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Hello!  Thanks for stopping by!  Fiction Can Be Fun is a writing project run by David (@breakerofthings) and Debs (@debsdespatches).   We each post a piece of fiction every month, run a writing prompt once a month and are the originators of #secondthoughts. #secondthoughts are reflections on writing, responses to writing and…well, take a look and you’ll see!  If you’d like to find out more/get involved, please do take a look at the ‘About’ page.

Upcoming schedule for May 2017:

Sunday 7th: #FF Prompt – post by Friday 12th 2 pm GMT

Sunday 14th: Short story by David

Sunday 21st: #SecondThoughts by David

Sunday 28th: Short Story by Debs

A graveyard is an odd place to meet, yet here you both are …

high-cemetery-circle

I’ve fancied writing a drabble for a while now but it’s been a real struggle as I suffer from verbosity. Nevertheless, I was determined not to give up. Here’s my first attempt, even though the title/prompt is ridiculously long … 

 

Internet dating become boring? No idea what to do on your first meet? Don’t care for coffee, fed-up with galleries, don’t want to waste wine if he’s plain wrong?

So, you get chatting to a bloke and he says “how about doing a tour at Highgate Cemetary?” You think he’s joking but, no he means it. You see famous graves: Karl Marx, the godfather of Punk, the author hiding behind a man’s name, Dickens’ wife, a pre-Raphaelite model, a Russian spy murdered with a cup of tea.

Pity the bloke himself turned out to be deadly dull.

 

© Debra Carey, 2017

 

Thanks goes to my friend Jacks, who actually did meet a first date in a graveyard – if not Highgate Cemetary. I can’t remember if he was dull, or just plain odd …

#Secondthoughts – What did you send?

Side profile of a journalist typing on a typewriter

I’m not quite sure when this will get posted, but I thought it might be interesting to do a quick follow up on the piece I wrote for November’s writing prompt, and on prompts in general.

I really did write the piece in a flash – it took about 40 minutes when I actually sat down and put fingers to keyboard.  I’d spent a couple of days thinking about the prompt, which had given me a couple of ideas and themes that I wanted to include, but I was really pleased about how the ideas turned into words on the screen.  The punchline is perhaps a bit obvious, especially for a writer, but I have to admit it was the starting point for this piece.

I wrote the piece in three stages.  The first few sentences, then the last paragraph and then the middle.  I’d intended to include something about “ashen-faced, angst powered world leaders rushing from one committee to another” in that middle section, but the ending, which I do quite like (obviously!) took a lot more words than I was expecting.  I still think there’s some mileage in that section, so maybe I’ll come back at some stage and write an extended version sometime…

One of the things that I really like about flash writing is how quick the process is… given the opportunity, I will overthink things and go back and polish and tweak for as long as I can get away with it – and then as like as not hide the piece away because it isn’t quite what I thought it would be.  Flash gives me permission to post a rough cut, with minimal (if any editing) because there is a hard deadline.

And finally, writing prompts are a bit like book club reads.  Wait, what?  Yep, you read that correctly.  Book clubs are great because you get steered towards things that you’d be unlikely to choose for yourself.  So whilst you bring your experience (and, dare one say it?, prejudices) to your reading and in this case writing, you have to think about things that you’ve not thought about before.  Some things chime, some things you feel worthy for engaging with and some you ignore…at least for the time-being.  But much like the abyss, the time-vortex and pretty much anything else you can stare into, be careful…the writing prompt will stare back…

PS

An absolutely true post script, written six months after the fact.  I stand by everything above – I’ve just gone and re-read the story, and actually I think it does still work, and I still like it.  I am not blind to it’s faults – I’ve spotted several points that, if I’d taken the time to re-read it before I posted it, I would have re-worded.  But as I said here, this was very much a rough cut, written in a session.  I need to do more of this sort of writing…

 

© David Jesson, 2017

Ebayitis

“So what have you been up to, pet?  Are you feeling better?”

She sniffed discreetly: the room was distinctly fusty.  She wondered if a spray of Febreze would cause offence…

When she’d left that morning, himself had been distinctly under the weather – problems at both ends, probably best left at that.  She’d left him cocooned in the duvet, sleeping off the chills, listening to the radio with the occaisional feotid, flatulant eruption.

