A.J. Walker


Really: Here Be Dragons

Here Be
Mid Week Flash Challenge: Week 272

Really: Here Be Dragons

If you’d asked James a week ago whether there was such a thing as dragons he’d have laughed in your face and shouted a resounding, “No.” Now he and Katherine knew different.

They sat on the cliff edge above the thick Forest of Lost Souls, feeling the cold seep into their behinds from the ancient limestone, but not caring a jot. Before them the darkening forest canopy looked like a choppy sea beneath the scudding cloudscape. In itself it was beautiful, but the true beauty was seeing a pair of dragons frolicking high above the seascape that wasn’t a sea.

‘There are too many things that are surreal about this moment.’ James said.

Katherine punched him playfully on the arm. ‘Moment? This has been one long trip of surreal. We need some serious talk with our teachers when we return. No such thing as dragons, my arse!’

James leant back to take in a view of Katherine’s rear.

‘Very funny, James. You know what I mean.’

The two dragons danced around in the sky. Twisting their bodies and apparently entwining their necks – at least from their distant viewpoint.

’Think they are courting now?’ Katherine asked.

James shrugged. ‘I’m no expert on them. To be honest I thought they were brother and sister when we met them.’

‘Me too. But maybe things are different in the world of dragons?’

‘Ya think?’ James laughed.

The dragon dance continued but they could see they were slowly receding from view as they began their journey back home – probably far from this forest.

They were sorry to see them go after the days spent at the Congress of Dragons. Apparently it was held so rarely it was a less than once in even the oldest man’s lifetime. They had been so lucky to come across the congress. They’d seen the location of the week long meeting before as children and always thought the place a little magical: a low grassed hill in the middle of the thick forest, it was strange how different it was, how nothing seemed to want to invade or take over the hill. No rocks, no trees, no weeds, no paths – even though they’d walked over it many years ago. Now Katherine had seen its purpose she thought it was more beautiful than ever. It really was magical.

‘Who’s idea was it to come here, again?’ Katherine asked.

James sighed. ‘For the umpteenth time: it was yours. Now don’t make me answer that again. But thank you for doing so.’

‘But I don’t know what made me do it, made us do it. I mean we have never left the town overnight before on our own. Never stayed outdoors either. What possessed us to do it – and to meet the dragons?’

‘It certainly felt a bit like it was our destiny, doesn’t it?’ James said.

He looked back at the map. The forest was on the western edge of it and emblazoned across it was the familiar “
Here Be Dragons.”

‘Who the hell put’s “
Here Be Dragons” on maps and means it? I mean it just means they don’t know what’s here and it may be dangerous or it may not be, doesn’t it?’

‘Perhaps whoever drafted this map really knew what he –
or she,’ Katherine emphasised, ‘was talking about.’

‘But it says it to the east and south too. Do you think there are dragons there too?’ James asked.

‘Damned if I know. But those two siblings or lovers – or both – have gone. And it’s time we did too. I’m in need of a bed with clean sheets and a decent meal.’

‘Yeah, me too. I mean it was nice of them to share their food with us and all, but they could do with adding the occasional herbs and spice. I think they only did three options: cooked, undercooked and
usually – overcooked.’

‘Definitely. I’m looking forward to a straightforward meat and two veg when I get back. With some salt and pepper, and maybe some sauces.’ Katherine said.

‘So predictable. But me too.’

They stood up and embraced on the rock and agreed to get out to the other areas of the map emblazoned with ‘
Here Be Dragons’ in the future. James said he’d definitely bring a bigger rucksack with room for plenty of veg.


WC: 716 words


Mid Week Flash Challenge: Week 271


No one had expected the end of the world to be so everyday random. I’d remember people fearing a new ice age, then the oceans overflowing with the poles melting, there were nuclear wars, asteroids, even aliens coming here and maybe using us as livestock. But no. When the end came it was our apathy.

When the virus first came it was often like a cold. Though it killed some outright it was okay: it was only the old or ill. Then came the mutations. It became more or less virulent and did more or less as it went. Everyone got it. Like a cold it was. There were random mutations and even more random effects as it rippled around the world. Some people tried not to avoid it, but most resigned themselves to its inevitability.

I knew some people who caught it who couldn’t walk down their stairs without needing oxygen. My mate, Phil, decided to stop going to bed and slept on his sofa to avoid the daily grind of the stairs: then he had difficult toilet decisions. Talking of toilet issues, Aunt Gloria ended up being one of the unlucky ones who lost control of her bowels. Derek from next door lost his eyesight. Bill from the other side lost feelings in his legs, whilst his wife (I always forget her name) was one of the many who won the accelerated dementia lottery. She sang the same song for weeks when she got it. When the singing stopped I knew it was all over.

