One With the Waves – a fantasy short story

On the first day of summer, Steve walked out of the ocean, and the tips of his fingers dissolved into sand, running in a slow slick down the damp surface of his board. He gave his hand a shake, half expecting that the sand would flick off and he’d see that everything was normal. Instead, a part of himself spattered into the tide line, with the stranded seaweed and the empty shells.

Bewildered and frightened, he walked up to the house, found his phone, took a picture of his fingers, their ends blunt and grainy. He wanted to send the picture to someone for help, but who was there? No doctor would believe him, and his friends would ask what he was going to do about it, a question to which Steve, on principle, only ever gave one answer: make great art.

Damp and salt-crusted, he walked from the lounge into his studio, stared at the potter’s wheel. He hadn’t touched clay in months, not since Diana’s departure. Instead, he’d gone to the sea every day, to wash away the past. Even art had seemed unimportant.

He found clay, water, tools, and started the wheel spinning. The clay ran through his fingers, soft and familiar, and he sank into the work like he was sinking into the waves. The clay became gritty as the ends of his fingers sloughed away, until he found the boundary between his body, his art, and the world. Then the sand stopped flowing. The pot he made wasn’t his best work, but he was steady in a way he hadn’t been for months.

The next day, a toe disintegrated, breaking his balance as a wave hit. He fell from his board, spluttering and frustrated, and headed for the beach, where he realised what had happened. This time, he went straight to the wheel. The clay flowed through his fingers, the side of his foot solidified, and at the end of the day, he had work worth firing in the kiln.

On the third day, he woke with sand in his bed and flesh missing from his thigh. For the first time in years, he didn’t go to the ocean. He went straight to the wheel.

Throughout his life, art had meant peace to Steve, but now he worked with a feverish intensity, throwing everything into the clay. Hunched over the wheel, he lived in the tension between his work and his body, on the cusp of a wave that was forever about to break. Every day, some part of him collapsed into sand. A clump of hair, a chunk of arm, a strip of flesh along his side. Creating stopped the collapse for the day, but every morning he woke with a knot in his belly, feeling for the grit between the sheets.

He wondered if this was a message from his muse. If he could make the perfect pot, could embody his essence in art, perhaps this would all end. He would be solid again. But less than a day after he set his best ever vase on the mantle, he woke with a hole in his cheek.

For weeks, he fought the slow collapse. Pot after pot piled up, while the sound of the sea through the windows called to him. He forced himself to ignore it, to find that crucial solidity. Still, every morning, there was less of him.

One evening, he faced the open door of the kiln, hairs rising as he was blasted by its heat, and he considered climbing inside. Perhaps that was the answer, to fuse his sand into glass, a crystal clear image of the man he was right now. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it, to become hard and unyielding. What was life without change, life closed off from the world?

He looked through the window at the waves he hadn’t felt in weeks, heard the call of the breakers on the shore. He stopped struggling to maintain his body. Sand trickled down his arm and, instead of fear, he felt peace.

Leaving a print of sand with every footstep, Steve walked out of the house, across the beach, into the surf. Waves washed over him. The tension in his belly vanished. There was nothing in his world but the lapping of the ocean and the sound, oh so peaceful, of the waves. He let his mind drift and the water washed him away, one grain at a time, as he became one with the sea.

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The goldsmith Cualli lives in a land of endless summer, where blood sacrifices hold back the dark of winter. Through her craft, she grants power to priests and soldiers, channelling the magic of Emperor Sun. But what matters to Cualli is not power; it is proving herself as the empire’s finest goldsmith.

Not everyone feels blessed by the empire’s blood-stained faith. Dissent is turning to rebellion and the rebels want Cualli on their side, whether she likes it or not. When the season of sacrifice threatens the lives of her closest friends, Cualli must face a choice: will she fight for change through the illegal magic of silver, or will she bask in her own triumph and the endless golden summer?

Silver and Gold, a novella about friendship, magic, is out now.

The Ocean’s Child – a flash fantasy story

The fog rose from the sea during the night, a white tide that engulfed the town, turning houses into looming grey crags and people into distant, shifting shadows. Land and sea no longer parted at the shoreline. The bodies of the living were as blurry, their features as faded as the memories of the dead.

I had waited a month for a morning like this. Waited ever since a chunk of driftwood had washed up on the shoreline, a splintered plank with the same blue paint as my father’s fishing boat. Waited with the dread of an eldest child, my fears buried beneath the resilience I had to show for my sisters. The resilience my father had taught me.

I walked the fog shrouded streets, cobbles slippery beneath my feet, down to the harbour. In my hands were the well-worn knife my mother used to clean the catch and the last chunk of the loaf that had fed us for three days. Traditional tools for ancient magic.

I kept walking, off the cobbles and onto the smooth stones of the harbour front, then down from them onto the sand, past boats drawn up above the tide line. No-one would be sailing today. Only a few old sailors looked up from scraping barnacles or spreading tar. None spoke. They had known my father. They knew why I was here.

Loose sand became damp and close-packed as I approached the sea. I stopped where the waves would pass in and out across my feet. I took a bite of the bread, its taste like dust in my mouth, and cast the rest into the sea. Then I ran the knife along the back of my hand, a sharp line of pain that pierced my numb heart.

