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The Day the Giants Woke

The Day the Giants Woke

A small story for Terry Whidborne’s Sunday Sketch #4

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The day the giants woke was a Wednesday. The world was changing. Seas expanding, ice caps shrinking – drip drip drip, crack crack crack – until the bears of the north thought of little else but hunger and death beyond.

The giants pushed their way up from the heart of the Earth in the realm below. Bit by bit until their crowns poked through the sodden crust.

They blinked in the bright light, and the Great Queen Above blinked back.

The Earth quaked as the giants wriggled and shimmied, shaking coal and grit and bone from their mountainous limbs as they eased themselves free from the realm below.

The oldest giant looked about as he checked his crown for broken redwoods and tumbled mountains. The Mother of All Things had made the crowns herself and the giants wore them now with the deepest of pride.

‘Tis proper time then,’ he said as a house floated by.

‘Time for the gathering and reaping, Old Ark?’ said the smallest giant, brushing saltbush from her splendid moustache (just curled using the finest of lava that very morning).

‘Aye, young Arkling,’ replied the oldest giant. ‘Gather what birds, beasties and innocents ye may. It would break the Mother’s heart full through to see them drownded.’

Bowing to the Great Queen Above, so as not to appear impolite, the giants strode off about the Earth and began gathering and reaping. The creatures they gathered they placed safely upon the crowns they wore. Some crowns were wrought from mountains of ice which creaked and sang with each step, others were fashioned from forests of trees long displaced by smouldering cities.

And all the while the waters rose as the giants gathered and reaped. They toiled while the Great Queen Above shone and while the Pale King watched on as she slept. They wandered far and wide, filling their crowns as the waters lapped at their knees, then hips, then chests.

When all was done, Old Ark called the others to him, for he himself had stayed to gather the old ones who lived at the heart of the realm above. The Mother of All Things loved the old ones most of all, and they, in return, tended the realm above with the gentlest of touches.

The others answered Old Ark’s call, carrying all they could carry on their crowns.
‘Where is the youngest Arkling?’ asked Old Ark, searching for her face as the others placed themselves around the great red rock, the heart, now submerged in the rising waters.

‘I am here,’ said the smallest giant, tears falling from her diamond bright eyes, as she took her place in the circle.

‘Your crown is not but half filled, Arkling,’ said Old Ark.

The Arkling bowed her head and hid her hands under the waves. ‘They chopped at my arms and scoured my back with fire and metal and called me devil.’

Old Ark nodded, while the harvest was joyful reaping took its toll.

‘Come, young Arkling, you have done all you could,’ he said, reaching out to take her hand as the waters stilled. ‘Tis time to sleep ’til the waters fall.’

‘Will they remember us?’ said the smallest giant, her eyes growing heavy, her tears drying.

Old Ark smiled and closed his eyes. ‘Mayhap. Every now and then and again, in stories.’

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What the Dead Wear

Much to Father Porcini’s surprise, Death wore a bathing suit. It was pink with stripes. Orange stripes, complemented by florid pink stockings and ballet slippers.

It was not what he expected. She was not who he expected.

‘You can’t go about dressed like that,’ said Father Porcini.

Death grinned and reached into a fine lace bag hanging from her wrist. She pulled out a blue bathing cap covered in red flowers and put it on.

Father Porcini snorted. ‘It doesn’t suit you.’

He was being ungracious, and knew it. The cap was overlarge, but that was hardly her fault—the absence of ears made it difficult for her to keep it from falling over her eyes, or where her eyes ought to be.

Apart from the skullish head she was beautiful, a curvaceous woman with the kind of hips he loved to watch sway this way and that—which, in truth, is why he had always walked behind Sister Maria Gregory.

It was a moment before he realized he had spoken that name out loud.

The Bishop sitting in the chair by his bed muttered something inaudible and wiped his brow. Father Porcini winced. He didn’t like the Bishop, not since he’d caught him in the vestry with Mrs Devine and the candles. Afterwards, the Bishop had prayed for him. Father Porcini had prayed for Mrs Devine, and burnt the candles.

‘Why couldn’t you wear something more suitable, more refined,’ said Father Porcini.

‘What the dead wear belongs to me, ‘ said Death, pretending to tuck non-existent curls under the cap. ‘I can wear nothing else.’

She was playful. He liked that, though it scared him a little.

He gathered the remains of his well ordained wiles about him in defense. ‘Who would wear such a wretched outfit to the grave?’

Death nudged aside the bed clothes, nestled in next to him, touched his cheek, ran her fingers across his lips. ‘Cardinal Beazley.’

Father Porcini listened for the lie. He had heard many lies, both fascinating and dreary. There were no telltale signs of either.

‘I’d heard a rumour,’ he said, resignedly. ‘It’s a surprisingly good fit.’

‘He was a surprisingly shaped man,’ said Death. Her voice was low, melodic.

‘It was the pancakes,’ said Father Porcini. ‘He ate them for breakfast and lunch. Loved them with butter and syrup, and those little sugary sprinkles.’

The Bishop rested his hand on Father Porcini’s head and prayed.

‘If I’m truthful’ said Father Porcini willing the Bishop to remove his hand. ‘It wasn’t the Mrs Devine thing, I’ve always disliked him. He’s petty. Petty and dull. No one’s got a right to be both, one or the other perhaps, but not both it’s entirely too taxing on the patience.’

Death laughed.

It was like listening to the chorus of a song he’d loved as a child.

‘Can we go?’ he asked.

Death said nothing, caressed his brow, leaned forward and kissed him full on the mouth. It was soft, warm, sweet.

He sighed deeply. ‘Thank-you.’

The Bishop faded as Death wriggled from under the covers and pulled Father Porcini to his feet.

‘Where are we going?’

She pulled off the bathing cap and handed it to him. He put it on, tucking his own thick white curls under the cap.

‘To the sea,’ said Death, walking from the room. ‘There are castles to be made, holes to be dug, shells to find.’

‘I do like shells,’ said Father Porcini. ‘Will there be currant buns? You know, those long ones with the pink icing.’

‘No,’ said Death. ‘But it’s warm, and there are others.’

‘I’ll admit,’ said Father Porcini, trailing along behind her, watching her hips sway this way and that. ‘You’re not who I expected.’

‘I’ve disappointed you?’ said Death, turning to face him.

Father Porcini ran a little to catch up to her. He caught her hand, it was warm, soft. ‘Oh no,’ he said, taking her fingers and pressing them to his lips. ‘Quite the contrary.’

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