Your Life: Now with More Sci-Fi

As it says on the front page, whilst Debs and I write the majority of the content on this blog ourselves, we’re also delighted to post contributions from others.  The periodic fifth Sunday in the month frequently causes consternation as we try and figure out what we’re going to be putting in that slot.  This time around, that fifth Sunday has coincided with our third birthday (time flies…), and we wanted something extra special.  This month we kicked off with a prompt we came up with in honour of James Pailly.  James runs the Planet Pailly blog, which is completely awesome, and well worth your time (once you’ve finished up here of course).  James has been a great friend to this blog, and he has very kindly written this article for us. I feel very privileged that we get to post it here.

–    David

They say we’re all the heroes of our own stories.  I always wanted my story to be a Sci-Fi action adventure with lots of aliens and cyborgs, some cool spaceships, and maybe a light sprinkling of time travel.  As a compromise with reality, I thought I’d pursue a career in television.  My dream was to end up working on the set of Star Trek or Doctor Who or some other science fiction TV series like that.

But upon graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree in TV/Film production, I soon learned the truth about the entertainment business.  It’s just… it’s the worst.  There was no way I was going to Hollywood.  There was no way I’d end up working on the kind of cool Sci-Fi shows that I’d watched as a kid.  So I took the best job I could get: editing the news for a local TV station.  And I was lucky to get that job when I did, because the 2008 financial crisis was right around the corner.

People have pretty strong opinions about those of us who work in the news media.  Some of those opinions are probably justified, but let me tell you this: if you think watching the news is depressing, try working in a newsroom.  Every day, you’ll be exposed to the absolute worst that humanity has to offer.  Murders, rapists, dishonest politicians?  Sleazy businesspeople ripping off their customers?  Huge mega corporations laying off their employees?  It’s all just another day at the office.  You either find a way to compartmentalize this stuff or you have a nervous breakdown in the middle of your work shift (yes, I’ve seen it happen).

Was I the hero of my own story?  I didn’t feel much like a hero.  I felt pretty sure that I was in the wrong story, that I belonged in some other story world entirely.  But as I already mentioned, the 2008 financial crisis was coming, and once the crisis hit, finding another job was no longer an option.  Not for a kid like me, fresh out of college, with such an embarrassingly short résumé.

So there I was, trapped in a depressing and demoralizing job due to economic circumstances that were beyond my control.  I was frustrated.  A lot of people were frustrated.  One day I was sitting with a reporter who, for the purposes of this blog post, I’m going to refer to as Susan.  Susan and I were commiserating over the stresses of our jobs.  The hot story that night was a missing person’s case, except it wasn’t really a missing person’s case.

The police weren’t saying anything yet, and neither were the family, but Susan was a seasoned journalist.  She’d covered stories like this before, and she knew that this so-called missing person’s case was really a homicide investigation.  The police just hadn’t found the body yet.

“It’s like I’m from the future, and I already know everything that’s going to happen,” Susan told me.  “But I can’t say anything about it on air because that would make me look unprofessional.”  Of course I don’t remember Susan’s exact words.  I’m paraphrasing, and I’m leaving out a lot of expletives.  Anyway, the next morning we found out Susan’s prediction was 100% right.

If I’m supposed to be the hero of my own story, then I’d say Susan fits the character archetype of the herald.  She was the catalyst for change, the person who made me suddenly see things from a new perspective, the one who finally set my real adventure into motion.  I just had to use a little imagination, a little creativity, to transform all my professional experiences (and all my professional struggles) into science fiction.  In my head, journalists became time travelers.  Camera people could be cyborgs, and the stories we covered for the news–they were the great conflicts and calamities of a vast, sprawling intergalactic civilization.

The Tomorrow News Network: Bringing you tomorrow's news today.

I have to confess I do have an ulterior motive for telling you all this.  As of this writing, the first book in the Tomorrow News Network series is nearing completion.  In a matter of days, I expect to be handing my manuscript over to my editor, and shortly after that, dear reader, I will have a book to sell you!

In the meantime, if you click this link here, you can learn a little more about the Tomorrow News Network and see how they covered the beginning of the universe.

But the more important reason I wanted to share my story with you is to set up a writing prompt.  Life doesn’t always go the way we planned.  Life is full of setbacks and frustrations.  So I want you to pick something really frustrating in your life–some frustration that you’re dealing with right now–and try reimagining the situation in a science fiction setting.  What would change?  What would stay the same?  And how would you, as the hero of the story, handle the situation differently?

