Friday Flash Fiction – Wander With Wanda

Is it Fiction, is it Friday? This week I share the blog of a writer introduced to me by Baz the Bad Blogger … I take no responsibility for what she may say…

WANDA ON WEDNESDAY

The Woman Who Tells It How It Is

THIS WEEK – WANDER WITH WANDA

This week H3 and I have been travelling and visiting, with all the unpleasant mingling with people that involves; and that’s just H3’s relatives.

At the inevitable motorway services we encountered that condition I am fortunate not to suffer from, ‘Indecision’. It gives me indigestion when people hover as I eat. We knew they were a posh family because the fortyish woman with long legs, tight jeans, designer boots and jacket addressed an expressionless facelift woman as ‘Mummy.’ ‘Daddy’ stood with arms dangling, slender fingers deathly white, a medical condition perhaps, certainly he did not look robust enough to cope with young grandchildren. There was a toddler in a wheeled contraption and a boy of pre-school age.

In an unusual moment of grandmotherly sympathy I said ‘Plenty of room here’ motioning to the table next to us and the pair of empty chairs at our table. H3 frowned at me.

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Yes, we are to be a grandmother, the daughter waited till the twelve week scan to break the news. I told her not to expect me to baby-sit, as with the puppy when she was nine, ‘You wanted it, you can look after it.’ Of course it’s about time, I had told her often enough not to leave it too late; she’s older than Meghan. I had even tactfully asked if there might be a problem, wouldn’t have been surprised if her so called ‘partner’ was not up to the task. H3 already has a couple of grandkids, in New Zealand thankfully.

Anyway, back to motorway services. How hard is it, in a building full of tables and chairs, to find somewhere to sit for three adults and two kids? A staff member was summoned to clean the table and Grandma steered the baby vehicle behind us. A high chair appeared and was wedged in behind H3’s chair, toddler was inserted and boy enveloped in an arm chair and given a plastic box of healthy fruit portions. His mother dashed off to the loo with the question of what to eat and drink and who was to fetch it, left in the air.

It came to me then that the whole ‘family motorway operation’ is an insurmountable problem; the unfamiliar high prices, the atmosphere of rush, the jumble of counters and tills leaves even normally functioning adults in a quandary.

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The mother returned with news of a better table spotted just as Granddad tried to move the high chair a fraction; the tray came off surprisingly easily in his frail arms and he nearly toppled backwards.

‘Come on Darling,’ mother to boy ‘we’re going to another table.’

‘I don’t want to move’ followed by an ear piercing scream.

Perhaps he had one of those syndromes, or maybe he was just a brat. By now H3 had his impending migraine expression and I had indigestion. I leaned in to make a witty remark to cheer him up.

‘Shsh, they’re sitting behind you, they’ll hear’ he whispered.

Further conversation was impossible as the toddler, upset by her brother’s tantrum, decided to join in. H3 made a play of looking at his watch then stood up; he did not want to be rude and look as if we were escaping from them.

 

 

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H3’s relatives took us to a well known family restaurant chain which I had not visited since the days when the daughter was little and it was H1’s idea of the perfect family outing, no wonder I divorced him. At the bar for drinks, while we waited interminably for a table, we found ourselves in the middle of an old boys’ reunion. Memo to self, never attend a reunion when you get past a certain age, even if you are hale and hearty you will be cast into dark despondency by the sight of former lively colleagues with walking sticks, stoops and tremors.

‘Hello Dave mate, how are you doing?’ translation ‘Oh my God, I hardly recognised you.’

Our table was on the other side of a flimsy trellis from a children’s birthday party, could it get any worse? Yes, our very attentive waitress, did not allow the confined space to deter her from appearing like a parrot at my shoulder every ten minutes to ask if everything was all right… and all the while H3’s aunty trilled how she always came here because she liked the salad bowl.

 

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Imagine my relief at the end of the week to be alone in a First Class lounge at Heathrow Airport, or so I thought until I heard loud voices. Buying a first class ticket does not make you First Class, common was the word that sprang to mind. When an attendant brought my coffee and croissant I gestured to the couple who were now complaining to another member of staff.

‘Nouveau Riche?’ I whispered.

She stifled a giggle and nodded.

Other passengers sighed with relief when the couple’s flight was called, except for those on the same flight.

We all sat in silence with newspapers, books and lap tops, but sometimes it can be too peaceful. Mr. Important Businessman sat opposite me and methodically opened his lap top and briefcase and inserted earpieces, looking round with an expression that said Do not disturb, important e-mails to answer, vital documents to read.