To begin with, as the later mutations traversed the globe, we watched on the TV. There was so much to take in. It was just a cold. When mum and dad, and my two brothers, passed away in the space of a week I knew it wasn’t.

The headlines showed countries pulling up drawbridges. Economies collapsed in no time. There were some rioting, looting and whatnot. But not as much as you’d expect. I mean the banks stopped working. But the shops had nothing to sell anyway. No one worked. Just a cold.

I hid away in the basement for a week. If I didn’t see anyone then surely I could protect myself. No one came to the house. When I did venture out there was no-one around. The TV was useless: there was no electricity. I vowed to get some batteries for my radio. Surely there’d be someone broadcasting.

I got some batteries from a shopping centre where all the windows had been smashed in. It was a perplexing sight. All the windows gone but hardly anything stolen. I tried to think what had happened during my week of basement seclusion. In the end I picked up a few items to eat and drink. I wondered how I’d cook them without electricity – I hadn’t checked the gas, but that went hand in hand usually. The roads were dead. Where was everybody?

The houses between the shops and mine seemed undamaged. No broken windows, no smashed in or even open doors. It looked like any quiet Sunday: but no one was mowing lawns or going for a drive. I began to go up to the houses and one by one look through the windows, I even knocked on some doors. Eventually I saw people. Dead people. Most were just sat in chairs or on sofas in front of dead televisions. Just in ones and twos. The people who’d lived there. My neighbours. Dead. Only a cold.

Stood on the corner of my estate I saw a flyer stuck on a lamppost. ‘The End is Nigh! Repent and Be Saved.’ I longed for someone to come around the corner walking their dog. Someone who could tell me what had happened. I saw a anewspaper jutting out of a letterbox at No.17 and grabbed it. The front page was all about the virus. Apparently the latest symptoms had become more cerebral than previous ones, it stated that almost universally the new strain was resulting in severe ‘Listlessness & Apathy.’

Back at the house I opened a tin of beans and ate them cold out of the tin. I could feel the empty estate around me, the country, the world. Fuck, the world had died of listlessness and apathy. No one had seen that coming. I thought about typing up my thoughts on it. But who would read it? I dropped the batteries by my radio, but didn’t put them in. What was the point?

Take Only Photos

Mid Week Flash Challenge: Week 270

Take Only Photos

Sidney drew back on his first of beer of the day. He’d just put the tent up in a strong wind and deserved it. The night should be midge free in the wind if it continued. He threw the empty can into his waste bag.
Take only photos, leave only footprints. Good feelings welled up in him as he opened the second. He was looking forward to seeing Telford’s Neptune’s Staircase as he’d heard his parents talk about their boating holidays along Loch Ness and the Caledonian Canal. This whole holiday along the Great Glen Way felt like a pilgrimage. The walk had really only just started as he made his way to Inverness. After the Caledonian Canal it would be the daftly sounding Loch Lochy, which his mum had said was her favourite loch in the whole of Scotland. Then it’d be time for the wide expanse of Loch Ness. And maybe a chance to see Nessie.

That night in the Great Glen Inn he dined on langoustines. It felt decadent after two days of sandwiches and Scotch Pies. He recalled a photo of his mum playing with them on one of their holidays. She always said that he should never play with his food – unless he was having langoustines. He took a selfie with them and posted it on Instagram.
Take only photos.

He found a couple more hotel bars and soon had taken in more than he should have – he ended the night with a dram of malt, before venturing his way back to his tent. He wandered up the canal along the staircase. It had turned into a starry night and he could see them reflecting in the still water in the locks. The wind had died away and the damn midges were in again in a feeding frenzy.

He just wanted to lie down, put some tunes on and, hopefully, quickly fall asleep. He heard a loud noise from beyond the final lock. It sounded like something large had got into – or out of – the canal. He make out anything other than blackness in the night though and he wondered how large the fish were in the water.

Soon he could make out his tent, reflecting moonlight of its roof. Nearly there, but first a call of nature by the hedge. As he shook himself he heard heavy breathing. Disconcerting whilst he was holding his bits out. He was relieved to see that it was just a horse in the field. It was so close he could reach out and touch the black beast. It looked stunning in what little light there was. He wondered where it had come from. There hadn’t been a horse in the field earlier.

Sidney climbed over the gate and found the horse trotting up. He patted his neck. It felt and looked like strong and sleek – it was felt drenched but didn’t seem bothered. It reminded him of the horse he’d learnt to ride as a child. But in reality the only thing in common he thought was that there was a leg in each corner. He had a sudden urge to climb onto it.

