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The Bone Queen by Donna L Greenwood

 

vintage_bride_queen_mum_by_mementomori_stock-d5oiax1 (2)As published by ‘Occulum’ magazine and long-listed in the InkTears competition 2017

Dust and rot fill her mouth as she eats.  The food is cloying.  It does not sit well.  She is alone but for the sycophantic phantasmata who surround her, constantly back-combing her nerves.

In her palace of filthy black, her bony fingers strain the muck, searching for someone who will not cower when she smiles.  Her hands bring back nothing but detritus and her heart remains parched and un-whole.

“It has to be a prince,” she tells the fades as they clown and cartwheel around her.

And so they go in search of a prince who will break the spell.  Their mistress is all bone and cannot weep for lack of wet.  Her need is their greed so they hunt with teeth and lungs that scream down the night.

They find a lowly man sitting in an ordinary place, weeping over some poem.  He cannot understand the noise that the wind makes as it blows through his mouth and his mind but he knows that he must search for her.

He reaches her palace, dreaming of madness and art, and he begins to weep again, for the ground is hard and the air spikes his throat.

As she smells his tears, her shrunken heart rejoices.  Her skeletal hands lift her robes and she clicks and clacks through the murk, searching for his light.  Her body quickens, for a thousand years of dust have made her desire unfathomable.

He sees her through the gloom; her eyes are the sea and he sails and he sails.  He takes her bones and he holds them and he sings her flesh back and he sings her heart full.

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Monsters

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Ask Grandma, her bones talk

 

Published in FormerCactus magazine 2017 and one of the winners of BR-Lit flash competition

by Donna L Greenwood

Lights out and the creeping starts.  She pulls the sheets over her head as the air begins to whisper its insanities.  From an unseen corner the wolf growls and she hears the clickety clack of its claws as it begins to circle the room.   In the middle of the night its mouth can widen and swallow you up in one gulp.  Ask Grandma, her bones talk.  At the end of her bed, the goblins are yacking in a low dark tone.  Their bone white eyes shine in the murk as they look for her.  Their tongues loll with appetite.

She stills her breath, trying not to alert them to her presence.  Under the sheets, the witch sleeps beside her; crooked hands are entwined with the child’s hair and a hairy knee rests on her thigh.  The child lies as still as death but she is not afraid, for this child is a child of the times and she knows about monsters.  She closes her eyes and feels for her weapon, careful not to disturb the gnarly skin bag by her side.

Down her chimney climbs Blue with his sooty beard and bag full of bloody heads.  She knows he comes for her family tonight and her hands tighten around Mama’s scissors.  She must be brave; cry-babies die in the dark so she stifles her fear lest they smell it.  Familiar with fighting for her life, she acts quickly – snip snap – she cuts off the witch’s tongue, rendering her filthy spells useless.  Now she is just an old woman whom the child bucks off and pushes out of bed.

Next – stab stab – she pops out the goblins’ eyes; they writhe in pain and, like salted slugs, dissolve into muck.

Blue stands behind her.  She falls to the ground and tumbles backwards through his legs.  She has the advantage now.  When he turns, a sickening smile tearing through his skin, she holds the scissors steadily in her hands and points them towards his belly.  He raises his murderous axe ready to claim his prize but years of easy terrorising have made him fat. And slow.  The child is quicker; she lurches forward and stabs the scissors into the monster’s gut. Streams of intestines splatter to the ground and Blue follows them, a puzzled, cheated look fastened to his face.

A growl behind her and claws rake her back.  Even now she makes no noise though hot pain rips through her skin causing tears to erupt in her eyes.  She falls to the ground and the wolf pounces. Its breath is warm and salty on her face.  She brings the scissors up and through the jaws of the beast.  It falls and joins its blue-bearded cousin on the floor.

Lights on and Mama appears.

It’s late.  Go back to bed.

The child obeys.  The lights go out.

Mama and Papa are safe for one more night.  Beneath her sheets once more, the child licks her scissors like ice-cream.

Featured

The Innocent by Donna L Greenwood

People spoke of the witch in hurried whispers as though their words were spies all too willing to betray them.  Snatches of their gossip were woven into the wind and carelessly dropped by her ears. Of course, she paid them no heed because, but for want of a friend, the witch was happy.   The years had yawned a hole in her memory and she was no longer sure who she was but she knew that her cat’s name was Hecate and she remembered to water and feed her tomatoes most days.  Best of all, she still had one good eye with which to watch the rising of the sun each day.  She felt blessed and so the hard words of her neighbours did not take root in the softness of her heart.

One day, as often happens in these tales, a brave child walked past this garden that grew wild with tomatoes.  They looked so juicy and so ripe that the child could not help himself; he hopped over the fence and plucked one from its vine.

The witch was sat on her porch when she spied the small child with her one working eye.  As quick as a snip-snap, she ran across her garden and yelled – for her ears were not what they used to be – Don’t eat the ones by the roadside, come and take one of the juicier ones further in.

