#FF: Colony

“As per the agreement, our colony will be mining beryllium only. Any secondary products will be turned over to your people – with a small fee for the processing of course.”

Beryllium’s quite rare, in the Universe as a whole.   In some ways it turns out that Earth-like planets are probably less rare than beryllium.  This one was pretty typical.  When the terraformers were finished, it would almost be a carbon copy, except that the continents would look funny compared to home.  We could afford to lose the 400,000 tonnes of beryllium that the X’ would mine.  It was an excellent deal.  The X’ were past masters of extracting minerals.  They could probably extract the beryllium without digging anything else up if they really wanted to, and it was only the beryllium they really wanted.

Nobody really knew what they did with all the beryllium they collected – ate it for all we knew about them.  There were some who said we shouldn’t let them have it, particularly if they were that desperate for it; others said we didn’t need it, so why shouldn’t we capitalise on the fact that someone else wanted something that would potentially be a bit of pain for us to sort out.   Berullium used to get used for all sorts of things, mainly as an alloying addition, or in on of its mineral forms such as the semi-precious beryl.  It got used in missiles, super-duper special air-frames, X-ray equipment and all sorts of other things but, with the exception of beryl, we’d found better ways than using an element that was a pig to extract and a pain in the…in the…neck to process, let alone recycle at end-of-life.   No, we were better off without it.

Without a doubt, the X’ would make back the fees that they paid for the right to set up this mining colony.  We’d probably get offered more than we really wanted in purified elements, but the X’ seemed to produce everything at six-9s purity and whatever they produced, we’d end up using or we could sell it at a premium on the galactic market.  For example, another element that isn’t used very much anymore – by humans at least – is gold.  24 karat gold was a touchstone for a long time, but even this was only three-9s pure.  To go from 99.9% to 99.9999% pure takes so much effort that nobody bothers very much.  But the X’ can turn out that without blinking.  So, they’ll charge a “processing fee” and we’ll get the materials that are going to help us turn this world into a home.

And that’s where I come in.  The X’ are pretty tame as far as aliens go: they’re basically humanoid, sensory appendages aren’t too wacky, no tractomorphic limbs, but the semi-prehensile ears are slightly disconcerting.  It would be a mistake to assume that they are human though; it would be a mistake to ascribe human priorities to their thought processes.  I like to think that we’d have included this in the contract anyway, but they always insist that we provide a team of inspectors.  What they don’t specify, but which we learned to be a priority after the first time, was that you need to have a few X’ specialist xenologists on the team.   They really don’t think the way that we do – or perhaps that should be the other way around: we don’t think like them.

There were a couple of points during my university years when I wondered if I’d made the right choices, whether I’d studied myself into a dead-end.  The X’ were something of curiosity.  On the face of it, we had lots in common, but they never seemed to want to talk to us.  Then we started to colonise planets which were rich in beryllium, as rich as any planets could be, and that’s when real first contact, or perhaps I should say first negotiations began.

Which is why I find myself here today.  If you were to ascribe a human drive to today’s visit, you’d say that they wanted to show off, that’s the only possible explanation for this demonstration of their engineering prowess, their elegant architecture, their overall better-than-human colony, right?  And this is why I’m here.  There’s a small group of us who can at least make an attempt at talking to the X’, trying to meet them half-way.  We don’t really understand them, and they don’t really understand us.  Let’s say it’s a religious function – it isn’t, they don’t have religions in the same way that we do, but it’s a useful shorthand – it’s not something that they’re doing because they want to, it’s something they have to do.

I’d done this enough times that I’d got the measure of it, without becoming blasé.  One of the things that the older generations of diplomats had impressed on us newbies in the Xenoc department was that it didn’t take much for things to go south fast.  There were frequent reminders of the events on Ross 128c – events that are still classified, so don’t ask me for the gruesome details.

Today was not to be a day when things went wrong, and to be honest we’ve yet to see something that knocks the X’ out of their urbane rut.  The Engineers did their thing, the scientists did theirs, and the Security people made a show of ensuring that the only thing the X’ really were taking was the beryllium that they’d done the deal for.

My turn: show time.