Now, here he was, sat up in bed with the lap top out.  He beamed at her over the top of the screen.

“I’ll say, love! I’ve been on Ebay.  I got pipped at the last minute on an inflatable Santa for Christmas, but I got a set of garden gnomes in’t club strip for twenty quid!  And they sing the club anthem!”

He looked and sounded like a puppy that has just discovered socks, and has not realised they might be important.

“Awww, that’s nice.  I’ll go and put the kettle on.”  Her normal cheery smile slid from her face as she turned and walked off to the kitchen.  “It’s an ill wind…” she muttered under her breath as she left the room.

 

©David Jesson, 2017

Uniform

Express Yourself

I’m here today for the second in my series of interviews with the journalist, biographer, pundit and bon vivant, Jocelyn Humpheries.  Today we’re focussing on her writing as a biographer and in particular some of the little snippets that didn’t make the final cut.  Jocelyn: which of your biographical subjects was your favourite?

Oh! That is rather invidious – I do so detest those sorts of questions.  I enjoyed writing all of them, even – perhaps especially! – the scathing ones.  I do have a soft spot for the first one I wrote where the subject was, at the time, still living.  He was such a dear!  I don’t know if people say that about me now, but he would have been about the same age as I am now when I interviewed him.

That would be Colonel Hart-More?

Indeed. Although he didn’t really like to use his rank.  He was an eccentric in many, many ways.  He was almost a caricature of an English army officer.  Not quite Colonel Blimp, he always appeared far too…not effete but…refined, perhaps is the right word, for that.  And of course he had displayed extraordinary heroism when he was a serving officer. So many medals for bravery and gallantry and all the rest of it, but he was always incredibly uncomfortable when talking about this part of his life.  In many respects I had much more success digging into the archives for information.  I always felt that this part of the biography was rather dry…there was so little of him in it, if you see what I mean?

I think so, although I’ve always felt that the whole book worked in the sense of presenting someone who so clearly spent his life alive in an incredibly vibrant way.

So kind of you to say so.  We spent many hours talking over his life and whilst there were some tidbits from this time, there was nothing that I could ultimately put into the biography without it seeming shoehorned in.  For example one of our conversations that always stuck with me, even though I couldn’t repeat it verbatim now, flowed over all sorts of ideas. all sorts of philosophy and metaphysics.  But the most important part, to me, at least boiled down to what he perceived to be a vast irony in the use of uniforms.   Boiled down, what he said was that really there was no such thing.  No two soldiers look identical.  Even if you found two of the same height and build, the chances were that they would wear their beret differently. Some would have rank, or marks of achievement.  Every regiment has its own distinctive features. Every soldier is an individual, and they will find a way to express it.

© David Jesson, 2017

Uniformly Bad

“What’s that they say “all the nice girls love a sailor”? Well, I’d only gone ‘n married one. And not just any sailor mind, but one with proper prospects. “No point living in Pompey if you don’t make sure you get the best of the bunch” me Mum always said. And I did. Royal Navy ‘n a Chief Petty Officer no less. The Navy’s training ‘im to be an engineer, so when ‘e’s done ‘is stint, ‘e’ll have a trade for life. Mum’s dead happy, but then she likes a good looker and my Jim’s that for sure. ‘e can turn on the charm and that cheeky smile don’t hurt neither. But my Dad seemed a bit – I dunno – quiet. Wouldn’t say nothin’ when I asked ‘im though.”

“We’ve fallen out over that, my Dad and I ‘ave. ‘Cos I‘ve found out why. My Dad, ‘e knew about them. Jim’s girls in ‘is previous postings. ‘e’d told me about them – ‘is exes he called them – and maybe they are. But I don’t think children never become exes. And ‘e never mentioned nothin’ ‘bout them till I caught ‘im out. Worse, ‘e gave me all this bleedin’ chat. Called them girls ‘orrible names, suggesting they “knew the score” and all that malarkey. What score is it when you leave a girl pregnant eh? Jim 1 – mother ‘n baby 0. That’s not on. That’s not how it’s done.”

“The child support people came after ‘im and take the money for the kids direct from ‘is wages. That’s ‘ow I found out. I don’t mind ‘im paying, but I do mind that they ‘ad to force ‘im to do it. And I really don’t like ‘im talkin’ ’bout those girls like they’re scum.”

