Short Fiction

The Cleric – A short story from college

It was a November evening, darkness overtook the sun in a battle lost ever earlier as the weeks passed. Cold air crept after Terence Julien, biting at his heels moving the young man to walk more briskly, as he pressed onwards toward the cleric’s house. The issue at hand was of utmost importance, an earnest enquiry that demanded immediate attention. An artistic dilemma which had been growing in his psyche for months, years maybe… This in turn had begun to tear apart his entire livelihood. Julien had upset the painters guild, who in turn had informed the philosophers and they, of course, had intervened and contacted the local religious authority.

In the year of our lord, saviour, and ultimate church of ultra-gospel creed, 2109, he experienced what his peers described as a “full mental collapse”, but which Julien himself regarded as the turning point. He painted a “nude” figure. Provided that the painting was realistic, and genitalia was masked with cloth, this was relatively acceptable. The human form was seen as god’s greatest achievement, his masterpiece which the human race could learn from by attempting weakly to mimic it on paper. It was the particular positioning of the model which drew offense. The guild had deemed it pornography, and when Julien suggested that the bible was filled with the profane, without logical or allegorical explanation, he was sternly warned that his actions were not appreciated.

Henceforth Julien had very publicly broken taboo after taboo, each of which had been firmly in place for as long as anyone alive could remember, certainly since the incident. Wave after wave, building up in him like a crescendo. He screamed to anyone who could hear that the skies above were not the home of god, but the resting place of empty space. Needless to say his opinions were hostile, and much of his work was soon banned. However he had not yet been refused the right to continue to practice. A slap on the wrist is all the authorities had intended for him, until he finally went too far.

The dank and mouldy walls of the rooms in the cleric’s house had for some time been sinking into a state of disrepair. Since the incident not much headway had been made on any affair that involved the aesthetic. Taking pride in ones home was considered heinously sinful, and the more disheveled a person’s home, the greater their esteem among peers and neighbours. In truth however since the incident, very little by way of home supplies could be obtained, and what could be salvaged from the warehouses had long since been used. This was the world Julien had been born into, though he knew as everyone knew, that it had not always been this way.

The cleric was an old, white haired and rosy cheeked man. He had a generally kindly exterior, which masked an enquiring nature, but his advice was sought by all, as it was seen as sage and sound.
“Father,” Julien paused and regarded the old man, “I need you to show me the way forward.” He reached for the wooden tube he had crafted from ash to hold his portfolio and unfurled his latest work on the Cleric’s old oak table. The scene he had crafted from oils portrayed an old man looking into a mirror, the reflected image showed the image of his younger self. Julien had called the work “reflection” and it was his first imaginative work, and this was the root of his current predicament. It was considered a mortal sin to paint the imaginary.

“My boy,” The cleric was nearly whispering now, “by painting the imaginary, you illustrate your personal, sinful worldview and your own twisted thoughts. You equate our lord God and saviour Jesus Holy Christ, whose image you are privileged to paint for us, with the inner workings of your mind. But he is beyond your mind! You may paint his earth, the gifts of his bounty he has delivered to us through his brilliance and sympathy for our plight, but no more.”

Julien waited and when the Cleric remained silent, he gingerly spoke, his throat tight with worry, hoarse and wavering with fear. “I painted from my mind, from my perspective, is my perspective not by proxy gods perspective? Are we not his children?”

“You paint from your own perspective,” The cleric’s tone was harsh now, “but your worldview is nothing, it only leads to individuality, which we all know leads in turn to hate for your common man. There is only the correct perspective, do you not see? This is the only perspective you need to portray in your paintings, all else will lead to bitterness” He rubbed his fingers against his nose, they were bony, skeletal, and sharp looking, “I want to tell you about the last painters who did what you are doing now. It was long ago, before the incident, and the world had changed for the worst. Evil was everywhere, and the evil was rooted in a land that also gave birth to our own church. One man had the audacity to sign his name on his paintings! His name was Giotto Di Bondone, and he would inspire Leonardo, a madman whose plotting would bring about the incident and the end of God’s love for the world. A family who called themselves ‘De Medici’, they commissioned painters like you, and they commissioned Leonardos evil works”, he shook his head, “That menace called himself Da Vinci, and he called himself an ‘artist’. A blamed con artist he was. His inventions were used to bring terror to the world. The designs he drew forward from his mind, the ideas, they brought about the horror you and I live through every day.”

