BOFF2 Australian Blog Hop: Timothy Collard

To promote the launch of Best of Friday Flash Vol. 2 (or BOFF2), the tiny Aussie contingent is doing a Blog Hop. I’m hosting Timothy Collard, who talks about his very creepy story “The Iris Garden”. If you hop over to Jodi Cleghorn’s site you can read about my story “House Cemetery”. You can order BOFF2 here.

Timothy Collard (London/Brisbane)

The Iris Garden

The pathway narrowed as he approached a large mature garden of blood irises. There had always been irises growing on this spot, even before there was a park. They stood in their thousands like serried guards, many of them taller than Kenji. Their purple blooms, like delicate folds of silk, were iridescent even in the wanness of dusk.

I spent some time in Japan when I was a student. One of the first places I visited with my host family was their local park, a vast space of 26 hectares, where we had a lovely picnic lunch beside a newly created iris garden. Whenever I go back to Japan I always visit this park – I’ve always been a sucker for nostalgia. I adore the atmosphere of the place: the winding pathways, the forests, the cherry orchards, the iris garden… Atmosphere is important for me in my stories, and I always felt this park warranted some form of fictional documentation.

I also adore horror films and ghost stories. Japanese culture embraces the notion of the afterlife, of spirits. Ghost stories are legion, and local horror films like Ring and The Grudge have a ghastly resonance in the Japanese psyche.

So I had the country, the location and the genre for my story. What horrific thing could happen in such an ordinary place? So I decided to bring the irises to life.

Friday Flash

Writing was something I’d always wanted to do, but never had the confidence or time. I read an article in the Evening Standard, a London newspaper distributed freely to commuters, about the rising popularity of flash fiction. I’d never heard of flash fiction. The article mentioned the website www.fridayflash.org, so when I got home I checked it out. It seemed like a very unthreatening and supportive channel for budding and established writers. The Iris Garden was my first submission to #fridayflash. It gave me the confidence to write more. If it weren’t for #fridayflash, I wouldn’t be writing now.

Timothy Collard

Timothy (@timothywrites) was born and bred in Brisbane. He studied Japanese at the University of Queensland and spent two years living in Japan. He has also lived on the Gold Coast, Hamilton Island, Sydney and Paris, but now calls London home. In his spare time Timothy writes, reads and learns foreign languages. The Iris Garden is Timothy’s first published piece. He has also had a short story Two of Hearts published in the gay e-anthology Hold On, I’m Coming.

If you want to check out the other posts, here they are:

Jason Coggins
Adam Byatt
Jodi Cleghorn

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Fatigue for real!

I have to be up front and say I’m not writing that much at the moment. I had a frantic burst last week (I even wrote a poem!) but this week my writing output has been nil. I’m juggling a lot of balls, and it’s leaving very little time for writing (competing with my 8yr old for the computer doesn’t help).

Lloyd and I have decided to publish The Included Middle monthly instead of fortnightly. Work has picked up for him and I have way too much going on to be able to keep up to the fortnightly schedule.

BOFF2

The Best of Friday Flash Vol. 2 is now available for pre-order, which means my story “House Cemetery” is almost in print. I proofread the galley and there are some excellent stories in there, all under 1000 words.

That’s about the entirety of my update. Just surviving on broken sleep and coffee right now!

The markets of Sharaz #fridayflash #fictionfriday

In retrospect, I wouldn’t say it was my best idea. I just saw that silk, the gossamer veil and thought ‘easy target’.

How wrong was I?

The markets of Sharaz are filled with exotic wonders, sights to make the most jaded of travellers gasp and point. The heady scent of incense perfumes the air, drowning out the stench of the slave markets hidden deep within the city. The eye is overwhelmed by colour; hues of fabric and paint so vivid the mind can scarcely comprehend them. Some visitors are so overcome by the vast array of choices they leave empty-handed, unable to decide what shade of red to purchase.

Some leave empty-handed because they find, mysteriously, their coin bag is gone. I may or may not have something to do with this.

Rich women in Sharaz are usually accompanied by serving men or bodyguards, but poor women make do with poor robes and veils to ward off pickpockets. And truly, poor women aren’t bothered much. Their tan apparel camouflages them in this sandy place. Women dressed in colourful silks and smart-looking men yield far greater returns—at far greater peril.

I saw the slight figure dressed in a silken, hooded robe of intense turquoise and my interest was piqued. Slipping around the marketplace I noticed dark eyes above the night-blue veil. She gazed at the fine wares, stopping to speak with sellers in a low voice, but she bought nothing. I thought she was probably a stranger, for she was alone—that made her highly attractive to me.

I glanced around to see if anyone else had marked her. It seemed I was the first to stake my claim so I moved through the crowd with rapid confidence. She was preoccupied with a trinket stall when I brushed against her and found the heavy bag tied around her waist, hidden under the smooth folds of her robe. As I grabbed it a hand seized my wrist.

