The Black Rose

Courtesy Mathilde Langevin on Unsplash.com
Courtesy Mathilde Langevin on Unsplash.com

Ours was an unusual romance, one bordering on desperate, teetering on brave. Whether squawking like crows or cooing like doves, we loved and hated with equal passion. She was the black rose with thorns so barbed as to puncture, and I was the unwitting gardener who cultivated its cruelty.


Corrine was a hateful woman until one got to know her. She discouraged this by using a wide variety of scowls, sneers, and shakes of the head. If one got close, she stepped closer, sudden and sharp. If one spoke over her, woe betide them. The darkness in her eyes steered all in the required direction, drove the rest away. All except me, that was. I couldn’t run. My pride wouldn’t allow it. We grew close. Some might have claimed us entangled.
We took a tour of Europe by train, The Orient Express. You may have heard of it. Despite the indisputable luxury this vehicle offered, Corrine bellyached non-stop. At first, I agreed with her, employing appeasement. Soon, I grew as disenchanted as she, not with the train trip, but Corrine herself. Despite her unrivalled beauty, her exquisite lines, hair to die for and eyes to drown in, there was only so much one could take. I had taken enough.
I stepped from the train as we crossed a viaduct. Dramatic, but true. I had, of course, threatened to leave first. “If you don’t stop! I’m warning you! I’ll do it! Don’t tempt me!” Etcetera, etcetera.
“Promises, promises,” her always reply. She’d blow smoke from her cigarillo right into my eyes, as if us trapped in a Parisian haze. The urge to scream became unbearable. So, I did. I’m unsure when I stopped?
So, as mentioned, I leapt from the train whilst my strength remained, my will still intact, and most of all, whilst Corrine was, as we say in polite circles, momentarily indisposed.
I hit the water as her scream shattered the landscape, sending boulders crashing and birds flooding into the sky.
The question came after thrashing my way to the riverbank, where I lay like a floundering fish until the moon rose high and stars blinked a welcome: Why? Why would a woman who so discouraged interaction, actively oppose it, be bothered? In the greater scheme of things, what difference did my escaping her make? Here was the key.
Schemes are like flower bulbs planted so deep as to go forgotten. Only when they burst unexpectedly from the cold, hard earth into rainbows of unexpected colours do they become apparent. I was her colour, and she the darkness that buried me.


We met again quite by accident at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan. I had taken a liking to this country so unlike my own, where a shrug meant more than a novel and kindnesses were only ever a handshake away.
Turandot: Opening night. The performers were so close as to sing in my ear.
I don’t know why I turned, looked up, stared. Why I held her gaze when I should have slipped down in my seat, or better still, run. She was older then, her raven hair now closer to lead. She wore black, trimmed in lace, as an Italian widow might. Her face was as pale as snow.
As the music played, she mouthed something at first unreadable in the fragmented light. At first, but not by the end: You killed me.
Curiosity forced me up there to that empty stall. Curiosity or madness? Getting even never came into it. She had gone. Only a solitary black rose left snuggled in a seat proved her ever there. This, I took.


London, and home.
The rose remained un-withered, as fresh as if picked that very morning. This, I planted in my garden.
When I awoke the next day to Big Ben’s incessant chimes, breakfast was on the table. I had no servants? The windows were thrown open, the curtains flung back and a stench of decay permeated the atmosphere. Confounded, I wandered outside. The rose was gone.
Corrine’s fingers slipped around my throat like a noose.
“I always wanted to visit London,” she breathed. “So kind of you to bring me.”


We argue daily. Life is not good. Yet in my heart of hearts I know this, I missed her misery, her melancholy ways, and she missed mine. For what is life without the threat of death to keep the world in balance. No, seriously! I need to know?

The End.


Thank you for reading
Richard

50 Word Stories: Unfortunate Times

Image courtesy Zoe Holling on Unsplash.com

It was an unfortunate situation, she and I, an overlong affair. We had our good times, or hours, or first moments, which were longer than most. I should have counted myself lucky, really. Honestly, I should. But I didn’t, and neither did she. Shame! After all, she was my mother.


