A new dawn

Treetops by Nigel Whitehead
‘Tree tops’ by Nigel Whitehead

From my Flash Fiction Collection

Great Being Five was having a bad day. The worst day she’d ever had since she’d decided to delete planet Earth. She’d known she had to do it, but still she regretted it. What she also regretted was agreeing to collaborate with Great Being Nineteen on his newly relocated planet. What a nightmare that had turned out to be.

After the destruction of Earth, Great Being Nineteen had given his barren little red planet a nudge, moving it gently into the Earth’s old orbit. Deferring to her experience of the ‘Goldilocks Zone’ he’d asked her to set up the basic building blocks for life, most essentially, the liquid water. The planet already had important elements like carbon and nitrogen; it even had ready-made continents and a slightly defunct volcanic system which just required a little kick-start to give the planet more energy.

She’d carefully retrieved the Earth’s old moon and substituted for Mars’ own two moons which she felt weren’t really up to the job. They were too small and misshapen and she hated their forbidding names which reminded her of all the worst qualities of her erstwhile earthlings. Who in their right mind would call their nearest heavenly bodies Phobos and Deimos – fear and dread?

Being thrifty she had put them in storage in an empty part of the universe. They might come in useful for something, although Great Being Nineteen would probably auction them off.

She sighed as she looked across the surface of the red planet. It had gone so well initially, especially after she’d introduced the blue-green algae. The warmth of the now-nearer sun had allowed them to photosynthesize and voilà, oxygen levels increased rapidly, an ozone layer formed and the plant developed an atmosphere. It had been a long wait, but as far as Great Being Five was concerned, it was party time.

As she and Great Being Nineteen toasted their success, the bickering began. First of all they couldn’t agree on a name. It needed something new, bright and vibrant, but all their brainstorming only ended in bitter recrimination. Great Being Nineteen wanted something tough and macho-sounding. Five told him tersely that it really wouldn’t do. What sort of tone would that set for a new world? Eventually, they decided to ‘park’ the problem until the planet developed a character of its own.

The next bone of contention was how they would develop the aesthetic. Great Being Nineteen really had no idea. They browsed among the galaxies, searching for ideas, but nothing really grabbed them. Eventually Five decided to show him her lovely planet in Alpha Centauri, proudly lifting the subtle cloaking device she’d installed to keep it hidden from predatory interstellar life forms.

He wasn’t impressed. “Just birds and trees and flowers? Where’s the interest? Where’s the ultimate struggle for survival?”

Five had turned away in disgust, washing her hands of the whole project. Let him do as he wants, she thought, and turned her attention to adding some pretty pastel coloured animals to the dappled woodlands of her lovely planet; all herbivores, of course. And then, finally, she settled upon its name. Her lovely planet would be known as Orea.

But over the millennia she couldn’t resist the odd little peak at Nineteen’s handiwork.

Over time, Great Being Nineteen had named his planet Ferox and had introduced an interesting collection of flora and fauna. He’d raided the Earth archives she’d shared with him and picked out the most predatory creatures he could find. Huge raptors circled the skies, carnivores red in tooth and claw stalked the plains and forests, killer whales patrolled the oceans. Happily there were no war-mongering bipeds… yet.

Five had to admit his collection of big cats were beautiful, as she scanned the planet; but, wait, what was that tiger eating? She peered at her viewing screen more closely. What she saw filled her with horror.

She flicked her monitor over to Orea. Where were all the furry mammals? She roved among the woodland glades. Not a pink fluffy bunny in sight! And where were the birds?

She returned her attention to Ferox just in time to see a raptor gobble up one of her red-gold sun-birds in mid-flight. Everywhere she looked were signs of the carnage; a handful of bright feathers here, a sorry lump of pastel-coloured fur there.

He’d ransacked her lovely planet. It had to be him! No-one else knew about Orea. How could he do such a thing? She wept for the loss of her beautiful benign creatures.

Finally her lament ceased. Great Being Five brushed away her tears.

She had a plan. She would re-set her planet. Ctrl-alt-delete, turn back the clock, then repopulate.

Then she had her best idea.

Adopting an anonymous thought-pattern, she sent a mind-message to Great Being Nineteen. “I have some very exciting new stock you might be interested in.” She smiled to herself as she dropped the thought into his brain. “It will add a real ‘wow factor’ to the planet I hear you’re working on,” she floated an image of a couple of dragons in flight in front of him. “But you’ll need to come in person.”

She gave him the co-ordinates.

Great Being Nineteen arrived on the surface of the planet. It looked familiar, very much like that soppy planet of Five’s, but he was certain he’d never visited this part of the Dark Universe. He stared around. Where was this new stock the dealer had offered him?

Over on the bright side of the universe Five hit the keyboard, glancing at her monitor to see the empty space which Orea had previously occupied.

She hit the keyboard again and entered another complex sequence into the system. Orea reappeared, recently returned from the furthest corner of the universe where she had dumped a few unwanted items. Orea was as lush as ever and ready for new life.

Suddenly it wasn’t a bad day after all.

©2019 Chris Hall

Syzygy (the alignment)

Kofiyah by Solly Gutman
Korfiyah by Solly Gutman

The bell over the shop door jingles as Abdul pushes it open wide and sniffs the salty air of the pre-dawn morning. Despite the early hour, the two aunties who live in the tiny whitewashed stone building opposite are already busy on their stoep, sitting at their wide wooden table peeling a small mountain of vegetables. The aunties are always busy: knitting or sewing, mending and altering; or making rotis and other goodies to sell by the harbour. That’s how they manage.