I’ve said that the X’ are similar to humans: this extends beyond physiognomy.  They share a – not belief exactly…acknowledgment?: they think in terms of the ancient elements of air, wind, fire and earth and so there is only one way to end this review:

“Is coffee not the summit of perfection?  Is the drinking of coffee not to be at peace with the Universe?”

“There’s probably some truth in that!” I grinned, ruefully.

© David Jesson, 2018


 

“Oh Muuuuum … that’s gross!”
“Someone’s got to deal with our waste product Michael and, because it’s such a nasty job, the pay is good, really good.”
“But still Mum … groooossss!”
“Sweetheart, I think it’s time we had the chat”
“Huh?”
“The one about your father …”
“How did we get from you shovelling poo at work to my father?
“Frankly, it’s not that big a leap …

curly cue

“Jan, thank you for talking to us at such short notice.”
“Not at all Principal. You know Michael’s schooling has always been of the highest importance to me.”
“Yes, that’s why we decided to speak to you straightaway, rather than leave this small concern festering.”

Jan groaned inwardly. She’d heard this nonsense so many times before, and she knew only too well what it meant. The underlying message was always present in her interactions with authority here on The Colony.

“Thank you Principal, I appreciate that. Has something happened? When last we spoke, you appeared to be satisfied with Michael’s focus and achievement levels.”
“Indeed we were Jan, but in the last few days … well, it’s like he’s had a complete personality switch.”
“Oh? He’s seemed the same at home.”
“He’s been disruptive in class, not handed in his home assignments, even though the work is already complete in his workbooks. When questioned about it, he said he felt there was no point to it any more.”
“Are you suggesting Michael’s suicidal?”
“No, no, not that Jan. I’m sorry to have startled you. The impression I’m getting from reports of his interaction with staff and pupils is that – for some reason – he believes his future is to become a deadbeat, so why should be bother to put in the work now.”

This time Jan’s groans were all too audible. She covered her face with her hands, fighting back the tears.

“Jan, please let us help you. I know your interactions with authority must’ve been challenging. But here at Colony High, we genuinely do admire you. Your work ethic, your high standards, your impeccable morals … honestly Jan, there isn’t a better parent. And the fact that you’ve done it alone, without support from a partner, from parents, from the authorities, makes us all the more admiring of what you’ve achieved. Please Jan, let us – let me – help you?”

When Jan raised her eyes back to the screen, the other members of Colony High’s governing body had been removed from the conversation. Only the Principal’s face remained on screen. In all honesty, he did look truly concerned … and unexpectedly kind.

“I told him the truth about his father.”
“Ah, I see. That can’t have been easy for you.”
“It wasn’t. But it sounds like I let my personal feelings show through which wasn’t my intention.”

A sound like a cross between a sob and a sigh escaped from Jan.

“Michael previously believed his father had died on the journey?”
“Yes. It seemed like the best way not to pass on the stigma until it was unavoidable.” “That decision’s served him well. He’s fully integrated with his peers and whilst not the model pupil, has long been well-regarded by staff and is even on track for the mentor programme.”

This time, there was no mistaking the sob.

“I shouldn’t have said anything. Why oh why did I let my annoyance and ego get the better of me?”
“There’s no need to be so hard on yourself Jan.”
“Yes Principal, I’m afraid there is. All this year, ever since he found out what I do for a living, he’s gone on and on about it. Calling it gross, ragging me, even making me feel guilty that it might reflect on him. Finally, I just snapped.”
“I suppose there’s no option for you to change jobs?”
“No Principal, there isn’t. In order to live here and to keep Michael at Colony High, I need to earn sufficient credits. Dealing with waste disposal is the only job which pays enough so I earn the same as other two-adult families. If Michael’s father had genuinely died on the journey, the Colony would be providing me with a pension to make up the difference. But as he choose to skip out on me – they don’t. They put me under a lot of pressure to return when they first found out. Truth be told, they’re still trying to persuade me to go – just now they use more subtle means. But you know all this. You’ve always judged Michael and me by a different standard to ‘normal’ families. You pick up on tiny transgressions immediately, stuff other ‘normal families’ get away with. I’m not blaming you mind, I’m sure it’s Colony policy as I experience it everywhere.”

