White-Rimed January Morn – Flash Fiction

It was a white-rimed January morn when the witchfinders came. Restrained by Puritan soldiers, Will could do naught but watch as they hanged his lovely young wife from the solitary oak. All Martha had done was to heal folk’s ailments with her fragrant herbs; helped mothers during difficult births.

He’d buried her after they’d gone, his tears mingling with the loosened earth. Denied the right to consecrated ground by the pompous priest, Martha slept beneath the herb garden she’d loved so much. Village folk crowded round, commiserations from some, tears flowing from many.

But amongst them a traitor lurked. Will was certain of it: how else would the soldiers have known where to pounce? Easily earned blood-money was stashed away from prying eyes somewhere in this village, and Will would not rest till he’d sniffed it out. The traitor would pay dearly for his betrayal. An ‘accident’ could easily be arranged…

For its part in the deed, Will reduced the oak to a stump, the traitorous John Arnold buried deep beside it. Though rotting now, the stump was still there, twenty years on. At his side, Martha smiled: she returned to comfort him every year on the first white-rimed January morn.

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Chamomile

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This is the second short piece of ‘flash’ I’ve written about the plight of women unfortunate enough to attract the attention of those obsessed with the need to rid the world of  ‘witches’. I won’t go into the ideas revolving around witchcraft here. Suffice it to say that in many cultures in the past strong, independent women have often been viewed with suspicion. Any single or widowed woman able to run a household on her own, or skilled in herblore and its medicinal applications, would soon come to the attention of the witchfinders.  If she also happened to have a black cat, her fate would be sealed.

In some cases  grotesque forms of torture were used to make the woman confess to her sins (including the ‘ducking stool’) after which, she would be burnt alive at ‘the stake’ or hanged.

In my post from a few years ago, I added much more detail. Anyone interested in the topic can find it here.

 

The Hat – Flash Fiction

The Hat

 The Hat

It was Sunday when Minnie found the hat, just sitting there amongst the daisies and dandelions as though it was part of the parkland scenery. She stared at it, unsure whether she should move it at all, but the hat piqued her interest so she stooped to retrieve it.

On the grass beneath not a single flower grew, which Minnie thought to be rather odd – although it gave a modicum of credence to the idea that the hat was part of the park. The flowers must have been there for a few weeks, at least. But being a sensible girl of sixteen, Minnie dismissed the thought.

Yet still, she wondered… It was a pretty sunhat, and must have drawn the attention of more than a few ladies as they passed by, twirling their fancy parasols. She placed it firmly on her head, loving the feel of its comforting closeness.

I could do anything with this hat on, she told herself. I am invincible. I could swim to the bottom of the sea, or fly down from one of those tall hotel buildings and soar along the Promenade over all of those day-trippers. That would give them something to talk about.

‘What a good idea. Why don’t you try it out?’ a voice inside her head suggested.

Minnie took the lift up to the rooftop restaurant of The Savoy, the tallest hotel in the seaside town, ordered a glass of freshly made lemonade and seated herself on the balcony. The view of the Promenade was splendid and she thought about what she would do once she’d finished her drink.

‘Your hat looks perfectly lovely,’ an elderly lady remarked coming to stand beside Minnie’s table, her parasol in hand. ‘The odd thing is,’ she continued, adjusting her fine silk gown before sitting down, quite uninvited, ‘it looks identical to one a young woman was wearing in here just a few days ago.’

Minnie shrugged. ‘I know nothing about that. I found this one in the park and decided to try it on. Then I came up here for a nice cold drink.’ She paused, absently gazing down at the embroidered tablecloth and wishing this interfering busybody would go away so she could get on with her plans.

But the lady simply smiled and kept up her annoying prattle. ‘The reason I mention this, my dear, is because that particular young lady seemed intent upon doing a very foolish thing. If I hadn’t reached the balcony in time, she would have jumped right off. She really thought she could fly – and I don’t need to tell you how that would have ended.’

Minnie stared at this lady, who was still shaking her head and tutting at such a terrible thought. She looked very sweet, though rather la-di-da to an ordinary working girl from Blackpool. Yet Minnie had the feeling that this old lady could see right into her head. She glanced at the balcony wall. ‘Yes, that would have been a very nasty way to die,’ she said, removing the hat from her head and laying it on the tabletop. ‘I wonder what possessed the girl to do such a thing?’

