Red in Paris

It’s a cold spring day and my belly is empty. You would think a baker’s daughter would never go hungry, but women come at dawn with their knives and their scowls, and my father sells every loaf at less than it cost him to make it. All except this crust, hidden in my skirt pocket. I wrap my tattered, once red cloak tight around my body and bow my head into the wind. Miserable, dirty people huddle on busy streets, casting murderous glares at the carriages which rattle past, spraying us all with mud.

I would dearly like to stop in an alley, somewhere dark and out of sight, and eat that crust, but I know that my mother is watching me, up in heaven. This crust is for my poor sick grand-mère, and so I struggle on.

Grand-mère lives in a tiny attic room at the top of my uncle’s printing shop, which is across the other side of Père Lachaise Cemetery.  I pause at the gates. Papa said there was a foul mood in the city this day, and I mustn’t tarry on my way to Grand-mère’s house. I think he is right. The people on the streets are clumping together with black looks on their faces. They are shouting all kinds of things. I’m sure Papa meant for me to avoid the cemetery, but I think I will be safer there than out on the streets. Besides, I haven’t visited mother in such a long time.

I hurry down the paved path, through the city of the dead. I could find my way to mother’s grave in the dead of night, though I wouldn’t dare. This place makes all my hairs stand on end. As I hurry along, I spy a fresh patch of dirt with a spray of snowdrops bursting up out of the cold earth. My heart stutters at the sight. It’s hard to reconcile such beauty in this cruel, unforgiving world. It is as if the saints are showing me a sign. Would it be so wrong to pick one for my mother’s grave? Perhaps another to brighten my Grand-mère’s bedside table?

I crouch to pluck a few flowers, but stiffen when I hear the crunch of boots on the gravel path behind me.

“The Comte d’Lope,” I cry when I see who has come. He is a big man with a thick black beard and wild hair that he doesn’t try to hide beneath powdered wigs like other aristocrats, though I know he is a cousin to the king. I throw myself to the ground in an exaggerated bow, swallowing the hard lump in my throat. What is he doing in this cemetery, without guards or attendants? And in such plain clothes…

“Roslyn?” he asks in a voice like honey. “Is that you. Little Roslyn? Why you have grown so big.”

“Monsieur?” I look up to see him crouched before me, offering a big open hand to help me up. “Why do you know me?”

“Your mother was a beautiful woman. I admired her greatly, when she was in my employ. You look so much like her.”

I stare at him, my mouth dry and my body shaking from more than just the cold. Someone walks past, barely sparing is a glance on their way to a nearby tomb. The Comte smiles warmly. “Where are you off to, Little Roslyn?”

“M…m…my grand-mère,” I stammer. “She’s lonely and hungry. I bring her food when I can.”

He tilts his head. “What a good girl you are. Where does your grand-mère live? Perhaps I could take you in my carriage. It is far too cold for you to be out here.”

“Oh no,” I say hurriedly. “It’s just outside the Porte Gambetta, on Rue de Rondeaux, in the little room above my uncle’s shop…”

“Ah,” he says with a knowing smile. “Well, I won’t delay you any longer then, eh?”

With that, he turns and walks away at a strangely brisk pace. Only when he is out of sight do I dare to breathe again.

I take a few flowers and hurry on to my mother’s grave. I kneel and cross myself, saying a quick prayer, but feel as if my mother is not here. I think she is with Grand-mère, scolding me for wasting so much time.

Foolish girl, I scold myself.

My hair whips across my face as I run toward the Porte Gambetta. Rue de Rondeaux is empty. Where is everyone? The back gate to my uncle’s courtyard is ajar. I cross the courtyard and climb the rickety old stair that leads up to grand-mère’s floor.

My hand is on the doorknob when I hear a scream and a muffled thud. I freeze in place. What on earth? My heart starts racing. What if grand-mère has fallen out of bed? The snowdrops flutter from my hand as I push the door open.

“Grand-mère?” I cry. “Grand-mère, it’s me, Roslyn. Are you alright?”

The room is dark. Much darker than normal. The cross that normally hangs above her bed is askew, but I can see her lying beneath the blankets, her bonnet pulled down unusually low on her brow.

“Grand-mère?” I murmur.

She gives a deep throated groan and I creep closer.

“Close the door,” she croaks.

