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Friday, 9 April 2010

#FridayFlash: UCF Stories #6: Goddess Rising

Unlocking the gate at the rear of No. 13 Gallows Close, Simeon Chesterman put his shoulder against the wood and heaved. With an almighty squeak of protest the old gate suddenly shot open, depositing him in the slimy puddle that lay just across the threshold.

‘Shite!’ Simeon muttered, hauling himself to his feet and trying not to think too much about what he was attempting to wipe off the sleeve of his jacket.

Shouldering the gate shut again, he picked his way up the narrow path past piles of soggy cardboard boxes, builder’s rubble, dead pigeons – another one fresh this morning, and old shop fittings, to the rear door of the shop. He checked his watch – 5.02am, he was two minutes late.

Bloody cats, he thought as he flicked the latest feathery corpse off the back step with his toe of his shoe before unlocking the half-dozen five-lever dead locks and letting himself in.

As the back door to the shop closed, high above, a small piece of brickwork detached itself from the old building and began to fall. At the last second, the fairy threw off the Blending Charm and swooped low over the yard before executing a graceful climbing turn up over the wall and, picking a last fragment of pigeon feather from her teeth, disappeared into the gathering dawn.

Hanging his jacket on the hook by the door, Simeon set his lunchbox down on the table in the back room and flipped on the kettle. Tea, he thought, always start the day with tea, makes everything alright does tea. While the kettle boiled, he washed his hands, repeatedly.

He poured the tea, recorded his arrival time in a small black notebook, then removed his training shoes and wriggled his toes into a pair of bunny slippers, whose mouths opened to reveal rows of sharp, pointed teeth and growled when he walked. The slippers had been a gift from a customer in the USA, whose orders always came in by email from an anonymous US PO box return address, and whom Simeon knew only as “Jezebel.” It had taken him months to track down the particular volume “Jezebel” had wanted, his scars had almost healed, and he was more than a little grateful when the package had arrived by return.

Taking his mug of tea through to the shop, Simeon set it down on a coaster next to the till and went to check the Warding Charms he kept permanently set around the place, noting with relief no one, no-thing, had disturbed them.

Simeon surveyed his domain. Dust. Books and dust, that was what characterised Goddess Rising for the few who had ever ventured across the threshold, by invitation of course. Bookshelves lined every inch of the walls, free-standing bookcases and tables occupying almost all of the rest of the space, each overflowing with tomes and grimoires of every conceivable size, age and language.

After a quick slurp of tea, Simeon picked his way through the teetering piles to check for notes in the dumb waiter hidden in a back corner – only two volumes required today he read, and both in stock. The landlord must be taking it easy for once, he thought as he gathered up the two requested books and placed them on the dumb waiter’s tray.

As he closed the hatch Simeon sighed contentedly - he loved his job and could think of nothing better than spending his days surrounded by the smell of ancient texts, though at the back of his mind was a constant nagging doubt that he would be found out.

That nagging doubt, insidious in its tenacity, was because Simeon Chesterman had a secret. Something he had never revealed to another living soul, something that had coloured his view of the world since the age of sixteen – Simeon Chesterman had seen a fairy.

Just the once, in the woods behind his grandparent’s house on a scorching day in August, 1976.

The fairy had spoken to him at length about the Magical Realm and had told Simeon there was a plan for him, that one day he would play a vital part in a larger struggle. She had given him something, wrapped in a walnut shell and had told him to keep it with him always, that it was more important than life itself; Simeon assumed she meant hers.

The walnut shell and its mysterious contents, at which Simeon had never dared to look, currently resided in the shop safe, a much more secure place than anywhere in the high-rise council flat on a very rough estate across town that he called home.

By the time he had drained his first mug of tea of the day, Simeon had worked through much of his usual routine – he had checked the Wards, checked the dumb waiter, checked his email for orders – two, and one of the requested books would take some getting hold of. Ticking off these items on his internal list, Simeon bent down under the counter and opened the safe, making sure the contents remained untouched from the night before.

Realisation hit him with a wave of nausea, and he only just made it across the shop, wrenching open the door to the under stairs cloakroom before vomiting his tea into the Victorian porcelain lavatory bowl. The walnut shell was gone.

As he had torn open the cloakroom door, Simeon was nearly bowled over as a large, terrified cat streaked past. Completely bald, wild-eyed, and glowing a pale shade of blue, the cat shot behind a pile of books leaving dust motes swirling in its wake.

* * *

Swazzle and Pogmorton swaggered along Gallows Close, Swazzle throwing the walnut shell up in the air, bouncing it off his bicep and catching it again.

‘That was surprisingly easy,’ he said, ‘Now all we need is the book.’

‘Hmmm,’ Pogmorton replied, ‘Getting hold of that is not going to be quite so simple.’

‘Shame about the cat though,’ said Swazzle, ‘I usually quite like cats.’


I'd like to dedicate this story to my good friend @LauraEno, without whose persuasion encouragement I would almost certainly never have taken the plunge and written for #FridayFlash, Laura, this is all your fault! Laura is a great writer and you can find her blog here.



