Smut Party: Stars

Recently, one of my siblings has just confessed that she’s writing a saucy novel. Inspired by this, the writing (and some of the non-writing) members of my friends and family decided to have a ‘smut party’ where we each brought a short piece of erotica written from a (very) random selection of story cubes.

The fact that Carole Heidi has cubes ranging from clues to prehistoric made for some interesting combinations, but everyone took away their cubes and, in a week, wrote a short story.

Reading them out was equal parts mortifying and hilarious, but I’ve decided that I have a blog, so why not share the story I wrote with the world?

My cubes were: A caveman, an owl, a magnifying glass, a skull, a mirror, some gears and a cryogenics chamber. An eclectic mix, but with the exception of the skull (which is included symbolically in the story as death) I managed to get all these words in. Here’s the resulting story (contains graphic sexy times, obviously)


Stars by Liberty Gilmore
(August 2016)

The first bit of advice Lena always gave her green recruits was to find themselves a fuck buddy. It was never advice that went down well – most of them had pictures of their girlfriends, husbands, life-partners tucked in their breast pocket, as if placing it close to their heart would protect them from harm, and though all of them must have had a meaningless shag before, there was something about being told you’d need one that brought the prude out in most people.

They soon learned – nothing makes you horny like a stint in a cryotube.

Lena had her theories about that. Maybe it was the fact that the tubes didn’t close with a cool pneumatic hiss like every science fiction program ever had made them believe. Maybe it was the way those tubes closed with the mechanical clunking of gears that sounded too old fashioned, too… rudimentary for a device that would flash freeze their bodies, ready to be hurtled through space at faster than light speed. Maybe the terror she never failed to feel at that sound got frozen too, ripping through her body afresh when she woke, combining with a potent relief that left her with an undeniable need to rip someone’s clothes off.

This deployment was no different. They came out of hyperspeed just outside the Aurelius sector three days before they left Earth. Lena could study the science manuals with a magnifying glass and still not understand that one, but what the hell. She’d done this sixteen times now and the exact hows of faster than light travel were of less concern than the burning need between her legs.

She climbed out of her cryotube, her eyes scanning past the greens – who looked to each other with confusion and desire – and found Elias. His brown eyes burned when she met his gaze and without speaking, he marched through the greens and kissed her.

His hands slipped beneath the loose t-shirt she wore in the tube, his palms rough against the smooth skin of her back. As his hands rose to her shoulders, fingers working the cold-stiff muscles there, she could feel her t-shirt riding up, exposing her midriff to the likely gawping greens. Lena normally wasn’t one for public displays of affection, but she was their Captain, Elias their Lieutenant. They had to lead by example. Distracted soldiers were dead soldiers. Tomorrow, they’d be fighting the Scourge, and no one would be able to concentrate if they didn’t see to their primal urges.

Elias’ hands went to her backside, and he lifted her, her legs wrapping around his waist. She wasn’t a petite woman, but Elias had a heavyweight’s frame and his muscular arms made light work of her. Without pausing in their kiss, he carried her to her quarters, leaving the greens to figure out the rest for themselves.

Once inside her rooms, Elias set Lena down. He stood back from her, hooking his thumbs in the neck of his t-shirt and pulling it off in one movement. The sleeve of tattoos on his right arm now extended to his chest, a soaring owl taking flight just beneath his collarbone, not quite finished.

“That’s new,” Lena said, tracing her fingers over the intricate feathers.

Elias caught her hand and directed it down to where his erection strained against his boxer shorts. Lena slipped her hands beneath the elasticated waist and pushed them down. She took him in her hand, stroking along the length of him. His cock twitched, and with a grunt of frustration, he pushed her hand away so he could pull her t-shirt off. Lena pulled her underwear down, stepping out of them as Elias manhandled her into the bathroom.

The first blast of water on her back was icy cold, but it did nothing to dim the ardent fire that burned between her and Elias. He kissed her, their tongues tangling as he positioned them both under the jet of warming water. Lena could feel the aches that had nothing to do with sexual desire start to fade, the last of the cryotube’s chill chased away by the warm water and Elias’ searing kiss.

He grabbed her breasts, dropping his head to nuzzle between them, running his tongue over the sensitive skin. His teeth grazed over the tight bud of her nipple before he sucked on it, hard, sending a jolt of liquid fire straight to Lena’s groin. She moaned, and Elias took it as invitation to lift her up, positioning his hips against hers, and thrust himself inside her.

The wall of the shower was cold against her back, the water and Elias’ skin burning hot by contrast. Lena ran her hands over his military short hair and hooked her legs around his waist again, urging him closer, deeper.

Elias was an artist, and a gentleman, but in the throes of cryo-induced passion, he was rough with her, taking what he needed from her body, indulging all his caveman urges. And Lena loved how he surrendered himself to desire, pistoning his hips in to hers until her fingernails dug into his shoulders hard enough to draw blood. His hands gripped her hips, but his mouth explored her neck, her chest, until his own release was so close that he just pressed his face against her shoulder, lips touching a sensitive point just above her collarbone.

Lena closed her eyes, head thrown back as pleasure built inside her, a white hot star. A few more strokes and the star burst, a supernova ripping through her body, a flood of pleasure so intense she cried out. Elias’ release followed a moment later.

For a while, they remained tangled together, breathing hard, arms wrapped around each other as the final ripples faded. Then the reality of Lena’s shoulder blades against the shower wall, the gradually cooling water, worked their way back in to their awareness. Elias stepped back, lowering her to the floor, a roguish grin on his face.

“Welcome to the Aurelius sector,” he said, then spun her round and began massaging her shoulders.

***

Lena ran her fingers through her damp hair as she watched Elias working, the buzz of his tattooist’s needle a familiar sound. He was finishing the owl, holding a mirror in his right hand, angling it so he could see the space on his chest where his left hand moved the needle with sure strokes.

“Why an owl?” Lena asked.

“They’re predators,” Elias said, angling the mirror so he could see her over his shoulder. “Highly evolved to hunt their prey. Their feathers are soft so they don’t make any sound when they’re flying. Mice don’t stand a chance.”

“If only we were fighting mice,” she said.

The buzzing noise changed as Elias held the needle above his skin, paused a moment. Then, the sound resumed the tone of the needle against skin. Lena crawled down the bed towards him, kissing the top of his neck down to his shoulder.

“Mm, don’t do that,” Elias said, raising the needle off his skin again.

“Why, ticklish?” Lena said, trailing a finger lightly down his back.

“Definitely,” he said, turning his head enough to kiss her lips. “Fetch my bag for me?”

Lena stood up and crossed the room to the drawers where his bag was. As she headed back to him, he added the final strokes to the owl’s wing. Like the rest of his tattoos, it looked alive, ready to leap out of his skin.

She sat next to him, pulling the ointment from his bag. She smoothed it over the freshly tattooed skin, before covering it with a gauze and taping it down.

“When are you going to let me do you?” he said, raising the needle in her direction.

Lena raised an eyebrow. “You can do me any time you want, just not with that thing.”

Elias grinned, taking the bag from her. He crossed the room, letting his towel fall to the floor, treating her to a view of his finely sculpted backside. He came back to the bed and lay down, pulling her into his side so her head rested on his shoulder.

