Experimental Writing: Part 8

Meanwhile, in Cardiff, a mere 26 miles away for a theoretical crow, the retreating Landrover made its way off one giant TV screen and onto another, as it left the field of view of the art gallery’s external security camera and was picked up, briefly, by a traffic camera.  The Landrover disappeared from view completely: the coverage out in rural Wales was less than complete.

A withered hand reached forward, fighting the cocooning embrace of the large leather chair, and picked up a phone handset.  An extended finger pressed a single button, and two floors below a phone rang.  The duty supervisor picked up the receiver.

“Hello, sir, how may I help?”  There was only one person who had this number.

“Are you tracking the car?”  The quavery voice matched the liver-spotted and boney hand.

“We’re doing our best sir.  There’s no visual at the moment, but Maddox planted a device, the signal is very weak though.”  A bank of plasma TV screens filled an entire wall some 20 metres in length.  Five people watched intently.  Three were dealing with other matters, whilst the other two were flicking through various camera views trying to locate the Landrover. On a single screen a map showed a large-scale map of Brecon and environs.  A red pin had been placed where Meredith’s spaceship had landed.  A blue pin marked the art gallery.  A dull ruby red dot pulsed faintly as it moved along the A40.  The dot suddenly became a lot brighter.

“Ah, the signal seems to have improved.  They’ve turned off the A40 and onto the A479 towards Talgarth.”

“What’s that?”

“They were heading North-West, ish, and are now heading in a more Northly direction.”

“Pah.  You’ve lost them.  That fool Maddox must have put the device somewhere it could be found.  They’ve put it on another vehicle to try and fool us.  Get a visual – NOW!”  The phone slammed down as hard as an elderly hand could manage it.

As the supervisor pondered options, directing the two operators to find cameras on likely routes and wondering on the feasibility of getting a drone in the air, the old man returned to watching the art gallery.  The muscle were starting to pull themselves together and were being shooed out by the tea lady, assisted by an expertly flicked tea-towel that was adding further insult, not to mention pin-point accuracy injury, to that already suffered.  They shuffled outside quickly and discovered the damage to their car.  They would not be going anywhere in a hurry.   He watched as one pulled out a mobile phone and –

Ring ring!  A phone on his desk chirped to life.

“Er…boss… bad news…we…er…lost the alien…”

“I can see that you idiot.  Wait there for further orders.”  Again, the phone was returned forcefully to its cradle.

A desk drawer was pulled open and a little glass bottle of tablets was brought out.   There were only a few in the bottle, rattling madly as the palsied hand tried to tip one into the other hand.  He would have to ask for some more, he reflected, and soon.  He washed the tablet down with a glass of water and slumped back in the chair.  Five minutes later, his eyes snapped open, and he sprang to his feet.  He gazed at himself in a large mirror with a garish gilt rococo frame.  The age had dropped away from him: he pulled out comb from his jacket pocket and placed a ruler straight parting into thick black hair which he swept back into place.  The chocolate eyes were no longer rheumy, and anyone could see for themselves the hard glint that was a characteristic of one of the hardest gangsters in Wales.

“Jenkins!” There was no infirmity in the bellow that summoned Rhys Probert’s right-hand man.

“Jenkins!”

Colwyn Jenkins was surprisingly average for someone who’s name was a byword for efficiency in the criminal community and was also known to be the only person that Probert would listen to straight away.   Jenkins was average height (although an inch or two taller than Probert), had an average face with no distinguishing features to hang a description off, and had the kind of average build that comes from not going to the gym, but rarely giving into temptation either.  He eased into the room, neither noisily nor oleaginously – just average.

“Yes, Mr Probert?  You called?” There was no inflection to indicate irony, obsequiousness nor any other emotional response that might be expected from an assistant when peremptorily summoned.

“Get them to get the car ready, and get the Gardeners on the road too.  We’re going to take charge of this ourselves.”

“Do you think that’s wise?”

“Yes, I bloomin’ well do!  It’s been a thousand or more years, but they’ve finally sent someone to collect their lost belongings and we can’t let that happen.  We’d lose all of this, for a start -” he gestured taking in the whole of the room and indicating somehow the whole of the elderly tower block that had been refurbished to modern standards. “It’s not what She wants either.”