Now this child had heard the tales carried by the wind and one look at this crooked crone with her sawn-up eye sent him running, all mouth and tears, to a neighbour’s house.  And the adults knew by his screams that there were far worse enemies of innocence than witches.

That night they came for her.  No mercy was shown.

Little Dove

THE AIRGONAUT

by Donna L Greenwood

Ever since she died, my daughter has been difficult to love. She doesn’t feel right; she doesn’t feel like Alice anymore. She even smells different.  She three months ago and I wish she would die again – only this time, stay dead.

I try not to show her how I feel.  I make her meals, I brush her hair, I let her sit with me when I tell her little brother bed time stories. When she catches me looking at her, she smiles, but I find it hard to smile back. Thank Heavens for Mikey, my little dove, four years old and bright as a pin, not tarnished like his sister.

‘Mummy, you love Mikey more than me, don’t you?’ she asked me one day. What could I say? Yes, I do love him more because he doesn’t smell of death?  Because he didn’t crawl from…

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Insomniac

By Donna L Greenwood

First published by Anti-Heroin Chic 2017phone pics 3 293

 

I awaken

Imperfect.

The night falls

Downward and spills onto

White flesh lying

On pillowed slab.

I sit up – bleak and unblinking

My

hO

hO

hOpe feathers

And shreds intO

White paper

Skin on wrOng bones.

The mOnstrous sky

Holes my mind and

Rips out a shrill lucidity

The terrible brightness of which

Sears my heart and

Shrieks it into flames

And tears apart the

Child InnOcence

And sucks out her sanity

And devOurs legs and eyes and lungs.

My mOuth twists into

O

O

O

But I

CannOt scream down

The spectacular hOrror

Of nOthing – rioting through

The night and gObbling up

The last remains

Of

Cer

tain

tY.

 

The Chattering

By Donna L Greenwood

Very honoured to have this short listed in the ‘Close But No Cigar’ category for Molotov Cocktail Magazine’s Shadow Award 2018.

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The Chattering

As the blissful unknowing rest weary, and sleep,

Dreaming of pointless and meaningless things,

From the edges of darkness, the Chattering creeps.

 

Shadowed and shapeless, it snickers and sneaks.

Into the minds of babies, it chatters and sings,

As the blissful unknowing rest weary, and sleep.

 

Its emptiness yawns, and milk-wet mothers weep

As their dreams unravel with the horrors it brings.

From the edges of darkness, the Chattering creeps.

 

It enters the innocent to sow what they’ll reap;

Nattering its promises of madness and sin,

As the blissful unknowing rest weary, and sleep.

 

The universe is pitiless; its secret it keeps,

But the abyss is opening; the end bell rings,

From the edges of darkness, the Chattering creeps.

 

The dark hallelujah of nothingness seeps

Into the splayed-out souls of the faithful and weak.

As the blissful unknowing rest weary, and sleep,

From the edges of darkness, the Chattering creeps.

Phantasmagoria by Donna L Greenwood

Winner of February’s Zero Flash Competition

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Art by Andrew Howell @Realmonstieur

The Walrus is snuffling in my ear and I am freaking out.  I need to get out of here. I want to lift my prone body off the bed and make like a tree and leave. Except the goddamned cobwebs are twisting spinny-like around my ankles, and my arms appear to have turned into mangos.  No, not mangos – I’m not insane – pineapples.  The Walrus is trying to speak to me; its words are fluttering in the air around my head. I lift my pineapple arm and grasp one. With a quick snip-snap, I gobble it up and then instantly regret my foolish spontaneity.  It was a lie and lies taste like metal and shit.  Why would the Walrus lie to me? I vomit up the lie and it slithers under the bed.

The Walrus looks suitably ashamed and pulls a string of shiny truths from its gaping maw.  The brightness of these little truth jewels blinds me for a moment.  And then I see. The jewels are angels and they fly around, luminous in this liminal world of bedtime talk.  But these angels of the Walrus have teeth and they fly into my face and nibble at my eyes and ears.  Their teeth are small but they draw blood.  I flap them away with my clunky fruits which are useless against the angels’ sprite-like agility.  Their gnawing is unbearable and I plead with the Walrus to stop.  It relents and the bedroom darkens as it eats up its sheeny-shiny angels one by one.

I turn my back on the Walrus and reach under the bed.  I grab the lie and swallow it whole. It doesn’t taste too bad second time around.

The Groom

No one can stop him tonight – not on his wedding night.

By Donna L Greenwood

The bride runs down the street, her wedding train glistening under the mad glare of the moon.  She stumbles forward, trying not to fall or cut her feet on the hard, cold stones.   Her mouth and eyes are wide with terror but another emotion is fastened to her face – anger.  The bride knows she will find no sanctuary in this place – though curtains twitch and candles flicker – nobody will open their doors for her tonight.

