So… while you all eagerly await the announcement of the longlist for the #SJIBFS competition (which is a tough job, incidentally…) I’d like to share with you a brilliant flash fiction from a writer I am very glad to call a friend. Not only does he write brilliant fantasy, crime and horror of his own, he has also been an invaluable sounding board for my work, giving encouragement and constructive criticism and a kick up the arse when required. So, without further ado – please read, enjoy and let us know what you think in the comments. RJ is one to watch. You can say you saw him here first…
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The Boy Who Listened in at Doors
by RJ Barker
There are Witches out there, with skull faces.
On windy nights they gather in the tree outside his window and huddle together on branches winter-shorn of leaves. They chatter and laugh, flap their cloaks and watch him with beady black eyes.
All witches, all watching. Laughing black leaves on the cold oak’s boughs.
“They’re just crows,” says Mother with her half-sad mouth. “Just crows, my boy, just crows.”
The Boy pulls his curtains together tightly.
not even the mercurial moon
can peek into his room.
Better the dark than peeking Witches,
with skull faces.
Hard, black, leather-skin carapaces
Long dead grimaces.
Grinding and eating and cawing and gnawing.
He has protectors, many and varied.
Can’t, doubt the bravery of Flying Fred Ted nor Keemo the duck that Daddy brought him from the hospital.
When Daddy was still here.
Stick thin on the bed.
The bears hate the witches with Skull faces and he hugs his small army close.
He should feel safe.
And screech and cackle and yatter and caw-caw the night away.
Outside those thick black curtains that Mummy, with the half-sad mouth, fitted.
“They’re just crows, My boy, just crows,” she had said as she hung the curtains, shoulders slumping, a pale hand covering tearfilled eyes.
When they first visited – black flecks falling out the dusky sky to populate the bare oak – Raggedy capes making excellent wings for those who wish to be something else.
The same night the Terminal took Daddy went away.
Witches have guile, they know people would spot birds with skull faces straight away.
(Make a fuss.
Call animal protection.
Or the newspapers
Get the T.V. People
Or maybe write a book.)
Witches don’t want that.
So they slip their black pointy hats down over their shiny-leathered skulls.
Hard black beaks
Cover hard black faces.
“Just crows my boy, just crows. Where do you get these things from, my son?”
Sometimes, the caw-cawing and yattering starts to swirl in his head, stops being squawks and screeches and becomes words.
Always the same.
Taunting, teasing, sneering, squealing, high pitched, rakkety-ratchet old-hag, warty-chinned voices
“Shall we eat the boy tonight? Good and plump he is. Who’d miss the lonely little scrap? Our bellies would be full and his mother not be sad.”
Again they say it.
Again and again.
Each time more teeth-on-glass voices join the chorus until eventually, in a great taunting, teasing, sneering, squealing, high pitched, rakkety-ratchet old-hag, warty-chinned wail the whole flock of skull-faced, witch-crows takes to the sky.
Raggedy capes flap. Hat mouths croak. A dark spiral rising up and out over the city.
‘They’re just crows, my boy, just crows’ she says but the tears in her eyes and the tremble of his lip won’t leave.
‘Daddy would scare them away.’
‘I’m sure he would,’ she looks at the floor to hide her tears as she tucks him in. ‘There are no monsters, my son. Nothing eats people They’re just crows, my boy, just crows.’ Her voice a strangled sob.
He tries to be brave but he knows she lies and pulls the covers over his head and curls up, folding in his fear and pain with ganglion arms.
Monsters are real.
‘I’m sorry, Mrs Taylor,’ said the doctor. ‘There’s nothing we can do. It’s eating him away.’
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RJ Barker is slightly eccentric and lives in Yorkshire with his wife, two year old son and a constantly growing collection of poor quality taxidermy. His short fiction has been published in all manner of places (including charity anthology ‘Off the Record 2: At the Movies‘) and received three honourable mentions in, ‘The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror’. RJ’s illustrated poems (together with Mikko Sovijarvi) ‘Interment’ and ‘The Social Diary of A Ghoul’ have received pretty good reviews (like, here) and are available through Amazon for electronic readers. A paper version is planned soon.
He’s recently signed with Literary agent Robert Dinsdale of Dinsdale Imber and is working on something a bit longer.
When not writing, RJ dreams of growing a huge pair of antlers and hiring himself out as a novelty coat-rack.