Karen from Mentor said...

Loved the tip of the hat to laura via the bunny slippers and Jezebel.

And I don't know if you intended this part to rhyme,[and it may just be ME] but I really enjoyed the sing song feel of it.

"Tea, he thought, always start the day with tea, makes everything alright does tea. While the kettle boiled, he washed his hands, repeatedly."

Now what IS in that walnut?????

Anonymous said...

The plot thickens.

The fierce bunny slippers made me chuckle. It's a good job you didn't post this on Good Friday, or I'd think you'd got it in for ickle Easter wabbits ;-) Mind you, I shouldn't imagine Jezebel gives a damn either.

Those pixies!

Enjoyed this instalment too Sam, thanks for a great read :-)

Deanna Schrayer said...

So you've brought Jezebel into the mix, heh? Great, fun story Sam, as always.

Laura Eno said...

You're so sweet, Sam! And my slippers and Jezebel are here too!
I'm so glad I, er, encouraged you to join our jolly band. Your stories are excellent!

Michael Solender said...

great name. great scene development and fabulous write. well done

ganymeder said...

I love the world you created. I was a tad confused about the fairy in the brickwork and then he announced he'd seen a fairy once in the 70's. Did that mean he didn't see the fairy in the brickwork?

Cute, entertaining, wonderful story. Great job!

Marisa Birns said...

Well, first of all I had to LAUGH at the image of Simeon wearing Laura's...I mean, his carnivorous bunny slippers!

It continues to be a wonderful story, Sam, with excellent description and great characters.

Ah, Swazzle and Pogmorton, you were so very bad to that poor cat!

peggy said...

This was familiar. Did you rework this story and now its reposted?

Regardless, love the fairies and I want to know more about this book purveyor.

Sulci Collective said...

Some really nice touches here with the toothsome bunny slippers being most unfluffy and the walnut being representative of a wrinkled up heart.

marc nash

mazzz in Leeds said...

Lots of smiles to be had here, you do amusing really well!

I would look over your shoulder though, I suspect your cats maybe be in a bit of a huff with you...

Melissa said...

I also laughed with the image of Simeon wearing bunny slippers until they turned carnivorous! I also noticed the same lines Karen did. The "does tea" at the end just makes that sentence in so many ways even without the rhyme of the following sentence. This magical darkly-impish world you've created pulls me in...

Sam said...

Thanks for the great comments, they really are appreciated. :)

Laura - It's my pleasure, the least I could do after all your support. :)

Deanna - Thanks. I'm glad you're still enjoying these stories.

safetycomfort - Oh no, I wouldn't have posted this over Easter, I like the Easter Bunny; he's a mate!

Michael - Thanks, that means a lot. BTW, there is (or was) a real Gallows Close, it was a railway freight yard near Scarborough in the North of England.

ganymeder - Nope, he'd already gone indise before the fairy in the brickwork dispelled the Blending Charm which had camouflaged her presence.

Marisa - As soon as Laura posted the pic of her slippers I just knew I'd either (a) have to buy myself a pair, or (b) use them in a story. They're ace!

peggy - Nope, it's an entirely new story, though there are echos of last week's installment, this one being sort of a "Part 2" of that one.

Sulci Collective - Thanks Marc, I really appreciate your comment. It's given me a few ideas too...

Karen, Melissa - Nope, the rhyme was unintentional, it's just the way I could hear Simeon saying it in my head.

Mazzz - Funny you should say that, there has been a lot of feline muttering today and I'm getting some odd looks from the cats even as I type thi...................

Icy Sedgwick said...

Where do you get your ideas?!! Great fiction, as always.

Aislinn O'Connor said...

Brilliant!! Like ganymeder, I wasn't sure at first whether he'd seen the Blending Charm fairy or not, then decided that he hadn't, & she's there to keep an eye on how well (or otherwise!) he's looking after the walnut. Concerned for the welfare of the blue cat, though... :-)

Sam said...

Icy - Thanks for those kind words, I really appreciate them. I have no idea where the ideas come from, there again, if you could see inside my head... ;)

Aislinn - Ah, right, I see where the confusion's come from (apologies to ganymeder too) - I think a bit of re-formatting may help with this. Perhaps if I linked the sentence about him being 16 with the preceding para, rather than leaving it as a separate statement, that might be better.

Thanks for the great comment. You're partly right, the fairy is there not to keep an eye on the walnut, rather she's there to... Oh, you nearly had me there, nice try! ;)

That blue cat may come back to haunt Swazzle at some point.

Anonymous said...

Sam, I love it! Oh, the poor blue kitty. And the bunny slippers are priceless.

Now what's in that walnut? And what book are those pixies after?

Can't wait for the next one.

Emma Newman said...

Love it. And not just because there are the coolest bunny slippers in the world in it. It just drew me in. And I loved the last line from Swazzle.

Did you know I was born during that intensely hot summer in 1976? My family still talk about how hot it was!

Sam said...

