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Title
The Journey (posted on: 07-03-16)    
For the prose challenge, which was to write a story based on the most disgraceful story in your lifetime. It's also inspired by my sister in law and her partner, who are volunteers in Kos at the moment, with a refugee charity.

The boat is very small, and we're crammed in like sardines in a can. I say this to my father, trying to make a joke, but he doesn't laugh. Nobody in the boat has laughed since we set off. There are three families in the boat; us, a family that I don't know, the Turkhans, and our friends the Barghoutis with their little boy, Feroz. Feroz means fortunate one, but I don't think Feroz is very fortunate at all, having to leave his home and cross the sea in a little boat. He is very small, and doesn't know what's going on. He's four and a half, exactly half my age. He cries a lot. When we set off it seemed like an adventure, especially after all the time we had to wait in the camp at the seaside. That wasn't so bad, particularly as I didn't have to go to school, and there were plenty of people my age to play with, but there was never enough to eat, and sleeping in a tent for more than one night isn't much fun. I soon missed my bed. The boat is made of rubber, and is like a toy boat, but it's all we can afford. My father says we were lucky to get it. I have a lifejacket on, as does my mother, but my father doesn't have one. He says it's ok, he can swim well, but I think it's because he spent the money on the boat and food instead. I worry what will happen if the boat sinks. The Turkhans all have very nice lifejackets, better than mine. There are four of them, a mother, father and two little girls, smaller than me. None of them talks much. The mother just cries, and huddles into the bottom of the boat and sleeps, or pretends to. I watched her and saw one eye open. She saw me looking and shut it quickly. She kept her eyes shut tight for the longest time, then opened both of them wide and stared straight at me. She shouted something then, and turned away. I like to laugh, at least I used to. Our home was lovely; the window of my bedroom looked into our garden. Sometimes my good friends, Gilad and Sabir, would come round, and we'd play in the garden, and my mother would give us little snack, some sfiha perhaps, and a cold drink. It was when Sabir's house got blown up that my father said we would have to go, across the sea. I miss Sabir. He was my best friend from kindergarten, and all the way through school. We were known as the terrible two in grade 1, because we always stood up for each other if there was a fight. The sea is very big. I had no idea what it would be like. We can't see anything but grey waves in every direction. Mr Barghouti is steering, at the back of the boat, because he knows what to do. Father says he's a keen fisherman, and has been out in boats a lot of times. He says it will be an easy journey, but I think he looks worried. I don't think he really does think it will be easy. He's very nervous of Feroz, and keeps barking at Mrs Barghouti to watch him. We've been in the boat all day, and I wonder when we're going to get to Greece, the island we're heading for. It's getting dark now and I wonder how Mr Barghouti will know which direction to steer the boat. My father says they have a compass, but how will he see it in the dark? And how will they see land, or another boat? My father says not to worry about that, but I do. I go to my mother, and she gives me a cuddle, which makes me feel better. She has a blanket, which is all damp from the spray, but she puts it round us both and tells me to go to sleep. When I close my eyes I'm more aware of the motion of the boat, and it makes me feel funny inside, but I must have slept because the next thing I know is when I hear shouting, and it's dark, very dark, no lights anywhere, except for a flashlight that Mr Barghouti is shining at the sea. It's a very bright light, but only lights up a tiny circle in the waves around us. He's standing up, not steering any more. My father is steering, but he's half standing, and looking where the light is shining. Mrs Barghouti is crying loudly, so is Mrs Turkhan. They're watching the light too. My mother is sitting up and she's not crying but she's all rigid. She's holding me so tight that it's hurting. I ask her what's wrong, what's happened, then I realise: Feroz isn't in the boat any more.      I scramble to my knees, to help look for him. My mother holds my arm tightly, tells me to stay still. I think she thinks I am going to fall out of the boat also. I tell her I won't fall out, but she still holds me. The boat's engine is going slow, and my father holds the rudder hard over to the right. This will make the boat go left. I remember being told about this in class. We're going round in a big circle, trying to find Feroz. We do this for a long time, so long that it starts to get light. The light grows slowly, a grey, cold light, not like mornings that I remember, when I'm woken by the sun warming my room, shining on the poster I have on my wall of my football team, Al-Hurriya. I think of my poster, and feel sad. I don't think I'll ever see it again. Now that it's light we should be able to see Feroz. I stand, and hold on to my mother's shoulder. The boat is pitching up and down, and the waves around us seem very big, so it's difficult to stay standing, and even more difficult to see anything in the water. My mother and Mrs Barghouti scream as a wave pours water into the boat, and my father tells me to help get the water out. It's called baling, and for quite a long time I scoop water from the bottom of the boat with a plastic cup and throw it back into the sea. My mother and Mrs Turkhan are baling as well. From time to time more water splashes into the boat as another wave comes over the side, and my father tells Mr Barghouti that we could all die if we don't get under way again. By this time the sun is well up in the sky and we have not seen any sign of Feroz. Mr and Mrs Barghouti talk in low voices for a while, then Mrs Barghouti starts shouting and crying very loudly, so loudly that the two Turkhan girls start to cry, Their mother holds them to her and Mr Turkhan speaks to Mr and Mrs Barghouti. I look away because I don't like to see things like that. My mother speaks to my father and soon all six adults are arguing, with Mrs Barghouti crying louder and louder. I look out to sea, still looking for Feroz. We could miss seeing him with all this arguing. Then the argument stops all of a sudden. Mr Barghouti moves to the back of the boat and, without a word, gets the engine going full again and we pick up speed. Mrs Barghouti still looks at the sea, and turns round every so often to speak to Mr Barghouti in a harsh voice. I feel sad for them, and for Feroz, even though I hardly knew him. After a while my mother rummages in her bag, and brings out a big piece of Kibbeh bil sanieh, wrapped in paper. She gives me some, then my father, then takes some for herself. It's cold, of course, but it's still very good because she made it. I didn't realise until I started eating just how hungry I was. As I eat I look out to sea. If I can see Feroz it would make his mother and father very happy. But all I can see is the grey waves. After a while my eyes grow heavy and I curl up beside my mother, who puts an arm round me. I must have slept, because I'm groggy when Mr Turkhan shouts. 'Land!' and points ahead, and to the left. I see a smudge of land. It seems far away, but I watch it until my eyes hurt. It gets bigger, and in a while we're so close we can see figures on the shore. Some of the figures wave to us. When I hear the boat scraping on what sounds like pebbles I stand up. My mother still holds my arm, and my father comes forward, and picks up the three bags we've brought with us. All we have is in these three bags. All my toys and books, all our ornaments, our pots and pans, our glasses and plates, are still in our house, in a different country now. My father dumps the bags on the dry sand and comes back for me and my mother. My mother jumps in to the water, lifts me from the boat, hands me to my father. A large man with a bushy moustache wades after my father, takes my mother's arm, and helps her to the shore. The three of us sit on the sand, wet and exhausted. I see Mr and Mrs Barghouti move off, down the beach, and I know they're looking for Feroz. And now we're in another tent, in a field surrounded by a fence with barbed wire on top. We've been here for five days. My father is away all day, helping people, which he can do because he's a doctor. When he comes back each night he's grey and tired. He looks older than he did when we were at home. Every night he and my mother talk in low voices, and sometimes my mother cries. Once my father cried, and I cried too, quietly, to myself, curled up in my sleeping bag, because I didn't want to make them sadder. I wonder where we'll go next, when we'll get to Germany. I have no idea where Germany is, but everyone in the camp wants to go there, because there's food and houses, and my father says there will be work for him. I wish we were there. I wish we were anywhere, really, except here.    
Archived comments for The Journey
Mikeverdi on 07-03-2016
The Journey
Something we should all feel ashamed of. Difficult to read, a reflection of the content, and how well it's written. You captured the innocence of the child well for me. Well done.
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike. I thought a child's view would be a counterpoint to the horror.

e-griff on 07-03-2016
The Journey
Well done. Simple but very effective. Not an original style but well executed and involving. Good look back at preceding history, events on way, lot of people's feelings, arrival and the flatness of it, the blank future. Excellent!

JohnG

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind comments John, glad you liked it.

QBall on 07-03-2016
The Journey
Sad reflection on an old cliché that goes, "I careth not what happeneth to thee Jack, I'm alright." More should be done in providing seaworthy transformation for refugees. Nicely written, especially through the eyes of a youngster.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Q; the situation is impossibly bad. The only way to stop the flow is a proper cease fire, but Russia and the USA have other ideas.

franciman on 07-03-2016
The Journey
Well done Ross. The voice is perfect. Full of a childlike pragmatism which gives it integrity and authenticity. All too easy to focus on the theme with these pieces, though I think the writing has great merit irrespective of the emotive content. Goes into my favourites.
cheers,
Jim

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind words Jim. The young boy's viewpoint came to me almost as an afterthought when I started writing the story, then I had to go back and rewrite it!

Weefatfella on 09-03-2016
The Journey
 photo c673dadc-2d28-4407-9a21-a191bcf6d656_zpsp2y54f3y.jpg

A very up to date tale, and sadly,a reflection of this modern world. The story flows well and the characters are believable. ( Poor Feroz.)

Well deserving of the coveted 'Nib.'

Weefatfella.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Paul. I felt sorry for Feroz, more so because we've seen the reality on our tv screens

Pronto on 09-03-2016
The Journey
A well earned nib sir. This is a story of our times and well told, too. The child's eye view was well executed and believable.Where all this will end I dread to think.

Author's Reply:
I share your dread. A cease-fire seems unachievable, given the machinations of nations like the US and Russia

pdemitchell on 10-03-2016
The Journey
As a councillor I get regurgitated endless variations on the Mail 'refugee benefit rapists ate my hamster' type of story. I feel like stapling a picture of that dead child found on the beach to their foreheads. Well written and evocative and well nibbed. paul

Author's Reply:
Thanks Paul.

sirat on 12-03-2016
The Journey
A great piece of writing. The matter-of-fact style adds to the power of the piece. An account of a shameful episode indeed. And as you point out, Russia the USA and indeed the UK are still meddling in the region, dropping bombs without the faintest notion of what the effect will be, apart from the immediate one of killing people.

Author's Reply:
Thank David, and for the nomination if it was you. There seems to be a proxy war between Russia and the US going on there; as usual, the innocent are the real casualties.


The Woman and the Flag (posted on: 22-02-16)
A seer, a maker of tapestries, or flags. Who needs who most?

It was finished. She'd worked on it for weeks, had stayed up all night in the end, but it was worth it. Before her, laid out on the rough wooden table, was a rectangle of heavy cloth, sewn with stars and birds along the top, animals and fish below. In the centre, a lovingly detailed study of a village: grey stone buildings, a central square, with a fair in progress. A tall thin flagpole with a flag - a tiny version of this flag - fluttering from the top. The villagers were gathered in the square, their clothes bright, finely detailed. Prominent amongst them, standing at the foot of the flagpole, were a stout man beside a tall woman with jet-black hair. The woman wasn't looking at the stout man, she had her eyes on a face in the crowd, a handsome face framed with golden hair. His eyes were locked on hers. It was a long walk from her cabin in the hills to the village, so she left at dawn. She walked towards the distant mountains, where the rosy fingers of early sunlight were spreading. The air was soft and pure, and birdsong accompanied her and Lupus, her large grey-haired dog, who loped along the path in front of her. She was strong and vigorous, with an untamed mane of black hair and a fair, oval face. Her green eyes, never resting, seemed to take in every detail of the landscape they passed through. They stopped after two hours and ate the food she had prepared. Lupus sat at attention beside her, ears and eyes straining for any threat, or opportunity. He started as a squirrel chattered at them from a tree, then treated it with the disdain such an inconsequential animal deserved. She laughed and ruffled his head. 'You'll protect me, won't you boy? Any squirrel that dares to steal our food had better watch out.' The big dog looked solemnly at her and resumed his vigil. Later that day, they emerged from a dense forest onto a grassy hillside and looked down at the village laid out before them. Just as in the flag, the villagers were gathered in the central square, dressed in their best clothes. Tables were set up round the flagpole and the sound of laughter reached the watching pair. 'It's not that I want to go down there, Lupus, not really. The people are not to my liking. Most of them anyway. They are people though, My own kind. Perhaps that's why I don't like them so much. But I do need some human companionship from time to time. I need to hear human voices.' The dog looked at her, wagged its tail slightly, then nuzzled her side with its big muzzle. She scratched behind an ear, and the dog grunted, lay down on its belly, and laid its head on outstretched legs. She ruffled its fur. 'I'll be back, I promise.' The dog's eyes followed her all the way down the hill. When she reached the edge of the village she turned left and followed the edge of the settlement, as if delaying making the final step from the countryside. After a short while a small boy saw her. He pointed, shouted something, ran down a path towards the square. She took a deep breath and followed the route the boy had taken.When she reached the square the people were waiting, silently. They parted for her, opening a path into the centre of the square, where the tall, straight flagpole stood. No flag fluttered from the top. She dropped her pack, squatted down, opened the buckles. She straightened, held a package of folded material above her head, turned round slowly, surveying the villagers. A murmur of interest broke the silence. Then a shout: 'Let's see it then!' A large man, fat with self-importance, stood, fists clenched on hips. She threw the package to him. He caught it, and with a single motion shook it out. The villagers clustered round, straining to make out their own houses, giving an occasional shout as they identified themselves in the crowd in the square. Much later, the new flag fluttering at the top of the flagpole, she sat with the rest of the villagers, at one of the long tables. There was singing, laughter, rich food, rich wine and beer. The fat man sat beside her. Like most of the others, he was drunk by the time darkness fell. He put an arm round her shoulders. 'You come back with me. I'll make you happy. We'll both be happy.' The slurred words repelled her. She looked around her. Red-faced villagers, ugly with drink, food and lust. She scanned the faces, stopped as she met a pair of dark eyes, staring straight at her. The face was not quite as shown in the tapestry, the flag which was now fluttering above their heads. It had a close trimmed beard, but it was without doubt the same man. She stood, freeing herself from the sweaty, limp arm of the mayor. The villagers didn't notice as she stole away, nor did they notice the bearded man melt into the darkness. He started as her hand closed round his arm. After they had turned a corner the noise of the feast died down. They faced each other. 'I saw myself in the flag,' he said. 'I was looking at you and you were looking at me.' She studied his face. 'How long have you had the beard?' 'Don't you like it?' 'I like it fine. I wonder why I didn't see it when I was making the flag.' 'I've only grown it in the last two weeks.' She nodded, understood, held out her hands for him. He smiled and led the way to a door set in to the side wall of a substantial house. His room was simple, almost spartan. They undressed in silence and lay together on his bed. They lay still for a while, facing each other, then he began, tenderly, to kiss her. The village was quiet when she stole back through the door, The grey dawn light revealed a scene of devastation. Scraps of food, containers of beer, empty wine bottles littered the ground. The benches and one of the tables in the square were overturned. Here and there, singly or tangled in pairs, villagers lay unconscious. The mayor was flat on his back at the foot of the flagpole. How his snores didn't wake the villagers, or the devil himself, was a mystery. She stood for a moment looking at her flag. Then, silent as a wraith, she stole across the square and out of the village. As she climbed the hill she saw a movement in the trees. Lupus emerged from cover, stood proud, watching, waiting. She reached him and laid a hand on his head. Together, they set out on the path back to their home.
Archived comments for The Woman and the Flag
pdemitchell on 23-02-2016
The Woman and the Flag
Hi, Sir Rab. A fine descriptive short inspired no doubt by the loom-work of the Three Fates as a banner. Some minor editing throughout is needed methinks: i.e. "were a stout man beside a tall woman" is not correct and "were" should be "was" (or "stood") as the man in the singular object of the sentence.

Similarly: "She laughed and ruffled his head." You can't ruffle a skull but the hair upon the said noggin. You repeat the ruffling three paragraphs later which stands out.

The paragraph: "The dog looked at her, wagged its tail slightly, then nuzzled her side with its big muzzle. She scratched behind an ear, and the dog grunted, lay down on its belly, and laid its head on outstretched legs."

You've named the dog, rhyming nuzzle and muzzle is at odds in this context and the paragraph is clumsy with some odd punctuation and tense and redundancy.

Can I suggest: "Lupus gazed up at her then nuzzled at her side and whined softly. He settled down and laid his head on his paws. 'Oh, don't be like that, Lupus' she sighed. 'You know I'll be back, I promise!'"

It's a cracking attempt and the village-imagery is spot on so I hope you don't mind my suggestions as how to edit and refine the tale! Paul

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the helpful comments Paul. I had only gone through one edit and can see where you're coming from with the suggestions you make. Your point about the three fates is interesting; I wasn't knowingly inspired by that myth, but perhaps there's something deep down, some forgotten memory, that played a part... The story grew with the telling, and the flag came along quite late in the day. I don't understand the seemingly random connections that take place in my brain as I'm writing a story, which is a big part of the fun!


A Good Death (posted on: 05-02-16)
For the prose challenge, the last day in someone's life. It didn't turn out quite how I intended, so I'm not sure if it fits the prompt that well...

His footsteps crunched through the virgin snow. He had a long wooden brush over his left shoulder, and a heavy grey curling stone in his right hand. He was glad to see the edge of the old pond through the trees, and stood for a few moments under the branches of a big old oak tree, looking around him, at the small, oval pond and thick belt of trees that surrounded it. Perfect. Total silence. Not so much as a bird singing.It had been freezing for two weeks now, and the ice looked thick. Certainly thick enough to support him and his stone. His breath hung in the air as he stepped forward, stone swinging slowly in his right hand, brush hanging easily in his left. He picked a spot on the ice on the far side of the pond, crouched low, took a couple of steps, and with a single, fluid movement released the stone. A slight bump as it landed made him wince, but its path was true, and it travelled silently across the frozen surface, stopping about a foot short of its target. Not bad, but it showed he needed this practice if he was going to get back in the team again. After an hour he was tiring; his right arm ached from the weight of the stone and the effort of controlling the delivery. It was about two o'clock and it would be colder soon; the sun was already lower than the surrounding trees and it was starting to get dark. Time for one last throw. Slow, eyes fixed on the target; the arm draws back, two quick steps, right knee on the ice, the stone kisses the frozen surface, the hand opens, it slides, and as it starts to slow, he hears a creak beneath him. He tears his eyes from the stone, to the ice, unbelieving as a dark, jagged crack opens up. He tries to stand, the slab of ice tilts and he plunges into the water. Gasps at the cold. Deeper than he expected. Can't feel the bottom. Hands can't get purchase on the ice. It flits through his brain: this is it - I'm going to die. Then a shout: 'Grab the branch! To your right!' A figure at the edge of the pool; a long, crooked branch snaking towards him. He grabs, misses, makes a despairing lunge, his hand closes on the end. Knotty wood. Not going to be strong enough. He brings his left hand round, grabs the branch a little higher, a purchase, heaves out of the water, half slides, half crawls across the creaking, fracturing surface. After what seems an age, a pair of hands pulls him on to solid ground. He's sobbing, holding on to a slight figure. A woman. He's aware of a flash of light hair in the gloom. 'Thought that was it, thank you, thank you...' 'Never mind that now, we need to get you warm or you'll freeze to death. Come on!' A stumbling run through the woods, to an old, dark house. Through the door, into a large room lit and warmed by a real fire. His rescuer piles more logs on, hurries away, returns with a huge towel. 'Get these wet things off, dry yourself. I'll make you a hot drink.' Alone, shivering, he strips off the soaking jumper, shirt, trousers. They stick, he's forgotten to take off his shoes. He does a short, crazy dance round the room, manages to pull off the shoes, and then the trousers. He wraps the sort warmth of the towel round himself, kneels in front of the fire, unbelieving. Eventually, he stops shivering, looks around him. The room is large, lit by lamps that sit on heavy dark tables that seem far away. The firelight casts jumping shadows. A woman with light grey hair, the woman that saved his life, is standing watching him. She hands him a steaming mug. He sips. Hot chocolate. Sweet. It burns his throat, but it feels good. He leans back, against a chair, looks up at his saviour. Her face looks young, incongruous under grey hair cut in a fashionable bob. She's smiling, and sits down in a deep armchair, facing him. 'You're all right.' She could be talking about the fact that he's not dead, or she could be making a comment on his appearance. He's not sure. He smiles. 'You're not so bad yourself. Thank you, for all of this. Is this the old Carstairs house? I thought it was empty.' 'It's been empty for years, I've only been using it for a short time. I like the solitude, the silence. What were you doing at the pond?' she asked. 'On your own. That was a bit daft, wasn't it?' 'Practising. I'm in the Kelso Curling Club, and I really want to make the team. I like practising on my own. No distractions. Although it does seems pretty stupid now. I thought that old pond would be well frozen, it hasn't thawed for the last two weeks.' She smiled at him again, and he felt something move slightly, deep inside. Embarrassed, he gave his attention to the mug of hot chocolate. He could feel warmth and energy flowing through his body as he drank it. They sat staring into the flames. The only sound in the room was the crackling of logs in the fire. The smell of woodsmoke and the rich hot chocolate made him drowsy. He stirred from his reverie when Linda stood, left the room, returned a few minutes later with his clothes. 'I put these through the tumble dryer for you. They'll need a clean, but at least they're dry.' She took the empty mug from his hand; their fingers touched. 'I'll leave you to get dressed.' Next day, he was working on the lunch-time shift at the public bar of the Kings Arms. The time seemed to drag and he found it hard to concentrate. He gave the wrong change to everyone in the bar. Naturally, they only brought this up when they lost out. At the end of his shift he hurried out as soon as he could, got into his car and headed for the old house. It was snowing when he rang the doorbell. He thought he saw a curtain in an upstairs window twitch, and soon after he heard the grinding metal of an old lock being turned. The door opened wide, and there she was. She gave him a smile. 'I wondered when you'd come back. I've got something for you. Come on in.' She stopped by a sideboard in the hall, where, polished and gleaming, sat his stone. 'Oh my god! I thought it had gone under the ice. Is there anything you can't save?' She turned away, into the living room. 'I was just about to have a drink. Want to join me?' They sat in the same chairs, on either side of the fire, staring into the flames. It felt utterly familiar, and utterly strange. He looked around him. The room was just as dark. The wine tasted smooth and rich. Expensive. 'This is nice,' he said, holding up the glass. 'I work in the Kings Arms, I can tell it's the good stuff.' 'It's more fun to drink with someone though.' She looked at him, smiled, and held her glass towards him. 'Cheers.' He reached towards her and glass touched glass in a quiet toast. They talked for hours, about their lives, their backgrounds. As the level of the wine descended they moved closer, and eventually they were sitting side by side. At some point he put his arm around her, and she rested her head on his shoulder. He looked at her, and saw her eyes glistening with unshed tears. 'What's wrong?' 'Nothing. Nothing at all. I haven't felt this happy for such a long time. It's just emotion. Has to come out somehow.' He didn't reply, but moved his head slightly, lips searching for hers. She moved her head away, placed a finger on his lips. 'Not just yet. We'll have plenty of time for that soon.' Disappointed, he stared into the fire. His glass was almost empty; he drained it, and stood up. 'I'd better be off. Can I see you again? I'll bring a bottle next time.' She smiled. ' I have a feeling we're going to see a lot more of each other.' She handed him his jacket and they walked out of the house together, to his snow-covered car. He swept the windscreen clear, and climbed in. He saw her watching in his rear view mirror as he drove down the driveway. The road hadn't been cleared. There were twin wheel tracks where another car had been past and he followed these. His headlights picked out the passageway through the trees; the stark whiteness of the road and forest made the scene unrealistic, almost magical. Something appeared in the beam of the headlights; an owl, coming straight towards the car, growing quickly, so quickly, until it seemed to be as wide as the windscreen. As it lifted upwards and away, he jerked the wheel to the left, and the car started to skid. He tried to straighten, but it was too late. A figure moved through the silent woods. When she reached the car, on its side, its radiator hissing, she reached through the shattered door, and gently, tenderly, closed his eyes. Tears ran down her face as she walked away from the wreck, from his broken body. The house wasn't far, and on the way, as she passed the old curling pond, a figure raised itself from the ground, where it had been sitting, at the bottom of the old oak tree. She stopped and took both of his hands in hers. 'Well, that was strange,' he said. 'What happens now?' 'There's a door, and a long hallway. It's scary, but afterwards I'll be waiting,' she said. 'I'm sorry for what happened. But I was lonely. I've been lonely for so long. And I love you.' He pulled her close, and her tears dried on his chest. She took a step back, and, never taking her eyes from his face, led him away, through the forest.
Archived comments for A Good Death
sirat on 05-02-2016
A Good Death
I suspected a ghost story as soon as the old house and the family tragedy were mentioned. One bit I didn't understand was why people suspected the parents' crash had been a suicide pact. Something to do with their daughter was suggested. Had she already died at that point?





I liked the atmosphere of the story, and was carried along by the telling, but I think it would benefit from some simplification of the plot. There seems to be rather a lot of background detail that doesn't really add to the story. It's mainly the atmosphere of the piece that matters. You could skip over a lot of the back story. I think I would collapse his interaction with Linda into a single night.





Technically the only thing I wondered about were the short fragments of sentences joined by commas and semicolons. I would prefer more conventional complete sentences with fewer sub-clauses personally, but that might be just me.



EDIT

I can see you've made some changes, and I suspect more might be on the way. You've cut out a lot of back story, which is good, and you might cut even more without loss I think. I'm not sure you need the conversation in the bar, for example, I think the scene in the old house followed by the car journey might be enough. You need to look at each little element and ask yourself: What purpose does that bit serve? It's a great deal better than it was though.



I think in the editing you have introduced a problem that wasn't in the original, or at least that I didn't notice first time around. Mixed tenses. Some of the narration is in the present tense and some in the past. Only minor but worth fixing.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for your comments David. I was a little short of time at the end, so only managed one edit. I want to have another go at it anyway, so your comments are most welcome.

I'd done a couple of edits, and the one I posted was the wrong one! I'd taken out the conversation in the cafe, and removed all the names. I've posted the correct one now. I know about the tenses, and tried to sort it, but left it in the end as I thought the section of the story when he falls through the ice has more urgency this way.

QBall on 06-02-2016
A Good Death
Excellent story telling. You captured the ghostly atmosphere very well. Great read.
OOPS! Curling is a sport where the rock (or stone) moves according to the twist applied and ice conditions. Rarely does it travel straight and true!

Author's Reply:
Thanks for your comments, and the tip. I'm in the middle of an edit so will definitely use that!

THEGOLDENEGG on 13-02-2016
A Good Death
I think, although this is clear and fluent overall, this is definitely work in progress. Tenses, one too many 'unbelieving's, suddenly 'linda'when it's not been mentioned...

I question the style of short sentences, but will give it a bit more thought. I have to say I guessed the ending, and it is pretty predictable. I'll be interested in a further edit if you do one.

Author's Reply:


Behind The Waterfall (posted on: 30-11-15)
For the prose challenge

He faced the wall of white water, uncertain, afraid. Above him, the top of the smooth, unclimbable cliff was shrouded in mist. The waterfall seemed to descend from the sky. The spray was constant, monsoon-like, soaking him. The roar filled his ears. His grandmother had told him the story of the cave behind the wall of water, the cave that appeared when the gods willed it, then disappeared again. She said it offered an escape from The Valley, where his people had lived in seclusion since the beginning of time. Nobody had ever seen this cave, and her story was dismissed by everyone in the village, especially the elders. They said the force of the water would be too strong, nobody could pass through it, that there was no cave, just death. But his grandmother said they were wrong, that she had known someone long ago, when she was a small girl, who had seen the cave. And he had to try. Even if there was no cave, perhaps he could hide behind the waterfall. Behind him, he heard the dogs. Soon they would be upon him. He gulped in a lungful of air, and stepped forward, through the shallow water at the edge of the river, into the wall of water. He cried out, and nearly fell to his knees as it hit him like a hammer. It felt as if the skin was being stripped from his bones. His arms, his shoulders, his back were numbed, from the force of the cold water. His feet slipped underneath him and he fell. He nearly drowned there and then, but desperation made him scramble on, pulling himself across the slippery rock, until, gasping for breath, he made it through. He was inside the waterfall, behind the water, in a curved depression in the cliff face. The roar, the spray were still there, but the release from the punishing water was such that all seemed calm. He was in a small space, inches from a smooth, unbroken wall of green, slimy rock. The light that filtered through the wall of water behind him was enough to see that there was no cave. Painfully, he pulled himself to his feet. There was no cave. His heart fell. He would be caught, taken back, made to face what he had done. He hadn't meant to hit the elder so hard, hadn't meant to kill him, but he had become enraged when the old man had struck him with his ceremonial club. Unbidden, his hand felt the lump on the side of his head. The blood had been washed away by the force of the water, but the wound had opened again. As his eyes grew accustomed to the half-light he saw that the narrow ledge he was standing on continued to his right. Perhaps he could escape from the far side of the waterfall, or maybe, just maybe, he would find the cave. He started shuffling along, hands touching the cliff face, taking tiny, careful steps on the slippery rock. He hadn't gone far when a sharp, jagged piece of rock caught his foot; he stumbled, slipped, and hit the cliff, hard. Tears sprang to his eyes and he ended up on his knees, leaning against the cliff face. He could hear of the barking of the dogs. They were close now. He let out a sob. He was finished. Then, a miracle. The rock face his hand was leaning against moved slightly. He pushed with both hands - it became an opening. It was small, and he stayed on his knees to scramble in. He pushed the thick slab of rock behind him and slumped to the floor. He had found the cave. He was safe from his pursuers. It was dark as pitch, but the air didn't smell stale. That gave him hope, and he got to his feet and started moving further into the cave, into the darkness. After a few minutes of feeling his way, he became aware of the floor rising, and of the cave curving to his left. He felt a faint movement of air against his face. Cool air. Fresh. Eyes straining in the darkness, he inched forward. His fear was so strong he could taste it, like bile rising in his throat. As he moved along the tunnel, he became aware of a dim light, ahead, round the curve of the wall. After a few more paces he saw a strip of light, thin as a hair, in the wall. He touched it with his fingers. The rock wall seemed unbroken. He felt around the crack. At a height about level with his waist the rock was warm. He crouched, and examined the wall there carefully. There seemed to be five tiny depressions, in an arc. He found he could place his fingers in them. When he did so, part of the the wall swung away. He jumped to his feet, hands raised to protect himself. But nothing came through the rectangular opening. What he saw was so strange he couldn't take it in at first. There was light, but not sunlight; a bright white light. The ground was smooth and shiny, and the wall was a deep red. He took a deep breath and edged forward. The light was so bright after the darkness of the cave that he had to wait, blinking, as his eyes adjusted. Eventually he saw that he was standing in another tunnel that seemed to run parallel to the one he had been in. But a tunnel that was stranger than anything he had ever experienced. The ground felt warm beneath his feet, and there was a smell, of some sort of animal. The new tunnel was smooth, regular and seemed to have doors, closed doors, at regular intervals. It was absolutely straight, and he could see, perhaps 200 rods away, what looked like a square window. He padded forward silently, fearful at each door he passed. None of them opened. The only sound was a low hum, which seemed to come from the ceiling. Soon he stood at the window. His mind reeled at what he saw. Far below him was The Valley. His village was laid out as if it was a child's toy. He could see people, his people, moving through it, working in the fields. He saw his grandmother at the edge of the village, looking towards the waterfall, and his breath caught in his throat. He placed a hand flat on the cool glass just as he saw, reflected, a figure. He whirled round. Three people, shorter than him, their faces covered by black, mirrored glass. He saw himself as they saw him, crouched, filthy, eyes staring. One of the figures held a short stick, pointing towards him. He started to move, to edge away, but the stick made a barking noise, and he felt a sharp pain in his chest. He looked down and saw a barb, as if from a short arrow, sticking into him. His legs suddenly unable to support him, he fell. He was lying on green grass, on a low hill above the village. The sun was just coming up, and he saw a buzzard wheeling above him in the blue sky. His mouth tasted of iron, as if he had eaten bad meat. His head ached when he moved. Slowly, he sat up. He could see, over the roofs of the village, the waterfall. He heard a shout, saw two elders pointing up. Before he could gather his wits, they were upon him. He was beaten, his arms tied, and he was half carried, half pushed, back to the village, where he was thrown into the darkness of the prison hut. His head whirled with confusion as the door was secured behind him. He had no recollection of climbing the hill where he had woken, nor what had taken place before that. Part of his life was missing. Later that day, standing in front of the elders, he stared in mute incomprehension as they told him what he was supposed to have done. His last sight, as he was dragged to the execution stone, was of his grandmother, standing alone, weeping.
Archived comments for Behind The Waterfall
bluepootle on 30-11-2015
Behind The Waterfall
Maybe I'm just not on the ball today... I enjoyed the writing, liked the way you drove the action forward, starting with his escape from the village. I'm just not sure what the other people in the cave mean. I'll come back to it later. I also like the final image of the grandmother weeping.

Author's Reply:
They could either be humans who are involved in keeping the village separate from the outside world as an experiment/research project, or they could be aliens. I'm not sure myself. Or they could all be in a big spaceship.I didn't want to make it clear, because the main character doesn't understand what's going on.

TheBigBadG on 30-11-2015
Behind The Waterfall
I took it to be a Truman Show / Jurassic Park for humans (Homo Erectus Park?) myself. The narrator getting into the control room when he shouldn't be there. It's got that draw to it, as Blue says, for sure. The clipped sentences and focusing on the immediate action pulls you through. Might be you can shave a little more off around his discovering the door as well? Snip the 'He had found the cave.' for instance, because you're telling us that already. Just to keep the pace up. His incomprehension at his execution is interesting as well, quite a way to go...

Author's Reply:

shadow on 01-12-2015
Behind The Waterfall
Good narrative drive, pulled me straight in to the story and kept my interest. Thought the ending a bit abrupt, I would have liked to learn more about the world beyond the cave. Room for expansion, maybe?

Author's Reply:


The Benefit (chapter 1) (posted on: 23-11-15)
Chapter 1 in the story of Siobhan, a social worker in Birmingham in the 1970s. Siobhan lives alone, with her tropical fish and Bob Dylan albums. But things are about to change...

The little brown flakes sat on the surface for a hearbeat, then tumbled slowly through the golden water, lit from behind by gentle lights. The little fish, the Mollies, the Cardinals, darted at them, making the water ripple as they twisted and turned gracefully, but Siobhan was watching the big anemone in the corner of the tank. She smiled as a clown fish dashed out, grabbed a flake, then another, and disappeared again into the waving fronds. ''Come on Colin, you need more than that for your dinner'' she said. She checked the rest of the tank for anything untoward then headed for the bedroom, shedding clothes as she went. Later, her own dinner on a tray on her lap, she watched Judith Chalmers tell her all about the beauty of the Caribbean. ''Fat chance, Judith. You try getting there on a social worker's salary.'' Siobhan often spoke to the television, and occasionally shouted at it, particularly when the Tory leader, Margaret Thatcher was on. Recently she'd even started shouting at Jim Callaghan; the Prime Minister was making a mess of things, and her job, as a foster carers' support worker in Handsworth, became more difficult by the day. That night, unable to sleep, she padded to the glowing fish tank in the corner of her living room and perched on the end of the settee. ''Why am I here, on my own?'' She had recently started talking to her fish, which she knew was a worrying new trend but did it anyway. ''There must be someone out there for me.'' She found the slow night time ebb and flow of her fish comforting, and it meant a lot to her that something alive shared her life. The little clown fish was meandering slowly about the tank, never straying too far from its safe haven, and she turned her attention to it. ''Look at me, Colin. Am I totally hideous? Am I so horrible that a man, any man, would run away rather than go out for a drink with me?'' She sighed and slumped down into the settee. The silent night was her worst time, when the feelings that she repressed during the day surfaced. She reached out a hand, touched the glass of the fish tank. Colin the Clown Fish glided over and seemed to nuzzle her fingers. '' I'm too old to date now, Colin. Looks like we're stuck with each other.'' At 56 she considered herself too old for discos, although her friend Ruth still went along with the young ones in the office despite being close to Siobhan's age. It wasn't dignified, but then 1978 was a year when dignity seemed in short supply. She poured herself the last of the bottle of Valpolicella she had opened when Arena had come on and put her current favourite album, Bob Dylan's Street Legal, on the turntable. Siobhan had every Dylan album; she rarely felt happier than when singing along to one of his songs. Like the best guilty pleasures, it was best enjoyed alone. A gentle singalong to Where Are You Tonight was enough to put her in the mood for sleep. She stretched, and with the exaggerated care of one who knows they are slightly drunk, put down her glass, then waggled her fingers at the fish tank. "Night little fishies. Night Colin" She took the shining black record from the player, slid it into its sleeve. "Nighty-night Bob" she whispered, and made her way to her lonely, untidy bed. The phone wouldn't stop ringing. Wrapping a tartan dressing gown around her, Siobhan approached the two-tone brown monster that squatted on the sideboard. "It's Saturday" she croaked into the mouthpiece. "And it's really early. Why are you phoning me?" "What do you mean girl, it's after 10. You should be up by now." The tinny voice in her ear made her wince. "Yeah, well, I had a late night, Joan" she replied. "And I don't need to get up early on a Saturday. Nothing to get up for." As she spoke she cradled the phone with her shoulder and popped the top on the fish feed. Her babies gathered near the surface expectantly. "What's up now? You know I don't get paid to work on a Saturday, don't you?" "What else you doing, in that flat with all your little fishies? I'm doing you a favour, getting you out your bed. Anyway, I got a problem. I need your help." Siobhan stifled a yawn. "Alistair missing again?" she asked. Joan was one of the foster mothers Siobhan looked after for Wandsworth Council. One of the best foster carers the council had, with an ability to remain unfazed by the worst her charges could throw at her. The two women had known each other for years, and had become close friends. Joan's current foster, Alistair, a troubled 16 year old, was in the habit of going missing. "Since last night. He went out about 7, hasn't been home since. I'm worried sick. You get your little car and we'll go find him." Siobhan knew better than to argue with a force of nature. "All right Joan, I'll be there in half an hour." Forty minutes later Joan squeezed into the front seat of Siobhan's Renault 5. "Let's try the reggae shops first" she said. She gave the back seat, cluttered with discarded papers and clothes, a scowl. "When you going to clean this car? It's a health hazard." Siobhan gave her friend a dirty look. "Feel free to get the bus next time if you don't approve." They found a parking space in a side street by the east end of the town centre, where the pawn shops and bookies competed with the cheap clothes shops and the record shops for the largely black clientele. Alistair's passion was music, primarily reggae, and that was where he usually ended up when he did a bunk. At the third shop, Joan poked her head out of the door. "Got him. Come and help." The shop was even shabbier inside than it looked from the street. Posters pinned on top of other posters peeled from the walls, plywood racks of dog-eared records filled the floor. Siobhan was immediately aware of being the only white person there, but that feeling vanished when the music made its way into her head. The beat was gentle, sophisticated, and the singer's voice was like honey. Joan and a glum looking Alistair were moving towards her, watched by a mocking group of young men. She ignored the catcalls and insults, and grabbed Alistair's arm. "What do you think you're doing, running off like that?" she said. "You know you gave Joan quite a fright. Do you want this placement to end like the others? And what's this music? It's wonderful." Alistair gave her a surprised look. "Mr Isaacs. You never heard Gregory before? You need to get out more Siobhan." "You shut your mouth, boy" said Joan. "Don't talk back to Siobhan that way. Out you go." She pushed both of them out to the street, and towards the car. "And what you mean, girl, don't tell me you're getting wise for once in your life? Realising there's someone other than that Dylan?" Siobhan hung back, trying to catch the last of the song. "What's the song called, Alistair?" "Extra Classic, It's the title of his new album." "Here." Siobhan threw the car keys to Joan. "Wait in the car. I'll just be a minute." She dug out her purse as she went back into the shop. The young man at the counter got over his surprise at being asked for Gregory Isaac's latest album by a white woman with unkempt red hair, and slid the shiny black disc from the record player into its sleeve. "That's £2.75 please,madam" he said with mock bow and a wide smile. "Hope you like it." Joan gave her a funny look when she got back to the car, but didn't say anything until she stopped at her front door. "You want to come in for a cup of coffee? Or you going home to play your new record?" "I'm off home, Joan" Siobhan said firmly."Alistair, you behave yourself." After the second playing, Siobhan knew that Dob Dylan had competition for a place in her heart. She put the needle on the title track and turned up the volume for a singalong. Was it her imagination, or were her fish more active than usual?
Archived comments for The Benefit (chapter 1)
franciman on 23-11-2015
The Benefit (chapter 1)
Intriguing opening Ross. I like the suggestive way you build the character. The descriptive passages at the start help to give shape to the heroine's environment as they are written in the long. You maybe need to look at trimming the word count as we get into the story. Sometimes it slowed my reading at a time when you needed to pique my interest.
I wondered about something at the end of the chapter to leave the reader hurrying to turn the page?
Small things pal, the story is really good and I wait to see what happens next.
cheers,
Jim

Author's Reply:
Thanks Jim. This is only the second, draft; long way to go yet, and contributions like yours are welcome.

shadow on 24-11-2015
The Benefit (chapter 1)
Well, this certainly took me back - £2.75 for an LP!And we had a Renault 4, bright blue it was. Happy days.Good beginning, draws you straight in and a sympathetic main character. One typo 'Joan was one of the foster mothers Joan looked after'
I will be interested to see how it develops.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind comments, and the typo. I'll nip in and change it. I have great hopes for Siobhan, think she's going to do great things, but not in social work...

Bozzz on 25-11-2015
The Benefit (chapter 1)
To me this good beginning reads like the opening of a study in loneliness - but here an attempt to reach out to live with the world rather than become introverted. Interesting to see which way it goes. ....David.

Author's Reply:
Siobhan's about to embark on a bit of a journey. Don't know yet if she's going to end up alone, we'll just have to wait and see...

Mikeverdi on 27-11-2015
The Benefit (chapter 1)
Like the others, I'm looking forwards to more from you on this one. 😊😊 great start mate.
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks as ever Mike. I've got big plans for Siobhan...


The Eternal Warrior (posted on: 21-09-15)
For the prose challenge. Erich is a soldier. He has always been a soldier. He knows nothing else.

Erich asked himself, for perhaps the 100th time in his life, what he was doing here. 'Here' was a slit trench in a remote part of Yemen, about 5 kilometres from the nearest Houthi camp. He was currently engaged as an 'adviser' to the Saudi forces, his salary paid by the USA. Apart from the heat this was what he called a good assignment; two weeks on, two off, the best weapons and equipment. Being funded by the US had another advantage – the pay was spectacular. He wasn't doing it just for pay, though. He had several fortunes tucked away in various places, enough to fund a lavish lifestyle for a very long time. He was doing it because he knew nothing else. He kept fighting, for pay, in any conflict he could find. He usually had a few to choose from, and this particular phase of human development offered particularly rich pickings. For anyone with the experience he had, and was as well known to the right people as he was, life was sweet. Today, he was in charge of a platoon of Saudi commandos, or Special Forces in the current parlance. They were good lads, well trained and armed, and they followed his orders without question. Now, it was lunchtime, and he was relaxing as much as he ever did: one eye on his men and one ear listening for incoming ordnance. The Saudi field rations met with his approval; as he ate his dates he reflected on the different catering experiences he'd had through his career. The French Foreign Legion was probably the best. It had varied from forage – basically feeding yourself – on missions to cordon bleu back at base. And the wine… But then his sixth sense made him twist round and pick up his P90. ''Stations everyone. Here they come.'' All along the trench helmets were fastened, safety catches flicked, metal clinked on metal. Within a minute, a plume of dust. Two vehicles, probably Datsuns with a gun platform bolted on the back. Erich motioned with his right hand, palm down. Wait. They watched, silent and tense. The trucks would pass them on the road below the escarpment, about 100 metres away at its closest point. There was no cover on either side of the ribbon of broken concrete. The flat, rock-strewn wilderness disappeared into the heat haze. As the vehicles came closer they could see the gunners on the back lazily swinging the barrels of their guns from side to side. Erich smiled. The usual amateurs. 300 metres. Erich made another sign. Get ready. The two men in charge of the Javelins re-checked their charges. Erich made eye contact with the sergeant, gave him a slight nod. The two missile launchers poked over the edge of the trench, steadied, fired. Two streaks of flame and both vehicles exploded with a dull crump. When the smoke died away he saw a movement. ''Hamza. First vehicle'' The young man brought his rifle to bear. A single shot and the movement ceased. After scanning the area with his field glasses for a full half hour, Erich stood. One by one, his patrol did the same. They were all taller than Erich, who was short and stocky. His face, tanned to the colour of old leather, had a deep scar running from his left eye diagonally to his mouth, which it skipped to peter out on his chin. ''Move out'' he said. ''Make sure we leave the trench clean.'' The men scanned the ground for debris, Hamza found the single cartridge shell and tucked it in his pack. The troop formed in a line and moved out, Erich to the rear. When the bulk of the patrol was on its way down the hill towards their transport, Erich looked back. A new dust plume, bigger than the first, heading towards them, fast. They nearly made it before the hill was raked by small arms fire. Bullets hummed like bees and kicked up earth as the men dived to safety. But not all made it. Two men dropped to the ground, unmoving. Erich risked a look over the edge of the trench. Five vehicles, with Houthi spread around them, AK47s spitting flame. ''Return fire'' he yelled. If they could just stop the Houthi getting their heavy guns going.. He poked his own gun over the edge, started squeezing off shots, aiming at the rear of the nearest Houthi vehicle. He saw the gunner fall from one of the guns, just as he saw another swinging towards him. He swung his weapon towards it. Not quick enough. He saw a flash from the gun's muzzle and he knew no more. Erich woke. He was staring at a cracked white ceiling. He lay still, unsure of where he was. Tentatively, he moved his arms. Some chest pain, but bearable. Left leg, ok; right leg, sluggish. He raised his right arm, ran his hand over his torso, then his head. Nothing seemed to be missing. He turned his head to the left without lifting it. Tables, with still forms laid on them. Same to the right. It had happened again. He'd been taken for dead, laid with the other corpses. He sighed softly. This had been a good gig, but now it was over. He would have to steal away, start again in some other war zone. He relaxed, enjoying the cool peacefulness, thinking about where he should go. Perhaps join the Kurds fighting ISL. Or should he have a bit of r & r? He'd been at one front line or another, with no real break, for the past five years. He was mulling this over when he heard a noise to his right. He moved his head, saw the corpse next to him twitch. He waited. Another twitch, then an low moan. The eyes snapped open. A gasp, then ''Shit, my head hurts.'' American accent. ''You ok?'' At the sound of Erich's voice, two staring eyes turned on him. The right side of the head facing him was a mass of blood and bruises. ''What the fuck?'' ''Relax, buddy, you're in the morgue. They thought you were dead. You're not.'' ''Oh. Right. But really, what the fuck?'' ''Can you move your arms and legs?'' Silence as each of the limbs moved slightly. ''Ok, I can't see any blood on you. Can you sit up?'' Slowly, Erich's new morgue buddy moved his arms back, raised his torso slightly, winced. There was some blood on his right shoulder. ''Looks like you got hit high up on your right arm. You're head's a bit of a mess too. Try to sit up.'' As he spoke, Erich was sitting up, swinging his legs over the side of the metal shelf. His companion, with some effort and a few choice words, did likewise, and soon they were facing each other, a metre apart. ''How come you're so cool about this? Happened to you before? I'm like, freaked.'' He looked to be in his mid 20s. Erich smiled. ''Yeah, once or twice. Trick is to get out without freaking the attendants. I usually wait till it's dark.'' ''Jesus, what happened to you?'' The man was staring, and Erich remembered he wasn't wearing any shirt. The wound that had killed him must have been in his chest. That would explain why it was instant. Erich looked down at himself. Amongst the mass of scars that criss-crossed his torso, he could see the new one, pink, larger than the rest, just below his heart. No wonder they had put him in here. ''I've been in the wars, I guess'' he said, with a wry smile. ''Let me get a shirt.'' He moved down the aisle, found a body about the same size and wrestled off his battle top. There was a little hole in the back, but it would do. ''Ok, let's see how you're doing.'' He examined the young man's shoulder. and head. There was no fresh blood but there was a deep gash at the top of the tricep and it looked as if something big had hit the side of his head, which had lost some skin and was heavily bruised. ''You need to get that looked at. Let's get you to the medical tent.'' This was going to mess with his plan, but it couldn't be helped. He supported the young man to the door and pounded on it. A scuffling noise from the other side, and the metal door was pulled open. They were facing a scruffy looking man who looked very scared. ''Thanks for the rest, but we're much better now'' said Erich. They pushed into the early evening heat. Open-mouthed, the attendant said nothing. As they went past he looked fearfully into the morgue, and quickly clanged the door shut. They heard the lock snapping shut as they made their way across the compound, to the medical tent. After leaving his charge with a nurse, Erich made his way to the canteen. He was glad the morgue was back at the main base; his men would still be at the forward camp. He might be able to get a quick meal without seeing anyone he knew. As always when this happened, he was ravenously hungry. He pushed himself back from the table, relaxed and lit a cigarette. He was starting to work out his next move when he became aware of someone staring at him. ''Well hi there. They get you sorted out?'' Arm in a sling, head swathed in bandages, the young American he'd rescued from the morgue sat down opposite him. ''Yeah. Yeah, they did. Thanks. They tell me they can recover my gear too. Like to tell my buddies I survived.'' ''Had anything to eat? They do a mean curry here. Nice and hot.'' ''Not hungry.'' This wasn't going to be a flowing conversation, Erich realised. He'd had many different reactions, and the young man's was what he called number 2. So many questions, which to ask first? ''So, what are you about, man? I mean, how old are you?'' Not bad, he'd managed to get two of the big questions in at the same time. ''Buy me a drink and I'll tell you. But you have to listen. No questions till the end.'' Erich waited for his new friend to return with two cokes, then led him to a secluded space at the edge of the camp. They settled themselves side by side, backs resting against a rock, warm from the day's heat, and watched the sun going down. Erich spoke softly for almost an hour, pausing occasionally for a swig of coke. He told of his early years in Switzerland, growing up on the family farm, joining the army, his first battle, at Sempach, being carried from the battlefield by his brother almost as soon as the battle began, mortally wounded by an Austrian pike, about the doctor and his strange eastern-looking assistant, about the evil-smelling liquid they poured into his wound, and the bread, soaked in a bitter fluid, that they forced him to eat, about his miraculous recovery. About the next years and battles, always with his brother, until one day he noticed that his brother grew old while he stayed young. About the fruitless hunt for the doctor who had saved him, which ended when he found out that the field surgery where he had been treated had been overrun by the Austrians during the battle. He told him about his eventual realisation that he would never grow old. He told him about the armies he had served in, about the battles, about the peacetimes which were more difficult than any battle, about the stability and comfort he felt in the company of soldiers, who were the same all through the ages. He told him about soldiering, how it was all he knew, all he would ever know. How he'd never rise above a non-com, because that way he would stay unnoticed, could move on without any trouble. How he was always moving on. He told him about the people he had been close to, and the pain of leaving them when they journeyed into old age without him, and their anger at his youth. He told him about the hell of immortality. The men sat in silence. Erich was relaxed, waiting for his companion to catch up, process what he'd just been told. The darkness gathered around them. ''So that first battle. When was that exactly?'' ''The 9th of July, 1386.'' ''So you're, like, what, 5, 600 years old?'' ''650 on my next birthday.'' ''Wow. You're going to have to get a fucking big cake.'' Erich hadn't laughed as hard, or as long, for at least 100 years. When he could speak, he put his arm around the young man beside him. ''You know, you're the 47th person I've told my story to. I like your reaction best.'' Later that night, Erich stood in the darkness of a tent filled with sleeping men, looking down at the sleeping form of the 47th person he'd entrusted with his story. Then he shouldered his pack, ducked out of the tent, and set out on his next journey.
Archived comments for The Eternal Warrior
bluepootle on 21-09-2015
The Eternal Warrior
What a great idea for a story. I have to say my interest really perked up with the doctor who administered the foul-smelling liquid and the bread, which makes for very interesting images. I think as it stands there's a lot of skipping over the bits that I would want to spend longer on - I wonder if it would work better in first person, with Erich narrating the things that have happened to him? But that might well be my love of a more macabre story coming to the fore - I wanted more detail!

Author's Reply:
That's how it was originally, but it became quite long and a bit unwieldy. I know what you mean, though; it would make it more personal to have it more as a story, as told by Erich, rather than a precis of his story. I feel another edit coming on...

TheBigBadG on 21-09-2015
The Eternal Warrior
As Blue says, it's a great idea. In fact, I read this and I'm pinging with questions and generally wanting to explore lots of angles of the set up. I want to know what he's hoarded over the centuries for one, how many others like him they are and what their story is, if he's the only soldier. Has the Philosopher's Stone been lost? And why has he ended up fighting for all eternity - has immortality made him the essential nihilist? Feels like a fruitful seam you've hit on to me, basically.

I think Blue's on to something here as well though. Once you reveal the resurrection, the hints of the ritual and the like, then his salary and taste for hot dinners become less important for me. Because it's a short story the exciting setup feels a bit like a false lead (whereas it could work as the prologue to something longer) so maybe there's too much story here, which needs to be streamlined? There's something interesting in that sense of him recollecting things as he comes back to life for instance, maybe focus on that transition more how he died? Nostalgia in the place of final judgement seems a ripe vein of ennui for a character to explore.



Author's Reply:
I take your point about the resurerction/transition angle, but I see Erich as a simple soul, to whom dinners etc are an important part of his very long life.

Kipper on 21-09-2015
The Eternal Warrior
Hi Rab
My writing skills are modest so I will not attempt to offer comments such as those above.
What I can and do say is that it was a very enjoyable read. I would however like to mention one thing which I felt was unexplained. We learned of course how Erich 'survived' the shooting, but not so the American. He seemed to recover remarkably quickly for one who had been treated as dead.
That apart it was for me 'A Great Read. Well deserved nib.
Michael

Author's Reply:
You're absolutely right about the American. A nick on the arm shouldn't be enough to put him in the morgue! I'll do a rewrite and give him some more serious injuries. It's fun playing god, isn't it?

e-griff on 22-09-2015
The Eternal Warrior
A well-told story which kept interest. But I have to say the idea is not new.there have been many interpretions (and TV series) over the years on this topic. Still, the early scene details were convincing, and the plot not predictable at the start. I too found the American a little incredible, but can see how he is useful to Hold off our realisation as long as possible. But then I expected him to be an immortal too, and them swapping yarns.

Author's Reply:
you;re right, it's not too original an idea, but I thought it fitted the challenge in a slightly tangential way. I thought about making the American immortal, but that would make it a lot longer as they share experiences. I'm going to rewrite the injuries that the American suffers too, to make it more likely that he'd end up in the morgue with Erich.

shadow on 23-09-2015
The Eternal Warrior
A gripping and very readable story. But like e-griff, I wasn't sure if the American was supposed to be another immortal - and if he wasn't, why was Erich bothering to tell him his life story. Because surely the first thing he'd do is tweet the news to all his followers, so bang goes Erich's anonymity . . .

Author's Reply:
Never even considered the tweeting angle, which shows my age I guess. But he's leaving the tent in the middle of the night, to avoid any further contact with the American, who doesn't know his name, or won't after I've nipped in for a quick edit. I did think about the American telling his friends, but thought that it would take the form of an urban myth.

expat on 25-09-2015
The Eternal Warrior
An interesting slant on an old theme and a good offer for the challenge. I can imagine the outline working well for Twilight Zone episode.
One small thing - I'm a bit confused by the American's assumption that Erich was 5,600 years old. I've probably missed something somewhere.


Author's Reply:
Thanks for your comments, and I can clear up the confusion about the age assumption - he's saying '5, (space) 600 years old', meaning '500 or 600 years old'. I was trying to capture a way of speaking which I thought he might use. I can see why it might be confusing.


The Seventh Exit (posted on: 24-07-15)
I am on holiday in France; this week we're in Paris. The week started with an educational drive, satnav assisted, from Normandy to the centre of this fantastic city. The following words are best read as I wrote them, in a Peter Sellers Clouseu accent.

"At the next roundabout, take the seventh exit." Apart from the 'seventh' bit, so far, so ordinary. But what the satnav lady didn't realise was that the next roundabout was around the Arc de Triomphe. I waited at the lights with all the other cars; every other one, however, was driven by a Parisien. You could tell by looking at them. Smoking their French cigarettes, having animated conversations with their passengers, who all looked as young and glamorous as the drivers. How was that possible? Is everyone in Paris young, good looking, beautifully groomed, expensively dressed? On the available evidence, the answer was yes. Apart from the ones on motorbikes, obviously. They just looked, for the most part, cool. The lights changed, with no decent amber interval, from red to green. Cars all around me leapt forward, into the chaos, into the confusion. The roundabout was full of cars. There were no lanes, no markings. Every car wanted to go in a different direction. And they were doing just that. My wife gripped the edges of the passenger seat, knuckles white. "Jesus" she said. "Watch out!" She's helpful that way. I realised that I couldn't stay where I was, so did like the others. I drove into the melee. And when I did, a strange feeling came over me. A feeling of freedom, of throwing off the petty bourgeois constraints of staying within lanes. We don't need your silly lanes, we are in Paris! I became a French diver. I want the seventh exit? Alors, I will drive towards the seventh exit. There are other cars driving to other exits, but I don't care. And it worked! Somehow, all the cars on the roundabout made it to their own exit, without stopping anyone else getting to theirs. I wanted a cigarette, not to smoke, just so I could hold it in a nonchalant way, as I drove my car without a care in the world, to wherever I wanted to go. The rest of the journey was a disappointment. Straight roads, traffic lights, no more roundabouts, all the way to Gare de l'Est, where I was to leave the car. The taxi to the apartment, in Rue St Denis, was driven as a true Parisien drives, with frequent lane changes for no apparent reason, missing the wings of other, slower cars by millimetres. I had been a mere novice, on my roundabout, it was now apparent. Clearly, there is much to learn of life. But feurst, I really meurst buy some cigeurettes..
Archived comments for The Seventh Exit
e-griff on 24-07-2015
The Seventh Exit
So familiar. Great description of a mind-blowing event. I've done the same, but only realised the sensation I had was'freedom' when I read your piece.

Author's Reply:
Thanks e. I only realised it fully when I was writitng it!

Mikeverdi on 24-07-2015
The Seventh Exit
Oh yes! And not just Paris, Rome and Athens are much the same HaHa!! Great piece mate, loved it.
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike. I've never driven in Rome, but Florence was pretty hairy; all of Italy, in fact. Good fun though.

Kipper on 24-07-2015
The Seventh Exit
It really did work putting my Peter Sellers hat on.
Very enjoyable
Michael

Author's Reply:


The Last Member (posted on: 06-07-15)
A slight reworking of my entry to last week's flash fiction challenge.

Gerry Manion occupied his usual seat, by the window, looking out over the golf course. He saw his fellow members lining up putts on manicured greens, pacing the fairways, searching for mis-hit golf balls in the rough. The roar of a great beast brought him back to reality. Somewhere in the wilderness that now covered the course there was something big. Something that wanted him dead, just like all the other animals out there, the birds that flung themselves against the armoured windows, the Barbary Apes that watched from the trees alongside what had once been the eighteenth green, the packs of dogs that howled far into the night, every nigth. The fairways and greens that had been Boat of Garten Golf Club had been long subsumed by The Wild. To venture out on to the course now would be instant death. His domain had shrunk to these few rooms on the first floor of the clubhouse. The ground floor was uninhabitable, at least by his kind. He knew that his time here was limited too. Every day the creepers reached higher, and the animals and god knew what else became bolder, their attacks more effective. And they learned more in each attack. Each sortie made a bit more ground, made him more tired, depleted his ammunition, damaged his defences. He lived in squalor, eking out a miserable existence, always on guard, never truly relaxed, never fully asleep. He was the last member of the golf club. The rest of the members had fallen to the savagery that now colonised the world. He and two other members had made the decision, a few short months ago, to set up base here, thinking that it would be easier to defend than a Government centre where the majority of the country's population had fled to. He, James and Robert had quietly gathered supplies; tinned food, water, firearms, and had spent the best part of two weeks making the place as impregnable as they could. And they had watched, horrified, as the Government centres became centres of a different sort: centres of a hurricane, a storm of animals, plants, birds, all intent on overwhelming the humans that huddled there. They had fallen, one by one at first, then more quickly as perfidious nature, red in tooth and claw, had perfected its tactics. All of nature had seemed, incredibly, to be working together, working to some kind of plan, as if they were being directed by a mastermind. Bur there was no mastermind. There was no grand plan. The world had just had enough of man. Their computer screen went dark before their own power supply went down. Then they understood. Mankind was finished. Nature was intent on wiping it from the face of the earth. They had managed well enough for a while. The location of the course, in the Highlands, well away from the centres of population, helped. The animals were as they always were. They coexisted. The first clue came from the speed at which the course was subsumed by The Wild. grass grew to a height of two, three feet. Creepers snaked from trees, binding the overgrown bushes into a seemingly impenetrable barrier. The clubhouse was surrounded, cut off. The next clue was horrific, and sickening. James' doberman, which had unthinkingly, obsessively followed every one of his master's commands since it had been a puppy, turned on him, in a snarling, biting fury, turning his throat into a bloody mess of pulp before the others had put a bullet into its brain. They had to do the same with James. They managed to move the bodies outside, and barely made if back to safety. The smell of the dead meat had distracted the feral attack dogs long enough for Gerry and Robert to get behind their own barricade, the armoured door. The had looked at each other, pale with shock, behind the metal door, and then had made sure the rest of the building was secure. For a week they had kept the world at bay, spelling each other, killing everything that got through their defences. They had managed, somehow, until one night, just before dawn, Gerry had been wakened by Robert's screams. When he reached the room which had once housed the club's trophies Robert was dead, his body being mauled, his flesh being ripped by sharp teeth. A snarling, bloodied face turned to Gerry, who had cut them all down with a single long burst from his gun. He had found the broken window guard, and fixed it back. A thick creeper was curled round one of the hinges, had pulled it from the wall. His machete had taken care of the creeper, and he had used the last of the glyphosate, spraying it round the edges of the window before he sealed the room and retreated back to the members' lounge. And now he was alone. He was tired, so tired. He hadn't eaten anything but tinned meat for a week. His clothes hung from his emaciated frame. He knew, with a sickening certainty, that he couldn't last more than a few days. But something kept him going. He wasn't aware of anything any more but the battle for survival, and a fierce hatred for the animals out there that were baying for his blood. He wasn't human any more; he had been brought to the level of the basest, most feral beast. They had won. The realisation brought him a strange sense of peace. He sat back in the padded chair, and relaxed. He realised that if had gone unusually quiet outside. For a moment he wondered if the savagery might be over. Perhaps nature had called off its troops, in the realisation that it had defeated him, defeated humanity. A sudden noise behind him brought him to his feet. He swung the barrel of his gun round, caught a brace of baboons, fangs bared, full in the chest with a hail of bullets. He would have to find the breach, repair it quickly. He stepped over the fallen bodies and through the door they had rushed through. Straight into a net of vines, which tightened round him as he struggled. More animals than he could count fell upon him in a frenzy. He managed to squeeze off another few rounds, but fell not knowing whether they had hit their target. He curled himself into a ball as the animals ripped through the vines to get at him, to destroy him. And so the last member of Boat of Garten Golf Club, and, as it happened, the last member of the human race, perished.
Archived comments for The Last Member

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When Smokey Sings (posted on: 22-06-15)
For the prose challenge. Falling in love, and out again, is an occupational hazard for an 18 year-old adolescent. At least it was for me.

It was the end of the summer term, and I was on my way home. It was 1978, and it was lunchtime. I had been driving for about an hour and a half, across country, on the windy, slow roads that would lead, eventually, to the motorway. I didn't mind the windy, slow roads. My car wouldn't go over 55 miles an hour anyway. I was starting to think about lunch, when one of these old pubs that stand at country crossroads all over England hove into view. The Fox and Hounds. It looked as if it had always been there, as if it had grown out of the soil. I didn't think twice. Inside, it was a typical old pub: stone floor, dark wood, tiny windows which meant that I had to stand in the doorway until my eyes adjusted to the gloom. The only customer, an old chap slumped at a table in the corner, looked up briefly then returned his gaze to his pint. A large man with a face the colour and texture of chopped liver stood behind the bar and watched impassively as I approached. ''A pint of…that please'' I said, pointing to a pump with a label that I didn't recognise. Something to do with Ferrets. ''And do you do food?'' He pointed at a grubby menu and pulled the pump to release the brown, foamy liquid. "Can I have a ploughman's please?" He placed the glass in a puddle of stale beer on the counter and held out a hand. ''That'll be £2.50, including the food.'' He placed my cash in an ancient till and shouted my order through a door and turned back to his paper. The guy was a real gift to the service industry. I sat down at a table near the window. The only sounds were the ticking of an unseen clock, the laboured breathing of the old chap in the corner and the occasional turning of a newspaper page. The drowsy atmosphere and the beer made my thoughts wander, and I was miles away when a voice said "You the Ploughman's?" and I became aware of someone standing beside me with my lunch. A female. A young female. An attractive young female. White t-shirt that stretched in all the right places, short miniskirt and the the most beautiful eyes. I was instantly, completely, in love. I realised I was staring when I should be speaking. And I was slouching. Not a good first impression. I sat up straight. ''Thanks very much" I said, and took the plate from her with a winning smile. "You passing through?" she asked as she handed me a knife and fork wrapped in a serviette. "Yeah," I said, every inch the suave traveller. "Heading for the M5." Any hopes that this might lead to a longer conversation, leading eventually to fantastic sex, were dashed as she walked off without reply. I watched her go, enjoying the swing of her tartan miniskirt as she left the room. Then she turned at the door and gave me a quick smile. I sat and pondered. Why had she asked me that? Why did she smile at me? I decided that I would never understand women, and concentrated on my lunch. As I ate I looked up to see the barman staring at me, in a singularly unfriendly way; with a last killer look in my direction he stalked off towards the kitchen. The old chap in the corner was wheezing; I thought he was having some sort of stroke, but then realised that he was laughing. ''He don't like that, no he don't. Jackie's his daughter, see. He's probably gone to warn her to steer clear. Very protective of Jackie is old Vic.'' This sudden burst of loquaciousness seemed to tire him out and he slumped back in his seat, staring at his glass. So Old Vic was warning the lovely Jackie off? Hope sprang anew in my breast. Everyone knows that such a warning often has the opposite effect. The last sliver of cheese gone, I tipped my glass vertically to drain the final, precious drops of warm, flat beer and sat back with a contented sigh. My reverie was interrupted by the return of Jackie. "Hope you don't want dessert, cos there isn't any" she said as she took my plate. "No, got to be on my way anyway. Thanks. That was really nice." My honeyed words earned me another smile. As Jackie took my plate away I got up and took my empty glass to the the bar. Old Vic was glaring at me. My smile and thanks did nothing to cheer him up. He didn't reply, just gave me The Glare. A visit to the open-roofed enclosure laughingly titled 'gents' and I was ready to be on my way. I was sad that I was leaving Jackie behind. I pictured driving away with her in the passenger seat. How great would it be to ride off into the sunset together? As I approached the car I could make out a dark shape, just above the passenger seat, that wasn't there when I parked. The passenger door lock had stopped working some time ago, but for some reason nobody had ever bothered to break. I edged closer. My heart nearly stopped. It was Jackie's ponytail, and Jackie was under it, squashed low down in the seat, legs awkwardly wedged into the seat well at a revealing angle. If I could just move my head a bit to the right… ''Will you get in, for fuck's sake,'' came in an urgent whisper ''and stop trying to see up my skirt.'' I did as I was told, looking back to the pub to make sure Vic The Angry Dad wasn't watching. ''What are you doing in my car?'' ''What do you think? You're the love of my life and we're eloping.'' My heart skipped several beats and then started beating double-time to catch up. ''What…where…'' I responded, with my usual rapier-sharp wit. ''Can you please start this junk-heap and get going'' she said, a threatening growl to her voice. ''I need a lift to the village to see my boyfriend and you're the only option that's come along today.'' My dreams evaporated, as they always did, and I started the car. Jackie gave me the directions, and sat up when we were safely clear of the car park. ''You got any music?'' she asked. I reached down under my seat, where I'd stashed my portable cassette player. ''It's got a tape in it, just press start." The Clash's version of Police and Thieves blasted out. "I've heard this, Jethro likes them" said Jackie. Jethro? Had I slipped back into the last century? ''Is that your boyfriend? Jethro? Kind of an old-fashioned name.'' ''Yeah, Jethro's great. Lives on his dad's farm, but he does most of the work. He'll get the lot when his dad retires.'' My dreams evaporated further. How could I possibly compete with a farm? I decided just to enjoy the moment. The luscious countryside, the lovely Jackie sitting beside me with the Clash as a soundtrack. It doesn't get much better than this, I thought. All too soon, though, we reached the village, where Jackie had arranged to meet tractor boy in the local pub. ''It's the Red Lion, right there'' she said, pointing a perfectly shaped hand. With a heartfelt sigh I swung into the car park. Something large and hairy wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and a happy smile, unfolded itself from a picnic table and loped across to us. ''Come on then girl, I got you your usual'' it said. On the table stood two pints, one half full. Jackie turned towards me, gave me a smile. Her eyes really were gorgeous. I could drown in them, given half a chance. ''Thanks for the lift. You want to stop for a drink?'' ''No thanks, got to be on my way. Nice to have met you Jackie.'' The hand I held out remained unshaken as she skipped out of the car into a bear hug from Big Farmer Jethro. The brute knocked the door closed with a fist the size of a shovel. With a last, lingering glance at the happy couple I headed north once again. I stopped at the village Spar and got myself a coke, some crisps and a toffee crisp. Then I changed the tape for something that better suited the mood of someone who had fallen in and out of love in the space of an hour. Soon Smokey was telling me about the tracks of his tears. I shared Smokey's pain.
Archived comments for When Smokey Sings
sirat on 22-06-2015
When Smokey Sings
I have the deepest sympathy for this cruelly rejected romantic soul. I think a peck on the cheek would not have been unreasonable in return for the taxi service provided. But such females are invariably cold and heartless. He might at least console himself with the thought that he had paid £2.50 for a pint and a ploughman's. Clearly the Fox and Hounds had spectacularly failed to keep abreast of the last forty years of price inflation.

