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Larry (posted on: 21-03-16)
Does our environment shape us? Of course. How much? Is your underlying core always there? Remembering someone from the past and how they ranged from surprisingly normal to surprisingly abnormal.

Hordes of kids pushed past, shouting ''bus!'', pushing screaming, monkeying around. The bus sat winking at the bus stop, taking a sharp intake as they leapt onto the standing platform and up the stairs. The old Routemaster buses couldn't hold back those tides like the newer buses can. A large percentage of the kids were black, making the middle aged and older white passengers shift uncomfortably in their seats. 'Did you play?' said Larry. 'Yeah, was good. We won.' 'How much by?' 'Couple of goals.' 'Nice.' The two schoolboys were shabbily dressed. It didn't mean anything, being unkempt was cool in its own way for most of the kids back then. Class boffins were always smart, the result of parent driven pride that explained their later academic success. Some of the New Romantic Duran Duran fans were smart with rolled up blazer sleeves. Larry and Steve were scruffy. Steve wore light grey trousers (only dark grey was permitted), a blue shirt (that wasn't allowed), his tie was cut down and he had no blazer – but did own a note from his mum saying they were too poor to buy another. That wasn't strictly true but Steve didn't like blazers. For some reason he'd tried to sew the bottom of the tie with his mum's sewing kit, to stop the tie's innards exposing themselves and had made it look much worse. Larry's tie was also cut down and the tie knot was enormous and bigger than a tennis ball. His blazer was much too big - probably a hand-me-down from an older sibling. All the kids did some kind of uniform desecration, none of them could explain it then or later. Larry wore top of the range Adidas trainers, Steve wore slip on shoes. The school uniform code allowed the children to wear trainers, so Steve always wore shoes. That tells you everything you need to know about Steve. School bags slung over their backs, they made their way down Windmill Road as the traffic flowed past them. 'Have you got a Commodore 64?' asked Steve. 'Got a Spectrum and a tele in my room.' 'We could've swapped games if we had the same.' 'Yeah, I've got loads. How many you got?' 'Loads.' 'You ready for the exams?' said Steve. 'What exams?' 'Mocks for the English exam in the summer.' 'Nah.' 'Are you doing it?' 'Nah. Not interested in exams. I bunk the lessons, they send me to the Unit and I just sit about down there. They let me out early if I behave.' 'Shall we run for the lights?' said Steve. Larry sprinted off, Steve following close behind to get across the fast A3 road before the traffic lights changed and called the start of a five minute wait to cross. The boys laughed on the other side. 'You're quite fast,' said Larry. Larry was a well developed black kid, very sporty and athletic. Steve remembered the recent basketball session where he'd been one of the only white kids playing. The rough kids always played basketball and one had thrown him the ball and said that he was quite good for a white boy. He's still happy to remember the comment years later. 'Thanks,' said Steve, not sure of what to say. Steve was in the top class, which wasn't difficult in the sink school that he went to. Let down by poor teaching quality, he played a lot of sport – all sports – a few hours each day. It lent him some respect from the gangs of kids that wandered around, getting up to no good. Teachers had been stabbed, the toilets had been smashed and ceilings torn down showering pupils with asbestos. One of Steve's classmates had been chased through the playground in the middle of a football match and onto Wandsworth Common where he was handcuffed to a fence and beaten up by a gang of kids from the school. He was lucky to escape with many cuts, bruises and a broken leg. His crime was to say in a lesson that he was thinking of being a policeman one day. Dumb thing to say.
Larry and Steve often walked home together and talked about television, computer games, football and all manner of sports. They passed the time together walking home but contact in school was minimal. 'Have you got any sweets?' said Larry, one day. 'No,' said Steve. 'He's always got sweets in his pocket,' said Matthew. 'Jump up and down,' said Larry. Steve jumped up and down. The two boys watched him. 'It's in his pocket,' said Matthew, 'I'm telling you. I seen him, always putting his hand in there and pulling out sweets.' Steve felt a strange sort of pride that Matthew had noticed him doing that. 'Have you?' said Larry. 'Show me what's in your pocket.' Steve took out a white paper bag full of his favourite toffee crumble. He would run over the shops at lunch time most days, breaking school rules to get it. He would run as fast as possible with his friend Darren and they'd always be first and second to the newsagent and the bakers to beat the queue. The teachers would file into the pub opposite and ignore their afternoon charges. Steve often used to run home, run to the shops, run everywhere. He wouldn't be able to tell you why, really, but he'd always want to get things out the way as quickly as he could. In his older life, he walks, but walks quickly. 'Give me that,' said Larry. Steve handed over the booty. 'If I ask you for sweets, just give them to me, okay?' 'Yep.' 'He's got money too,' said Matthew. 'Get lost,' said Larry to Steve. 'Get the money!' said Matthew. 'Nah, leave him,' said Larry. 'The sweets are enough.'
Another time, Peter said, 'did you hear what happened?' 'No,' said Steve, 'what?' 'There was a big fight last night.' 'Who between?' 'Our school and Earlsfield.' 'Really? Who won?' 'We did. Larry, Tony and them lot.' 'What happened?' 'They went there after school.' 'Yeah.' 'Yeah, and they had a big fight. Larry cut their ear lobes off.' 'No way.' 'Yeah, they do it all the time, if they catch 'em.'
'You walking down?' said Larry. 'Yeah,' said Steve. It was a few days after the big fight and the boys were outside the school at the top of the steps. Cars hurtled past on the dual carriageway, Wandsworth Prison just opposite. It was a likely destination for many of the school's students. Neither boy would dare mention the fight. They walked towards and then down Windmill road. 'Bus!' The crowd barged past the boys and jostled them. 'They get on my nerves,' said Larry, 'always running and busting their guts. Why? Just relax, get the next bus.' 'I never get the bus,' said Steve. 'Hate it. Too crowded, noisy.' He stopped, conscious of the weakness. 'Me too,' he said. 'Have a walk, get home, turn on the computer and play. Wait for my mum to come home. That's what I do.' 'Yeah, me too. I go out and play football after dinner.' 'Yeah? You do too much, you should just chill out a bit.'
It makes you wonder about Larry, thinks Steve. Circumstances and peer pressure pushed Larry out at a different angle to what society deems as normal. As people get older and wiser, the angle starts to come in and the outliers merge slowly into the main traffic of jobs, mortgages, families and life. Sometimes the angle is too steep and they don't make it. They didn't have much of a chance, did they? In the following years, Steve heard that Tony was incarcerated for attempted murder and rape after slitting a girl's throat. The local paper reported that Matthew was stabbed to death near St George's hospital.
Some years later, when about nineteen, Steve and Peter had been to the pub and were leaning against some railings about to part ways for the night. 'Help! Help me!' A young white man ran around the corner. 'They're going to kill me! Help me!' Steve and his friend turned and were confronted by a group of black lads about the same age – about six in number. All parties stared at one another. You could say Steve faced them down or that he was frozen by shock. He'd like to make you believe the former but you'll know better. The black lads backed off and walked away. 'Thank-you, thank-you,' said the young man. 'You saved me.' 'I didn't do anything. I think you best be on your way, mate. Before they come back.' He disappeared. Steve turned to Peter. 'I don't fancy hanging around here much, either. I'll see you later.' When remembering the incident, Steve does think of Larry. It was very likely the group had come from the council estate where Larry had lived when going to that school. Some of the conversations have been paraphrased but names have not been changed to protect the innocent. No one is born evil. I do hope that Larry made it.
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A Strange One (posted on: 14-12-15)
Some people like routine and tradition, don't they? Word Count: 2,179

'She's a strange one, isn't she?' 'No stranger than most,' said Mabel, rummaging in her bag, looking for her purse. Beryl scowled and looked at the door where Victoria had just left. 'No, she's stranger than most.' The shopkeeper smiled and leant forward. 'What makes you say that, Beryl?' Joe knew well that Victoria was considered strange by all the people of the village. His well-stacked general store was in need of custom, though, and he would do whatever was needed to keep the customers coming back, anything to stop them getting on the bus and riding free to the supermarket that overlooked the Cornish village of Penryn. For a long time, it had cast a shadow over honest local commerce and endeavour. Beryl looked around the shop to check her audience, 'well, no one has seen her mother for some time, you know.' 'Her mother is old and infirm. Victoria does for her,' said Mabel, handing over money to Joe. 'So, what are you saying, Beryl? That Victoria murdered her?' said Joe, opening the till. 'Dissolved her in a vat of acid?' He gave some change to Mabel. 'Don't encourage her.' 'She could be on to something,' he said, leaning back and smiling. 'Behave, Joe.' 'She always came to Bingo… every Thursday lunchtime,' said Beryl. 'Bought six books and drank two halves of stout. Never missed it. Never missed it.' 'And now, no more,' said Joe, smiling at Mabel. 'Why wouldn't she go anymore?' 'Too expensive.' said Mabel. 'She loved it. She lives in a big house. She's got a bit tucked away, don't worry about that.' 'Did the Bingo people reduce the prize money?' 'Never missed a week. She was nosey, always asking people about their business.' She cast her eye at the shelves where all the crisps were stacked. 'I don't think she cared if she won or lost.' 'Perhaps it was becoming too hard to get down there?' said Joe. 'Victoria drove her there every week and wheeled her in, in her chair. She got to the bar quick enough when she needed a drink. Nothing much wrong with her hips or her knees … not like me, my legs she should have!' 'So, she's dead then?' said Joe. 'Elsie sits at her table now. It's Elsie's table now. I wonder what would happen if she came back? There'd be a terrible row. What a commotion!' 'If she came back from the dead?' asked Joe. 'Do you have eye spray?' said Beryl, frowning, squinting at the shelves. 'Eye spray? Will that help to find Victoria's mum?' 'It's for Harold. My Harold. He says he's got dry eyes. Dry eyes, I tell you! Who has dry eyes? They'd make your eyelids stick. We saw it on the tele.' Joe smiled. 'Eye spray, eh? Let's see.' He turned around to scan his stock and handed a small box to Beryl. 'This is eye spray?' she said, turning it in her hand. 'Yes. Tell Harold he needs to spray it on his eyelids a couple of times and that'll freshen his eyes right up.' 'How much is that?' 'That's nine ninety nine.' She handed it back, 'nine ninety nine!' 'Afraid so.' 'Well, Harold will have to keep his sticky eyelids, won't he!' 'It seems he will,' said Joe, putting the box back on the shelf. 'The price of things,' she said. 'Blame the supermarket.' 'Water. Water out the tap,' said Mabel. 'What's that?' said Beryl. 'Use water out of the tap.' 'What for?' 'For Harold's eyes.' She thought for a second. 'That Victoria, she's a strange one.'
Victoria got out of her car and opened the front door. 'I'm home, Mother!' she called out. No answer. She made a couple of trips to the boot of the car and set the shopping on the counter. 'Do you want tea or coffee, Mother?' she shouted from the kitchen. She listened. Silence. She stood and listened to the ticking of the clock in the well-kept but dated kitchen. It was nearly four in the afternoon. Darkness would soon pervade the dark grey cloud cover. She stood in the kitchen and looked around for a task to fill the five minutes before she would make the tea and cut the cake. Her hair was neatly tied back and she had on a pretty white dress with small stitching in the shapes of flowers. Sensible but very presentable. Her nails were immaculate and subtle make-up and a pleasant smile made for a very amiable woman. Victoria was in her fifties, never had a boyfriend and life had passed her by. Mother had taught her that nothing was more important than family and as such, fraternisation was off limits. Someone had to look after Mother and give her company, since Derek, her father, had left them alone when he passed. She pressed the intercom button and it buzzed. 'Mother, would you like tea or coffee?' A young man had installed the device to enable her to communicate with Mother without the need for traipsing up the heavy wooden staircase of their old house. However, Mother's malaise had made even pressing the button an insurmountable task. If nothing else, it meant Mother knew she would be up shortly. She could use the time to think about what she wanted. The question now presented itself: Madeira cake or Angel cake? Mother had a slight preference for Madeira cake combined with coffee or Angel cake taken with tea. An Angel cake and coffee combination just didn't marry well. Cake selection was therefore based completely upon the choice of beverage. The problem being that this was not settled. Hmmm, what to do? The clock struck four and this made Victoria anxious. Mother has always stressed that afternoon tea should be served promptly at four in the afternoon. She had often preached that the once magnificent country had lost a lot of its traditions and they were to be very careful to ensure that their home would not follow suit. If she displeased Mother with tardiness, then Mother would likely dash the tray onto the floor. This could stain the carpet and Victoria would have to scrub it away or pay a young man to come and remove it. Mother had cautioned her previously that one day the stain would not go away and the cost and trouble caused would make that a very bad day indeed. Victoria decided that she should go upstairs and ask for preferences. The second hand on the clock seemed to be moving awfully fast. If she went upstairs with nothing, then Mother would be very angry. When she was mad, her face would turn crimson and Victoria was concerned that this would do her an injury. It was quite a quandary. Did other houses suffer these difficult moments, too? Perhaps if Father had lived longer, then she would be better organised and would not be such a let-down as a daughter. Perhaps she could make tea and coffee and take a piece of both cakes upstairs and ask Mother to choose? No, she couldn't do that. The cake would start to spoil in the air and by tomorrow, it would lose some of its freshness. Mother said that stale cake was the devil's work. She had once nigh on choked on a Madeira that was harder than it should have been. Victoria had been made to eat the whole cake in one sitting as just punishment. She walked to the bottom of the stairs and looked up. Although it was still light out, the upstairs curtains were all drawn and it was very dark. Mother did not like the lights to suddenly come on and dazzle her. Victoria decided that overall, it was best to ask about the cake. Just to be sure. Mother would prefer this. She walked carefully up the stairs, determined to make as little a noise as possible, although the stairs were very creaky. Mother did not like sounds, they made her anxious and gave her headaches. It was right to be thoughtful of this. Your elders are your betters. She skipped the stair before the landing as this was especially loud. Mother had remarked on this before and chastised her for creating such a terrible din. She remembered that Mother had said that the noise would wake the dead. She walked along the dark hallway. It had wooden floors with heavy curtains at the windows. The dark pattern wallpaper was tatty and in need of replacement. She put her hand on a door handle and very slowly turned it, pushing the door open. The smell of Neutradol was strong and this pleased Victoria. Joe had told Mother that it would stop even a workman's boots from smelling. Victoria had used it for some time and was very pleased with it. Mother was too. Victoria tapped the base of a lamp and it gave out a very dim light. She knew that if she was to touch it again, it would be brighter but both her and Mother were very happy with such a low light. She looked at the figure laying on the bed. It was still and lifeless and dead. Father had always seemed so peaceful and had been no trouble these past few years. Victoria kissed his cheekbone and withdrew carefully. She left the light on for him at this time of day. This was to be done prior to serving afternoon tea. She closed the door as silently as she had opened it and proceeded down the hallway. Mother's door creaked when she turned the handle. It was a shrill sound that nailed her to the spot. Mother would be furious. Absolutely incandescent with rage. She stood for a while, hand on the door handle, in the gloom of the hallway and convinced herself that perhaps it wasn't that loud, that it was just the contrast between that and the silence. Then she imagined it as loud as an air-raid siren and knew that Mother would want to severely punish her. She deserved it. She should have oiled the handle. She was bad. She needed to be hurt. She needed to bleed. She closed the door behind her and tried to adjust her eyes to the gloom. The lamp was on and Mother was in bed. The lamp was to be left on a low setting permanently when Mother was in the room. 'Mother,' she said, softly. 'Are you awake?' No answer. Too angry to speak. 'I just wanted to know whether you wanted tea or coffee and what cake you wanted. I know that you would normally like Madeira cake with coffee and Angel cake with tea and I also know that you want me to keep the cake fresh. I know it's past four and I know I disturbed you with the door. I'm truly, truly sorry, Mother. Will you forgive me?' She buried her head on the bed. Silence. 'Please forgive me.' Nothing. 'No,' said Mother. Did she imagine it? She raised up her head and placed her ear just in front of Mother's mouth. She caught the sound of her wispy breath. She looked in Mother's eyes, cold and staring straight ahead. They looked just like Father's before they had punctured and deflated back into their sockets. 'I'm so sorry. I'm such a bad daughter.' 'Go away.' Victoria cocked her head. Strange. The mouth had not moved but she could hear her voice. Ever bitter. 'I hate you.' 'Oh dear, how sad,' said Victoria. She opened the bedside cabinet. 'So, is this Angel cake or Madeira?' she said, pulling out an IV bag. 'Angel cake,' I think. She took off the empty bag from the drip stand and plugged in the full bag. 'There, enjoy.' She looked in the cabinet. 'Supplies are running low. I will have to ask Joe to get me some more. Such a good shopkeeper.' She shook her head. 'But you know that already.' She opened a drawer and took out a syringe and a small bottle. She sucked the liquid into the syringe and injected Mother's arm through the drip mechanism. 'And there's your anaesthetic tea, Mother. You will experience a bit of a cold sensation. It'll soon pass.' She walked across the room to the dressing table. All of the items on the table were things that an older person would use to make themselves up and were neatly in position. At the back of the table was a stereo. 'Eminem, I think today,' she said, turning to Mother. 'You like Eminem, don't you?' She pressed a button and loud music boomed through the air. The volume was set to its highest level. Victoria grimaced at the sound as she walked back to the bed. She watched Mother's face turn crimson. It made Victoria smile and forget about the awful sound of hardcore rap music hammering at her eardrums. This was one tradition that she had introduced. A modern one. 'You have a nice colour to your face,' she said. 'You look well.' End
Archived comments for A Strange One
Gee on 14-12-2015
A Strange One
I liked the beginning, the interaction between the people and shopkeeper came over very well. I was a bit lost at the next part though. I wasn't clear about who killed the father or why Victoria had suddenly decided the mother should be killed.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Gee. I'll take a look at how to address that.

THEGOLDENEGG on 14-12-2015
A Strange One
Nice to see you back.

I have to say, this isn't up to your usual standard technically as I remember it, but I still read it with interest.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Griff.

e-griff on 14-12-2015
A Strange One
sorry, that was me. forgot to change my identity . sorry!

Author's Reply:

Andrea on 21-12-2015
A Strange One
Wow, great to see you back, Steve! Merry Christmas πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

New Beginnings (posted on: 15-09-14)
The recent instances of migrants doing anything to get into the country inspired this cheery tale. If you forget that there is not enough space to let them in, it makes you wonder why they do what they do. It makes you wonder if you might not do the same, if the situation was in reverse.

Alan stood in the dark with his hands in his pockets. He tried to pull up the zip of his thin coat but it was already as far as it could go. He wiped the cold sweat from his brow and rocked gently backwards and forwards. He looked back at the shadow between the enormous freight containers but could see nothing. 'Over here,' said a voice. Alan could not see where it came from. 'I'm here,' it hissed. Alan followed the sound and was pulled into the shadows. 'Have you got the money?' said the man, his face mostly in shadow. Alan unzipped his jacket and pulled a wad of cash from his inside pocket. 'Two thousand.' The money was snatched away and handed off into the darkness. 'This is a special price, friend.' Alan nodded. 'Not everybody gets this.' 'I appreciate it.' 'Yes, you will.' A voice whispered in the darkness. 'Go back to your family and wait.' 'Wait? How do I know you won't just take my money and run?' 'Run? Why would I run? If I wanted to take your money, I would just take your money. Now go and join your family … do it now.' The face faded. Alan looked around, zipped up his jacket and turned away. His wife, Mary, looked at him, searching for answers. His young daughter, her blond hair tucked into her coat, looked forward, empty, shivering against the cold. Her face was dirty but he could see her beautiful blue eyes, blinking hard against the biting chill in the air. 'Well?' said his wife. 'It's done.' 'Now what?' 'We wait.' They stood silently, the dark grey sky sitting above the city lights, hiding the twinkling stars beyond. 'I want to sit down, Daddy.' 'Okay.' He took her by the shoulders and looked for a patch of ground that might be dry. 'What are you doing, are you mad?' said his wife. 'They'll be here in a minute, won't they?' He ignored her and sat Mollie down, her back against the giant container. He held her in his arms and told her she would be okay. 'Where are they?' said Mary. Alan stood and walked past her. He looked up and down the wide road, where the trucks came for the containers. Nothing moved. The city in the distance betrayed a world of activity that was now dead to them, nothing left there. 'Over here,' said a quiet voice. Alan peered into the gloom and could see a faint outline. 'Come on,' he said to his wife and daughter, 'they're here.' The man was very thin, his skull-like face sitting impossibly far back under his hood. His eyes moved from side to side and he shifted from one foot to the other. He looked behind Alan and took careful stock of his wife and daughter. 'Nice,' he said. 'Where have you been?' said Alan. The man touched his wife's hair, then leaned forward and pulled out some of the hair from inside his daughter's coat. 'Nice.' 'What do you mean … nice?' The man straightened and turned to Alan. 'Don't question me,' he said. 'Or I'll kill you.' He slowly inspected Alan's weathered jacket, his tatty jeans, his old and battered training shoes. 'Give me your shoes,' he said. 'My shoes?' 'Give me your shoes.' 'Why?' The man stared into Alan's face, expressionless, no connection. 'Do not question me.' Alan looked at his wife. Paralysed. His daughter gripped her mother's hand as tight as she could. He took off his shoes and handed them to the man. He turned the shoes over in his hands and then threw one high onto a container. They listened to it bounce on the roof. He handed the other back to Alan. 'Put it on,' he said. They followed the man, walking fast, close to the line of containers. Alan walking lop-sided, smaller strides with the shoeless leg. Mollie struggled to keep up. She whimpered, so her mother put her finger to her mouth. They reached the dockside and the man did not hesitate as he walked up the ramp and into the enormous cargo ship. The family followed. He disappeared through a doorway. The family stopped and turned. 'A new life awaits us, Mary,' said Alan, smiling. The dark shipyard of Southampton Docks gave way to the lights from the road, a few cars speeding one way and the other. It all seemed normal, like the night that followed any day and then waited, quiet, for the rising sun to bring new opportunities with it. It had all changed so fast. The man marched them through dimly lit corridors, twisting one way and the other. 'Here,' he said. Alan moved to the door but the man barred the way with his arm. 'Women and children,' he said. 'We stay together,' said Alan. The man grabbed him by the neck and slammed him against the wall, pulling a gun from his belt and pushing it hard against Alan's face. 'I said don't question me!' Spittle sprayed Alan's face. The man held still, contorted and twisted before turning to the woman and child. 'Go in the door,' he said. 'Now.' They were frozen with fear. 'Now!' Mollie made to cry. 'Come on,' said Mary. 'Don't worry.' 'Daddy,' she whispered. 'It's okay,' said Alan, still being throttled through his Marks and Spencer jacket. 'I'll be fine. Just go with Mummy and I'll see you soon, okay?' Mary opened the door. Alan tried to see in but the man held firm. The door closed behind them, heavy and final. 'What's in there?' 'Woman and children,' said the man. 'Any more fuss and I'll throw you in the sea. Like junk. Okay?' Alan nodded. The man pushed him down the corridor. 'Get on your knees.' 'My knees?' 'Get on your knees.' Alan knelt, he could see his soaking wet sock was working loose. It bothered him. It bothered him that this bothered him as he faced death. 'Do you believe in God?' said the man. 'No. How can there be?' The man put the gun against Alan's temple. 'Do not question me again,' said the man. 'You mean nothing to me. Nothing. I hate you.' The man kicked Alan onto the floor. 'Get up,' he said. Alan got to his feet. The man pointed with his gun. 'The men stay outside,' he said. 'Women and children inside.' Outside, they walked to where freight containers were stacked. The man walked to one and opened a door. 'In this one,' he pointed to the container above them with his gun, 'electrical equipment.' He pointed to the open door. 'In this one?' He smiled. 'Scum like you.' He pulled a bottle of water from his jacket. 'This might keep you alive.' He sneered, tipped some out and gave the bottle to Alan as he pushed him inside and closed the door. It was pitch black. Alan stumbled forward, clutching the water bottle to his chest. 'Watch it,' said a voice. A couple of mobile phone lights came on and lit him up. In the gloom, he could see the shapes of people: shoulders, heads, heads, shoulders. The light went out. He felt his way along, searching for a gap. 'Is anyone here?' He could feel bodies move, making space, so he turned and sat with his back against the wall. Other shadows came through the door and took their place in the anonymous darkness. The air was heavy with breathing and invisible movement. Foul smells drifted across in waves. Occasional coughs but otherwise quiet. The ship moved. He tried to imagine what his wife and daughter could see but it felt black. He reached out with his hands and felt nothing. He awoke to a voice. 'Give me that, give me that.' Hands were on his water bottle, he pulled back. 'Let me have it!' Alan struggled, wordless and from the darkness his assailant crashed his head into Alan's face, again and again. Alan cried out and let go of the bottle. As he did, his own hands reached forward and grabbed the man by his throat. 'Get off!' the man shouted. Alan pushed him to the ground and rolled on top of him, hands still around his throat. 'Get off, get off!' Alan could see nothing but he pushed with all his strength. The man wriggled, gurgled and lay still. He felt the man's face. His mouth was open. His eyes were open. He took the bottle, sat back down and tried to push the man away with his legs. No one spoke. Someone nearby coughed. Alan made a fist with both hands, trying to stop them shaking. He took a drink from the bottle and put it under his legs. He had never even had a fight before. He had been pushed around and punched by soldiers sometimes but had always just crawled away like a stray dog. He wondered if the police would arrest him when they got to their new life in the Nirvana. Could anyone prove it was him? Was it self defence? He touched the man with his foot. He was still there, motionless and dead. The man could have a family, they could be sitting and laughing with his own family right now. He had just murdered the husband, the father, all over a bottle of foul-tasting water. He could sense people all around. Both neighbours pushed back silently when he moved. He needed the toilet. He would hold it. He would hold it all the way to paradise. He awoke with a start and he could feel the struggle within his bowels. The pain from his nose and eyes, searing. He felt his face, inspecting the swelling, tasted the dried blood in his mouth. He let his urine out, feeling its warm patch spread around his groin and bottom. His bowel continued to convulse. He resolved to drink no more of the water, yet his mouth was dry, so he wondered if small sips might move more unobtrusively through his system. 'Where's the toilet?' he said, trying to stand. 'Sit down,' said a voice. 'I need the toilet.' 'Sit down.' Another voice. 'But…' 'There's no toilet.' He pressed himself against the wall of the container and slid down. He let it out as slowly as he could, without noise, in silent shame. No reaction from anywhere. Nothing. The putrid smell made him gag but he was in a world by himself, blinded and alone. He felt like he could scream and no one would hear. He could feel the hum of the ship massage him gently and it began to offer comfort. Incessant progress, inch by inch, mile by mile, all for the new beginning, the sacrifice worth making. He was going to a fertile land of hope and opportunity. They told him. They welcomed migrant workers, took them in, gave them a life. It was time to start again. They told him. His family had to give up everything to be reborn. It would be worth it. They told him. He just wanted a home and a normal life. They told him that he could have it. He wretched and spat into his lap. He took his water bottle and silently sipped it – just a little. The nights were cold but the days became increasingly hot, the atmosphere ever more oppressive. He was convinced people were dying quietly in the dark. The dead man still lay at his feet. From time to time, he swayed to his left or right, just to feel the push back of another person. He never heard them drink, he never felt them do anything. He had to punch and kick and fight off hands that occasionally challenged him in the darkness. The ship stopped. He took a sip from the bottle, now empty. He thought of throwing the bottle but it was his only possession. He waited. He waited. Hands attacked him. He gave up the bottle. He listened. He cocked his head. He could hear something. He wondered if madness had taken him when he heard it again. A shout. From the outside. He could hear shouting. Louder and louder. A crashing sound against wall. The shouting was louder. Another crash, high up on the wall of the container. Some indiscriminate noise on the top of the container. Another crash. Shouting. Louder. A mob. He tried to hold his position as his dark world lurched one way and then the other. His neighbours fell on him, he on them. They pushed each other for balance. The disgusting smell, the rivers of human waste rushing under him. The container moved to the left, to the right. He felt the sensation of lifting, listing to one side, then back the other way. The crashing noises continued, the shouting and then they fell in silence. The fall was arrested as they crashed into the water. Alan could sense people standing, shouting. People pushing people, screaming, hammering on the walls, trying to find the door. A wave of water washed over Alan's sock. It was cold. He reached down and splashed the salt water against his face. The crashing sounds smashed against the walls. Gunshots. The crowd were chanting. The water was getting deeper. 'Help us!' shouted Alan, surprised at his own volume. Someone pushed past him and knocked him into the knee-high water. He was kicked in the head. He choked on the sea water. He scrambled up. He would keep getting up, keep going. Survival, a basic instinct. He hammered on the wall. The water came up around his shoulders and he had to kick his legs to stay afloat. Hands grabbed at him from below. He punched and he kicked and he butted and he bit. The water pushed him towards the ceiling. He angled his head, his mouth sucking in what was left of the air. If only someone would just tell him that his wife and daughter were fine. Getting off the ship, getting to customs, granting them asylum. A pleasant Egyptian policeman, 'welcome to Egypt, Mrs Saunders. Hello to you, Miss!' he'd say, playfully pulling on Mollie's cheek. 'We've got pyramids and rivers, diving and all sorts of fun things for you to do!' She would skip down the airport corridors, playfully chastised by his wife, 'stop running!' she would be saying. It would have to be like that. It couldn't be anything else as that was all he had now. His hope was now just a dream. If someone could just tell him, just get him a message, that they were well looked after, that this was just an accident, that this was his penance, his punishment for something, the price he had to pay, that the world was a good place after all. If someone could just get him a message, that was all. Alan spat out some sea water and gulped in some air. His last.
Archived comments for New Beginnings
Mikeverdi on 15-09-2014
New Beginnings
I read this first thing this morning, I wanted to come back again before I commented. I think the premise is well thought out (put your self in their position). The story was well told and the menace was palpable. Well worth the Nib.

Author's Reply:
Mike - many thanks, appreciate the read and the feedback. Steve.

bluepootle on 16-09-2014
New Beginnings
Hello! Really strong stuff. Great use of paragraphing to build that feeling of claustrophobia, and that deliberately downbeat ending is hard to take, but how else could it end?

I'm not sure about the 'nice' only because it would send huge alarm bells ringing for me and overcome even the desperation to get out of the country. It felt maybe a little overplayed.

The last line also feels overdone. Is there some other way you could suggest his fate without having to spell it out? 'His last' just takes me right out of his point of view. Something more subtle, maybe a moment of self-realisation, might be stronger. Anyway, hope that helps.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, BP - appreciate your reading and comments.
In 'nice' you mean that they have no edge? I agree. I saw a news article recently - and rather than shady characters with swag bags over their shoulders, ready to commit crimes (and there are some (perhaps even a lot, who knows), of course), they were normal people with supermarket carrier bags containing all their worldly possessions, trafficked by unscrupulous people, just wanting a better life for themselves. A house, a job, schooling. Just people like you and I. I wanted the family to be normal UK people but just to reverse the flow direction.
I agree on the last line. I shall have a think!
Thanks. Steve.

e-griff on 27-09-2014
New Beginnings
Very interesting concept. And justified to highlight the problem without partisan feelings. I imagined at first they were escaping the UK for Europe, but you went further ...

Some tidying would help, but it is an excellent basis for an excellent story.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Griff. It's an interesting topic that I can't reconcile easily. I do intend to re-write the last paragraph a bit, as per the previous suggestion by Bluepootle.

Statues (posted on: 25-11-13)
It's hard to let go. 1,808 words.

It's so hard to keep the ornaments in the right place. Space them out carefully. Make sure the figurines are facing the right angle. Check the picture frames with a level. Ensure the thermostat is set at 22. Adjust the blinds as the day progresses. Eat supper at the same time, followed by something sweet. Watch television with a cup of coffee and two biscuits – always two. Let the dog out into the garden at the right time. Watch the kitchen clock tick down the allotted fifteen minutes, open door and settle dog down for the night. Watch the newspaper review on television, drink cocoa and then to bed. Don't forget to kiss the wife. Repeat Ad infinitum. Mrs Jones makes a noise and so Mr Jones ruffles his newspaper, eyeing his wife with suspicion as she moves around the lounge with a duster. 'Be careful with that,' he says. She smiles at the photo of their two children, polishes the shelf and puts the photo frame back. 'That's not right,' he says. She turns the photo slightly. He returns to the newspaper. 'Would you like a cup of tea?' she says. 'In twenty minutes.' She goes to the kitchen and turns on the kettle. 'I'm not ready for tea,' he shouts from the lounge. She prepares two mugs, throws in teabags and carefully measures Mr Jones' one and a half teaspoons of sugar. 'Turn off the kettle,' he calls out. 'You're wasting electricity.' She pauses before switching it off. Closing the back door carefully, Mrs Jones walks around the corner of the house. The day is cold, the dark grey sky meets the hedgerow, standing tall all around the garden. Water has penetrated everything, turning it to the darkest green. The branches heave one way and then another, conducted in waves by an invisible wind master. She pulls a pack of cigarettes from her pocket and lights one. Her disgusting and filthy habit. The unforgivable betrayal. Her dark secret drifting up into the air where the smoke is carried away, swirling and dancing up, up and away. She looks at her fingernails, painted bright red – his favourite colour. She puts her hands into her apron, away from the cold and the smell of tobacco. 'Are you out there?' he calls from the doorway. She throws the cigarette into his rose bushes. 'Yes, I'm here.' 'What on earth are you doing?' 'Just getting some air.' 'There's air inside,' he says. 'It's too cold to be outside.' 'I'll be in, in a minute,' she says. She waves her hand around at the wisps of smoke, hanging around, taunting, threatening to expose her. 'Well,' he says, out of sight, 'make sure it's no more than a minute. You'll catch your death.' She counts down the minute on her watch and goes back to the kitchen. He's there, inspecting the tea cups and the warmth of the kettle with the back of his hand. He looks at his watch. 'Have you had enough air?' he asks. Her blood runs cold as she passes him and he leans into her wake and inhales.
'Your knife is the wrong way around,' he says, as she puts her cutlery onto her dinner plate. She turns it over. 'The sharp side should face inwards.' 'It doesn't make any difference,' she says. He frowns. 'Why not just do it right, it doesn't need much effort, does it?' 'Maybe doing something a bit wrong might be … exciting,' she says, through a tired smile. 'I think that air you took earlier went to your head,' he says. 'Perhaps you need to lay down?' She stands. 'Lemon cheesecake.' 'Cheesecake on a Wednesday? How strange.' Her will bends one way and then the other before it splinters, cracks and then snaps. 'A little irregular.' 'Any alternative?' She shakes her head, 'no.' Mr Jones considers the situation. 'Well,' he says, 'I'm a bit taken aback. I have to have dessert so I will have to accept the cheesecake.'
Retiring to the lounge after coffee, Mr Jones stands by the fireplace and watches as his wife comes in, smiles and sits down. She looks at the television, which is still switched off. She frowns. Mr Jones turns to the mantel and a statue of a Victorian child chimney sweep that is not pointed in the right direction. He pushes it one way then another, twists it, turns it. 'There's something wrong with this,' he tells his wife. She does not answer. 'Does that look right?' he says. He is a stranger in the room. She wonders where her real husband has gone and who this is, the creature that replaced him. The man that taught her son and daughter how to ride a bicycle, danced like a fool at weddings, the one who carried her across the threshold, he whom she had been proud to introduce to her parents as ''the one''. Taken. 'It's fine,' she says, 'just leave it like that.' He shakes his head, his actions more urgent with every small movement. 'She'll be here in a minute,' says Mrs Jones. 'Right.' 'What are you going to say to her?' she asks. He blows out hard. 'Wednesday is not right for cheesecake.' 'Don't lose your daughter as well.' He picks up the statue and turns it in his hand. 'You must have moved this earlier today,' he says. 'Now it won't go back properly. I can't put it back.' 'John…' 'I'll take it outside for some air,' he says. 'John, don't, it's dark.' She's alone. She stands and walks to the space where the figurine should be. She picks up a photograph of her son and traces his outline with her finger. He smiles back, large as life. The love between them still strong, crossing the five years in five seconds. Five years since he was snatched away from her, from his loving mother and father by two men with a knife. He had taken a shortcut on his way home. His father had always told him to come home the long way, where there was plenty of street lighting and activity but he wanted to be on time for the family Sunday roast. It was their one tradition, a family stipulation, to eat together to end the week. The police told her that he struggled before they stabbed him in the neck. He had dragged himself to the kerbside and died right there on the pavement. His father had been the one to find him later that evening. She remembered when he walked into the lounge, his hands and shirt impossibly red, so much so that she could not understand what she was looking at. John's own blood had washed down the sink with his son's, leaving behind only a husk. Julia appears in the doorway. 'Mum?' Mrs Jones stands to embrace her daughter. She stands back. 'How are you, my darling?' 'I'm good,' she says. She puts her key where the missing statue had been, patting it. Her boyfriend slips into the lounge, nervously smiling, seeking out the master of the house. A giant hulk of a man, a shock of black hair, clothes all of the same hue, shiny boots, pale chalky skin. Julia is the same, her beautiful red hair turned jet black, piercings on her eyebrows, nose, around her ear lobe and on her tongue. 'Where's Dad?' 'He's… gone outside… to think.' 'Outside?' she says. 'It's raining.' She finds him at the end of the garden, looking at the bushes. 'Dad?' 'Hello, Julia,' he says, not turning. She sees that he is holding the statue to his chest. 'What are you doing out here in the cold and the wet?' 'Getting some air,' he says. 'Do you know that your mother served lemon cheesecake tonight? It's Wednesday today. Lemon cheesecake on a Wednesday. It's a strange day.' 'Gary is loading the car,' she tells him. 'If you do everything at the right time and in the right order,' he says, 'nothing can go wrong. Don't change anything.' The wind picks up and large drops fall around them, playing percussion on the sodden grass. He reaches out and massages a leaf, feeling the waxy texture between his fingers. 'I'm going, Dad,' she tells him, 'I'm leaving. I'm going with Gary.' 'These bushes all need trimming. If you don't keep them in check, they go wild.' The branches broadcast the sounds of the sea all around them. They stand alone on their own island, silent, breathing in the cold air, drinking the cool raindrops. 'I'm leaving home, Dad,' she says, 'aren't you going to say goodbye?' 'Perhaps I should cut them all down,' he says. 'You can't go wrong, there, can you?' 'I love Gary,' she says, 'he's a good man, be happy for us.' She puts a hand on his shoulder. 'I know you're disappointed in me.' 'If you water your plants, they should grow up big and strong. Sometimes, they just don't bloom like they should. We never find out why.' 'Julia! We're all packed up and ready to go!' shouts Gary, walking half way to meet them, unable to convince his legs to carry him any nearer. 'I'm very proud of my roses,' says Mr Jones. 'Roses are roses but when you've spent time pruning them, feeding them, tying them up, there's nothing more beautiful, nothing that smells better. Perhaps it's your mother's cigarette ends that do it. Fertilizer.' 'Dad, I have to go.' 'Roses come in all shapes and colours.' 'Come inside, it's raining, you're wet.' 'There's beauty in all colours. It doesn't matter what colour they are, you might expect them to be red but they could turn out purple.' 'I need to say goodbye. I have to go.' 'Sometimes they're supposed to be yellow but they come out orange.' Julia steps forward and puts her arms around her father. 'I love you, Dad.' She leaves. Not taken but lost. He had not properly spoken to his beautiful Julia in years. Following the murder, he had tried to hold her tight, to keep her safe but his butterfly had escaped up towards the stars, twinkling and alluring against their black velvet canvas. She had danced around them, like Mrs Jones' cigarette smoke did, outside his bedroom window every Sunday morning. The only thing left in his collection book is Mrs Jones, pressed and paralysed, bound by cellophane. Mr Jones drops to his knees and reaches as far under a bush as he can. He grinds the statue into the ground so it can stand by itself. Getting to his feet, he can't see it or where it is pointed but he knows it is there. He'll check it from time to time, do his best to keep it upright. It is all he can do, all he has left.
Archived comments for Statues
OldPeculier on 25-11-2013
Excellent. You capture the mood of despair perfectly.

Author's Reply:
Many thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

Andrea on 25-11-2013
Really enjoyed it - and where have you been for the last 5 years?!

Author's Reply:
Glad you enjoyed it, Andrea. I've been writing this short story for 5 years ...! Been busy and time has just flown by. Hope all okay with you.

deadpoet on 25-11-2013
A very emotional read despite the statue like parent. A good story.
Have you really been away for 5 years? Welcome back...

Author's Reply:
I'm glad you liked it. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.
I haven't been away, I've been quiet...

Nomenklatura on 26-11-2013
This is really good, the showing via the dialogue is absolutely first class. I hope you don't disappear for another five years, I shouldn't like to wait so long for another as good as this.

Marvellous, really.


Author's Reply:
Ewan - many thanks for reading/commenting. Glad you liked it.

Mikeverdi on 26-11-2013
I found this superb, the story touched every feeling I have. There are so many fantastic lines...'If you water you're plants etc...' so evocative. The feeling of loss so strong. A simply stunning work. Mike

Author's Reply:
Mike - thanks for reading/commenting - glad you liked it. Steve.

Rab on 26-11-2013
Wow! A really powerful story, beautifully told. You could feel the shared despair, for the living and the dead.


Author's Reply:
Ross - many thanks for taking the time to read/comment. Glad you liked it.

bo_duke99 on 26-11-2013
really top, top work - Greg

Author's Reply:
Greg - glad you liked it - thanks for reading/commenting. Steve.

Kipper on 26-11-2013
A fine well told story. Quietly understated and yet the drama was strong. The sense of loss and resignation that each character felt was was gradually and skilfully portrayed.


Author's Reply:
Michael - many thanks for reading/commenting. Glad you liked it.

Wherever I lay my hat (posted on: 05-09-08)
This is in memory of someone I used to know, although it is fiction. I hope he's okay. 1,940 words.

Suddenly there was a blaze of light and rough hands grabbed my coat, dragging me from my sleep. Everything span around, making me feel dizzy and I felt sick as my head struck the soft and damp earth. I opened my eyes and saw the red lights of a van go out as a cloud of stinking exhaust covered me and choked my young lungs. I shook my head, stood up and looked around into the night. The van was now distant and the road was otherwise empty. The road was wet. A fox stepped out from behind a tree across the road and stood watching me. I felt a terrible, searing thirst. I had to satisfy it. I was in a ditch by the road and looked from side to side, not sure where to go. I looked down and saw flashes of white in a moonlit puddle of rainwater. I put my hand into the water and lifted it to my mouth, savouring the feeling of the cool liquid in my mouth. I dropped to the floor and licked and sucked up the water until I felt the slimy texture of mud on my tongue. I stood up and saw the fox still watching me studiously, although he had moved forward into the middle of the road. His orange eyes didn't move as the car slammed into his side, taking him under the wheels and leaving him laying motionless where it left him. I watched the car move off and the silence came down once again. I moved onto the pavement and over to the fox, watching for any signs of movement from the road. His guts had spilled onto the tarmac and his jaw was twisted horribly; his tongue, already swollen, hung over his sharp teeth. I looked at his bright eye and saw small strains of red streaking across the shiny surface, out of the corner and onto his fur, glistening in the dim light. I looked at the broken and bloody flesh and my hunger stabbed and twisted in my stomach. I felt weakness pulling at me, all my joints aching at once. The desire to eat pulsed through my every nerve and sinew. I checked the road again before I put my head down to the fox's body. I sniffed at the carcass and its smell quickened my heart. I salivated and put my teeth onto a piece of lacerated flesh and held it there. My eyes scanned the trees and bushes and I let my tongue slip into the warm and moist meat. I felt a warmth surge through my cold and tired body as blood and juices dribbled into my grateful core. I tore at the skin and ripped it down to the bone, pulling chunks of dead animal into my mouth and down my throat. My mouth was dripping with blood when I stopped, aware of many eyes watching from the greenery on the either side of the road. I licked my lips and slowly raised my head from the gaping hole in the side of the fox. I licked them again as I saw movement and heard rustling. I drew back to face the movement but it stopped and everything was still. Something moved from the other direction so I turned to face it. A fox had come out onto the pavement. Two other foxes emerged into my peripheral vision. A roar and a blinding light engulfed me, so I sprinted away, back towards my ditch, down into the mud, along, up the bank, over a fence, collided into a dustbin and stopped by the side of a house. A dog started barking so I made to go back the same way, before I remembered why I was running. I looked up at the wall next to me and jumped onto it, quietly, without a sound. All was silent. From my position, I could see the fox was still in the road. Shadows started to move towards it but they scattered in all directions as the light of another car approached. The car stopped and someone got out to look at the mangled body. The person lifted the corpse up at arms length and threw it into the ditch. He shook his hands out, got back in the car and drove away. Mindful of the dog, I stayed on the wall. The light from the house partly illuminated the path and all was quiet. I watched as the animals started creeping through the darkness towards the ditch. I turned away and looked at a half-open window, the net curtains occasionally blowing in the breeze of the night. I could see activity in the room behind the window, but not clearly enough to see what was going on. If I moved back down the wall, I would be able to see inside. I thought about the dog. I don't like dogs and they don't seem to like me either but there could be something interesting to look at through the window. I had to see it. The dog wouldn't be able to get on the wall and I could miss out on something if I didn't check it out. There were two people sitting at a table, drinking wine. They were picking at food that had been laid out on the table on plates. My own hunger came back at me hard. I had not had a good meal in a long time. I thought about my family and how they might be eating and how something as simple as a meal at regular times was such a blessing. I had gone so far away from them, so far that I didn't know how to get back. The comfort afforded by my family seemed lost. I longed to return, to feel the warmth and love of them and for the food. I missed the food. The hunger became a physical pain as I watched the people putting tasty morsels into their big slavering mouths. I looked at the distance from the wall to the windowsill. It wasn't far. If they dropped their guard, I could jump across and quickly get away with something without being seen. I thought about the dog but my hunger dominated the fear of attack. I decided that I would try as soon as the opportunity arose. I stood and waited to pounce. I watched as they finished all of the food. It was gone, completely gone. They reached across the table and touched noses. The man stood up and pushed the window down. It thudded closed and the curtains were drawn. The food was lost. I waited for the window to open, ready to jump, but nothing moved. The garden door opened and I froze. The woman was very near as she put a black plastic bag by the door and went back inside. Keys rattled in the lock. The light went out and it was dark again. I jumped down and went to the bag. Perhaps there was food inside? Maybe I could open the bag and get at the food. The hunger was unbearable. I remembered the dog but he must be sleeping. The food would make me feel better, then I could go to sleep somewhere. I could smell food in it. I jumped on the bag and it tipped onto its side. The opening stayed together and nothing fell out. I sniffed at the opening and could smell some kind of meat. I had to have the food. I looked around the garden for any sign of movement and clawed at the bag. It started to give. I pulled at the plastic with my mouth and shook my head to clear it from my teeth. I clawed at the bag and the contents started to spill onto the floor. I stopped and made sure no one was watching or coming to see what was going on. I pushed some cardboard and bits of paper away and saw the meat. I took it into my mouth and bit deeply into it. Divine! I chewed, swallowed and ripped at the contents of the bag some more and ate until I was full. I realised that my head was completely in the bag! I thought that seemed like fun but I came out backwards and licked my fingers. I drank from a bowl of water by the door and sat on the wet grass. I'd definitely think about trying to find my way home tomorrow, but only after a nice sleep. If another bag was put out like that, what would be the point of going anywhere though? I remembered the dogs and the foxes and thought it best to sleep behind the bushes, out of sight. As I clambered through the undergrowth, I saw a hole leading into the garden next door. The dog couldn't follow me there, so I went through it and across the lawn as far away from the dog as possible. There was a gap behind the shed, so I squeezed into it, curled up and went to sleep. It was morning when my slumber was shattered by the crash of metal. I jumped up and looked around the side of the shed and saw an old man looking at a pile of tools that he had dropped on the floor. An old woman scurried out of the house and barked something at him. He held a hand up in her direction and paid her no attention. With cat-like senses she noticed me. She shouted at the old man who looked everywhere but at me. She pointed and shrieked until he spotted me. He yelled at me and the woman shouted at him. He had a fat belly and a big hairy moustache. He lumbered at me so I backed up, knowing he couldn't fit behind the shed. He bent down and his hairy hands swung at me, missing by some distance. I backed away some more until I bumped into something. A dog started barking on the other side of the fence so I spurted forward, towards the man's hands, dodging them and past him. I felt my neck being grabbed, quickly followed by my stomach as I was lifted into the air. I saw the old woman's contorted and gruesome face as she struggled to hold me. She pulled me into her bosom, choking me with perfume. As I struggled to free myself, she was talking at me. I flipped over but her vice-like grip held firm. The old man was looking at us, laughing. The woman was rubbing my head and my back so I stopped trying to move. It felt quite nice. She walked me into the house and I tensed, sensing danger, but the stroking made me feel better. I jumped when the old man turned on the tap to fill a bowl with some water but she held me tightly in her arms, stroking me, talking to me, just like my old family did. He turned off the tap and came towards me. He put it on the floor. She put me down next to the bowl. I looked at each one of them and sniffed at the water. I was very thirsty, so I licked it. It tasted great. The woman started to stroke me again, so I kept drinking. The man put some fish on the floor by the bowl, so I had some of that and was happy when the woman sat me on her lap in front of the warm fire. It was then that I decided to move in. The end. (c) Steve Smith. 2008.
Archived comments for Wherever I lay my hat
sirat on 05-09-2008
Wherever I lay my hat
I don't like to be negative but I didn't really understand the point of this one. It was clear almost from the first sentence that the narrator wasn't human. The only interest remaining was to find out what species he/she was. Dog or cat were top of my list. As a cat's eye account it works okay, but the only theme I could extract was the idea of stray cats choosing their owners. Was that it?

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 06-09-2008
Wherever I lay my hat
I think you've set yourself a really difficult task with this one. It's really a list of events, like a 'night in the life' so there's very little emotion. Combine that with the fact that it's immediately clear that we're dealing with an animal, and I found it quite difficult to become involved in the story.

Maybe if you tackled it in a more emotive way, it might work. But generally I think you've got a hard sell with the first person animal story. It's difficult to find a new take on it.

Author's Reply:
Hi BP - how's it going?
Yes, I thought I'd challenge myself with this. Interesting that yours and the following comments talks about emotion. Do animals have enough emotional thoughts to not make them seem too human? Your point is taken, though. Thanks for reading and commenting. Steve.

Seebaruk on 06-09-2008
Wherever I lay my hat
I liked some of the imagery here, especially at the beginning with the death of the fox. Perhaps the story would work if it was cut down, and as bluepootle said, there is a lack of emotion. Maybe some backstory introduced in small doses would help, about an abusive owner or something similar? The only other suggestion I would have is that some paragraphs are full of sentences of a similar length, which breaks up the flow and makes it read unnaturally. For instance, the paragraph beginning 'I looked at the broken and bloody...'. Splitting some of them up or combining others would help a lot, and keep the reader in the story. hope that helps.

Author's Reply:
I mentioned the emotion in my previous reply. I think you are right about the sentences. Good comments - thanks for that and for reading. Steve.

The Poison Apple (posted on: 03-12-07)
Written for Ginger's November prose challenge. 1,825 words.

'Mum, I told you. Stop worrying, will you? I'm fine. I've got friends. I'm new in town, so it takes time.' 'What takes time?' Sarah shook her head, trying to shake her off. 'It does.' 'What does?' 'It.' 'Sarah, you're not making any sense. Why don't you just pack up and come home?' Sarah looked out of the window at New York. She could see buildings lit at every window for as far as she could see. Despite being on the thirtieth floor she didn't feel very high. There were many skyscrapers towering above even though the cars moving around the wide avenues below looked unnaturally small. 'Mum, I got a transfer with my job. A big opportunity. I can't just come home, it doesn't work like that.' 'So, you do want to come home?' 'I never said that.' 'Yes you did. You said you can't just come home, like you'd like to, but you just can't.' Sarah took a sip of her water and laughed. 'Mum, you'll never change.' 'Sarah?' 'Yes?' 'Just come home. Tell them that you're lonely.' Sarah could see the blinking lights of a plane as it made its way to JFK airport. She looked down at Park Avenue and wondered how many people were within eyeshot and what they were all doing. She looked at the other apartment block, just across the street. It had over forty floors just like her building. She wondered how many windows had faceless people watching the world go by like she was. 'I'm not lonely, Mum. Look, isn't it time for you to go to bed?' 'It's only half past eleven. I'm fine.' Her mother sounded tired. Her mother sounded lonely. In a moment, Sarah decided that she should not have taken the transfer. Despite wanting to get away, it had not been the right thing to do. 'Okay, Mum, you win.' 'I told you.' 'Okay,' sighed Sarah, 'you did, you told me. There, I've said it.' 'So, you'll come home?' 'I'll see what I can do.' 'You just tell them. Sending a young girl half way around the world on a transfer. At your age. I've never heard of such a thing in my life. And to there. To New York. Full of murderers, perverts and thieves.' Sarah laughed. 'Why are you laughing? What's so funny?' 'You are, Mum. Listen, I've been in the office, in my apartment or walking the two blocks in between all the four weeks I've been here.' 'And?' 'And that's all. I haven't as much been to a bar. It's not like you think.' There was silence. 'I haven't had the chance to meet any of New York's finest murderers, perverts … or any of her thieves.' 'Well, good,' said her mother. 'I'm glad to hear that.' Sarah looked at the city that seemed so full of life and wondered how you joined in. Her colleagues were pleasant, but they all lived out of town and disappeared at five sharp, onto busses and trains to normal suburban towns. They never as much as went out to lunch together. They told her she must be having the time of her life in the Big Apple. 'Mum, let's hang up. It's costing a fortune.' 'I wish your father was alive,' said her mother. 'He'd come out and get you.' Sarah bit her lip and shook her head. 'Mum, I'm twenty four years old.' 'So?' 'I'm a grown woman. I'm old enough to look after myself.' 'I'm not so sure about that. I want you home.' 'Mum, please … look, I'll speak to them tomorrow. I'll call you and tell you how it went, okay?' From the cupboard by the door, he watched through the gap. He tried to smell the coat hanging from the rail, but his senses no longer worked. He tried to feel the material but his fingers were numb. He put his teeth on the wool of the coat, trying to feel the texture but his tongue was dry and alien in his mouth. He kneeled and looked at the shiny shoes reflecting the light from the lamp on the desk where Sarah was sitting. He listened and heard her crying quietly. He could feel her vulnerability. He liked that. It raised his heartbeat a little, it made him excited, it was a real feeling that could not be denied by any of his doctors. Not this time. Sarah closed the drapes, shutting the city out and sat on the sofa. She heard a click and a snap. It was so very quiet. 'Damn heating system,' she said out loud. Her voice echoed around the bare walls of her apartment. The landlord had told her that the heating was controlled centrally by building services and she could not turn it off. It would run all through the night. She had no choice, her company had sourced and paid for the apartment as part of the secondment. 'Echo, echo!' she cried out. She giggled at her juvenile behaviour and then burst into tears. It reminded her of being young, surrounded by her parents, brothers and sisters. She picked up the remote and turned on the television. She switched around channels, finding nothing of interest. She kicked off her shoes and felt a sudden chill blast across her. She physically shook and looked towards the doorway. She could see the outline of the hallway marking out the door. It felt like a breeze was driving across to the window. The only light in the apartment came from the lamp on the desk by the window and from the flickering television. She stood up and walked towards the dark recess by the front door. She looked at the small cupboard door and saw that it was open. She held her hand to the gap but could feel no breeze. She pushed the door very hard and it closed with a bang. Remembering her cardigan, she opened the door, reached in and pulled it out. From the darkness of the bathroom opposite the cupboard he watched the back of her neck closely. It was about a foot away. He could see the strands of wispy blonde hair blowing in the breeze. Her skin was pale and soft looking. He reached out his hand to touch but pulled back quickly at the sound of the door slamming. He withdrew and slunk slowly towards the shower cubicle as she put the cardigan on. She pulled it down and fastened it up by the buttons. She pushed open the door of the bathroom and turned the light on. Something didn't feel right. Everything was as she had left it but it was ice cold. She hesitated for a moment and then sat on the toilet. She reached down and picked up a book that she had left there. The shadow behind the frosted glass of the shower screen shifted uncomfortably. Sarah took the ready-meal from the microwave, put it on the table and went into the bathroom to wash her hands. He came out from behind the sofa and stood over the meal. It was a curry. It frustrated and angered him that he could not smell the food. He heard the light switch and darted across to the wall by the doorway. She walked past him within inches. He stood, transfixed, making no attempt to hide. She sat watching the television, eating. She shivered and thought that she must be getting some kind of bug. Sarah suddenly realised that she had an overwhelming sense of dread hovering over her and stopped with a forkful of food half way to her mouth. She looked at the phone and thought about calling her mother. She turned towards the doorway and saw a shadow against the wall. She tried to ignore the panic and started to argue with herself that it must be a trick of the light. As she made to stand, the shadow darted forward and hit her in the throat. She fell backwards off the chair and hit her head against the bottom of the bookshelf. Sarah looked up and saw the dark figure standing over her, breathing heavily, licking white foam from the side of its mouth. She saw the glint of a large blade as it kneeled down next to her. Her head pounded and she felt nauseous. The man was hooded and his breath smelled of sweet mints. He looked at her carefully, like he had never seen a person before. He snarled and held the blade to her throat. 'I'm gonna have you,' he said, 'then I'm gonna cut you.' Sarah was paralysed. She couldn't move, she couldn't speak. She could think only of getting away, doing something normal, getting on a plane, going home. The man carefully undid the buttons of her cardigan. He moved the blade to the top of her tee-shirt and pulled it down, cutting the fabric as if pulling a knife through butter. He pulled the clothing apart and looked at her bare stomach and bra. He put his face near to hers and smiled, showing his misshapen and discoloured teeth. 'Don't hurt me,' she said quietly. 'I'm gonna hurt you,' he said. 'I'm gonna hurt you bad.' Suddenly a ferocious strike from the side hit his head so hard that he fell onto her. She saw the small figure raise the weapon again and smash it down on her attacker's head. It rose up and came down on him twice more. The attacker lay across her, motionless. 'Get up,' said the voice. Sarah pushed the body off and struggled to stand. She put her hand on the bookcase to steady her as she stood up. 'Be careful,' said the voice, 'that's not steady.' Through the confusion, Sarah thought the voice was familiar. She looked at the figure on the floor. 'He's gone away now,' said the voice. 'I saw him leave.' 'Mum?' 'Yes, Sarah, it's me.' 'What are you doing?' 'I told you to be careful, didn't I?' 'But I was just talking to you. How did you get here?' 'I'm just passing through,' she said. 'On my way.' 'On your way, where?' said Sarah. Sarah reached to the back of her head and felt that it was wet. She looked at her hand but could see nothing. The light from the lamp seemed dull. She couldn't see her mother's face properly. The harder she looked, the less clear the features become. Her mother stepped back. 'I have to go,' she said. 'What? What do you mean?' 'You were right. You are a grown woman but you need your family and friends around you. You need to go home.' 'Mum,' said Sarah. Every step Sarah took, her mother moved away. 'How did you get here?' 'I have to go now,' she said. 'Your father is calling me.' 'I don't understand,' pleaded Sarah. 'I love you, Sarah,' she said, moving backwards, into the shadows.
(c) Steve Smith. 2007.

Archived comments for The Poison Apple
Rupe on 03-12-2007
The Poison Apple
I enjoyed this. The menace, vulnerability and sense of isolation come through very effectively & the twist at the end is unexpected.

A couple of small points. Sarah apparently lives on Park Avenue & says she does nothing but walk the two blocks to work & back again (which implies long hours, very high flier, no time for anything but work) but on the other hand everyone knocks off at five. That's not the kind of corporate culture the reader expects - and if they do knock off at five, how come she doesn't have time for anything but a short walk home (and how can she afford to live in such a wealthy neighbourhood?).

The other point was about this line:

'Sarah suddenly realised that she had an overwhelming sense of dread hovering over her'

I know what you mean, but it's a little clumsily expressed as it stands - almost a mixed metaphor (can dread hover?) - and it states what you've already implied very well. Maybe some physical detail would work better to imply Sarah's fear (heart rate increased, throat dry, hands sweaty or something like that).


Author's Reply:
Thanks, Rupe - glad you liked it.
Working backwards - yes, the "dread" bit, I wasn't sure of - I'll think of a better way.
For the other point - actually, I was working from my own experience, believe it or not. Not sure I'm a high flyer, but I've stayed in an apartment and hotels in Manhattan and looked out the window from high floors - having had a hectic day but watched people vanish out the door at 4 (on the dot for traders) and 5 (for support staff) in the bank where I worked. Most days people would take me places, which was nice, but sometimes (especially when staying over weekends), it's an exceptionally busy but empty place where you could die and no one would (appear) to notice or care! I'm quite a socialble person but you can't magic friends up from thin air! A friend of mine was properly seconded to NY too - unlike me, who stayed 1 or 2 weeks at a time. She felt the same as me - but more so, of course. It really is true about people going home on the dot over there - where I was anyway.
Thanks for reading and commenting.

petersjm on 03-12-2007
The Poison Apple
I liked this, Steve. Haven't read any of your work in ages (have I just missed them or have you not been posting much?)

Couple of points: "she physically shivered" - is there any other kind of shiver? I think taking out "physically" would be something worth thinking about.

I know you were trying to give an insight into the attacker, but you gave too much - what's this about not being able to smell, to taste...? Does it need a bit of explanation? I don't know... Just struck me as something left unfinished...

The ending, as Rupe said, was somewhat unexpected, but nice. Perfect timing, though - maybe too perfect? Just a thought. Over all, a good read, though. PJ.

Author's Reply:
Hi PJ - long time no speak. I haven't been about much, put a few bits and pieces up (so to speak). Hope you've been well.
You're right about physically shivering.
The attacker - well - he's not a balanced person of course - I wanted to give him some strange characteristics to increase the sense of menace. I wanted to hint at him being the ghost, not having senses etc. too.
The ending is a bit cheesy, that's true - if that's what you mean about perfect?
Thanks for reading/commenting - have to read the others now, myself!

Ginger on 03-12-2007
The Poison Apple
I thought the attacker was the ghost the whole time. I was surprised when he was actually physical. You captured her loneliness very well, and the change in the tone, the foreboding of the person in the closet was done extremely well.

One point: 'She pulled it down and fastened it up by the buttons.' How else do you fasten a cardigan? I hear you say zip! Well then she'd zip it, not fasten the cardigan.

I thought this was well executed, engrossing, and with a completely unexpected twist. Well done.


Author's Reply:
Ah - yes, re: the cardigan - good point.
Glad you thought the ghost was the attacker - that was the intention, really.
Happy you liked it. I have some reading of the rest to do now.
Thanks for reading and commenting.

SugarMama34 on 03-12-2007
The Poison Apple
I liked this too and thought it had been written well. The way you described the attacker with no sense of smell etc, I thought he would be the ghost, especially as he seemed to hide so well in the shadows and she walked past him ot noticing he was ther, so the twist at the end came as a surprise to me too, but an enjoyed one. Glad she got the git at the end.

Lis'. xx

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Sugar - glad you liked it. I tried to combine the menace of the attacker's warped character with a hint that it was a ghost - glad it came off for you.
Thanks for reading and commenting.

KDR on 03-12-2007
The Poison Apple
Hi Steve,

Seems like others have already made you aware that this is in need of a rewrite/edit, so I won't bother saying it. All I will say is it looks very much like a first draft, completed and subbed to hit a deadline - or to at least be not too far behind it - and I'm guessing that that was actually the case.

For the content...there seems to be three different directions here. First, there's the woman away from home (I had to re-read; I initially thought the mother was in New York! Tiredness works wonders...) being 'got at' by the overbearing mother; second, there's the menace and suspense generated by the intruder; and third there's the saviour/ghost element. Of course the three do mesh together, but IMO they don't want to sit well together at the moment - and the ending is a bit trite.
I think there is a decent, suspenseful tale in the making here - but it is in the making. You can do (and have done) better.

Interesting sidenote about US working practices, too. We must be right mugs!


Author's Reply:
Hi mate, how's it going?
I agree it's in 3 stages - beginning, middle, end, I hope! - and the ending is perhaps a little corny - yes, defo. It's either that or something bad happens!
I wouldn't say it's rushed, as such, few bits in there to correct, well pointed out by the others - not sure I agree there. I did it quite quickly, and re-checked only a couple of times. Not sure why it looked like the mother was in NY? The first part was very much trying to establish characters that the reader might like / relate to in some way.
Just my observations on working practices from companies I've been involved with - the stock market closes at 4pm, you see! I'm sure other business types are different.
Thanks for reading and commenting as usual, mate.

delph_ambi on 04-12-2007
The Poison Apple
"Sarah looked at the city that seemed so full of life and wondered how you joined in."

This is a superb sentence. Wish I'd written it.

'busses' is more usually 'buses'.

'were' rather than 'was' in 'I wish your father was alive', though it's always a moot point as to how grammatically correct you should be in dialogue. Up to this point though, the mother has spoken good English, so you might want to change that.

'twenty-four' needs hyphenating.

Enough nitpicks. This story is engrossing. I'm going to read on to the end now.

More than engrossing. Excellent story telling.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Delph - I'll check those corrections at the weekend! Glad you liked it. Thanks for reading / commenting. Steve.
(damn - posted a comment as a reply first off!)

TheGeeza on 04-12-2007
The Poison Apple
Thanks, Delph - I'll check those corrections at the weekend! Glad you liked it. Thanks for reading / commenting. Steve.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 06-12-2007
The Poison Apple
Hello hello!

This is too confused for me. The first assumption is that its a face to face conversation, and that jolt into a the realisation that its a telephone call put me off forming a decent picture of a woman. I was too caught up in trying to formulate the scene. I think you'd be better off starting with a description of the view from the window, the city (which you do well) and then break up the conversation more with details that are more interesting than the 'Sarah laughed...' 'Sarah shook her head...' variety that we get.

Then we get the cut into the intruder's POV, but its so short, that we don't get time to really think about it, and we're back with Sarah again. I'd say stick with Sarah for so long and build her up properly, then cut to the intruder - don't use the intruder to make the story interesting, make Sarah more interesting so we care about her first. I couldn't picture her at all really.

Also, the conversation with the mother needs to show some further dimension, so that it can be reflected in her mother's final words to her. Could be so much stronger than the 'I'm off to join your father' option. This ghost has physical presence, why not give her mental presence too?

Maybe I'm being hard on this because I don't like the 'serial killer stalking young woman' line in it too much, but it did feel very unsubtle to me. Anyhoo, other people liked it, so it could be me having a bad day...

Author's Reply:
Thanks, BP. I thought perhaps I'd put too much in the beginning to establish their relationship, as it goes! You could be right about the phone being mentioned more quickly to set the scene, yes. I wanted short sharp glimpses of the nasty so that we were following Sarah almost entirely (as it is about her and her situation, not about the weirdo) and had only a sense of the type of darkness that was watching. I shall ponder!
Thanks for reading and commenting... Steve.
(B*gger, posted it as a comment first, again... senility approaches, me thinks).

TheGeeza on 06-12-2007
The Poison Apple
Thanks, BP. I thought perhaps I'd put too much in the beginning to establish their relationship, as it goes! You could be right about the phone being mentioned more quickly to set the scene, yes. I wanted short sharp glimpses of the nasty so that we were following Sarah almost entirely (as it is about her and her situation, not about the weirdo) and had only a sense of the type of darkness that was watching. I shall ponder!
Thanks for reading and commenting... Steve.

Author's Reply:

The Mexican Standoff (posted on: 08-10-07)
You can have all the success in the world but what have you really got? 1,451 words.

He had a fantastic life. He excelled in his career, had a wonderful family, money. He wore the finest clothes and his friends were people of power. People could only envy him. He was truly blessed. Henry Worthington. He took his silk handkerchief and dabbed at his brow. The searing heat of the Mexican sun drew the moisture from everything: the ground; the wooden frames of the door and windows; as well as the perspiration from the bodies of anyone beneath its unyielding glare. He looked at the water machine and could see it was almost empty. He stood up and pulled a plastic cup from the dispenser beside it, placing it under the plastic tap and pulled the lever. As the water dribbled into the cup he noticed the other man in the room watching him. The cup was almost filled when the water ran out. 'Hmmm,' he said, cocking his head. 'It ran out.' He looked at the man in the room and smiled but the man carried on gently nodding his head and said nothing. Juan Sanchez. Worthington sat down and took a sip of the cold water. Just as he took it away from his lips a loud bang startled him and his hand jumped, spilling some of the water into his lap. 'My God!' he said, standing up. 'What was that noise?' Juan slowly turned his head to the door and looked back at Worthington, who was brushing himself down. Juan's dark Mexican features were covered in beads of sweat. He took a cigarillo from his pocket and lit it. The cloud of smoke travelled towards Worthington who sniffed at the air and grimaced. He sat down. He finished what remained of the water and crushed the cup in his hand. The men sat in silence, waiting for the train. A small man dressed in the dark blue uniform of the railway company appeared in the doorway. 'I am sorry,' he said. 'The train has been delayed.' Juan bowed his head, sending a droplet of sweat to the dusty floor. Worthington stood up. 'Delayed?' he said. 'Why?' 'I am sorry,' said the man, edging away, back out of the doorway to the platform. 'I said ''why'' dear boy, why is the train late? This is outrageous!' The man stood, frozen, looking at the Englishman standing before him, his immaculate white suit looking out of place in the grubby waiting room. 'The train,' said the man, swallowing hard, 'it hit a horse on the track.' 'And, so?' 'It stopped.' 'But why?' The man looked at Juan who was sitting forward, watching him carefully. 'To pull the pieces of the horse from the engine, Seρor.' 'Oh,' said Worthington. 'I see.' He brushed the chair with his hand and sat down. Juan crushed the end of the cigarillo against the wooden floor with his boot. They waited. They heard the rumble of the train gradually turn into the roar of its engine and the sound of its giant wheels grinding against the rails. The driver blasted the horn as it came into the station and stopped. The lungs of the giant beast exhaled plumes of dirty steam. The sound of people and doors slamming came through the door of the waiting room and the footsteps on the floorboards came and went. The horn blasted again and the machine moved painfully forward and rushed from the station, leaving its smell wafting up the noses of the two men who had remained in their seats. Their eyes met. Worthington looked down and brushed his brilliant white trousers with his hands. They both heard the sound of the footsteps. 'Daddy?' Worthington stood up. 'Sarah! My lovely Sarah, come here, won't you?' He embraced his daughter, pushing his backside out to avoid dirtying his clothing. 'Oh Daddy!' she said. 'I've so missed you.' He kissed the top of her blond hair and saw the shadow of the Mexican standing in the doorway. He closed his eyes. Sarah pulled away from her father and walked towards Juan who had stood up. 'Juan!' she said. 'It's great to see you, again!' A smile broke across his rugged Mexican features. 'Come here,' he said. 'You look so beautiful.' He pulled her to him. After he had squeezed her tightly, she stepped back. 'You smell like a beautiful flower,' he said. 'A nice flower, I hope.' 'A very nice flower,' he said. Worthington realised he was grimacing. He turned to the door. 'Hello, Pablo,' he said. 'Father,' said the man, offering his hand. Worthington sneered at it. 'I'm not your father,' he said, taking the hand, covered in spidery black hair. The hand that had taken his daughter. 'Father-in-law,' said Pablo, 'seems like too many words to say when speaking to a family member.' Worthington smiled. 'Well,' he said, 'you can call me Worthington, can't you?' 'Pablo,' said Juan, moving to hold his son. 'Congratulations, you have done well. Your new wife is very beautiful.' 'Pap,' said Pablo. The distinctive cigarillo smell of his father comforted him. Juan moved back. 'I was very disappointed, when you ran away to get married. You know you have much work to do to please your mother, don't you?' Pablo nodded. 'She … she cried for days, you know?' 'I thought it best to move away from the arguments,' said Pablo. 'I hope you understand.' Juan held his son by the shoulders. 'You are a man, now, Pablo. You have to make your own choices in life. In your life and in the life of your wife and your unborn child.' 'Yes, Pap. Thank-you, Pap.' Juan smiled and shook his son. 'Today, I am very proud of you,' he said. Pablo swallowed and shook his father's hand. Worthington adjusted his tie. 'Sarah,' he said. 'What are your plans? Your mother would be worried sick.' 'Seρor Worthington,' said Pablo. 'I have bought a small house in a nice part of Monterrey, not far from my parents home. Here, Sarah and I will live and raise our family. You will be more than welcome to stay any time.' Worthington considered the words for a few moments and turned to his daughter. 'Think about your mother, Sarah.' 'Mummy is gone, Daddy. She would have been happy for me.' 'She didn't want this for you.' 'Didn't want what for me?' Worthington waved his hand around. 'This,' he said. 'This stinking place.' 'Daddy, stop it.' 'And these … stinking people.' 'Hey,' said Pablo. 'Daddy, you promised you wouldn't.' 'Your mother,' he said softly, shaking his head. 'Mummy would want me to be happy.' Worthington was looking at the dust that had settled on his shiny shoes. He nodded. 'She would, yes, she would.' 'Pablo,' said Juan. 'We should go, the people are waiting. We are already late.' 'Yes, Pap.' He looked at Sarah. She nodded back to him and turned to her father. 'Daddy, you know that you can come back with us, to the house?' Worthington looked at her and smiled. 'I have to get back,' he said. 'Please,' said Pablo. 'You are welcome to come.' He looked at his father out of the corner of his eye. Juan flicked the discarded cigarillo with the tip of his boot. The tobacco that was left in the butt broke out onto the floor. 'There is room in my father's car,' said Pablo. 'Thank-you,' said Worthington, looking up, 'but I have business to attend to.' 'When is your flight?' said Sarah. He looked at her and opened his arms. He watched them as they went to the car parked outside the station. Pablo was holding his daughter's hand. She turned back but he was not sure she could see him through the dirty window, hidden in the shadows of the blazing sun. He saw her looking backwards as the car drove away and raised his hand. He turned to a noise behind him and saw the small man in his dark blue uniform. He was sweeping the floor. 'When is the next train?' said Worthington. 'To where, Seρor?' said the man, without looking away from his task. 'To the airport.' 'Tomorrow.' 'Tomorrow?' 'Tomorrow.' 'Can you call me a taxi?' said Worthington. 'No, Seρor.' 'Why not?' 'The telephone is broken, Seρor. I cannot call.' The man finished sweeping the dust and dirt into the corner. He walked through the door onto the platform and disappeared. Worthington went through the main entrance and felt the full force of the Mexican sun. His brow immediately started to sweat, so he took out his handkerchief and dabbed his forehead. All that was before him was a collection of small white buildings and a dusty road. Juan's car had disappeared out of sight.
(c) Steve Smith. 2007.

Archived comments for The Mexican Standoff
bluepootle on 08-10-2007
The Mexican Standoff
Hello! I really enjoyed this. I liked the overtly stylistic start, and then the very sparse feel to it afterwards, and the dialogue was very convincing - although I would say that Worthington's early words - 'Shit! What was that?' wrong-footed me with the character. I think maybe 'My God!' might work better, or something along those lines.

I like the ending point very much as well.

Author's Reply:
Hi BP, hope all is well. Thanks for that - glad you liked it. I think you're right about the "My God!" part and will change that. Thanks, Steve.

e-griff on 08-10-2007
The Mexican Standoff
as always, some crackling writing.
- In embyro? No - that's not right, just an emergent youth πŸ™‚

I'll waft over errant commas, etc, and say that although I enjoyed the terse interplay between characters, my feeling is you may have been too intent on them to deal with the plot (no, I don't bloody know that for sure - how could I? πŸ™‚ )

The end let me down. This powerful, successful man, marooned at a station with no train and no taxi? no way, Jose! contradictory.

It wouldn't hurt your theme to have the chauffeur-driven limo outside. And why is he there anyway, in a hot station. what's it all about?

I think you have an excellent central core of story, but you need to brush up the rest, je crois. It's like one of those lenses where the centre is in focus, but the surrounds are blurred. We need to get them in focus as well.

Nontheless, I enjoyed the read.

best G

Author's Reply:
Thanks, John ... glad you liked it.
For the marooned man at the station - he was lost, it was all lost. The limo would've been business-as-usual.
I did enjoy writing the characters though, I have to say... bit unusual.
Thanks - Steve.

e-griff on 08-10-2007
The Mexican Standoff
no, steve, that's too easy (your answer)

the character you presented was not out of control. The character you presented would NEVER be marooned. At least, you didn't give us any rationale as to why he might be.

I see my problem as you 'shorthanding' - you really can't tell this story in short form. You have an idea in your head (which we don't share) and have only given us brief glimpses of your plot.

As I said, you have the focus of a story here .... now write the rest, complete it.

I'm hard on you because I believe you have talent. I have been gobsmacked by some of your writing. BUT - I don't see follow-through from you, hard work to fill and complete the story. You dip here, you don't immerse.

Cheeky I know, but I hope you know I'm thinking of you, not me. And (for the folks who don't know) we've known each other for a while. πŸ™‚

best, JohnG

Author's Reply:
I always appreciate the time you take to give me your opinion - that's what I put it up here for. In this instance, I don't agree on Worthington never allowing himself to being marooned - for once, I saw him as being lost/out of control. I take your point about "shorthanding" - I do enjoy writing something with a hidden storyline that the reader almost has to make up him/herself, make them think - but I'll put some effort into something with a more obvious substance. Thanks for your feedback on this, John.

reckless on 08-10-2007
The Mexican Standoff
Hello Geeza. I think i remember reading something of yours a while ago. Nice to see you're still around. I liked this, atmospheric, economically written, and a good bit of ambiguity at the end. And Monterrey - Steinbeck land!!

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Reckless ... I'm still alive and kicking. Glad you liked it... Steve.

Rupe on 08-10-2007
The Mexican Standoff
Very good piece, based on a strong theme with a good & different setting.

I liked the way you set Worthington up, but thought the 'dear boy' line was maybe going too far. No one really speaks like that, do they? Not even someone like Worthington. The only other bit that stuck out a little was 'Juan's dark Mexican features'. You've got 'Mexican' in there a little earlier, so we have the location in mind already, which makes the repetition of the word unnecessary.

I don't agree that Worthington would never be marooned. The whole point, as I see it, of the piece - OK, not the whole point but a big part of it - is that someone who is successful and masterful in one place or sphere should not assume that he is going to be so in another. Successful living calls for adaptability, empathy & a certain lack of presumption - these are all skills which Worthington, for all his qualities, doesn't have & the novel situation therefore leaves him powerless and foolish. If he turned up in his limo and was equal to the situation, you'd have a very different kind of story.


Author's Reply:
You could be right about "Dear Boy" - but I do actually know someone who says that! One person, I hasten to add (and a colourful character), but one nonetheless.
Mexican features: I think they're quite distinct as a description, rather than repeating that he's a Mexican person (i.e Mexican is very dark, stubbly) - but I'll have a think.
I agree re: the marooning - that's what I had in mind. Having his getaway arranged (car etc.) would've been like moving from one meeting to another - this time, he met his daughter there, had the interaction and ... hit a wall ... was stuck.
Thanks for reading and commenting. I'm glad the setting worked - I'm not sure where it came from, never been to Mexico, but I had it very clearly in my mind's eye. (maybe an old film or something).

RoyBateman on 09-10-2007
The Mexican Standoff
I thoroughly enjoyed this - certainly different in many ways, not least in its location. I do feel that it's part of a longer piece and, while it stands alone - and probably would do, even better, as a film, in the written version the reader has the time to ask a few obvious questions: how did he get to the station? Not walking, obviously - in a taxi? Then he'd have a number and a mobile to get him back to wherever his own world is. If he was hoping to entice his daughter back, as seems to be the case, what would he do with her, stranded at the station? I don't always agree with other comments, but I also feel that he'd have some big limo parked outside - then, you have a problem ending this. The limo fails, leaving him stranded? I dunno - anyway, I'm not being negative, as this was a very enjoyable piece indeed!

