Experimental Writing: Part 5

Meredith began the shlep to Crickhowell by leaving Llangynidr on Cyffredyn Lane, which at this point was wide enough for traffic to flow easily in both directions.  The road was bounded by high hedge on both sides, with a decent verge.  A little further on one of the verges petered out and the other narrowed.  People travelling the road  began to feel hemmed in as trees grew up behind the hedge on one side and the river narrowed; traffic still flowed in both directions but two large things, such as a bus and a lorry had a ticklish time passing.

Meredith groaned.  The sub-routine had indeed developed proto-sentience and had started referring to itself as Bunter for some reason.  Words would be had with the mission controllers and with the AI programmers when all this was over… Still (groan) Bunter was doing a decent enough job.  Whilst the road was not perfect for pedestrians, Bunter advised that the verge on this side did not get narrow; stay on this road, it becomes Cwm Crawnon Road; up head there is a bridge over a small stream, the road kinks, but there is a footpath.  Hang on…recalculating…find a break in the hedge on the left, the stream is the other side and the footpath will be there…

The intermittant sounds of sporadic traffic were dulled by the shielding vegetation.  Meredith made reasonably good progress along the foot path and the traffic noises were muted still further as the stream parted company with the road for a while.  It was surprisingly reassuring when the noise of these backward vehicles increased again: still on track.  The two finally came together at the thing that Bunter had described as a kink. Here, for some reason, the road crossed over the river on a small, rather primitive stone bridge.  The path by the river continued under the bridge and Meredith was confronted by a choice: stay on the path beside the river and head further into the countryside, or stay closer to the road on an uncertain verge.  The river path was certainly the more scenic, and would perhaps provide better cover- the moment of indecision was ended by a large green car pulling over.  Meredith thought the driver looked a bit too young to be allowed out, but he was leaning out of the window and shouting something.  Meredith couldn’t quite make out what it was, but a (thankfully) non-sentient routine picked up the sound and ran a translation.

“Bore da!  Going to Crickhowell are you?  Need a lift?

*****

The Land Rover was a long-wheel base Series I dating from 1957 – late in the production run, but one of the first to be fitted with a diesel engine.  Mostly loving care over the last 62 years meant that it was in surprisingly good condition.  Owain had found it after a relatively brief period of neglect.  A farmer had died, his feckless son had come home from his towny job and tried to make a go of it, but really hadn’t had the first clue about farming.  In then end he’d sold the farm to one of his neighbours for, if not a fraction of its real worth then certainly not full whack.  The neighbour had then proceeded to make quite a lot of that money back by selling off the ancient farmhouse and a small parcel of land to Owain and his family.  They’d moved in when Owain was fifteen, and he’d quickly found the vehicle, quietly mouldering in one of the barns.

His first emotion had been one of delight, and then he’d wondered where the keys might be.  They’d found them a couple of days later when sorting through various detritus clogging up a lovely antique oak dresser in the kitchen.  His da had let him try the engine which spluttered in a rather sick way, but did start, albeit with various unhealthy sounds as the engine cycled. They’d turned it off again, but both had been caught by the dream: despite the inevitable tensions that arise between a teenager and their parents, they commited to the joint project of restoring it.  Neither had any previous experience in this regard, but YouTube had been a great teacher.  On and off it had taken the best part of two years to get it back up and running smoothly.  It had been left muddy in the damp shed and this had done the body no good at all.  It had been left standing for several years and the tyres had perished.

The final job had been to repaint the Land Rover: everyone else in the family had felt they had the right to a say in what colour it should be.  Ma said Canary Yellow; Nerys, two years younger, and drifting towards becoming a goth wanted black; Esther, his youngest sister, pink; even Dylan, the youngest and shyest of the siblings, put forward an opinion – Dragon Red.  Owain and his da refused to listen though, united in a belief that there was only one colour suitable for a car – British Racing Green (although they’d never call it that in front of the neighbours).

Owain spent many happy hours learning to drive in the Land Rover: because he had access to the farmyard, and permission from Mr Kendrick, the farmer who had sold them the farmhouse to use his land, Owain was ready to take his test on his 17th birthday – which he passed with three minor faults.  When he returned home the house was festooned with streamers and balloons and there was a big party.  Afterwards, when his friends had gone home, his da took him aside and had handed him the keys to the Landie.

