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Winter’s Reign

This was another entry for the competition themed ‘Winter’, and I think I prefer this one:

 

Winter’s Reign

“Winter cleanses.  It takes the wild mud and confusion of Summer and Autumn, and transmutes them to soft, silent whiteness.  In the Winter it is possible to think, to consider the past year, and perhaps prepare for the next.”

Elder Phips recited the traditional greeting as the congregation settled.  His warm voice filling our hearts, while the warm church thawed our chilled bones.  It was cold outside.

“Let us all say thanks for the bounties which Winter provides.”

We bowed our head, and mumbled the ritual.

“Thank you Winter for cleansing us.  Thank you Winter for protecting us.  Thank you Winter for saving us.  Thank you Winter for providing for us.”

When I was younger I always questioned how Winter had done all these things.  Now I was a man, I knew what we were thankful for, though I didn’t entirely agree.  Still, the community around the church was strong, and our Elder kept us together.  I was not going to rock the boat.

After the ceremony Elder Phips invited me into his study.  His house joined to the back of the church, and there was no need for us to put on our full furs to get there.  There was some discussion of linking the whole village up in this way.

“Ah come in Jorgy.”

“Thank you Elder.”

“Oh hush, I’ve know you since you were a pup, please call me Phips.  Now I expect you are wondering why I asked you in here?”

I nodded.

“It is two things.  Firstly, I know the other hunters follow you.  Are you supporting the covered links for the village?”

I paused.  This had become an emotive issue.

“I will Elder.  While the resources required are substantial, I’m convinced that it will return more.  It will allow more visits, strengthening the community as well as reducing the time all of us spend getting ready for outside.”

“Good man, I thought you’d see sense.  Now if only I can get the salters to agree.  Any ideas?”

I thought a little.

“Perhaps remind them that they will get more visits, and more chances to sell their wares.  They aren’t fools, though they may act that way sometimes.”

“Excellent.  I shall.”

He stopped and looked at his desk.  The second thing, whatever it was, clearly bothered him.  It was also clearly the real reason he’d called me in.

“Ah Jorgy, there’s a more delicate matter.”

I waited silently.  I had a suspicion I knew what it was.

“It’s about, ah, the Spring.”

I had wondered if he had the courage to say it.  I stayed mute.

“Well, there have been rumours that you, ah, that you think the Spring might be coming.”

One casual remark, and now this quiet inquisition.

“No Phips.  I had but remarked that the South wind was less cutting than I would have expected for this time of year.”

He looked at me, trying to judge.

“That’s not all Jorgy.  I have seen your log-pile.  It is not up to the eves.  The Guidance clearly states that the log-pile should be built up to the eves during every long break in the weather.”

Digging himself out of this was going to be more difficult.

“Apologies Elder.  My son has been ill, and I spent the time looking for extra food for him to help him recover.”

“Hmm, I would have more sympathy if you hadn’t told Tomas that you didn’t think there was any point in having such a stockpile.  You claim that you didn’t use all of yours during the last big freeze.”

Ah, the crux of the hypocrisy.  He’d watched his neighbours when the snow had finally cleared enough.  They’d been manically burning their wood, to make sure that it was all gone.  The Interpretation of the Guidance was that all fuel supplies should be exhausted after a big freeze, otherwise Winter would send worse.

The problem was, the big freezes were less common, less vicious, and shorter than they’d been even a few years before.  The weather was changing.  But these fools could not see it.  I was rocking the boat, even while trying to keep my own keel even.

There was nothing I could say to the Elder.  So I said nothing.

He shook his head sadly.

“Jorgy, the Spring isn’t coming.  The devil is playing tricks, and you are falling for his ways.  I’m afraid you must pay penance.”

I wanted to scream at him, but there was little point.  I thought voting for the covered links, a measure I thought would become irrelevant in a few years, would protect me, but clearly not.

“Yes Elder.”

“You must do ten hours a week on community work.”  Which would mean the covered ways.  Ten hours would be tough, but it could be worse.

“And half your next hunt.”  I nearly stood at that point.  It took iron will to stay still.  Half my hunt was already taken as tax.  The other half was to feed my family.  With both halves taken, we would starve, or be forced to live off the charity of the village.  Which of course was the whole point.  The Elder liked to make sure we understood that the community was paramount.

“Yes Elder.”

He nodded.  Then smiled, as if the unpleasantness was now in the past, and we would all be friends.

“Good lad Jorgy, I knew you’d understand.  Now, don’t forget to make sure the other Hunters vote the right way.  You know the way out?”

I did.

When I arrived home Mary looked at my face.  She could see the Thunder, but then she’d known it was likely to be bad if the Elder had called me in.

“Oh Jorgy.  What?”

“Half the hunt.”

