What Pegman Saw – The Big Man

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using the location provided, you must write a piece of flash fiction of no more than 150 words. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. This week’s prompt is Talnakh, Krasonoyarsk Krai, Russia.

WPS - The Big Man 171230

The Big Man

Gregor was a big man, but he was puce and breathless after climbing the badly lit iron stairs of the dusty nickel factory. He sat at his battered metal desk scanning the production log and downed a vodka. Normal.

He coughed. Ten years ago he’d been the first to crack the Arctic ice. He’d swum for ten minutes, the ferocious cold burning him, his workmates applauding. He’d walked tall as he strode back up the beach. Nobody would have challenged him then.

The maintenance log. Another vodka.

Damn! The left reactor was running well over temperature. It would have to close for repair. Management wouldn’t like it, but they’d ignored that warning sign once before. The poor sod caught in the blast had screamed for ten minutes as he died.

This whole damn place was a death trap. He coughed. Nickel cough. He knew within a year he’d be dead.

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Friday Fictioneers – The Artist’s Take

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

FF - The Artist's Take 171227

PHOTO PROMPT © Ted Strutz

The Artist’s Take

“When looking at conceptual art, we need to consider what the artist means.”

The tour guide scanned her group. Mostly earnest attention; one stifled yawn.

“For example, this sculpture is displayed in an attractive garden. Why? Is it to contrast the unforced beauty of nature with the decorated but crudely angular construction?

A hidden drive turns the wheels, and some wheels drive others – wheels within wheels – but the work itself goes nowhere. Is that a metaphor?”

Damien, the artist, grinned as he listened. He knew what he meant; he didn’t care what the punters thought – as long as they paid.

What Pegman Saw – The Spirit of Christmas

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using the location provided, you must write a piece of flash fiction of no more than 150 words. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. This week’s prompt is North Pole, Alaska. My story is inspired by the prompt, and is not about North Pole!

WPS - The Spirit of Christmas 171224

WPS – The Spirit of Christmas

The smell of barbecued meat mingling with the sweet spiciness of mulled wine teased Maureen’s nostrils. Snow smothered mountains loomed above the streets of Sion, which thronged with people. Ancients, weather-beaten like the trees on the mountain, greeted teenage students. Locals in workaday clothes stood chatting in half a dozen different languages to visitors in furs.

People of many different nationalities have found a home in Sion, and there is a tradition at Christmas that each community prepares a Nativity scene. Visitors make pilgrimage through the town, following the “Chemin des Crèches”.

This year, Syrian migrants had been invited to contribute. Maureen stood reading the placard beside their offering. It reminded readers that the infant Jesus had himself been a refugee in Egypt.

Suddenly she laughed for joy, and spread her arms wide.

“Why, Christmas isn’t something from a tawdry Santa – it’s a world of brothers and sisters to love!”

Friday Fictioneers – A Winter Romance

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

FF - A winter romance 171221

PHOTO PROMPT © Björn Rudberg

A Winter Romance

“Father. I’ve fallen in love.”

Prince Brodigen looked apprehensively at his father, King Blacktooth the Ferocious, who grunted, “You would.”

“The thing is, I don’t know her name. I met her skiing. She’s beautiful!”

“That’s what your cousin thought about Cinderella, and look how that turned out. In-laws were a nightmare.”

The young prince took his courage in both hands.

“I’m glad you mentioned Cinderella…”

“Oh, for goodness sake don’t tell me you’ve got her glass slipper.”

“Why would she need a glass slipper on the ski slope?”

With a flourish, Prince Brodigen displayed a lurid, knitted woollen hat.

“Tada!”

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 4

Here is Episode 4 of my fantasy serial, “The Bridefarer’s Choice”.

If you missed any of the previous episodes, you can find them here

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 1

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 2

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 3

 

The story is proving longer than I expected. I will publish successive episodes every Monday (except for next Monday, of course, which is Christmas Day).

I very much hope you enjoy it!