“As you wish.  We’ll need to be careful though.  I’ve been interrogating the database on the basis of the information that we’ve managed to collect so far.  The agent that has been dispatched is actually of another race entirely to the original owners.  Shorter life span for a start so much more intent on the here and now.  Also, the database suggests that the agent is likely to be…tricksy…It won’t want to force a confrontation but will try and do things…elliptically.”

“Whatever. Tell the Gardeners to take it alive if they can but not if its going to cause too much trouble.  I don’t care what happens to the kids.  I want to be on the road in 10 minutes.”

Probert opened another desk drawer and pulled out a small pistol which he placed in one pocket and a taser that went into another.

© 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.

I’ve been a bit pushed this month, so haven’t thought of what to poll on yet.  Will update when I know!  In the meantime, feel free to let me know if there is anything that you’d like me to expand on/any characters that you’d like to see more of.  I’m not promising to incorporate anything but always good to hear where you think this is heading!

See you next month!

 

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#Second Thoughts: Maps

Maps hold an important place in fiction.  In the case of the Fantasy genre it almost feels obligatory, but there are any number of books in other genres that have been improved by the inclusion of a map, and as many again that might have been an awful lot better with a map in the front, or if the author had referred to one when they were writing a book in a real world setting.  (I can’t now remember the details, but someone who knew the area told me that Dan Brown made a pretty big faux pas in a scene in Angels and Demons because of a mistake in (urban) geography.  Mind you, Dan Brown made some pretty big faux pas in other areas too…).

Terry Pratchett famously once said that Ankh-Morpork could not be mapped – and then someone proved him wrong.  The Discworld maps are a real labour of love and are worth checking out.  In this case, the maps are a nice addition, but it doesn’t matter whether you have them or not.   On the other hand, there are some settings where you really need the map in order to keep a sense of what is going on – Middle Earth is an obvious example.  Although, that said, whilst the map helps the reader to keep track of where everything is going, anyone paying attention will spot some issues (even if we exclude the square range that surrounds Mordor).  I’m not going to go into that in detail, but if you are interested in an analysis then you might want to check out this article.

The map at the top of this post is one that I created for a story that I’m in the middle of.  It’s taken a while, but I’ve finished the first draft of something that was meant to be a quick 5k story and is now a 10k one, which might yet get bigger when I revise it.  So it goes.  Not the real point though.   On Twitter, you can come across all sorts of things.  Chris Marshall and Emma Cox  were having a conversation about Inkarnate, an online map making tool.  Chris and Emma, who are two very talented writers that you should check out, are also incredibly talented artists and used the software to produce maps of their worlds.  I’m not great at drawing.  There was this time in an art class…no, maybe I won’t tell that story.  Anyway, the point is I’ve tried to do a few maps before now, but the results are probably closer to that of Middle Earth.  Inkarnate is pretty easy to get started with though.  (There is a really good tutorial here; I spent a couple of hours on this and there is more I’d like to do to make it better, including following up on some of the tips in comments).

Where am I going with this?  Well. Chris and Emma are meticulous in their world-building; Emma has even gone so far as to create divination system based on rune-stones that she has created specially, so they have a pretty good feel for their worlds.  This is just a way of expressing what they’re doing.  Most of my writing over the last couple of years has been short fiction, or on Earth in a relatively contemporary setting, or non-fiction, so I haven’t really felt the need to create maps.  This has been fun though, and whilst I’ve based it on what I wrote, it’s been interesting to add some features.  Given the nature of the story, I could have made lake and island perfectly circular, but that wouldn’t have been very interesting.  What it has shown up though is some large empty regions.  I know some of what happens in those, I just haven’t put the details in (yet).  Even so…perhaps there should be a wizard’s tower in that bit just there. 

So.  What next?  I can see myself doing a few more of these, and who knows, perhaps they’ll spark something rather than being a reaction to a story already underway.

What about you?  How do you feel about maps?

 

OCD, or is it?

Every Friday, without fail, we’d see him out there, washing his car and cleaning the interior. After every rainfall, he’d be there too, with his chamois leather, carefully removing each and every raindrop. He also had particular parking spots he prefered, not the ones near the bushes in case they’d scratch his paintwork. We always assumed he was parking illegally, for he looked hunted when he saw anyone in the car park. I genuinely believed he was expecting us to march over there and tell him off for his illegal use of the visitors spaces in our car park.

