Writing Experiment: Epilogue

…stumbles through a doorway into a room that, if they were in a position to feel anything other than pain, to notice anything more than a metre or so away, would feel vaguely familar.  Ahead there is a dais formed of a shimmering silvery metal, with an odd iridescent sheen to it.  Lights blink in all the colours of the rainbow.  There is a grouping of red lights that seem to form a sequence.

…Lurches across the room towards the dais, blundering into a table and scattering its contents.  Instinct causes a tractormorphic appendage to snake out and pick up a cloth which shimmers with the same iridescence as the block of metal.  …climbs-collapses onto the dais and pulls the cloth over its recumbent form.

Time passes.

The room and all it contains begins to contract, eventually becoming a single point of light, bright and white.  Dazzlingly white. Blindingly white.

The light disappears and nothing is left except nothingness…

Time passes.  Or perhaps it doesn’t.

Welcome to the Forge.  The Forge of Dreams.  From time to time things happen here. From time to time.  Although this is not the right word: there is no time, here.

Mostly though, there is nothing.  It might be inky black.  But that would indicate an absence of light, and there is nothing. It might be brilliant white.  But that would suggest a light source, and there is nothing.  Perhaps it is grey.  But that would give rise to the possibility of choice, and there is nothing.

What is this?  It is different from the nothingness that surrounds it.  It is a point of true light, bright, clean and demonstrably something. 

Time passes.  Or perhaps it doesn’t.

The point of light resolves.  It glitters, and scatters light all around.  As a consequence, the nothingness surrounding it appears to be much darker than we might have initially thought, although further away, the void is unchanged.

Time passes, or perhaps it…no, time really is starting to pass.  The point of light can be seen to be spinning, and in spinning is slowing down.  Time passes, and the point is resolved as a disc, still spinning.  Spinning too fast to see any details other than that it is a cube, a cube with six very different faces.

Time passes…

The cube appears to be slowing down…

© David Jesson, 2019


 

 

Christmas 2100

christmas-lights-houses-dma-homes-55884

“Hello dear!  Happy Christmas!”

“Happy Christmas Grans, are you ready?”  I’d popped over to the sheltered accommodation where my grandma lived with some of her old cronies,  to pick her up for Christmas dinner with the family.

It was going to be hectic, because my older siblings were coming over with their kids.  The unwritten rule at these events was that I needed to be ‘Fun Uncle Bobby’ and keep the kids entertained until at least we sat down for lunch.  The four of them would keep me busy and the challenge was always to keep things from getting too loud.  There would be Christmas presents to open and play with – which had its pros and cons.

Picking up Grans was a blessedly peaceful interlude.  Christmas Eve had been hectic, as always.  Mum and Dad had long ago developed a timeline for jobs that needed to be done.   It got tweaked in the run-up, depending on what was going on, but Mum always took us, and then more recently the grandchildren, to the Crib Service on Christmas Eve, which gave Dad, and these days me too, a clear run for getting the veg prepped.  We’d make pigs in blankets and other trimmings, as well.  Everything was lined up, ready to go.  In recent years, given the extra people round the table, Dad had moved to turning the barbecue into an oven to cook the joint, so we’d get the fire laid and ready to go.  Dad was a real arsonist when it came to the barbecue and you could always guarantee that it would light with a single match.

In the pod on the way back home, Grans and I chatted about her Bridge club, knitting circle, book club, and she asked me about my semester at uni.  This had been the toughest so far, but everyone said to expect that with the second year.

When we got in, my first job was to make sure that Grans didn’t get mobbed by her great grandchildren.  My nephews and nieces loved her to bits.  My second was to make sure that she got ensconced in her favourite chair with a glass of sherry.   The first was accomplished by telling them it was time to try out the new board game – another family tradition was to get a new board game at Christmas, and I always made sure I was au fait with the rules before it was officially opened on Christmas day.  Clarrie, the eldest (and bossiest took charge by the simple expedient of holding the box above her head and walking through to the living room, trailing the other three like the tail of a comet.  By the time Grans was safely in her chair, glass in easy reach, the board was set up and ready to go and Arwen, the second eldest, was deciding that Clarrie didn’t actually have any special insight afterall: with split second timing I was able to swoop and get the game started before a proper argument started.

