Friday 7 December 2012

#FridayFlash - Mr Magpie

Anna peered through the camera’s viewfinder. She centred the bandstand in the frame and adjusted the aperture to lengthen the depth of the field.


Anna pressed the preview button on the camera. Her photo appeared on the screen. She’d need to alter the contrast but otherwise it was a good capture. Frost turned the paving white, and frozen cobwebs hung from the bandstand’s wrought iron. She smiled. Others might pass the deserted bandstand in the quiet park and not notice it – to her, it was another beautiful view.

She turned to frame a shot of the path leading down to the lake. Geese slithered across the ice, their webbed feet ill-suited to the winter conditions.

A flutter of black and white passed before her lens. She lowered the camera to see a magpie perched on a stump. It cocked its head on one side and stared at her.

“Hello, Mr Magpie,” she called. “Would you pose for me?”

The magpie moved, leaning forwards with its wings outstretched, a parody of the carved eagles behind the bandstand. Anna switched her camera to rapid capture and fired off a string of photos. She paused to review the photos, pleased with the contrast of the black and white feathers and frosted grass.

“Thank you, they look–”

Anna looked up and stopped as the magpie took to the air. She watched its flight over the hedges, and into the knot of trees beyond. Anna didn’t venture into the woods, preferring the wider vista of the open slope down to the lake. Still, she hadn’t expected to take photos of birds, and the magpie shots were the best she’d taken today. Perhaps she’d find something better among the trees.

Anna made her way along the path. The trees closed over the trail, their leafless branches forming an arch of icy wood. Anna snapped photos of frost-encrusted flowers too stubborn to make way for winter, and she captured an image of a squirrel burying nuts at the foot of an oak.

The path led into a clearing, surrounded by evergreens. A carpet of fallen leaves covered the ground, and tree stumps thrust out of the autumnal sea like the rocks in the bay. Anna froze, realising she was not alone. A young man sat on one of the stumps. Flowing black hair streaked with white and petrol blue tumbled down his back, and he stared at her with glittering eyes so dark they looked black. He wore a ragged suit of black velvet, with a flowing white shirt beneath it. He doffed his battered top hat.

“Good morning, Mistress Photographer.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know anyone was here,” said Anna.

“That’s quite alright, my dear. How could you have known? You are not psychic.” A smirk hovered around his pale lips.

“No, I’m not.” Anna frowned.

“I, on the other hand, am very much psychic. I can tell what you’re thinking right now, as it happens.”

Anna raised one eyebrow and said nothing.

“You were searching for a magpie.”

“Not exactly. I saw it fly over here and I thought I’d come and explore.”

“You’re always searching, Anna. Always trying to find something. If only you knew what you were looking for!”

Anna started at the mention of her name, and took a step backwards. The young man’s smirk erupted into a full smile. Without meaning to, she found herself returning the smile. He was very strange, but rather good-looking, in a haughty, emaciated sort of way. Anna couldn’t remember the last time a boy had even looked at her, let alone spoken to her.

“You should stop looking, Anna. You will never find the treasure you seek.”

“How do you know my name?”

“I told you, I am psychic. But you won’t find the treasure because you are the treasure. Do you understand?”

Anna shook her head. The young man laughed and leapt to his feet. Anna could see white socks through the holes in his patchwork boots. He seized her hand and pressed it to his lips.

“Have a care, young Anna. You are the treasure!”

A cloud passed before the sun, casting long shadows across the clearing. Anna felt the young man release her hand, and when the sun returned, he was gone. She stood alone in the clearing. She looked at her hand, expecting to see some sort of mark from the strange young man’s lips. Her fingers felt lighter than usual, and she realised her ring was missing. It was only a fake diamante ring from a stall at the market, but she liked the way it sparkled on her middle finger. Now it was gone.

What a bastard, he must have taken it! At least it only cost a couple of quid.

Anna turned to leave the clearing when she noticed something on the tree stump. A long black feather, coloured with splashes of petrol blue. She turned it over in her hand, enjoying play of light across the blue, like oil on water. On impulse, she pushed it into her hair, and left the clearing.

Anna headed towards the Wilson Street exit, determined to head home and edit her photos. She was so preoccupied that she didn’t notice the young man coming the other way until she collided with him.

“Hey, sorry, are you okay?” The young man touched her shoulder. She looked up into a familiar face – it was Ben, from the photographic society.

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

“You’re Anna, right?”

Anna nodded.

“Were you taking photos for our latest assignment?”

Anna nodded again, too amazed to speak.

“I was just cutting through the park to go get a coffee. You want to come with me? We can talk about it.”

Anna nodded, adding a smile to her answer. Ben grinned, and they headed back through the park towards town. As he chattered away about his latest camera purchase, Anna touched the feather in her hair and smiled.

I am the treasure.

Thursday 6 December 2012

Published in the Deck the Halls anthology

I'm rather pleased to announce that I have a story in yet another anthology! In addition to my story, A Girl's Best Friend, in Best of Friday Flash: Volume Two, and Anonymous in the Penny Dreadfuls Halloween Special, I now have Apprentices to Time in Deck the Halls: Festive Tales of Fear and Cheer.

The story appeared online in its original form a couple of years ago in answer to a prompt - Emergent Publishing were putting together a collection of stories, each of which took a line from Deck the Halls as a story prompt. My line was 'Fast away the old year passes' and I chose to write a story about New Year. It was also the first time I introduced my female Death character, who you might remember from some of my Friday Flashes (particularly New Year's Dance, about my Captain Scarlight character). She's become a bit of a favourite of mine, and it's rather awesome to be able to share her story again, albeit revised and updated!

The blurb on the Emergent website runs thus;

DECK THE HALLS traverses the joy and jeopardy of the festive season, from Yule to Mōdraniht, Summer Solstice to Years’ End. The stories journey through consternations and celebrations, past, present and future, which might be or never were.

Along the way you’ll meet troll hunters, consumer dissidents, corset-bound adventurers, a joint-toking spirit, big-hearted gangbangers, an outcast hybrid spaceship, petrol-toting politicians, mythical swingers and a boy who unwittingly controls the weather.

Heart-warming and horrifying, the collection is a merry measure of cross-genre, short fiction subverting traditional notions of the holiday season.

It's available from the Emergent Store as a PDF, mobi or epub file, and you can order a good old-fashioned paperback too. Go on, get yourself an early Christmas present...