“Sorry, I jes’ couldn’t ‘elp myself, I’ve not bin able to talk to no-one ’bout it.”

The solicitor smiled “Don’t worry Marleen, you’ve given me plenty of information to draw up the documents. I’ll get the divorce papers sent round for you to sign in the next couple of days. You can drop them back off with my secretary and then we’ll get things moving for you.”

“Thanks Mr Palmer. I’m moving soon as it’s done. I don’t wan’ to see another bleedin’ uniform again in my life. Not bothered ‘bout prospects, just a good man who comes ‘ome to his wife at night and takes care of ‘is kids.”

“Don’ suppose you know someone like that, do ya?”

© Debra Carey, 2017

 

And this month, a bonus story from JS Pailly of Pailly’s World, taking us into the glamor of space travel…

A Million Credits

Back on Earth, Monique had never been able to afford expensive clothes. The most she’d ever spent was 50 credits on a pair of glossy red shoes.
Now she was pulling on a skin-tight jumpsuit of carbon nanofiber mesh, studded with safety valves and wired with auto-adaptive life support circuitry–200,000 credits. A layer of thermal padding went over that, followed by an overlayer of protective ortho-fabric–another 600,000 credits, easily. Nitrogen pressure gloves locked at the wrists. Heavy space boots connected below the knees. Finally, Monique positioned her helmet over her head. With a twist, it snapped in place, and the heads-up display lit up before her eyes.
Monique glanced at the small, crooked mirror affixed to the dressing compartment wall. She did an awkward pirouette in microgravity, trying to get a good look at herself all around. She’d spent almost five years in space, living and working on cargo haulers, but this was the first time she’d ever had to wear an E.V.A. suit: the uniform of the real astronaut. She felt giddy. She laughed, thinking: I feel like a million credits–the spacesuit certainly cost that much!
The radio crackled in Monique’s ear: “Yates, what’s they delay?”
“Yes sir–sorry, sir!” Monique answered, sliding open the dressing compartment door. “Won’t happen again, sir!”
“We’re already behind schedule, Yates. I don’t want to explain to central that we missed our delivery due to a clogged toilet.”
“Understood, sir!”
Monique pushed off the wall, maneuvering herself through the tight confines of the logistics module, making her way toward the airlock. This wouldn’t be a grand or glamorous job. Monique was an internal fluid dynamics systems technician–in other words, the ship’s plumber. This morning, at approximately 0600 shipboard time, two filters in the ship’s bio-waste disposal system had ruptured simultaneously, causing a clog to form near the exterior vent. The repair required a spacewalk.
Not exactly “one small step for man,” and yet this was a special moment. Monique could feel her heart pounding, and her helmet’s L.S.S. monitor confirmed her elevated heart rate. For the first time in her life, Monique Yates was going out there: out into space. And she felt excited.

©J.S. Pailly, 2017

FF Prompt: Uniform

Today’s prompt is just a single word:

and we’re only allowing 500 words too …

 

Deadline is 2pm on Friday, 12th May 2017.

Either provide a link to your site in the comments below, or email us your story (see contact form on the about us page) and we’ll post it for you (with an appropriate byline).

A reminder to new readers/writers: if you want to retain the copyright, please state this, and this is a family show, so we reserve the right not to post anything that strays into NSFW or offends against ‘common decency’.

Zinnia Goes to You Know Where

Today’s story is from the wonderfully witty and wacky pen of Isa Lee Wolf, author of The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management, Better Living through GRAVY and other Oddities, Aunty Ida’s Full Service Mental Institution & Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended).

We’re especially grateful to Isa-Lee for giving up her time to produce this story for us, and not only stepping-in at short notice, but during the blogging A-Z Challenge.

 

“So,” said the woman, smiling as sympathetically as a being could around incisors like two hooked carrots, “I’ve got some bad news.” She hugged her clipboard to her chest. It was seared around the edges.

Zinnia took in air to speak but bent in half from the force of her coughing, heavy sulfur stinging the top of her throat. The being with the carrot-teeth gave her a few sharp whacks on the back. Zinnia strangled in a breath, another round of coughing triggered by the fresh dose of sulfur and this time something else, something sour.

