Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Short Story: Good god of love! [First Line Competition]

This was for the First Line competition. The prompt is: ‘I’m tired of trying to see the good in people.


I’m tired of trying to see the good in people. What? You don’t believe me? I have two words for you:
Good God of Love
Social Media.
Take that young girl down there. She looks sweet enough. She looks like she would be fun,
doesn’t she? That girl has just spent an hour and forty five minutes trying to get the perfect
picture of herself. Now she is going to spend another two hours ‘Photoshopping’ it to make
one leg look thinner and the other one look longer.
What do you mean I could do with a bit of Photoshopping? A two thousand year old God of Love
does not need to take selfies to know that he still looks like a dear little cherub. What I do need to
do is to let people be themselves. Let the good in them shine out. Let their fresh little peepers see
the good in others.
Right. This works until they’re about nine these days. After that the rot starts to set in. That’s when
the poor little dears get pelted with pictures of the impossible. People who could never – and should
never exist. Heck, people don’t even recognise themselves anymore!
I do what I can. But now I have ‘Swipe Right’ to deal with.
I’m missing my targets. The big G is not happy.

Short Story: Rich!

What made her do it? She would never know why she bent down that day to pick up the crushed bag which was starting to get soggy in the freshening summer rain. It was one of those sturdy paper bags that a takeaway comes in, lying near a gutter. Thick brown paper and stout card handles which usually reveal the contents to be hot, rich and spicy.

Maybe she was hungry, and instinctively reached out for it. Who knows? But as she picked it up gingerly by the handles, she caught a glimpse of something inside which made her quickly bundle it up into one of her shopping bags. She glanced round to make sure that no-one had seen her and hurried away, seemingly to get out of the rain.

Helen was not a young person, though she was not old. She was not tall, but yet, no-one would say she was short. She was not shy, not out-going, not silly, not sensible. She was just 'not anything'. She was average. She was dependable. No-one forgot to invite her to things because she would always turn up. Wearing suitable clothes, saying suitable things, with a suitable gift. But no-one thought of her first. She was never number one on the list. Sometimes, she would be halfway down the guest-list. Sometimes she would be 'Oh, and Helen, of course'.

Sometimes she worried about this, but today that was fine. She wanted to be Mrs. Average, walking along the road with average bags of average shopping. No-one look at me, 'La-la la-la la'. Walk along, no hurry. Her heart was pounding in her chest. Her ears were thrumming with it: Thump thump, thrum, thrum.

At last, she reached her front door. Key in hand, she burst through and dropped everything but the bag containing ‘The Bag’. Hurriedly, she took it out, ran upstairs to her bedroom and emptied almost a hundred thousand pounds onto her bed.

She stood, breathlessly transfixed. Staring down at the cash, the loot, the haul. The brown bag still dangling from one hand, empty now like a discarded snake-skin. The snake of avarice had slithered into her life.

What would you do? Jump on it? Land in it and roll around seeing how much of this newly-acquired wealth would rub off and turn you into one of the nouveau riche? Or did Mrs. Average go downstairs and make herself a cup of tea? Just as well: she hadn't shut the front door and there were shopping bags lying in a messy heap in the hall. One of the neighbours would have come along sooner or later to find out what had happened to Helen.

She sat at her kitchen table, cradling her tea cup in both hands with both elbows resting on the shiny surface. It is alright, she lived alone, so it didn’t matter. How long had she been there? The backs of her arms had gone numb so she took a sip of tea. It was freezing cold. Did she just? Had she? Was there? She rushed upstairs to take one more look at the bed. Yes, there was.

Well she couldn't keep it. It might be stolen. There would be something in the bag about where it came from. She looked about on the floor for the bag. There was nothing. Well, there was the bag, but nothing on the bag, or in it. That was not very helpful.

She started picking up the rolls of fifties. Each roll of notes was neatly folded and held together with pink elastic bands. The kinds that the postmen throw away all over the pavement. All the notes were old and all of them were fifty pound notes.

She took down her old small travel case from the top of the wardrobe and started packing the money into it just as if she were going away on holiday. A hysterical laugh escaped into the room. A money holiday. A holiday with money. She was only putting it into her bag for safe keeping. No, not 'keeping'. I mean, she wasn't going to 'keep it', just keep it in the bag – for now.

When it was all packed away, she knew that there was about eighty thousand pounds there, give or take, if she had counted correctly. She zipped it up and then hauled the heavy case back into its place on the wardrobe. Then she went around to the window and drew the curtains shut.