“It’s yours,” he said, simply, “you’ve earned it.  Now, we’ll have to think about what we can do for your sister.”

*****

Crickhowell was a small town as such conurbations go, but decidedly larger than Llangynidr, and indeed one of the larger communities within the boundaries of the Brecon National Park.  It was something of a focus for tourists, despite the less than imppresive remains of a castle.  There were excellent B&Bs and other hostelries.  Owain was headed that way to pick up Nerys who had been at a sleep over, and since he was going Esther tagged along to go to the book shop (although truth be told she needed little excuse to tag along with Owain, especially if a drive in the Landie was on offer).  Ma, too, had pressed a shopping list into his hand as he picked up the keys, ‘since you’re going, love’.

Esther was carefully pecking out a message to Nerys on Owain’s mobile, to let her know they were coming, when they spotted the strange figure at the side of the road.

“That poor soul looks lost, Owain.”

“Yeah…shall offer him a lift?”

“I’m not sure what Ma would think” Esther said doubtfully, “but they’re only little!”

They pulled over.

© 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.  Every month there is a poll on some feature or another.  Last month’s did not come to a clear decision, but I promise coffee features in the future, I just got a bit carried away with the back story to the random encounter.

Moving on; this moths poll:

Option 1: Aliens love coffee!  Who knew?

Option 2: Coffee does not love aliens – ew!

Option 3: What is all this caffeine nonsense anyway?

Also, if you’re in favour of coffee, let me know what you think Meredith should try in the comments.

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 : Raised Expectations

When something is hyped, is that the kiss of death for you?

Something happened recently which made me ponder a while on this subject. For one reason or another, more time than usual has been spent chez nous, resulting in much catching up on TV box sets, a fair bit of reading, a whole slew of YouTubes and the odd film. One of those films has caused many a friend to spout superlatives so, when Himself unveiled it, my mood took a little lift. Sadly, that didn’t last long. I’ll return later to the who and the why, but first I’d like to take a look at the subject of raised expectations as a whole.

Where books are concerned, I feel I’m generally pretty good at managing my expectations, because I’m well used to not liking the same books as most of the people I know. That said, I have to admit having recently written a couple of reviews where I’ve admitted being disappointed … following high expectations. Two which fell into this category – where I was the only guilty party in the expectation raising – were Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage & C J Samson’s Tombland. I’m a big fan of Murakami and just love his crazy style and I’ve found every one of Samson’s Shardlake books to date a real treat. Yet both, somehow, lacked. Could it be that – in both cases – I’d spent too much time in anticipation, something neither could really live up to?

Live events are another area where there can be hype and expectations. Not a fan of football, I’ve nevertheless had excellent experiences on the only occasions I’ve attended live games. Manchester United featured in both, so you could posit that the play wasn’t at all shabby, or was it that I found much to praise about the experience because I went expecting so little?

Therefore, I have to ask, is disappointment a foregone conclusion when expectations are raised? Not always it seems. I caught up with modern classics All Quiet on the Western Front and Things Fall Apart absolutely eons after everyone else.  Yet both totally & utterly blew me away.

On then to The Greatest Showman – where Hugh Jackman plays the great P T Barnum. A successful stage musical, now transferred to celluloid, this is the film which trigged my train of thought. Multiple friends professed their love for it, posted about attending the cinema multiple times to watch it, to have purchased the soundtrack for repeated listening … yet I found it entirely forgettable. And I consider myself a fan of musicals.

So, what was wrong with it? Leaving aside the fact the film did nothing to develop the stage show visually (by which I mean that the scenes still looked like theatre sets) the songs were unremarkable, as were the singers, and the choreography was simply frantic. Worse, the story was pure hokum. Whilst I don’t object to some bending of the truth, this played fast & loose with the true story, was utterly laden with trite tropes and filled with plot holes. I’m sure the aim was for it to be fluffy, feel-good, family entertainment – so perhaps as a 60-something wannabe writer, I’m not the target audience.

Still, I’m glad I’ve seen it. It reminded me that taste is very personal and to trust reviews only from those I know share mine. I’ve given considerable thought to whether I’d have enjoyed it without having my expectations raised … and the answer is still no. But it would probably be true to say that I wouldn’t have felt so deeply disappointed.