“I would start,” he said, “with a constellation of stars. The first one, the biggest one, would be just beneath your hair, behind your ear.” He touched the spot with his finger, sending a delicious shiver through Lena’s skin. “Then I’d go down from there,” his finger traced the line, “each star smaller and smaller until the last was just a tiny little thing right here.”

His finger rested on a spot between her collarbone and her shoulder.

“Why?” Lena asked.

Elias looked at her, his brown eyes darker than she’d ever seen them. “I’ve known battle hardened men lose their minds,” he said. “People like us who’ve seen and done it all, and one day something just snaps. They can’t even remember how to tie their own shoelaces. If that ever happens to me, at least I’d have instructions for how to kiss you.”

He placed his lips against each of the points on her neck, finishing on the point of the smallest star – her favourite place to be kissed.

“Okay,” Lena said.

“Okay?” Elias echoed.

She pulled her hair back, exposing her neck. “Do it,” she said.

Elias fetched his kit, prepared it. He sat behind her on the bed, one hand slipping beneath her neck to brace it. She felt the strength in his fingers, how easily he could squeeze the life out of her.

“Are you sure about this?” he asked.

“I love you,” she answered.

Elias kissed her cheek, then switched on the needle, and began etching his love for her on her skin.

Story: Pride

As always, the rest of the series is under the ‘Writing’ tab.

Pride
By Liberty Gilmore, 13/02/13

Ava makes a stand.

Adam could sense Ava’s reluctance as she hovered in the doorway of the bathroom. He got the feeling it wasn’t just the events of the previous night that were on her mind, but Percy’s little story about a prophecy that seemed to involve them. And their future child.

That part was getting to Adam as well. Sure, he liked to imagine that Ava was his forever, that they would marry and have a family. But it was one thing to daydream and another to be told it was foretold. It took the fun out of it, somehow.

Adam knew prophecies were a big part of magical lore, though how much of it was true he didn’t know. From the way Ava was reacting though, he thought it likely that prophecies carried some weight of truth. Did that change anything that he needed to worry about in the immediate future?

No.

He stepped behind Ava, wrapping his arms around her waist, resting his chin on her shoulder.

‘Been a weird couple of days, hasn’t it?’ he said.

‘Weird is just about the understatement of the century,’ Ava said, shifting her weight so she was leaning back into him a little. ‘We really need to talk.’

‘I know,’ Adam said, reluctant to move.

He stepped away, though, taking Ava’s hand in his and pulling her into the room, pushing the door shut behind them. Ava pushed her hair back from her face, then, slipping out of her shoes, sat on the edge of the hot spring bath, dipping her feet into the warm water. Adam followed her example, the hot water relieving his feet after the long walk. Ava looked across at him, a demure smile on her face, and for a moment she looked so otherworldly it was almost hard to tell she was the same girl he’d known all his life.

Her hair looked darker, shining in the soft natural light through the skylight, her skin’s blue tint accented by the glittering water. The sadness in her eyes as she looked at him nearly overwhelmed Adam, his desires torn between scooping her into his arms and giving her the space he thought she needed.

‘I feel like this is all spinning out of my control,’ she said.

‘I know.’

‘And I hate that you’ve wound up right in the middle of all this.’

‘I know.’

‘I don’t know what to do.’

I know, Adam thought, but didn’t say. Instead: ‘It’s okay.’

‘It’s really not.’

She stretched her legs out, raising them out of the water, watching the droplets fall from her calves. Adam had a brief, distracting flash of those legs either side of him, as Ava kissed him last night, but pushed it from his mind.

‘Ava, I don’t really know enough about what’s going on to be any use.’

‘I’d like to say I could help with that, but…’ Ava smiled a little as she looked at him. ‘I’ve never heard of this prophecy before – the Winter Court doesn’t like to listen to anything that suggests things are outside of their power. They think prophecies are sort of self-fulfilling – that if you “know” you are going to win a battle, you’ll fight ferociously and recklessly because you’ll have no fear, and that will win you the battle. If you know your downfall will be a tall dark stranger, you’ll be unduly fearful of tall dark strangers, and it will ultimately cause your downfall.’

‘How… um,’ Adam hesitated. ‘How likely is it to be true?’

Ava flushed, a glow of red crossing her cheeks, telling Adam the answer before she spoke. ‘Very. Fairy predictions are usually incredibly accurate. The only trouble comes in working out who they’re about. It might not be about us.’

‘But it seems likely.’

‘It does.’

Ava bit her lip. ‘We could make it not about us.’

Adam felt his heart go cold. ‘What do you mean?’

‘We could go our separate ways…’

Adam took her face in his hands and kissed her, cutting her off before she could finish her sentence. ‘Don’t talk like that, Ava,’ he said, pressing his forehead against hers. ‘Don’t.’

She nodded, sweeping his hair back with a delicate touch, then kissed him, swift, chaste, but each touch of their lips pushed the awkwardness of the night before from their minds.

‘I think,’ she said, ‘this is one inevitability that I really don’t mind.’

A tentative smile flickered across her lips. Adam wanted nothing more than to kiss her again. And again. But he pulled back, linking his fingers through hers, instead.

‘Always wanted kids,’ he said, trying to keep his voice light.

‘I didn’t.’

‘Really?’ Adam was surprised.

‘Didn’t want them to have to go through what I went through,’ she explained with a shrug.

‘Well,’ Adam said, voice rough with the sudden wave of pity that swept through him. He wanted to take her in his arms and make her forget she ever had reason to feel sad. ‘We’re safe here, slightly skeevy attempts to drug us aside, right?’ He squeezed her hand and drew it close to him. ‘We’ve got time to figure things out.’

‘Like how I can control the weather and why you are apparently immune to glamour?’

‘Exactly. Baby steps first. Figure that stuff out, then we’ll worry about prophecised children and wars between fairy courts.’

‘Right,’ Ava said, but there was a smile on her face.

And then something outside made a loud crashing sound, followed by the frantic noise of frightened voices. Adam glanced to the door then to Ava.

‘We should go and see what’s happening,’ she said, standing up on the edge of the bath.

Adam followed her outside and felt his stomach turn to ice when he saw Natalia at the head of a group of fearsome looking soldiers.

~.~

Ava first noticed the cut healing on her mother’s forehead. A cut she had probably inflicted when using the wind to throw Natalia around. It did not mar her mother’s beauty. In fact, wearing clothes more typical of a fairy warrior than the business attire she usually wore, wielding a pike, Natalia looked more beautiful and terrible than Ava had ever seen her.

Ava felt a thrill of cold fear, but it melted in the face of the broiling anger she felt. She took a step forwards, but was grabbed from behind by someone.

‘What are you thinking, going out there!’ Percy hissed in her ear. ‘Stay back here, stay hidden. She can’t know you’re here.’

‘She’s here, she already knows!’ Ava said, shrugging off Percy’s grip.

‘You don’t know that – your aura will be disguised here by everyone else’s. You don’t know that she’s found you.’

‘I know my own mother. She never makes a move this aggressive unless she’s sure!’

Percy faltered. ‘Then we need to get you both out of here.’

‘You don’t think Clotilda can fight her off?’ Adam said.

‘Clotilda was counting on Natalia not daring to strike here,’ Percy said. ‘I wouldn’t place bets on her winning in a straight fight.’

‘Then we have to stay,’ Ava said. ‘I’ve fought her off before.’