She stood uncertainly with her hands on the yellow, floral material. Closed curtains at five-thirty in the afternoon? She pulled them apart again firmly. That straightened the nets a little so it would look to an outside observer as if she had meant to do it all along. Then she straightened her skirt and rubbed her hands along it so that everything was straight.

Downstairs, she bolted the front door. Then she switched on the television set and waited for the news. She sat all the way through the national and local news to see whether any mention was made of a missing, oh, a missing small fortune for example? Nothing. Nothing?! Well it was probably too soon.

She decided the best thing to do would be to go to the police. Yes. She would take her little travel case to the police station and hand over the money. And then bring back the empty case. She would do the right thing and feel well in herself and then end up with a nice warm glow. There might be a reward.

She trundled her travel case downstairs, one step at a time. The cheerfulness of the hard, pink suitcase belied what was inside. There was no way anyone would think that she was carrying more money than she had ever seen down the street in a pink bag on wheels.

The rain had stopped now and it was threatening to be an extra bright evening. The type where the setting sunshine sets fire to a million little raindrops on every surface. Suddenly she felt like she was the centre of attention. Why was that little girl looking at her so intently? Could she see the money in the case? Was there something sticking out? Was the zip, which had never come undone, coming undone?

Was this dog following her for a reason? Could it smell the cash? She was right! It must have been drug money. Although she had never heard of a sniffer dog being a poodle before. But they must have them. It was a great disguise for a sniffer dog.

She came to the spot where she had found the paper bag. It was just a bit of pavement and guttering. Only really memorable because there was a bench just across the road, and it was a place she had to pass on a daily basis - although never previously quite so profitably.

But before she got there, she stopped and stared for the second time that day. There was an old man sitting on the pavement on the spot. He was crying. He was shabby and decrepit looking. A sort of Charlie Chaplin shabby, but without any of the knowing looks to camera.

His loose black trousers looked as if they may once have been a different colour. His thick, black jacket had thick, black holes. His white scraggly hair was wispy on his head and stubbly on his face. He was crying with his head in his hands. His body heaved uncontrollably and from time to time, his arms waved around his head.

Helen stared at him from across the street. She knew. She knew exactly what was making him cry like that. What else could it be? Too much of a coincidence. He had not noticed her. His bleary, reddened eyes were probably not looking around for shiny pink travel cases, but filthy old paper bags.

He stopped sobbing and wailed: “I've lost it. It was right here!” He waved his arms around above his head. Both arms: wildly around his head and yelled 'Stop it!”. Helen wanted to turn around and go back home. She was just about to turn. Her brain wanted her to turn around. Was the bag too heavy? What was going on? Turn around and walk back. This daft old man does not know you have his...

Life savings.

She glanced up to the heavens. Maybe for guidance, but there was nothing but a huge rainbow in the sky. It was bright! Deep, vivid colours. Nothing like the wishy washy ones she was used to seeing. All that rain...Oh great, there was the rainbow and she was obviously hauling around the pot of gold.

When she looked back down at the man, she now saw that he was not alone. Had she not noticed before? There was another little man, just as old, just as demolished, but only half the size. Where the first old man was sitting on the pavement, this little man was standing up to his full height beside him. And he was still shorter by a gnat's whisker.

As she watched, it became clear to Helen that the old man could not see his little companion. Or else, he never once looked at him. The little man was enjoying his sport tremendously. For he danced around him with a mean little smile on his face and poked and prodded him when he could get away with it. He dodged and ducked around the flailing arms. He seemed to be taunting him.

Helen felt herself edge nearer to try to hear what he said. But only slightly. The travel case felt heavier as if its wheels were digging in to the ground. She jumped suddenly when the old man shouted “Go away!” loudly.  But she relaxed as she realised he was not addressing her at all, but his little tormentor - who had grabbed a large chunk of the old man's hair and was pulling at it with all his might. His feet were dug hard into the old man’s back and his whole weight was set into pulling.

Helen could not take her eyes off the horrible little scene being played out on the pavement across the road. She slowly backed away until she was sitting on the bench. There were hardly any passers by and no-one to really go to the aid of a mad old man sitting in his own personal torment by the side of the road.

