#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?

 

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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


 

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.