Lunch was a noisy affair, of course.  Afterwards, the children opened big presents from my Mum and Dad, a smaller present from me, and a card from Grans with the obligatory voucher.  One of Grans stories that none of us really believed was that you used to get money made of paper, and coins, and that it was a common thing to get money from relatives to buy things for yourself.

And then Grans turned to me and handed me one too.  “This is from all of us, dear.  We’re very proud of you, you know, and you are so wonderful with the little ones.”  I could see my elder sister biting her tongue; she clearly wanted to say something but didn’t want to step on Grans’ toes.

“You didn’t have to – ” I started to say, as I slit open the envelope, and then I noticed that everyone was watching me, even the kids.  This wasn’t just going to be a book voucher then.  Perhaps…no I really didn’t have a clue.  You know when people talk about a jaw dropping open in astonishment?  That was me.  It was a voucher for a cup of coffee.   And not just any cup of coffee, coffee at one of the premier Cafes.  One of the really exclusive ones.  I’d probably need to wear a suit to go and redeem this.  I couldn’t begin to imagine how expensive this voucher had been.

When climate change wrecked the growing conditions for coffee, all the big coffee companies had switched to one of the half dozen or so coffee substitutes that had been the preserve of the kind of people who would be deemed eccentric for drinking roasted dandelion root, or yerba mate, for example.  So you could still get your caffeine fix, or the experience of going to the coffee shop and getting something with steamed oatmilk or whatever, but real coffee had become so expensive that it was not something you drank regularly.

“Well say something then!” My mother exclaimed, breaking the silence.

I just looked at her, speechless.  Grans laughed.

© David Jesson, 2019

 

 

 

 

Take Off

The VIPs filed into the observation lounge, shepherded in after the excellent lunch with the big star by the PR staffers.  Stewards guided them to their seats and took drink orders.  They sank down into the big comfy chairs and prepared to watch the show.

“Welcome!  It’s great that you can be with us here today.  This really is one of the highlights of the year.  You’ll understand that we can’t show you absolutely everything, and I think you’d be cross with us if we kept you here until the bitter end!”  There was a little ripple of laughter at this.  The head of PR stood in front of an enormous window

“For the next 24 hours, this is the nerve centre.  I present” with a flourish he drew their attention to everything in the room below “Mission Control!”

Through the window they could see something that looked a lot like a theatre, but instead of a stage there was simply an enormous screen, with a stack of smaller screens on either side.  They were, in effect, looking out over some sort of pit, with ranks of desks sloping downwards.  The ones at the bottom were some distance from the bottom of the screen, but anyone seated there would still get a serious crick in their neck if they tried to look at the top.

The observers took in the bustling, hurrying figures, the people taking their seats, those running back and forth with bits of paper, those conferring with colleagues at other desks, and realised that even the small screens were probably the size of the window in front of them.  Perspective could be a tricksy thing indeed.

“OK everyone, settle down, settle down.” A gruff voice rang out and filled the room.  The bustling didn’t cease, but did seem to become more purposeful.  Those seated at desks seemed to become more tense.  “Systems check.”

The observers tensed as well.  They hadn’t seen the Mission Controller slip into the room.  Hadn’t seen him place his coffee mug on the table, hadn’t seen him take his seat and plug his headset in.  Things were about to get interesting.  And this was not just any Mission Controller, this was one of the most senior, whose reputation, in certain circles at least, was as big as the person that they had been having dinner with an hour before.

The Head of PR called over one of his minions.  You’d have to be an expert in body language to see the tinge of panic that added a soupçon of peremptoriness to the gesture.  No one in the room was such an expert, so all they saw was a collegiate summoning.  The assistant trotted over.

“What’s he doing here?” the Head hissed quietly.  “He’s not supposed to be on duty!”

“I think he pulled rank.  Said something about not allowing ‘that idiot’ to ruin everything.”

“OK.  Well we can’t do anything about it now.  But we can’t listen in like we’d planned.  Switch the intercom off and go and round up the rest of the team.  We’ll provide a running commentary, and provide every VIP with someone who can answer any questions that come up.” The assistant ran off, and the Head of PR turned a megawatt smile on the audience.  “I’m afraid I have some bad news, the intercom system has broken and we’re not going to be able to listen in on the Mission as planned, but we will be providing a full commentary and there will be colleagues ready, willing, and able to answer any questions you might have.”  With a gesture that the audience missed completely, he set the Chief Steward to work on top-ups.

