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…and how they shift and turn throughout time. One thing is constant though: whatever the hatred of the moment is, it is taboo to speak out or act against it, a crime in its own right. I wrote this piece for another prompt (a daft prompt about nudity, 650 words, that I wanted to try and flip) but it fits in with the taboo theme so I thought I’d share it here.
From all sides
In those hours after midnight the dark seeps deep like the treacle I still dream of. Yet I crept home in the precautionary shadow of buildings, more afraid of being caught out after curfew than anything. Anything, except hunger. With little enough available, and even less for me, I skulked about at night with sewer rats, supping on gutter scraps.
That night the planes were audible long before the siren. I turned straight home, hoping to get back before the strike, but the blast hit me on a neighbouring street. Silence preceded a screech that deafened, and a cloud of dust obscured the night. Pushed forward, and flattened by the heel of an invisible hand, the strangest thing was a sudden realisation I was naked. Once my mind registered the explosion, the next thing to follow was socially conditioned shame at being unexpectedly and quite publicly nude. It surprised me to realise how deep it went, and how much I cared, in spite of it all.
My feet were the second shock, as I regained focus. Both my shoes were still there, tied tight, but only one moved with me as I pulled both legs towards my stomach and tried to stand. I contemplated what that meant in deep slow breaths, the ringing in my ears phasing out to be replaced by busy, angry sounds. My place in those sounds was unclear and the pain pounded deep and bone-piercing within my phantom leg.
A hand touched my bare elbow and I flinched as it steadied me; a movement that would have given me away to the anonymous face and blanket any other time. We moved through sirens and dust clogging air, and all around my neighbours were scattered through the debris: some part, some whole, some soaking into the streets, but all of them moving senselessly, clamouring at each other. It would be years before I ever saw a zombie movie — not until America — but I tell you, there was nothing fictional about those soulless tides of flesh after wartime life.
I bit down on my lip and tried to breathe, and my aide joined another. Their steady, careful touch, educated by this city life, made quick work of a tourniquet as the sirens dulled and the immediate threat passed. My pain burnt hotter and hotter and I concentrated fiercely to stay conscious as an ambulance arrived. Canvas stretchers swarmed through the scene and lamp-bearers made background trails for my hot new fever. The ache was unreal and the scene surreal as people scrambled the notion of survival, but then I saw him: Heinrich.
My old Lieutenant arrived to take charge of the guard, and in my pain-addled mind we were back behind enemy lines together, fighting for the Kaiser. The pain I felt became his own lost limb, and I carried him back to the trenches again. I broke a smile for him of long-lost sorrow-bonded brothers, yet as our eyes locked I watched his face steer through recognition and into coal-black hate. The word ‘Jew’ spat from his lips to echo off the fractured housing shells. It spread from person to person, face to fearful face, and reached the ears of those occupied bodies who stood binding me together. They dropped me like poisoned meat.
Their next kindness was neglect. Dust and dirt from the streets and skies became a pile that shielded the gutter where I lay, slipping cold into unsteady consciousness. Soon the end of the night became the next morning and blackened tears stained my body. The iron-rich taste of my own blood kept me feeling warm until night fell again and operations moved on; life tidied back into neat piles. I’m never sure now whether I found help or help found me, but I was recovered eventually, resolute: World War One veteran, World War Two survivor. I would fight for my country both times.
The current homework for the group is to write a short story inspired by a taboo. I stole this idea shamelessly from Alison Macleod who suggests it in an essay in ‘Short Circuit’ – a great book for anyone interested in writing short stories.
It’s a commonly held belief that all good stories have some sort of conflict at their centre, and taboos have conflict built in. There are lots of ways you could go with this… taboos can be to do with people, feelings, places, actions; from something as mild as smoking behind the bicycle sheds through reading someone else’s diary to incest… murder… who knows? The challenge will be to make sure the reader understands the allure of the taboo in question, and think hard about what the character has to lose. I look forward to hearing the results!
Gun shots were heard, then came the banging on the doors of our village. There was screaming and shouting everywhere. It had started. My country had chosen to be divided on such a lovely warm, sunny spring day. Nature was ready to explode, green buds slowly creeping out of their branches, flowers popping up in the fields, the sunlight lasting a little longer each evening. Such a day would be good for fishing, cycling or playing football. Yesterday, people from both sides worked together, respecting each other’s religion and ethnic background. Children played together and went to the same schools, meals were shared, the same football team supported, but today we have created hatred for many generations to come.
