Writing prompt #17 –29 December

Yes, it’s been longer than I expected since the last one! But I haven’t been entirely idle in the meantime, what with festive wossnames and writing a story that doesn’t quite capture the spooky brittle feeling of the track it’s based on, but anyway.

So here’s today’s prompt. Feel free to use “purple” (or “lilac”, or whatever colour you think it is) for your prompt, if you’d prefer!

See below
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Calming Tummy Tea – Herbal Tea Blend – Certified Organic
Tonight is the longest night of the year. Winter solstice is when Raunächte* start. This is a very special mystical time for me. It is the time to let go of old things and make room for new ones.
*twelve days of Christmas

Twenty Four Twelve Twenty

A different one, this, completely out of sequence from my tea sachet challenge, but still a piece composed entirely from a (relatively) random prompt.

A couple of days ago one of my favourite bands, the wonderful 65daysofstatic, released an updated version of one of their earlier tracks. A Discord discussion earlier today about this, and the sample near the start, led to a suggestion that this should be a story. And when I read the words, I knew I had to write something.

The roads are blocked And we cannot get through. Twenty-fourth day, twelfth month. Tonight will be the last transmission. In a dream of ropes and steel I am a feather falling endlessly, without ever hitting the ground. Christmas is cancelled.

Now, as I’ve mentioned, this is an updated version. The sample in the earlier version, which I wanted to include as well, went like this:

The children have escaped. Twenty-fourth day, twelfth month. Today will be the last transmission. Christmas is cancelled.”

And just to make things really difficult, a fellow 65kid added another, very appropriate sample, from a track by another favourite band, Godspeed You! Black Emperor (who I saw live in another life, when we were all humans):

“The car’s on fire, and there’s no driver at the wheel.”

Put them all together, and you get this, or something very like it.


We still hear other voices, sometimes. Voices in the darkness, through the crackling static and the whine of the radio waves.

Men’s voices, mostly. There don’t seem to be so many women – and I look around our small group which is mostly women now and I wonder, does that mean our group is different to have so many? Or do the women in those other camps out there, those audio sparks in the dark night… do they just save their energy for more practical things than keeping in touch with what’s left of the human race?

I know some of the voices now as I didn’t when I was younger. The Tingler, from somewhere in central Europe. Sanna, from Norway, who just sings and cries now although I remember when she used to speak. Omar, who speaks Arabic so all we can understand is his name. Years ago it seemed normal to me that there were people talking, singing or swearing from the radio set in the corner of the big house. And there seemed to be so many of them, overlapping and competing with each other, sharing their news. Some of them even having conversations, lucky in being able to transmit and receive, where we have only ever been able to listen.

Now there are fewer voices, and they’ve settled into a routine, I suppose a bit like the radio programmes Mara told us kids about during our school time. That was when we still had school time. When there were enough children to make it worth an adult spending time on teaching us about how the world used to be.

I was sick when the other kids left, a year ago. I’d been sick for a few days, so I didn’t even hear them talking about it, but I can guess who started it. Lee was always the leader of our little gang, always the one urging us to do things we shouldn’t or that we didn’t really know how to do. Like trying to blow up the rusting car in the corner of the top field – which didn’t explode but did make a huge cloud of thick black nasty smelling smoke – or mixing magic potions out of the bright coloured liquids on the top shelf of the workshop cupboard, which put Anna in the sickbay for a week and the rest of us on hard chores for a whole month.

So when the other children escaped… I knew it was because of Lee. Recently he’d been saying he thought the leaders were just keeping us in the compound because they were stupid, or mad, or sick or something. His reasons seemed to change every day, with each new kid he explained his theory to.

“It’s because most of them are girls”, he’d said to me scornfully. “Girls are always scared of everything. The leaders have been out and seen the world and all the big machines and roads and other people out there and they’re scared and they don’t want us to go out because then they’ll have to as well, and we’ll see the world is just like it always was. There’s just us stuck in here, in this stupid compound.”

“But the radio…” I protested.

“Fake!” he screeched. “All fake, made up by the government to keep us in our place.”

“But…” In the face of such certainty I was beginning to doubt what Mara had taught us, the books we’d read. “But…we’ve been out”, I finally stammered. “We’ve seen what it’s like out there, the roads all smashed and the broken cars everywhere and all the towns burned or in ruins.”

Last winter Lee and I were both 11 and the oldest of the kids. And so we were allowed to start going out on patrols with the adults, trying to salvage anything useful that hadn’t already been looted ages before. One time we walked for five days away from the compound and still didn’t see another living human. There must’ve been some around, because we came across a car that was still burning, but there was no driver at the wheel and no sign of where one might have gone.

