What remained

The angel was frozen in a timeless pirouette, and we stared amazed as she shimmered in the golden torchlight. She was a fairy, a dancer, a story come to life. The batteries started to die, then, the bulb beginning to fade, and our reverent silence was replaced with childish panic as the music box and the room fell before the hungry darkness. We squeaked and squealed our way toward the attic ladder, that rectangle of comforting, steady light, chased by the metallic strains of an antique mechanism, its gears still grinding away a stilted tune, commanding the beautiful prisoner to dance on, with nobody there to see.

The sand concealed everything. There were no trenches, in my war, but no guns either. We had tents, canvas and nylon that we huddled beneath, waiting for the storms to pass, and spades. They say it was a town, once, a small one: shops and houses and parks. I can remember green, I think, can remember the lush lawns of my youth. The sand takes it all away, but we remember. Each day we wait, we remember, and by night we dig. Our shovels clink on stoops and gables alike, and we uncover the past one practised motion at a time.


This piece was written for Nika Harper’s Wordplay. The challenge was a two-paragraph story, with the prompts “when we were kids” and “what once was lost.”

It’s dark inside

Fatigue is but a word, so far removed
A shadow of the sweaty groans it brings,
When all I need is sleep, and yet unmoved,
I lie and fight his tugging at my strings.

My eyes are crumbling, weary mines of red,
And yet I cannot let the nightmare wake,
To sleep, perchance to usher in the dread,
I’m still aware. I’m vigilant… I break!

As silent shadows slink around my sight,
And blindness bids me stumble into sleep,
I lose my last connection to the light,
And all alone, in darkness do I creep.

And though I call them dreams, I know inside,
I sleep as Jekyll, but I stalk as Hyde!


This piece was written for Nika Harper’s Wordplay #14. The challenge was a sonnet, with the prompts “fading light” and “discovery.”

We, the victors

These hands,
Bent and broken,
Brutal tools of battle,
Rippling with rivulets of red,
Now claws.

No more,
The friends we lost,
It took them like the scythe
Our sisters, brothers, all to dust,
All dead.

We won,
Banners held high,
Yet still the blood was wet
As goblets were raised in triumph.
We won?

Tides turn.
It happened then,
The waters got too deep,
And we were stranded on a rock,
Too late.

Our fault.
We chose to fight.
No compromise was sought,
It takes two fools to stand on pride.
War came.

These hands,
The friends we lost,
Yet still the blood was wet
And we were stranded on a rock.
War came.


This piece was written for Nika Harper’s Wordplay #15. The challenge was a cinquain, with the prompts “weak hands” and “won the battle but started a war.”

There is no try

A man once sat down to write a masterpiece. Except that he wasn’t yet a man, not on the inside, and the masterpiece just wasn’t that masterful.

He wrestled with his words, afflicted quill and pen and pixels on a dozen pages, but what emerged was ever more tortuous, and less masterful still. His most precious convictions staggered across the sentences, crumbling into prancing, patronising parodies of themselves. The harder he tried, the more distorted they became.

And yet he tried. He wrote, he wept, he raged, but the words would not behave. Eventually, they stopped coming at all, and the man was left staring at a blank page.

It was some time before the words returned, tentatively whispering into his head.

The man asked, “Why did you abandon me, at my time of greatest need?”

The words replied: “It was you who refused to let us play.”

The man writes now, and the words come swiftly. He keeps two rules, keeps them on his desk and in his heart:

  1. Don’t be so bloody precious.
  2. Have fun.

This piece was written for Nika Harper’s Wordplay #13. The challenge was a parable on writer’s block, with the prompts “escalation,” “frustration” and “down but not out.”

Twilight Over Athens

Sheila Demetriou was considered odd by some, perhaps by many. Sheila, you see, had a tendency to fall in love with inanimate objects.

Before smuttier minds rush to the wrong conclusion, Sheila’s desires were not towards the products of seedy corner stores, nor for just any old objects: Sheila loved mirrors.

She loved the clarity of the glass and the rectangular perfection of the edges, but Sheila especially loved a nice bevelled edge. Her obsession was blissfully easy to satisfy, and her apartment was a maze lined with mirrors of many shapes and sizes. This confused many visitors, leading to some frankly stony silences, but she couldn’t stand to have a space uncovered by a layer of silver and glass.

