Flash Fiction, Short Stories, Stories

Flickering Light

Ivan sat on a wooden stool, his back curved, shivering under a wooly blanket. He stared at his reflection in the small metal box, on the desk in front of him. A microphone mimicked his posture, bending towards him. Next to it, a lightbulb waited in the shade of the room. On the other side of the box, a set of holes marked some rudimentary speakers, with a chunky red button under them saying ‘Listen’.  

A light knock made its way to Ivan’s desk, from the back of the room. Ivan half turned, his plump nose poking between the blanket rolls. 

‘Come in,’ he said in a muffled voice.

A little angel flapped in, his head hidden behind a stack of blankets. He dropped them on the floor with a joyful sigh. He resembled a child of about ten, yet was about as high as a footstool. 

‘Another cold day, sir, thought you could use a blanket. I made them myself!’ 

Feathers floated around the angel from dropping the blankets. He smiled a toothy smile. Ivan fully turned to watch the angel jumping around to catch the feathers. He let go of his own blanked and revealed a quiet grin.

‘No prayers today,’ Ivan finally said with a tint of sadness. ‘I don’t know why I volunteered for prayer duty again.’

‘Don’t be discouraged, it may take years for people to discover you.’

The angel stuffed his wings with the feathers in his hands. Ivan chuckled under his breath, then rose to get another blanket from the pile. His back bore the shape of a question mark as he shuffled towards the angel.

‘You know, you are always welcome to join us upstairs! It’s Moses’ turn to host the storytelling night. I hear he’s bringing his old staff, those two never really parted ways.’ 

‘Thank you Paulo, I’ll stay a bit longer, the reception is better on this cloud.’

  ‘As you wish, may it be blessed.’

Paulo picked up the rest of the blankets, smiled with all his might, then flapped clumsily out of the room. The door closed, while a chiming sound accompanied it. 

Ivan turned to his metal box, his expression between hope and sorrow. He stared at the lightbulb. Its deadness reminded him of his spiritual struggles on Earth. Ivan closed his eyes, remembering the grace that would fill him after such times. He prayed and waited. He wrapped the second blanket around his feeble body and sneezed from the fluff. 

Just before dozing off, his ears pricked at a buzzing sound. Ivan opened his eyes to see a slight flicker of light, pulsing against the bulb’s glass. His back straightened with anticipation. He pressed the button and listened. 

White noise, followed by dispersed words resounded through the speakers. 


The lightbulb flickered a few more times, then stopped. 

Ivan jumped out of his seat and ran out of the room. Outside, hundreds of other clouds with little wooden huts such as his, floated around a cumulonimbus. The latter shone bright with multicoloured lights and emanated a sweet fragrance in the crisp stratospheric air. Little angels were flying in and out of the cloud, delivering various items like scrolls, blankets and soup. 

‘Quick, someone is flying into a mountain, he needs help!’ Ivan shouted towards a group of angels. 

A brownian motion of cherubs fluttered and flapped into the grand cloud to deliver the message. Ivan returned to his desk. The lightbulb was now on, the flickering had disappeared.

Ivan listened.

‘St Ivan, please help my son fly his kite today. It’s our first outing in the mountains and he’s very excited. I told him he can ask you for help, but he’s still waiting for the wind to pick up. I’m not sure if his prayer got to you, so I’m sending mine just in case.’

Ivan smiled with all his heart. Someone had remembered he’s the saint of kites. 

*Thank you Timothy, for editing the piece.

Short Stories, Stories

A Swan Glides Past

3rd place at Writer’s Retreat Competition (October 2020)

Barry sat on a lichen ridden boulder on the shore of Dreamere lake. 

‘Another wasted day,’ he said to himself. 

He looked at his canvas bag, stained with acrylics and ink, round tipped brushes sticking out of it through tears in the fabric. 

‘No one buys paintings anymore. Or is it just my paintings?’ 

He stretched, his spine and legs cracking with relief all the way down to his blistered toes. Barry placed a greasy box of cod and chips gingerly in his lap. His stomach rumbled under his paisley shirt. His eyes squinted with the light of the setting sun as it descended behind blue mountain crests. Their cool hues sank into the depths of the lake as Barry’s thirsty gaze rolled over it.

He scooped some cod with a couple of groggy fingers. 

‘I should have asked for a fork,’ he thought. 

A duck glided past, with three ducklings close to her tail. Barry smiled and tried to remember if ducks liked fish. He was too hungry to share, however. 

‘Sorry mama duck,’ he pleaded, ‘this is for me.’ 

The ducklings nibbled at a small rock, covered in moss, at the brim of the lake. Their mother watched over them, keeping an eye on Barry as she swam around her babies.

‘What a gentle mother!’ Barry said with a teary eye. 

He remembered his own mother’s frown as his seven year old self stretched out a drawing of the neighbour’s cat. 

‘Anyone can draw a cat,’ she would say. ‘How is that going to get you any money?’ 

Barry bit a soggy chip. He sighed as if his whole body had been filled with air and was now deflating. It was quiet as the sun descended over the stillness of the lake. Contorted oak branches quenched their thirst on either side of the pebbled shore. 

Three yards away, a white swan glided past, as if pulled by a silk thread from one side of the lake to the other. Barry watched in awe as it swayed its neck with every gentle stroke of its webbed feet. 