© Debra Carey, 2019

My mother’s home

There’s a muffled sound, rhythmic and regular, but I’m still in that land between sleep and awake. There’s also a light breeze drifting over my left cheek, my left shoulder, my left arm. My eyes open and close, just a crack, but enough to allow a faint glow of light to enter. The light is bright, but with a covering of haze. I close my eyes and turn over, turning my back to it. That light breeze drifts over my right cheek, shoulder and arm instead. But the light is fighting its way in and forcing my eyes to open more and close less.

I’m lying in a small iron bed right under an overhead fan. Ah, that’s the source of the muffled sound and the light breeze. But what of that light? When I turn again and open my eyes for a few seconds, I see that white wooden shutters are still covering the windows. Slowly, I roll onto my back and open my eyes once more. This time I see that small upper windows are uncovered. They are high, very high when you are only 10 years old and still lying in bed. But the sunlight is streaming in through them from two sides of the room. The light is coming into the room in what looks like beams – the sun is highlighting the dust in the air. I’m not at home, I’m in Shirlyn – in the house where my mother grew up, in the big upstairs bedroom.

Lying there is bed, covered with a sheet and a light blanket, all is peaceful. I watch the hazy light, the dancing dust which is whirled around by the air of the overhead fan as they mix. I become aware of the sound of my parents in the upstairs sitting room. They are probably having coffee waiting for my sister, or me, to wake, before we go downstairs to breakfast. My sister is still breathing regularly, as is my grandmother in her big bed behind me. My grandfather will have been up for some time and will probably already be at work. He will be back later to join us for breakfast, – he always is. I leave my parents to enjoy the early morning alone together. I know they are talking – I can hear the low hum of their voices through the huge tall wooden double doors – but I can’t hear what they’re saying.

So, I lie there and drift …


© Debra Carey, 2019

#Flashfiction: Fingerprints

The prompt:  Imagine one morning you woke up and your fingerprints weren’t your own anymore. Why not? What happens next?


Steve woke up slowly, one bit at a time.  Outside his window, a blackbird was singing its little heart out.  Normally Steve loved this achingly beautiful start to the day, but after the night just gone, it was his head that was aching, and not in a beautiful way.  Whilst his ears were most certainly awake, his eyes were categorically on strike and his brain was trying to pull a pillow over itself and was pretenfing not to be in.  He didn’t have the energy to actually pull the pillow over his head though.  A foot, the one sticking out from under the covers and decidedly chilly, twitched.

He was clearly not going to be able to get back to sleep, and given the bright sunlight streaming through the gap in the curtains, it was clearly later than he would normally get up.

With an exhalation that was part sigh and part grunt, he pulled his face away from the pillow: this was easier said than done because his sleep-drool was in the process of setting like superglue.  In the same motion he reached out, grabbed his phone and flicked it open.  Back in the day, he’d used to carry a zippo lighter, not beacuse he smoked, but beacause it had been useful to have one on him, and he’d learned the trick of opening the lighter and sparking it, so that it seemed to be alight as it opened: a neat little optical illusion that had impressed more than one girl.  Back in the day.  These days, he didn’t bother too much with the lighter, but he’d translated the skill to his phone, sort of.  The cover flicked open and his thumb sought the fingerprint scanner.  Nothing.  It was a good trick, but the scanner could be flakey.  He tried again.  Still nothing.  Another deep sigh and he unlocked the phone with the passcode instead.  There might be some follow up from the operation of the night before, thhe one that had required three fingers of bourbon before he crawled into bed at 3.37 am.  Nothing.  He could afford to take it slow. There’d be a de-briefing in the afternoon, no doubt.

He looked down at his fingertips and recalled the time when some joker had tried to remove them.  They didn’t look unsual.  They weren’t even clogged with adhesive as sometimes happened.

Shower.

Half dressed.

Coffee.

Toast.

Finish dressing.

Shoes…in need of polishing.

Curse.

Polish shoes.  Not a proper polish of course, but a quick wipe with a damp cloth and then the liquid stuff with a sponge on the end of the bottle that he kept for emergencies.

Check the phone again.  Curious, it’s still not opening to the thumb applied to the reader.

An hour later and Steve was parking in the underground garage.  Two minutes after that he is at the Security Checkpoint, and the first real misgivings start – the hand applied to the never-fails, impossible-for-it-to-go-wrong scannerhas tripped a red-warning light. The man on the desk invites him to have another go, and the same thing happens again. Not good.

