#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.

 

 

 

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#Flashfiction: Fingerprints

The prompt:  Imagine one morning you woke up and your fingerprints weren’t your own anymore. Why not? What happens next?


Steve woke up slowly, one bit at a time.  Outside his window, a blackbird was singing its little heart out.  Normally Steve loved this achingly beautiful start to the day, but after the night just gone, it was his head that was aching, and not in a beautiful way.  Whilst his ears were most certainly awake, his eyes were categorically on strike and his brain was trying to pull a pillow over itself and was pretenfing not to be in.  He didn’t have the energy to actually pull the pillow over his head though.  A foot, the one sticking out from under the covers and decidedly chilly, twitched.

He was clearly not going to be able to get back to sleep, and given the bright sunlight streaming through the gap in the curtains, it was clearly later than he would normally get up.

With an exhalation that was part sigh and part grunt, he pulled his face away from the pillow: this was easier said than done because his sleep-drool was in the process of setting like superglue.  In the same motion he reached out, grabbed his phone and flicked it open.  Back in the day, he’d used to carry a zippo lighter, not beacuse he smoked, but beacause it had been useful to have one on him, and he’d learned the trick of opening the lighter and sparking it, so that it seemed to be alight as it opened: a neat little optical illusion that had impressed more than one girl.  Back in the day.  These days, he didn’t bother too much with the lighter, but he’d translated the skill to his phone, sort of.  The cover flicked open and his thumb sought the fingerprint scanner.  Nothing.  It was a good trick, but the scanner could be flakey.  He tried again.  Still nothing.  Another deep sigh and he unlocked the phone with the passcode instead.  There might be some follow up from the operation of the night before, thhe one that had required three fingers of bourbon before he crawled into bed at 3.37 am.  Nothing.  He could afford to take it slow. There’d be a de-briefing in the afternoon, no doubt.

He looked down at his fingertips and recalled the time when some joker had tried to remove them.  They didn’t look unsual.  They weren’t even clogged with adhesive as sometimes happened.

Shower.

Half dressed.

Coffee.

Toast.

Finish dressing.

Shoes…in need of polishing.

Curse.

Polish shoes.  Not a proper polish of course, but a quick wipe with a damp cloth and then the liquid stuff with a sponge on the end of the bottle that he kept for emergencies.

Check the phone again.  Curious, it’s still not opening to the thumb applied to the reader.

An hour later and Steve was parking in the underground garage.  Two minutes after that he is at the Security Checkpoint, and the first real misgivings start – the hand applied to the never-fails, impossible-for-it-to-go-wrong scannerhas tripped a red-warning light. The man on the desk invites him to have another go, and the same thing happens again. Not good.

“If you’ll step into the office, sir, we’ll try the retina scan.  A bit old fashioned, bit it does the job, sir.”  In speech, the man has the mannerisms of that funny old man from the old TV show about the Home Guard and Steve is almost surprised that he has not said “Don’t Panic”.  In looks, he somewhere between an old teacher of Steve’s, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  The mixture of too many large white teeth in an overly tanned face, balding with a fringe of startlingly jet-black hair has always seemed comic to Steve.  Until today.

A thin sheen of sweat formed on his brow.  He ran the fingers and palm of one hand together, and this too appeared to be slick with fear.   He bent forward and placed his eye to the proffered reader.  This too flashed a red warning.

“I’m sorry, sir” the Security man seems to be genuinely apologetic as he handcuffs Steve and presses the button for the guard to come and take him away.  “I’m sure it’s just a mistake sir, easily sorted.  Don’t panic!”

©David Jesson, 2019


 

Rowena had been having one of those mornings. Despite waking up before her alarm went off, somehow everything seemed to have gone wrong.

She was clutching her third mug of coffee, having spilt the first two. The first had gone all over her bed, forcing her to rip off the sheets to save spoiling her mattress. The second had gone all over the kitchen floor, but she’d only had time for a cursory mop up, so she didn’t slip and fall. To top it all, she’d have to drop into the cleaners on her way to work and shell out for their expensive same day service on her duvet – it was her only one and it was way too cold to go without.

