Morning all, and thank you for joining me again to read and vote on the Flashes of Inspiration contest. There’s some wonderful work coming in, tackling the topic in a variety of ways. I love it. Our voting system is slightly knackered at the moment – the company who provided the voting code now want to charge me to continue using it. Rather than delay things here on the site, I’ll ask you to cast your votes in the Comments section. Just jot down the titles of your two favourite pieces, and feel free to add any additional thoughts as to how or why they grabbed you. I’ll total up the votes on Thursday 28th Feb, reveal the authors, and announce the winner. Right – let’s read those Flashes…
Harvest – by Steve Toase (WINNER)
For the first time in a generation the land was still. No longer mercurial. No longer shifting. The orchards becalm and paused. For the first time in a generation they did not move on waves of soil toward the isolated village.
Through thorned hedges bare of berries the villagers watched the distant pears rot on the branches, turning first to pulp then dust. The shifting trees would not come close enough for them to reach through the cloud topped blackthorn and pluck the fruit. Stillness would bring winter starvation, and starvation would bring death.
With no other options the villagers made an alliance with the birds that flew over their homes. No longer would they scoop flocks from the sky with nets, if the ravens and crows would carry the fruit from the trees and collect it in the marketplace. No longer would they loose arrows and slingshots as the birds clattered the sky with their wings, if they would just bring apples and pears to the villagers. Deliver them produce to make juice and jam to see them through the winter.
The birds agreed. Contracts were pressed with wax seals and inked talons.
The next morning the crows and ravens flew to the distant trees and carried back the forelles and boscs. Bartletts and the anjous. Coming close to the village the birds dropped the ripe fruit and watched it land on the cloud scraping hedges, far from the reach of the villagers below. Then they waited.
As the villagers starved and weakened below them, the birds remembered all their kin roasted and boiled over hearths and fires, and once the streets were jammed with corpses of the villagers the birds descended in one black, hungry cloud to feast upon the silent dead.
Birth – by Dion Winton-Polak
My grandmother’s grandmother heard an old tale and, being an artistic soul, set it down for us in cloth. The image she wove ensnared me. My imagination walked her warp and weft ever since. Here is the story, best as I can decipher.
‘In the days before the Days Before, the land nourished a race of people as foolish as they were beautiful; as grateful as they were wise — which is to say, not at all. They wanted what they could not hold. Worshipped, fought, and sought for it eternally; such was their lot. They paid the natural price for their folly and passed into legend.
Those who came afterwards called them the People of the Moon, both in admiration and despair, for who could hope to match the storied past. Thence came a mercurial Queen, whose name is long forgotten though her legacy lived on for many years. She it was who first embraced the bitter old Man of the East and brought him to our shores.
’Twas an ill-starred alliance but with it she hoped to summon a New Moon, full of glory and song. Their traditions were poorly wed. His bedding promises were resplendent yet swift to tarnish, for the old man was nothing but a glutton and a lech, though he feigned piety and bachelor restraint. The Queen lay silenced with shame and remorse, unable to ignore or becalm his wretched, ever-wagging tongue. And so she her crown aside.
The old Man prospered in this new land and the people soon grew accustomed to his strange ways. He was a weaver of dreams and had a powerful presence. So great was his charm, so forceful his will, he could steal their food and the people would give him thanks; he could take their children and the people would bow their heads, grateful to be relieved of their burdens — so fixed were they on his Vision of a Life after life. Thus did our longmothers and our longfathers live and die, in servitude.
“Until at last The Rowan Staff was stirred by raven’s caw, Down it thumped thrice-fold to crack upon the palace floor, And the Woman who was Stone and Death declared the man ‘No more!”
She who was maiden and mother and crone, she who birthed the world – aye and she who will bury it, come the end – stood firm. Her feet buried down, winding like roots into the land. Her arms spread like branches, encompassing the people, drawing them all to her, sheltering them from his rising storm. She was the cloak to comfort the riven, hers the banner to call forth armies and end the Lunatic night. It is to her and her sisters we owe our true salvation. The drowning of the Moon was the birthing of the Sun, and we live now forever in its glory. Praise Be. The One cannot hope to hold Many in thrall, but when the Many act as One, why, the whole world may change.’
