Commitment to Care

That bag really bothered her. Just lying there as it was by the footbridge over the railway tracks. It wasn’t that she hadn’t seen abandoned rubbish or fly tipping before. In fact this area was so renowned for it there were big posters up and a newly erected CCTV camera on the wall nearby. It was because it was a child’s school bag, maths books, homework diary and pencil case spilling out all over the pavement. You could even see the boys name written on all his books. Sahil Majornia. Who was he, this Sahil? Why was his bag there? Why hadn’t he come to collect it?

In the absence of answers she made up stories about him. The most intrusive and persistent was that Sahil was being mercilessly bullied by a group of boys from his school, or perhaps another school. They had either stolen his bag and abandoned it or pounced on him in that very spot, and in his terror or whilst making his escape, he had prioritised his personal integrity over a bunch of books.

Or perhaps things were going badly for Sahil at school. He was angry and disaffected and stormed out of school one day, vowing never to return. As if to prove his intent he dumped his whole school bag, abandoning his books to the elements. She wondered if he had subsequently regretted this but unable to lose face, he had to stick with his decision. Or perhaps he did try to rectify his impulsivity, only to find that the November weather had damaged his books rendering them useless for studying or homework or even for lighting a decent fire.

And what were his teachers saying to him, if he even was in school. It seemed unlikely that they would not question his need for a new book for every subject. And equally unlikely was that no one had given Sahil a hard time about it all. How was that for him, coping with the displeasure of the adults around him at a time when life was clearly already throwing a good deal of challenge his way?

The stories were always hopelessly negative. Trauma layered upon trauma. How could they be anything other – what child would abandon their school bag for a positive or happy reason? It seemed an unlikely place to have lost the bag by accident. It wasn’t near a bus stop or a congregation point, where a bag might be forgotten in the midst of youthful high spirits. And when the child had lost all their school books and utensils, why hadn’t a parent come to rescue the objects and support the child to rectify their mistake? This seemed the biggest blow of all.

And then one day, after weeks of watching Sahil’s chance of a decent education slowly degrade it was all gone. The bag. The books. The pencil case. Where had it gone? And why? It seemed unlikely that the council had cleared it away, given that the old mattress and the abandoned fridge were still there. Had the parent finally come through for Sahil? Had he finally searched in the right place for the bag taken by the bullies?

And what now for him? This boy she had never met. With whom she had no connection, save for the fact she walked past his bag every day and thought about him, and wondered who else was holding him in mind and caring about what had happened and would happen to him.

And she vowed. No more children bullied, taunted or disaffected. Not at my school. Not on my watch.


© Saffron Foam, 2019

Experimental Writing: Part 3

On the homeworld, the pilot would have just bounced down the side of the mountain; the tough, flexible ‘skin’ would have protected it from the bumps, and even accommodated the sharp stones that occasionally peeked through the soil and scrubby grass to catch the unwary foot.  Instead, there were these strange things – legs in the local parlance – to get used to.

The AI embedded in the computer was constantly chattering over the commlink providing information on the locality, mission updates, and health status.  Thankfully it had quit with the reprimands for leaving the sidearm behind.

This was the worst part of these rushed missions: an on the move briefing into the local culture, which kept on being updated as the AI interrogated available information and tried to work out what was significant and what was not.  Not always as easy as it might seem.  There seemed to be a lot about political events half a world away, which was important if you lived here permanently, but which was of no significance at all if you were an alien looking to do a job and skedaddle before anyone found out about.  And there was so much information to sift through, although the AI had already clocked something significant in the local lore and had dedicated a sub-routine to focus on that alone.

The Client had picked up the signal of the thing to be recovered, but considering that it had been missing for more than 2000 years, it wasn’t entirely clear what the rush was about.  At this point, there was no cover story, credible or otherwise.  The local population would just have to be avoided as best as possible.

The creature gave something approaching a sigh combined with a gallic shrug as another sub-routine decided to give it an update: information flowed.  This world had more than 6,500 languages in use…so far, so primitive…and the local indigenous population used two different ones and…yes, oh perfect.  The dominant one was used more widely, and indeed was used world-wide, but would be the mark of an outsider, especially if the accent was wrong.  The minority language was even spoken by the whole population, but the ability to speak even a little would be helpful – still that could be dealt with.  Another sub-routine was assigned to the problem of languages: it was one thing to know the lexicography, but another to use it in an idiomatic fashion.  The AI studied the problem, with an electronic weather-eye, on the mores associated with using either of the two languages.