Jan raised her eyes back to the screen. The Principal looked pensive.

“I’ve said too much haven’t I? I’d better start packing; the eviction order won’t be long in coming.”
“Jan, whatever makes you think that?”
“I’ve criticised the Colony. We both know dissenters aren’t welcome. Especially ones who don’t fit the ‘normal’ profile. The fact that it was him who deserted me and that I did nothing wrong doesn’t seem to matter – never has. I still get treated like dirt. Only good enough to handle the Colony’s waste matter. Know what? I chose to come here for a new life, but it seems our prejudices came with us.”
“Jan, this conversation has been private for some time now. There is no reason for its substance to be placed on the record, and I will not be doing so. Let me talk to Michael. I can help him to understand. I’ll tell him about being on track for the mentor programme and I’ll offer to be his personal mentor to keep him there. Colony High values both you and Michael. The Colony needs more people like you, regardless of what a few small-minded individuals in authority think.”
“Yes, but …”
“There’s a change happening Jan. Slowly but surely, good fair-minded people are achieving positions of authority. Thinking is changing, policy will follow. Will you let me help you?”

This time, when Jan looked up at the Principal on screen, she smiled through her tears.

“I will Principal. I will.”


© Debra Carey, 2018

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#FF Prompt: Colony

Write about a colony on another planet or in space. Bonus points for building in the theme of the classical elements (earth, wind, fire, water) and/or for approaching it from the perspective of an alien species.

500-1,000 words
Deadline: 2pm on Friday 10th August 2018


 

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 anything that strays into NSFW or offends against ‘common decency’.

 

#FF Photo Prompt

100 year old yew tree

Methinks it must be time for another photo prompt – so here you go.
I’m already wondering what type of tales this photo might inspire.

Word Count: anything up to 1,000
Deadline: 2pm GMT on Friday 6th July 2018

 


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 anything that strays into NSFW or offends against ‘common decency’.

 

#FF Prompt: Leaking Glue

“How are you? I’m OK, but I’m leaking glue.”

“You look a bit shattered!  How are you?”

“I’m OK but I’m leaking glue. It’s OK though, it’ll harden off soon and then I can sandpaper it down and retouch the paint and nobody will ever know.

It’s all Pinocchio’s fault, of course.  It usually is.  Don’t be taken in by that oh-so saccharine Disney cartoon.  Pinocchio is not a simple innocent going about in a complex and wicked world.  He is a consummate liar, cheat and fraud.  He manages to kill his only friend, the so-called ‘voice of his conscience’ but happens to put the Blue Fairy under an obligation (just don’t ask, ok?) so all is forgiven and he gets to be human. Call that fair?

Sorry, I didn’t mean to shout.  It’s just that sometimes the emotions just get out of control. Why? Of course, you wouldn’t know.  Pinocchio is my little brother!

Why be surprised?  You don’t think Gepetto managed to carve him without some practice first, do you?  When the old woodcutter handed over the talking log to Gepetto the first thing he did was to cut it in half (despite the screams I might say) and then he tried out his technique on me. But I wasn’t good enough, oh no!  All I was good for was to cast to one side whilst he got on with Pinocchio.  And there I’d be to this day, turned to firewood probably, until the aspiring theatrical passed by, took one look and made me his partner.  I was turned into a ventriloquist’s dummy!

Of course he wasn’t actually a very good ventriloquist, but because I could talk everybody thought it was him!  And so from street performances we got bookings at flea-pit theatres, and then as we became better known, so the venues improved until we were high on the bill in the very best.

Which is when it started to go wrong. Corky, the human part of the act, started getting erratic – he actually wanted to marry his childhood sweetheart, but of course I couldn’t have that.  I started, very gently, to control him like he was controlling me, but he reacted badly and it all fell apart. I might have been able to salvage the situation but my little brother turned up one performance, and I could see that added to his other ignoble characteristics he was insanely jealous of the success I’d made of my – well let’s say career since I didn’t have a ‘life’.