He found found himself riding through the trees above the field then along a path half way up the hillside. He looked down at the silvered ribbon of the canal and could see along to the lights of Fort William and the reflections of Loch Linnhe. It was awe inspiring. He patted the horse in thanks for such a wonderful gift.

The horse seemed to expand beneath him and it threw back his head and blew out through his nostrils. Sidney wondered if he always took people bare back. He’d only ever ridden on a saddle before but the horse seemed made for him. Suddenly the horse took off down the hillside at a gallop. Sidney made some effort by pulling at his mane – and then just by screamed before eventually whimpering. But the horse barrelled on. It raced towards a massive hedge, which Sidney expected would calm him. It careered on and when close to the hedge drove down into the ground to force himself up and over the impossible height. He seemed to fly. Until he didn’t. He came down into the water of Loch Linnhe. Sidney was never found. Hoof prints by the tent were noted by the police. The landowner didn’t have a horse. No locals had seen it – though there were stories. It was a mystery.

Leave only footprints.

The Light

Mid Week Flash Challenge: Week 269

The Light

Daniel was stressed. He hated making decisions. He’d live with problems day after day, even year after year, rather than make a decision and then acting on it. He was the King of Procrastination when it came to avoidance. Or was he the King of Avoidance when it came to procrastination? He’d never decide.

But today was a red letter day: a big decision made, and action.

It had been four years, 2024, since taking up the Light of Life offer. The earliest of adopters, he’d been lucky enough to get a sweet deal that made many of his acquaintances jealous. The Light of Life (LoL) became the ultimate device for the home, for the family: for loved ones.

It had started of as such a simple and beautiful idea. A person you loved had passed away: ’
Still see them every day with a LoL.’ When you purchased it you provided as much information as you could, including photographs, dates, comments on traits and, crucially, access to social media. The company would build a three dimensional image of the person held within a model lightbulb. It wasn’t a lightbulb, it was just a simple everyday form chosen for the ‘ultimate living memorial.’ The Light.

In Daniel’s case he’d been hit hard by the passing of his father. The
Light of Life advertising was compelling when he first saw it. They were new and it was a matter of happy timing. He’d have more that simple photographs of his dad. He’d have a permanent moving memorial to him that could follow him around the room. Then they added the talk feature. He actually talked like him (they used two YouTube videos for reference). It was eery yet comforting hearing him ask ‘How was your day?’ or ‘What you having for dinner?’ ‘The team were shite yesterday. What did you think?

For three years he’d had these conversations. It became as much a part of his day as having a shower or making a coffee. His father wasn’t dead, he was very much still with him.

LoL Ltd. quickly expanded to a behemoth that bestrode the world. Whilst everyone who knew Daniel thought he’d got the best deal ever, he’d become jealous of the people who hadn’t bought into the Light. Most people who didn’t have them purely because of the extortionate monthly fee for hosting and maintaining their ‘loved one’ in the Light Cloud.

As information became ever more available the product became more complex. His dad had been updated dozens of times and now when his image played in the living room in all it’s 3D glory he’d wonder at how his wardrobe was so much his dad’s – even with new clothes. He swore that on some days he could almost smell his aftershave.

He wasn’t sure when exactly it changed but he’d started recently to think it wasn’t right living with your dad after he’d died. Talking to him about the daily grind or the neighbour’s dog:
He’s dead I’m talking to a projection plucked out of clouds of ones and zeroes.

He was increasingly having days thinking he should get rid of his
dad. The Light: not his dad. It was so hard to think of it as not a person. They talked every day! He’d argued with him about what he was eating, about his choice of car, his girlfriends. Daniel had problems making love with his girlfriends or even masturbating. His dad was in the next room tutting or marking him out of ten. The Cloud was always listening. So his dad must be.

So today Daniel, stressed beyond belief, was finally going to kill the Light. It felt like a crime. He wondered about checking on the net but knew his dad would then know his plans.

He left his house that night with the Light in a padded box. He couldn’t even treat it without care when he was going to dispose of it. He drove carefully through town with the box on the passenger seat, sat on a cushion with the seat belt on.

‘Where are we going?’ Came his dad’s voice.

One of the updates had included offline working. Daniel had never known. He’d always stayed in the living room.

‘Son, where are we going?’

Daniel had never handled surprises well. He lost control of the car. It smashed into one the ubiquitous downtown
Light of Life offices. Daniel passed away beside the damnable memorial to his dad. The Light lay unbroken.

WC: 750