She sounds horrible. Is she sick? I turn back and close the door.

“Did you scream, Grand-mère? What is wrong?”

“I’m so hungry,” Grand-mère says. “Did you bring me anything?”

I finger the crust in my pocket, murmuring, “Just a little. I’m sorry. The city is going crazy. There’s hardly anything…”

I am almost at her bedside when I hear banging from her wardrobe. I nearly jump out of my skin. At that very moment, Grand-mère sits up, a knife in her hand. Only she isn’t Grand-mère at all. My mind struggles to make sense of bearded face beneath the bonnet.

The wardrobe door crashes open, and the man, who I finally recognize as the Comte d’Lope, lunges out of bed to grab me. I felt the cold metal of the knife at my throat. My skinny, wrinkled grand-mère stumbles out of the wardrobe with grand-père’s old sword in one hand.

“What do you mean to do with that?” Monsieur Lope asks. His voice sounds so much colder than before.

“Wolf!” she wheezes, using the sword like a cane to keep her upright. “Devil! Holy Mother of God, give me the strength to run you through.”

“I think I will kill this waif and let you watch,” he states, with hardly any emotion.

“Over my dead body,” she says. Suddenly, she lunges at him. He is so surprised that he parries with his knife and lets go of my arm. I dart out of the way.

Grand-mère snarls, then tries to lift the sword. She is too slow. He easily dodges her strike and goes in for the kill. I grab his arm and pull sideways. He misses Grand-mère, snarls and lunges toward me.

I scramble backward, hoping Grand-mère will take advantage of his distraction to use that sword, but she really can’t lift it. I crash into the door and my hand locks around the handle. He’s almost on me. I yank the door open and he charges right on outside, crashing through the rotten banister with a yell of surprise. I wince as I hear the thud. I have no idea if that fall is enough to kill him, so I slam the door shut again and search about for something to barricade it with.

Grand-mère is breathing heavily, leaning against the foot of her bed. Grand-père’s sword rests against her knee.

“Can I borrow that?” I ask, not really waiting for permission. I jam the hilt under the door, wedging it shut, then hurry to drag her bedside table over. It’s heavier than it looks, and I’m grunting with the effort. Outside, I can hear a man groan and then begin to yell. He’s cursing black and blue. My heart is in my throat.

“Sorry, Grand-mère,” I say, “but I’m going to need your bed.”

She nods, looking just as scared as me. We hear heavy uneven footsteps on the stairs outside. The bed scrapes across the floor, making an awful racket. I push it into place, just as I hear the thud of his body against the door. It doesn’t budge. He begins to yell at us, threatening gruesome things if we don’t let him in, which is ridiculous, because of course we won’t let him in to kill us nicely.

Grand-mère sits down beside me, our backs pressing back against the side of the bed, adding what little strength we can to our barricade. We lock hands and she begins to pray. I think of my mother.

“Please,” I whisper. “If you’re up there, can you ask God to help us? I’m really scared.”

It’s hard to say why, but I feel like Mama is nearby. Something goes quiet inside me and I can breathe again. The rickety old staircase creaks and groans with all the commotion. Then suddenly, it just gives up. I can hear his screams, and the crash of wood against stone. Then silence.

Grand-mère and I wait a long time before we dare move. I pull the barricade aside. There’s nothing beyond the outer door. The Comte d’Lope lies unmoving on the cobblestones amongst a halo of broken planks. My uncle’s family have already gathered around, sharing horrified whispers and glancing up at me.

It takes a moment before I realize the nervous laughter is coming from me. We’re alive. Eventually, someone will bring us a ladder. Until then, I retreat back inside to sit with my Grand-mère once more. I pull the battered crust from my pocket.

“Would you like some bread, Grand-mère?”

She shakes her head. “You have it child. You’ve earned it.”

“I couldn’t have done it without you,” I insist. “Why don’t we share.”

She nods and smiles. “You’re a good girl, Roslyn. Your mother would be proud.”

A little part of me knows it’s true.

Featured image: Cimetiere père-lachaise by Till Krech (Flickr – CC BY 2.0)

Unorthodox – a Fantasy Short

Unorthodox was written in response to the competition: Fantastical love – Love between two mythical creatures (non humanoid – Dragon Unicorn, etc) or love between a human and a mythical being (humanoid – Elf, dwarf, fairy etc).

