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The Amateur Response (posted on: 13-07-15)    
For the prose workshop challenge. Based on a photograph of a woman trying to pull a man free from the waves.

She would attempt resuscitation if she could remember how. She pictures the factsheet of bodies in different states of injury on the notice board at work; the burn, the cut, the broken arm, and the final reassurance of the recovery position which she remembers clearly but which won't help at all in this instance because this body is spread-eagled, and the tide keeps washing over the face, then draining away. The body doesn't cough, doesn't flinch. There was a pen and ink drawing for not breathing, of how to position the chin and pump the chest, but it escapes her. She must drop the lead and let the dog run off after seagulls while she braves the waves to reach this big man, belly up. She grabs the hands and tugs as he becomes real to her; he is glued to the wet sand, and up close he is blue-white, eyes closed, and the hands are swollen and slippery. As soon as she begins the task of trying to save him she knows it won't work and the tide is coming in. Looking around, the beach is empty. No point in shouting, but there's her phone, why didn't she think of it before? The phone. The phone, produced from her bag where it nestled between the treats and the dog poo bags and the car keys: she finds it and makes the call, and a man's voice starts to ask questions, coaxing the situation out of her. "Is he breathing?" says the man, very calm, and there begins a process in which she reports the situation and this limp person, evolving, discovered, becomes classifiable; not breathing, not moving, and the water creeping up a little higher every time. "Help is on the way," says the man. She's not a professional. She doesn't have the official status to decide him dead, but someone will soon arrive who can. The dog is in the distance, barking, joyous. She could have made this day go differently if she had known. People in emergencies do amazing things, she thinks. They lift buses and save babies from burning buildings. She could not move this object, this man, and now he is halfway under the waves and maybe it won't be long until the sand sets him free, and he sails off. She is afraid he will float away. Later, she knows she will relate this event to her husband and try to explain why she did not suddenly develop the strength she needed to pull the body free, and he will frown, and explain how she should have approached the situation.
Archived comments for The Amateur Response
expat on 13-07-2015
The Amateur Response
A lot of your minis put me in mind of an attractively-patterned jigsaw piece found lying on the floor. Part of a bigger and unseen picture but very interesting in its own right.
Husband is quite clearly an overbearing fickhead.

Author's Reply:
Thanks! I was looking to make that sudden switch at the end so you realise why she's got no confidence in being able to handle the situation. Although, to be fair, I couldn't handle that situation either. Hm.

TheBigBadG on 13-07-2015
The Amateur Response
Flash! Haven't seen that in a while. It's funny how it makes you focus on specific things, aspects of the whole. So here your narrator is concerned about what to do with the crises, about the etiquette and proper behaviour. Which is interesting because it leaves some massive question marks over who this man is and what killed him on this beach. That transition from person to body, which happens before we even see it, changes the internal monologue to something more social - how to be, doing the right thing, calling the police etc. Which makes me think how narcissistic detective stories are - one soul against the mystery, solving it to satisfy their internal compulsions. A curious dichotomy in fact, how the neuroses lead you to the social conclusion where the excess of self-confidence would lead you into a more solitary world.

Plus, you know, it's 436 more words than I managed.

Author's Reply:
Yes, I realised I was a bit rusty at the flash fiction when attempting this. It's very different from a short story. Glad it made you think/consider.

e-griff on 14-07-2015
The Amateur Response
From the very first line, a consummate artistry, proceeding beautifully up to the final telling line. Gorgeous.

And no, the husband is just a person. She is what it's about, that's her perception.

Blimey. I'm giving up writing.

Author's Reply:
I wish you would write more instead! Thank you.

sirat on 14-07-2015
The Amateur Response
I haven't read the other comments yet, but to me this is a character study of the woman. She lacks confidence, accepts a submissive role in her marriage, expects criticism and put-downs – or at least that's how she seems to me. She also has a need for rules and procedures and doing things properly. There is a sense that the outcome doesn't matter so long as she has 'done the right thing'. There is no passion in this woman, no sadness or even curiosity about this unfortunate man. Her thoughts are very much centred on herself and how she will be judged.

In total contrast, the dog just wants to chase seagulls and enjoy itself. It seems to represent all the instincts, feelings and impulses that have become repressed in the woman. The things she long ago relinquished, like letting go of the lead.

Quite an accomplishment to get all that into 436 words. But if I'm completely honest, I always feel a bit dissatisfied with flash fiction. I always want to know just a little bit more. But this one definitely works better than most.

Author's Reply:
Thanks David. I like the challenge of flash fiction every once in a while although it's not something I choose to read myself very often. It seems to fall back on the same tricks quite a bit.


Terrapinter (posted on: 13-04-15)
For the prose workshop challenge. Based on the works of one of my favourite playwrights.

There was cake, of course. The cake was made by Taylor. Taylor makes cakes to some long-forgotten recipe on special occasions, and he scours the shop on the street for ingredients such as buttermilk and cardamom. I ask you. It's a nice little shop but doesn't cater for exotics. So then he makes do rather than walk just a street or so further, and the cake turns out edible. Edible, and acceptable to Meg with one wonky candle stuck in the centre. That's the name of the game here to make Meg break a smile. To be graced with a flash of favour from the lady of the house. Taylor presented the cake and we sang the song, and then MacNeill made a crack, the expected crack to Meg, about how it's a moment on the lips and a lifetime on the hips. But this time it was only a lead-up to his big reveal. A small cardboard box with a big red ribbon, produced with the pretentious flourish of a footman here you go, your highness, your imperial majesty's present. He even bowed low, and said, ''A special gift for my Lady Meg, eh? What do you think of that?'' MacNeill and I, we go way back. Back to when Taylor first started renting out rooms, and we were fine then, at first. Not friends, no no, no concept so easy to pin, splay and display. But there was a quiet understanding between us. Then she arrived one day with an oboe in a large brown case and the hair loose and sandy, as if blown free on a beach wind, and there she was, given the room between us. It's not that either of us thought seriously, for one moment, that Meg would ever want us. It was only that we were roused, in instinct, in the deep folds and membranes of our bodies. In the way men are. And that's how I knew the box with the red ribbon was trouble. It symbolised a new level of intent. We'd never resorted to presents before. Well, you know, the cake, but that was Taylor all over, and couldn't be taken seriously. Boxes with ribbons are another thing entirely. ''Ah, now,'' I said, ''Look at that, look at that.'' MacNeill said, ''Keep your arse in your hand, Laston, I just happened to have a win on the machine, that's all.'' He feeds the machine with a fervour, over a pint or two or three most evenings. Even when he's not feeding it he watches it, looking at the other men who put in their pound coins and slap the buttons as if administering punishment. It beeps and flashes and they swear, and his eyes follow follow follow, and then it's back on the machine when he thinks the timing is right. So the reels must have fallen for him, well, good for him, I thought. Not to just feed it all back in. But still I felt uneasy. ''You shouldn't have,'' said Meg, and her hair was wavy around those fine white cheekbones, not a spot of colour on them. I couldn't tell if she liked the surprise or not, just when I thought I knew everything there was about her. She pulled back the ribbon, slow, and then there was a knot that took its time, her pale pink fingernails working at it while the room held its breath. Taylor muttered something about needing a knife; I don't know if he meant for the cake or the ribbon, but he stayed still anyway. We all did. The knot gave, the shiny ribbon slid through her hands and on to the table, and she lifted up the lid. Her face changed; I was glued to it, the alteration of the planes, the angles, and how the corners of the mouth drew up, into an expression that was not happiness, no no, it was disgust. Ha ha, disgust, she hated it, the smell of it, the shape of it, the form. ''What is it?'' she said. ''What the heck is it?'' She wouldn't touch it; she put her arms behind her back. MacNeill stepped forward and scooped it up, holding it out to the room, cradled in his hands as if asking for supplication from one or other of us. It was a hard dome of green, I thought perhaps a paperweight, but then I saw the stubbed legs, four of them, and a protrusion of a head, all scaly and leathery and languid in its movements. ''Tortoise,'' I said. ''Terrapin,'' said MacNeill, ''I think you'll find. We need to make a little pond. A pool, or something, in the back garden.'' ''A pool?'' Meg still looked disgusted, and I was pleased by this whole turn of events, I can't tell you. It was like agreeing to fight a duel and having your opponent shoot himself in the foot, and very satisfying for that. ''Where could we put a pool, exactly, Mac?'' ''No room for a pool,'' said Taylor, and it being his house, he had the final word on the subject. ''It could live in the sink,'' said MacNeill, casting his eyes around, over the chairs and the table and the calendar that came free with the newspaper at Christmas, and settling on the cake once more. The candle had burned down low, and wavered on the last of its wick. ''The sink'' I said. ''Yes, the sink.'' ''What about the washing up?'' said Taylor. ''We could take him out for that.'' ''It's a him?'' ''Terry,'' said Meg, suddenly. ''It's Terry. It can live in the sink. For now. Thank you.'' ''Don't be daft,'' I said, but Taylor was already heading off for the knife to cut the cake and Meg was edging closer to MacNeill's hands and asking questions, giving him the full force of her attention. By God, he loved it, but I could tell she had no real affection for that little creature. It didn't take long for the tide to turn. The cake had been sliced into even pieces, and she had her face up close to it when it did a shit, a runny yellow string of it, then pulled in its arms and legs and head, having delivered its own little gift. ''Ewwwww!'' said Meg. MacNeill dropped it into the box, none too carefully, and wiped his hand on his trousers. ''It's not well, I bet,'' I said. ''Being in that box. That's not right, for an animal like that. How long did you put it in there for?'' ''Just this morning,'' said MacNeill, ''and I took care of it before then, I spent money on it, didn't I?'' ''You left it in a box, all tied up, without water, all morning? That's a water creature, MacNeill. It's probably dying. Dead already, even.'' Meg gasped. ''That's cruel,'' she said. ''You left it sealed up for hours? I wouldn't have thought it of you.'' ''Cruel'' mumbled Taylor, through a mouthful of cake, and I pressed it home, feeling it in my feet, like a Victory march. ''How do you keep a terrapin properly, anyway?'' I said. ''Is it cold water? Any old water? Surely not a sink?'' ''Is it in a tank?'' said Taylor, who liked questions. ''Is it in any old box, like one for your cereal?'' ''Is it at room temperature?'' ''Can it be on its own?'' ''What do you feed it?'' mused Taylor. ''Cake?'' ''Cake!'' crowed Meg, clapping her hands together. ''Perhaps scones?'' I said. ''Cucumber?'' she said, getting the rhythm. ''Fish?'' ''Fish-cake!'' ''Very good, Meg,'' I said. ''That's a good one, that. Fish-cake.'' ''It's not having my cake,'' said Taylor. MacNeill picked up the box. ''Fine,'' he said. ''Fine. I'll take it back.'' ''You can't take it back.'' Meg grabbed for the box, and MacNeill held it up high, above his head. ''You gave it to me. It's my birthday. I decide what happens to it.'' ''You can't just take it back,'' I said. ''No,'' said Taylor. ''A present is a present. A gift is a gift. Look at my cake. Given in love, it was. Made in love.'' ''Yes,'' said Meg, ignoring Taylor's cow-eyes in her direction. She picked up the knife and cut herself a big slice. ''Mmmmm,'' she said, although she didn't bite into it. ''Lovely. What a lovely present.'' MacNeill stood there, with the box above his head like he was offering the terrapin to the angels themselves, his eyebrows pulled together and his nose wrinkled up. His face was a picture. He'd been on the receiving end before, but Meg was in the mood to string it out. Cruelty was always in her, keen to come out when encouraged in the right way, which was why she'd always side with me in the end. ''I've got a present for you too,'' I said to her. ''Simple presents being the best kind, isn't that so? Wouldn't you say?'' ''Oh!'' said Meg. ''How lovely. I'm a lucky, lucky girl. What is it, then?'' It was all a bit spur of the moment, as the best things are. I leaned over and planted a kiss on her cheek. A great big whopper, it was. She didn't even flinch away. ''Oh, Mister Laston, you are a softy,'' she said. I could tell she didn't like the kiss any more than she liked the cake or the terrapin, but it didn't matter either way. MacNeill lowered the box. He put it on the table, and then scooped up the terrapin. It was still all tucked up in its shell. ''You,'' he said. ''You'' ''What?'' said Taylor. ''Language.'' ''Yes,'' I said. ''Language.'' He stared at Meg. He looked straight at her, into her eyes, but he threw the terrapin at me. He bowled over-arm, and aimed that terrapin right at my head. Lucky for me, his aim was off. It zipped right past my ear, within an inch of it I'd reckon, and smacked into the back wall, next to the picture of dogs playing cards. ''What'' I said, once I had recovered my equilibrium. ''What do you think'' MacNeill scooped up the slippery length of ribbon from the table, put it in his empty box, and walked out. We heard his feet on the stairs, eleven steps, and then the slam of his bedroom door. ''He could have killed me!'' I said. But the party was well and truly over. Meg shrugged, and nibbled at her slice of cake. Taylor took the knife back to the kitchen, and I heard the sound of water tumbling into the sink. I scooped up the terrapin and buried it in the back garden. We all have different responsibilities in this house, and nobody else would have done that particular task. MacNeill still hasn't come out of his room, but I know he will eventually, all events conveniently forgotten, if only to ask me to go for a pint. He does love to feed that machine. Every once in a while he even wins.
Archived comments for Terrapinter
e-griff on 13-04-2015
Terrapinter
Perhaps it's because I know you are female that I was quite confused at first about the sexes of people, although your his and hers define it. But the narrator's voice seemed female throughout I can't put my finger on why, it's just the expression. And saying 'other men' is something a woman would say, but not a male, who might say 'others' or 'other blokes' imo.

The first few lines read to me like a trad US style of short story. But it settled very quickly and I enjoyed the interchanges and the symbolism. But, to be frank, clever and accomplished as it is, it's not my style of story. I'm not that interested in the characters, they all seem shallow and insubstantial, as is their behaviour. But that is just a personal preference. I know many write stories of the genre which are read with enjoyment.

Author's Reply:
Rats. Sometimes I forget I have to signpost more clearly when writing from the male perspective. I'll see if I can fix it. Thanks.

sirat on 16-04-2015
Terrapinter
I don't think it's one of your best, but you're incapable of writing badly. It's really about the relationship between the three men and the woman, and to be honest I found the characters hard to believe in. I kept thinking of the TV series The Young Ones, where terrapins would indeed defecate on people's hands and end up getting dashed to pieces against the wall. I think I would have gone for lower-key interactions, a bit more subtlety and subtext. Men trying to impress the woman while resenting one another's presence and trying to outdo and belittle one another. I don't think it's likely that it would become so overt. Handled differently I could have identified with the men, or at least some of the trio. We've all been in situations where we wanted to be liked, fancied even, but it just wasn't working. There would be drama in that kind of pathos. Maybe I'm projecting too much of myself on to these characters rather than just taking what's offered. I hope I've explained myself properly there and that my comments are some use.

Author's Reply:
Thanks David. That's been very helpful, because it brought home the difference between writing for the stage and writing for the page. Taking Pinter's grotesque characters (who have no obvious motivations) and trying to write them as a story - yep, I should have shrunk them down a bit and altered to fit the form. Still, I enjoyed the exercise, and learned something from it! Thanks again.

Rab on 19-04-2015
Terrapinter
This reads a bit like a play, almost Pinteresque. I liked it, although I felt sorry for the terrapin.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Rab!

TheBigBadG on 21-04-2015
Terrapinter
Declarations first: I don't really know much about Pinter.

The piece though. David has a point with the 'incapable of writing badly' because it's full of your usual flair. The thing I have trouble working out is perhaps more fundamental in that the setup isn't clear. I mean it is because you tell us it's three men and she moves in to their house, but it doesn't gel for me. The bickering (old?) men brought the Three Stooges in a retirement home to mind and Meg a young girl, probably a child. But the men aren't geriatric and the girl is actually a young woman, if I've got this right?

So my thoughts as to how to knock it in to shape would be around reconciling the characters and the setting. Maybe give a hint of a life outside Meg for the men - other than the pub and fruities - and a bit more substance to Meg so she's more clearly adult? She must be aware of their fawning for instance, so does she play up to it or tolerate it? In fact, more Meg in general. This turf war of affection has been going on a while, you imply years, so there's a whole history we're not getting. I want to know what's so good about her someone would chuck a terrapin at a wall.

Does that help?

Author's Reply:
Thanks - yes, that helps. I think it ties in with the problems David has identified, and those stem from making stage drama into a story. Because I'm seeing 'The Birthday Party' so clearly there's a lot of description I didn't put into the setting, and so I didn't take the reader along with me. *slaps own hand*

I'm always a bit skimpy on description. Hopefully this is a good lesson that I need to put some in every now and again.


Love and Other Austrian Games (posted on: 09-01-15)
For the prose workshop challenge. Freud was right, at least in the context of this particular story.

The honeymooners brought their Scrabble set along with them to the Augustiner Brustbel, and started a new game over their first steins of strong brown beer. It was a few minutes after seven o'clock, and the long wooden tables that stretched the length of the stone hall, once a monastery, were relatively empty. They played slowly, and with a great deal of inconsequential conversation between moves, both aware that pretty patterns were being created and cemented for their mutual future. They were an evenly-matched couple, when it came to word play. After a break for square platters of pink slabbed ham, pale shredded cabbage, and generously sized pretzels, yet more beer was procured from the fountain in the courtyard one simply put the stein into the stream, collected a ticket, and promised to pay later in a gesture that made everybody feel better about the world and the game recommenced. Meanwhile, the hall began to fill, mainly with boisterous students. The University of Salzburg was well-known for its English department, and the students were particularly fond of the Augustiner Brustbel. It was far from the cheapest place to drink, being considered a tourist destination, but it had the appeal of a breathalyzer machine attached to the wall opposite the cloakroom. A small white box with a circular grille could be breathed upon for the small sum of one Euro. Ping! After an exhalation a number appeared in a digital display below, suggesting the level of inebriation of the breather. The students enjoyed attempting to beat each other's results. The English Language department were a particularly competitive bunch, and they arrived at a crucial moment in the newly-weds' Scrabble game, when play was relatively open and the score was one hundred points apiece. Anna the newlywed was the quiet type. But the strong beer had worked its magic, as had the town of spires, snow, and Mozart, and there was also the added transformation of becoming Mrs Castle. This was a name that made her feel encased, in both the strong stone walls of romantic love and unassailable tradition. So she smiled at the students who gathered around the game, steins in hand, and enjoyed the precise way in which they spoke her language and pointed out opportunities on the board. Mr Castle Karl watched his new wife flirt with them, her cheeks reddening, her pleasure spreading out through loose limbs and tilted head, and felt two things that disturbed him: pride, and fear. Should a man feel pride in a new wife? That suggested she was a possession, a trophy. Historically, his brain reminded him, that was precisely what a wife was. History, though he didn't believe in history, not as a way of justifying the present. And his fear seemed to spring from the same place. He did not want his beautiful wife to encourage the attentions of many young men. There was no way he could beat them all in a fight. Neanderthal thoughts, he castigated himself, and tried to push them down deep, where undoubtedly they would have festered if Herr Schaden, a lecturer at Salzburg University's Department of English Language had not arrived, recognised his students, and made his way over to the stretch of table around which they had gathered. 'You could put the 'S' there, no?' said one of the students to Anna, pointing to a square upon which the words ZAP and FOIL converged. 'Boring,' said Anna, feeling a bravery that made the act of living so much easier than it had ever been before. It flitted briefly through her mind that it was a shame that feeling confident enough to flirt with the opposite sex had only arrived after getting married, which effectively curtailed flirting opportunities. She glanced up at Karl, and saw him wrinkling his face up at his own letters, and remembered how much she loved him, and owed him. 'Boring?' said the student, who was quite handsome, and knew it. 'But it will get you points.' 'We don't play to win,' Anna told him. 'We play to be interesting.' 'Ah, okay,' he said. 'Okay.' He accepted the answer with good humour. Herr Schaden cleared his throat, and his students turned, and fell back not with a peculiar degree of deference, but only because they were pleased to see him and wanted him in their midst. He was a popular lecturer, given to long speeches in which the English language became ever more convoluted and he wound his way from whatever subject he was meant to be covering to the topic of Germanic folklore. Then he would launch into impassioned speeches that reverberated around the lecture hall. He also had a soft spot for amateur psychology, and the habit of scratching his chin under his white fluffy beard whilst staring into middle distance through his wire-rimmed spectacles, so that when he stood close to Anna and examined the Scrabble board she thought she was looking at the quintessential Austrian gentleman. He happened to remind her of her dead father, too; not in physical appearance so much as in bearing. Her father had also been a university lecturer, and as a group Anna felt they tended to develop easily recognisable characteristics, over time. 'What do you think, Professor Schaden?' said the handsome student, in English. 'It's a game called ' 'Scrabble,' supplied Anna. 'Hmmm,' said Professor Schaden. 'Yes. I see. The building of words. This is a game of constructions, yes?' The use of the word 'constructions' was very impressive; everyone felt momentarily silent in awe of it. Anna felt a new kind of pressure. She wanted this man to consider her worthy of his attention. The game was no longer a diversion so much as a statement of cleverness. She played on from ZAP, creating the word ZOO. It was hardly a great word; she was suddenly aware, with a pang of shame, that she didn't have great letters. How could she expect to impress with terrible letters? The unfairness of the situation was terrible. Still, she had retained her 'S' tile for a later move, which was tactically sound. 'Ahhhh,' said Professor Schaden. He harrumphed, and tickled his chin with the hand that wasn't holding a stein. 'Very interesting.' 'What?' said Anna. 'This game, it's very revealing about the self. As if you were to take off your clothes and stand naked before us. The choice of words. Yes.' 'I had not good letters,' Anna said, and then wondered why she was speaking English as if it were her second language, rather than his. 'Please,' said the Professor, 'I do not wish to make you feel uncomfortable. Ignore me, ignore me. I am not here.' The students laughed as he swigged his beer and crossed his eyes, attempting to look harmless. The game continued. Karl used an O from ZOO in his word: GOAT. 'Mmmm,' said the Professor. Anna took her time, sipping her beer, and then used her S tile to make GOATS, playing the word OVAS on to it. 'Ah no no no,' said the Professor, getting excited enough to immediately forget his intention to not interfere. 'You see, this is already a plural, yes? The singular is ovum. You have a, a, dictionary? We can check this. I will show you.' The students muttered amongst themselves. This was very advanced English. 'What is ovas?' said one, very loudly, to the ceiling, with a wandering expression. 'What is this ovas?' 'We don't use a dictionary,' said Karl. 'It's whether the other person is willing to accept the word. And I am.' 'No, but it is not correct,' said Professor Schaden. 'It is to me,' said Karl. He sat up straight, and fixed his gaze upon each student in turn, eventually settling on the Professor. 'Do you understand?' There was no reply, except for the student who had obviously had far too much to drink and continued to repeat, 'What is ovas?' to the ceiling as if it was a rhetorical question. Anna felt hot, and scratchy. Karl had spoken up for her. He was a powerful figure, sitting at the long bench with his letters on the rack before him, his face impassive. He had defended her, and for the first time she felt that they were no longer playing at the game of being a couple. She really did, in some indefinable way, belong to him. Professor Schaden remained quiet as the game played on. OVAS became NOVAS, and HORN appeared, which inevitably led to HORNY with a side-order of YAK. At this point the Professor identified his crawling inner turmoil as a product of the aging process and slipped away to refill his stein. The students began to disperse, many of them in the direction of the breathalyzer machine, which offered a less complicated way to compete. Anna and Karl were alone once more, in the way that only two people who have been intimate can manage in a crowded room. They held each other's gaze, and smiled. 'This was fun,' said Karl. He felt invincible. Anna agreed. 'Let's go back to the hotel,' she said. 'I'm done with Scrabble for tonight.' 'You're only saying that because I'm winning,' said Karl. 'By three points. I could make that up with my next go, if I could be bothered. Besides, I'll definitely beat you tomorrow, in the rematch.' 'In your dreams.' 'Any time, any place.' 'You're very confident all of a sudden,' he said. 'Only because I'm playing you,' said Anna, and together they packed up the game: they returned the letters to the velvet drawstring bag, folded up the board into a small square, and slid everything back into its usual place.
Archived comments for Love and Other Austrian Games
Rab on 09-01-2015
Love and Other Austrian Games
A really good story. I loved the inner story of the scrabble words, and the setting for the game. Do the rules of scrabble prohibit playing a word like ovas?

Author's Reply:
Thanks Rab - I think David explains it well in his comment regarding ovas. I wanted to make a story within a story, so I'm glad it worked for you.

e-griff on 09-01-2015
Love and Other Austrian Games
Most interesting. It might be worth reading a second time to appreciate the message in the words.

Author's Reply:
It's a little bit of Word Association, really, in the spirit of the psychiatric challenge. Thanks for commenting.

TheBigBadG on 09-01-2015
Love and Other Austrian Games
Aha, one of your 'life is good, happy with your lot' collection! What happened to bleeding all over the page and extolling the virtues of misery, eh?

Nice and gentle though, and the wordplay works nicely. I wonder if you could give a touch more to the cultural differences, the prospect of a very English-sounding couple suddenly being at the centre of a very German court? Given the professor is playing up his role as ringleader as well, and striking me as someone I might not immediately like. Honestly, you don't mess with people playing Scrabble, just not cricket.

Honestly though, I can't think of much to change here without risking compromising the tone. Nice.

Author's Reply:
Thanks. It's good to write something light every now and again, and I wanted to play with an omniscient narrator, so I picked a couple of characters it would be easy to feel warm towards. It made for a very pleasant writing experience.

sirat on 09-01-2015
Love and Other Austrian Games
'Do the rules of scrabble prohibit playing a word like ovas?' Yes. 'Ova' is already plural. There is no word 'ovas'. Also I think it's very unlikely that both players would ever have exactly the same score. But I digress. I found this one a bit too 'intellectual' for me – sort of lacking in guts, which is very unusual for your stories Aliya. Well written of course, that goes without saying.

Author's Reply:
I have to admit I paused over the equal score. I wanted to suggest an equal playing field, but tweaking it a little would certainly help to sustain realism. I'll change that.

Thanks for the comment. It's not my usual sort of thing, but I enjoyed feeling a bit less intense during the writing. It sounds like that actually translated into the story, though, which is interesting.

Mikeverdi on 09-01-2015
Love and Other Austrian Games
I liked the word play, I liked the story; if I had a gripe it would be that I needed it to go further. I think if you went back you could expand the story, spice it up...but that's just me 🙂
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike - I'll have a good think about it!

OldPeculier on 21-01-2015
Love and Other Austrian Games
Excellent. Really liked the word play.

Author's Reply:
Thank you!


Integrate (posted on: 01-08-14)
For the Prose Workshop Challenge. An unreliable narrator.

For a few years there I used my power for evil. I'm aware that sounds melodramatic. At the time I didn't think of it that way, I mean, I was only acting on instinct. I wasn't down in the basement daubing myself with chicken blood and summoning Satan or anything. But now I look back on it, it was definitely not a good place to be, morally or emotionally. I think everyone goes through these phases. In most cases, though, the phase can't kill with the sheer concentrated power of raw hatred. I don't want to get into how it started, which is your usual story of being bullied, feeling different from everyone else, and visiting a laboratory conducting radioactive experiments on a school trip (why do they take kids to those places?). I also don't want to talk about the first few times I used my power. They've rebuilt the school now and nobody liked my parents much anyway. Let's start with the day I met my arch-nemesis: Love Machine. He was ahead of me in the queue, and there was only one portion of lasagne left, so I was considering quietly disintegrating him just to make sure I got what I wanted. I'd worked hard on my power to make it controllable, and now I had it to the stage where I could concentrate on the back of the neck, or the lobe of an ear in side-profile, and build from mild dislike to searing, head-pounding, brain-splitting hatred in less than a second. A crisp crackle to the air, a flash of red light behind my eyes, and my target would be gone. Clothes, shoes, hair: everything. Anyway, he was alone, and there was only the lasagne and the breaded fish left, and I locked my eyes on the back of his neck, and felt the air begin to crackle - He clapped one hand over that spot, right where my gaze was fixed, as if a mosquito had pierced him with its proboscis. I noticed he wore a ring on his little finger. It wasn't expensive; I would have said it came from a Christmas cracker. It was made of red plastic, and bore a shiny red heart upon it. Something about that heart stole my concentration. I felt sapped of all my hatred, and in its place was curiosity. I wanted to know about that ring, and how he came to wear it. But wanting to get to know people - that's a dangerous business. So I tried to muster my power and get the job done, and that was when he turned around and I saw his face. It was a friendly face. He smiled at me, and I found myself smiling back. "Do you want the last piece of lasagne?" he said. It was as if I had become a different person. Pleasant words came out of my mouth in reply, and he responded, and we ended up eating lunch together. It turned out we both worked for the Department, although he was in Public Health and I was in the Benefit Fraud squad. Nothing he did or said annoyed me. I don't think that had ever happened before. He asked me to go out to dinner with him, and I agreed. It was only as I got changed that evening that I realised this feeling of lightness, of extreme happiness, couldn't possibly be normal. And that meant only one thing - he had a superpower too. And he was using it on me. I went along to that dinner determined to disintegrate him with extra vehemence. I was so stupid to think it would be that easy. He ordered my favourite kind of pizza for me and said he liked anchovies too. He told me jokes, and then, as the mood turned more serious, he pried my secrets from me with the help of good red wine and that charming face. God, he was dangerous. Only a month later we moved in together. I told him, on that first night in our new flat, that I had disintegrated people in the past and he nodded, and said it could be hard to trust enough to put down our defence mechanisms. But I was safe now. That's what he said. Six years passed without anything but happiness. I don't know how he managed that. How powerful he was. In our flat, sitting in front of the television, we called each other Love Machine and Disintogirl, and he made me forget everything else. But year seven is always the killer, isn't it? That's what they say. The seven year itch began as that feeling of annoyance that creeps over you when someone doesn't pick up their socks, or has to work late yet again, or doesn't listen properly when you're describing your day. And my rusty talent began to reassert itself most strongly over the issue of snoring. He'd put on a little bit of weight (who doesn't, after six years in a steady relationship?) and I didn't mind that, I swear I didn't. But with the weight came the snoring. It woke me. A sawing sound. I even thought the neighbour might be outside doing DIY for a moment. And it wasn't such a bad sound, really; it was the repetition of it. Every night, I was woken by his snore. And I took to staring through the darkness to the spot where I thought his earlobe lay. And I began to concentrate. It was a new side to my power. I found I didn't have to disintegrate him entirely in a millisecond. I could make just tiny bits of him disappear; bits he couldn't even have missed. Bits inside. Not physical stuff. And every time I did it, I felt better. There was a warm red glow, softer, that made my mind sink back down into sleep. I slept deeply, and felt lighter inside. I think maybe he felt lighter too. He certainly never complained. One time, after we'd been out to the cinema to see something romantic, he turned to me on the walk home and said, "I wish it could be like the beginning again." I agreed. It wasn't the same any more. It would have been pointless to deny it. We held hands, then, and talked about whether we should sell the flat and try to find a house somewhere out of the city. A few weeks later he went away to a conference, and told me over the phone that he wasn't coming back. "I'll stay in a hotel for now," he said. His voice sounded very far away. "It's so strange. I used to love life. I'm sure I still do, deep down. Now I feel nothing. It's not you. It's me." I told him he was wrong. I told him it was me, and he said I wasn't to blame myself, but I knew he didn't mean it. He was going through the motions of being the Love Machine, stuck in a pattern of behaviour that no longer reflected who he was. I had defeated him. The part of him I had been disintegrating late at night to the sound of his snoring had been his special power: his ability to love. So now I try to only disintegrate bad people. It's a judgement call, I accept that, but I think I'm a decent judge of character. And I have to let out those feelings, that red rage, somehow. I seem to have so much more of it than I did before. Sometimes I think I'm a volcano waiting to explode. I watch myself carefully. I have a plan. If the rage overcomes me I'll stare at my own hand, the hand on which I wear the red plastic ring that Love Machine gave to me when we moved in together, and I'll burn myself up into nothing. "I found it in the street one day," he said to me, as he placed it on my finger. "It was a symbol, just lying there, while the world stepped over it and on their way, so seriously. It meant that some things were being forgotten. Things like fun, and things like love. So I picked it up, and took it along with me, to always remind me that those things, the important things, should come first." Except everything gets forgotten along the way eventually, right? I hope that's not true. Maybe, when I disintegrate myself, the ring will survive. Perhaps that was why it was lying in the street to begin with. Some other girl like me burnt herself away to nothing, and it dropped free from her finger, waiting to be found again. I like that thought.
Archived comments for Integrate
Nomenklatura on 15-08-2014
Integrate
Yes, I liked this one on the whole. I was reminded of Iain Bakns's narrator Frank in the Wasp Factory. The matter of factness of it. Especially at the beginning.



I felt that this


Let's start with the day I met my arch-nemesis: Love Machine.


fell onto the virtual page with an audible clunk. I expect that's just me. I appreciate that it forms part of the (strange) relationship between these two, with their "super-hero" identiti


The ending was splendid, really well thought out.


Ewan

Author's Reply:
Thanks Ewan - the opening paragraphs aren't quite there, are they? I've got to look at that.


The Way we Built the Room (posted on: 07-07-14)
For the prose workshop challenge. I failed dismally to keep my narrator out of the story, though.

Richard and I met in a coffee shop. He told me he was looking for his friend; had I seen a tall man in a green shirt? In that case, would I mind if he sat opposite while he waited? Months later he admitted there had never been a friend in a green shirt. That was far from the only lie he ever told me, but he was never unkind in his lies, and he strived for truth. Even in the impossible areas of conversation where nobody knows exactly where the truth rests. It is a friendship that is far from over. It is a defining friendship. It's about being kind and being clever and being alive. Whenever we meet up for a meal out he prefers well-lit tables and I like the ones in semi-darkness. I concentrate on the words, and he prefers the movement of my face. It's not a question of light or dark being the better choice, and we never think of it as a reason to not meet. We just take turns choosing the restaurant. I dress carefully for our dinner date, and I put on a dress that I hope will remind him of something. A party. A work thing, for him. His manager's house was on the outskirts of the city; it took a long time to get there. Richard drove, and when we arrived he got me a large glass of red wine from the kitchen, and I knew he wanted to see me drunk. I liked his involvement in the slow loss of my usual self-control; it felt like a secret we held between us. I asked a lot of questions, and he replied. I'm a curious drunk and his favourite colour is blue, no red. Blue that night, he decided eventually, but things change and we should always keep that in mind. Real friendship is so rare. Forgive me for celebrating this one today, Richard, with my favourite dress. It seems so many things are said about friendships only after they are gone, and then they are summed up. It was love, the writer says. Look at the form of it. A great love can only be observed from a distance. At the party, his Manager gave us a tour of the house. There were rooms and rooms. It was as if each room was built around a particular item of furniture an enormous dining table, a cream sofa shaped like a question mark, and at least four rooms dedicated to beds. Each bed was made up tight in a slightly different shade of white, clean and crinkle-free. 'Actually, you can stay over if you fancy a drink,' said the Manager. 'We've got a room free.' I got the giggles as Richard attempted to explain we aren't a couple, and eventually I left the bedroom and stood at the end of the hall, trying to control an attack of hiccups. A few minutes later the Manager emerged and went downstairs without looking my way. Then Richard poked his head out, smiled, and we sat down on the top stair, side by side. 'Thanks,' he said. 'Bang goes my promotion.' 'Sorry,' I said. He rubbed my back until the hiccups passed. Music began to play downstairs. Dire Straits. It got louder and louder. I could picture the Manager with his hand on the volume control, determined to block out the noise of his guests and their strange life choices. 'Romeo and Juliet,' said Richard. 'The song.' 'I am really hungry,' I told him. 'This is what happens when you get me drunk. I get hungry and pushy. Find me some food. Who holds a big party and doesn't put some food on their enormous dining table? Isn't that what enormous dining tables are for?' 'Right, just stop talking and get in the car,' he said, and we tiptoed down the stairs even though the music would have blocked out every sound. He drove us to a place with a drive-through, and we ordered cheeseburgers. The restaurant was closing up. Half the lights were on and half were off. We parked up and ate in silence. When I finished, and closed up the carton, there was a grease stain on my dress, and it never did come out. I can see it now, just above the hemline. 'Why did you ask me to come?' I said. 'I thought you might enjoy it.' See how he avoided the truth there? Whatever the truth might be. 'If you were going to buy a big house in the suburbs,' he asked me, 'what would you put in it?' 'Well, I'd need my Dire Straits record collection. And at least fifty eight spare rooms for all my friends who don't need food.' 'Pool,' said Richard. 'I'd want a pool.' 'Seriously? You know how much maintenance there is with a pool?' 'Is this fantasy or reality? If I'm a millionaire manager then I want a pool and a few slaves to clean it.' 'I want a rose garden,' I tell him. 'It'll get greenfly.' 'No it won't. Insect-repelling roses. Can I borrow one of your slaves to prune them?' 'Yeah, okay. If I can have an enormous snooker table.' 'No way. You'd disappear off for hours at a time to hit balls with a stick.' 'What do you care? You'll be in the rose garden directing the activities of the best-looking slave.' 'Sounds like a miserable existence.' 'Yeah,' he said. 'Better not do that, then.' We were, strangely for us, in agreement. We no longer speak every day, and we do not meet every week. Our lives were once wound up tight, but things unspool over time, when there is less to say. His favourite colour might be red or it might be blue, and I have long since stopped asking so many questions. Things change, and we should always keep that in mind. But this is a friendship that is far from over. It is a defining friendship. I have a train journey ahead of me just so that we can be in the same place for a short while. The room in which we will meet will not be made for the purpose of containing one item. There are those who build their rooms to hold their sofa, or their table. There are rooms that simply contain one clean and simple bed. That's not the way we built this room.
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Your Blame is not my Guilt (posted on: 09-06-14)
For the prose workshop challenge.

Isaac walks through the streets. Four officials of the city flank him. There are many people watching Isaac's journey, although perhaps some of them are reflected in the glass facades of the buildings. A few pause in their daily business, and then carry on. Others stare and then start to keep pace with him, until he has a steady crowd in his wake, like the minnows that follow the whale. The procession stretches onwards. Isaac clears his throat and the crowd rumbles. The four officials draw closer to him, and in their gloved hands they carry black sticks that hum. The noise alone is enough to deter the people. They keep their distance, and the ones holding stones do not throw them. The street widens and carefully trimmed bushes begin, in regular order, making an avenue. He counts them out loud as he walks. He reaches the number thirty-eight and then two of the black sticks are extended in front of him, and he comes to a halt. A woman stands on a podium in the middle of a forum, formed where this avenue converges with seven more. The glass buildings are high, and so many faces can be seen in them. The lips turn up or turn down or purse forwards or pull back. The lips change and flap. The eyes are wide or shut. The chins tuck in and jut out. 'A long time ago' says the woman. She wears a black robe that is tied at the neck. She stops, rubs her hands on the material, and then continues, 'we discovered that those who could not experience emotion could not be trusted to understand the weight of responsibility that comes with their actions. Although they had an affinity with numbers and knowledge, they used their talents to lead us down a destructive path. The inability to feel is a danger to us all.' Isaac does not move. 'What message do you bring?' says the woman. She is not old to look upon, but she hunches and her face is lined. She winces in the sunlight. 'You're still using the solar street innovation,' says Isaac. 'It was invented by Wu An Li. She is alive. She lives with us now. She has since refined the design and wants to know if you wish to have the schematics.' The woman asks him, 'Aren't you afraid?' He does not reply. 'It just goes to show,' she says, 'that you people really have not learned anything. If you don't have the sense to be terrified, if you really don't understand that we have not forgotten and not forgiven, then you are no better than you were then.' The crowd shifts. Her tone has picked up their energy. 'You're ill,' says Isaac. 'That's irrelevant,' she says. She takes a few steps towards him, but it's the crowd she addresses, raising up her arms and voice. 'What shall we do? Shall we accept their offer?' Isaac looks at the smooth, oh so clever road upon which he stands, and mumbles to himself. 'Thirty eight bushes. Thirty eight. Thirty eight.' 'I leave it to you,' says the woman. 'Why don't you tell this man how you feel?' She turns, and walks away. The four officials follow after her, marching in time. When their footsteps can no longer be heard, Isaac stops counting them. Then he waits.
Archived comments for Your Blame is not my Guilt
sirat on 09-06-2014
Your Blame is not my Guilt
Very intriguing story. Even on a second reading I'm far from certain that I've understood what's going on. Maybe I'm not supposed to?



There seems to have been a caste or race of scientists and engineers that has been banished from mainstream society because of their inability to feel emotion, hence to understand their responsibility for how their inventions and insights are used. Nevertheless there's a strong suggestion that mainstream society (or maybe just the inhabitants of this particular place) are willing to use the fruits of their work. I'm reminded of Einstein's comment on hearing reports of the Hiroshima bombing: 'If I had known I would have been a locksmith'. This story seems to be an inversion of the idea that science places hideous weapons in the hands of ruthless and /or incompetent leaders.



I'm not sure that the attempt at 'no tell' (if that's what it is) adds anything to the story. There are a few very odd phrases, like 'The lips change and flap', presumably because you don't want to interpret this as speech for your readers, and other places where the meaning is clear enough but the phraseology just a bit formal, as in 'She is not old to look upon'.



If I'm honest, I don't think there's much point in the attempt to take 'show' to this extreme. We're simply left struggling to extract the story from the narration. We are in the position of anthropologists trying to make sense of the actions of a newly discovered remote tribal group, although in this instance they do in fact speak our language. It seems something of a pointless exercise. But maybe I'm missing whatever the point is.

Author's Reply:
Thanks David. I found the whole experiment very difficult as it broke the flow of the writing and, as you point out, made it difficult for me to judge what counts as 'tell' and what doesn't. I think it was worthwhile as it has made me reconsider how I use the narratorial voice. But it does mean we don't get a workable short story at the end of the process, which is a shame.

e-griff on 09-06-2014
Your Blame is not my Guilt
I think you carried off the style much better than I did. Whereas I took a style and removed the tell, you adopted a style suitable to its absence.

BUT obviously, the whole story rests on the tell of the woman's speech.

It is difficult to develop characters without tell, that is obvious as has been said.

Nevertheless, a very interesting exercise, revealing a lot IMO.

Author's Reply:
Thanks. Yes, it was interesting. Strange how such a prompt affects every aspect of the story.

TheBigBadG on 11-06-2014
Your Blame is not my Guilt
Ok, you've got a stronger handle on this than Griff (which I can say because he said it above). I got a sense of flickering eyes here, of Isaac, perhaps, casting his gaze over everything and picking up on the details that are important to him in that moment. For the most part I think it works although, as David notes, it does become a bit estranged sometimes. Your usual knack for phrasing is evident but I wonder if perhaps the challenge requires us to step back and keep things more simple. There's a balance somewhere between stripping things down and keeping pace but you've got someway towards it here.

Interestingly, I found the strongest elements were in the setting of the scene, the description in the narrative. The humming sticks, people holding stones et al very quickly establishes a lot of things without really Telling us anything. The bits that knock the pace off for me are all dialogue. Do we need to know this Wu An Li invented things, or just that one of Isaac's people did? Is there a way of demonstrating Isaac's unemotional state without having to say it?

As for the story itself, I suspect that you've got more going on around the concept which we've not seen here because the technicalities spiked your style/process? It's certainly intriguing and I do want to know a lot more about Isaac and the significance of 38 as two examples. Whether or not it's worth developing to my mind depends on what the idea is beyond what we have here. AKA your call.

Author's Reply:
Thanks - looking back at it now I think I should have approached it differently. I should have written the first draft I had in my head and then tinkered with it afterwards to see how far 'tell' could be removed. But I second-guessed myself right from the first para and ended up with something that I don't want to revisit.

Maybe I'll come back to it later. I think there are some good points to it and I can see it clearly, particularly the bits you picked up on, so there may be another story lurking within here waiting to get out.

OldPeculier on 11-06-2014
Your Blame is not my Guilt
So there is a divided society and the inevitable tension when the two parts converge. What is going on I am not really sure and to be honest it doesnt really matter. What I liked were the details, like counting the bushes and description of all the different faces watching from the buildings.



A very difficult challenge indeed, but I think this paints a good picture of a different world.

Author's Reply:
Thanks. I'm glad some parts of it worked for you - maybe I won't throw it out completely.


Where the Light Touches (posted on: 12-05-14)
For the prose workshop challenge. There's a team. Apart from that it all went wrong.

Is this the most important meeting in the world? The representatives at the UN General Assembly are gathered, seated, and the room is hushed. Outside May in New York it snows. Inside, there is the warmth of the bodies, the quiet tones of the interpreters tiptoeing into their ears; so many languages in which one must hear the phrase mass extinction. Communication is the greatest strength of the human race, thinks Aidan Trevisick, Cornish-born collector of languages that are nearly dead. He is a multitasker. He can translate in all six of the UN's official languages even as he thinks his own thoughts about life, death, and climate change. Saving humanity from its own sense of progress is a complicated business, involving much burning of fossil fuels. Representatives must be kept warm and well-fed. Regular refreshment breaks line the path to groundbreaking legislation. But they are getting somewhere, they really are, and Aidan is leaning forward in his booth, intent on this key stage of the process, when the light switches on. Aidan's first reaction is physiological. His pupils contract; he winces. It is a bright light from directly above him. He tries to look up, but it dazzles him. He can't concentrate; he stops translating. Below him, the Estonian representative presses her hand to her earpiece and frowns. In the booth the other translators are all looking at Aidan. His chair is bathed in light, like a theatrical performance is about to begin it has the rare intensity of a Samuel Beckett spotlight before a word is spoken. Aidan gets up and moves to the side, but the light follows him. It has abandoned the chair to stay with him. He moves again. It does not hesitate. It comes for him, and shines on. 'It's you,' says Yvette, who works in European languages. 'C'est vous. Sie sind es. It follows you.' Below, the Estonian representative raises her hand, and a member of staff approaches, in a half-crouch, attempting to make himself look even more unimportant than he is. The representative taps her ear at him. He understands the gesture immediately. It's not an uncommon problem, but it's an annoying one, today of all days. He sets out to track down the problem, and this sets in motion a chain of events that leads to an unexpected hiatus in the legislation while Aidan is escorted to a basement level security area where international police officers ask him a series of questions. They don't switch on the interrogative spotlight that sits on the metal desk; there would be no point. * Light is the repulsion of darkness, a fighting force, an adversary of the fear that springs from the long, long nights of our early existence. Light can be hope, can be beauty, can be truth. At last we see the light. Newton stuck pins in his eyes to try to understand how the stuff works, so we know that if Aidan had a prism on top of his head all the colours of the rainbow would fall around him. But he doesn't. The idea will occur to him later, when many years have passed, and he will experiment with prisms and even with a mirror ball on top of a long pole affixed to his hat, just to entertain himself, really. But right now all he is thinking is this this must be a joke. He's never been good at jokes. He suspects they demand immersion into the nuances of one mother tongue rather than a close friendship with many. 'Where's it coming from?' asks one of the police officers. 'I don't know,' Aidan replies. How he hates to be the centre of attention, but from now on that is exactly what he will be. Eventually the police officers will let him go, after he has missed the denouement of the groundbreaking legislation that will hopefully save the world, and when he steps out into the snow he will understand that the light is shining on him through the thick grey clouds, and it is stronger than sunshine. Later, scientists will report that it is not coming from the sun at all, but from another source, deep in space, travelling millions of light years to fall exactly upon Aidan Trevisick at all times. Calculations are completed to guess at an origin point. It's so far away that some people start to say that the light must fall from heaven itself. We can skip over the opinions of the media, and the consternation of religious and political leaders, because it's a predictable business. Let's move ahead a few months, to about thirteen years before the aliens arrive. * She's taking blood. A stream of red trickles into the vial, and with a practised movement is stemmed with pressure from her fingertips, and a ball of cotton wool. She sticks a plaster over the cotton wool, and the job is done. Aidan wishes he was wearing some great outfit instead of a hospital gown. It's not even a hospital, so he's not sure why the gown is necessary. Couldn't he be given a uniform, to match the military atmosphere? Then she might look at him and smile. Hang on, she is smiling. She smiles at him anyway. 'I hope you don't mind me asking,' she says, 'but how do you get to sleep? With the light on all the time?' 'I've got an eye mask,' he says, and then feels like an idiot. 'Of course,' she says. 'Well, you're done for today.' He takes a chance and says, 'That's a shame. Couldn't you pretend to be taking some more blood, or something? Some other bodily fluid?' 'Like what?' 'Yes,' he says. 'Sorry. I didn't mean obviously. But just hang around for bit? I get a bit bored. No, that's not what I mean either. I'm not bored. Don't bring me any more magazines. It not that so much as I think you're neat.' 'Neat?' He speaks a dozen languages and can't find the right word in any of them, but he's in luck today. She finds his ridiculousness charming, and there is, of course, the light. The light draws people in. They want to be close to it. There's an obvious parallel with insects here that wouldn't match the mood for this point in their relationship so we'll skip forward five years, when the charm and mystery of each other have been rubbed off and she says: 'I think it was always about the light. I was like a moth, you know? A moth, drawn to it.' 'You and the human fucking face,' Aidan says. It's a painful break-up, documented by the world's media, to whom he has become a selling point. Beautiful, blood-drawing Becky travelled with him once the military had got their pint of fluid, and they searched for answers to his spotlight in all the usual places. They met gurus and swamis, they sat under plane trees and on top of mountains, and there was always a photographer no less than fifty metres away. At first it added to the thrill of being together. They stand at the edge of the lake, matching sunglasses in place, orange life jackets over wetsuits, watching the sunset after a long day of kayaking. A small crowd leans over the balcony of the caf on stilts. They're not really looking at him so much as up to the sky, where the tunnel of light stretches, maybe to another universe. 'Beam me up, Scotty,' he murmurs. 'You're really special,' says Becky. 'Really. Too special for me. I thought I could share in it, but the truth is I'm just better at being normal. I'm a phlebotomist. It's time I get back to phlebotomy and leave you to be' She leaves it hanging for a moment, and then finishes the thought. Special. Words were never their strong point. She steps to the side, so she is no longer touched by his light. * It's a different kettle of fish with the aliens. Amazingly, they speak Cornish. Consider this next section to be translated for your benefit. They arrive in Helston on one Sunday morning, before the shops open, and there is nothing as bulky as a spaceship, or as shocking as instant materialisation. They come in a craft of two dimensions, looking much like a sheet of blue paper from one perspective, and they unfold themselves into three dimensions. There are four of them. So orderly. It must be planned. At first glance they look human, apart from the crease-lines. And the eyes, of course, which are black holes, bereft of light. Those eyes suck up the brightness of Adam Trevisick, who has been living in a static caravan park with his personal followers, the Aidanites, for the past eight years. They provide him with food, leaving it under his awning, and keep a respectful distance. Occasionally they make a circle around his caravan and chant. Then they stop and wait, as if expecting him to emerge and do something extraordinary, but after an hour or so they give up and wander away again. 'We have come to see you,' says the leader. We can assume it's the leader because it stands in front of the others and does all the talking. It holds out a hand. Aidan shakes it. It's very cold. There's not much room in the caravan; it's quite an uncomfortable feeling, to be standing so close to aliens while a bowl of half-eaten Shreddies sits in the sink beside him. 'We have travelled far in our search for meaning. We look for the Creator.' 'I'm not a god,' says Aidan, who has heard this line before from a range of people, including people with cancer and good-looking college students. 'I promise.' The aliens laugh. 'We know that,' it says. 'We aren't idiots. We are Metans. A team of beings on an endless quest through space and time. You are not a god, but you have been touched by one.' 'It's just a light.' 'No. It is the attention of the Creator.' 'I always thought aliens would be atheists,' says Aidan. 'It always seemed to me to be the more enlightened choice.' 'You don't believe?' The aliens join hands, as if they find the thought disturbing. Such a blunt question. It makes Aidan run back through his life so far, and the inevitability of the path that has led to this moment. He didn't choose a thing; well, not the important things. He chose a job and a flat, places to be and places to leave. He chose this caravan out of the others in the park, but the park itself no, he did not choose that. He didn't choose the light. He begins to talk and his words are a spool of surprises and suspicions, unwinding to the realisation that he's not unhappy. He's just confused. Has it all been building to this very moment? Why, then, does he not feel more involved? It's like the script for a bad film. At any moment somebody might make the request to be taken to the Prime Minister. Or mention that they come in peace, perhaps. In Cornish. 'All this does not change the fact that you're the chosen one,' says the alien leader, with a touch of exasperation. 'I'm really not interested in your idea of a Creator,' he tells them. He pushes past them and emerges into the fresh Cornish air, so particularly Sunday morning-ish. He considers walking away but can't manage to be that rude, so he sits down on the pink deckchair he keeps under his awning. The aliens follow him outside and look around at the other static caravans with interest. The lead alien sighs, and says, 'This is not a game, you know.' 'I didn't say it was. To me or to you. But maybe it is to the Creator, did you ever think of that? If he does exist, I'm sure he's laughing his arse off up there at all this.' The aliens shakes their heads in unison. 'It's not a him,' says the leader. 'It's a her.' Aidan has never considered this development. 'Okay,' he says. 'She has long brown hair that she often wears in a ponytail and she is quite small, and bookish. She wears metal-rimmed glasses and talks to herself while she's typing. Today she's wearing an orange cardigan and sitting in the kitchen, in front of the glass double doors that lead to a small untidy garden that gets the sun, and she's thinking of you, Aidan. You and nobody else. She writes down your destiny. Only she knows where your story will end.' 'You're saying I'm the most important thing in the universe?' 'In this one, yes. There are other universes. We travel through each one, through the words that are written and the pages that are created, and we attempt to reason with the Creator. We wish to have the light fall upon us. We wish to be the focus of attention in our own story.' The Metans close their black hole eyes and clasp their creased palms together. They address me directly. Please please please give us our own story They sing, in gentle harmonies. It's a pleasant sound and I would accede to their request but they described me as bookish. That's not particularly flattering, even if it is true. And they're beginning to annoy me with this business of turning up in my stories, so let's skip to after the aliens have folded themselves back up and gone away. Aidan walks down to the shop and checks out the newspaper headlines. Still no end to the problems of the world. That United Nations meeting didn't make all the difference after all. The woman who works at the shop on Sunday mornings has grown used to him, and treats him with a kind of amused indifference, raising an eyebrow and smirking at the spotlight as if to point out that it's still there and one has to laugh at these things. But he doesn't feel like laughing. He pays for a paper and takes the long way back, along the public footpath that follows the coast, and looks out over the grey sea. The sunlight breaks through the thick clouds and travels over the surface of the swelling water. Light is not meant to stay in one place, he thinks. Light should rise and fall, swim and sink. Nothing should stay the same forever. The gorse is in bloom, the smell strong in his nostrils. This is the smell of his childhood, spent on these very beaches. He was ordinary then, with ordinary parents whom he never appreciated but then, who does at the time? He is glad they died before he moved to New York and became special. 'Mum,' he whispers. 'Dad. I don't want to be special any more.' He walks off the path, towards the cliff edge. He stops only inches away. It must be a seventy, eighty foot drop. Enough to do the job. In this world of rising sea levels and tidal swells he takes it as a sign that the waves are drawn back, like lips in a sneer, to expose the rocks. He lifts his eyes up to the light, and stares into it. Really stares. Such a distance separates us, unimaginable even to me, and yet does he see me? I think, for a moment, he really does see me. 'Let me go,' he says. 'Turn off the light.' But I can't. I can't. I have to know what happens next, right to the bitter end. It's who I am: small, bookish, lonely, sick at heart for some answers and looking in all the wrong places. That's why I write, isn't it? Nobody seems to know exactly why I write, but I'm betting that's it. All I want is to follow you, Aidan, for a little longer. Think of me as a benign stalker. Is it really so bad to be watched? Some people fight for it above all things. The Metans travels through space and time for it. Come on, admit it it's not so bad. Not really. Aidan looks down. 'No,' he says. 'No.' He jumps. * Later, in hospital, the doctor says to him, 'It's a miracle, you do know that?' 'Yes,' says Aidan. He lies in traction, the morphine drip his only friend. Just saying one word hurts. This is a private room in Truro hospital, officiously restful. There's a police guard outside the door. Multiple death threats have been received, although why you would threaten to kill a man just because he survived a suicide attempt against all the odds is beyond me. At that very moment, in the United Nations General Assembly, they are discussing the rise of Aidanism. His popularity has led to a resurgence of people learning the Cornish language, worshipping beams of light, and gathering together to shine hundreds of torches up at the night sky, which has led to a few plane crashes. Torch sales have never been better, though, so it's swings and roundabouts. 'It is proof of God,' says the Bolivian representative, and Yvette translates it into three languages. Preuve de dieu Beweis fr Gott 上帝存在的證據 'People say a gust of wind picked you up and put you back on the cliff edge,' says the doctor. Aidan doesn't reply. He has learned to distrust people in white coats. Later, when he is well again, he travels back to New York and stands in the lobby of the United Nations building once more. The Aidanites, he leaves outside. They stand in the snow with torches held aloft, and the police form a line in front of them in order to look officially in control of the situation. Everywhere he goes, he causes trouble. He's decided, since it's unavoidable, that it's time to make trouble for the right reasons. Everyone is gathered, in the familiar hush. Aidan stands on the podium, and surveys the arc of faces that represents humanity. The light bathes him, and gives him courage. He is important. He thinks he might be coming to terms with why he's important. Above him, in the translator's booth, Yvette still sits. They are going to meet later for coffee. He remembers how, years ago, she said to him, 'It's you,' in a number of languages. If only he'd listened to her then he would have saved himself a lot of heartache. He has hopes for coffee with Yvette. But first he has to speak at the most important meeting that has ever been held anywhere. Yes, this time we really are at that tremendous moment. And so he begins with the eventful, well-chosen words, 'There is a Creator. There are alien beings. And I, Aidan Trevisick, am the centre of this universe. There's a really good reason for that. It's because I know what we need to do next. If you all do what I tell you, we'll get out of this climate change business and endless war mess. I promise.' And so he saves the world, because everyone believes him. How can you argue with the light? This wasn't my intention at all. An earth without conflict is not worth writing about, is it? Aidan doesn't seem half as interesting now he's decided to take control. No, this story isn't working out for me any more. I think it's time to switch off the light, and turn my attention elsewhere. One final pause, to imagine what happens next. The light is gone, right in the middle of his incredibly important speech. He stops talking. He shuffles his notes, and then sidesteps off the podium, and slinks away. Or does he? Maybe he starts to cry, and Yvette comes down from the booth, and consoles him in many different languages. I don't know. I don't really care any more. Onwards and upwards. The next story I'm writing will begin with the lines: The Metans travelled through an ocean of time and space in search of the Creator. It's a bit of a clich, sure, but I get the feeling it might lead to great things. And it's about time I gave the Metans a bit of attention. I really think they deserve it.
Archived comments for Where the Light Touches
sirat on 12-05-2014
Where the Light Touches
Another great story. I think I can count among your influences Spike Milligan (Did you write these legs?) and Douglas Adams.

Everything falls into place gradually, which is great. At times I thought it could do with an edit for length, but I find it hard to specify where. It's a pretty lame criticism but I think stories have a natural length that you can sense if it isn't right. This is really a very light piece so we don't need much detail in the description (e.g. the caravan park) or even realism in the dialogue.

But overall I loved it. Cornish-speaking aliens are under-used in science fiction and I am pleased that you have corrected the balance. I'm also impressed that you can unfold your two-dimensional characters into the third. Mine have a tendency to remain folded.

A tiny point: right at the beginning it's snowing in New York City in May, yet they're worried about global warming. Was that a deliberate incongruity?

Highly original and Great fun.

Author's Reply:
Thanks David. I'll look back over the length and see what I can lose. I was surprised to find out it was over 3000 words as it felt pretty light to me.

Rab on 12-05-2014
Where the Light Touches
I'm with Sirat about the aliens that speak Cornish, and the fact that it's a great story. I loved the reveal of you as small, bookish and sitting in the kitchen, and your annoyance with the aliens for telling us.

And you solved global warming and ended war! Well done you!

Author's Reply:
I feel quite proud of myself! The things we can solve in our heads... Thanks Rab.

OldPeculier on 12-05-2014
Where the Light Touches
Very good indeed. just the right amount of absurdity and gentle humour to bring the topic to life. It has been many times before this feels fresh and original.

'They arrive in Helston on one Sunday morning, before the shops open,' - epic!



Author's Reply:
Thanks very much!

e-griff on 12-05-2014
Where the Light Touches
Wonderful voice of the author intruding, really effective (and from the start, it's clearly you, before you said so) Very absorbing, interesting. What else?


The start seems to drag a bit, could be snappier. Just an impression I can't prove or quote, but maybe a quarter/third of the way in it seemed to take off properly - bring that moment nearer!

Practical details - light can't be 'beamed from space' as the earth rotates, will obscure, also in buildings, how? Over his head is enough, doesn't need explanation.

Do you actually need the Metans? It's cute they speak Cornish, but. It would work equally well if you, the author, spoke to him in Cornish ... and possibly be more focused.
Needs work, but it's an original, fine basis for a story, which had me hooked to the end. Loose ends, thinking through. Worth more work and polish, I think. Definitely.

Again, love the narration style, just love it! 🙂


Oh, and David,. Climate is not weather. A rise in global temperatures will disturb the weather system, and there are likely to be unusual swings, some places colder than usual as well,

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 13-05-2014
Where the Light Touches
Coming back with deeper thought.



I think you have too many ideas in this and it defocuses, confuses. In fact, you have two separate stories. One, a man with a light and a narrator who is God - perfectly good basis for a very interesting story exploring morality, etc (and you've written it). Two, a really cute and funny tale of cornish-speaking aliens arriving to look for God. I'd class this idea as a 'darling' you need to kill in the first story - I think you sometimes tend to get carried away by such (very good) concepts. Very good, but not here. 🙂 and don't 'kill it' - give it its own space to develop. At the moment two different ideas are crowding each other and neither can breathe, whereas you have the material for two clear, excellent stories, IMO.



At least, that's my considered opinion. 🙂

Author's Reply:
That's really interesting. I hadn't thought of them as two distinct elements. I'm going to have to go away and look at them carefully. I don't think the author/character interface would be enough on its own though. Personally I'm not too bothered about the aliens, which is why they suffered under my control in the first place! Will look hard at separating and see how that would work. Thank you.

TheBigBadG on 13-05-2014
Where the Light Touches
Three flippant comments to start. 1) Betteridge's Law. 2) I'm with Griff re the start and would suggest cutting the first two paragraphs. 3) Bookish is a fine compliment. At least it better be or we're all in trouble.

As for the piece, it's a classic meta-story isn't it. The novel that starts with someone sitting at a desk. Ok, not that, it's much cleverer and less clichéd than that. There's a nice evasive element to the narrative though, the way it rambles around the point until finally the aliens call you (sorry, the writer!) out, only to then have the writer arguing with her chosen description of herself and then turning that anger back on the piece. It's funny in fact, I was a bit wary from the whole 'save humanity' angle at the start so the way you bring it back to narcissism and self-interest is great. It's a crafty positioning, really neurotic. It's Rimmer-logic form Better Than Life in fact, isn't it. Given a blank page the writer creates a character that hates her and doesn't want to live.

Things that made me laugh out loud included, 'They sing, in gentle harmonies. It’s a pleasant sound and I would accede to their request but they described me as bookish,' and your doctor saying Aidan's survival was a miracle when everyone reading it knows full well it's authorial bloody-mindedness. I notice she doesn't apologise to the Metans as well. Excellently petulant.

So with all that in mind I think the thing to think about with this one is the pacing. For instance, Aidan's relationship with the nurse is well-written and needs detail because it comes before your writer loses interest with the whole thing, but perhaps it knocks the broader pace off? Maybe it would be helped with a gathering of speed, so maybe use your line about skipping forwards more easily as the piece goes on. If the writer is really getting bored you want the sections to be shorter each time to reflect that. I'd also re-echo that point about the start - this is a crafty comic piece so you don't want too much earnestness at the start in case you lose people, perhaps? Or is that just me thinking like a commercial editor too much now?

Author's Reply:
I like Betteridge's Law. It's not disproven here, is it?

I'm not sure I (she/the writer/argh) got bored until the final scene, so progressively shortening is not something I'd/she'd/argh thought of. I like the idea of making the annoyance build rather than have it as a sudden thing, though. I'll revisit it with that in mind. Everyone seems to be in agreement that it's a touch too long, so something has to go. Maybe shortening some scenes rather than losing one element might be a decent alternative. Thanks.





Words Fail You (posted on: 28-02-14)
For the prose workshop challenge, although it's not really a monologue. Or complete. But, hey, it's something...

So you've read War and Peace, you've read Mill on the Floss, you've read Dickens and Hardy and the canon. You've read Shakespeare, or seen it performed. Not every play, of course, just like you didn't read every word of The Mayor of Casterbridge. Who would do that to themselves? You picked the best bits, and skipped the pages and pages of description. You become an expert at looking at the written word and having an opinion about it. Letters lead to words lead to phrases, and from there it's just a short hop to meaning. What the author meant. What you wanted to read. (I think what the author meant to say is) Welcome to your language. Language is the space between you mean and what the other guy means. You fill up the space with words and hope some of them stick. None of this applies, of course, once the XXX come along. They weren't there the day before and then you woke up in a world where they were. They're not big. They're not small. They're not clever and they're not stupid. They don't remind you of a giant porcupine with the head of a bluebottle and they don't resemble multicoloured dolphins with sixteen miniature wings. You first see one on the street corner you're on your way to work at the advertising company that pays the bills while you're working on your novel and people are standing near it, staring, not talking. It's not looking back at them. It's not not doing anything. It's doing something. You don't know what it's doing. Or you do, but you can't pinpoint it, exactly, in terms of a description that would make any sense. There is, simply, no language for it. At work, your team is in charge of coming up with a new campaign for a pair of boots aimed at pre-teenage girls. You can colour in the side panels of the boots yourself. Are they fun? Fabulous? Funky? Sweet? Special? All the words look wrong when you think about the thing on the street. You try to explain this to your manager, and he nods, then frowns, and wanders off. He stands by the wall for a while. Then he goes home, so you do too. At home, the television is swamped in news, reports on every channel, all the reporters looking almost certain that something has happened. It really has, we think. Something has. There was nothing the day before and then today there's XXX and we don't know what that means. Or do we? The reporters open and close their mouths, like fishes, so you turn off the television and go and sit by the fishtank instead. The fish are calming. Calming fish. Fish are calming. The calmness of the fish is not a question. It is the question of the calmness of the fish. You go to bed. You sleep and you dream. You wake up. Something's wrong. There is a XXX in your room. You attempt to speak to it, and the words are a mouthful of mud, chewy and earthy and unpleasant. The words are too light. They float away, out of the window, and they won't get back in your mouth. The words burn your tongue to ashes. The words freeze your teeth solid. The words don't belong to you any more. You leave your house, and outside, on the street, everyone stands. Some are dressed, some are in pyjamas, or naked. Everyone is silent, and they look back at their open front doors with expressions that you've never seen described in a book. Dickens never nailed it, or Eliot. No. Not even Shakespeare managed to put a name to it. You are in the street. You don't know where to go. You are well-read. You are erudite. You are verbose. You are intelligent. You are interesting. You are special. There is a XXX in your house, and you will never go back there.
Archived comments for Words Fail You
Nomenklatura on 28-02-2014
Words Fail You
Ha! Writer's block, you? i don't believe it!
No, not a monologue exactly, but something equally interesting 2nd person POV a rare, rare beast. I think you pull it off in general.
I see what you mean about unfinished - at least - I wanted more of it, more examples and consequences of the disappearance of - what's the word? Oh no, there's one of those XXX's in the corner.

Very intriguing as whatever you write always is.
Regards
Ewan

Author's Reply:
Thanks Ewan. I think maybe it's just a collected series of thoughts for something else, but I don't know what yet.

sirat on 28-02-2014
Words Fail You
Intriguing, as always. It comes across as a playful essay based on the ideas of the philosopher Wittgenstein. You probably know the famous phrase he came up with: 'The limits of my language are the limits of my world.' The idea that in order to think about or even to perceive something we have to turn it into language. We can only think in concepts, not raw data. It's all in the Tractatus, ending with his other memorable phrase: 'Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent.' A very good title too.

When I was a philosophy student I used to try to write stuff like this for a student magazine. I did a series called 'Philosophizing with a claw hammer'. Only a couple of them have survived, mercifully.

I liked it a lot because I'm probably exactly the right audience for the piece.

One or two little glitches:

the space between you mean and what the other guy means (what you mean)

None of this applies, of course, once the XXX come along (mixed tenses?)

Author's Reply:
Thanks for catching the typos David. Really there should just be spaces for the things that cannot be described, but I was worried they wouldn't show up so I put in some XXXXs. But really that gives them too much definition, I'm thinking.

Rab on 28-02-2014
Words Fail You
To the word intriguing can I add another: enigmatic. You always come up with something utterly unexpected (by me at any rate) and always interesting. I'm not sure what sort of bigger piece you could tease out of this, I think it's pretty good as it is.

Ross

Author's Reply:
Thanks Ross. I do like the element of surprise in writing.

Rupe on 28-02-2014
Words Fail You
I'm not convinced by this as a piece: it makes a fair point about the limitations of language to convey experience & does so in playful style, but it's one that has been debated endlessly and forever. That said, I like the voice & the image of people in their pyjamas or otherwise looking back at their houses. That scene (as painted by a latter-day Hogarth...) could be a jumping-off point for a story.

Rupe


Author's Reply:
Thanks Rupe - I'm by no means satisfied with it as it is, so thanks for the suggestion of using that image to kickstart the process. I'll give it a go.

TheBigBadG on 03-03-2014
Words Fail You
I think there are two conversations here - if it works as a piece and the larger concept you're harassing. In terms of the larger piece, it's more a vignette for me, the treatment for the opening of something perhaps. It hints at something you work around a lot, in fact; the idea of there being something incomprehensible at the centre of our very mundane lives, something that most of the time we just don't see. I can see this as the scene that kicks off a typically Whiteleyan alien apocalypse just at the point where it's getting domesticated and the edges are starting to crumble. If that makes any sense at all. Perhaps it's an introduction for Witchcraft?

As for the larger concept, it would need some deftness and dexterity to execute given you'd be forcing yourself to never explicitly refer to the antagonistic force, but I can see you running with that successfully. As it is it's Wittgenstein so the next logical step would be systemic theories perhaps? More than a book's worth in that. It comes back to ancient principles of tragedy and emotional awareness before anything though - man, presented with a world he can't understand is pushed to extremes he can't articulate, so is driven to violence. AKA, 'The potent poison quite o'ercrows my spirit ... So tell him, with th' occurrents, more and less, which have solicited - the rest is silence.'

As for how to set the unspeakable? I'd personally leave a blank space, or just some ______. Anything else comes with associations. XXX for instance, has an obvious one.

Author's Reply:

Lots of big nods generally as I read your excellent comment. Yes to the next step obviously having to be violence, but in the back of my mind I find Greg Bear's Blood Music, and the idea of overcoming the normal (read: language) as a plane of existence to move to - where? It might just have a happy ending. (But that wouldn't be very me. It's the new me, maybe.)

And yes to spaces. As I said above, I put in the XXX in fear that the formatting had swallowed my spaces. But it could really only be a blank.

e-griff on 04-03-2014
Words Fail You
Hmm. Couple of odd bits:'just like you didn't ', missed word in' between you mean'

I have to admit the significance of the first section was wasted on me. I really couldn't relate it to the rest. Maybe I'm dumb.

The main section was very interesting, but sparse and incomplete. What did I learn? Was there any resolution , explanation? I didn't find any. The writing itself was good, fluid and confident. Just wondering where you are going with this, which is not really a monologue.

Author's Reply:
I think maybe it's a collection of thoughts that might become a story, but it's not coming to me yet in any decent form. Still, it's better than a bang on the head with a plastic cup. It might become something yet. And yes, not really a monologue, although I began with good intentions. As usual.

I'm off the boil with short stories right now I think. But David's new challenge is already speaking to me. Hopefully I'll get something better from that.

e-griff on 04-03-2014
Words Fail You
The traditional way of dealing with them would be 'they' and 'one of them'

I'd like to add that the image of an unspecified 'one of them' Just standing in your bedroom, apparently silent and not doing anything, is very powerful, one of the things you are good at. For some reason it brings to mind the statues on Easter island.

I recall a story, I can't identify, where giant eggs appeared in a similar way.

Author's Reply:
I would say that's the best thing in it right now.

CVaughan on 05-03-2014
Words Fail You
An interesting conundrum of a story that had me thinking which box I might choose to allocate it to genrewise ? science fiction fantasy, somebody earlier mentioned philosophy, that had me up a gumtree so I'd like to judge it wrongly or rightly as fantasy and press on.
You'd have set difficulties for Dr Who's production team conjuring up as nebulous a bunch as your exes, now there's the nub over the blanks as it were, words are starting to fail me (clever title methought) suffice to say I enjoyed the effort and really being part of the group participation with you and the others hereabouts. Thanks by the way for the encouragement to do so. Frank


Author's Reply:
Thanks Frank, for the comment and for taking part. It's really the kind of idea that couldn't work at all in any other medium than the written word, which gives it a fascination for me. I think maybe too many novels and stories now are simply reports of the visual.

I hope it's a starting point for something bigger! So I'm glad to find out you enjoyed it.

e-griff on 06-03-2014
Words Fail You
Sorry to go on, but I just realised what they reminded me of. If you've seen 'Spirited Away', at the beginning, they drive up a road through woods, and the girl catches glimpses of slightly ovoid statues with faces. When her parents go on to explore the abandoned theme park, she initially stays behind, then looks round and sees she is next to one of the statues and jumps away. The statues are Curiously threatening and unnerving.

Author's Reply:
I love Spirited Away - I know what you mean. In terms of feeling, that's it. But not in terms of appearance (at least, in my own head!).


Bite (posted on: 08-11-13)
For the Prose Workshop Challenge. Bonfire nightish.

The sun breaks out over the sea in patches, the clouds moving fast on the wind. The white crests of the waves glitter as they tumble to the shore. Helena runs along the line of the surf. Her hair flies behind her like a black flag, a gleeful Jolly Roger. Does she sail along and ignore all the rules? Today she does; the sign at the entrance to the beach read OUT OF BOUNDS and she ignored it. The military must manoeuvre around her. She runs past their tents, erected along the lines of the dunes. November the fifth - what a date on which to practise explosions. The bangs to protect the world, amuse the world, destroy the world: they are all the same. Just bangs. Noise like a barking dog, with a flash of white teeth. And then the pain. Helena remembers the dog that bit her, as she runs, the wet sand sucking at her feet. Nine years old, she was, and visiting some friends of her parents. She can clearly recall their expectations of her - to be admired and then left in a corner, like a doll of a little girl. To be inanimate. There was a bookshelf with matching red leather spines lined up, and the dog was a small thing with silky hair that looked freshly brushed. She felt it was a kindred pawn in this adult game, and leaned over its basket, beneath the bookcase. Quicker than a snake it snapped, needle teeth into the flesh between her thumb and forefinger. Then it disengaged and casually moved away, as if nothing had happened, in the direction of the kitchen. The adults fussed, voices were raised over the dog's antisocial tendencies, and she was never taken to their house again. Is it better to never return to the scene of such a shock? But people return to the side of a road where cars collide, and lay flowers. This was just a small bite. Still, she remains scared of dogs - of the possibility of explosion that exists in them - and she can't help but think that she should have been taken to see that silky little dog again. Not to lay flowers, but to give it one short, sharp kick in the stomach, tit for tat, so both of them could accept a redistribution of power and get on with their lives. She runs on, to the promise of the steep path that leads up to the cliffs. She speeds up. Later, there'll be a hot shower, and Jon, still in bed, reading the Sunday papers and listening to the local radio station, with the soft-voiced presenter gently unspooling the memories that come with forgotten songs. They have tickets for the firework display at the rugby club later, in the lee of the hill that overlooks the harbour. She will hold a sparkler and write Jon's name in the air. The shape of the letters will hang there, burned into the cold night, like a branded mark. Then it will close over, and be gone for good. The tents are closed up so tight, lips sealed, although Helena thinks soldiers are meant to get up early. Shouldn't there be a bugle call, or the smell of porridge, or cordite? Perhaps they are already up in the dunes, setting up targets, poring over maps. Plotting games of war. Me red, you blue. She wants someone in uniform to stride down on to the beach, and shout over the waves, to tell her that she shouldn't be there, that she's a trespasser, didn't she see the signs? But nobody does, and now she's running out of sand. That's three miles swallowed up in her thoughts. Three miles is her usual distance, and there is nothing to show for it. It is simply her default setting to run. She feels comfortable when she makes her lungs and legs work so hard, and in the centre of her working body there is a hard ball, a knot that is all her. It cannot be penetrated. At work, she is hardworking. At home, she plays at making a home. At night she sleeps next to Jon and in the early morning she runs, runs, runs. She begins to slow. It's a low tide. The running lines of rocks that lie at the bottom of the cliff are visible, and before them there is the indent in the dunes that leads to the steep path where sand becomes soil. There is always a carpet of tiny spiralled shells, curled up tight, empty inside. She can never avoid stepping on them. They will crunch into nothing under her trainers, but every morning there are so many fresh ones. She means to bring her phone and take a photo of them, but has forgotten yet again today. It is a niggle of irritation, this daily reminder of her imperfections. Of all the things that must get forgotten along the way. A dog races out of the place where the beach ends and her path begins. It is a black tangle of legs and tail, ears alive and flapping, with a lolling ribbon of a pink tongue and white pinpricks of eyes and teeth. The joy of running possesses it; it heads for the sea, and plunges in, scaring up a seagull or two. It swims like it runs, all legs and energy, tumbled by the waves only to break free and right itself over and over. She is immersed in the dance of the dog. When she eventually turns back to the path, she sees Jon, standing there, watching her face. He is dressed in jeans and a creased tee shirt; the cold has turned the plains of his cheeks pink, and it is an unexpected delight, like winning a competition and being asked to come up and collect the prize. She jogs the final few feet to him, and he says, 'The guy on the radio said the beach was off limits today. I got worried.' 'I'm fine,' she says, 'I ran round the minefield.' 'Probably a good idea. Look at these little shells.' He takes his phone from the back pocket of his jeans and snaps a photo. 'They're here every morning.' 'The tide must wash them up or something.' He takes a photo of her, too, and she decides to smile and take the moment as it is presented to her, as a gift. She moves into his arms, and rubs his back. 'You're freezing,' she says. But it's not the truth; he feels warm to her. The things she says and does not mean are so many, and she wants to stop. But there are no words for this particular truth - the sand, the waves, the shells. The way he looks when she least expects to see his face. And the dog. The dog is racing back up the beach towards them, as straight as a missile, and a warning springs into her mind. She steps back, and Jon blocks her with his body, so that the dog greets him first, jumping up at him, leaving wet, sandy paw prints on his jeans. 'Hello,' says Jon, 'Hello, hello, good dog, it's okay, he's really friendly.' And she can tell Jon is right: the amiable energy of the dog, the swing of its wet tail and coat, and the way it greets them both with a camaraderie born of a beautiful morning. Helena steps out from behind Jon, sticks out her hand, and holds her breath. It pauses, then sticks a cold nose on her palm and sniffs her up. It licks her, again and again. It can't get enough of the smell of her. 'It hasn't got a collar,' Jon says. 'It followed me down from the cliffs.' Nameless dog. Lost dog. 'Come on,' she says, 'Come with us.' And she tries to tempt it up the path, to keep it with them. To return it to where it belongs, wherever that may be.
Archived comments for Bite
TheBigBadG on 08-11-2013
Bite
First this time, apparently. Interesting that you've gone for a piece about growing up and accepting the fears of love and life. I wonder if we're scratching at the same point from opposite directions?

Your pithy idle comments that are actually very significant come through well here. 'I ran round the minefield' in particular have me grinning into my muesli. The play of expectations against reality is really effective as well. I know you tell us, 'The things she says and does not mean are so many,' but there's a lot more at work. What Helena expects of the soldiers, the dogs, Jon etc. She's more comfortable behind the Out of Bounds sign but then also seems to want to encounter restraints and barriers. There are things she should be wary of (minefields) that she apparently doesn't fret about and others (friendly dogs, loving husband) that she does. It's a very real problem, facing up to the fact that you might have everything you want, that you might be happy.

I don't think I can add much more if I carry on. In fact, I might just spoil it with taxonomy. I really like it.

ps: You want a comma after 'the sign at the entrance to the beach read'. The inconclusive para looks odd and the sign is reported so some punctuational makes sense.

Author's Reply:
Thanks! Great comment. It heartens me to think you really understood it, and got to grips with it. I was worried it was a bit... ephemeral.

I will add that comma. There's always summat.

Mikeverdi on 08-11-2013
Bite
I agree,there is a lot going on here; the more you read it the more you uncover/discover. On the outside it seems to be a gentle read, but the undertones make this a much more interesting and enjoyable story. Thanks for posting it.

Author's Reply:
Thanks!

Nomenklatura on 08-11-2013
Bite
Layers. That's all I'm saying, apart from splendid, as usual.
Ewan

Author's Reply:
Thanks Ewan!

Rab on 08-11-2013
Bite
Indeed (to the comments above). I particularly liked the way you set the scene in the opening paragraph. 'The military must manoeuvre around her'



As Ewan puts it, it works on different levels, and each of them is good.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Rab - I kinda liked that line too...

OldPeculier on 08-11-2013
Bite
I cannot really add anything to what has already been said. I think the reader can take as much or as little from it as they want, but even on its most simple level, it reads well and is engaging till the end.

Personally, if I see an out of bounds sign, I run right through. It is the only way to give your life perspective.

Author's Reply:
Have to agree with that! I hate those out of bounds signs...

mageorge on 08-11-2013
Bite
The only thing I spotted straight away was the lack of the colon after 'the sign at the entrance to the beach read' Otherwise, a very enjoyable and deep story. Very much appreciated.

Regards,
Mark.



Author's Reply:
Thanks Mark - I'll get that bit fixed.

Slovitt on 08-11-2013
Bite
i'd forgotten what a precisely good writer you are. always taking your time and building a seamless sleeve of a story line by precise line. springy, and alive.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Swep.

orangedream on 08-11-2013
Bite
Couldn't agree more with all that has been said. I enjoyed the read immensely.


Tina

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the comment Tina - much appreciated.

Weefatfella on 10-11-2013
Bite
 photo 06d74512-a3fb-4081-8172-f3ae5390860b_zpse75163c6.jpg
Absolutely delightful.
I loved every word.
The analogies were Goldilocks's breakfast in bed.
The whole piece was a breath of fresh, clean, surf filled salty air.
Weefatfella.

Author's Reply:
Thanks so much!


Cow Head (posted on: 26-07-13)
For the prose workshop challenge. About urban myths and a little bit of madness.

I was in the park, late afternoon, just turned fourteen and waiting for the dog to tire of sniffing bushes. If I walked him every day I my parents gave me five pounds at the end of the week. It wasn't a big park. Just big enough for that man to sit on the bench beside me and say - I had a friend who knew this girl who fell in love for the first time. He was so handsome. I couldn't believe he wanted to talk to me. I should have known that it wasn't me he was interested in. His attention lay in what he wanted to say; the thing he needed to cut free, to turn loose on me. He said This is not a story about young love with obvious consequences. Nobody remembers what happened clearly anyway. His name might have been Tom. She might have been Emma. This is a reconstruction of a crime scene and an urban myth. Did you know urban myths are actually an urban myth? There are no stories that spring from nowhere and lead to nothing. People say 'That's just an urban myth' when they hear about the hook hand or the snuff film, but they have no idea what they're talking about. It's not the reality that has power. It's the story itself. The words, and the way they sink into your head. Tom was a fictional guy who understood that. He came out of the nightclub and saw Emma standing at an empty taxi rank, looking ripe for immortalisation in a story. They went to the same college. Over sixteen but under eighteen, in that window where emotions swarm on your skin like insects. Jealousy, desire, despair, the whole shebang. He walked up to her, and said I have a friend who knows this girl who fucked a lobster. She said what, seriously? They started walking and talking in the dark. It turned out he lived in the next street to her. Or maybe the street after. He was wearing a Sisters of Mercy tee shirt. This Corrosion. He poured story-acid into her ears that night. I've got this friend who knows a girl who got bitten by a spider, and the bite formed a blister, and a thousand baby spiders came out and ate her face - he said. Stop it she said. But she was stupid enough to like it. There was this scared little girl who let this big brave boy walk her home he said, and then he kissed her. A week later, he showed her the Cow Head. It was a drawing on the front of a book that he kept on top of his wardrobe. Tom brought it down and put it on the bed beside her. My mate had a friend who bought it in Japan he said. But it didn't look Japanese. It looked liked an old scrapbook with pages pasted in, like a collection of clipped recipes that your grandmother might keep. Emma didn't open it. A teacher told the story of the Cow Head to her class - he said - and they all started shivering, so badly. She never finished the story. She blacked out half way through and when she came round she couldn't remember anything and all the kids were dead. Frozen. Sitting up in their seats with icicles on them, and their eyes wide and staring, their skin as white as milk. All good stories come to an end. Tom had the ending in mind from the beginning. They took the bus to the old cotton mill one wet Sunday evening. You know the one; broken windows and long dark halls in which the weeds grow tall. Your parents have warned you against such places. Tom and Emma sat on the stone floor and listened to the dripping of the rain from the rafters. He pulled the Cow Head book from his backpack, and said I knew this boy who wanted to be told a certain story. It was in a book that a friend had brought back from Japan. He was so scared of that story. But it wanted so badly to be told, and he had to hear it. All he needed was someone who loved him enough to read it to him. He opened the pages to a certain place, and handed Emma the book. I don't want to Emma said. Do it he said. Do it. So she started to read. There was a girl who woke up with the head of a cow in place of her own, and a lump of ice in her heart. That's all I remember. I woke up in the dark, sitting on the bench, the dog asleep at my feet. I was so cold inside, so cold that my skin was white and my fingers couldn't flex. I clipped the lead on the dog and walked home. I wasn't scared. I haven't felt a thing since. The funny thing is I can't remember what that man looked like. He could be anybody. He could be in this room, right now. First love is an urban myth. The reality of it isn't important. It's the words that get said. That's what counts.
Archived comments for Cow Head
sirat on 26-07-2013
Cow Head
Even more surreal than usual. Stories within stories, no telling where reality begins, if indeed it does. Very dark and memorable. The quality of a dream or a day-dream.

Two tiny proof reading issues:

If I walked him every day I my parents...
It looked liked an old scrapbook...

Author's Reply:
Thanks for picking up the typos. I'm a bit nervous about this one as I'm meant to read it aloud. I hope it works in that context.

SirClip on 26-07-2013
Cow Head
Most bizarre in a really enchanting way. A modern fairy tale that is in its own way an urban myth. I thought it was very well written and just the right length.

Very good indeed.

Author's Reply:
Thank you!

e-griff on 26-07-2013
Cow Head
innovative style and presentation. interesting. held the attention. Not sure where it led though ... 🙂 felt rather cheated/unsatisfied. Sorry. Feels like an idea that is still in embryo and needs hatching properly.

Author's Reply:
Something's not quite right, is it? What is it? What????? Argh.

sirat on 27-07-2013
Cow Head
Let me come back on this one, in the light of your statement that it's one you want to read out to an audience. Obviously, somebody reading or hearing this story will feel an urge to interpret. My interpretation, on a second reading, goes like this: The whole thing seems to be the dream of a young girl who falls asleep on a park bench while out walking the dog. The first item in the dream is the handsome young man who sits down beside her. The dream ends when she wakens up in the dark with the dog asleep at her feet. Her memories of the dream are a bit dim and confused, as they usually are. Then we have her closing comments about first love, urban myths and the importance of the words that get said. I think these comments come from the adult woman rather than the fourteen-year-old. On first reading it really does come across as a bit of a jumble, and even on second reading the meaning of the dream, if it has one, is far from clear. It's a story that creates a dream-like atmosphere, but does, I think, leave the reader a bit puzzled. Whether that's what you want from your reading I don't know, but I think that's the effect it's likely to produce.

You still haven't corrected those two typos, by the way.

Author's Reply:
Thank you - that helps me a great deal because it clarifies that the reader is getting pretty much what I wanted to put out there. My original meaning is not clear to me either, so it's not a failure in the communication but in the genesis. Which means I need to start again, basically.

I tend not to correct on UKA as I go along but on the master copy, but thanks for reminding me.

Rupe on 30-07-2013
Cow Head
I enjoyed it. Very rich in images (loved the cotton mill) and ideas (which part is the myth?), intriguing and funny (nearly choked on my coffee when I got to the bit about the lobster). And it had a playful quality - always good to see. A refreshing antidote to those tightly linear stories where if one doesn't 'get it' the whole thing is a bit of a waste of time, which one reads anxiously in case one isn't getting it...

