Look at the moon … it’s so beautiful!

You’ve been sleeping fitfully for a while now, right on the edge, and far from rested. Something has kept nagging away at you, but you’ve no idea what it was until the phone wakes you up. Even as you reach for your phone in response to the alert, you realise what’s been bothering you is the persistent buzzing of your phone. You glance at it before answering the call and see that the number of notifications is off the chart.

“Garrett” you bark into the phone, shaking away the final vestiges of sleep. A voice you recognise but which doesn’t identify itself, says “Do not look at the moon!” Before you can question them, the line goes dead. You check the source of the alert and it is Them, so you know the message isn’t some random drunk playing a prank.

Fully awake now, you wonder what it’s all about. Your bedroom is still clothed in darkness – unsurprisingly as you’d invested in curtains with black-out linings to improve your sleep – and you can’t think clearly. You decide to go to the bathroom and whilst there, you take a look at those notifications – they all seem to be talking about it being a beautiful night and how gorgeous the moon is. There are so many notifications, you quickly realise that most of them are from total strangers. Then you notice one is opening an image and you quickly close your messages. “What the hell is going on?” you exlaim to yourself.

Deciding you need an injection of caffeine to work it out, you head for the kitchen. But as you reach your bedroom door, you stop, your palm still gripping the handle. Did you close the living room curtains before going to bed last night? If not, there’ll be a clear view of the night sky through your windows. Edging the door open a crack, you’re relieved to find not a chink of light coming through; it looks like you may well have closed the curtains. Still, you go back to your nightstand for a torch – just in case. You decide you’re not going to be turning on any lights and you’ll use the beam of your torch to navigate your way across the almost certainly cluttered living room floor. If you keep your eyes assiduously turned to the inside wall, you should be safe, even if there’s a chink in the curtains. The kitchen, once you get there, will be fine as it’s all interior walls. You’d not been keen on that aspect when you bought the flat, but it seems like a positive bonus now.

Going through the routine with your Moka pot, you think through what you know. The alert was brief, so they were probably having to make a shed-load of calls. As you’re more of a grunt than a heavyweight, they must be getting to the end of their call list soon. Hmm … with luck that would mean either a second call, or an opportunity to call in and get some answers. As the pot did it’s thing on the stovetop, you cautiously check the living room curtains through the kitchen doorway. Although not black-out lined, they appear to be thoroughly drawn, so you decide there’s no reason not to take your coffee into the living room, where you can switch on the laptop and see if They have sent anything out to support the alert.

They had. It wasn’t much though. What they knew was anyone who’d looked at the moon that night had gone loopy – not aggressive or zombie-like, more silly, out-of-control happy, like on some sixties drug trip. So far as they could tell, people who’d only looked at electronic images appeared unaffected, but probably still best to avoid if possible – TV news feeds in particular, so best to get news from the radio. Finally, the instructions were to stay indoors and to stay alert and available.

Finishing the first – much needed – cup of coffee, it was time to re-fill and start brewing the second one, and to take the opportunity to get dressed, re-check the grab bag and your weapons. Working on automatic pilot, you smoothly get those tasks completed, before taking a quick look at supplies – food, water, batteries, camping gear, fuel in and for the back-up generator. All that done, you toast some old bread and cook a couple of eggs and bacon for an early breakfast. Sitting down with your third cup of coffee, you check for messages again. This one’s more detailed. It seems to be just the US being targetted, although all operatives are being encouraged to reach out to any reliable international sources they have for confirmation. It seems completely unfathomable that the moon in their skies was having this impact, whilst the moon in other skies was not. Neighbouring countries were suffering the same issue – although patchily – places like Canada, Mexico and parts of the Carribbean. Whilst easy to come up with candidates who’d want to put the US in such a state, figuring out the “how” was proving to be a real headache.