Brilliant story, I loved it.

Author's Reply:
I didn't mention the fact that the story's set in 1978 (just done a quick edit), which accounts for the prices. From my admittedly shaky memory a pint of real ale was about 60p then...

Thanks for the comment, glad you enjoyed it.

bluepootle on 22-06-2015
When Smokey Sings
For the moments of heartbreak you can't beat Smokey Robinson.

It has an anecdotal feel, with that opening paragraph that establishes we're not going anywhere fast, that I really like. A reminiscence that deserves to be told over a pint of beer. Short and sweet, and it made me smile.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Aliya. I must admit to a bit of laziness here - it's a reworking (and I hope an improvement) on earlier story, Do You Believe in Magic, which I'd been working on, on and off, for a while, and I saw the connection with the challenge. It made me get on with the reworking, though, which is a good thing.

Mikeverdi on 22-06-2015
When Smokey Sings
Weirdly I thought it sounded familiar, I liked it before I think. Its a good story well told. I agree with young pootle about the anecdotal feel.
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike, glad you liked it. It makes me feel very old, writing about these far off times, when things seemed simpler, and a lot more fun!
Ross

Nomenklatura on 22-06-2015
When Smokey Sings
There are a few clues to time Rab, the price of the beer and ploughman's is one and some of the music, of course. However, since you've edited to tell us it's 1978 in the first para, I feel that's too obvious. Perhaps that's just me. You could have, for example,turned the radio off right at the beginning because it was playing your least favourite song of that year. 1978 was the year of Father Abraham and the Smurfs! If ever I set anything in 1982, Rene and Renato save their love on a juke box or a radio. No, that's a joke, but I hope you see what I mean.

In all honesty, I don't believe you need to go down the "it was 1978" route.

Anyway, what do I know. I'm commenting from the sidelines, at least as far as the workshop goes, anyway.

Author's Reply:
I always struggle a bit with show/don't show. I've tried to place the year giveaway in a more humorous context. I might take it out again tomorrow.
Thanks for the comment, hope you liked the story.

TheBigBadG on 22-06-2015
When Smokey Sings
Definitely familiar territory for me here, a carpe diem story for people (like m!) who do things tomorrow. The moments in and around the car are the best bits, that sense of unpredictability to it. What exactly is she doing in the car, how did she get in, etc. There's a good dynamic between the two of them here. If I may, I'd be inclined (same as I said to David) to trim the opening slightly. Maybe rationalise the transaction at the bar, make it less about what he orders and more about Vic's attitude to him? In fact, yeah, I like your characters. I like Jackie's cheek and your narrator's dislike of Jethro. Also your narrator dodging the ire of the barman, the way disapproval passes down from the elder to the younger but your narrator doesn't acknowledge he's part of it himself by not liking Jethro. It's good, I reckon you can have a bit more fun with it as well.

Author's Reply:
Thanks G, glad you liked it, and your comments are helpful, as always. I enjoyed wallowing in the sunny nostalgia of the 70s (the best decade ever for my money).

Ross

THEGOLDENEGG on 05-07-2015
When Smokey Sings
Very nice, complete story with nary a glitch. I don't think you need to say the date, but on the other hand I don't think it hurts.

Can't really say much about it. It's not staggeringly memorable.I guess you didn't mean it to be. But it is a good, rounded piece with all the right ingredients that's well worth reading.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Golden, I think.

e-griff on 06-07-2015
When Smokey Sings
Sorry rab, that was me of course stuck in my weekly challenge support role.

Yes, it was intended as a compliment overall. 🙂 G

Author's Reply:


The Village (posted on: 12-06-15)
A traveller arrives at a village. Has he been there before? If anyone knows what's going on in this story, please let me know. I haven't a clue.

The Village I stumbled through the darkness, tired, hungry and alone. My shoulder, not the bad one thankfully, brushed heavily against a rough stone wall and I nearly fell. I had reached the village by this time. Not a single light shone. If there had once been streetlights, they were no more. There was no moonlight. Was this even the right village? I had been walking for two days, and I thought I recognised the countryside, but I couldn't be sure. If only I could find somewhere warm, dry, out of the damned wind that chilled me, and made my skin dry, like old parchment. I resolved to try the next door I came to. Feeling along the wall, my hand touched wood, then glass. The glass was unbroken, which was a good sign. My hand closed on a doorknob. Before I turned it, I rapped on the glass and thought I heard a noise inside. But there was no response so I turned the handle and pushed gently. The door moved reluctantly. Inside was a cold, hard floor. The darkness was absolute, but I felt a presence. So I stood inside the doorway and waited. 'Hello? Anyone there?' My voice was loud in the stillness. A noise, from my left. I turned, eyes staring blindly towards the source. Then an old man's scared voice: 'Who are you? What do you want?' 'Shelter. Rest. Food if you have any to spare. I've walked a long way.' 'You'll find none here. We have no food. I'm armed. I'd advise you to leave.' 'Where can I go? Is there anywhere in this damned village that I can go?' 'I don't care where you go. Just leave.' There was a muttering. I heard the speaker say, sotto voce, 'All right, all right. Then perhaps he'll leave.' He cleared his throat, raised his voice again. 'Go to the next cottage along, on the other side of the lane, it's empty. It has a bed. You can rest there. In the morning, we'll give you what food we can. That's all we can do. Now go.' 'Thank you' I said, and went back into the raw coldness. I moved cautiously across the lane. After what seemed an age but was probably no more than a minute, I found a door. As soon as I entered the room a dim memory stirred. Could this be my old house? 'Anyone there?' My voice echoed. I knew, with utter certainty, that the cottage was empty and there was only one room. I made my way to the right far corner. If this was my old house, there would be a bed. My shin made contact with something hard. I leaned down and felt cold metal, then the softness of a mattress. I laid my rucksack down thankfully on the floor. The mattress was thin but yielding, there was a blanket and a pillow. It all felt cold and damp but I was past caring. I was dirty, confused, exhausted, and my shoulder hurt. I slipped into oblivion. 'He hasn't even taken his shoes off. And the smell!' I had woken when I heard the door scrape open. Two pairs of shuffling feet. Under the blanket, I tensed, waiting for a blow. But none came. I turned my head towards them. Grey light spilled into the room. 'Told you he was awake.' I didn't try to sit up, but shifted on to my back. I felt exposed, at their mercy, so I tried to show I was not a threat. 'I'm sorry to have bothered you last night,' I said. 'I was tired and disoriented. And it was dark. I know I'm a sorry sight, I've been travelling for a while. I'd like to stay here for a little while to rest, wash, clean my clothes.' I lapsed into silence, worn out by the longest speech I had made for some time. 'It is him. I knew it. We'd better tell the others.' The man left the room and I struggled to sit up, wincing in pain from my injured shoulder. Squinting against the light, I could see that the other visitor was a slight, stooped old woman. Something about her was familiar. 'Nancy? Is it you?' I asked. The woman took a step towards me and with all her strength, spat. I felt her warm spittle sliding down my cheek. The shock must have shown on my face, for her look of hatred was replaced with one of triumph. 'You well know who it is you old bugger' she said. Despite the spitting, I was unprepared for the depth of bitterness in her voice. 'I'll bring you some food, though I don't know why. It wouldn't bother me in the slightest if you died right there in that bed.' She turned on her heel and stalked from the room. She left the door open and I became aware of other figures in the lane, looking in through the opening. The pain in my feet as I stood up eclipsed that from my shoulder, but I limped to the door and with all my strength slammed it shut. Breathing heavily, I leaned my back against the closed door. Before me lay a shabby, poorly-furnished room with distempered walls. A chair, a table, both plain and rough; a narrow bed, and a filth-caked sink. Every surface was thick with dust. A dark wooden cupboard dominated the back wall. There was nothing soft – no curtains, no rugs; a mean fireplace, covered in soot. It was my old house. I was back. I was disturbed by a single, sharp knock. I half-opened the door. It was the old woman. She had a thick piece of bread in one hand and a tin mug in the other. Without a word, she placed both of them on the ground outside, turned and walked away. When I opened the door wider to retrieve them, there was a murmur. At least a dozen people were gathered in the lane, watching. I picked up the bread and the mug, half full of a pale milky fluid. Nobody spoke. Nobody moved. It felt as if they were waiting for me to say something, do something. I didn't feel like pleasing them so I stepped back, closed the door, and took my prizes over to the table. The bread was spread with some sort of paste. It was so thick, and the crust so hard that it was difficult to eat. Soaking the crusts in the milky fluid helped. The liquid had a slightly bitter taste. It crossed my mind that Nancy might have poisoned it. She clearly hated me, but I could remember no wrong I had done her. That was the problem. I couldn't remember much at all. I wasn't even sure that this was my old house. My hunger satisfied, I limped over to the cupboard. Inside were open shelves and a narrow hanging area. There were some clothes bundled in the shelves, and there was an old, battered suitcase in the bottom of the hanging area. Stripping off the garments I had worn for so long was a relief. I washed myself as best I could with a scrap of soap, but still felt filthy. With the blanket wrapped around me, I took some clothes from the cupboard and pulled them on. They were too big, the trousers in particular. I found a length of material to use as a belt and tied it tight. I knew I looked foolish, but it felt good to have clean clothes. I sat on the bed and couldn't resist the urge to lie down again. I was exhausted, my head was swimming. I lay with my hand across my eyes, and for the first time in days, allowed myself to relax and think. These clothes were too big for me. Had I shrunk since I left the village? Was this my old house after all? Perhaps this wasn't even the right village. But Nancy had recognised me, hadn't she? Although I had no idea why she had reacted with such hatred, such hostility. What had I done to her? Despite the whirlwind of thoughts, doubts and questions in my head, I slid into the oblivion of sleep. I was woken by a noise. The same two people were standing just inside the door. The man spoke. 'I'm afraid you must leave.' He looked embarrassed. 'It's not us, at least not just us. We've had a meeting, the whole village. We voted. That's the way we do things here. You must leave. You can keep the clothes and there's no charge for the food or the accommodation. Before you leave, however, Elizabeth has something to say.' The woman moved for the first time since he had started to speak. 'I'm sorry I spat at you. I thought you were someone else. I made a mistake.' I was stunned. 'Elizabeth? But you're Nancy, are you not? And this place, this house, is my home. Why should I leave?' The man answered me. 'You are mistaken, About Elizabeth, about this house, about this village. Nobody knows you here. Nobody wants you here. You must leave. You have rested, you have eaten our food. Now you must go.' 'But where will I go? This is barbaric. This house is empty. Even if it isn't mine, why can't I just stay here? I have skills. The village will benefit from my presence. You can't make me leave.' 'No, you will leave. Today. If you're not gone by three o'clock we'll throw you out.' They both turned and left. Nancy/Elizabeth looked back or a moment. I thought I detected pity, or perhaps it was hatred, or even indifference. I wasn't sure about anything any more, apart from one thing. I would have to leave. So, about midday, I stepped out into the lane with my old clothes and some new ones in the suitcase. I could have stayed longer, but I wanted to make the most of the light. I expected a crowd, an audience, but the lane was empty. The lane was straight, and after a hundred metres or so I came to a wide square, with a large, leafless tree standing in a patch of grass in the middle. I could see lanes radiating from the square, and walked straight across, heading for the one directly opposite, which was wider than the others. There was a bench at the foot of the tree and as I neared it I saw there was a man sitting on it. As I walked I studied him. His hair was short, and totally white. He wore a neat jacket with leather patches at the elbows and cuffs, and pressed flannels. His shoes were brown, and highly polished. He looked as if he had just stepped off the pages of an old magazine. A very old magazine. He watched me approach and when I was a few metres away he spoke. His voice was steady, cultured. It sounded as if he was used to being in command, being obeyed. 'If you go straight on,through the village, and follow the road you'll come to another village. It's no more than half a day's walk, I believe.' 'You believe? Don't you know? And will I get a better reception there?' 'I don't know' he said. 'Nobody's sure of anything any more.' I didn't know which of my questions he was answering, but it didn't seem important. I stood looking at him for a full minute. He stared back at me, impassive. With an effort I averted my gaze and stumbled on. He said nothing as I passed, out of the square and into the lane. It looked just like the lane I had left, and I didn't see a single soul, although I sensed, or imagined, faces behind the dirty windows. After a short while I passed the last house and the open countryside surrounded me once more. The road stretched out before me. As I trudged on I became aware, once again, of the wind pushing and pulling me.
Archived comments for The Village
Mikeverdi on 13-06-2015
The Village
Its an interesting story, though I think it needs a good sorting if I'm honest. Words not adding, just slowing it all down. I hope you don't mind my saying this, I think it would be worth the effort.
As usual, it's only my opinion, others may not agree. In the end it's your work. 🙂
In friendship
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the comments Mike, always welcome, and always taken in the spirit of friendship. I'm going to play around with it a bit, see if I can't do something with it. It was an experiment for me, a bit more elliptical than my usual stuff. I quite like it, but I'm not sure how well it worked, which is why your comment's helpful.

Thanks mate

Ross

deadpoet on 13-06-2015
The Village
Wow- what a good story Rab- like Mike I'd say it needed a slight trim. I felt like I was moving in darkness almost through the whole story- that was a bit hard- but it does create a brilliat atmosphere. A very good short story. Lots left to the imagination. Well done!
pia xx

Author's Reply:
Thanks Pia, glad you liked it. I was trying for atmosphere, and as you say, I wanted to keep any explanations, backstory etc to the minimum.

Ross

franciman on 19-06-2015
The Village
Hi Rab,
it's atmospheric and curiously like a fairy tale! I felt it lacked something enigmatic, perhaps from the man beneath the tree? If you don't mind me saying: if you started with a target of 600-700 words stripped from the piece, it might help to focus on the story. Look for adverbs, prepositions and over-explanation. You will end up with a leaner, meaner story. Structure, as always, is your strongpoint. Work with that in mind.
There! I've said too much, as usual.
Nice to be reading you again.
cheers,
Jim

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the comments Jim, and for the nomination (I'm assuming it was you). I'll have another look at it, with your comments in mind. I was trying something a bit different for me, so your feedback's very much appreciated.


The Midnight Hour (posted on: 25-05-15)
For the prose challenge. A story of star-crossed lovers.

I'm going to wait till the midnight hour, Steven thought to himself. Then I'm going to bed. I'll see the bells in. Have a dram. Watch the loons on the White Heather Club singing Auld Lang Syne. He wondered if he'd get a first foot, and whether he really wanted one this year. Always such a letdown, hogmanay. Truth was, at 27 years of age he'd grown tired of the parties, the false bonhomie. Here's tae us, wha's like us? One more drunk clapping him on the back and asking him that and he'd move to England. It was that bad. He'd been invited to two different parties and had got out of them by telling each he was going to the other one. Instead, he turned down the sound on the tele, put his new favourite album on, poured himself a whisky and settled down in front of the fire. Happy new year. Soon it would be 1966. Sounded a bit sci-fi. Would it be a good year? It would make a change. Then, as Andy Stewart was silently counting down towards the bells on the flickering screen , his doorbell rang. He checked the room for old socks and dirty plates. A quick check in the mirror, hair ok, nothing alarming visible, then ... "Surprise!" Someone he'd never seen before, holding up a clinking plastic bag. She looked round the side of the bag. "You're not Alex." She lowered the bag, her smile fading. She had the most beautiful eyes Steven had ever seen. "I'm not. Sorry. Wish I was. I'm Steven. Steve to my friends." "This is the third flat I've tried. I don't know where to try next. And I really need the loo." "I have a toilet. Please come in and use it." "You sure? I wouldn't want to disturb you." "You will not be disturbing me. It would be my pleasure. And you'll be my first foot. You're here now, you can't not come in, I'm sure it would be bad luck." She looked thoughtfully at him, considering. "What's that playing?" she asked. "Wilson Pickett's newest album. My current fave." Perhaps that was what swung it, or perhaps it was just the pressing need to use the toilet. Whatever it was, she set the clinking bag down and stepped into the hall. She held out a hand "I'm Julie. Julie to my friends" "Lovely to meet you Julie. Second door on the right". She breezed in and he heard the lock slide home. He nipped in to the lounge, and quickly poured another glass of whisky. When the bathroom door opened again he was standing in the hall holding it towards her. "Happy new year Julie. You're my first foot, you can't possibly leave without having a drink. Come on through to the lounge." She gave him a smile, a wide, free smile, and took the glass. "I'd love a drink" she said. She loved Wilson Pickett too, as it turned out, and she ended up staying for more than one drink. In the morning, he stood by the side of the bed and watched her sleep. It was a bright winter's day outside and a thin line of sunlight traced a line from her jaw to her ear. He couldn't believe how beautiful she was. He thought, no, he knew, that he might be falling in love. As quietly as he could, he made his way to the kitchen, prepared tea and toast, laid out a tray with two matching mugs. He gave her the best plate. Lying close to each other under the sheets, Steven was overcome with a shy awkwardness, as he realised how little they knew of each other. Without any warning, he leaned over and kissed her on the lips. She had a mouthful of toast but responded as best she could. Later, they stood side by side at the living room window. The street outside was empty, and the sky was a beautiful porcelain blue. ''There's nowhere quite as closed as a Scottish town on new year's day, is there?'' he said. ''But it's such a beautiful day, and I feel wonderful. Let's go for a walk.'' She met his eyes, smiled back at him. ''A walk would be lovely. Where should we go?'' The riverside path was busy with dogwalkers and families. As they walked their hands touched and Steven felt her fingers searching for his, then twining together. It was bitterly cold, but he felt warm. And happy. They stopped at the weir and leaned on the wall, watching the smooth, rippling water. He felt a light pressure from her hip, turned to look at her and saw her teasing smile. He leaned towards her and kissed her on the lips. People passing saw a young couple who looked as if they were in love. Some smiled, one or two couples looked back at them after they'd passed and said something to their companion. Both of them were oblivious to anyone but themselves. ''For some reason I seem to be starving'' he said. ''Do you think there's anywhere open that would serve us a bacon roll?'' "Doubt it. Want to come back to mine? I'll see what I've got in the fridge." Julie's flat was about half a mile from the river. In the kitchen there was a tall, thin man with a magnificent afro, frying sausages and singing to himself. When he saw Julie he gathered her in a bear hug and kissed her on the lips. "Happy new year Jules, baby" he said. "You're looking good. Better than you usually look on new year's day. Where you been?" "Happy new year, Nick" she said. "This is Steve. I stayed at his last night." Steven held out his hand, wondering what he had just walked into. "Happy new year Nick". Nick gave Steve a hard look but took his hand. "Yeah, happy new year, man." he muttered. He piled a plate high with food and left the room. Friendly type, though Steven. ''That food isn't just for him'' said Julie. ''His girlfriend stays here too, and he does all the cooking for her. And all the cleaning. She's a lazy cow.'' She peered into in the fridge "Yay! Bacon!". Sandwiches made, Julie led the way into a room that looked as if it had been stirred with a giant stick. ''Don't mind the mess'' she said. ''Grab a seat on the bed.'' They sat side by side in silence as they ate. Steven felt as if he was on a rollercoaster. He'd met this woman less than 24 hours ago, and felt as if he'd always known her. Or was he fooling himself? Falling head over heels like he always did, before hitting a brick wall? Probably. He balanced his plate on top of another one on the bedside table and sat back. Julie set her plate down, leaned back against the headboard and laid her head on his shoulder. They sat like that for a minute, maybe two, then Steven felt her hand moving on his lap. He held it in his right hand, and turned to look at her. She really did have the most amazing eyes, coppery brown and almost luminous. They seemed to look deep into his soul. He realised he was holding his breath. He released it. ''Well.'' He said. ''I wonder what we should do now?'' It was dark again when they left the flat and headed for a pub a few streets away. It was crowded, noisy and smoky. Steven spotted a table free in the corner and put his mouth to Julie's ear. ''You grab that table, I'll get them in. What d'you want?'' When he emerged from the scrum round the bar with the drinks and saw Julie sitting at the table he stopped. She looked fantastic. He felt a tidal surge of emotion well up inside him. It took a real effort to get his legs to move. But when he sat down beside her he saw that there was something wrong. She looked tense, her mouth set in a straight line, all softness gone from her face. ''I don't like it here'' she said. Steven leaned in and gave her a kiss on the mouth. "Course you like it here" he said. "I'm here, aren't I?" But she was looking across the pub. He followed her gaze. A table with four men around it, all of them staring across at them, in a distinctly unfriendly way. Steven moved his chair round, blocking them. "Ignore them. This place always has a few heabangers in it." He tried to chat lightly, about his work, what he hoped the new year would bring, about his family. But Julie was clearly unhappy and gave single word responses. "Ok" he said. "You win. We'll go somewhere else. Come on." He stood up, put his jacket on, held out his hand. As they went past he table with the four men at it one of them said something that sounded like 'black bitch'. Steven turned back towards them, suddenly furious. One of them stood up, facing him. "What's the matter, couldn't get a proper girlfriend?" he said. Julie pulled him backwards. "Come on, Steve, please. I really don't want this." He turned away, followed her out through the throng. Some of the others in the pub had noticed the exchange and watched them go. In an instant the atmosphere in the place had changed from warm and welcoming to cold and threatening. Steven stopped outside the door and looked at Julie. "What the fuck was that? It's 1966 for Christ's sake. Racist bastards." "I take it I'm your first black girlfriend then" said Julie. "Welcome to my world." He took her into his arms. He wanted, more than anything, to protect her. "How can you stand it? Do you want to go back to mine? We'll close the door on the world, not have to see any more idiots.'' They walked back to Steve's flat arm in arm. Julie leaned in close. For Steve, everything was different, raw. Every person they walked past, every person that saw them from a car, a bus window, was judging them, judging him. The world had changed and he hated it. They didn't speak as they climbed the stairs to his front door, shrugged off their jackets. In the living room. Steve lit a fire and Julie looked through his record collection, sliding Otis Blue out of its sleeve and placing it on the turntable. They huddled together on the couch and stared into the fire. When Otis started singing about the change that was, apparently, going to come Steven could stand it no longer. He sat forward, turned towards Julie. "This isn't right, Julie. Why shouldn't we be together? And Nick was pretty offhand with me too. Does he feel like these bastards in the pub?" Julie stared into the flickering flames. "You're a good guy, Steve, a lovely guy, and I love you for not caring what colour my skin is. Other people do though. This is what it's like." She looked up at him and he saw that she was crying. "Let's go to bed, please" she said. Their lovemaking had urgency about it, and afterwards Julie curled her arms and right leg round him and held him tight. He lay, unmoving and awake long after her breathing told him she was asleep. When he woke the next morning she was gone. A piece of paper torn from a small notebook lay on the coffee table, on top of the cover of The Midnight Hour. With a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach he picked it up and read it. Steve, lovely Steve - last night must have shown you what the reality of us together would be. I don't think I could stand it, and I'm pretty certain that you couldn't. It's so alien to you. You'd try, but when I would meet your friends, your parents, you'd feel it. Their disapproval. Some of them might take it further and lock you out. It's a new year, but old prejudices die hard, especially in a small town like this. What's ok in swinging London isn't up here. On both sides - you were right about Nick. There wouldn't be many places we would find any comfort. It would make you feel differently about me. It would make you resent me. So I'm leaving now, and I don't want you to call me or come and see me. It's better this way, believe me. I loved being with you, loved almost every minute of our time together, and we might have had something really special if things had been different. You're a lovely guy, and I wish you everything for the future. Love, Julie xx He stared at the small piece of paper for a long time. Eventually he got up and went through the motions of tidying the flat. He went to the corner shop and got fresh milk, rolls, a packet of square sausage, some cans of Tennents, some other household necessities. He sat in the silent room, in front of the unlit fire, as the afternoon darkened outside. He watched an episode of Z Cars, seeing none of it. All that long evening, the coldness of the room permeated his body, chilled him, but it suited his mood. He could feel his heart turning to stone. At 9 o'clock, he crumpled an empty can of lager and got up. He knew, with absolute certainty, with an intensity stronger than any he had felt before, what he must do. A look of grim determination on his face, he put on his jacket, and set out into the dark night.
Archived comments for The Midnight Hour
bluepootle on 25-05-2015
The Midnight Hour
I really love the moment where you describe her 'wide, free smile' - what a great phrase.

I liked the first half better than the second, which I felt lost some intensity and struggled more with keeping to one point of view effectively. There are moments, starting with the coffee in the morning, where you step outside of Steve's perspective and I think that lessens the impact of the story.

At one point you have: 'When he saw Kathleen' and I couldn't work out who that was. Also, there's a 'He didn't let myself think beyond the now' where the use of myself looks wrong.

I think the stuff written from the perspective of Steve's thoughts is very strong, and gives us the idea that he's a romantic, and a dreamer. The dialogue felt less successful to me, almost as if the conversation had nothing to do with the person he is. Maybe polishing the dialogue to match his personality better might help.

So, there were bits I loved and bits I wasn't as keen on. Good ending, though. The short sentences suit the sudden damage done to him, and what he is about to do in return.

Author's Reply:
I missed the leftover Kathleen (that was her name in the first draft) but I've gone in and fixed it now.

Thanks for the other comments; I'd put in the odd bit of pov from Julie on purpose but on reading it through again I don't think it works too well. I'll have a look at that and the dialogue - I was trying for an initial awkwardness and a quite abrupt shift to intimacy, to reflect the fact that he's a reomantic and impulsive.

I feel another edit coming on!

e-griff on 25-05-2015
The Midnight Hour
Very complete, well-told story, with an (obviously) fashionable theme. Works well.

I found the intro (girl knocks on door, comes in, stays the night) a bit unbelievable. Could be he knows her a bit longer than that before they couple. Easily changed if you wanted to. I also noted (before the denoument) an overemphasis on her 'beauty' - that may be laying it on too thick. It could be seen as an overcompensation for her being 'black' (I hate that term) by the author. Just make her normal I would say. That's the point.
Good story!

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the comment e. Perhaps I do lay it on a bit thick about the beauty, but in Steven's eyes, a hopeless romantic, she's beautiful. I do see what you mean about overcompensation and I'll have a think about it.

TheBigBadG on 26-05-2015
The Midnight Hour
It's a curious thing to read today because I was pottering along wondering where it was going, then the the guy in the pub knocks it all off register and I'm skipping back to the date. 1966. A town in Scotland. Not London. Not 2015. So whatever you do, don't compromise that reveal, that worked just right.

I'd say a bit of rebalancing is required as well. The PoV shifts and overplaying her beauty didn't sit right for me either, as noted above. The structure is good, the idea solid, for sure, but if you're going back to it let's get more of Steve's character - he's the odd one out here after all, as the only one who doesn't see her ethnicity.

As an idea of how to do that, the thing I remember about that head-over-heels thing is how you can't help thinking beyond the immediate. Planning. Seeing a perfect future together for ever... So maybe the first half could be Steve seeing all that, the guy in the pub breaking his dream, and the ending his decision to find Julie and build it the hard way? Something like that, to give us more of Steve, soppy ol' get that he is.

So for my money, keep the structure, reveal, plot and shift to shorter sentences Blue mentions, and focus on giving us more of Steve's character in a re-write.

Author's Reply:

Weefatfella on 26-05-2015
The Midnight Hour
Hi Rab.
This takes me back, and very nostalgic. Hiding from Hogmanay? I think we all did. Drawing the blinds and switching off the lights was an old trick. It never seemed to work though, at least, it didn't in our house. Chapping the door and walking in sometimes uninvited is a common occurrence in Scotland on Hogmanay, as you well know Rab.

I didn't see the twist coming. I have a very good mix in my family it's almost cosmopolitan. Mauritian, Egyptian, Ghanaian and we even have folk from Sheffield.
A mixed race couple in the sixties......Would have been a sight unseen by a lot of people in Scotland. This is a great idea for a story Rab. Well done. A good start and may lead to something bigger.

Weefatfella.


Author's Reply:
Thanks Paul. The scene in the pub happened to a friend of mine in Curlers in Byres Road (Glasgow to those unfortunate enough not to be acquainted with the place) in the 80s. He had a black girlfriend and a group of us encountered behaviour very like the scene I describe, even to the comment that was made.

Mikeverdi on 27-05-2015
The Midnight Hour
Okay, I've read the comments and yes, maybe some editing was needed but ...I love it, it's a great story. I didn't see it coming, and as for the 'through the door and later to bed'..that was the sixties in my world HaHa! The race thing was just as bad down here in the west country.
Great writing as usual
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike, glad you enjoyed it. I guess anywhere in the UK outside London was pretty bad back then. The pub scene was based on an exoerience I had in the 80s, so the change took a while...not sure if we're there yet!

deadpoet on 27-05-2015
The Midnight Hour
I hope you don't mind me peeking in Rab. I loved your story. I know Bluepootle is someone to listen to. I loved the twist and it really made me mad and sad at the same time. Yeah the 60's wouldn't have been the best and easiest time for mixed relationships especially in a small town. But well done on a great story- seemed very realistic.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for your comments Pia (why would I mind?) It's a problem all over, unfortunately.


The Quiet War of Albert Enslev (posted on: 22-05-15)
Chapter one of a work in progress; I'm working on chapter two. I posted an earlier version of this some time ago, and this is about the fourth or fifth draft. I'd welcome any comments, constructive or not!

The Quiet War of Albert Enslev Chapter One Copenhagen, 7 November 1942
The tram was crowded, and Albert Enslev had to stand, hanging from a worn, stained leather strap, all the way home. Outside, thick snowflakes swirled in the streetlights. Everyone was wearing heavy woollen coats and the inside of the tram smelt like damp blankets. Albert was tired, and glad that tomorrow was Sunday, a day of rest. He really should go to church, and if Freija were still alive they would be. But in the three years since his wife died he'd done less and less, staying in the apartment on his own, reading or listening to the wireless. Apart from one or two colleagues at the shipping office at the docks where he worked, and the family on the other side of the landing, he spoke to no-one. As the tram trundled past the town hall, emblazoned with a large swastika flag, he recalled an April evening two years ago when he had watched from the apartment window as a truck unloaded its cargo of white gloved grey-uniformed soldiers who had run to take up their positions at major intersections, making sure that the invading army's vehicles had priority over the locals. Since then the Germans had run things pretty efficiently, he had to admit, and there hadn't been any purges of Jewish Danes, or any other of the atrocities that they'd heard rumours about in France and Poland. Some people had even welcomed the occupation; Jannick Markussen, who worked in the shipping office, tried to tell his colleagues how lucky Denmark was. "We are the model for a new Europe." He told them. "Soon we will all be part of the same glorious future." Neither Albert nor any of his colleagues responded to these speeches. He'd had little time for Markussen before the invasion, and he liked him even less now. He stepped down from the tram and kept his eyes on the pavement in front of his feet as he passed a German soldier standing on the corner of Saxograde. See no evil, hear no evil. He relaxed as he pushed through the street door, fumbling for his keys as he clumped up the stone stairs. As he was closing his front door he noticed a crack of light as the Kesslers' door across the landing opened slightly. An eye was visible just above the level of the doorknob. He smiled and waved; a small hand belonging to Eliana, the Kesslers' young daughter, darted through the gap, and sketched a quick wave. He hung up his coat and scarf, and made his way into the kitchen. As he put some cheese and a bit of ham on a plate with some rye bread he sighed. The flat seemed empty and cold. He took his plate and a bottle of beer into the front room and laid them on a table by his armchair, lit the fire, and turned on the lamp that stood by the chair. He stood at the tall window for a while, watching the snowflakes settle on the street outside, then drew the curtains. He switched on his radio and settled down for the evening. On Sunday morning the snow was still falling. The thick white cloak which covered the city muffled the sound of the Germans' diesel engines; you could almost imagine that the invasion hadn't happened. Albert had planned to visit the old family cottage in the woods by Lake Esrum, but the cottage was on a narrow dead-end track which wouldn't be cleared and he probably wouldn't be able to get through. He decided, instead, to walk to Frederiksberg Park and treat himself to lunch at Hansens. The brisk walk to the park through the snowy streets made him feel alive again, and the park was full of children throwing snowballs and sledging. He realised how little laughter and happiness there had been in the city recently. Just inside the door of the restaurant, however, there was a queue. There was a large group of German officers over by the window; one of the waiters, hurrying towards their table with two bottles of wine, told him that he'd have to wait at least half an hour. He turned to leave, but stopped when he heard his name. His neighbours, the Kesslers, were waving to him from a table near the back of the restaurant and Eliana squeezed her way towards him. "Please Mr Enslev, papa says won't you join us? We have a seat free and we're just about to order." Albert let himself be led by the hand to the table where Nicolas Kessler, who was a surgeon at the hospital, rose to greet him. "Welcome, Albert. So glad you could join us. Please, take a seat." Albert accepted with a smile, handed his coat to the waiter and sat down with them. He liked the Kesslers; they had been neighbours for over ten years and he and Freija had always been friendly with them. They engaged in light conversation as the meal progressed - Eliana was doing well at school, Maria told Albert proudly, but her father had a darker story, about a growing number of incidents affecting Eliana and some of her classmates who were also Jewish. "A number of older boys seem to be allowed to get away with the sort of behaviour that a year ago would have led to severe punishment." Nicolas saw something wider too: there was a growing feeling among the city's Jewish population that the Germans were growing tired of the King's insistence that there should be no discrimination against the Jews. "We fear, Albert, that our days here might be numbered. Some are talking of fleeing to Sweden. I cannot leave my patients at the hospital, but I am concerned for Maria and Eliana. We just don't know what to do for the best." Albert was shocked. "But there has been nothing in the papers, no proclamations. I don't think anything will happen. The King wouldn't allow it." Eliana broke the awkward silence by telling them about a new teacher at her school. They chatted about lighter matters, as if life was not as it was. They had ordered coffee when they became aware of a growing noise from the tables occupied by the German officers, who had risen to their feet and were holding their glasses high, loudly toasting the Fuerher. Their voices drowned out the other diners, who fell silent. As the officers noisily made their exits, two looked around the restaurant and made their way towards the Kesslers' table. One stood behind Eliana, and stoked her jet-black hair with a gloved hand. Eliana sat rigid with fear and embarrassment as he spoke to his fellow officer. ''She has very dark hair, this young girl. Just like her mother I see. I wonder where they hail from, Karl.'' The menace in his voice was unmistakable. Nicolas started to get up but Maria laid her hand on his arm. The two officers watched Nicolas sit back down, then laughed and ambled out of the restaurant, with the easy confidence of those in absolute control. Albert sat silent and stared at his plate, unwilling to meet Nicolas and Maria's eyes. Nicolas called the waiter over, and they paid their bill and left. The walk back to Saxograde was a solemn affair; Nicolas's words and the behaviour of the officers had made the war seem closer, and more threatening, than it had for some time. Next day, at work, Markussen was in a bullish mood. His son, who could have been no more than 17, had joined the German army and was off to a training camp at the end of the week. And he was eager to pass on what he'd heard the previous evening at his local Nazi party meeting. "You mark my words" he proclaimed, to the room at large, "these bloody Jews are living on borrowed time. They'll soon be taken care of and this country will be all the better for it." Albert felt physically sick and he had to leave the office to stand outside in the cold air for a few minutes. As he stood looking out over the docks, he became aware of one of his colleagues, Tor Svensen, standing in a doorway smoking a cigarette. "Don't see you out here often, Enslev. Had enough of Markussen's bullshit?" Albert knew Svensen as one of the supervisors of the dock workers; he had rarely spoken to Albert but he surprised him now by walking to him and offering him a cigarette. Albert shook his head. "No thank you, I don't smoke. I just needed a little air." The other man took a drag on his cigarette, let the smoke trickle out of his mouth as he spoke. "I can't get used working in that office, spending my life behind a desk. I spent 10 years working with these guys over there, in the open, all weathers, working with my hands, my back. I miss it sometimes." He paused, looked sideways at Albert. "You know, I had you down as a bit of a sympathiser towards the Boche, but I saw the way you looked at Markussen in there. I guess you don't like them any more than most of us." "They're alien to us. They're different" said Albert. "They haven't treated us badly so far. Although some of their beliefs are abhorrent." Svensen laughed. "Abhorrent! That's the understatement of the century! Just wait until they start rounding up our Jewish citizens, deporting people to their death camps. Then you'll really see abhorrent behaviour. I'm sick of seeing them on our streets. I just wish we weren't all so cowardly." With a last, hard look at Albert, he ground his cigarette under his foot and stalked away. The short exchange shook Albert almost as much as Markussen's bullish behaviour. On the tram ride home, as he passed the town hall, past the red and black banner that told the world who was in charge, he was suddenly, with a ferocity that surprised him, filled with anger. The rage rose inside him, like lava. He felt sick to his stomach and he realised that his fists were and clenched so tightly that his fingernails were digging into his palms. He took a deep breath and told himself to calm down. He knew what he must do. He would help the Kesslers, even if it meant he might get into trouble himself. What these aliens, these outsiders, these Germans, were doing was wrong. He felt ashamed of his own easy capitulation, his acceptance of the situation. He strode along Saxograde with a new purpose, a new determination. As he climbed the stairs to his door, he was surprised to find Eliana sitting on the step on the landing. "What are you doing there, child?" he asked. "Are your parents not at home?" "They're at home, Mr Enslev, but they're arguing. Papa wants mama and me to go away, without him." "Come, come, I'm sure it's not that bad" he said. He took the girl's hand and rang the Kesslers' bell. Nicolas Kessler opened the door. He looked drawn and worried. "Eliana is a little concerned, Nicolas. May I come in? I think I might be able to suggest something." Nicolas opened the door wide. "Please Albert, come in. Eliana, it's late, and you shouldn't be outside the flat. Go and put your nightdress on and I'll come in to read you a story in a little while." In front of the bright fire in the Kesslers' living room Maria and Nicolas sat side by side on the couch and Albert sat on a chair facing them. He sat forward, his forearms on his knees. "Do you remember that weekend, when Freija was still alive, when we all visited the small cottage we have in the woods by Lake Esrum? It's empty now; now nobody but me uses it, and I don't go often. If you like, I could take you all there this Sunday. We would tell no-one. There are no other houses nearby. You'd be safe there. And if the worst happens, it's near the coast, not too far from Snekkersten. I'm sure you'd be able to get a fishing boat captain there willing to take you across to Sweden." He looked from face to face, not sure what to expect. Nicolas and Maria exchanged a glance, and then Nicolas spoke. "Yes, we do remember the cottage, and we thank you so very much for the offer. I have operations arranged and I cannot leave my patients, but if you could allow Maria and Eliana to stay there for a while, just until we see if these horrible rumours about anti-Jew laws, and deportations, have any foundation, it would be such a load off our minds." Albert could see that Maria was close to tears. "Of course, that would be possible" he said. "I could take the two of you this Sunday if you like." Nicolas rose and grasped Albert's hand in both of his. "Thank you my friend. I can't tell you how much this means to me us." Albert promised to come over to their flat again on Friday evening, to make the arrangements for the trip. He was happy to get back to his own flat and close the door. What had he done? He felt scared and elated at the same time. But he felt that Freija would have approved.
Archived comments for The Quiet War of Albert Enslev
deadpoet on 22-05-2015
The Quiet War of Albert Enslev
That was a surprise your story is about Denmark during the Occupation. I was born 9 years after the Liberation (in 1945- we celebrated 70 years this year) but have read a deal of the history of this era. My Father was an active Resistance fighter but he never spoke about it. You seem to have got the atmosphere nailed so far- with what I know- I will be following this story. I think it is very good. I read it with ease- good tempo, good character choices, scene shifts . I have nothing to criticise- looking forward to more.

BTW it's Saxogade (without the r) gade means street. Jolly good Rab. GoodLuck with the writing.



Pia x

Author's Reply:
Thanks Pia, glad you liked it. I find the story of Denmark in the war utterly fascinating - the invasion, the way the King and government were left in place, the resistance, the number of Danish jews that escaped. My sister-in-law lives in Denmark, and I know it a bit, and like the country a lot. Unusually for me, I've plotted the story out and know exactly where i want it to go. Now I just have to write it!

Mikeverdi on 23-05-2015
The Quiet War of Albert Enslev
I've read couple of novels about this period, with the usual prune and edit this will do the job. Having read your work over the time I've been on uka I have every confidence you Will pull it off, I for one look forwards to every chapter. Well done mate.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike. Comments like yours make it easier to carry on with it. I'm not used to doing anything over 2-3,000 words, this is a bit more like hard work!


Diplomacy (posted on: 24-04-15)
Day one of the new order. This was originally written for the weekly flash fiction challenge.

Ed gazed across the polished expanse of the table at the heavyset man sitting opposite. Alex seemed totally at ease, and gave every impression of enjoying himself. He had been swapping jokes with Andy Burnham since he bustled into the room, and he seemed to get on with everyone, although Tristram Hunt just looked confused when Alex spoke to him. He jumped as Alex sat forward and looked straight at him. ''Better get this particular show on the road, don't you think, Ed, er, Prime Minister?'' How did he make that sound like an insult? And why did everyone stifle a laugh when he said it? Especially Ed Balls. Ed seemed to take a particular delight in any embarrassment that came his way. He'd always been a little scared of Ed, but Alex was even scarier. A thought floated into his mind: who would win in a straight fight between these two? A scenario started to develop. But Alex Salmond was looking at him expectantly. Better to hold that thought for another day. ''Thank you Alex. Yes, I think that would be a good idea. I call this cabinet meeting, the first cabinet meeting of the new Government of the United Kingdom, to order.'' He looked round the table at his colleagues, and ended up meeting Alex's eye again. The man was sitting forward, leaning his forearms on the table. His jacket had ridden up a little at the shoulder and it looked almost as if he was wearing a cape. His tie was blue, with little saltires on it. He had a way of appearing imposing, threatening even. And that superior smile on his face, as if he knew something that he, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, didn't… Gamely, he ploughed on. ''Now, item one on our agenda…'' Three hours later, he sat back in his chair and watched, dazed, as Alex Salmond made his way out of the room, with much back-slapping and shaking of hands. He even gave Yvette a kiss on the cheek, something that he would never have dared to do. And Yvette didn't seem to mind, although he was happy to note the poisonous look that Ed Balls shot the new Scottish Secretary. He had just agreed, no, they, the cabinet, had just agreed (no way was he taking all the blame) to virtually total fiscal independence for Scotland, scrapping Trident and spending the money on the NHS instead, the scrapping of university tuition fees and a supply of Tunnocks Teacakes (both types, the dark chocolate ones too) at all future cabinet meetings. At the end of the meeting Alex had shaken his hand and announced that "the boss would be happy". He knew who Alex had meant, and it wasn't the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The next five years were going to be a nightmare. He wondered if his brother David would consider coming back.
Archived comments for Diplomacy
Mikeverdi on 26-04-2015
Diplomacy
Oh dear....I feel the nightmare may just come true.
Mike
ps I enjoyed the read anyway 🙂

Author's Reply:
All depends on your point of view Mike. One thing's for sure, there are some interesting times ahead!

deadpoet on 27-04-2015
Diplomacy
Good Luck- 😀

Author's Reply:


The Tale of Connie (posted on: 13-04-15)
For the prose challenge. A day in the life of a black cat.

Today, I will see how slowly I can blink. The Idiots have left; the house is mine, apart from that big spider in Good Idiot's room. I should really catch it and eat it, I know Good Idiot would be scared of it if she knew it was there. Why are The Idiots so scared of things so much smaller than them? I will ponder this. This window shelf is no longer warm. The warm light has left. I will move to my current favourite spot, on top of the big padded chair. There I will be able to see if Tiddles appears on the outside of my window shelf. I hate Tiddles. She hates me. That is the way it is; the way it should be. If she appears when the Idiots are out I will ignore her, with lofty detachment. When the Idiots are here all I need to do is make my trademark low growlhowl and they rush out to chase her away. That pleases me, when they chase her over the wall, out of my place and into the hard outside where the dogs are, and the fast smelly things. The cushion on the big padded chair is wide, and soft. I can stretch along it, or, as I've chosen today, pose three: paws tucked under body, head up, eyes slit-like, tail curled along my body. I like this pose; it's my third favourite, after stretched in front of warm flame box and curled under soft large cover, in one of the Idiots' sleeping places. Now I will ponder. The Idiots are so very different. I like Good Idiot; she feeds me, strokes my fur, presents me with a comfortable perch to sit on and be stroked. She can sometimes be a little rough in her stroking; a while ago I had to scratch her when she touched that part of my back which I do not like to have touched. I also like Good Idiot 2, who feeds me and strokes my in a gentle way. I never have to scratch him. He's not as comfortable a perch as GI, and shares his sleeping pad with Bad Idiot, who pushes me off the top of her sleeping pad and doesn't see me when she walks, so that sometimes I have to scuttle out of her way. I don't like to scuttle. It's undignified. She never strokes me, and I don't scratch her. I think that she would scratch me back if I did. The other two Idiots are strange. Scared Idiot reacts every time I approach, so naturally I approach him a lot. I am a cat, after all. He's useful when I'm hungry, as he feeds me to stop me following him around. The other one isn't scared, or particularly good. I never know what to call him. Perhaps just Idiot. Yes, this pleases me. He feeds me too – they all do, apart from Bad Idiot – but he's not good at stroking. Occasionally I try to guide his hand with my paw, but he doesn't like my claws. I scratched him a while ago, but it was his fault. I think that's enough pondering for now. Time for a sleep. I sit on my throne. In front of me crouches Tiddles, cowed, head low to the ground, ears flat against her head, a low growl deep in her throat. She is mine. By subtle flicks of my taiI I tell my men: take her away, deal with her. They escort her to the wall, and presently I hear the sounds of battle. I am pleased. A number of plump grey mice are carried in by my favourite courtiers. They lay them down in front of me, in the appointed manner. I am pleased, and the end of my tail curls upwards. They preen and clean themselves. They are content. I am a good ruler, strong and decisive but benevolent. Many cats pay me homage. The place where I live is mine. There are no idiots. Fleetingly, I wonder where they have gone, but my attention is taken by someone I don't recognise, a newcomer. She is bold, and inspects my mice. Then she takes one in her mouth, the plumpest! With the mouse dangling she looks right at me. I am challenged. My courtiers sit impassive, watching. They are waiting for me to act. A warning hiss. I rise, arch my back, tail fully fluffed. With a yowl I spring, strike with an open paw. The strike is good and she backs away. I press my attack, raise up on hind legs for a two-paw strike. One paw hits air, but the other catches an ear. I smell blood. The intruder drops the mouse, hisses, and backs away, then turns and flees. I follow her, tail high and wide. I see her leap the wall, past the bloody body of Tiddles. My domain is secure. I return, and pick up one of the mice. My head is under attack. Is the newcomer back? Oh, it's just Good Idiot. I stretch, and descend from my perch. I have had a good sleep and I am refreshed. And hungry. I weave around Good Idiot's legs. ''Puss cat hungry? You want some food? Come on then'' she says. They don't know that I understand what they say. Good Idiot puts fresh food in my bowl. I eat. It's not my favourite, so I leave most of it, pad away to sit in the hall. I ponder. I need to pee, perhaps more. I sit by the door, and Good Idiot rushes to open it for me. I pause in the little space before Outside. Tiddles is not there, so I proceed to my favourite spot. Afterwards, I kick over a little earth. Why do I do that? I will need to ponder. I sit at the opening to Inside. It is not cold. I feel like being active. I will climb my tree. A crouch, a rush. I am in the branches, holding on with my claws. A little light scratching, and I climb again. I am higher than the Idiots' heads. I suddenly feel unsafe, and run down the trunk to the ground. I sit by the opening and ponder. When I was young I would have hunted for mice, perhaps a bird. Hidden in my favourite bush, waiting patiently. I used to catch many animals and birds. I have not caught any for a long time, because I have become slow. The mice run away, too fast for me, the birds fly off before I get to them. Or has everything else become fast? That must be it. They have become faster because I have killed all the slow ones. The only things I can catch now are the Idiots. The thought of my soft perch on the top of the big padded chair floats, unbidden, into my mind. I go to the door, look through the glass. Good Idiot must have gone to her room. I hope the spider doesn't scare her. I will wait here, on this little mat. I am content.
Archived comments for The Tale of Connie
bluepootle on 13-04-2015
The Tale of Connie
This comes across as very cat-like to me! It's a good look at a cat's life. Not so much a story as a picture of a comfortable existence. No wonder cats always look so smug.

Author's Reply:
Connie is our cat, and yes, she does always look smug. Thanks for the kind comments, Aliya, glad you liked it.

e-griff on 13-04-2015
The Tale of Connie
It's interesting that you have adopted exactly the same tone as I did in my story. Perhaps it's our view of how animals think.

I thought the story was good, if a little complex. I think all the 'idiots' are a bit much, and I kept on trying to figure out the relationships rather than follow the story, going back to re read, which is not good. As they are not important to the story itself, I would reduce it to two, maybe make the man bad, so you have simply bad and good, which is easier to understand and get on to the meat of the story (mice, gettit? 🙂 )

Still, enjoyable read.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the comments, and you're right, at least two of the humans are superfluous. I might give it a bit of an edit.

Mikeverdi on 15-04-2015
The Tale of Connie
As a challenge I get it, as a story I don't. It hurts to say that and I love your writing, this however didn't do it for me mate.

Author's Reply:
Don't worry about it Mike. It isn't meant as a story, just as a 'day in the life' observation. I'm working on a story that I'll post soon.

sirat on 16-04-2015
The Tale of Connie
I think like Mike I'm inclined to bring certain expectations with me when I come to read a story. I'm always looking for more than just 'a day in the life of', whether it's humans or animals. This one was reasonably engaging as a piece of writing but didn't have a great deal of narrative content. I think I would have set it up to be an important, even pivotal day. For example the day that one of the idiots brings home a new pet, or the day the big van arrives for the idiot family to move house. An enjoyable read though.

Author's Reply:
Our cat doesn't have much excitement in her life, so it's just meant to be a light piece inside her furry head. Is there no place in this hectic world for an imagining of a lazy cat's thoughts and dreams?

TheBigBadG on 22-04-2015
The Tale of Connie
Taken as a character piece it's a lot of fun. I err towards Mike and Sirat's thoughts here though that I'm not sure what the story is - I get it wasn't necessarily meant to be, but I can't help myself! With the other details, I wasn't bothered by the number of idiots, I took it more that they were indistinct as part of a healthy contempt for an inferior species. I liked all the pondering though. How about your cat achieves some miracle revelation after all that deep thought? The secret to happiness, perhaps? Zen and the art of feline maintenance?



Author's Reply:

deadpoet on 27-04-2015
The Tale of Connie
A furry tail (tale)- pretty good- no critique- I think you got enough so far. I think a cat would think like this. I am not best friends with cats but this one comes across as intelligent as one says they are. Love the humans are called idiots. I've read one challenge about a dog today so a cat rounds it off.
Well Done
Pia

Author's Reply:


Heart of Darkness (posted on: 13-03-15)
My latest flash for the weekly prose challenge. Try it, it's fun!

Heart of Darkness We didn't talk as the little craft made its way to the surface. Konrad was fully immersed in getting us as close to the cluster of buildings as possible, and on the light side. This particular station was located just beyond the line of darkness, the shadow line. This side, perpetual day; the other side, perpetual night. Joe and I suited up and made the short journey; Konrad stayed behind, monitoring us. I pressed my hand against the entry pad. Nothing happened. We'd lost contact with Marlow, the Keeper, days ago. That's why we were there. I stood back and let Joe do his stuff with the cutter, and soon we were standing inside the lock. We heard Konrad's voice. ''Drone's picked up some funny looking dents in the far side, and something real bad's happened to the door.'' ''Okay. Keep the drone out there; we don't want any surprises.'' The inner door slid open and we stepped through to a scene of utter devastation. Debris covered the floor. I touched my helmet to Joe's. ''Visual contact, ok?'' He nodded, checked his weapon. He looked as scared as I felt. We moved down the curving corridor that circumnavigated the building. The power hadn't failed, although every control panel we could see had been hit with something heavy. At the far side, we saw the dents. They were all at head height, about a metre between each one. They ended just before the far side airlock. The inner door was split open, and through the hole we could see the outer doors had gone. We looked at each other, then carried on, weapons scanning the corridor. When we got to the main lock again we touched helmets. ''The safe room. If Marlow's anywhere he'll be there.'' The layout in these remote stations was always the same: control room at the hub, safe room next to it on the main corridor. The safe room was worse than the rest of the station. I guarded the door as Joe searched through the debris for the black box. After 10 long minutes my radio crackled. ''Got it. Let's go.'' Back on the ship, safely off the surface, we cracked the box open. Inside was a recorder, which we slipped into the console. It had entries going back more than a year. We flipped to the last one, and Marlow's face filled the screen. ''It's in the station now, don't know how long I've got. Came out of the shadow, attacked the building, you should see the dents. Came through the door in minutes, didn't have time to suit up. Nothing seems to stop it. I can hear it searching for me. This is the only room with any air left. When it gets here I'm a goner, but I'll try and take it with me.'' He looked to the left at a metallic thud. ''It's here. Got to lock the box.'' The screen went black on the image of Marlow's petrified face.
Archived comments for Heart of Darkness
Mikeverdi on 13-03-2015
Heart of Darkness
The only disappointment for me was that it wasn't a short instead of flash....I think its brilliant mate!
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike. I might work it up into a longer one, with a bit more atmosphere etc.

franciman on 13-03-2015
Heart of Darkness
Great story Rab. Not my genre but it involved me. Not long ago you used shorter sentences to great effect in building suspense and pace. It would have been invaluable here Imho.
Lots of detail that a a reader I didn't need, though an edit would help with that.
Still one of the best in the weekly challenge.
cheers,
Jim

Author's Reply:
I'm trying! I might try a longer version; if I do I'll use shorter sentences, promise!


Pastime (posted on: 27-02-15)
For the weekly challenge: 500 words using the prompt 'pastime'

The world changed forever on the 2nd of September 2019. That's when Google, without any fanfare, introduced a new layer on Google Maps: Pastime. Nobody noticed for a couple of hours, or, more likely, people noticed but didn't say anything in case it was a practical joke. But by lunchtime (US Pacific Time) the news was out there: Google had invented, and was using, a working time machine. At first, the places you could view 100 and 200 years ago were limited: San Francisco, New York, Paris, London, Berlin, Rome, Tokyo, Rio de Janiero, and Galway in Ireland (an employee who worked on the new layer wanted to see his great grandfather's house), but soon major historical landmarks like Stonehenge and the pyramids, and events like the eruption of Vesuvius at Pompeii were available. The world of history was transformed: no more holocaust deniers, no more arguments about Jesus, or about the sacking of Troy. Some historians rejoiced; others took up another career. But that was the least of the shockwaves – they came later, when Google announced escorted trips to the past. At first the cost of these trips, and the weeks of intensive training which the time tourists had to go through meant that only the only customers were very rich, or historians funded by the great universities, but the theft of the design, details and operation of a time machine, and its posting on Wikipedia, quickly followed by a you tube video, changed everything. As usual, many of the new time touts didn't much care who wanted to go when, and for what reason, and, also as usual, there were many trips back to the supposed orgiastic pleasures of ancient Rome, or the excitement of the wild west, but the most common trips were to individuals' ancestors. Sometimes seeing and speaking to them was enough; often, however, warnings were passed back through time – about unwise investments, travel arrangements (the Titanic was a favourite) and marriages. And when this became a popular way of passing the time, things started to go wrong. People who had been a product of an alliance which was warned against, for example, disappeared: they simply popped out of existence. And not just the odd person, here and there: as people were going back hundreds of years the result of removing a single result of a bad marriage could mean a dozen people never were. Luckily, the machines only worked backwards; it wasn't possible to visit the future, so the lottery remained a lottery, and people couldn't get iPhone 97 (the last one, before Apple slid into the sea with the rest of the West Coast). But one way traffic was bad enough. And that's when the UN became involved, and formed the Time Police, the first fully international police force. And as one of the first recruits, I can tell you it's the best job in the world. Ever. I could write a book.
Archived comments for Pastime
Mikeverdi on 27-02-2015
Pastime
Oh Yes!!!!!....You could write a book...many have. Give it a go mate, this is a great starter 🙂 I love the idea of Google coming up with time travel, although like your excellent 'short' tells us, the consequence could be dire.
I will leave it to others to critique...I just enjoyed the read.
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike. It's an idea I've had rattling around in my head for a while now. Might give it a longer airing at some point.

franciman on 27-02-2015
Pastime
I like this one, Ross. Imo you still tend to write in elongated sentences though. Too much detail when I as reader want to solve my own puzzle. It's what makes 'really good 'really great'.
cheers,
Jim
p.s. I know it's a simple Weekly challenge; and yet....

Author's Reply:
Thanks Jim. I know, I know, I'm working on it...


In The Winter (posted on: 16-02-15)
For the prose challenge. One of the songs, In The Winter by Janis Ian, had a suggestion of obsession about it. I've dipped back in and trimmed it a bit, with a couple of suggestions from franciman (thanks Jim).

I've been alone almost a year. A year of soulless motel rooms, searching. Nearly gave up, thought I'd never find you, thought I'd be alone forever. But now I've found you. Just as well, I didn't know how much longer the money would last. But that doesn't matter. Now I've found you. Was it chance, an accident that I saw her? No. When I found your house yesterday, I saw you both at breakfast in the kitchen. A peck on the cheek from your faithful wife when you left for work. Did you know she smoked? I watched her go through her daily routine. She stood at the back door, having a sly cigarette. Thought she saw me, but no. I stood stock still, in the little wood behind your house. When she left I guessed she might be going to the Mall. I was right. She was having coffee. I took the next table. Tiny tables, just enough for two people, ours were close together. Close enough for me to talk, engage her in conversation. She's very polite. A light voice, indeterminate accent. New Jersey? No, I'm being unkind. Somewhere in the east though. Well brought up. From money. Is that why you like her? Can't be her conversation; she doesn't have any. No politics. No view on health care. No views on anything, as far as I could tell. Not like me. A view on everything, and not slow to share it. Outspoken? Moi? At least I'm alive. Got an opinion. But you married her. Not me. Her. Is that what you want? Someone to host a vapid dinner party? Keep the idle chat going amongst the wives? The other empty vessels? I 'd have argued with your friends, the men. I guess that's why you preferred her. Preferred her. I am suffused with anger. I wanted you. Would have been a proper partner. Not some little mouse. Instead, here I stand in the cold darkness, watching your silent, empty house. She's quite pretty. Delicate features. A bit thin. I always thought you liked a bit more. . . how can I put it . . . substance. Heft. Not that I'm fat, just a bit more to me than her. In every way. I saw the way she looked at you. She loves you. As much as I do? Perhaps. Not sure it's reciprocated though. I remember the way you looked at me. Don't see that look on your face now. Don't you love her? Your lovely wife? Your slim, pretty, young wife? I know you. You don't love her the way you loved me. The house is dark, empty. You're out somewhere. The cinema? A meal with friends? Ah, there you are, the lovely couple. Had a nice time? Lights on in the living room. The fire leaps up at the touch of a button, and you sink into pale cream leather. The couch looks comfy. Expensive too. She's in the kitchen. Some wine darling? Why not? Looks like Pinot Grigio. How very appropriate. Bland and characterless, like her. We drank better stuff, when we'd sit and talk long into the night. There's the tv coming on. Big screen, high on the wall. A bit vulgar. What to watch? Flick, flick, flick; so many channels, so much rubbish. How about this honey? House. Series 5, looks like. Think I remember this one. Look at you, eyes glued to the big screen, not talking. Not even touching. Sad. I'll leave you to it. See you tomorrow. Back to my crummy, lonely motel room for some R & R. Pull the nearly comfy chair over to rest my feet on the not at all comfy bed. Should I put the tv on? Join you? Watch House? Don't think I'll bother. Got myself some wine. A litre of the good stuff. Cheap, but good enough to dull the pain. Make this room look a little better. The shabby decor. The damp patch by the window. Curtains that don't keep light out. Cheap furniture - used, tired. A bit like I feel. I've travelled so long, searching for you. Rooms like this have been my way of life. But seeing your lovely home. Your spacious, well-appointed family home, this place looks like the shithole it is. Another glass,madame? Don't mind if I do. Good place to raise a family. Big garden, middle class neighbourhood; good schools probably. So why no kids? Waiting? For what? You're in your late thirties, she's a few years younger. But hey, that clock's ticking away. Tick tock. Maybe she can't. We know it's not you, don't we? I should have kept it. Big mistake letting you talk me out of it. We'd still be together. We were young, sure, but others manage. Don't they? Seem happy. Happy families. We could have been a happy family. Us in that house. Three, four of us by now. A boy and a girl. You're good looking, and I'm not ugly. Good stock; we could have made nice kids together. We'd have brought them up right. I'd have taught them not to assume that women were just there to keep house, be a mom. It might not have gone down too well here, though, in fucking Stepford. Fuck 'em. Fuck you, and her. Why should I be the lonely one? I've drunk too much of this cheap, shitty wine. It's finished and I'm off to sleep, perchance to dream. Nighty night.     I was right, It's a nice couch. Comfortable. Luxurious. I could sleep on it; have a better night than I had at the motel. The room's nicer than it looks from the woods. I've made myself coffee, with the kick-ass machine in the kitchen. Think I prefer nescafe, but hey, beggars, you know? I'm wearing one of her dresses. De La Renta, it says on the label. I've always loved Oscar's stuff. She's not as skinny as she looks, it fits just fine. When I rang the doorbell I didn't know what I was going to say. She recognised me from the mall. Took fright. Somewhere in that empty head she realised I wasn't her friend, wasn't there for a cosy chat about the best place to get muffins. But she was too polite to slam the door in my face. Hesitated. Easy to push past into the hall, down to the kitchen; ignoring her shouting, telling me to get out, that she'd call the police, her husband. That's what she called you. That's when I got a little angry. She'd been preparing a meal. Steaks, on a chopping board. Nifty little tenderiser; metal, heavy, the head studded with sharp-looking spikes. I finished preparing the steaks, shame to waste them. Got some potatoes baking. You used to like that. Steak, baked potato, butter with a little salt and pepper, green salad on the side. We'll open a good bottle of red wine. It'll be nice. Just like the old days.
Archived comments for In The Winter
bluepootle on 16-02-2015
In The Winter
I like the use of shorter sentences here in a reflective way, but it also builds tension well. You know from the start this isn't going to a good place.

I wonder if that penultimate paragraph doesn't give too much away. If the reader had to fill in the blanks it might be more powerful here. Leave it unclear as to what actually happened, but then the detail of the tenderiser next to those juicy steaks is enough.

I really like the detail in that final para though.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Aliya. I don't usually write in such a staccato way, so I was quite pleased with how it came out. I rewrote the ending few times, taking out details, but I see what you mean about the penultimate para; I'll have a think about an edit.

Mikeverdi on 16-02-2015
In The Winter
Good Stuff, I liked the build up, the staccato sentences. There were many places you could have stopped, as young pootle says...for me it would have been "I'll see you tomorrow. That's a promise". But I'm being picky, and I enjoyed it all, right down to the last gruesome bit HaHa!
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike. I wanted to take it right to the end, largely so I could counterpoint the killing with the preparation of the dinner. I also quite like a bit of gratuitous gruesomeness!

franciman on 16-02-2015
In The Winter
Hi Rab,
Great story, paced to deliver a climax. I too think it should have ended sooner, leaving us to dwell on the outcome.
The voice is really good - bitter, ironic, exquisitely cold and cruel. I think you use way too many words; both in narrative and, more importantly, in dialogue.
I realise this is for the challenge but it reads like a first draft. I'd like to nominate this but it needs revision.
If you are up for editing suggestions, I would be happy to do it (by P.M.).
Feel free to tell me to go mind my own business!
cheers,
Jim

Author's Reply:
Thanks very much Jim, and for the rating. I've thought about what you and Aliya said, and had a wee edit, which I think tightens it up a bit. I'd be interested to see what you think.

Ross

OldPeculier on 16-02-2015
In The Winter
Love the machine gun style, it suits the mood perfectly. As others have said, you may have not needed the detail at the end. That's not a criticism, only a measure of how good the rest is.
Very good.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind comments. I've edited the ending down a little, which I think helps it, and I might go in and do a more extensive job on it. I enjoyed the challenge, though; like most of the challenges on UKA the story wouldn't have happened without it!

sirat on 17-02-2015
In The Winter
I liked the mood of this a great deal. It's completely different to the mood of the Janis Ian song, where the woman is totally lacking in self-esteem and confidence and trying to convince herself that her solitary life without her lost love is fine. My only reservation with your story is that I think the woman explains too much for the reader's benefit. I would have preferred the back story to emerge less directly from her thoughts and observations – more 'show', less 'tell', more subtext, less straightforward narration. But that is just a minor niggle, it's a very fine piece. Well done.

