Jem hated his left foot. Clubbed, they called it. ‘It’s okay, son,’ they said. ‘You’re useful. Post has got to be delivered.’
He’d got at white feather, too, from the woman he’d given the telegram to. ‘We’re sorry to inform you…’
Couldn’t blame her being bitter. Might have been him if they’d let him go.
And now there were two telegrams for Mrs Cutts. The ‘sorry’ one and one saying Petey’d got the Military Medal. Petey Cutts used to tease him about his foot. She took both, hands shaking like she’d the palsy. Petey didn’t seem so cruel now.
January 30, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a postal carrier in an extreme situation. Even if you base your story on a true one, focus on the core trait of this postal carrier. Go where the prompt leads!
Thaddeus pulled back the curtains. His face glowed in the glorious sunrise. He opened the windows and breathed in the country air. It was crisp, fresh and…
No, it wasn’t fresh. It stank. Fetid. Rotten.
His shoulders slumped. He should have known. Summer was done, its lease expired and the season foreclosed. Bloody Shakespeare and his glib clichés. Who was it who called autumn the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness? Bollocks. It was the season of rot and muck-spreading. Everything fell and dropped and wizened and crumbled.
Thaddeus turned and caught sight of himself in the mirror. Much like me, he thought. No blazing into a new day, for you Taddy-boy. He tugged and the sagging flesh moved with the wobbly delight of fresh jelly. Yes, autumn, be it human or natural was a time of lost adhesion. Everything lost its grip, sagging and sinking back to its base state, in his case a nobbily skeleton.
He pulled the window shut and regarded his bed, the crumpled duvet, the dented pillow, the fluffy slippers. It was time.
Opening the desk drawer he extracted the small black card with gold lettering. ‘Soul Brokers’ it said on the front. On the back ‘Faust & sons, all souls and consciences bought and sold; always a fair bargain’ and a phone number.
Thaddeus paused and decided to eschew the comfort of his slippers for the ascetic challenge of cold stone on arthritic feet. Whatever else he got, he was determined to include ‘new feet’ in the mix.
While he let his breakfast porridge boil – in his new guise he’d make sure it was Buck’s Fizz and caviar – he dialled the number. An automated voice drew his concentration away from the simmering oatmeal. ‘Faust & sons. If you are soul searching for a better you, you’re in the right place. Press one for a completely new you, press two for our incremental package, press three for technical support and press hash if you want your soul back…. just kidding. If you want to discuss options for balancing a compromised afterlife with the veritable gerbil’s gibblets of your perfect now, please hold and our next amoral adviser will be with you shortly…’
Thaddeus decided to hold and find out what the various options were. He’d always considered himself a sort of atheist but these folks must know something more if the reviews on Google we’re anything to go by.
After what was actually a minute but seemed a small lifetime, a deep and far from settling voice came on the line. ‘How may we save you?’
‘Ah hello. I wondered…’
‘Before we start, sir, can I take a few details? We find it saves disappointment later.’
‘If that’s necessary.’
‘Occasionally, sir we find that callers have already, Ah, spent their currency as it were. Your name please.’
‘As in tad?’
‘If you must.’
‘And are you a member of a religious order? Have you committed yourself to a specific afterlife?’
‘Have you bequeathed, promised, assured or otherwise disposed of your soul, conscience or other moral compass?’
‘Please wait while I check…’
Thaddeus let him mind drift. Why did people always link his name to embryonic reptiles? Wasn’t school torment enough? He became aware of the tinny music in the background. Soul Train. How trite.
‘Are you Thaddeus Archibald Pole or Thaddeus Amadeus Pole?’
‘The latter. The first one was my grandfather. He was a monk.’
‘But he’s been dead forty years.’
‘It’s an option, Mr Pole. A time limited upgrade now for a staged afterlife. We call it our poltergeist annuity. You get, say, ten years as a stud muffin in California and afterwards you haunt the self same porn set for a similar period. The ultimate in no touching, if you take my meaning. It has been known to drive the client insane.’
