Experimental Writing: Part 7

Owain and Esther sat open mouthed staring at the creature before them.

“What…what just happened?” Owain stuttered.

“I’m afraid that my employer’s Security clearly isn’t as tight as they believe it to be and my mission has been compromised.  What is incredibly disconcerting is that whoever was behind this attack is clearly working with someone local.”

What are you?” Esther exclaimed.

Meredith slipped the beanie hat back on, followed by the dark glasses.

“It’s probably best if I go now, and if you forget that you ever saw me.  Go and get your sister.  Go and do something fun – away from here.” The alien slipped out of the door, leaving the two conscious humans gaping at each other.

Esther pulled herself together first.

“Quick!  After him Owain!  We can’t just leave him!”

“I don’t know, bet.” He took in the muscle entangled with furniture and sprawled on the floor in a localised disaster zone around their table.  “This looks like it could be serious – and we don’t anything about Meredith really.  Maybe he deserved this?”

“Owain Rhodri Griffin!  You ought to be ashamed of yourself!  I hope Ma and Da never hear you say such a cowardly thing.  Meredith is clearly in trouble and we should do what we can to help her.”

Before Owain could react, Esther had slipped round the tables after Meredith, and out of the door.

“Wait! Come back!” Owain’s shoulders slumped and he ran a hand across his face.  The gesture turned into an unconscious imitation of his father as he tried to make his adolescent fuzz rasp like a day’s worth of stubble – without success.  It suddenly occurred to him that there might be more of these jokers outside.

“Hey!  Come back!” he repeated, as he followed the path his sister had taken moments before.

*****

The lady on duty in the cafe came from the kitchen behind the counter, carrying a plate, chattering away.

“I’ve just made some pice bach*, cywion, would you like a few?  The Director likes us to have some on the counter all the time, but they much better fresh.”

She looked up and took in the scene of devastation.  A goon spread-eagled over a table, head hanging backwards over the edge, twitched.  Another, contorted around a chair, groaned.

“Ach-y-fi!”

*****

Esther burst through the door of the Arts Centre and into the car park: Meredith was not there.  How could she have moved so quickly.  The girl ran to the pavement and looked up and down the road.  There!  There was the strange creature hurrying along, whilst still somehow looking unobtrusive.

“Meredith!  Meredith, bach!  Wait!” Esther ran after the alien, as Meredith looked over a shoulder and did a double take.

“Meredith!” The girl panted; youth was on her side, but she was distinctly bookish, not completely hopeless at PE, but it was not her forte.  “Meredith, I want to help, if I can.  But I need to know why you’re here, and why people are after you.”

*****

Owain fumbled the keys to the Landrover from his pocket as he cannoned down the corridor from the tea room to the main entrance.  He nearly dropped the bunch as he barrelled through the door.  He regained control on the fourth attempt, having looked like he was juggling a hot potato, the keys slipping, sliding, falling, up again, begin again, as his hands tried to hold on.

“More haste, less speed” he muttered under his breath as he finally caught the bunch, having turned the clumsiness around and caught the bunch with the ignition proud of the rest and ready for action.

As he came through the door, he could hear Esther calling Meredith, but the majority of his attention was taken with the two shiny black SUVs that were parked-up outside the Arts Centre.  The two cars looked like sinister twins, and were the sleeker evolution of his own vehicle.  They had certainly not been there when he, Esther, and Meredith had arrived some thirty minutes before.  As he ran to his own Landrover, he started thinking that perhaps he should do something to slow these monsters down.  He had some thought of sticking a screwdriver from his tool kit through some tyres, but as he passed the SUVs, he noticed that the tyres were already flaccid and in fact seemed to be dribbling and flowing.

Owain shook his head and climbed up in to the driver’s seat of his car.  He took a deep breath, let it out slowly, started the ignition and put the Landrover into gear.  He pulled out of the car park and set out in pursuit of his sister.

*****

“Why are you here?  Why now?”

Meredith was just drawing breath to reply when Owain pulled up beside them.

“Get in quick, then, and we’ll be off.”

Meredith looked up at Owain and back at Esther and was trying to work out what to say when Esther grabbed an arm in one hand and pulled open the door behind the driver with the other and pushed Meredith in.

“Well done, Owain!”

“Right-o.  I’m just going to drive for a bit and then you can tell me where we’re going.   If I don’t know just yet, then I won’t give anything away by my direction.  But Esther asked you a question, several questions, and I’ve got one of my own: what have you done that’s got you into trouble?”

“Hmmm…it’s probably best if you don’t know everything, but you’ve probably worked out that I’m not from Earth.  I’d don’t know who those people were, but they’re obviously trying to stop me.  As for what I’m here to do….it’s a…it’s a…well let’s call it a rescue mission.

