The Old Gang

1950s-teen-fashion-02

Prompt:  Our old gang were back in town together, but it was at the cost of a family funeral.

 

Bob cleaned his shoes whilst waiting for Jenna to get ready. Easy for him, she’d said that morning. Just wear a suit, a plain tie and clean shoes. Lucky she’d said it, so he’d remembered to clean his shoes. Old man Burton had been a stickler for that kinda thing and his funeral was no time to be letting standards slip.

He and Jenna had been the only ones of the old gang who’d stayed in town. The rest of them had all flown away, but they were all back for the funeral, including old man Burton’s daughter Brenda, together with that guy she’d run away with. Bob wondered whether Jenna ever heard from her. She always said “no” when asked, but he had the faintest of suspicion that she was keeping something close to her heart. They’d been close Jenna and Brenda, real close. Just then she came in, “Honey, can you do up my zip? After you’ve done with your shoes and washed your hands will do fine.” She busied right back out of the room and Bob smiled. He put on his shoes before washing his hands. Then went into the bedroom, put on a clean shirt, his dark tie and jacket. Finding Jenna in the kitchen, he held out his hands towards her. She backed up to him, so he could do up her zip, before planting a kiss in the nape of her neck.

“Time to go” he announced before heading out to the car. They were collecting Teddy and Susan from the station before heading over to the funeral parlour. The four of ’em met up every couple of months. What with Teddy’s folks being older than most, they’d not moved far away. There was a fair bit of work to be done on the old Manning home and Bob visited every week to make sure urgent stuff was kept on top of. He really liked the Mannings. They’d always made him welcome, even when Teddy was out, understanding that his home could be a zoo, what with so many younger kids. He used to stop there to do his homework – he’d never have made it to College without their kindness.

Buck and Johnny were arriving on the same train, except they were coming from a lot further afield. Both had booked in to the local B&B, not wanting to turn this into a family visit. Bob found that odd, but had never gotten to know their families growing up. The Gang had always met at his place, or Teddy’s, or Brenda’s. That’s how they’d all gotten to know old man Burton so well, even after he retired from teaching school. Johnny and Brenda had been an item then, and were all the way up until she’d skipped town. Johnny had always been regarded as the local heart throb, the bad boy, but he’d fallen for Brenda and been heart broken when she left. He spent a fair bit of time round with old man Burton after she left, until he finally got a job in the big smoke and left town himself. They got the odd phone call from him but nothing more.

Buck was married, to a girl he met up town. They had a new baby, so she was staying home. He promised to visit again, next time bringing them both. But a funeral was no place for a small baby and a shy young bride. Not for the first time of meeting The Gang. Bob assumed Brenda and her guy would be driving in, so he was real surprised to see her alighting from the train too. She was looking up at someone, he assumed her guy, only to be surprised to see her take a toddler into her arms. He looked back and was even more surprised to see that the person stepping down from the train was a young girl in a sorta nurse’s uniform. They both bustled around sorting out pushchairs and luggage, before Brenda waved and rushed to hug Jenna. Bob helped Teddy and Susan with their bags, before walking over to join Brenda. The ‘nurse’ introduced herself as the nanny and said “this is John” indicating a little boy with the bluest eyes Bob had ever seen, since … er … since he’d last seen Johnny. Puzzled, he looked at both Jenna and Brenda, but obeying the look in Jenna’s eyes, he kept his thoughts to himself.

Teddy and Susan joined them, and all was bustle and busyness. Bob looked round and caught sight of Johnny and Buck. They were over by the cab rank and waved “we’re going to check in the B&B first, see you there” called Buck. There was a cab waiting to take Brenda and her gang to the old house, so they parted after agreeing to meet up at the funeral parlour. Arriving early, Bob got talking to other locals who’d shown up for the service. Mr Burton had been a long-standing resident and loyal servant to the small town and its school. Despite being a stickler about the rules, he’d been much respected and much liked.