But even so, I couldn’t see how Lee could possibly think this was all some kind of hoax. What would be the point? We weren’t that important. Why would anyone ruin so much of the country just to keep the 40 of us in our little compound?

Lee was stubborn, though, and the other kids were in awe of how he stood up to the adults, and so when it turned out one December morning that all the kids were gone – at least all of them older than four-year-old Fiona – well, I hadn’t exactly been expecting them to do something so stupid or I’d have warned Samira or Joanna. But I wasn’t entirely astonished either. I was surprised we never got them back, though. I expected them to be gone for a few hours at most. But we’d all been taught how to operate the motorbike, and they’d taken it and the bike trailer too, so they had a good head start. And it began snowing that morning, heavy fat flakes drifting down like feathers, the thickest snow any of us had ever seen, even Joanna, and she’s ancient. So by the time we worked out they’d headed east, towards what was once a big city called Birmingham (I can’t really imagine a city, but Mara used to tell us about them, and there’s a picture of a place called Cardiff in one of our books)… Well, anyway, the roads were blocked and the search party couldn’t get through. And Samira just said she’d never send more of our people there, not after… And then she looked at me and Fiona and stopped speaking and the adults went and argued in the workshop for a long time. In the end, Louise and Diane went after their three kids, and Brendan went with them – still insisting Lee couldn’t have been involved and that it was all a government conspiracy. And Eddie and Richard went as well, but they left their wives behind. Only after a week Marie and Sara went away one night too. So now there are only 24 of us.

None of them came back. Nobody who ever goes east ever comes back. Sometimes, when I was little, walkers would come to the compound, in ones and twos – dirty, tired-looking people. We’d swap food for information, and one of them was James and he stayed, but none of the rest of them seemed to be much use and so we didn’t let them in and after a day or two they’d move on. And we’d never see them again.

So I listen to the voices on the radio, at night – always at night, they’re strongest then – and I dream of where those voices are coming from. And I’ve been thinking. We’d get a better signal if we had a bigger antenna. I reckon I could climb out of the attic window of the big house at night, onto the roof, where the antenna’s attached to the chimney. And I could fasten it to a scaffolding pole instead – I know where there is one in the long grass behind the workshop – and then I could attach the pole to the chimney and that would make the antenna loads taller. And that would be a great Christmas present for everyone and cheer them up from thinking about last year. I’ll be careful though – I’m going to tie myself to one of the steel brackets. I’ve got lots of rope.

Work in progress – I made the language a bit younger after I’d finished the story.

Potted

I couldn’t resist the one word that really felt out of place on the tea sachet.


If you’ve a few years behind you, you’ll remember the old butcher’s shops around the island. I recall one in Strand Street and one on the Terrace and one down in the row of shops near the cooling tower at Pulrose. They all smelled the same – of meat and the sawdust sprinkled on the floor. They all seemed to be run by large, cheerful red-faced men. And as well as sausages and chops they all sold things like brawn and chitterlings. And sometimes they’d sell potted meat. A prosaic name for a delicacy – at least to a child’s palate – and made even more special by coming in a little pot all of its own. And one of those butchers – and I’ll not tell you which, for I promised I’d never say – had the recipe from a witch, and that’s why it tasted so good.

How it came about was like this. At that time, the great grandfather of that butcher was himself a butcher’s assistant, with no prospect of ever being anything more. And he was walking through a field out Lezayre way one day with his gun, for he’d been after rabbits. He’d been lucky, and he was carrying three fine fat conies over his shoulder as he strode towards home. And as he came up to the foot of the church, where in them days there was a little well to capture the fresh water from the spring, who did he see sitting there on the big stone by the well but Lilee the witch.

For in them days everyone knew who was a witch and who wasn’t. Not like these days when anyone with a bit of book learning can call herself a witch even if she knows nothing about healing or the weather or the ways of animals.

“Jem Costain”, said she as soon as he came within earshot. “I’ve been delayed caring for Peter Killey’s cows all day and I won’t get to the market before closing time. If you give me one of them fine rabbits for me tea, I’ll make you a rich man.”

Now, Jem had nothing against being a rich man, and he had no need of three rabbits, for two was more than plenty for him and his parents to sup on. And it never hurts to be in with a witch. So without further ado he unslung the fattest of those bunnies and presented it to Lilee with a small bow, as if he was giving the Governor’s wife a posy.