‘Such beauty,’ Barry whispered, ‘look how it glides past, as life slips through my fingers.’ 

The swan stopped to look at the stars as dusk turned into night. Its eyes glistened with wonder. A pair of white wings stretched out to catch the moonlight as it seeped through the clouds. In haste, Barry wiped his oily fingers on his trousers. He rummaged through the bag, his eyes fixed on the swan. A spotted sketchbook and a soft tipped pencil emerged.

Barry managed a few strokes before the swan resumed its swim. It soon disappeared behind the oak tree branches on the side of the lake. Barry stretched to look beyond the trees, but only managed to knock over his dinner.

‘Oh no,’ he grumbled and jumped off the boulder to salvage what he could. The ducks came to the pebbly shore to investigate. 

‘It’s not for you,’ Barry dismissed them with a bitter grimace. Mama duck nibbled at the pencil, which was now oily like the hand holding it. Barry pushed the duck away.

‘Anyone can draw a duck,’ Barry scoffed. ‘You ducks all look the same anyway.’

The duck looked at Barry sideways, but didn’t seem to mind his comment. Her beak kept a subtle smile. She then waddled back towards the water, her ducklings close behind. The ducks sat in the lake, as small ripples rocked them from side to side. They watched Barry fumbling through the pebbles as he refilled his ‘Chippie’ box.

‘Come on,’ Barry sighed, ‘have some. It’s mostly muddy anyway.’ He then flung a chip in the water. The ducks rushed to peck at it. 

Barry sat on the pebbly stretch for the rest of the evening. He would fling a chip in the water from time to time and the ducks would nibble it joyfully. He looked up at the sky, his heart aflame with a silent, but desperate prayer. Doubt gnawed at him, but he kept his eyes towards the distant Heaven. The ducks came to rest at Barry’s feet as he laid a heavy head on the canvas bag. He remembered his trousers. ‘The stains will never come off,’ he grumbled. He closed his eyes and rest soon found him.

Barry dreamt the white swan had come to him. Its velvet feet pressed the pebbles into the earth as it stepped on land. It stretched out a pair of moonlit wings and flapped them with vigour. Barry felt the warmth of the swan’s breast against his cheeks. It then turned around to look at the sky, its wings still wide open. It bugled to the Heavens and other swans answered from across the lake. The waters trembled and the trees rustled with awe. With its body still facing the lake, the swan’s head turned to look at Barry. Starlight glimmered in its eyes. 

A strange hope grasped Barry’s heart as he awoke. The feeble light of the morning sun fought to open his glazed eyelids. Mama duck was just entering the water with her ducklings. Barry stretched his back and ruffled his hair, with a small smile. He then searched through his bag for the sketchbook and pencil.

‘The sunlight suits you,’ he smiled at the duck. ‘You really stayed here all night?’ The duck quaked soothingly. 

Barry lifted up the canvas bag to rummage through it better. A white feather lay on the pebbles underneath. He picked it up in wonder, but his heart was more composed than the night before. Barry sighed as if a burden had become lighter. 

‘One feather at a time,’ he whispered and started sketching the ducks. 

Flash Fiction, Short Stories, Stories

Storm at Seascale


Dedicated to the lonely pony from Seascale

The wind howled. Mrs Bootle brewed her chamomile tea. She stared through her dusty kitchen window at Alfred, the house pony. He looked bored, or perhaps lonely. His mane was soaked, but he just stood there, blinking in a chewed up garden. Rain chipped at the glass, like sharp pebbles in a pool.

Mrs Bootle poured the tea in a flowery cup. The scented vapours steamed her round glasses. Alfred neighed in a low tone. The tide had come in. The pony turned his head to look at it flood the garden with a thirsty gurgle. He snorted, then climbed onto a boulder, unfazed. He turned his head towards the window to watch Mrs Bootle slurp her tea with visible noises.

A wave crashed over the small stone wall at the brim of the garden. The sea burst through the wooden gate. Alfred was knee deep in water. He watched a jellyfish swim past, as the wave retracted. Still he stood there in the rain, like a loyal rock. Mrs Bootle opened a newspaper. It had the picture of a seagull with a sea captain’s hat, eating an ice cream. A second wave curled over the wall, foaming at its tip.

Alfred frowned as water picked him up. He floated to the windowsill, his legs still stretched, as if standing. Fish swam around him, but he did not move a muscle. He kept staring at Mrs Bootle with a feeble twinkle in his eyes. Suddenly half of the stone cottage drifted off the sandy cliff like melting ice cream on a brownie. Salty rain drizzled the woman’s newspaper. Her flip flops soaked the intruding sea that was racing in through the opening.

Mrs Bootle reached to place her cup on its saucer, but found it had moved. She blinked audibly, waist deep in water. Furniture was floating around her, while she shuffled to the door. She opened it in time to see Alfred floating past. He neighed courteously as if tipping a hat.

‘Where are you off to Alfie?’ the lady creaked in a composed, upper class voice. She then grabbed her umbrella and sifted through the sea to reach her pony.

‘Come here boy!’ she rang, shaking a bag of wet toffees.

The house collapsed as she stepped off the porch. Alfred now stood on a little muddy hill, staring at the raging sea. Still he did not wince. Mrs Bootle gave a few strokes with one arm, her head erect, toffees in the other hand. She pierced the muddy hill with her flip flops as if escalating a mountain.

