Tell the Story Challenge #2

Tell the Story - Chris Hall - lunasonline

Teresa, The Haunted Wordsmith, nominated me earlier this week to participate in the Tell The Story Challenge. This is the photo she gave me.

The rules:
Write a story about the picture you’re given.

Select 3 nominees.
Give them a new picture.

Uncle Foss’s Library

Catherine loved books which was just as well as she had very few friends other than the characters in the stories she read. Fortunately she wasn’t short of these, as there were so very many books in her uncle’s library. Uncle Foss had been her guardian ever since she could remember. He had engaged various tutors over the years, as had been stipulated in her wardship agreement, but none had lasted long. Catherine had therefore educated herself, partly under her uncle’s guidance, through the perusal of the wealth of knowledge which was contained between the covers of his extensive library.

No books in Uncle Foss’s library were forbidden or out of bounds, although there were certain high shelves that he’d steered her away from, saying she’d enjoy those books better when she was older. But now, a few days away from her fifteenth birthday, while her uncle had been occupied in Town, she’d climbed the library ladder and removed three interesting-looking volumes which she’d been considering for some weeks now. At almost fifteen she was certain she was ready for the high shelves.

Back in her room after supper and a game of backgammon with her uncle, she chose the smallest book. It was old, bound in finely tooled black leather with silver embossed letters on the front which read: ‘Faerie Folk and Mischievous Creatures – A Guide’. Catherine had loved magic and fantasy stories since she was a little girl. She started to read.

They are as old as the oldest hills and their presence is clings on even in the most rational minds, deep within our collective memory. Ancient and modern, of both sexes, and neither good nor ill, they live long, long lives, then disappear as ash on the wind.” Catherine started as the window behind her rattled. She looked round, but it was just the oak trees branches brushing against the glass. Storm clouds were gathering, covering the bright face of the new moon.

Although of the earth, they are otherworldly, living between our world and theirs. Rarely noticed, they appear at the periphery of our vision, hidden in plain sight…”

Out of the corner of her eye, Catherine suddenly noticed a movement behind the nightstand next to her bed; a mouse? But no, it hadn’t moved like a mouse, and she was sure she’d seen a flash of scarlet.

There was a knock at the door. Her uncle entered, smiling. He crossed the room and gently took the little book from her hands. “It’s time, Catherine,” he said. His face lit up with excitement, “time to introduce you to the other members of our household.”

So, my nominees are:

Amartya, Jumbled Letters

Dr Tanya, Salted Caramel

One Life, Tap My Toes

A story, a verse, a vision? See where this takes you.

00 Image for Tell the Story - Your dog. Your style by @dogmade.artwork
 Your dog. Your style by @dogmade.artwork

He’s Back!

My second cross-continental collaboration with artist, Suzanne Starr.

This story was inspired by Suzanne’s drawing which I saw on my LinkedIn feed. Once again, I found the images of her characters so compelling that I had to write their story.

You can find more of Suzanne’s artwork at – do check it out!

girl with big bird by suzanne starr
‘He’s Back’ charcoal drawing by Suzanne Starr*

Part of my Flash Fiction collection

He’s Back

‘That’s a pretty dress, Miss Clara,’ said the Stork, as the little girl approached him. ‘Oh, but you look sad on your birthday. Why?’ She is so tall now, he thought.

‘I wish I could just fly away like you do,’ Clara looked up at him with her large brown eyes.

‘What’s wrong, Miss Clara? You have a lovely home with people who care for you. Why are you unhappy?’

‘It’s just that I feel like I don’t belong properly. They’re not my people, are they?’ Clara fiddled with her lace-edged handkerchief. ‘You explained to me last year, you delivered me to the wrong people. I’ve been thinking about it all year.’

The Stork cocked his head and looked intently at her. ‘I know, Miss Clara, and I told you how sorry I am for my mistake.’

‘Did you tell the other little girl?’ Clara looked up at him, ‘the one who should’ve come here instead of me.’

The Stork hung his head, ‘no Miss Clara, I didn’t. And perhaps I shouldn’t have told you.’

‘So why did you?’ Clara was on the verge of tears. ‘Why did you, Stork?’

‘The two of you were my first deliveries and I got it wrong. That’s why I kept coming back to check on you, until you were old enough for me to talk to you and to explain properly.’

‘And the other little girl?’

The Stork shook his head sadly. ‘The mother realised something was wrong.’

‘My mother? My real mother?’

The Stork nodded.

‘What happened?’

The Stork’s beak drooped so that it almost touched the ground. ‘She thought the baby was a changeling.’

‘A changeling? What’s that?’

‘Some people believe that a changeling is a fairy child left in place of a human child which has been stolen by the fairies.

‘But it wasn’t a fairy child?’

‘No, of course not. That’s just a silly superstition.’

‘So what happened to her?’

‘She was left out on the hillside as is the custom in that part of our country.’