The message closed with a list of personnel who were to report once the sun rose, although with reminders to avoid looking up into the sky – just in case – whilst those not on the list were to remain at home and indoors. Sighing to yourself, for you’re in the remain at home and indoors category, you ponder on one final odd touch – the message closed with a “Be careful out there”. You recognise it as a line from Hill Street Blues – a line which hasn’t been used since 9/11. Clearly They were not just rattled but genuinely worried.

You decide to take a nap. The fitful night wouldn’t help your level of concentration and readiness, so your best option is to get yourself into peak condition for when you are needed. One final check that the flat is secure, and you get your head down on the sofa, quickly switching off and falling asleep.

The next few days follow the same pattern. You sleep, eat, exercise – all indoors, all with the curtains tightly drawn. You get regular updates by message from Them. News filters in from overseas assets and there’s been the usual little spat with the Russians, but no-one seems any closer to knowing what the hell is happening. Scientists working long into the night came up with goggles which filtered out the harmful effects of the moon. Key workers get drafted in to manufacture the goggles in bulk. They arrange for the goggles to be distributed around all Their people – with a spare set in case of breakages. Eventually the technology is made available more widely, although it’s likely that someone, somewhere was making a financial killing – Them probably. But that’s how They operated, how They ensured they always had an unlimited operating budget.

Either way, you’re grateful the self-imposed purdah is over. Your goggles on, with the spare pair safely stowed in your backpack, you go out for the first run in weeks. Despite the strenous exercise programme, your legs feel stiff, and your relish the ability to stretch them fully. You reach your destination where Viktor is waiting. You wonder what he has for you as he catches your eye while holding up a cup of coffee. Just as you sit down, you realise his goggles are of a different design to your own. Had they been made before? And if so, how … and why? “You’ve lots of questions to answer Viktor …” you say as you take a sip of your coffee.

© Debra Carey, 2019

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#second thoughts: Seasonal Reading

Full disclosure: this is a #secondthought on a #secondthought I had back in 2016, only this time I’m coming at it from the viewpoint of a grandparent.

My granddaughter’s first Christmas was last year and, at 8 months, she had no real idea what was going on. It was a just a big family gathering where the gift which most diverted her was the remote control car Himself got for her and which the grown-ups were happily ‘driving’ around the room. Her little eyes followed it everywhere. But now, at 18 months old, she just loves books – which obviously gives great joy to this reading grandparent. After my initial over-enthusiasm when I purchased every single children’s book on my daughter’s amazon wish list, I’ve been better behaved. But now it’s Christmas … and let’s be honest, there are Christmas book traditions to be started.

My first stop had to be the Christmas book “The Night Before Christmas” by Clement C Moore …

I was drawn to a pop-up version in board book format, illustrated by Gina Bordicchia which I thought could be perfect for surviving enthusiastic young hands. I was disappointed, though, to discover that it’s an abbreviated version of the poem as, ideally, I’d wanted one copy of the book which would last throughout childhood. On the positive side – the illustrations are really rather lovely and the pop-ups look not just great but robust. As the book is relatively small, it would also work well for a small person’s hands. There are other board book versions, but I discounted them after reviewers commented about spelling errors (unforgivable) and glitter (no-one needs that stuff getting everywhere). I decided my best option was to buy this for one for the early years, and to buy another – more older-child-suitable version – in due course for keepsaking.

Then I came across an alternative version of the poem written by Kes Grey (illustrated by Claire Powell) which I think has may earn the right to go on my older-child-suitable version list alongside the traditional poem – and then realised this is exactly how I get into trouble over there being so many books …

Next, I checked to see if her favourite CeeBeebies characters – Sarah & Duck – have a Christmas book. Hurrah! They do, so Sarah & Duck and the Christmas Lights – also in board book format – leapt into my shopping basket. If you aren’t familiar with them (I wasn’t), all I can say is that they make my granddaughter smile.