Various things came to light as the AI tried to deal with the languages.  Further sub-routines were added to deal with issues as they came to light.  Pronouns…that required a significant chunk of processing power to unravel.  Different pronouns for gender…a sub-routine that was starting to develop its own personality chipped in with  an apposite home-grown phrase translated into the local idiom: not knowing whether to laugh or cry. Gendered pronouns! And for that matter only two genders!  The same helpful sub-routine started pushing through information on gender politics, equal rights, LGBTQ+, before it was suppressed by the AI.  The subroutine was allowed to continue collecting information, but an edit was made to prevent the sub-routine pushing through information without checking with the AI first.

What to do? What. To. Do…? The alien was neither male nor female as these…(quick check)…as these ‘humans’ defined them.  A choice would need to be made.  From the creature’s perspective there was little to choose between the two options.  Reviewing the notes on gender politics suggested that this was something to steer well clear of: alien undercover operatives are by definition and inclination averse to becoming involved in public debates prone to descending into acrimony.  Still, on balance, it appeared to be easier if you were ‘a man’ rather than ‘ a woman’.  For the most part it shouldn’t matter, but the pilot knew that it was important to commit to a part and be ready for the worst. This only happened if you got comfortable in the role.

The pilot, decided that it was time to start building a cover. Firstly, a name…  The sub-routine put up a metaphorical hand.  The AI reviewed the sub-routine’s work.  It was pointing out that it might be possible to build a certain amount of ambiguity by selecting a name that was both masculine and femine.  It put forward a few suggestions…

© David Jesson, 2019


 

During 2019, I’m going to be undertaking a writing experiment, as described here.

The shape of story was formed through a four-part prologue: the first part of the prologue is here, if you want to start right at the beginning.  All through, I’m hoping that you’ll help me shape the story.  At various points, I’ll be asking questions with a choice of answers.  I’ll be polling on Twitter, or you can add a comment below.  So for example, you’ve helped me to decide that the story is science fiction, our protagonist, who is a rogue with a dash of ranger,  is an alien, but the story is set on Earth.  Now is the time to choose a name for our MC.

Option 1: Enfys (“Rainbow”)

Option 2: Meredith (“great/sea lord”)

Option 3: Eirian (“bright, beuatiful”)

I‘ll leave the Twitter poll open for one week, and will add in any votes on here that come in during that time.  Feel free to expand on the options in the comments!  I’m not promising to incorporate anything but always good to hear where you think this is heading!

See you next month!

#SecondThoughts: Bridge of Spies

One weekend a while back, Himself put on the film “Bridge of Spies” telling me he was interested to see how they handled this piece of Cold War history. Now Himself being a military history buff and the Cold War being his specialist area, I’m entirely used to being less knowledgeable than he, so I watched the film as just another spy thriller. Tom Hanks puts in a good turn – doesn’t he always – and I thought no more about it.

To be honest, there’s long been a large vacuum around the Cold War for me as, having spent my childhood in the third world where we had actual conflicts to deal with, the Cold War mostly whooshed by. But a person can’t spend as much time as I do around Himself without that Cold War knowledge rubbing off and, bit-by-bit, it did just that.

There were two recent triggers …

For the last few years, Himself and I have visited a Nuclear Bunker in Cheshire where they hold a Cold War themed re-enactor event. I’ve had a brief wander around indoors but – for me – it’s mostly been about keeping warm and dry. This year the owners invited the re-enactors to set up stall indoors … and the bunker was brought to life. For the first time it was clear how it would’ve looked should the worst have happened. The owners asked those re-enactors who were young (and so looked realistic) to pose wearing their historically accurate uniforms at the sensors and monitors. That – combined with the large images lining the corridors depicting recreations of city streets before, during and after ‘the blast’ – had a somewhat chilling impact.

Attending that same event was a podcaster – Ian Sanders from Cold War Conversations. I’ll not pretend otherwise, I initially engaged with him to pick his brain on podcasting and the equipment which would be necessary and/or recommended, as it’s something I’m considering getting involved in. But then we got talking, exchanging cards (as you do), when he mentioned “Bridge of Spies”, Gary Powers and the downing of the U2 spy plane in the same breath. Naturally, I nodded knowledgeably, only admitting to Himself later that I’d not really remembered the Gary Powers bit at all. So, we listened to Ian’s interview of Gary Powers Jr – son of the downed pilot who now runs a Cold War museum in the US – and then watched the film again …

There is no way I’ll have the same feelings as someone who grew up in the UK during the Cold War, who lived through the fear, the warning leaflets, the everyday stocism, CND, the Aldermaston marches, the cuban military crisis – for all those cast a shadow that I never got to feel. But the second time I watched “Bridge of Spies”, I looked at it with a new set of eyes – as something that had happened to real people and not just characters in a spy novel, as a time my contemporaries had experienced first-hand while they were growing up.