Within seconds his head drooped and he was fast asleep, woken only half an hour later by the call for my flight. He sat bolt upright in alarm, then glared accusingly at his lap top screen, he managed to swallow his pride enough to ask me which flight had been called; he was on the same flight.

I gathered my belongings calmly, I had written and scheduled this blog five minutes before the call. I enjoyed imagining him arriving utterly unprepared for his meeting of world importance.

Read more flash fiction and stories of all sorts including two novellas.

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Friday Flash Fiction – Final part of Tomorrow

If you missed part one last Friday, catch up here.

https://tidalscribe.wordpress.com/2019/05/03/friday-flash-fiction-tomorrow/

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On the news the next day the police were asking for a couple to come forward who were believed to be witnesses.

Beth was waiting for me in a café, the other side of town from the shooting. ‘I don’t even know your name, but I can tell you’re a compassionate man, you understand people.’

She was quite attractive, in a homely sort of way, but it was the sadness in her eyes that affected me and I almost felt like the man she imagined me to be. Was it possible to atone for everything I’d done. I’d never killed my wife in cold blood, like the gunman, but I had killed…

‘Are you okay? I don’t think you policeman are as tough as you like to think.’

His eyes, as if he was looking into the gates of hell… I pulled myself together, I was definitely losing it.

‘Sorry, I’m upsetting you. Tell me about your family Beth.’

She talked and I held her hand platonically. She paused.

‘I’m supposed to be meeting a friend for an early dinner, my mother’s picking the children up from school, we were going to the concert hall, but she’s ill. Are you one of those detectives who loves music?’

‘Yes’ I lied automatically.

‘You’re welcome to the other ticket, it’s Verdi’s Requiem, perhaps something deep and stirring would be good for both of us.’ She suddenly laughed. ‘Rather ironic, we were supposed to have the Day of Judgment yesterday.’

‘I’ll come with you.’

My brain was ticking over, there was lasagne verdi and wasn’t there a Verdi who wrote operas? I could nip into the gents and get on the internet with my mobile, find out more.

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I paid for dinner with my laundered money, then we rushed to the concert hall, it was starting at 7pm. While Beth was in the Ladies I bought a programme and scanned it hurriedly. Four columns of Latin, that shouldn’t take long to sing. I started reading the English translation. I had been lulled into feeling like a new man, but the words leapt off the page.

The day of wrath, that day will dissolve the world in ashes… how great will be the terror, when the judge comes…

I closed the programme, just words, made up like an opera….

We had good seats, in the middle, a few rows back. The stage filled with a large orchestra, behind them were banked an enormous choir. Everyone was clapping and they hadn’t even played anything yet, four soloists walked on.

As they started singing I followed the Latin words as best I could, I soon realised they kept repeating every line, how long was this going to take? I tried to relax and let the music wash over me, but suddenly the orchestra were playing wildly, the choir was crying out, and I could feel the vibrations of the bass drum like a death knell. Beside me Beth clasped my hand and trembled with the thrill of the music. But I trembled with terror; at that moment I knew it was true, there would be a Day of Judgement and I would never be ready.

The programme dropped from my hands, I had no idea how much time passed, as that terrible theme was repeated. Then everyone was clapping and Beth was leading me out. She leaned up and brushed my cheek.

‘Wasn’t it wonderful, there’s no need to be ashamed, shedding a few tears. That’s strange, it shouldn’t be dark outside yet at this time of year, must be a storm coming.’

She slipped her arm through mine, I tried to blank my mind, slip back to normality, but as we stepped outside the sky was black, not the clear black of night, but dark rolling storm clouds. I looked up in abject terror as the sky rent in two, then cast my eyes down. Beth was no longer beside me.

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For more dark stories dip into this book.

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Friday Flash Fiction – Tomorrow

I hesitated before I answered my mobile, it was my sister again.

‘Tomorrow… perhaps’ I said curtly.

‘Andrew, you need to come now. John and I don’t care if we never see you again, but Mum would forgive you everything if you walked through that door now.’

I didn’t go the next day. I don’t like hospitals, my sister is better at that sort of thing and John has always been the reliable one. In the pub that evening no one asked how my mother was; no one there knew I had a mother.

Somehow conversation veered from sport and women to the end of the world.

‘It’s tomorrow… perhaps’ said Sean. ‘6pm according to this American bloke. I don’t know why you’re laughing Andrew. It’s not going to be the end of everything, it’s the Day of Judgement; the righteous will be taken to heaven and the wicked left in torment till the world really does end.’

‘How much have you had to drink?’