Gracie - Thanks for the great comment! My good friend Laura Eno actually owns those slippers - if I could find a pair in the UK I'd buy them in a heartbeat.

Ah, the walnut...that would be telling, though you may find a clue to which book in the previous installment (also on my blog).

Emma - Thanks Em! Those bunny slippers are just ace, aren't they?

Well, well, the summer of '76 - I remember it well. We were between houses and living with my grandparents, I spent that summer learning to ride a bike (no trying to guess my age now!) and don't think I've ever been so hot in my life, before or since; we actually managed to fry eggs on the bonnet of my Grandpa's car!

John Wiswell said...

Laura is a heck of a writer. So are you. I'm glad you joined the community - it means I got to meet you! Or at least read some of your words.

Randilin said...

Great Story. I"d love to hear more about the characters exactly how they stole the nut, and what happens next with the book.

Starting the day with tes does make things so much better.

Sam said...

John - Thank you for the wonderful comment, I am honoured, especially coming from another writer whose work I admire. If you're ever over this side of the pond, do let me know, it would be great to meet you in person.

Randilin - Thanks for a great comment. Stay tuned to find out what happens next with that book! As for how they stole the'll have to let Swazzle & Pogmorton keep that secret, for now.

Cecilia Dominic said...

LOL at the Jezebel reference. She gets her tentacles into everything! A great story, as always.


Anne Tyler Lord said...

OH what fun! I love the Jezebel and chomping bunny slippers reference - they were perfect for your characters!

I laughed out loud at the end - those 2 are so mischievous - I feel bad for the cat, but it was very funny!

Excellent writing - I feel like I am reading a great novel.

Sam said...

Anne - Thanks for your great comment and for those very kind words. Personally, I think Swazzle & Pogmorton were rotten to the cat, mayhap it will have its revenge at some point. Hehe.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely charming, a big smile. Loved the bunny slippers. Poor kitty, I almost felt bad for laughing. Really great stuff.

Take care,

Sam said...

Jessica - Thanks for the lovely comment. As long as I can raise a smile and a laugh from my readers with my stories, I'm happy; I'm so glad you enjoyed it. This is the sixth story in an on-going flash serial so I do hope you'll check out the previous installments and let me know what you think of them. :-)

Lou Freshwater said...

You really did a nice job with atmospherics. I felt like I was stepping into another world. Loved the details about the books, especially the dust. ;-) Enjoyed, thank you.

G.P. Ching said...

Loved how you pulled Jezebel in from Laura's series. The description of the slippers was hilarious too.

"Shame about the cat though" Great stuff. Another fun episode.

Olivia Tejeda said...

Carnivorous bunny slippers are just too funny. I haven't read the previous installments on this series, but now I want to go back and catch up. This is not only funny and creative,it's well written. Really enjoyed it! Thanks, Sam! ~ Olivia

Eric J. Krause said...

Lots of good stuff going on in this. I'm looking forward to see how they go about trying to get that book.

David Masters said...

Hmmm... I'm thinking poor Simeon will still have a part to play even though they snaffled the walnut shell.

Sam said...

Lou - Thanks. I've been working on my descriptions lately, pleased to see it's paying off.

G.P. Ching - Thanks for your comment, I'm so pleased you enjoyed it.

Olivia - Thanks for those kind words Olivia, I'm glad you enjoyed the story; I hope you enjoy the previous installments just as much.

Eric - Ah, that book. I predict there being fun & games in the procurement of that book! ;)

David - Oh yes, I'm sure this is not the last we've seen of Simeon.

Thanks to everyone who has read and commented on this story, I really appreciate the feedback and compliments. :)

Laurita said...

These are so much fun, and this was a particularily good write. I giggled at the bunny slipper nod to Laura. These characters are the best!

Sam said...

Laurita - Thanks for the great comment. I'm pleased you enjoyed the story, bunny slippers an' all, and thanks for the kind words. :)

mariblaser said...

Great story Sam! I love Swazzle and Pogmorton's wickedness, heh. Can't wait for the cat's revenge. ;)

As everyone else (how couldn't I?) I loved the slippers and the mention to Jezebel. What I didn't find very clear is if Simeon actually managed to track Jezebel or not? Either way I'm sure she's a good customer of his.

Will he be featuring again in the series? I'm curious to know the story of his life. How the "first contact" developed into his business. Besides, he must get the nut back, mustn't he? ;)

Sam said...

Mari - Thanks, glad you liked the story. Oh yes, Simeon has been supplying "Jezebel" with obscure tomes for a while, so now you know where at least some of Laura's ideas come from! ;)

I have a feeling Simeon will be featuring again, though I may tell his life story as a separate tale altogether.

Ah yes, the nut, you'll have to stay tuned for that...

PJ said...

Terrific story, Sam - I'm unfortunately coming in in the middle - need to do some backtracking. I'm with your shopkeeper, though, how wonderful to spend your days surrounded by ancient books ;-)

Sam said...

PJ - Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it and hope you like the previous installments just as much.

Oh yes, to be surrounded by books all day, every day, would be fantastic.

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