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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 September 2017:

Sunday 3rd: #FF Prompt – post by Friday 8th, 2 pm GMT

Sunday 10th: Short story by David

Sunday 17th: #SecondThoughts by David & Debs

Sunday 24th: Short Story by Debs

 

The First Year

Thoughts from Debs

A little over a year ago, David contacted me with this idea he’d had – an idea for a fiction blog – and asked if I’d like to co-host?

Once I’d got over feeling all fluffy and complimented, there were oh soooooo many thoughts – but simply put, they fell under the heading “another blog?” My fellow bloggers, you’ll understand the thoughts underlying those two little words …

Will there be enough time? Both David & I work full-time and each produce two other blogs individually. I have a burgeoning new business whilst David is a hands-on father to two young children. Time is always of the essence. And there’ve been ideas we’ve not been able to fulfil – yet – because of that limitation. But few ideas are so time-sensitive that they have to be scratched from the potential list, ‘cos frankly, those which are that time-sensitive, tend to happen!

One thing you may not realise is that we respond to our monthly #ff prompts in real time. Only when that tweet goes out do we even start to think about it – honest! They’re scheduled in advance and are promptly forgotten about. We write to the published deadline too, and I can assure that we write right up against that deadline every single month!  Hence our new #TortoiseFlashFiction page …

Will I have enough ideas? Inspiration is a funny thing. I’m the scheduler, so I tend to be the worry wort. And it really doesn’t help – does it? You’ll not be surprised to hear that whenever I force myself not to stare at my spreadsheet, the ideas come. So I’m channelling Davids’s sang froid …

Having the confidence to label myself as a writer of fiction – and this was the big one for me. But, I’ve gone for it and have learned to be self-critical constructively. And the ‘likes’ and comments from you lovely lot do help muchly.

But, the biggest thing I’ve learned is … it’s been Fun.

And so, dear reader, I plan to keep on doing it … and I look forward to seeing you all at our second birthday.

 

Thoughts from David

Wow. A year sure does go fast!

In some respects I have a really bad memory – I don’t tend to remember events very well. But back in January 2016 I talked to Debs about the idea of being writing buddies. We’d been talking about various writing projects for a while and I’d made some New Year’s resolutions about what I wanted to do with my writing. A writing buddy seemed like a no-brainer: someone to talk shop with, share goals, and provide a pre-beta read through of various writings.  I can remember sitting down in the café to discuss the idea and see where we would take it.

(I think it was about then, although not at our very first writing-focussed chat, that Debs mentioned the April A-to-Z challenge.  It seemed like such a good idea at the time…).

A few months and a few meetings later, April A-to-Z completed and some bits and pieces written and discussed, and we started talking about a shared blog where we could trial some of our writing in a more open forum. We launched the blog in September 2016, and the rest, as they say, has been blogged over the last year.

One of my biggest disappointments is that we’ve not been able to get more people to join in with the writing prompts, but on the other hand I’m very grateful to the people who have given this go and tried something that they wouldn’t normally do.  I remain hopeful that we’ll be able to entice more people to give it a trial, but I will be honest and say that I hadn’t realised how big a market, as it were, that this is – if you wanted you could easily do a different prompt everyday of the week for several months and not go to the same website twice.

One of my great delights has been to get some of these stories out into the world.  They are not perfect, but it has been incredibly useful to get into the habit of writing – in the day job I frequently have to write-edit on the fly and so my inner editor is frequently in play.  Giving him some money and sending him off to the flicks so that my writer can have some elbow room has been a interesting experience.

And, at the risk of sounding gushy (don’t worry, no Oscar acceptance speeches here), the blog really wouldn’t work without Debs.  I don’t know if you ever saw Lenny Henry’s sketch about the African Dictator spending the aid money on spurious projects like the ballistic badger launcher?  Well, the set-up here is nothing like that.  Seriously, we don’t have any insane plans here…oh, except the one where we commit to writing two stories a month for the blog. One of the brilliant things about writing buddies is that they always have something to teach you (I hope that’s true in Debs’ experience as well).  Ironically, Debs is by far the better researcher in this area than I – she always has an on-point blog, piece of writing advice, PInterest page or whatever to point to and go “This!”.  I try and pull my weight around here, but it is very difficult, and I am incredibly lucky that Debs likes to find appropriate art-work for the pages, and quite likes spreadsheets listing where we’re going next…

We’d do this anyway, but it is great to have the support of the community and there have been some great comments over the last year – thanks for reading and for your support: do help your self to a cake.