‘There you are my little lad!’ she puffed. ‘That is a pretty cloud, isn’t it Alfie?’

Alfred snorted and placed his snout on the bag of toffees. Mrs Bootle took out a lumpy piece and placed it into his mouth. His snout was foamy and grassy, leaving her hand sticky. She patted him with the sticky hand and giggled polite sounds. The swelling sea clambered onto the little hill. Past hooves and past flip flops it went. The sun sank behind the mount of water, as it swept over the sky and over Mrs Bootle and Alfred’s smiling faces.

Andy wailed, his chubby legs splayed onto the wet sands of Seascale. His yellow toy donkey was floating a couple of yards away.

‘Mommy!’ he cried and pointed.
‘Shush, I’ll get it!’ Anna shouted.

Andy looked at her with round, twinkly eyes. He then giggled as he watched his big sister splash through the water in her flip flops. He then resumed splatting the little hill the sea had made of their sand cottage.

Short Stories, Stories

The Weeping Mist


Some of the people of Ash Forest could see the sky that day. The dark clouds had descended onto the tips of the birch trees and were now thinning away. These people had been waiting for years to see the sun. Wandering aimlessly amongst the thick grey trees, they had forgotten the feeling of warmth. Stretched arms, withered by the morning winds, reached for glimpses of light. 

Rarely did the ever wake mist lift its merciless veil from the Ash Forest people, for a tragic tale bound it to their ground. It was said that until a proud man shed a tear for another, the mist would not lift. Until then, the woodland dwellers were to roam half blind, never truly seeing each other. The tale was bound to a man, Lord Ashley Achton. Hundreds of years ago, he lived on the edge of the forest, in a grand manor house. He would often prowl among the trees, to shoot deer and meet women. 

One of the ladies he fancied at the time was a poor blind woman from Little Creek village. Her name was Dietrich Arietes and hadn’t a penny to her name. Despite her unfortunate circumstances, Dietrich was the jewel of her village. Her fair cheeks were like roses in the morning light and her long black hair swirled like wild horses in the desert. Her step was dainty and her gaze, although devoid of earthly light, would have made any young man blush with awe.   

Ablaze with infatuation, Ashley was determined to pursue Dietrich. His intentions were always pure, or so he thought, until new intentions came along. He had a way with words, so managed to seduce poor Dietrich into the forest. His promises poured into her ears, as their footsteps carried them deeper. Long after sunset, Lord Achton returned to his manor alone. 

Months passed and Ashley carried on in his usual manner. One cold november night, a loud knock echoed through his chambers. Dietrich had arrived in a state of great distress and demanded to speak with him. The maid whom had opened the door took pity on the girl and let her inside to wait by the fire. Achton agreed to see her briefly, remembering the beauty he once cherished. He was shocked, however, to see the frail frame and haunting eyes of his past idol. 

‘I’m six months pregnant,’ Dietrich cried caressing her belly. ‘I have nothing. I ask for nothing, except this. Please promise me you will take our child and raise it as your own.’

‘Foolish woman!’ Achton burst. ‘How am I to know this child is truly mine?’ 

Silence fell as Dietrich weeped. She slowly knelt on the stone floor.

‘Please, I have nothing,’ she repeated, her cry intensifying. ‘You know it is yours.’

Lord Achton watched her with steely eyes and pondered. His heart softened for a moment, remembering her past beauty. His brow struggled between anger and compassion. Finally he said, ‘I can not father the child of a woman whose class is so beneath me. You will make do as your family always has.’

‘They are ashamed of me,’ she whispered, ‘and so am I.’ 

For a moment her dark hair covered her face, as she raised back up. She then parted it, revealing her flaming eyes, staring straight at Ashley. He knew she could not see him, but still shook from their intensity. 

‘Then listen to this. Never shall you or your villagers see daylight. I may be blind, but not as blind as you are now. So you shall taste the bitter darkness until your blood will shed a tear for someone other than yourself.’

Dietrich left alone and made her way with a crooked stick into Ash Forest. She was never seen again. Soon after that night, a thick mist fell from Little Creek Village, all the way to the mountains beyond the forest. The villagers were forced to move into the woods, for the mist was slightly more forgiving there. They could not tell arm from leg where their homes used to be. 

The swirls of fine rain would grow moss on their thatched roofs and put out the fires in their hearths. And sometimes, when the nights were silent and the winds grew weary, a quiet weep could be heard in the distance. It was not desperate, but a gentle reminder of whom had brought the watery burden upon them all and what was to be done to lift it.


Will Achton was a scrawny little lad, no more than sixteen. His father, Michael Achton was a fire maker. With all the humidity in the woods, necessity crafted fire making into a profession. As most fathers in the Ash Forest settlement, Michael had high hopes for his son, but always ended up disappointed. Generations had passed, but people were still hoping for a redeemer from their sorrows. Their sole thought was that one day a strong man would come and lift their burden, for it had grown heavier over the years. 

“Only a strong hand can wring a tear out of a proud heart,” they would say.

‘Today you come with me, lad,’ Michael said one morning to his son. ‘I’ll show you where to find dry wood.’

Will smiled and followed his father deep into the forest. Michael’s axe crunched through the hollow birches and crooked maples. Will carried as much as his feeble arms could hold. His father then smirked and picked up ten times more with one arm. As they walked slowly back to the settlement, they reached Amber lake, in the heart of the woods. 

