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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

By D. L. Greenwood

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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The Innocent

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.

 

Donna Louise Greenwood

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

knife
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.

The Miracle of Defeat

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By Donna Greenwood

A witch cannot lie.  That is her misfortune. A witch cannot hurt another human being. That is also her misfortune. All witches have enormous feet.  That is of little consequence.

She remembered when they used to call her Grandmother but now she is buried beneath the bridge amongst the smells of rotten fruit and dead kittens. Her people, those mangled creepers who peep at her from under tarpaulin and scowl from their newspapered beds, have grown mean and their curses, dripping with the smell of alcohol and sweet weed, coil around her as she walks a stoop past their prone bodies.

The first blood-shed had been a mere trickle. A rock was thrown and it glanced against her forehead.  The perpetrator had been Deaf Samuel and two years previously she had set his broken leg straight.

And then she had been punched in the face.  It had always been the case that Grandmother had enjoyed a flagon of the hard stuff just before she settled into her mould-infested sleeping bag and passed out for the night.  But on this one night, her presence had agitated the other drinkers so much that Billy Baglight had thrown a punch.  She had seen his beautiful clear skin just before the world turned black; skin that she herself had cured of the pox.

Now she drank alone in the furthest corner of the dark underbelly of the bridge, listening to the laughter of those whom she had once called friends.

Her bones began to poke through her ancient skin – a diet of leaves and bin debris had shrivelled her flesh.  Nobody came to her asking for a cure for bad breath or a potion to invigorate a fat and lazy lover.  Gifts of bread and cake and ale were no longer left for her.  She simply starved quietly as this hardier breed of wanderers stared into the cold screens of their Samsungs for warmth. Some mornings she found herself covered in human faeces.  This did not cause her distress.  Muck was her business.  Shit, spit, semen and blood were just by-products of the body that could be used for magic.

Aggie-no-teeth came to see her one night.

“Grandmother, I’ve got this whoresome pain in my heart. I want him so badly but he doesn’t want me. Please can you take away the pain?”

Grandmother was comforted by the sound of her own name on the lips of one of her people but she had nothing left to give.  Her herbs had been eaten and her songs had been sung.

“Draw a picture of his heart on your heart, Aggie, and sleep.  In the morning, he will be yours.”

It was school-girl magic, but it was all that she had.  That night Grandmother ate a candle, she was so hungry.

The next morning Aggie-no-teeth was discovered in a pool of her own blood.  She had carved a heart-shaped hole into her chest and had bled to death in the cold.  All eyes saw Grandmother and knew.

Her trail was quick.

“Did you kill Aggie-No-Teeth?” a long-haired, pock-marked stranger asked.

Beside Grandmother stood two women, Aisha and Ikra, twins she herself had delivered in the nineties.  She stared at the two women, who in turn stared at the long-haired stranger.

A witch cannot lie whispered the wind.

“Yes, I did kill Aggie-no-teeth.  I knew she was suffering from a yearning for the silver needle but I had no passionflower to give her and so I let her sleep in madness.”

The dark underground growled in disapproval.

The stranger said,

“You will be tried as a witch and be hanged by the neck until you are dead.”

She heard many cans of cheap cider being shook in approval.  A woman who had once been her friend yelled, ‘Burn the witch’ and others laughed uproariously. Someone put their phone on speaker and she could hear the distant tinkle of ‘Ring of Fire’.

As she sat awaiting her fate, a drunken man- another stranger- urinated on her. She kept some of his liquid in her hands.  Old women’s habits die hard.  She had once been told of a spell that involved the mixing of the piss of your enemy with ash and candle wax.  With the right words and some conjured fire the potion could paralyse men – some of them permanently, depending upon the nature of their insult.

A witch cannot harm another human being screamed the city foxes in the cold and bleak darkness.

She let the drunken stranger’s urine trickle out of her hands onto the muddy earth beneath her. There would be no paralysing of limbs tonight.

Her hanging was well attended.  She recognised many faces in the crowd and her heart grew sad.  Aisha and Ikra pushed her roughly through the crowd of baying human debris. She looked up at Aisha who steadfastly ignored her glances.  Aisha’s birth had nearly killed her mother but Grandmother had known how to twist her around whilst she was still in the womb and how to draw her gently from her mother, causing no rips and very little blood. She had watched Aisha and Ikra grow from tiny tots to the leggy executioners they’d become today.  They stopped abruptly before a makeshift gallows – a rope slung casually over the bones of abandoned scaffolding.

Aisha placed the noose around Grandmother’s neck and pulled it with such force that a little yelp erupted from Grandmother’s mouth.  The noise seemed to ignite the crowd who began to shout and boo.  They threw food at her and, despite being acutely aware of her fatal situation, she found herself salivating at the crusts that were strewn around her. When she heard the words hang the witch… hang the witch it wasn’t fear that she felt but irritation – she had helped each and every one of the yawping hounds in the crowd and now they were lobbing bread at her and screaming for her blood.  Grandmother shook her head in disbelief, causing the noose to chafe slightly.