The old lady flashed that infuriatingly honeyed smile again. ‘I think you know the answer to that as well as I do, my dear. And between you and me, I shall have strong words with my granddaughter for leaving the hat lying around. Cassandra really must test her magic elsewhere in future.’ She heaved a deep sigh, a small frown creasing her already wrinkled brow. ‘But you know what some witches are like… too fond of making mischief and practising their powers on people. She’s not a bad witch, just a little immature, and she must remember to try out her spells on her mice before inflicting them on people. I spent years perfecting my own but, like most young people, Cassandra wants everything done today.

‘I’ll take the hat back to her now, shall I?’ she asked, proffering a white-gloved hand.

Having no answers to any of this, Minnie handed the lady the lovely sunhat and watched as she turned to walk away and disappear into thin air.

Minnie strolled casually over to the balcony wall, admiring the view in the warm, May sunshine and smiling at the thought that the old fusspot had no idea of the hat’s true powers. Having it perched on her head for a mere few moments had been enough to make Minnie’s confidence soar.

‘Go on then,’ the voice in her head urged. ‘You haven’t come all the way up here for nothing.’

‘No, I haven’t,’ Minnie replied, heaving herself up and teetering on the wall’s upper edge. ‘It’s a good day for flying.’

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Picture prompt of the hat is courtesy of Pixabay

This post was partly inspired by the image above, but also from my many visits to Blackpool over the years. I can’t say Blackpool is my favourite seaside resort in the UK. Having been ‘born and bred’ in Southport, a little further south on the Lancashire coast than Blackpool, naturally I’m somewhat biased. But when all’s said and done, Blackpool does have that famous tower… This nice, colourful image is also from Pixabay:

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I wrote a blog post about Blackpool four years ago here but our visit at that time was on a grey day in late February. Needless to say, the seaside town was keeping itself well under wraps at the time.

Happy to be Back!

It’s been far too long since I wrote a post and I’ve really missed doing so. Unfortunately, sometimes life gets in the way, and/or other things must take precedence. Last year was not a good year for my family. We had so many illnesses to deal with, some of them worryingly serious. All in all, I got little writing done at all, either on my books or my blog. So this year has been a mad rush to get Book 3 of my Sons of Kings series finished, edited and formatted and published on Amazon. And, at last, this is it:

It was uploaded onto Amazon a couple of weeks ago, so I can now start to relax a little and get back to writing a few blog posts. Well, that’s the plan… On the other hand, Book 3 didn’t finish either of my protagonists’ stories, so I am now writing Book 4. My trilogy has become a series (or perhaps a quadrilogy).

All three of my Sons of Kings books will be 99p/$0.99 until July 31st. After that, Book 1 (Shadow of the Raven)  will be 99p for a little longer, Book 2 (Pit of Vipers) will be $1.99 and Book 3 (Wyvern of Wessex) will be $2.99, the usual price for each of the three books.

My book of short stories and flash fiction pieces will be still at its usual price of £1.49/$1.97. Amazon won’t allow it to be any lower because of the number of coloured images I’ve included. I had intended this book to be permanently 99p!

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Time to Leave – FFfAW

Time to Leave

Amber sensed his presence before she opened the door. The air had that familiar chill and she sighed, knowing it was time to leave. The old man had come to replace her and change people’s lives for a while. They’d basked in her warmth and colour for long enough.

He entered the hut with an icy blast and she donned her russet cloak. ‘I am ready to go, Old Man,’ she said, tossing her auburn curls. ‘I’ll return when folks weary of the next summer’s heat and long for mellowing days.’

The old man smiled, tiny cracks patterning his glacial face, and swept through the room, turning all to white with his icy breath. Amber smiled in return, knowing he would delight folks with his tricks. Who else but he could order the snowflakes to fall, creating a paradise of white? Who else could style playgrounds of ice over lakes and ponds?

Old Man Winter raised icicle fingers and bowed his silvery head. ‘Your task was done well, kind Autumnus. Rest now, until next year.’

Word Count: 175

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This is my story for Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers, a writing challenge hosted by Priceless Joy. It asks us to write a story from a given photo prompt in 100-150 words, give or  take 25. If you’d like to join in, follow the above link to see what to do. The challenge runs from Tuesday – Tuesday every week.

This week’s prompt was kindly provided by Ioniangraphics.

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To read other stories or add a story yourself, click on the little blue frog:

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The Game of Life – FFFAW

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The Game of Life

Max stared at the iron bars, cursing the day he’d met Sophie. He’d been happy before then, his future stretched out like an unplayed game.

