In Which Seven People Form A Fantasy Support Group #flashfiction #microcosms

‘Hello everyone. Have you all grabbed a soda? Good. We have a new joiner this week. Do you want to tell us who you are and what your addiction is?’

‘Hello. My name is Buffy. I’m a vampire slayer.’

‘Another one? Geez, whatever happened to drugs?’

‘Please Dorothy. Let Buffy have her turn. How long since you slayed, Buffy?’

‘Erm, Last Thursday. After double maths.’

‘When I was at school it was pot and the odd tab…’

‘Dorothy, please. We know what holds you in its thrall. And could you stop clicking your shoes? That red glitter gets everywhere. Now Buffy. What do you hope to get out of these sessions?’

‘I…’

‘Blood.’

‘Dorothy…’

‘Oh for pity sake. Vampire slayer. That’s like saying she smudges her make-up. It’s not an addiction it’s a bloody fantasy.’

‘Please. Language. I hardly think you are in a position to talk. Scarecrows?  Tin man?’

‘They were there, I tell you.’

‘Let’s ask the others, shall we? James?’

‘Can I have another Peach?’

‘James, we’ve talked about this. What do we say?’

‘Keep the peach out of reach…’

‘Thank you.  Who else?’

‘There’s that Dutch boy..?’

‘Where’s he gone? James, put that bloody peach down and go and see if he’s got his finger stuck in the plug hole again. Matilda? Will you please put that chair down? Miss Trunchbull has gone, dear. You’re save. Have some honey. There. Is no one going to share with us? Who thinks we should help Buffy? Tweedle-dum?’

‘I’m Tweedle-Dee.’

‘No he’s not. I am.’

‘Now stop it. Both of you, what do you think about Buffy?’

‘’Miss, What’s a vampire?’

‘It’s like a large black crow…’

‘Noooo.’ ‘Where? Where?’

‘That’s it. Dorothy, go. Enough.’

‘Alright. Anyone fancy a joint?’

Posted in creative writing, flash fiction | Tagged , , | 21 Comments

A Rose By Any Other Name #writephoto #flashfiction

Sue’s #writephoto prompt this week is 

‘It is you, Daisy. I thought it was when you ducked down.’

‘Is that you, Daisy?’

‘Yes, I’m over by Daisy. Can you see me waving?’

‘Got you. Coming over. My pot’s a bit of a drag.’

‘You’re in a pot?’

‘I know, get me.’

‘So what’s with the ducking?’

‘That bloody man…’

‘The director?’

‘Yes him. I don’t mind him shouting at me, telling me to wave my leaves, even flutter my petals but when he shouts “Cut!” Well my stalk just goes limp. Makes me think of scythes.’

’Ghastly. Poor you.’

’I wasn’t sure about this gig anyway. Heard about it from Daisy. You know Daisy?’

‘White petals? Sleek green stem? Cute little leaves?’

‘That’s her. Anyway she and Daisy were having their compost refreshed…’

‘Surely Daisy doesn’t need that yet? She looks so bushy.’

‘You’d be surprised. This drought has made us all a little friable…’

‘Tell me about it. I was talking to Daisy the other day and she’d not been watered in a week.’

‘Nooo!’

‘All limp she was. Dreadful state. Yellow around the gills, leaves going crisp….’

‘Awful.’

‘I know. Anyway, Daisy told me they were filming this advert for hairspray and they were short of a few Daisies so I had a word with the girls…’

‘Are the others here?’

‘Oh yes. See, there’s Daisy…’

‘Who’s she talking to?’

‘Oh haven’t you met? That’s Daisy. Look if I wasn’t one of the anchors…’

‘Have they planted you?’

‘Fraid so. Look, drag yourself over and ask Daisy to introduce you.’

‘Oh I don’t know. I don’t really know Daisy and she may not remember me…’

‘Silly thing. Everyone recognises you. You couldn’t be more Daisy if you tried.’

‘Alright. I will…’

‘Before you go… a word in your stamens.’

‘Yes?’

‘They’re about to cast the bouquet for the Royal wedding. I know they need another Daisy. If you’re interested?’

‘Oh Daisy. That would be fab.’