I wasn't so keen on the penultimate paragraph, particularly the 'I woke up' part. I felt the underlying thesis of the piece (he said portentuously...) was that the essential reality of life is not what you think it is - the myth is true and the apparent reality a mere stage set. But the waking up bit seems to consign the whole thing to the easily dismissable status of a dream. Perhaps I've misinterpreted it, but that, anyway, is my misinterpretation.

Rupe

Author's Reply:
Thanks very much Rupe - I'm taking another stab at this and I appreciate your comments re the ending, so I'm going to take another look at that element of it.

TheBigBadG on 02-08-2013
Cow Head
Sorry it's taken a while to get round to this. It's partly due to inefficiency and partly because I've been turning it over in me 'ead quite a lot. I won't micro-manage because I realise it's far too late for that to be of any use.

Macro-management however, I think I agree with Griff. I think the reason for that is that I don't have the feeling that you know what it's meant to be about. It feels like you've got a lot of strands here, the urban legends, the dream-like encounter on a bench (a rather odd romantic encounter in fact) and the cow head, and it feels like too much for something this short. It's probably that your narrator considers it first love that tips it over the line for me. It's so surreal and couched in terms of modern mythos that it doesn't feel like there's anything real enough to base love on in there.

On that theme, for instance, I wonder if removing the last line would be a good place to start? Tom and Emma's story seem to bleed in to your narrator's to the extent that I keep thinking one of them is the narrator. But because they're just stories, urban myths, it devalues your statement, First love is an urban myth for me. I don't get any love from it at all. Perhaps (thinking this through as I write) focus on the thing he needed to cut free, to turn loose on me? The more I read it the more I get the feeling that whoever this handsome stranger is, he's passing on a curse; it feels like your narrator is starting to be consumed by the myths and it follows that it's only a matter of time before she has to find someone to pass it on to herself - thereby becoming an urban myth herself in the process. The scary thing about it is how subsumed your narrator is so establish uncertainty around her identity in relation to the myths and make it about her resisting being rubbed out by the story, perhaps?

Or alternatively ignore my overly-involved waffle and do as you will. You're probably a better judge of these things than I!

Author's Reply:
Thanks, very helpful - it's a confused mess. I rewrote removing the girl on the bench story which helps it, but I'm still struggling to make it really work. What is it I want to say about urban myths? Once I work that out, this may fare better. 😉


Falling Leaves (posted on: 08-07-13)
For the prose workshop challenge. Short.

Joe taught me of the business he called reading. It took years, but we had years, and there was nothing else to do but play, sing, eat, make love, and laugh at those at the bottom of the mountain. Actually, looking back at it, I'm surprised we had time for reading at all. The evening is drawing near, and the fire is burning at the mouth of the cave to keep the animals away. I sit on the ground, put his book beside him, and hold his hand. He breathes. The white whiskers around his mouth stir as he takes in air. The smell of him is wrong: too sweet, too heavy. His skin is yellowing. I have the rocks ready to pile over his body, once the whiskers stop moving, I watch those hairs with a level of attention he would have approved of. I could have filled my life with him, only him, but time has other ideas, and I will be alone. He wrote it in his book. Primrose will be left alone, he wrote. I like my name. In our first spring together he took me out of the cave and pointed to the flowers on the slope, the ones with bright little faces that turn up to greet you, and said Primrose. And when I smiled up at him, grateful of this knowledge, he cupped my chin in his hand and said the word again. The man in the cave who makes, they called him, and when he taught them to shape wood, to use it to channel water, they told me I would be a sacrifice to him. And I went up the mountain, past the strange, sharp rocks that sprang up when he arrived, and I presented myself to him. He took me into the cave, and I was afraid of the tall white sight of him, and the sky in his eyes, but he smiled and gave me some of his food, and made it known through his pointings that he wanted me to stay. He put his hand to his chest and said Joe. And that was the first word I ever learned in his language. Soon I became hungrier for words than for food, and he delighted in feeding me. Below, my family and the others worked on, and when I went down to them I soon began to see them in a new light. They were like the leaves on the trees, moving in the wind this way and that way, bunching together and never thinking of the time when they must fall. But Joe often thought of falling. He took a leaf and dropped it, in front of my nose, and said Fall. Then he pointed to himself and up at the sky. He said the word again. He would spend time sitting at the sharp new rocks that were so cold at night, so hot in the sun, and say that they fell with him. But they came from the ground; like trees, their roots had sunk so deep into the earth that they couldn't be pulled free. I did not understand this. Many things remain beyond me, but that's not so surprising. I am only a leaf too. Joe used the word leaf for the separate parts of his book too. He made his marks on each smooth leaf, and at first he did not share these meanings with me. But I began to see a pattern in them as I sat beside him, and when I pointed to one shape that appeared over and over, he said Eeeeee. And new lessons began. He would write and then I would read it aloud to him. He wrote down stories at first, not of the gods of earth and sea and sky, but of creatures I had never seen. A man with goat legs and a woman with snakes for hair. As he wrote them into life I saw them, in my mind, and became so scared of them that I hunted around the cave, making sure that they had not been lurking there all the time, and Joe laughed. But then, when I could not sleep, there was sadness, and he told me he would put the stories away and write only true things. Except these truths remade my life; everything I thought I knew was nothing compared to what he put on his leaves. He wrote that we lived on a giant ball among many balls, like a drop of water in an ocean. This was worse than the snake woman and I told him I would rather let the gods keep this knowledge for me, so that my head could be at peace. Joe said there are no Gods. There is only Science. I asked him What is Science? That which can be explained and understood. I said You can have your science for that. The Gods are for the things you can't explain to me and I don't want to understand. He looked at me with a new expression not as a man or as a teacher, but as a companion. I loved that look so much that I tried to put it on his face every day, saying my thoughts, asking my questions, but it did not always work. There were some things he wrote on his leaves that I still do not believe, but I never told him so. We are all made up of the same materials he wrote, and yet my eyes tell me that man, woman, sky, sea are all different, and those differences bring richness to us. I do not want us all to be the same. Except now I am alive and he is dead. His breath has gone while I sit here dreaming of our past. I thought he would wake for one final time, and tell me something, leave one final thought in me. But now his eyes are closed, and when I touch his cheek I feel the difference in his skin already. Yes, he is gone, and this body will be eaten by the beetles, but his spirit has flown upwards to the gods, no matter what he might have told me. He so often looked at the sky as if searching for something. I wonder if he will find what he was looking for. Primrose will be left alone, he wrote, in small letters, on the back leaf of the book. I pick it up, and run my finger over those words. He wrote only the truth, he told me. Primrose will be left alone. She cannot go back down the mountain after all I have taught her. She will tell them things they should not know and will not believe. The first time the crops die or the water dries up or the hunt fails, they will blame her and they will kill her. He wrote only the truth. The fire burns lower, and the light of the day has faded. When they discover he is dead, they will no longer bring food. And I am more alone than Joe could have ever imagined; alone on a ball in a vast sea of balls that never quite touch. Joe wrote this down. He made it true. I want my gods back. I want the comfort of their eyes on me, filling my head, making the sun rise and the primroses grow. I want that more than I want a cold memory of Joe. I throw the book on the fire. It takes a while for the leaves to start to curl up and turn black. But then the fire takes hold and begins to eat. The book of Joe's truth is dying. I rub my hands in front of the only warmth it has ever given me. I wait for its spell to be broken, and for the words of Joe to disappear.
Archived comments for Falling Leaves
SirClip on 08-07-2013
Falling Leaves
It may be short but it packs a powerful punch! There are some great images and some fantastic little details which for me at least, really bring the story to life.

Who is Joe and what he is doing there? Who knows? but I think the story is strong enough for it not to matter. Like wise, I think there are different messages to be taken from this. For me it is the anger that Primrose feels at having been 'infected' with Knowlege so that she can never return to her previous contented life.

A very good story, I loved it.

Author's Reply:
Thanks - it sounds like you really connected with it, which is brilliant.

sirat on 08-07-2013
Falling Leaves
First class, as we have come to expect. Nothing more to say.

Author's Reply:
Thank you.

Nomenklatura on 08-07-2013
Falling Leaves
Nothing to add to Sirat's comment.

Author's Reply:
Thanks! I nearly gave up on this one - glad I didn't now... 😉

Andrea on 08-07-2013
Falling Leaves
Bloody excellent 🙂

Author's Reply:
Thanks!

TheBigBadG on 09-07-2013
Falling Leaves
Still on your information fiction journey I see. The handling of knowledge and how it's value is contextual is the key theme here for me. Joe can teach her everything he knows but she'll still see wreckage as coming from the earth. And what can she do with her learnings except become alienated from her peers?

The flourish of tying it into the unrequited(able?) love between Joe and Primrose is what lifts it above. If only she could have known Joe as one of her own, or if they could have lived their whole lives together. Very sad and very good.

Author's Reply:
Yup, back in information territory, which continues to provide inspiration right now (phew).

Pronto on 09-07-2013
Falling Leaves
Excellent creative write full of little nuances that make it so exciting, so readable.
Well done

Author's Reply:
Thank you Pronto!

Kazzmoss on 10-07-2013
Falling Leaves
I enjoyed this, even if I didn't quite understand who or what they were. The writing was good, solid, strong and seemed to weave a magic that had me reading to the very end. 🙂

Karen

Author's Reply:
Thanks Kazzmoss - much appreciated.

Mikeverdi on 10-07-2013
Falling Leaves
I was hooked from the start. Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike.

Jakester519 on 11-07-2013
Falling Leaves
A wonderful story with so much being told in a short space of time. Loved it and loved the visualisations it produced for me whilst reading. It would be great to see an expanded version with more background to the wonderfully created characters you have produced.
Than you for sharing this,
Ian

Author's Reply:
Thanks Ian!

e-griff on 12-07-2013
Falling Leaves
An exact but imaginative treatment of my challenge - a way through the impasse that stopped me. Excellent.

One tiny comment. I personally found too many 'him' etc's. At least the 'presented myself' can stand without 'to him'.

Author's Reply:
Thanks - good point about the 'to him' - I find myself doing that a lot at the moment. Will attempt to nip it in the bud.


Pavlov Courtside (posted on: 04-05-12)
For the prose workshop challenge. An inconsequential character at a court.

That hard little ball is a sphere of aggression, a statement of a fact; you will not overcome me. I am indomitable, unbending. I cannot be beaten into submission. But pound it for ten minutes between a highly strung racket and an unforgiving wall, and it softens. It rolls over and shows its belly. It talks the talk, but give it a thrashing and it becomes nothing more than a rubber sphere of masochistic whining, begging to be hit again. I have anthropomorphised a squash ball. I do this all the time, with every kind of household object. I talk to the microwave, and Jay says, ''Are you having a conversation with the microwave again? That's my Kooky Birdie.' And he kisses me. I am rewarded for this behaviour, that's the problem. I have begun to seeking out this reward, his kiss, like a dog salivating at the sound of the bell. I am Pavlov's Girlfriend. Squash is in play. I am standing on the other side of the toughened glass, watching them swing, dodge, sweat. I don't know why I'm here. I could be somewhere else. There's a perfectly good generic coffee shop only fifty yards away, above the swimming pool. I could be drinking a latte and watching OAPs swim clockwise in the slow lane. Instead I've decided to witness this clash of titans. Jay versus Kieran. They are workmates who have been conducting this personal war for squash supremacy every week for three years. I suppose that, just once, I wanted to bear witness. It's such a huge part of our relationship. One day in every seven is taken up with the preparation of the shorts and tee shirt, the checking of the racket, the violent arm-swinging exercises before departure. And then Jay's return, with damp hair and the smell of communal showers upon him. Triumph or despondency etched into his face, and that evening is either a meal out or a slump on the sofa for the latest episode of Casualty. Yes, I felt I should see this pivotal moment for myself, since it directly affects one seventh of my life. The game is pretty much as I imagined, without the heroism. It proceeds with occasional expletives, and lots of bending over. I never knew squash involved so much bending over: to dodge the whizzing ball, to retie sloppy shoelaces, to get back your breath, and to have a surreptitious release of wind from your bottom, judging by the smell in here. At first Jay turned to me once or twice, and attempted a smile, but now he has run out of additional energy and he saves himself to tell Kieran, good shot, every now and again, or to shout fuck! fuck! fuck! in ever-increasing decibels. I love Jay. To him I am the Kookie Birdie, perfectly compartmentalised for the hours after work and around squash. I make him laugh, and he treats me like I'm an exotic bird that followed him home from the pet shop. And that's fine. Because around my own work hours and secret affair with Kieran, I like to be his weird parrot that talks to microwaves. It feels so simple and charming, to be seen that way. Kieran, on the other hand, he's not acknowledging my presence at all this afternoon, and I like that too. He's a focused man. When I tell Jay I'm going out with my sister and then dash over to Kieran's house, there is always a foreign film about angst waiting in the DVD player and an open bottle of expensive and chewy red wine. He always wants to have a conversation first about where our lives are going, and why we have to keep our love secret. I love the fact that he thinks I'm capable of keeping a secret. Jay thinks I tell the microwave everything. The game is coming to an end. They are both moving more sluggishly, and Jay is slow to retrieve the ball. I didn't follow the point-scoring, but something in their body language tells me that Kieran has won. So it's Casualty on the television for me tonight. They emerge from the glass booth and Jay says something about meeting me outside. Kieran still won't look at me. They stroll past, off to the changing room, and I am left alone. I step into the court. It is a pockmarked box, the walls scattered with the little black marks of a thousand hard balls, thrashed into submission. It comes to me that I am a squash ball too, pinging backwards and forwards between Jay and Kieran, without either of them ever recognising that I am the focus of the game. I am so small, inconsequential, but without me there could be no game. Just two blokes standing around, wondering what to talk about. I wonder if they will eventually soften me up. But no, right now, I am still me, not quite serious, not all-the-way kooky. Immutable me. I leave the court and make my way to the coffee shop. There's a latte with my name on it. I'm salivating already at the thought.
Archived comments for Pavlov Courtside
sirat on 04-05-2012
Pavlov Courtside
I really liked this one. I'm seldom impressed by flash fiction but this one is genuinely memorable. I love the extended metaphor of the squash ball, which I didn't see until it was pointed out to me. The 'bird' theme worked well too. 'Jay' and 'Kookie Bird'. It might have been fun to give Kieran a bird name too, especially if it could somehow suggest his personality. 'Robin', perhaps? A little bit territorial and a show-off to other males, but basically a home-maker, familiar and comfortable to be around.

The best line in the story IMO was: 'Jay thinks I tell the microwave everything'. What a starter for a creative writing exercise!
One tiny typo: 'I have begun to seeking out this reward'.

Great story.

Author's Reply:
Thanks David - I will sort that typo and also change the other bloke's name, thanks for that excellent suggestion. I knew Kieran wasn't quite right but Robin is perfect.

TheBigBadG on 04-05-2012
Pavlov Courtside
I'm with David here, it's entirely tangible and rounded (no pun (ok a little pun...) intended) for something so short. It's another one of yours where you've pinned down a curious, and fickle, character who's not what we expect. She strikes me as a bit of a control freak btw. Sure, she's the ball but she's also the one who started the game. She paints her self as a masochist, but she's taking it out on other people as well. It's a nicely balanced skip down domestic border wars; those things that make mundane life far from boring. Nice. 🙂

Author's Reply:
Thanks! I thought maybe it needed more, so the feedback telling me it's about right is very good news... I like these quirky characters, particularly for shorter fiction. It's harder to get it to work for full length fiction though.

amman on 05-05-2012
Pavlov Courtside
The first two commentators have said most of what I was going to say. Love this as an extended metaphor of the little woman who is more than she seems. Especially like the line 'But no, right now,I am still me, not quite serious, not all the way cooky. Immutable me'. Sums the whole situation up really.
Regards

Author's Reply:
Thanks amman!

e-griff on 05-05-2012
Pavlov Courtside
There was a lot to like about this. A fun read. You have to like it. I noted the parallel between the squash game and her love life, with her as the ball going back and forth between the two. There were also some other fun ideas and it bounced along ...

However ... This is a very short story - a flash. I don't believe there is enough 'meat' in it to fill it out. If I can say that I see a 'flash' as a concentrated pill that you put in a reader's head, and it expands and becomes a much longer 'standard' story, this is short, but at standard dilution - nothing to burst out and expand as it were. And because it's short, I feel it's missing stuff and too many words are wasted on non-important parts, a bit of a mixed bag. IMO more of it needs to be explored to make it fully rounded and complete for a lasting impact, or made more concentrated and focused at its present length.

best JohnG

Author's Reply:
Well, I felt much the same when I wrote it. I couldn't decide where it was going and what it was for, and then it just kind of finished. sounds like you noticed it. 😉

Andrea on 06-05-2012
Pavlov Courtside
Brilliant take on the challenge. All nicely and neatly tied up, as a package should be. I actually prefer 'Kieran' to 'Robin' (although I can see what David's getting at of course) - but there ya go, it's your baby :). Good stuff, anyway, much enjoyed/

Oh, and squash is just so (my bro was something of a champ before age got him :))

Author's Reply:
Thanks! I love playing squash. Am terrible at it though. Enjoyed writing about it inside of losing at it....


The Sad and Interesting Politician (posted on: 16-03-12)
For the prose workshop challenge. A politician wriggles out of a sticky situation. Sort of.

Some stories are so predictable. My life has been a string of unimaginative happenings, from the first word (goo) to the last breath (haa). Goohaa. This is my new word for the utter boringness of my life. The whole thing passed without a moment of inspiration. Not so for my nephew. You may have heard of him. His name is Happy Brown, and he runs the world. He's still alive, although we are approaching the moment of his death. He will consider buying a gun not for him, but for his cheating wife. He will walk into the gun shop and look over the options, but the man behind the counter will recognise him and he'll run back to the safety of his armour-plated limo and be taken back to the big white house he lives in. He thinks of poisoning his wife, but they never eat together any more and all their meals are prepared separately in the enormous kitchens that he's not really supposed to visit. They don't sleep together, so he can't do an Othello on her, and strangle her one night as an act of passion. In fact, they're never alone to have any sort of passionate moment. There are always at least three bodyguards in a room, and although they are meant to protect him, he's pretty certain that they'd intervene if he pulled a knife on her, or attempted to bash in her head with the bear's foot paperweight Vladimir Putin gave to him. Yes, they'd intervene. Mainly because the man she's having an affair with is the head of the secret service. CIA chief Rusty Whacker there's no point even fantasising about killing him. Not only does he work in one of the most secure locations in the world, but he's a black belt in three martial arts and he buys his own guns. Not small ones. Ones worthy of a Texan oil baron who decided to dabble in backroom politics and ended up pulling the strings of the entire country. Happy may run the world, but Rusty owns it. So, no revenge on the wife or the boyfriend. What can Happy do? He goes on, for a while. He smiles and waves. He signs treaties and takes meetings in which people talk about election years. His heart is bruised and dying. Every day, the world is a little less important to him. And one day he reaches the stage where he no longer cares. There is a moment, in the middle of a press conference. He should be addressing the embargo on a certain rogue African state and instead he finds himself saying My wife is having an affair. There is a silence. All cameras stop flashing. All journalists stop squeaking their questions. Quick, he thinks, get up, get up, walk out while they're all stunned, but then the moment is gone and the machinery of the media starts to churn at double time, squeak, flash, squeak, flash. The press officer steps forward and waves his hands, and Happy finds himself being escorted away, a bodyguard on each arm, exerting a firm and unarguable pressure. The think tanks discuss the fallout. Could we run with stress? Pressures of work? Breakdown? Two weeks holiday and a few pills will fix everything? Could we do marriage counselling? Reconciliation? Or would divorce appeal more to the voters? Where do we stand? What damage limitation can we put in place? Happy wants to tell them there is nothing they can do. Damage limitation, like friendly fire and floating voters, are ideas that mean we are all frozen inside, stiff with the ice of modern life. We don't know how to care any more. We're not cutting this story one way or another, he wants to tell them. We're cutting our souls into bite-sized chunks and packaging it for the ten o'clock news. But Happy has a solution. A real solution. He's decided to kill himself. He doesn't say these things, and nobody notices that he's not speaking. Later, in his bedroom, he tells the bodyguards he's going to get some rest and instead decides to jump out of the window. But it's glued shut and the glass is bulletproof, too tough to break. He checks the bathroom cabinet for pills, and finds some Xanax. But the bottle is only half-full and he's not sure that would be enough to do the job. He tries to make a noose from the one hundred per cent Egyptian cotton bedsheet, but it's so soft between his trembling fingers that he can't tie the knot. He returns to the bathroom and picks up his electric shaver. Not much point trying to slash his wrists with it, but He runs a bath in the oval tub, adds bath oil, checks the temperature. He takes off his shoes and socks and rolls up the bottoms of his expensive trousers. He stands in the water and enjoys the sensation. It's a good feeling: the smell of the lavender bubbles, the heat building between his toes. It's a good way to go out of this life. He cradles the plugged-in razor to his chest. Any minute now he'll drop it, and the last sound he makes won't be a quiet sigh, a haaaaa, or even a goo. It'll be the crackle of his lungs frying, the spittle frothing on his electrical lips. Grshcphylthca. Look how much more interesting his last word is going to be. And he won't even appreciate what a gift that is. He drops the razor, and does his stuff. Later, somewhere between the spaces that were once the insides of our heads, we have a conversation. He recognises me, I say hi, he gives me a hug, and we chat. He suddenly says, in the middle of a sentence about baseball, ''Where am I? Is this a hospital?'' ''You're dead. So am I.'' I wish I could have thought of a more interesting way to put it. ''Nooooo,'' he says. ''Gee. I was just trying to give everyone a scare. Myself, mainly. You know, shock myself out of my depression.'' He laughs. ''I guess that's what I did. Just a little too much of a shock, though.'' ''Yeah.'' I laugh along with him, at the lie he's telling himself. He stops, and says, ''Actually, it's not funny. I've got stuff to do, back there. I have to get back there.'' ''Sorry,'' I say. ''It just doesn't work that way.'' ''Who says?'' I shrug. ''Well, if nobody's making the rules then I will. And I say I'm going back, Auntie Norma.'' ''Listen, it doesn't.'' But he's already stopped listening to me. The entire of the afterlife to go, and he can't even listen to me for thirty seconds. I am that boring. ''Okay then,'' he says, ''This way. See ya Auntie Norma. Catch you next time around.'' And he starts walking. I don't follow him, because I'm thinking, right, yeah, that will never work. He'll hit some kind of magic barrier, or get zapped by God's big lightning bolt. Something will happen here. But nothing does. He just keeps walking, until he's a speck in the distance, and then I hear a loud Haaaaaaa noise, like a great big rush of air, and Happy Brown is waking up on the very expensive carpet in his enormous bathroom, with three paramedics and a gaggle of bodyguards standing over him. They all start crying as Happy takes a big breath in. The first breath of his second life. His wife rushes in. She throws herself upon him, and begs for forgiveness. CIA Chief Rusty Whacker leaves through the back door, retreats to his Texas ranch and never interferes with politics or other men's wives again. Happy gets a second term when everybody hears about his brush with death. How lucky they are to still have him around! It's only when you think you've lost something that you begin to appreciate it. Thus sayeth the billboards and the ad campaigns. He's doing a lot of good down there now. He sees way of solving problems. I don't think like that. Outside the box, I mean. I'm still in this box, this tiny crate of heaven. Or whatever. I can't think myself out of it. I'll carry on watching over my nephew. He says he'll make the world a better place, and I believe him. I guess he can't make it any worse than this place. Goohaa.
Archived comments for The Sad and Interesting Politician
amman on 16-03-2012
The Sad and Interesting Politician
Terrific. Rusty Whacker indeed. Love the penultimate para..especially 'I'm in this box, this tiny crate of heaven. I can't think myself out of it'. Great poetic prose. Thank you for sharing this story.

Author's Reply:
Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Amman!

TheBigBadG on 16-03-2012
The Sad and Interesting Politician
I like the comic elements to this with the names and noises. I have a weird image of a pootle sitting somewhere making noises at an empty room until Grshcphylthca (somewhere near Ithaca?) was decided upon. The squeak, flash, squeak flash is something I picked on in mine as well (perhaps hard to do politics without it?)

There are elements that remind me of The Golden Boy in The Sandman as well. Very different story and
characters, clearly; I think it's the line 'His name is Happy Brown and he runs the world'. Anyway, that's beside the point.

The good thing about the comic elements really is though...? The distraction they provide from what's happening. So you don't notice that Norma, Happy, Rusty and the wife are all trapped in their own ways - they can't even rely on classic outs from literature, just good old-fashioned mortality. It's quite cynical underneath all the gags, isn't it? What with the ominously named Happy being dissatisfied with Heaven and Earth, even if Heaven is a box. I know he goes back and does good, but by that point all I can think about is Norma flapping around trapped by her own lack of imagination...

Interesting and curiously poised, Blue; looks like a goose, closer inspection reveals it to be a duck. Something you seem to be pretty good at. 🙂

Author's Reply:
You're so right, I was thinking about Boss Smiley and Neil Gaiman as I wrote the opening, but then thankfully it took on a life of its own. I wondered if anyone would spot it. I absolutely love that story.

TheBigBadG on 16-03-2012
The Sad and Interesting Politician
I like the comic elements to this with the names and noises. I have a weird image of a pootle sitting somewhere making noises at an empty room until Grshcphylthca (somewhere near Ithaca?) was decided upon. The squeak, flash, squeak flash is something I picked on in mine as well (perhaps hard to do politics without it?)

There are elements that remind me of The Golden Boy in The Sandman as well. Very different story and
characters, clearly; I think it's the line 'His name is Happy Brown and he runs the world'. Anyway, that's beside the point.

The good thing about the comic elements really is though...? The distraction they provide from what's happening. So you don't notice that Norma, Happy, Rusty and the wife are all trapped in their own ways - they can't even rely on classic outs from literature, just good old-fashioned mortality. It's quite cynical underneath all the gags, isn't it? What with the ominously named Happy being dissatisfied with Heaven and Earth, even if Heaven is a box. I know he goes back and does good, but by that point all I can think about is Norma flapping around trapped by her own lack of imagination...

Interesting and curiously poised, Blue; looks like a goose, closer inspection reveals it to be a duck. Something you seem to be pretty good at. 🙂

Author's Reply:

ChairmanWow on 18-03-2012
The Sad and Interesting Politician
A fun read in this political season. Agree with the comments above concerning names. American president would have no trouble getting his hands on a gun though. R. Reagan used to give rifles out as presents to other world leaders. Feel bad for the Aunt in Heaven, or purgatory. Seems she's self-limited, to me. Isn't there a leader in Nigeria called Good-Luck Jonathan? Great work to make so much run through my brain.

Ralph

Author's Reply:
You're so right about the gun. It's the bit I don't like now I look back on it. It makes it look like it was written by an English person. Not that that's a bad thing, but it gives it that outsider feel, I suppose.

Still, thanks Ralph - I'm glad you enjoyed the names and the ideas.

e-griff on 19-03-2012
The Sad and Interesting Politician
Great story. Norma stopped me at the end. Better if I'd known she was the narrator from the beginning.

***

BUT, (for me at least) big technical objection. 1) electric shavers don't plug in any more, they are rechargeable 2) you are trading on a completely false myth that electricity and water automatically mean death. In this case, even if there was a mains lead (and note US mains voltage is only 110 - much safer) , he might only get a shock through his ankles if it dropped in the water (and probably not then). If he put the end of the lead in his mouth, yes, it might stop his heart, but 3) modern circuit breakers operate in milliseconds and in any case, 4) shaver plugs in bathrooms are isolated from the earth return so ...
5) his bath is probably plastic/fibreglass, esp if it's a big luxurious shaped one, with Jacuzzi (which I imagine it must be in this case) so no earth connection even if all the rest was bodged.

No joy there.

Finally, the current provided by 110v (or even 220v) across the body would not fry the lungs or boil spittle. You may be thinking of an electric chair - which has massive electrodes and a small power station behind it at very high voltage.

er, sorry 🙂

There is a TV ad running at the moment that shows a bloke dropping a battery shaver into a fish tank and killing the fish - totally ludicrous. Like on TV shows where sparks jump out of the wall when someone plugs something dodgy in - pure fantasy.

- your science correspondent

Author's Reply:
Oh foof. And it all came tumbling down like a house of cards. Ah well. It's even more difficult for a president to commit suicide than I thought it was...

e-griff on 19-03-2012
The Sad and Interesting Politician
well, I don't think that's a big issue, is it? - he could even use the cord from the shaver to hang himself on a hook on the back of the bathroom door, couldn't he? (like that singer did). Stand on the wastebin and then kick it away - you only need a few inches ...

Author's Reply:
I like that. I might do that instead then.

Weefatfella on 14-09-2012
The Sad and Interesting Politician
What ever happened to artistic license? I enjoyed this piece the parallels with Obama or any other leader were spot on. these people don't run the world, committees do.

If you want to see how it all works.Throw a piece of bread down and watch the crows.
I wonder what Clinton really did to get shopped by his security team?
Enjoyed the piece for what it was an observation of life no matter who you may think you are.

Author's Reply:
Thanks!

Nomenklatura on 14-09-2012
The Sad and Interesting Politician
It's a shame about the science. I'm pretty sure they always used to chuck a hair-dryer in, another trope of fiction destroyed. Even so I reckon there must have been - or still is - a genyoo-ine antique victorian bath tub with feet somewhere in the White House: a present from The King of Matabeleland or something. Maybe it's even where Mrs Harding plotted the poisoning of her husband, who knows?



Still a rollicking read despite the shaver/bathtub anomaly.



Ewan

Author's Reply:
Thanks Ewan - I changed it so that the bathtub thing is another failure, and came up with some other method, I think - but I like your solution!


The Last House of God (posted on: 28-11-11)
For the prose workshop challenge. A rush job. Eek.

The first thing we did was bury Dee. She died only ten minutes before we landed. If I had believed in a higher power back then I would have thought it had a sense of humour. Dee had talked about coming home all the time. I want to put my feet on proper soil, she had said. Instead we ended up putting all of her in the soil. It was dark and crumbly in our hands. I hadn't expected it to be damp; it must have rained before we arrived. Dee would have loved to feel the rain. We had ancient maps of the settlement: the football field, the zoo, the museum; but these landmarks were all gone. The only thing remaining was the cathedral, so we decided to set up our temporary camp there. It was a beautiful and terrifying building: tall, so black, with two long thin points that stretched right into the sky. Spires, that was the word. Inside was a massive space, strangely filled with light, and for some reason we all found ourselves talking in whispers as we made preparations for our first meal. Tom and Bernie fetched the bags and the heater from the lander, and Jen started to arrange the tents to her satisfaction, which brought smiles from the rest of the group. Jen was a detail person; the tiniest things seemed important to her, and she did not enjoy being interrupted, so Will and I took ourselves off for a look at the remains of the artwork and the relics, and the enormous pipes that stood vertically, arranged in order of height, high up on one wall. He asked the ship via his commlink what it was, but it could find no records. Perhaps some kind of sculpture, we decided. 'Have we really learned from their mistakes?' said Will, as we moved past the pipes to the darkest part of the cathedral, behind a carved wooden screen showing angels and saints with their faces raised to their God. The time and effort it must have took astounded me; all that work, for some intangible idea of what awaited after death. 'Of course.' I touched the screen. Wood - warm and strong, under my fingers. The natural blessings of the land. 'Poor Gee. She held on for so long, just to see this.' 'Yes, poor Gee,' he echoed. Her death felt different from the others on the long journey. It had been endowed with meaning for us all. Was it a good omen for a new beginning? 'Why do you think this building stands, and not the others?' He shrugged. 'Better masonry techniques? Stronger raw materials? Or maybe just luck.' 'Luck...' A flurry of movement erupted from above us; we both ducked. Will caught my arm and pulled me towards him, and I lost my balance. We fell backwards and ended up sprawled on the floor, our attention on the small brown bird, crashing into the walls until it found a window and disappeared into the blue sky beyond. I scrambled to my feet and pointed to the spot where it had made its escape, unable to speak. My first bird - small, brown, darting with a speed and energy I had not expected from the description I had studied on the long journey. There were birds once more. Will stood up behind me and I felt his arms around my waist. He lifted me off my feet and swung me in a wide circle, and we laughed together, the sound reaching up into the spires and echoing around us. A burial, and then a bird. It was the first day of my new life and already it had been more exciting than any other day I had experienced. That night I couldn't sleep, couldn't begin to make sense of my feelings. Something enormous had changed inside me. I was one of only five people on the face of a once barren Earth, and for the first time I no longer felt alone. I was surrounded by living things: the worms in the soil, the birds in the air. Everything breathed with me, and that knowledge gave me an intense, dizzying delight. That delight did not pass for hours - not even when the others woke, started their breakfast chores, and realised that the lander had stopped working. * 'We knew we could never go back anyway,' I pointed out at the meeting we decided to hold in one of the heavily decorated side-rooms. We sat in a circle, cross-legged, as the elders did back home. 'The ship doesn't have enough fuel.' Tom shook his head at me. 'You know that's hardly the concern.' 'How much food do we have down here?' asked Jen. 'Enough for a week, perhaps? There's no way to fetch more.' Will stood up. It was a break with protocol, and the others shifted their weight as they were forced to look up at him. 'We all studied this habitat. We know what carrots and potatoes look like, don't we? And we saw birds. There'll be other animals.' 'I'm not living on dead flesh!' said Bernie. 'Not forever. Just until we get the lander working again.' 'How are we going to do that?' said Tom, quietly. Nobody replied. And yet I couldn't feel despondent. I said, 'Something will turn up.' 'Oh, really?' said Jen. 'Twenty-five of us set out on this reconnaisance mission and this is all that's left. And now there's no way to get out of this unsafe environment.' I shook my head. 'But it's not unsafe! There's life here again, and it can sustain us.' 'For how long?' Tom balled his hands into fists. He was the engineer - the pragmatic one, and had the unspoken respect of the group. His words carried the weight of certainty. 'No, our best chance is repair the lander and go back to the ship. Bernie and I will get on it. We shouldn't start taking from the planet in the ancient ways. In the long term that's simply unsustainable.' 'With all due respect,' said Will, 'if we don't survive the short term then there won't be a long term. And that means food, and warmth, and shelter.' 'But those are the classic mistakes-' 'Enough!' Will stared at Tom, who eventually dropped his eyes to the floor. 'I'm going to try to start supplementing our diet straight away. Anyone who wants to last longer than a week can feel free to help.' He walked off, and I needed to put no thought into it; I got up to follow him. 'Fern!' called Tom, but it was the obvious choice. We were here for a purpose, and that couldn't be served by starving to death whilst fiddling with the lander. Even if they did find out why all systems were dead, the tools were back on the main ship. The lander was now only so much human junk, the first rubbish heap in centuries. I found Will by the wooden screen, his hands upon it, as if drawing strength from its beauty. 'It's the easiest thing for now, until we can find some stone and get some cutting tools sorted out,' he said. 'And we're going to need to make a net. The tent cords will do.' 'A net?' I pictured what I had learned on the journey. 'Are you going to catch fish?' I had always wanted to see a real fish. But he was already speaking to the ship through the commlink, getting information on how to start a fire, roast meat, check it was properly cooked. I had always envied his ability to break down a problem into its component parts and take logical steps towards solving them. If only he didn't see people in the same manner; not everyone had taken to his intellectualising. It had never seemed to matter before, but if we were going to get the others behind us, it would be essential to make them see that he had their best interests at heart. The food that evening went a long way towards achieving that. The smell of roast bird, caught in the net we had made and cooked over a small portion of the wooden screen that it had been necessary to tear down, was incredible. Everyone except Bernard took a small share to supplement their diets; even so, only I had the grace to thank Will for what he had provided. 'One of the underside panels became dislodged during the landing, and something crawled inside and nested there,' said Tom. 'I don't know, a small mammal of some kind.' 'A mouse!' said Jen. I thought of the cartoon mouse I had learned about, the one that got chased by the cat. It had lived in those holes people built into the walls of their houses; how could it have survived once all the houses were gone? 'Why would it do that?' 'Whatever it was, it chewed through the wiring and it's probably still in there, doing damage. I don't know how to catch it.' 'Get a cat!' I said. Everyone frowned at me. They couldn't see that this was all for the best - if the mouse was destroying the lander, there had to be a reason for it. I felt sure it would become clear in time. The fire was dying down. The flames, the warmth, even the smell of the smoke: every element of it was so very pleasurable. It had an intoxicating effect, lulling and soothing. 'Shall we get some more wood?' I said. Everyone agreed. Even Bernie. And by the end of the third night he was eating roasted bird too. * Our commlinks died over the course of the first week, with no way of recharging them from the fusion drive on board, but we all kept wearing them around our wrists, as if to remind us of who we were, where we came from. Jen found that she could write on the walls using a stick dipped in ash from the fire, and began to mark off the days and make notes of things that we needed to remember. After we managed to catch one of the tree-hugging mammals using the nets we discovered that meat was sour, and also led to stomach complaints, so Jen wrote: DO NOT EAT TREE CREATURES and we realised we were compiling the first new rulebook, written by hand, in centuries. Jen started to get excited about the possibilities of building a whole new knowledge base, and experimented with making a more permanent method of recording the information, using sharpened stones on the walls. Without the commlinks we were truly alone for the first time, and initially it seemed that it would unite us, but Tom and Bernie continued to persevere with the lander even though they could not find the mouse and turned up more damage to the wiring every day. Eventually, after a month or so, Will got tired of it and asked them, during the lunch break, to stop. Bernie was the first one to escalate it to an argument. 'Are you crazy? It's nearly there!' 'We all know that's a lie,' said Will. 'Do we?' Jen shook her head. The look she gave Will was so sanctimonious that I found myself saying, 'What would you know? All you do is fiddle with the walls all day. Will provides the food and takes care of us. I think we should all listen to him.' 'That's another thing we don't agree on,' said Bernie. Tom held up his hands. 'I'm really so close to getting it working, and I think we need to hang on in there, all of us.' 'We need to accept our fate! What difference would it make, even if we could get back to the ship?' 'We could contact home, find out when the second wave is turning up, have a hot shower, find out information about the rest of the planet, eat decent food: do I need to spell all this out? Have you totally forgotten your mission?' Tom was shouting; the first time I had seen him really upset. His voice echoed around the building. 'Sssh!' said Will. He put his hand on the sharp stone he had taken to carrying around in his belt. 'Why?' Tom stared at him. 'Who do you think I'll disturb?' Will turned away. 'It just seems wrong,' I said. 'Don't you feel it?' 'No,' said Tom. 'I don't feel it.' I looked at the others; they wore the same pitying expressions. 'God is not here any more, you do know that, don't you?' 'Of course! I'm not talking about ancient beliefs. There's a real presence here, now. Not God. I'm not stupid.' I tried to explain the feeling that had been growing within me, that I had not wanted to admit even to myself. 'But something is acting through Will, call it luck, call it fate - he disturbed the birds, he found the wood... and the lander, it broke, for no reason - how do you explain it?' 'We don't have to,' said Bernard. And I could see that he really did mean it. It was as if he, Tom and Jen were made of entirely different stuff to me and Will. But then, they weren't the ones doing the hunting and providing. Catching an animal using our brains and our speed - that was the kind of experience that had changed us. We had come to understand how arbitrary our survival was, how much depended on factors outside of our control. Whatever you called it did not matter. It was beyond our understanding. And therefore it deserved our respect. * We continued to feed everyone, of course. And we simply didn't talk about it. Jen scratched her notes, Tom and Bernard fiddled with the lander, and Will and I did the real work. After every kill we started to say thank you for our continued good luck, mainly up into the air, sometimes to the pipes on the wall, just because they seemed important in some way that we couldn't explain. And it felt right to do so. It brought us together. We held hands as we said our thank yous and I loved those moments. Will, and his connection to the unknown, was becoming so important to me. I lay awake thinking about it every night while he sneaked outside to the lander. I have to admit I realised straight away what he was doing out there, but I knew it was for the best. I was surprised that it took so long for the others to catch on. But they must have, because one morning they were gone. They took their tents and the rest of the supplies. We thought maybe Jen might have scratched a message under her rules, but there was nothing. I suppose they thought we couldn't be reasoned with. 'They stand no chance on their own,' said Will as we walked through the forest. He'd attached the sharp stone to a long straight stick from one of the young trees, and we had a plan to go fishing. An enormous river ran alongside the building - we had thought it was too fast-flowing to fish in, but Will had been led by the higher power to discover an eddy where he could safely stand, and he had shown me big silver fish in there, so beautiful, ready to be taken, like a gift. 'It'll be better this way,' I told him. 'I think it's meant to be this way.' 'One man, one woman,' he agreed. 'A perfect beginning. We should write that on the wall.' 'Yes,' I said. 'If the fish come to us, it's a sign. It should be written.' And so, in the beginning, it was.
Archived comments for The Last House of God
e-griff on 28-11-2011
The Last House of God
there's a lot of good story in this, and some confusion. I guess that reflects your view that it's not finished,

I didn't like some of the more explicit statements. ('one of five people on the once barren earth' offended me) I think you need to keep the tone the same throughout. If you have perceptive readers, they will make the connection and parallels, you don't have to explain them.

You could say there are two stories here. First a shortie, where at the end the reader understands it's the earth. Pretty much done many times, but, get the right atmosphere and it's away. Second story - the social aspects of the community - a lot of which here is good, but doesn't really get started fully as a theme - that could be very interesting if developed. The old Adam and Eve thing is not that original, and is really part of the 'first' story IMO.

I think the social aspects are the most worthy of developing, exposing human nature in the raw, using parallels with today's society to get over the message. er, if you chose to do so 🙂

In parts an intriguing and involving story, nonetheless

Author's Reply:
Yes, that's exactly how I feel about it. Thanks for summing it up so well. I don't think it should necessarily cause a prob to run the 'earth' storyline next to the 'rules' storyline (and therefore the beginning of religion); but the balance isn't right yet. And I ran out of time and tacked on Adam and Eve stuff at the end.

Needs a good second draft and a polish, I think, and it should be there (she said hopefully).

sirat on 28-11-2011
The Last House of God
I can tell that this one is a lot less developed than most of your stories. I disagree with Griff about a short 'surprise ending' version, with the revelation at the end that the planet is earth. Once you talk about cathedrals and what is obviously an organ, and also talk about angels and saints, there can hardly be much doubt as to where you are. Also that kind of revelation is not very interesting as well as being really old hat (e.g. Planet of the Apes). The social aspect is also well-trodden ground (e.g. Lord of the Flies), ditto the Adam and Eve stuff, so you really need to think of a good new angle, which is always the hardest part in writing good science fiction, I think.

What you seem to have developing in this 'colony' is a rift between rule-followers (we're here on a mission) and independent thinkers (what matters now is survival). Also a developing sense of mysticism and supernatural belief within a scientific culture, which is something I find less convincing. Would people as technologically advanced as these even consider such notions as 'luck' and 'god' and mysterious forces that are or are not on their side, are or are not guiding them and causing things to happen? All that seems to belong to an earlier phase of social evolution. The title jars with me a bit for the same reason.

I think you've got lots of interesting ideas here, but you need to find something to say, an interesting story or parable to create using these elements. At the moment I think it's a bit too diffuse – too many threads started but not leading anywhere.

A couple of technical quibbles:

'The time and effort it must have took' Grammar!

'Are you crazy? It's nearly there!' I think what you really mean is 'We've nearly done it' or something similar. The sentence just seems badly expressed.

'... and the lander, it broke, for no reason - how do you explain it?'

But it didn't break for no reason, it broke because mice got in and chewed the wires. They already know that at this point. Why would they see it as in need of any further explanation? We're back to this (I think unconvincing) thrashing around for supernatrural influences.

I hope that's some help.


Author's Reply:
Thanks David - I think you're right about it being a bit half-cocked, really. And it really is just a first draft. The time scale, I think, is an issue too - I'm trying to telescope a change that might be gradual, over generations, in terms of returning to supernatural explanations. Although I do think that many people consider electricity to be supernatural in terms of not being able to explain or understand it (have been reading too much Barthes). I didn't think it through well enough, without a doubt, before I started writing. But there - to fail is as good a learning experience as to succeed. Thanks for the very accurate feedback.

e-griff on 28-11-2011
The Last House of God
Coming back --- I agree all these concepts have been 'done' before, but the question is, is this a good example of them? I quite liked the idea and the writing.

I also think that it's fair to assume human nature stays the same over millenia, and that a viable human society contains all sorts: scientists, philosophers, artists, religious followers etc, and (as in many previous stories) a crew (for this kind of venture which is mainly (presumaby) 'cultural') would be made up of a variety of personality types, so it seems quite fair that the new surroundings might expose the differences which in their own society weren't divisive, and cause splits.

I think the guy snipping the wires needs more build-up in terms of his views and opinions so we can fully understand why he does it - also it shouldn't happen so quickly - ie before they know (he knows) if the planet is viable.

There's a lot here to play with. But to be honest, this is one of those stories which may eventually appear complete, or go on the back burner and stay there (I have many like that myself 🙂 )

best, JohnG

Author's Reply:
Yeah, it'll either come to me or it won't. I've got one that's been waiting for inspiration for ten years plus now. Some stories just turn out that way.

e-griff on 28-11-2011
The Last House of God
Coming back --- I agree all these concepts have been 'done' before, but the question is, is this a good example of them? I quite liked the idea and the writing.

I also think that it's fair to assume human nature stays the same over millenia, and that a viable human society contains all sorts: scientists, philosophers, artists, religious followers etc, and (as in many previous stories) a crew (for this kind of venture which is mainly (presumaby) 'cultural') would be made up of a variety of personality types, so it seems quite fair that the new surroundings might expose the differences which in their own society weren't divisive, and cause splits.

I think the guy snipping the wires needs more build-up in terms of his views and opinions so we can fully understand why he does it - also it shouldn't happen so quickly - ie before they know (he knows) if the planet is viable.

There's a lot here to play with. But to be honest, this is one of those stories which may eventually appear complete, or go on the back burner and stay there (I have many like that myself 🙂 )

best, JohnG

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 28-11-2011
The Last House of God
oops, sorry dunno what happened ... 🙂

Author's Reply:

discopants on 28-11-2011
The Last House of God
For me, the interaction of the characters holds more interest than the plot itself. They have come on their mission having been required to follow orders from their elders but are now having to think for themselves- how they respond is the point of interest for me.

I like the bit about beginning to draw up their rules- I remember an experiment (think it was part of a TV show) where a load of 7 year olds were stuck into a couple of houses and told that they were in charge of themselves- in no time at all they were drawing up a list of rules and (un)acceptable practices.

That said, I too wasn't so sure about the 2 characters finding some higher authority/power but that may just be down to you not having enough space to develop all the bits fully in a piece of this length.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Disco - yeah, I rushed it in places due to time limitations (never a good thing...).

Bikerman on 28-11-2011
The Last House of God
It was fun but, as has been said, not hugely original (and with a story like this I think that's an essential ingredient). If it were mine, I'd probably put it on that back burner that griff mentioned (I'm sure we've all got a lot of them there).

Author's Reply:
Thanks Bikerman.

teifii on 29-11-2011
The Last House of God
I enjoyed reading it, mostly for the interaction between the people. I do think they started too quickly to fall into a religion of sorts -- made me think they were going to repeat everything all over again.
By the way they buried the wrong person. typo.
Daff

Author's Reply:
Argh - there are always typos. Thanks.

TheBigBadG on 30-11-2011
The Last House of God
I generally agree with the above, in particular discopants. I personally think there are lots of interesting things hinted at that you could work with, if you re-focus it and give it more time to develop. F'rinstance, we don't know anything about the, obviously secular rationalist, culture they come from or who sent them. Why have they come back to Earth? How advanced is their technology, is it a single colony returning or have they populated multiple systems? Why are they so put out by Will? Ditto Dee's death (was it old age, after the trip, sickness, violent...?).

The thing I like most of all, however, is the narrator. It's all too easy to populate sci-fi with all knowing polymaths that give the author a convenient vector to explain the wonderful ideas they've come up with. I may be reading against the grain here, but Fern strikes me as slightly naive and fallible at best, unreliable and weak-willed at worst, which makes it a lot more interesting.

If you were going to revisit it I'd perhaps come at it from the angle of the conflict between the old and new societies and what the second ship will find when they get there. What rules will they make, and why? We need to know why it's so unusual that Will has this spiritual affinity with 'the old ways' and precisely why it's weirded everyone out so much. Maybe you can map his development in terms of his cultural starting point and how that affects the others?

Author's Reply:
Thanks - you really put your finger on the stuff I liked about it, such as the narrator being easily influenced and Will having some sort of spiritual element that gets awakened, and how those two characters feed off each other. Your comment is very helpful at pinpointing what's worth keeping and focusing on here. Thanks again.

jay12 on 08-12-2011
The Last House of God
I can't add anything that hasn't already been said above. I did really enjoy the story. It's worth working on I reckon.

Jay.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Jay - will leave it until after xmas and then have a tinker with it, I reckon.


Genghis and Myra (posted on: 24-10-11)
For the prose workshop challenge.

Upon his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, Genghis Greene made a speech that changed the world. Once the ceremony had concluded he returned to The Grand Hotel, only a short walk through the snowy centre of Oslo, and found his sister, Myra, waiting for him in the bar. The hotel's heating kept the large room tropically warm; she had removed her thick brown coat and matching hat, and was sipping coffee from a gold-rimmed cup. Snow was caked on to the bottom of her fur-topped boots. 'Surprise!' she said. He sat down next to her, at the small round table that overlooked the square through tall, slanted windows. The seats were purple, and the carpet was orange. He already felt so hot that he almost panicked when he couldn't untie the knot in his long scarf, but eventually he unpicked it and shed his outer layers to reveal his suit. It was the best suit he had ever owned. Myra looked it up and down. 'Free,' he said. 'For the ceremony. They have their own tailor. What are you doing here?' 'As if I could miss your big moment.' Genghis didn't point out that she had, in fact, missed it. She'd been sitting here, drinking her coffee, with her bleached blonde beehive stuck fast with hairspray, untouched by the cutting Oslo wind. Instead he said, 'Well, that's that.' She nodded. 'Although there's always mopping up to do. But you concentrate on the big picture. I'll take care of the details.' 'Yes,' he said. 'Thanks. I do appreciate your help.' He never enquired too closely into what she actually did; he suspected it involved swanning around the world using money from the many charities he had set up. Still, if he wanted the world to live together in harmony, he knew he had to present an image of family togetherness for if he couldn't manage to be friends with his sister, how could he persuade total strangers that it was in their best interest to get along? 'I'm off to Yemen next,' she said. 'Got any messages?' The Yemen mission was going well. A dialogue had been opened between the factions, and mass communications meant that the speech he had just delivered would already be working its way into their consciousness, infecting them with his passion for peace. Public speaking that was his great talent. Small messages for small people that was Myra's talent. 'I'll leave it up to you,' he said. 'How do I get a cup of coffee around here?' The waiter arrived, with the coffee, ready-made. 'You read my mind,' said Genghis. 'Thank you so much.' The waiter smiled, took a few steps back, and hovered close by. How friendly people were, deep down, given the chance. All you had to do was show them a little kindness, and they paid it back. His entire plan was built on the knowledge that everybody, deep down, really wanted to pay kindness back. * They were the experiment of their middle-class parents: siblings with socially ostracising names, to see if it changed how interaction took place. But, of course, when Genghis and Myra got to school none of the other children had a clue who their famous namesakes were, and therefore only teachers and parents suffered a reflexive recoil that they attempted to overcome with positive discrimination. So the siblings grew up with the underpinnings of distrust for the slightly too generous marks they received at school, and this affected their ability to create genuinely loving relationships. And so, both single, they had formed a deep attachment to each other, and to the notion for justice for all. Myra was proud to be an integral, if generally unacknowledged, part of Genghis' big plan for world peace. He presented the caring face, and she ran the Special Squad. It was a task that didn't exactly suit her; it was more that she had a pragmatic side to her, and her brother didn't. He was the idealist for both of them. As she watched her brother order his own coffee, she reflected on the first time she'd hurt somebody for him. It had been at the primary school they had attended. She had a feeling she'd been in year three and he'd been in year one when she noticed, from across the school hall, that little David McCable had stolen Genghis' packet of crisps from his lunchbox. Genghis, of course, had not cried or complained. He had simply given up the crisps, and told the boy that he was perfectly willing to share anything he possessed as long as they could be friends. David had bitten his lip, and then handed back the crisps. He had learned a valuable lesson about friendship that day. And, in order to reinforce it, Myra had followed David to the toilets after lunch, waited outside the swing door until he emerged, and then punched him in the middle of his back with all the strength she could put into her tiny closed fist. Some people came to the knowledge of how to make the world a better place through Genghis' strong words and impassioned face, from which truth shone like a lighthouse over stormy seas. Other people came to that knowledge through a good punch in the small of the back when they least expected it. 'Geng,' she said, stirring her coffee, 'Do you ever think about what you'll do once you've made everybody love each other?' He shrugged. 'Have a holiday?' 'And after that?' 'I'm guessing by the time I've spent two weeks in the Seychelles some dissident terrorists will have risen up, so I'll have to give them a good talking to. And the whole thing will start all over again.' 'So there's no end to it?' This wasn't something Myra had ever considered before. She'd always thought there would come a point when she could send the Special Squad home, permanently. Now it seemed it had to be an ongoing operation. Not that there was any shortage of volunteers to do the dirty work. She wondered if one of them could possibly be groomed to take over her role as leader. She wouldn't have minded being able to step forward, take a bow, and then disappear off to retirement with endless glasses of red wine and appointments with expensive plastic surgeons. 'No rest for the wicked,' said Genghis. 'No,' she said. 'I suppose not. Well, I'd better be going. Flight to catch. Glad I made it here for your special occasion. It's not often I get to see you in person.' 'A rare moment,' he agreed. He stood up, and after an awkward hesitation, kissed her on the cheek. She accepted the kiss, then put on her coat, and walked away. In truth, her flight wasn't until that evening. But she found it difficult to spend more than a few minutes with Genghis; he had a way of looking at her as if he wasn't really aware of who she was at all. She felt less like his sister and more like his underling every day. That deep childhood attachment they had formed to each other, and to the notion for justice for all, was not what it used to be. And so we grow up, she thought, as she reached the reception of the hotel. The coffee had left an acrid sensation at the back of her throat. It burned, even as the Oslo cold sneaked inside her coat and penetrated her muscles. She tried to swallow away the bad taste, but it couldn't be so easily dispelled. It lingered throughout the taxi ride to the airport. Myra thought nothing of it. She was practised at dismissing unpleasant sensations. * Hajez waited. That's what waiters do. The man in the expensive suit signalled to him. 'Can you put these on my tab? It's the penthouse.' 'Of course, sir,' Hajez said. He spoke excellent English. He had, in fact, been educated at Manchester University. He had a degree in PPE, and the only thing it had taught him was that reading books, or even writing them, was in no way as effective as being the person whom other people wrote books about. Once the man had left the table, Hajez took the empty cups away and placed them in the black plastic sack on one of the tabletops in the silent kitchen. He stripped off his waiter's uniform, down to a pair of red boxer shorts and white ankle socks, and also put them in the sack. He then tied the sack and threw it down the large rubbish chute that was set into the white tiled wall. There were fresh clothes: jeans, a blue v-necked jumper, a thick duffle coat, and trainers, laid out neatly in the waiters' changing area, along with a shoulder bag that contained a passport, some money, and a mobile phone. He stepped over the body of the usual waiter and got changed as quickly as he could with his trembling hands. The enormity of what he'd just done was beginning to sink in; it took him five attempts to correctly dial the number he had memorised into the phone. 'It's done,' he said.
Archived comments for Genghis and Myra
sirat on 24-10-2011
Genghis and Myra
A very satisfying story. It reminded me of your first book 'Mean, Mode, Median' where the central character had immense charisma and a mission to change the world. I was a bit unsure as to whether or not Myra was a 'hit woman' like the waiter, delivering the punch on the back, perhaps to leaders of terrorist organisations, while Genghis (UN Secretary General?) dealt with the diplomacy. It did strike me as a little naïve that she had, up to this conversation, believed that total and permanent world peace would be achieved before she herself reached retirement age. As it doesn't really affect the plot I would be inclined to change that. Another small thing, but significent, considering what is to come. You say she: 'watched her brother order his own coffee', but of course she didn't, the coffee was handed to him, unordered. Final point, would the hit man with his PPE degree from Manchester University (I'm sure political assassination techniques are part of the course) really be trembling at the enormity of what he had done?

Overall though, a very entertaining read.

I only spotted one typo: 'the notion for justice for all'.



Author's Reply:
Thanks David - that's rubbish of me, with the coffee - I should have seen that one. Will correct the typo. I've been thinking about renaming it 'Adolf and Myra' to make it a bit more current. Am not sure yet.

Thanks for the excellent feedback.

e-griff on 24-10-2011
Genghis and Myra
excellent!

I was about to mention the coffee ordering also 🙂

Author's Reply:
Thanks. Yeah, the coffee, should have seen that...

Bikerman on 26-10-2011
Genghis and Myra
Yes, I agree, an enjoyable read. But (always!): 'The seats were purple, and the carpet was orange'? Maybe I'm missing something, but my reaction to this was 'So what?' It just seems such a random bit of information. Also, something else about the coffee: The waiter brought it ready-made? Unless this is meant as a hint of what is to come, how else would a waiter bring coffee, with beans and grinder? Even so, great fun.

Author's Reply:
Thanks - you're so right about those two points. Don't know what I was thinking of, with the seats and the carpet. I get really bogged down in colours. I seem to feel the need to name every colour in the darned story. Will try to police it a bit better.

Nomenklatura on 29-10-2011
Genghis and Myra
Hmm... regarding the above comment about colours. I assumed you were 'showing' something about the decor. That is, that it clashed, or showed poor taste, even though the location is an upmarket hotel. I appreciate it's a short story, but, really, it's far better than writing,

"The room was furnished by a colour-blind designer."

Isn't it?

Author's Reply:
Yes, that was it, but I do wonder if I pull this trick too often in my writing. I'm always commenting on the colour scheme. I think it's the Hitchcock influence...

Thanks for the comment.


Prose Workshop: Cling (posted on: 26-09-11)
One April morning, in a quiet park, a terrified woman clings to a horse chestnut tree...

This morning, while I was walking Barney, I saw a woman hugging a tree. It was a huge horse chestnut, the big one by the park gates, covered with those cones of white flowers, swaying in the breeze. I once read an encyclopaedia entry about those flowers; they're called candles. 'Are you all right?' I asked her. 'Yes. Fine. Thanks.' She looked the other way, into the pond. I think she was hoping I would go away. 'Do you need any help?' 'Nope. Thanks for asking.' 'Only it's not the warmest day for standing still,' I pointed out. 'Hah,' she said. 'Good one. Observations about the weather. It's windy in April and wet in March and cold in January. That's Britain, isn't it? It hardly needs monitoring.' 'No, you're right.' Barney pulled on his lead and threw me a long-suffering glance. Understandably, he wanted his walk. 'I'm going in a minute,' I told her. 'If you really are fine.' She didn't answer. Her knuckles were white. It didn't look as if she was going to let go of the tree any time soon. And yet she was dressed for business, in grey woollen trousers and a matching jacket; she looked like a person who had some place to be. An office should have been waiting for her. I could picture people going, 'Where's Cordelia? Shouldn't she be in by now? There's this urgent file for her to finish dealing with.' I decided to call her Cordelia from then on. In my head. Not to her face. Barney whined. Two teenage girls walked past, heading for the swings on the far side of the pond, all cocky and brazen. I waited until they were out of earshot and said to Cordelia, 'They should be in school.' 'Maybe they've got a free period.' 'Can I get you a coffee or something?' 'No. No thanks.' 'I live really close by. I could bring one out.' 'Look,' she said. 'I'm having an issue about the park, okay? My therapist said I should come to the park every day and try to face it. This is day one. I've made it as far as this tree. As soon as I feel able to let go of the tree, I'll go back home. Tomorrow I'll try to get further than the tree.' I looked around the park. It was a typical park. It had a big green grassy space in the middle, gravel paths around it, the occasional flower bed that had yet to offer up anything but a few hardy daffodils. 'Right,' I said. 'Parks.' 'All parks. I get the feeling that something... something's not right about them.' She shook her head. 'I don't really want to talk about it.' 'Do you mean that sinister feeling you get? The creepy-crawley sensation in the bottom of your stomach, as if you're straying into dangerous territory, and if you were clever, you'd run, not walk, but run in the other direction and never come back to any park, ever again?' Her eyes were wide. She nodded. 'That's deliberate,' I said. 'No, it's...um... a problem, a mental problem that I have, I need to overcome...' 'No, really, it's been put there. It's not designed for humans. You must be very sensitive, psychically speaking. It's actually for the Keplerians. It repels them. That way I can exercise Barney without any problem.' Cordelia dropped her arms. She had, apparently, forgotten to hug the tree. 'You're deliberately messing with the head of a sick woman, and that is just mean.' 'No, he's not,' said Barney. I shushed him. 'Your dog...' she said. She sat down on the grass. It wasn't the driest; she'd soon get a wet bottom through those woollen trousers. 'Don't pay any attention to him. Barneys mean well, but their thoughts are always on the big picture. They're always so busy making wormholes with their minds, tunnelling through time and space to link stars and planets according to the Universal Shipping Charter. That, and chasing squirrels.' 'Squirrels...' said Cordelia. 'So we take care of the Barneys because they're rubbish at taking care of themselves, and we protect them from the Keplerians, who are trying to wrestle control of the Universal Shipping Charter from the Titans. The Titans created the Barneys.' 'No they didn't,' said Barney. 'Look, I'm trying to keep it simple,' I told him. 'Can't you see she's having enough of a hard time taking this in?' Cordelia got up. She stared at Barney for a while. Then she gazed around the park, eyes narrowed. She seemed to have forgotten that she ever needed a tree to cling to. Eventually she turned to face me. 'So who are you?' she asked. 'Some sort of cosmic protector?' 'Basically. Although I'm in disguise. The real me has fifteen dimensions and anywhere between twenty-seven and thirty-two heads, depending on the level of perceived threat. I live here. At the park. My house is invisible. At the bottom of the pond. I do really have coffee, though, if you fancy some.' 'Right,' she said. She shook her head. She laughed, just a little bit. 'Very funny. You trained your dog to speak. How did you do that?' I could see it was time to let her get on about her business. She was ready to go to work, and face her emails and files and colleagues once more. Every time she came to the park she would remember some nutter she'd met there, rather than how afraid she had once felt. 'Time and patience. And gravy bones. He loves gravy bones,' I said. 'Yeah,' said Barney. She laughed again. It was the kind of laugh people gave at magic shows, when they weren't sure how the trick was being performed. 'I'd better go,' she said. 'Thanks for the chat. You're a riot.' 'Bye bye.' I waved. She walked out of the park at a fair pace. She didn't look back. Which was fine, because it wasn't as if we could have been friends. We were incompatible on just so many levels. 'Come on,' I said to Barney. 'Once round the gravel path and I'll find you a nice stick to fetch.' 'Great,' said Barney. He was a Barney of few words, but the universe was better off with him in it.
Archived comments for Prose Workshop: Cling
ruadh on 26-09-2011
Prose Workshop: Cling
I enjoyed this. I was trying to guess what kind of creature he was most of the way through - my first thought being he was a dog and Barney was the human, until he talked to the woman. Really liked the way you turned her fear around. Good read overall.

Author's Reply:
Thanks!

teifii on 26-09-2011
Prose Workshop: Cling
Definitely an impressive story. I was, of course, itching to know what the speaker was although the sci-fi tab gave it away a bit. If it were a story in a magazine where no challenge was involved, there would be more of a denouement because the reader would think it was a person for most of the story.

Author's Reply:
Thanks - I don't think it's really a sci-fi story so much as a bit of quirky humour (although, yes, there is a 32 headed alien in it...).

Andrea on 26-09-2011
Prose Workshop: Cling
I thought 'it' was a human until about half-way through (not knowing it was for the challenge) , then I thought it was some sort of nutjob who'd escaped from the local loony bin. Either way I thoroughly enjoyed it - bet Cordelia will never be the same again!

Author's Reply:
Thanks Andrea! Much appreciated.

sirat on 26-09-2011
Prose Workshop: Cling
To be honest, I'm less keen on it than the other people who commented. I felt we were set up to assume that the narrator was a dog and Barney was the man that he was 'walking', and I thought the tree-hugging woman might have been hallucinating (or believed herself to be doing this) whereas we the readers knew that the dog was really talking to her. Then a much more complicated story was introduced to explain the status of the two individuals which became a bit 'messy', and not in itself all that interesting. Of necessity, very 'telly as well. Once you bring in multi-dimensional aliens there are no rules and they can have any characteristics you like. The development of the plot becomes a bit arbitrary. I thought the 'talking dog' scenario had better possibilities, and could have led to the same denoument. It would have been simpler and more elegant, somehow. But everyone else seems happy with it the way it is, so maybe best to ignore me (as many have found).

Author's Reply:
Ah, you read an extra level in there at the beginning because of the nature of the challenge - I hadn't anticipated that you would think the narrator was the dog. I can see why you did, though. I don't know if that would be a prob for readers coming to it fresh.

I struggled with the challenge. It's obviously a perspective problem, because in the last challenge I wrote a piece with an alien narrator and I was much happier with it, because it wasn't the sole focus of the story. Yet I get told to write from that perspective and somehow the focus changes. I think all the entries suffered from that, in a way - too much interest in the narrator and not enough in the story.

e-griff on 27-09-2011
Prose Workshop: Cling
I didn't have a problem with the basic story, which was fun. It's whacky, so if you try to analyse it too much, you fall into its non-logic and get lost.
Refreshingly novel and twisty.

Where I did agree with David is what I call your 'loose ends' - you do seem to scatter ideas around without exploring them, which tends to be unsatisfying. Leaving a reader with one question hanging is good, but half a dozen or more is too much IMO

overall, though, a good read if imperfect.

oh, and I'd much prefer 'wrest' 🙂

Author's Reply:
Too many half-arsed ideas... I think that appeared on one of my school reports...

Buschell on 04-10-2013
Prose Workshop: Cling
Threw a dart into your back catalogue and hit this litle beauty....I don't know if you know but I have no real know how with writing and so my comments are pretty banal...and use the word "know" a lot. I think this is a kooky little number as is your want but could tell it was something youd been told to do...that the confines of the challenge hemmed in your prolific imaginings...and that this piece was only toying with us....

Author's Reply:

Buschell on 04-10-2013
Prose Workshop: Cling
Threw a dart into your back catalogue and hit this litle beauty....I don't know if you know but I have no real know how with writing and so my comments are pretty banal...and use the word "know" a lot. I think this is a kooky little number as is your want but could tell it was something youd been told to do...that the confines of the challenge hemmed in your prolific imaginings...and that this piece was only toying with us....

Author's Reply:
Thanks Buschell. I think you've made a really good point. I read back through the story and found it quite forced too - sometimes that's a problem with these challenges. I've learned to ignore the rules of the challenge when my imagination takes me in a different direction now!

Thanks for the comment.


The Multicoloured and Botanical Life Story (posted on: 22-08-11)
For the Prose Workshop Challenge.

It was Doctor Sweet's final project: an honesty garden. He had transformed an old Royal Mail pillar box into a receptacle for donations that visitors might wish to make. To deposit notes or coins, one had to put a hand into the wide black mouth of the box, rather like a guilty tourist approaching the Bocca Della Verita, Rome's great Mouth of Truth. The parallel was deliberately engineered on Doctor Sweet's part; he had wanted to capture the sense of a test to be passed for those who walked through his work - should they consider themselves worthy to tread his manicured lawns, to sniff his buddleias? He liked the thought of the pillar box giving them pause, but, as he watched from between the grapevines of his greenhouse, so many of them did not even seem to see the bright red box, or the polite sign asking them to contribute. And he was not surprised so much as disappointed. Still, he wanted people to find peace in his garden, whether they helped with the upkeep or not. He had placed many iron benches, with elegant swooping backs and curling arms, in the places where he envisaged people would like to sit, and he painted each bench a different colour. Every day those benches filled with regular and occasional visitors. The white bench, only a few feet from the entrance, overlooked Lunaria Annua, the tall flowers known as Honesty, and the red bench he placed in the midst of the roses. The blue belonged under the willows, with a view down to the bullrushes and lily pads, where the Koi Carp swam and the Moor hens peeped out of their nests. The orange bench sat up on the hill, where a wilderness of wild flowers crowded around its feet, Centauria Cyanus and Papaver Rhoes; the purple bench reclined between the hibiscus and the hydrangeas. The pink lived in the orchard, where the cherry boughs bent their branches to meet it. And then there was the yellow bench. The girl sat on the yellow bench every Tuesday and Thursday, and spent the hour between one and two in his Japanese Water Garden. She never paid any money in to the Mouth of Truth. Paying to sit amid his blooms was, he thought, beneath her. Yes, unrequited passion, how pathetic, how common for a man his age to want a girl her age. Doctor Sweet bored himself with his fantasies of leaving an orchid on the yellow bench for her to find, a Phalaenopsis Aphrodite as pale as her skin, or maybe lilies as delicate as the swoop of her shoulders in her cream blouse as she bent her head to tap into her mobile phone at a frighteningly proficient speed. He had no intention of ever acting on his fantasies. He found reasons to loiter in the Japanese Garden while she was there, but never once attempted even a smile in her direction, and she ignored him as befitted a girl that age. Doctor Sweet had come to the conclusion that the young believed an unleapable chasm divided them from the previous generations; it was only with hindsight that the chasm became a mere crack in the soil, stepped over lightly and without much in the way of thought. Because of this, he respected the girl for never once looking at him. In return he tried and nearly succeeded in not looking at her. He thought of this as an unspoken agreement. It was she who broke their contract, one Tuesday, when the Firebush berries had just begun to turn from red to black. He had his back to her, and was wondering whether to cut back the bamboo early this year, when she spoke to him. 'Have you worked here long?' she said. He took his time turning around. She held a cardboard cup between both hands, and half a croissant lay on a brown paper bag beside her on the yellow bench. She was framed by the Wisteria behind her; it was a perfect moment. 'For thirty years,' he said. 'Since it opened.' 'So you know the man who owns it, then?' He nodded. 'What made him build all this? Does he really like plants that much?' Doctor Sweet imagined how this conversation could unfold. He would pretend to be a mere gardener, and every Tuesday and Thursday she would warm to him a little more, thinking of him as a casual confidante. And he would tell her of his life, deep secrets, and all the while she would think they were not his, and it would be a guilty pleasure, like a daffodil pinched from a neighbour's garden. In other words, a lie. 'I'm the owner,' he said. 'I'm Doctor Sweet.' 'Oh. Right.' She sipped her drink; then licked her lips slowly. 'I didn't realise you still did the gardening.' 'I've always loved to grow things. From when I was a little boy. My mother gave me a packet of sunflower seeds. Have you ever grown sunflowers?' 'I grew a broad bean once. In school. It died.' 'Then you didn't give it enough love,' he said. 'That, or you forgot to water it.' He enjoyed her sudden smile. 'Yeah,' she said. 'So what type of garden is this?' 'A Japanese Water Garden. I spent a few years in Japan, working at the Sento Gosho. It's a garden in Kyoto, built for Emperor Go-Mizunoo's retirement.' 'Is he important?' 'He was.' Doctor Sweet brushed at the knees of his trousers. 'Did he die?' 'Yes, but he retired in the year 1630 so he wasn't exactly a close friend. Although I felt I knew him. From tending his garden. A garden tells you all you need to know about a person. Do you like it?' She put down the cup and frowned at him. 'Like what?' 'The garden.' 'It's lovely.' She flapped her hand around her face; perhaps an insect had flown too close. 'I like this bit the best. It's very relaxing, after all morning in the office. I'm trying to save up for university.' 'What will you study?' 'I don't know yet. How come you studied to be a Doctor and then gave it all up for plants, then?' 'I'm not a Doctor of Medicine. I took a PhD in Botany at the University of Hawaii. I won a scholarship.' He thought of the rising volcanoes and the waves as large and strong as Koa trees; he had never tired of watching them. And the women, wearing hibiscus blossoms in their hair. If they wore it behind their right ear, they were looking for company, and he had always been happy to oblige. The Koa trees were nearly gone now, he had read in the National Geographic. Cut down to make surfboards and souvenirs. 'Maybe I should study plants,' she said. 'Oh, I think you'd know by now if that was your calling.' 'Yeah. I'm more of an animal person. So where else have you been?' 'Oh, all over.' He didn't want to list them, like reading out a menu, for her to pick her favourites. He found he didn't want to tell her of the way the strident pink flowers of the Himalayan Balsam exploded, spraying its seed far and wide across the mountains. Or the vast calm he had felt in the presence of the Gingko tree, the largest and oldest fruit-bearing tree in the world, that had been planted by a prince in the tenth century and lived on in the grounds of the Yogamunsa temple in Korea. Edelweiss, the silver stars in the Alps, the intertwining stems of spotted beebalm in the Bayou, delicate creamy Arctic poppies growing amidst the rocks of Greenland in summer: these would, he decided, be experiences she couldn't understand. It would be a waste of his breath to tell her. She looked away, picked up her mobile phone, and started to tap. Doctor Sweet moved on without saying goodbye. As he made his way to the greenhouse and started to pot tomato seeds, he thought of how he hated the fact that it didn't matter what the girl was actually like, as a person, so much as what she had come to represent. She was not particularly interesting to talk to, and she had no grace in her manner, no appealing character trait to hang his fantasies upon. All she had was a resemblance to a girl he had once spent time with, while working on tulip crossbreeding in the Keukenhof Gardens. He hadn't thought himself particularly in love with anything but the silky fields of tulips, stretching so far, intense blocks of colour; he had spent the nights with Utte simply because he was young, and virile. He hadn't even said goodbye to her when he received word that his funding had come through to collect plant specimens in South America with his old University professor. But now he wanted Utte, and tulips, once more. Not tulips he could grow now. He wanted the ones he had abandoned back then. The girl's hour was up. She appeared on the path in front of the greenhouse. He watched her walk slowly to the Mouth of Truth, and this time she placed her hands on it, both of them, and stared into the black slot. Through the windows he saw her dig into her small leather handbag and take out a wallet; she opened it, selected some coins, and pushed them through the slot. Doctor Sweet looked up; overhead the grapevines were twisting and curling around the iron beams of the greenhouse. Down by the blue bench, the dragonflies would be darting across the pond and the carp would be swimming close to the surface, opening and closing their mouths, making swirls in the water. It was impossible not to be content, when one remembered what was here, and how it had been built, through time and patience and all the experiences that living brings. He wondered if the girl would come again on Thursday. It was not his main thought. For that, and for all the plants and trees and flowers of the world, for all he had seen and done and tended with his hands throughout his long and multicoloured life, he was grateful.
Archived comments for The Multicoloured and Botanical Life Story
sirat on 22-08-2011
The Multicoloured and Botanical Life Story
This one is very subtle. Maybe even a bit too restrained for me. I wanted a more romantic past for Dr. Sweet, a really passionate affair, a tearful parting so that he could pursue his career, with promises to meet again that for one reason or another were never kept. Maybe this is something peculiar to me, but I have been accused of trying to force new people in my life into the mould of people from my past. It's quite an interesting phenomenon, how we see in people what we want to see (e.g. Janis Ian's The Man You Are in Me). He isn't the least bit taken in by the girl, he doesn't endow her with all kinds of qualities that belonged to her former look-alike, he isn't drawn into the fanatasy. Nevertheless there is a lot of charm in this simple, gentle story and it's very well told. A nice piece of work.

Author's Reply:
Thanks David. I thought something more would happen. In one version I had her leaving a note for him in the mouth of truth, and them meeting regularly, but then it felt overcomplicated. I'm going to let it sit for a while and then see how I feel.

franciman on 22-08-2011
The Multicoloured and Botanical Life Story
I really liked the flow of this piece. It suggested to me that Dr Sweet did not really differentiate between plants and women and therefore felt no qualms about discourse with the young woman. Also he was not particularly disappointed that she did not live up to his imagination of her. He simply appreciated her beauty at face value? Really engaging as a story.

Cheers,
Jim

Author's Reply:
Thanks Jim. The writing really flowed in places, and that doesn't often happen to me!

e-griff on 22-08-2011
The Multicoloured and Botanical Life Story
Very well written, as David says 'subtle' . I was waiting foir a 'bluepootle moment' but it did not come.

I found it a little 'light' though, without a strong undercurrent to set off the surface calm. You do show the characters very well.

Author's Reply:
Do you know, I put it down to using a new keyboard and a new word processing package. The writing felt quite different because of it. Weird.

Bikerman on 22-08-2011
The Multicoloured and Botanical Life Story
I'm sorry to say that I think 'subtle' a bit of a euphemism. I was crying out for something to happen. (Maybe I read too much T.C.Boyle? Or maybe you don't read enough of him?) Something almost happened when they started talking, but then it didn't. Please, next time, more pain! more humour! more action! Sorry.

Author's Reply:
Ah, rats. I did wonder if that was the case. The instinct was to put more in.

More pain, though?! Maybe I need some carnivorous plants...

e-griff on 22-08-2011
The Multicoloured and Botanical Life Story
Naw, she reveals to him she is the rightful heir to the land on which the garden sits and shows him her sketches of the 'pastoral village' second home complex for arty-farts which will be built over it.

She reveals she is also the daughter of Utta, who had been cast aside by her family, but who had inherited the land (although she did not know it as her evil brother had sold it off) and if he (the gardener) had married her, everything would have been alright ..

phew - want any more prots raundered, missee?

Author's Reply:
blech.


Middengaerd (posted on: 08-08-11)
For the prose workshop challenge. It was meant to be a short story but it wants to grow. Should I put the extra effort in and make it longer?

I have just enough strength remaining to knock at the door with my frozen fingers. To my relief, it opens. 'Come in, come in,' says a man, and I feel hands tugging me into the warmth. My face crawls with the sensation of awakening from icy sleep; my limbs do not begin to thaw until I find myself sitting in front of the fireplace, amidst the voices of travellers and the smells of soup and barley beer. My stomach springs into life at the same time as my feet, and the pain from both is beyond anything I can recall feeling, even from the punishments meted out at the castle. ''Here, sir,'' says the man. He is tall and ruddy-cheeked, with a pleasant smile; I take him for the innkeeper. I am presented with the soup, which I drink down in gulps. No meat, but still tasty. I'm grateful for the good quality of the cloak I was given, for it is ensuring me service before money changes hands; this is not something I've been afforded before. It's enough to make me wish I was born to a better life. But I remember my place, and my task this night, before I finish the soup, and as soon as the last mouthful is on its way down to my stomach I say to the man, ''This is The Bull and Bush?'' ''That it is.'' The quirk of his lips tells me he considers it a strange question, but I have walked so far through thick forest that nothing seems as it should to me. It would be so easy, amongst the black branches, to stray into the land of Faery and lose oneself there. But I have made it to my destination, and now my message must be delivered. ''I was sent to meet a man?'' ''Indeed, Sir?'' ''I'm from the castle,'' I say, hating the squeak in my voice when I want most to appear a man. But I'm still of a green age, and I don't know why I've been chosen for this important task, although I am delighted to be given a chance to prove myself as a messenger. Getting lost in the forest was not an auspicious start; I cannot bear the thought of returning without having succeeded. ''Then you are looking for me,'' says a voice from behind me. I turn, and spy a hooded man, seated in the darkest corner, where the fire does not reach. I make my excuses to the innkeeper and give him back his bowl; he nods, and I see curiosity flare in his eyes. ''Bring ale,'' I tell him, and manage to stand up and wobble over to the hooded man without falling. I hear a stifled laugh behind me, but try to ignore it with seemly decorum. The hooded man has a long black beard, threaded with grey, and his fingers, clasped loosely in his lap, bear colourful, ingrained marks on the skin. His gaze is penetrating and I read serenity in the long straight lines of his face. He is undoubtedly the man I was told to find. ''Cynewulf?'' ''I am,'' he confirms. ''And your name is?'' I wasn't expecting such a question. ''Um... Daniel.'' ''Well, Um Daniel, what have you to tell me?'' ''My master instructs me to tell you that everything will be gathered by the next full moon.'' ''Is that so?'' He considers this. The curious innkeeper delivers two pots of ale himself and reluctantly leaves. I sense the eyes of the room upon us. For the first time it occurs to me that I am involved in something dangerous. ''Am I to take a message back?'' I ask. ''Indeed, but not tonight. You can share my room and start back at first light.'' ''But...'' He smiles at me. ''Has there yet been a message created that is worth the life of the messenger, Um Daniel?'' I feel my face grow red as I reply, ''Only the message of our Lord God.'' He pauses in the act of raising his cup to his lips. ''That is a very good answer.'' I watch him take a mouthful of beer, then wipe his face with his stained hands. ''Well, I do not ask you to deliver the message of God. It is not his business I do tonight, but the work of an altogether different creator.'' I've never heard such a sentiment expressed before. ''I do not understand.'' ''That is as it should be. Come, you must be tired.'' He abandons his ale, and so I am forced to take a few greedy mouthfuls before doing the same, and following the hem of his cloak past the other travellers to the back rooms. He pushes open one of the doors; inside, the room is in absolute darkness, the shutters already closed up tight, and Cynewulf does not bother to provide light. I stumble forwards and find the bed, and divest myself of my own cloak and shoes before lying down. I feel him lie down next to me, and he lets out a long sigh. Time passes in the darkness. The luxury of a private room is overwhelmed by the presence of the man next to me. I wonder if Cynewulf is asleep. Even though I am exhausted, I have never felt so far from sleep in my life. ''The message I wish you to take to your master is this. He must be ready on the stroke of midnight. And he must have the cage made of yew. That is of the utmost importance. Yew, and big enough to hold a team of horses.'' ''Yew,'' I repeat. ''The forest should be safer in the day, but if you catch a movement from the corner of your eye, Daniel, a shadow that seems to hang about your vision, then don't run. Stand still, and wait for it to pass over you. This will be a very difficult thing to do, for you will feel the desire to flee, and it will be strong, but you must stand still. Do you understand?'' ''No,'' I say, before I can stop myself. It's the kind of remark that leads to a beating at the castle, but Cynewulf only chuckles in the darkness. ''Sleep,'' he tells me, and, despite the many questions in my head, I do as I am told.
Archived comments for Middengaerd
sirat on 08-08-2011
Middengaerd
It certainly reads like the beginning of a novel. It's engaging too – I want to know what comes next. I don't think it would make much sense to analyse it as a short story, it isn't one as it stands. But the whole point of this challenge is to get people started on producing something worthwhile, so I hope it does that for you.

Author's Reply:
Thank you! I don't know whether to put in the time but it has given me an intriguing idea.

teifii on 08-08-2011
Middengaerd
I think you'll have to carry it on so i can go on reading.

Author's Reply:
Historical fiction is so hard to write, but your comment makes me think maybe it would be worth the effort! Thank you. This was a good challenge for me.

franciman on 08-08-2011
Middengaerd
Great to read. The atmospherics and the scene are very skillfully crafted. If you subscribe to the belief that "the stronger the acorn, the stronger the oak." you have the makings of a very strong oak!!

Author's Reply:
Thank you! It's going to interesting places in my head, which is a good sign.

e-griff on 08-08-2011
Middengaerd
An involviing, interesting, start to story, owing quite a lot to the 'Prancing Pony' and the Ranger, Strider, I feel. Nicely told, with a great lack of explanation (cage, shadows etc)

I did not understand the cloak comment/who had given it to him/no payment - that needs cllarifying, or forgetting if it's not important as at the moment it distracts.

the shadows sound like the 'skitterlings' and the 'Jenkoa' from my story 'Chrysalis' why DO you steal my stuff?
*tosses head and huffs*

see Here

Author's Reply:
I thought I detected your influence sneaking in there... no, it is very Tolkienesque, deliberately so.

expat on 08-08-2011
Middengaerd
Certainly an engaging aperitif. The bluepootle humour vein shows in the protagonist being addressed as Um Daniel. 🙂
Your formal period 'voice' and the prevailing tense wavered a little throughout but that's surely a result of working against the clock (or graduated candle in this case).
This sub definitely made me want to read more. No doubt it'll reappear sometime soon.
Steve

Author's Reply:
Glad you enjoyed it! It does make me wonder if I could write this kind of genre fiction convincingly. Hm.

Bikerman on 09-08-2011
Middengaerd
I actually thought it worked as a short story 'despite all the questions in my head'. Nothing wrong with a bit of unresolved mystery. I agree with egriff about the cloak (there are limits). Also, I thought the terseness of 'Bring ale' didn't really sound right. And I didn't understand the question mark after 'I was sent to meet a man'. But it was certainly entertaining.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Bikerman. Yes, am rethinking those bits - thanks for flagging them.

TheGeeza on 15-08-2011
Middengaerd
I like the presentation and I could visualise the scene(s).
Is it worth extra effort? It depends what you have in mind!
Would I have read onwards? Yes.


Author's Reply:
hello! thanks for the comment. I'm just reaching the point where a huge change in direction sounds good and maybe fantasy is the way forward. I hope all's good with you.

anth2011ed on 15-08-2011
Middengaerd
Ello Geeza!!!

Nice ta sees ya!

Author's Reply:


The Necklace (posted on: 18-07-11)
For the prose workshop challenge. The Ladies Listening Group has a dark history.

