Keep The Fire Alight
7 October 2015
Bare skin on plastic, a collage of ether dreams, now crystallised.
A 500-word short story I entered for the September CultOfMe competition – I didn’t win. I know, scandal.
The brief was to write 500-words or less inspired by the accompanying image. I really enjoyed writing it, and it was a challenge to keep the word count down. I really recommend it as a great writing exercise, every word mattered and the result is, as you might expect from the picture it inspired, a dark and atmospheric story.
I hope you enjoy it.
Artwork: The Space Inbetween by Luciana Nadelea
Keep The Fire Alight
Marjorie’s thick hood protected her from the rain, but the soft thud of drops battering echoed within its dark aura. They let her know it was raining hard. Even with her face covered and her body cloaked, she knew that tonight was no night for adventuring. Yet she battled on through slicks of muddied, sloping moorland with graceless fervour, distancing herself from the sweeping torchlight at the old manor’s edge. She dragged a well-fed burlap sack behind her, carving the wet earth. It still smelled of old potatoes. To a girl of nine these hills were mountains, this storm a hurricane.
Gentle folds in her black, patchwork cagoule distorted the moonlight and she shone – a beacon of hope for the girls that crowded the manor’s frost-crept windows. They vied for clear lines-of-sight beyond the craggy perimeter, edging and shoving gently, with a respect that comes only through the marriage of shared hardship and malnourishment. These glassy-eyed girls had chosen Marjorie, the strongest of them. They’d sewn sheets of black polythene, liberated one strip at a time from a roll which was used to line the greenhouse floor, and made a garment to shield her from the elements. Bare skin on plastic, a collage of ether dreams, now crystallised. And as Marjorie’s form diffused the light, their eyes followed, up and down, tracing her fight with what seemed like endless peaks. But then their pinprick pupils dilated as the polythene torch became muddied and heavy.
“I can’t see her anymore.” A girl at the window said, it didn’t matter which, for they were as one.
Seconds passed before another offered kindling to the starved flame inside them all, “If we can’t see our Marjorie, then he won’t be able to find her!”
“Let’s pray for her.”
And they did, for it was all they could do – frail luminaries casting last bursts of incandescence into some skyward plea.
As Marjorie fought over the final peak, inhaling stabs of icy air, the clearing before the forest’s edge was revealed to her. Two saplings stood just ahead, in defiance of the ancient trees which marked the sharp forest line – the point at which nature had appeared to decide: nothing beyond here lives. We do, she thought looking back one last time. Knowing then what must be done she stepped toward the left-most sapling, opened the sack and reached into the dark with blistered hands, feeling for those hard, familiar reminders of their keeper’s wrath. Through the assortment of stale offerings her sibs had gone hungry for, she removed the first skull. Staring into the voided eye-sockets she began to cry, in sadness and profound relief. “Rosie…” She mouthed, weeping as she threaded it through the uppermost branch. Tears and names flowed as each skull was woven into these two young trees. All faced the manor.
“Watch over them for me a while, sisters.” She said.
And she fled into the forest, the torchlight dying at her back.