‘I told them all about you.’

‘What did you say?’

‘Don’t be silly, darling. I can’t possibly tell you.’

‘No?’

‘Can’t have you blushing on us, can we?’

‘Quite. Disaster.’

‘We’d have to call you Rose!’

‘Oh you tease!’ 

‘Better get on. They’ll be calling the Daisies in a mo and we don’t  want to miss our cue, do we.’

‘No. That director is such a tyrant. If I don’t see you before you’re pruned, I’ll catch you next spring.’

‘Chelsea Flower Show?’

‘Wouldn’t miss it for the world. Love to Daisy.’

‘Thanks. Byeeee.’

Posted in #writephoto, flash fiction | Tagged , , , | 32 Comments

What Is The Moon Made Of? #shortstory #blogbattle #scifi

‘What’s your excuse?’

Gideon opened one eye and took in the woman next to him. She hadn’t been there when they’d taken off. She appeared distracted, her eyes roaming the cabin for something, someone.

‘Do I need one?’

Briefly she held his gaze, her eyes penetrating. Behind them she appeared to be suppressing a laugh.

‘Everyone here’s escaping something.’

‘Bit clichéd?’

‘See that one? Bigamist. And that one? Ex fraudster.’

Gideon noted the woman’s pointy chin, giving her face a heart-shaped appearance. ‘Should you be telling me, Lieutenant?’

She nodded appreciatively. ‘I know you’re capable of keeping secrets, Gideon.’

He looked quizzical. ‘Very enigmatic.’

‘That’s why I’m Moonbase security. Have to keep you on your toes.’

She held his gaze again. He wondered if the rumours were true and the new chip he’d had implanted allowed certain Grade 3s to read thoughts. Paranoia, surely?

‘Grace Challenge.’ She offered a hand. ‘But clearly you’ve been well-briefed. Good to meet you Gideon Barnes.’

‘What are my secrets then?’

She took a moment. ‘It’s not yours that I’m interested in.’ She stood to go then added, ‘And no, we can’t.’

‘What?’

‘Read minds. Be seeing you Mr. Engineer.’

*

The heat inside his lifesuit made underground working hard. Sweat and misting prevention worked only to a degree; occasionally you need a break to let things clear. While he waited, Gideon checked his messages. Grace Challenge. The cutie. He called her back.

‘I’ve been reading about you, Mr Hydrologist. Trying to find water for us?’

Gideon grinned. ‘I may have secrets but I’m no magician.’

‘So why have they called on you? That’s you skill, isn’t it? Hunting out fresh water reserves. A modern day hero, saving our species from death by desalination.’

‘Oh somehow I think, of all people, you know why I’m here.’

Her smile showed on his lens, it failing to do those eyes justice. ‘What do you hope to find?’

‘Ideally? Nothing. Literally. Just another vacuum.’

‘And they need you, do they?’

Gideon looked around even though he knew no one could overhear him. ‘Can we have a drink?’

‘You normally so quick?’

‘If it might be fun…’

She cut him off. ‘Dixy’s. Period two.’

Had she read his thoughts? He could only hope so.

*

The bar-bot polished a glass in a neat approximation of a real barman. ‘You drill holes?’

Gideon smiled. He was early for Grace and the bot had recognised it and done as programmed, making light conversation. ‘On Earth I try and find water but sometimes that means managing underground lakes that are highly unstable and pressurized. My job is to get the juice without destroying the equipment or the crew. You guys aren’t cheap.’ He checked his watch.

The bot nodded at the door. ‘Period two’s just started and there’s your date.’

Gideon turned, still looking at the watch. He’d never get used to moon-time. Periods, indeed. Like being at school. He glanced up and raised an eyebrow. Dixy’s was one of a few places where the standard one-piece oversuits could be discarded and something more informal worn. Grace Challenge wore a one piece but in a shimmery black. Nice though not what he was expecting.

*

Grace scanned the room, seemingly ignoring Gideon. She headed to the far side. Gideon didn’t move, confused whether she was seeing someone else first. The bot spoke near his ear. ‘Back room four, next to the gents. Leave your drink.’