Abdul manages too. He sells all sorts of Useful Things. Indeed, that is what his shop is called. It might be a pot or a pan, a fishing net, or a rod and line. Or maybe something more exotic, like an oyster knife or an implement for getting stones out of horses’ hooves. If you can’t find it anywhere else, then Abdul is sure to have it. You only have to ask.

He steps outside and looks up. He grins. It’s an auspicious day. A sliver of a new moon, Venus and Jupiter form a precise alignment in the eastern sky: bringing love, happiness and maybe wealth and adventure, he thinks. And something more. Abdul hurries across the dusty road to greet the two aunties.

Auntie Grace looks up from her peeling. “Have you been consulting with your heavenly bodies, Abdul?” she says with a twinkle in her eye. Auntie Grace is over ninety, the brown skin of her face is still smooth though, and she loves to tease.

Abdul inclines his head.

“And what are they telling us?”

Abdul repeats his thoughts to them.

Auntie Rose holds up a long strand of potato peeling triumphantly. “There. All in one go. We will have good luck.” She grins up at Abdul toothlessly. Her face is nut-brown and deeply wrinkled although she’s some ten years her sister’s junior.

“Most certainly, in that case,” replies Abdul. “Did you buy your lottery ticket this week?”

“Of course.” Auntie Grace reaches inside her capacious bosom and draws out the ticket.

Auntie Rose chuckles and reaches inside her pocket. “A day to put my teeth in then,” she gurns, before slipping in her dentures.

Abdul smiles, puts his two hands together and bows his head to the Aunties, before hurrying back to the shop to arrange the display on the table in front of his shop window. The other shopkeepers are opening up now and everyone nods and waves to each other. It’s a friendly little community.

The day goes well for Abdul. He’s sold an entire dinner service by eleven o’clock, and someone else is coming back later with the money for a small mahogany table which Abdul has lovingly polished every day for a month.

Later in the afternoon a tall woman, carrying two bulging holdalls comes into the shop. She’s looking for an oil lamp. ‘Something which doesn’t need electric,’ she says. ‘Not a candle,’ she adds emphatically. The woman is about Abdul’s age, he guesses; neither young nor old. She wears a long skirt and a rather obvious wig, he notices. He hasn’t seen her before. He wonders if she’s new to the town, but he’s too shy to ask. He thinks for a moment then finds exactly the lamp she’s looking for. He throws in a small container of kerosene for free and her face lights up. She stuffs her purchases into one of her bags. Abdul hold the shop door for her and watches as she slowly walks away, her head held high.

Now he’s eager for the working day to end. He has something to do and this is the very day on which he must do it. He saw the syzygy, the particular alignment, in the early morning sky. Abdul’s eyes stray to a large, cracked leather-bound volume which stands on his highest shelf, partly concealed behind a bulbous copper kettle.

It had been the aunties who had given him the book more than a year ago. Written as it was in Arabic, they’d had no use for it. It had just been taking up space, Auntie Rose had said. But it had come with a stern warning from Auntie Grace. She’d recalled mention in their family of some strange ‘happening’ when her grandfather had read it aloud in his room one night during a full moon. Abdul had smiled and shaken his head. His Arabic wasn’t so good, he’d said. And it hadn’t been until he’d begun to try to read the book.

Now he’s pretty much fluent.

As soon as he’s locked up the shop at precisely five o’clock, Abdul carefully lifts the book down from the shelf and disappears into his little private room and the back of the shop. All goes quiet. Nobody notices when much later that evening a strange curl of reddish smoke rises from the back of the shop, or a peculiar, over-sweet odour wafts away on the strengthening estuary breeze.

Across the road, the aunties are jumping up and down like spring chickens, having netted a nice little lottery win. Not life-changing, but certainly life-improving, they say to each other. Rose puts her dentures back in to celebrate with a toothy grin.

Neither of them sees the fish eagle as it flies in a graceful arc, up over their little house to the harbour, curving round across the estuary mouth to head down the river towards the salt flats where it wheels again and flies over the marina and out to sea, hugging the coast, looking down at the fishing boats in the coves along the coast. The bird alights briefly on the headland opposite the harbour then, as if satisfied, returns to whence it came, disappearing behind the workshops and warehouses which line the harbour.

Abdul doesn’t see the aunties until they return from church the following day. They stand beaming outside his shop, peering in until he comes to the door. He pokes his head out, but unusually, he doesn’t step outside, expressing his congratulations on their news from his side of the door.

Auntie Rose takes a step forward and reaches up. She plucks a feather from his beard and holds it out to her sister. Auntie Grace peers round the door and notices something odd about the way Abdul is standing. She glances down. She nudges her sister and nods at Abdul’s feet which are mostly hidden by his long white shirt and matching trousers. He shuffles his feet awkwardly.

“What’s the matter with your toes?” says Auntie Rose. Abdul looks at her, then down at his feet. The claws which poke out from his sandals are unmistakable.

“The book?” asks Auntie Grace.

Abdul nods.

Inspired by ‘Korfiyah’ by Cape Town artist, Solly Gutman – visit his website for more of his wonderful artwork