1000words

where pictures make prose

#flashcomp July 2014: Open

Here at 1000words we like to do things on the spur of the moment, so we’re holding another quick-fire competition. To enter, please follow the instructions below:

  1. Write a flash-fiction of 200 words or fewer (not including the title) inspired by the image below.
  2. Email your entry to submissions@1000words.org.uk as a WORD DOCUMENT.
  3. Include in the body of the email  your NAME and the TITLE of your entry. You may also tell us your website address and/or twitter username if you wish.
  4. DO NOT put any identifying information (e.g. your name or email address) in the story document, but DO include the story’s title – so we can match writers to stories after we’ve decided on the winners.
  5. Put ’1000words flashcomp entry’ in your email’s subject line.

Photographer: A Guy Taking Pictures. Some Rights Reserved. (CC BY 2.0)

The deadline is 5pm (BST) on Sunday 27th July 2014.

Sorry, but entries received after the deadline and/or that don’t conform to the above requirements will not be read, and due to time constraints, we won’t be able to acknowledge receipt of your email.

On Sunday, we will select our five favourite entries, announce the winners (at about 9pm) and then post them on the website from Monday 28th July through to Friday 1st August. As well as being published, winners will also receive a limited edition ‘Published on 1000words’ virtual badge.

We’re looking forward to reading your entries.

Happy Flashing!

(We are still open to normal submissions.)

Old Souls and New Souls

3bd1211983461fe91b78a656b3181f87There is two types of soul in this world, and I don’t mean there is good and there is bad souls, for in truth if we is talkin of souls in this way there is many gradations in between. No, I mean there is new souls and there is old souls. How your soul can be known to be one or the other requires a grandmother, for only they has hearts that is tuned to such things.

Kitty’s grandmother sits in a old rocker chair out on her front porch and her head is cocked like a bird when it’s listenin and she knows when you is comin long ‘fore she can see you. She listens is how, sharp as pins or needles, and she hears the sing-song in your feet, or the thunder if there’s thunder. And she says Kitty has a old soul, though she’s only fourteen on her next birthday.

‘She’s been here before,’ says Kitty’s grandmother. ’Is obvious. See how nothin is new to her and how she sits with her legs crossed and her back straight, and she was always so, I tell you. You can see it in the pictures we got of her when she was knee high to a footstool.’

It makes sense when you know. Kitty, and she’s pretty as a church Madonna with her dark hair all careless curls and her blue eyes like pieces of the sky is in ‘em. Her lips is all the shapes of kisses and her diddies small as lemons, and Kitty breaks boys’ hearts with her ‘no, not today, thank you,’ when they asks to hold her hand. I see ‘em, lookin like puppies that is lost or scolded when she walks by and she does not notice ‘em; and I reckon all those boys is maybe new souls to be so stupid in wonder at Kitty.

And I is likely a new soul, too, and I says it out loud like it’s somethin to be proud of. Kitty’s grandmother looks me up and down, like she’s thinkin hard thoughts, and she shakes her grey-smoke head, and she says, ‘That’s right, Lily, dear. New as flowers when they is not yet opened, or foals that has not yet found theys feet and the steam from theys breath is thin and coughing, and mama horse still lying heavy and breathless on her side from the birthin. You is that new.’

And grandmother sees me holdin hands with Kitty and my lips all red and puffy from the kissin and Kitty’s dress buttons undone and one of ‘em buttons pulled and missin with the hurryin and all, and Kitty’s grandmother leans close to me, so close I can see the not-yet-falling tears in her eyes, hear the catching in her breath, and she says Kitty’ll break my heart, too, ‘and make no mistake about it,’ she says.

Kitty jes laughs, and her laughin is like easy water runnin, and she gently squeezes my hand in hers, and ‘cause I is a new soul and just findin my feet in this world, I trust Kitty and not her grandmother, which I knows is just fool’s thinkin.

Kitty’s grandmother reaches up and she strokes one hand ‘gainst my chin, soft as feathers or thistledown or breath. I can smell rosewater and coffee beans in her touch. ‘You take care now, Lily, child,’ she says, and those tears that was in her eyes before, well they is now silver on her cheeks when she says it.