As he passed through the arch, his earpiece hissed and then a silent echo filled his head a sure sign the signal had been lost. Funny. That usually happened outside. Beyond the facilities several blank doors stood shut. Number four? He was about to turn back and ask when one eased open. Checking inside, Grace sat at a table, with what looked like two scotches in front of her.

‘Very cloak and dagger. What…’

The door hissed shut behind him. As soon as it closed she stood and took out a small tube running it over him.

‘You think I’m wired. There’s no signal anyway.’

‘Can’t be too careful, Mr. Hydrologist. Drink?’

‘You got my message?’

‘I can’t read your mind, Gideon. But I can tell when someone wants to share and doesn’t know how.’

He sipped his drink.

‘You want to know how you can trust me?’

‘God, you are full of clichés.’

‘You knew who I was on the shuttle, didn’t you? Someone told you to talk to me.’

He just stared.

‘I didn’t know you were coming until the flight. Even then it’s taken me a while to find out why someone with your skills has come here.’

‘Yes?’

‘It’s not, as you told the bot, just to make sure drilling’s safe, is it?’

‘Partly…’

She shook her head. ‘Sorry, I don’t have time to play games. Martin called in a favour, said he had a problem with the mine and needed you.’

Gideon narrowed his eyes. ‘Favour?’

‘You’re record’s clean, because of Martin. Cleared by both enquiries.  So of course you’d come. Question is what do you now know?’

Gideon rubbed his hands, like they were cold.

She gave him a moment then said, ‘Let me help you. There is liquid, isn’t there?’

‘Yes…’ He sounded cautious.

‘Organic?’

He looked shocked. ‘I don’t know. That’s my suspicion.’

‘And Martin?’

‘He says it’s inert but the readings…’

‘They’re ambiguous.’

‘Yes, exactly. We can’t go releasing something like this. I mean, who knows what the consequences might be?’

It took her time to nod. ‘You are one of the few people who could safely extract some of whatever is there for analysis. That’s what he’s said?’

‘Yes, but even so…’

‘I think you need to see something.’ She stood. ‘Have you eaten?’

‘What, no? I’m not hungry.’

‘Good, because when you’ve seen this I doubt you’ll have an appetite.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean you’re not the first person to try and extract whatever is in there. Come and see.’

Posted in blog battle, creative writing, miscellany, sci-fi, short story | Tagged , , | 34 Comments

Wheels Within Wheels – the Middle Years – Part 3

So you’ve read parts 1 and 2, here and here. Can my university cycling career get any worse? After all I’ve decapitated a commuter, reducing the chances of our reaching a replacement birthrate by one and I’ve skittled a pensioner as easily as a frictionless bowling ball. What else is left?

Bristol in the 1970s experienced some bloody cold winters. The rather grand fountains in front of the Victoria Rooms (where some four years later I was to sit my law finals and thus look on it, even today, with the same sense of shuddering remembrance of pain caused as one might a recently removed gall stone) were frozen solid most Januarys.

The Victoria Rooms in sunnier times, and more recently

This required an increased vigilance on the part of all road users, and indeed pedestrians because the onset of ice could be both random and deadly.

This particular January was one such lottery day. Clear, after recent rain, as crisp as a freshly plucked pound note, the day promised much, so long as it could be viewed from the inside of a centrally heated building. Outside it might be variously described as:

  • cold enough to freeze a witch’s tit
  • cold enough to freeze the knockers off a brass monkey
  • as frozen as a politician’s moral compass

You probably take my meaning.

This was typical. The snow, not me being an arse to the Textiliste…

I was late. I can only assume it was a hard-wired reluctance to avoid exposure that had kept me indoors in the, ultimately vain, hope that it might warm up if I waited long enough before setting out for the lecture hall.

Having waited as long as I dared, I set off with a desperation to get to my destination as speedily as I could. I would have started cautiously, aware that any interface with ice covered roads, especially if you threw in the magic ingredient of braking, was likely to see me perform an anatomically accurate if oddly horizontal version of a chimpanzee trying to remove a python that has unfortunately clamped itself to his willy.