‘Don’t walk too close to the water,’ Michael said, ‘there are strange creatures lurking about.’

The mist lifted slightly and Will saw a deer grazing on the other side of the lake. Its silhouette shimmered in the dim morning light, as dew gently rested on its dark fur. Its head suddenly sprang up and looked at him with haunting grey eyes. 

‘It’s blind,’ Will whispered in awe. 

Michael slowly bent and discarded his load of firewood on a patch of fairly dry ground. His son placed the few branches he had carried on the wood mount his father had built. The man took out his dagger and nodded towards Will. The boy shivered at the sight of his reflection in the silver blade. 

‘Lunch,’ Michael finally uttered. He stepped with confidence, resembling a wild cat on the prowl. 

The wind blew gently towards them, sheltering their footsteps from the alert ears of the creature. Will followed his father with trembling feet. His brow furled and unfurled as beads of sweat crawled on his skin. 

‘Father, we should let it go,’ he begged. ‘It cannot see!’

‘Then there is nothing for it to fear,’ his father grunted. ‘Quiet, for it is blind, not deaf.’ 

Michael hastened his steps towards the deer. The mist thickened and swallowed the two in its depth. They heard the earth shaking and then mud splattered their lips as the deer sprang from their reach. 

‘It knows,’ Will cried, ‘let it be!’

‘Shut up,’ Michael demanded, wiping the mud from his mouth. He then added, in a softer tone, ‘son, you are too weak. We must have food for tonight.’ 

‘It’s scared dad and helpless. We can eat something else tonight!’

‘I’m sick of mushrooms,’ his father growled.

He then hurried into the fog, listening intently. The damp earth squelched under his feet and it smelt of shadows. He strained his ears to hear the whisper of footsteps and the gentle rustle of leaves. Michael licked his lips and prepared his blade. A soft shadow moved among the streaks of grey trees. The man stopped for a moment, watching the shape shift and turn with dainty movements. He waited until the figure sharpened through the droplets of fog. Michael charged with a wild yell towards the beast and thrust the knife at its head. 

‘Father!’ the beast uttered. The mist swirled, revealing the closing eyes of Will. The blade stopped just in time, an inch from the boy’s face. Michael dropped his knife in the mud and his knees followed. He grabbed his son and thrust him to his chest. A moment of eternal silence. Will could hear his father’s heart trembling. A deep sob emerged from the roots of Michael’s soul. He cried bitterly, holding his son, on the shore of Amber lake.

The cloud of dew rolled over the still water, slowly lifting its veil. Will opened his eyes once more, still in his father’s embrace. The mist over the lake had cleared as the figure of a dark haired maiden stepped gracefully into the forest.

Chasing the Light, Essays



Scène du massacre des Innocents by Léon Cogniet

Metafore inspirate de pictura Scène du massacre des Innocents de Léon Cogniet:

Femeie, nu te teme de privirea sura a pictorilor tai. Te-am imbracat in haine de roaba si te-am lasat desculta. Genunchii tai ingramaditi de zidul rece s-au invinetit de spaima si de frig. Iata, glasurile mamelor au devenit stravezii. Doar umbra lor mai suspina prin crapaturile pamantului. Bratele lor au amortit cu sugarii prinsi de piept. Bataia inimii lor a devenit una cu murmurul pruncilor.

Nu te teme, mama, nu te vom pari purtatorilor de sabii. Ascutisul lor s-a tocit de sange nevinovat. Slobozeste glasul pruncului tau si lasa-l sa vorbeasca. Gangureste micutule om, glasul tau se va adanci in sufletele oamenilor. Osanditorii tai s-au pierdut in arsita desertului. Glasul celor ce striga in pustie s-a stins de sete, dar in curand vor avea iar apa. Obrajii lor s-au uscat de lacrimi, iar buzele lor au sangerat de rugaciune. Scoala-te din intunericul fricii si indrazneste, mama! Fiul tau va fi viu!

Chasing the Light, Flash Fiction, Stories

A Step in the Dark

This piece was inspired by the following painting.

'In Manus Tuas, Domine' Briton Riviere (1879) Manchester Art Gallery

‘In Manus Tuas, Domine’ by Briton Riviere (1879)

The horse’s hooves trembled on the misty rocks. Their sheen bolted in crackling sounds as the white beast slid on the frost covered earth. 

‘Quiet Edmund!’ the knight on its back whispered.

His armour was untouched, with the emblem of a double headed eagle on his chest. His eyes were weary and talked of nights of restless contemplation. A blunt sword served him as a cross, blessing the dark chasm that opened at his feet. 

Three bloodhounds followed their master with reluctant whimpers. Their tense, muscular bodies urged the man to retreat from his imminent fate. The knight spurred the horse’s sore flanks. His breath stopped in his chest as his left arm lifted his father’s heater shield.  

In a loud cry he entered the dark cavern of twisted trees and thorn bushes. A pair of fiery eyes glimmered in the belly of the chasm. The hounds howled but dared not follow in their master’s steps. The breath of fire pierced the knight’s pale skin, as he looked into the eyes of the Vasan dragon.

The sword was flung with the precision of an arrow into the creature’s scaly heart. Its dark grey head crushed the ash covered trees around it. The rider slid off his horse, under the weight of his burning armour. The horse bolted into the morning light as the knight whispered his forgiveness. 

