My Words, My World

First drafts – A few pages in the large wilderness of the world of writing

Archive for the category “fear”

Dry

The old man stood with a length of coiled rope around his shoulder and spat into the dust.  The sky was cold and clear.  He looked at the sky every day but the clouds still avoided him.

“Giovanni, what’s the latest?”

“January, papà.”

In November they said early December, then it was going to be mid-December, then Christmas.”

“No one really knows, papa.”

“No one knows?”  The old man spat into the dust once again.  He took a leather pouch from his jacket pocket and started to roll himself a cigarette.  “My father could tell what the weather was going to do, a week before it did it.”

“You know as well, papa.”

The old man flicked a match.  He scuffed his boots in the dust, kicking up a little cloud.

“I did once.”  His rummy eyes looked up again at the clear blue sky.  “This year is different.”

From their lofty position on the lower slopes of the mountain, where the pastures lay brown and dry, they could see the distant Monte Rosa.  Even from that distance they could see its barren slopes; only its vague glaciers flickered white in the sun.

“There’s no tourism yet.  Tourism’s suffering and we’re suffering with it, Giovanni.”

“The snow will come papa, it has to.”

“Do you think?  When was the last time it rained, son?”

“October.”

“It drizzled for a couple of hours, Giovanni.  It hasn’t rained in anger since July.”  He flicked his head in a backwards movement.  “Those woods are a tinderbox.”

Giovanni nodded his head.  “The weather channel put the area on high alert for forest fire risk.”

The old man crushed his cigarette carefully under his heel.  “It’s about the only thing the weather channel has got right this year.”  He lifted the rope from his shoulder and placed it on the old trunk of a walnut tree that served as a chopping block.  He nodded down the slope.  “I want to get that fence in the bottom field repaired.  If the snow does come at least the animals will be contained.”

This last comment fell like an axe blow between the men.  They’d already lost a few animals, sickened by the drought conditions; they couldn’t afford to lose any more, there dwindling finances couldn’t take it.  They’d lost the annual orders from the surrounding ski resorts, whose slopes were bare and car parks were empty.  In his 72 years the old man had never known anything like it.  He was almost glad his wife had passed away the previous spring and didn’t have to see what the farm had become.  His son brought him back to the present.

“Five months ago we were enjoying a beautiful summer and everyone said we’d pay for it, that the winter would come early and the snow would be heavy.”

“Yeah, and I was one of them, telling the same thing to anyone who’d listen.  Now I’m just the foolish sheep farmer who can’t tell the direction of the wind even if I wet my finger and hold it in the air.”

“Come on papa.  This year’s caught everyone out.  It’s not just down to us anymore.  Think of all those satellites out there and they still can’t give us an accurate forecast.”

“Any farmer worth his salt should be able to mind his own, without the need for satellites or weather channels, son; just like my father and grandfather used to do.  Maybe the people are right; maybe I am just a foolish sheep farmer that prophesises ‘red sky at night’.”

“Enough papà.  Come on, let’s get the fence fixed so I can go to Cristina’s with that firewood.”

Giovanni looked into his father’s face.  This autumn had taken everything out of him.  His face was drawn and his eyes sunken and dark-ringed.  The quick smile was no longer there, replaced by a stare which admitted defeat.

“We can do the fence later, son.  Take the wood over to Cristina; if her father’s down in town, you’ll have to unload yourself, it’ll take time.”

Giovanni considered this.  It was true.  All the while the weather held, and it looked like holding for a fair while still, the bottom field fence wasn’t a priority.  The nights were cold and Cristina needed the wood.  He took the pick-up keys from his jacket pocket.

“Get some rest papa.  I’ll be back in a couple of hours, three at the most.”

“Give my regards to Cristina and her father, if he’s there.  I guess you’re right, I could use a little rest.”

“There’s nothing more any of us can do papa, at least until this weather shows signs of breaking.”  He got into the pick-up truck and the electric motor hummed as the window rolled down.  “Get some rest papa.  How about we go into town for a couple of beers this evening; it’s been ages since we’ve done that.”

“About the last time we saw any money coming through the door, son.”

