All that glitters…

 

The cave was partly hidden but unmistakable from Cutter’s elaborate description. The steep slope, at least fifty meters down, was daunting but if what he said was true, well worth it. Cutter was a strange one; I still question his motives for telling me about the coins. But I have always been a sucker for an adventure. So here I was standing on this precipice looking for a way down that would not splatter my brains onto the rocks.

I approached it like the Climbing Wall in my gym. Without the harness any misstep would be fatal so I took my time testing my footing before putting my weight on the rock. It was arduous and exhausting work. The cliff-face was too jagged to abseil but I still took the precaution of tying a rope around the bull bar of my Hilux parked as close to the edge as possible.

I rested on a huge boulder jutting straight out about thirty meters from the bottom and peered over the edge. The ledge was a long drop into the foamy waves crashing against sharp rocks. I had no way of knowing whether the water was deep enough to dive and the rope fell depressingly short. I had chosen to do this during low tide but still there was only a thin line of white sand separating the cave from the churning ocean. I wouldn’t have much time before the cave flooded.

I grabbed the rope once more and heaved myself over the edge. I didn’t anticipate the serrated rock obscured by the ledge and it sliced into my shin. I gasped in pain sliding down the rope until I hung about three meters from the water. Drenched by the spray I leapt feet first. The water tossed me like a salad but I was able to navigate the rocks and flung myself towards the sliver of beach.

It was wider than I thought and I lay gasping for breath. I sat up mesmerised by the blood soaking into the sand. A flash of white told me the cut opened to the bone. I removed my t-shirt and tearing a strip off the bottom I tied it around the wound. I haven’t got time for this, I told myself sternly and stood. My shin hurt like hell and the makeshift bandage was crimson in seconds. I hobbled to the mouth of the cave.

It was dark and smelt of bat urine and rotting seaweed. I removed the headlamp from my waist pouch and put it on. The outer cave led to a smaller one, which I had to bend to enter.   An odd whooshing noise made me feel as though I had my ear to a conch shell. I turned my head, the light leached into the corners and shadows danced off the oily walls. I saw the small bag tucked into a ledge cut out of the rock. It was heavy in my hand. I pulled it open and the coins shimmered under the gaze of my headlamp. I tucked it into the pouch, which slumped heavily against my stomach and limped out of the cave.

Getting back up was going to be a challenge especially with my throbbing shin. Blood pooled in my shoe and my foot was sticky. I gazed up at the rope out of my reach and my stomach lurched. The tide was surging in and time was running out. The rocks were uneven and slippery and I heaved myself up, climbing on my hands and knees, ignoring my screaming shin. I steadied myself and leaned over to clasp the rope but it swung away from my fingers. The waves crashed against the rocks almost knocking me over. I bent again and finally grabbed the rope with one hand. Years of weight lifting and bench pressing had finally paid off as my muscles strained under my weight. I kicked myself away from the sheer wall of stone careful to watch out for jutting rocks and pulled myself up the rope. I was breathing heavily from the effort but made headway achingly slowly. I reached the ledge and climbed the rest of the way up. I staggered over the edge with a yell of triumph.

There grinning malevolently was Cutter, a pistol glittering in the afternoon sun pointed at my head…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Second chances

 

There wasn’t much going on, but there was a sense of expectancy today as Maggie McCloud padded to the front door in her slippers. Foster her sleek black cat was meowing piteously on the other side. She opened the door. Foster gazed at her for a second, juddered his tail in greeting and strode into the house.

“Good Morning Foster have you been out all night then?” Said Maggie filling his bowl with cat food from the tin on the sideboard. She turned on the kettle. It was still early and the sky, framed by her kitchen window, was flushed.

Maggie made it a rule not to rise before six. She did not want to become like Mrs Gillis next door who wore her carpets thin pacing the floors all hours of the day and night. Time is a strange one, to be sure, she thought with a smile. When she had the children living at home there were never enough hours in the day. Now she struggled to fill them. She was not one for the telly. David, her husband of forty–two years had loved the football and the game shows.