The Rain God – by Lindsey Cohick (RUNNER UP)
I stand at the base of the pyramid. The limestone bricks are painted sunset-orange. All around me people are in the throes of jubilation. An unearthly alliance of sights, smells, and sounds assaults my senses: the perfume of resinous incense, a cacophony of drums, rattles, and voices. Colorful banners slither through the air. Faces, human and animal, swim in front of my eyes. Masks, I realize.
A hush falls over the crowd. I wonder what could be so powerful as to becalm this revelry, when I see a procession of robed figures descending the pyramid steps. In front is a woman with a wizened brown face. Behind her, two identical young men walk side-by-side, looking like the hero twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque. At the rear is a somber man carrying a red banner. As they reach the ground and proceed through the throng, the chanting begins again, swelling swiftly from a whisper to a roar. This time the voices converge onto a single word: <span
Chaac. Chaac. Chaac.
A thunderclap splits the sky, and it begins to rain. The people cheer. Drumbeats rise and fall over the tap-tapping of the rain. The air contracts and expands like a living thing. The weather changes in fast-forward, impossibly mercurial; where moments ago the sky was clear, it’s now filled with menacing storm clouds. A shadow swoops overhead, and the people cry out.
I look up. A great, blue humanoid hovers high above us, gigantic yet somehow weightless. He’s terrible and grotesque, with skin the color of the sky during a storm and a proboscis-like nose that hangs over a gaping mouth. When he swings his massive battleax, thunder rattles the air.
His eyes, somehow, find me. I feel his hunger. It feels like a swarm of insects crawling over my skin. Before I can flee, hands grab me and drag me through the mob. Their faces blur by, humans becoming animals, animals becoming human. The colors run together in a watercolor stroke of reds, blues, and greens. My toes catch on the steps of a stone dais as I’m carried to the top, where the somber old man waits, holding an obsidian knife. The hands restrain me and pull my arms back like a chicken’s wings, and the man raises his arm to plunge the knife into my chest.
I blink, and the rain has stopped. The sky is a clear, spring blue once again. “She’s awake!” someone says. “Ma’am, are you all right?” My head throbs; my mouth feels and tastes like flypaper. One of the concerned onlookers pushes a sweating water bottle into my hands. The pyramid, made of plain, crumbling limestone, looms over their shoulders. A heatstroke, they tell me. Another case of a foolish tourist walking the ruins all day and not drinking enough water. The dry season has been unusually hot here on the peninsula.
Only later do I discover the slit in my shirt, directly above my sternum, about the width of an obsidian knife.
And here is the final piece. Strictly speaking it should be disqualified because it alters one of the key words. It is strange and beautiful nevertheless and, I think, warrants sharing. The author has spent time and effort to create it for us, after all. I will review and update the rules on key words for ongoing challenges next week.
Exodus – by M.D. Kerr
We filed past; we’d learnt to look away
from ancient men in haloes, eyes all sad
at what the women carry in their clay.
Our grandma, chin held high to hide dismay
at what they’d done, becalmed her eyes, just glad
we filed past. We’d learnt to look away
from moss-lit roots, for now: the trees would pay
them back, in time, for turning sour and mad
at what the women carry; in their clay,
alliance rooted deep. A blood-red swag
of flag concealed our mother from the lads
we filed past. We’d learnt. To look away
takes strength. Our ghost-crone goddess led the way,
mercurial, wise as elephants: “We’re ‘bad’ –
at what? The women carry in their clay
the soil’s greening secrets, winter, May,
and life.” So though they wanted what we had,
we filed past. We’d learnt to look away,
at what the women carry in their clay.
By the way, our featured image is entitled: ‘The Druids – Bringing In The Mistletoe’ by George and Hornel, Edward A. Henry. If you’re curious to see the whole picture you can find it as a canvas print (or on a tea-towel, a mug, or what-have-you) at www.fineartamerica.com
Thank you once again to our wonderful contributors. Remember I’ll be announcing the winner and setting a new challenge on Thursday 28th February.
Until then, so long!