Category Archives: flash fiction

The Hothouse – an introduction

The young priest crouched on the corner of the table, as was his habit, mortifying his flesh in minute ways on the sharp, formica edges. It was important to maintain a constant stream of discomfort in order to ripple his skin and prick his nervous system into a continuous semblance of faith – this he had been taught from a young age, but was unable to put into practice until the fires of youth that licked up and down his thighs had been quelled through the most agonising of measures. The bishop looked at his latest charge, and recognised the stooping posture and flinching of the eyes so common in the newly fervent. „Come and see,” he said. „Tell me what surrounds you”.

The island’s light seeped through the shutters, and illuminated the sweating books that littered the room. This was the hothouse, the heavy, humid and vegetably idle ventricle of faith at the centre of the complex, a place where things did not so much grow, but were cajoled and coerced into unnatural shapes, early blooms and perversions of flora. All around were petals whose fragrance suggested they were soaked through with semen, black veins running up and down the nodding phallus at their centre. To their left were the clitoral orchids, swollen with sap which attracted the butterflies who died ecstatically in the salty-sweet nectar, and all the while seventeen tense stamen knocked into the viscous pollen over and over again, agitated by the heat, quivering under the lightest vibrations. Huge buttery leaves clamoured for attention against the lead-lined glass, spreading like waxen buttocks to reveal their acidic funnels, and sickening durian fruits dangled from boughs, stinking of decomposing meat and blackened, bruised by the battering of the crayflies that raped the shimmering air around their bulbous forms. The young preist gazed at the creased pornography of nature, the sins inherent in design.

„I see the toothmarks of Eve on a thousand apples. I see the depravity of the base forms of nature, which I have overcome by the rejection of the natural in myself. I see the weakness of temptation. I see the sweat and groan of evil, against the beauty of your capture. I see the church’s success in overcoming these things, bottling them and holding them in stasis”. The young priest pushed his groin against the sharpest edge of the furniture, cutting into his enflaming thighs. The hothouse’s myriad fragrances, the miasma of lust affected even the most mortified novices – this was well known.

The bishop sighed, and palpated his damp papers into a bolus at the pit of his hands. He could remember a time before the glass room was completed, before the church had a hot and bloody heart at its centre. Young women from the city, toes tossing their puddles of gin. Lycanthropic men, hairy palmed and barking at the birds. Sin was somehow simpler, then. He looked up at the newcomer, fingering his dogcollar and fantasizing of dust. „Walk deeper into the hothouse. Sit down awhile, and look closer. Breathe, examine your skin.”

„This rabid mouth of faith is to be of some importance to me?” the priest replied. „Forgive me, father, but I do not understand. The hothouse was built to be shunned, a crystallisation of shame, was it not?”

The bishop stood up, and began to walk away. A woman was singing, somewhere. The sound was sweet, and punctuated by the rhythmic buzzing of tiny wings. „No, it wasn’t”, he said, as he opened a window to let the vines escape.

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Rope Trick, part III

Daniel collapsed to the straw-strewn floor, and rolled onto his back. The first breath pulled into his wracked and self engraved chest a fistful of scorching air, the second contracted the meat beneath his spidery broken veins with the acridity of feline piss, a heavy, jungle scent, all sharpened with ammonia and basic human instinct. Collective inherited memories scrambled to the forefront of his addled mind, screaming reflexes into his legs to get up, and run. ’Big cat, here!’ they seemed to say. ’Get away!’, they shouted, a million tiny voices, a hormonal klaxon kicking him behind the knees. Olfactory terror was known for producing visions, the flood of adrenaline was a potent trigger of revelation. Everyone knew that, and here he was; Daniel in the lion’s den, throwing himself down hard. A bruise was blossoming under his clavicle. ‘This is good’, he thought to himself.

Still, he did not hear The Voice.

