Flash fiction, short stories, poetry …
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Ilia’s Frozen Fingers

I

lia wears his mother’s old skates. The leather is a fly-picked brown, one step away from rotting cowhide, and the blades leave a streak of red rust behind him, as he throws one arm ahead and then the other; face grim, cold air chapping at his hands and face.

Ilia No-smile. Ilia the Monster Hunter. Ilia the Liar. After all, he’s not going to college as he promised his father just ten minutes ago. That tall tale should have struck like a hook in his mouth, hurried as it was through a mouthful of blini, soured cream scooped in. But as any Hunter will tell you, it is as exhilarating to lie as it is to fly like the wind. Behind him, the spotty trail of rust cuts through the perfect complexion of the ice as a long bloodied arc, pointing to his arrival with a simple slice, slice, slice of metal.

The ice is a whetstone, while the blades prepare.

Where the ice gets thinner, and the willows grow through – the flexible branches caught in the frozen falls wearing whorls within whorls – there is a thrusting outcrop of quarried stone, pushing up like the prow of a black ship’s shadow – a hulk socketed with empty windows. The edges of these ruins are hard where the snow is soft.

This is the leavings of the old Krasotka iron mill.

The weirs at its foot are motionless, hung with needle spears, where the winds huff one long, lonely wolf-howl of stone-dry cold. These are the mill-races built to channel old industry, driving wheels and hammers, pounding out blades; where once horses, hands to the shoulder, had pressed stone, turning molten wine into war. Then water drove the wheel. Then nothing. Northern tribes no more. The forges cold. The ruin a place of teenage indiscretion and tall tales.

Ilia’s nose is running. Soon it’ll be as red as the fairytale fruit on the shelves of Lenta. He huffs out a clouded breath into his hands, lest the rest of his flesh ripens too soon. That weir has teeth and the blades of it hang high above him, the frozen foam below like spittle in a mad dog’s maw.

But now, skit-skating the churned ice, Ilia makes it to a blocky, broken section of the weir; sandstone flaking away beneath pillow-white. His blades clatter and his ankles jolt. Then, suddenly, floating on glass…

To his side, the founds and colossi of the mill have collapsed one-into-the-other, interrupting the abandoned industrial process. Water has been diverted. The fallen stones have created a frame around black depth: an obsidian pool, dusted at its edges with pearly white snow, like polystyrene baubles hacked free with a bread knife.

The surface of the pool is as flat as a razor blade.

Ilia wobbles, holds out his hands, and walks the skates in a v – feet planted like a goose – until he can see down into this great glass window; in fact, is standing right in its centre. He suffers a jolt of vertigo. He’s suspended on nothing, looming over an abyss of dark shadow, water frozen where it crept in the lee of the towering falls. Every detail is present and correct, clear as crystal.

Black ice doesn’t grow like this. It’s thin – a child of snap-cold and melt-water annealed in temperatures dropping like steel nails. This darkness has grown from within the icy heart of the water itself, freezing not moonlight, but moondark – perhaps – and something else, a figure that seems to fly beneath his feet. This is something that crept through the darkest of water, at the darkest of night, while the moon shook in her clouded skirts and looked away. Now it’s a fly in amber – an albino, caveless ‘she’ – caught throttling a finger-slipping trout. The fish blood is a smear of red-blown glass, the flesh and bone of its half-snapped remains as glistening and dead as a paperweight. Discarded scales sparkle like thrown silver coins.  One push of pressure bulges the ice.

He quietens now, looks around – nothing but skinny, Siberian pines on the far banks, nothing but clinging snow, and the distant town chimneys, piling out soft trails of white smoke, like muslin unfurling into the sky. Certainly no one around this early morning, near a tumbled down, iron mill.

The sun is still a golden spear, its halleluiah glittering on the icy black beneath him, heaven’s door still thrown wide while angels sing the dawn in.

There is no better time.

This primitive place is in need of excavation.

In his pack, is the simplest and most elegant of man’s tools: the first tool – a stone, fist sized, heart shaped, sharp pointed. He scrabbles it out, stripy woollen mitts finding it hard to grip. No stone here free of the ice that binds it. He brought his own.

Doesn’t put it down, not yet; he’s somewhat awed by that perfect mirror opening down. If it is to be a blow, let it be intended, not dropped as a peck of a fish, or a dull thump of a log-end.

Kneeling now, a hand waved where the white flows have drifted. He can see her face, entombed. For a moment there is a disconcerting symmetry. These are green fingers reaching up to him through the slowing moment, knuckles breaking, nails scything, her head throwing back in the fading snarl of dawning awareness. This is her hair billowing out, grey and web-like, flowing up and around her, enslaved by her twisting motion, and these are her shoulders, blades, and bone, dappled with translucent flesh; bubbles, creeping like silver pearls; tongue slick within thin lips, corpse blue, while a mouth full of carved, yellow pencils, snarls a secret wish.

Deep within the ice, she’s caught above blackness, half in the day, half out; caught in the weir as the temperatures faded, leaving her high and held.