I won first place =)

* * *


by Beaulah Pragg

“You alright hun?” Mum rubs my arm. I shrug, staring at my untouched fish pie.

“Leave her be, Maggie,” Papa says.

I gaze past Mum to her prized strawberry plant, sitting by the open balcony door—the only part of our home that sees any sun. Sheets flutter on the line strung between our balcony and the Tors’ house across the road. The breeze brings a whiff of sewage. I crinkle my nose.

“Shut the door, would you?” Papa says, mirroring my expression.

“It’s far too hot,” Mum protests.

“I’ll do it.” I jump to my feet, seeing Adrek Tor watering his mother’s coriander on their balcony. My friends at school say he’s an outsider. They laugh at his black hair, sticking out like wires and the shadow of a beard that never stays gone. He shaves every morning and will sneak off at lunch to do it again. He can’t help it. He’s a dwarf.

“Genny’s in love,” my brother sings from the dinner table.

“Shut up, Billy,” I slam the door. It shakes the whole house.

“Genevieve,” Papa growls. His eyes hold back a tempest.

“Sorry, Papa.” I duck my head and sit down without another word. Sweat beads on my forehead. I wipe it away, wishing I could murder the fly buzzing around the kitchen. This fish pie looks less and less appetizing.

“Are you finished?” Mum asks.

“I’m not hungry.”

“I’ll eat it.” Billy reaches forward.

“You’ve already had two portions.” Mum takes my plate over to the bench. She scrapes the food into a wooden bowl and covers it with a fresh cloth. “There are families downstairs who could use a little extra.”

“How come those greedy dwarves get to eat our leftovers when I’m still hungry?”

“Billy!” Mum stares at him, her mouth partially agape.

“It’s a valid question,” Papa mutters. “I might have felt sorry for them fifteen years ago when a dragon took their mountain hall. But they’ve overstayed their welcome. I’m not the only one who wishes they’d move on.”

“Surely not all dwarves—” I blurt.

“Got no time for their kind.” Papa scowls. “Turning our city into a disease-ridden slum.”

“What can you expect after the way we’ve treated them?” Mum shoots back.

“The way we’ve treated them?” Papa stands up. “They barely speak a word of our language. They don’t even try to learn our ways. They’re miserly with their gold, but expect us to be generous—”

“Have a heart, Angus,” Mum says. “They’ve lost everything. How would you feel if our positions were reversed?”

“I’d be a hell of a lot more grateful.” Papa walks out of the room.

“Yeah!” Billy wriggles out of his seat and stomps down the hall. I’d be laughing if I wasn’t on the verge of tears.

Mum sighs. “I’ll do the dishes, love. Why don’t you get started on your homework.”

My bedroom is opposite Billy’s on the street side. In winter I tie my shutters closed and stuff the gaps with rags, but right now I’d give anything to escape the heat. I throw them open and hold my breath against the stench.

We’re on the mid tier of Lochnell City’s north-eastern quarter. People surge along the street below, pushing past each other while vendors shout to be heard. A top-tier walkway bridges the street above my window. If I stand on the sill and stretch, I can touch the wrought iron underwork.

Knock, knock.

I grab the notebook from my bag and try to look like I’m working.

Mum pokes her head in. “You okay?”

I nod.

She sets a plate with one strawberry on my dresser. “Didn’t want you to miss out.”

I keep my eyes down.

“I’m sorry about your father.” She walks over and sits beside me. “That new town hall contract meant everything to him. We could have moved up a tier.”

“But a dwarf construction team won it.”

Mum rubs my shoulder. “There was no way your father could outbid them. Dwarves are better and cheaper. If things keep going the way they are, he’ll have to find a new job.”

“It isn’t fair.” I flop back and stare at the ceiling. “We won’t let them work in anything except construction and mining. They get just as frustrated as Papa.”

“I know, sweetheart. It’s a difficult situation for everyone.”

“I wish people would talk to each other, instead of getting angry.”

“Life isn’t so simple.” Mum gives me a strained smile. “Don’t stay up too late. You’ve got school in the morning.”

Once she’s gone, I change into a black shift with brown woolen leggings and arrange a few blankets under my covers to make it look like I’m sleeping. The light outside has turned orange. I shove my notebook and pencils in my satchel and strap it over my shoulder, then perch on my window sill and wait.