Ben had reached the maudlin state. ‘Sean’s right, I read it in the paper, not tomorrow perhaps, but soon, all the signs are there. Look at the news; every day a giant earthquake, flood, fire or volcano, we’re not even surprised any more.’

‘Not in England, the world’s not going to end here. If there was a day of judgement we’re all sinners, you two are no angels. Come on I’ll get the next round.’

They knew I’d done some bad things in my time; all my family, friends, if you could call them that, my colleagues, acquaintances and my enemies. They all thought they knew what sort of person I was, but each of them knew only a part of my life. Only I knew all the crimes and sins committed and people I’d hurt. That was the good thing about being an atheist; I was accountable only to myself. If the end of the world did come it would be by the careless hand of man and in the meantime I was going to enjoy myself. When Sean and Ben went home to their long suffering wives, both of whom had sought solace in my arms, I went to my club; the club I owned in everything but name. I needed to check if the new pole dancer was settling in.

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The next morning I did my laundry, at the bank, then strolled out into the sunshine. I contemplated visiting the hospital, but first I needed to pop back to the club to finish some paperwork while it was quiet.

My mobile rang, it was my brother.

‘I’m on my way, give me half an hour.’

‘Andrew, it’s too late.’ His coldness sent a chill even to my stony heart. ‘If you have any grain of decency left come and collect the letter mother left you.’

Before I could reply, a shot rang out. I looked up shocked; it was broad daylight and no one I knew. A man was standing over a woman lying in a pool of blood, then he noticed me, he fired a wavering shot to warn me away. An eerie silence had descended; everyone else had melted into doorways or down the subway steps; except for a young woman who had tripped or dived for cover onto the pavement, now paralysed with fear.

I’m no hero, if the man actually knew how to aim a gun I would be the next victim. A few paces and I could dive down the steps into my club; the only obstacle was the woman. The muscles I used for strong arm tactics came in handy for rescuing a fallen woman. I locked and barred the door behind us and whisked her into my office. She was too frightened to speak, but I could feel her heart thumping. Through my shirt I could also feel her warm breasts pressed against my chest, soft, not a hint of silicone. Perhaps there would be a chance of grateful sex later, but suddenly any carnal thoughts left me, I felt cold inside. I only looked the gunman in the eyes for a second, but what I saw in those eyes terrified me; he wasn’t mad, nor was he drugged up. Anyone who saw his expression would know that we are all accountable for what we do.

The woman spoke. ‘I don’t know how to thank you; it’s not just me you’ve helped, I was widowed recently, it would be unbearable for the children if they lost me as well.’

Now she’d started talking she couldn’t stop. ‘Are we trapped in here? I need to pick the children up from school. Do you think we were caught on CCTV or someone’s mobile, my mother will be frantic if she sees me on the news, I’d rather no one knew this has happened…’

I put on my best vulnerable woman approach and hugged her gently.

‘Shsh, it’s okay, I’m CID.’ Lying came naturally to me. ‘We did a raid on this place, I know another way out. I’ll put a report in, say you left without giving your name.’

Outside I found a cab for her and gave the driver cash. Then, I don’t know why, I also wrote down my ‘safe’ mobile number. She was sensible enough not to give me her number.

There are two types of women I like; the hard ones who play by the same rules as me and the vulnerable ones who I can play with. But I knew I would treat this woman with respect, if I ever saw her again, a novel feeling for me.

I went to the hospital and met my brother in the corridor; he handed me the letter, I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing, turned on my heel and walked out. At home I put the letter on the table, I would open it tomorrow, perhaps. I watched the news; the gunman had surrendered, too scared to kill himself. My phone rang, it was her.

‘I didn’t thank you properly, or tell you my name, Beth. This has really shaken me up, I can’t talk to anyone; just say no if you don’t want to, but it would be good to meet for a coffee while the kids are at school tomorrow.’

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What will tomorrow bring? Find out next Friday.

 

Friday Flash Fiction – 800 – Dream Machine

Seth tried to hang on to the memories before he opened his eyes; a whole film in technicolour. He had dreamed a whole movie, a brilliant idea for a novel if he could recall it; write a best seller with film makers flocking to his door… that would be a dream. If only he could connect his brain to his computer, time would not be wasted sleeping, unless it was the fact that he was sleeping that produced the ideas. He jumped as his phone vibrated under his pillow and played that irritating tune. Every morning he vowed to change the tune and every evening he forgot. Whatever the melody, it didn’t alter the fact that he had to get up for work.