Thank you for reading

Richard

Another Dawn

Another Dawn by Richard M. Ankers

A thin veil of mist delays the dawn. The stars sense it, blazing a trillion semi-permanent goodbyes. Glitter applied to the night, a decorative destiny, the bats fly higher as the swallows awaken, but neither feels fulfilled. A familiar feeling, one I’ve known far too long.


I love these moments, these hints of the beyond. My own private purgatory without having to suffer the indignity of demise, I inhale the damp air, laugh as it laps at my lungs, imagine the soil above me. Somewhere, a barren soul remains as arid as ever.


The spiders have the right idea, hanging their nets to capture the moment. They toil in relentless circles, the dew doing nothing to dampen their spirits. If spiders have spirits, that is? I really ought to know.


A blood-red sun emerges like a sliced tomato atop a decaying salad. This distant giant pulses through the clouds, pours through the mists and fruits in tangerine as a dispelled dawn. My grey nowhere is gone.


I hide in the shadow of an ancient oak. Well, ancient compared to most, anyway. Here, where night’s shawl lingers in a cool kiss, I observe the sparkling gold between the leaves. Like drifting embers, I think. Like the world’s burning. But burning isn’t my job. Never has been. That’s for someone else entirely.


The first arrives later than usual after most people have had their coffees and lunch. She is followed by more, a steady procession of once life. I greet them with a sickle smile and a hollow hello. This is the best I can muster. I try, though. Really, I do.


The rest of the daylight hours are busy, bordering on suicidal. I manage them as I always have, with grim determination.


There is no respite at night, if anything, it’s worse. It’s like they await obsidian in the same way I do grey, intensifying their efforts at self-persecution, war, murder, capitulation. But who am I to judge, as that’s the job of another. Who am I? Yet, I do. This is what they’ve made me. Me! This is what I’ve become.


Dawn, and all is still. I breathe in every peaceful moment whilst the night dwellers tuck themselves in to sleep and the day roamers rub their eyes. I wish I could stay here forever, stood between the sun and the stars.


The tears pool in my amphitheatre caverns.


I am the one you all must meet. I am the darkness glimpsed through the mist. If you hear me, you’re elsewhere. If you see me, you’ve arrived. I will welcome you as best I can, but the truth is, I couldn’t care less.

Yours forever.
Death.


Thank you for reading

Richard

Alligator Eyes

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Photo by Mohammed Ajwad on Unsplash

There was something about her. Something impassive. All she lacked was the nictitating membranes of a reptile’s eyes, that brief translucence before the kill. She killed often. I know. After all, she killed me.
We met on a windswept Wednesday, when everyone with sense remained indoors. I caught her umbrella as it blew from her hand, or rather, she let slip from between her fingers.
We walked, drank coffee, and later… danced. Wednesday night became Thursday morning and the sun reappeared. The city streets steamed.
It was inevitable really, she and I. She had a house near the swamps and I had the money to fill it. I’d always hated the city, anyway.
We settled together like a hen on an egg, by which I mean, she smothered me. It was a slow disassembling of self, how she manipulated me with raised eyebrows and slight shakes of the head. She never moved more than necessary.
Late spring became mid-summer and the weather turned hotter still. The flowers drooped, trees sagged, and the weeds burned to a crisp. Every day began with the misted leftovers of the prior fried evening. They never quite cleared, the sun a citrine blur behind the withering reeds.
I took to walking along the thickening waters like a heron patrolling a stream. It was as if God reduced them daily to pour on his lunch instead of gravy, so unctuous they turned. They had that same solidity as skin and I wanted to walk across them, test physics and nature alike. I wanted to but didn’t.
My keeper lounged. She always lounged. She wore as little as possible as often as she could, sprawled like a lizard basking in that endless heat. Nothing bothered her, not hunger, lust, or even death. As the world burned, she bronzed.
It came to a head when I tripped over her one afternoon; I hadn’t even seen her there. A dislodged sandal slipped into the water and a whisky-lined throat scratched, “Get it back.”
I tried. I really tried! But no matter how far I stretched, reached with grappling fingers deep into the shoreline, the sandal was gone. Her response, “Wade.”
And I did. Despite the very real fear of knowing what lurked beneath those stygian waters, her presence commanded it. My own personal Cleopatra, her beauty expected nothing less.
My stomach hurt, teeth ground, heart sank. I gagged on the stench, eyes watering and throat retching.
She sipped her drink and sauntered over.
And just when I thought she might help, she slid onto her stomach and slipped into the water face first.
It was not a fast death, that drowning. She made sure of it. I saw the pitch-black night of those depths as an astronaut sees space, taking them in, navigating them needlessly. The pain became insignificant as I faded.
She placed me in her parlour with a pat to the cheek, her teeth stained crimson, eyes glazed. There were others in various states of decay. I was just the latest.
She remained there for those final moments, motionless, inches from my face.
I drooled a lobotomy. “You have alligator eyes,” my last words on this earth.
She leaned in close enough to kiss.
They say you see your life flicks past at the end. That a jigsaw of all you’ve been and all you’ve known is laid before you. It wasn’t, though, not for me. And as I went to who knew where, passed on, all that marked it were her epitaph words. “Wait till dark comes, my love, they glow.”
But I was already there and saw nothing.