With his last breath, the knight took off his helmet to behold the beauty that emerged from the ashes. A diaphanous nymph crawled from underneath the dragon’s pitch black claws. She ran to her saviour with eerie footsteps and gave him a kiss as his soul departed his chest. 

‘May our love be renewed when the sun will set over this world,’ she whispered and walked out of the darkness in silence.

Chasing the Light, Flash Fiction, Stories


A writing exercise done during a Bath Writers: Beyond the Margins meeting…

Someone let the cat out in the rain. Or did it leave by itself? Doing what most people at the Broken Institute could not do. The cat stepped reluctantly onto the wet grass. Its white persian fur was covered in hard dents of rain. It shivered, but stepped forward.

Soon the windows of the building were filled with faces. Porcelain faces of people wrung with regret. Their hands flattened against the glass. One red haired lady mouthed the word ‘Murmur’. She was dressed in her lavender nightgown at four in the afternoon. ‘Come back!’ she whispered.

Her eyes were swollen from the tears she had cried in the morning. But Murmur had comforted her then. The cat would come to each room, to be stroked. It would start with her, Lorelei, and then walk to each of her neighbours. From morning till dusk Murmur was the sole comforter. It would hear each sigh, and wipe even the smallest tear away. It would listen to stories of woe, of lost children, of burnt down houses or harsh words, spoken at a wrong time.

At night, Murmur would rest by the fireplace, where it could lay aside the worries of the day. But now someone had let the cat out. Or maybe it left by itself. Maybe it thought people could comfort each other. Or at least step out into the rain.

Chasing the Light, Essays, Stories, Thoughts About Life

The Songs of Birds


God gave the sweetest melody to the smallest of birds. A cluster of goldcrests fly from branch to branch. Their little tails shake with anticipation, while their beaks are picking at the sweet flowers. Ah and the tree, a magnificent giant covered in ivy! I can’t even see its trunk or begin to decide what family of trees it belongs to. It stands there, with its crooked branches pleading to the heavens. Covered in parasitic veins and leaves, it breathes heavily. The bark bleeds under the tight grip of the ivy, but it still finds love for the little creatures that play amongst its withered forms.

The tree reminds me of a man, whose once rich possessions have succumbed to decay and misfortune. His status, albeit stained by wretched gossip, strains to stay afloat. He sits on a chest in the middle of his once grand, now empty, ballroom. His eyes close with delight as the soft voices of songs once sung there caress his soul. ‘I have lost my worldly glory.’ he whispers. ‘I have seen the cruelty of man at its peak and have tasted the bitterness of poisonous lips!’

‘Alas’, he sighs, ‘But I cannot forget the beauty of man’s soul when he loves. And when one loves, one sings! I shall have one last ball here, with the last of my earthly possessions. Let the grandest singers and musicians come and share their tunes! And after everyone has heard their songs and got their fill of gladness, I shall go into the world happy. Poor in my attire, but rich in my heart.’

Such is this tree as it listens to the goldcrests and black birds nesting in its wounds. For this tree is wiser than me. It bears its pain with patience, listening for what rings true and lets it rest on its shoulders. It does not shake the winged messengers away, but rejoices in their gifts. The tree knows that its roots are deep inside the earth and that the ivy is tight around its neck. It also knows that the songs of birds speak of a world it cannot yet see, but whose beauty and truth bring a promise of freedom.

Chasing the Light, Flash Fiction, Stories, Thoughts About Life, Traveling

Lost in the Forest of Dean

Silence never felt so deep and yet, I was not alone. I looked up at the haunting sway of trees, their branches both sheltering and menacing me. A gun was shot in the heart of the forest. My heart stopped for a moment. My flee from the Dean’s castle had not gone unnoticed. But I could not marry this shadow of a man. He who had lurked in darkness, watching his own men die on the battlefield.


I knew a place where I would be safe, The Speech House. The lady of the house would surely host me and send my pursuers away. I stepped over the moss covered branches, pressing them deeper into the mud. My feet were cold and wet, but eager to make haste. The sky was on the brink of sunset and I seemed to have lost my way.

A crow hissed a warning as I got closer to its nest. I took that as an omen to turn away. How long had I been running for? Hours, perhaps, but they weighed on me like days. At last I could see the welcoming lights of the manor house on top of a hill. The statue of a stag watched over me as I squelched my way up the hill. I could hear hushed voices amongst the trees.

My dress got hooked by a thorny branch. I turned to untangle it. My eyes filled with fright at the sight of four men with their hunting dogs on thick leather leads. As I forced myself free I could hear the sound of the leads being set loose. With the last bit of breath I flung myself over the massive oak doors of the Speech House. They were locked! ‘Let me in!’ I cried. The dogs were almost at my feet, their growls drew nearer with every pound on the door. I covered my face in anticipation of a fierce encounter.


The doors of the bus open. I have been waiting in the snow covered night for half an hour in front of The Speech House, in the Forest of Dean. ‘Are you going to Coleford and then Gloucester?’ I ask the driver, a young man, not more than twenty two. ‘Yes, there are no other buses coming this way.’ ‘You saved me!’ I say. ‘I would have been stuck here for the night if it wasn’t for you.’ I get in, shivering from head to toe. At least I can get home now. What an adventure it was!



Chasing the Light, Stories, Voice Mountain

Voice Mountain – Ch. 2

(!) Read Chapter 1 here.