Jealous younger sibling; partner halfway to madness; convenient axe – well you do the maths!  It’s taken me nearly a month to put myself together, and that would have been impossible if Pinocchio hadn’t decided to take me home to Gepetto’s workshop, where, of course, there was a hand pot of glue perpetually on the fire next to the wood-box where I had been cast.  But this is the last!  When this glue sets I shall be whole again and my dear little brother will be – vulnerable.

After all, how could a wooden puppet kill a human?”


Copyright © 2018 Alan F. Jesson
[For ‘Corky’ see Internet Movie Database – film
Magic]


Stuck

The night of the dreaded party had – inevitably – come round and Steven was struggling to tie his bow tie. Not for the first time he wondered why on earth he hadn’t found the time to buy a ready tied one. After all, it’d been five years since Amanda … well, since anyone had been here to tie it for him.

Many expletives later, the tie was tied in some approximation of a bow and he was now frantically applying what he understood to be referred to as ‘product’ onto his wayward hair. It had been a source of much amusement to Amanda when no-one, not even her much vaunted London hairdresser had been unable to handle the odd bits which insisted on flicking up in a curl in the most random of locations all over his head. That same hairdresser had insisted ‘product’ was the only possible solution. He’d initially agreed to us it just to please her, he hadn’t minded the wayward curls himself, but since … well, he’d accepted the validity of her argument that he didn’t have to look at his wild hair, whereas other people got no choice in the matter. Also, it was only on those rare occasions when he left the flat on social occasions that he had to bother – the clean environment of the lab meant it was a no-no during the working weekday.

His phone buzzed, announcing the prompt arrival of his Uber cab, so a final washing of hands to remove all that damn ‘product’ allowed Steven to pat his pockets to check for wallet and reading glasses, before heading to his big sister’s big birthday big bash. For the first hour it was pretty much as Steven had feared. He’d been greeted with the warmest of hugs by his sister Susan, before she was dragged off to old friends long not seen. Her husband had made the time for a friendly chat, before he too was dragged off in the same direction.

Susan’s world was very different to his. Her friends were loud, confident and well suited to the world of advertising, marketing and PR. Those he’d met before would always make the time for him, but he never felt entirely relaxed in their company and would excuse himself before long on some vague pretext. And so it was again, he’d been to the gents where he’d attempted – without much success – to tame a stray curl that had escaped the evening’s application of ‘product’. He’d realised such a trip might be necessary when Susan’s boss had been unable to pull her eyes away from the top of his head during their conversation. As Geraldine usually liked to maintain eye contact in the most disconcerting manner, it was a relief to have a reason to excuse himself.

On his way back to the ballroom, he spotted a small group on the balcony – smokers he realised – and wished fleetingly that he smoked, if simply for the relaxed companionship he observed they all seemed to share, even when all were previously strangers.

That was when he bumped into her – quite literally – although what she was doing here was a mystery to him. Surely Susan hadn’t invited her, not after what had happened. Susan was the only person Steven had spoken to about Amanda, the only person he’d told what had really happened, how he truly felt. To everyone else he’d simply said “it’s over” and firmly changed the subject. But there she was and, having bumped into her, he had no choice but to be civil.

“Erm, how are you Amanda?”
“I’m OK, but I’m leaking glue.”

And with that ridiculous statement, he was back. Right back in her thrall once more. As she backed carefully through the door to the ladies, she pleaded with him not to go anywhere whilst promising that she’d be right back. Waiting in the passageway, the memories flooded back. As he’d told Susan, Amanda had been the one to break the mould. Before her, Steven had dated exactly who’d you’d expect. Nice women, with girl-next-door looks, clever enough but with no serious ambitions career-wise. And they’d bored him. None had lasted much longer than a year, but each had made it to that point before manoevouring him to commit, at which point he’d had to admit to both himself and them, the lack of desire to take things further.

Just before he met Amanda, Susan had been quite sharp with him, pointing out that he was being unfair, unkind even, in allowing these ‘gels’ as she called them, to have expectations, when he knew the relationships would go nowhere. She’d even suggested he ‘see someone’ if he needed help to sort out what he really wanted. And that had stung him. A night or two later, when he’d drunk rather too much scotch and gone through the emotions from anger to self-pity, he realised she’d been right. He also came to the startling realisation that the reason he dated the same sort of woman was he never met anyone different in his normal circle. So he’d signed up to a dating site.

