My Words, My World

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

Archive for the tag “Fiction”

Tooth out, all out

He couldn’t remember how long he’d been walking. he remembered coming out of the sanitary-white hospital ward, the stench almost too much to bear. The place was littered with bodies, beyond stiffening, and the buzz of flies seemed like a road-drill in the silence. As he left the building he caught a glance of himself in a shattered window. MacQuade was 28 years old. He’d had black hair when he entered the place, now an old man looked back at him, or what looked like an old man. White, fluffy hair stood up from his head and beneath it a face, as white as the hair, drawn and gaunt.

The scene in the ward was replayed outside, but on a much grander scale. Vehicles crashed in the road, bodies on sidewalks, on grass verges, on the road itself. Whatever had happened had happened with a suddenness that took everyone by surprise. Most car doors were still closed, meaning the occupants hadn’t even had time to stop and get out.

“Hello? Hello?”

MacQuade’s voice croaked in his ears but it was the only sound he could here on the four-lane boulevard which lead past the hospital. He stopped and walked over to a grass verge, ignoring the bodies which had been walking instead of driving. He stooped to look at what else lay on the grass. Sparrows, pigeons and even a crow, its eyes open and as cruel in death as in life. Wholesale human and animal fatalities and yet, here he was, alive, here on this green verge, the grass still healthy. The Rhododendrons in the flower beds still full of colour, roaring pink and fuchsia.

That evening he’d found tins of food in a supermarket but everything else had gone over. Christ! How long had he been out? They’d operated on his wisdom tooth on a Wednesday, the 28th July. He’d gone in search of a calendar. Someone had marked off the 28th on the calendar in the supermarket office. He just had no idea what day it was now. The bodies were skin on bone and that didn’t happen overnight.

He’d found a bottle of whisky in the store and got right into it immediately after the can of tuna flakes. Halfway down it he remembered his wisdom tooth no longer caused him pain. He smiled until he looked out of the window.

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The end of his tether

He’d often wondered about his tether and the end of it.  Until he picked up a dictionary only a week before he hadn’t known what a tether even was.  Now he knew and now he thought he’d reached the end of it.

He was glad it was winter.   He didn’t mind the cold and the snow and, in happier times, he’d always been an enthusiastic skier.  In happier times.  Yes, he thought, he didn’t mind the winter with its snowy peaks, white crystal frosted fields and the smell of mulled wine in the market square and steaming paper cups warming hands in the cold.

He looked out of a window to the outhouse.  The cold.  The cold was good.  It killed off many of the pests that hung around in warmer climates or even down in the valley, although now other pests had found him and disturbed his peace.  Footprints and a strange indent in the snow crossed the yard, as if a sack of firewood had been dragged.  Yes, he’d reached the end of his tether, and the bodies mounted up in the outhouse.

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.

She was free

His heart sank.

It happened while she was watching.  She supposed it had always been coming; in fact, she knew it had been.  It was all he’d had to give.  For months; ever since it had happened.  They’d gone through so much together; then the accident, but he’d held on.

“My heart will always be yours,” he’d said, “until the day it sinks so completely and can never rise again.  When it does, you’ll be free”.

Six months had passed since he died.

She stared at the heart at the bottom of the jar of formaldehyde.

She was free.

Hell’s kitchen

The Sous-chef was on the floor. I left the knife where I found it, in a red puddle beside his foot. Its blade pointed towards the door, as if indicating the escape direction of the guilty party. The stainless steel worktop dripped and I noticed more splatters up the wall, behind the sink. A saucepan had overturned, spilling its now-smoking contents over the hobs.

A constable came in. “We have him sir; he was outside the rear entrance, behind some dustbins,” his face registering shock as he looked around at the scene.

“Where is he now?”

“In the car, sir.”

“Keep him there.”

The constable backed out slowly as I turned around, taking in details. A handprint, red and smudged, hailed me from the fridge door. I felt something drip onto my left shoulder. I knew what it was even without looking up, but I looked anyway – curiosity is like that. Then I heard a muffled voice behind me.

“Yes!”

Knee joints clicked as the Sous-chef rose to his feet, a look of triumph on his face as his arm withdrew from under the fridge with his prized wooden spoon, a gift from Keith Floyd apparently.

“So much for Hell’s Kitchen eh, officer?”

“What happened?”

“Well, when the Maître announced Gordon Ramsay’s arrival the chef became agitated, to say the least. Then, while he was plating Mr Ramsay’s Penne al Pomodoro, I happened to mention he’d forgotten the basil and then …” He waved his spoon around the kitchen.

Bukowski: the morning after the night before

I got up. I couldn’t sleep, I just lay there sweating, tossing and flapping like a freshly-caught fish. Booze does that to you. You think it’ll knock you out; that you’ll sleep like a kitten for the night but then you awake on a sweat-wet pillow, and then it’s finished.

I lay in bed an hour or so, unable to shut my head up. The room was dark but in my head someone had flipped a switch. Transitory thoughts, each following the other down the fuddled highway of my mind, flickered on and off, on and off. What I had to do today. What I had to to this week. What? Whatever.

I got up, grabbed my book, made a coffee and made myself comfortable on the cold leather sofa, and lost myself in story.

I had a heavy chest and a cough that wouldn’t come, my airways blocked by too many cigarettes accompanying too many drinks throughout a drunken evening with drunker friends and a happy barman. My mouth was layered from beer, from wine, from gin, from the back shelf where no one sober goes.

The coffee steamed on the coffee-table (what if I drunk tea?) but I drank it, hoping to change the thick, stale, toothpaste-on-alcohol taste in my mouth. My throat burned but something moved. My chest moved. I coughed: it sounded like Tom Waits singing. That was an improvement.

