Category: short stories

The Middle of a Vanishing Act

A wisp of smoke in the pitch black. It rises up from the ground and curls, like a incandescent snake climbing towards the moonlight. From its base, cracks of crimson shoot out towards you.

You stop… in case the ground is about to fall apart. You know you should run, but your hammering, awe-filled heart keeps you to rooted to the ground.

A sound in the silence. A faint, melodic hum and a perfectly in-time drum. It grows so loud that the cracks in ground pulse. They widen.

You can smell caramel apples. And freshly-made popcorn.

The wisp of smoke starts to move like a drawing on a chalkboard. The outline of a person in a top hat and a slightly billowing jacket. Applause leaks through the cracks in the ground. The dark space between the outline grows more solid and then there she is.

The applause is gone. The music stops. The cracks are sealed without a trace. The smoke disperses in to the night. And her surprised face stares at you from under her top hat. Her suit is midnight black. Her eyes a bright and piercing green.

“Where the hell did you come from?” she asks. And you almost laugh because you feel like you could ask her the same thing.

In stead, you ask, “Who are you?” Because that feels more polite.

“I’m a conjurer,” she says, conjuring up a caramel apple and handing it to you. “I usually disappear for a break during my vanishing act… I’ve never vanished to in front of a person before.”

“Don’t they notice you’re gone?” you ask.

“I can chose the moment of time I re-appear to. It’ll be seconds to them, but I could spend a few hours here. If you wouldn’t mind?”

You don’t know what to say, so you take a bite of the apple. Warm, sweet and delicious. It has a caramel core too.

She watches you and smiles so brightly it puts stars in the sky.

via Daily Prompt: Conjure

Lunar Express

She got to the station at 11.58 PM. She realised as she blinked at the electronic clock on the wall that she hadn’t even considered the possibility that there wouldn’t be any trains running at this time of night. She’d just packed up and stormed out. There was nobody around for her to ask, the station was empty- too small and too rural to bother staffing at this time of night.The station was poorly light and darker than usual, due to tonight’s Blood Moon that had turned the full moon red and stolen it’s light.

She sat down on a cold bench and considered going back to her boyfriend’s. She checked her phone. No call. No text. She wasn’t going back to him without at least one of those. Perhaps she’d have to sleep here. At least there was a vending machine nearby if she got peckish.

The clock ticked closer to midnight and she heard the sound of wheels on the track. A bright light in the darkness grew bigger as the train approached the station platform. She stood and picked up her bags. The train came to a stop as somewhere, deep in the village, a clock began to strike midnight. It was dark grey, with tinted windows that meant she couldn’t see inside. Perhaps because it was a night train? On the side the words “Lunar Express” were written in silver. It puzzled her that an express train would come to somewhere so remote.

She opened the door and stepped up in to the carriage, the gap between the train and the platform was higher than she was used to. The light inside the carriage inside was low, with a slightly orange hue. It was surprisingly full, but incredibly quiet. She sat down in the first seat she came to at the back and rummaged in her bag for her money.

The train pulled out of the station as the last of the clock chimes faded to nothing.

She didn’t know where she wanted to go- or even where the train was heading, but she hoped she had enough for at least one stop. That would be far enough to prove her point. She checked her phone again. Still nothing.

No call.

No text.

Oh wait – no signal. No Wi-Fi.

Maybe he was trying to call her and couldn’t get through. Were they in a tunnel?

She looked up. She could still see the full moon in the sky. It caught her off guard. It looked bigger, closer… and no longer red…?

She could no longer feel the judder of the trains on the track. It was too dark outside to see anything but the moon. Something felt wrong. She sat up a little straighter. The interior of this train was older than she had expected. and turned her attention to her fellow passengers. They all faced away from her in silence. She opened her mouth to clear her throat, but before she could make a sound they all turned to look at her at once. Old, faded faces with blank, dead eyes.

“I need to get off the train,” she heard herself say, standing up.

“You can’t do that, dear,” a voice behind her made her jump. “Not for a few hundred years at least. We only stop once in a Blood Red Moon.”

The clock in the village struck 12.01. A man arrived at the station to look for his girlfriend. In the distance he heard a train whistle that sounded like a scream.

via Daily Prompt: Express


 

Author: Clara Ross

The Lost City

There is a city that can only be found by those who are truly lost.

It starts in your soul, a tiny pin-prick of pain that you don’t notice until it spreads through your veins into your heart. Your body feels wrong and your thoughts are heavy, numb. Everything around you is hazy- like a dream- and you start to walk.

There is a tugging in your chest, an invisible thread has grown from that pin-prick and it’s pulling you somewhere.