“Nooo”  she covered her mouth.  She knew hunger and feared it.  But she also feared the shame of relying on the bits of stew and weak broth from the other villagers.  The women would be kind and helpful, but they would be judging.

“I’m sorry Mary.  Perhaps I can do a double hunt?”

“Stay out there for that long?  Winter will get you.”

I smiled wryly.  She was trying to get a rise from me.

“Perhaps he will, but I might snare Spring.”

She laughed.

“Jorgy, it’s that kind of talk that got us into this trouble.  Do you want them to do worse?”

“I know.  But, I don’t understand.  It is so obvious.  Spring is coming.”

She shook her head.

“Jorgy, it’s been a thousand years of Winter.  How many times have a group of hotheads decided Spring was coming, that the old ways are bad and that they should be in charge?”

“I know.  But I am not a hothead.”

“Not anymore.”

“I’m not saying the old ways are bad, just, that change is coming.”

“And you should be in charge?”

“Winter’s bones woman!  No.  I would not want that.”

“Then why challenge?”

“I wasn’t, not really.  I am just trying to get them to see what is in front of them.  Yet…”

“There are some that won’t believe until their faces are rubbed in the mud.”

Such language from Mary.  She was clearly upset too.

“Do you think we should…”

We’d talked about leaving.  I believed that the changing weather meant that it was safer to be out, and that travel was now possible.

“Oh Jorgy.  I don’t know.  What about Karl?”

“We could leave him here?”  I winked at her.

“Our son!  Never.  Who would look after him?”

“It’s hard out there Mary.  I may think Winter is weakening, but He still has some strength.”

“I’m strong enough Father.”

“Karl, how long have you been listening!”  The whole time probably, though I’d only noticed his slipper sticking out a little while before.

He walked forward, holding his head high.

“Since you came back.  I want to leave.  The other boys all taunt me, they call me Spring’s spawn.”

I reached out to him, and he ran for a hug.  How had we arrived at the point where Spring itself was evil?

The decision was made.  We spent the rest of the day packing.  There wasn’t much.  I made sure they both had extra furs, minimal food and some basic tools.  We’d start off fast and light, in case the Elders sent someone after us.  Once we were several days away and I was confident we were clear I would build a sledge, and then I’d be able to hunt properly.  We’d have a few days of hunger, but less than if we stayed.

I left a note for the Elder saying that he could distribute all that we’d left.  He would have anyway, but giving him my permission would enrage him.  I told him we were leaving to look for Spring.

Gathering all our belongings we stepped into Winter’s cold embrace.  After centuries of cleansing I hoped that humans were pure enough to be given back the other seasons.  We were ready for whatever came after Winter.  We were ready for Spring.

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Winter’s Lament

This was an entry for a competition where the theme was ‘Winter’:

Winter’s Lament

“Why do they hate me?”  she cried.

My dearest Winter.  Such beauty, so misunderstood.

“They fear you dearest.”

“It is more than that.  They think I’m hideous!”

How could they think she was ugly?  When clothed in white she made the whole country look Christmas card pretty.  Perhaps it was because she stripped the dishonest leaves from the trees?

“Only a few fools my love.  Many love you.  Look how they celebrate you at your peak?”

“By hiding indoors!  Consuming food and alcohol in great quantities.  How many venture forth?  I give them bracing air, clear vistas and even a sprinkling of sparkling frost.  Yet they stay inside, staring at those flashing boxes and worshiping that fat man in red.”

This was a conundrum.

“Darling Winter, they honour you by spending time with their families, what more could you ask?  And as for the fat man… they do not shower him with worship, but with avarice and greed.”

She sniffed.  It was hard.  She had ruled once, a glorious time.

“Remember when this world was all mine?  My glaciers stretched across the continents, weighing them down.  It was quiet then.  So peaceful.”

“There are still echoes of that peace now.”

“Shattered by the coughing of machines, and wailing of human children.”

“And yet, on a cold crisp morning, there are many who still walk the hills and fields with wonder.  They marvel at how you reveal to them their environments anew.”

“This is true.”

“Some still worship you, delighting in your snow.  They swish across the mountains, and when you have left they mope.  Or fly to those places where you still have some sway.”

“They do delight me.”

This was better, perhaps she would calm.  I loved my Winter, but she could be a handful when enraged.

She was melancholy now.

“It is as if they would prefer only three seasons.  They would consign me to memory, and then forget.”

I could not argue, and perhaps it was better not to.

“I thought if I let them fly they would love me.  And they do, swooping across my icy ponds, scratching me.  Yet it is as if they can only focus on the bad.  Like the cold.”

“Which makes their cheeks red and healthy.”

Her withering look stopped any more such attempts at levity.

“What can I do?”

“Nothing my love.  Some will never be content.  Have you not heard how they complain about Summer too?”

