#WEP/IWSG August Challenge – Red Wheelbarrow

Once again, this is a standalone tale – or is it. There’s a subtle link to my ‘Jewel Box‘ story – if you spot it – and some characters may appear again. Plus, the setting is probably Wales or the Borders.

WARNING – there is blood, but be brave…like Mina. Remember, the dragon is red, and so is the beetroot of shame – and some wheelbarrows.

Enjoy.

Blood Bridal

The shooting had been tough.

Yet, Mina was relieved. Her life was changing, although not as planned after her parents died.

Still, she had a few weeks off before Oriole Productions needed her and Dafydd back for dubbing. By then she’d no longer be Mina Westenra, but Mina Glyndwr.

Biting her lips didn’t bury her pre-nuptial nerves as the limousine pulled up outside the grey-stone church.

“You can still call it off, although the family might kill you after all they’ve arranged.”

A shiver washed over her at Victor Frankel’s words. Her director was standing-in for her deceased father. If only her mum hadn’t died of grief or her dad had survived the blood disease.

She swallowed and attempted bravery.

“No more killing – fictional or real. I’m marrying Dafydd. I just wish one parent was here.”

“I can never replace either in there.” Vic pointed at her heart. “They are watching and proud. Dafydd isn’t just a fine actor – perfect for a classic remake. He’s genuine – like the Glyndwrs.”

Their bloodline was as ancient as the yew tree guarding the grounds. Descended, as Dafydd claimed, from the famous Owain Glyndwr, the last true Prince of Wales.

Y Ddraig Aur (The Gold Dragon), c. 1400 – c. 1416, the royal standard of Owain Glyndŵr, Prince of Wales, famously raised over Caernarfon during the Battle of Tuthill in 1401 against the English. It is evident in Glyndŵr’s privy seals that his gold dragon had two legs. –
Copyright ©Rhŷn Williams

They climbed out of the limo, then walked up the path through the graveyard. She drew strength from the man who had guided her career.

Ahead some late comers dashed out of the rain towards the sanctuary. An elderly man greeted them. He was about seventy from the grey hair, white beard and old-style tweed suit and waistcoat.

Standing outside, he braved the foul weather. So much for a summer wedding with blue sky.   

The man smiled at Mina and reached into the basket on his arm.

“A first gift on your bridal day. Our custom, since Dafydd brings us new blood.” He handed her a circlet of lilies, entwined with roses and sprigs of rosemary. “Gwna dda dros ddrwg, uffern ni’th ddwg – or as the English say, Repay evil with good, and hell will not claim you.”

Did he mean to sound so archaic, thought Mina – like the Count in their movie. Her skin prickled and icy fingers crawled across her.

Had anyone noticed?

Vic was chatting with the old man as he took the petals the creepy man removed from a blood-red wheelbarrow.

“You’ll be a needing these. Better than confetti for the ground. Food for the soil so play on, as my friend Will said.”

A poet gardener not a legendary creature. She relaxed and let Vic guide her into the packed church for this best day of her life. Marrying the man, she loved. Witnessed by friends she valued. The family welcoming her.

Petals strewn underfoot, crushed releasing their scent, suppressing all else.

Her glances as she was walked down the aisle showed the old man hadn’t joined them.

Why not?

Only a gardener.

Except vampires couldn’t step inside a holy place – according to the script.

The vicar banished the misleading thought. The blissful moments grew as the wedding service lifted her and her heart. She made her vows committing her future. Dafydd’s lips sealed the union.

Here before her, hands cupping her face, was the dream guy who was worth putting her BAFTA dreams aside for.

Their identical Welsh gold rings were their eternal bond. Her blood warmed her as they walked out of the church arm in arm – united forever. Into the sunshine which bathed the churchyard, banishing the last vestiges of a dead writer’s imaginings and a scriptwriter’s fantasies.

Petals showered them. Joy and warmth. Heart bursting. Congratulations flowed as their photographer posed them.

On the edge of the graveyard, the abandoned wheelbarrow. And the thought – vampires don’t like churches or sunlight.

