Time for a story. I’d normally say some ‘flash fiction’ but who am I kidding? Since I took the brakes off the word limit these things have been getting longer and longer, and to be honest I’m rather enjoying the fact. It’s letting me stretch my muscles, giving my stories permission to go where they will. As ever, I’ve started myself off with an image for inspiration and 3 words to work into it. Today’s words are Copious, Perpetual and Siren, offered up my First Fears friend, Helen Ellwood. Dadi’s Little Helper pt 1 only contains one of these words, so I’d better make sure I squeeze the other two into next week’s conclusion. I’d ask forgiveness, but really, who cares? Creativity is the thing. Let’s see what comes out of it…
Dadi’s Little Helper pt 1
Christ, it was dull. What the hell happened to summer holidays? Magical times, they used to be: six weeks of pure freedom at the best time of year, the whole world wide open for adventure. Okay, they just hung about and argued mostly, poked things with sticks, peed off their parents—but the point was that back then they could do anything. Go anywhere. (In walking distance, at any rate.) They were alive. Days and details smeared together in a haze of sunny memories for Meical as he scraped fat from the grill, sweat stinging his eyes, and at that moment it seemed to him as if his whole childhood had been pure bliss by comparison. All he could do now was work his shifts and wait for the summer to end.
There’d be A-levels after, then university maybe – pathways to a bigger life away from the farm and his father’s expectations. He didn’t know what he wanted to do, or to be yet; he just knew it didn’t involve grubbing in the ground like his mam, managing the woods and the livestock like his dad, or shovelling rancid meat for the rest of his life. There had to be something more. He was still chewing this over when he got home later, trying to figure out where he’d gone wrong. The burger bar was supposed to be a stopgap, a way to earn a bit of cash so he could go round town with his friends, only now he’d been stuck on the night shift four days a week and it was wrecking him. The money was building up nicely, but what was the point when he was too shattered to enjoy it?
Oof. He closed the door quietly, tucked his coat and motorcycle helmet away then slumped onto the couch. The stairs creaked something fierce, particularly at night, and he didn’t want to disturb anybody. He’d slope off up to bed once the rest of his family woke up. Until then, he could plug in and doze here just fine. He grabbed a blanket off the back of the sofa, curled himself up, and set his playlist going. He was dead to the world by the end of the third song. Ten minutes later, his little brother snuck in through the workshop, muddied, bloodied and thrumming with excitement.
Iolo was a good boy, everybody said so. He was curious and kind, charming and considerate. Neighbours noted with some approval that – whilst he was energetic enough to seem a healthy young lad – he was also biddable, helping his parents on the farm without complaint (though he was just a dwti bach). He was nothing like his brother. It was a such a shame he couldn’t speak, but as his mami said, he was no burden. No burden at all. Of course, she may have felt otherwise with a little more knowledge – for instance about how he’d been spending his nights of late. Bedtime was 8 o’clock, but he was allowed to sit up reading half an hour more if he turned off the lights straight after. She never let on how she knew, but a quick glance up the stairs from the sofa showed his ill-fitting bedroom door. The cracks around the frame settled her back every night as they flicked from white to black, dead on time. No need to creak up the stairs and disturb him.
What she didn’t know was that her youngest son had stopped sleeping a week back. He didn’t seem to need it. Truth be told he was a bit jealous that Meical got to stay up all night for his job. There was no way he could follow him into work of course – he’d never keep up on his bicycle – so he sought contentment in other ways. When he found the big rock in the woods on Saturday, he thought it was just the place to set up shop: a nice flat surface and a whole lot of birds and animals just dying to be served. Dadi didn’t want to hang around, though. He said there was some coppicing to be done farther on, and he couldn’t be doing with Iolo running around when sharp blades were in use. The boy’d have to come along, but if he sat nicely he could have a little something special. That meant sweets or a toy, usually, so he sat nicely while his dad set to work, and he got his treat at lunchtime. It was a pocket book of insects and a little pen so he could mark them off as he found them.
That kept him happy and busy for the rest of the weekend, but he didn’t forget the big rock. It… called to him. He paid it no heed the first couple of nights. It had rained, so it was pretty cold outside, and mami and dadi had been arguing. School holidays could be hard sometimes. Isolating. Iolo didn’t feel like going out to play shop; he just wanted to curl up in his bed. But on the third night, he lay with a sense of anticipation. He hadn’t been able to concentrate on his book, so he’d just stared out of the window instead. It was still daylight—would be for hours, yet the old moon winked at him from on high, careless of propriety.
Down below, the door opened then slammed shut, prompting a yell from his parents as Meical stomped out, strapping his helmet on. He was going for a ride, he said. He’d head straight to work after that, so don’t bother to wait up. The Yamaha coughed and sputtered into life and buzzed down the lane like a lawnmower, bumping its rider over every pothole until he got to the real road and whizzed off into town. Iolo’s gaze would normally follow him as far as possible, but that night his eyes turned towards the woods instead.
The first time was pure adrenaline. Once his mami and dadi went to bed, Iolo made his move. Climbing out the window and down the drainpipe was a doddle. He’d done braver things in the play park. The woods were in walking distance, but he was too excited for that. Instead, he pedalled furiously, then he pushed the bike when the ground got too knotty with roots. The moon was out in the open, shining bright and clear, directing him with its beams and its winks to the clearing where the big rock lay. His burger bar. There was already some meat laid out there – a rabbit carcass by the looks of it – picked and pecked by some buzzard or owl maybe. He tossed it into the bushes, thinking some fox or other would find it in good time.