You don’t know how you get there, but you stand on the shore of a city that’s shrouded in mist. This is where the lost things are. Buildings tower above you. When you look more closely you see that they are made from old hairpins and forgotten car keys. They have umbrella roofs. Worn glasses surround the windows and as you peer through you see that the room beyond is carpeted with odd socks. Misplaced watches hang on the walls, still ticking in different time zones. There are many phones- and even more phone chargers.

A cat runs past you. You think it looks familiar- one that lived on your street when you were a child, perhaps?

Deeper in to the City you walk past boats and planes, too rusty to leave here now. An engagement ring lies in a gutter and you feel too sad to pick it up. You start to forget which direction you came from. The tops of the buildings are now lost in the thick mist.

A cloaked figure at the end of a dark alleyway hands you a playing card. They walk past. You try to get a better look at them and think you see your own eyes glance back at you, but you can’t be sure.

On the card is written the date you die.

You now have two options- you go home and forget, or you play cards against those who live here. You win- you get more time on Earth and the date on the card changes. You lose- you gain an eternity, but you stay lost forever.


(Vaguely influence by Cecelia Ahern’s “A Place Called Here.”- which is a much more beautiful story about where missing things go and it’s not as weird or creepy.)

via Daily Prompt: Cloaked

The Reflection of You

There’s a parasite that lives behind mirrors. A detailed shadow that stares back at you when you clean your teeth or get caught in the dark screen between episodes of a Netflix show. It watches the way you walk past shop windows. It studies you from reflective surfaces at times when you think nobody is watching. It knows you better than anyone.

If you get too close it will climb through the image of itself in the reflection of your eye.

It won’t kill you right away. It will paralyse your first and take control. You will watch it live your life. Watch it do things you never wanted to. Watch destroy your relationships with people who don’t know it’s not really you. Because why would they?

It looks like you. It talks like you, walks like you. It fixes your hair like you do.

You will die and nobody will know there is a fraud living on in your skin.

via Daily Prompt: Fraud

Planet B

Pictures sent back from early probes had only partially prepared her for how much the new planet looked like Earth. Well… how much it looked like Earth before they’d all fucked it up.

Planet B had been hailed by many back home as a miracle. It had been discovered by an expedition that had run in to technically difficulties and drifted off course, so Sarah saw it as more of a happy accident. They had spotted a small planet that looked a lot like Earth from a distance. Later investigations found that it was a lot smaller, but it had water and a similar atmosphere and that was all most people on Earth had needed to hear. We were saved. Old planet be damned.

The landing was smooth, as if the new earth had been waiting to cradle their shuttle. There was cheering inside the craft and all the way back home in the NASA base. Sarah wondered if this was being broadcast to everyone like the moonlandings. Would there be someone watching from the comfort of a sofa, thinking it was all a hoax and that she was an actor?

The doors opened. She saw grass. And trees, much smaller than the ones back home. They had landed next to a large cliff face that cast a shadow over the land. But above them, two suns were shining in an almost cloudless sky. Everything looked still, with only a little breeze to rustle branches.

Isaac leaped out in front of her. He leaped too enthusiastically and tumbled down the steps. “Fucking hell,” he said over her radio. “Can confirm gravity is the exact fucking same here.”

Fucking hell?” she repeated. “Is that really what you just said stepping on to a new planet? Is that really going to be our ‘One small step for man…’?”

“Hadn’t thought of that,” he admitted. “Sorry.”

She shrugged it off and stepped out to join him.

They walked away from their shuttle for the first time in years. Sarah ran. It felt good to run again. She reached the bottom of the cliff face. She looked up. There were a series of vines, growing like a large web all over it. They moved in the wind, but everything was perfectly still.

“Don’t see many animals here,” she heard Isaac over the radio. “Wonder why that is.”

“Haven’t evolved yet?” she suggested.

And then she looked to her left and saw someone staring back at her. Isaac heard her gasp. “You alright? Sarah? You alright?”

“Yeah,” her heart was in her mouth. “Isaac there are people here…”

Another face appeared in a well-concealed hole in the rock. And then another one. They had large, dark eyes and what appeared to be a kind of beak. Their skin looked a lot like human skin, except it was leafy-green in colour. The one she had made eye contact with let out a screech that set the rest of them off. She jumped back.

Were they trying to scare her off? Were they threatening her?

It sounded more like screams of terror… were they afraid of her?

Leafy-green arms shot out of the cliff.

“Sarah!” Isaac’s voice was panicked. “Run.

She looked back. Their ship was gone, devoured by the earth while she wasn’t looking. Isaac was sinking down into it. He screamed. She could hear his bones crunch. She ran towards the cliff. Something bit her foot. She jumped. A hand grabbed hers and helped her scramble up until she was balancing on the cliff.