Author's Reply:
It is very different from the song; I detected a hint of obsession in the lyrics and went for broke. I get what you mean about the over-explanation, something I tend to do. I've already had a minor edit, and I'm going to have a go at a more drastic one.

Thanks for your comments, and I'm glad you enjoyed it.

e-griff on 18-02-2015
In The Winter
Liked it very much. Much more than I could get out of that song. Assuming you've toned the end down, I think it may benefit from a little more (ie less detail) pruning.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind comments, glad you liked it. I'll be getting to grips with a further edit soon.

franciman on 20-02-2015
In The Winter
It sings Ross. Now we wait till she speaks herself!
Great Work.
Jim

Author's Reply:
Thanks Jim, and for the nomination.

Ross


The Telephone (posted on: 09-02-15)
A short story I wrote for the weekly challenge, which I find a great way to get the creative juices flowing. The weekly challenge is on the Forums page, and it's for flash fiction or poetry, usually 500 word limit for fiction, 25 lines for poetry. Give it a go! The story itself is true.

It's 1972, in a Forestry Commission cottage, on a bleak hillside four miles from Fintry, a village with a pub, a shop and a church. Pauline, who would one day become my wife, was 12. Times were tough for families of Forestry Commission workers in the 1970s. They had a free house, but it was in the middle of nowhere. And they didn't have much spending money for Christmas presents. So Christmas meant the Brian Mills catalogue. During the darkening winter evenings Pauline and her sister Sandra would study every page of the huge, glossy book and pick out what they would like Santa to bring them. They didn't get everything they asked for, that would be spoiling them. Once the choices had been filtered through their mum, the order form was filled in and posted. But this year, it was different. For the family home had just been augmented by that most modern of cons: a two-tone brown telephone, which sat, fat and gleaming, on the sideboard. It never rang, because nobody knew their number. But it meant that this year's Christmas order could be delivered by phone! The occasion took on huge importance; Pauline and Sandra's mum hadn't used the new instrument before, and wasn't at all sure that this method of ordering would work. Perhaps the person on the other end wouldn't understand her? They were calling Newcastle, after all, which, despite the fact that their Uncle Sandy lived there, was in a foreign country. So it was that on a Saturday morning in November Pauline and Sandra gathered round as their mother pulled a chair up to the sideboard, took a deep breath, picked up the handset and started to dial the number, which seemed very long. She tilted the earpiece so the girls could hear it ringing. The tension was nearly unbearable. Then, a voice: ''Hello, Brian Mills, how can I help you?'' The girls' mum, for some reason, stood up. ''Yes, hello, I'd like to place an order. Do you want my address?'' The woman on the other end did. After the address had been spelled out (people from England couldn't be expected to get words like Gartcarron right) there was a squawk from the other end of the phone, and the girls heard a voice with a strong Geordie accent say ''Auntie Eileen, is that you?'' It was Frances, the eldest of Uncle Sandy's gaggle of children. She had been taken on by Brian Mills to cope with the Christmas orders. It was her first week. The Giving of The Order took quite a while. There was, after all, much family business to get through as well. Eventually, however, the girls' mum put the phone back down. ''That was your cousin Frances'' she said. ''Wasn't that nice?''
Archived comments for The Telephone
Mikeverdi on 09-02-2015
The Telephone
HaHaHa! Oh yes I could see that as I was reading it, been there. It wasn't just 'Up North' that suffered from these weird and wonderful happenings.
Mike

Author's Reply:


Margaret Has a Holiday (posted on: 09-01-15)
For the prose challenge: two Mgbs, a Res and an Fwr. The only place Margaret Thatcher enjoyed holidaying, apparently, was the Swiss Alps. Those of you old enough to remember Spitting Image might recall their idiosyncratic take on the occasion.

Margaret hated holidays. She was only here, in a strange bed in a foreign land, because her advisers, many of whom she considered foolish beyond belief, had told her she had to be seen to be indulging in that most British of pastimes. ''It will make you seem more like them'' one had said. She had favoured the idiot who uttered this nonsense with her level three glare, and he had hurriedly found something else to do. But when dear Bernard, her rock, had suggested it too she knew she decided to give in gracefully. She would at least get a bit of peace to get on with the papers in the library. This thought cheered her hugely, and she got up and hurried to the bathroom to dress and start her day. The desk in the library that had been set up for her looked out over a stunning view, across a neighbour's splendid rose garden and then a lush green valley to snow-covered peaks, but she didn't notice as, with a contended sigh, she opened the first report, on the future of local government following her soon to be announced reforms. It was not a long report. Two hours and three reports later, Dennis shuffled into the room. ''Ah, there you are, old girl'' he said.'' Just popping out to the ..ah.. shops. D'you want anything?'' Margaret didn't look up from a densely worded account of last year's foreign aid payments. ''No thank you Dennis. You have fun.'' She finished the paragraph and raised her head from the report, taking off her reading glasses. She watched her husband hurry down the garden path, eager to get the first gin of the day under his belt. She frowned a little as he stopped at their neighbour's gate. Who the devil was he speaking to? There was nobody there. Then an old, white-haired man rose from the flower bed, where he had obviously been working, and extended his hand to Dennis, who shook it warmly. They talked for a good two minutes, then burst into laughter, and then, strangest of all, they both turned round to look at her. Margaret was mystified. Were they laughing at her? They couldn't be. Could they? Quite nonplussed, she turned her attention back to the consideration of foreign aid payments to developing nations. Soon she was fully engrossed again, and didn't see her neighbour gazing thoughtfully at her. At lunchtime she decided to give herself a 20 minute break. The cook had prepared potato soup, which sat on the kitchen stove emitting an enticing odour. She ladled out a bowlful, cut herself a slice of bread and took her place back at her desk. As she ate she gazed out at the view, without seeing it. Her thoughts were miles away – 650 miles away, in her cabinet room, considering, in turn, each of her ministers and who she would most enjoy firing when she got back. Her thoughts came back down to earth as she noticed a hand raised in greeting. At least she thought it was in greeting; he was standing at her gate facing her, with his right arm held high. Uncertain, she gave a sketchy wave in return. He took this as an encouragement, opened the gate, and started walking up the garden path. ''Bother'' said Margaret to herself; ''I'll never get through these reports if I have to stop and talk to everyone in Switzerland.'' She rose and went to the front door, and when she opened it the old man was there, smiling warmly at her. ''Good day, Fraulein.'' He was very courteous, and seemed to click his heels together when he extended his hand, which she shook. His grip was firm, and his hand was warm, but calloused. The hand of a working man, Margaret thought, as she assessed him. He was only a little taller than her, with a full head of white hair, cut short. His face was clean-shaved and he looked extremely neat, despite having been working in his garden. He was clearly very old, but didn't stoop as many older people did. He seemed to have an inner strength and confidence which made Margaret instinctively warm to him. She didn't reply to his greeting, and he spoke again. ''You are here on holiday, Ja?'' He sounded German. ''Yes, my husband Dennis, who I believe you met this morning, and I will be here for the next 10 days. And you?'' ''Oh, nien, nein, this is my home.'' He turned in the doorway, indicating the neat cottage surrounded by an immaculate garden. ''I have lived here for the past 37 years. I love it here. So peaceful. So beautiful. The air so clean, so pure. And nobody bothers you.'' Margaret remembered her duty as a hostess. ''Won't you come in and join me in a cup of coffee, Mr…?'' ''That would be most welcome, Fraulein. Please, call me Adi.'' He stopped to take off his black wellington boots and leave them by the door. ''And you must call me Margaret. Please, take a seat here in the library while I get us some coffee. Or would you prefer something else? Tea perhaps?'' ''A cup of coffee would be most welcome, Margaret, thank you. I take neither milk nor sugar.'' As she bustled off to the kitchen he wandered over towards the window. A report lay open in the centre of the desk, its margins covered in pencil notes written in a small, precise script. There was a pile of reports, bound with what appeared to be string, on either side of the one that was being worked on. A pencil lay on the desk to the right of the open document, aligned precisely with the edge of the paper. ''I'm afraid that's rather confidential, Adi.'' Margaret stood just inside the door, tray in her hands. ''Matters of state and all that.'' She waited for him to move away from the desk, then set the tray down on a small table between two leather wing chairs. ''Shall I be mother?'' Without waiting for a reply she poured coffee from a silver pot into two cups, then sat down. Adi took up his cup and relaxed into the other chair. He took a sip, regarding her over the rim of the cup. ''So'' he said, ''you are the famous Margaret Thatcher. The scourge of Europe.'' Margaret considered. ''Scourge. An interesting word. Do you think Europe needs scourging?'' The old man smiled. ''I do, yes. And I take my hat off to you for doing it. Take my hat off is correct, ja?'' ''Perfectly correct, Adi. And thank you for your support. But what about you? You're obviously retired now, but what did you do before that?'' ''Oh, I have been out of work for many years now. I potter about my garden, sometimes meet old friends, sometimes even make some new ones.'' His eyes had a sparkle to them, thought Margaret. I'll have to watch him; he may be old but he's sharp as a tack. I wonder why he doesn't tell me what he used to do? The old man put his cup down. ''And the situation back home, in England, it is improving? I know times have been hard.'' ''It is steadily getting better, yes. I think enough of my people have the message now. Finally.'' Adi laughed, a short, guttural sound. ''I'm sure they do. And it's important, isn't it, to have people you trust around you, to do your work?'' ''Absolutely, absolutely.'' She put her own cup down, sat back in the chair. ''Is that how you used to operate?'' ''Delegation, they call it now. I used to call it following orders. Don't give them a choice. The expectation must be that they just do what they're told.'' The old man said this so forcefully that Margaret felt the unusual sensation of being slightly overawed. She considered what he had said. ''An interesting viewpoint, Adi. Not quite the approach favoured by current management theorists…'' ''Management theorists! They should be given proper, productive jobs to do! They appeal only to the weak, the indecisive. You are a leader, Margaret, a strong leader. You do not have to listen to the likes of them. You are also a woman. An attractive woman.'' Margaret preened slightly, and unconsciously touched her hair with her left hand. "You are attractive because you are powerful." Margaret brought her hand down again. "Power is an aphrodisiac. And while I do not entirely agree with Mr Freud, who is a native of my country, that it is all about sex, I believe that it is important, and can be used by those with power." The old man smiled and stood up. ''But I am stopping you from getting on with your work. I will take my leave. Thank you for the coffee. Wiedersehen.'' He clicked his stocking feet together and gave a slight bow from the waist. ''It's been marvellous speaking to you, Herr… Adi'' said Margaret, walking him to the door. ''We must do it again before I leave.'' ''I would enjoy that very much, Margaret.'' He said it with such force that Margaret flushed slightly. What on earth is the matter with me? She thought. He's just an old man. ''Perhaps you would like to call on me next time?'' he asked. ''We could have a longer chat, and I have some memorabilia from my old days that I think you would find interesting. Shall we say tomorrow at 10?'' ''I'm afraid I'm visiting the president of the Swiss National Bank tomorrow. How about the day after, Thursday, 9 o'clock?'' ''I will look forward to it, Margaret.'' Another slight bow, and then he was gone. Margaret walked slowly back to her desk, lost in thought. Perhaps the old man was right. Had she been too conciliatory in the past? That could be seen by some as a sign of weakness, and people take advantage of weakness. And as for what he had to say about the power of sex... She heard the front door opening again and Dennis breezed into the room. ''Did I just see the chappie from next door leaving? I had a brief chat with him myself. Jolly nice chap. Interesting views.'' Margaret turned to look at her husband. She smiled, which appeared to unnerve him. ''Yes, he paid us a little visit. We had a cup of coffee and a nice chat. And you're right, he has extremely interesting views. I feel we could learn a lot from him.'' Still smiling, she turned to her desk. ''Now, I must get on. Will you be all right on your own for an hour or two?'' Without waiting for an answer she picked up her pencil, put on her reading glasses and immersed herself once more in the intricacies of the foreign aid budget. Behind her, Dennis hesitated. The old girl seemed…different somehow. What could she and that old chap have been talking about? He shrugged and headed off to the kitchen where he remembered seeing a bottle of Swiss gin, called Arctic Velvet. He hadn't tried that particular brand before, and he was looking forward to getting to know it better.
Archived comments for Margaret Has a Holiday
bluepootle on 09-01-2015
Margaret Has a Holiday
I'm glad you kept this quite light, really, and you didn't hit us over the head with the identity of Herr Adi. A nice balance of tone and meaning, I think. I also liked the way you cut back into Denis' point of view at the end, to give the reader some perspective.

Right at the beginning, you place us in Margaret's POV and then describe the view before telling us she's not looking at it, which jolted me out of the story a bit. I think if you're going to describe it, it might as well be through her eyes.

I'm not sure she would be a Fraulein to Herr Adi, since he's already met her husband.

Still, I really like the way you've managed to give this a lot of charm whilst also making it quietly horrifying. Good stuff.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Aliya, I didn't want to make it too obvious, but on seeing the comments below perhaps I should have put in a few more clues! You're dead right about the description of the view, I'll go in and do an edit in the near future.

e-griff on 09-01-2015
Margaret Has a Holiday
To be frank, I have no idea who Adi is supposed to be, so maybe I missed the whole point of the story. Assuming he is some kind of retired nazi, I'm afraid I don't have a lot of sympathy with stories charicaturing real people, as either heroes is villains, because too much prejudice is shown by the author, especially when politics is involved. But that's just me, I know many relish it.

Author's Reply:
Adi=Hitler; it was a boyhood name. He and Thatcher are the mgbs and the res is the fact that he would be impossibly old if the meeting took place. Spitting Image had an imagined meeting between them when Madge found, on holidaying in the Swiss alps, that her neighbour there was a very old man with a toothbrush moustache with a liking for spraying the greenfly on his roses with some sort of gas. Subtle and tasteful as ever, these SI chaps!

TheBigBadG on 09-01-2015
Margaret Has a Holiday
I feel a bit better that Griff has said it too. I'm afraid that I missed who Adi was meant to be and could only make similar deductions. It's an interesting choice of tone though, neatly ambivalent on how to take Maggie (she is meant to be a combination of a cloud cuckoolander and magnificent bastard, right?). Because she's is ignorant of who this Adi is it actually leaves it open to being quite sympathetic, I thought. Not sure if that's what you were going for?

As a story though, it's fine enough, understated and modest. Maybe spend less time placing people in handshakes and vignettes and give a bit more detail to the characters? It's very civilised but you can give the conversation a bit more substance without spoiling any reveals, I reckon.

Biographical pieces using divisive figures like this will always cause conversation and disagreement so I'll be curious to see what others say.

Author's Reply:
I think she guessed who he was by the end of the conversation, and if not she'd be sure to find out when he showed her his 'memorabilia' on Thursday!

I wanted it to be a bit formal because that's how I would have guessed they would be, at the start anyway, if they'd ever met. I see what you mean about causing disagreement, although I don't think I've said anything in the story that should really offend anyone. I would imagine, as a management model, the way Hitler ran things, in the early days of his Chancellorship at least, would have some similarities to the way Margaret Thatcher ran the tory party (just talking about principles, you understand, not suggesting the levels of violence would have been the same...)

Mikeverdi on 09-01-2015
Margaret Has a Holiday
As usual, I found your story interesting and the premise brilliant. I have to say I got the Hitler bit before the end; maybe I'm getting to understand the way you write. Most of your work is on the edge 🙂
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks again for the kind comments Mike. I didn't think this one was particularly edgy when I wrote it, but perhaps that depends on the viewpoint!

Ross

OldPeculier on 21-01-2015
Margaret Has a Holiday
An interesting idea, bringing those two together!

Nicely done.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, I had a bit of fun writing it, so I'm glad you enjoyed it.

sirat on 22-01-2015
Margaret Has a Holiday
As soon as I heard 'Adi' I was pretty sure I understood the setup and started calculating relative ages.


Mrs Thatcher - born 1925


Adolf Hitler - born 1889


...so when Margaret was beginning her first term in office in 1979 she was 54 and Hitler, if he had been alive, would have been just 90. It's stretching it a bit, but not actually impossible.


There are some glaring problems. When Maggie was in office, and even after her retirement, she was watched and guarded very closely by secret service men. Neighbours could not have dropped in casually, whether she was on holiday or not. And even if one got through the net, she would have considered herself much too important to waste time on idle chit-chat.



A more realistic scenario would be if you set the story a bit earlier in her career when she was still forming her policies - for example when she was Education Secretary in the early 1970s. She could pay a visit to an old people's home somewhere like Surrey and be introduced to an old man named Adi. It would also be funnier, I think, if Hitler was a bit shocked at the ruthlessness of her ideas, and argued for moderation, to avoid the 'night of the long knives'. But those are only random thoughts. Basically it's great fun and I enjoyed reading it.

Author's Reply:
Interesting idea, particularly about Hitler in hiding in a care home in Surrey - I'm sure he'd fit right in! I feel a rewrite coming on...


The Space Kebabs of Death! (posted on: 02-01-15)
Inspired by an exchange of one-word prompts with some facebookers, here's a story which includes moustaches, kebabs and aliens.

I grunted as I hefted the heavy roller shutter upwards. It was rusted and out of shape, more than a little like me, and hard to shift first thing in the morning, a lot like me. Once it was open, I stood with my back to the shopfront and surveyed the scene in front of me. Like any spaceport, all manner of life was there, displayed in all its dubious glory: humanoid, feathered, scaly, foam-like, wispily ephemeral or lumpily silicon, you'd find it here. The one thing that they all shared, along, apparently, with every sentient being in all of creation, was a love of kebabs. So it was that I had ended up owning and staffing the Proxima Spaceport branch of Pedro's Kebab and Bulgar Joint, the sole sentient member of staff. It was a franchise, which came with a supply chain and a robot chef, Pedro. The chef was intended to be a 'character'. Vaguely humanoid in appearance, it sported an oversized white chef's hat, eight arms, a torso that could turn a full 360 degrees and a black, bristling moustache on a face that looked Spanish. Why Spanish I don't know, but the moustache was a brilliant idea. It hid a gap in Pedro's smooth metal skin which served as a loudspeaker, condiment dispenser and scanner. Pedro could spray mustard or ketchup while he spoke, which the kids just loved. As did the Stoners; these lumpen, silicon-based creatures had a sense of humour that could only be described as infantile. You had to be careful with them, too. Give them mustard instead of chillipeno sauce and they'd be likely to wreck the place. The little shop was a big money spinner, though, and my job, as the token sentient, was a breeze. Legally, I had to be there, but I wasn't really required. Pedro managed the food and Tilldro took the cash. We had a steady stream of customers from morning till night and made a profit at least 20% more than the franchise requirement. Life was sweet, if a bit dull. That particular morning, Tuesday the 35th of Octo, seemed like any other. Until The Forbidden turned up. I'd heard about them in the bar the previous night, from Drond, my rival and buddy. Drond runs the Proxima Spaceport Squid n' Chicken Place, the only other fast food attraction in the port, if you don't count the Make Your Own Blandwich Shoppe, which neither Drond nor I do. We knew they were in town, but not which poor sod they were after. It was about 15, just past the lunch-time rush, when I felt as much as saw them coming in the door. The air in the little shop, normally full of the warm steamy kebab smell that the customers expected and, apparently, loved, turned icy. At first I thought the aircon was on the fritz again, but when I emerged from my cubicle I could see that wasn't the problem. Pedro was, unusually, standing stock-still, his arms hanging motionless, and the other customers had disappeared. The space on the other side of the counter was empty, apart from two hazy, thin apparitions. The Forbidden. This was the first time I'd been close to a Forbidden. Nobody really knew where they came from, or who they were. Hell, I had no idea they even ate, never mind liked kebabs. You had to squint out of the corner of your eyes to see them, which explained the lack of movement from Pedro. His Microscanner™ just couldn't cope. They existed in a dimension that only touched ours in a peripheral way, as far as I could understand. And they were trouble. We weren't supposed to communicate with them, have anything to do with them. They were what used to be called the Grim Reaper. Death. When they turned up, something, or someone, died. In a universe where death was for the terminally poor or careless, that was a scary prospect. So I was scared. If they hadn't come for a kebab, there was only one other thing in that shop that they could be after. Me. It wasn't fair. I was only 149 then, a boy, my life just starting. And I'd just met the grrl of my dreams (that's grrl no. 9 of my dreams, but who's counting?) I didn't want to die. So I broke the rules. I spoke to them. ''Hi, gents, what'll it be? A Special Big Moose Kebab, maybe a Chicken Little with our unique chillanchovie sauce™? Or a big bag of flash-fried Bulgar and Quark? And just for you, as first time customers at Pedro's, a 25% discount. Whaddya say?'' The shadowy figures seemed, somehow, to turn towards me. They didn't speak, but I heard, or sensed, words forming in my head. ''You are Peter Dodso. We have come for you. We do not want your Special Big Moose Kebab, or the other things you offer, the likes of which we do not comprehend.'' Not many laughs with these guys. I swallowed hard. ''But, hey, how do you know you don't want one if you've never tried it. We're the most popular fast food joint in the western spiral. Go on, give it a try. On the house.'' The spectres seemed to merge into one. Perhaps that was the way they spoke to each other. All this time Pedro was looking at me, then the apparently empty shop. ''Who are you speaking to Pete? There is nobody there.'' As usual, there was a faint background of Mariachi trumpets when Pedro spoke. It had never seemed more inappropriate than it did at that moment. I made a shush sound, and motioned him to be quiet. The two figures were separating again, and seemed to drift closer to the counter. ''Very well'' that voice in my head again. ''We will try one of your offerings. We do not taste food as you understand it, but now that you mention it we are a bit peckish. We will ingest a kebab, then you must come with us.'' My mouth felt dry, and I was shaking, and not from the chill air that had infused the place. I cleared my throat. ''Pedro, a Special Big Moose Kebab and a Chicken Little with chillanchovie sauce™ for the gentlemen, with all the trimmings.'' Pedro was confused, turning his torso as he scanned the shop. ''But we have no customers. Are you not feeling well today Pete? Have you been drinking Sybian Panther Sweat again?'' ''Just do it, for Connolly's sake, Pedro. Just make the kebabs and put them down on the counter. Do it!'' The last command came out a little high pitched, and Pedro hesitated. He couldn't disobey a direct order from the Franchisee, though, so he set to with the knives and the salad choppers, creating two perfect kebabs in just over 30 seconds, which he placed on the counter. They couldn't be picked up until Tilldro had been placated, so I dug into my pocket for the cash. When I'd paid, I motioned towards the steaming packets on the counter. ''There you go, gents, enjoy.'' Each one picked up a kebab. Pedro watched carefully as, to his digital eyes, the kebabs levitated and started to disappear, bit by bit. By squinting at the two apparitions I could see the kebabs being consumed. They seemed to have mouths just about where we would have them. And as they ate, a very strange thing started to happen. The shadowy figures seemed to solidify. Little by little, like a fog lifting, two figures were emerging. Pedro gave a little noise, almost like a human squeak. ''Peter. What is happening?'' he said. I waved my hand at him, and he said no more, just watched as two tall, thin figures materialised in front of him. Soon they were fully visible. Their skin covering was pale, nearly translucent, and they seemed to have dark holes where their eyes should have been. They looked like skulls, like in the old cartoons that the kids watch, the Tim Burtons. I realised I was holding my breath, and let it out with a kind of wheeze. I clapped my hands together, and both of our customers turned towards me. ''Well, how was that gents? You didn't take long in polishing them off, I must say.'' The two figures looked at me, then at each other. ''We have materialised. This is irregular'' said one. ''Most irregular'' said the other. I realised I was hearing this with my ears. They looked back at me. ''Do not go away, Peter Dodso. We will return.'' At that they hurried out of the shop into the busy street. I saw the passersby take a quick look, turn away, then back again. By the time they reached the corner they had a crowd of about 20 beings, of all shapes and sizes, following them. They never did come back. I heard from Drond that they had started working in the Spaceport Laundromat, a fate I wouldn't wish on anyone. I see them passing the shop occasionally, on their way to Make Your Own Blandwich. They don't look particularly happy, but then how could you tell? I only know that my little kebab shop saved my life that day, and, for all I know, the life of everyone else in the universe. They ought to give me a medal.
Archived comments for The Space Kebabs of Death!
Mikeverdi on 04-01-2015
The Space Kebabs of Death!
HaHa! That was entertaining,thanks Harry. Now and again I read something that is so different from my normal read...this was one of those times, thanks again I really enjoyed your story.
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike. I don't usually write sf, but enjoyed doing this one. I used to read a lot of sci-fi in my youth, including stuff that took the piss, so tried to capture that feeling. Glad you enjoyed it.

Ross


Call Me Tom (posted on: 05-12-14)
For the prose challenge. Tom? Michelle? Who would have guessed?

Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis
by Tom Waits
Hey Charlie I'm pregnant and living on 9th street Right above a dirty bookstore off Euclid Avenue And I stopped takin' dope and I quit drinkin' whiskey And my old man plays the trombone works out at the track He says that he loves me, though it's not his baby He says that he'll raise him up like he would his own son He gave me a ring that was worn by his mother He takes me out dancin' every Saturday night Hey Charlie I think about you every time I pass a fillin' station Account of all the grease you used to wear in your hair Still have that record, little Anthony and The Imperials Someone stole my record player now how do you like that? Hey Charlie I almost went crazy after Mario got busted I went back to Omaha to live with my folks Everyone I used to know was either dead or in prison So came back to Minneapolis this time I think I'm gonna stay Hey Charlie I think I'm happy for the first time since my accident I wish I had all the money that we used to spend on dope Buy me a used car lot wouldn't sell any of 'em I'd just drive a different car every day, dependin' on how I feel Hey Charlie for Chrissakes if you want to know the truth of it? I don't have a husband he don't play the trombone And I need to borrow money to pay this lawyer And Charlie, hey I'll be eligible for parole come Valentines day
Call Me Tom
By Rab
Hey Michelle, it was good to get your Christmas card, in January. Not your fault, I've moved on. Sad to hear about your present predicament, you at Shakopee? You don't say why you're there, but I can guess. I'm real sorry, but I don't have any spare to send you for your lawyer. It's been a while since we last spoke, a lot of things have happened since then. Tell you one thing that took me right back though, Little Anthony and the Imperials. I haven't heard that record, haven't even given Little Anthony a thought for, I don't know, 15 years. But you know what, the song started running through my head as soon as I read those lines you wrote. Made me want to go out and hear it again. Funny letter, starting off saying you're pregnant and happy and all. Then at the end that you're not hitched up to your trombone dude after all, you don't say whether you're pregnant though. But I guess you want to keep me guessing, yeah? That would be like you, Shell. We had fun together, but we also had some, what can I call it, difficulties, on account of your propensity to keep me guessing. Propensity. Nice word. I've been doing some developing recently. I write songs now, poems too, use words for something more than just ordering a beer. I get a lot of help with my writing from someone I met, Linda Trabiani. She knows about writing, about how to use words. Says I use the American Idiom in a real interesting way. That I have a unique perspective on life in the good old US of A. Authentic. I don't know about all that, but I do know that she makes me want to write and makes me feel good about what I come up with. I haven't had anything published or anything like that, I'm not a rich and famous author, that's for sure. If I was, I'd be able to wire you that money you need! I knew about Mario, who didn't, the fuss he made, you'd think nobody had ever been to prison before him. He's out now, or he was, could be back inside for all I know, and you know what, it wouldn't bother me at all. I never thought much of him, to be honest with you, and I think you're better off without him. We all are, he'll probably end up killing a cop or something. Why don't you get in touch again when you get parole, we could talk about the old days. Not that I want to go back there, not after the way you left. But hey, bygones, right? Forgive, forget, one of them anyway. See, that's a bit of the creative writing coming in there, you see that. I just love being able to express myself. Say what I want to. I always wanted to say things, just never felt able. Felt I was too stupid, couldn't talk right, could hardly write at all. I'm no genius, that's for sure, but I can say what I mean sometimes. One thing, though – I don't go by the name of Charlie any more, I use my middle name now, Tom. It sure was good getting your card, and it's been really good writing this. Cathartic (another good word). Hope you get that money for your lawyer, but if you don't, hey, what's he gonna do? Throw you in prison? Your friend Charlie/Tom My word, Charlie Walters, or should I say Tom, you certainly have changed. I wasn't expecting anything at all back from you, never mind the authentic American idioms that you sent. Not sure what an Authentic American Idiom is, maybe you could explain it to me sometime. Linda sounds nice, you should tell me about her. Must be a bit special if she 'makes you want to write and feel good about what you come up with'. I never did get that money, told the lawyer I couldn't get it, he tells me he'll wait until I'm earning when I'm out of here, that he'll keep an eye on me. Fat chance. When I'm out of this place I'm going far away. Texas maybe. I got a friend in Dallas, tells me the pickings are easy down there, all these oil men with more money than sense. Maybe I'll get that used car lot someday. And I didn't mean to keep you guessing, really I didn't. I'm not pregnant, you remember that's something we agreed, knew we'd be terrible parents, liked the booze and the dope too much. But I'm good right now, really I am. I'm up in front of the parole board in three weeks, and I think I've a good chance. Don't have any lawyer talking for me, I've been doing some reading up of my own, think I can do as good a job as anyone, better than the last guy, the one that I owe that money to. He wasn't really at the races if you know what I mean. I know I'll be ok, soon be far away from Missuouri, maybe go to Hollywood, see someone I know lives on Hollywood and Vine, calls it Heartattack and Vine, I love that. Says you can be anything you want to be out there. I could be a film star, you could write me a part in your next film. Write to me again, Charlie/Tom, tell me more about your new life. I love to hear about it, and I like to think back to when we were in Weehawken all these years ago, when I was your little Jersey Girl. Your good friend Michelle Well, hi again Shell. Thought I'd best get this to you sharp, so you get it before you light out for Texas or California, or wherever else you choose. If I know you it'll be someplace different every day. Me, I'd go for the coast, and not the Jersey coast either. Sure I remember the times in Weehawken, sitting on the porch watching the lights come up in New York City. And you were my Jersey Girl. If I'd known how to write back then you would've been my muse. I'm living in SF, I have a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the roof, whenever the mist clears. They don't tell you about that, the mist. Linda is nice, she's clever too, got a degree from Columbia. She's not my girlfriend, anything like that, she just takes a creative writing class I went to. We go out for a drink most Tuesday nights, after the class, usually just her and me. That's when she tells me about my 'special qualities' and how I've got a 'unique voice'. Back in the day most people didn't think I had a voice at all. She's got a boyfriend, nice guy, scientist, works at UCL, up at Berkely. He comes by to pick her up, stops for a drink sometimes. He's pretty straight though, the kind of guy we would have either ribbed or robbed, back in the day. Hey, Shell, I wrote a song for you. Really. Think it's a good one, too – Jersey Girl. I'll send it to you sometime, if you send me your address. Your old friend Tom Hey Tom You can send the song to the same old place. Parole board hearing didn't go well, on account of me losing my temper and shouting a little. I'll try again in 3 months. Gets me down, though. There you are, getting on, meeting your Linda for drinks, her scientist boyfriend. I'm glad for you. Maybe I'll come out to the coast when I get out of here. In about 100 years. You were good for me Tom, made me keep my temper, not like when I was at that parole board. You hear about Mario? You must be psychic, he did kill a cop, but the cop got him too, put a slug in him. Didn't die right away, not Mario, he's too tough. They found his body in the dress circle of a cinema. Just sat there, watching the movie, and died. Not too many people grieving for him, I guess. See that word I used there? Psychic? I been doing some reading too, improving myself. You've inspired me. I've made my mind up, too. I'm coming out to the coast, going to look you up. See what this Linda's like. I know you, Tom, don't think you can change your nature as easy as you change your name – I can see the signs, you've got designs on clever, nice Linda with her Columbia degree. The scientist won't stand a chance. But maybe he doesn't have anything to worry about, Linda won't stand much of a chance when I get there. So send me your song, I could do with some cheering up. Your very good friend Michelle Well done Shell, you were always smarter than me, think what you could do if you want to. Get reading, read a book about anger management, maybe, and you'll waltz through the next parole board. I don't know that it's such a good idea, though, you coming here and meeting me and Linda. You were right, you know me too well. Jim's moved out and I'm living at Linda's. We write stuff together. She's my muse. That's some news about Mario. I looked it up on the internet, what a story, I might even use it someday. Have to change the name though, Romeo, something like that. Look after yourself, kid Tom Well hi again Tom, or Charlie as you should really be called. I'm not surprised about you and Linda, I could read between the lines and I know you, remember. I know you better than just about anybody, times we had together. We were wild then, when I was a skateboarding punk rocker in New York City. My parole hearing's next week and I've sorted myself out, know how to deal with these guys. When I get out, I know where I'm headed, too. Not California. My friend in Dallas wrote back, but she's in Alaska now, and it sounds great, so I'm going there. Did you know it's the largest state in the union? I'm going to write songs too, you've given me the bug. Maybe I'll get myself a muse, like you have, or maybe, just maybe, I won't need one. Maybe I'll just do it myself. I can't give you a forwarding address, cos I don't have one yet, but I'll write you when I get there, I'll write a letter from Anchorage, Alaska. Michelle
Archived comments for Call Me Tom
bluepootle on 05-12-2014
Call Me Tom
An interesting continuation from the song, and it all tied up in a way that made me smile, as we found out about Michelle's identity.

It's more of a play about with identity and motivation than a story, to me, and I didn't feel the characters come to life, but I enjoyed reading it.



Author's Reply:
You're right, it's not really a story. I'm a bit disappointed in how it turned out, to tell the truth - I had higher hopes for it when I started. The Michelle Shocked angle came to me as I was writing it, perhaps I should have made a bit more of it.


Mikeverdi on 05-12-2014
Call Me Tom
Got to disagree with young Pootle...I loved it. The story carried me along with it right to the end. Some great lines in there as well... 'use words for something more than just ordering beer' great stuff.
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike, although I'm slightly disappointed with it myself. I enjoyed doing the wordplay but I think Blue's got a point about the characters not fully coming to life.

sirat on 05-12-2014
Call Me Tom
I enjoyed the read too, but I found the conclusion a bit disappointing. I think I wanted their two lives to come back together in some way. It seemed to end up as a simple exchange of letters between two old friends/lovers, each of their lives continuing in some new direction, with the letters in the end mattering for very little. I liked Tom/Charlie's voice (as did Linda) and thought that his character came across more strongly than Michelle's.

Nothing really wrong for me, but the plot was a bit unsatisfying.

Author's Reply:

Rab on 05-12-2014
Call Me Tom
Thanks for the comments David. I don't really think it worked that well myself, now I read it again. The ending is a bit rushed, and Michelle's last two letters are a bit disjointed. I never intended for them to get together, thought their lives drifting apart would offer a bit more poignancy..

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 08-12-2014
Call Me Tom
I didn't have any particular problem with this, it's well-planned and expressed. However, it didn't enthuse me or particularly grab my attention. Rather than reveal themselves, allowing us to get involved, the characters almost declared themselves, telling us what they were like.

Perhaps if somehow you could let the reader see things about them that they themselves could not see?

Author's Reply:
I know what you mean, and perhaps when I have time I'll have a go at a re-edit, although I can't see, at the moment, how I could manage a reveal within the confines of the styructure.

I seem to have less success with challenges I set than those that others set, for some reason!

TheBigBadG on 08-12-2014
Call Me Tom
I wonder if the idea got in the way of the execution here perhaps? I don't have anything in particular against the gentle melodrama of the letters, but as covered above the story needs more of a sense of progress to satisfy us by the end. The question I would ask you though, is what you would do differently if Tom Waits had nothing to do with it? I appreciated the various references, no doubt missed a number as well, but wasn't sure what they added to the story. With the exception of ol' Romeo - specifically because they share their memories of him and how he dies is interesting.

So maybe shed the Waits references and have a look at giving them something neither of them fully understand - like Romeo's death - and let them explore their relationship and this thing together?

Author's Reply:


Helicopter (posted on: 07-11-14)
For the prose challenge. The near future. Rotheram. A delivery. Strictly come dancing. Old people.

The old man smiled as the helicopter swooped low over the chimney pots. He could see the whole town in his monitor; he paused to enjoy the view of the sun setting behind the gasworks for a few moments then remembered his mission. He checked the map in the top corner of the screen and guided the drone towards its target. He soon had the street in his sights and followed the long ridge of the terrace, rotors spinning silently, the motors powering them screened for maximum secrecy, counting the chimney pots until he reached number 17. At just the right moment he banked the little craft sharply to the right, and down. Carefully he followed the roof tiles down, down, over the gutter, and into the back garden. God, I'm good at this, he thought. Through the camera in the nose cone he could see lights on in the windows downstairs. Bernard set the machine hovering at head height, 10 metres from the back door, moved his mouse; the little arrow found the red button on the screen. A click, and inside the house a phone rang. "Who's that calling me in the middle of strictly?" Margaret Hodge muted the television, put down her cup of tea and picked up the phone. It was a new phone and she hated it. She peered short-sightedly at the screen, looking for the bit she had to touch to answer it. After a while she realised that she was holding it upside down. "Hello, Margaret Hodge speaking. If you've interrupted my favourite programme to try and sell me more bliddy windows I'm going to speak to your supervisor." "Hello Mrs Hodge" said Bernard. "This is Amazon. Your parcel has arrived and is awaiting uplift. It's at your back door." As he spoke, Bernard brought the helicopter and its payload down to the path, just outside the door, where it settled gently and waited, rotors still. "Parcel? Awaiting uplift? How did it get to my back door? Oh, I know, it's one of those droney things isn't it? But anyway, I haven't ordered anything from Amazon. I don't like Amazon. I got a coat from you once. It didn't fit." "Well, we've certainly got something for you now, Mrs Hodge" said Bernard with professional good cheer. "It's right outside your back door if you'd care to go out and get it." Hurry up you old bat, he thought. I've another five deliveries before I can go home. He checked his other screens; three of his drones were nearly at their delivery points. He put them on a holding circuit; he had a feeling this delivery was going to take a while. Margaret had reached the back door and was staring balefully out at the little helicopter, which was sitting patiently with its plastic covered parcel. "It's raining" she said into the phone. "And my tea's getting cold." "Can you see the parcel, Margaret? Why don't you nip out and get it, then we can all get on." "Don't you take that tone with me, young man. You've interrupted my tele and now you want me to go out into the rain to get a parcel I didn't order." Despite her words, Margaret was pulling on her slippers and unlocking the door. She approached the machine carefully, expecting it to start turning its little rotors and cut her to shreds at any moment. In his monitor, Brian saw a little old woman in a shapeless cardigan and beige trousers edge towards him. She still held the phone to her ear, so he tried to encourage her. "It's all right Margaret, it's quite safe. The copter won't start up again until I tell it to, and I won't do that until you're safely back in your house. The parcel isn't connected to it any more, you can just take it." "See you don't start the bliddy thing, young man. I don't trust it. Could take my bliddy eye out, these bliddy propellers. Don't know why you can't just stick things in the post like you used to in the old days. Back when we had proper post that is." She leaned down, face suddenly filling the screen back in Amazon central. But Bernard had stopped listening. He was leaning forward peering at the screen. "Margaret? Is that you?" "What's that you're saying now, you young idiot? Of course it's me, who else would it be?" She picked up the parcel and hurried back inside. "Now, I've got the bliddy parcel, will you take your stupid bliddy helicopter off my path and bugger off!" Bernard laughed. "Now I know it's you, Margaret Middleton. Nobody else could ever swear like you. This is Bernard. Bernard Meade. Bernard Meade from Lakeside Sec. We went through five years of hell together. Don't you remember?" It was Margaret's turn to be astonished. "Bernard Meade? Little Bernie? My word, fancy that. Of course I remember you. How could I forget? But how can it be - I'm 74 and so must you be. You must be the oldest delivery boy in England." "I've been here for 10 years. I wanted to retire a while back but they wouldn't let me. Said I was too important to them, a Valued Team Member, but I reckon they just don't want to pay me my pension. They'd rather I just die here, behind my desk. Cheaper for them, that would be. And you know you don't get the state pension till you're 83 now." That sounded bitter, he thought. You've just met her again after all these years, don't spoil it, you numbskull. "But never mind that, why don't you have a look at your parcel? If you didn't order it maybe someone's sent you a present. There might be a message." "Hmph. Well, alright then, but I don't know anyone that would send me a present. And I'm missing strictly." Despite herself, she was keen to see what was in the parcel, although she wasn't going to admit that to anyone, not even a childhood sweetheart. As she pulled ineffectually at the sticky tape round the small package her mind travelled back 60 years to school. She had always had thing for Bernie, but he had seemed infatuated with Helen Lawson, a girl that Margaret had no time for. Too full of herself. And her hair was always perfect. A tinny voice squawked at her. She'd forgotten Bernard was still there. She put the parcel down and put the phone to her ear. "Do you remember Helen Lawson? Good looking girl. Lovely hair." "I do, I do. Lovely lass. I had a bit of a crush on her, truth be told. Only a little one, though; I really fancied someone else. She was always very approachable, though, was Helen. Very friendly. Not like some people." Margaret paused, the parcel forgotten. Did he mean her? Was she unfriendly? Had he taken her no-nonsense approach to life as a sign that she didn't like him? She'd always liked him, but he had seemed so quiet, reserved, while she'd been quite the opposite. She saw herself, with absolute clarity, perhaps for the first time in her life, as other people saw her. She also had a flash of what might have been. She bit her lip and her chin wobbled. "Are you all right there Margaret? You've gone very quiet. Not like the Margaret I remember." Bernie's false joviality masked his own feelings; he too was coming over a bit emotional. Margaret took a deep breath. "Of course I'm all right, Bernard Meade. Why wouldn't I be? But I'm buggered if I can get into this parcel." She was holding it in her hand, turning it over, looking for an opening. "It'll be on the long edge, a black and white strip. You pull it." She saw it the moment he said it. "I see it. Let me just put the phone down a minute..." Bernard heard a ripping sound, then the sound of cardboard tearing. But Margaret was none the wiser when she saw what was in the parcel. It was a book, bright green with a strange picture on it: it looked, for all the world, like an over ripe tomato. "That's a funny looking book" Bernard heard her say, faintly. Then Margaret picked up the phone again. "Someone's sent me a book, Bernie" she said. "It's got a picture of a tomato on the cover. Must be a cook book." Bernard laughed. "That's not a cook book, that's a book about films, the Rotten Tomatoes Book of Films. One of our best sellers this year. It tells you all you want to know about the best films ever made, according to Rotten Tomatoes; the films that got 100% on their website." "I don't know about websites, and I've never heard of any rotten tomato films" said Margaret. "But there's no message. I wonder who's sent me that?" "Tell you what, Margaret, I'll have a look at the order from here, and find out for you. I'll need to hang up now, cos I've got other work to be getting on with, but I'll definitely phone you back. Ok?" "That'll be lovely, Bernie. My, but it's been good speaking to you again. I wish we could speak some more." She brightened. "Maybe we will, when you phone me back! You will phone, won't you? You're not just saying?" "Wild horses couldn't stop me Margie. Don't you worry. I'll speak to you tomorrow, without fail." Margaret felt a catch at the back of her throat. Nobody had called her Margie in 60 years. She sat down in her chair, and, ignoring the gyrations of a jitterbugging David Cameron in the Strictly semi-final, opened her book. The next day, at 3 o'clock, Margaret was sitting in her favourite chair, by the fire, reading her new book. She was up to film number 315, Odd Man Out, from 1947, starring James Mason, which she vaguely remembered and now wanted to see again. She started as the doorbell rang. When she opened the door she saw a small, old man in an old-fashioned cloth cap. ''Bernie! I was expecting you to phone! Come in, come in out of the rain.'' ''Don't mind if I do'' said Bernard. In the hall, he waited for Margaret to close the door, then awkwardly leaned towards her and made to give her a peck on the cheek. ''You were always too polite, Bernard Meade'' said Margaret, and embraced him in a bear hug. Flustered, he tried to respond, but as ever didn't know what to do with his hands. ''Come away in by the fire, and let me get you a cup of tea.'' Margaret bustled into the kitchen and he looked around the small, over-warm room. There was a chair beside the fire, facing what was clearly Margaret's own chair, which had the Rotten Tomatoes Book of Films lying open on it. He looked at the open page. ''Odd Man Out'' he called through to the kitchen, ''now there's a film. A classic.'' Margaret emerged with a tray laden with a mug of tea, milk, sugar and a plate of digestive biscuits. ''You like old films then, Bernie? Me too. That's a brilliant book. Did you find out who sent it me?'' ''Now there's the thing, Margie. It wasn't meant for you at all. Customer put in the wrong address, would you believe. It was meant to go to number 17 Railway Lane, not 17 Railway Villas. He claimed the Amazon address thingy completed the address wrongly, so I've sent him another one. I said this one was lost, unable to recover as we call it, so it's yours now.'' Margaret looked at the old man sitting across from her. What he said didn't sound entirely legal, but she decided to let it go. ''So how are you then Bernie? How's your life been these past 60 years or so?'' Bernard set down his tea and looked at her steadily. Inside, he'd never felt quite so nervous; the words he'd worked out as he sat in his car outside the door for the best part of an hour deserted him. He had no idea what to say, and for a full minute he was silent. Margaret had just decided that she'd better break the ice and was about to tell him about her own life, when he took a deep breath and unleashed a torrent of words. ''It's been good, my life. I married a lovely woman, dead these last five years, we had a lovely daughter, she lives in Spain and I see her every six months or so. But you know what? There hasn't been a day that I haven't thought of you, particularly since Mary died. When I saw you yesterday it brought it all back and made up my mind for me. I've chucked in the job in Amazon – that was made easier by the fact that I crashed three drones yesterday because we were on the phone so long. One of them hit a police car. So I'm out of a job, and I'm looking for a new challenge in my life. I googled you after our chat, so I know you're in the same boat as me, on your own. I'd like to make you my challenge. I'm going to get to know you properly, and when I do I'm going to ask you to marry me. Or we could just live together, I'm easy. We'll go through all the old films in that book, together.'' Margaret looked at the small, determined looking man perched on the edge of his chair, in her living room. It was, by far, the longest speech she had ever heard from him. She felt utterly overwhelmed, a novel experience for her. For once, she could think of nothing to say.
Archived comments for Helicopter
bluepootle on 07-11-2014
The Helicopter
Well, this story was exactly what I needed this morning. A bit of serendipity told nicely, with a bit of empathy for both characters. I love Bernard's determination to seize the moment, and I also love the use of drones to set up the situation. It took me a few paragraphs to work out what was happening but I think that's a good thing; it made a good hook.

And you mentioned Odd Man Out, which is one of my favourite James Mason films. Not a romantic choice at all, and I'm so glad you went for something a bit unexpected, there. What made you choose it?

Author's Reply:
Thanks Aliya, glad you liked it. I chose Odd Man Out purely by chance; it's a film I saw years ago(a rainy Sunday afternoon film on BBC 2, when they used to do such things) and it stuck with me. I was half way through the story when I ordered it on Amazon to give to someone as a present and I just happened to look it up on RT as well. That gave me the gift of the book idea for the over-ripe tomato line (which I was having trouble with - what could be in a parcel from Amazon and look like that?), and Odd Man Out actually does get 100%, rightly in my view, so the theme of the book presented itself! The film itslf was a gift too, as something slightly unusual, and as you say not romantic, that Bernie and Margaret could connect over, and which hints at a shared view of the world. Talk about luck!

OldPeculier on 07-11-2014
The Helicopter
Love the idea of parcel delivery by drone. File for a patant now, before anyone else does!

I have said before that for me, you sometimes over explain things. Not this time, it all moved along at a good pace, letting us fill in the gaps for ourselves. On the first read I found the ending a bit twee but second time around, having got more of a grasp of the charecters, I think it is just about right.

Very enjoyable.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Old P, glad you liked it, although amazon are looking at drone delivery already, so I'm a bit late!

TheBigBadG on 07-11-2014
The Helicopter
OP - if you read this, Amazon are way ahead of you. They've already said they'd like to deliver by drone... Drones would be largely automated by the way, so you know. I think a human operator controlling 5 at a time would result in the FAA/CAA having kittens and not allowing them in the air at all. Forgive my pedantry...

This is a really nice story though, sweet and genuine. Cynical old me (also having just read Griff's piece) was expecting something more pernicious from the opening so well done for setting me straight. I like that your characters are au fait with the technology as well, it makes them more like real people, dodges a cliche. It's right that they're annoyed with having their routines broken more than boggled by technological advances. It helps make the theme more timeless and universal, which it is.

Author's Reply:

Rab on 07-11-2014
The Helicopter
Thanks G, glad you liked it. It's meant to be about 10 years or so from now, so they'll be comfortable with new tech, albeit without liking all of it.

Author's Reply:

OldPeculier on 07-11-2014
The Helicopter
I didn't know that. I'll go back to my cupboard now.

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 10-11-2014
The Helicopter
A nice story, good idea nicely executed. My one niggle? A drone is not a helicopter (in normal parlance) so there's a clash there. However, outside the context of this challenge, you can simply change the word.

Author's Reply:
Thanks e. Perhaps the definition of a drone will include a helicopter in the near future?

sirat on 10-11-2014
The Helicopter
It's a nice feel-good story, not too sentimental, and everything hangs together nicely. I don't really have any criticism (unusual for me). Well done.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind comments David. It was one of these stories where everything falls into place, once I'd sorted out the prompts.

Mikeverdi on 13-11-2014
The Helicopter
Loved it mate, sorry to be so long getting to it. Its blowing a gale and pissing down here....this brightened my morning.
Thanks
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike. Surprised you've got time to read anything the way you're belting out the chapters!


Ghost In The House (posted on: 03-11-14)
Life and death on the Yorkshire moors. It's grim up north.

A house. It squats low on the moor, looks organic, as if it just grew, its stones darkened with age, slates grey and slick with rain. A crescent of stunted trees stands to the west, protecting it from the wind that whistles across the moor, often as not accompanied by driving rain, or snow. The door, old, wooden, once red, now faded to a non-colour, paint peeling. Pass through it; no need to knock, we're ghosts, we can come and go as we please. Inside, all is quiet. Possibly because no-one's in, apart from an orange cat, curled up in an old armchair, sunk into a cat-shaped depression in the seat. But there's a noise from upstairs, a rhythmic creaking. What's going on up there? Towards the corner of the room, where we can see the bottom three steps of a staircase. Follow the stairs' curve to a short hallway, nicely decorated about 30 years ago, looks like, and not since. Faded wallpaper, dim lights illuminating dull pictures in nice frames. One of these semi-circular tables stands on the left, between two paneled doors. Fielded panels, that's what they're called. Old, well made. The creaking's coming from in there. Let's have a look, pass silently through the nice door, enjoying the experience of the aged timber. A bed over on the other side of the room, large, high mattress, iron bedstead. The bed seems to be piled with old coats, which are moving, up and down. A head appears, at the corner closest to us, a mass of red hair, a woman's voice: "For fuck's sake, Tom, you not done yet? I came about 10 minutes ago." Another head, a man's this time, wild hair and beard, black. "Thank fuck for that. I'm knackered." He flops on to his back. "I were just keeping going for you. I canna be bothered with it any more. Fancy a cup of tea?" Without waiting for a reply, he disentangles himself from the sheets, quilt and coats and shambles naked towards the door. "Fuck, it's freezing." He returns to the bed, selects a coat at random and forces his substantial arms through the sleeves. It is a woman's coat and it's too small for him, he can't fasten it over his fat belly, which is covered with dark hair, as the rest of him seems to be. Naked, he must resemble a half-moulted bear. He throws the door open, stumps down the stairs. The faint sound of water filling a kettle. The woman rights herself in the bed, fumbles for a packet of fags on the bedside table, shakes one loose, stretches a long, thin arm to the floor, scrabbles about and with a triumphant "There you are you bugger" brings up a lighter. A flame, a glow from the end of the cigarette as she draws in a lungful of smoke, holds it for a moment, exhales slowly. "A cup of tea. Christ" she says. Another house, in a town not far from the farmhouse. The town sits in a fold in the moors and has a lovely, triangular square at its centre, if that's not an oxymoron. The house we're going to visit, 21 Kirkgate, is one of a terrace of four. The front door is in better nick than the previous one, freshly painted and neat. We'll pass through, into a small, neat hall with stairs off it to the left. There's a sound coming from upstairs, a steady rhythmic thumping – is everyone in Yorkshire sex mad? We'll drift up the stairs, see what's going on. This is all getting a bit voyeuristic. But the sound's not coming from this house's upstairs, which is empty of life; it's next door. No problem, we'll just nip through this wall into a bare room, which has a sweating man in the middle of it, on a running machine. He's dressed in a red and blue tracksuit, nearly bald, with a green sweatband running around the dome of his head, just above the eyebrows and ears. He's alone, not surprisingly given the way he's dressed, and not terribly interesting just at the moment. Let's have a poke around the rest of the house. Nobody else in, apart from an elderly dog which is splayed out on the kitchen floor, nose inches from an empty food dish. You'd think tracksuit man could take the dog out for a run, giving them both some fresh air, rather than pounding a rubber band upstairs and smelling the room out. Takes all sorts. And so to house number three, a grander affair, in a nice part of a much bigger town, about 40 miles away. Detached, red rooftiles, smooth white render and stone window surrounds, big garden with mature trees and manicured lawns. Nice. Inside, in an elegant front room, at an old, Victorian-looking desk, a heavy-set man is on the phone. His shirtsleeves are turned back, his jacket hangs from the back of his chair, which is one of these 'captain's chairs' that you see in posh antique shops for £800. The desk is bare apart from an old-fashioned telephone and a large, round, red button. He looks relaxed, sitting back from his desk, chair half-turned so that he can look out of the window. He seems to be having a very jolly conversation: lots of belly laughs. When he eventually hangs up, his hand thumps the red button. ''Next!'' he bellows. From a slot on his desk, previously unseen, by me at any rate, a slim black rectangle, about the size of a paperback book, rises. He takes it between finger and thumb, lays it flat on the desk in front of him, takes a deep breath and stabs at it with a chubby finger. He peers at the image that appears; a picture of a man, with what looks like a name beneath it. A grunt, another digital stab, and the picture is replaced by a map and an address. He lifts the black tablet, holds it In front of him and considers, leaning back in his chair. He sits up suddenly, his mind clearly made up, reaches for the phone, dials. Somewhere, a phone is ringing. I know where. It's on the bedside table from which the redhead lifted her packet of fags, and which now also contains a chipped mug which once held tea. Redhead picks it up, looks at the display. Her face registers distaste and, yes, a touch of terror; she throws the phone, as if it's suddenly become red hot, towards her companion, now thankfully getting dressed in clothes that fit him. His clothes are black, perhaps in the hope that they will be 'slimming'. He grabs at the phone, misses, swears and has to get down on his knees and scrabble under a chair to retrieve it. He presses the screen, holds it to his ear. ''In your own time, Tommo'' a voice, heavy with sarcasm. ''Sorry boss, I was just..'' ''Spare me the sordid details. Go to 21 Kirkgate, Settle, and have a little chat with Mr Ronald Mcbride. He's late.'' ''Righto, boss, I'll… oh, he's hung up. Old bastard treats me like some sort of servant.'' ''He might not if you didn't spend half your time shagging. See you tonight. Switch the light off on your way out.'' Redhead makes herself comfortable under the duvet, pointedly fails to see the pointed look that's aimed at her, and gives every impression of falling instantly asleep. Tom sighs, clicks off the light and closes the door softly. Now let's get back to house number two. Perspiring man, who we now know is called Ronald Mcbride, Ron to his friends, is sitting, freshly showered and no longer perspiring, in a reclining chair eating a cream filled doughnut from Greggs. A mug of dark brown liquid sits on a small table beside him. The television is on; a wrinkled, over-tanned man in flamboyant clothes is talking excitedly to the camera about an old statue. ''Load of shite'' says Ron, through a mouthful of doughnut. He sits up as a car pulls up outside, goes over to the window, then relaxes again as he sees someone open next door's gate. With a contented sigh he settle back in his chair, takes a noisy slurp of his coffee. ''This is the life'' he tells himself. Ron clearly doesn't look for much in life. Next door, Katherine Burnett is answering the door to a large man. It's Tom, but Katherine doesn't know that. ''Ron in?'' he says. ''Ron who? Nobody called Ron here, young man.'' ''Mcbride'' says Tom. ''Ronald Mcbride, number 21 Kirkgate.'' ''No, no, he lives next door. Number 23. That's his car there, so he's in.'' Katherine tries to shut the door, but Tom opens it wider without apparent effort and pushes past her into the hall. ''Scuse me, missus, I'd like to surprise him if I can. He's an old pal. I'll just use your back door.'' Katherine is too surprised to do anything but stand and gawp as the large man moves past her, through to her kitchen and out the back door without another word. She shivers; her house has suddenly got cold, but she's never liked her neighbour, and isn't going to miss this. She closes the front door, hurries to her living room bay window, which gives her a full view of Ronald Mcbride's front door. After a while she gets tired of standing, pulls a chair over to the window. She sits stock still for five minutes, listening for sounds of violence, but is disappointed when Tom emerges from her neighbour's front door, closes it carefully behind him, and ambles up the path. He turns into the street, and she hears a car start up and drive away. She leaves her window seat, goes to the hall and listens at the wall on the other side of which is, she knows, Ron Mcbride's living room. On his television she hears the theme music to The Alan Titchmarsh Show "Ooh, Alan Titchmarsh" she says, and she hurries back to her living room to watch it. In front of the television next door, Ronald Mcbride sits facing the television, eyes fixed, unseeing, on the screen. He will be discovered in two days' time, when his dog's barking alerts the neighbour on the other side, at number 25. The ambulance crew who attend will record his death as being from that great leveller, natural causes. The young policeman who is given the job of talking to the neighbours will form the opinion that Katherine Burnett is busybody who didn't like his neighbour, and won't report her theory that a mysterious man in black might have had something to do with Ron's demise. Too much trouble.     But back to now, the present. On the desk in the detached house in Leeds, the phone rings. A be-ringed hand, owned by the fat man, picks up the receiver, holds it to his ear. After a short while, he grunts, then says ''Good. Take the rest of the day off. Speak to you tomorrow.'' He places the phone back in its cradle, picks up the tablet that still lies on his desk beside the red button, touches the screen gently, almost reverently, and carefully drops it into a slot to the left of the slot it emerged from, three hours ago. The room is utterly silent; the air is still, seems heavy somehow, and there's a slight but discernible, musty smell. Sulphur?     The fat man sits staring at a point above his desk, a million miles away. Emits a sigh that seems to come from deep inside, from his very soul. ''Sometimes…'' He doesn't finish the sentence, perhaps doesn't finish the thought, rises from his chair, and walks slowly from the room.
Archived comments for Ghost In The House
Mikeverdi on 04-11-2014
Ghost In The House
Well that was weird....but in a good way 🙂 Interesting way of telling the story..Ghosts HaHa! The devil waiting for his due? I liked it Rab.
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike. It was a little weird, and I'm not sure whether the fat man is Death, God or the Devil, but it was fun to write


The day peace broke out (posted on: 10-10-14)
For the prose challenge. This is a true story, although the details are made up. In 1944 Hiroo Onoda, a young lieutenant in Intelligence was posted to a small island in the Philippines and was ordered not to surrender. The story begins on February 19, 1974, 29 years after the end of the war.

It has been raining for three days, but I am dry. My rifle is dry. My sword, symbol of my calling, is wrapped in cloth, and is safe, packed in straw at the back of the cave. I have enough food to last me two more days. So I wait, as I have waited for many, many days. It was easier when there were four of us. But now I am alone. I have been alone for a long time now. I have a routine. Routine is important, routine keeps me alive. My hair is regulation length, my uniform is clean, my rifle, my pistol and my sword are kept in good condition. When they come back for me they will see that I have done my duty, as a soldier in the Imperial Japanese Army should. But now the rain has stopped. Time to patrol. I won't take my rifle today, just my pistol. I check the area outside the cave. Nothing, no sound apart from the birdsong and the normal jungle noises that I know so well. I can tell in an instant if there's anything there that shouldn't be. Down the slope, across a small clearing, taking the usual precautions, then into the dense rainforest, water dripping from the trees, the vegetation wet, giving off that smell, bitter and sweet at the same time. The smell of life and the smell of decay. Because the undergrowth is so wet I will follow the trail, a faint trail made by the wild pigs that used to frequent the area. I follow the curving path at the same level, more or less, round the mountain. My footsteps are light, and I make virtually no sound, stopping and standing still every 100 metres, ears tuned to the sound of the jungle. It's like a relationship, sometimes loving, sometimes not; I know this forest so well, but I know better than to take it for granted. That would be weakness and would lead to my capture or death. Then, after half an hour or so, I hear something that wasn't here yesterday. Just above the level of audibility. Is it music? Moving forward now, cautious, silent, like a ghost, through the forest, ears straining, all senses on the alert. I feel my senses extending like the antennae of an insect, seeing out its prey. Definitely music, if you can call it that. A rapid beat, a man shouting something I can't understand. Sounds like a Yankie. Crouching down, I take stock. Ahead of me is a dense greenness. Somewhere in that greenness there is someone. Alone? I hope so. Then I can kill him. I slide my pistol from its holder, hold it pointing upwards, in front of me. Taking great care, watching each footfall, I move towards the sound. There – a lightening of the forest, a clearing. And in the clearing, what? Someone is there, it's where the music is coming from. I plan my approach. There's a fallen tree in my path to my left. To the right then. I circle, seeking a clear view from cover. There – a tent. Bright yellow, no attempt at camouflage, dead centre of the clearing, which is perhaps five metres across, roughly oval in shape. When I have a good view and I am certain that I am invisible to anyone in the clearing, I stand, and watch. I can't see the radio, which is now playing a song with a heavy beat, or any sign of life. Whoever is playing the radio must be in the tent, or sitting down on its far side. I will wait a while, then move further round the clearing if necessary. Ten minutes, three more songs, that sound exactly the same, then a click, and all is silent. A movement: a young man, with long hair, stands up, on the far side of the tent. He looks Japanese, perhaps 20 years old. His clothes are scruffy: a loose shirt of many colours, a pair of shorts, baggy and down to his knees. Light shoes on bare feet. He moves without care or any attempt at concealment, walks round his tent, looking into the forest, all round the clearing. His eyes slide over me, move on without stopping. He hasn't seen me. I realise that I've been holding my breath, let it out slowly. Breathe in, out, calm, you're not discovered. Stay still. He stops prowling round the clearing, stoops into his tent. He stays there a long time. Is he sleeping? The daylight is fading, I know it will be dark soon. The young man could be a spy, a traitor in the pay of the Yankies. He looks to be the same age as I was when this war started. My right leg is sore, and my foot has gone to sleep. I wonder about this boy, this young man. He is scruffy, and plays loud music which breaks the silence of the jungle, but he is like me in one way. He is alone. But I think he is alone from choice, in his small tent. I wonder why he's here, in this jungle. My jungle. I don't want to kill him, even though he could have been sent here to find me and kill me. Better just to leave him, fade away, into the jungle, back to my cave. But I want to find out more. I move my right leg slightly, easing life back into the foot. It tingles painfully as the blood flows again. When I am able, I move again, around the clearing. At the other side, I stop, close to the edge. It is dark now; in the forest, almost pitch black. I don't mind, I'm used to it. My eyes are still good, I can make out shapes well enough to get by. The clearing is bathed in starlight. I can see a small pale square shape lying on the grass between the jungle and the tent. It must be the radio. Slowly, without a sound, I lower myself, until I am prone, right on the edge of the clearing, behind a tree. I wait there for two, three minutes. The ground is hard here, which is uncomfortable, but also good, as I will be able to move across it silently. I'll have to be careful when I reach the grass, but I know what to do. Hugging the ground, I squirm forwards, like a snake, eyes on the tent, ears straining for a sound, a signal that I am discovered. I am close enough now; I reach out with my left arm. The radio feels cool to the touch, smooth, plastic. I pull it towards me, wriggle my body backwards, to the forest. When I feel the tree roots under me I raise myself to my knees, eyes fixed on the tent. There is no movement, no sound from the young man inside. I rise to my feet, look behind me, slide my body behind a tree, and stand like a statue for a full five minutes. Patience, that's what separates an effective soldier from a dead one. I look at the small plastic thing in my hand. I marvel that something so small could have made such a loud noise. I slide it into a pocket; now I must return, and rest. Making my way back round the clearing is easy. I know, when I reach the fallen tree, that I've come too far and make my way back, towards my cave. When I reach the trail it's an easy 15 minutes back to the cave. As I always do, I wait at the edge of the clearing, watching the entrance. I take a small pebble from my pocket, pitch it just outside the cave mouth, wait again. Nothing. Soon I am at my straw bed, deep in the cave. I have set up my alarms, and after I carry out my normal sleep routine I wrap myself in my old thin blanket and fall into a deep sleep. I wake instantly, as I always do. Rolling off the straw mattress, I stretch, carry out my exercises and prepare breakfast. As I eat I consider. I take the radio out from my uniform pocket, and examine it. A small wheel on the side has a little mark beside it. I turn the wheel, and immediately hear the same music that was playing yesterday. Does it ever play anything different? I see another wheel, smaller that the first one, on the other side of the little box. When I turn it, the music is replaced by a scratchy, hissing sound. So some things haven't changed. I keep turning the wheel, and a man's voice replaces the hissing. He speaks a language I don't understand. I switch off the radio, lay it down beside me, and resume my quiet contemplation. My choices are thus: I could stay away from the clearing, let the young man do whatever he wants. He will go away soon, he can't have much food in that small tent. I could go back to the clearing, watch him, see what he does. Or I could go back to the clearing, confront him, perhaps kill him, use my knife. No need to waste any of my precious bullets. From what I saw he would be easy to kill, although I know better than to underestimate an enemy. Perhaps he is an advance party, sent to gather information. It would probably be unwise to ignore him. And now that I have stolen the radio he probably knows that I was there. Why did I do that? It was unwise. Such actions are contrary to the practices that have kept me alive all these years. I must go back to the clearing. On my way there I will decide what to do. I take my revolver, my long knife and the radio. For a reason I can't fathom I take more than my usual care over my uniform, as If I'm going to a parade inspection. It has lasted well, proof of the superior equipment of the Imperial Japanese Army. I walk quickly, and after half an hour I am watching from the edge of the clearing. The young man sits on the ground, head down. After a while I move deliberately, making a noise. He lifts his head, looks toward me. ''Are you there?'' He speaks Japanese. ''Show yourself, please. I am unarmed. I am alone. I cannot harm you, even if I wanted to.'' I stand still, considering. I make up my mind, and in three strides I am in the clearing, facing him. He stands, and we remain like this for a short while. ''Oi'' he says. ''Oi'' I reply. I reach into my pocket, and without taking my eyes off him, bring out his radio, hold it out to him. I know now that he is not a soldier, an agent sent to kill me, or he would have reacted in a different way when I put my hand in my pocket. He smiles, takes a step forward, reaches out for the radio. I step forward too, and hand it to him. Our hands touch, and I nearly break down there and then. But I keep myself in check, my face impassive, and wait for him to make the next move. ''Are you Lieutenant Onoda?'' I am surprised. Perhaps he has come for me, after all. I simply nod, once. ''My name is Norio Suzuki. I am very happy to meet you, Lieutenant Onoda. I hope that you are well. '' He bows in a respectful manner, then resumes his seat on the ground. Beside him I see two cups. He motions for me to sit, and, as if in a dream, I do so, sitting about a metre in front of him. I am very aware of my long knife, which rests against my leg, pointing towards him. He appears not to notice. He picks up one of the cups, holds it out to me. I frown, point to the other one. The one he offers could be poisoned. He smiles at me. "It's ok. I'll even drink some myself." He puts the first cup down, picks up the second one, pours a little of the liquid into his cupped hand, and drinks it. I accept the cup, and we both drink. I recognise the taste right away: it is Calpis, a milky soft drink that I loved when I was a child. Before I know it, I have drained the cup. We sit in silence while Norio drinks. When he has finished I have questions for him. "Why did you come here? Did someone send you?" My voice sounds strange to me, perhaps because I have not used it in a long time. "Nobody sent me. I came here to look for you. I thought playing the radio would be the best way to attract you. I knew I would never find you if I looked for you. I wondered what you would do after I saw you watching from the forest." I am surprised, and my opinion of the young man grows. "If you came looking for me, you must have something to say to me." Norio looks straight at me; I meet his gaze, which is steady, direct. Around is the jungle seems to recede. "I wanted to meet a real Japanese soldier who had fought in the war, who is still fighting. And I wanted to ask you why you still fight on, why you will not come out of the jungle. Do you not know that the war is over, has been over for many years?" I have heard this before. The villagers used to shout it out when they came looking for me. "I cannot surrender. Not unless my commander tells me to." He nods, appears to understand. He asks me about my time as a soldier, and I tell him about my career in military intelligence, about my commanding officer, about the men I led, and about how they died. And how I have stayed alive, like a good soldier, all these years. Then he tells me about his life. He is rootless, a dropout. He is travelling the world, to do three things: find me, a panda and the abominable snowman, in that order. I tell him he has succeeded in the most difficult one, so the others will be easy. We both smile, then laugh. It is a long time since I have l have laughed. I like this young man, Norio Suzuki, and I sense that he likes me. He asks the big question: what would it take to get me to surrender. I tell him that I will only surrender if a superior officer, like my old commanding officer, Major Taniguchi, orders me to. We talk some more, then he asks me if he can take my photograph, to prove to the world that he has met me. He tells me that he will carry my message back to Japan for me, and that perhaps he can help me to go back there too. So I agree, and out of a rucksack he brings a small camera. With great care he sits it on the rucksack, pointing at me, peers through the viewfinder, moving the camera until it is just right, then presses a button and runs over to me, flopping to the ground beside me just before the camera makes a click. He does this three more times. The camera placed back in his bag, he brings out some dried beef, gives me some. It isn't very good but I am hungry. After we eat he tells me that he must go now, but he promises to return. I believe him. Now Norio has been gone for three weeks. I wait, as I have waited for so long. But now it is different. Now I have a new thing: hope.
Archived comments for The day peace broke out
bluepootle on 10-10-2014
The day peace broke out
I love this. What a beautiful mood you create, on the knife edge of danger. The character really could go either way. I loved their conversation, and the sense of two elements of the same culture meeting.