To Sophie he’d been little more than a prize bull, a trophy to display to her friends. One twist of the nose ring kept him compliant throughout each humiliating display. With her shapely body close to his, he’d gaze at her beautiful face and melt all over again.

But when Sophie demanded a diamond as proof of his love, Max panicked. At nineteen, that kind of money was not to hand and robbery had been his only option…

Alarms screamed before he’d left the shop, the old jeweller’s blood dripping from his knife. No hope of evading arrest; surveillance cameras didn’t lie.

He’d stared at those bars for two years now and dreaded the next twenty-three. Early release was unlikely for taking a life…

He refocused on his lonely game of Solitaire and reached for the pills concealed in his shoe. His game of life would be ending here.

Word Count: 174

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This is my story for Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers, a writing challenge hosted by Priceless Joy. It asks us to write a story from a given photo prompt in 100-150 words, give or  take 25. If you’d like to join in, follow the above link to see what to do. The challenge runs from Tuesday – Tuesday every week.

This week’s prompt was kindly provided by MajesticGoldenRose.

Apologies for the morbid nature of my story this week. I really am feeling very down at the moment and happy thoughts seem to evade me. Perhaps I need some sunshine…or some fairy dust from Tinkerbelle. 🙂

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To read other stories or add a story yourself, click on the little blue frog:

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Happier Times for Mum – FFFAW

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Happier Times for Mum

It had to be here, somewhere…! It was in his pocket a minute ago, then he’d taken it out to look at – and must have put it back in the wrong pocket. The one with the hole in it! He had to find it. Mum deserved something pretty on her birthday.

Jamie knew she’d been lonely since Dad had left, but didn’t know how to help. Dad had a new family now and forgotten all about him and Mum.

‘This what you’re looking for, son?’

Jamie spun round to see a nice-looking man holding out the shiny brooch. ‘Thanks mister! I thought I’d lost it, good and proper!’

The man grinned. ‘It was in a puddle back there, just waiting to be found. You Julie Henderson’s lad?’

‘You know my mum?’

‘Known each other for years – same school, same office… I’m on my way to invite you both out for a birthday dinner tonight.’

‘She’d love that … and so would  I,’ Jamie said, hoping this was the start of happier times for Mum.

Word Count: 174

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This is my story for Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers, a writing challenge hosted by Priceless Joy. It asks us to write a story from a given photo prompt in 100-150 words, give or  take 25. If you’d like to join in, follow the above link to see what to do. The challenge runs from Tuesday – Tuesday every week.

This week’s prompt was kindly provided by Jessica Haines. Thank you, Jessica!

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To read other stories or add a story yourself, click on the little blue frog:

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Country Boy – FFFAW

Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers is a writing challenge hosted by Priceless Joy. It involves writing a piece of fiction from a given photo prompt in 100-150 words, give or  take 25. If you’d like to join in with the challenge, follow the above link to see what to do. The challenge runs from Tuesday – Tuesday every week.

Here’s this week’s prompt, kindly provided by Singledust. Thank you, Gina.

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And this is my story – very late this week:

 Country Boy

Suyin scurried past the Red Dragon, the festive lanterns belying the sordidness inside. She prayed Jianyu wouldn’t see her amidst the crowds: with luck he’d be fawning over the drug lords, whose money had made him rich. His second restaurant would open next month.

‘Not bad for a country boy,’ he’d boasted, so many times.

They’d saved for years to make Jianyu’s dream come true. How happy they’d been running the restaurant … until those men had walked in. Drug dealing had changed the man Suyin had once loved; the bruises he dealt were increasingly hard to hide.

Suyin hurried on to catch her train. By tomorrow she’d be miles away, where Jianyu would never find her. Her backpack contained clothes and other essentials – as well as a bag filled with her wages from the part-time job she’d held for the last three years. She had no particular destination in mind, other than somewhere out west, deep in the country…

Far away from the country boy in the city.

Word Count: 170

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A Fairy Story

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Fairy Ring

‘Where did these come from, Mam?’ Six-year-old Tommy squatted down, pointing at the cluster of little white-capped plants growing along the fence at the back of their garden.

Rose smiled at her son’s puzzled face. ‘They’re toadstools, Tommy, and we find them in lots of places – like fields and woods, and even on people’s lawns.’ She gazed over the fence into the dense forest beyond, wondering yet again whether moving to the Highlands of Scotland had been such a good idea. Tommy already missed his friends in Edinburgh. But her husband’s job in the Forestry Commission had given them no choice.