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Destry Rides!

Dear Reader,

Are you a writer?  If so, I tip my hat to you. If not, do give it a try sometime.  It’s not easy – there are many aspects that need to be addressed – but there is a certain satifaction in getting your ideas down on paper.  Someone might even read them.

For me, coming up with ideas is relatively easy.  The trouble is a) having time to jot them all down before I forget them and b) connect them all up. I have lots of jottings and vaguely formed plans, and not enough time to turn them all into outlines and fluently worded stories.  Hence #TortoiseFlashFiction: These are the stories that I really did want to write in response to a prompt, but which I didn’t have the time to do anything about at the time.

Debs introduced me to Chuck Wendig, who offeres some really interesting prompts.  One that was offered on August 5th (2016, that is) was a mash-up of two different genres. From a list, randomly select two and write a 2000 word short story.  I rolled the dice and got…Weird West (itself a mash-up ) and Noir.

I decided fairly quickly that I wanted to write an origin story for Washington Dimsdale, the town drunk in the classic, Destry Rides Again: why is he such a drunk?  How did he come to know the Destry family?  Why did he part company with Tom Destry (Senior)?

In many respects it’s a pretty blank canvas to work with – Tom Destry is a famous lawman, Dimsdale was his deputy. When Dimsdale is made the sheriff of Bottleneck because no-one believes that he can do it, it is a source of consternation that he sends for Tom Destry Jr.  But I thought that it might be useful to some research – might there be an earlier Destry film that I would need to take account of? Afterall, it is not completely unheard of for a sequel or reboot to more famous than the original.

What I found was a situation adjacent to that of Bladerunner.  In that instance, the film makers decided that they didn’t like the title of the novel (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) that the film was based on and so they bought the rights to a not very good screen-play, a medical thriller, and used the title for that instead.  In the case of Destry Rides Again, the title comes from a book about a cowboy called Destry (so far so good). And the original plot, where the character is much more morally grey than those we associate with Jimmy Stewart’s white-hat.  There is an earlier version (1932) of Destry Rides Again, which is based more closely on the book, but both of these are much more traditional Westerns, albeit with a touch of “The Count of Monte Christo” about the plot.

Fundamentally, no prequel to take into account…Thanks for bearing with me!  Without further ado:

DESTRY RIDES!

Forgive the shaky hand-writing.  I write this in what might be my last lucid moment.  I cannot bring myself to suicide, but I cannot live with this memory.  The only way to block it out is to view the world from inside the bottle.  I will put away my guns and strong liquor will protect me from a world that I no longer understand.  But whilst no-one will believe me, I must leave some sort of record of these events.  As I alone, saw the whole thing, it is up to me to write it.  Others will no doubt chronicle the adventures of Tom Destry, but it is up to me to write this strangest episode, even though Tom himself does not know that it happened.  And yet perhaps it is better if I do not write?  And then again, how will I ever exorcise myself of the sight?

My name is Washington Dimsdale, and no doubt you have never heard of me.  I was Tom Destry’s Deputy, his right hand man.  Tom was, is, the kind of lawman who goes where he is needed, builds up a local to the point where he is sheriff and then moves on, and I with him.  But it’s no kind of life for a family man.  Tom had married and started a family, and he was looking to settle down for a while.  At this time we’d ended up in Sweetwater, which of itself was probably the quietest place that we had ever stayed.  Yep, a quiet town.  It was mainly farmers, which probably accounted for it.  Ranchers are always on the move, there’s a steady turnover of casual labour.  Farmers are more settled somehow.  There was a mining camp two days out into the hills, and miners is always wild, wilder than cowboys I always reckoned, ‘cept these weren’t.  They knew to come to town sober if they wanted to buy or sell anything at the store.

But these miners were unlike any I’d ever seen, or even heard of: quiet, peaceable, sober. Maybe it’s because they weren’t goldminers and had not been overcome by that peculiar madness.  Their leader was Old Shulz, and that again may have been the reason for the quietness of the place.  Don’t get me wrong – that mining camp was mighty strange, but still quiet for all that.