I sank to my knees and thrust my bleeding hand into the surf. The water was icy cold and the wound stung but I didn’t flinch. Resilience, as my father had taught me.

Something stirred amid the waves. A figure, as grey and indistinct as any other, approached out of the fog and the ever-shifting ocean. As it came closer, I saw that it was made not of flesh but of water. Its beard was a tangle of kelp, its eyes cockle shells. Though I had last seen it as flesh and hair, I knew that face, and seeing it like this turned a long drawn out dread into terrible certainty.

“Father,” I said, the breath catching in my throat. “You’re dead.”

“A storm on the first night out,” he said, his voice the rattle of pebbles scraping across the ocean floor. “The boat was shattered and I was embraced by mother ocean.”

“I miss you,” I said. “And I’m scared. How will we get by without you?”

He cupped my face in his hands. That touch finally broke the dam inside me and tears streamed down my cheeks, running into the salt water that he had become.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said, his gaze familiar and yet strange, the father I loved made uncanny by this body he wore. “Mother ocean sends me with a message. You are touched by the tide. You will sense its comings and goings, know when it is safe and when there is danger, when the fish will fill your nets and when they will be absent. This is her gift to you, in exchange for me.”

“I don’t want to make a trade!” I said. “I want you back.”

I tried to bury my face in his chest, as I had done when I was young and in need of comfort. But there was no warmth there, only the icy water.

“It is small recompense,” he said. “But it is all she offers and more than most receive. Please, my child, accept it. For your mother. For your sisters. For me.”

I fought down the trembling and nodded my head.

“I accept.”

The wave that was my father surged across me, soaking me through cloth, through flesh, through bone, to the spark of light that glimmers within. And then I stood alone at the tide line, without even a goodbye.

I wanted to break down weeping. Instead I looked out across the water, as my father had done so many times. The fog was fading, sunlight dancing once again on the tips of the waves. I could sense a shoal of cod approaching, silver bodies flitting in the deep.

I saw the future stretching out before me. Someone would grant me a place on their crew, for my father’s sake. I would guide them to the fish before others found them. I would earn my share and my place in that crew. In time I would buy my own boat. I would feed my mother, my sisters, and in time a family of my own. Mother ocean would be my lifeline and finally she would be my grave, as she had been for my father. Then I too would emerge to guide my child, before I joined my father at last and forever.

For the first time in weeks, I felt as though I was standing on solid ground. My father was dead but a part of him remained. Now was my time, not just to be resilient but to be strong.

I turned and walked through the fading fog back up the beach.

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Beneath the Fifth Wave – a flash fantasy story

glacier-530050_640Auka’s breath frosted as she crossed the ice down to the Bright Cove. In one thickly gloved hand she held a harpoon tipped with whale bone, its shaft long enough to support her as she walked. But she did not dare use it that way. It was too important.

She had never gone down to the waters of the cove before. Few in the tribe did. But Cupun was horribly sick and the shaman had said that only the blood of a silver ray could save her brother. So here she was.

The sun was sinking over the frozen plains as she crossed the shingle and stood just out of reach of the waves. The rays were swimming off the shore, glowing with a cold light as they cut through the water. Some were the size of huskies, while others were larger than she was. She watched them and counted the waves, listening as they crashed into foam. Just as the shaman had said, every fifth wave was larger. That was when she must strike.

Drawing the harpoon back behind her head, she waited for a ray to rise on that fifth wave. One leapt and she threw, the harpoon hissing through the air, cord trailing out behind it. With all her will, she wished for it to strike true.

The harpoon fell short. The silver ray swam away. Auka hauled on the cord, bringing her weapon back in.

She tried again and again, but the rays were always too far out. To enter the water was to risk death as the rays swept her into the icy ocean. But to stay here was to give up all hope of saving Cupu.

Water spilt over the tops of Auka’s sealskin boots as she walked out. Within moments, her toes were numb and her feet tingling, but she pressed on, the sea soaking through her leggings and then her tunic, until she felt swathed in ice almost to her chest.

A glowing shape flashed by to her left, leaping from the peak of a wave. Another shot past in the water in front of her, and she felt a third brush against the back of her legs.

Then they were all around her. One slammed into her knees and her legs almost buckled. Another hit her from behind and she stumbled, stepping forward to retain her balance. A rock gave way beneath her foot. The water was up to her armpits. She could barely feel her legs. Even her mind was slowing as the cold grasped her.

She closed her eyes, the comforting dark preparing to swallow her.

An image of Cupun, lying deathly pale amid the blankets, rose out of the darkness.

As she opened her eyes, a wave rose in front of Auka, threatening to drown her. A silver ray shot up the back of the wave, cresting it in a spray of foam.

Auka threw her harpoon with all the strength that remained in her numb fingers. Pierced in its exposed belly, the ray flopped into the sea, shining blood seeping into the salt water.

The wave crashed across Auka, knocking her back. The water filled her mouth and nose. She choked, stumbled, struggled to place feet she could barely feel.

Then the wave receded and she could breathe again. She turned back towards the shore, the soaked edges of her clothing freezing as the deeper cold of night set in.

Behind her she dragged the body of the silver ray, trailing a thin stream of its precious blood.