Lockdown Fiction: The Symphony of Love (or Screw You, Vivien)

I’m back at the Improbable Press fiction prompt coalface, last week urged on by the words ‘A broken instrument’, ‘single’ and some pictures. The broken instrument made me think of how PG Wodehouse is always quoting Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s The Idylls of the King about ‘the rift within the lute’. And so, here we are.

Pop over to Improbable Press and try your hand at the prompts. It’s a great way to get the brain moving.

The Symphony of Love
(or Screw You, Vivien)

It’s a pretty phrase, the rift within the lute. It sounds minor and musical.

It is the little rift within the lute
That by and by will make the music mute
And ever widening slowly silence all

And there’s the terror in it. That music will lose its voice. That our music will lose its voice. That will we lose each other. Because of a tiny crack, some inconsequential, infinitesimal hair fracture, we will be rendered voiceless, silent, alone, singularly single and bereft.

Tennyson was writing about Vivien seducing and imprisoning Merlin. Manipulating him so he’d teach her spells. And trust me not at all or all in all.

What bullshit.

Be perfect or be done.

The slightest disagreement is the end of everything.

What utter bullshit.

I’m not a lute, made for just one purpose, with one kind of voice. You’re not my minstrel, made to play me only just so. Nor, of course, the other way around.

We are, both of us, an orchestra and also the symphony. We are the conductor and the first violin and the one who hits the triangle; we are brass and wood and wind and wire. We change as we play the music of our lives – the same song never sounds the same twice; the same instruments make different music over and over. We’re the silence between notes, too.

And if our lute sometimes has a little rift in it, if our orchestra pauses, if our song sometimes stumbles and isn’t always harmonious.

Well. We’ll find new notes, and sing again.

We’re as mutable as rain on glass, shiny as diamonds, with as many facets.

Screw you, Vivien.

The Songs of Duo Ex Machina

The five novellas of the Duo Ex Machina series are full of song lyrics I wrote to go with the stories.

Some are by the two-man band Duo Ex Machina (comprising the two lead characters, Frank Capriano and Milo Bertolone, who are also boyfriends). Others are by their friend, Gabriella Valli, and yet others are songs on the radio or that are played during Milo’s time as a contestant on an ice dancing show (in DeM 4: Kiss and Cry).

Now, in partnership with Joshua King of Golden Hour Studios, some of those lyrics are becoming actual songs, released on Apple Music, Spotify and other services!

Listen to our first single – Hymn/Him, from Duo Ex Machina 4: Kiss and Cry on:

You can help us make more music by buying or streaming the Duo Ex Machina songs from Apple, Spotify or Amazon Music: sales proceeds go towards new music.

You can also support the project by:

Or subscribe to the Duo Ex Machina YouTube channel for songs as they’re released.

Lockdown Fiction: Option Five

Cover image of flames and tentacles.

My responses to the Improbable Press fiction prompts tend to be optimistic, but this has gone very dark. Oh well. The muse is obviously In A Mood.

Option Five

The sea was on fire.

No, wait.

Hang on.

The rolling waves of flame, sparks flickering like sea spray, lapped against a shore made of ice which, despite the heat, didn’t melt.

That left Marnie with four options. The burning sea, or the illusion thereof, was the result of too much caffeine, too much poppy seed cake, the concussion, or a combination of the three.

Marnie probed her forehead with long, slender fingers. The bump, big as an egg, was still there. Still sore to the touch. She wished she could remember how it came to be there. Flashes of memory cascaded through her mind as she touched it, fragmented and unsatisfactory. A blue sky; the scent of salt water; the serrating cry of seagulls; a hulking shape rising from the waves…


Marnie sipped her coffee, still piping hot after all these hours on the icy shore. She took a bite of seedcake, moist and delicious. She tongued the little seeds between her front teeth and bit down. She had been eating cake, popping seeds, watching the flames and the ice, prodding at the lump on her forehead for a long time now.

A very long time.

Or no time at all.

The sky was no longer blue but a silvery grey, pulsing with a hidden light. The scent of the sea had been replaced with that of flames that crackled and whispered, a sound much lonelier than the gulls.

The hulking shape flashed in her mind’s eye again.

She had watched hippopotamuses – hippopotami? – rising up from rivers in Kenya, their comical roundness hiding the danger that lurked in their jealously territorial hearts. The shape from the sea had made her think of hippos. Grey. Wet. Soft. Tentacled.

No wait.

Hang on.

