All stories

A trick of the light

by Jenny

Bent and clawed into talons with age, my grandmother’s hands smooth the hair from my face in the candlelight. Her smile is haunted by the shadows that carve hollows from her cheeks and eyes and I do not know if I should be enchanted or afraid. She tells me both.

Outside in the midnight black the wind is howling and the flames in the stove leap and caper in a frenzied dance to its call. I am supine in my bed, the coverlet drawn up to my chin. Outside the night is wild, unhinged, but here I am warm. I am safe. My grandmother is telling me a bedtime story.

Though her face is lined and weathered, her hair falls in a thick glossy mane of black down the back of her dress and her nose is hooked like a witch’s. Though her brogue is musical and soft, her voice is thick with age and her tone is heavy with meaning.

She is speaking of the kelpies who haunt the waterways of this country, waiting for unwary folks to cross their path. They are seductive, alluring, corrupted creatures, appearing now as a powerful black horse, now as a withered old man, now as a beautiful woman with water weed tangled in her long dark hair. They drag their victims deep down beneath the water to drown and be devoured.

As horses they can bear many to the depths on their strong, broad backs never to be seen again. These wicked creatures, she tells me, cast your guts to the water’s edge and drag your soul to hell itself. There is no saving you then, she whispers.

I ask about the pond in my grandmother’s own garden. Do such monsters wait there for me? Surely not. And she replies with a wicked gleam in her eye and the ghost of a smile on her lips but of course they do and if you are so foolish as to wander too near, there is nothing I can do to save you.

I tell her that I am afraid and she does not speak. Then -

Perhaps they are just sad and lonely spirits, desperate for the breath of human kindness.

But the catch in her voice and the mocking curve the candlelight lends her smile betrays her words and I do not believe them. She is not trying to comfort me.

Outside the scattergun pelting of rain joins the wind’s howling voice to batter our windows with their rage and my grandmother stands to blow out the lamp, her shadow filling the tiny room, her long dark hair hanging heavy to her waist.

And in the second before the darkness swallows us up whole, a trick of the candlelight threads thick strands of damp green through the heavy black mane of her hair.

Six Hours

by Russ

She stood naked in the moonlight at the edge of the pool. For the first time, I saw the two wild-eyed horses inked into her shoulders. Instead of legs, they had long tails which intertwined like snakes down her spine before separating at the base of her back where they fanned out and came to rest on her hips. Light reflected off her eyes when she turned to look at me. I was staring. I was out of my mind. I was of my depth.

She jumped, entering the water in a neat dive. I braced myself for, I wasn’t sure, an alarm perhaps? There was nothing, just a brief splash as the liquid made space for her body, then the emptiness of the night.

‘Is it my kelpies you liked, or my arse?’

She was bobbing at the side of the pool now, facing me and grinning. I felt a pull in my shorts but it was gone in a second.

‘Are you sure we should be here?’ She was in the water and I was the wet one. I was shaking, this was everything I could have dreamed and I couldn’t relax to enjoy it. The weed wasn’t helping.

‘Of course, we shouldn't be here,’ she didn’t sound annoyed. ‘That’s the point.’

I opened and closed my mouth pointlessly. I didn’t know who owned this house. I didn’t know when they’d be back. She didn’t either.

‘You gonna get in, or what?’

I slid off my boxers and sat down on the pool’s edge, letting my legs dangle in beside her. She laughed and moved in front of me, pushing my knees apart so she could bob between them before holding herself afloat with one wet hand on each of my dry and shaking thighs. She looked up at me and smiled and the world disappeared. I lifted my hands from the places they’d found behind me and rested them in the small triangle of tile between my legs and her face. I closed my eyes so I could breathe.

The next thing I knew I was mid-air and moving over her as she fell back under the water, my wrists still in her hands. I splashed in with all the grace of broken bird and my gurgled cries mixed with her dampened cackles. We broke the surface together and looked at each other until the world fell still again.

Immediately, she climbed out.

Now it was my turn to bob in the water as she stood above me. Every edge and curve of her was dripping but she made no attempt to dry herself. She simply smiled down and beckoned me out before making her way to the small hill of grass between the pool and the patio doors.

And that’s where I joined her. Side-by-side we lay supine and looked at the stars. Our fingers were millimetres apart but not touching.

‘Let's get married,’ she said after an eternity.

‘We met six hours ago.’


I could feel her smile again, as I did the same.