An important part of Rowena’s morning routine was a leisurely hot shower and hair wash. But this morning, she’d dropped her soap and her shampoo innumerable times, forcing her to slow down even more, as she was afraid the bath surface had become extra slippery and she’d fall. The last time that happened, it had been spectacular. She’d managed to do a complete flip over and end up spreadeagled on the bathroom floor, missing – more by luck than judgement – both the toilet and the basin. Still, there’d been some very colourful bruising and more than one or two aching muscles for a week after.

Despite needing to get dressed while having breakfast so she’d make up some time, Rowena hadn’t dared do so in case she spilt that third mug. So she’d forced herself to sit down at the kitchen counter while eating her granola and yoghurt. Her coffee being still too hot to drink, she’d grabbed her phone out of her handbag, and promptly spilt the contents all over the floor.

Having managed to hold back tears, Rowena had shovelled the spilled items back into her bag. Unfortunately, her ID card slipped under the cupboard unoticed. Before she’d a chance to go through the contents carefully as she’d planned to do, she was distracted by the fact that her phone wasn’t opening in its usual manner. No matter how many times she’d pressed her thumb against the button, it wasn’t budging, and now it was demanding her passcode. That had caused the tears to flow. It was a new phone and she’d taken the risk to go without insurance. Had one of those mugs of coffee splashed it?

Tears done, Rowena’d stopped to take a few deep breaths in an attempt to calm down. Remembering her passcode, her relief when it worked almost caused the tears to return. Deciding against that third mug of coffee, Rowena’d focussed on dressing for work. Suited and booted, make-up carefully applied to hide the blotchy complextion from the morning’s tears, she’d stopped for a moment in the kitchen. Lucky she had – for that’s when she’d caught sight of her ID card.

Sadly for Rowena, there’d be more mornings like this one; so many it’d caused her to doubt her sanity. She’d see a doctor who, after running a battery of tests to no avail, suggested she see “someone”.  Nothing had helped, nothing that is, until the night she’d sat drinking in a bar. Drinking till she was so drunk, she’d fallen over and been arrested.

Then it had started to make sense. Well, to Rowena anyway, although everyone looked at her as if she were a specimen in a jar … for someone else’s fingerprints had been grafted over her own. They still didn’t know why, but now Rowena understood how come her fingers had felt like strangers.

And they’d promised to remove the strangers, so she could have her own back. Not yet, but someday soon.

© Debra Carey, 2019


You can find a characteristically macabre take on the prompt by Stuart Nager over at Tale Spinning…

 

 

 

Numbers IV and V

They’d never been able to explain it – your parents that is – why you have the roman numeral IV on the back of your hand. It seems they’d tried everything too, taking you to doctors, psychologists, even a psychic, before eventually realising it was something they’d need to accept if you were going to. They’d done a good job of implementing that decision too, for it’d never bothered you. Sure you’d been a little curious, but that was it.

Until the day you’d spotted him that is. OK, not so much him, but the roman numeral V on the back of his hand. You’d tried to engage with him, but there’d been a queue and both he and the people waiting in line were seriously unhappy; some even started yelling abuse, so you’d taken your coffee over to the corner, and sat there watching him work.

Now the morning rush was over and you were still there. Why hadn’t you rushed back to talk to him? Well, because what on earth were you going to say? “Cute tattoo!” “Is it a tattoo?” “Were you born with it?” Or the question you discover to your surprise is the one you really want to ask “Do you know what it means?”

Problem is, you’re not sure what you’d like the answer to your question to be. If he says “yes” do you want to know? I mean, what if it’s something awful – I dunno, like that’s the order in which the city make sacrifices should one ever be demanded. OK, that’s a tad extreme, but you know what I mean. And if he says “no”, what then? Perhaps he’ll be all “so what?” about it, and you’ll have to slink away feeling like a real dork … and he’s pretty cute, truth be told. But if he’s curious, do you want to join him in some big old quest to find out? I mean, yes, he’s cute ‘n all, but what if it turns out to be dangerous? There’s just too darn many questions – and you don’t have the answers.

In all honesty, you were beginning to wish you had some sort of magic wand and you could chose to go back to your days of ignorant bliss.