(Author: Douglas Bruton. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: vivendi2010. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

Such Sights To See

SightsSeven emerged from the subway station, into the square, where the lights were brighter, the people closer and the noises louder. Instinctively, she drew back from it, pressing against Ryu’s chest, but he took her shoulders and guided her out, into the world. He knew that with the latest procedure she would see only the vaguest blurs and hear the noise of the city as a muffled roar, but he was determined to give her this night, if he could.

A cry escaped her, a small gasp of wordless excitement, and his heart leapt. The subjects were so sheltered, he’d had no clear idea of how she would react, but her pleasure was childlike, filled with joy and wonder. It was not so surprising perhaps; The subjects were vat grown and artificially aged, and none reached the age of ten before the final harvesting, whatever their bodies may suggest.

He took her by the elbow and steered her through the thronged streets of Shinjuku, slipping between couples and salarymen and clustered knots of streetcorner Otaku, ever conscious of the eyes of the city upon them. He supposed that some would think them a couple, but more likely they would see a girl and her father, perhaps a carer, and that suited him, so he took pains to hold her elbow as they crossed the street, no matter how strong the urge to entwine his fingers with hers.

They ate at a noodle bar and he watched intently as she savoured each mouthful. Her system could only handle the smallest portion of the blandest noodles now, but she delighted in the smells and the parade of colours as the conveyor belt of plates slid past them. She laughed out loud as he speared a brightly pink gunkanmaki and he swore that he would never forget the sound.

He had known since their first consultation, when he had marked a square patch of dermis on her smoothly bronzed stomach and prepared to strip it away. Pressing the oxygen mask to her face, he had brushed a stray lock of jet black hair from her slender neck and been lost forever. Even meeting her American original did nothing to change his mind; Hearing the barking laugh and the snickering cough, listening to the stream of filth and invective that passed for her wit, he found himself thinking more and more of Seven as the template from which this aged and imperfect copy had sprung, and he longed for her.

He had begun to work longer hours, staying late at the facility to be near her, creeping down to the nursery to watch her sleep. He listened to her muffled breathing on the intercom and closed his eyes, imagining that he lay beside her. He had even rushed to her side, once, when night terrors tore her from her sleep, but the orderlies who came in after him gave him knowing smirks when they found him with his arms around her heaving shoulders. He knew what they did on long night shifts with the subjects whose faculties for telling tales had been taken from them, and he was repulsed that they mistook his own intentions for anything like their own.

He knew that it was wrong, that he was risking his marriage and his career, the existence of his whole team at the facility, but that just made the yearning all the stronger. With every new procedure, as they stripped her away, piece by piece, he felt the need to do something for her. He wanted to take her away from her pain, if only for one night, but he could not see how to do it without adding to her troubles.

Finally, an opportunity had presented itself; A subject had gone into crash on the operating table, with the procedure barely begun. His team had stepped in to try and stabilise her, and the orderlies had their hands full with another from the same batch who seemed to sense his sibling’s distress. Quickly, Ryu had slipped into the nursery, roused her from her doze and dressed her in an old blouse and trousers belonging to his wife, back from the days when she still cared about her appearance. It was a little old fashioned and unflattering, but it hid the scars well enough, and her face was still perfect. He felt that his chest would burst with happiness as he led her from the facility to begin their tour.

She grew tired far too quickly though, and the night was soon over. She began to cry out as the motorcyclists drew too close, to shield her eyes when the neon glared too strongly. When the rain fell, she huddled against him for protection, with no conception of its source. He couldn’t risk taking her back on the subway without using one of the sleep-laden syringes he had snatched from the operating room, and he had no desire to see her shut down in that way, so he hired a taxi. He spent far more than he could account for when his wife next audited his wallet, but as he watched the lights glide across the rain streaked glass, reflected in her shining eyes, he was glad that he had. He wondered if this was how she saw, what she made of the harsh western music bleeding through from the supposedly soundproofed driver’s cab.

He wondered what she thought when she saw him.

Finally, when he could bear it no longer, he said what was in his heart, whispering it into the maelstrom of leaking rock and roll.

She smiled and gripped his hand with both of hers, and he wondered if she had somehow heard it, a whisper amplified by the feeling behind it.

Then she forced her ruined vocal chords to stilted life and asked him if they could go out again, one day?

“Yes, Seven. One day.”