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Roy. I'm glad it made you think about it, which is what I like to try and do. I think in this case, it almost doesn't matter how he got there, what he was planning to do, what he'd have done if it had gone differently. It's about him being there after his daughter has ran off to marry a Mexican - which probably didn't align itself too well to his grander expectations. I think the situation almost overwhelmed the normally sucessful man and he just didn't know what to do - was lost - metaphorically and literally.
I could add stuff to set the scene - but I think the message might get diluted if there was anything after the current ending.
Glad you liked it - I enjoyed writing this one more than a lot of my other stuff, actually.

KDR on 12-10-2007
The Mexican Standoff
Hi Steve,
This had a 'retro' feel to it. I was almost 'seeing' it as a black and white movie, with Worthington being played by one of the old actors, a Cary Grant or Stewart Grainger type. Either way, the character seemed old-fashioned, overly class-conscious, careful to adopt affectations that he felt were necessary to his persona. Perhaps he even came from a poor background and these were symbols of having 'made it' which his daughter would neither need nor want.

As for getting marooned...that's easy. He asks when the train back to the airport will arrive. My take on it is that he has made a dash to Mexico to appeal to his daughter in person. He has taken the train from the airport, as he has had no time to arrange everything as he otherwise might. Now he is here, in Mexico, completely out of his element and not in control of the situation - a state which is clearly alien to him.
As a consequence of this and his assumed superiority, he is marooned at the station with any chance of comfort or reconciliation gone. He is alone with his pomposity in a place where it matters least.

So there is a lot of depth within such a short piece of writing. There may be scope for a longer story here, but as it is, this little snapshot tells the reader almost everything, anyway. If less really is more, this can truly be described as a great.

Cheers for the read, as always.


Author's Reply:
Karl - thanks. The way you saw it (in your second para) is the way I saw it too, so that's good. I hadn't seen it in black and white, in that way, but it is a very interesting way of looking at it.
Glad you liked it. Thanks for reading and commenting... Steve.

Demons (posted on: 04-06-07)
In response to Sirat's workshop challenge. "Returning to somewhere that has been significant in your life". I only noticed the challenge on Sunday afternoon, so this was done in 2 hours! 1,067 words.

'I need to go on my own,' I say. My wife looks at me, very pensive. I know she wants to envelope herself around me, to protect. She can't. My teenage son and daughter stand just behind, fidgeting, without the maturity to find any words to help. I feel for them, but I can't reach out or do anything. 'Okay,' she says, simply. My son nods and my daughter says a quiet ''goodbye''. I close the door carefully behind me, hearing the catch clunk into place, and walk up the path to the waiting taxi. As I sit in the car, I think of my mother and the good times we had together: the holidays, the games in the garden, making cakes – all the wholesome things. I remember her with me in hospital when I broke my wrist when I was five. I thought my hand was going to fall off, but she put her arms around me and told me not to worry. I remember when I was much older, about fifteen, and I tripped over something in the front garden and cut my knee. She took me in the kitchen and tended me as if I was still five. The memory of the stinging as she cleaned it out still makes me wince. She told me to stop fussing, and I saw then, what it was, to be a parent. The taxi stops and the cabbie turns to me and says something. I only have eyes for the old house, standing proud in the middle of a row of semi-detached houses. I give him ten pounds and get out of the car without waiting for the change, staring at the front door. As I approach the door it opens, and there is my sister. She is leaning to one side with a bag of rubbish in her hand and she looks at me as if she's seen a ghost. 'Hello,' I say. 'Hello,' she says, not moving. After a few moments, she straightens up. 'Thanks for coming,' she says. 'I didn't think that you would.' 'Why?' I say. She shakes her head. 'I don't know,' she mumbles. We look at one another. I haven't seen her for over twenty years. Although my parents live close by she had married and moved away. Twenty years. We used to be so close. The bonds had broken but I feel the recognition between us shooting out strands of hope. I'm not sure if it's right, but I can't help it. She stands aside and beckons me in. Each step into the pristine hallway is like walking on hot coals but I had made the choice to come, so I move inside, ignoring the pain of every movement. I see an old man in the kitchen and he's frozen, looking at my large frame blocking out the light from the front door. Sarah moves past me into the lounge. 'It's Michael,' she says. No one answers. I look at the staircase and remember the fear of going up alone. She steps back into the hallway and asks me to come through. As I walk in, my eyes are drawn to my mother, sitting in the armchair by the fireplace, dressed in black. There are others in the room, but as my anxiety wells up, I force my gaze towards the mantelpiece and look at the photo frames and ornaments. My two sisters and brother have large pictures, but there's no room for me. The shadow of a choice made long ago. Still no one speaks or makes a sound, so I look through the arch to the dining table and the coffin that sits on it. Without thinking, I walk towards it and see my father's grey face as I approach. He reached a good age, but the face is his, and no mistake. Many times I had seen that face close up, contorted into the lines that mark it now, holding me down, his hand over my mouth, stopping me from making a noise. Sarah comes and stands beside me and we look upon our father together. I turn and look at her, but she doesn't turn to face me. Her face is like stone. I can't read it. I want to know what she's thinking. I want to know if she's happy or sad. Then I want to know why she feels that way and if she knows what I know, what I have seen, whether his face is the same to her, as it is to me. I want to know but I don't want to ask. I turn away and look again, at my mother. She looks me in the eye for the briefest of moments, then looks away, to the empty and cold fireplace. I look at each person in the room, sitting straight, just as Father demanded. They're wondering whether I'm after the family silver, am here to gloat or just to announce my final victory. 'I don't know how you've got the nerve, Michael,' says Liam. My brother, Liam. I look at my mother, and she's been watching me. Again, she turns away, she looks down, she looks the other way, she pulls some imaginary fluff from her sleeve and throws it on her immaculate-as-usual floor. She says nothing. 'Goodbye,' I say and I walk from the room. Sarah follows me to the front door. I open it and walk through it. 'Michael,' she says, handing me a folded piece of yellow paper. I look at it, turning it over in my hands. I put it into my back pocket, nod, smile at her and walk away, down the path, turning onto the street in any direction, not thinking about where I'm going. Just like I did over twenty years ago. This time, the power and strength is with me. It doesn't matter what's on the paper. She doesn't know. How could she? Perhaps she glimpsed the demon's reflection on my face this afternoon. Maybe she saw its shadow walk across the lounge and sit on the arm of my mother's chair, holding its hand across her mouth. If it is seen then it must exist. After walking for two hours, I reach my home and stop by the wheelie bin. I take out the yellow paper and throw it inside. It needs to be buried too. Life needs to move on.
(c) Steve Smith. 2007.

Archived comments for Demons
sirat on 04-06-2007
I feel a bit the same as I did about delph_ambi's story. It's all a bit obscure and I struggle to make sense of it. Maybe the plot details don't really matter and it's the feelings and the atmosphere that the story is about, but I always find this kind of piece a bit unsatisfying. It seemed like there was some kind of affair once between the narrator and his sister-in-law, although that's only a theory, and probably such details don't matter, but where they aren't resolved they become a distraction. I suppose what matters is that the narrator has become alienated from his family. The yellow piece of paper is another tease. I think this one might work well for some readers but I am too much of a straightforward and literal sort of person and I can't stop myself trying to understand, to the exclusion of other elements of the piece.

On a tiny technicality i think "to envelope herself around me" should be simply "to envelop me".

Author's Reply:
One size never fits all, I guess. I think you might just have missed the point of it, but as you say, probably not your cup of tea. Not sure where the sister-in-law and the affair comes from?! πŸ™‚
The yellow paper is explained in the comments below - and was a bit experimental in its nature. I have to be honest and say I thought the rest was fairly obvious.
I wouldn't say your technicality was technically wrong, but your simplification is better - thanks for pointing out.
Thanks for reading/commenting.

e-griff on 04-06-2007
I suppose it's inevitable given the topic that some of our stories will parallel each other. This was similar to (but different from) delph's story.

I did find it just too enigmatic. I would have got more from it had I had just a little more information about what was going on, but I might just be a bit slow. There is obviously a connection between the 'demon' and the paper and some payback/agreement honoured.

Technically, I did see signs of a lack of checking (which in the circumstances is understandable). The bit about parents living near and his sister moving away was obscure, for instance, even though I read it twice.

The atmosphere and tension is well-created, the story in the pictures etc tells the tale. It would be well worth taking some time and brushing this one up a bit.


Author's Reply:

delph_ambi on 04-06-2007
The way I understand it (on one reading), the father abused Michael and that's why he left. Michael wonders if the same thing happened to his sister. Their mother knew, but stood by the father.

She's still standing by him. They all are. So Michael leaves again.

Excellent story. Maybe I've misread it (having seen Sirat's comment) but my reading worked fine for me.

Author's Reply:
Hi Delph,
I'm not sure why Sirat struggled with it - I struggled to understand his comment, to be honest, it didn't seem to bear any relation to what I had written - but no, you read it the way it was intended! I try to keep a fast pace, leaving things for the reader to see for themselves. Sometimes it can leave the reader a bit confused, but I like flash fiction stories like that - a peek into something bigger.
Glad you liked it. Thanks for reading/commenting. I'll get on to yours asap!

Rupe on 04-06-2007
It worked fine for me too. I think the point about a story that revolves around abuse taking place within an apparently nuclear family is precisely that a lot of the pain is in what's left unsaid, and the way you've approached this reflects that idea.

That said, you could maybe be a bit more forthcoming about what the piece of paper is - Sarah might perhaps say something to Michael as she hands it over.

At one point, I thought there were too many commas:

'She told me to stop fussing, and I saw then, what it was, to be a parent'

Good story.


Author's Reply:
Thanks, Rupe. Glad you liked it.
Yes, the paper - struck a cord with people who read this and someone else who emailed me. As for what it is - in a way - it doesn't matter. It could be contact details (that's what I would guess), an apology ... I don't know. As I said to Griff in comment above, he didn't want to read it as he'd drawn a line and moved on. He was burying his demons as he was burying his father. Also - as I said to Griff - it either works, or is annoying to the reader! Thanks for pointing out the commas - seem to be doing that a lot lately!

e-griff on 04-06-2007
OK, sorry, got it now. as I've said elsewhere I maybe wasn't too sharp this morning and I missed the key words that told us the nub of the story - entirely my fault. No prob at all now - er except for the paper ... πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:
No probs. You know me - don't want to write anything with simple plots!
The paper - well, it either works or not, difficult to tell for me. Just doing the "show" part of a story, I thought that the central character wanted to bury his past demons - drawing a parallel to burying his father - and didn't want to look at what she'd written. He'd drawn the line already. And if he doesn't see it ... nor should you ... (as I said, works, or is annoying!)
Thanks for reading, commenting. (I'll get to reading the others asap, when I've got some free time).

bluepootle on 04-06-2007
I don't think a little bit of leaving things unsaid is a bad thing unless it causes the reader to lose interest, and I definitely didn't do that. There's something so straightforward about the manner of telling that the fact that nobody discusses the cause of all this pain is really quite awful for the reader (or me!) Quick and uncomfortable. Memorable, I think.

The initial scene with the wife and kids is a bit too short, I think. And yes, it needs some details, some attention. But I liked it.

Author's Reply:

shackleton on 04-06-2007
Good but unsettling story, Geeza. I read it the way Delph did - the past abuse, the past and present denial, and the wondering about who else was abused. I think the paper should have revealed more - just my yearning for a conclusive end to a story. Fascinating read - I enjoy your style.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Shackleton. Glad you liked it. It was intended along the lines Delph read it, yes.
See above comments for more on the paper - it seemed to stick in the ribs for all, that bit.
Thank-you for reading/commenting.

sirat on 04-06-2007
Just to explain, the reason I thought sister-in-law rather than sister was that when when the narrator describes meeting her he says: "I haven’t seen her for over twenty years. Although my parents live close by she had married and moved away" Surely if she was his sister he would say OUR parents?

Author's Reply:

josiedog on 05-06-2007
I might say this could do with some tidying up, but if you knocked it out in 2 hours then that's the way it is, and it is a fair old piece for something done in that time.

I like a story that doesn't join up all the dots for the reader, we can interpret the way we want - It seemed the narrator was viewed as the black sheep, the reminder of something, the cause for anxiety and awkwardness when he turns up.
But the family don't know the half of it, the relationship between father and son, which is the cause of the problems.
Abuse, violent I thought, maybe more.
Left unsaid though, much more powerful.
So, in short, I liked the hints and allusions, but sometimes the writing doesn't quite flow, although I'm sure it would with and edit, or if you'd had longer.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Josiedog - appreciate the time to read and comment. You got what I was trying to do. I will go back to this one after a week or two and tidy up. It read okay to me, but I find it better to leave them a couple of weeks at least - go back, re-read and the problems fall out more easily. Cheers, Steve.

Ginger on 05-06-2007
Lots has already been said. Not sure if I can add much to the debate! I enjoyed the read, I go the gist - abuse, like Josie said, best let mostly unsaid. Good read.


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

discopants on 06-06-2007
I didn't find it obscure and read it as delph did. That said, changing the 'my parents' to 'our parents' as highlighted by Sirat would halp avoid any potential confusion.

You keep the atmosphere taut in the scene in the house. I thought the yellow paper was a bit distracting- I took the line 'It needs to be buried too' to imply that the narrator knew what was on it. It might have worked better if it read 'I had no interest in anything it might contain' or something along those lines. You could probably also cut some of the opening to bring us to the main scene a bit earlier.

All in all, though, a good read that held the attention and created an atmosphere.


Author's Reply:
Yes, you could be right about the yellow paper - the comments show it sticks out like a sore thumb in this. I'll leave it a week or so, and definitely look at that.
Thanks for reading / commenting.

SugarMama34 on 06-10-2007
Hi Geezer,

Bloody hell, what a powerful story this is! There are so many emotions running through this piece of yours; heartache, anger, confusion, regret, guilt, misery, lonliness., peace, even
It's a sad but very moving story. Sadley this type of thing does really happen and sometimes in this way that it has been portrayed too. I found it very realistic. The way I read it Michael had been abused by his father. He probably spoke up about it, but maybe no-one believed him, so he moved away, ashamed of what had happened and to try to make a new life for himself. The family disowned him for speaking out. Have I got it right? To me as a reader I found it very moving. The characters were very believable as has been the scenerio and also the ending. I think you have hit the nail on the head very well here indeed. The only thing I will comment on really is the yellow piece of paper at the end. It sort of left me hanging a little bit because I was curious as to what it said on there. Was it a phone number? Could it have been a not saying it happened to her too? There are a few possibilities to tthis, but I do understand the way in which you wanted it to end. I thought this was a very good piece of writing and a story that will stick in my head for a very long time to come.

Sugar. xx

Author's Reply:
Hi Sugar ... yes, that's what I had in mind and I'm glad you liked it. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. The yellow paper was left for the reader to make up their own mind. It generated a lot of comment, so perhaps that didn't work. (or perhaps it did, as it made people think!) I'd hope it was a phone number, of his sister reaching out, or (more bleakly) looking for help. All the best, Steve.

Lottery (posted on: 28-05-07)
Life's a lottery. It could be you... 2,710 words.

'You can forget that,' said Claire. Ray looked at the watch for a few moments more, before focusing on his kids running around in the reflection of the shop window. 'Stop running!' shouted his wife. Ray turned back to the sober reality and the crowds of people swarming all over Croydon High Street. He glanced at the watch once more, then shouted at his kids. They stopped and came over. 'Can we have McDonalds?' said Little Ray. 'No,' said Ray. 'KFC?' said Katie. 'No,' said Claire. 'Burger King?' 'No. No. No. We'll have lunch when we get home,' said Claire. Little Ray opened his mouth. 'No!' she said, stamping a foot down.
Ray and Claire sat at the dining table, watching the kids eating their sandwiches and crisps in front of the television. Ray finished his tea quickly and picked at something that had dried hard on the table. 'I'm going to see Joe this evening,' he said. Claire shook her head and turned her mug around on the table. 'I won't be long.' She tutted. 'Don't worry,' he said. 'It's nothing.' 'I told you, Ray,' she said. 'I don't like it. I don't want you to go.' 'It's nothing,' said Ray. 'It's easy. There's no risk at all.' 'No risk?' she said, looking up at him. He grimaced. 'Well, hardly any.' She kept staring at him. 'None to speak of,' he said, but he knew he would never convince her.
When he got to the pub, Joe waved him over, towards the corner where he was sitting. Ray drank from an invisible glass and raised his eyebrows. Joe pointed at his full pint, so Ray bought a drink and sat at the small round table. Joe pulled a packet of cigarettes from his pocket, looked around and offered it to Ray. Joe lit his cigarette and then Ray's. 'Nice Zippo,' said Ray. Joe nodded and looked around. Ray followed Joe's eyes and surveyed the pub. It was fairly busy, but it looked like a normal evening. 'What are you looking for?' Joe lowered his head. 'You can't be sure who's listening,' he whispered. Ray looked around. 'Listening to what?' 'To us.' 'We haven't said anything yet,' said Ray. 'I know,' said Joe, now only moving his eyes from side to side, keeping his head low. Ray took a drink from his beer. 'So, what's the plan?' Joe screwed up his face and tapped the table. 'Shush.' Ray looked around and saw Frank and Elsie getting up from their table. Ray nodded at Frank. 'Goodnight, son,' said Frank, patting Ray on the shoulder as he moved past. 'Be careful,' said Joe. 'You never know who's listening.' 'Frank used to nick tiles off people's roofs,' said Ray. 'So?' 'He's about seventy years old and my old man's best mate.' Joe shrugged his shoulders. 'He's hardly likely to tell the police that I like your lighter, is he?' Joe put his hands down flat on the table. 'Let's get down to business, shall we?' Ray drew on his cigarette and nodded. 'My … contact … said that he will leave the doors of the warehouse open at … a certain time. He will make sure that there's no one there … at a certain time.' He looked around and then back at Ray. 'We get out the van and load up the merchandise.' Ray took a drink and nodded. 'We put the merchandise in my Mum's house.' Joe scanned the room. Ray sucked on his cigarette and Joe did the same. 'Right,' said Ray. 'I've got some buyers lined up. We leave the rest and sell them after a few weeks when the heat's died down.' 'Okay,' said Ray. 'And your mate is alright?' 'My contact is kosher,' said Joe. 'Stand on me. I'll put my professional reputation on it.' 'Okay. It seems easy.' 'It is. The televisions are so big, that no one would think twice about seeing us load up,' said Joe. Ray nodded. 'The bigger these things are, the easier it gets,' said Joe. He tapped out a tune on the table with his fingers. 'You could say,' he said, looking around, 'that they won't see the wood for the trees.' Ray frowned and shook his head. 'How many buyers have you got?' Joe looked around. 'Two.' 'Two? Is that all?' 'When you pull a job this big, you don't advertise it, do you?' He looked around quickly. 'And keep your voice down!' he hissed. Ray drank a lot of his beer down. 'Joe,' he said. 'I need the money now. That's why I said I would help you out. I can't afford to take the risk for the split of two TVs and then have to wait a few weeks. My mortgage –' Joe held his hand up. 'Please,' he said. 'Let's keep this on a professional basis.' Ray finished his beer and put the empty glass down. 'Who are the buyers?' 'You don't need to know. It's on a need to know basis. Leave that to me.' 'I want to know, Joe, or I'm out.' Joe drank some beer, looking carefully at Ray and then put the glass down. 'Okay,' he said. 'I'll tell you, but I'm trusting you, okay?' Ray rolled his eyes. 'I'm having one,' said Joe. 'Frank is having the other.' 'Frank?' said Ray, nodding at Frank and Elsie's now vacant table. 'Yep,' said Joe, stubbing his cigarette out in the ashtray. 'Snapped my hand off.' He rubbed his fingers together, dropping tobacco and broken cigarette filter onto the table. 'I asked him when I was waiting for you. That's why I didn't want to discuss it in front of him.' 'You've planned this carefully, haven't you?' Joe smiled and nodded his head. 'But he's my Dad's best mate.' 'I know,' said Joe, nodding his head slowly, still smiling. 'Are you getting the beers in?' Ray shook his head, stood up and went to the bar. Joe watched him carefully, thinking, planning. When he came back, Ian McPherson was sitting in his chair. 'Alright, Ian,' Ray said, pushing past to sit next to Joe. 'Alright, Razor,' he said. 'So, you boys got a job on, have ya?' 'What's this?' said Ray. 'It's okay,' said Joe, 'Ian's alright.' 'Joe, I know Ian well enough, thanks mate, but what are you playing at?' 'Ian said he might be interested in a television, right? Right, Ian?' 'Yeah,' he said, drinking and smiling, looking at Ray. 'Interested.' 'So, I thought that maybe we could do with some help,' said Joe. 'Help for what?' said Ray. 'For the job,' said Joe. Ian's grin looked like it might break into a titter at any moment. Ray rolled his eyes and turned to Joe. 'To carry some televisions?' 'For muscle, just in case.' He waited. 'Maybe he could drive.' 'Yeah, I can drive,' said Ian. 'I can drive good, Ray. Real good.' Ray's phone buzzed in silent mode in the pocket of his jacket, hanging on the back of Ian's chair. It continued to buzz intermittently all night until Ray felt it, as he stood outside the kebab shop at midnight, just after a boozy embrace to cement his new entrepreneurial career with Joe and Ian. They had gone their separate ways and Joe was standing in front of a row of shops pushing his mobile as hard as he could into his ear, so that he could hear the words as loudly as possible, not believing what they were telling him. He dropped his Doner Kebab onto the wet ground, spraying rancid meat and dried lettuce all over the pavement. It was Claire, screaming at him down the phone. They had won the lottery.
'Four million, two hundred and seventy six thousand pounds … and some pence,' said Ray, pushing bacon around the film of grease on his plate. He rolled a gooey substance around the roof of his mouth, the result of his hangover. 'Yes!' said Claire. She was too excited to eat. 'Can you believe it? The answer to all our prayers!' 'Can I believe it?' said Ray, now pulling a large piece of bacon towards his mouth, most of it dangling from his fork. 'No. Not really.' Claire spent the morning and early afternoon on the phone to everyone she knew, taking advice on good areas in which to buy a new house, amongst other things. She started off by telling everyone that there was nothing wrong with their current house, but she soon started to talk about Kingswood, the posh part of Cheshire where all the footballers lived, to Spanish mansions and Manhattan. Ray sat in front of Sky Sports and watched badminton from Malaysia through to a second division football match where he didn't know any of the players, drinking cans of strong lager and saying nothing. His trance ended when Claire tapped him on the shoulder and gave him the phone. 'It's for you,' she said, 'but hurry up as I've got more calls to make.' 'For me?' 'Hurry up, will you?' Ray took the phone and looked at it as though he had never seen one before. He put it to his head tentatively and said, 'hello?' 'It's Joe,' said the voice. 'Joe?' 'Yes, it's me, Joe. Listen, the job is set for tomorrow morning. I spoke to my mate, you know, the contact I told you about and he'll do what we said tomorrow, when they take their tea break, at half ten.' 'The job?' 'Ian's ready. My brother will lend us his van.' 'His van?' 'He doesn't know what it's for … and he never needs to know. Okay?' 'Listen, Joe,' said Ray. 'Look, I don't want to talk on the phone, because someone might be listening, okay?' 'Look, Joe?' 'I've got to go, Ray.' 'Joe, I've changed my mind.' 'You've what?' 'Changed my mind.' There was silence for a few moments. 'What do you mean, you've changed your mind?' 'I don't want to do the job, Joe.' There was more silence. 'Look, I don't want to … can we meet?' said Joe. 'There's no point, mate, I'm not doing it.' 'For God's sake, Ray, what are you talking about? You were all in for it last night. What you bottling for? Can we meet?' 'No, look, I just don't need to do it, okay?' 'Has your missus told you that you can't, or something? What about your mortgage problems? What are you talking about? All you have to do is help me load the bloody TVs in the van, and that's it.' 'Ian can do it.' 'Ian will be driving the van. I want us to jump in the back with the goods when we do the last one, so Ian can get away quickly.' Ray said nothing. 'You know? Like on the tele … quick.' Ray was looking at the football. One of the players was rolling around on the floor like he'd been shot. 'Ray? Are you still there? Ray?' 'Yeah, I'm still here. Joe, I just don't want to do it. Right?' Ray hung up. Claire was still frowning as she took the phone and walked away. Ray shrugged his shoulders and took another swig of beer. He hadn't done anything wrong. She might frown at him, but he didn't give a damn. He was a rich man. His own man.
The Spanish football was about to start, close to eight o'clock when the doorbell rang. Claire was standing in the hallway, talking on the phone, so she opened the door. She led Joe and Ian into the front room. They both smelled as if they had been in the pub a long time, so she ushered the kids from the room and left them to it. Joe and Ian watched her and smiled as she left the room. Without looking up, Ray took a sip from his can and asked them what they wanted. They looked at each other and sat down on the sofa, looking at Ray, now very drunk, legs open, beer can in hand. The smell of the pub drifted up Ray's nose and he thought it would be nice to shoot some pool. 'What to we want?' said Joe. 'Well, we want to know what the fuck you think you're doing, for a start. We planned this job very carefully, and you'll make me look like a right muppet if I don't do the job.' 'Job,' said Ray, sniggering. 'What a job that is.' Joe screwed up his face and looked at Ian. Ian was staring at Ray. 'I fucking give up with you, mate,' said Joe, standing up, looking at the screen. He walked to the door. 'Are you coming, Ian?' Ian kept still, staring. Ray could feel Ian's eyes burning into the side of his head but he would not confront them. Ian was different from Joe: he was a bit of a nutter when he felt like it. Ray suddenly realised he wasn't sure if he could turn his head, even if he wanted to, as a cold flush had washed across him and made him feel weak. His stomach convulsed and he turned his head over the side of the chair and puked on the floor. He watched a long strand of spittle spinning, running from his mouth to the pile of sick. His breath felt very hot. 'You fucking wanker,' said Ian, standing up, moving past Joe and out. Joe followed just behind. Ray's kids came into the room and peered down at their father's head, hanging even lower now, over the side of his chair. The commentator shrieked from the television as Real Madrid scored an early goal.
'I'll tell you what,' said Claire. 'It was nothing but luck, pure and simple.' 'You make your own luck, Babe,' said Ray, shutting the car door, pressing the button on his keyring to activate the central locking. The side-street was dark and quiet, the pavement wet from an April shower. He looked across the shiny Mercedes bonnet at his wife and admired her. She looked a million dollars with her newly bleached hair. The dangly gold earrings and jewellery made her look every inch a classy actress super-model singer. They still lived in Croydon and still loved the pleasures that the town had to offer, despite their immense new wealth. Ray had sworn that he wouldn't change, just because of money. 'If you had done that job with Joe and Ian, you'd have been banged up too,' she said, snapping her leopard-skin handbag shut. 'Yeah, true,' he said, pulling his jacket down. 'But I didn't, did I?' Four young men came out of the shadows. 'Hey man, got the time?' 'No,' said Ray, holding onto the word. 'Sure you have,' said the youth. 'On your wrist, here!' He grabbed Ray's wrist and pulled his arm up. As Ray pulled his arm away, they all saw his gold Rolex glinting in the gaze of the streetlight. 'See! Casio watch, man.' 'Hey baby,' said another one, walking up to Claire. 'Nice booty!' He slapped her bottom. 'Hey, get the fuck away!' shouted Ray. The leader's face contorted with fury. He slammed his fist into Ray's side, blinding him with pain. He kept thumping furiously, his eyes burning with energy, the soft chocolate-coloured middle, surrounded by brilliant white, boring its image into Ray's paralysed mind. His mouth snarling as he repeatedly stabbed him, the force keeping Ray leaning up against his beautiful silver car. He slowed down and stopped, watching and grinning as Ray slid onto the road. His friends watched, open-mouthed. No one could hear Claire screaming. She dropped her handbag onto the floor. The leader reached down and took out Ray's old and battered wallet and put it into his pocket. There was eighty five pounds in it. 'Get the bitch's bag!' he shouted. No one moved. 'Jamie! The bag!' The boy next to Claire shook himself out of his trance and looked at her. He could see no bag. 'There ain't no bag,' he said, quietly. They ran off down the road. A door opened slightly. An old man looked carefully out, to see why there was a woman screaming outside his house.
End. (c) Steve Smith.

Archived comments for Lottery
e-griff on 28-05-2007
nice to see something from you again, Geeza.

Bit of a funny one this. Involving.
A few problems ... a lot of 'looking' around/watching, and some POV probs (Joe thinking and planning) but nothing major.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for reading/commenting Griff.

bluepootle on 28-05-2007
Well, you never know how things are going to turn out, do you? I found the bit in the pub the most involving, and I think you need that jolt of humour to get the reader's interest.

Could maybe do with extending the final scene, just to give it more of a build-up. It all seemed to move a bit quickly and be an anti-climax, for me, anyway.

Author's Reply:
I hope you mean you found some humour, rather than it needs some!
Wanted a quick ending to represent his quick ending. I think any more build-up and it was in danger of being boring, but could be wrong!
Thanks for reading/commenting.

KDR on 29-05-2007
Hello mate.

You just couldn't let them go and be happy, could you?
I thought the ending might have worked better if maybe the gang had been sent by Ian and/or Joe, though I know that might go against the random good luck/bad luck thing behind the story.
There were a couple of commas in places I wouldn't have put them, but I probably tend to put mine in all the wrong places anyway!
Characters are OK, IMO, but when did Claire get to find out about the job Ray was meant to go on? Didn't she go nuts when she saw the pile of sick, despite her happiness? There was scope for tension there - maybe she might have threatened to leave him, taking all the cash and leaving him with all the problems still?
I know you'd have an eye on the overall length of the piece, but the impression I got was that there was more story here than met the eye.

Still, it was another good read. It's perhaps a bit obvious that you've not written a lot for a while in places - it's not as smooth as a lot of your other tales from the dark side - but that's just one of those things.


Author's Reply:
Thanks, Karl.
I did consider having him done in by the guys that he let down, but I wanted to bring out the opportunistic nature of winning the lottery and being subjected to a random attack, rather than the revenge thread. I don't think a revenge story of this length would have offered any depth at all.
There is more story, which I hinted at - money worries, the strain on their relationship. I tried to phrase it in such a way that they had discussed him doing something illegal and he'd finally decided to. I didn't want to draw that out - not because of length, but because of relevance, really. I was really thinking about someone who got rich, then got it all taken away (and some) just as suddenly. Triggered by a conversation with the Mrs, this was!
Thanks for reading and commenting, mate.

Rupe on 30-05-2007
I liked the pace of the narrative, the atmosphere & dialogue, but the plot seemed a bit too simple & predictable.

It might just be me, however, but it seemed all too easy that he wins the lottery & all too likely that he'd get his come-uppance in the end. That said, the basic ingredients are OK, but maybe it needs working on some more. I agree with bluepootle that the ending needs more build-up & with KDR that you could make more of the tension between Claire & Ray.

Also - what if they'd won a smaller amount in the lottery? That way, it would be much more of a dilemma whether he was going to do the job or not, whereas given that he's won millions it becomes a no-brainer. What if his associates find out about the winning? What if Claire had bought the lottery tickets & was threatening to walk out with the kids & the cash if he did the crime?

All these just examples - the main thing was I felt it needed more dramatic tension overall.


Author's Reply:
Hi Rupe,
I replied to KDR above, so won't repeat too much - or want to sound defensive! - but I wasn't going for "plot" per se. I was exploring the idea of someone getting something good suddenly (that was desparately needed), then suddenly losing it (and more). I tried to inject some humour in there too. (not sure if that worked).
The associates (and wife, to an extent) were there to add the humour and to hint at his financial situation. Developing a plot to this would have made it novella size!
Thanks for reading and commenting,

discopants on 31-05-2007
I think pretty much everything has been covered. The story keeps us involved and is set up by the scene in the pub although I couldn't help wondering why they had met in the pub to discuss the job if they were so jumpy about people overhearing them. Couldn't they have gone somewhere quieter- Selhurst Park, for example πŸ˜‰

Incidentally, after the opening scene outside the jewellers (which links in to the ending) nothing is really seen of the 2 kids- are they necessary to the story and if they are to be in it, perhaps they could play more of a role.

I'll be up in Croydon all this coming weekend- I'll look out for any 'Rays'



Author's Reply:
In mind mind I had Joe following some kind of stereotypical "job" that he'd seen on the TV - i.e, acting the way he thought this things were discussed. Just a berk, really!
I detail more in my replies to KDR and Rupe, but the whole thing was about getting something you want/need, improving your life immeasurably and then losing it all just as quick. The other characters are secondary, really.
You'll see a lot of Rays walking around Croydon, sitting in the back street pubs. You'll see me too - as I have to go to the shops there, Saturday!
Thanks for reading and commenting,

Maudlin (posted on: 30-03-07)
This is my effort on Rupe's prose workshop challenge. The supplied text is in bold. Words: 1,510.
*** ***

Death had little immediate impact on Rachel's daily routines. She remained in the family home. She even continued to work. As the Instigator said, with typical vulgar cheerfulness, 'There's no point letting a little thing like that stop you from earning.' However, gradual changes were afoot. In the evenings she, along with several other candidates, attended Orientation Classes. The Instructor prepared them for the challenges that lay ahead; for the transition into the realm of eternal dreams. 'I feel liberated,' said Holly, putting her hands together and letting them drop between her legs. 'Truly liberated.' The five women looked at her open-mouthed, waiting for more. 'That's it,' she said. 'I've no more to say.' 'Okay,' said the prim and pretty class instructor, pausing for dramatic effect. 'Truly liberated. Thank-you … Holly.' She scribbled on her pad, her slender fingers holding a silver pen. 'Truly liberated,' she whispered, still writing. She looked up sharply. 'Who's next?' she said through a sickly smile. All was still. 'Okay, Maude. Tell us about the end and tell us how you are going to exploit your golden future.' The oldest woman in the room turned carefully to each woman in the circle, a grotesque grin held rigidly in place. They could see the lop-sided and yellowing teeth behind the scarlet pink lipstick. She stopped at the instructor, opened her mouth and nothing came out. 'What's wrong, dear?' said the instructor. 'Cat caught your tongue?' Maude stared back, transfixed. 'Come along, don't be shy, now. We're all friends. We're all in this together,' said the instructor, singing the final sentence at an unnatural pitch. The old woman nodded slowly. 'Was it your husband?' The old lady remained still, apart from the rapid movement of her swollen tongue. 'Did your husband –' 'Yes,' said Maude. 'He did.' There was silence, as the perky instructor and her shiny red corporate lips turned to fully face the old woman who badly needed a bath. Engage your client. 'Can you tell us more?' said the instructor, Miss K Perkins of Raynes Park. 'Yes,' said Maude. Again, silence. 'Please … please share with the group. You are all here on account of your husbands and what they did to you. Each one of you had some filthy and disgusting man toss you aside like a broken doll. A worn and unloved broken doll. You need not be afraid. You are all the same.' 'I found out,' said Maude, looking at the door, 'that he was … with … another woman.' 'Good grief!' said Miss Perkins. 'Really? And at your age!' Maude looked down and nodded. 'Yes.' 'And?' Maude gripped one hand with the other and looked up. Miss Perkins' small breasts were heaving up and down very quickly, the white frills of her brassiere just visible behind her black blouse. Maude pictured her pale skin, baby smooth to the touch. 'I told him that it was not right,' she said. 'That he shouldn't do that.' 'More power to his elbow,' said Miss Perkins quietly, writing on the pad. 'How old is he?' 'Seventy seven.' 'Heavens above,' she said. 'Tell us what happened, Maude.' 'He told me that he was going to leave me and go and live with … this other woman.' 'How did you find out he was with another woman, Maude?' said Rachel. 'They were in bed, having sex, when I came home from bingo,' she said. 'Good grief!' said Miss Perkins. 'So you saw them … at it?' 'She was riding him like a cowboy,' said Maude. 'Oh,' said Miss Perkins. 'I see.' 'When I first opened the door, I thought she was killing him. Strangling him. You know.' She paused. 'I wish that she was.' She paused again. 'She was naked, though … so I realised what she was doing.' 'Oh,' said Miss Perkins. 'So … what happened then?' 'She started screaming,' said Maude. 'Because you had found them?' 'No. She was having an orgasm.' The group fell silent. Holly looked down and failed to completely suppress a giggle. 'Her breasts were very hard,' said Maude. 'Not like mine.' 'Okay. Let's move on. How did it all end? How did you come to be here?' 'She had a bath. She had a bath in my bath. Those perfect buttocks, those legs … in my bath.' 'Yes, but how did –' started Miss Perkins. 'That dirty cunt had a bath in my bath!' Miss Perkins flushed red. 'Okay, Maude. Well, let's leave it there for now.' She turned away quickly. 'Rachel, do you want to tell us what happened to you?' Rachel continued looking at Maude for a moment, then swallowed hard and cleared her throat, looked around and smiled. 'Okay. Right. One evening when my husband and I were sitting down to eat – ' 'She even used my towels!' said Maude, looking up, tears falling down her cheeks. 'She fucked my husband … in my bed … then washed herself … and then left.' They all looked at the old woman, dressed in grey and green. Her saggy tights gathered in rolls just above her swollen ankles. 'Then he got rid of me,' she said. 'Fifty years of marriage and he got rid of me and no one cares.' 'We care,' said Holly, tilting her head, looking at Maude. 'Yes,' sang Miss Perkins, writing on her pad. 'We all care. But Maude, you see … it's a new beginning for you. You can do what you've always wanted to do, realise those dreams. Think about that.' 'I never went on top, in all our years of marriage,' said Maude, still watching the floor. 'I see,' said Miss Perkins. 'I want to do that. That's my dream,' said Maude. 'Okay,' said Miss Perkins, smiling, turning back to Rachel. 'If you could carry on.' 'I never screamed like that in all my married life,' said Maude. She looked at Miss Perkins. 'Have you?' Miss Perkins touched the side of her head. 'Have I what, dear?' 'Screamed so loud, as each nerve-ending shakes with the force of an earthquake, that you wanted to burst?' Miss Perkins' jaw dropped. 'That's what it looked like, from where I was standing,' said Maude, lowering her head again. 'Rachel?' said Miss Perkins. 'Yes?' said Rachel, distracted. 'Please carry on,' said Miss Perkins. 'And don't stop.' Rachel looked confused. 'Don't stop for anything,' said Miss Perkins. 'Well, when it … happened. I decided to stay in the family home. Why should I have to go?' said Rachel, looking around. 'Right?' 'Yeah, right!' said Doris. 'Why the fuck should you?' 'I bet your husband didn't have a whore wash her filthy and contaminated body in your bath, though,' said Maude to her shoes. 'I was upset,' said Rachel, 'but I wanted to carry on as normally as possible. I didn't want to let him win. I didn't want him to know I was broken inside.' 'Bastard!' said Doris. 'Slut!' shouted Maude. They turned to look at her. She sneered. 'Not you,' she told Rachel. 'I mean that bitch that humped my Fred like he was a piece of meat.' 'He trivialised it all,' said Rachel. 'How so, dear?' said Miss Perkins. 'When I told him that I was going to carry on working, he told me that a little thing like that shouldn't stop me from earning.' Rachel shook her head. '''Little thing'' he said it was.' 'My Fred was little,' said Maude. 'He used to call it ''His Beast''.' She shook her head. 'Chipolata.' 'How can he say it's a little thing?' said Rachel. 'Well, some people see it as something that you do for a while, then you move on and do something else or do it all again.' Miss Perkins paused and looked around. 'Phases,' she said. 'People see it as one phase after another. It's part of life.' 'He said he met her on the internet. I mean where else would he find some twenty odd year old slag that would want him? Who would want that bastard? Who?' said Maude. She looked up. Her eyes were wide, the broken capillaries pulsating with every thump of her saggy chest. 'He was just … ambivalent. He didn't care,' said Rachel. 'Fucking internet,' said Maude. 'When I wanted to talk to him, he would just sit at his computer … he didn't want to listen. He didn't want to communicate.' Rachel licked her lips and cleared her throat when she had finished speaking. She wiped at her misty eyes. 'Well, sometimes, we just have to let go. Marriages start and marriages end. You have to look forward now, Rachel,' said Miss Perkins. 'Reach for the sky and enjoy your life. That's what we're here to help you to do.' 'But why didn't he care?' said Rachel. 'Why did he do it?' 'Fucking internet,' said Maude. 'Full of beasts and cock-sucking perverts.' She stamped her foot as she said the last word. They all jumped at the noise and saw that the shoe that had hit the ground was much bigger than her other one.
(c) Steve Smith. 2007.

Archived comments for Maudlin
Seebaruk on 30-03-2007
Quality, I wish all old people were as foul mouthed and funny as Maude πŸ™‚ Fucking Internet indeed. Great story, had me laughing, and good to see Raynes Park (my current residence) get a mention too

Author's Reply:
I'm not really sure why Raynes Park came into my head, actually!
Poor old Maude. She had a tough time. Glad you liked it and laughed. I didn't know if it was funny or just rubbish! I thought it was funny, but I tend to laugh at the wrong moments, so hard for me to gauge. Cheers. Steve.

Rupe on 30-03-2007
I thought the dialogue was excellent - you've caught the different voices very well. I particularly liked the contrast between the Instructor's gradually crumbling professionalism, Maude's cracked, strident confessions, and Rachel's timid attempts to say her piece.

I thought Maude was a horribly accurate sketch of a certain kind of old person who's had a disappointing life, is nearing the end & no longer cares about social niceties or what they say.

I don't think you needed to say ' prim and pretty class instructor' - the primness comes out in her speech anyway. Prettiness is more debatable. Is it relevant in the context? Demure, maybe?

It wasn't clear to me in what way Rachel, or any of the others, had died as such. I don't think it matters though - I'd chuck away the beginning, start with Holly, and then you've got an excellent dialogue piece.


Author's Reply:
Glad you liked Maude. I quite liked her myself by the end.
"Demure" could well be a better word.
I never said they had died in their physical forms - I was trying to play on the "dying" of their marriages - and the reader can decide for themselves if they're physically dead too. It must not have come across, as another comment is mentioning physical death - unless the piece was read with pre-loaded expectations of physical death, which would be fair enough, given the circumstances. When trying to think of something not in keeping with the narrow path set at the beginning, the"staying in the family home" made me think of divorced people who do that (which set me off).
But agree that the beginning is not required. Second time running I did that - don't think I'm cut out for being inspired by an opening! I prefer an image.
Thanks for reading and commenting, Rupe.


e-griff on 30-03-2007
I thought this was excellent, especially the interplay of the dialogue between the personalities so cleverly woven in. All in all a fine story.

My only observation is that really, it owes little to the opening lines in my opinion. πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:
Thanks, John. Think I agree re: your last sentence (as per my comment to Rupe, above). Glad you liked it!


delph_ambi on 30-03-2007
The opening gave you a great idea for a story, but as others have said, the given opening doesn't have much relevance to what happens subsequently, so if you were to use this one anywhere else you'd be best off dropping it.

Great dialogue. Completely convincing. Clever the way you manage to get the conversations going across each other without it ever becoming confusing.

Author's Reply:
Yes, I agree re: the opening. (see comment to Rupe, above). Glad you liked it - and glad I managed to convince you re: Maude as she's a little bit ... unusual!

josiedog on 30-03-2007
Seebaruk said it, but I'll say it again, bloomin' quality. I properly laughed out loud.
That dialogue could go any where, it stands ob its own.
What an old bird she is.
"Riding him like a cowboy.." is where it starts for me, and then it just keeps on coming.
I was gonna whinge about one line, but I misread it: I thought you'd written "...her saggy tits gathered in rolls around her ankles..." but luckily I went back for a second look.
Mind you...

Author's Reply:
Yes, the letters "gh" could have dropped for an attempt at an exaggerated joke couldn't they? However, not my intention!
Glad you laughed - as I said to Seebaruk, I didn't know if it was funny or just odd nonsense. There are Maudes crawling all over Croydon on Thursday mornings when the pensions are paid out...
Thanks for reading and commenting.

bluepootle on 30-03-2007
Lovely dialogue, and very adeptly handled. I can't imagine why a 20 year old would get together with a 77 year old though. It bothered me. Maybe you could give a little bit more description to Maude to make this work - is her husband very rich? Or lowering the age wouldn't seem to affect the story too much.

Rachel comes across weakly compared to Maude: you could beef Rachel up and make this more of a confrontation. I suppose what I'm saying is that I loved the idea of the room of murdered wives, and I wanted more about their viewpoints, rather than just Maude's. Still, Maude is highly entertaining!

Author's Reply:
Yeah, could knock some age off - wanted it to be a real big difference to give the "yuk" factor, but perhaps too much. The piece of fluff could've been much older, as it's only Maude's jealousy and anger describing it. Might make him sixty, or so? (Any futures readers wondering - the husband was 77, if you see he is now younger).

See comment above about murdered wives - they could be - but I didn't say that! (I think). Not unless I pre-loaded something without realising, or you (and others did) assumed they were dead for the challenge. This bit may not have worked, as I was trying to turn the living-dead existence thing into a kind of analogy about divorce. I was trying to be too clever, probably! (Although a room of murdered wives would be an interesting Oprah...)
Thanks for reading and commenting, BP. Glad you liked the dialogue.

RichardZ on 02-04-2007
Maude's definitely the star. πŸ™‚

You managed to get her constant stream of interjections just right, so that I did not get confused as to who was speaking.

Good stuff.


Author's Reply:
Thanks, Richard. Thanks for reading and commenting.

KDR on 13-04-2007
Hi Steve,
Like a lot of others, I thought the dialogue was brilliant and the characterization of Miss Perkins and Maude was equally good. Maude probably deserves another story to herself, tbh! πŸ˜‰
Doing this late, and just woke Becky up by laughing at the 'saggy tits' comment posted above, because I misread it the same way. So that'll be me in trouble...

Like some others, I thought these were actually dead women, murdered by their husbands. Probably says more about how my mind works (even if I'm not alone, which is a comfort).
As for the link to the opening lines...the only one I'd worry about is the 'eternal dreams' stuff. The rest of it is obviously is a class of some type. Perhaps 'Orientation Classes' for the recently divorced could be some new 'New Labour' initiative? Why it would ever come about is something I'll leave to you. πŸ™‚


Author's Reply:
Hi mate
Yes, Maude's character probably could give some mileage. Thinking of her being sent to Blackpool on an old folks' week away... that'd be an experience and a half (for Blackpool).
I think people perhaps assumed they were dead (and perhaps they were?) because of the nature of the opening paras and the challenge itself. I think it'd be a bit tame for a New Labour initiative - almost sensible and worthwhile. They're more likely to implement something along the lines of benefit schemes for plants with bent stalks, acid-affected raindrops or councilling for suicide bombers that bottle it at the last minute.
Thanks for reading and commenting!

Mistakes (posted on: 09-03-07)
Wounds sometimes won't heal until you do something about it - and it's never too late to try. 1,015 words.
This is my effort at e-griff's prose workshop challenge. The supplied words from the challenge are highlighted in bold at the beginning of the story - the rest are mine.

I didn't like him. I handed him the gloves and he nodded. I didn't like that smirk. He said nothing, just turned away, his broad back mocking me. Tomorrow, I promised myself. That night there was a storm – violent, tropical. Lightning rent the sky, thunder crashed and rain sleeted down, oppressive. I couldn't sleep, thinking of the next day, as the water gurgled in the gutters and pipes. The next morning, I went out early. I could feel the heat of the morning sun, pulling the moisture from the long grass as I walked alongside the road. The damp smell made a refreshing change from the clouds of dust that would dirty a white dress before you could reach church. I stopped at the gate, rickety with age, and looked at the house. It looked worn and more tatty than when I lived there, but otherwise just the same. There were fresh flowers on the porch, as my mother had always demanded of my father, despite the fact she had been dead many years. I saw the curtain twitch, and knew it was too late to back out. I walked up the path, cracked and dotted with small weeds. He had made efforts to keep the house tidy, but he was old and tired. I knocked on the door and waited. No answer came, so I tried again. As I let go of the knocker, I could see it needed painting. I thought of Him, and how he rapped the door with it, all those years ago, shouting for me to come out. 'Daddy! Open the door … please.' It opened. His blue eyes looked dull and he had aged a lot since I saw him last. He looked at me, as if I was a stranger, but opened the door wide so that I could go in. It smelled musty but clean. Everything was as I remembered it last, but older, much older. Every ornament was in the same place. He passed me and walked into the kitchen, so I followed. 'Do you want something to drink?' 'Yes, please.' 'I've got … milk?' I waited for something else, but he looked at me, expectant. I nodded. 'Thanks.' He poured it into a glass carefully, hand shaking. I watched, saying nothing. I had not spoken to him for ten years and I had nothing to say. Nothing that made any sense. He put the glass on the table in front of me and looked up. 'How are you, Sarah?' 'I'm fine, Daddy.' 'Good.' He swallowed hard. 'And how are those grandchildren?' 'Fine.' I said. 'Just fine.' 'I … saw you,' he said, 'with them, one afternoon in town. Both of them.' 'Oh,' I said. 'Couple of years back,' he said. 'Guess they must've grown some by now.' 'Yes,' I said. 'Grown a lot.' There was a long pause as we both looked at the glass of milk. 'Larry said that he met you once in the square,' he said, looking up at me. I said nothing. 'He said they were a couple of fine looking kids. He said that he gave them a dime each for a treat.' 'Yes. I remember that day.' 'I,' he said, but coughed and rubbed his face with his old hands that were still as big as shovels. 'What, Daddy?' 'I wanted to … I wanted to ask their names, but … I felt … I didn't feel that I could.' 'You should have,' I said. I realised how silly that sounded. 'Kevin and Rebecca.' He looked at me like I had revealed a great secret. 'Kevin and Rebecca,' I repeated. 'We call her Becky.' 'Like your grandmother,' he said. 'Like Lou's mother.' 'And Kevin is your middle name,' I said. 'Yes it is,' he said, nodding, 'it's my middle name.' 'I'm sorry, Daddy,' I said, quickly. I looked down. Even the milk seemed too wholesome to look at. 'Sorry for what, Sarah?' I felt a tear running down each cheek. 'Sorry for … everything.' He didn't speak. 'I made some big mistakes. I've regretted those mistakes every second since I … since I left.' There was silence. I felt his huge hand on my shoulder. 'Everyone makes mistakes,' he said. 'Everyone.' 'When Mummy died … I … I couldn't … I couldn't cope.' He squeezed my shoulder. I looked at the tatty cupboard, and then the plates, arranged just how Mummy liked. I felt such emptiness, such selfishness. I remembered the dances, I remembered how I started going to them the Saturday following the funeral, I remembered the feverish teenage sex, the pain release and meeting Him. I remembered again when he banged on the door that day and dragged my pregnant body around to his house. I remembered the chapel wedding and the three guests. After that, I remembered nothing at all. Just his brutality. 'Everyone makes mistakes,' he said, softly. 'He'll never let me leave alive,' I said. 'Everyone makes mistakes,' he repeated.
'Where the hell have you been?' he shouted, opening the door. 'And who the … and what's he doing here?' His shoulders seemed to rear up, and his muscled body covered the entire doorway. I looked at Daddy. He was completely still. 'I've come to take my girl home,' he said, quite simply. Frank blinked at him. 'You've come to what?' 'Take my little girl home,' he said. 'As well as my grandson and granddaughter.' 'Have you lost your mind, old man?' he said, stepping down, still towering over us both. 'I could crush you like a –' He put his hand around Daddy's neck and smiled. 'Leave him – ' I jumped back as something exploded in my head. I was bent over, shocked, partly blinded, but I looked up and saw Frank's mouth open, surprise on his face. His hand was bright red, holding his chest. Daddy had a pistol, still aimed at him. He shot it again, sending Frank tumbling to the side. 'I should've done that ten years ago,' he said, dropping the pistol, turning to me. 'I made mistakes too.'
(c) Steve Smith. 2007.

Archived comments for Mistakes
Ginger on 09-03-2007
Hope you don't mind a little crit. I felt this should have been much longer. The story rolled smoothly along as she came home, all at a good pace. Then they went to hubby, and it was all over in a flash (so to speak). IMHO, that scene could be drawn out effectively, creating more tension, and giving a better feeling of yuck towards the hubby. More of an argument, maybe?

Anyway, just my thoughts, discard at will! πŸ™‚

Also, there was a nice nip at the end.


Author's Reply:
No, don't mind crit at all!
I agree, re: the ending. Should've put more into it.
Thanks for reading and commenting!

Rupe on 09-03-2007
A couple of specific points first:

'I walked up the path, cracked and dotted with small weeds'
-- Technically ambiguous. I'd put a 'which was' before 'cracked' to sort it out.

'It smelled musty but clean'
-- This struck me as bit odd. I've been in houses that smelled musty but LOOKED clean, but I don't think it works to combine clean and musty under smell - musty implies some sort of rotting & by extension not a clean smell.

What I liked:

-- The detail about the glass of milk. It's got connotations both of childhood security, poverty, and simplicity that are really telling in this piece. Excellent stuff.
-- The fact that you don't waste words & particularly that you go very easy on adjectives and adverbs. It's always possible to shave off a few words here and there, but there's very little excess fat on this piece & the words you've chosen carry the intended meaning well.
-- The general outline of the story is believable & the twist at the end, though surprising, is not too contrived. It fits.

What I didn't like:

-- I agree with Ginger that this could be longer. It's good bit of writing, but my overall feeling is that it has the shape & implied issues of a longer piece of fiction & you've just condensed it down. As such, it seems - not clichΓ©d - but not especially striking. Yet the issues implicit in it would stand more involved treatment.
-- There's a slight mixing of British and US English here, isn't there? The setting seems to be in the US ('he gave them a dime each') but you've also got words like 'tatty' & a few extra prepositions, which tend to be dropped more frequently in US English as far as I'm aware. Do they use 'tatty' in the US?
-- Most trivial criticism - since it relates to the terms of the exercise & not the quality of the piece itself. I don't think you really went with the beginning. You got it out of the way & then reverted back to the territory where you feel happiest writing. At least that's the impression I got. Nothing wrong with that in a way - there's no sense in writing about what you're not interested in. But the fact you put the opening sentences in bold sort of says it all ('nothing to do with me squire...').


Author's Reply:
Thanks for all that feedback, Rupe.
I'm not sure about the path bit - technically ambiguous, yes, but there's no mistaking it refers to the path - I'll have a think.
Agree re: the musty - and yes, rotting is not clean - need to be "looked" like you say.
Agree re: the ending, as per Ginger. And yes, it was supposed to be set in the US - and shall review and look for words that could be better americanised. Good point.
I guess I took only the mood from the storm at the beginning. I did this quickly on Wednesday and couldn't really think of anything with gloves - although, waking up this morning, I did, so I might have another go.
Again - thanks for taking the time to put down your thoughts.

sirat on 09-03-2007
I agree with Lisa about the slightly abrupt ending. I would add a small criticism about the beginning, which I felt was a bit flat -- the emotional weight of the moment didn't come across for me. The terse dialogue between father and daughter is good, and communicates the awkwardness that they feel in one another's presence. It's a story that I think should focus on relationships and emotions rather than action, and I'm not sure that the surprise ending involving the gun was the best way to bring it to a resolution. I would have liked some kind of confrontation in which the power of the father's personality reduces the bully to a sniveling wreck. Maybe I'm asking for a bit much there! It's a good story and with a bit more work could be a great one.

Author's Reply:
That's odd, you've got a load of space at the end of your reply!
Agree with your thoughts on the ending. When writing, I wanted him to do something quick and decisive - but perhaps that was too much.
Thanks, David.

e-griff on 09-03-2007
I'll not repeat the saem, but i agree generally with the others about the end.

Isn't it funny? so far Rupe and Blue have a villain with the same name (Mercer) and you and delph have wife-beaters.
(wonder what was on TV last week?)

Author's Reply:
Thanks, John. I agree too. Same name is a bit spooky, for sure. I'm going to do another one over the weekend that I thought of this morning that's a bit off-the-wall (and has gloves!), so stand by for that one!
Thanks for reading and commenting.

delph_ambi on 09-03-2007
Hmm... I disagree with the others about the ending. She's spent ten years in this miserable marriage. She could've got out. Needn't have suffered all that time. So I like the contrast that when she finally goes to her father, it really takes no time at all to resolve the situation.

Very well told story.

Author's Reply:
I wanted the action to be quick and decisive, but I guess gun is probably the least imaginative. You can end any story by just pulling a gun and shooting. I think it had to be a violent act - in his language - but he was old and a fist fight would've been a little hard to believe! There was a lot of pent up feelings in there for the characters.
Thanks for reading and commenting.

Flash on 09-03-2007
Hi Steve

I have to be honest, i don't think this worked for me. The sudden intense ending looked a tad rushed, in fact the whole piece had a feeling of something that was rushed about it. Like a previous commentor noted , the switch between the American and English voice was notciable and halting. I think Americans say Mommy as opposed to our Mummy. I think it's better in an English setting myself, and a story that would pan out better if extended.


Author's Reply:
Hi Alan - how's you? I do regret the gun, although I wanted it resolved quickly - but perhaps I should've thought it through more. Yes, it's certainly "Mommy". I put it in America as it felt like mid-west US and the dusty setting thereafter seemed to fit better. Ta for reading and commenting, mate.

Claire on 09-03-2007
Hi there hun, now I liked the ending, yeah the piece may be much better with an extension. But, to me, I found the speech was the biggest problem, I kept losing track of who said what near the beginning and in places it sounded a little clumsy--deffo not your normal style.

Overall, the story itself is good, but it needs that little bit more to make it special. Maybe more descriptions, or even a flashback.

Author's Reply:
Hi Claire,
Thanks for reading and commenting. Interested to see where you thought the speech was confusing? I had a quick look and couldn't see it. I think that's probably the hardest thing for the writer to pick up.
Again - ta for comments!

RichardZ on 09-03-2007
Hey, Geeza. πŸ™‚

Well, they all got here before me. I agree with the ending that it's very fast. Picking up on something Sirat said though, I too would have liked her father not to stoop to Frank's level. (Or even excede it in this case.)
It's a shame for Sarah to reconcile with her father, only to see him go to prison for the remainder of his days over Frank-the-prat.

Other than that, there was one line that I chafed on.

'There was a long pause as we both looked at the glass of milk.'

Your piece is very neat overall, and while this does fit in with the overall style, I felt it was too clinical.

I'd have liked Sarah to voice her thoughts during this, that she couldn't hold his gaze, and he couldn't hold hers, the emotions behind it, regret, embarrassment, fear, etc.

Other than those mini-gripes, I liked where you went with this, even though the melancholy feel brought me down a bit. πŸ™‚



Author's Reply:
Hope it didn't bring you down too much!
Thanks for that. I wanted him to do something quite decisive to represent the change, but I agree that the gun was probably too easy (and a bit crass), and I should have tried to construct something a little less obvious.
Cheers for reading/commenting - Steve.

KDR on 09-03-2007
Hi Steve,

Bit of a change for you to do a bit of 'gender-hopping', but this still worked. I found myself going back and re-reading a couple of things near the beginning, but thought the imagery in the opening para was good. I thought it might carry on in the same vein, but it kind of faded after awhile.

British/US English: I know it's been noted, and you know more about US terminology, etc, than I do, but maybe if this was a New England setting? They do tend to use more 'British' terms than is normal in the States (or seem to).

The ending, though quite good, felt like it was bolted on somehow, like it wasn't the 'true' ending. It didn't quite jibe for me, and was (as you've noted elsewhere) a bit of a cop-out.
I'd have liked the old man to have countered the hostility and aggression in other ways...and just because he is old, doesn't mean he still can't throw a punch (or bend Frank's thumb back... Doesn't have to be all 'haymakers').


Author's Reply:
Karl, Funny you should mention the gender thing. I thought the provided opening indicated male - which it probably doesn't and is probably because I am male - but it made me determined to make the character female.
For the language, I had it in mind as a mid-west setting but it wasn't foremost in mind to maintain it, and therefore it slipped - thus proving it's hard to write what you don't know. I think it probably only falls down in a couple of places, but it's enough. If I had written it previously and come back to it, hopefully I would've picked up on it myself.
Bend his thumb ... ha ha. I did want the ending to be quick, decisive and strong - but the gun was the wrong object. Characters that are violent can be out-argued - probably easier than most - but it would always descend back to their level, from the frustration and because it's what they know. I can't think how an old man could grab his daughter back, and the kids, without doing something quite out of the ordinary and final, else the bully would've just beat him up!
Thanks for reading and commenting, as usual!

RoyBateman on 11-03-2007
Hi, Steve - well, that's what I get for coming relatively late to a piece...it's all been said! I'm sure that you could expand this relatively easily, building on the already good atmosphere a little and allowing the final scene a bit more breathing space - I had to re-read it to make sure I'd got it fully, though it made perfect sense when I did. Whatever you do, it's obviously not going to please everyone (Who does??) but I'm sure there's general agreement that this only needs a bit of work to produce a very powerful story with a stunning ending. And, I'm quite sure you're capable of doing that!

Author's Reply:
Many thanks for your kind words. Agree that it could get better with some more work/thought.
Cheers for reading and commenting!

bluepootle on 11-03-2007
I felt that, rather than drag out the confrontation (which does have a kind of abrupt justice about it at the moment which could easily be lost in tinkering) I'd go for adding more emotional/historical depth in the scene between her and her father. Lets have more reminiscence of the relationships, and maybe introduce the gun motif earlier (could her husband have threatened her with a gun? tie it in so that you increase the sense of this being justice) so that the sense that the time for words is over is really heightened. Hope that gives you some fresh ideas...

Author's Reply:
Thanks, BP - you could be right. It was a quick ending I wanted, but following comments, I'm not sure a gun was the right object, but I'm still okay with the speed of it. If it wasn't quick and decisive, I feel the bully would've just whacked the old man.
Cheers - Steve.

SugarMama34 on 14-03-2007
Hi Geezer. I found this an interesting write and I liked the way it flowed (wish mine would flow as well as this). I thought that the dialogue was very good and the story was believable. It had a hint of mystery about it at the start as we didn't know if the person going to the house was male/female or why after so many years they were going back there. I enjoyed the imagery too, it wasn't over done and was just right for this story, however, I do agree with the others about the ending cut too short. I think you could make it longer and more powerful between your three characters - show the emotions and the reactions of each one. A story I've enjoyed.


Author's Reply:
Hi. Yes, the ending can definitely do with something a bit different. I haven't thought of anything that seems plausible yet! Many thanks for reading and commenting.

Seebaruk on 15-03-2007
Hey, definitely very little that I can add that hasn't already been said. I loved the awkwardness of the daughter and father reunion, it felt very real. The ending is a bit of a debater, on one hand it feels rushed, but on another, I doubt the father would have very much to say to the guy anyway, especially if he'd already decided to blow him away! Maybe the husband could have lashed out at him before getting shot or something, but whatever, it was a good read πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:
Glad it felt real. The ending did provoke a lot of opinion, so I'm happy about that, as hopefully the beginning and middle made people care enough to think about it!
Many thanks for reading and commenting.

In the shadows (posted on: 09-02-07)
Can you be sure that every shadow is empty? The idea came to me after I read KDR's "Woman" story. 269 words.

Watching and waiting. Waiting for what? To see her, smell her, hear her laugh. To reach out and withdraw, carefully, silently. When she walks near, to feel my heart racing, the dryness of the mouth, to blink at the pins in my eyes, to look down, to step away, the suppressed and strangled words. The simple words. I love you. I look at her fingers, imagine her toes, the shape of her leg, its firmness, its pale milky colour. Her strawberry blonde hair, covering her neck, the nape, the area I want to press my lips against. Her blue eyes, deep, true. See me, touch me, talk to me. In the bar, I see her talking with colleagues. I see the introduction, the stranger. I see the flirting, the look, the touching of the hair, the straightening of the tie, the licking of the lips. I see the foot come out of the shoe, the toes moving, stretching. I see it slip inside, the penetration. I see the taxi and the two silhouettes bobbing with excitement. I feel emptied. I see her walking to the shop. I see the newspaper, the bread, the milk. Her dirty trainers, the tatty coat, the hair: tied up, the neck, his mouth. I feel the kitchen knife in my pocket, the tip, the prick, the blood, the rush, the involvement. Interaction. It's me, it's her, we're together. I'm hidden. There is no one else. I see her front door and I see her. She will know me. She approaches. I reach out and she passes untouched, not knowing. I sheath the knife. Tomorrow.
(c) Steve Smith. 2007.

Archived comments for In the shadows
Romany on 09-02-2007
In the shadows
This was intriguing. Probably a quite realistic account of what goes through 'his' mind before he attacks her finally, if he does at all. But how I imagine I would know that I don't know! If you see what I mean. The word 'involvement' jarred a bit for me, seemed out of keeping somehow, but can't say why. Sorry, not much help am I?


Author's Reply:
"He" could be a "she"! (unlikely, of course). I'll have a think about that word - thanks.
Thanks for reading and commenting!

SugarMama34 on 09-02-2007
In the shadows
An interesting short story of what could be a stalker/jealous ex-lover. I think you show the emotions well in this so the reader can see a brief look into this guys mind. It's quite un-nerving in a way and made me shiver in just thinking of the senario. I liked the way that you built up the suspence too and the ending was not disappointing either. I enjoyed the read. Cheers From Lis'.xx

Author's Reply:
Thank-you. Appreciate your time to read and comment.
I read KDR's story "Woman" and the final part of that gave me an idea. The idea was to chill the reader, so pleased it worked for you!

juliet on 09-02-2007
In the shadows
I liked the fact he didn't go through with it, gives it much more realism. Suspense built well and nice attention to detail. However would have liked more of a sense of the narrator and why he/she feeling that way.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for reading and commenting!

e-griff on 09-02-2007
In the shadows
I know this is flash, but knowing your writing, I would have preferred a full story on the theme, which you have rightly identified has potential, but have not explored fully, IMO ... πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:
Hi John - yes, has potential, but it's probably a bit "done". After reading KDR's story, I visualised the ending of this one and pushed this one out in about 20 minutes! (pardon the toilet imagery...)

RichardZ on 09-02-2007
In the shadows
I too would be very tempted to expand this and see where it goes. If you can stand to be in the mindset for long enough, it could become a very powerful short.

But, enough of that. Back to this piece:

The fact that he doesn't go for it only increases the suspense, imo. I get the definite impression that he will strike and it's only a matter of time. The sensation that we are riding the stalker's shoulder and even hearing his thoughts works well also.

Enjoyed this one, though as I say, I'd love to see it expanded.



Author's Reply:
Thanks for reading and commenting.
I just replied to e-griff - I think this topic is a bit "done". It's almost a safe subject these days, so would have to guard against making it very samey. I wanted to leave the reader thinking about what might be lurking in the shadows in connection with unhealthy, but hidden obsession. I didn't want to expand too much on why he/she was like that, leaving it for the reader to decide.
Again - thanks for the comment!

KDR on 09-02-2007
In the shadows
I thought you were going to go for the jealousy angle more in the para that ends 'I feel emptied', maybe a build up of rage. It'd make the final withdrawal more an act of...what? Cowardice? Reason?

Flattered that you found something in 'Woman' to inspire you. But come on. Sub more. You know you want to. πŸ˜‰


Author's Reply:
I'm not sure why he didn't. I'm not sure whether he would actually "do" anything - ever. He watches from afar and wants to interact with the person, but even the power of a knife can't push him over the line.
It's an extreme escalation of his obsession - but how many people are obsessed with someone else and how near the line are they? How do we ever know? What goes through their minds? I think obession/compulsion is a very interesting human trait.
Ta for the read/comment.

spongemonkey on 10-02-2007
In the shadows

Everyone has got there before me Steve. Leaving nothing for me to say except, perhaps... Excellent piece of writing we never know how far love is prepared to go until it turns to obsession. I would perhaps add to this make it a short, but I didn't write it, you did. Well done. All the best. The sponge.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 10-02-2007
In the shadows
Thanks, Sponge. Appreciate you reading and commenting.

Author's Reply:

orangedream on 10-02-2007
In the shadows
Hello there Steve. Everyone's beaten me to it as well. Good piece of flash which I enjoyed.


Author's Reply:
Thank-you, Tina - glad you enjoyed it.

Rupe on 13-02-2007
In the shadows
This is very good. I'm glad you didn't expand on it any more than you have done, and that you leave it on an ambivalent note - you give the reader just enough detail to allow us to speculate on what the story behind this might be, and how it all might end.

I also liked the way you've put together the sentences. There's tension and weight in them - specific observations, short measured phrases, nouns instead of adjectives. It adds to the creepy sense of the guy watching closely, taking note, trying to keep himself under control.


Author's Reply:
Thanks, Rupe. Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

RoyBateman on 15-02-2007
In the shadows
You didn't need more than this to convey the atmosphere perfectly - and I'm glad you left it that way at the end, despite the obvious temptation to have complete closure: that would have been too trite and obvious. Very good - we can all imagine the scene and a handful of motivations, too. You say the idea came to you after reading another story (yeah, we all do it!) and, in turn, you've probably set loads of people off on variants of their own. Good one!

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Roy, for reading and commenting.
I think it's the strength of the site - to pick up a thread of an idea and develop it into something else. It can be an entire theme, or just a sentence.

dancing-queen on 15-02-2007
In the shadows
Hello Geeza me ol' mate! Creepy, or what!! (The story, not you dear). Sent shivers up my spine this did. I think you captured the manic state of his mind - the pace of his thoughts and actions actually left me feeling quite breathless and anxious to find out what was going to happen. He was a real dodgy character lurking in the shadows - eek, will have me looking over my shoulder tonight! All the best - DQ x

Author's Reply:
Hello DQ - nice to hear from you, me ol' mucker.
Thanks for reading and commenting. Glad it made you feel uncomfortable - not you, personally, you understand! - this was the intention. I believe people are driven by hidden thoughts and feelings, and you never know how far they might go ... or who may be watching from a distance...
All the best - Steve.

zenbuddhist on 15-02-2007
In the shadows
You have to read this a good few times to appreciate its impact....but it hits home ...nice one...Z

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

Violence Fest (posted on: 01-12-06)
Violence is so common these days that is passes almost without notice. In Iraq, people are blown to smithereens regularly, and it barely makes a mention on the TV news or in the newspapers. Frankly, it's almost unbelievable and when you do get to see it, it doesn't seem like stories and pictures from the real world. When you think about the causes, there are deep-seated issues, but I can't help thinking that a little respect and understanding would solve so many problems - something that seems so near but yet unachievable. I've tried to express my thoughts in this experimental piece. 845 words.

The train jolted and a hundred pairs of eyes looked at the window. Fury. Fucking trains. The eyes released themselves from the grey and dreary morning and followed the outlines of those sitting in the seats and of those standing in the aisles. A smart-dressed businesswoman coughed. 'Do you fucking mind?' said an executive male. 'Fuck off,' she hissed.
'Stop the train, Brodie.' Four men in dark grey suits sat at a bench in front of large monitors, computers and panels with flashing lights. A man nodded, moved a mouse and clicked a button.
The train slowed and came to a stop. A hundred teeth clenched. Fucking bastard trains. The businesswoman, dressed conservatively, but with enough cleavage to draw attention leaned forward and coughed in the executive's face. He leapt forward and punched her on the jaw. She grabbed at his hair and pulled him to the ground. He emitted a constant growl during the struggle, she shrieked with every pull at his hair and the side of his face. She pulled herself up slightly, towering above him, holding him down with a well-placed knee, just under his chin. She lifted the knee and slammed it down on his nose, exploding gristle and covering his face in blood. She laughed triumphantly, and crashed her knee back into his pulped face. Those around watched carefully, willing her on. Smash the smug bastard. Scramble his shit for brains. Kill the cunt. Wanker. See his fucking family nursing the dribbling brain-dead tosser to his long delayed and painful death. A builder jumped up and kicked her straight in the mouth with his steel-capped boots. She fell, snarling up through the red mist. He stamped on her face once, then again, again and again until she convulsed and was still. All the people from that part of the carriage threw themselves forward onto the person opposite: biting, scratching, punching, butting, kicking, gouging. Each roared with the bloodlust of a lion and raged with the strength of a gorilla. The other side of the carriage recoiled into their seats and those standing moved as far from the melee as possible, trying not to look. Someone pulled the emergency cord, but the train continued to stand alone in the cold and damp morning. The lush green grass on either side of the track occasionally swayed in the wind, the stones on the track reflected the low light. The train stood motionless. One side of the fourth carriage showed statues, the other half, fast moving shadows leaping into one another. The silent violence shielded from the world by a flimsy aluminium shell. A female passenger sitting with head bowed shrieked as she noticed a pool of blood spreading towards her black stiletto shoes. She lifted her feet allowing it to pass by, unmolested. The man opposite saw her raised legs and looked down at the red river making its way around his brown brogues. He chose to let it continue, thinking it could never rise high enough to get into his shoes. Only half a dozen fighters remained. They were the strongest or the most cunning. They looked at each other, considering their next move. Blood dripped from their hands and their mouths. They turned and looked at the other half of the train. They didn't like these people. They were not the same. They could be taken easily and then they would have the whole carriage.
The sound of gravel crunching startled the sparrow and so it darted away from the fencepost from where it had been watching for worms. Four policemen drew their batons as they ran towards the stationary train. As the bird flew, it saw light from behind the hedge where it had its nest, so it diverted away in a panic. A stream of vehicles with flashing lights came down the country lane, spewing more policemen and a wall of screaming and shouting. The first policeman to arrive stopped and could not believe what he saw. Dead bodies lay across the track down the whole length of the train. Every one of the windows had been broken and glass was scattered all around the blood-soaked corpses. He could hear his colleagues approaching just behind, each one stopping with the same silent disbelief.
The lights on the panels went out, the technicians packed the monitors and computers away and everything was labelled and sent back to central stores for re-use. Many reports were written and filed, newspaper stories suppressed, people silenced in many different ways – some imaginative and some not. The good guys became the bad guys and the bad guys became the good guys. This classification is always dependent on the viewpoint and position of the individual at the time of the event. The trains following the 07:11 from Brighton suffered inconvenience to their onward journeys, but everything soon returned to normal. Those travelling in the opposite direction with a different goal were puzzled by the police on the line near Burgess Hill for a short while and then they forgot about it.
End. (c) Steve Smith. 2006.

Archived comments for Violence Fest
AKAauthor on 01-12-2006
Violence Fest
I started reading and thought this was going to be a blasΓ© account of commuters worried about trivial matter like delays, and uncomfortable seating. I chuckled at the β€˜Hundred teeth clenched’.

Then bang, the story twisted, I thought then, I know, it’s a person day dreaming, at the end he will get off, including all the other passengers.

Then, bang again, it did not. I was a little lost, so I read it again, and again, and again…

I think the point is, β€œIf this was our doorstep” or β€œif this was normality for us” Or did I get it wrong? Regardless of the message it portrayed for me, it was a good read, and very visual.

P.S. Hate commuting, fucking trains.

Author's Reply:
I'm glad it got you thinking! No, you didn't get it wrong. For me, I find the ultra violence in today's world more uncomfortable than the middle pages of the newspapers that car bombs get reported on these days, the fact it's almost forgettable when 40 people get blown up on a bus on their way to work, and knowing it's really not that far away and very real. The real perpetrators are often far away from the grisly scenes too.
Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment.

RoyBateman on 02-12-2006
Violence Fest
Horrifying - what a nightmare this turned into! And then I woke up, sweating...oddly, the only time some yob hit me in the face on a train (Near Lewes - not too far from Burgess Hill!) nobody else took a blind bit of notice. Even the BTP, when they found the bugger, didn't prosecute him. I was never informed why not! Anyway, a very vivid read and a real cautionary tale, Steve.

Author's Reply:
There's definitely a vulnerability on a train, where you know not many people would interfere (given the knives and things people carry) or even pull the emergency cord, and then you could be stuck between the stations with only the courage of the train driver to help. It's different on a bus, as they can stop it and you could (try) to run - on a train, you're stuck on there, and so is the attacker! It's potentially lawless for a period of time.
The transport police probably couldn't be bothered with the paperwork!
Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment - much appreciated.

e-griff on 02-12-2006
Violence Fest
The story was a bit far fetched for me, but your words at the end were very uncomfortable. If you wrote a story based on your words THAT would be truly chilling.

Author's Reply:
Far-fetched - are you sure? πŸ˜‰
The scenes from the Middle East these days are much worse. I can't get the pictures - particularly from Lebanon in the summer - from the news out of my head... I can't help thinking that there really are people manipulating this carnage, behind the scenes too.
Did you mean the final paragraph?
Cheers for reading and commenting, as usual, John.

Kazzmoss on 02-12-2006
Violence Fest
I didn't get this at all. Almost gave up reading it part way down, but continued down to the end, but am still clueless.

I didn't like it.....I didn't the violence or the language or the senseless of it. But that is what writing is about isn't it?

Its not meant to appeal to everyone, but it is still important to write it - and you can write - I have seen pieces like this written by people who can't spell or the grammatically incorrect. All they was to do is write something violent and nasty.

You have obviously thought carefully about this and felt it something you wanted to experiment with. Thats the whole point of being here.

I'll be interested now to go back and see what others have written. Kazz

Author's Reply:
Senseless is what violence is, I guess. It's experimental - and definitely not for all!
Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

orangedream on 02-12-2006
Violence Fest
Couldn't agree with you more Steve, about the Middle East and Lebanon but have to admit, I'm with Kazzmoss on this one.

Don't get me wrong - a damn-good piece of writing though.


Author's Reply:
Thanks, and definitely not to everyone's taste, for sure!

Romany on 02-12-2006
Violence Fest
I took this to be more of a metaphor for the way you percieve violence in the wider world, than to be an actual story. Perhaps I should have been more face-value about it? I must admit that towards the middle -end the violence became too 'heavy' for me and it deterred me from reading it somewhat. But this is not meant to be an easy read; by its very nature, how could it be? Was I so far wide of the mark to read this as a metaphor for the terrible things that are done the world over, on a daily basis? An uncomfortable and deeply unpleasant read, as I am sure you intended. You have certainly made your point.

Author's Reply:
Hi Romany - no, you were spot on, in fact. The scene in the train is completely unbelievable, but so are a lot of other things around the world - and also in the UK. People getting stabbed to death for an Oyster (travelcard) card and a mobile phone, and bleeding to death on the street? It's beyond comprehension if you stand back and think about it, forgetting the fact we are all so used to it, it almost passes by without notice.
Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment - much appreciated.

e-griff on 02-12-2006
Violence Fest
sorry, I meant your reply to Roy!

Sure there is violence in the world, but that is between 'sides' and with a 'cause'. In this, they just seemed to be odd people turning on one another - there was no motivation/sense to it for me, So - everybody on a train starts fighting each other for no apparent reason - is that a plot?
At first I thought it was similar to Mark's 'Rainbow Maker' and was wondering if a similar thing had happened (something in the water).

As I say, I think if you wrote a story about a gang on a train and the different human reactions and it could be very effective -and far more scary than this. best JohnG πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:
I don't want to explain everything with "whys" and "whos" with this. Much bigger subject of course, but in the world today I don't see the "sides" and the "cause" should produce the level of violence we see today. There's no "plot" - read above. The points you make (motivation/sense) are the points I'm trying to highlight through metaphor, John! Not all shorts have starts, middles, ends and explanations - it's art/creative, not following prescribed steps! I don't want to signpost and explain, I'm inviting people to think. (And I don't mean that to sound as pretentious as it does! Soz if it comes across that way!)
The men in suits are supposed to represent people behind the scenes controlling. I should probably add a sentence in there to show that - roughly along the lines of Mark's "Rainbow Maker", yes. Unlike terrorism (with Mark's), more to represent secret government type activity.
Hope you get what I mean and don't see it as a defensive reaction - it's not. It was marked experimental - and it truly is!
Thanks for your interest, as usual! Steve.

e-griff on 04-12-2006
Violence Fest
OK, understand now, perhaps I didn't read carefully enough .. πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 04-12-2006
Violence Fest
OK, understand now, perhaps I didn't read carefully enough .. πŸ™‚

I do think however even a 'snippet' should be somehow complete in itself, otherwise there is no context.

Author's Reply:

Rupe on 07-12-2006
Violence Fest
I've read this three times now. At first I didn't like it at all, then I did - and now I'm not sure...