‘What if you outlive the ten years?’
‘There are some Ts and Cs that cover that unlikely eventuality.’
‘No, I’d like to know.’
‘Really, Mr Pole, you wouldn’t.’
‘And grandpa might have taken up that package? If he was a monk?’
‘It’s the other way round with monks and such. The client gives up the chance of a good time now for a cushy afterlife.’
‘I can see that might have its attractions.’
‘Well, far be it from me to comment but let me just say it’s not exactly a regulated business, is it? You don’t get much pre demise feedback to confirm it works as intended.’
‘Mr Pole, I’m not here to diss the opposition. You must make up your own mind as to whether you can believe in a post death preferment or a pre departure jamboree. At least, with us, you’re guaranteed a good time.’
‘But you could be fibbing, just like those Priests and Imams and Rabbis if what you’re hinting at is true.’
‘Think about it, Mr Pole. All I’m promising you is an eternity of torment, no guarantees. Do you think I’d need to fib about that?’
‘I suppose not. Though I’m not sure I really understand what an eternity of torment is like.’
‘Think about it this way. Imagine all the worst things that have ever happened to you and then imagine them all happening on a Monday. Yes?’
‘Then imagine there’s no chance of there being a Tuesday.’
‘Oh goodness. I think I need to give this some thought. Can you send me a brochure, maybe, so I can look at the options and the pricing plans?’
‘I’ve already added you, Mr Pole. We will haunt your every waking hour to help you decide. If at any time you want to be free of your personalised possession…’
‘Ha ha, Mr Pole. Taddy. Taddy Pole. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA…’
Thaddeus put the phone down and looked at the vulcanised porridge. He sighed. Maybe he should just go back to bed and get some rest. They never said anything about his dreams, did they?
This was written in response to this week’s #writephoto prompt
I suppose there have been one million films about the First World War, covering the battles, the human cost, the losses, the stupidity, the heroism and everything in between.
So why would Sam Mendes, brilliant director as he is, think he had a unique take on the subject? Why would we?
As usual partly it’s the story, this one set over a few hours in April 1917; partly its the acting. But mostly I think it’s the cinematography.
It’s filmed as if in real time. We meet the two heroes resting in a field. Their Sergeant calls them to come with him, to see the General, to receive orders. One has a Brother in a regiment, far ahead of the British lines. Received wisdom has it the Germans are retreating and this regiment is after them, intent on undertaking a devastating attack. But it’s a trick. Aerial evidence shows how well dug in the Germans are. If the orders to attack at dawn aren’t rescinded the whole regiment might be lost. 1600 men including the brother.
There’s a mission impossible feel to this: ‘your mission, which you have to accept’ schtick. Our two heroes beetle off to cross no man’s land – which they’ve been assured is empty of snipers and enemy generally but, let’s face it after three years of war who really believes this intelligence?
And after that? Well, it’s going to be a series of ups and downs, filmed as I say as if we are with the two chaps every step of the way. It’s clever, dramatic and, most of all, utterly absorbing and terrifying. Without the usual cuts in the action, you cannot help but shorten your breath, you imagine the build up of anxiety at the approach of every plane, every ridge, every tree and building which might involve lethal force being visited on you.
All of the above you can gather from the preview clips so no plot spoilers. It’s not easy, not straightforward and there are as many traps from their own side as the enemy. But it’s the terrain that strikes me as the real enemy. It’s not unimaginable – we’ve seen other images on the Somme, Ypres and similar – but the yellow clawing mud, the ubiquitous rats, the shell holes that are death traps counterpoint the times when the two men cross untainted countryside – rolling grass, trees, cherry trees, blossom, an abandoned cow. It’s painful when they discuss varieties of cherry, an absurd moment counterpointing the nervous twitching eyes as they advance aware they might be shot at momentarily.