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The school Seth taught at bore no resemblance to the one in his dream, where young minds were nurtured and different talents exposed to produce a team of world changing teenagers with Seth sharing a little of the glory, or quite a lot as he was made Prime Minister. Who would play him in the film? He snapped out of his reverie and looked at the surly faces staring at him… and that was just the staff room. Seth put his empty coffee cup down and stood ready to face the afternoon.

‘Hey Seth, you’ve got a new kid in your English class, he’s in my form, Dad’s a scientist and polymath, seen him on television, goodness knows why he sent his son to this school, something about discovering real life.’

‘He was thrown out of his private school,’ said the head of science ‘too clever for his own good.’

Seth felt his hackles rise; they should be encouraging the clever kids, not putting them down. He strode down the corridor with an idea for the warm up pen and paper creative exercise.

The class was unusually quiet, gathered round the new boy who was talking enthusiastically, his long fingers gesticulating elegantly to illustrate his subject.

‘Without any discussion class, write for fifteen minutes imagining you could plug your brain into a computer while you slept.’

Unusually they settled down quickly. Seth sauntered casually between the desks, the new boy was scribbling furiously, words and hieroglyphics.

‘Isaac isn’t it?’

‘Yes Sir.’

At least the private school had taught him manners.

‘Named after Newton or Asimov?’

‘Both Sir.’

‘Do you enjoy writing?’

‘When it’s my favourite topic, good choice Sir, my father and I have just invented such a device. It didn’t go down too well at my last school, getting the pupils to volunteer; perhaps you would like to have a go?’

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So on Friday evening Seth found himself relaxing on a comfortable bed in a very pleasant room with electrodes attached to his head; he didn’t expect it to work, but he did have an idea for a new short story about a writer who finds himself  in the hands of mad father and son scientists. It was rather creepy being in the company of the two most intelligent people he had ever met.

‘Our initial aim is to discover if brain waves will translate into images or words or perhaps both’ said Isaac’s father.

Seth drifted off quickly. He was on board the International Space Station with  Isaac and his father and the attractive married science teacher he fancied; also bizarrely his mother and the middle aged lady who worked on the till at the Co Op. They had a fantastic plan for saving the Earth from climate change, if only he could remember what the plan was… he woke up with a start.

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‘Great, we’ve got some images already.’

Seth looked at the screen as he sipped a welcome cup of tea. A beautiful view of the earth, a view inside the space station, well anybody could get those images off the internet… but not pictures of his mother and everyone in his dream, the lady still in her Co Op uniform, the science teacher in a very short skirt and low cut blouse, floating around showing her figure to full effect. Isaac chuckled.

‘Hey Sir, you fancy Mrs Greening.’

Seth ignored the remark. ‘But we’re not talking, I’m not sure if we spoke in the dream, but we had a plan…’ he rubbed his temples ‘to save the earth.’

‘Let’s try the word document then’ said Isaac’s father.

Seth thrilled when he saw words come up on the screen, he’d written a book in his sleep, he peered closer, something was wrong…

I Captain odf the mosat brillainteam o severs sent up my mother fopr got to,mask me to get milkat the shops mrs greening saya her husband is dead so its okayforhet come up herthees the moonnt asbigasithoughtihave togobalc toearth itstime forscgool wonder if the shuttle is working todayknoitdoesb’tworkanymore ohohmyspacesuitdoesn;t fit ishallppbably implode otrisitsexplode ionspace………….

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For more stories, have a look in the book.

 

What Colour is Your Blog?

Often we round off writers’ group with a timed exercise, the other week it was the colour yellow and it was surprising how much came to mind. I thought

Hey, I could have a different colour blog each week!

So we start with yellow.

Yellow is the oldest colour, the colour of the Sun, watery in winter, golden at sunset and over the equator. The yellow sun mixes with the blue sky to make nature’s green and among the green leaves are the flowers that mimic the sun. Bees love yellow; they wear it and seek it out. I felt guilty when bees bumped into our sun lounge windows, attracted by the bright yellow of the lamps on the windowsill.

 

Yellow makes a statement, banish cowardice; let yellow represent spring, summer, fun and happiness.  It is also a designer statement, the stars on the European Union flag, the colour of smart raincoats, Ikea, our local buses, my website, my kitchen. When we ‘rebranded’ our north facing dining room we painted the walls yellow, went minimalist, replaced bookshelves with large plants and called it the garden room.

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When you stroll down the road your spirits are lifted when you pass pretty gardens and at this time of year yellow is in abundance. As daffodils fade tulips come out and wallflowers with their delightful scent. Dandelions are unfairly treated as weeds and are apparently good for you medicinally and nutritionally.