Then, on a trip to my local National Trust property on a cold but gorgeous autumnal day, I wandered around snapping pics with my new (landscape-suitable) lens, before seeking sanctuary from the cold in the festively decorated shop. There were books … who am I kidding, of course there were. There, yet another in board book format was to be found leaping into my shopping basket – “A Christmas Wish: A Peter Rabbit Tale” – for after all, a person can’t go wrong with Beatrix Potter surely?

And there I felt I had to stop the actual shopping – for this year at least.

For next year, there are a number of books in consideration – Allan & Janet Ahlberg’s “Jolly Christmas Postman” for one. A number of people have recommended “Lucy & Tom’s Christmas” and “Alfie’s Christmas” by Shirley Hughes as nostalgic options. As someone who was more influenced by Christmas USA-style than by Victorian-style English, these don’t immediately tick my boxes, but an in-the-paper browse is probably required before making any final decision. I can see that seasonal book buying could become one of the many joys of being a grandparent.

© Debra Carey, 2018

 


In closing, we hope this festive season has provided you with some wonderful reading or some gorgeous writing materials (both for the luckiest of us) and that 2019 provides you with the time to make the most of them  😀

 

 

Designing Christmas

Every year she visited the West End to see the Christmas windows. It was a tradition that her mother had started when Isabel was 10 years old. They’d go during the day, battling the crowds, then stop to have a meal in a small bistro. But when it was dark and the shoppers had gone, they’d return, taking their time, drinking in the sights. On that one day each year, Isabel was allowed to stay up late and have a lie-in the next day.

Her mother always made Christmas special. They didn’t have a lot of money, but she was artistic and made wonderful decorations from bits and pieces, and other people’s cast offs. She absolutely loved that Isabel had made a career out of designing Christmas for one of the biggest retailers in the country.

The year Fortnum & Mason had windows inspired by Russian fairy tales was Isabel’s favourite – simply magical. She always took pictures and made notes as she travelled the world, not just at Christmas time, but to festivals throughout the year, building up her inspiration portfolio. In her job, money was no object – to a certain degree – but what she learned at her mother’s knee of “make do and mend” was years ahead of the current enthusiasm for recycling. She’d been trying to persuade her retailer to apply a less disposable attitude to Christmas, but it was falling on stony ground. She’d been thinking how she could start her own business and bring some of her mother’s ethos with her.

As a young girl, she remembered her mother saying “this year we’re going to have …” and it would be gingerbread men one year, boiled sweets wrapped in colourful cellophane the next – home-made snowmen, angels, santa, elves, or reindeer featured also. During the year, they’d unravel old jumpers to knit stockings and garlands, and they’d crochet mistletoe and holly clusters. There were trees in the park where they’d collect fallen pine cones, and the old string they’d collected throughout the year would be dyed into festive colours to tie up their gifts. The cards they received were kept in a box – some cut up to make gift tags, some to create a christmas collage, others for ideas and inspiration. They’d been the first in London to make popcorn strings like the Americans, and no old material was ever thrown out – it could be dyed, decorated or made into something new. Friends allowed them to cut holly and greenery from their gardens in return for some of their home-made decorations, so their home was always bursting with freshness and festivity. Plenty of plain white candles, bowls piled high with walnuts, oranges and rosy apples, with mulled fruit juice gently infusing the house with its seasonal smell. Her mother had a special collection of beautiful big glass baubles, and each year she and Isabel would spend ages deciding which one to add to it. Now that her mother was frail and old, that collection was spectacular and their tree was magnificent.

After her father died, Isabel had persuaded her mother to move in with her. She’d fought against the idea for a while, but when Isabel was able to buy a lovely mansion flat in the West End, her mother had given in gracefully. She loved to walk around the shops looking at the window dressing, still making notes and drawings in her sketchbook. When Isabel had met Mark, her mother had insisted on finding somewhere small for herself. But when Isabel lost Mark after just five years of happiness, her mother had agreed to return to her beloved West End.