It’s still a good film, but now it’s also a film I’ll remember … for I’ve had a chance to take a walk around in their shoes.


© Debra Carey, 2019

Confined to barracks

confined to barracks

(Featured Photograph: By Karen Knoff – from her book “Gentlemen”)


“Well gentlemen, nearly lunchtime: can I confirm the names we’ve shortlisted for the 1-6 positions?”

There were vigorous nods, and the kind of murmuring that extras mimic with phrases such as ‘rhubarb rhubarb’ and ‘soda water bottles’.

“Excellent.  Before we break, Carstairs would like to suggest a controversial addition to the line-up.  I we should at least look at the Paper.”

Document packs were riffled.

“He can’t bat!”

“He can’t bowl!”

“He dropped that easy catch!”

Carstairs looked every one of them in the eye before saying “All true – but he’s even better than Aussie when it comes to heckling!”

© David Jesson, 2019

#FF Photo Prompt

The Shrine

They’d followed the path for what seemed like hours. Even though they’d been going only just over the hour, the mutterings and grumbling had grown to a level which had begun to infect even Jim’s famous positivity. He’d really wanted to get them out of the wood before nightfall, but had to acknowledge their current pace wouldn’t get them close to achieving this aim. Accepting he’d been a touch over-optimistic, Jim suggested they stop at the next clearing for a rest and a brew. Almost immediately, the mood of the group raised and the pace picked up, which was just as well as the next clearing was further away than Jim had expected. They’d been appearing at what he’d started to think was suspicious regularity, so this last leg had both covered more distance than he’d expected and settled his concerns.

The clearing was larger than any they’d passed previously and there were signs in the middle of previous fires. Jim quickly nominated the freshest to gather wood, reminding them not to stray out of calling-out distance, before he turned his attention to settling down the older and less fit of the group as comfortably as was possible. He got Jen to distribute a square of chocolate to each member of the group, with a little extra for those who needed the boost, while he sorted out the kettles and flints, and reassembled the little framework he would erect over a portion of the fire for boiling kettles. Jen returned earlier than expected and gave him the bad news that there was no way their little group could travel further that day. Time was needed to dress sore and blistered feet, and some proper nourishment would be needed to fuel any further walking.

Sighing, Jim nodded his assent, before diverting a few of the returning wood gatherers and setting them to gather ground covering in order to provide the group with more comfortable bedding upon which to place their sleeping bags. With the wood gathered so far, he laid a fire and got it started. Having filled the kettle from the stream on the other side of the path, he got them boiling for tea. Leaving Jen to manage the fire and tea with a few helpers, he assembled their foragers for a foray into the woods. Grabbing a few decent-sized branches, alight from the fire to guide their way, he split the group into pairs, each setting off in different directions to see what they could find. They found mushrooms, a wide variety of berries and something that looked – and smelled – like rosemary growing on the higher and drier bits of ground. His foragering partner had him dig up some tubers which she decided would be safe to eat, and they collected some bones and two carcasses of recently dead small birds off the ground.

On their return, the kettles were removed, all but the one which made tea for the returning foragers, and large pots were placed over the fire. Other members of the group refilled the kettles and soon the mouthwatering aroma of mushroom soup filled the clearing. Wary of attracting wild animals, Jim ensured that lit branches were placed at intervals around the clearing, before settling down to his own bowl of soup. Hunks of bread from various backpacks got handed round, and the group settled down for the night with relatively full bellies. Having checked the supply of wood was plentiful enough to keep the central fire and the circle of lit branches going through the night, Jim divided the group up into sentries for 2-hourly stints throughout the night. The elderly were excused this duty, although old Josh insisted on taking his turn. That made Jim smile. Josh had been a great leader in his time and Jim had hoped to rely on his wisdom and experience on this trek.

The night having passed without incident, Jim had agreed the kettles could be refilled and a brew enjoyed before they set off once more, but not before he’d made clear they wouldn’t be stopping again until they’d cleared the woods. The foragers distributed the berries gathered the night before to provide some energy for the day ahead, before carefully storing the remaining herbs, mushrooms and extra bones around the group’s backpacks.