You can seee more flowers at my website.

https://www.ccsidewriter.co.uk/chapter-two-coastal-views/

 

 

 

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What is your favourite colour, suggest a colour and I’ll write about it next week.

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Friday Flash Fiction – Notre Dame

The Easter break from university was handy, Lucas had booked a flight before he could change his mind, but he was looking forward to the trip to Paris by himself; no rushing round sightseeing with friends or the pressure of creating the perfect romantic break for your girlfriend. Once he had found the Airbnb he would keep his promise to his grandmother then he would be free to wander at leisure around the city.

They had only had one family trip to Paris, his twelve year old self grumbling and bored, not taking much notice of Grand-maman retelling the stories of her youth. He and his father had opted for a bateau on the Seine while his grandparents, mother and sisters made the pilgrimage to Notre Dame. There had been other trips to Paris, but never all together again. He had preferred Eurodisney with the school, but now he would pay his first visit to Notre Dame and light a candle for his grandmother.

As Lucas emerged from the Metro station he sensed immediately something was wrong; a red glow in the sky, an ancient scent in the air and a strange silence.  It couldn’t be happening, but somehow he was standing with the crowds looking across the water at Notre Dame burning, gazing up at the fiery spire as it toppled. His throat was tight with shock as the crowd gasped and wept. Thank God his grandmere never lived to see this day. Lucas fumbled with his phone, he must tell his mother. He snapped a picture, it seemed almost indecent, but plenty of others had their phones high above their heads. What words to follow the picture?

‘Mum?’

Lucas? I know, we just saw it on the news, thank God you’re okay.

A bubble of hysteria formed in his throat, had his mother feared he had started the conflagration by lighting his candle?

‘Of course I’m okay, but Notre Dame… Grand-maman…’

His mother was crying.

Now, surrounded by Parisians, he understood for the first time what Notre Dame had meant to his Grandmere. He sent up a prayer, the god he didn’t believe in was surely listening this evening and Grand-maman did not need a candle; centuries of incense infused wood were sending holy smoke up to Heaven.

Lucas felt at home among the crowd, not the angry gilet jaune protests he had been looking forward to watching, but united and dignified. Brexit was off the agenda here, irrelevant, but he felt a stab as he recalled how the last few years had made Grand-maman sad, Lucas’ mother irrationally angry at his poor father just because his own father had voted Brexit.

The next morning Lucas was up early along with many others as they marvelled at walls and towers still standing. He was glad now his grandmother and mother had nagged him to practice his conversational French. In the evening he joined in the singing.

On Wednesday evening he was still finding himself drawn there and thrilled to hear bells pealing out all over the city. He vowed to visit the great lady every day of Holy Week.

Thursday evening found Lucas, with new French friends he had acquired, gathering outside Hotel de Ville to pay tribute to the fire fighters.

Now it was Good Friday and perhaps it was time to step inside a church as some of his new friends would be doing.

Friday Flash Fiction – 600 – Nom de Plume

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Busy weekend away helping Sally’s aunt and uncle move house; we stopped for dinner at the motorway services on the way back. I still hadn’t written a word for my new writers’ group on Monday evening. Sally just laughed.

‘Rob, it’s not school, just tell them you didn’t have time, though you could write a whole book about this weekend.’

‘Yes… and if it got published would your aunt and uncle recognise themselves?’

‘Not if you changed the names.’

She continued leafing through some free magazine she had picked up, then pushed it to my side of the table.

‘Look, there’s a short story at the back, maybe you will get one of your short stories in a magazine one day.’

‘I am hoping to aim a little higher than some rubbish free magazine.’

I flicked back through the pages; there was actually an article written by a dog, looking for forever homes for his pals.

Lots of licks, Barney.

‘Oh please, spare me… ‘

‘Read the story Rob, maybe it’s good.’

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Protest

by Angelique Dubarry

 It started with a bumble bee and ended with the saving of a whale; thousands of signatures on the petition protesting to Sea Worlds in the USA for keeping Killer Whales in captivity. Saving The World from my computer was simple and addictive, till the day the door bell rang…

Hmm, it was quite a good story, our topic was The Internet – Good or Evil? Sally was busy playing with her phone, I slipped the magazine into my man bag. Nobody in my writers’ group would lower themselves to read this trashy magazine. What did Sally say about changing the names? No one would possibly know I had borrowed the story.

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On Monday evening there was a good turn out and it was a while before my turn. I read clearly and confidently, I was enjoying myself.

…till the day the door bell rang. I thought they were Mormons, two smart young men in suits.

‘Good morning Ma’am… Mrs Katherine Jones?… how are you today?’