One day, Tom an’ I were out in the easy chairs out front of the sheriff’s office passing the time of day in the pursuits of the towny at leisure, trying to see who could make the spittoon ring the loudest and drawing up plans for what needed doin’.  We was getting soft there, and kinda enjoyin’ it all.  Tom Jr was gettin’ him some schooling, and Tom Sr was ribbing me that I should ask the school marm out and settle down myself.  We talked about the farms hereabout and where we thought the next ride-about should be. We talked about upcoming hoedowns and barn-raising’s and all of half-a-dozen other things that we’d never had the opportunity to get real involved in, things that you only really see in a strong community.

And then our jawin’ turned to subject of Old Shulz, and his strange mine.  We’d been up there a few times and we couldn’t understand how it could be so productive with so few people to work it.   Whenever we’d been there, we’d only ever seen a half-dozen or so people: Old Shulz himself, a couple of cousins, a few nephews.  No one who wasn’t kin.  They were that clannish sort that would try an’ make you feel uncomfortable by talkin’ their old country language, so’s you couldn’t tell what they were saying, when you knew perfectly well they could speak a decent language same as any other.

Then we started talking about the drifters who’d wander in to town.  We’d get a few every week or so.  Some were what you might call professionally itinerant, drifting in few supplies, drifting out again heading somewhere else.  Some would stay for a few days, pickin’ up make-piece work where it could be found.  If there was one in when Old Shulz or one of the other miners was in town then, like as not, the wanderer would head up into the hills above Sweetwater, never to be seen again.  No matter when we visited, we only ever saw Old Shulz and his kin, never a trace of anyone else.

The reason we started talking about the drifters, was that we’d seen nary a one for weeks.  It was a quiet time of the year for th sort of thing, but you’d still expect to see a few around the place, but nothing.  So there we were, out on the porch and in the distance we spotted the tell-tale dust of horse and rider goin’ at a mighty lick.  The rider came straight up to the office and didn’t even bother to dismount.

“Sheriff! There’s a child a-gone missing up at the O’Donnell Farm – come quick!”

Tom found a change of horse for the wind-blown nag the messenger had ridden in to town and then he rode off to the farm to see things for himself.  Most folks round here were pretty sensible and it warn’t likely that the child had wandered off or just hidden itself around the farm somewhere.  Tom sent me off to round-up a posse of our usual occasional deputies – those who had an official role at times like these, and those that we just swept up off the street.  Sweetwater’s kinda quiet, like I said, and so there are fewer of the adventurous types who’ll jump into the saddle when they hear the word ‘possee’, but there’s a much stronger spirit of community than most places I been at, and so we had a respectable bunch in the saddle inside an hour.  The fact it was a child missing didn’t hurt none in prisin’ people from the store an’ such like.

Over the years, Tom and I had searched for a good many people.  Some of them wanted to be found, and some di’n’t.  There were the wrong un’s, on the run and trying to get away, and lost souls who’d misplaced themselves: we tracked them all down, and mostly brought them all back alive.

Tom and the farmer had ridden off as hard as the farmer had ridden in; we took it more sedately.  Who knew who long this was goin’ t’ take?  ‘Sides, if there was a trail worth pickin’ up, Tom could do it more easiy without a bunch of guys tearing up the dirt.

By the time we got to the edge of the farm, Tom had got the story.  Sally O’Donnell had been runnin’ errands around the farm.  She probably wouldn’t have been missed until sundown, ‘cept her pa had sent her to the barn for some rope and she hadn’t come back.  She wasn’t normally tardy, and if her pa had had cause to have words with young Barney Oakwood and his pa, then that’s nothing unusual for her a girl of her age, but it was unusual that she hadn’t done as she was told and come back directly.

Pa O’Donnell and his hands had scoured the barn and the the rest of the outbuildings pretty thoroughly and they were going at it again when O’Donnell sent one of his men over to the Oakwood farm, just in case.   Eldon O’Donnell wasn’t a man to take fright easily, but he didn’t care to take risks where his daughter was concerned, so he sent another into town to fetch Tom.   Tom had done his own search, and by the time he’d finished there were perhaps 40 of us waiting to hear what he wanted us to do, a score or so of farmers from O’Donnell and Oakwood farms, and as many again, or perhaps a few more from the town.