It was a tired and footsore group who finally broke clear of the wood as the sun was setting. Ahead of them the plain seemed to stretch out for miles. Despite the golden light of the sunset, it seemed barren and overwhelming. Jim ensured that wood was gathered, a fire lit and a surrounding circle of lit branches set up once again. Tea was brewed, a soup made after the foragers had returned, and Jen with her team of helpers had re-dressed the wounds and tended to the old and unfit. Even after soup and bread, and more of their valuable chocolate was distributed, the group remained unusually quiet. The sight of the vast plain had struck fear into all but the bravest of hearts. The night’s sentries found they weren’t alone in their wakefulness, for most of the group found it hard to sleep that night.

In the morning, old Josh took Jim aside for a quiet word, after which Jim invited Jen and the most experienced of their foragers – Cecilia – to join them. While tea and berries were distributed among the group by the remaining foragers, they discussed the problem of what lay ahead from every possible angle. In the end, Jim had to agree – they’d hug the edge of the wood for it provided them with abundant wood for fires, a stream for fresh water, and a source of food to be foraged. It would take them in a different direction to the one Jim had set his heart upon but he realised, now, that this group didn’t have the strength and stamina to cross that terrifying plain.

By the time this decision was made, most of the day had passed, so a decision was taken to make it a rest day. Mid-afternoon, Jim told Josh he’d scout ahead as this was a different path to the planned one and, leaving the group in the care of Jen and Josh, he’d set off, promising to be back in time for the evening meal. He’d made good progress alone and had soon scouted two days ahead. Then realising it would be dark soon, he rushed into the woods to find a suitable branch – both to light his way back and to signal to the group that he was returning.

Stopping at the stream to drink his fill, he noticed the far bank was now rocky. Gathering up some brush, he’d applied a spark. The burning brush lit up the area allowing him to notice the shallowness of the stream. Rolling up his trousers, he’d crossed the steam to investigate. The rocks were higher and smoother than he’d expected but as he cast his branch around, a greenish glint caught Jim’s eye. Moving in closer, he found an alcove, inside of which sat the greatest surprise of all. In the middle of the woods, miles away from civilization, was an extraordinarily beautiful bottle. Triangular in shape, with multiple sloping facets, Jim guessed it was made of crystal. Some of the surfaces glinted green, others blue, while most were clear. There was a large round stopper and it sat on a delicate square base.

Jim was drawn to touch it and, finding it cool, he’d moved his hand all around it. Finding no booby traps, he’d picked it up. Surprisingly heavy, he realised it was filled with a clear liquid. Removing the lid, he’d poured a small amount into his tin cup. Smelling it, he was surprised by the scent – it was entirely natural, not chemical, so he risked wetting his lips. Although it’d stung the cut on his lip, he’d swallowed a small sip. Instantly it warmed first his throat, then his stomach. Knowing he couldn’t delay without causing tremendous concern in the group, he’d poured the remaining liquid into his flash and, replacing the bottle, he’made his way back to the group with a decided spring in his step.

Having apologised for his delayed arrival and supped his meal, Jim was keen to take Josh aside to share his tale. Having offered Josh his flask, he’d been surprised when the old man had burst out laughing. Calling over Cecilia and the other foragers, Josh‘d asked them to smell and taste the liquid in order to identify the ingredients. Citrus offered one, coriander another, liquorice a third, angelica and juniper berries Cecilia stated firmly with a grin.

Jim looked at them puzzled “What are you lot on about?”
“Gin” said Josh, “it’s gin m’boy. You never tasted it before then?”
“Bombay Sapphire, if I’m not mistaken” chuckled Cecilia, taking another sip “it was my mother’s favourite.”
“But what’s it doing out here?” demanded Jim, trying to drag them back down to earth. “Well, from your description of the bottle, I’d imagine some uneducated savage thought it was the elixir of the gods and created a shrine for it.”
“Be serious you lot, are we in trouble do you think?”
“If no-one saw you take it, they’ll probably never notice it’s gone. Let’s hope so eh?”

© Debra Carey, 2019


 

#FF Photo Prompt

IMGP5653

The photograph is one of mine which I took … actually no, I don’t want to lead the story you’ll write by telling you anymore.

So, what do you think it is, or better yet – tell us the story it inspires you to write. Any style or genre, just nothing NSFW.

 

Word count: say up to 1,000 words
Deadline: 2pm GMT on Friday 8th March 2019

Don’t forgot, if you miss the deadline, you can always post your story to our #TortoiseFlashFiction page


Post your story on your site and link to it here in the comments below, or drop us a line via the contact us page and we’ll post it for you.