There’s an ice-cream van at the edge of the Milky Way. It’s been there longer than there has been life on Earth. Commuters stop by on the intergalactic highway as they make … Continue reading Ice-Cream Van at the End of the Galaxy
She stood on the shore and watched a star fall down from the heavens towards her. The closer it came, the smaller it got. It burnt brighter as it entered her atmosphere and then dimmed. She almost lost track of it altogether until she heard the thud of it landing in a sand dune behind her. She turned and ran to find it, just a small, flat piece of rock that had once been a star.
She picked it up. It was almost too hot to hold. She turned it over in her hand and couldn’t believe what she saw. There, etched in the stone in shimmering silver were the words: hello. Is there anyone out there as lonely as me?
The words made her heart hurt. She turned the stone over and pulled out a black marker pen from her pocket.
Yes. She wrote back and threw it as hard as she could in to the heavens. It vanished. She stood alone for a while feeling how small she was in this big and empty universe.
The next night she watched as another star fell towards her. This one was much bigger and it said I have thrown my words to the universe for centuries and now it has thrown me back a friend. Who are you?
And so they began to write to each other. The girl on the shore and the girl in the stars had a conversation that spanned the cosmos. It travelled at lightspeeds through moonbeams. It dove in to black holes and bounced across galaxies. The universe was still big and they were still small, but no longer alone. They had fallen in love in the starlight.
One night, without warning, the girl in the stars stopped replying. The girl on the shore waited. For decades she threw words at the stars who stayed silent. Her hair turned grey, her hands hurt when she moved them but still she wrote. Still she waited.
I miss you, she wrote with a shaley hand and raised her arm to throw it. But then in the distance she saw something. At first she thought it was her old eyes failing her, but as she squinted at the sky she saw the light of a falling star. When it entered her atmosphere it did not dim. It grew brighter and brighter until she almost couldn’t bare to look. One last flash and then there in the sand in front of her was a beautiful woman made of stardust.
“My love,” she smiled at the old woman on the shore. “You are so beautiful.”
The old woman blushed. “I am old,” she said.
“Your age is nothing compared to the universe. Everything that is anything no once burned in the heart of a star. Your outer shell does not matter. Not when we are all made of stardust.”
Via Daily Prompt: Blush
The key is kept in the dead man’s grasp.
That was it. That was all I had. A clue whispered to me through breaks in a fever dream. I held on to it tightly. I repeated it to myself over and over so it would not slip away.
I had been aware of someone in my room- a dark figure that I immediately knew was not a nurse. He came closer. He smelled of the sea. He made no noise when he walked. I did not see his face, but I did hear him whisper. The key is kept in the dead man’s grasp. I remember the moment of clarity in hearing those words. I knew exactly what he meant. I remember nodding, or at least trying to.
And then he was gone and the room was painfully bright. Monitors beeped beside me. A nurse had just finished opening my curtains. I remembered the man. I remembered his words. But I did not remember the meaning. I tried to sit up. If I could just get to the man. If I could just get him back I could ask him what he meant. The nurse gently pushed me back down. “Good to have you back with us,” he beamed at me. He did not sound like the man. “We thought that fever might never break. It’s best if you lie still for a while, so we can keep an eye on you.”
He poured some water in to a plastic cup and handed it to me. As I drank, I looked around. The room was familiar. I knew where I was. I’d flitted in and out of consciousness in this bed and taken some of it in. It had felt like I’d had one foot here and one foot… somewhere else. Perhaps not so much flitting in and out of consciousness, as flitting between consciousness’s. I was crushed that this reality was the one which I was now confined to.
That thought arrived in my head and, as if on some kind of cue, my family arrived in my room. We talked and they seemed happy. The talked to the doctors about keeping me in for a few more days until they were sure the fever had passed. I couldn’t really focus on any of them. They had layers they kept hidden from me and I hadn’t been able to see it until now. There were secrets in their smiles, lies hidden in their hugs and in between us there was discord between who we are and who we all thought each other to be. We were all strangers on a first name basis. I was restless until they left.
They key is kept in the dead man’s grasp.
I whispered it over and over again until the sun set. Until the main lights went out. Then I got up and put on some of the clothes on that my mother had brought me and left on a chair by my bed. I took a nurse’s pass from behind reception and walked down the stairs and through the door marked ‘Morgue.’