However the need for speed grew as I became aware that, while I hadn’t set out with the aim of having any of my internal organs preserved by cryogenic freezing, this was increasingly becoming a likely consequence of my commute.

This day, stars were aligning, god’s were enjoying a non-capricious duvet day and Sod… well, Sod was lurking as we shall find out anon.

I crossed the Downs without any alarms – tick. I descended Blackboys Hill both safely and at reasonable speed – tick, tock. Whiteladies Road held no terrors. The traffic lights outside the BBC were comfortably green and I passed the Victoria rooms with their frozen fountains contemplating an unusual situation. I might be

  • on time
  • in one piece; and
  • be able to make a cup of tea to warm me up.

For those who have cycled – either under pedal power or mechanised – in sub zero temperatures will know that getting cold is not even half the issue. Losing sensation is awful and painful but it as nothing to regaining sensation, especially if you have to take handwritten notes while recovering. People talk in hushed tones about waterboarding, electrocution of your privates and other dreadful tortures. I am fortunate to have suffered none of these but I have had to warm my hands up and, believe you me, I doubt there can be much worse.

last year – it was grimy back in the 70s….

The final stretch of the journey to the Wills Memorial Building takes you past the triangle. It was a cruise and, I cannot deny, that on a day such as this, where at a minimum major reconstructive surgery is almost a given, to be in such a secure condition does tend to engender complacency. I probably waved to the crowds of stunned onlookers huddling their way to lectures, absorbing the adulation that poured forth.

As a result I did not spy a fellow student known to all for his lopsided smile, his shaggy hair and because he was a complete and utter tit. One minute he was essaying the difficult-to-master skill of walking on the pavement in a  straight line and the next he had unexpectedly veered to the right, off the pavement and in front of me.

Had I expected such a manoeuvre – and there were those who, later, indicated they thought me remiss not to have at least countenanced such an occurrence – I could have braked and stopped in the highly advisable upright stance. In such a situation one might have indulged in light badinage of the ‘I say, old fellow, watch the jolly old step, don’t yer know,’ while jovially clapping him on the shoulder and sending him on his way with a sheepish smile.

As it was the first I saw of him was when his arse – and it was not then, and no doubt remains so to the day, the sort of arse with which one would want any sort of proximate conjunction – appeared inches away from me.

Quicker witted cyclists than yours truly might have assessed the situation and decided that ramming the front wheel into those loosely packed, pendulous cheeks, utilising the gap in between as a sort of informal bicycle rack might have proved expedient.

I was not so resilient. I am not capable, under stress, of such tungsten-fibred judgements.

Instead I swerved.

And braked.

Especially braked.

Oh, and swore.

As in ‘you fucking witless heap of guano’.

Naturally if one turns a blind eye to where Sod might be lurking one misses what seems obvious later. Namely this particular stretch of road was covered in a  delicate but none the less comprehensive sheen of ice.

As I think any child who has taken Physics to GCSE knows, Sod’s 14th law states:

Ice+Braking = calamity

Not one but both wheels slipped sideways and as gracefully as circumstances allowed I ‘came off’.

How often do we hear ‘he came off his bike?’? There’s something almost hopeful in that phrasing. As in ‘He came off his meds’. Though ‘he came off worse’ is nearer the mark.

One of the many skills one develops as a congenital klutz is the ability to fall while minimising the impact. So it was on this occasion. I hit the road with the sort of release of air that accompanies small rodents when dropped onto bagpipes and continued on my merry way, triaging myself as I slid in my previous direction of travel. I passed my nemesis and exchanged pleasantries before coming to a halt in a  strategically placed drain. No harm done.

It was now time to consider the fate of my bike. Had I thought about it, the lack of any concern for my fall should have warned me that other, more dramatic consequences were unfolding.

Particularly on the far side of the road where my now horizontal bicycle was headed.

On the far kerb a gentleman stood, apparently oblivious to my recent disembarkation. At the level this passerby was looking he would have failed to see a horizontal bicycle approaching him on the yet to thaw ice. He was checking for cars and lorries and having ascertained their absence began the normally straightforward process of crossing the road.

