I am very behind on my own project; forgive me, please, with the same grace whereby I attempt to forgive myself as I brush the dust off my fingertips and write again.
“It looks to be a beautiful day, to go to sea, praise God!”
Harold looked up from the rope he was coiling on the deck of the Carassius, out of the way of the men carrying the last of the cargo down the gangplank – crates that they shouldered with difficulty, so weighty were their contents, but that they carried with care to the wagons waiting to spirit them off to their destination in the dockside warehouse district. Not far beyond them was a squat stack of wine-butts being rolled and roped one by one to hoist and haul aboard.
One of the newest members of the crew was performing the same duty a few paces distant. He was a lanky young man Harold was sure would spend half the time up the rigging given half the chance, and the older sailor shook his head and turned his attention back to the wrist-thick rope.
“Her name is Phyllis.”
For a few moments Harold let the boy stew, carefully laying down the last coil of the line. It tucked neatly into the center, a satisfying flat spiral that was likely to trip no one as they moved about the decks, even at night.
“The god you want to be praising at sea. Her name is Phyllis.”
The young man barked out a merry laugh and nearly dropped the loops of rope dangling over his arm.
“Go on, there’s no god named Phyllis, there’s only God!”
“There is though, lad,” Harold cautioned, and couldn’t stop himself from glancing across to the mouth of the harbor, brow creasing in concern. “Her name is Phyllis, and a cruel and lovely god she is. You be sure to drop your thanks to her into the waves once we’ve shipped out. I’m not of the mind to find us becalmed, or blown off course, because you’ve taken it into your head to be rude. She can’t abide rudeness.”
“Oh can’t she?” the lad snickered good-naturedly, and shrugged off the conversation, bending to his work. Harold watched him a moment, pursed lips frowning.
“What’s your name then?”
“Not Phyllis, that’s for sure! Call me Jim.”
“Bite your tongue about her, Jim! She’s fierce when she’s upset, I’m telling you!”
The young man’s coil slipped neatly into place, and he strode across the deck toward the butt of wine that was lowering toward the opening to the lower decks. Harold watched him steadying it with the others as they lowered it down, and listened to what the wind blew him of their words.
“Old…. says there’s… named Phyllis! Ridiculous, if you ask… might as well belie… fairies next.”
Within the hour, Harold had sought out the Captain and Bursar to see himself paid out and separated from the crew.
. . .
In a well-appointed drawing room, a fish swam inside an open-topped glass globe, making round after golden-scaled round not far above the layer of dark grey pebbles over the stone bottom. The globe fairly glowed in the late afternoon sun that spilled in the window that stretched the height and very nearly the width of one entire wall, overlooking the sea. The ocean waves lapped low and gentle upon the shore, not even whitened by the sweet and steady breeze.
Though the air in the room was still, similar waves in miniature graced the surface of the water in the globe, dashing against the side in minuscule licks soundless in the silence. The fish remained below, glittering and flicking its tail for no one’s delight.
Not long after Harold’s feet met proper dirt roads outside of town, a towering wooden door swept open to let into the drawing room a sedate and sweet-faced woman. The pinned-up coils of her hair, gleaming golden oak like the hull of a freshly launched ship, were as artless as her loose white gown. Sleeveless upon one side of the broad and curving neckline, a long and drooping sleeve dripped from her other arm. But for the rope knotted at her waist, it would have been shapeless utterly, from the bleached-sail shoulders to the ragged-looking kelp-colored bottom.
Despite her dishevelment, she moved through the room familiarly, the space as much her own as her very feet, which padded softly, bare beneath the gown, upon the pristine parquet as she circled the bowl upon its stand of convex and intertwining wrought-iron bars. She watched the fish, which ignored her as it swam its rounds, far more interested in the pebbles and low plantings between which it wriggled.
“Fare thee well, Harold,” she murmured with a sad and wistful smile, before taking up a small chest from a nearby shelf. Upon opening, there was a tiny boat no larger than her pinky nail affixed to the inside of the lid. Wriggling that same pinky nail behind it, with infinite care, she delicately pried the little boat free, and held it up to the light, examining it thoughtfully.
“Alas, Carassius,” she declared, and set it carefully upon the glimmering waves inside the bowl.
Round and round the golden fish swam, ignoring the boat.
The bulk of the chest held a pile of bright red and crumbling flakes, a few of which the woman pinched before returning it to its shelf. Her arm swept up, and paused. Her hand was casting a shadow upon the water. Stooping, she caught up a long and ragged edge of her dress and slipped to one side, letting the full light of the sun fall on the bowl.
“Phyllis!” a voice called from the hallway beyond, “Are you quite finished? Dinner is nearly served!”
The fish swam round and round, a lazy golden circlet in the glass.
“A moment, darling!” she called back, hand and gaze unwavering. She waited, hem drooping from one hand, until footsteps retreated. Then the shadow that had fallen upon the water darkened her face, sweet lips curling into a sour snarl.
Her fingertips rubbed hard together, disintegrating the pinch of red crumbles into a fine powder that fell upon the water in the bowl. With a flash of sunlight glinting off golden scales, the fish darted to the surface to devour, its callous lip bumping hard against the delicate boat.
By the time the door closed behind Phyllis, the wee ship was listing. It was ignored by the busy fish, a small hole in the belly of the boat, until an impossibly small figure slipped out, flailing helplessly; a red stain followed, leaking from the tiny cask that fetched up against the hole.
The fish tasted both, but did not like the stain. The figure sated what the crumbles had not, though, and the fish wormed between a pair of plants and spiraled down into its slow and golden rounds, while myriad and minuscule figured ran about the deck of the little ship, patching and shifting and shipping off lifeboats.
The fish swam round and round, and the room was silent.
Thus, we begin. Those who have played before, welcome back!
Those who are new, welcome. This is how it works:
- Each morning in the month of October, I shall post a prompt image to this Collection.
- Each evening, I shall post a flash fiction inspired by the image.
- If you write a flash fiction, post it somewhere and drop a link to it in the comments on the prompt image
- read other people's fictions. Enjoy the creepies (or whatever other flavor results)
Why is this project happening?
In brief, it helps me get rid of nightmares that happen seasonally. Writing little bits of horror gets the creepiness out of my head so that I can sleep, and it entertains folks in the process. I aim to write a flash fiction every day in October. You don't have to write every day, but I do hope you join me.
I try to attach original sources to the images I use whenever I can find them. The first image, below, was originally a painting by American artist Charles Courtney Curran. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Courtney_Curran