© Debra Carey, 2019

#FF Prompt: Enough

A drabble – how could I resist with such a prompt! It being April’s A-Z Challenge time, this seemed like a good time for something short & sweet. Any style, any genre, just nothing NSFW.

Word count: 100
Deadline: by 2pm (GMT) on Friday 12th April 2019

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


Post your story on your site and link to it here in the comments below, or drop us a line via the contact us page and we’ll post it for you.

#FlashFiction: It takes a village to raise a child

Michael was quite enjoying retirement, more so than he had expected.  He could remember some old buffer leaving the firm when he’d been the new boy.  In those days it had very much been a whip round of the team, a discrete card which everybody signed, attempting to say something interesting and unique, and of course failing.  Gold watch from Management, or something similar, everyone joshing the leaver about them escaping, all that time on their hands…and that slightly panicked look in the leaver’s eyes ass they tried to work out what they were going to do instead of the same thing that they’d done five out of seven days for the last 40 odd years.  These days, you had to go on a course about how to retire.  Progress…

Sitting in the session with a half-dozen or so others who were flying the nest, he’d tried to think about what he was going to do with himself with ‘all that spare time’.  He and Marion had been talking about this for donkeys years, but it had never seemed real before, and after all there were only so many sun-drenched holidays you could take in a year.  It didn’t seem real with Kerri and Ethan from HR trying to jolly them all along.  He’d found himself drifting into a slightly mischievous mood, and he and Derek, ‘from Accounts’, had been positively disruptive by the end, although they were both old hands at that game so no-one had even realised what was going on…

Kerri and Ethan needn’t have worried.  His days had taken on a certain work-like regularity, quite naturally.  Marion liked to be spontaneous, but luckily she had plenty of friends who liked spontaneity too.  He always made sure there was some flexibility in his schedule to accommodate ‘her indoors’ – from time to time.  Not everyday, obviously.  The regularity was comforting though, no denying that, but he was making an effort to work through all the things that he’d said he would do when he had the time.  Well, maybe not everything – he’d given up on the idea of going hang-gliding.  That was just asking for trouble.  He’d taken the garden in hand thought and turned the manicured-but-dull plot into something much less generic.  Messier, but more fun.  He’d really enjoyed setting up the watering system as well – a vast underground rainwater tank and solar-powered pumps to move it around to various water-butt when required.  There was also a labyrinthine network of drip-feeders and porous hoses to target the water where it was needed.  Marion was on an environmental blitz, trying to cut-out microplastics and such like, and if she was disheartened by the prolonged absences in the garden, she was delighted with the continuous supply of fresh, seasonal fruit and veg.

He was also catching up on his reading.  He’d heard this story of two little old ladies who’d gone into a bookshop and asked for – he could never remember how many exactly – a number of books.  They wanted some recommendations for some books that they really should read: they’d worked out how long they probably had left, how fast they read, done the maths and…well, they didn’t want to waste time reading rubbish.  Michael had made a similar calculation.  Who knew at what point he might start loosing his marbles? Or his sight might deteriorate? Or…? So, he had a bucket list of books that he was determined to read, and now that he had the spare time he spent at least an hour a day reading.

And there were all sorts of other things – his old farts group, the bridge club, online Scrabble that had started as a way of keeping in contact with his best friend, who’d emigrated to Australia, to be closer to his children, and had grown into a network of people that he only knew online.  And of course there were the Grandchildren, Archie and Amelia.  He’d known that Marion helped their daughter Judith out quite a lot with the twins, but he’d been surprised at how much he’d been inveigled into this world – and more surprised at how much he enjoyed it.

He could remember when the twins were born, and indeed, when Judith came into his life.  When Judith was born, it was still quite a new thing for men to be in the delivery suite – he’s half expects, half hoped that he would be told to wait outside.  Roll on to Judith becoming a mother, and she’d been adamant that she was going to have a water-birth, at home.  That dream had fizzled out when she’d found out she was having twins: it wasn’t verboten, exactly, but the midwife had been very clear in expressing her concerns and there was the implication that Judith would be negligent somehow, if she continued with her plans, and so she and her wife Harriet had done the hospital dash just like everyone else.