Even today, I can see him very clearly. In the middle 70s the large Afro-Caribbean population of St Paul’s in Bristol was making itself seen and heard. This chap was tall, not broad but snappy in every sense. His hair was an enormous a la mode Afro much like the ones sported by Huggy Bear off Starsky and Hutch. His camel-haired coat and silk cravat spoke to the sophistication of  Shaft, while his highly polished black shoes seemed to refract the bright light.

He began to step from the security of the pavement, but by dint of a cunning plan on the part of my fellow students, now watching this tableau unfold – namely they called out a warning – he hesitated and looked down, only to be confronted by what must have been an unexpected, possibly intriguing sight.

He may have hesitated a fraction, it may already have been too late but he tried to stop his forward momentum much as I had done mine seconds earlier. The result was much the same only in his case he did not part company with a bike but his shoes.

Until the moment of their leaving I think all of us on our side of the road assumed his shoes to be slip-ons or brogues but they were in fact very trendy clogs.

We voyeurs will all have our memories of that moment. Mine are of the extraordinary rainbow-coloured toe-socks he was wearing. But all of us noted the independence of thought and pioneering spirit of that footwear. Both clogs left their owner in a straight line down the hill which, if you followed it for a mile would end up in the Docks. They both remained side by side, as if each was encouraging the other on. And they both seemed to gather speed.

The now unshod local looked across at me and his expression was not one of joy, of forgiveness or one which I particularity wanted to come any closer to interpreting. He began to articulate his particular points in accented English, revealing notes of Jamaican laced with utter Fury, but was interrupted by the cries of someone further down the hill, pointing out that his shoes were making no obvious efforts to stop and, unchallenged may be preparing to launch themselves on a no doubt doomed attempt to reach the New World.

His dilemma was plain to all. Remonstrate with me as the obvious cause of his acrobatic experiences or let me off with a warning and go hunting down his errant shoes.

The fact I’m writing this post tells you all you need to know about his decision.

I think my elation at avoiding a confrontation mirrored the Vet when she received her degree last year

Posted in bicycling, Bristol, humour, memories, miscellany | Tagged , , , | 20 Comments

When Is An Ending Not An Ending #review #film #firstreformed

When I began writing my first novel, a lot of emphasis was placed on the opening – did it draw the reader in, was it flabby, lightweight? I’m not I’ve ever managed to get my beginnings just so and I do spend an unconscionable amount of time on them.

Not so the endings. Mostly I don’t plot to a specific ending but when i get there I know it’s where I want to be. Not everyone agrees. I do like leaving my readers with a few questions that they can answer for themselves. Or perhaps a teaser for the sequel. One book, as yet unpublished was kindly read by a friend who felt I’d taken this ‘and now read the sequel’ route a bit too enthusiastically. I’m working on that one!

First Reformed is a film about a priest who has doubts (if they didn’t I doubt they’d be the subject if a movie). Rev Toller has a back story, not that we really get into it, involving a marriage and a dead child (no plot spoiler this one – there may be later). He lives in the peeling rickety vicarage next to a rather beautiful eighteenth century church that has been restored with money donated by a local businessman. It is 250 years old and about to be reconsecrated. But our hero has a drink problem and feels he has let down a parishioner who came to him, under pressure from his pregnant wife, for some counselling (a tedious ten minute plus piece of talking-headery during which I dozed off so I may have missed something).

Consequently he isn’t that enamoured at the hoopla and fandango involved in this celebration.

There is a point, about halfway in where the film reaches an existential crossroads. It could look at the decline and collapse of this man in the sadly commonplace incremental way in which the small daily deaths arising from self-loathing lead to a final explosion of emotional gore, or it can incorporate a plot device solely with the aim of ratcheting up the tension and which leads inexorably to a real explosion of visceral violence.

In choosing to pursue the later route this film misses a trick. Ethan Hawke is splendid as the priest masking and yet revealing his turmoil, sometimes in the same frame but once we perceive the track he is on, the cliches come thick and fast. The crowds gather for the big celebration; our hero steels himself for his big entrance (and even bigger exit) and then, biff, he is stopped by… you’ve guessed it… love. This scene, to me, made absolutely no sense and I was sitting there thinking, well, maybe he’ll explain just what went on in the next scene when the film ended.