Tom took me aside, and showed me what he’d found: I couldn’t understand what I was looking it.

“It’s red cloth,” I said.  “No, wait, it looks like one of those red-knitted hats Shulz and his boys wear.  But the edge is all ragged.”

“That’s right.  You know how the O’Donnell’s barn is built into the cliff?  Well I found this in the back wall.  I had to cut it free with my sheath knife.”

“That makes no sense at all!”

“I know.  And I found this” –  he showed me a handful of rock chippings –  “underneath on the floor.  I think we need to go and talk to Old Shulz.  You did well with the posse, but I’m worried that with the farmers we might have too many men.”

“Yep.  We can’t take ’em all along to see Shulz – he’ll think we’ve come to arrest him or summat.”

“That’s right.  And these fellas might get twitchy too, they’re mighty worried ’bout Sally. What I want you to do is split the men into groups of four or five, mix up the townies and the farmers and put the most sensible people you can in charge.  I’m pretty certain we’ll find the answer up in the hills.  What I want us to do is to separate out the groups a bit, but to know that we’ve got people close enought if we need ’em.”

It was a good plan and it didn’t take long to get people sorted out.  There was some grumbling, but everybody respected Tom.  He told them that he’d picked out a trail, but that it was quite faint and that we’d have to go over the country careful like.  Tom and I played our parts to perfection, and no-one notice that our two groups were a bit closer together and a bit further forward than anyone elses groups.

The mining camp sat in a slight depression – you needed to know it was there, and you needed to know that the path to get there was hidden amongst a jumble of boulders.  We didn’t want to spook Shulz and his boys, so our two groups dismounted and, leaving two men to look after the horses, we walked up to the head of the mine.  We found Shulz, lolling at his ease outside the minehead, smokin’ his funny old country pipe, and looking every inch the gentleman of lesiure.  I saw at once he still had his odd red hat.

“What can do for ye, Sheriff?” Shulz asked in that reedy, eerie voice.

“Young Sally O’Donnell has gone missing, and I figured you might be able to help us.”

“Ain’t seen no younglings today.”

“This was found in the last place she was seen.” Tom held out the tattered remains of the hat.

Shulz gave a shriek and dived into the mine.  Tom and I signalled our men to take care of whoever might be in the cabin, whilst he and I followed Shulz.  We had to go careful like, in the dim light.  We needn’t have worried, not too much.  Shulz didn’t have no mind on us, but of course he knew where he was going and we didn’t.  We could hear him though, yelling his head off in that old country lingo.  I couldn’t make out a word he was saying, but when we caught up he was roughing up one of his own nephews.  They were tusslin’ under the arch of opening into a big open space off the main tunnel.  Old Shulz was a tough, wiry old bird and the nephew was in sore trouble.   Shulz knocked him down and plunged into the space beyond.

The man was out cold and we left him by the door and looked in.

“What have ye done? Ye’ve ruined us all!” Shulz was exclaiming this over and over again and as pummeled another unfortunate.  This one looked strange though, but it was difficult to tell what was wrong as the figure was hunched over.  We could see other forms hunched over in the shadows.  They appeared to be chained to the walls, but they had picks in their hands and they were brandishing these at Old Shulz’s people.  In their turn, his family were pointing guns at the figures.

There was too much to take in. On the floor were scattered bones, clearly from people, and more than a few.  A saw mining paraphenalia in a jumble here and there.  And finally, I saw her – Sally O’Donnell – lying on the floor behind the figure that Shulz was punching.

I don’t know why – perhaps emboldened by our presence, perhaps Shulz moved funny in Sally’s direction – but the the figure suddenly stood up and knocked Shulz flying as if he were a tumbleweed.  The creature was hideous, although still hard to make out.  In the flickering light of the dozen or so lanterns around the place, the skin looked steel-grey.  The teeth were pointed and sharp and there were too many of them.  The ears were large and leathery.  It was completely hairless, around four or perhaps as much as five feet tall and whipcord thin, although clearly heavily muscled with it.  It was wearing odd scraps of clothing, and as my eyes flickered to the other figures, I noted that they were all similar, but with the addition of the funny red hats.

