Letter From A Cloud

To Whom It May Concern,

I’ve been thinking, have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a cloud? I bet you haven’t.

I’ve seen you down there, so small, always busy. You can’t imagine what it’s like, being heavier than a mountain, but so empty that you float above, well everything.

I see so much from up here. That’s right. I saw that thing earlier, I bet you thought nobody did.

You know what, I’m full to bursting. I think I’ll give you a shower.

Kind Regards,

A cloud – you know which one

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Killer in the Shadows #6

Rome night

The sun shone through the high windows of the temple. It was smaller than the public temples of the city, but far more elaborately decorated. The walls were built from large blocks of stone and overlain with bright marble.

Gold offerings were stacked on top of altars and ornate wooden tables. High windows had been cut into the stone walls beneath the rafters, crossed by iron bars so that nothing but the wind could enter through them into the sacred space. The only other opening was a small iron door which led to the priestesses’ private quarters.

Six tall women wearing white robes stood in a semicircle at the centre of the temple. Behind them was the high altar. This seemed out of place in its luxurious surroundings, and yet it was the heart of the cult.

An immense block of jet black onyx, heavily worn with use and severely damaged by numerous attempts to destroy it, the high altar came from a time beyond the memory of any living man. It was missing all of its corners, deep ravines had been hacked into its surface and long cracks radiated out from several points. The black altar’s flawed appearance was more obvious for being surrounded by gleaming gold ornaments and polished pillars of marble.

In front of the six priestesses was a large gold basin. This was wide and deep enough for a man to lie down in, though no man was permitted to even see it. Intricate designs were etched across the entirety of its surface. As the sunlight illuminated the temple’s interior, these patterns seem to glow and move in a slow dance.

Shadow stood at the centre of the basin, facing her superiors. She wore a pure white tunic under a black cloak. The dark hood was pulled down and rested against her back.

The Six began to speak in soft voice. Barely audible, their words were directed towards the bright golden basin at Shadow’s feet. The voices of The Six grew gradually louder. Individual words soon blurred into a loud murmur. As the chorus reached its peak, a fire crackled into life beneath the young priestess Shadow’s feet.

The flames grew taller and radiated intense heat. Sweat stung in the eyes of the others as they watched arms of fire wrap themselves around Shadow’s dark form. The flames spiralled upwards, fell swiftly and the fire died. The Six ceased their chant. The basin was empty. Shadow had departed.

Check the latest installments of Wilson’s War and Scafell Pike.

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Penning a Play

I checked the brief on my laptop. It said to write a short play, that was it. No hints as to theme, character or setting. So where to begin?

I looked down at my pen, resting idly against the crisp, blank page. It was a fine little pen, curving at the sides and golden on top. That was where I would begin.

Lady Mayfeather, a bright, well-educated young woman in one of those more southern of the United States. She plays tennis, chess and the violin, much to the amusement of her two sisters.

They, like my other pens, are more sober and reserved. They have chocolate brown hair, while hers is brilliant blonde. I think this has the beginning of a good story. Already words cover the page in strong, black ink. 

Strong and dark like Lady Mayfeather’s dashing love interest, perhaps. He could be an officer in the cavalry or a fearsome blockade-runner.

I check my brief again, just to be sure. Write a short play and email it as a word document.

I stabbed my pen through the laptop screen. In hindsight, it was an overly dramatic end to the story.

Scafell Pike #6

Lu’s feet were a hard canvas of rough skin marred by tender blisters and cracked callouses. Each and every step down the gravel track brought with it stinging pain and a burning in her tight calves.

Ahead of her, through the night darkness and shadowed trees was a distant yellow haze from a small town nestled in the valley. She knew that there would be a hostel or bed and breakfast there, perhaps even a pub where she could enjoy a late, hot meal.

But these things hardly even touched on her thoughts, even though she was feeling desperately cold and frayed around the edges. She knew that the killer, her attacker, had come down that way. He would be somewhere in the town that evening, unless he planned to spend the night out on the mountain.