Night brings a new surge of life to the street below. Men and women hawk their wares, or themselves. The lights go off in the Tor’s house. Time stretches on. A cat leaps onto the kebab seller’s awning, then onto Mrs. Potts’ window box. She paws at the shutters until the old woman lets her in.


My gaze snaps up to the window opposite mine. Adrek waves me over. I take a deep breath, then climb out onto the wrought iron underwork. When I was younger, I used to love the thrill of sneaking out. Now I’m a lot heavier and the thought of falling turns my stomach.

“Nearly there,” Adrek whispers.

I dared him to visit me once, but he’s more scared of heights than I am. He also pointed out that Papa would kill him. Adrek assures me his parents wouldn’t go as ballistic. I still don’t want to find out.

I’m hanging from the underwork. My toes barely touch Adrek’s window sill. I push back, then let go as I swing forward. I fly through his window, feet first, and land in an unladylike sprawl.

Adrek’s seen this enough times to keep a straight face, but I know he’s laughing inside. I roll off my satchel and groan. “We’re insane.”

“Without a doubt.” He offers me his hand. I take it and spring to my feet.

Normally, he’d let go. We’d take our usual spots across from each other and get to work on our homework. I’d gaze dreamily at his chocolate brown eyes and chiseled cheekbones. He’d brush my fingers when offering me one of his mother’s homemade rock cakes. . .

This time, he keeps holding my hand. My heart thuds too loudly.

“Your parents were arguing again,” he murmurs.

My cheeks flush. “It’s not like them. Papa’s been stressed.”

“Because of the contract?”


“I’m sorry,” he murmurs.

“It isn’t your fault.”

Adrek sighs and drops my hand. “We have to stop doing this.”


He shoves his hands in his pockets and walks over to the desk. I follow, swallowing the sudden ache in my throat. “Don’t you like me anymore?”

“It’s not that.” He still won’t look at me.

“Then what?”

He’s quiet for a long time. I reach out to touch his shoulder. He let’s out another heavy sigh. “My parents know you’ve been coming here at night.”


He turns. “Blonde hair on the carpet. You molt like a cat.” His lip twitches—almost a smile—but then his shoulders slump again. “Your father will probably take us to court if he finds out. We’ll be thrown out of Lochnell. This city hates dwarves enough, without the scandal we’ll cause.”

“But we never. . . we’re only studying.”

“Don’t you ever wish it was more?” His expression changes. My stomach flip-flops. A familiar hunger gnaws at the edges of my self control. “You know I do.”

“I love you, Genevieve.” He takes my hands. “I want to be with you, but I don’t want to lie to my parents. I don’t want to lead this double life, pretending not to know you at school; cowering every time I see your father.”

My brow shoots up. “You want to walk out with me? In public?”

“Are you brave enough?” He searches my face, his eyes begging me to say yes.

Images of my father’s face fill my mind, expressions of anger, betrayal, hurt. I sit heavily on the edge of Adrek’s bed. “I’m scared.”

I stare at my hands. Could I really do it? Could I bear to see everyone I love turn their backs? Is what we have worth that sacrifice?

The bed sinks further as Adrek sits down beside me. “You don’t have to answer right now. I’ll wait, forever, if I have to. I won’t stop loving you, not until you beg me to. Maybe not even then.”

He’s never mentioned love before. He’s never talked this much in one go. Usually I’m the one who won’t shut up. Now I nod, trying to find the words in the whirling mess he’s made of my heart.

I slip my hand into his and squeeze it. “Later, then?”


The world is a blur. I barely remember climbing back, or changing into my nightgown, or hauling the spare blankets back to the cupboard. Soon, it’s morning and mum’s shaking me awake.

“You’ll be late for school!” She rummages around in my cupboard. My uniform flies through the air and lands on my face, followed closely by my shoes.

“Ooph,” I grunt.

“Why are all these blankets in your wardrobe?” she asks.

“I was nesting.” I roll out of bed with a groan.

Mum laughs. “Strange child. Now don’t dawdle. Breakfast is getting cold. Don’t forget to pack your homework.”



I meant to finish it with Adrek last night. Obviously that didn’t happen.

I gulp down a glass of milk and a cold fried egg. Billy’s already finished and waiting by the door.