Early morning coffee with Bukowski. I finished the first short story and stared at the page a while before closing the book and closing my eyes.

The Most Beautiful Woman in Town had just died.

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.

Goldfish

I move, I breathe.

Outside there are two large forms which move around, making noises.  They continue to make these noises; one very low, the other higher.  I keep moving.

Now I see another one like them, yet smaller.  He’s sitting on the big thing they all sit on sometimes, looking at the big box with light.  He’s doing something with that small furry thing that sometimes comes to see me when the others are not around.  Sometimes it makes strange noises, different from what the others make.  I don’t know what’s happened but the small furry thing has just made a strange noise and now it’s run away from the small form.  I keep moving.

Outside there are two large forms which move around, making noises.  They continue to make these noises; one very low, the other higher.  I keep moving.

There’s something outside.  It looks like that small furry thing but, it’s huge.  I keep moving.  It follows me.  I still move.  It still follows.

Outside there are two large forms coming in my direction.  They’re not making any noise.  I keep moving.

The huge furry thing is looking at me and it follows me everywhere I go.  Now what’s it doing?  Above my head there’s a splash, and a big furry foot with sharp edges reaches down.  I keep moving, near the bottom.  There’s another splash.

The two large forms are very close.  One of them is pointing at me.  Now they’re making different noises.  They look happy.  There’s another splash.

I’ve stopped moving.

 

50-word fiction – The footpath

Lost in the forest, I wandered paths now forgotten by men, and remembered only by ghosts of those now long passed.  Restless spirits watched, powerless in the light of day and waiting for the darkness, by which time I would be gone and away from there.

Then the storm came.

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.

Hospital food

He looked out the window at the peach dawn lighting up the sky as the last shreds of the night’s storm disappeared.  He had turned off the light so he couldn’t see the room’s reflection.

The towelling dressing gown hung on his sagging shoulders and he pulled the belt tighter around him; looking at the sky made him feel cold but he liked to stand at the window and watch the dawn break; God knew he wouldn’t see many more.

Below, an ambulance pulled out of A&E with its lights blazing and sirens blaring; too late, he thought.  The ambulances were the only constant as wave after wave of suffering was deposited at the entrance of the A&E.  There were no more beds; only the lucky ones had beds. The rest were left in corridors; some didn’t even have a stretcher to lay on.  He was extremely lucky, he had a room to himself; now.

The hospital now had no more space.  It also had no more food.  It probably had no more doctors; none had been round in 3 days.  A staff nurse had brought the tray of food yesterday; he’d heard her tired breathing bubble in her chest on the other side of the door.  This morning’s medications hadn’t arrived, and now probably wouldn’t ever again.  He pulled the dressing gown tighter around his thin frame.

He was hungry, very hungry, but he’d only eaten half the food they’d left him the night before.  The other patients in the room hadn’t eaten any of theirs.  He looked at the two still forms lying in their beds, their faces still covered by their pillows.

He’d made sure they hadn’t.

The mind and the madman shuffle

I’ve decided I’m fed up with writing about insomnia.  It remains.  So be it.

I was in the waiting room of my GP the other day and I saw a picture on the wall which I’d never noticed before.  I had one of those “what if” flashes that occur far too infrequently.  Oh come on, it beats writing about insomnia…

___________________________________________________________

            The blue-framed picture stood out from the white wall.  It framed a poppy field scene; a blaze of red with a copse of trees in the distance and, further still, white-tipped mountains, hard and stark against the blue summer sky.

The buzzer sounded.  The person next to me go up and shuffled through the waiting room.  A door opened and a white-coated doctor stood, clipboard in hand, and ushered the man through the door.

“Good morning Mr…”

The door closed.  I was next.  I looked at the picture again, studying the contrasts of the blood red poppies against the yellow cornfield against the white mountains against the painful blue sky.  I liked the green, it was reassuring, a place of rest for the eyes in this riot of colour.  I looked at the trees, full in their summer coat of green.  Something moved.  It wasn’t out of the corner of my eye, I was staring directly at it, damn it.

Yes, it definitely moved.  What the hell?  Behind one of the trees a figure, a man appeared.  He poked his head and shoulders out from behind the trunk.  I looked away, it would be ok, just look away, look at the window, think about that bus that’s crawling past in the slush outside.  I looked back.  Still there, he was still there.  He waved, the little bastard waved to me.

A door opened down the corridor and I heard a shambling gait amble towards the reception area.  I was next.

I looked up at the picture.  The little man was joined by a friend.  They both waved as they came out from behind the tree.  The buzzer sounded and the door opened.  A man in a white coat and clipboard appeared.

“Good morning Mr…”

I looked at the picture one more time.

Thank God I was next.

I hope my doctor doesn't mind me using this image...

I hope my doctor doesn’t mind me using this image…

 

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.”

Grey

Imagine someone just turning out a light.  One minute I was in the sunshine, strolling over the small bridge that crossed the river that tumbled between grey rocks green with moss.  The next, I’m crushed under a leaden sky and grey walls closed all around me, taking my air.

I find myself in front of what remains of a Cold War-era apartment block, the same colour as the sky with glassless windows, graffitied walls and waste of every kind strewn over the broken concrete.

A cold wind blows along the street and I pin the collar of my jacket with one hand and I look to bury my head in my jacket as litter dances little waltzes around me.  I stand back from the building, taking it in.  My stomach knots as the wind drops and the air stops breathing, tense.  A pale face appears at one of the holes that were once windows.

I start to shake.  The sky mirrors my soul as I wonder, not for the first time, why I came here.  I know why.  Pain.  Pain is why I’m here here.  White shards of pain that strip and shred the nerves as vultures tear at a long-dead carcass.