The lion was a ragged old thing, submissive, tired, all swollen ankles and eyes crusted with lethargy and conjunctivitus. It wasn’t cheap, even for the fifteen minutes of squalid genuflection it was hired for. With one pleaful look at the whip-marked, pocked old cat, it became clear that this method wasn’t working, either, and Daniel walked wearily to the rope ladder which hung down into the pit. He cosidered getting a stagehand to throw him in once more, but lowered his eyes and climbed past Busburosa, the obese circus master with his cloud of tobacco smoke and lazy lechery. Daniel didn’t even raise his head, as he walked towards the door. He didn’t notice the boys who watched him from the sawdust, their hair littered with petals and plastered onto shining faces with bright, clear water. But then, he wouldn’t have. He was seeking the presence of a god, he was grasping for a gift.


English Optics, 1.

Simple short story with which to end the month. Written for a magazine based in Copenhagen.

She was talking to Mrs. Grice, down outside the pebble-dashed slope which separated the community library from where the newsagents used to be, and which now held a brightly lit, achingly glossy hair salon. There were three false palm trees by the door, and they moved sluggishly in the wind, the downward breeze which scuttled a few half-smashed aluminium cans around the base of the swollen recycling depots. It smelled lightly of cat-piss ammonium hair dye, and of engine oil, and of everywhere else. She was talking. „I had my eyes done, recently”, she said, pulling the loose skin beneath the socket down slightly, to display a miniscule scar. „It’s miraculous what they can do, these days. Just last week, I could barely see the television, and now…oh…” She looked around her, „Now, I can see everything so clearly…”

Mrs. Grice stood to her side, and surveyed the precinct. Some kids had found something underneath a car, and were lying on their stomachs and shuffling along the asphalt. She couldn’t see what they were trying to retrieve. Something unpleasant, no doubt. Mrs. Grice looked back to her friend, who was following the seeds of the municipal park trees, spinning as quickly as her sight could allow – buffetted and teased by sharp-smelling zephyrs, settling between vividly coloured plastics, heavy, sticky tarmacs holding a hundred thousand million multi-faceted crystals, each reflecting the dull criss-crossed perspex of the street-lamp shelters above, which in turn threw out subtley muted images of magazine-wetting fingertips of waiting young women behind the frosted glass of the salon. The pale flesh first dented the brightly coloured paper, moulding it into a gentle curve, before leaving behind a dampened, shiney impression of the grooves and whorls of prints, each one unique. She saw this, and she saw the shadows of this thrown onto slanted surfaces, again and again. She was staring now, staring intently at the sparkling formica in the cafe, the last pulsing, quaking breath of a dying leaf, its final moments of photosynthesis bleeding green light into her optic nerve. She saw something of time, some sense of the bud, the blossom, and the fruit, with that one leaf. Something of the past, and a potential future. She followed the ghost of its fitful, airy passage, back up through empty air, past the guttering of the library, stacked heavy with cigarette ends and the detritus of neglect, into the sparse boughs from where it came, and above this, into the sky. The sky…
„Miraculous, what they can do”, she repeated.


Saga II, revisiting old themes in short, sweet prose.

The last person who watched her feet crunch and ratchet their way through the compacted snow and hardened leaf mould behind the fjords was a young man, no more than sixteen years old. He was sitting as he did every day, cross legged and turning the pages of his old book as his goats ignored the ice floes crumbling into the boot-black water as she stumbled past him, not three days ago. He told her family, as he told everyone else, that they had shared a glance and pocketful of pleasantries, that he had offered her a cigarette, a end of dry bread, a chance to rest her legs. Her family, as everyone else did, eyed him with a suspectful gaze, willing him to trip on his words, to betray a mundane truth, to confess. They hauled him before the oldest members of the community, a triad of weary eyes set deep and uncomfortably in weary faces, casked in social formalydehyde and horsehair – supposed wisdom in the collection of repetitive days – and these aged matriarchs of the town asked him again. What had he revealed? Why did the girl walk beyond the edges of what she knew and into the plains, to be taken by the cold?

A search party was sent out, with their greasy lamps and what remained of the dogs of the previous year. They stood at the borders and called her name into the horizons. Up there, you could barely see the treeline, if there was one at all. Up there, men had lost their sight, and much more. The gathering of the strongest couldn’t bring themselves the cross the lines in the snow, not even now, after all this time.