Brenda arrived at the parlour alone and sought out Jenna. Holding onto her arm, they walked up to the front pew together where they were joined almost immediately by Susan. Bob settled down in a pew with Teddy, where they were joined by Johnny and Buck. Buck simply raised his eyebrows at Bob behind Johnny’s back, but said nothing as Bob shrugged in response. The service was simple, if lengthy. Lots of people spoke of their memories. There was a lot of affection and respect in that room. Brenda didn’t speak. She simply put a flower on the casket, touched a kiss to her hand and then indicated that the casket could be withdrawn behind the curtains. The townsfolk filed out past her, most stopping to offer kind words for her loss, and to enquire about the house. She smiled at them all, said demurely that she’d made no decisions yet and moved on to the next person smoothly.

Heading back to the old house, Bob could see there were caterers there already. Brenda clearly had made all the arrangements remotely. The wake was a pretty subdued affair as people were mostly there “to show their respects”. They mostly just accepted a cup of tea and a cake before moving on. Finally, it was just “them” left. Well, them, the nanny and Brenda’s son, who was now being very vocal in asking for his mother’s attention. Brenda picked him up, called over her shoulder “y’all make yourselves at home, kick off your shoes, pour some drinks, no-one’s going home early tonight” and went upstairs. About an hour later, she returned and the nanny went back upstairs. Jenna had whispered to Bob to pour Brenda a glass of white wine and as he handed it to her, she looked around the room and said: “so, who’s going first?”

Johnny swore loudly and walked out. Bob followed to try and calm him down, finally persuading him sit out on the old stoop at back and get it off his chest. “She told me her old man had caught her having sex with that guy, you remember the one?” I nodded, we all remembered him. In a town like ours, a 6ft 6in white guy stands out a mile. He’d taken a room with them and was a newly qualified teacher starting at the school after summer. In fairness, we’d all liked him. He was smart, funny, athletic, a regular guy. “She told me that she’d seduced him, not the other way round, so she was having to leave town.” I nodded again, and said that I seemed to recall he’d left either at the same time, or straight after. “I thought they’d either gone together, or met up after. That’s what she let me assume. I mean, we’d done it, y’know, but we’d been careful, so I never thought …  And then she turns up, after not one single word and … there he is and his name is John.” I couldn’t argue with him, she’d treated him badly. At the very least, she could’ve written to warn him. Or visited him at the B&B – there is only one in the town – or even asked to speak to him alone at the end of the wake. But to just say “so, who’s going first?” Really not classy, not classy at all.

Just then, Jenna and Brenda walked out. Brenda walked up to Johnny and held out her hand: “I’m here to apologise. Will you shake my hand?” Jenna quietly said: “you owe Johnny a lot more than that Brenda, you know you do. Sit down and tell him what happened from the start. Bob?” She held out her hand to me and we walked away, but stayed sat on the stoop nearby, so she could make sure Brenda did what she’d promised. My Jenna was like that – honest and fair. I was one lucky guy.

© 2017 Debra Carey

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#Second Thoughts – Sci Fi and Fantasy.

I can’t stand werewolves. Zombies leave me totally unimpressed. Wizards with faux philosophical sayings fail to inspire interest. I just don’t like science fiction and fantasy.

And yet.

And yet.

Over the years I have discovered some authors who have crept around, over or behind my prejudices and have challenged and entertained me. Some even made me laugh, even out loud.

Standing first in my personal pantheon – because he was the first I read – is John Wyndham. Not particularly The Day of the Triffids, that one I read at school and have re-read several times, but especially The Kraken Wakes, arguably a more ecologically sensitive novel than Triffids, The Midwich Cuckoos but above all the wonderful short story collection The Seeds of Time. In this he tackles several genres, comedy, romance, mild horror, adventure even, and proves master of them all. I especially like Chronoclasm, Pawley’s Peepholes (what do you do when travellers from the future come as tourists and disrupt normal life?), and Dumb Martian which can be read as a manifesto for equality.

On the whole Asimov does not feature much in my ‘read for enjoyment’ list: I did like Caves of Steel but the whole Foundation series is just too much. I have not finished any of those books. Where, to me, Asimov scores, is again in his eclectic range of short stories. He is a master of the unexpected twist in the punchline. The classic is where the argumentative brothers, one wanting to tell the grandiose sweep of history is foiled by the other who complains that there is not enough papyrus in the world to write it all down. So Moses has to rephrase: ‘In the beginning God …’

C.S. Lewis’s series which begins with Out of the Silent Planet is, I think, mostly under-rated by those who can’t separate the writing from his not always subtle Christian message, but again it is a series that I kept on my bookshelves for years and read every so often.