‘Not with a bunch of lackeys to back her up,’ Adam said, a hint of nerves in his voice that he tried to cover with his usual jokey tone.

‘Okay,’ Ava said. ‘We’ll watch from here for now, then run if we have to.’

But she only said it to placate the other two. Ava knew she wasn’t running any more. She was done running from her mother. It was about time Natalia learned Ava wasn’t just going to do what she said. Ava didn’t want to be afraid any more. If that meant starting a war between the Courts… well so be it. Winter couldn’t hold sway much longer anyway.

Clotilda walked out to face Natalia, everything in her pace and posture suggesting she was unconcerned by the appearance of a fighting force in her home. She gave Natalia a bored appraisal before she spoke.

‘This is a bit aggressive, even for you Natalia.’

‘You know why I’m here, Clotilda, don’t waste my time and the lives of your people.’

‘I’m sure I don’t know why you’re breaking the agreement between the Courts not to engage in unprovoked attacks against each other.’

Natalia’s eyes narrowed, and Ava could feel a chill in the air. ‘Unprovoked? Sheltering a fugitive is a provocative act.’

‘Depends on the manner of the fugitive, I suppose,’ Clotilda said, still sounding unconcerned. ‘Who are we supposed to be sheltering?’

Natalia gave a mirthless laugh. ‘It was always your pride that let you down, Clotilda. All that power you think you have, all the people here you think will do your bidding – it’s nothing. You have nothing. You’re just a fat bureaucrat of middling power. Your only importance is your self-importance. Those who live here in your little corner will soon flee. Do you really think you command their loyalty?’

‘Of course I do,’ Clotilda said, though that certainty was gone from her voice. She looked very small on her own in the clearing.

‘And what of your pride, Mother?’ Ava said, stepping out to Clotilda’s side. She felt Adam, or maybe Percy, try to grab her, but Ava pulled herself loose. ‘Do you really think you inspire such fear that no one will ever stand up to you?’

Natalia’s smile could have carved marble. ‘Daughter, it’s time to go home.’

‘No.’ Thunder clapped in time with the syllable.

‘Defy me now, Daughter, and it will mean war. A war you can’t possibly win.’

‘Are you sure about that, Natalia?’ Ava said, sensing rather than seeing the crowd gathering behind her.

Natalia’s expression faltered, but it lasted moments. As her features realigned into the confident, cruel look Ava was so accustomed to, she pointed her pike towards Ava and Clotilda.

‘Sure enough to take my chances,’ Natalia said. ‘Soldiers, attack!’

Story: Stars, Part 3

Stars, Part 3
by Liberty Gilmore (6/1/13)

He asked me my story and I told it. I told him about the village, and the marriage ceremony, and my grandmother and the pilgrimage. I told him of the bones and the spine and the fountain, and the things I’d learned so far.

‘But this can’t be the planet that the fountain talks about – I’ve been watching their history. The cities, the technology. We don’t have anything like that.’

‘You are strangely primitive,’ Simon said, looking closely at me. ‘I don’t understand.’

I frowned and he looked at me, suddenly sheepish. ‘I didn’t mean… I… That sounded awful, I’m sorry.’

I felt myself soften at the guilty look on his face. ‘What’s your story then?’

‘You probably won’t believe me,’ he said, dropping my gaze. He had soft features, behind the harsh scrub of beard on his face, and dark eyes. I felt myself drawn to them. I didn’t believe he would lie.

‘Tell me,’ I said.

~

‘My ancestors came from Earth originally – the select few chosen to live away from the planet, to mind it. You saw what Earth was like if you’ve been watching the history – full of violence and fear. The Interplanetary Federation knew that Earth was nearing the technological capability to explore the Universe, but also that spiritually, they weren’t ready.

‘The planet was tested anyway, in case they proved the Federation wrong, but they failed, proving to be everything the Federation feared: greedy, violent, self-serving. They had destroyed their own planet, almost, and would only repeat their crimes if they did not learn a new way of living. So in punishment, the Federation closed off the Universe to Earth, wrapping it in a protective bubble that blocked out the light of the stars. The sun’s light is powerful enough to burn through, but the light of distant stars, and the light reflected off planets is absorbed by the bubble. The Federation took away the Universe so Earth might concentrate on itself.

‘It’s been over a thousand years, and I was sent to the surface, at the site of what should have been a huge city, to gather information about the planet, to see if it is ready to rejoin. But where I landed there was no city. Nothing. I walked for days scavenging what food I could. I was already weak when that wolf found me, and didn’t have the strength to fight it off.’

He paused, looking at my face. ‘You don’t believe me.’

‘If there were ancient cities here, what happened to them?’ I said. ‘I think you’ve got the wrong planet.’

I couldn’t reconcile the violence of those people in the Fountain with my peaceful village.

‘That’s what I’m wondering,’ Simon said. ‘But I haven’t got the wrong planet. This is Earth, and I think I can prove it to you.’

He stood up, still wincing and favouring his unbitten leg, and addressed the Fountain. ‘Show me rollercoasters.’

‘Rollercoasters,’ the Fountain repeated in it’s bland, genderless voice. ‘Rollercoasters are believed to have been first conceptualised in the 17th century, and are a popular amusement in amusement parks. They are a circuit of track, normally made of metal, though older models have been constructed from wood, on which a train or cart runs. Typically, they involve steep drops, sharp corners, and often loop-the-loops or other twists that turn the rider upside down. Would you like to watch a short video?’

‘Yes,’ Simon answered.

On screen an image appeared. It seemed to be from the perspective of someone sat in a small box. In front of them, a shape like the bones that marked my journey stretched out, undulating up and down. The box moved, and it followed the path of the bones, travelling fast as it dropped down one of the hills. Inside the box, people screamed, but it seemed to be for fun.

‘I was thinking perhaps the spine you talked about is the remains of some great sky scraper. There are probably remnants of the world that Earth once was all over this planet.’

I shook my head. ‘But we can’t be them! There were thousands of people in those wars. My village numbers a couple hundred, and the nearest other village is five miles away. Where did all those people go?’

‘That’s what I’m trying to figure out.’

~

I left him toying with the Fountain, retreating to the far side of the cave. I hid in the shadows and tried to shake off the terrible confusion that gripped me. I thought of my grandmother. Had she known about Earth and its history? Had she known it was our own? How could she have returned smiling? How did she not let the shame of it eat her…

I didn’t know I was crying until Simon appeared at my side, placing a hand on my shoulder to comfort me.

‘Hey, it’s okay,’ he said. ‘You don’t have to be afraid – all those things happened a long time ago.’

I snapped away from him, pressing as far back into the cave wall as I could, hoping the cold, unforgiving stone would absorb me. ‘But they are my forefathers. Their blood runs in my veins.’

‘Sunia, you’re nothing like those people.’

‘But I am! My grandmother told me about the stars, and even though I didn’t know they were real, the idea consumed me. I ran away from a good marriage pairing, defied my elders, left the pilgrimage I should have been on, all because I needed to know.’

‘Sunia,’ Simon said, pulling me away from the wall so he could wrap me in his arms. ‘Sunia, you have a good heart. You saved my life. You pulled me from the water, carried me all the way here, tended me, fed me, even though it would have been easier to just leave me to die. You could never be like those who started wars and killed each other, because you could never be that greedy. There is a difference between curiosity and wanting to keep knowledge for yourself, for your own benefit.’