And the witch laughed, and said, “You’re a well-mannered lad and you’ll go far by your own efforts, but come and see me in the morning and I’ll give you something to help you along your way.”

Well, Jem could hardly sleep all that night for thinking about what the witch might give him. Surely it would be gold or silver? For everyone knew that witches could find buried treasure just by sniffing it out.

So you can imagine his disappointment the next day when all he got for his trouble was a recipe for potted meat, written up on an old scrap of brown paper. But you can’t complain about a witch’s behaviour – at least not to her face – so he took himself home and gave the recipe to his mother, saying nothing about where it had come from.

And when his mother made the potted meat, it was the tastiest thing any of them had ever eaten. So tasty that they ate the whole lot straight from the pan and she had to make some more that she was going to put into store. And this time the smell of the cooking brought the neighbours around, and they swore it was the most wonderful good thing they’d ever tasted too.

Soon word spread and people were queueing all down the road for a taste of this marvellous paste, and paying whatever Jem asked to get a bit. And so it wasn’t long before Jem had the money to open a butcher’s shop all of his own in Ramsey – where he could carry on making and selling the witch’s potted meat to all the folk of the north of the island – aye, and some from the south too!

Writing (with blank for Jem’s name, which I didn’t pick until after I’d finished!)

Writing prompt #16 – 23 December

Every day when I post the prompt I have to check the number of the prompt. Sigh. I’ve never really got numbers – my brain rejects them as soon as I’ve seen them.

Words, of course, are different. And here are today’s choices, some of which are definitely not what I’d have picked if I’d been translating this from German, but anyway:

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Winternight – Fruit Spice Tea Blend – Certified Organic
Have you got things that you have cherished forever? For me it is an aroma lamp, which I potted with a friend. Every year I use it to evaporate my favourite essential oils.

Market

A shorter one, this, because I actually did very nearly stick to the 15 minutes for a change!


You’ll have been at the market in Douglas, I’m thinking, the herring and the cockles and all them spuds and cabbages. Aye, and cloth of all types and boots and pots and pans and all the china you could ever need. And the Fair at Tynwald too – there’s not many on the island haven’t been there and eaten toffee apples and drunk lemonade and listened to the speeches. And there’s the markets in the other towns too, and sometimes the villages.

But I’d bet my best Sunday hat that you’ve never been to the fairy market – no nor even heard of it, I warrant. Unless you’re one of the lil’ people yourself, in which case begging your pardon, this is a tale for humans and no disrespect meant.

No, the fairy market isn’t meant for men and women, but only for Them Ones and all the other magical folk of the island. For indeed, if you’re a buggane and you’re after ointment to keep your teeth all shiny, or a phynodderee in need of a comb, or a fairy wanting a new dress, where do you get the best fabric? You can hardly be strolling into Looneys in Ramsey and asking them behind the counter to help you pick it out now, can you?

So the fairy market’s for other folk to sell to other folk. It’s held in the big field at the foot of Cronk Sumark four times a year, the solstices, and a great event it is each time. There’s chestnuts and apples roasted in the autumn and flaming torches lighting the market field in the winter, all fresh flowers in garlands in the spring and delicious rhubarb and gooseberry fizz in the summer. And music and laughter and a great deal of talking, for Them Ones are a solitary lot as a whole and they don’t get to chat with their neighbours like us humans. Indeed, for a buggane up there on the hilltop or a glashtyn down in the riverside reeds, ‘tis an awful lonely life.

And at the market they can buy whatever they want – wonderful things such as you could never imagine, come from the fairy realms and the workshops of magicians and the cauldrons of witches. Cloaks of invisibility, love potions, magic swords and seven-league boots aren’t even the half of it.

But as a mortal, you’ll never see the market, nor hear it, not even if you pass right by on the road under the hill there. For we aren’t all the same and we don’t all have the same talents in life – and if we did it would be a mighty dull world, I’m thinking.

Still writing.

Writing prompt #15 – 22 December

Here’s today’s sachet (as I mentioned on Sunday, I was a bit woolly-minded over the weekend, and I was in the kitchen about to take the photo of this when I got distracted and opened it instead. Feel free to use “Torn” as a prompt instead of one of the words in the text!

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Balance Tea – Herbal Tea Blend – Certified Organic
Have you planned your Christmas dinner yet? I have just started thinking about it. It should be something special. Often the best things are right at our door step. I find inspiration at the farmer’s market or the organic grocer.

Fortune – Listen

It occurred to me just as I came to the very end of this tale that I’ve completely forgotten to include baking in the last couple of stories. I did start writing a second part to Saturday’s piece, which included a bakery, but I wasn’t enjoying it, and this one contains nothing edible at all! Still, it’s my challenge and I’ll not include pie if I want to.