After the site algorithms had matched him with clones of his previous relationships, he decided to take a leap into the unknown and contacted a handful of women with whom he barely matched at all. All but one had completely ignored him. That one had been Amanda.

Steven always felt totally out of his comfort zone with her, but in the best of ways. Their first date had been a total disaster on paper. He’d knocked over the bottle of wine – red naturally – into her lap and she’d insisted he bought a bottle of white wine to pour over her dress so that it wouldn’t stain. Thinking she was joking, he’d laughted, only for her to frog march him up to the bar, after which she’d solemnly poured the white wine over the red. She swore it’d worked, but he’d noticed the dress in a dry cleaners bag the first night he’d stayed over. For it had been that kind of relationship. No rules followed. Amanda had laughed at him when he’d looked shocked, before checking that he wasn’t going to be a hypocrite and judge her for it. He wasn’t and he hadn’t. The next two years had been the happiest and most fulfilling of his life.

Then one day, quite out of the blue, he came home to find her packing her bags. There had been tears – a lot of them – and on both sides, before he’d helped carry her things to the kerb. A phone call later and a man in a van had pulled up, hugged her close, then taken her and her things away. That was the last he’d seen of her. The odd person had tried to talk to him, saying they’d seen her, spoken to her, even in a couple of cases had messages for him from her. But he’d cut them all off firmly. He didn’t want to know why she’d chosen to leave him for someone else, it was enough to know that she had.

Until today that is. Today, he wanted to know why – very badly. So he waited.

Eventually she emerged – still sticky.

“I’ve a room here. Do you think we could go there so I can get out of this dress? Please Steven, don’t look at me like that. It seems my son thought it would be a grand joke to put a tube of glue in my pocket, and it’s everywhere. I just need to change so I can talk to you. I owe you an explanation.”
“That you do Amanda, but I’d rather wait in the lobby for you to change.”
“I’ll be as quick as I can Steven, please don’t give up on me. This stuff is … well, sticky and it might take a bit of getting off.”

Steven had decided to give her an hour and just as he was about to give up, she’d appeared, her hair still wet from the shower. After the waiter had delivered two cups of coffee, Steven looked Amanda in the eye.

“So. This explanation. Will it involve telling me about your son?”
“Marcus is only two and a half. I agreed to have him as Tim was dying.”
“Tim …?”
“… was my first love. We broke up before I met you. I’d known him since childhood. We’d grown up together, been friends in school, started dating when we were teenagers, applied to the same universities to be together. But when we started working, the cracks started to show. Tim was a homebody, not ambitious, and me … well, you know neither of those characteristics suits me.”
“That doesn’t explain why you didn’t tell me …. nor why you decided to go.”
“No. It doesn’t, does it. The thing is I’d known Tim was ill from the first. From before we started dating. His Mum – who was more a mother to me than my own – she told me. She made me promise that if we did get together, we’d stay together until he died. And I broke my promise to her when we split. Tim tracked me down because she was dying too. It was her dying wish and … well, I knew I couldn’t deny her, even though I’d denied him. And how could I tell you that no matter how much I loved you, I was going to marry someone else, to have his child?”

Steven had given a sort of shrug – the only response he could come up with.

“One final question – what are you doing here?”
“I contacted Susan a couple of months ago.”
“She invited you?”
“No, she saw me off – several times. She’s still very angry – but I kept coming back until she agreed to hear me. She loves you Steven and she’s always been loyal to you, but when she took a phone call about the arrangements for this party, I decided to take a chance and gatecrash. If we didn’t bump into each other, I told myself I’d accept that fate didn’t mean us to be together. Do you still hate me? Can you ever forgive me?”

Staring into his empty coffee cup, Steven took a deep breath, allowing his racing thoughts to still and his feeling to become crystalise.

“I never hated you Amanda, I just never got past you. I think it’s rather apt that your son chose glue for his prank, because I’ve been stuck in the same place ever since you left. As for forgiveness, I don’t know … but I can better understand what you did. I am glad we had this chance to talk though. I don’t feel stuck any more, and I’m truly grateful for that.”