I was introduced to Harry Harrison only a few years ago but I do enjoy his Stainless Steel Rat series, despite his propensity for technical ‘hand-wavery’. For me it is important that the Laws of Physics should be respected not subverted. (Although the Cannae Drive, named because despite Scotty’s perpetual plaint in Star Trek it might actually be possible to change the Laws of Physics undermines that principle rather).

The two authors who have done more than most to reconcile me to the genre though are more recent: David Weber and Lois McMaster Bujold, and the one thing they have in common is that they both write exciting prose and complete stories – no hand waving distractions. Bujold has, in fact, four series and there are discernible differences between them.

The longest, in terms of titles published, is the Miles Vorkosigan series of adventures of a young man, crippled by a chemical attack on his parents when he was in the womb, and his fight to be accepted in a highly militaristic society. Despite many mishaps he does rise to become one of the Emperor’s most capable investigators and righter of wrongs. I have now read these many times, and each time find something new. The latest in the series Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen deals with Miles’ mother in her widowhood and the plans she makes which set her son aback rather. In a complete change of genre is The Sharing Knife series which, I confess I have not read but deals with the conflicts which arise when two styles of civilization collide – farmers and adventurers. I may get around to it someday, but it is not urgent. Then there is the mediaeval series set in the Kingdom of the Five Gods, beginning with Chalion. This series contains all the things that I usually detest – magic, demons, talking animals – and yet it is so well written and Bujold has such a well-developed and believable theology that it all fits together extremely well. What is becoming a sub-set of the series is the Penric novellas (i.e. short!) which I can thoroughly recommend.

David Weber writes what has been described as ‘Hornblower in Space’ novels about Honor Harrington in a galaxy which has been settled from Earth well into the future. She is a character who has grown as the stories unfold, from a nervous starship Captain in the first book, about to take over her first hyperspace capable command (On Basilisk Station) to a highly decorated and senior Admiral. The latest novels in the series feature her less as she ascend more in the political sphere, and Weber has rightly been criticised for his tendency to explain in minute detail the capabilities of the weaponry deployed and the calculations for firing weapons in space, but my non-technical mind tends to slide over all that until I get back to the story! Again, this is a series that I re-read frequently.

So, my mind is not wholly closed to the Sci Fi/Fantasy genre, but the stories must, for me, be well written, with a believable plot and technology and, preferably, with a touch of humour.

© 2017 Alan F. Jesson

 

Homehelp

1200

 

There’d been some gossip on the street – Gran wasn’t coping.  I popped in regularly, we all did: I hadn’t noticed that she was declining.  She still got out, did good works, and was inclined to talk about ‘helping out the old dears’ – those who couldn’t still walk to the shops.

I finally spotted it.  The undrunk cups of tea.  No doubt she usually cleared them away, but the homehelp had noticed that the cups being made weren’t getting drunk, and had talked.  I don’t suppose she’d ever thought to ask Gran what tea she wanted.

“Hippie tea Gran?”

“Ooh! Lovely!”

(100 words)

© David Jesson, 2017

Guide to identifying a time-traveller

About Time

I looked out of the high window to the street outside.  The rain poured down, not torrentially, but with an insistent persistance, that left the pavement devoid of pedestrians, and road itself almost barren of of vehicles.  What should have been a quiet summer’s evening was a complete wash out, and I was glad to be inside.  I turned from the window and picked up my glass from an antique occaisonal table.

“Not a time to be outside” I stated to the room at large, not really expecting a response.  The four of us had, as was our wont, adjourned to the Library after dinner, scowling concertedly at a new member who had the temerity to ty an join us.  The Library had been ours for time immemorial.  Greywood had plomped into ‘his’ armchair and, tumbler of single malt not withstanding, had fallen asleep.  None of us could really understand how he did it.  He was demonstrably asleep, with light purring snore emanating from around a large fluffy moustache – that we would often joke had a life of it’s own – and yet not a drop of whisky would be lost from the glass, all would be consumed before the evening’s end.