*****

“OK everyone, settle down, settle down.  Systems check.”

“Transport.  Check.”

“Dispatch. Check.”

“Tracking. Check.”

“Weather. Check: there is nothing major brewing in the next 24 hours; you can stand down the emergency back-up.”

“Intelligence. Check.”

Department after department checked in and red lights turned green across the board.  The Mission Controller chased antacids down with the last of his cold coffee, snapped his fingers and pointed to the empty, branded, mug.  A steward come over and refilled the mug from a large jug, placed a mince pie in a little silver case by the side of it and moved off, repeating the task again and again before heading back to the galley for further refills.  It would be a long night.

“Right, ladies and gentlemen, listen in.  Thirty minutes to take off.  We will be doing this by the freakin’ book – do you understand?”  There were murmurs of assent.  “Some of my fellow mission controllers have reported some issues over the last few years.  I know that it’s difficult to predict exactly what is going to happen in the field, but let me make this absolutely clear, I do not want a repeat of Oslo, I do not want a repeat of Fremantle, and I do not want a repeat of freakin’ Milwaukee!  By the book ladies and gentlemen, let’s get to it.”

He pulled out a cigar from a pocket, bit off the end and swallowed it.  A nervous steward scuttled up and quavered “I’m afraid it’s No Smoking in here now, sir.”

The steward received a glare of rock-melting intensity.  After a moment the Mission Controller said: “It’s chocolate” and returned his attention to the board in front of him.  Satisfactory.  He looked up at the screens.  Everything seemed to be going well.  The emergency back-up system was being taken away from the launch zone.  Last minute checks were being carried out.

“Where is he?” The Mission Controller muttered to himself.  Then he spotted the operative.  “Who does he freakin’ think he is?  Freakin’ Rocky Marciano?” This was not said sotto voce, and a number of staff pricked up their ears at this.  Only one or two of the old timers were brave enough to look round.

The crowds on the screen were cheering as a figure made its way down a flight of steps, waving, making thumbs up signs, hands clasped above his head in the ‘I’m the champ’ pose.  The figure paused to write autographs, shake hands, kiss a proffered cheek.

The Mission Controller flipped a toggle and growled into the mic “Five minutes.”

On the screen a minder spoke into the mic clipped to his sleeve “Affirmative”.

Minders closed around the figure and moved him along amidst protests from the crowd and indeed the star himself.

Another toggle was flicked.  “OK, the fat guy’s on his way, get him aboard and settled, stat.”

Everyone in mission control watched as the minders hustled their charge up to the transport zone and handed him off to the team on the launch pad, who helped him up onto his seat and tucked him in, handed him a flask and lunch-box.

“And in ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, GO!”

There was a flick of the reins and the deer started running, pulling the sleigh.  It leaped into the air.  The driver couldn’t resist a circle over the crowds, a wave, to the cheering folk below.  And then he was away.

“About freakin’ time”, the Mission Controller said, turning on the timer.

© David Jesson, 2019

Experimental Writing: Part 12

This is the last installment in a story that I’ve been writing over the course of the year.  There is a prologue which was used to shape the story, which starts here, but which you can easily miss out.  The story proper starts here.

Esther and Owain crouched low behind some rocks that were the least worst option that they’d found for cover.  Owain tried to watch the lake where Meredith had disappeared and the path up which a group of people were coming.  Hard to tell from this distance, but the words ‘thug’ and ‘disgruntled’ sprang to mind.  Esther was similarly trying to split her attention, but she was watching vicariously through the HUD’s relayed imagery from the drones.

Whilst the thugs looked dangerously muscled, Owain and Esther were surprised at how out-of-breath they looked when they finally reached the edge of the lake.  Esther zoomed in and was amazed at the details she could see, down to beads of sweat forming on foreheads and dribbling down the side of red faces.  Zooming back out she watched as their leader directed them to fan out.

Nothing much happened for several minutes.  The muscle visibly relaxed as they got their breath back, but with each passing second the head honcho became more worried, more irritated, more tense.

The geyser of water took everyone by surprised, and completely soaked the men standing at the edge of the lake.  The plume of water topped out at some 150 m.  Esther was fascinated to see the exact height marked in the HUD.  She wasn’t quite sure what she did, but an icon next to the information blinked, opened into a box and informed her that this was taller than the eruptions of the Steamboat Geyser of Yellowstone, currently the tallest known geyser in the world, but not enough to displace the world record of 490 m held by Waimangu in New Zealand.  She blinked and the box disappeared.  The distraction gone, she realised that Meredith was at the top of the column of water – and coming back to earth fast.