She turned her head slightly away and pretended to be waiting for someone. But out of the corner of her eye she still kept careful watch. At last she could make out some words. The little man did not have a high pitched voice as she expected, but more of a low, grumble. It was just on the edge of her hearing, as if it was the ground talking. “Where is it?” he was saying as he pinched and prodded and poked. “Where's my bag?” He continued. “I was going to give it you, you know. Today was the day!”.

“I don't want it!” the old man said, sobbing. “Not any more. Leave me alone.”
“But you always wanted it Albert. That was the deal,” came the rumble.
The old man was crying again. Tears were streaming down his face. There were tracks down his cheeks where the salty water had forged a channel through the grime.
“I could have been rich!” he sobbed. “I could have been happy!” he wailed.
“You were rich you fool. Didn’t I turn your grubby little savings into wealth? Have I skipped my part of the agreement?” The little man was standing in front of him and kicking his knees and shins as he sat.

The old man wailed again. “Oww! Go! You said if I lost it you’d go! It was an accident. Go away!” and he flailed his arms out in front of his shins trying to catch the imp. But he was far too quick. Dodge, kick. Jump, pinch. Then he was gone.

I don’t want it. Helen had heard it with her own ears. Good. She stood up quickly and briskly turned her back on the old man.

Her stomach was tingling. In her ears there was a little tickling feeling. Excitement? Guilt!? What? No, of course not. If you do the right thing and try to return lost property but the owner - ex owner - says that, well, what can you do?

She did not feel that the tickling was a grumbling sound. Because she did not know. Could not imagine! The hard pink travel case felt reassuringly heavy as she tugged it along on its wheels. It was all hers. The owner had said so.

Planning was not hard, all the way home. New car, holiday, whole new wardrobe. Give half her old clothes away to that silly Sally Perkins. Stuck up old...never mind.

You could take her shopping with you. That would make her really jealous! Again a strange little laugh escaped from her lips. What? Helen shook her head. Well, yes if they went to Oxford Street or somewhere like that... What was she thinking?

For the second time that day Helen burst into her house and ran straight upstairs. But this time she carefully shut the front door behind her. Up in her bedroom, she placed the travel case onto the bed so that she could look at all that glorious cash.  She unzipped it and... Where was it? Inside was one grubby old roll of fifties. Barely three hundred pounds. No!! What sort of weird joke was this?

You could have it all and more. said a grumble in her mind. As she heard this, in front of her, the case was full. More than before. Maybe twice as much. All this.

“What do you want?” She said out loud. A grumble like thunder. A laugh? She felt something kick her calf.

You will find out soon enough.
And then she heard: I want to sleep. The old man was so mean! Will you stay here and watch over me while I sleep? Sing to me!

Helen snorted to herself. Sure. Then she felt something pull her hair.

When she started singing there was a little scream. What’s that horrible noise? Oh your voice, it hurts my ears. Just sit quietly with me, I'll let you have your money soon. And gold! and diamonds!

Every time it went quiet and she thought she could leave the room she heard a little grumble or felt a little pinch in her side.

Helen sighed. A little afternoon of this for a case full of gold and diamonds later on! It would not last too long. She would find out what this little imp wanted and when he got it, she would be rich. Beyond her wildest, craziest dreams. Would you do it? Sing to an invisible thing? Sit alone in a room dreaming of diamonds the size of apples?

The next day was worse. Every time she wanted to move, there was an errand or a little job. All pointless, meangingless things. The sun! Draw the curtains! It’s too cold. It’s too hot. It’s too quiet.

When she asked about the riches, he said ‘Look in the case.’ The case was becoming full of diamonds: Ghostly shimmering lumps in one corner. Gold: Heavy lustrous pile in the middle. Rolls of money. She could not touch it quite yet. When she tried her hands passed through it. But she was so close. Every time she looked at it, it seemed to be more real. Soon, very soon now, you will be rich beyond your wildest dreams!

The next day was much worse. She got nothing to eat. The man was more demanding than a new-born babe. If she tried to ignore his demands, she was beaten and pulled about. The kicks were real. Her tights were laddered, her legs were becoming sore. There were bruises in her sides and arms. Her head was so painful from the constant hair pulling.

Get me a pillow. Get me a cushion. I need a book. I need a drink.

The money was real now. She could touch it. She nearly picked up one of the diamonds in her hands. As large as a fist. But it was getting hard to bear. She had had enough. It was more than she could take.

Glancing at herself in the mirror after three days. It was a shock to see the frazzled stranger staring back. Frizzled hair. Haunted eyes. There was a big bruise on her left cheek where the little man had caught her with a frying pan.