And one thing more: her gut is bulging with Alena, Nataliya, Dobrashin, and Nikolai. Others.

Ilia gave a dismissive sniff, raising both his hands.

Don’t you dare, says that wicked eye, pressed into its cup of ice. Pressing, pressing. Don’t you dare, or I’ll pluck out your still steaming heart. I am the ice-water in your veins!

But the only heart he’ll give is the stone heart, and he brings it down on the ice with a resounding crack. The jolt fractures through the wool of his hands, and in return, the ice shows one white crater the size of a silvery, rouble.

This is the beginning. Let her be exhumed. Let her see what they made here, before, when the wheels ground round and the fiery charcoal leapt. His collection of wicked knives awaits, handles wrapped in blessed linen stolen from the church confessional.

15 comments

1 Anne Michaud { 08.20.11 at 12:59 pm }

Oh my, talk about evocative imagery – breathtaking, darling:)

2 Stephen Hewitt { 08.27.11 at 1:00 am }

@Anne — thanks Anne. Not sure where this one came from. Must have weirs and black ice on my mind. 🙂

@Helen — thanks Helen. Just let me know if things ever get too wordalicious — I always feel like I’m one step away from word salad.

@Icy — I have a teeny chair and tiny word whip for the word taming. It’s the only way to get the darned things to do what I want. 😉

@Aidan — thanks Aidan. sometimes I’m pretty intrigued to see what pops out.

@Joan — always interesting to think about where these things could go if they were larger. Strange, too, as I only conceive of the stories at the size they are. However, intrigued by this idea of extending things, my next offering will be a serial. Aye, Chihuahua — what have I started?

@Harry — thanks Harry, high praise indeed. Not received much pay for this sort of writing so far, but then haven’t been doing a lot of submissions either. But is something I’m gearing up to.

3 Helen { 08.21.11 at 7:31 am }

A very evocative piece – it captures you right from the beginning and takes you through in a wonderful flow of images painted skillfully with your words. Very nice indeed!

4 Icy Sedgwick { 08.21.11 at 2:17 pm }

As ever, you paint a wonderful picture – you have such a true mastery over words!

5 Aidan Fritz { 08.21.11 at 6:24 pm }

Beautiful imagery. You capture it in such fresh ways. This is a lovely story.

6 Joan { 08.21.11 at 8:17 pm }

This is a beautiful story, Stephen, and I get the feeling it could become a longer story or even a novel. The description is exceptional, the characters (including the one in the ice) intriguing.

7 Harry B. Sanderford { 08.21.11 at 10:16 pm }

The first two sentence paragraph invites the reader. How could you not want to read on? The following sentences and paragraphs deliver such marvel it is hard to stop being impressed long enough to read on. Someone really should be paying you to do this!

8 Stephen { 08.21.11 at 10:21 pm }

As others have also mentioned, I too am amazed at the images you’ve painted with words. It is intoxicating to see how you describe things in ways that I only wish I had the talent to craft. Excellent writing.

9 Stephen Hewitt { 08.27.11 at 1:18 am }

@Stephen — thanks Stephen. I’m probably breaking loads of writing rules, but I’m having lots of fun doing it.

@Chuck — thanks Chuck. Drawn in is good, and as I’ve failed to put some poetry on here for a while, maybe it’s landing up in these pieces by osmosis. That said, I have a behemoth of a poem waiting in the wings, it just needs a darned good edit.

@Zelda — lol. Breathing is useful. You should do that. Thanks for popping on a comment.

@John — thanks John. The creature kind of grew from the feel I got from some of those Russian water spirit or witchy tales. It’s new, and rather annoyed 😉

@Steve — thanks Steve, glad this grabbed you.

@FARFetched — neat name BTW. I do occasionally think I’ll pick up some of these stories and write more parts, so who knows. There’s quite a bit here I could build on. Thanks for popping on a comment 🙂

@Lara — thanks Lara. This was a fun one to write.

10 Chuck Allen { 08.22.11 at 1:21 am }

I agree with the others. The description here draws the reader along. It had a somewhat poetic feel to it. Great job!

11 Zelda { 08.22.11 at 2:52 am }

Breathtaking! No, really! I don’t think I breathed more than once or twice all the way through. Your way with words is admirable, to say the least. This is one of my favorite of your many evocative descriptions: “… the frozen foam below like spittle in a mad dog’s maw.”

12 John Xero { 08.22.11 at 8:38 am }

Ah, mate, this is gorgeous. =)

The set determination of Ilia’s mind provides such a dark backdrop to paint this on. I assume the personification of the children missing and drowned beneath ice is another mythical creature (Eastern European?), but not one I can place this time.

13 Steve Green { 08.22.11 at 11:04 am }

An absolutely awesome pice of writing, totally riveting.

14 FARfetched { 08.22.11 at 6:38 pm }

Wonderful imagery here — I’d love to see this continue!

15 Lara Dunning { 08.24.11 at 4:39 pm }

I agree, very captivating piece.

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