The End


Thank you for reading

Richard

Anonymous

Photo by Filipe Almeida on Unsplash

She had no status, no place in this world. She barely had a life. Then again, neither did I. 

#

We met one Easter morning and had married by tea in an unorthodox ceremony involving a stray cat who fussed our feet like catnip. It then peed on the floor. We laughed like hyenas. The pastor didn’t. The next day became our anniversary, and the next, and the next. Not a great legacy but something. We all must have something.   

We left the city for the coast on an empty bus, a move in direct opposition to the latest trends, and got off at the last stop because the driver made us. He smiled as he did so like a man in the know. 

We found a tiny house with a bed, a toilet, a door, and a view. This was all we required. This and each other. 

It began soon after.

#

She forgot my name by Halloween and my face by Christmas. My voice went last. Perhaps it reassured her? A somnambulist by day, worse still by night, she wandered. I wandered with her when I could. It was only a matter of time. 

#

New Year’s Day. I found her mangled body upon the rocky shore. She’d stepped from the cliffs as though them our lawn, whilst the sea fret tickled her eyelids and vindictive gulls egged her on. I was sad, but not inconsolable.  

I buried her deeper than I ought, marking her grave with a simple cross of two bound sticks. There, I scratched the message: To My beloved Wife.

Later, when malicious gossip made the pastor aware of my situation, he visited one gloomy afternoon. 

“It’s untitled, anonymous!” he exclaimed.

“What is?” I replied. 

“Her grave, man. Her grave!”

“As was she.”

“Because she had no name?” he ventured, calming at my obvious heartbreak. 

“Because I never needed it.” 