Every month for fourteen years my grandmother attended a meeting of the Ladies' Listening Group. Their title was somewhat ironic; they were all hard of hearing. For six years, from my tenth birthday, I accompanied her. At five pounds a meeting, it was lucrative, and it was easy work too. And there were other benefits; Brendan from my school always went along with his grandmother. We were allowed to help ourselves to biscuits the cheap ones and at the end, when we were told to go and fetch the coats from the cloakroom, we stood between the coat-hangers and shared a cigarette before returning to the town hall with innocent smiles and the smell of breath mints contending with the smoky aftertaste on our breath. It never occurred to me, back then, that all the old ladies in that room knew exactly what we were doing. In fact, they were counting on it. Brendan and I weren't friends at school. I can't remember a time when he ever talked to me. We moved in different groups, and segregation is at its strongest in the playground, where children stand in their self-arranged sects from the earliest age. I was a gamer; we'd spend hours talking about the latest Commodore release, swapping tips on how to defeat the boss on level 22. Brendan was into rugby. He was good, too; I think he got a trial for one of the big clubs, The Harlequins, and he moved up to Bristol for a while. He was back a few years later, after an injury to his knee, drinking too much and terrorising the holidaymakers. I was back from University for the Christmas break, and had been to the only club in town, sneering at the music and the company. At kicking out time I saw him grab a guy, just some stranger, and put him through a shop window. It was outside the fish and chip shop on the high street. Brendan's mates pulled him away, and as they ran off he met my stare, and I saw he recognised me. The man got up out of the shards of the window and wandered off. I couldn't see a scratch on him. The police turned up ten minutes later, and by then everyone had left, apart from me. They'd had to fry a new load of chips, and I was still waiting for my 1.60's worth. I pretended I hadn't seen what had happened. There was no way I was ever going to incriminate Brendan, not even if he killed a man. Loyalty is a hard quality to understand sometimes. I never realised how much that monthly meeting meant to my grandmother. She didn't talk much about anything, and I never made the effort to communicate with her. She was always folded in on herself, wrapped up small in her knitted cardigans, bent over and in a hurry, moving around her house with a purpose, straightening the photographs on the mantelpiece, washing the ancient net curtains. I couldn't have touched her. Some people invite your hugs, your squeezes, and others make it clear in the way they hold themselves that if you reached out to them they would shrink back, and change the subject. And so we walked in silence to the Ladies' Listening Group, not touching. She would fiddle with her hair. She had a surprisingly modern haircut, a long bob to her chin, with a severe fringe. It was glossy, black; of course, she dyed it, but I suppose it must have been that colour, and perhaps that style, when she was a young woman in South America. All the way to the town hall she would pat that bob into place, smooth it with her fingers. On windy days she wore an orange headscarf tied under her chin. It was strangely glamorous, that headscarf; I always felt it should have belonged to a different woman. * The first meeting after my fourteenth birthday was, at first, a typical one. They sat themselves in a circle, the twelve of them, on the moulded plastic chairs that Brendan and I set out. The usual conversations began; my grandmother had brought along her electricity bill, and wanted to know if she was paying more than the others. I passed it around for her, and bent low to each old lady in turn, speaking loudly until I got a reply. Brendan was offering biscuits around. He'd arranged them on a china plate that was kept in the small kitchen out the back. Every time someone took a biscuit, he shuffled the remaining ones back into a fanned pattern; I couldn't help but smile at those chunky fingers arranging biscuits with such delicacy. When it was time to fetch the coats, we went to the cloakroom and he lit two cigarettes with the same light touch, flicking the wheel in his disposable neon pink lighter. I took the cigarette he offered to me and nodded my thanks. We took long drags as if we needed them. 'Would you like a biscuit, granny?' I said, in a simpering voice, and he said, 'Do you do your washing up at peak time, oh nanny dear?' and we giggled at each other. I mimed rearranging the biscuits, dainty movements, thumb and finger pressed together; Brendan clapped one hand over his mouth and snorted into his palm. We didn't realise he'd touched his cigarette to one of the coats until the acrid smell filled the cloakroom. 'Shit!' He grabbed at the sleeve of the three-quarter length fur coat that Mrs Sheen always wore, and swatted at it. 'Oh fuck, there's a hole.' I waved my arms around, trying to dispel the smoke. 'I can't give it back like this,' Brendan said. He swatted at the coat. 'Go and stall them.' 'Do what?' 'I dunno! I need to think of something.' 'Like what?' I asked. It seemed to me that there wasn't really anything that could be done except to come clean. Neither of us had a sewing kit to hand, and even if we did, we wouldn't have known what to do with it. 'Go and tell them I'm coming with the coats, okay? Just...' 'Yeah, okay, okay.' I squeezed past him, out of the cloakroom, and trotted back to the main hall, wondering if the smell of smoke had permeated the air. But the old ladies didn't seem to be aware of anything. They were sitting in their usual circle, watching my grandmother; she was standing, holding up something that looked like a string of dangling beads. It was only their reaction to my presence that made me think I had intruded on something private. 'Michael!' shouted Mrs Sheen, and she moved faster than I had ever seen to get to me. She crossed that room in a second, asking me questions, how was school, how was home, and when I got a chance to look again, the necklace was gone. My grandmother was sitting back in her chair, smoothing her shining black hair with her hands. A moment later, Brendan ran in and flung his arms up into the air, a pained expression etched into his face. 'There's been a robbery!' I can't believe they fell for it, but the police were called, and everyone described their coats in detail. The two police women who attended managed not to look too bemused by the whole incident, and to this day I don't know what Brendan did with all those coats in such short notice. Where had he put them? I asked him, the following month, but he tapped the side of his nose and took another draw on his cigarette. It never occurred to us to change the routine, I suppose, even after such a close brush with disaster. It was the month after that when I asked him to spy on the ladies with me. Looking back on it later, it came to me that I had known something wasn't right as soon as I walked in that day, before I even saw the necklace. There was a tight, heavy atmosphere; the way the ladies stared at my grandmother's hands had charged the room with an emotion that was beyond me. It had made my scalp tingle. I knew I had to see the necklace again. Brendan had no moral objection to ducking into the kitchen instead of the cloakroom and sneaking our heads up over the lip of the serving hatch. I think, on fact, that the business with the coats had given him a taste for danger. He'd been in trouble at school a few times, and he always seemed to be wearing the kind of smile that suggested the joke was on everyone else. Mrs Price had the necklace this time. She was standing, holding it up high; the others watched. After a silence that felt ageless, Brendan's grandmother stood up, crossed the circle, and examined the necklace. She took one of the long dangling beads between her thumb and forefinger, and said something, quietly; too quiet for anyone in that group to hear, but they all nodded in response. Then she accepted the necklace from Mrs Price, walked back to her chair, and slipped it into her handbag. Brendan and I crept to the cloakroom and fetched the coats, the second best ones and the brand new ones that were waiting here for their owners for the first time. We collected them up in our arms, and I realized I knew what the necklace was. 'Does your gran always wear her hair down?' I asked Brendan. I could see from his expression that he'd worked it out too. 'Did she come from South America?' 'Chile,' he said. 'She's Chilean.' And then he answered my unspoken question. 'It's her right ear that's missing.' 'It's the left. With my gran.' They, and the seven others in the Ladies' Listening Group, with their long hair worn loose, they all took it in turns to take home that necklace, to examine it, and claim one of the baubles upon it as their own, part of them, cut from them in Chile decades ago. We took out the coats and I helped my grandmother home. I never mentioned it to her. I don't think she would have answered my many questions, anyway. Three months later she had a stroke; it killed her. I had no reason to go back to the meetings, and at the time I was glad. It's only been in the last few months, since my own daughter was born, that I found I didn't need to keep silent about the necklace. I talked to my mother about it, and got some of the answers I should have sought years ago, about my grandmother's flight from Chile with her best friends. They had been in a political group, opposing Pinochet, listening to the stories of those whose loved ones had been taken from the street. They had published those as crude pamphlets under the title of The Listening Press. They were lucky to have made it to a quiet village in England with relatively minor injuries. When I saw Brendan that night, outside the fish and chip shop, I wanted to ask him what had happened to the monthly meetings, to his grandmother, Mrs Sheen, and the other ladies. I wanted to know who was keeping the necklace safe, for I couldn't bear to imagine it being thrown away, or destroyed. I suppose what I really wanted was to look at it again, closely, and to feel for the first time that I understood my family's history. But I didn't get the chance. No that's not true. I could have followed him, run after him. Or I could have gone looking for him a thousand times since then. I don't think I'd need to look further than the pubs along the high street. When I think about it, I've spent my life not asking questions for fear of hearing the answer. This fear has always been with me, but I don't think I was born with it. I must have learned it from someone. I wonder if that someone was my grandmother.
Archived comments for The Necklace
e-griff on 18-07-2011
The Necklace
appalling! a semi-colon that should be a colon, the repeat of the words 'breath' and 'around' ... alll this completely spoiled this story for me! 🙂

but apart from that, it was a canny wee story lass, very nice. I like the way you introduced the mystery right up front, then left it alone to put some side plots in. It hummed along nicely.

I'm not sure if I'd keep the last sentence in, though - maybe a bit too much. 🙂

G

Author's Reply:
I'm really struggling with endings right now.

ifyouplease on 18-07-2011
The Necklace
quite an engaging read, thanks.

Author's Reply:
Thank you!

Bikerman on 18-07-2011
The Necklace
Yes, an entertaining story right from the first couple of smile-inducing sentences. But I think egriff's right - better without the last sentence. And did you intend 'the smell of breath mints'? (I suspect 'breath' sneaked in by mistake. And 'sects' didn't sound quite right for the playground. Maybe 'circles' and then 'groups' rather than 'groups' and 'sects'?) Finally, I suppose it doesn't really matter, but until the grandmother said 'Michael' I thought the narrator was female.

Author's Reply:
Thanks - yeah, the question of the sex of the narrator, and the assumptions we make about that based on the sex of the author, is a difficult one. I should put it further up front I suppose but, as you say, it's not actually important to the story. It's always a tricky issue.

Thanks for picking up on those errors. I agree with you about the sects and the breath mints. I didn't polish this because I lost interest. Bad writing. *smacks own hand*

e-griff on 18-07-2011
The Necklace
funny that sex should raise its head. I almost said I thought the character was female at the opening, not sure why,

I had a similar feeling with the story we discussed yesterday

praps in both cases, you better just make them female (could have some fumbling with Brendan inthe cloakroom)

Author's Reply:
I hate that advice. All my narrators should be female because I'm female? And there should be sex in the cloakroom? Boo.

I should get better at writing men instead.

franciman on 18-07-2011
The Necklace
A great story and really well told. It has the ring of truth about it that really good fiction often has.
Two small things:-
I found the opening paragraph clumsily phrased, and
"At five pounds a meeting, it was lucrative", did not register with me. It was only on the 3rd reading that I got the idea they were paid for attendance.
I agree with John about the last sentence, and like Bikerman I too thought the narrator was female.
On a more esoteric note, polishing gems is at best a relative process!

Cheers,
Jim

Author's Reply:
Thanks Franciman, great comments. I'm definitely going to do something about that last sentence. Will revisit the first para and the money angle.

e-griff on 18-07-2011
The Necklace
I would have suggested that (you lern to rite better) but felt it might challenge you too much.

what's wrong with an attempted fumble in the cloakroom? adds a bit of spice for the dirty old men. 🙂

Author's Reply:
Sigh...

sirat on 18-07-2011
The Necklace
Funnily enough, Pinochet was who I had in mind when I wrote my piece about the exiled Latin American dictator hiding up in a genteel residential suburb of Chester. Do you remember how Maggie Thatcher managed to prevent his extradition to Spain to face human rights charges when he was arrested in Britain in 1998?

I thought the boys and the 'listening group' were a good device to get us into the meat (no pun intended) of the story. Like the others I assumed a female narrator, but isn't that fairly natural when you know the gender of the author? If it was important you would no doubt have provided a clue early on, but not a lot hung on it here.

My only tiny quibble was that, shocking though the revelation was, the story didn't really tug at my heart strings. I think it could have been improved if you gave us somebody to like or to care about, something a little more personalised and poignant, rather than just the unfolding of the facts. Still a very good read though.

Author's Reply:
Hm. I'll have a good think about that. My natural assumption was that you'd care about the narrator, but maybe I haven't interjected enough emotion to make that work. I'll go back through it. Thanks.

Nomenklatura on 18-07-2011
The Necklace
Naturally, I feel as though I'm intruding a little as this was written for the prose challenge. However, I'd like to say that regarding the sex of the narrator the following is something that wouldn't have occurred to a teenage boy even in retrospect. I just don't think he would have noticed these details at the time. (Unless of course he was dancing at the other end of the ballroom...) I know that this is equally as sexist as the assumptions made above.

She had a surprisingly modern haircut, a long bob to her chin, with a severe fringe. It was glossy, black; of course, she dyed it, but I suppose it must have been that colour, and perhaps that style, when she was a young woman in South America. All the way to the town hall she would pat that bob into place, smooth it with her fingers. On windy days she wore an orange headscarf tied under her chin. It was strangely glamorous, that headscarf; I always felt it should have belonged to a different woman.

But, on the other hand a boy at that time, a gamer, (how many were girls?) would definitely have made the commodore reference. Adding the model would have nailed it C64 or Amiga if later. (GEEK! I know.)

Maybe this is why people made the assumptions?

I enjoyed the story and it kept me hooked to the end. I'd get rid of the last line too.

Regards
Ewan


Author's Reply:
Hi Ewan - please don't feel there's any problem with commenting on prose challenge pieces - I post it to be commented upon! I think you're absolutely right about the observation that marks it as female (and I thought the gaming ref would place it firmly in male territory...) Very helpful indeed - thank you.


Nomenklatura on 18-07-2011
The Necklace
Re 'last line' I meant sentence. 🙂

Author's Reply:
Yup. Got it.

delph_ambi on 19-07-2011
The Necklace
If I may buck the trend somewhat: I like the last sentence. I'd keep it.

Thoroughly readable tale. The point's already been made that a male narrator wouldn't have noticed so much detail about the hair, but for me that was the only glitch.

Author's Reply:
Thank you! Now that para has been pointed out it seems really obviously female...


Oh You Beautiful Doll (posted on: 21-05-10)
From the weekly challenge, but I got carried over and went waaaay over the word limit.

Malarky Jones stopped walking. She stared into the junk shop window. It was definitely a life-sized doll of herself. The dreadlocks dyed red, the self-knitted purple jumper with the trailing sleeve, the ballet pumps with elastic where ribbons should be. And, of course, her birthmark, splotched across her nose and dripping down to her chin like an upside-down ice-cream or India, depending on whether a person was gastronomically or geographically minded. She pushed against the shop door, and it opened with an accompanying tinkle. 'Hello?' The man behind the counter looked up from his newspaper. He was young and smart, in a double-breasted suit and a chunky pink tie that showed off his tan. 'Hello.' 'The doll in the window' 'Yes?' Apparently he didn't see the resemblance; he looked at her as most people did, with a touch of distaste in the way he raised his chin. 'Where did you get her from?' 'She's amazing, isn't she? Hard to put a value on her, really, but we're open to offers.' 'No,' Malarky said, 'I don't want to buy her. I am her.' The man frowned. 'She's, well, she's unique, and' She gave up. 'Did someone sell her to you? Do you have the name of the seller?' She spoke very clearly, so that he'd understand. 'We don't give out that information.' She crossed her arms. 'Well, I won't be making an offer until I've talked to them directly. I need to know more about its' She searched for the word. 'provenance.' 'Right, well, maybe I could get him to contact you.' So it was a him. It became obvious to Malarky Jones at that moment that it could only have come from one person. Only one ex-boyfriend would be sick enough to make a life-sized model of her and then give it away to a junk shop. Random Hayes. She pushed her way into the window, past assorted tea sets stacked high, serving dust, and unloved musical instruments and occasional tables. The dreadlocked hair was made of twisted wool; she pushed her hands underneath it, and searched around the scalp. There it was a small pearl, like a tic, nestled at the base of the skull. She pulled it out and a long, thin needle was revealed, the length of her index finger. 'Hatpin,' she murmured. It all came back to her. If you walk out that door right now I'm going to make a model of you, a great big model that's exact in every single way, and I'm going to stick enormous pins in it and curse you forever, Malarky, I swear I can do it, my stepfather was into voodoo and I know what I'm doing. Yeah. Right. So long, loser. Except it seemed he got fed up of the game eventually. Perhaps he'd got bored of not knowing if she'd been suffering or not. And the truth was she hadn't even been uncomfortable, not with a giant hatpin stuck in the neck of her life-sized model that she hadn't known about she hadn't even felt a twinge. No, wait. There had been that slight neckache one weekend; voodoo was losing its touch if a crick in the neck was the best it could produce. 'Fifty pounds,' she said. 'Um' 'Sixty.' 'Okay,' said the man behind the counter. 'Hey, did you know that you really look like that doll? How weird.' 'Yeah,' she said. 'It's a weird life.' She paid the money and carried herself home, horizontally, tucked under her arm. Then she put herself in the corner of the bathroom and checked herself all over for pins. She found thirty-two in total, in her armpits, up her nose, through her kneecaps, and in worse places that she didn't want to think about. She put them all in her jewellery box. It felt wrong to throw them away. When she thought about it in bed that night, it seemed to her that she had been aware of them after all, on some metaphysical level. All that metal had been dragging her soul down since she split with Random. But now things could begin to get better. Yes, now she was a free butterfly again, everything would begin to get better.
Archived comments for Oh You Beautiful Doll
e-griff on 21-05-2010
Oh You Beautiful Doll
I liked the nice Aliya frills (eg geographic and gastronomic). But, while an enjoyable read superficially, if you go abit deeper, I think this needs a bit of attention, tidying. For instance, one of the opening threads is that when the shopkeeper tells her a 'he' made it, she ponders and comes to the conclusion that it could only be one ex-boyfriend who could have done it. There is no rationale to say why it has to be an ex-boyfriend etc. This is given space beyond its importance, as just after, she suddenly 'remembers' that this blokey told her he was going to make a doll of her. Blimey! I really don't think that works well. From a reader's point of view I felt a bit cheated or at least mucked about with.

It might be that you have her looking in the window, and remembering those words as she does so, right up front. That would be natural and acceptable. But this is what I mean by 'attention' - I don't think you've thought this through enough yet, frankly - and you bein' a famous writer an' all ... we expect the best.

It's also confused about its central theme, IMO. The 'butterfly' mention is dropped in at the end, and I did get the 'pinned ' reference there, but it really isn't supported strongly enough. You might show that, for instance, the boyfriend tried to dominate her in the relationship, control her, and relate that more strongly to the 'pinning', not just relate the actual pinning.

So - not finished yet, je crois.

Author's Reply:
No, nowhere near finished, but I did wonder what other directions people would suggest so I posted it here. I agree with all the things you flag as not tying together yet. But as for me being a famous writer - yeah, right. Still struggling. And if I only posted amazingly well-finished bits of work here then what we be the point? It all needs hard work, of course.

sirat on 21-05-2010
Oh You Beautiful Doll
This is well written, and I liked some of the smaller touches like the descriptions and people's names ('Random' and 'Malarky') but I agree with Griff that the plot is a bit weak.

My inclination would be to take this in the direction of drama rather than comedy (which I often feel about your stories). You would have a more powerful story if the discovery and 'unpinning' of the doll resolved some issue in the narrator's life. Why not have her in the depths of a depression (nothing has gone right for her since she split up with Random) when she discovers the doll. Instead of cross questioning the man in the shop about its origin, she simply buys it. She knows exactly who made it and why. Then she removes a single hatpin, through the head, and her depression begins to lift. As an afterthought she asks the salesman how it came into his possession and he tells her that it was part of the effects of a dead man, sold to the shop by the man's family after he was found hanged (or something similarly dramatic).

I don't think I would have direct references to Voodoo, the reader will get the message, but Random might have been a practitioner of some weird religion. Also I don't think I would make Malarky's appearance so strange, with the red-dyed dreadlocks and the birthmark. All she needs is a small but unusual tattoo on the shoulder or something – she might even be uncertain at first if the doll is indeed meant to be herself. And appealing as the characters' names are, I don't think they would fit in with my more 'straight' version.

I think the usefulness of these very short, fast challenges is to spark off an idea, and this seems to me like a good one, just needing a little more development.

Author's Reply:
Thanks David - I quite like the idea of trying a 'straight' version of this - it hadn't occurred to me. Will give it a go.


Prose Workshop Challenge: El Paso (posted on: 07-05-10)
I bet you can't guess which song this piece of prose is based on.

Out in the West Texas town of El Paso I fell in love with a Mexican girl. El Paso was still a pretty wild place back then. It had a bar on every corner, and a brothel above every bar. So I had been drinking myself dry since New Orleans, and that was when Felina found me and hit me for a $100 bottle of champagne on the promise of a lap dance later. She would give the eye to anyone back then and show them a good time, even the bikers and the junkies. She made a $5 profit on the champagne and had a deal with her pimp for a better split on the lap dance. But I looked at her that night, in Rosa's canteen, when she lifted my head from the pool of vomit on the table, and I saw an angel. It's like this anyone, even the lowest human being, who's never felt the prick of conscience or the sting of shame before can have a life-changing moment. Catholics and virgins don't have a monopoly on goodness. I saw Felina, and I knew I'd do anything to help her, even if she ripped me off and left me for dead and never gave me even a kind look in return. I'd come out of hell and she was a light for me, that night. If she hadn't approached me and offered me a deal, I'd have drunk myself to death. Come to think of it, that might have been a slower way to go. 'Why you in town?' she said. Apart from sex talk and swear words, her English wasn't that great. We shuffled on the dance floor to the Scissor Sisters, Comfortably Numb. Nobody else was dancing, but I didn't mind, which was unusual for me. I put it down to the beer. 'Running away,' I said. 'Have you ever seen something so awful that you turned around and sprinted in the other direction, and didn't stop until' 'Until wha'?' 'I don't know. I'll tell you when I stop.' 'You no runnin' now.' 'That's right,' I said. And I told her everything, knowing she wouldn't follow half of it, about the water that poured in and over New Orleans and the bodies floating down what used to be wide boulevards, and the houses ripped open like packets of cornflakes, and the contents coffee tables, lamp stands, fringed cushions and carpets and curtains spilled out, around, up into the branches of drunken leaning trees. I'd only been there for a conference, meant to be three days only, and I ended up stuck there for twelve, unable to find a way out. And when our party of soap salesman were rescued, evacuated to safe ground, I found I was still there inside my head. Even the water in the sink every morning reminded me of it. I was just getting on to the subject of what a drowned corpse looks like when I felt a tap on my shoulder. 'You're boring the lady,' he said. He was thin, with black hair like wire on his head and his top lip. He stuck his hands into the front pockets of his blue jeans, the thumbs sticking out, and I recognised the stance of a cowboy who thinks he's on his home turf. 'Come here a lot, do you?' I said. He raised his eyebrows, then nodded at Felina. 'Ees okay,' she said, to no one in particular. 'Is he your boyfriend?' I kept my hands on her, and she didn't try to step away from me. 'Yeah,' he said, 'I'm her boyfriend. Now why don't you find some place else to drink?' 'I like it here,' I said. 'And Felina doesn't seem to mind my company. Do you, Felina?' He took his hands from his pockets, and in his left he had a flick-knife that he kept low, close to his body. 'You wanna think again?' he asked me. He had that look, as if I was just an excuse for something else, something awful to happen, and I knew I wasn't going to walk away. I couldn't turn my back on him. I reached for the knife, and he ran the blade along the palm of my hand, but then I had his wrist and as he stepped towards me I turned his arm with a move I'd learned at self-defence classes in summer camp, twenty years ago now, but it worked just the same. I felt the weight of him walk on to the knife, and then he fell forwards on to me, and I pushed him away, to the floor. He kicked his feet and made noises, awful noises, but they didn't bother me. It was like I had water in my ears, and everything was muted, even Felina's screams, as I ran out of Rosa's back door and found my car in the parking lot. I drove for a while. Eventually I had to stop for gas, and as I paid I saw my picture on the TV screen in the gas station, not that anyone was paying attention to it. It was the photograph the company had taken of me on my first day on the job, with my hair all neat and the knot of my tie askew. The guy who took the picture hadn't told me, but then, he took a thousand pictures a month and laminated them on a little machine to make those passes everyone clipped to their lapels why should he care? And that was the problem, with El Paso, with New Orleans, with everywhere. Nobody cared any more. We're all running, running, in fancy sneakers or with holes in our shoes, running to get to some place better. Except it doesn't exist. I paid for the gas and got back in the car. I turned it around and headed back to El Paso. After a couple of hours I noticed the police car behind me, but I kept going. Nothing happened, just the two of us, travelling, one behind the other, and I thought maybe nothing would come of it. Then, when two more police cars turned up, and the helicopter appeared overhead, I realised they'd just been waiting for the right moment. They all turned on their lights and sirens but I just sped up, and they followed, as if they knew where I was going. I can honestly say I was as calm as a lily pond; it was as if I was watching it on TV, like one of those chases that go on through state after state and you know that the cops will get that asshole eventually, the idiot that didn't realise there's no escape and provided entertainment on channel 76 for a few hours. It was like sitting at home in an armchair, and saying to myself, with no interest in the outcome one way or the other, he's never going to make it. And then making some more popcorn and chugging another beer. I got as far as Rosa's canteen. I pulled up out front and ran for the door, but the police were only just behind me, calling for me to stop, put up my hands, and then there was a deep burning pain in my side, and then another in my chest, and I knew it was time, thank God, to lie down on the ground and stop running. From out of nowhere Felina found me. She knelt beside me; she kissed my cheek. She held my hand and I tried to tell her something about standing and fighting for what you want in the world, but it wouldn't come out right and then she put her hand over my mouth and everything was getting dark anyway. I kissed her palm and closed my eyes. It was a relief to be still. I felt the waters of death close over me, and take away my last breath, but I can't say I was sorry. Felina was there and nothing else mattered. Call me old-fashioned, but I'd finally learned a lesson about love. Love is still. It does not move, or change. It cannot be altered when it alteration finds. I read that in school, maybe. What else is there to say that's not been said before? Goodbye, Felina. Felina, goodbye.
Archived comments for Prose Workshop Challenge: El Paso
e-griff on 07-05-2010
Prose Workshop Challenge: El Paso
Pretty good. One of my favourite songs. I liked the modern setting and the believable character - that part was good. I didn't really like the 'over-hinting' (in fact, quoting) from the song itself. That grated with me, I kept saying 'I know, I know no need to keep rubbing it in.' .... 🙂 I'd whip 'em out.

Author's Reply:

sirat on 07-05-2010
Prose Workshop Challenge: El Paso
I've read this twice now because I wanted to be fair in my comments, and I think I still feel the same way. There is a problem with the tone of the piece for me, by which I mean it seems to hover between serious and tongue-in-cheek, or even comic. You could have done it as an absolutely straight tragedy, where the central character gets involved in a knife fight over Felina, kills the man accidentally with the attacker's own knife, and then panics and runs – finally makeing the mistake of coming back to Rosa's Canteen where he pays the price. But you've taken away this potential seriousness with all the quotations from the song, and with somewhat implausible or comic touches, like Felinda lifting his head from the pool of vomit on the table, the laminated name badges and the self-defence classes he had attended at summer camp. But alongside this you have the passage about the bodies floating down the boulevards of New Orleans, which is actually very poignant, and there are some very well written serious lines, like: 'He had that look, as if I was just an excuse for something else, something awful to happen' and 'We’re all running, running, in fancy sneakers or with holes in our shoes, running to get to some place better. Except it doesn’t exist'. What you end up with, it seems to me, is a cross between The Last Picture Show and The Fastest Milkman In The West. I think this could be re-written as a really heartrending tale of somebody who could have had it all (which of us is not looking for our Felina?) but blew it when he panicked, and fell victim to some redneck sherrif who favoured the technique of posthumous questioning. I think the idea deserves more serious treatment than you have given it here. I'm not saying it was bad, just that it could be so much better.

Author's Reply:
Yes, I really agree with you - I knew it wasn't either one thing or the other and would have seriously rejigged the opening (where I fell into my natural more comedic style very easily) to match the ending. I just ran out of time I'm afraid, and wanted to post something for the challenge anyway. But you're absolutely right - the tone jars.

e-griff on 07-05-2010
Prose Workshop Challenge: El Paso
ah, the Aliya humour! a curse and a blessing? Sometimes it sabotages a story, but now and then it lifts a story into memorability(?), dunnit?

who could forget the red socks?

Author's Reply:
I stand by the red socks.

Rupe on 09-05-2010
Prose Workshop Challenge: El Paso
I enjoyed this. I suppose it has rather standard elements - the bar-room setting, the jealous boyfriend, the car chase etc - but it has quirky elements all of its own.

I'll admit I've 'cheated' by reading Sirat's comments regarding the tone - and I agree that it's pitched somewhat uncertainly between poignancy and humour, with strong elements of both. But I like that sense of uncertainty, precisely because of its unsteadiness and unreliability. It seems more true to life - not unrealistically black and white, and it makes the reader work a little harder.

Rupe

Author's Reply:
Thanks Rupe - a lot of my stuff seems to end up in that grey area, and I usually get to review it before making a decision about it, but I just ran out of time on this one! I'm glad you enjoyed it.


Sleeping Beauty (posted on: 21-09-09)
For the prose workshop challenge, although, as usual, I forgot what the challenge was and went with the flow. Sorry.

I have the worst luck in the history of unlucky people. People who slip on dog poo in the street and fall into the path of large trucks are luckier than me. People who sneeze and give themselves aneurisms have it better. I realise this sounds puerile. I should start with my leg. I broke it. In the middle of the twenty-ninth consecutive pirouette during my debut performance as Aurora, I felt my knee give, not be where it should, I can't explain, and I fell. The scan showed that the knee was fine. There'd never been anything wrong with the knee, but the leg was buggered. Wasting of the bone: the femur. And so everything I'd worked for - all the years from the age of four when I took my first dancing lesson and the teacher proclaimed that I had a natural gift had, in effect, brought about its own downfall. The stress on the leg had affected the bone, and the bone had given out before I ever heard the sweet sound of applause. I am without qualifications of any sort, and the truth is I don't want to get any. Real life, without the structure of practice and rehearsal and everything leading up to a big, beautiful moment, is too tedious to bear. I don't want to be a dental hygienist, or an administrator. I don't want to get used to sitting on the sofa and eating cake. Nevertheless, I find myself doing that a lot: sitting on the sofa and eating cake, that is, particularly in Starbucks. They do good cake. I'm there from ten to eleven every day, and sometimes in the afternoon as well, depending on the ache in my leg. The wide spaces between squashy sofas allow me easy manoeuvrability with my crutch, and the soft jazz is so very far away from the strict notes of the ballet. Sometimes, if I have hot chocolate rather than coffee and the place is very quiet, I feel my eyelids fluttering downwards, and the urge to sleep, to forget, is strong. I suppose that's what happened today. When I opened my eyes a man was sitting opposite me. I pulled myself up and wiped my face with my hand; I felt flushed, uncomfortable. He had a book open on his lap, but he was looking at me. 'Hi,' he said. 'Snap.' 'Pardon?' And then I noticed his leg. It was encased from toe to thigh in pristine white plaster: dazzling, clean. His grey tailored trousers had been cut off at the top of the cast. 'Floor had just been waxed at work,' he said. He had blond hair, and blue eyes. 'I'm thinking of suing. Not really. You?' 'I don't want to talk about it,' I said. My mouth was gluey, and my leg itched. 'Act of God, huh?' 'No...' I wanted to get up and walk away, but rudeness has never been in my character. 'Just one of those things.' 'You should take up dancing.' 'Pardon?' I said. And then it occurred to me; he'd seen my face on the posters, dotted about town, in the papers, and had decided to have a joke at my expense. 'That's not funny.' 'Good, because it wasn't meant to be. Seriously, have you ever danced?' 'Um... yes...' 'I don't mean at a club, around your handbag, or at a wedding reception with your relatives watching. I mean just letting it all go, going crazy, not thinking about looking good or making nice lines with your body so people go how graceful she is! How beautiful! Ever just let it all hang out?' I thought about it. And the truthful answer, the answer I didn't want to admit to, was no. No, I'd never danced for the joy of it, without thinking about how it would appear, and what I was trying to achieve. I had no idea how it would feel to move my body to music without agenda. I was the kind of person who never did anything without agenda. 'No,' I said, impulsively, unpredictably, and felt a rush of excitement. 'No, I haven't.' 'I thought so,' he said, and I noticed how muscled he was, his arms sleek and wiry not the muscle you get from pumping iron, but the kind you get from running, or swimming. Or lifting a ballerina above your head in a pas-de-deux. 'Is this a set-up? 'No,' he said. 'It's not anything but an invitation to dance. They're playing Sarah Vaughan. Can you hear her? I love the way she sings.' He stood up, leaning to the left, his weight on his good leg. He held out his hands to me. 'May I have this hop?' 'I... no.' 'Oh come on. Does it matter what these people around us think? What makes you care more about them than about yourself?' He leaned towards me, his hands still outstretched. 'Why are you so sure that they're real, anyway?' It was such a strange thing to say, and it grabbed me, held me tight. Everything had seemed so important, before, but now the line between meaningful and meaningless was blurred. What did it matter if I stood up and danced with this man? How could it change anything? How could it leave me the same? I didn't understand it. I took his hands, got up, and started to hop. He hopped along with me. We hopped together, holding hands, and when the next song started, an uptempo Louis Prima number, we hopped separately so that we could make little twisty finger motions and clap occasionally. He laughed, and I laughed with him. He attempted the twist and so did I. We fell over quite a lot, and it hurt really quite badly, but I wouldn't have stopped, not for anything or anybody. Not even for the return of a good, strong, normal, working leg. I'm not kidding. The Louis Prima song ended, and so did the moment. He stopped hopping, and so did I. We smiled at each other. He gave a little shrug, which I took to mean we did it. 'Yes,' I said. 'We did.' He took my hands one last time and brought them to his lips. And then I woke up. I was slumped over on the comfy sofa at Starbucks, and the place was filled with men in suits, young mothers with pushchairs, elderly couples with nothing better to do but no man. No man with a cast. No man of my dreams. I have the worst luck in the history of unlucky people. I have broken my leg, lost my career, seen my future crumble away. And now - now I realise that I didn't really want that future anyway. I want to learn how to live. I want to learn how to really dance. I need someone to teach me how to dance.
Archived comments for Sleeping Beauty
e-griff on 21-09-2009
Sleeping Beauty
hmmm when I got to the end, it was a nice enough story with cute realistic bits of life - nice touches. but on the way I kept saying to myself - they wouldn't be dancing in Starbucks! Would they be playing that music? etc (the curse of my critical mind) so I probabaly missed the enjoyment. I also felt that falling over and hurting your self is not something you keep on doing ...

ah me, what would Lola have done?

Author's Reply:
Oh, you cynic.


Griffonner on 21-09-2009
Sleeping Beauty
Absolutely delightful.

You enchanted me with your story.

So perhaps I should have said 'absolutely enchanting'.

Thank you for bringing some simple, uncomplicated, but delightful images into my somewhat grey day today.

And with such skill....

*appreciatively*

Allen

Author's Reply:
Thanks Allen - I wish we could dance in Starbucks. It would help the day along immensely.

hoopsinoz on 21-09-2009
Sleeping Beauty
Would wow be too little for all of that - just wow - simply wow ! Fantastic. Made me smile and makes me feel so sad for her. She feels so real.

Author's Reply:
Thank you! That's very kind. There's a trick to it if you're going to do a fair bit of 'tell'ing to start off a story - give the voice an overload of style and have them say something a bit ridiculous... then nobody notices that you've just given them 16 pages of backstory in a paragraph... (hopefully!)

e-griff on 21-09-2009
Sleeping Beauty
not cynical, critical 🙂

well, thinking about it I liked the 'twist' (ahah!) (leg) - the typically curious element which often occurs in your stories. and the layers of meaning it contained.

Author's Reply:

Rupe on 23-09-2009
Sleeping Beauty
I enjoyed the story, but was a little disappointed that it turned out to be a dream.

However, I am not sure of the relative extent to which I'm disappointed because I wanted it to be 'true' as against the conventional wisdom that dreams in stories are A Bad Thing. It does leave the ending a little flat, though with a tiny glimmer in it.

Rupe

Author's Reply:
Thanks Rupe - I'm not fond of 'it was all a dream' endings so tried to subvert it a little here, but really it was a bit of a cop-out...

RoyBateman on 24-09-2009
Sleeping Beauty
This could have been a slight, shot-through-gauze situation but it was very neatly relieved by shots of humour and those little touches which connect the characters to the world that the rest of us inhabit. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
ps How does she afford Starbuck's prices??

Author's Reply:
I can only assume that ballerinas insure their legs... thanks Roy!

sirat on 25-09-2009
Sleeping Beauty
I was carried along by this story on a first reading, and just wanted to say how sweet and charming it all was. I still feel that - I think it works well as a parable about how we take our talents and our lives too seriously and lose the enjoyment of things, turning delights into chores. The message is a good and important one.

Regarding how it is put across, I think there are two weaknesses: one is the amount of 'tell' at the beginning, which on a second reading becomes noticeable, the other is the use of the dream device, which I think detracts from the ending. If you were thinking of rewriting this, what I would suggest would be: have her spot a man in Starbucks with his leg in a cast like herself and let them have a fairly normal conversation about their respective misfortunes. This allows you to get the back story in unobtrusively, as dialogue. At the same time as she is having this conversation let her fantasize about dancing with the man and at some point reach a sudden insight – a flash of self-knowledge – that she has never really danced at all. Then the ending: 'I need someone to teach me how to dance'. I think it's the kind of story that should take place largely inside the central character's head, and the more banal that you make the external setting the better contrast you will achieve.

These are just vague thoughts, I hope they are some use.

Author's Reply:
I like that version, David, and can certainly see it working well. I might try to write it that way as an exercise at some point - thanks for the astute comment.


Prose Workshop Challenge: Sink (posted on: 30-01-09)
The last line had to be: 'He threw the knife over the rail.' I would change it if I could. Yes, I know I set the blooming challenge.

It wasn't far from the road. On an industrial estate that was meant to be sold off as land for houses, the once ornamental trees grew into a wood, and nobody noticed. The largest fir tree bore a string of forgotten fairy lights, from a Christmas past, and the security guards who had placed them there - two holding the ladder, one balancing on the top rung - had all gone on to new jobs and not kept in touch. Peter had come across the place by accident. His car had broken down on the way back from a long week working in the city, and while waiting for the AA he'd seen the outline of the place, the sign of no entry. He didn't know why he went in, but when he found the wood, he felt a knot that had been in his chest for the longest time begin to dissolve. He walked through the wood most days, no more than ten minutes' exercise, to emerge at the rusted wire of the perimeter fence, and look at the grey buildings inside, maybe warehouses, maybe offices. There was a peace to the place, intensified by the noise of the busy road, so close, so far. He wondered if this was what an oasis was like the change so sudden, almost painful, but a welcome pain, like the ache of the lungs breathing air after being deep underwater. After a few years, it came into Peter's mind that he owned the place. Not in terms of money, but in a deeper way that the land knew him, and wanted him on it. He understood for the first time how the Native Americans had felt when the white men offered them pieces of paper for the earth under their feet. Didn't people understand these things could not be bought or sold? The land accepted him, and he wanted to show it that he loved it too, so he brought along a knife a large hunting one, bought at one of the small shops in the poorer district - and cut a small symbol on the fir tree with the fairy lights, at the height of his chest, taking care to keep the marks shallow. He decided on a triangle. It was easy to carve, and it reminded him of many things: the relationship between man, animals, and Earth; the fairy on top of the Christmas tree; the American dollar bill. It made him think of odd things, all jumbled up together, and he smiled every time he walked past it, laying his fingers upon it, feeling the tree accepting his mark, growing around it. After a while Peter marked the other trees. It took about a year to put the triangle upon all of them, and during that time the grey buildings beyond the wire had begun to change. Green hands had forced apart the concrete and grabbed hold of the walls, as if they would drag them down, and it seemed to Peter that the buildings did sink a little lower every day. He spent more time there, watching the slow progress of the grasses and weeds, and when his manager pointed out his absences, he handed in his notice without giving it much thought. The wood continued to grow. One day, Peter noticed how, from a distance, all his triangles pointed in the same direction upwards. And he realised that, in order to fully appreciate his land, he need to look at it from above. So he took up his hunting knife once again, and started to saw at the wire. It was old, but tough, and it didn't give easily. This new job took a few more months, just to make a hole big enough to squeeze through, but when he had finished, he knew he had done a good job. That night, he went back to his house, stepped over the pile of unpaid bills on the doormat, and packed a kitbag: a thermos of tea, digestive biscuits, tins of pineapple chunks and a tin opener, a sleeping bag, a blanket. The next morning he stuck his hunting knife into the belt loop of his combat trousers and headed back to the wood. He parked his car on the side of the road and left the keys in the ignition. He walked past the signs of warning and trod upon his land once more, and he knew he would never leave it again. He touched the triangles on each tree as he passed, and squeezed himself under the wire. Then he headed for the tallest of the deserted buildings, and broke a black window with the handle of his knife so he could get inside and climb the stairs, listening to the echo of his boots, and the diminishment of the noise of the road until he reached the top floor and climbed out on to the balcony, gripping the safety rail as he looked down. The view was not what he had expected. His wood was small: yes, he had known that. But it was not alone. Around it, stretching far, were signs of its fingers stretching out, pulling more and more of the world into it. Even the roaring road was being taken, a little at a time. The edges of it were slicked with green lines, and he could see how it rose in the middle, at the central reservation, as if roots were ready to erupt and then drag the road down into the soil. And his triangles were not visible. There was no sign of him. Even the hole he had cut in the wire could not be seen from here, and it was so small. He could feel the desire of the wood to close over what he had done, and knit a pattern of wholeness with its long green strands. The land did not belong to him. He belonged to the land. So he put down his kitbag and waited for the fingers to get purchase on the building, to take it over, pull it into itself, and make him part of it. He wanted to belong, and he would not fight, would not mark that which was so much greater than him. He waited to sink, and he wanted to be taken. He threw the knife over the rail.
Archived comments for Prose Workshop Challenge: Sink
e-griff on 30-01-2009
Prose Workshop Challenge: Sink
Hmmm, this is a bit of a mixture to be honest. I don't think the end fits anything much, the triangles just seem to be a device to work the knife in rather than having substance of their own. I found the writing, especially at the start (or I may have been getting used to it) awkward, lacking fluency. Maybe this was intended? and some strange phrasing and words 'sign of no entry' ' signs of warning' 'diminishment'

However, within this, the feeling of the wood tucked away was good, and the 'reversal of ownership' an interesting theme in itself. I would rewrite it, cleaning up the words and dumping the knife and triangles, bring out the mystery and power of the wood and its effect on him. Traditionally, of course he should blend into the wood --- 'he found his feet would not move, and in time, his boots split and his gnarly toes dug their way into the soil' kind of touch - but maybe that's too predictable.

Hope this doesn't sound too negative after you were kind enough to praise mine!! 🙂

Author's Reply:
Will think on it. I think maybe the symbolism of the knife and the triangles needs to be worked in more, particularly at the end. But I won't be going down the route of having him growing into the wood - that doesn't approach what I want to say (but obv. am not at the moment!)

Romany on 30-01-2009
Prose Workshop Challenge: Sink
I liked the initial feeling that the wood was somehow 'his' even though it patently wasn't. The reversal at the end felt at odds with what had been building up throughout the rest of the piece, and it threw me a bit. I was comfortably accepting his delusion up til then! I thought it was a bout a man for whom life had simply become too much, who had taken to the woods literally to live out his days, or at least until somone came along and 'rescued' him or kicked him off the land. Ver original and I enjoyed the writing.

R.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Romany!

Rupe on 01-02-2009
Prose Workshop Challenge: Sink
I thought it was an interesting idea - one of those cryptic pieces which work by sparking off ideas in the reader's mind rather than by involving them in a gripping narrative.

It made me think, at random, of the strange tree along the side of the M4 between Newbury and Reading which isn't really a tree at all but a sort of disguised antenna; Huckleberry Finn, a Finnish forest, and a deserted industrial estate somewhere.

I suppose what's missing is any defined sense of conflict - no other people or even animals feature in it & although a latent conflict between Peter and 'his' land is indicated, it's not very clear (to me) how this works exactly. So there is a kind of abstraction and passivity about the piece - a lack of definitive action - & possibly that's what puzzles the reader.

Rupe

Author's Reply:
Thanks Rupe - I think you're right that conflict is missing. I hoped the growth of the wood would add a dynamic to it, but I think it's too underplayed to work. Will think on what bits I want to beef up to make this work.


The Message (posted on: 24-11-08)
Old and revisited.

The plan was to get drunk. The barman stopped polishing the glasses and stared at me as I walked in; dinner would not be over for another hour. The other passengers were gorging on overdone beef and sticky roast potatoes. I had the bar to myself. I sat down on the stool opposite him and ordered a Black Russian, straight glass, no ice, which he delivered double-quick. I drained the liquid and felt the mellow spread of alcohol through my body. Then I ordered another. The barman asked me if I was okay. I told him yes. I was used to telling lies - lies used to be my job. I worked hard then, telling myself it was for my future. I was an administrator of pensions, and I knew the importance of paying in regular money. I had my picture postcard retirement in my head; I was waiting for the country cottage and the world cruise. And then I moved departments to Annuities. I took phone calls from people who were trying to live on a pittance; people who had paid in their regular money for years. People who had followed the rules, and believed the lie that everything would turn out well in the end. So I quit my job, took out my savings, and treated myself to that cruise. By my last night on board, I couldn't remember any of the sights I had seen. So, time to get drunk, so drunk that I could move to the rail of the ship, lose my balance, and not feel my skin freezing and my lungs bursting as I took away the future, because I was determined not to start again. Then I felt his eyes upon me. He loomed large in the doorway, stiff backed with vanity. The barman straightened as the man approached and ordered something in a murmur. The voice contained purpose. It sent an electric charge through my stomach. I bowed my head as he occupied the stool next to me. He wore a sharp, tailored suit and his hair was stylishly cut. He had my attention and he knew it. ''I have a message for you,'' he said. ''Oh, really?'' I ran my forefingers up the straight lines of my glass. It sounded like a pick up line, and a not very good one at that. I waited, but he did not elaborate, not even after he took a mouthful of his tumbler of whisky. ''I've been watching you.'' He broke the silence. ''I know,'' I told him. ''And you've been watching me,'' he said. He smiled as he delivered that rehearsed line. He was right. I had watched him during the long lunches and buffet breakfasts, putting mouthfuls of food mechanically in my mouth whilst following him with my eyes. He was different from the other passengers; I had sensed that on the first day. This was the start of a game. I could tell that he wanted me to lie. He wanted to chase a liar. So instead I told him the truth. ''Yes, I've watched you. You're confident of yourself, aren't you?'' ''I'm confident of you. I understand you.'' I finished my second Black Russian and he immediately ordered another. ''Try to make this one last. I'd rather you didn't escape the conversation through alcohol.'' ''I came here to drink. I can order my own drinks,'' I said, raising my chin. ''Haven't you ever been told no?'' ''Not by a stranger.'' ''But I know you,'' he said. For the first time I thought that he might tell me something that would stop me from carrying out my decision to end it. I concentrated on the life of lies that I would return to - such thoughts turned me back into a rock, immutable. I picked up my glass, determined to drain it. I clashed eyes with him and ended up taking a sip instead. ''Did you ever pick the wrong girl tonight,'' I told him. ''Desperation attracts me,'' he replied. ''What a sad admission. Do you want a round of applause for it?'' ''I want us both to feel better. I want my desperation to mingle with yours.'' He adjusted his tie with his fingers and then dropped one hand on to the bar, baring his wrist to me. It was a vulnerable gesture, designed to charm. I felt something stir inside me. ''I find it hard to believe you're desperate,'' I said. ''Do you? Why? Here you are, sitting in a gold dress, tanned limbs bare, smiling the smile of a flirtatious woman, and only your clenched fists give you away. Can't you do me the courtesy of believing the same thing about me?'' I looked at his long fingers, still against his glass. ''I can't see any weakness in you. You don't clench your fists.'' He grinned. His pleasure told me he had been building towards this moment. ''That's because I've reached a decision. A decision makes everything easy.'' His eyes held mine. ''And I know what you're running from. You hate life. You hate knowing it's all a scam. Tell me about it. I want to hear it. I can take it.'' The brittle shell of my armour was collapsing. His words had pierced it, leaving me unguarded. ''I've got nothing to say,'' I whispered into my glass. ''That's not true,'' he said, and I was glad he had seen through my final lie. And then I began to speak, my mouth spitting out words as if they were poison. I told him why I didn't want to live any more; why I couldn't go back to watching people living their entire lives for the sake of dreams that were never going to come true. I poured it all into him and he took it, disgust or disapproval never crossing his face. When I stopped, stuttering and shaking, I was a long way from exhaustion. For the first time since the cruise began I felt energy dancing through me. ''Thank you,'' I said, and he told me he should be the one who was thanking me. ''You have almost restored my faith in humanity.'' I must have looked confused. ''Not faith in the mass out there who make the world a shouting, struggling place. They're not human. You are. You see and understand this as I do - I've found another human. And, believe me, I've been searching a long time." I realised then that meeting him had not changed my decision. In fact, it had strengthened my resolve. I had been waiting to find the ability to act, through alcohol or despair, but speaking to him had left me committed. And, somehow, he knew it. I told him what I was planning to do, and asked him if he was going to try to stop me. I saw no pity in his eyes, not even judgement. Just agreement. "How can I, when it's all I want, too?" "I don't understand." "I told you - I have a message for you,'' he said. He leaned forward, holding my arm beneath my elbow. He was hot, alive, intelligent, exciting to me, and his body told me that I did the same to him. ''The message is this. You want to be dead. And I want to kill you.'' I started to laugh. A great wave of freedom crashed down and over me, and I was borne along in it. He laughed with me. "We have different solutions to the same problem, '' he said. ''We both hate life. You want to run away from it. I want to track it down and kill it. But I need a willing volunteer for the first time. So I can get the hang of it." "I see." "Are you stalling, or changing your mind?" "Just finishing my drink.'' I took the last mouthful and felt nothing but release. The moment I had been searching for had come. ''Right, let's do it." We walked out of the bar into the crisp air of the night. The safety rail was icy to the touch but I grasped it with whitening knuckles, watching the oil black sea pass around the cutting metal of the ship, opening and closing over its path. He did not try to take my hand or kiss me as I had expected. His smile hung in the air and suddenly I understood that this was not an elaborate joke at my expense. This was real. He meant for me to die. All my certainty that it was what I wanted evaporated, and I was left with nothing to hold on to. If only he had taken my hand and kissed me, I might have let him do it. "Wait," I croaked, but he was already pushing me, trying to force my stiff body over the rail, and I reached up for his tie, pulling it tightly around his neck. It was an automatic reaction to twist down as he scrabbled for freedom, and then his sure, confident mouth formed a half-moon of surprise as he fell away from the rail, away from me. He fell into the sea. I stood for several minutes, not wishing to raise an alarm and so start time moving again, but eventually it did, as it must. I explained it as an accident, and the next day I left the ship behind me. Life chose to continue. I have become a different person, with a very different game to play. One that gets me through the nine to five and gives me a reason to live. The party is boring, but I'm hopeful it will improve as I walk outside into the darkness of the street and wait. There's a soft cough by my shoulder and I know now that I don't have to hurry to respond. With a new-born grace I straighten up just enough to see the outline approach me. The streetlights catch his profile and reveal a new contender; not as predatory, not as aware, but not a bad start since I've only just learnt the rules. He's smaller, and rounder, and he leans towards me as if he'd trust me with his soul. ''Did you follow me out here?'' I ask him, wagging a finger at him. ''No. But I've wanted to talk to you. You could call this a lucky coincidence.'' ''I could. You know, you have immaculate timing. I like that in a man.'' ''Really? I don't suppose you were looking for someone to share the stars with?'' I shake my head and tilt it slowly to one side, sliding one hand into my handbag to slide around the knife I have started to keep inside it. ''I have a message for you.''
Archived comments for The Message
Mezzanotte on 30-11-2008
The Message
“The message is this. You want to be dead. And I want to kill you.”

What a fantastic and totally unexpected line. It sent shivers down my spine and really surprised me.
I thought the scene where, the protagonist pushed her assailant off of the ship happened much too quickly though. I would have liked more detail, considering their conversation and simple actions at the bar had been so detailed in comparison.

I liked the ending though, and presume I'm right in presuming that the protagonist had a taste for the kill and murdered assassins before they could go on to kill others.
A great idea, I enjoyed reading this story.

Jackie



Author's Reply:
Thanks Jackie - that's really helpful. I'll go back over that bit and slow it down.

zenbuddhist on 03-12-2008
The Message
I like a story that starts with ' The plan was to get drunk.' This is a well written and intriguing wee story, a bit too unlikely for me but it entertains and holds attention well. The birth of an assassin is a wee bit tired i feel you could end it differently, lets face it she hardly has much future as a killer if one accidental slaying is all she's got on the bedpost.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Zen - I see what you mean. Trying too hard for a twist. Will rethink the ending.

Aliya


Prose Workshop Challenge: Flamenco (posted on: 07-11-08)
This feels unfinished, but my muse deserted me. It's about a bad thing happening to a good person.

'Tourists kill a thing, you know? They chop off its balls and wear them as earrings.' It's an old notion. We first world travellers are destroying beauty with our flash lenses and heavy soled shoes. The sheer weight of our steps will sink Venice. The brightness of our minted smiles will blind the Mona Lisa. And Spain Spain is awash with cheap Sherry and lickspittle waiters. It has been corrupted by our presence. 'But not here,' Consuela says. She leans over the rough hewn table and throws her arms wide as if to protect the warm busy darkness of the bar. Ethical Tourism is Consuela's game. She won't offer me an English menu or three postcards for five Euros. 'I show you the real Spain. Gaudi Spain. Lorca Spain. Blood. Fire, you know? Yes. And I'll show it to you, not for your money, although we have agreed a price for how else would you respect me?, but because I want to. I like you, Melanie. I like your white skin and your orange shoes. You are a lover of life, yes?' 'You've got me,' I say, and she has. I wonder if she'll want to keep me, at least for tonight. She's unpredictable and delicious, and I think she's flirting with me. I wanted a different holiday this year, but that doesn't mean I don't want any lesbian encounters. 'Can I have a sangria?' She clicks her tongue against her startling white teeth. 'No. You can have Alpujarreno. It is a sweet wine made in this region. Not for tourists, you know. Just for us. The heat in your throat is' She purrs. 'You are lucky to be here, Melanie. This is not a place that would let you stay unless I am holding your hand. You are lucky to be a watcher of this dance.' She smiles. And that's when I know for sure that she likes me, more than men, more than anybody in the bar, even though they are all gorgeous in their Spanishness, just like her. Her hand slides over mine, but her eyes are fixed on something over my shoulder. I have to turn and look. A woman is walking to the middle of the rough wooden floor, her breasts swinging in time with her steps, the heavy flesh pushing against her black blouse. Her hair is long and loose. She wears no makeup and her plum red skirt is patched. The ragged hem brushes against her hard leather shoes. She doesn't look like my idea of a flamenco dancer. She's old. She walks as if her feet hurt in those shoes. There is no music. There's not even a guitar. The room doesn't drop into silence for her, as it does in the movies: the people around me continue to drink and talk, as if this is a natural thing, not a special occurrence. The dance is not entertainment to them, perhaps: more like the salty squid served in wooden bowls or the local wine. An essential, expected but appreciated, all the same. I've got no barrier between me and the dance. It strikes me, at the same time as the dancer begins to strike the floor with her steady black heels, that I'm in trouble here. She beats out a rhythm that reminds me of the heartbeat of my brother, felt under my fingers, as he sat propped up against the ash tree. The man behind the wheel of the car that had hit him got out and said something in a loud voice, something stupid although I can't remember exactly what, and I shushed him so I could concentrate on the heartbeat. It kept going right up until the ambulance arrived, and then, as if knowing it would have help from then on, it gave up and I said something too, something stupid, I can't remember what. And they put him in the ambulance and took him away. He was fine. They resuscitated him and he got better, and his broken pelvis and punctured lung mended. He went back to university, stopped drinking too much and hanging out with me and walking home late at night on badly lit roads. So it was for the best. But it was the shock of the thing the moment, the way the car took him, passing an inch from me in a roar. That car was a monster, a terrifying, breathing dragon from outside my experience. Not a box on wheels made by a line of machines and men in overalls. It was the other. The force of God, maybe. I've been walking along the road in the dark since that moment walking fast, my feet sore in my old shoes, hearing time tapping along behind me, waiting for its chance to overtake. And here, in this bar, I've stopped. Somebody else is moving now, and her patterns have taken away my desire to move. The lights are coming up fast. I listen to the roar of the dancer's shoes as she reaches for a rhythm faster than I can think, and my own heartbeat, pumping blood, banging and jerking as if it is trying to free itself from its exertions. Consuela leans close and shouts directly into my right ear. Still, it's only just loud enough for me to hear over the clattering of the shoes. 'I think maybe there's a little bit of Spain in you already, uh? I think you feel like you're coming home to the music.' I nod, but she is so wrong that it's laughable. I don't understand this place and I want to get away. I want to travel back to England and find my brother, and find a way to tell him that although he was the one who got hurt, I was the one who ended up in pieces. He'll laugh at me, and I'll deserve it, but maybe that's enough to start to make it better. Meanwhile, the dance goes on.
Archived comments for Prose Workshop Challenge: Flamenco
Rupe on 07-11-2008
Prose Workshop Challenge: Flamenco
I like the details and the atmosphere - the scenery is very vivid and colourful. It all seems like one of those lurid dreams which are not exactly nightmares but have an underlying sense of menace.

I agree, though, that it feels unfinished. Actually, it reads much like the beginning of a long and interesting journey both forwards and backwards, internally and externally than a self-contained story - you've introduced so many different strands (the here and now, Consuela's story, why the narrator has gone along to this bar despite her better judgement, the brother's story & why exactly the narrator feels 'in pieces') that the reader is bound to feel unsatisfied by the sudden unresolved ending.

Is Melanie a 'good' character? I'm not sure we have enough information to judge her on. Her voice is engaging enough and sympathetic, but it's hard to figure out her motives on the evidence available. There is certainly the sense of a 'bad thing happening', however.

Rupe

Author's Reply:
Yes, it's definitely unfinished but I just didn't want to go down the obvious route with it, so I stopped. Maybe the next part will come to me at some point.

I found that if I started out to write 'good' then that overpowered everything else, so I wrote the 'good' as incidental. Maybe too incidental. Thanks Rupe.

sirat on 07-11-2008
Prose Workshop Challenge: Flamenco
Rupe's comment is very thorough and I think right on the ball. It's difficult to find anything to add. The only bit that struck me as possibly over-written was the direct reference to the lesbian encounters. I think this could have been suggested rather than stated, implicit rather than explicit. But the general quality of the writing was superb. I can only look on in envy.

Author's Reply:
Thanks David. That cheered me up!

discopants on 08-11-2008
Prose Workshop Challenge: Flamenco
To say it feels unfinished is an understatement- it reads very much like the introduction to a longer piece. Let's hope there's more to come from this piece...

Author's Reply:
Yeah, I'm hoping something comes to me! Thanks.


For V (posted on: 22-08-08)
I wrote this a while back and have recently finished fiddling about with it. Anything else I can change? It's set in my town of Allcombe and uses one of Griff's characters.

After she finished her tea and scone, she walked into the curio shop across the road and asked the owner, a small bespectacled man in a red velvet cap and smoking jacket, to show her things that had a history of love. He bowed and produced a tray of old rings. But Verity had a ring. She shook her head. He thought, one finger on his thin lips, and produced one tattered silk rose from inside a glass cabinet. It was interesting, but she had roses. She told him no and made to turn away. Verity saw a thought pass across his eyes, an idea, and then he gestured her through to a back room, piled high with dusty colourless furniture and stuffed animals in warlike postures. Next to a marble-eyed Jaguarundi was a small parquet cherrywood cabinet with five thin drawers, the handles elegant curves of dull brass. The little man slid open the top drawer, the motion smooth, and Verity looked down upon rows of neatly labelled spiders, their legs outstretched on the yellow parchment, blue-headed pins stuck into their dessicated bodies. 'To collect,' said the man, 'is an act of love.' Verity understood that. Verity was a woman who stole mementoes of love. First, she had pocketed her mother's wedding ring from her bedside at the hospice, two hours before she died. Next, at the call centre where Verity worked, she took the cellophane wrapped roses, delivered for Valentine's Day, from the sinks in the ladies' toilets. Then she had found the confidence to take more things. From the bookshop on Allcombe's main street she stole a book of letters between Jean Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir. In the caf next door she reached over the counter and grabbed a photograph from a pinboard a picture of a beach, the waitress clinging to a handsome man, smiles dripping with sunshine. And then, while stopping for tea, she had seen the Curio Shop. She examined the cabinet. The first three drawers contained many different spiders, ranging in size from her little fingernail to the size of her palm. But the last drawer held a monster a spider so big that its legs pushed against the sides of the cabinet, and she could count the long black hairs on its body. Next to it was a small slip of paper, and upon it, in curved, faded handwriting, were the words: This collection is the property of N. Spurling, specimens gathered during the Spurling/Whittaker Amazon expedition of 1907-8. Dedicated to V. Verity took it as a sign. The little man nodded his assent to the purchase, named an outrageous sum. The telephone rang. 'Would you wait?' he asked her, and walked into the front of the shop. Verity picked up the cabinet and tried the handle of the fire door at the back of the room. It opened easily, and she slipped through it to find herself in a quiet alley that she knew. Ten minutes' later, she was home, and the cabinet was ensconced on top of her dressing table in the corner of her bedroom. It looked as if it had always meant to be there. * She had never been afraid of spiders, not even as a little girl. She had a memory of heading out into the garden on spring mornings, the dew soaking through her shoes, to look for glistening webs and she had never disturbed the inhabitants of those delicate palaces. Her mother had not understood her fascination, being the kind of woman who shuddered every time she saw a scuttling form at the bottom of the bath, so it appealed to Verity's sense of humour to put her mother's wedding ring on top of the cabinet, surrounded by fast dying roses and cheap cards. She thought, at night, she heard the spiders moving. Lying in bed, the soft rasping sound of legs against paper reached her, and she imagined them wriggling against their blue-headed pins with pleasure at having found her. 'To collect,' the little man had said, 'is an act of love.' So she gave herself up to the care of the spiders, and she had never felt more beautiful or so special. * The woman arrived one Saturday morning. Verity came downstairs in her dressing gown and found her sitting in the armchair by the window, young and beautiful, wearing a stiff black suit. By her shiny black high heels was a smart leather case, and a pointed ivory clip sat on the crown of her head, holding her dark hair in its teeth. 'Sorry to bother you,' she said in a hoarse voice that barely carried to Verity's ears, 'but I think you have something of mine.' Verity couldn't think of what to say. She watched the woman in black, took in the way she looked around the sitting room as if it was not quite big enough for her. She reached into her case. When she pulled out her hand, a small brown spider, no larger than a fifty pence piece, sat motionless in her palm. 'Amazing, isn't he? I call him Nobby. He's quite well behaved.' She held out her hand and the spider tapped forward to the ends of her fingers. It extended two legs as if reaching out to Verity. 'I think he likes you. Would you like to hold him?' Verity shook her head. 'No? But Nobby tells me you're a spider lover, just like me. In fact, he's the one who told me yes that you have my friends, living here with you. Where are they, Nobby? He can hear them, you see. You may not know this, but spiders have the most amazing hearing. They call to each other. We humans might call it telepathy, but that's only because we don't understand.' Verity watched the small brown spider as it turned on the woman's palm and jumped on to her shoulder. It climbed her neck and stroked her earlobe with three of its legs. 'Upstairs, he says.' She cocked her head towards it. 'In the bedroom.' The woman stood, walked to the staircase, and climbed it without a backward glance. Verity stayed on the sofa, her hands in her lap. When the woman returned, with the cabinet under her arm, she nodded. 'We belong together,' the woman said. 'I think you understand, really. You see, the man who made this collection died before he could return from his expedition, and left me without love. The spiders are my only company, my only passion. They take care of me.' 'Yes,' said Verity. 'I understand.' And she did. She had never had love either. She had suspected that this was only a transient moment of happiness in her long and boring life, stolen at the expense of someone else. Stolen love could not be as good as the kind given freely, she imagined. 'I'm sorry I took the cabinet.' 'It's understandable.' 'Can I' Verity said, as the woman turned away, 'Can I ask you one question?' 'Of course.' 'What's your name?' She gave a kind smile. 'You can call me V. Now, we must be gone. The spiders tell me to thank you for your care. They suggest you may like to start your own collection.' 'Yes,' said Verity. 'That's a good idea.' 'Well then, they'll pass the word. That you're looking for love. Spiders provide the most excellent devotion to lonely women like ourselves.' As soon as the woman in black had left the house, Verity felt the absence of the spiders. But she trusted that it would not be long before more came to her, and she knew how to be patient. She had been waiting for something like this to happen to her all her life. When she woke up the next morning there was the carcass of a house spider on her bedroom floor, by the leg of her dressing table. She picked it up and put it, with great care, into a Tupperware box. The morning after that, a dozen money spiders fell on to her head while she was watering her flower baskets. They did not stay with her for long, scuttling from her hair into the bushes, but she felt blessed by their touch. And the morning after that, she woke to find cobwebs covering her body, the spiders brushing her with their legs and mandibles, their silk making her more beautiful than she had ever been before.
Archived comments for For V
e-griff on 22-08-2008
For V
Hmmm, stealing my character Ambrose eh? Hmm. This deserves a more thorough look ... have printed it out to read it and to ....... COME BACK!!!

Author's Reply:

qwerty68 on 22-08-2008
For V
Are there any normal people in Allcombe? You have a real gift for creating interesting and unusual characters. Is N.Spurling any relation to Sam?

Great writing!

Author's Reply:
Thank you! No, no normal people in Allcombe (after all, it is based on Ilfracombe and there are no normal people there either...) The Spurling in this story is related to Sam - there was initially in '3 Things' a long historical section detailing all of Sam's strange descendants, but it got cut before the book was released.

Rupe on 22-08-2008
For V
I went to a meeting this morning which was also attended by a strange sticklike man with a straggly beard who, immediately after sitting down, took several tupperware boxes from his bag, flourished them about and started talking inconsequentially about compost. For some reason this gave me a very particular feeling that's hard to put into words & which your story - with its spiders and tupperware and velvet smoking jackets - somehow chimes with and accentuates. I suppose it's a strong sense of something going wrong or being out of step somehow, of life having passed by, of being trapped in weird obsessive behaviour - a kind of impotence ultimately, but with mystery behind it.

I liked it. It left a strong impression/atmosphere in my mind. I don't think I'd want much more of it though - its world is a little claustrophobic.

Rupe

Author's Reply:
It's definitely not a feeling that I could keep up in a novel, Rupe, so you're safe there. The tupperware man sounds interesting.

e-griff on 22-08-2008
For V
okay, I realised I read it in a former incarnation (the story's -not mine)

overall I thought it successful. I don't know if you have changed the ending, but it seems to flow to the conclusion well, and it's an interesting one. Only a few minor comments.

on factual things, how old was the mysterious woman? her blokey died 'before he could return from the expedition' the expedition was in 1907 wasn't it? So was the man who died Whittaker then? if she was 20 then, she'd be 120 now.

the cabinet - how big is it? how can she open the fire door while carrying it? at first I thought it was a large cabinet. perhaps clarify this a bit more. the collection could be in a small case with a carrying handle, for instance.

If it was hers, how did it get in the shop? Why didn't she get it from the shop? - just a bit holy for a picky mind.

On the writing style, as you know, I don't like what I call lazy '-ing' phrases, eg the sentence starting 'She had a memory of ...' not only has some of this but meanders about an awful lot.
and why not: At night, she thought she heard ... or even ....spiders moving at night. ?

a few phrases which are odd (very picky):

- made to turn away
- Verity saw a thought pass across his eyes - really?
- gestured her through
- back room, which was OR back room piled high ...
- it looked as if it had always meant... - surely 'was'

ah, picky poo....

Author's Reply:
Lots of little things to fix, there - thanks very much. Yes, it went through its first big changes on Storyshed. Glad to hear overall it's working for you in this format (the order of events is the main difference!)

Threadbear on 28-08-2008
For V
Well, lots of phrases I DID like in this, e.g.

"Stuffed animals in warlike postures" - Great decription. I can see a wildcat snarling

"Verity was a woman who stole mementoes of love" - Intense, precise and promising

It's obviously well written and imaginative. I can almost visualize Allcombe from this one piece, there's so much colour (must read more). However, while it has the tone of a magic-realist fable, so I realize asking it to make any kind of every-day sense would be daft of me, I did want more - looking for a word here - integration? Spiders communicate, but even dead ones? "V" appears but, as e-griff says, she's the wrong age. It just jarred a little.

Having said that - hope you don't mind - it was a good and enticing read 🙂

Author's Reply:
Thanks Threadbear - will think about it.

Seebaruk on 06-09-2008
For V
Interesting story, I was wondering if it would descend into spiders breaking out of the cabinet and devouring Verity in her sleep, but thankfully it didn't - just my horror-fed imagination working in cheesy overdrive mode! The helper spider, 'Nobby', communicating with V seemed a little comedic and in a different tone to the rest of the story, and I wasn't sure if that was your intent - but again, maybe that's just me misinterpreting. I had visions of Sooty and Sweep at that point for some reason 🙂 Beautifully written, good stuff.

Author's Reply:
Sooty and Sweep???? Yes, can see a puppet version of this, with Sue playing Verity...!

Threadbear on 07-09-2008
For V
lol. I think your original reply got lost in the server move. I shall save you the trouble of thinking. See below...

"Thanks Threadbear. I think you've put your finger on my main problem, which is the plot. Sometimes I don't have the plot as clearly in my head as I should before I start to write. This can give the stories an unpredictable edge, in their favour, but sometimes things don't tie up, or peter out unsatisfactorily. I think this is one of those pieces"

Author's Reply:
I thought I'd replied to that! Bum. Thanks for um... repeating it. As you so rightly paraphrase, I have lost the plot.

jay12 on 29-09-2008
For V
This is really good. I found that it made my skin crawl but I'm not the biggest lover of spiders.

Jay.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Jay. Not one for the spider haters.


Prose Workshop Challenge: Segments (posted on: 09-06-08)
For the workshop challenge about Botero's The Letter.

He painted me stretched out on the bed, with an orange in segments in front of me, and a letter in my hand. But, of course, the letter wasn't a letter. It was blank paper, and the orange was stale, the segments pale and hard. 'Look luscious,' he said. 'Look ripe, look fulfilled, look smug with that letter from your lover.' I pouted a lot. I didn't understand at the time. When the painting was finished, he showed it to me, and I did not recognise myself. 'The orange represents your beauty,' he said, 'dissected here in my painting for the eye, and the letter represents your unique mystery. You are delectable. Perfection.' I thought maybe he would try to kiss me, but instead he reached past me, behind the painting to cover it with a cloth, and I didn't see it again for years. * The Botero Museum, Bogota, 2008 Retrospective * The colours had faded a little, but other than that small detail it was unchanged. I, however, was not. My curves had fallen to wrinkled folds. A person sags for many reasons, and behind my aging lay the fact that I had dropped from divinity without the eyes of a painter to caress me. I was once a ripe fruit of a redhead, but nobody made the connection as I stood in front of the painting and lapped up its beauty. I wanted others to know that I was the one who had posed. I had been touched by a creator, and used for the greatest purpose of all. I had been spoiled by that sitting, always wanting more of that divine worship of the brush. I fancied myself too good for normal love, above the demands a child would make on me, worthy of more than the banal touch of a husband. I wanted to stay the woman in the painting forever. Nothing could be crueller than to stand there and realise how far I had fallen. The museum was busy, and in that polite social crush nobody noticed me. I projected an image of deaf old lady, bulky in a black coat and floppy hat maybe they thought I was a country widow on an ill-advised trip to the capital. They could not have suspected that I had lived in Bogota for many years, but had never dared to act the tourist before, sticking to the dangerous yet familiar streets around my small apartment, living a meagre life so that I would not have to lower myself to work. I couldn't even afford the price of a ticket to the museum, and had sneaked in while the guard was busy dealing with an American tourist who wanted to take a flash photograph. As I skirted the guard's back I saw a bribe being offered and refused one more small play amongst the melodramas of the paintings themselves. The visitors strolled around the museum with even pacing, that slow step of introspection, but many stopped in front of my nakedness, the orange and the empty letter. I stood behind them and overheard laughs of ridicule. They did not understand true female beauty. It was too much that the version of me could be a source of amusement for the ill-educated. I felt my resolve harden. It had to be done. * I hid in the toilets for hours. I lifted up my feet as the guard checked under the doors for stragglers. Then I waited for the darkness to arrive. It came in an instant by a flick of a switch somewhere, and then I stepped out of the toilet and made my way back to the painting, feeling along the corridors until I faced myself once more, this time with only the moonlight as my companion. I reached into my coat pocket and retrieved my pen. I had chosen a thick black marker for my task. It stroked easily over the painted face, and marked on my wrinkles and lines, thickened my drooping lips and turned down the corners of my mouth to a grimace. Then I reached into my coat pocket and took out my penknife. Into my canvas flesh I cut long strips, so that my full, lush curves fell down to the ground, just as they had in real life. The letter was next I cut it free, carefully cutting through the canvas to free it, until I held the blank paper he had painted in my hands. I took out my pen once more. I kept my handwriting small as I wrote on that page. * Dear Botero Why did you not kiss me? I could have breathed with you. I could have been. But you made me into a dream of oil and sweat. You made me into a lie. I write to you now, in the only way you will understand, to tell you that I have given up trying to be your perfect woman. I have aged, and I will die. But I can only cease to exist if the girl you put in the painting does too. * When I had finished putting down my long-rehearsed words, I dropped the pen and the knife and took the orange from my pocket. I removed my long coat to reveal my naked, digusting form, and reclined on the floor to reread my letter to the man who had created and destroyed me at the same time, in the course of a single painting. The orange was sweet and juicy. A young one, just picked.
Archived comments for Prose Workshop Challenge: Segments
sirat on 09-06-2008
Prose Workshop Challenge: Segments
This has class! A very well constructed piece, the woman's inner voice is consistent and powerful and leads the reader along quite masterfully.

It's based on the premise that she would see herself as beautiful in the painting, and so long as we can accpt that everything falls into place.

I wonder if the story might work better if the woman was more conventionally beautiful in the painting? In other words, if you based it on a different artist and a different painting? The consensus on the forum thread is that she is at best unattractive and at worst repulsive.

There is a whole field of discussion here of course: we are used to a certain body type when the female nude is presented in art, or indeed on Page 3 of The Sun. This doesn't conform, but you have chosen to ignore that aspect, which I think creates a slight unease for the reader. I loved the story though.

Author's Reply:
Thanks David - it was, as Griff suggests, written with the grotesque nature of the picture very much in mind, hoping that would give it a fresh perspective. Glad you enjoyed it.

e-griff on 09-06-2008
Prose Workshop Challenge: Segments
I think she's got to be what she is (body-wise) for the story to work. It's the beauty he saw that she saw, which has stayed with her, until now. The telling line is 'Why did you not kiss me?' of course.

The first part seemed quite familiar for some reason.

Fine. Please accept this afor the nibbers get here

Photobucket

Author's Reply:
Thanks! Lovely griffpick there.

red-dragon on 09-06-2008
Prose Workshop Challenge: Segments
A great read, indeed. An insighful piece of writing. Ann

Author's Reply:
Thanks Ann.

delph_ambi on 09-06-2008
Prose Workshop Challenge: Segments
Good story that almost reconciles me to this hideous painting. I love the touch of the sweet young orange at the end.

Only criticism - oil paintings can't fade. It could get grimy over the years, but it couldn't fade.

Author's Reply:
Pants. Good point, delph. I should be shot for that one. Will change on the original.

Rupe on 10-06-2008
Prose Workshop Challenge: Segments
Very well written, with sufficient action and drama (the hiding in the museum part) to maintain the reader's interest in the surface level of the story.

However, I found the overall theme (beauty, ageing, self-image, the cruel power of representation) too familiar. Or rather, I felt that the treatment of this theme - given that it is an undeniably powerful one - is too direct, clear and unequivocal & tallies too much with the character's experiences to be as interesting as it might have been, given more room for manoeuvre and a more oblique approach.

My reaction, roughly was, 'Yes. It is not surprising that you feel like that, given what you've told us. What of it?' - i.e. the story presents us with a self-contained conclusion & the reader isn't left with much to do. It works very well on that level, but possibly too well.

Rupe

Author's Reply:
Good point Rupe. I hadn't thought of that. I suppose I was going for a very direct approach in an attempt to be as powerful as possible in such a short piece - I think it could lend itself to be extended into something more subtle. I might look at it again.


Prose Workshop Challenge: Loud Night (posted on: 12-05-08)
See if you can discover the exact moment this goes wrong. For the Prose Workshop Challenge of self-delusion.

Of all the things I could have done at that moment, out of all the choices of all the gin-induced actions that could have ended up in a million different ways, I chose to walk straight into his arms. Britney was singing about getting hit, baby, one more time and we danced groin to groin for the length of her pleadings. Why had he gestured to me from the dance floor? I don't know. I was flattered. I was a moron disguised as an upwardly mobile twenty-four year old with bleached teeth and a body that could just about get away with hotpants. But I was a moron. After the song finished, he led me to the street, and I didn't even tell my mates where I was going. Well, actually, I didn't know where I was going. The destination turned out to be his house via a chip shop, and the greasiness was addictive on my lips, keeping me warm, the chips and his kisses swilled down with Woodpecker. I'm really selling it, aren't I? But cheap and nasty has its own thrill. If you haven't discovered that then you've probably not left home yet, not really. Maybe you live in your own home and have kids and stuff, but if you still fold your jumpers like your mum used to, then you're not really your own person yet and nasty sex won't do much for you. I don't fold my jumpers at all. I throw them to the back of the second-hand wardrobe and have to disentangle them from my shoes when I feel the need for an extra layer of clothing, which isn't often. We did it on his sofa, and then on the floor. Maybe he had a bed, but I didn't see it. After number two I struggled back into the hot pants (they always seem tighter after two o'clock in the morning) and left him. He called out of his front room window, saying hey and don't go and so on, but he didn't know my name so it slid off me easily. He could have been addressing anybody. I was home by three. The next morning a Saturday I decided to go to the nursing home. I didn't drive as I figured I would still be over the limit. I called a taxi, and the driver was cute, but apparently not interested. I saw a thick band of a wedding ring on his finger as he handled the wheel, left and right, this way and that. When he dropped me off he looked happy to be rid of me, so I gave him an extra tip. It's good to come across devotion to a wife like that. It doesn't happen often, in my experience. Auntie Kay was reading the newspaper. She's not one for current affairs, but there's not much of that in The News of the World anyway. She likes Justin Toper's horoscopes, I think all that moon in cancer crap and how she should prepare herself for a journey. I said once to her, under duress, that the only place she was going was the graveyard and she said she wanted to be blooming well cremated and thrown over the side of a ship rather than imagine my ugly mug over her crying crocodile tears. We're that kind of family. That Saturday she was in the day room, sitting between the ancient piano and the unfinished jigsaw of a confused looking shepherd on a hillside, crying over Justin Toper's picture. I'd cry too if I took advice from him. 'Whassup Auntie Kay?' I said. She handed me the paper. Justin Toper had outdone himself. Capricorn Your day has come! A glowing Mars has finally aligned with a hungry Venus, and your kitchen is wide open for love. Offer yourself up to new possibilities, and find the red hot oven lurking within. Remember, however, not to get your fingers burnt even the best chefs use oven mitts. 'You're crying because today you're a cooker?' I said. 'It's not true,' she said, and cried harder. 'Of course it's not bloody true! It's always been bollocks!' 'Not to me,' she said. 'Not to me.' She dug a crumpled tissue out from the baggy sleeve of her cardigan and pressed it to her inexpertly rouged cheeks. 'I'm not wide open for love. I don't have a red hot oven within. I'm a used up old lady with a sarcastic slut of a niece as my only relative. And we're not even really related.' 'Beg pardon?' I said. 'Baking powder?' 'Not related,' she mumbled, then, raising her head and giving me eyeballs full of dislike, 'We're not related, Pamela. Not even distantly. Not by a long chalk. It would take a genealogist years of poring over old charts to dig up even one connection between our families.' Suddenly it all made sense: my inability to fit in; my taciturn, uncommunicative parents; my belief that I was cut from a different cloth. I had always known it, deep inside me. I was adopted. 'Where did I come from?' I breathed. 'Not you, you idiot. Me.' 'You were adopted?' 'I was given away, yes.' She sniffed, and leaned forward with the air of a conspirator engaged in deeply secret conversation. Since there were only three other oldies in the day room, and they were all watching a documentary about comets on the ancient television, I couldn't work out what the show of privacy was in aid of. 'I was traded, you might say.' 'You mean, like cigarette cards?' She ignored me, 'My father was none other than a Lord. A peer. A Knight of the Realm. But my mother was a lowly chambermaid. She was savaged on the tiger-skin rug.' 'I think you mean ravaged,' I told her. 'And when she got caught with me, she was kicked out of the stately home by the tyrannosaurus mistress.' 'Tyrannical,' I said. 'Are you sure you didn't see this on a Beeb Two film one afternoon and get muddled up?' 'Oh, you don't believe me,' she said, 'Oh, well, of course, silly old Auntie Kay pouring her deepest secrets out because Justin Toper called her a cooker. Push off, then.' 'No, no, I'm interested, really. What happened next?' Auntie Kay sat up straight and brushed her hair back from her forehead, a preening gesture. She seemed to be getting younger before my eyes. Maybe telling the truth is good for a person there was a thought that had never occurred to me before. 'My poor mother was an outcast. She did what she could, but her own family wouldn't take her back, and once she started to show, nobody else would employ her. So she wandered from town to town, unloved, desperate, and eventually had me on the doorstep of a bakery in Droitwich. That bakery was none other than -' 'Nan and Grandad's bakery,' I said. 'And they took you in.' 'They had always wanted another child, to keep your mother company, but nature had never blessed them that way. So, yes, they took me in. And in exchange they gave my real mother free rolls for the rest of her life.' 'Good deal,' I said. 'Well, she only kept going for another three years so it wasn't that much of a bargain. She got mowed down by the flour delivery truck while she was hanging around outside for her rolls one December morning. Of course, she was probably trying to catch a glimpse of me as well. She never stopped loving me.' It would have been enough to bring a tear to my eye if I had any gullibility left in me. Unfortunately, I had seen too many bad moves on the dance floor and drunk too many gins to fall for a sob story without asking a few questions about it first. 'And you've known this all your life, have you, Auntie Kay? Because this seems like a pretty weird time to be breaking it to me, Justin Toper or no Justin Toper.' 'I just found it out,' she said, crossing her legs and pulling down the hem of her heavy flannel skirt. 'Really?' 'Last night. Just after two. An angel came to me. I think he said his name was Harry.' 'Right. Harry. What medication are you on? Maybe I should see the nurse.' 'He told me all about my past. And about the future. About how my time was up. To prepare myself for death. That's how I know Justin Toper is wrong, see? There's no more time for me. And this is goodbye.' I stood up and stretched my legs. The atmosphere in the day room was getting to me the background image of a blue-white comet, speeding past on the television screen, and the three old men hunched around it, watching it with peculiar intensity. And someone in one of the rooms next door had turned on a stereo, because the sound of a choir was filtering through the wall, perfect little boy voices raised up together in reverent harmony. I was feeling the strong need to escape. 'Can't we say au revoir instead?' I said to her. 'I'll come back next Saturday and you'll be over all this. I'll bring a game with me. Connect Four or something.' Auntie Kay got up from her chair at a surprising speed she definitely didn't appear to be on her last legs, no matter what she might be telling herself and grabbed my arm. Her grip was strong, and as she put her mouth up close to my ear I felt a distinct tingling in my cheek, as if her breath was charged with a force that made me tremble. 'Harry talked to me about you too.' 'That Harry's got plenty to say for a celestial being, hasn't he?' 'He said you were, at that moment, in some man's flat struggling back into a pair of inappropriate hotpants after a bout of sweaty and unsatisfying sex.' 'How did you? Have you been spying on me?' She smirked and let me go, moving back to her chair with a staged slowness. 'I'm just an old lady, Pamela. How could I possibly spy on you? No, it's God who's watching you. God and his cohort of angels.' 'Well, in that case, they would know in all their infinite wisdom that the sex was perfectly satisfactory, thank you,' I said, but I was rattled. There was no way she could have known. We never discussed the intimate details of my love life, and I certainly would never have let slip about the hotpants. 'Harry says drink less and think more. You have a mission in this life, Pamela. And it's not to sleep with every man in a thirty mile radius from your flat. Prepare yourself for it. Get ready for it. It's coming. It's coming tonight.' She closed her eyes, and the weight of her age seemed to fall back over her like a woollen blanket thrown over a shabby sofa. Everything wrinkled and sagged, and her skin took on a grey sheen that did not look at all attractive. 'Right, push off, I'm done,' she said. 'Time to die.' 'I'm calling the nurse,' I said. And I did. But I'm beginning to believe that people programme themselves, and when somebody as strong-willed as Auntie Kay makes the decision to go, there's not a drug in the world that's going to stop them. * That night I found myself back in Sparky's night spot, with a tall thin spiky-haired twit giving me the eye across the dance floor. Of all the things I could have done at that moment, out of all the choices of all the gin-induced actions that could have ended up in a million different ways, I chose to walk straight into his arms. Christina was singing about getting dirty and we danced breasts to chest for the length of her growlings. Why had he gestured to me from the dance floor? I don't know. I was flattered. I was a moron disguised as an upwardly mobile twenty-four year old with a dead aunt to think about, and a body that could just about get away with a micro skirt. But I was still, undoubtedly, a moron. If Justin Toper had said Get over it, you stupid cow I would have renounced my disbelief in astrology and repented like a sinner. But Justin never said any such thing. It was only Auntie Kay who had said it, and then she had gone and died just so I couldn't argue with her. It made her difficult to ignore. Tall thin twit bought me a drink and I downed it. 'More,' I said, so he went away and came back with three more. He was my kind of guy. 'What's your name?' he shouted over the music. 'What do you do?' 'You can call me Lady Pamela,' I told him. 'I'm the niece of a daughter of a Lord, you know. And I have great things to accomplish in this life.' 'What?' 'Never mind.' The great thing about nightclubs is that you can say anything and nobody hears it. 'You look lonely,' he said. I've had worse pick-up lines. 'Well, I'm both bereaved and pointless. But on the plus side, for you at least, I'm a slag.' 'What?' 'C'mon. Finish up.' I made the sign language gesture for drinking, and he struggled to dispose of the rest of his pint as I downed my gins. We struggled through the meat market crowds around the dance floor to reach the exit, and as we passed the twin bouncers - arms crossed, set expressions, like statues guarding some ancient gateway - the fresh air of the night hit me and took my breath away. I let tall thin twit put an arm around me and lead me in the direction of the park. Everything felt new, and cold, and the feel of the tree against my back and my thighs being bared to the night was like a birth of a sorts, yes, a birth into a new world or, at least, an old world that I was seeing differently for the first time. How had the beauty of the branches escaped my attention? Why had I never looked up and enjoyed the serenity of the stars before now? 'Look,' I said, over tall thin twit's shoulder as he fiddled with getting the crotch of my G string to one side. 'A comet. A beautiful comet. It's directly overhead. Amazing.' I didn't really expect him to stop, so I wasn't disappointed when he didn't. 'Yeah,' he said. And then, 'Oh yeah. Baby.' I wanted to see everything the world had to offer. I wanted to touch the night sky, and ride the comet. I wanted to smell fresh bread rolls. And I wanted to know the man who was inside me, taking no precautions, along for the bare knuckle ride of life and not even knowing he was strapped in the cart with me. 'It's the beginning of a whole new world,' I said. 'I'm royalty, you know. We're all royalty.' 'Baby,' he said one more time, and then came inside me. 'What's your name?' I asked him. 'Harry.' He withdraw, wiped his cock with the hem of his tee shirt, and did up his jeans. 'Was that good for you?' 'Baby,' I said. 'The angels sang.'
Archived comments for Prose Workshop Challenge: Loud Night
e-griff on 12-05-2008
Prose Workshop Challenge: Loud Night
Blimey, you stole my idea .... a story I started last august (but have not completed): ....

Have you ever put something precious into someone's hands and then watched them let it fall apart? That's what I'd done with Rickie – and my life. But being a vet isn't all fun, and today Jenny and I were on our way to the village hall. Mrs Batchford was in a hell of a state when we arrived.
'I didn't know whether to start spaying the cats before you came,' she gibbered.
'Judging,' I explained to Jenny.
Rickie was due to turn up as well. Would he have the cheek after what he'd done? I looked forward to finding out. I was in one of those moods.
'Jenny, go and do a preliminary sift with Mrs Batchford here – pick out the top five, eh? Then we'll convene for the final placings.'
'Okay.'
'I've got to make a call.'
'Er …' Jenny seemed reluctant to move.
'What?'
'Er, Rickie … '
'He's late. Let's get started without him.'
Jenny hurried off. Mrs Batchford followed in close pursuit, asking if she wanted a 'nice cup of prunes'.



Author's Reply:
? I like what you've got, but I'm not sure it's the same story!

sirat on 13-05-2008
Prose Workshop Challenge: Loud Night
A terrific piece of writing. I was really carried along, and didn't want it to end. I'm not entirely sure what to make of it: it seemed like a modern version of The Annunciation, but with the virginity of the mother-to-be in a little more doubt. But whatever it was about, it was fun.

I thought the characxters were brilliantly drawn, the narrator, the aunt and the two pleasure-seeking sex-partners. And I liked the carefree atmosphere of the piece, and the sense of optimism with which it ends.

Only spotted one typ in the whole thing: right at the end, 'He withdraw' should be 'He withdrew'.

I'm afraid I don't understand Griff's comment at all, but no doubt he will erxplain.

Author's Reply:
Rats- there's always a typo. Thanks for spotting it. I wasn't at all sure about this one so thanks so much for the positive comment. Yes, it's a version of The Annunciation - at least in my head!

delph_ambi on 13-05-2008
Prose Workshop Challenge: Loud Night
I'm absolutely with David on this one. Loved it. Funny, brilliant writing.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Delph! Really glad it turned out okay. I was worried in the middle...

e-griff on 13-05-2008
Prose Workshop Challenge: Loud Night
sorry, rather abstruse. I'm referring to 'Baking Powder' etc ...

I thought you were using them as signals, like the women in mine uses the wrong words, in yours it has a significance. But from your reaction. it now seems you weren't, and it doesn't.

so --- Baking Powder ???????? 🙂

Author's Reply:
Um... young person slang? Just a way of saying 'Beg pardon' that's rather trendy at the moment. It might just be in my circles I spose. Has anybody else heard of it, and if not, is it obvious what it means anyway?

e-griff on 13-05-2008
Prose Workshop Challenge: Loud Night
I dunno. do we talk young person's slang?

Clearly I can't.

what happened was I saw 'baking powder' which was clearly nonsense, then I saw 'savaged' and 'tyrannosaur', connected the speech of the two, and thought you were telling us that obviously the two WERE related cos they had the same word substitution trick genetically.

So my story, where a woman substitutes words, came to my mind

So... which meant she knew her granny (whatever) was really such, but off on a fantasy, and decided to do the same.

I LIKE my version, but then 🙂

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 18-05-2008
Prose Workshop Challenge: Loud Night
I checked up on it. it comes from the TV programme (and later film) of Wayne's World. It's part of a longer phrase.

"Ex-squeeze me? A-baking powder?" (Instead of, "Excuse me, I beg your pardon?". Originally intended as a throwaway joke, but worked into the film when Wayne got excited and acted like a buffoon.)

- pretty old now, do people still say it?

Author's Reply:
Well, apparently only middle-aged people in Cambridgeshire do! Yes, I suspected where it came from, but thought it has worked its way into public consciousness more.

SugarMama34 on 20-05-2008
Prose Workshop Challenge: Loud Night
Hi Blue,

What a good story and different from the norm! The dry humour comes through very well and I enjoyed the main characters POV on life and her own surroundings. I did enjoy the part about Pamela and Auntie Kay in the nursing home and the confusion of words - it reminded me of how my Nan used to be too, so it came across realistic and loved the banter between them and the shouting at the nightclub at Harry, it made me giggle. Good ending too, which I wasn't disappointed with. I was gutted though when I'd realised it was the end, I could have read more.