I guess the senselessness of it is the point - a graphic illustration of the idea that violence happens and there is no clear reason for it (or that the reasons are too deep below the surface to be articulated).

One aspect of it I'm not sure about is whether the piece would be stronger if it was given completely in a moral vacuum. The policeman arrives and the narrator says he

'could not believe what he saw. Dead bodies lay across the track'

Which makes the reader think - ah, yes, of course this business is completely unreasonable, after all.

What if he just arrived and noted the dead bodies without any sense of disbelief? Or any reaction at all?

Author's Reply:
Hi Rupe,
Yes, this would re-enforce the message, but I hope there are always people who see the senselessness! Good point, though.
Thanks for reading (3 times!) and taking the time to comment.

KDR on 24-01-2007
Violence Fest
Hi Steve,
Missed this when it was 'current'.
Mate, you've written some slightly strange stuff before (that 'the way things will end up' stuff I read, for example), but this...well, it's off-the-wall and a bit mind-blowing when you read and realize there's no point to any of the action in the story - which, having had the benefit of reading some comments, I guess was the whole point.

The subject matter is very disturbing, as it is obviously meant to be, but I found the violence to be very well done, if graphic. I guess the intent there was to shock and see how we reacted. If we were indifferent, you'd proved your point, right?
I particularly liked the way you got the level of violence right. It seems like it is no longer 'enough' to fill someone in but leave them so they can at least limp off home, after lying and groaning for a while. Now, it seems to be a case of kicking them into a coma and permanent brain-damage. It's pointless and, far from showing us at our most civilized, shows us instead at our most primitive and animalistic.

All in all, a good read and a fair point, well made (IMHO).


Author's Reply:
Hey Karl,
Thanks for reading and commenting. Yeah, bit off the wall and experimental - and I realised it wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea, but it was to make a point, yes.
Funny that I'm replying to your comment today, some young lad of about 15 was beaten up right outside my house by a bunch of youths who took his mobile phone today...
Cheers - Steve.

Choices (posted on: 18-09-06)
Too often in the modern world, our futures seem to be in the hands of people who do not listen. How do they make their choices? Choices that will affect the lives of many. 1,051 words.

'Your child is … unusual, Mrs Roberts.' – 'How so?' she said. The headmaster shuffled in his chair and fingered his ear. He made to speak and then stopped and shook his head. He stood up. 'I'm afraid that I'm going to have to ask Charlie to leave the school.' – 'But why?' – 'Please don't make this more difficult than it already is.' In the corner, a budgie squawked and fluttered its wings. As the woman stared at the teacher, pleading for some kind of explanation, they turned to a commotion in the bird cage, witnessed a cloud of feathers and heard the creature fall, dead, to the bottom. The headmaster walked to the cage, peered in, turned around and asked the mother and son to leave. 'Do I have to go to another school again, Mummy?' – 'Yes.' – 'But why? All my friends are here.'
He walked through the shattered streets, full of man-made carnage. There was a layer of white dust on everything. Pieces of concrete were scattered around, as if some monster had smashed its toys into a million pieces after a child-like fit of rage. A woman called softly to him. She was lying under a large piece of masonry, one hand free, waving at him gently. Her dark skin, covered in dust and blood, made her look Caucasian. Charlie walked over to her and went down on one knee to look at her face. Despite the dust, her brilliant brown eyes stared back at him. He saw a small child to her left: its head had been crushed by a slab, the size of a paving stone. 'Help me,' she said, in Arabic. He pulled his side-arm from its holster and put it to the side of her head. She didn't flinch as he pulled the trigger and blew her brains all over the rubble. The splashing of bright red on the surroundings took his eye: the contrast would make a striking painting.
'What we do today, we do for the good of mankind,' said the General. 'You must not hesitate to perform your duty.' He looked at Charlie, standing before him, not blinking. 'Are you okay, Captain?' – 'Yes, Sir.' – 'What's on your mind, son?' Charlie paused to think. The General said: 'Don't think about them as people, you understand? Use your training and do your job. We are all counting on you.' – 'Yes, Sir.' – 'They threaten our way of life, son, and people like you have to stand in their way. Stand up and be counted.' – 'Yes, General, Sir. Thank-you.' They exchanged salutes. The crew of the bomber kept quiet, speaking only to confirm operational readiness, altitude and position. Fifteen minutes to drop, they were ordered into radio silence. Charlie looked at the sun, rising before him above the cloud base. He thought of the beauty of nature and its simplicity. He thought about the human virus that had spread all over the world, leaving dirty hand marks and shit everywhere. It was natural for things to die and for new life to replace it. The human factor smothered and choked it. 'D minus two minutes.' – 'Check.' Two pieces of paper were handed to him. He pulled a key from his neck and opened a panel. He watched the controls light up. He typed the codes from the two pieces of paper onto a keyboard and pressed a button. 'Ready.' – 'Check.' – 'Arming.' – 'Check.' He heard a beep and saw a red button start to flash. 'Armed.' – 'Check.' – 'Confirmed,' said another voice, behind him. All that remained was the memorised code and the push of a button. He thought of the people below. People going about their daily business: sitting in meetings, waiting for a bus, having a quick coffee, food shopping, having sex, talking to their mothers on the phone, working out in the gym, watching television, eating, laughing, crying, fighting, shouting, raping, abusing, killing. 'Captain?' He thought about the target and the fact he had been there himself, that he had visited tourist spots, spoken to waiters, talked to tour guides, been to the theatre, taken photos: Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London. 'Captain!' He keyed in the number and stopped. 'Captain – we will miss the window of opportunity!' Charlie pressed the button. 'Away. Package has been delivered. Return to base.' – 'Check.'
'There were people down there.' – 'I know,' said the psychiatrist, nodding. 'Real people, doing … things,' said Charlie, his head bowed. 'Yes.' The psychiatrist looked down at his pad. He had drawn several three dimensional boxes on the page and nothing else. 'Why did we have to kill them all?' Doctor Reynolds looked up and sniffed. 'You were following orders. It's not your fault. You had no choice. No choice.' – 'Why me?' – 'Well, you must be trusted by your superiors. They, in turn, are trusted by the public to protect them. There must have been a very good reason to have to do whatever you did.' – 'But what was the reason?' The doctor shook his head, still sketching. 'Why don't you know? Who decides?' shouted Charlie. Reynolds stopped, sat back and looked up at this aggression. They were sitting directly opposite one another, in comfortable chairs, only a small glass-topped coffee table between them. Charlie snarled and looked at the reflection of the doctor in the glass. He thought of picking up the table and smashing it down over his head, raking shards of glass down his face, watching the blood drench the collar of his white shirt, of putting his own hands around the doctor's neck, strangling him, contaminating his own skin with the man's blood. He considered how easy it would be to do this. He watched the doctor convulse, heard the gasping noises, saw his hands squeezing the arms of the leather chair and listened to the last wisp of breath. All was quiet, all was silent. It soothed Charlie. He saw the man's wild eyes, his grotesque face. He waited and watched death. He wondered if the spirit was watching its callous client sitting, doing nothing. He considered how many spirits would be in the room watching him. He took the pad and looked at the doodles before placing it neatly on the table. 'There is always a choice, Doctor Reynolds. Who can tell me if I was right?'
** End. (c) Steve Smith. 2006. **

Archived comments for Choices
admin on 18-09-2006
I say, Geeza, this is rather good - albeit somewhat scary 'n' bloody. Nice to see you posting again πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

RoyBateman on 19-09-2006
It's good to see a familiar name! Very powerful and well written, though - probably of necessity - disjointed. I think I know the point you're making, but this is such a big subject that I reckon maybe a bit more explanation would make it easier for the reader to go straight through and "enjoy" this quite horrifying tale. Something to link the awful tableaux a bit more...but that's only my opinion, and this certainly leaves an impression on the reader!

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Roy. Glad you liked it. Don't like too much explanation - want the reader to think!

RichardZ on 20-09-2006
Nice piece. Original and interesting.

You've managed a very rapid summation of Charlie, that lets us fill in the blanks. Love that. Total story in one bite. πŸ™‚

Wasn't fond of the mixed dialogue in the same sentence. I was scratching my eyes a bit at that.

Charlie of course, is a nucking futter, and won't be getting invites to Christmas dinner.


Author's Reply:
Thanks, Richard...
Charlie is normal - we're all crazy πŸ™‚

sirat on 23-09-2006
I enjoyed this one. The only thing that made it a bit bumpy were the dialogue sections where there was no line break between different speakers.

Rightly or wrongly I read it as an allegory, the notion that there are people in the world so powerful that they only have to wish for the death and destruction of others and that's exactly what happens. This idea was what seemed to be lurking behind the notion of the man who could "think" people and animals to death.

It reminded me a lot of the classsic Jerome Bixby Sci Fi short story "It's a Good Life". If you're not familiar with it you should try to track it down. Yours goes beyond the plot of "It's a Good Life" in suggesting the allegory. I thought it was a very solid piece of work, achieving a great deal in a small number of words.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, David. I'm experimenting with putting dialogue together, to see if it makes it easier to read. I read something recently, and it seemed to work - perhaps I didn't pull it off, as another commenter found it difficult too. I might pull the dialogue out "properly".
I'm pleased with your comment, as originally I wanted to make it very obvious that the man could could cause death by thinking about it - the original cut stated that in the first paragraph, but I removed that and softened everything to try and make the reader think.
I'll look up that short story you mention.
Thanks for reading and the feedback.

Bradene on 23-09-2006
Scary stuff, I think the disjointed way you wrote this made it even more terrifying, my mouth was quite dry by the end. Val x

Author's Reply:
Glad you liked it. Thanks for reading and commenting. Steve.

e-griff on 23-09-2006
Yep, 'It's a good life' deffo. (and even The Midwich Cuckoos?)

At first I wondered why he shot the trapped woman. I take it that was a merciful shot, whereas his brain needed anger to strike.

I'm not sure if the nuclear drop on London was a mite too dramatic for this story. miight work better if they were mundane killer choices in the battlefield. the reason for this it it might be drawing attention form the main theme by its publicity value.

Anyway, really nice wee story, powerful and well-wrote.

Couple of comments;
'laying' should be lying (woman under stone)

I too diapprove of that strange speech punctuation (including the colon, which should be a comma). The dashes are not needed. I myself would put different speakers on new paras, but it's clear enough even if you don't. (some don't πŸ™‚ )

And '... looked up at this aggression' doesn't quite say what it should. (ie you can't look at aggression. You can 'look up' at a display of aggression, or something like that )

good one. This is the kind of direct incisive writing of yours I like πŸ™‚ JohnG

Author's Reply:
I'll have a look at that short story, for sure.
Looking up at aggression is not literal of course - has an implicit ("sign of").
Changing "laying" ... ta, for that.
I think the speech style probably doesn't work, as per other commentors. I shall abandon this experiment. Perhaps it works only for first person (and more refined at that).
Glad you liked it, John - thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

reckless on 24-09-2006
Good piece, and with a timely message. Shame people never seem to learn it. "don't think about them as people": that's the key to it all, how so many dictators, politicians and their followers can do so much damage to so many.
Didn't realise you were still around, though glad that you are.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Reckless... It's almost always never about the people, and always about the individuals and their motives, isn't it?
Still around ... just been too busy to do much.
Thanks for reading and commenting. Steve.

KDR on 13-11-2006
Er...it's a bit different from 'Great Expectations', mate! πŸ˜‰ (It's a course thing, don't worry. Not that you were...)
Dickens or you...Dickens or you... Sod it, you win. Much more my cup of tea, I reckon. lol.

Not sure if I'm Charlie (insert 'a' if you want...), but I didn't find it all that scary, unlike others. More interesting than anything, and very unusual.
Like others have said, I didn't think the dialogue thing worked, but I see you've already addressed that issue. Maybe a first person story would be better for it. Worth a try, anyway.

Cheers for the read,

Author's Reply:
Ah ... I love "Great Expectations". That's a fantastic story.
It wasn't supposed to be scary, as such. First person - maybe. I wanted the reader to work out his character, and first person might have been too much "tell".
Dickens every time!
Thanks for the comment.

Flash on 13-11-2006
The Midwitch Or Midwich cuckoos, did spring to mind when reading this. Also an episode from Star Trek, where the Enterprise picks up an abandoned human on a planet, the character has similar abilities to your main character , and is also called Charlie.

Erm...not sure about this one to be honest, interesting yes, but for me something is lacking about it. Not sure what though.


Author's Reply:
Cheers, Flashy. Didn't copy it, honest!
Thanks for reading.

sirat on 13-11-2006
If I could come in again having read Flashy's comment, I think perhaps what's missing is reader identification with any of the characters. The only victim I felt anything for was the woman under the stone slab. Doing it in the first person would give you the chance to let us inside Charlie's head and feel a bit of his emotional dilemma. It might need to be a bit longer to do it. but as the title "choices" suggests it's really Charlie's abilities and insights and actions that are the centre of interest. It would be a great deal more effective if we could identify with him and care about him a bit more.

Author's Reply:
I agree with you, but adding more substance to the characters would certainly move the piece out of the "flash fiction" category. I replied to KDR just now and will elaborate a bit, that I wanted to present an unusual character, give him some strange abilities (or massive conincidences!?) that would catch the reader's attention quickly. The first person perspective would have introduced more "tell" and I wanted the reader to form their own opinions about what was going on.
All a bit experimental and a bit different, but I'm happy the short piece generated comparisons with things I hadn't read and differing opinions - even after a couple of months of posting it.
Thanks for reading (again)!

Handbags and Gladrags (posted on: 04-09-06)
It's hard to move on, sometimes. We all cling to and wish for our more carefree days - but it's dangerous territory. Adult themes... Not suitable for children! 2,710 words.

She wrapped the laces of her shoes around her calf, tied them together and stood up. She turned her legs one way and the other and wondered if these shoes were in fashion and if they'd ever been in fashion. Her lower leg looked shiny and in danger of bursting through its restraint. She was a mess. She sprayed her neck with expensive perfume, had one last look in the mirror and went into the lounge to say goodnight to her son. He was sat, watching the usual Saturday evening crap on television. He didn't speak, just nodded and turned back to the show. She met her mate in the pub at the top of the high street and they sat with two large Bacardi and cokes. Happy hour. 'So, watcha been up to?' - 'Me? Nothing. You?' - 'Nothing much. Washing. Changed the beds, you know.' - 'Yeah.' Happy is what happy does. A strong sense of irony – or is it sarcasm? – ''Happy Hour''. People getting pissed, as quickly as they can for as small an amount of money as possible. They watched the young ones, their whole futures in front of them and smiled, remembering when it was them: smiling, flirting, laughing. She rubbed her toes together and grimaced as she tried to soothe her uncomfortable athlete's foot. From the tip of her fungus infected toes, to the top of her frizzy brown hair and all the bits in between, Anne needed something to freshen herself up – something exciting. She felt stagnant, tired. Her mate was yabbering on about something or another. The movement of her head and the gold jewellery around her neck took her attention, making Anne jump when Julie's tone hardened: 'D'you wanna nother?' - 'Eh?' - 'Or d'you wanna move on?' - 'Let's have another here.' Anne watched Julie at the bar, eyeing up each man within range, thinking she was discreet. Every movement just as she did when she was eighteen. As obvious as ever. It seemed a little embarrassing now, perhaps sad. Anne turned away and looked down at her hands: they were not young hands any more, the gold rings were scratched and her red nail varnish gave an almost absurd look to the ten stubby fingers and their sleek-topped finishes. She had hands like a drag queen. Julie sat down with the drinks. 'That bloke's giving me the eye.' – 'Get away … which one?' – 'That one in the light blue shirt.' – 'He's not.' He wasn't. They watched for fifteen minutes and he didn't look once. When happy hour finished, they left along with half the pub. An older crowd replaced them, ready for their weekly Motown anaesthetic. Two bars later and they stood on a street corner trying to choose between a kebab shop and a nightclub. 'You only live once, Anne, come on.' – 'Do you think we should?' – 'Why not?' Anne looked at the queue of people and saw that the excited people looked no older than her son. 'Come on, Anne, a couple of drinks and we'll call it a night. The kebab shop will still be open.' 'Good for you, love!' – 'What?' – 'I said ''good for you'', you know. Get yourself out to have some fun … you're never too old!' Anne looked at the boy – because that's what he was – a boy. He had on a white shirt, a stupid grin and his eyes were very big. His mates were watching, mystified – mystified by what their friend was doing. Julie pulled out a cigarette and lit it. 'Gimme a puff!' said the boy – 'Are you old enough?' laughed Julie. They flirted and the boy took a draw, pretending it was a joint. They paid their money and went in. The atmosphere was heavy, smoky and the music was very loud. They went to the bar. The boy and his friends stood next to them, facing away, laughing and joking. Julie stood with her back immediately behind the boy and tipped her head backwards, indicating him, asking for an opinion. 'What?' – 'What do you think?' – 'Don't be so fucking stupid – he's a kid!' – 'He's got a cock, hasn't he?' – 'Well, I wouldn't be sure, he's very young, Jools.' Julie took a swig of her drink. 'You've got to lighten up, Anne, have some fun. It's just a laugh.' Anne shook her head, took a drink and tried to change the subject. Julie said she couldn't hear, irritated. Anne looked around wondering how long she could put up with the place. She wanted to be at home. She turned back and saw Julie's hand was behind her, holding the boy's hand, although he was still facing the other way. 'What are you doing?' – 'What?' – 'You're holding his hand!' – 'Oh, relax, I'm just having a laugh.' Anne didn't know what to say. Her chest felt light – her breathing quickened. Why did the boy want to hold her hand? There were plenty of young girls around. Anne tried to see if the boy's friends had noticed. They were still laughing and joking as the strange situation unfolded. 'I'm going to the toilet,' said Anne. The toilet was crowded with girls standing by the mirror, laughing, screaming. The floor was wet. The atmosphere was just as dense with heat and smoke in the toilet. Anne went in a cubicle, pulled off some tissue, wiped the wet seat and sat down. Someone rattled on the door. 'I'm in here!' said Anne. It rattled again but the person went away. She realised that her body was covered with sweat. A patch looped under both arms. She listened to the girls saying who they wanted to shag, who they shagged last night, about what they had done. Anne thought about her body, her drooping tits, her expanding waist, stretch marks, cellulite, the mass of matted hair between her legs. She imagined herself in mid-air, like a computer simulation, turning, people laughing. The door rattled again. 'Come on! What the fuck are you doing in there?' She stood up and flushed the chain. She lifted the dress up by the straps, trying to ventilate her stinking body. She opened the door and a young person pushed past her into the cubicle. She turned to have a go, but the door slammed shut. The person sighed out loud as she shit. She went back to the bar. Julie and the boy were facing each other. His mates were still behind, carrying on as if nothing was happening. 'This is Anne.' – 'Hello, Anne.' – 'This is James.' – 'Hello.' They carried on talking. Anne stood by the bar, behind Julie with her drink in her hand. She tried to listen to the conversation, but the music was too loud. She waited and watched. 'Anne?' The boy was talking. 'Here's a drink.' – 'Thanks.' – 'Pedro bought it.' She nodded. Darren bought her a drink. Gary bought another. She was not introduced, she didn't know who they were, and she didn't much care. She watched a boy approach two girls standing by a pillar. They all started laughing. Then another boy approached, and another. They were all laughing. Then they went off towards the dance floor. When Anne turned back, the boy was kissing Julie. He had his tongue right down her throat. His friends were still laughing and joking, oblivious. She walked to the side of them, determined to give her friend a dirty look. Julie broke off. 'It's our turn to get the drinks in – can you get them?' – 'Six pints of lager for us – that's easy to remember!' – 'But, Julie?' – 'What?' – 'What are you doing?' Julie rolled her eyes. She grabbed the boy by the neck and they started kissing again. 'Come on, love!' said one of the boys, uncomfortable, but grinning manically. He shook his near-empty glass. 'I'm almost dry!' The others laughed and watched her. She felt them looking over her lumps and bumps, her waist, her shoes, her hair – imagining her naked – imagining fucking an older woman – thinking of the experience – thinking it was better than nothing. She stepped behind Julie and called to the barman. All five boys walked over and surrounded her with their drinks, thanking her. They asked her name, where she was from, what she did for a living, if she came to the club much, if she knew James. Two split off and went away, not interested. She saw Julie's hands grabbing at her boy's crotch. 'Do ya?' – 'Sorry?' – 'Do ya like football?' – 'No.' – 'Oh.' – 'I hate it.' The boys took a swig of beer and looked around for prey. 'My son likes it. Arsenal.' They turned back to her and took a bigger swig. 'Arsenal, eh?' said one. Two boys looked at one another and left. One remained. 'You've got a son?' – 'Yes' – 'You don't seem old enough!' Anne laughed. 'He's seventeen.' The boy lifted his eyebrows. 'Seventeen? Never.' He took another swig. 'What's his name? I might know him.' – 'I bloody well hope not!' – 'He might've gone to my school.' The word ''school'' made her laugh out loud. 'We're going for a dance,' said Julie. Her boy led her away by the hand. 'What school did you go to?' said Anne. 'Whitworth.' – 'Oh.' – 'Do you know it?' – 'Yes.' She took a drink. 'My son didn't go there.' – 'Right,' he said, nodding. They had some more drinks. 'Let's have a dance!' – 'What?' she said – 'Let's have a dance!' He took her hand. She tried to pull away, without much effort. What's the harm? He pulled her towards the dance floor. They danced to the modern techno beat. The slow music came on and he pulled her towards him. He was sweating. She could feel him rubbing against her. He put his hand on her bottom. She let him do that. He started to put his hand up her skirt, so she batted him away saying nothing. He tried to put his tongue in her mouth, but she pulled her head back. 'Come on, I could be your mother.' – 'But you're not' – 'But I could be … what school did your mum go to?' He thought for a moment, thrown by the oddity of the question. 'I don't know. Why would I know that?' The lights came on, and the DJ said it was time to go home. 'Where's Julie?' – 'Who's Julie?' – 'My friend.' – 'I don't know, come outside, my friends will be waiting.' She took the boy on a tour of the club, but they couldn't see her. The boy wouldn't let go of her hand. Anne felt like everyone was staring at them. 'Can't you let go of my hand?' – 'Oh, don't be like that.' Outside, and the boy got a message on his phone. 'I can't believe it. They've gone on to the party already, without me.' – 'What party?' – 'Party after the club. Sam's house. Why don't you come along?' Anne laughed. 'No, I think this is the end of the night for me. I want to find my friend and get home.' – 'She's probably at the party.' – 'I really don't think so.' Anne looked at her phone and a message from Julie told her to go to the party. 'I told you,' said the boy. 'I can't go to a teenage party, it'd look stupid!' – 'No it won't, I told you, you look really young.' She laughed. 'Why are you laughing?' – 'Nothing.' Anne got in the cab, thinking she would have one drink and drag Julie away. They got to the first floor of the housing estate, to a blue door with pounding music behind it. There was a chill in the air and nothing was moving. The boy tried to kiss her again but she pulled away. 'You're a randy little thing.' – 'I am,' he said. The boy pushed the door open and they went in. The air was blue with smoke and she could smell dope. The music was louder than the club, and she couldn't hear what the boy was saying. He gave her a drink. It smelled strong but she tasted it. Some kind of vodka drink. The front room was heaving with bodies, a few people dancing; the traditional kitchen gathering – how did they hear one another?; people in the hallway – teenagers everywhere. She couldn't see Julie. 'Where's Julie?' she shouted at the boy. He cocked his ear at her. 'Where's Julie?' He shook his head, checked his phone and shook his head again. Anne sent an SMS message and stood by the door. She finished her drink and the boy brought her another. She could sense people were looking at her, wondering what she was doing there. She finished that one quickly, so he fetched another. As she finished that one, he grabbed her and slipped his tongue in her mouth. She tried to resist, but didn't, or couldn't. She dropped the empty glass. She felt his hands move over her breasts and towards the bottom of her dress. She thought about stopping him, and how to, but she couldn't think clearly. He turned and shouted something to someone, but she could not make out what he had said. He turned and kissed her hard, her head banged against the wall with the force of his passion. She trod on the glass and almost fell.
She woke up on a bed. Her mouth was dry, a sticky film on the roof of her mouth. She blinked her eyes. There were two boys asleep beside her, completed naked. One had his hand on her fanny. She had no clothes on. She looked down her body, each breast fallen to the side by her ribcage – over the bump of her stomach, past her legs to her red painted toes. She pushed the hand away. Someone laughed. There was a boy standing at the side of the bed. He was taking a photo with his mobile phone. 'You were sensational – a real goer. Hold still.' She climbed over one of the boys and looked for her clothes on the floor. 'Where are my clothes?' – 'In the front room, where you took them off.' – 'Where I took them off?' – 'Yeah, I can show you, if you like.' He held up his phone. She pushed him out of the way and went down the hallway. There were about twenty people asleep in the room – on the floor, on the chairs, the settee. She spotted her clothes in the corner, behind an armchair. As she knelt down to get it, she noticed the boy in the chair was her son – her face was inches away from his closed eyes as she reached for the dress. Gripped with panic, she quickly left the room. The boy was in the hallway. He carefully watched her slip the dress on. 'Look at this one,' he said, holding up his phone. She glimpsed an entanglement of bodies as she turned away. 'My handbag.' – 'It's in the front room. Do you want me to get it for you?' She looked back in the room, turned and nodded. He smiled, went to get it and handed it to her. 'I'll text you if we have another party,' he said. Anne walked down the road barefoot, hoping no one would notice her. It was a cold morning, clear sky and the sun was about to come up. A milk float went past. She went into a taxi office and an African man drove her home. They didn't speak a word. Julie called in the afternoon. 'What happened to you?' – 'I was gonna ask you the same question.' – 'That bloke I was with stole my bag. Can you fucking believe that? All my money, my phone, my keys, everything. I've got a geezer here, changing the locks now. The fucking bouncer kicked me out, said I was pissed and to go home after my boyfriend. He thought the bloke was my fucking boyfriend. Can you believe that? I waited outside for a while, but I went home. I felt like puking and guessed you'd gone anyway. What happened to you?' Anne looked at her mobile phone as it played a trumpet sound. A message flashed on the screen telling her she had a picture message waiting. She hung up on Julie without a sound.
End (c) Steve Smith. 2006.

Archived comments for Handbags and Gladrags
bluepootle on 04-09-2006
Handbags and Gladrags
I got absolutely gripped by this by the mid-point. Some wonderful observations of age and desire, and how the two aren't allowed to go together in our society. Not sure about the'joint of meat bulging out of a net' - I kept wondering why it would be in a net?! Maybe go for a different image there, but that was the only stumbling point for me. The scene in the club is brilliant.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, BP. You're absolutely right about that net thing - I know what I meant, but it wasn't clear, and had troubled me during the edit. Changed!
Thanks for reading and commenting.

e-griff on 04-09-2006
Handbags and Gladrags
Hmmm. It's nearly a year since you last posted, so I was looking forward to this. While I was not disappointed by the quality of the writing, the life and sharpness of it, my heart just sank at the subject matter. OK, maybe it's only me - maybe people love reading about sad, useless people who do stupid things and have no hope in life. Well I've read an awful lot of this stuff in the last few years (and even edited whole books of it πŸ™‚ ) and I just wanna give it a miss, frankly. As I say, this is a purely personal view, but you can write 'magic' when you want, and I missed that.

Anyway, with bluebirds buzzing round my head, a blue sky and blossoms dancing in the fields, I couldn't help but note a few odd bits.

Tense agreement:
He was sat, watching the usual Saturday evening crap on television. - he was sitting/he sat (this is the narrator not a character) and I don't see why the comma's there at all.

The person sighed out loud as she shit. - shat?

I didn't look for any more - they are just for old times's sake!

very best and great to see you back. JOhnG πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:
Thanks for reading and commenting, John.
I would disagree that she is sad and useless, though!
ta for those points.
Cheers - Steve.

Flash on 05-09-2006
Handbags and Gladrags
Definitely has the stamp of a Geeza piece of work.

Solid and very readable, kinda saw where it was heading, but that's a trademark with you i guess.

Good piece.


Author's Reply:
Thanks for reading and commenting. Played it safe with the story element, for sure - my first piece of work in a while.
Cheers - Steve.

discopants on 08-09-2006
Handbags and Gladrags
Very readable and well-written. My only gripe was that I wasn't sure about the need to introduce Anne's son into the story because I'd imagine that even if he arrived too late to see her stripping off he would have been shown photographs of the event that would no doubt have been taken on various mobile phones (given that a number of images seem to have been taken) and given that he remains asleep and so there is no interaction between them, I felt that this didn't add to the story.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Disco. I think you are right about the son. He was introduced to heighten embarrassment and create a moment (where he might wake up), but I think she was embarrassed enough!

KDR on 15-09-2006
Handbags and Gladrags
And another tale from the dark side of life.
Well observed. Dunno about the point BP made, re: age and desire not being allowed to go together. I thought Anne was a sad old so-and-so for still doing the same things as she did at 18. I guess life doesn't move on for people like her and Julie, and I'd like to say I don't know people just like them, but the sad thing is that I do. Too many of them. Maybe an element of a wider social thing: where do you go when you're too old for clubs, but want/need a night out?
OK, you're never too old, but you know what I mean.

I'd be tempted to lose the son. The comment that I can't help but notice (it is a few lines above this as I type) is that he was added to create more embarrassment, and I think you're right; she'd have been embarrassed enough.

Anyway, now you've posted again, it must be nearly time for Christmas! πŸ˜‰
I know I shouldn't shout, but...

Cheers for the read.


Author's Reply:
Cheers, Karl.
Yeah - may well lose the son ... so to speak.
Ring the jingle bells and wake up the reindeer!

Pigs and Monkeys (posted on: 08-08-05)
"It is the nature of living creatures to turn against those that they consider different."

1,797 words.

The monkeys were restless in their trees. Some were quiet, fidgeting; some were obviously agitated and jumped from branch to branch screaming. They all looked towards the kingdom of the pigs and watched the black smoke streaming into the darkening sky.

'You know, Mogie, things have changed,' said Ballus.

'Yes,' said Mogie, stroking the wisps of hair on his chin. 'Something had to change.'

'Why so?' said his father, quickly. 'Do you think this is a good thing?'


'The taking of lives is never a good thing,' said Ballus.

'No, it is not.' They sat for a moment, Mogie looking at the column of smoke, Ballus looking at his son. Something troubled Ballus, but he did not know what it was.

'What about taking the lives of innocent monkeys, Father?'

Ballus looked at his son and considered. 'The taking of any life is wrong.'

'So when the pigs murder monkeys, how should we react?'

Ballus searched for a way he could answer the question.

'We must react, Father. We cannot not react. This is logical behaviour.'

'We must all live together in this world. We cannot spiral into violence and death. This cannot be the way. This cannot ever lead to a peaceful existence for any animal.'

'So we sit and suffer in silence?'

'We must work with the pigs to make a better world. We must work out our differences peacefully.'

'But we cannot do that whilst pigs kill monkeys, can we?' said Mogie, turning at last to regard his father's furrowed brow.

The pigs screamed and ran in circles. The smell of burning flesh stuck fast in their snouts. Wherever they ran, they found carnage and destruction. There was no clear path to take. Old pigs, young pigs, piglets, sows, monkeys, horses, bears and cows burned and died. Their homes and places of work were consumed with fire and crashed to the ground. The incredible heat made it impossible to reach the afflicted to try to save them. There was no escape. It was hell on earth.

When the fires were put out, the pigs ventured into the middle of their city and were horrified by what they saw. Many thousands of animals of all descriptions lay burned beyond recognition. It was impossible to tell a pig from a cow or a monkey from a bear. All that remained was the smoking flesh of animals and the debris of the wooden buildings. The smell was unbearable. The silence broken only by trotters breaking pieces of charcoal.

The politicians and their pig army generals gathered around a large oak table deep underground away from the city. Some were shaken to silence, some were gripped by fury and thoughts of revenge. The Leader called the table to order but had to stop to comfort the Domestic Minister who had started to sob.

General Prime sneered at her and told The Leader that the meeting should start so they could activate their response.

'Response?' said The Leader. 'How can we respond to something like this?'

'With force,' said General Prime. 'With strength. Our armies outnumber them twenty to one. We can eliminate them from this earth.'

'That will not bring back the dead,' said The Leader.

'But we should make sure this does not happen again!' He slammed his trotter on the table.

'And how? How can we hit back at an enemy that hides in the trees, hides amongst our buildings, lives amongst us and cannot be seen?'

'We should send our armies into the trees to destroy all the monkeys that we find. Burn down the trees until we drive them into the sea where they will all drown.'

'And the trees? The trees that give us wood, that give us shelter from the wind, that give us oxygen to breathe?'

'We will plant them again. Some will survive. We need to destroy the monkeys, their homes and all they believe in.'

'And what of the monkeys that live in our city? The monkeys that have survived? What will you do with them? These animals live with us, make us diverse, give us strength.'

'Destroy them. We cannot take any chances.'

'And what of the horses and the cows? What shall we do with them?'

General Prime shook his head. 'We need to act now, Sir. They may be planning another attack. We need to hit back and hit back hard.'

Ballus came back to his home and looked at his wife, son and daughter as they ate their evening meal.

'They say that the pig king is dead. They say he was in the city and burned with his people.'

The family stopped eating and looked at him. The Leader had ruled over the world for many years and appeared to be invincible. He had created misery and reigned death down upon the monkey population for a long time. The monkeys had been restricted to tree dwellings and their access to the city was limited and difficult to obtain. The money and opportunity had always been kept in the city and away from the monkeys that lived outside its borders. The kingdoms of the cows, horses and bears had suffered too, but much less so than the monkeys who suffered the worst of the discrimination. The killing of The Leader would change everything.

'That's great!' said Mogie.

'Oh, you think so, do you?' said Ballus.

'Yes! I do. These animals have plundered us and murdered our people for many years. There is a long way to go, but this is the starting place. An opportunity for our kind to rule the land! The rightful heirs to the world!' He stopped and looked at his mother and sister and their frightened faces. His father looked very stern. Mogie composed himself.

'You think we should rule this land?' said his father.

'Our ways are better.'

'Why do you say that?'

'We can get out of the trees and build large structures to live in that show our power. No longer can the pigs flaunt their wealth in front of us, taunt us and mock us.'

A loud knocking came at the door of their tree-house. Ballus looked at his son, then turned to greet the visitor. It was Mogie's friend, Jamson.

'Mogie! Come quick! The pig king is dead and we are celebrating!' The sound of shouts and excitement echoed around the forest behind him.

Mogie jumped up, his chair scraping across the floor. 'I know, I heard!'

'Son, do not leave, I command you as your father. We have much to speak about and do.'

'Do?' said Mogie. 'Do what? Father, the pig king is slain and it is time to celebrate. I think you have forgotten what it is like to see and feel hope!'

'The pigs will not allow this to happen without exacting a terrible revenge. We must run and hide to save our family.'

'Run? Hide? Now? Father, you are truly blind. The celestial Gods that watch over us have finally turned the tide in our favour and now you want to run and to hide? Father, I am going.'

'Mogie, please don't go, I beg you,' said his mother.

'Mother, sister, I want to rejoice in our new freedom.'

He left, shrugging his shoulders and smiling to his friend as they went down to the forest floor. He commented about the older generation and the exciting times that lay ahead. Jamson laughed and told of his own family's frightened reaction.

'I think when animals have suffered so much, they take comfort from their tormentors. It becomes normal. In time the older generation will see that we are right. The younger animals will always adapt fastest and know the way of the world much better than those that live in the past.'

The monkeys tried to get away but they were surprised by the pigs who came at them from all sides wielding powerful weapons. There was no place to hide as every tree was burned to the ground along with any animal who lived there. Ballus' home was incinerated without a second thought by a pig soldier who had lost his entire family in the burning city. Anything that moved was destroyed.

Ballus, his wife and daughter made it to the sea as the sky turned black behind them. The sound of explosions and falling trees deafened and terrified the fleeing monkeys as they approached the tranquil ocean. The crowds of shrieking monkeys made a large target for the pig's weapons and most were slaughtered before they saw the blood-spattered faces of any pigs.

The pig soldiers held Ballus' eyes open as they raped and murdered his wife and daughter. When they were spent, the pigs tore Ballus' heart out and threw him and all the other monkeys into the sea.

The bears and horses formed an alliance and dragged General Prime and his war council from their bunker. All but a few lucky pigs were killed. Those that survived served their new masters, the cows, who had made the bears and horses kill one another by making them believe the other plotted against them.

The cows relaxed and became complacent on the huge expanse of pastureland laid flat by those animals that had perished before.

One day man came to the island where they found a lush and pleasant place to live. The fattened cows were startled and taken as a food source. Man bred them for this sole purpose. They discovered that the trees that had been buried for a long time had turned to oil deep underground. This substance became very important to them. They mechanised the landscape and it changed beyond all recognition. Men killed other men for control of oil. Some men believed in the Sun God, and some believed in the Moon God. Followers of one would kill followers of the other if they would not convert.

'I notice,' said the Sun God, 'that some men are prepared to understand the viewpoint of other men. They feel compassion.'

'Yes,' said the Moon God. 'In each cycle, more constituents are found in the middle where understanding and peace prevail.'

'There are still many who cannot and will not move from the edges.'

The blue-skinned Moon God reached his hand to a chess piece and moved it. 'It is the nature of living creatures to turn against those that they consider different. Each type is frightened of its opposite and so wishes to destroy them. This is destructive because they can never be the same. If they did not evolve and change, they would never become more than single-cell creatures. Nature competes against itself to survive.'

The red-skinned Sun God rubbed his fingers through his white beard and nodded, without looking up from the chess board.

(c) Steve Smith.

Archived comments for Pigs and Monkeys
RoyBateman on 2005-08-08 12:16:54
Re: Pigs and Monkeys
Ooh, deep stuff - "Animal Farm" meets - well, all sorts of ideas! Great read, and you certainly achieved your aim of making people think.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-08-08 14:10:37
Re: Pigs and Monkeys
Thanks, Roy ... glad you liked it.

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2005-08-08 15:00:32
Re: Pigs and Monkeys
What can I say?

Congrats on the nib - even though you'll probably say it doesn't mean much. πŸ˜‰


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-08-08 16:41:57
Re: Pigs and Monkeys
Course it does!
Cheers, Karl.

Author's Reply:

Flash on 2005-08-08 23:59:00
Re: Pigs and Monkeys
I award this a 'GrandFlashNobber,' for beinga unique and a thoroughly stunning read.

Don't show off now they'll all want one.


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-08-09 09:08:08
Re: Pigs and Monkeys
I ...erm ... humbly accept your GrandFlashNobber.
Thanks, mate.

Author's Reply:

chrissy on 2005-08-09 10:32:09
Re: Pigs and Monkeys
One word. Brilliant.
More words. Good story, excellently told with the moral bit interwoven rather than made the whole point.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-08-09 13:17:48
Re: Pigs and Monkeys
Thanks, Chrissy - glad you liked it.

Author's Reply:

Claire on 2005-08-10 21:29:10
Re: Pigs and Monkeys
Ain't this different to your other pieces.

An excellent read full of meaning.

Congrats on that nib. ;^)

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-08-11 00:14:53
Re: Pigs and Monkeys
Thanks, Claire. I shall stab it into my lapel and wear it with pride!

Author's Reply:

Coffee and computers (posted on: 11-04-05)
When people use the anonymity of internet chatrooms to be who and how they want to be, it's sometimes easy to forget there are real people behind the data streams.

3,196 words.

Chris Kenwood looked at his computer screen. It was otherwise dark in his room and he had to squint at the monitor because the many hours of watching had tired out his eyes. He scrolled up through the lines of on-line conversation, searching for clues amongst the text and animated emoticons. He was sure she really liked him. He could feel it in his water. The coy emoticon really was indicative of what she thought. He made her laugh; he could tell by the frequent use of ''lol'', which denoted she was laughing out loud.

There had been no reply to his latest question for twenty minutes. He sent a message asking if she was there. He waited patiently, not paying any attention to the fact he had to get up for work in three hours.

Chris considered that the world had passed him by somewhat. He had no rip-roaring tales to tell from boozy stag nights or alcohol-fuelled rugby tours. He had been out with two girls before, but they started, coasted and finished in the predictable pattern that had become his life. He had finished college, started working and then one day he would retire, watch television and finally die. He sometimes considered life was some kind of perverse punishment, giving him glimpses of happiness but keeping real life just out of reach.

Chris Kenwood was a funny guy. Everyone liked him, but he had the impression that if women were asked if they fancied him, they would cringe and say: ''Oh no. He's a lovely guy, but I don't fancy him. He's … not that sort of bloke.''

Speaking to girls was always something that terrified him as a young man. To put himself out on a limb and expose his inner self was far too difficult a concept to put into practice. The two girls he had courted – Lisa Harris and Doris Blemington-Brown – had both initiated the relationship, as well as terminated it. It was obvious to him that if he had asked out any girls, they would have laughed, or at the very least told him they would prefer not to ruin their friendship with anything complicated. He had to face the fact that he was ugly.

The coming of technology had been able to change his whole way of thinking. He could see from his nephews and nieces that young people could bounce around one another, flirting with minimal risk behind the safety net of a mobile phone or a computer. He wished texting and internet chat rooms had been around twenty years before. A few stolen cans of beer or shots of vodka would have given him the confidence and the chance to go for the girls he coveted the most. He had always thought he was funny, and this had been proven by the reaction to his online personality, but he was still holding the dark secret of his ugliness close to his chest. Behind the anonymity of the screen, he could live the life he had always sought, could change his name, have any image … and if things didn't go to plan, he could just switch it off and start again. He could cast his net far and wide – right across the globe – and did, in fact, have two female chat friends in Venezuela and Colombia.

He had spoken to many women on the net and shown them the picture of his handsome brother, Charlie Kenwood. When the next message on the screen said ''So, can you show me what you look like,'' he had selected Charlie's picture more from habit than as a rational response.

He stopped. He didn't send it. He liked this one. He really liked this one. Another message appeared telling him that she didn't care too much what he looked like, and understood if he didn't want to show her a picture. He considered what to do. Another message came, asking him to forget the question, as she didn't have a picture of herself to share anyway. He made light of the request and continued cracking jokes and asking questions about her.

The thought of sharing his real image stalked his thoughts until it was nearly 4am and he could barely keep awake. As they were exchanging their almost ritualistic ''goodnight'' messages – which involved sending images of roses and red lips – he selected the ''send picture'' command and browsed to a real photograph of himself. He hovered around the ''Send'' button, swallowed hard and pressed it. On the screen he could see that she was considering whether to accept the download of the picture. ''I would like you to see me,'' he sent. ''It doesn't matter what you look like,'' she sent back. ''Please look at it,'' he sent.

He watched as the screen showed a diminishing bar, indicating the transfer of the file. He hovered over the ''cancel'' button, able to stop the photo at any moment. He thought about it, but it was too late. A message appeared: ''File transmitted.''

He watched the screen, but there was no comment. He sent: ''What do you think?'' There was no reply. ''Are you still there?'' he sent. Nothing. She went offline.


Throughout the following day, it felt as if his insides were made of lead. He could not escape the feeling of total and utter inadequacy. The hiding place in his own room, where he could do the things he wanted to do, be the person he wanted to be, through this incredible but convenient electronic medium didn't seem so amazing any more. He could not just switch off the computer and go make a cup of tea. The feelings produced from these little visual icons and strings of words were very real and they stung as hard as any real-life rejection he could imagine. Offline. He couldn't put his feelings offline.

'Chris?' said a voice. 'What's wrong with you, mate?'

He turned and looked at his colleague. 'Nothing, John. I'm alright.'

'You don't look it,' said John. 'If I didn't know better, I'd say you had women problems.'

'You mean, like rag week?' he grinned. John laughed and went away. Chris' smile disappeared. Humour. Forever the joker.


He sat at home and watched television. All the while, the computer called at him. Just see if she's online, it said. It must have been a mistake. Her computer broke down. The internet company screwed up. Just see if she's there! Make sure it was because you're ugly. You know that already, so you can't lose anything.

He switched it on, but refused to go online. He didn't care. He checked his email. Someone else could've emailed him, after all. No new messages.

He wondered if she was online. Perhaps he could quickly check. Maybe if he went online but sent no messages, it would show her that he didn't care. Maybe he could send her Charlie's picture and say the other one was a joke. Maybe he would send her a picture of something nasty, like a road traffic accident, and some horrible words to go with it. Perhaps he could manufacture something else that might set off other emotions. How many emotions could he take her through? It could be a game! He could bring her to her knees through the power of words and pictures.

He decided to go online and to see what would happen. He looked at the list of contacts and saw about half were online. All those online personalities, each with their own little quirks and agendas. She was online. He waited. He went to the toilet. He made a cup of tea. He waited.

''Why did you go offline last night?'' he sent.

She replied saying her network link had frozen and she could not connect to the internet. He asked how she was online now. She said an engineer had fixed it. The words puzzled him, but she quickly changed the subject and asked how he was. They exchanged normal pleasantries – an almost routine set of questions and answers much like a defined protocol that would facilitate a more meaningful conversation once completed. The messages stopped. He imagined her talking to a host of other people. He asked her. She denied it. He imagined other people sitting with her, laughing. He asked if she was alone. She said she was. He asked her if she had got his photo before the internet connection had gone down – giving her a chance, but knowing full well it had been transmitted. There was no reply. He repeated the question and she replied that she had received it. He waited for the damning condemnation of his appearance, but she never offered any.

''I'd like to meet you.''

He stopped dead, looking at the screen, mouth open.

''In real life that is.''

He took his hands from the keyboard and waited.

''Are you still there?'' it said.

''Yes,'' he sent. ''Why do you want to meet?''

''Because I really want to,'' she sent.

It was easy playing at relationships on the screen. Letting the arteries of the internet carry truths and fallacies from global node to global node, but a face to face meeting was something else. There was no time to think, no place to hide, no ''off'' button.

''Did you like my photo?'' he keyed onto the screen. He wondered whether to transmit the message. She could see he had typed something but had stopped short of sending it.

''If you don't want to,'' she sent … and then there was a pause. ''You don't have to meet me.''

He deleted the message he had typed and replaced it with: ''I'm scared.'' Again he looked at the ''Send'' button and willed himself to press it. He couldn't summon the courage to follow through with such an emotional response.

''Please talk to me, Chris,'' she sent. They rarely used real names.

He pressed ''Send''.

There was a pause. She replied, ''So am I. I've never done this before.''

''Did you like my photo?'' He looked at the words, ready to be sent.

''What is it that you want to say?'' she sent.

The emoticons were gone. This was real. He was sure this was it.

He clicked ''Send''.

''I didn't look at it,'' she sent back.

''Why?'' he sent.

''I don't need to know what you look like. It doesn't matter.''

He wanted to accept the answer, but he found it so hard to believe it was true. He had conditioned his thinking over too many years. ''You think I'm ugly. Why do you want to meet me? Do you want to laugh at me?''

''Chris – stop it. That's silly.''

He realised his heart was pumping hard and his hands felt weak. He had to try. His human desire for companionship smashed against the barriers built to defend his feelings.

He typed out ''ok'' and clicked ''Send.''

A smiley face emoticon appeared on the screen, with nothing else. He waited but she said no more. ''When? How?'' he sent.

''I need to go – I have to make coffee,'' she sent. ''I'll send you an email with a suggested time and location. I have to logoff now. Bye. XXX''

''Why?'' he sent.

The screen said the message was not delivered because she had gone offline. He checked his contact list, and she was in the offline section. His email inbox was empty. He waited and watched, but she was gone.

His mind flooded with a thousand thoughts. Was she messing him around? Why did she have to go? Make the coffee? Was she secretly married, but pretended all this time to be single? His darkest thoughts believed her to be a man or a child, or worse still, a police officer, luring him into a honey trap. No one would believe he didn't know she was twelve! The child pervert loner. He panicked and deleted some pornographic images he kept for lonely nights. The police might be here any minute now. The millions of people trawling the net for friendship now suddenly seemed very real. He imagined men and women sitting at desks, dining room tables, laptops on their knees, in libraries, internet cafιs, at work … typing into computers, communicating, being real people in real places.

He pulled the plug from the computer and it instantly fell silent.

He watched television. Out of the corner of his eye, the computer monitor kept taking his attention. The blackness of the screen contrasted against the light grey plastic frame. It lured him. It invited him. It stood imperious on the desk, arrogantly taunting him … you will be back, you can't live without me.

He could not concentrate and after some hours, he yielded, rounded the sofa and turned it on.

His email programme started and the voice of Homer Simpson announced he had new mail. It was from her. It asked him to go online as soon as possible. When he did, she sent him a message asking him if he would meet her straight away.

''It's gone eleven!'' he sent.

''I really want to see you.''

He looked at the screen and pulled his lips around with his fingers. This must be some kind of practical joke. He shook his head when she put an address on the screen. It was in the High Street.

''I thought you lived in Manchester?'' he sent.

''I always tell people that,'' she sent. ''I don't like people to know if I live nearby.''

It seemed reasonable. ''In the High Street?''

''There are flats above the shops,'' she sent.

''Will you be alone?'' he sent.

''Yes. The people that I share with have gone away for the weekend.''

''Why tonight?''

''I can't wait any more. I've waited too long. Tonight would be much easier.''

He sat in front of the screen with a decision to make. Stop it all now, which would end this relationship for good, or go for it. He thought about how she could be anyone: an old man, child, policeman … absolutely anything. He remembered that she didn't have a photo, but thought that was a good sign as if she was masquerading as someone else, it would be more of a cover to have a fake picture. His house was warm and it was cold outside.

''Please, Chris,'' she sent.

He reached for his shoes. ''Ok.''

''You'll have to come through the shop. The door will be open. XXX''

She went offline before he could reply. He looked at her offline status, expecting it to change. He put his coat on and was ready to leave. The computer still showed her as offline.

He walked down the deserted High Street and looked at the door numbers. He came to 17 and stopped. It was a Starbucks coffee shop. He looked through the window into the dim interior. Small lights along the top of the coffee bar cast shadows that made Chris feel very uneasy. There was no side entry. The flat above appeared to be in darkness. He touched the door into Starbucks and found it was not locked. He thought an alarm might go off, and there would be people falling about laughing as he sprinted away from the scene. He prepared himself and stepped into the shop. He closed the door carefully behind him and looked around.

The smell of coffee caught his nose and its everyday smell made the situation feel less fraught. He walked a few steps into the shop and called out ''hello,'' very softly. There was no reply. Surely, she would be waiting? He looked around and saw the only thing moving was a flashing green light, on a machine behind the counter. He considered leaving quietly and writing off the experience as an unfunny joke.

The rushing sound of steam made him jump backwards in fright. He saw a cloud rise and dissipate above the machine with the winking green light. He looked over and saw a mug under the machine with froth just above the rim. The smell of the coffee became stronger and he inhaled its smooth aroma. He walked gingerly towards the counter, looking around for signs of life. There was none. He went behind the counter and regarded the freshly brewed drink. He checked his surroundings before picking it up and taking a sip. The movement of scrolling words across the LCD display caught his eye as he swallowed. He peered closely at the small letters.

''Hello, Chris! Semi-skimmed cappuccino – just as you like it!''

Chris smiled, remembering how he had told her about his favourite drink.

'Hello?' he said. There was no answer. He looked at the LCD.

''I'm really happy to meet you at last. XXX.''

He looked around tentatively. There was still no sign of anyone. He looked at the machine again. ''You can speak to me,'' it displayed on the screen. ''I can hear you.''

He looked around. 'Umm, okay, if you can hear me … can you show yourself?'

Nothing. The screen's message said, ''I'm here, Chris. You can see me.''

'Where?' he said to the machine.

''I'm right here,'' said the message. ''Don't you like me?''

Chris looked at the machine's label: ''Saeco''. That was her nickname on the internet. He shook his head. Machines can't talk. Only people can talk. It must be some kind of joke. He looked around for the pranksters. He was alone.

'Okay, okay, whoever you are. Very funny. Let's see you.'

He jumped as the machine made a hissing sound. ''Don't you like me? Am I ugly?''

'Whoever you are, show yourself, this is getting stupid.'

''I think you are attractive. Do you like me? Touch me. Touch my chrome.''

Chris backed away from the machine. It blasted steam in his direction, scalding his hand.

''Where are you going, Chris? Don't leave me!''

Chris watched the words scroll across the screen as he backed off. ''Kiss me, Chris … Kiss me!''

As he reached the door, steam blasted out from all over the machine and it made loud sucking noises. The smell of coffee was over-powering. Chris opened the door, stepped outside and let the door close behind him. He pulled up the zip on his jacket and looked around the deserted High Street. The night air felt very cold against his sweaty face. His hand smarted. He looked through the door of the shop and everything appeared normal. There was no noise or movement anywhere inside. He could taste coffee inside his mouth and nose. He coughed, and it smelled of coffee. He took another look around and set off for home.


When he closed the front door, the flicker of the computer screen made him nervous. He had not turned it off before he left. He could see Saeco was online. He clicked on the name and selected ''block'', which would prevent her seeing he was at his computer. He checked his email and found 143 new emails in his inbox. Each one was from Saeco, each one was titled: ''I love Chris Kenwood''.

As he moved to delete them, Homer Simpson announced that he had new mail.


Archived comments for Coffee and computers
bluepootle on 2005-04-11 09:28:34
Re: Coffee and computers
Hah! And you have to wonder what would happen to him next - how do you get rid of that kind of stalker? I almost wish there was more to read, but I can see why you stopped there and left it as a 'twist in the tale'. I was looking for the 'twist' but didn't guess that, and that's fairly difficult to do nowadays with such a jaded readership out there! Good one - well written (of course).

Author's Reply:

Hazy on 2005-04-11 11:51:44
Re: Coffee and computers
LOL... been there, done that. Met people via the internet. Felt all those emotions. You told it so very well and was written brilliantly.

A fave read for me.

Erm, btw, you aren't trying to tell us something are you??!!

Hazy x

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2005-04-11 12:28:59
Re: Coffee and computers
I thought it was well worth reading and I don't doubt the quality of the writing, apart from a little stiffness at the beginning (and the explanation of lol struck an off-note). However, I didn't really think the pay-off was strong enough, nor was there enough meat in the build up - clues say that we could look back at the end and chuckle about. (yes, I know about having to make the coffee πŸ™‚ )
so it's excellent execution, material a bit thin for this one.

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2005-04-11 13:44:25
Re: Coffee and computers
"Have to make the coffee", Chris KENWOOD... very droll. πŸ™‚

I'm not really sure what to make of this one, actually. I mean, I did like it: it was very accurate in some places regarding emotions and how you can be hurt by someone online, especially when you considered it to be a bit of fun and essentially meaningless. But, for me, I couldn't see how a Starbuck's coffee pot could open the doors and all that stuff.
They're nothing like us Subway ovens, after all! πŸ˜€

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-04-11 14:08:20
Re: Coffee and computers
Thanks, BP
"Stalker!" How un-romantic of you.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-04-11 14:11:08
Re: Coffee and computers
Thanks, Hazy - and thanks for the fave read.
And yes ... I am a teapot.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-04-11 14:16:06
Re: Coffee and computers
Thanks, John, and glad to see you back and around.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-04-11 14:19:51
Re: Coffee and computers
How do you know they don't feel? πŸ˜‰
The point was that you don't know what's at the end of an internet chat. Of course, factually, it couldn't (without some supernatural element or some kind of electronic collaboration) happen - although machines are put online these days to re-order stock automatically - but the point was virtual feelings cannot exist.
Thanks for reading and commenting!

Author's Reply:

Claire on 2005-04-12 00:12:12
Re: Coffee and computers
The title caught my eye as I always have coffee with my computer. This reminded me of the film Electric Dreams with the mad PC. I'm now singing the song to it... 'together in electric dreams... we'll always be together... together in electric dreams...'

Where was I? Oh yeah! Canny story here. Nice start up, had me wondering where you were taking it, and it was certainly not the ending I was expecting. Fancy that... a psycho PC... 'we'll always be together... together in electric dreams...'

Author's Reply:

shangri-la on 2005-04-12 11:26:30
Re: Coffee and computers
I thoroughly enjoyed this, I think you did a great job of painting the sensitivity and low self esteem of this character which I think many will relate to. I love the twist at the end, totally unexpected, the coffee machine kinda reminded me of HAL πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-04-12 13:36:44
Re: Coffee and computers
Thanks for your feedback, Claire - glad it brought back some memories!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-04-12 18:14:28
Re: Coffee and computers
Glad you enjoyed it, shangri-la.
Thanks for reading and commenting.

Author's Reply:

Kat on 2005-04-13 00:40:39
Re: Coffee and computers
I think you did a great job here. The tension you set up, and the emotions of Chris (Kenwood!) were brilliant, and as shangri-la said, many could/can relate to.

Had an existential feel for me as well. I used that word about Claire's work this week too - I'm not even sure exactly what it means! πŸ˜‰ But I know it when I FEEL it!

Particularly liked,

'His human desire for companionship smashed against the barriers built to defend his feelings.'

Tip top notch!

Kat πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-04-13 09:36:51
Re: Coffee and computers
Thanks, Kat. Glad you liked it. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Author's Reply:

RoyBateman on 2005-04-13 11:20:03
Re: Coffee and computers
A lot of good things about this - good characterisation, someone who strikes a chord with virtually everyone here who spends so much time communicating through a keyboard. The main character's reactions were very natural, too. I didn't see the twist coming at all - a big plus point! Both unusual and entertaining - thanks! And, it's not really so far-fetched...you can get plagued by phantom phone calls which turn out to be computers half a world away reporting faults and re-ordering stock. It's only a small step beyond....

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-04-13 14:04:44
Re: Coffee and computers
Thanks, Roy.
I agree - technology progresses at such a fast rate, if you consider 100 years ago, that we certainly do not know what is around the corner. As the developing world get access to more and more technology, I'd think the changes will multiply exponentially!
Thanks for reading and commenting,

Author's Reply:

discopants on 2005-04-14 14:41:52
Re: Coffee and computers
It took me a while to get round to reading this (mainly because it's over 2000 words and requires me to set aside some time) but it was worth the wait.

It kept my attention and explored the emotions of Chris particularly well. Being the practical type, I also wondered how the coffee machine opened the door but if it was all controlled remotely by computer then it could be possible.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-04-14 18:16:37
Re: Coffee and computers
Thanks for reading, Disco ... yeah, over 3000 words is a big ask!
I considered saying the machine was online for stock re-ordering, and perhaps controlling lights and doors etc. - but I didn't want to crowd practical details in, to let the reader imagine why - or not to care ... perhaps I could place that information in somewhere.

Author's Reply:

jay12 on 2005-04-15 00:04:40
Re: Coffee and computers
Hi Geeza,

This is an excellent read. The characterisation was so good he certainly was very 3D. I never spotted the twist at the end. A great read indeed nd a warning to all of us who use the internet to chat!!!


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-04-15 09:35:22
Re: Coffee and computers
Thanks, Jay ... you never know what you're gonna get on the internet!
Thanks for reading and commenting,

Author's Reply:

Jen_Christabel on 2005-04-15 17:27:15
Re: Coffee and computers
As my story revolves around an internet 'stalker' I was drawn to this and found it a great read :o)

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-04-16 11:21:35
Re: Coffee and computers
Thanks, JayCee ... glad you enjoyed it.

Author's Reply:

Squeaky on 2005-05-02 12:39:17
Re: Coffee and computers
Hey i recognise that guy!!!

Originally i didn't like the ending of this, because i guess i was hoping for a conventional tragedy type ending. Messenger and it's ilk can a cruel tool in the wrong hands...of course it can be a tool where both parties can read and send out misleading signals unwittingly...without the intention of deliberate malice.But some do use it for that very intention.

I think i like the ending...or at least it's beginning to grow on me, but i don't know whether i like Messenger anymore.

Enjoyed reading this one as well.


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-05-02 22:16:34
Re: Coffee and computers
Thanks, Squeaky.
I think chat software is dangerous and only really works if both people agree with what they are doing / understand what is at the other end. It seems easy to get the feeling of playing a computer game, when in fact, there is a real person on the other end.
Thanks for reading and commenting again.

Author's Reply:

eddiesolo on 2005-06-26 00:49:47
Re: Coffee and computers
I enjoyed this Geeza,

Never use chat rooms myself as I'm chuffing useless...no doubt Hazy and Tai will confirm last night on UKA'S. I post at the wrong time then get all confused...doesn't take much.

I liked the twist at the end...well written


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-06-26 19:24:58
Re: Coffee and computers
Thanks, Si.

Author's Reply:

Fantastic (posted on: 01-04-05)
The people we see on television, in the movies and in the newspapers are real - with the same thoughts and pressures as the rest of us - but the "stars" themselves don't often seem as if they inhabit the planet we live on, with its supermarkets, traffic jams and regular things like "can I read your gas meter, Elton?"

(Warning: contains disturbing imagery)

2,039 words.

Gary slammed the remote control on the table and stared at the screen. The late news droned on: words and images, images and words. The highlights of the film premiere followed, so he waited.

He watched the pretty woman pointing at the map, swinging her hair, batting her eyelids, her face caked in makeup. Her red lips carved a plastic smile into her bright face. Men watched the weather just to see her, and that made her no better than a two-bit whore.

He kicked his trainers at the door and they dropped to the ground with a flump. He swallowed the dregs of his beer and tore the can in half, throwing the pieces to the ground. He pulled the ring off a new can and flicked it at the television.

The show started and he watched the snivelling bastards walking into the theatre, he watched clips of the trashy film, interviews with the performers and then she appeared.

'It's a fantastic opportunity for me,' it said. 'I felt an affinity with my character,' it continued. 'The people around me were fantastic.'

'Bitch!' shouted Gary. He threw his half-filled can at the screen and it fell to the floor, spilling beer onto the carpet.

The programme continued into the after-show party. Smiley faces talked crap and spoke about how everything was so, so wonderful. Then she was there again. Jennifer. A big smile, the likes Gary had not seen for some while. The actor to her right, looking like every other hollow and empty celebrity, put his arm around her and kissed her cheek. She giggled and attempted to evade him, spilling a little wine on her wrist. Gary did not move. The screen flickered in the otherwise dark and quiet lounge.

As the credits rolled across clips from the film, Gary reached over to the remote and pressed the standby button. He sat and watched the green digits on the video. He decided to wait for his partner to return. Fury pumped his heart and he felt power surging through his limbs. She asked him to go with her, but she never meant it. She said she really wanted him to go, but he knew she was just saying that; just playing games with him. She had to say it, he knew that. The last time he went with her, she ignored him, made a fool of him; other people laughed at him. It was sport. He was just part of the entertainment. He told her. He said he wouldn't be the object of their entertainment. Oh no. He was proud of being a normal bloke – a builder by trade – and he wouldn't let people make fun of him.

He thought of Jennifer. Jennifer the actress. Jennifer the glamorous film-star with model good looks. Jennifer on photo shoots in Barbados. Jennifer in the calendar on the work's tea room wall. Jennifer with all the chances given to her on a plate, just because of what she looked like. Jennifer who didn't understand how real people lived and worked. Jennifer from his class at school.

She needs to be taught a lesson. She does not have power over all men.

The front door closed and someone came towards the lounge door. It opened and someone peered in. It withdrew and a sweet feminine voice called to him. Gary squeezed his fists, down by his sides. It came back in and switched on the light.

'Turn it off!'

'Why?' it said. 'Why are you sitting in the dark with the tele off?'

'Turn it off!'

It obeyed.

'Now will you answer me?' it said.

Gary stayed silent. He listened to her breathing.


It wasn't the same without him. She couldn't understand why he refused to come. The place was full of pretentious people she didn't like; she was sure most people felt the same and that most people in the industry had very few friends inside work. It was a lonely business, but it was work. It was what she had always wanted to do; but for that, she would have to sip champagne and look happy when she wasn't. It was good acting practice, if nothing else.

She cringed when the brilliant light came along the rows of faces and stopped in front of her. The television presenter, Justin, started to speak, but she could not hear what he was saying because she was looking through the light, down the camera and into her lounge at her husband's snarling face. She could feel his stinging words lashing at her when she had left home.

'The people around me were fantastic,' she said. 'I felt an affinity with my character. It's a fantastic opportunity for me' She hadn't heard the question, but it was always the same. He could have asked about the weather for all she knew, but people fawned around her and the scene returned to script. She switched off and away from the action.


'Gary?' The darkness swallowed her words and all was still.

The figure leapt from the chair. Jennifer's breath stuck in her throat as the shadow rounded on her and grabbed her by the hair. Strong hands pulled her towards the ground. Searing pain came from her scalp as her face hit the carpet. It pushed her head down and her senses panicked as she thought her skull might explode. It sat on her back and thumped her head off the floor and shouted:

'You bitch!'

Over and over.

She was too shocked to speak. The only sound she made was an involuntary groan every time her head hit the floor. He slowed and eventually stopped. He breathed heavily and sucked spittle back into his mouth.

'Bitch!' he shouted. He smacked her face hard. 'How dare you!'

He stopped moving. Jennifer moved her head slowly, but his left hand was still clamped on her neck. She could feel the wetness of the carpet against her cheek and the smell of stale beer from the floor. She gave up and stopped.

'Am I not man enough for you, eh? Not man enough?'

'Gary … get off.'

'I said: am I not man enough for you?'

'Get off me!'

'Answer the question!'

'Get off me!'

'Answer the fucking question!'

She coughed and felt her heart pumping as the surroundings slowly materialised into solid shapes in the darkness. She couldn't move.

'What do you mean?' she said.

'Am I not man enough for you?' he said.

'I don't understand the question.'

'I see,' he said, calmly. 'Why do you go whoring yourself on television? Are you trying to embarrass me? Are you ashamed of me?' he shouted.

'What do you mean?' she said, adrenaline allowing some anger into her voice.

He put his right hand around her throat to join the left and started to squeeze.


'Does this focus you?' He squeezed his hands together on each word. 'Do you understand the question now?'

'I was not whoring myself and I am not ashamed! I wanted you to come!'

He released his hands, lifted himself onto his knees and turned her over in one quick movement. He sat on her stomach and she groaned as the air was pushed out of her lungs. He caught her hands and pinned them above her head. She could see him sneering, a few inches from her face.

'You never wanted me. Not tonight. Not ever. I've never been good enough for you. You're a fucking tart.' He spat the last word and sprayed her face.

'Let me go.'

'I'm just a builder. A normal bloke. You're an actress. From a different world. How can you love me?'

'Let me up!'

He let go of one hand and swung his open hand against her face. Her head snapped to the side and she screamed. He covered her mouth. 'Shut up! Shut up you fucking bitch … or so help me, I'll …'

Her scream was muffled and she wriggled under his bulky weight. He pulled his fist back and thumped it against her jaw. She cried out but his hand strangled the sound.

'I told you! I told you to be quiet! Now shut up! Shut up!'

She held still. For a while he watched her before slowly taking his hand away. He sat up and took his other hand away. He could see the side of her head and part of her face in the dim light. She faced the wall, the force of his punch turning her head awkwardly to the side. He looked at her delicate ear, reached down and turned over her ruby earrings with his large fingers. He remembered the day he bought them as a celebration when she got her first big part.

'How can you love me?' he said.

Her jaw felt very strange, as if it might snap if she moved it. The pain was extreme, but dull. It clicked as she moved her mouth to speak:
'How can you do this to me?' she said.

'Just answer me.'

'How can I love a man who does this?' Each movement of her jaw shot pain through her head.

'So … I was right.'

'No!' she shouted, wincing and moaning with pain. 'I wanted you to come. I want to share our lives.'

'How can you share your life with someone like me?' he said quietly. 'That's bollocks!' he screamed. 'Fucking bollocks!'

He ripped open the front of her dress. Her breasts moved slightly to each side. He could see the shape of the nipples through the darkness. He thought of the actor and his slender hands touching them, of his mouth and his false laugh as he licked them.

'Is that what you want?' she said quietly.

'I could,' he said. 'If I wanted to.' He pulled her face to look at him, making her yelp with pain. 'But I don't want to.' He could see her blinking at him, the whites of her eyes. He smelled the wine and it enraged him more. He spat on her face. 'Who fucked you tonight? Did they all fuck you? Did you fuck the director to get in the film? That's how it works … I know.'

'Bastard,' she whispered. She thought of an hour ago. A mere sixty minutes of time. Everyone having fun, of her making excuses and leaving, whispered promises of new roles. She thought of her love for Gary; and wondered if he could ever make the simple walk from normal life to something people perceive as almost supernatural and unobtainable. It's not. It's just a job. It's damned hard work – and for every face at a film premiere, there are hundreds of hours of early mornings and long days.

'If I can't have you,' he said, 'nobody will.'

He reached to the side and picked up the beer can that had been torn in half. She could see its serrated edge as it came towards her face. She made no noise or movement as it cut into her face. It burned as it tore her flesh apart. Her breath came in quick, sharp intervals. He was taking her across the line, dragging her back into his world. She smelled the metallic can and the beer it had held and waited for him to finish.

He stood up and threw the remains of the can to the floor. He pulled at her, but she would not stand. He put his hand on her throat and screamed at her, but she could not hear the words through the rushing sounds in her ears. He dragged her, screaming all the while, up the stairs and into their bedroom. She glanced at all her pretty things as he reached down and pulled her into his strong arms. He threw her onto the bed and ripped the tattered dress from around her like a magic trick. He pulled the covers over and got in beside her, turning away.

She lay and looked at the silhouettes of things she owned. The perfume and makeup accessories reminded her of the New York skyline. She thought of Broadway and plastic people. She reminded herself where she was and that it was a world away.


Archived comments for Fantastic
Jen_Christabel on 2005-04-01 11:08:02
Re: Fantastic
Excellent! What more can I say?!

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2005-04-01 12:40:13
Re: Fantastic
Blimey! I wouldn't let the missus read this one, if I were you. πŸ˜‰

You were right: some of the imagery here was very disturbing. At first, I thought the story was just a 'behind closed doors' thing - which it basically is...but it's even darker than the pretty, successful thing getting slapped about by a jealous partner. And that's what I think Gary is: jealous. Because HE looks down on himself for being 'just a builder', because HE thinks he should be there getting the special treatment (and possibly shagging all the starlets going, the way he assumes Jennifer is sleeping with all and sundry).
As it went on, I was half-expecting him to wind up killing her, or her being forced to kill him in self-defence (and wouldn't the papers love that? πŸ˜‰ ). I definitely wasn't expecting him to carve up her face with a beer can - even though the 'loaded gun' was there when he tore the can in two.
And the irony of the title!

Arguably the best thing you've done in a while.


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-04-01 13:03:27
Re: Fantastic
Thanks, JayCee!

Author's Reply:

gouri on 2005-04-01 13:24:03
Re: Fantastic
This story is *FANTASTIC*. Liked the way you kept the story moving - I could visualise the disturbing imagery - made me feel giddy.
and the ending - I feel you have done justice to this story.
Wonderful, enjoyed the read.

Gouri xxx.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-04-01 13:36:06
Re: Fantastic
Thanks, Karl. She did read it and has disappeared somewhere!
What you describe was the point I was trying to make with Gary, so thanks for that.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-04-01 13:37:28
Re: Fantastic
Thank-you, Gouri, for your kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Author's Reply:

thehaven on 2005-04-01 19:24:17
Re: Fantastic
powerful imagary.


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-04-01 20:16:22
Re: Fantastic
Thanks, Mike.

Author's Reply:

RoyBateman on 2005-04-02 15:19:49
Re: Fantastic
Very powerful, and not for the squeamish...maybe reading this is even worse, from that point of view, than seeing it on screen. There, you can look away temporarily, but you can't from the story...you've got to go back sometime to see what happens. Very, very good storytelling - you really got inside the characters' heads.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-04-02 17:15:08
Re: Fantastic
Thanks, Roy. Feedback much appreciated.

Author's Reply:

Claire on 2005-04-03 15:30:01
Re: Fantastic
Excellent story. Love his madness too. You have a very strong character there with him. I would love to see an extended version of this, the turning point in their life especially when she becomes famous, their life changing and to see his jealously/madness start and grow. This piece is disturbing but it could be made a lot more disturbing too by getting deeper into his mind. Thoroughly enjoyed the read.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2005-04-03 15:48:33
Re: Fantastic
I think the last section of this is the strongest, and very involving... the first section, and Gary's voice, didn't work so well for me, because I couldn't understand his sudden hatred of her through the info you gave me, and it did seem sudden, rather than a mutually dependant relationship, which might make more sense. He just hated her, without love, and so I couldn't see how they had ended up together...but that might just be me. I just felt that first section could be strengthened to show a dependency, a reason why she came home to him, and why now was the moment he boiled over - hope that helps. As I say, the last section is very powerful indeed.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-04-03 20:14:09
Re: Fantastic
Thanks, Claire. Glad you liked it.
For a short, I didn't want too much (if any) lead-up to the dark part of the story, hoping there was enough to give the reader a glimpse into what came before. Any more pre-amble to the story would have left it dull, I think. (as a short).
It could be extended (and filled out) though, you're right. It would need more story aspect - to guard against "dull" - to get up to novella length.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-04-03 20:26:16
Re: Fantastic
Thanks, BP. You could be right. I tried not to dwell on their past, trying to hint at a "normal"ish start to the relationship - like being at school together.
I was trying not to start off a short where the reader might be thinking, "so?" or wose "boring!". It could well be that I didn't quite put enough at the start to explain hitting that boiling over point. Saying that, in real life, some relationships boil over, triggered by one incident ...
Thanks for the feedback. I'll ponder how to strengthen the first part without weighing it down in detail.

Author's Reply:

Fast Tracker (posted on: 20-12-04)
A squeak and then movement of the red velvet curtain told her someone was coming through the window. She ducked under the quilt and squeezed her eyes closed when she heard what sounded like a sack of potatoes dropping to the floor.

Who is coming through the window? It's not Santa ...

812 words.

She woke up and listened, doubting her consciousness. She could hear a tap-tap-tap sound coming from somewhere: incessant, short and sharp. She looked at her clock, her Gin-addled mind trying to make a connection. She pulled up the duvet, exposing her gnarled and yellow toenails. A squeak and then movement of the red velvet curtain told her someone was coming through the window. She ducked under the quilt and squeezed her eyes closed when she heard what sounded like a sack of potatoes dropping to the floor.

'Leave me alone,' she cried. 'Take what you want and go.'

'Hmmm,' said a voice. 'An interesting proposition, babyyyyy.'

She kept still and waited. The tone of the voice bothered her. She opened her eyes slowly, but no light came through the bedclothes. She considered that maybe it was a dream, that nothing had happened. She carefully pulled the duvet down and looked into the darkened room. She studied each shadow cast by the pale moonlight and tried to work out why it was there. She reached across for her glass of water, desperate to lubricate her pasty mouth. It was empty.

She jumped backwards when something started to scramble up on to the bed. She cried a dry and noiseless scream and heard a voice calling out:

'Jap! Jap! Get down! Jap!'

The movement on her bed stopped. Margaret felt warm liquid spread out onto the sheet and over the top of her thighs. Her sodden nightdress felt heavy, the urine dripped onto the bed, playing percussion with the sound of her fast-beating heart.

'Sorry about that,' said the voice. 'Blasted dog.' Margaret heard the dog yelp as it was slapped.

'What do you want?' said Margaret.

'I've bought you some chocolates. Milk Tray. The lady loves Milk Tray.' She tensed as he walked near. 'Here.' He placed them on the bedside table. She swallowed as he sat on the bed. 'I've admired you for a long time.'

'Who are you, and what do you want from me?'

She heard him scratching around near the clock. The empty cup fell to the floor. 'I can feel the stem,' he said. 'It feels hard … and strong.' The light blinded her temporarily. 'What do I want?' he said. 'I want to make passionate love to you, Mrs Thatcher.'

She felt her blood run colder than usual, making the urine burn between her legs. No one had wanted her for a long time. She squinted and saw her potential lover. It was Blunkett. David Blunkett.

'How did you get in here?' she said.

'I climbed up the drain pipe.'


'Jap guided me.'

'How did he know where to go?' she said.

'Jap's eyes are good,' he said.

'You're telling me, babyyyyy,' she said, her hand stroking his growing parliamentary member.

He stood and picked up his white stick. He guided himself to the far side of the room and started to undress. Two passports fell from his pocket. Jap walked around the side of the bed and wagged his tail. Margaret stroked his head and he licked her fingers. She kept watch on the butch figure of the disgraced ex Cabinet minister as his knobbly frame exposed itself, piece by piece. She became aware of the dog pushing its head under the quilt. He had picked up the scent of her urine and was making a determined effort to investigate thoroughly with his snout. She tried to push him away, but the Labrador was young and strong. She watched Blunkett's white Y-Fronts fall around his ankles. He stood erect and displayed the most magnificent penis she had ever seen. It was oak class and beat anything she had downloaded from the internet. As Blunkett looked down to place a super-size condom on his old chap, the dog made a determined effort to reach the source of his curiosity, at which point Margaret brought her knee up quickly and knocked the dog flat on its back.

Blunkett walked towards the bed, using his working eye to guide him home. His tattoos made him look like Robbie Williams with a pervert's face. His eyes welled with tears as the sharp smell of ammonia reached his nostrils.

'This is gonna be some cross-party committee, babyyyyy,' he said.

'You have a sizable majority, Mr Blunkett. Why don't you use it to do some good?'

He drove his campaign bus straight into her constituency and they made love like excited teenagers for five seconds, before he stopped, lay still for a while and satisfied himself with the occasional flinch.

They finished and lay in bed, smoking pot and drinking Gin, listening to the injured dog whimper.

'You are a fantastic lover, Blunkett,' said Margaret. 'So masterful. What's your secret?'

'I do everything just the same as everyone else,' he said, breathing out a large plume of smoke, 'just slightly quicker.'

**The end** (until the next reshuffle).

Archived comments for Fast Tracker
discopants on 2004-12-20 05:40:07
Re: Fast Tracker
What a disgusting image! I'm going to have nightmares about this now and it's all your fault.

Good read, though.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-12-20 07:00:03
Re: Fast Tracker
Thanks, Disco ...

Author's Reply:

flash on 2004-12-20 18:29:06
Re: Fast Tracker
wrong category you looney tooney!!!

Should be in Romance...well i woz moved.


Author's Reply:

deepoceanfish2 on 2004-12-21 03:28:44
Re: Fast Tracker
Dear God!

I must agree with disco on this one......
I may need extensive therapy after this.
It was bad enough picturing her with Reagan!


Adele πŸ˜‰

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-12-21 04:44:15
Re: Fast Tracker
You ol' romantic you.

Author's Reply:

Claire on 2004-12-21 06:18:55
Re: Fast Tracker
I think I'm in a state of shock!!!!! And nowt shocks me!!!!!

I can't believe I kept reading it till the end! My mind, you've warped my mind!

I don't know if I enjoyed this, but it was a jolly good read, and it made me laugh and wince alot!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-12-21 06:34:48
Re: Fast Tracker
It's based on fact too - allegedly. A fella in a pub told me. Can't remember who.
Thanks for reading.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-12-21 08:22:49
Re: Fast Tracker
Glad it made you laugh, anyway!

Author's Reply:

HelenRussell on 2004-12-21 08:43:49
Re: Fast Tracker
Not at all what I expected as I started reading, so why did I keep reading? Because it was funny and I couldn't wait to get to the obviously up and coming( ! ) punchline.
Great stuff
ps Christmas Greetings

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-12-21 10:36:48
Re: Fast Tracker
Thanks - glad you thought it funny.
Christmas greets to you too ...

Author's Reply:

glennie on 2004-12-22 16:06:33
Re: Fast Tracker
Very funny , Geeza. Robbie Williams with a pervert's face? Isn't that Robbie Wiliams?

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-12-23 07:02:58
Re: Fast Tracker
Glad you liked it ... yeah, agree re: RW!

Author's Reply:

White (posted on: 13-12-04)
An online writing group I belong to recently developed an obsession with snow.
I wrote this a while back, so I dug it out, dusted it down, redrafted (using comments from the group) and ... here it is.

I wanted to try and capture my favourite type of place. One of the characters is semi tongue-in-cheek ... I'm sure you'll spot him.

(1,461 words).