The creature let out a deep bellow that was at odds with the wiry frame.  One of Shulz’s cousins shot it in the chest and it crumpled.  At this, pandemonium broke out and the miners found themselves under attack.  Tom tried to call for order.  I ran to the creature to see if it were dead and to see how Sally was.  The creature looked at me, but I could tell that it was fading fast.  The voice when it spoke was full of odd sibilant hissings:

“I would not have hurt her.”

And then it died.  Sally was alive but mercifully unconscious.  I scooped her up and Tom covered our exit.  I don’t know know if it were deliberate or happenstance, but some bullet or richochet knocked over a lamp, onto a coil of fuse.  The fuse caught, and the fire spread to some boxes.  The miners paniced and tried to escape but the creatures held them tight.  I ran with Sally, as fast as I could back up the tunnel.  We were not too far off when the explosion came.

Tom was last out, of course, falling through the opening as a lump of rock the size of beer tankard hit him on the side of his head.  I rushed to his side: he was breathing.  I could do nothing for him here and so I got my men to bring up the horses and with help I got Tom up on his horse, climbed into my own saddle.  Sally, in the meantime, and aided by the fresh air, had begun to come round and I put her up on the saddle in front of me and headed back to town.

At first there was disbelief. No one could believe that the miners were dead, that the mine had collapsed so badly.  Then there were mutterings, that perhaps it was providence or some such, divine retribution, mebbe. And then there was nothing, it just seemed to drift out of people’s consciousness.  Sally was fine. She hadn’t seen nothing, and so it faded pretty quick from her mind and she got on with the serious business of growing up big enough to marry Barney Oakwood just as soon as it might be possible.  Mebbe she stayed a bit closer to the farmhouse for a few weeks, but pretty soon she was fed up with chores at home and was back to helping round the farm.

Tom was laid up in for over a month before Doc Barker would let him back up.  The bump on the noggin was bad, and Doc Barker had been real worried for a while.  Tom recovered, like I knew he would, but he couldn’t remember how he’d banged his head.  Doc Barker said it was called amnesia, and that the memories might come back and they might not.  I’d woken, sweaty with terror, every night of that month.  I wanted to talk to Tom about it.  I didn’t know what he’d think of me if I told him what really happened…what could I say?  He remembered nothing: where could I even begin?

 

© David Jesson, 2017

Birthday #TortoiseFlashFiction

Kitchen of the Future

Tuesday is baking day. It’s a lot of work but after the hell that is Monday washday, it’s a day I look forward to. There’s a lot to do, but the feeling of the flour and fat is a salve to my sore hands. Plus there’s all that kneading … I remember watching Paul Hollywood on TV (my Mum was crazy about his blue eyes) saying how therapeutic it was, and he was right. Sometimes I miss TV, but it’s not like there’s time any more.

With the great Energy Crash of 2032, we all had to scale back our lives – massively. Decisions had to be made as to whether we kept warm and could travel some, or whether we got to keep our labour saving devices. Nowadays we have to use our energy so we can save the energy to keep us all alive.

Naturally, hospitals get to use most of the energy, and there’s another chunk for the mass travel system. No more individual transport, unless we’re talking bicycles. They’ve become popular again. Remember all those annoying middle-aged men running round in lycra trying to find their lost youth, well they had a head start on the rest of us.

But back to my kitchen. These days it’s a big room. Biggest room in the house probably, especially when you combine it with the food storage areas. We use some of our energy allocation to have a chill room. It means we have to collect wood to keep the house warm, but it keeps the kids busy, especially in the longer summer months. No sitting them in front of a TV or some electronic game now.

Anyway, back to my kitchen. Monday is washday and although there’s a special bit of the kitchen set aside for it, the whole room gets filled up with steam. I use lye soap, a couple of old zinc tubs and a big old scrubbing brush for the really mucky stuff. I managed to find an old mangle before they became rare as dodos – and it’s a godsend. By the end of the day, the house looks like a chinese laundry and everything tends to smell of smoke, excepting during the fine weather that is, when I can get it hung out of doors.