Marnie had seen octopuses – octupi? – in tanks at aquariums. The Giant Pacific Octopus at Monterey Bay, roiling sinuously across the rocks, limbs curling and unfurling, suckers twitching, till the animal pulsed upwards. Reached out of the tank. Hulked out of the water, baring sharp teeth.

No wait.

Hang on.

Marnie gulped coffee, scalding hot, then soothed the burn with cake, then ran her fingers over the bump.

The sea burned, and Marnie hoped it was because of one of four options. Coffee. Poppy seeds. Concussion. A combination.

She looked down at her feet, melting into the ice, becoming stone and dissolving into the sand underneath.

Option five. Probably it was option five.

The crackling flames whispered the names.


The Old Ones.

Madness everlasting in the last moments of the world.

Marnie, concussed, sipped coffee. Ate cake. Became stone.

Became ice.

Became flame.

Lockdown Fiction: The Dancing Bees

Improbable Press’s latest prompt included bees, and then I thought of that old tradition that the bees must be told when their keeper dies. And then I thought of Sherlock Holmes being away during WWI as a spy. And then I thought of John Watson. And then I thought of this.

The Dancing Bees

It is spring and we bees work, we fly, we gather pollen for our colony, for our queen.  We nourish, we protect, we select and serve our queen.

Our Keeper is away and in his stead, his own worker-drone-queen protects the colony.

The wingless four-limbs are nothing like the hive; and our Keeper and the Other are sometimes like a bee, sometimes like the flowers. We know, from springs and summers and some sunny autumn days that they have stamens, and pollen, which they gather or sometimes let fall to earth (though no new flower ever grows from this seed).

Our Keeper and His Other are not like bees at all, and for many turns of the sun now, our Keeper has been gone.

Soon, soon, His Other will come to tell us. He will keep the tradition.

He will tell the bees that our Keeper is dead.

We are puzzled that he has not already done so. His Other sits wilted among us, many days. He Keeps us as our Keeper would, with faith though less skill. He sighs our Keeper’s name among the hives.

“Sherlock misses you.”

The Other means that he misses our Keeper too. We know this. He sighs. He wilts. Sometimes he leaks, wet salt on his face. This leaking he shares not with other wingless ones, but only with his fellow workers (fellow drones, fellow Queen; our Keeper mates with him, so the Other is maybe a Queen; or maybe our Keeper is the Queen of his colony-of-two. As we say, the four-limbs are peculiar and will not succumb to correct roles).

We the bees know that far away is danger. Dances waggled from the unfathomable distance tell us.  The dances come from the colonies near the stone hive, which is clustered by the river up north and filled with four-limb drones and workers (and a male Queen; we will never fathom them at all). The stone hive is smashed by falling black clouds, and the air is filled with dust and great cries. Such danger!

Our Keeper is in the danger, further even than the stone hive; across the Great Salt Wet. He told us before he left, that he would fly far, so far, to gather strange pollens, to waggle the dance of its knowledge to his Male Queen and the Drones and Workers of the stone hive.

We miss our Keeper. His Other misses him. We wait for the telling. For word that it is time to Farewell the Keeper with the solemn, grave dance of goodbye.

Here he comes today, the Other. Today he comes to tell us, and become our new Keeper.

Take courage, Dear New Keeper.

He walks on his two back limbs (so ungainly, more than ever today, poor unbalanced drone-worker-queen without his Keeper. He will Keep us now our First Keeper is gone, but who will Keep him now?)

His Sorrowing Other comes to wilt and sigh and leak among us today.

But no! The Other sorrows not, though he leaks and sighs. He does not wilt. He stands tall as a tree, that little hedge upon his face stretches happy with his mouthpart.

“He’s coming home. The war is over and he’s done his part, and Sherlock is coming home. Today, tonight, soon! By God, he’s coming back to me. To us. Sherlock is coming home!”

He sits among the hives, a flower waiting for the sun to shine on him; waiting for his drone-worker-queen to gather his pollen; waiting to be whole with his colony-of-two once more.

Around him, we bees dance, we waggle the news to all our kin and to our queen: Our Keeper returns!

No need for the Goodbye dance now, no. Today we dance a greeting, and rise up in a cloud as we see him arrive through the garden gate. His Other rises with us, and walks, then runs (unbalanced still, his hind limbs stiff with age and with sitting) to his Keeper.

Like bee to pollen, like flower to sun, like the colony to the hive he goes, they go, and embrace, and we dance, we dance, for our Hive is whole again.

Words are like oxygen