She climbed up the precipice, the vines making a kind of ladder for her. The ground rumbled underneath her, digesting its latest snack. Worried faces peered out at her until she reached a hole in the rock that was big enough for her to fit through.

The people native to this planet had built an entire civilisation in this rock and now she was trapped here. She sat down and stared at the place her ship and her crew mate had been. It was now just flat and peaceful ground. Like they’d never even landed.

How could she send a message back home? How could warn them that Planet B was ready to swallow up anyone who set foot on it?

via Daily Prompt:Planet

On Repeat

The music crackles and he takes my hand for the very first time. The record spins, he spins me with it. We laugh. We dance. We kiss. His song is on repeat.

It becomes our song.

It plays at our wedding.

It plays our daughter to sleep. She plays it herself when she is sad. When she leaves home the house feels empty so we fill the rooms with music.

It plays as we grow old.

It plays when he is ill.

It plays at his funeral.

It plays when I get sick too.

The music crackles and he takes my hand for the very last time.

via Daily Prompt: Record

The Faerie Pools

He came across the Faerie Pools at dusk. The water shimmered and sparkled underneath a fading sun. He sat down on one of the rocks nearby to take a picture and drink a can of beer he’d brought out with him for moments just like this. The water was so clear, unpolluted. Here, away from all of the big city lights he finally understood the meaning of the phrase “fresh air”. He breathed deep.

He watched the sun set slowly behind a mountain and stood up to return to his rented holiday cottage. The toe of his left boot knocked his empty can in to the pool. Ooops. He looked down. It was deeper than he expected. There was no sign of the can. He almost turned to leave when something else caught his eye.

A woman with silvery-blue skin smiled up at him. Her eyes were orange and yellow like the sunset. She was so beautiful. Was she real? She was so still… a statue perhaps? He knelt down to take a better look. She started to laugh. It rose to the surface and escaped in bubbles. It sounded perfect, so warm. She began to swim up towards him and he leaned closer still. It was getting dark, but that didn’t matter to him any more. She was all he wanted. His nose touched the surface.

They found his body the next morning. Nobody could work out what the holiday maker had been doing out so late, there was alcohol in his system but no beer can in sight. All the locals agreed it was a terrible shame and so strange for a man to drown in such a shallow pool of water.

via Daily Prompt: Shallow

 

Hidden Doors

I picked up a book and dusted it off. It smelled just like an old book should. I took it to the counter, swiped my membership card and heard a satisfying beep. There used to be someone who’d stamp books with the return date, but it’s all done electronically now. I don’t mind the new system, it suits me and it suits this place. Nobody who frequents libraries objects to having an element of human interaction removed from their visit. We come here to read, not talk.

I put the book in my rucksack and zipped it up.

It was raining when I stepped outside- not heavy rain, but the kind of light drizzle that you have to squint through to stop it from going in your eyes. The kind of drizzle you can’t really feel on your skin, but that gets your clothes wet inexplicably quickly. A van in the car park reversed towards me. I backed away and took cover in a small alley that ran between the side of the library and a high stone wall.

A gust of wind came from nowhere. A cat was startled from her position on the wall, leapt down and darted past. I turned to watch her run down the alley behind me, to cower beside the library bins, when I saw a door I’d never seen before.

It looked like it had seen better days- it was grubby, weather beaten, and the paint was flaking off in several places. Above it there was a panel of glass with faded gold lettering that spelled, ‘Come, sit down, every mother’s son, and rehearse your parts’.

Was this a part of the library? I’d walked past this place so many times. How had I missed it? What was this mysterious door tucked away behind a library, hidden from sight by a few pungent bins? Where did it lead? And why was it slightly open?

I made my way over to it and pushed on the wood. It didn’t budge. I pushed harder and there was an almighty creak as it scraped against the floor. It opened wide enough for me to slip through.

I found myself standing in a once- grand foyer. My footsteps echoed and I wondered why this place was a secret. A white marble statue of a woman reading a book sat in the middle of a chipped mosaic floor. Behind her rose a staircase that reached a small landing. I started climbing, cautiously at first and then a little quicker until I reached that little landing. I chose the stairs on the right, but it didn’t matter- they both lead to the same place. Another landing, but this time there were a set of double doors in front me.

I hesitated. Surely this would be the point where my luck ran out. Nobody would leave these unlocked too. I pushed. They sprang open with no resistance.

Music filled my ears and I was hit by the smell of freshly made biscuits. Rows of worn and threadbare seats filled with people that looked too vibrant for their surroundings looked out over a stage where performers were beginning to take their places. An usher took my arm. “You’re just in time,” he said and smiled like he had been waiting for me.