“Hurry up,” he whines. “I hate being late.”

We race along the dim, winding corridor that runs the length of our building. There’s a bridge over to the library roof garden and from there, another to Westbridge, our second-tier school. We arrive just as the first bell chimes.

Adrek sits on his own during lunch. It’s always like that, but today I feel like crying. This school has hundreds of kids, but not one of them is brave enough to be his friend—not in public, anyway.

“I don’t get why he bothers.” Lily’s rebraiding her copper curls. “He’ll go work in mining or construction when he graduates, so what’s the point in all this study?”

“He wants to be a lawyer.” My eyes don’t leave him for a moment. He sits straight-backed, pretending he doesn’t hear what everyone’s saying about him.

“A lawyer?” She laughs. “That’s the stupidest thing—”

“Shut up, Lily.”

She’s thrown for a moment, then her shock turns to a sneer. “Anyone would think you were in love with him, the way you jump to his defense all the time.”

I don’t even think. Grabbing my tray, I stalk over to Adrek’s table, leaving her gaping in my wake.

“You decided then?” Adrek gives me a warm smile.

We’re surrounded by whispers. I know they’re all staring. I still have one chance to back out. I can say something cruel, pretend it was all a joke. I can walk away. I’ll break Adrek’s heart and hate myself for the rest of eternity, but I’ll be safe.

“We’re crazy,” I whisper, then kiss him.

There’s a moment of utter silence, as if time itself has stopped. All I can feel is the warmth of his lips; the scratch of his beard against my skin; the touch of his hand on my cheek. Then the room explodes into yells and whistles and excited chatter.

I feel dizzy.

No one will shut up. Our teachers try every trick in the book to control their classes. Adrek and I sit side by side, ignoring everyone. Fortunately, my history teacher is too distracted to check our homework.

After school, I drop Billy at home.

“Where are you going?” Mum calls.

“She kissed a dwarf at school,” Billy says.


“I’m going over to the Tor’s,” I say. “I want to ask permission to date their son.”

“What? But. . . what about your father.”

“I’ll be home in an hour or two.”

It’s strange, knocking on Adrek’s front door. His mother opens it and invites me inside. She’s short, barely taller than my shoulder. I bow to her as dwarven custom dictates and she returns the gesture. I take my shoes off before following her into their living room.

Adrek’s already here, sitting cross-legged at the low table. I join him on the reed mat. He pours me tea while his mother fusses in the kitchen. Soon she returns with a few bread rolls and a bowl of berries. I gape at her, knowing how much these must have cost.

“This is too much, Mrs Tor. I don’t deserve. . .”

“You are a brave girl.” She pushes the bowl toward me. “Both brave, but you need more than courage. Won’t be easy. Here. Eat.”

I glance at Adrek. He nods.

I pick a blueberry and pop it with my tongue. The flavour rushes through my senses, every moment divine.

When Adrek’s father arrives home, I formally ask their blessing to begin this courtship. It’s a dwarven custom that dates back thousands of years. His parents are surprised that I know even this much of their language. I’m glad I don’t have to say more, because I’ve used up all my tricks.

Fortunately they both agree to support us in the trials ahead. All that’s left is for me to return home and face my father.

“You sure you don’t want me to come?” Adrek asks for a third time as I pull my shoes on at the door.

“This is one dragon I have to face on my own.”

Adrek winces.

“Sorry,” I murmur. “Bad choice of words.”

He gives me a kiss goodbye. My heart soars, for about a minute, before plummeting in a death spiral the closer I get to home. “Papa’s going to kill me.”

He and Mum are sitting at the table when I walk in. Billy’s nowhere to be seen. I guess they sent him to his room.

“Genevieve?” Papa says. “Sit down.”

I swallow and take the seat closest to Mum. Papa looks tired, and old. His skin is a sickly grey colour.

“Well?” he asks.

“I love him, Papa,” I whisper.

“You’re sixteen years old! How could you possibly know that?”

“You and Mum were eighteen when you married.” I keep my eyes down. He doesn’t say anything at all. He’s just shaking his head.

Mum puts her hand on mine. “We’re just a little puzzled, sweetheart. This is all so sudden.”

“Not for me. Adrek and I have been friends for years. We just. . . we hid it from everyone. We were scared.”