She laughed – cracked and shaking.

“The photos are a formality and a memento.” Her husband sounded reassuring but then asked, “Or did something else unnerve you?”

She needed an excuse. “I wondered where the gardener was.”

“Gardener?”

“The elderly guy who gave me the circlet as we arrived. He wasn’t in the church, so I presumed—”

Dafydd laughed. “You mean Great Uncle Owain. He’s never been inside that church. Old but not the gardener. But he likes plants, and creatures though, bats especially. Creatures of the night and their ilk.”

He laughed again. Her head and heart churned but wedding customs propelled her through cheering people to the limo.

Dafydd kissed her in the back seat.

“Great Uncle Owain will be at the reception – it’s in the garden of his old ancestral home. Well, the house he’s lived in since before the Great War. He’s a true war vet – valiant as a lion, Will said.”

Over one hundred years old. Yet she’d guessed seventy. Age was deceptive.

Great Uncle Owain’s house felt forgotten. Ancient. Nature had overrun it, with ivy and Virginia creeper vying for the prime masonry.

However, the garden was more ordered.

“You asked if Great Uncle was the gardener. Well, this is his creation – over many decades.”

“How many decades? He must be older than he looks.”

“He keeps young. The family trait – passed down the generations. A secret like my love bites – hidden from view.”

Warmth spread across her face at the memory. She laughed, right hand caressing her neck where the marks had been.

Her excuses for the pinpricks where he had drawn blood.

Like the Count.

She suppressed the shivers as they walked into the crowded marquee.

Tables – their white linen surfaces decorated.

Gifts on the wedding table at one side.

Flowers in green and red wheelbarrows.

Laughter. Music. Chatter.

Great Uncle Owain leaning in for a kiss. Breath on her neck. Lips hovering.

She stiffened.

He kissed both her cheeks.

His voice – rich and smooth. Relaxing. Hypnotic.

He raised a glass of crimson liquid.

 “Welcome to the Glyndwr Dynasty. Don’t let the rumours of my addiction to blood disturb you, my dear Mina. It’s kept me alive for generations. We all get used to its taste. You will too. Try some.”

Word Count 1000: FCA

Comments are welcome as usual and the following applies:

#WEP/IWSG June 2019 Challenge – Caged Bird

Originally, I had planned to write a Sparkle Anwyl case for the 2019 WEP + IWSG Challenge starting in April and ending in December. I wrote the first episode in April, but then posted the next episode of Kindled Casket, last month. There is a ‘caged bird’ in the episode but not as planned – that follows in the next episode. That case will unfold over the next few months.

Hence, the attached standalone short – Fettered Air. A departure from my Welsh police procedural, so your responses will interest me.

Fettered Air

I slide ski-swift across the winter’s blanket under the Blood Wolf’s Moon. Beside me the chicken-legged hut creak-crashes through the forest.

We’re alone in the taiga.

No sign of Baba Yaga. She’s vanished as have the denizens. No howling wolves. Nor snow leopard scents. No eagle-owl hoots. Nor honking swans. No ice-crawlers corpse feeding.

For nothing breathes in the wailing wind.

Yet, Nature writhes in pain, dragon’s bile dripping on her from mortal fangs.

I am Skaði. Goddess, giantess, huntress and snow-stealth specialist. Size is not the issue. Speed is.

The house is noisier, but we make a team. This hut can track her mistress better than even I, its feet scratching up clues, windows watching for signs.

Our mission came from Svetovid, seer and guardian god – and we had no choice.

“Find Baba Yaga before this world rebels.”

Why me, a giantess from Jötunheimr? Because neither Odin nor Thor will ask me ever since the marital strife with my spouse, Njörðr.

“Nobody else volunteered,” added Svetovid. “Besides those deities I posted on separate operations.”

He’s as secretive as my Vanir and Aesir brethren. Not just Loki plays with intelligence. Our trickster-thief and clown has too many imitators.

“Others are missing?” I asked, expecting evasion.

“Find Baba Yaga. That’s all.”

So, a need-to-know answer means Skaði is disposable. Nothing has changed.