He didn’t have the heart to tell her what they were harvesting next.

(Author: Karl A Russell. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Vincent. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

Love and Its Commerce

LoveWhen my florist’s business started to wilt in the face of local competition, just a few years before I was due to retire, I took my putrefying stock and repackaged it. “Send a token of your affliction,” I wrote in gold calligraphy on the front window. “Rotten flowers delivered for free within three miles.”

Of the few people who came in, most thought it was joke. They looked at the buckets of sagging stems, sniggered to themselves and headed out with a single live red rose or a handful of nothing. But then one man, after shuffling around for ten minutes looking at fresh bouquets, came over to the till and quietly asked if we might have something suitable for a former girlfriend. I talked him around the stock, and he chose a bunch of damp, stinking lilies. I wrapped them in old newspaper and he dictated a note to go with them, asking me to scribble it on the inside of an unfolded fag packet showing a picture of two crusted lungs. “Sarah. Put these in a vase as a reminder of the state of your soul. Fuck off forever. Mark.”

I delivered them that afternoon, placing them on the doorstep and ringing the bell, then hiding in my car to check Sarah was in. She was, and I’ve never seen a bunch of flowers do so much to a person’s face.

I went back to the shop and put the new stock in a dark corner to die while moving the rotten stuff up to the front. I had a look at my sign and changed the wording. “Had your heart broken? Can’t stand your boss? Something to get off your chest? Mature flowers and unconventional arrangements inside.” I also emailed the local paper with a quarter-page advert.

The next day I had three more inquiries, from three of Mark’s friends, and over the next week I had so many requests that I had to extend my opening times. Bunches of 12 dead roses were the most popular, closely followed by withered bouquets. I also had a request to make up some floral lettering for a wedding. “She’s fucking your brother” set a record for my earnings from a single order. I left it outside the front of the church during the service.

The customers really made the business what it was. They came in with such creative requests, the kind of things I would never have thought of. “Can you trim this slag’s hedge into the shape of a penis?” “Could you put one of my turds in a presentation box?” “Are you able to put eggs through these people’s letterboxes?” “Can you slash my boss’ tyres at 9am on Sunday?” “My neighbour’s on holiday and I’ve got some spare keys. Could you get his house sold in the next couple of weeks?”

Well, I didn’t say no to any of them. Times had been tough, and I had to make things up to my bank manager.

“Would that be a circumcised penis, dear?” “Do you want the turd on a small bed of herbs, sir?” “Free-range eggs, madam?” “All four tyres, vicar?” “Do you also have the keys to the gentleman’s filing cabinet, sir?”

I was amazed at how much hate there was to go around, and I had a monopoly on it. Until one Monday morning, after an impromptu five-star weekend away with my married bank manager, I turned up at my shop to find the windows smashed, my stock gone and a lot of libellous graffiti on the walls. On the pavement in front of the broken windows were a few bouquets of fresh flowers surrounding some floral lettering: “Maureen, you’ll be missed when you’re gone.”

I took a photo of the display, then gathered up the flowers and put them in my car. I got the photo developed, and dropped a copy round at the local paper for a quarter-page ad: “Maureen’s Flowers. We now do death threats.”

(Author: Ian Shine. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Natalie Bowers. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

North Norfolk Coast

NNCDays were spent with her brother, Donald, on the beaches of the North Norfolk coast, with its wild winds and salt air. They built sand castles before the sun set; before the waves swept over the turrets, dragging them back into the sea. She could hear her father’s voice.

‘You’ll catch your death if you don’t put a sweater on, girl. It’s getting cold.’

He spoke as though he was still fighting from the trenches. She wondered how death could be caught, if at all. The swell of the waves grew with each crash, pounding the shore and devouring the castles with their flags. The moats, engulfed with water at high tide, turned her thoughts to the river, which had burst its banks in an early January. The thought frightened her, perhaps more than her father’s unkind words.

‘Edith, stay with your brother where I can see you.’

‘Yes, Papa.’

‘And don’t go disturbing the wildlife. There are small creatures in the rock pools. Don’t make them quiver, for goodness sake.’

She felt like a small creature against him, against his booming voice that made her quiver. He hadn’t always been this way, only since he had returned from fighting. His voice made him sound as though he was still in combat.