Was it worth it for the money? She took the case down and ran out of the house. What was happening to her? She halted on the drive. Was she just going to throw it all away? Diamonds! Big lumps of gold!

She could not drag the case off the property. It became too heavy. No, not just heavy. It was like it was built into the stone of the path. She stopped tugging at it when she realised it was not going to move.

She ran blindly. Not caring what she looked like. People have a good way of ignoring the uncomfortable. No tongues wagging, no-one looked at her face at all. This wild ragged woman. Who would? Everyone crossed to the other side of the street. Mad lunatics about these days. Best to avoid.

She came to the bench.

And on the bench there sat a man. Newly groomed, freshly laundered, brightly tailored.

“Albert?”

He jumped. No-one had called him by his real name since he was a child. No-one earthly that is. He was known as Alfie to all his friends. Until someone - something - came which knew his real name and his innermost being. His lust for gold. His unvarnished greed.

“Albert?” again. A frazzled woman with a bruised left cheek. He relaxed. For a moment he had thought... never mind, it was not what he had thought. Unless. He looked her deep in the eyes. She had the look of the haunted not the haunter.

“I see.” he said. “That’s where he went.”

“What can I do? He is relentless.” She sat down next to him. Already she had the air of someone who has glimpsed another world.

“You must give it away.” he said. “Give it all away, or lose it by accident.” He smiled. He could smile now after many years.

“What?” she seemed truly surprised. “But I’m so close! He says it’s just another few days.”
‘All that gold!’ she thought. And then she thought ‘My precious!’

He remembered his family and friends. Countless people who had warned him. Threatened, begged. He was always so close to having it.

He was better now. Himself. He thought of his training. He was a professional man. A judge. All those years, so many pointless days pursuing the thought of endless riches. He made up his mind.

“Where is he?” he said.

She took him uncertainly to her house. The shiny pink travel case stood rooted into the ground. But moved easily back into the house. Albert steeled himself against the onslaught.

She was not yet so immersed as he had been. It was just his luck, his amazing good luck that he had put the bag on top of his car. Complete chance that he had forgotten it and driven away.

He remembered the years of torment. But the effect on him was waning. His brain still knew, but his heart was stronger. Nothing. He could hear no rumbling laugh.

But it was obvious that Helen could. She stood, flinching, hunched and stooped. Obviously being kicked and punched with extra vigour for leaving for so long. He remembered what that was like.

The case.

They opened it together. Right there on the floor in the hall. After they had shut the front door of course. They both intook their breath sharply.

She had more ambition than he. His bag had been full of money. Fifity pound notes. It was going to be millions. Hers was full of gold and diamonds. A little bit of cash - but a lot of soft yellow gold. And huge diamonds. Not sized by the carat weight, but by the apple weight.

Albert stared. Beside him the woman was constantly carrying out little errands. He knew what it was like. Little, stupid, meaningless things. And if it wasn’t fast enough, then kicks, punches, names.

He reached out his finger slowly. The metal felt hard and warm. It was glowing.
You could buy a yacht with that. He let out a short laugh. Helen stopped. Puzzled. She was looking around, at a loss for what to do next. She seemed to be listening. She looked at Albert.

“OK” Albert said. That’s all. OK. He slowly pulled the zip closed all around the pink travel case. Then he was up. He grabbed the handle and turned to the door. For a few seconds he fumbled with the catch. Then he was off.

Helen felt something leave her. A weight. A heavy cobweb had been removed from her whole body. It had been the only thing keeping her going. Working, fetching, carrying. She crumpled to the floor. The front door was ajar. She lay with her head on the carpet of the hall and simply stared out of the door at the disappearing figure.



Tuesday, 3 July 2018

52S52W: What is it?

Ray Bradbury was a prolific and inventive sci-fi writer who said:

It is impossible to write 52 bad stories in a row!

So, to take up this challenge, I (and several other writers) decided to try and write one story a week and see how many gems and how many flops there were.

I've not heard of an official contest - although I bet there is one!