I was shaking, but I wasn’t sure if it was because of my fear and confusion, or because of the way his arms felt around me, and how he smelt of blood and sweat and something warm and unique to him.

~

I checked the traps to take my mind off things. I cooked a meal and explored the cave further, discovering a source of water that poured from a crack in the wall into a small pond that drained somewhere through the floor. I stood beneath the water and cleansed myself of the grime and blood and the memory of those things that my ancestors had done to each other.

All the while, Simon pottered with the Fountain. He’d discovered some supplies in the cave himself, including some of the Penicillin the Fountain spoke of, which he said would help chase away any infection in his wounds. He also cleaned up in the water, and I helped him redress the wound on his chest, which still looked sore, the healed skin fragile.

I was just drifting off to sleep when he found what he was looking for.

‘Sunia, come and watch this,’ he said. ‘I’ve found the last recording made by someone on Earth, before they buried this place.’

On the Fountain, the usual bland face was replaced by a woman’s, frightened and weary.

‘This is the last time you’ll hear from me,’ she said. ‘I’ve hidden this technology as a record of who we once more, the great things we were once capable of achieving. Before we were reduced to nothing by our own pride and fear.

‘Since they took away the stars, Earth has not been focusing inwards as it should have been. Instead, we have looked for ways to blame each other for events that led to the Federation closing us off. Some have blamed religions, others countries, everyone pointing the finger to avoid examining the truth: that we are all to blame in our own ways. For our laziness, our elective ignorance, and our endless quest to serve ourselves and no other.

‘I am ashamed to say that I was as guilty of these things as anyone else, but now, as war rages – the final war, I fear, of this once great planet – I am trying to do the right thing, to leave a message to the future of what we once were, our failings, so that you might know what you are capable of – both good and bad. So that you might not make the mistakes that we did.’

The woman looked anxiously over her shoulder, distant sounds of crashes and bangs echoing towards her.

‘I must go. If they find what I have done here, this will all be in vain. Goodbye.’

There was something small in her voice as she looked straight at us and said goodbye. Childlike.

~

After everything else I’d seen, this was just another piece of damning evidence that I was a child born to a race of violence and sin.

Simon seemed to take it very hard.

‘They destroyed themselves,’ he said, pacing furiously across the floor. ‘Instead of understanding the intentions of the Federation, they looked for blame and blew each other up.’ He made a wordless sound of frustration, and slammed his fist against the fountain.

‘What would you like to know?’ it asked him.

Simon’s attention was on his wound though, and the fresh blood that was staining his dressings. I rushed to his side, helping him sit as he breathed through the pain.

‘You should take it easy,’ I said.

He looked at me, eyes wide with guilt. ‘My ancestors left yours to destroy themselves. We sat in the comfort of the Federation while our brothers and sisters lived and died in fear and terror. How can you even look at me?’

Because something in your face makes my heart feel full, I thought.

‘If I’m not my ancestors, then you are not yours,’ I said.

He touched my face with his hand.

~

For days I continued to tend to him. He was more restful since reopening his wounds, and did his best to stay still and not damage himself further. He asked me questions about my life and about how I caught food and cooked it, listening attentively whatever the topic.

While wakeful, he toyed with a little metal box, which he said could communicate with people on a ship in the sky, above the planet. It had broken when he fell in the river, but if he could get it fixed, he could call them to get him.

Secretly I hoped it would never get fixed, and hated myself for it, knowing it was the selfishness that had undone my ancestors shining through.

~

Inevitably, the day came.

‘I think I’ve got this working,’ Simon said, showing me the device.

I feigned interest, but looked away as soon as possible, my eyes burning with tears.

‘I’m going to see if I can get a signal,’ he said, then walked towards the entrance of the cave. He was almost recovered now, and didn’t show any signs of favouring one leg over the other.

I retreated to the place with the waterfall, and stood beneath it, let my tears hide between the rivulets of water on my face.

I had always expected to marry Brant, but never craved it. He was a good man, dependable, well liked, who tried to care for me in his own way. I couldn’t even remember his face – a different one swimming up in my memory every time I closed my eyes. One with short hair and wide eyes, who had held me when I was afraid and told me my heart was good.

‘It’s no good,’ Simon’s voice echoed from somewhere else in the cave. ‘Cloud cover’s interfering with the signal, and I don’t want to boost it in case I fry the wiring again. Will have to wait for a clear day.’ A pause. ‘Sunia?’

I didn’t answer. He called my name again, his footsteps starting up again as he looked for me. It didn’t take him long to find my hiding spot.

‘What are you doing?’ he said when he saw me.

I wouldn’t beg him to stay. I wouldn’t be that selfish.

But I did throw my arms around him.

He stumbled a little at my sudden weight, but didn’t object to holding me, wrapping his arms tight around my body, even though I was soaked through.

‘Sunia.’ He made my name a question.

I looked up at him. Stood as we were, his face was mere inches from mine, our bodies still connected. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t need to. He touched a hand to my face again, then sank into me, claiming my lips with his.

~

The next few days were full of warmth and discovery, learning each other and ourselves. He kissed the rough skin of my palms and I traced the scars on his abdomen.

But the weather turned, bright sun spilling through the entrance of our hideaway, and I knew our days were almost up.

‘You could come with me,’ he said as we lay naked together.

‘Would you stay with me?’ I said. He didn’t answer. ‘Then you know why I can’t come with you.’

Held together in this strange place we were perfect. But in reality we were worlds apart.

‘What will you do?’ he asked.

‘Go back to the village,’ I said. ‘Live. What about you?’

‘Go home. Give my report.’

‘Do me one thing,’ I said.

He took my hand. ‘Anything.’

‘Tell them we aren’t ready. Tell them to leave us alone.’

‘Why?’

‘My people think there are no stars to aim for. They think we are alone. If they thought otherwise, maybe things would go back to how they were. If they had stars to aim for, maybe they would start trying to.’

He nodded. ‘I’ll tell them that. I promise.’

~

When he left, there was no ceremony. He stood outside the cave and just faded out. He’d warned me it would happen, so I wasn’t surprised or frightened.

I didn’t cry, or break down. If I had, I think I would have gone with him. But that would have been the wrong thing. Instead, I packed up my things and headed home.

When I arrived they were pleased to see me, but they soon learned not to ask what happened on my pilgrimage, for I gave them nothing but sad looks. And when my belly began to fill out, my breasts grow heavy, they filled in the gaps for themselves with stories about outsiders and dangers for young women travelling alone. I didn’t bother to correct them.

Brant married a girl from another village, and I felt nothing but relief.

When the baby came, it was in a rush of pain and fear, followed by a love so intense it did something to fill the hole ripped in my heart.

The village gave me a home of my own, gave me gifts and advice and watched me closely, fearing I would reject the baby born, as they thought, from violence. They soon realised they had no reason to fear.

I taught my little one the ways of the village, of respect and shared responsibility to each other and our lands. I taught him to walk, and later to speak, and the songs we sing for the ceremonies and why each of them is so important for the village and for who we try to be.

And when I was sure we were alone, I would whisper to him of a boy I loved, and tell him about the stars.

Story: Stars, Part 2

Stars, Part 2
by Liberty Gilmore (5/1/13)

For three days I sat before the fountain. I learned its secrets as Gran had. It only started with the stars.