The first couple of months had been fine, taken care of by concerned doctors whose hands caressed the prescription that I eyed as a spectator watches for the matador to give the bull that final thrust.  Even the sight of that little A6-size slip of paper was enough to alleviate the pain I (imagined?) felt.

Then, when I started to walk without wincing, the morphine prescriptions dried up and stopped.  They stopped but my body’s craving didn’t. And so here I stand, shivering, waiting for a little packet of warmth.

 

Swiss six word stories

He looked at her, and Gotthard.

 

For those of you with dirty minds, I was writing about a man and his wife on holiday, just before passing over the St. Gotthard Pass.  🙂

 

Sometimes, always – part II

“I’m already in town Stephie.  I’ve an hour before I have to meet Dan and Bill.”

“OK Jules, see you at Starbucks in 10 minutes.”

Julie gathered the various carrier bags and took a slow walk along the pedestrianized high street.  She stopped to look at the new releases in the window of W. H. Smith then made her way to Starbucks.  Her friend was already seated, looking at the coffee menu.  She looked up as Julie came in then looked at the bags.

“Hello Jules.  It’s not Christmas come early is it?”

Julie placed the bags around her chair, smiling.

“Bill’s birthday next week.”

“Where is he, with Dan?”

“Yeah.  They’re taking a walk along the beach.  Bill loves the sea.”  She shivered.  It didn’t go unnoticed.

“Have you tried talking to anyone Jules, apart from Dan I mean?”

She shook her head.

“I think it’s time you thought about it.  You can’t go through life with this fear that stops you doing something you always liked before.  Cappuccino?”

“Stephie got up and ordered two coffees, leaving Julie staring at the black plastic table.  A minute or so later she returned, coffees in hand.

“Four years have passed; you’ve got to move on Jules.”

“I will. I will.  I’m just not ready for that last step, to air it out in public.  Not at the moment.”

“What does Dan say about it.”

“That he understands.  He can’t though.  How could he?”

“Well, no one apart from you can really understand, it’s impossible.”

“At least, as a woman, you can understand me more.”

Stephie stirred in the sugar slowly, contemplating this last comment.  She looked up into her friend’s eyes, which were starting to glisten.

“You can see a psychologist Jules.  Professional secrecy and all that.”

“The psychologist will still know though.”

“Yeah, but you won’t have to go back there.  I’m sure it’ll do you good, you can start to enjoy walking with Billy again.”

“All Billy’s ever known is that I’m scared of the water, that I can’t bear the sight of it.  How will explain the sudden change, if indeed I do change?”

“That you did it for him.”

“And how am I going to tell a psychologist?”

Stephie looked into her friend’s face.  Her eyes were still glistening.  They were more than glistening.  Her eyes wrinkled around the edges.  She pinched her mouth shut to control herself, but she couldn’t hold it back and sprayed coffee over her jeans.  Customers looked round as Stephie howled with laughter.

“It’s like this, Doctor.  I was sunbathing on a beach when a bloody big crab came along and nipped my tit.”

Sometimes, always

The pebble skipped across the water, hit an incoming wave, flipped and sunk into the grey shallows.

“Five bounces Dad.”

“Best one yet Billy.  We call them skips, when the stone bounces like that.”

The boy picked up a stone of his own and launched it.  It went more sideways than forwards and landed with a plop.

“You’ll get there Bill.”

“I’m too small Dad.  I will when I get bigger though, won’t I?”

“You will son, you will.”  He ruffled his son’s tangle of blond hair that shone even in this miserable, murky light.  It looked like rain.  They turned and walked along the water’s edge, enjoying the sound of the waves breaking on the pebbles and the rattle and sigh as the water withdrew, rolling the pebbles with it.

“I’d like to live here Dad.  Would you?”

“I’d like to Bill.  Your mum wouldn’t though, she can’t stand the water.”

“If we lived here she wouldn’t have to come with us to look at the sea though Dad, she could go shopping.”

The man smiled.  He envied the innocence of the child’s mind and the questions it generated.

“It’d still be too close for her bill.  Your mum doesn’t just dislike the water; she can’t bear the sight of it.”

“Why’s that Dad?”

They continued walking along the shore, their feet sinking between the pebbles that rattled under their feet.

“Let’s make a move now son.  We said we’d meet Mum at 2 o’ clock.  She’s probably loaded down with bags and needs our help.  Feeling strong Bill?”

The boy picked up a last pebble, crouched down and threw it, his arm straight, in a sweeping motion.  This time it didn’t go sideways.

“Well done Billy boy.”

The boy ignored the compliment.

“Why’s that Dad?  Is it because she likes shopping?”

“You and me like walking by the sea.  Your mum feels good walking in the town centre.”

“Shopping, Dad?”

The boy wasn’t looking as a grin stretched across his father’s face.

“Sometimes Bill, sometimes.”

“Sometimes always Dad.”

Broadsheet

I looked up from my phone.  My girlfriend had texted me.  She’d changed her mind and decided to go for a drink with the girls from the office so could I get something for myself?  Yep, I thought, I’ll also pass the off licence for a bottle of Australian red.

I started people watching, something I never do.  I’d never taken much notice of how much people now walk around in their own world, without passing a word between them.  People passed each other like unlit ships on a foggy night, unaware of each other and in danger of colliding.  Heads tilted, eyes down and in total ignorance of their surroundings.  I guess once upon a time people used to wander along with paperbacks or something.  I can’t remember.

A man stepped out into the middle of the pavement, a newspaper (a newspaper?) under one arm, an umbrella under the other.  With his Bowler Hat, he gave me the impression of a Magritte painting.  He looked around at the tide of people ebbing and flowing around him, smiling and amazed as they avoided walking into him.

“Excuse me?”, he said.