 I will work from random prompts and/or competition prompts etc.
Often times the comps don't let you publish your work anywhere until you've won or lost it, so those ones will remain a secret. But I will try and publish all the others here.

http://raybradburychallenge.blogspot.com/p/the-nights-of-study-is-part-of-bradbury.html
https://www.wattpad.com/story/95362076-52-short-stories-in-52-weeks
https://www.eadeverell.com/short-story-sunday/
https://phillipmccollum.com/52-short-stories-in-52-weeks/
https://www.facebook.com/RayBradburys52WeekShortStoryChallenge/
https://emzsnow.wordpress.com/2016/01/03/52-short-stories-in-52-weeks/
https://litreactor.com/columns/2017-writing-one-story-per-week-challenge

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Short Story: Alien Addiction [NYC Flash Fiction Challenge, Round 2: ]

Alien Addiction


This is a story written for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge, Round 2.
It has to be 1000 words or less and my prompts were:
Location: Petting Zoo
Item: Banana Break
Genre: Sci FI

Synopsis
Alien Phoebe wants to fit in with her human husband, but the other humans are not on her side. Desperate for work, she takes a job as an exhibit in a petting zoo, but will this be her sanctuary or her downfall?





“Look! It’s eating an apple!”
I freeze. The slice of apple in limbo, half way between my mouth and the plate.
I can’t see who’s talking, since they are behind me, but I imagine a gorilla in a plaid shirt, grubby white t-shirt over a beer belly, and a cap with some humorous slogan telling the world he’s ‘The Boss’.
“What? Let me see! Move out of the way!” The second voice is higher, thinner. Scrawnier. Why can’t they all be like my Martin?
I exhale and the steam shoots from my nose, then swirls lazily in the November air, released from the warm confines of my lungs to wander among the cold molecules of the outside world.
It is bitterly cold. But inside my long, brown robes, the sweat trickles down my back in itchy lines like marching ants.
I can’t react. The advisor said, ‘Don’t let them see that they can hurt you’. Then he patted me on the shoulder – short business-like taps really – and ushered me out of the warm confines of his office to mingle with the cold strangers of the outside world.
Making money by sitting in a compound doing nothing for five days a week under a sign that says, ‘Space aliens on display’. What a glamorous job! But three years after graduating as an engineer I was still looking for work. Then, when Martin, my human husband, lost his job, well… anything which pays is fine by me.
I feel something hit my back. They throw anything: cans, half-eaten sandwiches, rocks if they can.
“Hey! Brat! Lookee here what I got!”
No! I can smell that sickly sweetness, even from here. I close my eyes. Breathe! That makes it worse. Those warm, sticky bananas call to me. Everything about Earth proved totally habitable to my people after the disaster. But a banana bread loaf proved to be dangerously addictive. Some thought it was the combination of glucose and potassium. No-one knew for sure. It was a joke. A deadly joke played by the galaxy on my dying race.
The two men aren’t going to give up.
I turn slowly and glare – not at them, but at the bread in the big one’s hands.
“Look at its eyes!” the scrawny one says.
“What we have here, is a female of species, I do believe!” The big gorilla has the hairiest arms I’ve ever seen on a human and a way of elongating his vowels which makes me feel sick.
“Come on girly!” He wafts the bread towards me.  I know my eyes must have changed to purple by now. It’s a dead giveaway. The purple of desire. They will feed me that bread and I’ll be dead in a couple of days. Something in it wrecks what humans might call my kidneys.
I start to move toward it. My limber arms clamber easily up the vertical walls of my enclosure, and over the thick, steel fence. It is really there to keep the humans out. I hear someone scream far away.
“Oh no!” Scrawny yells in mock panic. “It’s coming for the bread! Help!”
Under my robes I am six feet of dense muscle. If I wanted, I could throw both these bozos over the fence with one hand. But my full attention is on that bread. I glare at it like a vampire in a B movie glares at a neck. I’m hypnotised by it. There is a throbbing in my head and my vision has narrowed to a single point of focus. It is how we hunt - how we hunted, when we still had a planet.
I could spring up… I could…
“Phoebe!”
“Martin?”
“Phoebe, it’s me! Turn your head, honey! Look at me!”
The teeth of the gorilla are stained red for some reason.  I see them as he grins and breaks off a chunk of the bread to toss in my direction.
“No!” Martin screams - a strangled sound of desperation. All visitors are searched when they come in – or I would never have agreed to do this!
“Honey! Remember why we opened this petting zoo! “
The piece of bread would have landed close to my foot, but one of the guinea pigs, which we let roam freely, darts out from under a bush and runs off with it.
“Come on, honey!” Gorilla says, elongating the final word – hurnee. “Come and get this lovely bread. You know you want it.”
What do they want? Do they want to kill me? Capture me? The part of my brain which is still functioning catches sight of a hint of black metal under the plaid shirt. ‘Kill me’ it is then. This is a group which wants us gone. They want every last one of us off the planet.
My breathing is ragged. I’m losing. In a second, the ‘me’ part of my brain will be gone and these two will be piles of minced meat lying on the ground, one, indistinguishable from the other.
I jump.
*          *          *
There was a deafening bang, followed by screeches and calls from animals nearby. I can feel rough concrete digging into my elbows and a heavy weight on my chest. I open my eyes.
No!
Heaving sobs escape from my mouth. Martin’s face is gazing up at me, his eyes don’t move. My right hand is lying in something hot. Without looking I know that it is human blood from the smell of the iron.
Alien Addiction“Martin!” My cry is savage. The emotion of loss is unbearable to me and my body has gone limp and heavy. The volition of staying upright is lost. What is the point if he is gone?
I hear people shouting around me and the zoo workers calling into their radios. What is the use? Between the smells of the gunshot and the iron, there is yet another smell. A sticky sweetness.