I checked the hands of every corpse. No keys. Nothing. The closest I came to finding anything was a scalpel blade that had been left lying beside the hand of a dead man. I picked it up anyway and held it tight.
Maybe a bit too tight. The blade cut my palm.
The pain was another moment of clarity. The first I’d felt since I woke up. All of my former grogginess was gone. I grasped it tighter. My blood ran on to the floor.
I hear it drip, drip, drip. I heard it gush. I smelled the sea.
A dark figure that I knew was not a nurse stood by the doorway. “Come home,” he whispered.
Via Daily Post: Grasp
The fairground is nearly empty when you arrive. You pass tired children, drooped in their parents’ arms and insisting (between yawns) that they’re not tired and they can do just five more minutes. You step over candyfloss wrappers and coffee cups. It smells like burnt popcorn and roasted almonds. Some of the rides have shut down already and you can hear the rest slowing down around you.
The neon lights on the carnival rides and around the tented roofs of game stalls and food stands show you the way, like a convoy of fireflies. They lead you to the door of the Fortune Teller’s tent.
The door is, of course, already open and he has stood to greet you.
“I need-” you begin.
“I know,” he nods and the tent door swings shut, silently. He puts a gentle hand on either side of your face. He tells you this will hurt, but not for long and then he reaches in to the back of your throat, down in to your chest and scoops out your heart.
It is excruciating. But not for long.
When he puts it down on the table you feel so much lighter. You sit across from him and you both stare at your heavy heart on the table.
It does not look the way that you thought it would. You were prepared for something heart-shaped, or at worst some blood and gore, but what sits in front of you is more like a large, matted bundle of string. It’s like when you pull a clump of hair from a shower drain, except every strand is a different colour. You had no idea there were so many colours.
The Fortune Teller tuts. “My, my,” he says. “I haven’t seen a heart in this much of a tangle for a while. You’ve tied yourself in knots.”
He spends some time untangling them and shows you every one. Each heartstring is tied to a different person- a friend, a family member, an acquaintance, a colleague- people you’d known your whole life and people you’d only met for a day. The strings are all different thicknesses, different lengths.
You see the threads of your life laid out in front of you with perfect clarity. You can see the people who love you. You can see the ones who don’t. And you can see how significant each thread is.
“Now,” the Fortune Teller smiles a small smile. “Now that you can see it all, you have a choice. You can piece yourself back together. Or you can restart.”
It sounds so easy. Like a reboot. A chance to do better the next time round. To fix all the things that went wrong now, but you know that’s not true. You know that restarting means a new life. New people. New ways to mess up. You know that it means the end of this life. Goodbyes. Tears. And funeral costs.
You look back up at the Fortune Teller. He smiles because he already knew what you would say and then you start to weave your life back together.
Via Daily Prompt: Restart
At night the sea matches the sky. Clear midnight skies mean calm inky waters, a still blanket of stars beneath the heavens. Stormy skies mean turbulent seas, high winds tussling with high waves.
The Lighthouse Keeper sees it all.
She lives in circular walls. In the evenings she sets a mug down on her round kitchen table and pours herself a cup of tea. She then carries it up the long staircase that spirals up the inside of her lighthouse. On the side closest to the wall she has chipped away at the brickwork and now a small alcove runs parallel to the banister. She has partially filled it with hand-written notebooks.
It is her library.
Every now and then the sea and the sky will present her with a lost soul. She takes them in and make them cocoa. In return, they will give her their stories and she will write them down. Then, as they sleep, she would use the stories to judge where they should go- to the depths or to the heavens.
As she runs past them, she hears the pages whisper secrets and it sends a shiver up her spine.
She reaches the top, where her bed sits underneath a round trap-door. She stands on it and pushes it open with her free hand. Her other hand reaches up and sets the mug down on the floor above her. Then she pulls herself through. The glass dome opens up the world around her- sky, sea and land. They all circle her. They are all stormy, but the inside of the lighthouse is still.
The light spins in the centre. It is dim tonight. She knows this means the sea and sky will giver her a new soul and her spine tingles again. She is ready for more stories.
She watches the waves until she sees a ship being tossed in the swell. She sets down her cup of tea and makes her way back down the staircase. By the time she has reached the bottom and run barefoot into storm, a woman has washed up on her shore. She is cold. She is soaked through and slipping in and out of consciousness. The Lighthouse Keeper picks her up.