This was the first year Isabel had walked round the West End windows without her mother. She wasn’t able to walk that far anymore, so she’d wait until late at night and their favourite black cab would take them for a leisurely drive. Jennifer was still too young, so Mrs Grey would stay with her, but she was already asking to join them. It seemed that Christmas was in safe hands for yet another generation.


© Debra Carey, 2018

#secondthoughts: Writing routines

Like many of us time-crunched part-time writers, I do too much or, more accurately, I aim to fit too much into the time available. I’ve been trying to develop a writing routine in the belief this will ensure my writing doesn’t lose out when priorities are having to be made. Previously I made time for writing only when the muse struck me, and that seemed to be anywhere from 10pm to midnight.

I’m not going to pretend. I’d convinced myself that the later evening hours was when my muse came out to play and that – cue drama queen and much flouncing – if I didn’t write then, I’d never be able to write. All of which didn’t help when I’d changed my normal owl-like pattern for the lark-like pattern demanded by Himself’s job. And whilst I said I was doing it willingly, there was that aforementioned bit of drama queening going on; I think I may’ve quite enjoyed playing the martyr.

The thing is, as a Life Coach, I know only too well that once things become a habit, it becomes easier to ensure they get done. Taking the words of Somerset Maugham contained in the image above in mind, I’ve continued to work at figuring out what set time of day I could have for my writing routine and decided on a get up early and write before work routine.

This hasn’t worked too well as, on those days when I failed to get up early and write (which were often as I’m not a natural lark), I became despondent. And when I get despondent, I get down on myself and I tend not to try to write, even when finding myself with an unexpected bit of free time. Instead, I faff about on the internet, or do some cleaning, or … well, pretty much anything else actually. I put this down to that famed writer’s procrastination. But – in truth – it isn’t that at all.

It’s taken time, but I realise the wisdom I really needed was to be found in what Steven Pressfield tells us in “The War of Art” after the Somerset Maugham quote about inspiration striking …

“Maugham reckoned another, deeper truth: that by performing the mundane physical act of sitting down and starting to work, he set in motion a mysterious but infallible sequence of events that would produce inspiration.
He knew if he built it, she would come.”

Now, I’ve applied the nail-self-to-chair methodology successfully in order to meet the monthly #FF deadline here. Also, when writing our combined April A-Z story, there were constant deadlines to be met, so I simply sat down and wrote whenever I could. And guess what – almost none of those times were between 10pm and midnight.

I’ve been allowing my rotten mindset to get the better of me. The simple act of nailing myself to the chair and telling myself it’s time to get on and write … well, it works. I’ve a job to do – all I have to do is turn up and get it done.  It’s taken a long time to catch up with other wise writers, but lesson finally learned.

Of course maintaining the right mindset is vital. Seeking out time to write every day is what matters; conversely not beating myself up if there genuinely isn’t time, will allow me to maintain a positive mindset for the next day, and the day after, and so on. I’m grabbing on to this writing mindset rather than trying to hammer out a routine, because I believe it already works for me. Now I just need to apply it.

Sit down and write – rinse, repeat!


© Debra Carey, 2018

#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, 1971).  OK, so we’re a day late in our birthday wishes …

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.

 

Word limit: 500-750 words
Deadline : Friday 7th December @ 2pm GMT

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


A reminder to new readers/writers, please post on your own site and add a link in the comments section below.  If you don’t have your own blog or similar outlet, do send us your story via the contact form on the About page and we’ll post for you, with an appropriate by-line.  

Two caveats if you want to go down this route: if you want to retain the copyright, then you will need to state this, and this is a family show, so we reserve the right not to post

Meeting the parents

Melanie was feeling pretty pleased with herself. She was a little nervous, sure, but mostly relieved that this day had finally come. She’d been going out with Josh a while and had introduced him to her parents and the rest of the family ages ago, so long ago that he now joined in their regular family dinners. He’d never said “no” or refused to introduce her to his, it was more that he changed the subject, or made excuses. Finally, she’d had to sit him down and explain it made her feel he wasn’t truly invested in their relationship. So here they were.