*****

*I’ve slipped in some Welsh here and there, and hopefully I’ve got it more or less right.   If I revise this story, I might add in a few more “in a minute now”s, “ti’n iawn”‘s and “shw mae”‘s…we’ll see. Perhaps I should put in a guide for the words I have used.  On the other hand, most of the terms I’ve used are exclamations and terms of endearment, that don’t really need a lot of explanation.  Pice bach though might need some description beyond the context: essentially these are what the Welsh call Welsh cakes, although there are a couple of synonyms as well.  If you’ve not come across Welsh cakes before, these are a little flat, round cake, cooked on a griddle or stone.  They are lightly spiced – nothing too exotic – and contain dried fruit like raisins and sultanas.  They are delicious, moreish, slightly crumbly, and best enjoyed with a cup of tea.

© 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. We’re over half way now and I know where we are heading but there is still some way to go.  I think that we’re due for some plot exposition, so…

Option 1: Straight Q&A between Meredith and friends

Option 2: Flashback, from Meredith’s perspective

Option 3: Cut to Antagonist…

Option 4: Other(?) – Please comment!

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: Five Gold Stars

Despite various inflationary issues, economic and otherwise, we all know that something that has been given a gold star – or indeed a gold anything has done pretty well.  Even a gold raspberry from the Razzies suggests that you have reached a pinnacle, even if it is one that you would prefer not to be acknowledged for… There is a surprising amount of research done into the best way to collect data on peoples preferences and the cogniscenti are able to take one look at a survey and assess whether it has been designed by an expert or an amatuer – perhaps an intern given a job that no-one else wanted to do, or a trainee not being given enough support.  What must be obvious to anyone though is that you can’t really wrap up a range of issues into one rating, even if you let someone have a range of five stars to work with.  For one thing, the majority of people will say “you can always do better” and avoid giving 5*, but by the same token, they won’t want to completely damn someone’s hard work by giving only 1* – although there are exceptions.

(Side note: I find it worthwhile checking out the 1* ratings to see if the comments actually make sense.  Looking at something recently, I found that the 1* ratings all related to the supplier/format rather than the book itself.  On the whole, I’m usually less than impressed with 1* reviews, because they tend not to explain what was wrong, but just say that the reviewer didn’t like it, which is not entirely helpful).

This year I’ve decided to give the Goodreads challenge a go.  I’ve committed to reading a book a week, although as I writethis, I am behind schedule, partly because of time constraints and partly because I’ve been working through a couple of really chunky books.  I’ve slipped in a couple of very thin books to try and get me back on track…  One of the side effects of getting more involved with Goodreads is that I’ve been writing more reviews and reading more of other peoples reviews.  One of the chunky books that I’m reading is a non-fiction book, and it has been interesting to read the reviews of people who can be considered interested amatuers, those who’ve read the book beacuse they thought they should, and those who work in the same field(ish).  This is a book outside my normal interests, but was a gift: it has been hard work, but I am enjoying it, and the author makes a lot of sense.  One of the reviews has been a bit of a rabbit hole though and one that I keep returning to.

The review, which is quite damning in many ways, suggests that the author has made too much use of a particular theory and that anyone who really knows the area wouldn’t use that theory, debunking the whole book.  What has been interesting is the follow up to this.  There are a lot of comments that support or refute the review, and a few more extended commentary-conversations between the reviewer and people who have read it.  For my 2p, the reviewer is factually incorrect, but it’s not my area and I may have missed something in both the book and the point of the review.  Hold that thought.

The other thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot, especially prompted by my difficulties with keeping up with the challenge, is how many books I’ve got left in me to read.  I find my time under a lot of pressure at the moment, and that will change, but I keep returning to a story that Kathryn Harkup (@RotwangsRobot) told me about two little old ladies going into a bookshop and asking for 20 recomendations for books to read: “We know how fast we read and how much time we’ve likely got left, and we’ve done the maths”. *Gulp*.  Assuming I can sort myself out and keep up with the challenge, that’s 52 books a year, for perhaps 40 years, if I’m lucky.  One of these days I might be able to up the pace a bit, but still, we’re talking of the order of 2000 books left to read.  That sounds a lot, but my TBR probably runs to a couple of hundred with more being added all the time.  And what about re-reads of old favourites?