I know you've got a lot of repetition early on working to establish that timeless mood, which is does; I wonder if you haven't just overcooked it sometimes, and also overexplained. For instance, this line: 'He was wounded, and they got him. ' strikes me as unnecessary explanation, and the third paragraph really does have a lot of repetition within it. It could be personal taste, but it's just a bit too much for me.

But generally I thought it was a very skilful and interesting story.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind comments, Aliya. I've had a look at the first few paras, and I see what you and George mean about too much background - one of my habitual faults! I've deleted some of it, and think it reads much better now.

I enjoyed writing it, the story's so good on its own that I felt a bit cheeky imagining the actual meeting. I'd like to find out more about Norio Suzuki; the three tasks he mentions in the story are true. I wonder if he found his abominable snowman!

TheBigBadG on 10-10-2014
The day peace broke out
Good choice, these guys are fascinating. That great question mark over whether they're mad enough to think the war's still on or loyal enough to follow orders long past the point of rationality. They definitely speak of a wartime mindset, a sense that the nation's prospects outweigh your own individual ones. I can't see the same thing happening today.

I'd agree with Blue that the opening could be smoothed out a bit. I personally didn't need the context of the rest of his squad, in fact after 29 years I wonder if his poor memories of them could tie into his detachment with the rest of the world, perhaps? The encounter with Norio is well-handled, the sense of a missionary bringing the lost sheep home. The hints of the alien and modern are there but presented with respect to the past. I think I'd like to get a bit more under the skin of Onoda, his rituals and how he's kept himself sane all this time. It sounds like he's a man living in the moment which you've captured here, but maybe a little bit more of a glimpse under the kimono?

Anyway, very particular comments, I realise. I think I'm having one of those days. It's good as is, and it's nice to have a happy ending in the group for once!

Author's Reply:
Thanks George; I think you and Blue are right, and I've nipped back in and done some surgery. The real story had a happy ending too: Onoda lived until he was 91 and crammed a lot in to his life after he emerged from the jungle.

e-griff on 11-10-2014
The day peace broke out
Very effective creation of mood and circumstance works very well and draws the attention. Good pre-end and end.
Two things:I think the declaration about him being of the Japanese army is premature and telly. Don't say it, let us realise..
The other thing is 'plastic'. Was that word used then? I don't know.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind comments. I guess I assumed that the reader would know who the the narrator is from the start, but I take your point. I also wondered about the whole radio thing and an earlier draft made more of it as an item of wonderment and strangeness,but on reflection I think the Japanese had stuff made of plastic during the war. In any event, he and his colleagues interacted with the locals during the 30 years that they were hiding out, largely by nicking stuff, apparently, and I think he would probably know about plastic things by then. It never ceases to amaze me how much we agonise over such things when we write these stories!

Mikeverdi on 11-10-2014
The day peace broke out
Hello Rab, good story; I'm guessing I've arrived after the pruning HaHa! Why is it we can find the faults in others work but never in our own:)
I like it mate, I remember the story on the news when they found him. There were others on different Islands in the same situation, they dropped leaflets and played messages; it took years to get them out. I think you covered it well, not sure about John's point; I think the sword would have told me anyway. I loved the tea ceremony, it would have been the right way to settle any fears. If I remember right they did bring an officer to meet him. Well done.
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike, once I'd got the idea and done a bit of research I really enjoyed writing it. The full story's fascinating; they got his old commanding officer, who by then was running a bookshop in Tokyo, to come to the island and order him to surrender, and he did! He was welcomed as a hero in Japan, which pissed off the locals somewhat, as he and his gang had killed about 30 of them while they were hiding out. I think the locals felt miffed as the war had stopped, so the killings were, like, murder...

sirat on 13-10-2014
The day peace broke out
I think the others have said it all. A very good idea for a story, highly atmospheric, perhaps a bit too detailed at the beginning but it held my attention and I enjoyed it, even though I had read about the incident and knew how it was going to end. The dialogue between the two men was very well handled.

That's an interesting point about the word 'plastic'. The earliest solid man-made polymer materials date back to the first decade of the 20th century, but there was only one form of it in common use before World War II, under the trade name 'Bakelite'. I'm pretty sure the word 'plastic' as a generic term for any long-chain solid polymer only started after the war, so Lieutenant Onoda would have described it as 'Bakelite'. Incidentally it would have been the first transistor radio he had ever seen and he would be amazed at how small and light it was.



Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind comments David. I pondered long and weary about how surprised/astonished Onoda should be about the radio, but in the end guessed that he would have picked up on plastic goods and maybe the odd radio in the intervening 29 years, during which time he and his men used to nick stuff from locals' houses. I had the same internal debate about the camera that Suzuki uses to take his picture as well.

OldPeculier on 13-10-2014
The day peace broke out
Very well done. I think you got the mood just right with some great details. Some bits are a bit over explained for my taste but as I have said before, thats just your style, not a problem.

Excellent read.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind comments, glad you enjoyed it.


A Tale of New York (posted on: 12-09-14)
For the prose challenge. I love Wodehouse's stories of dimwitted but essentially decent young chaps and recently read Damon Runyon's short stories. The prompt gave me the opportunity to have some fun imagining a meeting of these worlds.

The air was fresh, and a fine spray was making me quite wet, so I stepped back under the cover of the upper deck. "Cigarette, old boy?" I hadn't seen the youngish chap sitting in a deckchair in the dark. He looked lonely, and I accepted and sat down beside him. "Thanks very much. Thought I'd get a bit of fresh air before I turned in." "Me too" said my new friend. "Name's Wynne-Jones, by the way. Edward, although my New York chums call me Eddie. Called me Eddie." He corrected himself, and I detected a note of regret. "Missing the bright lights?" I asked. "New York's such fun, isn't it?" "I'll say." Edward sat back and took a long drag on his cigarette, tried to blow a smoke ring. "Want to hear a sad story? Don't mind if you don't, if you'd rather toddle off to bed." "No, carry on, I'd like that." I wasn't tired, and a bit of distraction would be welcome. "Well, allright then." He threw his cigarette end into the sea. "if you're sitting comfortably I'll begin." ''It all began when I first set eyes on the most beautiful girl in New York, or possibly the whole of the U S of A. She sang and danced in the chorus of the hottest musical around then, Broadway Babes of 1927. I was in the stalls, near the front, right hand side, trying to catch the eye of the girl of my dreams, who at that point was in the back row of the chorus, third from the right. As well as the usual attributes, she had bags of enthusiasm and a smile that could light up the darkest night and give succour to the most jaded soul. It was my fifth time at the show and I'd sat in much the same posish the last three times. I flattered myself that I'd caught the young lady's eye, but just in case, I'd slipped the stage door chappie a few dollars for her name - Gloria D'Angelica, glorious angel, wonderfully appropriate name – and sent a dozen red roses to the dressing room, with my calling card. Anyway, that particular night I swear I detected a wink, and even as the curtain was falling I was out of my seat and heading for the stage door. I was joined by a few other young bucks; we didn't speak much, just eyed each other suspiciously, wondering if there was any direct competition. Then someone assaulted me; a hearty thump on the back nearly sent me into the wall. I turned round to complain and found an outstretched hand pointing in my direction. Good manners took over and I shook it, albeit rather coldly, given the pain between my shoulder-blades. ''I'm Harry.'' Said the owner of the hand, a smallish chap in a badly cut suit, wearing that flat cap that so many of the natives favour. ''You're waiting for the lovely Gloria, aincha?'' I took a moment, and considered. ''I would welcome the opportunity to take Miss D'Angelica out for a spot of supper, but I'm not sure what it has to do with you.'' ''Haven't I seen you at the track? Belmont? Tuesday night?'' I had paid a visit to that racetrack, it was true, but I didn't remember my new acquaintance. ''I was indeed there, with a couple of friends.'' ''Joe the Cheese and Two Time Pete. Thought so.'' ''My companions were called Pete and Joe, yes, but I'm afraid you have the advantage of me, Mr Harry.'' Harry roared with laughter. ''Have the advantage of me! That's a good one, I'll remember that. But it's not Mr Harry, just Harry.'' He winked at me, in a rather obvious way, and hit me again, this time a rather more good natured punch on the upper arm. ''How did you get on with the horses? Did you win many potatoes?'' ''Alas no, I lost all the…potatoes I had with me. Baker's Boy, fourth race on the card.'' ''Baker's Boy! No wonder you lost your wad. You shouldn't listen to Joe, he knows as much about horses as my kid sister. And she don't know nuthin'.'' He leaned in closer, gave a conspiratorial wink. Very fond of winking, these New Yorkers. ''Next time you go, I'll go wit' you. Get you your wad back.'' I was beginning to warm to Harry, and we got into a cosy chat about the New York racing circuit. Harry was clearly a sportsman, and seemed to be knowledgeable about a wide range of sportsmanlike endeavours. By the time the chorus emerged we'd arranged a return visit to the track the next day and we were making arrangements for my entry into a running poker game that sounded great fun. And then there she was; my angel, carrying the flowers I'd sent. I turned on the old Wynn-Jones charm. "I hope the flowers are to your liking, Miss D'Angelica". She laid a slim, gloved hand on my arm. "Sure they are, they're gorgeous. But please, call me Gloria. My god, I'm ravenous. I could eat a horse." I knew how to take a hint. I bowed, offered my arm and we were away, to a discreet little place I knew. I noticed, however, to my dismay, that we were not alone. My new friend Harry was walking with us. "Harry" I said, "you're walking our way?" Harry didn't get the hint. "Don't mind if I do" he said, "Gloria and I is old pals. We go back a long ways. Ain't that right, Glo?" I was slightly discomfited, particularly at his easy familiarity with the young lady. Politeness required me to ask if he had dined; it seemed he hadn't, and apparently for some time. Suffice to say, in fairly short order we three were seated at a table designed for two, and Harry was stuffing his napkin into his collar. The meal was great fun; Harry had a wealth of slightly off-colour stories which were terribly amusing, but I don't fancy I made quite the impression on Gloria that I had hoped. And when I suggested heading off somewhere it turned out, naturally, that Harry knew all the best places in New York, so off we went, the jolly trio, into the night. The rest of the evening quickly became a bit of a blur. Harry had a great many close friends, with the most unusual names: as well as Joe the Cheese and Two Time Pete, who I already knew, there were Tommy Wheels, Phil the Pill, and Hound Dog, to name but three. I think Gloria was with us most of the night, but I have no memory of putting myself to bed, and when Chivers, my man, woke me the next morning, it felt as if Krakatoa were erupting in my central cortex. After a calming draught of the special concoction Chivers puts together for such occasions I began to feel a bit more like my old self, and I was sucking down the second restorative cup of lapsang souchon when a knock came to the door. Chivers shimmied forth, and I heard the unmistakable tones of my new best chum, Harry. "Come in, come in, old boy" I trilled, and next moment there he was, looking excessively hale and hearty. "Why" he said, "I didn't expect to find you in this sorry state, Eddie. How are we to arrive at the track in time for the first race? Especially given that the first race is scheduled to begin in a very short space of time. Just under one hour, to be exact. Come along, your lordship, up and at 'em!" I'd forgotten that I was to accompany Harry to the racetrack that day. "Certainly, old boy. If you'd just remove yourself from the chamber I'll throw some togs on and we'll get going, what?" "Throw some togs on! You slay me, Ed." Harry chuckled his way out of the room into the lounge, where I heard Chivers offer him a cup of coffee. We missed the first race, but there was ample time for me to lose all the potatoes I had with me, despite Harry's best advice. When I got back to the old homestead later that night the doorman called me over. A message. From Gloria. I had offered her dinner at the joint we had gone to the previous night. In all the excitement it had quite slipped my mind. Luckily Chivers had a hot bath waiting - how he manages to time these things I'll never know - and the best bib and tucker laid out ready. That's why I was there in record time, only an hour late. But what a sight awaited me. Gloria was still there, but she was not alone. I mean, I like Harry well enough, but he'd been around us all last night and I'd just spent the day with him, and here he was again, canoodling with my soon to be good friend Gloria. I'm afraid I rather saw red. "Now look here Harry. Dash it all, old man. This is a bit rich." Harry looked up from his canoodle. ''Here's the boy! See, Glo, I told you he would not be forgetting his date with you. Eddie doesn't forget these things. Eddie the Elephant, that's him.'' That was the last straw. I've always been a keen trencherman, and as a consequence tend to be a bit touchy about my weight. ''Will you stand up, dash it? I'm going to biff you one.'' ''Now don't be silly Ed'' said Harry, half rising from his seat. ''There is no need to take umbrage. If you will just..'' It was at that point I snapped and put my weight behind a roundhouse punch of which Mr Dempsey, had he been present, would have nodded in approval. Harry went over, unfortunately taking Gloria with him on the way to the floor. The restaurant was quiet. All conversation had ceased as the other diners surveyed the scene. ''I'll give five to two on Harry. Any takers?'' I looked round and saw, at an adjoining table, Phil the Pill and Hound Dog enjoying a steak dinner. I must have looked hurt. ''No offence, your lordship, but I've seen Harry in a ruck before now. He does not often come off second best.'' I turned back to the couple on the floor. Harry was sitting up and, much to my annoyance, Gloria was dividing her time between comforting him and glaring at me. ''Don't worry, Jess'' said Harry, rubbing his jaw. ''He sucker-punched me, that's all. I'm ok.'' I must admit to some confusion at this point. Who was Jess? ''I'm sorry to have hit you, Harry, but I think I'm due some sort of explanation. I mean, why are you looking daggers at me, Gloria? And who's Jess?'' Gloria pulled herself up to the full 5 foot 5. ''I'm Jess, Eddie. My given name is Jessica. And I'm looking daggers at you because you just socked my brother on the jaw.'' It was my turn to look abashed. I didn't know what to say, and I'm afraid to say I just stood there open mouthed for what seemed ages. In the meantime Gloria had helped Harry to a chair, and when she had done that she leaned in to me. ''I think you'd best leave, Ed. New York, I mean.'' As if in a dream, I turned and left the restaurant. I found myself, in due course, back at the flat. Chivers materialised as soon as I closed the door. ''We have a telegram, sir. From your mother. Your Grandmother is unwell and your immediate return is requested. I have taken the liberty of booking us berths on the next available liner to Southampton.'' So that's what we did. And here I am. Sad story, don't you think? Gloria was so lovely, and I'll never see her again. And I didn't even get to join the weekly card game that Phil the Pill ran. It sounded great fun.'' My companion shook himself, lit another cigarette, and offered me one. ''Very sad, old boy, very sad.'' I said. ''What you need to do now is take your mind off things. We've got another three days before we reach Southampton. I've met some real sportsmen since we left the US. Why don't I get them together and we'll get our own game going? Poker to your liking?''
Archived comments for A Tale of New York
sirat on 12-09-2014
A Tale of New York
P G is a difficult act to follow. For me this was enjoyable, had a lot of the elements of the two originals, but somehow didn't seem sufficiently extreme and off-the-wall. Also with Wodehouse the wit and language of the narrator is perhaps the biggest attraction of all and I didn't feel you quite got that (which I know is asking for genius). On that side of things you made it particularly difficult for yourself in that the story is related at one remove by the Bertie Wooster character himself, who of course had to remain insensitive to all subtext. I liked the meeting of the two worlds though, and the naivety of the Wooster character. Very entertaining read.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind comments. It was more of an exercise than a proper story, and I agree that I didn't make it easy for myself. Ideally I would have taken more time over it - I often need a deadline to give me impetus, but this time it worked against me!

bluepootle on 12-09-2014
A Tale of New York
This is very enjoyable, and has some great lines in it. I love the narrator, who bounces back from his bad luck with the help of his trusty 'man'. Yes, it's a homage to PG Wodehouse, but I think it's a good one.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the (very) kind comments. I was so wound up with trying to get it right style-wise that I neglected the story a bit, which isn't really up to much. It was an enjoyable exercise though, and I wouldn't have tried it if it hadn't been for the prompt

Mikeverdi on 12-09-2014
A Tale of New York
Liked it, it was a good read; enjoyable but.... I've read better from you. For me it lacked a knock out punch that would have floored me (to use the vernacular) I'm probably not in sync with the time. I hope you don't mind my saying this, I am a fan 🙂
Mike

Author's Reply:
I totally agree, Mike. It just kind of ends hanging, as I had not one clue what the ending should be! I was really doing it as a kind of self-indulgent exercise, trying to meld together two great authors, and I must admit I wasn't totally happy with the result. Might be a subject of a rewrite at some point...

OldPeculier on 12-09-2014
A Tale of New York
I thought this was entertaining in its own right despite it not really going anywhere. I am not overly familiar with PG Wodehouse but I get the general idea.
Good enough for me.

Author's Reply:

TheBigBadG on 18-09-2014
A Tale of New York
I don't know why, but I had him as an older man in my head to start. Something to do with the setup of sharing a cigarette on a bench I think. Probably says more about me than the story mind.

Anyway, the story: The thing I always associate with Jeeves & Wooster is that madcap quality, the way things get farcically out of control (at least until Jeeves steps in) so I wonder if that's what your missing here? It's snappy and everything but there's an element of brinkmanship to this kind of comedy - how close to implausibly disastrous can you make it? You could perhaps also make more of the deadpan foil of Chivers. He gets all the best lines in J&W from what I remember.

As noted above though, you've set a high bar for yourself with this one so for that alone I applaud you! I can't do comedy for toffee myself so I'm not sure what specifics I could offer. That witty wordplay Sirat mentioned is a real skill, a hard one to learn. For me you got closest to it with the large cast of silly monikers and bombastic similes (Krakatoa for instance) so perhaps focus on that in an edit, let the narrator take over a bit more.

Author's Reply:
I was focussing so much on the characterisations that I didn't develop the story at all. As I've said in a previous response, it was a bit self-indulgent in that I was trying to see if I could write at all in that style. I might well dive back in for a major edit at some point.


She was only a broken down angel (posted on: 22-08-14)
For the prose challenge - Vincent knows a broken down angel when he sees one...

It was always a special feeling, sliding a new album out of the cardboard sleeve and then the paper inner sleeve. There was a way to do it, a routine that bordered on the spiritual: holding it up against the light to check for scratches, fingers touching only the outside rim; swinging it over to check the other side, then lowering it gently on to the spindle, settling it in place; turntable on, a few revolutions, then The Placing of the Needle, carefully, as gentle as thistledown floating on the breeze, into the groove. A slight scratching sound, then, the end point of the ceremony and the start of the serious business of The Music. Today's album was Nazareth's Greatest Hits. It didn't matter that he already had most of the stuff on it, on the original albums; the greatest hits of the Greatest Band In The World had to be the best album in the world, ever. Stands to reason. At least it stands to reason if you're a 16 year-old male in Dunfermline, home of the Greatest Band In The World. And Vincent Grierson, Vince to his mates, was that 16 year-old male. The normal ritual for a new album was not followed on this occasion, however; after checking the track list, Vince placed the stylus in the space at the end of the seventh track. This gave him time to pick up his tennis racket, take a splay-legged stance in the centre of the bedroom floor, front centre of the stage at the Kinema Ballroom, and pick out the opening chords to Broken Down Angel, the Best Song by the Best Band In The World. As he mouthed Dan McCafferty's tortured vocals, he realised something: this song was actually about him. He stopped performing mid-song, sat down on his bed and listened to the track again from the start. Its message was clear. Kathleen Turnbull, who he worshipped from afar, was his ideal of an angel. And her current situation was perfectly set out in the song: She used to be a girl of simple pleasures, a breath of spring to chase your blues away, but now she bears a cross, for a love that she has lost, no sunshine in her life just clouds of grey Paul Gavin had just dumped Kathleen for her best friend Karen, and Kathleen had been looking pretty glum for the last week. She was a Broken Down Angel. But now he knew what to do. He would ask her out. He would heal her broken wing. Dan had spoken to his soul and shown him the way. He was up early on Monday morning, and took more care than usual over his hair and personal hygiene. His mum noticed; he heard her asking his dad, as he closed the door behind him, if he knew what was up. His dad didn't respond; he'd be unlikely to notice if Vincent left the house wearing a pink tutu. But it was all for nothing; Kathleen was off sick. Laura, one of the gang, thought it was emotional stress. The school week dragged, even more than usual. Kathleen didn't come back until Thursday, and it wasn't until Friday lunchtime that he plucked up the courage to approach her through her gaggle of friends, who terrified him. There was something about a group of teenage girls that made it difficult for all but the most confident teenage boy to approach any of them, let alone the one he actually wanted to speak to. But his chance came just before history, the first class after lunch, when they were filing into Mr Monachan's classroom. He was just behind Kathleen, who was lagging behind her pals. He took a deep breath, and dived in. "Eh, Kathleen?" It came out a bit squeakier than he had intended, but she turned round. "Whit?" "Eh, hope you're feeling better, like." She gave him a look that was not encouraging, but he was in too far to back out now. "Ah wondered if you fancied the pics tomorrow night? Jaws is on at the Odeon, half seven." "Wi' you?" She considered, looking into space as she chewed her gum. "Aye, awright. Meet you at the door at ten past." She focussed on him, gave him a hard stare. "Dinna be late. I'm no' hangin aboot like a spare part." He was dumbfounded, and just managed to stammer something about being on time when the build up of students behind them was too much, the dam they had formed broke and they were both propelled into the room. He learned nothing of the internal dealings of the Third Reich that afternoon, which turned out to be a shame, as it came up in the next test, which he failed. He spent most of Saturday getting ready. When he asked his mum to iron his best t-shirt she gave him a look not unlike the one Kathleen had given him, but took it without a word, and delivered it to his room, perfectly ironed, five minutes later. His mum and dad were in the kitchen having a cup of tea when he went out at six o'clock. "Where you off to, son?" asked his mum. "Pictures." "Who with?" But he was already out of the door so didn't need to answer. He heard his mum say "I think it's a lassie" and waited by the partly closed door to see if his dad would respond. His muttered "no' before time" was what he had expected. There was no queue at the Odeon when he got there, more than an hour early, so he was able to get the best seats in the house, dead centre, back row of the circle. The wait was excruciating, but only ten minutes after the appointed time, there she was, resplendent in black jeans and a red t-shirt. Vince pushed through the throng."I've got some popcorn, d'you want some kia-ora?" She was marvellous in her disdain. "Naw, kia-ora gives me the boak. Let's just get wir seats. You can get us an ice cream at the interval." She surprised him by grabbing his hand as they went in. His skinny five foot six became a broad-shouldered six foot two and he wished the whole of Dunfermline were there to see them. In the smoky cocoon of the darkened cinema he was petrified by indecision and fear. Should he ease his arm around the back of Kathleen's seat? Should he feel about in the dark for her hand? He decided to wait for an opportune moment. Kathleen seemed intent on watching the film and hadn't spoken to him since the foyer. His moment came when he, like the rest of the cinema, jumped when a severed head dropped out of the boat. Kathleen even screamed, and Vincent grabbed her hand, to offer comfort in a protective, alpha male kind of way. Unfortunately, Kathleen seemed to see it differently. ''It's only a fillum'' she whispered, ''dinna be feart.'' He subsided, and kept his hands to himself, seething in the darkness. The intermission offered a new chance. As soon as the lights went up he turned to explain, but Kathleen was more interested in a vanilla tub. He joined the queue, and was surprised to see Paul in front of him. He ventured a 'Hi Paul' when he went past; Paul grunted and went to a seat a few rows from the back. Vincent felt absurdly proud of having secured better winching seats. Paul was with Karen, and said something to her when he sat down. They both looked over, and Karen half rose and looked round the cinema, eventually clocking her ex-best pal a few rows behind. Kathleen didn't seem to notice. When he got back to his seat, however, it was clear that she had. ''Ah see that scumbag Paul's here wi' that bitch used to be ma friend.'' She said, between mouthfuls of ice cream. She didn't look as displeased as Vincent had thought she would. The film didn't offer any further chance of intimacy, and when the lights went up he knew he'd missed his chance, possibly for ever. But again he was surprised when Kathleen took his hand as they left the cinema. Kathleen lived about a mile from the cinema, so the walk home left him plenty of time to work his charm and win her over. He chatted about school, asked her about her home, and did all he could to appear interesting and mature. Kathleen didn't seem to notice; she seemed to be distracted and kept looking behind her. And she walked very slowly. About half way home, however, she turned her attention to him, and held on to his arm. She even looked at him and laughed at something he said, although it wasn't really that funny. When they got to her gate, she surprised him yet again by removing the gum from her mouth, putting her hands on his shoulders and leaning in to give him a juicy fruit-scented kiss. ''Thanks for the night, it was great.'' And then she was away. The front door closed while he was trying to make sense of what had just happened. He didn't notice, as he turned away in a daze, Paul and Karen passing by on the opposite pavement. Sundays are always boring, but this particular Sunday lasted at least a week. He was actually keen to get to school on the Monday morning. His mum didn't say anything, but fussed over his tie more than usual. When he got to school the first person he saw was Kathleen. She looked happy; she was laughing with someone. He was just about to break into a run towards her when he saw who she was laughing with. Paul. Vincent changed direction, and ended up with his mates Keith and Brian, who were discussing Dunfermline FC's latest defeat, to Arbroath. The rest of the day passed in a blur. In his room that afternoon Vincent decided never to trust women again. He wondered how you became a monk. He turned, as ever, to the guiding light of his life, the Greatest Band In The World. He had a new favourite Nazareth song now. He eased the shining black disc on to the turntable of his trusty Elizabethan, lowered the needle to the start of track four, and collapsed on his bed while Dan McCafferty told him how much Love Hurts.                  
Archived comments for She was only a broken down angel
e-griff on 22-08-2014
She was only a broken down angel
what's 'winching'?

a good teenage angst story, well written, no glitches, rolled along smoothly. I'm afraid I guessed early (and I suspect most will) but nonetheless it was fun to read.
However, I found it a little light, not very much interest or depth. That's the style of this kind of story of course, but I'd have been receptive to something a bit more demanding.

best JohnG

Author's Reply:
Winching is a Scots term for the process of a young chap trying to attract a girl, for amorous pursuits. I don't think it's much used now, but it was what we called it in the 70s.

As a story it wasn't meant to have much depth, just teenage angst!

bluepootle on 22-08-2014
She was only a broken down angel
I thought you handled the dialogue very well, and the fact that Vincent is not so switched on as the reader - I felt that we were meant to see what was happening even if Vincent didn't. Poor chap. Nice use of the music, too.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Aliya. I feel confident that Vince will get over this setback, with the help of his favourite band. I can't help wondering if 15 year-olds in 2014 have the same relationship with music as I and my peers did in the 70s.

Mikeverdi on 22-08-2014
She was only a broken down angel
Love this mate, can't agree with Griff; didn't seem anything than what it was... An excellent look at teenage life. Of course we got the plot, any other ending would fit; but this had honesty at its heart. I thought you handled the whole thing well. Thanks for the read.
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike, glad you liked it. As soon as I connected that old Nazareth song with the picture prompt, the story nearly wrote itself!

sirat on 22-08-2014
She was only a broken down angel
'Winching' was a term used in Belfast as well. I think 'snogging' would be the nearest modern translation.

I found this an entertaining read, but have to agree with Griff that it was light and predictable. That isn't necessarily a criticism or a commercial drawback, as Sue Townsend has amply demonstrated.

Speaking for myself, I always feel uncomfortable about writing that ridicules the pain and embarrassment of teenagers trying to protect their self-esteem as they learn the rules of the dating game. Immature emotions are still emotions and 'love', even of the kind described here, does hurt. I suppose it's the kind of thing we all went through at one time or another and maybe the healthiest response is to laugh at ourselves in retrospect. It does have a very high cringe factor though. Thank heavens for the 1960s when some of those rules began to be questioned, but maybe not quite yet in Dunfermline. Vince should have looked around for some hippie chicks.

The reference to the Nazereth tracks was well handled, and was a great device for setting the mood of the time and place.

Author's Reply:
Thanks David. I think Dunfermline was a hippie free zone in the 70s, but I'm sure Vince moved on from the hurt!

I didn't mean to ridicule teen angst; music played an important part in my emotional development and I suppose the story was trying to reflect that. When you're an emotionally gauche 15 year-old the path of love is not easy, and most 15 year-old boys are years behind 15 year-old girls in that respect.

Thinking now about the 'light and predictable' view that you and Griff share, I'm not altogether sure that I agree (about the light bit anyway, I will admit it was predictable). When you're the age and stage that Vince was in the story such knockbacks and emotional blows are serious. They help you grow up, and when viewed from the perspective of adulthood they're a bit daft, but at the time they seem hugely important. While I did try and keep the tone light I don't totally accept that this made the story itself over-light.

Rant over; thanks for your comments, as ever David.

Ross

OldPeculier on 23-08-2014
She was only a broken down angel
Good story, well told with a nice little bit of ironic humour. Well done.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the comment, glad you enjoyed it.


Marlow PI (posted on: 01-08-14)
For the prose challenge. Down these mean streets a man must go who is neither tarnished nor afraid.

It was a quiet morning. I had just gotten comfortable, with my feet crossed on the corner of my desk, my hands laced behind my head, contemplating a small spider that was descending from the ceiling. I judged that it would touch down on the tip of my left shoe in about 10 seconds, which was fine by me. It was a pretty small spider. Then I saw a shadow on the other side of the glass door between the outer and inner office. I watched as the shadow raised a hand, brought it up to the glass about shoulder height, then lowered it again. The shadow dissolved in the grey light; the door resumed its role as a door. I looked for my arachnid friend; it had gone. I was just about to commence an investigation of my left leg when the shadow came back, knocked once then opened the door. The shadow turned out to be an attractive woman of a certain age, wearing one of these long waxed coats that country folks wear. She had a matching hat, and it was as wet as the coat. ''Wet out there?'' As an opening gambit it wasn't, perhaps, the best. The woman stopped just inside the door and for a moment I thought I'd lost another customer, but after a small frown she took off her hat, shook the rainwater on my floor, and sat herself down in the visitor's chair. ''Are you always so rude, Mr Marlow? And are you generally this..relaxed?'' She clearly didn't approve. I swung my legs down, sat up straight in the approved manner and faced her in a more businesslike way. ''Let's get a couple of things straight. My name's not Marlow, that's just the name of the business. It's Wilsson, with two esses. And when I'm in my office I can be as darned rude and..relaxed as I like. For your information I was working on a case when you came in. Doing what we in the trade call thinking. Now, how can I be of service, miss…?'' She sat eyeing me for a few beats. I could see that she was weighing me up; she came to a decision. ''Sternwood. Amelia Sternwood. I'd like you to look into something for me. Unless you're too busy thinking, that is.'' She had some sass. I like that in a woman. ''I'm a PI, looking into things is what I do for a living, Miss Sternwood. What's your problem?'' She gave me a quick frown, and launched into her story. I wondered how different it was going to be from the other stories I'd heard in my time as an investigator. This was a tough town, with a thousand stories. In my time I'd heard most of them. ''It's my – our – neighbour. He just moved in, bought the house from old Mrs Gellatly. First thing he did was to rip out the hedge between his place and ours, and then he put in a deck, with lights. Looks like a landing strip. The lights are on all night, and my father, the Major, can't sleep. His bedroom looks out that way, you see.'' Another enforcement job. Just what I wanted. Still, it paid the bills. I opened the top drawer, took out a standard form, filled in the basics and pushed it across the desk to the lovely Amelia.''Ok, I'll see what I can do. We settle up at the end of the case. I pay my own gas.'' ''Gas? Oh, you mean petrol. I should hope so.'' She read through the form, signed on the dotted line, fished in her bag for a little snap purse, opened it and took out a card and handed it to me. "This has my address and personal number on it. Call me any time." Ivory card, dark blue cursive script, embossed. Very classy. ''Do you need any further information, Mr Wilsson with two esses?" I tucked the card away in my wallet."Just your neighbour's address. And his name, if he has one." She gave me a look. "Of course he has one. What a strange thing to say. His name is Malloy. I don't know his first name." Of course she didn't. She sniffed as if there were a bad smell in the room. "He lives at number 12, Stoney Ware. Near the river. We're at number 10." Stoney Ware was the classiest address in town. I was starting to like this case. I got to my feet, held out my hand. "Ok, give me a week, Miss Sternwood. I'll be in touch." She stood up, favoured me with another of her little frowns, and left without shaking my hand. She was a full head taller than me. But then I'm only five foot four. Most people are taller than me. The next day, bright and early, I was outside number 12, Stoney Ware. It was a recently built, mock tudor affair, a bit boxy for my taste. If I had the kind of money it takes to live here, I wouldn't. I'd probably buy myself a tropical island, live off coconuts and bananas. The next door house, the Sternwood place, was exactly the same as Molloy's house. Obviously built at the same time, by the same two-bit developer, probably put the two houses on what had been a single plot. Hence the problem when the hedge came down. It was a rotten world. I sat in the car for a while, observing. I like to observe, it gives me time to think. In this case, to think about how I was going to approach this particular head case. Molloy. He sounded like a tough guy, but we'd see about that. I was startled out of my reverie by a rap on the window. It was Amelia. I wound the window down. "Are you just going to sit there all day?" I managed to look suitably affronted. "I'd appreciate it if you don't tell me how to do my job, Miss Sternwood, and I'll do the same for you. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll pay your neighbour a visit." She stood back as I opened the car door and looked as if she was about to say something. She thought better of it and with a last angry look over her shoulder retreated inside her faux-baronial front door. I stood by the car for a few seconds, took a deep breath and approached Molloy's front door. There was a knocker shaped like the head of a deer, complete with a full set of antlers on it. I grabbed its nose, lifted it and knocked. After an age, I heard a shuffling inside the house, then locks being unlocked. The door opened slowly. Instead of the monster I'd been expecting, I was face to face with an elderly gent dressed in grey flannels and a beige cardigan. He was wearing a tie. "Yes? Can I help you?" He sounded even older than he looked. "Mr Molloy? My name's Wilsson. I'm here about the work you've been doing at the back of your house. The deck. And the hedge." I held out my ID. The old guy looked confused. "My name isn't Molloy, it's Meade, Bernard Meade." He studied my ID, held out a knarled, twisted hand. "Pleased to meet you, Mr Wilson. What's all this about a hedge and my deck? I checked with the planning department before I had the deck installed. By all means come in and inspect it" He motioned me to follow him and shuffled back into the house. He spoke over his shoulder about how convenient the new deck was, with his arthritis being what it was, as we made our way through the lounge and out the french windows on to a new wooden deck. At the end of it there were two steps leading down into the garden. I could see right away that it was permitted development. He didn't need anyone's say-so. "I'm extremely sorry to have bothered you, Mr Meade. When I get a complaint, I have to follow it up, I'm sure you understand."     He blinked at me through bottle-glass spectacles. We were the same height. A rare occurrence. "That's quite all right, young man, we all have our jobs to do." Outside the house, I squared my shoulders. Now for the dame that pointed the finger in the first place. She answered the door at the first knock, must have seen me come out of Meade's place. "I'm afraid there's nothing I can do, Miss Sternwood. The deck's permitted development." She looked annoyed. "Why do you keep calling me Sternwood? My name is Knox, Dorothy Knox. As you well know. I told you when I spoke to you yesterday. I even gave you my card. And as for there being nothing you can do - well, there's something I can do; I'm going to complain to your manager. Goodbye." The door slammed in my face. She still had sass, but I liked it a lot less now. When I got back there was a note on my desk. It was from the boss. He wanted to see me. "Another complaint, Norman. Why do I get so many about you? Nobody else in Marlow District Council gets as many." He sighed. "You used to be our best Planning Investigator, but now, well, you seem to live in a fantasy world. And your output is less than half of anyone else in the team. Time for another chat about your future I think, And we'll need to have HR involved this time." Back at my desk, I stared out of the window at the mean streets of Marlow. It was a tough world all right, and I had a sneaking feeling that it was just about to get a whole lot tougher. But you know what they say, when the going gets tough, the tough turn pro. Time to start thinking about the long goodbye.    
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The Passenger (posted on: 11-07-14)
For the prose challenge. I know it doesn't stick precisely to the brief, but events kind of took over.

She was the passenger, and she saw everything. She rode the city buses from morning until night, and she saw the arguments, the tendernesses, the people who were kind to others, and those who were not. She saw rows, reconciliations, fights, sometimes the result of an accident. Only a month ago she had seen two policemen arresting a young man, holding him face down on the dirty pavement, one with a knee on his back, fastening handcuffs round his wrists, the other holding his legs. Then the bus moved on. She had no interest in what happened to the young man. She had seen, and she moved on, watching from her window.     That morning she had left home early, making sure her cat, Billy, had enough food for the day, and set off, wearing what she thought of as her invisible coat. The coat was shapeless, a mid-brown, indeterminate colour, and its folds gathered around her when she sat in her usual place in the bus, half way down on the left side, where she could see the driver, and whoever came in the door at the front. Close enough, but not too close. But there was someone else in her seat, so she was sitting a row further back than she liked. When she saw the man sitting in her seat she hesitated. The seat in front of him and the seat behind were both empty. She chose the seat behind; she didn't want to feel his eyes looking at her, judging her. And, she thought, as she sat looking resentfully at his greasy hair, when he gets up I can move into his seat. My seat. But then she decided she wouldn't do that; she didn't want the driver to see her get up and sit down again. He would notice. He would think that was strange. The bus continued its jerky journey through the city's rush hour, an enormous red snail, its shell filled with strangers. By about half past eight they had reached Hackney Road and there was standing room only. The man in 'her' seat, and the other occupant of the seat, both left at the same stop. A man and woman, about the same age as she was, took their chance and slid into the seat. As soon as they sat down they continued a firefight that had clearly been burning for some time. They kept their voices low, but their tones left the passenger in no doubt that they were engaged in a bitter battle of wills. She didn't try to listen but heard the word ''cat''. The man was clearly in the wrong; cats are essentially feminine and relate better to women than men. Women are calmer and less prone to fits of irrational behaviour. And sudden movements. The passenger disliked sudden movements intensely and knew, with utter certainty, that this was a feminine trait. Her mind wandered again, and she resumed her window vigil. She was aware of the woman in front of her getting off, leaving the man alone in her seat. She glared balefully at the back of his male chauvinistic head. His hair wasn't as greasy as the original seat thief, and it was cut fashionably short. She wondered what he did for a living, and whether he and the woman he'd been arguing with were happy. I could make you happy, she thought. But could you do the same for me? She doubted it; her standards were particular, and very high. She doubted if anyone could make her happy, apart from her cat. And it was already established that this man didn't like cats. The bus was just drawing away from a traffic light when there was strange sound from the upper floor, a sort of crumpling noise, very loud, but somehow soft at the same time. She had never heard anything quite like it. The bus stopped with a jerk and she was thrown violently forward; she tried to stop herself by grabbing the seat in front but she wasn't quick enough and she ended up head-butting fashionable haircut's head. She sat back and saw, to her amazement, stars circling in front of her, as if she were in a cartoon and had just been hit by a frying pan. Her forehead felt as if it had been split open. Beside her, the window had shattered and she was covered in tiny shards of glass. Then she became aware of all the shouting. The driver was on his feet, red-faced, bawling at everyone to get out. He seemed to be shouting the word 'bomb' over and over, but sounds seemed to be far away, as if someone had stuffed her ears with cotton wool. Everyone was scrabbling to escape, and she could hear someone screaming. The man in front of her, hand on the back of his head, half-turned as he rose from his seat. ''You ok?'' he asked her. He was stunningly good looking. She felt a strange tug inside her, of attraction perhaps? She wasn't sure, never having felt an emotion like it before. This was quite the day for new experiences. She mumbled something and made to get up, but had to grab the handrail when she did, as a wave of nausea hit her and her legs, which seemed all of a sudden to be made of rubber, nearly gave way. Handsome was at her side in a flash, arm round her waist, other hand on her arm. ''Come on, let's get you out of here'' he said, and together they made a crab-like escape from the bus, which by now was filling with an acrid smelling smoke. ''Let's get you sat down. Away from the bus.'' He had a nice voice, and his arm was steady as a rock. Strong too, she thought, and an image of his arms holding her in quite another context flashed into her mind. Embarrassed by her inner thoughts, she said nothing, and let herself be guided to the side of the road, where a crowd had gathered. The young man cleared a space on the pavement near a tree – its leaves were impossibly green, as if what had just happened wasn't real – and lowered her gently to the ground. He sat down beside her, searched his pockets and brought out a paper handkerchief, which he pressed on her forehead. It was only then that she became aware of the blood trickling down her cheek, and she winced slightly. ''Sorry, didn't mean to hurt you.'' He was considerate too! Perhaps he wasn't the guilty party in the row he'd been having. She put her hand to the handkerchief; their fingers touched momentarily as he withdrew his hand. She looked straight at him. His eyes were a light hazel colour. ''Do you like cats?'' He looked surprised. ''I love cats. What on earth made you ask that?'' She didn't speak, but a tiny smile flitted across her face. ''You heard us arguing! Course you did, you were right behind us. Well, if you must know, the old cat we look after is on his last legs, and we can't agree about whether to keep paying the vet's bills. Can't believe we're talking about this.'' She leaned her back against the tree and gazed at the scene of chaos in front of her. A few policemen had arrived, and were clearing the spectators away. The roof of the bus had been peeled back as if a giant had been on the hunt for a snack. All around, people were sitting like her, or wandering randomly. Some were obviously wounded, many had torn clothes and blood on their faces. Everyone looked shocked. It was eerily quiet, and she felt strange: cut off from the noise and confusion around her. Handsome sat on the ground beside her, as silent as she was. She was suddenly aware of a man squatting down in front of her, gently lifting the sodden handkerchief from her forehead. ''It's ok, I'm a doctor. Let's have a look at that head.'' He patted the wound with a piece of gauze, produced a small aerosol from his bag, held a hand across her eyes as he sprayed something at her. He peeled a large square piece of something from its backing paper and gently placed it on her head. He said something to Handsome, then stood up and was gone, no doubt to make use of his little spray on some other victim. She'd wanted to be a doctor once, long ago, when the world seemed to be full of possibilities. Before life got in the way. ''Shit, I need to call my wife.'' Handsome was searching through his pockets. ''My phone. I was holding it when.. I suppose it's gone now. Good reason to put in the claim form though.'' She fumbled through her bag, which she always carried, terrorist incidents notwithstanding. ''Use mine.'' He took the small flat piece of plastic, looked wonderingly at it. ''My god, a clamshell. Haven't seen one of these in years. Didn't know you could still get them.'' She didn't bother to respond; she'd had the phone forever, and never saw any reason to change it. Having a modern antique instead of a smartphone appealed to her sense of dislocation with the world. Handsome was talking now, into her phone, in a low urgent voice. She heard the odd word – ''…not mine, mine's in the bus somewhere, it's someone who was sitting behind me. She nutted me in the back of the head. No, I'm ok, so lucky, you should see this place…'' she tuned out, resumed her surveillance of the scene in front of her. Now someone was grabbing her arm, pulling at her to get up. A woman in a green uniform. ''Come on, the doc says you might have concussion, let's get you to the hospital, get you checked out.'' She let herself be guided to an ambulance a few metres away, up the step and into a seat. As the door was closing, a hand stopped it, she heard a voice say "I just need to give her her phone back", and her bus buddy was at the door, handing the phone to her. "Look after yourself" he said, and then he was gone. Then the green woman was back at the door, with another couple of walking wounded. She got all three of them buckled in, then they were away. She was a passenger again. Reality had twisted, the world had changed, suddenly, horribly, and there she was, back at her window, watching. She wondered when she'd get back to her cat.                             
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Pirates (version 2) (posted on: 16-05-14)
A rewrite of a story submitted for the recent prose challenge, following some helpful comments. I'd appreciate further comments/critique. Two tales, many similarities. Cornwall 300 years ago and Somalia today. Desperate times lead to desperate measures.

Cornwall, 1769 My name is Tom Penrose, and I'm just about to die, I know it. We're heading for the wreck of a Spanish ship, the Infanta, rumoured to be carrying gold coin, and we're being tossed about like a cork from a bottle. My brother Cam and I holding on to the sides of this little boat for dear life. Albert's at the helm, using his weight and strength to keep us from being dashed to pieces on the rocks. Just when I'm sure we're going under, we slide into a stretch of relatively smooth water in the lee of the big rocks and the wreck itself, and Will, at the prow, slings a rope around a spar jutting from the wreck. Cam immediately swarms like a monkey up the side of the wreck. He and I were miners, until we got banned because of 'agitation'. When old man Trevethick, the owner, cut our hours and therefore our wages, we complained louder than the rest. So we're agitators, unable to find work in any mine in Cornwall. Somalia 2012 My name is Nubaarak. I am a farmer, but the drought has killed all of my cows, the last one died last week. So we will starve, unless I can find some other work. My cousin Amiir has a boat, and I know what he and his crew do, but I am desperate. I pleaded with him, begged, so I find myself, this clear, bright, windy morning setting out to sea. We are five: me, Amiir, Cali, Najib, and Samir. The others don't say much, but Amiir has told me that Samir wants to be the captain, and I can see that he isn't happy with me being here. Samir is a big man, tall, with a hard face, older than the others. He has a scar that runs up the side of his face from his jaw to his hairline. He casts angry glances at me and I know he will be waiting for me to make a mistake. So I must try hard not to make any. We're in Albert Teague's boat; Albert is built like those rocks that did for the Infanta, pure granite, through and through, and nobody knows the tides and currents round here better than him. Like most Mousehole fishermen, he and Will spend as much time smuggling as fishing, and when they hear of a big catch like the Infanta they give us the chance to be in on it. So we're 'wreckers', plundering the wrecks of the ships broken on the rocks around the Lizard. We are heading north, going fast, fresh spray in our faces. It feels good. I know what we're here for: we've been told about a yacht a few miles out that we are to find and bring back to the village. I have been given a gun; it is old and heavy and its barrel is marked with patches of rust. I have been told how to switch a thing called the safety and how to fire, although I have not had a chance to try it yet. It makes me feel powerful, but afraid at the same time. Cam's calling me to follow him. I scramble up as best I can, and find myself on a sloping deck, with what looks like piles of rags stuffed away in odd places. I see a foot sticking out from one of them. I look around for Cam as Will appears over the side and grabs my arm. "Come on, don't stand gawping, let's get what we came for and get out of here." A shout from Najib. He points forwards, and to the right. Amiir points the boat in that direction, and the others take up their guns and crouch near the front of the boat, their eyes fixed on a dot on the horizon. The dot grows, becomes a vertical line above a blob, becomes a boat with a mast, becomes a yacht. Soon I can see people on board, looking back at us. When we get close, within shouting distance, Amiir throttles back and the boat starts going up and down; I immediately start to feel sick. I hope I don't throw up over the side, that would please Samir very much. We head for the cabins and wheelhouse at the stern, but before we reach the door, Cam staggers out backwards, his legs stiff. A dark-skinned man with long black hair follows him out, sees us and stops, his eyes wide. In his right hand a long, cruel looking dagger. I see its blade is dark with what looks like blood. I shout and start towards Cam; both of his hands are pressed to his stomach and covered in thick dark blood. I'm aware of a blur past my right side as Will thumps the Spaniard with a long boathook, and the devil falls back into the doorway with a thud like a sack of spuds. Amiir speaks English; he shouts to the boat. One of the people on board shouts something back. Amiir looks angry, and we move forward slowly. ''He says they have guns. Be ready.'' he says. The others raise their own guns, so I do the same. My hands are slick with sweat and I am afraid. A single shot from the boat. The bullet comes nowhere near us. Samir puts his gun to his shoulder and fires a quick burst. The figures disappear. I don't think they were hit, as they prove by shooting back at us. This time I see a splash, quite near. I instinctively crouch lower, but Samir notices and sneers, so I raise myself up again, hold my gun up and squeeze the trigger. Nothing happens. Embarrassed, I fumble with the little catch I was shown and try again. A thundering roar, the gun jerks itself upwards as if trying to escape my grasp. My bullets fly over the yacht and out to sea. I imagine them falling through the water, past startled fishes. "Quick, with me" shouts Will, and together we lift Cam bodily and shuffle to the side of the wreck. Our boat lies below, with Albert staring up. He doesn't bat an eyelid at the picture he sees, just hold his arms aloft. "Pass him down to me, quickly." he shouts. We manhandle the awkward bundle over the side, almost lose him to the waves when my foot slips, but then a heave from Will and he's safe in Albert's hands. Will vaults over the side and I follow as quickly as I can. I land in the boat to hear Will tell Albert what happened. "I got him on the side of the head with the boathook, but he might be still alive, and there could be others. We need to get away." ''Hold your fire Nubaarak'' says Amiir, attention fixed on the yacht. He pushes the throttle a little and we move closer, all of us watching for movement. Amiir gives a sign and Cali stands upright and fires his gun, a long burst, towards the yacht. Another sign and he stops, crouches back down. After the noise of the gun the silence seems deafening. Amiir stands up and shouts something towards the boat, and I see a dark shape appear near the back of the yacht. I'm squinting, trying to make it out, when it spouts flame and there's a noise like a swarm of bees, and a clatter as bullets strike our boat. Everyone ducks down, and I make myself as flat as I can on the wet floorboards. Without a word Albert takes the tiller and Will cuts the rope at the bow and pushes us off. He grabs a long oar and together they maneuver us away from the wreck, back into the choppy waves. I kneel down in the middle of the boat with Cam. He looks at me with terrified, wide eyes. I have a look at the wound in his stomach. It's not a long gash, but it could be deep and I strip off my shirt, bundle it up and press it to the wound. I hold it there for what seems like an eternity while the lugger pitches wildly in the swell, with Cam groaning in pain as he slides from side to side in dirty water on the floor of the boat. I'm dimly aware of Albert and Will straining before and aft, and the occasional warning shout from one to the other when we get close to a rock. The boat's engines roar and we pitch on our side in a sharp turn. We're travelling fast again, away from the yacht. Samir is at the wheel. Confused, I look for Amiir and see that he's lying on his back in a pool of water, Cali and Najib crouching over him. I scramble over to him, and realise that what he's lying in is blood. I lift his shirt, and see a ragged hole in his stomach, with dark blood pumping out of it. Quickly I rip off my own shirt and press it over the hole. Anything to stop the blood. After an age the motion of the boat calms and I peek over the edge to see that we're in a sheltered cove and we're safe, for the time being. Will leaves his post at the bow and tenderly lifts my sodden shirt from Cam's stomach. No more blood. I stare dumbly; I know what that means. Will looks at me, his face drawn and pale. "I'm so sorry, Tom." I sit back, all feeling gone, as Albert holds his face close to Cam's mouth, trying to feel for a breath. He puts his fingers to the side of his neck, then on his chest, then sits back. "He's dead Tom." The little boat bounces over the waves as we speed back to the shore. I press downwards with all my might, the others watching, saying nothing. When we get close enough to the shore to make out the figures standing there, waiting, Samir calls out for them to fetch the nurse from the next village. Amiir's skin has taken a grey hue now, and his breathing sounds laboured. The boat runs aground on the shingle and willing hands lift my cousin from the boat and carry him into a nearby hut. I do my best to follow, but Samir blocks the doorway. "This is our business now, Nubaarak, go back to your farm." He is a full head taller than me. I look up and see hatred - and something else, triumph - in his eyes. He snatches the gun from my hand and closes the door in my face. Utterly defeated, I turn away. Together we sit silently in the little boat. It rises and falls in the swell. I bow my head over my brother, and say a silent prayer. Will and Albert do likewise, Albert placing a hand on my left shoulder, Will placing one on my right. I take strength from their strength. "Can we get to the shore, Albert? I'd like to bury my brother.
Archived comments for Pirates (version 2)
OldPeculier on 16-05-2014
Pirates (version 2)
Many times better like this, I think. Loads more momentum. Well done you for taking the trouble to re-write.

Author's Reply:
Thanks. I thinkl it reads better too. There are few things that can't be improved!

Mikeverdi on 22-05-2014
Pirates (version 2)
Like it, the stories intertwine well. Sometimes things are worth the trouble, this was one of them.
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike. A rewrite doesn't always work, but I was pleased with this one.

Ross


Pirates (posted on: 12-05-14)
For the prose challenge, albeit stretching the 'team' theme a tad. On a holiday in Cornwall recently I was struck by the similarities between the piracy situation that exists in Somalia and the 'wreckers' that plundered the ships that foundered on the rocks around Lands End and the Lizard Peninsula hundreds of years ago.

Cornwall, 1769
We were all going to die, I knew it. We were heading for the wreck of a Spanish ship, the Infanta, rumoured to be carrying gold coin, and we were being tossed about like a cork from a bottle with Cam and I holding on for dear life. The little lugger we were in wasn't really up to the heavy sea, but we knew the wreck would be swarming with wreckers, or worse, excisemen, before long, so we were taking a chance. Albert was at the helm, using his weight and strength to keep us from being dashed to pieces on the rocks. Just when I was sure we were going under, we slid into a stretch of relatively smooth water in the lee of the big rocks and the wreck itself, and Will, at the prow, slung a rope around a spar jutting from the wreck. But I get ahead of myself. My name is Tom Penrose. Like my brother Cam, who is at this moment swarming like a monkey over the side of the wreck, I was a miner, until we both got banned because of 'agitation'. When old man Trevethick, the owner, cut our hours and therefore our wages, we complained louder than the rest. So we were agitators, and we couldn't work the mines any more. We were in Albert Teague's boat; Albert is built like those rocks that did for the Infanta, pure granite, through and through. Nobody knows the tides and currents round here better than him, that's what kept us alive, I reckon. He and Will Wright have both fallen on hard times too, on account of the downturn in the price of pilchards at the market. Like most Mousehole fishermen, the two of them spend as much time smuggling as fishing, and when they hear of a big catch like the Infanta they give us the chance to be in on it. So we were all four of us 'wreckers', plundering the wrecks of the ships broken on the rocks around the Lizard. But now Cam's on the deck, and calling for me to follow. I scramble up as best I can, and find myself on a huge expanse of sloping, soaking wet deck, with holes here and there, and what looks like piles of rags stuffed away in odd places. I see a naked foot sticking out from one of them. I look around for Cam as Will appears over the side and grabs my arm. "Come on, don't stand gawping, let's get what we came for and get out of here." We head for the cabin and wheelhouse at the stern, but before we reach the door, Cam staggers out, walking backwards, his legs stiff. The reason soon becomes clear - a dark-skinned man with long black hair follows him out, sees us and stops, his eyes wide. In his right hand a long, cruel looking dagger. With a shock I see its blade is dark with what looks like blood. I shout and start towards Cam; I can see he's holding his stomach, both hands covered in thick dark blood. As I grab my brother I'm aware of a blurred movement to my right. Will has thumped the Spaniard with a long boathook, and the devil falls back through the doorway with a thud like a sack of spuds. "Quick, with me" shouts Will, and together we lift Cam bodily and shuffle as quickly as we can to the side. Our boat lies below, with Albert staring up. He doesn't bat an eyelid at the picture he sees, just hold his arms aloft. "Pass him down to me, quickly." he shouts. We manhandle the awkward bundle over the side, almost lose him to the waves when my foot slips, but then a heave from Will and he's safe in Albert's hands. Will vaults over the side and I follow as quickly as I can. I land in the boat to hear Will tell Albert what happened. "I got him on the side of the head with the boathook, but he might be still alive, and there could be others. We need to get away." Without a word Albert takes the tiller and Will cuts the rope at the bow and pushes us off. Then he grabs a long oar and together the two of them manage - don't ask me how - to maneuver us away from the wreck, back into the choppy waves. I squat down in the middle of the boat and try to keep Cam alive. He's conscious, and looks at me with terrified, wide eyes. "Don't you worry, we'll get you back to the shore and get that little scratch sorted." He says nothing, and I have a look at the 'little scratch'. It's not a long gash, but it could be deep and I'm scared, more scared than I've ever been. I strip off my shirt, bundle it up and press it to the wound, and hold it there for what seems like an eternity while the storm rages around us and the lugger pitches wildly, with Cam groaning in pain as he slides from side to side in the dirty water on the floor of the boat. I'm dimly aware of Albert and Will straining before and aft, and the occasional warning shout from one to the other when we get close to a rock. After an age the motion of the boat calms and I peek over the edge to see a calm expanse of water at the foot of a sheer cliff; we're in a sheltered cove and we're safe, for the time being. Will leaves his post at the bow and tenderly lifts the sodden shirt from Cam's stomach. No more blood. I stare dumbly; I know what that means. Will looks at me, his face drawn and pale. "I'm so sorry, Tom." I sit back, all feeling gone, as Albert holds his face close to Cam's mouth, trying to feel for a breath. He puts his fingers to the side of his neck, then on his chest, then sits back. "He's dead Tom." Together we sit silently in the little boat. It rises and falls in the swell. I bow my head over my brother, and say a silent prayer. Will and Albert do likewise, Albert placing a hand on my left shoulder, Will placing one on my right. I take strength from their strength. "Can we get to the shore, Albert? I'd like to bury my brother"
Somalia, 2012
My name is Nubaarak. My cousin Amiir came to my mother's house late last night and spoke to my mother about me helping him on his boat. So I find myself, this clear, bright, windy morning setting out to sea. We are five: me, Amiir, Cali, Najib, and Samir. The others don't say much, but I already know that Samir, who Amiir has already told me wants to be the captain, isn't happy with me being here. Samir is a big man, tall, with a hard face, older than the others. He has a scar that runs up the side of his face from his jaw to his hairline. He looked displeased when Amiir introduced me, and took Amiir to the side to speak to him privately. I heard the muttered words 'my cousin' and 'you promised'. Amiir grew impatient with him then and told him, loudly enough for us all to hear, that he was the captain and he decided on the crew. So now I have an enemy. Samir casts angry glances at me and I know he will be waiting for me to make a mistake. So I must try hard not to make any. We are heading north, going fast, the boat bouncing over the waves and fresh spray in our faces. It feels good. I know what we're here for: we've been told about a yacht a few miles out and we are to find it and bring it back to the village. We are not to harm the people in the yacht unless we have to. How they know where the yacht is I have no idea. Neither do I know what will happen to the yacht, or the people, when we bring them back to the shore, although I suspect they will be held hostage for money. I know that we will get money when we bring the boat back. I hope there will be enough for me to buy a cow, then this will have been worthwhile. We have nothing in our village. No money, little food and little hope of getting any. But we have been given guns, and bullets for the guns by the people who want the yacht. The gun I have been given is old and heavy and its barrel is marked with patches of rust. I have been told how to switch a thing called the safety and how to fire it, although I have not had a chance to try it yet. It makes me feel powerful, but afraid, at the same time. The others are fishermen, like Amiir. They are used to the water and know how to navigate. I am not; my father was a farmer and all my life I have worked on the land, with cattle. Perhaps that too is why Samir is angry that I am here. Perhaps he feels I am not fit to be part of the crew. He could be right. I cannot even swim. So I am holding on to the side of the boat as if my life depends on it, which it does. The sea stretches out in every direction. The shore is a smudgy line on the horizon far behind us. Then a shout from Cali. He points forwards, and to the right. Amiir points the boat in that direction, and the others take up their guns and crouch near the front of the boat, their eyes fixed on the dot which even I can see now. The dot grows, becomes a vertical line above a blob, becomes a boat with a mast, becomes a yacht. Soon I can see people on board, looking back at us. I see only two people, and I am glad. Surely they will give up when they see there are five of us. When we get close, within shouting distance, Amiir throttles back and the boat starts going up and down much more, and I immediately start to feel sick. I hope I don't throw up over the side, that would please Samir very much. Amiir speaks English. He shouts something to the boat. One of the people on board, a man, shouts something back. Amiir looks angry, and we move forward slowly, towards the yacht. ''He says they have guns. Be ready'' he says. The others raise their own guns, so I do the same. My heart is thudding so loud I think they can probably hear it on the yacht. My hands are slick with sweat and I am afraid. A single shot from the boat. The bullet comes nowhere near us, they must be trying to scare us. It scares me, but the others just look more determined. Samir puts his gun to his shoulder and shoots at the boat. The figures disappear. I don't think they were hit, as they prove very quickly by shooting back at us. I see a splash of water off to the right, perhaps 100 metres away. This time they're trying to hit us. I try to crouch lower, but Samir notices and sneers, so I raise myself up again, hold my gun up and squeeze the trigger. Nothing happens. Embarrassed, I fumble with the little catch I was shown and try again. A thundering roar, the gun jerks itself upwards as if trying to escape my grasp. My bullets fly over the yacht and pass harmlessly out to sea. I imagine them falling through the water, past startled fishes. ''Hold your fire'' says Amiir to me, attention fixed on the yacht. We move closer, cautiously, all of us watching the yacht for movement. Amiir gives a sign and Cali stands upright and fires his gun, a long burst, towards the yacht. Amiir holds his hand up again and Cali stops firing, crouches back down. After the noise of the gun the silence seems deafening. Amiir stands up and shouts something towards the boat, which is now close enough for us to see a dark shape appear near the back of the yacht. I'm squinting, trying to make it out, when it spouts flame and there's a noise like a swarm of bees, and a metallic clatter as bullets strike our boat. Everyone ducks down, and I make myself as flat as I can on the wet floorboards. I'm aware of the boat moving again and cautiously peek over the side. We're travelling fast again, but we're going away from the yacht. And Samir is at the wheel. With a shock I see that Cali and Najib are crouched over Amiir, who is lying on his back in a pool of water. When I reach him I realise that what he's lying in is blood. There is a lot of blood, far too much. Cali is lifting Amiir's t-shirt, and I see ragged hole in his stomach, with dark, dark blood pumping out of it. With a cry I rip off my own shirt and press it over the hole. Anything to stop the blood. The little boat bounces over the waves as we speed back to the shore, to our home. I press downwards with all my might, the others watching, saying nothing. When we get close enough to the shore to make out the figures standing there, waiting, Samir calls out, shouting for them to fetch the nurse from the next village. But I think it's too late. My cousin is dead, I can feel it. I lift the blood-soaked shirt from his stomach. No more blood is coming out. I think there is none left, the bottom of the boat seems to be filled with it. I look up at Samir. He looks back, his face grave, the scar a bright, livid red. "We don't need the nurse, Samir, we need a shroud."                
Archived comments for Pirates
sirat on 12-05-2014
Pirates
An interesting idea to present two parallel stories, and the action sequences were well handled in both cases. My only suggestions for possible improvement would be to shorten both introductions, especially the first one. The first three paragraphs of the first story could easily become one and it would get us into the action more quickly. All we need to know is that this is The Lizard, these people have lost their jobs and they're here for what they can get. My other suggestion would be that instead of a linear structure – one story followed by the other – it might be better to interweave the two, with switches from one to the other at crucial moments. This would be a good device for keeping up the tension and would make the parallels even more clear. As written we lose the tension and sense of anticipation in the second story because we know (from the first one) how it's going to pan out.

I thought it was a good and unusual subject and enjoyed the read.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind comments David. I actually tried it as a single story with alternating paras from the different participants, but it got a bit confusing. I take your point about the opening to the Cornwall part though; might well go in for an edit.

Ross

bluepootle on 12-05-2014
Pirates
I certainly got a sense of the wildness and danger of the waves, and you summoned up the west country for me, with part one.

There were elements (in part one) I found confusing. The first paragraph, with the quartz stone - I had to read it a few times. The fact that Tom is surprised to find people on the boat, dead or alive - somebody had to have been on it, so there would have been bodies in the water or on the wreckage of the boat. So then his surprise made me think that maybe this was their first time, but that wasn't made clear.

Part Two - I felt this was clearer in exposition and I like the parallels you draw between part one and part two. I felt it could have used more depth. Samir comes across as a bit flat as a character (I felt more for Tom and his desperation).

Overall, I like the way you stress that piracy is born of desperation in both of these stories, but perhaps it's a big ask to make the characters really come to life in such short stories. For me, I enjoyed part one for atmosphere and part two for clarity.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind comments Aliya. Having re-read the first few paragraphs after David's comments, I agree they could be improved, and I think I'll have a go at that. And you're right about the shock on seeing a body; as a seasoned wrecker he wouldn't really be that surprised.

What are the chances that two thirds of the entries to the challenge would have involved Cornwall?

Ross

OldPeculier on 12-05-2014
Pirates
Rab,

having spent many hours in a small boat off the Cornish coast myself, I think you capture the fearsome nature of the place well and I like the way that the narrators are both somewhat reluclant participants.

I think that as Sirat says, this could be written as one story, told by two narrators seperated by two hundred years and thousands of miles. But having said that it works as it is.

