Weekend Showcase : Brenna Layne (Writer)

19 Sep

Spotlight

Every Friday, 1 creative, letting their work speak for itself.

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Brenna Layne

 

The Glass Box

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Love is the crooked thing.
—William Butler Yeats

 

Prologue

Imagine a village.

Imagine it perching high on a steep slope just above the treeline, clinging to the mountainside like a bird to a branch in the instant before it takes flight.

You have seen such villages before, and you know how the winter wind laces its fingers through the cracks under doors and around windows, crying to be let in. You know that scrabbling a scant living from rocky soil has carved deep lines around the mouths and eyes of the men and women. You know that their children run wild over rock and alpine meadow, driving the goats home just before twilight falls.

You have seen such villages before, and you know their inhabitants. There is always a mayor. He always has a wife who died in childbirth, and an ample waistcoat, and some number of lovely daughters, and the sharpness of his vision always extends just to the borders of his own town.

There is always a healer, an old man or woman whose cottage smells of pungent herbs. The healer always sees a little farther than the mayor, just far enough to see his or her own death as it approaches, padding on soft paws up from the foothills.

There is always a holy man, too, though he goes by different names—prophet, seer, madman, poet, fool. He stands with one foot in this world, and one in another. He sees things that do not exist, and hears voices on the wind.

There are always craftspeople, filling the streets (which are always winding) with the music of their industry, and their forges and kilns and looms and ovens are always attended by wide-eyed and slightly underfed apprentices. The craftspeople and their apprentices squint inward, into the mysteries of fire and clay, the warp and weft of fabric, and the alchemy of rising dough.

There is always a beautiful young woman, and a minimum of two strapping young lads are always in love with her at any given time. Whether one rival kills the other will determine many of the events which will follow.

And there is always another, a stranger blown in by the mountain storms that rage about the peak.

You have seen such villages before, but not this one.

This village backs up like a cornered animal against an impassable mountain peak, which is not unexpected. A thick forest covers the slopes below the village, hemming it in, which is also not surprising. If this were any other village, a path would run through the forest. Few of the villagers would venture down it, of course, but occasionally a small caravan would make its way up the mountain to trade. Perhaps once or twice in a generation, a young woman or man, weary of smoky fires fueled by goat dung and houses huddled together against the wind like old gossips, would venture down the path that wound through the towering firs and aspens, and would embark on a quest for True Love or Adventure.

But there is no path through this forest. There may have been, once, but the trees have grown close together. The forest is expanding, inching slow fingers up the slopes. Every year, the grazing lands grow a little smaller. Every year, the village boundary contracts just a little, almost too little to be worth noticing. The villagers have built a low boundary wall of the grey stone that is their chief natural resource. The wall keeps nothing out or in. A child can step over it. The wall is a reminder only, a way of marking time. Each year, the forest creeps a little closer.

Nothing in the village is wooden, unless it is a hundred years old. The sounds of axes never echo off the mountainside, and there has not been a carpenter in the village for a hundred years. If there were Woodsmen here once, no one now living remembers them. And no one ever, ever ventures beneath the shadow of the trees.

There is something moving in the forest. What it may be, no one can say. The villagers understand one thing about the forest—whoever enters it will die. Because there is always an exception to prove the rule, a boy wandered into the trees once, seven years ago, and sprinted out again with only emptiness behind his eyes. Now he speaks in riddles by day, and screams at night. Now, if a child dares another child to dart between the trunks and back again, both children’s fathers set the rope to their backs, for love of them.

No one comes to the village through the forest. From time to time during the brief summers, when the slopes burst into a patchwork of color, a traveler-mage materializes without warning in the village square. No one else has business with the village. The only enticements it has to offer are copious amounts of goat cheese and the beautiful young woman, and both these things can be found in any other town of its size.

Once upon a time—or somewhere in its general vicinity—a man came to the village. If this was a different story, such an occurrence would hardly be worth mentioning. To this village, however, no one ever came, and so the event proved to be not only noteworthy but very nearly cataclysmic.

The villagers feared the stranger when he first arrived, because he had emerged alive and whole from the forest, and the light of reason still shone in his eyes. They watched him as he set up camp on the slope just above the village, wondering how long he would stay, and if he had brought anything to bargain over. One or two wondered if he had anything worth taking, and calculated whether anyone would notice if he went missing. Then they watched him as he built a house after the manner of their own, lifting and stacking stones and roofing it with sod, and wondered what he could possibly be thinking, to settle there.

