Time’s up on our first Flashes of Inspiration contest. (I say contest, but it’s all in good fun.) The rules were simple. All our intrepid writers had to do was produce an engaging piece of fiction, using no more than 500 words. Any genre, any format. The featured image was open to interpretation, but the piece must include the following three words:
Isolation / Bubbling / Tribal.
Let’s take a look at what came in:
The Weather Winder – by Alexandra Peel. [WINNER.]
Tendrils of mist curled out from beneath the bubble where she had snagged the day. The locals recognised an umbrella, only she knew it’s power. She twirled the handle, bubbling balls raced across it’s surface and rivulets sprayed from the tips; she swirled pink clouds beneath the dome.
Her mother had been a Weather Winder. She’d met her father; an umbrella mender, on a similar day; pink and stormy, he had worked diligently to repair the unusual item; puzzling over it’s unique design, the patterns that swirled along the underside of the canopy – rays of rain and rivers of sunlight. She told him that she captured the seasons, and he had fallen in love with her instantly; for he believed her poetic, not literal. But it wasn’t to last. And when she showed him the fierce thunderstorm she had captured, he had become fearful and left – on the day she knew she was pregnant. So her mother lived in isolation in a cottage on the crags, capturing the sunshine and rain, then teaching her daughter her tribal ways.
Now, when the farmers needed rain for their crops, they called the Umbrella Girl; though they feared and ostracised her, she made the wheat grow and the cattle and sheep to drink so they tolerated her. She lived in the same wind-blown cottage – when mother had died, her daughter had sent her spirit spinning into the umbrella clouds, and scattered her mortal remains across
the rocks and pikes. From the top of her world, she could survey the whole patchwork of land.
She could see it coming – a storm with a tornado at it’s head like nothing seen before. Far away, tiny dots of houses were snatched and swallowed up. Below in her valley; even from here, she could hear the shouts of the men-folk and the screams of women and children. She climbed to the highest peak, her umbrella knocking heavily against her leg. There she opened the
domed canopy and began to chant and twirl, twirl and chant.
Wind whipped and slapped at her clothing and skin. Bit her cheeks and stung her eyes. Tried to claw the words free before she could enunciate them, yet she continued. Rain, grey and wicked stabbed the crags, threatening to pierce the umbrella, sending stones and small rocks tumbling. As the tornado approached, she sang louder and twirled the handle faster. Finally
she snagged a stray, blue-grey thread, which she wound like wet yarn. A single line of white lightening struck the finial, ran down the shaft and earthed itself, hot-cold in her hands. The tornado screamed and shrieked as it was dragged beneath the canopy, yanked away from it’s destructive purpose, it battled now to simply be.
When the sun returned and birds sang, a curious group scrambled up the crags to see if the Umbrella Girl had indeed captured the storm, but search as they did until night-fall, they could find no sight nor sign she had ever existed.
Ridden – by Dion Winton-Polak.
Genevieve lived her life between clenched teeth but her mind was full of fire. It crackled and spat within the confines of her skull as she bent to the will of her God. He was not cruel or negligent, but he was demanding. She went where he bade, sowed fear in his name, and slew at his command. He was the world, she a mere extension. She loved him after a fashion, but in her secret hearth she burned to be free.
Dragon-born, she was. Daughter of fume and fury. She wore the scars of many holy battles upon her flesh but she did not question her mission. Could not in all candour, such was the power he held over her. But she did wonder about the lives lived before her breath was brought to bear. Were they truly savage brutes, fit only for prey and sport? Did they not feel fear, even as her shadow fell upon them? What was there to fear except loss, and did that not prove they had something worth holding onto?
Her darkest thought stole through her as she slaked her thirst in an icy tarn one morning. What if her prey were just like her: thinking and feeling, yet shorn of choice? What if their minds too were ridden by Gods?
She began looking for signs. The smallest creatures seemed little more than automatons but the two-legs showed some troubling tendencies. She spied upon them from on high, now and then. Some seemed to live in isolation, invisibly tied, eternally waiting, but scores of them roamed the countryside – farther afield than all but her dragon kin. They seemed more variable as a breed, caparisoned in armour and cloths of tribal design. It had never occurred to her before, but the more she looked, the more individuality she discerned within these sects, down to the words and figures emblazoned above their heads.
The next time she felt her God’s absence, she picked one to follow as it quested abroad. What began as mild curiosity swiftly came to obsess her. The creature seemed to have its own mission, following paths of inquiry, obtaining objects of increasing power. She would witness this behaviour for hours on end only to see it stand listless and numb, just as she had when her God first left her. She felt certainty bubbling up from within. They were the same. She longed to speak to the creature but alas, they shared no common language.
And here, now, they faced one another. The two-leg fancied itself powerful enough at last to slay a dragon, and Genevieve’s God answered the challenge. Her eyes misted at the irony and she fancied, just for a moment, that she could see her rider urging her down, lusting for the kill, treating their lives as a petty game. She loosed a deafening roar then swooped, spewing forth the flames of her fury and despair.
In her mind she burned the God’s themselves.