And with that Steven signalled the waiter to settle his bill, before rising to leave …

“Goodbye Amanda – I wish all the best to you and your son.”


© Debra Carey, 2018

#FlashFiction prompt: “How are you? I’m OK, but I’m leaking glue.”

We promise, this was genuinely said to one of us … and how could we not use it as a prompt? So, go on, we’re giving no more away than that!

Word count: up to 1,500
Deadline: 2pm GMT on Friday 8th June 2018

A reminder of our #TortoiseFlashFiction page if you just love this one but miss the deadline.

 


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 anything that strays into NSFW or offends against ‘common decency’.

 

#FlashFiction: Project Gutenberg Prompt

A quick reminder that the prompt was to go to Project Gutenberg, have a look at the recent releases and pick a title that appeals: that is the prompt, and the title of your story…

*****

The Owl Taxi

Jonno’s Show had been a huge success.  Every piece had sold, to the satisfaction of Headmaster, Bursar, and Art Master.  Whilst the extravagant prices normally seen in the gallery had not been applied to the fifteen-year old’s portfolio, the patrons at the exclusive event had dug deep in a good cause.  There was even talk of a new scholarship being created, based on artistic merit.

For Jonno though, the celebration had been tempered: everyone had agreed that he should take an Art GCSE early.  The stress of the show done with, he now needed to finish his coursework.  This needed some thought: there was much to consider.  Not only did he need to produce the pieces, he needed to demonstrate his thought processes throughout.  The examiners would not care why he chose a particular subject, but they would scrutinise his every step on the journey, from the materials he chose, to the refinements made to bring the piece to a successful conclusion.  He also had some vague notions that he would look to take a subsequent A-level early too; a further show, in due course, but not too soon, did not appear to be impossible either.  This might even contribute to the costs of university, perhaps.

But all of this was still very much in the future – first he need to get the portfolio for his GCSE sorted.  To seek inspiration, during the half-term break, he wandered into his father’s study. His father was a big fan of detective and mystery stories, which he collected.  His collection started with the early exemplars – Murder on the Rue Morgue, The Notting Hill Mystery, The Moonstone – and continued with examples from every decade thereafter.   There were a few other small collections, but his attention today was on the coffee-table books of art and artists that were neatly lined up on one bottom shelf.  He started rooting through them. He’d looked through these books hundreds of times: they were old friends, his first friends.  He’d been looking at these books since he was a toddler, and their benign influence had shaped him to this point, although he didn’t realise it.

As he flicked through a book on Dalí, it occurred to him that he’d never tried to do anything in the Surrealist style.  In fact, there was a lot that he’d never tried, which was rather humbling.  Turning the glossy, outsize pages, a plan unfolded in his mind.  Without really thinking about it or acknowledging it, he knew how he would shape and present the journal.  But he still needed a subject for the piece.  He picked up the book on surrealism and sat in his father’s chair – a high-backed, wheeled affair – and gently twisted back and forth, musing.  As he spun the chair, the book on his lap, he took in several of the shelves of detective books and one caught his eye: the Owl Taxi.  He reached for some paper and started sketching and making notes: tentative sketches of a taxi in flight, with the features of an owl, reminders of what paints to use, brushes and strokes.  He trialled iconic taxis: yellow cabs from New York, black cabs from London, brightly coloured tuk-tuks from Delhi.  He considered whether it should be a horse drawn Hackney carriage of yore.  He tried to decide whether the kind of owl would make a difference and essayed the classic heart-shaped face of the Barn Owl, and a more general owl shaped based on a Snowy Owl.  A picture of a thousand brush-strokes begins with a simple sketch: he was on his way.

© David Jesson, 2018

*****

We had two other people play along this month, both of whom got their stories in well ahead of the deadline.

Stu’s Story is called “A Dominie Dismissed” and Isa-Lee’s is “A Chronical of Jails“.