The bridefarer's choice - part 3

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 4

I wondered who was tolling the church bell, and who had died.

I wondered who was sitting so heavily on my chest, until I could hardly breathe.

I wondered why I felt so cold, so icy cold, as cold as death, and yet my right arm burned as though in fire.

I forced open my eyes to the sight of mud. I was lying in it. The tolling of the bell became quieter as I realised that it was my pounding head. There was nobody sitting on me, but my ribs ached all round.

Carefully – very carefully – I raised myself so that I was propped on my left arm. The pain made my eyes water.

Wait! What’s this?

There was a note tucked into my belt. Slowly I edged around until I could lean against the wall, freeing my left hand to hold the note. My right hand was useless; just too painful to move.

“Dear Bumpkin,

In a fight, a good man with a quarterstaff will beat a master swordsman every day of the year. There is no charge for this lesson.

However, you know what to do. I suggest you’re quick about it.”

With the note to remind me…

I cringed with embarrassment. I hadn’t come anywhere near him, and he had toyed with me. He hadn’t even bothered to disarm me, simply used the staff to – hell, yes, there’s no other word for it – he’d used the staff to chastise me. And when he grew bored, he lured me into a rush and clipped me behind the ear as I lunged. No wonder my head was throbbing!

My pride suggested I shouldn’t allow the beating to drive me out of Merrydown. Groaning, I forced myself to stand. ‘Which is worse,’ I asked myself. ‘Limp out of town in humiliation, leading my horse because it’s too painful to ride, or stay here and take another beating with perhaps an even worse ending.’ Put like that, it wasn’t a hard choice to make.

I didn’t cover many miles that day, or the next, but the pain in my right arm was gradually easing. When I came across an inn on the second evening, I started to hope that my luck had changed.

It was pleasant to eat hot food after a diet of bread and cold meats. A glass of wine eased the discomfort of my bruises. There were a few sidelong looks from men at the bar, and I wondered whether word had reached them of my business.

A small, wiry man with grey hair approached my table, and asked if he might join me.

“Be my guest.”

“Perhaps you will instead be my guest? I hope so anyway. Let me buy you another beaker of wine.” He gestured to the serving man at the bar, who brought two beakers.

“Sláinte mhaith”

“Sláinte agad-sa”

The wine was good, much better than I’d received with my meal. What would this stranger want in exchange?

“You go bridefaring I hear?”

“What is that to you?”

“Ho! I rush in too quickly. My wife always says so. My name is Cieran.”

“And mine is Diarmid.” I took the hand that he extended and shook it, trying not to let him see how painful the action was. “Yes, I’m bridefaring. I ask you again; what is that to you?”

“Let me tell you a story,” countered Cieran. “There was once a man, a poor man, who came into possession of a magnificent jewel, worth ten thousand times the value of the whole village in which he lived. A lucky man, yes?”

“Most certainly.”

Cieran nodded approval of my answer.

“That was what he thought too. He hid it somewhere very secret and very safe. He told nobody, not even his wife. He was a patient man, and for several years he gloated over his great good fortune but did nothing.

Then, one day, a nobleman came to the village with a dozen soldiers. He asked questions, many questions. With a shrinking heart, the peasant realised that the nobleman was trying to find the jewel. He thought, ‘I shall take it to the town and sell it.’ And then he thought, ‘But which town? Who will buy such a gem? How could I spend the money, even if I could sell the stone?’ He shuddered with terror, hid the jewel even more secretly, and cursed his evil fortune.

The nobleman toured all the villages, and, not finding the jewel, came back to the village where the peasant lived. He took five elders of the village, and announced “Tomorrow I shall flog these curs until they are half dead, unless whoever holds the jewel brings it to me before midnight tonight.”

The peasant dug up the box holding the jewel, opened it, and gazed at it for a long time. It was so beautiful. He wanted it more than anything in the world. But it wasn’t worth the torture of his friends. At last, he wrapped it in a kerchief and took it to the nobleman.