If you’ve ever visited the fortune teller at Tynwald Fair, you’ll know how it goes. You pay your money and the fortune teller brings out a green glass fishing float and tells you you’ll meet a tall dark stranger – or maybe a short fair one – and before you know it you’re back out on the fair field in the bright sunshine quick as if Them Ones had magicked you there.

Well, when Molly Joughin went to the fair with her Maddrell cousins from Greeba it was no different. Her and Tom Maddrell saw the fortune teller one after another, and they both had the same fortune – they were each going to meet a stranger very soon. Only when Molly was leaving the tent, the fortune teller took hold of her wrist and hissed, “Listen! You must listen!” But when Molly asked what she must listen to, no answer did she receive. The cousins could make neither head nor tail of this, but there were so many wonderful things to see at the fair that it was soon forgotten.

They were sat on the grass, taking turns at drinking lemonade from a bottle with a marble in the neck, when Molly saw her friend Aalish in the crowd. Childhood friends, they’d been, but Aalish’s parents had moved to Peel and they’d not seen each other for a year or more. Aalish was a pretty girl with red hair and blue eyes and white teeth, and Molly soon realised that Tom was talking only to Aalish, and she to him in turn.

And when Molly set off to leave with the rest of her cousins, Tom was nowhere to be found. “Gone to walk some pretty maid home to Peel”, said his mother indulgently. For Tom was her favourite. He was back home late that evening, blushing and smiling and keen only to discover from Molly all that she knew of Aalish. And she shared her knowledge willingly, for Aalish was an amiable girl and just the type to make a good wife for Tom.

In the morning Molly set off for her own home, ignoring the road and setting off up over the hill, past the mill and up onto the moors. For ’twasonly a couple of mile to her own home on the banks of the Colden stream. Born and raised on them hills, Molly was, and she’d been running wild up there from the moment she could walk. But on the Isle of Man the weather is apt to play tricks on you in the blink of an eye, and she soon found herself in a thick mist, barely able to see two paces ahead of herself.

She’d known where she was when the mist came down, but if you’ve ever been in that kind of weather yourself you’ll know well how every step can take you off your line, and how before long you can no longer say if you’re going uphill or down.

And so it came about that Molly was soon as lost as she’d ever been in all her 19 years. She wasn’t afraid, for she knew it would lift before many hours had passed. But she still had her best boots on, and could no longer see well enough to stick to the dry areas. For it can be boggy and damp up on the hills even in summer. So she took her boots off and knotted the laces and strung them around her neck, and tucked her skirts up into her waistband to keep them out of the mud, and then she stood and thought for a minute.

If she could find a slope, one way or the other, she’d soon know where she was, as she’d just have to keep going downhill a way until she recognised some wall or fence. But there seemed to be only flat ground with bilberry bushes and scratchy heather, and between them muddy puddles.

In the end she set off towards a patch of the mist that was maybe a bit lighter than the rest. And she’d not gone far when she saw a dark figure some way ahead of her. She was that pleased to see someone she almost called out, but as she drew breath to do so she suddenly remembered the fortune teller’s words. It was a tall dark stranger, right enough. But now she could see that the head appearing through the mist was that of a horse. She knew all the wild ponies on these hills and this beast was far too big to be one of them. But perhaps she could ask the rider which way she was headed.

Only… there was no rider, nor even a back for a rider to sit astride. And when she listened, as the fortune teller had told her to, she realised she could hear only one set of feet splashing across the boggy ground.

Her blood ran cold, and for a moment she thought she’d drop in a dead faint, but then she turned and ran, just ran away. Away from the glashtyn – the half-horse, half-man creature she’d heard of since she was small but never thought to meet.

She didn’t stop, she didn’t look back, and she managed somehow not to fall over in her flight. And soon enough she recognised a wall and then a tree and then another and before long she was in her mother’s kitchen, telling the story between great heaving breaths.

Now, later that day the mist cleared, and Molly and her father went back up on the hills to see what they could see. Plenty of footprints there were, of both man and horse – and possibly of glashtyn too. For who knows what Molly saw? There are certainly many more things up there in them hills than you might think, sitting in your nice warm home in the town.

And having writ, moved on.

Writing prompt #14 – 21 December

Well, it’s the shortest day, and even in the far south of Sweden that means it’s a very bloody short day, especially as we still haven’t had even a tiny bit of sunshine yet this month. But hey ho, writing waits for no one, and certainly not for sunshine. And it’s all uphill from here! At least in terms of daylight anyway.

