We’re delighted to present four extracts from the 2019 – 2020 Rathbones Folio Mentees: Nidaa Raoof, Mariamah Davey, Maria Clark and Weronika Baranowska. The Rathbones Folio Mentorships 2019 – 2020, run in association with First Story and supported by Arts Council England, paired the mentors and mentees for a year of one-on-one talent development.
Short fiction and Poetry
The story of the seven apocalypses.
Heavy pale smoke filled the sky. Misty mountains skimmed the tips of his wings with their height. The sound of children screaming rattled in his ears. Smoke found his lungs. He flew higher to avoid the intoxication. The smoke wouldn’t allow him to escape. He searched for a new home, whilst barely able to carry his weight any longer. Nowhere to rest and nothing to eat. This must be the end. The arrogance of others had killed their home. Every chance of saving the planet was wasted with their mistakes. Now they must all pay.
Her lilac wellies crushed the snowflakes into footprints of ice. The frozen winds tickled her nose. She could feel every mocking laugh of the cold pressing on her cheeks. The smell of smoke flew through the air, intoxicating her lungs. She ran towards the mountains. Her heart skipped a beat, perhaps even two. Her body stuck to the ground with fear. She couldn’t blink. Her mind was all that was able to work, but even that was a little broken. And yet her mind chose to follow the screams that were buried inside the flames between the peaks of the mountains. This was the power of nature’s revenge, that it could call people to their own death.
New York’s stars were shining in the sky for the last night. Humans had become blinded by hatred and arrogance. They first began by tearing the earth apart and all that existed in it. Brick by brick it was torn into pieces. They then turned on each other. The Earth was not broken enough for them. So they decided to remove comfort and happiness from each other as well as their own.
The wet smell of leaves, mud and blood lingered in the fog. He could not smell the petrol from the passing cars. The candy floss across the street. Or the sweat from the basketball court. He remembered none of it. Only the way his mother screamed in agony. Only how his father shouted with fear at the gunshots.
All he remembered was the trigger of the gun being pulled, the smell of cigarettes and mint pressed into the wool of the man’s coat and the yellow tape. He didn’t remember how quickly he ran. All he remembered was that yellow and black police tape, drawn across either side of the bridge like ribbon. The only way he believed he could forget would be to kill. To kill and avenge his parents. To kill and be exactly the same as they rest of them.
The rose sun oozed into the purple sky. The water held the sky’s reflection like a mirror. He needed to leave. He couldn’t take the risk of being found. His baby sister was left in the tent, in the hope of being captured with mercy. Perhaps captured by the sun instead of a traitor.
He, however, could not take that risk. He’d be killed without mercy for sure. He had lived for several years in ignorance and pride.
It wasn’t his fault for what they did to him. The world had changed him. He had no control – the only thing he was at fault for was leaving his sister to be taken. He hoped the Earth would take her instead of the murderers roaming their land. The planet’s animals were dying its people were killing each other and the Earth itself turned to lie on its front and stab itself in the back.
Walking. Walking with heavy steps. As though the ghosts from our past were stuck to our boots. We could hear them. The daemons. The crawling slithers under the soil. They jumped from tree to tree. The echoes from their whispers mocked the birds. Every pebble and leaf shook with fear like never felt before. The swaying branches hung over Earth’s skin, casting shadows on the ice floor. ‘Will anything remain?’ asked the soldier. ‘Or will the daemons have taken me before anyone would miss me?’
He heard the footsteps and turned back. Ready to be saved. But the footsteps weren’t those of a hero or even a human. The daemons had found him instead. He ran in search of an echo just like he did at war. But the only human echo he heard was from his screams. So he ran to the creation which allowed him to breathe – the trees in the rainforest. This was the last of them. The lungs of the earth were as good as dead. The trees were alone. Clumped together in a group. Him standing with them wasn’t enough hope. The chainsaws sat in thousands of trucks. Machines. Monsters.
This would be the end. He did not leave them. If they died, so would he. So why not suffer with them. And die together.
He climbed the most wonderful of the trees he could find. His heart was drawn to the top like a magnet. The roaring chainsaws hammered into the bodies of trees. With this tree, he fell. With the last tree, he died.
Gentle sunlit rays embraced the blissful peach sea of warmth. Sapphire clouds of darkness lingered above the thunder-struck waves, beaming with lightning. The melting sky kissed what was left of the land goodbye, leaving peculiarity as foreign dust amongst its shadows. Every soul became lost in the Earth’s nightmares and the trees one by one stopped casting their cool shade on the ground. Every atom was lifeless. The planet was ready to die again tonight, but the people were not – only this time the sun would be gone forever.