#

The End


Thank you for reading

Richard

The Serenity of the Moon

Photo by Luca on Unsplash

“It washes across you like a mother’s first kiss. You don’t remember the sensation, but it’s always been there. That tactile moment of skin on skin, of what was within being without. There’s nothing more magical.”
He waved away the horseman and drew his guest further into the fields. Tall and dark, only his flashing, bright eyes proved him there, unlike his guest, who wore scarlet. He assisted her over a small, uneven fence, the poorest of barriers, and led her on by the arm. He renewed his soliloquy as though never having missed a beat, he the actor and she his audience.
“No words written or spoken may explain nor surpass it. No other feeling comes close. This is the bliss of a perfect night. Alas, you only truly remember the last.” He turned away as though moved by his own words, a shadow within a shadow within a dream.
She spoke for the first time, light and hopeful. “And tonight, my love?” The girl shook out her usually ink-black hair to a deluge of silver, so bright was the moonlight, batted long lashes the same.
“More than any.”
She took him in all his brooding majesty. And despite his obvious melancholy, an almost perpetual predilection, and how the moonlight shied away from his form, she smiled a smile of utter contentment, of getting just what she wanted and when. “I think I’ve waited long enough.”
“Yes, my dear. I believe you have.”
The two nestled down in a quicksilver ocean of rippling grasses, disappearing beneath those unusual waves like breaching whales bound for an ultramarine abyss. Neither the hooting owl nor the gathering wind disturbed them. Not a watching ghost disrupted their repose.
Time passed.
#
It was many hours before they resurfaced, one head at a time, eyes rubbed awake and blinking. She of the waist-length hair came first and him second. The moon had barely moved, giving no evidence of time having altered, as though hung there by some invisible cosmic thread. The stars surrounded it still like a celestial shawl. Those ebony spaces between them engulfed the rest.
And so it was her amber eyes wandered, whilst his remained on her. Up they rose, higher and higher, defiant against both nebulae and shooting stars alike. Her head cocked to one side like an inquisitive robin, a look her outfit enhanced. She grinned as the moon winked daggers.
Secure in his gaze, she reached into her jacket and pulled out a tortoiseshell comb. There, beneath infinity, she brushed out that which marked her beauty, defiant in her belief that to him, at least, she rivalled the eternal night.
“Do you bring many women here?”
“Not here.”
“Then, I am the first?”
“Beneath this moon, at this time, and this place, yes.”
“I’m honoured. You, so privileged and dashing, might have chosen any woman.”
“Just any woman wouldn’t do.”
Her cheeks glowed a crimson to rival her dress. “Do you think we might return here every evening? Beneath this same moon? This same space?”
“We need never leave.”
“Good,” she said. “Though I am a little hungry.”
“As am I.”
He leant in close, closer, closer still.
Her heart beat like a moth’s wings, fast and silent.
The night breathed long and deep.
His lips met her neck and kept on going. Strong hands pinned her arms as his mouth bit deep. It was soon over.
The fields kept rippling as the moon shone brighter, and a man who’d seen more than he ought, wept.
Time stalled.
#
When his anguish seemed inconsolable, he stopped, as though God had suddenly dammed his eyes. He licked stained lips.
“I shall bury you, my love, as I have them all.”
He used his hands to scoop the soft earth from the ground, powerful arms to drive them. He excavated more soil in a minute than a dozen gravediggers might shift in a week.
Once finished, he stepped back. Looked down. Sighed. The hole stood not empty, but full. It brimmed with sloshing moonlight.
The man removed his jacket, ancient in its styling, bursting with brocade and lace. Next came his shirt revealing a milk-white torso, then his shoes and britches. He lowered himself into the hole-made-grave and, a second later, was gone.
One might have feared for the fellow then, but he had other ideas. Rising from those false, silver waters, he lifted the one whose life he’d taken and lowered her gently into the pit. He spoke as though in a trance.
“I shall make right what fate corrupted by sacrificial blood and flesh. For this, I thank you. Truly, yours was a gift. Thanks to you, I endure, not in hate or violence, but nocturnal bliss. Thanks to you, my dear. Yes, thanks to you. And I say this with a sincerity others would claim absent, I loved you. For a time, I have loved you all. But nothing, nothing, my love, rivals the serenity of the moon.”
Time pooled.

The End.


Thank you for reading

Richard

The Cellist

Photo by Tanya Trofymchuk on Unsplash

The Cellist

There’s something about the cello that ruins the soul. It’s as if whoever first built one had fallen from grace, and in so doing, torn their heart from their chest and strung it from ear to toe. Before bleeding into the land, into history, into nothingness, they’d picked up a twig and begun to play. Death was not an option. Only a life of unending sorrow remained.


I recite this story to my secretary as I sit here and play. The notes rise and fall with her breaths. My fingers rest only when she blinks. I pour my everything into this most personal performance, not to impress, but to explain.


She smiles when I desperately wish her to weep.


Thank you for reading

Richard

Obscure Cathedrals – 100 Word Stories

Photo by Ananya Bilimale on Unsplash


There were towers of cockeyed proportions springing from the ground at spasmodic intervals. Where the sun caught them sharpest, they glinted like stained glass windows, a most unnatural woodland. They swamped even the once-great mountains as if them just undulations.


Animals had taken advantage of this place, making squalid homes for no other reason than having nowhere else to live. A molehill shone with its tin dome. An owl’s oil drum echoed.


This was the world humanity had gifted them, our legacy to Mother Earth, obscure cathedrals of dumped filth. At least they no longer had us to deal with.

