The Dragons weren’t flying, something was terribly wrong.

Flash fiction is a new bit of writing practice for me and as David seems to appreciate my ferreting around for inspiration, here’s another one! I struggled with this for a while trying to get it short enough. I was aiming for 1,000 words and just tipped over. Note to self: stop blathering on …

Oh, the prompt is as the title …

dragons_united_group_picture_by_natoli-d5vm6uqMac grabbed his coffee on the way to work. “What the …” he swore after bumping into the fifth person who’d stopped, right in the midst of walking-and-talking.  Mac looked around and noticed a gaggle on the street corner pointing up at the sky. Except there was nothing in the sky. And that’s when he got it, there were no dragons and they should’ve been flying, something must be wrong. Stepping into the street, he figured he could avoid rush hour traffic easier than pedestrians. He made calls, but they all went to voicemail. After an hour without replies, he went over to Joe’s to pick up the chatter.

Joe’s was buzzing so it was quite a while before he joined Mac. “No-one seems to know why” he said quickly, putting his feet up with a sigh. “Last night we’d a big group from one of those seminar hotels keeping us busy, when I noticed a few of them talking to old Guy. Just then they got up en masse and went outside.” Mac raised his eyebrows but Joe continued:  “I sent Jenna out after them. She soon raced back shouting about the dragons.” Mac started to ask: “did you …” when Joe nodded: “I went out to check for myself. The sky was clear, no clouds, just moon and stars and no dragons. Since then, we’ve done crazy business with more than half the town in here, but no-one, absolutely no-one seems to know a damn thing.”

For a moment, Joe flexed his feet and sighed whilst Mac thought. Who could know? Who had an in?  Suddenly Mac remembered something: “didn’t old Guy have some connection to the dragons back in the day?” Joe nodded, “yup, way back, before the drink got him.”

Mac couldn’t raise Guy till lunchtime. He wasn’t making any sense and the coffee Mac fed him only made Guy puke. In a while Mac realised he was going about this the wrong way. Opening Guy’s fridge, he pulled out a cold beer and let Guy knock it back. After he’d drunk half the second one, Guy asked him “what the hell do you want?” “Where are the dragons? Mac asked, but was surprised when Guy laughed, so much that he could hardly catch his breath. Mac crossed to the fridge, taking out a couple more beers, he handed one to Guy asking “any thoughts you’d care to share?”

Later Mac crossed town whilst absorbing what Guy had him. It was that age-old story, one of cutting costs and out-sourcing work from the guys with training, with knowledge and experience, to the cheap newcomers. This’d happened some months back and the dragons had been getting sick. They weren’t being fed right and a new abrasive cleaning regime was causing serious damage to their scaly skin. Their old handlers knew how to care for and heal them, but the new handlers had no idea. They couldn’t even tell the difference between them, so the dragons had been protecting their own by covering for the sick ones. But last night, they’d all gone out and none had returned.

Mac spent the afternoon tracking down the old handlers, but every one of them had packed up home and family and left town. It was all over the news how the Mayor was combing the surrounding countryside for them, but kept coming back empty-handed.

Some nights later, Mac was having a nightcap in Joe’s when old Guy came over, swerving between tables like he’d had too many. But Mac spotted the look in his eye and he wasn’t drunk. Guy leant on his table and asked why he’d not repeated what he’d learned about the dragons. Mac shrugged: “why would I? They seem the injured party in all this.” Guy smiled and said: “I’m being watched. If I leave a package in the booth near the window with directions and a token, will you deliver it for me?” Mac shrugged again: “yeah, why not?”

Next morning, Mac hitched a ride with the mayor’s searchers out of town, then stopped to drink some coffee and eat a bacon sandwich. Waiting till the searchers were over the horizon, he walked up to a pass, took out the token and waited. A man appeared, introduced himself as Ben and took him into the valley which was just coming to life. Fires were on the go and there were vast tents around the edge. Ben took Mac into one of the largest, inside of which were dragons being rubbed in goose fat to ease the wounds on their skins. Further back, dragons were being spoon fed and this is where Ben hurried Mac to. Handing the package to willing hands, the contents were soon being dispensed to the weakest patients.