I was taken aback they knew my name, but they were so polite and so American I stepped back and they stepped forward, into my house. On closer inspection their black badges did not mention Latter Day Saints and what they were saying did not make sense. ‘… home security…’

I thought they were selling burglar alarms; then they homed in to the extension where we keep the computer. Now their slick talking seemed to include the words ‘national security’.

I realised, when it was too late, I should not have offered them a cup of tea. When I was at the sink filling the kettle they disappeared, with the computer…

I looked up, the room was eerily silent, either they were totally absorbed, or they did not like my story. I stuttered, but managed to get to the end.

  ‘…but I don’t understand sergeant, what I have done wrong?’ I stammered.

 ‘Let’s hope your ‘38 degree’ friends can get you a good solicitor, one who will explain the extradition process.’

The tight lipped silence continued, I noticed the retired lady’s face reddening.

‘It’s okay Ruth, I’ll handle this’ said Giles, self appointed leader of the group. ‘Is this your own work Rob, or have you some explaining to do?’

How was I to know that Ruth Brown used Angelique Dubarry as her nom de plume? How was I to know that everybody recognised the story, because it had been short listed for the prestigious local arts festival competition last year.

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Flash Fiction 950 – Writer’s Retreat

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‘…yes, but I’m used to being on my own, with Giles away half the time and I rather like it now they have all left home…  I know Tammy won’t be popping in every week when I’m up there. That’s half the point. She won’t come round with the children anyway, while all the work is going on next door, because of their ears and lungs…  Yes it is that bad, that’s why I demanded they pay me compensation, enough to be away from home…  but it’s not as if I could join Giles in the Antarctic… No of course I can’t afford a luxury cruise; what you call my Victorian Villa is more of a millstone, always has been, like a hungry monster that constantly has to be fed…  We WERE thinking of downsizing till Dave and Debs got in first and sold next door for a fortune; no one is going to even look at our house while the foundations are being shaken. Yes Dave and Debs did say they had sold to a nice quiet family, a nice family who for some unearthly reason want to live underground…  and a wine cellar and entertainment room…  Oh they’ve started again, can you hear that awful thumping, that’s the pile driver. I almost wish the whole place would implode down into the Central Line. Do you think we could claim on their insurance if our house was swallowed by the London Underground?…  Northumberland…  I won’t be roughing it, there is an oil tank, just no electricity…  I won’t need to charge my phone, because there is no WiFi…  Pen and paper, like writers have always used. Long walks, fresh food and making a start on my new novel…  Well it was bad timing the car conking out, but that’s part of the adventure, go up on the train to Berwick-upon-Tweed, local bus to this farm and then the farmer take me the rest of the way…  Okay, love to Phil, yes I will, if he manages to Facetime tonight, not quite Shackleton, but it’s not easy communicating with a scientist at the South Pole, even if he is my husband.’

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I should have started ringing round the rest of the family, but packing was my priority if I was to get to Kings Cross Station in the morning with one manageable rucksack.

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Once the bus had dropped me off there was no turning back. I hoped it was the right farm gate I was standing by. I couldn’t even figure out how to open it, but just as I was wondering if the farm was occupied at all, a figure emerged from what I presumed must be the farm house. A voice hailed me, the only clue as to what sex the figure in green overalls might be. But when she strode up to the gate I was surprised to see a young woman with blond curls tied in a bunch and a huge baby bump. Already I was putting her into my novel. She introduced herself as Abby.

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After a cup of tea and home made scones, in a farmhouse kitchen straight out of the fifties, it was time to set off before it got dark. This was real life for sure. My home for a month had been a tenant farmer’s cottage, a tied cottage. The family had done it up to rent out and supplement their income. The land rover was more comfortable than you might expect, even though it did smell of damp dog and cow manure.

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So there I was, by the cosy light of an oil lamp, in front of a wood fire. Although it was spring, the nights up there were still cold. I have to confess Abby had already laid the fire earlier and got it going for me. She showed me the wood pile, the kindling, the oil tank that fuelled the Aga. Not that I was planning to do much cooking. There was no phone. I would not see anyone till next week when they popped in with more food supplies. Abby looked rather doubtful when she asked if I would be alright.

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I went to bed early. There were plenty of books in the house, how delightful to be Kindle free, but the evening felt long and I was tired after my journey and couldn’t muster the energy to start writing. It was so quiet, I hadn’t reckoned how much I would miss not being able to turn on the radio; still this was a good way get inside my character’s head.