The Commonwealth Club (we often called it the  Prune Club – being elderly curmudgeons was our raisin d’etra) is an anachronym, looking like something that Phileas Fogg might have belonged, hundreds of years before.  But even in our supposed modern world it has its place.

Darbishire and Memana were bickering over some item or other that they had read in the news as I was looking out of the window, but they broke off as I made my comment on the weather outside and Darbishire said “that reminds me of a joke: time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana!”

Memana groaned and I looked round for a pillow, or failing that a book, that I could throw.  Greywood huffed through his moustache and fixed Darbishire with a steely gaze.  This was another of Greywood’s traits that we had never fathomed: no matter how deeply asleep he seemed to be, he always knew what was being talked about.  We waited for the inevitable anecdote from his time in The Service.

That was a truly terrible joke [said Greywood], and besides which, it is factually incorrect.  Fruit flies may, indeed, like a banana, but time does not fly like an arrow. Every moment in history is available to us if we had but the means to access it, and what we experience is merely the brain trying to make sense of all this time happening at once.  During my time in The Service, I was seconded for a period to the Bureau of Anomolies in Time and Space.  Some boffin or other had managed to crack a limited form of time travel, and whilst the Government had tried to keep it under wraps, a boot-leg version had leaked out to the criminal classes.  There were two issues with this technology.  One, whilst you could jump a reasonable amount of time into the past or future, you could only do so for a few seconds, a minute at most and you would come back to where you jumped from as if you were on a bit of elastic.  The other was that the process of jumping had a physiological effect and all the muscle fibres in the body would contract a small but significant amount.   As a result, the technology was all but useless for espionage, and the technology was suppressed lest it fall into the wrong hands. Suppressed badly, and inevitably it did fall into the wrong hands.

The head of BATS was not a complete fool – you don’t get to head up such a specialist group if you’re an idiot.   He acted promptly, called in extra support as required and the team were able to track the leak and find the criminal group who were planning to use the equipment.  They had had some plan of using the  technology to gain information on sporting events.  We managed to catch up with them in the midst of their first attempt and scooped them all up, with the exception of the time-traveller.   Police records indicated that we had the whole gang as far as was known and so it was no simple matter to find our lost waif.  We did not know what he (or she) looked like, we did not know where they had jumped from, how far into the past or future they had jumped, or when they had returned to our time.  As I say, the head of the team that I had been seconded to was not a complete idiot and, as he had seen me at work before, he called me in early.   A job like this is tricky in so many ways, but I was able to tell the team reviewing the CCTV footage from the venue what to look for and the Police were able to pick up the, as it turned out, man before he had got too far.

Greywood sipped his whisky, wiped his moustache, resettled himself into his chair and started to fall back to sleep.  There is only one thing to do at such times and we all knew the drill.  Memana was closest and kicked Greywood’s foot.

“Hey! Oh no you don’t!  How did you know who to look for?”

“I would have thought it was perfectly obvious – I told you about the technology, and it’s physilogical effects.  All they had to do was look for the person who suddenly had serious problems walking – time wounds all heels, you know”.

© David Jesson, 2017

 

One man’s now is another man’s history

Sonia awoke to a persistent beeping noise: “What the hell is that?” she muttered. She’d told her team not to wake her under pain of death and they’d never not complied. That’s when she realised it wasn’t her phone but the Gadget. Pulling open the drawer she read the message flashing in fluorescent letters: “Report immediately.”

Punching in her entry code – not her birthdate (she’d terrorised all her staff with instant dismissal if they used that) her’s was the date her dog died – Sonia strode into the office.. She found them all sitting round the coffee machine, feet up and chatting. “Up!” she yelled in her best sergeant major voice and enjoyed the scampering response. “We’ve got a top priority alert. A suspect on his way from Boston. Time Traveller. Someone down there goofed and he used a ray gun on the senior security guy who’s now gone all ga-ga.”

Her team looked decidedly unhappy with that news: “Erm boss, how’re we supposed to handle that without getting fried ourselves?”

“We’re just running interference” she reassured them. “We announce a delay with the refuelling truck which gives them enough time to get a specialist out here from Boston. Everyone needs to keep calm, act natural and it’ll be just fine.”