‘Don’t disturb your father, he needs some rest,’ her mother had said, nervously, on the day after he came home. Something had turned him from a kind man – a man who had time to read her adventure stories, and describe the surface of the moon and take her to the park – into something else, something she could never quite describe. He was a shadowy presence that haunted her, making her afraid to utter his name.

***

It had been years since the day at the beach. It was the day he collapsed. ‘A heart attack,’ the doctor had whispered in quiet tones, as though trying not to wake a sleeping baby. ‘He’s probably been under intense stress for a long time. It’s not uncommon, you know. Will you be all right, Mrs?’ he had asked kindly. It was unusual to hear a warm voice, and it made her suspicious.

The afternoon light caught the edges of the curtains, illuminating the vase of wilted tulips on the bedside table. Donald had arrived and was in the foyer trying to sort out some papers. He always came and went, feet shuffling about as though treading on hot coals.

‘Edith,’ he said as he entered the room, ‘do you want me to talk to them about the flowers? They never have any water, and your hair, shall I get them to give you a cut?’

She put her hand on his arm as he pulled the chair in towards her to sit down. ‘What I’d like is for you to sit a while and just be with me. I don’t need watered flowers and I have no need for a haircut.’

He looked puzzled. ‘Are you all right?’ he said.

‘Yes, I was just thinking. Do you remember when they took us to the beach?’

‘Of course, how could I forget?’

‘What was he like before…before the war?’

He swept a few silver strands of hair from his face. ‘I suppose he was freer, less angry.’ He looked out of the window and back towards her. ‘When he came back he seemed bitter, as though he had lost a part of himself.’

‘Did he ever tell you about it?’ she asked.

‘No.’ He lowered his head and stared at the patterned carpet, which disguised an assortment of spillages. ‘Edith, he was never the same. Even Mother couldn’t talk to him.’

She nodded, ‘I don’t remember everything. When he left I don’t think he ever returned. At least, it wasn’t him who came back to us.’

‘Edith, war can be isolating.’ She wondered if he was speaking about the soldiers or about those left behind: the wives and children.

He lifted her hand, squeezed it and left the room. She felt alone; alone when the carers spoke over her head, as though she was no longer there; and alone at night in her single hospice bed with its safety rails, as though they expected her to fly away like Peter Pan’s Tinker Bell, off into the night. She wanted to fly away when her father had warned her about the small creatures in the rock pool. She wanted to fly away now, out of her creaky body and to be free. She squeezed her eyes shut and imagined wings spread out behind her. It would only take one leap and she could fly up and out through the window; just one.

(Author: FC Malby. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Natalie Bowers. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

The 135

The 135Nothing exciting ever happens on the 135 bus and nothing exciting happens to me much either. We’re quite similar, me and my bus – large and slow and my cheeks even go London bus red in the morning when I run to catch it.

But this morning, something is happening. At the stop by the market there is a rising grey sea of suits, a line of slim bodies milling around the square and scrambling by the mouth of the bus. I press my face to the window and see these people, so conspicuous in a neighbourhood where a matching tracksuit is considered dressed-up, and I see a life that could have been mine.

They pour onto the bus, their vowels confident and their voices loud. One squeezes into the aisle near me. “Train’s down, mate, can you believe it? They’ve turfed us out in deepest, darkest east London. Yeah, I’m still miles away from Canary Wharf.”

I feel invaded. I may not be a gold-plated success like my friends have become, but I’m happy with my life working for a local paper in London’s East End. It’s an authentic life, and as I get older (I’m 30 next week), I’ve begun to appreciate the real things, and dismiss the shiny objects of youth.

I lift my eyes, which have been observing my chubby hands in my lap and I meet a face so familiar it’s like I sketched it years ago with my own pencil. Arching, vaguely feminine eyebrows. Brown eyes burning with something intense and secret that gives the impression he lives harder than the rest of us. A handsome face arranged on a glowing backdrop, he still has the dewy freshness of twelve years ago. My heart is creeping up my throat. Could it be him? He would be the type to work in one of Canary Wharf’s anonymous towers. I can see him crunching numbers and lunching in style. He’s still skinny. In fact, his suit hangs off him a little, making him look like a child in his father’s clothes. I look away. It feels wrong to watch him and not announce myself, like I’m stealing the past.