This man’s name was not Frost, but he called himself that anyway, and so that was how the villagers came to know him. When he arrived, more than a few of the village maidens sighed and pined and batted their eyelashes, until their fathers asked them if they had something in their eyes, while their mothers wisely asked nothing and silently wondered if they, too, were not too old to be sighing and pining and batting. If this were another story, this would have been due to devastating personal beauty or at least a seductive aura of danger on Frost’s part. However, it was due mainly to the fact that Frost paid no attention to anyone, and did not smell like goats.

At first, he threatened to live up to his name. On closer inspection, everyone found that their first impressions had been correct. Frost was, in fact, as cold as the winter winds that swept down from the peak, freezing the goats’ milk in the pail in the time it took to move between the shed and the kitchen.

The next time the traveller-mage arrived in town, he brought, for some inscrutable reason, a great quantity of window-glass. Frost bought most of it, and fitted his stone cottage with windows looking up toward the peak and out over the treetops below. The villagers shook their heads, but a few of them bought glass, too, when the others weren’t looking, and replaced the goatskin-covered windows in their own houses. The traveller-image returned the next spring with more glass, and by the time he left, most of the windows in the village glinted in the sunlight, though all but the stranger’s looked back toward each other, away from the storm-wreathed mountain and the shadows of the trees.

Time passed. People got married, had children, grew old, and died, hemmed in by the trees that pressed closer each year. Many things happened, but three in particular are worth noting. In order, they are these:

1) The village matchmaker died.

2) The mayor, improvising as mayors must, broke with hundreds of years of tradition that dictated that the matchmaker be an eccentric old woman, and foisted the job off on Frost.

3) The beautiful young woman vanished without a trace.

Because you have known villages like this one, you know that a village has a long memory, but also a prodigious capacity for forgetfulness. By the time three more winters had come and gone, the first and third things had become irrelevant, and only the second mattered. It mattered because of a glass box. Because you have known stories like this one, you have heard about a princess in a glass box, who is awakened by True Love’s Kiss.

This is not that story.

 

nb. the above is the beginning of a larger meta-fairytale which Brenna is currently developing. 

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Biography

I am a writer, wife, mother, beekeeper, and chicken-wrangler living in rural Virginia. I write YA fantasy, and am currently seeking an agent.

http://brennalayne.com/

https://twitter.com/writerdotmom

A Transformations Poetry Special: Pictures and Audios

18 Sep

new-badge5

Supported with public funding by Arts Council England. Supported by Norfolk County Council

 

In this post I want to place a focus on the poetry featured in our exhibition in King’s Lynn. 60 of the over 100 poems written throughout our 15 month collaboration were featured in the exhibition. We managed to get a broad range of the poetry  read out loud across the 3 days. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get audios of everything, but we do have some great moments we’d like to share, particularly with attendees reading the transformers’ poetry aloud, sometimes not having read poetry for years.

Here’s an audio of one lady doing exactly that- amazing…:

 

 

The engagement with the spoken word was impressive across the whole weekend, whether child or adult. Even people who came in and said ‘poetry wasn’t their thing’ seemed to soon change their minds when they heard some of the transformers read their poetry out loud. Karin read her Book 13 poem Hecuba’s Pain to a lady who said she didn’t ‘get’ poetry. However, as soon as she engaged with the emotion behind the words of Karin’s poem and responded to Karin’s interpretation she changed her mind. She is now going to give it a go! Here’s the reading that altered her perception. 

 

 

I also came across another interesting prejudice which was that poetry is an inferior form to prose. I had a energetic debate with a man who could not see the purpose of it… I fought poetry’s corner, and this encounter has firmed up my intention to try and shake-up a bit how our attendees in future projects meet what we create….Perhaps even challenging the idea of the word ‘exhibition’ and all that the word intimates. Anyway, that’s another story….

 

Here below, is a visual, poetry foam board extravaganza for you. Showing the variety of forms, styles and themes, and an idea of the journey they made from box to stand (click to enlarge the pictures):

 

 

There are more images to come as the pictures roll in…. We’ll  also do a special on the art from the exhibition  and on the impact of the Transformers coming together in real time.

To leave you. Here’s an audio of Adam Wimbush’s poem from Book 15, Epilogue. Summing up, I think, what Transformations has been all about:

 

 

Thanks so much for your interest!

 

All good wishes,

Nicky

P.S. Big thanks to Transformer Gill Offley who took so many of these great photos! 

We Made The Virtual Real! : Transformations Update and PDF 5/5

15 Sep

new-badge5 Supported by Arts Council England. Supported by Norfolk County Council

To celebrate the opening of our first ever large-scale exhibition, I just thought I would share the fully interactive PDF of our exhibition which contains all the artwork and poetry from our 15 month project.

