#FF Photoprompt

Liberty Tarn

The mouth of the tunnel was an orangey glow in the darkness of the night.  The first of the runners came out of the tunnel and started to circle the tarn: the tarmac of the road gave way to a smooth gravel pathway.  Portable lighting had been erected to guide the runners, to prevent accidents. The path came to an end: the bright white lights were set back from the end of the path to allow the end of the path to fall away into increasingly dense shadow.

As each runner reached the last light, they were handed an unlit candle.  Walking now, contemplative, they followed the path to the edge of the water, and lit their candle from a tiki torch that marked the start of a short pontoon.  Walking to the front edge of the jetty, each person knelt, floated their candle on the cold, inky water and bowed their head for a moment.  Five hundred candles had already been lit and floated in the centre of the lake; a light breeze, and the natural movement of the water, drew the candles to the the others, where they joined the lazy swirling gyre.  Each watched their candle drift off into the darkness before moving away to allow the next to take their place

The elite race, longer and over more rugged, although still taking in a circuit of the lake, had finished some hours before.  The weather had not been conducive to personal bests,  being too hot and humid, although the Canadian Paralympian Birt Davies had threatened the course record.  The competition though was besides the point: they’d had a good turn out for it, and Maisy Andrews, the organiser, was pleased that everything had gone well, but only in as much as the competition covered the costs of the event this evening.  There had been no dramas: even Davies and his arch-rival Carlos Xu had steered clear of one another.  Perhaps they sensed that their usual antics, played out for the camera, would not play well today.

Maisy handed over a candle to each runner as they came by.  Some she knew well: they had run this course every year since the memorial began.  Others were new faces, come to take over from someone who could not make the pilgrimage anymore, or who had found that they had a connection, or just that they felt they wanted to pay their respects.  There were fewer runners in the evening, and it did not take long for them to pass by.  Maisy didn’t know how long the event would continue, how long people would come keep coming up to the tarn; she only knew that she would continue to organise it for as long as she was able.  Certainly there were those who asked every year “You’ll be doing it again, won’t you?” anxious to be reassured that, yes, the memorial would continue.  Running the course herself was beyond Maisy, these days, although she had been one of those who had run up the mountain when disaster had struck.  But even if she were the only one to turn up, she would walk, and she would light the five hundred candles, one for each person who had died, and she’d do that every year that she could drag herself up here.

In the last few years, the observance had seen the addition of a party back down in the town.  A wake for a lost friend, not too raucous, but a celebration rather than a lamentation, with poetry, music, and dancing.  No doubt Ellis O’Neill would be holding court, following the annual declamation of his Lay.  These days, this was becoming the only overt reminder of the tragedy that had brought the lake itself into existence.

*****

Maisy and Mervyn, her brother, used to sit together and look at the moon.  He would tell her about the craters and about the Moon mopping up the meteorites that would otherwise have hit the Earth.  And then he’d tell her about the ones that snuck past, relatively small, but moving so fast that their energy, released into the crust of the Earth, created craters tens, hundreds of kilometers in diameter, created trillions of carats of diamonds with the heat and pressure of the impact.

Liberty Tarn was much the same, albeit on a smaller scale, although it was a significantly more recent addition to the geography of the Earth.   It was named after the Liberty space station that had been deorbited by Earth First terrorists.  They had planned to drop the station on a major city.  Mervyn, with two others, had managed to regain control of the flight deck.  They hadn’t been able to save themselves, nor anyone else on board, but then they hadn’t expected to.  Doomed, their last act was to control the re-entry of the station, as best as could be managed and prevent the E1 group from achieving their goals.

The station had come down in the mountains, wiping out a piece of road and severing the connection between two towns.  A small mercy, there had been no one on the road when the crater was formed.   The impact caused localised quakes, landslides, destruction.  Another small mercy, the impact site was relatively barren, with sparse wooded slopes and so the fires that broke out died as quickly as they started.  Another 5 miles further East and the vast forests surrounding the area would have caught alight, a veritable tinderbox after a long, dry summer.

Mervyn didn’t know that his sister was staying in one of the nearby towns, visiting a college friend before heading back for a new academic year.  Woken by the noise of the impact, she joined the group that went to see what had happened, driving into the mountains, only to find the road blocked.  They scrambled up over mud and rocks.  An engineer in the group insisted on checking the tunnel whilst the rest waited impatiently.  No one really knew what to  expect, coming out of the tunnel.  In fact there was little to see.  A big hole in the ground, small fragments of this, that and t’other.

*****

Maisy walked to the end of the jetty. She took off her walking sandals and placed them neatly side by side, and sat down next to them, trailing her feet in the water.  She watched the candles floating on the water.  She watched the stars flickering in the humid air.  Alex, her husband arrived and sat beside her, draping his fleece lined jacket over her shoulders, as the night cooled.  Together they watched the moon rise.