‘Stars are large gaseous orbs that produce light, heat and other forms of radiation through a process of nuclear fusion. They go through several distinct life stages, and through a process known as going ‘supernova’ are responsible for the production of all the natural elements in the universe.

‘Would you like to learn more about bodies in space?’

I stared at it. Another member of the village might have run away screaming, but though the temptation was strong, another question bubbled to the front of my tongue.

‘What’s the universe?’

‘The universe is the space which contains everything that exists: planets, stars, galaxies and all energy and matter. There is some debate amongst physicists as to the exact nature of the universe, but it is widely agreed that it is infinite and expanding.

‘Would you like to hear about the multiple universe theory, or Einstein’s work on defining the universe?’

I sat down, where Gran must have sat all those years before me.

‘What’s a physicist?’

~

A need for food drove me out. I trekked back to a river I’d passed on my way here, spearing a few fish as I’d been taught by the experts in the village. I pulled up some roots to go with them, picking the berries that wouldn’t poison me, too. I was distracted, though, mind reeling with everything I’d learned.

I’d been through space and physicists to history. Ancient history first, starting from the beginning. I’d watched civilisations grow and fall on this planet known as Earth. I’d just watched a terrible war devastate them.

I thought of my own village, tiny compared to the cities of this alien world. In all our long history, there had never been disagreement on the scale I’d seen in the Fountain. We argued sometimes about who owned what lands, and whose responsibility it was to do certain jobs, but arguments were always settled by the Meis and we trusted in their absolute authority. Once a Mei had spoken, her decision was never questioned.

There were those who elected to live their lives as outsiders – on their own in the wilderness. Sometimes this was a spiritual choice, but that was rare. The Meis encouraged participation in village life as the highest form of spiritual enlightenment. Pilgrimages were meant to remind us of that, of the benefits of the community – time spent without so we could see what we were missing – but some people chose the solitude.

There were others, outcasts, sent away from their villages because they’d done something to damage the village. The stories were told to us like those of ghosts and monsters and other unreal things – meant to scare and frighten, to keep naughty children in line. I grew to know that the stories were true, but collected over many generations. Outcasts were as rare as those who chose to leave.

The thought of war was too horrific. I could barely comprehend it.

I had enough to feed myself comfortably for a while, but to save making the trip out again in a few days, I wandered further up the river, hoping to find a few more roots and berries. I was so absorbed in my search, I didn’t notice the soft growl of a predator until it was so close, I could almost feel the creature’s breath on my skin.

I took the knife in my hand, switching the grip from the digging hold to an offensive grip. My fingers sweated, my heart racing in my chest as I turned to face the wolf beside me. It snarled at me through bloody teeth, creeping forwards. It was thin, ribs jutting through its patchy fur. Desperate enough to take a chance on me.

Its legs bunched, ready to pounce. I raised my knife, standing still and ready, as I’d been trained. As the wolf leapt forwards, I slashed at it, stepping out of its reach. With a soft whimper, it landed a little behind me, favouring one leg at the front, licking the other. I readied myself again as it sized me up, but it decided I wasn’t worth the risk, and limped off.

Quickly, I checked the nearby area, in case there were any others. I did not want to be trailed back to the cave, to be set upon in my sleep. We’re taught from a young age to respect animals, and to never underestimate their intelligence or instincts.

I find nothing to suggest the wolf is not just a lone wanderer, driven far from its usual hunting grounds by hunger, but a little further up the river I find the reason for the blood on its teeth.

A boy, lying in the shallow water, his rich red lifeblood tangling with the currents.

I splashed through the shallows to his side, dropping to my knees as I examined him. He was breathing, short, sharp breaths that spoke of pain, but didn’t open his eyes when I touched his face. A glance down his abdomen revealed the reason why – a deep bite into his side, another on his leg. I look around and spot a trail of blood through the trees. He must have run, injured – probably the leg wound – for some time, before succumbing to pain and blood loss. The bite on his side looked worse, deeper, and I knew without aid, he would not survive.

I was not trained in the art of medicine, my knowledge only what tidbits my mother and grandmother passed to me. Alone, it would be hard to get him back to the cave.

But I could not leave him to die.

~

The journey back to the cave seemed twice the distance it had been in the other direction. The boy was slight, perhaps a little taller than me, and his weight made my arm muscles burn with the effort of carrying him.

Occasionally, he came to just enough to help me along a little. He mumbled a few words, nothing I could make sense of, but he took his own weight for a few moments, before succumbing to his pain again. I was grateful for these moments of reprieve. I doubt I would have made it all the way without them.

Back at the fountain, I laid him down, set my travelling cloak over him, a roll of clothes beneath his head. His skin had turned a grey colour at some point on our journey, and the blood stain at his side had spread.

I turned to the fountain.

‘Tell me how to help him!’

The face swam to the surface of the glass. ‘What would you like to know?’

‘Tell me how to help him!’

~

The first night, I sat up by his side, cooling his forehead as the fever burned through him. The fountain had taught me how to wrap a wound, but I knew nothing of the penicillin it wanted me to administer.

I removed the boy’s top, noticing for the first time the strange material and design, but not dwelling on it – the tear in his flesh taking up my attention. But through the night I had plenty of time to ponder his strange clothes, the way his hair was short, the way his beard was a short, rough growth on his face, unlike any I’d ever seen before. I guessed him to be my age from his face, but his hands were smooth, unmarked by work like a child’s.

As I watched him fight for his life, tending to him the only way I knew how, I wondered about who he was.

~

The second night, I risked a little sleep, exhaustion catching up with me, despite my fear. In my sleep I dreamed the boy was an outcast, having committed a crime against his people. The dream lingered in my mind when I woke, and I wondered if it was the wrong thing, to save him.

~

The third night, I felt comfortable enough to sleep through.

~

The fourth night, he stirred.

~

He told me his name was Simon.

‘What sort of a name is that?’ I asked.

He’d pushed himself to a sort of sitting position, wincing as did so. I brought over a small bowl of broth, helped him eat some. The food brought a little colour back to his face, gave him the energy to talk.

‘You saved my life,’ he said, ignoring my question.

I dipped my head, not able to hold his grateful gaze. ‘I wasn’t sure you’d survive. I’m not a healer.’

‘Whatever you did, it helped,’ he said. ‘I know I would have died if you hadn’t found me.’

He slept on and off for another two days, each time he woke a little healthier, a little stronger. At first he merely ate when he was awake, attending to his other needs as they arose, and few words passed between us, but as he grew in strength, he started to take more of an interest in conversation.

‘Do you live here?’ he asked.

‘No, I am on my pilgrimage.’

He didn’t seem to understand.

‘It’s dangerous out here,’ he said.

I glanced at the dressing on his wound. ‘I know.’

‘Shouldn’t you be with someone else?’

‘I trained for this,’ I said, which wasn’t quite true. I’d trained for something. But it wasn’t this.

After a few days, I had to head out again. Simon’s appetite grew with his strength, and it was up to me to feed us both. I caught a few more fish and set a couple of traps for next time. When I returned, Simon was sat up by the fountain. He’d put his bloodied shirt on again, his hair mussed by a week of lying about. I paused in the entrance a moment, watching him. His shirt hung loose on his frame, now even thinner than it had been, despite his returning appetite. Every so often, he touched a hand to his face, running it over his chin, as if he was not used to the hair that grew there.

