Christmas Past

She never smiled at him the way she smiled at the old paper bauble. Made by grubby little hands that stole her heart away. Carefully preserved in its box, it still had glitter stuck to it. The bitter old man closed his hand and crushed the precious gift. No more grubby little hands, no more tender heart. She was gone and they were all grown. He didn’t care then. They don’t care now. 

As featured on Paragraph Planet on 22nd December 2021

Angel Song

She was the smallest of the angels, too small for the top of the tree. Every year the old man held her as she sang of a forgotten memory. This year he was too tired, his fingers too frail to wind her key. He sat alone cradling her and closed his eyes. Her heart swelled and she shone brightly. He rose and saw the face he had loved singing a Silent Night.

Sand Strike

The strike squad stood together on the edge of the sands and studied the battleground. Flat dry sand, clear blue sky, blazing hot sun. They moved into an arrow formation to prepare their attack. Arto stood on the left flank and began a slow rhythmic beat of his tenor drum. The sand beneath their feet vibrated and began to shift as if alive, as if something stirred beneath the surface. Usko on the right flank drew his bow and played a long sweeping note across his side braced battle harp. The sand began to rise forming a defensive wall around the squad. Together the flanks played, increasing in rhythm and intensity until the wall was almost solid. At the head of the arrow, Satu lifted her gleaming rondel flute to her pursed lips and waited. Across the sands a low hum made the air shimmer. A small mound rose in front of them. The sand wall flexed as the strike squad changed their tempo. Satu let fly a flurry of sharp piercing notes. The narrow shockwaves burst through the wall and pelted the mound with deadly precision. A deep ethereal lament shuddered through their feet as their target was defeated.

“Cease fire. Weapons down. About face.” The Song Guard examiner scowled at their ridiculous grins as they turned to face him. He pointed at each of them in turn. “Fail. Fail. Fail. You just murdered seven fleeing refugees.” Satu spun back to see the carnage. Seven corpses lay splattered with blood half buried in the sand. “MEDIC!” She screamed. She was already singing as she sprinted across the yard. Her squad mates gaped after her. “I have truly seen it all now.” The examiner muttered. Satu dropped to her knees gasping as she tried to remember the rest of the healing song. The corpse before her rolled over “MEDIC!” It wailed and spluttered in to a fit of giggles. The other corpses joined in, writhing in mock agony and flicking fake blood at her “Meeeedic!”

Book Of Brilliant Things

Gideon sat at his desk in the corner of the bookshop and carefully opened the mysterious leather bound tome. Tiny motes of dust leapt up from it like freed prisoners from the darkest dungeons. 

He took a sharp breath in anticipation as he turned the first page. A soft whisper of violets ghosted from the paper as if at one time there had been flowers pressed inside. A flicker of doubt nudged him, this was pretty ancient dust. There could be all kinds of contagions in it. He shook his head, that was a ridiculous thought for an educated man.

The world skewed and tipped. His back hit a hard surface, followed immediately by his head. He was lying on a cold stone floor and above him were low rafter beams. This was not the beautifully carved ceiling of his bookshop.

He hurt everywhere. It wasn’t the pain of a sudden impact injury, but a deep aching throb that seemed to ooze around his body. He rolled his eyes left, then right. There was a person stretched out to either side of him. Guessing from the wailing and groaning, there were at least a dozen other people suffering in this room.

Panic rose as he coughed and struggled to catch his breath. He tried to move, to call out, to wake himself from this too vivid a dream. A primal scream threatened to tear through him, but nothing more than a sickly moan escaped his lips. 

Heavy footsteps slowly made their way towards him. He moaned again as some pointy object was jabbed in his gut.  He stared in horror at the man standing over him. The long black coat, the cane and the beaked mask. Fear overwhelmed him. He stopped moving. He stopped struggling. He stopped fighting to breathe. Darkness claimed him, thick and cloying at first then blessed and welcome oblivion.

Gideon lurched up with a terrified whimper. He scrabbled to his feet then promptly vomited and dropped to his knees. Cold sweat trickled down his back and he gave a nervous laugh of relief. “Bloody hell.”  He muttered.

Whatever mad hallucination that was, this was his bookshop. These were his old worn floorboards, there was his own chair toppled over on its side, and that was his very own hand carved ceiling. 

The smell of violets drifted towards him, drawing his gaze towards the book. It sat innocently on the desk, firmly closed as if it had never been disturbed. The old store clock that he refused to wind up because it made too much bloody noise, gave a single jarring tick.

Gideon was not alone.

He became aware of a figure moving towards him with quiet tap tapping footsteps, like wood on wood.  A small woman stopped in front of him and he struggled to comprehend what he was looking at.

Her skirts were made of ancient scrolls, layered together as if they were the frills of a petticoat. They were tattered and worn, the skirts drooping in places where some of the scrolls were missing. Her blouse looked like endlessly pleated parchment, faded with age and full of holes. Her bodice was made of the spines of tattered books that wrapped around her torso. Some of the spines were missing, leaving inky black spaces that seemed to draw him in.

“Historian, you found my book.” She whispered with a whistling lisp. Her voice was like an old wooden flute, dry and neglected, and in a single airy tone. He gasped as he looked in to her face. Perhaps once it had been highly polished wood but now the whirls of the woodgrain were faded and pocked with dry rot. Her face was framed with a garland of birch leaves in place of hair, the leaves all browns and oranges like the leaves at the end of autumn. Her eyes bore a feint flicker of light, pale violet like a cold twilight sky.

“This is now your time. You must rebuild the archive.” She placed her finger on his lips to keep him silent and the clock ticked once more. 

Dust motes rose from every part of her, swirling through the air towards him. She sighed as if a heavy burden had been lifted and the books and the scrolls burst free. He tried to duck and shield himself as pages whipped feverishly around him, though he couldn’t stop himself from trying to catch a glimpse of the texts. As if summoned, the inks danced from the pages and streamed before his eyes. It was endless lines of histories and knowledge. Tales of long forgotten lands filled his mind and smothered him.  He tried to peer through the chaos, to call out to the woman but there was nothing there, only a fury of a dust storm. Gideon screamed out in panic, inhaling half the dust cloud and choking. The old tome flew at him as if flung in rage. It hit him square on with a thunderous clunk and darkness claimed him once more. 

It was cold when Gideon woke up. He ached from lying askew on the floorboards for who knows how long. He sat up and looked around the bookshop, everything seemed to be in order, everything neat and tidy. He had no idea why he’d been lying there. Had he fallen from the ladder while trying to reach the top shelf? He rubbed his throbbing head and frowned at how dry his skin felt.  He could smell violets and noticed an old leather bound tome on the floor beside him. It was certainly big enough to knock him out if it had fallen on him. He turned it to read the embossed inscription on the cover.

“The Ledger of Time.”