Or rather, coming back to water.  Meredith hit the lake at a speed 50 metres per second, bounced, and then sank back below the water.  Esther and Owain looked at each other, and then back at the milling people at the lake edge.  There was a lot of shouting and gesticulating, but it was difficult to work out what was going on.  They deduced that people were being ordered into the water by the fact that heavy-duty jackets were reluctantly being shrugged off, and boot-laces were being untied.  You could tell that their hearts weren’t really in it though, until the point that the leader pulled out a pistol, then they started moving a bit faster.

It was at this point that a second geyser erupted.  This was not quite as impressive as the first, but worth watching all the same for at the centre there was some kind of wrestling match occurring.  Meredith seemed to be grappling with something: an indeterminate number of tractomorphic arms were attempting to get the upperhand.  Esther, with the benefit of the HUD, realised that not all the arms were Meredith’s.

“Miss Esther?”

“Bunter?”

“Yes, miss.”

“Oh – just call me Esther.”

“I couldn’t possibly do that, miss.  Is everything well, miss?”

“Hard to say.  There’s some kind of wrestling match going on and there’s a load of gangsters getting ready, but I don’t know what for.”

“I see.”

“Are you another alien, Bunter?”

“That doesn’t really matter right now.  At the moment I’m at the heart of the operations of Rhys Probert’s operations.  My orders are to shut them down at the appropriate psychological moment.  Would you say that’s now?”

“Errm…I really don’t know.  What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to going to sequester his computer system and call the police in.”

“That sounds like it might take a while.”

“It’ll certainly take a while for the police to sift through everything, but I can send Probert a message to tell him what’s going on.”

“Alright…Do it.  Send the message when I say.”

“Very good, miss.”

The geyser of water subsided again and the combatants sank below the water.  A moment later something appeared to rise above the surface.  Was it an arm?  What was it holding?  The men on the shore were looking at it intently, one or two pointing, and the man with the pistol started gesticulating furiously again.  He seemed to reach fever pitch when the arm or whatever it was got dragged back down much more quickly than it had risen.

“Ok – now!”

It was not the man with the pistol that reacted, but one that Esther had not noticed so far, one that appeared to be unaffected by the dramas unfolding out on the lake and on the shore.  He pulled out a mobile phone from the pocket of his suit, and glanced at the screen.  Hard to tell from this distance, but his body language suggested an increasing interest in the phone and increasing tension.  Bad news, clearly.   He called to the man with the pistol, and when that gained no response, he bravely grabbed at the man’s arm and shoved the phone into his face.

***

Rhys Probert was not a happy man.  The entity in the lake was under some form of attack, and it wasn’t really clear from what.  His family had called it ‘The Lady’ since time out of mind, and several legends had grown up.  It wasn’t really a blood ancestor, but it’s help had shaped his family’s fortunes for generations.  His whole operation depended on the tech that it had provided, and his continued existence relied on the the medicines that it gave him.

And now the Gardeners had some fit of the collywobbles and didn’t want to get involved, and Jenkins was pushing a phone at him saying there was a problem.

Probert was about 30 seconds away from shooting someone.

***

“It’s not working, bach, he’s just getting more angry – he looks fit to burst!”

“Not to worry, miss, I have an idea.  Can you give me control of one of the drones, please?”

“I could if I knew how to!”

“Nothing simpler, miss” Bunter was relishing the role.  He talked her through it and took control.

The drone flew closer and lower.

“Rhys Probert!” A strong Cardiff accent boomed out of a speaker on the drone. “Rhys Probert!  Attention.  This is Superintendent Brydon.  Put your weapon down, return to your car and await the arrival of officers who will be with you momentarily.”

This was too much for most of the group who broke and scattered.  Probert was practically frothing at the mouth now, and he shot at the drone, emptying the entire clip in an attempt to bring it down.

Jenkins, unflappable as ever, waited until the shooting stopped then grabbed Probert’s arm and dragged him away.

Peace returned to Llyn-y-fan Fach.  So much peace, in fact, that Esther began to worry.

“What’ll we do, Owain?  How are we going to get Meredith out?”