There are at least ten bodies between us. I want to say, “It’s me. Remember our deal? If we’re not married at thirty…” That’s what he promised when the distance at university proved too much, when we realised our teenage romance would have to be resigned to the past.

We are nearing my stop. I bet he has never been to this part of London before and I’d also wager he never imagines me working in a crumbling office without even a printer, if he thinks of me at all. I press the bell and prepare to waddle past my neighbour. Public transport is always embarrassing when you’re of larger girth, your buttocks like a rucksack pressing into the slender backs of other people. I blunder through the bodies to the door. I reach it, feeling out of breath and hot. The windows have steamed up from the proximity of bodies. As I sidle past him, I catch his eye and hold it for a second or two. But his gaze just slides right over me. The bigger you get, the less people see you, like your outer padding is an invisibility cloak.

As I step off the bus, tears of shame are gathering in my eyes. I see my reflection in a shop window and know that although I have done all I could to strangle that girl, to bury her in mounds of flesh, she is still in there. Someone who believes in promises lives in my body. I don’t know how to set her free. I turn around and watch the sad behind of the bus chug away from me and the person I once was.

(Author: Clare Kane. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Zhu. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

Fresh Blood

WolfGabby dreams again about being chased by a pack of wolves. When she wakes up, there are muddy canine footprints all over her bedroom floor. Another morning spent cleaning. Her hands raw from all the scrubbing, Gabby hides pieces of flesh that keep getting caught on the pealing floorboards in a jar on the bottom shelf. She started with the top shelf a month or so ago but soon ran out of space.

This is the second jar in the last week alone. It is getting hard to hide the fact that there is more of her in jars than left attached to her body. What is most frustrating is that she knows the footprints will be back again next day.

The youngest one of the wolves, the one that always hangs to the back, seems to also be getting thinner every time she encounters them in the forest. His howls have turned into whimpers and Gabby is worried that one day the pack will either abandon him or kill him so that he does not slow them down. Every night their coats seem to keep getting more and more matted with clay and mud, and Gabby wonders if the mud is what is still holding the youngest one together.

On Saturday, her fingers bleed so much that her stepfather locks her in her room and tells her she will not be coming out till she gets her behavior under control. She does not come out on Saturday. Sunday and Monday go by as well. She knocks on her door but no one answers. Her stepfather forgets or maybe chooses not to bring Gabby her meals so she chews on the dried pieces of her skin and for the first time feels some peace. Tuesday, the blood from her hand pools in the latest jar and the pieces of skin seem to revive and glisten in one slight line of sunlight making it through her boarded window.

When Wednesday morning comes, Gabby feels too weak to get up from her damp mattress. Her body shivers uncontrollably and she dreams of the youngest wolf. In her dream, he is lying next to her and his fur is no longer sticky, it is luxuriously soft and feels warm to the touch. She wants to ask him if he would like her to open one of the jars with the blood soaked skin so he could eat, but with her hands so weak, Gabby is not too sure she could even open the lid. The wolf nuzzles her ear making huffing un-wolf like noises.

Next morning, when Gabby wakes up, she turns her head to the side where the wolf was before. No mud on the floor this time. No floor either. She is lying on the soft green grass and it smells of spring.

(Author: Dovile Mark. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Natalie Bowers. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

Cordelia Holds Eddie’s Heart In Her Hands

NestCordelia talks to birds. Whistles in trills and tweets, soft as whispers, silver as song. And they come to her calling and they look at her with wet black eyes and they are not afraid. Sparrows and robins, and blackbirds with golden beaks. They flock at her window and fly into her room and rest in the warm hollows of her body as she sleeps.

They say that in another life Cordelia might have been a tree, with her arms reaching to the sky, high as clouds, embracing the sun, and her feet heavy and set sure in the ground. And birdwing strokings of her fingers and her body, light as lovers’ caresses and as fond. That’s what they say, and Cordelia maybe believes them.

In the cup of her hands a song thrush has built its nest of plaited grass and sticks and mud, and lined with feathers and torn cloth, and soft cotton threads in all colours, threads stolen from the seamstress’ table and picked up from her floor, and hair like filaments of gold or the strings of harps. And Cordelia holds the nest like it is thinnest glass and the eighth wonder of the whole world.

