Eliza sits on a damp stair in the corpse of a genteel Victorian seaside villa. In the distance the sea sounds as if it is taking great gasping breaths of the air, which stinks of mud and fish. Jackdaws squawk and clatter in the broken roof above; a litter of nest material and the tiny bones of dead chicks are scattered across the stairs around her. She is looking at the oak door in front of her which must be the only untainted thing in this town with its brass door knob, still shiny as if it’s regularly used, and a keyhole with an ivory inlaid surround.

She stands up, steps towards the door and strokes the pale wooden panels. It smells of clean wood but that passes and the old stench of the town returns. The door is between floors at the turn in the stair and Eliza turns her back on it to descend.

In the kitchen the brown light leeches through the glassless window, staining the remains of a lace curtain with a tobacco tinge. Eliza pulls at a drawer and, with a crash, it disintegrates into the cupboard below. She sorts through a litter of cutlery and rotten wood hoping to see a key but there is none. The other drawers are empty but for faded lining paper.

The living room only holds a piano which gives out a plunk as she looks in, so she turns to the last doorway off the hall. The door is of a similar type to the locked door except that it is weather stained and rotting like everything else in the town. It lies drunkenly against the wall and Eliza carefully steps around it into the room. Above a writing desk hangs an old sepia photo of a regal looking woman in a high necked blouse. Eliza reaches out with a dirty hand to touch the glass which somehow remains in the frame.

The walls are lined with bookcases and, thinking a key might be hidden in a book, Eliza attempts to pull one from the shelf only to find that they are a sodden mass glued together by mould and damp. The smell of rotting paper and leather catches in her throat and she gags. Abandoning the books she finds the desk drawers are locked but remembers metal skewers in the kitchen and fetches the narrowest she can. She shoves the point into the first lock and wrenches it, grimacing as she feels the delicate mechanism snap. Hurriedly she destroys the other two locks, avoiding the disapproving glare of the woman in the photograph.

In the left hand drawer she finds some coins and a small congealed envelope of paper money. Useless. She rubs her thumb over the faces and letters of the coins. The copper pennies have a tangy scent to them and she puts the coins in her pocket to look at later. The right hand drawer has a packet of letters held together with a ribbon that crumbles when she moves them. They are dry, miraculously. A glance shows her that they are love letters and she shoves them into the drawer and slams it shut.

Pulling open the centre drawer she finds a pad of letter paper, three good pens neatly lined up, and a white key. She picks up the key and examines it closely. Ivory. Or bone maybe. Its surface is smooth as if it has been handled repeatedly.

She goes out to the hall and reverentially steps up the stairs, slowly, one by one. She is holding her breath. The key slips neatly into the lock, turns with a gentle click and the door sways inwards. Eliza steps inside.

The room is so bright that she squeezes her eyes shut before opening them slowly so that they can adjust. This must have been a bathroom; clean white tiles line both the floor and walls. Clear glass in the window lets in clear light through a white lace curtain. Two mirrors on opposite walls reflect each other, and each other, and each other and bones. Neat heaps of bright bleached bones piled against the walls; small delicate bird skulls, thick leg bones of large mammals, nests of rib-cages of all sizes.

The dusty smell catches in Eliza’s throat, she feels as though the moisture and life is being dragged out of her by the desiccated air. She gasps. A sense of disappointment and fear wells up inside her and she cries out and she turns to leave.

The door is smooth and polished and firmly shut. There is no brass door handle on this side and Eliza cries out again, beating on the door with her rough hands. She falls to her knees and puts her eye to the keyhole.

On the stair outside a jackdaw gleefully tears open a fish and eats.


Copyright © 2013 Elizabeth Cutts


This is written in response to Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge. The idea is to roll dice against lists of genres and story elements and then combine them. I rolled:

Genre 1. Southern Gothic. I interpreted ‘southern’ as the English South coast because I’m not American and there is something gothic about our delapidated coastal towns.

Genre 2. Dying Earth.

Story elements: a locked door, a key made of bone. To get the door and the key was very lucky!

If it wasn’t for the fact there’s a deadline I would put this aside for a couple of days before making another run through it, and maybe finding a beta reader but there’s no time for that so here it is.


It’s Nothing

He stares up at the night sky
and sees no stars
just blank distance between them.

All the hope light life givers are
Driven out with more nothing.

The sparkling things have been redacted
One by one
until all that is left is gulf.