We hope you enjoy the 15 new artworks and the 60 poems all celebrating and modernising Ovid’s Metamorphoses for new audiences. It also includes two great Ovid/poetry and art forewords by classicist Emma Bridges and art critic Anna McNay.

Interactive Pdf Trans 3.1

 

A few of our Hanse House preparation and exhibition pictures thus far, including our schools’ day:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Everyone  responded so  positively  to the poetry and art. On the Schools’ Day we had a fantastic poetry reading. We had the pupils from King Edward VII’s School reading poetry.  Greg Mackie’s, poem Hope and Defiance got read out by one of the pupils; Eleanor Perry’s  poem of beginning was read out too amongst others. Every Transformer’s poetry was given an airing across the exhibition weekend. The pupils were 100% engaged, and responded to the poetry-art combination amazingly well. Artist, Heather Burns,  described her painting, so did James Mackenzie and Rob Fitzmaurice. Heather also read out Kate Garrett’s Maybe Medea too, as well as James KnightsScylla . And as you can see from the pictures the pupils loved the use of comic strip in Sara Mena’s picture Strength and Disgrace.

Strength and Disgrace by Sara Mena Inspired by Book 9

Strength and Disgrace by Sara Mena Inspired by Book 9

 

Elizabeth Fernandez’ and Lisa Perz’ comic strip was also praised. The concept of using comic strip as an entry point to complicated material works! There were clusters of pupils  around the comic strip/cartoons. It was great.

The one-word evaluation sheet went down well too- the responses ranged from SICK!, to mystical, to thought-provoking. to powerful, to EPIC! This is really great feedback. Here is  a soundcloud audio that James Mackenzie and I did (having met for the first time) to give you an idea!

 

 

In terms of selling paintings we had 7 sales: Lili Morgan, Kelly Occhiuzzo, Charlie Redding (x2), Elaine Offley and James Mackenzie.

The Heritage Open Day was a complete success, and by the end of the day 402 people had heard the Transformers poetry and viewed their pictures. Congratulations to them all!! More pictures of all of this will follow…..

I shall post another update soon!

Thanks so much for your interest!

 

All good wishes,

Nicky

Countdown to Transformations Week 4/5

7 Sep

new-badge5

Supported with public funding by Arts Council England

and Supported by Norfolk County Council

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As part of an attempt to document this whole process I have decided to post out on a weekly basis during the 5-week build up towards our exhibition in Hanse House, King’s Lynn. Preparation-wise a lot is going on each week and I want to record it- not only for the  purposes of evaluation afterwards, but as  a record for myself.

 

Week 4

The Foamboards and Banners have landed

This week has been the week when nearly all of the promotional and exhibition material for our event has been completed and delivered to Hanse House. Minuteman Press, King’s Lynn have done a brilliant job, and what they have produced looks both artistic and professional. I’m very grateful for their  attention to detail and their efficiency. Here are the two banners that will hang at the front and back of Hanse House across the weekend.

The first features James Mackenzie’s painting for Book 14

 

Banner 2 Jamie

 and the second Ken Fasimpaur Photograph Montage of Book 8

 

Banner JPeg

 

The photographs don’t really do them justice, but they look striking and communicate all the information we need effectively.

Yesterday we completed the gluing of the poetry foam boards, painting and book plaques. There are 74 foam boards featuring 60 new poems and these are going on 8 scaffolding cubes. So there’s a fair amount of mounting to which we will be doing on Thursday.  To give you a taster here they are, below, in their box. I’m not going to reveal too much until the exhibition itself, but it gives everyone a good idea.

 

Foam boards

 

There have been several occasions where the exhibition has felt very real and very near, and this was one of them-seeing those boards for real brought that home. Today we will be  ensconced in Hanse House sorting everything back into book order.

Ipads, A Change of Room and The Heritage Open Day Brochure

This last week or so has felt very bitty. Pulling everything together: PhotoArtGB completing the mounting of the 7 non-Uk pictures; the backer Wordle the foam boards; keeping an eye on the budget; and buying ArtiPeeps’ first piece of equipment with our grant money.  ArtiPeeps is now the proud owner of a 16 GB Ipad. This will be used for people who have access problems to the first floor in Hanse House. We are putting the interactive PDF that has been created onto it, so no-one is denied access to Transformations for mobility reasons. I have to say I felt the responsibility attached to using public funds when I bought it hugely. I was also excited because it is an asset and the first physical contribution to our organisation’s development, and our ability to provide services to all and to not exclude anyone.