Ten years later …

‘Your hands are floating along the keys, Josephine. You don’t have enough precision.’

Josephine was now a young woman of only 17, sitting up straight onto a dark mahogany stool. She was wearing a white linen, frilly dress, which swooped all the way down to her knees. She immediately corrected her technique, intently studying the music sheet. Mrs. Sylvia Prackson was reclined in a green velvet armchair, with her legs crossed and tapping the timing with her right foot.

The large grandfather clock on the other side of the broad living room struck 9 am. Rays of sunlight splashed round spots of red, green and yellow through the stained glass windows. Only one set of windows was transparent and they also served the purpose of a set of doors towards a rose garden.

Mrs. Prackson raised from her armchair and with rhythmic footsteps, matching the grandfather clock’s ticking sound, walked towards the garden windows. She lifted a long, wrinkled, white hand to pull a small rope, residing next to the windows. They opened smoothly with a slight clicking sound every 5 degrees.

Josephine, who had been playing solemnly until that very moment, suddenly stopped. She turned to see the tall, slim figure of her music teacher, soaked in sunlight. Mrs. Prackson was facing the garden with her left hand on her hip and her right arm folded against the rim of the door. Josephine admired her bright blue silk dress, shining in the sunlight as she half turned and said, ‘I didn’t say stop. You still have 4 bars left.’

As she said that, Sylvia stepped into the garden, grabbing a pair of metallic scissors from  a little toolbox hung on the outside wall. Josephine finished playing the piece and then quickly turned again to see Mrs. Prackson returning with a small red rose. ‘Perfection!’ she exclaimed. ‘Behold a creature that  knows nothing of praise, but still manages to attain the measurements of the golden mean.’

Mrs. Prackson walked to a round mahogany table, with stained glass motifs encrusted in its top. She gently placed the rose in a thin, clear glass vase, with a spherical bottom. Her long fingers brushed over the bright petals as she dropped a round pebble of salts in the vase. She watched as it dissolved with a light hiss in clouds of grey fumes. In a matter of seconds, the water was still again and Sylvia turned towards Josephine.

‘You must return by the time this rose withers, or else your talents too, shall wither. I have cut this rose from its source to show you how important it is to stay connected to a moving system of parts that work together. No more absences!’ she ended.

The living room door suddenly opened with the same clicking noise as the garden doors. Sylvia’s right arm was stretched towards it at a perfect 90 degree angle. Her chin was raised and fixed, while her brilliant green eyes were following Josephine out of the room. ‘Thank you Mrs. Prackson!’ she whispered mechanically as the front doors in the hall adjacent to the living room also opened.

She curtsied and walked away in a rhythmic fashion, slightly out of sync with the grandfather clock. ‘Same time next week then’, she uttered as the front doors were closing in front of her.

Josephine turned around to see Blossom Square in a frantic, but also organized state. School children were running around with large leather backpacks, with more books than their little bodies could handle. Their mothers and, occasionally fathers, would follow them with measured steps and composed features, without the slightest glimpse of remorse or surprize.

‘Good day miss Arundel, may I say that your complexion is most exquisite today!’, said a young man of impeccable posture as he beamed confidently towards Josephine.

‘Charming as always, my good Mr. Tickson’, she replied diplomatically. ‘I hope that my spirit will follow through with my flawless outward appearance.’

‘Do call me Richard, I believe our acquaintance has exceeded the allowed time for pointless formalities. See you in class!’ he concluded with a sharp nod and went on his way with an energetic trot, that reminded Josephine of the metronome on top of Mrs. Prackson’s piano.

The cherry tree, in the middle of the square she now stood in, shone of sap green and golden hues, as autumn was starting its long reign. A small group of children was forming a circle around it, while a tall, elegant lady was measuring the radius, with the help of a foldable ruler.

‘Not much progress since last year,’ she uttered briskly. Her name was Monica Mathews and was the local school’s most acclaimed geometry teacher. Monica followed Josephine’s weary walk for a while and sighed to herself. ‘The angular velocity is disproportionate to the global displacement field,’ she said to herself and then turned 180 degrees on her toes. ‘What else do we need to measure today, children?’

A little girl, dressed in a checkered uniform, thrust her arm up in the air. ‘Yes Caroline!’ ‘We need to count the number of trees along the Cosine river, to ensure enough support is provided for the river bank.’

‘Very well done Caroline! You’ve been reading ahead. Indeed children, everything must be counted, measured and analyzed. If we have the data, we have control over our lives.’ The children nodded and followed lady Mathews in what looked like a miniature army march. Their backpacks were bobbing up and down, in an attempt to balance the weight of the many books inside.

Josephine was walking slowly towards the school, which resided in the east part of town. Her gaze lifted from the ground where she had been projecting her thoughts, to see the school entrance sign: “Arundel School of Sciences.” and the motto “A man without knowledge is like a tree without roots.” The school bore her family name as Josephine’s ancestry was one of great mathematicians, physicists and chemists.

The first half of a normal school day consisted of theoretical lectures, while the second half was dedicated to practical experimentation. Josephine’s feet turned towards lecture hall 301, where her father, Frederick Arundel, was waiting for his students. His field of study was Sensory Physics, the physics of the five senses. Optical Acoustics was his speciality and where he spent most of his life researching and publishing for national journals of Applied Science.