‘I bet there are plenty of toadstools in there,’ Rose continued, hoisting the child up so he could see over the fence. ‘Lots of fairies and elves, too.’

‘Do fairies like toadstools?’

They love them,’ Rose said, lowering him to the ground. ‘Sometimes they dance amongst them and make them into circles called fairy rings. Doesn’t that sound fun?’

Tommy shrugged. ‘I’ve never seen a fairy ring, so I don’t know.’

‘Well, fairy rings are magical places for the little folk, but if humans step inside them, they could become trapped by fairy magic, and might never get out again.’

‘That’s silly, Mam. Fairies only help people.’

‘And how do you know that?’

‘Because the fairy who visits me when I’m in bed says she’ll take me to a magic place to find new friends, if I want. She knew I was sad about leaving my old ones in Edinburgh without me even telling her!’

Rose stared at her precious son. ‘Tommy, this fairy … what does she look like?’

‘Her name’s Elvira, and I’ve seen her this many times.’ Tommy held out his small hand, fingers splayed. ‘And she looks like you, Mam, except she’s tiny and has wings. They’re really cool!’

Rose’s stomach lurched. That her twin should wheedle her way into Tommy’s affections just to get to her was unbelievable. ‘Tommy, promise me that if Elvira asks you to go with her, you won’t go.’

‘But I’ve promised I’d go tonight… Just for a bit.’

Rose’s mind whirled. ‘Did Elvira say where this magical place was?’

‘I don’t think it’s far because she said we’d be back very soon.’

‘Well, that’s alright, then,’ Rose assured him, her mind working fast.

‘Thanks, Mam!’ Tommy yelled. ‘I can’t wait for tonight.’

*

The grandfather clock in the hall struck midnight, its chimes rousing Tommy from his sleep. Elvira hovered before him in a halo of fairy light.

‘Ready for an adventure?’ she asked. ‘The fairy folk are gathering.’

Tommy nodded, his excitement mounting.

‘Then close your eyes and don’t open them again until I say so.’

Watching from atop the wardrobe, Rose was on their trail as soon as Elvira waved her wand. Within moments they’d reached a glade in the forest where the fairies were gathering, all dancing around a fairy ring. Perched on a leafy branch, she watched as Tommy joined in. He looked so happy when Elvira led him into the ring and danced with him awhile. But then she darted out, leaving him alone and confused. He tried to follow, but the ring confined him as effectively as prison bars.

Looking pleased with herself, Elvira joined her companions.

Rose fumed, knowing that confrontation was now inevitable. But first, Tommy must be freed. Unseen by the frolicking fairies, she flew into the ring from the opposite side to where they were gathered around Elvira.

‘Why’ve you locked me in here?’ Tommy wailed, mistaking his mother for her twin. ‘I don’t like being on my own.’

No time for explanations, Rose waved her wand and within moments, Tommy was sleeping soundly in his bed.

Rose descended into the middle of the gathering and the crowds shrank back. It was some moments before Elvira realised that silence had fallen. She turned, her expression one of guilt-laden surprise at what she saw. In a panic, she glanced at the fairy ring.

‘Tommy’s in his bed, where he’s supposed to be, Elvira. How you thought you could get away with this is beyond me. And I know what it’s all about – so don’t bother to explain. Mother’s expecting me tomorrow. I contacted her earlier and explained my position.’

Fury blackened Elvira’s face and she shot a bolt of magic at her twin. Rose reeled from the blast, but recovered quickly to return a blast of her own.

As the elder of the twins, Rose was the more powerful: Elvira’s magic could never compete. ‘For your information, Elvira, I don’t want the throne.’ The onlookers gasped. No princess had ever refused the fairy throne. ‘I’ll tell Queen Isadora that myself, tomorrow. You see, sister, my new family is here. If I returned to the Fairy Kingdom without them, I would slowly die. You are very capable of becoming the next queen, Elvira. Our people love you very much…

‘Besides,’ she whispered, ‘when I wave my wand, no one here will remember tonight’s events. They’ll continue to dance around the ring, just as they’ve always done.’

Elvira nodded and smiled sincerely. ‘Thank you, Rose. It seems I acted hastily. I had assumed that after ignoring us for years, you’d just fly back in and claim the throne. I’ve worked hard for our kingdom, and know I can rule wisely as queen.’

‘Then let’s dance to that,’ Rose said, holding out her hands. ‘I haven’t danced round a fairy ring in a long time.’