Short fiction: Excerpt from ‘Afterlife’
Mary hiked through the forest, minding her step through the fallen autumn leaves. She pulled the dark hooded cloak tighter around her as a familiar breeze hit her once again. Brushing her hair back into her hood. She met eyes with Solomon. His eyes were so much brighter than her own, but then again, Crions usually did have bright yellow eyes and Solomon was no exception.
Mary ran her fingers through his dark fur. This would usually be declared a death wish, but Mary found comfort in the warmth and protection Solomon gave her. She pondered her next steps. She had recently learned of a group that called themselves ‘The Cortex’, yet another force sworn to stop her. The Akuji was still her most feared enemy, so far anyway. She had seen the damage The Akuji caused first-hand. Her thoughts flashed back to her mother, and her best friend. The ones she couldn’t save.
She laid eyes on Solomon through a teary glaze and noticed his ears perk up. It was almost as if his muscle mass grew slightly as he reared back onto his hind legs, ready to fight. Mary stood deadly quiet. She knew Solomon. He had a keen sense for danger. She listened carefully. Taking slow steady breaths. Then a blood-curdling scream erupted in the forest. Solomon took off in the direction, leaving Mary for the dust. She chased the Crion, running as fast as her little legs could take her.
When she finally caught up with him, he saw it there. Standing silently. The Akuji. Its hood already lowered meant it already had an influencer insight. Yet the Akuji was never seen without its wooden mask. There was no hope for the prey, but that didn’t mean Mary wouldn’t try. She spotted the man bleeding against a tree. The Akuji had its undying attention on the man. He must be an influencer, the Akuji didn’t hunt normal humans. He scrambled to his feet, crying and pleading. The Akuji didn’t bat an eye. Solomon jumped towards it, latching onto its leg, great teeth-baring into its flesh. Yet no blood came from the Akuji. It lifted its leg and slammed Solomon against the tree detaching him from its leg.
Short fiction: Excerpt from The Blood Children
Gwenevere Brynne hoped the man in the hooded cloak had cleaned the blade of silver, before pressing it against her throat, but she suspected otherwise.
She shivered slightly, but held her ground.
“I’m waiting,” she said, folding her arms. The man in the hooded cloak, his eyes gleaming from the hole of darkness, pushed the cool metal further against her skin; she was sure blood was probably welling up around the pressure, but she didn’t mind. She’d had far worse injuries before – falling over the pigsty gate and knocking herself out, for one – but this was the first time she had been threatened by a dagger, although she wasn’t the intended target. She just hoped it wasn’t covered in another person’s blood.
“Move aside.” His voice reverberated around the silent square, a low growl clashing against the water splashing from the pump. Gwennie could feel her heart straining against her chest – as if it would break through her skin and inhale the air – and swallowed, willing herself to remain calm. The man only had one chance to use his knife, after all – he wouldn’t waste it on her.
I’m standing tall on the sidewalk of Wroclaw. Tall buildings easily overwhelming all of my senses, all I can hear is people shouting in the town square, every voice raised louder than the other. The foreign language rolling off their tongues with ease and perfection. My nose is filled with Polish delicacies, which have drifted from the restaurants around me. I see dumplings on one side while sweet jam rolls are on the other. The sight of a long fountain makes me smile. It stands right in the centre, and drags on to form a rectangle. I can’t help but raise my camera and take a picture. I have never seen such a beautiful city in my life. Unbelievable how different from this is from England. Sometimes I forget about the various cultures in this world, being too busy with my own life. The experience of something new and fresh is exhilarating. Pure happiness spreads through my body as I recall leaving my job, relief in finally being able to leave that awful office. I wasted so many years doing nothing in my life. The moment I stepped off the airplane, I realised this was really happening. The air felt more distinct, like I have taken my first real breath in years. The cold night breeze hit me as a wave of freshness, even after living in the country of rain and chilled air, this moment couldn’t be any better. And yet, I feel scared of the unknown. This is not a familiar place and home is so far away, how can I be so anxious of something I always wanted. I snap another picture, this time of the church tower just as the bell rings to inform its citizens that 12 o’clock has struck. Just like me, a few months back. I was struck with a job of a lifetime, a job that fulfils my life dreams. I get to travel the world and write the most mind-blowing articles about everything I see, a journalist that never stays still. I can’t help the grin that forces its way to my lips, with one more picture of the town square, I walk along. Ready to see more.