“There there,” the being said unconvincingly. “It happens to everyone at first. Well, almost everyone. Some people are totally fine, which makes you wonder what, exactly, is going on up there.”

As she prattled, Zinnia managed to gain control by breathing through her nose, and only very shallowly. She straightened, her eyes red, tears gathered around the bottom lids.

“Crying already? That’s not a good start. I’m Crystal, by the way, and you must be—” Crystal consulted her clipboard, her translucent ears going flat as she read and perking up again when she finished, “—Zinnia”

“—Zinnia,” Zinnia choked out with her. “Can I get a glass of water or something?” she said, her voice hoarse.

“Nope,” said Crystal, her ears lightly bouncing as she shook her head. “It’s kind of part of the whole bad news deal.”

“That’s…” Zinnia said, looking around at the sandy expanse around her, punctuated here and there with jagged rocks in a slimy black, “kinda weird.”

“Won’t be when we’ve finished orientation. Follow me.” Crystal offered another carrot-toothy smile, revealing molars like cubed squash, and turned abruptly on the ball of her stiletto. The shoes sank deep into the sand with each step, from high heels to flats and back again. Momentarily mesmerized, Zinnia had to hurry to catch up, careful to keep a little distance. The tip of Crystal’s tail was pointy. “And watch where you put your feet, don’t want to end up like that.”

Crystal pointed with nails as curved as those carrot teeth to the top of one of the sharp spires, where someone dangled upside down, the zenith of the rock protruding through his thigh.

“Help?” he said, his tone less than hopeful. “A little help would be nice. You? There? A hand?”

“Can’t we help him?” Zinnia craned her neck too look at him “That looks like it hurts. Can’t we do something?”

“You’re really not getting the hang of this place.” Crystal filled the silence with a guffaw, each ear twitching in its own direction, her skinny tail bobbing with mirth, “get it? Hang? Because he’s hanging? Get it?”

“Doesn’t hurt,” called the man. “Except my dignity.”

“Haven’t learned your lesson yet, have you, Henry? Pride pride pride!” She paused her striding to shake a finger at him, black ash falling lazily from her hand to the ground.

“But I’ve been up here for a while, I haven’t even made it past the doorway.”

“Doorway?” Zinnia said.

“We’ll get there,” said Crystal. She gave Zinnia the old up-and-down. “Maybe.”

“It’s so boring up here.” Henry’s words held a hint of whine.

“If you want to liven things up, I can send the ravens.” Crystal poised her pen over the clipboard.

“That’s OK.” Henry arched back against the rock, crossing his arms over his stomach. “Maybe see you around,” he said to Zinnia, his head craned to an odd angle, his face red from his inversion.

“Maybe?” said Zinnia.

“That’s it, Henry! That’s the spirit!” Crystal marched forward again, fast despite the sunken shoes, and held a hand to the side of her mouth, “I wouldn’t count on it,” she whispered.

“I heard that,” said Henry.

“That’s the point,” said Crystal in that same stage whisper. Zinnia struggled to keep up, the soft sand tying her calves into knots. Following along mostly in Crystal’s footsteps, she scurried to the left to avoid something gray and scuttling she preferred not to get closer to, and as she righted herself on the path in the sand the ground trembled. Then rumbled. Then roared.

Like a dart aimed at $50 target, a black pebble shot upward, skinny and razor-sharp at the top, growing and growing until it towered above them, settling with a final groan.

“Pretty sure I warned you about those,” said Crystal, not bothering to turn around.

“There was this crawly thing…” her words trailed off as Crystal stopped in front of a loose triangle of splintered wood, the boards leaning against each other, sand piled like snowdrifts on the surface.

“In you go,” said Crystal.

“Aren’t you going to tell me the bad news?”

“What fun would that be if I just told you?”

“It would be fun for me,” said Zinnia.

“Exactly,” said Crystal. “In you go.”

“But it’s tiny.”

“In.”

Scanning the ground for any suspicious black rocks, Zinnia dropped to her hands and knees and squeezed through the opening, the pokey bits scraping all exposed skin until they weren’t anymore. She looked up.

She was inside a kitchen, dirty dishes piled on the counter and in the sink, teetering mountains of splotchy white. A woman frantically unloaded dishes from the dishwasher, placing them in the cabinets as quickly as she could.