‘What do you want to know?’ the fountain asked him.

‘Status update, four-zero-two-four.’

‘Error,’ said the fountain, ‘no entry for that date.’

‘Status update, three-nine-nine-nine.’

‘Error, no entry for that date.’

He kept trying as I entered, not noticing me approach.

‘Status update, three-four-zero-zero.’

‘Error, no entry for that date.’

Simon made a noise of frustration and looked away from the fountain.

‘You have to ask it a question,’ I said.

Simon looked at me, surprised by my appearance at his side. ‘You’ve used it?’

I put the food to one side. ‘My grandmother discovered it on her pilgrimage. She told me stories. I asked it about the stars.’

‘The stars?’ Simon raised an eyebrow.

‘I know, you might think they don’t exist. They might not appear in our skies, but this machine has records of them, along with the history of some other world, a planet called Earth.’

Simon frowned then, staring at me with confusion. ‘Sunia, this is Earth,’ he said.

Story: Stars, Part 1

Stars, Part 1
by Liberty Gilmore (4/01/13)

Whenever my grandmother used to talk about the stars, the others used to get this sad look in their eyes and talk to her like she was a frightened child.

‘Meimei,’ they used to say, respectful still, because she was old and once important, ‘there are no stars.’

It made me furious, but it made Gran laugh.

‘Listen to them,’ she said to me, ‘talking like I left half my brain behind on my Pilgrimage. I didn’t leave it behind, I woke it up!’

She was eighty when she passed. A good age, but I was bereft. At her burial they said she was a creative, imaginative lady, which is just a polite way of saying someone’s crazy. We’re always polite about the dead in our village.

Years passed. I grew from an awkward child into a young woman. Seventeen. My friends dreamed of the husbands and children they would soon have.

I dreamed of the stars. Unlike Gran, I knew to keep quiet about it.

~

Like my friends, I would be married soon. It was expected, and I was pretty, so the boys were prepared to overlook Gran and how her crazy ways might have influenced me.

There was one boy in particular – Brant – who liked to let me know he was keen. Of course it was the responsibility of the Meis to pair us, but they weren’t above a nudge or two, and Brant was the son of the village’s leader. It was never said, but widely understood that Brant and I would be wed.

He would talk to me sometimes, about the harvest and the trees and his father’s vision for the village and the responsibility of that vision that he would one day inherit.

I did try to make an effort, nodding in all the right places, letting him speak. But more often than not my mind would wander, and I’d gaze at the blank blue sky, or the dull grey clouds, thinking of things Gran told me.

One day he said, ‘Tell me what you are thinking of.’

And in the interest of honesty with my future husband, I said, ‘My grandmother.’

‘Is it the anniversary of her passing?’

I shook my head. ‘The thoughts just strike me sometimes.’

And because he was trying to make an effort with me, he said. ‘What are stars?’

‘Gran said they floated in the night sky, glittering, hundreds of years ago.’

‘What were they made of?’

Gran had tried to explain this to me before, but I was only young and didn’t understand. We had this joke about it, where we would say each star was a garden full of fuchsias, glowing with brilliant light given off by the flowers. I’m not sure where the joke came from, but it made me smile to think of it.

I didn’t want to share that with Brant. So I said, ‘I don’t know.’

 ~

The ceremony of the harvest came and went, the time of marriages drawing near. My friends and I received our life partners and no one was surprised when mine was Brant. While my friends talked excitedly, I felt myself shrinking.

Thinking about it, accepting it, had been easier when it wasn’t so close. Now it had an officialness, a certainty, it terrified me.

There was only one way to get out of a marriage that was an option for me. Pilgrimage. A spiritual journey of self discovery, usually taken at a moment of great personal challenge for the pilgrim. Not wanting to marry Brant didn’t count as a great personal challenge, which meant I had to lie and invent one.

‘Meimei,’ I said to the spiritual leader, Sheamea, ‘I fear…’ And I said what I knew they feared most of me. ‘I fear that I am more like my grandmother than I should be.’

Brant’s father may have taken care of all the logistics of village life, but Sheamea was responsible for our spiritual health and she had just as much power, probably more.

‘What makes you say that?’ she asked.

‘I have… thoughts.’

‘About?’ Her voice was gentle, coaxing, but I feared her, and the power she had over my life. I spoke my next words to the floor.

‘About ideas. About being better than I am. I fear I need to get away. To have nothing for a while in order to appreciate what I have. I fear I will not be a good wife.’

The thought of being anyone’s wife brought tears to my eyes and I let them fall. They helped lend sincerity to my words. I thought of Gran in the Otherworld and sent a quick prayer asking for her forgiveness. I imagined her laughing at me for even feeling the need to ask.

~

I was trained for my pilgrimage for two months before I could leave. I was taught the right routes to take, how to hunt and forage, build fires and shelters. I learned to handle a small knife as a weapon and a tool.

My friends got married. I watched them go through the ceremony one by one, each time questioning my choice and each time feeling no envy for them, making me sure my choice was right.

Brant vowed to wait for me, even applauded my actions. ‘You need to work through these things before they cause problems,’ he said. ‘It’s wise of you, Sunia.’

I smiled and thanked him graciously for his kindness and patience. I tried to feel bad about it, but couldn’t.

~

When the time came to leave, I followed the marked trail for three days before taking out an old map Gran made after her pilgrimage, marking her route. Using the skills I’d been taught in preparation for my journey, I worked out how to get back onto her route.

Her voice was in my ear, telling me about the landmarks she saw – an ancient tree, the bones of some long extinct creature, the spine of a mountain. And then the fountain of knowledge, where she’d learned about the stars.

I thought I’d missed the ancient tree, but if I walked in a north-easterly direction, I would come across the bones. Then I could make my way to the spine and the fountain.

It was hard work. Feeding myself took up much of my energy, the terrain was rugged, the conditions harsh. There was not much with which to build shelters. But the thought of Gran’s voice, her stories, the sparkle she got in her eyes when she told them, spurred me on.

After three further days, I found the bones.

They twisted around like the body of a snake, only this snake must have swallowed whole villages. Its bones were mostly intact, though in some places there were gaps, and a red-brown colour. I touched my hand to them. They were cold, but hard. Time hadn’t worn them even close to dust yet. I wondered how such a magnificently sized creature had died, and why there were no others. It must have been lonely, I thought. Perhaps it died of a broken heart.

Knowing I was on the right track helped me push on further, faster. My legs ate up great distances every day, until I passed the spine – an enormous spire that shot into the sky, so tall I could hardly see the top of it. Vine plants curled around its base, clinging to its jagged edges, but they ended less than a third up its height, defeated by the altitude. Birds circled around it, a little higher, but not much.

I made camp there that night, knowing I was close, lighting a small fire to combat the absolute darkness of the starless night.

~

The fountain was the only thing Gran had not described to me in great detail. The tree, the bones, the spine – these were fixtures of my childhood stories, though seeing them in real life was an entirely different experience. The fountain, I knew nothing of, except that it was less than a day’s journey from the spine.

I looked for a body of water, and found nothing. I looked all day, sure I’d gone past it sometimes, other times thinking I hadn’t gone far enough. As the darkness started to settle in, wrapping around me, a soft rain began to fall and I looked for shelter. There were no trees out there, no convenient branches to construct anything with.

