Treacle, and other Twisted Tales

Treacle paperback spread

Here’s a snippet from my story ‘Maryika’s Christmas’, one of the 35 tales (some short, some long) in my short story collection, mybook.to/treacle . In the Crooked Cat sale, 28-30 August, the book is only 99p/99c. That’s less than 3p per story. All my novels are also in the sale.

The night wind was cool off the water and Zander shivered, drawing his thin cardigan around his shoulders. Zoe crouched at his feet, feeding the baby. Hana was a tiny child, hardly strong enough to bear the weight of such a portentous name. Hope. The flower of their happiness, if they could only escape. The foundation stone of their new life, or so he told himself, straightening his spine and squaring his shoulders as befitted the head of a household. Father had given the last of his money to the traffickers, staying behind to face his own likely death at the hands of the fighters of one side or the other; they were all as bad as each other. Why they were fighting, no-one knew any more. Only that each side believed they had God on their side, and were therefore ultimately unbeatable. Life everywhere had degenerated into survival, and then incarceration in a prison the size of a city.

Getting out of the country, getting to Europe, was the only way to escape the violence. The family’s life savings had paid for their freedom. It had only got them as far as the border, though. There the traffickers dumped them into a locked room in a small house; two dozen or more children, thrown together by their common fear of the men to whom they had been sold. The traffickers said they needed more money. They let the children use a mobile phone, to contact their families. Some must have paid, because those children were removed from the house and not seen again. Often it was the older girls who were taken, and, once, one of them was brought back. She hid in the corner until the traffickers left, and the younger girls went to her. Zander could not hear the story she whispered to Zoe, and when he asked his sister told him it was not for boys to know.

The daily mobile phone calls continued. Zander’s father was trying to raise the money. He asked Zander to tell the traffickers that he would get it; they were to be patient. The next day the men took Zoe. When they brought her back, Zander could see a terrible thing had happened, but Zoe turned her face to the wall and refused to speak to him. One of the traffickers had formed an attachment to her, and took her out again and again for a few weeks. One day, however, he pushed her back into the room with her face cut and bruised, and he did not come for her again.

By summer it was obvious she was with child. Zander knew he was supposed to reject her. She was unclean. She had lain with those men, those monsters. But it was clear that she had not had a choice. And besides, she was his sister, and he was responsible. At last his father had provided the money – borrowed or begged or stolen, Zander did not know – but it was enough for the next stage of the journey.

They waited, on the darkest night of winter, for the boat that was to take them at last to safety and a new home.

***

Maryika lay snuggled into the warm depths of her bed, sinking slowly into sleep. She sighed, and burrowed deeper, as she closed her eyes. She opened them on a vista of fields and forest, under a sky sprinkled with stars. Everything was dark except, with true dream-logic, the thing she was looking at. To begin with it was three horses, grazing at the far edge of the field. It was night, and she couldn’t make them out clearly, but somehow she knew that one was white, one a fiery bay, and one golden as the sun with flaxen mane and tail.

She had a dreamlike feeling she’d seen them before, and caught herself glancing around for the Hut with Fowl’s Legs. She shook herself. That had been imagination, whereas this was… well, real. At least, it felt real. Goosebumps rose on her arms, no doubt caused by the cold night wind. As she watched, Flaxen Mane lifted his head and came trotting towards her.

A movement caught her eye, and Maryika glanced to the left, into the face of a boy… a man… no, definitely a boy. He had the kind of ageless face that could belong to a male of twelve, or twenty-two, but surely no older. His eyes were brown, deep as peat bogs, and looking into them Maryika somehow knew that here was the oldest person she had ever met.

“I am Nikolai,” he said, nodding to her. “Your grandmother told me you would come.”

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. yvonnemarjot
    Aug 28, 2017 @ 17:30:54

    Reblogged this on Crooked Cats' Cradle and commented:

    Here’s a chance to read an excerpt from mybook.to/treacle which is only 99p/99c in the Crooked Cat sale.

    Reply

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