The names meant nothing to young Mr. Julien. The past was not part of his future, and his future hungered for change. Anger swelled up in his heart, and he lashed out, driving his masterpiece across the room with one strong lash. The fire inside was still present, as his eyes settled on the old man in front of him. He had never known such an intense emotion. This was hate, unbridled and new.

”Emotions fall in resonance,” Terence Julien gasped for breath, “the world was never destroyed by paintings, only dogma and hate. Art never made men hate each other, I won’t ever believe you! I can’t!” He raised himself, fists clenched, anger and adrenaline coursing through his veins. In a blur of violence, red and black, he was gone, out the door away from the cleric’s house. Running now, hoping beyond hope that his memories were lying to him, hoping the man on the floor of the cleric’s house was not dead.

Advertisements
Standard
Short Fiction

The Old Shop

It was a busy summer evening, the air was scented with freshly cut grass, and all the children of the village were out playing. Jumpers became goal posts, chalk marked out a hopscotch pitch on a concrete pavement. Adult voices became a dreaded enemy, signalling dinner time, or tea. The uncomfortably dark indoors, where children would brave their parent’s warnings of indigestion, bombing the food back their throats, rushing to rejoin the others for more play. These days were also punctuated with regular visits to the local shop, where we would banter with the two seemingly incompatible elderly lady owners, and best friends.

Bridgie was everyone’s favourite of the two. She was a gentle lady, with a kind smile and a great sense of humour. She often warned the children that the 10p jelly snakes were potentially dangerous, lest they be bitten unawares. She wasn’t stingy with the penny sweets either, always willing to plunge the massive silver scoop into the box, just to see a little face light up with excitement, then load the brown paper bag with far more sweets than any of the children had asked for, but the amount they all hoped for, and relieved, received. She was the epitome of the traditional jolly shop keeper.

Margaret or Maggie was the other one, the ying to Bridgie’s yang. None of the children understood a word she said, as each word was rasped and unclear, in a strong north side accent. The children soon learned that asking the seemingly innocent question of what the meaning of these cracked syllables was, could result in dangerous consequences; threats of  “a clip ‘round the ear” or “a word with yer mam” were enough to silence any intrusive 8 year olds. Her tobacco stained fingers were the only instruments she used to pick the delicious penny sweets one by one from the box, carefully counting each one to ensure she wasn’t giving more than was paid for. Maggie was despised, and when she was on shop duty, the children always stayed well clear.

But it was on this particular evening that something very strange happened, something which would change the children’s opinions of Maggie forever. An insight into her past which would show to them that this battle axe, this seeming anti-thesis of her lifelong partner, Bridgie, was charitable beyond what they had ever imagined, and certainly had a heart, despite some young pups claims that it had gone black, withered and died when she was left at the altar by the captain of the Titanic. This was the summer evening that the boy dropped his ice cream.

He was a tubby little toad-like creature, huge milk bottle glasses covered his eyes and his face was filled with a constantly worried expression and more puppy fat than a baby seal. He had maybe one friend, but was ignored by most of the gang as he wasn’t much of a player and he was never particularly engaging to speak to. When asked a question he would turn bright red and begin to tremble. The stunted conversation lapsed into an awkward silence, and the others soon realised that he wasn’t much fun to talk with. The mothers of the village fussed over him, bantering between each other.

“Ah sure, isn’t he the cutest pet you ever seen?”