At one point, one of them finds himself in a fast moving river, washed clean of the mud and blood and floating, watching the trees on the banks go past. But he needs to make the bank and a tree has fallen across the water. As he approaches, intent on using it as his way to shore, we appreciate as he does there are multiple corpses trapped by the informal dam and he needs to climb over the swollen rotting bodies. It’s horrendous, made more so by the earlier easy signs of spring all around.
Both my grandfathers fought in this god-awful conflict. Percy, my maternal grandpa was a pilot, spotting, mapping and ferrying. It had its glamour even if the estimated life span was some of the shortest of any category of fighter. But Gordon, my paternal grandpa was in that mud, from 1915 to 1918 as part of the 5th Irish Lancers. He trained to be in the cavalry but that was soon abandoned. I know so little of Gordon’s war. Even my dad passed on little, assuming he knew much.
The credits rolled and one paid tribute to Sam Mendes’ grandpa who acted as the catalyst to this story. But the universality of the men’s experiences makes it as much a homage to my grandfather and so many other grandfathers and great grandfathers.
By putting me – us – in the moment, Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins – if he doesn’t get the Oscar, then I’m never watching them again – they have made me experience something of that conflict in a way no other film and no amount of talking heads or books could achieve. I want to say thank you, but, really? My chest still aches at the emotion of it all.
See it. Live it. And take cough sweets because if your throat doesn’t ache at the end you’re not human. Yes, 1917 is a truly great bit of celluloid. Now where are those tissues?
Colin had fifty-two rings and had watched the bench for twenty. Tears and flowers at the start but the old woman stopped coming. Lovers, amateur artists, lost souls and found hearts. So much movement, so much change. Trees don’t like change, not change that’s faster than a ring or two. Things need to settle.
The men ran fingers over Colin. ‘Shame,’ said one. ‘Why here?’
‘They met one that bench. She wants one here to remember.’
They cut Colin down. ‘Maybe they’ll make him into a bench, too.’
January 23, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a park bench. Use this gif to choose a timeframe and write the story behind that particular scene. Use the time as your title. Go where the prompt leads!
Cynthia Der Ella pulled off her rubber gloves and took a step back. Running a cleaning company in any magical realm was a challenge but in Fairyland… well, no one had yet written the book, had they? From composting bean husks, to sweeping up gingerbread debris through clearing up after rufus-related wind damage and oat-caked orsines, the stories may differ but the consequent messes were a constant.
Take today and those bloody trolls. Most normal countries were happy with passports and visas for non-indigenous entrants. Fairyland preferred trolls and narrow bridges. Yes, there were some similarities. Stamps, for instance though visas tended to be two dimensional whereas a troll’s stamp might end up with something three dimensional being converted into two dimensions. Especially if the questions were incorrectly answered. So many body parts, so few reconstructionist magicians. She’d need a bigger furnace.
She unfurled her diary scroll. As she did so ink emerged from the parchment. The appointments had updated themselves and her ten o’clock with the Fairy Godmother had been moved again. She sighed. The amount of debris that woman accumulated after one of her shape shifting sessions beggared belief.
Instead of the usual address for this weekend’s clean up, this one was a cave in the Misty mountains. Not that there was much mist these days what with the king’s edict on reducing cauldron usage for a more emission-lite, free-spelling approach, the royal entourage going charm-neutral in January and the eco-witches substituting Seed of Apple for Wing of Bat in all potion recipes.
Cyn packed a bag and headed out. She wondered what would have happened if she’d accepted the FG’s offer of a different internship back in the day. The Uglis weren’t the easiest employers but they understood a focused cleaning structure. Goodness how close had she come to giving in to those gilded coach blandishments, and that silver maned team of four nearly had her slipping on the frock. If the FG hadn’t been so full of herself and offered up glass slippers instead of the de rigeur DMs she might have gone. Glass slippers, indeed. Everyone knew Charming might look and prance like a prince but he danced like a discarded fridge.
And when it became clear the old bat had used pumpkins and mice, it was clear Cyn had dodged a bullet.