Debs has a very hard-line policy on awarding 5*, a policy which stands out amongst those that seem to throw them out like sweets.  It’s a tricky world, especially when there are so many books out there, all relying on (good) reviews.  Sarina Langer has an excellent policy on writing reviews which I wish would become the gold standard that people writing reviews worked to – although I admit that I am still learning how to put this into practice, especially for a review written on the hoof.    But the fundamental point is that the 5* system is not particularly useful.  There are books and films that deserve high ratings not because they are the best ever, but because they have some feature that is great.  Not everyone will enjoy a cozy mystery, even if it gets five stars.  Not everyone likes black and white films, or thrillers or… fill in the gap.

OK, so lets tie all this together.  If we think of those 2000 books as literary meals, not all of them are going to be Michelin-class – and nor would I want them to be.  There’s going to be a mix of things in there, including, yes, junk food.  But what I’m hoping for in a review is that it goes beyond those 5*  – which I’m actually beginning to become suspicious of – and gives me a reason to look beyond the cover and the blurb.

© David Jesson, 2019

Songs for when you’re feeling …

As I unlock my door, I can hear it – the music coming from next door. Taking a deep breath, I enter my flat and prepare myself for the assault on my ears. You see, my next door neighbour expresses his emotions via the medium of music.

Friends ask why I put up with it, but it’s just one of those things you get used to when you live in a shared building. Generally, the arrangement suits me. The exterior is managed, repairs get carried out, the gardening gets done, the car park is kept clean and pothole free, and I still have my own private space and front door. OK, so I can hear a clacking noise from upstairs if she hasn’t taken off her high heels yet and – of course – there’s Steven and his music.

Steven lives next door to me in an apartment which is the mirror image of mine. He lives alone, as do I. He walks to work, but, like many young men, has a very nice car. Twice a week, I see him clutching a basket full of laundry on a two-way journey through the car park. I know his parents live nearby, but I prefer to believe he’s too old to be taking his laundry home and chooses to use a laundry service instead. I suspect my initial reaction is correct though.

Like many a young man, he’s a football fan. Certainly whenever there’s a big game on, he has friends round. I hear them cheering or groaning, depending on how things are going for their chosen team. In the summer, they congregate in the garden with their bottles of beer – but they’re not rowdy, and they’re unfailingly polite.

Most of the time, the music he plays sounds upbeat and partyish. I even occasionally recognise 80s classics like Dancing Queen, I Will Survive and It’s Raining Men, which he’s far too young to have grown up with. While the cheerful jangle of pop can grate if it goes on for too long, it’s easily cut out by retiring behind earphones to listen to my own choice of music, or to an audio book. If I go into the garden myself during the summer months, I can hear what he’s playing more clearly. Last summer he was in love … until he wasn’t that is, at which point I was driven indoors by Someone Like You on repeat. Adele’s got a great voice and it’s a good song, but not when it plays for hours on end.

But it’s worst when he’s stressed. I recognise the signs when I meet him in the hallway. Unfailingly polite, he can barely manage even the most basic of greetings. And then it starts … the thump-thud-a-thump of heavy rock. There’s that underlying beat which you can feel in your gut even more than you hear it, so the earphones don’t cut the mustard. I have to avoid rooms with a shared wall, essentially meaning I stick to the bedroom. Earlier this year, it stretched into a third week, causing me to re-consider my long-held views on the benefits of shared dwelling.

Then, just as suddenly, it stopped. That evening I noticed a girl with long blonde hair in the garden and, sure enough, the dulcet tones of Bruno Mars started drifting through the shared wall. The only question mark was over how long it’ll be before he’s back to Adele.  So before the current backdrop of love songs from John Legend and Ed Sheeran changes to heavy rock, I’ve started planning my escape.


© Debra Carey, 2019

#FF – Photo Prompt

prompt 4 abandoned ships

Skillet topped the rise and looked down across the dead sea bottom. He knew from prior trips that the three stranded cargo vessels were farther off than might be expected.  The sun was still high, but in this latitude it would drop quickly: there might be enough time to make it across the drained land.  And then and again, there might not…

Press on or not?  Make camp here, in sight, or strike out across the flats?  A decision made more difficult by the straggling group that he had guided across kilometres of blighted wilderness.  Skillet knew that he would would be able to traverse the difficult terrain that had once been covered by deep water, but the score or so of people in this little band were a mix of rugged adventurers, who still seemed reasonably fresh despite a difficult day, and those who hadn’t yet made it to the top of the hill.

Facial contortions marked the progress of his thoughts as he worried at the problem: lips pursed, cheeks were sucked in and blown out, the long thin nose twitched.  Coming to a decision, Skillet called his to apprentices to his side.