Or if you’re not into Sci-Fi, do it as a western, or a romantic comedy, or a film noir detective story.  Use whatever your preferred genre of fiction happens to be.

Oh, and one last thing: no matter where you are in life, no matter what you may be dealing with right now, never forget that you really are the hero of your own story.

© James Pailly, 2019 (Main text and embedded graphic)

#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.

 

 

 

#FlashFiction: It takes a village to raise a child

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© David Jesson, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Job Hunting

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

© David Jesson, 2018

________________

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

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:

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

 

Project Gutenberg #FlashFiction

The 1st of December is the birthday of Project Gutenberg, an online archive of out-of-copyright books that have been digitised and are made available to anyone who would like to read them.

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…

An Engineer’s Sketchbook

There were probably only three people in the world who still called him Christopher, and one of those was his Grandmother.  At school, the custom was still to call the boys by their surnames, but some of the younger masters would buck the trend – if the Head or Bursar weren’t in earshot anyway.  And if you were going to go against what was practically a rule, you’d think you’d go al, sirl the way and use a chosen name.  But no.

Dr Hughes was young, earnest, and more than a little shy, all topped off with a generous helping of obliviousness.  As a relatively new master it was inevitable that he’d inherited the mantle of Career’s Advisor from a colleague who was retiring.

“Ah, Christopher, come in.  Have a seat.”

“Please call me Toph, sir.”

“Now then, lets see.  Well.  Are you enjoying being in the Sixth Form?”

“If I’m honest, sir, I don’t see very much difference to being in Year 11.”

“But you were paying attention in Assembley, when the Headmaster was talking about university?”

“Yes, sir, of course.  But I’m really not sure what I want to read.  Nothing really appeals.”

“Well then Christopher, lets take a look at your reports.”  Dr Hughes opened a manilla folder and riffled through the papers inside.

“Toph, sir.”

“Ummm?” Dr Hughes did not look up.  “Well, Captain of the First XI for Cricket and the First XV Rugby, so a sportsman. Good marks in French and Spanish.  Reasonable compositions in English…History is not your strength is it? With a little more effort in the Sciences you could probably have your choice of any Medical School…The world is not quite your oyster, although it could be, Christopher, it could be.  Have you decided whether it’s to be Oxford or Cambridge, yet?”

Toph was tempted to say that he’d been considering a Red Brick, but whilst History might not have been his best subject, People was something he excelled in.  It would do no good to give the master apoplexy.

And so the interview ground it’s slow but inexorable way to a conclusion that was unsatisfying for both parties.  Dr Hughes immediately put it out of his mind as he moved on to the next pupil in the Lower Sixth, reflexively making some marginal notes in Toph’s file, which he’d already forgotten before the closed folder was placed back on the stack on the table.

A few weeks passed, and then it was half term.  Following tradition, a trip to Town was organised, which would include a visit to the cinema.  Surprisingly, Tom, his youngest brother, had beeen desperate to go to the second hand bookshop that was one of his Father’s favourite haunts.  Jonno, the middle brother, had also been keen on the idea.  He was looking for some references for an art project on the one hand, and some old but not valuable books on the other for various pieces that he had in mind.  Toph could have gone off on his own somewhere, meeting up with the family at the cinema, but he decided that accompanying the rest to the bookshop might be quite fun.

On the way to Town, he was uncharacteristically withdrawn: Jonno was making notes and doodling in his sketch book, Tom was talking nineteen to the dozen about a book he’d found there on a previous visit.  Toph sat back and let it all wash over him as he thought about the mad man they’d been to see talk a few days before.  It had been a charity event,  something about closing down orphanages by getting the children homed with families, but the speaker was an explorer who’d travelled round the world by bike. He’d come into contact with the charity when he’d passed through Bosnia, and he’d stayed in contact.  Toph didn’t have many detractors, but there were one or two who thought him superficial.  They’d be surprised at how much he’d been affected by the talk.

Given the energy that Tom had been exhibiting earlier, he was quietly focussed in the shop, working his way through various departments in a methodical  and determined manner.  Jonno knew what he was after and wasted little time in finding it.  Toph browsed.   He nearly missed it: a little white haired old man moved a pile of books and exposed a blue-leather covered book, tooled with gold, upin which was emblazoned the legend “The Engineer’s Sketchbook”.  He picked it up, and leafed through it.