“Ah, he is ‘dat, but he sounds queer wheezy, and ‘dem glasses make his eyes look like saucers, sure I don’t know how he can see through ‘dem at all.”

“well sure, you know his mammy, she’s always one to fuss over the young ‘wans, sure, he probably don’t need ‘dem things at all”

He was one of those children, loved by parents, ignored by his peers. Stuck in a limbo where his only company was the adult world, every other child’s nightmare, but his only option, until that day…

He had just bought a 90 from the ice cream man, and was calmly making his way down the pavement, when some one of the boys, or tomboy girls, hoofed the ball into the air. The ball soared, and then began to plummet, and almost inevitably, made a perfect landing right on top of the freshly made treat. His lip trembled and his eyes slowly welled up, and the sharp pain of disappointment entered his heart, as it always does in more sensitive children. His crying alerted the entire village to his plight, until quite sharply it ceased again.

The children did not believe their little eyes, but what they were seeing was indeed real. There on that old pavement, sitting next to the boy, giving him a soothing cuddle and some free penny sweets, and other goodies was Maggie; her eyes full of concern, far removed from  their usual cold hearted glare.

Bridgie leaned against the frame of the shop door and smiled, obseving the obvious shock and bemusement of the children. One bigger boy, with some trepidation, slowly approached Bridgie, following her gaze to her lifelong friend.

“How come she gave that fella loads of sweets and she doesn’t give me hardly any?” he enquired, with a hint of annoyance. Bridgie’s eyes sparkled and she grinned. “Sure, doesn’t she know exactly how it feels, to be treated differently all your life? You should be nice to that boy, for he’ll always be true as a friend to you, just like she was always true as a friend to me”.

The boys face wrinkled with confusion at first, but over time he adopted the little boy as a friend, an understudy at first, eventually becoming an equal as the boys grew up into men. The small boy stayed small, and even stayed a little fat, but he was jolly and kind, and remained a true friend to the bigger boy forever, always thankful that someone had taken the time to grow to understand him. And every time the men returned to their little village, they would visit the old ladies, and the four would play snap, or 45, to wile away a lazy sunny evening in good company.

Standard
Short Fiction

The Morrigan – Short Story treatment for comic

Image

The Morrigan

A late summer evening in the city, some stretched sundown;  dusk settled to night in foamy wisps of orange light. The streetlights came on and the madness began on this inky street, lit by a single orange streetlamp. The light radiated to encompass an adjacent bus stop, illuminating an ad on the side of the shelter reading ‘Datavox – we please your ears’. Formidable and dark, the concrete buildings around overshadowed the little shelter. A woman was waiting for a bus, diminutive and with a clear expression of nervous fear painted across her porcelain face. This area was no place for a woman to walk at night, but Amanda Parker was stuck trying to get home from work.

Recently she had taken a job downtown, in Barrboro; to spend her days in a little office beside the docklands. She had been hoping to get the last rail out of the town, but missed it and now had to contend with the buses instead.

“Night-bus or nightmare”,

the thought had barely formed in her head when she noticed shadowy figures stumbling toward her from the far end of the street. The misty dark masked them, until they reached her perimeter. One by one they emerged into the light. like ravenous dogs they surrounded her, approaching and encircling, grinning and pushing each other. Amanda clutched her bag tight in fear and prayed to the stars.

“Give me a ride, come on just give…me…”

The largest man, Val, a monstrous product of society, was grinning from ear to ear.  He towered over Amanda, imposing himself. She pulled back, not wanting to meet his eyes, fighting to avoid peering into that soul, terrified of every possibility popping into her mind. “Give me” He pulled at her shirt, snagging skin between his fingers. Amanda, falling away to nothing, let out a scream, quickly muffled by a forceful hand. In his haste to break this woman’s heart, he had not noticed the crow perched and watching him from above and he did not see his own image reflected in it’s eye. The cloud of smoke and ashes that suddenly burst into life by his left shoulder came as a surprise, and instantly the beast and his mongrel friends were gone.