Lis'. xx

Author's Reply:
Thanks for that - really glad you enjoyed it. I'm surprised that people liked it, to be honest! I thought it wasn't one of my best. Goes to show you never can tell.


The Red Man (Prose Workshop Challenge) (posted on: 17-12-07)
A bit scary for children, really. More of a grown-up story. Mind you, most of those old fairy-tales are terrifying, aren't they?

Let me tell you a secret. For every good thing in the world there is a bad one. For every delicious sweet there is a toothache, and for every Christmas Carol sung in joy there is the sound of tears falling from an unloved face. And although Santa Claus does exist yes, he does so, too, does the Red Man. The Red Man looks a lot like Santa Claus at first glance. You've probably seen him in a shop somewhere, and dismissed him as a poor copy of the real thing, hired by the manager to impress children who are not as clever as you. But his beard is grey and grizzled, and his coat is stained with dark spots and strange creases. He hides in the open, in the malls and on the street corners, for they are the best hiding places of all. The night of Christmas Eve belongs to Santa Claus, and it is, for many children, the happiest night of the year. But the night of Christmas Day, after all the presents have been opened, all the games played, all the crackers pulled: that night belongs to the Red Man. He does not give out new toys to be loved. He comes into your house, creeping in the dark, and finds old toys, favourite toys, toys that lie forgotten under the sofa cushions or behind the bookcase for the first time because they have been replaced with shinier or fluffier toys, toys with brighter buttons or bigger smiles. The Red Man comes for those toys. He picks them apart, a little at a time, and he listens to their cries. And then he eats them. His fat belly is not padded. He grows bigger every year on the misery of the abandoned toys, and on the sorrow of the children who, upon waking on Boxing Day, remember their favourite toy and search for it, only to find that it's not where they dropped it. It's not anywhere to be found, ever again, and that new, shiny toy with the cold, twinkling eyes will never quite take its place. * Tommy Flynn was a normal boy. He was not always good. He was not always bad. On his good days he kissed his mother good morning and put on his shoes without having to be asked five times. On the bad days he banged his toy hammer on the dining room table and drew on the fireplace in crayon. Christmas Day was always a bad day. Perhaps it was too much to ask a small and excitable sandy-haired boy like Tommy to be well-behaved in the face of quite so many temptations. He would unwrap his mountain of presents, tearing the paper to shreds, and then guzzle down his sweets so that he found it impossible to sit still during his turkey dinner. 'Children aren't saints,' said his mother down the telephone to Tommy's grandmother, and Tommy's grandmother agreed, having her own memories of a small sandy-haired girl who used to eat all her chocolate coins from her stocking in seconds flat and then smear her dirty hands on the window panes. 'Besides,' said his mother, 'we all know that the real culprit is Parkin.' Parkin always got the blame. When Tommy was naughty, he informed his mother that Parkin was the one who made him do it. This was quite an achievement for a small stuffed shark with black felt eyes and white felt teeth. In fact, Parkin had never told Tommy to do anything, but Tommy felt that Parkin could take the blame occasionally, considering he was good enough to take the little shark everywhere with him. That is, until the Christmas Day when Mechatron came along. Mechatron had ears that turned into cannons. He had a head that turned right round in a circle. He had eight legs and black plastic buttons, but he was not very comfortable to sleep next to, and that was why Tommy awoke in the middle of the night and lay there, wondering where Parkin was and whether he was brave enough to go and fetch the shark, even though it was very dark and he was sure he could hear shuffling and muttering coming from downstairs. Tommy was, generally speaking, a brave boy. Boys with a streak of naughtiness often are. He got out of bed and crept down the stairs. Pausing at the living room door, he was surprised to see a faint light creeping under the gap. He pushed the door open and stepped inside. 'Santa!' he said to the figure who stood by the Christmas tree with Parkin in his hands. But even as Tommy said the word, he knew it wasn't right. The beard was too thin and grey, patchy in places, and the lips were too severe in their scowl. The red coat was threadbare in places and it had strange spots upon it. The eyes that looked into his were bright red, and they were as hard as rubies, and just as cold. The light Tommy had seen came from the man. All around him was a pulsing red light to match his eyes not a bright light, and not pleasant to look on. In fact, Tommy's eyes began to hurt, but he couldn't look away. Not while the man had Parkin. 'You want him back?' said the Red Man, in a growly voice that gave Tommy shivers. The Red Man lifted Parkin up to his face. He opened his mouth, a black gash of a mouth with a pink worm of a tongue protruding from it, and slipped Parkin's tail inside. Tommy heard the man bite down, heard the cotton seam of Parkin's tail separate from his body, and saw the stuffing bulge out from his plump body. He thought he heard a noise, a high thin sound, like a faraway scream. Tommy thought fast. He was clever, like you. He could see that the Red Man was enjoying hurting Parkin and wanted to see the little shark suffer. Begging and pleading and saying please nicely would not keep Parkin safe from that chomping black mouth. 'Oh no,' Tommy heard himself say. 'Not that old stuffed shark. You can have that.' The Red Man paused. He looked at Parkin. 'No, I was after this, thanks,' said Tommy. And he pointed to the fairy on top of the Christmas tree. 'That?' said the Red Man. 'It's my favourite toy in the whole world. Mum must have put it up there for safe keeping. Please don't hurt it or anything.' The Red Man dropped Parkin on to the floor. 'You're sure that's your favourite toy?' he said, pointing to the fairy. 'Oh yes. No doubt about it. You're not going to eat it, are you?' A moment later, the fairy was in the Red Man's mouth. It wasn't the largest fairy, so he didn't chew. He swallowed it up in one gulp. A trail of wire poked out from the corner of his mouth. The wire was dotted with small bulbs, and the rest of the wire was wrapped around the branches of the Christmas tree. This was an electric fairy, made to glow on top of the tree with a beautiful white light. And the wire that came from under its skirt led to a plug that lay on the floor next to the tree. The Red Man coughed and chewed at the wire. He tugged at it, but it wouldn't come free. 'Is it stuck in your throat?' asked Tommy. 'Do you need a glass of water?' The Red Man nodded. Tommy dashed to the kitchen, filled a glass with water from the tap, and brought it back to the living room. He stood next to the Red Man, between the Christmas tree and the wall. 'Here you are,' he said. He watched the man swallow it down in big, thirsty gulps. 'Did that help?' said Tommy. 'No,' said the Red Man. He tugged at the fairy lights again, a little miserably, Tommy thought. But when his eyes fell back to Parkin, lying on the floor with no tail and sad felt eyes, he knew he had to go through with his plan. Quick as a wink, he reached down to the ground and found the plug on the end of the wire. He slid it into the electric socket at the base of wall and flicked the switch. A sizzling came from inside the Red Man, and after that Tommy smelled something hot and meaty, like sausages in a frying pan. The man dropped the empty glass and the red light went out from his eyes. He started to tremble, and the trembling became a shaking, and the shaking became a vibration as strong as a digger on a pavement. Tommy could feel it through his toes. And then the Red Man gave out one long, low moan that was like an angry wind on a winter's night, and started to pulse with the brightest white light Tommy had ever seen. He clapped his hands over his eyes, and when he dared to look up again, the Red Man had gone. Parkin was on the carpet in front of him, looking very lonely and fearful. Tommy picked him up and gave him a cuddle. 'I'm sorry,' he said, and he took him back to bed. In the morning, Tommy's mother phoned his grandmother to complain. 'I can't make the fairy lights work,' she said, 'and the fairy is mangled, all chewed up and black and horrible. I asked Tommy, and he says he doesn't know anything about it.' Tommy's grandmother smiled a smile that luckily her daughter couldn't see. She remembered one Christmas when a small girl with pigtails had pulled so hard at the tinsel that the entire tree had fallen over on top of her and covered her in a shower of needles. She suggested that maybe Parkin was to blame. Tommy's mother cupped her hand over the receiver. 'Granny says, was it Parkin?' 'No,' said Tommy. 'It wasn't. Parkin's a good shark. The best shark in the world.' Every time he closed his eyes, he saw the Red Man biting down on his tail, and he felt a pain inside. He knew in his heart that the Red Man was not gone forever, and he was determined to keep Parkin close to him from now on. He wouldn't let anyone hurt the little shark again. 'Well, if Parkin wasn't misbehaving, how did he lose his tail?' Tommy shrugged. His mother went back to her conversation with his grandmother, talking about how she'd have to sew up the hole and maybe cover the stitches with a bow. Tommy learned two lessons that Christmas. The first one was that it was better to say nothing than to lie. And the second one was that friends, good friends, were not to be forgotten or treated badly. For if you don't treat those you love with kindness, who will?
Archived comments for The Red Man (Prose Workshop Challenge)
SugarMama34 on 17-12-2007
The Red Man
Hi Blue,

I just wondered if you'd written this for the prose challenge? as it doesn't say in the title bar, but I'm guessing it is as its a child's story. This had a eerie feel to it from the begining, which I liked a lot, its a bit different from the norm. The idea of this is quite imaginable and I loved the descriptiveness of the piece too, it gives out good imagery for the children. This would more suit older kids than younnger ones, but I really do think it would appeal to them. I also liked the style in which you wrote it. An enjoyable story that kept me hooked from start to finish. Thanks for taking the plunge with this.
Lis'. xx

Author's Reply:
Gosh, I'm sorry! I forgot to mark it as a workshop piece - will do. Glad you enjoyed the end result - I enjoyed writing it!

e-griff on 17-12-2007
The Red Man
ahh, how lovely and sweet, and also the old Brer Rabbit story, and also it was very good, and well told, and I enjoyed it a lot, and it's a kind of small classic in the making, isn't it?

Vey good indeed.

a few niggles. first, of course, your commas ' ... , and ...' - which do not qualify as oxford commas, I'm afraid.

'and then guzzle down his sweets so that he found it impossible to sit still during his turkey dinner' -- I didn't get the connection here - are you saying the sweets made him jiggle? why?

'hard as rubies, and just as dead' - I think of rubies as bright and lively, sparkling. Obsidian, slate ... yes, dead.

'and wanted to see the little shark both suffer' - typo

and finally

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the Griffpick (ahhhhh) and for pointing out those areas - I've had a go at editing the piece a little. I thought maybe this would be a bit nasty for children, but then I remembered some of the stories I got told as a child, and figured this wasn't so bad after all.

Rupe on 17-12-2007
The Red Man
Very good indeed. I loved the idea of the Red Man, the shark called Parkin & Tommy's quick-wittedness. It taps into the children's story tradition of the malevolent but stupid monster outwitted - hurrah! - by the clever child (or child-projection). Puss in Boots etc.

The confidence, humour and energy of the writing also stand out. A great story - hope it finds a home somewhere.

The only bit I didn't like was:

"Something precious has been lost forever."

Rupe

Author's Reply:
Thanks Rupe - no idea where to send this though. And I absolutely agree about that line - I've cut it.

potleek on 17-12-2007
The Red Man
Yup indeed one for the kids.
I think told at the right time would make them sit up and think.
So who doesn't make mistakes? Over looked in the enjoyment of the story...Tony

Author's Reply:
Thanks Tony!

petersjm on 17-12-2007
The Red Man
Oooh, that's a bit dark! Hope I sleep tonight! 🙂

Very well told, Aliya. Read just like a traditional bedtime-fairytale-with-a-moral... I can see it in a collection of grim fairytales (that's "grim" not "Grimm", obviously). Well done.

Author's Reply:
Thanks PJ - yes, I had those kind of scary books in mind!

wordthug on 18-12-2007
The Red Man (Prose Workshop Challenge)
Enjoyed the undercurrent of menace. Very Dahl-esque, but with your own colour. Good ending - the reader is left slightly in the air, which I like.
No whinges.

Author's Reply:
Thanks - glad you enjoyed it. You're right - it does have a Roald Dahl feel.

shackleton on 23-12-2007
The Red Man (Prose Workshop Challenge)
It certainly scared me, Bluepootle (big kid, so I am). Enjoyed the read.

Happy Christmas! Watch out for that red man... many a scary Christmas story comes true.

Author's Reply:
Yes, Shackleton, let's both keep our teddy bears safe this year! Thanks for reading and have a great Christmas.

Ginger on 17-02-2008
The Red Man (Prose Workshop Challenge)
Wow, I thought this was really good. The style with which you told this was perfect, the intro, and then the sometimes good, sometimes bad boy (who every child out there could sympathise with). Parkin was well done as well.

I had only on niggle:
The red coat was threadbare in places and it had strange spots upon it.
Spots make me think polka dots. Maybe 'stains' would work better?

Over all great story.

Lisa

Author's Reply:
Thanks Lisa - I see what you mean about the spots - will change!

Whale on 22-08-2008
The Red Man (Prose Workshop Challenge)
This is neither fish nor fowl - it's too much for kids and too little for adults. This is a good story for 5-7 year olds to learn from, if they could figure out who or what Red Man is. You have created a monster about whom we know nothing except what he eats. I for one would love to know who he is and from whence he came. At first, I sort of figured he could be Dad picking up the old toys and throwing them in the trash can. But when he turned out to be not as mundane as that, he should have been built up more. You tell us about spots on his clothes and that he eats toys. Whence the spots and why such a diet? Sorry to be such a kill-joy, but I can say you have the makings of a writer. I look forward to reading more of your work.

Author's Reply:
Many thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Whale. I'll give it some careful thought.


The Marvellous Singing Apple (posted on: 07-12-07)
This started out as a very short short. Someone said, 'make it longer' and I did.

Gareth dreamed of a new world, with clear white sunshine and frosted, crunchy leaves underfoot. The breaths of the peeping animals were little exhalations of love. They shook the boughs of the blooming tree with their furry hands, and sugar-pink blossom anointed his head. What a dream. And when the largest scarlet apple fell from the tree into his open hand, he lifted it towards his mouth and saw it had a scrunched-up face with laughing raisin eyes and a rosebud mouth. Life in the dream was just as good as Disney; no, it was better than Disney. The scarlet apple was a wonderful singer, belting out the theme from Fame and then all the happy animals were dropping from the tree to stand on miniature New York Cabs, and there was Coco, and there was Bruno, and there, in Gareth's head, rushing up with the chorus, was the magnificently obvious way to create world peace not a vague idea of peace, but a blueprint to get every country to a state of oneness. It would take him hours, days, to write down, and he needed to start at that moment, and thank heaven! The raisin-eyed apple had a pen: and then he woke up. He had dreamed something important. Something about an apple. It was gone. He put on his slightly dirty shirt and slightly uncomfortable trousers and took the 59 to work. At ten thirty-two the song on the radio jumped from the back of his consciousness to take over his attention. He stopped moving the mouse in little swirling movements and sat up straight. It was the Theme from Fame. He danced on his desk. He danced on his neighbour's desk. She was called Hilary and she had long brown hair that would look great permed. He star-jumped over the printer and played invisible piano with arm movements worthy of Elton John. He opened the windows and shouted to the people in the street below Dance everybody dance! We're only young once! And we're alive, can't you feel it? We're aliiiiiiiiiiive! The Theme from Fame came to an end. The radio presenter started to talk about the traffic on the north circular, and nobody had joined in. A few people were looking at him. The rest were trying hard not to. He sat down at his desk. After ten minutes, his boss came up to him and asked him if he'd like to take the rest of the day off. Gareth agreed that maybe it was a good idea, and he took the 59 home again. He ate an apple from the fruit bowl and got back into bed with all his clothes on. He decided life was better in a dream. He was going to spend longer there.
Archived comments for The Marvellous Singing Apple
qwerty68 on 07-12-2007
The Marvellous Singing Apple
Thanks, that made me laugh. Now everyone in the office is giving me a funny look. I'd better get back to being serious and do some dull work.
Thanks again.

Author's Reply:
They'll give you even funnier looks if you get up and dance to Fame! Go on, I dare you.

Rupe on 07-12-2007
The Marvellous Singing Apple
Oh no, not the Theme from Fame. It's all coming back in lurid technicolor...

I'm not sure I can say anything constructive about this piece. It's witty and whimsical & did enjoy it - but not immoderately. The fantasy element of the first half leads the reader to expect something more from the piece than the witty but reductive ending can provide. On the other hand, the ending wouldn't work at all if the reader's expectations hadn't been artificially inflated beforehand. It's the literary equivalent of a shaggy dog story.

So I suppose what I'm saying is that the possibilities of the piece are severely limited by the overall technique - which amounts to a comic form in itself - meaning that there's little scope for making it much longer than it is.

I liked the 'life was better in a dream' conclusion. Hard-boiled types are always going on about 'the real world', while failing to recognise the ludicrously circumscribed nature of the reality they're extolling (he says from his soap box).

The language was fine. Just a couple of points. Why capitalise 'Cabs'? And this sentence seemed excessively over-particularised given the style of the piece:

'At ten thirty-two the song on the radio jumped from the back of his consciousness to take over his attention'

Rupe

Author's Reply:
Good points, Rupe. Will change.

This really can't be anything but a bit of flash, I'm aware of that - it was, initially, just the dream, but it seemed to need something more, and so the final section was tacked on. But really it's a one trick pony, as you pointed out - not capable of any extension beyond this, for sure. Still, twas good practice in the tricky form of flash fiction, and I'm glad it sparked some thoughts for you.

Andrea on 07-12-2007
The Marvellous Singing Apple
Well, I loved it - it made me want to skip and dance and leap gaily into the garden, except it's raining and cold and muddy and blowing a gale, so I won't.

In fact, I think I'll go back to bed...



Author's Reply:
Yeah, me too. A singing apple might turn up in my dream. That, or Daniel Craig - either's fine.

Slovitt on 07-12-2007
The Marvellous Singing Apple
bluepootle: Whole last line reads awkwardly to me, and the two passive verbs are dead spots for such a well-paced, wonderfully imagined story. 'Perhaps he'd spend more time there.' might be a possibility, cutting 'He decided life was better in a dream.'/ Anyway, you were 'hearing-it' in this story of yours, which I liked. Swep

Author's Reply:
Thanks Swep - I've thought and thought about those final lines. I wanted it to be 'dead', just as you describe, in the sense that he's decided to give up on real life, so they were deliberate choices of passivity, but I'm not sure now if they work for anyone - or, indeed, if he has made the passive choice. Will have to give it some thought. Thanks for making me consider.

e-griff on 07-12-2007
The Marvellous Singing Apple
God, at least there were no singing ducklings in this one.

A nice bit of flandangery, fun to read.

I quarrel with the first semi-colon, though.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

see - I'm blue too!

Author's Reply:
Would you have gone for a colon or a dash? Love the woad.

delph_ambi on 08-12-2007
The Marvellous Singing Apple
Opening is too adjective heavy, which nearly stopped me reading further, but I'm glad I continued. Wonderful piece of daft writing. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Delph - I'll look at the opening again. I think maybe I got caught in the rhythm - as Swep says, I heard this - and put in too many adjectives to cater to that.

e-griff on 08-12-2007
The Marvellous Singing Apple
well, I'd go for a full stop - simplicity is best.

the semi don't work (in my opinion) because the succeeding statement depends on the first, whereas (hey like the lingo?) a semi is about two similar statements about the same subject which don't depend on each other.

Flan


dango!

Author's Reply:


The Holmesian Defence (posted on: 27-08-07)
A rip-off of a much more famous detective. I'm ashamed to have lowered that grand man in such a fashion.

'And so' I said, 'the small piece of haddock fin I discovered on the floor was imprinted with the distinctive tread pattern of his Adidas shoe. This event could only have occurred as he walked through the harbour at the time the early morning catch came in, namely between five o'clock and six o'clock this morning.' My constant companion Gribble nodded his head and stroked his white handlebar moustache with his finger and thumb. Police inspector Chough had not made the final connection I could tell from his bemused expression, so ridiculous on that long thin face that lacked the furrows of age and he asked the inevitable question. 'But how -' 'Do you not see? A lobster pot was picked up by Monsieur Le Drippe at the harbour, my friend.' I tapped the ash from my cigarette into the small brass urn I always carried for that use, 'Filthy habit, I do apologise. Now, where was I? Ah yes. And the pot was smashed open, turning it into a handful of resilient wire with rusty edges that could skewer a man through the neck easily.' 'But smashed open with -' 'Elementary, Chough. Did you, perchance, notice that the haddock fin found on this very spot' I stepped over the right foot of the corpse and pointed to a patch of carpet next to the gas fire with glow-effect coal substitute. 'was covered in a thin coating of the uniquely red mud that can only be found in Blodgrove cemetery? The cemetery that lies directly between the harbour and this weather-beaten terrace house? If you send a police car there I venture you will find the grave of Le Drippe's mother in some shady corner, bearing the discarded remains of one lobster pot over the gravestone.' Gribble shook his head, emitted a small 'harrumph' of amazement, and produced a large handkerchief from the pocket of his cagoule, into which he blew his impressive nose. 'Once more, I have overwhelmed you, Gribble,' I said. 'Well, you are the dominant one in this relationship for a reason, Holmes,' he replied with a cheeky wink. 'But why did Le Drippe come here at all? Why go to all this trouble to kill a stranger?' said Chough. Gribble attempted to suppress a chuckle at the man's incompetence. 'No stranger, my dear Chough. On the contrary, this man was well known to Le Drippe, even though they had never met. Look, if you will, to the framed photograph above the manuscript.' He leaned over the body to peer at the photograph. 'And so, one more case solved for Scotland Yard. Even the strangest of murders holds no mystery for Steerpike Holmes and his trusty assistant Gribble, does it, Gribble, old man?' 'I don't understand,' said Chough. 'This photograph is really old. It's of a couple. A fairly ugly couple, actually. Standing in front of a shop window.' So I would have to spell out even this final revelation to the dolt in the creased shirt and cheap shoes. I ventured a guess they weren't even real leather uppers. 'Note, my poor Chough, that the lad in said photograph bears a remarkable resemblance to none other than the deceased. The length of the proud nose, the spacing of the eyes, etc etc. Shall we agree to pronounce them related?' 'Um yes. All right.' 'And then examine the shop in the photograph.' I stepped back over the body and paced the room, listening to my footsteps sound on the carpet in direct correlation with my heartbeat. This simple act often helped me to deal with ignoramuses by slowing my mind and allowing me to think at a more languid rate. 'Not the goods on display, which bear no relevance to this case, being a mixture of standard products for that era including pipes and cough sweets. No, I refer to the sign above the shop window. Read it aloud for the room to hear, would you, Chough?' Chough peered at the picture. 'Dripton Grocery.' 'Dripton. A sad little name, and not one suited to a man who has had a disagreement with his family, cut all ties, and left with only dreams of grandeur to guide his steps. Would not a change of name suit such a man, particularly when he had decided never to forgive his mother for favouring his much-despised little brother when it came to the issue of inheritance relating to the running of, say, a small grocery shop?' 'What?' 'Such a man,' I continued, 'might well change his name to something he viewed as more exotic, less reminiscent of his humble upbringing. Let us hazard a guess at Le Drippe?' 'Ohhhhhh.' Gribble clapped his large hands twice. 'Outstanding, Holmes. Quite outstanding. And now, we must away, and allow Chough to rush away to catch Monsieur Le Drippe, or should we say, Mr Dripton?' 'Indeed. I venture you will find him at Blodgrove Cemetary, my dear chap. This is an inelegant crime committed by a brutish man. It will not occur to him to go far. Come, Gribble.' I pocketed my brass urn, threw my cape over my shoulder and strode to the door. The handle turned, but the door did not move. I put my shoulder to it and shoved. 'Problem?' said Chough. 'Just a slight hiccup regarding the door,' I told him. Gribble came up behind me and added his force to mine. Nothing happened. I heard a sound from the far side of the door. My first thought was that it was the characteristic bubbling noise of a mating cry belonging to the Pacific Tree Frog. My second thought was that it was the giggle of a madman. 'Er, Chough?' I said. 'Yes, Holmes?' 'I may have been mistaken in my hypothesis in regards to the exact location of Monseiur Le Drippe.' 'You, mistaken?' said Gribble in a tone of outrage. His fingers stroked his handlebar moustache as if to soothe himself. 'Never! I'd bet my life on it!' 'That's very comforting, Gribble, but the fact remains that Le Drippe appears to have locked us in this room and is even now yes, smell that? Unmistakable disconnecting the mains gas pipe. Mmm.' 'What should we do?' said Chough. Gribble took a step back from me. I sensed his good opinion had been lost. One small error, and suddenly the man was a critic. 'I think that yes, maybe it might a good start, given the circumstances, for me to commence by stubbing out my currently still lit cigare'
Archived comments for The Holmesian Defence
Rupe on 27-08-2007
The Holmesian Defence
Very enjoyable. Holmes is a gift for parody & you've seized and capitalised on all the most promising aspects - the ponderous, expository diction, the curious eccentricities, the odd relationship with Watson/Gribble & the supercilious attitude towards the police. The plot hangs together very well - silly, but effective, and the ending is hilarious.

Only one thing struck me by way of crit - the 'small brass pot' was a very funny touch, but the placing of it is slightly confusing, since in the previous sentence you mention a lobster pot. So the reader is up and running with two pots. I's not actually confusing, but it doesn't read as well as it might. You could get round it easily enough by changing Holmes's brass pot into a brass urn. And why not make it a large brass urn for added absurdity?

Rupe

Author's Reply:
Thanks Rupe - I like making it an urn, and a large one too! But for the mo I'll change the use of the word 'pot' to 'urn' and let the idea of the size wash over me for a while. Glad you enjoyed it.

delph_ambi on 27-08-2007
The Holmesian Defence
Thoroughly enjoyable tale, but I was confused at the start, because I assumed Le Drippe was the murdered man until Chough says, "Why go to all this trouble to kill a stranger?" at which point I went back to the beginning to try to see where I'd gone wrong.
I loved all the details - the subtle updating, and the Holmesian absurdities - and never saw the ending coming. An excellent tale.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Delph - I'll look at the opening again to see if I can't make it clearer.

JeffDray on 28-08-2007
The Holmesian Defence
I suppose you can get away with a haddock fin. A nice read, witty and well paced.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Jeff!

shackleton on 29-08-2007
The Holmesian Defence
Nice bit of daftness, Bluepootleperson. Explosive ending! Enjoyed the read.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for reading! Glad you enjoyed it.

e-griff on 30-08-2007
The Holmesian Defence
enjoyed this 🙂

Author's Reply:
Thank you - just a bit of fun at the expense of somebody else's marvellous creation. I feel quite guilty.

StanSeagrave on 23-11-2008
The Holmesian Defence
I wouldn't feel guilty if I were you. As Rupe said, Holmes is a gift for parody. I'm a life-long Holmes fan... though I have to admit that when I read the stories now, they make me chuckle. Not as much as this, though 🙂

Author's Reply:
Thank you - I love him too. I was quite chuffed to be able to make up a case that hung together in such a ridiculous fashion to actually be worthy of him...! (Not quite...)


Controlled Crying (posted on: 24-08-07)
Some noises can trigger the worst in us. The dream sequence - version one or version two at the end, or not at all?

We, who were the couple who had no holes in our blanket of love, who played together ate together bathed together thought together, who even slept well together with only vague moments of annoyance at his snoring and my tendency to hog the covers, we stand on either side of the baby's bedroom door and divide into he and me. The space between us is a dark cold gap. Controlled crying is what they call it. We listen to the baby scream for us, five minutes at a time, then we go in, say nothing, pat it quiet, leave and hear it shriek in outrage for another interval with each minute monitored and somehow lasting a little longer than the one before. It's not my idea. I would hold the baby all night if I had to. Hormones is the word he uses to describe my ability to punish myself rather than that new life in the name of love. 'Paul?' I whisper. He lifts his eyes from the door handle to my forehead. 'I'm going to have to go in.' He checks his watch. He set the alarm to beep when the five minutes are up, but he checks it anyway. 'Not yet.' 'I can't do this.' 'It's for the best. We talked about it. We can't go on without sleep. I can't work, you can't see straight to change a bloody nappy' His voice gets louder as he sees my expression, unchanging I can feel my hatred of him at that moment stuck over my mouth and eyes like a mask and the baby quiets, then steps up to the challenge with a noise that sounds like pain, real pain. I put out my hand to the door. He puts his arm across the doorway. 'No.' Could he really stop me? Is this what it all comes down to, the months spent in agreement, thinking we're the same in every way, just a surface layer of paint over an ancient problem that always strips down to him being stronger than me? He pushes me back not hard, but still I feel the urge to hit him, kick him, make him lie down and surrender. 'Go for a walk,' he says. 'It'll be easier. Honestly. You don't have to listen to this.' 'Yes, I do.' I can't believe how he thinks. Like a stranger. 'Go on.' The baby stops, sobs, stops again. I hear the little body straining for breath, building up energy once more, and then the screams begin, like murder, like murder is being committed right here in this house. I walk down the stairs and out of the front door. The August night is cold and only a few stars are visible. The estate, the semi-detached white houses and the blurred lights through the closed curtains, is quiet. I have to walk for thirty seconds before I can no longer hear the baby. And Paul's right the more I walk in a straight line down the middle of the road, the easier it gets. Is the baby still crying now? Probably. But if I'm not there, it's not quite my responsibility any more. It's up to him now to make the tough decisions. If I get back and the baby has choked, or fainted, or been dropped down the stairs, it's his fault, and I get to blame him forever and that would be fine by me. I hate myself. But it's easier to do that than to think about the baby, three months old and crying for me, demanding me, sucking me dry and who was I to think I could be a good mother? I had a dream two weeks before I went into labour. I was sixteen again, babysitting for my mother's friend, and I fell asleep on the sofa in the afternoon sun, so tired, woke up with a start a moment later as a person only can in dreams, and found the baby stiff, cold, blue, dead in the cot. The door slammed back on its hinges and there, outside on the grass, was every female relative of mine, every one of them with eyes like glass, staring hard at my evil soul. And my mother stood at the head of that pyramid, her familiar face so taut with disappointment. I strangled her. I strangled her to get away from the line of love I had broken. I knew then, as I woke up for real, jerked upright in bed and felt the pain of that sudden movement in my stomach, that I would never be good at motherhood. My need to pander to my own fear would always come first. And yes, I was afraid of that bundle of arms and legs and the noise. I couldn't make it stop. It was beyond my power to make it stop. I've walked a long way. The main road is ahead, cars travelling right to left. My shoulder is sore. I realise I picked up my handbag by instinct as I left the house, and have been clutching hard on the strap, pulling it into the skin. The handbag contains my purse, my keys, my phone. I reach the end of the estate road. The cars travel onwards, the lights bright white, highlighting the trees opposite, the regular spacing of the trunks and the lampposts between them. They stretch away to the outskirts of town, and further. I let my eyes follow the line, and give in to the urge to stick out my thumb, like those hitchers I've passed who carry one bag and nothing else. Can freedom come from one small gesture? I hold it up higher. After a while I feel the muscles in my arm begin to ache. I almost miss the fact that a car has stopped for me. A car has actually stopped, twenty yards away, the indicator throwing out a beating orange light. The passenger door opens. I'm not good with makes of cars, but I'd guess this is a Ford or a Citroen, something uninteresting that I've seen many times before but never really looked at. It's small and silver, and through the back window I can see the head of the driver: a man, I'd guess, alone, impossible to tell any more than that from the back. I approach the car and bend down to look in through the open door. He has a nice enough face, perhaps a little older than me, and his smile reveals even teeth. Classical music is playing softly. 'Where are you going?' he asks. 'Need a lift?' 'Yes,' I say, because that's what a hitchhiker would say. 'I can take you as far as Reading.' That's the wrong direction. I don't know how I know, but it's wrong for today. I shut the door and turn away. The houses of the estate look like a jumble of families, all jostling against each other for space, clashing and arguing over boundaries, putting up fences and blinds to shut them out. I try to think about something else the classical music I had heard, the kind expression on the stranger's face. I concentrate on that all the way back to my front door. Approaching the familiar blue door, I hear the baby's cries. I dig out my keys, fit them in the lock and turn the handle. The noise leaps up, and as I climb the stairs it seems louder than ever before. He stands by the door to the baby's room, just as if he has not moved. He looks at my face, and this time when I step towards him he shrinks away and lets me pass. I go into the room, find the little body in the dark. I sit on the chair next to the cot and hug on to the person I nearly left behind, wondering how I could have thought of it, how it could have ever crossed my mind. Paul does not come into the room. I hear him moving, getting ready for bed maybe. It won't be long until he is asleep. ****Alternate dream sequence***** I hate myself. But it's easier to do that than to think about the baby, three months old and crying for me, demanding me, sucking me dry and who was I to think I could be a good mother? I had a dream two weeks before I went into labour. I was sixteen again, babysitting for my mother's friend, and I fell asleep on the sofa in the afternoon sun, so tired, woke up with a start to the sound of the baby wailing at a volume that hurt my ears. I ran to her, held her, rocked her, but the noise, that scrunched-up face, continued on, refusing to give in to me, to find comfort in my awkward arms. Then the door slammed back on its hinges and there, outside on the grass, was every female relative of mine, every one of them with eyes like glass, staring hard at my evil soul. And my mother stood at the head of that pyramid, her familiar face so taut with disappointment. I knew then, as I woke up for real, jerked upright in bed and felt the pain of that sudden movement in my stomach, that I would never be good at motherhood. My need to pander to my own fear would always come first. And yes, I was afraid of that bundle of limbs and the noise. I couldn't make it stop. It was beyond my power to make it stop. *******
Archived comments for Controlled Crying
Rupe on 24-08-2007
Controlled Crying
Powerful stuff. It's undeniably true that nothing makes a couple realise that they, as male and female, are made differently than the arrival - and, more to the point, the continuing presence - of a baby. So this is an excellent topic for a short piece & has a great touch of authenticity in the way the narrator records her own feelings and her surprise at the reactions of the husband/boyfriend.

A couple of things troubled me. One, the dream sequence with the dead baby. This seemed unnecessarily 'gothic' for one thing, but also slightly undermined (in my opinion at least) the potency of the whole. It gives the reader the impression that the narrator behaves and thinks as she does purely because of the dream (and that this is therefore something exceptional and unusual), whereas the potency of the piece really hangs on the idea that thinking this way is normal but rarely acknowledged as such.

I recognise that one can see the dream the other way about - as an exaggerated reflection of a perfectly normal mental state - but I wondered whether the potential for ambiguity is harmful to the piece overall.

Secondly, the conclusion - 'the person I nearly left behind' - comes slightly as a surprise, since it seems from the very brief exchange with the car driver that the narrator doesn't seriously contemplate leaving ('I shut the door and turn away'). Maybe you could add a couple of lines of (ambiguous) dialogue here to establish the feeling that she really is tempted to get in but overcomes it.

As a minor point, you say she shuts the car door, but there is no evidence that she opened it - she merely looked in through the window. I'm not sure you'd want it open - that implies he opened it, which rather suggests a kerbcrawling type (and therefore makes it less likely that she'd be tempted).

Rupe

Author's Reply:
Really good points, Rupe, and I've acted on them straight away, seeing that you're right. The murder/death aspect of the dream has been toned down, and I've added some dialogue with the car driver. Hope this improves it. I don't want to lose the dream entirely as this kind of vivid dream is such a typical experience during pregnancy and I wanted women who've had children to recognise the scariness of them, but hopefully the changes work...!

Actually, just to update this, I'm not so sure re the dream sequence now and I wanted to get people's opinions either way so I've posted the original, stronger version too. I want it to be an indicator that this is about more than the baby's crying, and it taps into very deep, hidden emotions. But, as Rupe says, is it just too gothic/makes her appear unhinged?

Rupe on 24-08-2007
Controlled Crying
I see what you mean. Thinking about it again, I'm unsure...

It's probably all or nothing. In other words, if you are going to have a dream sequence at all, then make it lurid - for the reasons you mention. Or cut it altogether in order to keep the whole story on a single plane.

The revised dream sequence falls a little unhappily between two stools - not lurid enough to be really disturbing, but still distracts the reader from the trajectory of the narrative.

Rupe

Author's Reply:
Yes - I've put the toned down version at the end now, as I'm less convinced about it than the original, but maybe the truth is, the entire sequence has to go.

Thanks Rupe.

Claire on 24-08-2007
Controlled Crying
I remember trying that--letting the baby cry for a bit instead of nursing straightaway. It's a damn hard thing to do!

I love the reality of this piece. Though, I think you could add a wee bit more to it, especially near the end. You say: hug on to the person I nearly left behind, wondering how I could have thought of it -- show more of her thoughts, maybe she could have a small conversation with the bloke in the car, or if you want to go total psycho here maybe a convo with herself when she was 16 a wee argument maybe, or simply more random thoughts.

As for the dream sequence, the original one is much stronger, I like the shockness of that bit, though I'd be tempted to gruesome it up more, go into detail of her strangling the baby, mention how she felt while doing this, such as the joy--this would deffo make it more disturbing, and also a canny angle to put your character into a guilt trip for having such a dream.

Just read Rupe's comment. He/She, says: unnecessarily 'gothic'

I disagree here. I felt that is one of the strong points to the story, of course the battle of motherhood and battling with a screaming baby is also a very strong point.

Agree with him/her about the car bit--that deffo needs a little rework there.

Rated an 8 here as I feel this is a good piece but is lacking something very minor.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Claire - very helpful. I'm not sure what to do about the dream sequence so I'm going to let it sit for a little while, but I could certainly add some emotion to it, I can see that would help it along.

Re the driver of the car, I'm 80% towards making it a couple in the car to take away the sexual element of a lone man. Mmm... more thinking required... Thanks again!

delph_ambi on 24-08-2007
Controlled Crying
First dream sequence, definitely. Second is far too mild. A dream like that would be barely remembered. You need the true nightmare.
Penelope Leach, wasn't it, who advocated that five minute idea. It's a good one, but bloody hell... it's hard, isn't it. Haven't had to do it in a couple of decades now, but your story brought it all back.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the feedback re the dream sequence, Delph. Sorry to have reminded you of the nightmare of controlled crying, though!

shackleton on 24-08-2007
Controlled Crying
First version is the best, Aliya. I couldn't stop wondering what the couple would have done if the baby was autistic... difficult to ultimately comfort such a child. Enjoyed your story... I'm unable to offer critique: your story hit me between the eyes. Take care now.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for that Shackleton. Glad it had an impact on you.

e-griff on 28-08-2007
Controlled Crying
my head won't get round the alternate dream sequences at the moment. 🙂

On thing that struck me though was the 'car' sequence. At first I found it surprising - why should she go to a car that had stopped? Suddenly out of the blue, she's thinking of going off somewhere. That didn't make sense. Nothing here tells me that she would contemplate leaving her baby up to that point, so I just don't believe it in that concrete form. For me, it would be better perhaps to have her consider the idea in some way, then reject it. Maybe the local station is down the road, or the bus into town (but why doesn't she take the car?) maybe she has a sister nearby she could stay with. so - a more tangible option, but less directly considered, if you see what I mean.

I'm not sure if the cot death dream helps or distracts. At first the story is about a natural mother's instinct being thwarted by her husband's desire to control. Then you bring in the cot death (and it's not clear if it's a dream round a real event or it's all dream - and her baby's crying, not silent, so where's the relevance?) - perhaps this is too much? It's slinging in a dramatic firework into what could be a gentle, subtle and telling story. To be such, it does need more work, more building of texture, maybe some reflection on past events which could have hinted at her husband's nature which she didn't register. After all the story opens with his/her relationship, not the baby, and I think you should stick more closely to that.

I also consider 'dream' sequences something of a cop out anyway. As I've said, for me it doesn't illustrate her motivation in wanting to attend a crying baby, simply introduces some distractions. The 'dream' could almost be seen as an intrusion by the author, a trick to 'tell' in the most obvious way, rather than go the hard (but more polished) way of weaving it all into the story.

anyway, good strong ideas and at heart a powerful story, (sorry if I sound a bit picky today).

best JohnG

Author's Reply:
Thanks - there's a lot there that I need to think about. For me, the dream sequence is key as its a piece about the vivid, disturbing dreams during pregnancy and how they impact on the mother after the birth. So therefore it's not a case of cutting the dream so much as finding a way to make it work! That's the challenge I had in mind, anyway. Absolutely it's not there yet. Much more thought required.

wordthug on 29-08-2007
Controlled Crying
First dream sequence for me if you've got to have one. Like it better if you didn't have one at all. Could empathise with the conflict about instant attention and the five minute wait. Been there. Difficult times. The simmering resentment and fatigue was well portrayed. The car: definitely a couple instead. Your protagonist doesn't seem the sort of person to even consider taking a lift from a strange man. Especially to Reading.
Something vaguely unsatisfying about the ending. Maybe you don't even need the last line.
Good write and a good read.
Alex.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Alex - that's very helpful indeed. I think I will change it to a couple. Indeed, Reading sounds like the kind of real place that would allow no escape! Sorry, people in Reading.


Replay (posted on: 20-08-07)
Too complicated?

If I had a dog, I'd set it on her. Gnaw her kneecaps, bite her boobies, rip that ribbon from her henna-ed hair, I'd tell him and he'd do it, because he'd be my dog. My protector. So when Petula said, 'Of course, I stopped sleeping with Hal a while back, but there was a time a year ago when we were at it like rabbits. We never would have made a good couple though. But I'm sure he's told you all about it. You two seem to have such a wonderful relationship,' I would have been able to say Sic 'Er, Rexy! and walk away from the Starbucks leather sofa without a backward glance, leaving her with the muffin wrappers and an angry Alsatian attached to her pashmina. Okay, I don't have a dog. But at the very least I should have walked out. Spat coffee over her, or got up on the sofa and shouted. Instead I shrugged and said something, I can't remember what. I pretended that I knew about her and Hal. In response she smiled; of course, she could tell I was lying, that I'd never known because Hal would never admit to that and I would never ask. And that's the worst of it. She could be lying but I have no way to check. Maybe I'm being too hard on the evil cow. It's possible she was trying to be a friend to me, to let me know that Hal was used goods. How else could a person break that news, particularly a person with a faade of elegance to maintain? Perhaps I read her all wrong. An action replay might help. Version One (and very probably the correct version) Petula had dressed for the occasion. Not a tight skirt nothing so obvious but a classic black trouser suit with soft pink pashmina, flat heels and dark red lipstick. The uniform of a femme fatale, if ever there was one. It put her in business mode, and it was time to clock in her punch card. Women take down women with words, and she'd rehearsed for this. 'Julie,' she said. She weaved through the tables to the brown leather sofa at the back. A good place to perch, the lighting right, the shadows filtering through the steam from the lattes only to be soaked up by the sunrise muffins: the mood was right. 'Thanks for ordering,' Petula said. 'What do I owe you?' Julie waved it away. The femme fatale never pays. And the moment of revelation, the insertion of the knife into the spine, was close. But she wasn't ready, not yet, to give up the months of planning, of sleeping with Hal even though she knew he preferred Julie and would ask her out some day. Then letting the secret ripen, leading to this moment was it really here? So she stalled for a little while, and made conversation about the 3 for 2 offer in Boots and how Brad was getting tired of Angelina. And then Julie gave her an opening so good that she couldn't pass it by. 'I s'pose I'm at that point in the relationship where I have to decide to love him or break up with him,' she said, 'but I don't know if I'm ready to give it one hundred per cent yet. I hardly know him, really.' It was like a script; of course it was. And the femme fatale never fluffs a line. She said, 'Of course, I stopped sleeping with Hal a while back, but there was a time a year ago when we were at it like rabbits. We never would have made a good' * Enough of that. Could she really have slept with Hal as a pre-emptive measure, in case he one day ended up with me? It's possible. In fact, from what I know of her, it's her style. Ever since school she's been doing this to me. I used to have a huge crush on Ant, and she slept with him. Then I liked Phil, and she slept with him. I didn't get to sleep with anyone first. I was always second, and therefore the one being measured, rather than the one making the mould. Still, I've started so I'll finish. Let's try this on for size. Version Two (and this is really not very likely, but I'm keeping an open mind here) Go, Pet, go, take on the world for your sisters, your soul-mates, make your stand on that Starbucks sofa, but don't let on that you're doing it for the girls, oh no, you have to be Germaine in a burkha, that's you, one wrong move can scare them all away and then no friends, and no way to help them any more. So, deep breath, and keep your cool. Slip it in gradually. What this all boils down to I need to save Julie from herself. She's always fallen for the wrong guy, and she can't see it, just like she couldn't see that Ant was a sexist idiot and Phil was a passive-aggressive nightmare. I had to spoil them, dip my fingers in the chocolate mousse, so that they would never be perfect for her and she wouldn't invest in the daydream of romantic love. And here we go again with Hal. She tells me she's seriously thinking about giving one hundred per cent. For God's sake! No woman should ever give a man more than a fifth of her time and energy. Work, play, make time for herself, and then maybe she'll be ready for an equal relationship, if she ever finds a man who's willing to try for that. I haven't. Hal was no exception. He only wanted one thing from me and that's all he wants from her. There's only one way to make her understand that. When will the world be ready? When will my sisters understand? Not today; not on the sofa of the commercialist coffee company so I'll have to clear my throat and play the card of 'friend'. 'Of course, I stopped sleeping with Hal a while back, but there was a time' * Could that be her? Taking on the world? Fighting for feminism by laying the enemy? Her hair is too neat for that. There is another option. Version Three (and the last one, I promise) Petula, you had four slices of toast this morning, with jam, and you really don't need a muffin, but maybe if there's one on the table you can nibble it, make that deal with yourself, don't be uptight, remember food is not your enemy. Food is your friend. There is a muffin. It looks good. Okay, have the muffin. Treat yourself. You deserve it after that blind date last night. Who the hell goes on blind dates any more, anyway? That's so eighties. The internet, that's the way to go. Chatrooms. Let the psychos lull you into a false sense of security with smiley icons before you meet up and you have to fight them off with your nail file. Live and learn. I'll have to get a new file from Boots; their 3 for 2 offers are good and I should be able to stop by on my way back to the office. Julie looks nice today. Good hair. She must have had it done. I'll stop dyeing mine and get it cut short, like hers, in a bob. It'll look great. But you have to maintain a bob, don't you? A cut every three weeks, and I can't fit that in, not with work. I shouldn't really even be having this coffee break today, not with the deadline for the presentation, but its good to get out and talk about something other than year end figures. What are we talking about, anyway? I should pay more attention, but I can't seem to keep my mind on anything any more. I should get more sleep. Oh, it's Hal, she's on about Hal again. Getting serious, by the sounds of it. He must have told her about that fling a year ago then. I'd better make sure that she knows it was a long time before they teamed up, and it really wasn't important. Another mild tremor on the richter scale of my love life. I hope he does more for her in the bedroom department. Better not say that I found him to be a let-down; what could be more insulting than that? I'll play it safe. 'Of course, I stopped sleeping' * Nah. I don't believe that version. She only thought about me once. And it couldn't have been a casual conversation. Surely she has to plan in advance to annoy me as much as she does? I'll give it some more thought before we meet up next week. I'll pay extra attention to what she says and does, and I'll make sure she buys the coffee. One day I'll discover what she really wants out of this relationship. Maybe I can get Hal to buy me a dog just in case. If he'd commit to a dog, he must love me.
Archived comments for Replay
Rupe on 20-08-2007
Replay
It's only the switching of narratorial viewpoints between the different 'versions' that makes it hard to follow. We start with the narrator as character, then we have an omniscient narrator (who treats the first narrator as a character), then Petula's view and then back to narrator as character - that's if I've followed it correctly.

Couldn't the structure be simplified in some way? For example, would you lose anything essential by removing the distinction between Julie as narrator and Julie as character? I see the value of going into Petula's head, but perhaps there might be a way of signalling more effectively to the reader that what we're getting is not Petula's view as such, but an insight into it on the narrator's part.

With a bit of simplifying, I think this would be a fantastically sharp and witty piece of light social satire. The first four paras are superb & there are fantastic one-liners throughout ('Let the psychos lull you into a false sense of security with smiley icons' is just one).

I liked the fragile poise of rationality undercut by language (exemplified in the line 'Maybe I’m being too hard on the evil cow') & the flashes of genuine insight dressed up as humour - or are they humour dressed up as insight (perhaps what I mean is irony...).

Rupe


Author's Reply:
Thanks Rupe, you hit the nail on the head there. It's about trying to show that what we're getting is the narrator's idea of what's going on inside Pet's head, but also to delineate between Pet's apparent character in all three. Maybe it's just too complex and isn't going to work. Am still thinking about it... (love a challenge!)

e-griff on 20-08-2007
Replay
An initial reaction - I'll look again later.

In the opening, I assumed the narrator was male, so that kind of messed it up for me at first, But then I got it.

I didn't like the self-references in the italicised titles (never apologise to the reader) and the POV was confusing eg Julie waved then later 'I'

the third 'version' was a bit woolly, not sure what it did for us, and the 'punch' at the end wasn't that strong.

traditionally in a story like this, one would do it from Julie's POV, Petula's POV, and Hal's POV with maybe Hal's (or whoever is last) revealing something unexpected that throws the other two into a whole new light.

Actually, the first paras reminded me of Andrea's writing 🙂

Author's Reply:
Yes, re trad storytelling lines, Hal would have his own voice to show us something, either that he's not worth all this kerfuffle or in fact is truly in love with one or the other... really keen not to go down that line and to keep the focus on the women as much as poss.

Thanks for your points - will look closely again at the third version in particular.

e-griff on 20-08-2007
Replay
sorry, blue - I'll come back with something more constructive later - thinking aloud really first time. 🙂

Author's Reply:

discopants on 22-08-2007
Replay
My initial reaction to para 2 was that Petula was in the relationship with Hal but that the sex had dried up and she suspected Julie of a more than innocent friendship...and then I twigged. The only issue I had with the switches of narration related to the first switch because although it was from a third person viewpoint, I still somehow felt that it was influenced by Julie's thoughts- the phrase 'women take women down with words' felt as if that's how Julie thought of Petula.

An entertaining, read, as ever and, as Rupe said, there's scope to polish this up into a corker.

dp

Author's Reply:
Thanks Disco - it definitely needs some work and your thoughts are very helpful.

wordthug on 29-08-2007
Replay
I like the novel approach to this re the versions and the writer 'talking' to the reader without the comments being blatant 'asides'. No beefs but I'll admit I read it twice to be sure of the trail. Had to look up 'pashmina' which added a new word to my vocabulary. Never know when it might come in handy.

Read several of your past UKA submissions. Interesting diversity and delightfully unorthodox storylines.
Alex.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Alex, and thanks for looking over some of the back catalogue! Onwards and upwards, hopefully.


Workshop Challenge: The Emerald Parrot (posted on: 16-07-07)
Not only have I failed to make any of the objects important in this tale, but I had to rush the end of finish and it needs something more... any ideas?

It was his second day on the desert island after the shipwreck when Thomas Turnbull came across the inn. He stepped out from the jungle and was dazzled by the pristine stretch of white sand that meandered away from him. When his vision adapted he saw a large building on his right, sitting on the lip of the beach, made of sturdy logs lashed together with tough, withered creepers. It was tall and thin, as if it should be one of a row, with rectangular holes cut into the wood to provide windows, and sported a small door made of matted straw. The sloping roof was covered with more dried grasses, which gave it an appearance not unlike a thatched cottage from the heart of his home county, Wiltshire. 'Well, I'll be,' he said. His voice was hoarse, surprising to his ears, and his swollen lips rubbed against his teeth. He walked, his steps unsteady, along the beach. The wind picked up and blew sand against his knees, raw from wounds sustained in the wreck, then rubbed with sea salt as he had clung to the remains of the deck. The wooden building stood above him, and he heard a soft creaking overhead: he looked up to see a large board hanging from a post, swinging slightly in the wind. He moved back so he could read the white lettering upon it, and look at the picture painted there. THE PARROT AND CAGE The words were written in a heavy italic script, a thick flourish on the first letters. Suspended above it was a birdcage, made of thin sticks that had been forced to curve to give the cage an arced roof, and held in place by what looked like tough strands of seaweed. The cage was empty, as was the inn. Thomas pushed back the door and saw how sand had crept under it, and creepers had found entry through the windows. He stood still as his eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness, until he could make out furniture tables and chairs as good as any he had seen at home; an expanse of wooden counter; even, impossibly, a shove-ha'penny board ready to be played and a small set of skittles standing on their marks. His homesickness rose within him. It was easy to imagine foaming mugs held high, and hear the laughs of the serving maids, their frilly white caps bobbing through the sea of thirsty men. Thomas collapsed into the nearest chair and put his forehead on the table in front of him. The wood cooled his burnt skin. He welcomed the respite from the sun and his headache receded a little: at least, enough to let him think. He had no idea of his geography. An investigation of the island had shown no recognisable features, nothing else of merit so far. There were coconut palms which provided sustenance, yes, but no signs of civilisation but for this, impossible but undeniable, inn. Yet there was nobody to answer his questions as to how it came to be built, and it served him no purpose in his desire to return home. But since miracles were in the business of taking place on this tiny island, only half a day's walk across in span, why should there not at least be ale? He rose and staggered to the bar, his eyes roaming over the stacked coconut half-shells that must have served for cups. He reached over, took the top shell, and got down on his hands and knees to crawl under the wooden counter. There, amongst the dust, sand and cobwebs, sat three large barrels in a row, each one of them bearing a bung. It took a while for his weakened fingers to work out one of the bungs, but when it came free with a soft popping sound, he was rewarded for his efforts with a steady flow of brown liquid over his lap, and the unmistakable smell of beer. He filled the coconut shell and then forced the bung back into the side of the barrel so that nothing more would be wasted than could be helped. Then he swallowed down the contents of the shell, and found his suspicions proven right. This was an island of miracles. He refilled his shell, this time with steadier hands. * 'Drunken sot!' Thomas awoke. He lay still on the floor, his cheek in the dust, and became aware of how the remains of his clothes were stiff and sticky on his body. The bung from the first barrel was still in his hand, and the smell of ale was strong in his nostrils. 'Disgrace of a man!' The voice was loud, raucous, and what was more, it came from the ceiling. He turned over with difficulty, feeling a headache of monstrous proportions spring into life in his temples, and gazed at the wooden roof. There on the eaves sat an emerald parrot, one red eye fixed upon him with a cheeky glare. 'Well' he said. 'Well well.' 'Drunken sot!' 'I can't deny you that,' he said as he forced himself to his feet. 'And you must be the landlady, or at least, the eponymous heroine of this strange tale. But how do you come to be out of your cage?' 'Disgrace of a man!' 'Tell me, is that what your mistress used to say to your master? Did he bring her to this island due to some foolish idea, and she cursed his name every day in the manner you have learned?' He laughed at the thought. 'Help!' screamed the parrot. 'Murder! Murder!' His chuckle died in his throat. Had there really been a mistress who came to a horrible end? A shrewish tongue would be difficult to live with, if that was all a person was to hear by way of conversation. 'Drunken sot!' Thomas looked away from the nodding parrot, around the darkest corners of the inn. Maybe a murderer still lurked there, or a body sat amidst the sand and creepers, dried by the heat to a husk. He could see nothing. He shook his head. The parrot could have outlived its owner by years. Couldn't the birds last for many years, twenty or thirty at least? The bird could be a long inhabitant of this island, and the owners were probably long gone, if they still lived. 'Disgrace of a man!' called the parrot. 'Enough,' said Thomas. He picked up a coconut shell from the bar and hobbled from the inn, into morning sunlight. The sun was rising into the sky with speed it would not be long until this new day was too hot to bear, and there was much to be done. He had to continue his search of the island for fresh water, and something other to eat than coconut. If there was an inn, why should there not be other dwellings? He felt a fresh wave of determination. There was hope. He left the inn without a backward glance. * When, days later, he returned to The Parrot and Cage, he was a different man. The evening was upon the island, and although his stride was steadier, his mouth was set in a grimace and his eyes were bleak. In one hand he still held the half-shell of the coconut, containing a final few drops of rainwater from an earlier shower that had lightened his mood for a moment, and then left him desolate when it passed. He had followed small wild pigs in the jungle, and been unable to catch any of them. He had watched shoals of teeming fish that had disappeared the moment he plunged his hands into the water. He had seen amazing sights: trees as tall as cathedrals, thousands of insects gathered together in the shape of a flower, and even a meteorite storm that lit up the night sky as bright as day. But nowhere had there been a sign of humanity other than for the inn he now stood in front of there was nobody else to help him, and no reason to suppose anybody might come. His only link to the civilised world was The Parrot and Cage, and the shelter it offered. He drank the final drops of rainwater and pushed open the door of the inn. In the darkness, he felt for the nearest chair, then decided against it and made his way to the barrels underneath the bar instead. There he curled up and forced his fingers to work out the bung from the second barrel. His half-shell caught the gush of liquid, and he drank fast, not caring about what his head would feel like in the morning. The obliteration of his thoughts was all he wanted. Never had loneliness been so acute: it ached within him, like a wound to his soul. 'Make it stop,' he muttered. 'Make it stop.' Was it his imagination, or was there the sound of a sigh above him? A woman's sigh, teasing, filled with pleasure at his pain? Then he heard a rustle, and a soft caw, and he realised it was the emerald parrot. He wondered if it objected to his presence, but it made no other sounds, no shouts of murder or debauchery, and for that he was grateful. He devoted himself to the job of drinking himself to sleep, and succeeded with admirable haste. * The first thing he was aware of was the feeling of being watched. Thomas cracked open his eyes and looked at the barrels opposite: he had fallen asleep propped against the wooden wall, and his back was a mass of knots. He stretched up his arms and raised his head. Then he saw them. The rafters were filled with them: parrots of every colour, every size, yellow, red, blue, green, huge with ragged tail feathers, tiny with neat golden crests. And they were all still. He stared at them, and they stared back. An odd feeling came over him the idea that he was a trespasser in their territory, and their gaze was an expression of hatred, venomous anger, towards him. A movement on the floor beside him caught his eye. The emerald parrot was standing on the floor, its head cocked, one red eye upon him. 'Disgrace of a man,' the parrot said in its reedy, cracked voice, and suddenly it did not seem like a mindless, repeated phrase. 'I' The feeling of guilt was overturned by fear. The birds were so very still, so watchful. He tried to stand and could not get his feet under him the amount of ale he had drunk the night before was still creating a thick fog in his head, and it seemed to him that the room was moving under him, the birds closing on him in circles, drawing closer, ever closer. 'Drunken sot,' said the emerald parrot. Was that the flutter of wings? The brush of feathers on his arms, his face? Was that the pecking of beaks, the clawing of talons, on his flesh? 'Help!' he screamed. 'Murder! Murder!' And it was the last thing he said.
Archived comments for Workshop Challenge: The Emerald Parrot
Rupe on 16-07-2007
Workshop Challenge: The Emerald Parrot
Something more? Well, perhaps a more fully realised working out of the nature and sources of the conflict between the parrots and the man: more of a sense of why this is the case & greater fluctuation in the struggle between them.

That said, I like this as it is. Smoothly written, nicely envisaged, somewhat whimsical & with engaging tongue-in-cheek humour. I remember reading Robinson Crusoe & thinking that in reality surviving on a desert island would be much more difficult than he makes it seem - so the paragraph about the small wild pigs and the teeming shoals of fish made me smile.

It could almost be a parody of Robinson Crusoe - in which, instead of getting to work, building a house, growing food & reflecting on religious issues, the castaway simply lies about getting drunk & thinks about trivialities.

Wasn't too keen on this sentence:

'But since miracles were in the business of taking place on this tiny island'

I can see the humorous intent, but it doesn't do it for me. Seems too arch. Of course, this is purely a matter of personal taste.

Occasionally, I felt some of the sentences were a little too info-loaded. In the first sentence, for example, I wondered whether 'after the shipwreck' was needed at all. I think we infer the shipwreck from the details that follow.

Overall, a very enjoyable piece.

Rupe

Author's Reply:
Yeah, I think overall it needs a good look at Rupe. This is very much a first draft, scraped together to make the deadline, but it sounds like I've got the basics going in the right direction, so thanks for confirming that.

e-griff on 16-07-2007
Workshop Challenge: The Emerald Parrot
the story would be better without the last line if you can't think of anything else (we've all seen 'The Birds')

It is difficult in this kind of story to get the balance between practical information and mystery right, and I think you could brush it up a bit more to good effect.

Overall, I felt there were too many redundant words - eg ...across the span' - where 'the span' is redundant. There are also some odd points eg: 'he was a different man' - was he really? What was this man's name then? - no seriously - you don't really tell us how he's different, and possibly should not tell us it at all - let us see it in what he's done.

There must be fresh water on the island, what with all them pigs, etc - and he would have found it.

why no ellipsis after his first incomplete words?

few too many commas in places

how does he know it's been twenty years? (and the beer would have gone off)

haste is not speed

perhaps (more traditionally) he should kill the first parrot in a drunken rage, then when he returns, it apparently appears again, then he looks up ....

all in all a nice imaginative piece with good flavour and mood - somehow familiar ... I have an urge to write one ... 🙂 (surprise!) best JohnG

Author's Reply:
I'd like to see what you come up with!

Thanks for that - the freshwater thing is my real bugbear too. It would be the first thing to be changed, I think. Lots of work to be done here (at some point in the future when I have time to breathe again!)

delph_ambi on 16-07-2007
Workshop Challenge: The Emerald Parrot
Enjoyed this one. Pretty much agree with the above comments. Certainly that the last line is superfluous.

You probably haven't made the prompts sufficiently important, but 'so what' would be my response to any such accusation. They inspired the story, and it's a good one. That's all that matters.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Delph!

Kat on 16-07-2007
Workshop Challenge: The Emerald Parrot
Love the title of this - I'm a sucker for parrots, so I really liked their input in particular = descriptions and dialogue!

I did enjoy the story and the tone with its archaic-sounding language and style.

I like Rupe's suggestion for perhaps going all out for a Crusoe parody and just have him getting drunk and useless. Or perhaps have him finding all sorts of really odd and weird things as opposed to the teeming fish and wild pigs etc.

Kat





Author's Reply:
Thanks Kat - I'm not sure what direction to take it in yet, but Rupe's suggestion certainly does appeal! Thanks for commenting.

discopants on 19-07-2007
Workshop Challenge: The Emerald Parrot
Enjoyable read- yeah, there's bits that can be tightened but if you'd not been time-constrained I'm sure they'd have been sorted out anyway. Not a lot more to add other than whatever changes you might make, it's essential to keep an air or mystery and undercurrent of darkness to it.



Author's Reply:
Thanks! Yeah, you're right, I would have tweaked quite a lot of it if I'd had time.

shackleton on 30-07-2007
Workshop Challenge: The Emerald Parrot
You scared the beejasus out of me with this story, Bluepootle. I'll never look a parrot in the eye again. Enjoyed the read - kept me rivetted. Bye now.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Shackleton!


Forget-Me-Knot (posted on: 30-04-07)
My piece for April's workshop challenge. I should say that I used the paragraph given about two thirds of the way through the story, not at the beginning.

'When your mother got married she wanted a bouquet of forget-me-nots,' Mr Treever said. 'The florist told her it couldn't be done. Those are wild flowers, not to be cultivated, and they die only an hour after they're picked. But your mother wouldn't have it. So your Grandad had to put her in the horse and carriage, all dressed in white with a veil that trailed on the floor, and ride around the countryside for hours until he found a patch of forget-me-nots. By the weir they were. He picked an armful, took her to the church, and pushed her down the aisle with his shotgun trained on her back.' I pictured a forget-me-not in my head: a small, delicate flower, with soft petals and tiny leaves, a beautiful fragrance forever cradled in my mother's arms. 'What did she look like, Mr Treever?' 'Hugely fat. Like a magnificent white whale. Moby Dick, she reminded me of, that day. And your father, eyes raised to the vaulted ceiling, tapping the ground expectantly although he must have felt the vibrations as she lolloped down the aisle towards him in that festooned marquee of a wedding dress. He had the grizzled, intent expression of an Ahab that day, with that impressive beard thrown over one shoulder. So they fitted together, you see, my angel. It was a marriage made in heaven, even if they had to be forced to do it. They preferred the raw passion of adultery, you see.' Mr Treever had read Moby Dick to me over a month of evenings, so I understood his description a little more than usual. His words were always like puzzle boxes to me. Sometimes, when he left me alone in my room to sleep, I woke to realise my hands were scrabbling in my hair as if I could grab hold of the strange images he implanted in my mind and tease meaning from them. The quick, even ticking on my left that kept me company was replaced by the tinkle of bright music, a little tune, four sounds repeated four times. 'Oil time,' I said. My favourite time. 'Yes, pet.' I heard my bedside drawer squeak open and slam shut. I could picture the bottle of oil in his hands: those long, thin fingers; the rough skin of his square palms. 'But they grew to love each other, didn't they? My mother and father?' 'I wouldn't say love,' Mr Treever mused. 'Not for each other. But they loved you very much, because you were so much like both of them.' 'My mother's size and my father's blindness,' I said. I felt my silk sheet slide from my body, down from my collarbones to my knees. A breeze from the open window on my right caught the hairs on my arms and legs and stirred them into erectness. The skin under my left breast itched. I slid my hand into the fold and scratched. 'Bad lass. You're making it red,' Mr Treever admonished. 'What's red?' 'Sore. Marked. Swollen. Inflamed. Dangerous.' I pictured my dangerous breast, sucking blood from my vast body like a giant, pulsing parasite. I dropped my hand. 'Good girl.' And then there was a dripping of the oil, slow, deliberate, into my navel until it ran down the mountainside of my waist and soaked into the silk sheet beneath me. 'Oh dear,' Mr Treever said in his soft, slow voice. 'We'll have to change the bed later.' I waited for the pressure of his hands. When they came there was pleasure, vast serene lakes of pleasure, and I sailed away on them like the giant, beautiful whale I was. 'Tell me about my father,' I sighed. 'He was a spy.' 'A brilliant spy.' 'An incredible spy, for who would think a blind man so capable? But intelligence and ingeniousness runs in your veins. He could climb the blank faces of tall buildings, speak twenty languages, hold his breath for four minutes, and his cane hid a knife as sharp as his wit. For emergencies only, that secret knife, you understand, and he only ever had to use it once. That was the time, the only time, that he was captured.' 'When? Where?' 'You were yet to be born, I believe, and the honeymoon was in full swing on the remote island of Zanzibar, which is a mystical place of aromas and textures, birds and insects, when the enemy came for him and took him by surprise, lifting him from his bed without disturbing your sleeping mother. She awoke to find herself alone and assumed he had left her for one of the dark-skinned beauties of the island, as they all smelled of sunshine and citrus, two things your father couldn't resist. She came home alone, distraught, and could never really forgive him, even when she found out the truth. Doubt had entered her life, you see, duckling. Doubt destroys passion.' I pictured doubt as a cloud of nibbling flies, crawling over my mother's ears and eyes, crawling into her head and laying their eggs in the meaty creases of her mind. I shuddered at the thought. 'Are you cold, dear heart? Shall we stop?' I heard eagerness in his voice. 'Just a little longer. So what happened to my father? Where did the enemy take him?' 'A Siberian Gulag. All ice and snow and cold, with thin, ripped clothes and torture beyond endurance. But the physical punishment was nothing to a man like him. It was the mental tests that wore him down. Every day he was placed in a room with a puzzle to solve. It was as if they wanted to understand how his mind worked, so that they might try to make more men like him. They couldn't understand that he was a product of his own deficiency. He had grown around his blindness in new, amazing directions.' My father. In my mind he had tubers of achievement springing from his long wiry beard, and his proud head raised high to spite his own blindness. 'What kind of puzzles?' Mr Treever's hands rested on my thighs for a moment, then recommenced their rhythmic movements. 'Sometimes as simple as a jigsaw. Sometimes a shape to be made from paper or clay, or the next move on a chessboard. One time they demanded that he tattooed a tree on to the left buttock of a naked woman. He said she never once moved while he worked, and her skin was as cold as marble. But she whispered to him constantly, in a strange language which he thought might be a form of Polynesian, a begging, desperate tone to her musical voice. When he finished the tattoo, they strangled her in front of him. He heard her last choked breaths, and knew at the moment that they had broken him. The next puzzle would be his last.' The ticking on my left gave way to the chimes once more. I listened to the little tune by which my life was lived. Mr Treever's hands left my body. I heard the rustle of the silk sheet by my knees. 'Leave it,' I said, 'and tell me about the final puzzle.' He sighed in assent. 'The next day, after a long night of beatings and electrocutions, he was taken to the room as usual and left alone to discover what trial awaited him. He crawled forward and discovered two objects: his cane, a small act of kindness designed to humiliate him, he surmised; and a small metallic object which he identified as a canister. But holding what? For what? Even the most basic of deductions eluded him. He sat down next to both objects and let time pass. He would play games no more. 'Time moved on. Your father grew nervous, despite his resolution not to care. Would they think the canister had defeated him? Would they kill him, or, worse, think less of him? As the hours slipped away, his resolve trembled and cracked. He had to pass the test. He could not let a simple canister defeat him. 'And so he picked it up and examined it. 'He ran his finger over the smooth metal, feeling for any kind of distortion on the surface. None was apparent. The distant sound of doors being opened had his heart racing, and he desperately twisted the metal object, but his efforts were futile. He cried in frustration, rocking on his knees as heavy footsteps echoed down the hall. The door was thrown back, and the bang against the prison wall was followed by the sound of laughter, raucous, mocking laughter from the mouth of the guard. 'Your father had failed. He failed, and he was a destroyed man.' I pictured my father, shattered, falling into shards of glass on the cold floor of his cell, so sharp in defeat that my dead eyes were cut and bleeding from the thought, the liquid falling over my cheeks. Mr Treever dabbed at my face with his soft, sweet-smelling handkerchief. He spoke on, his voice low, close to my ear. 'But he was not beaten for long. He grabbed his cane, unsheathed his blade, and ran the guard through. Then he picked up the canister and carried it like a baby across the icy wasteland of Siberia, until he found freedom and your mother once more. You had been born by then, a blubbery ball of blind loveliness, and you replaced the canister in his arms. He kept it in the corner of your nursery, as if the two of you were somehow linked. 'They were so proud of you, and they remained devoted to your every need until the day they were killed by that missile strike by the cowardly enemy. Thank goodness you were with me that day, petal, and you've been with me every day since.' 'And do you love me, Mr Treever?' I asked. 'I adore you, angel. Now, can I pull up the sheet?' I nodded my assent, and enjoyed the sensation of silk sliding easily over my oiled, undulating skin once more. 'Now, what would you like for your dinner?' 'Venison,' I said. 'A whole deer. With a wheel of blue cheese, and three heads of lettuce.' 'As you wish. And then I'll read to you. You're enjoying The Prisoner of Zenda, aren't you?' 'Very much. And then you must change my sheets,' I said. A bird chirped outside my window. I imagined its song as an arc from its mouth to my bed, a pattern of beauty that flew apart and dissolved into death only a moment after it had been born. 'It's time,' I said. 'Give it to me.' Mr Treever didn't speak. He knew better than to try to dissuade me. I heard the clunk of metal under the bed, and a moment later the canister was in my hands, cold and smooth, the puzzle that couldn't be solved. I touched it all over, shook it, repeated actions I had done a hundred times before. 'Get out,' I said to Mr Treever. 'Leave me in peace.' 'Of course.' I heard his feet shuffle away from me, then stop. 'Will you, maybe, duckling, give some thought to what we talked about before? About getting up, out of this room, seeing how you like real life?' 'Don't make me angry, Mr Treever,' I warned him, and he crawled off like the blob of jelly with beautiful hands he was. I had to keep trying. One day the canister would have to give up its secret to me. It would bow to my will, my tremendous will, that bar of iron secreted within my folds of fat. And inside the canister would be something magnificent. I could picture it a soft explosion of forget-me-nots, those tiny dots joined by twining, singing leaves and the smell of love upon them, sinking into my skin, making me as magnificent as my mother forever more. Mr Treever would tell me the story again tomorrow. Every day I came closer to understanding.
Archived comments for Forget-Me-Knot
e-griff on 30-04-2007
Forget-Me-Knot
A strange and engaging story, wistful and dreadful ... and slightly mad! and ducklings again ...

a couple of niggles - should 'grizzle' be 'grizzled'?

I had a problem with the internal logic. at one point you make clear she can't see things (making it red) , yet there are a couple of passages where she relates things to visual description (ie the flies for one). This doesn't add up for me.

anyway, small things only in a delightfully loopy big idea 🙂


Author's Reply:
Thanks... its a weird one. I'll change grizzle and I do agree about some of the imagery. I do like this story so might well tamper with it at a later date to get it right. Glad you enjoyed it. And sorry about the ducklings - its Elsa's fault. She's obsessed with them as well now.

delph_ambi on 01-05-2007
Forget-Me-Knot
Engrossing tale. Slightly loopy, like all the best stories. Thoroughly enjoyed this one.

Author's Reply:
Thanks!

josiedog on 01-05-2007
Forget-Me-Knot
Best I've read for a while. I was in from that first great para and the rest was packed with the most amazing imagery that all had its place to work its strange spell. I wanted more stories , more strange tales of weddings and spies and tests, all described in strange imagery by a blind girl.
Do some more.
one niggle, after Mr Treevor says "hugely fat, like a great white whale..." I felt it was labouring the point for him to then say "Moby Dick, she reminded me of" because Ahab and the book itself is later mentioned and there is only the one white whale.
Just a little thing. Very imaginative, and creative use of the given paras - quite jealous.

Author's Reply:
Yes, I think you're spot on about the Moby Dick thing. Will change. Thanks - very much appreciated!

Rupe on 02-05-2007
Forget-Me-Knot
Very imaginative story. I liked the structure of it with that heavy still presence in the centre, both physically & metaphorically, and intrigue & conjecture flying around outside & in the past: implicit themes of connection and disconnection, imprisonment & freedom etc.

I've often wished I could climb the blank faces of tall buildings...

Unfortunately, I have absolutely no constructive criticism to give.

Rupe

Author's Reply:
Thanks Rupe - its lovely to hear what works as well as what doesn't work-!

RDLarson on 05-05-2007
Forget-Me-Knot
The strangest tale I've ever read and of course it has set off my over-active imagination. I have a tiny canister -- yes, I do. I keep my tea in it. I shall immediately empty it and search for the secret. Oh my and golly wolly, I've gotten so caught up in the story that I don't care if it's a bit "loopy" and more than a little insightful as well as hugely reminiscent of my own parentage. What magic lies in the minds of writers. Thankfully I'm a reader as well as a writer. I think a bet of a rest and then a bit of tweaking and you're ready to pen Part II. Please. I am dying to know more for what if I can't discover the secret of my tiny canister? How will I live with out knowing about this great girl's future? I desperately loved this story.

Author's Reply:
Wow, thanks! So glad this tapped into your own creativity and made you think and imagine.

wordthug on 06-05-2007
Forget-Me-Knot
Bluepootle.
What a weird story this is. I rush to say that it's not a criticism because I enjoyed it immensely (actually read it twice). Apropos of the name coming up in your story, I found many parts of Moby Dick curious regarding Melville's disjointed allegories but they were neither a distraction nor a detraction. I digress. Who is this mysterious character, Mr Treever? What is his agenda? How can a blind man tattoo a tree onto the buttock of a naked Polynesian when I can't type a simple sentence without looking at the keyboard? Did her father ever meet Freddy Mercury's parents in Zanzibar? A whole deer for dinner!
A delightful piece! I shall look out for more.
wordthug (Alex)

Author's Reply:
Thanks Alex - glad you enjoyed it. I'm a fan of weird too.


Workshop Challenge: If I Knew You Were Coming (posted on: 30-03-07)
I had to tweak the set beginning, I'm afraid.

Death had little immediate impact on Rachel's daily routines. She remained in the family home. She even continued to work. As her father said, with typical vulgar cheerfulness, 'There's no point letting a little thing like that stop you from earning.' However, gradual changes were afoot. In the evenings she, along with several other candidates, attended Orientation Classes. The Instructor prepared them for the challenges that lay ahead; for the transition into the realm of eternal dreams. 'We'll be having a barbie in the clouds for breakfast,' said Scott, the bronzed Australian surfer, at the beginning of the first class. He was dominating the coffee machine, pumping it full of change and hitting it with the palm of his hand when no beverage was forthcoming. A small queue formed behind him. 'No wucking furries.' 'I beg your pardon?' Rachel said. 'Aussie slang. How did a lovely Sheila like yourself end up here?' 'It's Rachel. Breast cancer.' 'Struck you young, did it? Like Kylie?' He clicked his tongue against his teeth and gave her chest an appraising stare. 'Doesn't seem to have done the goods too much damage.' 'I have to go over there now,' Rachel said, pointing in a random direction. She wandered off and took a seat in the circle of chairs. Gradually the room filled up, mainly with elderly people who talked to themselves. She was relieved when Scott took a seat across the circle from her. The Instructor, a young man who wore a smart shirt and loud tie with a pair of jeans, introduced himself as Thomas Joyce, and the lessons began. The weekly challenges seemed to be a cross between The Krypton Factor and Masterchef. Rachel had learned to make an excellent Victoria Sponge, and could put together a 3D jigsaw puzzle in less than a minute. She'd even landed a jumbo jet succesfully in the simulator, but whenever any member of the group asked why such abilities were necessary, Thomas gave no straightforward reply. It wasn't long before Rachel began to develop a strong dislike of Thomas. He was far too young to be giving order to the dead, in her opinion. Some members of the group were so old and confused that they didn't understand what a plane was, let alone how to pilot one, but Thomas waved them blithely into the black capsule at the back of the town hall, just the same, and pulled his combed eyebrows together in disappointment when they inevitably ended up nose-down in a field outside Virtual Gatwick. By the time Rachel reached her twenty-third class there was a definite feeling of rebellion in the air. Thomas seemed unaware of the mutters as he stood up from his chair and briefed the group in his usual self-important fashion. 'Right, everyone, can you all take a spoon from the cutlery pot that's being passed round now, and then move to the long table to the side of the room to collect an egg?' 'Is this what I think it is?' David Snow, sitting on Rachel's right, muttered. David was dressed in biker leathers that barely zipped shut over his tree-trunk torso. He had been hit by a truck on the M5 last summer, and still hadn't managed to make the transition. 'EGG AND SPOON?' shouted Esme Evans from across the room. Esme had on her usual dazzling auburn wig and sequin-covered dancing shoes. She had once confided in Rachel at top volume that she had never been deaf until she died. She had trapped her foot under a chest of drawers while trying to escape from her burning house, and had lain there, directly underneath the beeping smoke alarm, for thirteen minutes until the fumes had finally got her. 'Looks like it,' Rachel called to Esme. 'WHAT?' She gave Esme a thumbs-up and took her spoon. After five attempts to walk the perimeter of the room, nobody had an egg without a crack in it: Rachel was glad Thomas had thought of hard-boiling them first. The difficulty wasn't so much in maintaining your balance (at least, not for the younger members of the group) but in avoiding everyone else. It was rather like a motorway a fast lane and slow lane had sprung up, and although that had solved a few problems, Mr Zatopek insisted on limping along in the outside lane at two miles an hour. Rachel was just getting the hang of it when Scott the Australian surfer overtook her at speed, nudged her elbow with his own, and sent her egg skittering across the room to land at the foot of the simulator. 'Watch out, love,' he called. It was the final straw. Rachel stopped in her tracks. The lane of ex-pensioners behind her ground to a halt. 'I'd like an apology,' she said. Scott continued his trek around the perimeter of the room, his egg apparently glued to his spoon. 'What's that?' 'An apology. Now.' 'I'm sorry, you're sorry. No wucking furries.' 'Well, it is a wucking furry. It's a big wucking furry to me,' she said, feeling her chest tighten and her voice rise an octave. Scott stopped, across the room from her, and stared at her. 'Jesus.' 'That's not an apology, you Aussie twit.' 'What did you call me?' 'You heard!' He strode across the room to her, the egg still on the spoon, and Rachel had to steel herself not to shrink back. 'Is this going to turn into a barney?' 'Maybe.' She drew herself up to her full height and still only managed to reach his chin. 'FIGHT!' called Esme. The other members of the group collected together and stared at the epicentre of bad feeling in the room. Thomas turned round from his negotations with the coffee machine. 'What's the matter over there?' he called. 'FIGHT!' shouted Esme again, just to make sure everyone had heard her. 'Who's having a fight?' He walked towards them, eyeballing them both like naughty children in need of a lecture. 'Now, is this really appropriate behaviour for the recently deceased?' 'I became deceased twenty-three weeks ago,' Rachel said, feeling her cheeks redden, 'and I'm not sure that qualifies as recent.' 'There's no need to be disheartened, and certainly no need to turn on each other' 'We're not turning on each other, mate,' Scott said. 'We're turning on you.' Rachel felt a gush of solidarity towards her Australian acquaintance. He was absolutely right. Her problem was with Thomas: unhelpful, unsympathetic Thomas, and he was the one she wanted to punch into the middle of next week. The faces of all the officious doctors and nurses who had never really been interested in helping her, had treated her like a number, diagnosed her too late and refused her the drugs that might have saved her life, swam in front of her eyes and merged into Thomas' features. Her rage at her death focused on his neat eyebrows and loud tie. 'You're angry, aren't you?' he said. She was beyond words. Her control was deserting her. Her knuckles itched to connect with his face. 'You want to hurt me, don't you? Channel it. Use it. Send it upwards, make it real, give it substance.' A red haze descended over her eyes. Rachel blinked, trying to clear her vision, and tilted back her head. A stream of scarlet erupted from underneath her eyelids, poured from her mouth, to form a disordered pattern of swirling shapes that floated in their own small orbits. What she had to do next seemed so obvious. She reached up, put her hands into the shapes, and pulled them to new positions until they interlocked to form a large 3D circle. The circle gradually changed colour from red to orange to gold, taking on a warm glow that called to her as it began to move away, upwards, further into the air. 'Follow it,' Thomas said. His voice seemed so far away. 'Rise into the air. Rise like a Victoria sponge.' Rachel thought of that delicious light cake she had created the way it had risen in the heat, become bigger than she had ever expected, and she knew she could do the same. It was so easy to feel her body ascend as if it contained a good teaspoon of baking powder. Her feet were no longer on the ground, and her hands were stretching up to the sky. She could fly. She was really flying. 'SPONGE!' shouted Esme, as if she really understood what was happening. Rachel smiled and reached for the circle. But it was moving fast now, weaving to the left and then to the right as if it wanted to evade her. How could she catch it? 'Pilot your plane!' called Thomas from below. 'Line yourself up, and keep it steady! You'll get there!' She concentrated hard and felt the angle of her body change. She began to move faster, and the circle came into reach. As she grabbed at its golden diameter, her hands passed straight through. Rachel scrabbled at it, and felt it slip away from her. Desperation welled up, and the emotion coursed through her veins, making her heavier, taking away her buoyancy. 'Be the egg, not the spoon.' Thomas sounded so far away. 'Egg, not the spoon. Egg, not spoon.' 'EGG, NOT SPOON!' called Esme, and it jolted Rachel into understanding. Her body was the spoon, enclosing the egg of her soul. The object of the last exercise had not been to keep the egg on the spoon, but to let it roll free. She had to learn to let her egg go. Rachel reached into her chest and pulled. There it was, cupped in her hands, smooth and white, warm to the touch, slightly pointed at one end and surprisingly heavy: her soul. She held it out to the golden circle and felt the attraction between the two, like magnetism. The circle extended into a tunnel, long and bright, and at the end of it, Rachel thought she could see a garden, and standing in it, smiling faces that looked familiar. She was certain her egg would be safe with them. And so she let it go. It floated up into the tunnel, and she felt her consciousness change. It came away from her body and penetrated the egg, flowing into it as if it had always meant to be there. She no longer cared about her flesh, and she didn't look behind her. Nothing mattered but the welcome that lay ahead of her. She yearned to get there. G'day. She felt a presence next to her. Something bumped against her shell. She let her consciousness examine the entity beside her. It was the egg of that Australian moron, Scott. What are you doing in my tunnel? I saw what you were up to and it made sense, so I joined in. Didn't want a lovely Sheila like yourself to be lonely. Thought I'd come along for the ride. D'ya think there'll be a barbie at the end of this? Get out! She thought. Now, love, you don't mean that. You'll get used to my sense of humour. We'll have a great time. It'll be bonza. No wucking furries. It seemed that Thomas had never been the enemy. With his help, she had finally achieved transition to the realm of eternal dreams. The only question that remained was whether her dream would turn out to be a barbecue-infested nightmare. Rachel sighed. She had only one hope left. Maybe God would have good taste and refuse to admit a soul egg that used spoonerisms.
Archived comments for Workshop Challenge: If I Knew You Were Coming
Seebaruk on 30-03-2007
Workshop Challenge: If I Knew You Were Coming
Heh, good story. I liked the characterisation, especially the stereotypical aussie dude, their banter was pretty entertaining and it held me throughout the story. I think that's where my piece suffers slightly, I had to remove a few of the characters to get it down to 3,500 words! Good use of the Krypton Factor too, bonus points there, Gordon Burns would be proud (shame Thomas wasn't more like him)

Author's Reply:
Thanks - will go read yours in a minute!

Rupe on 30-03-2007
Workshop Challenge: If I Knew You Were Coming
Well written, good dialogue, effective characterisation, strong narrative - the story held my interest in the reading, but left me a little perplexed at the end. And I'm still a little perplexed...

There's an interesting tension between different elements here. It's intriguing, but there's a slight feeling that it's not all singing from the same songsheet.

It's humorous on two levels - the superficial humour of 'wucking furries' / spoonerism, as well as the absurdity in the idea that the afterlife will be spent learning useful skills that will never have any practical application (bit like a university education, then...). I loved the latter, and wasn't so sure about the former - it seemed contrived.

It's also serious on two levels - the realistic point about the doctors not being seriously interested in treating Rachel, and the rather less clearly defined sense of self-realisation in the egg and spoon thing.

In general, I like the idea of serious and humorous elements competing against each other but never clearly winning, but I wasn't sure that the ingredients had been blended together quite as effectively as they might have been.

Rupe

Author's Reply:
Hi Rupe,
Thanks for your comment. You've really made me think. This piece is what I would call my natural 'style' - combining humour with very serious points. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I think I relied on a few stereotypes here to make it pull together in a short word count, but if I was writing a longer piece I would give them all serious deaths and the whole piece would take on a much more tragic element that's only hinted at here. Maybe I should make it entirely light-hearted in order to make it work as a short piece, or go on to expand? Will give it some thought.

delph_ambi on 30-03-2007
Workshop Challenge: If I Knew You Were Coming
Highly imaginative, and with some serious philosophical ideas lurking in there. I found this a hugely optimistic tale, with a perfect mix of gravity and wit.

Author's Reply:
Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it.

josiedog on 30-03-2007
Workshop Challenge: If I Knew You Were Coming
Did enjoy this, just for itself, the dialogue etc, but the egg and spoon scenes, and this being a metaphor for the soul, was very creative, great stuff and handled well.

Author's Reply:
Thank you!

e-griff on 30-03-2007
Workshop Challenge: If I Knew You Were Coming
Three things about eggs, eh? 🙂
Did you once have an unfortunate incident on a training course?

anyway - very good story, humourous, but surprisingly dipping into complete seriousness toward the end, but successfully carrying this reader with it. I am not sure if you have mixed such two extremes together before. I mean in MMM it was serious, and you recall I thought there was some inappropriate humour, and Three things is humorous, but with veiled seriousness behind it. This one has the complete gamut, fully exposed.
I don't know if you've written anything quite like this mix before, but it seems like a little landmark to me 🙂

a few things - 'no straightforward reply' is a bit roundabout.
commas!!!! (round 'just the same' - unecessary)
collect an egg? - this struck me as more of a statement than a question in context.
capital letters - you say she shouts - why do them?

nowt much.

Not that sure about the end. Maybe you could just finish it before the aussie turns up ( a thought) or have something more interesting happen if not?

as you say - this is your own brand of writing. a very interesting piece indeed. JohnG

Author's Reply:
Yes, I don't like the ending either. Originally the title was 'Egg and Spoonerisms' so that was playing on my mind a lot, and when I came to the end I used it to finish up, but it doesn't really work for me. Still, it was fun to write, even with all the commas.

TheGeeza on 31-03-2007
Workshop Challenge: If I Knew You Were Coming
I like how the training is preparing her for the journey. The Aussie bloke annoyed me so much that I was annoyed that he had gone too! The deaf women was quirky... in a good way.
Black mark for changing the supplied text! 🙂
Good ideas, I thought.
Steve.


Author's Reply:
I know (about changing the text) - I'm hanging my head in shame...
Thanks Steve.

Slovitt on 31-03-2007
Workshop Challenge: If I Knew You Were Coming
bluepootle: As usual, your writing is graceful and yet efficient, and combines, as has been pointed out, a certain gravity with wit. That said, the ending line doesn't do much to satisfactorily tie-off your story, though perhaps '...admit a soul egg addicted to spoonerisms.'/ might charge it up a little. Or not. Anyway, a couple of 'mutters' clanged in the 11th and 13th paragraphs, and 'The only question that remained was whether her dream would turn out to a be a barbeque-infested nightmare.'/ is funny, and absolutely on-target. An entertaining piece. Swep

Author's Reply:
Thanks Swep - yes, the ending lines are wrong. Am still thinking on them!