Copyright © 2012 Elizabeth Cutts

The Morning After

Sheila stood staring at the ruins as rain dripped from the hood of her borrowed cagoule. At her feet the water was mixing with the soot into a blackened mud, dripping and gurgling in a silence in which she could hear the cacophony of the night before. Flashing lights, wailing sirens, crying and the roaring of flames. It had been like some ridiculous television programme she would usually watch curled up with a glass of wine. She poked a nondescript blackened lump with her foot. It turned out to be a book and the pages smeared apart damply, their insides unburnt. A dictionary, nothing romantic. If life were a television programme it would have been something significant. If life were a television programme it would be A Clue, there would be A Moral Purpose and eventually, after fifty minutes there would be Justice.

She glanced back, hearing footsteps behind her. Col hadn’t got his hood up and his hair was plastered to his head. She would usually have teased him; his red cheeks and rain spattered glasses topped off by the flattened hair made her affection for him rise in her throat in a way that would usually have emerged as a laugh. Not today. She held out her hand and he took it, pressing his lips together in the half-smile people give when a burden of sadness must be shared.

‘We won’t be able to recover anything at all, will we?’ she asked. He shook his head.

‘They say it’s not safe to go in and there’ll be nothing worth getting out anyway.’ He looked around at the remains of the garden. ‘Wonder if Horace got out ok? I don’t think he was in the house.’ He called out ‘Horace!’ Horace!’

Sheila watched the rain falling out of a ruined gutter and pooling by the front door in the quiet, a car swished past, slowing to peer at the wreck of the house. To her relief, as the car drove on, there was a reproachful ‘meow’ and an ancient and very wet black cat emerged from the grass with an accusatory look. Col squatted down and the cat purred and butted his knee with its head.

He lifted the cat up, cradling it between his coat and his chest, ‘Come here,’ said Col as a deep purr rumbled out from under the jacket. He tickled the cat under its chin and looked up at Sheila and smiled, a watery smile, pale but with a ray of relief that not everything was lost.

‘Darling,’ she began, and he drew back, sensing a warning in her tone, ‘what are we going to do with him?’

‘I. Well. I don’t know.’ He looked down at the cat.

‘We can’t take him back to Mum’s place can we? And we don’t know when we’ll be sorted out. We may need to rent for a while.’

‘But we can’t chuck him out!’ Col’s voice cracked a little.

‘No, no of course not, but maybe Mrs. Dale…’

‘No! I mean, no. Why?’

‘You know why. And she’s always loved Horace. He spends half his time there already.’

Col sighed ‘I suppose you’re right. I just thought…’ he paused, and the sentence faded away.

‘I know, love.’

He looked down at the cat. ‘Always were a mercenary old thing weren’t you? Making big eyes at Mrs. Dale like we never fed you. Come on you silly animal.’ Sheila followed as he carried the cat round the corner to Mrs. Dale’s place. Her beautiful garden had butted on to theirs and Horace had worked his way into her affections in the way that only a personable cat can, rubbing his face on her knee as she tried to do the weeding and asking to come into her immaculate kitchen from the rain.

Mrs Dale opened the door and with exclamations of surprise, consolation and offers of help she ushered them into the kitchen, bustling to get the kettle on and biscuits out.

‘Well Mrs Dale, there is maybe something you can do for us, at least until we get ourselves sorted.’ Sheila said and Col brought the cat out from under his arm.

‘Oh Horace! The beloved beast. Does he need a foster mum?’

Col nodded. ‘I hope we’ll be able to have him back soon. But we’re going to have a bit of a time of it.’

‘Oh you are aren’t you dear. Of course I’ll look after Horace.’ She smiled at the couple and reached out and patted Sheila’s hand. ‘Of course if you need anything else just ask, this is no trouble, no trouble at all, it will be my pleasure.’

As they walked down Mrs. Dale’s path, Sheila gave Colin’s hand a quick squeeze and he sighed. They didn’t look at the burnt out remains of their modest little home, with the black sooty marks streaming up from each window like grotesque eye make-up. They avoided each other’s eyes and Sheila held her mouth tightly shut against the tears as she climbed into the drivers seat. Colin slid in next to her and briefly laid his hand on her leg and as they moved off, tried desperately to think of something to say, something optimistic or mundane, something not about the immediate future, or insurance policies, nor about past memories, nor about being sad, about Horace or home, he just wanted to say something boring. Something that was nothing, but he couldn’t think of anything so they pulled away in silence and tried not to look at their home.