Rose flew back home, content that all would be well. Assuming her human form, she checked Tommy before climbing into her own bed. Robert was still in a trance-like sleep and she clicked her fingers to break the spell. In a couple of hours, Rob would awaken normally. And tomorrow, they would continue to come to terms with their new home in the Scottish Highlands … after she’d made her case to her illustrious mother.

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Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to write a flash fiction for FFfAW this week, so I’m posting this story instead – which is from my book A Dash of Flash. At 988 words, it’s much longer that the usual 175 word maximum for the challenge, but still within the limit for flash fiction (i.e. 1000 words). I enjoyed writing it, too, because I love fairy stories.

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Conflicting Interests – FFfAW

Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writer is a writing challenge hosted by Priceless Joy. It involves writing a piece of fiction from a given photo prompt in 100-150 words, give or  take 25. If you’d like to join in with the challenge, follow the above link to see what to do. The challenge runs from Tuesday – Tuesday every week.

Here’s this week’s prompt, kindly provided by Louise at The Storyteller’s Abode.

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And this is my story . . .

Conflicting Interests

‘I’ll go ahead of you,’ Alf insisted as they waited to board the pleasure-cruiser, ‘so I can help you across the gangplank. Don’t want you overboard, especially in December.’

Edna scowled and stepped in front of him as the queue moved aboard. ‘I might be getting on, but I’m not incapable,’ she retorted, eyeing the roped-off steps to the open-air upper deck. ‘I wanted to sit up there … better views.’

‘Too cold,’ Alf replied, pushing her inside towards two vacant seats. ‘Get in first, next to the window, Edna. Views’ll be good and we’ll be nice and warm – not like them idiots Christmas shopping out in the city.’

‘Which is where I’d be if you hadn’t booked this cruise!’

Edna grumbled on until they disembarked, when her face lit up. ‘Now let’s get to the more enjoyable job of shopping.’

Alf sighed. Edna had made it impossible for him to see the sights, and now he’d be dragged round the crowded shops, loaded up with bulging bags…

His grumbling continued until they got home.

Word Count: 175

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An Inappropriate Reply – FFfAW

Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers is a writing challenge hosted by Priceless Joy. It involves writing a piece of fiction from the given photo prompt in around 75-150 words – give or take 25 words. If you’d like to join in with the challenge, follow the above link to see what to do. The challenge runs from Tuesday to Tuesday every week.

Here is this week’s prompt, kindly provided by Louise. Thank you, Lou!

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And this is my story:

An Inappropriate Reply

Quentin stormed into the morning room and thrust the letter into his wife’s hands. Amelia shifted in her chair, avoiding his outraged glare. The note-paper was all too familiar.

‘Where did you find it?’ Such a mundane question, yet she could think of nothing appropriate to say.

‘That’s irrelevant!’ Quentin snapped, pacing the floor. ‘After twenty-three years of marriage, you owe me a plausible explanation. I was bound to realise soon enough.’

Amelia stared at the letter, grasping for explanations. She’d never kept secrets from Quentin before. ‘James made me promise not to tell you until –’

‘Until it was too late for me to stop him…!’

‘At twenty-one, James has every right to enlist in Kitchener’s army, Quentin. Our son knows what he’s doing.’ Unshed tears suddenly welled. ‘But I can’t bear the thought of him in Normandy. He could be killed, or wounded and–’

Quentin knelt to comfort her. ‘We’ll need to be extremely brave for just a few months, my love. They say this war will be over by Christmas…’

Word Count: 174

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A Note about WW1 and Lord Kitchener’s Recruitment Campaigns:

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Kitchener World War 1 Recruitment poster. Date:1914 Author: Arthur Leete (1882-1933). Public Domain.

When war broke out in August 1914, it became clear that the British Army needed far more men than the numbers already recruited in the regular army. The war minister at the time, Lord Kitchener, began a campaign to urge men aged between 19 and 30 to (voluntarily} join up. Three weeks later, the upper age limit was raised to 35. By mid-September, over 500,000 men had volunteered – and over a million by January 1915.

Many officials in both the military and the government initially believed that the war with Germany would be ‘over by Christmas’. But Lord Kitchener was unconvinced. Needless to say, as war dragged on, eventually to last four long years, concerns over the provision of manpower led to again altering the recruitment ages, this time for men between 18 and 50. During this time, many young men (250, 000 of them in Britain) found little difficulty in falsifying their age. There are stories of boys as young as 15 – a few even younger – joining up, until eventual conscription in March 1916 made it more difficult for them to do so.

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