I retraced my steps, back to a small cliff face I’d walked along earlier. There was a small cave formation at one point that would do. I walked quickly, the slippery ground and increasing darkness making the journey perilous. I was ready to cry with relief when I found the cave.

Inside, I used a little of my stockpile of kindling to light a small torch for myself. It cast a soft light on the rocky interior of the cave, illuminating a path that cut deep into the cliff face. I followed it back, away from the cold rain. As I walked, it felt as though it was getting warmer and I thought it was just the rain drying from my skin.

I’d walked far enough into the cave to set up a decent bed for the night, but curiosity kept pushing me forwards. The air seemed to hum with energy, the temperature now noticeably rising. I followed the path further back, until I came to a cavernous room, the darkness of which, my torch barely dented. I thought about turning back, but took a step forwards instead.

Light. Harsh and blinding light struck me with near physical force. I snapped my eyes shut, grabbing my knife from my belt, wielding it wildly in front of me, attacking ghosts and other enemies I could not see, my heart pounding in my chest.

When nothing struck me, and my blade continued to cut only thin air, I risked opening my eyes, a fraction at a time to let the light in gradually. As they adjusted, I saw that the room was empty, except for a pillar of glass. The light came from the ceiling – a hundred or more small globes, glowing with light brighter than the sun. I wondered if they were Gran’s stars.

Gripping my knife tightly, still, I walked to the pillar. As I came close, the humming in the air intensified, and then a flicker of colour shot across the pillar. I jumped backwards from it, knife held in front of me, but when it did not move, I risked stepping closer.

Suddenly, a face appeared from within it. A bland face – no colour, no personality; features that just happened to be there, not creating any character. It looked at me, and I wondered what sort of ghost or monster this creature was.

Then it spoke.

‘What would you like to know?’

Its voice was soothing, as bland as its face, difficult to know whether it was male or female. I looked around me for signs of movement.

‘What would you like to know?’ it asked again.

There was nothing else I could do.

‘Tell me about the stars,’ I said to it.

Story: Oasis

As usual, earlier instalments under the writing tab!

Oasis
By Liberty Gilmore, 24/12/12

Adam and Ava learn of a prophecy.

Ava woke the next morning to a pounding headache. Her eyes burned when she opened them, and her mouth felt desert dry. Memories of the night before were hazy in her mind, and though she quickly got the impression there were things about it she’d probably rather not remember, she kept straining her thoughts until snippets and glimpses started coming through.

When they did, she buried her head in her pillow and prayed for sleep to drown her for a little while longer at least.

The next time she woke, a glass of water was on the bedside cabinet. The cool liquid soothed her throat and eased the pain of her headache, but wakefulness only served to help more memories slot into place. Ava cringed with each revelation.

‘Hey,’ Adam’s voice was soft from the doorway. ‘How you feeling?’

‘I’ve been better,’ she said, her voice croaky.

He came to sit beside her, Ava giving in to the pain of her headache so she could pinch her eyes shut and not look at him.

‘Can I get you anything?’ he said, soothing her back with a warm hand.

‘The head of whoever decided to drug me last night?’

‘Um, I was thinking more along the lines of another drink, some food?’

There was a gentle touch of humour in his tone, and Ava risked opening her eyes to look at him. ‘Adam, I’m sorry for…’

He placed a finger over her lips before she could get any further. ‘It’s fine, you weren’t yourself.’

‘No. Definitely not.’ Ava paused, realising how that sounded. ‘I mean, not that I wouldn’t want to, you know…’

Adam flushed bright red. ‘No, I know.’

‘Just not…’

‘Not yet, obviously.’

‘Yeah, no rush.’

‘No, none at all.’

‘Right.’

‘Right.’

They stared at each other a moment, awkwardness like a lead weight on their shoulders. A knock on the door made them both jump.

‘Will you go answer that?’ Ava said. ‘Give me a minute just to straighten myself out.’

Adam nodded and left the room. Ava headed for the bathroom, trying not to look in the direction of the hot spring bath as she splashed her face with cold water and ran her fingers through her hair. Her skin, usually pale blue in the spirit dimension, looked washed out and grey in the mirror, though the shock of cold water did bring a little vitality back. Pulling a dressing gown around the thin dress she was still wearing from last night, she stepped out into the living room where Adam was chatting with Percy, the Changeling.

Ava felt her shoulders tense at the sight of her, ridiculous, she knew, but she couldn’t help the primal reaction. Percy had done nothing, and if she’d intended to, it was only her nature. Ava couldn’t really justify holding a grudge about it. But she did.

The thought of Adam with anyone else just…

‘Hello, Ava,’ Percy said, and Ava knew the slight wobble in her voice was because she knew exactly how Ava felt about her. ‘How are you this morning?’

‘Funny you should ask,’ Ava said, unable to keep the harshness out of her voice.

‘I’ve brought you your things,’ Percy said, her voice falsely bright and cheerful, her face serious, glancing down at the bags, ‘Can’t stop and talk – things to do. I’m sure I’ll see you round though.’

‘Wait,’ Ava started, but Adam put a hand up to stop her walking out after Percy.

From somewhere within the house, Faolan emerged, sniffing the bags Percy had left on their doorstep. Adam looked down at them.

‘That was a bit weird,’ he said. ‘Even for her.’

He moved forwards, crouching beside Faolan. Ava stepped round him to close the door as he rifled through their things.

‘Everything’s still here, untouched,’ Adam said, pulling out a slip of paper. ‘Except for this.’

Ava put a finger to her lips and held out a hand for the note.

Adam and Ava,

You need to understand why Clotilda agreed to take you in. Please meet me at the Oasis outside of the village. We should be able to talk there without being overheard.

Yours in friendship,

Percy

Ava handed the note to Adam, who read it through, nodded, then handed it back to Ava, who screwed it up, then threw it into the smouldering remains of the fire. Even Faolan watched until it was nothing more than ash.

‘Are we…’ Adam began.

Ava nodded, cutting him off. ‘Do you want breakfast? I think there’s enough food in our bags to eat safely.’

~.~

Once on their way outside of town, Ava nodded to Faolan, who bounded off, running around them in circles, yipping occasionally. Ava trusted her Totem and his verdict that it was safe to talk.

‘You know when I said I was worried there would be a price for Clotilda helping us?’

‘Yeah.’

‘I think she wants something. From us.’

‘What, like…’

‘I don’t know what, or why. Maybe she thinks she can control me through you somehow.’

‘So you think she deliberately gave you some sort of drug to make you…’ Adam tailed off, finishing his thought with a wave of his hand.

‘I wouldn’t put it past her. I just don’t really understand what she was hoping to achieve.’

‘I know,’ Percy said, her voice quiet, Faolan sat by her heels panting, looking entirely pleased with himself.

Ava looked round at their location. They’d arrived at the Oasis. Not named so because it was in the centre of some arid desert, but just for the exceptional beauty of the place. It was a small pond, surrounded by trees and draping greenery. Pond flowers bloomed at almost every part of the surface, and a small waterfall through a rocky edge fed the pond from an idyllic stream.

Percy waved them over to the water’s edge, where the bubbling of the waterfall would disguise their voices.

‘I’m sorry,’ she started with, which didn’t warm Ava to her any.

‘For what?’

Adam’s hand went over her own in response to the sharp tone of her voice.