He told them again, and again. He had tried to pass on something of his own, and knew little about what lay beyond the harsh uplights of the whitened flatlands, only the stories of the times before, those they all knew. He was a simple boy, a keeper of emaciated livestock and a broken sled. His book was something passed down from forefathers, a relic of a forgotten time. He couldn’t read the myriad symbols, the writing, any more than anyone else could. The book was irrelevant, he said. He mentioned this over and over again, certain they would take the heirloom from him. It had happened before, and in his father’s time, he was told, but he held it to his rackety chest and passed his thumbs between the leaves bound in leather. He took some comfort in their uniformity, the thinness of the pages flowing like meltwater over his fingertips. Nothing else here was constant – each autumn the land and all in it was carved into a form of icy stasis, and each spring it was moulded through watery attrition into new shapes, for a few short months of glaring, unending daylight. Glacially, the landscape never stopped creeping south. Suet sat heavy in tight stomachs as the sun refused to move for another few months. Decisions were made, gestures were performed.

They say he pleaded his innocence throughout the length of the ordeals, and they say he looked into the cracking faces of the mothers without flinching. They say he would have passed all the trials an innocent man, were it not for the fact he confessed to being the last to see her. They say he stopped speaking, just before the end, and sat cross legged in the snow as they fell on him. They say they couldn’t prize the book from his frozen fingers, even long after most of the congregation had forgotten why they were there. They say he was probably younger than he looked. It isn’t easy to tell, at this time of year.


untitled

They say she came from the north, and spoke the words of the horsemen, the horse, the men who eat the horse and the fungal strands that take the men. They say she was good with words.
They say she saw the flood gnaw and splice the foundations of all but eight houses in her city.
They say her fingers are stained blue with copper nitrate.
They say her ankles creep with verdigris, as would an old statue, in an older garden.
They say she is younger than she looks.
They say she killed a man.


saint no. 64

She worked in the gardens of a very wealthy family. This much was known. We could go into endless details to prove this, and other most lowly facts to fill out her canon, but that is where faith comes in, I suppose. Payslips, loan agreements, tenancy forms. The twenty-first century leaves few relics of great wonder in its wake. So, that we know – she worked in the gardens of a very wealthy family.

They say she reminded the flowers when day broke over the dry stone walls. They say she told the trees when it was spring, the fruits when it was autumn. She would weep through the regular death of wintertime, and perform last rites for each fallen leaf. They say she brought them back to life again. They say her real name means ’rebirth’, but this is not how she was known.

They say she had killed a man.


Saint no. 17

Recent polls suggested that one in every thousand people in this town had witnessed, or knew someone who claimed to have seen the young woman’s levitations. „It must have been difficult”, they would invariably say, „yes, it must have been very frustrating to work in such a small shop selling booze and fags and the sort of bizarrely shrink-wrapped pornographic magazines you would only see in shops like it…”

„It must have been frustrating”, they would say, „to do that, when the divine was speaking right through you, lifting you above the counter against your best efforts…” This was all said long afterwards, though.

„It was brutal, how they treated her”, they would say. „If any of it was true, that is.”

Her dark eyes lit up, and the till rang like a tiny set of vesper bells. Behind her, the door swung shut, and a million incenses blew inwards from the street outside – a hundred thousand passing lives, each with their own unique frangrances, billowing over linoleum and chocolate bars and the leftover news. They used to have a word for this sensation, she thought, as her arms prickled and the residue of the passing, walking heartbeats swelled through her.
’Ecstasies,’ – the meaning had changed, since then.

She was plucked from behind the desk by unseen hands, and lifted a metre into the air, between the spirits and the condoms and the keys to the safe, hidden behind a collection of packaged meats. It lasted almost forty seconds. The flowers sitting in the plastic buckets by the greetings cards bloomed simultaneously, a burn victim buying liver across the road was momentarily taken back three years, to a time when he could feel his right shoulder, or move his fingers.
„They’re getting longer…” she thought to herself, as she lowered back in time to give change to a teenager.

Almost nobody saw.
One in a thousand, if you’d believe it.