“Hello,” said Zinnia.

“It doesn’t matter how fast I put them away, there are always more dishes,” said the woman.

“I’m Zinnia,” said Zinnia.

“Always more dishes. It’s never empty. Ever. Never empty.”

Crystal appeared beside her. “Pretty terrifying, huh?”

“She’s emptying the dishwasher.”

“But it never gets empty,” said Crystal in a spooky voice.

“It never gets empty!” said the woman, her words heading toward a sob.

“Can I help?”

“This isn’t that kind of a place, sport,” said Crystal. “You’re an odd one, with all this helping.”

Zinnia shrugged and grabbed a plate off the counter. The moment she touched it, it transmogrified, a sneering face in the center, fire everywhere else, scorching her fingers. It crashed to the floor and shattered into dust.

“Now I have to clean that up, thanks so much,” said the woman. “So much.”

“Told you it wasn’t a helping kind of a place. Come on,” Crystal said, disappearing through the wall. Zinnia tried the same method, whacking into the counter, hard. The towers of dishes shuddered.

“Stop wrecking stuff,” the woman said. There was snickering through the cabinets.

“Use the tunnel, dummy,” said Crystal.

Zinnia crawled back out only to discover she wasn’t in the sand but in a living room, where a man paced back and forth aggressively. A printer beeped at irregular intervals, lights ablaze. Though he held a phone to his ear, they heard both sides of the conversation – such that it was – clearly.

“I’m sorry,” said the smooth computer-generated voice. Something buzzed a warning buzz somewhere. “I didn’t quite catch that. I believe you said ‘End call.'”

“No,” said the man, his voice breaking. “Three. Option three.”

“Got it,” said the computer voice brightly. “Now I need some information about you.” The printer let out a screech and spewed a ream of paper at missile speed. Zinnia plunged back to the floor to avoid certain decapitation.

“I’ve said it a million times,” said the man.

Crystal laughed. .”I love this one,” she said. “It’s one of the examples of leaky technology.”

“Leaky technology?”

“Smith.” The man spat the syllable. “S. M. I. T. H.”

“I’m sorry,” the computer voice said, “I didn’t quite catch that. I believe you said “End call.”

“Yes, we had it first and it spread up there.” Crystal poked toward the ceiling. “Computer operators. No way to get a person. Quite an accomplishment.”

“Darron. D. A. R. R. O. N.”

“I’m hearing you want to start over. Hello, and welcome to our automated system.” Darron lunged at the printer, using the phone to smash it, and the printer to smash the phone. They splintered into tiny pieces as an alarm blared from somewhere, and he knocked the shards to the ground and stomped them.

“There,” he said.

The spot where the printer had been got mushy, then wavy, and a growth emerged, mutating into a new printer as Darron’s hand morphed and changed until it was holding another phone.

“Hello, and welcome to our automated system,” said the computer voice.

“AAAAARrrrrrrrrhhhhhhhhggggguuuuuhhhhh,” said Darron.

“Such a hoot,” said Crystal. “This way.” She disappeared down a dark hallway, the walls nothing but amorphous shapes with glowing eyes. At the end stood a massive door, wood planks bound with steel. “This one’s yours.”

“So,” said Zinnia, “I gather the bad news is this is Hell?”

Crystal chuckled, then howled, and then dissolved into something half-snort and half-strangled turkey. “Hell? You think this is Hell? Wait until I tell Z-Bub you said that, we’re very close—”

“No we’re not,” a disembodied voice boomed from everywhere.

“He lets me call him Z-Bub.”

“No I don’t,” said the same voice flatly.

She wiped a tear away with her sleeve, leaving a gray smudge on the red fabric. “Hell.” She shook her hair and those orange teeth glowed dully in the light of the hallway eyes. “This isn’t Hell.”

“Then what is it?”

“I mean you didn’t pay seven parking tickets, never returned a library book, got a little gossipy now and then and pledged to make a monthly donation to Wikipedia then changed your mind. Could you imagine how crowded Hell would be with dolts like you there? Hell.” She shook her head, her translucent ears still sprightly with mirth.

“Then where are we?”

“Hey-Deese.” She swept an arm in a wide game-show model wave, the black ash falling again. “as in ‘Hey-Deese are really annoying things.’”