Am I that terrible?

I had my reasons for smashing my husband’s sand sculptures. The whale-way was a prison with seabirds flaunting freedom.

But he called my majestic mountain retreat a dreary cell. “I’m trapped here. I can’t ski or snowboard like you.” He ranted and ripped down my hunting trophies.

“Skadi Hunting in the Mountains” (1901) by H. L. M – Foster, Mary H. 1901. Asgard Stories: Tales from Norse Mythology. Silver, Burdett and Company

Marriage dissolved.

Thus, I get the menial tasks. Unless Odin sends his ravens or wolves with heart-baits.

Not this occasion. A telepathic eagle with four heads.  

“Find Baba Yaga.” Svetovid’s orders resound in my brain.

The wilderness wrestles promethium chains. That is enough reason to pursue the quarry.

So we scour Siberia.

The creak-crashing hut spins above the earth-coat. We have the crone’s spoor. 

Calls and cries clamour on the snow-breath.

Ahead a green clearing by a lake glows bright. Invisible to vicious human eyes, but I see the torches, tents and throng bridging the veils.

Baba has parked her mortar by a host of other vehicles, one that is familiar – my stepdaughter’s pantherine-drawn chariot.

With groans and creaks, the chicken-legs spin the hut to a halt by the pestle-guarded mortar. Shutters slam shut. A fence of human bones topped with skulls encircles them.

My gaze shoots arrows at the polytheistic conclave nobody invited me to.

Goddesses gathered from the Nine Realms. They have abandoned their posts to feast. Brews flow, dice roll and deities chatter. Everyone distracted as Midgard clamours for release.

Baba knocks back vodka, cackling to another crone – Hecate, clutching a goatskin of wine. Their dice are corpse-stones, and Hel’s are soul-vessels. 

Are they oblivious to the desolation? Among the feasting, denizen envoys are airing their anxiety.  

My pounding heart settles. Mind muses past irritable white-out.

Not all the deities are wizen and wild in their attire and behaviour. Some goddesses appear serious.

Freyja, stepdaughter and party animal rises – statuesque and sober, despite her goblet of mead.

Her eyes seize mine as she silences the symposium.

“Sisters, the snow-dancer is here. The world cries, and we have battle-sweat to spill. But when shall we three score meet again?”

“When the chaos is banished, when the spear-din is won,” Hel replies.

I add my voice, realising their design. “Ere midnight. After the sleep of the blade claims those flouting our laws.” Faces flash in my head. I smile. “Nature’s justice must wield the icicle of blood against false leaders poisoning life.”

My sisters nod. Creatures yowl.

Freyja smiles and summons her champions. “I come, Durga and Adrastea. We have fangs to extract.”
Her pantherines roar in response.

We will shatter the fetters on Nature. No more will humans build cages entrapping our laughter and song.

Yes, this is my #WEP/IWSG post for June so part of the 2019 WEP/IWSG ChallengeThis a standalone short, although Skaði appears in my novel Eagle Passage, which I wrote the first draft of for NaNoWriMo 2016.

Word Count 660: FCA

Comments are welcome as usual and the following applies:

The List – flash fiction

I have been following and voting in WRITE CLUB 2019 and voting on the excellent final 30 entries in the Preliminary rounds. I plan to continue voting in subsequent rounds hoping my favourites win.

I submitted an entry – under a pen-name – but did not reach the standard of other entries. Re-reading my submission, I know why.

But what do you think? Should I have used this for the April WEP/IWSG Challenge, Jewel Box? All critiques and comments welcome.

THE LIST

by Zilarrezko Ezpata

Supercilious servants seldom deserve attention when they thrust a drab packet into my hands. Howsoever, this maid is incessantly thus. Why her mistress accepts her insolence vexes me. I accept the delivery but offer no acknowledgement and send the servant on her way, back to my sister-in-law’s house on Harrison Boulevard. My man can convey my response.

Locking out the oppressive heat behind the front door, I walk across the tiled hallway. The package is lighter than expected. Dreary plays my brother intends for his conjectured theater, or native artifacts I will capitalize? My throat constricts but my mind exalts.