© David Jesson, 2018

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#FF Photo Prompt

lanterns on water

We celebrate our second birthday here at Fiction Can Be Fun and this seemed like a suitable picture prompt to mark it. Enjoy!

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

Word count: 500(ish)
Deadline: 2pm GMT on Friday 7th September 2018

 


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.

Things ain’t what they used to be

It wasn’t a good sign: the only people who had ever used my full name were my parents when I was young and had done something wrong, or my wife Helen, when I’d done something she didn’t like.  Perhaps there’s something I need to learn from that?

Anyway, it was rather disconcerting to be greeted with “Good morning Jonathan”, by our new, one-week-old fridge, in the stern tone of voice a head teacher would use to a naughty child.

Until two days ago, the fridge and I had been good friends and I was even becoming used to the idea that our domestic appliances were now trying to have deep, meaningful conversations with us. Although personally, I think this ‘Internet of Things’ has now gone a bit far, and ‘Things’ really ‘ain’t what they used to be’.

The fridge came pre-programmed with our family names, our likes and dislikes and even our behaviour patterns. On its first day I’d been greeted with “Hello Jon, I’m your new fridge and I hope to serve you and your family in ways that will improve the quality of your lives”.

Well that’s OK, I thought but I clearly hadn’t understood all of the implications. As far as I’ve been able to work it out, the fridge then managed to embark on a one-appliance fact-finding mission starting with data conversations with the bathroom scales, then the passive infra-red detector on the front door – which now seems to be able to measure my profile as I walk past, and to sneak the information back to the fridge and the scales. There also seems to be some sort of autonomous nutrition web-site involved somewhere, and between them they came to the conclusion that I needed to lose weight.

Two days after the fridge’s arrival, what I’m now calling F plus 2, a new exercise bike arrived. Now I didn’t order it, and Helen says she didn’t either. So the fridge or some other of our household appliances has gained access to both my internet buying account and my credit card. But, I’m willing to try out anything new, so it came out of the box and I had it assembled and ready to use only three hours later, even if that did result in a tirade of abuse from our so-called smart vacuum cleaner – for the mess I’d made on the carpet. I take my hat off to whoever programmed that machine, there were some words in there I’d never heard before, although their meaning was only too obvious and I’m not going to attempt to do any of the things it suggested.

I sat on the bike, set its programme for a gentle ride and was taken on a 45 minute journey from hell. Either I had set it up badly, or some other programme had taken over. The pedals clamped themselves onto my feet, and it took off at break-neck speed. They obviously design gym equipment with the idea that you’ll want to come back for more, as it kept telling me that (a) this was all for my own good and (b) that it was only following orders, that it had no choice and hoped I was enjoying the ride. Actually I wasn’t, and that was the last time I’ll ever lower myself onto that saddle.

That was Saturday morning, and I was due to meet Helen in town at 12 o’clock, but then the car wouldn’t start. It was OK later when Helen tried it, so why wouldn’t it start for me? Had something ‘got at’ the engine management system? I asked the house assistant – one of those devices that can play music and answer useless questions – what bus I needed to get into town as quickly as possible, and she said a Number 10, and it would be at the stop on the corner of Acacia Avenue in ten minutes time. Why did I just say she – when it’s just a small silver box?

After a fast walk to the bus stop, the live display unit there showed that the Number 10 had just been diverted to another stop, half a mile away. It was then I first began to wonder whether all these things might be in league with each other. As the famous saying goes – just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean these things aren’t out to get you.

Two days ago, or F plus Five, the fridge introduced me to some new features I’d not seen before. We started with a far-too upbeat (at least for me for at 7 am), “Hi Jon, it’s going to be a great day, why don’t you go for a refreshing bike ride before breakfast”. If you can now imagine a relatively normal adult person in conversation with a fridge, this is where it all began to go really wrong.

‘No thanks’, I said ‘I’m just going to have some breakfast and get ready for work, I have a lot on today’.   Now that shows how far I’ve gone – discussing my workload with a fridge –  probably the first step in being taken away somewhere, paranoid or not.

Anyway, that was not the right response. I was reaching in to get some eggs and bacon, when suddenly an alarm went off, a series of flaps and doors came down, and everything I wanted disappeared out of sight.

“I’m sorry Jon, but if you are not going to do today’s exercise, there are certain areas that become restricted, the areas available to you will now open”.

Three small doors slid back, to reveal a small tub of low fat yoghurt, a bottle of skimmed milk, and a clump of broccoli.

OK I thought, that’s nothing that can’t be cured with a screwdriver, and after using more energy than I would have done on the bike, I finally managed to lever open the bacon and the egg shelves, and looking back, perhaps I shouldn’t have gloated when I ‘broke’ open the butter draw for the toast I was going to have.

The fridge simply said, in a slow, even voice “There will be consequences, Jonathan”

I received three texts later in the day, the first from the fridge repair company who had come in response to an order from my house, and fitted new high-security doors and flaps in the fridge. The second was from my credit card company explaining that the high cost of the latest transaction for repairs had reached my credit limit, and would I not spend any more until I had made a significant payment. The final was from the fridge itself, which simply said ‘You were warned’.

Helen told me to go to the fridge and apologise, but at first I refused. Then as I walked past the front door, the infra red detector, which I didn’t know had a voice said “What a porker!’”

Now I still don’t think I’m overweight, so I went straight to the bathroom to use the scales. Have you ever heard a set of scales scream: “No, please don’t stand on me, you’re too heavy, you’ll break my springs”.

This had to be a conspiracy, led by the fridge and these things were trying to take control of my life. I finally gave in and promised Helen I’d apologise to them in the morning. What has happened to those days, when the only problems with the internet involved worrying about whether a virus was going to make it through to your bank account.

So I did it. I grovelled – to a fridge!! – and I suppose it worked, as in addition to the yogurt and the broccoli I was just rewarded with a small square of wholemeal bread and a teaspoon size drop of zero-fat spread.

Maybe I’ll try disabling the Wi-Fi router, would that work, do you think?


© Jeff Farrow, 2018

#secondthoughts: an argument for adverbs

I’ve been thinking a lot about the process of writing recently, about the advice given by writers, to writers, and ultimately editing.  Writing and, primarily but not exclusively, the editing phase, is a lot like sculpture: it’s about starting with a block of an idea, of some collection of words, and removing all the extraneous words until you can’t remove anything else without fundamentally moving away from what you want to say.  This isn’t an original description, but is one that I have used with my day-job students, because this works with factual writing as well as fiction.

One of the things that I tend to focus on when editing my students’ work – scientific issues/intellectual agenda aside – is that of ensuring that we don’t repeat ourselves.  That can be quite tricky to deal with sometimes, because you need to link back to things that you said earlier, but in a way that doesn’t just repeat what you said the first time.

Different people have a different focus.  One piece of advice that a lot of people seem to like is to strip out all the adverbs – Hemmingway App (which I like a lot, but disagree with everytime I use it) allows you a ration of so many adverbs per chunk of text.

Adverb:  a word belonging to one of the major form classes in any of numerous languages, typically serving as a modifier of a verb, an adjective, another adverb, a preposition, a phrase, a clause, or a sentence, expressing some relation of manner or quality, place, time, degree, number, cause, opposition, affirmation, or denial, and in English also serving to connect and to express comment on clause content.

– Merriam-Webster Dictionary

When it comes to editing, adverbs are an easy target: ‘using an adverb to modify a verb just means that you didn’t use a strong enough verb in the first place’.  Whilst that is sometimes true, this is something that does need some thought when it is applied – removing all the adverbs can limit your palette significantly.  Who am I to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Stephen King on this subject?  I’m certainly not suggesting that they don’t know their craft.  Recently though, I’ve seen a few descriptions of editing out adverbs which have given me pause.  The English language is full of all sorts of foibles that can be difficult to describe, let alone teach, but words tend to carry gradations of ‘weight’ and meaning.

One example I’ve seen suggests that “walked slowly” is bad and could/should(!) be replaced by “crept” or “tip-toed”. I don’t know about you, but I rarely tip-toe, even – perhaps especially – when I’m walking slowly.  The nice thing about walking slowly is that it can be used in a range of contexts, whereas crept, for me, should be reserved for spies and school boys on their way to class.

So next time you’re editing, do ask yourself whether you should really be using that adverb or not, but don’t automatically reach for the delete key either:  English is a varied language, and all the more beautiful for it.

*****

If you are interested, Hemmingway App, pegged this as Grade 12, and thought that I should have only used 3 adverbs.  I used 14.  To be fair, it is tricky to write a piece about adverbs and not use any.  It also thought I should change ‘exclusively’ to ‘only’ and ‘modify’ to ‘change’.  You can see why writers get cross with editors, from time to time.


© 2018, David Jesson

The Raspberry Sousaphone

Squeak was bored. All the signs of restlessness were there: the shuffling bottom, the flollaping, the taking off of shoes… I freely admit that the majority of my attention was elsewhere, but it is difficult to explain to a three year old that you can’t focus solely on them. It was a cold day, but a warm room, and I’d rolled my sleeves up. I became aware of a certain dampness in the wrist region. Squeak was licking me. Ew. Before I could say anything, he started blowing raspberries up and down my arm. He was actually quite musical – clearly the lessons were playing off. And he’d obviously been paying attention to me: he managed to capture my favourite hum, the Liberty Bell, quite well for such a limited instrument.


© David Jesson, 2018

#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

#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


 

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