by David Hartley

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Turning Mermaid She knew of a method, she said, to turn mermaid, she said; a place in the woods, a copper bath, in the midday sun of All Saints Day, she said, and she invoked the I’d do anything for you, babe promise – something I’d said, repeatedly. So, for once, we had a sober Halloween and we hired a van, drove through dawn, and set up in Wych Elm Wood. This is it, she said, heat up the water, she said, I love you, she said, while she wriggled her toes in the carpet of leaves and muttered her goodbyes to them.
Yawn 02:48
Yawn I thought it would be impossible to find the Archmage at the airport, but the advice was right: I’d know him when I saw him. It was the man in the Manchester United shirt, the one who yawned so wide that people would be swallowed whole every time he opened that gaping void. It began with his own family at check-in. Yaaawn; there went his son, another, yaaaawn; in fell his weary wife. He still had his daughter and new-born when I next saw him in the lounge. But there had been quite the delay to our flight to Malaga so; yaaaaawn, there went the baby like a ragdoll in laundry, and: yaaaaaawn, off went the daughter despite all her best efforts to cling to the sides. Once he was alone, he finally noticed me. We opened our mind-link. Now I could interpret his every tiny movement. With a scratch of his stubble and a sly picking of his nose he divined the futures of each plane we could see. A crash, a hijack, an extra-terrestrial heist. I held Mum’s hand as I awaited the fate of our own flight, but he didn’t tell it. Later, as we approached the steps to embark, it happened. Yaaaaaaaaaaawwwnnnn, the mightiest yet. Our plane buckled, squeaked, slid and we all tumbled in. There was turbulence for a while, but the pilot got a handle on it. We flew for hours through the Archmage’s gullet in almost total darkness. I didn’t panic, I concentrated; a cantrip of soothing for Mum, a charm of binding around the fuselage. Before long, we landed and disembarked. Mum chucked our Rough Guide to Malaga down his duodenum. “Well we’re here now,” she said, with her magic smile, “we’ll just have to make the best of it.”
After a Period of Quarantine After a period of quarantine all that is left of America is bison. We enter, dawn of the fifty-eighth year, under the careful stares of those grazers, who have largely forgotten that we ever existed. We keep our guns raised, perhaps out of habit but the bison don’t flinch, perhaps out of practice. They tore down the conservation fences eons ago, they found the information boards, they took the time to study. That was why, I think, we followed them. They led us across the Horse Butte plains, now renamed, but in words we can’t pronounce. We are embarrassed at that, of course, but we leave it. The bison have gathered all the skulls of Yellowstone, into a neat pile.
Hereafter 02:34
Hereafter Beth took the boys back to the playground and, sure enough: witches. “Told you,” mumbled Duncan. There were two on the swings, kicking spindly legs to be the highest, and a third who just couldn’t get enough of the slide. Spot growled and yipped but the trio didn’t seem to notice. “Don’t wanna play anyway,” said Malcolm. “You will play,” said Beth. “On my life you’ll play.” She let Spot off his leash and he yap-yap-yapped his way to each witch in turn. They were delighted. They fussed him, hugged him, then started sizing up his hind legs, his eyeballs, his teeth. Their lips flickered incantations. “Oi,” said Beth. They looked at her. Rain fell. “Oi?” said slide-witch. “This is a children’s play area.” “Mum, it’s raining…” “It’ll stop,” said Beth through gritted teeth. Then: “Go on, clear off.” The swing-witches yawned and gave Spot one last fuss. They meandered over to Beth and the boys. Slide-witch spat out chewing gum and followed. She pointed at Duncan. “Glamour model,” she said. Duncan tutted. She pointed at Malcolm. “Couture.” Malcolm turned away, buried his face in Beth’s sleeve. A swing-witch caught her eye and winked. Slide-witch nodded. “King,” she said. “King?” said Beth. Slide-witch shrugged. “Hereafter.” “But we want the dog,” said a swing-witch. “Yeah. We keep the dog.” Beth looked down at the hound. He waggled over, pressed his stupid weight against her leg. She looked at the boys. They were sodden. Duncan was shaking his head but he said nothing. Eyebrows flicked. Pupils flared. Tongues between lips. Spot whined, shuffled, nuzzled her. “Out, dammit, Spot,” she said. “Get out.”
Float 02:30
Float She climbed onto the float, got her balance, and made her announcement to the pool. Only a few heard it. The lifeguards, of course, who blinked from their daydreams, and the giggly teens in the shallow end. She waited, knees wobbling, until swimmers stopped mid-stroke to stare, until goggles were lifted and dive-bombs were hesitated. She announced it again; louder, prouder. Water dripped a rhythm from her fingers to the float. She said it once more, for those at the back. The settling wakes of swimmers rocked beneath her. She hadn’t known it was possible to balance on a float, didn’t know they could hold a person’s weight. She dared not move. She didn’t want to fall back in until they’d decided. Applause. She grinned. She blushed. Two breaststrokers glided over and steadied her platform, one of the teens asked her to say it again, so she did. Whoops and cheers, clapping which became splashing. The dive-bomber jumped for joy and plunged. The lifeguards blew up inflatables and pushed them out. The front-crawlers unhooked the ropes and lashed together a throne of squeaky plastics, a palace of air. They asked for her life story and she told it. They asked for more so she embellished, performed. The pool filled when word got out, a queue formed; she told fortunes. But as sudden as it started, her time was done. She popped the valves and let the escaping air flop her back to the waters. Only a few acolytes remained. She gave them a rubber ring each, to remember her by. She pushed her weary legs to the ladder and climbed out. She showered, got her belongings from the locker and when she reached the doors to the changing room, he turned left.
Array 01:23
Array In the town centre there is a gathering of news cameras. They have no crew, no anchors; just each other at a measured distance. A delicate array to advocate emptiness and then, remotely, swerved to slice the streets into new patterns, seeking and accusing the ignorant. Soon, they rust to stillness. Left, perhaps, to chance upon the virus itself, floating past in gaudy CGI. Instead they see deer, and boar, and foxes, badgers, swans. They see the creatures who will be spliced from the edit but preserved, in a separate file, for when variation might be needed, or expected.
The Guest Book I have learned fifteen different styles of handwriting. I have composed fifteen different messages in the Guest Book dated across an 18-month period. It’s all: local places visited, days of rain and sunshine, wildlife spotted, that kind of thing. I now have my first real booking. I’m watching from the attic as they read out the entries in comical accents. They are cozy by the fire but not yet used to the shadows. It is an old cottage. It creaks, embalmed in the silence of uninhabited miles. The night is drawing in. My guests are looking sleepy.


Yawn, an EP of Stories

Seven strange, short tales for our strange, shortened times. Stories of quarantines and revelations, of witches and mermaids and monsters in the attic. A cantrip of soothing for Mum, a charm of binding around the fuselage. A pile of skulls.

Set to some wonky but funky lo-fi tunes made during lockdown on a free app, on my phone. Lovingly glued together. Click the lyrics bit of each song to read along.

A freebie from me, a writer of little oddments and curios. But if you'd like to support me, suggested price is £3, £4 or even £5.

Cover model: Theseus the gorilla.

With thanks to: Tania Hershman, for creating headspace and time for the writing of stories, and Thom Hammersley for pointing me in the direction of the Kaossilator app


released April 11, 2020

Words: David Hartley
Music: David Hartley, composed on Kaossilator by Korg

'Float' first published by Reflex Fiction
'The Guest Book' first published on The Drabble


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David Hartley Manchester, UK

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