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I woke up suddenly, in complete darkness, without any idea where I was. When I came to my senses I fumbled for my torch, but I had lost my bearings; the door and the window had disappeared. I felt an overwhelming longing for the intrusive street lights at home. All I could think to do was to feel my way outside, at least there would be moonlight. I stubbed my toes, banged my shins, nearly fell down the uneven wooden stairs. My watch was not luminous, I had no idea of the time without my phone to look at. I tried to picture the stairs in relation to the door. At last I felt the metal latch and heaved it up in panic.

There was no moon. The darkness was so thick you could slice it. The wonderful open fields that had surrounded me earlier had been replaced by dark nothingness and oppressive silence. With Giles this would have been an adventure, with a group of city friends it might have been a laugh. Alone it was turning into my worst nightmare.

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For more tales dark and light choose one of my selections of short stories.

 

Friday Flash Fiction 1000 – A Wife For Life

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A Wife For Life

The mist still hung over the bracken, the Thames meandered peacefully by. A pair of antlers rose above the bracken, tilting back as a black nose sniffed the air. The morning stillness was broken by the thunder of hooves and the cries of young men. Harry led the way on his strong grey stallion, his powerful thighs gripping the saddle. The horse was as strong willed as his master and eager to gallop, his master was the only rider who could keep him in check. The young man knew his hunting grounds well, but the long grass and ferns could easily conceal a fatal rabbit hole.

The alert hart was swift to round up his hinds and flee into the copse, but it was another man on horseback that saved his herd. The messenger galloped frantically after the hunting party sounding his horn. Harry turned his steed sharply, knowing what the news must be.

‘Word from My Lady, Sire’ said the messenger breathlessly, as his panting horse drew level with the stallion.

‘Has her time come?’

The message was a few days earlier than expected, but not a surprise. Harry motioned the other men to continue the hunt.

‘Bring back the finest haunch of venison, God willing we will have a feast tonight.’

Harry galloped alone back to the palace, the messenger on his chestnut mare had no chance of keeping up, but his mission was accomplished.

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Several grooms stood ready as their master leapt from his sweating horse. Harry was soon striding down the long corridors. Lady Maria Santos curtseyed at the door of his wife’s chamber.

‘How is My Lady?’

‘She is in good spirits as usual, her waters broke but an hour ago, the maids are fetching more hot water.’

Ministers and courtiers were gathering in the corridor.

‘Go, go, I want no one here except the Queen’s physician and the lady of the birthing stool.’

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Catherine looked up as her tall handsome husband entered the bedchamber. His red hair was tousled, he smelt of leather and bracken.

She laughed. ‘Your ruddy cheeks tell me you were out hunting.’

‘Not ten minutes ride from home and five minutes gallop back’ he laughed, as he knelt by the imported porcelain hip bath and stroked her swollen belly. She tensed as another wave of pain swept over her; but Maria the physician directed her skilled assistant to bring the bowl of steaming infusion from the fireplace. Catherine breathed in deeply and allowed the steam and hot water to soothe her.

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An hour later Maria declared it was time and Harry helped his wife step out of the bath, supporting her as she squatted and clung to the stout oak bed post.

‘Good, good, I can see the head’ said Maria.

Gravity, skill and the efforts of the mother did their work and the lady of the birthing stool removed the blade from the fire and swiftly cut the chord as Maria held the crying baby.

But Maria frowned, handed the baby to her assistant, then palpated Catherine’s belly. For the first time the king felt fear as his wife’s face contorted in pain.

‘It is as I suspected, another baby, pray it is in a good position, I fear the cord is wrapped around its neck.’

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It was yet another hour before Catherine lay back on the bolster, Harry perched on the high bed beside her.

‘Well done my beautiful Queen, two boys, a sign from God.’

She smiled. ‘Well done my King, did not Maria tell us it is the man’s seed that decrees boy or girl?’

‘…and was it not you My Lady, with your insistence on a Spanish court, who brought your wonderful lady physician with you? And now I shall fetch Edward and Alfred to meet their new brothers.’

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Two little boys with red hair and rosy cheeks burst into the chamber.

‘Permission to retire, Your Majesty’ said Maria. ‘I shall return in one hour. Now I leave you to enjoy your family.’

‘I once nearly had you charged with treason, wanting me to dismiss the royal physicians, barring my ministers from the birth of Edward. But you were right, a King should be witness to the arrival of his heirs.’

The little princes ran around the chamber, swinging on the curtains of their parents’ four poster bed, stopping to peer at the strange creatures attached to their mother’s breasts.

‘Shall you not wish for a wet nurse this time, now you have two hungry babes my love?’