RichardZ on 02-04-2007
Workshop Challenge: If I Knew You Were Coming
Ooo, I like this one.

The realisation that all these apparently worthless lessons actually do serve a rather specific purpose, to me, seems to be the main strength of the tale.

The aussie, (who I found amusing more than annoying), and the old lady were nice to accompany that tale, but what attracted me most was definitely the moment Rachel clicked.

I can't comment on changing the starting text, because I did as well, slightly. 🙂

R

Author's Reply:
Phew! I'm glad somebody else changed the text a little. I was beginning to feel lonely! Thanks.

RoyBateman on 03-04-2007
Workshop Challenge: If I Knew You Were Coming
That was fascinating...I never realised that any Aussie was genteel enough to actually qualify for heaven. I shall book for the other place now I know that.
Very well written, and you grab the reader, taking him/her along with you in a rush of often hilarious ideas. I'm not sure what the Kangaroo Kid was doing butting in at the end, but I can't think of a better way to end, so why not? An imaginative and entertaining read!

Author's Reply:
I'm sorry, Roy - I only just found this comment. Thanks for making it ages ago! Sorry again.

SugarMama34 on 10-04-2007
Workshop Challenge: If I Knew You Were Coming
Hi Bluepootle,

I'm really sorry for te late review in return for yours on mine a few weeks ago. I did try but kept getting interupted, so gave up on the 5th attempt.
This story is very good. It's interesting, entertaining and keeps the reader reading. I found that once I had started I couldn't stop - I had to read on to find out how Rachel got on.
I liked the characters, especially the Aussie, he stood out from the rest and had a humerous nature. I also liked Esme too. A lovely written story that I really enjoyed. It will stay in my mind for a while.

Hugs,

Lis'.xx

Author's Reply:
Thank you - much appreciated!


The Thready Treatment (posted on: 22-01-07)
I haven't written flash for a while. Thought I'd give it a go. It's not my best.

'I need to find myself.' The teenage assistant with the lazy eye pointed me in the direction of a Self-Help sign with the insouciant flip of a fat finger. 'I don't think you appreciate the gravity of my situation,' I said. 'S'amazing what books they write now,' the assistant said. 'Yeah?' 'Can't you do a search? On a computer or something?' Her lazy eye stared me down. 'What is it? Cancer? Depression? Chicken Soup does good every year. My mum got a lot out of Chicken Soup.' I should have gone to Waterstones. But the dark empty walkways between the stacks of dusty books in Whittle's Treasury suited my temperament better than becoming one of the floodlit scrum trying to pick up the newest 3 for 2 offers from a pyramid display. Second-hand books are better. They come with the weight of human cells stuck to the well-turned pages. Some smell of cigarette smoke, some of death. Some of the pages crinkle as if they've absorbed human tears. That was what I needed: authority born of experience. She looked at the screen on her desk and tapped with one finger at her keyboard. 'SAS Guide to Dangerous Situations. Yeah?' 'Not really.' 'How To Hypnotise Yourself to Happiness With Paul Mckenna?' 'I don't want to be happy with Paul Mckenna.' I looked out of the front window at the deserted high street of a Wednesday afternoon. Starbucks was calling. 'Forget it.' 'Find Yourself. By Eunice G Thready.' It sounded direct. 'You've got a copy of that?' 'S'in Self-Help. Help yourself, yeah?' I left her to chuckle at her own joke, glad to be away from the cloud of cheap scent that surrounded her. Eunice Thready. Maybe she could help me. Maybe she could remove my negativism and make me think happy thoughts when I smelled those choking clouds of perfume. It was hiding on the bottom shelf at the end of row, wedged between two larger spines, the pages yellowed and crackly. Promising, I thought, as I held it in my hands. I flipped it open to a random page in the middle and slid my eyes over the words. 'I want a divorce,' Tony said. 'I've met someone else.' 'You sound like a bad novel,' Rachel shot back, brushing her auburn hair from her face and pulling at her crumpled dress. She had ironed it carefully before leaving home, but the three hour car journey to Tony's house had left it in the same state of disarray as her relationship. It was too late to win him back. He belonged to Susie now: Susie, who had once been her best friend I shut the book and dropped it. It was, apart from being a bit of a pot-boiler, an exact account of an event from my life, correct in every detail. Tony, my ex-husband, was indeed living with Susie, my ex-best friend. They had a four bedroomed new-build with marble work surfaces and underfloor heating. I blamed myself. I should have made the move with him when he got promoted upcountry. I had foolishly thought that, if people really loved each other, long distance relationships could work. 'Everything okay back there, yeah?' The voice of the assistant came to me through the passageways of books. 'Fine,' I called. It could have been a coincidence. That was possible. I sat down on the creaky wooden floorboards, crossed my legs and opened the book again, at a page at random. Rachel had been a moron, no doubt about it. Long distance relationships never work: everyone knows that. And the way she had pushed Tony and Susie together asking Susie to go to his work Christmas party with him because she had to work late, encouraging them to play tennis every Sunday what a gullible idiot she had been. 'Hey!' I said at the book. It might have been true, but seeing it in black and white on the page was a sting to the ego. Eunice G Thready was a judgemental writer. And how did she know these things about me, anyway? Maybe it was Susie's pen name. Tony certainly wouldn't have written it he never could string a sentence together. It was fair to say I didn't miss him any more anyway. It had happened four years ago, and I'd moved on to better things. She told herself she'd moved on to better things, as if you could call that big-eared stuttering Call Centre worker Peter a step up the evolutionary ladder. She spent every Friday night with him, together on the sofa with a DVD, a curry and two Grolsches. It was hardly a meaningful relationship, was it? More like an attempt to stave off loneliness and that slow slide into middle age by refusing to admit that it's going to take more than a cheap face-lift in Poland to make her attractive to the opposite sex once more. No, she'd have to get off her flabby bottom and do some exercise if she wanted 'But I do want a life!' I told the book. The assistant came round the corner and her wandering eye found me. 'Did you find it?' 'Yes um, yes, I'm just' 'Are you buying it then, yeah?' 'Er' I opened the book once more, just to check. And her habit of reading random pages of books was really annoying. She'd be much better off buying a book, taking it home and starting from page one. Then she might learn something. If monkeys could be taught to fly planes, surely she could master this... I snapped the book shut. 'Right,' I said. 'I'm buying it.' * That was four months ago. I found myself in Lanzarote. It turns out I'm quite a shallow person with a liking for sex and tequila. It was Eunice G Thready who pointed me in the right direction: her book has become my dearest possession. It goes everywhere with me. She gives marvellous advice. The plastic surgery, the exercise routine, the new rich boyfriend, were suggestions of hers that all worked out wonderfully. It seems reading really can improve your life. And no, you can't borrow it.
Archived comments for The Thready Treatment
e-griff on 22-01-2007
The Thready Treatment
well, I just love to be presented with a piece of work which the author says 'isn't their best' - gee, thanks! 🙂

but apart from that, I found this polished and complete. You could argue it's too light, predictable and unoriginal, but for a light, predictable unoriginal story it is entertainingly told and I enjoyed it 🙂

two niggles: 'the assistant said' (second instance) is not needed and intrudes. You've established who is speaking as the sentence begins 'She looked at the screen ....' so just 'she' is fine, IMO.

the second thing is I found 'wonders would never cease' inserted inappropriately in context. I can't see how it fits.

... good stuff! 🙂 G


Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 22-01-2007
The Thready Treatment
Thanks... I suppose it just felt so light to me, and as you say, the idea is hardly new. But it flowed as I wrote it.

I agree with both your points. Will change now.

Author's Reply:

KDR on 22-01-2007
The Thready Treatment
Hi BP,

I don't like just saying 'I liked this/that/the other', but...that's about the size of it here, I think.
It might not 'be your best', but it is still readable. Not gripping, but held me 'til the end. So it's a good piece, IMO, by any standard, if - as Griff said - a bit predictable.
I was a bit disappointed by her being 'a shallow person' in the end, 'cos I think we can all be as deep or shallow as we want to be. And I'm not a fan of plastic surgery as a therapeutic device. So the character lost me a little.
That said, it takes all sorts and if all characters were the same, it'd be dull.

Overall, it might be light, but that's a good thing on a Monday morning in January. 😉

Karl

Author's Reply:
Hi Karl,

Thanks for that. Yeah, I think it's pleasant enough but I'm a bit worried I'm going a bit on the light side (as shallow as the character!). I might have to try to write something deep and dark soon - I'm a bit out of practice! Glad you enjoyed it.

shadow on 22-01-2007
The Thready Treatment
There's nothing wrong with a bit of light reading; I enjoyed this.
PS Has she written any others?

Author's Reply:
Hi Shad - not as far as I know, but we can all keep looking!

Thanks.

RoyBateman on 24-01-2007
The Thready Treatment
Well, I'm looking forward to some of your better stuff - this was fine by me. Neat, self-contained and concise - in short, a cracking good read that left me with a wry smile. Do we really need much more? I think not.

Author's Reply:

jay12 on 02-03-2007
The Thready Treatment
You say at the start that this isn't your best! That is so annoying cus I think its great and would love to write this good. If you can do better than this then the writing world is your oyster!

As for the story, I think it's great. (RE: the last line - I'd never have asked to lend it though...........doh!)

Jay.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Jay!

Rupe on 14-03-2007
The Thready Treatment
I don't see why the fact that this is a 'light' piece should be regarded as any sort of criticism. It's refreshing to read something light - flippant is probably the word - every so often. I found this piece amusing and enjoyable.

In fact, my only criticism is that at times it's not consistently light enough. The alternation of dialogue and the quotes from the book works very well & leads us to the 'punchline' that the character discovers herself to be 'quite shallow'.

However, the first longish para (beginning 'I should have gone to Waterstones') interrupts the flow, compromises the tone & gives the reader information that doesn't seem especially relevant even when we've got to the end. Why does it matter what bookshop she's in?

I liked the idea that the book she picks up turns out to be specifically about her, but the technique of quoting from the book and then contextualising the quote in terms of her own life seems a little awkward - when it first appears. You repeat information you've already given us ('Tony, my ex-husband, was indeed living with Susie, my ex-best friend'), thus slowing up the narrative - which does need to be fast and flowing. It probably doesn't have to be done quite in this way - if you make the quote more complete in its own terms, so that all the character has to do is confirm, preferably obliquely, that it's true.

But all in all a very enjoyable read. The line,

'It turns out I’m quite a shallow person with a liking for sex and tequila'

is in fact more cunning than it looks at first - if we equate a liking for sex and tequila with being shallow, then most of us are shallow...

Rupe

Author's Reply:
Thanks Rupe - yes, we're all quite shallow, and for me that was the point of the piece. A lot of things are simple (like sex and tequila!) if you let them be. Thanks very much for a helpful critique - with the bookshop, I wanted to have the atmosphere of a second hand dusty little place to heighten the feeling of curiosity, but having a larger bookshop could be interesting too, with the idea that everybody could have a Thready book available to them... I think there does need to be some description there, but I can see I've overdone it.

Yes, you're right I need to work on the pace of the transitions and the repeats - I'm sure, in retrospect, it could be smoother. I will look at that.

Thanks for picking up on what needs to be done! A big help.

Aliya

JeffDray on 07-05-2007
The Thready Treatment
BP, that is a great piece and could be written about almost any shop. I went to Somerfield's today and the youth on the till could have been a robot.

Author's Reply:
Hi Jeff. Are you sure you're commenting on the right story? Only there's no robots in mine! Sounds like a good one, wherever it is!

beard on 28-05-2007
The Thready Treatment
I loved the robot and the monkey fighter pilots! The impression that an animal of close genetic relation to humans can be trained to fight and care for their human masters is wonderful.

Sorry, the previous post amused me and I wanted to join in.

This piece is lovely for me because I started of reading it worrying that it was going to be about depression. I have been through and come out of depression and know how much people 'down there' love to talk about it. This piece is hugely positive I think because it shows that all change comes out of the person themselves. The fact that the narrator got the chance to analyse her life in the pages of the book is a great way of showing that its only really possible to help yourself. No one else can do it for you. Most of us have to learn to step outside and take a long hard look. This story instills the idea without actually telling you.

I didn't like 'they’ve absorbed human tears.' because it immediately made me think about what other kinds of tears could have soaked a page and distracted me. However, I know that I am easily distracted so it is probably my problem not yours.

Great!
Brd.

Author's Reply:

beard on 28-05-2007
The Thready Treatment
PS There is a story a little like this in 'Smoke and Mirrors' by Neil Gaiman. A writer gives a newly wed couple a short story about their wedding. In this case the story is about 'how bad things could have been'. It changes as their marriage moves on in time.
Brd.

Author's Reply:
I love that story, and love Neil Gaiman. I think it must have influenced this story somewhat... Have you read Fragile Things? The first story in that collection is just amazing. And The Sandman is a towering work, of course.

Anyway, thanks for the comment, and the opportunity to rave about Neil Gaiman!

Aliya


Zaza's Place (posted on: 16-10-06)
A bit of noir flash. I'm working on combining cinematic techniques with prose at the mo.

*EDIT ONE* Lights. Camera. Action. The shoes are dark lace-ups and the footsteps are light, soft: a man on the balls of his feet. Track to reveal a trench-coat, the shoulders soaked by the night rain, dark in the shadows of the street but the strength of the muscles cannot be mistaken. This is an attractive man. If he smiled with invitation, women would smile back. Pan up to close in on that straight line of a mouth, the chin tucked in to the body to keep the rain from his face, the greying hair cut close and drenched to a pelt. His hand appears in the shot as he pulls the collar of his trench-coat closer, and the camera follows his hand back down to his side, where it pinches a crease in the light brown material. Is that really? Do you really see? Yes, you do. There is blood on his hand: a lot of blood. The blood is glistening, as dark as oil. It must be still wet. Zoom out, as if the realisation of the blood has caused the camera to recoil, and for the first time you see the street, a city street, neon on the buildings, reflected in the puddles and being smashed apart by the violence of the rain drops; enough to give you a headache. The street is wriggling with life: women with exposed white flesh gesture to cruising cars, and men stare out from the smoke-filled windows of bars. But your eyes are drawn to the murderer. Maybe his crime is written on him: it's in the walk. He strides, untouched by the noise of the street; he looks as if he'll never stop those strides. He means to walk right out of the picture. Is this the beginning or the end? You have a moment more to take him in, and then he's gone, disappeared from shot. Pan left, along the street, past the cold, tight faces of the women and the fleshy warmth of the men with whiskey in their cheeks, throats, stomachs, to the bar with the erratic flashing green neon sign in the window that reads Zaza's Place. Zoom in through the open doorway and, silent as an invisible eye, weave through the main bar, along the corridor, then through the legs of the small round tables in the back room until you reach the stairs. As you climb, watch your step. The carpet is old, worn from blue to grey, shiny and slick underfoot, and when you make it to the office you might jerk back from the sight that waits there for you. Finally, here you are. Turn the handle. Let the door swing back. Take in the furniture: the dark wood bureau, the mess of papers, the overturned chair and the opened, empty cash box on the floor, its hinges spread as wide as the bare legs beside it. Zoom in. You don't want to, but you can't help yourself. Zoom in. The black cocktail dress is pushed high, over the thighs, torn from the neck to reveal blue-veined breasts, the nipples losing their blush as the heart slows, slows, stops. It stops. At this moment, as you watched, this woman went from alive to dead. Pan up. Her head is at a strange, impossible angle to her shoulders and her neck is black with bruises. His hands have been there; his nails have broken the skin and left a scattering of bloody half-moons. He squeezed her, crushed the windpipe. Snapped the neck. He's strong, you see. That's part of his charm. Women like a strong man: a man to take care of them, to put them in their place. Like he put Zaza in her place. He smiled, and she smiled back. Pull back. Leave Zaza behind. Track back, down the stairs, out of the bar that once belonged to her. Follow the man down the street, out of town. He's an attractive man. There's always be another woman, another story, another shot. Cut. *EDIT TWO* Lights. Camera. Action. The shoes are dark lace-ups and the footsteps are light, soft: a man on the balls of his feet. Track to reveal a trench-coat, the shoulders soaked by the night rain, dark in the shadows of the street but the strength of the muscles cannot be mistaken. Pan up to close in on that straight line of a mouth, the chin tucked in to the body to keep the rain from his face, the greying hair cut close and drenched to a pelt. His hand appears in the shot as he pulls the collar of his trench-coat closer, and the camera follows his hand back down to his side, where it pinches a crease in the light brown material. There is blood on his hand: a lot of blood. The blood is glistening, as dark as oil. Zoom out, as if the realisation of the blood has caused the camera to recoil, and for the first time you see the street, a city street, neon on the buildings, reflected in the puddles and being smashed to pieces by the violence of the rain drops. The street is wriggling with life: women with exposed white flesh gesture to cruising cars, and men stare out from the smoke-filled windows of bars. But your eyes are drawn to the murderer. He strides, untouched by the noise of the street; he looks as if he'll never stop those strides. He could walk right out of the picture. You have a moment more to take him in, and then he's gone, disappeared from shot. Pan left, along the street, past the cold, tight faces of the women and the fleshy warmth of the men with whiskey in their cheeks, throats, stomachs, to the bar with the erratic flashing green neon sign in the window that reads Zaza's Place. Zoom in through the open doorway and, silent as an invisible eye, weave through the main bar, along the corridor, then through the legs of the small round tables in the back room until you reach the stairs. The carpet is old, worn from blue to grey, shiny and slick underfoot. Finally, here you are. Turn the handle. Let the door swing back. Take in the furniture: the dark wood bureau, the mess of papers, the overturned chair and the opened, empty cash box on the floor, its hinges spread as wide as the bare legs beside it. Zoom in. The black cocktail dress is pushed high, over the thighs, torn from the neck to reveal blue-veined breasts with deep gouges in them, made by something sharp, stabbed downwards. The nipples losing their blush as the heart slows, slows, stops. It stops. At this moment, as you watched, this woman went from alive to dead. Pan up. Her head is at a strange, impossible angle to her shoulders and her neck is black with bruises. His hands have been there; his nails have broken the skin and left a scattering of bloody half-moons. He's strong, you see. That's part of his charm. Women like a strong man: a man to take care of them, to put them in their place. Like he put Zaza in her place. Pull back. Leave Zaza behind. Track back, down the stairs, out of the bar that once belonged to her. Follow the man down the street, out of town. Cut.
Archived comments for Zaza's Place
thehaven on 16-10-2006
Zazas Place
Very descritpitve and powerful.Just one small thing re the puddle smashed to pieces by the rain..could it be just smashed by the rain "to pieces " is a bit of a cliche and imo spoils the flow of that sentence.

Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike - have changed that sentence. Much appreciated!

e-griff on 16-10-2006
Zazas Place
I think this would have been even more powerful if you hadn't told us everything. What you are doing here is decribing a film sequence with no dialogue. So a film viewer will simply see what you are describing and make what they will of it. But for us readers, to that you have added a running commentary not only about the visuals, but also explaining things which the visuals don't show.eg 'women like strong men/strange men' and 'he snapped her neck' Maybe the viewers have seen it earlier in the film, but it tends to weaken this for me :- ) best JOhnG
ps I was also puzzled by where 'a lot of blood' came from if he strangled her - I thought he'd used a knife to slit her throat at first ...



Author's Reply:
Yes, it's an interesting puzzle, to make something written cinematic in tone and still contribute something through the form. David (sirat) gave me the idea from another 'cinema' piece of mine - to actually write it in the language of cinema eg track, zoom, etc. I thought noir might be the only genre that could pull off something so intrusive, and I suppose I thought that since the act of describing it involves the narrator, it wouldn't be an extra hop for the reader to be 'told' extra pieces of information.
From what you're saying, it doesn't work for you - I wonder if anyone else can get this style (using the language of cinema) to work? Not necessarily as noir, but in any genre?

Thanks for taking a look at the experiment! Ribbit.

discopants on 16-10-2006
Zazas Place
I found it a slightly uneasy combination- the viewpoint comes across as an onlooker who is experiencing the action 'Do you really see...' but I felt this conflicted a touch with the 'zoom in' and 'zoom out' directions as these still felt like directions to another person, as set out in a screenplay. If anything, the style seemed closer to being the controlling character in a video game, where you 'experience' the action and can also use the controls to zoom in and zoom out etc.

I do love a bit of noir, though, so more writing from you in that genre would keep me happy!

Author's Reply:
Thanks Disco - I might write a bit more noir. It's quite fun, innit?

e-griff on 16-10-2006
Zazas Place
I think you did it OK, the 'tells' I felt were unecessary additions, so can be removed and leave the story intact. Her head being at an impossible angle depicts the cinematic scene legitimately, for instance. We don't need to have it spelled out, we know from the picture why she is dead.

Just fix things like that, and the anomaly of the blood and I reckon it would work OK. 🙂

Author's Reply:
Mmmm... not sure that would work so much as leave us with a staid description. Tell you what, I might give it a go and post the edit under the original so people can compare if it works.



And yes, I'll clear up the blood. Someone gimme a cloth...


Okay, I've given it a go, pretty much entirely as you suggested apart from the last sentences - I think it has a better impact that way. You were right, though, I think.

e-griff on 16-10-2006
Zazas Place
OK, spooky - this is my take on it. Just a skim. But i agree that leaving a narrator's voice in at the end is necessary so it's not just a mechanical description, as you said. But thoose old movies had that didn't they? so it IS authentic.

(i did this before I read yours 🙂 )

Lights. Camera. Action.

The shoes are dark lace-ups and the footsteps are light, soft: a man on the balls of his feet.

Track to reveal a trench-coat, the shoulders soaked by the night rain, dark in the shadows of the street but the strength of the muscles cannot be mistaken. A good-looking man.

Pan up to close in on that straight line of a mouth, the chin tucked in to the body to keep the rain from his face, the greying hair cut close and drenched to a pelt. His hand appears in the shot as he pulls the collar of his trench-coat closer, and the camera follows his hand back down to his side, where it clutches spasmodically at a crease in the light brown material.

Zoom out, and for the first time you see the street, a city street, neon on the buildings, reflected in the puddles and being smashed apart by the violence of the rain drops. The street is wriggling with life: women with exposed white flesh gesture to cruising cars, and men stare out from the smoke-filled windows of bars. But your eyes are drawn to the man. Maybe it is written on him: it’s in the walk, his face. He strides, untouched by the noise of the street; he looks as if he’ll never stop. He means to walk right out of the picture.

He disappears from shot.

Pan left, along the street, past the cold, tight faces of the women and the fleshy warmth of the men with whiskey in their cheeks, throats, stomachs, to the bar with the erratic flashing green neon sign in the window that reads Zaza’s Place.

Zoom in through the open doorway and, silent as an invisible eye, weave through the main bar, along the corridor, then through the legs of the small round tables in the back room until you reach the stairs. The carpet is old, worn from blue to grey, shiny and slick underfoot.

Finally, here we are. The door swings back. A dark wood bureau, the mess of papers, an overturned chair, then – the opened, empty cash box on the floor, its hinges spread as wide as the bare legs beside it.

Zoom in. The black cocktail dress is pushed high, over the thighs, torn from the neck to reveal blue-veined breasts, the nipples losing their blush as the heart slows, slows, stops.

Pan up. Her head is at a strange, impossible angle to her shoulders and her neck is black with bruises, and a scattering of bloody half-moons.

He’s strong, you see. That’s part of his charm. Women like a strong man: a man to take care of them, to put them in their place. He put Zaza in her place.

Pull back. Leave Zaza behind. Track back, down the stairs, out of the bar that once belonged to her. Follow the man down the street, out of town. Towards the next town.


Cut.


Author's Reply:
Wow, that is spooky... we basically did the same thing... I'll look at it in more detail later. Thanks!

shadow on 17-10-2006
Zazas Place
I'm not sure which version I prefer. The edited one is tauter, but the first has more 'meat'. Both were equally attention-grabbing. One thing did strike me - I think this style is best suited to a short piece like this one - in a novel (or even a long short story) it could easily become monotonous.

Author's Reply:
Hi Shad, thanks for that. I think you're absolutely right. It really couldn't be sustained for any longer than this, although my first thought. Might give it a go some time.

e-griff on 18-10-2006
Zazas Place
belatedly, I realise that your original idea would work if you made the additional commentary into an off-screen narrator - like those old TV shows

tough-guy off screen voice ' Zaza was looking for something, and she found it.....' kinda Orson Wellsish... 🙂

Author's Reply:

RoyBateman on 18-10-2006
Zazas Place
You did a difficult job well here, and there's simply no "correct" way of doing it that'll work for everyone. (Is there ever? Nah...) Yes, it would need some clear external narration to go on beyond this snapshot, but personally I'd like more. Worth a try sometime...maybe several scenes: crime/some kind of detection/violent end-scene. I'm thinking James Cagney in "The Roaring Twenties" here. Anyway, a striking and entertaining piece that made me think - unusual, that. Ooh, my brain hurts, Brian...

Author's Reply:
Thanks Roy - I might give that a go! Jimmy Cagney is a great inspiration point, actually... I love 'Angels With Dirty Faces'.

niece on 18-10-2006
Zazas Place
Quite an interesting format, bluepootle...

Regds,
niece

Author's Reply:
Is that 'interesting' as in 'may you live in interesting times'? Argh! Thanks, Niece!

spongemonkey on 18-10-2006
Zazas Place

Interesting but it didn't do it for me, to watch as the events unfolded would be better. For a reader it just didn't work sorry.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Spongemonkey - it's always good to know when an experiment doesn't work to save spending more time in that direction. Much appreciated.

zenbuddhist on 21-10-2006
Zazas Place
well yes indeed ....brave and bold....not that I expect anything else from you...it reminds me of a book I read many yonks ago by Micheal Herr...the guy that wrote the Veitnam story...I think its called ...'Mentioned In Dispatches'....but not that one ....this was about a guy who was really famous on the radio but t. v. killed him off [video killed the radio star]....its written like a screenplay but it's not ...if you know what I mean.... a wee bit like this....great atmosphere hun ....yer pal Zx

Author's Reply:
Thanks Zen!

Flash on 22-10-2006
Zazas Place
Well i loved it immensely Bloop.

The telling style doesn't matter for me if the writer has the talent to convey in that style, you obviously have it in abundance.

The first one for me though is better, even though the blood on his hand isn't explained ...i don't think? Perhaps this is more so in the 2nd version.

But anyway, the thing that struck me , was that this piece is dying to be read and heard aloud.

Maybe you can get your old man to deliver a narration in the best film noir tradition.

Very good.

xxxxxx
Flashy

Author's Reply:
Thank you my lovely Flash. I'm getting a real 'love it or hate it' vibe off this one. Love it when a piece does that. Makes me feel like I've done something different!


TheGeeza on 22-10-2006
Zazas Place
I don't think it works with the cinematic direction, to be honest. I felt it detracted from the actual action itself, which I thought was very well painted, and generated a great and dark atmosphere.
Not sure about "this woman went from alive to dead" - jarred for me.
Loved "women with exposed white flesh gesture to cruising cars, and men stare out from the smoke-filled windows of bars"

Steve.





Author's Reply:
Thanks very much Steve - the danger with something so style-oriented is that it will detract from the action. I thought that might have been the case. V helpful comment, as always.


Witchcraft in the Harem (posted on: 31-07-06)
She's destroyed the Stuff and taken a plane to paradise.

On the plane, drinking a quarter-bottle of white, I retrieved my address book from my crocodile bag, tore out a page at a time, and turned each one into a snowflake with a few painless tears. The man sitting next to me, tall with a clean suit and pale skin, brushed away the white shreds that fell on his lap with the back of his hand. I resolved to be more like him. He didn't look anywhere but straight ahead. 'I'm Bobbie,' I said. And then I thought about the Stuff. The Stuff was gone. Destroyed. There was no place on Earth where Becky and The Designer would not find me. Last time I saw Becky, she was on the catwalk, left breast bared and painted yellow, skirt of razor blades clacking against her thighs. She gave her three-quarter turn and clocked me in the back row. Her eyes took in my newly shorn hair, but I couldn't tell what she thought of it from her somnambulistic stare. Then she flicked back up the catwalk and was gone. Two hours later I had boarded this flight. 'I'm in serious trouble here,' I said to the pale man. 'Give me some words of wisdom.' He didn't say anything. Not too surprising, considering he was being confronted by a six feet two ex-model in a red micro-mini and a see-through blouse. 'Cat got your tongue?' I asked. He tilted his head towards me and opened his mouth, so wide that at first I thought he was going to attempt to swallow me. But he stayed like that, and behind the yellowing row of his bottom teeth was a writhing stump, like a blind worm in the darkness: all that remained of a tongue. I had nothing and nowhere, and I needed to plant a seed. I put my hand on the back of his neck and pulled him towards me so I could kiss his open mouth; those pale soft lips were as refreshing as water on my foundation-caked face. 'Take me home with you,' I said, and I thought he didn't understand, but he made no comment when I followed him through the airport after we landed. I boarded the small black jet that waited for him and smiled at him throughout the seven hour flight to destination safe haven. The plane landed on a white runway that was the only strip of land jutting out into a large blue-green bay. I had found no place on Earth. Even I didn't know where I was. He had a harem, of course. I was the first white woman. Nobody spoke my language, but that was fine; I've never really got on with women anyway, not even Becky. You would think being twin sisters would be enough to form a bond, but she was raised with my mother and I went to my father after the divorce. We didn't meet again for years, and when I tracked her down in Paris she introduced me to the Designer and the Stuff, and asked me to live with them. I suppose she liked the novelty of having a double: every man's fantasy, so they say. So sharing a man was not a new thing for me, and I was comfortable in the communal room, even if I ignored the women and they ignored me. I would have liked a fountain, though. I've seen films with scenes in harems and there were always fountains in the centre of the room. Our room was more like a large lounge: lots of sofas, comfortable chairs and cushions, and a tiny kitchenette hidden behind a glass brick wall, with a microwave and a coffee machine. Food was always provided, but occasionally the girls would make strong, syrupy coffee which couldn't have done them any good. I stuck to water. The bell was the summons from the man with no tongue. It was a brass circle with a clapper attached by a small rod, fixed above the only door. It reminded me of the bell above the blackboard that I used to watch during those long, boring afternoons in the classroom, the teacher droning on and the other pupils flicking pencils at my head; I've never been popular in group situations. There was a code to the rings, and every woman knew their code. The others had demonstrated my code to me upon my arrival; I was three long and two short. It rang for me perhaps twice a week. I think I was too vocal for him. It was a Western habit I couldn't shake off. There were windows, but not much of a view. A perfect blue sea seemed to be only yards away, and to stretch on forever. The sky was always cloudless. Sometimes I wondered if we were on a huge boat, but I felt no movement. Maybe it was a tiny island, uncharted, hidden like a sequin that nestles in the ruffled bodice of an emerald silk dress; a place of secrecy and beauty. A place where laws did not exist. A place where magic and murder could bleed together. The flavour of the moment was Fasheema. She had wedding-dress white hair and was maybe five feet tall on tiptoe. All the women walked everywhere on tiptoe, their arms swinging backwards and forwards in languid movements timed precisely to match their steps, trying so hard to look as if they weren't trying to be relaxed. It was always a competition, and Fasheema was winning it hands down. Every day, at about midday I would guess by the position of the sun through the window, she was summoned by the man with no tongue with two short rings of the bell. She would sway her way out of the harem with the languid swaying of an anemone in an undisturbed rockpool; she knew she was invincible. Putting all those women together in one place was asking for trouble. I knew what the looks meant, and I wasn't surprised when they gathered in the kitchen one day after Fasheema had gone forth to do her duty. I was ignored, of course, but that made it easy to watch them from my position in the far corner amongst a nest of silk cushions. Some lifted their long skirts and from under them produced twisted papers that contained pinches of bright powder, or spindly black roots. Others slid delicate orange and yellow flowers from between their breasts, cupping their hands under the petals as if they had drawn forth their hearts for inspection. One woman with enormous hips opened her mouth and extended her tongue to allow the iridescent purple beetle upon it to be captured. It was then squashed into a smear and added to the white china bowl was used to hold the precious possessions. The women stroked the bowl, one at a time, as it was passed between them. Each one said something, or maybe crooned would be a better word; it was more like a song that they all seemed to know, but it wasn't so much a tune as a random series of notes that filled my brain with waking dreams. I reclined on the fluffy cushions and only kept my eyes open for long enough to see them place the bowl in the microwave and set it turning on that little glass disc for a total of five of your Earth minutes. That's something the Designer used to say. Just five of your Earth minutes, Bobbie and Becky, to try on this teaspoon hat and this Rizla blouse, and we would come down from our private cloud to let ourselves be adorned with his creations. Then, as a reward, he would give us a taste of Stuff from the drawer in his Victorian mahogany cabinet, unlocking it with that key he always kept on a ruby encrusted chain around his neck. I never thought he'd sleep deeply enough for me to be able to take that chain from him. But it turns out that we all fall into unwakeable sleep sometimes, just as I did on those silk cushions that afternoon. I had an intense vision, filled with flowers that tickled my feet, and beetles that crawled across my face, and Becky was there, groaning in rapture, carpeted in black roots that grew over her statuesque body and into her hair. She looked as natural as a tree. When I came around no time at all could have passed. The microwave door was open and the women were sitting on the floor in a circle a few feet away, their long skirts arranged behind them like the petals of some enormous carnivorous flower. The china bowl was in the centre of their circle. Inside it was a mustard yellow powder, flecked with tiny green crystals. I never thought I'd see that powder again. 'Stuff!' I said. The women raised their heads as one and stared at me. The one with the large hips flicked her hands in what I took to be a gesture of warning. 'Is this where all the Stuff gets made, then?' I asked. 'Do you make all the Stuff in the world? Is that why the man with no tongue is so rich? Who comes here to pick it up? Is it the Designer?' But, of course, they didn't understand me and I couldn't have understood their replies if they had deigned to give one. It seemed this wasn't the last place on Earth after all. They crowded closer together, closing in on themselves, and I could no longer see the bowl. There was nothing I could do but lie back once more, and only a few minutes later Fasheema returned from her daily appointment, swinging her arms to her private internal melody. She looked as smug as ever. I knew what was going to happen as soon as they brought that cup of coffee to her. They passed it to her on a silver tray, and she accepted it with an incline of her head, as if they had finally noticed how superior she was and it was her right to be served in such a manner. It took only one swallow to do its job. As I watched her go through the transformation that comes from overdose, I felt the pull of the Stuff upon me. I wondered how I could ever have found the willpower to destroy it, and try to escape it. As Fasheema went through the soundless alteration which leads to death, I could see the absolute ecstasy of freedom on her face, and I wanted to feel it too, even if it meant the cracking of my bones and the contortion of my skin. By the time her heart gave out she was unrecognisable. Patches of fur vied with protruding growths of reptile skin, and around what had once been her neck was a ruff of soft pink feathers. There weren't arms and legs any more; instead there were yellowed spidering roots. Her body looked like a tuber that had just been dug up and left on the floor for weeks. The only thing that was unchanged was her hair; startling white against the mess that she had become, it splayed out on the floor like a skein of silk that had been thrown away. The women cut the hair and stuffed it into one of the silk cushions. They diced the remains of Fasheema and threw her out of the window into the waiting sea, to be taken away by the tide. They did it quickly and with no fuss. It looked as if they had done it before. The next day, the bell went for Fasheema. Nobody moved, or even glanced at the bell. They sat as still as sculptures, practising their attitudes of blamelessness until the man with no tongue arrived and looked over them with a blank expression. He didn't seem to really see them at all, so they stopped posturing and went back to their quiet conversations in their strange language. 'Hard luck, Buster,' I said. 'She's gone. Out of the window. Away on the tide.' Everyone stared at me. I'd be lying if I didn't admit it was nice to be the centre of attention again, if only for a moment. I've always been the woman everyone looks twice at, right from when I first sprouted breasts and legs of magnifique proportions. I'm not saying it won me many friends, but it did make me special. I hadn't realised how much I missed that. The man with no tongue smiled. Then he made a gesture that I understood. He raised one hand, extended his index finger, and waggled it back and forth. You're a naughty minx, but I like you. The waggle changed to a beckon, and I followed him out of the harem. After that the bell rang three long and two short every day, and I knew I was in trouble. It took the women three weeks of my summonings to decide they'd had enough. I returned from the man with no tongue late one afternoon, the red sunlight just crawling through the bottom corner of the window, to find them gathered in their circle, eyes cast down as if in pious contemplation. In the centre of the gathering was the silver tray, and placed upon that was one cup of syrupy black coffee. I stepped into the circle, knelt down, and took the cup in both hands. The warmth of the coffee was soothing. I looked into the faces of the women surrounding me and felt the chill of their stares chase away that comfort. 'Bobbie?' The last hint of daylight faded. I turned my head to the window and locked eyes with two shadows. 'We found you,' Becky said. Her hair was loose and her smile was real. She was wearing a necklace of razor blades that had the Designer's touch about it, for sure. I'd never seen her look so happy. 'Isn't she beautiful?' the Designer said. 'So beautiful it hurts.' He craned his neck to see further into the room. 'You could be this beautiful if you're prepared to give up this dump and come with us.' 'I am so bloody sorry,' I said. 'About the Stuff. About everything.' He shrugged. 'We got more. It set us free. Free to that place inside us. Now we're staying forever. Will you come too?' I thought about it. There really didn't seem to be anything worth staying for: not the man who would never speak to me, or the women who wanted me gone. 'Okay,' I said. I picked up the coffee cup, drained it, and floated out through the window. And now I really have found no place on Earth. There are others floating nearby; I think I saw Fasheema once, curled up in a pink cloud like a well-fed cat in a padded basket. But we do not talk to the others. We don't need them. We are together. We three who sleep amongst the stars and swim in the eternal sea. My twin, the Designer, and me.
Archived comments for Witchcraft in the Harem
e-griff on 31-07-2006
Witchcraft in the Harem
Wowser! Different again. Surely a cut above. Be very interested to know why you wrote this - what inspiration?

I had only one or two minor difficulties, the main one being
'The bell was the summons to the man..' which I first read as summoning the man (the 'to') It actually is a summons FROM the man, or a summons to go to the man. see what I mean?

Overall, a cracker!

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 31-07-2006
Witchcraft in the Harem
Oh and dshould have said - nice to see you posting again..:-)

Author's Reply:
I like it here! *refuses to budge*

I just don't write a lot of stuff now without it already having a home to go to, to be honest - this first appeared in Sein Und Werden - wish I'd shown it to you first so you could have caught that summons thing! I agree - will go and change.

sirat on 31-07-2006
Witchcraft in the Harem
Also: They diced the remains of Fasheema and threw her of the window
I think it should be "out of the window".
A seriously strange piece of writing. I'm impressed that Griff had so little difficulty with it. For me it had a dream quality but I don't think I really understood what it was all about.
So much of it is beyond me it seems petty to pick on one little detail, but how could she wonder if the harem was a boat when she had landed on the white runway and been taken to it?
All the other details: Becky, the Stuff, the Designer... well, where do I begin?
I can see that it's highly atmospheric and would work well for a particular market. I used to read stories like this on Elfwood.com years ago. I diodn't understand them either. Memorable though, definitely demorable.

Author's Reply:
Thanks David - have changed that really annoying typo.
Yes, it's very strange. I didn't answer Griff's comment re inspiration because I honestly don't know, although the brief, and my starting point, was the word 'duende'. Maybe this was a cheap form of therapy on my part?

Kat on 31-07-2006
Witchcraft in the Harem
Hi blue

This isn't my genre (I'm too easily spooked!) but I admire your writing and wanted to give this a whirl.

I could follow the story and bought into the plot (as I understood it). But it's simply a delight to see the skill with which it's written, the striking and inventive imagery and yes, it is definitely memorable.

Well done!

Kat :o)



Author's Reply:
Hi Kat,
Many thanks for that - I don't think it is really a horror story, but I didn't know how else to describe it, I'm afraid!

RoyBateman on 01-08-2006
Witchcraft in the Harem
An amazing cascade of high-quality writing, though I can't pretend that I can follow it in any logical sense - maybe that's a mistake anyway...a dream (or nightmare? Especially that tongue bit....) every bit as weird as any I've read or possibly even experienced. Certainly one to remember and chew over mentally well into the future!

Author's Reply:
Thanks Roy - it's meant to be a bit of a smack on the head with a penguin.

niece on 01-08-2006
Witchcraft in the Harem
Quite an unusual write...but enjoyed it nevertheless...

Regds,
niece

Author's Reply:
Thanks for reading, niece!

e-griff on 01-08-2006
Witchcraft in the Harem
See, it's the 'suspension of disbelief':
David knows that at times I am a pedantic logic stickler - 'that couldn't have happened, it says on page...' 'That's not right - VW Bortlunders had an extra side valve that exonerated the pulses of the instigation that this author so loves!!!!' , er, etc....

I am currently struggling with an author who writes plain facts, then goes off on one for a para or two. I'm trying to persuade them that 'consistency' is all for a reader.

Blue's story starts in the clouds, stays in the clouds, and ends in the clouds. What is good is the imaginative wordplay. Of course it makes no direct sense - that's fine. It IS consistent in that respect, so Mr Editor me ticks it, admires the telling, and moves on to lesser mortals... 🙂 G

Author's Reply:

Flash on 02-08-2006
Witchcraft in the Harem
Surreal an imaginative, thought the model was on a bad heroin trip or similar. All the plus points have already been mentioned.

Overall tho...something wasn't quite there for me to say this was a cracker from your own portfolio here. Certainly engrossing and fluid though.

xxxxxx
Flashy

Author's Reply:
Ta for the comment and the kisses, Flash.

thehaven on 02-08-2006
Witchcraft in the Harem
This is a tremendous piece of writing which had me entranced all the way through. I didnt try to understand just go withj the flow.


Mike

Author's Reply:
Oh good Mike, that was what I'd intended - to get carried away with the piece. Thanks very much!

jay12 on 06-08-2006
Witchcraft in the Harem
That was a compelling and unexpected read indeed. Twas not what I expected at all. Seemed to me like a state caused by drugs than anything else. I'd be lying if I said I understood it, but in a strange dreamy way I enjoyed it completely.

Jay.

Author's Reply:

zenbuddhist on 19-09-2006
Witchcraft in the Harem
Yes ....well long time....I just luv you...compelling.. bullshit ..you are addictive...will you marry me?..at last a real writer!......Zx

Author's Reply:
Thanks Zen! Afraid I'm already married, but always lovely to be asked...

len on 07-10-2006
Witchcraft in the Harem
"A place where laws did not exist. A place where magic and murder could bleed together" I love that line..Very well penned yarn..len

Author's Reply:
Thanks Len!


The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo (posted on: 12-05-06)
The result of a challenge to write outside of my normal style - Victorian melodrama with all that implies (selfishness, sexual jealousy, repression, etc.) Still very much in a working stage so please flag any probs!

There are happenings in every young lady's life that are too close to her heart to be reported on lightly, or with the intention of providing a parlour-room diversion, and yet often these most serious events become just that: tales told to pass the time, whispered over the rims of teacups as nothing more than a low form of amusement. Be reassured therefore, dear reader, that my intention remains purely instructional in nature by relaying the following series of events to you; I do not tell this fantastical story for any other reason than that it may act as a forewarning to those who may find themselves in a similar situation, that is, believing themselves to be in possession of a talent of such magnitude and magnificence that they continually reflect upon it and in doing so lose other gifts which may have been more precious to them than hitherto suspected. My uncle, Joseph Hobson Jagger, was just such a man. Joseph Hobson Jagger may well be a name that seems familiar to you, for he was a man of fame, or should one say infamy? Indeed, one should, for when I tell you how he achieved his notoriety you will nod your head, and smile, and recognise the story that has made the headlines of many a newspaper and sprung from the lips of many a music-hall entertainer, and while I do not condone such cheap and tasteless forms of entertainment, I can understand why he gained his fame, for money is a subject dear to the heart of many a man, and Joseph Hobson Jagger, although born with none, died with plenty, and all achieved without an ounce of honest work. Perhaps all will become clear when I relate to you the name by which my uncle was more widely known: The man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo. After the death of my beloved parents and my subsequent adoption by my infamous uncle, he warmed to me and confided as to how this astounding feat was accomplished. It was a revelation that did nothing to elevate his stature in my eyes which were, admittedly, blinded by tears that refused to cease falling and spoke more eloquently than I ever could at the tender age of thirteen as to my belief that any happiness in my young life was already behind me, as were the tender ministrations of my mother and father. It seemed to me then, and still does now I confess, that chicanery was not an acceptable reason for the accumulation of such vast wealth, yet Uncle Joseph was as puffed as a peacock bestowing upon a captive audience a full and dazzling display of shining feathers as he explained the fortuitous circumstances behind his winning streak at the roulette tables. 'Balance, Amelia,' he said to me over the breakfast platters. He was holding a newspaper by his fingertips; it had, only minutes before reaching the dining table on a silver salver, been ironed by a manservant in order to keep my uncle from getting grubby fingers and was still hot to the touch. My uncle could not bear black marks upon his hands. 'Balance, Uncle Joseph?' 'It's at the root of all things, and don't you forget it. I chose everything in this home, right down to the real gold lamps and the elephant foot umbrella stand, to suggest balance. To be pleasing to my eye and to make sense to my constantly working mind.' I cracked the top of my egg with my spoon. 'I don't understand, Uncle.' He put down the newspaper and leaned towards me, putting his elbows on the table in a most undignified manner. 'Since I was a whelp I could see shapes that were right and shapes that were wrong. Things fit together in this world. I can taste colours, niece, did you know that? I can smell sounds. I step into a room filled with people and tell in a moment who is wearing mismatched shoes and who is feeling under the weather. In a moment.' I smiled, but perhaps he saw something of my disbelief, for I was not yet tutored in the necessary art of hiding my feelings from his scrutiny. Instead of taking discouragement from such scorn, it seemed to act as a goad, for he continued in a louder voice, strong enough in timbre to make the ormolu clock on the mantelpiece tremble. 'And that was what the roulette wheel in Monte Carlo lacked, you see. Balance. I watched the spindle and I knew straight away, Amelia, in that way I have. The spindle lacked balance, and some numbers came up more regularly than others. I watched for a week and saw which numbers it favoured. That was all I needed.' He tapped the side of his head with his forefinger. 'A bit of clever betting and here I am.' Indeed. And due to my unfortunate circumstances, there I was too, cushioned in a golden bower but with no way to find the comfort of familial love that I so craved, for Uncle Joseph, although never unkind, was not one to understand or indeed care for the needs and wants of a young and friendless girl, and, to be fair, I was not interested in the things from which he gleaned excitement, such as the quality of snuff and the news from the unfriendly world outside the large bay windows of the dining room. Perhaps, if he had tried a little harder to maintain a pleasant conversation on a mutually agreeable topic, we would have discovered much in common, or at the very least, realised that we shared a sense of loneliness that, upon discovery, might have been forthwith banished by the connection it would have made between us. But it was not to be, and three years passed in a meaningless pattern of stilted conversation and embarrassed silences before I realised, through a surprising revelation over another painfully solemn breakfast, that Uncle Joseph did not wish his millions to be the only companion of his bosom. 'You may find, Amelia, that there are a lot of comings and goings over the next few days,' he said over his newspaper. I had already finished my boiled egg and was sipping at my tea in a manner taught to me in the last two years by my austere and extremely expensive Governess, Miss Guttly. I was to be a lady of society, I was informed every day by that tall, pale statue of a woman, with the nose of an eagle and a grip reminiscent of the pincers of an earwig, and manners had been instilled within me that my uncle could never have hoped to possess. I wondered if he was proud of what his money had achieved with me. I put down my teacup, making no clatter against the saucer. 'Comings and goings, uncle?' I said. 'I have advertised, and there will be applicants.' 'A new manservant?' His cheeks reddened and his eyebrows quivered. 'No, my dear. This is more of a personal appointment.' 'Valet?' 'I have advertised for a wife.' I could not have been more surprised if he had produced a live snake from his trouser leg. 'Lost for words, are you, niece? I hope Miss Guttly is teaching you better than to gape in that unladylike fashion.' 'And what exactly are you looking for in a wife, Uncle Joseph?' My hands were trembling, and I felt it necessary to clasp them together under the shelter of the table. I cannot say why such news should have affected my equilibrium so; as I recall the matter now, it seems to me that it was the double blow of having a personal conversation with my guardian whilst realising that my position as the lady of the house was in jeopardy. He reeled off a list of characteristics: under the age of twenty-five, not previously engaged or recently widowed, no taller than five feet and three inches, not possessing any nervous tics or impediments of speech, agreeable in nature and not given to shrewish outbursts, forgiving of roughness in the speech and manners of others, and, most importantly, balanced in each and every way that a lady should be. There was embarrassment in the pulling of his neck collar as he spoke, but also pride evident in his voice that he had been so thorough in the preparation of his list, and when he finished his recital he glared at me as if willing me to find fault with his plan. 'And where did you advertise?' I asked. 'The Times, of course. Where else?' 'You mentioned your name in this advertisement?' 'How else would they know where to come?' And, with that, I knew I was about to be besieged within my own home by every desperate, ill-mannered and selfish creature of my sex who existed in England at that time. For who of a low nature could have seen that advertisement and not considered application? My ridiculous Uncle was once more making a public spectacle of himself, and this time putting himself at the mercy of the worst type of woman, all for the sake of a little companionship on long evenings. If time had permitted that morning, I might even have told him of my feelings, but only moments later the high peal of the doorbell sounded and I knew the army of opportunism was upon us. I excused myself as Uncle Joseph leapt to his feet and attacked what remaining hair he had with the small rhinoceros horn comb he continually carried in his waistcoat pocket; by the time the first visitor had been announced, I was ensconced in the schoolroom with Miss Guttly, tackling the foreign phrases one might expect to make use of on a trip to Paris, and I was spared the indignity of seeing the stream of grubbing faces of the applicants to my uncle's sensational scheme as they made their way through the hall and into the library, to sit opposite him and try to persuade him of their worthiness of his love. I had hoped, after the initial announcement, to be left ignorant of the matter altogether, but it was not to be. The interviews lasted for over two weeks, and over dinner my uncle would take great pleasure in recounting the faults of each and every woman who had subjected themselves to his scrutiny. 'Miss Tidewell, now she had a slight limp,' he would say, forking roast lamb into his mouth with alarming alacrity. 'Not visible to anyone else, I'd reckon, but plain as day to me. She probably wasn't even aware that she had it herself.' Not having seen Miss Tidewell myself, I did not feel I was in a position to pass comment. 'Miss Ragby, now there's the worst case of halitosis I've ever come across in my life,' he would say over kedgeree the next evening. 'But how, uncle,' I would venture to ask, 'could you get close enough to tell?' 'Could see it across the room. Came out of her mouth like a billowing grey cloud. If I hadn't have known better, I'd have thought she was puffing on a cigar.' And so the list of faults continued. No woman existed who did not have some flaw obvious only to him in his advanced and mysterious knowledge of the patterns of life. Some had illness in their voices. Others tasted of lettuce. The list was long and fantastical. I began to suspect that in actuality no woman existed who did not have some kind of hidden defect that my uncle's penetrating eyes could detect and bring triumphantly to the surface. It occurred to me that I myself must have a blemish of this type, but I was determined not to ask Uncle Joseph what it was as I fervently believed that he would take far too much pleasure in telling me. In the passing of long days the ringing of the doorbell began to diminish, and after a month it stopped altogether. The household returned to normality and my uncle and I lapsed back into the customary mealtime silences, punctuated only by the occasional comment about the weather, how lessons were progressing, and the general state of snuff. This was much more to my liking, although I detected a sadness in my uncle by the way he tapped his foot against the table leg every ten minutes or so and sighed, a deep exhalation of breath that seemed to deflate him utterly for a moment or two before the undeniable imperative to keep on living, no matter how lonely the life, caused him to take in a gulp of sweet air once more. It was during one of these sighs, delivered over a bowl of leek soup that was serving as a rather uninteresting starting point to our evening repast, that the doorbell rang, and we were informed that one Miss Evangelina Trump was awaiting an audience in the drawing room. One look at Miss Trump, and all my fears of replacement as the lady of the house leapt back into being. She was slim, small, young and vivacious; she carried herself with great dignity and yet there was an impish quality to her gently curving smile that I knew would appeal to my uncle. Indeed, he was smiling too, bidding her welcome, asking her what stroke of luck could have led to her visit, just when he was most in need of seeing a pretty face and hearing a pleasant voice. Yes, he was smitten upon first sight of her, and making no bones about it. 'Forgive me for this intrusion, but I've only recently returned to this country from a sojourn in Switzerland, and I happened to spy your advertisement pinned to a notice-board in the Young Woman's Hostelry Association upon my arrival there this very evening. I felt I had to come immediately to see if the position had been filled' Uncle Joseph confirmed that it had not. 'for I know this must seem presumptuous of me, but I was filled with the conviction that I am absolutely what you were describing in that advertisement, and would even go so far as to say that it seemed to have been written with me in mind.' She threw her hands up as if in supplication. 'I'm sure this sounds ridiculous it does to me too, to me too!, but I believe in fate, you see, and this seems fated. As if it is part of the cosmic' '..balance,' Uncle Joseph finished, and at that point I left the room, my departure unnoticed by either of them. Over the next days I was plunged into the kind of despair I had only experienced previously with the death of my dear parents. Uncle Joseph's attachment to Miss Evangelina Trump grew at a prodigious rate, and I could not concentrate on my lessons for catching the high tinkle of her laugh, which floated up the stairs and slipped under the schoolroom door like an insidious odour. It was obvious that an attachment had formed, and that meant that Miss Trump had no flaws. It came as a revelation to me that a woman with no faults is a creature destined to be loathed by her own sex, and so I learned to cherish whatever parts of my own construction were not wholly perfect in the opinion of the world, for I would not ever wish to be as lonely as Miss Trump obviously was why else would she be reduced to seeking solace in the company of a man such as my uncle, and through the medium of a newspaper advertisement? Even in their state of delirious happiness, they made a sorry pair to my eyes. I did not relish the prospect of being supplanted by a woman I despised, but it seemed that fate had once more revealed its hand and revelled in my deficiencies as a player in the game of life. I could think of no plan to rid myself of Miss Trump. I had not even had a chance to speak to her in a private moment, as my uncle was ever present and always attentive to every word of conversation that passed between his beloved and whomsoever she should address. Until the day he was called away to the wine cellar. An accident had happened, the butler informed us after dinner. We were ensconced in the parlour; Evangelina Trump and Uncle Joseph were giggling about a misprint he had shared with her from the newspaper, and I was attempting to read Moliere in his mother tongue. A shelf had collapsed and many of the more expensive bottles had been lost would he go down into the cellar and attempt to identify the shards so that efforts could be made towards replacement? My uncle rose from his seat and hastened away, his wine cellar being one of his joys, surpassed only by the news and his snuff, and I was left alone with my unsuspecting adversary. I was wondering how to turn this development to my advantage when she crossed to my side and sank down beside me. 'Amelia,' she said, 'my dear, I know we haven't had an opportunity to converse, but I do hope you'll forgive my presumption if I say that I am sure we can be firm friends.' 'Of course,' I said. 'Oh, that is good news!' she said as she clasped my hand between her own. 'For it is more than a friend that I intend to be to you, my dear. I think that shortly, very shortly, I shall address you as Niece, and you should, I hope, want to call me Aunt. Would that please you?' What could I do but agree? 'And I shall endeavour to make us a happy family, Amelia, Niece, for your uncle's happiness, and therefore your happiness, means everything to me.' 'Everything?' I said. 'Oh yes.' And that was when it came to me. 'There is something you could do' I said, 'something that would indeed make him so very happy. I would not mention it, but I feel sure that he would never dream of bringing up such a delicate subject himself, and so I must be his voice in this matter. He has often spoken to me about his parents' wedding, and in particular the attire of his mother on that blessed day. It seems that there is a family tradition in regards to the um undergarments of the Jagger brides.' Miss Trump looked shocked, but she held on to my hand and my gaze, and I had to admire her resolve. Indeed, nothing that I said in the conversation that followed caused her to gasp or recoil, even though inwardly I was amazed at my own imagination. My prospective aunt had managed to awaken the basest part of my character. The wedding took place on the twenty-eighth of April and Mrs Jagger formerly Miss Trump had left for some undisclosed location by May Day. I can only assume that my uncle arranged for her passage to some place where he need never see her again. I've often wondered if he discovered her scarlet suspenders on the wedding night, or if, with his tremendous gift of observation and unexplainable mystic powers, he somehow visualised them through her simple white dress during the ceremony. In any case, it was undoubtedly behind his sudden change of heart, for how could such a man bear something so out of place and so vulgar in a woman he had idolised as perfect? I am certain it was not a garment Miss Trump would have chosen to wear; oh no, it was to be a sign of her perfect love for her new husband. Instead it had been her undoing. And so my uncle spent his remaining days, which were numerous, sitting silently at the dining table and brooding upon his misfortune, without ever once thinking to ask how such events had affected his niece, or attempting to extend the hand of friendship. I could not penetrate his reverie, and therefore could not persuade him to provide many of the benefits to which a young lady in my position should have been entitled. I was not introduced into society; nor was I cast into the path of prospective suitors. In the circumstances, I would not think it melodramatic to remark that two lives were ruined by Joseph Jagger's selfishness. In summation, dear reader, let me remind you of my intention in the disclosure of this tawdry story from my past. I sit here at my writing desk, formerly the desk of my late uncle but left to me along with all his worldly possessions as I was the sole beneficiary named in his will, for whom else should he reward with his millions but his only blood relative and the most faithful of nieces? determined to reveal my misdemeanours towards the unsuspecting Miss Trump so that you can reach only one conclusion, and take away from this sorry tale a life lesson that will prove to be one worth keeping in your mind in the days and hours that stretch away from you, waiting to be filled with thoughts and deeds that will, hopefully, be far worthier of remembrance than any I have committed to this journal. Do not believe yourself to be blessed. Do not rely on your supposed talents, nor delight in your apparent superiority over others. Instead treat everyone as your equal, and extend the hand of friendship honestly and openly. Then you will not encourage bitterness or foster resentment amongst your family members, and this, in turn, will not lead to unfortunate recriminations. And so I lay down my pen and consider the strange happenings surrounding my late uncle, Joseph Hobson Jagger, the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo, one last time before consigning these facts to the past and looking with new and hopeful eyes towards my bright future, which commences with a trip to that most exciting of cities, Paris, for which my beloved Governess and closest companion, Miss Guttly (now no longer living) prepared me well. If only things had worked out differently, and he had made an effort to befriend a lonely child instead of boast of his distasteful achievements, we might have indeed been one happy family together. But now I am old and alone. And alone I must depart to France. A short solitary life awaits me, with only my uncle's money to act as a companion. How I wish there was a different end to this tragic tale, reader, but I have accustomed myself to my fate, and so should you. Farewell.
Archived comments for The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo
expat on 13-05-2006
The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo
Blimey, Aliya, you've got more facets than a … a … a multi-faceted thing!

I think you've captured the Victorian style of writing very well, from the lengthy convoluted sentences and stiff speech to the slightly sour character of Amelia in first person. As you say, the story's still under construction so perhaps I can mention a couple of things that might be of some use:

In one or two places you used 'I've' instead of your usual 'I have', which seemed out of context with the story's ambience.

"… recognise the story that has made the headlines of many a newspaper…" I'm not sure that 'headlines' would have been a contemporary term. Likewise with 'reeled' in "He reeled off a list of characteristics…" I could well be mistaken, though.

The prelude to Miss Trump's demise was nicely done but the outcome was concluded in two lines! It seemed a little abrupt to me. Or maybe a section break would do the trick, a new scene opening with your: "I've often wondered if …" paragraph.

Lots of attention to period detail and terminology (like kedgeree) and a good moralising ending, typical of the depresso-tragi-romantic Victorian genre!

Are you back in England now or still in the land of the best breweries ever?
:^) Steve.




Author's Reply:
Hi Steve,
I am, once more, on native soil, drinking brown beer and eating cheese 'n onion crisps. Fab. Thanks for that - I'm going to change all the things you've flagged. This one is a bit of a state in details because I've had to concentrate so hard on the language, so it's good to hear I've got it about right.

Taaaaaaaaaaa


Happiness Comes With a Paper Umbrella and a Measure of Grenadine (posted on: 20-02-06)
This is up on my website so I thought I'd give it a home on UKA too...

Here you go, sir. One Happiness, the cocktail of cocktails, served with a twist. What's that? A pretty face? It's kind of you to say, but I think you'll find it's the dim lighting and the glamour of my occupation evoking that illusion. Plus the tiny uniform and the ridiculously high heels. It's all part and parcel of the role, one might say. A slick talker? That's me, all right. But only since I started working here. I find it's done wonders for my chakra. I used to be such a shy little rabbit, with big frightened eyes and a twitchy little nose, but now I find I have a lot to say, and have no difficulty in saying it. Words flow from my new and amazing confidence it's an incredible transformation. One could comment that I was born for this job. Do you mind if I rest my tray on your table for a moment? I've got a jug of Happiness for table fifteen, and it's tiring on the arms. Not that I'm complaining. Each and every one of these cocktails sold gives me a personal sense of satisfaction. Would you like to know why? Let me tell you. Before this evening, before I met you, and back before I began working as a waitress in a cocktail bar, I was that most downtrodden of creatures, a Clerical Worker. I used to process information for life assurance applications, and that gave me access to medical records. I could see every ailment people had visited their GP about, and apart from the usual high points involving sexually transmitted diseases and injuries involving vibrators or vacuum cleaners, it made for boring reading. Most people are a lot less unique in the medical department than they would like to think. The two ailments I saw most often were, without a doubt, back pain and depression. One in three people, I would say, suffered from one or the other, and one in five from both. I used to wonder if one illness caused the other. Did depressed people stoop more? Or did having a bad back make a person really glum? How was it possible that so many people could be suffering from the same diseases? At that time, I didn't suffer from either. How about you? You look like the afflicted type to me. Pain in the lumbar region? Worries about the world? Mmm. Believe me, nowadays, I know where you're coming from. But I was a different person back then, in lots of ways. I was keen to succeed in the field of clerical work, and in order to do that I had to impress one person in particular: Kirstie Kay. Kirstie Kay was the head of my department, and she was everything I wanted to be. Kirstie wore expensive black skirts that made my grey trousers look like bespeckled victims of a lint attack. Kirstie smelled of perfume that could never have been bought from the old lady who came to my doorstep regularly, pronouncing her Ding Dong catchphrase in a high wheeze. Kirstie had her hair cut more regularly than just at Christmas and Easter so her mother didn't complain about her fringe getting in her eyes. Kirstie commanded respect. What's that? You want another cocktail? You drank that one a little too fast, huh? I'd be careful, if I were you. These ones have a kick. But, since you're doing such a good job of listening, why don't you top yourself up from the jug on my tray? Help yourself just don't say I didn't warn you. Where was I? Oh yes. Respect. I respected Kirstie. I wanted to be just like her, but in order to climb the greasy pole of management, I needed to find a way to gain her attention; a way to make me worthy of her notice. It was only after watching the way she shrugged off all responsibility for any actual work by alternately charming and bullying her employees in group weekly update meetings that a solution came to me. And do you know what that solution was? Manipulation. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that hard work and puckering to the boss's posterior might have offered a more traditional answer, but hear me out. It was all very well to be mindlessly keying in all day, as requested, but to rise above the rabble I had to prove I could get results by analysing to my advantage. After all, that was the point of having a manager, wasn't it? To get results. And I intended to get the kind of results that would reveal my intelligence and capability to the world. I read up on spreadsheets and put together a database of gargantuan proportions; one which allowed me to input the age, postcode, occupation, pastimes, and alcohol and cigarette consumption levels of every person who disclosed both back pain and depression on their applications. I was determined to find some common linkage. When I tracked it down, I was going to present it to Kirstie Kay, proving that I was capable of thinking outside the box and inside the management mindset. It took three months of collation before results started to emerge, and another three months before I was sure of what I was seeing. During that time I worked overtime every day, even weekends, in the excitement of surreptitiously establishing a pattern, and had given myself chronic eyestrain and a permanent pain between my shoulder blades from all that screen staring and keyboard tapping, but those were minor considerations in the face of the information my project was providing. I had uncovered something astounding, and it was with trembling hands that I e-mailed Kirstie Kay and arranged a one on one meeting with her for the following Monday morning. I spent an anxious weekend checking my results again and again; I don't think I slept at all. Another cocktail? Mind you, I really don't think you should. I wouldn't advise anyone to consume three in a row. You're making fast work of that jug. I suppose I should go and get a refill for table fifteen, but they look pretty out of it. They won't notice if they wait for a little longer. To continue we sat down in her office at 10:45am, facing each other over her walnut desk, Kirstie sitting with legs crossed in her leather armchair, me sitting with arms crossed in a standard plastic chair. 'Well, Leanne, you've intrigued me,' she said. Leanne isn't my name, but I was much too in awe of her to correct her. 'What did you want to chat about?' I launched into my set speech, trying not to be distracted as she tapped the fingers of her left hand against the dial of the watch on her right wrist. 'What, Kirstie, in your opinion, would be the two illnesses we see disclosed on life assurance applications more often than any others?' She leaned back in her chair. 'Well, Leanne, I wouldn't know. I could phone up our Statistical Analysis Department and get an answer for you.' It came as a blow to learn of the existence of a Statistical Analysis Department, but I had put in too much work to refuse at the first fence. 'Actually, I already know the answer. It's back pain and depression. I calculated it myself in my own spare time,' I added, when she raised one fine line of an eyebrow. 'And I also looked into what kind of people suffer from those illnesses, particularly when they occur together.' For the first time since we had started working together five years ago, she looked at me with interest. 'Oh yes?' 'And I found out that, according to a database I've been keeping' 'Yes?' 'there is a ninety-three per cent correlation between back pain and depression appearing in tandem on the medical disclosures of life assurance applications' Her fingers had stopped tapping on her watch. They were curled into her palms, the knuckles white, and her elbows were on her desk as she leaned towards me. 'Yes?' 'submitted by those people who list their occupation as Clerical Worker.' There was a silence. It stretched on as she stared at me. I shuffled my papers in embarrassment, and the rustle seemed to prompt her back into action. She jumped up from her leather armchair and spoke, without her usual eloquence, I have to say. 'Sit there,' she said. 'Don't move.' Then she walked out of the office. In the forty-five minute wait that ensued I harboured a number of fantasies. I imagined she would return with the Managing Director, a five feet one inch tall Australian tycoon, who would listen to my revelation and immediately to promote me to head of the Statistical Analysis Department. At the half hour point I wondered if she would return with a media crew from the local television network, and urge me to divulge to them what I had just told her. At around the fortieth minute I began to feel concerned that she wasn't coming back at all. So it was rather a disappointment when she returned with only a piece of paper, and her usual expression of smooth superiority firmly back in place. She started talking as she walked around her desk to the window, and she looked alternately from the view of Reading high rises to a spot between my eyebrows. 'I've checked with the manager of our legal department and he asked me to remind you that, under section 17e of your contract, you are not at liberty to divulge any information pertaining to or, indeed, extrapolated from the processing of company application forms, okay Leanne?' I didn't even remember seeing a contract, let alone section 17e. Then a vague memory of Induction Day came back to me something had been whisked under my nose, something with thirty plus pages of very small print I had duly signed along with the other new starters. I suppose that must have been the arrival of the shackles, to which she was now drawing attention for the first time. 'Nobody needs to know,' she said, pronouncing each word very slowly. 'But we have to make the public aware about the dangers of clerical work' 'No, we don't.' 'But they need to be told' 'No, they don't.' And then it dawned on me. The company already knew. They knew what illnesses were waiting to befall nearly all their ground level employees. That explained why the managers got better chair with ergonomic support built in, and spent more time walking around than staring at the screen. That explained the long tea breaks and active holidays. These weren't just perks. They were measures designed to take care of the employees the company actually cared about. Kirstie must have seen the moment of revelation on my face. 'If you tell a soul, they'll get you,' she said, not unkindly, I thought. 'And I'm not talking about a lawsuit. I'm talking about revenge. There's a lot of money at stake.' I sat still in the chair and thought about it. 'That's right,' she said. 'Keep quiet. Go back to your desk, delete that database, and get on with your job.' I got up. I went back to my desk and picked up the top application form on the pile, and processed it. And after that one I did another, and another, and it transpired that I worked solidly, without speaking one word to Kirstie Kay or anybody else for that matter, for the rest of the month. It was about that time that I was diagnosed with depression. The doctor prescribed Prozac. It's amazing stuff, giving an instant lift that is not so much a rush as a spreading sense of relaxation, and after every pill I could forget what I was worrying about for a while. And the best thing is, it's easy to get more, to get a huge supply by registering at different practices around the city. Nobody ever checks. The second best thing is that it can be taken in conjunction with a high dosage of codeine the codeine keeps the pain from my back and neck problems at bay. Those started when I worked all those overtime hours, hunched over the computer screen. Anyway, at the end of that month the company announced a downsizing initiative, and I was one of the first to go, rewarded with a lump sum for not making a fuss. I put that money towards my new hobby: drinking. It seemed as good a pastime as any, and fulfilled all the criteria which a hobby should it made the time pass more quickly and gave me a warm glow inside. I had a beer phase, followed by a wine phase, and then I moved into cocktails. I've tried just about every combination known to man, from the standard gin base Rickey, Gimlet, Honolulu Shooter through the vodka based drinks Moscow Mule, Corniche, Screw-Up and even the most obscure cocktails Hammer Horror, Munchausen, Cute Fat Bastard In The Sack and all of them tasted pretty great to me. There's something about those little paper umbrellas and precise wedges of exotic fruits that make me feel wonderful, particularly when combined with the pills. I saw the advertisement for a waitress at this place about two months ago, and I knew I could do a good job of it. I know by heart the recipe of any drink you can name; that's something the boss found out when he interviewed me. He gave me the uniform right after that first meeting, and I was working the next day. I was hardly expecting and you'll love the irony of this one of my very first clients to be Kirstie Kay. She was slumped, alone, at one of the tables in fact it might have been this very table and she beckoned me over to order a clutch of Zombies without once looking at me. Her choice of tipple told me all I needed to know. Zombies have a reputation in the cocktail community. They do the job quickly and very thoroughly. She was out to get hammered. I drank in her radically altered appearance as I returned, weaving my way through the tables, with her order. The black skirts had been replaced with mustard yellow leggings that showed off rather less than taut skin tone around her thighs. The designer jacket had been replaced with a black tee shirt that was emblazoned with a hot pink paint stain over her right breast. 'Been decorating?' I asked her as I placed down her order. She took a mouthful of the first zombie before replying, 'Mmm,' she said, which I took as an affirmative. 'New house?' I asked. 'Flat,' she said, and downed her first drink. Then she looked up at me. It took a moment for recognition to sink in. She squinted, and then laughed. 'Leanne,' she said. She still had my name wrong, but this time round I didn't have the heart to correct her. 'Leanne. They downsized me. To a worker. To a sodding Clerical Worker.' I had to ask. 'Back pain?' She winced and laid one trembling hand on her coccyx. 'Depression?' She nodded and burst into tears. 'You know what really gets me?' she said through the sobs. 'I've had to sell my house and get a crummy flat just round the corner from this dump, and I've had to apply for a new mortgage to do it. Do you know what the bank said? They said I had to get life assurance to cover the mortgage. Do you know what the life assurance company my employer said? They said I'd have to pay triple premium because of my back pain and depression. The back pain and depression that they sodding caused!' I shrugged as I handed her a paper napkin. I have to admit I didn't feel much sympathy for her. 'Bad deal, Kirstie.' 'You still don't get it, do you? It's no bad deal. It's planned. It's all been planned.' She downed the second Zombie in one swift movement. 'Why do you think the insurance sector is the biggest grossing business in the UK? Why do you think they employ so many clerical workers who they encourage to sit on their arses and do very little work all day? Why have we become a nation of Administrators?' As I walked away from her table, leaving her to a lifetime of crippling mortgage repayments and medication, it occurred to me that she was absolutely right. This was no series of coincidences. We are a nation plagued with sad faces and bad backs for a reason. The terrible seating position and the grindingly boring jobs ensure that our money will be returned, in large, unavoidable amounts, to the people who employ us in the first place. And from that knowledge, the cocktail known as Happiness was born. No-one but me knows what goes into my cocktail. I made the first batch that very evening, and gave one to the boss to taste, and he's been selling them like crazy ever since. It's going to make my fortune. I've already had an offer to go nationwide through a distribution company based in Swindon. You really want to know what goes in them, huh? Well will you promise not to tell anybody? You will? Cross your main aortic valve? Happiness consists of the following ingredients: three measures of gin, one measure of cherry liqueur, one egg white, one measure of grenadine, half a measure of whipped cream, one crushed up codeine tablet to be dissolved in the gin, one crushed up Prozac tablet to be applied around the rim of the glass, one optional squeeze of lemon, one umbrellas and three maraschino cherries to garnish. Of course, I wouldn't have told you if I wasn't absolutely sure that you'll keep my secret. Look at you. Such a kind face, as you sleep like a baby, slumped over the table top. I warned you not to drink so much, but would you listen to a mere waitress at a cocktail bar? You're not the first OD we've had here, and you won't be the last. The ambulance will get here shortly, I'll tell them you've drunk far too much, you'll get your stomach pumped, and you'll probably wake up with one hell of a hangover and no memory of this conversation. That's a shame, because I like you. I really do.
Archived comments for Happiness Comes With a Paper Umbrella and a Measure of Grenadine
e-griff on 20-02-2006
Happiness Comes With a Paper Umbrella and a Measure of Grenadine
think you need to open up the layout a bit for the screen 🙂
Good story!

(oops - just remembered the cartoons *sorry* been having major computer crashes)

Author's Reply:
yeah you, get on with me cartoons!

thanks - I've just noticed this looks a bit packed. I'll put some para spaces in.

calisto on 20-02-2006
Happiness Comes With a Paper Umbrella and a Measure of Grenadine
Excellent. Think of the lawsuits awaiting the call centre employers!

Author's Reply:
And think of all the catcalls of 'whistle-blower' awaiting me! A change of identity might be needed... Thanks Calisto.

niece on 22-02-2006
Happiness Comes With a Paper Umbrella and a Measure of Grenadine
Hi Bluepootle,
I really liked this...and the way it read. Extremely enjoyable read!
Regds,
niece

Author's Reply:
Thanks Niece! I wanted it to be fun.

Kat on 22-02-2006
Happiness Comes With a Paper Umbrella and a Measure of Grenadine
Hi blue

This is very well-written with an extremely convincing voice - I enjoyed the depth of this one - great work!

Kat :o)

Author's Reply:
Thanks Kat - this is the piece I read live if I do any talks etc. so the voice has been perfected over time!

AnthonyEvans on 22-02-2006
Happiness Comes With a Paper Umbrella and a Measure of Grenadine
i enjoyed this story, blue.

maybe we could see a bit more of the bar to break up the monologue? esp if it is supposed to be a busy place. maybe we should also see a bit more of the customer too? his initial excitement giving way to sleepiness?

small things department:

1. 'One Happiness' reads a touch odd to me, how about 'One glass of Hapiness.'

2. maybe: What’s that, you say? A pretty face?

3. 'in a cocktail bar' - how about just 'here.'

best wishes, anthony.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Anthony - gd to have some indepth feedback on this one.

expat on 25-02-2006
Happiness Comes With a Paper Umbrella and a Measure of Grenadine
'Working as a waitress in a cocktail bar…' Where have I heard that one before :^)

A slick piece of writing, the 3000 words flew by with no reader effort at all. The 'weavery' reminded me of 'Tyson's Turn', a Writers of the Future story by Michael D Miller. Didn't mind the lack of ambient description (re bar scenes) as I was building up a good enough picture from the monologue. Good read. No gripes.

:^) Steve.


Author's Reply:
Thanks Steve - sorry about the delay in replying... got sidetracked by life - argh...

Jen_Christabel on 08-03-2006
Happiness Comes With a Paper Umbrella and a Measure of Grenadine
Damn fine read and I can associate very much with back pain and depression (not pleasant).
Great stuff.
Jennifer :o)

Author's Reply:
Wow, thanks Jen! Glad you enjoyed it.

jay12 on 09-04-2006
Happiness Comes With a Paper Umbrella and a Measure of Grenadine
This is a cracking story. I luv it!

My boring, badly paid, administrative job might have something to do with that! Dunno if I'll try one of those cocktails though! But I know where to come when I need the recipe.

A truly great read! Not many of these smoothed diamonds around. A new fave for me!

Jay. 😉



Author's Reply:
Oh no, another comment of yours I missed! Deepest apologies, Jay. Don't know what happened there. Thanks so much for reading and commenting- I really do appreciate it, even if I've forgotten to say so!


The Black Boys (posted on: 27-01-06)
About a year ago Griff set a challenge to write a story similar to his 'The Black Boy'. I finally finished it last night. Who says I'm a slow worker?

There has always been death in my hand. My grandmother saw it there when I was a baby, and palms do not change. Nowadays I don't look at the lines any more, the ones on my hand or on my face. They only tell me what I already know. Those boys were marked on me from the beginning, and I have only tonight to put them to rest. The fire is getting low in the grate and the chill of the evening is seeping under the window sash and into my joints. Olivia is upstairs, of course, in the bedroom that we share. The air will smell of her when I enter at nine, as is my custom. I will breathe in the odour of her dirty nightgown, the urine and bedsores. Olivia has been in that room for five years. She did not ask me if I would care for her: change her bedpan and her sheets, rub cream into her cracked, papery thighs, but I did these things just the same. I always have. But no more. The grandfather clock that stands in the darkened hall strikes eight. He is late, but I do not doubt that he is coming. As a charity worker, it is his duty to attend to the weak, the sick, the old, and I am all three. I pull back the net across the window, rub away a patch of condensation, and look out over the street. These terraced houses are small and old, and I imagine the bricks straining to contain the life within. There are young families, their faces swimming in the blue warmth of the television screen, drinking up life, thinking there will always be more. The headlamps on the cars passing by are blurs that frighten me. When the familiar white van comes to a halt in front of my house I have to search for the confidence to stand still and watch Gordon emerge under the streetlight, blinking. The fire is almost out. I add a scoop of coal and then brave the chill of the hallway to open the front door. Gordon gives me his professional smile, the one I imagine he practises in the bathroom mirror after he cleans his off-white teeth every morning, and I step aside to let him pass. He knows the way. He takes the seat furthest from the fire. 'Well, Doris, what was so important that you had to see me tonight?' I sit down and fold my hands in my lap. 'Olivia's dead,' I say. 'She died this evening. In her sleep.' I thought as Gordon worked for a charity set up to help the aged, he would know what to do in the face of death, but he does none of the things I was dreading. He doesn't ask where she is, or pull out that tiny telephone of his to summon an ambulance. He hesitates, unmoving, and asks the question I needed to hear. 'That's terrible,' he says. 'I oh dear, Doris. What can I do to help?' 'Do you remember when I read your palm?' 'Well, um, yes. Yes I do. You said you saw a journey to a faraway place. And a family. Boys, you said. Two boys.' 'That's not all I saw.' I clear my throat and put on my gypsy voice, the high, crooning one that I used to use when Olivia and I worked in the business. The Black Sisters, we were. See the future with the Blacks. Cross their palms and they'll call forth the spirits. 'You have the gift.' 'Sorry?' 'The gift of second sight. I saw it in your hand. I need to call forth spirits, you see. It has to be tonight.' I get up and move to the cabinet. I take down my velvet, and the silver candlestick holder which holds an unburned candle. It is years since I made these preparations, but they come back to me easily. The velvet slides over the coffee table and the candlestick sits in the middle of the velvet. I fetch the matches from the mantelpiece and light the candle. 'Doris, I think maybe we should be thinking about calling the authorities, or something,' Gordon says. 'There'll be plenty to do.' 'You said you'd help.' I turn off the lamp and we are left in the yellow glow of the candle, radiating out from the centre of the table. The velvet underneath it soaks up most of the light. With my old eyes it is difficult to see Gordon's expression. It's his voice that tells me he is beginning to feel afraid. 'Yes, but I meant with the arrangements.' 'This is my last chance,' I say, and the quiver in my throat is real. 'It has to be now. Please.' 'I'm only a charity worker,' he says. 'I don't know anything about' 'Take my hands.' I sit back in my chair and hold out my hands, palms up, on either side of the candle. The first drops of wax spill over and pool on the velvet. Gordon takes my hands. A lot of what we used to do was fakery. I'll admit that. The flickering lights, the wavering voices all designed to get us more believers, more money. There was never enough money, and sometimes Olivia had to work in the night, taking favours from men, to make ends meet. She always was the brave one, the one that gave the orders. But her gift was real. I had a little of it, for the reading of palms and suchlike, but Olivia could reach through the layers of death like brushing aside a soft curtain. Perhaps that was why she found death such an easy thing to accept. She faced her own, and the deaths of others, without a qualm. Gordon has soft palms, a little damp, and his grip is uncertain so I grab on to him tightly and call out to other side before he can pull away. 'Spirits, we speak to you. Spirits, we ask you to draw near to us. Spirits, come to us now!' There is silence. Gordon breathes out, soft and low. The fire in the grate flickers. The candle goes out. 'They're here,' I say. The temperature of the room has dropped. I can see Gordon's breath as it forms, to hang from his lips and dissipate with each exhalation. 'Now, I should really get going. My wife' 'They want to talk to you.' He gives a nervous laugh. 'Really, I, think I should' The fire roars up in a sheet of crackling orange that shouts down his words. He stops and stares at the flames. 'Who's there?' I ask. 'Who is it?' The net curtain whispers as it moves, as if a hand has been run down its length. Gordon's eyes are huge and white. His grip tightens on mine, to the point of pain. 'I can hear them. Like a room full of people, all talking at once, standing in a huge chamber, the echoes going around and around How are you doing this?' I shake my head. 'Not me. You. You're doing it.' 'But I never ' 'You need to concentrate. Try not to listen to them all. Search through the crowds.' 'Who for?' He closes his eyes. 'Olivia?' 'No!' I pray he has not begun to focus on my sister, on her image. She must not come, not tonight. 'Not her. Look for the children. They will be near, I promise. They have always been near.' Those boys have followed me as if I was their mother, through all these years. I know it. Sometimes I'll catch a high call on the wind, or a giggle in the popping of the fire. Shiny things have moved of their own accord: my hair slides, my mother of pearl-backed mirror. Olivia said I was imagining it, but I could see the lie in her eyes. The boys were there, and she refused to talk to them for these past forty years. She pretended they never existed. Gordon snaps opens his eyes and looks around me, to the sides of my chair, at the level of my shoulder. He smiles. 'You're right. They are near. They are standing around you. Calling to you. They call you' 'Auntie,' I whispered. 'Yes, that's right. Auntie Doris,' Gordon says. 'Auntie Doris, they say, come and play.' 'Not yet. Tell them not yet. Will you ask them something?' 'They say mother is near.' Gordon frowns. 'They're afraid. They have to go.' 'No! Ask them if they forgive me. PleaseI didn't want to hurt them. Olivia made me. She said she'd lose the gift if she had childrenthat I had to get rid of them with the coat hanger. She told me it wasn't wrong, but I knew it was. I knew it. I've waited so long to be forgiven' Gordon squeezes my hands and throws his eyes up to the ceiling. 'No' The curtain twitches and the fire shrinks down. The room is freezing, as cold as death. 'Please,' I beg, one last time, but Gordon doesn't reply. His eyes are still fixed on the ceiling. 'She's angry,' he says. 'She's so angry with you.' His hands drop away from mine. 'I had to. My time is up. I can see it in my palm, don't you understand? This is my last chance to be forgiven so that I can join them, take care of them. But they have to welcome me, not run away, they have to call as I cross over so that I can find them. Olivia wouldn't help me she wouldn't let me call. Not while there was a breath in her body, she said.' 'It wasn't her time,' Gordon says. 'She's not ready to go. She says she's staying. She is so angry with you. She says she's staying for you.' Once, loud, against the wood of the bedroom floorboards, there is a knock. The fire goes out. So does the candle. I can barely make out Gordon, slumped in the chair, unmoving. A faint, no doubt, just like Olivia used to suffer. She collapsed after every performance, and came round a few minutes later. He'll be fine. The chill of the evening has left my joints numb, and it takes me two tries to get to my feet. I pat Gordon on the cheek as I pass him, and savour the warmth of skin against mine one last time. Then I shuffle along the hallway and look up the staircase to the landing, and the door of the bedroom where Olivia waits for me. Is that the sound of a child in the rattle of the letterbox as the wind blows it back and forth on its hinges? Or is it my imagination? 'Olivia,' I say. 'I'm coming.' And then I climb the stairs.
Archived comments for The Black Boys
Claire on 28-01-2006
The Black Boys
Okay, I don't think I should have read this in the middle of the night...

Very creepy. Got me looking over my shoulder.

One thing bugs me. If she killed them before they were born, how come they're little boys running around? I thought once a person dies no matter what the age, that is the age they'll be when they go around haunting people...

You have a great wee horror here hun.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for commenting Claire - I was beginning to feel lonely! I spose I was going for the psychological angle here - you can't be very effectively haunted by a foetus and I thought Doris would picture them as young boys in her head. Would be interested to hear if that bothered anybody else.

sirat on 28-01-2006
The Black Boys
Hello Ailsa. Great story. It's a long way removed from Griff's "Black Boy" story (as was mine in some ways) but I think it works extremely well in most respects. The atmosphere is powerful and it's genuinely scary. The ending, with Olivia not dying, is brilliant. It also introduces an added subtlety, the notion that Olivia's death might have been a wished-for event that only ever happened in her sister's mind. I love these stories about festering guilt, it's my Roman Catholic upbringing. I didn't have any problems with the children "ageing" after death - I did the same thing in my story Lettie.

The only thing I found a bit difficult was following the dialogue during the seance. At times I had to read it twice to make sure I understood who was speaking. Also, as with my own attempt, the term "black" is a bit of an encumbrance to the story. You've turned it into a surname (I think) but it doesn't feel quite right. Sisters who told fortuned would probably adopt some kind of Romany name. "Black" suggests actual racial characteristics. It's not terrible but there is a clumsiness about its use here.

Overall, an excellent story. It will be interesting to hear what Griff has to say about it.

Author's Reply:
Hi David, thanks for the comment. I showed it to Griff and he gave it a spit and polish, so that's why it's quite a finished piece of work, I think. I'm glad the open-ended aspect worked for you, as I was worried about that. You're right - the forced aspect was to get the 'black' use in - I chose it as a surname, but you're right, I could easily change the surname and the title now. Just wanted to show where the idea originally came from. I think the tone borrows from Griff's original - it's not my usual kind of voice.

e-griff on 28-01-2006
The Black Boys
to be fair, I only made a few comments - for a newly-written story it came out very smooth in the first place.

I agree about the name Black. It is something that fluttered on the edge of my senses when I read it, but I didn't say anything. I didn't have probs with the dialogue.

And , yes I think you borrowed the tone (which is not mine, but inturn borrowed from someone else, I guess) Hope that makes up for all your stories I've stolen and rewritten! G

Author's Reply:
Seems like a definite for looking for a new title/surname. Will get on it!

bluepootle on 28-01-2006
The Black Boys
Okay, in my final version this has now become The Bengalo Boys - Bengalo is Romany for devil apparently. It seems most romany surnames are quite normal - Lee, Cooper etc. so I went for something with a bit more punch. Plus I'm a sucker for alliteration.

Author's Reply:

calisto on 02-02-2006
The Black Boys
A convincing evocation of a mediumistic experience - hard to get right, as I found in my story WILLOW (too long to post).
I'm not sure that non-believer Gordon would have gone along with the scene so compliantly, however.

Author's Reply:
Hi Calisto, thanks for commenting. I know what you mean about Gordon. I've tried hard throughout the story not to give him enough time to get up and leave, but it was a problem I could see rearing its ugly head! I'll give it some thought - I suppose I could make him more adventurous from the outset, something like that...

Jen_Christabel on 08-03-2006
The Black Boys
Thoroughly enjoyable :o)
Jennifer :o)

Author's Reply:
I'm taking it as a really good sign that you wanted to read two of my stories back to back! Thanks very much Jen.

expat on 02-05-2007
The Black Boys
You set the atmosphere very well, Aliya. I began to get those delightful little thrills of horror as soon as you wrote about the fire flickering in the grate. Some excellent descriptions, such as:
'…Olivia could reach through the layers of death like brushing aside a soft curtain.'
The story reminded me of those half-hour horror films that BBC used to show late on Christmas night (best seen with the lights off!).
I agree that Gordon came across as passive in parts but I'm sure that's been addressed by now.
A good read, well encapsulated in 1800 words.


Author's Reply:
Hi Steve,
Good to see someone reading this piece again. The name has been changed to 'The Bengalo Boys' now and it's been tweaked a bit, but hasn't really deviated from this form, so I'm glad it worked for you. Thanks!


Flashes (posted on: 13-01-06)
Okay, some flash fiction here. What I'm looking for is some feedback on what works and what doesn't. What piece do you like the most, and what piece the least? Can any be expanded?

