Another week with no prompt from Chuck, but he’s got a new book out and he’s away doing conventions and the like. Maybe I should go to a convention some time. Back to that random prompt list for July, then, for a 1000 word story title:
The Fire’s Shadow
Despite the log fire burning steadily in the living room stove she shivered. Just the once; a cool sensation creeping down her back making her look around for a draught.
Curtains drawn, keeping the November night out. A dank, drear and flat November night to follow a dank drear and murky November day. Five days now of the same greyness. They used to say ‘if you don’t like the weather, wait half an hour for something different.’ Not this month. An Atlantic Low hung over England like a shroud.
She was trying to read her Kindle in the firelight. It was perfectly clear and easy to read, but the glow of the flames kept attracting her eyes, drawing them away from the letters dancing on the page. Could you call the screen a page? Why not?
Words usually inspired her, took her off into places she’d never been, some of which she’d never want to go. Deadly adventure via someone else. A life lived vicariously, although she was hankering for an adventure of her own. She put the Kindle aside and reached for the brochure, flicking to the page she’d turned down, and holding it to the fire to scan the pictures again. Blue seas and beaches turned grey and orange in the light. Her brain saw them in true colour, just as the birds and animals of the Galapagos kept their blue feet and orange-black encrusted bodies. She sighed, thinking of the cost, the flights, the security to be encountered and endured. To book or not to book, that was the question.
It wasn’t just the money. If one was going on a trip of a lifetime one should push the boat out. Why save up for a special occasion if it never came? She thought about her hesitation, and wondered where it truly came from. Was it fear of terrorism, or the overwhelming concern for the response of governments to the threat? Why should she be treated as a terrorist suspect at the check-in desk? Because people could be, she reminded herself. It’s for her own safety.
The logs in the grate shifted, sending sparks up the chimney and renewing their flames. She checked her watch. One more log on now and the stove would be hot enough for the rest of the evening. No point it being roasting when she was in bed upstairs. She put the thick leather gloves on and opened the door to the stove, leaning back to avoid the blast-furnace effect on her face. Log safely manhandled onto the pile, she closed the door again, secured the latch, and removed the gloves. She watched as the flames licked the new log, smothered it with kisses, and started to encourage it to participate in their dance.
Dancing. If she booked the trip she could avoid all that faux merriment of the Christmas partying, the family reunions, the arguments about presents, and who did what for whom and when, the feeling that she had failed in her duties yet another year. Six weeks till Christmas and she hated the whole lead-up – a lead-up of consumer madness that had started on 1st September.
She knew there were still spaces on this trip; she’d checked on the internet. In fact, she’d checked on the internet twice a week since June. Why was she waiting? What was she waiting for? A sign?
The logs shifted again, the new one sending up sparks this time, and embedding itself neatly with the others. It had its own place in the universe.
She picked up the Kindle and settled in for another hour’s reading. Maybe she’d finish the book tonight. She took a second or two to remember where the hero was, and why the girl was following him, and who was chasing her, and then she was hooked once more, tapping to turn the page, tap, tap, tap…
Engrossed in the book.
Hearing the story in her head.
Telling the hero to jump, the girl to ignore him, he’s a jerk. Heroes shouldn’t be jerks, it’s a strange way to write him. Oh, god, what a twist! No! Oh, sure. She should have seen that coming… but…
She shivered again, partly with delicious excitement at the denouement, and partly because of the draught. She set the Kindle down, smiling at the satisfaction of having seen through the hero, but not seen the ending. She really must find that draught.
The flickering flames cast shadows that rippled over the curtains, making them appear to move. She put out her hand to sweep them back, and saw the firelight on her skin, fading the freckles into a single golden glow, and the shadow of her fingers bending on the folds of the curtain.
The curtain moved.
The dark shadow emerging from behind the curtain absorbed the light from the fire. The heat from its coal-black skin burned her own; her vision locked on to the deep red of its fiery eyes, set deep in a skull that had no hair, no ears, no features other than a deep pit for the sockets, and maybe a hint of some spikes for hair.
She screamed, or rather, yelped, as the shadow reached out and took her by the neck, cutting off any thing that required deeper breath.
Now a great maw opened in the lower half of the head, she felt the pull of being drawn towards it, the smell of rotten flesh and seaweed overpowering her senses. Inexorably she was moving into the mouth, touched by a rough dry tongue as the mouth opened so wide she slid, despite her struggles, slid into the darkness beyond.
The logs moved in the grate once more, banging the side of the stove and setting up a rush of flame.
The Kindle switched itself off, the shifting pencil pattern barely visible in the orange light spilling over the floor, over the brochures, over the pictures of a marine iguana sitting on a rock, his eyes blinking and licking his lips.
© J M Pett 2015