Ben spoke quietly telling how the dragons had become increasingly sick, some close to dying.  He’d tried raising the dragons’ plight, but without success, so getting together with his old colleagues, they’d planned an escape and prepared this hideout.  Finally Mac asked “how come you’ve not been found?” Ben smiled: “It’s not a fairytale you know, dragons really can do magic. They’ve put an enchantment around this valley. Unless they allow it, you’ll see nothing here.” “The token?” asked Mac and Ben inclined his head.

Ben walked Mac back over the pass, telling him it was their intention to wait until the dragons were fully recovered. They hoped, by that time, their absence would’ve have left a serious vacuum. They’d need an advocate to approach the mayor, to gain assurances about the dragons future and safety. Mac raised an enquiring eyebrow: “me?” Ben nodded. “Why not?” Mac indicated his ascent and Ben continued: “old Guy will give you the odd package to deliver, if you’d be willing, and he’ll let you know when it’s time.”

Mac strolled back along the main road back into town. He’d hitch a ride with the mayor’s searchers soon – they’d be along in a while. Fingering the token in his pocket, the idea made him smile …

 

© 2016 Debra Carey

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#secondthoughts – David Eddings

David Eddings, if you’ve not come across him before, is one of the big names in fantasy.

#Secondthoughts is a series that Debs and I are starting to explore writing: the journey of, reactions to and reflections on writing.  We’re hoping that we’ll be joined by others along the way.  For this inaugural one, I’m going to reflect on a body of work that has probably had a huge effect on how I think of Fantasy novels and the second thoughts I’m having now that I’ve got my eye in as an editor (day job, mainly) and now that I’m getting serious about my non-job writing.

David Eddings, if you’ve not come across him before, is one of the big names in fantasy. He has written about not one, not two, not three but four separate fantasy realms.  Up front, I’m going to say that it later transpired that his wife had a big hand in co-writing almost all of the books he wrote, but when they were starting out the advice was that a husband and wife team/multi-authors would be problematic, so only his name appears on the books.

I started reading the Eddings’ books when I was in my early to mid-teens – I think that’s probably true of most of the readership. They were still writing into the early part of the new millennium, but by then I’d moved on for all sorts of reasons, so I didn’t get round to reading the last series, The Dreamers.  I might one day, but the TBR pile is pretty big (and growing).  Anyway, when you’re that age, the Fantasy trope is pretty much a given, especially if there’s a bit of magic, some sword play and the world to save.  And the Eddings oeuvre was pretty readable: a friend loaned me the first four books in one series (The Belgariad) and I was itching for the final book, so when I stumbled over a copy in bookshop I bought it and read it straight through twice in less than 24 hours.  I think I got the entire second series (The Mallorean) for a birthday and read the lot over half-term.  There were a fair few summers when I would undertake to read the whole lot through again.  It was a similar story (excuse the cliche) a few years later when I started on the Elenium and the Tamuli.

What really works for me about these series is the world-building: whole nations are involved, in some cases whole continents.  There are numerous cultures, some of which are intimately bound up with their local geography and geology.  There are some brilliant and memorable characters and, as I write this, in my mind’s eye many of the scenes from the novels are evoked and play out.

The journey of my second thoughts begins with a stand alone novel, the Redemption of Althalus.  At university I was reading for a degree, spending a bit too much time on archery and reading a lot of new things (I really shouldn’t have worked my way through six books of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant in one semester).  A few years along and one of my friends at archery was also a big reader and a big fan of Eddings and several other of my favourite authors.  (Bonus points if you know why she was put out when I proposed a toast to the Walker Evans Memorial Society, whilst minding the barbecue…).  She was a big fan of RoA.  I’d been putting it off, I can’t remember why now, and even then it took me quite a few years to get round to reading it, but I eventually did, in part because of the remembered recommendation.  It was absolute tosh, and not the good kind.  I think that my friend had latched onto a particular character, and forgiven the book a lot of its faults.  There are some really good ideas in there, but my guess would be that the book did not have an editor, or if it did, one that couldn’t stand up to the writer.

Roll on a couple more years and I decided to sit down and reread the Belgariad.  I couldn’t do it.  The magic, the glamour was gone.  I found the writing verbose and clunky, it didn’t have the same flow.  Maybe I’ll give it another try in a few years.  We’ll see.