The Listener Scherezade tells me stories at night, stories about things I don't want to think about: people on council estates and drunks and teens who steal pensions and grey drizzle over Wandsworth. I beg her for a story about sailing ships or monsters, but she says those stories aren't her bag, and maybe I should face the truth for once instead of hiding my head under my fur-lined pillow or blinding my eyes with my diamond-encrusted sleep mask. But how can I sleep under this pressure? She wants me to use my wealth to reform the world. It would be easier to get a new storyteller, certainly, but I feel compelled to keep her. Call it conscience. As long as I listen, I'm doing my share, aren't I? Being aware of the problem makes me a better person? If I know so many millions are in pain or in poverty, the mere statistics make it fine not to act, for who could help so many? Scherezade tells a mean story, but she is wasting her time. And that is why I keep her. * Spoiling He kisses her like he means it; not smooth, but as if the kiss is more important than the fact that they are kissing. He actually wants to put his mouth on hers, to see how it fits, to taste her lipstick and freshmint toothpaste, and maybe even the muffin she had for breakfast. What a kiss, but far too real for her. She wanted slow, the idea of perfection, a moment to bite down on and shake by the scruff when it all goes wrong. Something solid. Not this exploration. Is he not enough of a man to know that reality doesn't work with women? How did she end up kissing him, anyway? Was it the power cut? The darkened room? The store of white candles, taken out of the shoebox under the sink, melted a little into shot glasses and placed around the hearth, and the knowledge that the food in her refrigerator is spoiling so fast, is that all it took? He means the kiss and she doesn't. But she'll carry on kissing him anyway. Kissing a man she just met in the blink of an electrical storm something new to tell her friends. * The Marvellous Singing Apple Gareth dreamed of a new world, with clear white sunshine and frosted, crunchy leaves underfoot. The breaths of the peeping animals were little exhalations of love, telling him he was accepted as one of them. They shook the bows of the full bloom tree with their furry hands and sugar-pink blossom anointed his head. What a dream. And when the largest scarlet apple fell into his open hand he lifted it towards his mouth and saw it had a scrunched-up face with laughing raisin eyes and a rosebud mouth. Life in the dream was just as good as Disney; no, it was better than Disney. In Disney features songs are rubbish, but this little apple was a wonderful singer, belting out the theme from Fame and then all the little animals were dropping from the tree to stand on miniature New York Cabs, and there was Coco, and there was Bruno, and there, in Gareth's head, rushing up with the chorus, was the magnificently obvious way to create world peace not a vague idea of peace, but a blueprint to get every country to a state of oneness. It would take him hours, no, days, to write down, and he needed to start at that moment, and thank heaven! The raisin-eyed apple had a pen: and then he woke up. He had dreamed something important. Something about an apple. It was gone. Gareth dressed and took the 59 to work. * Tuned In MTV is on in the background and she's not listening to it, not sucking it up: it's like last night's vodka-spiked milkshake that she didn't taste because Ewan was beside her on the sofa, licking her earlobe, and she can't feel and taste at the same time. One thing always takes over. Right now, the thing controlling her is the patch of sunshine on her right knee. It walked in through the window and is squirming its way up to her thigh. Then and she knows this through experience it will disappear, blocked in its intention to seduce by the hedge, and leaving her without a distraction. Everything is intense in summer. It's harder to sit indoors alone, with the sun staining her knee as her only company, the sweating cheese sandwich on the plate beside her, no taste, no noise, just heat, just there, that one patch of skin. It's harder to tell Ewan no.
Archived comments for Flashes
Jen_Christabel on 13-01-2006
Flashes
Morning pootle!

I think 'Spoiling' was my fave here. I consider that this could be made into something longer. A little flash of something that would make a good 'short'.

Jen :o)

Author's Reply:
Morning Jen - thanks for that! Will give expanding that one some thought.

e-griff on 13-01-2006
Flashes
Well
Tuned In: this was far too brief an idea to judge, an the description, while good, was not gripping.
The Listener: An interesting image, but how can you expand it after you've apparently given the whole idea away? It's a wee joke on its own, I guess.
Spoiling: This could be expanded - its a woman's magaziney story about 'lurv' and relationship. Not an original theme by any means, but with your writing, would have substance and be interesting. Probably the safest one to develop.
The Marvellous Singing Apple: As you may probably guess - I LOVED this. You have a talent for funny little things, little images that just catch the imagination (as in your other story today) I'd like to see more, but many would dismiss it as frippery, I guess, and it might be hard to sustain the 'cute' in the longer term....
G

Author's Reply:
helpful stuff there - thought you'd like the apple! thanks

red-dragon on 13-01-2006
Flashes
Spoiling - write it in the first person. Make it special.
Apple - sounds intriguing, but can it deliver? You have to get to the core of it.
Tuned in......needs more to get me on its wavelength.
The listener - what more could you say?

Interesting snippets. Ann

Author's Reply:
Thanks Ann - great advice re Spoiling - will give that a go.

e-griff on 13-01-2006
Flashes
yeh! I agree - first person in Spoiling.....


why didn't I see it?



Author's Reply:

AnthonyEvans on 16-01-2006
Flashes
hi blue, some very good stuff here.

the listener - very smart and i agree with the sentiments but not sure it works.

spoiling - 'and maybe even the muffin she had for breakfast', fantastic! and perhaps exactly what is missing from the first flash. i think the essence of your story is in the first two paragraphs, the rest of it is going nowhere slow.

the marvellous singing apple - it's not me, so i can't really crit this.

tuned in - this is great but the essence (again) is contained in the first two paragraphs. cut the last two.

you ask, can any be expanded. well, blue, we are talking flash fiction, so you asked the wrong question. the correct question is: can any be shortened.

best wishes, anthony.

Author's Reply:
~Hah! You're right, Anthony - have to get used to thinking of flash pieces as an end in themselves. I'm trying to write one a day to hone my prose, so your comments are very helpful. I'll try to concentrate on cutting, not lengthening! Thanks.


Aliya. Storyshed. In The Clouds. (posted on: 13-01-06)
Some members of the Storyshed group have decided to submit stories on a common theme. This is my contribution.

Paul the silversmith knew that, sometimes, things fell out of the sky. Something always fell out of the sky when he was in his back garden. Weather quite often fell out of the sky: snow and hail and rain. And creatures that could fly sometimes forgot how to, so they would tumble down and land beside him. He would give them tasty things to eat worms if they were seagulls, seeds if they were robins until they remembered how to fly. Then they would give him a bob of their heads and be gone, up into the sky once more, back where they belonged. It must be good to have a place where you belonged, Paul thought. He was weeding his back garden so his strawberry plants would have no problem in pushing out their soft leaves when the slightly chilly spring turned to summer. Nobody else in his terraced street weeded their gardens. They threw rubbish in them or argued in them in loud voices. Paul wanted to belong, but he didn't want to change to belong. His neighbours saw nothing good in waiting: waiting for strawberries to grow, or for silver to change into a shape under your patient hands, or for creatures to remember how to fly. He cleared the last hairy dandelion from his strawberry patch and, at that moment, felt the first drops of rain on the back of his neck. He straightened up and lifted his face to enjoy the way the rain kissed his cheeks and eyelids, when, surprisingly, something other than rain, something tiny and hard, struck him on the centre of his forehead and fell to the cement path, bouncing five times in quick succession to come to a stop between his feet. The sudden shower of rain dried as quickly as it had arrived, and the clouds cleared to throw a perfect patch of light on the object. It glinted. Paul squatted and looked at it. It was, he decided immediately, made of silver. He knew silver, and he knew from one glance that this was a piece of fine workmanship: it had been sculpted and shaped into perfection. He scooped it up into his hands and brought it up to his face. Strangely, the patch of light moved with it, and he had to squint to see past the glare. But once he did he was amazed and delighted in equal measure. A dragon lay in his hands. It was lying, stretched out, its snout lifted, its eyes screwed shut and its four legs splayed wide as if it was a cat sitting in its favourite warm spot. Every jag on its spine was a testament to skill; every scale overlapped neatly with the one before, and every claw was a pinprick on his hands. It was so beautiful that it could have been alive. So Paul was not that surprised when it breathed, gave out a sigh that he felt rather than heard, and curled into a ball, its serpentine tail looping around its snout to scratch the back of its neck. Paul stood in the garden for a long time. He wasn't sure what he should do. He was worried that the dragon would get a shock if he talked to it, or moved too quickly, but he was terrified that it would uncurl its tiny folded wings and fly away without a second glance if he did nothing. He could have gazed on it forever, but the sun was going down, and even the light on the dragon was fading. The sensitive skin of his palms picked up its shivers. It opened its eyelids to reveal bright orange eyes, rolled them around, and flicked out its tiny forked tongue. Paul thought he heard a sound come from between its teeth: a high-pitched, barely audible mew. It seemed to Paul that the dragon needed help. Maybe it was like the seagulls and the robins it had to rest before it could fly again. And, although he didn't know if he was doing the right thing, he decided it would be better to try to help than not try at all, and so he carried the dragon into his house, through his kitchen, past his lounge, and into his disordered workshop, that was strewn with clutter and home to the charred, beaten workbench that had once belonged to his father and now belonged to him. He placed the dragon on his fire brick, sat in his chair, turned on the overhead lamp, put on his goggles, and reached for his blowtorch. One press of the igniter switch and out leapt a yellow flame that he tuned to a fierce blue. He didn't know what he was going to do with it. The dragon needed warmth, he was sure, but how to provide it? Could he simply Quick as a finger-snap, the decision was made for him. The dragon jumped up from the heat brick and into the heart of the flame. Its wings unfurled and flapped so fast that he could only see silver blurs, and a sound that reminded Paul of a ringing bell sprang out of the constant movement. The dragon bathed in the flame. It stretched, it somersaulted, it performed flips and turns, and it smiled, baring its curved silver fangs as it did so. Paul stayed there through the night, keeping the blowtorch steady even when his arm got pins and needles and his eyes could barely stay open and his hand went numb. Still the dragon bathed. Eventually, in desperation, to keep himself awake, Paul began to talk. He talked about how he had learned his trade from his father, and how lonely he had been since his father died ten years ago. He described his house and his garden, and his hope to be the best craftsman he could be, not for money or fame, but for the peace of mind of achieving what he had worked for. He recalled the first time his strawberry plants had given him fruit and the last time he had seen his father smile. In short, he talked his life out to the dragon, and it seemed to him that the dragon listened. When there was no more to say, Paul looked up and saw sunlight through the workshop window. He had talked all night. At that moment the dragon slowed the beating of its wings and drifted out of the blue flame to land on the heat brick. Paul switched off the blowtorch and laid it on the bench. Then he leaned back in his seat and stretched out his aching muscles. When he looked at the dragon once more, the dragon was staring back at him. The yellow eyes were not yellow at all. They were iridescent, like oil on water, filled with swirls and patterns that coalesced and dissipated in rolling movements. In those eyes Paul could see many things. He could see clouds traversing the sky, but somehow he was in those clouds, not flying so much as gliding without effort, and he belonged there, flying around the Earth, following the path of the sun which blessed him with its beams and kept him warm. Paul reached out a hand and the dragon flew up to it, landing on the knuckle of his index finger. It observed him, its head cocked to one side, and wrapped its tail around his fingernail. A squeeze of the tail and a wink of one yellow eye told Paul what he needed to know. The dragon was ready to leave. He stood up, switched off the overhead light, walked out of the workshop, past the lounge and through the kitchen. He strode into the chilly brightness of the early morning, brushing past the flowers and feeling the bottom of his trousers grow wet with dew, until he stood in exactly the same spot as yesterday. 'Goodbye,' he said, and lifted his hand to the sun. The silver dragon sprang away, flying upwards into the direct shaft of sunlight that had come down to greet it. With it went Paul's loneliness. He had found his friend. Back in his workshop, sitting at his bench, he started work on his new sculpture. It would take time, he knew: the fruit of the strawberry plants would come and go before he was finished. And it was going to be a dragon. A dragon, to sit on his workbench and remind him of the living, breathing, silver dragon who carries his secrets through the clouds, and takes his thoughts up to where they belong.
Archived comments for Aliya. Storyshed. In The Clouds.
e-griff on 13-01-2006
Aliya. Storyshed. In The Clouds.
what was memorable in this was the 'jewellery' image of the dragon - sharp, silver observation, your description excellent - very well crafted..

I noticed one problem - at one point in the story, there are far too many 'hands'

Author's Reply:
urk! have to check those hands. thanks for the... um... hand, there.

Claire on 13-01-2006
Aliya. Storyshed. In The Clouds.
Ideal for kids. Loved the start to this one.

There's not a thing I would change. Agree with e-griff you did a wonderful job with the dragons description. But I didn't notice the repetition of 'hands' in this... in kids tales repetitions work well as it helps them to remember certain words, so I wouldn't worry about that too much.

Author's Reply:
thanks claire - i think it helped that i was imagining illustrations as i went along, so i had a good mental picture to write from.

sirat on 13-01-2006
Aliya. Storyshed. In The Clouds.
A story with a great deal of charm and atmosphere. I think it has to be regarded as a children's story because of the style of telling and also the story-book quality of some of the non-supernatural events. Birds don't forget how to fly and land in our gardens very often. Once you tune in to this aspect it flows very smoothly. On a tiny technical point, I think the silversmith would have had a stand for his burner so that he wouldn't have to hold it all night. If there wasn't a stand he would have to do all his silversmithing one-handed! Or maybe John was right, that he did in fact possess more than the usual number of them.

I liked the subtext, the notion that the old man had a lot to give, the wisdom of a long life so to speak, and felt that through this encounter he had passed it on and sent it to where it would be valued. Overall, an excellent piece of work IMO.

Author's Reply:
Thanks David - I'll go back over those hands. I think you're right re a stand - I'll alter.


Richard of York (posted on: 02-12-05)
A board game that can change your life. And no, it's not Monopoly.

I opened the lid of The Rainbow Race and set out the board. Then I put the coloured pieces on the starting square, in order, just as the girl in the magic shop said, you know, treating them with reverence, with care. Stevo and I sat around, not even daring to sip our black vodka for fear of ruining the moment. Nothing happened. I was expecting Jumanji. I wanted elephants and floating riddles. Instead I got the realisation that I'd paid five hundred pounds for a souped up version of Monopoly, and I've always hated Monopoly, ever since I beat Cherry at it during our engagement. She smashed her fist down on the board, hard, scattering pieces, houses and cards flying and I never did find that top hat again; you know, it was a sign. Since then I've believed not only in signs but in board games, and so it seemed only right to celebrate the separation by asking my one still-single mate over and playing a game, a special game, a life-changing game. Except now I looked a bit crap. 'Five hundred quid?' Stevo said. He had a point. I could have bought a cheap sofa with that, or a rug, so at least we could have spared our bums the indignity of the freezing floorboards. Or maybe a TV. Something good was probably on right now, something about people being single and happy and not having wives who took the entire contents of the house in order to shack up with someone who looked a bit like somebody famous. Matt Damon with a big nose, you know, women love that kind of thing. My mate stared into his vodka and I stared at the board. It was square, with a thin plastic cover, upon which was a series of circles that meandered along in a wiggly line. The final circle, at the top left corner of the board, bore the climactic words The End. The plastic cover on that final circle was peeling; I lifted it a little and it came away in a sheet, ripping into jags to reveal a familiar sight underneath. It was a Monopoly board. 'Five hundred quid?' Stevo repeated. At that point, a long chain of events took place that started with me leaving a sarky message on the answer machine of the Magic Shop very disappointed, money back, Aunt who works for Watchdog, that kind of thing and went on to me packing away the excuse for a board game, pouring myself an extra large black vodka, and toasting to Cherry's eternal damnation with a smile that hurt my cheeks. It concluded with the sound of the doorbell. 'Red,' she said, accompanied by the sudden noise of the street and a dusting of rain through the open door. 'Code red.' She had red hair too; Guards Red, you know, the colour Porsches come in, strident, an announcement, as loud as a roaring engine. I knew that hair. 'You're the girl from the Magic Shop.' 'Got it in one. Got your complaint. Got a mission to put it right,' she said. She leaned against the doorframe. 'What's your prob?' I asked her in, introduced her to Stevo, and unpacked the board game once more. She crouched over it, and her orange skirt as orange as tartrazine in the cheap fizzy pop I used to get excited about when I was ten, Panda Pops, Corona, you know the sort of thing flared around her ankles to brush the floor. I got caught up in the swirl of material and momentarily forgot what I was complaining about. 'Five hundred quid,' Stevo prompted. 'Oh yeah, I paid a lot of money for this and it's a Monopoly board covered in sticky-backed plastic.' 'And?' she said. 'And it's not magic, is it? You said stuff about it. You said it would mark this as a special evening a turning point in my life.' 'And?' 'And it hasn't.' She straightened up and stepped close to me, close enough to smell her perfume, like honey, you know, and make me lose my train of thought all over again. 'But you haven't played it yet.' Her smile reminded me of a field of daffodils that had been visible from the kitchen window of a Cornwall holiday cottage Cherry and I had honeymooned in. I had wanted us to get naked and run through it, but she had pulled her gold cardigan across her breasts and pointed out it was a chilly April. 'Whassa matter? Afraid to play? Scaredy-cat? Little yellow belly?' 'Yellow? Moi?' I said, trying to sound sophisticated. She was having that effect on me. 'Then let's play.' She sat down on the floor, cross-legged, and rolled the dice. 'Six. Flying start. Get drinks. Biggies.' Thirty minutes' later, the game was over, she was the winner, and I was drunk. 'Five hundred quid,' Stevo said with an unsteady shake of his head. He'd come in last. 'Oy, Rich, you look a bit' 'Green,' the girl finished, with a kind of ecstatic sigh that I'd heard Cherry make only once, on our second anniversary, when we'd gone out to the best restaurant York had to offer, Meltons, you know, and the dessert trolley had arrived. The image of a mint bedecked Pistachio Fool sprang to mind and a large quantity of vodka erupted out of my stomach. 'Now, you see, that kind of puts a full stop on the whole outstanding issue of where we stand in regards to our returns policy,' she said. 'Cos the board, right, stinky now. Stinkier than sprouts.' A new load of upchuck followed the first, and I couldn't catch my breath; I gasped and inhaled a mouthful of spew that lodged in my windpipe. I coughed, I gagged, I choked. I pounded my hands on the floor and the pieces on the board scattered, clinking against the glasses and rolling into the girl's skirt. 'He's turning blue,' she said. Stevo stared at me. I stared back with my watering eyes. His face was breaking up into little pieces, rather like he was a reflection in a lagoon that had just been disturbed by the patter of raindrops. A comforting image, and one I was getting ready to accept as my last until the girl got up from the floorboards, pulled me to my feet, and drove her fist into my stomach, once, twice, three times. I threw up. Then I took a huge breath and slumped back down to the floor. She kneeled next to me and wiped my mouth with her skirt. I'd never felt so happy. Breathing was good and having my mouth wiped by someone who had saved me was good, and I knew I'd never take another anti-depressant, because suddenly Cherry didn't matter any more. I mattered, and, strangely, the girl from the magic shop mattered. Stevo mattered too, of course, you know, in a 'good mate' sort of a way, but I half-wished he wasn't there so I could thank the girl without having to worry about sounding like a bit of a ponce. 'Panic over,' she said, and slid her hand into mine. 'Steady as she goes.' From my position on the floor I could see through the window and up into the cloudless dark blue night sky, where the position of every star seemed just right. This felt like the beginning of a belief in fate. The girl leaned forward a little and looked into my eyes. 'Pupils fixed and dilated,' she said. 'Nah, just kidding. All's fine. Lucky lucky you. I saved you.' 'You saved me,' I repeated. Her eyes were extraordinary. They were a deep colour, rich, like swirling velvet. I never wanted to look away. 'Indigo,' she said. 'They're indigo eyes. From the mater side of the old genetic chestnut. Hoorah for the lottery of nature. Can you sit up?' 'Umyeah.' I struggled up and put my hands on my knees. 'Wow.' 'Intense,' Stevo said. 'I'm off.' He got up and looked at the ruined board as he shrugged on his coat. 'Five hundred quid,' he said mournfully, as if the whole experience had been a little too much for him, and then left, waving goodbye over his left shoulder. I had my chance. I decided to take it. 'Thank you thank you thank you. Really. Thank you.' 'No probs,' she said. 'Not just for the choking thing. For everything. I think maybe we were meant to meet. It's destiny.' 'Nope.' She smiled so cheerfully for someone denying the existence of fate. 'How can you be sure it's not?' I said, trying not to sound petulant. 'I mean, how can you explain it otherwise?' 'Yeah, it seems all organisationally Godlike to you at the mo,' she said as she stepped over the sick-covered board and headed for the door, 'but your life is really gonna change when I tell you that it's my job. The whole thing. The game. The coming here. My job.' I followed her to the door, which she opened, without a flinch at the rush of cold air and the spatter of rain drops. 'I don't understand.' 'You got your life changing experience, right? You'll never look at things the same way again. That's what you paid for. That's what you got.' 'But I think I love you,' I said. 'Nah. Gotta go. Ding dong. Customers waiting.' I caught her hand before she could step outside. 'I still don't get it' I started, and realised I didn't even know her name. 'Violet,' she said with the finality of long rehearsed line. 'My name's Violet. You'll have a big bruise on your stomach. By the time it fades, you'll be a different person. Trust me, tiger.' I trusted her. So I let go of her hand and she left. The remains of the sick-drenched Rainbow Race got left on the living room floorboards. Maybe it's still there. I lay next to it for three days, thinking about Violet, about Cherry, about games and fate and breathing. When my stomach stopped hurting, I rolled over on to my side, looked out of the window and up and the sky, and saw raindrops falling in thick purple sheets. When they stopped, I decided that I wanted to be some place where it didn't rain any more. So I moved away from York. I'm Richard of Lanzarote now. I work in a cocktail bar, serving drinks of every colour you could imagine. I might ask Stevo to come visit. I can afford to pay the five hundred quid air fare for him, you see, the pay is spectacularly good. But what else did you expect? There's always gold at the end of the rainbow.
Archived comments for Richard of York
zenbuddhist on 02-12-2005
Richard of York
Like the gold in the centre of the target...this certainly hits the spot... what a really enjoyable hoot... kinda reminded me of that wasp one you wrote yonks ago which was also excellent... zenx

Author's Reply:
Hi Zen, thanks for that. I agree that its got the same sort of quirky set-up! Ta for reading.

thehaven on 02-12-2005
Richard of York
Excellent deserves more comments.The descriptions were vivid,the language wonderful.

Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike, glad you enjoyed it!

RoyBateman on 06-12-2005
Richard of York
Very clever indeed - that old colour rainbow rhyme brought to life. And very well written, too - a different and thoroughly enjoyable read!

Author's Reply:
Thanks Roy - just a bit of fun. Glad you enjoyed it!

glennie on 06-12-2005
Richard of York
Hi Blue. Very glad to have read this. Up to your usual high standard with hardly anything to crit at all - perhaps a bit of tell v show in the last couple of paras, but I can't see a way around that other than writing another 500 - 1000 words! You really have some great believble dialogue and discripion that I am in awe of. Glen.

Author's Reply:
Wow, thanks Glen! I wasn't sure about this one so that's a v helpful comment. I think I'll take a look at those last paras again just to see if they can't be brushed up...

pencilcase on 08-12-2005
Richard of York
I had a funny feeling her name would be Violet!

Enjoyed the read - I never found that top hat again either!

'Stevo'

Author's Reply:
Thanks - I thought people might be able to predict that name!

jay12 on 28-12-2005
Richard of York
I'm a bit late reading this one, but it was worth the wait. Great narrative and characters as ever. Can't crit it so I won't even try!

Jay.

Author's Reply:


The Wait (posted on: 05-09-05)
In response to the Prose Workshop Challenge. Includes a demon, a virgin sacrifice and the word 'blue'...what more could you ask for?


Tanna was dead, laid out on the stone altar.

Her hands were wrapped around the curved handle of the knife that jutted out between her breasts and her fingers were white with the final effort she had made to tug it free, as if she could have saved herself and stopped the summoning.

No, the rites had been observed and the Demon was loose in the world, smelling them out, coming to them. It could takes days, weeks or years, but it was coming. And it would bring power.

The Sorcerer did not speak. He strode from the circle of bones and down from the peak of the hill without a backward glance. It was left to Esau to pull the knife free and pick up the book from the grass. Both were hot to touch, and the bones were coated with fine black soot that stuck to Esau’s boots as he kicked them apart. He shuddered and wiped his feet until all of the soot had been smeared on to the blackened grass.

He left Tanna, his first love, lying on the altar he had created himself from stones piled high. It had taken him a month to build, and all that time he had known that she would be the one to die there. He had kissed every stone as he placed it, but he couldn’t bring himself to do as he had planned and kiss her goodbye. Instead he held the book and the dagger as far away from him as he could, and stumbled after his father.

*

‘A great sacrifice has been made,’ the Sorcerer whispered as he replaced the book on its stand at the head of his desk. ‘It will bring a very powerful Demon. I can feel it. Esau…’

‘Yes, Father?’ Esau slid the knife back into its sheath and replaced it on the shelf.

‘I’m proud of you.’

Words that Esau had always wanted to hear, but now they were like the soot that had coated his boots – he wished the stain of them could be wiped away so easily. He couldn’t keep quiet. ‘I know I’m slow, father, but I feel…’

‘What?’

He hesitated over the words. ‘That this was wrong.’

The Sorcerer put both hands on his desk and leaned towards him. ‘I’ve only ever asked for your obedience. Not your understanding.’

‘Yes, father. I have obeyed.’ His father was a great man, and Esau had not been raised to question things he couldn’t comprehend. There was much more at stake here than his own happiness. And yet the image of Tanna pleading with him as he had held her down on the altar, and the way her eyes had widened as his father had forced the knife through her breastbone with a crack, was eating into him.

‘Come here. Look.’ His father turned the blue woven cover of the book and the pages fell open automatically to the right page. Esau had seen the intricate ink drawing displayed there many times, but that did not lessen its power.

A tall man in a black robe stood on a mountaintop, his arms stretched up to the sky, where lightning forked and thunderclouds brooded. The circle of bones in which he was standing was aflame, and below that, in the shape of the rocks themselves, was a demon. Or rather, the suggestion of a demon: a mass of jags and points that outlined a hulking form with many appendages that were not quite arms or legs – more like branches that pushed down into the earth and reached up into the sky.

The picture was strange and frightening to Esau. It didn’t help that the man in the drawing, so thin and gaunt, with long black hair tied back by a leather thong and arms tattooed with mystic symbols, resembled his father so much.

‘I’ve done what the book instructs. I have sacrificed the future of my family, and that means the Demon must come. The Raiders I saw will be no match for such a monster. The villagers will all thank me when the time comes.’

Even Tanna’s family? Esau pushed the thought aside as unworthy. Tanna’s father, Marton, had agreed to the sacrifice, after the Sorcerer had explained at the public meeting that it was the only option.

His father closed the book and, in a jerky movement, pulled Esau into an embrace. Esau stiffened at the unfamiliar contact. Before he could make himself relax, the hug was over and he was being pushed away. ‘No, go back to the hilltop and watch over the sea. We have to hope the Demon arrives before the Raiders. I’ll bring you food every day. When you see a boat, come and tell me.’

Esau nodded. He prided himself on following instructions to the letter. He knew it was all he was good for.

*

At the end of the first day on the hill Marton came.

Esau sat on the outcrop of rock above the bay and listened to him bury the body of his daughter, his digging and weeping mingling with the constant shush of the sea. The sun had set by the time the job was done.

Marton sat down next to him. ‘It was the right thing to do,’ he said, wiping his hands on his shirt. ‘Wasn’t it?’

After a long silence, he spoke again. ‘No sign yet?’

Esau shook his head.

‘It could take years, I know that,’ Marton said. ‘The Sorcerer said it could take years for the Raiders or the Demon to arrive. It’s just a waiting game. We have to hope the Demon arrives first. That’s what he said. It’s what he saw in his bowl.’

‘That’s what he saw,’ Esau agreed. His father had described the scene he had witnessed in his scrying bowl at the public meeting – the village on fire, the men dead, the women screaming. Tanna would have been killed anyway, they were told, and it would be slow and agonising at the hands of the Raiders. His father’s description had been terrifying in its toneless precision.

The Raiders are blonde, muscled, skin as white as the frost on their homeland. They wield great axes, the slicing edges brown with caked blood. They come for the women. They have no fear and suffer no pity. They will get what they want unless we control a demon who can stop them.

‘If there’s one thing I’m glad about,’ Marton said, his voice thick, ‘it’s that Tanna had love in her life before…’ He swallowed, and started again. ‘That she knew you, and loved you. You loved her too?’

Esau thought of her long red hair: the way she sneezed in bright sunlight; the way she pressed her tongue against her teeth when she was thinking hard; the dimple in her right cheek that only appeared when she really laughed. ‘I loved her.’

Marton climbed to his feet. He squeezed Esau’s shoulder once, and then set off down the hill.

Tears would have helped, Esau thought. It would have washed away a little of the guilt, maybe – guilt at how he had let her die, and all he hadn’t said and done while she lived. He hadn’t laughed with her every day. He hadn’t kissed her enough. And, his worst regret, he hadn’t met her in the meadow last summer, on that hot, drowsy afternoon, to lie down with her among the grasses as she had asked him to. She had wanted to give full expression to their love and he, mindful of his father’s wrath, had said no. If he had said yes she would still be alive, for the sacrifice had to be virgin.

Esau scanned the sea with his eyes, ceaseless through the night, still doing his father’s bidding even though it had killed his only love.

*

At the end of the tenth year his father handed him the usual basket of food and then stood behind him, looking straight at the midday sun as if his eyes were impervious to the glare.

‘There’s talk in the village,’ he said.

Esau’s memories of the village were no longer clear. There was a meeting place: a large hall that had been built by the men fifty years ago when they were fresh from their boats, settlers rather than homesteaders. Tanna’s death sentence had been voted on and decided there. He could imagine them, sitting in their circle below the straight wooden beams of the roof, discussing things that they supposed to be important. ‘What kind of talk, Father?’

‘They knew my vision was of the future, and that there’s no telling when that future may arrive, but the waiting is difficult. Marton claims something must have gone wrong with the sacrificial rites. He tells the others that the Demon is not coming.’

Esau looked up into his father’s face. Time had not touched it; he saw no doubt in the deep-set eyes and hard jaw.

‘It’s just talk,’ the Sorcerer continued, still staring into the sun. ‘Easy to control. Eat your food.’

‘Yes. Thank you,’ Esau said automatically. But it was difficult to swallow the bread and cheese while he could feel a question in the air.

‘Tell me one thing,’ his father said suddenly. ‘When Tanna died – she died an innocent, yes? You had not sullied her?’

The words triggered a rush of rage in Esau, so strong that it took all his willpower to remain seated. Never before had he felt such an overwhelming desire to stand up and scream, to lash out and make his father wish that such private things had never been spoken of. He was sure his anger was evident in his voice when he replied, ‘I had not.’

‘I thought not.’ The smugness was almost more than Esau could bear. ‘Well, I have things to do. I’ll bring more food tomorrow, of course. Keep your eyes on the sea, my son.’

Esau watched him walk back down the hillside, towards the village, where he would tell everyone that things were fine; that Tanna had not been defiled by the touch of the man who loved her.

*

At the end of the fifteenth year, the boats came.

There were three, with tall masts and rows of oars that punched into the sea. Esau watched until he could see the blonde hair on the heads of the figures on each deck. Then, with his eyes burning and his muscles aching, he set off from the hillside and down into the village.

It was deserted.

Thin streams of smoke still trailed upwards from the wooden cottages. When he stepped inside one, all the possessions were in place and food was cooking over the warm hearth.

Esau made his way to the centre of the village and stood at the closed doors of the meeting hall. He could hear voices inside, arguing, rising and falling like the waves he had been watching for so long. The loudest voice belonged to his father.

He pulled back the doors and stood in the threshold, looking at the circle of villagers.

The Sorcerer and Marton stood, facing each other, in the centre of the circle. The room was charged with emotion; when his father turned towards him Esau could plainly see anger in the stiffness of his shoulders and his raised chin.

‘Here he is – why don’t you ask him yourself, Marton? He won’t lie to you. He’s not capable of lying. Esau – come here.’

Esau felt the anger inside him leap into life. It had been building for fifteen years, and was now hammering against the gates of his self-control. He felt sure his father would be able to hear it in his voice if he spoke, so he remained mute and stepped forward, pushing past the villagers to reach the centre of the circle.

Marton grabbed his arm. His face was flushed and his voice loud. ‘My daughter Tanna… you defiled her, didn’t you? You took her. Tell us the truth.’

Esau shook off his hand. He was surprised at how easy it was; there was a new strength within him that grew with his rage. ‘I did not!’ he said, and could see surprise at his strident reply in his father’s face. ‘I did not,’ he repeated, ‘and, anyway, it’s too late now. The Raiders are coming. I saw their boats. There is maybe an hour before they land.’

The circle of villagers broke into anxious muttering at the news, some faces confused, some tearful. Esau realised he felt nothing for them, or for himself. There was no fear in him.

‘It didn’t work!’ Marton shouted into the face of the Sorcerer. ‘The Demon is not coming!’

‘There is still time,’ the Sorcerer said, and his calmness reached the villagers, stopping the panic before it could take hold. ‘There is still enough time for the Demon to come.’

‘How? The sacrifice didn’t work!’

‘You are right, Marton,’ his father said quietly. ‘It didn’t work. But not because of Esau. He is telling the truth. It was my fault.’

‘What – what did you do?’ Marton said. His lips were pulled back in an ugly sneer and his fists were clenched.

‘Oh, I did everything properly. Only one thing was wrong. The sacrifice.’

‘I told you,’ Esau whispered, feeling his anger hammer for release, ‘Tanna died untouched. She was a virgin.’
‘Yes, Esau,’ his father said. ‘And so are you.’

There was a silence.

‘What do you mean, Father?’

‘The rite calls for the death of the future of the family of the Sorcerer,’ Marton muttered, ‘and we thought that meant the betrothed – my Tanna. But it could mean…’

‘If we act now,’ the Sorcerer said, ‘the Demon might still come in time.’

‘Father?’ Esau stepped back and felt the villagers close around him, pulling the circle tighter.

‘We need to go to the hilltop, Esau. It will be better if you don’t fight.’

For the first time Esau looked hard at his father. There was no love in that severe face. Throughout the fifteen years of waiting and before that, when he was just a small boy and eager to please, he had supposed that his father was unable to show the affection he felt. But now he understood that the man felt nothing for him, except the pride a master feels in an obedient servant. And now it was time for that servant to be used and discarded.

The rage ripped through his body. It flooded into his muscles and swamped his brain. Before him he no longer saw his father. He saw Tanna’s murderer, and a deadly enemy. It was revenge and survival in equal parts when he placed his hands around the Sorcerer’s throat.

It took a few minutes before Esau was sure that he was dead. It had been easy. The warm flesh of the neck had dimpled under his fingers, and there had been something soothing about the slow rhythm of gurgling breaths drawing to a close.

Nobody interfered. The room was motionless as Esau let the body fall and stepped towards Marton.

‘I liked that,’ Esau said. It was true. He enjoyed using the new strength in his arms. He found he wanted to do it again.

‘Please…don’t…’ Marton whispered.

‘There is power in me.’ And then Esau understood. The sacrifice of Tanna had worked after all. The Demon had arrived in time. ‘I am the Demon, Marton. Can you see it?’

Marton fell to his knees. ‘I…see it…’

The strength was overwhelming, as strong and undeniable as the sea in a storm. Nothing could stand against it. Esau knew what he had to do. ‘Bar the doors after me,’ he told Marton. ‘Keep everyone inside.’

He strode out to meet the Raiders, feeling the Demon roaring inside him.










Archived comments for The Wait
Slovitt on 2005-09-05 09:38:08
Re: The Wait
bluepootle: This is wonderful. Your writing is as ever meticulous with the details that enliven each point throughout the story, whether it be the breastbone cracking in the virgin sacrifice, the drawing of the tall man and the birth of the demon, or Esau throttling his father. And your ending wasn't forseeable for me, and has power. You've created a world, and a time. Swep

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-09-05 09:43:45
Re: The Wait
Thanks Swep - my hubby really dug this one too. I'd like to write more fantasy, but finding the time is the problem!

Author's Reply:

qwerty68 on 2005-09-05 18:09:08
Re: The Wait
I really enjoyed that, very nicely written. I didn't guess the ending, but thinking about it, if dad murders your girl friend it's bound to end in demonic possession.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-09-05 18:44:49
Re: The Wait
Yes, it was never going to be upbeat. Thanks!

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2005-09-05 21:59:46
Re: The Wait
Isn't this all a little easy, compared with proper writing? I mean, it's powerful, good, but it's all explained... ( Throthgar sundered the twirkled span of the life-thread that Anmiskor had delineated. Surely he was lost! But suddenly a dappled hawk, riding the wind, dropped onto the circle of suitors.' ) maybe it is less than a real good write that lingers in your mind, unlike a one-off joke.

Sorry. I liked the writing itself (well....) but it's the genre.. (hey, great word!)

ton copain, G

Author's Reply:

sirat on 2005-09-05 22:53:01
Re: The Wait
I don't normally like fantasy writing but this one held me and I thought the plot was very good. I hadn't foreseen the ending but it made perfect sense within the universe of the story. My only reservations, and they are minor ones, are these: Firstly, I thought the whole first part was a bit drawn-out. There was a lot of explanation, and the false trail about Tanna's possible non-virgin status seemed a bit of a red herring. What mattered to the plot was the notion of the sacrifice ending the family line of the sorcerer, and really the death of either him or his son was more relevant to this than the death of any virgin. There seemed to be a bit of confusion here, as though you were forcing the story into the mould dictated by the challenge. My other reservation concerns the very last sentence, which doesn't quite hit the rhetorical heights of some of the rest of the story. It doesn't end as powerfully as I thought it might. Very entertaining though, and mostly very well written.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-09-06 07:49:44
Re: The Wait
Yes, it's very difficult to get round the need to explain with fantasy, I find...the trick is, trying to blend it with the action I spose so you don't get long paras dealing with the footwear or house structure (at least, that's what I was trying to do!)

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-09-06 07:53:14
Re: The Wait
Mmm...will look at that last sentence. I wanted to take the limits of the challenge as a starting point, and the immediate thing that came to my mind was - what if someone sacrifices the wrong person? So getting that across was my main concern and I can see in retrospect that maybe I tried too hard with the initial setup. Thanks David.

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2005-09-06 11:23:34
Re: The Wait
i realised that looked a bit ratty, sorry! My sentiments were genuine, my expression probably flawed 🙂

Author's Reply:

Claire on 2005-09-07 14:37:09
Re: The Wait
Hi there hun,

I found this gripping. I thought the beginning para was excellent, it drew me straight in and set the story up great.

And the ending... well I didn't see that coming!

Great story, but like the above said... maybe too much is explained. I'll have another ponder over that.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-09-08 08:12:54
Re: The Wait
Hi Claire,
Thanks for that...all feedback gratefully received!

Author's Reply:

AnthonyEvans on 2005-09-08 22:56:55
Re: The Wait
blue, fantasy is not my thing but i didn't read this as fantasy, rather as a medievel saga. the raiders as vikings.

i thought it was good strong writing and i can't, for the life of me, understand msr. e's gripes. i read a lot of icelandic sagas myself and i love their concrete-ness. not everything should be couched in the literary genre.

i thought the 'virgin' thing worked fine, again, i didn't have any problems with that. and i think that element worked very well in the story. the young (now not-quite-so-young) man still trying to control his anger and all that. the doubts against the poor woman.

about that last line. i think he he should lead the villagers out, that, at least opens up a possibility of a happy ending. on his own, demon or not, once those vikings get a few beers down their necks, he's dead meat.

i had written a bit on this challange but i am going to happily throw it into the waste-paper basket and bow down to the Master!

best wishes, anthony.



Author's Reply:

Linear on 2005-09-09 02:01:31
Re: The Wait
I left reading this until now partly as i knew it would be good and put me off my own dire response to the challenge, and partly because i had no time this week 🙁
A very nice story blue, a great response to the challenge. i can see what people mean by the constraints of the challenge affecting your story. but that is kinda the point of a challenge 😀 yes the virgin aspect of the sacrifice now seems unnecessary, but it is still an important part of the story as it does, in a round about way, create the demon (everything is justifiable if you push it hard enough 😀 )
Thanks for responding to the challenge.

Author's Reply:

Linear on 2005-09-09 02:03:27
Re: The Wait
I used the word challenge five times then. I should cut down on the sugar.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-09-09 08:04:51
Re: The Wait
Hi Anthony,
Others have read it as historical and I think maybe enjoyed it more for not putting the 'fantasy' label on it. Thanks for that point. Maybe I should have posted under 'Drama'! I get the feeling the poor bloke is going out to be slaughtered too, but I quite liked that cliff-hanger - is he really endowed with special powers now, or is he just going to get pulped in two seconds? I can see your point though...will cogitate...

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-09-09 08:07:50
Re: The Wait
Ta Linear! I enjoyed this challenge. And next wk's challenge is to not use the word challenge while setting a challenge. Very challenging.

Author's Reply:

Flash on 2005-09-10 10:46:45
Re: The Wait
Good solid write Pootle.

Things that niggled me tho was the timeframe, 15 years seems an awful long time in a medieval setting (so much can happen in-between, death of some of the characters thru age or illness for example) for the vision and the actual arrival of the marauders.

I know it's a fantasy (is it?) but there is a real feeling that this could be a real setting and that the sacrifice ritual is going to be just hokum and that killing the girl was a tragic waste.

Even at the end, Esau it seems to me that's he's not a demon, just a mightily pissed off hombre about to sliced and diced by a bunch of bunch of buffswedopsycho warrior type guys.

They always say watch your dialogue with pieces like this, i know some critics would say some of this sounds stilted and unnatural? Difficult isn't it?

I also found Esau being questioned at least twice about Tanna's virtue a little jarring, i could almost visualise this as a cheesy Hammer film production, nothing wrong with that of course, it just took something away for me anyway as a piece of prose.

And something not quite right is how the whole piece sits with me at the moment.

Well at least you've managed 2 good pieces out of the three challenges; I’ve only done one bad one. I'm off to read your undercover cop thing now.

Hope that was ok, just my thoughts on first read.

Good stuff.
xx
Flash


Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-09-10 15:47:38
Re: The Wait
Hi Flashy,
All good points there that I will go away and think about - it's gd to have some nuts and bolts feedback. Do you know, I had a Hammer film production in my head when I was writing this? All gnarled trees and cardboard jerkins...

Author's Reply:

Apolloneia on 2005-09-18 02:39:41
Re: The Wait
Hi Bluepootle. I read this a couple of times. I like the way you wrote this, but I found the end was not effective at all. I agree with Flash who said: "Even at the end, Esau it seems to me that's he's not a demon, just a mightily pissed off hombre about to sliced and diced by a bunch of bunch of buffswedopsycho warrior type guys." Yes, that's the problem with this story. It was very awkward to finally say that the Demon had arrived this way.
Kind regards,
N.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-09-18 07:58:47
Re: The Wait
Thanks for the feedback - have been thinking about what Flash said, but haven't come up with an alternative yet! Will keep pondering.

Author's Reply:

jay12 on 2005-10-04 17:07:45
Re: The Wait
I dunno how this has past me by! I was glad to read it and found it to be an excellent read indeed.

I agree with Flash that 15 years is a long time in medieval times - but it does not effect the overall story much at all IMO.

You got any of that talent going spare???

Take care, Jay.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-10-04 17:11:42
Re: The Wait
Thanks Jay - it's good to have some feedback on that point (the time frame), as I've been thinking about it since. It would be the easiest thing to change, but somehow, I don't know, I feel the longer the time the more we can believe his reaction.

Author's Reply:


Galatea (posted on: 16-05-05)
A very old story.

Galatea Leon was a lonely orphan with no friends, and he loved to look at flesh. After leaving school at sixteen with an appreciation of classical sculpture and no interest in a real career, he took a job as a receptionist in a naturist resort so he could watch the bending and twisting of skin during volleyball, the bunching of muscles as ping-pong was played, the diamond pattern of fat on the buttocks of sunbathers. But really he wanted to put aside his binoculars and leave his receptionist's hut behind: he wanted to touch. He saw no reason why he shouldn't, but the naturists complained when he sneaked up behind them, his hands splayed and ready to grab, and the job was taken away. He signed up for benefits and got a flat in a city. Then there was only one answer to his need for flesh. Clay. He bought pounds of it, and took it back to the living room of his tiny flat. Smooth between the fingers, it seemed to make itself into the shape of a woman, and it was easy to form the breasts to his palms and then pinch the nipples into being. His years of devotion to flesh flowed through his hands and into his creation, and when he was finished, she was quite, quite perfect. 'Galatea,' he whispered against her cold lips. That night, for the first and last time, he prayed. And in the morning, he opened his eyes and saw her in the corner of his bedroom. She had walked there. She was watching him. 'Galatea,' he breathed. He got out of bed. He touched her arm. She's warm if this be magic, let it be an art lawful as eating He kissed her. She kissed him back, but she would not open her lips. He examined her nostrils, and between her legs: there were no holes in her. She was solid. Somehow alive, but solid to him. But she was flesh, and he loved her. He told her to exercise, then stroked her as she stretched, and touched the twists in her torso. He slapped her buttocks and watched the ripples. He licked his finger and ran it from her pert nose to her perfect navel. For one week, it was enough. But one week and one day passed, and he discovered he wanted more. He wanted to penetrate. He told her to lie on his bed. Then he took a pair of scissors, and tried to cut apart her lips. The blades slipped into her flesh, but when he pulled them out, the gash he had made closed without a seam. So he took a skewer, and held it over the flame of his two ring gas hob until it was white hot. Then he told her to open her legs, and he thrust the skewer between them, up into her, so that the tip of the skewer must have reached to that perfect navel. He left it there to cool. But when he came back, hours later, he found there was nothing to pull free. The skewer had vanished. Her flesh had simply sucked it in and closed around it. So he took his garden shears and snipped off one finger at a time, looking for a hole, or just one air bubble, anything to show that she could be hollowed out. Nothing. Then he snipped off her toes. Nothing. Then he took his largest kitchen knife and sliced her, thinly, from her toe stumps upwards, through her knees, thighs, hips, ribs and shoulders. And finally, a miniscule amount of flesh at a time, he cut through her face until he reached the very top of her head. Nothing. 'Galatea,' he said, but on the bed there was only a scattering of wafer-thin pink shreds, like feathers of a flamingo who had flown away.
Archived comments for Galatea
Squeaky on 2005-05-16 08:19:28
Re: Galatea
Very atmospheric,very weird and very good.

Well i thought so anyway.


Squeaks

Author's Reply:

sirat on 2005-05-16 09:39:35
Re: Galatea
A fascinating take on the Pygmalion and Galatea story. I've never seen it given such a dark ending before. In most versions they just make whoopee and Paphos is born. No, maybe not quite the darkest take, that was The Stepford Wives.
I thought it was very chilling and atmospheric. I liked everything about it except the last line, which I would omit. It seems to be an instruction to to your reader that they should look up the original myth. I don't think it's needed, it comes across as intrusive for me.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-05-16 09:50:23
Re: Galatea
thanks David - yup, a bit on the dark side, this one. I wonder if anyone else out there has an opinion on the last line? I like the symmetry it gives the story, but can see that maybe it's overkill...?

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-05-16 09:50:43
Re: Galatea
thanks Squeaks

Author's Reply:

drewgum on 2005-05-16 10:55:39
Re: Galatea
I loved it - horrible as it is.

I'd definitely get rid of both the first and last lines.

Author's Reply:

Hazy on 2005-05-16 11:07:50
Re: Galatea
I'm positive I'll be in the minority here, but I actually liked those lines. They add a dark, narrative fairytale quality to it and, for me, set the tone of the piece. I can see why they're not liked, but they do work for me.

Thanks for a 'different' read. I enjoyed immensely.

Hazy x

Author's Reply:

jay12 on 2005-05-16 13:26:53
Re: Galatea
This is unusual but a good read. The writing is superb and creates an excellent atmosphere. Brief but to the point I feel too!

Jay.

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2005-05-16 14:10:20
Re: Galatea
I enjoyed the story very much, fascinating all the way and no lulls.

I have no problem with the first and last lines, in fact, I think as you read the last line (which is predictable to the brain) It gives the reader a chance, a moment, to ponder the complete story, rather than rushing off to read the next piece.At least, it did me...

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-05-16 14:51:58
Re: Galatea
thanks Jay - much appreciated

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-05-16 14:53:05
Re: Galatea
thanks for the feedback - mmmm....don't know what to do now! Will let it sit: sometimes things come to me after a break.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-05-16 14:54:19
Re: Galatea
Thanks - that was certainly what I was aiming for with those lines, but was aware I risked alienating people from the story (I did decide that it was such a horrid little story that a little alienation couldn't possibly matter, in my defence).

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-05-16 14:55:54
Re: Galatea
Thanks Drew - your feedback is always very welcome. Am going to give it serious thought (if the brain decides to work, that is).

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2005-05-16 15:38:22
Re: Galatea
I didn't actually find it horrid at all, as I assumed it was all symbolic anyway (what else?) it had a lot of resonances... even with Heisenberg... 🙂

Author's Reply:

AnthonyEvans on 2005-05-16 22:45:43
Re: Galatea
very nice work, blue, just what we have come to expect from you. as to the opening and closing lines, well, i'm for throwing them out. though, i do like the closing lines in themselves, the idea of a story watching you from the corner of the room. maybe you could use that as your pitch? then again, this current pitch seems to have got the punters in anyway. best wishes, anthony.

Author's Reply:

mandylifeboats on 2005-05-17 00:05:05
Re: Galatea
Nice story. Compact yet full of imaginative possibilities. Plenty of surprise too.

Author's Reply:

Claire on 2005-05-17 01:12:08
Re: Galatea
Dark and sinister in a way, all I can say is, I love it!

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-05-17 08:40:01
Re: Galatea
Thanks Anthony - yup, I liked that image too...am going to leave it for a while and a solution will probably present itself (she lives in hope).

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-05-17 08:40:43
Re: Galatea
Ta Claire - knew you'd have a taste for that, you gore-lover!

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-05-17 08:41:32
Re: Galatea
Thanks - glad you enjoyed it!

Author's Reply:

LenchenElf on 2005-05-17 15:06:05
Re: Galatea
Darkly compelling, a resonant tale, thanks for sharing this
all the best
L

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-05-17 16:58:14
Re: Galatea
Thanks!

Author's Reply:

Slovitt on 2005-05-18 15:45:24
Re: Galatea
Bluepootle: I would cut the last three sentences, and the first line. None of it's needed, and though one may get by the first line as there's a story to be told, the last three sentences are a self-conscious invasion by an unsure author (of course within this tale, not remarking on you as bluepootle, accomplished and serene). In any case, that's my take, and beyond that I think you have a typo with your 'an' lonely instead of 'a' lonely orphan. I enjoyed it. Swep

Author's Reply:

pgarner on 2005-05-18 16:31:23
Re: Galatea
I'd vote for losing the start and end lines. Otherwise very good, and masterly use of the voice of fable too.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-05-18 17:25:47
Re: Galatea
Thanks - I've removed those lines to see what difference it makes to the piece. My immediate thought is that I prefer it without, but you know, I couldn't see that at all while they were on the page. Just goes to show, one should always do a bit of chopping and changing just for the hell of it!

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-05-18 17:26:31
Re: Galatea
Argh! Blooming typos. Thanks for picking that up Swep - am experimenting with losing those lines.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-05-18 23:37:48
Re: Galatea
Thought this was great.
What were the lines? (Reading this on the 18th). The first and last lines (as they are at this moment!) don't seem out of place to me.
Very dark ... and good.
Steve.


Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-05-19 08:46:06
Re: Galatea
Hi Steve,
Yeah, you just missed the original first/last lines...it was a 'once upon a time' type set-up, but the story obv. doesn't miss it. I think I'll leave it without for the time being.

Author's Reply:

RoyBateman on 2005-05-21 11:42:51
Re: Galatea
Very disturbing, especially the quite gradual way that you introduced what I thougt were horrific details. If only we could mould the perfect woman, or perfect anything, eh? Amazing how many of those myths ring true after all the centuries...a very disquieting reworking indeed, but well worth reading. Good one.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-05-21 17:44:53
Re: Galatea
It all got nasty, yes...it's one of those myths that has really been in my mind lately. Thanks for reading!

Author's Reply:

beard on 21-05-2007
Galatea
Hi,
thats great. I was interested all the way through and wasn't sure at any point what was going to happen. Good work. I am not so sure about the last line. I am not so sure to the comparison to birds and feathers. It doesn't seem to fit for me. This is only a small thing really. Its a really good story.

Cheers and Chutney
Brd.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Beard, will look at that last image again. I see what you mean.

Aliya


Something Real (posted on: 18-04-05)
Is there anything real left?

'Is there anything real left in this goddamn hell-hole of a country?' Bernie said to me over the heads of the rest of the group, who all turned to look at me. I shrugged. 'I mean, Jeesus, we have older stuff back in Wyoming. My house is older than thisthishole in the Goddamn ground.' He marched into the shadow cast by the dirt walls and looked into the nearest cave. The tourist guide was young, pretty, and French, I would have guessed. She coughed, and picked up from where she had been interrupted. 'Scenes from Episode Four of Star Wars were shot here in this original Troglodyte home' 'What, in this very hole? George Lucas was right here, in this spot, right here?' Bernie's voice floated out of the cave. 'Don't make me Goddamn laugh!' 'Not in this actual home' 'So people still live here? You're telling me someone lives here?' He reappeared in the entrance. 'Not in this actual home' the guide repeated. She shot me a smile and I looked the other way. 'My travel book says the people who used to live here were all shifted down into town by the government to live in prefabricated buildings,' Bernie said happily, rolling the 'r'. 'Five minutes, please, then back on the coach,' the guide said in her loudest voice, which was no match for Bernie, but it was a nice try. She stomped out through the crude archway and the group, twenty or so sunburnt people in creased shorts with travel purses strapped to their hips and movie cameras in their hands, broke apart into ones and twos and wandered around in the shade of the sheer dirt walls. At least it was out of the afternoon sun. On this organised tour Bernie and I had done the ancient amphitheatre at El Djem, the remains of Carthage, and a camel ride through the Sahara, all of which Bernie had pronounced to not be real. El Djem had been floodlit and peddler-ridden, Carthage had been fallen blocks of stone that might even have been cement, and the desert had resembled the quarries in Wales which I had grown up with. Oh, and the camel had been in an even worse mood than Bernie. He came over to me, his hands in the pockets of his khaki shorts and the straps of his silver sandals caked in dust. 'What'dya think, Honey?' he said, landing a sweaty arm on my shoulder. Bernie doesn't understand that, for some people, any place is better than the place they grew up in, and that's why I like him. He travels because he came into money through his barbecue sauce business, but nowhere will ever be as good as Wyoming to him. He wears Wyoming like armour. 'It's hot,' I said, for the fifteenth time that day. 'Still, better than Goddamn Go-Go dancing on that junk of a liner, huh? At least you can keep your pretty little top on, huh? If you wanna, that is.' He laughed, and made a mock-grab at my breasts. I shook them at him part of the game and noticed two middle-aged men, not much older than Bernie, staring at me, so I shook my breasts at them too. I wasn't embarrassed. That's how I got out of Cardiff by shaking them for a living. 'Let's get outta here,' Bernie said. He was really sweating. I led the way back to the coach. The tartan covers on the seats were bleached due to the constant beating of the sun through the windows that wouldn't open. Even with the air-conditioning, an extra so proudly proclaimed in large gold letters on the side of the coach, it was like climbing into a sauna. I sat in our usual seat and Bernie squeezed in next to me. 'Sorry, Honey,' he said. 'I should have known this day-trip would be no better than the last.' The last had been a free day in Capri, and it had suited me fairly well, although Bernie had declared it overpopulated with tourists and souvenir shops. 'Still glad you jumped ship with me anyway? Even though I've got a bellyache from that lunch of rice and peas and it's making me cranky as hell?' 'Oh Bernie,' I said, giving him my best smile. The other tourists crowded on board around us and took their seats as they sighed, sweated and complained. The tour guide took up her position at the front of the coach, with the microphone held loose in one hand as if she was a rock star. 'And now, everybody, we head onwards to Gabes, where you'll experience a traditional horse and carriage ride through a real oasis. Oases are mysterious waterholes in the middle of the desert. They have their own wildlife and plant life, which include the date palm. The date palm grows huge roots deep into the ground in order to survive, and the date is a major export trade here in Tunisia. You'll have an opportunity to purchase dates at a Medina, which is a marketplace, at the end of the carriage ride. 'Does anyone here know why dates grow most abundantly in the oasis environment? No? Well, the key is the salt moisture in the soil' 'Jeesus,' Bernie said. At that point I put my headphones in my ears, pressed the button of the I-Pod he had bought me from the cruise liner's gift shop, and let The Stereophonics blast away all the noise surrounding me. * There were palm trees, that much was true, but there were also squat, off-white buildings with sand-striped windows and precariously balanced TV aerials on their tiled roofs. It reminded me of Barry Island in peak season. We were in the last carriage. 'Do you think that pony ever gets a drink, huh? Or a brush-down?' Bernie said. 'Or just a good old lump of the sweet stuff? I sure as heck don't think so. No sugar for good old Lightning here. We aren't making it back to the coach, no sir. Lightning is only one flash away from horsey heaven. Look at it.' I swivelled in my seat and glanced past the sweat-stained Manchester United football shirt of the young driver to catch a glimpse of the horse's tail and flank. It was a shaggy mess, full of twigs and burrs that rubbed against the dusty leather straps that kept it tied in place. Our carriage was in an even worse state. The red paint had flaked away to reveal wood-worm ridden planks, cracked by the sun. 'I don't think it's very safe,' I said. 'Oh, it's safe, Honey. It's just nasty. You think the real desert people would keep their animals this way? Real Tunisian people would have a goddamn pride in their horses and carts. These guys,' he gestured at the driver's back before reaching up to rearrange his sunglasses, 'are just in it for the money. Written all over their faces.' I leaned back in my seat and felt it give underneath my weight: I jerked upright and heard a loud clatter behind me. The driver muttered something and pulled on the reins, bringing us to a bumpy stop. Bernie leaned over and looked down the length of the carriage. 'A whole Goddamn chunk fell off!' he said to me. 'A chunk!' He pointed at the driver. 'Hey you! She could have gone right over the back of this garbage truck! What the hell kind of a show are you people running?' The driver turned around and smiled at Bernie. He had very white teeth and a pockmarked face. He was quite handsome. 'Speakie America?' Bernie said. 'Your carriage is a Goddamn write-off, I mean, look!' He moved his pointing finger in the direction we had come. The whole back board of the carriage was lying in the dust track, still in one piece. The spikes of nails were visible, bent and poking up through the wood. The driver shrugged. 'What are you gonna do?' Bernie shouted. There was nobody to hear him but us. The carriage ahead was already out of sight. 'What are you gonna do about it? We can't go on like this. It ain't safe. Go get some help.' He stared at the driver, who stared back. Eventually Bernie let out a long, painful sigh, and swung himself around so that he could climb down from the carriage. I watched him walk to the board and squat in front of it, his flabby thigh muscles running over his calves. 'Do you think we can fix it back ' he said, and then his face changed shape to a long triangle of surprise, his chin pointing down to his knees. The carriage jolted forwards. I put a hand out to steady myself and found nothing to grab on to my view changed from Bernie to the tops of the palm trees and the intense blue sky overhead. I heard the loud 'smack' of my body hitting the ground, and then Bernie's slapping steps in his awful sandals. His face came into view, his cheeks wobbling as he bent over me. 'Holy Mary,' he said. He looked along the dirt track. 'He left. He just up and left us. Are you okay, Honey?' 'I don't know,' I said. I couldn't feel anything. 'Do you wanna try and get up? But maybe you shouldn't. Do you think Goddamn! I wish I had an emergency medicine manual.' I sat up. My backbone blossomed into pain, but it wasn't unbearable. I got to my feet, Bernie flapping his arms beside me. 'Come on,' I said. 'Where?' I nodded my head in the direction of the carriage. 'Do you think we should? I mean what if we get lost?' 'It can't be far.' 'Well, how do you know that, Honey?' I started walking in the direction the carriage had taken, and heard Bernie's footsteps slapping along behind me. The pain in my back shot through my legs every time I put my feet down, and the sun was a fire on the back of my neck, but I kept a good pace. Soon I began to hear Bernie's breath as a loud wheezing. We reached a turn in the track, and beyond it the palm trees looked closely packed, crowding out the houses. The shade was a relief on my skin, but it was getting harder to believe that twenty tourists in ten carriages had passed this way only minutes earlier. The sand looked as if it had been undisturbed for days. 'Can we stop?' Bernie said, between breaths loud enough to wake the dead. I came to a halt and we stood for a while. The darkness between the palms was coming to life. I listened to noises unfamiliar maybe those high cries were birds, and those low whoops were animals, but there was no way to tell. They remained out of sight. The only noises I could place were the cracks of the dates falling to the ground, looking like brown marbles lying in haphazard circles around the thick yellow trunks, and Bernie's breathing. 'What are you, aGoddamn Olympicsprinter? I thinkI'm having a heart attack,' he said. 'Seriously, there'sthis pain in my arm' I turned to him. He was scarlet, and swollen around his cheeks and neck. His eyes were bloodshot. 'Looks like sunburn,' I said. 'Anyway, it can't be far now.' 'You said thatearlier.' 'And they've probably sent someone out to pick us up,' I said. 'Come on.' As I held out my hand to him, I felt an itching sensation below my right ankle. In a second it became a sharp pain, rather like a bee sting, and the skin around it started to tingle. I looked down. 'Oh Jeesus,' Bernie said. 'Jeesus, it's a' There was something on the ground. A moving thing, yellow, small and jerky. A beetle. Not a beetle. A scorpion. I jumped backwards into Bernie. He stepped away from me, and my right ankle didn't hold my weight: I fell to the ground. I looked for the scorpion and saw it moving fast, into the shadow of the palms. It had a fat brown stinger arched over its back, and was about the span of my hand. 'Brown stinger,' I said to Bernie. 'As large as my hand. Remember.' 'What?' he said through his panting. I looked at my ankle. It was maybe three times its usual size, with a circle of puffy scarlet skin radiating out from a small pinprick underneath the bone. The palms and the sky were crowding around me. The light was fading and I could hear my own heartbeat, like thunder. 'Bernie,' I said, feeling my tongue as a fuzzy weight in my mouth. 'Honey, are you? Goddamn!' He seemed to be standing on the other side of the world. I couldn't see him, could barely hear him. 'You're fine, Bernie. Its sunburn. Not your heart. Get help. Get help.' I had no more breath left; my lungs were struggling to find air. I felt a warm weight on my stomach, maybe his hand. 'I can't,' he said. 'I don't knowwhat to do. I can't help. Where should I go? I can't.' I tried to point down the track, but nothing would move any more, not even my eyelids. 'Oh, Jeesus, you're going to diearen't ya, Honey? Rightherecan you hear me? Don't die on me Honey! I can't' His voice faded away and a warm, dry feeling spread through me, as if I had been wrapped in paper and left on a high shelf. Then Bernie spoke in the loudest voice I have ever heard in my life. 'People! There are people coming! Hold on, okay? There's help' Everything snapped from darkness to bright white light, and there was pain all over, from my eyelashes to my toenails. Faces were pressing close to me, talking, many faces at once. I'd been here before. I knew exactly where I was. On the dock, down the road from the club, lying on the wet cold pavement and she was saying 'You after my fucking boyfriend, you slag?' I tried to shake my head, but someone had their fingers in my hair, pulling me back to the ground. 'You think just because of those big tits and those blue eyes you're better than us?' There had to be six of them around me, faces close to mine, their lipsticks smeared from the booze and boys in the club, and their mascara smudged to make black shadows under their eyes. I should have known they'd catch me as I left. I could tell they had it in for me: the looks, the one that barged into me in the queue for the ladies'. She was the one talking now. 'I could fucking take you apart,' she said. 'You fucking deserve it, you slapper.' There was pain: had she kicked me? The drinks and the fresh air were making everything fuzzy. But it was real: it was happening. They were all kicking me, all of them, and things were surely snapping, bones breaking, under the jabs and grinds of their stilettos into my skin. Their faces were so close to mine, and their mouths open. There was wetness on my cheeks, my forehead, my hair I was drowning in their hatred, and I didn't know where I was any more, I could have been miles away, out of this place, free of it all,I have to get out of this town, this life, I'll do anything, there has to be a place away from here, away from this hospital bed. Bernie is bending over me, holding a wet cloth against my forehead, I think, from the damp pressure there. Everything hurts. I try to talk and am amazed when sound comes out. 'What?' 'The tour guide came back for us,' he says. 'You were right. She found us and called for help.' 'Not a heart attack?' He shakes his head. 'Sunburn, Honey. I' 'No' I don't want his apology, but he holds up his hand. 'I gotta say it. I'mI'm leaving. Going back to Wyoming. Today. The doctors say you'll be fine, and I'll leave you some money. Jeesus. Money, that's all I have to give you.' He points to the small table beside me. There is a jug of water, and a stack of American notes there, piled up as high as the jug. 'Why?' I say. My throat is so sore. My legs are as tight as sausages in the pan, ready to split. The pressure of Bernie's weight against them is agony. He is silent for a long time. Then he says, ''Cos I found something real, Honey. Something real, and I froze. I'm no hero. It turns out I can't deal with real.' He coughs, and then gets off the bed. 'So I'm going now. Back to Wyoming. It's the easy road, but that's what I'm good for, huh?' I nod. I can understand that. 'II'll see ya,' he says. He blows me a kiss in an awkward motion, and then moves out of my line of sight. I look at the money. I think I'll go back to Capri. There are no big insects in Capri, and no deserts. There are no enemies, and no ugly memories. Maybe in Capri, nothing will be real.
Archived comments for Something Real
Slovitt on 2005-04-18 09:02:45
Re: Something Real
bluepootle: I enjoyed your tale, which was both fast-paced and so well written that the writing never occurred to me. A typo: 'but I kept a good place (pace)'. You do have a talent for creating flesh-and-blood female characters which I guess suggests an ease with your own gender. A good story. Swep

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-04-18 09:10:59
Re: Something Real
Thanks Swep - glad this came alive for you. Have fixed the typo.

Author's Reply:

jay12 on 2005-04-19 02:26:46
Re: Something Real
Hi Bluepootle.

Another excellent story here. You have an ability to write great prose. The characters drive this story along so well I enjoyed every single sentence of it. It flowed along like a babbling stream and I was happy to get to paddle in it.

Jay.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-04-19 06:04:46
Re: Something Real
Jay - you don't know how much you've cheered me up this morning! Thanks chuck.

Author's Reply:

Kat on 2005-04-19 15:53:10
Re: Something Real
What a well-written story which is driven along with its very 'real'-seeming characters. Some great images/use of language:

'My backbone blossomed into pain.'

'...as if I had been wrapped in paper and left on a high shelf.'

'My legs are as tight as sausages in the pan, ready to split.'

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this.

Kat 🙂

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-04-19 16:54:44
Re: Something Real
thanks Kat - glad it worked for you!

Author's Reply:

AnthonyEvans on 2005-04-19 22:26:40
Re: Something Real
pootle, this was pretty blue at times. i thoroughly enjoyed this read. wasn't so sure about the flashback. but, then again, maybe. i mean, i was thinking that this would read great as a chapter in a novel. good-time girl on world cruise kinda thing. then, of course, there could be more flashbacks detailing her developing character. pretty light maybe but you could write on it when you lose inspiration on your world war 2 wives opus. you know, just like graham greene had his more serious stuff and his 'entertainments.' just an idea. best wishes, anthony.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-04-19 22:51:26
Re: Something Real
you know, that's a pretty good idea - will give that some real thought. I think there's mileage in the character for that.... thanks Anthony!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-05-01 16:33:01
Re: Something Real
I enjoyed this, the characters were quite interesting - over critically, a little cliched - but interesting.
I wasn't sure about the flashback, I think that contributes to the slight feeling of cliche - I think her wobbling her un-mentionables at the middle aged men set her up enough. Would like to have seen her portrayed as younger, more. Made the contrast between her and Bernie wider.
I wasn't sure he'd have scooted without her, that was quite a considerable change for him. Perhaps the near-death experience and sudden hopelessness of the situation would have precipitated it, but it made me frown. I did like the sudden hopelessness of the situation - all because of a tatty carriage, their whole existence was threatened - liked that. For me, that summed their characters up and was the strength of the piece.
Enjoyed it.
Steve.



Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-05-02 09:06:51
Re: Something Real
Thanks Steve,
that was the angle I liked too - how one bad experience threatens everything about a person...am thinking now I overcomplicated around that to try to get it to work. Still, glad you enjoyed it.


Author's Reply:


Just Left Of Leaving (posted on: 07-03-05)
Uh oh...life is getting complicated. Time to abide by your first instinct and run for the hills.



'What are we arguing about?'
Sam turned off the radio for the third time and left his hand on the black plastic dial. He glanced over to the passenger seat, and his son's expression. The mouth was a straight red line, the chin poking out, breaking the fluid curve of his neck to his Adam's Apple.
'Look at the road,' Liam said.
'I mean, what are we really arguing about here?'
'You should have both hands on the wheel.'
'Promise me you won't put the radio back on, Liam.'
There was no reply. The rear bumper of the car ahead was drawing near. Sam took his hand from the radio dial and flicked the indicator up. He steered the car into the outside lane of the dual carriageway.
He loved this road in summertime not this stretch, but five miles or so further on, where the two lanes shrank back into one and nature pressed close to its edges, the wild garlic smell seeping into the car and the trees converging overhead to make a private tunnel, a kaleidoscope of bright green speckles peppered with sunlight. This road led to his weekend cottage in Devon: the rows of vegetables he had planted, the thick oak door he had hung, his place. But not his place any longer. Now it belonged to his ex-wife.
'Speeding,' Liam said, in a sing-song voice that came from his mother's repertoire, and Sam snapped back automatically:
'Can't you think of something else to moan about?'
Liam reached for the dial of the radio, and Sam slapped his hand away; there was a crack of sound as he connected with his son's fingers, and then a stinging sensation in his palm. He had hit him hard.
There was silence.
Sam snatched glimpses of Liam, blowing on his hand and sticking it in the fold of his armpit, his pinched lips turning from red to white. Six months ago, before the divorce, perhaps he would have cried.
'It'll be fun,' Sam said. 'It's just for a fortnight. And your Mum will be so pleased to have you.'
'I'm not staying,' Liam said in a high voice.
'I know. She knows that.' Sam swallowed. 'But if you liked it, there's no reason why you couldn't stay a bit '
'I'm not staying!'
'I know that '
'Not with her. Take me home!' His voice was insistent.
'But we're nearly there now.'
'She's a cow.'
'She's your mother!'
'She left us,' Liam said, and suddenly Sam saw the five year old again, hiding behind the sofa because he'd sat on the remote control and thought he'd broken it. The expression was just the same, for a moment, and then it was replaced by something older and harder, and Sam felt his own emotions hardening along with his son's face.
He snapped down the indicator and pulled into a small lay-by that looked out over a field of budding rapeseed, the yellow heads straggling through the uneven wooden fence. The peppery smell was overpowering through the open sunroof.
Sam turned off the engine and took deep breaths.
'What's happening?' Liam said.
'I'm taking a break.'
'Are we turning around?'
'Your mum didn't leave us,' Sam said. 'She left me. She wanted you to go with her.'
'Well I didn't want to.'
'Can't you think about somebody else for once?' And Sam realised he wasn't talking about his ex-wife's feelings, but his own. He wanted to have this fortnight to himself so he could get over things, could think about picking up the life of a single man once more. Getting a flat. Buying a convertible. Going out drinking, and not coming home.
He wanted to be without his son.
Liam got out of the car, slammed the door and walked around the bonnet, not looking up from the path of his feet. He stepped up on the fence, his silver trainers on the lowest slat, and put his hands and chin on top of the post so that his back was a long curve, his Arsenal T-shirt riding up to show Sam the waistband of his blue boxer shorts, peeking over the lip of his Levis.
Sam felt his hand reach for the ignition key.
He turned it.
The actions of driving came easily the clutch, the accelerator, steering wheel, the glances in the rear view mirror showing his son, who had not turned around, getting smaller. Then the road swung to the left and he was out of sight.
The sound of the engine was soothing. It hummed to him, and the noise stopped his mind from filling up with thoughts. It was easy to concentrate on the road, and so he did, for how long he wasn't sure; then the quality of the light changed, and Sam glanced upwards through the sunroof to find himself on his favourite part of the road, in his green tunnel of leaves with the odour of wild garlic creeping in, and the speckles of sunlight playing over his face.
He slowed the car and pulled up on the grass verge. After a time, he switched off the engine.
There was silence. Then, gradually, the emergence of noise from the trees and hedges: echoing rustles, the wind brushing the leaves against each other.
Sam got out of the car and looked up and the archway of green and white. He dropped his gaze to the moss covered trunks, mottled greys and browns, damp and twisting, darkness scored through with tantalising glimpses of what lay beyond, and before he could remember reality, he slid between the trees and followed those shards of light until they coalesced and widened.
He stepped out into a field. Wild grasses were growing around him, reaching up to his knees, blobs of poppies and pinpricks of cornflowers scattered among them. It was a perfect meadow, the kind he thought had been lost forever to arable crops and grazing rights, and on the far side of it was a small stone farmhouse, not unlike his own cottage, with small shadowed windows and a heavy wooden door.
His first thought was to wade across the field and look through those windows.
'Can I help?'
He turned his head to the right and saw a woman, slim, in blue jeans and a red shirt, her hair blonde, glittering in the sunshine. The grass reached her thighs. She returned his stare.
'Sorry?' he said. The blonde hair gave the impression of youth, but her direct gaze made him think it was deceptive: maybe she was as old as him, in her forties.
She jerked her head towards the trees behind him. 'Have you broken down?'
'Is that your house over there?'
She frowned at his question. 'Do you need any help?'
'I justit looks empty from here.'
'It is empty, I think.'
'I thought maybe you owned it.'
She brushed her hands through the grass. 'I haven't lived there in years.'
'It's a nice spot,' Sam said, cringing at the banality. He tried again. 'It's beautiful.'
'Yes,' she said, 'but I don't want to come back, I don't think. How about you? You running away too?' She laughed; he supposed at the confusion he could feel showing on his face. 'You've got that look about you.'
'Really? What look?'
'Denial.' She walked towards him, graceful in her lunges through the grass, and stuck out her hand. 'I'm Rachel.'
'Sam,' he said. Her palm was warm. He was sure his was clammy with sweat. She broke the handshake and wiped her fingers against her jeans.
'I wanted to see if the piano was still in the hall. It had an iron frame we couldn't move it. I wondered if anyone else had managed it.' She faced the house once more, her elbow brushing his.
'You could go down and look,' he suggested, and some impulse prompted him to add,'I could go with you.'
She shook her head. 'I shouldn't even be here.'
'Then why are you?' He wondered what had prompted him to ask such a direct question maybe it was the idea that she had come back for a look at her past, a past she had left. It was an intriguing thought.
'Not sure maybe it is just the piano, after all I used to play it with my mother. She was a music teacher.'
'You lived there as a little girl?'
She nodded and smiled, but her lips soon dropped as she tucked her chin into her chest. 'Until I was twenty.'
'And then where did you go?'
'Somewhere. I'm not sure, actually. Abroad, I think.'
'You travelled?'
She sat down among the grasses and rested her elbows on her knees. 'Sometimes I think no place is real but the place you're trying to escape from. Do you know what I mean?'
Sam sat down next to her, imitating her pose. 'Not really.'
The long wild grass reached up to his shoulders; it blended into Rachel's blonde hair. She snapped off a stalk and offered it to him.
'So where next?' he said.
'Don't know.' She squinted in the direction of the house. 'Do you want to come with me?'
He tried to laugh, but it didn't feel right. 'Are you serious?'
'Give me your hand.' She held out her own hand and he took it, with no embarrassment this time. 'I don't know you, Sam, but there has to be a reason why I came back here, and I think maybe you're it. So let's make a promise.'
'That sounds ominous.' But it didn't. It sounded as good as her hand felt in his.
'We swap stories. We tell each other what it is we're running away from. Then we leave, and we go wherever, and we never mention this again. We don't come back. That's the most important thing. We never come back again.'
'Do we leavetogether?'
Her hand was still in his. 'Let's see how we feel?'
'After I've told you?'
'And I've told you.'
He swallowed. 'Okay.'
'You first,' Rachel said. She dropped his hand and smoothed her hair back from her flushed face.
Sam looked at the quiet house, with its dark windows and heavy door. 'I don't want to look after my son.' That wasn't quite right. 'I meanI don't want to live with him. I don't want to see him.'
'Ever again?'
'I don't know. Right now, I think, maybe. Maybe it would all be better that way.' He looked into Rachel's face. There was no disgust there, and no sympathy. 'He hates his mother. He blames her for leaving, but it wasn't her fault. I had a girlfriend. We broke up just before his mother found out about the affair, and I never thought of it as a serious relationship, but I wanted to feel some freedom. I thought the divorce would make it easier for us all to move oninstead I have Liam to worry about. And he won't let me go. Not even for a few weeks, when all I want to do is go out and'
'play the field?' Rachel finished.
'start over,' Sam said, and he caught the briefest glimpse of what a real relationship with Rachel might be like questions, dry asides. It felt familiar.
She nodded, a half smile on her lips. 'So where's your son now?'
'I drove off,' Sam said, and for the first time he pictured Liam alone, crying, waiting for him, not sure if he was coming back. 'God. I drove off and left him.'
To his surprise, Rachel laughed, throwing back her head so her hair splayed across her back. 'That sounds familiar,' she said.
'I have to go and get him,' Sam said, but there was no urgency. He had done something unexpected, and was in a new place.
'Don't you want to hear what I did?' She pointed at the farmhouse. 'I left someone behind too. In that house. I left my mother. I tiptoed out of the house in the middle of the night, when she was upstairs, lying in her bed. She might have heard me go. I don't know.'
'But she doesn't live there now?'
She dropped her arm. 'You don't understand. It was a brain tumour. In the final stages. Maybe days left, maybe weeks. I couldn't watch any more, so I left. I don't know what happened. Whether she managed to contact anybody, or she just lay there until Perhaps I killed her. Murder. As good as murder.'
'Where was your father?'
Rachel met his gaze. 'Gone. He walked out when I was little, before her illness. He left in the night too. These things must run in the family.'
Strangely, he didn't feel appalled. Instead, Sam had to resist the urge to apologise to her. 'Did you never think about trying to find him? When your mother became ill? Orafterwards?'
'I haven't felt anything for him for years. Not even curiosity. Don't you get it? It's only the ones you leave behind that you never stop loving. The ones who leave you that's the ones you learn to feel nothing for. At first you hate them. Then, one day, you stop.'
'That's not true,' Sam said.
She shrugged. 'Believe what you want. Whatever makes it easier. If you don't go back to your son, what difference does it make what you believe anyway?'
She stood up and he followed suit, feeling how the wind had picked up and the sunshine waned. He felt as if hours had passed. His thigh muscles ached and the seat of his trousers was damp.
'So,' Rachel said. 'What do you want to do?'
He thought for a moment. Then he asked,' So you've never really escaped that house down there?'
She didn't answer him.
'It's a no,' Sam said. 'I'm not coming with you. But the offer was tempting.'
'It's just possible that together we could forget all this.'
'Maybe.' But he could tell he didn't sound convincing.
'Well, goodbye,' Rachel said, and she stepped towards him, her lips pursed. Maybe she was aiming for his cheek, but he turned his head and felt the shock of her lips on his, dry and firm. She didn't pull away when he deepened the kiss, and when they broke apart, if felt like a natural thing to Sam, like the last notes of a bird's song.
'Where will you go?' he asked.
She inclined her head in the direction of the house. 'I think I do want to see if that piano is still there.'
'Goodbye,' he said. As he watched her wade across the meadow, he thought about the pact they had made never to speak of these things again. Then he turned and pushed his way back through the twisted tree trunks to emerge at the roadside once more, the green tunnel overhead now slowly losing the light.
Liam was standing by the car, breathing hard as if he had run there, his face damp. 'I didn't know what had happened,' he said, his voice uncontrolled. 'Where did you go?'
Sam walked up to him and patted him on the arm. 'I'm sorry,' he said. 'I'm really sorry. Do you think you can forgive me?'
There was no reply. Sam couldn't blame him.
'Come on,' he said. 'Let's get in the car and get going.'
'To Mum's?'
'I tell you what you decide. Where do you want to go?'
Liam put his hand on the handle of the passenger door. 'Let's go to Mum's,' he said. Sam heard distrust in his voice, and for the first time realised how fragile his son's love for him was.
'That's fine.' He unlocked the car. 'And on the way, I've got something I have to tell you. Something about why your mum and I broke up.'
He was about to break another promise, but at least this time, he was sure he was doing it for the right reason.





Archived comments for Just Left Of Leaving
Jen_Christabel on 2005-03-07 11:15:06
Re: Just Left Of Leaving
A warm story.
Thanks for the read.
JayCee

Author's Reply:

Emerald on 2005-03-07 11:28:03
Re: Just Left Of Leaving
Enjoyed this story of internal struggle.

Emma:-)

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-03-07 17:20:05
Re: Just Left Of Leaving
thanks peeps

Author's Reply:

AnthonyEvans on 2005-03-08 20:36:58
Re: Just Left Of Leaving
i kind of like this too, blue. i think i like it best up to and just beyond where the father drives off. it felt very real and a touch shocking (when the father drove off). the meeting with rachel pushed it into a different space and lessened the impact of the driving off for me. best wishes, anthony.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-03-08 20:44:48
Re: Just Left Of Leaving
Hi Anthony, and thanks for the feedback on this one...I did wonder if I was trying too hard to unite two different stories here, and whether the reader could accept the driving off and the conversation with Rachel without becoming impatient with it, or feeling it was too much of a change in direction - don't really know how to resolve that problem, but will give it some more thought...
Thanks again,
Aliya

Author's Reply:

Slovitt on 2005-03-10 20:17:26
Re: Just Left Of Leaving
bluepootle: I have printed off your story and gone to my porch and slowly read it. Your writing is on a different level from almost all of the fiction writers here. And at the same time, as I in admiration noted again and again richly descriptive sequences ie. 'the wild garlic smell seeping into the car and the trees converging overhead to make a private tunnel, a kaleidoscope of bright green speckles peppered with sunlight.'/ and again, 'He snapped down the indicator and pulled into a small lay-by that looked out over a field of budding rapeseed, the yellow heads straggling through the uneven wooden fence. The peppery smell was overpowering through the open sunroof.'/ and finally, again, 'He stepped up on the fence, his silver trainers on the lowest slat, and put his hands and chin on the lowest post so that his back was a long curve, his Arsenal t-shirt riding up to show Sam the waistband of his blue boxer shorts, peeking over the lip of his Levis.'/ as I in admiration noted the quoted lines, yet I'm not sure about your ending. And I think that I think that endings of stories and poems are terribly important, or else un-important, that dramatic, resounding last lines seem to artificially close out pieces, and yet anything less can be less than satisfying. All of that said, you are extremely good, and your writing brings to mind something I said months ago which is that you are one of the one or two who may move beyond this site to establish a public place in the world of writing. I sense things about you, and think you have the inner resolve necessary to see where your writing can take you, though occasionally you show a less secure face. Swep

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-03-10 21:09:02
Re: Just Left Of Leaving
Hi Swep - I think recently I've started going in a slightly different direction as a writer, and sometimes I find myself having to artificially 'force' the ending of a piece in order to have a conclusion, where my gut reaction now might be to let an intelligent reader get what they can without having to have it summed up by me...but then I worry that I'm asking far too much. Your comment made me think that maybe I'll try being brave enough to leave a little more unsaid. Thanks for the wonderful comment.



Author's Reply:

jay12 on 2005-03-20 16:48:11
Re: Just Left Of Leaving
This is a heartwarming story about inner turmoil. An unusual sort of story but very efective. I think your writing is very powerful, you have a great talent.

Jay.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-03-22 15:45:22
Re: Just Left Of Leaving
thanks Jay

Author's Reply:


Session (posted on: 20-12-04)
Bit of a short sharp nasty. Thought I'd give this old cliche of a story a go.



There is a long passage. A little light seeps from the tulip lamps screwed into the powdery mortar between the bricks. A thin carpet in a dark colour does not deaden your footsteps. You scrape your knuckles along the brick and draw blood. Why do you do that?

- I don't know.

You bring your knuckles to your lips and run your tongue over the ripped white ridges of skin. You keep walking, your eyes on the door at the end of the passage. What does your blood taste of?

- Strawberries. Sour strawberries. It's too early in the season and there's no sugar.

You are approaching the door. It is red. What shade of red?

- Scarlet.

What made you say that?

- The long passageway, like a secret passageway in Cluedo. Miss Scarlet.

What else is scarlet?

- I don't know. Scarlet woman.

That's an interesting phrase.

- I heard it somewhere. You said it yesterday. You said it in conversation, out on the drive. You were talking to a middle-aged woman with brown hair, and you called her scarlet. Or was it brazen? I was leaning out of the window, and your voice floated up.

This window doesn't open.

- But I'm sure

This window doesn't open. It's designed that way. I've told you before. You're in an icy cave. Everything is white. The cave is large. It's very cold and you're naked. Why are you naked?

- I burned my clothes to keep warm.

Was that an intelligent thing to do?

- If I was intelligent I would have thought of a way out of this place. So the cave is large, I'm cold, I'm naked, I'm shivering. I'm thinking of hot cross buns, and deserted beaches, and roaring fireplaces.

You think of escape. Naturally. But do you have a plan? How will you escape?

- I don't understand.

There are four exits to the cave. North, south, east, west. Each exit is an archway, cut from the ice, and you cannot see anything through them except more snow. Above each exit is a sign, carved and polished from a piece of dark red wood. The sign above the north arch says 'Yes'. The sign above the south arch says 'Girl'. What do the signs above the east and west arches say?

- Do they have to say different things?

That's up to you. Don't think too much. Just reply. First thing that comes into your head.

- The east onethat says 'Stop', and the west one says 'Watch'. I walk through the archway to the east. It opens out into a living room with a patterned green carpet, brown leather armchairs, and an enormous fireplace, ablaze. The room is so hot, and I'm dressed in a suit, with a tie pulled tight and a high shirt collar that scratches my neck. The mantelpiece and every wall is convered with clocks cuckoo clocks and carriage clocks, and there is a grandfather clock behind me where the archway used to be, and it chimes the hour, and the others join in, all at once, everything chiming and clattering at once, it's midnight, but they don't stop at twelve, they go on, and I see the axe for the wood next to the fireplace and I cut the grandfather down in two tight strokes

Is there blood?

- What?

Is the clock bleeding?

- No. I don't know. I can't see it any more. There's glass. Sharp glass on the floor.

Have you cut your feet?

- No. No. I told you, I'm wearing a suit. Who wears a suit without shoes? You're obsessed with blood, do you know that?

Is there a way out of the room?

- Yes. There's a door. In front of the door is a girl.

What is she doing?

- She's lying on the floor. She's staring at me. Her eyes are open but she's not moving. No. Her neck is not connected to her shoulders. There's a gap between them, like a clean slice, it would be impossible to make a cut that clean? I look from the sharp edges of her neck, past the gap, to the collarbones. They are much too thick for a young girl, and there are large breasts under a purple velvet dress, the breasts pushed apart by gravity into the curves of the armpits. It's a woman's body. A girl's head on a woman's body.

And what do you

- My mother, My mother and my sister. Dead, on the floor, the clocks chiming. I'm not meant to be here.

Why not?

- No. Somebody is saying, 'You're not meant to be here.' He is standing next to the fireplace and he steps forward.

Who is it, Mathew?

- It's you. I don't know I don't know how you could I

Calm down. Take deep breaths.

- In one hand you're holding a long curved sword, like a scimitar, holding it with the tip downwards so that the blade runs between your legs. And in your other hand you have a ball of matted brown hair, tangled in your fingers. It drips blood on the floor in a pattern. It's forming a word

Tell me about the blood.

- Are you my father?

Tell me about the blood, Mathew.

- You called her a scarlet woman and you killed them. You killed them both and you brought me here. Why? Did you tell them I was ill? That I killed them?

I think you're getting confused.

- I don't know who you are. I don't know where I am.

Maybe that's for the best. Our time is nearly up. But I'll come back next week. I only wish visiting hours were a little longer.

- If I draw a door in blood, will you let me go?

That's an interesting thought, Mathew. Why don't you hold it until next week?



Archived comments for Session
blackdove on 2004-12-20 06:17:04
Re: Session
I enjoyed the way the story came out in little glimpses and the questions it leaves unanswered for the reader to work on.
Clever take on a familiar theme.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-12-20 16:22:46
Re: Session
Thanks for that...have always had a soft spot for Spellbound (Hitchcock not Spelling Bee stuff) and wanted to write something akin to the Dali sequence in spirit.