“Look, bet!” Owain said, pointing. Meredith was oozing out of the lake, pulling something behind them.

Owain and Esther broke cover and ran to their fallen friend.  What on earth would they be able to do?  How did you do first aid on an alien?  How could you tell what was wrong?  How could you tell if they were still alive?

“Bunter!  What do we do?”

***

Owain and Esther watched from a safe distance as the spaceship took off.  Meredith was barely conscious, but Bunter had managed things admirably, and had ensured that Owain and Esther had been suitably reassured.  They had gently transferred the limp form back to the Landrover, attached the medi-pack under Bunter’s direction and secured all the equipment.  While they were getting sorted, Bunter had sent one of the drones off.  It came back just as they were getting ready to leave with a vial of something that Bunter directed that they pour into the lake.  The thing that Meredith had recovered turned out to be remarkably disappointing, but apparently this was just a control-nexus or something, and there was a lot more at the bottom of the lake that should be left just lying around.  The vial contained a programmable liquid robot that would dismantle the operations that ‘the Lady’ had built up over the time spent on Earth.

Bunter directed them to place the used equipment into the bay on the side of the craft.  Meredith had just about managed to get themself into the cockpit, with a little help.

“I guess we’d better go and get Nerys then,” Owain had said.

“Hopefully she hasn’t rung Ma and Da” Esther giggled.

***

A few days later, Owain and Esther began to wonder if they’d dreamed it all.  That was, until a letter arrived for their parents.  Apparently Bunter and Partners, representing a distant relative needed to arrange for a legacy to be paid to them.

© David Jesson, 2019


Ok  – a slight fib.  This was the last installment of the story proper, but there will be an epilogue, of sorts to round things out.  This will be posted on the 31st December and will close my writing experiment that I’ve been running this year.

 

#secondthoughts: Writers reading

Unless highly successful or very fortunate, most writers struggle with finding the time to write – be that uninterrupted, quality or regular time – for the issue comes in as many flavours as do writers themselves. Of course, on top of the writing itself, there’s also the requirement to find time to edit, to re-write following feedback, to query, and to market if you’re successful in publishing.

But how about finding the time to read? Adding the requirements of daily life to a writer’s workload, how does a writer find time to read? Time crunched writers, especially those with other responsibilities are forced to hunt down minutes for writing, let alone hours … and let’s face it, reading can take up many an hour.

Yet successful authors tells us how important it is that writers read, and read a lot – so how do you choose what gets your valuable reading minutes? Do you use your time as research – reading how-to publications, or the work of other writers in your genre, both from a writing skills and a know-your-market perspective? Do you feel any form of reading is self-indulgent when there are so many other calls upon your time, or is it important and necessary? Is it easier to read guilt-free by sticking with the reading-as-research option? But … is there a writer alive for whom reading wasn’t their first love and if you were to stick only to the reading-as-research option, doesn’t that feel entirely lacking in joy?

Even if you’re in the fortunate position of being able to take time to read in a guilt-free manner – what do you choose to read? A writer recently described how he’d noticed (with hindsight) that influences from his fictional reading material had appeared in his writing – not so much in terms of plot lines and structure, more that of voice. As a result, when in writing mode, he now only reads non-fiction, returning to fiction only once his writing is complete.

Did those successful authors who advocate reading for writers assume we’d not find the time to read fiction while writing, except for the purposes of research? Perhaps they didn’t feel it necessary to specify, as it seemed obvious to them that a writer’s sole focus would be on writing and we’d not be reading – except for research – until the writing was complete.

I’ve been reading Jasper Fforde’s Early Riser and noticed it’s been drifting into my dreams. Not entirely surprising you might say, except that when I’m absorbed in writing a story, I tend to dream where it’s to go, so it’s both illuminating and a cause for concern how much crossover there could be from the fiction being read into the fiction being written. As a novice writer, it also makes complete sense to me that my voice could be especially vulnerable to outside influence.

When David and I wrote the bulk of our current WIP, the only reading I had time for was research and re-reads of the chapters already drafted. With this new input, I can see how that made it easy for me to keep the voice present and consistent. Since then, I’ve written in fits and starts, slipped into snatched bits of time here and there, and I’ve struggled. Now the reason behind that struggle is making so much sense.


© Debra Carey, 2019

The scam

“Crikey! You’ve used that posh tea set your mother gave you. Did you have visitors today?”