“If you’ll step into the office, sir, we’ll try the retina scan.  A bit old fashioned, bit it does the job, sir.”  In speech, the man has the mannerisms of that funny old man from the old TV show about the Home Guard and Steve is almost surprised that he has not said “Don’t Panic”.  In looks, he somewhere between an old teacher of Steve’s, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  The mixture of too many large white teeth in an overly tanned face, balding with a fringe of startlingly jet-black hair has always seemed comic to Steve.  Until today.

A thin sheen of sweat formed on his brow.  He ran the fingers and palm of one hand together, and this too appeared to be slick with fear.   He bent forward and placed his eye to the proffered reader.  This too flashed a red warning.

“I’m sorry, sir” the Security man seems to be genuinely apologetic as he handcuffs Steve and presses the button for the guard to come and take him away.  “I’m sure it’s just a mistake sir, easily sorted.  Don’t panic!”

©David Jesson, 2019


 

Rowena had been having one of those mornings. Despite waking up before her alarm went off, somehow everything seemed to have gone wrong.

She was clutching her third mug of coffee, having spilt the first two. The first had gone all over her bed, forcing her to rip off the sheets to save spoiling her mattress. The second had gone all over the kitchen floor, but she’d only had time for a cursory mop up, so she didn’t slip and fall. To top it all, she’d have to drop into the cleaners on her way to work and shell out for their expensive same day service on her duvet – it was her only one and it was way too cold to go without.

An important part of Rowena’s morning routine was a leisurely hot shower and hair wash. But this morning, she’d dropped her soap and her shampoo innumerable times, forcing her to slow down even more, as she was afraid the bath surface had become extra slippery and she’d fall. The last time that happened, it had been spectacular. She’d managed to do a complete flip over and end up spreadeagled on the bathroom floor, missing – more by luck than judgement – both the toilet and the basin. Still, there’d been some very colourful bruising and more than one or two aching muscles for a week after.

Despite needing to get dressed while having breakfast so she’d make up some time, Rowena hadn’t dared do so in case she spilt that third mug. So she’d forced herself to sit down at the kitchen counter while eating her granola and yoghurt. Her coffee being still too hot to drink, she’d grabbed her phone out of her handbag, and promptly spilt the contents all over the floor.

Having managed to hold back tears, Rowena had shovelled the spilled items back into her bag. Unfortunately, her ID card slipped under the cupboard unoticed. Before she’d a chance to go through the contents carefully as she’d planned to do, she was distracted by the fact that her phone wasn’t opening in its usual manner. No matter how many times she’d pressed her thumb against the button, it wasn’t budging, and now it was demanding her passcode. That had caused the tears to flow. It was a new phone and she’d taken the risk to go without insurance. Had one of those mugs of coffee splashed it?

Tears done, Rowena’d stopped to take a few deep breaths in an attempt to calm down. Remembering her passcode, her relief when it worked almost caused the tears to return. Deciding against that third mug of coffee, Rowena’d focussed on dressing for work. Suited and booted, make-up carefully applied to hide the blotchy complextion from the morning’s tears, she’d stopped for a moment in the kitchen. Lucky she had – for that’s when she’d caught sight of her ID card.

Sadly for Rowena, there’d be more mornings like this one; so many it’d caused her to doubt her sanity. She’d see a doctor who, after running a battery of tests to no avail, suggested she see “someone”.  Nothing had helped, nothing that is, until the night she’d sat drinking in a bar. Drinking till she was so drunk, she’d fallen over and been arrested.

Then it had started to make sense. Well, to Rowena anyway, although everyone looked at her as if she were a specimen in a jar … for someone else’s fingerprints had been grafted over her own. They still didn’t know why, but now Rowena understood how come her fingers had felt like strangers.

And they’d promised to remove the strangers, so she could have her own back. Not yet, but someday soon.

© Debra Carey, 2019


You can find a characteristically macabre take on the prompt by Stuart Nager over at Tale Spinning…

 

 

 

#Flashfiction: Fingerprints

fingerprinting
Image courtesy of joshsdh
on Flickr

 

 

 


Imagine one morning you woke up and your fingerprints weren’t your own anymore. Why not? What happens next?

Word count: no more than 1,000 words
Deadline is 2pm GMT, on 10th May 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.