Isolation – by Tiffany Williams. [RUNNER-UP]
You plunge your head down and the water rises, bubbling more from the force of the movement than any air escaping your lungs.
Your bath has always been your time to yourself and lately you have been grateful when it ends. Downstairs, the master is in his favourite wicker chair by the fire, hunched over the crossword. A smile twitches at the corner of his lips.
‘Nothing finer than on an Arctic morning, eh, Longworth?’
‘A hot cocoa, master?’
‘Oh, no, too much bother,’ he says, turning away from his clues to smile at you. ‘Perhaps some coffee later.’
Dismissed for now, you go to the old French windows at the far end of the drawing room. It looks like the master wasn’t exaggerating about the weather. When you hold your hand against a pane, frost patterns shoot up under your fingertips.
‘I say it’s too much bother – back among the tribal people, in Uganda,’ the master narrates, ‘we’d have to get the milk straight from the cow ourselves, then heat it on the fire. It’d take an age. Do you ever consider, Longworth, how little time we need for these things?’
You do. It is your job to know how long everyday tasks take and organise them accordingly. You have also heard the master make this comparison before; living among the Luhya is the most interesting thing he’s ever done, all the more when you consider he’s never told you why, or how.
Still you say, ‘I do marvel’, because still you do. With each passing year you see the world, remote as Uganda or close as the frost, as you do your teddy bear, fondly recalling when you believed it spoke to you.
‘And yet,’ he says, with angry melancholy, ‘even with all that work to do, there was so much time for life.’
This house, in contrast, is deteriorating in so ugly a way it can only be reality. The doors limp on their hinges. Little insects swarm between the floorboards. Half a deckchair lies outside, rotting with each cycle of frost.
He so wanted that deckchair. You were the best candidate to make it but only by merit of your age; you had weak wrists and no one ever taught you to saw. You sawed fast to get it over with. The blade jerked backwards –
Huge, spreading mess. Bugger, you thought, I don’t have time for this.
You woke up on a shore, the ugly kind where you can’t stand comfortably for the pebbles, and the sea is encircled by hostile headlands. You realised you’d never enjoyed beaches; you enjoyed taking people to them.
Ahead was an isolation even worse than the one you knew, and it chilled you. So you turned around, and went home.
The master shivers and draws his cardigan close to his chest.
‘A hot drink, sir,’ you insist.
‘Very well, dear Longworth,’ he says, raising his arms to get up. ‘Come away from the window now. You’re disappearing again.’
Fire – by Tilda Squirrels.
I’ve been reliably informed that the rain makes a “pitter-patter” noise on my umbrella, but that phrase seems too gentle for the small explosions that bounce off the plastic. Surely a thud would be more likely? Or bang? I think bang would be a sharp sound befitting the raindrops, but bang I am told is a sound more befitting the fire in front of me and the things being thrown into it.
A humanoid shadow leaps across the fire, black but for the reflection of flames in the brown glass bottle in its hand and on the liquid escaping as the limb holding its receptacle flails, illustrating some grand idea. A second shadow grabs the first, twirling it. A third and fourth join it. A fifth and sixth shadow are pulled out from the circle of shades. Arms slap backs and thighs, heads thrown back and mouths wide open, following a pattern they all know unconsciously. Possessed faces create grotesque shapes expelling words I cannot know. My anxious heart beats a rhythm to accompany this tribal rite as the shadows join and depart the dance.
The shadows with whom I am sat are both more solid and more formless than the dancers in the centre, the firelight does not reach us as well here so many are partially swallowed by the sky. Bottles are passed from being to being as their faces move in what must be speech. The night, the dark and the hoods raised up against the rain ensure the language is now foreign to me. the intangible masks which hide their faces cut me off.
Another bottle is passed, a sharing cup of unknown liquid from which all present take a sip. As it tickles my throat I ponder. This must be what explorers of old felt like. Investigating some remote tribe. Part of the ritual, of the magic. Sharing potions and stories. Accepted as one of the clan, claimed but also lost. Feeling perfect isolation as so many centuries of history, of stories, of shared experiences, pass over and around you yet somehow still miss you completely.
A thin skinned gourd of red plastic, containing a fresh mystery liquor is passed. Its contents dark and bitter. One of the shadows from the dance coalesces into solidity as it approaches me. It grasps for the gourd, draining it in one mouthful before fumbling in its pocket. A lit torch is shoved into my hand and directed towards the figure, finalising its metamorphosis into human. She smiles, looking into my eyes, her hands speaking , slowly, tentatively, and as if they had not done so for years,
“I. Join? You.?”
I shuffle over on my blanket to make room and lift the umbrella to let her in. The gourd is refilled and sent on its journey. she leans back on me, face contorting. As I feel the laugh bubbling up through her chest the gargoyle faces from earlier make sense.
Maybe I’m not so lost after all.
Mull them over for a bit first if you like. Anyone can vote. You can select a maximum of 2 stories. Writers do appreciate feedback, so feel free to post any additional thoughts, questions, or comments below. [EDIT – VOTING HAS NOW CLOSED. COMMENTS OR QUESTIONS STILL WELCOMED.]
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Thanks for getting involved.