Now she ran the Sistas Cleaning Corps, made more gold than the wand repairer and was stepping out with Snow. Hell, even digging out the effluent from the Grinch’s hibernatorium was better than a life of crustless sandwiches and corsets that would have been her lot in the palace.
Yes, siree. Cyn der Ella had made her own fairytale. She didn’t need no hubristic ancient fairy or a despotic inbred royal for her happy ending.
Though, from the smell of it, some better nose plugs wouldn’t go amiss….
This is a fairy tale of greed and love and hope and… oh all the usual.
Nowhere wasn’t much of a place before a peripatetic alchemist and part-time prosthetic embalmer came by. This in and of itself was a surprise because few people visited Nowhere. Oh sure, potential visitors said they had Nowhere to go to but they never did. Some even indicated they were on the road to Nowhere but something must have distracted them because they never came even if they admitted that when they set out, were going to Nowhere fast.
This was perfect for the Alchemist and his beautiful but deaf daughter (it’s a fairytale, come on what do you expect). He took a room and began alchemying. Nothing much happened. For a long time.
One day the Alchemist took a walk.
‘Morning Alchemist.’ The old woman looked up from her digging.
The Alchemist stopped and asked, ‘What are you extracting, old hag.’ His social skills could do with some chemistry.
‘Getting breakfast, Alchemist.’ She showed him the black goo that she had troweled into her bucket. She offered him a spoon.
‘Seriously? What is it?’
The old woman dipped her finger in the muck and licked it. Instantly her expression transformed and ecstasy crossed her wrinkled visage. It was as if she had entered a trance. While her eyes crossed and she purred a strange purr she handed the fascinated scientist a small jar and filled it for him. As he turned to go she repeated ‘breakfast’. It was even written on the jar, handily for this story.
Back in his small smelly laboratory he took some of the goo and began testing it. Meanwhile his daughter came in to see what he wanted to eat. Because she didn’t hear him but saw the label she dipped in her finger and before he could stop her, she tasted it. Like the wizened crone she went into a trance and purred.
The Alchemist watched. Oh well he thought and he tasted it too. He couldn’t believe what he was experiencing. It was the most disgusting dreadful diabolical taste he had experienced. He spat it out. Meanwhile his daughter reached for the pot, desperate for more.
He held her back. ‘I need to test this, find out what it is.’
She nodded but ate it anyway. ‘Maybe it will cure my deafness.’
But he wasn’t listening.
It didn’t take the clever man long. This magic mineral had extraordinary properties. He asked his neighbours and obtained mixed results. Still he reasoned if you can fool half the people all the time you can still make a fortune.
He persuaded the good Burghers of Nowhere to let him bottle and sell it.
‘You’ll need a name,’ one said.
‘Something minerally,’ opined a second.
‘Like bauxite or calcite,’ proffered a third.
‘But consistent with something that you can put on your toast for breakfast,’ offered the fourth.
‘Like marmalade,’ suggested a fifth.
‘But minerally,’ the second one reminded them.
And he called it Marmite. With the money, he built himself and his daughter a Keep because previously he’d built a Give Away and he’d come to realise all loss-leaders are just losses with better PR.
And when the customers came to see the Home of the Famous and Infamous Marmite he built a wall and a cross window in it. Children asked why it was cross and were told it was because they forgot about the glass and the window hated draughts.
And half the people lived happily ever after and the other half just took the money. Like life really.
This is this week’s response to the #writephoto prompt
I know, it was only December and I was muttering about how daft the plants were, treating it like a balmy March afternoon.
It’s not got any better.
Primulas, primroses and pansies
Hellibores, but they’re to be expected
And roses still going…
My digging though is progressing.
I’ve finished the long bed and the triangular bed and now I’m stretching across the top bed where we have grown veg and many herbaceous plants. What will go in after all my hard work if for the Textiliste and the Lad though my spies say seeds have been bought…
At least the pigeons and other birds enjoy the tripods…