Copyright © 2012 Elizabeth Cutts


The voice came from close behind her. ‘Hi there!’

She jumped. Abandoned warehouses and factories lined the canal here, looming against the autumn sky. She hadn’t seen anyone else on the tow-path but then with her head down and ears full of Pearl Jam she probably wouldn’t have noticed a shark in the canal either.

‘Oh, er, hi.’ She blushed, taking off her headphones and fumbling to stop her tape. ‘I’m Jenna’

The young man who’d appeared beside her was the good looking one she’d noticed here before. He seemed to have business in one of the buildings and she’d been dawdling along the path home from school in the hope of seeing him again. His loose shirt, old fashioned in style, had an open, laced neckline which she thought made him look like the hero from a dodgy romance. On other men she would have laughed at it, but it somehow suited him. She wished fervently that she’d bothered with some make-up this morning instead of running out of the house, toast in hand, exactly fifteen minutes after she’d woken up.

‘I’ve seen you a couple of times about here, haven’t I?’ he asked.

She glanced back along the tow-path, praying that her Dad wouldn’t appear on his daily run. It was starting to get annoying, the way he’d run past her and her friends, wearing leggings and shouting a cheery ‘hello girls!’. It was so excruciatingly embarrassing, even when it was just her friends. Here with this cool guy it would be twice as bad but she did feel a bit lonely here with someone she’d never spoken to before.

‘Yeah. I live near here. Watson Street. My Dad often runs along the canal here,’ she added, just in case. Just in case her Dad showed up, or just in case this guy turned out to be a psycho, either really. ‘So what are you doing here?’

‘I’ve been preparing for a gathering we’re holding tonight.’

‘What, like a party?’

He paused and thought for a moment. ‘Exactly, a party. Would you like to come Jenna? You would be welcome.’ He gestured at the building behind him.

‘What here?’ she said incredulously, looking at the shabby, lonely old warehouse, stained with rust and grime, which looked down on the canal with its broken windows.

‘Why not? There are three stories of space for the dancing to really get going in there.’ He smiled widely, a wink flicked across his face and was gone almost before she spotted it.

She shifted uneasily and chewed her lip, but maybe Sadie would be free to come with her. Sadie would think a party in a warehouse was just the most awesome thing.

‘Yeah,’ she tried to sound casual ‘great.’

‘Any time after dark, just come on in.’

And before she could say or ask any more he had opened a door in the side of the warehouse and slipped quietly through it, leaving her staring thoughtfully at the closed door, the afternoon becoming evening around her.

* * *

‘Mum!’ Jenna yelled along the corridor from her room to the kitchen.

‘What?’ her Mother’s exasperated face appeared round the door ‘Can’t you come in here to speak, rather than yelling? Oh never mind. What is it?’

‘I’ve got a ton of coursework to do, I’ll probably be up later than you. Can you just leave me to it and not interrupt?’

‘Fine. But don’t stay up until dawn again. Any work you do in the wee hours will be worse than useless and you’ll just make yourself ill.’

‘Yes, Mum. If it gets to one in the morning I promise I’ll stop.’

‘Ok. I just worry about you’ her mother wagged a finger ‘It’s good you work hard but sometimes…’

‘Yes, Mum!’ Jenna said sharply and shut the door to her room. She heard her Mum sigh and shut the kitchen door behind her. Jenna’s room was on the ground floor just off the kitchen, isolated from the rest of the house because it used to be the garage until her Dad had converted it. Now she was seventeen they pretty much left her alone if she asked them to and conveniently there was a low window. She’d only snuck out this way once before, but it was nice to know she could if she wanted.

She thought about the fact she really ought to do that coursework and forget about the amazing party she would be missing. She couldn’t believe that Sadie wouldn’t come with her. Standing on her doorstep Sadie had glanced over her shoulder into her house and whispered ‘No really, I can’t risk it. Mum will go mad if I fail and I’m already behind. Mr. Johns wants to see my work tomorrow. I just can’t.’ All Jenna’s other friends lived too far away to ask in person and the phone was in the living room, in prime eavesdropping space. Her parents would be bound to overhear.