‘Put it down, Cee,’ says her mother. ‘Put it in on a bookshelf or in the eaves of the house or high on a hill out of the reach of cats and foxes.’

Cordelia’s mother does not understand the song thrush, not like Cordelia understands.

‘Place it by your bed, so it is near and you can see it when you wake,’ says Eddie, and he’s really talking about himself for that is his wish, to be beside Cordelia when she wakes. Cordelia shakes her head and she kisses Eddie and her tongue in his mouth is as sweet as berries.

But in Cordelia’s thinking she thinks she might have been a tree once, and holding the nest in her hands is like something remembered and something sacred, so she does not put it down. Thin as sticks she soon is, for she relies on her mother feeding her from a spoon, as she did years back when Cordelia was a child. And she sleeps standing up and a song thrush caught in her hands in its nest.

Two eggs one day, glossy and bright and blue, and spotted with black, blue like the sky flecked with soot or the flung flights of crows far off. And it is a wonder then, and Cordelia shows what she has to children and to Eddie. And Eddie cups his hands to Cordelia’s shrinking breasts and he asks her how long she will be a tree and he kisses her neck and she arches against him, all jutting bones and hard elbows and stiff ribs, and she is breathless and wanting for a moment. But she has a greater duty now, for trees are nursemaids to birds and soon enough there are two featherless, loose-necked and goggle-eyed chicks in the nest.

Days into weeks and feathers sprouting and the chicks growing fat on grubs and flies with dry paper wings, and berries that belong to last year, and fat pink worms. And the chicks think Cordelia is a tree, the only tree they know, and they leave the nest some days, creeping along the inside of her arms, and they shake their feathers and their wings, feeling what air is. And Cordelia’s breath comes in rattles and gasps, and her hair falls from her head, and her skin is like softened paper or thin cloth laid over her bones, and Eddie does not come round any more, and the doctors say she must eat, and her mother says, ‘Put it down, Cee,’ and, ‘Please put it down,’ and ‘Please,’ and, ‘Cee.’

Then a miracle, for it is always a miracle when something flies, breaks free from the tug and pull of gravity and hangs in the air. And Cordelia weeps as trees must weep, for the wonder of it all. And her job is done now and she knows that it is, and so she kneels to pray, falls to her knees, heavy and final. There is a price to be paid, and the song thrush at her window offers up a last song before leaving and it is the best song and the sweetest and it is heard by only Cordelia and it is the last that she hears and it is an answer of sorts to the prayers that she made.

And somewhere, a boy called Eddie kisses the budding breasts of a girl called Elizabeth, and he begs of her only one thing, and he speaks in whispers so soft that she only hears breath, and he says to her, ‘Please,’ and, ‘Please,’ and, ‘Please, not to be a tree.’

(Author: Lindsay Fisher. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Celeste RC. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

Journey’s End

to the riverCallie hears the lap of the water before she sees it; a slow, steady ebb and flow against the muddy banks, fringed by bright reeds and murky algae. There is no sense of urgency in her; not here; not now. She has all the time in the world. The sun’s rays are warm on her shoulders as she saunters through the grass which gathers around her sneakers, parting and flattening out as she puts pressure on it. There is no breeze to create a chill and clouds are scarce in the sky. The heat creates its own haze in the air, which surrounds Callie as she walks.

There is no designated pathway to speak of, although Callie knows the direction in which she is headed. Her senses lead the way. She hears the flow of water as it passes by and onward, its probable previous trickle more now than burn, beck or creek. Now the free flow races; the rush becoming louder, insistent, as she nears its source. An unkindness of ravens soars above her, flanked by what she thinks is an occasional crow; the odd sparrow. Those are easier to categorise definitively. The flock do not fight for precedence, not even amongst each other, large with smaller species. Instead, they maintain a careful co-existence.

She spots fellow wanderers on the opposite bank as she moves forwards, though she cannot pick out their faces – the features remain blurred by distance. That aside, she thinks they are on the wrong side of the river for their purpose and thus will not meet, even if they reach the river’s edge. She hopes they locate their hart or proverbial personal psychopomp to lead, to show the way. She herself knows without knowing, instinctual; cannot say how, who, what may have imparted the knowledge; may be working with her. Still, she thinks she is glad not to be worked against. Callie does not want to wander the shores for days, months; years.