Author's Reply:

jay12 on 2004-12-20 21:15:19
Re: Session
This is a very well written story, I love stories that drip feed the reader just enough info to keep them reading but not enough so they have to keep guessing.

Jay.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-12-21 02:00:24
Re: Session
thanks Jay!

Author's Reply:

deepoceanfish2 on 2004-12-21 03:44:32
Re: Session
bluepootle,

Dark, disturbing and highly readable...a fine read!

Regards,
Adele

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-12-21 07:28:17
Re: Session
thanks Adele, much appreciated.

Author's Reply:

glennie on 2004-12-21 16:23:36
Re: Session
I gave this a ten cos it was so well written even though i didn't quite understand it. Very pro. Glen.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-12-22 02:42:04
Re: Session
mmm...maybe it needs a bit more explanation. Thanks, Glennie!

Author's Reply:

Slovitt on 2004-12-22 06:26:17
Re: Session
bluepootle: I've written and submitted a comment on Session four times in the last two days only to have 'could not find page' come up, and no comment posted. The piece is beautfiully written, the tension just right, the pace fast, and not a stumble in the writing beginning to end. Very fine. Swep

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-12-22 07:17:45
Re: Session
thanks Swep - have had a similar problem in posting replies to comments. Thanks for perservering.

Author's Reply:

flash on 2004-12-26 05:29:33
Re: Session
Fascinating read, for a girl who wishes Whales had Bazookas you don't half write a tasty tale.

Engrossing stuff, really well written and a pleasure to read.

Well done you mad short tart you.

Hope you've recovered and are now enjoying the festivities.


xxxxxxxx
Flashypants

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-12-26 08:14:41
Re: Session
thanks Flashy, am feeling better and having a jolly old time. Hope you are too and thanks for the comment.

Author's Reply:

OolonColoophid on 2005-01-03 14:42:09
Re: Session
Nice one, Aliya. I liked the staccato nature of this one; fave line is 'I burned my clothes to keep warn' - that one really made be shiver, and is an excellent way of communicating the character's madness.

I thought that the piece was ambiguous enough for a major twist at the end, though, rather than the gentle end you opted for. (Something like the questioner turning out to be the girl that the main character killed, and this is a Hell where murderers are forced to relive the horror of their crime in perpetuity. Hmm. I probably need therapy myself.)

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-01-03 15:25:25
Re: Session
Hi Ian, thanks for that. Whispers of Wickedness are going to be running this one shortly pretty much as is, but I haven't ruled out a rethink on the ending as I'm not 100% happy with it yet. Thanks for the input!

Author's Reply:


Snow Story: To the End of the Road (posted on: 17-12-04)
Sorry to be late...this is my continuation of Sirat's story, posted on Monday, using the same characters etc. Haven't had a chance to clean up as much as I'd like due to this rotten nasty flu. Cough Splutter etc.



There was one more person to see.
He'd tracked down an address, and his instinct was that it couldn't be right. But Tom, one of the few men he had trusted inside, had confirmed it. So Horace stood by the rusted mailbox next to the empty highway, and looked up the path to the small wooden Presbyterian church. A toneless bell clanked in the steeple, no bigger than a chimney, and the door shook on its hinges, worried by each cold gust of wind.
Horace took a step forward and stopped. It was tempting to walk away. Throughout his life, he had been given to impulsive behaviour; he had done things, bad things, simply because he wanted to take the easy way. It had been simpler to sacrifice the present for dreams of a better life. But now he was old, and this was his last shot at forgiveness. He could leave, but do to what? There was no more time for a future.
The wind dropped, and the silence around him heightened his senses. He felt the icy brushing of fingertips on the back of his neck, reaching under the collar of his open coat, and then on his face and hands. Snow. Horace lifted his head and looked into the path of the flakes. It was as if they swirled down a long tunnel that connected him to heaven.
A clean fall of snow had started him on this mission. Lost in a blizzard, certain he would never be found, he had seen the faces and heard the voices of those he had wronged. His wife, his father, the man he had killed and the crimes he had done time for, had been as real to him as his own hands, stretched out ahead, looking for the way home. He had survived that day, and he had made a promise. And now the snow, so gentle, so unlike the ferocious onslaught that had caused him to become lost and found, reminded him of that promise.
Horace walked up to the door of the church, pulled it open, and stepped inside.
He closed the door gently before daring to look round and face the altar. It was only a wooden box, covered with a red cloth with gold stitching around the overhanging edge, and above it was an unvarnished cross, plain and strong. Old instincts took over. He crossed himself and clasped his hands together.
'Can I help you?'
Horace recognised him: even though he had less hair, and it was greyer; even though he looked less muscled and there were lines around his eyes and mouth; even though a dog collar was visible in the crook of the neck of his shirt. He was the same man.
'Dennis?' he asked, even though he was sure.
'Yes?'
Dennis moved from the doorway to the left of the altar and walked forward. He stopped level with the first pew.
'My father was a minister,' Horace said.
'Really? Presbyterian?'
He nodded. Dennis smiled, and put one hand on the end of the pew. 'Would I have known him?'
'No. I don't think so.' So Dennis didn't remember him. Out of all the eventualities he'd played out in his head, this was one he had never considered. 'He was a moral man. I didn't do right by him.'
'I'm sorry to hear that,' Dennis said. He fell silent. The wind rattled the door on its hinges, and dropped once more. 'Did you want something'
'The weather's bad. I just wanted to sit in a warm place, maybe have a chat,' Horace said. 'It's snowing out there.'
'It can get pretty heavy around here.'
'Do you mind if I sit down?'
Horace moved to the last pew on the left and sat down, feeling his thigh muscles complain after the long Greyhound journey it had taken to get here. There wasn't another one due until tomorrow, but he wasn't worried. He had, finally, become a believer in fate. He watched Dennis sit across from him, in the first pew, and turn so they could face each other. He leaned his elbows on the back of the pew and clasped his large hands, lacing his fingers. Horace felt an old ghost of fear spread through him at the sight of those hands. He knew what they had once been capable of. But everything was different now: he was here to cement that difference.
'You know folks around here? That's how you know my name?' Dennis said.
'Visiting you.'
'I thought maybe you looked familiar.'
'You helped me once. A time ago.'
Dennis lifted his chin and swallowed. The movement of his throat brought Horace's attention back to the dog collar. 'It's kinda hard to believe you're a minister now.'
'So you knew mebefore then?'
'Yeah.'
'And I helped you?'
Horace smiled. 'In ways you wouldn't believe.'
'Try me.'
It was hard, to sit so close to him and talk about the past, but he managed to make the first words come out, and then it got easier.
'You hit me on the back of my head so hard I couldn't see straight for two days. I still get headaches. But you wouldn't let me go to the infirmary, so I still don't know to this day what you did. Maybe a fractured skull, I think. Another time you punched me in the back, and I pissed blood for a week. The worst was when you got the other guards to hold me down and trod on my fingers. Then you had them pull me up so you could put your hands around my throat and squeeze tight. I must have passed out. And all through it you used to say things to me: you used to call me a sad little piece of shit. You said I'd come to a bad end, do you remember? A bad end'
'Redburn?'
It was a relief to be remembered. 'That's right. Horace Redburn.'
'That was a long time ago, Redburn,' Dennis whispered. 'I've left all that behind. You hear? I'm a man of God now. I've left it behind, and you should too.'
Horace lifted his hands and spread his fingers. 'Hey, I did my time, Dennis. It is truly in the past now, truly. I was a prisoner and you were a guard. We were different people. Besides, I didn't come here to make you feel bad. Like I said, you helped me. You gave me a reason to do my best to stay out of jail, and I changed. It was a long, slow process you started, but I have changed. You helped me all those years ago. And now I'm going to help you.'
The muscles in Dennis's shoulders and arms were bunched up, and those strong hands were clenched, making familiar fists. 'How are you going to do that?'
Horace stood up and walked to the altar, looking up at the plain, smooth lines of the cross. 'About a year ago I nearly died. And it made me realise that I'd wronged a lot of people. You made me want to keep out of prison, but it wasn't until that moment, the moment when I stumbled in the snow and I saw the faces of all those people I'd hurt, that I didn't want to sin any more. I wanted to make amends. And that's what I've been doing since that day. I've been travelling America, finding those people, and asking for their forgiveness.'
'I see,' Dennis said. He cleared his throat. 'Well, for what's it's worth, Redburn, and if it makes you sleep better at night, I forgive you.'
Horace turned to him. Dennis was half smiling, his head tilted to one side.
'You don't understand,' he said. 'I'm not here so you can forgive me.'
The smile shrank away. Dennis got to his feet.
'I found the last person on my list an old employer of mine who I cheated out of some money two weeks ago. Everyone I wronged has forgiven me. My soul is going to heaven.' He reached back and placed one hand on the altar behind him, gaining strength from the simple feel of the cloth. 'And I wanted to thank you by doing the same for you. I'm here to forgive you.'
It was snowing heavily now. The light from the windows was fading and the wind was getting stronger, banging on the door like a summons.
'You're a murderer,' Dennis said.
'That's right.'
'And I'm a minister.'
'You're a man who takes pleasure in hurting other men, Dennis.'
'I'm a minister of God,' Dennis repeated, straightening his shoulders, 'and I don't need you to forgive me for anything.'
'Is that what you believe?'
'I did the right thing, and I don't feel sorry for it. You know how many of you people I had to control? How I had to watch my back with every step I took? You think I had fun, dealing with crooks and sinners for ten years, mixing with the scum of the Earth? You say I helped you? Good, Redburn, because you needed my help. I didn't need yours then, and I don't now. I'm out of dealing with murderers. I made a decision to wash myself clean of that life. I'm here for the good people of my community, and you can clear on out of here before I call the police and get you thrown out.'
Horace made the sign of the cross. 'I forgive you, Dennis.'
'You sad little piece of' Dennis took two steps forward. Horace felt those large hands on his throat, and the tightening of the fingers as they bit into his skin. His chest heaved for air, and his feet kicked out, but made no contact. His eyelids fluttered, and he saw Dennis as if through a veil, his teeth bared, the anger in his eyes hypnotising.
There was movement: he was being dragged. Then a rush of freezing air, everywhere but on his hot, pulsing throat, still squashed in a paralysing grip, and the sensation of flying, and the smack of the ground underneath him.
Dennis was leaning over him, saying something, but he couldn't hear the words for the rush of blood in his ears as he took huge, painful breaths. Dennis's head moved out of his field of vision, and he felt a sharp pain in his right arm. There was a loud bang: he gave up, and closed his eyes.
When he opened them, he had no idea how much time had passed. The pain in his right arm was an icy river of agony. He sat up, and realised he had fallen on it. Maybe it was broken. At any rate, it wouldn't move and nothing happened when he tried to wiggle his fingers.
The door to the church was closed, and the windows were dark. That must have been the bang Dennis slamming the door. Horace wondered if he was still in there. Maybe he was praying.
The blizzard was raging, and his clothes were soaked. The pain was quickly fading to numbness. Instinct told Horace that wasn't good. He looked around. The only landmark was the church. Everything else had been covered in a blanket of white, silent and profound. He squinted, and saw the mailbox. Dragging himself to his feet, he reached it, taking tiny steps so as not to jerk his arm too much. From there, he could just make out the contour of the long straight road on which he had arrived.
He started to walk through the snow, keeping to the outline of the road. Maybe, unlike Dennis, he would reach the end.







Archived comments for Snow Story: To the End of the Road
jay12 on 2004-12-17 20:43:44
Re: Snow Story: To the End of the Road
Hey for someone with the flu you write a lovely continuation. I like it a lot.

Jay.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-12-19 05:44:56
Re: Snow Story: To the End of the Road
thanks Jay...I tried to make it as close to Sirat's style/ideas as I could manage. It was an interesting experiment.

Author's Reply:

sirat on 2004-12-19 08:47:04
Re: Snow Story: To the End of the Road
It's always fascinating to see where somebody else can go with the germ of an idea that you started yourself.

I liked the plot of this one, the references back to Horace's earlier life and the use of snow again to represent cleansing and repentence. The bit I was least happy about was Dennis' motivation. Dennis is now a respectable minister of religion in a rural church similar to the one where Horace was brought up, somebody from his previous life comes back and offers him forgiveness, and Dennis flips. It didn't seem enough to provoke the reaction that it did. Dennis, I thought, would have spouted a lot of sanctimonious clap-trap about how we are all sinners and all in need of forgiveness. I can't see him becoming physically violent over such slight cause. I understand that this relationship of mutual loathing expressed in violence on Dennis' side was the way they had related previously, but I feel it would have taken more than this to make Dennis revert to type. I think it might work better if Dennis initially denied that he was the same man and Horace said something like: "Oh but I can prove it. I've even got the press cuttings of when you were thrown out of the service for violence to prisoners". Now Dennis' newfound and hard-won position and respectability is threatened. The lies that he has told about his past are catching up with him. Is this old jailbird going to expose him? Now he has enough of a motive to turn violent.

The other thing I didn't really understand is exactly what happened at the end. Horace was beaten up and thrown unconscious or semi-conscious out into the snow. What about Dennis? Did he get clean away? If so there seems to be a sort of moral imbalance which is maybe out of place in this kind of story, or which at least merits further comment of some kind. Or does Dennis in fact die at the end? What is meant by the closing words that: "...unlike Dennis, he would reach the end"? Maybe I'm just being a bit thick here but I don't really understand what happened between the two men.

I liked the atmosphere and the use of snow imagery. The church itself was also well described, but in addition to the cross there would usually be a lectern, which for some reason is often a carved figure of an eagle with its wings open. I think there was slightly too much talk of repentence and forgiveness and it might have been better to imply that this is what was going on rather than state it so often.

There were a few phrases that jarred for one reason or another:

It had been simpler to sacrifice the present for dreams of a better life. (Meaning?)

He could leave, but do to what? (Word reversal)

caused him to become lost and found (lost and found sugests the Lost and Found Dept. at a railway station, etc.)

He crossed himself and clasped his hands together (Presbyterians don't do this, it's a Roman Catholic thing)

he was here to cement that difference (The idea of cementing a difference seems odd)

I’ve left all that behind. You hear? (Sounds a bit inarticulate for the new Dennis)

Horace made the sign of the cross (As above).

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-12-19 11:40:48
Re: Snow Story: To the End of the Road
thanks for that David - very good points there, mainly the niggles, which I agree with...will clean up when I have a clear head to do that. Re the motivation - I think I'm just going to have to disagree with you on that front. I felt Dennis' speech re how he had washed his hands of dealing with criminals and now lived among 'decent' people explained his view of the world well enough to make his morality clear, and why Horace's attempt to forgive him would drive him to extremes, to his old behaviour, once more. Who would believe Horace anyway? He is a murderer, and deserves to be punished...maybe I could add that line for Dennis, and have considered it, but felt it maybe crossed to overkill.

I will think about it some more, but my gut reaction is to leave as is for now... could be the flu talking! thanks again.

Author's Reply:

Claire on 2004-12-19 18:02:27
Re: Snow Story: To the End of the Road
It held my attention. Intresting too. Me personally I can't see anything wrong with it.

Author's Reply:

Michel on 2004-12-20 01:03:03
Re: Snow Story: To the End of the Road
I found it a good read and convincing, too - perhaps because the setting is so well (beautifully) established and the narrative and dialogue intrigued and ran smoothly.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-12-20 01:54:37
Re: Snow Story: To the End of the Road
Thanks Claire. I'm glad it worked for you! It's always interesting how people react to stories...sometimes very differently. I never have come up with a good explanation why!

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-12-20 01:57:45
Re: Snow Story: To the End of the Road
Thanks Michel! Those were the elements I was happiest with. It's reassuring to know I'm not going bonkers.

Author's Reply:

deepoceanfish2 on 2004-12-20 01:59:13
Re: Snow Story: To the End of the Road
Hi bluepootle,

Long time, no see! And what a great way to get reacquainted! Fantastic read and well deserving of a great read nib.

Merry Christmas!

Regards,
Adele 🙂

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-12-20 02:03:18
Re: Snow Story: To the End of the Road
Wotcha Adele! Yup, haven't had as much time as I'd like to spend here for the past month or so, but glad to have not been forgotten...thanks for the lovely comment and I'm looking forward to catching up with your postings over the xmas break. Have a good one.

Aliya

Author's Reply:


Caterpillar (posted on: 08-10-04)
Anybody know a good flavour for fruit tea? Lemon and ginger is my favourite.

At first, it whistled. Early in the pregnancy, while she was still suffering from morning sickness, she kept catching a sound behind her, and turning, thinking the kettle was boiling or someone was trying to attract her attention. It took her over a month to work out that it was coming from inside her. Then it would laugh, particularly first thing in the morning when it took her a minute to struggle up from the mattress and longer to pull her clothes on. She thought maybe it had the hiccups she had heard her cousin talk about her baby having hiccups in the womb but it only happened when Kate was frustrated by her growing size, or in pain. It seemed the baby found her suffering funny. She waited a long time before she told Greg, knowing what he would say. But she had to talk to someone about it, so for a whole week she let him have the remote control to himself and didn't complain when he talked about getting a motorbike in the hope that when she raised the subject on Sunday evening, in the lull of The Antiques Roadshow, he wouldn't give her that look. Her feet were on his lap, and as he rubbed them, a little roughly, he watched a chest of drawers get valued on the screen. 'Greg, the baby laughs,' she said. 'Isn't he a bit young for that yet?' Greg said. 'Can you believe that piece of junk was worth eight grand? I could do with some of that. Could get myself a Triumph. And something nice for the baby.' 'Well, it was whistling too. But now it laughs.' He took her feet from his lap and stood up. 'Want a cup of fruit tea?' 'No, thanks. I want to talk to you about the baby.' 'Babies can't whistle, love. There's no air in there. It must be trapped wind.' 'I know the difference between whistling and trapped wind!' He switched off the television and gave her that look. 'Well, you're going through a lot of changes, and you can't expect to know what's happening in there. Make an appointment with the doctor he'll put your mind at rest. I'll make you a fruit tea.' He wandered off in the direction of the kitchen, which also happened to be in the direction of the computer. Kate guessed that she wouldn't see him again that night. It was the first time someone had suggested to her that she should no longer expect to know anything about herself. Any emotion, pain, feeling or intuition could now be assigned to the pregnancy it was in control of her, and Greg and the doctors were in control of it. The next morning she started talking back to the baby. When she tried to pick up the newspaper from the living room floor and strained her back, it gave a little giggle. She heard it. 'Show some respect to your mother,' she said, 'or I'll give you what for.' The giggling stopped. Instead, from inside her, there emanated a wary silence. 'There,' she said. 'That's better.' So, for a while, it appeared that it was just a case of needing to be the boss. About a month later, six months into the pregnancy, it upped the stakes. It spoke to her. Kate was struggling to rub some moisturising cream into her lumpy thighs. Standing naked in front of the bedroom mirror, she reminded herself of a gigantic white, blue-veined caterpillar, twisting around, bulging with the potential to split open and reproduce. All that would be left of her after the birth was a pile of skin on the floor. The baby was draining her of life. 'That's right,' it said. She stopped rubbing her thighs. 'Gonna change you,' it said. 'Heh.' Kate dragged herself to the edge of the bed and sat down. The springs crunched under her weight. 'Moron,' it said. 'Stop insulting me,' she whispered. 'I've got your number. I know all about you. You've got no idea, have you? Clueless.' 'Shut up,' she said, trying to shout, but her voice was barely louder than the one inside her. She lay down and jammed a pillow over her head. 'Shut up.' 'Don't you know you've got me forever? Might as well get used to it.' 'No' 'Shall I open your eyes, metaphorically speaking?' Kate threw the pillow across the room and jammed her fingers in her ears. 'You are funny,' the voice said fondly. 'Funny mummy. I know something you don't know. You're little better than a baby yourself, doing what you're told, listening to the experts. If you can listen to them, you can listen to me. And I've got plenty to say. Let's start with self-knowledge, shall we? Every human being has the ability' It took an eternity for the clock to crawl round to five, and another twenty minutes for Greg to get home from work. 'Talk to it,' she demanded, pointing at her stomach. Greg pulled off his coat and hung it on the rack. 'Nice to see you too,' he said. 'I could do with a coffee and kiss hello.' 'Tell it to stop.' He kneeled down and put his lips against her bump. 'Stop being mean to mummy, tiger,' he whispered, and then looked up at her, smiling. 'How was that?' 'Crap,' the voice inside her said. 'Did you really think that would work?' She stomped off into the kitchen and switched on the kettle. A moment later, she felt Greg's hands push between her arms to stroke her stomach. 'What's up?' 'You wouldn't believe me,' she said. 'Just do me a favour and stay out of my way for a while. Go and look at bikes on the computer.' 'Is he being bad in there?' He tapped a spot just below her belly button, and the baby moved in response. She slapped his hands away. 'Get off me!' 'Fine.' Greg left the kitchen. Kate refused her instinct to go after him. 'He's not very masterful, is he?' the voice inside her said. 'Bit of a loser, actually.' 'I'm beginning to realise that,' she muttered. 'So you're finally getting the idea! You have to take responsibility for this yourself. It's no good expecting a man to save you. Let me tell you about personal freedom and how to fight for it' 'Please don't,' she begged, but it had already launched into another speech. * The next three months felt like a lifetime to Kate. When she finally went into labour, one cold Thursday morning, she phoned Greg at work to come and pick her up. She couldn't stop crying all the way to the hospital. There was no way she could explain to Greg that she was crying with relief. 'You've got at least another five hours to go, dear,' the midwife said. 'It's too early to be pushing.' 'Are you going to let someone else dictate to you about your body?' the voice in Kate said. 'It's coming now!' she screamed. 'Listen to the midwife,' Greg urged. 'He really is totally ineffectual,' the voice said. 'Tell him to piss off.' 'Piss off!' she shouted into Greg's face. He retreated to the far end of the room and pushed open the curtain to look outside. 'That wasn't nice,' the midwife told her, wagging her finger. The voice inside Kate came up with a few choice descriptions for the midwife, and she passed them all on. The midwife backed out of the room and a minute later the doctor arrived. 'Hello,' he said. 'Shall I take a look?' He peered between her legs. 'Pervert,' the voice inside Kate said. 'You know he's getting a thrill out of this? A man seeing a woman in pain. It makes his day.' 'Oh,' the doctor said. 'The baby's coming now.' 'We told you that!' the voice and Kate said simultaneously, and then the pushing began, drowning out all other considerations. * Kate looked down into the face of her newborn daughter. Her daughter didn't look back at her. Her eyes were shut, and her face was empty. She was a blank slate. She had no ideas of her own yet. She had no voice. 'Did you really think I was coming out of a baby?' the voice inside her said. * 'You're not doing it right,' Kate said to Greg, snatching the nappy away from him. 'I'll do it. Can't you ever get anything right?' 'Sorry,' Greg said, moving to one side. He pulled a face at the baby. She was too young to smile, but Greg thought he could see happiness shining out of her little face. 'She's going to be a stunner when she grows up, isn't she?' 'Don't put your unimportant assumptions on our child, Greg. It's not what she looks like, it what she thinks that matters.' 'Sorry,' Greg said again. He couldn't seem to say it enough nowadays. He got up and slouched into the computer room, hoping to look at a few bikes before Kate used the opportunity to tell him he was being brainwashed, wanting the thrill of speed as a macho bullshit statement. Motherhood had altered her, no doubt about it. All his friends had said the same thing they change once they get pregnant. Suddenly you're not important any more. Only the baby matters. Nothing pleased Kate any more, and when he tried to ask her what was wrong, she told him that he couldn't possibly understand. He understood one thing he understood mothers and daughters. Kate used to moan about her own mother, saying she was a battleaxe, too demanding, refusing to accept what Kate wanted out of life, saying Greg was never good enough, her life was never good enough. Give it fifteen years, and his daughter would be saying the same thing about Kate. And he'd be tempted to agree with her. Greg looked at a picture of a Triumph and imagined freedom.
Archived comments for Caterpillar
ritawrites on 2004-10-08 06:41:56
Re: Caterpillar
another one of your accomplished pieces of writing--

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-10-08 07:02:11
Re: Caterpillar
thanks Rita - do you think its a bit 'painting by numbers'? I do try to do different things, go in different directions...

Author's Reply:

bektron on 2004-10-08 16:50:35
Re: Caterpillar
HI BP, I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed reading this, and as far as painting by numbers goes the narrative here rather dictates the way the plot is going-but as usual you have the most amazing unique observations thrown in to the mix that make it an enthralling read.
beks

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-10-09 03:30:44
Re: Caterpillar
thanks bek, you've put my mind at rest there.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-10-10 03:25:13
Re: Caterpillar
If there was an 'X-Factor' for writing, Bluepootle, you'd sail through it. For me, this was faultless.
:^) :^) :^)


Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-10-10 04:16:54
Re: Caterpillar
gosh, thanks for that. I really wasn't sure about this one, so its great that it did something for you. Thanks for letting me know.

Author's Reply:

Safron on 2004-10-10 10:48:03
Re: Caterpillar
bluepootle,

Fascinating reading your very unique and creative I was captivated reading this i love the past where mom and baby were communicating and the blue Caterpillar look Wonderful title thats what drew me to this piece.
"So you’re finally getting the idea! You have to take responsibility for this yourself. It’s no good expecting a man to save you. Let me tell you about personal freedom and how to fight for it…’ '

Just one of the many of my favorite lines in this wonderful story.

Safron


Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-10-10 14:01:28
Re: Caterpillar
Thank you safron, much appreciated. I didn't see much in this when I wrote it - I was afraid, to be honest, that people would think I was writing about something I know nothing about, having no children myself, and I thought that came across in the piece. So I'm very happy that people have related to it. After all, everyone has an inner voice that pops up sooner or later - not just pregnant women!

Author's Reply:

Kat on 2004-10-10 17:47:26
Re: Caterpillar
A very well-written and intriguing piece.

Kat 🙂

Author's Reply:

flash on 2004-10-10 18:02:30
Re: Caterpillar
I've read this four times now and i'm not getting the same vibe as other commenters, i'm not getting the same enjoyment as them, i'm missing something and it's annoying me.

For some reason at the end i felt flat unexcited by this piece, the end line makes the husband look juvenile? Intentional? But to me there is something missing, some spark of creativity that doesn't take this tale out of the norm into the something special.

At the moment its a good piece, but not one of the outstanding ones in your set .IMHO

Sorry M8

Flash

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-10-11 02:38:59
Re: Caterpillar
Hi Flash,
Wow, thanks for reading it so many times and thinking it must be you, not me! But I do understand where you're coming from. Maybe this one just doesn't ring your bell, and it's not something that I would consider to be my best work. A little too didactic for me, and the husband is, as you say, a little too wet in order to make the point quickly. As I've said above, I always try to do something different - not everything is successful for everybody! Thanks for the comment.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-10-11 02:39:26
Re: Caterpillar
thanks Kat!

Author's Reply:

Skeeter on 2004-10-11 05:05:40
Re: Caterpillar
This intrigued me, I wanted to read on and see who the voice was, what the baby would be like etc... I think the way it ended was right, it made sense. Not sure Greg would really want to hang around though, once someone started talkking like that!

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-10-11 05:08:31
Re: Caterpillar
thanks Skeeter. I hear lots of blokes complaining that their wife changed after the baby was born - the piece sprang from this - and I have to say it doesn't usually end well. I think he'd stick it for a while and then leave, maybe.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-10-12 17:39:55
Re: Caterpillar
Hmmm ... not with child are you? 🙂
Interesting ... perhaps the inner voice of motherhood, as opposed to the actual baby itself as originally expected?
I thought you could sharpen up the father alongside this, to generate a bit of friction and give it some teeth?
I did want to know what the baby knew - "I know all about you" ... but this veiled threat and thread never came out.
"Kate felt tears press against her eyelids" ... cliche? Stood out. Yuk.
Interesting short piece, BP. Think you could work on it and make it much better.
Steve.


Author's Reply:

Claire on 2004-10-12 18:36:58
Re: Caterpillar
I was hooked on this, could be about the pregnancy and me being through it before. Quite liked the ending too.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-10-13 03:25:24
Re: Caterpillar
Hi Steve,
yeah the father's a bit wishy-washy. Thanks for picking out that cliche, will go change. And I could add a bit where the 'voice' really insults her - I had that in the first draft but it somehow didn't quite work. Good points - thanks.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-10-13 03:26:50
Re: Caterpillar
thanks Claire - I was worried that women who'd been through pregnancy would say it was totally unrealistic!

Author's Reply:

Penprince on 2004-10-13 03:44:04
Re: Caterpillar
This is not a conventional short story, may be part of a chain of small stories...though short stories do not require character development, but in this case father's character is little dull...I can say the storyline reads neat but plot is not layed out properly...Secondly, it is being said that one should make a budget of cliches while writing a story, or a novel or even a poem...here you have not made much of an effort to keep your cliches properly separated...(just one nit)...

Your friend from India,
Debashish



Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-10-13 03:47:38
Re: Caterpillar
Hi Debashish, thanks for those comments - I think whether character development is needed depends on the type of short story, and this one most definitely needs it! Yes, the father character is a problem... Disappointed to hear you thought it was cliched, that's something I usually work hard on. I'll go back through and take a look.
Thanks again!

Aliya

Author's Reply:

ritawrites on 2004-10-13 05:43:23
Re: Caterpillar
hi BP – just happened by and noticed the Q to me – dunno what you mean by ‘painting by numbers’ – I just identified with Kate – and as for the story it had that weird fascination that horror stories have – you did it damn well and I’m totally green with envy –

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-10-13 05:51:19
Re: Caterpillar
Thanks for answering...I suppose I'm concerned that I'm not improving, but can't always be improving... as for envy, I envy writers who have a definite voice, like yourself. Your personality comes across so strongly in your work - a bit like Jack Cade, and Dylan.

Author's Reply:


Spitting Wasps (posted on: 23-07-04)
The destruction of furniture and a painful insect sting leads to reconciliation.

When Simon says, 'Did you get there? Was it good?', I say, 'No, you didn't get me there, you never have, and you never will,' throw myself out of bed and into my dungarees, and walk out of his glass-paned front door, smashing them with the knuckles of both hands on the way. After that I lose about four hours in the casualty department. It's my twenty-fifth birthday, and something about that last lacklustre sexual encounter has changed me. I've decided to be the sharpest that I can be an arrow rather than a hoop, a tin-tack rather than a teddy bear, and from now on I will be spitting out words like wasps. I've been living by someone else's rules for too long. I get a taxi back to Simon's. He's boarded up the holes, but has yet to sweep up the broken glass. I thud upon one of the boards with my mummy bandaged hands. He opens it and stares at the white wrapped crepe. I move them back and forth in front of his eyes, feeling like a conjurer. 'Which cup is the ball under?' I say. 'Is this your card?' He winces and retreats, taking small steps to his living room. I follow the threadbare heels of his socks along the hall, reviewing the facts as I do so to give me an objective edge in the confrontation to come. Simon is a Group Manager for a car production plant. I met him at university. I was anxious to please, and wanted someone who would appreciate my efforts. We were friends for a year before we were lovers, and during that time he took photographs of me without my knowledge, through my window at night because I never was much on shutting curtains, and stuck them in a collage all over the wall of his bedsit. He would cover it with a poster of Jimi Hendrix pouring lighter fluid on his guitar if I came round. One night I was too drunk on cider and black to get home, so I knocked on his door unexpectedly. I saw the photos. Back then, it looked to me like a sign of true love. Since leaving university, I've been suspecting that it was just how he preferred me only ever seen from a good angle and easy to wank over. 'I want to make sure you understand what I said earlier,' I begin, putting one snowball sized hand on the mantelpiece and knocking flat a photo of us at the graduation ball, dated by our oilier skin and healthier hair. I hear the glass crack and the stand sticks up in the air like an exclamation mark. 'You have never satisfied me. Not once. Not ever.' That's the most piercing remark I've ever made in my life. It feels good. Simon opens his mouth. At that moment he jerks back and swallows, his hands reaching up to his throat. Then he sticks out his tongue and gags, bending over at the waist, sticking out his rigid arms and shaking his hands, fingers splayed, as if trying to get nail varnish to dry. 'What?' I say. He gags again, and shudders. Then he straightens up, drooling. 'Ah schwallowed a gee,' he says. 'Ah fink itsh schtuck. Ih eye froat.' 'A what?' 'A gee! A gee! Zzzzzz!! He flaps his arms again and does a weak impersonation of a flying insect. Oh. 'Sit down,' I tell him. 'By the window.' He walks with small careful steps to the chair that used to be part of his mother's three piece suite and sits down. I follow and instruct him to open wide. I can see it, upside down and yellow-black in the slippery pink passage that drops away into darkness its large. Its stick legs have to be tickling his throat. 'Geth ith ow,' he rasps. I hold up my bandaged mitts and raise my eyebrows. 'How, exactly? God, Simon, I've always hated the way you put all the action in this relationship down as my responsibility. Sometimes I deliberately do things the hard way just to see if you'll take over. But you never do, do you?' He starts, his hands shooting out to grasp the worn floral arms of the chair. 'Ithith schtung me agai,' he manages to say. 'Itsch geddig harr to breeve' 'In that case, it must be a wasp, not a bee.' A droplet of water leaks out of his left eye and his shoulders shiver. 'Oh, all right,' I tell him. 'I'll take charge again. Don't move and don't talk. I'll phone for an ambulance.' After spending five minutes standing in the hallway and wondering how I'm going to do just that, I hit the table hard enough to make the receiver jump from the base unit and get down on my knees to press the emergency button with my nose. I give my details and leave the upturned table and buzzing phone where they are. Simon is sitting, rigid, his eyes wide and his head back. His throat is swelling; the neck of his T-shirt is tight around his shiny red skin. 'They're on their way,' I say. 'Won't be long.' He stares at me, his eyes wet. He looks like a naughty labrador on the furniture. 'I've really learned to hate you,' I tell him. 'Your insistence that we keep separate addresses strikes me as a way to make it easier to disentangle yourself if a better person was to come along.' He shudders and makes a weak choking noise. Then he makes a series of gestures, moving only his hands in a style reminiscent of shadow-puppetry. 'It's a rabbit,' I say. 'A butterfly.' He shakes his head very slightly and makes more gestures, pointing to his eyes and then cupping one hand over his heart. It could mean a number of things, such as, I have a headache and indigestion, or maybe, it's obvious to me that you're heartless, but I'm going to take it to mean, but can't you see that I love you? 'Well,' I say, 'You may think that you love me, but I'm now in serious doubt as to whether I love you.' I walk to the window and look out at the front garden, which he mows every Saturday, and the car, which he washes every Sunday. There's no sign of the ambulance yet. I try to open the window with my mummy hands, slip, and knock his framed signed print of Gary Lineker off the wall. It smashes on the floor. 'They're taking their time.' Simon bangs his feet on the floor, and when I turn back to him, he gestures again, wagging one finger and then pointing to his feet. He could be trying to say, I can't go anywhere in this condition, or maybe, don't you dare walk away while I'm in this state, but I'm going to take it to mean, please don't leave me. 'If you don't want me to leave you need to give me a good reason to stay,' I tell him. 'You need to shake things up learn to communicate, learn toto surprise me. Not just in bed. In life. Because you've never managed to do that. Not once. When I think about it, there's not one interesting thing about you.' He shudders. The skin around his throat is puffed up and red as a fresh burn. His lips are turning purple. 'Have you been stung again?' He gives a tiny nod. Then he puts one hand on his stomach and he holds the other hand out, palm up, as he raises his shoulders. It could mean, what can I do about this indigestion? or, do you remember that nursery rhyme about being a little teapot? But I'm going to take it to mean, what is it about today that's making you feel this way? 'Wow,' I say, after a stunned moment. 'You've just managed to surprise me. That's the first time you've ever asked me about my feelings. I don't know what to say.' I sit down on the sofa and put one bandaged hand on the armrest. It slips and crashes against the Statue of Liberty lamp he brought back from New York two years ago, knocking it from the coffee table to the floor. The torch bends with the impact and she loses two of the points from her headpiece. 'I suppose it's been brewing for a while,' I continue, 'but I think it was the fact that you forgot that today is my birthday that triggered it. I mean, you never mentioned it, you just tweaked my nipples and climbed on top of me. Unless that was supposed to be my present, because, if it was, let me tell you I'd rather have a bunch of flowers any day.' Simon points to the cupboard he bought from Argos where he keeps his Playstation. He's making soft wheezing noises, rather like my grandfather used to make between cigarettes. 'What? You want me to open it?' I struggle up from the sofa and cross to the cupboard. I can't grasp the handle so I bang my bandages against the MDF until the door comes off its cheap hinges. Inside, lying on his beloved games console, is a bunch of blue freesias. They are looking limp, but they smell like light rain before a rainbow. 'They're beautiful,' I sigh, reaching for them and managing to knock them out of the cupboard and all over the floor. I stamp most of them into the carpet as I move back to Simon and put one of my white snowballs gently on his thigh. 'Thank you.' He makes a noise that's a cross between a groan and a sigh, and stares at the window. I can hear a siren, getting louder, and then it's deafening and the ambulance is pulling up outside. 'Everything's going to be fine,' I tell him. 'They'll have that wasp removed in a jiffy, you'll see. And I'm sorry about my mood swings. I'm fine now. It's all fine.' His mouth flaps open and shut. He raises his index finger and points at me. Then he gestures around the room, at the trampled flowers, broken picture and dented lamp. It could mean, would you mind clearing up a bit while I'm in hospital? or maybe, look what you've done you psychotic bitch. But I'm going to take it to mean, look what a mess I'm living in please move in with me and take care of me forever more, because I love you so much and I need you. I kiss him once, on his forehead. 'Of course I'll move in,' I say. 'And I love you too. We can work this out. And I'm sure you'll make me come one of these days.' I go to the front door to let in the paramedics, thinking that I'm glad that I finally spoke my mind, and said all the things I had been bottling up for so long. It's given our relationship the push it needed. For the first time we've managed to communicate.
Archived comments for Spitting Wasps
drewgum on 2004-07-23 03:56:42
Re: Spitting Wasps
I thought this had some brilliant moments and I particularly liked the opening of it. I thought the way Simon kook photos of her before they met was serious and funny, and her dialogue and spikiness was great. That whole section was fab, from the opening.

When he first swallows the bee I'd make it more obvious it was a bee. When he says 'gee' I was thinking 'pea' or 'key' and then got confused when she looks in his mouth and sees legs. I'd just add a few more lines of dialogue; 'A what?' and so on.

Somehow, where she is reinterpreting his lack of communication worked less well for me - it was too writerly and didn't sit well with this image of her that I had from the opening. I didn't believe it; that this character would believe they were communicating when they weren't. It was good but not as great as the first half.

However, as always with your stories, I did like it a lot.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-07-23 04:03:59
Re: Spitting Wasps
Hi Drew,
I did wonder if I'd overcooked it at the end. I could make it clear that she knows she's manipulated the situation to her own advantage... that might work better... ta, mate. Will give it a think.

Author's Reply:

uppercase on 2004-07-23 13:42:19
Re: Spitting Wasps
I must be daft I thought I was reading a story about two gay lovers. The breaking of the glass doors with the hands made me think it was a male. Either way it was a very good read...Erma

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-07-23 13:53:10
Re: Spitting Wasps
Thanks Erma - I suppose it doesn't make any difference whether its a man or a woman really!

Author's Reply:

neil2 on 2004-07-23 13:56:42
Re: Spitting Wasps
Hilarious. I love the way she generously interprets his (possibly dying) utterances and proceeds to break everything ... the cupboard from Argos in which he keeps his Playstation ... how she calmly declares it must be a wasp and not a "gee". Fine black humour and very original.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-07-23 14:06:05
Re: Spitting Wasps
thanks Neil - that's very heartening as I've had a few people say they weren't sure whether it was humour! Seem to be having probs with my 'humour-ometer' recently.

Author's Reply:

jay12 on 2004-07-23 19:48:22
Re: Spitting Wasps
This is a great story, and hillarious too. Sounds too real though - a woman who hears what she wants to hear and not whats actually said. (Only joking).

Nice one.

James.

Author's Reply:

Slovitt on 2004-07-23 21:16:09
Re: Spitting Wasps
bluepootle: This is wonderful. The writing is seamless, and wry, and fast-paced, a must for non-fiction writers, readers. Very fine. Swep

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-07-24 03:07:58
Re: Spitting Wasps
Hi James, thanks a lot for the comment. I have to admit I was having a dig at people who want to talk seriously in relationships until they browbeat the other person into saying exactly what they want!

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-07-24 03:09:24
Re: Spitting Wasps
Thanks Swep! I was happy with the pacing - the process of writing flowed easily. Haven't had one of those for a while.

Author's Reply:

zenbuddhist on 2004-07-24 05:17:57
Re: Spitting Wasps
It starts of withh a fucking mortar bomb in the underpants! Love the line..."and from now on I will be spitting out words like wasps. I’ve been living by someone else’s rules for too long." ..great stuff. But the 'black humour' as the yarn unfolds doesn`t quiet ring the chimes I think its something to do with the detail and forcefulness in her matter of fact attitude ..not that it fits into the groove of sounding too realistic or even too ridiculous....ah just kick my arse and tell me ah`m talking shite....its A WELL WRITTEN HOOT....and so say all of us....*G*..Zx

Author's Reply:

flash on 2004-07-24 08:06:22
Re: Spitting Wasps
Bloody hell the formatting goes to pot when you use comment page!!! I wonder if Ricardo has fixed it yet.

A clever and very witty piece Blue. much to admire and envy again.Wee bits i think could improve it though imo.

The interpretations of what he was saying in italics were a bit wordy and overdone maybe? I thought a little bit cluttered in places as well?

But it read smoothly and i enjoyed it.


Flashy

Author's Reply:

richardwatt on 2004-07-24 08:56:42
Re: Spitting Wasps
There is as much slapstick here than in any other short fiction I've ever read. The bandage analog for lack of communication is the central message: take away the sexual element of relations and see the unresolved, glossed over messes contained within, right?

The games console thing is right on, that surface laddishness which goes along with the ex-student thing, possibly feeding the feeling our protagonist has of being dumped imminently, for a newer model with improved scart sockets and longer extension lead 🙂 Absolute hokey, but people do buy into it which is what makes the premise feasible.

'..seen from a good angle and easy to wank over'. Class.

Hot chocky!
rick x

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-07-24 09:09:49
Re: Spitting Wasps
I'm glad you said it walked that fine line of reality/ridiculousness well - that was one of my main worries! Thanks.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-07-24 09:11:06
Re: Spitting Wasps
Hi Flash,
You're the second person to comment on those italics - will have to really look at those. Am tweaking, but maybe the device doesn't work. Brain-ache! Thanks.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-07-24 09:13:03
Re: Spitting Wasps
Thanks rick, you really got what I am was aiming for - sometimes I worry that I'm not getting my points across under the guise of comedy.

Author's Reply:

MEKnight on 2004-07-24 09:34:03
Re: Spitting Wasps
Well-done and wickedly-black comedy. It confirms all the worst stereotypes about men and women... lol

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-07-24 12:41:08
Re: Spitting Wasps
Thanks for the comment!

Author's Reply:

razorcuts on 2004-07-24 14:53:37
Re: Spitting Wasps
i enjoyed this, blue. it caught me out, thought it was a dead cert to be a walkout and grow stronger ending but you gave them a chance. well done.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-07-25 02:47:25
Re: Spitting Wasps
Hi - yes, they get a chance, but I'm not sure it's going to do them any good! Still, that never stops people trying, huh? Thanks.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-07-25 13:18:33
Re: Spitting Wasps
There are some real gems in here, bluepootle; for me it stands alongside 'Staples' as the best of your work. Very amusing in its darkness and some great comparisons like: 'the stand sticks up in the air like a exclamation mark'. No criticisms at all, the story was magnetic throughout and your interpretation of his 'stung' vocalisations was A1.
:^) :^) :^) Steve.


Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-07-25 14:56:33
Re: Spitting Wasps
Thanks Steve - that's interesting, because those are two stories I wrote that really flowed in creation - maybe I should just loosen up and go with it more often!

Author's Reply:

ritawrites on 2004-07-25 16:25:05
Re: Spitting Wasps
thhiss is-s e-f-fing f-fun-ny as h-hell --

Author's Reply:

Gee on 2004-07-25 19:00:14
Re: Spitting Wasps
This is just brilliant. I love the way she wrecks his home and interprets his garbled words in the way she wants. The final sentence is wonderful.
There is one small typo, that you might want to take care of, but apart from that, it's absolutely perfect.
Funny, witty and definitely one of my favourites.
(The typo - "Since leaving university, I’ve been suspecting that it was just how preferred me" - the word 'he' was missing)

Author's Reply:

Dazza on 2004-07-26 01:19:57
Re: Spitting Wasps
I hear you roar baby. I reckon a good mix of humour and full on ness is the formula, for you and for me. Keep it going, hone it, be famous! Dazza.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-07-26 02:09:30
Re: Spitting Wasps
Thanks Gee - I've dealt with the typo. Something always gets through the net!

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-07-26 02:10:40
Re: Spitting Wasps
Hey Rita, good to hear from you - ta for the comment.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-07-26 02:11:18
Re: Spitting Wasps
Keep yawping!

Author's Reply:

thehaven on 2004-07-26 02:38:55
Re: Spitting Wasps
Excellent BP. The attempt at converstion was hilarious but carried a serious message too.

Mike

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-07-26 03:12:06
Re: Spitting Wasps
thanks Mike - yup, there's (hopefully!) stuff going on under the surface with this one.

Author's Reply:

OolonColoophid on 2004-07-26 04:31:31
Re: Spitting Wasps
Hi Aliya - I had a funny response to this story. I'd didn't really like it, but I thought, intellectually, it hung together well and had some nice moments - this may well be because I read it on a Monday morning!

Characters: A little underdrawn - you introduced their past relationship quite deftly, but it seemed to raise more questions than the story answered.

Plot: (1) A little too straightforward for my taste. I did like the 'talk while the other character can't' aspect, but while this worked well the first time, I'd didn't like having to go through that moment again and again throughout the story. (2) The connection between the wasp and the waspish comments was a nice idea, but I don't think you should have spelled it out ("from now on I will be spitting out words like wasps"). (3) Overall, I got the sense of a lot of repetition, and the last line "for the first time we'd managed to communicate" - in case the reader hadn't noticed - left a sour taste in my mouth.

Generally, I liked the idea of two people coming to an understanding because one is forced to keep silent, but it seems more like an idea that would make a nice moment in a novel rather than a 'story'.

However, I did quite enjoy it because of the usual 'bluepootlisms'.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-07-26 08:33:57
Re: Spitting Wasps
Thanks Ian - but its not about two people coming to an understanding (at least, that's not the intention!). It's about one person browbeating and tricking the other - so the last line is not meant to be an obvious drawing of conclusions.

Other people have commented on the italics - that's something I'm going to have a look at.

It's a throwaway story - so I'd agree re the characters - I was looking for the 'voice' of the narrator to carry character more so than exposition. Basically, I think I've used a lot of 'tricks' to try to make a style over content exercise work - it does for some, not for others, I guess.

Author's Reply:

OolonColoophid on 2004-07-26 10:25:41
Re: Spitting Wasps
Fair enough.

Author's Reply:

Helena on 2004-07-28 05:24:19
Re: Spitting Wasps
Great read, some funny moments, made me laugh several times (a mean feat in the morning, I may add). No criticisms, A1!

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-07-28 05:34:48
Re: Spitting Wasps
Thanks Helena!

Author's Reply:

pullmyhair on 2004-07-28 16:22:57
Re: Spitting Wasps
Really like your style of writing, blue. It seems to flow really naturally and your dialogue, often the downfall of many otherwise good prose writers, is really natural as well. The inner monologues are wicked.

I particularly like "Then he puts one hand on his stomach and he holds the other hand out, palm up, as he raises his shoulders. It could mean, what can I do about this indigestion? or, do you remember that nursery rhyme about being a little teapot?"

A little thing I also liked was the use of the two objects arrow and hoop. Deliberately male and female shapes? A nice touch, apart from the fact arrow and hoop are great, tactile words anyhow.

Veyvey groovy stuff. pmh x

Author's Reply:

pullmyhair on 2004-07-28 16:24:14
Re: Spitting Wasps
PS: Loved the title and the shadow puppetry too! x

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-07-29 03:06:16
Re: Spitting Wasps
Thanks for that - I wanted to start it with strong, stylistic sentences as the first para had a lot of character exposition to do without being able to look too much into the history! Hopefully it gives you a flavour of the narrator - and yes, I wanted something that brings strong images to mind, so the arrow/hoop/tin tack etc. Glad it worked for you!

Author's Reply:

Mala on 2004-07-29 03:54:48
Re: Spitting Wasps
It is a good read, depicting the reality yet keep it interesting and funny.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-07-29 04:03:33
Re: Spitting Wasps
thanks Mala

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-08-07 09:35:35
Re: Spitting Wasps
This is excellent, BP.
Firstly, the reference to spitting out words like wasps, then he swallows one ... I don't think you need to make that physical link - it jarred for me. Maybe refer to a bulldog and let the reader associate bulldog chewing a wasp type thing?
I thought it was much more "serious" and made a good point, more than it's "humour" element.
I thought the breaking of the furniture and the sudden smashing of the windows at the start gave it originality.
Great stuff.
Steve.


Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-08-07 14:25:48
Re: Spitting Wasps
Hi Steve, thanks for that. One of my recent better ones, I think. I'm struggling with that initial link - it seems some people find it waaaay too obvious and others don't get it at all. Can't get it to work. I like your idea - will try to work that in. Thanks.

Author's Reply:

jim on 2004-08-13 04:18:32
Re: Spitting Wasps
Hi Aliya

As usual another brilliant piece. Very funny, very dark. Agree with others that the link between her spitting out wasps and him swallowing one is too obvious.Maybe delete it altogether. Other than that, it's just a superb piece of writing. Thanks

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-08-13 04:24:17
Re: Spitting Wasps
Hey Jim! Great to hear from you, hope you're doing fine... thanks for the comment - I think you've swayed me that it's too obvious, will give it the chop and let the title do the work.

Author's Reply:


Trick Of The Light (posted on: 02-07-04)
Part of a writing-group experiment - see Sirat's and E-Griff's stories with the same title!

It was the first time she had seen the light of enthusiasm in Nico's face. 'So the sculpture is already inside the marble,' he repeated with a growing comprehension, 'and the sculptor is only chipping away what is not the sculpture.' 'Exactly,' she told him, surprised to find the key to the sullen boy in such an abstract concept. Every weekend he came to clean up for her and earn a little money, and she had wanted to share the joy of her work with him, as she had with every one of her weekend helpers over the last thirty years. But Nico had completed each task given to him without energy or interest, never once looking at her progressing sculptures while he swept the floor of her workshop or put out food for her cats. She had thought him unreachable, but a few words had banished his reticence in a moment. 'Zandra?' He put down the broom and picked up a chisel from the rack on the wall. 'Yes?' 'Teach me to sculpt.' She took off her glasses and stood up from her workbench. 'Follow me.' He was her sixteenth schoolboy helper, and she knew he was to be the last. Although she was not an old woman yet, her sight was failing her, leaving her with only blurred shapes and colours. It was a degenerative disease, her doctor had told her, but she suspected the real cause was the fact that she always sculpted small; only chips of marble left at the end of mining were available to her. But even if she could have had one of the huge gleaming blocks she saw leaving the island, stacked high on cargo ships that barely floated, she didn't think they would speak to her as the cast-off remnants did. The cliff top path they were walking along had not been there when Zandra had commenced these regular Saturday afternoon trips to the quarry. It had been created by her feet, and it linked her isolated whitewashed house on the outskirts of Rachoni directly to the quarry and the beach. 'Thassos marble is the whitest in the world,' she told Nico, who walked in front of her, slapping his thighs with his hands. She had told him before, but this time she hoped he was listening. 'It gleams unlike any other. It sparkles as if precious jewels are embedded within it. It can be seen shining from underneath the sea, even if it lies fifty feet down. And it is hard to work with, so hard to shape. Unless you know what it wants to be.' 'And it always wants to be a cat?' Nico asked her, turning and walking backwards, a challenge in the set tilt of his head and a grin on his tanned face. He stumbled on the uneven path and only just managed to regain his balance. Zandra suppressed a laugh. She had always suspected her previous helpers had regarded her devotion to the feline form as a weakness - Nico was the first one to dare to mention it. He was so confrontational, so awkward in his anger. He was, after all, a teenage boy with strict parents, trapped on a small island, knowing he had five more years of school and eighteen months of national service before he was free to find his own way. He had asked, so he deserved an explanation. 'In the stones I find I only see cats. Perhaps that is because these cats, trapped inside their marble prisons, call out to me as I pass, knowing I will set them free. Perhaps they know I am their friend. That is not to say there are no other creatures, no other marvels, inside the stones. It only means that the seahorses, the spiders, the gods and goddesses, do not call out to me.' The path had become a downhill slope for much of her answer, and now Nico stopped in front of her. They had reached the blinding face of the quarry, cut into the cliff. The machines lay quiescent, as if they had not moved for centuries, covered by the whitest dust in the world. On their right, the underfoot stones became smaller and petered out into sand. After that, the sea pulsed, not raising its voice above a whisper. 'Go,' she said to him. 'Go find your stone.' He twisted his hands in his sweat drenched T-shirt and shot one nervous glance behind him before stumbling away. She followed him at a distance, watching him crouch over the chippings, evidence of the retrieval of the great blocks. She remembered this first finding in her own past; on the other side of the island, she had been an apprentice for ten years she had seen a cat that day too, and she had not done him justice in the carving. That was to be expected. Maybe Nico would have talent, and maybe she could persuade his parents to let him train with her rather than just sweep the floor. She had hoped for her own apprentice, so that her skills were not lost, and she had just about given up on that hope until today. 'Zandra!' he called. As she approached, she watched how he picked up his stone and cradled it in his palms. It was a gesture she recognised. It was no bigger than a pebble. Not an easy size to work with, but she knew better than to tell him to find another. The decision had been made: now the hard work had to begin. 'What do you see in it?' she asked him, pleased to find rapture in the way his eyes scanned the surface of the stone. 'A cat,' he whispered. She tried not to show her disappointment or lack of surprise. Considering his earlier belligerence, he was fast becoming a replica of her other schoolboys. They all pretended to see cats and then produced the most basic and unimaginative copies of her own work. She had hoped Nico would see something amazing, something truly unique. 'We'll get back and make a beginning,' she told him. At that moment she found it. It was at her foot as she turned to leave the thong of her sandal brushed against its sharp edge, caught and snapped. As she bent to retrieve the broken leather, her eyes found a perfect creature. The ultimate challenge, and her last. She picked up the chunk of marble and examined it in the strong sunlight, holding it close to her face. It was there, and it called to her. A bird; a chaffinch, head cocked to one side, wings and chest fluffed out, each feather visible, and a brightness in its eyes that gave her the momentary impression that he was watching her with glee. She removed both her sandals and carried them, moving barefoot over the stones with an urgency she had not felt in years. Nico followed along behind, creating a stream of chatter to which Zandra felt no need to listen and no interest in making a reply. She had to start work on her chaffinch straight away. * By the time she was making the finishing touches to the sculpture, she was working more by touch than sight. The dim light of her stone-walled workshop was yielding only vague outlines to her eyes, but she knew as she worked on the tiny spiky feathers on the very top of her chaffinch's head, that the time was not right to take him into the sunlight. She had the strongest feeling that when she took him outside for the first time he would come to life and fly away. Nico was sitting on the spare bench at the other side of the workshop in a pose of concentration that had become familiar over the past months. It was Saturday, his agreed day to help out, but he came every day; all his spare time was spent working on his little sculpture. It was crude: Zandra knew from the rough, gouging movements he made with his tools. She had no time to instruct, but that did not seem to discourage him. In fact, he had no energy for anything else, including his chores. Today the floor was still waiting to be swept and her cats were gathered around him, brushing his legs, their tails and faces pointing upwards to his frowning face and jerking elbows as he struggled to sculpt. Zandra threw her glasses on to the workbench and straightened her back. 'Nico.' He didn't look up. 'Nico, feed the cats.' He spoke over the regular sound of his chipping, not turning around. 'I did.' She looked again at the four blurs that were her cats. There was something unusual about their rubbing bodies and upturned eyes. It took her a moment to realise that they weren't keeping their usual silence. They were purring. The noise was a rhythmic drumming, like rain on the sea. Not loud, but once heard, impossible to ignore. Her cats were not begging for food, nor demanding attention. They were giving Nico a sign of their adoration. They loved him. 'I'm almost finished,' he said. 'She's nearly complete.' And, in that moment, she thought she heard the purring grow louder. * He was not there on the evening she completed her bird. He had finished his sculpture two days before, and had not shown it to her. She guessed it was enough for Nico to know he had made something for the first time in his life, and he would not be back again except to make some money cleaning up on a Saturday. He was not the apprentice she had always hoped for, but at least she had created her masterpiece before her worsening eyesight left her unable to sculpt. Zandra held the tiny sculpture, feeling its cold weight, and then cupped it in her closed hands as if holding a butterfly that had flown into her workshop by mistake. Then she walked slowly to the open doorway and waited until her eyes had adjusted and she could make out the outlines of the cliff top path. She knew where she wanted to unveil her chaffinch. It took her half an hour to reach the quarry. As she turned the corner and looked down on to the familiar white marble wall and the beach leading into the calm sea, she saw the blurred outline of a dark figure. She squinted against the last rays of the sun, but did not recognise him until she was only a few feet from his side. He was dressed in black and his thick curly hair reached down to the collar of his shirt. Zandra saw for the first time that he was not a petulant boy any longer. There were defined muscles on his chest, arms and thighs, and he looked at her with the assessing eyes of a serious young man. 'Nico,' she said. 'Are you looking for a new stone?' The noise was there again: the drumming. Then the moving balls at his ankles caught her attention, and she realised her cats were with him, twining and purring; not just her four cats, but others too, perhaps ten in total, writhing around him and each other in graceful, absorbing movements. 'Look,' he said, and held out his hand to her, his palm facing upwards. He was holding his sculpture, and in the light of the early evening, she could see that she had been right about his level of ability. Only the crudest gouges in the stone indicated a cat, sitting upright, its front paws together, its head raised and its eyes looking ahead. There was an ugliness to the marks in the white marble that repulsed her. 'Your next one with be better,' she said with a conviction she did not feel, but Nico shook his head. 'Wait.' Those serious dark eyes of his fixed on his sculpture, and there was an intensity in them that was frightening. An instinct told Zandra to run, to not watch whatever was about to happen, but her feet wouldn't move. There was a change in the air: a heavy feeling of a storm approaching. Then, as the sweat broke out on her body and she felt the first pulsing of a headache, she saw it. It started at the front paws and swept over the surface of the marble, up to the tips of the ears and invaded the body and the tail. The cat turned black. It was the colour of polished jet, a mirror-shiny darkness that made her eyes hurt, yet she could not stop looking at it. It seemed to have become less crude somehow in the transformation taller, more elegant in form. It reminded her now of photographs she had seen of ancient Egyptian sculptures of cats. There was a power to the object, and it looked much older than she knew it to be. It looked ancient. 'My eyes are tired,' Zandra said. She could not be seeing the truth. 'Is this some kind of trick?' 'No trick.' She saw for the first time that it was not Nico the cats were purring for. It was not him they followed. They moved now under his outstretched hand, looking up at the black sculpture, their thrumming noise stronger than she had ever heard it. 'I can hear her. She talks to me. Her name is Bast. It's just as you said; I took away all the marble that was not her, and now she is free. She thanks us both.' Her eyes fixed on the little cat, and the heavy feeling in the air intensified, making the pain in her head unbearable. She had to get rid of it. She snatched for it, and he pulled it away from her, closer to his body. 'Why did you do that?' She had surprised him, she could tell. There was agitation in the way he frowned and hunched his shoulders; he looked like a boy again. 'Give me the cat,' she told him. She knew this was the right thing to do, the only way to restore reality. 'Give it to me!' 'No!' He crouched down, curling up into a ball amongst the cats, the statue pressed against his stomach. She bent over him and, after only a token resistance, managed to wrestle it from his hands. She knew it was a mistake as soon as she touched it. It too was warm, and moving in her palm, although it was only a sculpture to her eyes. In her mind she saw a magnificent carving a huge cat of polished black stone, glittering, jewels embedded in its paws and eyes, immaculate and beautiful. It was a miracle of craftsmanship. -I am Bast. Together we can wake my body once more. Come and unite.- The towering sculpture in her mind was calling out, she could feel it. She knew what it wanted. It wanted her to agree to help. It wanted her to bring it back to life. No, Zandra whispered in her mind. No. With the sound of grating stone, so loud she wanted to scream to block it out, it turned its stone head in her mind and fixed her with its jewelled eyes. -Lie down.- The command overrode her body. Zandra buckled at the knees and felt the stone chippings of the quarry press into her legs, and then against her back as she stretched out to lie prone. Her eyes found Nico, only a few feet away. He was standing and staring at the stone cat she still held, his head tilted, his mouth open. -Kiss me.- She lifted the sculpture to her lips and held it there. She heard Nico murmur something, his voice raising at the end, but she could not hear the words over the surging noise of the sea, growing louder and louder. -We go in a moment. This is nearly done.- In her mind, the huge statue regarded her still, and at its base writhed a thousand cats, moving like an ocean of fur, creating flashing patterns of black, silver, brown, orange, dancing together, rising and falling in ecstasy. She felt the first brushes of paws and whiskers against her body, and realised that she was not hearing the sea, but the cats, her cats. They were purring as they clawed up to her face, trying to reach the sculpture at her lips, pressing their fur down on over her mouth and nose, choking her as they made soft noises of adoration. * Nico waited until he was told to pick up his sculpture, although he was impatient to make a start. Bast was going to tell him where he could find a block of stone big enough for his next task, and he was going to make her happy. As he retrieved her, he saw the curve of Zandra's hand around a gleam of white. His old tutor was holding a sculpture of her own; a perfect little white chaffinch, its eyes watching him with glee, its feathers fluffed as if about to fly away. It was exquisite. He picked it up and walked away, whistling, the cats following him with their loud, drumming purrs mingling with the sound of the sea.
Archived comments for Trick Of The Light
OolonColoophid on 2004-07-02 06:31:19
Re: Trick Of The Light
Mmm, fantastic. An unpredictable and very evocative tale, with a nicely disturbing undertone. Might have done with a slightly more arresting start - i.e. you could have marked the tone earlier. I also found it difficult to imagine the physical locations clearly; though that may be because I read it quickly. Also not entirely sure what happened to the sculptress, and the chaffinch seemed to be made to play a role, but then didn't. Great story, though: involving and powerful.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-07-02 07:25:26
Re: Trick Of The Light
Hi Ian,
Thanks for that comment - the chaffinch has a number of roles, none of which I want to get prescriptive about: I was hoping it adds to the unpredictability, and offers another layer of meaning. But it could just be I've been spending far too long thinking about rubbish, and if so, apologies all round. Thanks again.

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2004-07-02 09:11:00
Re: Trick Of The Light
Sorry, I didn't get the chaffinch thing. Thought it was going to end up as food for all those cats...and what was the deal with them, anyway? Were there any real cats, or were they just imagining stuff, or what?
Wasn't too sure about Zandra having dodgy eyes one minute, but apparently being able to see things clearly the next. It's probably me being thick again, but I didn't get whether it was a 'reality' in the context of the story, or whether it was imagined stuff.

Technically, the writing was good. Certainly it was enough to get me plodding to the end in the hope that all would then become clear, but it didn't.
As I say, probably me being dense.
Care to cast some light (ha!) on the matter? :-/

Author's Reply:

drewgum on 2004-07-02 10:23:08
Re: Trick Of The Light
First off, these are just my comments and in no way think I'm right.

Thought it was professionally written no doubt about that.

In the first bit I'd speed it up a bit. For example I'd get rid of the sentence, "Follow me." Also after you write, "Nico was the first one to dare to mention it." I'd cut the whole para to "In the stones I find."

Everything is kind of linked together the way you've done it - I'd put in a few jumps, readers can usually guess what's happening in between.

The character of Nico. He seemed a pretty stock bloke. I went to this short story workshop once and one thing they said was once you've finished a story, change a character's sex, or size, of take off one of their legs. Because then it makes you think more of their personality and in doing that you'll give them one. You could make Nico half man half woman or something. (I'm reading Hannah Tinti's short stories at the mo. Try her - she's great at these little lines that kind of surprise you.)

I did like the story though. I wanted to know what happened next. And I did like the setting, the island, her role as sculptress and her relationship with the boy.

I didn't have a problem that she was carving a bird. However, as in the other comments, I was unsure what happened really.

Actually I really liked that image of her coming across Nico in the quarry and his cat coming to life. IMO though I wouldn't make the cat huge and bejewelled. I don't think it needs that. It was just too OTT for me. And as for the bird I'd like it to be in the end maybe just a lump of stone. You know, play on her blindness. In fact she hasn't been carving but is.... now I'm changing it too much.

One thing. She says Nico is dressed in black. Then says his chest and arms are muscled. How would she see that?

Also the word 'quiescent' is horrible.

I hope you don't mind me saying all of the above. I did think it was well written, a different story, certainly as good as ones I've seen published.

Drew.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-07-02 10:45:44
Re: Trick Of The Light
Karl, you kind of summed up the bird thing there. Its a macguffin, put there to make the story a little less predictable, and to open up other possibilities for the reader. It also represents something of Zandra's talent. I guess the ending's not really working, which is a shame, because I love it and don't want to play around with it! *smacks own hand at unhelpful instinct*

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-07-02 10:48:09
Re: Trick Of The Light
Thanks Drew,
but then, some crap does get published! Thanks for those points. Am going to sit on this one for a while and come back to it later: at that point your feedback will prove invaluable.

Author's Reply:

drewgum on 2004-07-02 10:51:56
Re: Trick Of The Light
Well, definitely don't change it if you think it's right.

Author's Reply:

shadow on 2004-07-02 15:35:46
Re: Trick Of The Light
I liked the ending, I thought it felt right. About the chaffinch - could it mean she is about to take flight?
Or maybe she switche to carving a bird because the cat was calling to Nico now.

Author's Reply:

silentmemories on 2004-07-03 03:07:44
Re: Trick Of The Light
An excellent story, I wonder if this experiment can include poetry. I'd like to write something.
Silent.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-07-03 03:15:36
Re: Trick Of The Light
Hi Silent - what a good idea. Of course it can include poetry. If anyone else wants to write a 'Trick Of The Light' based piece and post it, it would be brilliant to see.

Thanks for the comment.

Author's Reply:

Skeeter on 2004-07-06 16:49:39
Re: Trick Of The Light
Enjoyed reading it, it was certainly unpredictable. I expected Nico's sculpture to turn out to be more/different to what she thought it would, but I didn't expect the mystical bit at the end. That was a bit of a surprise. I can see what you meana bout the chaffinch thing, though I was expecting it to figure at the end, i kept looking for how it would revela its significance, but the tail off on that angle didn't really bother me, because it seemed at the end to be symbolic.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-07-07 02:24:25
Re: Trick Of The Light
Hi Skeeter, thanks for that. I did want it to be something you couldn't guess at, and you're spot on about why the chaffinch is there.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-07-07 17:18:53
Re: Trick Of The Light
One of the best things I've read here in a while, BP. I thought it was excellent. Full of imagery and great ideas. Old women and cats go together well! The boy appearing like a man (good imagery from her memories), and the bird for her to fly away as. I did think the bird was related to cat - in the old cat eats bird way - but when I finished, I didn't think that any longer. You don't have to signpost the reader all the way to the end and give them a cup of tea for getting it right, do you?
Well written, of course.
My own imagination took over, and I imagined him making her a glass eye that turned real for her failing sight ... but I gotta stop doing that!
Great stuff. Should be a "great read".
Steve.


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-07-07 17:19:52
Re: Trick Of The Light
Ooops ... it is a 'great read' - but it doesn't show that when you are commenting ... er ... bravo, then.


Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-07-08 06:04:53
Re: Trick Of The Light
thanks Steve - have to say this is one of my personal favourites so far - just one of those stories where everything went right from the writing pov, if not from the reading! I feel pretty happy with it, which is quite unusual for me.

Author's Reply:

flash on 2004-07-08 08:00:15
Re: Trick Of The Light
Hi Blue

a very brave attempt, the piece did have a unusual continental style to it for me,it was almost as if was written by writer of another tongue. this gave the story something different so i think you are to be applauded for your imagination. I was thinking of a famous Italian writer when i read this one, the one famous for short erotic fiction...can't recall his name.

I do however think that it's a tale where full concentration is needed and perhaps several reads to fully appreciate it, and like Karl i worked my way through it rather than finding it being a flowing read.

One question the Chaffinch changes to a Sparrow and then reverts back again throughout the piece, i assume a Chaffinch is a member of the Sparrow family(i'm not an ornithologist) but still i was puzzled why you kept changing back and forth.

Nice work

Flashy


Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-07-08 08:16:24
Re: Trick Of The Light
thanks Flash,
The sparrow/chaffinch thing is designed to throw the reader off balance and make them more open to questioning their interpretation... nah, okay, you caught me. It was me being crap. Will change now.

Author's Reply:

flash on 2004-07-08 08:24:35
Re: Trick Of The Light
'The sparrow/chaffinch thing is designed to throw the reader off balance and make them more open to questioning their interpretation..'

You little tinker, i was going 'OH Gawd Flash being thick as two short one's again,' i'd have believed you and went 'OOOH isn't Blue clever?'

I wish i was as 'crap,' as you.


Flashy

Author's Reply:

shackleton on 2004-07-10 11:31:08
Re: Trick Of The Light
Hi Bluepootle. Fantastic, enthralling, unusual story. i enjoyed it very much. Bye now.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-07-12 02:54:56
Re: Trick Of The Light
thanks Shackleton, that is appreciated.

Author's Reply:


She Smiles (posted on: 19-03-04)
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If my short fiction gets any shorter, I could send it in on a telegram... sigh. Anyway, a friend of mine got mugged recently and it got me thinking about the way we take people's friendship for granted.

The rain does not fall on him; it hovers like the undulating snaps of a sheet being aired. It passes by his face and slides through his hair. It jumps up around his feet and clings to the hem of his raincoat.

She is soaked beside him, heavy with the water he throws off. If she opens her mouth it invades her, so she keeps quiet.

'Make sure you keep positive, okay? He's going to be fine. It won't help him if you start crying. Are you listening to me? Dinah?'

She smiles in reply. He is all business, a step in front of her. She can see the curl of a new growth of hair on the back of his neck.

'Come here,' he says, and stops, turning to face her so that she walks into his chest. His arms pin her to him. 'Are you ready?'

She smiles.

They enter the hospital.

*

'Everyone always asks how the food is in these situations, but I'm just going to assume that the food stinks. Am I right?'

Jack laughs, and the motion turns into a cough, and the cough turns into a wheezing. 'Don't make me laugh,' he manages to say.

Dinah counts his injuries mentally as she smiles. Nine stab wounds, a punctured lung, spleen removed, fractured skull, seventy-six stitches, a month in hospital before this first visit was allowed, and even now the bruises on his face are dark and shocking. He is stable, they said. He was lucky, they said. He is young, he heals quickly, he will go home soon.

'Didn't you?'

She looks up at him.

'Dinah? Didn't you say we should send flowers, and I said don't be ridiculous, no bloke wants flowers?'

'Flowers are nice,' Jack says. Dinah can feel him looking at her, but she is staring at the rows of cards on his bedside table. She sees her own handwriting in one a bear in a nurse's uniform, holding balloons that spell out GET WELL.

'You're not getting flowers, you're getting a self-defence course and a personal alarm as soon as you get out of here, got it? If you have to walk that stupid alley to work every day then we're going to kit you up properly.'

There is a silence.

'I'm going to go and get us some coffee. Tell him about the work thing while I'm gone. You'll love it. Another example of Dinah being Dinah. '

She hears the door open and shut, and feels the space where his swift, organised words were. Finally she can look at Jack, although it takes an effort to slide her eyes round from the cards. She sees his blonde hair, his crooked ear, and the barrier of the injuries has gone; he is her best friend again.

'So what's this about work?'

'Someone else took credit for my report and got promoted,' she huffs. 'Don't laugh. He thinks I should just stride on in there and sort them all out, stand on the desk and shout out what a sham the place is.'

'Yes, that sounds like him.'

'Sorry about the self-defence idea, I can't shake him out of it.' Dinah smiles and sits on the very edge of the bed, putting her hand on the blanket, over his leg. 'I know its probably the last thing you want to think about'

'Got to think about it, though. He's right. If he was lying here, he'd already be planning '

'He never would be lying there,' Dinah says.

There's something invincible about him. Never wrong, never scared, never lost for what to do. If there was a nuclear war tomorrow he'd be the one human left standing. He carries a knife and does a hundred metres in twelve seconds. He never has a problem. It's as if problems don't exist.

'You're right,' Jack says. 'He would have karate chopped the muggers into submission.' He laughs, and coughs, and wheezes. She takes his hand until he catches his breath.

'You're okay, aren't you?' The tears she promised not to cry start to escape her. 'I need you to be okay, you understand me, you get why I can't stand on the chair, nobody else does, but you do.'

'I get it. I get it,' he says, 'I'm okay, so are you, it was a shock, that's all.' He mops up the tears with his fingers, smoothing them away from her eyes. 'Listen, Dinah, I love you.'

The quality of his touch changes; he holds his fingers still against her cheeks. It's not something he hasn't said before, but she feels like he is trying to puncture the bubble around them, the invisible emotion that separates them from the rest of the world.

'I love you too,' she says with a jolly smile that clashes with her still falling tears. 'You're my best friend in the whole world. I love you loads.'

'Careful. You'll make him jealous,' Jack jokes, but she can sense another attempt to reach her, and it scares her.

'Oh, you don't need to worry about that, he knows we could never be anything but mates, could you imagine us as a couple, we'd drive each other barking, we're far too similar, God, I'd drive you mad'

He nods once, definitely, and looks over her shoulder. 'So what are you going to do? About work?'

'I might try and have a word with the boss, I suppose. That might work. It doesn't really matter anyway, I'm not bothered. Just so long as you're all right, that's the main thing.' For some awkward, ridiculous reason, she starts crying again. Jack rubs her arms.

There is a soft weight on her back. She knows immediately that she has missed the door opening and closing, that he is standing behind her, his hand on her, bringing her back to her promise. 'Machine's out of coffee,' he says, 'and we should get going anyway.'

Dinah makes an effort to control the crying. 'I'll be out soon,' Jack tells her, squeezing her hands. 'I'll come over with a bottle of wine, a takeaway, it'll be good.'

'That'll be great,' he says, his hand sliding under Dinah's elbow and exerting a small amount of pressure. She gets up from the bed and follows him to the door. 'We'll see you soon, and, sorry about Dinah, you know what she's like.' He produces a folded handkerchief from his raincoat and gives it to her. She meets his eyes; they hold exasperation and amusement.

'Yes,' Jack says from across the room, 'I know what she's like.'

She wipes her face, screws the handkerchief into a ball, and smiles.








Archived comments for She Smiles


jim on 2004-03-19 04:44:48
Re: She Smiles
Really strong. I loathed Dinah's bloke from the very first description of him.

There's so much packed into this in so few words, but what I like about it, is it's not trying too hard to be profound.

Only two comments: ' I - I love you' whether realistic or not, is a cliche. I'd just change it to 'I love you.'

Also - final paragraph - the he in 'that'll be great,' he says' is not immediately clear. Do you deliberately not name him throughout(ie less important in dinah's eyes) or did I miss it? If so, it just makes the very last section slightly awkward reading. For me anyway.

I think this is excellent. Killer line from Jack at the end. Competition standard.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-03-19 04:50:18
Re: She Smiles
thanks for that, Jim. I deliberately didn't give him a name to increase the sense of him being an outsider, also more a force of nature than a man (which is what he represents to Dinah, I felt). Agree about the love bit - will change. Also will look at that line again. It got tough to keep it clear without a name but I like the feeling it gives the piece to keep him nameless.

Author's Reply:

jim on 2004-03-19 04:55:59
Re: She Smiles
Sorry, I don't think I was very clear. I love also that he has no name, I think it works excellently. It's only that one bit where it's forced because you're trying to keep him nameless. Maybe add a small action that could only be the HIM?

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-03-19 04:57:49
Re: She Smiles
have added, 'from above them both', - do you think it overstresses the outsider angle?

Author's Reply:

jim on 2004-03-19 05:07:19
Re: She Smiles
It doesn't bug me, but maybe it does lose a bit of the subtlety. Maybe go back to original and see what others think before editing?

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-03-19 05:08:32
Re: She Smiles
I think you're right, it does need clarifying... will work on it. Thanks Jim.

Author's Reply:

Slovitt on 2004-03-19 06:28:31
Re: She Smiles
bluepootle: You have expertly captured a dynamic here that a lot of people sense, but until it's articulated, not really see it as it exists. Your unnamed guy, Dinah, and Jack, live and breathe.
Of course, Dinah and Jack... but then, we'll see.
Early on the rain 'clings the hem of his raincoat'. Minor, but is that 'clings to'? A very immediate, and very good story. Swep

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2004-03-19 06:37:27
Re: She Smiles
Typo: 'squuezing' - "Jack tells her, squuezing her hands". 😉

After seeing Jim's comment (and the running discussion 😉 ), I went back a re-read the part in question thoroughly. The only thing I can suggest is you make the "It'll be great" line Dinah's, and fiddle around slightly so she then feels the pressure on her elbow.

Incidentally, the 'Him' in question seems like a bit of a...well, I can't really say in such a public place! 😉 Suffice it to say I don't like the guy very much - especially as he feels the need/desire to walk around tooled up. Knives are attack weapons, not defence.
And I sincerely hope this 'Him' is not based upon your other half! (If he is...deepest apologies! 😉 )

I like the way you don't give Him a name, but even if you had, the stronger, deeper bond between Dinah and Jack would come through clearly. As it is, it rings like a bell.
'He' would have picked up on this, and seems the jealous sort. Isn't it just possible that victim and attacker could be in the same room? Just a thought.

Anyway, this is a great piece, well worthy of nib, IMHO (and if it hasn't got one, why not?!), and I hope your friend gets better/is ok, with no permanent harm done. 🙂

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-03-19 07:10:02
Re: She Smiles
Thanks Karl, have fixed the typo. Am very pleased its creating strong feelings, must mean the characters come across strong and clear. Not really based on anyone I know - its more (and I get a lot of my good work starting this way) springing from a 'What if?' What if I was a bit more pathetic and I had ended up with that guy I saw on the tube, or that guy I once went out with... a step away from reality, as such. It seems to ring true. (Although I guess that means all the women are me! argh)

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-03-19 07:10:58
Re: She Smiles
thanks Swep, have fixed that typo. They always seem to get through the net. Glad the people/situation seemed immediate.

Author's Reply:

chippy on 2004-03-19 07:39:51
Re: She Smiles
Short or not, bluepootle, it's a great read!

I love the frank realism of Dinah's recognition of a soulmate who can't sustain her in 'the real world', so to speak. The whole bittersweet style leaves you wondering if this is an opening to a greater story, and if the apparent resolution is only temporary.

Is there supposed to be a slight consession that 'He' is not all bad; I feel like he goes to get the coffee knowing that he doesn't relate to Dinah on the same level as Jack, and wants to give them time together. Is the pressure on the elbow him forcing her, or clutching on for fear of losing...?

Sorry, trying to write a different story here - everyone else seems to think he's a b'stard, so maybe he is.

As ever, your story gets me thining of new stories coming from it - nice one.


Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-03-19 08:10:55
Re: She Smiles
Hi Chips,
Yeah, its an interesting one - I wasn't prepared for the level of venom directed at the 'Him' character, but I'm going to take it as a good sign that people have a reaction to him, one way or the other. I didn't want to prescribe where his behaviour, or Jack's, or Dinah's, comes from. I like these moments that can be translated in many ways.

Ta for the comment.


Author's Reply:

sirat on 2004-03-19 09:14:06
Re: She Smiles
I love this kind of story where so much is communicated in a small number of words and is in fact unstated. Most of the story happens inside the reader's head, and that for me is a mark of superb writing. It's a wonderful picture of the two types of relationships which women form with men, the one based on sensitivity and what might be called feminine values, where the woman always says "let's just be friends" (which is often not what the man wants to hear) and the more conventional role-based one where the man seems to represent strength and protection and authority and there is an element of property and domination about it all. New man versus old I suppose, with women often believing that they want the first but feeling more attracted to the second. Jack doesn't represent any real threat to "him", she won't leave "him" for jack, she'll leave "him", if she does, for someone else almost indistinguishable, but will cry on Jack's shoulder about the break-up. Stories like this are like little windows into imaginary worlds and I suppose what we see there depends to a large measure on who is doing the looking. Superb work. I have taken the liberty of nominating it for a future anthology.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-03-19 09:19:51
Re: She Smiles
Sirat, I can't say anything but thanks for that. I get worried that my word counts get smaller and smaller, both in prose and poetry, and that I'm not making half the points I think I'm making, but you surely understood what I was aiming for with this one. Much appreciated.

Author's Reply:

jim on 2004-03-19 11:56:10
Re: She Smiles
Hi

I love that interpretation too. I was one of the ones directing venom at poor Him. But it could be all bluff and surface.

What's great about this story is that it works so well on so many levels and apparently effortlessly.


Author's Reply:

Leila on 2004-03-19 12:31:04
Re: She Smiles
Yes I understood this immediately and was able to get into it, able to recognise the characters, the situation, the emotions. Wonderfully controlled writing, allowing the story to further evolve in the readers mind. Best wishes ..L

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-03-19 12:35:16
Re: She Smiles
thanks for that Leila

Author's Reply:

Claire on 2004-03-19 12:41:24
Re: She Smiles
The love a woman has for a male friend is very different to the love she has for a partner. You have shown this well in this short story.

Some people will see Him as some sort of prat because deep down they want to believe that she might get it on with Jack, or something might have happened in the past between them.
I think if she had to choose she would stay with Him, as he seems to be the more (dominated) stronger one, which a good majority of women do want instead of a sensitive guy.

This is a strong and touching piece. Excellent read.


Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-03-19 12:53:41
Re: She Smiles
Hi Claire, thanks for that. I wanted to keep the motivations up to the reader... its interesting how most blokes seem to hate 'Him' but most women don't have such a prob with 'Him'.

Author's Reply:

spacegirl on 2004-03-19 15:46:26
Re: She Smiles
I didn't have a big problem with 'Him' until the end then I decided he was a control freak dragging her away by the elbows. Men do that so often, the gentle nudge to say "I say when we leave". Then I started to wonder whether he was so jealous that he "mugged" Jack. Then I decided he was too thick to notice!!!!

Anyway BP, brilliant story, realistic and I loved the way looks and understated actions said more than words.

Author's Reply:

Gee on 2004-03-19 18:44:10
Re: She Smiles
Well, first of all I saw Him as a strong character, organised and in control, but not a particularly sensitive one. Jack, on the other hand, is, and sees things about Dinah that he doesn't.
I had the feeling in this story that he was trying to reach out to Jack, the remark he makes at the end, about knowing what Dinah is like, for example.
I got the impression of someone who feels like an outsider but is trying the best he can to fit in, to find a place for himself in this obviously close relationship.
I think that perhaps we look for different things in our friendships from those things we want in our closer relationships. That can make things difficult enough when your best friend is the same sex, and a thousand times worse when they're not.
I should know. My best friend is a guy and it's caused a few problems in the past, especially with jealousy.
Great story. The content is perfect, regardless of the number of words used. I like this very much.

Author's Reply:

kenochi on 2004-03-20 15:07:46
Re: She Smiles
I'm going to be a little controversial here. Although this was well written and in its own way, skilfully handled, I just felt, while reading it, that I'd read it before, many times. This whole 'understated' style is quite popular among short story writers, it seems. John Ravenscroft does it a lot, as does our very own 'The Geeza' and although it served your story well, it didn't challenge or excite me really. I'm just too familiar with it, i guess. Sorry BP - its well done and everything, but for me, a bit formulaic and almost cliched. (ouch! that sounds harsher than I meant it too. its not a bad piece, hopefully you get what I mean.)

Author's Reply:

flash on 2004-03-20 17:35:06
Re: She Smiles
i'm afraid i'm going to be negative too, i concur almost entirely with Kenochi's observations.I felt it was well written but it didn't ignite any enthusiasim in me, it was a story that i'd read or seen many times before. You mention the word count at the top of the page and i think possibly in this story it hampers it's success, the brevity of the actual hospital visit is something that struck me, economy is one thing but i think this portion of the story needs fleshing out.

Alan

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-03-21 03:18:17
Re: She Smiles
Hi kenochi,
yup, it is old ground (I was wondering when someone was going to point out that the subject matter is hardly original!). I'm happy with it for what it is, but I can understand where you're coming from.



Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-03-21 03:22:23
Re: She Smiles
Mmmm... interesting idea, but I think that might well be adding stuff for the sake of it. If I was to revisit this I'd prob add a conversation between Him and somebody in the hall to counterbalance the conversation between Dinah and Jack? Something like that? Can't see it though... it was an exercise in economy to some extent. Thanks, though, Flash.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-03-21 10:09:44
Re: She Smiles
thanks Spacegirl

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-03-21 10:11:10
Re: She Smiles
much appreciated, Gee - have to admit I swing towards your interpretation myself, buts its interesting that people have got such different things from it.

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2004-03-21 12:59:44
Re: She Smiles
Sorry Mark... disagree LOTS! Think you missed the point. The 'staleness' or otherwise of the topic doesn't matter. I wasn't looking at the plot. While the minor 'I love you' bit strays from a strong line, I read this and was amazed. It is a VERY strong piece of writing, as skilled as I know you are, Blue, this is focussed beyond what I have seen you do before (and with no 'psychic pullovers' 🙂 ) Seriously good and meaningful in your own way. A kind of breakthrough, I think, in your writing. (is that what you thought?) Sure, you can tidy, there are bits that I could pick on, but that's not the point, is it? This story, in itself, is unimportant.
Something about the writing here really got to me, impressed me. Deep respect, babe. If you can keep this sort of stuff up, ditch the past and do it more ....'you caught a wave' believe me. G

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2004-03-21 13:00:18
Re: She Smiles
Sorry Mark... disagree LOTS! Think you missed the point. The 'staleness' or otherwise of the topic doesn't matter. I wasn't looking at the plot. While the minor 'I love you' bit strays from a strong line, I read this and was amazed. It is a VERY strong piece of writing, as skilled as I know you are, Blue, this is focussed beyond what I have seen you do before (and with no 'psychic pullovers' 🙂 ) Seriously good and meaningful in your own way. A kind of breakthrough, I think, in your writing. (is that what you thought?) Sure, you can tidy, there are bits that I could pick on, but that's not the point, is it? This story, in itself, is unimportant.
Something about the writing here really got to me, impressed me. Deep respect, babe. If you can keep this sort of stuff up, ditch the past and do it more ....'you caught a wave' believe me. G

Author's Reply:

jim on 2004-03-21 13:54:28
Re: She Smiles
She Smiles, She Smiles - so good you posted twice.

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2004-03-21 14:07:04
Re: She Smiles
glitch in the website........................ anyway, Jim, you should give your opinion here, not just slide by... 🙂

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2004-03-21 14:11:31
Re: She Smiles
Oh you did! and you agree! of course... could I have doubted you? sorry daft bloody scrambling of comment order the HAVEN'T FIXED (Richard - are you there? this is seriously crap stuff! as are the stupid bloody 'time zones' used on the messages etc.

sorry R . just ratty, nothing personal.. 🙂

Author's Reply:

jim on 2004-03-21 14:22:05
Re: She Smiles
Er griff - you should read all the posts under this story. I was first to post on this story and have since commented about 5 times on - scroll down and open your eyes. I've posted on loads of stuff here in the past few days - not just sliding by. Jeez

Author's Reply:

jim on 2004-03-21 14:23:26
Re: She Smiles
Arrrrgh! I didn't scroll down either. lol

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2004-03-21 14:27:49
Re: She Smiles
Gotcha! hee-hee 🙂



Author's Reply:

kenochi on 2004-03-21 15:24:46
Re: She Smiles
oh bloody hell! Griff, griff, griff. You've done this before mate. First of all, i wasn't bloody talking to you, so there's no need for you to apologise to me. Its not my piece, its BPs. i don't care if you disagree with my comment and frankly whether you do or not is irrelevant - just offer your own opinion, as I did. Appreciation of literature is completely subjective after all.
Anyway IF you actually read my comment properly, you would have noticed that I didn't mention plot either. I was talking about this 'understated' style of writing that BP has used. I am simply saying that over the last year or so I have read many, many, many pieces in this style, both on this site and elsewhere and as a result, have grown very weary of it.
So please don't tell me that I've "missed the point" when you clearly haven't even read my comment properly and when, after all, I'm only offering my opinion, which is all I'm in a position to do and is what I thought this site was about. I have to say i find that rather rude and dismissive, as if you believe that for some reason your opinion is worth more than mine.
I'm glad you liked the piece. I didn't particularly, but I can accept that without having to tell you that you're 'wrong'.
"Vive le difference," as they say, round your way.