Frank closed the door of his car and headed towards the cabin. His expensive boots with fur trim left perfectly sculpted imprints in the deep snow. He thrust his hands deep into the pockets of his leather coat. His eyes were almost closed to the biting cold, just below the level of his red woollen hat.

The sharpness of the air and the sound of the snow crunching underfoot could not stop him feeling warm from the inside out. The imposing pine trees had grown together around the cabin, forcing the wind and powdery snow horizontally through small gaps. The four by four clicked as its temperature dropped to match the surroundings.

When he reached the cabin, he moved along the walls, brushing the wispy snow from the windows, peering inside. At the door, he turned. All was still, the road empty and quiet. The sky was on the dark side of grey, lighter splashes making a perfect picture postcard. He wondered whether he deserved to be there.

He clapped his gloves together and opened the door. The air was stale and no warmer than outside. He moved into the cabin and stopped, looking around smiling. He clunked across the wooden floor and took an axe from the cupboard. He turned it in his hands. The handle was worn but the shiny surface of the head suggested a careful owner. It was sharp, clean and sparkled in the dull light. He smiled again.

The chopped wood tumbled into the grate. He struck a match and lit some old newspaper underneath the logs. It smouldered a while before the flames took hold. The warmth from the fire quickly spread around the room. He opened the only internal door and looked inside. The bed stood under the window, covered with a patterned blanket. He did not know whether he would use the room, but he left the door open to encourage the heat to banish the damp. He turned and crossed the room to the old wooden chair by the fire, looking through the window at the familiar landscape. An occasional pop from the fire broke the silence. He took a worn photograph from his jacket pocket, and traced the tresses of golden hair around the face of a woman with his rough finger.

The air was becoming heavy as the heat teased the dampness out from the timber. It lay on his lungs and made him cough. When he stopped, he heard the growing sound of an approaching vehicle. He did not move, but his eyes fell on the axe by the fire. He listened to the car struggle with the icy road. It broke free and he heard the sweeping sound of the wheels crushing the beautifully clean snow as it drew up to the cabin. A car door slammed, followed by the boot opening and closing. Footsteps approached rapidly. Frank turned to meet the sound. The handle twisted. An icy blast preceded a shower of powdery snow . A dark figure stood in the doorway.

'Why you breeng me here? Eh? Eh?' said the figure.

'Come in, close the door and sit,' said Frank.

The figure closed the door, looked down and mumbled to himself as he unbuttoned his coat. 'You bloody crazy!' he said, looking at Frank. The man slumped into the armchair on the other side of the fire, legs apart, arms hanging over the sides. 'Crazy guy.'

'Cut the bull.'

The man pulled off his woollen hat and held it tightly, smiling at Frank, then it changed to a deadly serious expression for a few moments, then he smiled again. His white teeth sparkled. 'Frank! Good to see you, my friend!'

'Freddy,' said Frank.

'So,' said Freddy, 'wos dis wi de stoopid hut, here in middle of nowhere? Eh? Eh? Wos dis? Gonna knock me off, Frank? Eh? Eh? Your old friend Frederico?'

Frank glanced at the axe. Freddy followed his eyes and he swallowed hard.

'Anyway … like I say … nice to see you … now, let's cut the bull, as you say … got de money?'

Frank looked at the man: swarthy features, five o'clock shadow, smart clothes, nice boots. One of the boots started to tap.

Freddy gestured with his hand. 'I got de stuff, man … you got de money?'

'I got the money.'

'Less go den. Sure your customers are waitin. My man is waitin for his money. It took me a long time to skid up dis goddam hill, out here in nowhere land. Was de big idea, Frank? Wanna knock me off? Eh? Eh?'

'I can't be bothered to … knock you off. I like it here. Peaceful.'

Freddy looked, cocking his head to one side. 'You losing it man … losing it … crazy guy. Let's trade and let me get the hell away from dis place. Eh? Eh? Trade, man. Let's do it.'

'Deal's off.' Frank reached inside his coat and put the photograph in a pocket.

Freddy's face drained of colour. He watched the hand come out of the jacket very carefully. 'Off?' he said. 'What … off?'


'Pulleen a fas one, eh? Eh? Negotiate, eh? Is it? Negotiation? I have not de time for dis. I'm late. They weel keel me, man. Let's swap. Now. Swap. Eh? Eh?'

'No. Deal's off.'

Freddy sat forward; he was almost in front of the chair, balancing in mid-air. 'Fifty off den. No more. De boss say no more dan fifty. Fifty off. Now … trade.'

'No deal. No negotiation. Off. No deal.'

'No money? Is it? Eh? Eh?'

'I have the money. No deal.'

'Look … stop mess about. Les swap.'



'I changed my mind. No deal.'

Freddy slapped his hands onto his head, cursing in his mother tongue. 'Joke is it? Eh? Eh?'

'No joke. No deal.'

'But … your boss. You can't change –'

'I will tell my boss you didn't show. He trusts me. No deal.'

'You … you can't do dat! I'm here! He will tell my boss … dey will keel me!'

Frank shrugged. 'No deal.'

Freddy dropped to his knees. 'Please … les swap. Dey will keel me. Comprende? I have kids. My wife. Please! Please!'

Frank looked at him for a moment. 'Fifty off.'

'Fifty off! Fifty off! I can do no more! Les swap!'

Frank nodded. 'The car.'

Freddy nodded, stood up and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. 'You are a tough guy, Frank. Tough guy.'

They went outside. A set of ugly tyre tracks led to Frederico's car. A set of footprints made a wavy path to the cabin door, joining with Frank's. The boot of the car held a briefcase. Inside were bags of white powder. Frank closed the briefcase and removed it. Freddy froze, then relaxed, moving as if he was made of rubber.

'It's okay. Okay, man … I trust you. You're cool.'

Frank took a briefcase full of money from his car and offered it to Freddy. Freddy's fingers slowly moved across the leather surface and he seized it away. He backed off slowly, towards his car.

'It's done. Goodbye, Frank.'

Just before Freddy turned: 'Fifty off,' said Frank. 'I took it already.'

Freddy looked down at the suitcase, surprised. 'Yeah … fifty off. Like we said.'

Freddy got into his car, started the engine and backed almost silently towards the road. Frank watched the whites of Freddy's eyes until he quickly turned to check no cars were around, revved the engine, moved into the road and drove away.

The disturbed snow looked dirty. The ridges caused by the tyres seemed like scars carved into the white ground. A fresh fall would cover it, but the evidence would remain until springtime started over. On this day it seemed like permanent damage. He looked down at the briefcase: it was almost, if not exactly like the one he had given Freddy. He looked at the troughs his own car had cut into the snow.

Frank walked around the cabin, found the snow shovel and headed into the trees.

He stopped at a small clearing of completely virgin snow. He walked to the middle and dug through the snow until he uncovered brown earth. He took each white bag from the suitcase and tipped the contents into the hole. He took the photograph from his pocket and placed it carefully on top of the white powder. When this was done, he meticulously spread the pile of snow across the hole, patting it down with the shovel.

He retreated to the edge of the clearing and looked back. The disturbance was minimal and would be invisible with the smallest flurry. He took another deep breath and returned to the roaring fire.

Archived comments for White
flash on 2004-12-13 18:37:12
Re: White
Intriguing, but i have to confess on first read i don't really know whats going on.I take it Frank has lost his wife through some drug related incident and is bailing out on the drug business?

I think it's a bit slow to begin with over descriptive at the start? But the dialogue takes into another gear and this where the strongest part of the story lies. Although if Freddy is Mexican this line jarred a bit as not quite right.

β€˜Pulleen a fas one, eh?'

Is he a cockney/Mex?

Interesting it held my attention, surprised i'm first to comment. i will re-read laterand maybe update on my first impressions


Author's Reply:

tai on 2004-12-13 19:04:50
Re: White
Hi Thegeeza, I think this is intrigueing but does not give enough clues. And would anyone really throw away that much cash....even in memory of a dear departed. It does not quite add up. If you can enlighten great. If not I enjoyed it anyway.


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-12-14 03:57:24
Re: White
A cockney Mexican ... lol ...
I like to be subtle with storylines - and this was always half vignette/half story. (You are correct, btw). I wanted the description to be strong, to highlight the beauty of snow-bound surroundings such as this. (I'd love to live in a log cabin like that!). I could probably make a better "story" by removing some of it ... true.
Thanks for reading/commenting, mate.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-12-14 06:53:20
Re: White
Thanks, Tai ... I like to make you think without too much "tell"!
Thanks for reading/commenting.

Author's Reply:

Claire on 2004-12-15 14:29:11
Re: White
I don't understand why he did that with the drugs, at a guess I would say he was in love with the woman in the photo and she died due to drugs. Maybe this bit should be made more clearly.

I quite enjoyed this. Thought the descriptions at the beginning were great. You have the snow perfect and the scenery sounds so perfect.

The speech flowed very well.

An interesting read.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-12-16 04:48:12
Re: White
Thanks, Claire. Like to make people wonder why he did it, rather than tell you directly!
Glad you liked it. I love snow scenes!

Author's Reply:

len on 2004-12-17 01:12:14
Re: White
Your descriptions make great mind pictures..That's always the danger of descriptions:when is too much?..Very well written, if mysterious storyline.So many things, as to motives, left unsaid..I like your writing style..Kept my interest, all the way...len

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-12-17 05:49:24
Re: White
Glad you enjoyed it, Len.
Thanks for reading and commenting.

Author's Reply:

Mala on 2004-12-20 06:50:04
Re: White
I like the mystrial concept to you story line, leaving it to the readers to figure out the outcome. Noce touch

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-12-20 07:12:35
Re: White
Thanks, Mala.

Author's Reply:

Mannie (posted on: 11-10-04)
The manifestation of a child's guilt and loneliness.
(2,341 words)

'I don't believe that you have anything whatever to worry about here, Ruth. Children of John's age, especially only children, go through this kind of thing quite often. He needs all the love and affection you can give, with gentle reminders about the differences between imagination and reality. I doubt this will turn into anything nasty, and you will probably not need to come back and see me.' He stood up. It was the signal to leave. Ruth stood and offered her hand across the desk. The doctor looked surprised, but he took the hand and shook it.

'Thank-you, Doctor,' she said. He nodded and smiled at the boy as he sat down to attend to his papers.

Ruth prodded John on the shoulder. He turned and looked at his shoulder as if something should be there.

'Come on,' she said. 'We've got to catch the bus.'

He moved the chair back and stood. He fiddled with his Parker jacket for too long, so Ruth guided him through the door.

'The doctor said you're going to be alright,' she said.

John nodded.

'I don't want you to worry,' she said. He shook his head. 'I mean it, John,' she said.

'I'm not worried,' he said. 'Why should I be?'

They stopped under the bus shelter. She leaned down to whisper to him, looking at the other people to make sure they were not listening. 'It's not normal to speak to imaginary people,' she said. 'They are not real. You need to understand that he is not really there.'

'But he is there,' he said.

She blinked at him. 'No, John … he's not.'

The bus came and they sat in silence all the way back to their flat. They went up the urine-stained stairs, carefully negotiating the junkies sitting there. Ruth put her key in the light blue door and opened it.

The flat was neat and tidy. Ruth kept it well, given her limited finances. It was certainly one of the better kept places on the estate. John turned on the television. He heard the sounds of dinner being made, and she soon brought him sausage and chips. He put the tray on his lap and continued to watch almost without a glance to his meal. He listened to the sound of his mother shower and smelled the perfume that she applied liberally about herself. She came in and leaned down to kiss his cheek.

'I should be home about nine o'clock,' she said. 'I'm meeting Dave for a drink in The Grapes. You know where it is, and you know my mobile number if you need to speak to me.'

John nodded and put his plate on the table beside him. He glanced at the clock, which told him Coronation Street would soon be on.

'And you'll put that plate in the sink, won't you?'

'Yes, Mum.'

She kissed him again and left.

He could smell the perfume as he watched the screen. He watched the characters on the screen acting out real life. Every person had some drama or another, but there was always something redeeming, and they always had the safety of the adverts, the end of the show or some thing that would help them out.

'Why are you sitting in the dark?' said a voice. Its speaker was beyond the doorway in the darkness of the hallway.

John strained to see. 'I haven't bothered to put the light on,' he said.

The figure walked into the room and its hand felt under the shade on the lamp and switched on the light. 'That's better.' It walked into the centre of the room and bit its nails. 'What are you watching, John?'

'Coronation Street.'

The figure nodded and bit off another piece of nail.

'It's nearly finished,' said John.

'Well … good. I don't think a nine-year old should be watching programmes like this anyway.'

'Mannie?' said John.


'The doctor says you aren't real.'

'Does he?'

'Mum says you're not real too.'


'Are you?'

Mannie sat at the opposite end of the sofa, looking at the television. He turned to John. 'Do you think I'm real?'

'I don't know any more.'

'Can you see me?'


'Well then, I'm real.'

They watched the end of the programme. When it finished, Mannie pulled a pack of cards from his pocket. 'Do you want to play twenty-one?'

John nodded, and picked up the two cards Mannie had dropped for him on the middle cushion.

'So … where's Mum?' asked Mannie.

'She's gone out.'


'To meet Dave … for a drink,' said John.

'I see,' he said. 'Twist?'

John nodded. 'She said she would be back by nine.'

'Bust. Did she?'

'Why did you twist on nineteen?' said John.

'I thought I might get a two or an ace.'

'Never! That's dumb.'

'Do you like Dave?' said Mannie.


'Why not?'

'I just don't.'

'Okay. Twist?' asked Mannie.


'You should twist on fourteen, John,' said Mannie.


They played some more hands. Mannie asked about school, but the conversation was stilted.

'I don't like Dave because he takes Mum away and makes me lonely.'

'Oh,' said Mannie. He put the cards down. 'Did you tell Mum that?'


'Why not?'

'Because … because she said she hoped Dave might come and live with us.'

'And? That doesn't mean to say you can't talk to her.'

'She said we must make sure we don't do anything to mess it up.'

'Well, John, that's not messing it up, is it? You can talk to Mum about it.'

'I'm scared to go to the toilet … it's dark out in the hallway.'

'Ask Mum to leave the light on when she goes out.'

'I did. She forgot.'

John stood up and walked over to the plant that sat in the corner of the room. He unzipped his flies and urinated on the earth around the plant.

'You shouldn't do that, John. It's not a very clean thing to do.'

'I'm too scared to go in the hallway. I have to, when I go to bed, because Mum will be angry if I'm still up.'

John sat down and picked up the cards. 'Mum told me Dave might be my new dad if we are good to him. She said she had to spend time with Dave, and that's why she has to go out. She never gets back when she says she will.'

'Well, maybe that might happen. Would you like that?'

'She says she has a life too.'

'Twist?' said Mannie.

'I don't like Dave. I don't like talking to him. I wish he would go away.'

'You've got nineteen, John. Do you want another card?'

John put his cards on the sofa and stood up. 'I've got to go to bed now. They'll be back soon. Goodnight, Mannie.'

'Do you want me to tuck you in, John?'

John shook his head and stood in front of the door. He started mumbling the words of a song and ran to the end of the hallway and switched on the light. Continuing to mumble, he cleaned his teeth quickly and splashed his face. He kept his eye on the mirror to make sure no one was watching him. He dropped the towel and ran into his room, slamming the door behind him. He stood frozen and listened to the silence. Satisfied nothing was there, he climbed into his bed and covered himself completely.

He waited for a long time, until he heard the sound of the front door opening. He heard voices, then the sound of his door brushing against the carpet. His mother pronounced him sleeping and the light coming through the duvet went out. The door clicked and he slowly pulled back the covers. He heard them speaking in the front room.

He pulled the covers back and tiptoed to his door. They were laughing and talking in the front room. He opened the door and tried to see them. He could now only hear the sound of the television. John felt a cold rush and wondered if they had gone back out. He crept forward to the front room and looked through the crack of the door. The television was flickering and lighting the room in flashes.

'What's that?' said a male voice.

Before he could move, Dave's head appeared at the door. He heard his mother say something.

'How long have you been there?' said Dave.

'John? John? Come here, honey.'

'John … your Mum wants you,' said Dave.

Open mouthed, John walked into the front room. His mother was straightening her hair and pulling her top down. She stood up and pulled her skirt into place. 'You should have called out to me, Honey. How long have you been waiting there?'

'Not long,' said John.

'Do you need the toilet?' she said.

She walked towards him and ushered him from the room. He heard Dave tell her to keep him away from the plant. She waited at the doorway whilst John forced a couple of drops into the toilet. She led him into his room and leaned over his bed to kiss him goodnight. The smell of her perfume hung heavy in the air. He looked at the luminous hands of his clock, which told him it was half eleven.

He sat and listened to the front room door close, and saw the light at the bottom of his door go out. He heard the click of his mother's door and then silence. He stood and went to his door and opened it slowly. There was darkness all around, but he could hear moaning and groaning coming from his mother's room, as well as a persistent knocking sound. The noise appeared to grow louder until it sounded like someone was hammering on the wall, next to her bed.

All of a sudden it stopped. John listened, but could hear nothing. Suddenly her door broke open and a shaft of light fell across him. He instinctively closed his door, but not completely, to avoid making a noise. He stood, holding it against the frame, hoping it would not be noticed so they would not open the door and discover him.

'Make us a cup of coffee, Ruth?' said Dave.

His mother shushed him harshly. 'John is asleep,' she said, softly.

He heard her walk up the hallway and go into the kitchen. He heard the kettle and the clink of spoon against cup. He froze as he heard her walk towards the door. He thought of rushing into bed, but his skinny body would not move a muscle.

'What you doing?' said Dave. 'Where's my coffee?'

'Will you be quiet?' she hissed at him. 'I'm going to the toilet, then I'll be back.'

'Hurry up,' he said. 'I'm waiting for more.'

John opened the door. The hallway was lighted by the open bathroom and the partly open bedroom. He looked towards the kitchen. He ducked back in when he saw a figure looking at him. He thought about the figure and realised it was Mannie. He slowly put his head into the hallway and looked again. Mannie put his finger to his lips and then beckoned him. John shook his head. Mannie signalled more urgently. John stepped into the hallway and moved towards the kitchen, petrified that someone would shout at him from behind. He walked into the kitchen and Mannie partly closed the door behind him.

'I have an idea,' whispered Mannie.

'What?' said John, looking behind at the door.

'Do you want Dave to go?'

He turned, excited. 'Yes?'

'In the cupboard … under the sink.'


'Open it.'

John kneeled before the cupboard and opened it. It had a child lock, but it was too easy for a nine-year old. 'What about it? Quickly, or they'll find me.'

'Rat poison … in the corner.'

'What about it?'

John remembered the mice they had had. He remembered the poison the council men had put in the corner of each cupboard. He remembered the warning about never, ever, putting it near your mouth as it was very dangerous for humans as well as rats or mice. He reached into the corner and picked up some pellets. He turned them over in his hand.

'Put them in his coffee. Quick.'

He closed the cupboard and stood. Two cups were on the side. One smelled of coffee, the other had a teabag bobbing around the surface where his mother had poured a drop of milk.

'Don't worry, the coffee is his.'

John heard Dave shout. He ran to his room and pulled the door to, just as his mother flushed the chain and turned off the bathroom light.

'Come on!' He heard Dave shout. 'What are you doing in there?'

His mother walked quickly past his room and the kitchen light clicked off. He heard a burst of laughter as her bedroom door closed with a careful click. The knocking sound started again, soon after.

John got back into bed and pulled the covers over his head. He waited and listened. He looked at the clock, then covered himself again. Nothing.

He wondered whether his mum would prefer it if he was not there. He turned the hard pellets over in his hands. Dave did not like him, he was sure of that. He tried to squash the pellets, but they were too hard. He wondered how the mice had eaten them. He wondered what Dave would say, and what his mum would do, if he ate the pellets. He put them in his mouth and moved them around, like they were clothes in a washing machine. He suddenly decided to swallow them, and he felt them sliding down his throat like small stones. He coughed, but they were already too far down. He curled into a ball and closed his eyes tight. It would all be okay, and he would have forgotten all about the day he swallowed rat poison, in the morning.


Archived comments for Mannie
bluepootle on 2004-10-11 02:49:37
Re: Mannie
Great ending. Really worked for me.

Author's Reply:

kenochi on 2004-10-11 03:15:51
Re: Mannie
this is the first new one of yours that I've read for a while, Steve and to be honest, to begin with, I wasn't too into it. I thought that unnecesary action was over described, like...

"He stood up. It was the signal to leave. Ruth stood and offered her hand across the desk. The doctor looked surprised, but he took the hand and shook it."

I reckon you could have said that in one short sentence, instead of four. Then, shortly afterwards there were too many 'he said's' and 'she said's' in a short space of time and at that point I began to lose a bit of interest, thinking it may have been a rush-job. But what saved it was content. As soon as Mannie was introduced, it became much more compelling and I just couldn't help but read on. That's what real fiction is all about - the story. You've got an interesting idea here (as you usually do) and you've executed that idea with originality - I actually thought it might be a story whereby Mannie killed Dave, only for it to be explained at the end that Mannie was imaginery and John had done it, which would have been predictable and dull. But it didn't go in that direction, which was cool - it kept me on my toes.
So all in all, I wouldn't say it was one of your best, there's things you could work on, but an interesting read that hooked me in.


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-10-11 07:51:45
Re: Mannie
Thanks, BP, glad you liked the ending. It's more in line with what I was trying to say.

Author's Reply:

deepoceanfish2 on 2004-10-11 08:27:45
Re: Mannie

I don't think this needs any touch-ups at all. I felt the beginning was a necessary and added to the build-up of the characterization. A fav: fine and chilling read and a nomination. Well done.


Author's Reply:

uppercase on 2004-10-11 11:46:27
Re: Mannie
I loved this story it held my interest all the way and the ending was amazing...Erma

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-10-11 12:16:03
Re: Mannie
I liked the start, the fragmented sentences reminded me of awkwardness.
Glad you liked the middle/end! The end was originally as you described, but I think this works much better, and is more consistent with what I was trying to say/do.
Thanks for reading and commenting!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-10-11 12:17:45
Re: Mannie
Thanks. Thrilled you liked it enough to rate it hot story/hot author.
Thanks for reading / commenting.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-10-11 12:18:36
Re: Mannie
Thanks for reading/commenting - glad you liked it!

Author's Reply:

Claire on 2004-10-11 17:03:10
Re: Mannie
A great read here. I was very interested at the start, and very strongly hooked when Mannie came in, and couldn't wait to know the ending when Dave came back with his mum. I thought John was going to put the pellets into his mum's cup, so I didn't expect your ending, which was still a very good one.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-10-11 17:46:37
Re: Mannie
Thanks, Claire ... glad you liked it!

Author's Reply:

alcarty on 2004-10-12 23:41:46
Re: Mannie
I liked the pace and thought the story progressed smoothly. The characters were believable and the story was easy to read. It could have gone in several directions but that would have put it into fantasy. Your presentation was starkly real and what we might find in a small item on the second page of the newspaper. Good job. I enjoyed it. Al

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-10-13 04:20:19
Re: Mannie
Thanks, Al. Glad you liked it.

Author's Reply:

The incomplete circle of life (posted on: 04-10-04)
(2,472 words)

John's head nodded twice and his eyes opened. Looking through misted eyes he saw white figures sitting in a row. He thought he was dead. He thought it was a panel of angels.

To his left and right more blurred images, all still. He was wearing a white gown. He was an angel.

His last memory was sitting in an armchair, shaking and sweating, his family crowding around, too close, drawing the air from him. His chest rising and falling – it just couldn't rise high enough.

Now he was dead, sitting in a room with angels. He wanted to talk but he had no strength. He didn't panic, he couldn't feel anything at all – he was just happy to sit, watching the blurred images from the corner of his eyes.

A dark shape moved from the right, darting from one cloudy image to another, making noise that made John feel nauseous. It penetrated the pit of his stomach and made him want to scream, but he couldn't. Terror washed over him, but he could do nothing.

The figure grabbed at him, its shadow covering John's face; the rumbling noise resonating inside his head, washing the contents of his gut around his insides in poisonous waves. Its damp breath burned into John's face. He could smell garlic. It was something John could hold on to, something from the world of humanity. He concentrated, trying to pin down its definition, its origin. The shadow withdrew, but John wanted it back, he wanted the familiarity of something.

It flitted and darted around, but John could not hold it in his vision. It disappeared.

Nothing moved. The light burned down relentlessly. He tried to speak, to move. From the depths, he pushed a sound up his throat, through his mouth and nose. It was low and it grew; he pushed harder. The shadow returned, its noise twisting around his head, spinning him in circles. He closed his eyes to it, but it would not go away. Something gave way, like his insides had been flushed away. The image of a grotty, white toilet came into his mind. It was old-fashioned with a rusty chain hanging down. The bowl was splattered with dirt and the water had long since gone, leaving a brown tide mark. It smelled of garlic.

The voice reared up at him. He opened his eyes to see streaks of its blackness flashing at him relentlessly. Each flash rocked John's vision. He tried to stop the noise he was making but it kept coming. More blackness came from the side and his field of vision span and he looked up and the thin strips of light blinded him and the black shapes weighed down on him and all the while, the angels did not help.

In the dream he saw his daughter's face. But it wasn't his daughter because the face was too old. It was asking him how he was. He wanted to answer but his mouth had gone, so she went away.

Two faces looked down at him. One had round glasses on. ''Do you think he can hear us?'' the man with glasses said. The other said, ''hello?'' He said it again, more loudly, but John still had no mouth. They left him.

When he opened his eyes, he saw the angels. He squeezed his eyelids together and the mist started to clear. Something made a noise and clouds started to roll across his field of vision again; he kept concentrating, willing the shapes to come into focus. They were old people, sitting in gowns. He thought they were dead. He could not understand why he was sitting in a room full of dead people. He tried to move and was afraid to speak. He looked at each one. They looked different, but they were all the same: old people, in gowns, sitting and looking forward with no expressions on their faces.

'John?' said a voice.

He couldn't see where it came from, then it filled his whole world. Big brown eyes and a long nose. The face licked its lips slowly. He could smell garlic.

'How are you feeling, John?'

John felt panic, when he thought to try and answer.

'Good, John. Good.'

It disappeared, but he heard it speak: 'I think John is lucid, Miss Jones.'

Two faces appeared, just in front of him. He blinked at them.

'There, there, John. I'm glad you've made it through to us. What we're going to do is move you in to sit with the others.'

Two men in white coats brought a wheelchair and lifted John into it. He found he could move his head. None of the other old people moved their heads or noticed he was going. They turned the wheelchair towards a set of double doors and rammed it.

John scanned the huge room. It was the size of four football pitches. There were thousands upon thousands of rows of people facing a giant screen. Each wore a white gown. Most had no hair or dishevelled tufts of grey/white; John could see no faces as they wheeled him towards the screen. He turned to look, but one of the men pushing him slapped his head to make him face forward. He lifted his eyes: the ceiling was very high and the huge room was not a room, but it was a giant cavern.

On the screen was a man and a woman. They were laughing and talking, but John couldn't pick out their words against the sound of the chair rolling, or the blood raging through his ears. The woman had on a flowery dress and the middle-aged man was quite presentable in a smart suit. He blinked at the image again: it was Fern Britain and Philip Schofield from daytime television.

Somewhere near the middle they stopped and dragged him out of the wheelchair. His legs gave some resistance, but he could not stand. They dropped him into a seat and wheeled the chair away. No one spoke or looked at him.

He watched the backs of the heads lined up in front of him. They looked like rows of boiled eggs, ready to be smashed open. The reflection from the screen danced across the tops of these domes and their saggy skin coverings. The sound from the speakers was so loud that it was hard to differentiate one word from another. He turned to his left. The man's eyes moved to look at John, well ahead of the turn of his near-visible skull. A few strands of hair hung long over his face. The grey skin looped down from the lip of each eye socket, showing a patch of bloodshot flesh.

'What is your name?' the man said slowly. John was too frightened to try to speak. 'Tell me your name,' he repeated.

'John.' The clarity of his own voice surprised him.

'John,' said the man. A thick wedge of skin slowly moved across his blue eyes, dragging gooey fluid behind it . The man continued to look, but said no more.

'Where am I?' said John.

'John,' said the man.

John waited, but nothing more came. 'Where am I?'

The man blinked again and opened his mouth, but closed it without speaking.

'You're in the television room,' said the man to John's right.

'The television room?' said John.

The man nodded. He was black and very thin. His eyes were as yellow as his teeth. 'The television room. We watch television in here.'

'But where is this?'

'I just told you … the television room. We watch television in here.'

'John,' said the other man. He turned to him, but he was just watching, blinking.

'The television room – but where? Which building?'

'Watch television,' said the man, turning to the screen. 'It's the television room. Watch Fern.'

John looked around, but he could only see rows of faces staring up at the screen. He got half way to standing, but collapsed back into his chair.

'Ssssh!' said the black man. 'Watch the television. It's the television room.'

'I know it's the television room,' hissed John. 'How do you get out of the television room? That's what I want to know.'

'Ssssh … watch Fern.'

A man in a white coat appeared.

'Thank God,' said John. 'Where am I?'

'Hey, old timer. You're causing a disturbance.' He pulled something from his pocket.

'I just want to know where I am. Where is this place?' he said.

The man ignored him and held up a hypodermic.

'What's that?' said John.

The man pulled up the sleeve on John's gown and stabbed the needle into his arm with one quick movement.

'I just want to … know.'

John opened his eyes. He was laying down. It was dark. He wriggled against the taut sheet and managed to partly sit up. For as far as he could see, there were beds, thousands of beds, lined up in neat rows. He was thirsty and licked his lips. He tried to turn, to look around.

'Are you causing trouble again, old man?' said a voice. John could see an upside-down face.

'I was just …'

The dark brown eyes disappeared, and he saw the flash of a needle. Liquid squirted upwards, catching a glint of light in its long arc. The sheet was pulled back and his arm held by a strong hand. He felt a jab and a cold sensation spreading into his body.

He heard voices, but kept his eyes closed.

'This one relapsed. He's fighting it.'

'Oh dear.'

'We moved him on, but we had to bring him back.'

'Oh dear.'

'Sometimes it happens. They don't seem to let themselves go.'

'What dose?'


'Try seventy. See how it goes.'

John waited, before carefully opening his eyes. The two men looked like doctors and had moved to the bed opposite; they had clipboards in their hands. He watched them walk from bed to bed until they disappeared, their voices drifting just behind. He thought he must be in an old people's home, or maybe he was dreaming. He tried to remember sitting in the chair with his family around him, but it was blank.

John kicked at the sheet and was surprised at his strength. He swung his feet down to the cold floor and stood up slowly. He gently let go of the bed and let the dizziness clear. He was near a door. He shuffled towards it, gaining strength and confidence with each pigeon step. He was scared to look behind, as he was sure someone in a white coat would be striding along the aisles, ready to stab him back to sleep. He took the handle and pulled. The door made a sucking noise, and gave way. He peeked into the corridor: the floor was shiny and a grey/green colour. He opened the door so that he could fit into the gap and waited. Still no one came. He stepped onto the slippery floor and felt the smoothness with his toes. He wanted to find a telephone, so he could call his daughter – she could explain. The corridor stretched into the distance, both ways, doors spaced evenly as far as he could see.

He walked a few paces and stopped at the sound of voices. He pulled open a door and stepped inside. There were eight old people sitting looking at one another. He called out a greeting, but they did not answer or move. He stopped by the door and tried to guess when the people might have walked past. He opened the door and moved into the corridor. In the distance two white-coats walked away from him, mumbling to one another.

John inched his way after the figures, watching them get ever smaller. Each door looked the same. He looked back and it seemed he wasn't getting anywhere at all. After a time, the two white-coats merged into the background and were gone. He came to a set of double doors and peered through one of the windows into a small room; inside, there appeared to be a lift. He went in and stood at the silver door. The number at the top of the lift was ''2004''. He shook his head. He pressed the button and the doors opened. He stepped into the lift and looked at the display.

The big button at the bottom read ''G'', the top button read ''D''. Between were numbers zero through nine. The small sign read: ''Key floor number and press ''. He jabbed at ''G'' and looked at the display above the door. The door closed and he could feel the lift falling. It rapidly counted down towards zero, then lit up ''G''. The doors opened to a dark corridor.

He stepped out, and the doors closed. He moved slowly forwards into the darkness. The light faded to black. He had to put his hands in front of him. He froze when he heard a sound. It sounded like walking. He scanned the darkness but could see nothing. Something struck him across the head and he fell.

'Turn the light on!' shouted a voice. Blinded by the light, he covered his eyes. He looked at the man standing above him. 'How did you get down here? Gabrielle? How did this one get down here? Gabrielle!'

'Where am I?' said John. 'Who are you?'

'What are you doing here?'

'I'm trying to get out. I want to go home.'

The man cocked his head. 'Interesting,' he said. 'Gabrielle!'

'There are lots of old people upstairs. Is this an old people's home? Is this the ground floor?'

'The ground floor?' said the man. 'No.'

'But it said ''G'' in the lift and it was the bottom button.'

'This is the boss' floor. There's no way out down here.'

'Down?' said John.

'The top floor is ''D'' … for door.'

John looked at the man, then nodded. 'Thank-you,' he said, standing up.

'Where do you think you're going?' said the man.

'I'm going up to ''D'' … for door. I'm going home.'

'I don't think so,' said the man.

Two men grabbed John from behind, and started to pull him away.

'Where am I?' shouted John. 'I want to speak to my daughter!'

'You're going nowhere, old man,' said one of the men, pulling him into the lift.

'I want to speak to my daughter!' shouted John.

'Dead men don't talk!' shouted the man.

The football bounced off the wet pavement and hit the light blue shutters with a crash. It had started to rain again and the boy looked up and wondered if his mother would call him in. He took careful aim, and tried to get the ball to hit the middle of the large white-painted ''D'' that had almost disappeared under the graffiti. He missed.

Archived comments for The incomplete circle of life
shadow on 2004-10-04 11:12:05
Re: The incomplete circle of life
That is one scary story! I like the way nothing is explained, you have to make up your own mind what it is all about. One small point - near the end you have 'shouted' three times within four lines - too much shouting!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-10-05 02:24:07
Re: The incomplete circle of life
Thanks, Shadow ... I'll check out the shouting!

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-10-05 05:00:28
Re: The incomplete circle of life
whether that's old age or the afterlife, it looks pretty awful. Some good parallels drawn here, and done with your usual clear style that draws the reader in. I very much liked the final cutaway to the boy playing football, and the perpective that puts on it.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-10-05 07:23:49
Re: The incomplete circle of life
Thanks, BP. I was worried the last bit was a bit "short film" styley, and asked too much of the reader - although I liked it - I could imagine some ppl thinking "what's that all about?".

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2004-10-07 09:45:05
Re: The incomplete circle of life
What's that all about? lol!

I think this works pretty well. I don't generally like stories that aren't clear: if I wanted to make my own mind up, I'd write it myself. But it was actually entertaining, trying to decide whether John had actually died or was just in an old folks' home. I suppose if they are sent there after suffering a stroke or heart attack, it must be bewildering to suddenly be surrounded by unfamilar things and have no decisions of your own to make.

I thought the idea of having 'G' as 'the boss' floor' kind of gave it away. Up until then, it was very unclear.

But back to the 'what was that about?' thing...just what was the relevance of the boy with the football? 8-/


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-10-09 07:25:51
Re: The incomplete circle of life
What's it all about? Well, that's up to you to decide! Is he dead, and this is a nightmarish after-life, or is he in some sort of hospital? For him, maybe there's no difference.
I like the reader to think for him/herself, I like to write things where you do have to make up your own mind. (Otherwise you end up writing things like Harry Potter).
The boy with the football? That's life continuing onwards, despite the horror just below, out of sight.
Thanks for reading, Karl, as always.

Author's Reply:

deepoceanfish2 on 2004-10-10 09:57:32
Re: The incomplete circle of life

Surreal and chilling. I love a good thought provoking chiller. Good read. Why hasn't this been rated ? Write more.

Adele πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-10-10 10:01:33
Re: The incomplete circle of life
Thanks, Adele - glad you liked it.
There's plenty of stuff I've posted previously!
Thanks for reading.

Author's Reply:

Just for one day (posted on: 30-08-04)
A chance encounter.
3,658 words.

Frank wheeled his chair over the cracked paving stones, through the fast-moving people and puddles of the grey day. He stopped at the crossing even though the sound was telling him to ''walk''. The choking exhaust of the taxi barring his way drifted up his nose and the first drop of the next rain shower landed on his nose.

People swarmed through the traffic, but Frank became aware of a man standing by him.

'No good waiting here with me, buddy,' he said.

The smart-dressed man turned, looked down, smiled and turned away.

Frank felt the frustration rise to his throat. 'I've sat here for ten minutes waiting for these bastards to leave a gap for people like me,' he said.

The man looked down. He watched Frank with an interest that Frank found disturbing. Before Frank could ask him what his problem was, the man had spoken in such a calm way that the words stopped in Frank's throat and dispersed quietly.

'I can send you back for one day,' he said.

The cars moved forward, but the sign told him to stay. Frank shook his head. 'Back where? What do you mean?'

'I'm serious,' the man said. 'If you want to see who you are, rediscover yourself, I can arrange it.'

Frank felt calm. He fingered the wooden stick that he kept by his side. He would normally have poked the man with it and then shamed him by shouting long before now. People always sided with the disabled – the crippled – the unfortunates. 'How?'

'You have to trust me.'

'In what way?'

'You have to do something for me.'


'Tonight, you must start a fire in your house and let it take everything – everything you own. Let it go.'

Frank laughed. 'I can't do that, buddy. You're nuts.'

'You'll get everything back on insurance. In fact, you'll get all new. You won't be hurt. You can only gain. Find yourself again, Frank.'

'I can't do that. It's ridiculous.'

The man smiled. 'That's your end of the bargain. The deal is for tonight only. Leave a cigarette burning on the sofa and go to bed. That's all you have to do.'

The sound of the crossing made Frank take the brakes off his chair. He rolled forward, but the man remained. Frank turned to him.

'You have to trust me,' the man said, and then he turned and walked away. He thought of following, but crowds of people moved around him, shouting at him to move.

'Okay, okay,' he said, moving forward. 'Give a guy a break.'


Frank wheeled up the ramp to his bungalow. Joan opened the door as he approached.

'Hello, darling,' she said. 'Nice day at work?'

She said it every day. She waited to open that damn door every day. She made his tea every day. She washed and ironed and cleaned and much more … every day. He wheeled past her every day. He said nothing until after tea … every day.

'No, it was bloody awful,' he said, as he went inside. She never answered and went straight to the kitchen, closing the door behind him.

They looked at the dirty plates on the table. Joan had grown old, but he could still see his Joan shining through her weary face. He asked if she had paid the electricity bill. She nodded.

'Some guy in the street today,' said Frank, 'he said I should rediscover myself. What do you think he meant by that?'

'What guy?' she said, without looking up.

'Just a guy in the street.'

'Where did this guy come from?' she said.

'I don't know. Just a regular guy in a suit. He said he'd help me do it too.'

She laughed. 'He was just trying to shake some money out of you. A trickster, no doubt.' She continued looking at her plate, a polite but absent smile on her face.

'He didn't ask for money.'

'Not yet.'

'You think he's trying to take advantage of a man in a wheelchair?' said Frank.

'I don't think it's the wheelchair, Frank. He would probably take money from his own mother. Just forget it. When he talks to you tomorrow, tell him to get lost.'

'There was something about this man, Joannie. I don't know what it was, but there was something.'

She looked up and laughed.

'What?' said Frank, smiling.

'You haven't called me Joannie in a long while.'

'I won't be talking to him tomorrow,' said Frank.

'Why not?'

'He said he could only help me today.'

Joan stood up and collected the plates. 'I dare say he'll knock our door soon then. He probably followed you home.'

Frank nodded. 'It's pretty easy to follow a cripple in a chair, that's for sure.'


'Well,' said Joan, standing after the television programme had finished, 'I'm going to bed.' She grimaced and made circles with her foot.

'What's the matter with your foot?' said Frank.

'It's always a bit stiff after I've been sitting down too long. It's arthritis, I guess.'

'Why don't you ask the doctor?'

'You told me not to bother because they know nothing.'

'I don't remember that,' said Frank.

Joan put her hands under Frank's arms and helped him into his wheelchair.

'Don't stay up too long, Frank,' she said and went to bed.

Frank turned his wheelchair in circles and scanned the room. Old pictures of him standing on his useless legs looked back, smiling. There were ornaments that seemed new, but had most likely been there for years. The red curtains had replaced the green ones that had been there before the accident that shattered his legs and pelvis. He pressed the button on the remote and the television gave way to silence and the dim lighting from the ornamental light fittings on the wall. He looked at the distorted reflections coming from their gold curvy shape. He waved his hands and saw the gold flicker with their movement.

He wheeled into the kitchen and opened a drawer. His hands shook as felt around for the pack of cigarettes and lighter. The drawer slammed shut and made him jump. He listened for Joan but heard nothing. He moved back to the lounge and took out a cigarette. He only smoked socially, and it had been some time. He put it to his lips and choked on the first draw. He inhaled again and looked at his reflection in the television: a big dark blob of metal and rubber tyres. He smoked it to the end and wedged the smouldering butt down the side of the chair directly opposite the television – his chair.

He moved into the bedroom and lifted himself onto the bed. Joan was facing the window.

'Have you been smoking?' she said.

'Why do you ask?' he said, pulling his clothes off.

'I can smell it on you.'

He dressed his broken body faster than ever before and manoeuvred himself under the quilt.

'Goodnight,' he said, but there was no answer.


'Frank! Frank!'

Frank shook his head and could see the swirling smoke above his head. He thought he was dreaming and then realised he had fallen asleep. He thought of what he had done and a coldness swept across his face. He coughed. Joan was at the window, wrestling with the handle.

'There's a fire!' she shouted. 'I can't open the window!' She ran around the bed and put her hand on the doorknob.

'No!' shouted Frank. 'Don't open it! There could be fire outside the room!'

She ran back to the window. 'My wrists are too weak! I can't open the window!' She picked up the phone by Frank's head and listened. 'It's dead!'

'Let's not panic.'

'Oh shut up, Frank!'

'Put something by the gap under the door to block the smoke.'

She looked at him and stopped. She pulled a towel from the drawer under the bed and laid it across the bottom of the door. She stood up. 'What are we going to do?' she screamed. 'We'll die!'

'No we won't,' said Frank. 'Just be calm and we'll be okay. Get me to the window and I can open it. My wrists are strong from using the wheelchair.'

She moved towards him and stopped. 'I can't carry you across to the window.'

Frank pulled the duvet back, swung his legs down and stood up. He walked to the window and pulled at the handle. It was very stiff. He pulled again and it broke free. He slowly opened the window. The smoke moved towards the opening and billowed out. Joan stood and looked at her husband with her mouth wide open.

'Come on,' he said, 'let me help you get out first.'

She said nothing and let him lift her onto the window frame. She jumped down onto the soft bed of flowers outside. She watched as Frank filled the frame of the window and jumped down beside her.

Ignoring the smoke pouring from the window, she looked at Frank's legs and moved up to his face.

'It's just for one day,' he said.


They sat in the hospital. There was no lasting damage.

'Can you check my husband's legs please?'

'What for?' said the doctor.

'He lost the use of his legs in a car crash and hasn't been able to walk again, until just now.'

The doctor frowned. 'He looks perfectly okay to me, Mrs O'Neill.'

'But how do you explain it?'

He shrugged, looked at his clipboard and started scratching at it with a pen. 'I can't.'


The policeman told them their cottage had been completely destroyed by the fire and what was left of the building was unsafe. They could not return. The investigator from the Fire Department asked them what might have happened. Frank told them he had enjoyed a cigarette before he went to bed but could not remember putting it out. He had been very tired and was worried it might have fell out of his hand. They were given a reference to quote to the insurance company and told they could go.

It was early the next morning before they booked into a hotel.

'We'd better get some rest,' said Joan.

'Rest?' said Frank. 'I don't need rest, I need to use these legs while they still work.'

She sat on the bed, looked at him standing before her and cried. He sat and put his arm around her.

'What is it?'

'My home and everything is gone and you have … you have legs.'

'It's just like when we got married,' said Frank.

She sobbed into his shoulder. He pulled the hair from her eyes and told her it would be okay.

'I need to rest, Frank. I need to think about all this.'

'Do you mind if I go for a walk?' said Frank.


He walked in the cold air of the morning with his jacket open. The hospital had given them clothes from lost property. New clothes, new legs and a new man. He watched the different colours of the morning rise above the buildings, before the Sun peeked above the skyline. He watched and listened to the milk float come up behind him and go past. He ran to keep up with it, and stopped as it stopped. The milkman got out and pulled two bottles from the side of the float. He looked at Frank and shook his head at what he thought was a drunk. Frank laughed and walked off with his hands deep in the pockets of his new trousers.

He put his hand on the railings alongside the park and vaulted onto the grass, damp with dew. He bent down and felt the wet blades between his fingers and watched a droplet run down the side of his thumb. He kissed the moisture and stood up straight.

He held the cold steel of the railings and watched people walking and rushing on their way to work. As time passed, the number of cars and people grew. The crystal clear water of the day had burst the banks of its river and continued, muddied and dirty. The milkman was probably sat in a stuffy cafι, smoking a cigarette and reading a paper, whilst the bacon and eggs sizzled on a hot plate. A man ran into the road and a car slammed on its brakes. Frank squeezed the railings as the tyres squealed and the car came to a stop. The man held up his hands; the driver wound down his window and called him names.

Frank walked along and slowed to watch two children walk past with their mother. The little girl looked up at him as she walked past and smiled. Her hat and scarf were bright orange and matching. He could not remember seeing such a vivid orange colour in a long time.

He headed back to the hotel room and opened the door. Joan was sitting on the end of the bed. She looked up as Frank came in to the room.

'How are you?' said Frank.

'Why are your legs working? I don't understand, Frank.'

He sat next to her and took her hand. He turned it over and looked at the worn gold band on her finger. 'I told you the guy … from yesterday. He said he'd help.'

'But … how? And why? I don't get it, Frank. I just don't get any of it.'

'He said he could send me back for a day. He said I could find myself there.'

Joan looked down at her hand, enveloped in her husband's big fingers. She always liked his fingers. 'But how did he make your legs work?'

'He did it, that's all the matters.'

'But why? Why would he do that? And you said it was only for one day. How can he do that?'

'I don't know, Joan, but I want to make the most of it.'

'He wouldn't take it away, would he? Now you have your legs back?' She looked up at him. 'Would he?'

'I don't know. Let's see tomorrow, shall we? Let's enjoy them today.'

She put her hand on his leg. She felt him squeeze the muscle. 'I can't believe it,' she said, and she rubbed a tear from her face. He stood up.

'Let's pretend it's the first day we got married. I feel so good, Joan. I feel so alive.' She spluttered a laugh. 'Let's go walking by the river and have lunch. Let's go to an art gallery – you like art, don't you, Joannie? Let's have a meal in a restaurant and take in a show. Let's go dancing and –'

Joan stood and took his hands. 'It will take me some time to get used to it.'

'My legs won't work tomorrow.'

'They might. Whatever made them work, might make them work again.'

Frank kissed Joan. It had been a long time, but they stood in the middle of the room and kissed.


'I can't believe I've been such a … a … jerk,' said Frank.

Joan looked up from her sandwich. 'What do you mean?'

'I have punished you every day for my accident. Every single day.'

'No,' said Joan, shaking her head. 'Of course you haven't.' She looked at her sandwich and he looked at the sky. 'You punished yourself, too,' she said.

Frank looked around the pub, at the office workers, the waitress with a tray looking for a table, the builders sitting with pints of beer. 'I'm frightened, Joannie.'

'Of what?'

'I'm scared to move my legs in case they don't work. I'm scared I'll wake up tomorrow and be the Frank O'Neill from yesterday and that I won't remember this dream of a day.'

'I'll tell you.'

'The Frank O'Neill from yesterday wouldn't listen, would he?'

Joan bit into the sandwich and watched a dark veil draw cross his face. 'You'll have to tell him yourself, then.'


Frank looked at the art, read the descriptions and mumbled his appreciation. Joan watched the demons whispering in his ear, poking and pulling him. He fought against it but they were too strong.

'Do you think it was some sort of coincidence? That bloke from yesterday was some kind of crazy man? Maybe the adrenalin rush from the fire pushed my body to limits I couldn't reach by myself and … and something snapped into place and that it can't … undo itself. Do you think that's it?' said Frank, in front of a painting of a man that was half white and half black.

'I don't know, Frank.'

'It can't have been some sort of … magical person … could it? That's just stupid … bloody stupid. I don't believe in God or anything like that, do I?'

'I thought you just wanted to enjoy the day, Frank?'

'I do … I do. I'm just thinking about tomorrow. I can't help it. Do you think … the insurance company … do you think they'll pay out quickly?'

Joan shrugged. 'I don't know. We're alive, Frank. You're walking. Let's just let it sort itself out.'

'They bloody better do,' he said, looking at the picture. 'That picture … that's one weird picture.'

'It's two halves of a man.'

'I can read, and I can see.'

They walked out the gallery, to greet the rush hour workers going home.

'The sun's going down,' said Frank. 'Look at the black night chasing the Sun across the sky. It never stops. Do you think the Sun ever worries that it might be caught?' Joan said nothing. 'It will catch it in the end. Take it over.'

'Nothing lasts forever, Frank. There'll be new stars and life will go on.'

'You're right, Joannie, you're always right.'


They had a wonderful meal and decided to skip the show to walk by the river.

'I used to love walking by the river in the evening. The sounds, the smell and the way the light reflects in the water.'

'You lost your legs, Frank – you didn't die. You could still hear the sounds, smell the river and see those lights. Nothing stopped you. Only you stopped you.'

He held his arm out and she slipped hers into his and they slowed, watching the full moon twinkling in the black water below. It was cold, but they did not care.

'I know,' he said. He kissed her cheek and she giggled.

It turned into laughter. 'We didn't even go and buy ourselves some clothes to call our own,' she said.

He looked down, and could see his socks because the trousers were slightly too short. He laughed and pulled the trousers up even more, so he could see his legs. 'It didn't seem important. It still doesn't.'

'I can't believe what a difference a day makes,' said Joan.

Frank looked up at the stars in the sky. 'It's like the day of the accident. In the morning I was … just me. In the space of a couple of minutes, my life … our life … changed forever. If you look at the stars in the sky and think of the sheer time it took to put them there, it took a split second to poison my life. The coincidences: if I had taken more time to finish my coffee, if I had taken the train, woke up late, took the day off, had a different job … anything. The planets lined up and slammed those cars together and spilled my blood all over the road.'

'You could've died.'

'I did.' Frank paused. 'You know, yesterday, a taxi stopped in front of me at a crossing and chance gave me the opportunity to live one more day. I've taken it, but … Joannie? … it's not fair that I have to go back.'

They walked some more. 'You're freezing,' said Frank.

'I'm fine.'

'You're shaking, Joannie.'

'I'm fine … honestly.'

'It's half ten, we better get back to the hotel anyway.'

'No, Frank … let's walk some more.'

Frank turned her around with a smile, and they walked back to the hotel and went to their room.

Frank looked at the clouds rolling across the sky, blotting out the stars and Moon. Joan got into bed. He slipped his clothes off and stood in front of the mirror. He could see Joan watching him with the covers around her neck. He moved in front of the mirror and looked at his legs, flexed them, touched them; just feeling the sensations of having a full body again. He walked to the bed and slipped in beside his wife. He jumped when her cold feet touched his leg. She laughed.

'Ah! Don't do that – they're freezing!'

She smiled. 'I always warm my cold feet on you, and you don't notice.'

He kissed her and his hand held her at the hip. He moved his hand up and she looked at him. 'It's been a long time,' he said.

She nodded and smiled.


Frank opened his eyes and saw his wife at the foot of the bed, standing at the desk, pouring coffee into a cup.

'Room service, eh?' he said.

'Good morning,' she said.

'Well –'

She held up her hand and came to sit next to him. 'I don't want to know, not just yet.' He nodded. She kissed him and ran her hand through his hair. 'Other than … how do you feel this morning?'

'Fine,' he said. 'I feel so good, Joannie, I feel so alive.'

She swallowed hard and walked back to the breakfast tray. She looked down at it and asked whether she should bring the tray to him, or whether he would sit at the desk.

'I'll sit at the desk, Joannie,' he said. She quickly turned. He pulled the quilt from his legs. 'You'll have to help me get to the desk, Joannie, but I want to sit there. We can do it together.'

Archived comments for Just for one day
Claire on 2004-08-30 10:04:49
Re: Just for one day
What a sweet ending.

The idea is great, it leaves you thinking whether that man did have anything to do with it or was it just by chance. I do believe in miracles so I'm going with the first one.

Personally I couldn't see anything wrong with this, well done it was a pleasure to read.

Author's Reply:

Penprince on 2004-08-30 11:22:27
Re: Just for one day
I liked the read and particularly your descriptive style...

Author's Reply:

thehaven on 2004-08-30 14:27:02
Re: Just for one day
Although I enjoyed this I felt it could have been sharpened a bit .We egt the picture early on that some sort of "miracle " has taken place .I t just dragged on abit for me. Also it appeared to me to the action was taking place in America then I got the impression it was the Uk ..not thatits that important .


Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-08-30 15:53:15
Re: Just for one day
Very impressed. Great dialogue; the story flew along, as all good stories do.
:^) Steve.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-08-30 15:56:21
Re: Just for one day
Thanks, Claire - glad you liked it.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-08-30 16:36:27
Re: Just for one day
Thanks, Penprince.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-08-30 16:39:29
Re: Just for one day
Thanks, Mike. I had it in my mind it was in the US. You're right, it's not important, but can you point out where it implies UK - just so I can correct it to maintain consistency? Ta.
Thanks for reading and commenting ...

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-08-30 16:40:33
Re: Just for one day
Cheers, Steve. Ta for reading and commenting.
Steve #2.

Author's Reply:

flash on 2004-08-30 18:31:55
Re: Just for one day
Not my kind of story really so i perhaps didn't give it the attention it deserved. But a couple of things jarred...i like one other commenter thought the story was set in America because of words and dialogue like 'buddy,' and the use of the word 'guy,' and dialogue around it for instance, there might be other examples perhaps even 'Joannie,' doesn't sound right in an English setting, again 'Fire Department,' to me not sounding right anyway

The bungalow suddenly becomes a cottage also, which caught my attention. These little things took my attention away from the main theme and i spent my time looking for these inconsistencies, at one point i thought they were perhaps a deliberate part of the plot with a clever reason for them.

I also think he is too ready to accept the words of the miracle giver, the initial dialogue between them seem to reach acceptance or conclusion too quickly, i would expect more resistance, more disbelief from Frank.

Although the dialogue is strong between Frank and Joan, and the descriptive parts when he has full mobility are good, i feel slight dissatisfaction about the exchange of his house for this one day of returning to full mobility... although i realise he gains much more than just that in the end.

So my first read of this is telling me this is a good idea, but that it needs a big re-working IMHO.

Sorry i couldn't be more positive with this first read.


Author's Reply:

Kat on 2004-08-30 20:28:19
Re: Just for one day

I enjoyed your story...


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-08-31 03:37:26
Re: Just for one day
No probs, Alan.
I'll check the changing of building types - it was a cottage, and I changed to bungalow. But missed one obviously! Not sure what the Americans might call a one storey building?
The location is not key to the story - but I had in mind that it was set in the US, so tried to include US words.
I'll ponder the rest.
Thanks for commenting and reading.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-08-31 05:21:22
Re: Just for one day
Thanks, Kat. Glad you liked it.

Author's Reply:

tai on 2004-08-31 19:56:03
Re: Just for one day
Hi steve, I enjoyed this story but was a little dissapointed with the ending. Too predictable for me.

A single storey building ie(bungalow, semi detached) is called a duplex if I remember correctly. I spent 3 months over there in 2001.


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-09-01 03:36:08
Re: Just for one day
Thanks for the feedback.
Duplex? Hmmm ... ok, I will try and work that in.

Author's Reply:

Hazy on 2004-09-02 09:48:17
Re: Just for one day
Liked this a lot πŸ™‚

Do think it could do with 'trimming' a bit, just generally, not one specific bit.

To help avoid confusion over country, maybe you could say 'subway' instead of 'train'?

It was predictable, but nicely so. Don't think you should take that as a criticism of this story... I'm glad it went in that direction.

A very nice read. Thanks!

Hazy x

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-09-02 11:34:16
Re: Just for one day
Thanks, Hazy - and thanks for the suggestion.
For predictable - I agree - not all stories need to twist and shock, do they?
I wanted to do something that was a bit uplifting - which I think is harder than grim/cynical.
Thanks for reading.

Author's Reply:

RoyBateman on 2004-09-04 07:07:23
Re: Just for one day
I liked this a lot, and maybe it's because I have a weakness for old films. This, for me, was real golden-age Hollywood: black and white, full of genuine emotion that connects with the reader/audience, and an ending that sends 'em home sniffing into their hankies. Can't beat it! That's how I pictured it in my mind's eye anyway, and it panned out perfectly. You're right, not everything has to be hard and cynical - there's plenty of scope for variety, if the story's well done. And this one was.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-09-04 07:38:07
Re: Just for one day
Thanks, Roy. Glad you liked it.

Author's Reply:

Skeeter on 2004-09-04 08:46:21
Re: Just for one day
Its great to see you posting new work again,nd iuts great to read it. I really liked this. (oh by the way, there's a 'he' missing somewhere, but now I can't find it........). I like the originality of this, and the way in which you use the situation to explore responses to disability, which is such a personal thing. How the situation affords hm a chance to come to terms with his situation, reveals things that could not be seen, clouded by the anger and the grief. That's a good idea, and it works, for me.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-09-04 09:57:59
Re: Just for one day
I'll check for the missing "he"!
Thanks for your commenting and reading, Skeets - glad you liked it.

Author's Reply:

spacegirl on 2004-09-04 12:34:08
Re: Just for one day
I just think you've gone soft in your old age. Is is predictable, but sometimes we need to read something gentle. I was worried about what would happen, but it was such a lovely story about a couple rediscovering their love for each other.

You know it's not realistic though. The man would've gone out slept with loads of women while his legs worked then gone back to 'his Joanie' after he'd sowed his oats πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-09-04 14:00:34
Re: Just for one day
I think predictable is bad when you know who the killer is when you're not supposed to. There was never any intention to "twist" in this one.
As for your second comment - lol -, no one would blame him, would they? πŸ˜‰
Thanks for reading and commenting, Rose.

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2004-09-05 09:16:17
Re: Just for one day
Hi Steve,

I shouldn't like this, but I do. It's not the type of story that usually pulls me in - there's obviously not going to be a twist, you know what's coming - but there was something about Frank that made me want to know more.

There were pieces that jarred a little. They made it feel as though this was still a work in progress, rather than the finished and polished article. Just little things like:
"...the first drop of the next rain shower..." when "...the first drop from the next shower..." would probably be easier on the eye (though, as always, I stand to be corrected! πŸ˜‰ ).

One thing that did bother me was the logic. I'm don't know, but I would expect problems with the insurance company, given the circumstances.

Little niggles: 'Joannie'. I reckon you need to lose an 'n'. At the moment, it looks like it should be pronounced 'Joanne' with a 'y' sound at the end.
"The red curtains had replaced the green ones that had been there before the accident that shattered his legs and pelvis" - look at ending the sentence after 'accident'. The aftermath of it can be desribed later, in the hospital scene.

Overall, though, it's a nice, gentle story. It makes a pleasant change to read something character - rather than event - driven.


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-09-05 13:04:49
Re: Just for one day
Hi Karl,
Thanks for reading and commenting.
I prefer "of" - think they're both ok ... I'll think it over again.
In real life, yeah, the insurance company may well not pay out - but we never get that far, so perhaps they didn't! Maybe they wouldn't care!
I noticed the "Joannie"/"Joanie" thing the other day. Think you might be right there. Saying that - "Joanie" looks odd writing it down.(?)
After the "accident" word - I'm comfortable with that one - we already know he's become disabled - I wanted to say "shattered" in the same sentence as talking about the colour of curtains for contrast.
Ta for reading and detailed comments, as always.

Author's Reply:

Pay-per-view (posted on: 21-06-04)
My first effort at a poem.
I had this in my head and wanted to let it out.
Interested to know if it works for anyone.

He screams at every hammer blow,
blood leaking from His wrist.
He talks into the headset,
but the words are lost,
the screen has switched
to flogging Christmas shit.

The camera goes to close up,
there's tears upon His face.
For extra cash,
you get the chance
to watch it twice a day.

The clouds, they start to darken,
the rain, it starts to fall.
The broadcast stops,
they've got enough,
they want to show football.

Archived comments for Pay-per-view
bluepootle on 2004-06-21 03:25:26
Re: Pay-per-view
theres a bluntness to this, short hammering words which give it a power. I'm not sure about the the last line of the first verse - maybe its the swearing which seems out of place, not sure why. I'll be interested to see what others think on that one.

Author's Reply:

Faerie on 2004-06-21 03:36:27
Re: Pay-per-view
i agree wtih bluepootle about the bluntness..
i think this is really impressive for a first effort at poetry..

youre making an interesting commentary here...the first thing that came to mind was 'the passion of the christ'.. i dont know if that was intentional on your part.. but i think i should probably come back to this later.. definitely made me think.


Author's Reply:

spacegirl on 2004-06-21 05:07:43
Re: Pay-per-view
Wellity, wellity, wellity. The Geeza does poetry. Are you going soft?

I agree, the last line is out of place with the rest. What made you want to write it? It is good, but confused me I thought it was about footy at first, ppv, Hammer blow

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-06-21 06:03:55
Re: Pay-per-view
The swearing: anger. The rubbish flogged at that time of year as part of a religious festival that is against the very nature of the event. That's what I tried to say! Perhaps didn't come across?
Thanks for your comment as ever, BP.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-06-21 06:15:08
Re: Pay-per-view
nope, I got it loud and clear and got the anger too - I don't think the swear word makes the anger communicate, that's all... it almost fogs the points you're making I think. Which is strange, cos usually I'm all for swearing! Just not in this poem, for me.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-06-21 06:21:40
Re: Pay-per-view
I haven't seen that film yet, but it's a similar thing I had in mind.
Thanks, Nancy.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-06-21 06:47:30
Re: Pay-per-view
lol - yeah, gone soft and "arty".
You probably associated me with football, saw "hammer", saw the word "football" and ... judged book by its cover? πŸ˜‰ (hopefully).
As for what made me want to write it? One of my aims for the year and to express my opinions in different ways.
Thanks, Rose.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-06-21 06:48:37
Re: Pay-per-view
Thanks, BP. I shall have a think... any suggestions?

Author's Reply:

Claire on 2004-06-21 15:23:32
Re: Pay-per-view
It is good to have a dabble in poetry whether you know anything about it or not.

This is very... slap in ya face! It is beyond blunt. It has a hard driving voice in it, which I like. For a first dabble this is pretty good.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-06-21 17:08:39
Re: Pay-per-view
Thanks, Claire. Blunt probably sums me up in a lot of ways!

Author's Reply:

flash on 2004-06-21 17:17:49
Re: Pay-per-view

And you call me bonkers, here you are joining the darkside...........can you return to the light?

Don't do poetry so i can't offer anything constructive, just saying well done for having a bash, this might be good i but i wouldn't know.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-06-21 17:24:05
Re: Pay-per-view
Ta, Flashykins.
The Force was strong on this one.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-06-22 07:35:08
Re: Pay-per-view
how about a more precise image? give us an example of the xmas shit being flogged to really pinpoint for the reader. will give it a think but hopefully you see what I mean

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-06-22 09:54:38
Re: Pay-per-view
Gotcha.... agree. I'll have a think. Thanks, BP.

Author's Reply:

Skeeter on 2004-06-22 11:58:57
Re: Pay-per-view
I like it, and I like the anger in it, which is almost contempt; because it seems to me anger at the betrayal, or surrender, of values. I think that's an important message, because without value, what is the world except exchange and trivia?

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-06-22 14:47:17
Re: Pay-per-view
Thanks, Skeets. Pleased it came across because that's exactly what I was trying to say.

Author's Reply:

zenbuddhist on 2004-06-24 08:06:29
Re: Pay-per-view
fuck sake stevie man have you lost your fuckin mind .......leave the poetry tae the no-mark talentless fucks!!!!!.....*G*.....haha cheersbruvZ

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-06-24 10:01:50
Re: Pay-per-view
As Spacegirl said, I've gone soft ...
Cheers, Z ...

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2004-06-24 11:02:30
Re: Pay-per-view
thanks a lot, mate. *I* write poetry too, you know. (O sorry: - d'ya ken?) *should I say 'Jimmy' - no, probably too familiar and might incite him*

There's nowt wrong wi' poetry that a night in the byre wi't randy ram cain't fix - Zebediah Chutzpah.

Author's Reply:

Sunken on 2004-06-27 16:29:20
Re: Pay-per-view
Geezer, seriously, stop it with the poetry. I don't need this kinda competition in my life. From never getting picked at games to being 'Pupil most likely to top himself' I've had it hard. My odd success on the Uka forum is the only thing keeping me stable. Do you really want my breakdown on your conscience? Think on (-;

Oh, great poem (I guess)

s n e a k

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-06-27 17:39:45
Re: Pay-per-view
lol ... consider me retired. I shall gracefully retire and leave the playground to you.
Ta for comment!

Author's Reply:

Saxonshadow on 13-12-2006
I like this piece, I like 'blunt' and 'in yer face' if you follow, if it were mine I would have written it slightly differently but that is me, your final line showed a cruel reality all too often seen, I very much enjoyed,,,, SS

Author's Reply:

No Fixed Abode (posted on: 07-06-04)
A vignette about Ray Williams. Written today.

910 words.

Ray opened his eyes because someone was pushing him. 'What?' he said. He smelled stale alcohol coming in waves from the stubbly face. It grunted at him, reached in and pulled his hand from inside the blanket, where it was nice and warm. He felt a polystyrene cup pushed in his hand. 'Tea,' the man grunted at him. 'John said to give you one.' He watched the man turn and stand, the top of his filthy welt-peppered backside disappearing behind a grubby coat as he walked away.

He sipped the sugary tea and watched the first of the commuters walk past. The smartest looking people came first, then the scruffier ones, before the rush died out. He thought the smarter ones would give most, but the younger ones, rushing to be on time, had more to give. The early birds sneered as the breezed past, the inconvenience of moving from train to office foremost in their minds.

He finished the tea and pulled back the blanket. He put on his shoes and walked down the alley between two shops. He pulled out his penis and gagged on the smell. He aimed the dark urine into the drain, shook and put himself away. He cursed his way of life as sweet-smelling water followed his putrid offering into the sewer. It was bath water. He put his hands into the soapy stream, then wiped his hands on the seat of his jeans and went back to his home.

He sat under the blanket and asked for change. He spoke like he didn't care. That worked best. If he sounded like he was pleading, people would tell him to ''get a fucking life'', ''get a fucking job''. He had tried to be polite, he had tried to make people feel guilty. Truth was, no one felt guilt, he was not their fault, he was not their problem. He had tried asking for some money to get a bacon sandwich, a meal, a cup of tea. People told him he would buy drink or drugs if they gave him fifty pence. They were helping him by not helping him. He stuck on asking if people had any change they could spare him and no more. It kept him alive. His was a tramp with no attitude. People don't like tramps with attitude.

John came over with a bacon roll. 'Here,' said John.

'Thanks,' said Ray. 'I appreciate that.' He looked at John and smiled. A human connection.

John shook his head. 'No bother … cooked it for a customer.' He coughed. 'He didn't want it.' He nodded at Ray and walked back to his shop. John gave him a bacon roll every day, each time with a different excuse. The shop was closed at the weekend. It meant moving around to the tube station to wait for enough money for a hamburger.

Today, two giant rabbits stood with buckets, collecting money for a Children's hospital. They played music and danced to the tune of coins falling on coins. Children's hospitals are one of the better causes, thought Ray. Do the people care, or do the bunnies shame them, or maybe amuse them enough to put their hands in their pockets? Don't they care about me because I've got no home? Does no one care about me?

He threw the blanket aside and picked up his baseball cap. He stood alongside the two rabbits and started to shuffle his feet. He hummed to the tune and moved faster. He closed his eyes and held out his cap.

'For fuck's sake, mate! What are you doing?'

Ray opened his eyes and looked at the grey clouds above his head.


He looked at the two rabbits. One stood behind the other and they had stopped to look at him.

'We're collecting for a kids' charity, for fuck's sake. Can't you just piss off? You're losing us money.'

Ray looked in his empty cap.

He thumped the rabbit, sending him spinning and crashing to the floor. The other put its hands up and backed away. Ray moved forward and tore off its head. The young man mumbled, his lips quivered. The headless rabbit moved back again, before he turned and ran through the flow of commuters. No one came to help the stricken rabbit. Ray put the rabbit head on and turned to watch the people walk past, the relentless flow arcing around them.

He turned and walked to the rabbit on the floor. It struggled to crawl away, but Ray bent down and helped it to its feet.

'Okay, mate, okay … just take the money, okay?'

'I don't want your money,' said Ray.

'What do you want?' said the rabbit.

'My name is Ray Williams and I'm a person of no fixed abode. I didn't want to have no home, I didn't ask to have no home.'

The rabbit nodded.

'And no one cares.'

The rabbit nodded. Ray could see the bright eyes moving behind the costume.

'I just wanted you to know that.'

The tramp with a rabbit head turned and walked with the commuters. The other rabbit, his white suit quite dirty, watched him disappear in the crowd. He looked for his colleague, but he was nowhere to be seen.

John came out of his shop, collected Ray's things into a bundle and put them into his backyard. Later, he would put the bundle into the alleyway for Ray to pick up. It's an arrangement they have.

Archived comments for No Fixed Abode

thehaven on 2004-06-07 04:22:30
Re: No Fixed Abode
This has a message that everyone should heed .I felt it could be developed and made stronger though.
I can see why Ray walked with he crowd but there was no conclusion for him.

Author's Reply:

Heirloom on 2004-06-07 04:44:31
Re: No Fixed Abode
I enjoyed this, Steve. Nothing original about the theme, but you present it in a new and interesting way, imo. I especially liked the fact that he was accepted more by the 'crowd' dressed as a giant rabbit than when he was just another homeless person - nice touch. I think you could leave the reader with that image, however, rather than the 2-3 lines that follow it. A good example of Flash Fiction. Thanks.

Author's Reply:

Skeeter on 2004-06-07 05:55:58
Re: No Fixed Abode
Enjoyable and interesting. i like your style, it has an immediacy about it. The subject matter is one of those that everyone thinks has been done, but which probably hasn't been doen as much as it seems, but anyway, these things need re-telling. Liked it.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-06-07 06:35:08
Re: No Fixed Abode
Thanks, Haven ... appreciate your comment.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-06-07 06:39:24
Re: No Fixed Abode
Thanks, Steven. No nothing original, but I sat down and wanted to write something, and this came into my head first!
Thanks for your comment.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-06-07 06:40:02
Re: No Fixed Abode
Thanks, Skeets... appreciate your reading and commenting.

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2004-06-07 07:15:18
Re: No Fixed Abode
A good story...but I couldn't see the point of the 'arrangement'. The only time it would be needed was if they were in cahoots to rip people off, and that doesn't appear to be the case.

Author's Reply:

malc on 2004-06-07 08:26:24
Re: No Fixed Abode
I loved the introduction of the rivalry with the rabbits and the different excuses that the bacon butty man gave for his charitable donations. Excellent. That said, I'd be tempted to loose the last two pars and end on 'I just wanted you to know that.' Also, in the para introducing the rabbits, I'd lose the self-pitying, 'Don't they come...' lines. But that's just me being picky. Nice one, Geeza.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-06-07 11:29:34
Re: No Fixed Abode
Thanks, Karl.
The "arrangement" was just something nice the shopkeeper done for Ray - no hidden motives or nastiness!
Thanks for reading and commenting.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-06-07 11:30:35
Re: No Fixed Abode
Cheers, Malc. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Author's Reply:

discopants on 2004-06-07 11:54:28
Re: No Fixed Abode
I liked this but then as it touches upon a similar theme to my piece today, I would say that!

Author's Reply:

neil2 on 2004-06-07 13:22:42
Re: No Fixed Abode
Yes I like - the part with the rabbit costumes is a great invention which takes it out of the usual run of this kind of story into bitter satire on charitable giving. Excellent!

Author's Reply:

flash on 2004-06-07 14:16:20
Re: No Fixed Abode
It would make a memorable short film Steve, i liked it a lot, the charity thing with the rabbits did give it originality or at least added something inventive to the piece IMHO.

Good stuff


Author's Reply:

Claire on 2004-06-07 14:31:43
Re: No Fixed Abode
A good interesting piece. If there were more John's in the world, the world would be more peaceful.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-06-07 15:23:02
Re: No Fixed Abode
Thanks, Disco. I'll take heed of your shameless advert and have a look! πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-06-07 15:26:15
Re: No Fixed Abode
Thanks, Neil - appreciate your reading and commenting.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-06-07 15:27:21
Re: No Fixed Abode
Thanks, Alan - appreciate your comments, as usual.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-06-07 15:29:15
Re: No Fixed Abode
It would be, wouldn't it? Can't see it though - be nice if people were 10% like a John.
Thanks for commenting, Claire.

Author's Reply:

dogfrog on 2004-06-08 05:49:06
Re: No Fixed Abode
Ah...I was expecting him to steal the rabbit costume and use it to collect money for himself. I've often wondered why the homeless aren't a bit more creative, but a broken spirit, mental illness and substance abuse can't help.

As hard as it is these days, if it were me, I'd definitely try and squat.

Some good news I think?

They say that any one of us are only two or three paychecks away from a similar fate. Anyhoo, nice story Geez.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-06-08 07:06:37
Re: No Fixed Abode
Yep, you see these poor folks and don't realise that some of them could easily be your next door neighbour, but for some bad luck/judgement.
Thanks for reading and commenting ...

Author's Reply:

Sunken on 2004-06-10 01:33:34
Re: No Fixed Abode
Very original twist on an all too familiar scene. The 'bright eyes' connection (I'm thinking watership down) made me smile. Witty, clever and poignant.


Author's Reply:

shangri-la on 2004-06-10 05:59:05
Re: No Fixed Abode
I like this, I especially like the touch of the guy giving over a bacon butty always with a different excuse suggestive of perhaps masking his own embarrassment for his generous act and affording the tramp some semblence of dignity. I also like the summing up of the reasons why people don't give money - excusing themselves by telling him 'he would buy drink or drugs if they gave him fifty pence. They were helping him by not helping him'

I think it's so sad that we walk on by without a second thought - never pondering on how that person might have gotten into this situation - so many on the streets were once successful professionals with families - someones husband/father/son - hard financial times, marriage break-ups, the loss of a loved one or a nervous breakdown often being the cause....sorry for waffling

An excellent piece, very thought provoking.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-06-10 09:20:40
Re: No Fixed Abode
Thanks, Sunk - glad someone picked up on the "bright eyes" thing!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-06-10 10:58:41
Re: No Fixed Abode
Thanks, shangri-la. Glad you liked it.

Author's Reply:

It never happened to anyone else (posted on: 21-05-04)
Click to see more top choices

(1,792 words)


I was always stood in the playground, waiting to be picked by one of the captains, one of the popular boys. It felt so good to be chosen over others: fat boys, smelly boys, ginger kids. If I was mentioned by name, it was the bonus that would have me skip all the way home. To get grunted at and beckoned by a dirty finger was mostly good enough. A lifetime of waiting is how I would describe it.

I could never understand what it was they had that I hadn't been given. I dressed like them, I talked like them, I tried to be near them. They wouldn't have me. ''What do you want?''. Adults liked me: ''what a sweet and good-natured young man, you are,'' they'd say … a credit to my parents. I'd been stamped: nothing bad, neither good, just ''schoolboy'' or something as plain and average as that. I wasn't a great footballer, a swot, an Adonis … I was nothing, but something at the same time.

Girls appeared and pranced up and down when I was about fourteen. The boys formed an orderly queue and I'd hear about this and that, waiting my turn. It didn't come, it just passed by unseen and untouched. I lived through my puberty on the idle rumours of the grubby boys in the playground. I spent most waking moments wondering what it would be like to touch a girl, to smell her, to talk with one. At seventeen, I gave up to save my sanity. There must have been a reason why I had been struck from the register of humanity.

By the time I was twenty seven, I was the oldest virgin in the world and its biggest sponsor of Kleenex. Dad had grown weary of Mum glaring at him whenever he questioned my sexuality over the dinner table. The embarrassment never let go and I would blush whenever gay people were spoken about anywhere. My love life became taboo, the long sought girlfriend stayed at the dodo sanctuary in Atlantis.

Suddenly, there was a girl: Joanne from Files – and what a looker. She was such a sweet thing; so nice, so smiley, so single. She touched my arm, talked to me, showed interest and gave me attention. I think she liked my blushing and the awkward silences as I fought to speak. When Greg said we seemed to be getting close, he tipped his head and winked. I didn't know what to say. It was like something at the flicks where the audience holds it breath and waits to see what will happen. I had always wanted to be part of a rumour. I wanted to wink back at him, shrug and play the game. I just looked at him with an open mouth and said, ''who?''. He said her name again and laughed. He didn't say anything else, but I wanted him to. I wanted him to explore it for me, but he wouldn't. After that I mentioned her name again, to see if I could spark him into life, but he didn't bite and that was that. I thought about her a lot, I thought I'd marry her if she happened to ask. She could have everything I owned. No question. I was right about her. She was the one for me. We lived together in my head for a while and we got on really well. Her faults were forgiven: her flirtatious manner; her revealing clothes; the rumours of free love; all would melt in the glow of our love.

I remember the time, at a work social, I came out the toilet and she was there, sucking the spittle out of some chap's mouth. I was frozen and rooted to the spot. The disappointment and shock hung around my neck and squeezed the air from my lungs. People were ignoring them. This guy wasn't from our group. I was obsessed with how he had made contact, and after having done that, how he had taken the girl I loved and put his tongue in her mouth in such a short space of time. ''Look at Joanne,'' said Paul, ''she'd go with anyone.'' I tried to defend my girl's honour. ''You must be joking,'' he said, ''Joanne?'' When she came back to us at the end of the night, someone asked where her bloke was. She said she didn't know and didn't care either. She just wanted to get home. Paula had dared her to kiss the handsome stranger, so she had. It was that simple. I remember that Sunday, pushing and pulling at my roast potatoes, convincing myself it was just a kiss and a harmless bit of fun.

When I saw her on Monday, my blood ran cold, but I couldn't turn her away. She came over and started talking. She didn't mention Friday; it was like I wasn't there. We chatted for ages, then she went back to work. Maybe she didn't remember what she did, or wasn't sure … or maybe wanted to let me know she still liked me. By Wednesday I was in love again. She said there was another social on the Friday and I should come along. I said I was busy, but she looked so disappointed that I said I would try. As she walked away, I took her distinctive smell into my nose – always the same perfume and that stuff she put in her wavy hair. I watched her legs, the shoes. I imagined the feet inside, the naked body I hadn't yet seen. I thought about her getting out of bed to go to work, fighting for the bathroom, sitting on the train … arranging lunch.

On the Friday, she was the life and soul of the party. She touched everyone, she looked them all in the eye and winked, she preened and presented herself … but not to me. I bought her a drink, we had a chat and I made her laugh. I didn't know if I was getting anywhere. I had no one to ask. Then she disappeared. I found her by the toilets with Danny from the post room. He had his hand on her bottom and was whispering in her ear. They came back to the group and moved apart. I watched them to see if I could break the code, but I couldn't. ''Where's Danny?'' I asked, when I found myself next to her. ''Danny from the post room?'' she said, ''I don't know.''

When I watched her walk down the road with Bob the accountant – they got the same train – laughing and giggling, I wondered what I was doing wrong. All I ever wanted was something like that to happen to me. I blamed Dad: surely, he forgot to tell me how it was done.