I discard the brown paper as I carry the tawdry ivory-inlaid box contained within to the maple desk in my tranquil sanctuary.

Placed inside the ruby-red interior are ten jewelry cases that flush my body in warmth. A sealed message lies on top. The wax has an imprint, but somehow blurred.

Intentional? Never. Made in haste.

My heart beat rises. Profit beckons. My stomach flutters.

Fingers caress the soft vellum envelope. I falter at the unusual leopard-spotted variety but dismiss an irrational image. The perfume pervading the room banishes the remembrance. I break the seal.

 Only my love, Arantxa dabs Angel’s Trumpet on her missives.

A precious and profitable attachment.

My spirit soars on pounding beats, body burning.

Zigor

I return the gifts you used to seduce me, without success. Unlike base men such as you, I am neither a heart-cheater nor a soul-thief.

Herewith, the moonstone pendant. You promised a diamond as in the book, but that was beyond you. Why didn’t I take heed then?

The crude cameo locket that will never be me. Not even an old-fashioned eye portrait. My eyes are blue not black.

The Art nouveau enameled barrette affronted me.

One pearl earring shed like a tear, the other dust. You are the dream-crusher.

Did you intend the amethyst bracelet to enslave me?

The faux emerald and sapphire choker? Tighter than a scoundrel’s purse. My breeding detects peridot and topaz so as paltry as you.

The rough-cut ruby brooch that drew more than my blood. Why the deceit with a mere red garnet?

Perchance, the diamond necklace you locked around my neck meant aught. But never was I gulled by your growing falsehoods.

Can a lie-weaver ever repent? No, thus I spurned this silver band stolen from some naïve conquest.

Only overreached by the gold ring that never engaged my soul or eyes.

I am smothered by her two-faced words.

My head whirls, and my mouth burns. Confused, I stagger to my armchair. I read her last lines.

This blood-lined box that holds your cheap baubles, unfit to grace this lady.

Finally, the Palouse colt. Or what remains of him—the vellum produced from his skin.

And his gore spilled in your name.

Hark the Devil’s Trumpet as you perish.

https://www.ways2gogreenblog.com/2009/09/03/be-forewarned-about-the-datura-inoxia-devils-trumpet-flower/

**

Let me know what you like and dislike about this flawed piece of flash fiction, please.

Sleuthing Snowdon Shadows

Where is Detective Sparkle Anwyl of the North Wales Police heading?

Or rather where do I start her story? What comes first? The goth teenager or the quirky detective?

For the Blogging from A to Z April (2019) Challenge, I wrote a 19,000 word Sparkle story in twenty-six parts – Azure Spark. It is a standalone case that some readers have said I should publish as a novella. However, that throws up some complications.

First complication: although Sparkle & Co., resolved the Azure Spark case, an arson investigation was left ongoing – my ‘O for Obstruction’ post,  for the bi-monthly WEP/IWSG Challenge. April’s theme was ‘Jewel Box’ which became the name of the torched gift shop. Initially, I planned to continue the investigation with the June theme, ‘Caged Bird’ and then in the three subsequent WEG/IWSG posts, culminating with ‘Footprints’ in December. But that means holding back Azure Spark’. Doesn’t it?

Or I can write that arson case now as a ‘bonus’ incident.

Second complication: backstory. I can add a few pieces of backstory in ‘Azure Spark’ when I re-draft the story. What do readers need to know? Why did Sparkle become a cop? How did she meet her lover, Kama? However, all these incidents exist as short stories. Sparkle’s backstory unfolded as various shorts I developed as a collection with a framing investigation for NaNoWriMo 2018, titled “Fevered Few” – including a case I wrote for the WEP/IWSG Challenge last year.

What do readers want now?

Third complication: ‘Azure Spark’ references a key case in ‘Fevered Few’but in a way I hope gives all that the reader requires. Or does the case need more detail? How much detail is too much? Or should ‘Azure Spark’ be part of the collection?