He was in the trap, and now was her chance to catch him at last. Lu saw an old-fashioned wooden sign swinging in the breeze outside a pub and headed straight towards it. Through the thick, patterned windows came a flood of warm light and a low rumble of chatter.

Read the latest installments of Ripper and Killer in the Shadows.

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Short Story

How do you write a short story?

You take a deep breath. This is the most important part. A wave of ideas flows into your mind. A concept, a character, a scene.

Now, you hold it in. Thoughts float freely inside your head, caged until they are ready. Some latch together, while others drift apart. Some are discarded, others held tight so that your memory does not lose them.

You exhale and words form on the page. The first paragraph is easiest, you already know what it will say. But as soon as it is written, it begs for a second and a third to follow it.

Here is the hardest part, where your breath comes fast and ragged, and ideas are thin on the ground. You begin to wonder who will read it, you only ever cared about the beginning.

You give up.

The Running Man

The man was running, truly running. He was not jogging, tumbling forwards under his own momentum with his legs acting almost on instinct. He was not sprinting, haring chaotically after an unspecified objective with scrambling feet.

He was flying with one foot on the ground, truly running.

At first it was like trying to drag his body through thick gelatin, the glutinous air trying to halt his progress at every step. That was how the run always began, with knees that refused to bend and feet always seeming to land a few millimetres off-target. It was a slow stumble at best.

But then his heart caught up with his legs, pumping warm, red fuel through his arteries. It was like being hit in the back by a strong gust of wind. Suddenly every pace sent him surging forwards, wind whipping across his scalp and his legs feeling like the pistons on a roaring steamer.

He was gliding on gravel and grass, truly running.

Sunlight cut a path through the clouds overhead and blasted the ground with its scorching rays. Muggy air rose around him as he ran, cloying and sticky on his skin. But he would not slow down.

Some change could be seen to come over the man. He faltered, missed a step and almost tripped. It was not a seriously slip though, he righted himself soon enough. But a clawed hand was clenching with taut fingers over his chest, as though trying to hold his heart in place.

There was little use in the action, no point in trying. His heart was not breaking free, it was simply closing down, turning off.

His steps slowed and he dropped to his knees, one tight fist still pressed against his breast. He knew that he was in trouble, that he might be dying. That was clear enough to him, but not what worried him most. He did not mind if that was where it ended, if he never saw another day. All he wanted to do was to keep on running.

I wrote this just after a failed run (not fatal, unlike our friend above). I’d aimed for 5K but didn’t make the distance (I’m saying due to the heat here in London, but you don’t have to believe me). Have you succeeded or failed at something recently? Let me know in the comments!

For more like this, go to Short Stories -> One-offs in the menu above.

Killer in the Shadows #5

Rome night

“Butcher’s knife, carpenter’s, surgeon’s?” Hanno asked, staring with fascinated horror at the blade.

“None of the above.” Aquila replied. “This is the tool of an entirely different profession. It is a killer’s knife, and the precise nature of the injury suggests that this killer is practised in their art.”

Aquila methodically considered the possibilities in his mind. A weapon of that sort was suggestive of professional murder. But someone with the resources to employ a trained killer would be unlikely to want to use those resources to assassinate a common soldier.

The officer revealed that his dead comrade had been on patrol the night before. That raised the question of how the killer had known where to find the soldier. These mysteries perplexed Aquila and he did not look for answers from the young clerk or the xenophobic officer.

The sun had risen higher in the sky and the last of the night’s rain evaporated from the surface of the cobbled street. Senators and other wealthy citizens began to emerge from their villas. Some were accompanied by women in expensive dresses with their heads covered by folds of fabric. The men wore clean white or coloured togas. Aquila was conscious of his brown tunic and cheap sandals.

“Sir, please see to it that the body is covered and taken away.” Aquila addressed the officer first and then his clerk. “We will return to my office now and think this matter through.”

Aquila beckoned to Hanno and they began to walk back towards the Legal District and their rented office. The officer called across the road to a squad of soldiers and the body of their comrade was carried solemnly away.

PART 6

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