It’d been Sonia’s suggestion that they use the excuse of the refuelling truck as a delaying tactic. Here in Anchorage, the conditions meant they frequently needed to handle freezing weather and today was certainly cold enough to freeze the proverbials off a brass monkey.

Sonia changed out of her uniform into something a bit more unchallenging and low level before making the announcement about the delay. Her announcement was greeted with the expected groans, so she announced that free hot refreshments were available. She took the opportunity to move amongst the passengers and engage each of them in brief conversation, but no-one was triggering her spidey senses.

Her phone rang “John’s landed” she heard in her ear. This time it was her turn to groan. Really, her little brother? They’d had to send the doofus to handle this on her territory? Sonia flashed her best smile to the cute looking guy in the Bruins sweatshirt and excused herself. Pity this wasn’t a real delay, she could’ve pulled there.

Pulling on her outdoor layers and boots, Sonia crossed the runway to where John’s plane was taxiing to a stop. Bundled up, John emerged first and hurried down the stairs. “Hi Sis, it’s the guy in the Bruins sweatshirt. Have you spotted him yet?” “Don’t be ridiculous” she snapped in response, “I’ve just been chatting to him and he’s just an ordinary guy.” John grinned, “Yeah he is exactly your type, but he’s the guy, I promise you.” “So why didn’t you stop him at Boston then?” John sighed, he could feel his big sister assessing him cooling, expecting him to confess that he’d messed up. “I identified him, but while I went to get my kit to put him down, the head of security persuaded my boss that he could handle it without any fuss himself. Seems he was wrong.”

“What this ray gun he’s using?” Sonia enquired. “We don’t know yet. It’s the first of its type we’ve come across” John admitted. “They usually just knock you out, but these ones seem to make their victims loose their memories and their mental faculties.” “Sounds nasty.” “Yup, that’s why I put out the instruction to just delay him. I didn’t want my big sis getting into any trouble she couldn’t handle” grinned John.

Swiping him round the ear, Sonia asked for details of John’s plan. “Well, he’s seen me before, so …” “He’s seen you before? That’ll make it more difficult. How well would he know you?” “We chatted for nearly an hour, so it’s a risk. I’m going to need to disguise myself. Any thoughts?”

Sonia pondered as they walked across to the airport terminal. Going to her office, she signalled a cleaner pushing a mop and bucket to join them. There John and the cleaner switched outfits, including the glasses and knitted hat the cleaner was wearing. Sonia walked round John and admitted “I’d not recognise you even if I was expecting to see you.” “Perfect” said John and got his kit prepared. Pulling on thick heavy cleaning gloves, he pushed the mop and bucket across the terminal building and into the lounge. John pushed the mop around in the guy’s eye-line and when he was confident there’d been no reaction, he moved round behind him. Looking over the top of his glasses, John picked his spot carefully and plunged the needles into the guy’s neck. The guy startled, but collapsed before he could get his hand into his pocket. Sonia and her team raced in, removed his ray gun carefully, and cuffed the guy.

Later, as they were walking back to his plane with the prisoner, Sonia asked “I forgot to check, how’d you know it was him in Boston?” “Usual thing, I got an instinct …” “Oh come on” said Sonia “this is me remember, I know how your mind works. What was it that trigged those instincts?

“There was something wrong I couldn’t put my finger on, so I struck up a conversation with him. We talked ice hockey ‘cos he was wearing a Bruins shirt. He knew facts and figures, but there was no colour, no opinion. Even though he said he was a long-term fan, there was no passion. So I asked about more stuff. And he was the same – all facts and figures, but nothing personal.”

“Time travellers need to get their cultural references right, especially when they come from the future. My guy sounded like he was reciting history … not talking about life.”

© Debra Carey, 2017

#FF Prompt: Guide to identifying a Time Traveller

 

time travelling

 

Write a guide on how to identify a Time Traveller.
Extra points for the use of puns.
Double extra for the use of sound science.

I’ll obviously have to rely on @breakerofthings to adjudicate on the latter, but haven’t actually asked him yet. Oops …

 

Word limit: anything from 100 – 1,000 words
Deadline: 2pm on 9th June 2017


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