‘I don’t understand. Why would they do that?’

The Stork sighed. ‘They hope that the real baby will be returned.’

‘Oh.’ Clara was silent. She twisted her handkerchief some more. ‘But why didn’t you tell her? The mother, I mean.’

‘She could neither see me nor hear me.’ The Stork started to pace about. ‘Only little children can see and hear the Storks,’ he said over his shoulder.

‘And you couldn’t save the baby from the hillside?’

The Stork turned to face her. ‘She’d gone by the time I found out what had happened.’

Clara frowned. ‘Maybe the fairies did take her.’

‘I don’t believe in fairies.’

‘But maybe someone found her. Maybe she’s with another family?’

A large tear rolled down the Stork’s beak. ‘Don’t you think I looked for her; that day, the next day, the next week?’ The Stork sniffed and shook his huge dark head. ‘I searched for months and years, because of my mistake. That’s why you’ve been so precious to me.’

Clara went up to the Stork; she reached up and put her hand on his neck. ‘Poor Stork, I’m sorry.’

‘I will always be sorry, Miss Clara.’

Clara thought for a moment. ‘Can we go there and have a look?’ Clara waved her handkerchief towards the sky. ‘I’d love just to see where I might’ve been living.’

The Stork looked at her, eyes unblinking.

‘I could ride on your back,’ Clara ran her hand over the snowy feathers on his back. ‘It can’t be that far. If you mixed us up on the same night,’ she reasoned.

‘No, Miss Clara. It’s not possible.’

‘But Stork…’

‘I said no!’ He turned his back on her, hunching his wings.

Clara sat down on the edge of the sidewalk and started to cry.

The Stork couldn’t bear to hear her sobbing; he turned around and nudged her with his beak. ‘I’m sorry, Miss Clara, but I can’t.’

‘But it’s my birthday today.’

‘That’s the point, I’m afraid.’ The Stork folded his long legs underneath his white feathers and huddled close to her. ‘Today is the last day you will be able to see me or hear me. You see this is your tenth birthday, and after you pass the hour of your birth, you too will be blind and deaf to the Storks.’

Clara looked at him. The Stork looked up at the sun which was sinking below the tall buildings of the city. The soft feathers of his cheek brushed against Clara’s hair. ‘It’s almost time, little one.’ The Stork stood up, gently helping Clara to her feet with a brush of his long beak. The Stork faced her and bowed gracefully as the disc of the sun disappeared behind the dome of the cathedral.

Clara looked at him, wiping away her tears. ‘Stork, dear Stork…’ and as she spoke, his image started to fade, so only a faint outline remained. His voice echoed around the little square. ‘Goodbye, Miss Clara.’ Then his was gone.

That night Clara had a dream, a very vivid dream. A girl about her age was waving to her from a bright, sunny hillside somewhere. She looked just how Clara imagined a fairy might look and she was smiling. And every year after that on her birthday, Clara found a soft white feather on her pillow.

©2018 Chris Hall

*’He’s Back’ is one of two works by Suzanne Starr which form part of the ‘Into Darkness Exhibition’ at the Norwich Art Center, Connecticut USA. The exhibition runs throughout  October 2018


Strange Fruit 2

Detail from ‘Abstract Flora’ ©2017 Cliff Davies

From my Flash Fiction Collection

Ashley woke up. Her little sister, Bethany, had been calling out to her. As Ashley rolled over to check on her sister, she felt her body push up against something hard. As she looked across their bedroom, she saw that Bethany’s sleeping form had become entwined by the tendrils of some exotic plant which were growing from a giant seed pod which lay on the bed next to her. Ashley looked down; a similar seed pod rested next to her. As she moved her arm to pull back the covers, a thick, green tendril snaked out from the pod and wrapped itself around her wrist. She gasped and tried to pull herself free. Another tendril shot out and bound her left leg. Ashley screamed out as she heaved herself over the edge of the bed, knocking ‘The Big Book of Fairy Tales’ which she’d been reading to Bethany onto the floor, the cover ripping as the book fell. She groped her way across to Bethany’s bed, dragging the pod behind her.

Ashley was pulling herself up onto the edge of Bethany’s bed when, Hodge, the housekeeper, appeared at the door. Hodge rushed over to the bedside. Ashley had managed to free her arm and was desperately tugging at Bethany’s bonds.

“Help me, Hodge, get it off her,” Ashley cried. “Quickly, it’s choking her.”

Hodge grunted as she tried to loosen the tendrils which were tightening around the little girl. Her strong fingers drew back the growth around Bethany’s face and neck. Ashley kicked at her own seed pod, freeing her leg. The pod rolled under her bed, hitting the wall with a dull thud.

“Go and fetch Tom and get him to bring something to cut this off,” said Hodge, gesturing toward the door with her head, as she continued to pull on the vegetation. Her voice rose: “Hurry, Ashley!”

