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February 15, 2018

Flash Fiction Challenge – Strange Photos

Filed under: flash fiction challenge — Tags: — Eva Therese @ 9:12 pm

New flash fiction challenge, courtesy of Chuck Wendig. Go to Google, type in “strange photos” and look through the results until something tickles your fancy. I picked this picture of a tree that looks like a human body, from this webpage: https://moco-choco.com/2012/09/09/unbelievable-most-strange-trees-in-the-world/


You were reasonably safe as long as you stayed on the path. If you strayed from it, you would get lost. Most of the times forever. But once in a great while, someone would come stumbling out from the forest, as unkempt as a bear, wild-eyed, begging for water and to be told what year it was.
This, more than anything else, was what convinced Modesty that everybody else was wrong about the forest. Everyone else thought that the forest wanted to trap people, but Modesty was sure that it actually wanted them to stay out. Something which took people, but let some of them go again as a warning, in case anyone thought that there was a secret paradise hidden somewhere.

Modesty seemed to be the only who wondered why the forest wanted to keep people out. Was it simply to stop them coming with axes and cutting down the trees for lumber? Or was there something hidden deep in the woods. A secret? A treasure? No-one seemed interested in the subject, not even her friends.
“I just don’t see the point,” Melissa had said. “Even if there’s something in there, you can’t get it, so what’s the point in talking about it?”
“Never stopped you from talking about Stephen,” Modesty had replied before she could stop herself. She had said she was sorry and actually meant it and the rest of their friends had wisely steered the conversation towards safer topics.

The people who returned were always half-mad. They swore on the bones of every saint in the calendar, that they had only taken two or three steps into the forest, while keeping their eyes on the path, but then they had looked away and when they looked back, it was gone. They told of walking forever in a perpetual twilight, all sense of time and direction gone and living of unspeakable things. Of shapes in the mist that could drive a person insane to look at. Of trees that looked like human figures and of enormous beings that they never saw but whose footsteps sounded like thunder and made everything shake and who left a trail of fallen trees as wide as a country road, which no one ever dared to follow in either direction.
And the people listened to these tales and muttered darkly about the evil forces and how the best thing would be to burn the whole forest down, but nothing ever came of it except words. Even if it hadn’t been far too big for such a plan, the mist that always hung between the trees made it far too cold and damp to burn. You couldn’t even use firewood collected at the edge of the wood as kindling; no matter how much you dried it, it gave almost no heat or light but lots of unpleasant smelling smoke.

It was clear to Modesty that she was alone, but that didn’t really bother her, except that it would have been nice to have someone to plan with. As it was, she spent most of her free time and a not insignificant part of the time she should have been focused on her chores, with thinking about the forest and what might be hidden in it and most of all, how to get to it.
She was deep in thoughts like that every time she burned dinner or forgot to take in the laundry when it started to rain. Her parents shook their heads but assumed that she was thinking about someone special. If they had known the truth they might actually have locked her in her bedroom.

The people who came out from the forest tended not to live very long. Some of them had survived for years, maybe even decades in the forest, but soon after coming out and telling their story they seemed to wilt like a plant that has been moved to a new plot and can’t adapt. They were buried in a special corner of the cemetery.

Modesty sometimes wondered what one would find if one dug up one of the coffins and opened it.

Nothing good came from the forest, but, it should be noted, nothing really bad came from it either. No wolves or monsters or invading armies. Neither had any of the sons or daughters of the villagers ever felt compelled to go into the woods, except for what was normal for small children who have just been told that something is off limit.
Stay on the path and you were reasonably safe as you travelled from one village to the next. Of course no one could be sure whether some of the missing people had actually kept to the path, but in general, people trusted that if they did just that, the forest would let them pass and left it at that.

Modesty had a dream about the forest one night. In it, she had tried one of the ideas she thought was most promising and tied a rope around her waist and the other end around a tree trunk, right at the edge of the woods. She walked in among the trees and was immediately swallowed by them. She realized that she had forgotten to put on shoes, but the earth beneath her was covered with soft moss and she kept walking.
When the rope would go no further she turned back and followed it the way she had come. But when she got to the end of the rope, the tree that it was tied to was not on the edge of the woods, but surrounded by dozens of other trees as far as the eye could see, which wasn’t very far indeed in the dimness under the canopies.
The sheer terror she felt in that moment woke her up. The moon shining through the thin curtains made the room seem almost bright compared to the darkness in the dream and she looked at all the familiar, comforting shapes until her breath evened out and she dozed off again.
It wasn’t until she got out of bed next morning that she noticed that she had small bits of dead leaves and moss on her feet.

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February 8, 2018

Flash Fiction Challenge – The subgenre shake-and-bake

Filed under: flash fiction challenge — Tags: , — Eva Therese @ 10:42 am

Flash fiction challenge courtesy of Chuck Wendig. I got the RNG to spit out the numbers 8 and 8 and considered doing some kind of Sword & Sorcery squared, but then I rolled for another number and got 17, climate change.
Where I live (Denmark) we don’t really get the extreme heat or cold that other parts of the world have been plagued by and we’re of course grateful for that. But what we do get is continuous bad weather. Right now it feels like we’re stuck in a never-ending October with no Halloween, like Narnia meets The Nightmare Before Christmas. So that was my inspiration for the setting.


They had almost reached the top of the hill when Marie slipped in the mud and landed on her hands and knees. She wanted to curse but bit her lip. When you were a mage you had to guard your words, lest they became reality. She waved away Lila’s outstretched hand and got to her feet, brushing as much off her hands as she could.