Here’s today’s prompt:

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Green Fortune Tea – Green Tea Spice Blend – Certified Organic
Advent time is the time of reading. We have made it a tradition to share a book or a story that we particularly like. We cuddle up on the sofa, read, listen and talk.

Not a writing prompt at all – 20 December

I’m getting horribly confused here – I don’t seem to have posted a prompt yesterday at all, and my writing’s getting all tangled up. Why are dates, even? What is weekend? Who am December? And, of course, what the actual feck is 2020?

So I think on the whole I’ll just skip today and start again tomorrow and refrain from drinking any more of my tea sachets until I’ve got my head around what’s going on.

Musical

I started writing one thing, ended up with another, and this isn’t the “I’ll write a double-length one that uses two days’ prompts to catch up” I’d intended, so I think I’ll maybe just cheat again and say this is today’s story (rather than yesterday’s). Then again, it is the start of a two-part (or more?) story, so… It’s a tough life, being a self-imposed tea sachet challenge writer (but not as tough as living with a total imbecile as your Prime Minister*, obvs, a position I’m thankfully not in).

*this will make no sense at all in a few months, but you can Google the date if you’re curious.


In the town of Ramsey, up there on the flat northern plain of the island, there are all kinds of shops. One of them is an antique shop. And as you’d expect, it’s full of quaint, interesting things. Cuckoo clocks and jewellery, dim dark paintings where you can hardly make out the subject, old walking sticks with carved heads, jugs and vases of all types – and all objects with a story to tell if only you had the ears to hear them.

Unfortunately, in those days the shop was run by a Mr Crellin, and although he liked to see old curios, he preferred to keep them on the shelves of his shop rather than to sell them. He wasn’t so hard up that he needed the money, and he owned the whole building and lived in rooms over the shop, so he had no rent to pay.

That meant he was very reluctant to sell any of the antiques, no matter how much money the prospective buyer offered him. The prices marked for each object were already extortionate, but if ever a customer agreed to pay such an enormous amount he’d look at the vase or necklace or painting or whatever it was and shake his head regretfully and say, “Now that it comes to it, I’m afraid I simply cannot part with it. No, it’s much too dear to me to let it go”.

As you might expect, many people were very cross about this because they thought he was just trying to get them to pay even more. But some believed him and offered him a still greater sum, if it was an object they particularly admired. Always in vain. Mr Crellin thought it was a very poor month if he sold anything at all, and on the day our story begins he hadn’t sold anything at all for a whole year! Every day he opened the shop, and every day he sat there all day behind his desk, admiring the beautiful objects around him, and every day he turned away all the customers who came in. This made him very happy, but it didn’t stop him accepting more stock for the shop – no, indeed it didn’t. Sometimes it was difficult to find space for it all, but Mr Crellin had come to be skilled at stacking it all up and squeezing in an object of just the right shape for a particular gap, just as if he was building a drystone wall.

Well, now, just like a wall, it so happened that there was a bit of a collapse one night, and a few small things slid from the top of one pile and down onto the floor – or what passed for it, because it was several layers deep in Persian rugs, which didn’t add to the stability of the furniture. Fortunately the rugs also prevented breakages, but a musical box that had been in the shop for at least 10 years and probably a lot longer landed on its side with its lid open, playing a plaintive tune.

The tune wound down after a couple of minutes, after which there was a brief burst of high pitched oaths from the box, and then a small figure climbed out of it and stood on the rug, stretching her back to get the knots out.

“Well”, she squeaked, looked around at her surroundings. “I’m glad to be out of there and no mistake.” This was, of course, the clockwork dancer from inside the musical box. She’d been shaken loose in the fall, but seemed to be none the worse for her ordeal.

Slender she was, blonde haired and blue eyed and with a long green dress the colour of the spring grass, with a golden tiara and a pair of white dancing slippers on her tiny feet.

Yet she stamped around on the Persian carpet as though she was a soldier on parade. An angry soldier. For she was most unhappy at having been kept imprisoned in the box for so long.

Because Fenella – a good Manx name given her many years before by a good Manx lass – loved to dance. She loved to see people smile as she twirled around in her box to the beautiful music. She loved to make people happy. What she didn’t love was spending year upon year folded double in the darkness of her box, with only dust filtering in and never a mote of light nor a note of a tune.

She quickly assessed the antiques around her and, seeing a lighter patch that she correctly surmised was the front window, hitched up her gossamer skirts and started the long trek to the front of the shop – and freedom.

Writing in progress