Screen-lit faces continued to shine briefly then they were gone.

“Excuse me?”

Palm-held virtual reality maintained its silence.

The man looked around once more, coughed politely and took the newspaper from under his arm.

“Very well.”

He unfolded it and shook out the creases.  Looking around once again he opened it, arms wide, and stood in the middle of the pavement.

Two lines of people opened up, one going east, the other west.  I watched him stand like a beacon in the middle of it all.  A low hum of voices murmured.  He watched their faces, gently lit in the phone-glow, as they approached him, an unwanted distraction as they tried to avoid him.

“Can’t you move?”

“Mind out!”

“Do you have to just stand there?”

A gust of wind rustled the paper in the man’s hands. He ignored it and continued to stand there, arms wide, as an army of new-age hunchbacks flowed around him.  I laughed.  The other people at the bus-stop looked at me, now distracted from their own telephones.  Smiling, I left my place in the queue, forgetting all about the number 38 that would take me home.

I took an Evening Standard from the rack and walked up to the man.  Standing in front of him I opened the newspaper.  I heard his paper shuffle as people continued to tut and moan their way around us.  A face peered round his newspaper.  He raised one eyebrow, disappeared behind his paper and cleared his throat.

“Shares due to plummet.”

Smiling, I scanned the pages.

“Sex scandal secretary wants top job”, I replied.

“Do you have to bloody well stand there?”, asked someone as they almost collided with us, his sappy smartphone face a picture of indignation.  He went back to his phone and moved on.  The man behind the paper coughed.

“Environment minister to quit over unethical shareholdings”

I took up the game.

“Woman jailed for manhood attack.”

“Price of oil to continue dropping.”

“Actress in no-underwear shocker.”

It continued to and fro as we worked our way through the papers, ignoring the protests of passers-by.  Finally, we’d finished.

He doffed his hat to me as he folded the newspaper and stuck it under his arm.

“Same time next week,” he said, “but next time, bring a broadsheet.”

No going back

‘So, who do you write like?’

‘Bukowski.’

‘Bukowski? You write like Bukowski? Ha!’

‘No, I drink like Bukowski.’

‘That’s why I’m here. So who do you write like?’

The doctor unzipped his black bag and raked around inside.

‘Why do I have to write like anyone? Why can’t I write like me?’

‘Everyone has influences. I aspire to attain the heights of some notable surgeons, in time.’

‘Hemingway.’

‘Hemingway? You write like Hemingway? Don’t kid yourself.’

‘No, I drink and fight like Hemingway.’

I coughed as the stethoscope was placed at various points around my back. I looked at the cigarettes on the table.

‘What about your poetry?’

‘Rimbaud.’

‘Rimbaud? You …’

‘No, I drink like Rimbaud but I’m not French or gay.’

‘You’re going to die like Rimbaud.’

‘There is a heaven after all.’

‘No, seriously. The alcohol is killing you. You’ll have to stop.’

‘No going back.’

‘I can’t make you but as your doctor I’m telling you, you’re going to die, and soon if you don’t stop.’

‘How long?’

‘If you don’t stop? Weeks, months. I can’t tell unless we open you up.’

‘I’ll stop.’

‘You’ll stop? Really? Just like that?’

‘Do I have a choice?’

‘No, not unless you want to die. However, you still haven’t been published so it wouldn’t even be a very good career move.’

‘Well, I sold a story and one article.’

‘That’s good but you’ll have to do more and to do more you’ll have to stop killing yourself.’

‘Doc, take that bottle of grappa. It’s a good grappa and I don’t want it.’

‘Sure, I’ll take it. Thanks.’

‘Doc, there’s some good wine in the kitchen, take it, give it to your wife or your secretary.’

‘OK, thanks. Remember, there’s no going back. Falling off the wagon is not an option, you’ll die.’

‘No going back. Sure doc.’

He got his things together, wrote out an illegible prescription and told me to get my ass down the pharmacy. I passed him a bag with the bottles as we stepped out and I shaded my eyes from the low winter sun. He clanked his way to his car. I pulled a couple of envelopes from the mailbox.

‘No going back,’ he reminded me as his car coughed blue exhaust smoke into the cold air.

Back in the kitchen I tore open the post. My head swam from the hangover.  For once it wasn’t a bill. It was the agency, they’d found a publisher, a real publisher who wanted to publish me. Me.

I opened the cupboard under the sink, reached behind the bin and pulled out a bottle.

‘No going back,’ I said, to no-one in particular as I toasted myself.

Ink

I’m currently trying to work my way through the minefield of novel writing.  Now my teaching course is finished I try to dedicate at least an hour every day before life enters my world.  This doesn’t mean however that I’ve lost my love for the short story, in fact I’m using word limits of late as a writing exercise, to get the brain moving if you like.  Here’s another one of them, this time I gave myself 200 words.  It’s inspired by the black paint peeling off the gate – I just changed place and perspective.  Over to you.

__________________________

 

A hesitant scribble with the last stub of a pencil, trying to make it last.  Where would the next one come from?  He’d tried scraping the walls, adding saliva, hoping to make primitive ink but it dried and faded, a metaphor for life, he thought.  Like a rose, it bursts into bloom then slowly the ground is covered with a silken duvet.

The pencil was his saviour, his sanity.  He wrote to no-one but the words he scrawled were his words, his truth.  He held the stub of the pencil and wondered how many more words he could write before the lead finally gave way and became nothing.

As he lay on his bunk, listening to the night sounds, he heard a faint patter.  His thumbnail struck the match, expecting a cockroach or maybe a mouse for company.  He saw nothing except shavings from the ancient black bars, which he now held the match to.  The paint was peeling.  Before his fingers burnt he scratched the black paint and spat on it.  Salvation. The writer, with another six years to serve, lay smiling on his bunk.  Tonight he could sleep without worrying about his pencil.  He had found his ink.