Okay, my gut feeling is that ‘Azure Spark’ the novella is my starting point. Test the water/market with that, then continue with the other Sparkle Anwyl stories.

Do you, dear reader, agree?

I intended ‘Fevered Few’ to be the opening of Snowdon Shadows, a series of mystery novels set around Snowdonia in North Wales. However, in the beginning of that WIP, Sparkle doesn’t know she’s a policewoman – or Heddlu as the Welsh police are called. Amnesia is the antagonist blocking her memories of her first cases and more. So, ‘Fevered Few’ was the start of the series – before April 2019’s A to Z Challenge.

I also have three novels to complete in order: “Fates Maelstrom”, “Seeking A Knife”, and “Ruined Retreat”. I’ve drafted FM five times, SAK is still incomplete, and RR was my 2018 NaNoWriMo novel (draft one).

So how do I make ‘Azure Spark’ fit into the release schedule?

Does anyone want to read more?

O for Obstructions – Azure Spark. Part 15

[Music treat at the end. This story will be posted in full after the Challenge for those of us that like to read everything in one complete telling,]

OBSTRUCTIONS – Saturday Late Afternoon

Odious odours and smoke obscure the scene at the junction of Snowdon and Madog. I thread my way through the onlookers and under the police tape. The fire was fierce, destroying most of the corner building’s façade. A charred signboard hangs dangerously loose.

A group of North Wales firefighters are dousing down. One acts officious.

“Late as always, Meinwen. I solved this hours ago.”

Unlikely. Owen Anwyl might be a fire investigator, but his solutions depend on others.

I’ve known him all my life, but I’m the eldest sibling by a year.

“Some of us have other cases to occupy our hours.”

His smirk prepares me for more taunts.

But a man in blue slacks, red shirt and white flannel jacket pushes his way through the barrier towards us. 5 foot 11, athletic, tanned, dyed black hair.

“Hugh Arbuthnot. I own this shop.” His voice pronounces every word like another royal invader. His icy stare flicks between us, then he selects my brother in his dusty uniform – casts me away. “Officer, I need to know what happened here.”

His equally posh lawyer will be next – or his accountant to count the losses.

“A car mounted the pavement and skidded into your shop front. Then the ruptured fuel tank exploded. Petrol – that’s the acrid odour. A simple accident.”

Owen leads the owner around the burnt out 4×4 – torched by the ram-raiders. No accident. Nor the petty thief we at CID are tracking.

I assess the interior. Any robbery evidence is obliterated by arson. Convenient – for the perpetrators.

Tattoos tingling, I tap my bracer. A for Arson. R for Robbery. O for Organised. Deliberate. ROAD. But not road rage.

“Why the police tape? Do you suspect a crime?”

“No, just routine to keep onlookers back.” More Owen bull-shit.

“I disagree, this is a crime scene.”

“Who are you?”

I’m not dressed as a cop. So, I reach inside my biking leathers for my warrant card.

“An opinionated observer who’s operating without her lezzie partner – for once.”

I scowl at Owen, but the posh Englishman flinches – one gesture short of crossing himself.

“I’m Detective Sparkle Anwyl, CID. This officer requested our involvement in this suspected arson, which I believe was a ram raid robbery.”

Glancing at my ID, Hugh Arbuthnot frowns, hands behind his back. “I demand another detective – a second opinion. Not from someone like you.”

“So, not Welsh,” I say, twisting his insult. “Not easy in North Wales. But my partner is Tamil – her family immigrated from South India. And she’s a more senior detective. Plus, our boss, Detective Inspector Ffion Baines approves of our teamwork. Now, do you want to obstruct us or resolve this case?”

I’m out of order but annoyed. Ffion would agree. Owen is stirring. He requested me on purpose. Petty sibling rivalry.

A for Arson and Arbuthnot. R for Ram-raid and Robbery. O for Owner and Obstructions. D for Disagree and Disgrace.

ROAD. Ignoring the rage, where to? Trace the 4 x 4.

“Officer Anwyl, finish off your fire investigation, then please allow our forensic team to gather what they need – like that vehicle.”