So she sat on the bed thinking about how unfair it was. She’d never been to a proper big party before, never had a boyfriend. Sadie was on boyfriend number three and this one was twenty-one years old and achingly cool. The closest Jenna had got was a disappointing and sloppy fumble with James at his house during something he laughably called a party. Jenna stood up and began rummaging through her wardrobe.

* * *

Half an hour later she hurried along the towpath, guts twitching with nerves. In the dark, the noise of her feet scuffing along echoed strangely over the water and the murky smell of the canal seemed to hang in the air. As she approached the warehouse warm lights flickered for a moment in the broken windows and then were gone. She paused to build up the courage to try the door and as she did so a couple opened it and stumbled out and away up the path. Music followed them out, a deep, roaring beat that exhilarated Jenna and drew her in. She tentatively opened the door and stepped through and then jumped when two identical large men appeared, one either side of her. They glanced at each other over her head.

‘Jenna?’ they said in unison.

‘Um, yeah.’ The music she had heard almost seemed quieter here than from outside, as if muffled.

They gestured to an inner door, mirror images of each other. Glancing at them curiously she opened the door they had indicated and was engulfed by the beat. She was a vast, cavernous room. Windows high up in the walls showed deep blue squares of night sky. The room was packed full of people wearing the most ridiculous assortment of clothing. One man wore a red business suit and there was a woman in an old fashioned ball gown, some wore richly coloured and uncanny masks and yet others seemed to be naked but for their gorgeously painted skin. They were all dancing to the thunderous music. She couldn’t see the speakers, but there must have been a massive stack somewhere here. She stared around her, enchanted by the abandonment of the dancers and the variety of their costumes. Some even had wings somehow attached to their backs and tails coiling out behind them.

Their bodies writhed, the beat resonating through them, they jumped and flailed so that it hardly looked like dancing. Some of the people were grinning, having the time of their lives, others had a look of intense concentration on their faces. Lights, seemingly as sourceless as the music, wove and played above them, reflecting off the sweat and glittering costumes. Walkways and stairs criss-crossed the space above the floor and here too people danced, the lights span across them, faces and masks flickering and then falling into silhouette again. Jenna gasped as someone launched themselves from a platform and seemed to hang in the air before unfolding wings and swooping across to the other side of the space.

Jenna stood, awestruck, feeling her plain clothes to be shabby and insufficient. As she wondered whether she ought to leave two smiling people span out from the mess of dancers and gathered her up. Their skin was identically painted in a shimmering luminous green and they laughed as they took her by the hands and drew her into the throng and as they did so she felt the beat move through her body and she began to dance.

* * *

She wasn’t sure how long she’d been dancing with the strange assortment of people when a hand gripped her wrist and drew her out of the crowd. Looking around she saw it was the man who had invited her. He seemed taller than he had outside and somehow held himself apart from the dancers, maybe because he was the host.

‘Having a good time, I see!’ He said and to her surprise she found she could hear him. She nodded breathlessly, bouncing slightly in time with the beat. ‘Would you like to come up for something to eat and drink?’ She nodded uncertainly, feeling drawn back into the crowd, but he took her hand again and led her away from the music and out into the lobby with the two identical security guards. Her host opened another door and they began to ascend a narrow staircase.

They came out onto a long corridor with large windows down one side. Here the place didn’t look or feel particularly industrial. It was more like some kind of sparse mansion. None of the windows were broken and the dull throb of the music was barely audible from below through the carpeted floor. Opening a very plain looking door, he led her into a richly decorated room. Soft lights glistened on velvet sofas, hangings and piles of luxurious cushions. A gentle haze of scented smoke hung in the air and a low table was covered in an assortment of delicious looking food and drinks. She stood in the doorway awkwardly as he walked over to the table, picked up a glass of pink liquid and drained it in one fluid movement. He took a sticky looking pastry and turned to her.

‘Please, have something to eat and drink.’ He gestured to a row of filled glasses of all the colours of the rainbow and the plates full of rich looking food ‘It will allow you to dance forever and a day and open your heart to the other dancers.’ He smiled.

Jenna smiled back awkwardly. This sounded suspiciously like she was being offered drugs although it just looked like food and drink. Fabulous food and drink but still just food and drink but she found herself saying ‘thank you, I’m having a lovely time’ as if on a visit to an aunt ‘but I’m not very hungry.’

He shrugged and picked up a passion fruit, tearing it open and scooping the insides out with a delicate silver spoon.

‘Well,’ a soft voice spoke from behind her ‘I think it’s rude, don’t you darling?’