The long-haired stranger read out a list of her witchy crimes and then rolled up his paper and nodded at Aisha who in turn nodded at Ikra.  Like her sister, Ikra was a wall of muscle with arms like trees.  She stepped over to the part of the rope snaking on the platform of the gallows and grabbed it with both of her hands. She waited for Longhair to raise his hand and then she pulled.  The rope gathered and tightened and Grandmother jerked as it yanked her up off the ground.  The rope felt like a punch in the throat and Grandmother’s air was sucked from her lungs.

All witches have enormous feet – a familiar and loving voice whispered in her ear.

Usually this was of little consequence but not today. Oh today!

As her body twitched and kicked, Grandmother’s feet began to unfurl. They grew and grew until they touched the ground and saved her neck. She whipped back her head and ducked from the noose. She jumped from the platform and landed on her huge feet.  She turned around and kicked down the scaffolding; then she kicked Aisha and Ikra into the sky and they landed on the moon and were sorrowful for their actions and saw the error of their ways.  She kicked all the slack-jawed onlookers out of the mud and into the fragrant, fresh air outside.  She kicked the long, greasy hair clean off her accuser’s head and he became a gazelle and ran for the forest, happy for the first time in his life.  She laughed and jumped into the air, both feet flying before her, and she kicked down the ugly bridge and freed all those tethered beneath it.  A hundred lost and lonely human souls flew upwards from the rubble and became a million jewel-eyed butterflies.

And then she ran and she ran; her enormous feet carrying her for miles within moments and soon all the meanness in human hearts melted away and all angry men dissolved into nothing and the hunger ceased and her bones stopped aching and the wind was in her long, grey hair and she smelled the sweetness of the grass and felt the warmth of the sun and she knew with absolute certainty that the world was good and the universe within her soul caught fire and she was consumed by its unutterable beauty.

Hideous Treasure

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There’s something unholy in the pond

“There’s something unholy in the pond,” he said, and then he grabbed me with his ancient claw, rolled his bone white eyes around his shrunken head and died.

He hadn’t been popular so few came to the funeral and even fewer stayed behind for the wake.  I drank cheap rum with his last three friends.

“He said there was something in the pond the last time I saw him,” said one.  They turned and looked at me.  I was the only remaining occupant of the house.  Had I seen anything in the pond?  I smiled and reassured them that the pond was cleaned every month and, as yet, there had been no discovery of any hidden treasures.

After they left, I unhooked my coat from behind the door and trudged down the garden path; curiosity had gotten the better of me.  Had he seen something?  He had been particularly agitated in his final weeks and he had been out there when he’d had his heart attack.

The pond was the size of a small pool and quite deep.  I bent over the side and gave the water a quick stir, shifting the water lilies to get a better view of the depths.  Beneath the green scum, on a ledge below the surface, just out of reach, I could see it.  It was a child’s hand.  The tattered skin around the bony fingers fluttered like white lace in the murky dark.  I looked around the sides of the pond and found a rock about the size of a baby’s head.  I dropped the rock into the pond. It quietly splashed through the dark water and fell as if through treacle upon the ledge.  I watched the tiny fingers delicately thrum a final tattoo before being pulled down to the bottomless-black of the pond by the gently settling stone.

The Last Laugh

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Published by Hypnopomp magazine 2017

By D.L.Greenwood

The Devil is a fat man with no sense of humour.  It is this observation that makes me dislike him intensely; I think a sense of fun is essential when dabbling with the satanic.  We have an understanding, the Devil and I, if I walk on the left side of every street and avoid the cracks; if I wash my hands 35 times each morning and evening; if I check the locks on my doors fifteen times each day, then he will not drag my soul to hell.

It’s a tricky alliance but it’s worked well so far.  He makes no secret of the fact that he follows me.  When I see him greasily loitering in alleyways or smoking putrid cigars outside coffee shops, he nods and smiles.  But I am very wise. There will be no stepping on cracks or unwashed hands and I will not follow the Devil into hell.

A pigeon is squatting in the road as I carefully tread a left-slanted path: a sinister path. The Devil is behind me.  Today he wears a trench coat and sunglasses; I wonder if this is a joke but then remember his lack of wit.  I continue on my way; I have washed profusely and my way is clear, I have nothing to fear.

The sound is a wet pop and suddenly I am splattered.  A black Toyota stops and the driver gets out of his car to view what he has driven over.  It’s only a pigeon and it is now flat and dead.  The driver shrugs and speeds off.

I am wet with red and something that feels like snot trails down my cheek – pigeon entrails.

Panic drills into my heart. The bloody filth takes on a life of its own; it seeps into my pores and burns up my nerves.  I open my mouth to scream but something soft and wet plops onto my tongue.  I bend over and puke onto the street.

I start running and I am clawing away the muck from my skin, ripping off my T-shirt and throwing it into the street. And then I slam right into the Devil who feels more muscular than his fat gut suggests.

The Devil takes off his shades and stares at me with eyes filled with greed and triumph.  He nods in the direction of the path behind me.  I see what he sees and I understand.  The pavement is filled with cracks and I have stepped on each and every one of them.

He takes my arm and his fingers burn into my flesh.  For the first time I hear him laugh.  It is loud and infectious.  It would seem that the Devil does indeed have a sense of humour.  The joke is a good one and I find myself laughing along with the Devil.  I laugh and I laugh and I laugh until I have no breath left in my lungs and the world turns black.