“Come now love, leave the cleaning and sit here next to me. Lets watch ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’ together.” He would say and pat the worn sofa. She’d sit for a few seconds but it was torture doing nothing. Maggie wished now she had sat, held his hand and watched the programmes he had loved so much. There are no second chances in life she brooded, pouring hot water over the teabag. She shook her head and scolded herself. She was one of the lucky ones. She had enjoyed forty-two years with David. She still had two beautiful children and three adorable grandchildren who visited her on the last Sunday of every month.

She took her tea out into the garden and welcomed the sun’s salute to the start of the day. The garden called out for her attention and before long she was happily weeding with Foster weaving in and out of the flowerbeds.

Her doorbell chimed and she looked down at her wristwatch. Goodness me, she thought, it is almost lunchtime and I haven’t even thought about breakfast. I wonder who that could be? Visitors were rare these days. She shook the soil from her clothes, removed her gloves and walked back inside. The doorbell chimed again.

“I’m coming!” She called hurrying to open the door.

“Maggie?” A craggy face with a shock of white hair said.

“Yes…may I help you?” She peered up at him. He looked vaguely familiar but she could not place him.

“It’s Donny…er…Donald Masters.” He said shuffling. He looked embarrassed that she had not recognised him.

“Oh my word, Donny!” She flushed now. He had been her boyfriend before she met David. How had he found her? “Come in, come in.” She said standing back for him.

He walked inside the house and stood stiffly in the hallway.

“I’m sorry, I should have called. I have moved into the area and someone mentioned that you lived here. I should have called.” He said again.

“I’m happy to see you. My goodness, Donny it’s been years.” Maggie said. His face was lined but his blue eyes were unmistakable.

“Forty –six years this September.” He said and smiled.

“You remember?” Maggie smiled up at him.

“How could I forget? It was my greatest regret letting you go. You still look exactly the same Maggie.”

“Oh now that’s not true.” Maggie said and laughed. She blushed and turned to switch on the kettle. She made tea and brought out the biscuits she reserved for family visits. She felt an unusual fluttering of excitement. You never could be sure what life had in store for you from one moment to the next.

The Nolavia Curse Part Thirty

 

 

Anaira turned to face me as I walked towards her. Her eyes glowed like heated metal in the moonlight. She shrugged off her cape and it slipped onto the grass. Her white hair and skin were luminescent against the black of her dress. Her lips were strawberry red and parted and she looked breathtakingly beautiful. I had never noticed before how striking she was.

 

“Well, well Esereht is this a party of one? Is everyone hiding in the shadows? How dreadfully disappointing for you. You always fancied yourself a leader, didn’t you?” Anaira smiled.

 

“It is just me.” I said.

 

“Oh dear and I was so looking forward to a grand finale. And you noticed I brought all my friends? They will not be satisfied with such a paltry offering. Whether they like it or not Esereht, everyone in Nolavia is invited to the party.” She said.

 

“Anaira it is me and only me with whom you have a fight. Let it be.” My voice was steady and I felt no fear whatsoever. If this was to be my last hour I was ready. My shield was in place and Davalast; my dear Davalast was holding it firmly. I could feel the sensation of his energy around me.

 

“Esereht you are mistaken.” She spat. “I want the whole of Nolavia to quake with what I have in store for them. Not one man, woman or child will remain standing when I have completed my mission.” She stalked towards me until I could smell her breath. The scent of lemon zest and juniper was so distinctive memories licked at the edges of my mind and I shivered involuntarily.

 

“Oh dear, have I scared you?” She smiled again.

 

“Not at all. You first have to get past me Anaira.” She laughed a cold and mirthless chuckle.

 

“Oh Esereht you do make me laugh. I have three hundred Snilboglins, fifty dragons, eighty snoobabs and two hundred Vulcanas aimed at you at this very moment. I could crush you with a wave of my hand. Where is the sport in that?” She said.

 

“It has never been about sport for you Anaira. It is always about winning. I want nothing from you but it seems you want everything from me. I will not fight you. So you have to do what you will.” Her eyes darkened to gunmetal grey and she twisted my hair in her fingers. She drew my head to her and kissed me on the lips. I was so taken aback I froze. She took my bottom lip between her teeth and bit hard. I pulled away with a cry and put my hand up to my mouth. It was sticky with blood. Davalast must have kissed the coating away.