Three Takes on a #FF Photo Prompt

Pismo Beach at Sunset

Jonno slowly made his way through the gallery, checking that everything was in order. Part of his hindbrain was telling him that he should be in a daze, but whilst he was conscious of the event that was now only – he checked his watch for the three hundredth time that day – 90 minutes away, he pushed it away as much as possible and gave his attention to the scene before him. Attention to detail was one of the things that had made all this possible, and brought all of this to bear: every picture in the gallery hung straight and every piece of objet d’art was displayed to best advantage in the lighting available. Even the dressing was perfect, designed to emphasis a particular piece, or to show the link between one piece and another. Jonno had coined the term ‘anti-focus’ for a piece of dressing that was the opposite of the focus: it drew the observer in whilst being itself completely unobtrusive.

At 15, Jonno was acutely aware of this being a BIG DEAL. It had all started with an Auction of Promises. His father had managed to acquire three lots, one each for Tophe, Jonno and Tom: each was perfect for the boy it was given to. Jonno’s had been a week of lessons with a professional photographer and artist. He’d been impressed with Jonno’s work and had very kindly included some of Jonno’s pictures in an exhibition that he’d mounted. Jonno and his family had received VIP tickets for the event, and on the evening there had been a number of conversations between Jonno’s parents, the artist, and the gallery owner. All of which led to today: the gallery owner had been persuaded to run a charity event for Jonno’s school, with work by Jonno on display to anyone who had received an invitation. Jonno was trying hard not to think about this, since he knew who at least some of the invitations had gone to: the gallery owner was well connected.

The collection was astounding: not only had Jonno taken every photo, painted every picture, cast, carved, welded and worked his way through myriad techniques, but he had framed and mounted every piece himself, having made even these from scratch. He selected every material himself and went to great pains to match the material, style and finish to the piece. He stopped for a moment in front of one of his favorites.

Last summer, the whole family had gone to California, where his mother had been temporally based for work. They’d all had a marvelous time. Comparatively little time had been spent in San Francisco or Los Angeles, but rather they had taken in the parks and the National Forests at Shasta-Trinity and Los Padres. Death Valley had been on the itinerary too. But it had been Pismo Beach which had been the highlight of the trip for him. He’d not been able to take all the kit that he wanted, but his lessons had paid off and he’d been able to take some remarkable pictures with a rather ordinary camera. He’d not had long, as the sun sank into the horizon and was swallowed by the Pacific Ocean. Tophe had been building a fire on the beach itself for a barbecue, aided by Tom. There was a picture of the fire elsewhere, odd-coloured flames from the salt encrusted wood dancing in the night. But it was this picture, with the sun setting the sea alight, that always held Jonno’s attention for a little longer.

© David Jesson, 2018


 

Staircase to Nowhere

“So, this staircase, what does it look like?”

Marsha was sat opposite a wizened old man with the kindest eyes she’d even seen. He was asking about her recurring dream. The one which had been steadily driving sleep away.

First her Jim had begged her to get help, then her boss Mr Mack had taken her aside for a private word. His concern for her had shone through so much that, against their usual practice, she’d crossed the line and talked to him about personal stuff.

First about the dream, then about her fears of what it meant. She’d cried whilst telling him how worried she was about seeking help, fearing being taken in by some sort of charlatan. He’d patted her hand kindly and agreed that was something to be avoided at all costs. Then he’d dug around in his desk and pulled out a business card.

The man was a psychotherapist, but his area of speciality was dreams. Mr Mack said he’d helped him. Smiling, he’d admitted he’d only gone because his wife had put her foot down.

Marsha described the staircase. Slowly, a picture was formed, with the gaps being filled in by her responses to his gentle questions.

“Hmmm, so we have a beach, at sunset, with a spiral staircase that is old and rusty. But this staircase, it goes nowhere. This last is what causes you to be frightened, no?”

Marsha nodded her assent.

“You will not be surprised to learn that staircases are indicators of change, of transition. You are imagining – I think – that this one is portent of change which will result in an unexpected, unwanted, even abrupt ending, yes?  Yet, from our previous conversations, I don’t believe that you have an abnormal fear of death?”

Again, Marsha nodded.

“So, let us look to the condition of the stairs – old and rusty, huh? This leads me to look to the past. To ask maybe what you have buried away? Something you are ashamed of perhaps? Something that didn’t end as you planned?”