The nobleman took it, examined it and declared himself satisfied. He gave orders for the release of the elders. Then he drew his sword, and lopped off the peasant’s head, as casually as a young boy knocking conkers from a tree.”

I looked at him, trying to understand what he was telling me.

“Some more wine?” he asked.

I held out my beaker and he filled it.

“You see,” he said, “in our village we have the priceless jewel, and already the nobleman is searching.

Ten years ago, in the dead of night, a woman all clad in silk and velvet came to the Oldest in our village. She brought her daughter, nine years old, a beautiful child with hair the colour of the morning sun, and eyes that changed like the northern sea. The daughter of the King of Denmark, she told us, who had been driven out of his kingdom by his brother. She begged that we would look after the girl, keep her safe and keep her hidden.

For ten years, Freya – for that is her name – has been cared for by our Oldest as though she were her own flesh and blood. She has guarded her, and taught her the virtue of purity. But now the young men are watching her, courting her.”

He shook his head.

“A Danish thane and his warriors came to our village two weeks ago, asking questions. We kept Freya hidden, for the thane owed fealty to the old king’s brother; he meant nothing good to Freya, we felt certain.”

He looked at me, with a wry smile. “You begin to see my problem, I hope?”

Indeed I did. If Freya married within the village, either she would draw the Danes like hawks to a lure, or she would have to take her husband into exile with her.

“You come from over the mountains,” said Cieran. “That is far from our village, far from the danger of the Danes. You could safely take her home and make her your wife.”

“If she’ll have me,” I laughed. “I’ve not been lucky in love so far.”

Even as I said the words, I thought of Mairin. Had I really not been lucky, or had I made a poor choice when I passed by her dwelling on my bridefaring?

“Oh, she’ll have you. Our Oldest has the Sight, and she told me where to meet you, what you looked like and what your name is. She says that Freya will go with you out of love and bear your child.”

A rage of ambition boiled up within me. A king’s daughter, beautiful, more beautiful than I could imagine! Why, if I could offer my sword to her father, who knows what I could win?

“Where is your village, Cieran?” I demanded.

*       *       *       *

 

What Pegman Saw – Forgotten

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using the location provided, you must write a piece of flash fiction of no more than 150 words. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. This week’s prompt is the ghost town of Buckhorn, Iowa.

WPS - Forgotten - Buckhorn 171216

Forgotten

Ann stepped lightly on the grass of the cemetery, leaving footprints in the dew. She was glad someone still cared enough to mow it neatly. She laid a bunch of flowers from her yard on the grave of her Aunt Betty, murmured a doubtful prayer and walked downhill to the disused church.

“See you at the old church, 8:30 on Thursday May 23rd” Mike’s last email had said, a fortnight ago.

He’d been away a long time, three years, treading the far places of the globe and following his dreams. How would he look? How would he feel?

The sun became hot. Ann found herself a shaded spot, heady with the scent of wildflowers and loud with the insistent buzzing of honeybees. 8:30 came – and went. At 10:00 she sighed and left.

“I guess he forgot.”

In the cemetery, the dew had already disappeared; already the grass had forgotten her.

Friday Fictioneers – Light for the darkest night

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

FF - Embankment light 171213

PHOTO PROMPT © Sandra Crook

Light for the darkest night

The Thames chuckled treacherously as the ebbing tide tugged at the bridge. The lights of the Embankment were haloed by midnight drizzle.

Mary leaned over the parapet, sodden and chilled.

That cow from the Social Services. ‘We’re concerned about your child’s home environment, about his safety. Better we take Jonny into care.’

Bitch!

Mary sobbed, and threw her leg over the parapet. They’d be sorry when they pulled her body out of the river!

“Excuse me,” said a stranger’s voice.

“God, you startled me. I almost fell!”

“You don’t really want to jump then? I’m glad. Here, take my hand.”

*

I apologise to any social workers who happen to read this. I know that you are dedicated professionals, working under extreme pressure and getting it right the large majority of the time.