He glides behind her – all polish and poise.  His pale and delicate hands gesticulate in the night, conducting an orchestra only he can see.  The Groom does not hurry for he knows his bride has nowhere to hide.  He waves royally at the dark windows and smiles when huddled figures duck out of sight.  No one can stop him tonight – not on his wedding night – it is his right to pursue what has been bound to him by the laws of God and man.

“Please!” screams the bride at the faceless houses, “For God’s sake, somebody help me!”  A soft and distant echo of her own despair is the only answer to her plea.

Finally her strength bleeds out and she falls down defeated in the street.  The Groom is upon her like lichen.  He presses his face close to hers and he gulps down her breath and he licks off her skin and he drinks in her sweat and tears.  He burrows inside her and he devours and devours until there is nothing left but bones and a blood-wet wedding dress.

As the early morning sun laces its insipid yellow fingers around the street, the townsfolk find a single red rose lying in the gutter where the bride’s body had been.

It isn’t long before some foolish girl, with dreams of romance in her heart, skips by and claims the red rose for her very own.

36 X 9

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She heard a final wet exhalation as her husband died

By Donna L Greenwood

First published by The Fiction Pool November 2017

There was an awful lot of blood; that surprised her, as did the fulsome noise that was erupting from the flapping mouth of her husband – a sort of panting dog crossed with cow in labour.  The red jets had stopped firing quite so furiously and the blood was now doing a slow pump from the jagged hole in his throat.  Josephine looked at the splatters on the wall and ceiling.  That would take some cleaning.  The duvet would have to be thrown out, and the mattress too – the coagulating redness had soaked right through.

He was lying on his side – his hand stretched out towards her – pleading.  She watched his mouth open and close like a landed fish.  She frowned as a question formed in her mind.  What is thirty-six multiplied by nine?

She was sat on the chair beside her dressing table.   She had carefully placed the knife by her feet.  Lying crumpled and defeated on the carpet were her husband’s over-starched shirts.  By the sleeve of one of his shirts was a black boot.  She knew that boot well.  It had crushed small bones beneath it.

Eventually the gurgling moans began to quieten and her husband’s arm flopped wetly onto the bed.  Little pink bubbles continued to froth around his mouth and his breath began to rattle.  It sounded like the guttural purring of a cat and was strangely soothing.

What is thirty six multiplied by nine?  She’d never been very good at mathematics and the answer was eluding her.  She could do thirty six by ten, that was easy, but that wasn’t the answer she was looking for.  She looked down at the white sleeve of her jersey top; it had tiny red splotches on it.  For her wedding bouquet, she had wanted white lilies tied up with little red bows.  The florist had been horrified.  Apparently, lilies symbolised death – and red and white flowers should never, ever be placed together.  They reminded people of blood and bandages, the florist had said. So Josephine had agreed to a sensible bouquet of blue peonies.  Bloodied bandages would have been more fitting.

She looked at her hand and removed the ring that had been there for fifteen years.  She slowly turned around so that she could see her reflection in the mirror. She silently mouthed her question.  What is thirty six multiplied by nine?   Josephine looked deeply into her own eyes and the answer came to her – three hundred and twenty four.  She smiled and admired the way her cheekbones now had angular shadows sweeping across them.  She had always been a little bit fat, but not anymore. Nine months at the gym had taken away her softness and so far, at thirty-six pounds per month, it had cost her three hundred and twenty four pounds.  From behind her, she heard a final wet exhalation as her husband died.  She nodded at her reflection. As it turned out, despite her initial misgivings, it had been money well spent.

 

Biter

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And then he went for the teeth.

By Donna  L Greenwood

When Mavis Cutler died, Gregory felt a little kick of excitement in his heart.  She’d died on his shift and that meant that he would be responsible for clearing away her belongings.  He licked his lips. He’d noticed her puckered lips when she had been admitted.  She was 74 years old so it was almost a certainty but he hadn’t been sure until he’d seen them nestled in a glass of water on her bedside table – sweet, white enamel encased in jellyfish pink.  He couldn’t wait to get his hands on Mavis Cutler’s teeth.

“Gregory, can you deal with Mavis’s things, love?” asked the staff nurse.

“Of course, Yvonne,” he said, flicking his tongue over his own teeth.

He closed the curtain around the bed.  Mavis Cutler’s teeth were still in the glass of water.  He left them until last.  He placed her underwear, her nightie and all of her other raggedy remnants into clear plastic bags and labelled them carefully for her relatives.  And then he went for the teeth.  He emptied the water from the glass and then tipped the teeth onto his hands.  He squeezed them hard and felt them bite into his skin. The strange flush of pleasure that he felt trill through his flesh was unlike the horror that used to flood through his body when that mean, old bastard bit him.  When he died, his father’s teeth had been the first in his collection.

He pressed the teeth deeper into his skin, hoping for blood but getting none.