 

“You are so sweet Esereht but you see we are doomed you and I. In another world or another time, who knows we could have had something special. But you chose not to.” Regret flickered in her eyes for a millisecond and they became steely once more. “Your sacrifice will do no good, my dear. They will all die. I will personally see to it.” She stepped back and flicked her wrist.

 

The earth beneath my feet trembled as Vulcanas galloped towards me. I braced myself but when they hit all thought left me as I was flung up into the air. I hovered for what felt like minutes before plunging to the ground. I lay winded and gasping hearing their thudding feet once more. Three times they flung me into the air and three times I landed with a thud. The ground stilled as they snorted their foul breath on my face. My own breathing was rasping and my chest screamed. Flicking my hand weakly my lungs cleared and air rushed in unimpeded. I stumbled upright and shook myself like a dog.

 

Anaira gaped at me slack jawed. Fear flickered in her eyes and I felt overwhelming sadness that she was so tormented with hurt and anger.

 

“I Am Love Anaira. You cannot hurt me and I have no wish to hurt you.” I said. She shrieked and ran at me stopping inches from my face. Her beautiful features were twisted with rage. I did not avert my eyes from hers. She broke our gaze and stepped back flicking her wrist again.

 

The whoosh of dragon wings cut the air and panic made my legs heavy. ‘I Am Love, I Am Love’ I chanted under my breath. Massive talons seized my shoulders and I was lifted high into the sky. ‘I Am Love, I Am Love!” I shouted louder as the talons opened and I plummeted. I flicked my wrist and soared with less effort than usual. Flying has always been complicated for me but now I flew strongly weaving away from the dragon’s talons. I landed unharmed onto my feet on the grass.

 

A second later I was gasping for breath again as snoobabs hung on every inch of me snapping their sharp teeth into my flesh. Although they had not broken through the coating yet the pain was unbearable. My clothes ripped as I swung around and around faster and faster but I could not dislodge these fearsome creatures. My eyes rolled back in my head and my vision blurred. I tried to call out to Davalast but darkness was blotting out all sense of me.

 

To be continued…

TheDrop me a line 32! Nolavia Curse Part Nineteen.

 

Where better to wrestle with existential questions than in a garden? The road to change begins with our first step. If we are willing to stand vulnerably loving ourselves and everyone else then change is not only possible but also inevitable.

 

I felt a sense of peace for a brief moment but then a debilitating doubt. Who was I kidding? Was I Love? I thought of all the times I had been angry or judgemental. How could I believe just because I said I am that I could claim Love as myself?

“Esereht we feel your doubts. Do you not know that when you say I Am Love, then that is what you are?” The voice said.

“I want to believe it but why has there been nothing but death and horror on this journey here? I fear that you are not real.” I said desperate again.

“Are you real?”

“Yes of course but you are just a disembodied voice. I cannot see you.” I said.

“If you are real then we are real.”

“You say we but I hear only you.” I said irritable with this voice and its incomprehensible words. I couldn’t even tell whether it was male or female. Anaira was probably behind all this. It would be just like her to present herself as Love, and my defences would fall like the naïve fool that I am. Well I wouldn’t fall for it. I was a powerful witch and I had a mission and Anaira would not stop me from being successful.

“Only you create the war within you Esereht.” The voice said fading away.

I felt myself alone once more and sat on the bench burying my face in my hands. I wept bitter tears. I didn’t know what to believe. I didn’t trust myself but I didn’t trust anyone else either, I realised with shock. The birds continued to sing but now it sounded mocking.

I walked over to the rock and sat trailing my hand in the cool water. The sound was comforting. I leant against it and felt the firmness behind my back. I closed my eyes. The day dissolved as sleep seeped into me like blotting paper.

I observed myself sitting serenely beside a slow-moving stream. I was watching from behind tall grass. It rustled as it swayed complimenting the tinkling of the water. The smell of Frangipani flowers hung heavy in the air. The meditating me was oblivious of everything around her. I, on the other hand, was tense and alert, startling at every sound.

A branch crunched and I stared through the veil of grass. My breath caught in my throat. A lioness, sleek and stealthy walked through the undergrowth and stopped. She had seen my contemplating form. Her body rippled and she walked with cautious steps until she stood in front of the peaceful figure. Her whiskers twitched and she leaned in closer. She began to lick the arm of the other me but I could feel the rasping of her tongue on my own arm. At first it was pleasant like scratching an itch but soon it was as though the skin were being flayed from my arm. The other me did not flinch. I cried out and the lioness turned her head. Her amber eyes gazed into mine. It was as though I were looking into a mirror. Her eyes were my eyes.