Valentine O’ Connor was born, in a city centre hospital, 29 years ago. The child of a loveless marriage between another violent creature and a prostitute. His mother took the young boy and fled the nightly brutality. The life she built was far from perfect, her body became their only source of income, besides selling a hit for a note or two. Life, from the get go, was a cold and dark place for him. Nothing so far in his life had prepared him for what he now saw around him.

“This is the void”, a voice intoned, “where you will remain, alone, for a very long time”.

The voice was without owner and was filled with disdain, the last booming reverberations quelled, and the echoey eternity around him became silent.

“Hello?” he called out, “is anybody there?”

His voice repeated into the endless darkness, and was met with no reply. Valentine was left to mull over the pain he had caused, in silent darkness and infinite space, for the rest of his life.

The Morrigan was able to observe the entire city from the terraced crown of the Elysian. From the doped up heroes and villains on Barr st. to the busy side alleys in Murphy’s Quarter. The city was ripe with pain and suffering, but not bereft of hope. She had seen too much pain, year after year, city after city. As the centuries passed and the course of life unfolded, she became disillusioned with the great divine experiment. Her sentient existence as a god involved unbridled and constant exposure to a horrifying series of images; a reel of people’s misfortune and pain. The Morrigan was in ways a cursed god, always to be a harbinger of some forthcoming doom, to see death before Death herself.

Meditating on her circumstance, she concluded that Death went too easy on many of those she took from the living world. Death allowed rapists to live to an old age, murderers to prosper from their misdeeds; they all died smiling, surrounded by family and friends. She, the Phantom Queen, materialised in the otherworld, to plead with Death for the lives of these innocent wretches.

“Times now are not as they were, and the world is a different place. There is no honour left in the world,  the wraith thoughts of cities now engulf fragile minds and create vile sickness”.

The Morrigan paused, regarded the figure poised before her. Death, the shapeshifter, appeared as a black dog, curled up by a hearth of hewn stone. She did not answer.

The cavernous hall around the pair, adorned with little decoration, was as black as the dog lying in front of her. The Morrigan was used to death in any form: a tall slender figure with a white hat, a robed skeletal figure with fiery eyes or the black dog that regarded her, eyes dark as coal. The dog changed, dissolving into the ground and slowly re-emerging and coalescing into a hooded frame. With a single motion of an arm, a bony finger extended and beckoned for her to come closer. She stepped forward and was instantly back in the world of the living. Erupting on the street in front of her was a vicious assault, with six youths circled around an older man. His face was partially caved in and blood gushed from a wound over his eye. She had her answer, Death stopped for no man or deity. It was on this fateful day the Morrigan began her mission, and for this reason she intercepted, to save the life of a small lady waiting for a bus.

Amanda Parker put her hand to the side of her head as she collapsed backward onto the bus stop bench. The ravenous men that had swarmed around her, blinked out of existence in a plume of, what appeared to be, dense black inky smoke.

“I’m going fucking crazy…or I got spiked or something”

The episode had sent her heart into hyperdrive and she was only barely holding on to consciousness. Turning to her side she began to dry heave and wretch. Suddenly, another burst of jet black, and a white delicate woman, with a pretty but stern face and bright blue eyes, appeared before her. The smoke quickly transformed into a shock of black locks that flowed down the figure’s back; ringlets rippled, like cresting waves, in her hair, a sea of ash and coal.

“Hello Human, Amanda Parker” Her voice was like silk but delectable in it’s power, “I hope that you are well and that your vitality has not been diminished”. The language was stilted, definitely not a local accent.

“Uh…I’m dying…I think, what was that? How did you…”, the little woman was quickly interrupted,

“Those men wished you harm, I saw to it that their attempts at debauchery were met with a quick end”.