The truck engine revved into life and Giovanni waved through the open window.  His father watched as the brake lights flashed once before the car drove out onto the road.

With a final spit into the dust, the old man looked once more at the sky.  With his head bowed, he heaved the coil of rope onto his shoulder and walked slowly to the still-empty barn.

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Laughing in the face of that which laughs at me

A blank page will sit and wait all day: because it can; it has patience, much more patience than I have. The blank page is king and will remain so, never abdicating, until my peasant’s revolt, armed with a sharpened pencil, a dipped pen and the spreading stain of ink removes it from its throne.

This sounds easy but it isn’t. It should be easy but it isn’t. The virgin purity of the blank page reflects in my face, making me squint and cover my eyes.

One letter at a time. One word at a time. That’s both the minimum and maximum I can do. No less. No more.

A blank page will sit and taunt me, its fresh white light, as joyous as a spring morning, laughs in my face and beckons me to do my worst. A blank page shows no fear, even with a sharpened 2H pencil held above it, threatening to stab down at any moment. While its doom hangs over it like the shadow of the executioner’s noose, it laughs in the face of fear. It laughs in the face of my fear.

Now I must go and laugh in the face of that which laughs at me.

Now I must go and write.

Morning mist

Waiting for the kettle to boil I took my usual 5-minute breather on the balcony, around 5.30am.  It had rained heavily the night before and the morning found itself under a heavy grey cloak.  I always enjoy standing out there; breathing, observing, listening and thinking.  The mountains wore skirts of cloud.  I came in, tea in hand and sat down, with just the first sentence in my head.  Strange how things go off on a tangent as they develop.

___________________________________________________________________

The cloud clung to the sides of the mountain.  Beyond it, the sun had risen but the day had dawned pale and would remain that way.   Water from last night’s rain clung to everything.  Hidden blackbirds chattered in the trees and every now and again a crow would raise its voice above the drip, drip of the water.  Pine scent filled the air, which was clean but sombre.

It was time to move.

There was now enough light to get a helicopter in the air and heat imaging would see through the cloud.  He was sure he’d heard dogs in the valley below, and the rain wouldn’t cover his scent for long.

He grit his teeth as he tipped a little schnapps from his flask onto the blood-soaked gauze on his thigh.  The schnapps was the only thing between a usable leg and infection.  In this humidity gangrene would take hold soon if he didn’t find the help he knew was waiting for him.

Four miles to the border.  Four miles till the forest sloped down on the other side of the mountain.  He put all his weight on the pine branch he was using for a crutch and placed his holed leg forward.

It was time to move.

TomTom club

“At the next roundabout, take the second exit.”

“What? The map says go straight ahead. What is she on about?”

She. The TomTom. Faithful navigational servant, and maybe on the blink.

“So, should I go straight or turn?”

“The map says go straight. I think she needs an update, I’ll plug her in when we get back indoors.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, sure.”

Down to third and the roundabout was rounded.

“Go back and take the first exit.”

“Oh, she’s insisting today. Must have her funny week.”

“Go back and take the first exit.”

“That’s not funny Joe.”

Natalie was right, it wasn’t; especially as she’d been suffering for the last few days but I just wanted to find a hint of humour in the situation.

“Go back and take the first exit.” The metallic feminine voice was beginning to grate.

“Sorry baby, just kidding. Shall I turn her off?”

“No. What if the map’s wrong, or the road’s new?”

“Nat, this road was made when Kennedy was still banging Marilyn. If anything, the TomTom’s wrong. Technology eh?”

“Go back and take the first exit.”

“Joe, I’m gonna turn round.”

“Either you drive, or I will.”

“At the next roundabout, take the third exit.”

“Why the third?”

“She wants us to go back on ourselves.”

“So…?”

“So, just drive. Nat, it’s a short-cut over the hills.  It was probably just an old sheep-herder’s route years ago and they came along and stuck tarmac on it.”

“Take the next left turn, proceed for 200 metres then take the next left turn and proceed for 4 kilometres.”

“Must be the sun, it’s got to her circuits.”

“Stop it Joe, I don’t like this one bit.”