I woke with my heart hammering in my chest. A peahen had wondered into the garden and was dipping her beak into the water. She shook her head vigorously spraying droplets onto my face and regarded me curiously. I stood up and she backed away joining her mate who was dancing a jig and splaying his magnificent plumage for three other drab but unimpressed peahens.

I couldn’t shift the image of the lioness. What could this mean? Was I the Lioness or the meditating woman? Or even the woman hiding in the grass? Or was I all of them?

 

 

To be continued…

Drop me a line 24! The Nolavia curse Part Eleven

Shaun sent this line and it is really misleading because this is only the beginning. This sentence helped me to see that everything is perception. We are saved from being overwhelmed when we see only the edges of the next moment.

 

The tide was turning. “At last,” I said breathlessly. I knelt next to Assennav putting my arm around her shoulders. The girl stirred and then threw her arms around me sobbing into my neck. I held her trying to control my own tears. I was trembling and exhausted.

“Oh, Esereht it was awful. I was so frightened.” She said.

“I know we tried to get here as soon as we could. You are safe now.” I said stroking her back. She pulled away suddenly and her voice was sharp and accusing.

“You told me to wait in the cave! It’s your fault. All of it was your fault!” She shouted.

“Now wait a minute, young lady…” I spluttered. Assennav burst into tears again. We were both still traumatised by the events of the last few weeks. Yelling insults at each other would be unhelpful. I stood up and stretched my aching back. Sezloc was still whimpering on the ground like a wounded animal. I walked over to him and he recoiled.

“Hold out your hand, Sezloc.” I said

“No you will hurt me again.” He spoke through clenched teeth.

“I only hurt you because you wanted to hurt me, do you remember?” He said nothing but held out the bloody stump. I covered the jagged flesh with my hand for a few minutes and when I took it away the wound was clean and healed.

“Where’s my hand? Why didn’t you give me a new hand?” Sezloc complained.

“Because you will just use it to do more harm. Let Anaira give you a new hand.” I said walking away.

“Anaira is dead to me.” He said mournfully. “She doesn’t care about me. She promised me you but in the end she left me here to die, with nothing.” Assennav screamed and pointed to scores of dragons crouched on the wall surrounding the castle looking like hungry gargoyles.

“Call off your watchdogs.” I said to Sezloc.

“I have no authority with them.” He said moving nervously to the door. “They only obey Anaira. I suggest we go inside. We will be safe there.” I cursed under my breath. Assennav was still too hurt and I was too exhausted to teleport. Anaira remained a threat and although I yeaned to be safely home I hadn’t forgotten our real mission. I could not abandon Nolavia and the only way was to get the sacred plant on the top of Sednasi Mountain.

The three of us entered the castle. Anaira’s presence was everywhere. I hadn’t realised before how much the portraits looked like her and the eyes vigilantly followed our movements.

I wandered the castle aimlessly while Assennav slept. I thought of Ruatnac and sat in a large ornately carved armchair and closed my eyes.

“Ruatnac where are you?” For moments I heard nothing and then I heard the Nirabus’s voice amongst angry crackling and spitting.

“Esereht, we are in trouble, Nolavia is in trouble! Anaira and her dragons have started fires all over the Island. We are surrounded and…”

“Ruatnac…Ruatnac, can you hear me?” I shouted leaping from the armchair. I should have guessed Anaira wouldn’t be wasting her time licking her wounds. I have to get back to Nolavia. I woke Assennav who looked up disorientated. Her face was ravaged and so much older than before. “I have to go back to Nolavia. Anaira has started fires all over the place. Are you strong enough to teleport or should you stay here?” I said.

“Don’t leave me, Esereht, please I can’t…” She started to cry again.

“Come hold my hand and concentrate on Nolavia.” I said muttering the charm that would teleport us back home. We were already disappearing when Sezloc grabbed my arm.