Judith had her way when it came to child-care though.  A full year of maternity leave, and then a part-time return.  She’d been adamant that she didn’t want the twins in a nursery, so she’d done some deals with other mum’s, new friends met through clubs and activities post-birth and two days a week were covered by a nanny-share.   The rest, another half a day a week, were a mix of Harriet taking leave, when she could, Marion, Harriet’s parents, and even once or twice Phyllida, Marion’s best friend.

Later, things had become a little easier when the children had started pre-school and eventually school.  He’d done the occasional drop-off, before he’d been officially retired, and there had been odd days here and there where he and Marion had taken them off to play grounds and the kind of National Trust places that were better suited to children.  There was the carnage of birthday parties and village fayres.  One of his favourite things, when they’d been old enough, was to take them to car-boot sales: £3 each and the challenge of finding the most interesting thing possible, or the most of something or – well the game could be tweaked all sorts of ways.

He’d done a good morning’s work in the garden.  He put his tools away in the shed and stumped up the garden path to the back door.  Boots off, and popped onto the welly stand that he’d made, he washed up and made coffee – instant, because Marion was out.  He settled down in his big armchair with his book and ploughed through “The Confession of Father Brown”.  As he’d suspected, it was nothing like the series on the telly.  He made himself a sandwich and thought about what he should make for dinner.  As he looked out at the garden, an idea that had been vaguely forming at the back of his mind coalesced.  That bit of the garden just there would be perfect for the children to take charge of…he was picking them up from school in a couple of hours, he could suggest it to them then.

After the debacle when he’d unwarily ended up in sole charge of the children just after he’d retired, he’d been a lot more cautious about looking after the children.  But he’d gained confidence, and he’d found having a plan always helped.  He’d also gotten used to the fact that it didn’t do to show your grown up how much you loved them in front of everyone else, nor for adults to be too demonstrative either.  As usual, he’d been given book bags and coats and drinks bottles to carry.  As usual, snacks had been demanded.  As usual, there had been a request to go to the park.  This was all pretty standard, almost reflexive, and he’d learned to let these things pass to some extent before responding.  Today Amelia was talking to a friend about how Grandad was going to take her to watch the cricket.  He hadn’t realised that Amelia had been listening to that conversation, and he hadn’t realised that she’d be interested.  What had come as even more of a shock was that Amelia’s friend had said she’d like to come too.

He’d rolled with it, and the friend’s mum had said it sounded lovely – he wasn’t sure how sincere that had been – but he resolved to take them all to a match as soon as possible, strike while the iron was hot.  Probably a Twenty20 match rather than a test…  If he played his cards right, this might become a regular thing.  Brownie points for something he wanted to do anyway…win win.

Later, after Judith had picked up the children, tsking over how grubby they were from working “their patch”, he thought about that old phrase that it takes a village to raise a child.  So true, so many people involved.  Sometimes though, a village could be one person fulfilling different roles, being different things to different people at different times.

© David Jesson, 2019

#FF Prompt: It takes a village to raise a child

Musing on the old saw that it takes a village to raise a child, it seemed like it might be quite a good prompt.  All sorts of ways you could take this…

No genre, no limitations other than it must not be NSFW.
Let the muse take you where you will …

Word count: Whatever you can get written in the time limit! 1-2k seems like a good idea, but if you can tell your story in 500, go for it.  5k feels like the top end though.

Deadline: 2pm GMT on Friday 8th February 2019.

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


As always, please post a link to your blog in the comments below, or send your story to us via the contact us page and we’ll post it for you.

Job Hunting

How could it be Fall again? Summer had seen my bank balance plummet, to the point that I was starting to tip into the red – a double whammy of too much fun and too few clients. I looked at the dog-eared copies of my favourite ‘tec novels slanted against each other on the shelf. What would Philip Marlow do? Sam Spade? Nick Charles? They’d shake things. They’d damn well find a client. I found a pencil and paper and started to write a list.

© David Jesson, 2018

________________

A little bit of Flash Fiction, which I submitted to one of Janet Reid’s competitions.  There are a number of rules, but the key ones are:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:

fall
plummet
tip
slant
list
3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The letters for the
prompt must appear in consecutive order. They cannot be backwards.
Thus: fall/fallacious is ok but fall/faille is not