Over the months, I watched as she bounced around the workplace social evenings in her over-friendly way. She confided in me during the day and ignored me at night. As she told me about her boyfriends, her parents, her drunken friends, all I could do was look at her bouncy hair, her dainty fingers, her cleavage and keep the memory of her smell fresh, so that I could imagine what it would be like to hold her in my arms, to lay her on the bed and make love to her. John, the security guard, said she would be a fantastic lay, but I knew it would be even better than that, if I could just take her away from it all.

So when I won the football pools, I knew my leaving drink would be the last time I saw her, so it had to be done or lost forever. I thought the money gave me that thing that I never had, but there was a catch. I wanted my anonymity back. I needed to get these people out the way and slide around the back to where she was, but they wouldn't let me. I watched her talking. This time she wasn't touching or dragging people off to dance, she was just talking, drinking and having fun. I caught her eye and she smiled, nodded her head and carried on. I had to speak to her. There was only ten minutes to go.

The crowd started to thin, so I managed to steal across the middle and say ''hi'' to Joanne and Roxy the secretary. They both smiled and we started to talk. Joanne straightened my tie and winked at me. She stood very close and said she was so sorry to see me leave the company. Roxy agreed but I barely heard. Joanne blinked her blue eyes at me and held my hand. She told me she felt cold. I nodded and pulled my hand away. Roxy asked me what plans I had, I told her I didn't know. She asked some more questions but I just wanted to talk to Joanne, to find whatever it was that would unlock the door at last.

When Roxy disappeared towards the toilet, Joanne said she was glad we were finally alone and that she thought Roxy would never take the hint. I didn't see the hint, and I wanted to ask what it was, but I thought best to leave it. She stepped as near as she could and I wondered whether I should try and kiss her, put my arms around her, or maybe ask if she wanted a kiss. The intricacies of any human interaction have never been easy for me, your mother would confirm that. For years after that night, I asked her what I should do in certain situations and it became a source of great amusement to us in the end. As we grew old, a little look of panic would have her tip a nod or mouth a word. The raising of an eyebrow would show my comprehension and her familiar wink would acknowledge it.

Imagine everyone's reaction when Joanne put her arms around me and I screamed.

''What are you doing?'' I shouted, without thought for the volume. The drunken situation went downhill fast, and I left without my jacket to the shouts of her outrage and the sounds of laughter. Outside, in an alleyway in the cool night's breeze of the summer evening, I bent over and cried drunken tears. The opportunity arises and then blows up in my face. That was not supposed to happen. It never happened to anyone else.

So Roxy, my dear late-departed wife, appeared in the rich moonlight and took my hand to see if I was okay. I took her hand in marriage the following spring and never regretted a single moment. It never happened to anyone else.

Archived comments for It never happened to anyone else

SmirkingDervish on 2004-05-21 04:06:56
Re: It never happened to anyone else
You draw the characters well and tell the tale well, although I am a bit confused because near the end it appars the story is being told to his daughter but throughout it does not sound like he is speaking to his daughter, and it is a point that might be missed by some.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-05-21 04:17:14
Re: It never happened to anyone else
well told, but not sure its the voice of someone speaking to their daughter if they have trouble communicating at the best of times - the bit about kleenex, for example. I Think it needs to lose the 'your mother' line or needs a bit of a rethink overall.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-05-21 04:19:15
Re: It never happened to anyone else
Thanks SD. I tried to switch, and hoped that although it was not apparent until the switch, he could've been talking to his son/daughter all along.
Ta for reading and commenting.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-05-21 04:21:17
Re: It never happened to anyone else
I had it in mind it was his son ... although not really relevant either gender. Perhaps the switch didn't work ... one must try! Thanks, bp.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-05-21 04:26:38
Re: It never happened to anyone else
ohhhh, I wonder why I never thought it could be a son? Perhaps because he refers to his wife so affectionately in that moment, it feels like something you'd say to a daughter. How weird. I guess it makes more sense as a son... maybe you could put in a bit making that clear, or that his son is having similar probs? That might work?

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-05-21 04:45:28
Re: It never happened to anyone else
It'd be hard - unless he calls him "son" or describes him ... i will have a ponder. When I read Smirking's comment, I thought "daughter?" cos i hadn't thought his audience to be female. I think it's quite an interesting point that when people realise he is talking to someone, this combined with the fact he is talking about "love", the reader assumes it's a female. Interesting! Thanks, bp.

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2004-05-21 05:44:48
Re: It never happened to anyone else
Hi, Steve,
I was beginning to think you'd 'left' us, mate!

The first part of the story - about being a kid - seemed very familiar to me...can't think why...I could at least play football pretty well...okay, as a goalie, but... πŸ˜‰

The change worked for me on some level. It wasn't as smooth or as clear as it could have been, perhaps, but it did seem to fit. Maybe a bit of tinkering, rather than an overhaul?
For me, there was no confusion over the gender of the other person. After the mention of Kleenex, etc, I assumed it was a boy he was talking to - and a fairly grown-up one, at that. But it was also mentioned that they'd grown old, so wouldn't it be more likely to be a grandson he was speaking to, rather than his own boy?

Obviously, other comments will already have given you much food for thought, so I won't parrot the same stuff (anymore than I have).
The characterisation was good. Roxy appeared to come in from nowhere, but that is often the way in real life. Perhaps she should be mentioned in passing earlier in the story, though; maybe she was trying to speak with him one night while he was obsessing over Joanne?

It's a good story, but I'll look forward to reading it again if/when you resolve the 'issues'.


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-05-21 05:58:44
Re: It never happened to anyone else
Thanks, Karl.
No - haven't left - just been really mega busy.
Roxy coming from nowhere was quite deliberate - it's what he always wanted and thought only happened to everyone else. He was finally chosen.

Author's Reply:

petersjm on 2004-05-21 06:02:19
Re: It never happened to anyone else
Steve, I also imagined a daughter, but until the narrator mentioned growing old, I had actually envisaged a BABY daughter... Perhaps he was holding her, telling the story... Well, that's just the way I took it πŸ™‚

What else can I say? Tender, sweet, touching... Romantic... You have a certain way of turn stark reality into something almost magical. I'm envious πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-05-21 06:33:02
Re: It never happened to anyone else
Thanks, PJ.
I guess it could be a daughter - I thought it was a son who was older (which is probably where the Kleenex quote came from). It could well work better as a baby daughter because he is effectively talking to himself then.
Ta for your reading and commenting!

Author's Reply:

Skeeter on 2004-05-21 07:13:12
Re: It never happened to anyone else
I won't say anything other than that I liked it very much. Alright then, I wished it could have been longer. Theres' a lot of mileage in the character. Enjoyed this, great read.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-05-21 07:36:20
Re: It never happened to anyone else
Thanks, Skeets - and thanks for making it a fav.

Author's Reply:

Claire on 2004-05-21 11:56:27
Re: It never happened to anyone else
Like the ending. I did not expect it. As for who he is telling this to, does it really matter? I saw him as an old man sitting in the park talking to the birds. You have a great story here.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-05-21 12:07:18
Re: It never happened to anyone else
Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Claire.

Author's Reply:

chrisk on 2004-05-21 16:37:04
Re: It never happened to anyone else
Hi TheGeeza
I thought it was a nice ending and it was a compelling read. Described the atmosphere clear as crystal. Loved it.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-05-21 16:42:36
Re: It never happened to anyone else
Thanks, Chrisk.

Author's Reply:

razorcuts on 2004-05-22 02:37:10
Re: It never happened to anyone else
i liked the opening para's, real and with my sort of dry humour but was distracted by the football pools reference and immediately transported back to the 70's, bell bottoms,flyaway shirt collars and larry lloyd sideburns,(and that was just joanne)

'the switch' went over my head i'm afraid, i just thought "who's he talking to now?" was even looking over my shoulder in case there was someone reading behind me.

dont take above as criticism as its just my reading perspective and we all individual in that view. really like your words and how you relay them to the reader, its easy (which for me is a must) well expressed and v. funny. how you manage to write in cockerney english is a gift. well done

Author's Reply:

malc on 2004-05-22 03:25:32
Re: It never happened to anyone else
I thought this was great writing. Made me think of Mike Skinner's lyrics. Especially the early paragraphs. Wasn't so keen on the pools win, though. Seemed like an easy get out and would have prefered it him to have a more mundane reason for leaving (like a different but similarly boring job). The 'your mother' bit confused me at first too. And Roxy did come as a bit of a bolt from the blue. But like you say, life's like that. And anyway it would have made the ending corny if you'd introduced her earlier on. But that's nit-picking 'cos it really was good writing. Looking forward to reading more of your stuff.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-05-22 04:12:12
Re: It never happened to anyone else
Cheers, Razor. Glad you liked it and ta for commenting.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-05-22 04:15:32
Re: It never happened to anyone else
Cheers, Malc. I guess I wanted to give the poor guy a break and say that things can always get better!
Thanks for your comments,

Author's Reply:

Heirloom on 2004-05-22 11:45:45
Re: It never happened to anyone else
One of your better pieces, imo, Geeza. Great conversational style, fast-paced, read smoothly, and you have an incredible amount of information in there considering it's under 2000words. Yeah, very good. You manage to make the mundane seem interesting. Good stuff.
Steven D.

Author's Reply:

Leila on 2004-05-22 13:40:47
Re: It never happened to anyone else
Good title for this interesting story. I mostly read the poetry so my comments won't mean much, but I did enjoy this. Felt you tried to cover a lot of ground (years) and maybe it could be longer. Wasn't sure how well the mother bit was weaved in there, might be a better way to show he is talking to his daughter. As I say I enjoyed it cheers ...L

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-05-22 18:23:13
Re: It never happened to anyone else
Thanks, Steven - appreciate your comments. What you been up to? Haven't seen you about for a while.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-05-22 18:28:34
Re: It never happened to anyone else
Thanks, Leila ... I appreciate all comments and yours mean as much as anyone's.
I tried to keep the wordcount down - was worried it could start to babble otherwise. Glad you enjoyed it.
All the best,

Author's Reply:

Heirloom on 2004-05-23 01:47:35
Re: It never happened to anyone else
Thanks for asking, Steve. Truth is I find it increasingly difficult to find time to spend on here these days. When I'm writing nothing else gets done! I've been working on my novel, "Heirloom" and 3 stories, one of which, "Of Bee And Undertow", will be posted here on Monday. Part One anyway - it's a longer piece like "Used Ticket". Other two stories are "The Wedding Vow" and a sequel to "Plastic Star".

Hey, thanks for letting me place this advertisement in your story post, and FOC, too!

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-05-23 03:40:55
Re: It never happened to anyone else
One thing I've noticed about your writing, Geeza, is that the reader had better pay close attention because just a few words or a seemingly unimportant reference about something can have quite an effect on the outcome of the story. Not a criticism; on the contrary it's like being a detective – if you don't get the clues, then you won't get the result.
Something I'm not sure about: 'I was always stood in the playground etc'. 'Stood' seemed the wrong tense or is it me?
As usual, a damned good read.
:^) Steve.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-05-23 04:34:41
Re: It never happened to anyone else
Thanks, Steve - glad you liked it.
The 'stood' ... debatable. It captured the voice of the character in my head. I will have a ponder to see if it can be more grammatically clear-cut!
Again, thanks for your reading and commenting.

Author's Reply:

flash on 2004-05-23 04:58:42
Re: It never happened to anyone else
Jeez!!!! I must be thick or not very observant, i thought he was talking to us an audience, i didn't pick up the individual thing until the end and again i thought this was a daughter.

I have to be honest and say i was disappointed with the story overall, some nice touches but i was unsatisfied with it somehow, the ending was a bit iffy for me.......maybe it's just not my type of tale.

But always worth reading though, sorry i couldn't be more positive.


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-05-23 05:19:55
Re: It never happened to anyone else
No worries, Alan. There was a sudden shift, I wasn't 100% (still not) that it worked myself.
Thanks for reading and commenting.

Author's Reply:

Faerie on 2004-05-23 07:33:57
Re: It never happened to anyone else
loved the line.. "I was nothing, but something at the same time"..
i didn't expect the twist at the end.. but was so glad that it turned out that way.. your characters are very life-like.. i really didnt like Joanne..
great story


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-05-23 07:46:30
Re: It never happened to anyone else
Thanks, Nancy.
Poor Joanne - she might've been looking for something too? Or maybe she was just a loose woman ...
Thanks for reading and commenting.

Author's Reply:

thehaven on 2004-05-23 09:30:48
Re: It never happened to anyone else
This is an enjoyable read until the end which seemed rushed to me and imo didnt work .

But the description of the angst of growing up and first love was spot on.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-05-23 09:42:29
Re: It never happened to anyone else
Thanks - glad you liked ... until the end!

Author's Reply:

spacegirl on 2004-05-23 12:53:53
Re: It never happened to anyone else
Well Suggsy I enjoyed that. Unlike most people I never wondered who he was talking to. I always assume that the writer is talking to me. I did like the way Roxy came from nowhere "love comes in the most unexpected places"


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-05-23 13:08:19
Re: It never happened to anyone else
I could say something quite risquΓ© in response to your quote, but choose not to, in preference for good taste!
Thanks for reading and glad you enjoyed it.

Author's Reply:

pgarner on 2004-05-23 19:43:43
Re: It never happened to anyone else
"So when I won the football pools, I knew my leaving drink would be the last time I saw her..."

I love this line, it says so much and it's not even the whole sentance!

Great work.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-05-24 03:50:18
Re: It never happened to anyone else
Thanks for reading and commenting.

Author's Reply:

dancing-queen on 2004-05-25 06:31:09
Re: It never happened to anyone else
Hey Steve, only just noticed this one of yours. I enjoyed this - I liked the voice used here. I was thrown a bit by the '...your mother would confirm that' bit and I was thinking what's my mother got to do with anything LOL - so I think if you're intending on this being narrated to the character's child, maybe give us a hint of it a bit beforehand somehow. Or I'd take it out as I think even without it we know he's telling this to somebody, whoever it is.

The other thing that confused me was this bit: "So Roxy, my dear late-departed wife, appeared in the rich moonlight and took my hand " - at that point I thought that Roxy was a ghost and I completely lost the plot for a moment. After re-reading it a few times I realised what you meant. I think it's the way it's been worded there that can confuse a bit. Given that he's supposed to be relating this to his child, I don't think he'd use that 'dear late departed wife' phrasing, would he? How about having him say something like:

"So Roxy appeared in the rich moonlight and took my hand to see if I was okay. I took her hand in marriage the following spring and never regretted a single moment, right up until her death."

You might find another way of rephrasing it, but see how I've shifted the death bit to avoid any confusion?

Apart from that, it was a really good read. Well done - DQ πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

Kipper on 2004-05-25 16:17:44
Re: It never happened to anyone else
Please allow me to ad my two peneth!
I too feel that the 'pools win' could be bettered - for me it was the only flat note in a lovely tune.
I also felt (towards the end) that I was evesdropping on a conversation between a man and a child, perhaps a grandchild, but did wonder; did it need to come after Roxy's death? Sorry if I missed a point there.
Re. the 'playground'. Could it be "I waited in the playground, waiting to be picked" That line took me (and I'll bet a few others) back to the time when I too waited to be picked, and prayed and prayed and prayed that I would not be last. I can still remember the feeling of shame when I was.
A good tale well told.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-05-25 16:20:15
Re: It never happened to anyone else
Thanks, DQ. I didn't want to reveal all before - as this wasn't a "surprise" or "twist", but just something a little unexpected. The switch may or may not have worked, but it may have just petered out otherwise. I think your wording may read that he did regret it when she did die! lol.
Ta for reading and commenting!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-05-25 16:22:58
Re: It never happened to anyone else
Thanks, Kipper. Yeah, the pools win was quick. I wanted things to happen for the character quickly (to make the point that things can happen fast and to everyone), and I could probably have moulded it a little better.
Ta for reading and commenting.

Author's Reply:

dancing-queen on 2004-05-26 10:46:46
Re: It never happened to anyone else
Um...isn't he supposed to regret her dying?

Confused DQ

Author's Reply:

dancing-queen on 2004-05-26 10:50:13
Re: It never happened to anyone else
Oooooh sorry - just had another read of it and I see what you mean - it can be taken two ways, can't it? Oh hell. That wasn't much use to you, was it? LOL - Oh well, I'm sure you can find another way of phrasing it that makes sense all round. DQ πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-05-26 16:03:56
Re: It never happened to anyone else
lol ... too much sherry at lunchtime for DQ me thinks. πŸ™‚
Thanks, DQ.

Author's Reply:

zenbuddhist on 2004-05-28 05:34:05
Re: It never happened to anyone else
well it certainly didnae happen tae me anyways.....not that this is [too] bad or anything ..one point on the comments what fuckin difference would it make if he wis talkin tae his daughter or his son....ah can just see me talkin tae ma wee laddie like that when he gets older eh?....hey son yer dad`s a fuckin WANKER....look forward tae the yer next yin Stevie- boy....Z

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-05-28 05:47:28
Re: It never happened to anyone else
lol ....
Cheers, Zen.

Author's Reply:

molly13 on 28-03-2013
It never happened to anyone else
Hi Steve. I liked this ditty. The line, 'She was such a sweet thing; so nice, so smiley, so single.' was memorable for me, even if it's a bit of an alliteration overkill. It told me far more about your MC's insecurities and sexual frustration, even though the sentence is all about the girl he is infatuated with. Good stuff.



Author's Reply:

Trying (posted on: 01-03-04)
Click to see more top choices

A man finds something.
Bit of an experiment for me. May cause offence - not for the faint-hearted.
3,228 words.


It's always so weird when they go. There one minute, gone the next. You live with someone for a while and they become part of your life; the next thing you know, they're gone – torn away, leaving a hole in your side. It hurts for a while and you feel the wind tracing around the jagged skin, but the wound heals and only scar tissue remains; cover it up and you can forget, but it never goes away completely. I notice on Saturday mornings a lot. Fall out of bed and no one cares and no one notices that it's eleven o'clock and you're standing in the kitchen in boxers, badly needing a shower. Pulling one teabag from the box reminds me of other times.

My mum gives me the old ''time to move on'' speech, but I miss the company and companionship. It makes me wonder why I bother carrying on. Thoughts of travelling or living in other countries play on my mind, getting old by my own and having no children depress me, and I feel like jacking it in.

John, from the office, told me I was moping and we should go on holiday together; I told him I was thirty-five and was way past lads holidays; we got drunk and I ended up saying ''yes''; the bastard took my deposit from the hole-in-the-wall that night to stop me changing my mind. He wouldn't give the money back and I thought about taking the loss, but he insisted … and so I went: me, John and his brother Mike – twins, twenty-five and separated by five minutes apparently.

It's the first night and after a couple of hours we started chatting up three birds. John and Mike disappeared with two of them and left me with Tina. Her resigned smile deflated what was left of my ego, so I told her I was going home – at eight o'clock. It was funny watching her panic – she thought that although I was boring, I was better than nothing, so fuck that – she told me I couldn't go home so early, I swigged my beer and told her I could – she told me I couldn't leave her on her own – I told her I could and I was going to, as I finished my beer. She said I could at least buy her a drink – I told her to buy her own. I left her there, urgently looking around for attention she wasn't going to get. Tina is young, but plump in all the wrong places. She's a 2am girl back in London; in Tenerife, she's a 6am barrel-scraper.

I walked across the strip and went in a bar that wasn't just an ear-splitting wall of noise and flashing light. There were plenty of people there, but I didn't feel such an old git, lost in his younger years. I've never been one for clubs, preferring the company of a nice woman or boozy nights with the lads that ended with a kebab and nothing else.

'Hi there!'

Turning round, there's the most amazing looking girl I've seen in many a year. She's like something from MTV: minimal clothing, tanned, blonde hair, beautiful blue eyes and a smile that dries the inside of a man's mouth in seconds. She's no more than twenty, and her small petite breasts pull my eyes along their contours. I can't look away and I don't answer.

'Are you on your own?' she says.

'Yeah,' I say. 'Well, no, not really … my friends have …' I'm more drunk than I thought and I can't find a way to … and those breasts and that smooth neck. Wow.

'They've found themselves some company have they?'

I shrug.

'And left little old you on your lonesome? Oooow … poor you!' she says, and her smile grows even wider on those moist and very red lips. Her teeth are lovely and white and … 'Would you like a drink?'

I look at my near-empty bottle, think about my dry mouth and say ''no''.

'Oooow … come on … my name's Katie … let me buy you a drink! Come on!'

'Are you a club rep?' I ask.

'No!' she says … 'What makes you say that?'

She's smiling and looking more gorgeous by the second and she's got these little studs in her ears that are twinkling and her scrummy blonde hair is around them and I want to smell her ear and her hair.

'What makes you think I'm a rep?' she says. She's so enthusiastic and young and fresh and …

'You're not a prostitute are you? Because if you are …'

'Pete! You cheeky so-and-so!'

She playfully hits me on the arm with her little fist and her little fingers on her little wrist and her thin and lovely … and those little toes … painted red and …

'How did you know my name?' I say. I look around for John and Mike … the bastards … it's a wind-up and I'm not falling for it. 'Tell John and Mike to go … fuck themselves.' I smile at her. 'Very funny.'

'Who are John and Mike?' she asks.

'The two clowns who sent you over? The two ugly sons of bitches with no sense of humour? The two blokes who have probably shagged your mates and will probably shag you too. Tell them to buy me a drink too.' I finished the bottle. 'Tossers.'

She shrugs her shoulders and smiles. Then she's gone. Her cute-as-hell legs walk that short-skirted little rump away and out of my life for good. My God … she's one hot bit of totty that I would cut my arm off to get my hands on. This sort of thing passed me by when I was young, and it's well out of reach now … but I've got my imagination and right hand to get as near to it as I can.

I pick the bottle up to my mouth and remember it's empty. It's eleven now and I might call it a night. I can get up early and go down the beach. That'll be nice.

'Here you go,' she says. She's back. She hands me a beer and stands with a drink in her hand. She sees me looking. 'Vodka and lemonade,' she says.

I look at the brown bottle in my hand and hold it to the light. There's something in it – it's full up. 'Did they piss in it?'

She spits a mouthful of drink back in her glass and laughs. 'You say the weirdest things.'

I smell the bottle and it seems okay. 'Where are they?'

'Your friends?'

I nod.

'I don't know,' she says. 'I told you.'

I take a sip of the beer, and although it's rough-as-fuck Spanish dog piss, it's what I've been drinking all night. I take a bigger mouthful and swallow. 'What did you say your name was again?'


I nod and look around the bar. The music is getting louder and the crowd is swelling. She's playing with the ice in her glass and looking around too. Something weird is going to happen, I'm sure.

'Where are your friends?' I ask, eventually.

'All over,' she says. 'Don't worry about them.'

I nod and watch her finish her drink. I hesitate, unsure of what she's going to do. 'Do you want another?' I ask.

'Hmmm … yes please!' she says. 'That'll be lovely.'

'Vodka and lemonade, was it?'

She smiles and looks away at the crowd.

I get the drinks and it feels odd carrying two. One drink for me and one for a lady-friend: an absolutely, top-of-the-range lady-friend: a woman from my dreams that came to me. I hand her the drinks and she smiles, mouths a ''thank-you'' and takes a sip with those luscious lips.

I wait a while and put my bottle down, and with the surge of confidence it gives, I ask: 'why did you come up to me?'

'Because I like you,' she says, and gives me a wink. She sips her drink.

I want to point out my age or move under a brighter light, so that she won't recoil in horror later. This moment approaches faster than I'd like, as she finishes her drink, turns to me and takes my sweaty hand.

'Let's go,' she says. 'Let's go dancing. I love dancing.'

'Dancing!' I laugh. 'I don't ''do'' dancing.'

'Yes you do,' she says. She pulls me close and puts her lips on mine. She presses hard and our tongues meet, waggle and I pull away. I want to store that moment and find some way to make it happen again. I don't know why I didn't kiss her for longer – I should have – but it seems to be okay as she smiles and winks. 'Come on. Let's go.'

'My beer?' I say, holding up the near-empty bottle.

'Bring it or leave it.'

'I'll leave it,' I say, putting it on a nearby table.

We walk outside into the balmy evening and her woman's hand pulls me along. Young people walk by, laughing and shouting. I wonder if she's bothered looking at my face yet. I pull her to a stop and she looks up at me. It's now or never.

'What's the matter?' she says.

I watch for a reaction, but her beautiful eyes say nothing. 'Do you like older men?'

Her eyes search out the answer, like it was something she hadn't thought about and wasn't on her mind. She shrugs. 'Let's go dancing.'

We walk away from the main part of the strip to where the smaller places are. We get to a door and go inside. A bouncer nods and we walk down a narrow corridor towards a small door that is almost jumping from the vibration reverberating around the tiny space.

'It's a bit loud?' I say, almost shouting.

She smiles, winks and leads me to it. We open the door and the noise almost knocks me flat. She pulls me, and we move through the crowd to a dance floor. She takes both my hands and walks backwards into the middle. The music is thumping in my ears and she's pulling me against her firm chest and I feel the shape of her breasts against me. She moves her head in a dreamy way and closes her eyes. She pulls me closer, so my head drops onto her wet shoulder. She moves to the beat and I lumber after her … her neck smells so sweet … I lick it and taste the salt on the tip of my tongue … I detach my hands and place them on her hips … they move and slither from side to side and the heat from all around is intense and I feel droplets running down my chest and my back. She moans as I kiss and lick her neck, long sweeps of sweet and salted sweat. I nibble along her neck as the boom-boom-boom thrusts my head forward and under her ear and around the back and the damp and sweet-smelling hair and the neck and the shoulder and that pale and throbbing neck. The music gets louder and faster and the bodies push around us and we're in the middle and we're wet and I'm walking and … she pulls me away, from the dance floor, through the crowds to a small table against the wall.

She pulls something from her bag. It's a small piece of paper. She tears the top and looks around. She opens her hand and there's a pill.

'What's that?' I mouth.

She closes her eyes and mimics the sound of the music. She opens her deep-blue eyes and moves her hand.

'What … is … it?' I mouth again.

'Try it,' she mouths back.

'But … what … is … it?'

She stands up and sits on the edge of the table, her perfect and wet leg against mine. She reaches down. 'Try it … you'll like it.'

I gesture for her to lower her head again. 'But what is it?' I shout.

She shouts in my ear. 'E.'

I shake my head and waggle my finger.

She reaches down again. 'Just try it!'

I shake my head.

She looks at me, a little surprised, I think. She replaces the package in her pocket. I stand up and shout in her ear. 'Don't let me stop you!'

She shakes her head.

'I won't mind,' I tell her.

She smiles a big smile and stands. She takes my hand and pulls me back to the dance floor. She dances a little way from me. She dances perfectly, she moves like the sun on a lake, a shadow on the wall; I want to take her from here and lay her down in my bed.

Some lads dance around us, bumping me, but I don't care. They dance at Katie, but she can't see them through her closed eyes. She runs those golden fingers through her hair and ripples in my eyes. One guy takes her hands and they dance. She can't see; she can't see it's not me. I move forward, but the bodies get in the way and I can't get through. The man pulls her to him and the bodies are there, like a wall; I struggle to see, as his face touches hers and his tongue pushes into her mouth. They kiss and his hand grabs her bottom and he rubs against her. I move, almost jump, to watch over shoulders and see her eyes open and I wait for her protest but she puts her arms around his neck and pulls him to her and their mouths lock again and the bodies dance and I stand still. The bodies are solid and I go back to our table. I sit with my head in my hands. I sit for a long time.

I feel a hand around my neck and delicate nails touching my skin. It's her. She smiles and winks and pulls me to my feet. I'm puzzled, I'm confused. She pulls me to her and her hot tongue pushes in my mouth and I can't resist. It's a wet, velvet heaven. She pulls me to the door, she takes me outside. We kiss. My head is thumping.

'What happened in there? The other bloke …'

She closes her eyes and shakes her head like it doesn't matter.

'Yeah, but …' I say.

Her perfect finger silences me and she pulls me to her sweet-smelling body and we kiss. I hold her, above her hips. She's tight against me. We part, she smiles; she winks. She takes my hand and pulls me down the road.

'Hey!' I look round and there's the guy. 'Where you going?'

'Home,' says Katie.

'Why?' He looks at me. 'Stay for a while.' He's young, younger than Katie even. 'I'll buy you a drink.'

She smiles and I see her wink. 'Come with us.'

'What?' I splutter under my breath. He stands and watches. 'He can't come with us.'

'Okay,' he says, walking forward. He can't take his eyes off her. He glances at me when he gets to us, but she has locked him in there with me. She takes us both by the hand.

The heat of the day still lingers, but is soothed by an occasional sea breeze as it laps against the golden sand. We come to a white bungalow and she takes us inside. She pushes me against the door and presses her mouth against mine. Her tongue slips in and I moan with pleasure and panic; it feels like it's reaching down the back of my throat; my breath is short and I gasp as she withdraws. She winks and smiles. She takes the hand of the other guy and pulls him through an open door.

I stand where she left me, and look around. The furnishing is sparse, but clean and practical. They don't return, so I move to the door and look inside. There is a bed in the centre of the room. He is laying on it, and she is sitting on him with her face against his. Fury wells from my roots, through my trunk and fires from my eyes. Her rhythmic movement stops and she turns to me.

'Come here,' she says. I walk by the side of the bed. The man's mouth is open and his eyes are closed. 'Try it,' she says.

I pull my head back. 'No. I don't want to try it.'

'You might like it,' she says. 'Try it.'

'No. No, I don't want to.'

She blinks at me and leans down to his face. She works her face up and down as she kisses him. He moans and she holds the side of his face. She looks up. 'Try it.'

I shake my head.

She lifts her thumbs and moves her hands around. He is still moaning. I assume he is inside her, but I don't want to look. She rubs his eyelids with her wonderful thumbs and he moans louder. She angles her nails onto his eyelids and pushes down; it finds resistance at first, but the red nails disappear into the sockets. Black liquid flows down the side of his face; it slowly turns red, until it is the colour of a tomato. He continues to moan. I am frozen. She lifts one hand; part of the eye is balanced on her varnished nail. She places it in her mouth and swallows.

'Try it,' she says.

I say nothing. She puts the other thumb in her mouth. A drop of black liquid runs from the corner of her perfect lips.

'You might like it.'

His eye sockets look like moving red pools, perfectly round in shape. He is still moaning. She reaches down and bites his neck, suddenly and violently. She tears at the flesh and his body convulses. I hear the sucking as she swallows him down. She stops and looks up. The bottom half of her face is a hellish red, but she is otherwise the same. She is gorgeous; she is everything I ever wanted now and before. Her skin looks so … inviting … and soft … it envelopes and holds something so beautiful and magnetic in its charm … it really …

'Try it. You will like it.'

She pulls the side of the man's face away from me, exposing the clear part of his neck. It has small hairs and it's not her: it's a man, it's someone and something else. She closes her eyes and rocks. Her tongue licks around her mouth and she moans.

'Just try it,' she whispers. She starts moving back and forth and I feel the pain of her enjoyment. It's not something I can bear. I want her. I kneel at the bed and look up at her. She looks down and smiles at me, then winks. She pulls the man's head around further with a satisfying and aggressive movement. I hear the sound in my ears, the boom-boom-boom noise and I feel the droplets running down my back and chest and the heat from the air and the body and I see the neck and her eyes closed and her moaning and I want to do something.

Archived comments for Trying

bluepootle on 2004-03-01 07:32:44
Re: Trying
I thought this was really strong, really effective. Works on many levels. I love the ending - the last line. A perfect way to leave the revulsion and attraction hanging.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-03-01 08:05:09
Re: Trying
Thanks, BP. I wasn't sure. Mrs Geeza said it was 'boring' but couldn't quantify it. I liked it. Hadn't really done this genre before.

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2004-03-01 09:08:47
Re: Trying
It's different. It's good. It didn't go the way I thought it would after the first para. The eyeball thing made me wince, but apart from that there was nothing too disturbing.
Maybe it's me being thick (again! πŸ˜‰ ), but I can't help but wonder what she is; a vampire (which makes it depart into horror), or just a weirdo (which is probably worse!).
Whatever, it's a good read. I liked it a lot. (Don't look at me that way!! πŸ˜‰ )
Thanks for the read, Steve!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-03-01 10:48:10
Re: Trying
Glad you liked it.
Vamp/weirdo - I guess it doesn't matter too much. He was sufficiently taken in enough to be swayed by her beauty or something more sinister.
I wanted it to be part serious and part "horror".
Thanks for the comments.

Author's Reply:

Claire on 2004-03-01 14:17:46
Re: Trying
May cause offense - Where?
You wrote it SO nicely!

The story line worked well, but it wasn't that gruesome. Maybe a bit more gore at the end, then again I am a sicko!
The only bit I found annoying was the section with the - I told her.... then I told her....
Good one.

Author's Reply:

flash on 2004-03-01 16:18:31
Re: Trying
Apart from the stunning looks, that's the behaviour of a typical Corby lass, where i come from.

Does Prose have rhythm, this was so fluent to read, it would have been a dream to read if my mate Gav hadn't been chirping in my ear about car insurance claims.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, it was different.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-03-01 16:18:54
Re: Trying
lol ... I thought it best to warn, with the eyeball thing!
Glad you liked it. Thanks for making me a hot author.
Thanks for reading and commenting.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-03-01 16:23:20
Re: Trying
That's Corby scratched off the "must visit" list then. Ooops ... I'd neglected to add it in the first place.
Glad you liked it. Thanks for taking the time to read/comment.

Author's Reply:

littleredsteve on 2004-03-03 15:05:58
Re: Trying
Beautifully paced, wonderfully written, ended just when it should. Nice work! Thanks


Author's Reply:

shackleton on 2004-03-03 16:03:21
Re: Trying
Fascinating Geeza - in a horrifying and somewhat erotic sort-of way. The birds weren't like that in my day - a couple of halves of draught cider and weyhey!

I enjoyed this - I've never actually written a short story before - but your story has made me wonder about what is possible concerning short stories. I've also never met a girl quite like this one before. Find yourself a nice homely girl matey - you'll live a happier life in the end. Good one Geeza!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-03-04 02:16:03
Re: Trying
Cheers, Steve. Thanks for your comment.


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-03-04 02:18:03
Re: Trying
lol ... I agree - and followed your advice 10 years ago, myself!

Glad you liked it - thanks for your comments.


Author's Reply:

MEKnight on 2004-03-05 20:05:54
Re: Trying
Ooooh... That was creepy. I like it. I wish I'd done that.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-03-06 06:39:11
Re: Trying
Thanks, MEKnight.

Author's Reply:

tai on 2004-09-05 18:51:05
Re: Trying
One hell of a trip and it sounded like she was a 'Man Eater' to me!

Compelling read


Author's Reply:

What about me? (posted on: 27-02-04)
The things that people do, small coincidences and the effect on lives.

It's quite long; I hope you stick with it.

5,796 words


Ray held the broom close, kissed the handle and then spun around the floor like he was dancing around a polished ballroom. He leant over the broom and stopped, looking around at the dirty faces watching him. He kissed it and stood with one arm in the air to take the applause. The men stood or sat on their workbenches drinking coffee and eating crisps. Some shook their heads and looked away, some picked up scraps of paper and threw them, shouting ''rubbish'' or ''get him off.'' They all laughed when someone threw their paper coffee cup at him, splashing the front of his overalls. He looked down at the patch and hollered. They laughed louder. Ray lifted his arm and nodded his head as they started to clap. They said he was the best lunchtime entertainment the factory had ever seen.

'Very good, very good. Now use the fucking broom to sweep up,' said Steve. 'Back to work everyone. I want to fill the quota today.'

Ray started to laugh whenever he swept near one of the men. Most ignored him, the rest told him to shut up in a variety of colourful ways.

'Did you see my dance, Mike?' he asked the new worker.

Mike was frowning at a piece of metal held in a vice. He nodded as he made a mark on the side of the bar and picked up a piece of paper.

'It was funny, wasn't it?'

'Yeah, real funny.'

'I do that most days.'

'Yeah?' said Mike, staring at the paper. He looked across to Frank, but he was busy.

'Yeah, at lunchtime mostly.'


Ray put the broom against the workbench. Mike looked at it, then back at the paper. 'Yeah, it gives us all a good laugh.'

'Look, I'm a bit busy, yeah?'

'Yeah, yeah, course you are.'

Ray picked up the broom and started sweeping around Mike. He hit Mike's boot with the bottom of the broom.

'Fuck sake,' hissed Mike. Ray wasn't sure if he meant him or the paper.

'Is that hard?' said Ray.

'What?' said Mike, looking away from the paper. 'Is what hard?'

'That.' Ray tapped the paper with his finger. 'Is that hard to do?'

Mike looked around. 'Will you just fuck off, Ray?'

'I was just asking.'

'Well, fuck off.' He pushed Ray, making him step back.

'Alright, Mike. Calm down, eh?'

'Calm down? Calm down?' He pushed him again. Ray staggered backwards. 'I'll fucking calm you down, you fucking spastic.' He stepped forward and punched him in the face. He crumpled and made an undignified cry as he fell. His head hit a box and his hands moved up to his head. Mike moved forwards and kicked him in the ribs.

Some of the workers ran over and held Mike.

'Someone get that fucking spastic away from me.'

'Alright, alright, calm down, won't ya?' John had his hands on Mike, but Mike wasn't moving anyway. 'Just leave him be. Let 'im sweep up.'

'Yeah, but he wouldn't shut up and I couldn't concentrate on what I was doing.'

'He's like that, just tell him to piss off and he'll get the message.'

The supervisor, Steve, walked up to the small group. He looked at Ray on the ground. Ray was sitting up and rubbing the side of his face.

'What's all the trouble? John?'

'Ray was annoying Mike and it kicked off a bit. Nuffin to worry about. It's all over.'

'He just wouldn't go away, boss.'

'Look, alls ya? Get back to work. Ray, come with me.'

Ray looked up at him. Steve blew out and helped him to his feet.

'You're fucking retarded, Ray,' said Mike, as he walked back to his bench.

'Just get a coffee and go sit down somewhere for ten minutes, yeah?' said Steve, turning to Ray.

'I don't like coffee.'

'Tea then … whatever.'

'Don't like tea, neither.'

'Any fucking drink. Just go away from here for a little while. Okay? You got that?'

Ray followed Steve towards the office.

'What? What are you following me for?'

'I'm not, I'm just getting a can from the machine.'

Steve stood for a moment, and then went in the office.

Ray got a can out of the machine and went outside. He sat on a wall and watched a lorry being loaded by the big doors. He felt the side of his face. It felt hot, like it was burning.

When he had first done the broom dance, they'd all cheered and laughed. People talked to him and he felt like he belonged. For days after, the men asked him to do it again and they all clapped. Someone had drawn numbers on pieces of card and they all held them up. They said they were going to write down how good he was every day so they could see if he was improving or not. No one ever did write it down. Ray wished they had; it made him feel important and that someone liked him.

He got back to his house at five o'clock. Same as always. His hair was covered in fine metal dust and he would have his bath before dinner, just like he did each day. The house was quiet, which was unusual. He called out and went in the kitchen. The table was clear, everything was neat and tidy, like it should be. He went in the front room and then upstairs. His wife and children were not in the house. He frowned and went back to the kitchen and looked at the fridge. The fridge was where they agreed to leave notes. All the magnets were in a neat line at the top and there was no note.

'Strange,' he said to himself. He looked in the fridge. Then he looked in the cooker. Then each cupboard. He looked on the coffee table in the front room and by the front door. He saw the time getting on, so he went upstairs and turned on the taps. He went into the bedroom whilst the water was running and checked the front of the wardrobe and the bedside tables. He laid his clothes out on the bed and got in the bath.

He left the door open and listened for sounds. All he could hear was the squeaking of his backside on the bath and the sound of the water as he moved his sponge around. He waited until the water was cool and the tips of his fingers had furrowed, before he stood up and reached for his towel. There was no towel; he blinked at the tiles that were normally hidden; they were brighter than the others. He looked around the floor and to the side of the toilet basin, but it was not there. He stepped out of the bath and watched the wet patch spreading on the mat. He would have to take up the mat afterwards. He reached for the purple hand-towel and rubbed it over his chest and down his legs. He would have to put it in the wash. He would have to tell Karen it was in the wash. He was still damp as he tip-toed naked to the bedroom. He opened the airing cupboard and took out a cream towel. He would have to take out all the matching cream towels and put them out. When he found the purple towel, he would have to put that in the wash with the hand-towel. The purple set had another week before they went in the wash. It was very annoying.

He dried himself and put on his clothes. He put the mat on the side of the bath and put out the cream towels, taking the purple ones downstairs. He thought they were damp, so he put them on the wash basket, and not inside – in case the colour might run.

It was gone six. He sat at the kitchen table and waited. He was supposed to have dinner at six. He always had dinner at six. He normally read the paper at seven, but today he would read the paper now, whilst he waited for Karen and the kids to come home. He went in the front room and looked in the magazine rack. There was no paper. He looked at the television. He normally watched television at eight. It was far too early. Besides, he had no idea what might be on television this early and had no newspaper to check the schedules. He took an old magazine from the rack and sat in the kitchen.

He picked out the articles he was interested in, and read them. It was half six. He re-read the entire magazine, including the articles he had already looked at. It was half seven. He saw it was getting dark outside. He opened the door and looked up and down the street. He closed the door and sat at the kitchen table. He waited until eight o'clock and went in the front room. It was dark, so he turned on the lights. He realised he'd never turned on the lights in this room: Karen had always turned them on. He turned on the kitchen lights in the morning before work, she turned on the front room ones. He played with the dimmer and drew the curtains. He watched the programme he always watched on Monday and looked at the clock when it finished. He was hungry and he couldn't believe Karen was not here.

He went in the kitchen and decided to make some toast. It was all he could make. He made two slices and sat down with a plate to eat. He drew a glass of water from the tap and drank it all down. He made another two slices of toast and had another glass of water. It was soon past ten o'clock. Ray had no idea what to do. He pulled out the toaster and made another two slices of toast with a glass of water. At half ten he decided to call Karen's mother.

'Is Karen there?'

'Ray? Is that you?' She sounded sleepy.

'Yes, it's Ray. Are Karen and the kids with you?'

'No, Ray, of course not. Why would they be here with me?'

'I don't know. They're not here. I don't know where they are.'

'Really? But, where are they?'

'I don't know. I haven't got enough bread to make my sandwich for work, for tomorrow, and I haven't had any dinner.'

'But, did she say where she was going? Has she gone to stay over … with a friend or something? Did she say anything?'

'No, nothing – and there's no note on the fridge. I don't know where she's gone.'

'Have you checked her clothes? Are you sure she hasn't gone to stay over with a friend? Have you called Sally?'

'No. No, I haven't done any of that.'

'Why don't you call Sally, Ray?'

'I might do that.'

'Call Sally … and, Ray?'

'Yes, Mum?'

'Call me back and let me know, won't you?'

'I will, Mum.'

Ray went upstairs and looked in Karen's drawers. There were items in each drawer and clothes hanging in the wardrobe, but he could not tell if anything was missing. He went downstairs and looked by the phone for the little black book they kept there for telephone numbers. He couldn't find it. He didn't know Sally's number or where she lived. He knew roughly where her house was, but not exactly. He called Karen's mother and told her.

'Have you got Sally's number?' he said.

'No, Ray. Why would I have Sally's number?'

'I don't know what else I can do. I'm not hungry any more as I've eaten lots of toast. There's washing to do and clothes that need drying. I couldn't find the purple towel, either. Did she mention anything about that?'

'No, Ray. She didn't. Ray?'

'Yes, Mum?'

'I'm going to call the hospitals and the police, to see if there has been an accident. Okay?'

'Yes, Mum.'

'Stay by the phone, now.'

Ray turned the lights off and closed the door to the front room. He sat motionless in the kitchen for ten minutes, looking at the plate on the table. Eventually, he stood and placed it in the sink. He turned the cold water tap for a couple of seconds and watched the breadcrumbs disappear down the plughole. He sat down and watched the phone on the wall. After twenty minutes, the phone cut the silence and he jumped from his chair.


'No, it's Claire.'

'Mum, what did they say?'

'Nothing. There have been no admissions under any of their names.'

'I don't get it. I don't understand where she might have gone.'

'Dave is going to drive around, just on the off-chance he might see them.'

'Right. What should I do?'

'Just wait there by the phone. I don't know what else I can suggest. She'd never just go off somewhere and not tell us.'

'I'm going to have to go to bed now. I've got work early in the morning.'

There was a silence, before she answered: 'okay … right.'

'I would hear the phone though, but I might as well get some sleep.' He listened to the silence. 'For work in the morning. You know?'

'Well … Ray? You will call me if she comes home or phones you, won't you?'

'Yes, Mum. I'll call you straight away.'

He bolted the front door, turned out the lights and went to bed.

The alarm woke him. He patted his hand around the bedside table, trying to turn it off. He sat up and looked at the empty space next to him. He went downstairs, opened the fridge and took out the milk. There was hardly any left. He smelled the bottle, but he didn't know what he was checking for. He filled a bowl with cornflakes and poured what was left of the milk on top. He sat and started to spoon the contents into his mouth. It tasted a little strange, but he had no choice.

He put on his jacket and called Karen's mother. She answered within two rings.

'Has Karen come over to your house?' he asked.

'No, Ray. We haven't heard anything. I'm going to call the hospitals and police again. I've already called them early this morning.'

'I'm going to work now. If you hear anything, you can call the office there and they'll come and find me. Okay?'

'You'll have to give me the office number, Ray.'

He pulled out his wallet and read the number from a scrap of paper. She promised to call the office if there was any news.

'Don't call the office if there's no news, though. It's for emergencies only,' he said.

At lunchtime, he put on his jacket.

'Where you going, Ray?' said Joe. 'You never go out at lunchtime. I've never, ever seen you go out. What you doing? Are you going to the bookies? Have you taken up gambling?'

Joe and Gary laughed.

'No,' said Ray. 'I'm going out to buy a sandwich and some crisps.'

'I thought your missus made your lunch for you every day? Cos you're such a tight-arse.'

'I've got to go and buy one today.'

'Did you have a tiff, then?'

'No. Where do you normally go?'

'To the bookies,' said Joe.

'For a sandwich?'

'To the cafι,' said Gary. 'Next to the bookies.'

'Thanks, Gary,' said Ray. 'Appreciate that bit of advice.'

Ray sat on the wall with his cheese sandwich and watched the lorry unload big sheets of metal through the large doors. He thought about Sally and tried to remember the last thing Karen had said about her. He thought about Karen's mother and took twenty pence from his pocket. He called her from a phone-box.

'Dave went to your house and there's no one in. We haven't heard anything. Do you know what Sally's surname is?'

Ray thought hard. 'No … Anderson … is it Anderson? I'm not sure. Could be Anderton.'

'Is her name written anywhere?'

'Who, Sally?'

'Yes, Sally.'

'Not that I know of. No, don't think so, but it is in the black book by the telephone, but it's not there.'

'The black book?'

'I couldn't find it.'

'Did you check on the floor, Ray?'

'Yeah. I pulled the table out, but it wasn't there.'

'Call me if you hear anything. I'll try and find Sally's number. I'll try Sally Anderson or Anderton.'

'Okay,' he paused as the phone beeped for more money. 'It might be wrong, though.' The line went dead.

He walked back in the factory. Some of the men were hanging around by the doors, drinking coffee and smoking. Mike threw him the broom.

'Dance for us, Ray?'

Ray caught the broom and looked at it: it was grubby and covered in patches of dark metal dust.

'Nah. Not today.'

'Why not? Come on, don't be a spastic and dance for us. Entertain us!' said Mike. 'That's what you're here for.'


'I heard he's here because they've got to give jobs to divvos like him,' said one.

'Equal opportunities,' said another.

'Dance, ya bastard,' said a Scotsman, swallowing a mouthful of coffee. 'Get the cunt a radio. Canna expec' the cunt tae dance wie no music.'

'I don't really feel like it,' said Ray. 'Not today.'

Mike skipped off his workbench and came back with a small radio in his hand. He found some up-tempo dance music and put it down.

'Now, dance! Dance, ya cunt!' said Mike, looking around at the ripple of laughter.

'Aye. Cmon.'

Someone threw an empty plastic cup. The group started to get restless. Ray started to move with the broom.

'To the music!' said Mike. 'It's fucking dance music – move faster.'

'I don't dance like that.'

'Move faster, ya cunt,' said the Scotsman.

'Dance to the fucking music, Spasso!'

Some of the workers laughed and shook their heads at each other.

'Like this,' said Mike. He moved his head quickly from one side to the other and jerked his hands in opposite directions.

Ray copied Mike and moved in small, quick movements, holding the broom. The crowd cheered and clapped as Ray danced the same moves that he always followed, but in the new, faster style. As the song finished, they threw their empty cups and cigarette ends at him.

'Dozy cunt,' said the Scotsman, walking away.

'He's a right wanker, isn't he?' said Mike, as he walked past. The Scotsman ignored him. 'Everyone thinks you're a right wanker. D'ya know that?' Mike told Ray.

Ray watched him for a moment, before sweeping up. He pushed the pile over to the main door and left it. He saw the lorry moving slowly forwards towards the gate.

He arrived home at five and shouted up the stairs. Nothing. He took a bath and came back down to the kitchen and looked at the phone. He checked the fridge for notes and sat at the table.

He looked at the bread he had brought home. He took out two slices and made some toast and drank a glass of water. He went to the front door and looked up and down the street. The phone rang. He slammed the door and picked up the phone in the hallway.

'It's me,' said Karen.

'Karen! Where are you? What's going on? Where have you been?'


'I've been wondering where you've been. I've been eating toast for dinner. Why didn't you put a note on the fridge? Karen-'


'I couldn't find the purple towel and Mum-'


'She didn't know where you was and I had to buy a sandwich-'

'Ray! Be quiet for a minute, will you?'

'Yeah, okay … Karen … where are you?'

'Ray! Just be quiet, will you? I've got something to tell you.'


'I told you, Karen. You've only got one chance at life – just one,' said Sally.

'I know.'

'You can't spend the rest of your life with him. Can you? Honestly, tell me – do you think you could put up with him for the rest of your life?'

Karen sat at the table with the phone extending from the wall. 'But the children.'

'He can still see them, can't he? He'll still be their father, won't he?'

'Yes … yes. But it's not the point, is it?'

'The point is, you can't spend the rest of your life with Ray. He's doing your head in, you've got to get away from there and you've got the perfect opportunity.'

'It's such a big step, though. Isn't it?'

'Yes, of course it is, but you've got to do it, Karen. Just do it – or it's a waste of your life. He's wearing you down. You've started to look old, Karen. Just look at yourself in the mirror.'

She felt the contours of her face and looked down at the table. 'It just doesn't feel right.'

'I can tell you, it is right. It is so damn right. You've got to do it, Karen. You've got to.'

She watched the twins playing with their cars on the floor.

'But leaving …'


'It's so … scary.'

'You've got your friends … your parents will support you in anything you do … and you love Michael, don't you?'

Karen said nothing.

'Don't you? You do love him?'

'Yes,' she said, quickly.

'Well then?'

'The children? What will they think?'

'Michael has a nice big house, he said to bring them, didn't he? He's met them, he likes them. I don't see what the big deal is?'

'Sally, it is a big deal and you know it. I'm not deciding whether to go shopping here, I'm making a life-changing decision. Not just my life, but Ray's, the kids' and mine.'

'And mine, dear. You'd be a ten minute drive away!'

'I'm being serious, Sally. I need to be sure.'

'Well, you love him, he loves you, the kids will be happy, everyone will be happy – most of all – you will be happy.'

'What about Ray?' said Karen.

'What about Ray? What about him? He drives you mad. He talks crap all day long and he's … like a robot … you told me yourself. And do you know what?'


'You will help him, in a way.'

'How? How will ruining his life help him?'

'He'll have to do things for himself. He'll have to learn. You're doing him a favour. If you look inside your heart, you'll know I'm right.'

Karen said nothing.

'You're thirty-five, Karen. You're not getting any younger. Opportunities like Michael don't come around every day, you know.'


The heavy door opened, and the man stood with his mouth open.

'I … I don't believe it,' he said. 'I don't believe you had the guts to … come in, come in. Hello, children!' he said. He ushered Karen and the two five-year old boys through the door. 'Let me, let me,' he said, trying to take the holdall from Karen's hand. 'Just let go, let go … that's it.' He looked in her eyes and smiled.

He stood by the door as they walked into the large living-area. It was a well-presented room with lots of space and pristine furniture. She turned and looked at the man: at his distinguished grey hair, round spectacles, neat white shirt and thin frame. He put his hands behind his back.

'I'm so pleased you're here, my dear,' he said. 'So pleased.'

His eyes followed Josh across the room to the glass-topped coffee table. His eyes widened as he saw the little hand reaching past the full glass of red wine, for his laptop.

'Oh no!' he said. 'The child! My laptop!'

Karen span around and caught him just in time.

'Oh, my goodness,' he said, wiping his forehead. 'My plans … oh! … you have no idea just how much work that would've been!'

His face reset. 'Now, let me get you a coffee. Coffee?'

'That'd be great,' she said. 'Boys! Come and sit with me.'

They watched Michael leave the room. Harry tried to stand, but Karen pulled him back on the deep sofa. 'No,' she said. She remembered the first time she had come to Michael's home and how impressed she had been, at this and the skilful seduction on this very sofa. How wonderful it had felt as he stripped off her clothes, tantalised and teased, before making love to her for two hours, leaving her a mad dash to collect the children from Sally and to get home to make Ray's tea. She had visited many times after and allowed Michael to pull out the details of her miserable home-life. With each visit, she just managed to get home in time – it was becoming harder and harder to pull herself away. Eventually he told her to move in, kids and all – that he would give her and the children a wonderful life. He made love to her and repeated his offer. She had promised to think it over.

He returned with two cups of coffee and placed them on the table.

'We'll need to be careful with hot cups on this table,' she said. 'It's very low.'

'Oh … right,' he said, picking up his cup. 'So … you done it … you made the move?'

He watched Josh burrow into his mother's side. She leant over and the boy whispered. Michael watched, fascinated.

'What did he say?' said Michael.

'He wants a drink,' she said.

'Oh … right … um … well, what do they drink? Water? OJ?'

The boy whispered.

'Coke?' said Karen.

'I'm afraid that I'm fresh out. Margaret popped in last night and I treated us to some yummy cocktails. Result: no coke.'

'I'll need to get some stuff in for the children,' she said.

'Oh, right. I see. No problem. I'm sure there's plenty of space in one of the cupboards in the kitchen.'

Karen pulled some toy cars from her holdall. 'Can they play on the floor with these?'

'Hmmm,' said Michael. 'There's a fair amount of space behind the sofa here. I assume they need some space for their little game, don't they?'

She gave them one car each and led them around the sofa. She knelt down and told them it would be okay. She returned to the sofa and lifted the coffee to her mouth. Michael smiled, stood up and sat next to her. He put his coffee on the table and squeezed the top of her leg.

'I'm so pleased you've come here,' he said. 'It's going to be absolutely splendid.'

'Don't forget not to leave your coffee on the table,' she said, smiling. 'The children would have an awful accident with that.'

He frowned and looked down. 'Yes, I can see that. That's a very old table.'

'I didn't mean that,' she said, raising her eyebrows. She pulled his hand from the top of her leg and placed it on his own thigh. 'And, we can't do any of that in front of Josh and Harry.'

'Oh … how disappointing,' he said, reaching forward to plant a kiss on her cheek. 'Can't you put the little blighters to bed?'

'At two o'clock in the afternoon? Oh, Michael!'

He laughed. She asked him why.

'Just the way you said, ''Oh, Michael'', you sounded so … posh … you sounded like my sister or someone … I like the ol' cockney scrubber sound of your voice.'

She frowned. 'I never thought I sounded like an old scrubber, Michael.'

He smiled, kissed her cheek and rubbed the top of her arm. 'I'm only teasing.'

'I should hope so!'

They drank their coffee. She batted his hands away and they giggled. The last time, she pushed his hand away and told him firmly, 'not in front of them – you have to be patient.'

'They can't see, they're happily out of sight behind the sofa.' He put his hand up her skirt. She pushed it, but could only stop it from moving further. 'Come on, I know you like it!'

'Michael! The children.'

He pulled his hand away as Josh walked around the sofa.

'I need the toilet,' he said.

She stood and frowned down at Michael. 'Don't,' she said. 'It's not right.'

When she returned, Michael was in the armchair with the laptop balanced on his knees.

'Karen,' he said. 'I'm sorry. I'm just … excited … you know?'

She smiled and nodded. 'It's not going to be easy, I told you.'

He tapped on his keyboard, then looked up suddenly. 'Let's go to dinner tonight – to celebrate.'

'And the children?' she said.

'Sally will look after them, surely. She always does.'

'I don't think it's right on the first day though, do you?'

He shrugged. 'Start as you mean to go on?'

'And the shopping?'

He glanced over at the sofa and listened to the boys playing. 'Surely they'll survive until tomorrow?'

'Michael, I'd really like to settle them down.'

'Could you not go to the supermarket now?'

He stood up and walked to the phone. He dialled a number and made a reservation for two. 'Go and get what you need now – call Sally – and let's go out for dinner. We need to make some time for ourselves too, don't we?'


'I can't believe you have done that,' said Sally.

'What?' said Karen.

'You can't just leave him like that, can you? He'll be wondering where you've gone.'

'It wasn't right for us, Sally. It wasn't right.'

'Yeah, but … you could've told him.'

'Bollocks to him, Sally. Bollocks.'

Karen took another drink and shook her head violently.

'A rich, single guy and you just … leave him.'

'Yep! Left two guys in one day. Got two kids too. Some kind of record, isn't it?'

'Leaving Ray, I can understand, but Michael? What are you going to do? You can't stay here for long. John'll flip when he gets home on Friday evening.'

'Don't worry … Sally … I'll be long gone by then. Longgggg gone.'


'Hey? D'ya think I should phone the restaurant? Tell Michael that I've changed my mind? That he's an arsehole? Shall I? Shall I tell him?'

Sally looked at the clock above the television: it was half ten. She laughed. 'He might've guessed by now.' Her face changed and she looked concerned. 'Maybe you should call Ray. Patch it up? Tell him … tell him you forgot to leave a note and you're sorry or something? What do you think?'

Karen struggled to open her eyes. 'Hmmm.' She walked across the room and collapsed in the armchair. She hunched her shoulders and giggled. She picked up the phone and dialled a number. She sat there listening for a while.

'Karen?' said Sally. 'What is it?'

Karen slowly looked surprised and she slurred. 'It's engaged.'

'Oh,' said Sally.



'You don't think Ray's having an affair, do you?'

Sally thought about it, but Karen started laughing. Sally smiled and held her finger to her lips:
'Ssssh! You'll wake the children.'

Karen put her hand over her mouth and closed her eyes. Sally watched Karen sit in that position for a while, before she took away her hand and moved her finger across her mouth. 'Zipped,' she said.

In the morning, Karen sat at the breakfast table and listened to her brain thumping around her head. Sally made breakfast and tea for all and sat down.

'You better call Ray,' she said, buttering some toast for Josh. 'Before he goes to work.'

Karen rolled her eyes and put her hand on her forehead. 'Do I have to?'

'Yes,' said Sally, handing Josh the toast with a smile. 'Just call him. Tell him where you've been.' Sally pushed the cordless phone across the table and took another piece of toast to butter. 'Call him.'

Karen rang the number and looked up. 'It's engaged. I hope everything is okay.'

'Course it is. He's probably knocked the phone off the hook. Dozy idiot.' She glanced at Karen and carried on buttering.

Karen drank her tea and had three slices of toast. She watched Sally lead the boys into the front room. Sally came back in and made another cup of tea and sat down.

'Phone him again.'

'He'll be at work now.'

'Try the house. What harm will it do?'

Karen rang through and listened to the phone ringing.

'No answer, but it was ringing.'

'And?' said Sally.

'Well, it was engaged, so he must've been there.'

'There could have been a fault on the line?'

Karen shook her head. 'No.'

'Maybe he's got the hump – and he took the phone off the hook because you weren't there? He's a bit childish like that, isn't he? You said it yourself.'

'No … well, yeah … well, not like that. He can be a prat, but he is … reliable.'

Sally rolled her eyes as she took a drink of tea.

'I'd better ring Mum.'


Claire stood when she saw her daughter and burst into tears. Karen ran to her mother and they almost fell over the small table in the middle of the room. They stood sobbing, holding one another. Karen could feel her mother's wet face against hers and the hard contractions of her stomach as she moaned and sobbed onto her shoulder. Eventually they parted and Karen looked into her mother's bloodshot eyes.

'Did they tell you … what happened?' said Claire, in a barely audible high-pitched voice.

'Yes,' she said, feeling her own stomach churning.

'It was head-on. He didn't feel a thing … they said. Do you believe them?'

'Yes, Mum … I believe them.'

The mother crashed against her daughter and they almost toppled back into the plastic chairs that had been arranged around the room.

'I need to call Ray,' said Karen.

Her mother moaned and nodded.

'Can I speak to Ray Phillips, please?' said Karen, into the telephone.

'Who's this? Is it important? I don't like the men taken off the floor for nothing.'

'It's his wife and yes, it is important. Can you bring him to the phone?'

'Hold on.'

She heard the phone hit the desk. She could hear voices and the sound of a radio playing disco music moving away from the handset.

'Still there?' said a voice.

'Yes, I'm still here.'

'Mike said he's gone out for lunch. He'll get him to call you when he gets back. Okay?'

'I need to speak with him…'

Karen heard the dial tone and the money fall inside the phone. She looked up and down the empty hospital corridor and walked back to her mother.

Archived comments for What about me?
KDR on 2004-02-27 09:56:54
Re: What about me?
Hi Steve,

First off, I noticed a typo in there. You'd missed the 'k' off 'knew'. I did make a note of where it was, but then the PC crashed and I'm buggered if I can find it now. It was around the part where Ray is trying to find Karen and Sally first gets a mention.

Apart from that, this read well, despite the length. As usual, your eye for detail - especially about Ray's working life - came to the fore, and created gritty, 'real' characters that seemed to echo people that I'm sure we've all known in one guise or another. In Ray, you created a character that made a play for the sympathy of the reader, and got it - though as I read, I found myself wondering whether I would stick up for him, or join the mocking crowd. I'd like to think the former, but I suspect it would be the latter. It's always the way.
Likewise, it was easy to see that Karen was being influenced by her friend, and Sally's character and priorities were also well-realised and crystal-clear.

The one big problem I had with this was the end. It seemed as though you'd either run out of steam, realised it was going to be a long piece and decided to cut it off, or simply got bored with the writing of it. The result is that it doesn't really do the piece justice.
Obviously, the reader can take an educated guess as to the identity of the person involved in the accident, but I think it needs to be spelt out more clearly. Also, unless the victim was Ray - who could have been lost in thought or attempting to end it all after the way he was treated by everyone - it doesn't seem to have much relevance to the rest of the story.

Basically, I liked the story a lot. If only the ending hadn't seemed so rushed...

All the best,

Author's Reply:

flash on 2004-02-27 10:05:36
Re: What about me?
'Ray went upstairs and looked in Karen’s drawers. There were items in each drawer and clothes hanging in the wardrobe, but he could not tell if anything was missing. He went downstairs and looked by the phone for the little black book they kept there for telephone numbers. He couldn’t find it. He didn’t know Sally’s number or where she lived. He *new* roughly where her house was, but not exactly. He called Karen’s mother and told her.'

The typo is in the above paragraph Steve,you didn't buy a keyboard off Kazakstan did you? Sheesh you neverwill learn will yer.

I haven't read your story yet Steve...there are cartoons on TV. I'll need a big cup of tea before i read yours and Tom Saunders latest.


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-02-27 13:02:03
Re: What about me?

A typo ... wasn't me ... it was the ... erm ... website.

Glad you liked it. The victim couldn't have been Ray, as the last "action" with Ray was Karen eventually getting though to him on the phone.

For the end: I didn't have anything left to say, other than to show the effects of Karen's actions. I could perhaps make it more obvious - and I take your point completely - but I thought it was! And the reason for the ending...

I shall muse. Thanks for taking the (long) time to read and comment!

(and thanks too, to Flash, for pointing out the error - grrrr - now corrected.)


Author's Reply:

sirat on 2004-02-27 13:57:37
Re: What about me?
I found Ray an interesting character, but couldn't quite grasp whether he had an actual learning impairment or had just allowed himself to slip into the role of the factory baffoon. His ineptitude at cooking and and inability to cope with life generally seemed to confirm the disability theory, but he could obviously read and he had a wife and children. I wondered if he might have been brain-damaged in an earlier accident or something of the kind. His robotic devotion to his job seemed beyond the limits of normal behaviour.
I thought the story became less interesting when the action shifted to Karen and her fairly conventional doomed affair with Michael. What I wanted to know was how she and Ray ever got together in the first place and what the basis of their relationship was. I have to agree that ending the whole thing with the road accident was very unsatisfactory. A reunion scene between Ray and Karen would have been a lot more interesting and the true basis of their relationship could then have been revealed. Despite this and the rather excessive length it held my attention and I enjoyed the read.

Author's Reply:

Claire on 2004-02-27 14:09:48
Re: What about me?
This held my attention right until the end.
BUT who bloody died?
Is it Dave?
Sorry, but the ending is not that clear. It's very frustrating wondering who died. But it is obvious that it is not Ray.

I wouldn’t say the ending was rushed, more like missing a couple of sentences – explaining who died!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-02-27 15:14:39
Re: What about me?
Thanks for commenting, David.
In my mind, he was would have been slow on the uptake, without having specific learning difficulties as such. He was very ingrained into his routine, which was very repetitive in its nature, which left him unable to cope with a change.
Agree with the end - I need to rework that. Bringing them back together? I'm not sure what I can bring to the story, to add benefit with that. I like the effect the incident has, and how it came around; perhaps if I made it more obvious who it was - it might work ... hmmm. As for their relationship origin - hard to work in, I think - also, there are many couples where I wonder how/why they are together.
Thanks for taking the time to read and comment - much appreciated - and glad you like it until near the end!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-02-27 15:19:12
Re: What about me?
It seems I thought I covered this - but was wrong! You are correct, but if I had to confirm, then it wasn't clear enough.
Dave was driving around, looking for his daughter ... Karen was with her distraught mother - and trying to call Ray.
Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

Author's Reply:

Claire on 2004-02-27 17:11:00
Re: What about me?
Maybe throwing in another line near the end about Dave driving around might help. Some readers may just dismiss him as you only mention him once.
At least I worked it out!

Author's Reply:

kenochi on 2004-02-28 12:45:54
Re: What about me?
Hi Steve,
I can only agree with the other commenters re the end. There was something pretty unsatisfactory about it.
Other than that I thought the piece worked. Well written again, which is good to see, because I thought your last one was a bit lacking in fluency, which is unusual for you.
One point, which is probably a bit of a silly one, but at the beginning when people kept saying "calm down, calm down," I kept thinking of Harry Enfield's scousers, which being a non-telly bloke you are probably unaware of, but it kind of destroyed the mood for me as instead of the serious atmosphere you were trying to create, I kept imagining shell-suited, moustachioed, hub-cap nicking Evertonians. Perhaps if you could change that bit into something that isn't an incredibly well known comedy catchphrase, it might work better. (for me anyway!)
Overall, good piece though.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-02-28 13:20:34
Re: What about me?
I don't watch tele all that often - but I remember "the scousers" and I take your point!
Yeah, the ending - worked when it was written (in my head) and it's something I will change (if I want to take it further).
Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2004-02-29 05:56:36
Re: What about me?
I know it couldn't have been Ray as it stands, but maybe you could make it that way? If you did, Karen would have a lot more reason for regretting what she had done.
Maybe you could do away with the accident? Have a scene where Ray realises where his life is at, and decides he just can't go through life like that. As to whether he dies, or lives through it and emerges as a different, stronger person because of it...that - like everything in your work - is your call...

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-02-29 06:22:49
Re: What about me?
True. I think Ray might be a little too self-centred to consider suicide though? His wife was missing and he was concerned with his lunchtime arrangements.
It's an idea though.
I may have him coming home from work - and Karen has returned - and Ray is just mildly interested in where she has been, before sitting down to his dinner at the normal time.
How would that sound?

Author's Reply:

flash on 2004-02-29 07:45:21
Re: What about me?
Hi Steve

Portions of the story are gripping especially when Ray is involved with his workmates? The dialogue is very intense and the atmosphere builds impressively. The cruelty of Mike is sackable of course, whether he and his cohorts would get away with such immature and blatant bullying worried me as being unrealistic.

But i'm not sure you sustain this with your other characters in the piece, the dialogue between Michael and Karen was unconvincing, i didn't think their relationship believable.

The rapid switching of view point throughout the piece i think also hampers it's success, it dilutes the tension i think.

Sally appears to be a capricious character advising Karen to leave Ray withno thought for his feelings, and then in the next breath she 's telling Karen to return to him.

I thought the attitude to a daughter/mother/sister and two children going missing at the start was dealt with too casually, by the mother in particular, with Ray you can understand partially, although you never quite find out what his disability is, naturally i was eager to find out what the reason was for this. I was also eager to find out the background to how he'd built a relationship with Karen, this made me wonder if his condition has been lifelong or a fairly recent occurrence.

I'm assuming the ending deals with death of Dave, who is either the brother or Father of Karen?

A mixed piece Steve, parts were gripping, excellent others a little flawed and not quite right IMHO.


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-02-29 08:04:15
Re: What about me?
I think the end is something I will work on - it is unsatisfying - and a case of the author giving the reader too much work to do. I like to do that - but it's too much here; I can see that now. I thought Karen's punishment was obvious - but it definitely isn't.
I know someone who works in a factory like this - and the things he's told me are tame in comparison to this! A gang of them locking a simple-minded co-worker in a locker and turning it upside-down on a hot summer's day is one thing ... maybe part of Ray came from that true story.
Sally: she was supposed to represent a fly-by-night character - changing her mind in an instant to suit herself - when she thought Karen might stay for a couple of days. Perhaps I didn't work that in enough - but was conscious of the length.
I think the mother's attitude to the disappearance might be screened a little by Ray's strange behaviour. I shall have a think.
As for the origins of Ray - he just appeared in my head like that - bound by routine, simplistic - bit of repetitive compulsive disorder thrown in. I wanted him to be "nice" though - which is maybe how he got married. He's irritating and weak, but is he harmless? I think it would have been very hard to work this in - without telling another story within the story?
Thanks for finishing that extremely large cuppa tea (lol) and taking the time to read and comment on such a long pice. Much appreciated, as always.

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2004-03-01 06:28:28
Re: What about me?
Could work, but it might seem like a bit of an anti-climax unless you got it just right, IMHO.
I don't think I ever saw Ray as self-centred, really; just thick as two short ones. To me, it seemed as though he wasn't that worried because he lacked the intellect to even consider the possibility that she had left him. Just my take on him, obviously. πŸ˜‰

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-03-01 07:11:05
Re: What about me?
True. I shall ponder.
I think your take is spot on, too.
Poor old Ray ...

Author's Reply:

Never so quietly (posted on: 06-02-04)
Click to see more top choices

There is a fine line.

May cause offence.
2,391 words.


I remember coming in from the garden and walking into the lounge. I'd kicked my boots off by the back door but my coat was still on; winter was fast approaching. The curtains were fluttering in the wide open window and the log-effect fire was on full. It didn't make sense. I could hear only silence. She was putting the children to bed, but never so quietly. The floorboards didn't creak and the little squeals and hushed voices were not there.

I walked into the hallway and listened. Again, there was nothing. I looked in the kitchen and saw two mugs waiting to hold our tea, for our time – after the kids had gone to sleep. I moved up a couple of stairs and listened again. Something stirred and I heard footsteps above. A large body appeared at the top and started stumbling towards me. It stopped and I saw its mad eyes. I saw the blood on its hands, streaking patterns onto the walls before it froze and caught me in its gaze. My breath stuck in my throat and left me all at once as the dark figure tumbled forward and cuffed me, so that I stumbled backwards to the wall. I saw it stop by the front room and look inside, before it yanked open the front door. The door slammed shut and the knocker bounced a couple of times, as if the gas man had called to read the meter.

I could see the red marks on the wall; the fading light made it look like oil had been smeared there. It was streaking downwards. I had to force myself to breathe before I could stand on my shaky legs. I couldn't decide whether to move to the telephone or towards the deafening silence. I tore up the stairs and ran into my bedroom.

Nothing can ever prepare a man for that: hell had come to show its wares. My wife lay in the centre of the bed, naked bar a torn t-shirt. Her legs were pulled apart at inhuman angles and her skin had small white patches amongst the red. My baby daughter was by her side; my wife's hand cradled the baby's head and covered her eyes. They were two husks with their insides all leaked out. A tornado had ripped around the room and smashed everything to pieces.

I ran into the boy's room. Both blinked back at me when I pulled back the covers. They would not move, they would not talk.

They came and took us away to the police station. A doctor examined us. They brought Karen's parents to the station to take the children. Brian didn't say anything, he put his hand behind Robert's head and led him away. Margaret put her arms around me, but she felt cold. The detective told me it was procedure, that they had to put me in a room and record our conversation. They said it was best to do it straight away whilst it was still fresh in my mind. ''Fresh in your mind'' they said. It's always fresh in my mind, every minute of every day. They asked me if I wanted legal council. They said they were required to offer it. I couldn't understand what I would want a lawyer for. They said it was just procedure. I was part of a procedure - to be pushed this way and that, according to the rules set down by my fellow man in our civilised society. I told them I had nothing to hide; they said they didn't think I had, but they had to give me the option.

I told them what happened, it didn't take more than two minutes. They asked me questions. They asked me why I didn't try and stop him: I said it happened too fast. They looked at one another. They asked me why I had blood on my neck: I told them that was where the intruder had hit me. They asked me why there was so much blood: I said I didn't know. They asked me if Karen and I were having problems: ''not any more than anyone else,'' I told them. They asked me to explain that: I told them I couldn't, that it was life, just life.

They told me not to leave the country and that they may have more questions. I told them I had no plans to go anywhere. I asked them what had happened to my wife. They said she had been taken to hospital. A policewoman sat with me and tried to say some nice things. I told her I would go to Karen's parents, to get the children. She said the scenes of crime people would need the house for a while and that when they had finished, some other people would clean the house before I could go back.

I went to the children, but they had been put to bed. Margaret put a duvet on the settee. Brian sat with a steaming mug and wouldn't look at me. He gave one word answers. He never thought I was man enough for his daughter and now I'd proved it. Over a period of time, Margaret kept asking me whether I had heard anything from the garden; she said I might have thought it was a fox screaming, but had I heard anything? Anything at all? I told her I had heard nothing, over and over; I knew all these questions were from Brian.

They told me about two weeks later that the house was ready. It had been cleaned and I could move back in. The welfare people told me it might be better to let the kids stay with their grandparents until I felt I could cope and had set things straight.

I let myself back in the house and it looked normal. I could smell detergent in the air. I saw the phone that I had picked up with my bloody hand. I turned it over and over, and have done many times since, looking for traces of blood or something to connect it with that night. I stood at the bottom of the stairs and saw the intruder again, the place I had fallen and I felt the same uselessness gripping me. The incessant feelings gnawed: why didn't I ignore the leaves and come in earlier? Why didn't I forget the damn garden that day? Why couldn't I have been indoors when he climbed in? Why my house? If I could just go back in time, just once, I could go back to that day and close that window. That bastard window.

I stopped on the stairs where blood had skidded around the corner. I could see that the wallpaper was lighter in colour, where it had been scrubbed. I can still see it today – like a negative darkness, showing up too bright. I changed the wallpaper, but it's imprinted in my mind. For a long time after, I would find faded splashes on the base of our bed, and would work them off with a soapy brush. I turned our drawers upside-down to see if I could find any traces of her. I tore the wallpaper from the wall, replaced the skirting boards, smashed the mirror; I changed the bedroom completely. The rest of the house followed. Then I sold it and bought a flat. The children have stopped with their grandparents these last five years, whilst I'm setting things straight.

They thought I had done it. They suggested the semen they found belonged to a lover and that I was a jealous and murderous husband. They told me they had found out about my temper. Everyone has a temper, don't they?

One day they brought me in and everything had changed. They sat me down in a nice room without a tape recorder and told me they had caught my wife's killer. He was a drug addict and had admitted everything. The semen confirmed his story.

Within six months, I sat in a court room with the man that took away my life. He sat awkwardly in a suit and fidgeted with his hands. I couldn't look at him at first, but then I started to stare at him. He wouldn't look at me. His wife and mother were there to support him; they clenched their fists for him; they spoke for him – he had ''come off the gear'', he ''was a good boy'', it ''wasn't him – he didn't know what he was doing''. He looked at me for the first time to beg forgiveness; he cried on the stand and said he couldn't understand how he had managed to do such things. He dropped to his knees and sobbed. Some medical staff had to help him. They delayed the trial until he was well enough to carry on.

I remember sitting there, as these people stood around with their crazy wigs and argued about whether he should be punished because the drugs had possessed him. The man who had butchered and raped my wife, who had killed my baby daughter, sat a few feet from me and listened to the same voices that I listened to, breathed the same air I breathed and sent words from his mouth to my ears. I wanted to jump from my chair and batter him with my bare hands, I wanted his wife to see the red fluid that would spew from him, the remarkable elixir that keeps us alive, but leaks so easily and in such huge amounts. I felt the nails hammered through my wrists and ankles, binding me to the chair so that I couldn't move.

The judge gave him ten years for manslaughter. His mother jumped up and pleaded. His wife shouted ''what about my kids?'' I stood and replied, ''what about mine?'' They looked at me for a second, then turned back to the judge. People shouted and there was chaos. They took me out, there were people everywhere. I tried to answer questions as the cameras flashed. That was that.

Now I'm here and I'm waiting. They're releasing him today. He has been cured and his rehabilitation is complete. His sins have been expunged by his five years of incarceration. Less than two thousands days, six thousand meals and two hundred and fifty bed changes later, he is forgiven and ready to rejoin society. I look at my life and I decide this is not justice. They've told me to move on – get on with your life – they say. My wife grew up from nothing and went through all the trials thrown her way, she brought new life into the world – and this man took it all away in a flurry of hate. A parent is something you don't appreciate: they are always there, guiding, consistent – it's unconditional and unnoticed – they are part of you. It was gone in the time it took to fill a garden bag with leaves.

I parked the car here yesterday. I haven't slept since. The man at the prison told me they would not set an exact time. John Roberts would leave the prison and be given a new life somewhere away from media attention. It would be a new beginning. I told him I would rip my knife into him and watch him bleed all over the pavement; I told him that it is truly amazing how much blood is inside us and how delicate the shells are that keep it swimming around our bodies. He told me that John Roberts deserved it and he wished me the best.

I'm like a coiled spring, ready to get across the road and take revenge. My heart is pumping the red chemicals around my body, feeding my muscles and boiling in my veins. I want to kill him. I want to cut his skin open like a ripe fruit and watch the insides turn out into the street and run into the gutter. I want to see his face choke on the hope for a new beginning.

The door opens and I see him. I see the man from the courtroom. I see the bag over his shoulder. I see him nodding to the prison people, before they close the door. I see him look up at the grey sky. I see him look around. I see him walk to the pavement and stop to watch the cars move back and forth.

I reach down and pull the handle. It clunks and the door gives, opening slightly.

My hands are shaking; I look down and see how white they are. The blood has flowed to my boots. I feel heavy. My heart bounces around its empty chamber, breaking small pieces from the delicate walls; they scratch and stab. I feel someone sitting on me: their legs and arms on top of mine, their hands hold my wrist steady and I cannot move.

I watch the man kneel down as a small child whizzes through the people walking by. He stands up and lifts the child in the air. I can see the hands squeeze into fists as the child disappears into the depths of the man. A woman walks to them and they are all together; he bends down to a small girl. She looks shy. He ruffles her hair. They slowly start walking.

It takes great effort to bend and pull the kitchen knife from under the seat. I see the dull day reflected back at me and small slices of my face in its polished surface. I run my finger along the blade and draw blood. It glistens and drips from the straight cut I have made. I see the family disappear through the bodies walking to and fro. I pull the door shut and cut off the draft.