I sprawled awkwardly onto the green grass around my little house and Assennav grunted as she landed hard on her bottom next to me. Sezloc, the uninvited stowaway landed in the fishpond with a splash.

Acrid black smoke hung in the sky and it was difficult to see. The whole world seemed to be burning. I held out my hand and muttered a spell to clear the air. Now the flames dancing out of windows and doors were clear for all to see.

“Assennav, we need to put out the flames. It’s the reverse spell of making a fire, do you remember?”

“Yes I remember.” She said breathlessly and we ran to the nearest building. People were scattering about in confused circles and the sound of screaming was intermingled with the crackles and sizzles of the fire. We worked rapidly. Assennav was a good student and she dampened just as many flames as I. I summoned all my strength to beckon clouds together and calling Assennav to help we sent a combined flash of energy into the middle of them. With a rumble of thunder the clouds released their bounty of water on Nolavia.

Assennav and I lay down in the village park as the rain poured down all around us. We didn’t have the energy to shield ourselves and she reached her hand out to me. I took it and started to laugh. We had to sit up for fear we would drown from all the water pouring down our throats as we laughed and cried helplessly.

 

 

To be continued….

Drop me a line 15! The Nolavia Curse: Part one

 

 

Lynne sent me this line and it’s sparked the beginning of an ongoing fantasy series for young adults. If you have any teenagers in your life please send them this link. Drop me a line to move The Nolavia Curse forward and let’s see where it goes…

The girl just got under my skin, I couldn’t help my irritation and I wanted her out of my space.

“Out!” I said pointing gratuitously to the door. Assennav narrowed her eyes.

“You will be sorry, Esereht. I will make sure of that.” And she stalked from the room flicking her long blonde hair over her shoulder. She was a pretty one I’d give her that. I held onto the table steadying myself from the energy flare she detonated as she exited. I sighed. Energy flares have so much negativity attached to them I will have to smudge the house now. An added burden when I have so much to do.

Clouds converged ominously in the sky and the trees swayed and fretted in the gale that whipped down the gorge. I was used to Assennav’s temper tantrums and took little notice. She really was the most tiresome girl. Her father, Tarem, had placed her with me so that I could control her temper and the wayward magic that leached from her like sulphuric brimstone. He wouldn’t be pleased but my work was too important to be a babysitter.

Nolavia was in trouble and it was a far greater problem than a spoilt witch with a grudge. A nation previously greater than Camelot, it was now in danger of slipping into the Ocean – Literally. An Island about five thousand square miles of beautiful countryside, Nolavia was said to have broken away from the mainland about two thousand years ago during a cataclysmic earthquake. Cut off from the rest of the world it was nonetheless self-sufficient and fertile. The people on Nolavia eventually built ships to allow trade with the mainland some eight hundred miles away.

Since Anaira departed peace and prosperity has been the birthright of everyone on the island. But all that will come to naught if the sea swallows us. All the most powerful witches and wizards have worked tirelessly to prevent it but to no avail. A curse placed almost a century ago by the spiteful Anaira, one of the most formidable witches ever to roam this Earth, seemed unbreakable. Time was running out and disaster was imminent.

I poured over all the scrolls taken from Anaira’s lair after she vanished and every spell and charm book known and unknown to find an antidote to her evil curse. I’ve unearthed extraordinary and alarming spells but nothing to halt our slide into the watery depths.

I was not about to give up though. A plant said to grow high up in the Sednasi Mountains was our single hope and I was the only witch that had any chance of succeeding. I don’t say this out of arrogance or a need to elevate myself in any way. I have the burden of being Anaira’s only blood relative. I am also the most powerful Witch than still exists on Nolavia. It is an honour I would give up in a heartbeat as it has brought me nothing but heartache and loneliness. After all who wants to love a masterful witch? Everyone is afraid of me and yet I have the most gentle and calmest of natures, unless I am crossed, of course.

“Esereht? What is this I hear? You have sent Assennav from your chambers? I gave you all you asked for and yet you do not keep your side of the bargain.” Tarem was fuming but he knew better than to topple things. Nothing gets me angrier than chaos in my laboratory and Tarem would not want me annoyed.

“Tarem, your daughter is a spoilt brat and deserves to be locked in the stocks so the locals can throw fruit at her. I haven’t time to waste on someone who refuses to learn. She has talent but arrogance that far surpasses that talent.” I said over a steaming pot of emerald green sparks.