Jenna spun round and a beautiful green eyed woman was uncoiling herself from a sofa that Jenna could have sworn was empty when she entered the room. Jenna stuttered in embarrassment.

‘Don’t be embarrassed girl-‘

‘She’s called Jenna’ said the man.

‘Don’t be embarrassed, Jenna. I am joking. But please, really, won’t you have anything?’

Jenna flushed. ‘No really, I’m fine thank you.’

The woman smiled with amusement and Jenna felt strangely transparent. The woman laughed a slightly bitter laugh and stepped forward.

‘Poor little girl. Are you rejecting our hospitality? I think she’s rejecting our hospitality, darling.’

‘Oh leave it my sweet’ he sighed and eviscerated another passion fruit.

‘But we haven’t had such a lovely captive for, oh it must be centuries.’

‘No,’ he turned to look at Jenna a thoughtful look on his face ‘no we haven’t.’ He picked up a cobalt blue glass and turned to Jenna staring at her intensely.

She turned and ran for the door, along the corridor and clattered down the stairs, laughter drifting along behind her like the incense.

The music seemed to have stopped and as she ran into the main room she found it empty. There was no sign of the party she had left just minutes before. Impossible shafts of light came in through grey and broken windows, dust motes danced in the air and silence filled the huge space as the beat had moments ago.

Outside she found that it was full daylight. The canal glistened and she blinked, confused. Behind her the warehouse was silent.

Then she realised she must have come out of a different exit from the warehouse, though she didn’t remember there being other branches of the canal there must have been because right opposite the door she’d just come through was a glistening new apartment building, all wood and glass and metal. And up the canal she could see another new building. She’d obviously come out the other side of the warehouse into a newly rebuilt area of town she didn’t recognise.

A white haired man was running purposefully along the tow path towards her in lycra leggings and very snazzy looking running shoes. White cords sprouted from his ears, obviously from some up-market in-ear earphones and tucked down the front of his vest. As he got closer she realised he looked vaguely familiar, as if you’d put her Grandad into lycra, somehow straightened his back and sent him out to train for a marathon.

‘Excuse me!’ she said loudly, intending to ask where she was.

He stopped dead, staring at her disbelievingly then whispered ‘oh my god’ and then, his voice hoarse, ‘Jenna?’

Jenna felt her stomach drop and her head swim with a vertiginous shock of recognition and confusion.





Copyright © 2012 Elizabeth Cutts


Alien Occupation

And the moor drew back,
and away, up
into the mountainside.
Away from the alien
in its midst.
Where the armchair squatted
the moor was thin
(keep back, it’s alien)
and the armchair sat
staring at an absent t.v.
The wind eddied to avoid
disturbing the dust mites.
The armchair sat, unconcerned
infront of the mountain’s armpit
where the moor was gathering,
staring and scared
between bilberries and heather
“Beware! Beware! The alien is here.”



Copyright © 2001 Elizabeth Cutts


This poem is over ten years old and in fact I think it was inspired by a photo of a dumped armchair on a mountainside that I took when I was a child. It’s silly, but it makes me smile and while I don’t think it’s a great poem it has pleasant memories attached.


It’s cold now. With Wuldor
Winter comes, the hunter.
The gusts freeze, in frost held
Forests, deer for guest’s meat.
See over icy fronds
Arrows fly the bows grip
To find the hard tined one
Taken, kill of Shield-Ase.


Copyright © Elizabeth Cutts 2009


As you can see from the copyright date this poem is an oldish one. This was my first and (lets be honest here) only attempt at a particularly gnarly form of Old Norse verse called dróttkvætt. Wuldor is an Anglo-Saxon god probably identifiable with the Old Norse god Ullr, a hunter god of Winter. Going into winter as we are it seemed an appropriate verse to post.

Lost Words

I went to find the words
Wraiths from the past
Blind text
Some turns of phrase
turning through my life like seagulls
living on scraps of crap. Detritus
Some mediocre mouthings in the wind
Flipping in my past
But they’re gone
drifting away
neglected fading in old formats
on unreadable blank scraps of
black plastic
If they are even there
shifting away from me on
currents of my life
of my past
twisting against the stream

I try to catch them
twisting away turning through
water air thought memory
How much flesh will they yield
scraps of shimmer and ghost and pain


Copyright © 2011 Elizabeth Cutts