”Yeah I did. Some very unexpected ones … it was pure luck I wasn’t still in my pyjamas. Why don’t you wash up and I’ll get the dinner on.”

“Um, aren’t you going to tell me who they were then?”

“It’s kind of a long story Martin, let me do the dinner and I’ll tell you after.”

“Why don’t you just say who it was …or is there a reason you don’t want me to know?”

“Alrighty then, it was a Nigerian Prince and his … um … retinue I guess you’d call it. He was re-paying me for a loan I gave him about 10 years ago.”

“Yeah, yeah, really funny!”

“I’m serious Martin … and your reaction is exactly why I was loathe to tell you!”

Bashing the pots and pans crossly in the kitchen, Leah thought back to that day. It was an easy one to remember for it was the very day she’d met Martin. Fresh from the sticks, she’d been the new girl in the office, totally naive and ready to believe the best in people. Nervous about her first job, Leah hadn’t been able to sleep. Up before the lark, breakfasted, booted and suited, she’d still had ages to go it was time for the walk to work.

In an attempt to control her nerves, she’d sat down at her desk to have a go at clearing her in box before work. She rarely plumbed the depths of the spam folder but that’s where she came across the fateful message. The English was both formal and stilted – exactly as you’d expect it to be from a foreigner – and that’s exactly who the guy writing it said he was; more precisely he was a Prince from a State in northern Nigeria who’d lost all his money in a scam and didn’t have enough to buy a ticket back home. Leah didn’t have much, but after checking the cost of a one-way ticket to Lagos from Heathrow, she was able to scrape that much together. So, feeling she’d done her good deed/pay forward thing for that year, she’d sent him the money and headed off to work with a warm feeling in her chest.

Once at work, Leah was thrown straight into a busy new staff induction programme. She was starting to relax and enjoy her day when the subject turned to internet security. The talk being delivered by one of the guys from the IT department was pretty routine and a tad dull to be honest, until the words “Nigerian money scam” causing Leah to look up in alarm. As she listened, Leah realised she’d fallen prey, not only to a scam, but one that everyone in the room – apart from her apparently – seemed to know about. Flushing beetroot, she’d started to shake. When her neighbour enquired if she was OK, she’d felt the tears coming and bolted for the door.

Realising she couldn’t hide in the Ladies loo all day, Leah had given her self a good talking to in the mirror after splashing her face with cold water to repair the damage. He’d been on his way in for an interview when she’d nearly knocked him down in her rush to exit the Ladies. When she’d looked up to bleat an apology, he’d said “Are you alright, your face is all blotchy” which – unsurprisingly-  started her off again. He’d hurried to apologise for being a right twerp, even managing to produce a clean handkerchief to wipe her tears away. Somewhat charmed by the handkerchief, Leah had accepted when he’d asked to buy her coffee to apologise properly, arranging to meet him on Saturday morning at the nice coffee place in town. They’d been together pretty much ever since and he’d always said it was her delightfully uncynical nature which sealed the deal.

But when Leah told him the story, there in the kitchen, he’d called her a complete and utter dork. Shocked, Leah realised the boyfriend she’d assumed was her forever guy had just mercilessly mocked her. Reminding him what he’d said about loving her uncynical nature, she’d visibly recoiled when he’d guffawed. Just a line … apparently.

A couple of hours later, Martin was stood in the hallway, his bags packed, a mate hovering awkwardly to provide him with a ride and a bed. Foolishly, he’d tried to talk Leah out of it, not realising quite how angry she was, even giving her the “this is it – your last chance to change your mind” speech.

It wasn’t till he’d given back his keys and was walking out of the door that Martin thought to ask “So come on then, how much did your Nigerian Prince re-pay you?” barely bothering to hide the sneer in his voice.

“Five hundred thousand pounds – in cash – and these keys to that brand new Porsche 911 on the pavement outside. He was ever so apologetic it had taken so long to track me down and hoped he’d added sufficient interest to the five hundred quid I’d loaned him.”

Watching Martin’s face crumple, she added “Shut the door behind you – this dork won’t be giving you the keys to that Porsche now. ”


© Debra Carey, 2019

#FlashFiction: Project Gutenberg’s Birthday

The Lathe and Its Uses

Half-term had rolled around once again and, whilst some traditions were starting to creak under the strain of Toph’s departure for university, some would survive for at least a little longer.  The family trip up to Town was the first time the family had been together in six weeks or so, and whilst Toph didn’t get half terms any more, he’d peeled himself away from his new friends and made a flying trip back home for the first weekend of his younger brothers’ break.  His siblings had tried to pretend there was nothing special about this visit, but they never missed an opportunity to fish for information.