‘Welcome Josephine! I see you decided to join us today. The forest did not tempt you to study its path distribution?’

‘Father, you don’t always have to be so formal,’ Josephine replied with a hard sigh, as she took her seat, at desk 14A, in the middle of the class.

Every number had an exact purpose in Arundel school, even in the classroom.  The door number represented the advanced year and month the students were in. The seat number represented the current level of knowledge attained by the student. There were 10 years of study in the Arundel School: 4 for basic sciences, 3 for intermediate and 3 for advanced sciences.

Everyone was seated in respectful expectation. Professor Frederick was a very clear and confident speaker and knew all the most recent discoveries in his field. ‘A breakthrough has been made this week,’ he began, ‘Professor Gabriel Armitage from the Institute of Renewable energy in Brookcastle has created a perpetuum mobile.’

The class applauded in sync, creating a light echo around the classroom. ‘Since Valleycross is 30 miles away from Brookcastle, we are expecting to view a demonstration in the following month,’ he concluded with a slight sign of enthusiasm.

Frederick then turned on the spot and lifted a black board with acute precision. ‘Today we’ll be discussing how we can preserve and chanel the sounds we produce so that they can travel longer distances.’ His eyebrows broke into a realization and spoke more to himself than to his class. ‘With professor Armitage’s recent discovery, we will be able to apply the perpetuum mobile principles to sound propagation. Telephones will no longer be needed to communicate long distances.’

The alarm went off. Dark, grey clouds were cramming over the little village of Valleycross with urgency. The alarm sound was a combination of a thunder and a sharp ping sound that becomes irritating to one’s ear after a long period of time. Everyone rose without a word, almost like someone had shot them out of their seats at the same moment.

‘A storm is coming. The weather forecast was inaccurate today. I’ll have a word with the meteorology department as soon as possible. For now, please take your student cards and proceed to the emergency bunker on level -3 and wait there for instructions.’ Everyone turned 180 degrees, except Margaret Button, a plump, red haired girl with rosy cheeks and teary eyes. ‘I can’t find my student card’, she pleaded, visibly worried.

Frederick clenched his teeth slightly, but answered calmly. ‘You won’t find it in a rush. Head down with the others and we’ll see what we can do.’ He stomped his right foot twice to grab Margaret’s attention, who was still rummaging in her bag. She saw his left arm lift at a 90 degree angle towards the door, with a subdued, encouraging smile. Margaret wiped her tears quickly and jogged out of the room to join the others.

The bunker was a set of three underground floors, made of a corrosion free metal alloy. Each level was made for each of the school’s expertise levels, basic, intermediate and advanced. Students would travel between the different levels by using the large square lift in the middle of the school. It could carry up to 50 people and was powered by four furious pistons on each level. The lift walls were made of brass, with a door on each side. The school’s emblem, of a sparrow flying along the golden spiral, was encrusted in the door which faced the main entrance on the ground floor.

Floor three filled up the lift and waited patiently for it to descend. As soon as they got to level -3, the doors opened like a swift cut of the knife in all four directions. Students divided with staggering precision into four groups of equal number. Each group chose the closest exit from the lift and walked towards the empty, dark space in front of them.

On each side of the room a row of cone lamps was illuminating a set of red wooden doors. Each door had a student name on it, engraved in a sliding brass plates. The lift had left the students staring at the doors in expectation. As it raised its body of brass, it revealed a giant round clock in the floor. The ticking movement pulsed from under a thick layer of transparent glass. 

Josephine knew it would only take five minutes before the professors in charge of level 3 would descend. Their doors were light grey, with golden plates. There were two of these doors on each side of the room, one on the far left and one on the far right of the wall. 

Time passed slowly and in the stillness of the room Josephine could only hear Margaret’s light sobs. She went to her, trying to avoid the harsh stares of her colleagues. 

‘Why are you so distressed, Margaret?’ she whispered when close enough.

Margaret jumped an inch and also whispered. ‘I cannot get in my room, I don’t have my student card.’ She then suddenly turned to face Josephine, who had crept up behind her. ‘I know what happens to students who cannot access their bunker room. They send them out into the storm and make them run to the collection centre, at the Northern Laboratory.’      

‘What’s so bad about a storm?’ Josephine laughed rather loudly.

‘Shush!’ snapped a voice next to her. ‘Josephine, you act as if you don’t know it’s a collection day today.’ This was the voice of Albert Prackson, her piano teacher’s son. He had his mother’s figure and his father’s grave voice. He was fascinated by forms of energy, which might explain his eternally frizzy hair and bright emerald eyes. 

Josephine gave him a nudge and smiled. ‘Thanks for the reminder, I’m completely lost these days. It’s just strange that they have collections so often now.’ 

‘They want to harness the lightning power while the atmosphere is still warm from the lingering heat of the past summer.’

‘You talk poetry, Albert,’ she laughed.

‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ he grunted and resumed to keep silent, with his hands tied together in front of him. 

‘Here, have my card Margaret.’

Josephine put her student card in Margaret’s front pocket. ‘What are you doing?’ she gasped. ‘Do you want to be burnt by their experimental lightning procedures? 

‘That is quite a mouthful,’ she said while eying the clock. ‘Don’t touch the top shelf collection while you’re in there, mind you! Well, see you later.’ 

‘But what if…’ 

‘We get caught? You can tell them it was my idea.’