Author's Reply:

shackleton on 2004-03-21 17:07:40
Re: She Smiles
Excellent read Bluepootle. Prose with a very poetic flow. Best read of the week for me.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-03-21 21:36:11
Re: She Smiles
I like this.

You can "write to excite" - strange things, originality, surprise the reader - which is cool.
You can also write something that captures something that is real - something interesting, an observation, but told in such a way that it doesn't take you up or down, but brings you from the start to the finish and makes you think.
Fans of the former, will (more likely) think the latter boring or uninspiring - in most cases. Fans of the latter will think the work in the former style silly - in most cases.
This is the line where you can't impress everyone ... imho.

Bit that stands out:
"but she can sense another attempt to reach her, and it scares her" I think you should show that somehow - it's too important to tell it.

I think "him" goes to get the coffee, can't find any and returns and makes them leave. I think that's why you might think the story itself is too short - because he seems strangely rushed for the benefit of the story perhaps? What about "him" not going in the room - but telling her to see Jack by herself instead (as it's her good friend more than his?). Then she could cut the visit short because he is waiting - but we still have the unanswered question of whether he knows? Not a big point - but something seemed a little "quick" and I think it was the time spent in the hospital room and the reason they left quickly was not evident.

Good piece though, BP - enjoyed it.


Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-03-22 02:33:06
Re: She Smiles
thanks Shackleton, much appreciated

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-03-22 02:40:05
Re: She Smiles
Ta Steve,
I think you've captured something important there - the different styles in which I write seem to attract different readers. Why do I do it? Haven't the foggiest, mate.
In this style of story I find myself using one key moment as a 'tell' - to make it clear its a personal revelation rather than simply surfing the waves of the moment, as most people do in situations/conversations. The line you mentioned above was that moment in this piece, so it is as I intended, so I will agree its designed to stand clear in some ways. I think maybe you're right about the coffee, though. Am not sure whether to lengthen, because I find this kind of prose difficult to sustain.

I might work on trying to write something that combines my two styles. That should be the weirdest read going, if I manage it!

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2004-03-22 02:44:58
Re: She Smiles
Mark, think you took it a little too seriously, mate. My remark was not really directed at you - it was almost a throwaway, so don't take it to heart. I withdraw it... 🙂

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2004-03-22 02:46:17
Re: She Smiles
and I didn't say you were 'wrong'

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-03-22 02:47:36
Re: She Smiles
(big smile) How unexpected! Erm... I can see Kenochi's point. This is a popular style at the mo, all minimalist sentences and weighty pauses, and I made the point about the storyline not exactly being fresh as a daisy.
BUT you are right about how I feel about it... its those things because thats how I wanted it to be, not through randomness, and it does exactly what I want it to do, and I feel its an improvement of ability - not style, not meaning, but of determination to make everything (plot, characters, metaphors, objects, timing, pace, start, finish) reflect on that one issue, but subtely enough to leave the reader room to breathe. (Think you must have seen this because you read so much of my writing!)

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-03-22 08:02:51
Re: She Smiles
The 'and it scares her' - I think you can describe that and maintain its importance - perhaps her eyes felt hot at the internal revelation came to the fore? The burning eyes could only be felt by her? Don't get me wrong - I still like it - I just think it can stand out in another way.

I find my own style mixed in this way too - which is why some like, and some don't - then they almost swap positions like that old kiddies programme - Runaround!

To mix it up would be good - but it's probably the hardest thing to do! Good luck, I'll look out for it!


Author's Reply:

JackSteiger on 2004-03-23 09:56:03
Re: She Smiles
Sorry bluepootle I never got round to reading your piece - boy you attract some heated debate - I never got passed the comments board ! I love it. I'll get round to reading your story when I've finished laughing. All the best Jack

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-03-24 08:07:47
Re: She Smiles
yeah, I think the comments now have a higher word count than the story! Hope you like it when you find the time to read it, though.

Author's Reply:

JackSteiger on 2004-03-24 09:35:33
Re: She Smiles
I enjoyed your story. After reading your comments before hand it was a bit of an anticlimax. I like the way you build up an atmosphere and scenario quickly and the story was touching and carefully handled.
Only to say, I think that your much welcomed contributions on other writers sites came back in a flood to haunt you: You are UKA's Mrs Popular. Good all round story. Thanks J.


Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-03-24 12:13:45
Re: She Smiles
after all those comments you must have been expecting no less than Shakespeare! No, its an okay little story and I can't say I mind the -ahem - attention.

Author's Reply:

Lulu on 2004-04-08 07:25:40
Re: She Smiles
Beautiful characterisation, and very impressive description of a somehow very real situation.

You didn't need any descriptions to make us all picture these three people. Greatly done.

Thank you!

(and nice to read you, I think is my first time!).

xxx
Luisa.

Author's Reply:

davepick on 2004-04-08 13:13:02
Re: She Smiles
Nice one BP. I loved the intensity of this piece. Made me want more. To me it felt as though I was reading an excerpt from a much longer work (an excerpt that stands very well on its own though.) My first reaction to 'Him' was that he was a pretty compassionate and understanding guy, but I later suspected that he could have been the assailant. Great. Thanks for posting.
Dave....

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-04-10 03:12:25
Re: She Smiles
thanks Luisa - glad you enjoyed. I've found readers fill in missing physical descriptions with faces they feel comfortable with, and that automatically removes a barrier from immersing in the story... um... that was the intention, anyway! Thanks again.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-04-10 03:13:34
Re: She Smiles
thanks Dave. Its interesting to hear how the reader's opinion changes with this one.

Author's Reply:

Ali on 2004-04-12 05:28:19
Re: She Smiles
I felt this was a very powerful piece. Lots of emotions cleverly conveyed without being obvious. I thought It covered various topics very skillfully, such as how traumatic events affect relationships. Freindships between the sexes and the territorial nature of relationships. The boyfreind obviously uncomfortable with his girlfreinds affection and concern for her freind.

Excellent!

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-04-12 08:09:00
Re: She Smiles
thanks Ali, much appreciated.

Author's Reply:

Heirloom on 2004-04-15 14:36:10
Re: She Smiles
54comments? Not much I can add, is there?
I liked this, some great writing, tho I found it a little difficult to differentiate between the two male chars at first - probably just me not concentrating! A damn good read. 8/10
Steven

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-04-15 14:59:21
Re: She Smiles
mmm... it was a danger with the not naming of one of the male characters, but I liked the facelessness it gave him for such a short piece. Anyway, thanks Steven - all comments are brilliant (and I'm very lucky!)

Author's Reply:

razorcuts on 2004-04-15 15:24:39
Re: She Smiles
55th comment, where have i been?
this was nice, v. feminine tho, reminded me of 'Friends' in strange sort of way, don't know why.
was it a mugging or attempted murder as injuries were quite severe.
your style is yours, people choose to like or dislike accordingly. don't let praise or critic deter you.
well done.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-04-15 15:34:43
Re: She Smiles
Thanks v much for that -
You're right, this kind of piece has a feminine feel to it; I think its the way the description is approached. Am trying hard to think of a male writer who works in a similar fashion now, or if its actually the female main character who makes you think the writing style is feminine. Its an interesting one as I try v hard not to be earmarked as a 'feminine writer' and I know other female writers who also try to avoid such description, although I have to wonder why, I mean, is it such a bad thing to be anyway?

Author's Reply:

OolonColoophid on 2004-05-01 15:44:56
Re: She Smiles
Hi Aliya

I thought this was a nice little piece - I like it because it isn't really a story as such, but a portrait of a moment, and a well-written one at that.

Regards

Ian

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-05-02 11:31:41
Re: She Smiles
thanks Ian; yes, its not really plot driven, more of a character thing I guess.

Author's Reply:

Skeeter on 2004-06-17 01:16:26
Re: She Smiles
Hmm, yes I do like it, it says a lot. But its one of those thats like an iceberg: theres obviously more that is unsaid. I can't stand people like that bloke, and I hope we're not meant to have empathy/hero worship because I don't. I feel that the quaility of writing is very good, dramatically done, with some very nice touches; but its oddly unsatisfying, because, I suppose, I want to root for Jack, and want to see/read more about him and the Dinah character.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-06-18 12:10:18
Re: She Smiles
the more I look at this the more it looks like part of something longer. Am feeling tempted to expand, maybe, on the basis of these comments. The unnamed character - am pleased with the reaction people have to him, and I certainly didn't want anyone to feel a certain way. Its that aspect of this snapshot that most pleases me in retrospect. Cheers Skeets!

Author's Reply:


Paper Trail (posted on: 08-03-04)
The footprints of any art.

Ballet -
the art of the swift
turn,
the arched foot, the
pas-de-bras; first, third, fifth, and when
that's mastered
dance may start.

Dancer
dips her toes, encased in blocks, in
emerald paint, and stands on sheets to
begin the art of the swift
turn,
the green spray, the
splatter, twist and patter
at her heart.
Archived comments for Paper Trail
bektron on 2004-03-08 03:54:42
Re: Paper Trail
this is beautiful.
loved this:

dips her toes, encased in blocks, in
emerald paint, and stands on sheets to
begin the art of the swift
turn,

bek


Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-03-08 03:59:40
Re: Paper Trail
ta bek - can't help feeling when I look at it this morning that its insubstantial when it was meant to be precise. I'm glad you liked it.

Author's Reply:

Claire on 2004-03-08 04:07:31
Re: Paper Trail
toes, encased in blocks - that sounds painful. Yet, they still manage to dance on them.
Not my type of poem, but I still liked the read.

Author's Reply:

bektron on 2004-03-08 04:13:31
Re: Paper Trail
Oh I know *that* feeling well lol-bek

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-03-08 04:13:59
Re: Paper Trail
thanks Claire

Author's Reply:

Jack_Cade on 2004-03-08 06:09:30
Re: Paper Trail
Swifts are my favourite bird! I don't think this is insubstantial at all - it has that minimalist haiku-esque feel about it. A gentle pace, then a precise progression of images.

The first stanza may annoy ballet enthusiasts - you make it sound incredibly easy! Think it's the use of the word 'mastered'.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-03-08 06:17:14
Re: Paper Trail
Thanks Jack,
You know I never thought about that! I trained as a ballet dancer for twelve years and still wasn't anywhere near mastery at the end of it... good point. Maybe a middle verse about bleeding toes and hours at the barre? Mmmm....

Author's Reply:

Sunken on 2004-03-09 01:59:52
Re: Paper Trail
My calander at work has a ballet dancer on it for March... don't know why I'm telling you that but there ya go. Not my kind of thing but I can see the appeal. Far more skilled than most of ignorant types realise. Great write, as usual.

s
u
n
k

Author's Reply:

Bee on 2004-03-09 03:06:13
Re: Paper Trail
This is one of the best poems I've read by you. You marry beautifully the visual, the sense of movement in the perfect rhythm and the emotional - pain producing beauty. At first I wanted a third stanza, mainly because it was so powerful I wanted more, but then I decided it had said enough - so much in so few words. Great!

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-03-09 05:40:24
Re: Paper Trail
thank you sunken - those ballet dancers are everywhere, aren't they?

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-03-09 05:41:12
Re: Paper Trail
ta Bee. You got right into what I was trying to do, there. Success!

Author's Reply:

Leila on 2004-03-09 07:26:31
Re: Paper Trail
Concise and controlled write, in keeping with the subject..nice one.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-03-09 07:32:28
Re: Paper Trail
thanks Leila - the most satisfying writes from my POV is when I manage to combine form and content.

Author's Reply:

Gee on 2004-03-10 16:06:17
Re: Paper Trail
Dancing, when it's done properly, looks so graceful and so easy to the observer, when it takes a great deal of practise and pain to get it that way.
Much like writing, really.
I like this very much.



Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-03-11 03:19:12
Re: Paper Trail
thanks for that, Gee

Author's Reply:

glennie on 2004-03-12 06:29:21
Re: Paper Trail
I don't usually 'get' poetry but i liked this.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-03-12 06:34:03
Re: Paper Trail
thanks Glennie - you sound like me! I like poetry to be crisp and clear and accessible (hides in corner)

Author's Reply:

britgrrl on 2004-03-13 06:10:02
Re: Paper Trail
the green spray, the
splatter, twist and patter
at her heart.

Ah! The dance of life and the paths we take. The hopes and dreams embodied in the ballerina's graceful execution. I'm brought right into your poem so that I feel what she feels - the splatter, twist and patter of her heart. This is stunning, Blue. A favorite for me. Shelagh

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-03-13 06:18:42
Re: Paper Trail
Thanks Shelagh; this was an image that came to me recently and could only be expressed as a poem. And I thought I'd given up writing poetry! So its heartening that it works for people.

Author's Reply:

marym on 2004-06-23 05:45:42
Re: Paper Trail
... footprints of any art --- beautiful way to describe dance... beautiful offering in words for "ballet".
regards, mary

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-06-23 05:53:37
Re: Paper Trail
thanks for that Mary... Carnelian poetry e-zine is going to be including this poem in their summer issue, so thanks to everyone who offered comments & helped me to improve it!

Author's Reply:

Rising_Dea on 2004-06-25 05:10:41
Re: Paper Trail
heh...you are a true Degas of words! Lovely...
:o)
wish you a bunch of smiles today


Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-06-25 05:11:32
Re: Paper Trail
thanks muchly!

Author's Reply:


Tip Of The Tongue (posted on: 09-02-04)
I've submitted this so that people can compare it with the second version - Tasting Teresa (and because Claire asked me to, mainly!). Please don't read it if you are offended easily.

The skin split under the pressure of her teeth to flood her tongue with the sharp-sweet liquid. The mouthful needed only the lightest touch to fall into shreds, tickling the sensitive mound at the back of her throat until she swallowed.

She licked the moisture from the curve of her upper lip and opened her eyes. 'Nectarine,' she whispered.

A smile escaped him. He moved past her. Teresa watched the span of his back and the movements of his shoulders as he forked another piece of fruit and placed it to the lips of the woman to her right. His t-shirt stretched and freed itself from the lip of his jeans, revealing an inch of hairless skin, the colour of caramel.

She forced herself to concentrate on writing her answer in the penultimate box on the tasting sheet. When she looked up, he was standing in front of her once more. She closed her eyes obediently and waited for the shock of cool metal against her mouth.

There it was. The pressure of the fork, and the invasion of the morsel: light, spongy, giving, as she held it between her tongue and the roof of her mouth. Subtle, elegant, tightening her taste buds, there was the tang of garlic, and maybe chilli, hot and sweet, clinging to her teeth. She chewed once and felt the tearing of flesh, and a rush of salty juice.

'Prawn,' she whispered. She opened her eyes to catch the caress of his corresponding smile. Then she marked her sheet and slid her fountain pen into her suede handbag.

'Okay everyone, that's it for Taste bud Training tonight,' Steve said. 'Leave your sheets on the desk and we'll go over the results next week.'

People moved, and Teresa waited. She liked to be the last out of the room. Except that this time Steve was not moving either; he was looking at her. And, forgetting he couldn't be attracted to someone her size, she was returning the look.

'It's my birthday,' he said, when the room was empty and the corridor had gone quiet.

'Happy birthday.'

'I got a good bottle of wine from my parents. I wanted to share it with someone who'll appreciate it. Is that okay?'

There was a clatter and hum, and the corridor went dark. It made the room smaller. He took a bottle, a corkscrew and two paper cups from the plastic bag by the leg of his desk and moved to her, crouching by her chair. He touched the corkscrew to the foil and stripped it away, then eased the metal curves into the neck of the bottle before tugging the cork free. She watched his hands, broad palms, long fingers, pouring the wine, giving her a cup, and she closed her eyes through habit as she took the first sip.

'Warm,' she whispered.

'Vanilla,' he murmured.

'Heavy.'

'Autumn fruits.'

'Blackberries.'

'Cinnamon.'

'Treacle.'

He exhaled; she felt his breath on her face. She leaned towards him, waiting for a touch on her lips, a taste of his mouth on hers. She had dreamed of this.

'Goodness, it's getting late. My girlfriend will be wondering where I am.'

His voice was far away. She opened her eyes and saw him stoppering his wine, picking up his plastic bag, and shuffling a step at a time away from her.

*

The girlfriend was not at all how Teresa had imagined her.

It was after eight by the time she had followed Steve home and concealed herself in the Leylandii by his back door, overlooking the kitchen window. Now he was standing by his sink, drinking a tap water out of a pint glass, and the girlfriend was putting on a hooded jacket and picking up a gym bag.

She was tall, and blonde, and tanned, and slim. She was wearing cycling shorts that showed off her flat bottom, and little white socks that peeked over her immaculate trainers. She kissed him goodbye with a pucker of her thin lips, and Teresa breathed deeply as she opened the door and walked past. There was no trail of perfume from her passing. The girlfriend was the definition of bland.

So that was what he liked. Even if she got close to him, even if the girlfriend dropped dead and he turned to her large bosom for comfort, she would never get close enough. She would never be his fantasy woman.

But maybe, just once, he could be her dream man.

She fought her way out of the hedge, rearranged her clothing, and tapped twice on the kitchen door.

'Teresa! I, um, what a surprise'

She gave him a smile. 'Sorry to jump on you at home, but I was just in the neighbourhood and wanted to ask you for the name of that wine, if you don't mind. It was so delicious that I thought I'd head out and pick up a bottle tonight for a party I'm going to. Is that okay?'

'Of course!' She must have sounded plausible; he picked it up from the kitchen table, and walked back to her, the label turned outwards. 'Here we are'

She took it from his hands and smashed it over his head.

He collapsed on to his polished floorboards, amidst the shards of curved green glass, and lay still. It was much easier than she had expected.

Teresa straddled him and sat on his stomach. His eyes were closed and his mouth open; he reminded her of herself in his classes, waiting for a taste of something special.

She leaned forward and kissed him, defining the taste of him; there was the intense fruit of the wine from earlier, the top note of mint from his toothpaste, and a thrill, similar to sherbet, from being so close to him. The weight of his tongue invoked a pleasant memory of the time he had fed her an oyster in class. The smooth, rubbery texture was the same, and she lost herself in that recollection, feeling the enjoyment of a new experience take her over once more.

She bit down once, hard, and swallowed, throwing back her head just as Steve had taught her with the oyster. The tip of his tongue slid down easily.

She savoured the aftertaste. He was sweeter than she could have imagined. The wine and his blood complimented each other: both dry and warm, both with that piquant quality that lingered at the back of her throat, both more-ish.

She took as long as she dared over her culinary tour.

His ear was a squab, delicate flesh picked from tiny bones, difficult to eat but worth the trouble. His eyeball was more similar to a water chestnut than a lychee; it had a crunchy texture that was exquisite when combined with the slippery coating. His lower lip reminded her of fresh ravioli, the skin peeling back as she cut it away with one of his kitchen knives to reveal the spicy meat filling.

She chewed a bicep, but it was unsatisfying, rather like cheap jerky. His stomach was more rewarding. A thick slice yielded the taste of well hung game, one of her favourites. It was richer than rabbit, yet lighter than boar, and brought to mind the image of Steve running free through a meadow, enjoying exercising his body as much as she was enjoying eating it.

A slab of thigh was easily superior to the best blue sirloin she had ever eaten. And his little toes were so good she had to have both of them. They were full, bursting grapes on her tongue, filling her mouth with juice, and the tiny toenails were pips that she spat over her shoulder.

For dessert she ate his foreskin, peeling it away and then rolling it between her fingers to make a bite sized delicacy, spicy as spanish ham. It would have been complimented well with stuffed olives and sangria.

Her dream fulfilled, Teresa had only one thing left to do. She retrieved her score care and her fountain pen from her handbag, filling it out and leaving it on his chest.

Steve Carpacchio. Flavour ten. Texture ten. Aroma ten. Overall ten.

He had fulfilled her dream, and he deserved top marks. She was sure he would appreciate it when he woke up.






Archived comments for Tip Of The Tongue
Claire on 2004-02-09 03:07:12
Re: Tip Of The Tongue
I still think this is a better version.
Gruesome and sick. I think it's great.
You've dug deep into the world of bizzare with this one. Well done!

Claire.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-02-09 03:15:27
Re: Tip Of The Tongue
ta Claire. Actually, I don't think this is the better version, but my husband said, after reading both versions, that he could only imagine them working if read together, and I've been thinking about that a lot and decided to post to see if others felt that way.

Author's Reply:

ritawrites on 2004-02-09 05:01:31
Re: Tip Of The Tongue
Yumm – gimme some steve rare done --

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2004-02-09 06:43:35
Re: Tip Of The Tongue
So you actually submitted in the end? 🙂
I still think both versions are as good as each other, though it's just possible that this one has the edge because of the gruesome content! >:-)

I think, though, that by warning people away, you might have inadvertently attracted the very people you were trying to warn. Human nature being what it is, as soon as there's the chance of being scared or offended, curiosity gets the upper hand and demands we have a look! 😉

A good story in either form. 🙂

Author's Reply:

Slovitt on 2004-02-09 08:27:07
Re: Tip Of The Tongue
Bluepootle: Perhaps your conclusion to Tasting Teresa was a bit ordinary, but this version doesn't ring true for me. I don't see the motivation established for Teresa's behavior, either in her past, or in her interaction with Steve. I think the tongue and the little toes were what did me in. Swep

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-02-09 08:31:22
Re: Tip Of The Tongue
Hi Swep, yup, that's pretty much word for word my conclusion on it. It lacks motivation, and seems pretty barbaric for no reason. My only defence is that I wanted to push description to its limit, and this version soon got replaced by version two, 'Tasting Teresa', which, to be honest, I prefer. Posted only as an exercise - some people seem to prefer this one...I wonder why?

Author's Reply:

OolonColoophid on 2004-02-09 08:40:04
Re: Tip Of The Tongue
An excellent story. A great opening line, a steady ratchetting-up of tension, and some genuinely gruesome writiing - no doubt helped by your decision to make the analogue between the usual meets in the human diet and the human himself.

Yep, very enjoyable. I am now a vegetarian.

Author's Reply:

Michel on 2004-02-09 11:39:49
Re: Tip Of The Tongue
I thought it was meant to be funny (?) Anyway, I laughed my head off .

Author's Reply:

spacegirl on 2004-02-09 14:13:55
Re: Tip Of The Tongue
It was a very good piece, gruesome and I did laugh at the end, bit of black humour. I definitely prefer this version,

Author's Reply:

Penprince on 2004-02-09 20:02:11
Re: Tip Of The Tongue
Quite a spine tingling write..well written!

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-02-10 06:31:47
Re: Tip Of The Tongue
thanks spacegirl

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-02-10 06:32:33
Re: Tip Of The Tongue
glad to have entertained! i do agree; I can't really take it seriously

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-02-10 06:32:47
Re: Tip Of The Tongue
thanks for that penprince

Author's Reply:

chippy on 2004-02-10 06:48:06
Re: Tip Of The Tongue
Aaagh! I'm obviously one of the ones who should have heeded your warning! Having yacked up at the descriptions of removing his lips... oh, I can't go on, I'm turning green again! How you managed to keep your food down as you wrote this in intricate detail, I don't know!

Anyhow - the issue of motivation for Theresa. Your description of her as a true gormand, with greed beyond parallel (evidently), made it almost feasible to me. A lot of horror stories do push the limits of our credulity, so perhaps this helps you out too. And who can forget the immortal lines'... with some fava beans and a fine chianti..' If it's good enough for Hannibal...

I like the black humour of it too.



Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-02-10 08:30:03
Re: Tip Of The Tongue
As I said when I read it previously, I thought this version was great - the other was v good too.
Very black and humourous - it's definitely nothing to take seriously or to look at the characters' motivations. It's just a well-written fun piece.
Nice one!

Author's Reply:

shackleton on 2004-02-10 14:50:34
Re: Tip Of The Tongue
Hi Bluepootle. Scary lady. I enjoyed this - innovative black humour and fantastic (if gruesome) images. I think I enjoyed the first version best. Good stuff. Bye now.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-02-11 03:50:35
Re: Tip Of The Tongue
thanks Shackleton - is that because of the motivation issue or something else, or is it just a gut feeling? but thanks

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-02-11 03:52:04
Re: Tip Of The Tongue
Thanks - I have to admit to posting the warning for purely selfish reasons. I thought that if anyone accused me of being sick and twisted I could defend myself by saying that I did warn them! Although, knowing how the human mind works, I did have a sneaking suspicion it might attract more attention that it deserves...

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-02-11 03:52:33
Re: Tip Of The Tongue
ta Steve

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-02-11 03:53:51
Re: Tip Of The Tongue
thanks Chippy, thats quite helpful. Its so short that maybe it can get away with being not quite realistic although I definitely believe it would help!)

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-02-11 03:54:30
Re: Tip Of The Tongue
the poor Steves of this world - in demand for all the wrong reasons.

Author's Reply:

shackleton on 2004-02-11 12:56:26
Re: Tip Of The Tongue
Hi Bluepootle. Probably just a gut feeling - or perhaps just the daft fact that I read the other version first. Enjoyed them both actually.

Author's Reply:

Claire on 2004-02-12 16:01:08
Re: Tip Of The Tongue
97 reads and 22 comments! Not bad eh!
I hope you are pleased you submitted it.
Told you that there is a lot of wierd people on this site that would enjoy this.

Next time you write a story, don't think about putting it on here - just do it! You do it well.

Author's Reply:

Kipper on 2004-02-22 11:23:43
Re: Tip Of The Tongue
You did warn me, so it's my own fault. Uugh; just had to take a peek.
"Keep off the grass" has the same effect.
Quick! out of my way !! Too late !!!

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-02-22 11:29:38
Re: Tip Of The Tongue
sorry kipper
don't know what comes over me (hmmm... new idea for story occurring)

Author's Reply:

senwad on 2004-03-17 15:10:29
Re: Tip Of The Tongue
Whoah! Not an ideal first date where I come from 😉

Initially, I liked the flavour tests, which alluded to an intimate situation that lovers might be involved in, and then the broadening out into the true scene. This sets the groundwork well for what is to follow, but perhaps you could have dropped something in that would only make sense later. Something suggesting previous victims' traumas, but very subtle and vague.

I felt the pace dropped off a little towards the middle, and some of the sentences were a bit on the passive side.

Quite chilling towards the end, with her quaffing pieces of his anatomy that he was likely to miss, if and when he came round. The attack was unexpected, which is good; I thought she was going to drug him or try some other way of enticing him to herself.

Overall, a good read and a story well told. A lot of impact for the word count, good descriptions; not over-done, and much enjoyed.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-03-18 03:20:00
Re: Tip Of The Tongue
thanks Senwad - this is a first draft of a story that developed into' Tasting Teresa', also posted here. I'm glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for the feedback.

Author's Reply:


Tasting Teresa (posted on: 16-01-04)
Click to see more top choices

The literary equivalent of a bar of Fruit and Nut.

The skin split under the pressure of her teeth to flood her tongue with the sharp-sweet liquid. The mouthful needed only the lightest touch to fall into shreds, tickling the sensitive mound at the back of her throat until she swallowed. She licked the moisture from the curve of her upper lip and opened her eyes. 'Nectarine,' she whispered. A smile escaped him. He moved past her. Teresa watched the span of his back and the movements of his shoulders as he forked another piece of fruit and placed it to the lips of the woman to her right. His t-shirt stretched and freed itself from the lip of his jeans, revealing an inch of hairless skin, the colour of caramel. She slid her eyes away and wrote her answer in the penultimate box on the tasting sheet. When she looked up, he was standing in front of her once more. She closed her eyes obediently and waited for the shock of cool metal against her mouth. There it was. The pressure of the fork, and the invasion of the morsel: light, spongy, giving, as she held it between her tongue and the roof of her mouth. Subtle, elegant, tightening her taste buds, there was the tang of garlic, and maybe chilli, hot and sweet, clinging to her teeth. She chewed once and felt the tearing of flesh, and a rush of salty juice. 'Prawn,' she whispered. She opened her eyes to catch the caress of his corresponding smile. Then she marked her sheet and slid her fountain pen into her suede handbag. 'Okay everyone, that's it for Taste Bud Training tonight,' Steve said. 'Leave your sheets on the desk and we'll go over the results next week.' People moved, and Teresa waited. She liked to be the last out of the room. Except that this time Steve was not moving either; he was looking at her. And, forgetting he couldn't be attracted to someone her size, she was returning the look. 'It's my birthday,' he said, when the room was empty and the corridor had gone quiet. 'Happy birthday.' 'I got a good bottle of wine from my parents. I wanted to share it with someone who'll appreciate it. Is that okay?' There was a clatter and hum, and the corridor went dark. It made the room smaller. He took a bottle, a corkscrew and two paper cups from the plastic bag by the leg of his desk and moved to her, crouching by her chair. He touched the corkscrew to the foil and stripped it away, then eased the metal curves into the neck of the bottle before tugging the cork free. She watched his hands, broad palms, long fingers, pouring the wine, giving her a cup, and she closed her eyes through habit as she took the first sip. 'Warm,' she whispered. 'Vanilla,' he murmured. 'Heavy.' 'Autumn fruits.' 'Blackberries.' 'Cinnamon.' 'Treacle.' He exhaled; she felt his breath on her face. He placed something on her lips, something warm, and as she opened to receive it she realised it was his own mouth. The smoothness of his tongue mingled with hers, brushed against the contours of her teeth, and she defined the taste of him; there was the intense fruit of the wine, the top note of mint from his toothpaste, and a thrill, similar to sherbet, as he ended the kiss. She opened her eyes. He was resting on his haunches, pouring more wine into her cup. 'You taste wonderful,' she said. 'So do you. And you smell wonderful. And you look wonderful.' 'Stop it.' 'You're so passionate, so sensuous, you can't help it. I've wanted this to happen for months. To touch you.' He put his hand on her stomach, directly on the double roll of fat that was battling against her tight blouse. He did what she had dreamed of. He unwrapped her, tasted her mouth, licked her skin, drizzled her with wine and sucked her dry. He enjoyed her. * It was one in the morning when Teresa got home. She opened the fridge and looked inside. Then she removed her coat and got to work. She started with the stilton, blue veins bleeding through the chalk cliff face, then on to the brie, oozing like a custard slice. The mascarpone called next, sitting like a snowfall in its golden tub. Her eyes turned to the top shelf; to the butter, bedecked with toast crumbs, and the seventy per cent Madagascan chocolate, a huge bar, brittle, sharp-edged from her daily chipping. Next to it was the raspberry yoghurt, full fat, fruit pieces. Her fingers stroked the meat - the parma ham, fresh pink, curling back from the paper and the cured bacon, marbled with fat, heavy with rind. Then there was the remains of yesterday's roast pork, topped with a smile of crackling, perfect with the bottle of beer, the silver top clinging like a jellyfish, holding its breath. Finally, she picked up the tiramisu slice. The chocolate dusting clung to her fingers as she tipped it from the plate in to the bin bag, but tonight she was immune. She rinsed her hand under the tap before tying the bag shut and putting it outside the back door. Confidence had been the missing ingredient, but now she had it. The night class had given her what she needed. Now she had him she could accomplish anything. The diet had started.
Archived comments for Tasting Teresa


richa on 2004-01-16 04:51:32
Re: Tasting Teresa
Great story, very realistic. Confidence can make you perform miracles.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-01-16 04:53:21
Re: Tasting Teresa
Thanks Richa. I wanted it to feel honest.

Author's Reply:

Archer on 2004-01-16 05:08:19
Re: Tasting Teresa
i thoroughly enjoyed this. thought it was very well written. could have lived without his 'caramel' skin. and i think it would have been funnier if she'd actually eaten all that stuff in the fridge, rather than binning it. that might just be my perverse sense of humour though.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-01-16 05:19:02
Re: Tasting Teresa
thanks archer, was trying to draw lots of parallels here (as I'm sure you're aware!) - maybe caramel skin is a step too far. Will think on it.

I did write one version where she ate everything and the diet would start tomorrow, but binned that early on (appropriately) in order to go for a different angle. Will be interesting to see if anyone else feels the same as you.

Author's Reply:

Slovitt on 2004-01-16 05:40:50
Re: Tasting Teresa
Beautiful transition from tasting foods to each other.
And your descriptive words for the tastes remind me of wine critics who describe a vintage as if it had dozens of qualities, rather than the "sweet" or "dry" that I would ascribe to it. A very nice story, though I do wonder about their future together, for after all, Steve did fall for a porcine Teresa, and there are all kinds of fetishes.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-01-16 05:42:48
Re: Tasting Teresa
That was my worry too! Thanks for the comment.

Author's Reply:

ritawrites on 2004-01-16 06:14:23
Re: Tasting Teresa
GRRRRO-O-O-AN-NNNN!!! There goes mine!! *heading for the fridge-tongue slobbering – belly screaming* -- super super lip-smacking descriptions -- terrific writing --

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-01-16 06:17:14
Re: Tasting Teresa
I have to admit I ate quite a few choccie biccies whilst writing this - not good for will power. I did have an alternate version where Teresa ate Steve. That might have helped with the diet.

Thanks for the comment Rita.

Author's Reply:

ritawrites on 2004-01-16 06:20:50
Re: Tasting Teresa
Oh yeah -- please please do that version -- what would it be -- tandoori steve -- or steve vindaloo -- or maybe just bloiled and sauteed -- GRRRROANNN -- there i go again -- *going off to find a steve*

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2004-01-16 06:39:55
Re: Tasting Teresa
But Rita - I'm shocked! Think of the pain and suffering Steves endure, just so YOU can eat them!
I don't know how you can even THINK of it! 🙂

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2004-01-16 08:19:02
Re: Tasting Teresa
That other version - where she eats Steve - would be good.

"Get Steve. You wanna make just a few light cuts to the flesh...get the coriander, a bit of rosemary and lemon grass, maybe some garlic...and just smack him in the oven. Pukka!" 😉

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-01-16 10:41:36
Re: Tasting Teresa
mmm... i'm beginning to worry about some members of UKA

but I suppose I'm the one who wrote that version

Author's Reply:

barber on 2004-01-16 11:24:38
Re: Tasting Teresa
Felt like a bit of an experiment this one, like you're seeing how far you could go with and stretch the similes. I reckon you could shorten the beginning and write more about their shared food festishes; his control of her appetite, perhaps??

Enjoyed it a lot though. Refreshingly odd.

I'd drop the "wrenched her gaze" sentence - bit of a cliche that does a disservice to how well the rest of it is written.




Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-01-16 11:36:45
Re: Tasting Teresa
that's very astute of you - i do set myself goals, and this was, 'push description to the limits.' And 'wrenched her gaze' was the one line I really oohed and aahed with - am going back to look at it now. Thanks barber.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-01-16 17:35:34
Re: Tasting Teresa
I like the eating Steve version idea - post it!-, but perhaps change the name ... 😉 ... reminds me of the recent news story where a guy answered an internet ad to go somewhere and be eaten by some cannibal chap. Strange world.

Great descriptive writing, BP.



Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-01-16 18:11:56
Re: Tasting Teresa
okay, I might post that version under the original title. Thanks Steve (purely coincidental name usage, by the way!)

Author's Reply:

PaulS on 2004-01-16 18:27:20
Re: Tasting Teresa
As I type there are 3 votes and an average score of 5.66. This doesn't seem to reflect the comments or the Great read status. Hope this next vote helps.
Great descriptive sense. Keep feeding us Bluepootle!

Author's Reply:

idmonster on 2004-01-17 03:21:03
Re: Tasting Teresa
Enjoyable read. I actually started looking at this before breakfast and it made me feel so hungry that I had to stop for a piece of toast!

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2004-01-17 03:33:38
Re: Tasting Teresa
You could cal it 'Stewing Steve' or 'Sauteeing Steve'

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-01-17 03:58:17
Re: Tasting Teresa
Actually, I've looked at that version again and decided not to post. It's too upsetting!

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-01-17 03:58:56
Re: Tasting Teresa
Thanks Paul.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-01-17 04:00:00
Re: Tasting Teresa
I'm glad it -er- worked for you. Thanks!

Author's Reply:

flash on 2004-01-18 04:25:02
Re: Tasting Teresa
9 1/2 weeks English style.I hated seeing all that lovely food wasted, i would have allowed Teresa one last binge before that commiting herself to that swear word....you know DIET...arrrggghhh.


Nice tale, well written as usual.

Author's Reply:

Heirloom on 2004-01-18 04:32:35
Re: Tasting Teresa
Good, vivid description, bp. Liked this.
Why are these guys alway called Steve, though? The ending died a little for me there 'cause I couldn't help but picture either myself or TheGeeza, and (no offence mate!) but she'd choose the cheese!
Anyway, good quality stuff as usual.
best regards
(ahem)
Steve

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-01-18 06:10:12
Re: Tasting Teresa
ta flash

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-01-18 06:13:36
Re: Tasting Teresa
Sorry, um, Steve... but thanks for the comment. I'll try to give the Steves of this world a break from characterisation for a while.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-01-18 06:27:35
Re: Tasting Teresa
Makes me want to read it even more ... and yes, it obviously refers to Heirloom and not I.
C'mon ... let's see it! (so to speak).


Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-01-18 13:45:14
Re: Tasting Teresa
It really is deeply offensive ... if anyone really wants to read it, PM me and I'll send it your way. But I couldn't post it here.

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2004-01-18 13:58:26
Re: Tasting Teresa
ME ME ME MEME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME !

er, me.

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2004-01-19 06:38:30
Re: Tasting Teresa
OK, I read it. She's right. This one here, Tasting THeresa' is MUCH better than 'eating steve'

I promise.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-01-19 07:05:06
Re: Tasting Teresa
told ya

Author's Reply:

BPS on 2004-01-19 08:49:09
Re: Tasting Teresa
Beautifully written. I have a suspicion there is a lot of you in there somehow. Do we have a problem sticking to the old diet? I don't overeat myself but I have been known to sink the odd pint!

Brian

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-01-19 08:51:05
Re: Tasting Teresa
thanks BPS
actually, am extremely lucky and have never needed to diet. But its very heartening to think that this must be believable!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-01-19 09:28:21
Re: Tasting Teresa
I disagree. The shocking element of the other balances the great taste descriptions.

It makes BP a scary lady, but it's fab imho.


Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2004-01-19 09:47:31
Re: Tasting Teresa
Hee- hee! Now whatcha gonna do, blue?


Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-01-19 09:50:27
Re: Tasting Teresa
flippin eck

Author's Reply:

britgrrl on 2004-01-19 23:44:09
Re: Tasting Teresa
Well deserving of the Great Read! I love your characters: they're so quirky. I want them all to live next door! Just love it that she's overweight yet the guy falls for her. The best of all possible worlds, huh? Delightful. Shelagh

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-01-20 04:22:33
Re: Tasting Teresa
thanks Shelagh - I'm glad you enjoyed it

Author's Reply:

Gee on 2004-01-21 05:53:31
Re: Tasting Teresa
Wonderful descriptions. I felt I was there tasting them and, as a direct result of this story, there's now a large slice of cheesecake missing from my fridge!
I liked the ending too, the way you described her taking the food from the fridge made me think she was eating it at first.
Great story.
~ Gillian

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-01-21 06:03:09
Re: Tasting Teresa
Thanks a lot, Gillian. I really wanted to work on my descriptive abilities with this piece so it's great to hear that it had the desired effect!

Author's Reply:

Sabrina on 2004-02-01 18:07:29
Re: Tasting Teresa
WHEeeeew! I din't know whether I was horny or hungry! Lots of sexual inuendos, "tickling the sensitive mound", "...the invasion of the morsel...", "...tearing of flesh...rush of salty juices", by this time everything is phallic, ..."...slid her fountain pen...". "...stripped it away, then eased the metal curves..." all this builds up to the actual seduction of Teresa (my middle name is spelled thus), "He unwrapped her..." what a climax! At some points I was exhaling soooo slowly.
BUT, the ending is too...hmmm, too less than the beginning. All this incredible build up and the outcome? Teresa is going on a diet. Can't she redocorate her room in S & M, buy a satin brocade corset with long laces, build a toy box and experiment with popsicles?
I have a voluptuous daughter, Venus describes her adequately, and upon looking for websites that might promote her physique and give her a chat room with others, I was surprised at all the attention pornographers put on large women. Also I did find a website for men who like larger women and their stories were sad. How large women were so accustomed to being the sport of jokes that these mens advances were not taken seriously, or worse, taken as a cruel joke, not only by the women but others/friends. Women are their own worst enemies. Going on a diet is always our answer to everything and it NEVER provides long term solutions, rather I enjoyed the fact that this beau desired her for her curves. Positive message. CARAMEL YES KEEP IT, perhaps only a woman can understand what that means, yum, yum! Anyways I better take a quick break! Ciao

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-02-02 03:12:18
Re: Tasting Teresa
Ta Sabrina

Indeed, it was written to be a horrible, disappointing ending that sums up exactly what you're saying- that many women can't see when someone desires them for themselves and seek to change when it just isn't necessary. But I know what you mean - I wanted her to do the can-can into the sunset too!

Thanks.

Author's Reply:

Claire on 2004-02-08 14:08:05
Re: Tasting Teresa
The ending was spot on. When a large woman gets the attention which she did it is a natural reaction to go on a diet. Trust me I should know - been there!
To the previous comments:
Just because she's thrown out the so called bad food, does not mean that she will stick to it and become slim. Steve may have given her the confidence to start, but she will soon realise that he fell for her the way she is meant to be.
Anyway she can't loose weight their interests are in food. A lovely Steve curry would go down good.

I would love to read your other version if you still have it handy. I'm a sick lass, love gore It's very hard to shock me.

Enjoyable read.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-02-08 14:13:31
Re: Tasting Teresa
Hi Claire

Thanks for the comment. I've sent you the nasty version as requested.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-02-08 14:51:53
Re: Tasting Teresa
okay, I'm posting the nasty version tomorrow under horror. Not quite sure why... feeling brave, perhaps.

Author's Reply:

OolonColoophid on 2004-02-09 08:52:49
Re: Tasting Teresa
I read the other story (an earlier draft) a few moments ago and I think that, while this is quite good, it lacks the power of the previous one.

For me, the previous story gets its power from the visceral, shocking descriptions and the slightly psychotic way in which the protagonist behaves. This made me skate over things like "Why does this guy like her?" and "What on earth is a taste-bud training class?" 🙂

But now that you've opted for this 'realer' approach with its change of genre (arguably not), I think you've been forced to address the characters' motivations - where this probably wasn't so necessary in the previous piece because of the conventions of the horror genre.

It's quite possible that the motivations bear up, but I didn't feel them to be true while I was reading. For example, the man says something like "You're a sensual person and that's why I like you" (paraphrasing), which stuck me as something for the reader's benefit (to explain why he would force himself on this woman) rather than something a man would say. And I think that, from my male perspective, the reader needs to know earlier than in the second scene that the protagonist is overweight, because this has a bearing on the interaction in the scene before.

Anyway these are my thoughts - I still think it is a good piece and these are minor criticisms that could be corrected with a couple of words (if you felt the need:-)

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-02-09 08:58:30
Re: Tasting Teresa
thanks very much; that's extremely helpful, particularly as you read the first version first and this version second (if you see what I mean).

I think writing can only be improved by addressing motivations in any genre, but you are right that the shock element of 'tip of the tongue' might make those motivations less of an issue for the reader. Thanks again for taking the time to look at both of these - some v good points raised that I shall go away and mull over!

Author's Reply:

OolonColoophid on 2004-02-11 14:50:00
Re: Tasting Teresa
No problem! I enjoyed both

Author's Reply:

neil2 on 2004-05-03 17:17:12
Re: Tasting Teresa
Yum! Yum! Yum!

But this is so lusciously descriptive....

I should never have watched "9 1/2 Weeks".Or read this juicy story.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-05-04 03:37:11
Re: Tasting Teresa
Every time I re-read I get hungry, tis true... thanks Neil

Author's Reply:

Slipwater on 2004-07-25 09:08:51
Re: Tasting Teresa
An interesting read, blue. A lot of sensuality with some nice ideas and fun imagery... I bet you had a lot of fun writing it!

Slips.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-07-25 14:59:39
Re: Tasting Teresa
Hi Slipwater, thanks for commenting! Yup, it was a bit of fun, along with its sister-piece, 'Tip of the Tongue'. They're going to be published as a joint thing in Fragment e-zine shortly.

Author's Reply:

pullmyhair on 2005-03-13 18:46:44
Re: Tasting Teresa
Very sensual in every way, bluepootle. Gorgeous and mouth-watering and an intriguing title that made me dive in to read prose - something I'm usually too lazy to do. I do think that in the section near the end that reads: "Confidence had been the missing ingredient, but now she had it. The night class had given her what she needed. It had given her Steve. Now she had him she could accomplish anything."
You could take out "It had given her Steve." Otherwise you have a conflict and it's unclear whether the point of the class was to gain confidence (that was my guess) or this one man.
Overall, though, ace and typical of your offbeat, iriginal way of thinking. pully x

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-03-13 18:51:26
Re: Tasting Teresa
Hi Pully - I love your idea and think I'm going to take you up on it. I like taking out what exactly she had gained and leaving it unsaid - is it confidence or is it a man? And which did she actually want? Yup, works better with that line taken out - thanks!

Author's Reply:


Staples (posted on: 08-12-03)
The dangerous combination of group dynamics and stationery.

An open plan office full of beige computers, chrome chairs, strip lighting and people.

Four trainees in the corner farthest from the double doors pretend to start working as they watch each other. It is as if four cars had pulled up to a roundabout simultaneously - someone has to force the situation before anyone else will dare to move.

Tim taps a key.

They start, tentatively, to process information at a slow speed. Ten minutes and approximately thirty mistakes later, the first interruption occurs.

''So what do you input on screen three?'' asks Melanie. The group has only been training together for three days and already they know her as the one likely to ask questions.

''Medical details.'' Tim is already known as one likely to answer questions. He replies to all Melanie's questions in the same immediate tone.

''Yeah.'' There is a pause.

''Page eight,'' Tim says.

''Yeah.''

Work resumes.

''I really stink at this,'' Lawrence says.

''Right, I'm at the end now, what do I do?'' Melanie interrupts.

Tim stops tapping on his keyboard. ''Add any notes on screen fourteen that didn't fit in the boxes and then staple the application back together, and put it in the 'processed' tray.''

''Yeah.''

''It's on Mr. Green's desk.''

''Yeah.''

Frog, the youngest of the four and straight out of his disappointing GCSE's, giggles.

''What?'' Lawrence says, eager for distraction.

''This bloke,'' Frog says, pointing at the ripped application form, ''This bloke has put down in the medical details bit that he's got haemorrhoids.''

''Seriously? Let me have a look.'' Frog passes over the appropriate page and Lawrence scans it with quick eyes. ''Bloody hell. I would never admit to that, but this guy, it's like he's proud of it or something.''

Tim looks up and speaks in a quiet voice. ''You have to disclose all medical conditions on the application, or else you're not properly insured. They told us that in training yesterday.''

Lawrence looks crestfallen. ''Still, I wouldn't admit to that.''

''Okay,'' Melanie says, pushing her thick black hair with flourescent pink roots back from her face. ''Where's the stapler?''

Silence.

''Where's the fucking stapler?'' she says, a nasty edge to her voice. She taps the table top with her long green fingernails.

''Don't look at me,'' Lawrence says, handing back the page. ''It was on Frog's side of the desk last.''

Frog takes the page and tosses it to lie on the others in front of him. ''I've got my stapler,'' he says.

''It's not your stapler,'' Melanie bites. ''It's the desk stapler. We all have to use it.''

''Fucking cheap skates.'' Frog retrieves the stapler from his drawer beside his chair, after a strong glare from Melanie, and slides it across the table. She jabs it into her application form. ''At school I had my own stapler.''

''One stapler to a group here, Frog,'' Tim says.

''Christ.''

''Buy your own stapler,'' Melanie suggests with boredom.

''Yeah right.'' Frog smiles at Lawrence, who half smiles back, glancing sideways at Melanie as he does so. ''Come on then.''

''Come on what?'' Melanie says.

''Give it back.''

She narrows her eyelids and her black mascara sticks her lashes together. ''It's not your stapler,'' she spells out.

''I need it now.''

''You're only on the medical details!''

''Who died and made you head of the table?''

Tim ventures a calming reply but Melanie talks over him, raising the volume until he gives up and trails off into a cough. ''If you can't understand that this is how the real world works then you should go back to fucking school until you've learned that you have to fucking well share!''

The last word becomes a shout, and an elderly, stick thin man with an immaculate white shirt and navy blue tie is standing behind Melanie by the time she closes her mouth.

''Is everything going smoothly here?'' he asks. Melanie, Lawrence and Frog all immediately turn to their computer screens with complete absorption. It is left to Tim to reply. ''Yes, thanks, Mr Green.''

''Remember, quality over speed for now. We're looking for quality.'' He puts a hand on Melanie's shoulder briefly. ''Then staple and put in my tray, mmm?'' He walks away in measured, important strides.

''Give me the stapler,'' Frog says in a low voice.

Melanie stares at him, but she slides it across the table before immersing herself in her computer screen as if Frog has ceased to exist.

---------------------------------------------------

When Frog arrives for work the next day, the others are sitting at the table. Each has a large pile of applications in front of them. Tim is working; his pile is already diminishing. Lawrence is picking his teeth with his finger and scanning a form. Melanie is toying with a stapler.

It's a new stapler, shiny in canary yellow. As Frog takes his seat and turns on his computer, she takes the two halves of a ripped application and staples them together, once, smartly, in the top left corner. Then she slides out of her chair and saunters over to Mr Green's desk to deposit it in the 'Processed' tray.

Frog takes the opportunity to retrieve the team stapler from his allocated drawer. Then he takes out a pot of correction fluid from his backpack and paints FROG upon it with great care. By the time he finishes Melanie has returned to her seat and is pretending not to watch him.

''Look at this one,'' Lawrence crows. He passes it to Frog.

''Nasal discharge due to too much caffeine,'' Frog reads aloud. He passes the form back. ''That is just fucking weird.'' His eyes flick between Melanie's desk and his own.

Tim looks up from his screen. ''Could you pass the stapler?'' he says to no-one in particular. Melanie responds immediately.

''Here.'' She passes her yellow stapler over to him. He uses it and passes it back.

Frog cracks. ''Where did that come from?'' he asks with narrowed eyes.

''It's mine. I bought it,'' Melanie replies.

''You paid out for one?'' Frog snorts. He catches Lawrence's eye, who half smiles back. ''What a sap! That's just what they want! Here, Lawrence, I'll put my stapler between our desks and you can use it whenever you want.''

Frog picks up his marked stapler with both hands and puts it down between them. Lawrence immediately, and with an uncomfortable shrug, takes it. ''Thanks,'' he mutters, He applies it to his application form and examines the result. He tries again. Then he flips open the top of the stapler and pokes at its innards. ''No staples left.''

Frog opens his drawer and hunts through the health and safety manuals and the welcome packs. ''Shit.'' He looks at Melanie as she taps pertly on her keyboard. Then he looks at Tim. ''Tim, mate, you got any staples?''

''No, I'm afraid not.'' He swallows, and offers, ''You could ask Mr Green for some.''

Melanie draws back her lips and produces a warning hiss.

''What?'' Frog says.

''Somebody asked him earlier for some stationery and he bawled them out for wasting it. He said nobody could have used up all the stuff we were given for genuine reasons.'' She leans over the desk. ''He said if anyone else asks him today he'll make them wish they hadn't.''

He stares at her. ''Have you got any spare staples?''

She smiles at him. ''Only got enough for my stapler. Sorry.'' Melanie passes the yellow stapler to Lawrence. ''Here you go.''

Lawrence uses it and returns it without looking at Frog, then moves his chair closer to his screen and scrunches down behind it.

Everyone returns to work. There is the tapping of keys and the clicking of mice. Mr Green makes his early morning patrol of the room and then returns to his seat.

Frog stands up. He collects together his ripped application form. He glances at the canary yellow stapler. Then he marches, with his loose pages, to the tray on Mr Green's desk.

-------------------------------------------------------------------

Frog is the last to arrive on the next day. He skulks into his seat and delves into his backpack to produce a small box. He opens it and tips out a handful of staples, which he loads, under the desk, into his stapler.

''Hi,'' Lawrence says. There is a grave quality to his voice, as if he is imparting an important message in code.

''Umm'' Tim says, but is interrupted by Melanie.

''Mr Green is really pissed off,'' she says in a stage whisper. ''He's been going around every group asking who put unstapled work in his tray yesterday. Nobody is owning up so he's checking on the computer to see who had those applications.''

Frog flushes.

Melanie turns to Tim. ''What button do I need to press on screen seven again?'' she demands.

''F2.''

''Yeah.''

Frog switches on his computer and prepares to tear the first application in his pile. He has the movements of a prisoner sewing mailbags; his hands work with a deft monotony whilst his eyes have a mission of their own. They are scanning for the approach of Mr Green.

''Frog?'' says Lawrence. ''Look. This woman has put her job down as 'Chicken Operative'.''

Frog throws a cursory glance at the proffered form. ''Yeah, right,'' he says. ''Mad.''

Melanie stops tapping on the keyboard and raises her eyes to Frog. ''I would hate to get on the wrong side of Green. My mate Tanya was in the last training group and she says he always picks on one person on the course to make an example of him, you know, like, really embarrass him and make him look small in front of the rest.''

Frog tears an application in a slow, deliberate movement, his head cocked to one side.

''Last time he made this bloke stand up for the whole day in the corner. And then he made him answer all the questions, held up his work and picked holes in it, shouted him out all the time. The bloke took it as well. I wouldn't take it. Would you?''

Melanie shakes her head and staples her processed application with her canary yellow stapler. Lawrence and Frog watch her. They exchange glances.

Frog shifts in his seat as Lawrence replies for both of them. ''Nah - you come here to work, not get picked on. You need to stand up for yourself.'' He says it with a hushed bravado, glancing around as he does so. His words die to a whisper as Mr Green gets up from his desk and approaches the group.

All four trainees stop working as he comes to a halt behind Melanie's chair. ''I don't know of the other members of your team have told you, Mr Frogmore,'' Mr Green begins, ''but I've been trying to identify the person who was putting unstapled work in my tray yesterday.''

Frog looks at Lawrence. Then he looks at Melanie. Finally he looks at Mr Green.

''You got a problem?'' he says, sharp and loud.

Mr Green, after a shocked hesitation, smoothes his tie with one hand as he places the other on his hip. ''I think you need to adjust your tone, young man.''

''I don't need this shit!'' Frog springs out of his chair. His face is fire engine red and his head trembles with minute movements from side to side. He resembles a ferocious jack-in-a-box.

''I beg your pardon?'' Mr Green asks sharply, puffing out his chest and raising his chin.

''Right.'' Frog's eyes jump around the room. ''That's it. I'm off. I don't need this fucking shit!'' He picks up his backpack and walks out immediately, with a hasty swagger. The group watch him go.

''Well,'' Mr Green says. ''Well. I was only going to give him these.'' He produces a packet of staples from his jacket pocket.

''Could we have those, please, Mr Green?'' Melanie asks, craning her neck to smile up at him.

''Of course, Melanie, of course. Well.'' He hands the staples to her and then squeezes her shoulder before moving back to his own desk.

Tim and Lawrence stare at Melanie. She turns her smile on them both in turn. ''You can never have enough staples,'' she says.


Archived comments for Staples
TheGeeza on 2003-12-08 08:09:49
Re: Staples
I hope I was supposed to, but I laughed out loud at the last bit - when he jumped up. I could feel the shock of it.

You painted the drudgery and pettiness really well - then just at the right time, something happened and the character made me laugh - and that was because you'd painted them so well.


As an aside, we have two staplers in this office - the one nearest me has no staples in it, but I refuse to fill it. The people on the other side of the room (who don't talk to me) have one and it is filled - but I pretend I don't care.

A last aside: in a previous office, our chairs used to swap around desks during the night, and some had worn backs and armrests - making them hard to adjust. Someone painted their name on the back with tippex. We all laughed and made fun. Then we all copied her. (I only done my initials in small letters).



Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-12-08 08:16:54
Re: Staples
In my last office, someone took all the 'group' stationery and locked it in her drawer, refusing to give it to people.
Eventually someone broke into her drawer and ran off with it all so she bought brand new stuff and tippexed her name on the entire lot.
It just wouldn't be so funny if it wasn't horribly true.

Thanks for the comment, glad you enjoyed this mainly autobiographical anecdote!

Author's Reply:

jay12 on 2003-12-08 17:51:15
Re: Staples
I was amazed to find out that you had written a story similar to one I wrote and posted it the same day. I enjoyed it very much and can understand that you must have worked in an office much like the one I work in now. My work is littered with such characters, its the only reason I stay there I think!!

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-12-09 03:36:07
Re: Staples
I know, it's weird, isn't it? Perhaps all offices are actually the same and come equipped with a Tim... (twilight zone music).

But, you're right, it is a hole of inspiration. Thanks for commenting.

Author's Reply:

flash on 2003-12-09 04:04:11
Re: Staples
Hi Blue

I did enjoy this it was light and amusing, and entertained for five minutes, but i do scratch my head and wonder sometimes a piece like this gets a 'great read' attached to it but another piece like 'Sieve' doesn't. Both are very good but 'Sieve' was just that little bit different.

Alan

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-12-09 04:35:19
Re: Staples
Hi Flash

I'm glad you liked this ... I've always found that people get very different things out of my stories, and I do write them with an eye on many different interpretations because I like that space in them. Maybe 'Sieve' was a little too mannered for some people whereas this flows without the mechanics being in evidence (hopefully?)

Anyway, its good to know that you liked both of those stories!

Author's Reply:

dancing-queen on 2003-12-09 06:51:31
Re: Staples
I enjoyed that read, Blue - worthy of the pen nib in my eyes. You managed to show us a snippet of office life as it often is (too real for comfort!) - with all the pettiness and absurdities that go along with it.

Having said that, I'm afraid I have succumbed to the dreaded 'Writing of Name' on just about everything on my desk - even the bloody telephone list! We desk share (with night staff) and if you don't label stuff you come in to a half-empty desk (yep, my chair has gone walkie's overnight too, along with my fan heater, calculator, doc stand etc - and there's never a pen in sight!).

At least when something is missing you can locate it easily enough if it's got your name on it. Yeah. It's ridiculous, I know. I usually write 'Please return to Leah' on things - hell, I don't care who uses what, so long as it's there when I need to use it myself - LOL (I'd be forever writing out stationery request forms otherwise)



Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-12-09 06:56:43
Re: Staples
Thanks for that Leah,

I'm really happy to see I've tapped into something that is recognisable to everyone who has ever been part of office life! (Although not happy that it is part of office life- sigh)

Author's Reply:

expat on 2003-12-09 12:49:01
Re: Staples
Another great piece of pootling there. Like Geeza, I burst out laughing at the end. Every workplace seems to have a Frog at one time or another; you painted him to a T. :^) :^) :^)

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-12-09 13:27:26
Re: Staples
thanks expat
perhaps they get shipped in as tadpoles?

Author's Reply:

Skeeter on 2003-12-09 15:14:58
Re: Staples
A thoroughly enjoyable story B.P. I did work in an office once, and yes, its like that.. I liked the easy flow of dialogue which made the characters come alive. And of course, it is funny. Foibles, warts, eccentricities; all there.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-12-09 16:11:45
Re: Staples
thanks skeeter, I appeciate that

Author's Reply:

teacup on 2003-12-10 13:29:43
Re: Staples
The guy (fired for hostility) who did my job (taught at my current school) before me kept his cup chained and padlocked to the hot water pipe and I found the bottom drawer of the desk stocked with hundreds of used (I supposed confiscated) erasers.
The teacher (guy) at the next desk then walked out (fired) after a row with the principal and for being married twice at the same time, leaving huge boxes of papers and files and personal belongings on top of his desk, piled so high it's impossible to see who you are talking to. (They've been there six months and everyone ignores them.)
That's nothing though: last month, a teacher (guy) was fired for stealing (caught on secret security camera) from the handbags of young women office staff. Turned out he had been sexually harassing some of the same young women; turned down for a date once, on the grounds that the man's wife wouldn't like it and neither would she, he stole the young woman's car keys, wallet and credit cards. She knew it was him but didn't tell the police while they were interviewing and searching, having no evidence.
Not many teachers left! (Anyone want a job in Japan?) Two of the above teachers were Japanese, one Canadian.
Sorry for the long post -- hope it was educational...

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-12-10 13:31:41
Re: Staples
bleurgh! there are some seriously nasty stories of strange behaviour emerging now...

Author's Reply:

teacup on 2003-12-10 14:34:59
Re: Staples
Sorry to bleurgh you -- but there are strange things happening we don't see, don't you think? Things that could not be made up; they are too unbelievable. The teacher who stole was the most amazing case; always looked and smiled like the most perfect gentleman you ever saw, with the most angelic aura.

(By the way, tried to think of a happier office story to cheer and distract you but can only come up with this: under my desk, right at the back, there is a case containing about fifty tightly sealed jars of Roopaks Mixed Pickle from Karol Bagh: I have no idea who stashed it there, when or why ... asked round the office and nobody else knows, either)


Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-12-10 14:58:46
Re: Staples
now that's a story waiting to be written if ever there was one! go on, give it a whirl...

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2004-03-11 11:16:29
Re: Staples
Just got round to reading this, even though it's been around for a while! But I'm glad I did eventually get around to reading it, because nothing I've read highlights the pettiness and childish office BS better than this - although how's this:
One job I had, I made a pretty basic mistake on my second day there, and a colleague - who was five years or so older than me - actually went 'Aaarrrhhh!!' in the time-honoured tradition of kids who know that someone is about to get into trouble.
Then there were the disppearing pens, the usual musical chairs and subsequent sniggering when you decide you can't be bothered to play the game...then again, by sitting in a 'dodgy' chair and enduring the snickers, you end up becoming paranoid and worry that you've unwittingly sat in something nasty...

All the reasons why I'm hoping I don't have to put up with all that again are contained here in. Well done!

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-03-11 11:22:19
Re: Staples
Thanks Karl. Have to admit, library work may have its boring moments but is a walk in paradise compared to office work. Like you, I'm hoping and praying I never have to go back.

Author's Reply:

JeffDray on 10-03-2007
Staples
Reminds me of an office I worked in in the 90s. A girl marked her Biro with a spot of tippex so that we wouldn't keep pinching it. We had to do it, we went through the entire office and put a spot on every pen in the building. it took weeks but it was worth it.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Jeff. I never did find a home for this story - it never seemed to fit a category. But I do have a soft spot for it and I'm glad it's still being appreciated on UKA!


Sieve (posted on: 17-11-03)
It all starts with the word sieve

the flour into the bowl, beat in the eggs and add the nutmeg, orange zest and brandy. My grandchildren always badger me to make it for Christmas, but I don't really feel up to it this year. Not after Ed's stroke. He won't be out of hospital until February, and with Geoff and Anna only coming for Boxing Day, the house will feel like a lonely place

and chips?' Ed asks, squinting into the sunshine. He's keen to finish the day out with a treat - he spoils Geoff, casting me in the role of grown-up, but I'm not biting today.
'Sounds nice,' I say, and then point out to sea, where Geoff is paddling. A large black wave is rolling up to him. He hasn't seen it.
Ed throws his arms over his head as a warning. Geoff waves back with both hands, facing us, keeping his elbows stiff. Ed gets to his feet and signals again, larger movements.
The wave comes and swallows Geoff. Ed runs to the sea, arms pumping. I've never seen him move so fast before. He puts his hands in the sea and scoops up our son, who flails like a crab in his grasp. Ed tucks him under his arm and carries him up the beach. I find the camera and take a Polaroid. Then I turn it over and write on the back. ''Geoff and Ed at the seaside.'' Underneath, still smiling, I write the date and time

to face the fact that I can't get along with her, even though she's carrying my first grandchild. She thinks the baby wins points; I can tell by the way she sticks out her stomach and smiles. Anna thinks she's got my son now. She sits on my sofa, drinking my coffee, and I really want to tell her, you don't have him until you have a ring on your finger; don't you know I could look after the baby, and you don't have to be here at all. Nobody ever asked me whether I wanted her in my life

of me work out why my feet are so cold. And then I remember. Ed is not here. I usually curve myself around him into the shape of compatibility, and follow each sleepy movement in the choreographed pattern we have been following for years. I find myself stretching out and pulling back from the new space next to me, lying like a starfish on a beach, limbs spread and flapping. I miss him, but I also like knowing the bed is mine for tonight. My bed is, just this once, a selfish place. I imagine a different life in the darkness, knowing I'll be changed back to wife and mother by the light of day

at the beach once a month and I get to sink my toes down into the wet sand. I watch the path of one wave. The swell is taller than a man standing upright, and it broods, darker than the sea it has risen from. The crash as it slaps down with an unforgiving hand is loud; I feel it reverberate around me. I put my feet in the water and it sucks at me, trying to take me into it, trying to beat away the wrinkles and smooth my body back to the soft pink curves I see inside shells, back to when I was a young

woman at the door. I don't recognise her, or the room I'm in. It's not furnished with anything of good quality. It's not familiar to me. It must be a hotel. Ed must be in the bathroom. That's right - we're in Eastbourne. It's our honeymoon. A long weekend away. Ed is in the bathroom.
She is large, wearing a navy blue cardigan that reaches down to the stretched knees of her leggings, and she is holding a paper cup in one hand and two white pills in the other. She tells me to take them. She tells me to take them, or she will phone my son.
'I don't have a son,' I say. 'You've got the wrong room.'
The woman gives me a stare. I call for Ed but he doesn't reply. I feel weak, shrivelled. I hold out my hand - it is blue and greasy, veins like liquorice laces, hard, ridged nails. The woman puts the pills into it and I swallow them down along with the water, realising that this is a dream. Only a dream. Only a dream could turn me old

and stale so I throw it out and open a fresh packet. I hardly ever make proper coffee now, but Geoff and Anna have just pulled up outside and I know they prefer this to instant. They let themselves in with their key and stroll into the kitchen as if they already own it.
'Where are the kids?' Geoff asks. I don't even get a good morning, or a thank you for babysitting. I tell him to mind his manners in front of his mother.
Anna goes upstairs, calling out for my grandchildren, and then her voice rises up a notch as she shouts for Geoff. He runs upstairs at her command. He is not like his father - he has been house-trained.
Anna comes back downstairs. She is pulling her serious face. 'You left them alone in the bath,' she says. 'The water was stone cold. How could you? Don't you know how dangerous that is?'
'I raised Geoff, didn't I?' I snap. 'I just had to do something in the kitchen. It was silly. It won't happen again.'
'No,' she says, 'It won't.'
Geoffrey comes downstairs with the two children, still wet, wrapped up in towels. He has tucked one under each arm. It reminds me of something - I can't say what. They all get back in their car and leave.
I forgot to put the whistle on the kettle and it has boiled dry. I don't know what's wrong with me nowadays; I've got a head like a

Archived comments for Sieve
myos on 2003-11-17 05:23:29
Re: Sieve
Mmmmmm, don't know what I feel about it really. The story line is fine; sadly we are all going down that road, but I struggled with the missing words at the beginning of each paragraph of her monologue. I presume that it is the way she thinks, the way she is; confused, forgetful, getting old. Andy

Author's Reply:

flash on 2003-11-17 05:39:50
Re: Sieve
I think the missing words isn't noticable at first, but when i got to the fourth paragraph, that's when i first noticed....to be honest i was going to stop reading and comment that you'd missed something.

Interesting if that was your idea, i don't think it would lessen the piece, if you edited and then included the missing words.But of course it is called 'Sieve'


Alan

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-11-17 06:33:31
Re: Sieve
thanks for the comment myos

I was trying to write something in prose that resembled poetry in the sense of the form being just as important as the words in understanding the meaning

I don't want to explain any further as if I have to explain it defeats the point of the piece! But if nobody really sees what I was aiming that, I think I'll have to chalk this one up to a misguided spirit of adventure.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-11-17 06:35:04
Re: Sieve
ta flash - the missing words are kind of important so I will leave it this way for now, but thanks for commenting.

Author's Reply:

chippy on 2003-11-17 07:12:17
Re: Sieve
Bluepootle; I liked it. It's in the experimental section, after all!

One very effective part is the way it conveys the confusion of an aging person/mind. Not only are there the lost threads of thought, but also the reverie in past life. It also seems to resolve itself, for me, by the end, so that the reader is aware of the degree of senility. It's a very sad piece.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-11-17 07:14:09
Re: Sieve
Chippy, you have cheered me up no end.
That was exactly my intention, and you got it! It does work! Hoorah!

Its heartening to know I wasn't the one losing my mind.

Author's Reply:

flash on 2003-11-17 07:21:49
Re: Sieve
yes i think you're right to leave it the way it is, it's just for me at certain points it halted the flow of the piece, because i was having to stop to try and figure what the missing words were.

But it is experimental as Chippy notes, and it is a fine story so well done for trying something different. i hope that doesn't sound patronising.

alan

Author's Reply:

Londonbookshop on 2003-11-17 07:42:34
Re: Sieve
I think this is extraordinary. Please do leave it EXACTLY as is!

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-11-17 08:33:15
Re: Sieve
wow, thanks
I have worked hard on it to get it to this version

Author's Reply:

idmonster on 2003-11-17 09:09:49
Re: Sieve
I really liked this, and the way I was yanked, yet not yanked, from one passage to the next. It sure works for me.
It is, indeed a sad piece, too.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-11-17 09:44:01
Re: Sieve
thanks a lot for commenting

Author's Reply:

Londonbookshop on 2003-11-17 10:00:22
Re: Sieve
Didn't mention before, but thought you should know
I nominated this for the Anthology (didn't think of nominating anything but reading this felt it would be perfect)

Author's Reply:

thehaven on 2003-11-17 10:07:33
Re: Sieve
Any change would spoil it in my humble opinion.It gets the essence of a confused mind over perfectly.

Mike

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-17 10:21:26
Re: Sieve
Very clever, bp. Writing about people with dementia often falls into the "feel sorry for" / "same old" thing. This makes the reader almost experience the feeling of


Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-11-17 11:53:49
Re: Sieve
thanks very much, that's really appreciated

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-11-17 11:54:35
Re: Sieve
thanks mike; I worked hard to get that feeling right

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-11-17 11:55:10
Re: Sieve
ta very muchly!

Author's Reply:

spacegirl on 2003-11-18 13:56:44
Re: Sieve
I found it hard at first, but I think it says something about the way I was reading it.

I started again and began to understand half-way through. It shows that we have comfort zones when we read & expect things to make sense straight away.

Well done, it does work & to change anything would ruin the effect

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-11-18 16:25:53
Re: Sieve
thanks spacegirl
it is a difficult read; I'm heartened so many people have enjoyed it

Author's Reply:

shadow on 2003-11-18 16:55:53
Re: Sieve
I thought this was a skilful marrying of form and content - the gaps in the narrative corresponding to the gaps in the narrator's memory - don't change a thing. Certainly there is a feeling of dislocation while reading - but that is exactly right.

Author's Reply:

woodbine on 2003-11-19 01:13:27
Re: Sieve
I read it twice and the comments and admire the attempt at trying something new. Where it fails IMO is that the confusion is created in the mind of the reader and not in the character who thinks coherently and doesn’t display any of the characteristic signs of confusion I see in the old people I meet. Chopping off the beginning of a sentence doesn’t to me convey a fraction of the fear and confusion they feel when they attempt to communicate with the outside world without a working memory e.g. “I hate it here. I’m going to runaway to mother.” (mother being long dead, of course.) Also they loose all sense of time and can , like a small child, only exist in the now which keeps on rebutting their false assumptions. I hope this doesn’t discourage because it is a fascinating subject and a brave try at something different.

All the best

Woodbine


Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2003-11-19 02:37:26
Re: Sieve
well, I have refrained so far, because of course I read drafts of it before it appeared here. As I said to you on the first try, this is a bold experiment, worth pursuing, but needs not only skill (which you have) but a lot of hard work and perspiration to make it the best it can be. I, being brutally Frank, will say that I think you almost pull it off. However, some of the links between the sections are better and more fuid than others, and the content could be improved (deepened) of course... as any writing. I do not agree with those who say 'leave it as it is, it's perfect' No, it isn't. but it IS good, and could be very good 🙂
So, if I were you, I'd be editing this again and again and again, and when it gets voted into the anthology, I would then have a REALLY good go at it!! Then it will shine, rather than glimmer. am I cruel? No. honest 🙂

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-11-19 03:20:32
Re: Sieve
thanks for the comment woodbine

I've found it very interestig how opinion has been well and truly split over this piece. It seems to convey more effectively to some people than others; I'm trying to get to the bottom of why! Until I figure that out I don't want to start rewriting/editing.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-11-19 03:23:52
Re: Sieve
Do you know, you're beginning to remind me of an evil adjudicator on a marathon? Every time I think the finish line is in sight you move it back another mile whilst giggling behind your hand. Sigh.

But you're right, as usual, and - oh look! My head can fit through the doorway again!

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-11-19 03:24:15
Re: Sieve
thanks shadow

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2003-11-19 04:55:45
Re: Sieve
just getting my own back, dear. : -) do you know how many stories I put on the 'must be rewritten quite a lot' after your crits?

Author's Reply:

Londonbookshop on 2003-11-19 07:14:43
Re: Sieve
I have to say that I still like it as is ... the sudden incomprehensible gaps, disjointedness you might say, and unlinked paragraphs appeal to me very strongly. It's just so dull to be able to guess where a story is going, and even what the next line is going to be and where the darn thing will end up!
In this story, I notice I don't even agree with most of the conclusions drawn about this story ... it's subtle and fascinating. I still love it as is!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-19 08:02:32
Re: Sieve
I agree with Londonbookshop.

It's always possible to make improvements - of course - nothing is ever perfect. But, if you start "fixing" what is "wrong", in this case, you take away from the message you are trying to give. The inconsistency in the linkage is part of your work here - imho. You could maybe tweak it, but I would say you should leave it as much as possible.

It's very original - which is rare - don't veer away from that! You don't need to prove your writing proficiency; but you are proving your originality.

Let your head grow larger than the doorway for this one!


Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-11-19 08:13:14
Re: Sieve
Blimey, Steve, I think I'm going to frame that one. Thanks a million.

Am really confused about it now - people seem to be having v strong opinions about it. I think I'll have to wait it out until I manage to get some perspective on it. I wouldn't be tempted to change the format - the inconsistent links - but some of the content might come under review.

Author's Reply:

Londonbookshop on 2003-11-19 09:22:30
Re: Sieve
Please do stay away from it for a while -- get that perspective you need. It depends what you are aiming for, in tone and content, but you are working on your own work alone; someone else might want or need to revise this because they are thinking in a different way and might need to add a certain refinement to their own work, not having your complex material.
Personally I think, like 'Steve' that its strength is in the form you have it in now. So much writing is predictable flab -- it's marvellous to come across some real guts.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-11-19 09:35:32
Re: Sieve
thanks very much for that viewpoint. I will let it sit for now.

Author's Reply:

britgrrl on 2003-11-19 12:01:41
Re: Sieve
Oh gosh, bluepootle, I have to agree with everything woodbine said; this didn't work for me in the way you intended. The experimental aspect seemed too much of a striving for effect, for cleverness, rather than a way into the mental confusion of someone who has become senile. Maybe it's the sequencing which caused me to stumble and not know what you were getting at; not sure. I think perhaps you need to enter more fully into the perspective of the woman, and not write from the viewpoint of a bystander looking at and trying to decipher her behavior, for, after all, her brain will be doing its incredible utmost to make sense of her experiences and memories as they occur. Her 'take' will more often be completely convincing to her, appear confused to you and I.

I do congratulate you on what you've tried here. It is a unique effort, and maybe a little moving around could resolve the stop, go, back-up..WHAT? process which I, as reader, experienced.

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2003-11-19 12:16:07
Re: Sieve
not sure where this willappear, given the arratic nature of the comments.

London book...., Geeza... I am NOT (and aliyah knows it) suggesting any change in the format, the essence of the piece, so I think we are all in agreement. but it CAN be improved (not 'changed') as I have said... IMO 🙂

I don't agree with woodbine and Brit 🙂

I have observed this from embryo, and have always liked the idea............

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-11-20 04:21:16
Re: Sieve
thanks for the feedback, Britgrrl. The piece seems to provoke a love/hate reaction in the reader, but I'm glad that it does, at least, provoke a reaction!

I've had some interesting comments about this - am in the process of trying to make sense of them, but thanks v much for yours.

Author's Reply:

BrahamSeer on 2003-11-20 16:05:17
Re: Sieve
For me this monologue deserves the highest praise for characterisation alone. As I began to realise that the lady was having memory lapses I felt a tad uneasy (as was surely intended) but the "voice" was so believable that I became engrossed. Because of this I found the story completely satisfying and well written. But it is a story rather than a piece written for a medical journal and as such works really well, imho.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-11-21 03:21:15
Re: Sieve
Thanks a lot for commenting!

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2003-11-23 06:25:59
Re: Sieve
Intriguing, well-written (IMHO), and fairly believable...once you figure out what the story's about.
I didn't immediately twig that she was suffering from memory lapses (Alzheimers?), but when I did, everything seemed to work (almost) perfectly. (I use the word 'almost' as, by definition, perfection is impossible to attain; there will always be something wrong in someone's eyes.)
In it's present form, it is engaging, a good read...and probably deserving of entry into the anthology. I've not read all the nominated pieces yet, so I can't say for sure. 🙂

Author's Reply:

Heirloom on 2003-11-23 06:56:43
Re: Sieve
There's not much I can say that hasn't been said already in the previous 30+comments.
I liked this.
It's a brave thing, trying for originality, and I think you've pulled it off. Some may argue it doesn't accurately reflect the condition, but this is fiction not science. Your aim, as I understand it, was to have structure and form work in conjunction with the words themselves to tell a story, and you achieved that. Well done.
Steven

btw, congrats on the nomination.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-11-23 07:50:17
Re: Sieve
thanks KDR, I appreciate that

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-11-23 07:51:16
Re: Sieve
thank you!

you have hit the nail on the head as to what I was trying to achieve with this; I'm glad it worked for you.

Author's Reply:

Bee on 2003-11-23 08:50:59
Re: Sieve
I read this several times and waited to see what others would find to carp about before commenting.
To achieve something original is a master stroke in itself. I found it very moving and you really draw the reader into this woman's confused head. It's a cross between prose and poetry. The only way you could deal with the missing chunks is to put them at the beginning of sentences, otherwise we'd all get lost.

I think it could be cut slightly: the second beach para doesn't seem to me to add much. But, apart from that, this is just about perfect. Thank you!

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-11-23 09:17:10
Re: Sieve
wow, thanks Bee, I really appreciate that.
I'll think about that second beach paragraph

Author's Reply:

LezH on 2003-11-23 20:52:08
Re: Sieve
Excellent. When my gran was in the early stages of dementia this is how it was, achingly. Just as one can become aware of conversation half way through so did she with thought and speech. I'd sneak peeks as she'd sit in her armchair dull and smiling and suddenly a light would come on and she'd become lucid and animated - but as the first thoughts which had prompted this surge of activity were lost even to her, we would both play catch-up for a while. It was like watching the last twenty minutes of everything on TV.

In my view you have captured this, and the mood swings, and the randomness of unbidden recollection perfectly. And of course Sieve is the perfect key to unlock this story - in fact that's my only nit-pick: if you keep the last six words I think you could consider replacing 'memory' for 'head'.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-11-24 03:06:52
Re: Sieve
thanks a lot for that. the last six words ... thats an interesting idea. I will think on it!

Author's Reply:

aljolson on 2003-11-24 04:54:54
Re: Sieve
I THINK the expression's usually 'MIND like a sieve' though you also hear 'brain' and 'head', etc.


Author's Reply:

aljolson on 2003-11-24 04:58:39
Re: Sieve
But now I THINK I'm wrong -- found 84,000 entries on Yahoo for HEAD like sieve, only 61,000 for MIND.
Sorry! (Guess it all BOILS DOWN to what suits your story.)

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-11-24 05:03:45
Re: Sieve
thanks for looking for me!

i think its important that people make the instant connection back to the word sieve.

I've got a head like a -
I've got a mind like a -
I've got a memory like a -

Have to decide which one shouts 'SIEVE!' at the reader...

Author's Reply:

aljolson on 2003-11-24 05:18:12
Re: Sieve
MEMORY, I think not ... I know I didn't.
But HEAD -- yes?
MIND like a ... I think it has you instinctively searching to finish the sentence, but the only way to be sure would be to have two groups of people read the story and then test them afterward -- not necessarily people on the street, since that could lead to fisticuffs, but if you have a friend at your local University such friend might be glad to help out -- ?
If you take a look at the internet and see what people are using most often in the register, and age group you want, also consider what your readers would respond to ... ? but I am sure that is what you plan to do, so I am redundant.
(Almost positive it is HEAD, anyway, after all that!)
Jolie


Author's Reply:

ritawrites on 2003-11-26 12:21:37
Re: Sieve
I was told to read your story. I didn’t expect to find much, frankly. And was pleasurably surprised. Excellent writing – I think the best I have come across here to date. The chopped off sentences just go and grab you in your throat.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-11-27 04:49:25
Re: Sieve
thanks rita. people seem to have a love/hate relationship with the cut off sentences

Author's Reply:

Sabrina on 2004-01-25 01:28:04
Re: Sieve
Well I'm sorry I can't be a bit critical. This is the stuff I love to read, great turning point, sort of puzzling it over, stopped to reread the part where Ed drags the boy out of the water cause I was momentarily confused as to who was father and who was son, however, it was the same as watching 'the others' with Nicole Kidman twice to pick up the nuances I missed the first time around. Similar type of turning point actually. If you haven't seen 'the others' then you won't understand me, you should view it then, I think it's up your alley. Great Work I hope you submit it for publishing

Author's Reply:

Michel on 2004-01-25 03:47:48
Re: Sieve
It's been nominated for this year's 'print' Anthology, Sabrina, by some stranger in the night, and I feel confident for what that's worth, that it will be voted highly and included. (Must be!)

Author's Reply:

sirat on 2004-02-02 09:07:18
Re: Sieve
I remember reading this one Aliya and being very impressed by it but I am surprised to see that I haven't left a comment. I loved the fragmented reality that the narrator inhabits, and thought it worked really well. This must be how it feels when your memory isn't continuous but broken up into fragments, your consciousness slipping seamlessly from one chunk into another. It's unusual for experiments like this to work but I think this one does. I've just given it my vote for the anthology. Excellent work, Aliya.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-02-02 10:17:06
Re: Sieve
That means a lot, David, thanks very much indeed. Its great when an experiment like this yields results.

Author's Reply:

OolonColoophid on 2004-06-10 09:26:31
Re: Sieve
Hi Aliya

This was mentioned in another forum, so I thought I take a look at it. It's good concept and I think you execute it well. Some of the transitions work for me and some don't (I didn't like the 'place and chips' one because it's amusing and clashed a bit with the tone). Mainly, though, the effect is well worth it - you put the reader in the disorienting place of the narrator, and the ending works very well - a gimmick, but an effective gimmick. This is one of the better stories I've read on UKA...

Oolon

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-06-18 12:06:33
Re: Sieve
Thanks for that - the first transition is designed to be lighter in tone and more obvious to give the reader a signpost as such - an idea of how the story will work. Maybe too obvious though.

Author's Reply:

Skeeter on 2004-08-12 12:14:09
Re: Sieve
Blimey, this must win the prize for the most read story on UKA!! 414 and rising. That must tell you something. I read it and my first thought was, 'how very very original, how sad, how well written' and similar stuff. Which means that I like it very much indeed, and can't actually find anything critical to say, so it must be as near perfect as they get. Well done to you, this is top stuff.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-08-13 01:57:10
Re: Sieve
thanks Skeeter - the version in the competition is much shorter and a bit more brutal in delivery accordingly. I have a sneaking feeling I actually prefer this longer version!

Author's Reply:

AnthonyEvans on 2005-03-10 22:38:37
Re: Sieve
well blue, i must be the most stupid person who has read this, i put the word 'sieve' as the missing word to all the paragraphs and didn't have any kind of problem with that until i started to read the comments!!! thank god i've come late to this so nobody except you will know!
i didn't have the same problem as wood & brit. i think it is fine that you find an external literary form of your own to describe the internal sickness of alzheimers.
i'll come back to this later and re-read it without all the sieves. best wishes, anthony.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-03-11 07:48:31
Re: Sieve
! I quite like the idea of all those extra sieves, although you must have thought I was an extremely strange writer! Either that, or that the plot was ... ahem ... full of holes.

Author's Reply:

AnthonyEvans on 2005-03-12 10:14:13
Re: Sieve
well, not that i wish to continue this conversation for too long, however, i did think sieve went quite well with certain paragraphs (i loved sieve and chips, for example) but was not so successful with others!!! anthony.

Author's Reply:

Kat on 2005-04-06 17:07:30
Re: Sieve
I have to say that I love this story and I think it works very well.

I also think that some of the 'linkless' paragraphs work better than others, but maybe, owing to the premise for the story, this really doesn't matter.

It is excellent, original and work to be very proud of, no matter!

It's on my shortlist for the anthology! 😉

Kat x

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-04-06 17:39:00
Re: Sieve
Hi Kat, thanks for that... the feedback I got on this led me to chop 600 words and change many of the linkages - you can see that version on the Guardian Unlimited website under the short short story section I think (it might have been taken down by now). But, I have to say, I do still prefer this version myself! Thanks for putting it on your shortlist.

Author's Reply:


Memoriam (posted on: 31-10-03)
Click to see more top choices

Written by E-Griff & Bluepootle (see E-Griff's journal entry for an explanation)

Memoriam



''Take your time,'' Doctor Taylor said.

The hospital bed.

The lined face, twisting in agony. The pain filled eyes, pleading.

The funeral, and then the wake. The relatives dropping sandwich crumbs on their best black suits, making soft remarks, telling Mike it was a blessing it was finally over. And, after they left, the nights spent seeing the whole thing again in his mind, knowing they had been wrong. It was not over. It would not be over until he could talk it out.

''My father died,'' he said to his psychiatrist.

''I'm sorry to hear that.'' Doctor Taylor tapped on his keyboard. ''Can you tell me about it?''

Mike swallowed and nodded, taking care not to dislodge the electrodes that were attached to his neck and temples. Then he took the memories and relived them.

He talked about the first times of so many things. The first time he had scored a goal with his father watching from the sidelines; the first time they had got drunk together. The first time they had really argued, screaming at each other over something so simple as the remote control. Once Mike had started, he could not stop, and every reminiscence was a painful pleasure, for he knew what had to come next.

The last times. He recalled the last time he had seen his father standing without help. The last time he had seen him take unaided breaths. The last time he had been alive. The last words - the begging for the pain to be taken away. Please, make it stop. Please Mikey. Make it stop.

He had watched that agony increase a little more every day, not really understanding how cruel it was to do nothing. Now Mike thought he did understand, just a little. He was in torment, too, but he was lucky. He had the psychiatrist, and the machine that was attached by slim green wires to the electrodes. He could make his own suffering stop.

He found he had run out of words and recollections. There was no more left to say.

Doctor Taylor looked over the top of his screen. ''I've got it all down. Do you want to run through some of your options or have you already got something in mind?''

There was no point going for something cheaper. This was his father, Mike reasoned; it was only proper to splash out just this once on the best. ''I thought Jimmy Stewart.''

''Good choice,'' Doctor Taylor enthused. ''One of my favourites. Would you like to see some excerpts?'' He turned the screen towards Mike and tapped the keys in quick succession. The familiar face of James Stewart appeared - kindly, handsome in an unconventional way, starting off with smooth, fresh cheeks and moving through to fluffy white hair and thick black glasses. Throughout the aging process, one thing remained in placel; his unchanging and uncomplicated smile.

''Yes, that's great,'' Mike said.

''Good.'' Dr Taylor sounded pleased. He was probably about to make a healthy commission on the sale. ''And do you want any extras? Photographs? Videotapes?''

''No thanks.''

''Okay. I'll start the process now. You'll feel a slight tingling.''

Something clicked and hummed inside Mike's head.

''All done. Do you want to keep a record?''

''Yes please.'' Doctor Taylor passed him a small black disc that fitted into the palm of his hand. He knew he'd only leave it in the bottom drawer of his desk along with all the others, but something made him want to keep those slices of bad memories, whatever they were. He liked to think he would be strong enough to face them again one of these days.

''And we've got your credit card details Good! We're all done. And Mike, any time you need to talk, you only have to phone and make an appointment.''

Mike walked out of the office, negotiating his way through the busy waiting room. He remembered how his father had encouraged him to visit a psychiatrist regularly, stressing that Doctor Taylor was the best.

''There's no reason to remember the bad things, Mikey,'' he had said, smiling that wonderful smile. ''Let Doctor Taylor take them all away.''

What an intelligent man he had been. Mike was glad his father's death had been so painless - falling gently asleep amidst his beautiful rose garden, Mike by his side, holding his hand. It had been so peaceful.

He slipped the small black memory disc into his pocket and pictured his father, gazing down at him with love, smiling at him from heaven.