When you are putting on an exhibition like this, it seems that things can change at the toss of coin; things can change and you have to adjust…. On Friday we found out that we are going to have to shift our exhibition from The Blue Drawing Room to the Emmerich Room in Hanse House.. I thought this would feel traumatic, but it doesn’t. It’s another fantastic space, with beautiful beams, a split level, and an opportunity to create a different sort of exhibition experience than in The Blue Drawing Room. It’s also meant we have had to reconsider our equipment needs. So as a result we are needing slightly less cubes and using wall space for the Comic Strip.  We have full access to the room from Monday onwards and we are going to enjoy working out where everything will go. All the committee will be working on putting everything up this coming Thursday, and the scaffolding arrives this Wednesday.  What I thought might feel like a crisis has actually felt like a great opportunity to rethink the physical structure of the exhibition.

 

We are also in the Heritage Open Day Brochure which is distributed county-wise, and here is our entry. If you click and enlarge the text is clearer

 

photo(3)

 

Making the Virtual Real and Volunteers

This weekend we also booked a table of 15 at the Restaurant in Hanse House. This will be where the Transformers and I will celebrate our coming together and the collaboration that is ArtiPeeps. In our Kickstarter Campaign our slogan was ‘Making the Virtual Real’ and I am only too thrilled that I have fulfilled on that. I am only sorry that all those non-UK Transformers, or UK Transformers that can’t make it, won’t be there. They will be there in spirit though and definitely, 100% not forgotten.

I am also glad to say that we will be having a volunteer helping us across the weekend, which is great. She will be manning the reception desk, keeping a head count and making sure that we get feedback from those that attend the exhibition. This is needed for the evaluatory report and activity plan I have to produce for Arts Council England and Norfolk County Council. We will also be selling the remainder of the cards that we produced for our crowdfunding backers.

So you can see there’s lots afoot, and we’re nearly there!

Thank you, as ever, for your interest.

Nicky

 

 

Proclamation by Daniella Sciuto and J Matthew Waters (FreeSpace #1)

3 Sep

Welcome to the first FreeSpace from poets Daniella Sciuto and J Matthew Waters. Proclamation is the first of three collaborative pieces that Daniella and John will be creating together.

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Words.

 

Proclamation

 

form my words to suit another

snatch a topic from the air

my heart beats fast in fear of nothing

do I dare

do I really dare

 

should my thoughts ever dawdle

or refuse to find new words

may the light of day forever blind me

in this world

and in the next

 

smash the pattern

defy the template

whether in this world or next

yes I dare

I really dare

to throw all thoughts up in the air

grab them

pummel them

write them

down

read them

bleed them

feel them

drown

 

out of the depths

of darkest of waters

I pull myself up

breaking the surface

breathing

in new air

introducing words

never before spoken

never before heard

begging to be understood

by the very one

absolutely

proclaiming them

 

Poets’ Biographies

 

Daniella Sciuto: I’m a writer from The Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. Proud owner of an unused degree in Anthropology. Am owned by many, many books which don’t seem to want to leave once they have been read. My first story to be published was on a pillow. I can be found, together with my ramblings, at bluebellina.wordpress.com and @iwasaplatypus on Twitter.

J Matthew Waters is a poet residing in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. After earning his liberal arts degree in English from the University of Iowa in 1984, he has since enjoyed a career in the financial services industry.  His first collection of poetry entitled “Five Hundred Pieces” was self-published in 1997. His second collection entitled “In the Middle of Somewhere” was self-published as a Kindle ebook in 2011. His most recent work can be found at his poetry blog jdubqca.com

 

Please do watch out for the next two collaborative pieces from Daniella and John over the months ahead.

 

FreeSpace is a creative opportunity that offers 3 posts on ArtiPeeps to an individual or group for showcasing or a project. The slots can be taken in a cluster or spread over a period of months.

 

 

 

 

Countdown to Transformations Week 3/5

28 Aug

new-badge5

Supported with public funding by Arts Council England

and assisted by Norfolk County Council

.

As part of an attempt to document this whole process I have decided to post out on a weekly basis during the 5-week build up towards our exhibition in Hanse House, King’s Lynn. Preparation-wise a lot is going on each week and I want to record it- not only for the  purposes of evaluation afterwards, but as  a record for myself.

 

Week 3

Questionnaires and Workshops

After the meeting with King Edward VII School last week I have spent this week preparing three questionnaires for the classes that will be coming to our Schools’ day. One poetry questionnaire which will involve the pupils creating a found poem from texts within Transformations; another for the Classical Civilisations class that will feed into their syllabus (focusing on Books 1, 3 and 8) and the third with an art focus that will involve images from the exhibition.

The ArtiPeeps Management Committee also had our Membership Workshop this week in which we fleshed out an ArtiPeeps Membership Scheme which will run alongside our core services and offer add-ons to enhance the creative opportunities and collaborative experiences that we offer. It is our intention that this will be launched at the exhibition through a proto-type, new ArtiPeeps website. The actual membership scheme will come into being when the new site is completed and ready to go! 