The view from the top, although familiar, was less than encouraging. A patchwork of brown trees and grey fields and a brownish grey lake and the greyish brown houses of the hamlet. The sky was dark, the air chilly and filled with a drizzle that was almost a mist, or perhaps it was the other way around. The weather had been like this for the last fourteen months. The two harvest seasons had been meagre, with too much water and far too little sunshine. Even the wild animals were suffering; the old and weak who should have died off in the harsh winters were clinging to life, competing for what little food could be found with the new generations.

Without thinking, Marie’s hand went to the purse which hung in a chain around her neck. The sunstone felt warm and comforting through the leather. It had cost her and Lila many struggles to get it, but it would set the weather right, at least for long enough to grow proper crops. Maybe even to get a proper winter. After that, they would have to think of something new.

Lila started down the hill in long strides. She was small and nimble, unlike Marie, who was tall and wide. “Build like a brick shithouse,” as her brother used to say. He used to tease her like that, even when she threatened to beat him up. He had only stopped when her magic started to show, despite the fact that she had never once threatened him with it. She had heard that magic changed you, but she was the same as she had always been; it was the people around her who had changed. They judged her, even if they didn’t say so. They looked and her and saw one of the mages who had messed up the weather, even if she hadn’t even been a mage until ten months ago.

Except for Lila.

Lila who was by now halfway down the slope and had stopped and turned to look for her. She waved encouragingly, the turned again and continued.

Marie started after her, treading carefully down the slippery hillside. She did not want a mudstain on her bum to match the one she already had on her knees. At times like this, she felt envious of Lila, who moved through the world as swift and gracefully as a firelizard. And moved through people the same way, laughing and cheerful.

Marie had always been sullen and awkward and considered people as slippery and steep to navigate as the hill she was currently trying to get down from. Even before the magic, she had only been close to her family but that had been enough. Their distancing themselves had been more painful than she could even bear to think about.

When the elders had asked for volunteers to go on a quest to find one of the mythical sunstones, Lila had been the first with her hand up, but Marie had been right behind her. Maybe that was why no-one else had wanted to go. That thought had plagued her many times during their journey, whenever they were in peril, that if she hadn’t gone with Lila, maybe someone else would have, more competent people. The idea that if Lila died it would be her fault, because of her selfishness. Of course, it had worked out in the end. No-one had died and they had even gotten the sunstone they set out to acquire. Still, the thought of what could have happened sometimes chilled her to the bone.

It was selfish when she had volunteered. She had wanted the townspeople to like here. She wanted to make her family proud. But now, with the hamlet in view, the idea seemed silly. All the confidence she thought she had gained on the journey seemed to melt off her and she was shrinking back to who she had been when she left. They wouldn’t like her, no matter what she did or what she brought back. She was a mage and she was bad with people. One of those things alone might simply have gotten her ignored, but together they made her an outcast.

She stepped on a particularly slippery bit and her foot almost disappeared under her, but she managed to find her balance at the last moment.

A staff would have been nice, she told herself, then gritted her teeth. Not a staff. She had enough problems without it.

She reached the foot of the hill without any more mishaps.

Lila had stopped to look at a cluster of small, thorny plants. “They should be blossoming by now,” she said.

There was such a tinge of sadness in that one sentence, that Marie didn’t feel like pointing out the obvious; that nothing currently was as it “should”.

Lila lifted her head and gave a bright smile. “We will put it right,” she said, almost as if she had heard Marie’s unspoken words. “Only a few miles to go and once we get on the road it will even be dry walking.”

Marie nodded, but as a sense of dread rushed through her body and made her stomach tighten in a knot at the thought of going the last miles. Out there, alone with Lila, it had been easy to feel content, to feel liked. Lila had been a friend. Would that disappear, now that there were more agreeable people for Lila to talk to?

I don’t care about the rest, she thought. I just want her to like me. Please don’t abandon me. She wanted to say the words out loud, but as she opened her mouth, she felt her magic push from inside her, wanting to latch on to her words and the will behind them and make them real. The image in her mind was that of the mind-controlled soldiers in the temple of Quediz, god of Rivers. No, not like that.

She swallowed her words like one swallows bile and tried to steady her breathing.

Lila had started walking and she followed her. The moment was lost.

They walked next to each other for an hour in sombre silence. The landscape didn’t look better close up. Brown, rotting leaves were still clinging to branches that usually had the first green sprouts this time of years. The fields were mostly covered in shallow pools of rain. “Can’t grow anything in it, but not deep enough to fish,” as Marie’s mother had so succinctly put it.

“I know,” Lila said, breaking the silence, “that we’re only now returning from our quest. But I think we should look to the future.”

“How so?” asked Marie.

“The sunstone is only good for a year at most. And even if we could go out and get more …” She shrugged. “Sooner or later we’re going to run out of stones to find. We need a permanent solution.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know.” Lila smiled. “It would be an adventure. Even greater than the one we’ve already been on. We would have to … But I’m getting ahead of myself here. I haven’t even asked you if you want to go.”

“With you? On a new adventure?” It wasn’t until she saw the hurt look in Lila’s eyes that she realized how her tone had sounded.

“No, it’s fine. I understand. It was very brave of you to go with me and you’ve done more than your share alre…”

“I’d love to go. With you. I’d love to.”

“Really? I won’t be offended or anything.”

“I really want to go with you. Like you said, we need to find a permanent solution.”

Lila’s smile was positively dazzling. It was more like sunshine than the sun had been for a long while now. “I am so glad to hear you say that.”

Marie smiled. The words she wanted to say stuck in her throat. But there would be another quest and time to say them to Lila.

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