Toph was the kind of person who excelled at things because he wanted to.  He’d decided he wanted to be the best cricketer he could, for example, and he’d set out to make it happen. Without something to focus on, he had a tendency to drift.  As he looked at the book, two neurons in his brain fired together and he suddenly knew not only what he wanted to study at uni, but why, and what he was going to do afterwards.

He would read Mechanical Engineering, and travel the world, for a few years at least volunteering, his skills whereever they might be of use.

© David Jesson, 2018

Post Script: How could I not go with that title as my prompt?  I’ve written a few other stories about Toph, Jonno, and Tom, and you can find these via the Index page.  The charity mentioned in the story is a real one, and you can find more details about Hope and Homes for Children here.  Al Humphreys is also real, and not only that but an amazing and inspirational human being.  You can find out more about him here.  I firmly believe that everyone should be issued with a copy of his Microadventures book: you don’t need kit to have adventures and you don’t need to travel to far off climes.  (But that can be fun too).


An Artist in Egypt

There he went again. Shaking his head, Jonathan thought (and not for the first time) what a strange fellow his neighbour was. Up every morning shortly after dawn, he’d take breakfast on the verander, just as Jonathan did; but while Jonathan was having a cigarette with his coffee, he’d pack up an easel and a large bag, before heading off across the dunes.

Leaving for the Embassy, Jonathan would be back anything from teatime to late at night, depending what had blown up during the day. Tourists generally, especially the upper class ones, were the bane of his life. Oh, there were plenty of working and middle class tourists who got into trouble, but they were generally grateful for whatever assistance Jonathan and his team would give. But the upper crust … oh no. Always went their own way, ignored Foreign Office advice, and that given them by the Embassy. When they did get into trouble and needed fishing out – for they always did – they treated Jonathan and his team like a bunch of lackies. No gratitude, simply annoyance and ill manners.

The most recent lot had enquired after a chap they knew, who turned out to be Jonathan’s neighbour. For some reason, Jonathan felt a degree of kinship with this man he’d never spoken to and decided to check if he wanted this group to descend on him. Not that he’d done so yet, for it had been a long day yesterday and he’d only been home for a quick shower and change into dress uniform before that shindig at the French Embassy. He should have gone over this morning during breakfast, but it was his one moment of private peace – and he hated to give it up. Something told him that his neighbour would understand. He’d leave a note with his card on the way to work.

As he got home that evening, the sun was dropping low in the sky – his neighbour’s “lot” had already managed to get into trouble and, to divert attention from their idiocy, had complained to the Ambassador that Jonathan hadn’t located their friend. The Ambassador had not been pleased and had given Jonathan a very lively flea in his ear. Jonathan knew he’d have to speak to his neighbour that evening to obtain his wishes.

Changing into casual trousers and shirt, he accepted a long cool drink from his boy, before walking out onto the verander. Although still just a silhouette, he was confident he spied his neighbour returning over the dunes from a day’s painting. He decided to walk across the road to greet him. With luck he’d be able to raise the matter and get the chap’s decision, all before either of them would have to extend an invitation to the other. These damn tourists, upsetting a chap’s routines.

It didn’t go according to plan though. “Got your note” said his neighbour, handing his easel to Jonathan, before striding across the road. Reaching his front door, he passed his bag to his boy and then looked back across the road to where Jonathan was still standing – looking a touch gormless if he was entirely honest – and beckoned him over “you’d better come in for a drink while I clean up.”

Once inside, Jonathan was struck by how different the interiors of their houses were, especially considering their identical footprint. His neighbour’s house was cool and airy, whilst Jonathan’s was warm if not stuffy. Where Jonathan’s home was furnished like a typical British army batchelor – relatively spartan, with well-crafted pieces of furniture – this was lush and layered. There were colours and textures, comfort was clearly of prime import. There were also a number of paintings on the wall, all in watercolour – a mix of dhows on the river, and buffalos working the fields, to views of an entirely buccolic and decidedly English countryside. Jonathan had to admit that he was really rather taken with them – they had clean lines, and a slightly sketchy quality which suggested movement. He knew he’d buy one before he left.