Sithos Parrheni. I’ve been expecting you,” hissed a sibilant voice. The hand that gripped me was strong and my body tensed. I looked up into the dark eyes. The pupils were oval rather than round, and strange light flickered through the obsidian irises.

I knew what she was. And I cursed myself for a fool.

—-

As I was driving home I decided I wanted to do something a little different from my usual magical realism or comedic horror. I got a flash of a marketplace in the Arabian nights theme, and thought about telling the story of a pickpocket. When I saw the Fiction Friday prompt I realised I could make that work quite easily within my vague ideas, so just started writing. I knew I wanted to make the ‘mark’ non-human, and my mind is already exploring the possibilities of continuing this on.

Musings of a crossroads demon #fridayflash

The frailties of the human mind never cease to astonish me, even after all this time. I’ve seen all types—the ones who are desperate for fame, fortune or both; the ones who want to live forever; the ones who want power; the ones who have twisted desires that only I can help them achieve. I’ve met people who throw their soul away as thoughtlessly as a poker chip, for the most trivial things. The type of human I really don’t understand, though, is the type who sells their soul for someone else.

I mean, really. I’m a demon. I’m not “good”. Not altruistic. I don’t tear up when a desperate mother pleads for the life of her child. Selling your soul for someone else is possibly the most ridiculous thing you could do. It’s pathetic, and I’m not going to say “Oh well, you were doing it for a good reason so I’m actually not going to demand your soul as payment.” It doesn’t work like that. Of course, it happens. The man who sold his soul to ensure his family have enough to eat for the rest of their lives perishes in a house fire (that, coincidentally, killed his entire family as well) is first disbelieving, then angry that I would still take his soul. It’s not pro bono work.

The truth is, crossroads demons need souls. It’s not just something we do for kicks. Without those souls we wouldn’t survive. The number one priority for most creatures (except the odd ones who value others above themselves) is survival. I’ll let you in on a little secret. There is no Hell. No Heaven either. I won’t tell you what really happens when you die, but you can absolutely waste eternity by selling your soul to me. I’m not going to tell you what I do with them, either. It amuses me that people think us demons torture souls. What would be the point of that? I get that people think we’re “evil”. It’s an interesting concept. One I don’t understand, or relate to. I am what I am. I exist outside the good/evil paradigm. Humans have no real ability to understand our state of being, and thus ascribe uniquely human constructs to our nature.

I’m immortal, yes. Usually I dwell on another plane of existence. In return for your soul, I can fulfil most petty dreams and desires. It’s particularly delightful to find some way of ruining the ‘treasure’ that was sought. Disappointment and despair flavour a soul in a most delicious way.

A bargain with a demon is a double-edged sword. Don’t expect me to be other than I am. But by all means, want more than you can have. Jealousy, envy, pride, single-minded passion—feed them all. I need your souls.

—–

Flash this week inspired by a story I have just finished… I wanted to explore the mind of a demonic entity. Not sure what else to say about this!

Here be Monsters #fridayflash

We bide our time. One day the protective field that shields the humans from our wrath will disintegrate and we will stride forth, crushing their feeble, fleshy bodies beneath our claws. We will feast, then, on the cruel ones who torment us, who taunt and tease and flaunt their freedom. When the invisible shield is gone they will be unable to resist our power.

We bide our time. We sit and watch, waiting for a crack to appear in the strength of the shield. One day we will sally forth. The ground will be littered with bodies, and soon all that will be left is bones. Such a bounty laid out before us. And they are stupidly oblivious to our plans. They believe they are supreme, that only they possess intelligence. Well, they will soon learn of their folly.

And so we bide our time.

***

“Ugh, they’re creepy.” She shivers with disgust.

“Well named, hey? They look like gigantic spiders.”

“What do you reckon they’re thinking? They’re watching us, watching them.” Goosebumps break out on the skin of her arms and she rubs them.

He slides an arm around her shoulders. “They aren’t thinking anything. They’re crabs. They can’t think.”

“I’m not so sure. Look at them. They’re so . . . menacing. I can’t get over how big they are.”

The boy reads the information plaque. “’Japanese Spider Crabs are scavengers that also feed on shellfish.’ Doesn’t sound like they hunt people, Jenny.”

“They totally could though.”

The rest of their classmates tumble into the room. Exclamations fill the air, ‘gross’ the favourite one. The boy jumps away from the girl with a start as their teacher enters. He grins shyly at her and she smirks back, before taking his hand to pull him away from the glass.

The crabs are motionless, staring out at them. Watching. Biding their time.