Josh’s parents lived in a very prosperous part of town, one Melanie had never been to before. The houses were seriously big, ridiculously so to her eyes. Luckily, unlike some of the more in your face examples they’d driven past, this one was old, established and traditional in style. Out front, there was a wide expanse of porch, stretching round in front of the house’s two wings; a porch so large you could seat every single member of her extended family on it, with room to spare. Initially Melanie assumed there were just two stories, till Josh pointed out the roof windows as where he and his brothers had their rooms. It was early evening and the weather was starting to turn chilly. Although it wasn’t dark yet, the nights were starting to draw in. Still, Melanie thought it odd the porch was almost ablaze with candlelight, but persuaded herself it was simply a lovely greeting.

As Josh unlocked the front door, he pressed the doorbell and called out “we’re here”. Pulling the door behind them, he took her hand, looked her straight in the eye and said “I’m sorry, I truly am.” Before Melanie could react, she was swept off her feet by the biggest man she’d ever seen in her life. Undeniably Josh’s father – for the family resemblance was unmistakable – he was nevertheless a decidedly imposing figure. Josh was a tall guy, yet barely came up to his father’s shoulder. What was more disconcerting was the almost manic grin on his face. Having hugged Melanie so tight she could barely breath, he was now pumping her hand up and down with a crazy intensity, whilst calling out over his shoulder “Mother, mother, come quick, Josh’s girl is here!”

Deciding it was simple over-enthusiasm at finally having the chance to meet her, Melanie’s eyes were drawn to the woman now entering the room. Tall and slender, with skin so pale it was almost transparent, her fair hair hanging straight virtually to floor length, there stood the most beautiful woman Melanie had ever seen. Her dress a pale icy blue – she and it appeared to float aross the room in an almost unworldly manner. Smiling with her mouth but not her eyes, she held out a cool hand  “You are most welcome to our home Melanie”. Having presented her cheek for Melanie to kiss, she turned to Josh with a smile that did reach her eyes and held open her arms “My boy, my own precious boy, it’s been too, too long.”

Later, sitting at the elaborate table, where the four of them were waited on by an equal number of staff, they were told that Josh’s brothers had been sent out for the night “so we can focus on getting to know Melanie”. These words were spoken in the same slightly manic manner Josh’s father had used in greeting Melanie. As the dinner went on, it was hard to decide what was more disturbing – the manic behaviour of Josh’s father, or his mother’s abrupt changes from chilly to adoring as the conversation switched between Melanie and Josh. Eventually she realised, it didn’t really matter, as what concerned her most was Josh. He was withdrawing further and further into himself.

Dinner finally over and one long, drawn-out departure later, Melanie took the car keys from Josh’s hands. Noticing how he’d been knocking the wine back during the meal, she’d barely touched her glass. Melanie’d tried to make light conversation, but Josh just stared out the window. Realising this was going to take a head-on assault, Melanie pulled to the side of the road and spoke sharply “Josh, turn around now and look at me. Now Josh, I mean it.” When eventually he’d complied with her instruction, Melanie’d taken his hands in hers and reached across to kiss him. “You were right. So very right. If I hadn’t already fallen madly in love with you, meeting your crazy Adams family parents would’ve scared me away. But luckily I have, so you’re stuck with me.” That’s when the old Josh had started smiling back at her. “It seems you’ve got the measure of my mad Mama.  She cannot bear being thought of as a pale imitation of Mortitia Adams, so she gets especially riled when my father insists on playing the Gomez role. He’s going to be in so much trouble now we’ve gone …”


© Debra Carey, 2018

#FF Photo Prompt

chicken in the snow

I couldn’t resist this cockerel striding through the snow and thought he’d make a fun prompt. Of course, you might be inspired to write something deeply sinister, that’s what’s so fun about this writing malarkey!

 

Word count: say 500-750 words
Deadline: 2pm GMT on Friday 9th November 2018

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.