“Esereht, I am desperate. Her mother refuses to have her in the house and I fear for the safety of our other children. She is particularly jealous of Yroyve. She looks at him in a way that makes my skin crawl. Please we need your help.” Tarem’s shoulders slumped and all his bluster fell away. He was the wealthiest Merchant in Nolavia and generous to a fault. I felt ashamed suddenly. Yroyve, their youngest son was a special child and I did not want harm to befall him.

“Very well, I have to embark on a treacherous journey. Assennav can accompany me but if she gives me any trouble at all….” I look darkly over to Tarem and he nods. I don’t quite know what Assennav’s fate would be if she crossed me but I’d think of something suitable. I needed an assistant and to be honest the danger of this one would alarm any intrepid witch or wizard keen to win my favour. Assennav might just be the perfect mixture of obstinacy and ability for this mission.

 

   To be continued…

 

 

 

Drop me a line 14! Free falling into Fiction.

 

Andrew sent me this line and it birthed this story of redemption.

 

My chest fills with the thin mountain air of Tibet and my orange robe sways gently in the afternoon breeze. I have been here for eight months already and my past is finally fading into insignificance. I was older coming into this meditative life, all of twenty years. Most of the monks come as children.

It is quiet in the gardens as most of the others are resting in their quarters having been up since four this morning for prayers. I cannot sleep preferring to study the Buddhist texts under a tree. I have so much to learn. I still receive the odd thwack between the shoulder blades for yawning during morning prayers.

My mind wanders and I close my eyes to regain the sense of peace I had moments before. It eludes me and I put the heavy book down on the cool grass and lean against the trunk of the tree. Bells tinkle in the breeze and the sweet smell of apple blossom suffuses the air.

I remember the day I arrived at the ornate doors of the monastery. The deep rumble of monks chanting evening prayers seemed to swirl in the valley. I was exhausted, dehydrated and near death. I fell down at the foot of the door weakly hammering the heavy wood. The chanting was without pause but someone lifted me up. I remember drifting in and out of consciousness as a cool hand mopped my brow or coaxed warm soup between my lips. Later I heard that it was many days that my sickness lasted. They asked no questions and I gave no explanations.

It is as though no time has passed and I am plunged back into that time.

My parents were simple farmers in the mountains. I had loftier ideals and left for the city to seek adventure and wealth. I met a man called Hassid with stubble on his chin and a shifty eye but I noticed only the coins he held out so willingly. If I had known accepting his money would lead me down a path so dark and painful, I would have turned away to look no more on his face. But I did not. He took me to a man he called Hakima, whose mouth held much cruelty and his eyes knowledge of evil that up to that point I had no inkling.

“You are now mine.” He said handing me a wad of more money than I had ever seen. I ignored the uneasiness in my body.

It was not even a day before I was ordered to deliver and pick up packages all over town. I did not open them preferring not to know what they contained. It was through Hassid that I took my orders.

“You go to Hakima now.” He said one morning and his mouth was sulky.

“I don’t want to.” I said, afraid.

“You go now or you go nowhere ever again.” He said ominously.

Hakima was like a tiger circling me. I held my breath as he prodded my chest with his finger.

“I am happy with your work but it is now time to prove your loyalty to me. You will go with Sadat and follow his instructions.” He held out a handgun. I shied away but he took a step towards me. I took the pistol from his hand although I trembled.

Sadat was a big man with a shaved head and I followed him without speaking. He walked fast and purposefully up and down deserted alleyways. I followed tripping to keep up with him. He stopped and took out a pistol tucked into his belt. The gun Hakima had given me was still clasped in my hand.

A fat man with sparse strands of hair plastered wetly over his scalp was standing smoking a cigar and talking to three men listening with furrowed brows.

“This comes compliments from Hakima!” Shouted Sadat and his gun exploded and the man fell to the ground. I dropped the gun and ran. I ran for days without food, drinking from stagnant puddles and finally dropped at the doors of the Monastery.

The bells ring out the start of evening prayers bringing me back to this place. I pick up the manuscript and walk back inside. The Monastery is my sanctuary. I have been called to this life of quiet contemplation and I will live out my days here.