99-word fiction – The face

She lay on the bed and he kissed her again.  She was beautiful.  Her face, that face, as smooth as morning ice, her complexion airbrush perfect and those eyes, deep and black as mineshafts, stalked him around the room. He was reduced to switching off the light before undressing and only when he was under the duvet would he turn the light back on, and there she was, a remote smile always on her face. He couldn’t go on like this, she had to go, permanently.

He bent down and kissed the cover of Vanity Fair one last time.

A train, and Ernest

The train leaves Milan Central station and heaves over the tracks in the rain which streaks the dirty windows; its carriages are packed with steaming rush-hour tiredness and anger.

The young man sits in the corner up against the window, as the rain beats time, with Hemingway’s words falling off the pages as he tries to concentrate but can’t.  For Whom the Bell Tolls?  The bell was tolling for people who want peace and quiet on a train carriage to allow them to read, he thinks.

A fat man who’d possibly eaten only garlic for lunch sits opposite, hand wrapped around his phone in some strange death-grip as he seethes and steams, letting the person on the other end know as well as the other three occupied seats around him that, Cazzo! the fucking contract has to be there by Friday or it’s not just his balls on the line, understand?.  He doesn’t say which line, which is OK; the less he talks the better, the young man thinks, his own anger rising.

Through the red mist that descends before his eyes the young man looks up and sees her, in the opposite seat across the aisle.  Her silky, shoulder-length hair is dark, and her hazel eyes strike out from her face which seems to have had the benefit of a tan recently.  In her jeans and blue sweater with white stripes (a little French he thinks: oui mademoiselle, oui), she becomes his calm in a storm-tossed sea.  He watches from a distance, as her forehead wrinkles and she glares at the woman opposite her.

This woman opposite has her tablet on her lap and has wires and a mike stuck to her head as she babbles continuously, her voice rising, informing everyone that didn’t want to know that Cazzo! how the hell is she supposed to fit in another meeting on Thursday, she isn’t a fucking machine you know.  Sat there looking like Robo-Queen that could be debated, the girl thinks, as she lowers her head and raises her book in an attempt to block out the irritation. As she does so the young man opposite gasps.  A Farewell to Arms – Hemingway; she’s reading Hemingway!

Mr Garlic is making another call but its wafting anger slips into the background as the young man looks only at the young woman across the aisle, his book held up to his chest, now half-forgotten.  The train starts to slow.

Robo-Queen finishes her call and transforms into e-bitch as she proceeds to beat the hell out of her tablet, with two fingers having some maniacal life of their own as she sends an email, probably shouting Cazzo, cazzo, cazzo!

The fat garlic man wheezes his bulk into an overcoat big enough to protect a small car from winter frost and grabs his briefcase, stuffed full, as its leather creaks for mercy, and he makes his way to the door.

The young woman looks up.  She sees the young man looking at her and her eyes drop to his chest.  She sees.  Fine lines around her eyes appear and she gives him a smile.  He returns it just as e-bitch starts to make another phone call.  He waves her over to the now-vacated seat opposite him and they whisper words of Ernest, in earnest, as the train takes them home.

Like the passing of wind…or was it air?

The heavy, oak door slid on hinges oiled better than a Neapolitan donut-seller’s hair and Gaum heard it. Well, he sensed the liquorice black room slip into a shade of night slightly less gloomy, but still far darker than charcoal, jet or even coal. He stopped breathing. Well, he’d actually done so 14 years previously and just never got back into the habit. What a waste of energy, he thought, and carried on living his life in apnoea, oblivious to the need for ins and outs of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Ah yes, the door.

He had to hide and moved with so light a presence that the dust under his feet, which had last been swept around the time Gaum still breathed, failed to raise a speck. He heard giggles as light flooded into the room for the first time since the floor had last been cleaned. Bollocks! he thought, Kids! What are they doing in here? It had been some time since Guam last laid eyes on children, in fact probably around the last time a dim light rolled in from behind the heavy oak door which swung on an oiled hinge, but they’d never been in this room, ever.

The giggling got louder and the light lighter. Gaum kept still behind the ancient teak desk, as the giggles became murmurs. Dust kicked up, swirling and dancing in the shaft of light from the open door and a heavy scraping sound made Gaum’s heart leap. The chair, its cracked and faded burgundy leather billowed more dust.

“I thought of it first.”

“Get off; I got us in here didn’t I?”

“Yeah but I thought of it.”

“Only because I told you about it.”

The tussling continued, dust was thrown up everywhere. Gaum wanted to sneeze but then remembered he’d stopped breathing, so sneezing seemed irrelevant. A loud, metallic ringing followed by a series of taps told Gaum they had knocked a pen off the desk. Still they pushed and grunted and still the dust flew.
A heavy groaning sound was followed by a grinding crash. He looked out from behind the desk. Busted, bent keys lie about like dead soldiers, the ribbon strewn across the floor in a last bid for freedom and the carriage return lever lay twisted under the bulk of the old Remington like a broken leg.

“Look what you did.”

“It wasn’t me, you pushed it.”

“Let’s get out of here before someone comes.” Two shadows leapt through the open door.

As their footfalls faded, a light shone down on the remains of the typewriter. Gaum felt strange and light, so light in fact he could feel himself floating as he looked down on the senseless mess.

Then, with a shake of his head and something resembling a sigh, or maybe the passing of wind, or a breath of air, the ghost of the muse of the long-dead writer was finally free.

Keep her well hid

They were sitting in the corner, I guess looking for a little privacy but they came to the wrong place if they wanted that. The tables were too close together for one thing, and besides, everyone had to pass by that table to go to the toilet.