Mother quickly pushed me under the coffee table in the living room. It was narrow, hardly big enough to hide a nine year old boy. The table was covered with an embroidered cloth which mother had spent many evenings stitching near the fire while I read out loud from the ‘The Jungle Book’. Father would correct my English and made me pronounce the words correctly.
Outside our house, there was chaos. I could only hear the clock ticking in the living room. The fear inside me was the same as sitting in an exam room with sweaty hands and that feeling of nausea. I peeped through the drapes of the table cloth; the piano stood proudly near the window. Many children from the village had been taught by my mother.The wooden floor looked huge from where I was hiding. The floor boards were never level and liked to squeak.
Finally, the unavoidable happened, the banging was on our door. It was so loud that it made me jump. Father quickly moved towards the door. His finger was on his lips and he told me to stay hidden. The door was pushed open, the sun crept into our living room, tiny dust particles were floating in the sunlight. Heavy boots tramped in, the kind that soldiers wore. The well polished boots were so shiny, they almost gave me away through reflection. The smell of shoe polish was so strong that it made me sick. Marks of mud were on the floor, carried in by those boots. ‘Mum will have to mop it up after they leave’, I thought. There was a particular boot that caught my eye. I recognised the ‘Arsenal’ socks that pulled up above the knee. A leaf was stuck under the boot. ‘He supports the same team as I do. Surely he will not hurt us’, I thought.
The floorboard squeaked when he walked past. He walked back and stood in front of my table. I thought my heart was going to jump out of my mouth. It was beating so loud that I was sure he could hear it. I told myself to play a tune in my head, that would relax me. It always worked, when I had stage fright performing at a concert, but even Papageno’s song could not control my shivering at that very moment.
Discussions were going on. Father tried to bribe them with his pocket watch. There was lots of pushing and shouting. Mother was crying. Father’s glasses were flung to the floor and the man with the Arsenal socks stepped on it. The glasses shattered into many fine pieces and the frames were dented. Father was now as blind as a bat. There was too much noise. I covered my ears and carried on with Papageno .
Suddenly there was a shot. The ringing stayed in my ears. Father dropped to the floor. The dust particles exploded in the air. I couldn’t feel the impact of father’s fall or mother’s hysterical screams. Only the ringing sound was in my ears. Father’s eyes were staring straight at me. Blood was oozing out of his head, it spilled into the cracks of the wooden floor. It spread to the coffee table and reached my shoes. That was when my body went weak and everything turned dark.
If you saw me today, you would never guess that I’m a bona fide, time-served, witch.
I had intended to arrive on the busy street with great decorum, but had descended at a greater speed than planned, and hit the ground like a whirling dervish.
I looked around confidently, calculating that nobody would pay any attention to me.
I casually put my aluminium folding broomstick, the latest development in free flying technology, under my cloak.
When I say cloak, I mean the fabulous designer label robe I had bought on the Salem High Street for the occasion.
I chose the cloak with great care and attention to detail. Although practical, it was stunning. The glittering flowing fabric billowed on descent. There were plenty of deep pockets for essentials: spell book, toads, miniature potion bottles.
It has the latest Teflon coating, so shiny, that any bird dross I couldn’t avoid whilst airborne would slide off as I bumped down on landing.
The neckline of the deep purple velvet dress I wore underneath was cut low to show off my eye-catching necklace. A family heirloom, passed down through generations. A solid gold chain with teeth, claws, and bones, attached by tiny gold rings.
Have I mentioned the shoes? They pinch a bit, but were a must have for a serious minded enchantress. They sparkle as I walk. The shiniest bright red shoes – the kind dreams are made of. I bought them on e-bay from a site called http://www.dorothy-kansas.com
I took out my compact mirror to check my appearance, and I was pleased to see my complexion was a teensy bit greener than yesterday.
The autonomous wart on my hooked nose, which seems to know instinctively when to grow into a hideous protuberance was at its best, or some would say worst.
I straightened up, well as best as a bent crone can, adjusted my 13th century antique conical hat, and cackled loudly as I sashayed down the street.
I dipped into my hex bag, uttered some hocus pocus and abracadabra chants, and waved my titanium wand with a flourish. I went from door to door, casting my spells, filling my pockets with gold, jewellery, and coins.
Everyone was laughing and smiling, and many complimented me on my lifelike appearance.
What a hoot, as my owl would say. It’s Halloween again. The one day a year when I can walk amongst humankind without drawing adverse attention to myself.