I turn my head. Just within reach, I see the slice of banana bread.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Short Story: The Ring [NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2016]

The Ring 

Image result for free stock images boxing ring
This is a story written for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge, Round 1.
It has to be 1000 words or less and my prompts were:
Location: Boxing Gym
Item: Neon sign
Genre: Ghost story

*************************************************


“I don't want to be here! I've been sent here!”
This is new. Something happening.
The guy is built like a wardrobe, but he's hiding his size, hunching his shoulders. From my neon sign, I can see his t-shirt stretch as his muscles strain in unnatural positions.
Joe is taping him, but he's fighting that.
Fighting at the wrong time, my friend, save it for the ring.
He pulls his other hand away as Joe reaches for it – nearly socking Joe a belter. But Old Joe grabs it as if it is a dandelion seed he has plucked out of thin air.
Old Joe is not 'Joe'. He is Stuart. But we call him Joe, to his face and behind his back. Sounds return to the gym and it carries on as ever.

My neon sign has been, 'We are the hampions' for as long as I can remember. That sums up this place: No-one has ever fixed that 'C', and it is true, the joint is full of 'hampions' – also-rans, 'could 'a beens'. The sign is where I live, mostly. It is my haunt.

This is an old-style gym. But it is all I have known, so who am I to say? I don't remember much. I measure the length of my time here by the smells. What? You thought a ghost has no sense of smell? Ectoplasm is not all we deal in. Yucktoplasm, has nothing on the smells that used to hang around. Like the leather, seasoned and pounded. Once, to make a leather punch bag, and then forever buffeted and belted. Biffed until all the life was gone and then punched until even the ghost of the bag gave up its creaking protests. Like me. The fresh blood and old sweat are the same since Victorian times. My times.

But now there's more smells: Sometimes there is a woman. Even when boxing, she brings the aroma of flowers. Even some of the men smell like flowers now, sometimes.

Old Joe used to box. I know he is blind in his right eye. It is a scar wrought from battle: His sparring partner. That man was tiny. He barely came up to Joe's chest, and Joe is not big. But he fought like a strong little rat. Sneaky, looking for the chance to get one in. I still remember that crack of canvas as Joe hit the floor, and then the spray of sweat around him like so much holy rain.

We never saw him again. Can't even remember his name, but he took Joe's eye.

The new guy has been sparring for a month. I'm not sure he loves the smell of the ring like I do. He's scared of the ropes, scared of the middle. He cowers like a new born kitten if anyone comes near him, shiny with sweat. When they get shiny like that, they're slippery. If you dodge at the right time, the punch loses its impact. Come on Ben! That's common sense. There was another guy here for the first couple of weeks. Dark. You could tell he wanted to be ignored. Big, black coat he never took off. Kept a keen eye on Ben.

He reminded me of my Master back when this was a proper house; same eagle stare. That fly-ring followed Ben around for two weeks and never left till he was done training.Then one day, he stopped coming. But I'm glad Ben came back.

They call him Bendy Ben. Everyone gets a nickname if they hang around long enough. Behind his back, they call him Wendy. I wonder what they would call me, if they could see me?

Benjamin Fry. Its a proper, name.

A solid name for a soft little giant. He cowers. He's only just learned to hold his gloves up to protect his gurning gob. And he holds them as if he is the stooge in a circus knife show. But, the poor sod forgets to punch. He forgets to move. He gets hit so much, targets have formed on his chest and his sides. But its the bit when he closes his eyes – just before he gets hit, that tickles me. First time I saw it, I nearly fell out of my sign! I had to dangle on the 'C' till I remembered I could float. So I floated over to the ring.