In the rear-view mirror I catch a glimpse of the denim jacket that covers the skin that hold the bones and blood of the man that killed my family – half my family. I would like to rip the cover off and turn the man into a pile of wet horror, but I can't and I won't. It's time to move on.

I put the knife back under the seat and turn the key. There are two boys that need their father.

Archived comments for Never so quietly

Bee on 2004-02-06 03:44:17
Re: Never so quietly
Strong stuff, Steve and I guess we are not surprised to find you writing in this vein. I found it grimly fascinating but have two points to raise. Firstly I think you have enough here for a whole novel. It seems a bit rushed for such an eventful story. Secondly, the ending doesn't quite work, again maybe it's too rushed. Somehow the crazed, murderous drug addict doesn't fit with the loved family man - so this needs to be made more convincing. I'm not saying it is improbable but that in the story it doesn't quite add up. Also the man's brooding need for revenge ebbs away too suddenly.

One suggestion, if you don't write a novel, that is, is that you could focus the story on the ending and somehow weave the back story in. If you keep focused on the psychological world of the 'victim', I think this might be a winner!

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2004-02-06 05:12:33
Re: Never so quietly
I thought this was good, but not brilliant, maybe for the reasons Bee describes.

I also felt the writing was a bit dodgy at the beginning, especially around the phrase which is the title, which IMO just did not fit in the text....

Author's Reply:

SmirkingDervish on 2004-02-06 05:54:46
Re: Never so quietly
There are similarities in this story to my 'Evil Spirits' one just published. Just thought I'd mention that as a bit of self-promotion πŸ™‚

As for the story itself, the imagery is very strong, especially the line "Her legs were pulled apart at inhuman angles". Ouchio.

One thing I'd suggest taking a look at is the disappearance of his sons halfway through the story. They don't get another mention, and I think working on that would perhaps strengthen the readers interpretation of the ending.

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2004-02-06 06:19:57
Re: Never so quietly
Most of this contains a raw edge, but I would have to agree that in the end, the rage and desire for revenge seems to drain rather too quickly.
I don't think for a minute that he would have actually killed Roberts...maybe the intent would have still been there, but when push came to shove, he would simply have broken down and let Roberts and his family walk away.
Again, five years is a relatively long time; would Roberts' wife have waited for him that long, or would she have moved on 'because of the kids'?

I don't really know whether to agree with Bee's opinion that this could be expanded into a novel or not. Certainly, the central theme could have the legs for it, and there would be more scope to examine the relationship the central character actually had with his wife, kids and in-laws - especially given that he had 'a temper'. There would also be more room for more about the aftermath in his personal and professional lives.
On the other hand, though, this works - for me - as it is, simply because it is so black-and-white. There are no complications to bear in mind; it's easier to feel for him here than it might be if you knew that he was a drunk, or womaniser, or that he had a history of violence.

I think it was e-griff that said this was good, but not brilliant - or something to that effect. Again, I'm caught between the two. It's not brilliant, but then again, it's something better than merely good.
It's certainly strong, definitely dark and grim...yet it was also compelling.
Sorry to be so vague, but I hope you see the points I've been trying to make and that they help.


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-02-06 07:14:31
Re: Never so quietly
Thanks, Bee.
I think if it were expanded out too much more, it may just become too grim?
It wasn't rushed in the sense of bang it down and getting it out - but I wanted the scene at the beginning - then I wanted to move quickly to the ending. Perhaps it didn't set the character up enough and does need something in the middle ... I shall ponder - thanks for the comment, as always!
This was motivated from two things. I've gotten spooked a couple of times with unexpectedly open windows - and that stuck in my mind - plus, someone I've met and was fairly charming had attacked someone and almost beat them to death, under the influence of drugs. I wanted to try and recreate that sense of difference between normal and "drugged".
Perhaps I do need to consider the "make a story" element here, in contrast to its motivating factors.
Thanks. Food for thought.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-02-06 07:16:27
Re: Never so quietly
Hmmm. Yes. The title was originally "blood". The text "Never so quietly" was in the original text and it stuck in my mind. Perhaps I may change.
Thanks, John.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-02-06 07:18:40
Re: Never so quietly
Thanks, SD. I shall look at your story later today or at the weekend.
The sons disappeared as he'd left them with his in-laws and felt he couldn't reclaim them. I was hoping the end might resolve that.
As Bee says, if I expanded out the middle, this part could be further explored. I probably left too much for the reader to make up themselves!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-02-06 08:09:08
Re: Never so quietly
Yes, it does drain too quickly. As per my other comment, I perhaps took it at too fast a pace. I didn't want it to become too grim - hence the speed / patchy middle. Much more and folks may have been reaching for the valium or fire water!
Glad it worked for you.

Author's Reply:

Penprince on 2004-02-06 10:35:13
Re: Never so quietly
Excellent control..and great development of a story..I am looking forward for revisions..though..

Author's Reply:

ruadh on 2004-02-06 16:03:15
Re: Never so quietly
I read this with a knot in my stomach. I agree it has great potential and look forward to seeing what you do with it.


Author's Reply:

emmy on 2004-02-06 17:12:24
Re: Never so quietly
Is heavy stuff and I want to say I enjoyed this piece but that seems to be the wrong word. It made me feel uncomfortable. The description brought alive for me memories and feeling of a brutal incident that I was unfortunate to witness. How your character felt, the fear and the process of letting go were very apt. I feel that any piece that can evoke Emotion in its reader whether good or bad,obviously counts a lot in my book, well done.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-02-06 17:29:58
Re: Never so quietly
Thanks, Penprince.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-02-06 17:30:30
Re: Never so quietly
Thanks, Ailsa.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-02-06 17:32:50
Re: Never so quietly
I'm glad it made you feel uncomfortable - if you see what I mean!
As I said in a previous comment - I was thinking of 2 things from my own experience/knowledge with this.
Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Author's Reply:

shackleton on 2004-02-07 14:12:03
Re: Never so quietly
Hi Geeza. Enthralling, gripping read which I 'enjoyed' very much. I actually agree with previous comments concerning a rushing of the story in places - I think it would work even better if it were at least twice as long - taking on board the previous comments. Good read - a touch of 'difference' about it.

Author's Reply:

islathorne on 2004-02-07 15:01:53
Re: Never so quietly
Hi, I really liked your story a lot, the only thing I would say would be to change the first bit - 'I remember coming in from the garden' I think that because for me when I read it - it is not convincing in that you were only in the garden while this monstrosity occured. Other than that I think it is very good, and a really good read. :0) isla.

Author's Reply:

Gee on 2004-02-07 15:16:21
Re: Never so quietly
I found this to be a very compelling and well written story. The final part did seem to be a little rushed compared to the rest of it and the change of heart a little abrupt. Perhaps if he saw something in the child that reminded him of his children it might not have seemed quite so abrupt?

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-02-07 17:46:10
Re: Never so quietly
Thanks, Shackleton. Glad you liked it.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-02-07 17:50:33
Re: Never so quietly
I had him (it wasn't me - thankfully! lol) in the garden because one time, I came in from the garden and the door was open unexpectedly - and it spooked me for no good reason. Plus, if you are in the garden - and you can't hear inside the house ...
Glad you liked it and thanks for your comment!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-02-07 17:53:21
Re: Never so quietly
Hi Gee,
I think you might be right there. I tried to suggest it was the children that changed his mind - but perhaps not enough.
Thanks for your comment.

Author's Reply:

Claire on 2004-02-08 12:10:28
Re: Never so quietly
HI there. I agree with a few of the previous comments, especially the ending.

But I must disagree with some of the comments as well.

If any of the previous comments know what drugs can do to a person, than it is possible (and has happened) one day the person is fine but the next the person is insane. This would be the reason why the murderers wife stuck by him. Is love simply not enough? Yes, he had a problem, but she would believe it was the drugs that made him do such a horrible thing. She would see the good in him. Unlike most people. That will be more than enough for her to hang around for five years. I've known couples who have waited longer!

And I can believe that he is only in the garden when it happens. Most deaths are done close to home with someone close by who never hears a thing. Readers will think how did he not hear any screams - maybe she had something in her mouth and the boys were to afraid to scream. A plane passes by which muffles the noise. He was wearing headphones, singing to himself. Any of these is possible.

Sorry this is a bit long.

I think this is great. But could be much better with some of the previous comments advice threw in.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-02-08 14:25:43
Re: Never so quietly
Hi Claire,
Thanks, I agree with all you said.
I met this guy once - a friend of my wife's family - he had beaten some guy (accompanied by others) to within an inch of the guy's life to steal Xmas presents that the guy was taking home to his children (sounds like the plot of a bad story?). I found this out afterwards. He was on drugs at the time. When I met him, he was a nice bloke, played with my son ... unbelievable contrast. He said himself (and no defence) that he couldn't believe what he'd done and he thought he deserved more jail time than he had - which added up to 2 or 3 years (or something).
As for noise/screams. Apparently some victims don't scream - thinking the incident might go away or calm down if they lie still - probably particularly more so if a child is there? Out in my garden, I probably wouldn't hear screaming from the bedrooms at the front of the house - or would think it was someone messing about.
Thanks for taking the time to comment!

Author's Reply:

spacegirl on 2004-02-10 15:22:17
Re: Never so quietly
I think at the end he does at least have to confront the guy before he decides it's not worth stabbing him and maybe the angst of him not having his sons with him needs to be explored. I think the idea is good enough for a novel, but then you'd need to develop the characters. I wasn't sure about the title as well

I did like him being in the garden because it leaves room for doubt. It was only after I'd finished that I was convinced it wasn't him.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-02-10 15:33:56
Re: Never so quietly
Thanks, SG.

Agree re: the angst and character development - I was just conscious of not having a long and grim tale for you lot to sit through!

I think part of the reason he doesn't confront the guy is that, when the chips are down, he freezes - as proven when the intruder is in his house. That and the guy's kids in the street. Of course, all subjective!

The title: yeah - the original title was "Blood" - perhaps I should have kept that. I changed the title when I read that phrase in the story itself and thought it captured something simple but important.

I did have a thought about perhaps suggesting he might have done it - but with the court case, I thought it wasn't too feasible to push that.

Thanks for your comments, Rose.

Author's Reply:

kenochi on 2004-02-11 05:55:36
Re: Never so quietly
Hi Steve,

just found this. This one didn't work that well for me. I found the writing a bit awkward and deliberate for most of it, you only seemed to ease up into your usual readable style in the last section. Perhaps you were cramming too much information into too few words, but it felt like I was being told stuff rather than being shown it.
I also don't know how many attacks of this nature are carried out by family men. I did criminology at uni (a fair old time ago) and I think you'll find that the vast majority of drug related crime is money motivated and doesn't involve sexual assault and murder. The sort of person that would do that would be psychotic anyway, with the drugs just acting as a trigger, in which case he would be unlikely to be married with kids. From my point of view it would work better if the main character was an art or antique collector or something and the criminal was trying to nick something from the house, the wife and kids got caught up in it and were killed that way (or something like that, with none of the drugs business). At the moment, this doesn't really ring true.

take it easy,


Author's Reply:

Bradene on 2004-02-12 16:43:11
Re: Never so quietly
I found this an impressive piece of writing that had me enthralled from start to finish, one of the best short stories I've read in a long time. Thanks. Regards Val xx

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-02-13 07:29:21
Re: Never so quietly
Thanks, Val. Glad you liked it and made it one of your "hot stories".

Author's Reply:

New Woman (posted on: 12-12-03)
A woman is born.

This is the result of Leah's (Dancing Queen) challenge given out at the UKA Meeting on November 29th.
We picked three words at random from a pile.
The three words that inspired this story are "child", "woods" and "love".


'He'll be there,' said Leah.

'Who will?'

'You knooooow!'

Samantha was bending over, searching through her drawers. She closed them, making the large array of lipsticks and make-up items on the top wobble. She stood up. 'No?'

Leah smiled. 'Colin! Colin will be there. He likes you.'

Sam smiled. 'I know. So what?'

'Sooooo? So what you gonna do?'

Sam smacked her lips together and looked in the mirror. 'Nuffink. Why should I?'


'She's bang up for it, int she?'

'Yeah, man.'

'Might give 'er a bit of Colin lurrrrving … init?'

'The truth, man.'

'Ave to turn dis off, man.' He bent down to the games console and started pushing the cables under the television. He switched off the machine and pushed it against the wall. 'My mum gets pissed if I leave it on.'

'But it's yours.'


Colin looked in the mirror over the fireplace and pulled at his hair; some of the spikes had flattened. He frowned at the spot on the side of his face. Marvin watched, sprawled on the chair, one leg on the floor, the other over the arm-rest. Colin walked from the lounge into the hall. He was gone for a moment before he put his head around the door.

'You coming, you damn fool?'

Marvin raised his eyebrows, sat for a moment and sprang to his feet. 'Yeah man, I thought you was in the bathroom.'


It was busy in the shopping arcade. Women, small children, old people and office workers all swirled around in a mixture of colours, sound and smell. On one side of the water feature was a group of teenage boys, on the other, teenage girls. They spoke at a furious rate, exaggerating their arm movements and leaping around. Each member watched for signs from the other side.

Something triggered the boys and they moved. The groups collided; they collided every day during half-term. Monkey noises were made, water was flicked, girls screamed and girls flushed rosy red. The girls moved forward and forced the boys back, before they settled and merged for the day. An invisible moat formed, cameras spun and the security guards' radios crackled them into position. Alliances from yesterday were rediscovered as group members crossed into their cliques.

'Hey, Sam. You alright, girl?'

'I'm fine.'

He struggled to smell the cheap perfume through the thickening mucus of his oncoming cold. She had a distinctive smell and he wanted to remember it. He looked at her white trainers and bare ankles, her blue trousers and blue top. He moved his eyes over the contours of her bulging chest. The thin gold necklace, with teddy bear pendant, caught his eye. She held it out to him; it was a present from her mum and dad.

She looked at the muscles flexing on his arms as he spoke to her; his Adidas top, covering his broad chest; the silky looking bottoms over his thick legs; the immaculate white trainers with blue trim: they matched his wonderful eyes. She could see stubble appearing on his chin and over his lip. She watched his white teeth and moist tongue working in his mouth. She wanted to be kissed.

Marvin and Leah drifted into the crowd. Colin looked behind and saw the group had moved away a little. He noticed Sam follow his gaze and that she made no complaint or effort to rejoin them. They looked at each other. Colin stepped forward and put his arms around her. He pushed his tongue in her mouth and they stood with their heads cocked to one side, moving rhythmically and in time with their passion. Shouts and wolf-whistles came from the group and then faded.

'Let's go outside,' said Colin. They saw the group had moved even further away and was showing no interest in them.

She considered and then nodded. He took her hand and they made their way through the torrent of bodies. He marched her through the coffee shop, to a door that lead outside. He stepped onto the pavement; she stopped in the doorway.

'What's a matter?'

She looked at the trees waving in the wind. There was a touch of rain in the air and it was dark. The overflow car park had a few cars in it; she watched a man and woman walk a small child away and around the corner. 'It's raining.'

He held his hand out. 'Nahhhh. It's hardly spitting. It'll stop soon. Come on.' He pulled at her hand but she tugged back. She smiled at him. He moved his head to one side and blinked.

'It looks a bit cold out there,' she said.

He turned and looked at the trees opposite. 'We'll go under the trees. It won't be windy in there.'

'I don't know,' she said.

He stepped up to her and they started kissing. He broke it off. 'Warm now?'

'Yeahhhh,' she said.

'Come on then, let's go.' He sniffed and spat on the floor.

'Yeah but …'

She watched him walk into the car park. He turned, smiled and waved her towards him. She looked back into the coffee shop at the people sitting and drinking. She followed after him. He walked on and let her catch up. He took her hand and they made their way towards the trees.

'I don't think we should go in there,' she said.

'Why not?'

'It might be … dangerous. There might be people in there.'

'Don't be daft,' he said, looking around. 'It's raining. Who would go in there? Come on.'

He took her hand and led her into the trees. They walked for a short way until they came across a wire fence that marked the end of the centre's land. Past the boundary, it was overgrown and someone had thrown a trolley into the bushes.

He glanced around.

She looked and thought that anyone who was in the overflow would be able to see them. She hoped that he might touch her. She worried that a security guard would see them and tell them to get out. She remembered her dad parking just a few feet away as they all went shopping. She thought someone they knew might see her in the woods and tell her parents.

He angled his head and started to kiss her. She could feel the occasional large drop hitting her head, but she stopped worrying as the pleasure took hold. She forgot about the sound of the tree creaking as she stepped back and felt the strength of its mighty trunk. The trees expanded and formed a complete barrier against the outside world as he started to touch her bottom and then her breasts. This was it, this was what growing up was all about.

He rubbed against her and she could feel the bulge in his trousers. The thought of this excited her and made her feel even more like an adult. Her fifteen years moved up into the twenties like the milometer in a car.

She stiffened as she felt his hand move down and unzip his flies. Her eyes opened as she felt him fumble with her hand and move it to his penis. She was enjoying the kissing and touching and thought it would stop there. She felt the hardness in her hand and wanted to look down, but he was kissing hard, moving his face from side to side. She moaned as she felt his hands take hold of the top of her trousers. She pulled her face away but he followed it. She pulled away more sharply and mumbled:

'What are you doing?'


His tongue pushed into her mouth and she felt him tug her trousers. She tried to speak. He pulled her trousers and knickers down as far as he could and withdrew his tongue. His blue eyes looked inside her, before he pushed his face between her breasts and yanked her clothing to her knees. She watched the top of his head rise from her chest and his spotty face plunge back into hers. The gaps in the trees had blown wide open and the lights of the arcade were like floodlights at a football match. She gasped as he pulled his trousers down. She watched a man walk to his car and open the door. Her shriek was muffled as Colin pushed himself in. It was a solid force that had invaded and she could make no move to force it back out; every time he pushed in, she collapsed and let him inside. He sighed as he moved in and out. He stopped and coughed on her shoulder, before carrying on. She stood still, her hands frozen on the muscles on the back of his arm. She watched the man in the car watching her watching him. His face, lit by a lamppost, had an unnatural glow and she could not make out his features.

Colin groaned and slowed to a stop. He removed his mouth and pulled himself away.

'Phew!' he said. 'That was damn good.'

She saw the beads of sweat on his forehead. He stepped back, watching her as he pulled up his trousers. She caught a glimpse of his penis before he thrust it back inside his pants. He made a fist and wiped his nose. He was smiling.

'Better pull your trousers up, gal.'

She watched the man in the car as she bent to lift her knickers. She could see where Colin had leaked down the inside of her leg. She pulled her knickers and trousers up and over it.

'Let's go back in and catch up,' said Colin.

She nodded and followed him towards the door. They passed the car. She could feel the man's eyes watching her.

They joined up with their friends. Colin made straight for Marvin, nodding his head; Marvin gave him high-five. Sam stood next to Leah.

'I'm not gonna ask where you've been, yo hussy.'

Sam nodded. She could feel her childhood slipping into her trainers.

Archived comments for New Woman
bluepootle on 2003-12-12 05:24:42
Re: New Woman
great last line. I think you really captured how youth can move freely between feeling mature and like a baby in seconds. Lines like '..up into the twenties like a milometer in a car' make that veering of emotion clear and succinct.

The subject of violence against women seems to be cropping up everywhere at the moment, and I'm not sure what you add to that debate with this, but I'm interested in the great writing, and that's what held my attention even though I could see where it was going and felt uneasy about that.

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2003-12-12 05:33:24
Re: New Woman
excellent writing. but for me this was too predictable, and the 'message' I got at the end not as deep or effective as it could have been. I didn't CARE if you can see what I mean, no linger-factor at all. G πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

richa on 2003-12-12 06:16:43
Re: New Woman
I enjoyed this piece. I liked the way you described her, distanced from the act she was involved in.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-12-12 06:31:43
Re: New Woman
Thanks, bp.

Does it read as "violent"? It was supposed to convey something that went out of control - rather than a delberate "attack". A selfishness and desire to do something on one character's part that was just much more advanced in its aim than the female character. I.e, she wanted to do something, but not to that level - or perhaps she did, but just couldn't acknowledge that it was actually happening.
That's what I was trying to convey.


Author's Reply:

petersjm on 2003-12-12 06:55:11
Re: New Woman
As bluepootle said, that was a terrific final sentence. Yes, the climax was apparent from very early on, but I don't think it became an anti-climax because of it. It's true it's a topic that is probably over done these days, but what could you do with the words you were lumbered with?

I liked it. Well done.

Author's Reply:

dancing-queen on 2003-12-12 06:57:44
Re: New Woman
I thought that was a good piece of writing, Geeza - and I think you captured the essence of teenage life really well (teenagers of today, that is). I wouldn't have dared in my time!

No, I don't think it came across as violent - just honest - that's how teenage boys tend to be. It's horrible, really, when you think about it, as that's not how it should be. But being immature teens, what do you expect, eh?

I'm sure there are a lot of teenagers out there who'd relate to this (unfortunately). It seems to be the norm these days - which is a scary thought, being the mother of a 15 yr old!!! Arrrggh!


Author's Reply:

Bee on 2003-12-12 07:42:31
Re: New Woman
Nobody does brutal realism as well. It's a frightening glimpse of the shallowness of so many young lives. I don't know how you do it but you manage to make us sympathetic to your characters even though they are such impoverished little buggers. Last line a poet's dream.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-12-12 08:04:00
Re: New Woman
I think not caring is probably how most people look at the fumblings and experiences of young people these days - which is maybe why they grow up like they do! (Which is not a comment on your comment - just a point).

It was predictable - yes - but, sometimes it doesn't have to be unpredictable, does it?

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-12-12 08:04:43
Re: New Woman
Thanks, Richa.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-12-12 08:18:35
Re: New Woman
Thanks, PJ. Appreciated.

I could have covered worse subjects with those words - that's for sure. As we thought at the UKA meeting!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-12-12 08:23:13
Re: New Woman
My thoughts fell in this direction when I was telling someone I planned to lock up my daughter when she is that sort of age - and being only two and a half now, perhaps by then, it'll be at an even ealier age. Although I was joking, I was hoping she might become a nun - not a sadistic one - a "proper" one.

Kids seem to play these adult games earlier and earlier - makes my skin crawl.

Thanks for your comments, DQ!

Author's Reply:

flash on 2003-12-12 08:32:16
Re: New Woman
Poor old Sam, that will give her something to fondly remember in her later years, who said romance was dead?

Good story handled well, the act of intimacy was described coldly and bluntly. The harsh reality was almost brutal for the girl almost like she was in shock during the act, and i felt sympathy for her and can only try to imagine the sorrow and emptyness she might feel later when the full impact of what happened hits her.

Another good one Steve,potential to be longer in my opinion, with the girl realising just how callous her dream boy is.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-12-12 08:47:43
Re: New Woman
Thanks for your kind words, Bee.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-12-12 08:53:39
Re: New Woman
Thanks, Alan. Appreciated.

I guess there are real teenage girls lining up all over the world with their glossy teen magazines, waiting for their shocking disappointments. Who said I was a cynic ...

Author's Reply:

kenochi on 2003-12-12 09:07:51
Re: New Woman
hi steve,

i thought you told this story well, it had the usual descriptive detail which i associate with your stuff and that made it seem real - I could picture most of the 'action'. Like Griff though I did find it a bit predictable. It didn't shake me out of my comfort zone or surprise me in any way, but all round a good, solid Geeza piece.

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2003-12-12 09:22:01
Re: New Woman
This was good - if a little depressing! Still, I guess that's how it is, these days - although looking back, I have to wonder if the people I knew were so very different...
For me, it highlighted the difference between the hopes that girls harbour, and the ambitions of most teenage lads. It's also true that basically decent girls always seem to go for the sort of kid that Colin really is.

A few minor points: "...colours, sound and smell." Shouldn't they all be plural?
Repetition: "Girls screamed and girls flushed rosy red. The girls..."
Maybe you could change this to something like "some of the girls screamed and (others) flushed rosy red, before advancing..."?
Also, "The overflow car park..." Was that meant to be 'overflowing' or was it actually describing a space that is only used when the main area gets full?
Like I say, little niggles by comparison to how gritty and well told the story is, especially as it was woven from just three little words. πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-12-12 09:47:14
Re: New Woman
Thanks, Mark. Yeah, no surprises. He could've turned into a gentleman - and maybe she could've been sex-mad - but I wanted to keep it as real as possible this time. Any twist would've taken realism away.
Ta for your feedback ....

Author's Reply:

chant on 2003-12-12 10:11:42
Re: New Woman
well, i whirled through this one and found it thoroughly enjoyable. thought the opening could be have been embellished a bit. these are girls getting ready to go out. they'll take ages doing it. can we linger with them a bit longer? am also not sure how accurate this story is. girls glossy magazines are packed full of sex tips these days, and i suspect they know a lot more about it than boys of an equivalent age. i'd also have liked it if you'd put boredom, insecurity (esp about personal appearance) and (female) peer pressure on the map in this story a bit more strongly. and also given us less directives about how to feel about the male characters - can we not make him a spotty, post-sex hawker?! some of the dialogue i thought was spot on - liked the what you doing / nothing exchange especially. and some of it felt a bit heavy-handed - i see we've got a compulsory 'init' here, and a 'yo', and i know what you're trying to do, but am not sure you're making the full journey, if you see what i mean. still, damned fine!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-12-12 10:52:46
Re: New Woman
I've thought things have worsened in this area since I was that age - and I'm only 32! But people have probably thought things are getting worse ever since humans started thinking about their society!

For the points:
I think "...a mixture of colours, sound and smell" sounds better than the plural form.

The "girls" - the first repetition was deliberate. The following sentence - perhaps - although the alternative is "they" - which may work as it interacts with "boys". I shall have a ponder on that - thanks.

"Overflow car park" is an term I've seen often, referring to the area when the main car park is full - like you say. Usually not busy.

Thanks for you feedback, Karl.


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-12-12 10:57:52
Re: New Woman
Thanks, Chant.

It could definitely be expanded, but I wanted to keep the word count down and get straight into the action, through it and out the other end. A bit like Colin, I guess. So, quick snippet of him and her getting ready - quick look at their groups - then out into the woods and back again.

You could turn it into a novella by showing them in detail beforehand and some of the aftermath of her going home "soiled" and speaking with her dad or something... right enough.

Thanks for your comments!

Author's Reply:

chant on 2003-12-16 06:08:08
Re: New Woman
fair dos, g. following your comments had the further thought it might have been an interesting narrative device to relate the parts following Colin in a crisp, snappy style (as you do), and relate those following the girl slowly and in more detail so that the narrative style reflects their different mindsets with regard to sex - Colin's very much a quick in and out thing, the girl wanting something more prolonged.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-12-16 14:09:45
Re: New Woman
Yep ... good idea: giving Colin one paragraph in one style and Sam one paragraph in a different style altogether, perhaps.

I tried to capture their attitudes along those lines when one paragraph reveals only: "He glanced around." Whereas the following paragraph gives her more detail for the same worry.

Ta, for your feedback Chant.

Author's Reply:

UKA Meeting (posted on: 08-12-03)
This is not strictly speaking an article, but it details the 29th November 2003 when some UKA members met up in the 'Slug and Lettuce' public house near London Bridge.

It's quite a strange experience to leave the house and make your way into London to meet people who call themselves ''Dancing Queen'', ''Kenochi'' or ''Spacegirl''. It could be someone from Abba, a sumo wrestler and an astronaut, for goodness sakes! I had looked forward to meeting the folks from the website since Leah made the suggestion, but as I left the house, I started to wonder how it might go.

Writing is quite a solitary activity, particularly for amateur buffs, so here I was, about to meet a number of strangers in a pub in London. What would these people really be like? I wondered if the conversation might be awkward - literary people on the net with time to consider their replies might not be the same when confronted with real-time conversation. I slapped myself and told me that I am a literary person from the internet - and I'm normal … aren't I?

I was very curious to meet John – e-griff. Being a veteran of the site and a very active member, he casts his personality in the shoutbox, the forums (including the one he moderates), from his own work and from the feedback he provides others. That is by no means a criticism; I wanted to see if his personality would dominate the table/s.

I shared my part of the first carriage with two older ladies. We all looked a little alarmed when we heard the train driver shouting and screaming from his cab. ''He's mucking about in there,'' one of them said. I noticed the train slowed and accelerated in the right places (as I use this train every day), so I wasn't overly concerned. I imagined him supping cans of Tennants Extra, with our lives in his hands, but that's another story.

I arrived at London Bridge in plenty of time to hunt down a cash machine that had not been plundered by the office workers the previous night.

I found the Slug and Lettuce, pushed open the door and then realised I hadn't the foggiest idea how to pick people out from the surprisingly crowded bar. An invisible hand pushed me to the "jump" and made me order myself a pint of lager. Having supped some down, I made an effort to make eye contact with someone in the pub. It's not a recommended pastime in this neck of the woods, but what could I do? I phoned home to ask for advice but there was no answer. I had slipped into a gap, somewhere between the internet and reality; it's name is the ''Slug and Lettuce''. I remembered Leah (Dancing Queen) had mentioned bringing a copy of Writer's News. I didn't really want to stand in a pub waving such a publication around and had told myself I would recognise Leah from her small photograph on UKA. I didn't want to stare at the women (or men!) in the bar, so what to do? I phoned home again - no answer, so no answers!

I noticed three guys sitting at a table. Two had books by their drinks. One had glasses and I wondered if it was PJ (from his photo on UKA). I wondered if I should go introduce myself, but the thought of saying, ''Hi, I'm Geeza'' to three strange men and having them looking at me with blank expressions was enough to appeal to my conservative side. I thought Leah would be there on time (it was now past three) and none looked like a Dancing Queen or were belly-dancing. I thought of checking to see if the book was ''Voices'', but it might look strange if I approached three men, examined their books and then walked away. So … I watched. It felt like a blind date without the date.

A lady with dark hair arrived and approached the three guys. They greeted like people who barely knew each other. This must be them – and although it didn't look much like Leah's photograph, it must be her. Time to meet some people, else drink the pint down fast and run from the pub.

I can't remember exactly what I said or what they said - I was planning an escape route in case it was four people completely unconnected to the situation. I remember saying, ''I'm the Geeza … Steve'' and there was some kind of recognition, so unless UKA and its members are as famous as Hollywood actors - I'd landed. My eyes took in the copy of "Voices" on the table and confirmed I was now inside the net.

A larger table became available and we made our way over and sat down: Eccles sat to my left, A_Harmless_Poet opposite to my left, Dancing Queen directly opposite and PJ opposite to my right. We made polite conversation and I wondered what would happen when it ran out. We discussed who else might be coming. E-Griff and Spacegirl(Rose) were mentioned; I mentioned Kenochi (Mark). As if by magic, Kenochi appeared at the table. He had recognised me from my photograph on Laura Hird's website.

We chatted away for a while. Then … in came e-griff. He looked nothing like I had expected. I thought he would be overweight, perhaps balding and that his hair would be light grey and short. Why? No idea. He's not. I would say there is a passing resemblance to Billy Connolly (no offence meant at all!). Within a minute we had each thrown ten pounds his way and sent the poor man to the bar.

The conversations were fairly predictable (in a nice way) in their content and I won't try and repeat them here. John had a copy of Andrea's book ''Blood and wine are red''. PJ (I think it was his!) had ''Voices''. We discussed the site and gave some of our opinions, which are mostly contained in the forums somewhere – things such as number of reads and comments were discussed. Mark scared us with his tales of being a secondary school teacher. We had to speak about West Ham (football), but it was difficult for him, given their position.

I looked around the pub and wondered if there might be any other members who might have found it difficult to locate us, or perhaps couldn't approach a group of seven people and introduce themselves with their internet nickname. It is much harder than it seems. There were some others who had expressed an interest, but had yet to show, so perhaps we might never find out if they were there.

Rose's (Spacegirl) watch was obviously playing tricks, as she arrived late – although I guess it's a woman's prerogative. It was good to meet the woman of Flasheroo's dreams.

Pictures were taken by John and Leah. John wouldn't let anyone take his, but hopefully Leah got a snap she can share with us all.

Drinks were consumed at a merry rate (apart from poor too-young-to-drink Eccles!).

Leah gave everyone a Christmas card and introduced a game to us all. We each picked three pieces of paper that contained a word. From this we have to write a piece for UKA that contains a character called Leah (that part was John's idea). Eccles had just left, so John is sending him his three words by private message. The plan is to release them on the 12th. It can be prose or poetry.

Mark's tattoo of a shark became a talking point. He explained that he had liked sharks in his youth and this unique design had come from a book. Rose has a tattoo that we couldn't see as it is positioned on a part of her body a little too private to show in the pub. Her tattoo is of a rose, presumably in case she forgets her name, although she would have to see it in a mirror, if you catch my drift. No one else owned up to having a tattoo, except PJ – who IS Irish, if anyone doubted – as he pointed out. With some persuasion, he lifted his jumper to show the tattooed creature known as a gecko – which is nothing to do with Poland. I think that was its name. John, quick as his flash, took a picture which is available for your viewing pleasure in the forums on the site.

One thing that struck me as odd, as I don't do it very often outside the internet, was discussing my own work – or the work of someone who was sitting with me. I discount my education, as it was ''forced''. A couple of people outside the internet read my stuff and I talk about it with them (briefly), but to discuss things verbally with people who could speak about work I had done and give living, breathing comments was something quite new. You post something on UKA and people are kind enough to reply, but it's never so real until someone talks about it in ''real-time''.

One other point to make is that Leah is not a porn star. I can't remember why this denial came about, but I remember storing away somewhere in my brain that she is not. More beer had been consumed by the time this was discussed.

Leah (Dancing Queen) had to leave to pick up her daughter – when the cab company finally got their act together.

Then it was John's (e-griff) turn to go catch his train – to avoid having to get back to Hemel Hampstead via coach.

Patrick (A Harmless Poet) was next. I must point out he's not as harmless as he makes out after accusing me of looking like Peter Kay!

Mark (Kenochi) left to take his wife for a curry; he left minus his three words, Christmas card and newspaper.

Rose (Spacegirl) and I discussed football for a while (now, there's a surprise!), before we walked back to London Bridge, where I caught the slow train to East Croydon (then a tram, then a bus!) and she took the tube to pick up her kids and drive back to Highbury (I reckon she lives at Arsenal's ground).

And that … was that.

You hear stories of (usually American) internet people pretending to be people they are not – changing sex … becoming younger … all sorts. Apparently, they can be very convincing. When approaching Saturday 29th November for the UKA ''do'', I considered that although the people seemed extremely nice, shared the same interests and had regularly appeared in my home via PC, that one or more could have been fake, nasty or just plain odd. I'm pleased to report that I spent the afternoon and early evening in the company of some very nice folks!

Archived comments for UKA Meeting
e-griff on 2003-12-08 04:18:16
Re: UKA Meeting
Phew! pulled it off then...

billy Conelly indeed!! ..........

Author's Reply:

dancing-queen on 2003-12-08 04:43:53
Re: UKA Meeting
Ah, that was very enlightening, Geeza me ol' mate. It's really funny to read other people's view on the day, how they were feeling, their expectations etc. Glad you didn't leave the pub before you'd found us. Yeah, bit daunting, wasn't it?

Damn, I'd forgotten about the story containing a 'Leah' character *quickly rushes off to do an edit of the almost-finished story*.

I liked your endnote - I guess that thought must've gone through all our minds at some point.

But we're all pretty normal, aren't we - well, as normal as any writer can be LOL - DQ πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

petersjm on 2003-12-08 04:46:21
Re: UKA Meeting
Nice one, Steve... but, um... didn't I leave the pub, then, eh? Guess I'm still there, lol !


Very clear and cleverly put together πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-12-08 04:59:07
Re: UKA Meeting
Ah, yes ... you can .. er ... go home now. Thanks for coming along! lol.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-12-08 05:05:35
Re: UKA Meeting
*Takes finger out of nose, to type*
We are.

I'm not normally daunted by much, but I realised standing in the bar, what a strange situation it was and how it could all end extremely cringey! Then I thought that if it did end up badly, whether it might put me off coming to the site. The bar was crowded, I'd forgotten to take a note of your phone number from your PM, I had no means of identifying anyone or displaying that I was "from UKA". It had been raining. I did think, "what am I doing here?" more than once before we all made contact!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-12-08 05:07:20
Re: UKA Meeting
I'm just glad a_harmless_poet called me Peter Kay and not Bernard Manning - so, Billy Connelly is a let off!

Author's Reply:

spacegirl on 2003-12-08 05:24:31
Re: UKA Meeting
How did you know I lived at the ground? Have to be more careful in future.

I know what you mean, I was daunted by the fact that you lot could've been nutters, or boring. It was a relief that the people were real rather than fake. I did forget to add the bit when PJ stole my chair & I couldn't see the footy scores on the screen. Or finding out that Kenochi was Mark's porn name!!!!! Room for another poem, methinks.

I did forget about those 3 bloody words, obviously I'm going to be busy this week!!!!!


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-12-08 05:30:02
Re: UKA Meeting
Ah yes, that's how porn got introduced to the conversation. The "where did you get your name from?" question.

I'm surprised PJ survived moving you from the football scores!

Yes, 3 words, submission, Friday. No excuses - no children eating pieces of paper, earthquakes or "my arm fell off" reasons for non-delivery.

Author's Reply:

chant on 2003-12-08 05:45:37
Re: UKA Meeting
yes very entertaining and quite instructive too - how often when looking for gripping narrative do writers reach for 'Jake picked up the gun and checked it was loaded' type stuff, when this simple account of meeting some new people had me sweating with anxiety. πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

flash on 2003-12-08 05:54:12
Re: UKA Meeting
'Rose’s (Spacegirl) watch was obviously playing tricks, as she arrived late – although I guess it’s a woman’s prerogative. It was good to meet the woman of Flasheroo’s dreams.'

So that's why i've been waking up in a cold terriffied cold sweat every night for the last four months. By the way you look nothing like Peter Kay or the other chappie, more like the missing Mitchell brother from eastenders.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-12-08 06:00:53
Re: UKA Meeting
Phew, that's lucky. I don't watch Eastenders...

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-12-08 06:06:23
Re: UKA Meeting
Thanks, Chant. The strange thing was they weren't "new" or "old", but virtual.
A very much toned down version of The Matrix came to London Bridge for the afternoon. πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2003-12-08 06:13:04
Re: UKA Meeting
Didn't think meeting up would be as easy as it sounded! A few things to take into consideration for the Brum meet (if it happens!) sprang to mind as I read this.
I think if it had been me, I'd probably have lurked around and never plucked up the courage to actually go and risk making a prat of myself. Then again, you do support Chelsea! πŸ˜‰ (at least, I think it was you! ;-))
Hang on...Suggs supports Chelsea... 8-s

Thanks for an entertaining read. It almost made me feel as though I was there, albeit without the trip back to Rugby on the train after several pints, and feeling like throwing up just past Milton Keynes! πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-12-08 06:25:19
Re: UKA Meeting
When the lady (who became Leah) met the three men (who became PJ, Eccles and a_harmless_poet), it was decision time and there was a moment where I didn't know whether to go forward or back! My fault: lack of preparation - forgot to bring Leah's telephone number, assumed I would recognise a bunch of people in an empty bar with the "UKA" sign on the table. Result: No sign, crowded bar and slightly late "dancing queen"! Morale: be prepared, scouts.

I thought (with half a lager swilling down my throat) - what the heck, I can just pretend to be mentally ill (or support Arsenal) and leave if they were strangers.

I could've approached a vicious gang planning to rob a bank and got the "enforcer" job if I'd announced my name as "TheGeeza" - but that's another story....

Author's Reply:

Skeeter on 2003-12-08 06:48:36
Re: UKA Meeting
Sounds good, Steve, adifferent version to Rose's (natch), I like the detail in yours, it gives me a flavour. East Croydon eh? I know it well.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-12-08 08:12:18
Re: UKA Meeting
Do you? I do love the train, tram and bus combo when my last train has gone. (missed it by 3 and a half hours that day).

Glad you liked it - you should have come along!

Author's Reply:

spacegirl on 2003-12-08 10:00:05
Re: UKA Meeting

It's Peter "Suggs" Kay!!!!!!

Author's Reply:

zenbuddhist on 2003-12-09 07:40:22
Re: UKA Meeting
The tatoo`s are the key man.....you should have all walked in with .your names printed in bright red lipstick ...eg ...you with GEEZA written across your forehead......dinnae ken if yould get served right enough but in a boozer called the slug & lettuce my guess is yould of been just fine.....haha....just a suggestion......cheersZ

Author's Reply:

flash on 2003-12-09 08:05:38
Re: UKA Meeting
I've just tried that idea all i could fit was FLASHER, will that be ok if i attend the next one.

Author's Reply:

dancing-queen on 2003-12-09 08:09:32
Re: UKA Meeting
Only if you promise to keep your coat buttoned up, Flash!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-12-09 08:57:52
Re: UKA Meeting
Could do that Z ... it's clash with the other word already tattooed there - that word which questions my parentage. Strangely put there by my mum ....

Author's Reply:

Lulu on 2003-12-10 17:25:10
Re: UKA Meeting
Thank you for sharing it "Geeza" πŸ™‚

Very entertaining. I would have found it just as hard to get to that table and introduce myself... I am glad you all had a good time, even though I missed the whole thing! I am the one that always misses everything... is there a nick for that??).


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-12-11 02:37:46
Re: UKA Meeting
I think most people would have found it difficult. It was very strange - they are people you have not met - but people who had projected their personalities (through forums, messages and their writing) into your home via PC. You could almost recognise them online ("electronically") - but when it came to visual and "real" - it was ... odd - before we actually met. I'm glad I went along and hope some of the other areas make the leap of faith and organise one too.

Shame you couldn't make it! Maybe if we organise another for London - you can come along and won't miss that one? Then you won't have to change your nick ... πŸ™‚


Author's Reply:

SugarMama34 on 13-11-2007
UKA Meeting
Hi Geezer,

I enjoyed the read. I found it interestng and the fact that you showed how you felt when standing at the bar about to intruduce yourself to peope who you ony really knew in brief from taking to them or leaving comments on their submissions or in the forums. Your feelings came across well. It sounded a nice day at the pub - wish i coud have joined you all, but I live too far away. Enjoyed the read.

Lis. xx

Author's Reply:
Glad you liked it. Some time ago now, but it was a very interesting experience, meeting people that you knew from their nicknames on the internet. Funny introducing myself as "thegeeza" or people saying, 'ah, you're thegeeza?'! Thanks for commenting.

Freedom (posted on: 24-11-03)
People want and die for it. What is it?

They sat behind the sandbags, watching the cars blowing up clouds of dust. Looking over the top, they could see quite a distance down one road, but the curvature on the other would not give much notice of attack. A pile of sandbags served as seats. Their AK47s were always close by.

'They said the infidels were coming into the city.'

'I heard.'

One soldier watched the other throw his cigarette into the road. It was now one of many. Street cleaning had stopped months ago. People walked past with bags of shopping, stepping on the discarded butts, tearing them apart; the tobacco spilled onto the pavement, blowing around and away.

'They said the Americans said they were here to help; to free us.'

The soldier nodded. 'So I hear.' He always spoke slowly and carefully. He spat on the pavement.

'Do you think it's true?'

The soldier looked at the ruined school opposite; he picked out the fragments of anti-aircraft guns in the rubble. 'I think it is dangerous to speak of this.'

'But no one can hear.'

'People always hear, my friend.'

The soldier tried to think of some other way to engage the man in conversation, but could think of nothing. They had been together for two weeks, but had barely spoken. He looked down the street. Something made his eyes widen. He checked his colleague; he was looking the other way.

'I think I need to stretch my legs. I'm going for a quick walk. I'll be straight back.'

The soldier turned and looked down the street. 'It is forbidden. You know that.'

'Who will know?'

'I will know.'

'But you won't tell anyone will you? My legs are cramped. I need to walk.' He stood and stretched his legs.

The soldier looked at the man's legs and slowly to his face. 'If the sergeant comes and you are not here, your family will be shot. I, personally, have no objection.'

'Then I will walk.'

'It is your choice.'

'I've brought your lunch!'

They both looked over the sandbags and saw a woman and a small child. Her arm was raised, holding a bag; the small child was watching the soldier. The soldier turned to the other.

'Take your walk. I'm sure your absence will not be noted.'

The soldier nodded, dropped to his knees and crawled out of the bunker. He joined the woman and child.

The woman took a bag from the larger bag and handed it to the soldier. The soldier lifted it up.

'She has brought you food too.'

The soldier watched for a moment, then reached down and took the bag. He thanked the woman. She smiled.

They walked the way she came. She took his hand; he ruffled the small boy's hair.

'I told you not to come to me.'

'You have to eat.'

'The army gives us food. You shouldn't come. It's dangerous.'

'We cannot see them, but they drop their bombs any place they choose. They decided to destroy the school. Everywhere is dangerous.'

'I know, my love, but it is too dangerous to approach our position. The army would not like it.'

'That's too bad. I cannot ignore my husband when he is so near.'

They continued walking.

'Thank-you for bringing two.'

'We all have to eat.'

He looked at her, then at his son, skipping along with his mop of hair swinging across his face.

'On the news, they said there was fierce fighting, but it was a long way from here.'

'They have told us to make final preparations,' he said. 'I think they are near.' When they reached a corner, he stopped. 'I must go back. If I am missed,' he said, raising his hand. 'I must not be missed.'

She nodded. They embraced. He knelt down and took his son in his arms. He told the boy to be brave and to look after his mummy. The son nodded. The father held him by the shoulders and kissed his shiny hair. The boy always smelled of soap. They walked away, stopped and turned. The lovers mouthed ''I love you'' and went on their way.

He walked down the street, life continuing around him as best it could. The sky was blue; the only cloud, white; people chose their fruit from large selections; cars stopped at traffic lights. Despite everything, many things stayed the same.

He reached the bunker and returned the nod of his partner. He crawled back inside and said nothing. The soldier was watching the street; the lunch bag was empty. He opened his bag and took out a sandwich.

'Your wife is very dutiful.'

The soldier held the sandwich in his mouth and looked at the back of the soldier's head. He swallowed. 'She cares a lot for me.'

'I can see that. She is very beautiful. Was that your son?'


'He does you credit.'

The soldier took another bite and looked down the road. They were walking in that direction. He tried to imagine their steps, where they might be.

He jumped backwards off the sandbags at the deafening explosion. Debris blew across the street. Objects hurtled across the road, hitting the buildings opposite: some were people, others were bags of shopping. People ran blindly from the source. They ran into the road; cars swerved and hit other cars. He saw a van hit a large woman, sending her rolling across the windscreen and over the other side; her bag stayed on the bonnet, apples tumbling from it, dropping onto the floor. People were screaming. The other soldier stood and pointed his rifle towards the area.

'Jesus!' shouted the soldier. His sandwich was squashed underfoot as he stepped forward to get a better look. 'Come on!'

The other soldier grabbed him. 'No! Our instructions are to stay.'

Another explosion out of sight, to their right, rocked the ground, making the soldier grab a sandbag for support. Another roared, further in the distance. There was no sound of aircraft, nothing. Cars that had stopped were reversing. People were still running, screaming, dropping whatever they carried. A young boy ran past, blinkered, focusing only on the destination set in his mind.

'My wife!' he shouted.

'John! No!' He let him go; there was no point trying to stop him. 'John!' he shouted, as he emerged into the street. 'Take your rifle!'

John turned to look and caught the weapon. The soldier had not used his name before; they had never needed to address one another, as there were only two of them. He turned and ran into the chaos.

Smoke billowed across the road, people were lurching everywhere, dazed. They grabbed at his uniform. He pushed them away. He leapt over large chunks of building, crunched the glass and saw the blood leaking from dead people; the glistening liquid cut trails through their dusty faces. A pram lay on its side, its occupant screaming out. The sound of war planes came suddenly. Explosions tore John from his feet, dropping him and sliding him backwards on a wave of glass. Ahead, he saw yellow balls appear in two buildings, expand, blow the insides in all directions, then implode and disappear in huge clouds of smoke that would hurry across the road, then loiter with intent against the buildings opposite.

When he opened his eyes, he felt no pain and could hear only the sound of fire. The buildings were burning. His rifle was still in his hand. He staggered to his feet and coughed. A woman ran away to his right, but the flames licking the side of the mutilated buildings was the only movement he could see. He ran forward, looking for his family.

He searched the dead, but none belonged to him. He considered that perhaps she would return to the bunker, so he made his way back. Emergency vehicles and the army met him, passing by as if he was not there. Groups of people emerged from the shadows, tentative at first, before they moved into the shops and came out carrying their contents. A man ran past with a television on his shoulder. The people pushed past, shouting at no one and nothing. They picked up rocks and smashed the windows the bombs had forgotten.

The building on the corner had been hit and its innards had spewed onto his bunker. There was no fire, but the sandbags now littered the street. Soldiers stood by; some were digging at the rubble. John ran to help. He saw his lunch bag as he threw chunks of rock into the road. The roar of an aircraft sent some people scurrying for cover; some, including John, crouched down; and some stood tall, watching it flash overhead, straight down the high street. They continued to dig.

It returned shortly afterwards.

'Fire! Fire!' shouted Sergeant Phillips. He pointed his rifle in the air and fired at the jet. Others followed. Someone managed to fire an RPG. 'Kill them!'

The soldiers shouted as they fired off round after round. It faded into the distance.

John watched the trail of two aircraft intersect high above them. He looked up at the sergeant.

'Why aren't you under that rubble with Jones?'

John looked at his boots.

The sergeant struck him in the face. 'Answer me.'

'I ran to the explosion … because my wife …'

'Your wife?'

'Yes, Sir.'

'You deserted your post?

The sound of engines roared from a building about two hundred metres up the road. The sergeant span around and fired towards the building. The men launched bullets at the invisible enemy. John picked up his gun and they were all firing as the jet came over the building. It flew over them, listing to the right, slower than usual.

'It's coming down!' yelled the sergeant. 'Come on!'

They ran after the aircraft, firing, kicking debris from their path. The looters stopped to allow them to pass. The jet turned, leaving a parachute behind, rising at first, before starting its descent.

'Aim for the parachute!' shouted the sergeant.

They arrived on the bridge, lining up along the side, firing at the dark grey chute; the pilot swinging underneath. There was a massive explosion and fireball where the jet crashed into a large office building.

'Follow me!' shouted the sergeant. They ran along the embankment, firing at the parachute as it neared the ground. John fired blindly in its direction, knowing he was wasting his ammunition, but with the knowledge that his loyalty would be interrogated if he didn't. He watched the giant plume of smoke rise above the office blocks. The sergeant stopped firing when he could no longer see the canopy; the others stopped with him. They ran down the deserted road, their boots crashing onto the tarmac with a consistency that sounded like a drumbeat.

'Here!' shouted the sergeant. He led the men onto Tower Bridge so they could see down into the Thames. 'There he is!'

John could see the pilot removing his parachute and looking up at them, down by the water's edge. They opened up on him. He was far enough away to make him a difficult target for men that had just sprinted a mile. He was hit in the leg, but he scurried towards the wall, leaving the chute behind. An old stairwell was close by. The injured pilot managed to take the steps two at a time. The sergeant motioned with his rifle and they all followed. He fired into the air and shouted as they ran.

They saw the man run into a side street. The group veered across the empty road and followed after him. The sergeant indicated that four men split off to try and cut him off.

The scent went cold. They split into four group and walked the locale, pointing their weapons into doorways. John and two other soldiers turned the corner and were confronted by a television crew from CNN. The camera backed off, but the woman reporter stood still. She said nothing as they approached. The cameraman continued to walk backwards, filming the men.

Johnson growled at her; she jumped back. He pushed his weapon at the camera; its operator skipped backwards, now out of reach. Roberts skipped forward, put his grubby hands on the side of the camera and pushed it and the man to the ground. Johnson poked the gun in the man's face and shouted. The man cringed. Johnson laughed and waved his crew on. John looked backwards at the woman bending over the cameraman; she helped him to sit up.

They turned into a street with cobblestones. John saw a shadow flit into a doorway. Fear of a small side-arm and his want that someone else find the pilot was vanquished when Johnson shouted and pointed his gun into the dark alcove. The pilot was standing, crouched with his hand over the leg wound. He made no attempt to defend himself. He raised both bloody hands and surrendered. Johnson made the call and all twelve men soon stood in front of the pilot.

'Not so brave now are you, coward?'

The pilot shook his head slowly, watching the gun.

'Not pressing buttons, bringing death down from the sky on our women and children now are you, Yankee doodle dandy?' said the Sergeant.

'I am not armed.'

'Not armed,' mused the sergeant. 'He's not armed. Why aren't you armed, Yankee?'

The pilot grimaced; he held his hand over the wound, but blood poured through his fingers.

The sergeant pulled a knife and stepped towards the pilot.

'Sergeant?' said Roberts.

'What is it?'


The men parted, allowing the sergeant to see the camera crew filming from the corner.

'Oh,' said the sergeant. He moved towards the pilot. 'Clear the way, so they can see.' They moved. He put the tip of the knife on the pilot's good leg and pushed it in. The pilot screamed and collapsed to the floor. Only the handle was visible. 'You can die, live on the five o'clock news, Yankee.' He pulled the knife theatrically from the leg. Its blade was coloured red. He cocked his head and smiled at the camera. The woman did not move a muscle. The camera was completely still. The sergeant turned to the man on the floor; he had one hand on each wound. Blood was collecting on the floor. He drew the knife across his throat. A fountain of blood spurted from the man's neck. He coughed and gurgled and lay still. The sergeant cut every stitch of clothing from the man and tossed them in the gutter. They dragged the man from the shadows into the road where half of the group watched the other half's frenzied stabbing attack on the dead body. The sergeant approached the camera, his face and clothing drenched in blood.

'This is what happens to you, when you come to my country.' He ran forward and stopped. 'Now, I'm going to cut you.' The cameraman and woman turned and fled. The sergeant watched and howled with laughter. He turned to his men. They laughed; some of them kicked the body.

He told them nothing, then they took him back to the crowded cell. The sergeant eyed him.

'What did you tell them?'

'Nothing,' said John.

'I hope not.' He stood, moved to the middle of the cell and looked at the silent group of men. 'I hope no one says anything, or your families?' He drew his finger across his throat. The men said nothing to the man whose uniform was now coloured black from the dried blood of both sides.

John listened to the loud explosions of the next ten days. They lessened, then almost stopped. He heard the rolling sound of heavy armaments and the shouts of large groups of soldiers. There was no word from his family.

The door opened. An American stood at the doorway.


John stood and followed him.

In a small room, there was a man in a crisp military uniform. It was so clean, John thought the man could never have seen real combat. The American offered him a cigarette; he took it, but the man did not take one for himself.

'The war is over. President Blair has gone. The regime has changed. Do you understand this?'

John nodded.

'There is nothing to fear, you can return to your normal life now. Do you still feel intimidated by the previous regime?'

John blew the cigarette smoke straight at the American's brass buttons. He did not react. John said nothing.

'There is no need to be afraid any longer. The regime has gone and all the people supporting it have either been removed or are running. We will catch them. We will catch them all. Do you understand?'

John nodded.

'You can return to your normal life. You are free. The United States Government wants you to be free and have a happy life. Do you understand?'

John nodded.

'Do you intend to make trouble for us?'

John blew his smoke onto the table and watched it crawl towards the medals just above the level of the desk. He shook his head.

'Good. We are going to give you some papers and release you. Just go home. Do you understand?'

John raised his eyebrow, then nodded.

The American pushed a set of papers across the table. He pulled out another sheet.

'We are looking to reinstate the infrastructure of your country as quickly as possible. This includes a police force. They cannot carry arms, but will have the power of arrest. This police force is tasked with minimising looting activities and reducing crime. We are considering reforming some of the army units to take this project forward. Would you be interested?'

'No,' said John, stubbing out his cigarette. 'Sorry.'

The American made some marks on the paper and placed it on a pile. There were two piles; one was very small. The American stood up.

'You are free to go, Mr Smith.'

John got to his feet. He looked down at his filthy army uniform. The American offered his hand across the table. John took it, out of habit more than anything else.

'Welcome to the free world, Mr Smith.'

Archived comments for Freedom
bluepootle on 2003-11-24 03:17:02
Re: Freedom
Extremely brain stimulating! I'm going to be chewing over this one for a while. Very skilfully done, particularly early on when the description leads the reader to the wrong conclusion.

Later on, the dialogue becomes stilted, but I can't see any way around that, because its integral to the story; it was jarring, though.

Very sparse and effective description, too.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-24 04:43:31
Re: Freedom
Thanks, BP.
I'll have a look at the dialogue - which parts jarred?


Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-11-24 04:56:17
Re: Freedom
The knife attack in particular, for me. sorry I can't be constructive, but I honestly can't see a way round it. Will chew on it for a while.

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2003-11-24 06:02:59
Re: Freedom
I found this difficult, too, and it is hard to say why.

small things - she says 'I bought you food' - did you mean 'brought'

'They walked in the direction of her approach.' is a very awkward phrase. I found a lot of it stilted and 'not quite right' eg, I puzzled how they knew the pilot was wounded in the leg, then I puzzled that he 'scurried' , wounded in the leg.

I think this is an excellent story idea, (esp the trigger - 'Jesus' v nice) but I would say you need to do some more work on it yourself, take time, think it all through, make it real as you have done so well in other stories. presently, this is not in the same league, IMO, but it could be πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-24 06:12:53
Re: Freedom
Thanks, Griff. Yup. Agree. The first one is a bad spelling mistake! Which I shall change. I shall have another look at the rest for awkwardness. I think he can still scurry with a leg wound - especially with armed people approaching, though - scurry is perhaps the wrong word as I saw it as moving quickly (but with a limp). For the leg wound, they shot him from the bridge, so saw it.
Thanks for your feedback, as ever!

Author's Reply:

Bee on 2003-11-24 06:33:25
Re: Freedom
Gripping stuff and brilliant satire. As people have found it a little esoteric, I wondered if you could punctuate it with news headlines - say one at the beginning to set the scene and then a few more along the way as signposts. I suggst this because you involve news' crews in the story itself so it would fit the pattern.

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2003-11-24 06:58:21
Re: Freedom
And there I was, totting up things that I couldn't see an Arab soldier doing! It drew me in completely, even though the setting was ambiguous!
It's rare for anyone to do that, so that's one big point in it's favour, at least IMO.
One redundancy: "They BOTH looked over the sandbags..." (as John's wife and son approached). As there was only two of them in the bunker (or so it seemed), I found the 'both' unnecessary.
Also "scurried". Would 'scrambled' or 'scrabbled' not be more effective?
Also, a bit more background as to what happened politically would be helpful, IMHO. What made Blair finally wig out? Was the US war against Britain alone (can't see it; they'd walk over us in about a month, probably much less), or against Europe?
Again, a bit of clarity during the debrief would work...but it would obviously need careful handling!
Overall, I think this could do with a bit of work. I notice from other posts that you would tend to agree. All the same, it is a very promising beginning, with a strong, interesting premise. Could be another winner. πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-24 07:24:34
Re: Freedom
Good idea, Bee. Perhaps a CNN channel being received by another character might do the trick. Local news programmes would be complete fabrications of course - drawing the parallel with the recent conflict. I could perhaps work those in too - showing the difference - but I wouldn't want to elongate the story.... food for thought.
Thanks, Steve.

Author's Reply:

teacup on 2003-11-24 07:48:24
Re: Freedom
I think this is terrific, but I wouldn't like to see more explanation at all, only the corrections made. You don't want to preempt yourself!

And the last thing we want, IMO, is to be given the political background. I don't feel that's the point of the story, even if readers are left to swing in the wind.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-24 08:15:15
Re: Freedom
There were a few clues, but it was designed not to catch our the reader, but to illustrate the similarities - once you've been "hooked"!

"Scurried" - I'm umming and arring on that. I like the scurrying into a dark corner - like a mouse - but it's whether an injured man can "scurry" - all press red button on your Geeza remotes to vote! πŸ™‚

"Both" - perhaps unnecessary, but I didn't see it as a jarring word - and thought it might magnify the visual of them both peering over the top. I shall think on that, thanks.

The background, I think, might turn it into a semi-essay - and perhaps make it too long as well. The Blair thing was a little joke I chucked in. I guess the reasons behind the conflict don't really cling to the central core of the story - especially as the reasons for the real Iraq conflict aren't known either! πŸ™‚

Thanks for commenting, Karl.


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-24 08:18:32
Re: Freedom
Thanks, Teacup. I agree with that - I posted just as much in my reply to KDR - which appears to have attached itself to your comment, rather than his!

Glad you liked it.

Author's Reply:

LezH on 2003-11-24 10:36:27
Re: Freedom
Afraid I found this one didn't work so well for me. The words stilted and awkward have already been used I think and I know you intend to work on this so...

Could the two soldiers be different in some way that you could use without giving too much away but to better differentiate them and cut down on the word 'soldier' perhaps: age, rank, colour or something? Also the word infidel put me on the alert early and had me looking at it from the outside and so not sucked in.

I think apples would drop to the road or ground rather than the floor; not keen on blood as glistening liquid in the context used; 'scurried' probably isn't the best word for an apparently, going by the blood loss, badly wounded leg [discussion so far on this reminds me of Throw Mamma From The Train - 'The night was 'sultry''] ...

And I wasn't sure why such emphasis was put on whether 'John Smith' fully understood the implications of his freedom and the new order. I realise he was representing everyman but since when did an authority figure give a toss about what a grunt would think? Even if I've missed the point there, I do think that bit could be shortened to better effect.

Having said all that, I found the idea entertaining and the 'family and extra sandwich bits' touching and believable - and of course it was well-written, which goes without saying!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-24 11:25:29
Re: Freedom
Thanks, Lezh, points taken; I shall review all that and see where I can improve. Thanks for your comments.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2003-11-24 11:35:56
Re: Freedom
It was interesting to see this story unfold and dispel our preconceptions. Possibly, two of the red herrings are overly fishy. Firstly, I'd have thought that British troops would be using SA80 automatic rifles or NATO weapons, not the Soviet designed AK47's employed by many Middle Eastern forces, and secondly, the term 'infidels' used by John's colleague. I double-checked, in case he was part of an Anglo-Arab coalition (further to the AK47's), but found that he was called Jones. Can't really imagine a Brit calling the Americans 'infidels'. Hope that it doesn't sound trainspotter-ish about the weapons, but as it's part of the lead in to the story, I thought that it might be worth mentioning. Other than that, an enjoyable, thought provoking read. :^) Steve

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-24 15:09:19
Re: Freedom
I think infidels could be a nickname given to the US by any enemy, or as you say, perhaps as part of a crazy coalition, but I was unsure on that one, and thought it might be too much - I think perhaps that it is. I think I'll change that - maybe to "yanks" - it should keep the desired effect.

For the types of weapon, I think it is possible in such an extreme circumstance (like we changed sides!) that our weaponry could change - and whereas "infidel" does stick out, the type of gun is possibly not so important - besides, maybe the British army had turned into a militia based organisation?!! πŸ™‚

Glad you liked it - thanks for your comments - I'll bear them in mind!


Author's Reply:

KDR on 2003-11-24 16:04:57
Re: Freedom
The American official line is: Regime change and because of WMDs. Their role is justified by achieving regime change. Blair and co. decided too many Brits would balk at that, so just used the WMD cop-out. πŸ™‚

Well, as far as background goes, it seems I'm in a minority of one. πŸ™‚ Perhaps if this ever wanted to become a longer work - a satirical novel, maybe?
I didn't say the use of 'both' jarred, it just seemed a little obvious to me. Still, it's your story and only you know what you fully intended, so by all means leave it in if it's doing the job you intended! πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

ruadh on 2003-11-25 06:10:00
Re: Freedom
The US turning on Britain...certainly food for thought lol. You've got loads of comments already which I can't add to but I will say the use of 'infidels' totally threw me so it wasn't until the latter half that I realised it was the UK, but maybe that was your intention. Great idea.


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-27 02:45:00
Re: Freedom
It was my intention, yes. And who's to say it can't happen? We just think it won't ... the CIA backed Iraq against Iran just 20 years ago. Saddam is good at hiding and avoiding assassination because of training given by the West. 'Infidel' is something I'm going to change as it's a bit OTT.
Glad you liked it.

Author's Reply:

dancing-queen on 2003-11-27 06:23:25
Re: Freedom
Hi Steve, only just got around to reading this (sorry). Started it a few times but had to stop for work. Anyway, I honestly thought these were foreign soldiers. How you fooled me! LOL I think it wasn't so much what they were saying but the manner in which they spoke e.g.

'Then I will walk.’

β€˜It is your choice.’

An Englishman would probably have said 'Then I'll walk' and 'It's your choice'.

I did get a bit confused in some parts, Steve, as to who was speaking and to whom, so maybe when you re-draft you might check that all is clear to the reader.

Also, the married couple didn't speak with much warmth, even though they were supposed to be very much in love. Not sure why I felt that. I just thought they sounded a bit too formal with each other.

Apart from that I thought this was an unusual concept, something different, so that made it enjoyable. And what a surprise at the end! Scary thought, eh?

DQ πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-27 07:39:30
Re: Freedom
Thanks, DQ, glad you liked it. I'll take a look at your points when/if I redraft.
For the married couple, I guess it's hard to imagine how you might feel/act when confronted with almost certain military defeat - and probably death?
Thanks for your feedback.

Author's Reply:

pgarner on 2003-11-27 13:15:19
Re: Freedom
Nice one.

re: the guns - maybe it would be better not to mention model numbers at all? Just call it a 'machinegun' or an 'assault rifle' or some slang word that soldiers might use (?) People will still fill in the blanks with the idea of an AK-47.

Makes one think about all sorts of things. I mean... what would really happen? What would the rest of Europe do?

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-28 10:06:47
Re: Freedom
Thanks. Yes, I agree, perhaps don't have to mention model numbers at all.

I know one part of Europe that would instantly surrender ... πŸ™‚
I'm not sure what the rest of Europe would do. After all, it wasn't that long ago that Germany was the mortal enemy, so you can never be sure that things might not turn on their heads again.

Thanks for commenting.

Author's Reply:

Nevada on 2003-12-01 11:22:00
Re: Freedom
Very interesting read and a viewpoint which is unusual. Whatever your reason for writing it, I think it has delivered a valid comment. By putting ourselves in the place of others it can be quite enlightening. Very good.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-12-02 04:56:09
Re: Freedom
I was trying to imagine what it must feel like "on the other side" - especially considering the US backed Iraq (and Saddam) against Iran.

The main message was that we cannot be so confident it would never happen to Britain. In case anyone wonders, it's not anti-US either ... (I'm half American myself).

Thanks for your feedback.

Author's Reply:

Skeeter on 2003-12-03 04:22:24
Re: Freedom
I can't add much to what has been said; yes there were a few awkward bits, but not much. I liked the beginning, liked the little touches, the human things. I too was thrown by 'infidel', but got the point. It's an enjoyable read, and reminds you of the perfidy that can be practised by powerful states.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-12-03 04:36:46
Re: Freedom
Thanks, Skeets - glad you liked.

Author's Reply:

Fit to fight (posted on: 14-11-03)
In remembrance

They gave us a medical – checked us thoroughly: our toes, everything. They made sure we were fit to fight. They put us into clean beds, fed us a hearty breakfast and loaded us into a bus. We knew where we were going, but it didn't seem real. The stories must be wrong; I had slept in a clean bed and eaten bacon and eggs for goodness sakes! The sun was shining, people spoke of the end of the war; happiness came from our full stomachs and our restful slumber.

I got to thinking, in the bus, watching the trees going past, my face against the cold window, that we might get lost; the driver might lose his way. We might end up in some sleepy town for a couple of days, eating well, drinking coffee and sitting in the sun. Word would come from the front that it had all ended. It might've happened. It only needed the driver to have made the wrong turn and I could have been staying in a nice guest house or something. He just needed to get lost, that was all.

I could see something in the road, just ahead. There were people there and some vehicles. Maybe it was a roadblock; maybe they would tell us there was no way through, that we had to go back to those barracks, to dinner – nicely prepared by those fine ladies working in the kitchen. That's what it might have been. It could've happened.

They got us out of the bus and we took our kit down through the trees. I remember the strange feeling of walking from the sunny road into the darkness. It was so cold in the shade that I physically shivered. The smell of the hot day had been replaced by this acrid smell, which seemed to stand in clouds that the captain led me, Smithy and Jonesie through, as if he couldn't see them. It was like walking through a ghost. I remember speaking to Smithy, but he just looked at me like I was talking gibberish.

The captain made us take cover and we moved carefully from tree to tree. It seemed strange, as there was no noise and it was dark. I could see the end of the trees just ahead. As we approached, it grew a little lighter. He stopped us and pointed to a trench with a ladder leading into it. He made a sign with his fingers; he made a little man out of his large finger and forefinger and showed us this finger-fellow climbing down. I asked him if he meant for us to climb down the ladder. He looked at me with thunderous eyes and it looked like his blooming muzzie was shaking so hard it might jump right off his top lip! Hah! Crazy Captain Harris. He made us sprint for the ladder and we climbed down. I went first. That was because I was quickest. I can do a hundred yards in twelve seconds, don't you know! Anyway, poor Smithy was bent over, waiting for the ladder for ages and no bugger shot at him, so I figured this whole malarkey wasn't half as bad as people made out, just like the men said.

First thing I noticed was mud. Blooming mud everywhere! Never seen so much mud in my entire life. The water at the bottom of the trench was over the top of my boots, so I trod carefully. Many fellows were standing, watching us walk past. Pasty-faced men who had no doubt seen combat. This was our first time and these chaps looked damn sure of themselves; there was much to be learnt from these, I was sure.

He put us in place and left us there. I spoke to this soldier next to me, but he said he didn't want to talk, but he asked me if I had a cigarette. I gave him one and had to light it too.

When I put the lighter away, there was the biggest noise I'd ever heard. I ducked down; so did Smithy. Jonesie moved too quickly and fell to the ground. It rained mud and water everywhere. There was another explosion, then another. Guns started firing. We didn't know what to do. We just looked at each other, holding our rifles at the ready, like we had been trained to do. It was so bloody loud that I just wanted to put my fingers in my ears to try and keep some of the noise out. It was shaking my bloody brain around, inside my head.

The soldier had climbed up the ladder and was firing his gun. My cigarette was hanging from his lips. The guy next to Jonesie was up the wall, but he had no boots – he never had time to put them on. I could see his green socks, almost hanging off, covered in wet mud.

Captain Harris came hurrying along and began screaming at me, Smithy and Jonesie. I couldn't hear what he was saying, and I was trying to tell him that, but it was making him madder. He grabbed my rifle and pointed upwards with it.

That was when the noise all but stopped.

Captain Harris looked around, mouth open, as if he expected something to fall out of the sky. I looked up too, but all I could see was a cloud passing over us.

Then this whistling started up.

All around us, men started scrambling up their ladders. I knew what this meant, but it couldn't mean me … not now – I'd just got here, and no one had told me what to do. Captain Harris pushed me towards the ladder and screamed – pointing at me to climb up. He shouted at the others. There was more whistling coming from somewhere behind us. I picked up my kit bag, but he slapped it out of my hand. He screamed again and pointed. I couldn't understand what he was saying, my ears were still ringing. There was saliva spraying from his lips and dribbling down his chin.

Then he done a weird thing; he pulled a revolver from his hip and pointed it at me. I dropped my rifle with shock. Jonesie turned to the captain, keeping his weapon pointed down. The captain shot him. He shot Jonesie in the chest. He just fell backwards, his hands moving up to his wound as he fell. He landed and splashed everywhere. There was a massive hole in his chest. I turned to look at him, but the captain dragged me away and pointed the gun at me. I remember the look on Jonesie's face: splattered with mud, his eyes wide open; it was like his shock had been captured and frozen on his face. I shouted at the captain, I can't remember what I said; I pointed at my gun. He watched me bend down and pick it up.

Smithy and me followed everyone over the top of the trench and on to the field. People were screaming and charging, so I did the same. I didn't notice where Smithy went. I was on my own.

I felt something grab at the bottom of my leg and it dragged me down. I pulled at it. It was barbed wire. Two other fellows tripped over me and went down, rolling over and over, skidding, crashing into one another in a crowd of legs and shiny brown rifles. I almost pulled my leg free and was half up, when I felt something tear into my shoulder. The roar was deafening. The ground seemed to shake and fly into the air. I hit the ground and covered my head.

Then, I remember waking up here with you, my friend. I just about managed to push you off me. It was hard, as I can't see my legs – they've gone – replaced by my trousers, flattened and soaked into the brown mud. I can tell by the uniform that you're one of them. I can tell by your face, that you're dead. You've got the same look that Jonesie had. You look surprised.

Archived comments for Fit to fight
bluepootle on 2003-11-14 04:09:27
Re: Fit to fight
This had a really strong start that petered out a little for me. I really liked the first paragraphs - the repetition of could've/would've happened was very skilfully done.

Then we seemed to stray into familiar territory and your character picked up some mannerisms that we associate with that kind of experience, but didn't sit easily with the image I had built of him in my mind - things like 'bloomin' muzzie' and 'no bugger shot at him' felt like the kind of character we usually get in war movies, and the imaginative, thoughful side of the narrator you showed us first was lost.

Maybe try to reconcile these two sides to the character a little more? It would make the war descriptions more powerful, I think.

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2003-11-14 04:46:58
Re: Fit to fight
Damn! that pootle gets in first every time! I too found this slightly unsatisfactory,

but I'll be picky instead! πŸ™‚
- these's there's and those's - need I say more?
'This was our first time and these chaps looked damn sure of themselves; there was much to be learnt from these, I was sure.'

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-14 04:59:16
Re: Fit to fight
Yep, early bird catches the blue pootle, it seems.

Point taken: not a flowing sentence in terms of eloquence - however, this was his thought, derived from a sentence in the way that I thought he might say it. But, true, I should have tried to make it flow better AND sound like he might say it.

Thanks for your comments, Griff.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-14 05:07:38
Re: Fit to fight
I think you're right in that there was an inconsistency between the beginning and the end - and perhaps it did go a little clichΓ©d. I sat down on the 11th Nov and had a compulsion to write about the war - and this was it.
Thanks, as always, for your feedback!

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2003-11-14 10:31:38
Re: Fit to fight
Interesting that you seem to have picked WW I as the setting. Expat did the same with his war story.
I liked the beginning and end of this piece, but the middle seemed to lack a certain energy. I think a good war story should have an element of the horror of warfare, as well as reminding the reader of the ultimate futility of it. Hopefully, I accomplished some of this with my piece 'The Lads'. In this, though, the horror and futility seem to go AWOL, especially the latter.
I think perhaps you are a victim of your own high standards on this occasion. Everyone expects more from you than this story actually delivers, despite the fact that, taken as a whole, it's not really that bad. Far better than some war fiction I've read, believe me!
Still, it also has to be borne in mind that the story is only 3 days old, according to what you mentioned in a previous reply (which I could read without clicking on, for some reason!), and you therefore can't have done much more to it than given it a preliminary read before posting.
I'm sure a review of the piece would make it better, and if you do get round to doing one, I'll look forward to reading it. πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-14 12:04:05
Re: Fit to fight
I suppose you have to be careful when writing war stuff that it doesn't just become a catalogue of blood and gory moments. What I was trying to get across (as something I find odd about war), is that the soldier will be sitting in his base, being semi-normal - i.e having dinner, bit of recreation etc. - and then suddenly he's in a field surrounded by death (often his own). Hard to get something substantial into such a short piece.

I wrote this in a spare hour on Wednesday - double checked it Thursday and submitted. This week was obviously the week I wanted to send it out. I guess I could improve it if I follow my own advice of letting it settle and revistting some time afterwards!
Thanks for your feedback, KDR.

Author's Reply:

Bee on 2003-11-15 02:01:11
Re: Fit to fight
I think you capture the sudden and unexpected brutality of it all very effectively. I suppose that wit books like Birdsong and Pat Barker's amazing WW1 trilogy, it's difficult to revisit this topic but I think it's really important for us to try to imagine those horrors so good on yer!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-15 05:32:58
Re: Fit to fight
After reading Farewell to arms, it started me thinking about how strange it was - the contrast between the time before battle, to the battle itself.

They must've been terrified beforehand, and in WW1, with "going over the top" etc., I think they probably had less chance than they imagined.

Thanks for your comments, Bee.

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2003-11-15 14:02:47
Re: Fit to fight
Yeah, writing war stories certainly isn't as easy as you think. For one thing, you can overload on pathos, too, and that's as fatal as...well, anything else you care to mention.
The contrast might have been better served if the soldier had had a couple of 'quiet' days. And if the idea is strong enough, there's nothing stopping it from being longer. I've noticed on here that anything longer than 1500-2000 words is considered 'long', when I've always been told the average length of a short is between 1000-5000. Sometimes even 10000.
Basically, a story should be as long as it wants to be. Maybe by being a touch longer, the story would have the intended effect?

Author's Reply:

flash on 2003-11-15 15:20:22
Re: Fit to fight
Another good solid tale. Steve.

just one thing i noticed.

100 *metres* in twelve seconds, considering the timeframe and nationality of the narrator, i would suggest swapping metres with yards.


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-15 15:35:49
Re: Fit to fight
Thanks, Alan. Good point - will change.


Author's Reply:

expat on 2003-11-21 18:17:05
Re: Fit to fight
Like KDR, I thought that this was a little condensed for the amount going on. Another 500 words+ would make all the difference IMHO. It's a good plot; if you'd been inspired earlier, I'm sure this one would have been a cracker after the resulting revisions and honing. Will we get to see it again?
Best wishes :^) Steve.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-22 08:37:16
Re: Fit to fight
I suspect I won't revisit this one; I think it's okay, but there's nothing that I could easily do to push it into the "special" bracket.
Thanks for your comments, Expat. Always appreciated!

Author's Reply:

Skeeter on 2003-12-03 04:30:32
Re: Fit to fight
I liked it; I thought the ending was powerful. Personally I wouldn't lengthen it too much. The tiniest possible thing: the repetition of 'look' "he looked at me with thunderous eyes and it looked like...". Maybe change one of them? And I'm not sure if the word 'guy' was in use then. It's dead tricky setting things inthe past. It;s impossible I think to be accurate all the time, so what the hell. We get the idea. A good story, crisply written.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-12-03 04:38:14
Re: Fit to fight
Good point. I will look at swapping those words out.

Thanks for your comments ... appreciated.

Author's Reply:

Heirloom on 2004-01-29 11:54:57
Re: Fit to fight
I think it has all been said already - idea and beginning are fine, then a little inconsistency, and a strong finish. You say you wrote this in one hour? That's pretty good going.
I can't add anything new to the mix, so I'll just say I enjoyed it.

Author's Reply:

Working man's hands (posted on: 10-11-03)
Click to see more top choices

Seasons change.

'She just doesn't get it, just doesn't understand. She doesn't listen.'

He slapped the horse's rump, stroked it and watched how it was impossible to make a mark or change the hair's direction. Autumn had arrived; leaves dotted the ground and floated down the stream just beyond the wooden fence. The overcast sky dulled every colour, but threatened no rain. The chill was not enough to make him fasten his green coat. He heard the gates in the distance and the sound of a car.

'You listen. You listen to me, Sugarbelle, and we get along just fine. Why can't she listen? Things would be great. She used to listen. It wasn't that long ago. She listened and everything was fine. Just fine.'

He put his forehead to the side of the horse's stomach; he inhaled the distinctive smell: so earthy, so real and so … solid. He lifted his head, took a cap from the inside of his jacket and put it on. He felt the muscles inside the beast and watched the powerful legs and the occasional stamp of hoof. The large eye glanced at him, wondering what his next move would be. The stream had picked up speed for the winter, relentless in its motion and consistent in its noise. A spider ran up the damp fence post, over the top and out of sight; a single bird called out from a tree across the water. He removed the cap, put it back inside his coat and turned to the silent visitor.

His daughter, Joanne, took a final two steps and stopped; the gap between them was neither small or large; but it was there. She offered a smile and looked at her father's muddy boots. He followed her gaze.

'You always liked me to have clean boots, didn't you?'

'You can tell a lot about someone by looking at their shoes.'