Oh, yuck! There was some kind of goo on his hands. Blood and something else from the rabbit. Without thinking, he brushed it back across his temple, ran his fingertip down his cheek, then touched it to his lips. It was bitter tasting and he spat it out. Dirty. First things first, he had to get the place cleaned up, then he could make his patties and start to serve the customers.
Night after night, the siren call came for Iolo, and each time he was a little more prepared. He had little rituals he followed now, making sure during the day that every little thing he’d need was tucked away and easy to reach: a knife here, a spatula there, a bucket, some bleach. It was hungry work, so he started packing himself some midnight snacks. He wasn’t getting paid for this like Meical, but he took a certain satisfaction in a job well done. The book of insects came in handy, acting as both menu and means to note his customers’ orders, scribbled quickly with his pen. It surprised him just how varied their diet was but, ever scrupulous, he tested each dish first, ensuring they were properly prepared and tasted – mm – tasted good.
A scent caught his attention on the fourth night, rich and savoury, pungent yet indescribably attractive. He followed his nose to a nearby dell, boggy and overgrown. He spent the rest of the night rooting around there, to no avail. He brought a shovel the next night, and that’s when he made his discovery. The body was human in form but much larger – a gigantic distortion of nature. It lay under the muck and mire, stretched across the dell as though in sleep. He couldn’t shift it, of course, only reveal its outline, digging around the corpse, clearing the mud from its face. There was nothing to be done about the water; it just seeped back in, shining like the glass of a display cabinet. The flesh was largely intact, unsullied by the natural process of decay. Iolo wondered if it was a giant from ancient days: Tegid Foel or one of his brothers, intact so long as his legend endured.
He tested the skin with his knife, and it split easily. No blood trickled out, but as he dug around with blade and fingertips he saw and felt all he needed to know. This was real. It had been alive once. There was something about the eye he found irresistible as he pushed back the lid. It was sea grey, verging on blue, and about the size of a galia melon. Here was a thing he could take, something beautiful and secret to be treasured and polished. As he dug down with his knife, severing connections, working the orb loose, he pondered the miracle of this find. Who would have thought something so wonderful could be lying so close to home? His stomach gurgled as he worked. The eyeball would take pride of place on his shelf. The rest of the giant would go to the grinder. It would make spectacular burgers.
I’ve run out of time to discuss my creative process this week. I’ve been ill of late, and whilst I’m mostly recovered, my energy levels and ability to brain are not where they were. I’ll be writing the conclusion to the story during the week, with a view to releasing it as next week’s blog. If you have any questions or critiques about the story itself (or about the creative process), then feel free to drop them in the Comments box below.
Oh, hey! Helen wrote her own story to go alongside it. 2 for the price of 1 for you. Bargain!
by Helen Ellwood
The marsh had always held a certain fascination for me. My parents forbade met to go, so of course whenever Tarquin and I got the opportunity, we would cross the railway line and slide down the embankment to where the grass grew in soggy clumps and the trees had their roots in dark water.
One day, I went on my own. I don’t know what made me do it. Pride that I could do something like that without my brother, or just some rebellious part of me. I don’t know. We’d had copious amounts of rain that week and the water was higher than normal. Down here, in the place I used to think of as the underworld, the light was perpetually dimmed and the air was filled with the stench of rotting vegetation. Everything was muffled and brown, damp and even a little oily in places.
I took a stick and, as usual, began to poke around in the water to see what I could unearth. One time, Tarquin had disturbed a toad the size of his Papa’s hand. We tried to catch it, but it jumped back into the water before we could reach it.
As I stirred the water, I heard a sound.
Rings rippled outward where the water was almost black. A fish? I knew better than to wade out. I’d been told terrible stories about children who went into the deep water and never returned. The mud would suck at your feet, apparently, and drag you down and swallow you whole like a monster.
I heard it again, this time a little closer. Maybe it was that toad again? Though it sounded bigger than that.
Tarquin and I often wondered whether there were sunken ships further out, complete with treasure. Imagine Papa’s surprise if I were to come home with a golden ring or doubloons. Or maybe there were wood nymphs in the trees, ready to grant a boon to weary travellers just like the sirens in the ocean?
This time, it was really close. I could see something. Something pale. Occasionally, amongst the grasses, there were flat stones. I trod carefully upon one of these and peered into the water. A ball! A child must have come here once and dropped it. I could imagine Tarquin’s delight if I were to come home with a ball. It was large, at least a foot across. I reached down, letting the warm, dark water slide up to my elbows, and took the ball, lifting it up into the air. It was soft and spongy.
To my horror, the ball revolved in my hands, slick and slippery as a snake. As it turned, a giant pupil met my eye. I dropped it and stepped back, falling from the stone. My ankle turned on a clod of grass, but I didn’t care. I ran up the embankment as fast as I could and across the railway line.
Soon, I was home, ready to face the wrath of Mama. I stood in our porch, dripping foul liquid onto the Minton tiled floor. She was angry of course, but appeared relieved that I was safe.
“I told you not to go there,” she said as she helped me off with my boots and socks. “Did anything happen to you, my darling?”
I was shaking. “No, Mama. I’m all right. I just found a ball in the water, but thought it might be dirty so I left it there.”
She looked me in the eye briefly, her face grave. “Ah. The ball. Was it pale?”
I nodded. “Have you seen it?”
“Why do you think Papa and I always tell you not to go to the marsh? Go upstairs now, and let nurse bathe you. Tonight, after supper, we’ll tell you all about it.”
Right, I’ve got some work to be getting on with for the university. Catch you next time.