The 1st of December is the birthday of Project Gutenberg, an online archive of out-of-copyright books that have been digitised and are made available to anyone who would like to read them. Whilst there is some selectivity, this relates more to what particular people like to read in terms of genre and what is available for scanning than a particular desire to perform some kind of literary eugenics.
Hence, this month’s prompt was to take the title of a book recently logged and uploaded to Project Gutenberg and to use that as a starting point. The pickings were surprisingly rich and it’s worth keeping this idea in mind if you’re ever short of an idea.
As well as our own stories arising from the prompt, we’re hosting someone else’s as well. We’re very happy to do this, especially if you’d like to have a go but either don’t have a blog of your own to post to, or if you feel that the story wouldn’t fit with your normal posts.
Historical Characters in the Reign of Queen Anne
So there I was, walking quietly along the street and trying to avoid either being jostled by those walking faster than me and overtaking without due care and attention, or those coming the other way barrelling their way through the opposition. It’s not easy when you are shortish, lightish, and have no clue where you are.
Oh I knew I was in London alright, it was just that it was an unfamiliar part. I think I turned left instead of right when I came out of the subway, partly because of the press of the crowd and partly because of the disorientating din of the traffic. Anyway, here I am trying to find myself and the best way to get to my destination. Where can I find a bit of space, a bit of quiet so that I can think?
There’s a bench by the river, and I navigate towards it, carefully checking that I am not going to be mown down by a flying cyclist or one of the athletic people running along the path. I find an old newspaper and remove the latest evidence of pigeons and sit to contemplate the infinite variety of Old Father Thames. That, in case you missed it, was irony. There’s not much variety about the Thames these days, not one tenth of the boats that I remember as a boy. In those days it was exciting, hanging over the bridge looking at the names of the ships and the ports they came from, looking at the sheer range of cargoes being unloaded at every dock and jetty. Nowadays it’s just a few pleasure boats, the River Police and RNLI; the entrepreneurial ‘river bus’, and tugs taking lines of barges laden with the city’s detritus downriver to the sea.
I’ve sat here too long! That policeman, no, Community Officer has just came back from the other end of his beat and is too obviously not trying to notice me. I can almost hear his thoughts; “Strange bloke over there. Been sitting there a long time. Looks worried – is he going to jump?” Unhurriedly I get up and walk away.
The streets are quieter now so it is no problem to amble slowly along and take notice of things. There’s a small group of market stalls over there and I take a detour to have a look. Mostly street food or coffee; one old man selling stamps, another full of tools which have seen better days. Oh! A bookstall, now that’s interesting! Some quite nice items there amongst the tattered paperbacks and coverless folios. I pick up a few, just to kill time when underneath I find a copy of Mrs Oliphant’s Historical Characters in the Reign of Queen Anne. I freeze. I look around, nobody is watching.
Carefully I open the book to a page I know well. And there I am – and how I wish I could get back to my own time!
© Alan Jesson, 2016
Précis writing for beginners
Only one word was required to summarise Tom’s stance, behaviour, attitude and philosophy at this moment: mooching. They were in his least favourite shop, his father’s frequent and inevitable haunt on any trip to Town. It was half-term and these trips had become almost ritualised. The family would reconvene outside the cinema in three quarters of an hour: it was Tom’s turn to choose the film they would watch. If he’d been as savvy as his older brother Jonno, he might have tempered his desire to watch the latest big blockbuster and gone with his second choice which started in just five minutes time. If he’d been less annoying to Jonno and his oldest brother, the oh-so-cool Toph, he might have been allowed to go with them. But he was nine, and sometimes that on its own is enough to be annoying, especially to cool 15 year olds. He could have gone with his mother, to help her with her errands. But as has been established, he was nine, and his dignity forbade it. It was unlikely, but what would happen if he was seen by one of his school friends? No, it did not bear thinking about, and so, instead, he was reduced to accompanying his father to a second-hand book shop.
When he was seven, he had loved this shop. It was an Aladdin’s cave of books, with mingled scents of old books and wooden shelves, hidden nooks and strange dead-ends. The layout never seemed to be the same two visits running. His Father would say that “a good bookshop is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read”, with the sly twinkle in his eye which meant it was a joke, but it was one that Tom had never got. Now though, he was older and sophisticated. He couldn’t understand what his Father saw in the shop, nor the inevitable purchase of a venerable leather-bound volume.
Tom mooched round the shop. His mood the last few days had been very low. He had received his first ever ‘C’ at school, and in the one subject that he felt truly comfortable with. The master had handed back the homework with the murmured comment that a synopsis shouldn’t be longer than the document it was summarising. He’d felt so ashamed, that he wanted the ground to open up beneath him. Something welled up inside him: he felt fizzy and didn’t know what to do. He could not see his Father. He walked determinedly, ostensibly to find him, but with the purpose of knocking over a rickety bookcase (with a seemingly casual glancing blow) firmly fixed in his mind.
He could never quite remember what happened, even in abstract. One moment he was going to create a mess and the next he was apologising for jostling an elderly gentleman with a crinkled face and flowing white hair. The jostle had caused the mess he’d wanted but now he felt acute embarrassment. He hurriedly tidied up the landslide of books that had slipped off an antique bureau. The last was just the sort of book his Father would like. It had hard, green cloth covers embossed in black. He blinked and read the title again. He stared at the book and felt a world of possibilities opening up once more.
“What have you got there kiddo?”
“Can I buy it Dad? I don’t have any money on me, but I’ll pay you back”.
His Father looked at him, quickly summing up the change in mood, the lightening of the boy’s face and the suppressed eagerness. “Précis writing for beginners” he read, “well if you’re sure?”.
© David Jesson, 2016
(606 words – ‘I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.‘ – Mark Twain)
The Flying Girl and Her Chum
One morning, on her birthday, a box arrived, a very big box at that. Glenna signed for it, whilst wondering who’d sent her something from the Popcorn Store. For even in America, a box this size would contain a too huge amount of popcorn. Opening the box, she tore a hole in the plastic inner bag and that’s when she got the surprise of her life – she was greeted by the sound of a very loud and unmistakable belch. “Oops, sorry” called out a voice from within, “I really shouldn’t have drunk that Diet Coke before packing myself into the box with all this popcorn.” Glenna peered carefully in, but drew back sharply as a young man carefully uncurled himself and stepped out.
He held his hand out and said “Elden is me. You wished for a companion I think.” “Yes, but …” stammered Glenna, “how’d you know?” Elden shrugged, “is this your place?” he asked, looking with interest around Glenna’s small flat. “Mmm” Glenna nodded, still in shock, watching as Elden walked around, opening doors and having a good nose around. “Where will I sleep?” he asked “There is one small bed, and only armchairs, no sofa.” “You’re staying here?” managed Glenna. “Of course. If I am to be your Chum, where else would I go? For you must fly and I will keep you safe.”
You see, Glenna was special, for she had wings. But she’d learned at the Home that such things weren’t normal. She’d grown used to living in the shadows and to hiding them away. But oh, how she missed flying and to make it worse, she was terribly lonely – for how could she share her wings with anyone normal? Now here was Elden and he knew. And he wasn’t freaked out. And he was cute. Also, if she was not mistaken, those were pointy ears. “Are you an elf?” she asked. He nodded; that’s when Glenna found herself saying: “we’ll go shopping to buy a bed for you, there’s room for another one in the bedroom.”
Grabbing a bag, a spring in her step for the first time ever, she said: “Come on then. Put my beanie on to cover your ears and let’s go shopping …”
© Debra Carey, 2016