Tuesday’s baking day, like I said. We eat a lot of bread – we need the calories and the carbohydrates these days as life is more physical, plus there’s a lot less protein around. I prepare the dough for all our bread, even though I only bake some of it. The rest I put away in the larder and till Friday when I do the weekend’s baking. I also make pastry as we eat a lot of pies – most of that goes into the larder too, in day-size rounds. I also do biscuits – lots and lots of biscuits. I keep that old jar filled up, we don’t have many treats and that’s one I can manage.

Wednesday is ironing day. Same place as I got my mangle, I found an old-style iron. I only use it for work clothes, even though it seems silly in this day ‘n age to be worrying about such stuff, but employers still do it seems. I also do the fireplaces Wednesday – clean ‘em out thoroughly, then re-set and re-light ‘em.

Thursday is cooking day. I do some cooking most days ‘cept Mondays – but this is the day I cook most of our meals for the week. I make a big stew and serve it up with dumplings, the rest of it goes into a meat pot pie for later in the week. I prepare the fillings for fruit pies, pop a couple in the oven ‘n put the rest into the larder for later. I always have a veg soup on the go too.

Fridays is dairy day. Dairy van delivers in our area late Thursday, so Friday I get busy churning butter, making yoghurt, cream and cheese. I did a cheese-making course at Neals Yard back in the old days. Ever so grateful for it now as it provides a really good alternative source of protein for us, as dairy is much cheaper and more easily available than meat. We don’t live near enough the coast to get fish, except as an occasional treat.

Saturdays we all get together to clean the house ready for the weekend. I try to make it fun, but it’s a chore, same as it’s always been. But at least I get help. If I’d have to battle with TV and electronic games, there’d be no chance of that. We get it done in the morning and I do us a big cooked breakfast before the kids go outside for a run round. Usually there’s a game of kick-ball going on, and both girls and boys can join in. I prepare everything for our big Sunday roast and then have a sit down. I have the one cup of Earl Grey tea I allow myself a week. I miss it the rest of the time, but what can you do? Our carbon footprints are carefully measured – I use ours for my yearly allowance of Earl Grey and for spices. I pickle and preserve to make sure no gluts ever go to waste. My larder is always loaded up.

I love Sundays, for I get a lie-in. John gets the roast cooking and does the roast potatoes. We have a dual-fuel range cooker which is pretty efficient. We can run it on wood, or use some of our energy allocation. There’s always a fruit pie ready in the larder for John to slide in to the oven when he takes out the roast dinner, and the children help with the vegetables – everything’s been cleaned and prepared, so there’s no sharp knives needed – but I always lay the table. I kept my nice china and we use it on Sundays. Silly really, but it makes me smile even when I’m washing it all up on Sunday evening.

Before you know it, we’re back to Monday and it’s washday once more. No cooking on Mondays, so it’s cold meat and cold roast potatoes from Sunday, with pickles and preserves from the larder. Best bit of a Monday that is.

I kept my old Readers Digest Cookery Year cookbook – that way I know what’s in season. I bought a book on mushrooms before – I enjoy the occasional forage and that way I can recognise what’s safe to eat and what’s not. We’re so lucky our village had a great bunch of people who’ve always kept allotments. They helped us set aside quite a lot of land for planting – gardens, bits of park ‘n what-not. We all help out with the planting and harvesting, so we have a regular supply of fresh produce.

I never thought the future would be like this. I’m pretty sure I expected robots and perfect, modern, clutter-free homes. What we have is hard work – but I can’t deny that I always sleep well and there’s the added bonus that I never have to watch my weight nowadays.

© Debra Carey, 2017

10000 steps a day

“It’s surprisingly hard to walk 10000 steps a day.” I said to Sam.  “I’ve been doing this new walking thing for about six months now, and I think that I’ve managed it about twenty times.”

I’d started focussing a bit more on walking after I met the Brigadier.  I’d taken him for a colonel as soon as I saw him: the neat tweed suit, erect bearing, and a no-nonsense attitude that seemed to radiate from within.  The plummy voice was a perfect fit.  The man was in danger of being a walking cliché, but in just five minutes he’d changed my life.  He looked eighty, but was actually over ninety.  Our friendship had grown over the last six months and we ‘d skirted around his military experiences; an impressive collection of medals told a story of a career of service around the world, some intensely prosaic, others a Chinese curse embodied.