“You’re kidding.”

“Fine, it’s called the Eternity of Mild Inconveniences, or EMI, but everyone likes mine better.”

“No they don’t,” came that voice again.

“Never heard of it,” said Zinnia.

“No one ever has. We really don’t get the PR talent of the hot place. Anyway, EMI is like the suburbs.” Crystal brushed stay ash from her skirt.

“The suburbs of Hell?”

“It’s actually a mildly intolerable bedroom community,” said the disembodied voice.

“Enough chatter,” said Crystal. With a flourish, she turned the knob on the door, the heavy wood creaking as the door knocker clanged. “In you go,” said Crystal.

“But—”

“Through the doorway.”

“Will it be awful?”

Crystal shrugged. “Awfulish. You probably should have returned that library book. And flossed regularly. Go.”

Zinnia braced herself, took in more of that sulfurous air than she should have, and stepped through.

There stood Crystal, complete with the clipboard. “So,” she said, “I’ve got some bad news.”

 

© 2017 Isa-Lee Wolf

Alphabets

learn-russian-cyrillic-alphabet

“Miss, miss, miss!” Adam was waving his hand up in the air increasingly frantically. Amanda sighed “Yes Adam, what is it?” “It’s Rudi Miss, he’s not writing a story like you told us to, he’s scribbling rubbish!” Rudi turned to face Adam and blurted out“but …” which Amanda stopped by simply holding up her hand. Rudi obediently fell silent and waited for Amanda to come and look at his book. She bent close to him and asked “is that Russian?” Rudi beamed and nodded: “it is more easy for me to write story in Russian, then translate.” Amanda smiled back, patted him on the shoulder and “that’s just fine Rudi.””Come on everyone” Amanda raised her voice slightly “I want you to keep writing until quarter to. You can finish the story for homework.”

At quarter to Amanda announced: “finish your sentence, then put your books away for tonight’s homework please.” Once the flurry of desk lids banging had died away, Amanda stood up at the board and asked: “Does anyone know how many alphabets there are in the world?” As expected, she was greeted with silence and puzzled looks. “Well, Rudi here knows two alphabets, don’t you Rudi?” “Yes” he replied, “English and Russian.”

“When you’ve gone shopping into Birmingham, have any of you noticed that some of the shop signs are written in a strange lettering” enquired Amanda, “do any of you know what that is?” There were a few hands tentatively raised: “Yes, Sarah?” “It’s Indian Miss.” ”John, what do you think?” “It’s Pakistani Miss innit?” ”Well” replied Sarah, “the people who own the shops are either from India, or from Pakistan, but there actually is no such language as Indian or Pakistani. In fact, there are 22 different official languages in India, although they speak more than 1,600 different languages – but then, it’s a really big country.”

“Wow, that’s a lot” called out Adam. “Yes Adam, it is, and quite a number of those languages have their own variation of the alphabet, although they are based on three main scripts. You see, when we were still running round in animal skins and living in huts, there was a hugely successful civilisation in India, with it’s own music and dance, rulers with palaces, art and architecture, craftsmen making jewellery and weapons, regional food and fashion.”

“One last thing before the bell, what we call English is actually called the Latin alphabet, and it is the most commonly used alphabet in the world at the moment. Rudi’s Russian alphabet is more properly known as the Cyrillic alphabet, because it is used not just in Russia but also across much of Eastern Europe in places like Poland, Ukraine and Croatia. So, as you can see, there are a lot of people using a lot of different alphabets.”

“That’s it for today, I’ll put examples of other alphabets up on the classroom notice boards after half term. But don’t forget to finish your writing tonight!”

© 2017 Debra Carey

 

Whilst doing a quick google search on the subject of alphabets, I came across the following breakdown which inspired my story – well, that and the fact that I was born & brought up in India:

“A quick calculation shows that about 2.6 billion people (36% of the world population) use the Latin alphabet, about 1.3 billion people (18%) use the Chinese script, about 1 billion people (14%) use the Devanagari script (India), about 1 billion people (14%) use the Arabic alphabet, about 0.3 billion people (4%) use the Cyrillic alphabet and about 0.25 billion people (3.5%) use the Dravidian script (South India).”  Source