Today on Words, Pauses, Noises we have for you a short work by one of our talented MA’s, Amanda Thorley. For a writer, the short story can be a great medium to explore worlds and find out more about your characters. It is also a wonderful way to peek into a moment in time and delve into the intensity of human (and sometimes not-so-human) emotions. Short prose can be difficult to work within, due to its brevity, but it challenges both reader and writer to see the nuances at the heart of the story. We hope you enjoy this peek into Amanda’s world. Words, Pauses, Noises invites you to share your thoughts about this story, and your experience with other short stories in general!
In the kingdom of Cyrene, the twins Petter and Lyra lived with their mother Johdila and their baby sister Fleur. They were happy there, and spent many long summers under the shade of the sturdy trees, sitting and laughing or playing together, out of the heat of the scorching sun. Around them they could see the green fields stretching out for miles ahead, and the forests of Cyrene, its leaves a melange of yellows, oranges and greens. There were a mixture of tall oaks, elks and pines in that forest, stretching far up into the sky, so high that Petter had to crane his neck to look up at them all the way to their tops. They knew that many animals lived in the forest, but rarely went in there themselves, unless it was in the company of the adults. Their mother would not allow it otherwise, she would only worry herself sick over them getting lost or attacked by one of the bears. When they were younger, the twins often used to wish they were allowed to go to the forest and play there. They longed to explore it and find all the various nooks and crannies to hide out in. Now and then they would be startled by the cry of an eagle overhead, and they watched it cross the sky in awe. They felt a pang of jealousy at the adults who sometimes went there to go hunting with their crossbows and large spears, often coming back with game such as rabbit and deer for their supper. They rarely had meat but when they did it was a hearty meal, their stomachs would be full and after supper Johdila would sit them round the fire, with baby Fleur on her knee, and she would tell them stories. Stories of the old people of Cyrene, how they came to be, and how they came to find this land after their old Homeland had been taken from them by the Moroi and how they journeyed for many years before finding their new home. Often Petter and Lyra would fall asleep by the fire, lulled by the sound of their mother’s soft voice and the shapes of the fire dancing against the walls of their cottage. Their mother would carry them up to bed, before laying Fleur down in her cot and going to bed herself.
Petter and Lyra adored their mother and one year for Lyra’s birthday she gave her a doll with beautiful rouged cheeks and lips. To Petter she gave a toy horse, and they would play with them indoors when the weather was bad. Sometimes the weather could be violent, the rain lashing against the windows of their cottage, rattling them back and forth. In winter it could be bitterly cold and blizzards raged, so the twins had to stay inside. The twins did not like winters; much preferring summer, when the weather was warm and they could go and pick fresh apples off the trees, or collect little orange berries from the bushes, so sweet they could have eaten hundreds of them, and the juice ran down their mouths and covered their hands. During the day Johdila and the rest of the women would go and tend the fields, sowing the seeds for the crops that would later be their food, while the men would go hunting, or fishing in the nearby river. Sometimes they would catch trout, or carp, or even pike. On other days they went chopping wood for the fires, and as the twins grew up they were allowed to help out with these tasks. Lyra sowed seeds on the fields with the other women, and, although he was not yet strong enough to help out with chopping the wood, from time to time Petter would go fishing, although he never caught anything particularly big. Gradually Fleur learned to walk unsteadily around the cottage, gripping her mother’s hand all the way.
One night, as the days drew in and the nights grew colder, Johdila lay asleep. As the rest of the cottage remained still and silent, Johdila dreamt of darkness on the horizon. She dreamt of the large shadows of men on horseback, shrouded in darkness. She dreamt of hooves thudding nearer and nearer towards the cottage, and of hooded faces she could not make out. She dreamt of someone bashing against the wooden door, and of furniture being swept aside by strong hands. She could hear the terrified cries of her child, and she wanted to rise up and go to her, but she could not. She was rooted to the spot. She could feel her heart beat faster and faster against her chest, and a cold sweat build on her forehead. In desperation she called out: “Fleur!” and awoke with a start. Immediately she rushed into Fleur’s room, her eyes darting about, checking for signs that they had been here. She could not see anything and with a sigh of relief Johdila moved over to the bed, peering under the covers to see if Fleur was still there. What she saw made her recoil back and her heart began to thud again. Rather than Fleur, there was a thin, deformed little child, curled up in a ball on the bed. In the darkness she could see its pitch-black eyes glow slightly, and she knew immediately that this was not her child. She cried out and stumbled back, clutching at a nearby chair for support. Lyra and Petter rushed into the room, having heard the commotion.
“What’s the matter?” Lyra asked her, a bewildered look in her eyes.
“It’s-it’s Fleur,” Johdila sobbed, and her eyes began to brim fuller with tears.
“She’s-vanished!” and her sobs became uncontrollable.
We encourage you to comment with your views on short stories, be it this one or any of your favourites. If you are interested in short stories, the editors here at Words, Pauses, Noises can certainly recommend a great many authors, from Raymond Carver and Ernest Hemingway to Stuart Evers and Z. Z. Packer. Drop us a line and we will gladly talk shop with you! See you again next week for another wonderful piece of writing on Words, Pauses, Noises.