One of the traditions of this trip was that it was an opportunity to start thinking about Christmas shopping.  An early thought, without a shadow of a doubt, but one which they had become accustomed to from an early age, their Mother taking them to find presents for their Father and vice versa.  Eventually they had become more self-sufficient in this regard, taking the opportunity to at least start thinking about what they might get each other.

This year, Toph was planning on sending gifts to a few of his school friends that had scattered around the country, and also to a few of the friends that he’d made in this first few weeks at university.  Toph had an easy going manner that meant that he was easy to talk to and there were many that would consider themselves to be his friend, but he was cautious about those he thought of as close friends.

Jonno had headed off to a little art shop that he knew, one that specialised in niche supplies: no doubt he would be following the trend of recent years and making his gifts, although how he would fit this in around coursework for A levels and starting to build a portfolio for a new exhibition was anyone’s guess.

Tom by contrast, was sticking close to his older brother.  He was, by turns, attempting to impress with an adolescent emulation of his brother’s laid-back cool, and then forgetting himself and talking excitedly about his plans for the next cricket season and everything else going on at school.  They were heading, with their father, to an old haunt.  Toph had been rather surprised by Tom’s renewed enthusiasm for the book shop.  A couple of years before it had seemed as though he was growing out of it, but seemingly out of nowhere, a trip to Town was incomplete without a visit to the establishment that had claimed a lot of their father’s spare cash.

Toph would neither have confirmed or denied his own love of the venue.  Despite the brisk trade the shop did, somehow it remained a quiet haven with good quality books of various vintage to suit a range of pockets.  Eighteen months ago, Toph had found a book that set him on his path to university, for many reasons this had been so momentous that he hadn’t returned.  Today Toph had a vague notion of picking up something for his Father for Christmas – potentially risky, but usually a good bet, especially if you kept the receipt – and perhaps something for one of his new friends.

As was always the case with Toph, once he decided what he wanted to do, he set out out to achieve it. Quietly, without fuss, but inevitably: he had decided on Mechancial Engineering, and his school efforts were turned in this direction.  Whilst nowhere near as rare as once was the case, the number of girls on the course was a minority.  Whilst only six or so weeks into a four year course, there was one girl that he seemed to keep on crossing paths with.  They’d joined a couple of the same clubs, seemed to share an interest in changing the world.  There was even a pleasing symmetry in that she was the eldest of three sisters, so they were able to commiserate on a life lived as the trailblazer.

Toph did not have anything particularly in mind as he wandered around the shop.  He moved his legs slowly and his head quickly as he scanned the titles on display, pausing now and again to take a book down and look at it more closely.  He was just about to pass by a little table with a tasteful display of books, when a white haired old man beckoned him over.  The man seemed familiar for some reason, but Toph couldn’t plase him.  It wasn’t clear if the man was an employee or another browser, but he apologetically asked Toph if he would mind helping him – the book he wanted was at the bottom of a pile.  Toph helpfully picked up the pile of books and the man retrieved the one that he was looking for. As Toph put the pile back down he noticed that the book on top of the pile was called “The Lathe & Its Uses”.  Perfect.  It might seem eccentric, especially to others on the course, and perhaps even to her.  Hopefully though she’d take the time to think about what it meant to him and why he was giving the gift.  She was a friend he valued, and whatever else happened, he hoped that wouldn’t change.

© David Jesson, 2019


Adam & Eve & Pinch Me

“Cheers! Good to see you Tristan”

”Welcome back Jonathan! Good home leave?”

Tristan was newly returned from a trip up country, scouting out new subject matter, and Jonathan had returned from a lengthy home leave a couple of weeks previously. Both were delighted to find the other ready to slip right back into their old habit of weekly suppers. Jonathan had suggested he kick the routine off to give Tristan’s boy time to get unpacked and re-provisioned following their lengthy trip.

Long glasses of gin & tonic having been poured in preparation for Tristan’s arrival, ice was rapidly added, and they’d taken up their customary chairs on the terrace while supper was prepared. A fairly lengthy exchange of news updates followed of both life back home and local goings-on, before Jonathan edged his way round to a more delicate topic of conversation.