‘No, no, royal Spanish milk is what they need to grow strong like Edward and Alfred, but what shall we call them? I wanted Phillip if it was a boy…

‘A king’s prerogative to choose, and I have chosen. Andrew and Martin.’

‘Martin?’ Catherine formed the unfamiliar name on her lips. ‘What name is that?’

‘Martin Luther, a great man, I have been reading his writings, he wants to reform the church and he is right, I shall reform our church of England.’

‘Husband you are very clever, you know several languages and write me songs, but you are not the Pope, why does the Holy Roman church need reforming?’

‘We must have The Bible written in English so the people can read it.’

‘But most of your people can’t read.’

‘So they must learn and they will learn the Gospel when they hear it read out in English in churches up and down our blessed country. In our great monasteries the monks must set to work translating. King Henry’s Bible, a work my sons will be proud of.

 

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Friday Flash Fiction – Moving On

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Dave got the idea from the television news. If tents and living pods could be dispatched to disaster areas why couldn’t homeless people in his town be helped. Dave wasn’t actually interested in humanitarian projects abroad or at home until the tent arrived in his shop doorway. Owning a shop was part of his plan to help rejuvenate the high street in Lower Sandbourne. The once thriving parade of shops and smart flats had gone downhill over the years, mainly due to the property activities of Dave and his brother, now he hoped to reinvent himself with ethically sourced gifts and fine food. There was nothing ethical about the origins of most of his goods, but smart labels impressed the chattering classes who could no longer afford to live in Upper Sandbourne. The Sandbourne Traders Association was pleased with the rebirth of a shop that had been an empty bakers and a blot on the high street for several years.

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And then the tent had appeared. The doorway that presented excellent window display space was also a perfect size for a one man tent.

Dave had dispatched the first resident and his bedding to another town, but with the new CCTV and his new image this was no longer an option. The bleeding heart owner of the pet shop next door was certainly no help. She gave free dog food for the tented one’s sad eyed mongrel. Dave couldn’t complain as it was the dog that kept customers coming. Instead of being put off by having to step round a tent and over a pair of feet sticking out, the locals eased their conscience at not offering him their spare rooms by lavishing their attention on the dog and buying him unwanted cups of coffee.

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The pod idea was enthusiastically supported by the locals. Dave’s gang of unqualified builders were used to makeover services to cover up structural defects in Dave’s property empire, so giving shipping containers a makeover was no problem. The council were happy to be seen doing something. By allowing the cabins to be sited on the car park they had just closed down for development, the residents could not complain about the loss of their convenience to such a good cause. The local family run garden centre was persuaded to provide plants and planters and the whole site looked quite pretty as spring blossomed. Sandbourne Hardware donated tins of Hammerite and most of the residents took a pride in painting  their cabins to look individual.

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Carried away by the great publicity stunt the garden centre built raised beds for the local school to grow vegetables and as the settlement grew, most of the occupiers appeared to be happy, including those who had been made homeless by Dave in the first place. He did wonder how the metal containers would fare in a heatwave, or next winter, but by then the council would have evicted everyone to build the lucrative block of unaffordable apartments; a scheme certain to be tendered out to one of his subsidiary companies. Dave knew he would get the contract, he knew too much about certain councillors for them to turn him down.

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In the meantime the shop doorway was tidy and the shop thriving. But trouble was afoot. Dave, the council and the growing jolly band of volunteers had assumed all the homeless would be grateful and no plans had been put in place to address the ‘complex issues’ of some residents.

Jack from the Sandbourne Gazette, who had been watching Dave for years, ever since he re-emerged from his short spell in gaol, had been biding his time. He had even less respect for the council and planned to snare them both. Syringes and other drug paraphernalia were found tossed amongst the round lettuces and spring onions and children started telling their parents about the scary man and the nasty woman at their garden. A row erupted over who was actually overseeing the project. Jack ensured that newcomers to the area would discover Dave’s past and his future plans.

But Jack reckoned without the initiative of the majority of residents who did not want to lose their new homes. They enlisted the help of the national media and Jack’s moment of journalistic fame was lost. The council hastily sent in their new street team, its numbers boosted with a few of Dave’s friends. Under cover of darkness and with a little subtle bribery, they removed the undesirables to a new assisted living project under a council far away. They were replaced by more acceptable homeless. Gardening resumed and volunteers set up ‘everybody together’ coffee mornings and suppers.

The project received national acclaim and most forgot once again about Dave’s past. Though his shop was doing well it hardly afforded the income he was used to, he would have to bide his time before getting another building project underway.

 

Read more short stories – dip into this selection

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