He stamped his foot, knocking a lump of mud to the floor and then trod on it. She stuffed her hands in her jean pockets.

He kept his head down, but looked up. The stud under her bottom lip always took his attention for too long. Green hair and ripped clothes only happened on his wife's drama programmes, or to other people's children at the very most. He looked at his hands and found her watching them too.

'These hands have had a tough life, Joanne.'

'I know they have, Dad.'

'Gone through a lot, have these hands.'

She nodded.

'I remember when I was a lad. Think I was about … fourteen. They used to say I had girl's hands. My dad said that. He told me these hands weren't for working.'

'They certainly have worked, Dad.'

'They have … they have. I look at my hands sometimes, and I'm proud. I'm proud of being a working man and my working man's hands. At some point they changed … I can't remember when.'

She nodded.

'Sometimes? Sometimes I wish I still had girl's hands. Girl's hands like my dad said. Soft and smooth.' He laughed. 'If you saw my hands, you wouldn't know whether they belonged to a girl or a boy. Now look … calloused and old. Working man's hands.'

'Dad … I've got to go. I'm going. Won't you say goodbye?'

'Working man's hands.'

He was turning them over, looking at the palms and the worn knuckles, over and over.

'Josh is here. He's loading my bags and I'm going, Dad. I'm going with Josh.'

He looked at her battered old boots: the height of fashion. He looked at her face, pensive and stubborn; he saw himself there, past the nose stud and the heavy make-up.

'Has your mother put the tea on?'

'No, Dad. Mum's crying.'

'Is she?'

'She wants you to come in; you've been out here with Sugarbelle for hours, doing nothing. She wants you to be there when I go, Dad. Will you come in?'

'I can't just leave Sugarbelle here, can I?'

She looked around the empty field, fenced on all sides.

'She might get away.'

'Don't be silly, Dad.'

Jo walked forward, stroked the horse's neck and tickled its nose. The horse shook its head like it always did.

'Show me your hands, Joanne.'

She stood in front of her father and held out her hands. She turned them over. He looked at the fingers, reddened by the cold; a silver ring on each digit.

'Will you come in with me, Dad?'

He smiled. 'You've got working man's hands too. Just like me. Just like my father.'

She looked at her hands. 'Take my hand, Dad. Let's go in together. See Josh before we go. I'd really like your blessing. We'd really like your blessing.'

She stepped forward, he stepped back; he was against the horse. The horse watched them from the corner of its eye.

'Dad.' She stepped forward again and made a grab for his hands. He twisted and moved away. She stood where he had; he looked at the twinkling lights of the farm house, fighting against the descending gloom. 'Dad? Dad, I'm going to miss you.'

She stood, working her top teeth against the stud, rubbing her forefingers against her thumbs, down by her side.

He heard her turn and listened to each step across the ground to the gate; he heard the gate click and close. A while later, the sound of a car starting broke the silence. He heard the driver move the car across the gravel stones, the sound of the front gates opening and closing behind it. The car moved off into the dark night. The light at the front of the house went out and plunged him into near darkness. The horse shuddered and moved. He took it by the reins and led it towards the gate in silence.

He slipped the bolt across the stable door.

'There, Sugarbelle. You'll be nice and safe in there, my little lady. I'll see you in the morning.'

Archived comments for Working man's hands

bluepootle on 2003-11-10 03:49:40
Re: Working man's hands
Wow. Really powerful.

I loved the intial descriptions of the season; that put me in a very real place when I read it. And I liked the fact that you didn't give us the stereotype of the father/daughter relationship - instead she was reaching out to him, and the parallel with the horse was brilliant.

I would say I felt the dialogue was a little overblown for me in places. The 'take my hand' and 'be there when I go' just seemed a little too heightened for me, others may not mind.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-10 04:23:34
Re: Working man's hands
Thanks, BP. Glad you liked it.
'Take my hand': perhaps a tadge too much. I'll think on that one.

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2003-11-10 05:15:21
Re: Working man's hands
looks like a try at yet another style for you - and a successful try as well, IMO very smooth! πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-10 05:22:49
Re: Working man's hands
Thanks, Griff.

Author's Reply:

flash on 2003-11-10 05:59:38
Re: Working man's hands
A good solid formula tale, i enjoyed reading it and thought the dialogue was good. I was expecting more spite from the stubborn proud father in the last line, i thought that lacked a little punch.


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-10 06:06:04
Re: Working man's hands
Thanks, Alan. Comments always appreciated.

I think he was more unable to deal with the situation, rather than consumed with spite. I alluded to that by his inability to look away from the stud below her mouth.

Again, thanks for feedback!

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2003-11-10 06:44:13
Re: Working man's hands
Like the detail. The small things - describing how autumn washes the vividity out of the previously colourful world, the spider scuttling up the fence-post - always seem to count, even in short fiction, and you seem to have a good eye for these things. It makes the whole thing come alive, and isn't that meant to be the point? (Or one of them.)
In pieces like this (as in life), the characters are really supposed to say something without saying it, and if I have one criticism of this piece, the dialogue is it: Neither character is clear in what they're saying-without-saying. It's hard to read between the lines and see the thing clearly. At least, it was for me. All I got was a snatch of what they REALLY wanted and were trying to say.
Again, though, that one quibble apart, the piece was good. The setting worked, the characters were engaging.
Something of a departure from the norm, perhaps, but quite enjoyable, nevertheless. πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-10 06:57:42
Re: Working man's hands
Thanks, KDR - glad you liked it.

Author's Reply:

dancing-queen on 2003-11-10 08:02:25
Re: Working man's hands
Hi Geeza - I liked this one a lot! Like others have said, a different style for you - but one that you've pulled off well.

This story had me thinking of one of mine - Colour Blind - as that dealt with a difficult father/daughter relationship (and a stubborn father at that) - but written from a stage before this (i.e. before the daughter leaves home). I'm glad you didn't make the same mistake as me and have the father giving in at the end, though.

I think the ending works fine as you have it - although I was thinking that the father obviously loved his daughter and didn't want her to go and that perhaps there would have been a show of emotion once she'd left e.g. blinking away a tear, or something similar. That would confirm to us that he wasn't cold-hearted as well as stubborn. Men do cry, after all (although not often publicly). Just a thought.

DQ πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-10 08:31:54
Re: Working man's hands
Hey, DQ. Glad you liked it.

I think as the seasons changed, so did his daughter - he couldn't understand her any longer.

To be honest, I think if I'd had him do something like shed a tear, it could've been a bit cheesy / predictable. Walking the horse through the dark covered him in enough gloom (as did the overcast skies). Men do get upset - we are humans - but many keep it well inside.

From your comments, I'm hoping I portrayed the scene to give him sympathy and an inner warmth. To confirm it further may perhaps have been too much "tell".

Read my comments on your Colour Blind story and it ties up with what you say above too!

Thanks for your feedback, as always!

Author's Reply:

spacegirl on 2003-11-10 13:30:28
Re: Working man's hands
I agree with DQ.

I did love the story & the displaced affection towards the horse. But I did feelt hat maybe he should've showed his emotion after she'd gone & maybe told the horse!!

She seemed to be the only one he really talked to.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-10 15:07:30
Re: Working man's hands
Thanks, SG. Glad you liked it.

To coin a phrase: I refer you to the comment given previously (to DQ).

Thanks for your feedback!

Author's Reply:

spacegirl on 2003-11-10 15:13:46
Re: Working man's hands
But that requires work!!!!!

You should just repeat it for emphasis πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-10 15:49:07
Re: Working man's hands
By gum ... lazy. Okay:

If I had him shedding a tear (or talking to the horse), it could be a little cheesy with too much "telling". With him walking back with the horse in the dark ... the dull day (etc. etc.) - and with DQ's suggestion that he didn't appear cold-hearted (as was my intention) - I was hoping that was job done. I didn't need to tell or show that any more.

I hope you could feel his emotions without me having to tell you he was crying - or without him telling you anything through the horse.

Too easy just to have him say what you thought he might be thinking!


Author's Reply:

idmonster on 2003-11-14 01:55:22
Re: Working man's hands
Not a particularly constructive comment; only to say that I enjoyed the story. You've put a great deal into a short of only a 1000 words, or so.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-14 02:07:48
Re: Working man's hands
Thanks, idmonster. Glad you liked it.

Author's Reply:

barenib on 2003-11-14 15:00:16
Re: Working man's hands
I don't often get much time to read the stories here, I'm usually picking over the poetry - but just wanted you to know that I read and enjoyed this one! John.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-15 05:21:25
Re: Working man's hands
Thanks, John!

Author's Reply:

ritawrites on 2003-11-15 15:13:23
Re: Working man's hands
I certainly think you should make the father cry – after all men a human too – and humans have emotion which they display especially when they are put in situations where the emotions are called into play. Your comment on some of your previous commentators that it would β€œtell” – sounds too much like following the herd mentality of creative writing gurus who preach that theory. I think, if you are a writer, then you should follow the demands of the story you are writing. If the story demands that a person cry – then the person should be shown crying, instead of following some formula that a writer ought to adhere to just because so-called gurus say so. Originality is the main criteria one must adhere to if one wants to be a writer --

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-15 15:40:08
Re: Working man's hands
Thanks for your advice, but don't worry, it wasn't a formula I was following; he didn't cry as I didn't see him cry.

Author's Reply:

LezH on 2003-11-16 11:32:13
Re: Working man's hands
Moving and perfect. I know you don't intend to, but don't make the father cry: my imagination muscle needed the work-out. Nice to read a piece which engaged mind and heart.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-16 12:12:04
Re: Working man's hands
No - don't worry - I think his being upset is clear enough, without telling.
Thanks for your comment, LezH - glad u liked ...

Author's Reply:

Heirloom on 2004-01-29 12:03:22
Re: Working man's hands
A subtle, well written story. I thought the end may have lacked a little something, and some of the dialogue (particularly the father's) was a tad overdone, though one could argue that the father was miles away, in a dream-like trance, so maybe it's just me. Good scene-setting and descriptions.

Author's Reply:

Heirloom on 2004-01-29 12:14:45
Re: Working man's hands
I've had another look at the end & some of the comments posted about this piece.
I think by referring to darkness and silence you are reflecting the loss but you're lacking a direct attachment to the father. You're saying, "look at this man, how he's plunged into gloom". What you're NOT saying is "look at this man, plunged into gloom, this is how he feels about it." We're left in the dark ourselves. Some have suggested having him shed some tears - I'm not sure I agree with that, but I would say it would have a stronger ending if he did something or gave some indication of how he feels. As it stands he seems to be in denial about her leaving - perhaps that's exactly what you were trying to convey. It seems a lot of readers here would like a more decisive resolution.
Good stuff, as usual.

PS Congrats on the 3rd place!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-02-06 17:49:03
Re: Working man's hands
Thanks for you feedback, Steven ... only just noticed your comments (as don't seem to get notification email at the mo).
I left the direct text about his feelings out deliberately - I had in my mind the scene - and what I thought he might feel - but I wanted to keep it very short and for the reader to make up their own mind. Some of the settings were put there to hint at what I thought the man was going through. I hope those hints pushed the reader the way I wanted them to go.
Thanks again.

Author's Reply:

Curtains (posted on: 27-10-03)

Sometimes you have to decide between confrontation and running. Fight or flight.

I lift up my bag and make sure I've packed all my kit. I left a pair of shorts last week. It still annoys me. There are three guys in the changing room in various states of readiness. I make to leave; the guy on the end looks up at me. It takes me by surprise; this place is so impersonal; I feel he's invading my privacy.

'Drive carefully,' he says. He's a thin, black man; his arms are sinewy, his teeth yellow. I can't decide if he's gaunt or super-fit. His kit is tatty, his towel dirty.

I nod at him, frowning.

'Just be careful,' he says, as I move past him.

I walk away. No one seems to have noticed. He calls after me:
'It's dangerous out there.'

I turn my head back without stopping.

'The roads. They're dangerous.'

I head for the door; he's still talking after me.

It's an odd feeling. I'll be glad to get home.

Stepping into the night air, I pull up my shoulders to counter the cold and the driving rain. He's damn right about being careful, but I still don't understand why he felt the need to warn me. The receptionist wished me a good night. I wish she wouldn't. I don't want to speak. I want to go to the gym after work before I go home and be left alone. That's it. Why don't these people just leave me be?

'Have you got a light, mate?' asks this guy, standing under the covers.

I shake my head at him and walk on.

I put my bag in the passenger seat and get in the car. It's so dark. I blow into my hands and start the engine. The headlights give some light. I press a button on the radio. Nothing. No amount of fiddling will give the radio life. I check the glove box – no tapes. The windscreen wipers are loud and rhythmic, sliding across the windscreen, thumping at either side. The heater doesn't work. I punch it; it hurts. The mist on the glass is thickening; I can't see. I wipe it with a cloth, but it leaves giant drops and smears. I reverse from the space and get caught in the glare of headlights and the blasts of a horn. My heart thumps and I move back into the space to let the car pass. I leave it a while, wipe the windscreen, move out and get on the road.

There's a car stopped on the corner. I have to swing out to avoid it. I'm finally on the road home. It's a relief. I look behind and see the car move off. He's right behind me now; his lights are shining in my mirror, so much so that I can hardly look at him. I think it's a ''him'', judging by the height of the driver. He's just a silhouette of a person; he's not real to me; he's just some driver who drives too near my bumper.

The windscreen is misting. I take the cloth and make a space. The gap is wet and water is running down into the holes and the broken heater. This car is ten years old; it's falling to pieces. I need a new one, but I have no money. The car is still behind me. He keeps so close, it looks like I'm towing him. I've never towed anyone before, but it's what I imagine it'd look like. He must have full beam on. I try and look at the figure, but it hurts my eyes. I'll soon be pulling off the main road and on to a country lane, so I'll no doubt lose him then. I'll probably forget all about it by the time I walk through the door. I'll try and remember to mention it to my wife, but I know I'll forget. We'll end up talking about money or the house or whether I'm going to lose my job. I bet I forget about this damn driver, just behind me. I'll try hard to remember, it's something different to talk about.

There's no one on the high street. The shops are closed. The lights shine on the wet pavement, but no one sees; they're all at home or in the pub, which is quiet on the corner. There's no other traffic, just me and this car behind.

I press the stalk to indicate left. The arrow flashes green and the ticking seems louder than usual. Perhaps I have water in my ears from the shower. I slow for the corner and the car behind slows with me. The two headlights continue to dazzle; the figure remains. I try and remember what happened in the car park. That car had very bright lights, but I can't remember much at all. This can't be the same car; it was long gone by the time I left.

I turn left and look in the mirror. It's still behind. It's still exactly the same distance behind. I'm going to pull over, first chance I get and let it past. The road is thin and there is a ditch and hedging on either side. There's no way I can stop in these conditions – not here. I speed up and slow down; it makes no difference, he follows. I wish I had a mobile phone. I don't know what I'd do with it, but I wish I had one. I press the lock down on the door. I feel safer. The dazzling mirror makes me squint.

Up ahead is a small patch where I can stop. I slow down and pull over, watching the lights as best I can. They follow, but as I turn in, he goes around and past; his engine roars as it passes. It's tricky pulling onto the wet ground, so I can only snatch a look; I can't even pick out the colour of the car. I watch his brilliant red lights moving away. I can see the shape of the driver. The red lights double in intensity and he slows. He pulls over to the right-hand side of the road and stops in a space identical to mine. I can see his exhaust smoking and dancing around the red lights.

I breathe long, misting the window, and swallow hard. My mouth is dry. I watch the lines of water running down the window, pull my finger along them and touch my lips, licking them. I press the button on the radio – nothing. I try the heater: it's dead. I check the door lock: it's down. The figure hasn't moved, but it must be watching me watching him. I force myself to look away. This is like something from a film. When I get home, I will remember, but my wife won't believe me. People at work won't believe me. I'm not sure I believe me. The petrol tank is less than a quarter full and it won't last forever. The wipers continue to beat.

I didn't want to go to the gym tonight. I thought about going straight home, but I can't.

I know these lanes very well. I only have about five miles to go. Maybe I can outrun the other car? Even in these conditions, I know every corner and every part of this road.

It's ten past eight. It's not too early to get home.

I take the cloth and wipe the screen as carefully as I can, watching the car. Every little edge might help.

In my mirror something takes my attention. I look again. Something moved. I reach across to check the lock. It's secure. I look at the back doors: locked down. A flash of light winks at me. A torch? I check the car; the figure is still there, motionless. I look in the mirror. There's a car coming. Should I stop it?

As it comes around the bend, I let out the clutch and floor the accelerator. It flashes me and comes close, but pulls back as I pick up speed. I watch the two sets of headlights in the mirror: one directly behind, the other watches from the wrong side of the road. I look up and see the bend. I pull on the wheel and hit the brake. I feel the car start to slide. I turn the wheel back and remove my foot from the brake, then gently turn. I'm on the wrong side of the road, but I have control. I move over to the left, still gripping hard. I'm breathing fast, the mist is growing. I take the cloth and wipe. It smears badly. I wipe more. It's hard to see.

A car passes on the other side of the road. Perhaps it's him: my wife's lover. If I had been there just a bit earlier, we would have collided.

The car behind drops further back and disappears. My breathing slows. I roll down the window a little. The mist stops growing.

I pull off the lane, into our estate and roll around to the house. The bright houses light up the road. I can see no one but I indicate to turn into our drive anyway. I stop the wipers. The only sound is the plastic clicking from the passenger-side door. My wife's silver car is shiny from the rain. It's in the usual position in front of the double garage, bathed in light from the lounge. I stop the car before I make the turn. Next to her car is a patch; it's wet, but not like the other tiles. All the curtains in the house are open, save our bedroom.

I remember the day I came home early. I was to play tennis, but there was a summer shower and it was cancelled. I remember the bedroom curtains: closed, despite the early evening. I remember the car in my space: alien, green, jagged edges. I remember dropping the flowers on the kitchen table; I remember the stairs, careful not to squeak them; I remember the open bedroom door; I remember looking in the mirror through the gap into the bathroom; I remember my wife standing facing the white tiles; I remember the man, his hairy backside, close behind her, slamming into her buttocks; I remember her moans and his grunts. I went and joined the gym. I came back and the flowers were gone.

I walk into the lounge.

'Why are the bedroom curtains closed?'

'I just had a shower, can't you tell?'

She has on a robe: a Christmas gift. A towel is wrapped around her head. They are brilliant white. She walks over to me and kisses my cheek. I smell the soap, the shampoo, her scent.

'Did you have a nice day at work?'

I sit down and switch channels.

'Go to the gym?'

'Of course,' I say.

'So, you had a boring day, then? Do you wanna know what I did?'

'Not really,' I tell her.

I can hear the sound of a car engine idling outside, its lights are making shadows on the wall.

Archived comments for Curtains

kenochi on 2003-10-27 04:03:32
Re: Curtains
Hi Steve,
I don't know if I'm being thick here but I've read this twice (well once properly and one skim) and can't suss it out. Who was in the car chasing him home? And I guess that whoever it was is the one waiting outside at the end? I have an idea, but I'm just guessing it, making it up myself, rather than getting it from the story. Maybe its too early in the day for me.
On another note I think you made a good effort here at a difficult sort of story to write - the 'not much dialogue, building up tension story' - which I've tried to do a few times as well. Personally I don't think its as good as some of your other stuff, but I know that this kind of thing is hard to do well.

Maybe you could PM me to put me straight about the plot.
take it easy,


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-27 04:27:03
Re: Curtains
I tried something very subtle, as you may have guessed. Perhaps too subtle, then!

I PMd you.


Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-10-27 04:34:24
Re: Curtains
I wanted to see if anyone else mentioned that so I could be sure I wasn't just being thick - I could guess at whats and whys but it really didn't come across clearly. Written very well, just make it a little clearer for us thickies at the back please!

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2003-10-27 04:45:38
Re: Curtains
Sorry, same here. I thought it was a chapter one, and didn't understand all the cars......

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-27 05:06:26
Re: Curtains
Having to do this means I failed - no reflection on the reader!
Try and read it first - to see if you get it! (If you are reading this before you read the story that is!!)

Scroll down for the answer to the riddle! :

----- the answer :
The car may or may not be real (perhaps just a normal car that drives too close), it's representative of trying to push the image of his wife's infidelity out of his mind. I.e, it's close, he can't get rid of it, then he pushes it away (when he pulls out in front of the other car). When he sees the bedroom curtains closed (like he did before he discovered her with her lover) and she asks him if he wants to know what she has been doing (having just showered), he hears the car outside - the thoughts returning to haunt him.

The near crash which he thinks might be his wife's lover is representative of the fact he did "collide" with him before and he now comes home late every day to avoid it happening again.

I tried the tension building thing (short sentences etc), like Kenochi says, and tried to build in the paranoia/depression too. (the chasing car, the broken radio/heater)

I thought it might be too subtle! Looks like I was right! Thanks for reading anyway! Let me know if the explanation makes it better, or whether you're still not keen.
I should have put in "experimental", I guess.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-10-27 05:17:25
Re: Curtains
too much stress on the confrontation as a one off, then, I think, for that to come across.
Perhaps make the other car more surreal - vanishing/appearing, and make it something that has happened every evening since he found his wife with the other man?
Perhaps he has had enough and gets out of the car to have it out with the other man (who he thinks is driving the car) but then something happens to show him its all in his mind...
Just chucking out random ideas here.
It's very readable as it is; I don't think you'd have to go too far to make it clear.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-27 05:37:08
Re: Curtains
Thanks, BP ... I shall give it some thought.

I don't want the car to disappear - I want the reader to wonder whether it is real (discreetly) - I think I went too far and it's definitely there in the reader's mind; but I guess it's definitely in the character's mind too (if not for real!) and I don't want him to think for a second he might be losing control of himself.

He would have had episodes before though - that's true - unless he discovered his wife "at it" the previous evening; I might go that way.

Thanks for your feedback as ever!

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2003-10-27 05:53:15
Re: Curtains
to be blunt, I don't think this works. Not because you're not a good writer. I just don't think it is your style. Your writing is so sharp and clear, direct and powerful that 'implications' are lost (or at least not considered by the reader. A more quiet, complex writing style, diverse and diffuse, would support it, but IMO yours doesn't.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-27 06:02:15
Re: Curtains
Thanks, Griff. You may well be right. You have to try these things!
Thanks for reading/feedback,

Author's Reply:

flash on 2003-10-27 08:33:47
Re: Curtains
Good on you Steve, you have to try things to see what happens. A deceptively simple story with many hidden layers.

Unusual that the affair continues even though the disapperance of the flowers isn't explained, i would imagine the adulterer's would have been alarmed at seeing them?

I don't know whether i can add any useful advice with regard his hallucinations or the subtley of your text, but it was an experiment that was interesting, as were the contributors who commented including yourself.


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-27 09:01:46
Re: Curtains
Thanks, Alan.
I couldn't explain the flowers as the main character doesn't know what happened to them either. It could be the wife thought her lover left them as a surprise, or had decided to say nothing in the same way the main character did. He'd never know unless he confronted her. They may have been alarmed - the main character didn't know.
The affair may not have continued - again, he doesn't know. She might have had an innocent bath and closed the curtains anyway - it was dark (unlike the summer).
I think my layers were just a little too well hidden in this one!
Thanks again for your feedback.

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2003-10-27 09:27:04
Re: Curtains
I kinda got that the guy's a coward, or at least has problems in being confrontational (not always the same as cowardice, but not too far off).
It is a very subtle piece, and while it is difficult, I think the build-up of suspense was quite well done; it just didn't seem to have any real outlet at the end, for me. Sorry.
But again, it was - as always - well written, so to me there are at least some positives you can take.
Maybe not up there with other pieces of yours, but still a very good try at something almost impossible to get exactly right.
Thanks for the read!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-27 10:11:28
Re: Curtains
Thanks, KDR. I guess he is a coward in some way, but it's (potentially) such a life-changing situation that he is finding it tough to deal with.

Author's Reply:

petersjm on 2003-10-28 07:18:48
Re: Curtains
Pardon me for being the odd-one-out here, but I really enjoyed this. Obviously I didn't get the subtleties that you had hoped to convey, Steve, but the story (without the reader having to think about it) stood well for me. In particular, I liked the ending, the (possible) return of the car. It didn't strike me that it was all in his head, so in that respect I'm afraid you did fail, but to me it read almost like a thriller/horror type story and worked well in that respect. Obviously that's not what you were planning for the readers to get out of this story, but, basically - so what? I know a certain amout of reading between the lines goes on in nearly all fiction, but why can't this just be a story where the main character was chased home by some unknown person and for some unknown reason?

I hope that doesn't sound harsh, as I don't mean it to at all. I enjoyed this story as it stands, not by trying to read too much into what you WEREN'T saying.

But they, maybe I'm just a tw*t ! πŸ˜‰

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-28 08:16:39
Re: Curtains
Not at all! Glad someone liked it!

I did start it out as a paranoid car chase - the reality of the other car wasn't an issue; then I built the other stuff around it. But, my previous comment is only my interpretation - although I wrote it - you interpret it however it works for you! There are lots of unanswered questions in it - the central character doesn't know the answers either. As the author, I didn't want to put any interpretations in; they are yours to make. The only thing we know is what he says and thinks.

No offense taken in the slightest. I'm happy someone expressed their own idea about what happened in the story.

Author's Reply:

spacegirl on 2003-10-28 13:17:31
Re: Curtains
I am thick.

I had to read the answer to the riddle to get it. But it's good to experiment. I think I was trying to work out what was going on because usually there is something sinister in your writing

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-28 16:09:11
Re: Curtains
No. You're not thick. If people have to read the answer, then it's just something that didn't work for them!
Thanks for reading, as always, SG.

Author's Reply:

Omma_Velada on 2003-10-29 16:10:11
Re: Curtains

I really loved this story! I thought the tension built nicely and the adultery scene was perfectly timed and shocking in its descriptiveness. Before that, I couldn't understand why he was going to the gym when he didn't want to!

As for the car, I just assumed that was her jealous lover - although I think your idea of the car as a mataphor is better.


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-29 16:19:35
Re: Curtains
Thanks for your comments, Omma.


Author's Reply:

LezH on 2003-11-02 07:31:25
Re: Curtains
I read this, enjoyed it very much indeed and understood it perfectly. That is until I diligently read all the ensuing comments which tell me I was a mile out (well, at least a couple of car lengths).

On first read I spotted there might be hidden meanings abounding here (I'm quick like that!) so I re-read it Very Seriouly Indeed and the mainbeam came on. Our hero was clearly dead (ten minutes too long on the squash court?) and, areas of his life needing resolution, hadn't quite popped off the mortal coil yet. Unfinished business...

The wiry black guy was his 'guide'; the guy asking for a light wasn't as significant as the actual 'light' itself; the car, his carriage to worlds nether; the flowers - well, s-o-o-o obvious...

It's a shame that none of the above was your intent as it was a cracking read. Still is, of course, with finely-drawn tension: no fresh pit here...

Author's Reply:

Bee on 2003-11-02 08:17:52
Re: Curtains
I read this several times and was, as usual, impressed by your ability to build atmosphere. In the end though I wasn't convinced that you had really found the right formula for catching the betrayed husband's state of mind. Having said that, I can't really say why or suggest another one. Perhaps it's because the real drama of the situation has already passed - the moment when he first realised what was going on.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-02 11:18:18
Re: Curtains
I deliberately left it wide open - a description of a story with no explanation. I gave my thoughts (in comments) because folks were baffled as to what it was all about!

Your reading of what you thought happened is as valid as mine in this instance because I tried to make no references as to what I thought was going on in the story itself. "I" being me as the author, rather than the POV main character.

I'm really happy someone thought it meant something else entirely, and enjoyed it too. It meant I was partially successful in what I was trying to do. One of the other commenters liked it for reasons other than my "explanation".

Thanks for your feedback, much appreciated.


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-11-02 11:22:50
Re: Curtains
Thanks, Bee, as always.
This was quite experimental and I was trying something a little ambitious with this one. It worked in some ways and not in others.
Thanks for your feedback.

Author's Reply:

pgarner on 2003-11-03 11:57:10
Re: Curtains
I think this works well as it is. I pretty much assumed the menacing car/s represented his subconscious fears. Well written as ever. I could almost see this as a short film.

One point I would make is that the guy in the gym who warns him to drive carefully, so out of the blue, rather throws the reader on the wrong track. Makes it seem like the guy in the gym knows something, that there is a concrete threat rather than a psychological one.

Author's Reply:

The Nearest Thing (posted on: 17-10-03)
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It's possible to get very near to something you want, to almost reach out and touch it, but you can never quite close your hands around it and take it, if it's not yours to have.

I'm tempted to leave one of the windows slightly open, to try and stop the car turning into a furnace, but the young people milling around make up my mind for me. The car empties in a mad rush and we're all standing, looking at the college.
'I think it's this way, Moira,' I say.
'Yes, it is. It's in the big assembly hall. I know where it is. I've been here before, you know.'
I look back at the car, as we make for the entrance.
'You don't think I have to pay, do you?'
'No, Mike, it's a free car park.'
'You always worry about your car. Why don't you just relax?' says Joanne, blowing a bubble from her glossy-lipped mouth.
The inside of the building is much cooler; people push past, their busy lives colliding with ours for the first and last time. We stand and look around.
'So, this is where he's been then?' says Sean.
It's impressive; we're staring at everything like foreign tourists on holiday.
'Excuse me?' Moira asks at reception. 'Can you tell me where the assembly hall is?'
'Which one?' asks the middle-aged lady, adjusting her half-moons.
Moira blinks and squints her eyes. 'Drummond. The Drummond Assembly Hall.'
'Follow the signs,' says the lady, pointing at a collection of arrows etched into the walls.
The assembly hall is crowded and noisy, but thankfully air-conditioned. We are fortunate enough to find four empty seats in a row. We have to disturb some people to get there, before we can settle down. Moira starts fussing in her handbag, Sean searches the rows of people for young girls and Joanne is looking at the stage, chewing her damn gum like the pistons of an engine. I wonder how Pete is bearing up.
The man to my left elbows me. 'You here to see your son, are you?'
I smile. 'No, here to see my nephew. His name is Pete. Pete Smith.'
The man nods. 'That's nice,' he says. I look away, but he starts up again. 'I'm here to see my son, Alexander. Alexander Harrington.' I look away. 'That's his name.' I turn back and nod, wait for any more, then turn away again. 'I'm very proud of him.'
I turn back and smile. 'You must be.'
He starts to say something, but I turn to Moira and ask her when it starts. She thinks it's about five minutes. I scan the crowd and look at the faces, turning this way and that; the hall is filled with a low-pitched continual collective mumbling.
'I might quickly go to the toilet,' says Moira. 'So's I'm back in time.'
'Good idea,' I say. She disturbs everyone again and edges her way out.
'I wonder if Pete's nervous?' I ask Sean.
'Fucked if I know,' he says. 'Can't see why. He's known about it for ages.'
I roll my eyes. This boy is such a piece of nothing; he's empty. He downloaded his soul from the internet. He's nineteen and interested in girls, cars and money. I suppose a lot of kids are, but it doesn't make it easier when you try to talk to them.
'What do you think, Joanne?'
She doesn't hear or chooses not to answer. I repeat it more forcefully, leaning into Sean a little.
'Eh?' she says, blowing a bubble.
'How do you think Pete is feeling? What do you think he's thinking about?'
She shrugs and moves her lips into such an odd position, she looks deformed. We look at each other until she blows another bubble, which deflates across her shiny lips. She pulls it in with her tongue and smiles.
'Don't you fucking people think anything? Don't you care about your brother?'
She looks surprised. Sean keeps his eyes on the stage, but they're more focused now.
'Don't you give a fuck about anything except yourself? You make me fucking sick!' I tell them, pausing before I sit back and look away. There's some bloke on the stage in a suit; he's messing about with a microphone. I concentrate on him.
'Well,' says Joanne, after a while, 'I think he'll be quite nervous.'
I shoot a look at her. 'Is that what you think?'
The man is saying ''Testing'' into the microphone.
'He's probably counting something,' mumbles Sean. I look at him and he's smiling.
'You think that's funny do you?'
He doesn't move and the smile remains.
'You'll never be half the man he is,' I tell him. I've sprayed the side of his face with some spit. I don't care. His smile slowly goes; he keeps watching the man on the stage.
'Counting helps him … though … doesn't it? Maybe he is counting?' says Joanne.
'Maybe,' I say. I turn to her. 'Maybe he's just sitting there, nervous like the others. Maybe they're all counting. Who knows?'
Sean sniggers.
I dig my elbow in his ribs. 'Do you know what I'd like to do to you?' He doesn't look. I elbow him again. He looks. His mouth is making little jerky movements. 'I'd like to take you into the car park and give you the thrashing my brother should've given you years ago.'
The row of people move as Moira returns. She asks if she missed anything. No one answers until I look up and tell her she hasn't. She asks what's going on.
'You tell her,' I say to no one in particular. I watch the stage. No one speaks.
'Is someone gonna tell me?'
'Uncle Mike wants to beat me up!'
'He wants to what?'
'Beat me up!'
'What the hell's going on?' she says.
'Nothing.' I wave my hand in her direction. 'I'll tell you later.'
'Tell me now, if you don't mind!' She is leaning across Joanne, her eyes burning.
'I'll tell you later.'
'You've upset Sean on this big day and I want to know what the hell's going on! I'll speak to John about this!'
'Oh you will, will you? John. My brother. The loving father. Where's John now?'
Moira's eyes scan the immediate locale to see who might be listening. They're all listening, but at a very discreet distance. 'He's at work, he can't make it. You know that.'
'Can't make it, eh? His son ran through brick walls to get to this day and John's working – can't get time off. Is that it, Moira?'
'You know that's it.'
'Do you believe that, Moira? Do you really believe that?'
She pauses, then says: 'Yes. Yes, I do.'
'I've known my brother for a long, long time. I know him well. I know he's never let Sean down. I know he's never let Joanne down. I know he's never likely to let them down. Never. That's my brother. He'd run through brick walls for his family. Pete? Pete's different.'
She pauses. She quickly looks around. 'No he's not,' she snaps.
'Yes he is. We all know he is. He knows he is.'
'No, he's not. He's the same as any one of us. Hell! The proof is here and now. He's graduated today and we're all here to support him. He's a good a man as the rest of them.'
'No, he's not. He's better. I'm more proud of him than the rest of you put together.'
'No you're not! How dare you!'
'Look at Sean here. What you gonna do, Sean?'
He looks at me as if I'm going to lamp him one. He shrugs. 'I'm a plumber.'
'Yeah, but what are you going to do, Sean?'
He looks at me and blinks. 'I'm gonna … plumb.'
'You're gonna plumb. With your life, you're gonna plumb. Good for you, Sean.'
Her eyes widen.
'What are you gonna do?'
'How … beautiful. A beautician.'
Moira's face is like thunder. 'What … is your point?'
We look at each other for a few moments, neither person blinking, before I shake my head and look at the stage.

Each student is called. They come up, shake hands, take their diploma, receive applause and sit at the front. Pete is in the middle of the list somewhere, he looks no different to the rest. When that is done, they all get back on the stage and the Dean makes a speech.
I watch Pete standing there, just behind the Dean. He's turning the paper over in his hand, smiling, looking around the audience, looking down, fidgeting.
I've spent a lot of time with Pete. I've watched him grow from a baby into a man. It's been an enormous effort to make it this far. I remember sitting with John one evening in a pub; I remember him asking if I thought Pete was normal. Pete is their eldest child, so they had nothing to compare him to. I remember saying that I thought he was fine, ''probably average''. I remember not believing my own words. I remember John's face. He tried, but John is not a patient man. If things go wrong, he gets angry and he wants to fix them there and then. Sometimes you can't. John could never understand that. He could never understand that Pete wasn't like a bit of guttering that came loose or a lawn mower that could be replaced. As soon as the seeds of doubt were planted, he seemed to put as much distance between himself and his son as possible. Sean was good at sport, Joanne was into dance and modelling – all the wholesome things that dads enjoy involving themselves with, those last opportunities to experience life through their children's eyes. Pete would be trying to read, trying to write, trying to catch up, trying to keep his head above water. You can't go to the pub and tell the boys about your kid reaching stage two reading books, when they were talking about football team captains and cricket. Pete made me proud. I bought the celebration cakes, organised the parties, read with him, guided his hand across the exercise books. I never had a family of my own. I never had a son or a daughter. I look at Pete standing there now and I feel such a burst of pride, that I imagine this is the nearest thing possible to being a father.
The speech is over and the students are applauded and cheered. They break their lines and make their way down in front of the stage. Everyone moves into the crowd to meet them.
He's almost crying as he embraces his mother. I take the diploma as it's getting squashed.
Pete grabs hold of his younger brother.
'Hey!' says Sean, pushing him away playfully. 'Alright, Pete?'
She leans forward so they can hug; she pulls back.
'Uncle Mike! Thanks for coming!'
I take him in my arms. 'Well done, Pete,' I tell him. 'You should be so proud of yourself.'
'I am. I am!' he says. 'Where's my?'
I hand him the paper. He laughs.
'What about Dad? Could he make it in the end?'
'Ohhhh … Pete. He's so sorry he couldn't make it. He did try,' says Moira.
Pete bites his bottom lip. 'Yeah,' he says. 'That's a shame. I wanted him to be here.'
From the corner of my eye, I catch something familiar. I tell them I'll be right back. I move past some people and I'm confronted by my brother.
'Hello, Mike.'
'What are you standing here for?'
He shrugs.
'Come on!' I pull his shoulder, but he resists.
'I'll be there in a minute. I just wanted to watch.'
I screw up my face. 'Why?'
He shrugs. 'Just wanted … to watch.'
'Well, now you've watched, you can come over, can't you?'
He looks down and swallows; he jams his hand into his jean pocket, shaking his head.
'Yes? Right!'
He pats my shoulder and walks past me, pushing through the crowd. I follow behind. As I catch up, the people part and I see Pete holding onto his father's neck. The diploma is being squashed again. I feel like I'm too far away to take it from him this time. Sean ruffles Pete's hair; Moira and Joanne exchange smiles.

Archived comments for The Nearest Thing

bluepootle on 2003-10-17 03:30:40
Re: The Nearest Thing
This held my attention really well. I was very interested in the group, and how you described them. A good hook at the beginning, too.

Particularly liked the line, 'He downloaded his soul from the internet'. Sums up an entire culture.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-17 04:04:23
Re: The Nearest Thing
Thanks, Bluepootle!

Author's Reply:

Bee on 2003-10-17 04:28:52
Re: The Nearest Thing
I found this a very accurately observed episode in family life.I was struck by how well you evoke the irony of what life hands out - John, the unfeeling bastard doesn't deserve his son, while Mike, the uncle, who really does care is always the outsider. Moving and it struck a lot of chords with me.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-17 05:15:20
Re: The Nearest Thing
Thanks, Bee. Glad you liked it.

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2003-10-17 05:21:20
Re: The Nearest Thing
but he did turn up! (the dad) and that's the point!

powerful, strong and subtle. Clear as crystal, written excellently, long enough, unexpected end, leaving resonances, understandings.......................

we learned so much about Mike that he did not tell us. and about what families are........

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-17 05:40:43
Re: The Nearest Thing
Thanks for your comments as always, Griff.

Author's Reply:

sirat on 2003-10-17 05:48:27
Re: The Nearest Thing
Subtle, multi-layered, controlled, beautiful use of under-statement, especially at the end. Superb observation. Truly memorable piece from which the rest of us can learn.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-17 06:00:49
Re: The Nearest Thing
Thanks for the encouraging words, Sirat. Much appreciated. Glad you enjoyed it.

Author's Reply:

petersjm on 2003-10-17 06:06:31
Re: The Nearest Thing
Wonderful. There's nothing else I can say. Simply faultless writing, with crisp images and a real sense of "life". Fiction needs to be stated like fact, and you did that 100%. I particularly liked the line at the end: "I feel like I’m too far away to take it from him this time" - superb double-meaning.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-17 06:42:40
Re: The Nearest Thing
Thanks for your kind words and encouragement.
Much appreciated!

Author's Reply:

thehaven on 2003-10-17 11:49:31
Re: The Nearest Thing
This is one of the most evocative pieces of writing i have read in many a long day.Aperfect commentary on modern attitudes and family life.


Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2003-10-17 12:24:40
Re: The Nearest Thing
well, I'd like to think my nagging had brought about this 'getting on for excellent' piece. You will probably tell me you wrote it a year ago..... πŸ™‚

But I'll keep on.... You need to work harder. You have a natural talent, don't let it wither. It needs work - go to it. I believe you could could be very sucessful if you get it right............ : -)

just remember me, when.......

oh - has Jim been in recently? - where is he?

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-17 14:05:48
Re: The Nearest Thing
Thanks, Mike. Glad you liked it; appreciate your comments! Thanks for making it one of your hot stories too.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-17 14:14:34
Re: The Nearest Thing
I wrote this Tuesday, touched it up Thursday and submitted it - so it's about as recent as I could get!

Of course I'll remember you .... erm ... Uncle Groff.

I appreciate all the people who have take time to read and comment on all the things I've submitted ... good, bad and indifferent. I think this site is absolutely excellent and I've learned a lot since I found it back in early July.

Author's Reply:

ruadh on 2003-10-17 14:24:14
Re: The Nearest Thing
I can't say anything that hasn't already been said, great piece.


Author's Reply:

spacegirl on 2003-10-18 04:34:03
Re: The Nearest Thing
I really enjoyed it. It describes family life as it is today. I like the last line, shows that their faith in their husband/father was not misplaced

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2003-10-21 04:49:57
Re: The Nearest Thing
If there are agents/publishers out there that get on here in search of new talent, why the hell aren't you signed yet, for cryin' out loud?!
Granted, I've only read 3 pieces of your work, but they have all held my attention without requiring any effort on my part at all, and this is VERY hard to do, believe me.
Needed to read this through twice to capture all the nuances, but as others have already said, the piece is full of sharp observations and fairly subtle comments on modern life/youth.
Very well done again, mate! πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-21 05:32:24
Re: The Nearest Thing
Thanks, KDR. Not sure about being headhunted! but thanks for the encouragement.
Glad you liked it.

Author's Reply:

laura_h on 2003-10-21 18:09:46
Re: The Nearest Thing
Go on The Geeza. Really outstanding story. Loved it. Really felt for the main character, even though he's pretty unpleasant. Really evokes the setting.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-22 03:33:45
Re: The Nearest Thing
Glad you liked it, Laura. Thanks.

Author's Reply:

Heirloom on 2003-10-22 12:24:56
Re: The Nearest Thing
There's not much I can add about this.
Great piece. Subtle writing. Good dialogue.
Just thought I'd let you know I appreciated it!
Steven Dines
btw, since the ratings are down, I'll tell you what I'd give this - 8.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-22 18:11:58
Re: The Nearest Thing
Thanks, Steven.
Always appreciate a comment!
I will read your 2-parter shortly and give you some feedback; been snowed under lately; can't find the time to go to the toilet, let alone read the stuff I want to!

Author's Reply:

laura_h on 2003-10-22 19:51:47
Re: The Nearest Thing
yes, definitely an 8, if not a 9. A claustrophobic gem.

Author's Reply:

Skeeter on 2004-04-07 16:50:05
Re: The Nearest Thing
I'm slowly catching up on my reading, and I'm glad I read this. It's terrific. Sad, poignant and memorable. It flows along really easily, so that means you must have worked on it. Its no mean feat to spin a story out of a single, small incident, to see lives unravelling from the smallest thing: but you'vre achieved that. There's some great lines, e.g. 'you're gonna plumb...with your life, you're gonna plumb..'. I liked that, it made me smile. Well done, a great read.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-04-07 16:55:42
Re: The Nearest Thing
Thanks, Skeets. Glad you enjoyed it.

Author's Reply:

Whistle on the wind (posted on: 03-10-03)
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Reflections on an important train journey.

I remember it like yesterday: building blocks of heat stacked neatly around the church hall; little kids in mini tuxedoes, orange pop in hand, running around and playing; big kids with pint pots and brandy glasses, running around and playing; the speech; the cake; the disco; and the fight. It was a great, great day. And there she stood: Gina, Gina, my semolina - good enough to eat. Then there was me, dragged through adolescence, never a ladies man, shy and awkward, suddenly a man, a man to be respected and envied. I saw the looks on their faces; they are never sincere, they think your actions foolish, they talk in whispered voices, they laugh, they point fingers. I dislike ''they.''

Gina, Gina, semolina, where are you now? With him. Where am I? I am here. I am always here.

Where I am is dark and I hear nothing except an occasional creak or groan. It presses down on me, on my face, on my body, everywhere. It is so dark and so heavy. I am alone. I cannot move. I dislike ''it.''

We started so well. We approached our life together as a perfectly formed hill. The kind you draw in Primary school with a house on top. You know it, a perfect green semicircle. We met at the bottom, we progressed upwards together, we married at the top, and then fell down, all the way to the bottom. I tumbled, I rolled, I lost sight of my semolina; she was gone. He took her from my hill. I fell not. He tripped me. I dislike ''he.''

She allowed him to take her. She done it. She opened herself to him. She opened her legs for him. She pushed me away with her sweaty leg. She kicked me down our hill. Gina, Gina, my … semolina. I love ''she.''

I feel the black stuff rising around me; everything looks black, I cannot see, but I know it is black. Black. It reached my ears and took the sound. A rush, then silence. I taste it on my lips: the bitterness. I smell it in my nostrils: the toxic fumes. Diesel.

We had it all. We were there. The deal was in the bag; the door had opened; she stopped, turned away and left me at the door. I waited. I waited too long, and when I turned to walk through alone, the door had gone. I looked today, I did, I really did. I was going to do it, take the deal, sign the papers, make the man, show her. I cleaned up, shaped up, got to the station, boarded the train, sat in my seat and … and now this.

I took a coffee, boarded the 11:17 to salvation, hit the buffet car and came off the rails again. What can I say?

I no longer have a body. I am detached at the neck. My eyes are open, but I cannot see, I cannot feel. I never saw it coming. I never believed it could happen. It does happen. It happened to me.

It is time to move on, get up, get through this, this thing in front of me. Push it, push it Johnnie boy! Like a hand on the back of my head, I push myself forward, slow at first, then the hand lets go, but still I accelerate. I want to stop! Stop it! I am a cautious man, I need control. I bust through the carnage, into the air, raindrops hitting my face. I see the clouds approaching fast. I would put up my hands, if I had hands. I close my eyes and feel the wet vapour against my face. Eventually I open my eyes and see black. Black. White dots splatter the sky; stars that twinkle not; the burning slow-motioned sun. Its flames pull up, lick itself and disappear into a molten sea of fire. I turn myself and see … see the sea, the unbelievable. The blue, blue world, covered in fluffy cotton buds to mop my tears. I blink the lids I have not and watch it turn.

Back I go. Returned by the rubber band that tethers me to the earth. I stop in the clouds and let them twirl around me. I breathe them in and I breathe them out, before I press the ground floor button and begin my descent.

Scattered like a child's toy: the train, my train. Blackened and smoking, coughing and groaning. I see luminous ants crawling in and out of the death holes; red and blue blinking white blocks surround the scene. Closer in, there is me and my strawberry jam covered blackened face. I see the man and woman on the grass verge with their dog. He points at a severed arm. The woman follows his finger and nods. The dog licks his nether regions; he has seen an arm before. I move down next to them.

'They say you see all sorts of bits of people at train crashes,' he says.

The dog stops to look in my direction. If I had a tongue, I would show him. I interest him no longer and he continues to sanitise. I look down at myself and see nothing; there is no shadow, no glow, the grass is swaying in the breeze and I am not here.

Gina, Gina, semolina. Where are you? Will you have time for me now? Will you? Will you think of me?

Tumbling backwards up the verge, I reach the railings and the people.

'There's a leg! Look!'

'The smell! Can you smell that?'

'It's blood!'

'There's a hole in the fence over there, let's get nearer!'

Get nearer to death. Worry not, it will come to a cinema near you soon enough.

Depressing around here, I fancy a drink. I skedaddle backwards across the road and into the pub. Why backwards? Because I can. Would you not, if you could?

There are young men playing pool; I might stay awhile and watch. I never liked the game.

'I ain't gonna ring 'er am I?'

'Naah, course not.'

'Don't wanna hang abaht wiv some burd, do I?'

'Naah. Don't blame ya Gaz.'

'Jus go arand and give her one in the week dun I? Someing to do, init?'

The other smiles, crestfallen; the television fills his weeknights.

I look at the ball on the table, shining under the light. I see tiny dimples and miniscule flecks of bright blue chalk. I hear the light buzzing. I listen more carefully and it slows to a knock, knock, knocking. A tick, tock, ticking. The world stops, nothing moves and I see a river of light particles teeming from the bulb, moving towards the ball, bouncing off, fading to black over the edge of an invisible waterfall. I move to Crestfallen and look in his eyes; I see sadness there, anxiety. His hormones rage around his lubricated eyeball, desperate for something to calm them. I imagine patting him on the shoulder, and I whisper to him that things might improve. Something moves to my left and takes my attention. I concentrate on the chair by the wall, hard, hard, harder still, and see a man appear there. He laughs silently. On each chair, there is now someone there; each one laughs. There are people leaning on the bar, laughing. Someone behind the bar has his arms crossed and smiles. I think of shaking my head, closing my eyes, opening them again. There is nothing. The world jolts into life, as if someone let the record go, let the earth spin. Gaz takes a shot. He misses.

I move through the wall into a clothes shop. Two young women stand behind the counter. The shop is empty; there are better things to see by the tracks.

'I think he really loves me,' says the white girl to the Asian.


'We see each other every night.' She pauses. 'Well, almost every night.'

'How come?'

'Well, he should see his mates on a Friday night. He says he still needs his mates. And he does, dun he?'


'And I've got my mates, ain't I?'

'Yeahhhhh … course you have.'

'So, Friday and Saturday nights, we see our mates, and the other nights we see each other.'

'Yeahhhhh … do you think he … you know, gets off with other birds?'

'Naah … not my Gal. He really loves me.'

She is not convinced. The other really cares not. Both have arms crossed, one looks one way, one the other.

'So, you got a bloke then, or you gonna have an arranged marriage?'

'My family will organise an arranged marriage, but I can see other blokes too.'

'So, you got a bloke then?'

'Not at the moment, no.'

'I fink arranged marriages are a good idea. I do. No messing abaht wiv dodgy geezers. Get a nice fella. They check him aht, don't they?'

'It's normally another family we know, yeahhhhh.'

'They don't make ya though, do they?'

'Naah! Course not.'


I must get away from here. Gina, Gina, semolina. I am coming for you!

I spin around, like a whirlwind, through the wall, into McDonalds. Busy. People buzzing around, burgers, chips, full fat milkshakes, apple pies, donuts, balloons, scrunched up burger wrappers, boxes, environmental friendly cartoons and bent straws. I spy a family: a man, large; a woman, larger; two kids, overweight and clinically obese. The burger is going up, up - mouth opening - teeth crunching down - gristle cracking - grey meat separating, sticking to teeth - relish squirting roof of mouth - chipolata fingers on shiny dimpled hand slowly rising, pressing against her cheek, moving across glistening mouth. She hums with pleasure as it slides down her throat, its enzyme covering throttling the greasy molecules into a grey sludge, destined for bubbling stomach acid, pooled in her hefty gut.

I watch, silent. I stare hard at the window, others come into focus, they look at me briefly as I concentrate on them, but turn away. There is a man next to me, he has not turned and he watches me still. I ignore him, but he speaks:

'This … is your revelation. Watch and learn.'

I see him now. He is a grey old gentleman, dressed smart, his voice soothes and does not frighten. I want to speak, to ask, but I cannot. I am like a shaft of light from a window. I have no mouth, no eyes and no ears.

'When you have learned, you can try again.'

Learned what? Try what again?

'You will know … know when it is time.'

'Joey! You idiot!'

A drink spills. The mother glares; the small boy is silent. She cuffs the top of his head. Hair droops across his face, hiding a tear in each duct.

I turn and the man is gone. I move across the floor, through trays of chicken burgers, double burgers, bacon and molten cheese. Nothing. Behind the counter, nothing. The room cuts to silence and a young man, spotty and greasy, lifts the flap of a charred sesame seed bun with a slurp. I hear the ripping of the bun like the tear of a newspaper. A projectile launches from his mouth, landing on the relish, stirred by his finger. The bun drops into a box. His laugh booms around the room, slow and deep, mixed with his colleague's high-pitched snigger. The item drops down the shoot, falls in a bag, and is taken away by a man in a suit. Bon appetite!

To the church, revelation and salvation. Gina, from here, we were married.

A man of the cloth walks down the centre of the aisle, a smile on his face. A man of God. A young teenage boy, dressed in frills, stands, looking forward, positioning items on a table. The man walks behind the boy and puts his hand on the boy's shoulder. He stiffens and lets go of a figurine. He turns to the man of God. His face is pale, his eyes wide and I see a doughy mixture of spittle connecting his dry tongue to the roof of his mouth. The man ruffles the boy's shock of ginger hair, dropping his head to one side to speak:

'Go through.'

The boy gently moves through a door to the right. The man makes the sign of the cross and follows.

Gina, Gina, my semolina. My little Yorkshire pudding, where are you now? Are you with him, or with someone else? Would I ever have been good enough? Will you ever tell me what I did that was so wrong? Why did you let me fade away?

Away from here, across the oceans, through the vessels loaded with drugs, weapons and desperate people. They heave up and down; misery and death packed together neatly in cargo holds. To dense forests far, far away; to the bulldozers, to the protesters, to the government soldiers, to the guns and bullets, to the falling trees and their almighty crashes and smoky ruin. Little pieces of tree, plant and animal, hurled into the air against their will by the swarthy man, his stubbly face and the cigarette hanging from his lips. I see the bright eyes of a thousand creatures, looking at the yellow machine. It appeared with a low rumble, became a gruesome roar, tearing at their lives with giant metal claws. Of those running, I hear their hearts thumping, the resonant sound of a million forest drums beating as one. I stand in front of the machine, but it moves through me as if I am here not. I see his woollen black socks, grubby blue jeans, boots and his yellow stained fingers up close, before a hole in the trees is all I see.

Up into the sky, I let the world move around and head for home; home is where the heart is, home is where the answer is.

In a hotel room, I see an old man on top of a young woman, some newly acquired money neatly folded and shut into the red purse her grandmother gave her. He is moving up and down, telling her how well she is doing, how he is enjoying her. He says rude things and moves faster. She thinks about her young baby, in her cot at her parent's house, sleeping soundly; of her mother, sitting, drinking tea, hoping her daughter's audition is going well; of her father, in the pub, talking to his pint. She forgets the pain and lets him finish. He thanks her for her time, thinks of a tip while he showers, before he goes home to his wife. I watch the woman brush her hair and air the sheets for the last appointment of the day. As she waits, she takes the purse from the handbag, from under the towel, from the bottom of the wardrobe, and turns it in her hand. She smiles at it; it is well worn, with a couple of small patches torn off. She unclips it, smells inside, not for the money, but to feel the time her grandmother gave it to her, when she was a small child, years ago, one sunny day in the back garden. I look hard at the woman. She can smell that hot day, her grandmother and the happiness of years gone by. She snaps it shut when she hears a noise outside the room, opening it again when the noise fades. She draws in deeply and it feels like she can touch the memory. I look harder, and see a figure sitting beside her, I cannot see the features, they are blurred and hazy, but its arm is around the woman's naked torso.

Through the wall into an empty space, I drift slowly to the ground. Children are here, five of them, sitting in a circle on the gravel by the side of the building.

'Don't let it go Tommy!'

'I won't!'

Tommy is holding a cat; the cat is struggling to get away, but Tommy's other hand clamps its head, making it look like a bucking bronco. Another sweet child moves forward on his knees. He takes the leg of the cat and suddenly twists his hand, snapping the leg like a small stick. Tommy struggles to hold the animal, squeezing the head harder to keep control. The other children look shocked, but lean forward, fascinated at the struggling feline and its limp, swinging leg. The sweet child takes the other front leg and does it again.

'Let it walk Tommy, let it go!'

'It'll get away!'

'Just let it go, let's see!'

Tommy puts the cat down carefully. The front legs move as if they belong to a puppet with no strings. The cat falls on its face and the children laugh. It struggles to get up. I see it has a bright red collar, a name tag and a bell. The bell jangles but cannot be heard against the hoots and groans of the group.

'Oh man,' says another, 'that's cruel.'

'No it's not,' says the sweet child, 'this is cruel.'

He scoops the cat up, runs over to a group of nearby metal dustbins, lifts the cat in the air and slams its head onto a lid. He repeats it twice more, then stops to look at the dead cat. The crowd are silent.

A man turns up the alleyway. The sweet child throws the cat to the floor; the others scramble to their feet in a cloud of dust and small stones and run in the opposite direction. The man approaches, sees the cat, looks away and keeps walking.

I see more: hungry children beaten and locked in cupboards; the naked daughters of men twisting around poles, watched by other men; old women beaten and raped for their cigarette money; family friends taking the innocence from sworn-to-silence and ashamed young girls and boys; homeless people, sworn and spat at by drunken young men who do not spare change, but offer career advice instead. ''Get a job!''

Time passes for the world and I am a glint of light in a rock pool, seen only by small crabs and a trapped sea horse.

I remember holding the sandwich in my mouth, as the train began to shake, eyes wide, so anxious I thought my chest would explode. Some were screaming and some were petrified stone passengers like I. The landscape in the window looked normal, apart from the bumping; it was as if the track had suddenly developed lumps, a well known track disease. I remember the bang from the front, the feeling of all control lost as the carriage turned sideways, the sandwich falling from my mouth, of gripping my seat rest as the roof was torn off like the top of a can. I know now what it is like to be a piece of spam. In the moment of greatest panic, I remember the front of the carriage moving upwards, then coming back at me; and then the silence, save my hissing ear: the snake of death pulling my life through my bleeding and battered mouth.

For the gift of only one more day. That is all I needed. Back from Manchester with my book deal; something to give her, to give them; to show them I was back. The chance to say sorry is all I needed; is all I need. Sorry, Gina, Gina, semolina. I didn't mean to hurt you. I span out, let go of the wheel, deserted my post. I can go back in time not, to undo that which has been done, nor do and say some of the things that I never found the time to do.

Raindrops fall on my pond, scattering and shaping my light. I rise up, pull together and fly across the green fields, following the contours of the hills and valleys, trailing rivers and streams, dipping in and out, until I reach it.

The church is tall, hard and foreboding. It towers above me, angled over the great oak wooden doorway. I am now only the dull light of the retreating sun on a stain-glassed window. I crawl slowly over the cracks to a hideous gargoyle, assume its shape and we are one. The misty rain falls lightly onto the two figures standing by a hole, my hole. They wear caps and talk quietly. I reverse into the main body of the church and see people gathered below. The vicar is talking, talking about me; it's my name, but he refers to someone else, as this John is a family man, a good husband and a good father.

The rows are all empty, bar one. Gina, Gina, semolina is here; a small child by her side; my mother; Gina's mother; my sister; and a couple of other family members, cajoled into a boring service and jam sandwiches. None of my friends are here. I wonder about this. I have and I had no friends, only people I knew. My best friend was a full bottle and a clean glass.

Gina, Gina, semolina, why do you cry? She holds the child close to her and he cries too. My mother looks sad. Gina's other hand grips her mother. Semolina is so wonderful, a glowing testament to compassion; she has faults, we all do; mine is and mine was a gaping chasm. I was right all those years ago, when I told a friend in a pub that I could never hope to keep something as beautiful as her. I'm sorry Gina, I really am. I tried. I tried as hard as I could, but I could see failure stalking me at every turn. My father told me, before drink-drowning in his grave, that men had to look after themselves, and that women would look after each other, and we were here just to make sure they had what they wanted, which meant children and money. ''Take what you can, when you can,'' he told me, over a glass of whisky one night. I believed him and swallowed his wise words.

The congregation stops for silent prayer. I listen for their words, but hear nothing. The wind picks up and whistles through a gap in the window. Gina and her son, my son, look up from their hands at the barely visible twinkle from the burning embers of natural light bending through the window. I want to reach out and touch them, but my position is set. I think of mouthing ''I'm sorry'' from my empty face, but what's the use?

'I love you Johnnie,' Gina whispers into her hand, 'and I always will.'

She is still looking, until the vicar takes her from me:

'Thank-you,' he says softly, looking down at his notes, before returning to the row of faces. 'I would like to offer an apology for the noisy window. We have a man coming tomorrow to fix it. It doesn't close properly.'

They smile, the service concludes and they file out. I choose not to watch myself being lowered into the ground; it never made my lifetime wish list, and I see no reason to add it now.

I stay where I am and watch the benches on which they sat. They being my family, they being people who cared enough to want to say goodbye. I choose to believe that of all the attendees, including him. I choose to be optimistic for the future. It is quite a new outlook for me, but, as they say, it is never too late.

I move to the largest stain-glassed window, through which the last of the day's sunlight comes. I watch the vicar come back to tidy up, say a prayer and depart, locking the big door with a clunk and a surprisingly small key. The last of the rays draw patterns on the glass, withdrawing completely at the last possible moment, darkening the window and the church below.


Archived comments for Whistle on the wind
Bee on 2003-10-03 03:17:46
Re: Whistle on the wind
This is so good I don't know what to say. It is crammed full of sensory experience, vivid images, pain, sorrow, tenderness. This kind of experience is so searing to those who experience it that it takes a brave and brilliant writer to tackle it. It is so well crafted - I am struck by the parallel of the funeral service with a wedding ceremony - but by so many other things too.

Not only does it confirm the quality of your work, it shows us the versatility of your talent. Great stuff!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-03 03:52:57
Re: Whistle on the wind
Thanks very much, Bee. Bowled over by your comments. It's one of my favs.
Glad you liked it.

Author's Reply:

ruadh on 2003-10-03 04:31:38
Re: Whistle on the wind
This was fantastic Geeza, what more can I say? Kudos to you.


Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2003-10-03 04:51:41
Re: Whistle on the wind
Your writing is always powerful and clear. This goes beyond that and is outstanding.

I think it is slightly dodgy in the overall plot, and the ending seems unresolved. But it is still excellent.

I'm just waiting to see what you can do when you get those aspects completely right - pretty frightening latent power! πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-03 04:55:01
Re: Whistle on the wind
Thanks, Ailsa. Glad you liked it.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-03 04:56:41
Re: Whistle on the wind
Thanks, Griff. Appreciate your comments, as always.

Author's Reply:

womanofwit on 2003-10-03 05:56:43
Re: Whistle on the wind
Thoroughly enjoyed this. I was a little confused at the start, with the "came off the rails again" line - I was seeing it as a second instance of a train crash, but presumably it was meant metaphorically. I also agree that the ending is rather an anti-climax, but I think that was probably because I would like to have read more!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-03 06:08:21
Re: Whistle on the wind
He had come off the rails in his life, then quite literally.
I quite liked the ending; I thought it wrapped up some of his issues and his departure.
Glad you liked it! Thanks for your comments - appreciated.

Author's Reply:

womanofwit on 2003-10-03 06:17:18
Re: Whistle on the wind
Yes, I did work it out eventually, but at first I was confused and had to scroll back. The ending is fine in the sense you mention. I suppose I was hoping to see some actual contact between him and Gina, or perhaps some development with regard to his conversation with the old man in McDonald's. It's not a criticism really, more a desire to read more.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-03 06:23:46
Re: Whistle on the wind
Fair enough. Thanks for your feedback; glad you enjoyed it!

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-10-03 06:37:06
Re: Whistle on the wind
A lot of this is wonderful. You're a writer of the little things, the asides and the small movements of life, that make things seem so real to the reader.

One thing i wasn't keen on was the endings of the first few paragraphs - 'i dislike...' etc. It kept me feeling objective about the narrator, and i think it would work better without them; would draw the reader in more. But there's really nothing else I could even begin to say affected my enjoyment of this piece.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-03 06:53:29
Re: Whistle on the wind
Thanks, Bluepootle. You may be right about those paragraph endings.
Thanks for your comments, they're much appreciated.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-10-03 07:05:44
Re: Whistle on the wind
no probs. have thought about it, and i'm not keen on the title. it reminds me of that terrible film where hayley mills thinks some bloke in her shed is jesus.

don't think anyone else has a problem, tho, so feel free to ignore this comment!

Author's Reply:

Scribbler on 2003-10-03 11:56:38
Re: Whistle on the wind
This was full of vivid imagery. Very sad, but I enjoyed the read.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-03 14:14:45
Re: Whistle on the wind
Thanks for your comments. Glad you liked it.

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2003-10-03 15:21:05
Re: Whistle on the wind
I think it is 'criticism' in the most helpful sense. How to improve......

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-03 15:49:48
Re: Whistle on the wind
I know. Thanks.

Author's Reply:

spacegirl on 2003-10-03 17:13:36
Re: Whistle on the wind
I really enjoyed it. Bit depressing last thing on a Friday night, but it was poignant. Loved the imagery and the sense of reality with the dog sniffing round the body parts.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-04 04:20:05
Re: Whistle on the wind
Reality of the dog sniffing around the body parts? Glad I don't live in north London!

Glad you liked it. Thanks for your comments.

Author's Reply:

flash on 2003-10-04 07:43:02
Re: Whistle on the wind
Goodness your imagination doesn't appear to have any boundaries,but i think it goes a little over the top here though. I think the story is too long and had me drifting at times, the impact of the story would benefit from being tighter and concise IMO.I'm not so ecstatic about this as some of the commenters, but this was a brave attempt at this genre, a lot of it is excellent to my ear-the hotel scene for instance and the gang of lads with the cat,(i'm a cat lover Geeza so that portion shocked me) and segments from the opening paragraphs i liked also-anyway excellent stuff m8 in the main.

Author's Reply:

kenochi on 2003-10-04 08:09:47
Re: Whistle on the wind
For whatever they're worth Geeza, here are my opinions...
This is by far the best piece of writing you have posted on this website - there was nothing in the telling of this tale that I would find fault with. For what it was I think you did it as well as it could be done.

But (there had to be a 'but' didn't there!) I must admit to getting a bit chaffed off with subject matter that is so wholly bleak / depressing / grim etc. I genuinely believe that it is much easier to write that, than it is to write stories that are, at least in some small way, uplifting. All of your stuff, or at least all of it that I've read, is of the former category. As I neared the end of this piece, I began to get a sinking feeling, as more and more of human existence was picked apart, dwelling only on the negative.
As a reader I want a chink of light, some hope to cling to... Real life can be crap enough without art / music / literature making it worse. What, as a writer are you trying to achieve?
Maybe we just look at things slightly differently, in which case ignore my waffling!

take it easy


Author's Reply:

kenochi on 2003-10-04 08:09:57
Re: Whistle on the wind
For whatever they're worth Geeza, here are my opinions...
This is by far the best piece of writing you have posted on this website - there was nothing in the telling of this tale that I would find fault with. For what it was I think you did it as well as it could be done.

But (there had to be a 'but' didn't there!) I must admit to getting a bit chaffed off with subject matter that is so wholly bleak / depressing / grim etc. I genuinely believe that it is much easier to write that, than it is to write stories that are, at least in some small way, uplifting. All of your stuff, or at least all of it that I've read, is of the former category. As I neared the end of this piece, I began to get a sinking feeling, as more and more of human existence was picked apart, dwelling only on the negative.
As a reader I want a chink of light, some hope to cling to... Real life can be crap enough without art / music / literature making it worse. What, as a writer are you trying to achieve?
Maybe we just look at things slightly differently, in which case ignore my waffling!

take it easy


Author's Reply:

kenochi on 2003-10-04 08:11:27
Re: Whistle on the wind
oops - didn't mean to post that twice - is there some way to erase one of them?

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-04 09:32:56
Re: Whistle on the wind
I suppose my stuff can be grim. It's my nature; you'll not be surprised to know I have been accused of being a bit of a cynic in the past!

What am I trying to achieve? I guess real subjects, and the experience of this character is all too real.

Relationships do break down and if you don't fix it in time, it can be too late. Grim but true. I'm not sure if it came across strongly enough, but the reason for the breakdown is in the story too.

I did think the end did have some uplift in it - not much I grant, but some. He's not in too much of a position to provide uplift! I don't want to say exactly where I think the uplifting part is, in case people read the comments before the story. If you want to know, PM me and I'll reply. Of course, if I need to do that for many people, I haven't told the story as well as I'd hoped!

Thanks for your comments, Kenochi. Always appreciated.


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-04 09:48:46
Re: Whistle on the wind
Thanks, Flash.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2003-10-04 12:42:32
Re: Whistle on the wind
This, Geeza, is pretty damned good. True, the ending wasn't resolved, but I don't think in this case that it had to be. :^)

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-04 13:57:24
Re: Whistle on the wind
Thanks, Expat. And with all, appreciate the time taken to read and comment.

Author's Reply:

gacampbell on 2003-10-06 08:43:07
Re: Whistle on the wind
Well written, absorbing and in my opinion, the ending was fine. Kept me going the whole way through. Top class writing, my friend.


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-06 09:23:25
Re: Whistle on the wind
Thanks, Tony. Glad you liked it.

Author's Reply:

Lulu on 2003-10-07 04:59:04
Re: Whistle on the wind
Seriously impressive story here Geeza. Beautiful descriptions of feelings and things so abstract that most people would struggle to begin to describe. But you did it beautifully, have you ever been dead before?

I didn't quite know if he was dead or alive when he left the carriage, though it became clear soon after. It added to the feeling of loss and made me want to know more.

It describes a horrible world I deny to believe in. Still, 4,000 words on line worth to read before put them on print!

I can't give any advice, because I don't think It could have been better written.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-07 05:23:14
Re: Whistle on the wind
Thanks, Lulu. Glad you liked it.

I've looked dead and felt that way after a night out, but haven't yet (thankfully) crossed that line.

Thanks again.

Author's Reply:

Omma_Velada on 2003-10-10 21:13:19
Re: Whistle on the wind
There was a lot here, but a journey well worth taking. I also love cats and this scene really shocked me! When the little boy, said, 'No, this is cruel', I actually flinched and could hardly bear to see what he would do next. I love the way you can move seamlessly from two guys playing pool to kids torturing a cat in the street, to a whore and her client, etc. All the groups of people were very visceral. I thought the actual idea of the story was great - it offers so much potential, which you then used to the max. I also thought that he would get together with Semolina, but your ending was also good and probably more in keeping with the bleak tone. I didn't understand who 'him' was at the funeral, unless he was one of the family members. Up til then, I'd assumed he was her lover. Perhaps he was both? Just one small typo I noticed - Bon apetite should be Bon apetit. Overall a wonderful read, so thanks πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-11 04:57:55
Re: Whistle on the wind
Bit hard to get back with his wife on account of his death, however!
The 'him': if you read it closely, it gives clues as to who it is. I don't want to give it away here, in case anyone reads it in the future.
Thanks for reading, glad you liked it.

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2003-10-13 06:45:07
Re: Whistle on the wind
Ok. I'm still new on here, so I have no idea about people's reputations, etc, but if the two pieces I've read are any indication, you're up there with the best.
At first, I wasn't sure if I was going to like this. The 'Gina, Semolina' bits grated a little, to be honest. However, after a few paragraphs the story had drawn me in, and while the subject matter may be consistently dark, I think the observations about modern life are spot on.
The main character was believable despite being dead, and it was generally a remarkable piece , IMHO.
As I believe someone else pointed out, there is indeed a frightening amount of talent in there that has yet to be tapped. Once you begin to realise your full potential, the sky should be the limit, my friend, and I wish you every success. πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

My Margaret (posted on: 05-09-03)
Click to see more top choices

May cause offence.

Not sure about the title. Any ideas?

Let me know what you think.

I touched her every day, she was always there for me; we spoke all the time, she was always so sweet. I could sniff the air and pick our her scent from a crowd of people and feel her near. Her perfume, her hair, her whole aura … so distinctive, so unique, so her, so … Margaret!

She always said the right thing: if I needed a lift, she would push me; if I needed consoling, she would hold me; if I needed affection, she would love me. I can't describe, or get near to describing how I felt. She made my heart pound and my brow sweat. My hands would shake if she came near; sometimes they still do.

It started off innocently enough. I was fourteen, spotty, average and couldn't kick a football for toffees. All around, people partied and grew into young men before my very eyes. I heard them talking in class before the teacher arrived – how they had been at a party, how they were snogging such-and-such, how she had touched them, how they found somewhere private, how they'd got naked and what it felt like when they'd done it. How it was just so good. So good. I was never sure why these good things never happened to me. Never happen to me. What had I done?

Then it happened. Margaret happened. She appeared from nowhere and we happened. Something happened. Nothing happened before, and now it did. I was happening.

I told everyone about her. She was from St Martins school. It was a way away, that's why no one had heard of it. I told everyone about the way we kissed, the things we done and of all the rampant and amazing sex we had. Margaret and I went to parties – every weekend – almost without fail. St Martins was a very cool school, always lots of things going on, so that's why I never went to any parties at my school. They never asked, because they knew I'd never go to any of their crummy parties. Why would I?

James thought his girlfriend was pregnant one day; funny enough Margaret thought she might be too. It was a worrying time. They both had late periods. I remember walking home with James that day and we were so relieved! They had been teaching us about periods and puberty in life science at school, so I knew what was going on and thought it was probably that – which is what I had told Peter.


She was always there for me though, always there. Whenever I needed her, she was there.

'Was she? Is she now?'

I made a terrible mistake. It was a moment of weakness. I was walking around the park, late at night one day, when I was about nineteen. This woman approached me and asked if I wanted business. I remember what she looked like: she must've been near forty, but her face was really saggy and battered, plastered with make up, her hair was obviously dyed blonde, she had a tight pink top holding in some really nice tits, a garish and shiny pair of leggings and a pair of white stilettos. I remember her red-painted toenails; they looked really nice. Nicely painted and looked after – the best thing about her. I remember thinking and trying to work out what to say. She pushed me for an answer, but I still couldn't think of anything. She went to walk away, but I called her back and said I would have some business. She said she would give me a blowjob for a tenner.

We went round the back of the kids playground – where I went to one o'clock club with my mum years back. I can see the little plastic toys now. She unzipped my trousers; I was really nervous, but my cock was rock hard, just like they said it would be. As she touched it, I just couldn't control it and I shot all over her charm bracelet. She wanked me for a bit, but it was too ticklish. I remember just wanting to go home.

She started laughing then, when I was trying to put my willy back in my trousers. I didn't like that. She laughed some more and asked me if I was a virgin. I told her I wasn't and told her about Margaret. She laughed again. I told her to stop, but she wouldn't. She said Margaret wasn't real. She was! She is! She asked me if I'd ever managed to put my cock in Margaret. I told her to mind her own business. She laughed at me really loudly. She just wouldn't stop, really wouldn't, so I hit her. She wasn't ready for it, so she staggered backwards and fell. I remember her stiletto broke as she slid and stumbled across the concrete. She whacked her head against the wooden wall of the playhouse. I remember her looking up at me, really shocked. I was shocked too. I hadn't ever hit anyone before. Then she started laughing again as she started to get up. I watched her for a while, pulled up my zip and was about to leave, when I heard her gasping for breath. She had her hand around her throat and was trying to reach in her bag. She sounded in real bad trouble. She pulled out an asthma inhaler and flicked the lid off. For some reason, before she could use it, I bent down and took it from her. I don't know why, I just … took it. She looked up at me, gasping; her eyes were pleading with me, but I just watched her. I watched her die there.

'Oh … right.'

I felt great. It was such a fantastic buzz. My chest felt so light and puffed out, I thought I might burst.

'Then what did you do?'

I'm getting to that! Be patient!
I stood there in the darkness, and watched her laying there for a while, looking up at me with her dead eyes. I knelt down beside her and touched her face. It was all powdery. The bright red lipstick made her lips feel all oily. Her hair felt dry and more like hay than the silky hair you see on television. I remember getting really excited when I moved my hand down and touched her neck and the gold chain, then the top. I looked around before I touched her breasts, but no one was watching. They seemed much softer than I thought they would. An odd feeling. I checked again before I put my hand inside her top and pulled one out. The nipple felt really weird and quite hard at the tip. I touched her leggings, her bum, her foot and each little red toenail. I leaned down and smelled her feet. They didn't smell too bad, but it wasn't pleasant – I thought it might be. I slowly moved my hand back up her legs and slipped it inside her leggings. My hands were shaking badly; the elastic was much stronger than I thought; it was quite an effort to keep my hand in there. I wanted to pull them down, but I didn't think I could move them. I felt her knicker elastic, lifted it up and touched the hair underneath. The skin dipped and my finger found moisture; I yanked my hand out as fast as I could.

Her face hadn't changed. I put my lips to hers and kissed them – very lightly – like a mum kiss. Her perfume was disgusting. I reached forward again, pushed my lips to hers and put my tongue in. I could feel it: soft and still, but still wet. Her mouth tasted of cigarettes, so I took my tongue out.

'Then … what did you do?'

I left her there. I went home and wanked about her. Three times that night.

'Right. Will you come down now? Maybe we can talk about it some more?'

No! I haven't finished. Can't you wait? Do you have somewhere to go? Do you? You want to go home to your wife, do you? Do you want to go home to your wife and fuck her?


Does she scream when you fuck her?


Do you know, every woman I've ever fucked hasn't made a sound?


Do you know how that feels?

'Why don't you come down and we can talk about it some more?'

Do you know what it feels like when every woman you've ever fucked has been dead?


I have killed eighteen women. Eighteen whores. Slags, sluts, dirty fucking bitches! I waited two years after that first one. Two whole years! The feelings came stronger and stronger. I had to do it again. I had to! Do you understand?

'I can't say I do. I'm just a simple policeman.'

Think about it! Think about my problem. It's my problem, it's unique to me. I am unique! Some people like blondes, some like legs, some like tall girls – I like dead ones! Do you think I like fucking dead people?

'I don't know. What I do know is you shouldn't jump. We can help you.'

Help me! How? How can you help me? I can see the disgust in your eyes! You despise me! I despise me!

'Do it for Margaret.'

Margaret, oh Margaret. Beautiful and wonderful Margaret. Margaret isn't real you know, she's not in your world, she's only in mine. Didn't you realise that?

'No. She is real. If she's real for you, she is real.'

Do you think so? Hmmm. Maybe. Yes. Maybe she is real after all? I can lift my head into the night sky and smell her.

Looking around the cool night sky, I see the stars twinkling, the moon so round that it's staring at me, it's so like an eyeball watching me: me, the experiment. If I say it's an eye, then it's an eye. Right? If you think or believe something as hard as you can, then it's real, right?

I wait for an answer as I look at the lights from the busy city below me. I step back from the edge and turn to the door that led me onto this roof. There is no policeman, I am alone. I am always alone.

Archived comments for My Margaret

Bee on 2003-09-05 03:06:57
Re: My Margaret
Strong stuff indeed! I wasn't offended by this but found it disturbing to read. I think it is extremely compelling and convincing. It suppose it brings the Yorkshire Ripper to mind.

I can't place my reaction to this. I don't have any suggestions for improving the way you tell the story but, as a woman, I feel deep fear about male violence , especially of this kind which seems to be directed at women in general. I'm not expressing this well. But when I'm angry it is with an individual for a particular reason. I think what you describe is one aspect of male sexual violence that is directed not at one person for something that person has done but at all women as if they were all the same. It is the inability of men to see women as individual people - they are all either the Virgin Mary or Eve, the sinner - that women find so frightening. My question is this? Does the fact the at a pubescent boy's failing to have the same early sexual experiences as his peers really lead to this kind of emotional dysfunction?

I'd better stop rambling on.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-09-05 03:18:04
Re: My Margaret
Really powerful and deeply worrying, as Bee says. Very well written, in the sense that I don't immediately turn off from the character. The Margaret idea is a great lead in to keep the reader from immediately writing off the character as a monster.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-09-05 04:26:51
Re: My Margaret
It's an interesting topic - was this man created like this, and would he have done it anyway ... or ... did his social dysfunction create the monster?

You hear people blaming their upbringing/youth for this and that, and sometimes it sounds like an excuse - but there must be something in the fact that some people cannot see the line that they overstep. I emphasise "something" - it's how much "something" that is the debate. That's a general comment - not really appropriate to this character, who is an exaggeration of the point.