Now Nat’s voice was beginning to grate. Two hysterical women in one car and one wasn’t even human. Breath whistled between my teeth as my shoulders slumped in the seat. The road narrowed and continued its ascent as the sun did the opposite, and sank with reluctance into the sea which glowed in late evening shades behind us.  Trees arched over the road and the light retreated. Nat switched on the beams.  Soon the last traces of the sea fell back behind the folds of the land as we climbed further into the hills.

“What’s that sign? Slow down Nat, how fucking freaky is that?”

STAY WITH THE SHEPHERD! badly hand painted in black on an old whitewashed door which leaned against a rotting fence post.

“Homemade cheese and a little wine thrown in most probably, I wonder how much he charges, my stomach’s beginning to…”

“Turn round and continue for 7 kilometres.”

“That’s it, I’m switching it off.” My hand reached out.

“No! No Joe, don’t. I don’t want to stop here either, in fact I want to turn round now.”

The last word was final, and I knew the tone. Nat was pissed off and I understood her.

“Turn round and continue for 7.5 kilometres.”

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and gave in.

“You win Nat. Turn round and let’s get out of here. I want some civilization and a pizzeria.”

The car slowed and nosed into a small track which narrowed into a small dirt track barely wide enough for a car. Either side in forgotten fields lay the rusted hulks of old and battered cars.  The place looked like a breaker’s yard, an auto graveyard.

Nat stuck the car in reverse and manoeuvred to turn round, her eyes wide and accusing when she glanced at me. She ground into first gear and started to accelerate. Through the open windows came a bellowing roar and from the trees burst an old tractor. A wrinkled grey-bearded man with angry eyes sat atop of it.  He turned the machine to face us and it stood in the road, . The road back was now blocked. He revved the machine, and its engine rose and fell, rose and fell as the old man continued to just stare at us.  He pointed at the sign and something akin to a grin, demented and evil, crossed his face in a second and was gone, replaced by the stare, red eyes burning.  He flicked his beams to high, its lights pinning us as the mechanical shovel began to rise then fall, rise then fall, like some masticating prehistoric nightmare.

“Joe?”

“What the…?”

“Joe?”

The metallic TomTom voice broke in.

“I told you to turn around.”

Nat screamed.

Swimming and jumping

“You first.”

“Nnh, nnh.  No way.  You wanted to come here.”

“Yeah, but you’re older than me.”

“Two months.  Big deal.”

The boys stared across the lake.  It shone black in the high summer sun.  Black and deep.  Overhanging trees edged the lake and reflected in the shallows.  Further out a fish jumped, its body smacked the water, creating a noticeable ripple.

“Pike,” said one of the boys.

“Tench,” came the reply.

“Tench don’t jump.  It was a pike hunting something on the surface.”

A pike hunting on the surface.  This possibility changed the game although neither admitted it.  There were some big fish in the lake.  How big?  And pike could be nasty.  Rows of backward-facing teeth.  They’d heard stories from the fishermen who sat on the banks, passing away their time away from wives and children.

As they stood, their feet growing colder and whiter in the pebbly shallows as their indecision increased, the distant surface of the lake rippled and wavelets raced towards them as a fresh wind blew across the lake.  One of the boys crossed his arms and rubbed them.

“You’ve got goosebumps,” said the other, “you’re scared.”

“I’m not, I’m cold.  We could’ve been halfway across the lake by now if you hadn’t have been so scared of a few fish.”

“You mentioned the pike.”

“It was a pike, tench don’t jump.”

“Says who?”

“My uncle.  He’s a fisherman, he told me.”

“Go on then, you first.”

“No, you go.  You’re the one that was scared.  I dare you.”

“Let’s go together.”

They placed a hand on each other’s arm and shuffled over the hard slippery pebbles.  Clear water rose up their legs.  When it got to their knees they both stopped.

“It’s cold.”

“Yeah.”

A passing cloud blotted out the sun and the air grew chill.  The surface became leaden.  Another gust of wind tore across the lake.  A few yards ahead of them the water erupted as a huge fish leapt.  Its splash seemed to echo as its body smacked down on the still-boiling water.

“Pike.”

“Yeah.”

“Did you see the size of it?”

“Yeah.”

“Fancy climbing some trees?”

“Yeah.”

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