of food is enough, for I have no time to grow more. I hope my strength is enough, for there is no-one to help me.

When I’m done burying bones and collecting gold, I can rest. The visions have promised me that much.


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audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

Inktober 12 – Dragon

dragon-fire_Josch13
Josch13 via pixabay

listen:

The small fishing village of Kasparenya was established generations before I was born. By my time it had grown fat and sprawling, rich in thieves and merchants alike. Like my mother and her mother before her, I led a quiet life in our cave house. The townspeople extracted easy gold from the generous hillsides while mocking our unfashionably modest lifestyle.

For years I lived alone, growing food and herbs by day and feeding my brain with Great Mother’s ancient books by night. Occasionally, people passing my field would taunt me.

“Why don’t you work in the city, earn some coin? Perhaps then you could dress less like an old crone and more like a decent woman.”
I wiped my brow. Digging was hot work on a summer day. “I must tend my garden, and I do not need more coins. Enough is better than riches.”
“Whatever you say, Cassie.” Sarah turned away, but not before tapping her forehead and giggling with her friends.

They always ignored my calls to beware of greed. Old books had nothing to teach the modern world and they stood in the way of progress. Why not have more, if there was more to be had?

Kasparenya’s gilded church spire was a fitting symbol of hard work and enterprise. It showed what a man could do if he worked hard and dug deep. It showed what to aim for when more was never enough.

We should learn from history. But how to learn when history is forgotten and those who remind us are mocked as wrong-headed fools?

News of the gilded spire travelled far and brought even more people to wonder and dream of riches, then buy shovels and buckets. Meanwhile I harvested and stored enough food for a season, oiled my tools, stockpiled candles, and waited.

And one day a shiver started in my bones that grew inexorably. I rolled the stone over the cave entrance and hid.

Above, though I could not see or hear, I knew it was happening just as the visions foretold.

The endless beat of huge, leathery wings.

The stench of sulphur as the ground trembled.

A shriek that split the air when the dragon, drawn by our golden beacon, discovered its plundered hoard.

Fiery vengeance raining down from the sky.

I rocked and chanted as mother and grandmother and all the mothers before had done in their cool, dark sanctuary.

Shackle your greed and curb your desire, lest all be consumed by brimstone and fire.

I tried to warn them.

(to be concluded in Inktober 13)


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