—-

I needed to write something kind of light-hearted this week… short and amusing for me to think about. I remembered these crabs from a trip to Underwater World a couple of years ago. The photo doesn’t do their size justice, they really are enormous. Check out Wikipedia for some good scaling photos. Last week I actually had the idea of brooding, hate-filled crabs plotting the doom of humankind but didn’t get around to a Friday Flash, so this week I firmed up the idea in my head after getting my rather morbid Lovecraftian story written (hence the need for some absurdity!)

Hellish Spider Bog #fridayflash

“Is that it?”

They peered out through the tall eucalypts, hoping to see more than trees and a lone electricity pylon. He shook his head in disgust. “That’s not a lookout.”

“Nope.” She wrinkled her face. “I’ve half a mind to complain. How dare they let their trees grow to obscure our view!”

He glanced back at her and caught the cheeky grin she couldn’t quite smother. “I can’t believe we killed ourselves getting up that ridge for this.”

She nodded. “I know, it sucks. I need to sit down for a moment.”

They sat on a small pile of rocks and drank some water. After a few minutes he stood and stretched.

“Right, let’s head back.”

She groaned, still worn out from the trek up the hill. “Geez, Dale, not everyone’s as fit as you!” With a loud sigh she struggled to her feet and stared disconsolately down the track. “At least it’s all downhill from here.”

Slipping on loose rocks, they trudged down the steep track. They stopped when they reached the first marker. It showed three arrows; one pointing left to the way they’d come, one pointing right to the lookout, and one pointing down. The last one was marked ‘Waterhole and picnic area’. As one they turned and looked behind them.

“We could try going that way?”

“At least if it’s as boring as the other way, it’s boring that we haven’t seen yet.”

“And it’s downhill, Sal, remember that.”

They smiled at each other and picked their way down the hill. The track here was wider and less overgrown. Sally peered up into the trees, hoping to see a koala. She walked into Dale, who’d come to a sudden stop.

“Spider web,” he said by way of explanation. She stepped back hurriedly. He cast about for a decent stick. “Hang on.”

Sally chewed her lip as he poked the stick through the web and cleared the path. “Where’s the spider?”

“I dunno, couldn’t see it. Gone now, come on.”

As they passed a tree by the track Sally noticed a large grey spider huddled on an overhanging branch and shrieked. She dashed past and hid behind Dale, who laughed and shook his head. She glared at him and walked off with her head held high, until the next spider web. His lips twitched as she ushered him past, but the mute threat in her eyes kept him silent.

He dealt with the web with ‘spider stick’, carefully flicking the golden orb that had created it into the bushes. They continued on, Sally far more jumpy than before.

“They’re just spiders,” Dale began but she interrupted him.

“I hate them. Don’t try to defend them. Nothing you say will change my mind.”

He sighed but left it at that. Dale quite liked spiders, found them fascinating. Sally was happy to let him remove wolf spiders and huntsmans instead of killing them but she was terrified of any spider larger than a ten cent piece.
Apparently there was some childhood trauma but she wouldn’t share the details.

“It’s getting quite hot, hey? Hope that waterhole is close.”

Sally shot him a look. “Nice subject change. Shouldn’t be too far I reckon. It’s a lot greener down here.”

Dale noticed she was right. The vegetation was lusher and more diverse than higher up the hill. Trees and shrubs tangled together to form a green wall along the track. With the extra greenery came extra—

“Spiders.” She groaned. The track before them stretched out with a long ceiling of spider webs. The gossamer threads were higher than their heads, and the spiders hung suspended in the air.

“I count about seven. Mostly golden orbs I think.”

Sally’s face was a mask of dread. “Can you knock them down?”

Dale stared at her. “Are you serious? They’d probably fall on my head! Look, they are high enough that we can just walk under.”

“Are you serious? They’ll jump on us!”

“They’re spiders, Sal. Not brain-eating monsters waiting for foolish humans to wander beneath them so they can attack. It’s fine.”

Sally looked sick. “I don’t think I can.”

“Fine, we’ll walk back up the hill.”

She stood there a moment, uncertain. Which was worse, spiders or the walk back up the hill? Finally she gritted her teeth and set her shoulders.

“Right, let’s do this thing.”

Dale went first. He dashed madly under the spiders, and waved the all-clear when he was done. Sally screamed the whole way, running hunched over and hyperventilating when she got to the other side but giggled with elation when she’d calmed down. They both looked at the green, algae-covered waterhole with dismay.

“Hellish spider bog,” Dale pronounced.

“Yep.”

They inched around the waterhole, and gazed down another green corridor lined with spiders.

“No way,” Sally wailed in disbelief. “They’re bloody huge!”

And they were. Massive grey crab-like spiders hung over the path, to Sally’s eyes a road paved with guillotines. Dale started forward and she shrieked.

“What?”

“They’re moving. They’re watching us, I swear it.” She shuddered. He scoffed and kept going.