Thank you for reading

Richard

An Inelegant Game

Death was an inelegant solution to an elegant game, an imperfect answer to the most perfect of all solutions. Yet here, Death held no sway.   

Memories were never my forte. I remembered in fits and starts, never then till now, nor here to there. I recalled moments, or fragments of moments, nothing more, like a jigsaw turned upside down and with no means of reference to piece it back together. This was how the first conjunction occurred, grey on black, black on grey, always white in-between. 

The small, white bird was not a creature of feathers and pumping blood, but of glazed porcelain with a copper beak. It sang, though, trilled its little metal heart out. It sang and sang and sang.    

I put the bird in my pocket only to realise many years later, when next I checked, that it had a hole. I panicked then, something to set the heart palpitating. The dull boom, boom, thud of it rang throughout the place, as I searched everywhere except where I ought.   

The second alignment came upon discovering the first of two pits. I peered in one, dropped to my knees for a closer look and almost toppled into the other. In a world of insubstantiality, they were flat, almost symmetrical, two discarded black orbs in a land of dusk. Well, until they blinked.   

They say life comes in threes. Third time lucky and all that. Not for me.   

The sun appeared like a coin from a grandparent’s pocket. You wanted it, needed it, but if you took it too quickly, you might not get another. I had desired the sun since I lost it. She always gleamed. 

She was my little bird, pale with sable hair, which added to her ghostlike appearance. Her eyes were black. No other description fit them. Closing them was the hardest thing I ever did.  

The sun, now bright and beaming like a lighthouse slicing through a stormy midnight, rose higher. It reached its zenith like a diamond in a jet black ring. 

You’re forgiven.’ 

The voice hurt my ears. It rang through my befuddled thoughts like Big Ben’s bells thrust inside my skull. I hated pain. My pain, that was. 

I didn’t answer. I never answered. The words were never quite there. Instead, I wrapped my fogged shawl closer, pulled it tight. Anything else might have killed me.   

(ALMOST AN END)


Photo by Catalin Pop on Unsplash

Almost Jade

Author’s note: After seeing all the mindless bombs and destruction of late, I have decided to post this story as I can’t bear to send it out for print. As Marvin Gaye once said: ‘Whats’s going on.’

Photo by Peter Žagar on Unsplash

Almost Jade

This colossal loss compounds at every turn. There is no hope. We have no hope. There never was hope.

As I sit and stare from my window like a moth bemused by a star, searching without finding, dreaming without knowing what of, the world around me crumples. This rock for a heart weighs heavy. The unending guilt, more. 

Today I rouse myself from bed and endeavour to do. The question remains, do what?

A green shoot sprouts from a pot on my kitchen window. I neither placed it there nor remember my wife or daughter having done so either. Still, logic dictates they must have. Perhaps I am tireder than I thought. This newborn holds my attention as though liquid gold. New life, who’d have thought it! The tiny one strives to reach the jaundiced light abstracting the sky. I admire its gumption, if not its sense. Nevertheless, it is to this I turn my unwavering attention.

Three days later, I am sitting in the same chair, wearing the same fierce frown of determination, just from a fuzzier face. The shoot is now a stem. This stem is jade green. 

There is a flaw to my latter statement. I have always believed plants a lush emerald until they flower. Grass carpets the world in emerald. Trees umbrella these carpets with protective shade, also emerald green, though their shade is not. Even the languid kelp fields swaying beneath the waves suffuse the deep in emerald green. So why is my shoot jade?

I have a purpose. Mother Nature, life, has granted me a meaning. I am almost complete.

I have shaved and bathed, for I feel today is the day. When I take the long walk from my bedroom to the back of the house and the chair set centrally in my kitchen, the one I have sat upon for three weeks in patient repose, I expect my flower to have bloomed. I race when a measured approach would better suit my condition. 

The kitchen is gone, the only room they have exterminated. 

It is not the loss of bricks and mortar, not the invasion, nor even the fact my home will soon collapse atop its amputated limb, but losing my little flower which chills. Losing an unanswered question, a hope. 

I weep, as I have since the war began. I will never know what jade might have bloomed, or if it might have replaced the real jade, my Jade. This world has taken another step towards monochrome.


Thank you for reading

Richard