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 12-05-2014
Pirates
I'm not going to repeat what others have said. Overall this is clear and well told, characters are good, credible. But I found, as separate stories, that neither reached a particularly effective ending: Blokes board ship (or try) and one gets killed, end of.



However, I think David's suggestion would transform the whole thing, throwing the interest into the parallel stories rather than a serial one. Much more interesting and rewarding for a reader.



One slight niggle. In your first story, I got swamped by 'wreck' and 'wrecker' - far far too many instances and too noticeable. I think you can cut out at least 50% if not more. 'Deck' also and 'Mother' in the second. 'My cousin Amiir came to my mother’s house last night and spoke about me helping him on his boat.'



see? - I call this 'classical completion', it pads out words and cotton wools up the reader. eg. He went out, closing the door (behind him). 'Give it to me!' he barked, and she handed it over (to him) .... words not needed in brackets ....

Grammatically correct, but not snappy reading.





Pare down your words. Keep the meaning, but the sharper you write, with fewer words for the same meaning, the more the reader will respond and appreciate.



eg 'But now Cam's on deck, calling for me to follow. I scramble up and find myself on the huge, sloping, soaking wet expanse.' (too many adjectives here anyway! huge, sloping, soaking wet ... get rid of one or two :-))



Anyway, minor niggles. Overall a successful write, I would say.



Author's Reply:

TheBigBadG on 13-05-2014
Pirates
And now I have the dubious privilege of trying to say something useful this late into the conversation. I think it's mostly been covered but just to offer another angle on improvements, if you want to keep the structure as it is, I'd suggest a bit of variation between the two stories. As it is they echo each other almost exactly which means there's no payoff at the end of the second section. Sirat's solution would work, absolutely, allowing you to weave the two into a shared denouement. The alternative is to keep them separate but have the narratives diverge in certain ways. Maybe take the reader sympathy away from one character at the last, maybe the death isn't quite the tragedy it appears. Could be anything really.

Anyway, just some thoughts - I think it does need a bit of re-arranging but the writing is good as it the concept. A little bit of TLC and you've got something.

Author's Reply:


Do You Believe In Magic? (Part One) (posted on: 04-04-14)
It's the summer of 1978, and a very young 18 year old is driving his clapped out 1968 Vauxhall Viva home for the summer holidays. Some of it is true.

Do you believe in magic?
It was the end of the summer term and I was on my way home. I was about an hour into my journey in my old Vauxhall Viva (and I mean old; it was an F reg, with the F at the end of the number). It was sunny and warm and the window was down. The radio was playing, and a song by the Lovin' Spoonful came on: Do You Believe In Magic?, made about the same time as the car. They told me that they would tell me about the magic, that it would free my soul and that it was "like trying to tell a stranger 'bout rock and roll". And when they did, that's when I saw one of these brown touristy signs, pointing towards something called The Rollright Stones. "It's a sign" I said, and chuckling at my wilde-like wit, swung the old car in the direction indicated. The road was narrow, and bounded by fields to either side. After about a mile I came to another sign, this one announcing that I was entering Little Rollright. Little was the word; an apposite description of a hamlet which would struggle to be termed a village. The short High Street (at least I assumed it was the high street; it was too small to have a name) had a pub on the right hand side and a short terrace of mean looking cottages on the left. There was a dog lying in the road. It was a large dog, and it pretty much filled the carriageway. I stopped the car and waited for it to move. It didn't. Perhaps it's dead, I thought. There was nobody else around, and for a second I thought of just driving on, over the dog if necessary. But my innate liking for dogs, and the fact that anyone could be watching from behind a net curtain, stopped me. That and the fact that I wasn't at all certain that the car would make it over the dog; an image jumped into my mind of my car, hopelessly enmired in dead dog, with me sitting behind the wheel as pitchfork-waving locals shouted at me threateningly. So I got out and inspected the dog more closely. It raised its head and looked at me with one ear cocked. Not dead then. ''Come on, boy, up you get. I need to get past.'' The lazy beast treated this feeble plea with the contempt which it no doubt deserved and laid his head back down, with a bit of a thud, on to the dusty road. It was hot, and the dog's tongue lolled out of the corner of its mouth. ''Why don't you move over there, under that tree,'' I suggested, pointing to a large oak tree next to the pub. Even such a reasonable request didn't prompt any reaction. I stood, hands on hips, and looked around. Nobody stirred in the summer heat. I could have been in a post-apocalyptic world, the only survivor of a deadly plague apart from Champion the Wonder Dog. I could always go round him, I thought. I inspected the road boundaries. The pavement on the left was a good six inches above the road surface, and the gutters had seen better days, probably around 1860 or so. I was by no means certain that the car would survive such a manoeuvre. There was a grass bank on the other side, separating the road from the pub car park. I was stuck. Feeling more than slightly embarrassed by the situation, I got back into the car, reversed to the side of the road and waited. Perhaps if another car comes along… Ten minutes later, I decided it was possible that I was going to be the only wheeled vehicle passing this way for some time. Perhaps the Rollright Stones weren't quite the tourist attraction that I had expected. It was now 12 o'clock. The pub looked inviting. There would probably be a beer garden at the back. I was thirsty. Decision made, I backed into the car park and abandoned it on the broken tarmac. Inside, it was a typical village pub: stone floor, dark wood everywhere, tiny windows ensuring that the weary traveller had to stand in the doorway for a few minutes until his eyes adjusted to the gloom, giving the locals the necessary time to adjust to the presence of a non-local in their midst, and take appropriate measures. In this case, the only customer, an old chap slumped at a table in the corner, looked up briefly then returned his gaze to his pint. The barman, a tall, thin man with a bald head that gleamed like polished marble, watched me without expression as I approached the bar. ''A pint of…that please'' I said, pointing to a pump with a label that I didn't recognise. Something to do with Ferrets. ''And do you do food?'' He didn't respond, just pulled the pump to release the brown, foamy liquid. He placed the glass in a puddle of stale beer on the counter and held out a bony hand. ''62p.'' I handed over a pound note, which he placed in an ancient till. ''I'll ask Doreen to bring you a menu'' he said as he gave me my change. I wanted to ask whether there was a beer garden, but couldn't muster up the courage, so sat down meekly at a table near the window. The barman watched me sit down and then turned his attention to a newspaper spread open on the bar. He showed no signs of asking Doreen about anything. The pint, however, was excellent; hoppy and full of taste, and I was enjoying it so much that I had quite forgotten about my request for food, when I became aware of someone standing beside me. A female. More than that, a young female. And a young female that was strikingly attractive, wearing a thin t-shirt and tartan miniskirt that made sure the world could appreciate her attractiveness. Things were looking up. ''Hi,'' I said, with my best attempt at a winning smile. ''You must be Doreen.'' She looked surprised. ''My name's Jackie,'' she said. ''Who's Doreen?'' I looked over at the barman, who was reading the paper, studiously ignoring us. Jackie shrugged, obviously used to strangers talking nonsense. ''You want some food?'' she held out a grubby piece of card that said Menu at the top. ''Ooh, a ploughman's, I love ploughman's.'' I said, every inch the suave traveller. ''I'll have that please.'' ''Sweet pickle or pickled onion?'' Jackie was clearly less than impressed by my ordering skills, and looked marvellously, superbly bored. She looked beautiful when she was bored. She was a goddess. I realised I was staring at her and with an effort recalled her question. ''Pickled onion please, no, wait, make that sweet pickle.'' Didn't want the smell of onion on my breath getting in the way of my chances of romantic entanglement with the lovely Jackie, I thought, in my desperately naïve, or perhaps naïvely desperate, 18 year old mind. ''Thanks very much'' I said, my voice sounding far too high, and not as seductive as I had intended. It didn't matter; Jackie had already left so I sat back and lost myself in a very pleasant daydream, involving the two of us rolling around in a passionate clinch in the centre of a stone circle. Outside, the sun still shone and the dog still lay in the middle of the road. Inside, the stygian gloom and atmosphere of general oldness made it seem as if we were moored in the mid 1800s. The only sounds were the ticking of an unseen clock, the laboured breathing of the old chap in the corner and the occasional turning of a page of the paper the barman was reading. After about 10 minutes, I had about an inch of beer left in the bottom of my glass, and the lovely Jackie returned with my lunch. The bread was a perfect little round loaf, with what looked disquietingly like Ena Sharples' bun on the top. The large triangular wedge of cheddar was tangy and strong, and the sweet pickle was sweet, and pickley. There were three tiny tomatoes on the plate, and a single piece of lettuce, but no other annoying vegetation. It was, I decided, the perfect English pub lunch. I said a quick thanks to Jackie's retreating back, enjoying the delightful swing of her tartan miniskirt as she left the room. She turned at the door, though, and blessed me with a tiny smile. She obviously fancied me something rotten. I looked up to see the barman staring at me, in a singularly unfriendly way; he straightened, and with a last killer look in my direction stalked off to another part of the pub. The old chap in the corner wheezed loudly; I thought for a minute he was having some sort of stroke, but then realised,as the wheezing continued, that he was laughing. ''He don't like that, no he don't. That Jackie's his daughter, see. He's probably gone to warn her to steer clear. Very protective of Jackie is old Vic.'' This sudden burst of loquaciousness seemed to tire him out and he slumped back in his seat, staring at his glass. So Old Vic was warning the lovely Jackie off? My extensive knowledge of the female psyche told me that such a warning often has the opposite effect. Wahey! But now I was suddenly hungry, and I concentrated on my ploughman's. With the last sliver of cheese gone, I tipped my glass vertically to drain the final, precious drops of warm, flat beer and sat back with a contented sigh. The old chap still occupied his corner, and despite the fact that I hadn't seen him move since I came in the level of liquid in his glass had, I noticed, fallen. I considered this anomaly. Evaporation? Perhaps part of the charm of these old pubs is that the air is part oxygen, part alcohol. It was certainly peaceful in the room, and the temptation to just sit there and have another drink was almost too strong to resist. But it was getting late, and I still had many miles to go, in a car which didn't go faster than 55 miles an hour. I looked at my watch and made a quick calculation. If I drove flat out I could be home by about 10 o'clock tonight. My reverie was interrupted by someone moving my plate. I snapped back to the present, expecting to reopen a channel of communication with the lovely Jackie. No such luck. The barman scowled at me as he took my plate. ''You won't be wanting any dessert'' he said. ''Only there isn't any. That'll be £1.75 for the ploughman's.'' He didn't move, just stood looking at me until I realised this was the closest I was going to get to a bill. I fished a pocketful of change out of my pocket and sorted through it, miraculously finding I had the exact amount in a 50p, 10ps and coppers. He reluctantly took the handful of warm change and with a muttered ''I'll check it behind the bar'' sloped off. I clearly wasn't going to be favoured with a visit from Jackie. She was probably locked in a small room until I was safely off the premises, crying hot tears of unrequited love. Another broken heart in my wake. C'est la vie. A necessarily short visit to the roofless outhouse laughingly labelled 'Gents' and I was ready to go. How could something without a roof smell so bad? I had to stop when I emerged into the blazing sun of the car park, while my eyes became accustomed to daylight again. I checked to road – the dogs was gone, so I could be on my way. The car's going to be so hot, I was thinking to myself, I'll wind all the windows down and leave the doors open for a while. But then I stopped short. The windows were already down. With a sickening feeling in my gut, not entirely caused by the ploughman's, I approached, fully expecting to find the interior stripped of all my valuables, or at least my priceless collection of mix tapes. But as I got closer I could see that the opposite was true; there was more there than when I left. And the more was a person. I stopped short again, or possibly shorter. Jackie was slumped low in the passenger seat, the top of her lovely head just level with the back of the seat. A hand appeared, beckoning me forward. I stood at the driver's side door, hand on the door handle. She was awkwardly wedged into the seat well, her legs at a wonderfully revealing angle. If I just move my head a bit to the right, I thought… ''Will you get in, for fuck's sake'' came in an urgent stage whisper from the inside of the car ''and stop trying to see up my skirt.'' I did as I was told, looking back to the pub to make sure Vic The Angry Dad wasn't watching. ''What are you doing in my car?'' ''What do you think? You're the love of my life and we're eloping.'' My heart skipped several beats and then started beating double-time to catch up. ''What…where…'' I responded, with my usual rapier-sharp wit. ''Can you please start this junk-heap and get going'' she said, a threatening growl to her voice. ''I want a lift to the next village to see my boyfriend and you're the best chance that's come along today.'' My dreams evaporated,as they always did, and I started the car. ''Where to, m'lady?'' Jackie gave me the directions, and sat up and lit a fag when we were clear of the car park. ''Something smells bad in here'' she said. It was probably the bootful of washing I was taking home. ''Yeah, I've noticed that too. I've tried to find it. I think the previous owner must have spilled some milk or something.'' Gloria gave me a doubtful look, but decided to move on. She had lovely eyes, I noticed for the first time. ''You got any music?'' I reached down under my seat, where I'd stashed the most valuable thing I possessed, a portable cassette player. It was heavy, and with some effort and a bit of a wobble which nearly had us in a ditch, I passed it to Gloria. ''It's got a tape in it, just press the start." The Clash's version of Police and Thieves blasted out. Jackie winced and turned the volume down. "I've heard this, Jethro likes them" said Jackie. Jethro? Had I slipped back into the last century? ''Is that your boyfriend? Jethro? Kind of old-fashioned name.'' ''Yeah, Jethro's great. Lives on his dad's farm, but he does most of the work. His dad's taking things easier now, soon it'll all belong to Jethro.'' My dreams evaporated further, if such a thing can happen. How could I possibly compete with a farm? Just at that moment the Clash's version of Police and Thieves segued smoothly into the Junior Murvin version. It had taken me a seriously long time to get just right, bringing the second song in on the beat so that the rhythm wasn't broken, and I was more than a little pleased with the result. If I had spent as much time and effort on essays and course work that I did on creating killer mix tapes I'd have got a first. I was pleased at Jackie's initial reaction, or at least the fact that she noticed. ''What happened there then, that's not Joe Strummer.'' ''No, that's Junior Murvin, this is the original version. Great, isn't it?'' ''No, it's crap. Why's he got such a high voice? Is he a fairy?'' I was starting to get the idea that my splicing skills and musical taste weren't meeting with Jackie's full approval. ''No, he's Jamaican.'' I concentrated on driving, suddenly happy that the lovely Jackie would soon be leaving me for the grimy clutches of Farmer Jethro. We were approaching Long Compton, where Jackie was to meet tractor boy in the local pub. ''It's the Red Lion, right there'' said Jackie, pointing a perfectly shaped hand. With a heartfelt sigh I swung into the car park. A large, hairy chap wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and a happy smile, unfolded himself from a picnic table at the edge of the car park and loped across to us. His t-shirt rippled as he opened the passenger door. Even his muscles had muscles. ''Come on then girl, I got you your usual'' it said. On the table stood two pints, one half full. Jackie half turned towards me. ''Thanks for the lift. You want to stop for a drink?'' ''No thanks, got to be on my way. Nice to have met you Jackie.'' The hand I held out remained unshaken as she skipped out of the car into a bear hug from Big Farmer Jethro. The brute knocked the door closed with a fist the size of a shovel. I was clearly dismissed, and, with the car suddenly empty of visions of loveliness I made my lonely way out of the car park. With a last, lingering glance at the happy couple I turned north once again. A few miles on I realised I hadn't seen the standing stones. I stopped at a shop in the next village I came to for a bag of crisps and a toffee crisp, and switched to a tape that better suited my mood. Soon Percy Sledge was telling me all about what happens when a man loves a woman. I felt his pain. The car and I made steady progress, and by the time I got to Evesham I had moved on emotionally as well as geographically. Just as well it didn't work out, I thought. I could never have loved someone that thought Junior Murvin was homosexual because he had a higher singing voice than Joe Strummer.        
Archived comments for Do You Believe In Magic? (Part One)
Kipper on 05-04-2014
Do You Believe In Magic? (Part One)
Oh it takes you back it does (a little further than you in fact). I so remember my uncertainty at that age when confronted by a girl, especially one who I didn't know. They always seemed so sure of themselves, and often left me spluttering like your old car.
I enjoyed the read, I like your easy style and I felt that there was much to come. Perhaps we might learn your characters name, and might even meet Doreen!
Look forward to chapter two, Michael

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind comments Michael. I know exactly what you mean about girls back then, to most 18 year-old male idiots; they were so tantalising and so far ahead of us. The world belonged to them, certainly the world of adolescent sexual longing. You'll never get to meet Doreen, she might not even have existed. Chapter 2 is at the planning stage, and the epic journey north will definitely continue...

Ross

Kipper on 07-04-2014
Do You Believe In Magic? (Part One)
Hi Ross
Can't wait!
Shame about Doreen.
Not even a brief 'guest' appearance in chapter nine?
Michael

Author's Reply:
We'll just have to wait and see... who knows what the future holds?

Mikeverdi on 07-04-2014
Do You Believe In Magic? (Part One)
Ah...a road trip, brilliant! Yes it's a gentle tale, well told with all the makings. A couple of typos to sort out in the edit, they didn't stop my enjoyment. Sorry to be late with this.
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind comments as ever Mike. I've always wanted to write an epic road novel. Perhaps I will, one day...


In the Still of the Night (posted on: 31-03-14)
For the prose challenge. My wife says I snore, but I've never heard it...

It was two o'clock. The dark heart of the night. Outside the house, in the empty streets, under the yellow sodium glare, all was quiet. Inside the master bedroom of 11 Leamington Road, however, it was a different story. Leona lay on the right hand side of the king sized bed in the dark room, bloodshot eyes wide, staring at nothing. She had been awake since the first sonorous notes of Brian's nightly concerto. Brian snored. He snored when he was lying on his back, but then most people do that. He also snored when he was lying on his side; either side, he wasn't fussy. He snored all the time. Most of the time the noise was so regular that Leona could set the bedside clock by it; occasionally, however, there were krakatoa-like eruptions, snorts of such power that they even woke Brian up. Only to drop off immediately, and start snoring again. It normally started about 15 minutes after he fell asleep. If Leona was really tired and managed to drop off before the snoring began she could sometimes sleep through it, although not if he'd had a curry or a few beers, when the volume of the snores could shake the walls and once even set off George's car alarm. George lived across the road and one house down. But if, like tonight, she was awake or in that half-life state between wakefulness and slumber when it started she had no chance. Tonight Brian was on his side, facing away from her, but it didn't help. She tensed as another rasping breath was ingested, and, holding her breath for some reason, waited the four seconds until the rattling wheeze signalled the end of that particular snore. This can't go on, she thought. She considered making up a bed on the couch downstairs, but the thought of the cold hall floor, finding sheets and a quilt, and the discomfort of the couch itself quickly put paid to that idea. Normally she would have gone through to one of the other bedrooms, but with Suzy and Tom both back from uni for the holidays these options were closed to her. She let her mind wander, back to these carefree pre-children days, before Brian snored, or at least before she noticed. The days when they used to have sex when they went to bed rather than just go to sleep. Maybe that would help? She considered the possibility of reactivating their sex life, but soon dismissed it up with an inward shudder that precisely matched another wheezing exhalation. Brian wasn't the fine figure of a man that he had been when they married. Or rather he was, and then some. In one way he was twice the man he used to be. But not in a good way. His weight probably didn't help his snoring and the triple chin must be making things worse. When he lay on his back the rippling vibrations could almost be soothing, if it wasn't for the noise. The fucking noise. Alone, in the darkness, the loose window pane vibrating gently as Brian exhaled, Leona was suddenly furious. What wouldn't she do for a night of peace from this fucking, fucking racket? One quiet night. She ran through her usual fantasies. Leona's night time fantasies didn't involve moonlit beaches and handsome strangers; rather, they tended to dwell on darker pleasures. Holding a pillow over Brian's fat face until the snoring stopped was an old favourite, but lately she had begun to be a bit more creative. They had been to the pictures a few weeks ago to see The Railway Man, and the visions of Colin Firth being waterboarded by the Japanese had stayed with her, but not in that way it had stayed with the rest of the audience. If it hadn't been for the mess it would make of the sheets she would have tried it on Brian by now. She ran through the other options: a pair of his smelly socks, balled up and stuffed into his mouth; thick, extremely adhesive gaffer tape; a heavy wooden mallet; poisoned cocoa; a scorpion secreted in his pyjamas. None of them particularly appealed; they all required some effort from her, and the scorpion would probably get her too. Likewise the tarantula. She thought back to other films she had seen. Maybe he could sleep in that stuff Jabba The Hut had trapped Harrison Ford in. She wondered if she could get some at B & Q. She used to love old black and white films, like 'Double Indemnity'. If she could find someone else whose husband kept her awake all night with his snoring, surely they could come to a mutually beneficial spouse knocking-off arrangement? But that wouldn't be necessary, because just then Jimmy Cagney burst into the room in a gangster suit and pumped a few rounds from his Detective Special into Brian's sleeping form, followed by John Wayne, in his 7th cavalry gear, with his trusty Colt 45. Then Humphrey Bogart ambled in, cigarette in the corner of his mouth, inspected the now quiet body, pronounced it dead, tipped his homburg to Leona, and left. The room was quiet. The room was quiet! It took a while for it to register, so clear had her wish-dreams been. Was he dead? She felt a pang of guilt; if he'd passed on while she had been dreaming up ways to make that happen she'd never forgive herself. But at least she'd get a sleep. Cautiously, she raised herself on her right arm and peeked over the rotund mass beside her. She saw a slight movement as he breathed. Not dead then. But in the sudden silence she still couldn't sleep. It was, as someone, probably John Wayne again, had remarked once, too quiet. She was still tensed, waiting for The Return Of The Snore. And despite being so tired that the inside of her eyelids felt as if they were lined with grit, she still couldn't get to sleep. Right now she hated the big, silent lump beside her; he didn't care, didn't even know, if he snored or not. He just made her life a misery. She still wanted to kill him. Perhaps if she started leaving bits of soap around the bathroom floor. And in the peace and quiet of their silent room, with the joyful image of Brian falling headfirst towards the toilet, she finally slid under the heavy, welcoming, 22 tog downie of sleep.    
Archived comments for In the Still of the Night
bluepootle on 31-03-2014
In the Still of the Night
Sleep deprivation can definitely lead to imaginative thoughts... I really like the final para, and the idea of Brian heading for the toilet. Great comic phrasing!

Author's Reply:
Thanks Aliya, that last idea just came out of nowhere, which is slightly worrying! I've started checking the bathroom floor recently...

Ross

QBall on 31-03-2014
In the Still of the Night
I can't understand anyone snoring - I know I never do, but my wife er well that is another matter. Still trying to find out where I got the bruises on my ribs.
I appreciate this read.

Author's Reply:
I have these bruises too - let me know if you ever find out what causes them.

Nomenklatura on 31-03-2014
In the Still of the Night
Sure handling of a difficult and emotive subject. (No, I'm pulling your leg)

Very funny indeed. Humour is notoriously hard to write and you had me laughing out loud in places. A good take on the prompt. Bravo.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Ewan, glad you liked it. I'm never sure how funny something I intend to be funny actually is to other people; my family and friends tell me I have a strange sense of humour!

Ross

Mikeverdi on 31-03-2014
In the Still of the Night
Bloody brilliant, the thing that makes the most noise in our house is our dog; he's very large and none of us wants to tell him to shut the fuck up!
Mike

Author's Reply:
But does he snore? We used to have a cross lab/collie that snored so badly that he had to be banned to the kitchen so we could hear the tele!

TheBigBadG on 01-04-2014
In the Still of the Night
I for one think that people who snore should be given some slack. After all, they're more attractive and intelligent than the average person. They're definitely more witty. The girlfriend won't read this, will she? All the cool kids snore.

More seriously, it's a neat flash, nicely comic but also quite honest about some of the darker influences. I particularly like the moments of ambiguity where you're not sure if she is going to do something to him or not. It's a nice balance, I like my comedy a touch black admittedly. This is the kind of thing that leads to people offing their spouses after all. Wait, hang on...

Author's Reply:
I utterly and completely agree with your first para George, and I haven't shown this story to my wife, just in case...


The Quiet War of Albert Enslev (posted on: 03-03-14)
Chapter 1 of a longer story that I've been working on. Albert Enslev is a shipping clerk in his mid 50s; a quiet, reticent man who's become a bit of a recluse since his wife died. The time is 1942, the setting Copenhagen.

The Quiet War of Albert Enslev
Chapter One
The tram was crowded, and Albert Enslev had to stand, hanging from a worn, stained leather strap, all the way home. It was snowing and everyone was wearing heavy woollen coats, so the inside of the tram smelt like damp blankets. Albert was tired; at 55 years old he increasingly felt that he didn't have enough energy to get him through the day. But it was Saturday, and tomorrow was a day of rest. He really should go to church, and if Agnete, his wife, were still alive they would be going, no question. But in the three years since she had died he'd found himself doing less and less, staying in the big old apartment on his own, reading or listening to the wireless. Apart from one or two colleagues at the office by the docks where he worked, and an occasional word with the family on the other side of the landing, he spoke to no-one. As the tram trundled past the town hall, emblazoned with a large swastika flag - how these Germans loved their flags! - he wondered, not for the first time, how Agnete would have taken to the capitulation of their country, their beloved Denmark, to these outsiders with their baffling variety of uniforms, their guns and their noisy motorbikes, cars and trucks. He had stood, silently watching, in the window of the apartment that April evening two years ago as a grey truck unloaded its cargo of grey-uniformed soldiers who had run to take up positions in the surrounding streets, where they immediately started directing traffic, making sure that the invading army's vehicles had priority over the locals. Since then the Germans had run things pretty efficiently, he had to admit, and there hadn't been any purges of Jewish Danes, or any other of the atrocities that they'd heard rumours about in France and Poland. Indeed, some people had welcomed the occupation; one man, Jannick Anders, who worked in the shipping company offices with him, often tried to tell his colleagues how lucky Denmark was, because the Fuerher liked them. "We are the model for a new Europe." He told his colleagues. "Soon the whole of Europe will be part of the same glorious future." Neither Albert nor any of his colleagues ever responded to these speeches. Nobody had much liked Jannick before the invasion, and they liked him even less now. He stepped down from the tram and trudged along Saxograde, hands deep in pockets, past a German soldier standing on the corner, cold eyes scanning the passers by. Albert kept his eyes on the pavement in front of his feet. See no evil, hear no evil. He relaxed a little as he pushed through the street door, fumbling for his keys in his pocket as he clumped heavily up the stone stairs. He unlocked his front door, which creaked horribly, as usual. He resolved to fix it the next day, as he had resolved to fix it almost every night for the past month. As he was closing the heavy door he noticed a crack of light as the Kesslers' door across the landing opened slightly. An eye was visible just above the level of the doorknob. He smiled and waved; a small hand belonging to Eliana, the Kesslers' young daughter, sketched a quick wave, then disappeared as the door closed. He closed and locked the door, hung up his coat and scarf, and, running his hands through his thinning hair, made his way into the kitchen. He had some cheese and a bit of ham left, and as he put it together with some crusty bread he sighed. The flat seemed so empty, and cold, without the bustling presence of his beloved Agnete. He took his plate and a glass of milk into the front room and laid them on a table by his armchair, then lit the fire he had laid that morning, and turned on the lamp that stood by the chair. He stood at the tall window for a while, watching the snowflakes settle on the street outside, then drew the curtains. He switched on his radio and settled down for the evening. On Sunday morning the snow was still falling. The thick white cloak which covered the city covered a multitude of sins; it also served to muffle the sound of the heavy diesel engines from the German trucks; you could almost imagine that the invasion hadn't happened. Albert had planned to visit the old family cottage in the woods by Lake Esrum, but the cottage was on a narrow dead-end track which wouldn't be cleared and he probably wouldn't be able to get through. He decided, instead, to walk to Frederiksberg Park and treat himself to lunch at Hansens, which had been one of their favourite restaurants when Agnete had been alive. The park would look particularly beautiful in the snow, and he strode out with a lighter heart than he had for some time. The brisk walk to the park through the snowy streets made him feel alive again, and the park was full of children throwing snowballs and sledging. He realised how little laughter and happiness there was in the city now. Just inside the door of the restaurant, however, there was a queue, which he hadn't expected. There was a large group of German officers over by the windows; one of the waiters, hurrying towards their table with two bottles of wine, told him that he'd have to wait at least half an hour for a table. Dejected, he turned to leave, but stopped when he heard his name. His neighbours, the Kesslers, were waving to him from a table near the back of the restaurant and Eliana had squeezed her way through the tables towards him. "Please Mr Enslev, papa says won't you join us? We have a seat free and we're just about to order." Albert let himself be led by the hand to the table. Nicolas Kessler, who was a surgeon at the hospital, was immaculate as ever in a grey suit and dark green tie. He rose to greet him. "Welcome, Albert. So glad you cold join us. Please, take a seat." He gestured to the seat between his wife and daughter. Maria, a striking looking woman with jet black hair, pulled the chair out for him. Albert, embarrassed, accepted with a smile, handed his coat to the waiter and sat down with them. He liked the Kesslers; they were polite but formal, always friendly but observant of the niceties of civilised behaviour, as was Albert. This was a bit of a departure for them, and both parties knew it. They engaged in light conversation as the meal progressed - Eliana was doing well at school, Maria told Albert proudly, but her father had a darker story, about a growing number of incidents affecting Eliana and some of her classmates who were also Jewish. "A number of older boys seem to be allowed to get away with the sort of behaviour that a year ago would have led to severe punishment." Nicolas saw something wider too: there was a growing feeling among the city's Jewish population that the Germans were growing tired of the King's insistence that there should be no discrimination against the Jews. "We fear, Albert, that our days here might be numbered. Some are talking of fleeing to Sweden. I cannot leave my patients at the hospital, but I fear, increasingly, for Maria and Eliana. We just don't know what to do for the best." Albert was shocked. "But there has been nothing in the papers, no proclamations. I don't think anything will happen. The King wouldn't allow it." Eliana broke the awkward silence by telling them all about her work at school. They chatted about lighter matters, as if life was not as it was. The sombre mood seemed to be broken. They had ordered coffee when they became aware of growing noise from the long table occupied by the German officers, who had risen to their feet and were holding their glasses high, loudly toasting the Fuerher. Their voices drowned out the other diners, who fell silent. Their toast over, the officers called for their coats, and there was much drunken laughter as they left the restaurant. Two of the younger officers, after surveying the room, made their way towards the rear of the restaurant. They stood talking together in low tones for a few seconds, then one approached, and deliberately leaned over and spat in Maria Kessler's coffee. "Enjoy your coffee, Jewess" he said. "It will taste better now." He laughed and turned away; his friend clapped him on the back and they both left through the silent restaurant. The Kesslers kept their eyes down, as did the other diners. One of the waiters came, took away Maria's cup and offered to bring her a fresh one. "Please don't trouble yourself" she said, "I've quite lost my appetite. Thank you anyway. Nicolas, we must go." As they walked home, Albert was silent. He had tried to keep the war at arm's length, successfully so far, in the belief that it was the most effective way to get through it. Now it had come to his door, he didn't know what to do. He was ashamed of his silence in the face of the German officer's behaviour. The Kesslers' dignified reaction made him feel even worse. Why could he never find the right words? He felt paralysed with indecision, and utterly ineffective. When they reached their door they silently climbed the stairs and parted at their landing. Albert politely thanked Nicolas and Maria, said goodbye to Eliana, and went in to his cold, empty flat. He spent the rest of the afternoon tidying, cleaning and generally avoiding thinking about what he had just witnessed. That evening, after a light meal, he sat by his fire, deep in thought. Agnete would have known what to do. They would have discussed the situation and decided on action, even if it were just to comfort Maria. He felt unable to do anything on his own; a kind of paralysis had overcome him, and he went to his bed, where he spent a miserable night, full of dreams of loud Germans and humiliation. Next day, at work, Anders was in a bullish mood. His son, who could have been no more than 17, had joined the German army and was off to a training camp at the end of the week. And he had more; he was eager to pass on what he'd heard the previous evening at his local Nazi party meeting. "You mark my words" he proclaimed, to the room at large, "these bloody Jews are living on borrowed time. They'll soon be taken care of and this country will be all the better for it." Albert felt physically sick and he had to leave the office to stand outside in the cold air for a few minutes. As he stood looking out over the docks, watching the activity as the boats were loaded and unloaded, he became aware of one of his colleagues, a man called Tor Svensen, standing in a doorway smoking a cigarette. "Don't see you out here often, Enslev. Had enough of Anders' bullshit?" Albert was shocked at the man's language. He knew him as one of the supervisors of the dock workers, a rough sort of a man, he had always thought, with few social niceties. Svensen had rarely, if ever, spoken to Albert but he surprised him now by walking to him and offering him a cigarette. Albert shook his head, but remembered his manners. "No thank you, I don't smoke. I just needed a little air." The other man took a drag on his cigarette, let the smoke trickle out of his mouth as he spoke. "I can't get used working in that office, spending my life behind a desk. I spent 10 years working with these guys over there, in the open, all weathers, working with my hands, my back. I miss it sometimes, but not when it's as cold as this, or when it's pissing down with rain." He paused, looked sideways at Albert, as if weighing him up. Whatever he was thinking, he came to a decision. "You know, I had you down as a bit of a sympathiser towards the Gerries too, but I saw the way you looked at Anders in there. I guess you don't like them any more than most of us." "They're alien to us, that's all. They're different" said Albert. He thought of what Anders had just said, and of the young officer spitting in Maria's coffee. "Although some of their beliefs are abhorrent." Svensen laughed. "Abhorrent! That's the understatement of the century! Just wait until they start rounding up our Jewish citizens, deporting people to their death camps. Then you'll really see abhorrent behaviour. I'm sick of seeing them on our streets. I just wish we weren't all so cowardly." With a last, hard look at Albert, he ground his cigarette under his foot and stalked away. The short exchange shook Albert almost as much as Anders' bullish behaviour. He kept to himself for the rest of the day, and on the tram ride home, as he passed the town hall, past the red and black flag that told the world who was in charge here, he was suddenly, with a ferocity that surprised him, filled with anger. He could feel the rage rising inside him, like lava inside a volcano that everyone had believed to be extinct. It was an epiphany. He would help the Kesslers, even if it meant he might get into trouble himself. What these aliens, these outsiders, these Germans, were doing was wrong. He felt ashamed of his own easy capitulation, his acceptance of the situation. He strode along Saxograde with a new purpose, a new determination. It was only when he reached the street door that he realised he had no food in the house; he retraced his steps to the shop at the corner and bought the few things he needed. He felt tired as he climbed the stairs to his door, and was surprised to find Eliana sitting on the step on the landing. "What are you doing there, child?" asked Albert. "Are you locked out? Are your parents not at home?" "They're at home, Mr Enslev, but they're arguing. Papa wants mama and me to go away, without him." "Come, come, I'm sure it's not that bad" he said. He took the girl's hand and rang the Kesslers' bell. Nicolas Kessler opened the door. He looked drawn and worried; his tie was loosened and his hair was untidy. "Eliana is a little concerned, Nicolas. May I come in? I think I might be able to suggest something." Nicolas opened the door wide. "Please, come in. Eliana, it's late, and you shouldn't be outside the flat. Go and put your nightdress on and I'll come in to read you a story in a little while." The Kesslers' living room was warm, almost oppressively so. Maria and Nicolas sat side by side on the couch and Albert sat on a chair facing them. He sat forward, with his arms on his knees. "I think you know that I have an old cottage in the woods by the side of Lake Esrum? It belonged to Agnete's family, and now nobody but me uses it. If you like, I could take you all there this Sunday. We would tell no-one, and there are no other houses nearby, so you'd be safe there, and if the worst happens, it's near the coast, not too far from Snekkersten; I'm sure you'd be able to get a fishing boat captain there willing to take you across to Sweden." He looked from face to face, not sure what to expect. Nicolas and Maria exchanged a glance, and then Nicolas spoke. "Yes, we do know about your cottage, and we thank you so very much for the offer, but I don't think we can accept, at least not all three of us. I have operations arranged and I cannot leave my patients. But if you could allow Maria and Eliana to stay there for a while, just until we see if these horrible rumours about anti-Jew laws, and deportations, have any foundation, it would be such a load off my mind." Albert could see that Maria was close to tears. "Of course, that would be possible" he said. "I could take the two of you this Sunday if you like. It will give you some time to make the ...arrangements." Nicolas rose and grasped Albert's hand in both of his. "Thank you my friend. I can't tell you how much this means to me, to all of us." Albert quickly took his leave; Nicolas and Maria had much to discuss. He promised to come over to their flat again on Friday evening, to make the arrangements for the trip. He was happy to get back to his own flat and close the door. What had he done? He felt scared and elated at the same time. But he felt that Agnete would have approved.
Archived comments for The Quiet War of Albert Enslev
Mikeverdi on 04-03-2014
The Quiet War of Albert Enslev
An engrossing story, I would like to read more of it if you decide to go ahead. I read something similar, a translation I think, a while ago; also a TV thing. Could I just point out that you need to edit as some of the paragraphs have split spoiling the flow; I counted three. I know if you continue you will prune out some of the superfluous words. It's good Rab, shame so many long stories are on this run, you may not get the response this deserves.
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks as ever for the kind comments Mike. I've written the next chapter but need to do a bit more work on it before it's ready for posting. This is the first longer story I've attempted, and I'm realising that it's a different beast to the quick set up and denouemont things I've been dooing up to now. I've got the plot mapped out and know where it's going, but was afraid it would appear a bit boring in the context of the other submissions. I'll post chapter 2 soon.

Ross


Drone Wars (posted on: 28-02-14)
A duologue for the prose challenge. A drone pilot sitting in front of a computer screen in New Mexico and a US infantryman in Afghanistan have a nice chat...

Hi there. New Mexico calling. How you doing? I'm doing just fine. It's 40 in the shade and I've been lying here for the past hour and a half. Where the hell have you been? Sorry, man, just came on shift. Nobody told me you were waiting. I've got a fully loaded UAV on it's way to you, should be there any minute.What you got? A nest of vipers, that's what. Only the friggin' local hq of the T-Men. A house full of Haji. Ok, got your location, where's the Haji house? Five hundred yards due west of me. Big square building, pink stucco, plane tree out front. I see it. Square building on corner with plane tree in front, pink stucco, three figures on roof, looks like they have ordnance. Please confirm. That's it allright. The guys on the roof have an FSA, so watch yourself. Copy. Going in now. Whoo! You got 'em buddy. They're gone. Toast. Uh-oh, some squirters coming out of the front door, you see them? I see them. Going back in. Ok, you got most of them, some ran round the corner. No, wait, they look like kids. Copy you. I see them. Going in. Ok, pull out now, you got most of them, but I think some of them were kids. Pull out. I see a car, approaching at speed. Black car, you see it? Approaching from north. I see it. Big car, black. Looks like a civilian. Stopping by the ones that ran round the corner. Driver and passenger getting out to help the ones on the ground. Someone else getting out. Woah, that one's definitely a minor. He's getting back in the car, think one of the adults shouted at him. I got the car square in the sights. Going in. Wait, I don't think they're combatants. Whoo! You see that sucker go up? Must have had a full tank. Whiskey tango foxtrot! That was a civilian car. They were helping the wounded ones, the ones that looked like kids. And there was definitely a kid in the car. Probably on his way to school. Shouldn't have been in a conflict zone. Running low on fuel, and I could do with a couple more hellfires, used the last of them on that car. Returning to base. Over and out. Fuckin' playstation soldiers. I'm out of here. Over and fucking out.
Archived comments for Drone Wars
Nomenklatura on 28-02-2014
Drone Wars
It's a good effort. I have been privy to such conversations whilst on board the aircraft I flew on in the RAF. It doesn't ring true for me, although many USAF/Army radio transmissions can be painfully gung-ho. Usually, they do stick to R/T comms procedures a little more rigidly than you show. That said, a transcript of R/T comms would make for a boring piece!
Regards
Ewan

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the comments Ewan, and you're no doubt quite right about the procedures, but I wanted to give it a little bit of a feeling of a young boy sitting in front of a computer screen playing Call of Duty for real.

Ross

bluepootle on 28-02-2014
Drone Wars
I think its a good way to tackle a hugely emotive subject, such as civilian casualties in war, because it provides that immediate distance that makes us reassess the situation. But I'm not sure the duologue approach suits it perfectly. Maybe keep the transmissions idea and intersperse it with very matter of fact description? Present tense, without any characterisation? That could make an interesting piece.

Just ruminating out loud - hope it helps! I think maybe it's the beginning of something powerful but needs an extra element.

Author's Reply:
I hadn't thought of doing anything with this, it was a bit of a throwaway that was inspired by some youtube footage my son saw of a drone attack, but I'll give it some thought. It is, as you say, a big subject; perhaps it deserves something more, and away from the duologue constrictions it could develop.

Thanks for the comments

Ross

CVaughan on 28-02-2014
Drone Wars
Hello Rab, I am new to this game, normally only frequent the sometimes poorly attended weekly poetry/prose forum but thought I'd dive into the fray at the last minute. That is to explain in mitigation my tardiness in the review part, I see responses have been in the morning in UK time that is.
Now for your story I just read straight through once only I admit but wanted to post something my first ever attempted comment in what the Nom' (Ewan) calls the prose thingy quickly as it's Friday and the pub beckons, as arranged.

Whatever the veracity of such exchanges in the dubious (IMO) business transacted with the infamous drones I got the feel from your I would say fairly convincing dialogue. Liked your narrative and it is good writing in my book.
Now sort of sadly as I could go on but really must fly, no pun intended, see yer later. Frank

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the comments Frank, and hope you find time to read and comment on more stuff, new voices always welcome (some of the old crowd are a pretty tough bunch to please!)

Ross

sirat on 01-03-2014
Drone Wars
Hello Rab. What struck me right away was how close this is to the famous (genuine) footage of a gung ho Apache gunship pilot killing civilians in Iraq, including two Reuters reporters. It was first published by Wikileaks and decent Americans were shocked by the deplorable conduct of their servicemen.

Wikileaks film

This is a very accurate picture of the attitudes that American servicemen have to their job, whatever about the details of procedure and communications etiquette. I think you could do more with it but it's a very worthwhile piece even as it stands.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the comments David, and the link to the video. My son watched the video you posted the link to, and told me about it, which is what gave me the idea in the first place. Now that I've watched the video I'm torn between guilt at writing a short piece of flash fiction about such a horrific event from my safe, middle class environment and wanting to do something longer to make a better job of it.

Ross

TheBigBadG on 03-03-2014
Drone Wars
So with a highly emotive subject like this, one that is unpleasantly echoed in real-world events, I wonder if you've already answered the problem in your comments above when you mentioned Call of Duty. The core of the story is a casual attitude to death and how divorced action and perception of said action can be, to the extent that soldiers shoot civilians and either aren't aware of don't care.

I'd consider making it more like a computer game but using that to get at more mundane people. It's a societal malady you're hinting at, so drop it in the lap of a familiar society. Plus, as Ewan says, real transcripts would make dull reading and anything else is forced to compromise...

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the comments George. I still can't make up my mind whether or not to do anything further with this - reading it again I quite like the spareness of the story, and if I were to expand/change it the feeling of immediacy and lack of control might be lost.

Ross


The Allotment (posted on: 28-02-14)
A monologue for the prose challenge. An old chap, in his allotment, talks to his plants.

Hello my pretties, how are you all today? Nice bit of rain last night, it'll have done you the world of good. Now then, let's see what needs doing. A few naughty dandelions appearing under the rhubarb, we'll get rid of these bad boys; ah, here's a little something sprouting by the leeks: what are you then? Can't make it out, better get rid. There, that's gone. Not much else, I'll have a cup of tea, bit of cake, before I sort the dandelions out, then I'll do a bit of hoeing, make sure nothing else appears by the leeks. Bloody dandelions; of all the weeds they're the worst. Bet the seeds drifted over from Sid's old allotment. Lazy bugger was old Sid, let his patch get in a right state. Been empty going on two years now, no wonder, who'd take that lot on? Hello, there's someone nosing about in it - who is it, can't make them out. Nobody I know, looks like a young woman. Thin. Doesn't look strong enough to do the kind of work that's needed. Back-breaking work, that would be, getting that plot turned over. Oh look, she's got someone with her, another young woman! She's doesn't look as if she'll be able to do much heavy work either. They're getting stuck in though. Chair's a bit wet, dry it off, that's better, now for me tea. Lovely. Cake. Nice to sit here in the sun, surrounded by my friends. Cos that's what you are, my beauties, my personal, special friends, each and every one of you. I look after you, you look after me. And nobody knows you better than me; I made you after all, well, with a bit of help from the sun, and the rain! Just look at these two young ladies there; getting on great guns. Got all the gear, nice shiny new shovels, hoes, even a pickfork. And they've got a book too, they keep looking at it, planning what to plant where. Nothing books can tell you that I can't. Maybe go across later, have a word, welcome them to the allotments. About time we had someone new here. All us old buggers, been here forever. Remember when there were two of us looking after you? Me and the missus, me and Muriel. She was the boss, decided what went where, me, I was the muscle, the one that dug where I was told to dig, hoed where I was told to hoe. I miss her. That's why I come up here every day, rain or shine, to talk to you lot. Quiet in the house on my own, nobody to talk to, not even a budgie. And that lot next door will hear me if I go talking away to myself. Shop me to the social. Walls like paper, you can hear when they have an argument.They seem to have lots of arguments, Sally and Steve. Not like Muriel and me; never a cross word, well hardly ever. We were a team, at home as well as up here. I do miss her. Well, this won't shift these dandelions, will it? Find me potato peeler, only thing that gets right down to the roots. If you don't get the roots you might as well not bother. There. Got you. Now for the other ones. That's one, there, that's the other one. Good. That's another job done. Now, let's get busy with the hoe. Hoe, hoe hoe, here's Santa! I know, it's not very funny, best I can come up with. Hard work this; bit more, turn that soil, make it look all rich again; that's it, I think. Looks a bit better. Ooh, need a seat. Back aching again, doesn't take much these days.Wonder how these two young ladies are getting on. Look at that - they've cleared a fair bit already. Wonder if they're what they call a couple these days. Look a bit alike, perhaps they're sisters. Nice to be young again like that. Lots of energy. Make plans, dig and plant, watch things take root, grow. Nothing like it. That's what we did, Muriel and me. Planted things. You. And you grew healthy and strong. We fed you, protected you, watched you grow. Our children, you were. We couldn't have proper children, see. Pity. If we had,they'd be about the age of these two young ladies over there. Muriel would have loved children. So would I, come to that. But at least we had each other. Forty-two years we were married, that's a long time, isn't it? Don't know what I would have done without you lot after the old girl passed on. Don't know what I'll do when I can't come here any more. When my back finally gives in. Maybe best if I just keel over amongst the french beans one day. Nice if I could be buried here, feed the plants, all my nutrients going into the carrots. Like I did with Muriel. Didn't need her giving me instructions then, did I? Partial to a nice brussel sprout, was Muriel. What goes around comes around, that's what she used to say. Proved her right, didn't we? Certainly done the sprouts no harm, everyone asks what I've been using as fertiliser. If only they knew! Well, can't sit here forever, got my tea to get ready. Got some sausages in the fridge, just get some little potatoes, some nice green beans to go with them, maybe a few sprouts, there, that's that. These young ladies are looking over, probably heard me talking away. Should I go over and say hello, welcome to Warriston Allotments? No, wait till tomorrow, that's time enough. Got my tea to get ready. See you all tomorrow.
Archived comments for The Allotment
Nomenklatura on 28-02-2014
The Allotment
A chilling tale indeed.

I'm left with some doubts, are the two young women policewomen? Or are they just new allotment tenders? I do like the fact that not much is spelled out, though.

What's a pickfork? Is it an alternative spelling for pitchfork?

Regards
Ewan

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the comments Ewan. The two young women are new allotment occupants (a friend of mine, a young woman, just took over a neglected allotment and is doing it up with her sister, which is where the idea for the story came from). I'm not sure what a pickfork is, I thought it sounded a bit like the sort of thing a slightly doddery old chap might say. I think he meant a pickaxe.

Ross

sirat on 28-02-2014
The Allotment
Well, it certainly obeys the rules, it's a monologue, but I thought it drifted a bit with regard to who he was talking to. It was partly the plants and partly himself, I think, but in either case I felt that he shouldn't really be telling them things they already knew. It's a vague kind of criticism, I know, but I think you needed the device of an actual listener, and the two newcomers could have served very well in this role. I usually set up my monologue as one side of a conversation which is itself one-sided, i.e. in which one person does most of the talking, and don't bother to include the other person's responses. Just leave paragraph breaks or ellipses. That provides the necessary skeleton on which to pin the monologue.

The other point is just content. There doesn't have to be anything profound, but the form provides you with an opportunity to reveal a lot about the speaker, and to include a lot of subtext. I didn't feel you exploited it to anything like its full potential here.

I hope my remarks are some help. That's how they are intended.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the comments David, and as ever they're welcome. I thought of having him talking 'over the fence' to the two young women as they worked, but he wouldn't have disclosed the bit about his wife being buried under the sprouts. I also didn't want to give too much away, but just hint at things - the possible tension/arguments between him and his wife because of the lack of children, the possibility that he killed her in one of their few agruments etc.

Ross

bluepootle on 28-02-2014
The Allotment
I like that sense of wandering between talking to the plants and talking to himself, which seems to me to be close to how people sometimes mumble away, to the fridge or to nobody in particular. I think you captured that well.

It felt as if it didn't quite make up a story we could grasp, in that there's really no reason or suggestion behind events. And the device of the two ladies doesn't become anything. But maybe that's for the best. The more I think about it, the more I like it as a vague potter through the narrator's consciousness, without meaning needed.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the comments Aliya. I meant it as a bit of a ramble, but one that revealed a little bit about the old chap - the regrets of childlessness, the question of his wife, where she ended up and why, but you're right, it was more about being a ramble through a consciousness, with no real story structure.

Ross

Rupe on 28-02-2014
The Allotment
I liked it. It came across as authentic - I could imagine this being said out loud by someone. I think the narrator's lack of drive, basic decency and sense of regret came through well in the slightly unfocused meander through his consciousness. Nicely done.

Rupe

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the comments Rupe, glad you liked it.

Ross

TheBigBadG on 03-03-2014
The Allotment
So first of all, don't give it away in the introduction! If you're going to have a body in it then play off against your narrator being suspicious of the two girls, then reveal him as the real nasty bagger.

With the form though, I agree with Blue over Sirat (apologies, David) in that the rambling addressee if completely fine. I frequently hold court with a range of things in my kitchen. Typically when the lady is out, admittedly, but you take the point.

More importantly I think Blue's got the right thread. It's an enjoyable read as it, but a bit of a halfway house. I guess I either want to see more rambling nostalgia and character or more intrigue from the murder angle. In fact, as I think about it this could be a great setup for an unreliable narrator. Maybe spin it so that he's not sure what he remembers as much as we're uncertain if it's the girls who are dodgy or him?

Anyway, it's ultimately your story. It's got a nice tone so a step back, a re-focus on intention perhaps?

Author's Reply:
Take your point about the intro, so I've changed it. I didn't mean the old chap to be a nasty bugger, more someone who comes over as slightly eccentric but harmless. I'm not even sure if he murdered his wife,or just decided to bury her there.

CVaughan on 03-03-2014
The Allotment
I agree the reveal in the intro spoils the strength of the twist which is blackly humourous and nicely inferred, a bit of a selfie spoiler in fact. Luckily for me I never read that initially so enjoyed the secret disclosure known only to the plants.

I thought the neighbouring girl gardeners provided a context that your hero OAP is in a real world and appropriate light and shade and don't have to add any dynamic to my mind in a top and tailed short story.

Nice one Rab with strong in character dialogue, not sure if we are supposed to rate. Frank

Author's Reply:
Thanks very much for your comments and the rating Frank. I've taken away the spoiler for future readers! The two young women were meant to start him off on his regrets at not having kids himself, leading to the disclosure about the sprout fertiliser.

e-griff on 07-03-2014
The Allotment
I usually comment before reading others. But I read the comments here . If there was a body, it was absolutely right to remove it. It's not that sort of story, it would have trivialised/sensationalised it.

This is a gentle ramble through a man's thoughts. As David has said, he often uses one-sided conversations, but for this story I think the looking at his thoughts is preferable. I have written a few stories in the same style myself.

Apart from a few annoying punctuation errors, this read smoothly and rolled along. I thought his voice came across convincingly.

What was included was fine. It was what was not included that bothered me. It's all a bit flat. There's no resolution/ending to pique the reader's interest and leave them thinking. Perhaps he should have revealed something? The thing about this style is you let the reader see his character, and he is not aware of that.

Along the way (only for example) spicing interest could be done by things like : 'I was sorry for what I said to her in the hospital' (with no explanation) or ' I did love her. Those women when I was away were not serious'

You can reveal him as a bastard, or a saint, her likewise. He can ramble on abaout how lovely she was, and the reader can see she was a bitch but he doesn't know it. See what I mean?

Anyway, just suggestions for improvement, not criticising it as it is ..

JohnG

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the comments John, glad you liked it. There is a body, it's still there, decomposing gently beneath the sprouts. That's kind of the ending to the story, too, even though it goes on for a couple of sentences after that. I know what you mean about revealing a bit more about him, but that's not really the way I wanted the tale to go; it's meant as a gentle ramble through an old man's thoughts, the sight of two young women the same age as his kids could have been if they'd had any making him think about their time together. I didn't really want to go too much into his inner character, preferring to leave it unsaid.

I'm interested in the punctuation that annoyed you - was it the semi-colons? I know I'm sometimes over-partial to a semi-colon, or even a full one, given half a chance, but I was trying to get a feeling of wandering thoughts, by using punctuation to suggest pauses of different lengths. Let me know what it was that you found annoying.

Cheers

Ross

Jaybee on 08-03-2014
The Allotment
Rab

I enjoyed reading the story and I can understand the old chap talking to his plants as I work with old people in my job. I found the descriptions of the plants and the scenery excellent.

Just a remark 'Pitchfork' is a tool used in harvesting in the fields. Farm workers used a pitchfork to lift large bales of hay and straw up onto a wagon.

I see you have many stories on here, which I will read when I have time.

The ending was perhaps a surprise and not quite a shock as it could have been. I would say it was a very tactful way to explain the old guy was not as innocent at he looked!

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 08-03-2014
The Allotment
Oh yes,I must apologise. Too much of a hurry! I missed the body! 🙂 shame on me.

And okay , in the context of how you wrote this story, I withdraw my remarks, which are based on the kind of story I would write.

'nul points' for critique this time, I think. Sorry.

Punctuation, hmmm
Bloody dandelions; of all the weeds they're the worst - yes, here you have a semi between two connected phrases. for a semi, they should be independent. Mind you, you could argue ... but then there's the two young ladies one, definitely wrongly used. May be more, not counting. But most readers would not notice as semis are much misunderstood anyway.

Yours aplogetically and red-faced, JohnG



Author's Reply:


Ten Things The Children Should Know (posted on: 27-01-14)
More parental advice to be roundly ignored, even though we adults know best! Best read out loud in a church minister/vicar voice.

1. Be not afraid of life,         For it is not afraid of you. 2. Be kind to those you care about,         And help them when you can,         For they will (probably) do the same for you 3. Cultivate friends,         But not at the expense of yourself,         Your needs,         Or your bank balance 4. Be nice to people,         And treat them as you would like them to treat you         Unless they are running towards you with a knife.         If that happens, run away 5. Be available for new things,         But find out as much as you can,         Don't assume anything,         Because you'll be wrong. 6. Go out into the world         And see it through your eyes,         Your ears, your nose and your hands         And not through a bloody screen! 7. Wear what makes you feel good,         Not what fashion dictates,         Unless your personal taste and current fashion coincide,         Unlikely though that will be 8. If you find something you enjoy,         And you're good at it         See if you can make a living from it         And if you can't, well, everyone needs a hobby 9. Be ethical in all that you do,         And try not to make the planet worse 10. Enjoy your life
Archived comments for Ten Things The Children Should Know
Mikeverdi on 27-01-2014
ten Things The Children Should Know
My morning smile, thanks Rab Ha Ha!

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike, glad it raised a smile. I found this one lying about doing nothing, dusted it down and sent it out for just that purpose!

Ross

EmotiveSoul on 27-01-2014
ten Things The Children Should Know
Lol, excellent!

Author's Reply:
Thanks, glad you liked it.

Ross

Bozzz on 27-01-2014
Ten Things The Children Should Know
Who can possibly disagree. Personally I feel that numbered lists are best avoided in poetic pieces - could be the laundry ! We can all see that there are ten items. Apart from that, nicely written...Bozzz

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind comments, and you're probably right about the numbers, but it's for the kids, after all, they might lose count half way through and give up!

Ross


Days of mine (posted on: 20-01-14)
I grew up in the 1970s, and the further away from that decade I get, the more alluring it seems...

1971 – 1975 A Raleigh chopper with butterfly wings Mr Slinky slinks down the stair Long hair, denim shirts and loon pants Freedom in the air Cremola foam and penny chews Keep us going for ever We talk of Led Zep, Purple, the Sabs And laugh at Dawn and John Denver Tea is gammon with pineapple rings Followed by rhubarb and custard We gather round the flickering screen Morecambe and Wise in colour Saturday afternoons at the Hibees Who scored the hat trick today? Standing room on the bus back home We joke, we laugh, we're ok School's a chore, something to fill The time between bookend weekends And then, and then, the best time of all The summer that never ends Sunlit days, empty and full, Spent wherever we will An illicit fag at the quarry Liberated by Bill The thrill of danger As we climb up the cliff As intense as any true crime The best thing about these days Is that they were mine. 1975-1979 Lager tops and vodka Smoky pubs with noise Space invaders machines We're saving the world, with poise Thatcher and Joseph on tele Monetarism the creed Look at their eyes, they're insane Preaching a gospel of greed Sex and drugs and rock and roll Two out of three ain't so bad Would be nice to have it all But we don't let it make us feel sad No more flares or long hair Anger an energy Never trust a hippie Anarchy in the UK Iggy Pop's back again The Eagles have had their day The oldest punk in town Psychokiller's here to stay The joint's jumping, reggae and ska We dance to the end of time Rude Boy leaps into the skinheads This is the time, and it's mine The thrill of danger As we climb up the cliff As intense as any true crime The best thing about these days Is that they were mine.
Archived comments for Days of mine
stormwolf on 20-01-2014
Days of mine
AWwwwwwwwwwwwww

I remember it all so well. Shows that those who grew up in these times, being very aware and affected by them, all are connected. I loved my Cremola foam and I fondly remember so much of what you have written. 😉

Thanks for sharing.

Alison x

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the comments and the rating Alison. There is a kind of shared memory, isn't there? While there were many crap things about the 70s (apart from the clothes and haircuts) it was a fun time to be a teenager.

Mikeverdi on 20-01-2014
Days of mine
Yes it's all there, as I was. A little older than you, so different views on things... but they were good for me! Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the comments and the rating Mike. As a personal memoir, it was all about freedom really...I think.

Elfstone on 20-01-2014
Days of mine
Oh my goodness! - "Cremola foam and penny chews " do I remember those!! McGowans penny chews - great dods of hard toffee that would keep a kid occupied (and silent) for ages. 😀

You've set me off on a googling trail and guess what? - one can still buy Cremola foam and Sherbet Fountains - remember those? - and Caramacs ... Not good for my weight problem! Elfstone

Author's Reply:
I also remember the slab of McGowans toffee that came with a little silver hammer; it's amazing that any of us have any teeth left!

Andrea on 20-01-2014
Days of mine
Never heard of Cremola foam, but I do remember this...



Author's Reply:
You've never heard of Cremola Foam! You must have had a very sheltered childhood. I was at one of the Earls Court gigs that Led Zeppelin played in 1975; I'd taken the overnight coach down from Edinburgh the night before, and I'm ashamed to say that I actually nodded off during Stairway to Heaven!

Nemo on 20-01-2014
Days of mine
I enjoyed your memories. I'll add them to mine which go back even further. Fun memories, but perhaps you were too young to know that the 70s were also hard times for many. Regards, Nemo.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the comment and the rating. As a teenager in the 70s what I remember most is the fun that we had, but we were aware of the darker aspects of the time too. I find, though, that the further it recedes in the mists of time the fun times are the bits I remember best.

Nemo on 20-01-2014
Days of mine
I enjoyed your memories. I'll add them to mine which go back even further. Fun memories, but perhaps you were too young to know that the 70s were also hard times for many. Regards, Nemo.

Author's Reply:

Andrea on 20-01-2014
Days of mine
Well, I left the UK in late '69, so I probably missed it - it was sold mostly in Scotland too, as I understand it. I was in London up until then - maybe it was something like cream soda?

Author's Reply:
I think it was sold in the northern territories of England too, but it was nothing like cream soda, or any other drink that I've ever tasted. It was a powder which you spooned into water and which gave you a foamy, tooth-destroying, sugar-rush glass of something that was really bad for you. So we all loved it.

Ionicus on 20-01-2014
Days of mine
The older we get, the sweeter the memories. The past becomes 'the golden days' and there can be no room for bad reminiscences.

Author's Reply:
Indeed. I became more aware of the darker happenings - the troubles for example - as I grew older, but the first half of the decade was spent in blissful ignorance.

ValDohren on 20-01-2014
Days of mine
Being an old gal, my time was in the sixties and what a time that was!! But of course I remember the seventies well - each decade has its good and bad points. Enjoyed reading your poem Rab, brought back some memories.
Val 🙂

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the comments Val, and the rating

Ross

Rupe on 21-01-2014
Days of mine
I wasn't born until 1970, so my memories of the 70s are a bit sketchy, but I do remember kids with choppers in the yard of my primary school, gammon with pineapple rings (whatever happened to that?), the exciting first appearance of Space Invaders in our local sports centre & Kevin Keegan's face on the side of the cornflakes packet. Oh, and there were power cuts all the time in the late seventies.

Good evocative stuff - an enjoyable read.

Rupe

Author's Reply:
I remember the power cuts well; extra days off school, candles and torches - what's not to like? kevin Keegan's face would have put me off my breakfast though, I must have repressed that particular memory!

Savvi on 22-01-2014
Days of mine
Now you are talking, Loved it a great trip down memory's back gardens.

Garage roofs, were made for jumps,
Mr Kenevil did his own stunts.
Old shed doors were skateboard ramps.
games were played under lamps.

Garden fences were made to hop,
Chinn and Chapman were kings of pop.
Chippers, Choppers, Tomahawks and Racers,
all ridden by kids with Mickey Mouse braces.

Great stuff, oh and when I worked in projects my first job was to take out a some drying equipment, guess what it made ? Cremola that was at Hadfield or Royston Vassey for you that know The League of Gentlemen.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the comments and the rating. Are the two verses from a longer piece?


Ghost In The Machine (posted on: 20-01-14)
Take two of the story I submitted for the prose challenge on Friday, edited following some constructive comments I received. I think it works much better now, I'd be grateful for any further comments.

Time for a status update. Come on, wake up. Stupid machine. So slow. Wonder if I could get a new one for my birthday? At last - facebook - status - update - in a relationship, with Julie-Ann McDonagh Wait for the responses: there's a like from Ian, always got to be the first, one from Liam, one from Pete; Joanne; Claire, Jamie - comment from Jamie - dirty bastard, I'll get him later; at last, Jules has changed her status, and posted a like and a message - aww, sweet - how does she do all three things at the same time? "Darren, your tea's ready!" "Coming mum." See what I've got after tea. Back again, hello facebook friends, who's been leaving comments...Ben, yep, expected that ya prick, he's just pissed off cos he fancies Jules...Adam, nice one...oh look, a message...from... Chloe? What the fuck? glad you've moved on, i approve Slam the screen shut. Hands shaking, heart thudding. Open it again, slowly; peek at the screen. Christ. Still there. glad you've moved on, i approve. But now there's more.     i was worried about you. Who is this and how did you get into Chloe's account? This is sick. Chloe died you sick fuck I'm going to report you they'll find you and you'll be banned from facebook for life. Wow, the answer appears instantly, like someone's speaking the words dont be scared dara, it's me. it really is. just listen and I'll tell you how it is. Nobody else called me that, nobody else knew that she called me that. Unless she'd told one of her friends. But only she knew what I'd called her, and she always said she wouldn't tell anyone; said she was too embarrassed. tell me what I used to call you too embarrassing tell me anyway. snookums omg, it is you!!!!! but it cant be been here since I died (which was just so horrible btw) think I could have been here before i died,somehow. had a long time to think about it. lonely in here. glad I can talk to you. cant really explain it, its like im alive and not alive at the same time i don't understand. How can you be in facebook? It's not possible. i don't get it either. what i think is that it's got something to do with how much of myself i put into the thing when i was alive. remember? always on. always updating my status. always messaging, responding to friends, and you remember how many friends i had. hundreds, all over the world. that's why i was always on. never a dull moment if you have friends in brazil, in the states, in australia!!!!!! you talked to anyone else? you're the first. wanted to talk to you for ages, but thought I should wait till you'd moved on some. and now you have, don't want you to forget me, you muppet i'll never forget you chloe, you know that. soulmates forever, remember? stop, you'll make me cry. wonder if I can cry? might get facebook all rusted up, lol. but I'm pleased you're going with julie-ann, she was one of my bezzies. she's nice, and kind, and she'll look after you. don't need looking after you so do. you're hopeless... .......... .......... Shit, it's 3 o'clock, we've been on for ages. Eyes all gritty, screen keeps going out of focus got to go now. tired. this has been amazing its been soooo gooood. ok, you have a sleep, c u tomorrow xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx x Close the screen, slower this time. Everyone's asleep, house really quiet. Wow. Jesus. How can I sleep now? Just lie here and rest my eyes. "Come on Darren, you'll be late love. Bet you were on that computer of yours till all hours last night. Looking at stupid videos on your tube or whatever you call it." Shit, look at the time, going to be late. Got to speak to Jules. There she is, waiting for me at the gate "You'll never guess what's happened, Jules." "No, you'll never guess, some sicko, some paedo using Chloe's account, they messaged me last night, but I sorted it." "What do you mean? What did you do?" "I reported it, obs. Duh! They'll close the account now, don't know why it was still live." "You stupid, stupid cow!" Got to get home. Shit, shit, shit. Good, everyone's out, no, there's mum in the kitchen. Upstairs, quick, before she says anything. Got to see what's happened, maybe not too late. Come on, christ it's slow... there - messages, there's her last message, click on it... account terminated Sick. I'll just go back to bed, stay there. Hate Jules. Hate everyone. "Darren? What's happened love?" Mum, sitting beside me. Need to hold someone. "She's gone mum, she's really gone. Again." His mother hugged him as he sobbed against her shoulder. She wondered what he meant by 'again', but, being his mother, didn't ask.     
Archived comments for Ghost In The Machine

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Ghost in the Machine (posted on: 17-01-14)
For the prose challenge

The small screen glowed, turned white, then Darren's current favourite picture of his dead girlfriend was displayed. He still missed Chloe, even after six months, which for someone only 15 years old was quite something. He and Chloe had, they both agreed, been soulmates. They were never going to be parted; they'd planned out their lives together, from first kiss (that had happened fairly early on,when they were 14) to family home, either a penthouse flat or a country cottage, depending on whose will prevailed at the time. They had agreed on two children, though; they were both only children, and agreed tha it wold be nice to have a brother or sister to confide in sometimes. It had been a traumatic six months for both families since the skiing accident had ended Chloe's life so tragically, so prematurely. Darren had taken to his room for long periods and only now was he showing signs of the fun-loving boy that he had been. The period of seclusion had meant that he'd missed a lot of social interaction with his other friends; it had also, he was surprised to find, made him attractive to some of the girls in his class, who wanted, it seemed, to offer him all manner of comforts. He'd managed to avoid them until recently, when the determination of Julie-Ann, who had been one of Chloe's closer friends, had finally broken down the walls of his particular heartache. So he was logging on to facebook to update his status. In a relationship. That made it official. He fielded the expected likes and comments, some taking it a bit far, as usual. Then something he hadn't expected: a message, personal. glad you've moved on, i approve. He stared unbelieving at the name on the screen, then quickly slammed the screen down and stared at the grey plastic cover. Slowly, tentatively, he opened it again, bit by bit, as if scared something was going to jump out of the screen into his lap, into his body, into his heart, which was thudding hard against his ribs. His hands were clammy. It was still there. He forced himself to read it. glad you've moved on, i approve. But now there was more.     i was worried about you. Somehow, his fingers touched the keyboard Who is this and how did you get into Chloe's account? This is sick. I'm going to report you they'll find you and you'll be banned from facebook for life. The answer came back instantly, the words appearing as if someone was speaking them dont be scared dara, it's me. it really is. just listen and I'll tell you how it is. Nobody else called him that, and nobody else knew that she had called him that. Unless she'd told one of her friends. But only she knew what he'd called her, and she'd always said she wouldn't tell anyone; said she was too embarrassed. tell me what I used to call you too embarrassing tell me anyway. snookums omg, it is you!!!!! but it cant be been here since I died (which was just so horrible btw) think I could have been here before i died, somehow. had a long time to think about it. lonely in here. glad I can talk to you. cant really explain it, its like im alive and not alive at the same time i don't understand. How can you be in facebook? It's not possible. i don't get it either. what i think is that it's got something to do with how much of myself i put into the thing when i was alive. remember? always on. always updating my status. always messaging, responding to friends, and you remember how many friends i had. hundreds, all over the world. that's why i was always on. never a dull moment if you have friends in brazil, in the states, in australia!!!!!! you talked to anyone else? you're the first. wanted to talk to you for ages, but thought I should wait till you'd moved on some. and now you have, don't want you to forget me, you muppet i'll never forget you chloe, you know that. soulmates forever, remember? stop, you'll make me cry. wonder if I can cry? might get facebook all rusted up, lol. but I'm pleased you're going out with julie-ann, she was one of my bezzies. she's nice, and kind, and she'll look after you. don't need looking after you so do. you're hopeless. They stayed online for hours, until Darren was so tired he couldn't focus and his eyes were burning. got to go now. tired. ok, c u tomorrow xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx The connection disappeared. Perhaps she was tired too, he thought. He closed down his laptop, and lay down. His mind was whirling. I'll never sleep, he thought, and immediately fell into a deep, dreamless slumber. "Come on Darren, you'll be late love." His mum was gently shaking him. "Bet you were on that computer of yours last night. Looking at stupid videos on the tube or whatever you call it." He smirked to himself as he got dressed. If only she knew. At school, he grabbed Julie-Ann as soon as he saw her. "You'll never guess what's happened, Jules. " "No, you'll never guess, some sicko, some paedo using Chloe's account, they messaged me last night, but I sorted it." Julie-Ann always spoke in a rush. Darren was beginning to find it a bit irritating. "What do you mean? What did you do?" "I reported it, obs. Duh! They'll close the account now, don't know why it was still live." "You stupid, stupid cow!" Darren left Juiie-Ann gaping after him as he turned on his heel and sprinted home. His mother was in the kitchen when he charged up the stairs to his room. The seconds while his laptop booted up were interminable. Hands shaking, he logged on, clicked on the message box, found her last message, clicked on it...and stared at the message that appeared on the screen account terminated He slumped across his bed as his mum opened the bedroom door. "Darren? What's happened love?" "She's gone mum, she's really gone. Again." His mother hugged him as he sobbed against her shoulder. Just when she thought he was starting to get over it. She wondered what he meant by 'again', but, being a mother, didn't ask.     
Archived comments for Ghost in the Machine
bluepootle on 17-01-2014
Ghost in the Machine
I love the idea that you could spend so much time on Facebook that it keeps a little bit of your soul alive. A Facebook Horcrux.