The whole day was really useful, as it further clarified what ArtiPeeps is as an organisation, what our intentions are as a service provider, and where our economic engine might be and how that balances with funding and fundraising. Although we now have a status as a Company Ltd by Guarantee, and we can generate an income, we are a not-for-profit, charitable  organisation that provides services. How we balance the two sides is very important to me and the workshop clarified this hugely. This will be very helpful to the development of ArtiPeeps and our committee as we move into our next project and fulfill on Transformations.

Signing Offs, Special Invitations and Possible Partners

Today and tomorrow I am signing off on all all the banners and scroll-down banners, picture plaques, foam boards, book headings etc, and everything is being printed tomorrow so we have them well in advance of 12th in case changes need to be made. The foam boards will be delivered to Hanse on the 5th, next Friday, and we will be sticking fixtures on the back of 75 foam boards, 15 book headings and 15 picture plaques. We will do this in-situ.  There will probably be pictures!

Special invitations to the Formal Opening are also being sent out this week and all the main places where we can advertise will be furnished with our promotional material. King’s Lynn has very strict rules about where you can and can’t place posters etc so marketing within the town is limited. However, because we are attached to The Heritage Open Day Transformations is in their promotional material which is county wide.

Future Radio

On Wednesday the Treasurer and I went on a visit to Future Radio, which is a community radio station in Norwich. Not only does it have a great output it also  provides training in radio production for anyone who wants to make their own shows. I met with the manager and had a conversation as to how we could partner in some way. I had in mind that the station might be able to broadcast Transformations from King’s Lynn, but this, unfortunately is not in their remit.  However, there is a really exciting connection with future radio that can be made in relation to The Nine Realms.  We are in discussions about this and I will keep you posted.

Next week will be about pulling the material together for the Schools’ Day, photocopying and exhibition prep……and lots and lots of foam boards…

 

Thank you, as ever, for your interest.

Nicky

 

 

A Shattered Moon: A Hot Potato Collaborative Short Story

22 Aug

Moon

A Shattered Moon

by

Steve Harris, Michael Schmidt,
Shannon Pardoe,
Sam Grainger, Josh Kremer, Jessica Cooke

Illustrations by Sam Grainger

(written collaboratively March-May 2014, as part of our Hot Potato initiative)


Night fell swiftly, like a bird of prey plunging from on high to claim a squeaking victim. The evening was still warm from another baking hot day. Winston lay on his back on the hard concrete yard, the way he always did when he wanted to gaze up at the heavens.

The fragments of broken moon created a dusty ring around the planet that made it harder to see the stars clearly most nights. Only when the once-whole moon would have been dark, when the Earth was between Sol and what remained of the shattered satellite, could Winston see what he wanted to see: constellations, an iridescent miasma of flickering suns burning themselves up billions of miles from where he lay.

Something waited out there. Something wilder and brighter than he would ever find on the sluggish ball of rock and decay where he’d had the misfortune to be born. He had no idea how to express the certainty that for him life lay beyond the atmosphere of his home. He simply knew. The same way he knew when he was hungry or he needed the bathroom. His mother thought he was an idler.

“Winston, get yourself inside and do some school work before bedtime.”

“Do I have to?”

“Of course you have to. There’s work for educated people and nothing but misery for the dumb and the lazy.”

You would know, he thought to himself as he took one last look at the stars, squinting slightly so that the light from them all blended into a fire, like a signal beacon calling him to rise up from the Earth, to seek adventure and meaning.

“What happened to the Moon?”

“Do your school work.”

He knew she wouldn’t answer. Nobody ever answered that question. At school the teachers avoided it, or pretended they had not heard when it was asked countless times a day. The adults kept forbidden knowledge from their children. Sara, his best, his only friend in the bedraggled neighbourhood, once whispered her theories during a particularly evasive science class.

“Must be something terrible. Something they think will scare us to death. Like a huge war or an experiment that went disastrously wrong. Zombies and mutants and stuff.”
“Do you think we will be allowed to know when we’re adults?” he asked.

“Don’t know,” she admitted. Like Winston himself she felt that at ten years old they were already pretty grown up as it was.

“I’m going to find out.”

She did not argue. He sounded utterly convinced.

 

Face
Of course no one could have known what would happen next. Sitting on top of a rock outcropping just above the hole in the ground he now called home. Winston looked out on the skyline of a wasted L.A.. He fumbled through this and other memories as the sun didn’t so much as set, but withdrew into a grey night. Sara’s green eyes sometimes appeared when he closed his. But just like all the other faces he used to know– the nuances in her expressions, the exact impression of the freckles that spread across her cheeks and nose, have slowly faded away over time with every night, with every cigarette, with every jar of moonshine.