“How. . .” Papa begins.

Mum’s eyes widen. “The blankets. Your shutters. . . You’ve been sneaking out!”

“What’s this?” Papa growls.

“Nothing ever happened,” I say quickly. “We studied, and talked. Adrek’s a gentleman.”

“He’s a dwarf!”

“He’s my friend.” I stand up too. “He was a baby when his parents came to Lochnell. He’s grown up here his whole life. It’s his home too.”

Papa gapes at me, unaccustomed to me talking back. I hold his gaze, needing him to say it’s okay. I don’t know how I’ll survive if he turns away.

“Angus, honey,” Mum says. “Sit down.”

He slumps into his seat. “I need a drink.”

“I’m doing this, Papa,” I say quietly, “I’ll move out if I have to, but I hope you’ll give us a chance.”

He says nothing.

“Give him time, sweetheart,’ Mum says. “This is a lot to take in.”

Back in my room, I toss and turn. Papa’s blank expression plays on my mind. I’ve never done anything like this before. What if he hates me? Maybe he’ll throw me out. What if I’ve ruined my life?

There’s a soft knock. I sit up with a start. “Come in?”

It’s Mum.

“Can I sit?”

“Okay.” I pull my feet back.

She takes the spot at the end of my bed. “I’m worried about you, Gen. Do you know anything about their culture? What loving this boy will mean?”

“I know enough,” I say. “Adrek’s taught me some of their ways. We still have a lot to learn from each other. Dwarves aren’t going anywhere, Mum. Someone has to take the first step.”

“It’s not me you have to convince.”

I sigh. “Papa’s still mad?”

“It affects all of us, honey. He’s going to take a while to adjust.”

“Do you think he’ll ever forgive me?”

“In time.” She rubs my shoulder. “You’re his angel. I don’t think he could stay mad forever.”

My throat closes over.

“Just promise me something?” Mum says.

I nod.

“No more surprises.”

“I’m sorry,” I whisper. I lean into mum’s embrace.

“We still love you, sweetheart. We’ll get through this, somehow.”

“Adrek’s worth it, Mum. He’s amazing. You’ll like him when you get to know him.”

Mum laughs. “I’m sure we will, but one thing at a time, okay?”

“Thank you for understanding.”

“Sweet dreams, my love.” Mum kisses my hair, easing the door shut on her way out. I bury my head in my pillow. Tears come in torrents, a strange release after months of angst and uncertainty. In the end, I feel calm. I know the road will be long and I’ll get bruised along the way, but there’s a glimmer of hope on the horizon and a family at my back. Together, we can survive anything.

Pre-Valentine’s Flash Fiction


You are to write a piece of flash fiction (up to 250 words) which includes a ‘first kiss’ scene. Flash fiction is still a story, so needs a beginning, middle, and end.The story should stand on its own without needing to have read anything else before hand.

Here’s my attempt:

The room is noisy and full of teenagers. Kat’s over by the punchbowl, flirting with Lee. She brushes blue hair out of her eyes with a coy smile. He’s probably just complimented her TARDIS dress. His Darth Vader helmet is under one arm and his forehead is damp. Totally regretting that costume choice.

I’m snuggled between the couch and the lazyboy with a bowl of popcorn, feeling like a spectator. Mum will be here any second. She never lets me stay out past nine.

Raj vacates the lazyboy, looking for a drink. Lee pounces on the seat with a grin. “I’ve had my eye on this spot all night.”


“More interested in the company.”

My heart skips a beat. “Where’s Kat?”

He shrugs. “I fled when I guessed Raj was gonna vacate. . .”


“Mia?” He lifts my chin so I’m looking at him. His stare is intense. “Remember when I said sometimes you just have to close your eyes and jump?”

I nod breathlessly.

“I’m taking my own advice.”

I’m frozen. I close my eyes just as his lips brush mine. His kiss is warm and sure. My mind’s blank, but my heart’s doing acrobatics.

Someone whistles. My cheeks are a furnace.

“Mia Fitzgerald,” Lee whispers, “will you go out with me?”

I’m a stunned rabbit, but I manage to nod once.

“Mia,” someone yells from the hall. “Your mum’s here.”

I groan and Lee laughs.

“See you at school?” he asks.

“Yeah, see you.”

Word count: 249