The woman’s eyes flicker open as she is carried back to the shelter of the Lighthouse. The Lighthouse Keeper smiles down at the woman in her and feels her soul flutter in her chest.
The light in the lighthouse burns brighter.
Via Daily Prompt: Dim
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.
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.
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.
Author: Clara Ross
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.
“The trick, my friend,” The Illusionist once told me, “Is to always let them think they’ve seen you three times. They stop looking after that.”
Despite having been told this, I could never spot how he did it. I knew the Great Lafayette better than most and I could never tell the difference between the real him and his doubles.
He was a cut above other entertainers. He could appear and reappear seemingly at will. He could take very specific and distinctive objects and send them to different parts of the theatre in the blink of an eye. He could destroy things and heal them again with a simple touch. He could enchant animals to do things I never dreamed possible.
But it was his finales that really set him above everyone else.
An audience watched as a lion roared. He shook his mane and paced the length of his cage. Around him jugglers swallowed fire and balanced knives, contortionists folded themselves in to glass boxes so small I think I would have struggled to get my feet in them. And the Great Illusionist Lafayette sat so still that a flock of doves came to rest peacefully on him.
A young woman walked on stage. Slowly and deliberately she made her way towards the lion’s cage. Lafayette did not move. She opened the door of the cage and still he did not move. She locked it behind her. He remained still.
Then two things happened at once. The lion rose up on his hind legs. The doves around Lafayette sensed the danger and moved in a flurry of fearful feathers. The lion made to pounce on the defenceless girl. She screamed.
Then the lion’s skin fell away from it’s body and out stepped the Great Lafayette.
The crowd were on their feet. On the other side of the stage, the doves came to settle back down on an empty chair.
The Great Lafayette let himself and his assistant out of the cage and stepped forward to take a final bow. As he did so something snapped. A crack. A crash. And the curtains went up in flames.
The audience stayed on their feet. The stage was obscured by smoke, but they peered around. Where would he come from next? Would he be in amongst us somewhere? A door at the back burst open. There was a gasp, but it was not him. It was an usher, wide-eyed and pale.
“GET OUT!” he shouted. “THIS IS NOT PART OF THE SHOW!”
It took a few moments before anyone believed him and then chaos rained down on all of us. There was a stampede out of the door.
The fire spread quickly. I could still smell it when I reached the evening air outside. I could see smoke pouring out of the stage door. And there he was- my friend, The Great Lafayette, coughing and choking on the smoke. I remember it because he looked me in the eye.
“Where is my horse?” he looked around at us all. “Where is Magic?”
When nobody could answer him he ran back in to the flames.
They found his body under the front of the stage the next morning, charred beyond recognition but still wearing his costume. We buried him, I paid my respects and they continued to clear out the theatre.
Then they found his body for a second time.
Charred beyond recognition, but definitely wearing his rings.
Who was the first man? The real Illusionist? A stunt double?
I stood in the burnt out skeleton of the Empire Theatre trying to distinguish any feature on this body that might have belonged to my friend. I found myself smiling and the scorched skull grinned back at me.
“Always let them think they’ve seen you three times,” I muttered to myself.
From deep in the wings I thought I heard a chuckle and a voice that whispered, “They always stop looking after that.”
*This is a fictitious account of the real death of the Illusionist Lafayette at Edinburgh’s Empire (now Festival) Theatre in 1911.
More info on the real story here: Scotsman article.
The Glassmaker made figurines of everyone he met. Tiny, delicate statues that were so realistic many people swore that they had seen theirs move, or heard them whisper when their back was turned. There were some people who secretly felt that the figurine was a clearer image of the person they truly were than they were themselves.
Then the Glassmaker met a man he could not sculpt. He was the most charming and interesting man the Glassmaker had ever encountered. Try as he might, he could not persuade the glass to take his form. It couldn’t hold a shape so enchanting, or form a face so handsome. But most troublesome part of all was that, no matter what he did, the glass was opaque. This never happened. He could usually see so clearly.
It was on his twelfth attempt that the Glassmaker realised the problem. It was not the glass. Or the man. It was his own heart that was obscuring his vision, clouding the glass.