Sure enough, he is there when her feet tread the wooden boards of the platform which reaches out into the river’s depths. The water almost reaches them, movement and momentum causing an occasional slap against the sides. Callie can see minimal erosion where slivers of bark have been rubbed and worried away by both time’s tides and the fluid’s weathering.

She finds her eyes have been cast downward. Now she raises them slowly from their search of the floor to meet those of the man before her – the one she is here to meet. The gaze is keen; eyes worldly wizened, though Callie knows she would struggle to pinpoint his age. She suspects it doesn’t matter – not here; not now. He is unshaven, grey and white hairs mixed with the darker grizzle; cloaked in dusky cloth, in stark contrast with the sudden fierce fever eyes. They burn into her own, forcing Callie to look away. He knows why she is here, no hiding the truth now. He knows all.

She finds she knows what is needed, without the words. The hands she placed, clenched, in her pockets, as she submitted to close scrutiny have given her the answer, as has the hand stretched out towards her. The bones beneath the surface are discernible; white, as the skin stretches across the knuckles, before it turns, palm upturned. The unspoken request. Callie wonders briefly if he even has the capacity for speech. Perhaps it is better not to know. The eyes were enough.

The metal fills her palm completely as she closes her fingers around it; unwieldy, impractical, save for in the current circumstances. She does not know if it has always been there or if it has been called to mind in light of her need for it to exist. The head it bears on it is dull, its planes obscured by the lack of sheen. It could be anyone; anything. She passes it to the ferryman, the chill of his fingers more apparent in comparison to her own current warmth. She suspects it is likely to fade as they travel. She knows her journey’s end now.

Callie climbs aboard the boat, dipping her knees to compensate for the sway beneath her, as it rocks on its moorings under her unexpected weight and movement. Charon has raised his cowl to hide his hollowed cheeks from sight; has his pole in his right hand in readiness. Together they will travel towards the river’s mouth. Together, towards the sea.   From here, the river flows but one way.

(Author: Catherine Connolly. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Heather Stanley. Image: All Rights Reserved.)

Bigger on the Inside

Bigger On the InsideI want to regenerate.

I want to throw back my arms, puff out my chest, look straight upwards to the infinite beyond, and let my whole body explode in a violent burst of nervous energy. Then, when I’m done, I will be a new man. Ready to face the universe again. Ready to once more travel forward in time.

Upstairs, the colour of the carpet marks the place of the bed we once shared. Faded squares on the wallpaper reveal where our pictures used to hang. Only one remains: there’s you, my faithful companion, veiled and radiant in white, beaming to the camera. And then there’s me, with my dark tweed suit and question mark waistcoat, and a stick of celery in my lapel instead of the traditional carnation, and a fedora on my head, and an ancient glint in my eye. Two people, looking forward to adventures in time and space.

Alien and mysterious; that’s who I wanted to be. That’s how I wanted you to want me. But I guess you eventually saw through that. Saw me for who I really am. I have only one heart, so I suppose that makes me human. Now this one heart won’t stop hurting.

The last removal man’s just left. I asked him to leave just one chair. So he left the kitchen stool. There’s one exactly like it from the TV movie, near where the Eye of Harmony opens, so it will slot in perfectly. I carry it across to the den. This room, it’s not large; not like it is on the telly. There’s a miniature console in the middle, and circular patterns on the walls like in the classic era, and some old levers and buttons I got from the scrapyard. If the Time Vortex could distort the hours I spent working on it, giving those hours a spatial equivalent, it really would be bigger on the inside.

I put the stool down and leave the room. The rest of our house – my newly empty house – gapes in front of me. Without you here, it’s vast. It’s huger than the human mind can possibly comprehend. This is the real fourth dimension, and I am a centuries-old renegade, lost within, destined to be forever alone.

I want to go back to how I was, when we first met. When all that was, all that ever could be, was a beguiling myriad of possibilities. When I was the real lord of time, and all the time I had, I gave to you.

I want to regenerate to a previous version of myself.

But I can’t, because that wouldn’t be canon.

(Author: Mike Scott Thomson. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Sue Hutton. Image: All Rights Reserved.)