He lead me to the only remaining empty seat in the Upper Circle and handed me a red and white striped paper bag filled with biscuits. They were light and sweet and still warm.

The lights dimmed and a performance began on stage unlike any other I have ever seen. For a moment I forgot where I was.

Actors became characters who then became my friends. They sang songs that brought me to tears and a lullaby that relaxed me more than a good night’s sleep ever could. There was fire and thunderstorm on stage that was so realistic I jumped with every crash of thunder. Things moved and people flew with no visible wires attached. A man turned in to a flock of doves before my eyes and a woman vanished from the middle of the stage to appear in one of the boxes seconds later. They battled daemons with flames and flew like angels. The applause when they took their final bow was deafening.

And then the curtain came down and the lights went up and I was alone. The stage was empty, the seats were threadbare and falling apart and my lonesome applause echoed in an empty space.

I ran from the theatre, back down the stairs and in to the Foyer. ‘Our revels now are ended’, the words glinted at me in gold from the back of the door. I pushed it open and stepped outside.

Back in the car park, drenched in sunlight.

And the door was gone.

Via Daily Prompt: Hidden

The Wall

I am picking apples in the orchard with my mother again.

There is a high and wide wall that circles my village. You cannot see what lies beyond it, you can only see the blue skies and fluffy clouds above. Whatever exists beyond it is not necessary to us. It has always been this way.

I am the youngest in my village and when I was little it did not strike me as odd that we were walled in, now that I am older all that strikes me as odd is that nobody talks about it. I know why they do not leave, we have no reason to. Everything we could possibly need is provided for us. There are enough green spaces for us to grow crops and keep cattle, we have enough buildings to house our families and there is nothing we need that we cannot trade with one another, or make for ourselves. All I want to know is why we do not acknowledge it. There is no origin story to The Wall- no history or folklore to hold it up. Although it is a constant it is never mentioned. It is like we forget it is there some times. The Wall has faded into the backgrounds of our collective minds, something mundane and every day that we do not notice, like wallpaper.

“Who built The Wall?” I ask my mother. We are out picking apples in the orchard. Again. I only remember to ask because we are on the outskirts of the village, where the wall is closest. She turns to face me and as she does her face flickers in and out of existence. There is a split second where she is featureless and when they return she is frowning. I step away from her, unsure of what I have just seen.

“The what?” she asks.

“Nothing,” I reply. I am frightened to ask her again. She goes back to picking apples, I turn away from her. My feet carry me towards The Wall, although I am unsure why. I start to walk around it. I run my hands along the stone. It is rough.

There are a few points where thick ivy grows up the wall. It never reaches the top, but I have always thought that it is pretty.

There is a small break in the ivy and my fingers brush against something metallic. I move the ivy curtain with one hand. It is here that I find The Gate. It is small and rusty with thick bars set so close together that I cannot see through them. I push on it. To my surprise, it opens and swings out in to nothing.

There are no more fields and green. No more skies and clouds. Just a darkness so impenetrable it could be another wall. I pick a flower that grows next to the wall and throw it as hard as I can. It does not bounce back to me, but it does not fall either. It floats in the void for a moment before it disintegrates. I see every piece that makes it up slip apart and float away from me- tiny squares dissipating into a seemingly eternal night.

They scatter like multicoloured stars. And then there are more of them, more colours exploding out of one another until they come to rest against a window so tall and wide that I cannot see the edges. A girl stares back at me through it, but she is so giant that it takes me a moment to realise she is there. A giant boy is next to her. They are both frowning and so big that they could probably eat me without noticing.

“There’s something wrong,” he says.

“It’s glitching,” she replies. “Just re-start the game.”

I back away from them as she reaches for something below the window. I want to ask them what the game is but I think I already know.

I want to run back to the village and warn everyone, but I’m not sure I’ll make it in time. What could any of us even do about? They will turn us off. Restart. Will I even be me if we start again?

Everything starts to fade. Including me.

There is a high and wide wall that circles my village. You cannot see what lies beyond it, only the blue skies and fluffy clouds above. Whatever lies beyond it does not exist. And perhaps, neither do we.

Blackness. Nothing.

I am out in the orchard picking apples with my mother. Again.

via Daily Prompt: Gate

Alloy City

Silver skyscrapers rise towards a titanium sky. Trees made of tin line the streets. Nobody remembers who sculpted them, they are a left over relic from the people who came before. The ones who were not made from metals.

A man in a iron hat and a woman with copper hair walk towards the outskirts of Alloy City. He takes her hand, carefully, because his is made of steel and hers is made of lead. He has packed a picnic in a golden basket. They take it to the top of a bronze hill and eat under a brassy sunset.

via Daily Prompt: Brassy