Josephine ran to the middle of the room, where the clock ticked gently. Four metal ropes surrounded it and were now vibrating slightly. Besides each rope there was a round floor button, made of green marble. ‘I’m hope I’m not too late,’ she sighed, while stepping on one of the buttons. The brass lift came promptly down and Josephine stepped in, under the confused gazes of the half turned students in the room.   

Rain was pouring down with strength. Rolling thunder accompanied blinding light over the village houses. Josephine was running across Blossom square with a look of victory on her face. She stopped for a moment under the cherry tree, listening. A subtle buzzing noise could be heard amongst the heavy drops. ‘They’re warming up the collectors,’ she thought and leapt forward with a jolt. 

Her feet took her south, towards the forest. This was as far away from danger as she could fathom. Electricity was usually collected at a large condenser in the Northern Laboratory. The road was empty, but for the trickles of water, making their way through the cobblestones. Josephine was already drenched in the cold late summer rain. She hurried her steps with confidence, however, as she knew of a place where she could find shelter. 

As Josephine approached Cosine river, lighting broke the dark clouds. She stopped. A light whisper, like a bird’s song, came swiftly through the trees. Lighting broke again. The rim of an ominous mountain revealed itself in the sharp blaze for a moment. Its dark blue crests sprung from the heart of the forest like a swollen wave, from the depths of the sea. Josephine listened very carefully. The song had stopped, but she could now hear a murmur. ‘It must be the wind through the leaves,’ she thought. 

She crossed the stone bridge into the forest and was soon surrounded by tall pine trees and stout oaks. After a few minutes of walking briskly along the marked path, Josephine broke off to the right. She had a particular tree in mind, an old oak, with a girth the size of a small hut. As soon as she reached it, the murmur of the forest grew into an eerie echo. The sound of drums followed. Thunder bellowed and with it a myriad of sounds emerged from the heart of the mountain standing now in front of her. Josephine looked up with wonder and fear. In the mist of the downpour she could only see the sharp, desolate crests of the mountain against the velvet sky.  

A loud echo resounded through the trees, followed by light, enchanting human voices. Lighting struck the oak tree which had been her momentary protector from the rain. One of its branches fell on Josephine. As she closed her eyes under the shock of the blow, Josephine could make out the figures of men on the crests of the mountain.  

‘Josephine, wake up!’

Frederick was gently shaking his daughter out of what had seemed like an eerie dream.

‘The little people on the rocks,’ she murmured.

Frederick started to pace along the hospital bed. His footsteps created a rhythmic pattern, contrasting with the now soft rain outside. He turned to face the window.

‘You can’t just leave the school during a collection Josephine,’ he started gravely. ‘I’m very disappointed in you.’ 

Josephine tried sitting upright slowly, but an aching lower back pain held her in place. ‘There was hardly any danger of a shock, father. I’m surprised that the physics department aren’t having a field trip during a lighting storm.’

‘There have been meetings on the topic and we can’t take the risk, however small,’ he muttered mechanically. Frederick looked at his shoes and for the first time in what seemed like a decade broke into a deep sigh. ‘Don’t get up!’ he urged as Josephine lifted her head in wonder.

‘Your mother died in a lighting storm,’ he finally managed to utter. ‘You were very young, and probably have little recollection of it or of her, for that matter.’

She could hear his words fading, as if under a heavy burden. 

‘I remember her singing.’

Frederick’s eyebrows broke into a frown for a split second.

‘I’ve never heard singing since then. Well, not by a human voice, at least, and birds seldom come in these parts.’

‘She called it a science experiment,’ he smiled bitterly. ‘Her hypothesis was that music made by the human body had the quality of accessing deeper information than what the mind can provide. She even went as far as to proclaim the existence of a soul, which caused quite a commotion amongst the science committee members. Song taps into the heart, my Sarra used to say.’

‘Is it so very wrong?’ Josephine stammered as if wanting to sieve her words as they came rushing out of her. ‘To have a soul, I mean. Surely by now science has proven that not everything can be proven.’

Her cheeks burnt with curiosity and bashful sincerity. Frederick paced once more and then stopped to look at his daughter.

‘It is true that much knowledge is lacking from our minds. Inventions and theories have been swallowed by time, ignorance and violence. I am sure science would have held a much higher rank, were it not for four world wars and two civil wars. Much truth has been lost in fires or stolen by individuals of little consequence for intellectual growth.’

‘Are you saying that we haven’t had the time to prove everything,’ she uttered resentfully.

‘Nor ever will we have the time to prove everything,’ he concluded with an academic demeanour. ‘Josephine, you must understand that rational, logical thinking, detached from any form of passion or emotional impulse is the only certain path that can sustain human life on this earth. If one gives in to whims and fancies one is undoubtedly on a road of being bound to irrational, sometimes dangerous pursuits.’

‘Father, you are implying that mother’s theory was a mere whim.’ 

‘In some sense, it was,’ he resolved. ‘And you are not to follow in her footsteps. Continue with your studies and build your theory of the world on solid solid ground, not on grains of sand. I’ll let you rest now. I’ll be back tomorrow to bring you home.’

‘I miss her,’ she said, tears running down her rosy cheeks. 

Frederick was on the doorstep, with his back towards the girl. ‘Cry now, but I wish to see you refreshed by tomorrow.’ He then stepped out, with the door closing behind him with a ticking noise.