At the outside corner of the shop, I wait for Hugh Arbuthnot. He will talk to me. He has no choice.

I gather more evidence. The angle of the crash is deliberate. The torched vehicle designed to obliterate evidence but not destroy the building. Measured. Observed in advance.

Hugh interrupts.

“My official objection will be lodged. I can give my opinion but no more than that.”

“That’s your right, sir. For now, I need to know how long you’ve owned this shop, what would the robbers take, and have there been any other occurrences?”

He paces, throwing glances at the building and the burnt-out car.

“My wife bought The Jewel Box two years ago.” He grits his teeth and taps his left foot. “She died in the spring. I’ve attempted to run this gift shop, but I have my own work. I’m a movie producer with a demanding professional schedule.”

He hands me a fancy card – Hugh B Arbuthnot, Oriole Productions, Executive Producer.

“Who runs the shop when you’re working?”

“My daughter, Olivia and her husband.” He snorts, head held high. “Poulsen.” He slaps his left palm to his forehead. “He mixes in shady circles. Some of his cronies did this.”

Opportunistic thieves? Or convenient coincidence? Whose production?

For those that wondered, yes this is my #WEP/IWSG post for April so part of the 2019 WEP/IWSG Challenge. This incident will be explored further over the course of the next four #WEP/IWSG posts. In the meantime, please enjoy Azure Spark, another case for Sparkle Anwyl and her colleagues.

Word Count 731: MPA

Comments are welcome as usual, but for the WEP/IWSG Challenge, the following applies:

(FCA welcome – if you want to send one, just let me know in the comments.)

For further details on this A to Z theme visit my Blogging from A to Z Theme Reveal, and on the evolution of Sparkle Anwyl visit Snowdon Shadows.

Other A to Z Bloggers can be found via the Blogging from A to Z website’s Master List –
http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/2019/03/link-to-view-master-list-and.html

^*^

And now for something completely different.

“Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” William Congreve – The Mourning Bride

#IWSG – Hero or Villain POV?


Created and hosted by the Ninja Captain himself, Alex J. Cavanaugh, the Insecure Writer’s Support Group monthly blog post is here again – and so am I.

It’s been another bad month and my plans to develop and focus on Fevered Few, my NaNoWriMo novel were derailed so I am no longer sure about the track to publication. I am wondering if attempting to find a publisher for my second novel is realistic or whether I would be better to merely blog my scenes over an indefinite period.

 I will be posting the opening to another Sparkle Anwyl mystery for the WEP/IWSG Challenge next month as well as a separate Sparkle Anwyl case during the Blogging from A to Z Challenge in April. Perhaps that is the way forward for my fiction writing rather than attempting to edit a novel – like Fevered Few – for submission to a small press.

What would you suggest that I do? Blog posts or publication?

Much of my writing problems are due to my health. During the last few weeks, it has become harder to type as my left hand is cramping up – like forming a claw. One of my solutions is training a dragon – Dragon Naturally Speaking. This post is my first using the dictation software. Apologies therefore for any errors in this trial run which the dogs are constantly interrupting.

Bark-bark. Woof-woof.

Anyway, on to this month’s question.

March 6 question – Whose perspective do you like to write from best, the hero (protagonist) or the villain (antagonist)? And why?

Most of my writing is from the hero’s point of view but I have written from the villain’s perspective a few times.

My current WIP is from the POV of Sparkle Anwyl, my Welsh detective protagonist. However, some of the chapters within other draft novels have been written either from the villain’s perspective or from the POV of a shadowy and unclear character. I haven’t yet had to get inside the mind of a darker antagonist as these characters have been more misguided or conned by their own self-belief.

What about your favourite perspective? Hero or villain?


The Welsh Dragon, Mametz Wood Memorial

**

The awesome co-hosts for the March 6 posting of the IWSG are Fundy Blue, Beverly Stowe McClure, Erika Beebe, and Lisa Buie-Collard!

Purpose of IWSG: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. This group is all about connecting!


Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!


Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say. 

Remember, the question is optional!