But it turns out, we were all wrong …

The other day, the sirens and flashing blue lights weren’t racing past us on the main road, they were flung at crazy angles all over our car park. Trying to get any of them to move so you could get out of the car park turned out to be wasted energy. There were more police crowded into our small car park than I thought existed in our neck of the woods, let alone all the people on their mobile phones. Sure, a small number were apologising to friends for the delay in their arrival and making arrangements for alternative transport, but most were videoing the scene, or ringing everyone they knew to tell them there was some sort of incident on their doorstep.

It took a while, but they got round to each of us in the surrounding properties, one by one. What did we know about the man with the grey car who lived in the corner house with his elderly mother? Had any of us spoken to him? Did he work? Did he have any friends? You know the sort of thing. Of course they told us nothing in return, except they were cordoning off our car park and none of us were to move our cars while they carried out their forensics analysis. The police’s well-known manpower shortage meant only one thing – it had to be serious – so was it terrorism, was it a sex-related offence … or was it murder?

Eventually we got our car park back after they towed his car away. One of the neighbours reported he’d been taken away in one of those cars with the blue flashing lights under cover of darkness while the rest of us were in bed. You could tell he considered us amateurs for having slept while there was juicy gossip to be had.  But when it came right down to it, that’s all he had too. He’d tried ringing the doorbell, but although he could hear the old dear moving about indoors, she didn’t answer. Then, just as he’d gathered a little crowd of us, a police car pulled up again – no siren and no blue lights this time. A female police officer got out, rang the bell and was permitted entry. About 30 minutes later, she emerged with the old dear, and they drove away.

They only just beat the hounds of the press too. Hordes of them were soon shoving their microphones and cameras into our faces, interviewing all and sundry. To be honest, they were a right pain. Their vehicles were crammed into our car park and as, most of us were receiving more visitors than usual – it being the site of the latest local excitement – tempers got a tad frayed. Eventually, having milked dry the very little we knew, they left.

Things returned to normal pretty quickly thereafter. A couple of months later, a For Sale board appeared outside the house. That guy – the gossip-monger – visited the estate agents, but they were either really professional, or they knew nothing.

Finally it broke. The story, that is. The reason he was so fastidious about cleaning his car was he’d been using it to transport dead bodies – quite a few dead bodies actually. Dectectives were still trying to figure if he was a serial killer … or a sad dupe.

Fairly soon thereafter, quite a few more For Sale boards appeared – it seems people don’t like living near any sort of a crime scene. Suited me, I was able to snap up a couple of properties for the price of one, and that got my little property portfolio started. I target neighbours at local crime scenes as a matter of policy now. They like the notoriety at the time, but the idea of living there afterwards … not so much.


© Debra Carey, 2019

#FF Prompt: Cluedo

The Colonel lightly waxed his moustaches, gave them a twist and curled them up at the ends.  He’d been playing the role of a slightly bumptious senior officer for so long that it came as second nature these days.  He looked in the mirror and checked that the moustaches were even.  In doing so he noted that his hair seemed to be even thinner than ever.  At least his clear hazel eyes still held the bright altertness that had earned him his nickname all those years ago: he’d always been as keen as mustard, so Mustard is what they’d call him.

He’d had a different code name during the war of course, but that had been rarely used. Ostensibly he’d just been a junior staff officer, supporting the General Staff to the best of his humble ability – the hackneyed phrase was engrained in his mind, the number of times he’d used it in conversation over the years.  In practice his was a Security role, ensuring that no undesirables got close to the plans that were being formulated for Africa, the Middle-East, the Med, and finally France… In some respects, it was impossible to know how successful he’d been.  Who knew how many attempts had been made to access this vital information?  He’s been responsible for blocking a few agents, uncovering a few moles, but he had a lingering suspicion that there’d been someone, a ghost, who’d managed to evade him.  Had they been in the background directing the operations against him?  Or had they been actively probing the defences he’d put in place, penetrating this cordon, but ultimately unsuccessful in finding anything of use?

He gave his head a shake, as if to dislodge this thought.  Time to dress for dinner.  Things had changed since the War, no doubt about that, but Septimus Black was an old fashioned cove and he liked things to be just so.  There’d be a cocktail hour or so before dinner, and a very good dinner it would be too, despite rationing still being in full force. Black still had a ‘home farm’ that supported his estate of course, but the Colonel had long suspected that there were other things in support of Black’s lifetyle, hidden in the background.