With everything that he’d lived and seen, he maintained a generous sense of humour and still walked a minimum of five miles every day, usually more.  After a chance meeting, where we’d found that we both lived within walking distance of the park, I’d realised that I’d been drifting into a sedentary lifestyle and decided to do something about it.

I’d been a bit boring about it to some extent, but I’d been working on my friends to get them to come out for a walk on occasion.  Sam had been the most resistant, but had finally caved.

“Here’s the app that I use to keep track of things. I usually manage five to seven thousand steps, but that 10k requires planning as much commitment.  I always used to think that you could get 10k in just by moving about a bit during the day, but even walking in to work these days I struggle to get the steps in.”

“Is it going to be like this for the whole walk?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I was persuaded to come out today on the basis of fresh air, good conversation and a decent cup of coffee at some point and, so far, we’ve just talked about – no, you’ve just talked about – the number of steps that you ‘re walking.”

“Oh.”

“I mean, I get that it’s important to you, but perhaps we could diversify things a bit.  Like, oh, I don’t know.  If we assume that 1000 steps is a kilometre then it would take you nearly 19 days to walk round the M25, at 10000 steps a day.”

“No way!”

“Or, if you use this app, you can set yourself challenges based on a scale model of the solar system.”

“You are a complete swine! You’ve been stringing me along about going walking for ages!”

“Yeah… but you still love me.”

“Humph.  You’re buying the coffee.”

“Fair enough.”

“I wonder how far the Brigadier’s walked…”.

©David Jesson, 2017

#FF Prompt #TortoiseFlashFiction

TORTOISE

In honour of our first birthday, we thought we’d widen the scope of #TortoiseFlashFiction to embrace more than just David’s propensity to think of a great idea but have no time to write within the deadline. So, we’ve added a new page for everyone to use when slow in responding to a #ff prompt.

And to start the ball rolling, we thought we’d revisit some of our flash fiction prompts to date. Choose one (or more) from below and get writing …

Prompt 1 :  The Cake
Prompt 2 :  Kitchen of the Future
Prompt 3 :  Walking Distance

And if we didn’t select the prompt you have an idea for, remember there’s that new #TortoiseFlashFiction page just a-waiting …

 

Deadline for submission : 2pm on Friday 8th September 2017.
Word count: anything from a drabble to 1,000 words.

 


As always, please post your story in the comments or provide a link there to your site. You can also send us a note via the contact page and we’ll post your story for you, with appropriate accreditation.

Take my hand!

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The Prompt
Take my hand!
”Why?”
”I’m trying to ask you to marry me, so take my damn hand.”

 

“That’s not quite how I expected this scenario to go down but, sure, whatever. Go ahead!”
“Is it your aim to be the most maddening woman ever in creation?”
“Noooo. But you know I bloody hate being told what to do like that.”
“OK, but … I was nervous dammit. People do get nervous sometimes.”
“Right. I’ll – erm – shut up for a bit then.”
“So, will you?”
“Again – that’s not quite … “
“Oh for goodness sake woman, the moment’s gone. Will you or won’t you?”
“Put like that, then … s’pose so!”

 

© Debra Carey, 2017


PS: I’d just started when I realised this could work nicely as a drabble – and it turned out to be so.

#Secondthoughts: Isaac Asimov

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I have a confession to make…but we’ll come back to that later.

One of the aims for these #Secondthoughts posts is to allow us to go back and review ideas, beliefs, writing, perhaps provide more information, give it a new spin or…it’s a pretty broad # really.  Some of these ideas may not, in fact be out own, but what we’re presenting is our response to them.  (Quick advert – if you’d like to have a go at doing one of these, please do drop us a line to discuss).

Let’s start with a question: what’s the link between Isaac Asimov and Michael Caine?

It’s hard to think of any way in which these two could possibly be connected apart from the fact that of course they are both white males.  I suspect that if you dig deep enough and/or have a particular point that you want to make then you could come up with just about anything.  (I saw a fascinating example of contextual bias the other day where someone had to rap out a tune with their knuckles having tried to predict how many people in the audience would know what the tune was.  I was the only person to take a punt – I guessed “the Raider’s March” for what turned out to be “All you need is love”.  So it goes).  The connection that I see is that both have had illustrious careers in their own professions, have never or rarely been out of work and have been honoured multiple times for real stand out performances.  They’ve also been involved in some real howlers, one way or another, and one can easily point to aspects of their craft where they are obviously weak.