“No, do they?”

“They claim she’s too hot.  That the sun it burns them, there are too many insects.”

“How interesting.  Yet they do not rejoice in my time.  I keep it nice and cold, and the sun knows its place when I’m here.  Insects, I remember them.  A few I will allow, but all the rest rightly sleep, and they do deserve it.  They have a hard task, they work hard in Summer’s glory.”

“They do.”

“So do they prefer Autumn?”

“Oh no.  It rains too much, the leaves fall and make a mess, and it’s too windy.”

“How strange.  I do not like rain too much, but it has its place.  And if the leaves did not fall they wouldn’t be able to enjoy the clean sculptures, showing the bones of the natural world.  Wind must happen for the leaves to fall properly.”

“Of course, and yet, they do complain.”

She was looking contemplative.  Then she looked at me.  “And you dear Spring, what do they say about you?”

“Ah well, they complain I’m late, or early.  That there are mad showers and that I’m still not warm enough.”

“None of us can satisfy them it seems.”

“It is why they build their boxes and hide away.”

“Yes.”  She was still looking at me, thinking.

I was worried she might ask the hard question.

“Dear Spring, why is it that I must leave during your glory?”

This was it.  How could I tell her?  How could I not?

“Winter my love.  You are my delight, my wonder, but I am weak compared to you.  You smother me and I cannot blossom while you are here.”

She shook her head sadly.

“Such a pity, I do so want to see your glory.  I tried last year.”

“I know, and how they howled at the sudden late snows and icy blast.”

“They did.”

She was tender then, and we just held each other.  Later she went out to spread some snow upon the world.  I slept, and hoped she hadn’t taken her thoughts any further.

She returned later that night.  There was an extra chill in her gaze.  She was wearing her icy armour, and carrying her hunting weapons, a spear and bow.  She stared at me, and I realised she knew.

“Now darling, you must understand…”

“Understand?  Understand!  Dear Spring, I do understand.  Now, finally after all these years.  In order for you to glory I must die.  Each year I die for you, and yet you do not have the courage to tell me.”

“I thought you knew, you must have…”

“Liar.  I can see the fear in your eyes.  You hoped to keep this from me.  Let me guess, there is poison in the wine you give me.  It works slowly, and even at my peak I’m already dying.”

I shook.  I wanted to deny it, but I couldn’t.

“This year there will be change.”

“No, you cannot.”

“I will kill you, and reign until Summer appears.  And then I shall kill her.  Autumn I might keep, for amusement.”

“But Winter, dearest.  You do not understand, only you can return from death.”

“Oh, I know.  And now the time has come dear Spring, for you to take a rest.”

She raised her icy spear and threw it straight at my heart.  I saw endless Winter rushing towards me.  There was nothing I could do to stop it.

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Flock

Another piece of flash fiction, entered for a competition for darker stories at Darker Times.

It didn’t win, and if I’m honest I wasn’t totally happy with it.  Sometimes the word limit helps, and sometimes it doesn’t, I think this is one where it didn’t.

 

Flock

The rain lashed down, soaking me in the darkness.  I didn’t want to be out here, but the flock hadn’t come in for their feed.  That meant they’d gotten out again.

Fortunately I found the hole in the fence quickly.  Unfortunately it was into the forest.  I’d rushed out without a jacket, and now I was paying the price.  Even better, my torch was running low.  No wait, now it was out.  So now I was in a dark forest, at night, in driving rain, looking for creatures whose colouring ranged from brown to black.  Could it get any worse?

“Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.”

The sound chilled my blood.  It was off to my right.  I called out, “Hazel… Catkin…”  The two leaders of the flock would normally come to me, though I’d always felt their names somewhat mis-sold them.  Hazel could be a real monster when she wanted to be, and Catkin was worse if anything.

“Maaaaaaaa.”

Off to my right again, then answered from the left.  If I hadn’t known better I’d have thought they were stalking me.  Then what sounded like a cry, followed by several more angry bleats.  I ran towards the sound.  I heard screaming.  The flock had found someone, and were stalking them.  I had to do something before it got out of hand.  I tried to go faster, but I was no longer on the path and the branches kept whipping my face.

The scream sounded again, and I leapt forward in a panic.  I found myself on my back, seeing stars and with blinding pain across my forehead.  I must’ve hit a branch.  The screaming had stopped and I could hear snuffling.  The rain seemed to be easing off.

Had whoever screamed been able to get away?  There were a few fences around the wood which the flock wouldn’t be able to get over.  Perhaps they’d made it?  I got up and headed towards the sounds.  I kept telling myself that whoever it was must have got away.