‘For dosing you last night. Clotilda made me. She wanted me to get both of you, but I couldn’t do it to Adam. I knew it wouldn’t work.’

‘Why would she want you to do that?’ Adam cut Ava off, squeezing her hand sharply as Faolan growled and she made a move to stand.

Percy looked ashamed, and spoke to the floor when she did speak. Ava relaxed back and let her.

‘There’s a prophecy in the Summer Court, that one day Spring, Summer and Autumn will unite to overthrow Winter. The prophecy says that the son of a Winter Fey and a human would lead the united forces. Of course, we all thought that was impossible – what Winter Fey would “sully themselves” with the blood of a Human? But then we saw you two…’ Ava thought she detected a hint of jealousy in Percy’s eyes, but knew it wasn’t for Adam particularly. Percy was a changeling, destined to spend one night with lonely humans all her life, never having someone she could call her own. ‘Clotilda thought she’d try and speed things along a bit. Hence trying to make you two fall into bed with each other last night.’ She looked sheepishly at the floor. ‘I’m glad it didn’t work. I don’t want to be responsible for spoiling things between you two.’

The look on Adam’s face would have made Ava laugh in any other situation, but she was struggling to find anything amusing about this situation.

‘I wish I could tell you to give Clotilda a message from me,’ Ava said, making Percy look up sharply, fear in her eyes, ‘but I know you’d get in trouble for telling us this much.’

Percy nodded. ‘I’m so sorry.’

‘We need some time to think. Do you think anyone can hear what we’re talking about in our house?’

‘Not in the central rooms,’ Percy said.

Which meant the bathroom, Ava realised, trying to resist the blush that she could feel creeping across her face. The whole house was built around the hot spring.

‘Then we need to go have a conversation about what to do next,’ Ava said, standing up, motioning for Adam to follow.

Story: Cobwebs

This was written as part of my Writer’s group a few months ago now. Thought I’d dust it off and post it here.

The story was based on three random things – a setting, an object and an action – chosen by random selection with a dice. I got prison, gold ringrescue.

It took me a while to get going with this prompt, then a story the Boyfriend told me about some cobwebs at a fire he’d been to started me off. The rest just poured out.

Cobwebs
by Liberty Gilmore, September 2012

She kept a clean house.

Part of that, she could admit now, was because of Michael, but it was also her own desire for cleanliness. A need for order. Mondays: Kitchen. Tuesdays: Bathroom. Wednesdays: Dusting. And so on. Time measured by rooms and tasks.

So it was the cobwebs she first noticed, steered back into her house by a firm but gentle hand. So many of them, crowding the ceiling space in thick swathes she had never noticed before. And why would she? Normally near invisible, and high out of regular eye line anyway – it was the smoke that had rendered them obvious, collecting thick in their delicate webs, betraying their presence like dust on a fingerprint.

And of all the things that should have horrified her, stepping back into that house, it was the cobwebs that stuck in her mind. The hidden filth of her existence laid bare. It was hard not to draw parallels.

‘Can I see it?’ she asked, and wondered if it was a morbid question. If many before her had asked the same thing.

The Fire Investigations Officer escorting her nodded, a short, sharp movement. He had the eyes of a man who had seen a lot of grief and knew it took on many different shapes, that you could never predict how it might manifest from one person to the next. He watched her, cautiously, and she wanted to smile, but knew it would not reassure him.

‘The room is badly damaged,’ he said, ‘but the integrity of the building hasn’t been too compromised. It’s structurally still sound.’ A pause, then, softer. ‘There isn’t much left. The boys came back yesterday to rip out anything damaged.’

‘I know.’

He lead the way, but stopped short of the doorway, gesturing for her to go ahead. There was no door anymore – perhaps warped in the heat, if not burnt – but the L shape of the room blocked most of the damage from her vision. Of course, the oven that should have been directly opposite the door was no longer there – instead a scar of soot and bubbling paintwork.

They had done a good job of gutting the place, she thought, as she stepped into the room. Nothing remained, no imprint of the kitchen that once was. Just an empty shell of a room, walls scorched black, the ceiling cracked and blistered.

He sat in here as it burned.

The thought rises like bubbles through her, expanding until it bursts. But there’s no grief left in its wake. Just a curious emptiness.

Have I forgotten how to feel? Did he take that from me too?

‘Ma’am, are you ready?’ the Fire Investigation Officer spoke softly, but it startled her.

‘Yes, sorry.’

‘No need to apologise, Ma’am.’

She had been warned that there would be nothing left – nothing undamaged by smoke, anyway. The fire started and stopped in the kitchen, but the smoke pervades, creeping between narrow gaps between doors, between drawers; filtering into every crevice. The house had been aired, the windows even now wide open, but the smell of it lingered in the carpets, in the walls.

The Fire Investigation Officer waited, respectfully, on the landing as she went into her bedroom. She opened her drawers, a waft of fresh smoke smell assaulting her, her clothes infested with it.

A fresh start, nothing carried forwards – isn’t that what you wanted?

Ignoring the drawers, she headed for the wardrobe. All the clothes were similarly tainted, but it wasn’t the clothes she was after.

She pulled out the box of hats and belts and other things that don’t fit nicely into any sort of order. She pulled out Michael’s football kit, once much loved but unused for months. She pulled out the clothes fallen from coat hangers, lost in the rest of the wardrobe detritus.

And there, beneath it all, sealed in a ziplock bag and tucked into the pages of an old Argos catalogue – kept for inspiration, or so she told Michael, not that he was likely to clear it out anyway – was her quarry.

She slipped it inside her pocket.

‘I’m done, thank you.’

The Fire Inspection Officer nodded, gesturing for her to head back downstairs.

‘Are you staying with friends for now, Ma’am?’ he asks.

‘Yes.’

‘Structurally, the building can be repaired and refitted in a few weeks. We have contact details of a few good cleaners who can help get the smoke smell out of the carpets, but obviously, if you didn’t want…’

‘I’ll be putting the place on the market, if that’s what you mean.’

‘Right, of course, I understand. Would you like any of the information we can provide, to help you get the house ready for it?’

‘Please.’

He left her outside the house, standing by the skip that contained what remained of her kitchen. Through the char and soot she caught glimpses of things she recognised. The shape of her unit handles, the microwave, glass melted out of the front but just about distinguishable from the rest of the mess.

Things that had mattered to her. Things she had cared for diligently. How unimportant it all seemed now. How quickly it had been reduced to rubbish in the fire.

And Michael. Fifteen years of hell and now he’d been taken too. Swept from her life, as fragile and inconsequential as a cobweb.

Smoke inhalation. Drunk, he’d fallen asleep while using an old chip pan. She’d only been out of the house because she’d been sent for more booze. A long walk, a long queue. A linger at the shop entrance to wait for a bit of heavy rainfall to pass. Because of this, she lived.

And he didn’t.

She had one thing left to do.

Pulling her gold wedding band from her finger, she balanced it on the edge of the skip. A simple piece of metal, but it had kept her trapped better than any prison bars.

And when you came round that corner to see the fire engines, didn’t you just hope…

She took out the ziplock back. Inside, still pristine, was a photograph of her. Before the bruises and the drink and the ‘you’re not worth shit’ and the apologies and grovelling that left her thinking that maybe, maybe, this time would be different. Well, this time it would.