Ashley hurtled downstairs and out of the kitchen door. “Tom, Tom!” she yelled, running down the garden to the potting shed where Tom was usually to be found.

He emerged carrying a watering can. “What’s the rush, Miss Ashley? You’re not even dressed.”

Ashley explained the situation to the puzzled gardener, who nevertheless grabbed his shears and secateurs and hurried into the house after her.

Ashley watched as Tom carefully chopped away at the plant. Soon there was a pile of cut vegetation next to the bed and Bethany was free. All the time while Tom had worked, there had been no sound from the little girl. They could see she was breathing, but she was unconscious.

“What’s wrong with her,” cried Ashley. “Why won’t she wake up? And these things..?” she pointed to the cut tendrils.

Hodge and Tom exchanged glances. “Tis Faeries’ work,” said Tom shaking his head. “That’s a spell that is.”

Hodge nodded gravely. “Aye, so it is.”

“Surely fairies are only in stories?” said Ashley, picking up the book and smoothing the torn cover.

Hodge didn’t answer. She turned to Tom. “Get all of this out of here,” she gestured at the pile of foliage. “And burn it.”

Tom nodded. “Every last piece.” He started collecting up the debris. Ashley bent to help him. “No, Miss Ashley, leave this to me.” He turned to Hodge. “Will you go for Ceridwen?”

“Aye, I will.” She turned to Ashley. “You just sit here with your sister until I come back. She’ll come to no more harm just now. I won’t be long.”

Ashley climbed into bed beside her sleeping sister and stoked her golden curls. She must have fallen asleep as it seemed just a few minutes later when Hodge came bustling through the bedroom door followed by a tall, slim woman, dressed in long, flowing garments and carrying a large cloth bag.

“Hello child,” the woman said softly to Ashley. “I am Ceridwen,” she laid a pale hand over Bethany’s forehead and smiled.

Hodge cleared the table which stood between the sisters’ beds. Ashley watched as Ceridwen unpacked her cloth bag and carefully placed a long red candle in a star-shaped holder on the table. Next she took out an ornate silver chalice which she filled with a clear green liquid poured from a little glass bottle. Hodge left the room and closed the door quietly behind her. Ceridwen started to chant.


The following day, Ashley was awoken by her sister. “Wake up, Ashley,” Bethany said as she nudged her shoulder gently. “Come on, you’ve been asleep for hours.”

Ashley shook her head, trying to clear the fog of sleep from her mind.

“You must have had a very bad dream last night,” continued Bethany. “You were tossing and turning as if you were trying to fight something.”

Ashley frowned. Had it all been a dream? Like in their ‘Big Book of Fairy Tales’? She glanced at the cover of the book which lay on the bedside table. The cover was torn. She picked it up to examine it, noticing a blob of red candle wax on the table surface.

“Come on, Ashley, Tom’s making a bonfire. We can ask Hodge if we can toast some marshmallows later.” Bethany rushed from the room, the door slamming behind her. Ashley heard her clattering downstairs and calling out to Hodge. Under Ashley’s bed the forgotten seed pod rocked gently from side to side.

©2018 Chris Hall

Strange Fruit 1

“Come quickly! Ashley! Ashley!”

Ashley laid aside the book she was reading, slid off the bed and walked across to the window. She leant out. Her little sister was waving at her from the garden.

“It’s the little tree. It’s got flowers. Come and see!” Bethany cried, hopping from foot to foot.

Ashley slipped on her sandals and ran downstairs, through the open French windows and into the garden. Bethany grabbed her hand and hurried her towards the orchard, passing the pond where a fish was leaping to catch a fly. Normally Bethany would stop to admire the fish, but this morning she ran straight past, urging her older sister along.

Once inside the orchard, both sisters skidded to a halt. The little tree, which had mysteriously appeared a week ago, did indeed have flowers. From a smattering of foliage the day before, the tree had burst forth into flower. Huge, burgeoning blossoms with thick white petals and purple stamens covered the tree. More buds were unfurling as they watched. Hand in hand the two sisters approached the tree. Then Bethany cried out and pointed. A swelling was forming behind one of the flowers. As it grew they could see it was some kind of fruit. Then another appeared, and another. White petals were falling all around them like snowflakes, the scent, sweet and intoxicating, filled the air.

The sisters watched wide-eyed as the ripening fruit grew larger; long, smooth-skinned and a deep, rich purple. Then from behind the slender tree trunk, a small figure emerged. He was a little shorter than Bethany and wore a broad-brimmed hat and pointed shoes. He held out his hands to them, a luscious purple fruit in each one.

Much later in the day, the girls awoke. They couldn’t quite remember how they’d come to fall asleep in the orchard. Each recalled a delicious dream but neither girl could properly remember the details. They looked around at the little tree. It was just as it had been the day before, but when they looked at each other the front of their white pinafores were stained a delicate violet colour.

©2018 Chris Hall