The spiders began a gentle descent, growing larger as they neared the ground. They scuttled forward, a sea of eyes and legs. Yelling in terror, the couple bolted back around the bog, hurtling under the golden orbs still swaying in the breeze as the spider army advanced. They pushed themselves up the hill, breath coming in gasps, until they startled some Scandinavian tourists coming downhill.

“Don’t—go—that—way,” they wheezed. “Spiders!”

The tourists edged back, staring at them nervously. “Is it shortcut to picnic area?”

Dale and Sally shook their heads wildly. “No! Nothing but spiders! Go back!” They stumbled uphill, putting more distance between themselves and the spiders. The tourists glanced downhill uncertainly, then followed Dale and Sally uphill. Away from hellish spider bog.

In the car on the way home they looked sideways at each other and promised never to speak of it again. Sally, however, couldn’t resist an “I told you so”.

—–
Photo credit to my partner Lloyd Barrett. I was stuck for inspiration this week so went through some photos of our adventures and I found this photo of “hellish spider bog”. It was one of the most amusingly dismal adventures we’ve been on, including the non-lookout, the algae-covered waterhole and yes, the spiders! Luckily instead of getting cranky about our misadventures we tend to laugh about them and this one I decided to share, maybe changing and embellishing some details ;).

Friday Flash: Live Dreaming

The old man slumbered in the shadows under the cliff. Tourists meandered by, occasionally noticing his gently snoring form; some smiled, others appeared discomfited. He was surrounded by paintings: beautiful landscapes, lithe women, still lifes. Every now and then he snored himself awake for a moment, glanced around with bleary eyes and resettled himself on his chair. He would drift off again, head dipping forward, hat threatening to fall off its perch.

Two friends, Catarina and Serafine, laughing loudly as they wandered the maze-like paths, came around the corner and saw the street artist. They hushed, not wanting to disturb him, and crept closer to gaze upon his paintings. Some were mediocre—most of the nudes were clichéd and overdone—but others were fascinating in their depth. A tiny cottage perched under a menacing mountain, shadows looming over the sunlit house; a verdant forest with strange faces formed in the patterns of the branches; a sunset that seemed to be at world’s end. The young women shivered, glancing up at the cliff that hung moodily over the man, ready to swallow him when no one was looking.

The brown-haired one crouched before the sunset and read the signature. “Eugene Hutch,” she said aloud. The sign said ‘Small paintings €15, large €20.’ “I think I want to buy this one.” She looked up at her friend.

“It’s a bit depressing Catarina. It doesn’t look like a happy sunset, does it?”

“No. That’s why I like it.” Catarina looked at the sleeping Eugene, thinking that, with his tweed coat and cap he could have been sleeping there for decades. “Like Rip van Winkle,” she murmured. Getting to her feet she fished out her purse and drew out the money.

“Are you going to wake him up?”

“I guess.” Catarina sounded as hesitant as she felt. She hovered in the sunlight at the edge of the shadows, hoping he’d wake. Serafine made an impatient noise behind her.

“I think I’ll go look in that puppet shop back there. I might be able to find something for Madeline.”

“Sure, go ahead. I won’t be long. Sorry.”

Serafine flicked her straight black hair and vanished back around the corner. Catarina picked up the sunset painting and stared at the cliff again. Shadows seemed to cavort like little gargoyles. As she approached Eugene, stepping from the light into the shade, bizarre shapes flickered around him, dimly seen at the edge of her vision. She gathered her courage and cleared her throat.

“Uh, Eugene?” He snorted and she repeated herself, a little louder. Blinking heavy eyes he gazed up at her. “Sorry to disturb you, I just wanted to buy this painting.” She held it up.

He rubbed his eyes and stood up, the stiffness of his bones apparent. “Yes, yes, thank you miss. Just nodded off for a moment.” His voice was heavily accented and hoarse but she understood him well enough. She offered him the money and he took it with a gnarled hand, mumbling his thanks again. Uncertain, she stepped back and clutched the painting to her chest, whispering a goodbye as he sank back into his chair. He waved and smiled at her, and within moments was submerging into dreams. The shapes flickered back into life, gathering around him, dancing with reckless abandon as he dreamed.

Catarina moved back into the sunlight, feeling the warmth penetrate her chilled muscles. She looked back at the snoring artist, nestled in the gloom, and saw with clarity. The cliff curled around him protectively, not menacingly. The capering creatures were born of his mind, the attendants of his imagination. She looked down at the painting in her arms and smiled, before retracing her steps to find Serafine.

—-
I wanted to capture one of the tiny moments of magic you find when you are on holidays somewhere new. That thrill when you discover something so different from everyday life that you embellish your perceptions and, in memories, you wonder if there really was an element of magic that your mundane mind refused to see in the moment. A tiny pocket of beauty, not really worth retelling to friends and family that lives on in your heart forever.