“The aged parents went totally to town this visit, absolutely determined to get me settled down. Kept going on about not allowing the name to die out – all dreadfully dull.”

Tristan was quick to detect that his friend was rather underplaying things and, raising a quizzical eyebrow asked “And …any interesting prospects?”

Seeing a slight flush cross his friend’s neck & face, Tristan took a long slow sip from his glass to cover the smile, which he guessed might be a tad too knowing for the younger man’s comfort.

“Most were re-runs from previous visits, although why they thought I’d change my mind wasn’t at all clear.”

“Not that many single young women from the right social background I’d hazard a guess.”

“Quite so. There were a few who were new to me, but they were awfully young – barely out of school for goodness sake. Nice enough in truth, but you’d not bring them somewhere like here to live – far too naive.”

Tristan nodded in response and sipped his G&T, waiting for Jonathan to continue his tale, for he was sure there was more. His young friend was a remarkably adept diplomat, but in matters of the heart, rather less so.

“It was all getting jolly awkward till my sister stepped in, persuading the aged Ps that she could really use my help at her charity project in the East End.”

“Oh? I’d no idea your sister was involved in good works.”

“Yes indeed, found religion some years ago – hence the parental desperation all heading in my direction. Not only will the name die out, but they’d be absolutely bereft of grandchildren unless I … “

“Ah yes, I remember that particular burden – all the weight of history that comes with old family names.”

“That’s where I met her ..”

Jonathan glanced carefully at Tristan to check for any reaction, but Tristan was careful to keep his face carefully arranged.

“Yes …?”

“Not what the aged Ps wanted of course, but I’ve left my sister to persuade them of the good sense in accepting my decision.”

“Well, well, well – you’ve made a decision then. Are congratulations in order old man?”

“Yes, I suppose so. We’re not actually engaged – not yet anyway. Not till my sister persuades the parents, but we do have an understanding.”

“Forget all that stuff – do you love the girl Jonathan? For if you don’t, you mustn’t mess with her feelings!”

Jonathan went very quiet, so quiet that Tristan feared he’d struck a raw nerve.

“I do actually, most awfully in fact. To be honest, if they don’t agree, we’ll marry anyway. It’ll mean being disinherited and the title being conferred on some distant cousin, but … well, that’s the understanding we have. Pa was getting himself into a terrible stew convinced she was simply after the money.”

“It’s understandable … it does happen.”

“Yes, I realise that. But when I told her I’d been disinherited already, she just shrugged. I had a letter this morning saying she’s booked passage in June. She’s said she’d like to get to know Egypt, but she’s adamant she’ll not marry anywhere other than in London with all her family present so that’ll have to wait till my next leave. Here, let me read you a bit of her letter: Ma and Pa are really pleased about our news. Billy – he’s her younger brother – is too. He keeps saying “well, would you Adam & Eve it” and “Pinch Me” every few minutes. I think Pa’s getting tired of the broken record.”

Do you think she’ll be able handle the snobs at the Embassy Jonathan? The women can be especially unpleasant about anyone they consider to be not the right sort.”

“She’ll do fine. It’s a rather amusing tale actually. You’d not know she’s from London from her accent – you’ll see when you meet her. She sounds just like my sister actually, most probably as they went to the same school. The amusing bit is she benefited from one of the scholarships set up by none other than my aged Ps!”

“Would you Adam & Even it indeed! Cheers & congratulations to you old man!”

© Debra Carey, 2019

 


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#FF Prompt: Project Gutenberg’s Birthday

Once again, it’s time to celebrate the anniversary of Project Gutenberg being unleashed on the world on 1st December.

The aim of Project Gutenberg is to help people access books that they might not otherwise be able to get hold of.  This can get a bit tricky because of copyright issues, but in some ways it becomes easier, because there are some fantastic books that are now out of copyright which would get lost forever if it weren’t for PG.

For this month’s #FlashFiction prompt, head on over by clicking to Project Gutenberg, trying not to get distracted by the 50,000 or so books on the site!  Take a look at the Recent Books section and pick one that you like the look of – the title of the book is the title/prompt of your story.

Tell us you tale – any style any genre, just nothing NSFW.

 

Word limit: 500-750 words
Deadline : Friday 6th December @ 2pm GMT

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


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