George was his sparring partner that day. George was going for it, because George is in the semi-finals of the Nationals. He needs to practice and he's good, (still a hampion).

Poor George wanted to get it over with. Two men, closely matched for age, size, reach, power, and one of them standing, hiding behind his gloves with his eyes closed.

I saw George shrug! Then his steely eyes got a dead square look: He had to practice, and all he had was Bendy Ben. He jabbed, then I saw him pouring all his power into that right hook. Ben had no chance.

In that moment between one breath and the next, I remember.

My dress was too long. I said I di'n't want it. But the Master's daughter was getting a new one and I should have this pretty one. And it killed me.

I fell down the attic stairs carrying a tray for Sarah. I heard her yell my name: “Mabel!”.


The punch lands. George's right hook: full of rocks. It would have hit Ben's gloves, but for the first time in his life, he dodges. The punch hits him square between the eyes and I hear a crack like a whip and then a sickening squelch.

There's nowhere...

I can't...

* * *

They're shaking me. I open my eyes. Old Joe's pockmarked nose is so near my face that he looks like an old, inquisitive anteater.
“Ben!”

Joe looks away. “He's all right, get some water. Someone call an ambulance.”

My ears are pounding...

I raise my hand.

My hand.











Sunday, 29 November 2015

Short Story - The Stupid Prince [52S52W]


  Once upon a time, there was a prince. He was handsome and kind and everybody loved him. He was the only prince of the kindgom.  

This may not have been a bad thing. For many people it is a very good thing and many a great career has started off this way, but unfortunately for our prince, there was one major problem.
  The prince was very, very stupid. He never understood when people said complex things to him and he struggled with his tutors at his studies, which he found difficult and extremely taxing.
  The people whispered behind his back. 


This prince is too stupid! How is he going to rule us if he can not even understand the complicated matters of state? Our kingdom will fall!
  It was not the prince's fault. He was extremely good looking and people generally loved him every where he went – every where he went, that is, until he opened his mouth and tried to have a conversation with them. Then they discovered how stupid he was.
I want to be loved for my brain and not just my looks, he thought sadly to himself.
No one will take me seriously or listen to anything that I have to say if they just all think that I am stupid. I need to do something about this.
  The prince went to his father, the king. The king felt pity for his son and hired some of the best brains in the country. They tutored him in the languages, logic, mathematics, history, the geography of his realm and astronomy. They taught him everything they themselves knew, until there was not a tutor or teacher around who had not taught him something about something.
  Six years later, the prince went to his father and said, “Father, I have learned everything about everything. I know all there is that these tutors of mine know themselves. Test me on anything you wish.”
  The king was pleased with his son. He held up his hand, in which he had hidden a gold and diamond ring.
  “Tell me, oh my most educated offspring, what do I hold in my hand?”
  The prince set to work. He used all the teachings he had been taught to try and find out what could be in the hand. He used his learning in astronomy and in mathematics. He used his knowledge of local geography and of the history of the realm and deduced that the king was holding up something that contained a stone. 

  He used herbal medicine and sports science and real science and astrology and he discovered that the thing in the king's hand also contained some metal and had a hole through the middle.
 “Now, my special child, tell me what it is that I hold?” asked the king eagerly.
The prince stood up from the desk where his papers lay scattered; where his workings had taken him the best part of a week. The tutors gathered round eagerly, some of them rubbing their hands, keen to show off their handiwork in producing such an amazing miracle and ready to receive the bounteous bounty that the king would undoubtedly bestow.
  The prince looked at them all with gratitude and humility. 

 "From this day forwards, I will not be known as the stupid prince, I shall be known as the Prince of Knowledge, or skill and eloquence. My kingdom will be one of teaching, where many learned men come to establish their schools and universities. For your majesty! Father! What you hold in your hand is...”
(everyone held their breath)
 A grinding wheel!
 Everyone looked at each other? “What did he say?” whispered the Grand Vizier to the mathematician.
“He said a grinding wheel,” said the mathematician in an annoyed tone. “A wheel for grinding flour. Our learned prince thinks that the mighty sultan has hands so large that he can hide a grinding wheel in them.”
“Oh well,” said the Grand Vizier. “We tried. But you can't polish a turd.”