It felt about the right length to me, but I was aware of how much the story relies on telling the reader a lot of back-story early on. I wonder if there's any way you could make it more real, and hook us into the action? Maybe start with Chloe's death, really action-driven, and then cut to Darren in front of the computer? Hope that helps.

Author's Reply:
This was a very hurried job; I was working on another story that didn't turn out well, and wrote this over a couple of days, so it does need more work. I was going to make it all facebook posts/messages, and I might have a go at something like that.

TheBigBadG on 17-01-2014
Ghost in the Machine
This is a really interesting subject, one which is more real that you'd perhaps expect. Charlie Brooker dedicated an episode of Black Mirror to the idea and then, even more weirdly, things like this were launched about a month later - Lives On. So yeah, less strange than you might have thought.

I do think you've got the young voice down - the crippled syntax and spelling of the Facebook conversations in particular. However, I don't think that you've got the tone right here. I confess I have some personal perspective on this so apologies if this seems harsh, but lines like, 'He still missed Chloe, even after six months, which for someone only 15 years old was quite something.' just don't ring true for me.

As Blue said the story is pinned on the introduction but the introduction needs more impact, as does Darren's anger at Julie-Ann. It feels to me like it should all be happening in the top and tail but instead we get the relatively insignificant chat between Darren and Chloe. I guess what I'm saying is that you've made the story about the idea and in doing that you've sold short the characters.

Sorry if that makes me a miserable git this time.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the comments George; as per my comment above, it was a bit of a rushed job, and I didn't go through as many edits as I usually do. I'm going to have a go at a reworking.

Rupe on 17-01-2014
Ghost in the Machine
I agree with the above...

Like the BigBadG, I didn't quite like the tone of the first three paras (seems detached, like an official report) and tripped up over 'He still missed Chloe, even after six months, which for someone only 15 years old was quite something'. I think that given the lack of experience of death at that age and all the rest of it, the average 15-year-old would be devastated - and six months isn't a long time.

The story really comes to life when you start on the dialogue - both the Facebook stuff and the conversation with Julie-Ann. I'd tend to make the whole thing more dialogue-heavy & let the story tell itself through the characters, because you seem to be very good at dialogue.

It's a good idea, and very promising as it stands.

Rupe

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the comments Rupe; I agree with what you say about the opening paras, and I'm going to have a go at a rewrite.

e-griff on 19-01-2014
Ghost in the Machine
Overall, this is competently written and effective. You've not overdone things, it's almost a matter of fact account. Unusually, I read the other comments before making my own. My feeling is that trying to get more out of the Julie Ann thing in a story of this nature and length is not necessary. She's completely unimportant. I almost feel you could end the story on 'I had it terminated' - we know all the rest, it's just padding.

One thing you should watch. The difference between the narrator's account, and his opinions. The comments on first kiss etc are, for me, out of place and authorial intrusion (which is fine if you adopt it as a style throughout, but here you haven't). And I personally see no place for brackets in narration.

This is a one trick snippet, and an enjoyable little bite. I'd pare some of the explanations out, drip the back story into his conversation with Chloe, and start with her name appearing and take it from there - perhaps make a bit more of his surprise, shock and disbelief with her before he accepts it is her (this is where you could fit the back story).

Anyway, whatever, that's my take for the pot!

G

Author's Reply:
Thanks for taking the time to read, and the comments. I've actually tried a rewrite, taking out the backstory (including the bit in brackets) and concentrating more on the event itself. It'll be posted tomorrow, see what you think, I'd value your comments.

Ross

Mikeverdi on 19-01-2014
Ghost in the Machine
Its well written, as we have come to expect, I do however agree that it would have added punch to know about the girls death; or is that a bit sad of me? No it would have added something; you are always worth reading mate.
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike, and congratulations on being the featured member. I've done a bit of an edit, and i think I've given it more punch, but the death of Chloe gets even less of an explanation, sorry!

Thanks, again, for the kind comments

Ross

sirat on 08-02-2014
Ghost in the Machine
I think the narration at the beginning is definitely intrusive. I would trim this right down to the screen conversation itself, and leave it ambiguous as to whether the dead girl is really replying or not. Let the reader decide how much of it is inside Darren's head and how much of it is real. End with Chloe suggesting that it's time for him to move on, and if you like suggesting he take up with her best friend (who's always fancied him, or something). She signs off and when he tries to talk to her again he gets the 'account terminated' error. Just a suggestion. As it stands I think it's over-written, too much explanation, not enough mystery or room for reader interpretation.

Author's Reply:


A Day At The Beach (posted on: 10-01-14)
The return of Anna and Torstein, six months after they met in the Thor Heyerdahl museum

The sky was porcelain blue, and the only clouds were small and looked like cotton wool. Anna hated it. She much preferred overcast, grey skies, heavy with the promise of rain. She liked it even better if it was actually raining. She was lying on her back on a big flat rock. In her head Nick Cave was singing about walking barefoot across a floor; her feet, hanging over the edge of the rock, were jerking to the jagged rhythm of the song. Despite the perfect weather, she was perfectly happy. A faint vibration carried through the rock. Without disturbing the song, she explored the pocket of her big, old overcoat, felt past the discarded tram tickets, sweet papers and a small box until she touched her phone. Flicking it on, she saw she had a missed call. She smiled, and pressed the key with the little green phone on it. Taking the left earphone out, she listened to the little beeps as she was connected. ''Where are you? Uhuh, well, turn right around, go back up the slope, left at the top of the path and straight on for about 50 metres. There's a small clearing, with a rock in it. I'm on the rock, looking at the sky. See you soon.'' She snapped the phone shut and plugged Nick and his Bad Seeds back into her ear. Half a song later she stopped swinging her legs, and opened her eyes. Something was blocking the sun. She recognised the outline of Torstein's untidy hair and smiled. She liked the fact that she'd got him to grow his hair and lose the uncompromising parting. He looked much better like that – less straight. Her next project was his clothes. She sat up and coolly assessed today's attire: open sandals (without socks at least), checked shorts and a blue t-shirt. He looked like an American tourist. ''Hiya Tor. Don't you love this place?'' ''It's very nice, and very quiet. Why does nobody come here?'' ''People are stupid. More room for us! Let's go to the beach.'' Anna slid from her rock and taking his hand, led him back the way he'd just come. ''I've just come from there'' he complained. ''Why didn't we meet there?'' Anna favoured him with a smile. ''That's not the way it's done, silly. You come to me.'' Torstein considered this in silence. It was a full six months since Anna had exploded into his life that night at the museum, and she had pretty much run things since then. If Anna decided they were to meet at the flat rock in the clearing, then that's where they met. The funny thing was, he liked it that way. He took in today's costume, the ubiquitous tartan baseball boots, skinny black jeans and red t-shirt with a statement in English which read 'This is what a feminist looks like'. A man's gabardine trenchcoat, at least two sizes too big, completed the look. ''Why do you have that big coat on? Aren't you hot?'' ''I love this coat. Got it this morning in a second-hand shop for 20 Kroner. Don't you think it's fabulous? And just look what I found in the pocket.'' She held out a small box. The box looked old, and had an elaborate design picked out in gold leaf on the top. Torstein carefully prised up the lid. Inside, held in a velvet-lined grip, was a silver ring with an intricate swirling design. Anna plucked the ring from the box. ''I think someone asked someone to marry him and she refused.'' Torstein looked at her. She had an amazing ability to confound him. And she had the ring on her finger, admiring it as she turned her hand in the sun. She stopped and looked at him, suddenly serious. ''We must find out whose coat this was. We could save a great romance!'' Torstein recognised the look in her eyes; when she was in this sort of mood she would not be denied. ''Where did you get it?'' he asked, wearily. ''We'd better go there.'' It wasn't his idea of a perfect day off, but his own interest was piqued as well. Anna kissed him quickly on the cheek. ''I love you, Torstein Heyerdahl. Let's go!'' He followed her dumbly down the track, back towards the entrance to the park. She had kissed him. She had said she loved him. He knew that Anna was prone to saying whatever was in her mind at any moment, with no thought to the consequences, but he also knew that she didn't say something unless she believed it to be true. He had a strange, fluttering feeling of something – excitement, trepidation, hope – he wasn't sure which, perhaps all three, in the pit of his stomach. He realised that she still had the ring on. He chased after her, retrieved the ring from her finger, then they walked together through the park to the city centre, he casting furtive glances at her, she seemingly oblivious to the volcano of emotions that he words had caused. Half an hour later, they were near the centre of the city, in a small café, having noodles. He watched her face as she ate with her usual fierce concentration, as if the bowl of noodles was the most important thing in the room. Conscious of his gaze, she gently put down her fork, and leaned back in her chair, looking straight at him, taking her time. ''Well, Torstein,'' she teased out his name. ''We'd better get to this shop, don't you think? Before it closes.'' Torstein sighed. He was utterly, and completely, lost. He followed her out of the door, and when they reached the street she surprised him again by grabbing his hand and giving it a squeeze. A few minutes later, they were in the shop, which was hidden away down a scruffy street filled with small, scruffy shops. The shop was filled with junk and seemed to be empty. ''Hello Anna, you come back for more?'' Behind the counter, a head. Torstein realised it belonged to someone sitting down; indeed, it looked to him that she would have a bit of a job getting up. She looked at least 100 years old, and her thin, almost transparent hair stood out, halo-like, around her perfectly round head. ''Hi Jessie, how are you?'' Anna leaned on the counter. ''You remember I bought this coat here this morning?'' ''Why of course I do dear,'' said the old woman. ''I said it was too big for you, but you wouldn't listen. You never do. You want to bring it back because you've realised that I'm right?'' ''No, I love the coat'' said Anna seriously, ''but we need you to tell us whose it was. I found something in the pocket and we're going to return it.'' ''Of course you are, dear. That might be difficult, though. It came from a house clearance. An old woman who died last year.'' ''An old woman? But this is a man's coat. Was she married?'' ''As far as I know she lived alone. Her house was full of stuff; we're still processing it. Here. I'll write down the phone number of the young man who gifted the contents to us.'' With considerable effort, Jessie opened a big ledger book, found the number, and scribbled it on a piece of paper. Anna thanked her, and handed it to Torstein, who carefully put it in his wallet. ''Before we go, Tor, how about we find you something a bit more…interesting than the stuff you're wearing?'' Despite his protests Torstein left the shop 20 minutes later wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a pair of jeans that had seen far better days, as well as, he suspected, more than one previous owner. He had drawn the line at a pair of heavy biker's boots. His old clothes were stuffed into a carrier bag. They retired to a nearby coffee shop, and discussed how to go about the next stage. Anna was all for phoning the number right away, but Torstein suggested a text, which they eventually agreed to. He took out his phone and the piece of paper. ''Hey, what are you doing?'' asked Anna. ''I'll be doing the texting, thank you very much.'' ''No you won't, Anna. I'm doing it. What if he's an axe murderer?'' He prepared himself for another argument, but much to his surprise he received, instead, another peck on the cheek. ''All right, big man'' she teased, ''but we'll both agree what the text says. You're so sweet. I don't deserve you.'' Flattered and flustered equally, Torstein drafted a simple message: My name is Torstein. I bought an old coat from a shop in Grunerlokka and found something valuable in the pocket and want to return it to the appropriate person. I was given your number at the shop, perhaps we could meet to discuss it. Anna leaned in to read it, and grimaced. ''Appropriate person! A bit formal, Tor.'' She smiled and sat back. ''Just kidding, that's good, let's send it.'' Secretly she was amused that he didn't use text-speak but wrote it out as if it were a letter. The message away, they decided to head for nearby Sofienberg park. They'd just reached it when Torstein's phone pinged. Anna waited impatiently as he dug the phone out of his new jeans. Thnx, T. I cn mt u were u want. ''Why don't people write properly?'' Torstein grumbled. ''Shouldn't be any different because it's a text. What should I say?'' ''How about meeting here – right at the centre of the park? Then we could run away if he's carrying an axe!'' Torstein gave her a withering look, which made her laugh, and sent a text. Can you come to Sofienberg Park? We'll be right at the centre. The reply was almost instantaneous. Gr8, c u in 10. Lars     ''His name's Lars, and he'll be here in 10 minutes.'' Said Torstein. ''He must be keen.'' ''Or close'' said Anna. ''Let's get an ice cream.'' Fifteen minutes later they saw a tall young man, dressed in light blue jeans and an open white shirt, with long black hair, wearing sunglasses, coming their way. He looked cool and self-confident. Torstein hated him immediately. ''Hi, are you Torstein? Cool shirt.'' ''Lars?'' Torstein stuck out his hand, a gesture that surprised both Lars and Anna. They shook hands. ''So, what is it you found?'' ''Before we show you, what can you tell us about this coat?'' asked Anna. ''I think it belonged to my Uncle Erik. Some of his stuff ended up at my gran's when he died about 10 years ago.'' ''And was he married?'' ''No, a confirmed bachelor, Uncle Erik. He liked a drink, and he smelled of fish, which probably explains why.'' Anna and Torstein exchanged a glance. ''Then how would you explain this?'' said Anna, holding out the box. ''It was in the pocket.'' Lars opened the box, took out the ring and examined it. ''No idea. It looks old. It was in the pocket of that coat? Looks good on you by the way.'' Torstein's dislike of the young man increased by several notches. Anna was nonplussed. ''Well, if it's not your uncle's I guess you should give me it back.'' Lars closed the box with a snap. ''Don't think so. If it was in the coat it must belong to my family. I'll show it to my mum, she'll know.'' He put the box in his pocket.     ''You could be anyone'' said Anna. ''The guy that cleared out the house, for instance. How do we know that you'll take it back to its rightful owner?'' ''One, the rightful owner, my Uncle Erik, is dead, and two, he was my uncle. What do you guys want, a reward?'' ''We just wasn't to make sure it gets back to the right person, like Anna said'' said Torstein, ''that's all. We're not after money.'' ''Ok then, why don't you come with me to my mum's, and you'll see I'm who I say I am. She's five minutes away, on Langgata.'' They set off, Anna walking between Lars and Torstein. Torstein was on the outside, which meant the noise from the traffic stopped him hearing everything Lars said to Anna. This annoyed him almost as much as the young man's self-confidence, or arrogance as he now thought of it. From time to time he said something that made Anna laugh, which brought about positively murderous thoughts. Lars' mum lived in a detached house full of old furniture. A big living room opened off the hall. ''You guys wait here'' said Lars, ''make yourselves comfortable.'' He took off up the stairs and they looked around them. Two faded leather couches faced each other beside a smoke-streaked fireplace. Anna threw herself into a couch. ''Wow, this is so comfy, Tor, come and sit down.'' Torstein sat down more sedately. He felt ill at ease in the strange house. He turned towards Anna. ''You kissed me'' he said. ''Twice.'' ''Did I? Suppose I did. About time, don't you think? We've been together for ages. And I'd die of old age if I waited for you to do it.'' ''And you said you loved me too.'' ''Oh Tor, I say that to everyone. Listen, they're coming.'' She sat up at the sound of two pairs of feet descending the stairs. Lars was accompanied by a woman who looked suspiciously like a teacher that Torstein had at school, and who he hadn't liked much. ''Mum, this is Torstein and Anna. They found the ring in the pocket of Uncle Erik's old coat. They say they're not after a reward, they just want to make sure it gets back to its rightful owner.'' Torstein detected a smirk on the young man's face that made him want to punch him. The woman was carrying the ring, still in its box. She looked at them both for a moment, then handed it to Torstein. ''I would like you to have it, Torstein, you and Anna.'' Beside her, Lars looked furious. Torstein stood up. ''Thank you, but I'm not sure we can accept. The ring looks valuable.'' ''Nonsense'' said the woman. ''We have so much, and we hadn't even noticed it was gone. I'd like you to have it. Besides, as it belonged to that old skinflint I'd be extremely surprised if it's worth more than a couple of kroner. And you can consider it a reward for your honesty." "Well, if you're sure" said Anna, "thank you very much. Come on Tor." With a hurried 'thank you' and an embarrassed smile he hurried after Anna, who had already opened the door and was on the porch. The woman looked amused while, Torstein was extremely happy to note, Lars looked extremely angry. Outside on the pavement, Anna was inspecting the ring, which was now back on her finger. "What a nice woman. I like it" she said. "Think I'll keep it on. What do you think?" "If you have it on that finger, it means you're engaged." She looked at him and smiled. "Is that a proposal, Torstein?" He reddened. "No. Yes. I don't know. You're impossible, Anna, you never take anything seriously!" He turned away. He felt impossibly confused, and close to tears. He felt Anna move close behind him. She reached round him and took his left hand in hers. "I take you seriously, Tor, I always have." She gently pulled his hand so that they were facing each other. She looked up at him and, solemnly, slowly, kissed him on the mouth.    
Archived comments for A Day At The Beach
Mikeverdi on 11-01-2014
A Day At The Beach
Good to be reading you're work again. I find this interesting, it has the 'want to read more' factor. Looking forwards to where this is going. Couple of typos... so what! Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind comments Mike. This is about the 4th draft of the continuing story, and I'm far from sure I've got it right yet. Doing a second chapter of a longer story is much more difficult than a short, self-contained piece, I'm starting to realise.

sirat on 12-01-2014
A Day At The Beach
I hope this won't offend or sound too negative, but I didn't think this one really comes off. It feels like you're trying very hard to make Anna an interesting character but not succeeding. You say that she prefers grey weather to sunshine, but if this is so why is she lying back on a rock in a public park and why does she want to go to the beach? Why does she like a man's coat that everyone thinks is too big for her? I don't believe that you have a very clear picture of this character in your own mind, or If you have it didn't come across to me. As the story goes along you have a lot of description and discussion of texting, which seems like a rather clumsy way of making us aware of Tor's liking for accuracy and precision. This scene, in my opinion, just goes on too long. Then we have the point of view wavering between Anna and Tor, where you go inside Tor's mind to tell us about his jealous feelings but don't tell us Anna's reaction, or even whether or not she is aware of what's going on. Then we have the plot device of her being given the ring and its morphing (under her subtle manipulation) into a marriage proposal from Tor. To make it interesting I think you would need to go much deeper inside one or other of your central characters and try to let us experience the events from his or her point of view. Give the chosen protagonist strong feelings, make us care about them and about the eventual outcome. For me this one remains a bit superficial. Give it more guts.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the considered comments David, I value them and your guidance (and no, I don't find them negative: I thnk the great strength of UKA is the variety of comments you can get, some encouraging and some the kind of constructive criticism that you've just given).

I'm realising that longer stories, looking towards a novel length, which is where I want to go, is a new skill, quite different to the short pieces I've been doing so far. It's a challenge I want to take up, so your insights are really helpful. You're right about my picture of Anna's character; my idea was to have her reveal more of her inner thoughts and her character as the story progresses, but to do that I need to know her better. At the moment she's only partly formed in my head, so I'm going to do a bit more work there and then do some redrafting.

Ross


Commando (posted on: 30-12-13)
This is another of these true stories that I keep coming across, this time via the radio. There are so many stories out there, better than anything that you could make up. I particularly liked the brass-necked cheek of this particular intelligence gathering operation.

"So you see, chaps, just what a ticklish problem we have here" said Captain Travers, standing at the head of the table with legs apart, hands behind his back. "We need to find out Jerry's strength in this particular bit of the coast, and how many outposts they have so we can plan our assault on the radio transmitter. But with the camp that far inland, and the surrounding landform, it's going to be dashed difficult to carry out a proper recce.'' Silence. The men of 12 Commando stared at the map, shifting uncomfortably. They'd spent the best part of a year training and now what they wanted more than anything was to have a go at the enemy. The frustration hung in the room as heavily as the thick cigarette smoke that snaked around them. Disappointed in the lack of response, the captain dismissed the men, with an instruction to go to the pub and have a couple of stiff drinks, in the hope that this would lead to some inspiration. But one of the men, Sergeant Bryce, stayed at the map, considering. At 38, Bryce was older than the captain; indeed, he was the oldest man in 12 Commando. While Travers had been talking an audacious but essentially simple idea had come to him. He knew it could work. The captain took some persuading, but Bryce's enthusiasm, and his conviction that he could carry it off, won him over. So it was that, two weeks later, Sergeant Bryce, dressed in grey flannels, a tweed jacket and crisp white shirt with regimental tie, set off, in a submarine, for the coast of Guernsey. In the darkness, 400 yards from shore, he was helped into a small dinghy by a couple of bemused sailors. With a "Cheerio, see you chaps tomorrow" he headed for the beach. It was early summer, and the sea was like glass. It was still dark when he reached the shore, deflated the dinghy and took up residence in the centre of a large group of gorse bushes. Dawn was an hour off at least, and his accommodation was cramped and uncomfortable, but Bryce didn't mind. He found a spot that had only a few sharp roots, shifted around so they weren't sticking directly into him, and settled down to wait. When the sun had risen fully he emerged, brushed himself down and set off for the camp, a mile distant. The morning was bright and sunny, and with a light breeze at his back Bryce found himself thoroughly enjoying the walk. The country he was walking through was classic British farmland, green and gently undulating, and the road was bordered by wild flowers. The mix of bright colours cheered him and gave an extra spring to his step. He even hummed a song as he strode along. He stopped as he crested a rise and saw the camp laid out neatly before him. No longer humming, he took a deep breath and marched towards the entrance in best military fashion. Here we go, he told himself; you can do it old boy. A single guard was slumped in a seat, leaning against the sentry box, smoking a cigarette. He watched Bryce approach but didn't bother to get up. Bryce stood to attention on the other side of the barrier. ''I want to see the chap in charge of the kitchens. Chop chop!'' The guard stood up, cigarette hanging from his mouth. Bryce wanted to slap it away. If the chap had been a member of 12 Commando he'd have been on a charge. ''What you want?'' he asked, in halting English. Bryce tried again. ''The sergeant in charge of your kitchen. Feldwebel. Kuche. Come on, come on, I haven't got all day!'' Reacting to the authority in his voice the guard retreated to the sentry box and spoke into a phone. A few minutes later, a short, heavy-set man, buttoning his tunic, arrived. ''Well?'' he said, eyeing Bryce suspiciously. ''I'd like to do both of us a favour, old bean'' said Bryce. ''Who have you got supplying you with your food?'' ''A Monsieur Gilbert. Why?'' ''Thought so'' said Bryce. ''He's the chappie that supplied the camp when I was stationed here. Terrible crook. Bad meat, high prices, always ready to cheat you.'' The German sergeant gave an involuntary nod. Quartermasters and their like, Bryce knew, were naturally suspicious, and believed that everyone was out to fleece them. ''I can supply you with all your food, at least 10% less than you're paying Gilbert. And the quality will be top notch. How about a month's trial? There'll be a bottle of something nice in it for you, too.'' ''Sure, why not?'' said the German. ''I never liked that Gilbert. Give me a quote and I'll think about it.'' This was going better than Bryce had dared hope. He took out his notebook and a pencil. ''Excellent. Now, let me take a note of what you need. How many men are you catering for?'' ''400.'' And how many of them are officers?'' ''20'' ''And am I going to be supplying it all to the camp here, or will I need to be sending some of it hither and yon around the countryside?'' ''No, we are all stationed here, in the camp.'' Bryce tucked away his notebook, stuck out his hand. ''A pleasure doing business with you old boy. I'll bring you a quote, in person, in two day's time.'' He turned about smartly and marched away. Back at the beach, Bryce secreted himself once more in the gorse bushes, and sat down to wait for darkness and his return to the submarine. His plan had worked perfectly, apart from one thing. He wished he'd brought some sandwiches.
Archived comments for Commando
Pronto on 30-12-2013
Commando
Ah I loved this tale of simple wit overcoming a large and knotty problem. Knowing the senior NCO's of the British forces (A fly load of buggers all) I find this very amusing and very believable. Well told.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, glad you enjoyed it. Often the simplest, most direct approach is best!

Nomenklatura on 30-12-2013
Commando
Cheeky Bugger, that Pronto. Fly? I most certainly was not! I never, ever put something over a commisioned officer that a child could not have done.

Yes, Rab, truth is stranger than fiction, the trick is making the truth read as well as fiction. This jogs along well, good stuff.
regards
Ewan

Author's Reply:
Thanks Ewan, glad you liked it. This sort of story is such a gift to stumble across!

Ross

Mikeverdi on 30-12-2013
Commando
Great story well told, a simple plan, but most of the good ones are. Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks as ever for your support Mike. I loved the cheek of the plan as much as anything. If you're going to try it on, best to just go for it! That's how I approach writing too...

TheScribbler on 30-12-2013
Commando
You could never get away with this in fiction, could you. Excellent telling of a 'found' story.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, glad you enjoyed it. As you say, so unlikely it could only be true!

Corin on 02-01-2014
Commando
Great Story - nothing like a bit of brass neck!


Author's Reply:
Absolutely - the simple approach!


A Christmas Tale (posted on: 13-12-13)
In the heart of Glasgow, something a little magical's going on...

Gerry thought the 23rd of November was a ridiculously early time for Santa to arrive, but he kept his own counsel. This was his second year as the Maryhill Shopping Centre Santa, and he was glad of the work. He'd had a couple of days to supervise the construction of the grotto, sort out the presents and train his elf to react to the small signs he'd give him: this one's a bit smelly, get him in and out quickly, this one's about to burst into tears, get his mum, and so on. Joe, the young trainee he'd been assigned, seemed a bit gormless, but was a nice lad, and he had hopes of a trouble-free couple of months. Today was the big day, though, and he went through the routine that was going to become so familiar: first, the long cotton drawers and vest, then the padding, slipped over the shoulders and fastened round his midriff; next, the bright red trousers, ends tucked into the shiny black boots; the jacket, as red as the trousers, followed by the wide black belt fastened round the bulging padding, holding the whole thing in place. Finally, just to make sure he cooked at a constant 200 degrees, the thick white beard, fastened by sticky tape and hooked round his ears. With a muffled exclamation and a lot of effort forced himself to his feet. I sound like my old man getting out of his favourite chair, he thought. The shopping centre was open, and a queue had already formed at the front of the Grotto, which was elegantly, if erroneously, decorated by skating, waving penguins and polar bears eating Christmas cake. He waved to his adoring fans; some waved back, some hid, one burst into tears. He waddled in to the tiny plywood building, decorated with fake reindeer hides and a fireplace with a monitor showing a roaring fire on a 30 second loop. He settled himself in to the huge, padded chair, and gave Joe a nod. ''Let's get started Joe.'' The young man, self-conscious in his green velour outfit and floppy hat, ducked through the swing doors and ushered in the first child, a small girl in a thick coat, scarf, mittens and woolly hat. A young woman wearing jeans and a t-shirt, chewing gum, came in with her. ''Hello, young lady, come over here and tell Santa what you want me to bring you this Christmas. Have you been a good girl for your mum?'' ''Ah'm no hur mum, ah'm hur auntie'' said the young woman. The small girl looked up at Gerry with a serious and not altogether friendly expression. Gerry picked her up and swung her on to his knee, and that strange thing happened again: man and child became cocooned in a bubble of magic, taking them away from the dingy darkness of the Grotto, from the outside world, from everything. Elf and auntie faded to grey. The small girl on his knee felt it too; her eyes grew wide and she whispered, so softly that he had to put his ear close to her mouth, her innermost hope, that her daddy could come home for Christmas, and bring her a puppy. ''I'll see what I can do'' said Santa softly, ''and in the meantime here's a wee present for you.'' He took a present from the Good Girl bag, placed it in the little girl's hands and lifted her off his knee. She took her auntie's hand and, still under the spell, left the dark, quiet grotto for the bright lights and cheesy Christmas songs of the shopping centre. By lunchtime Gerry was exhausted. Soon after 12 he asked Joe to place the sign that read 'Santa's feeding his reindeer' at the end of the queue, and half an hour later he sighed with relief, heaved himself to his feet, had a good scratch under his padding, and lumbered out of the grotto to his dressing room. It took him five minutes to get out of his gear, then he sat luxuriating in the freedom. It felt as if he had just emerged from a particularly uncomfortable session in a sauna. He now had about 20 minutes before he had to get it all back on again, so he hurried to the canteen. The afternoon session went the same way as the morning's, with a steady stream of little people striding into the room, or edging in hesitantly, holding on to their parent's hands. One or two took fright and bolted as soon as they saw him, their parents waiting long enough to claim a refund before rushing after them. But for the youngest ones, the believers who were seeing Santa for the first time, the experience was something they would carry with them, remembering it when they brought their own children to meet the man with the white beard. After the first week was over Gerry bought Joe a drink at a pub near the shopping centre, and found out a bit of his background: he lived with his mum on the seventh floor of a tower block, had left school that year with nothing but a metalwork higher, knew he was lucky to have even this job, despite the daft costume. In the old days, when he left school, Gerry told him, a metalwork higher would have been enough to get him into the shipyards, where he had worked for 29 years, until, at the exalted level of a Master Welder, he had been laid off two years ago, together with the 200 other men in the yard. ''Times are tougher now, Joe,'' he said; ''you have to take whatever comes along and make the best of it.'' They finished their drinks and went their separate ways, Joe to the hot meal his mum would have waiting for him, Gerry to the one-bedroom flat he'd lived in since his marriage had ended 18 months ago, when Laura had finally lost patience with his self-pity. He would end up where he did most Saturday nights, in his favourite pub with the rest of the gang. At least he had enough money to buy them some drinks for a change. The next few weeks followed a familiar pattern, the queue of children never depleting; Geoff, the manager of the centre, was pleased, and was already making overtures to him for next Christmas, a depressing thought; this was not how Gerry had envisaged his working life turning out. He and Joe were a good team by now, though, and Gerry's opinion of the young man had gone up several notches since they had started. They shared a laugh whenever they had a break, and the weekly drink in the local pub had become a ritual that they both enjoyed. But then, sooner than they had thought possible, it was the final week before Christmas, the run-up to the big day and Santa was knackered. He'd done a quick calculation: Joe had ushered around 2,000 children into the magical grotto, with very few disasters (only one was sick on him this year, compared to half a dozen last year). Early on that Monday morning, a small girl that he knew very well visited the grotto, accompanied by a woman he also knew well. He waited to see if Laura would see through the fat suit and bushy beard. She didn't seem to, but then she wasn't looking at him; instead her mobile phone was taking all her attention. His daughter was standing in front of him. He plucked her off the ground and sat her on his knee. ''Now then Chloe,'' he said, in a deeper, more rumbling voice than he usually used. ''Have you been a good girl for your mummy and daddy?'' The small child wasn't fazed by the fact that Santa knew her name – he was magic, after all. ''I have been good for my mummy, but my daddy's not really my daddy'' said Chloe, in a very matter of fact way. ''Can I have a new computer for my Christmas please? And a pony?'' ''Perhaps you're a little young for a computer yet, Chloe, And is your garden big enough for a pony?'' ''Well'' said Chloe, considering this, ''the garden's quite big... but I know what you mean about the computer, that's what my mummy says too. How about a Playmobil farm then?'' ''We'll see what we can do, but remember, it's got to be small enough to fit down your chimney.'' Chloe looked a bit confused at this, but gravely accepted her present, took her mum's hand and guided her out. Gerry's ex-wife hadn't taken her eyes off her phone the whole time. He breathed a sigh of relief. ''Give us a minute before the next one comes in Joe.'' The next couple of days were busier than ever, and both Gerry and Joe began to look forward to Christmas Eve. Geoff had hinted that they might be receiving a 'wee bonus'. Gerry hoped that it would be a fat envelope but knew a bottle of Bells was more likely. The grotto closed at midday on Christmas eve, and by 11 o'clock they had the finishing line well in their sights. Joe ushered in a boy who looked to be at the high end of the age range, perhaps seven, an age when many of his peers had stopped believing in the magic of Santa. Older kids were often the most troublesome, but Gerry knew this one wouldn't be; he'd worked with the boy's father for more than 20 years and had been at a very drunken party to celebrate the birth of the young chap standing in front of him, eyeing him with suspicion. ''Well, hello, Peter'' rumbled Santa, ''and have you been a good lad for your mum and dad?'' Peter looked startled; as the veteran of many a shopping centre Santa he hadn't expected this one to know his name. ''Yes, I have, I think'' he said. ''Could I get an X-box in my stocking please?'' ''Well, we'll need to see, won't we?'' said Santa, aware that Peter's dad had been out of work as long as he had. ''I hope my elves have managed to make some X-boxes. They're a bit tricky for them, all those buttons and so forth. But don't worry, if they haven't I'll make sure you get something even better.'' Peter looked dubious but took his present and headed out of the door. ''Santa knew my name, dad.'' Gerry heard him saying as the door swung closed behind him. The last few stragglers went through the grotto without incident, their parents stumbling glassy-eyed after them, and then it was all over. Gerry sighed, suddenly sad. The magic had left through the swinging doors with the last young believer. ''Go and put up the sign Joe'' he said. ''We're all done here.'' Joe ducked through the door with a wooden sign that read 'Santa's off to pack his sacks', passing Geoff who came bearing a wide grin and a bottle of Glenfiddich. ''I had my money on a bottle of Bell's my old son,'' said Santa, ''but that will do very nicely.'' Geoff produced some plastic glasses from his jacket pocket ''You've done really well Gerry, the takings have been fabulous.'' He poured a good measure into two glasses and handed one to Gerry. ''To the best Santa in Glasgow!'' Plastic touched plastic in a quiet toast. ''Is it okay if my mum comes in to see where I've been working?'' asked Joe, at the door. ''And there's a chap here wants a word, too.'' ''Aye, bring yer mum in'' said Gerry, ''but whoever else is out there can piss off. Santa Claus has left the building. Come in and have a wee nip, Joe's mum!'' Before Joe could pass the message on, the Grotto doors swung open and a large, red-faced man forced his way in. ''Ah want to know how you know my son's name'' he said. ''And don't give me any shite about it being because you're Santa!'' ''Hello, Tom,'' said Gerry. ''And how's the world treating you since the yard closed? Have you been a good boy? Would you like a present?'' Gerry held out a plastic glass half full of whisky. Tom laughed, and took the glass. ''Gerry! Is that you under they whiskers? I'd never have guessed you would have ended up here.'' Joe appeared at Tom's side. ''Gerry, this is my mum.'' Geoff poured two more whiskies and handed them round. Joe's mum introduced herself. ''I'm Mary,'' she said, ''and I'm glad to meet you. Joe's always going on about you. You must come round to ours for a bite to eat after this.'' Gerry was pleased to accept; a home-cooked meal would make a welcome change from his usual microwaved effort. The grotto filled with laughter and warmth, giving it a late lease of life, a kind of Indian Christmas, thought Gerry, and he felt a wave of well-being infusing him. It seemed to spread to the other guests; a kind of magic, perhaps the last of Santa's magic, fell on the small, impromptu party, which are often the best kind. Tom left off talking to Geoff and crouched down beside Gerry. ''I'm glad I've seen you, pal'' he said, ''cos I've been talking to our old gaffer at the yard. It's been bought by a Norwegian bunch and they're going to be starting up again, in the spring, with an order for three supply ships for the rigs. He's asked me to put together a team. You up for it?'' ''What do you think?'' said Gerry, ''I'm out of a job here now, in case you hadn't noticed. Here, will they be looking for any new trainees?'' ''Aye, if you can find a decent worker amongst the sort of young folk they're turning out these days.'' ''They're not all bad you know,'' said Gerry, looking across at Joe. ''In fact I can find you one no bother.'' He climbed, with some difficulty, on to this throne and held his drink high. ''Cheers everyone'' said Santa. ''To the spirit of Christmas!''
Archived comments for A Christmas Tale
Mikeverdi on 13-12-2013
A Christmas Tale
That was well done, an uplifting tale full of hope; thanks for the feel good feeling. Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike. A bit corny, but what the hell, if you can't be corny at Christmas...

deadpoet on 13-12-2013
A Christmas Tale
This made me feel good and glad. Thanks. Happy Christmas to you !! :))

Author's Reply:
Compliments of the season! Glad you liked it.

Ross

Kipper on 15-12-2013
A Christmas Tale
I'm a sucker for Christmas stories, and for the Christmas films on the 'tele', and this was up there with the best of them. Wouldn't it be great if, in these difficult times, it turned out to be true.
Well I believe in Santa; don't you?
Michael.

Author's Reply:
I certainly do, Michael, and I hope he turns up with the presents this year...


Pendle of the Balloon Corps (posted on: 09-12-13)
For the prose challenge. The story is true, and the stiff upper lip dialogue between the two airmen when they were on their way down is precisely as reported by the flight sergeant.
*Now, edited, with added drama!*


Flight Sergeant Pendle was proud to be part of the Royal Flying Corps. I'm a flyer, I am, he would tell anyone who would listen, although everyone in the part of France where he was stationed knew perfectly well that he didn't fly so much as float. Nobody ever said anything, though, for two reasons - Walter Pendle stood 6 foot 4 in his socks, and nobody else fancied his job, which was to stand in tiny basket slung underneath a balloon filled with a highly inflammable gas, attached to the earth only by a slim cable. The observation balloons were big, and the German gunners liked to use them for target practice. And the German planes just loved to shoot them down. What Sergeant Pendle knew and they didn't, though, was just how beautiful the world, even the devastated world they inhabited, looked from 5,000 feet up. One particularly fine morning, just before dawn on 3 May 1916, Sergeant Pendle and Lieutenant Harris climbed into the small basket hanging below a grey, billowing observation balloon. These large balloons had a handling crew of 48 men, but on the morning of the 3rd of May there was stiff breeze, and they struggled to keep the ungainly, hydrogen filled whale steady as the sergeant completed his pre-flight check: maps, binoculars, parachutes, cameras, air speed indicator, the phones, flask of tea. The ropes holding the basket creaked as the balloon carried the flimsy basket steadily through the pre-dawn greyness. The two men squatted down as they rose; it was cold at 5,000 feet up, and very much windier than it was on the ground. When fully aloft the balloon was held steady by the kite-shaped bits of fabric which hung on a length of rope attached to the rear of the balloon. That was why everyone called them kite balloons. And the people who rode the wind with them were called, by the land-huggers below, balloonatics. They eventually stopped rising, and the phone rang. Lieutenant Harris held the receiver to his ear, and Pendle heard a welsh-accented squawking. "Right-o" said Harris, and replaced the receiver. "Five thousand feet exactly, according to Sergeant Jones." Pendle grunted, and opened the big map, squinting into the greyness towards the German lines. "My word, would you look at that, Flight." Pendle turned to face east, following the lieutenant's gaze. The horizon, over 40 miles away, was illuminated by a faint rosy glow; a line of clouds stretching towards them was lit from below by an unseen sun. It looked like the birth of a new world. Both men watched spellbound, the war forgotten, as the scarred, ruined earth below them was washed with a gentle, forgiving light,as if nature was trying to reclaim what man had destroyed. At that moment, Flight Sergeant Pendle felt a sense of calm, of spirituality, overwhelm him. He had never been a religious type, but at that moment he felt close to God. The gentle morning sun crept towards, then reached the wicker basket. As the two silent, spellbound airmen were bathed in the early morning sun, they were startled by a sudden explosion, as a shell burst a few hundred metres away, and slightly above them. If the Germans had their range their stay here might not be long. But, miraculously, no more shells came their way. They scanned the German lines anxiously, looking for the tell-tale puff of smoke that would betray the position of the gun that hunted them. After half an hour of silence they looked at each other. "Jerry run out of shells d'you think, Pendle?" said Lieutenant Harris. "Here's hoping, sir" said Pendle, bending over his map once more. The spell was broken though; both men were acutely aware of the war again, and their precarious position so far above it. And the wind. It was always windy at this height, and the basket, despite being attached to the balloon by a lattice of ropes, swayed, sometimes gently, sometimes not so gently. Both men had been aloft often enough not to be discomfited by such trifles, however, and they bent to their allotted tasks. Then their world imploded. There was a loud bang like a drum, and then a tearing, whistling noise, and the balloon above their heads collapsed. The heavy, grey material started deflating, and part of it fell into the basket. "Christ!" said Pendle, startled, the map he'd been holding fell into space and floated away. He glimpsed the lieutenant's white face in the folds of material. "We must jump" he said. Pendle agreed, and they both dived over opposite sides of the basket. As soon as he was in the air Pendle realised, with sickening certainty, that something was very wrong. The harness was meant to be round his waist, but it had slipped to the top of his legs. He tipped forwards with a lurch and was nearly thrown into freefall. He tried to pull the harness back up and right himself at the same time but he became tangled in the parachute cords. As he struggled with the clumsy leather harness he fell rapidly, turning over in the air, and the cords tightened round his neck. The pressure built until it he felt his eyes bulge; just when he started to black out his head slipped out, taking some skin from his throat and ears with it, and he was free. He put his hands to his scarred throat, just as he was pulled upwards and back with a jarring thump. His chute had coiled itself around the balloon cable. He hung there, dangling helplessly, for what seemed like hours, but was in reality seconds, then he began to unwind, going round and round the cable, feeling like a cork tossed on a stormy sea. Then he was falling away from the collapsing balloon - but he was falling too fast. He looked up to see his lacerated parachute flowing above him in tatters. It was now that Pendle finally gave himself up to his fate. He had seen what had been left of some of his colleagues whose chutes hadn't opened properly, and knew what was in store for him. He closed his eyes and spread his arms and legs, and the air rushed past him with incredible force as he fell, faster and faster, towards the hard ground. With a crash he hit something softer than he had expected. He had landed on top of the lieutenant's parachute. Almost immediately the chute collapsed under him, and they were both going down. "Sorry" he shouted to Harris. "I couldn't help it." He had to shout, the noise of the air rushing past was louder than an express train. "It's all right old man" shouted the lieutenant, "but couldn't you find some other bloody patch to fall on? Millions of bloody acres about you, yet you must pick me to fall on. It looks like finish." It did, for both men. Then a loud roar and a violent backwards jerk; they both looked up and saw the parachute opening above them. Pendle was tossed through the air like a feather, and his hands grabbed frantically at air. The ground was rushing towards him. His arm brushed a cord from Harris's parachute and he grabbed it and held on like grim death, the thin cord burning his palm as he tried to break his fall. He slipped down and down, he was still travelling fast, too fast, towards the brown, churned earth that rose up to meet him at terrifying speed. He hit the ground hard, the breath knocked right out of him, then with another thudding impact the lieutenant landed directly on top of him, with enough force to knock him cold. The next thing he was conscious of was rough hands grabbing him, pulling his bruised and battered body from the mud. Through a haze he heard shouting in strange accents, but slowly, as his wits returned, he realised the language was English. He was alive! They had dropped on top of the reserve trenches, which were filled with Canadian troops. There was much clapping on backs as they were welcomed back to earth, the lieutenant welcoming the attention more than Pendle, who just wanted to lie down somewhere quiet. The celebrations were cut short when the Germans spotted them and started lobbing shells over. The two airmen were helped back to the safety of a trench, and given a sugary drink which could have been tea or coffee. Neither man cared; they were happy to feel the damp, solid earth under them. They looked at each other in the semi-darkness of the dingy dugout. "You know, Flight Sergeant Pendle," said Lieutenant Harris, "if we told anyone this story, we would not be believed." "And no wonder sir" said Pendle. "I don't think I believe it myself."     
Archived comments for Pendle of the Balloon Corps
Nomenklatura on 09-12-2013
Pendle of the Balloon Corps
A gem of history. There are so many amazing stories from the world of the armed services.

One quibble: I am not old enough to have served in the RFC, but I was a Flight Sergeant in the RAF, which rank did not - and does not - signify aircrew status, although I was aircrew, myself. It was not done -ever- to call a Flt Sgt, Sgt. You could at a pinch - and out of earshot of the Station Warrant Officer (a kind of RSM for an air base) - call him Flight. This abbreviated form was never used for 'Flight Lieutenant' for example. I do know that Flight Lieutenant is the equivalent of Captain in the army, and, therefore, a Flt Lt could be addressed as that, by someone from outside the corps. And there's the rub: the RFC officer cadre held army ranks until the formation of the RAF in 1918/1919.

Well, sorry to go on about that. Great story, full of atmosphere.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind comments Ewan. I stumbled on the story while rooting around for inspiration for the challenge; it's told by a Flight Sergeant who, aong with the second member of the observation team, a lieutenant, survived the descent, amazingly. It is, as you say, a gem of history. I was really taken by the matter of fact way that the story was related; people who fought in both world wars seem to have a knack of understating the parts they played. I loved the dialogue between the two when the flight sergeant hit the lieutenant's chute, which is why I related it verbatim.

Thanks for the inside info about the ranks, and the terminology. I'll nip in and change that part when I get the chance.

Ross

bluepootle on 09-12-2013
Pendle of the Balloon Corps
What an amazing story. I think you really captured a great atmosphere, particularly when they're up in that balloon watching the sun come up.

I'm torn between thinking that it might be better as a single person perspective throughout, but then I think you might lose that wonderful sense of camaraderie, it being a shared wartime experience. But the fall to earth doesn't quite work for me as it is - I feel like you pull back from the experience in the writing and so the reader loses some of the connection with the characters. You could narrow it to being inside one of the character's heads as they fell, but then the dialogue might not work. Hmmm. It's a really tricky one. I suppose what I'm saying is that I didn't feel entirely satisfied with that section but can't think of a way to make it more immediate. I hope somebody else manages to make a more helpful comment - or is it just me?

Generally speaking, it's very well told, though.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Aliya, it's a wonderful story, but I agree with the comments from you and some of the others; I don't think I did the tale justice, so I've had a go at a partial rewrite, which I think makes it work better.

Ross

TheBigBadG on 09-12-2013
Pendle of the Balloon Corps
It's amazing to think that's all really true. I'd say the dialogue felt a bit too tally-ho pip-pip to be believable except you tell us at the start that it's as reported. Great story though, good spot.

I'm inclined to agree with Blue though, in that there's something not quite right as it is. It's all well written so it's not a stylistic thing - the sunrise in particular is a nice moment, lit from beneath as they're elevated et al - it's more to do with the import of each section. Simply, I think the fall is rushed as is. Whatever cheery quips they came out with that must have been a mortally terrifying experience so I'd give it more focus. It feels bit like a story about two men in a balloon as is, when it should be about their insane bravery and luck. The PoV thing is up to you, really; I'd be more interested in feeling the rush with them.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind comments George. I think my telling of the story lets it down somwhat, so I'm going to have a go at a rewrite. Watch this space...

OldPeculier on 09-12-2013
Pendle of the Balloon Corps
A brave move to bring a real event to life. Well done for that.

I enjoyed the first part of this a lot. The explanation of the observation balloon was nice and concise without being condescending or overly detailed. The dawn, as seen from the basket was very well done. It conveyed the awe those men must have felt in an age when most people never stood higher that the nearest hill.

The fall to earth, I felt was a little too matter of fact. I loved the dialogue but their stoutness of spirit would have had better impact when surrounded with a bit more drama and pace.

I really did'nt like ;'miracle of miracles'

Having said that, I think you did those brave men of the RFC justice.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind comments; I've had a bit of a rewrite, following your comments and some others, and I think the story's better for it.

Ross

e-griff on 09-12-2013
Pendle of the Balloon Corps
The only aspect of the simple recitation of a true story is whether it is clearly expressed or not. In style, it's all 'tell' with little opportunity for the reader to become involved in the writing, only the action described.

To be fair, you have inserted some colour with his reactions etc, where we step outside the fact.

I always tell authors who present novels, and tell me 'that's authentic', 'that's exactly how that works ', that fiction should be designed to involve and entertain, it should be dramatic.

So, if this is fiction, dramatise it. Let us know how each character is reacting, fearing, thinking, Big it up. Tell us what those on the ground are thinking, what the German pilots feel, etc etc.

That's just my suggestion.;-) It was enjoyable as it is.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind comments, and the advice. I'm going to go into the story again with it in mind and try a few things. The balloon time should be reflective, a bit floaty even, while the fall through the air, which must have been terrifying, should be like a roller coaster. I've now had a go at adding some drama; I'd be interested to know what you think.

Ross

Mikeverdi on 10-12-2013
Pendle of the Balloon Corps
I liked it the first time I read it, I still like it. Mike

Author's Reply:
Ah, but did you like the second version more?

bo_duke99 on 11-12-2013
Pendle of the Balloon Corps
and survived to tell (a great) tale, captured for posterity

Author's Reply:
Thanks, glad you liked it. The story was a bit of a gift, I have to admit. Still, best not to look gift horses in the mouth and all that...


Chromium Plated Dreams (posted on: 06-12-13)
My Tom Waits homage. A special prize to anyone that identifies the song(s)

Raymond had been the cook in Denny's Diner for 10 years now. From his small kitchen he could see the whole restaurant, and he knew all the regulars, their first names and what they ordered. He started preparing Vince's two eggs, sunny side up, two rashers of bacon and side of hash browns a few minutes before his normal time of arrival, so it was ready for him when he sat down at the table by the door. This wasn't as much about customer service, more to keep him straight, and to make sure that the orders didn't stack up when they were busy. Because of the way he worked, and the fact that most of their customers were regulars, his kitchen never got too busy, which suited Ray just fine. He'd got the job after returning from Afghanistan minus his left foot, partly compensated for by a Government issue prosthetic number; like all Government issue products, however, it wasn't the best and he had a shuffling gait that he'd now got used to. The owner of Denny's, a small, hard-bitten woman called Joanne, had given him the job partly, he thought, out of pity. He had paid back her decision many times over; he was never away from the place, partly because the job came with accommodation, a one room and shower out back, and partly because he had nowhere else to go. As well as the fake foot, he had come back from the war with, as he thought of it, a party in his head. The party didn't give him much peace unless he was working or dulled the noise with Ballantyne's whisky. He had his dreams though. Chromium plated dreams of owning the diner, running it his way and taking the proceeds rather than the meagre salary Joanne paid him. The dreams came to him when he was slipping into the oblivion that passed for sleep, or in the half-life of waking; he was never sure which. They followed a similar pattern where he was on the other side of the serving hatch, in the diner itself, but it had changed too; the cracked plastic seats had been replaced with red leather, and the tables had a neat gold rim round them. Each table had a little jukebox and the ketchup bottles, salt, pepper and sugar shakers gleamed. The customers were different too: well-dressed, prosperous looking families occupied the tables and filled the place with conversation and laughter. The clothes they wore, and their hairstyles, were straight out of the 50s, which gave him a hint of where his dreams came from: a shared American ideal, looking back to a mythical time when things were better, and Uncle Sam could give any country he chose a licking without breaking sweat. And without getting his foot blown off. Today, however, he was in the kitchen of Denny's, frying bacon for two overweight state troopers who were sitting at the counter, drinking coffee and flirting with Denise, the waitress who shared his life from 7 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon. Their order slid onto plates and placed in the hatch, he could relax, and he awarded himself a 5 minute break. He asked Denise for a coffee, and took it out the back door, where his coffee break chair sat in the one place that got the sun in the morning. While he drank his coffee and smoked a roll-up he recalled last night's dream. As usual, he had been in charge, but this time he had a vision of himself, as the boss, watching a young man in a singlet vest and apron frying eggs in the kitchen – his kitchen. This was the first time that he recalled dreaming about someone else doing his job, and it made him slightly uneasy. Was he the young man? From what he recalled of the dream he moved easily enough round the kitchen, without limping. Was the young man himself, pre-Afghanistan, or did it mean that he was on his way out? Denise's call brought him back to earth. Four orders for scrambled eggs, two with bacon, two without. He sighed, pinched the end of his roll-up with nicotine stained fingers, and limped back inside, his chromium plated dreams dissolving in the steam of his kitchen.    
Archived comments for Chromium Plated Dreams
OldPeculier on 06-12-2013
Chromium Plated Dreams
A totally believable glimpse into some one's life. Very well written.

Cannot comment on the Tom Waits thing, sadly not a fan.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for your comment, glad you liked it. I know Tom Waits isn't everyone's cup of whisky (nobody else in my family likes him), but I love the tales he tells in his songs.

Andrea on 07-12-2013
Chromium Plated Dreams
Excellently written and much enjoyed. Also love Tom Waits. Not this one, is it?



Author's Reply:
No, it was inspired by two songs, Sweet Little Bullet "all my dreams are made of chrome..." and Swordfishtrombone "He came home from the war with a party in his head..." that I had put back to back on a cd for the car. Glad you enjoyed the story.

Ross

Nick_Burton on 06-01-2014
Chromium Plated Dreams
Only just found this one (sorry!), and I love it! It's slow-burning and realistic, almost film noir in the narrative; very visual, dark, and cynical. Keep it coming!

Author's Reply:
Thanks Nick. It came to me as a scenario when I was driving home from work one day, and 2 Tom Waits songs combined to create it. Divine inspiration from Saint Tom!

Mikeverdi on 06-01-2014
Chromium Plated Dreams
Ross, I had no idea I had missed this gem, I saw that Nick had a comment and clicked on. Great down to earth writing mate, so sorry not to have commented at the time of posting. Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike, glad you liked it. One of these rare ones that's pretty much as originally written, with no editing apart from sorting out the typos!


The Mask (version 2) (posted on: 29-11-13)
A reworking of a story submitted for the recent challenge. The helpful comments I received prompted me to look at a re-draft. I'd be grateful for any new comments.

Another furlough in the fleshpots of London. The last few months had been a killer, and we were all more than happy to head off to the big city to let off some steam. Unlike the rest of the guys, however, I went alone. That's how I operate. I don't want any drunken buddies cramping my style. Or seeing what I get up to. What I had in mind for a lucky someone would not be pretty, and would definitely not be legal. I checked in at a small hotel in one of the city's smaller neighbourhoods, not West End but not East End either, dumped the bag and went for a look around. I had a coffee in a small café, nearly deserted; no wonder – the coffee was ersatz and the slice of cake would have made a good door stop. Next stop, the pics, The Gaumont. Faded grandeur, bigger than I would have expected. This Is The Army, a musical with that schmuck Ronald Reagan in it, was playing. I bought a ticket and sat in the smoky darkness with a dozen other lost souls for an hour and a half. It was dreadful. I emerged blinking into a dull, rainy afternoon. This part of the city looked so dreary I almost went back to the station and the next stop along the line, but that wouldn't have fitted with the plan. So I got myself a newspaper, some cigarettes and a half bottle of scotch and headed back to my room. I kicked off my shoes, stretched out on the bed and relaxed with all three of my purchases. The paper was as dreary as the weather; after half an hour I was dozing off, so I took a shower and freshened myself up for the evening. Party time. I collected my usual accessories – cigarettes, wallet complete with false ID, small leather cosh, my special knives, a ball of tough twine, and took off, into the night. I decided to try my luck at the dining room of a nearby hotel, grander than the flea-pit I'd booked into. The place was stuffy and overpriced. I got a table near the door, and positioned myself so I could see – and be seen by – any newcomers. I'm not one to brag, but I was the best catch in that place by some distance. The average age of my fellow diners must have been about the same as my parents', and the room was nearly silent, with only a murmur of conversation from a couple at the next table. The service was slow, but I wasn't in any hurry. As I smoked a cigarette before the dessert course I considered my next move. The social life in places like this would centre around the many pubs on or just off the High Street. It was still early, about eight, so I lingered over my coffee, which was only slightly better than the greasy spoon's had been. The first pub I tried, The Royal Oak, was an old man's place. Some of the old men looked as if they'd already passed away. The Grapes was a bit better, and I stayed for a drink at the bar, people watching. A younger crowd, mostly couples; nothing for me there. Next, the Fox and Hounds; I could sense a difference when I walked through the door. I stood just inside the door for a heartbeat or two, letting the happy crowd get an eyeful, then made my way, smiling, an excuse me here, a may I there, through the throng. A space opened up at the bar and I was there, caught the barman's eye, asked for a scotch, a decent single malt. Glass in hand, I turned, leaned my back against the bar and surveyed the room. I saw him as soon as he came in. Hard to miss him; he posed by the door for about five minutes, making sure he was noticed. Well turned out, good looking in an obvious sort of a way. A Yank by the cut of his suit. Just the type of arrogant bastard I liked. Liked taking down a peg or two, that is. I left my table in the corner of the bar, and headed over. He was holding what looked like a whisky. I squeezed in beside him, without looking at him, and ordered the same. A voice to my left, asking the barman for a whisky and lemonade, made me turn, and I was rewarded by a vision – dark hair a la Betty Grable, and a figure that would make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window. ''Let me get that'' I said, with a winning smile. Gorgeous turned to me. Smoky grey-green eyes, and a warm smile, she was a real knockout. I made sure he got an eyeful, then turned on the charm, both headlights, full beam. He reacted. Got you. ''Thanks so much, that's very kind of you. But I never let anyone buy me a drink until I've been properly introduced.'' I held out a hand. ''Gloria, very pleased to meet you. You're an American, aren't you?'' He admitted he was, told me his name was Joe. We shook hands, and as simple as that, we were an item. I suggested taking our drinks to a table, and we made our way to a secluded corner of the pub. Gloria was bright, vivacious and fun. God, how I hated her. I knew her type so well; she deserved everything she was shortly going to get. I was my usual charming self as we told each other our life stories – although mine, naturally, was not so much heavily edited as a work of fiction. We shared stories and cigarettes until closing time. He was boyishly eager when I suggested a nightcap, back at my place. This was altogether too easy. Gloria had a small terraced house in a dull street, where nobody else appeared to have much of a social life. All tucked up in their beds by 9 o'clock, like good little citizens. Inside the door, we shucked our coats and headed for the living room. Gloria lit the fire and drew the curtains, then headed upstairs to 'change into something more comfortable'. While she was away I mixed us a couple of drinks, a whisky with a lot of water for yours truly, and a special cocktail for Gloria; a bit of everything in it, until it was strong enough to fell an ox. Upstairs, I quickly changed into the silk negligee and made sure I had the powder handy. I tucked the sachet somewhere discreet and went back downstairs. Party time. I checked my look in the mirror at the top of the stairs. I looked good. Hell, I looked spectacular. Gloria sashayed in wearing a diaphanous silk number that showed a bit of leg and a lot of promise. If I'd been in the market for what she was offering I would have dropped to my knees and howled to the moon right there and then. After the second sip of her cocktail she put it down on a side table, but caught the edge, and next thing it was on the floor, a bright green puddle spreading across the stained carpet. Gloria brought in a towel and I helped her clean it up, then disposed of the towel in the kitchen. The drink he'd mixed was lethal, and a bilious green colour. God knows what he'd put in it; no way was I drinking that. I managed to tip it on the floor and got Joey boy out of the room for long enough to fix his drink. Two can play at that game, old son. When I got back she was mixing herself a new drink. It was looking like a longer night than I'd anticipated, and I was beginning to develop a real dislike for the gorgeous Gloria. Her dogged cheerfulness was grating, and my hands itched to get round that smooth neck. Was he getting a bit rattled? He looked a bit discomfited that his grand plan was beginning to unravel. I smiled as I settled back on to the couch beside him, lit two cigarettes and passed him one. I watched him carefully as we chatted. A thin sheen of sweat gleamed on his forehead, and he loosened his tie. ''Why don't you take off that heavy old jacket?'' I purred. He looked genuinely panicked. ''I'm fine, Glo, really'' I said, although I wasn't; the room had gotten unbearably warm and I was starting to sweat. I turned the charm up a notch. ''Unless you want to continue our conversation…upstairs?'' She finished her drink, smiled and stood up, without swaying even a little bit, I was disappointed to note . ''What a good idea. Why don't you knock that back and we'll do just that.'' I downed the contents of my glass and stood up. Or at least I tried to; what actually happened was that I half straightened into a kind of question mark shape then fell forwards into a small coffee table. My head hit something hard and black nothingness overwhelmed me. He went down like a sack of spuds. His head caught the ashtray and he was out cold. I didn't even need to follow through with the rolling pin I keep stashed behind the cushion. I got him out of his jacket. Well, blow me if he hadn't come prepared, the litle boy scout – there was a little, leather covered cosh, very lethal, a couple of posh little knives with ivory handles, and a ball of strong twine. I spread the haul out on the table, and considered. Clearly, Joey was a bit more than he seemed. I tried the little cosh out for size. It had a nice heft to it. He was starting to stir, so I tapped him on the side of the head with it and he went limp. I changed out of the silk into something more suitable, dragged sleepy-head to the cellar door, opened it, and heaved him through the opening. He hit every step on the way down, and landed a bit awkwardly. I hurried down after him and checked his pulse. Still with us. Good. I wanted him to realise what was happening. I had one of his nice knives and his twine with me; it was short work to get him trussed up good and tight. I rammed the towel we'd used to clean up his cocktail into his mouth. That should hold him for a while. I was filthy, and not a little sweaty. Time for a nice long bath. I came to in some pain, and a lot of discomfort. A cloth that tasted as if it had been soaked in raw spirit was jammed hard in my mouth. And it was dark. The darkness was so complete I though I'd gone blind. I tried to move, and found my wrists were tied together, and to my ankles. From the feel of the bindings, with my own twine. I ached all over, and had a pounding headache. I lay in the darkness, stunned mentally as well as physically. Gloria had sucker-punched me. Played me at my own game. I couldn't believe it. The thought that some dame had outsmarted me was not something I wanted to dwell on. So I stopped feeling sorry for myself and tried to do something about it. I started twisting and turning, which brought a pain in my arms, legs, and wrists so severe I nearly passed out. After a good half hour I had moved maybe two feet. My face was now pressed against something softer than the ground, but something that smelled pretty bad. Then a slit of light appeared near high up above my head. I was disorientated until I realised that I was lying in a basement. I heard the click of Gloria's stilettos as she came down the steps. She flicked a switch and the room was flooded with a harsh yellow light. I saw that the thing my face was pressed against was a body, and realised that whoever it was had been dead for some time. I gagged, and nearly died there and then because of the cloth in my mouth. I twisted away, and squinted towards the light. He was awake, and had been squirming about. His face was pressed up against Mr Fisher, Joe's immediate predecessor, which can't have been too pleasant for him. For Joe that is. Mr Fisher didn't mind. He'd been dead for two months. ''Wakey wakey, rise and shine. No, belay that last command. Don't get up. How nice of you to provide your own bindings. Nice cosh as well, or sap, isn't that what you Yanks call these things? The little knives will come in handy too, next time I need to gut some fish. Let me tell you how this is going to play out, Joe, or whatever your real name is. I've done to you what you were planning to do to me. You've made this nice and easy for me; I usually feel a tiny bit sorry for my men. But it's particularly rewarding to get one over on someone as cocky and, well, obnoxious as you. So get used to the surroundings, cos here you will stay, for the rest of your natural, or unnatural, life. I'm going to sock you now, quite hard, with your own little toy, make sure your bindings are as tight as they possibly can be, and leave you to your own devices. When you come to - if you come to - you'll have plenty of time to think about me. Pleasant dreams, matey.'' He twisted, and looked up at me. His eyes were like saucers. He was terrified; he knew exactly what the future had in store for him. I favoured him with my best smile, raised my right arm high and brought his leather cosh down with as much force as I could muster. There was a horrible crunching noise, and he was still. I stood for a while, admiring my handiwork, pleased that I wasn't even breathing hard. There was a sizeable dent in the side of Joe's head, and dark, thick blood was pooling on the floor. Woops - maybe I had hit him a little hard. The cosh was clearly a weapon that would take some getting used to. Practice, that's what I need, practice, I told myself as I turned out the light and closed the door on my men. Plenty of time for that. I whistled a happy tune as I climbed the wooden hill to bedfordshire. Tomorrow was another day.                            
Archived comments for The Mask (version 2)
Nomenklatura on 29-11-2013
The Mask (version 2)
I good idea to switch voices and POVs: I didn't find it hard to follow. However, just occasionally you let the hard-boiled American vernacular slip: 'It was dreadful' - really brought me up short. 'It was lousy' is the most likely, if a little tired, but with 1st person POV the odd received phrase is okay if it keeps the 'voice' convincing.