His thoughts were interrupted by his neighbour’s return. Handing him a drink, he announced “Tristan Dawes – but you presumably already knew that from the contents of your note. So, who are these reprobates who’ve asked for my whereabouts?” Jonathan pulled his notebook out and read the names, noticing that Tristan’s facial expression wasn’t exactly one of delight as he did so. “What’s the drill then? You give them my whereabouts, and my peace is over?” Jonathan smiled “Not at all. If you’ve no wish to see them, I simply advise them that you’ve left instructions not to be disturbed … by anyone. They’ve no rights to your address and the Ambassador isn’t obliged to provide it to them.” Tristan nodded before holding out his hand to shake Jonathan’s  “Thank you, I didn’t expect that.”

He’d gained another flea in the ear from the Ambassador for not persuading his neighbour otherwise, but Jonathan stuck to his guns. The Ambassador would do anything for a quiet life, even if it was not strictly correct protocol.

He and Tristan took to having supper together, one night a week, alternating between homes. Jonathan arranged for him to join Embassy trips into the more far flung parts of the country, where he could paint new and different scenes. In return, Tristan had earmarked two paintings for him. Turned out Tristan had not only come to Egypt to escape his over-bearing family and family friends (like the lot who’d tried to track him down) he’d come to Egypt for the dry heat. Having been a bit of a speedster as a young man, the broken bones which came with the inevitable crashes had left him with arthritis. Cold and rainy England may have his heart – which it did, for he still painted it from his memories – but Egypt had provided him with the conditions to be able to continue wielding his brushes.

© Debra Carey, 2018

Ten ghosts

ten ghosts

I was in bed one night last month, all as per usual. Todd was gently snoring and I was fidgeting about trying to fall asleep, when I heard it. “What did you say?” I asked. But on he snored, so this time I gave him a little shove as I repeated: “what did you say?” “Eh, oh, what?” he replied. I repeated myself and he insisted that not a word had passed his lips before returning to that gentle snore. To be fair, it hadn’t sounded like him. Todd’s a bit loud and this had been the gentlest of whispers. I lay still and listened for what seemed like ages before starting to drift off again. Then it happened again, but this time I stayed quiet and listened – really, really hard.

I’d turned a fan on before going to sleep, but there was definitely something else and it sounded like whispers. The longer I listened, the more certain I became that there were multiple voices whispering in the dark. At some point I must’ve drifted off because when I woke up, the fan was off and the whispers were clear.

They were talking about me. I heard them say “Her” and yes, it was with a capital H. Then one of them used my name. I tried not to freak out and concentrated on just keeping my breathing regular as if I was meditating. I heard one of them say “that car, it’s so old” whilst another chimed in with “and yet she drives it so fast, always going over the speed limit”. I had to really focus on not sitting up and saying “hey, don’t talk about me like that!” Then a really little girl voice said: “I’m so scared for her, there’s been too many near misses on roundabouts”. And that chilled me. She was right, I’d become a tad cavalier and noticed that I was getting rather more hoots than usual on roundabouts. I made a mental note to scale back the speed and be more careful at junctions. And then I drifted back to sleep.

In the morning, I convinced myself it had all been a dream. But it kept happening. If I woke in the middle of the night, kept quiet and really listened, I could hear them. There were a lot of voices, although four were particularly vocal. They would discuss what had been happening during the day and sometimes they would hark back to other stuff. Each seemed to have a particular bee in their bonnet. One man didn’t like Todd and kept pointing out negative things about him: “he drinks too much” or “I don’t like his temper” and “why does he’s keep saying uncomplimentary things about how she looks?” It was weird, if I was having a conversation, I’d been able to defend him, but I wasn’t, and so their opinions stayed out there, worming their way into my mind. I can’t say I liked what I heard. The worst was when they all started to agree with him “he’s so controlling …”.

I took that man’s advice one day and packed my bags. I’d pretended to go to work, but came home once he’d gone. I’d been planning it for a while now – putting aside a bit of money in a secret savings account and arranging to work for my old mate Julie in her pub down in Wales. I hated my job anyway and as I’d just been paid – straight into that new savings account – I was skipping town with my month’s wages. The doorbell rang – it was that man-with-a-van I’d hired to help me move. There wasn’t much I wanted to take mind, I didn’t want any reminders, so I took only what I’d brought with me. The van followed me on my final task – dropping my car at the local second-hand dealer. He was only giving me a few quid for scrap value, but it was one more thing put behind me.

My whispering ghosts were going to be happy tonight …


© Debra Carey, 2017