He remembers nights outside playing with Sara. He remembers sprinting home for supper after the street lights had come on. He also remembers the suspicion he felt after viewing the U.N.-approved orientation video at his town’s drive-in movie theatre. The video briefly explained how the moon had been hit by a meteor and how there was nothing to worry about as only the tides would be slightly affected. He remembers as nations slowly stopped fighting and focused inward on themselves as if bracing for something. He remembers the intangible panic he felt during those last years of unnatural peace. He remembers waking up one night to shrieks of desperation and the roar of space shuttles full of doctors, scientists, and engineers stealing away from earth in the night. He remembers words like Europa, Titan, Mars—and then of course, he remembers standing outside of the same drive-in movie theatre watching a television feed of those same shuttles colliding, one after another, into the blanket of debris which had been left by the destruction of the moon. They must have known it was a suicide mission, but what did they know that would force their hand in such a gamble? What piece of knowledge had they kept from us that made their suicide mission seem like a safer alternative to staying on Earth? He looked up at the night and gritted his yellow teeth at whatever leviathan of antithesis lay lurking between the stars. He never believed in God, but he believed in this.

He remembers the last lines of a poem and falls asleep out on the rocks as the words ring back in forth in his head–what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Earth to be born?–

—–

Winston woke the following morning disgruntled and listless from a poor night of sleep. He watched in silent indignation as a dusty haze swept across the horizon, bringing with it memories of long summer days and burning skies. Ever since the Event these memories had become his constant companion, playing out in his mind like the old movies he used to watch back at the drive-in theatre. Had she known even then?

Since the moon’s destruction things had fallen into chaos, the seasons had become erratic and with no anchor the raging seas had calmed to a gentle ripple. For those, like himself, who stood in defiance of whatever darkness lay beyond the planet the world had become a dangerous place, far worse than anyone imagined. The floating debris offered little protection from the asteroids that fell from space, crashing into the planet and leaving craters and burning cities in their wake.

But it wasn’t the destruction he feared the most. It was the silence, the emptiness left behind from those who had fled, they had run from the unknown and into the arms of death.

Like Sara and the rest of them he has stayed, too afraid to take the plunge into darkness opting instead to face whatever evil lurked between the stars. Even as a child, before grasping the enormity of what was happening, he had sensed that something was watching them, waiting. There was no way of knowing when it would happen but part of him knew it wouldn’t be long ‘til he found out. Until then he had only one task, one goal that would tip the scale in Earth’s favour – Sara. As shards of light drifted across the remains of his old home he could hear her voice.

“Winston, do you remember the promise we made to each other when the shuttles left Earth?”

Of course, how could he forget.

“You promised that no matter what we would stay together.”

He sighed, even here on the rocky outcrop he called home, far above the desolate streets of L.A she had found him. It was because of her that he had made it this far, the pixie like voice driving him onward, but she was only a voice. Even though he could no longer remember her face something deep inside his chest told him that somehow she was still alive, waiting for him to find her. The last words she had spoken haunted his every moment. He had to do it, he had to go on.

One sleepless night everything changed: he had found Sara’s telephone number, hidden under bags of waste in a dumpster. He had waited for morning to follow up on what he’d found. It’d be safer then. Terrors moved through the streets at night; terrors even he couldn’t face. He rolled the soggy piece of paper around in his mouth. Nothing would take it from him. Nothing. He’d swallow it if he had to, if it came to that.

Images of Sara kept his eyes light through the night, and his thoughts had a constant pulse. It had to be her. It had to be. She was alive. He knew she was. She was the solution. She was his absolution. She was the only hope left.

He’d begun to fear the worst after years of searching. But, in her old abandoned house he’d found it. It caught his eye in a most unlikely place.

The toilet bowl was dry and stained with murky lines. Unknown to him, just out of view, a piece of paper clung to the side of the basin. A small corner came loose from the trickle of his urine and curiosity had made him peel it away. It read:

New – 207 948 9882

Hand

Eventually, the morning came and brought a twist in his gut. He climbed out from the dumpster and made his way to a bar at the end of the street. It was a risk that had to be taken.

The bar held a mist of smoke. The low-lifes vegetated; cigarettes hanging from their bottom lips, drinks resting between their fingers. Empty eyes rolled over him as he entered, and remained fixed. The bartender glanced up in tired recognition.

‘I need to use your phone,’ Winston said.

‘Look, I’ve told you alrea- ’

‘I need to use your phone.’

The bartender nodded towards the end of the bar. ‘You’ve got two minutes – no funny business.’