Amanda had grown up in a pretty reasonable neighbourhood, her parents were respectable but very strict, not wealthy nor poor. At 8, her elder cousin was sent to stay with the family, and he began to abuse the child. The incident left it’s mark on the girl, she had become deeply depressed, and searched for any gender preference to the point of depravity. In her teens she failed to identify sexually with anything in particular, only reliving her earlier experiences. In the turmoil of those years she resigned herself to a bleak, loveless, future. It wasn’t until she fell on top of Jenny Bradley in a game of football that she realised what her preferences were. She cropped her blonde hair and began to wear the clothes she wanted. Her father kicked her out of the house, her mother sent money but they didn’t really talk much after that. She had no siblings, and besides an aunt and a grandmother, she didn’t really have a family.

Attacked from the front by a downpour of rain, she was still dazed, and began to howl crying, pitiful sobs muffled by her sleeves as the wave of shock receded. She felt something wrap around her, comforting and warm, and opened her eyes to see black feathers enfolding her.

“What are you?”, she barely got the whisper out, “What are you?”,

this time loud and clear. The reply came in a foreboding, but benevolent tone:

“I am the Phantom Queen, bringer of bad tiding and misfortune, the foreteller of loss and mourning, the messenger of Death”.

Amanda smirked for the first time all night, “Cheery stuff”, the quip seemed to go unnoticed as the woman continued. “I am the Morrigan, and I am the one who saved your life”, the figure gestured toward the girl,

“You are Amanda Parker, a human, and now you may become my anointed envoy in the realm of the living”.

“Go fuck yourself”,

Amanda stormed past the deity and began for home; but, in a flash, she found herself, again, facing the Morrigan.

“You’ve done something to me or…something”,

she scrambled to understand reality for a second while the Morrigan flashed her out of existence and into the void.

When Amanda opened her eyes, she found herself in open dark space, infinite and endless in all directions around her. She felt as if she were standing in space, floating in eternity, and was completely unaware of the presence of her body. Existing as merely thought, she felt The Morrigan speak through her.

“Amanda, only you can choose what you want to do in life, but I have seen your true potential. I am offering you this choice. You can become my envoy on earth, and fight with me against the destruction of innocence. You may not survive, it may be arduous, you will need to be very strong. I represent neither Fate nor Destiny, but I can tell you they wilt at the power you can invest in your own future.”.

“No, you’ve got the wrong person, I’m not who you think I am, I’m not strong and I can’t do this”

Amanda was pleading with the other voice.

“Are you not the same Amanda Parker who devotes herself to charity and good will? Do you think I choose you lightly?” the Morrigan sounded impatient.

“Just leave me alone” As she thought it, it became so. She found herself back at the bus stop; a city bus pulled in before her, hazards blinking as it waited for her to board. It appeared empty, devoid of passengers and driver. She noticed parts of the world around her drifting and dissolving into nothingness. Far away she could see buildings crumbling into each other and falling away to forever. Again she heard the voice in her head,

“Only you can choose”.

The Morrigan was right, Amanda had worked for charity, she had been working as a cook at a soup kitchen for 8 years. Confused, and frightened of the Morrigan’s omniscience, Amanda stumbled toward the bus. As she reached for the rail to hoist herself onto the lower deck, she felt the wind blow through her. An awful shiver overtook her and, revolted, she recoiled and fell backwards crashing through the sidewalk, plunging into an inky pit of nothing. The Morrigan was before her, bursting with light in this colourless world. “Fate and Destiny” Cautiously she looked up at the Morrigan,

“i’ve always wanted a higher purpose, maybe this is it”.

“Then you accept?”, the Morrigan asked, her eyes fixed on the girl who ,was still trembling before her.

“I accept, i’ll try I guess”, she took the Morrigan’s hand, and they blinked back into reality. “Where do we go from here?”, Amanda questioned hesitantly.

“From here we make our mark on Death itself Amanda, from here we change the order of the world”.

She turned and walked away into the misty night. Amanda followed, still gripping the rucksack that contained the remnants of her old life; making her way forward, gingerly, by the light of the moon.

Standard