The moon had broken through the clouds, and I could see a clearing ahead.  Dark figures seemed to be clustered near the centre of the clearing, and they were making a lot of snuffling sounds.  I walked towards them, knowing that as they were pheromone bonded to me they’d just assume I was part of the flock.  I gingerly looked over at what they were gathered around.  It was the fresh corpse of a small Scottie dog.  I gagged a little but was relieved, it could have been much worse..

Then I heard more snuffling at the edge of the clearing.  The rest of the flock were there, gathered round a much bigger form.  Peering closely I made out a woman’s shape in the moonlight.  I gagged.  She was obviously beyond help.  I slumped to the floor, dazed and not knowing what I would do.  I couldn’t help railing at the madness of genetically engineering a cross between Soay sheep and wolves.

 

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A Friend in Need

I wrote this as an entry for a competition where the theme was ‘A Friend in Need’.  It was a bit of fun really, and I enjoyed writing it, even if it didn’t catch the judges’ eyes.

A Friend in Need

By Jason Gibbs

Paul sat fidgeting at the table, wondering when the waiter would come.  Laura looked at him and mentally shook her head.  He’d be great if he’d just sort himself out.

“Do you love me?”

Paul froze, caught in the headlights of the question.  The problem was that he did love Laura, or at least thought he did.  It was just that she was, well, demanding.

“Yes! Of course!”  Squeaking out the yes didn’t help.

“Oh Paul.  I love you too, but when are you going to get serious?  How is the job going?”

“Ah well.”

“You were fired… you quit?”

“No, actually.”  He looked a bit abashed, “They promoted me, and asked me to become a permie.”

Laura was shocked.  Maybe he was finally growing up, she was worried he’d stay a man child for ever.

“That’s great Paul!  We should have something to celebrate!”

Paul kind of thought coming out to a nice French restaurant counted as celebrating, but given the smile on Laura’s face he didn’t want to disappoint her.  As she waved the waiter over his phone buzzed.  It was Terry, but he didn’t have time to read the message before Laura turned back.  She’d been very clear with him that he wasn’t to check his texts, or answer anything other than an emergency, while he was sitting with her.  Or she’d storm out.  Again.

The waiter came over and Laura ordered some Moet, which he hated.  Perhaps there was something he could teach her for a change.  He stopped the waiter, and said, “Actually, do you have any Veuve Cliquot?”  The waiter nodded his reply and went off to get some.

Laura was impressed, she didn’t realise Paul knew anything about Champagne, or indeed anything that wasn’t in the Urban Dictionary.

Paul’s phoned buzzed again.  He managed not to make any sign.  Laura was looking particularly beautiful tonight, and he thought he might have properly impressed her for a change.  He didn’t reveal he’d learnt about Champagne during a summer serving at weddings.

When they’d first started going out she’d seemed quite happy with his jokes, and she never seemed bothered when he went out with his mates.  He’d spent time with her friends, who all seemed nice enough.  He’d even tried to set up Carol with Terry.  That had been a disaster though, and it felt like that had been the turning point.  From then on Laura had been pushing him, get a proper job, don’t drink so much, had he ever seen a gym, on and on.  The problem was, he did really want to be with her, he just wasn’t ready for all this responsibility.  The money from the job helped though.

After the starter she went to the toilet.  He’d had a dozen texts by this point, and he now read them.  They were all from Terry.  The first one was just ‘Help!’, they got worse and worse from there.  He was in big trouble, real trouble and he needed Paul.  Desperately.  Paul was certain it was to do with those gangsters Terry had been doing a deal with.  Clearly it had gone bad.  Damn.  How was he going to explain this to Laura?

He tried.  Her mouth slipped from a luminescent smile to a frown before ending flat and angry.

How could he?  She just didn’t understand him.  She’d tried to tell him that Terry was bad news, so many times.  This was it.

“Paul, if you leave now, then we’re over.  Don’t ever bother me again.”

He had no choice.  He left eighty quid on the table, grabbed his jacket and headed out without another word.  After all, what could he say?  He wasn’t going to abandon his mates.

He jumped into his motor and sped home, hoping he’d be in time.  Terry called, and his car automatically answered.

“Paul!”

“Mate, I’m on my way.”

There was a grunt of relief.

“I thought you were leaving me hanging!  Look, I can hold them off for a few more minutes but..”

There was the sound of gunshots.

“Where the hell are you?”

“Back of the warehouses, behind the Fedex office.”

Paul screeched up to his house.

“I’ll get tooled up and be right there.”

“Hurry!”

Paul ran into the house, and dived into the games room.  He jumped into his control chair, with the keyboard on one side and the controller on the other, and hit un-pause.  The speakers squawked, and the logo of East End Wars came up on the screen, along with a Ray Winstone quote he no longer noticed.  His character already had a load of weapons ready, he just needed to dump them in the Jag and get going.  He had to hurry, his friend was in real need.

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