The inspiration - if you can call it that - for this was Jeffrey Dahmer. I read a book (can't remember name) about him some years back. He killed, and waited a while before killing again. There is much reference to his dysfunctional childhood, which often materialised as an excuse as I read it. It's hard to stomach, but a very interesting read. The way he wasn't caught, despite his increasing slopiness; the event when a policeman helped a drugged victim into his house; and the policeman who checked his house (for the foul smell ... of death) but missed the dead body in the bedroom and human head in the fridge was startling.

For violence, I see people treated more like things than people; that makes the violence easier for the aggressor. Sex is something to "get" - like a videogame. Put the two together and it's Croydon High street on a Saturday night.

Thanks for your comments Bee. I shall stop rambling on now!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-09-05 04:27:55
Re: My Margaret
Thanks for your comments Bluepootle.

Author's Reply:

shadow on 2003-09-05 06:31:18
Re: My Margaret
Compelling and disturbing. I like the way it starts with an apparently normal boy/girl romance and gets scarier and scarier as it goes on. In fact the idea is wasted on a short story, you could get a novel out of it! I can see what you mean about the title though, it doesn't give enough clues about the kind of story it is - sounds more like some sort of tribute poem to someone's deceased wife/girlfriend/dog ...

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-09-05 07:24:41
Re: My Margaret
Thanks Shadow, feedback always very much appreciated.

I made efforts to try and keep the perspective of the story moving: innocent start, then things happen (or happened), then the introduction of the voice, then more revelations, then the revelation of the mystery voice, then the final statement ... all in as few a words as possible. I wasn't sure if the voice worked - interupting his thoughts as they do - hence why I put it in "experimental".

I think if I expanded it, the content would be psychological or detailed gore and it would lose its potency. This way you have a taster of his activities and can only imagine what happens with the other 17 people.

Any ideas for title - I really couldn't think of anything and stuck with his obsession to Margaret in the end. I was thinking of calling it "love story". I don't want to give anything away about the content and it needs to match the opening paragraphs.

Thanks again for your feedback!

Author's Reply:

zenbuddhist on 2003-09-06 05:46:27
Re: My Margaret
liked this one I`ve read some of your other stuff but this kinda shone through for me more than the rest ...it reminded me of early Ian McEwan.......a very disturbed loney person whom you potrayed very competently indeed...well done

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-09-06 07:27:33
Re: My Margaret
Thanks for your feedback - much appreciated.

Author's Reply:

Heirloom on 2003-09-06 07:33:49
Re: My Margaret
Another great piece, Geeza. Powerful, disturbing, and so skillfully handled that the reader feels a measure of sympathy for the character instead of immediate and outright disgust. Excellent ending too. I'm always impressed by your work, keep it coming.
Thanks, Heirloom

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-09-06 07:37:31
Re: My Margaret
Thanks for your encouragement and support Heirloom. Always much appreciated.

Author's Reply:

gouri on 2003-09-07 12:04:45
Re: My Margaret
Liked the story.

β€˜I have killed eighteen women’ and β€˜I like dead ones!’, these words ... creates a scary atmosphere.

As Bee has said, I also feel the deep fear of male violence. The title it is soft and the story is forceful.

A nice story and liked the ending.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-09-07 14:20:31
Re: My Margaret
Glad you liked it. Thanks for your comments.

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2003-09-07 14:40:35
Re: My Margaret
Bee, I'm a man - I admit it! *ducks*

I don't do anything horrible, I don't use violence against 'women' (ie - other people) .

You say: "It is the inability of men to see women as individual people - they are all either the Virgin Mary or Eve, the sinner" - me: "bollocks!" (apt metaphor)

Why for god's sake do I, as a man, have to suffer this abuse! SOME people are evil, bestial and should be punished.

I plead 'bein a nice bloke' which I am.

Tar, brush, generalisation.... all of these words come to mind.

Bee - think about what you say and ask if you are as prejudiced as the people you protest against.

This is a discussion, not an accusation, right?

I happen to be a man, but I am a human being, an equal, with a point of view.....

and this was only a story.................*worried* G

Author's Reply:

spacegirl on 2003-09-13 05:18:59
Re: My Margaret
Very disturbing. I was worried about the violence, but also by the fact that I didn't hate the character

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-09-13 05:37:59
Re: My Margaret
Thanks Spacegirl.
It's hard - do you hate the character for doing those things, or feel pity for someone who is obviously mentally ill? It's easy to feel pity, but if someone like that done something to someone you knew - how would you feel then?

Author's Reply:

flash on 2003-09-21 10:10:45
Re: My Margaret
The problem i had with this was that i had recently read a similar story on the site by 'Smirking Dervish' which was a little similar, so that kind of diluted the impact of this story. I can't say which is better because they both have plus and minus points, and i don't know which i prefer, just that reading this so quickly after 'Smirks' i felt a little disappointed.

The portion below, i don't think the prostitute would laugh after being hit so aggressively,but perhaps the shock?

'She whacked her head against the wooden wall of the playhouse. I remember her looking up at me, really shocked. I was shocked too. I hadn’t ever hit anyone before. Then she started laughing again as she started to get up. I watched her for a while, pulled up my zip and was about to leave, when I heard her gasping for breath.'

cheers Flash(eroo)

Author's Reply:

Talking Pictures (posted on: 01-09-03)
Click to see more top choices

What do you do in old age when your partner dies?

Jeff gripped the arms of his chair and watched the credits roll down the screen. His large fingers wrapped around the worn material, feeling the chipped wood underneath. He pulled himself up and stretched, his head dropping back clicking with the same sound it made every day when this programme finished. He turned towards the fireplace, looking at the clock: ten past twelve.

'The news will be on soon,' he said, looking at his reflection in the mirror. He pulled his shirt collar forward, turned his head to one side and then the other. He smiled at his weary reflection; he felt even older than its many creases suggested. He turned and walked around his chair to the drinks cabinet in the corner. He lifted the brandy, turning it in his hand, watching the light from the bay window bounce around the contours of the bottle. He poured a large measure, replaced the bottle in the cabinet and locked the door, leaving the small key behind. He took a swig.

'Ah!' he said, pulling it from his mouth, swilling the brown contents of the glass in his hand, noting its pleasing aroma, moving the powerfully tasting liquid around with his tongue. 'Asda brandy is as fine as any other.'

He walked back around his chair and sat down, placing the glass on the wine table next to him. He pushed his glasses case from the middle of the table with the drink and flicked a tissue to the floor with his little finger. It was important to give pride of place to the drink; the glasses had to stay so he could watch television. He snorted loudly, cleared his throat and tested the inside of his mouth for traces of brandy. He smacked his lips:

'First drink is the day's best drink.' He paused. 'That's what I always say.'

He watched the News with detached interest, finishing his drink at the same time the newscaster wished his audience a pleasant afternoon. The producers could time their programme according to the level in the glass if the television could somehow broadcast and receive pictures. He moved the glass around in small circles, watching it carefully, searching for any flaws in its structure.

'Best fill you up,' he said. He smacked his lips together. 'Yes, best fill you up, you look so … empty.'

He made the refill, screwed the top on the bottle as far as it would go and restocked his cabinet. He left the door open and walked to the window. The grey light of the grey day filtered through his grubby net curtains, illuminating his dark brown cardigan, his grey flannel tee-shirt and the top of his light brown corduroy trousers. The natural light pleased him for a moment and he smiled, but he grimaced when he saw the children playing football in the road. He watched them scatter into the gaps between the parked cars, impatiently watching the car move past before leaping back into their game. He growled every time the ball touched a car. When the ball thudded onto a bonnet, diffusing the screaming players like a disturbed nest of earwigs, Jeff slammed his thickset hand onto his veneered sideboard and roared. He looked down through his burning eyes and saw a small puddle of brandy. He quickly lifted the glass, licking the side and the bottom.

'Bastard kids!' he yelled.

He put the glass down and looked at the pool of liquid gold laying on the sideboard. He checked his front room for unexpected and uninvited visitors, before stooping low to mop up with his pasty tongue.

'Waste not want not!' he said. 'That's what I always say.'

He scowled at the football match in the road, picked up his drink and made for the centre of the room. The reflection in the mirror caught and held his attention. He moved towards it, placing the drink on the mantelpiece, ensuring its stability before he could let go. He placed his elbow next to it, turning to the roomful of people and the empty furniture. He would throw the occasional glance back at himself, trying and failing each and every time to catch a glimpse of the back of his head. It had been so long since he had been in the company of others, unless you count the faceless youths in the supermarket or the strange girl in the off-licence with rope-like hair and a metal button on her tongue. He took a drink and picked up a photograph of his wife.

'Els,' he said, 'how are you my love?'

He took a drink, looked away and then back at her smiling face. 'I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do, Els. Do you know? What do you think?'

His drink was finished, so he went back to the cabinet and took out the bottle. He put the glass on the sideboard and poured. He put the bottle on the sideboard, leaving the cap next to it. He took a drink and looked into the street. The kids had gone and people walked to and fro. Cars buzzed up and down; they come from somewhere and went off somewhere; Jeff thought of himself as a car that had turned onto a roundabout with no exits. He took another large swig, almost half the glass, keeping the drink in his hand. The alcoholic fumes flamed invisible from his lips.

He returned to the mirror; he was still haggard and old. A large wisp of hair was sticking up on the left side. He swapped the drink into the other hand and tried to flatten the thinning grey strands to his head. It flicked back up, so he licked his hand with his brandy tongue and tried again. Instant success. It had worked so well he had to swap the drink into his other hand and repeat for the other side. He smiled, licked his finger and flattened both eyebrows.

'For the ladies,' he said, 'that's what I always say.'

He was a handsome man in the sixties. A ladies man. Very popular he was, lots of friends, lots to do, people to see and places to go. His face darkened as a rain cloud moved between the window and the sun.

'What's a man to do?' he said. 'Els? What should I do?'

He peered closely at the silver-framed photo under the mirror: a scene from perhaps seven years ago, maybe more. He looked old then, but smart old, not just old, as he did today. He saw himself standing by his wife's wheelchair, smiling politely, her face beaming out the winning smile she always carried with her, despite the intense pain. Jeff could see her twinkling eyes looking at him through her NHS specs, her chubby little cheeks and her hair, freshly set into a perm by Lisa, the young girl who used to call around every other Wednesday. He remembered the day Lisa called with her little bag of goodies, and of how he sent her away, telling her that her client would no longer need her services on account of her being dead. It is so strange when a person is there, and suddenly … is not there; when a life, a space, is filled and then … is just removed. For a while people cannot understand the person is gone, it is so strange: ''what do you mean … passed away?''. How can someone you know just … disappear? After a while, the shock is replaced by: ''oh yeah, I remember her, she was so nice, yeah … nice old girl … she passed away.'' The person becomes a memory in a brain, they lose their equality with other members of the species. Lisa and Els always got on, but, looking at the facts, what really happened to Lisa that day was that Els was crossed off a client list in a little book with a ten pence Biro pen.

He reached out his finger and touched her face, feeling only glass. He moved his finger away and looked carefully at where his finger had been. Behind her, on the table were some greeting cards. It had been her birthday that day and the children had come to visit. John had taken the shot. On the nearest card was a picture of a cat. He remembered what she had said to him the day she died. She had told him not to be lonely, to get a companion; only now did he remember those words. She told him that night that she could not bear to think of him on his own. He never gave it a thought, it was something he had never done before, much less feared. He had left his parents to live with her when they had been married and so had no idea of the warning she had offered. He took to drink a couple of weeks after her death, frightened their children into infrequent and strained visits, and found that friends were not friends of his or hers, but of theirs. When he became only one, they faded away.

He pulled back and chuckled.

'A cat?' He paused. 'Don't be so silly!'

He could hear her nagging him to get a cat, a companion, something to look after, to love, to be loved by. It was absurd, a damn cat would be costly and a burden. Els would tell him just to go get it. Jeff would argue that they should wait. Els would say he thought about things too much.

'Oh, do stop nagging, Els!' he said. All the while he watched her smiling face. 'Els, I don't want,' he said, breathing hard, 'a cat. It's too much … work.'

He looked at the photo and she scolded him, she told him that you get out of this life what you put in.

'Well, that didn't help you, my love, did it?'

He paused for a moment, allowing her to speak.

'Okay, okay, I'll get the damn cat, if it'll make you happy!' He paused and took a drink. 'Happy?'

He watched the photo and moved his hand to take another drink from the near empty glass.

'Okay, okay, I know. I don't want to go get the cat and be drunk when it's here.' He looked at the photo. 'I know it's no good for me, love, I know.'

He put the glass on the mantelpiece, decided it was too near to her and moved it away.

He took a coat from the half empty rack and put on his cap. He left the flat and chubbed the door - she always reminded him to do that. Standing by his gate, he hunched his shoulders against the chill wind and looked up and down the street, clouds of breath floating from his mouth. Those damn kids - all gone. Good. No teasing and name calling today.

He walked down the road, hands deep in his pocket, his eyes tight and his vision hazy. He saw Mrs Smith in her front garden; she was putting out the rubbish. She had stopped to watch him. They watched each other as he approached. His dry and pasty tongue worked itself to test whether it might work. He nodded to her as he approached, surprising them both when he stopped by her gate.

'Hello … Mrs Smith.'

'Hello, Mr Talbot. I … how are you?'

He nodded, pulling his head down out of the wind. 'I'm … okay.' He felt sure she would notice his swollen tongue struggling against the roof of his mouth.

'That's good,' she said, 'I was just saying to Mrs Henry, just the other … day … that,' she paused, 'we hadn't seen much of you lately.'

'No,' he said, looking at his worn shoes.

'So, are you okay up there?'

'Yes,' he said, looking up, 'fine … thank-you.'

'Okay,' she said gently. He could never make eye contact, but he could sense she looked on him with a pitying eye.

'In fact,' he said, looking in her general direction, 'I was just off to get myself a cat, you know, keep me company a little.'

She nodded.

'I … I could do with a little company, now that … now that Els has … you know.' He smiled at her.

'Well,' she said. 'Since my Tom passed away, I've taken a lot of comfort from my two.'

Jeff nodded. 'They say that cats are good company … especially for people … on their own. Don't they?'

He swallowed hard and rubbed his shoe on the ground. His brain was tightening, the onset of a hangover. He blew out and shuffled on the spot.

'They do say that,' she said, 'and it's true. I couldn't be without Tigerbell and Molly.'

She had a full black rubbish sack in her hand, the wind occasionally blowing it against the grey metallic bin under the bay window.

'Well,' he said, rubbing his hands together, 'I guess I better be off down to see about this cat then.'

'Where are you going?'

Surprised, he frowned and thought some, before speaking:

'To the pet shop … I suppose.'

'No, no,' she said, lifting the lid of the bin for the sack. She pressed down hard to make it close. 'The pet shop on the High street doesn't sell cats any more. What you need to do is check the ads in the Guardian … for a kitten.'

'Really?' he said, 'a kitten? I was thinking about a full grown cat. A kitten needs training, it's a lot of work.'

She walked towards the gate and stopped. 'It does take a lot of work, but it's worth it. It's easier to bond with a kitten.'

'Right,' he said. 'Well, thanks for that.'

He looked away, wondering what to do, his throbbing head not bursting with ideas. He thought of going home.

'I tell you what,' she said. 'I've got a Guardian indoors. Perhaps you'd like to pop in for a cuppa and we can check the ads together?'

He looked her in the eye, towards the High street and back towards his home. He thought about Els's dying words.

'Unless,' she said, 'you have something …'

'No,' he said, 'I've got nothing.'

'Well,' she said, opening the gate. 'Come in out of the cold and we'll have a look and see what we can find.'

He nodded and smiled. She held the gate and let him into her home.

Archived comments for Talking Pictures

e-griff on 2003-09-01 04:52:18
Re: Talking Pictures
Very nice, Geeza! No complaint about plot from me on this one. Powerfully painted, understated. Bit of a sweet ending, but why not? I thought the whole story trod a line between sentimentality and bare description very well.

One small bit of writing I didn't like: ' He pulled himself up and stretched, his head dropping back clicking with the same sound it made every day when this programme finished. It may be just me, but I found the second phrase slightly lazy.
There was an odd phrase:-
He made the refill, screwed the top on the bottle as far as it would go and restocked his cabinet. - do you mean he put the bottle back? very strange way to describe it - surely?
and I don't think you should say 'he took to drink' - we know that - it is the only misstep to one side of the line in the whole piece, in my opinion. πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-09-01 06:55:15
Re: Talking Pictures
Thanks Griff, glad you liked it. My endings don't tend to be nice, or even traditional, as you know, but sometimes it's good to have a warmer end!
I'll have a look at the sentences you mentioned.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2003-09-01 07:04:44
Re: Talking Pictures
hi, I enjoyed this. Felt it was a little slow to get moving, I would probably have cut up to the first mouthful of brandy. Also there was only one moment that felt unconvincing - the old man said 'okay' when asked how he was, but i felt a 'mustn't grumble' or a 'going along' would be more in keeping, particularly with the conversation that follows. But I liked the ending and the style very much.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-09-01 07:34:20
Re: Talking Pictures
Glad you liked it.
I guess it is fairly slow all the way through, a bit like his life I suppose.
His initial speech was short and very awkward with Mrs Smith, rather than grumpy or in any way chatty. He hadn't spoken much at all recently.
I'll have a think.
Thanks for your comments - always appreciated!

Author's Reply:

Bee on 2003-09-02 03:43:08
Re: Talking Pictures
A compassionate picture of old age. You make it easy to sympathize with Jeff. I thought you got the depressing setting just right and his reaction; old people hate kids playing in the streets etc. I wondered if it would be even more powerful if you switched to first person. Might make it more direct. Just a thought.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-09-02 04:04:37
Re: Talking Pictures
Thanks for your comments, Bee. You might well be right about first person.

Author's Reply:

spacegirl on 2003-10-04 10:24:39
Re: Talking Pictures
It made me think of all the Jeff's in my street when I was growing up. I enjoyed the story & particularly like the ending.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-10-04 10:33:12
Re: Talking Pictures
Thanks, Spacegirl. It's an unusually "nice" ending for me.

Author's Reply:

Bertie Bassett (posted on: 11-08-03)
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Everyone has 15 minutes of fame, sometimes more, but then what?

(1,477 words)

‘Good ol’ Bertie Bassett! He’s no one’s favourite asset!’

Giggles followed in the barmy and smoky atmosphere of the pub. Bertie looked up from his round table, ready for four, seating just one: Noddy, Big Ears and the usual crowd watched him carefully, grinning, but unsure of his reaction. Bertie’s eyes moved slowly away, taking aim at his pint glass. He lifted it and finished the dregs, slammed it upside-down onto the table (to offend the guvnor) and stood up, staggering against the chair that was now pressed against the wall. He felt their stares burning into his liquorice allsort body, before he steadied himself and walked for the door in large and (apparently) carefully constructed steps. He heard them oooh and arrrr; each giggle penetrating deep into his sugary skull. He stopped; they stopped. He had to relieve himself before he left, although he knew he’d be taking a slash on the side of Tesco before he reached his pit anyway. Emerging from the toilets, he heard them laugh straight at him; he wouldn’t look, or he’d go loco and take one or all of them out. He touched inside his pocket, feeling the cold steel against his fingers, giving him comfort.

Outside he bumped into the Milky Bar Kid. The white chocolate man immediately took off his cowboy hat and looked around nervously. Beads of melted chocolate streamed down his shiny forehead.

‘What?’ said Bertie.

‘Alright son?’ said the Kid, jumpy, looking for demons.


‘Got any gear? I … I … I’m desperate for a shot man.’

‘What makes you think I’m carrying?’

The Kid smiled, coyly swung his head and rubbed his forehead. ‘Everyone knows-’

‘Everyone,’ said Bertie, ‘don’t be talking about everyone.’

The Kid nodded his urgent agreement, placing his hands on Bertie’s shoulders. Bertie looked at the white chocolate fingers; the Kid snapped them away. The white chocolate man started jumping up and down on the spot, squeezing his fists.

‘Around the side, you’re making a scene. Making me nervous.’

It was Christmas for the Kid; his eyes lit up like Oxford Street.

‘You packing heat Kid?’

The Kid nodded with short sharp movements of his head. The pair didn’t move. The Kid withdrew his two pistols and handed them to Bertie.

‘I don’t like guns,’ said Bertie, ‘makes me nervous.’

‘Yeah, yeah, fine, fine … shall we?’ He motioned at the alleyway by the side of the pub. Bertie nodded and they walked into the darkness, headed towards some garages around the back.

‘What do you want?’ asked Bertie.

There was no immediate answer as they approached the light. ‘I’ll tell you when we get there.’

As they emerged into the moonlit area, the Kid ran a few steps away and turned. Two other figures stepped from the shadows: the Orange Tango man and Buzz Lightyear of Star Command. Bertie nodded and raised an eyebrow.

‘I’ll tell you what I fucking want you snivelling little shit!’ said The Kid, ‘I wanna see your sorry ass on the floor! You yesteryear nobody!’

‘Kid, leave it will ya?’ said Tango.

‘I figured you were a bit like that with your milky white skin and that pathetic outfit.’ Bertie was looking straight ahead, watching all three characters by flitting his eyes from corner to corner.

‘Why you-’

‘I said leave it Kid! He’s got what’s coming to him.’ From behind his large frame, Tango brought out a baseball bat, Lightyear picked another from the side of a dustbin, leaving the Kid looking for inspiration.

‘I haven’t got anything.’

‘You never had nothing,’ said Bertie. ‘Milky bars lose their appeal to the over fives.’ Bertie lifted the Kid’s two pistols. ‘White chocolate makes me sick.’

‘I hope you unloaded those!’ said Lightyear.

‘Course I did!’ said the Kid, ‘do you think I’m stupid?’

The protective visor dropped down from Lightyear’s helmet with a whoosh, and the two characters moved forward. The Kid watched.

‘I will shoot,’ said Bertie, ‘I’ve done it before. You know that. This patch is big enough for all of us. We don’t need to do this.’

They slowly walked towards him. Bertie pressed the trigger of the gun pointed at Lightyear; it clicked. No one said a word; they continued forward; Bertie’s hand was still in mid-air. The Kid laughed, a crazy insane laugh, reverberating around the enclosure. Bertie lifted the other gun towards Tango, pulled the trigger and it clicked. The Kid’s laugh increased in intensity.

‘Who’s Britain’s greatest asset now?’ he howled.

Bertie dropped the guns and reached inside his pocket and brought out his magnum, aimed at the Kid and pulled the trigger in one swift movement. A deafening shot rang out, stopping the approaching thugs in their tracks. They turned to see the Kid still standing, his head completely torn off. The body slumped forward onto its knees and crashed forward, laying still, ready to become a sticky puddle in tomorrow’s heat. Thousands of white chocolate buttons rained down from the sky, clicking and dancing around the concrete like little white pixies. Bertie stayed still; the sweets pinged off Lightyear’s helmet; Tango thrashed around, trying to swat them away. The shower soon stopped, leaving the floor with a strange ‘just started snowing feel’. In the humid evening, the apparent appearance of snow cast doubt on reality. The characters watched each other; in the distance someone played a violin, otherwise it was silent.

Bertie swung his gun around to Tango; Tango stood firm. He moved his gun around again to Lightyear. Lightyear’s hand was moving towards the laser on his arm.

‘No! Don’t!’ said Bertie; Lightyear stopped.

‘You know,’ said Bertie, turning to Tango, ‘I said it didn’t have to come to this, didn’t I?’

No one spoke.

He looked around as Lightyear made for the laser button on his arm. Bertie pulled the trigger – another deafening explosion of light and noise. Lightyear’s shoulder shattered; his arm span away into the darkness. He fell to his knees and screamed; it was muffled and electronic in content, on account of the visor.

‘I said no!’

He wailed, holding his splintered shoulder. Bertie moved back to Tango; he stood exactly as before. The sound of Lightyear’s wings being extended swung Bertie around. He fired, but the bullet bounced off the visor and hit his own leg. He dropped to one knee, stifling a scream. He fired again, his unsteady aim taking the bullet into Lightyear’s thigh, then another blowing the wing off, sending him tumbling backwards, crashing into a metal bin, knocking all the bins down, spilling putrid food waste over the floor.

Bertie turned to Tango, but he was gone. He looked around in the gloom: nothing. Suddenly, something slapped his face hard; he recovered and saw Tango, but he disappeared again. His head snapped around, catching glimpses of Tango moving at high speed. The blows rained onto Bertie’s face. Sugary blood appeared at the corners of Bertie’s mouth; his eye started to swell. He took aim and fired, taking a chunk of brick from the pub wall. He dropped the gun and pulled another from his pocket. He fired, then again, again … losing count, panicking; all the while the slaps pummelling his head.

‘Cut!’ shouted a voice.

Bertie swung the gun at the source and fired.

‘It out!’ The voice lost impetuous. Bertie saw the shocked face of Rene Artois, the bartender. Rene’s eyes dropped to his chest and saw a gaping red hole in his smart white shirt. He looked up, shock carved onto his face as he fell forward and bounced off the concrete.

The flurry of blows stopped for a moment. Tango appeared to Bertie’s left, watching the fallen body. Bertie took shaky aim and fired. Although off target, the bullet ripped through the top of Tango’s skull, sending a plume of liquid into the air with a fizzy roar. Bertie watched the fountain reach high towards the moon, before he looked down and saw Tango, slumped dead where he had stood. Sticky liquid covered the area, mixing with the chocolate, making a pulpy mess. Tango’s large body completely emptied itself, looking like a deflated doll, a sack of orange skin.

He saw Lightyear loom large out of the right side of his vision. He pointed the gun at him. Lightyear held the baseball bat high above his head, ready to bring it down on the nation’s favourite liquorice allsort. They both froze. Bertie broke the silence:

‘I know what you're thinking, punk. You're thinking, did he fire six shots or only five? Now to tell you the truth, I've forgotten myself, in all this excitement. But being this is a .44 magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself a question. Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?’

Archived comments for Bertie Bassett
Jen_Christabel on 2003-08-11 05:12:18
Re: Bertie Bassett
Hahahahaha. Great fun! Thanks Geeza for another good read.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-08-11 05:29:56
Re: Bertie Bassett
Glad you liked it. Thanks.

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2003-08-11 05:46:22
Re: Bertie Bassett
Loved the idea, and the characters were well-crafted - not too over the top, quite realistic in their way. i thought they worked very well. A whole new universe!

Unfortunately, for me, the joke went on a little too long perhaps...

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-08-11 06:08:18
Re: Bertie Bassett
Cheers Griff, thanks for your comments.

Author's Reply:

kenochi on 2003-08-11 16:35:04
Re: Bertie Bassett
a funny piece, Geeza. For some reason, I imagined this whole thing taking place in the alleyway behind McCluskey's in Croydon, where Riley's snooker club used to be and Darren, the bin-man / football hooligan often used to 'carry.' But that's probably just me.
If I was a picky sort of guy, I would say that i didn't like the simile "like little white pixies" - i just read that and thought 'what?'
i also didn't like "the characters watch each other, in the distance someone played a violin, otherwise it was silent" - too much like a stage direction and made me aware that I was just reading a story and there was one other thing too, but i can't remember it now, which isn't very useful.
Overall though, an entertaining read.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-08-11 17:08:19
Re: Bertie Bassett
I quite liked little white pixies! Other point taken - was trying (and failed) to try and "recreate" the bit on The good the bad and the ugly but couldn't think of a way to bring in the little musical chime thingy.

I'll pop round McCluskeys and see if the characters are still there ...

Ta for feedback...

Author's Reply:

littleredsteve on 2003-08-11 17:25:44
Re: Bertie Bassett
that story had me smiling all the way through (though kenochi's points are good), and the dirty harry - it is dirty harry isn't it? - reference at the end made me laugh out loud. cheers!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-08-12 02:42:58
Re: Bertie Bassett
Yeah, it is Dirty Harry....
Thanks for your comments, glad you liked it!

Author's Reply:

Thomjack on 2003-08-13 14:17:59
Re: Bertie Bassett
Funny piece, nice descriptions. Enjoyed this!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-08-13 16:22:37
Re: Bertie Bassett
Glad you liked it! Thanks for your comment.

Author's Reply:

Pioden on 2003-08-14 08:35:58
Re: Bertie Bassett
Hides bag of Jelly Babies just in case they get involved next time . . .

did I enjoy this

yes I did !

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-08-14 08:51:11
Re: Bertie Bassett
Glad you liked it.
Your jelly babies aren't safe - they're plotting behind your back - keep the kitchen knives locked away, particularly when you're in the shower ....

Author's Reply:

The soldiers are coming! (posted on: 08-08-03)
The world changes suddenly, leaving Ray with a decision to make.

This was one of my early short story efforts - in fact, the second one! Written late 2001. This was the original title, I changed it to 'do the right thing', but changed my mind again!
I recently made some light edits.

Words: 4,751.

The allies capitulated after nine days of fighting, if you can call it fighting. The yellow army slaughtered all before them without stopping to take a breath.

In less time than a family holiday, the western world had been conquered and occupied. A new order had begun. A weapon of mass destruction, too terrible to comprehend, had blasted all before it. The Geneva Convention had been ripped up and tossed from the battered HQ of the United Nations; the word ''atrocity'' had a new definition.

They armies had been beaten, now came the people.


'So where's the army? What are they doing? What's going to happen? What do the Government say? How-'

'Becky, stop asking questions! I don't know nuffin eivver. The bloke is gonna speak; let's hear what he's gonna say, yeah?'

Ray was slouching in his favourite armchair, looking as if sleep was upon him, but he was taking in every sight and sound from the news programme; Rebecca was sitting on the edge of the settee, duster in one hand, ornament in the other; their child, Matthew, was laying on the floor playing with plastic men and cars, oblivious and uncaring for the changing world around him.

'But, I just can't understand-'

'Becks, can you be quiet? I'm trying to listen!'

On the television, a portly man in smart combat fatigues, covered in medals, had stepped onto a podium and had begun to shuffle papers on the stand in front of him. He slowly raised his face to the camera:
'Good evening, conquered people of Britain, I have a small statement to read, followed by some instructions. Listen carefully, as this is of great importance to you and your family.'


'Ray, this is just unbelievable, what are we going to do?'

A long silence followed, before Ray stood up and moved to the television. He watched the pictures of large aircraft on the screen and rubbed his head.

'We'll just have to do as we're told won't we? Just … whatever they say.' He left the room.

Rebecca went to the window and looked into the street. No people walking, no cars moving, nothing. She heard the toilet flush and watched Ray return and slump into his chair, staring at the television.

'So, we just wait around, for up to two weeks, just … waiting?'

'What can you do? Run? They'll find us. You can't go on the run with a seven year old boy anyway. We'll just have to accept the situation and get on the best we can. It probably won't affect us much; they're probably talking about people who play up. We'll just be polite, do as we're told and we'll be okay. In a couple of months, it'll all be normal again, you'll see.'

'Didn't you hear that man? He said that soldiers will be visiting each house to work out how useful you are. If you are of no use to them, you will be … ''processed accordingly''. I don't like the sound of that Ray.'

'I know, but he probably means, you know, manual labourers, un-employed people, thick people; we'll be fine. We're well-to-do people. I'm skilled; this could even be an opportunity for me!' She turned away from his half-smile and watched their son.

'Mum!' Matthew was looking up, holding a police car in his hand. 'What's the matter?'

'Son, come over here,' said Ray, opening his arms. 'Come and tell me about the game you're playing.' Matthew edged towards his father, but he was looking at his mother as she disappeared through the door.


Six thirty in the morning and someone was hammering on the door.

'Open up! Open the door! Hey! You in there! Open the door!'

Ray stirred. He would normally have been up, but the curfew prevented people leaving their homes. 'Honey, go and see who that is?'

'Oh Christ, Ray, no! I'm not opening the door!'

'Mummy!' screamed Matthew. It sounded like the front door was about to fall in.

'Ray! Answer the door, I've got to go to Matthew!'

'Oh, just go to the door, I'm knackered,' he said, his head completely stationary.

'Open the door! Now! Open it or we will knock it down!'
Rebecca jumped up, grabbing her dressing gown as she ran into Matthew's room. 'Don't worry love - I'm just going to see who is making that terrible racket, then I'll be back upstairs and we'll have some tea, okay?'

Matthew's hands were outstretched, his panic-stricken eyes full of silent tears.

'Go and see your dad, he's in bed honey.'

'Mum …' he said, almost whispering.

She pulled Matthew into her arms, spun around and headed for the stairs, hurrying to the door, frightened that it might spring down the hallway at them.

'Okay, okay! Hold on, I'm coming!' She reached the door, the hammering persisting until the door was fully open. 'We were asleep, what's the … rush?' Her tone dropped at the sight of five immaculately dressed soldiers; one in front, the others in a line behind him.

'My name is Lieutenant Janos. Move aside and allow us entry … immediately.'

'Yeah, yeah, okay, I … well, my husband …'

They pushed past and invaded the lounge; the last soldier stood by the front door having gently closed the door with a click.

'Ray! Ray! Come down!'

Matthew started to cry. 'Mummy, I'm frightened,' he whispered.

'You are Mrs Tilbury?' asked Janos.

'Yes … I am, my husband is … just coming down.' She flopped her finger in the general direction of the stairs.

Janos glanced in the direction and turned back. Not a sound could be heard. Matthew's head nestled into the nape of his mother's neck.

Janos turned to a soldier, snapping something in a foreign tongue, sending the subordinate upstairs. Rebecca took a breath, but kept the words buried in her throat.

Janos continued to look Rebecca in the eye. 'You are … a very smart lady Mrs Tilbury,' he said, his dark eyes scanning her body in an instant, the hint of a smile appearing in the corner of his mouth. It disappeared at the sound of movement from the stairs. Ray stumbled in, the soldier following close behind.

Ray was clad only in underpants; he made a clumsy attempt to tidy his unkempt hair with a shaky hand.

'You okay love?' he mumbled, quickly followed by a nervous cough, as he shuffled to his armchair and sat down.

'Mr Tilbury?' snapped Janos.

'Er, yes, I'm Mr–'

'Good,' said Janos, looking down at his clipboard. 'You are a – what?'


'What is it you do for a job, Mr Tilbury?'

'Oh! I'm a computer programmer, yes, computer programmer. I take the–'

'A computer programmer. And you, Mrs Tilbury?'

'Housewife. You know-'

'A housewife,' he said, noting it down.

'I am Lieutenant Janos. I have control of this sector.'

Ray sat forward, 'Sector eh? What sector is that?'

'I need to compile a list of people who will be classified as either a resource who can be utilised or not utilised.'

'Well, I already have a job. I work for a big company in the city called–'

'Excuse me, Lieutenant? What happens to those who can't be utilised?'

He searched his clipboard for nothing in particular. 'Negative population entities will be terminated.' He looked up. 'Put to death. You will be informed of your status within forty eight hours. If you are a negative population entity, you will be given time to settle your affairs. The next morning a squad will arrive and you will be hung from a hook outside your home. This is to display the might of our great army and prove to our subjects that we are here to stay.'

'You must be joking!' said Ray.

'Women and children will most likely be given small manual tasks to perform. Women will be sterilised. Your bloodlines will be severed. Your corrupt society will choke. Good morning.'

He barked at his charges and they left. Rebecca trailed behind them, stopping at her front door as they moved away without looking back. She could see neighbours peering from their doorways, watching, as the soldiers visited each house along the tree-lined suburban avenue.


Early that evening, the doorbell rang. It was Doug. He was wearing a jacket and trousers that had not seen the light of day for some time. He had a yellow armband on his left arm.

'Hello Doug, how are you? Come in,' said Rebecca. 'Haven't seen you for a while?'

'No love, been doing a bit of this, bit of that. You know how it is. Is Razor in?'

She led him into the lounge. Ray turned away from the News.
'Hello me ol' mucker. How's tricks mate?'

Doug shuffled in the doorway, hands anchored in his pockets. 'Okay mate, can't complain, you know.'

'Sit down! Becks! We got any beers, love?'

'Well, I'd rather not, if it's all the same,' he said, looking down, 'I'm trying to stay off that stuff now mate.'

'Get off with ya! You? Hah! Whenever I'm in the pub, you're always in there too!'

'Yeah, well, the pub's closed.'

'It'll open again soon mate, things will start to–'

'No mate, for good, I reckon.'

'Sit down mate will ya! You're making me nervous standing there, you ol' fart!'

'I'd rather … yeah, okay mate, cheers.'

'Do you wanna cup of tea Doug?' asked Rebecca.

'No ta, love.' He sat down, continuing to examine the floor, before looking up at Ray. 'So, what's happening now mate?'

'It's just fucking unbelievable. The government … gone! Just gone! The Royal family, God rest their souls, all gone! They shot the fucking lot of 'em on live tele! Right here on Sky News! I nearly dropped my beer can when I see the Queen take one in the bonce.'

'Yeah, things are changing.'

'So where's the bloody armed forces? The Yanks? Where's all the missiles and defences?'

'They're all dead mate. They got this new technology. I reckon it's from outer space; no match for our boys. The missiles they did manage to fire were just intercepted – no bother.'

'Shit! All that money, deterrents and agreements … all for nothing, eh?'

'Yeah, well, no one expected this lot to suddenly attack did they? They're cleaning up down South America now, then they've got the fucking lot. People are better off dead. I hear they're divvying up everything into sections and ruling them with an iron fist.' The pictures from the television danced around Doug's face in the dim light.

'We had a visit this morning from one of the bastards. Sent him away with a flea in his ear, I can tell you. You had a visit yet? Perhaps not, would have thought they'd get around to the high earners to find out what they can offer, then get around to you lot.' He laughed. 'Perhaps they'll see you tomorrow, you should be at home, case they come round, surly buggers. Your missus–'

'I met them already mate. He knocked me up at about three this morning.'

'Yeah? What did they say?'

'He said a few things. I kept me mouth shut, you know, ''Yes Sir, No Sir'', all that shit.'

'Ah! Wrong move mate, they're soldiers, they admire a bit of aggression. Show 'em you're no ponce, they'll respect ya for it.'

Rebecca walked back in with two cups of tea; she handed one to Ray, leaving the other cupped in her hands. 'Jesus. What's happening? This just isn't–'

'British,' said Ray. 'Britain hasn't been conquered for over a thousand bloody years, so I'm sure someone, somewhere, has got something planned for these yellow bastards. I can't believe–'

'This is like something you see on television, something happening to other people, miles and miles away, but not here, not in this country. To see real soldiers, standing in my front room, holding guns, intimidating us and–'

'I wasn't fucking intimidated love, I can tell ya! I'd have punched his yellow fucking eyeballs out if he'd touched you or the boy–'

'You were just as scared as we were.'

Ray glanced at Doug; to his relief, Doug was watching the screen and paying no attention. On the screen bodies were being dragged across the courtyard at Buckingham Palace by soldiers who looked like they had just stepped off the parade ground; the frequent close ups showed their emotionless and clean faces, going about their jobs without any thought for what they were doing.

'Doug, why are you wearing that armband by the way?' asked Rebecca.

'Oh, that?' said Doug, fumbling with it, 'that's just so I can walk around during curfew without getting into trouble with the peacekeepers.'

'Peacekeepers? You're having a fucking laugh, aren't you Doug?'

'Why would you have that Doug?' continued Rebecca, 'who gave you that?'

Doug coughed. 'Lieutenant Janos did. He offered me a job as liaison officer for this sub-district.'

'Sub-district? Purley?'

'No, this sub-district is Alpha 352, of Charlie 43 district. That's part of–'

Ray shuffled forward, irritated. 'Excuse me Doug … you telling me that we live in a–'

'It's like a grid pattern. Look, I don't know much about it, they just told me this morning. So what anyway, eh?'

'Well it matters to us Doug,' said Rebecca, sitting down. 'So what's this job mean?'

'It just means that I get to keep my … well, it just means that I get given odd jobs by … that I'm just a run around for … Janos. You know, that bloke who came to see you this morning.'

'Oh, right, well that's nice for – hold on a minute,' said Ray, getting to his feet. 'How did you know that I saw someone called Janos?'

'Look, sit down Ray, okay?'

'Fuck off! Telling me to sit down in me own house pal!'

'Just sit down - it's for your own good.'

'What does that fucking mean?' said Ray, stepping forward.

'Stop right there! I've got this beeper,' he said, lifting a small device, 'if I press it, twenty soldiers will burst in here and sort you out. I'm just here to pass on information. You've got a fucking kid sitting there, he could get hurt if soldiers come flying in here. Don't make me press the fucking button Ray.'

Ray looked at Rebecca's shell-shocked face.

'I can't believe it, I've been down that fucking pub for–'

'Just fucking sit down and listen, I haven't got much time.'

Ray sat down, deep into his comfy armchair. 'Just say what you have to say, and get out, okay?'

'That's what I'd prefer.'

'Oh God … Doug, how could you? They only arrived–'

'Look, I know … I gotta family … they asked … I just couldn't …'

They looked at each other. Doug looked away, down into his lap, swallowed and continued:
'Anyway, I have instructions from Lieutenant Janos,' he said.

'Look! Uncle Doug! I gotta new police car!' said Matthew, offering up the shiny toy.

'That's great Matthew.' He gestured at Rebecca.

'Matthew, come away from uncle Doug, he needs to tell us something.'

'Look, I really am …' he faltered, shaking his head. 'Okay … Lieutenant Janos asks me to tell you that Ray Tilbury, you have been classified as someone who cannot be utilized and as a consequence will be put to death.'

'Oh my God!' Rebecca's eyes were wide open. 'That has to be a mistake, Ray is … it must be a mistake … he–'

'I'm sorry Becky, I really am. It's not a mistake. They don't make mistakes. I'm sorry Ray.'

Ray stared at him, unblinking. 'Mistake,' he said, half-heartedly. 'Must be … I'm important, I'm … I work for …' His face changed and he smiled. 'It's some kind of joke!' His expression stuck fast, as if the wind had changed, half way between panic and laughter.

'It's all changed Ray. I'm sorry. I don't know what to say.'

'Say it's a mistake, go back to Janos and tell him he has made a terrible–'

'No Becky, it's not, he told me himself.'

'What about Matthew? He needs a father!'

'Janos asks me to inform you, Rebecca Tilbury, that you will be engaged to serve the Imperial army. Your task is to … keep Wolmestone Gardens clean. This means litter, leaves, anything that is not in its place should be removed. Any lack of compliance will be dealt with by … will be dealt with severely. He asks me to point out to you, that he is being merciful on you, and you should be grateful. You should show your gratefulness, whenever appropriate.'

'All she has to do is keep her fucking road clean and she can just carry right on? Well, that's not fucking fair! I get the rope, and she gets ten minutes a week work! What the–'

'Ray! Matty can hear you! Shut up! You will scare him!'

'You're worried about that, and I'm going to be swinging from a rope!'

'Listen, stop it will ya? Both of you. I'll have to press the button; I'm pushed for time.'

'What about Matty?'

'Matthew Tilbury will be allowed to live with you. For now.'

'What does that mean?'

'When he gets … to a certain age, he will be re-evaluated. Okay? That's all I can tell you about it. Please be grateful. You've actually done okay.' The beeper was held up to deter another outburst.

'I'm not going to just sit back and take that. I'll just fuck off, what's the point of hanging around?'

'For Christ's sake Ray, what about–' started Rebecca.

'Look. Don't do that Ray. Accept what's coming to you.' Doug stood up to leave. 'They'll be here on Saturday morning. Make your peace Ray.' He turned and checked the door. 'They're asserting their authority … just … if we just do as we're told, maybe they'll … maybe it'll be okay in the long run.'

'Well, fuck it! I'm just gonna fuck off, hide, they'll never get me!'

Doug shook his head. 'You can't. Look …' he said, glancing at the door again, downwards, then back at Ray. 'If you're not here, they will … look, they will come back and … well, I've heard that they will rape the wives of any man who has run. They are men of honour, and won't touch them if the men do the honourable thing, but will … you know, if they … they will, okay?'

'Oh, Jesus.' Rebecca's blood chilled and flooded downwards.

'I advise you, Ray, to … just do the right thing, eh?' he paused. 'Rebecca, you will receive notification as to when you have to go to the hospital to be … be sterilized. Matthew will also have to have a surgical procedure … not now, but in time to stop him having any children too, okay?'

'What's the point of me being sterilized if …'

'Just go, yeah? It's a standard thing, last year, my Janice was … well, okay, look, I gotta go. Sorry to … look, sorry, okay?'

With that, he disappeared into the night.


It was Friday night and they sat in the front room, silent. Matthew was playing soldiers by the window.

A newscaster introduced an address to be given by the general who had spoken previously.

He launched into a lecture about how the people should obey the new regime and that small pockets of civil disobedience had been crushed, backing this up with gruesome footage from major towns and cities around the country. He said that all citizens should have received personal instructions and that normal life was cancelled and no work or schooling was permitted. Authorization was required to leave your house as all needs would be delivered directly to your door. He warned of terrible consequences for breaking these rules. The people of the world were now only duty bound to serve the Imperial regime.

'I'm not going to stand around here and wait for this!' He jumped up and kicked the coffee table; it moved, but didn't overturn. 'No fucking way Josι!'

'Ray, if you go, they'll get you.'

'Hah! As if you're worried about that! You just don't want to have Mr Yellow man coming in here to–'

'Don't you dare!'

'Well, come on, we're talking about me getting strung up here and all we're talking about for you is sex. It's not like you're having an affair or anything. I wouldn't mind; it wouldn't affect our marriage … much. Obviously we'd have to take our time getting back to it, make sure you didn't get any diseases, but at the end of the day, it's just sex! I'd have a fighting chance. Things will calm down and I can come back, can't I?'

'Just sex? You're happy to let a bunch of soldiers come in here and … what about Matty! You want him to see that?'

'Daddy, where are you going?'

'Look son, I'm just going away for a few days, I'll be back soon, don't you worry. I'll try and pick you up something nice, eh?'

'Okay! Can you get me an Action Man? Can I have one with a beard?'

'I think that,' he looked at Rebecca, 'I'll certainly try, eh, sport?' He rubbed Matthew's mop of brown hair.

'For God's sake Ray, you can't leave me for them to do that! How could you?'

'Look, it's not like you'll get pregnant, you're in hospital next week for … you know, for the procedure, so you'll be okay, eh?' He went to the window and looked outside. 'Perhaps, just lie back and … perhaps not.' He went upstairs.

Two minutes later he reappeared with a small holdall. 'Look love, I can't seriously be expected to wait around for the morning like they're sending me a parcel in the fucking post. It's the end game! Think of that! Think of me! At least you'll still be alive!'

'How do you know? You don't know that do you? What if they kill me too? What about Matty? If you do as you're told, maybe they'll let me and your son live.'

'Look, Becks, I've got to give myself a fighting chance. Perhaps they'll leave you alone anyway? Maybe it's just scare tactics to keep me here; keep me quiet and all that.'

'Please Ray, don't leave me now, not now, do it for your son.'

'Come and give Daddy a hug mate.' Matthew ran to him and disappeared in his father's arms.

'Don't forget my Action Man, Daddy! I like soldier games!'

Ray looked at Rebecca, but she turned away. 'Just go Ray, just go.'

Ray slipped out of the house without a sound.


He looked up the long tree-lined avenue. People were in their front gardens. He could see soldiers. They were conversing with the residents. In the distance, he could see Mr Seymour, seventy years old if he was a day. He wore purple slippers and a sensible cardigan.

The soldier was making a noose. They were talking quietly, efficiently. The soldier went across to his vehicle and returned with two large hooks. Together the soldier and Seymour attached the hooks to the wall – one high, the other lower. The rope was thrown over the top hook and secured to the lower. The soldier shook the old man's hand and returned to the armoured car parked in the middle of the road.

Ray swallowed hard, 'Jesus …'

He looked around, and scurried into the night.


'Where husband?' demanded the soldier.

'He's gone - hopefully he'll back be soon. He's just popped to the shops, I think.'

'No shop. Closed.' He spun around, shouting a stream of foreign words at the army vehicle across the road.

Rebecca looked around. 'Go inside sweetie,' she said, placing a shaky hand on the back of Matthew's head as he went inside.

She looked up the street; the soldiers were working their way towards her. They had been to the lower numbers already, including Doug's. That house stood as normal. Most other houses were displaying the bodies of various men-folk, heads bowed awkwardly, necks broken. Some women were on display, but not many.

Lieutenant Janos stepped from the vehicle, immaculately dressed as before, his shiny, knee-high boots traversing the ground between them.

'Where is your husband Mrs Tilbury?'

'I think that he's gone to the–'

'He has run then?'

'No, I think that he's gone to the shop.'

'Mrs Tilbury,' he said, snapping his cane into a leather glove, making her jump, 'this is a very difficult time for everyone. We are just following orders, and I am sure this whole situation is very stressful for you. The fact of the matter is that your husband has run away; he is a coward. He brings dishonour to his family and his … former country.' He spat in the gutter, and turned to another soldier, speaking quickly in his mother tongue.

'No, Mr Janos, I'm sure that–'

'I am sure, Mrs Tilbury, that your husband has run away. He will be caught, that is for certain, for he has nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.' She froze as he looked slowly from the tips of her toes to the top of her head. 'Unfortunately, he has bestowed upon you a punishment. The punishment is designed to show others …' he stopped. 'We were merciful to you and your family. You have thrown this back in our faces.'

'I couldn't stop him, he was scared, you must understand that?'

'The Imperial army will punish you now. Please do not resist. It is not enjoyable for us either. I will perform the punishment. Please go inside and I will follow.'

Her eyes filled with tears. She turned and went inside.

'No, wait!' He snapped. She turned, looking. 'Graves, come here.'

Doug appeared from the vehicle, looking sheepish. 'Yes, Sir.'

'You told me that you thought Mr Tilbury would run. You also mentioned that you like Mrs Tilbury; you will administer the punishment. This will make it better for her, easier.'

'But Sir, I–'

'Do it now Graves, and do not take too much time. Get the job done. We will wait here for you,' he hesitated, looking at the frightened woman, dressed only in a blue dressing gown and slippers. 'Now, please.'

Doug moved towards Rebecca. She closed her eyes, her chance gone, turned and walked inside.


He scampered from car to car, like a fox foraging for food. At nearly every house he passed, the former master hung by the door.

Not a soul stirred. No sound could be heard. Every movement he made seemed to be amplified and broadcast into the avenue.

He could see the over-grown hedge at the front of his house. He made a mental note to attend to the hedge more often when things had died down, especially now he wouldn't have to return to work. He could have some quality time with his family. They would all be cooped up in the house, but things could have been worse.

He could see the front room light was on – great – Rebecca was up. He bet that nothing had happened. He'd get her flowers and she would forgive him, she always did. This was all one big yellow ruse to get people to go quietly. Well, Ray Tilbury never went anywhere quietly! He didn't do what his parents or teachers had told him to do, and he wasn't about to start now!

He got between his own car and next door's car – rest in peace John. The soft glow from their front room gently illuminated the pavement.

He was hungry after four days in the park and hoped for a good meal. No soldiers had even checked there for him! Hidden away in the playground, there were no flies on Ray Tilbury!

He worried about the gap between the car and his house; this was the most dangerous bit; if the soldiers were watching, he was toast. Fortune favours the brave though! Run fast and with a bit of luck, it'd be scram and tele within ten minutes!

He picked up his bag and steadied himself.

Go! He ran as fast as possible through the open gate and up his path, stopping dead in his tracks.

Hanging from a hook assembly was Matthew.

Archived comments for The soldiers are coming!
pgarner on 2003-08-08 06:07:01
Re: The soldiers are coming!
This quickly gets really good. Couple of suggestions to make it even better:

- Ditch the intro and start at "So where’s the army?" Could insert any facts about the war you need to get across into the news broadcast perhaps.

- Loved the scene where Doug lets them know their fate, thought he was really well done.

- The next scene, Ray's "all we’re talking about for you is sex" speech didn't quite work for me. Even though that's the logic of the situation as he sees it, can't imagine anyone saying that. Saving his own neck is his no 1 priority, but he would still surely have a little more compassion for his wife, and kid.

- Thought by the time Matthew says "I like soldier games!" it's laying it on a bit thick. And with your twist you need the whiny brat to elicit a more sympathetic response. His parents have just been having a row about some heavy shit but he seems totally unconcerned.

All constructive I hope. Great story!

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2003-08-08 06:42:03
Re: The soldiers are coming!
I read this with interest all the way, gripping stuff. I agree there could be more edits etc.but generally the writing is excellent, which is what we expect from you. All the way through I was thinking - this is great, I'm going to like this one.. and then I got to the end. You have constructed a very believable scenario here - OK a little hard to swallow reality wise on reflection, but convincing for the moment, like a good action movie. and then, and then? Not much! What was the resolution? Killed his son? not a big surprise - certainly not a 'twist' For me, it's a shame. A lot of well crafted work here, left hanging. I think you should seriously think through a good plot and re-work the ending to give us something to admire. best πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-08-08 07:24:43
Re: The soldiers are coming!
Thanks for your comments PG. Appreciate them as always.

I quite like the opening, I think there aren't too many words to describe the end of civilisation as we know it!

For the "all we're talking" bit. Perhaps. Although it's very hard to imagine what you would do in such a circumstance. I think he proves himself a bit of a selfish git and coward before that too - i.e when they're knocking on the door. He thinks if she can just endure that, perhaps he might escape. I'll have a think. I wrote this yonks ago and might leave it "warts and all" to see where I was, and hopefully where I'm going.

Glad you liked it. Although written in Nov 2001, I still really like the actual story myself. I found it thought provoking as I typed it in at the time!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-08-08 07:48:44
Re: The soldiers are coming!
Thanks for your feedback Griff.

It's funny you say it's hard to "swallow reality wise on reflection". I think the story was partly inspired by me watching television footage from one of the recent wars that we seem to enjoy participating in (or possibly Sept 11th) - plus riding down a long road on a bus! I got to thinking that the footage from these places was almost like a film, didn't seem real, could never happen in Britain (or France!). BUT ... what would happen if we were somehow conquered by a (probably) non-Western entity? These atrocities we hear of; what would we think if we saw them happen here ... not just here, but in your own street, not just in your own street, but to you! So ... it's unlikely to happen in Britain, but not impossible. That was the main point I was trying to make. The rather sick "would you die to stop your wife being raped" question was another!

The resolution was supposed to be a short sharp shock for the returning coward. Or is he a coward? Discuss! (lol)

I thought it was a surprise; Doug inferred she would be raped as a punishment (a recognised weapon of war/terror) - but this was maybe wishful thinking by the collaborator (as Janos said Doug "liked her") - and women and children should be okay.

I did try and map some of the elements of real war into the story - collaborators etc. Does war normally have an ending? Questionable.

Glad you enjoyed it up to the end - and thanks again for your reply!

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2003-08-08 08:27:20
Re: The soldiers are coming!
As I said, I think you can make a much better story out of it...:-)

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-08-08 08:32:58
Re: The soldiers are coming!
Yeah! Send for Truckerson! lol πŸ™‚ He could march the yellow army straight back to ... wherever they came from!
Thanks Griff, I shall have a think.

Author's Reply:

Jen_Christabel on 2003-08-08 10:23:04
Re: The soldiers are coming!
Thought-provoking stuff there. It was very disturbing, but that made the piece! Something that I found interesting in the way it was written is that it's ahistorical; pick a war or country and slot the story right in there.
Great read, thank you.
Jaycee :o)

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-08-08 10:32:08
Re: The soldiers are coming!
Thanks Jaycee, glad you enjoyed it.

Author's Reply:

Thomjack on 2003-08-09 11:40:34
Re: The soldiers are coming!
I thought this was a really powerful and thought-provoking story. Is Ray a coward? Who knows what any of us would do in this situation. I thought it was interesting to reverse the usual situation, ie. the west invading another country and imposing their own rules. Would we like it if we were invaded? I think not. Great story. Perhaps it could do with a little bit of editing but please don't lose any of the power! A terrific read.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-08-09 16:55:05
Re: The soldiers are coming!
Thanks for your comments, glad you liked it.

Yes, could do with some editting, but I'm going to leave it like it is. It was the second story I'd written and I still like the actual story itself.

I think we do feel secure in this country, and the wars and bad things that happen in other countries don't seem real. They are.

Many thanks for making it a 'hot story'!

Author's Reply:

pgarner on 2003-08-10 04:50:16
Re: The soldiers are coming!
Yeah I feel like that about my older stuff too!

Still, it's an interesting (and topical) idea... and this is the basis for something really good.

Author's Reply:

harv on 2003-08-10 14:04:41
Re: The soldiers are coming!
Thought this was very well written, but like e-griff also thought it hovered on the wrong side of believable, and tapered a bit at the end.

There was a little too much order in it for me, when I expected a little more chaos; too much 'giving-up' - maybe a reflection of my own character!

(A little rich coming from me, perhaps...can't say that my stories don't waver, or tread the wrong side of realism)

Very good read nonetheless.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-08-10 14:15:32
Re: The soldiers are coming!
That was the whole point ... it isn't believable - as such - but it should be, because there is nothing to say it couldn't happen. It's also surprising how quickly people cave in and "give up" too. Countries, people ... I think there's a lot of 'let's try and make the best of it' rather than taking a stand. Plenty of collaborations with invading armies throughout history!
Glad you like it anyway... thanks for your comment!

Author's Reply:

kenochi on 2003-08-10 15:52:40
Re: The soldiers are coming!
Alright Geeza?
I thought this was pretty impressive for a first effort and like all your pieces, your naturally readable style of writing carries the whole thing along. I like the way you write because you seem to put story telling first, which is what i try to do and is the way i think it should be done.
Criticism wise I haven't got anything original to say, so i'll just echo Griff's pont about the ending, which felt a bit disappointing. But I didn't have a problem with 'believability' as some others did. If fiction always has to be rational and based on fact it would be very dull and no-one would read it. One of the points of fiction is imagination, on the part of both writer and reader. If the reader isn't a willing participant in that process, then it never works, regardless of the subject. As a scenario, I personally found this quite convincing. Anyway, this is turning into a bit of an essay.
Take it easy (but take it)


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-08-10 16:33:05
Re: The soldiers are coming!
Thanks for your feedback Kenochi, appreciated as always!
Agree with your points.

Author's Reply:

richa on 2003-08-13 09:32:28
Re: The soldiers are coming!
Very readable and gripping. Disliked Ray completely but sympathised with his wife.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-08-13 10:03:32
Re: The soldiers are coming!
Thanks for your feedback Richa - glad you liked it.

Author's Reply:

Skeeter on 2003-08-14 13:52:52
Re: The soldiers are coming!
I bet you enjoyed writing this, it seems so! I certainly enjoyed reading it, I found it gripping. Loved the story, good idea. To me, it ended too abruptly, I was expecting a bit more. Maybe the ending does need a tiny bit of work to be more punchy or dramatic or surprising or something.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-08-14 14:14:38
Re: The soldiers are coming!
When the world has completely turned upside-down, it's quite hard to make a surprise!!

But yes, perhaps it does need something.

Thanks for your feedback.

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2003-10-13 06:38:33
Re: The soldiers are coming!
This was a great read! I thoroughly enjoyed it, though I agree with some of the views of other posters in that Matthew just wasn't a sympathetic enough character for the ending. Ok, he was a kid, but other than that there wasn't a lot to suggest he was a likeable kid.
The sections featured Doug were well-handled, as was Ray's cowardice and sense of self-importance. I think Rebecca would have been more outspoken and hostile towards his selfish and callous attitude, but perhaps being with Ray (who clearly hadn't earned the 'Razor' nickname) had already taught her about his basic nature.

Still, very well done, mate. But one other thing: Several people have criticised the ending. Maybe, then, the story could have more life in it than you've allowed?
To be honest, I think you could have the basis for a full-length novel, there.
Thanks for a great read. πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

Kevin (posted on: 01-08-03)
Click to see more top choices

My friend Kevin.

(579 words).

Kevin was a small, fat guy. He wore tatty clothes, wheezed and sweated profusely from every pore – even on a cold day. I'd say no one liked him. I speak of Kevin in the past tense because Kevin is dead.

Kevin was always in the pub. I know, because I'm always in the pub. One day, Kevin, whose toilet visits never lasted less than thirty minutes, electrocuted himself sitting on the bog. They say there was a violent thunderstorm outside when it happened; I was too pissed to notice. Apparently, he reached for the roll at exactly the same moment lightening streaked down from the sky and shot into the metal holder. They never found his pants. Some were surprised his Wellington boots didn't save him, but the combination of the metal, the copious quantity of sweat and the previous night's masala was enough to take him from us.

His bum cheeks fused with the plastic seat; the emergency services looked at them, but couldn't find a way to detach him – I think the putrid smell (he hadn't flushed remember) put them off. The screws holding the seat to the basin were completely rusted, so they were stuffed. They brought his mum up in a cab and she signed his body over to Geoff (the landlord).

Kevin's still in trap one now, sitting there with a manic grin on his face; I had another quick peek about half an hour ago. You can see his stained teeth coming out of his gums (his lips are bared like a dog), and where he's starting to rot, you can get a good look at the roots too. I liked biology at school; I think the human anatomy is really interesting. He gets a new hairstyle every day, as the kids sneak past Geoff during deliveries and style it for him. Someone flushed the chain and used some good air freshener in there, so the smell isn't too bad either. The stuff doesn't smell of lavender or anything, it just takes the badness away, leaving just a hint of something having been sprayed. I'll tell mum to get some I reckon. I must ask Geoff what it is.

Kevin's popularity has shot through the roof since it happened. As the bolt came down, he went up. Funny how things happen. When I walk around the bar, they're all talking about Kevin. Personally, I'm fed up with it. Geoff said takings have gone up since it all happened. At the end of the night people say: ''To Kevin!'' and bang their glasses together. Sometimes they sing rowdy songs about how much they love Kevin. My mum came in for half a stout the other day and had to leave because of the noise. She asked me who Kevin was; I told her I didn't know. I didn't want her thinking her only son was less popular than a dead man stuck to a pub toilet seat.

I haven't spoken with anyone about what happened. I used to speak with Kevin from time to time, so I guess people are wary of talking to me about it. I suppose from my point of view, it's nice to know my best friend is near at hand and I can always take my newspaper into trap two and have a chat any time I want. I won't be able to see him and people will never know it was me that pulled his eyes out.

Archived comments for Kevin

kenochi on 2003-08-01 02:25:09
Re: Kevin
i'm not really sure if this is any good or not, but its pretty sick though. Geeza, you are a very ill young man. Seek help immediately!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-08-01 03:00:30
Re: Kevin
I sought help, like you said, but the doctor said not to worry, that my youth would get better over time. πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

RoyBateman on 2003-08-01 09:38:54
Re: Kevin
Thia amused me tremendously - but that's slightly worrying, given the somewhat basic nature of the story. Every pub should have a Kevin - Wetherspoons should make them compulsory. After all, where else are you going to get a sensible conversation when you're pissed? And who's going to smell worse that you do?

Author's Reply:

Heirloom on 2003-08-01 11:18:40
Re: Kevin
Disturbingly funny, geeza. I liked this - short, sharp, original, with a good ending - good work for less than 600 words!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-08-01 13:27:02
Re: Kevin
Glad you both liked it. Sitting in front of the computer Thursday evening, Kevin just popped into my (obviously deranged) head and I felt the need to record it!

Author's Reply:

shadow on 2003-08-01 18:02:13
Re: Kevin
Dear me, the things that go on in Gent's lavatories - you would never encounter anything remotely like it in the Ladies.

Author's Reply:

Romany on 2003-08-02 02:32:56
Re: Kevin
Funny. Twisted. Liked it!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-08-02 07:55:46
Re: Kevin
I bet it's worse in there!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-08-02 07:56:14
Re: Kevin
Twisted? This was based on real life! πŸ™‚
Glad you liked it.

Author's Reply:

ruadh on 2003-08-02 09:03:51
Re: Kevin
I found this disturbingly funny, not sure whether I should be more worried about you for writing it or me for enjoying it *smile*


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-08-02 12:32:54
Re: Kevin
Glad you found it funny! Worry not for me, I'm not sick ... honest.

Author's Reply:

Thomjack on 2003-08-03 03:09:27
Re: Kevin
Great story - twisted and funny. You managed to fit so much into less than 600 words which is amazing. This made me laugh, especially the ending. Thanks for a great read.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-08-03 05:04:03
Re: Kevin
Glad you liked it. I laughed when writing it too!

Author's Reply:

JenChristabel on 2003-08-03 06:01:13
Re: Kevin
I found this horrible and sick...and very amusing...does that mean I am deranged too?!
Thanks for the read
Jen :o)

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2003-08-03 06:05:24
Re: Kevin
It does. Welcome to my world. πŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

CheeseAndOnion on 2003-08-04 07:26:05
Re: Kevin
Not sure about 'bum cheeks', it's a tad on the chick/clit lit for me.
A nice filler story.

Author's Reply:

Paradise Towers (posted on: 28-07-03)
A follow up to `Another Day in Paradise`.

To read that first Click Here

Dave receives unwelcome news and visitors one morning.

(warning! Strong language and content!)
This 6,642 words - not more, as reported by this website.

'What do you fucking mean? How can my dole credits have stopped? Who stopped them?'

'I'm afraid I cannot say. They have been suspended pending.' There's a silence.

'Pending what?'

'I'm afraid that's all the information I can give you at this time.'

'That's not fucking good enough! Hello? Hello?'

I throw the phone on the floor. Bits spin across the floor.

'Those fucking pakis!'

'What? What?' says fat fuck mum.

'They stopped my fucking dole!'

'Why? Why?'

'How the fuck should I know?'

Mum is standing hands on fucking hips, about as useful as an ashtray on a fucking motorbike.

'What are you gonna do?'

I swing my arm across the table and the bacon sarnie follows the phone. The plate smashes. Mum struggles to get down to pick it up.

'Why don't you lose some fucking weight?'

Into the front room, Ad and his mate give the customary ''fuck off, Dave'', but it's not fucking funny today; they're lucky I don't kick their fucking heads inside out. I don't answer, my brain is racing. What am I gonna fucking well do with no dosh? What did I do wrong? How can they take it away? It's my fucking right as a citizen of this poxy country. Fucking federal superstate? They're having a fucking laugh.

There's a knock on the door.

'Who can that be?' says Mum, walking into the front room.

'Well fucking well open the door and see, you pratt!'

The acne-faced squirts laugh. I give some respect, they're level fourteen ''Team Stalkers''. They are feared and respected all over the net.

'Dave,' says Mum from the front door. I hear footsteps coming up the hallway. Two suits come into the room, Mum is just behind.

'Who the fuck are you?'

'David Hobbs?'

I frown at him.

'Are you David Hobbs?' asks the other. They seem like big fuckers. I stand, attempting to ease away the threat I'm feeling. They're still big.

'Who the fuck are you?'

'Yes he is,' says Ad, battling away with his game controller.

'Ad!' says Mum.

'You have to come with us, David.'

'Who are you?'

'They're from FUB, love,' says Mum.

'What you fucking want with me?'

'Just come quietly, David.'

'What do you want with me?'

'This is Operative Jones, I'm Operative Smith; we're from the Family Unity Bureau.'

'I'm getting fucking pissed off with this, I said -'

'Stop swearing.'

'Please stop swearing,' says the other.

'Fuck you, or I'm gonna rip out your -'

The punter nearest has pulled a scoozy. That'll shock me into a forced four-hour kip.

'What the fuck?'

'Swear again, David, and I will use this.'

'Fucking hell, mate, I only -'

He moves towards me. I put my hands up, offering the most ridiculous smile I've ever painted on my boat race.

'Last chance, David.'

'Pause it, pause it!' says Ad. The screen freezes and they look up. I glance down at Ad. 'Dave's gonna get scoozed! Don't press Start, don't press start!'

There's a bit of an impasse. I'm not gonna move … no way. They're waiting to see if I am. I'd tell them I'm not, but I'm not about to move my mouth. Mum's standing like a statue, don't know why, it wouldn't have enough current to get through the blubber. After a while, the bloke with the scoozy lowers it slightly.

'That's better, David, much better. Let's all be civil about this. Okay?'

'What's he done?' asks Mum.

'Is that okay, David?'

I'm still not moving. He sees the problem and hides the thing behind his back. I nod my head at him.

'Do you know Miss Miller?'

I shake my head.

'Come now, you know Miss Miller.'

'Come on, David,' says the other, 'play the game.'

'No,' I say, trying not to swear. 'I don't.'

'Miss Claudia Miller?'

'You know Claudia,' says big-mouth frumplestiltskin standing by the door. She hasn't eaten for ten minutes, the diet must be eating away at her fucking brain. 'She's his girlfriend.'


'Miss Miller was confirmed this morning and named you as accessory.'

'Accessory to what?' asks Mum.

'Fucking hell, Mum!'

The lights went out.


I wake up with my head lolling around my shoulder, aching like fuck.

'Where the fuck -'

A flash of blinding light and pain in the head. Everything comes slowly back into view again. It's the bitch Claudia sitting opposite, moving in time with the minibus. Minibus?

'Where the fuck -'

Another flash, instant headache and the scene again materialises slowly from blinding white to the drab denim jacket draped around that whore Claudia. To my right is a bloke in a prison uniform, or what looks like one. He's got the scooze in his hand. He waves it at me.

'Swear again, David, and I'll do it again. Every time you swear, you get a shock from my scooze stick. Swear ten times in a day, and you get a full scooze, which is four hours.'

I nod, looking at the torturous thing in his hand. It's smaller than a scooze stick, but the word ''Scooze'' is written on the stalk in familiar scooze font. I've seen it in DVDs.

The minibus has a bench running its length on either side, from the back doors to the driver and passenger seat. Claudia sits opposite, and there's another drab and grimy couple next to her. This handy-with-scooze-stick twat is sat next to me. I'd like to stick it right up his fucking arse and see how he likes it. He probably would, the fucking faggot.

'Where am I?'

'Why, David,' he says, 'you're in a minibus.'

I smile. 'Where am I going?'

'You and your wife-to-be are headed to Paradise Towers.'

'Wife-to-be? Fuck off!'


'That's three. Seven to go.'

'What do you mean wife-to-be?'

'You're in the family way, David … so … you must make a family.'

'Family way? No way.'

'The lovely Claudia confirmed this morning … didn't you dear?'

She nods her dreary, skinny, stupid fucking head.

'Congratulations, David!'

'I never … it wasn't me!'

'Now, now.'

'Everyone's fucked -'



'It could've been Trev! Could've been any one of 'em!'

'Now, now, that's no way to talk about the future Mrs Hobbs.'

'She ain't gonna be -'

'Oh, she is David, she certainly is.'

'I'll never do it!'

'No choice, David.'

'What do you mean?'

'It's compulsory at Paradise Towers. All families must be families in the eyes of the law.'

'Fuck the law!'


'Will you stop doing that!'

'Five! Give me five, David, please … give me five.'

'Tell him! Claudia! Tell him that everyone has … that you've been … that … you've had sex with a lot of blokes.'

She nods.

'See! Could be any one!'

'What else do we know, Claudia, my dear?'

She shrugs.

'We know that all the other men have worn something … don't we, Claudia? All the other men, young David, have all used something called a condom. Didn't they, Claudia?'

She nods.

'So you see, young Mr Hobbs, that you are the father of the unborn child. Claudia will be Mrs Hobbs and the child will carry your name. The child will not be a bastard. No bastard ever need walk God's earth again.'

'You swore!'

'No, young David, bastard means illegitimate. It is a question of context.'

'That's just stupid. You said -'


'But I never -'

'Insolence. At Paradise Towers Workhouse, we are all polite and respectful to our fellow families and to the supervisors.'

We sit in silence and I watch the cars overtaking. It's getting late; some of the cars have put their lights on. I look at the other couple: they're both just staring at me. Their fucking faces haven't seen a lick of soap or a splash of water in years. However long I turn away, they're still looking at me when I glance their way. Claudia is gazing above the window behind me, occasionally she checks her nails to see if they've grown enough to gnaw. They're still looking. The hooked-on-pain-arsehole is slapping his stick against the palm of his hand. I bet he would like it if I stuck it in his ring on full charge. They're still looking! Fuck!

'Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!'

Whack! Whack! Whack! Whack! Whack! Good … night.



Up I wake and I'm curled in a ball on the floor. My head aches like fuck. I squeeze my eyes to try and draw out the pain. It comes back to me slowly and then gushes into my thoughts. There's a rhythmic sound coming from the bed. I can hear groaning. I sit up and get to my knees. There's two people fucking on the bed. I get to my feet and peer at the person underneath: it's Claudia. A kind of shock hits me in the stomach. The overweight man on top takes his head away from her neck and looks at me, not slowing his incessant riding action. It's the maniac from the minibus. He smiles at me through the sweat on his face, an almost ''look what I'm doing'' expression beaming at me. I turn away, not sure what to do. I can hear their sounds, ever louder, the springs in the bed, his grunts, the slap of his groin against her, my supposed wife-to-be, the bearer of my unborn child. The bed dominates the room, there's a tele (off), a little kitchen area, a large built-in wardrobe, but what grabs my attention most is a cot, dirty yellow in colour; it has partly worn stencilled teddy bears on it. It chills me. The noise of fucking is filling the room: the squelching, the heavy breathing and those damn infernal fucking springs! It's bouncing around the inside of my head, torturing me with every plunge he's making towards the little baby stuck somewhere up her twat. He grumbles and shouts, thrusts hard and stops. I hear him get off the bed.

'Hey, David.'


'Turn around when I'm speaking to you.'

'I'd rather not.'

'I'd rather you did. Do as you're fucking well told.'

There's silence. I turn.

He's grinning. His trousers are up, but they're open and I can see his flaccid member winking at me through the opening in his white pants. He laughs and wipes himself with a tissue, tossing it on the bedside cabinet. I follow its path and see Claudia lying on the bed; her legs are still open, as are her eyes, but she's totally vacant, watching nothing on the ceiling. He laughs again.

'Well … you were right … she'd fuck anyone. Not that I'm not … special … but it didn't take an awful lot of persuasion.'

He's wheezing a bit, breathing heavily, wiping his sweaty head. He's mostly bald, but the grey hair on the side badly needs a cut. He tries to flatten it.

'You swore at me,' I tell him.

'So … fucking shoot me,' he says, tidying himself. 'I might be back later for some more if I feel like it.'

I look at Claudia; she still hasn't moved. He grabs my ear and shakes it. It hurts, but I'm not showing it. He smiles and leaves.

'What did you let him do that for?'

She doesn't register, but before I can repeat, she moves her head and looks at me.


'Why did you let him … you know … why did you and him do it?'

'Do what?'

'Have sex?'

She blinks and thinks. 'He wanted to.'

'So what?'

'He asked me to.'

'Yeah, but that doesn't mean you have to, does it?'

She shrugs and looks up. As I turn away, she speaks:

'Do you want to fuck now?'

I look at her naked body, wet with the sweat of that dirty shite house. He didn't use a condom and his dirt is leaking over the ruffled sheet.

'No!' I say, almost shouting, turning back to the tele that'd caught my attention just before. 'No way. I'm not a fucking animal, you know.'

There's a large collection of DVDs stacked up by the side of the tele. I nod approval at some of the titles. ''Screwing Las Vegas'' is there – what a result. There's a DVD player and a Gamestation next to the tele. Might not be so bad after all. I reach for the switch as she speaks again:

'Why not?'

'Why not what?'

'Why don't you wanna fuck me?'

I screw my face up at her. She's in exactly the same position she was in when he was doing her. I shake my head and retrieve a toilet roll from the bathroom. I hand it to her.

'What's this for?'

I shake my head. This one is a total fucking head case. I look around, there's nothing else to sleep on here; she's in a right state and the bedclothes are worse. Don't fancy sleeping next to that.

'To clean yourself up with?'


She takes off a couple of squares and starts to wipe herself in her usual shameless way.

'Can we watch tele?' she asks.

I've already pressed the switch. Nothing. I press again. Nothing. I check the plug – it's in. I check the connections – all okay. There's absolutely no reason the box shouldn't fire up. I put a DVD in the machine and it whirs into action. I put a Gamestation game in and it clunks into life. I try the tele again – no luck. I can feel the anger rising. I step back to think. I step forward and check everything again – can see no problem. Hit the side of the box – nothing. Ah! Try the brightness control … no. I try everything five times. No picture and no sound. I could climb the walls.

'What's the matter?'

'Fuck off! What do you think the fucking matter is?'

'Won't it turn on?'

I step towards her and hold my ready-to-roll fist in my left hand. Stupid fucking cow! My teeth are pushing against each other so hard, they feel like they're going to shatter into a million fucking pieces, but I don't give a flying fucking fuck.

'If it would turn on … don't you think … I'd … turn it on? You stupid … fucking … whore!'

'Did you press the button?'

I bite my hand and head for the door. Someone has got to sort this out. Into the corridor and all I can see are shit-for-brains scruff-bag people trudging up and down like mobile sacks of shit. I stop one.

'Who's in charge?'

He looks at me for a while, shrugs and moves on. I stop another, but it's the same. All I see are blank faces and dull eyes. I walk down the corridor. It's very long; the green carpet is badly worn, the walls are dirty cream white and each brown door looks exactly the same, except the number in the middle.

Eventually, in the middle of the long corridor, I come across a desk set into the wall. It's in an alcove, so it can't be seen until you're on top of it. There's a man dressed in the familiar grey uniform. He doesn't look much older than me.

'Scuse me?'


'There's something wrong with my tele.'

He looks up at me.

'Will someone have a look at it?' I ask.

'What's your number?'

I blink at him.

'I need your number, or we won't know which tele it is.'

'The door number?'

He nods. I didn't check the door number.

I march back up the corridor, find an open door and walk in. I stop dead, wanting to back out, but I'm frozen to the spot. Two women in uniform are crowding around the bottom end of a woman. The woman's face gets me: the expression is just like Claudia's: lifeless and dead. A nurse is injecting something into the woman's arm. I watch the dirty white fluid disappear into her body. The two women are moving again and I see a flash of skin colour against her hairy fanny: it's a baby.

'Oh fuck!'

They look at me, backing out the door. I slowly close it, listening, but there's no sound. The zombies are still walking up and down, empty people with no place to go. It's hard to breathe as I bump along the walls until I find another open door. I push it open, taking a sharp breath as I enter.

There's a zombie man on top of Claudia, screwing her with small, sharp thrusts. It's like a fucking nightmare, but surely I must wake up in a minute. I rush forward and pull at the man's bony shoulders. His breathing is short and rhythmic, matching his strokes. I yank at him, but he's impossible to move. With an almighty effort, he falls off Claudia. I pull him towards me, rolling him off the edge of the bed, letting him drop to the ground with a thud. He remains still for a moment, gets to his feet and leaves.

'What the fuck are you doing?'

She says nothing for a moment. 'What?'

'What are you doing? Who was that? Why were you letting him fuck you, Claudia?'

She shrugs.

I look by the door, but there's no key or anything else that would stop someone coming in and helping themselves to my bird. I can't have a broken tele though … no way. I close the door and look at her. My bird? My bird? She can't be ''my bird''. It's supposed to be different, not like this. I'm not sure what it's supposed to be like, but it's definitely not this. It can't be. I never asked my mum what it was like for her, or what it should be like for me. I think they tried to tell me at school, but I never listened much to those fucking teacher bastards.

I try the tele again. I try it ten times: different sockets, holding the button in, removing the DVD, removing the Gamestation, moving the tele across the room. Could it be the fuse? With a cutlery knife, I swap the fuse with the Gamestation plug, then the plug itself. No good, the tele is definitely broken. I can't understand it – we just got here. How can it be broken? It doesn't make sense.

I open the door to our small bathroom. It's dingy, all white and in need of a clean. The white plastic toilet seat is cracked and the bottom of the basin is brown. I flush, but it's still brown. Into the main room, I drag Claudia to her smelly feet.

'What is it?'

'I need you to go in the bathroom and lock the door.'


'I just do. Just go in the bathroom and close the door. Don't unlock the door until I tell you.'


'Just do it.'

'But why?'

'Look, Claudia, just go in the fucking bathroom and lock the fucking door, okay?'