She was angry, upset, pissed off. Choose any adjective you want; she looked ready to stick her cocktail stick and untouched olive where the sun don’t shine, his sun at least.

I arrived after being dragged around the shops for two hours and I’d run out of patience and my credit card out of, well…credit. I put Lucy in a cab, with bags, they were all hers anyway, and made my way down to the King’s Head. Football was on the TV and I wanted, no, I needed a pint or two and anyway, I was busting for a lash. I nodded to the barman, asked for a pint of ale and made my way to the Gents. That’s when I noticed them.

He had his hands out in front of him when I passed, and, relieved at being relieved, I made my way back with less haste and he still had his hands in front of him, like he was praying or testing for rain or something. Whatever he was doing was having no positive effect whatsoever; maybe he’d run out of credit too. I got my pint and made my way to a little table, a little way off to the right of them, with one of those retro Heineken mirrors on the wall next to me and I could see them in action, as well as hear them.

“You were a twat Paul.”

“I know love, I don’t know what happened, it just happened.”

He’d chatted up, touched up or ballsed up by the sounds of things. Typical bloke, I know how you feel mate, I thought. I went back to the football, trying to concentrate on the game which was slower settling than a pint of Guinness. The ball was pinging about all over the place, no fun to watch but I watched it anyway, it certainly beat the hell out of shopping. A free kick got my attention but not for long.

“Where is she? Where did you put her?” Her? This made my ears pick up a bit. I pretended to watch the football.

“Behind the allotments near the railway embankment. There’s some old garages there and I left her there.”

“You f…”.

“Do you want some more drinks?” It was the barmaid, taking their empties from their table. He said yes, she said nothing so I guess she either nodded or shook her head, there are only so many things you can communicate without words. The barmaid plonked the glasses on the bar and poured a lager.

“It won’t be for long, it was like a temporary measure, you know. I didn’t have the time.”

“You could have done better than that. She’ll be found in no time Paul. What the bloody hell were you thinking?”

“Shh…, she’s coming back.”

The mirror told me she’d folded her arms, a frown that looked furrowed with a hand-plough creasing her forehead. She looked at her phone, he looked at her. The barmaid put two glasses down, it was a nod then.

“I’ll go now, after this drink, alright?”

“Yeah? Well, I suppose it will be dark in half an hour, won’t it?”

“Yeah, it’ll be alright, you’ll see.”

Who was she? What had she done? What had he done to her? I had a hundred questions and didn’t know what to do with the information I’d heard.

“I hope you’re right Paul, she’s been in the family for years.”

“She’ll be alright Trish, really. Who’d want an old car like that anyway?”

************

I entered a competition recently where I had half an hour to write on one of three subjects given.  I chose “a conversation” and out came the above.  While I was writing I didn’t know who “she” was but as the minutes ticked away I decided I wanted to write something that didn’t involve death or murder, and as we English-speakers have a penchant for talking about our cars as feminine, the little ending came to me.  I submitted with one minute left and received a ‘commended’ so it was ok. 

Hemingway once said “write drunk, edit sober” – when you only have half an hour to do both, which do you chose? 

God speed this bullet

96 years ago the First World War, the Great War, was finally over.  A generation of young men, those that returned home, were left to pick up the pieces of what they had experienced, seen and endured.  They said it could never happen again. but it did; 21 years later.  As terrible as the Second World War, the same as any war, was, there is something truly horrific about the trenches.

***

The ground heaves and shakes and small rivers of dirt fall, splattering my helmet and the pounding of the earth is like a fist in my back. I look at Jenkins; he’s now bleeding from the ears and nose from the concussion of this incessant artillery barrage. I look at the lieutenant; his face flares white in the explosion flashes; dark rings his eyes and he’s gaunt, like the rest of us. He’s one of us now. After two years in this hell-hole the only part of Cambridge that remains is his manners. He looks at me.

‘Don’t,” he says.

He knows I want to look, I can’t help it; George was my friend from the pre-war days. George who had the nerve to stick his head above the trench, only for a piece of shrapnel to tear it off and fling the rest of him across the trench. The trench, this devil-made wormhole. What will I tell his wife when I get back…if I get back?

A let up in the barrage and the shadow of the black Somme night passes across the trenches, leaving destruction, torn and twisted bodies, fatherless children and husbandless wives but now all was silent. We’ve been stuck here for months, barely advancing, barely retreating. The smell of the ripped earth and dank mud in which we wallow is everywhere, except when the wind blows towards us and the stench of death and decay replaces it.

‘Help…’

The voice is faint but it’s there. In the sudden and welcome silence it’s as clear as birdsong on a June morning, agony and suffering coming through in just one word.

‘Who the bloody hell is that?’  Symes; newly arrived from the train, all shiny boots, clean puttees and enthusiasm. They always arrive with enthusiasm. What the hell are they telling them back home? Five days a week killing the Hun then Saturdays and Sundays off, French whores and bistros thrown in?  ‘Can we not do something for that poor bugger sir?’ he says, turning to the lieutenant, who sighs.

‘Corporal, take a look and be bloody careful.’

I take off my helmet and place it on the butt of my rifle and slowly raise it above the trench, joggling the rifle to simulate movement: nothing. No sniper fire to split the night. The lieutenant hands me his field-glasses as I replace my helmet and climb the ladder. They say there’s nothing blacker than no-man’s land at night but that’s not strictly true, especially following a barrage. The artillery will always find something to burn, even if it’s just human remains, and little fires dotted around cast an unholy light in the field-glasses. I first scan the enemy lines, looking for movement, but I see none.