The only other thing was this;

He was awake, and had been squirming about. His face was pressed up against Mr Fisher, Joe’s immediate predecessor, which can’t have been too pleasant for him. For Joe that is. Mr Fisher didn’t mind. He’d been dead for two months.

You can show a bit more here.

'His face was pressed up against what was left of Mr Fisher, his immediate predecessor, which can't have been too pleasant for Joe. Mr Fisher was two months past caring.'

Telling is much more acceptable in 1st Person POV, but it's still good to show too.


Other than that I'm impressed with this new version.

regards
Ewan

Author's Reply:
Thanks Ewan. I wasn't sure how the two voices thing would turn out, and it took a while to get it to a stage I was happy with, but it's something I might try again.

Thanks, as ever, for your encouragement

Ross

TheBigBadG on 29-11-2013
The Mask (version 2)
Yup, I'm with Ewan. It's a pretty significant change but it's a lot better for it. The back and forth dialogue is a nice trick, well-deployed. The cat-and-mouse plot is interesting as well because you don't know who will win, and indeed if either of them particularly should. Much more interesting construction for a reader all round, basically.

As Ewan notes there are little things you can do to adjust the pacing, tighten it up et al - but if we're being honest there are always adjustments like that to make. You've gone for a big change, building on the original framework and improving on it. That's what this drafting thing is all about. Nice.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the comments George. I was a lot more pleased with the re-draft than the original. This is actually the third draft; the second one didn't have Gloria's voice in it, and also works fairly well, but I was keen to see how the two voices would work, and gather some views from the UKA community of course!

Ross

Mikeverdi on 30-11-2013
The Mask (version 2)
Wow! that's what I call a re think, you gave the story a whole new twist. I wasn't disappointed with the first, for me it just needed tweaking; but hell, this is good stuff. I like the way you introduced the characters and for me the tension has been racked up, well done. Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike, I was quite pleased with the way it came out. That's the reason I like UKA so much, you can get such good quality feedback which makes you re-evaluate your work. Invaluable.

Ross

OldPeculier on 01-12-2013
The Mask (version 2)
A bold move, but I think it works well. So much more pace and tension than the previous one.

The dialogue is good and moves it all along well.

The only very tiny bit that I didnt like was. 'What I had in mind for a lucky someone would not be pretty, and would definitely not be legal.' For me this gives too much away in the first paragraph.

Otherwise excellent!


Author's Reply:
Thanks again for the supportive comments. I think you're right about the 'legal' line; there's always room for improvement, isn't there? I was pleased with the way the twin dialogues worked out, and I certainly prefer the way the whole story worked out.

Ross

bo_duke99 on 01-12-2013
The Mask (version 2)
dynamite idea and pulled off with aplomb, found the sinister 'Practice, that's what I need, practice...Plenty of time for that' bits at the end particularly effective

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind comments, glad you liked it. Just proves what a good edit can do!

Ross


The Mask (posted on: 22-11-13)
For this Fiday's challenge. I hadn't heard of the mask of sanity, but faithful Wikipedia told me all about it. The inside of the head of a psycopath is not a very nice place...

New town, new start. I checked in at a small hotel not far from the train station, dumped the bag and went for a look around. It was just another boring midlands town, a couple of half-timbered buildings, a cluster of pubs, shops, greasy spoon cafes, town hall, cinema, bus station. Seen one, seen them all. I had a coffee in a small café, nearly deserted; no wonder – the coffee was ersatz and the slice of cake would have made a good door stop. Next, the pics, The Gaumont, no less. Faded grandeur, bigger than I would have expected. This Is The Army, a musical with some schmuck called Ronald Reagan in it, was playing. I bought a ticket and sat in the smoky darkness with a dozen other lost souls for an hour and a half. It was dreadful. I emerged blinking into a dull, rainy afternoon. The place looked so dreary I almost went straight back to the station for the next train to anywhere, but that wouldn't have fitted with the plan. So I got myself a local paper, some cigarettes and a half bottle of scotch and headed back to my room. I kicked off my shoes, stretched out on the bed and relaxed with all three of my purchases. The paper was as dreary as the town; after half an hour I was dozing off, so I took a shower and freshened myself up for the evening. Party time. I decided to try my luck at the dining room of the biggest hotel in the town centre, The Raven. The place was stuffy and overpriced. I got a table near the door, and positioned myself so I could see – and be seen by – any newcomers. I'm not one to brag, but I was the best catch in that place by some distance. The average age of my fellow diners must have been about the same as my parents', and the room was nearly silent, with only a murmur of conversation from a couple at the next table. The service was slow, but I wasn't in any hurry. As I smoked a cigarette before the dessert course I considered my next move. The social life in places like this would centre around the town centre pubs. It was still early, about eight, so I lingered over my coffee, which was only slightly better than the greasy spoon's had been. The centre of town wasn't big, and a half hour's stroll was all I needed to choose the pick of the pubs. The first one I tried, The Grapes, was an old man's place, only some of the old men looked as if they'd already passed away. The Royal Oak was a bit better, and I stayed for a drink at the bar, people watching. A younger crowd, mostly couples; nothing for me there. Next, the Fox and Hounds; I could sense a difference when I walked through the door. I stood just inside the door for a heartbeat or two, letting the happy crowd get an eyeful, then made my way, smiling, an excuse me here a may I there, through the throng. A space appeared at the bar and I was there, caught the barman's eye, asked for a scotch, a decent single malt. Glass in hand, I turned, leaned my back against the bar and surveyed the room. Over in the corner, a group of young women were gathered round a table, toasting one of their number, with much laughter and not a little drunken ribaldry. Looked like the birthday of the one at the head of the table, a striking looking woman with masses of jet black hair. Too good looking for my tastes; the trick is to pick the ones that aren't stunning, but not unattractive either, kind of in between. The ones who will be flattered by the attentions of a good looking, stylish sort of guy. Like me. I picked out one of the birthday party who was at the opposite end of the table from the birthday girl; brown hair, trim figure, noting spectacular, she fitted the bill exactly. This was the most important part of the chase, the start of the quest. I felt the familiar thrill of a new challenge. They don't always work out, but somehow I had a good feeling about this one. Timing is all; I waited, in splendid isolation, at the bar, being careful not to have too many. That's why I always choose a good quality malt, which should be savoured rather than knocked back, on these occasions. After about an hour, two of the party had been up to the bar to order more drinks; they were certainly putting them away. Then it was my girl's turn to get them in. By judicious use of the elbows I had managed to occupy a space which was big enough to squeeze two people in. I caught her eye and made a space for her, which she was quick, and grateful, to take. She gave me a smile and said thanks. As she was waiting for the barman to notice her I made my opening play, asking if she was the birthday girl. She blushed a little. ''Not me, my friend Julie. The one with the dark hair.'' We both looked over to the table. ''Ah yes, the second best looking one.'' I smiled, and she giggled. ''I don't know about that,'' she said. ''Here, are you a Yank?'' And that was it; connection made. We introduced ourselves, shaking hands in the approved manner; her name was Gloria, mine, for the night anyway, was Mike. I kept her chatting at the bar so long her pals were starting to notice. One or two of them nudged each other, leaned in to tell the others and soon we had the attention of the whole table. ''I'd better let you get back'' I said. ''Your friends will be wondering where their drinks have gone.'' She gave me a little smile, grabbed the tray of drinks and started back. I stopped her with a hand on her arm. ''But I've really enjoyed talking to you. I'm on my own here tonight, just passing through. I'd sure like to continue our conversation later, if that would be possible.'' She hesitated, looked towards her friends, then back at me. I could almost see the gears move as she made her decision. ''I think I'd like that too. The gang's moving on soon, perhaps we could stay here and have a nice chat?'' It was as simple as that. A 'nice chat'. I love English understatement. A chat was the last thing on my mind. I spotted an empty table, freshened my scotch and zeroed in. The gaggle of women back at the birthday table were all chattering to my new friend, some throwing furtive glances my way, wishing it was them I was waiting for. After another half hour the party got up to move on; Gloria, however, said her goodbyes and headed for my table. ''I thought they'd never go'' I said. She giggled charmingly, more than a little drunk by now. I got her what passes for a cocktail in these parts, and we settled down to a cosy chat. She was perfect: lived alone, nice job, no boyfriend, not averse to a little 'adventure' as she charmingly put it. After a couple more drinks I judged the time to be about right, so I suggested we made a move. I'd already prepared the ground, hotel room excessively dreary, cold and damp, single bed, yadda yadda, so we headed back to Gloria's place, which turned out to be a neat little mid-terraced house a few minutes' walk away. Once inside, coats discarded, gas fire turned on, Gloria announced her intention to 'slip into something more comfortable', a cliché that she seemed to think was original. Invited to mix a couple more drinks, I obliged as soon as she was out of the room. A little whisky with a lot of water for yours truly, and for Gloria, one of my unique cocktails; this one certainly was unique, using all her limited range of alcohol and enough fruit cordial to mask the taste. I took a sip. Revolting but with a kick like a mule. A few minutes later, in sashayed Gloria, wearing a wispy dressing gown which didn't do as much for her as she thought. ''Your drink, ma'am.'' I handed her the cocktail. Ignoring its bilious colour, she downed it in one. ''Whoo! That'sh a strong one, whadidya put in it?'' she slurred, then giggled and tried to disport herself gracefully on the couch. In reality she fell on it like a sack of potatoes. I mixed her a second drink, then sat down next to her. I was starting to feel a little sorry for her; time for the final act. She took a sip of her drink, then it fell to the floor as she fell sideways across the couch, presumably in a move designed to be seductive. I was standing by this time, holding a loosely stuffed cushion, which I pressed hard against her face. She made a muffled sound and struggled for longer than I expected; I had to keep pressing down hard for over two minutes, then the bitch was finally still. Breathing heavily, I lifted the cushion; her face had turned a purple colour, which didn't suit her at all. I checked the pulse at the neck. Nothing. The wrist; same thing. I sat down in the chair facing the couch, lit a cigarette and and finished my drink as I admired my handiwork. I took my time. I had all the time in the world. After a second cigarette I took my leave. It was early, nearly 4 o'clock, but I was careful to check the street before I slipped out, and away. I got back to my hotel room without being seen and slept for a few hours, reappearing just after 9, to be told that breakfast was finished. Typical of this country. I sighed, retrieved my bag, checked out, and grabbed a cup of weak coffee at the station, waiting for the train back to London. In a few short hours I'd be back at my squadron, in deepest Norfolk, back from a weekend's r and r in the fleshpots of the capital. No wonder I looked tired. So would you.                     
Archived comments for The Mask
MaxxB on 22-11-2013
The Mask
I enjoyed it, thought I knew where it was going. I was almost right.



Author's Reply:
Thanks, glad you liked it.

TheBigBadG on 22-11-2013
The Mask
Well he sounds like a charmer, doesn't he. The group have produced a right bunch of sociopaths, in fact. This is a bit of a funny one in that I think it was undermined by the prompt and your intro text - if you read it separately from those things then the lead in is nice and ambiguous. It's a story about a guy chatting someone up in a bar, which is what you want it to be. It's a bit of a shame that it's given away by context, basically. Otherwise I'm not certain I would have seen it coming, which is - of course - the whole point!

As with MaxxB, part of me thinks the ending needs a little tweak too. It seems a bit disappointing that he's just a thief after all of that. Maybe make him more disturbing by having him try and adopt her life, learn who she is after he's killed her and it's too late. £5 and some jewellery doesn't quite cut it for me.

The gruesome pedant in me is compelled to correct one thing as well. To actually suffocate someone you need minutes, not seconds. Always bugs me when I see it in films and the like. We're much more durable than cinema would have you believe.

G

Author's Reply:
Thanks for your comments George. In reflection, I agree with your point about the burglary - it takes away from the point of the murder. I've done a quick edit, and I've also taken your advice about the time it takes to suffocate Gloria. I don't want the killer to go any further by finding out about her though; I felt that he should be someone who has a disregard for others, prticularly women, and just gets his kicks from killing them.

Mikeverdi on 22-11-2013
The Mask
I kind of agree with the others on this one, in that I wanted more, if your going to have a killer... make it a nasty one. We are all to immune to 'ordinary death' these days. It's still well written, as I would expect from you, just a little mundane; and this isn't like you. 🙂
In Friendship
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike, your comments are taken, as always, in friendship. I've made a quick edit, removing the burglary, and have nastied him up a little. I was going a bit for mundanity in the story to try and make the ending a bit more hard-hitting, not entirely successfully.

Ross

OldPeculier on 22-11-2013
The Mask
Wonderful images of arriving in a dreary town with nothing much going on. Old men in the pub looking like they had already passed away. That made me smile.

Chatting up Gloria was good too. Nice pace without being too rushed.

I was looking forward to a glimpse inside the head of a psycopath complete with voices, hatred and disturbed motivations, but was a little disapointed as he seemed like a nice guy.

A good read all the same.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for your kind coments, glad you liked it. I'd tried to make him seem nice at the start, but reading it again I don't think I managed to convey the inner nastiness 'behind the mask' that well.

bluepootle on 22-11-2013
The Mask
I rather felt it would be better without the burglary, so that murder was his only motivation.

'New town, new start' didn't really fit with the revelation that he was on R&R. For me, I think I'd prefer it if he really felt this was a new start and fought his instincts along the way, to give it a more layered feel. I liked the way he talked to the girl, the way they met. It had a good pace to it.

So, for me, some tweaking to motivation would make it stronger, I think.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for your comments Aliya. I agree with what you, George and Mike said about the burglary and I've taken it out. I think there might be a slightly longer piece there with some more depth, as you suggest, but for this sone I wanted to keep it at surface with a glimpse or two of his real feelings. reading it through again in light of some of the considered comments on I don't think I was really successful.

Ross

Weefatfella on 23-11-2013
The Mask
 photo 9ad6ff1f-0d9b-467e-b5d6-2d3f72a688a0_zps705a5781.jpg

Hi Rab, A good tale here but I felt you cut it a bit short. Maybe it's just me, but I would have had her make more of a struggle. Unconscious or not the body would have,
( Maybe with artistic licence) fought harder for life. It all seemed a bit too quiet for me.

Just to be a wee bit of a pedant.( trim figure, 'noting' spectacular,) sorry Rab.

On the good side there is much to be appreciated. New town new start. The start of a new way of living, no, A new victim, the start of a new game for him. The Fox and Hounds nice mood builder, sets the tone for the hunt. I enjoyed the tale Rab Sorry again about the wee typo. There's always wan ae thae buggers gits away.
Thank you for sharing this Rab
Weefatfella.


Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind comments Paul. The reason I couldn't see her struggling too much was because of all the drink she'd taken. It was a bit short, true enough; it was one of these stories that didn't really click as I was writing it, if you know what I mean. And thanks for the typo - you realise I always leave one in for you to find?

Ross

Nomenklatura on 24-11-2013
The Mask
I'm with the 'new town, new start' comment here.

I found this very interesting as it puts me in mind of Neville Heath.

A little tighter and you could be on to something for sure.

Regards
Ewan

Author's Reply:
Thanks Ewan
Neville was a bit of a bad egg, was he not? The chap in my story isn't quite as nasty, but I think he's killed a few more women than Neville! But I've had an idea for an alternative ending, that I just might try...

Thanks for your comments and support, as ever

Ross


The Great Bonfire Battle of Lewes (posted on: 08-11-13)
For the November prose challenge The town of Lewes has seven bonfire societies, and they all celebrate bonfire night in their own way. In the past, there were violent celebrations, riots even, but things have calmed down now... Read about it at http://www.lewesbonfirecouncil.org.uk/societies/cbs/i

The Great Bonfire Battle of 1847 (As told to me, Jeremy Bowles, by my grandfather William T Bowles, former Bonfire Boy, and former Alderman of the Lewes Town Council, in the snug of the Crown Inn, Lewes, on the 4th of November, 1900) They called it the greatest bonfire battle ever, and I think they're right. It was grand. I'm the first to admit that things had got a bit out of hand in the past at these events, but the town council and their police friends were just spoilsports, as far as we could see. The fun started when we heard about the old duffers who were to be sworn in as Special Constables to spoil our fun. You know the types: old chaps who were lawyers, bank managers, accountants and such, just proper miseries. Didn't want anyone to have any fun, because they couldn't, being as they were married with wives who told them what to do! Don't tell your Gran I said that last bit, Jeremy. I'd been a Bonfire Boy since 1844. We liked to have a bit of fun about bonfire night, and if nobody had made a fuss about it there wouldn't have been be no trouble. Sure, we dragged burning tar barrels through the streets, and chucked the occasional one in the river, but nobody got hurt, well almost nobody, and there was never hardly any damage, either. A few years before, that old busy-body Mr Whitfield, the town clerk, had near got himself chucked in the river after a barrel, and then that rozzer, Inspector Flanagan, took offence at being jostled a bit by us. Well, a couple of the police needed a doctor afterwards, but it weren't nothing really serious. Nobody died. But that year, 1847, well, it took the cake it really did. What happened was we heard that the Special Constables were going to be sworn in at a special meeting at the Town Hall, so we decided to have a say in the matter ourselves. We gathered just off the High Street, and hid ourselves in the vennels, and waited. We were carrying some sticks, just short ones, nothing really harmful. Well, when they got as far as Keere Street we rushed them and had a right good time; a few of them fell over but most made it to the Town Hall, and the regular constables came out and got the ones that were on the ground, so nobody was really hurt. Then we lit our tar barrels and started dragging them along the High Street, towards the Town Hall. I don't know whether they thought we were planning to set it on fire, but the police stopped us by rigging up a chain across the whole width of the High Street, and by using that chain they managed to catch a few of the boys, who they threw in the cells! There didn't seem to be much to do about that, so we all went and had a couple of drinks. Now that I mention it, I'm getting a bit thirsty, what with all this talking. How about another pint? That's better. Now, as I was saying, we had a few drinks, and next morning woke with sore heads to the news that hundreds of police had arrived on the morning train from London! We found later that there was only 100 of them, but they made quite a sight, the massed ranks of blue uniforms, the silver on their helmets glittering in the cold winter sun. Well, they just stood about, and so did we, waiting for something to happen. It was all mostly peaceful until the evening; the mail gig from Brighton was coming into town, and it was at a fair lick when it got to the High Street. We thought it was going a bit fast and might have trouble stopping in time, so some of the Bonfire Boys ran out to help. The driver took offence at that, and got a bit carried away with the long whip he carried. A couple of the lads got hold of the whip and held on, and the chap was pulled right out of his seat on to the ground. Lord, did he set up a row, claiming his arm was broken and all. Happened he was right, it was, but we didn't know that then. Anyhow, it had been his fault, we were just defending ourselves, and trying to stop a bigger accident from happening. The London Police didn't take that view though, and a few of them waded in and started cracking heads with their billy-sticks. When the driver chap had been carried away, still shouting something awful, well that was when his Lordship, Lord Chichester himself, appeared on the steps of the Town Hall, and started reading from this piece of paper he held out high in front of himself. Turns out it was the Riot Act. That's what they mean when they say 'reading the riot act' you know; when they read it to a crowd that crowd has five minutes to bugger off. Well, we didn't much feel like doing that, so after the five minutes was up the London policemen gave a great cry and charged into us. There were so many of us, though, and so many of them, that it turned into one big free-for-all. You had to keep your wits about you to avoid being belted on the head by the policemen's batons, and they likewise did well to avoid getting brained by ours. They did have helmets though, so it wasn't a real fair fight. It went on for hours, and me and a small group of lads ended up facing off a few of the police constables, down by the river. I held up my stick and shouted, louder than the rest of them, that we could perhaps stop the fighting for a minute so that all of us could get our breath. Well blow me if one of the police, a sergeant, didn't tell his chaps to stand back, as he thought that was a champion idea. So we sat on the ground there, by the riverside, six of us and four of them, and we shared some ciggies and had a bit of a chat. And you know what, they weren't bad lads, most of them. Turned out that they hadn't been told what to expect, and they thought they were coming to Lewes for a bit of a break. They were young, the sergeant excepted, about the same age as us, and I reckon more than a few of them enjoyed rucking as much as we did. Tom knew where to find couple of jugs of cider nearby, and we shared them with the coppers. We got on with them famously, for about half an hour, and then the sergeant got up, brushed the seat of his trousers, put his helmet on, said thank you kindly for the cider, and announced that they would now have to arrest us. Well, as you can imagine, we didn't like that one bit, so we rushed at them, quick-like, while the rest of the coppers were still sitting down. With three of us on the sergeant we got the better of them, and bundled them all into the river! They were a sight, all spluttering and shouting at us, and using words which I never heard a policeman using, before nor since. We left them to it, and ran back into the town. We didn't reckon it would be a good idea for these chaps to see us abroad again that night, so we all took to our heels and headed to our own homes, where we stayed until the London bobbies had all gone. Others weren't so lucky as us, and lots of the Bonfire Boys had to spend a couple of months in the gaol, but with nothing on us we were able to go about our business as normal. It was my last year as a Bonfire Boy; my dad made sure of that. I went on to run the shop, as you know, and I even became an Alderman, as you also know, and those people who still think me to be a respectable person would be a bit shocked, I reckon, if they were to hear the story I've just told you. But it was all in fun, you know. Nobody got hurt, not really. The bonfires nowadays are all very safe, and I like to see the little ones enjoying the fireworks, but I still miss the old ways sometimes…            
Archived comments for The Great Bonfire Battle of Lewes
bluepootle on 08-11-2013
The Great Bonfire Battle of Lewes
Great story, with a lovely historical context, and I could really picture the sticks and barrels and very wayward William T Bowles. Great characterisation. The best bits are, for me, where his voice really comes through, in recanting the driver who claims his arm is broken, and the chat with the policemen.

You've got a few typos, but generally this is very enjoyable.

Author's Reply:
Thanks; I noticed a couple of typos myself and fixed them. Why do I only notice them when the story's actually posted?

TheBigBadG on 08-11-2013
The Great Bonfire Battle of Lewes
Odd coincidence to start - My dad and stepmum, and also a childhood friend, live in Ottery St Mary where the tar barrel thing happens. Haven't seen it yet myself but it sounds like one hell of a show. Did you know they have age categories with different size barrels and everything? Anyway, the story:

As Blue says, a few typos. One in particular is that your magaers - should be managers.

It's a fun story though, with a curious point underneath it. He talks about it all like it's a bit of fun, a game of cowboys and indians or something, whereas today that would be civil disobedience, a big tabloid splash and the headline 'Yobs attack rozzers with blazing barrels!' or something. The way he keeps repeating 'it weren't really serious' starts to feel a bit like denial in fact. He never wanted to grow up, did he.

As Blue says though, some good characterisation here. He comes across as a palpable personality, rounded and believable. His flippant and dismissive nature is a large part of that. This line about the broken arm really sums it up, 'Lord, did he set up a row, claiming his arm was broken and all. Happened he was right, it was, but we didn’t know that then.'

Some good stuff here.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind comments. I was trying for a denial attitude, and I found the whole story fascinating; you're right about the way this was treated and seen then and how it would be treated now - questions in the house, no doubt, Cameron et al spouting stuff about 'broken Britain'. Either that or it would be blamed on Al Queda or immigrant welfare cheats.

Nomenklatura on 08-11-2013
The Great Bonfire Battle of Lewes
I did enjoy this, the voice sounded authentic throughout and I did not detect a single false note or anachronism. Full of atmosphere and informative.

Splendid.
Ewan

Author's Reply:
Thanks Ewan. As soon as I found the story I knew I had to make something out of it.

OldPeculier on 08-11-2013
The Great Bonfire Battle of Lewes
A great tale, well told by a very believable character. There was just enough of his voice to make it interesting without having to struggle through vast amounts of dialect which I find difficult to read.

I might have liked a few more glimpses of William Bowles. Just little things like maybe wiping the foam from his whiskers, beltching afrer his pint or leaning over the table to make his point. But having said that, I thought it was great as it is.

Good story. Thanks.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for your kind comments. I thought of putting some descriptions in, but decided in the end to go for a trasncript of what the old chap said

mageorge on 08-11-2013
The Great Bonfire Battle of Lewes
Yes, I feel everything has been said. Although, for me, some of the sentences are longer than they need to be. A lot of commas and semi-colons. It may just be the way I read, but I do feel many sentences could be shorter. In return, the drama in the piece would jump out more. Only my thoughts 🙂

Regards,
Mark.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mark, and I'll give your comments some thought. I do tend to go on at times, and I can overuse semi-colons. One of my favourite writers, Kurt Vonnegut, said that using semi-colons only shows you went to university, which isn't entirely fair; although I suppose he does have a bit of a point...

Bozzz on 08-11-2013
The Great Bonfire Battle of Lewes
You still can't trust the Specials....A rollicking story well told...Bozzz

Author's Reply:
Thanks David, glad you liked it.

Ross

Bonnie on 08-11-2013
The Great Bonfire Battle of Lewes
I thought this was brilliant! I've been to Lewes a couple of times on November 5th, and the parades and fireworks are incredible. The atmosphere must be unique. I really enjoyed this.



Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind comments, glad you enjoyed it. It's quite a story, and I was lucky to come across it. Lewes on bonfire night still seems to be the place to be!

Nomenklatura on 09-11-2013
The Great Bonfire Battle of Lewes
Regarding Mark's point above. Part of the reason it felt so authentic was -for me- the longer sentences and the use of the semi-colon, etc. I had supposed it was intended to seem to have been written around 1900 (I assume shortly after the tale was related to the narrator).

It all depends what you're trying to do. I know someone some day is going to take all the semi-colons, colons, dependent clauses and parenthetic digressions out of Dickens - but then it won't be Dickens, will it?
Vonnegut (great writer by the way) is someone who writes in a style prevalent from the 40's to the 60's in American literature. Some elements of his style look dated now, should we change those?

If there is some lack of clarity in the writing I suppose some longer sentences should be looked at again. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater though.

Sorry for the hi-jack. I'll go and read some Bulwer-Lytton to knock me off the horse. 🙂
regards
Ewan


Author's Reply:
That's it - it was supposed to be the words of a garrulous old man in a pub in 1900.

I don't make any claims to be a stylist when writing, I just try and imagine what the character would do or say in a given situation. In this case I was imagining the character as a talkative old chap in his later years, talking to a favourite grandson in a pub, about a time in his past which he was secretly proud of, but also aware that others would see what he'd got up to in a different way. Hence the denials of any 'real harm' arising from his actions.

I must admit, though, I do like a well-placed semi-colon. but I sometimes forget that not everyone feels the same way!

Mikeverdi on 09-11-2013
The Great Bonfire Battle of Lewes
Its all been said Rab, suffice to say I thoroughly enjoyed the read. I like you're answer to Ewans last comments (I agree with him) as you know my punctuation is crap so I can forgive most things 🙂 Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike, glad you enjoyed it. Punctuation is one of these things that we can all argue about forever. Does that make us Grammar Anoraks?

Ross


I Object (posted on: 04-11-13)
A short, objectionable poem

I object to my neighbour's extension I object to the world recession I object to the bedroom tax And posh boys being in charge I object to your way of life I object to your politics and religion I object to the nose on your face And the colour of your skin I object to your small dog Which might wake me when it barks I object to your cat Which might use my flower bed as a toilet I object to everything Apart from the things I like I don't object to them Obviously
Archived comments for I Object
deadpoet on 04-11-2013
I Object
It's easy to object, isn't it? Nice poem- makes me want to be a softer person and NOT object so much.

Pia
x

Author's Reply:
Thanks Pia, but don't let it stop you objecting!

Ionicus on 04-11-2013
I Object
And apart from those objections, I am a tolerant guy.
A good rant.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the comment, and the rating. I find myself ranting about more and more things as I grow older. It's fun.

stormwolf on 05-11-2013
I Object
well don't hold back lol 😉

I object to lots of things too and have been known to rant about them also.

Alison x

Author's Reply:
Ranting, I have come to realise, is one of life's pleasures.

pommer on 06-11-2013
I Object
I have become a real Victor Meldrew in my old age,Objecting to all things objectionable. Nice poem.I approve. Pommer

Author's Reply:
Thanks, glad you liked it. Victor had nothing on me, I've been known to have a rant at these 'not in service' messages they show on the front of buses, the ones that start with an apology. I don't want to be apologised to by a bus!

Buschell on 03-12-2013
I Object
So much to whinge about...so little time! My wife tells me off for yelling at the BBC news and getting pent up over the ITV cartoon weather map. You've captured the rantings of someone who just might want to stop the world and get off...Darren.

Author's Reply:

Andrea on 03-12-2013
I Object
I object too, Rab - and I am unanimous in that!

Author's Reply:


Le Fag (posted on: 25-10-13)
I noticed this office worker having a fag break on the balcony of a stunning building in the Place de la Comedie, in Montpellier, this summer. As I was taking her picture I noticed a fellow tourist taking the same shot. I wondered what the woman was thnking.

 photo FagGirlSmaller_zpsbc384e79.jpg God, that's better. What a morning. Why did we open that second bottle last night? If we hadn't opened that one, we wouldn't have opened the third. Look at these idiots down there, taking my photo. I should charge them. Two euros a shot. Ten if you're going to put it on facebook. Go on then, snap away, then bugger off home to England, or Germany, or Japan, wherever you lead your dull little lives. Can't be much duller than mine right now. Why can I never hang on to my men? Am I too needy? Too relaxed? Maybe I'm getting old. I'm sure Raoul was seeing someone else before he buggered off. Probably someone straight out of school, the pig. And as for this place…what is it with Julianne and that bloody photocopier? You'd think it was her own personal property. She shouldn't get to tell me what to do, I'm a journalist, I'm a writer. I've been to university. I'll complain to Patrice. No I won't, that would make me look bad. I'll be extra nice to her, piss her off. That would be better. God it's hot. And I've left the window open, so the aircon will take ages to cool the room down. It's so crap, this building, nothing works properly. Thank God I'm on holiday soon, get some time to breathe. Wonder where I should go? On my own. Sylvie's again? I love Sylvie, favourite sister and all, we could have some fun, but Jean, and the bloody kids…ok in small doses, but a whole holiday? No way. I'm too old for clubbing it in Greece now. Wonder when I qualify for SAGA holidays? I could always stay in town, get some beach time, hang out with the gang, hit the clubs, see if I can find Monsieur Right. God, what a thought. I just want to sleep. But if I stay here I can get started on my book, that's what I'll do. Hit the beach for a couple of days, see the gang at night, get the first 3 chapters down. The first 2 anyway. Finish chapter 1 then see where it's going. Sounds like a plan. Bugger, my ciggie's finished.
Archived comments for Le Fag
Nomenklatura on 25-10-2013
Le Fag
I really enjoyed this attempt to get inside the woman's head. However, I was confused as to whether she was French or not. The cultural references (Club 18-30 and Saga) place her firmly from Potters' Bar, but at the beginning I was sure she was French. The name Sylvie also nudges me that way.

regards
Ewan

Author's Reply:
I imagine her as French, but you're right, it was confusing, so I've done a quick edit.

Thanks

Ross

Mikeverdi on 25-10-2013
Le Fag
Another great write from you, I always look forwards to your work. I agree that the girls nationality was a bit vague but still a great story; the picture wasn't bad either. 🙂 Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind words Mike. I guess the nationality's vague because the narrative is her inner voice, and short of doing it all in French, which is way beyond my capacity, there isn't a way to make it clear without making it seem forced.

Andrea on 25-10-2013
Le Fag
I think you need to resize the pic (smaller) and get some line/para breaks in there, but enjoyed it nevertheless 🙂

Author's Reply:
Thanks Andrea, glad you liked it. I don't know how to resize the picture, being a digital dinosaur, and i thought of the piece as a stream of consciousness, but having broken it up, i could imagine each break being a drag on le fag, which I think works better.

Thanks

Ross

Andrea on 25-10-2013
Le Fag
Yeah, I like it better now, visual-wise 🙂 Much easier to read...

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the tip. Now, how do I make the picture smaller?

Andrea on 25-10-2013
Le Fag
I resized it for you. Hope you don't mind, but personally, I think the whole thing's much easier to read now.

Author's Reply:
I agree, thanks for that Andrea.

Hekkus on 27-10-2013
Le Fag
Good attempt at the girl's POV. An interesting read, well written.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, glad you liked it. It was more than a little tongue in cheek.


A Night in the Museum (posted on: 21-10-13)
For the Kon Tiki challenge.

In the quiet darkness, alone in his favourite building for the first time, Torstein stood, savouring the silence of the empty museum. He took a deep breath. God, he loved the unique smell of this place, like old waxed furniture, almost like his Gran's house used to smell. He could still hardly believe that he had landed the job of night security guard in the Kon-Tiki museum. He allowed himself a bit of a self-satisfied swagger as he started his first tour of duty in his favourite room, the one with Heyerdahl's first and, in his opinion, best, raft, the Kon-Tiki. He loved the squareness, the symmetry of the little craft, with the little hut perched on it, and the big square sail. He wasn't as keen on the false sea it was sitting on; the blue plastic looked a bit shabby, in his opinion, and it was all scrunched up. Why didn't they show it on a smooth, blue sea? He sat in the wooden visitors' seats for a while, admiring the details of the raft's structure, finally getting up with a sigh. Duty called. He wandered through the various rooms, speeding up at the caves, which he'd never liked, and giving the whale room a cursory visit. That big pretend fish had always freaked him out, and the strands hanging from the ceiling unsettled him. Having completed two tours, he settled himself down in the small office, at the desk he'd been told he could use. He opened his lunch bag, and with a contended sigh, arranged his midnight snack, in the prescribed order: flask to the left, then the sandwich, separating the two halves and laying them out with the long edges precisely 2 millimetres apart, then his shrink-wrapped pastry, and finally his apple. He was hungry, and the sandwiches were his mother's home made smoked mackerel pate, his favourite. He had taken the small cup off the top of the flask, and was just about to unscrew the stopper, when he froze. A sound, almost too faint to hear, but definitely a sound. A footfall, in the Kon-Tiki room? He stood up, hesitated, and with a last, longing look at his sandwich, collected his torch and strode back into the museum. All was quiet. Nothing had changed. He proceeded through the various rooms, almost silent, the only sound coming from the slight squeak of his soft soled shoes on the floor. He stood still, silent in the centre of each room, even the one with the creepy whale in it, and slowly turned a complete circle, the beam of his torch reaching every dark corner. Nothing, not so much as a spider. Back at the office, he stood at the door, ears straining for another sound. Nothing. He took his seat in front of his picnic, and froze again. The two halves of his sandwich were no longer perfectly aligned. Someone had moved one of them. Someone had touched his food. His hunger suddenly and completely gone, he frowned. His instructions had been perfectly clear: he was to be locked into the building from 11 o'clock in the evening until 7 o'clock the next day. Nobody else would be here. He sat for a while longer, going over the possibilities methodically, one by one, rejecting all but the obvious one, which had sprung immediately into his mind when he saw that someone had moved his sandwich. There was someone hiding in the museum. He must find the intruder. He imagined the scene the next morning, when they opened the doors. He would be sitting, triumphant, with his captive. He'd probably get a medal, if museums handed out medals for such things. But what if the intruder was bigger than him, or fiercer? Torstein was medium height, not at all athletic, and not particularly brave. He hefted his torch in his hand, testing its weight. It was heavy and made of rubber. It wasn't exactly a light saber, but it would have to do. Now, for a plan of action. He had looked in every room, and found no trace. The intruder must either be listening out for him and keeping ahead of him, or, and he hesitated before allowing for this, actually hiding in one of Thor Heyerdal's rafts! How he hoped that wasn't happening; first night or not, at least some of the blame would fall on him. His dreams of heroic recognition and medals evaporated. He needed to get moving. Quietly, he removed his shoes, and, with some trepidation, crept out into the darkness of the museum. A lifetime of making himself invisible in public helped him now; not using his torch, he crept silently from room to room, ears straining, listening for any noise. When he was almost out of the caves, he half-heard something, up ahead. He hurried on, towards the source, clicking the torch on, pointing it where he thought the noise had come from. The beam of the torch played on...the door to the ladies' toilets. He hesitated for a moment, then slowly, quietly, opened the door. His torch illuminated a small, windowless room, with three cubicles facing him and wash-hand basins to his left. The cubicle doors were closed; two were very slightly ajar and one, was totally closed. He gently pushed against it; it yielded slightly, then closed again. Someone was holding it shut! ''Come out now, please,'' he said, his voice shaking slightly, ''and show yourself.'' 'Show yourself' he thought; what am I talking about? ''Why should I?'' A young voice, which didn't sound frightening at all to Torstein or frightened of him, for that matter. The question confused him though. ''Because you shouldn't be here'' was the best he could come up with. ''Neither should you.'' The cheek of it! ''Yes I should, I'm the security guard.'' ''But this is the ladies, and you sound like a man to me.'' He had to give her that one. ''But you shouldn't be in here at all. The museum is closed.'' ''Wait outside, please. I'll be out in a minute.'' He hadn't imagined that she might be in the toilet for genuine toilet needs; he was suddenly flustered. ''I'll be right outside. But don't think you can run away.'' Outside the toilet, he turned the lights on, then waited at the door, practising a stern, forbidding expression. He heard a toilet flush, and the door opened. A small, thin young woman, wearing a simple black dress and tartan baseball boots, faced him. ''You look a bit strange,'' she said, lightly. ''Got anything to eat? Can I have one of your sandwiches?'' Torstein was utterly nonplussed, but surprised himself by staying calm. ''You might as well, as you've already handled them.'' The woman smiled, and skipped away to the office. He hurried after her. When he got to the desk she had already taken a bite from one, and was holding the other half out to him. In a dream, he took it, and momentarily forgetting himself, started eating it. He was losing control of the situation. He pulled up a chair and studied her as she ate his sandwich. She was about his age, and had mousy brown hair. Her sharp nose was her most prominent feature, but she was not unattractive, in an unconventional sort of way. She made quick, precise movements, like a bird. What Torstein noticed most was her way of looking at him - totally direct, giving him all of her attention, as if she found him fascinating. He finished his sandwich. Time to take control, he thought. ''Why are you here? How did you get in? Who are you?'' ''So many questions,'' she responded, through a mouthful of pastry, which he hadn't noticed her taking. She considered, stopped chewing. ''I like the museum. I slipped into the ladies before closing time and stayed. Anna Helstrom. How about you? Same questions.'' He frowned, which made Anna stifle a laugh, but decided to go along with this annoying person. ''I work here, I work here, Torstein Heyerdahl.'' Now it was her turn to be surprised. ''Heyerdahl? Any relation?'' ''My great-uncle. But that's irrelevant. What am I going to do with you?'' He sat back in his chair, and gazed at her as he ate his sandwich. Anna looked back at him. ''Well, as I see it, you have two choices. You can hand me in, or we can agree not to say anything to anybody.'' Her cheek amazed him, but there was some truth in what she said. ''And if I agree not to hand you in, what then? Would you promise not to come back?'' ''Not come back? With you related to the great man? You must be joking. Besides, I love this place, especially when it's not busy.'' She smiled. "I wouldn't mind sharing it with you though." He frowned again. Anna stifled another giggle. ''Some advice,'' she said; ''don't try to look official and severe. It just isn't you.'' He started to frown again, stopped himself. ''This isn't working out like I thought it would. This is my first night in the job.'' ''Don't feel bad, I've been sneaking in at night for ages; the old guy who was here before you never had a clue. That makes you the best security guard ever. I can't believe you're related to Thor Heyerdahl.'' Torstein got up abruptly. ''I have to make my rounds. You stay here.'' He took his time walking round the museum, giving himself time to think. For some reason he couldn't readily explain to himself, he didn't have any worries about Anna running away or doing anything silly. By the time he arrived back at the office, he had made his mind up. ''Ok, this is what we'll do.'' He was firmly in control. But Anna wasn't there. He turned, wide-eyed. Where had she gone? Then he saw her - in the little hut on the Kon-Tiki, she was smiling at him... ''Get out of there this minute!'' ''Come on, Torstein, live a little!'' She disappeared inside the little hut. Torstein stood, stunned. This was worse than anything he could have imagined. But he had no choice. He climbed over the barrier, crunched across the plastic sea, and climbed on to the raft. He was standing where his revered relative had stood, all those years ago. And when he did, something shifted, changed inside him. He felt as if he could do anything. He ducked through the door into the dark interior, expecting - what? Whatever it was, he was experiencing it on his own; Anna had disappeared again. He looked back through the door; she was sitting in the visitors' seats, pointing her phone at him. He was blinded by a flash. ''That's my bargaining chip, Torstein. Now, what's your decision?'' Torstein climbed out of the raft with as much dignity as he could muster, and walked slowly back to the office. ''You didn't need to do that, Anna.'' He sat down at the desk, looking hurt, unscrewed the top of the flask and poured himself a cup of coffee. ''I was going to suggest that we kept this between ourselves anyway.'' He watched her steadily over the top of the cup. ''Would you agree?'' ''I agree. But only on the condition that you let me visit sometimes.'' ''Not a…'' he thought of the picture in her phone. ''All right. But how will I know when you're going to be here?" He thought some more. Perhaps the occasional visit wouldn't be so bad. "If we arrange it properly I can bring some extra sandwiches.'' Anna favoured him with a beaming smile. ''I'd like that. We'll exchange phone numbers. And no fish-paste please, I can't stand that.'' The two conspirators talked through the night, about the museum, about Torstein's great-uncle, about his parents, about Anna's many and varied opinions. Torstein found himself liking her more and more; she was, in some ways, like him: preferred silence and solitude to parties, liked what she liked, rather than what fashion and society dictated, always spoke her mind. She liked taking risks more than he did, but that was something else that Torstein liked about her. When morning came Anna went back to her hiding place in the ladies, and Torstein reported a quiet night, then went home to his bed. His first night had been so very different than he had expected. He was looking forward to the future now, in a new way. He had no idea what was going to happen over the next few weeks, but he had a feeling that it would be momentous. He felt, for the first time, a true descendant of Thor Heyerdahl, and knew he was setting out on his own voyage of discovery. He didn't know where it would take him, and that suited him, much to his surprise, just fine.
Archived comments for A Night in the Museum
Weefatfella on 21-10-2013
A Night in the Museum
 photo 89f4a5d0-5f15-4509-881e-443a08debcc5_zps272a8411.jpg
Aye Rab, behind every great man.
The search, you did very well, It was both atmospheric and tense. The characters are believable and the dialogue brings them to life. The story was also believable and carried me along easily with an even pace.

If you'll forgive me a coupla wee mistooks took me away from the story-->
{but as he thought through what she said, he realised these was some truth in it.}<... And--> {He watched he steadily} <-- All in all a nice wee tale which I enjoyed reading.
Weefatfella.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for your kind comments Paul. I've sorted out these mistooks, thanks for mentioning them.

mageorge on 21-10-2013
A Night in the Museum
Hi, Rab. I agree with WFF, the search scene was my favourite, too. Very atmospheric and true.... I know from similar real life experiences.
A very enjoyable read that flowed nicely.

All the best,
Mark.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mark, I was pleased with the way it came out.

Ross

bluepootle on 21-10-2013
A Night in the Museum
What a lovely use of imagery, the two of them on the raft, in the darkened museum. I really liked the sections without dialogue the best - others have mentioned the search scene, and I enjoyed that, but also just the sense of him wandering around in the dark, and the details of his packed sandwiches.

The dialogue felt a little strained, although I thought her character came across well. I would have liked more about why she liked the museum so much, just to really flesh her out.

The first paras are a bit heavy on exposition. Maybe start with the third para and work in the details later? I like the third para a lot.

Lovely story. I enjoyed it.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Aliya. Thanks for the comments, glad you liked the story.
I'm not too good at dialogue, although I was trying for 'strained' as neither one is too sure of the other. I've also taken your advice about the opening paras, and I'd be interested in what you think.
Ross

OldPeculier on 21-10-2013
A Night in the Museum
Very good. I was expecting ghosts and spookey stuff but I can see a romance developing. Ahh...

Good use of description in the museum and I felt I got to know Torstein well. Like blue, I think I would like to know a little more about Anna. She sounds rather special and has grabbed Torstein's attention certainly!

All in all a lovely tale and top marks for taking it in a totally different direction.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind comments, glad you enjoyed it. I've taken on board some of the comments above, and put in a bit more about the mysterious Anna, but as this is young Torstein just starting out on his voyage of discovery I wanted her to retain some mystery!

Mikeverdi on 21-10-2013
A Night in the Museum
Agree with the rest, good enough to want more. Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike. I didn't think of extending it, but your comments and those below make me think I should give it a try! Watch this space...

TheBigBadG on 21-10-2013
A Night in the Museum
So the title had me expecting something completely different - I'm guessing that was intentional. Good set-up though, Torstein is believably misanthropic. The detail given to the narration around his rather precise nature works well to bring him to life. In fact it comes through at the job application, long before he gets anywhere near his sandwiches!

The gentle pacing of it all makes it a very pleasant read as well. It really comes to life after he finds Anna though. Their mutual discovery, and Torstein's subsequent self-discovery, is the crux of the story. If I was being really fernickerty I'd suggest getting to that bit more quickly and giving the two of them more room to shine. Anna's cheekiness is charming, so give her more of that. Torstein could be a bit more grumpy and caught off-guard as well. The line 'might as well, you've already touched them' is one you could spin off for both of them f'rinstance.

I'm just riffing off the idea though. It's a warm story and you create a believable moment in a curmudgeon's life. It's good as it is. 🙂

George

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind comments George. I intended the ending to be a kind of beginning, and hadn't thought of extending the story, but I'll give it some thought.

Ross

JackCrowe on 21-10-2013
A Night in the Museum
I read this as a great beginning to a longer piece so the final two paragraphs felt like an unwelcome wrapping up of the story.

Well described and believable, though. I'd like to read more.

Ian.

Author's Reply:
Thanks ian - I'd always intended it to be a one-off, leaving the rest to the reader's imagination, but the comments I've received, and the fact that I've grown to like the characters, makes me want to write more!

Ross

Kipper on 23-10-2013
A Night in the Museum
Like others before me I to felt the story ended too soon. I was waiting for something remarkable to happen, and I'm still waiting because I'm sure it will. I enjoyed the story very much so far, so I wait for your next instalment.
Best regard, Michael

Author's Reply:
Thanks for your comments, I'm still making up my mind whether to extend it or stick to that old maxim - always leave 'em wanting more!


Resistance (posted on: 11-10-13)
Chapter one, perhaps, of a character study of a young boy/man in the south of France during the war, when he joins the Resistance.

Paul watched the tiny beetle's struggle to reach the top of the small pile of earth, then casually tipped it over with his finger. It wasn't much fun, but it was the only amusement he could find in the circumstances. He was lying face down on damp earth, 50 metres from a country road. It was November, half past three in the afternoon, and already it was starting to get dark. The gloomy clouds which had moved in from the north didn't help although they matched the boy's mood perfectly. He had been excited when his uncle Guillaime had come to the family home, and had told him that he could soon be helping the men in the next action against the boche. His mother had been less pleased, and she had shooed him out of the kitchen while she argued with her brother. Paul had sat on the stair, listening as best he could. His dad had been taken by the hated Germans the previous year, and they feared the worst; she didn't want to lose Paul as well. He heard his mother's pleas with mixed feelings; he didn't really want to be shot at, but he had been itching to get a chance to prove himself. Now, at 16, nearly 17, he felt ready. Guillaime won the argument, as he knew he would. Paul was called back into the room, and asked outright. ''Do you want to join us in fighting the Germans, or would you rather stay here with your mother?'' Put that way, how could he say anything other than the words Guillaime wanted to hear?     The ground he was lying on was hard, and he was uncomfortable as well as cold. He had been here, immobile, for an hour and a half. Next to him, breathing heavily, was his uncle. They were just behind a ridge above the main road that led into the town of Salon de Provence, waiting. He knew the others were scattered around, waiting, silently, patiently, like him, but he couldn't see them. It was all right for his uncle; he'd done this before, and it was a standing joke in the family that he could sleep anywhere, it was even said that he had once slept standing up, like a horse. The German convoy was late, which wasn't like them; perhaps they had turned back, or perhaps someone else had ambushed them. Paul nudged his uncle. ''Whassat? Who? What?'' The older man woke, looked around wildly. ''Are they coming? Where are they?'' ''Relax, uncle Gui, nothing's happening. I'm bored.'' ''You're bored? You woke me up to tell me that? Ach! You kids have no patience. The boche will be here soon enough, you'll get your chance to bag a few!'' Paul sighed and turned his attention back to the beetle, but it had made good its escape from the finger of torment. Then, just on the edge of hearing, a rumble of engines. He nudged his uncle again. ''I hear them! Listen!'' His uncle cocked his head. ''That's them all right, you have good ears my boy.'' He gave a low whistle, which was answered from their comrades on the other side of the road and to their right. ''Now we wait until we get the signal, you remember?'' Paul nodded, not trusting himself to speak. Slowly he grasped the butt of his rifle, cocked it and put the stock to his shoulder, careful not to let it appear above the ridge. He was suddenly scared, his mouth dry, his heart thudding, a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. The rumble of engines grew louder, and they could now hear the squeaking noise they knew so well. ''Merde, that's a tank!'' muttered Guillaime. Paul felt close to panic. Surely they had to call it off? His uncle put a meaty hand on his arm. ''You'll be all right, my boy, just stick close to me. When the order comes to fall back, we're off into the woods behind us, and away, as we've spoken about. They'll never find us.'' The older man took his cap off and carefully raised his head, and peeked over the ridge. ''Get ready Paul'' he said, taking a grenade from his jacket pocket. ''They're just below us.'' His face was set, and Paul thought he detected a touch of fear in it. The squeaking rumble of the tank passed below them. Then: a shrill whistle, and everything seemed to happen at once. Paul squirmed forwards, poked his rifle over the edge of the ridge, and, without sighting, squeezed the trigger. His uncle half-stood and with a cry hurled the grenade, and fell back to the ground, where he lay, unmoving. ''Uncle Gui! What..'' was all Paul could get out before the very earth exploded around him. Hard soil stung his face. He slid down below the ridge, and without looking back, took off, as fast as he could into the woods. When he'd run a full 100 metres into the forest he stopped and pressed himself hard against a large, substantial tree. He realised he'd left his rifle behind. He stood like that for what seemed an eternity, until he stopped shaking, then cautiously peered back the way he had come. A soldier with a grey uniform was standing over his uncle, who lay unmoving at his feet. Paul stared, unbelieving, as the German calmly pointed his pistol downwards and shot his uncle, his friend, his mother's brother, once, twice, three times. The body jerked with each shot. Paul fought back a sob, and, as quietly as he could, crept further into the darkness of the forest. Two days later, cautiously, he approached the familiar front gate of his home. Cold, filthy and starving, he crouched behind his neighbour's low garden wall and scanned the front of his house for signs of life. After a few minutes a rectangle of light: the back door opened, and his mother appeared, a basket at her hip. When she reached the clothes line she stopped, as if she sensed she was being watched. She looked straight towards his hiding place. That was all Paul needed, all he could stand. He vaulted the low wall and ran to her arms. Later, clean, with his clothes in the wash tub and while he was eating a bowl of soup, he told her everything; the noise, the bullets, his confusion and, hardest of all, the death of Guillaime. His mother folded him into her arms and they stayed like that, unmoving, for a long time. The next few days were long, and fearful. The Germans were in the village, kicking open doors, looking for anyone they suspected of being in the resistance. Paul had to scamper into the loft twice, each time pulling the ladder up after him and not daring to move, hardly even breathing, as he heard the heavy footsteps on the stairs and in the rooms below. Once he heard the hatch opening, and he held his breath as he imagined a helmeted head peering into the musty darkness, but it closed again and he let himself breathe. He was safe. He stayed in the house for the next two weeks, making a bed up in the loft, behind the water tank, where he slept every night. One morning, while it was still dark outside, he eased himself through the hatch and crept downstairs. His mother was sitting at the table, head resting on her arms. She looked up, dark rings under her eyes, when he came in to the room. She looks exhausted, thought Paul. ''Happy birthday, my darling son'' she said. She gestured at a small, round cake on the table. ''It's the best I could do, I'm afraid.'' Paul was 17 years old. He'd forgotten his birthday; it didn't seem relevant any more. They ate the cake in silence. Paul dreaded saying what he knew he must. The wall clock's loud tick was the only sound in the old, dark kitchen. His mother was watching him anxiously. She knows what I'm going to say, he thought. ''Mother, mama,'' his voice faltered and he took a deep breath. ''I've been thinking, a lot. I'm going to have to go away. I must do something. I must avenge dad, and Uncle Guillaime. I have to. They'll kill me if I stay here anyway. I'll go to the hills round Bonnieux; Uncle Gui told me that the resistance have bases there.'' He waited for her to say something, anything, to talk him out of it. ''I know you have to go, my son. I've known it since you came home after..after..'' his mother buried her face in her hands, then straightened, looked him in the eye. ''It's alright, really it is. You must go. But you will come back. You must.'' Paul spent the rest of the day getting ready, packing a small knapsack with his spare clothes, some bread, some cheese. In his belt he stuck his father's old hunting knife. That night his mother watched from the kitchen window as her son made his way down the dark lane, towards the edge of the village, away from everything he had known all his life.         
Archived comments for Resistance
Mikeverdi on 12-10-2013
Resistance
Nice writing, it felt unfinished to me; I would have liked more. I think you could have taken him to the Resistance, maybe had more adventures on the way. Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the comment, Mike, and you're right, it needs a bit of editing. Paul's going to meet the resistance in the next part, when he makes contact with an active base. The idea I have is to show the change in Paul, from a frightened 16 year old to an efefctie member of the resistance. I'm going to send him to Rousillon at some point, where he's going to meet Samuel Beckett, if I ever get that far with it.

Weefatfella on 13-10-2013
Resistance
 photo 89f4a5d0-5f15-4509-881e-443a08debcc5_zps272a8411.jpg Aye, Good tale Rab. The piece flowed well and carried me along with it. I agree with Mike. It's maybe a start to something. Thank the lord for the channel.
Weefatfella.

Author's Reply:
Amen to that! Thanks for the comments. I hope to find the time to keep it going Paul; if only I didn't need to go to work...

JackCrowe on 13-10-2013
Resistance
Very nice. The tension of the ambush had me totally.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Jack, glad you liked it.

franciman on 14-10-2013
Resistance
Hi Ross,
As a character study I really liked this. Good story-line, well paced and absorbing. Perhaps because it is a character study, it is not the finished article; Understandable really. The next step would be to pare away the excess. Over-qualifying action and over-describing emotions etc, can rob a piece of drive. Maybe for 1600 words, read 1200?
My one misgiving is the use of brackets. i.e. (from the beetle's point of view). You're such a good writer, I'm sure you could get this across in a more elegant and telling manner.
Anyway, what would I know? Sorry to sound pedantic.
cheers,
Jim

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the comments Jim, I really value them. I've taken away the brackets - looking at them again I didn't think they looked right, and think they interfered with the flow. I've also taken out a couple of sentences, which I think helps a bit. It's very much a work in progress!


Say Sorry (posted on: 27-09-13)
i don't write poetry, as you will see..

Hey You Do you ever say you're sorry? It's not such a hard word to say Is it? Just think about whatever you did That hurt someone Or pissed them off And think how you'd feel. There Not so difficult Was it?
Archived comments for Say Sorry
amman on 29-09-2013
Say Sorry
Good sentiments, good composition. Plain speaking POETRY.

Cheers.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind comments. I've never tried my hand at poetry before, preferring to stick to prose, but I'll have another go when I feel brave enough!

deadpoet on 29-09-2013
Say Sorry
I like the sentiments in this poem. A meaningful slice of life.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind comment, glad you liked it.

Andrea on 29-09-2013
Say Sorry
Well, I like it. Put me in mind of this 🙂



Author's Reply:
Thanks Andrea. UKA is such an encouraging place!

Nomenklatura on 29-09-2013
Say Sorry
Ha! Aggressive zen poetry: the sound of one fist punching.

I'd call it poetry.

Author's Reply:
I don't know if there's an annual prize for the best comment; if there is that would get my vote, I think I like it better than the poem!


The First Day (posted on: 20-09-13)
The first day in a new job for a new planning enforcement officer in the planning department of a large Scottish local authority. The happenings are largely true, but the names have been chamged to protect the guilty!

Morning
The first day in any new job is a bit nerve-wracking, thought Chris; it makes it worse if your new manager doesn't know you're coming and can't remember your name. He was at his new desk, recovering from the embarrassment of arriving in the middle of a team meeting, with nobody knowing who he was. The desk had a broken drawer, inside of which was a jar of foot cream, half used, and a pair of old leather sandals. On the desk there were various files, none of which, apparently, were for him. His desktop pc didn't recognise him, and the phone didn't work. Apart from that, it was a nightmare. He wondered just what he'd let himself in for. He had worked in Housing for seven years, and thought a job as a Enforcement Officer in Planning sounded a bit different. It certainly was, but not in the way he'd hoped. His former colleagues in Housing had been about the same age as him, and shared his outlook on life and work; his new colleagues were all older, mostly in their 40s and 50s, and all seemed a bit, well, strange. Lawrence, the manager, was deaf in one ear and seemed not to hear the reedy, piping tones of Andy who sat to his left, or the bellowing of Dougie, who he guessed was the next most senior to Lawrence. Nobody ever left their chairs to discuss anything; they just shouted at each other, all the time. There was a constant noise. And the phones kept ringing. Lawrence called across the floor to him: ''George! A moment of your time!'' ''It's Chris, Lawrence'' he said, when he was at Lawrence's desk. ''What?'' asked Lawrence, attention on an email on the screen in front of him. Give me strength, thought Chris. Lawrence wanted him to go out to Carmyle with Eric, the section's other enforcement officer, to investigate a complaint about an unauthorised fence. ''Eric'll show you the ropes'' he said. Eric was an ex fireman from London, and seemed, on first meeting, to be as eccentric as the rest of them. That first impression turned out to be not quite accurate. He was far worse. He drove his clapped-out Maestro as if he were Lewis Hamilton driving to a raging fire. He had no patience for anyone else on the road who he thought was hindering his progress in any way. ''Get off the road, dickhead'' was his favourite phrase, but there were other, less polite ones, reserved for anyone with the temerity to be a woman driver. ''This enforcement lark's a piece of piss'' he said, taking a corner in the small village of Carmyle on two wheels. ''You get out of the office every day, have a bit of a drive around, noise up some idiot that's built a fence where he shouldn't, and back in time for lunch. And Lawrence isn't a bad lad, for a manager. They're all as mad as a barrel full of monkeys though.'' With these words of wisdom, he veered off the road and drove straight up a grass embankment. Chris held on to the seat for dear life as the car crested the slope and bumped on to a football pitch. Luckily, nobody was actually playing football on it at the time. ''You can get a good view of the village from here'' said Eric, leaving the car abandoned on the edge of the 18 yard box. They wandered to the edge of the pitch, and, as Eric said, you could see the whole village. ''That's it, dahn there.'' Eric pointed to a rear garden fence which was obviously new. ''It's at the back though, so they can do what they want. Nothing for us there.'' With that, they were back in the car and down the slope, and away. They visited a few more sites; a shop which was being fitted out as a bookies, a small factory that was closed and a bit of a state, and a big housing development that was apparently committing the crime of starting work too early. Then back to the office, in time, as Eric had said, for lunch.
Lunch
Chris hadn't brought anything with him for lunch, unsure of the protocol in this new, strange environment. When he got back to his desk, Lawrence was in the middle of disposing of (whatever he was doing couldn't be called eating) what looked like fish finger sandwiches. Dougie appeared before him. ''We're off to the Unison canteen, Chris, if you want to join us.'' The 'we' were Dougie, and two other people he hadn't met yet. ''This is Raymond, and that's Argos Man'' said Dougie. The last named looked a bit hurt. ''It's Brian actually. I don't know why he calls me that.'' ''It's because you're always reading your Argos catalogue, you plonker'' said Dougie. '' If you want to find out what Argos have got in store just ask Brian''. The Unison canteen was a relic from an earlier age; a revered council institution which sold the kind of food you would expect to be served in Romania. If you wanted gravy with your roast beef you had to specify the number of slices. Dougie announced, as loudly as ever, that he was on a diet, asked for a salad, then asked for chips with it, spoiling the effect somewhat. Chris found out a lot about his new colleagues over the course of lunch, their foibles and rumoured proclivities, albeit coloured by Dougie's views on them. He learned, amongst other titbits, that Lawrence's sandwiches contained whatever his five children left after their tea the previous night, ''Stomach like a bloody shark!'' Like many of Dougie's pronouncements, this was made at full volume and followed by a booming laugh. Chris found himself warming to the man.
Afternoon
When he got back to his desk he found Lawrence sitting at it, examining the contents of the broken drawer. ''We should really have cleared this up for you, George. This is all Pete's stuff. He had a lot of trouble with his feet. And these files are applications he was dealing with. Don't know what I'll do with them.'' He sighed heavily, picked up the buff-coloured files and took them back to his own desk, where they were to stay for the next fortnight. Chris spent a while getting his desk in order, removing the foot cream and any other traces of the previous owner and trying, partially successfully, to fix the broken drawer. After a while he started looking around for something to do. ''Anything I can do, Eric?'' he asked his colleague, who had the paper spread out over his desk and was noisily eating a pear. ''You just sit yourself down, old son,'' said Eric, ''and enjoy the peace and quiet. We'll get something to do soon enough.'' ''Here Chris'' shouted Dougie. ''You looking for something to do? Have a shufty at 11 Main Street, Rutherglen. Someone's turning a newsagent's shop into a chippie. Very naughty of them – they don't have planning permission. Nip out and see what's going on, would you? Report back to me.'' Chris checked the address on his A to Z and headed off. It was a cold winter's day and the glowering sky made it seem dark already, although it was only 3 o'clock. He drove to Rutherglen, found a parking space on a side street and made his way to the shops on the main street. Number 11 was closed, with no lights shining out, but it looked as if someone had been doing some work; there were bits of wood stacked between the metal grille that closed off the entrance at the street and the door of the shop, which was about 5 feet back. He bent down and peered through the grille into the shop, and was surprised to see someone staring back at him from inside the door. He straightened up and banged on the grille and waited for the person to open up. Nothing happened. There was a bus stop on the other side of the pavement and the people waiting there turned at the noise. Chris started to feel a bit foolish. He banged on the grille again, then the shop window; still nothing. He put his face to the grille again, and, banging on the grille shouted to the person he could still see on the other side of the glass door, ''Open up! I'm from the council, from planning! I need to speak to you about the work that's being carried out in the shop!'' No response; the face looking back at him seemed to be saying something but Chris couldn't hear him. The bus queue were now watching the floorshow with interest; it was an unexpected treat, a distraction from waiting for the number 38 to Ecclefechan, which was late again. ''Come on, I know you're in there, I can see your face, your glasses…'' Belatedly, the penny dropped - Chris was shouting at his own reflection. He straightened up, and trying to look as if he did this sort of thing all the time, sauntered along the street and back round the corner to his car. He could sense the eyes of the bus queue following him. Back in his car he took a deep breath, turned on the radio and just sat for a while. When he got back to the office, Dougie was getting his coat on. ''Nothing doing Dougie,'' said Chris, ''the shop's all closed up, nobody there.'' ''Never mind Chris, you can go back another day. See you tomorrow. I'm off for my train.'' Chris went back to his desk. The drawer he had half-fixed was still in place, and a post-it on his pc screen told him that he had a new password and could log on. He picked up the phone, and heard a dial tone. Things were looking up. He dialled a familiar number. His wife, Linda, answered. ''I'm just about to leave, you want me to pick up anything?'' ''No thanks. But how was the first day?'' ''It was…interesting'' said Chris. ''I need a drink though, I'll pick up a bottle of wine on the way home and tell you all about it.''    
Archived comments for The First Day
mageorge on 20-09-2013
The First Day
I loved this! The only thing that spoiled it for me was the use of 'he said, she said, Chris said, Lawrence said.' I got the idea of who was speaking at the time. I feel, you may have just slightly over-used the 'said' bit. Maybe paragraph breaks when someone speaks would make it clear enough. Forgive me if I'm wrong, but I do read a lot.

Overall, a very good piece of writing!

Best regards,
Mark.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for your comments Mike. I'm not too good at dialogue, and I find comments like yours really helpful - for me, it's the point of posting stories on UKA. Looking back over the story with your comment in mind, I can see where I could make some improvements, so I'll have a go at an edit.

Thanks again

Ross


Tiny Tumour (posted on: 16-09-13)
A short tale about a singular experience I had a few years ago. A word of advice - if you need to go to hospital, try and avoid the Men's Urology Ward on Garntnavel General Hospital, Glasgow.