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Short Story: Prankster [52S52W]

Prankster


Accidentally, you open your diary up at the wrong page. A few months ago, in fact. A Sunday.
October 18th 2015.
On the page is written (not your writing), one word.
Hello?
Oh no! You think. I'm dreaming that I'm Harry Potter and Voldemort is trying to contact me through the pages of my A5 planner.
You pinch yourself as you stare at the word.
It is still there. As are you.
Oh dear. How does one converse with a word.
You look around.
“Emily, is that you?” you say gaily. If this is to be some TV show prank, they are going to get your good side.
“You got me!”
She owes you big time. What is it? Five pranks, you, zero pranks, her?
You sit and wait, teeth on standby. Toothy grin on demand. Good ol' natured you.
And sit.
Nothing happens. No teak-stained, wooden host, shoves a microphone in your face and asks you how you feel.
Erm...
You look down, but the word has gone.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Short Story: Black Kitten [52S52W]

Nano is good in a lot of ways, not least because you find yourself sitting in front of a blank page far more often than normal. Today, instead of the novel, this was produced.

Some of you know, espcially from facebook, that there is a new little kitten in our household. Luckily, she is called Cocoa and not Buster.

Here is a Nano inspired Free Short Story:

Black Kitten



Getting used to an amazing new smell is the first test. That umami marmite spread around the living room air. Only a mother could love.
Visitors wrinkle their noses – polite ones. Everyone else just asks: Is that your kitten farting?
Yes, I volunteer, shoulders permanently shrugging.
My atmosphere is generously lubricated with a mixture of milk and cat food, liberally
fermented for a few hours in kitten intestine.
I open a french window, just a crack. A little black nose sits there for an hour, breathing the outside. She looks at me with her quick darting graze of a gaze, as if I am the source of the smell.
It's not me buster.
Buster.
OK, Buster the little black girl kitten, it is.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Short Story: Congratulations Gina, Your Name Was Chosen...


This was written as an answer to a question on Quora.


Congratulations, Gina, Your Name Was Chosen...
The room was so lavish that Gina's eyes could not stretch wide enough to take it all in. From the twinkling chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, through the extravagant paintings hanging on the walls, right down to the thick, plush, scarlet carpet, it was an explosion of glamour.

Gina stood in the doorway, hesitant. Surely not. None of this could be real. She blinked and rubbed her eyes. Holovids were like this. Neural ads were like this; personalised to fit in to her social media taste profile. But she never imagined that any of it could take on a solid existence. Somewhere in the depths of her mind, of course she knew that this kind of opulence must be commonplace for someone - it must be available to buy - but not for someone like her.

Gina's life was so... Gina never had this kind of... Never needed this kind of... The shiny things were preventing her from thinking straight. But her life was functional. Her world was austere. Her existence was mundane. She was mundane.

All of a sudden, Gina gasped.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Longish Short Story: Taxi Harold

Taxi Harold


The gold cufflinks have a single diamond set into the centre. The soft flowing creases of the suit have a relaxed ease which can only come from bespoke tailoring. The grey-white hair has been preened and groomed this morning already, perhaps by a valet?

“To Hammersmith my man.” He points with his cane in the direction of the road ahead. The deep voice has the velvet undertones which age often brings to a man's throat.

Then a laugh. An easy mirthful laugh which must come often to this voice.


“I see you are Harold too.”

“Hmm.”

The taxi driver – our Harold nods his head. He is not generally a talker. Strange in this profession, but the weariness of the years hangs heavy on his shoulders – our Harold's shoulders.

He does enjoy the driving, yes, but the competition now, and the stresses of each day make this more of a job than it ever used to be.

He used to, our Harold, be up with the lark. With a leap and a bound, be dressed and pressed, ready to face each day with a song in his heart. Chattering away the hours with the rides made them melt into the mists of time – the hours.

Now each hour comes in a heavy block of sixty minutes. Huge, lumpen things which must be chipped away.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Short Story: Ben and the Pen of the Worlds



Withered hands trembled as they undid the paper.

“Here it is!” His pale blue eyes peered out from his wrinkled face like stars caught up in the net of time.

The box was old and coming apart, but he carefully removed the lid, almost reverentially, as if it was still in one piece.

Inside was just an old plastic fountain pen.

“Have you ever used it?” Ben asked, not able to tear his eyes away.

52S52W: What is it?

Ray Bradbury was a prolific and inventive sci-fi writer who said: It is impossible to write 52 bad stories in a row! So, to take up th...

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