‘Help…’

My vision jumps from crater to crater, searching for life and hoping for it also, in this God-forsaken pit of human misery. At first I see nothing, then I take a slower, longer sweep with the glasses. I see movement; slow, shambling movement some twenty yards away where the barbed-wire is stretched across and upon which hang torn and crow-picked corpses, like some infernal spider’s web. A slow, crawling movement catches my eye and even in the dead-light I can see enough. It’s a soldier, a German soldier, gone from the waist down, pulling and dragging himself inch by agonised inch towards our trench.

‘Well I’ll be damned. It’s a Jerry sir and in an awful state by the looks of it.’

‘What the Dickens…’ as he climbs up, taking the field-glasses from me and looks upon the awful site before us. He wipes his mouth with the heel of his hand, sighed and turns, stepping down into the trench. Not a moment too soon, as a high whistling noise is followed by chaos. The concussion from the blast is enormous, filling my head with a death-roar and I could feel my ears and nose bleeding freely. Symes is on the floor of the trench, his legs pinned down by dislodged sandbags but he’s ok. Upon hearing that whistle, the lieutenant, Jenkins and I all threw ourselves against the wall of the trench. Symes will learn, if he has time.

‘Corporal, who’s our best shot?’ but he looks at Jenkins, the Welshman is a crack shot and needs no introduction.

‘Help…’

‘Take him out Private. I won’t risk stretch-bearers to bring him in but the sorry blighter has suffered more than enough.’ He moves aside from the ladder to let the Private through.  The figure is nearer now but still a good fifteen yards away. No trouble for Jenkins, who could shoot a canary in a Welsh coalmine from fifty. The first signs of dawn are beginning to pink the early clouds, which a rising breeze is scattering. Jenkins brings the rifle up to his right shoulder, intent only on what he sees at the end of the barrel.

“God speed this bullet and put that poor devil out of his misery”, the lieutenant says, to no one in particular.

“Amen,” says Jenkins, and his finger tightens on the trigger.

As if in response the morning sun throws its first rays of light through the breaking clouds and onto the battlefield. The bombardment has done a lot but not enough; the barbed wire is still in place. If we have to go over the top we’ll be torn to pieces by the German machine-gunners.

The report of Jenkins’ Lee Enfield barks out. The lieutenant raises the field-glasses but they aren’t needed. As more lights floods across the battlefield the sliding, shuffling figure shimmers and fades to nothing.

We look at each other in silence. We’ve all heard stories of ghosts on the battlefield and I guess with so many men butchered on a daily basis it was only a matter of time. I wonder, should God grant any lasting peace on this Earth, in 100 years how many of our souls will still wander here, lost in a foreign land far from home.remembrance_day___poppy_day_by_daliscar

***

I’d like to acknowledge http://femaleimagination.wordpress.com/2014/11/11/11-november-world-war-i-ends/ for the use of the photograph.

Flash Fiction Friday 146: Colours frozen in time by Chris Farley

My ever present and never diminishing thanks once again to Morgen.
I’m still unsure as to whether I should be disturbed about the fact that I sat in a pub looking at a tattoo and invented this story around it…

MorgEn Bailey - Editor, Comp Columnist/Judge, Tutor & Writing Guru

Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday and the one hundred and forty-sixth piece in this series. This week’s is a 436-worder by Christopher Farley.

Colours frozen in time

The tattoo was the first thing I noticed; it was beautiful. She sat opposite her friend drinking Belgian beer from a huge glass and I saw it as I walked past, making my way to the men’s room.

Her thin, white arms poked out from her even whiter t-shirt, then a waterfall of colour burst from the sleeves of the t-shirt. Three lotus flowers, red, green and pink, one on top of the other. But oh, the arm. How could something so pale and delicate suffer so much pain? I returned to the bar and pretended to look at the game on the big screen. Her friend rose from the table and headed for the toilet.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

“Sorry, I couldn’t help…

View original post 661 more words

The shrink and syllable

Message / psycho / disyllable

Sounds like an English pub name, in fact, should I ever own a pub (dangerous Farley, dangerous) it wouldn’t be a bad one.  I digress.  This piece came from an early morning idea of opening the dictionary, closing my eyes and jabbing my finger three times and seeing what words were found…the first two were ok. At 7am I really had to think about ‘disyllable’ though. Anyway, I gave myself 20 minutes for the exercise and it rolled out like this:

***

He sat there staring at me, just wouldn’t drop his eyes. I could feel myself squirming inside, uncomfortable was not word enough for how I felt. In some far off corner of my brain though I rationalised; he had a point, some twisted logic that made his argument plausible. He waited.

“You must understand Mr Brunton that I am not an expert in that field.”

Yes, but what do you actually think doctor?”

Well, I suppose if I had an opinion I could proffer it, I guess I can’t see the harm.”

He waited. I cleared my throat. I wasn’t so much worried about his reaction, I found myself wanting his approval. I held his gaze.

“The first thing is you need to stop thinking everything is some kind of subliminal message, with some hidden agenda. It really isn’t like that. You…”

“Doctor, you work for the system, you would say that.”

“System? What system? I am a psychologist Mr Brunton, you came to me remember?” I heard my tone change. No matter what the situation I’ve always kept a lid on my feelings. Impartiality is my middle name. However, with this psycho sitting in front of me thinking God knows what about me, whilst the colour drained and returned to his face with every fleeting emotion that raced through his mind, his eyes constantly wandering round the room. I could feel tiny bubbles of anger rising up, like champagne in a flute glass.

“There is nothing untoward about it,” I continued, “and I really don’t see the problem Mr Br…”

“Ah! But you wouldn’t would you doctor. For you it isn’t a problem you’ve ever considered. How many people go through life blatantly ignoring fundamental questions such as these? Too many I shouldn’t wonder.”