Marsha burst into tears. Handing her a box of tissues, the therapist waited for her to speak.

“I don’t know if I’m crying out of relief that whatever this dream is about is in the past, rather than my future. Or whether I’m crying because your question has struck a chord within me. Either way, I feel so much better.”
“Good. So, shall we work together to uncover this … whatever this is?”

Marsha nodded, this time with a smile. A small one, but a smile nonetheless.

© Debra Carey, 2018


 

The Tomb

Thompson’s treasure had loomed over their heads for five years. Wayne Marin was Spanish, but a descendent of the Incas. The treasure they were in pursuit of belonged to the long-lost Inca Empire. “C’mon Wayne, you’re the explorer. Hurry up I’m almost at the beach”, Kyle barked. The hike through the mountains had been treacherous but they had made their way through the rocky cliffs and finally to what they hoped would be their final destination. Marin stood at the edge of the cliff leading into the final descent before the beach. His map consuming him, he ignored Kyle completely. His brow furrowed, he glided his finger across the map. Pencil marks and annotations made it incomprehensible to anyone else. Kyle never bothered guiding them through their quest. He was an accomplished map reader himself, but a lost Inca treasure was Wayne’s area of expertise. “C’mon get down here, one hell of a view!” Kyle’s voice echoed up the mountain trail. Wayne heard him this time and began descending. His feet followed the loose dust and gravel preceding them. The final path twisted and turned slightly but he eventually reached the bottom. His right boot sunk into the sand followed by his left. He had reached the beach. The silence was strange at first but soon became very addictive. Uncharacteristically, Kyle hadn’t said a word since Wayne had caught up. He sat on a rock staring into the sea. Wayne walked up to him. The view was spectacular. The sunset immersed the sky with red and orange. Ripples of colour across the sea seemed never ending. Untouched by people, civilization and time. Neither man wanted to interrupt the others tranquillity. Wayne shuffled slightly. He knew they had to continue. There would be another puzzle set by the pirate William Thompson they had to solve. The sand under his feet shifted causing Kyle to drift out of his daydream. “Hell of a view right”, Kyle said. Wayne nodded as he removed the notebook within his pocket. “Cheer up. We made it. How many years have we been talking about this. Crack a smile? Please?”, Kyle maintained the grin on his face not doing well to hide his excitement. The edges of Wayne’s lips stretched out into something that resembled a smirk. “Knew it. Mr solemn and serious finally shows emotion”, Kyle joked. “Now where is the next clue”, Wayne said. He fiddled the folded map out of his pocket hoping for something.

Two hours had passed, and they had gotten nowhere. Wayne’s patience was waning. He paced along the beach whilst Kyle sat looking at their notes on the sand. Kyle looked up at Wayne. He didn’t hide his frustration very well. He let out a cry of anger and threw his compass onto the sand. Realizing he had to stay calm, he bent down to pick up the compass and gazed at the sunset one more time before giving in to surrender. The rocks lay in the sea aligned in front of the sinking sun. Where had he seen that before? He frantically slapped his pockets trying to find his notebook. He couldn’t contain his excitement. “Kyle! Get over here now! See this?”

“Uh yeah sure…”

“Kneel here and look between the rocks towards the sun”

“Ok? So?” he was dumbfounded

“Look at the shadows”. They swayed across the water. Kyle followed the shadows up to their tips. They all converged at one point. The rocks weren’t far from shore. They swam up to the convergence. The seabed was slightly raised right there but only just. You would only have seen it if you were looking for it. Wayne rested his hand on the sand, instinctively tracing the Inca symbol for abundance and prosperity. A flower.  Eventually his finger found some sort of button. He pressed it without hesitation despite the risk of a trap. Behind him metal groaned. The spiral stair case rotated into the ground. Sand began to fall into the orifice left behind by it. The two explorers clawed their way towards it. As they reached the circular hole in the ground, they realised it was a tomb. In big, gold encrusted letters on the wall, it was proclaimed. THE FINAL RESTING PLACE OF THE PIRATE WILLIAM THOMAS, DECEIVER OF THE ENTIRE SPANISH EMPIRE.

© Adi Gajendragkar, 2018