What? It’s done? Like that?

It jars, it’s facile, it doesn’t work and the director bloody well knows it. To quote the rather sycophantic review in the Guardian

First Reformed is a passionately focused film but not a masterpiece, being flawed as it is by a certain inability to decide on an ending.

A certain inability? It doesn’t so much end as disappear. It’s like someone tore out the last page, rather like the Rev does with the journal he shares with us a various stages in the film (another tedious bit of philosophising which is transparently self indulgent).

I like thoughtful movies; I’m happy with dialogue heavy films. I can even tolerate a certain amount of meaningful silences. And the potential here was so promising. So promising.

Shame really. The church, itself is beautiful, beguilingly simple and full of intrigue. If only the film had been the same. If you get the chance… stay at home and watch reruns of the Donald tweeting. It’s far more intellectually satisfying..

Posted in Film, review | Tagged , , | 29 Comments

That Was The Verse #poem #poetry #larkin

The next poem that falls to be reinterpreted is Philip Larkin’s This Be The Verse Which has one of the more famous – maybe infamous – first lines in modern poetry…

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

I really don’t agree with the miserablist, as will be apparent form this rewrite…

They fuck you up your mum and dad

So said that old contrarian 

But Larkin’s error is just so sad

The poor deluded librarian.

 

It’s glib and cheap to blame your folks

For all the crap that life throws out;

To say ‘It’s not my fault’ is jokes

However much you scream and shout.

 

And if you feel that out you’ve lucked

With the only life you’ll ever live

Because, perchance, they’ve up you fucked

Isn’t it about time to them forgive?

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Home Sweet Home #carrotranch #flashfiction

What a curious prompt? The little yellow tent.

August 2, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a yellow tent. Where is it and who does it belong to? Think of how the color adds to the story. Go where the prompt leads.

Back in college, I had little money and, as my third year ended, two ambitions. To get a job which was an increasingly fraught process and to cement my nascent relationship with the Textiliste.

So far as the former was concerned, I drew blank after blank. I’d pretty much given up hope as I waited for the results of my exams to see what class of degree I had been awarded.

But  for the latter goal my plans were looking pretty good. The dashing young student accepted my suggestion that we pack our rucksacks, catch the Fishguard to Rosslare ferry and hitch our way around the southern coast of Ireland. Our home for those two weeks would be a little yellow tent.

We visited Cork where I embarrassed myself by failing to understand a bus conductor’s accented English, we were picked up by a elderly German couple in  Merc who wanted to know the details of our sex life and we had dinner in a caravan overlooking Bantry Bay, the only place that didn’t have flesh eating  mozzies. We learnt early that as soon as the sun hit the nylon sides of the tent you got out because the heat was intolerable, but as soon  as the sun went down or the shadows covered the tent, it was perfect.

Over the next several years we took it to Jersey and Guernsey and the Isle of Wight. I suppose, eventually, it fell apart or we earned enough to pay for the odd B&B but, for sure, it’s no longer with us. I hope it’s been recycled somewhere….

Heres my flash…

‘Logan, what are you doing?’

‘Trying… what a stupid idea to use this tent.’

‘Why? It’s fine…’

‘It’s so small I can’t even fart…’

‘That’s one blessing. Anyway, you’ve happily spent hours crushed with 100,000 strangers by the main stage, dancing to Metallica…’

‘I didn’t know them. I know you.’

‘Surely it’s the other way round?’

‘No… is that what I think is sticking in my leg?’

‘My elbow.’

‘On the tube, if a stranger stinks, elbows me, I get off. Here, I’m stuck with you.’

‘I don’t smell. Do I?’

‘No Morgan. Are you sure that’s your elbow?’

PS. The good news, when we returned from Ireland was I had a job offer and, after a sweaty couple of days, I secured a far better degree than seemed likely. Maybe that tent was a lucky omen?

PPS some years ago the Lawyer was part investor in an extraordinary festival tent…

He never had any problem finding it in a camp site…

Posted in carrot ranch, flash fiction, miscellany, prompt | Tagged , , , , | 14 Comments