Our story could have ended there, with Sheila and her thousand mirrors. However, there was one tiny problem: as much as Sheila loved her mirrors, she hated her own reflection.

Her favourite time of day wasn’t daytime at all, but sunset, when she could sit on her chair and watch the dwindling rays of light shimmer around the room, with only a silhouette to indicate her presence. In those moments, Sheila felt truly alive.

When the sun came up, she would see herself reflected over and over again, an endless parade of Sheilas, and she would instinctively cringe away. Sometimes, she would cover herself with a shawl from head to foot, and try to imagine that she was someone else. It never worked: the mirrors could see through her deception. A better strategy was to sit in odd corners of her apartment and angle the mirrors obliquely. This would bring the gorgeous Greek coastline inside, and Sheila enjoyed sitting and staring at the bevelled water, trying to avoid meeting the curious stares of passers-by, who were drawn to the glimmering reflections in her apartment windows.

It wasn’t that Sheila was ugly. Nobody would want to be near her in a dark alley, or, worse, in a well-lit alley, but her ugliness wasn’t the problem: it was that she hadn’t always been ugly. She once was beautiful, but her own pride and another’s jealousy had stripped that beauty away.

Sheila had heard tell of an amulet, a magical talisman that could help with her affliction. If it could restore even a hint of her former grace, she would be content, but finding it had proved difficult. The stories were plentiful, but the amulet remained elusive, and her years of searching had led to despair.

In the depths of desperation, Sheila visited a fortune-teller, a seer. The seer stared deep into Sheila’s purse, and told her that what she sought was “nearby.” Sheila stared deep into the seer’s eyes, and he spoke no more.

She visited another seer, then another, but their responses were vague and the amulet remained out of her reach.

Finally, Sheila summoned up her courage and went to visit the Oracle. She knew about the Oracle, of course, but it was daunting to visit someone who knows all of the answers before you even ask the questions.

The Oracle lived up to her reputation. Her door swung open before Sheila had knocked, and she was swept inside in a flurry of overlapping greetings and revelations.

“Hello my dear come in you were about to knock but now you never will, so did I know that you would knock or did I know that I would stop you from knocking and now you’re wondering about my sanity and if I ever get a chance to breathe? There’s too much flapping around in here,” she continued, tapping on her ancient skull, “and I have to let it out or the pressure will build up and there will be a simply dreadful explosion. Have you ever tried to get bone out of the carpet? No I don’t suppose you’d have that issue, dear, but trust me, it’s not a pleasant one. Now you’re wondering whether you should speak? No, don’t bother, I know why you’re here, and it’s much easier if I do the talking, you’re doing me a favour, really. You didn’t need to kill those frauds, and you’re sorry, but at least they won’t be doing any further harm, no weeping, poor girl. As for your question, yes, I’m pleased to tell you that there is a solution to your problem, it is the amulet you’ve been seeking, and I do know where it is. You want to know exactly where, of course, and it’s, oh, under that chair, I think. I’m sorry about the mess, my house tends to reflect my mind. It’s not there? No, of course not, I put it on the counter, so you’d be able to find it. Well? Hurry up girl. Put it on. There you are, problem solved. Would you like a coffee? No, no, that’s all right. Now off you go, I’ll email you the account in a day or two.”

Sheila made her way home, somehow, still puzzling over the strange woman and her words. She didn’t feel any different, aside from the dull weight of the amulet around her neck and the confusion that pulsed through her. She needed some time to think. She needed her mirrors.

She opened the apartment door and rushed into the room of reflections. What she saw astounded her.

The amulet had not returned the pink cheeks and glossy hair of her youth. It had not unwoven the wrinkles of age, nor even restored the plump curves that had so inflamed her suitors of old.

Looking back from the mirrors was still the crooked, wretched face of a Gorgon, a face with the power of petrification. And yet, something had changed.

For Sheila stared, and she did not hate. She stared, and stared, and the tiniest tear welled up in her eye. She stared some more, at an infinity of smiling Sheilas, and the teardrop broke, running down a face that was already hardening and growing cold.

This piece was written for Nika Harper’s Wordplay #12. The challenge was magic, with the prompts “indigenous” and “an amulet of love and mirrors.”