“Right, here’s the plan” he pitched his voice low so as not be overheard, but still managed to sound decisive.  “We’re going to split into three groups.  Beanpole: you’ll take the first group and set off as soon as we’ve redistributed the packs a bit.  In your group, let Bench set the pace, everyone else will be able to keep up whether they think they can or not, but the sight of the ships will spur them on.”

Beanpole nodded, and cast a sidelong look at the middle-aged Bench where he sat on his pack and tried to stretch out a cramp in his leg.  A tough beggar he was, but clearly in some discomfort.  In every way that counted he was by no means the weak link on this journey, but he would definitely be the slowest in her group, although he’d push himself hard.

“Bucket: you’ll have the second group.  I don’t think you’ll have any trouble with them, although they might grumble a bit at the extra load they’re going to have to carry.  Tell them how tough they are and how glad we are to have them along and all that sort of thing.  You know the drill.  And tell them about that time when we had to portage around those rapids and we spent two days going back and forth with all that equipment – but maybe save that one for if they start to flag.”

Bucket answered with his big tomb-stone grin.

Skillet looked over at the two people, young but unfit, who had just got to the top, the last in this disparate and rag-tag group.  They found somewhere to slump down, too exhausted from the climb to even groan about how tired they were.  “I’ll make sure the rest get there before we lose the light.”

*****

Skillet pulled out a little pair of binoculars and checked the progress of Beanpole and Bucket.  Bucket had the pros and the experienced amateurs, who had taken on the burden of carrying some extra weight to enable the others to make it to the ships tonight.  Even so, they were making good time, although it looked like Beanpole and the fitter of the newbies would still make it first.  Hopefully they’d get the kettle on.  Skillet’s group, the walking wounded as he thought of them, still had a couple of kilometres to go.  These people really had no business to be making this journey – unprepared, physically and mentally flabby, but then what choice did they have?

*****

Some thought of it as a pilgrimage, something that they should do, a secular penance to atone for ignoring the environment.  For others, it was simply a challenge, something to be done, to say that they had done it: badge-collecting.  For the rest, it was part of the new way of life.  Everything considered, humanity had done surprisingly well.  World-wide, there had been fewer deaths than in the second world war, and the panic and looting had been surprisingly limited.  There had been the usual fantasists talking about the Earth trying to rid itself of the plague of Humanity, but it was really just a case of wrong place, wrong time.  The wrong place being the whole planet, and the wrong time being an infinitesimal sliver of geological time.

Some things are just too big to think about.  It’s tricky to keep a whole planet in mind, without turning it into a marble, floating in space.  It’s hard to remember that the bit we walk around in is just a load of rocky islands, floating on a world-spanning ocean of liquid fire.  Why would you?  Why would you want to? Geologists look at a boiled egg, and bringing down their spoon create their view of the globe all over again.

The world shrugged.  The cracked crust of the Earth moved past itself, up and over, down and under, scraping side by side.  The movement was unprecedented, not so much in magnitude, but in extent – more plates moved in one moment than had ever been seen before.  The usual earthquakes had been joined by stranger occurrences.  Here an entire section of seabed had risen up, there an island had sunk beneath the waves. The devastation had been widespread.

*****

Skillet herded the last of the group towards the ship.  The sun was beginning to set, and in the process set lowering cotton-candy clouds aflame.  He tried to fix the pinks and oranges shading to reds and purples in his mind, together with the dark shapes of the boats.  One of these days, perhaps he’d get his art supplies sorted out and put this scene on paper with his paints.  Maybe,

Beanpole and Bucket were seeing about getting the volunteers up on to the deck above, with all their kit.  Some on the boat would be leaving soon, going home, moving on, replaced by those who had just arrived.  The stranded vessels, wedged and propped had become a strange little community.  Equipment on board was used to process the polymetallic nodules that littered the ground here abouts.  At one time these ship were part of a fleet that had been sent to harvest them from beneath the sea.  Now, they could be taken for the picking.  The volunteers also collected plastics that created a layer like some polluted manna, and processed these.  A small farm was beginning to make the community self sufficient.

Skillet was the last to make his way up; as he reached the deck, Bucket passed him a cup of tea.  They leaned against the rail.  Beanpole joined them and together they looked back at this last leg of journey.  Night shadowed the wilderness of the sea-bottom, and you’d almost think the ships were at sea.

© David Jesson, 2019


 

 

 


And you should also check out the amazing Stuart Nager’s story based on this photo-prompt, over at Tale Spinning.

 

 

 

#FF – Photo Prompt

prompt 4 abandoned ships

Any style, any genre, just nothing NSFW – otherwise the world is your oyster.
Tell us your tale …

 

Word count: 500 – 1,000 words
Deadline: 2pm GMT on Friday 12th July 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.