In March 2005 I was told I had a small tumour in my right kidney. This was inconvenient, as I was just about to start a new job. In fact, my first day in that new job (where I still work) was a sickie. I had to phone my soon-to-be boss and tell him that I had my first examination for a kidney tumour on the day I was meant to start working there. When my doctor broke the news, he looked scared, which I found a bit strange – surely, I thought, this has happened to other people? The tumour was tiny, about 2-3 centimetres; I was assured that this was good, and meant that the prognosis was 100% positive. I believed this; I was, as you can imagine, happy to. I also did what we all do now when in an unfamiliar situation: I googled it, and found they were right, it was tiny. I also found that it was lucky it had been found so early, so tiny, as the kidneys don't have any pain receptors, so these things can grow undetected for a long time. The other thing I found was that as such tumours have a 95% chance of being malignant, I probably had cancer. I didn't like thinking about that, so I didn't. I concentrated instead on the 'lucky' part of the scenario. My tiny tumour had been found by chance because of an x-ray following treatment for a urinary tract infection, but looking back now I could see that it had been affecting me for a while; my wife had told me I was looking a bit grey at times, and I found myself becoming easily tired. The 'shadow' that the x-ray picked up was quickly – very quickly, hats off to the NHS – investigated and identified. After that, things happened pretty fast and on 25 April I was in Gartnavel Hospital, being operated on. Gartnavel is an unattractive, old hospital that looked bad from the outside and much worse from the inside. I told myself it was the medical care that mattered. I was strangely calm before the operation; my new colleagues thought I was being stoical, or brave, but the truth of the matter was that I just wasn't allowing myself to think about it. I've always been good at avoiding things and I just followed my usual pattern. Hell, it worked for me. The surgeon had told me that they would try and take out only the part of my kidney around the tumour, but after I woke up I was told that because the tumour had been 'sticky' the whole kidney was gone. Don't worry, they said: you only really need one kidney, you'll be able to carry on exactly as before and anyway, your left one will increase in size to make up for the loss. I thought the last bit was a tad contradictory, but I didn't say anything – all I was thinking at that point was, at least I won't have to give up drinking… After the operation I felt exactly as if I had been cut open and folded in on myself, which was extremely strange and not very nice. I was in the high dependency ward, which being in a Glasgow hospital, had the obligatory nutter in it. This particular nutter didn't like being hooked up to wires, or, as it turned out, having clothes on, so I and the other residents/captives/inmates were treated to regular performances of the nurses trying to restrain him and telling him to get his clothes back on. With that and the constant beeping when a finger-clip connected to a heart monitor fell off, which they did roughly every 2 minutes, none of us got much sleep. It wasn't much fun during the day, either, with the general discomfort being added to by nurses taking a blood sample continuously (why? I couldn't see the need to take a sample every few minutes, which is how it felt. Maybe they were making sure we weren't swapping beds when their backs were turned). It was with some relief, then, when I was wheeled into a general ward after a couple of nights. And there didn't seem to be any out-and-out nutters in it. But, this still being a Glasgow hospital, he was delivered the next day. This one was an old homeless guy, apparently. He certainly didn't like being there, obviously missing the camaraderie of the street, or maybe it was just that he couldn't have a fag. He kept making a slow-motion, shuffling break for it, only to be caught by the nurses, who started giving him a head start to make it a bit more fun. They always caught him before he reached the doors at the end of the long shiny corridor. He didn't much care for his bed, either, and tried to dismantle it each night. After a few attempts the nurses – who were a pretty hard-bitten bunch themselves – simply wheeled his bed into the corridor beside their nurses' station so they wouldn't have to walk so far to catch him or have too much bed rebuilding to do. With the nutter gone there was just the three of us: Archie, a nice old guy, was opposite me, and beside him was John, who was recovering from some horrible operation brought about by his lifetime of alcohol abuse. I'm not being judgemental; this is what he told me. On the first visiting period two women, similar in appearance but one looking significantly more care-worn than the other, visited him and sat at either side of his bed. Neither of them said too much to him, and not a word to each other. After visiting time I asked if they were his wife and daughter. ''Naw, naw'' he said, ''the auld one's ma wife, the young one's ma girlfriend.'' And the food – wow! After serious surgery you're put on a no solids diet, which in Weegie language equals 'soup and puddin'. One memorable day I started on what I thought was mushroom soup and brought up a pear. I wasn't alone; as I stared in disbelief I heard Archie's own cry of despair: ''Aw naw, I've just put salt in ma pudding!'' The combination of lack of sleep and god-awful food had by this time given me a crazed, let me out of here look, which together with my increasingly desperate pleading, helped convince the doctor to let me out early. So I returned home to the luxury of a quiet bedroom and my family. I have a vivid memory of shakily undressing and climbing into our big, comfortable, soft bed while my family mumbled about downstairs. The room was quiet, peaceful, filled with light and entirely nutter-free. At that moment I felt that I would have been happy just to lie there, doing nothing, for ever. Fat chance. A couple of months of recuperation and brain-numbing daytime telly, and I was back at work; for a couple of days people were welcoming and sympathetic, but after that, thankfully, things returned to normal. Which is all I'd wanted in the first place.
Archived comments for Tiny Tumour
Weefatfella on 16-09-2013
Tiny Tumour
 photo 89f4a5d0-5f15-4509-881e-443a08debcc5_zps272a8411.jpg
A grim tale indeed. I myself can understand completely.
I have recently had a long stay in the pokie, ( St John's at Livingston.) However the food in St Jocks was fantastic.
I enjoyed your cleansing account however.
Weefatfella.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Paul. it took me a while to get round to it because it was such a horrible experience, but I was inspired to write it when I read barenib's 'A stroke of luck and judgement'. I feel a bit better about it now, having written this - I think it's part of the process!

Weefatfella on 16-09-2013
Tiny Tumour
 photo 89f4a5d0-5f15-4509-881e-443a08debcc5_zps272a8411.jpg I think you're right Rab. It must be a frightening thing. My lungs were attacked by a prescription drug Methotrexate. I nearly shuffled off. A stroke because of its very nature and reputation must be a terrifying experience to have to endure. I'm very pleased you ducked from his scythe as did I. photo reaper_zps0388254f.jpg Weefatfella.

Author's Reply:

TheBigBadG on 22-09-2013
Tiny Tumour
You made me smile with this a few times, the line about 'this being Glasgow, the obligatory nutter was brought in...' f'rinstance. Based on this, barenib, Griff and (one step removeed) my own experiences it seems like hospitals might be the quintissential cure for writer's block. Serious illness, the muse embodied...

Very glad to hear that you got back on your feet and back to the dubious blessings of work though. Hopefully your obligatory nutter there at least keeps his kecks on.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for your comments, and yes, the nutters I come across now do tend to remain fully clothed...


The Great Tree Measuring Ceremony (posted on: 23-08-13)
In the beautiful village of St Guilhem le Desert, in the Langeudoc, stands France's largest plane tree, planted in 1790 or thereabouts. On the trunk is a small plaque, telling the world that the tree's circumference, on 20 January 1855, was 6 metres. This is (probably) how it was measured.

                                                  photo plaque_zps8b60b8fb.jpg Jean-Louis Vernay gave his moustache a final comb, and inspected the results in the mirror. It was an impressive moustache, bushy and full, and it drew the eye away (he thought) from his rather bulbous nose. Today was an important day for the tiny village of St Guilhem le Desert: they were going to measure the tree. The plane tree which stood not quite in the centre of the village square, had been planted in 1790 to commemorate the new Republic. It was, like his moustache, an impressive specimen. And now they were going to measure it, in honour of the Empereur! A band was arriving at 10 from Gignac and the ceremony was timed to take place at 12. After the pronouncement of the officially measured girth of the great tree there would be food, drink, and dancing. Jean-Louis was particularly looking forward to the food and drink, particularly as he, as the proprietor of the village's only butcher's shop, was supplying the meat He was also looking forward, with some trepidation, to the dancing: he had hopes that the alluring, slightly mysterious Madame Crouzet might honour him with a dance. He had had his eye on the good Madame since her arrival in the village last summer, always doffing his hat when they met, favouring her with the choicest cuts of beef, the darkest blood sausages when she came to his shop. He wasn't entirely certain that his feeling were reciprocated, however, and he suspected that rascal Antoine Defours also had designs on her. He gave his hat a final straighten, made sure his flies were buttoned, and sallied forth. When he reached the square, all was chaos. The platform for the band wasn't finished, and had no flags or bunting, both of which he had specifically requested. ''Paul! Didier! Come here at once!'' The two workmen hurried over from the bar, where they'd been enjoying a short break. ''Get the flag from the church, and attach it to the stage, and then go to Madame Poujol and see if she's finished the bunting yet. And hurry!'' He stood, hands on hips, letting his displeasure with the state of things be known. Around him, the entire population of the village worked with an increased intensity. And where was that band? It wasn't quite 10 yet but he had hoped they at least would be on time. He strolled over to the tree, placed one meaty hand on the smooth trunk. They had decided, after two hours' argument, not to decorate it, not wanting it to get in the way of the tape. The tape! He had forgotten it! Trying not to make it too obvious, he returned home as quickly as he could to collect it. When he got there, however, a terrible sight awaited him. His small dog, Anise, had the tape in her mouth. ''Give me the tape, Anise, come on, there's a good dog.'' He snatched the precious length of fabric, but Anise, sensing a new game, held on to the other end and growled. The tape stretched and split. Jean-Louis stared at the short length in his hand. What could he do? There was no other tape in the village long enough to circumnavigate the tree. It had been procured specially for the occasion, and was adorned with the words 'The Official measurement of the Roi Platane, St Guilhem-le-Desert, 20 01 1855'. The dining room chair creaked as he sat down heavily. He would be a laughing stock. His short spell as mayor would not be remembered, as he had hoped, with pride and respect but with derision, and laughter. They would be talking about it in the bar for months, years. They would never forget. He stared sadly at Anise, who had now dropped the half-chewed bit of tape and was noisily licking herself. He stood, retreived the tape, and laid both bits on the table. He would sort this. He opened the cupboard and took out a half-full bottle of brandy, the good stuff, and poured himself a stiff shot. He downed it in one, and as often happened when he resorted to such desperate measures, an idea occurred to him. He hurried into the kitchen, put the iron on its plate at the range to heat, and covered the table with a thick cloth. Carefully, he spread the tape out, both chewed ends nearly touching. With a daintiness that belied his bulk, he smoothed the hot iron over the tape, first one way and then the other. It helped a bit, but it still looked like a dog's dinner. He took his sewing kit out of the kitchen drawer. As a long term bachelor he was used to using a needle and thread. Taking off his frock coat and putting on his glasses he got to work. After 10 minutes' careful sewing he stood back. It would do; it would have to. He gave it a final iron – at least it was dry now, with most of the wrinkles gone – and wound it tightly around a small wooden spindle, securing it with a pin. If he kept it like that, in his pocket, until the last moment, maybe nobody would notice. Back at the square, he was pleased to see that his earlier efforts had yielded results. His platform and the bandstand were now bedecked with bunting, and the band was enjoying a drink at the bar. He shook hand with Claude, the bandleader, and slipped him a white envelope with the payment in it. Claude put it away quickly before his band members saw the thickness of the envelope. Jean-Louis felt a tap on his shoulder; he turned to meet the beaming smile of Monsieur Antoine Defours, the village baker, who had preceded him as mayor. Jean-Louis never felt entirely comfortable in his company; the man had a superior air and always seemed to be judging him. He also had a moustache which was at least the equal of his own, and a superb set of side whiskers. ''It's looking good, Monsieur Mayor! A credit to the village. And you of course. Everything ready? Speech prepared?'' How did he do it? He always managed to make him feel like a bumbling schoolboy. ''Thank you Antoine; I think today will be a significant day in the history of St Guilhem le Desert. And I've scribbled a few words, of course. But now, if you'll excuse me, I have one more person to see before we begin.'' If that bloody dog's eaten my speech, I'll make sure it's the last thing he ever eats, he thought as he hurried home once again. Luckily the scraps of paper he'd written his speech on hadn't appealed to Anise, so it was where he left it and untouched. Once again, he made the short journey to the square. Was it getting colder? They hadn't had any snow yet this winter, but the sky was looking a bit threatening, a bit dark. He put such gloomy thoughts behind him and strode into the square. By now, the entire population of the village was crowded into the bar, and half the band was jammed into a corner, playing what sounded to his ears like a disjointed racket. Claude was sitting at a table with two young ladies,, who seemed to be hanging on his every word. Jean-Louis took hold of his jacket and gently pulled him out of his chair. ''Get your boys out of here and on to that bloody stage'' he said, through gritted teeth. As the bandleader cajoled and threatened his men out of the bar, Jean-Louis addressed the rest of the crowd. ''If you would care to make your way outside, ladies and gentlemen, the ceremony will commence.'' The villagers, some swaying slightly, gathered between the podium and the tree. Jean-Louis, with all his dignity, drew his speech out of his pocket. A few of the assembled crowd groaned, some loudly enough for Jean-Louis to hear. He glared at them, and began: ''Over 70 years ago, our tree, the King Plane of St Guilhem le Desert, was planted…'' A small boy was the first to spot it – ''A cat! Look!'' High in the branches above the band's stage a small black cat was slowly making its way along a thin branch. Jean-Louis ignored the interruption and soldiered on, but the attention of his audience was now on the small animal above their heads. He was losing them. He gave up, and turned to the final page of the speech. ''And so'' he said, louder than he had meant to, ''we will measure the tree!'' He strode to the tree, taking the tape from his pocket. He gave one end to Monsieur Detrice, the town clerk, and gravely made his way around the trunk, unravelling the tape as he went. He took it a bit slower as he reached the spliced part; just then, two things happened. Snow started to fall, heavy with thick, large flakes. The cat, alarmed by the falling snow, decided he would rather be indoors. When he made that decision, the mayor was standing directly in his route down from the tree. To the assembled onlookers, it seemed that the mayor had caught the cat as it dashed down the trunk of the tree, but that wasn't quite what happened. Jean-Louis was a dog person, and shared dogs' aversion to cats; he had frequently expressed his opinion that cat owners should be required to register their cats and keep them under control. He tried to get out of the way of the small animal, and almost made it; the cat dodged under his arm and ended up, somehow, with the tape wound round its neck. This would have been a problem for the cat had the tape not previously been split and then spliced back together; it split again, and then a black streak against the white snow and the cat was gone. The mayor was dumfounded. He stood, rooted to the spot, holding one end of the tape, as the villagers, and the band from Gignac, tried hard not to laugh. Unfortunately, the time they had all spent in the bar before the ceremony did not help this process. Antoine Defours had no such reticence, and let out a huge, booming laugh. Jean-Louis shot him a poisonous look, and was shocked to see Madame Crouzet at his side. This day was just getting worse. He faced the tree and closed his eyes, took a deep breath. He was about to soldier on when someone touched his arm. ''I'll hold both of the split ends of the tape, Monsieur Mayor,'' said Madame Crouzet, ''and you can carry on with the measurement.'' Jean-Louis had never felt so grateful to anyone in his life. He almost got down on one knee and asked her to marry him on the spot. He bowed his head to her, handed her the frayed end of the tape, and with as much dignity as he could muster continued his stately progress round the tree, trying hard not to slip in the snow. He reached the town clerk, who by now had a light covering of snow on his hat and shoulders and was shivering violently. ''The measurement is…six metres precisely.'' He turned, triumphant, and gave the signal to Monsieur Claude. The band burst into la Marseillaise, nearly in tune, and the assembled crowd cheered. One or two started dancing in the snow, but most hurried back to the bar for something warming and alcoholic. As soon as the band finished the first verse they downed their instruments and did likewise. Jean-Louis made a mental note to retrieve a good part of the fee he had given Monsieur Claude. Soon the mayor was left alone with the town clerk and Madame Crouzet.''Thank you, Jacques'' he said to the shivering man, taking the end of the tape from him. Jacques thankfully hurried away to the bar. Jean-Louis started rewinding the tape, until he reached Madame Crouzet. ''Thank you, Madame. You were most kind to come forward. You saved the day for me.'' ''It was the least I could do, Monsieur Mayor'' she said. ''After all, it was my cat, Papillon, that broke your tape. Although I couldn't help noticing that the tape had been broken before, and mended.'' She raised her eyebrows slightly as she said this. ''But your secret's safe with me.'' She smiled and turned to leave. ''Madame Crouzet, um..Hortense'' said the mayor, ''I wonder if you would do me the great honour of accompanying me for a small drink, to mark the occasion?'' They both looked across to the bar, which was by now packed and extremely noisy. Jean-Louis noticed Antoine Defours at the door, looking out at them. ''It looks a little…lively for my taste'' said Madame Crouzet. ''You're absolutely right'' said the mayor. ''It's much too rowdy. I have an extremely nice bottle of cognac at my house; it's almost as old as this tree. Perhaps I could offer you a small glass?'' ''That would be extremely nice, Jean-Louis'' she said, and together they walked off across the snow-covered square.                                                                                     photo tree_zps3e527806.jpg
Archived comments for The Great Tree Measuring Ceremony
Weefatfella on 23-08-2013
The Great Tree Measuring Ceremony
 photo 915e0b75-fce7-4fc2-9921-556099197c13_zps1f6b3c50.jpgHi Rab, Great story mate. Just a coupla things, ..>Trying not to make it" to" obvious, ( too ). ..>particularly as he, as the village’s only butcher’s shop, <.. Sorry I mean it in friendship. Congrats on the nib by the way.

Weefatfella.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind comment and the heads ups Paul, i appreciate it. No matter how often I proof read something, a typo or two get in there!

I almost gave up on this one half way through, because i couldn't see where it was going. Glad I stuck with it now.


Mikeverdi on 23-08-2013
The Great Tree Measuring Ceremony
Rab this is a cracking tale, your attention to detail is brilliant! so many good things here for me. I would never comment on spelling as everyone knows I'm shit! I leave that to my betters. consider yourself nominated. Mike

ps. any chance of you attending the London bash?

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind remarks and the nomination Mike, and if you spot any typos or similar, please let me know; similarly, if you have any thoughts on how the story could be improved from the reader's point of view, please say. I'm sometimes too close to it to see something that seems obvious to others, and you never stop learning!

Unfortunately I can't make the London bash, I'll be out of the country that weekend. Are these events normally well attended?

OldPeculier on 23-08-2013
The Great Tree Measuring Ceremony
Nice idea to take a real event and weave a tale around it.

Very good.

Author's Reply:
Thanks very much, glad you enjoyed it. I did a bit of research after visiting the village this summer, but couldn't find any mention of a ceremony to measure the tree, so it's all a fabrication. My daughter is a big fan of graveyards and took some pictures in the one at St Guilhem le Desert, and that's where some of the surnames came from, so there is some element of truth there!

franciman on 23-08-2013
The Great Tree Measuring Ceremony
Like all the best stories, this starts with a simple premise. The writing is rich and evocative and fits the period. What can I say? It made me think of Marcel Pagnol.
That's says it all I think. Delightful read and the reader gets to touch the character.
cheers,
Jim

Author's Reply:
Thanks very much for the kind words Jim, glad you enjoyed it. I tried to think myself into that period when I was writing it; I wasn't entirely sure I had succeded so your comments are very welcome!

Ross

Nomenklatura on 23-08-2013
The Great Tree Measuring Ceremony
High praise from Jim - bearing in mind this is the kind of thing he himself does so well - even more so. Good story-telling.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, glad you enjoyed it. I'm a big fan of Jim's writing too.

Gee on 24-08-2013
The Great Tree Measuring Ceremony
Your descriptions of your characters are delightful and you made this whole situation come alive.
Wonderfully written and well deserving of the nib.

Author's Reply:
Thanks very much for your kind words and the rating.

Ross


The Heist (posted on: 09-08-13)
A tale of disorganised crime. The main facts of the story are, almost unbelievably, true; it happened in Glasgow about 12 years ago.

Noise, confusion, lots of shouting. We had one of the boxes, the young guard had put his hands up right away, sensible boy, but the other guard, older, fat, stupid, was holding on to his. Brian had the other end, shouted at him as they did a mental dance around it ''Let go ya fat prick''. Stevie had the gun – his gun, wouldn't let anyone else touch it – and now came running. Before anyone else could react, he shot the guard in the stomach. He let go then all right, went down in a bloody heap as we all stood rooted. Silence for a minute, then: ''Go, go go''. Into the car, waiting at the entrance to the yard, a black Mazda something. Tommy had taken off his crash helmet, said he couldn't drive properly with it on, and we were off and away. You could feel the fear leaving us, turning into elation, the adrenaline rush still there, but the elephant, no, the zeppelin in the car was what Stevie had done. Was the guard dead, would we all be hunted down? Why had he done it? Why did we let him take his stupid toy with him? Stevie was busy compounding his earlier stupidity right now, in the front passenger seat ''Let's see what we've got here'' as he turned the box over, looking for the catch, lock or whatever. ''Don't try to open it Stevie, it'll have that smoke stuff in it''; the words coincided with a loud click as the box opened and the car instantly filled with evil-smelling, heavy blue smoke. We all coughed retched, swore at Stevie; Tommy jammed on the brakes, slowed the car down to a crawl, unable to see where we were going, aware that we'd been approaching a narrowing of the road as it passed under the railway. He powered the window down, stuck his head out, just as the wing mirror made contact with the bridge abutment and snapped off. His head made contact too, knocking it backwards into the window frame; he swore, which at least meant he was still conscious, shook his head, spraying blood around the inside of the car, and stalled the engine. Still swearing, he managed to start it up, and drove on, slowly, turning down an alleyway to the right, tucked the car into a little inshot. We piled out, all but Tommy still in our crash helmets. ''Scatter, guys. You ok to walk Tommy?'' He was, just. We put the boxes into Tesco bags – the one bit of foresight that Stevie had contributed to the mission – me taking the still smoking one from Stevie's grasp. He tried to hold on to it. ''You've got the gun, Stevie, give me the box. We'll meet on Saturday, as arranged.'' The smoke had reduced to a trickle now. I turned on my heel, speed-walked in the general direction of away, not really sure where we were. A couple of corners later I had my bearings, had taken my helmet off, ditched it in a bin and slowed down to rapid walking pace. My heartrate started to come down as I walked. I could feel a thin layer of sweat over my whole body, and I just knew that I would look suspicious and guilty as hell to anyone that saw me. I was convinced that the whole street, the whole town, could smell the guilt on me. I forced myself to breathe steadily, and eventually it worked. After a few turns I was on the High Street, the cheap end with Poundland, empty shops, places that will buy your gold for you, doing you a favour. Twenty minutes more and I was at my front door, nobody in thank christ, up to the bedroom, threw myself down on the bed, still not made from this morning, than had to get back up almost immediately to throw up in the bathroom. I felt slightly better after that, and started to think a bit more rationally. If the fat guard died, the police wouldn't let it lie as they would have if everything had gone to plan – everyone knows they don't try too hard if it's just a couple of money boxes, that was the theory anyway. But now it was different. Where to hide the box? It was on the bedroom floor, amongst the discarded jeans and shirts, not the best hiding place in the world. And my t-shirt had blood on it, Tommy's I assume. I stripped off and stuck everything in the washing machine, programmed a hot wash, and got some clean stuff on. Then I took the box out to the back garden and planted it next to a big bush in the flowerbed in front of the living room window. That done, I cleaned myself up, put the kettle on, and - with hands that only trembled slightly, I was ridiculously proud to note – put some Nescafe in a cup. Then the doorbell rang. It was Stevie, white as a sheet and looking scared and panicky. He still had the gun with him, the eedjit, in the ubiquitous Tesco bag. ''I need to come in, man. Sheila's at home, I cannae go there. Let us in.'' He pushed past me into the hall. I was stunned; this was so not what we had agreed, but then neither was the shooting. I took him into the kitchen. ''You have to leave, right now. We can't be seen together, not after what happened.'' I could hardly look at him, and I was starting to shake again. He dropped the gun on the kitchen table – god it was heavy, made a solid clunk when it landed and the rickety old table actually shook. ''I don't know where to go, man. Cannae do home, cannae go to Peter's or Sam's, they're gonnae be looking for me!'' ''You can't stay here, they're sure to come round here soon. I don't care where you go, you shouldn't have shot the guy.'' I was shouting now, furious and scared. I just wanted him to go, anywhere, as long as he wasn't in my kitchen. The thought of the police calling got to him. He looked up, shocked. "I need to get out of here. Lend me some cash, I'll get a train somewhere.'' I couldn't believe my ears; he'd shot someone, fucked all our lives, and he was stinging me for money! But it was worth it to get rid of him. I took whatever was in my wallet, threw it at him. ''Now fuck off.'' He took the gun, went towards the front door. ''Not that way, out the back.'' There was a lane behind the house, and he loped through the garden, through the gate, leaving it open, and down the lane. Out of my house and out of my life, for good, I hoped. I still felt sick to my stomach. I made my coffee, went into the living room and turned on News 24. After the usual updates on the middle east and the latest mince from some old Etonian Government jerk about education, or defence or something, there it was: a wages snatch, a shooting, a security guard critically ill in hospital. The police spokesman telling the world that they had found the getaway car, felt confident that an arrest was imminent. Then he asked for anyone that had seen anything to contact them; that was a good sign, surely? Meant they don't know all they thought they needed to. Detective Superintendent Orr was a seriously scary looking guy, though – businesslike and tough looking, spoke in the same way I did, not posh, schooled. Not someone who looked a pushover. ''We're convinced the criminals who carried out this appalling act are amateurs. They have already made a lot of mistakes and I'm confident that we'll have some good news to give you soon. Rest assured we will get them – they're clearly a trigger-happy bunch and they can't be allowed to do this sort of thing again.'' He looked straight at the camera as he said the last bit. His eyes seemed to bore into me through the screen. I was scared; my hands started shaking again. I took a deep breath, let it out slowly. Despite what the cop said, we'd be ok, wouldn't we? We'd all worn motorcycle crash helmets and gloves; the car had been stolen weeks ago and kept in a garage; we'd never done anything this big before, just some minor stuff (Orr got that one right). They would probably turn up at some point, fishing: my name and three of the others were on their database. Not Tommy, luckily – if they matched him to the blood in the car we were finished. The biggest thing in our favour was that we had no previous involving guns; we'd always talked Stevie out of bringing it with him before. I realised that I had taken my gloves off when I buried the box, but I was pretty sure nobody would go digging up my garden looking for it. The doorbell again. My stomach tightened as I went to the door, expecting to be met with the diamond-hard glare of DSI Orr, but it was only old Bob, my next door neighbour, a genial old duffer who always had a shirt and tie on, even tough he'd been retired forever. ''Hiya Jamie, wasn't sure if you were in, but I've just seen a suspicious looking guy running through your back garden. He was carrying a bag, looked like it had, well, a gun in it. Mebbe I'm just being paranoid, but I just heard on the wireless that there's been an armed robbery not too far from here. Anyway, I phoned the police and they said they'd send someone round. Here, that looks like them now, that was quick.'' He turned to face the police car was drawing up outside the house, two uniforms getting out. Not Orr, thank christ. ''Hello officers,'' said Bob, puffed up with the righteous pride of a citizen doing his duty, the old prick. ''I'm Bob Reid, it was me that phoned you. Want me to show you where I saw the man? This is Jamie, he lives here.'' Thanks Bob, that was nice. The two cops looked me up and down; one of them, the older one, recognised me, I was sure. ''If you'd be so kind, sir'' he said to Bob. ''May we?'' This to me, and then they were in the house. Bob was prattling away, about what the bag looked like, could have had a gun in it, perhaps it was something else, but it looked heavy. I could gladly have strangled him at that moment. We all went out of the back door and stood looking at the open gate to the lane while Bob took us all through his busybody activities , how he'd been putting something in his bin, looked up, saw a young chap he didn't recognise, clocked the strangely shaped bag he was carrying.     ''And did you see where this chap came from sir?'' asked the older cop. ''From the house perhaps?'' Bob, luckily, hadn't seen him until he was half way across the garden, so told them that he could have come round the house, taking a shortcut to the lane at the back. He had it all figured out. ''Thanks very much sir, if you wouldn't mind waiting next door we'll be round shortly to take a statement.'' Bob looked a bit disappointed, but did as he was told. The two of them went to the gate, had a good look down the lane, then got weighed in: had I seen anything, had I been in all morning, was I aware of anyone on my property, etc etc. That last one was clever, saying property rather than garden, following the possibility that the mystery man had come through the house. I told them the story I'd made up in my head: out of work, nothing to get up for, not feeling too great (hangover). Saw nothing, heard nothing, knew nothing. We had a nice chat for about 10 minutes, standing in the garden until the rain came on, then into the living room, News 24 still on in the corner. ''Did you hear about the violent robbery that took place this morning in the industrial estate? Your neighbour's sighting might conceivably have something to do with that.'' This from the younger cop, who hadn't said much up to now. ''Saw it on the news, terrible about that guard, eh? Just wish I'd seen the guy that Bob saw, then I could have helped you a bit more. Sorry.'' Why did I say sorry? Fucking stupid thing to say. I was forcing myself to breathe, and not to scream and run away, which is what I wanted to do more than anything else. After a few more minutes, populated with growing silences – were they waiting for me to confess? –they stood up to go. I stood up too, relief flooding my body. Then they stopped and gave each other a look. The younger one moved to the door, stood there, filling it; the older one took my arm, steered me to the window. We both looked at the thin plume of blue smoke rising from the damp earth. The rain must have loosened the soil around the money box. Bloody Scotland. ''Well, would you look at that, your garden seems to be on fire. I think we'd better take a look.''
Archived comments for The Heist
TheBigBadG on 09-08-2013
The Heist
Cripes. The road to hell apparently, authentically smoking and everything. Dare I ask if they every caught Stevie and the rest? It's a great tale to pick on. A real-life disastrous heist is a good mine.

It looks like Stevie becomes Tommy when he turns up at the house which is a bit confusing, unless I've missed something? It's good and pacey though, suitably full of the sense of being out of control and with no time for reflection. Part of me would like to know more of the back story but I can't think of how to introduce it without greatly increasing the length and killing the tempo. Suitably droll ending too, old Bill can't resist his moment can he.

George

Author's Reply:
Thanks George, glad you liked it. I re-read the damn thing so many times and never spotted Stevie becoming Tommy, thanks for picking it up - I've corrected it now.

They did get the gang, thanks to the neighbour calling the police and the smoke coming out of the ground (that, and the smoke canister in the car, and the driver hitting his head on the bridge abutment, is true).

Ross

Weefatfella on 09-08-2013
The Heist
 photo 915e0b75-fce7-4fc2-9921-556099197c13_zps1f6b3c50.jpg
Brilliantly told.
I was on the edge the whole time.
Fast paced read.
Really enjoyed it.
Cheers Rab.
Weefatfella.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Paul. The bones of the story came from a friend of a friend who works for the PF office in Glasgow; I just changed the names to protect the guilty!

franciman on 10-08-2013
The Heist
Hi Paul,
A really well told tale this. I agree with WFF and BBG the pace of the piece was really well judged and I loved the way control kept slipping through his fingers.
You tend to use a fair number of adverbs.. Informed opinion is that this softens the impact of your descriptive passages. Also a couple of times the change of tense snagged for me.
Minor I know, and didn't detract from a great piece of writing.
Hark at me! (you know what they say? if you can't write; critique!!)
cheers,
Jim

Author's Reply:
Thanks Jim, and I'm glad you included the bits about the adverbs and changes of tense - we never stop learning, and getting feedback like that is really valuable.

Thanks again

Ross

Mikeverdi on 10-08-2013
The Heist
Another brilliant story, I too was hooked from the off. Jim is always right but, it didn't detract from the impact for me. After reading your comments it would seem that it should be Faction not Fiction! Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks for kind comments Mike. I guess it's fictionalised fact (?)


Le Petit Troc (posted on: 05-08-13)
A small bistro in Villeneuve Les Maguelone, near the house which has been our home for the past three weeks.

      photo e4d341c3-ef42-41d6-9e86-cc01c99427f9_zpsba78ebee.jpg A tiny village in the south of France. At its centre stands an old, old church with a square bell-tower; beside it a small square, irregularly shaped. Tables spill out of a simple shopfront, most of them occupied by local villagers, drinking chilled rose wine or beer, or coffee in a small glass. A couple of the small, round tables are free; we choose one, sit on the mismatched chairs, ask the patron for a beer, une pression, and a glass of rose. Around us, relaxed chatter; at one table three old guys smoke cigarettes and sip, alternately, from the small, dark coffees and larger, milky glasses of pastis which sit on the table in front of them, and talk in low voices; at another, two elderly women, self-appointed guardians of the village's moral fibre, watch everyone that passes, and pass comments to each other about most of them. Behind us two tables are pushed together to make room for a family group, having a noisy meal. The sky is darkening; the swallows swoop and wheel, executing movements so precise and beautiful that they're close to perfection. As the light fades away they're replaced by tiny bats, their flight jerkier but still breathtaking. Then they, too, disappear, at least to our eyes. The bistro's lights illuminate the square. If this isn't heaven it's close enough for us.                             
Archived comments for Le Petit Troc
Mikeverdi on 05-08-2013
Le Petit Troc
I want some of that right now! Mike

Author's Reply:
Me too, but unfortunately I'm back at work!

franciman on 05-08-2013
Le Petit Troc
Hi Rab,
I'm one of those irritating ex-pat Scots you find in these French watering-holes. This is so 'on the button'. Like it very much and yes its close to heaven,
cheers,
Jim

Author's Reply:
Thanks Jim, glad you like it. It's all a fading memory now...

barenib on 07-08-2013
Le Petit Troc
A lovely scene, and like your holiday I want more! Cheers, John.

Author's Reply:
Thanks John, glad you liked it. I thnk it was my way of tryng to keep the holiday alive for a few days more!


The Dog (posted on: 05-07-13)
Redemption, and a small dog.

Sunday He packed his few purchases in two carrier bags, paid the young boy at the checkout (he didn't seem old enough to be out of school, never mind working in a shop), didn't respond to his cheery 'Bye then' or his exhortation to have a nice evening. He hadn't made eye contact throughout, so didn't see the fleeting expression of distaste on the young man's face. Into his old, dirty car and the short trip home. Into the driveway of the old house, the house he'd lived in all his life, with the overgrown front garden that he simply didn't see any more, up to the front door, the number 3 hanging upside down. Inside, door closed behind him, he stood for a moment, savouring the silence, the stillness. He shuffled through to the kitchen, pushed plates, cups and the rest aside to make a space for the bags, and unpacked, after a fashion, putting the margarine and cheese and milk into the fridge, leaving the rest where it was. He would see to it later. That night, in his bed, he relaxed for the first time since his trip to the outside. He thought, as he often did when he was about to drift off to sleep, about his parents, about the happy times he'd had in this house, when it was bright, and clean, and filled with light. Not filled with noise, it was never noisy, his mum and dad hadn't been ones for talking over much, and he'd not had many friends round. It was different at Christmas, when his Auntie Maisie and Uncle George came for dinner; then there was laughter, chatter and even, sometimes, some drink taken, not by him of course, he was a nipper! He smiled in the darkness with the memory of his Auntie Maisie three sheets to the wind, insisting they all went for a walk in the snowy darkness, through the woods behind the house. The memory of the night time adventure, lit with hand held torches, was as fresh today as if it had happened yesterday. Monday Next morning he lay still while the light outside his curtains grew into day, listening to the sounds of the world waking up. His cul de sac was quiet; one of the three other houses there was occupied by a retired lady who he didn't really know. She was always up and about early, messing about in her garden, fixing things, planting some bloody plant or other, fussing. Or talking to the other neighbours; at that moment he could hear her chatting to the postman. He tended to avoid contact with her, sometimes waiting silently behind his front door until she'd walked past, or until she went indoors from whatever she was doing in her garden. The other two houses were occupied by married couples, who both worked, and who didn't bother him. There were no children in the street, which suited him fine. He'd never much liked children, or understood them, even when he was one himself. He sensed his neighbours didn't like him, were a bit wary of him, didn't like talking to him. Which was also fine; he didn't much want to talk to them either. His overgrown front garden was an effective screen, keeping him safe from the world. He spent the morning shuffling about, got his breakfast of tea and toast with margarine, taking it through to the living room, following the route through the piles of yellowing newspapers to his familiar old armchair. Pushing yesterday's cups to one side to make room for today's, he sighed as he relaxed into the familiar cushions, picked up one of the old newspapers at random and leafed through it, the pages brittle as he turned them. There was a sale on at the local co-op, or there had been – he looked at the date on top of the page – 17 years ago. The Co-op department store in town was long gone, replaced by a neat block of flats. He thought about turning on the old radio set in the corner of the room, but that would have meant finding a place for all the papers and books that lay on it, and he just didn't have the energy. Later that day, as he made himself a cheese sandwich for lunch, he caught sight of himself in the glass of the kitchen cabinet by the fridge. When did he get so old? He used the last of his cups for his lunch, so that afternoon he had to tackle the washing up. As the sink filled with warm soapy water he surveyed the back garden. It was getting difficult to see where his garden ended and the woods began. He stopped, drew in his breath. There was something there, in his garden. He hated the idea of someone else poking around in his place. Unbolting the door, he crept out, quietly, and made his way slowly down the narrow path that led to the back fence. Nestled in a kind of hollow in the long grass, between two scruffy bushes, was a small dog. It had made a sort of den for itself, sheltered from the rain by the overgrown bushes on either side. The dog was curled up, but its head was up and it was looking at him with small, dark eyes. Man and dog maintained a still life tableau for a minute or so, each one sizing the other up, both wondering what the other was going to do. Then he shouted, suddenly, made a lurch toward the small animal, which, quick as a breath, was up and away, past him, out of the garden and into the woods. He went over to the fence, peered into the dark woodland. He thought he saw the dog, a little way into the woods, looking back at him. He stood there a while longer, then with a shiver turned round and retreated into the house, bolting the back door behind him. About half an hour later the dog gingerly made its way back through the hole in the fence, and, carefully watching the back door of the house, crept back to its makeshift bed. Tuesday After his breakfast he surveyed the garden from the upstairs back bedroom window. He could see how overgrown his garden was compared to his neighbour's. He wished, fleetingly, that he'd taken care of it over the years, tamed the wild shrubs and bushes, even cut the bloody grass! He felt suddenly sickened with himself, ashamed. He was lazy, stupid, all the things his dad used to call him. He felt helpless and afraid. Then he saw the dog again. It was moving through the garden, ears back, looking pathetic and broken. He was suddenly filled with fury at this creature, this uninvited, unwanted guest. He banged on the window, shouted incoherently. The dog, startled, looked up at the window; cowed, it seemed to shrink within itself. It turned tail and ran out of the garden. Good riddance, he thought, and turned from the window. The bedroom was full of black plastic bags, full of clothes, towels, sheets that had been in the house for years, since his father, then his mother, had passed away. He hurried out of the room, closed the door behind him. Wednesday It was back again! He couldn't believe it. Lying in the tall grass near the fence, licking itself for god's sake, acting as if the garden was his! He hesitated, unsure what to do. They'd had a cat once, when he was little, but never a dog. Too much mess, his mum had said. Was it dangerous? Would it bite him? He decided to leave it for the moment. Thursday It was bin night. He hated bin night. As usual, he waited until it was dark, then unbolted the back door and carried three carrier bags full of rubbish to the big grey bin that stood at the corner of the house. Struggling to get it past the tall nettles that grew at the side of the house without getting stung, he wheeled it to the kerb at the front of the house. He sensed someone watching, looked at next door's front window, saw a curtain twitch as his nosy neighbour pulled back and let the curtain drop. Quickly he shuffled back to his back garden, then stopped dead. The dog was there, not 10 feet away. Sitting, watching him, half-turned, as if ready to fly away. Carefully, slowly, he shuffled to his back door, slid through, closed and bolted it. After a minute, he peered through the kitchen window. It was still there, although it had now lowered itself. It was lying down on the rough grass, head resting on its outstretched front legs. He had no clue what he should do. He made some cocoa and went to bed. Friday He was out of milk; he would have to venture out again, to the shops. In Tesco, safe again in his anonymity, he guided his trolley down each aisle in turn. He didn't need much, but he liked to see what he could buy, if he wanted. Just after the washing powder, he stopped. Dog food. There was an enormous variety, in tins, cardboard boxes, enormous bags with pictures of happy, healthy dogs on them. And other stuff too: leads, food bowls, toys, brushes, tablets. He looked closer; tablets for fleas, worms and god knew what else. He turned away, momentarily disgusted, then turned back. The little dog in the garden (he was starting to think of him in this way) looked so small, so hungry; should he get him some biscuits or a tin of food? He dithered, looking at the bewildering array for at least five minutes, before grabbing the one thing he'd heard of, a small box of bonios. He was conscious of having conflicting emotions when he got home; annoyance with the dog for making him buy something he didn't want, and with himself for buying the damn biscuits. After he'd put the milk in the fridge he tore open the box of bonios and lifted a bone-shaped biscuit out. It had a strangely comforting smell. He unbolted the door, took a step outside. The dog was nowhere to be seen. Making his way into the garden, towards the place he'd first found the beast, he stopped when he heard a rustling in the undergrowth. The dog was surreptitiously moving towards the fence, ready to make his escape. He quietly bent down and laid the biscuit on the ground, turned and went back to the house. He watched from the kitchen window, still and silent. After a few minutes, a small black nose appeared from the undergrowth. The dog emerged, hesitantly, then darted forward and grabbed the biscuit. Later that night he went out again, and left three more biscuits in the same spot. Saturday He woke to the sound of torrential rain. It was still dark outside; by the sodium glare of the streetlights he could see the raindrops bouncing off the soaking tarmac outside, and a strong wind had appeared as if from nowhere. He got back into bed, then thought of the small dog, outside, soaking and cold. A flash of lightening and a crack of thunder immediately afterwards made his mind up. He hurried down the stairs, pulled on his overcoat and unbolted the back door. He shouted into the storm, wondering as he shouted what you shout to a dog when you don't know its name. ''Come on you silly mutt, come inside!'' With a muffled curse he stepped outside with his torchlight. His pyjama trousers were instantly soaked through where they weren't protected by the coat. He hurried to the dog's usual sleeping place. It wasn't there. Then he saw it, cowering under a leylandii-like tree, trying to squeeze into a slightly drier patch of ground. He ran to it, picked it up under its front legs and rushed inside with it. The dog seemed even more surprised than he was himself by this action. They stood facing each other in the kitchen, water pooling around them. The dog looked pitiful, like a drowned rat. He found an old tea towel and rubbed it vigorously. He was shocked at how thin the beast was – he felt as if he would expose bone if he rubbed too hard. He tipped the remainder of the box of bonios on to the floor. ''Go on then, get stuck in, you mutt'' he said. The dog simply stared at him, shivering. ''I'll leave you to it, then. Good Night.'' He closed the kitchen door softly, and stood still, listening. He heard the dog's claws clacking against the lino, and then the sound of vigorous crunching. With a small smile, he went back to his bed. Sunday The next morning he opened the kitchen door to a totally different animal to the one he had left the previous night. No longer skinny and dishevelled, it gave a quick bark and ran between him and the door, tail wagging furiously. ''You want out, boy? There you go.'' The door open, the dog bounded out and immediately lifted its leg against the nearest tree, then rushed back in, nuzzling his hand with a wet nose. ''Get away, you mutt!'' he shouted. He'd never liked being touched. He was immediately sorry, as the dog dashed back out of the door, and stood, tail down, quivering, staring at him, clearly bewildered at this sudden change in this strange human. He sat down heavily on a kitchen chair. What have I done? He wondered, for the first time since he'd dashed into the rain last night, just what he was going to do with the beast now. Food. He'd better get it some food, and a bowl to eat out of. He dressed quickly, and drove straight to Tesco, went straight to the dog food aisle. He picked up some tins at random, a big bag of biscuits, a feeding bowl, and then, on impulse, a collar and lead. When he got home he opened one of the tins and scooped it into the bowl with a fork. The dog fell upon it and fed noisily; he must have been starving. When it finished it gave a small belch, and wagged its tail. Maybe that's how they say thanks, he thought. He ate his sandwich in the living room, in his familiar chair. The dog had followed him into the room and was exploring, poking its nose into every corner, searching through the piles of papers – what for, he wondered. ''What're you doing there, you little mutt?'' At the sound of his voice, the dog approached and sat in front of him, looking expectant, one small ear sticking straight up, the other folded half over. It looked so comical he couldn't help smiling. But he knew one thing about dogs: you had to take them out, for walks. This he wasn't looking forward to. He sighed, got into his overcoat, took the lead and collar out of the Tesco bag, and, grabbing the dog by the fur on the back of its neck, managed to hold it still long enough to get the collar tightened. Attaching the lead, he took a deep breath and stepped out of the front door. He sensed his neighbour's curtains twitching as he went past, looked round, scowling, but this time she didn't hide away; she was standing at her window, a stupid smile on her face. He ignored her and walked on, to the path at the end of the cul de sac that led into the woods. They met nobody on their walk, and he felt more relaxed as he came back into his cul de sac. She was in her garden now, though, at the fence, trimming some flower or other. Or pretending to, he thought. ''Hello, aren't you cute'' she said, almost running through her front gate. She was speaking to the dog, something for which he was hugely grateful. The little dog seemed to like the attention, though, and made a fuss of the old woman's fussing. ''I didn't know you even had a dog.'' She was speaking to him now. ''In fact, you know, in all the five years I've lived here I don't think I've ever spoken to you. My name's Beryl. Beryl Rankin. And what's this little fellow's name?'' ''He doesn't have…'' he stared to say, then blurted out ''Mutt''. ''Oh, that's a lovely name. What's yours?'' This was a nightmare. ''Geoff'' he said. For some reason he couldn't fathom, this made Beryl laugh out loud. ''Mutt and Jeff! That's priceless!'' she had to hold on to the fence, she was laughing so much. With as much dignity as he could muster, he and his dog went home. Monday Life had settled, so very quickly, and very much to his surprise, into a new routine. He had already begun to enjoy having the dog around, and was even starting to become less anxious about going outside. When you have a dog at the end of a lead, he noticed, people pay attention to it, not the person on the other end. This arrangement suited him. He was also, much to his surprise, starting to reply when people did speak to him. It was much easier if you've got something to talk about, even if it's just a small dog. Once or twice he even found himself smiling.
Archived comments for The Dog
Weefatfella on 05-07-2013
The Dog
 photo 5031cf9b-61d2-4fbf-912f-998c505fb4bc_zpsd7cccd97.jpg
Brilliant Rab.
I thoroughly enjoyed this.
Cheers mate.
Weefatfella.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Paul, glad you liked it. The solitary chap's based on a colleague of mine - I'm guessing what his house and garden's like!

OldPeculier on 05-07-2013
The Dog
Very good. Normally I would struggle with 3000 words about some one befriending a dog but this held my attention to the end. So good for you!

Author's Reply:
Thanks very much, glad you enjoyed it.


Accused of Mendacity (posted on: 01-07-13)
An everyday happening in the centre of Glasgow.

''Are you accusing me of mendacity?'' The tinny, outraged tones of James Sanderson, the self-proclaimed Voice of Football, filled the busy city centre sandwich bar. Some of the people waiting, the males anyway, smiled as they listened to another erudite demolition of a hapless radio phone-in victim by the acerbic Mr Sanderson. I paid for my sandwich (salad on a wheaten roll, I was on a health kick at the time) and scanned Royal Exchange Square for a place to eat it. I settled for a step at the front of the Gallery of Modern Art, between other office workers also seeking some temporary relief from the stale air of their offices. At least the diesel fumes outside moved around a bit. In front of me passed the usual detritus of what passes for life in the centre of Glasgow, that metropolitan hive of activity, noise and shell suits. A young, monochromatic goth on a skateboard scooted past, narrowly missing a nun and priest in close conversation, seemingly oblivious to the 21st century. The things you see when you don't have your camera. A police siren assaulted our ears, and a police van barrelled down Ingram Street towards us, leaving slow-moving buses beached half on the pavements in its wake. It screeched to a halt outside the art gallery, and several large polis ran in. I, and all the other picnickers in the square, stepped back to see what was happening. Everything seemed disappointingly peaceful. Then we saw, on the roof of the building, a small figure. GOMA has a lovely, porticoed front which has a triangular feature on top; the point of the triangle is a full three storeys above the pavement. Someone, arms tight around his/herself, was standing there, completely still, staring down at the statue of the Duke of Wellington, which was wearing its usual headgear of a large traffic cone, placed there by students by night, removed from time to time during the day by council workers. It was tilted, as it often is, at a jaunty angle. A policeman appeared, behind and to the right of the figure, moving slowly and carefully. The jumper looked round, shouted something, and the policeman stopped. Just then one of these strange moments occurred; a moment of stillness, of calm, in the centre of the city, and we heard, as clearly as if we were next to him, the policeman calling out ''Dinna be daft, hen, nothing can be that bad. Come on down from there.'' All of us on the ground were silent, everyone seemed to be holding their breath, some held their hands to their mouth. ''Daft, am I?'' the figure called out – then, suddenly, she was in the air, not attached to the building, or anything. A few people on the ground called out, someone screamed. I held my breath. The jumper fell quickly, so quickly, and made contact with the traffic cone on the Duke's head. The statue is pretty big, and the traffic cone was about a storey off the ground. The small figure wrapped both arms around the cone; both fell sideways and landed with a heavy thud on the pavement. The cone had landed first, somehow, with the jumper on top; how it happened I will never know, but the dishevelled figure that we had all seen falling from the top of the building picked herself up and shakily started to stagger away. One of the policemen and a paramedic ran for her and huckled her into an ambulance that had appeared at some point in the proceedings. Being Glaswegians, we went back to our lunch. When I got home that night I recounted my tale to my wife; she didn't believe me.
Archived comments for Accused of Mendacity
Andrea on 01-07-2013
Accused of Mendacity
What a picture! I was holding my breath, too. Great write (we seem to have a lot of Scottish members :))

Author's Reply:
Thanks Andrea. I wasn't sure where this one was going when I started it.

(Why are there so many Scottish members of UKA? Do you ever look at which parts of the UK people are writing from?)

Mikeverdi on 02-07-2013
Accused of Mendacity
Another great read from you, you have a great way with words. Your descriptions are vivid and set the scene so well; it must be something in the porridge up there as WFF is the same.:-) Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike. I wasn't quite as happy with this one as the others I've posted. I'm very new to this, so not sure what works and what doesn't until I've written it!

Andrea on 02-07-2013
Accused of Mendacity
Not really, it's just that I happen to know quite a few Scottish members. The globs on the front page might give you an idea. But we also have quite a few US members, and writers from India. All over the place really 🙂

Author's Reply:

Weefatfella on 04-07-2013
Accused of Mendacity
 photo 5031cf9b-61d2-4fbf-912f-998c505fb4bc_zpsd7cccd97.jpg
Brilliantly done Rab. I've seen they cones oan his heid.
A wondered whit the reason wiz furit.
Great write mate, well done.
Weefatfella.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Paul. If you've seen the statue you'll relaise that what's in the story is unlikely at best!

Pronto on 04-07-2013
Accused of Mendacity
That was very entertaining Rab a great flow, use of words An all round witty write mate1

Author's Reply:
Thanks very much, glad you liked it.


The Terrorist (with apologies to the Clash) (posted on: 28-06-13)
Short story, punctuated with song lyrics (The Guns of Brixton) about terrorism as a fashion statement

When they kick out your front door How you gonna come? With your hands on your head Or on the trigger of your gun He had his Big Beat cans on, walked down the busy street with an exaggerated swagger. White boys can play reggae after all, he thought, there's hope for me yet. The Clash really got it, even though they're either old or dead by now - with their clothes, their attitude, their music, god, the music. He had The Guns of Brixton on repeat, turned up loud. It had bothered people on the bus. That and his clothes. Even his mum had noticed. ''You look like a terrorist'' she said. Cool. When the law break in How you gonna go? Shot down on the pavement Or waiting in death row No waiting in death row for him, or getting shot for that matter. He'd made himself a bomb, though, and it was in his backpack, under the bottle of coke and bag of crisps he'd bought in Tesco. He'd looked it up on the internet, and used fertiliser. A dirty bomb! Lol! You can crush us You can bruise us But you'll have to answer to Oh, Guns of Brixton Brixton, wish I lived there. Wonder what it's like? He'd only been to London once, with a school trip. Had to be better than this dump, he thought. Edgy, dangerous, gritty, alive, not like here, this vanilla town, this suburb of normality, where everyone was like everyone else, like his parents, dad a teacher, mum an accountant. How could they live like that? Terrorists, they're not like that; he'd watched them on the tele, an AK47 or ground to air missile launcher held loosely, nonchalantly, looking really cool in their mis-matched camos, most with a ciggy in their mouths. They were the real cool ones. You know it means no mercy They caught him with a gun No need for the Black Maria Goodbye to the Brixton sun Goodbye to the Peterborough sun didn't have the same ring to it, another reason the Clash didn't come from here. Nobody here was like him, either. Nobody else in Peterborough was terrorist-cool… You can crush us You can bruise us And even shoot us But oh- the guns of Brixton Right on, crush us, shoot us and we'll still win. Shot down on the pavement Waiting in death row His game was survivin' As in heaven as in hell It was time. He stopped in the square, in front of the old market building, near McDonalds. He could see Pizza Express, Starbucks. Some of his friends might be in there. He felt a tug of something, fear, regret? His hands were shaking. You see, he feels like Ivan Born under the Brixton sun His game is called survivin' At the end of the harder they come Right on cue, the Clash came up with the goods. The harder they come. That was him! He squatted down by his rucksack, opened the buckle, lifted the flap. ''STAND UP AND STEP AWAY FROM THE BACKPACK!'' What the hell? He looked round, suddenly aware that all the Saturday shoppers had gone. All he could see were black-clad figures with guns. Which were pointed at him. He stared, unable to say anything, do anything, even breathe. The money feels good And your life you like it well But surely your time will come As in heaven, as in hell ''DON'T BE SILLY, SON. JUST LEAVE THE BACKPACK WHERE IT IS, STEP AWAY WITH YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR AND NOBODY'LL GET HURT'' This wasn't supposed to happen. He'd worked it all out, in his head. Leave the rucksack near the market building, saunter away, looking cool, wait round the corner until it went off, then act like everyone else, running, panicking, but all the time knowing it was him, his bomb, his terrorist act. He smiled at the policeman to let him know he wasn't a real terrorist, and reached into his backpack to unplug the device from its timer. He felt, rather than heard, the two flat reports, then he felt no more. Tinnily, from the headphones, the Clash played on.
Archived comments for The Terrorist (with apologies to the Clash)
Mikeverdi on 28-06-2013
The Terrorist (with apologies to the Clash)
It\'s been a real pleasure reading your work, thanks for posting and welcome to UKA. Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike, glad you liked it.

Andrea on 28-06-2013
The Terrorist (with apologies to the Clash)
Excellent!



I lived in Brixton once, in the 70s - bet it's changed now!



Welcome to UKA.

Here's a toon for you...



Author's Reply:
Thanks for the tune Andrea, always been on of my favourites. I bet Brixton's gone all gentrified since the 70s!

JackCrowe on 29-06-2013
The Terrorist (with apologies to the Clash)
Another very well written story Rab. Keep them coming

Author's Reply:
Thanks Jack, glad you liked it.

amman on 30-06-2013
The Terrorist (with apologies to the Clash)
Strong, cogent writing. Really like the way the song lyrics work hand in hand with the narrative. Look forward to reading more of your stuff.
Cheers.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for your comments, glad you liked the story. That's the first time I've tried that way of working; it was inspired by hearing the song again the day after watching Question Time a few weeks ago, when one of the panellists talked bout the 'fashionability' of being a terrorist to a sector of the poulation.

RustyBrother on 05-07-2013
The Terrorist (with apologies to the Clash)
Yes. You captured it perfectly.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for your comment, glad you liked it.

Buschell on 01-12-2013
The Terrorist (with apologies to the Clash)
"this vanilla town...He felt, rather than heard, the two flat reports..." Liked these words...clever short story, punchy and thought provoking, Darren.

Author's Reply:


A Dundonian Speaks (posted on: 28-06-13)
A native speaking Dundonian is translated by Richard St John de Pate, an acknowledged expert in Regional Dialogues...

I'm fair scunnered. Jist back fae doing the messages and I'm drookit! It's a dreich day, and the message bags were that heavy I splashed oot oan a taxi; the driver was a crabbit wee nyaff wha went the wrang way and we ended up back at the Soach! I only gied him half the fare, though, so there wisnae a problem at the end o' the day, no for me anyway. He was crying me fur a'thing when I went in the door, but I wisnae paying him ony heed. Let him call the bobbies if he wants, I'll tell them the richt story! This is fascinating. The language is at once opaque and rich with meaning. The speech patterns are alien to our ears, but assume an almost Shakespearian rhythm, which draws the listener in to a world where the shared appreciation and understanding of the common language we share on our small island is challenged and defeated. Whit on earth is a' that aboot? 'opaque and rich with meaning'! Blethers. And as for Shakespearian rhythm, whit's that when it's at hame? I never thocht much o' thon Shakespeare when I was at the school; the dominie tried his best but it never made ony sense tae me. Now, as for wir national bard, Rabbie, that's a different matter. Mind when that daftie Cameron tried to quote him in the house of commons? 'wee timorous, cowering beastie, what a panic's in thy breastie'! He kent, aboot half way through, that he'd made a mistake, but couldnae stop, so had to feenish, fully aware that he sounded like a dough-heid. The expansion of the tirade to include a discursive monologue comparing Shakespeare to Robert Burns is interesting, as is the reference to the received pronunciation of the Prime Minister and its impact on the recitation of one of Burns' better known lines. It serves to demonstrate, very clearly, the value of the spoken word when considering regional writers.     Who is this numpty? Rabbie Burns a 'regional writer'? Has he no heard how popular he is in Russia, to name but one non-English speaking country where he's popular. I think this gadgie thinks we're aw glaikit. At this point I must admit to some confusion. The diatribe appears now to be centred on my good self. I had no intention, at any point, of suggesting that the speaker, the Dundonian, was in any way my intellectual inferior (although I do doubt whether he or she has attained quite my level of educational attainment, and I have been published more than once). The use of pejorative and pointed language suggests I might have inadvertently given rise to offence. Offence? I'll give ye offence ye big Sassunach galoot! Awa back tae yer sherry afore ye get a clout round the lug! I will, as the good Dundonian suggests, remove myself and partake of a calming glass. Good riddance. Richard St John de Pate…does that mean dickhead in plain English by any chance?
Archived comments for A Dundonian Speaks
Corin on 28-06-2013
A Duindonian Speaks
Great Stuff Rab - I look forward to reading lots mare daft stuff like this. How about providing a glossary. Ah kin taallk Geordie man, si same o the words wos familiar loike bur I didna ger aal o them!

Gan On bonnie hinnie

Geordiie

Author's Reply:
Thanks Corin, don't know about a glossary, it would end up being longer than the piece itself! Let me know any specific words that have you baffled and I'll try and translate them into Geordie!

(Now there's a project - a Scots/Geordie phrasebook...)

Mikeverdi on 28-06-2013
A Duindonian Speaks
OMG! Is this WFF in another guise? Great stuff Rab, bring it on! Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike. My Gran was from Dundee, and used a lot of words which were peculiar to that city, but I think a few Glaswegian words (more WFF's territory) have crept in too!

Andrea on 28-06-2013
A Duindonian Speaks
Hahaha, are you and WFF twins? As Mike would say, 'More please' 🙂

Author's Reply:
Separated at birth, clearly!

Weefatfella on 28-06-2013
A Duindonian Speaks
 photo 5031cf9b-61d2-4fbf-912f-998c505fb4bc_zpsd7cccd97.jpg


Aye absobliddylutely Rab. Geeze a pie an a bridie, an an ingin yin anaw.


very well done mate. It reminds me of the great Stanley Baxters Parliamo Glasgow.


I hope you don't mind me including a wee section ae it fur yir perusal. Great Stuff Rab.
A very warm welcome indeed to UKA.


Weefatfella







Author's Reply:
Thanks Paul, I wasn't sure how it would turn out, but I was quite pleased with it. I think I've mixed some weegie words in with the teuchter ones, but never mind. I loved Parliamo Glasgow - Ra perr fell oan ra flerr - magic!

Humblewriter on 28-06-2013
A Duindonian Speaks
Mr St Pate, do not be dissuaded by the cultural desert that is often this site. Continue your good works and never doubt those with intellectual vigour, taste, and impeccable judgement will prevail for those higher echelons that know the truth.

Popular reaction is overwhelming, but after the flood, it is the mature, serious opinion, such as mine, which prevails.

Humbly, Hereward Taft

Author's Reply:
I'm happy you found at least some of my discourse to your liking, Mr Taft. Although on this occasion I fear the rumbustious native of the City of Discovery had the last word...

Andrea on 28-06-2013
A Dundonian Speaks
Ignore that Hereward, he's a daft Taft 🙂

Author's Reply:

ValDohren on 30-06-2013
A Dundonian Speaks
You're not Rab C Nesbitt by any chance are you - never could understand what he was saying ! You certainly are a challenge for our beloved WFF, you are both fantastic.
Val 😀

Author's Reply:
Thanks Val, glad you liked it. Rab C comes from the other side of the country fom me, and I don't share his taste in string vests, but in other respects we're quite similar!

cocobird on 30-06-2013
A Dundonian Speaks
I loved it! I am also a Dundonian, but a different Dundee, the one in South Africa, founded by Scottish Dundoinian Peter Smith. His original house still stands, and forms part of Talana Museum.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, glad you liked it. That's really interesting; I wasn't aware of the South African Dundee. How about a story told by a South African Dundonian?


A Tramcar Named Desire (posted on: 28-06-13)
A very short story based in Manchester

We met in The Matchstick Man, cos it's close to all of us and right by the tram. Being a Saturday, there were the usual gangs of lads there, we knew most of them. Also, being a Saturday, there were some groups of lasses, some on the prowl, some out in big gangs, maybe a hen night. One group by us were noisy – they all had pink sashes on with someone's name on it, and they were done up to the nines. A couple looked all right. 'Where we going then?' We decided in the usual way, all of us chipping in and then Tommy deciding. So the Baa, then Gorilla's, it was. In the tram, we spread ourselves out, but just as the doors were closing, in charged the hen party. 'Budge up, lads' ordered one of them, a hefty sort who looked as if she could handle herself in a bare knuckle contest. No arguing there, so we moved into two seats. There were four of us and about a dozen of them. One that came in last sat across the aisle from me – the nicest looking one, certainly the quietest, dressed quite simply compared to the purple and gold excesses of her mates. She caught my eye, gave me a small, quick smile, as if she was apologising for the rest of them, or maybe I just thought that. The tram trundled on, with the mandatory five minute wait by the canal. The canal's pretty scummy, with all sorts of stuff on top of the water, but a narrowboat was gliding along, and seeing it underneath the green canopy of the trees, in the slanting evening sun, it was almost magical. It could have been anywhere, France even, and the old chap standing on the deck at the back, steering, was smoking a pipe, which completed the picture. The tram lurched into life and we were on our way again. I followed the narrowboat until it was out of sight, craning my neck, and caught the eye of the quiet one sitting near me. She was watching it too. I smiled, but she didn't respond. The pubs and clubs were full of the usual nutters and people like us, mingling without meeting, like Lowry's crowds of matchstick people, all going our separate paths, only occasionally coming into contact. Our contact that night was with a group of prats from Oldham, spoiling for a fight, and naturally Eddie obliged, leaving him with a split lip and a bruise under his eye that would be a source of pride for him when he got back to work on Monday. He'd make up his usual exaggerated tale of being jumped by five City supporters, leaving two on the ground while the other three ran away. Nobody but his mum believed him of course. We ran for the last tram home, just got it, fell laughing into the seats by the door. A couple of old guys sitting in the next seats gave us a bit of a look and went back to their argument. Tommy and Nick started one of their own arguments, the usual one, was Tupac better than Biggie Smalls? It would never end, could never end. They were both crap as far as I was concerned. The old guys got into it too, and it became one of these late night tram arguments, old music versus new, who was better, Tom Jones or Robbie Williams. My eye wandered along the tram, looking at the faces – and stopped when I came to a pair of eyes staring right back at me – it was the quiet one, still with her mates, still looking pretty good, better than most of her mates anyway. One particularly overweight one in a purple dress, way too short, was fast asleep, head bobbing with the motion of the tram. The argument beside me was getting louder – who sang Downtown? The old guys said Petula Clark, Nick was sure it was Sandie Shaw. Tommy called me to settle it: 'Barry'll know, he's the brains of the outfit – who was it sang Downtown, Barry, Sandie Shaw or Pet Clark?' I told them it was Petula Clark. 'Who was Sandie Shaw, then, what did she sing?' So I got dragged into the drunken argument, and by the time it was finished, she was gone; must have got off at the last stop. I was suddenly sad, felt as if I'd lost something I'd never really had in the first place. We all got off at the Quays, went our separate ways, the volume of our goodbyes dependent on our particular stage of drunkenness. When I got home I went straight to my bed, dropping my clothes where I took them off. Next morning, my mum clucked around picking them up, making as much noise as she could manage. 'What's this in your shirt pocket, that's not your handwriting?' She was squinting at a slip of paper that had been in the breast pocket of last night's shirt. She laid it down on my bedside table, and later, when I surfaced for a second time, I had a look at it. A mobile number, and a name, Tracy. It must have been her! She must have dropped it in my pocket when she left the tram! A thrill ran through me and I was instantly awake. I had a shower, some breakfast, came back to the room, the piece of paper looking me right in the eye. Eventually, later on that day, I plucked up my courage, and called the number. I looked at the small person sitting on my knee. 'And that, Louise, is how I met your Gran. Our eyes met across a crowded tram. Long time ago now, when Sir Alex was still in charge at United.' Louise's mum laid a cup of tea down for me 'Not that old story again, Dad' she said. 'You should write it down so you don't forget it.' Perhaps I will, one day.
Archived comments for A Tramcar Named Desire
Corin on 28-06-2013
A Tramcar Named Desire
That was brilliant Rab - really enjoyed it and the ending was a great surprise.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Corin, the ending was a surprise to me until quite close to the end too!

Mikeverdi on 28-06-2013
A Tramcar Named Desire
That was a great read with a brilliant ending, thanks for that one Rab; more please! Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike, I'll keep posting! It's great to get so much feedback from fellow writers, glad I joined up.

Andrea on 28-06-2013
A Tramcar Named Desire
Fab, Rab 🙂 Great title, too, loved it.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Andrea; I thought the title was a bit cheeky, but glad you liked it.

sirat on 29-06-2013
A Tramcar Named Desire
A first class story with a very authentic and appealing voice. It carries you along at its own gentle pace and the ending comes as a surprise but without being crass or contrived. Very good work all round. For some reason it reminded me of the stories of Ed Bruce who died recently. That is almost the highest praise I can give to a story.

Re your reply below, you're right. Either Ed or perhaps someone in his family seems to have gone through all his old stories, both here and elsewhere, and cleaned them all off the Internet. I have no idea why. Here is the one we published in Gold Dust Issue 9: An Anthem for Mary

Author's Reply:
Thank you for your kind, and considered comments. I've searched, in vain so far, for Ed Bruce, can you direct me to any of his work?

JackCrowe on 29-06-2013
A Tramcar Named Desire
Great story Rab and told so well. Now I'm going to read your other submissions!

Author's Reply:
Thanks Jack, hope you like the others.

Weefatfella on 29-06-2013
A Tramcar Named Desire
 photo 5031cf9b-61d2-4fbf-912f-998c505fb4bc_zpsd7cccd97.jpg

I bow to you Sir.

A fantastically insightful write.

You have a great talent. I hope you continue to surprise us with your hidden denouements.

Honestly, when the letter appeared I thought It's going to be the wee fat purple one.

No hook and line I was caught.

Thank you for sharing this with us here at UKA.

More please.

Weefatfella

Author's Reply:
Thanks so much for your kind comments Paul. I must admit I wanted it to be the quiet one, glad it turned out to be her!

japanesewind on 30-06-2013
A Tramcar Named Desire
a narrowboat was gliding along, and seeing it underneath the green canopy of the trees, in the slanting evening sun, it was almost magical. It could have been anywhere, France even.


The above thought added a fine quality to the piece that knocked it up another notch, loved the matter of fact
approach, good end, brought a smile....D

Author's Reply:
Thanks for your comments; that scene was close to a scene I witnessed on a trip to Manchester recently, although in reality it wasn't quite as magical!

Savvi on 01-07-2013
A Tramcar Named Desire
Hi Rab
Just like WFF my money was on the purple one, so the end was a delightful surprise and set in Manchester what else could anyone want. Thanks S

Author's Reply:
Thanks, glad you liked it. Couldn't have been the one in purple, she was drunk, and probably would have torn his shirt pocket off!

amman on 03-07-2013
A Tramcar Named Desire
Hi Rab.
Went back a couple of pages and found this gem. I can only echo Sirat's considered reply (praise indeed from one of the site's heavyweights). Flows well, tells a human story without cliche or awkward phrasing. My bet was on the hefty one! Very good indeed.
Cheers.
Tony.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Tony, glad you liked it.
Ross

anth2014ed on 04-09-2013
A Tramcar Named Desire
sorry this is not a comment, but could you provide permission for work to go in the Anth (see forums and FP)

Author's Reply:
Hi Anthea

Of course I give permission, I'd be happy for it to go in, but I thought it was nominated for the 2015 one?

Please take it as read that I give my permission for any of my stories lucky enough to be nominated to go in. Do you need the 50 word bio as well?

anth2014ed on 05-09-2013
A Tramcar Named Desire
Thanks

Yes bio pse (I'm not Anthea). must be emailed to anth2014ed.gmail.com please.

We have some extra room, so we've selected your recent nom and comments as being qualification enough.

Author's Reply: