#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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#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

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