“Mr Brunton.”

“You ignore these things at your peril doctor. These issues must be confronted, they have to be…”

MR BRUNTON!” I was now shaking visibly and any trace of impartiality had flown out of the window or crawled under the door. “Mr Brunton, I am not an expert in either linguistics or grammar, therefore I will now find you the contact details of the Oxford English Dictionary, whereupon you can contact them yourself and ask them just why the word “disyllable”, which means a word containing two syllables, itself actually contains four.”

I see you in the darkness

The sunlight for a second
Blinked
A shadow
Its shadow
By my window whispered
Or did it laugh
As I felt its draught
And shivered
My skin crawled,
then froze
The shadow passed
for now
But it’ll come back
When night falls chill
For I will give it life
In black and white

I’ll just close my eyes a while

Ah, at last.  I’ve finally written something fictional, it seems ages since the last one.  Thanks to Morgen Bailey and her Story Writing Exercises I found myself writing this at half past midnight, using the keywords:  need, leave, Nebraska, pick, song.  I went slightly over the 15 minute limit – 17 to be exact.  Then I left it, went to bed and came back to touch it up this morning.  So, thanks for that Morgen.  Great exercise!  So, let’s see how this little 550-worder stands up in the warm light of a summer morning shall we?

  ***

My back is sore, my legs cramped and my coat can’t be pulled any more tightly around me. My breath fogs and my fingers and toes seem to have left me for warmer climes, but my ribs, hard against the hard cold wood, jolting and jerking, are the worst.

I’d taken a beating before leaving Summer Creek. Panning for gold in them hills can make you feel like a king, but it can make others feel like killing you, make them envious. I’d gotten away as best I could I suppose, considering the kicking I got. Still, I kept my gold, or most of it. They only found a few nuggets and the rest was well-hidden. It was the gold I’d promised not to touch: Janie’s gold. The gold I wanted to win Janie back with, the gold I need to win Janie back. As I move I can hear her letter rustle in my coat pocket, a crinkled reminder of a love gone bad, and a love now gone.

The hell was she doing in Nebraska anyhow? What, or rather who made her leave? I knew the answer to that; she couldn’t live alone for long, she needed company and preferable the male-type. The Lincoln postmark was the first thing I saw when I received the letter, two months ago now. It made my heart sink, then I panned just that little bit harder, worked just that little bit longer to bring her some gold from the Black Hills, to get her to come back to St. Louis. I’m a fool, I know but this is no fool’s gold in my possession. She’ll see that, when we meet. I still can’t believe she’s gone even now. I can think of nothing else as I sit, freezing my ass in this slow, empty cattle wagon, shunting and bumping through the South Dakota night.

I lay my head back, close my eyes and listen to the movement over the tracks, each cross-tie and rail joint out to get me. I’m sure I can taste blood now; punctured lung? Could be, 6 pairs of boots can do damage to a man already weakened with a broken heart. I begin to hum an old song; The ship that never returned, one of our camp side favourites. Billy would take that banjo from the sackcloth and pick like an Appalachian angel. Billy. Billy bust flat this autumn, running up debts and making enemies. They took his banjo, then they took Billy. Mountain justice. No one said anything, we all had debts but most of us were panning enough for our need; except Billy.

All this gold weighing down my pocket and I’ve not eaten in almost a week; feels like my stomach is touching my backbone: it probably is. At least I’ve Janie’s gold, hidden good. I would write her a letter or a note but my fingers couldn’t hold a pencil. I’ll just sit here all quiet. I wish there was at least a cow for company.

I feel so weak, so tired, it’s getting colder. I can taste the blood good now, getting stronger with every jolt of the train. I think I’ll just close my eyes a bit. I know I shouldn’t but just for a short while, I’m so tired. And so damned cold.

Story A Day May day 4 – I do it for you, baby

I’m a day behind – there’s nothing I can do although this was half-written yesterday. Life gets in the way sometimes and certain people and things cannot be refused. I aim to be back on track by tomorrow evening…promise!

************

‘You have pen and paper in front of you, and an hour to produce an award-winning competition piece. Today’s prompt is “The empty chamber”.
There comes a time when you lose control of your dream and it takes control of you. It doesn’t happen often, at least not to me. This time though it’s worse; this one’s really got me.

I, like you no doubt, let my passions intertwine with my dreams. The things that I want in life, the things that are tangible, doable, reachable – they become my dreams. I don’t dream lottery wins, a Rolls Royce or a mansion on a hill, I dream in words, in black and white, created by me for me, usually. This time it’s different.

Mr Farrow, Martin to his friends so he remains Mr Farrow to me, teaches afternoon writing classes at the local college. He’s good, I’ll give him that. He’s published; he wins things, people look up to him. Last year I started his creative writing class, in the hope of a little dream realization; I was working a couple of bars at the time, keeping myself busy at night and staying at home during the day; perfect.

Except my days now are empty, with only words to fill them. My live-in partner, Shareen, left me months ago, calling herself a victim of my obsession. I’m not jealous, I just like to know where she is, who she’s with, what she’s up to. In addition there was my writing. At first she thought I was a novelty, someone to show her friends – a writer. I write all the time but I’ve never won anything. After a time she saw that as a reflection on me and saw my lack of success as a trigger for my obsession with her. She’s wrong. I will win, I know this time I’ll win and win big too then that’ll get her back, that’ll teach her. She’ll want me then. My name and my fame, she’ll want that.

‘Just fifteen minutes left now, you should have closed your story and now be reading through, editing where necessary. Polishing till it shines – this is the big one.’

I sit there looking at Martin, at Mr. Farrow, and sight the barrel on him. I hope he’s written for his life, there only one empty chamber.

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