O _ o

So, my second thoughts on the writing of David and Leigh Eddings: there are some really great ideas in there, and if you are an aspiring writer, particularly of Fantasy, you can learn a lot about world building.  I’d also suggest that you can learn a lot about writing – clearly they were doing something right, given the number of copies sold and the significant fortune left to charity when they died.  But I also think that there are lessons to be learned about how not to write. For example there might be a couple of tropes that aren’t used, but I’m not sure what they are off hand…

 

Genie for Hire

So, tell me – what can I do for you?…On the other hand, I am an honest businessman these days…

I quite like the concept of #FlashFiction, but I’m very bad at going out to look for the prompts…so I’ve invented #TortoiseFlashFiction.  I make a note, usually of whatever it is that Debs has spotted, of the key thing that springs to mind and then try and write it up later.  Today’s was prompted by Deb’s Free Genie.

 

~#~#~

IMG_20160729_151206480

Come in, come in.  Do have a seat.  Can I get you anything?  Tea?  Coffee?  Trisha my dear, refreshments please!  And do bring us some of the good biscuits.  There.  Are you comfortable?  There is always so much to do, but I always say that if you can’t make time for your clients then your clients won’t be clients for very long, ha ha!

Yes, yes, that is a magnificent bottle is it not?  I tell the more gullible that it is a carved ruby, but that would be clearly impossible!  It is far too large…but small enough if it was your home.  And indeed, that was my home, off and on, for a thousand years.  Mostly on, especially after Shlomo lost the franchise.  But that is all in the past, not worth dwelling on.

So, tell me – what can I do for you?  I must warn you that there are limitations.  I cannot access my full power these days – the world has moved on, you know, and I have spent too much time in this plane of existence.  On the other hand, I am an honest businessman these days – you will not need to phrase your request like a Jesuit practicing casuistry, and you need not fear that I will claim your soul or some such.  I am a free agent these days, and do you know, I quite enjoy the pleasures that this world has to offer.  But they are expensive and so I must needs charge for my services.  You may be assured that the workman is worthy of his hire though.  What else must I say?  Hmmm.  No wait, let me stop you before I embarrass us both.  Your need is clearly great, or you would not be here, and whilst prison holds no particular perils, I will do nothing that is illegal.  I have been known to bend a few laws, but my conscience is unblemished.

I am sorry, so sorry.  I did not mean to offend you, but many desperate people have sat in this office and I have to make it quite clear in advance what it is that they can expect.  I did not mean to imply they your business was less than honest.  So.  Well then.  I should probably also say that my fee is dependent on the time scale your wish needs to operate over.  For example, there was that athlete who I helped: my support for him was relatively modest.  He had talent aplenty, but he was mortally afraid of being injured.  I protected him for his entire career…well, until he forgot a payment.  The traditional palace is quite popular as well.  That usually requires some on-going support, but the big expense is right at the beginning.

So then.  What is your desire?  A novel, of 500 pages, that will top the best seller lists for 25 weeks, cause young women to throw themselves at your feet, and will lead to handsome advances on further works.  And for this you are prepared to pay…?  Make it 16 weeks and ladies in the 25-32 bracket and your wish is my command!

(521 words)

© 2016 David Jesson

 

 

 

The Cake

It seems a bit…daft?…disingenuous?  to write a story based on your own prompt,  but I promise that I hadn’t thought about it before, and I woke up one morning this week with a story that wanted to be told and, well, here we are!

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I used to love baking.  I was never very good, certainly not bake-off standard.  I was competent and never had any problems with taste; well, nobody ever complained.  But bakes were never particularly even – I laugh at the idea of trying to get a dozen biscuits to look identical.  Over time, I stopped.  The other half was much better at baking, in every way: cakes were neater, biscuits crisper, icing immaculate.  And so it goes: we fell in to the jobs that we were good at, although we did our best to split the nobody-wants-to-do-this jobs fairly.

When the twins arrived, it was more of the same, but with an added veneer of never enough sleep.  I ended up changing more nappies, but that’s just because I was home more.  Hubbie would leave me with meals ready for the day and I would do my best to make sure that entropy didn’t swallow us whole.

Suddenly, the twins were eight – how on Earth did that happen? – and I realised that life was a lot better than it had been, and I’d not noticed.  Things were still manic, with clubs and classes and Brownies and Cubs and all the rest of it, but it was amazing how much of a difference a full night’s sleep every night of the week made.  The twins could also occupy themselves for longer without causing (too much) mischief and mayhem, which in turn allowed more time to get things done and to keep the house ship-shape and Bristol fashion despite being back at work part-time.