The Colonel completed his preparations.  A vague sense of uneasiness had encroached as soon as he’d received the invitation for tonight’s dinner, and it had only got stronger as the week progressed.  Now it was a positive itching of his subconcious.  True to form, with only a few minutes before he needed to leave, he placed himself at the writing table and dashed off a note to his friend the Chief Constable.  Colonel Gregory was an old friend and thoroughly deserving of his current appointment.  The Colonel rang the bell and whilst he was waiting for an answer to the summons, he withdrew a pistol from the drawer of the desk.  By rights it should have been his Service Revolver, but the Webley was too big and bulky – it would have complety ruined the line of his jacket as well as being rather obvious.  Instead he slipped a slimmer Berreta automatic pistol into his jacket pocket.

His valet entered with an Inverness cape over one arm, anticpating that his Master was ready to leave.  The Colonel swapped the letter for the outerwear, walked down the stairs and out of the front door.  It would be some time before he returned home.

© David Jesson, 2019


Of course she’d often attended dinner parties alone, what with her husband’s schedule being so full, but it was unheard of for her to receive an invitation without him – except to a ladies luncheon, of course. Yet there it was on the mantel, a gilt-edged heavy card in over-fussy lettering, with her name – Eleanor Peacock – written in blue-black ink in a rather untidy masculine hand.

She’d discussed the propriety of it with her husband, but he’d poo-poo’d her concerns, stating categorically that she must attend “for that Black fellow had many useful contacts and Eleanor must ensure they remained well in with him”. It seems her husband’s business had suffered during the war years, and it had been made very plain to her that if she wished to maintain her preferred lifestyle, she was required to grease the social wheels of commerce.

Now Eleanor was a most accomplished hostess, but the type of people her husband expected her to entertain these days was causing tremendous distress. They really were not the right sort – at all. Apparently they had money and plenty of it, which appeared to be all her husband was bothered about. There’d been much made about how the war had changed men, but her husband hadn’t actually been to war. But these days, the old standards didn’t seem to matter to him. All he ever talked about was about business, deals being made, new contacts, making money. It was all so terribly vulgar. Eleanor sniffed and wiped away a tear with her embroidered hanky – Mummy and Daddy would be terribly disappointed had they still been alive.

Thank goodness for Bingham. With Mummy and Daddy gone, she’d insisted he take over the running of their household. Everything ran so smoothly now. He helped her organise regular little soirees with the right social set, and he offered his sympathies every time she was required to entertain those oiks. He’d even suggested she have a little nip before the guests arrived – as apparently that’s what Mummy used to do.

Now the dreaded evening had arrived and Eleanor was in her dressing room preparing her toilette. She’d decided on a rather discrete navy silk frock, the sweetheart neckline being just low enough to showcase her aquamarine necklace, whilst not being in any way risque. It had full length sleeves, and she’d instructed her maid to set out the mink wrap for these old houses had a tendency to be terribly cold and draughty, even in the summer months. With an application of dark pink lipstick, Eleanor’s toilette was complete and she indicated her readiness to be helped into her frock. Finally, a minute or two of fussing in front of the mirror over the correct placement of the comb adorned with a peacock feather – her trademark – and she was ready.

Dismissing the maid, Eleanor waited. Almost immediately, there was a quiet tap on the door and Bingham entered. Wordlessly, he removed the glass he’d placed on her dressing table earlier that evening and replaced it with a full one. Eleanor was now in the habit of taking a drink before going out, but this evening, she’d felt the need for a more than her usual little snifter to calm the nerves. It had to be vodka too, rather than her preferred sherry, for it would never do for the fumes to be on her lips, nor a peppermint in attempted disguise – her husband had taught her as much.

Enquiries had been made during the week as to the other invitees, and it seemed it was to be a fairly small party. She’d met them all before at one shindig or another, but didn’t number any of her preferred social circle among them. Eleanor feared it was going to be a decidedly long and dull evening – she could but hope that Mr Black had a good bar and even better wine cellar.

© Debra Carey, 2019


 

#FF prompt: Cluedo

Write a short piece from the perspective of one of the characters from the (classic) cluedo board game. Feel free to mix it up a little – the Revd Mr Green doesn’t have to be an Anglican priest for example, or maybe he is a former military chaplain. Miss Scarlet might not be the femme fatale we’ve always thought…

 

Word count: up to 500 words
Deadline: 2pm GMT on Friday 9th August 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.