Winston took the sodden ball of paper from his mouth, smoothed it out and dialled the number; a Maine area code. Why Maine? There was nothing left on the east coast; just wastelands. What was she doing in Maine? His bones vibrated painfully as he held the receiver.

It picked up.

‘Good afternoon, Sara’s Boutique Florists, how may I be of service today?’

It was her. That voice. It was Sara. The relief tasted of melted sugar in his throat. He broke into pieces and clutched the phone with two hands.

‘Sara? Christ, Sara, you’re alive. Fuck! Sara, it’s me, it’s Winston!’

‘Shit…’ the sound suddenly muffled on the other line, ‘Give me a sec, Jill, I’m sorry, it’s him again.’

‘Sara? Sara? I don’t belie – I don’t believe it. Sara, it’s me! It’s me, Winston. Where did you –. Where are you? I thought you were gone. I thought I’d lost you.’

There was no reply.

‘Sara? SARA?’

‘Winston, please don’t call this number again. I thought I made that clear to you last time. I don’t look after you anymore, Winston, I’m sorry. You’re not my responsibility. Please stop calling me. Goodbye.’

The phone clicked.

‘SARA!’

‘Hey!’ The bartender had moved to Winston’s side and ripped the phone from him, ‘Get out of my bar you maniac, I said no funny business. GET OUT.’

All Winston knew was he had to see Sara for real, despite her cold words. He had to go to her, find her. The wasteland of coast was not an easy path to follow, but through the midden of fallen sky and obliterated earth Winston carried on. Every step was somehow more treacherous than the last as fragments of stone, moon, and people’s lives crunched under his heavily lined boots.

The moon’s breaking seemed an entire lifetime ago. Its pieces still plummeted to earth on occasion, never letting anyone forget the past and grounding them in some strange future. Winston’s steps were slow and deliberate as he navigated the debris of Maine, each step bringing him closer.

For how long had he considered the day the moon was ravaged the changing point in his life? For how long had he been wrong?

All the world had watched, paralyzed, as the moon shattered and ruptured humanity’s trajectory for a bright future—the worst of cataclysms—yet Winston was unchanged by it. He had a strong spirit.

He had changed when he had lost her—and every day since he had blamed the moon, and had felt his heart breaking, healing, and breaking over again. He had become a drifter, floating through whatever came his way, coasting. Drinking.

Maine’s air had a crisp bite as he consulted his pocket map, and carefully measured the last leg towards a facility the world seemed oblivious to. How she had come here, and why, didn’t matter. He had to find her.

He had been lost in his head for so long, he had forgotten she was still alive and not a fragment of the past. He devoted everything to his memory and her face. Her face, piercing, drove him on. It held electrifying beauty.

The scientists had failed. They were meant to be the last, best hope for humanity—and Winston didn’t care. His only hope was Sara, his only vision was of her face. He didn’t register his steps in terms of mileage, but measured them in terms of closing the distance between him and her.

He could at last see an unscorched building, the last structure this part of the world seemed to have, and slipped inside. The door creaked, but no one seemed to hear. A dull hum filled the corridors as he quietly began his search for her. His boots clumped loudly and left scuffs across the floor tiles, so he removed them. He peered in doors only to find empty rooms.

Carefully he continued, turning a corner and—

“Winston?”

“Winston, is that you? Where the devil are your shoes?”

To Maine he had gone, for a woman he only remembered as a girl. He had made a promise to her…had she forgotten that she had made one to him as well?

Sara stood facing him at the end of the corridor. He walked towards her, stepping lightly and slowly, as though she was a tiny animal and so much as a breath less delicate than hers could cause her to break away.

Her hair was twisted high on top of her head in work-mode, and she wore a white surgeon’s coat complete with rubber gloves. A tiny badge pinned to her left breast read, “Sara, Florist.” Little spots of color flecked her gloves and coat. She’d been painting.

“I knew you’d hate me having this job,” she said, “I’m sorry I wasn’t in touch. This was just something I had to do. Something… Without you.”

It had been like traveling a hundred years in the dark. Looking in abandoned places for numbers that might not be there, going into bars asking favors from people that didn’t even want to see you. A hundred years in the dark till now but instead of one light, he felt a thousand burning between the place where his bones meet his skin, and under their glare he felt more lost. He wanted to undo the pin that held her hair, letting it all fall across her shoulders and tell her how pretty she looked.

How much he’d missed her. A decade ago, he wouldn’t have thought twice, but right now one more step and he’d feel like he was breaking the law.

“Do you want to see the lab?” she asked him.

He followed her into a crisp, white room where jars holding pickled flowers lined the rooms. He stared. Roses, tulips, lilacs; each jar held one single flower of a different breed to the last.