The twins, as I said, were magically eight, and that meant DH would be thirty-five.  That’s one of those odd birthdays, which feels like it should be a big one, but isn’t really.  It’s half of your three score years and ten, but in terms of a working life, you still haven’t hit half way to retirement.  Forty’s the new thirty, and – well, you take my point.

Normally I buy a cake for his birthday.  He, of course, does the children’s and there have been some amazing ones.  There are a lot of misconceptions about twins, in terms of them liking the same stuff.  Our two are inseparable (except when they’re not), but they definitely have their own personalities.  No dressing our two identically, oh no, and not just because we’ve got one of each!  My lovely little girl is a complete tom-boy, so there wouldn’t be any problem in her wearing the same as her brother, but they just like different things.  I think my favourite cake was probably the Gruffalo/Ivor-the-Engine mash-up, although the best concept we’d discussed was Peppa Pig being eaten by a giant Mr Dinosaur. Tthat’s the kind of cake you can only ever talk about – it’s not one you can put in front of (most) five year olds.

The build-up to DH’s birthday went along the usual lines.  I’d decided what I was going to get him about six months beforehand, purchased it four months beforehand and kept it hidden.  I had time(!), so whilst helping the twins make their present and card, I made a rather lovely card myself – all rainbow paper and 3D flowers, almost professional, if I do say so myself.

It came to me that I could actually make a cake myself.  Whoa.  I checked the cupboards and the basics were there.  My motto is, when in doubt, less is more – keep it simple, stupid.  So I decided on a classic Victoria sponge.  To up the ante (slightly) I got some up-market jam, fresh strawberries and proper cream.  The tricky bit was hiding these extra ingredients, but I put them at the back of the fridge, putting some things around them as a disguise, but so that it didn’t look like a wall that was shielding something important.

I’d planned on making the cake the night before but life being what it is, I didn’t get that far.  No worries, DH was treating himself to a round of golf for his birthday so he’d be out of the way, and I thought the kids could look after themselves for an hour, or so.  I wanted clear decks for this – I know how easy it is to get in a mess just because there aren’t any clear surfaces.  I cleared everything away, put the oven on to warm up and then picked up the bag of washing and went through the living room to the patio to hang it up.  This was the second load of the day, so I folded up the dry stuff already out and put it in a basket to put away.  I thought it wouldn’t take me a minute so I went upstairs and sorted all of that lot out.

It was about then that it struck me that the house was awfully quiet and that I hadn’t seen the children for a while.  Oh dear.  I called out and looked in all the rooms upstairs.  Oh dear oh dear.  Downstairs, still calling.  I was about to poke my head round the door into the living room when I realised that the kitchen door was firmly shut, which was not how I had left it.  Hmmmm.

I opened the door and the two guiltiest faces you’ve ever seen looked up at me.  The mess was epic, with flour in the air, dribbles of egg running down the side, sugar scattered everywhere.  To be fair, the mix looked good – they’d been cooking with their Dad for years – and they’d got it in the pans without spilling too much.  There are two ways we could have gone after that: I chose to help them tidy up and bake the cake, to decorate it with the strawberries and cream and jam.  When DH came home, we had a lovely party.

But you know what? The expression on their faces as I walked into the mess they’d made in the kitchen – that. That really was the cherry on top.

(1000 words)

© 2016 David Jesson

Writing Prompt – The Cake

A writing prompt in honour of the new series of the Great British Bakeoff!

Hi, thanks for stopping by.  If you’ve read the welcome post, you’ll have seen that we offer a mix of posts here.  As it happens, the first proper writing post on our new project is going to be a #FlashFiction prompt.  In honour of the return of the Great British Bakeoff (#GBBO), we thought

THE CAKE

would be an appropriate prompt.

1000 words, by Friday 9th September, 2 pm GMT.

As is usual with this kind of thing, please post on your own site when you’re ready and add a link in the comments section below.  If you don’t have your own blog or similar outlet, do send us your story via the contact form on the About page and we’ll post for you, with an appropriate by-line.  Two caveats if you want to go down this route: if you want to retain the copyright, then you will need to 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’.

Update:

Comments section on this now closed – please comment on any stories on the home page for that story!

There’ll be another prompt next month – watch this space!