Asimov cropped up in another #secondthoughts piece the other month, and this and another prompt pointed me towards writing this.  I think it is fair to say that Asimov was a real visionary when it came to big ideas.  It is not uncommon for writers to coin new words, and indeed to talk about things in such a way that make it difficult to grant patents.  Asimov is no exception and coined several terms that are now in the dictionary. He also developed ideas that have become the bedrock of many concepts: whilst robots have turned up before Asimov, his influence on this facet of sci-fi is immense, for example.

Asimov was a Master when it came to building a world, but also, perhaps surprisingly, a master of leaving the little details in place that would then become pivotal later on this was important for his mystery/detective stories such as Caves of Steel, which is decidedly science fiction, but also the more realistic A Whiff of Death.  What he was incredibly – notoriously in fact – bad at was people.  For someone who wrote so much, he never really cracked the human element.  Much of the time this didn’t really matter, particularly in the ridiculous number of short stories that he churned out.  Sometimes it was cringingly bad.  But to be fair, this was something that he acknowledged, to the extent that he noted that some people thought it was a problem, but not a problem that he was going to address by changing his style or anything.  What he was also a sucker for was a really bad pun – a classic example is the short short story of the criminal, Stein, who tries to escape the statute of limitations by jumping forward in time.  We’ll skip the legal arguments and cut to the judge finding in favour of the defendant because “a niche in time saves Stein.” Ho hum.

Which brings us to my confession.  I had been reading the Union Club Mysteries, a collection of short stories in which Griswold, a gnarly old bird explains to his associates at the Union Club how he was able to solve the mystery that had stumped the police, the FBI, the CIA or whoever it happened to be this time.  He would always explain the set-up, including a more or less explicit cryptic clue and then finish by saying that he did something or told someone else to do something on the basis of the deduction but there would be some kind of apparent magic-step.  Griswold would start to go to sleep and his friends would wake him up, demanding an explanation.  I thought that this would make quite a good structure, and so my recent response to the “How to identify a time-traveller” is an extremely heavy-handed parody of Asimov’s Union Club, ending with a joke that I think he would have approved of.  Sometimes, you don’t need to go beyond the essentials with characterisation.

 

© David Jesson, 2017

Superheroes

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Isabel slumped in the booth, weary and dejected, and waited for the others to arrive.  She looked up at the screen to the side of the bar.  It was depressing viewing.  The latest Trump gaffe.  The latest Brexit disaster.  North Korea.  The NHS. Climate change.  Everything felt like the world was going downhill fast.  If not a nuclear or zombie apocalypse then perhaps the world was just going to get thin, like in some of the places in the King’s Dark Tower.

One  by one, the others slid in to the booth.  As usual Mikey had a soft drink and was the first to lay down the marker that he couldn’t stay long, but everyone understood, because he had to get home and tag with Mary who’d had the kids all day and had to work tomorrow.

Cassie looked exhausted, and in reality she might well be the first to head off.  A punishing schedule of shift work on ICU, with the constant battle to save people who were not in a good way, was etched into her posture.  Of all the people round the table, she probably had the most right to complain, especially given the unfair disparity between nurses and doctors, but she never did.

Seb, the teacher, regaled them with the latest changes to the curriculum.  The need to get the kids through the exams whilst actually equipping them with the skills they needed was becoming harder and  harder.  Seb did a perfect imitation of his irritating brother, the university lecturer, who was constantly complaining about the lack of practical skills that the undergraduates had these days.  (As ever, this was of course accompanied by a recitation of what had been required in the ‘good old days’).  It was amazing that Seb still found time for these catch-ups – they’d all seen the marking that he had to do pretty much every evening.

Isabel loved these catch-ups.  However down-in-the-dumps she was at the start, she was always re-invigorated by the end of the evening.  Tonight was no exception and she started thinking about the march at the weekend, and the banner that she’d make.

© David Jesson, 2017