Not a big thing, but a million little things

Jaime Dill, who I worked with on my submission to Byline Legacies, has recently launched Full Mood Magazine, and the first call was Modern Epistolary:

We give little textboxes permission to hook our hearts and freedom to dictate our physical reality. We differentiate between what’s online and what’s “real life,” but are they really so separable? I want to see where the worlds blend. Give me your awkward work emails, your scandalous DMs, your wildest “new number, who dis?” I want to see the conversations that shake up the day, the past, and everything that’s coming next. Unlock the password and let me snoop around in the secrets on screen.

Jaime Dill, EIC Full Mood Magazine

The timing wasn’t great, but when is it? So I bashed this out in the last few hours before the submission window closed. Jaime was kind enough to say she liked it, but as it didn’t quite fit with the Mood she was aiming for, she passed. Which is why I thought I’d share it with you today. It’s a bit of an experiment…

Hey Bets, soz – I know it’s been a while. Been so busy with the village’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations and Mum and Dad’s Golden Wedding, I really haven’t had a moment to call my own.  You ok?

Hey Roz! Beginning to think I’d said something wrong! Yeah, all good, ta.  How’d the wedding stuff go?  M&D alright? Did they enjoy themselves?

Yeah, they had a grate time.  The rest of us…not so much…


Oh dear…do tell 🙂

Climbing a mountain with a gaggle of children I do not recommend. 

A mountain???

Dad proposed to Mum at the top of Helvellyn & they set their heart on renewing their vows on the exact same spot.  Madness! Neither as young as they think they are, but to be fair pretty spry and probably did the best out of all of us in the event.

They always seem so full of life, and they’re both out in the garden or on the allotment.  The rest of you…I can see how it might have been a challenge!

Ha ha I don’t think.  I might not run half-marathons but I’m fit enough thank you very much.  Mind you, Vi’s Keith seems to get bigger every time I see him – he had little beads of sweat all over his scalp just crossing the car park to the footpath.


And then there were bacon sarnies for brekkie before we set off, brought to the car park by a local café that M&D like.  I might have felt a bit queasy halfway up, but Daisy looked properly green and Fizz actually puked.

Priceless!  I bet that went down well – did she have designer gear?

You know it!  Rubbed her feet raw with brand new boots that were expensively ill-fitting.

Self-inflicted – did she mange to avoid getting puke on her Armani walking outfit?

Let’s just say she’s not going to be able to exchange them.

Did you have a good day though?

Yeah – kids were a bit fractious about putting sunblock on, but they did well, and you should have seen M&D making their vows.  Can only hope that me and Bob are that in love when we get that far.

Too right!  We should get a coffee soon and you can give me the rest of the goss 🙂  Did you get some pics?  Would be good to see them 🙂

Sounds good – might leave the one of Daisy mid-spew tho 🙂

© 2022, David Jesson


Comic Timing

The Bandleader blamed the Comic, for adding extra material.  The Comic blamed the Bandleader for coming in too early, drowning out the punchline.

Less than an hour after the end of the show, the Comic stood in a darkened doorway.  He’d arrived early, and removed the light-bulb.

As the musician fumbled with his keys, a voice tickled his ear:

“Laugh this off.”

Puzzled he turned, only to see a figure turning the corner at the end of the street.  His back began to itch as if it were on fire.

He turned and, in extreme discomfort, ran to the shower.

© David Jesson, 2018


A little bit of Flash Fiction, which I submitted to one of Janet Reid’s competitions a few years ago now, but which has kept on getting bumped from FCBF for one reason or another.

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:


To compete for the Steve Forti Deft Use of Prompt Words prize (or if you are Steve Forti) you must also use: Fortran

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: early/pearly is ok, but light/sleight is not. Hours is fine, but grouch is not

(You might have to look twice, but I did manage to get Fortran in there :0) ).

#FlashFiction Prompt – Project Gutenberg

The idea that Project Gutenberg would provide us with a great and continually change source of prompts was David’s. I’ll admit I raised my eyebrows a bit, but they actually become a favourite with the both of us. We’ve since run these twice a year and, as a result, they’ve been a Fiction Can Be Fun USP.

This is a deceptively simple #FlashFiction prompt but it does require some active choice on your part…

To select your prompt, go to the Recent Books section of the Project Gutenberg website. Pick a book whose title makes you go ‘ooooh I know what I want to write about …’ and there you have it – your #FlashFiction prompt for this month.

Do have a good browse while you’re there – you could find even more reads to add to your massive TBR lists – and all at no cost!

Word count: 500-750 words
Deadline: 8am GMT on Sunday 13th June 2021

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

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: The Feud

“Of course, you realise, this means war!” said Bugs Bunny, breaking the fourth wall after he’d been insulted or something by the antagonist.  Who’s going to feud in your story? Why? How low are the stakes that are being fought over?

Anything goes – so long as it’s nothing NSFW.

Word count: 200-500 words
Deadline: by 8 am (GMT) on Sunday 12th July 2020

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

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

#FF Prompt – Project Gutenberg

I can’t remember now exactly what gave me the idea for plundering the titles of the recent additions to Project Gutenberg for prompt ideas, but I can remember that Debs took some persuading to add it to our list, and was reluctant right up to the point that it actually went live.  She soon came round thought and now we see this as very much a Fiction Can Be Fun USP.


This is a deceptively simple #FlashFiction prompt but does require some active choice on your part…

To select your prompt, go to the Recent Books section of the Project Gutenberg website. Pick a book whose title makes you go ‘ooooh I know what I want to write about …’ and there you have it – your #FlashFiction prompt for this month.

Do have a good browse while you’re there – you could find even more reads to add to your massive TBR lists – and all at no cost!


Word count: 500-750 words
Deadline: 8 am GMT on Sunday 14th June 2020

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

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’.

#Flash Fiction: Finding the New Normal

The Venetian Holiday

Holding hands, we gazed out over the Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge. Matt squeezed my hand, for he realised tears would be close. I’d planned this trip for our wedding anniversary 10 years previously. Despite our vastly differing tastes and interests, I’d been so delighted to discover this was the one place appearing high on both our bucket lists, and so had started a long campaign to make this shared dream come true. Five long years of careful financial planning had allowed me to save sufficient for us to not only travel to Venice, but to travel in style – and the late summer of 2020 when we’d both be retiring was the chosen date.

Our children wanted us to throw a big party to celebrate, but I was determined to put every penny into our dream trip. Our eldest son even suggested I was being selfish, putting our wishes over those of the family but – for once – I’d not backed down.

“Yes, that’s exactly what we’re doing! It’s the first time in our married lives we’ve ever put our own wishes above the needs and wishes of you all. And if not now when, after decades of hard work, we reach our 60th year – when will we ever get a chance? We want to go while we’re healthy enough to truly enjoy our shared dream and, if that’s selfish, then so be it.”

But all my planning, my careful saving, my resolute decision-making came to nought, when Italy became struck down with the virus. And Italy was not alone, for the virus steadily reached out it’s fingers far and wide around the world.

Initially placed into the safety of isolation by our children, Matt & I had to come out of safety to support our children when their families displayed symptoms which forced them to quarantine. Eventually the virus caught up with us both, nearly claiming the life of my beloved husband.

For a long time afterwards, we didn’t feel like celebrating the survival of our family by travelling away from home. Only after the widespread vaccination programme was pronounced effective, did we decide to divert those holiday savings into throwing a party to celebrate.

Community connections built during the virus had remained solid, so the invitee list was over 200 strong. A local farmer friend donated an unused field and everyone we knew with a BBQ was roped in to bring it along, together with garden chairs, parasols and gazebos, while we supplied the charcoal, firelighters, food and drink. Two local bands were hired to play and a couple of dance floors were set up. The music varied from wartime swing and jive to more recent chart hits for the younger party goers – some of who camped overnight. On the day itself, people poured into the field carrying brightly coloured balloons and party streamers with which to decorate the gazebos and parasols. The community spirit even extended to the joint clean-up the following day. A party’s been held on the same field at about the same date every year since. Of course, it’s all jointly funded now and the organisation gets handed round to a different group each year, but still it’s a memorable and hugely enjoyable community day out.

As another milestone anniversary celebration approached, our children asked whether we still hoped to see Venice. They couldn’t offer us a grand trip, but maybe a little visit would be an appreciated gift? Our initial reaction was it was a dream which belonged to our old lives. But, having been encouraged to think it over, our minds slowly changed.

So, here we are, on the second day of our holiday. Venice is bustling but, without the cruise ships and with the restriction on visitor numbers, it’s less crowded, and there’s no jostling of gondolas in the canals. The water in the canals isn’t quite as clear as those photos taken during 2020’s lock down, and there are no dolphins to be seen. When I told Matt over a coffee in St Mark’s Square how disappointed I was not to see dolphins, he positively roared with laughter, telling me that particular story had been an example of the false news which was all too commonplace back then.

As we sat there laughing at my silliness, a waiter arrived. Giving us a little bow, he wished us “Felice anniversario!” before depositing a bottle of Prosecco with two glasses on our table. Matt smiled at having managed to get one over on me in the organisation stakes, before popping open the bottle and pouring out two glasses. In our truly awful Italian accents we chinked glasses, exclaiming “felice anniversario!” to each other.

Sipping our Prosecco as the shadows grew longer in St Mark’s Square, we agreed this was the most perfect holiday ever.

© Debra Carey, 2020


A new kind of life

Julie made her way purposefully through the crowd milling in the High Street, attempting to balance the competing needs to be mindful of the world around her and to get her ‘heart points’ in.  Walking briskly enough to get her heart rate up was a challenge in this throng, but not impossible, and being more mindful meant that it was easier to spot the gaps that she could slip through.

The town centre was a sort of architectural ‘curate’s egg’: good in parts.  The council had spotted in time the need to protect the older buildings, without turning them into a sort of old world twee gimmick.  It was unfortunate that there’d been enough development before this to overshadow the courtyards and shop fronts of the old quarter.

Julie turned off the main thoroughfare into a quiet, romanesque court-yard.   A fountain, underplanted with bright flowers, brought a much needed sense of calm to the scene.   The courtyard was home to a dozen or so shops, included two cafes whose tables spilled out onto the cobbles to take advantage of the fresh air and sunshine.  By unspoken mutual agreement, and perhaps a little pressure from the other shops, the tables did not fill the courtyard; they were discrete clusters outside their respective establishments, leaving room to roam and breathe.

“Julie! Julie! Over here!” Tansy was half out of her seat, waving like a dervish.  As ever, she was attracting attention.  Before, the startled and bemused expressions of others would have bothered her a lot, but now she noticed the attention, the commotion, and dismissed it.

“Hi Tansy! You’re looking well.  Sorry to have kept you.”

“Oh, I’ve only just got here and snagged the table.  I nearly missed the courtyard, but your directions were impeccable.”

“It is a little out of the way, but I’ve always preferred it here to the chains in town.  Thanks for coming to see me though.  It’s been so long.”  Tansy and Julie had been great friends at university.  They’d been on different courses, joined different clubs, but had clicked as soon as they’d met in Halls, and had even survived sharing a house together.  Their lives had gone in very different directions – professionally and geographically – but they caught each other up via email and social media, talked on the phone regularly and met up a few times a year in person.

“Nonsense!  London is lovely and has so much to offer, but it’s nice to get away every now and again. And the shopping here has been phenomenal!  Yes, it must be a couple of years since we last did something – was it that city-break to Copenhagen?”

“That’s right.  But let me get you something – what would you like?”

“My usual, please” Tansy gave Julie an odd look.


“After all this time, you don’t normally ask.”

“Ah.  Back in a minute.”

It was actually a couple of minutes: the café was busy, and Tansy had been lucky to get the table out in the sunshine, swooping in as a young couple had reluctantly finished a tête-à-tête.  Julie resumed her seat.  She took in her friend, who appeared unchanged since the last time they had met.  Fashionably dressed, cool, chic, and perhaps a little young, but with a face and figure that could carry it off, and as ever attended by a flock of shopping bags.  The scrutiny was returned.

“I like this” Tansy said, indicating the sleeveless summer dress that Julie had set off with some large bracelets and a thin belt.  “But I don’t recognise it.  It’s not Chanel’s new line is it?”

“Thank you!  I made it myself actually.”

Tansy’s eyebrows shot up.  “Noooo…You’re pulling my leg!”

“Truly!  I don’t make everything myself, but I’ve been doing more.  I’ve been doing doll’s clothes for years, and then there were costumes for school-plays.  I’ve always enjoyed sewing, but never seemed to have the time before.  Now, I make the time.”

Their drinks arrived.  Tansy actually had several ‘usuals’ depending on a combination of location, weather, and time of day.  It being a lovely summer’s afternoon, a frappucchino was placed before.  This time it was a single eye-brow that was raised as some kind of herbal tea was placed before Julie.

“Ok.  I don’t know what sick game you’re playing lady, but bring back the real Julie, right now!”

Julie laughed at the old joke.

“No, I’m serious!”  Tansy’s face attempted to look concerned but couldn’t quite manage it. “You’re not dying, are you?”

“No, I’m not dying!  What makes you say that?”

“Well… you’ve not been shopping today, you’re making your own clothes, you’re not drinking coffee, and you look like you’ve lost a load of weight…too much weight.”

“Oh! I see.  I’ve only stopped drinking coffee after midday.  I was finding it was affecting my sleep.  I like making my own clothes, and yes I have lost some weight, but I’m really careful to keep within my BMI range.  I’ve been making some changes to my lifestyle over the last couple of years.  It actually started shortly after that trip to Denmark.  I was in a bit of bad way and I was comparing myself to you and feeling a bit of a failure.”

“Oh sweetie!  Why didn’t you say something?”

“When you feel like that, you don’t really want to talk to anybody.  And then there was the whole Covid-19 thing.  I got furloughed, which in some ways was great, but it made me wonder about my usefulness, if they didn’t need me.  Absolute rubbish of course, it was just that I couldn’t work from home.  Homeschooling was tough too.  The sheer spread of what needed doing, the mass of work sent home by the school, the children being wobbly about the whole situation and missing their friends…and then the company struggled coming out of the otherside and I got laid off.”

Tansy tried to find something to say.  Her own experience had been very different, but then she already worked from home, and didn’t have children.  The only major crimp in her lifestyle had been that she couldn’t travel as much as she was used to, not for work, not for pleasure.

“Oh sweetie” she said again.

“Oh, this isn’t a sob story! Yes, there were some rough patches, some highs and lows, but the lock-down wasn’t a complete disaster.  I’m in a much better place physically and mentally than I was.  I started doing more exercise, yoga, meditation; I sorted out the garden finally;  I Konmarie’d the house; and I got a new job – which I love!  There was a pretty horrible year, a not great six months, and now it feels like there is some sort of equilibrium again.”

“Wow!  Sounds like life is perfect for you now!  Have you still got time and space for old friends?”

“I wouldn’t say it’s perfect!  And of course there’s time for good friends.  Speaking of – what about you?”

Julie and Tansy picked up the conversation pretty much where they had set it down after their trip to Copenhagen, reminiscing about the Tivoli Gardens and the restaurants, and all the sights and sounds they’d experienced.  An hour passed quickly.

“Look, why don’t we go back to my house – we can’t hold onto this table forever.  We can enjoy the garden for a bit, and you can stay for supper.”

“What?  Do you cook now too?”

“A lot may have changed, but not everything” Julie grinned “but don’t worry, Mark is an excellent cook.”

© David Jesson, 2020

I thought it might also be helpful to repost the links to the videos on dealing with stress and anxiety that we included when we set the prompt:

  • 15 minute version for children here
  • another here, designed for adults
  • a longer one of an hour designed for people who are working in support roles at the moment, such as mental health charities.

Ellie has also written a few more short talks since then, on a range of topics, so do explore Allen Ruddock’s YouTube channel, where they are hosted, for more focused talks on a range of subjects.


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

#FF Prompt – The Continuity Index

I have no idea what the Continuity Index is, what it is used for, nor who by – but that’s half the fun!  So, this month’s prompt can be applied to your favourite genre, or a genre that you’d like to trial.  For bonus points, you could try and write in the style of one of your favourite authors.  Double bonus points if you take that style and place it into a different genre.  So for example Steve Shovel could be on the hunt for a McGuffin known as the Mondretti Cylinder (bonus points) and this turns out to be a cthonic entity (double bonus points).


I think you need a bit of play for this one, so 1000-2500 words – on your marks, get set go!
Deadline: 8 am on Sunday, 8th March 2020.

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

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 – you retain the copyright.

One caveat, if you want to go down this route: this is a family show, so we reserve the right not to post anything that strays into NSFW or offends against ‘common decency’.


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