Real flowers hadn’t existed like this in years, yet here they were, blurring the line between past and present. The long white petals of a daisy unfurled in the dappled liquid, its base gleaming like a yellow eye, its stem curved, suspended in the jelly.

She brought him to a table just in front of them, and opened the lid of a metal box.
There, inside, a miniature blue flower dipped its head towards its stem, curling into itself. Its leaves fanned out like ghosts in the water.

“Prototype, “Sara said, “Bluebell. Wild flowers are harder to recreate, because they weren’t as artificially engineered as the more popular ones. Rose was the first one, obviously.”

“Obviously,” he repeated, dumbfounded.

“I don’t know. You always seemed so obsessed with the moon, with the past. It was like you blamed it for everything. I needed to get out of LA. I mean, we haven’t had weather like the ancestors did since before we were born. So, I never understood why everybody mourned it so much. It was a terrible thing to happen, sure, but don’t you feel like the more we’re mourning one kind of light, we’re missing out on another?”

“Your flowers are beautiful,” he told her, “but fake.”

She looked down, sighing.

“I thought you’d say that. That’s why I didn’t want to tell you what I was doing. Can’t you see the benefits of the work we’ve done here? It’s only one small thing, but it’s a step towards recreation. Towards life.

“Through art.”

He shoved his hands into the pockets of the white coat she’d given him to hide their trembling.

“This isn’t Art. This is synthetic. Like, most of outside, what’s natural, what’s life is not synthetic flowers. I’d rather give my girlfriend a bouquet of moon! Because that’s what’s real. At least when she smelled she’d smell a piece of something that did exist, that was blown up, and that hurt everybody. It wasn’t nice that it happened, but I’m not about to forget that it did happen. This world has been changed, and no amount of chemical flowers is going to make me forget that life doesn’t exist any more.”

“What is the difference? Yes, they’re chemical, yes we made them and we painted them! But they’re here! They’re something! A step towards rebuilding! A step towards finally being happy!”

“It’s not about being happy. It’s about truth. Denial of the truth is the worst thing anyone can do to another person.”

“Is that why you came here? Hoping that I could be your truth, hoping that I’d want to go off with you and wander around, picking up bits of broken moon and imagining what life could have been like? We’re not kids any more, Wints.”

“I just wanted to see you. I had to see you,” he paused, “I still want you, even… even if this is what you want.”

“This is what I want.”

“I know. When I called you I just had to see it for myself.”

“I’m moving to New York,” she said suddenly.

“When?”

“Tomorrow, they have a new lab opening. They have a project opening; they’re planning to recreate the whole of Central park, but with lots of flowers ahead,” her voice sped up, excited, “We think we can manipulate the roses to grow right out of the bark in the trees, can you imagine how beautiful that would be?”

“When do you leave?”

“In 2 days.”

Winston could see it now. The stuff of dreams. But how real was a dream when it hadn’t come from within? When it had come from someone placing it there, someone constructing it. He would never be able to visit the park without feeling like he was a trespasser in someone else’s garden.

“I should go,” he told her.

She didn’t blink.

“Okay.”

A hundred years in the dark, for only a flash of light.

He left the building into the dust swirling street. Charcoal grey shimmied in the thick air around the emaciated branches of a tree. There was something beautiful in its wasteful figure. The way it held itself, proud of its bareness, unashamed.

He bent down, scooping a piece of moon up from the gravel and placed it in his pocket.

What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards the Earth to be born?

Sara could have her garden, they all could. The moon felt coarse and hard in its pocket, its jagged edges scratched his legs through the thin fabric of his pants but he did not remove it. It would remain there all day, every day, a rough beast in his shallow life.

Sara and her friends would create a garden, inventing Nature in a way that no one had intended, and in decades no one would know the difference.

He put his hand in his pocket, holding the piece of moon. A hundred years in the dark with only a reminder of light.

Writers’ Information

Steve Harris:

http://theplanetharris.com
https://twitter.com/theplanetharris

Michael Schmidt

http://glitteringafterthoughts.wordpress.com/
https://twitter.com/geometric_auras

Shannon Pardoe:

https://twitter.com/shannongpardoe

Sam Grainger:

http://sgraingy.tumblr.com/
https://twitter.com/SGraingy
http://sgraingy2.tumblr.com/

Josh Kremer:

https://twitter.com/joshuaDkremer

Jessica Cooke:

http://madramblingsss.wordpress.com/
https://twitter.com/JessicaCooke5

If you would like to take part in our next Hot Potato short story collaboration do get in touch via the comment box or via the Contact form on the What’s On page. You would be welcome.

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