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Tuesday, 7 August 2012

The Olympian’s Spirit

Four years isn’t all I’ve had to train, almost ten years I have abstained from bars and fatty fast food chains to snatch those PB busting gains.

Now London 2012 does call, a beacon in the urban sprawl, I must not stop - I can not stall, if I’m to go and give my all.

No watching from my TV screen, I’m at the greatest show I’ve seen, its opening night - this feels obscene with Bond and our sky-diving Queen.

Off to the village then to rest, to mentally prepare to test myself against the worldwide best, adorned with my own GB vest.

The thumping of my aching feet, to simply win the opening heat, it’s already my greatest feat, but victory would taste so sweet.

And now my heart won’t cease to pound as I pace up and down the ground, no respite peace or quiet found between the first and second round.

But to my mother’s own relief and shock of the athletics chief I’m in the pre-final de-brief, somehow, against all true belief.

Get set, waiting for starter's gun, a spring about to be un-sprung then run and run and run and run, flash, wait – could I have really won?

I’m trying hard to fight back tears, it’s what I’d waited all these years for beating all those shocks and fears and tonight, believe me, there’ll be some beers.

For whilst I could not match the pace I’ll take silver and second place and smile’s upon the nation’s face – then I’ll be back, just watch this space.

So to all you kids who’re at the start, but want to win let me impart you don’t need wealth, there’s no dark art – you too can win if you’ve the heart.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Banana Splits

Ok so it's been a while. Not just writing but also posting. I've been working on a few things but slowly....and mostly weekly newsletters and match reports for the cricket clubs! I have finally found some time to contribute to the Weekend Writing Challenge and took - banana skin as the topic for this week! Here is my 'bit'.

How had it come to this? A rain soaked summer had left his Prospero postponed and his Demetrius drenched whilst in July two of the Merry Wives of Windsor had been washed away! Daniel’s outdoor Shakespeare season was an unmitigated disaster but nothing compared to this. With bills to pay and plays cancelled left right and centre he was delighted that the agency had come up with an acting job. Then to find out it was not only acting but television, well, he dared to dream – could this be the big time? What he hadn’t envisaged was stomping around a sweltering studio as a singing, dancing banana surrounded by babbling foam-headed children’s TV characters and quite possibly the nation’s worst behaved six year olds.

‘Let me just get this right’ Daniel panted, ‘after I finished the song, you want me to try the splits?’

‘Pretty much Danny boy. Oh this time give it more spajazzle will you?’ enthused the director. The fact the director looked like he was just out of nappies riled Daniel just slightly less than being called “Danny boy” and slightly more than his propensity to invent words in every other sentence. Apparently “spajazzle” was a mixture of sparkle and jazz. Daniel fought the urge to tell the obnoxious chap to “pizoffle” and returned to his mark.

By the fourteenth take things were getting not only ridiculous but outrageously hot. When his head emerged, red faced and saturated in sweat he was hardly recognisable compared to his Malvolio last year in Hyde Park.

‘Just focus on the money, focus on the money’ he chanted under his breath, casting his mind back to the cluster of red topped bills scattered across the kitchen worktop. ‘It’s all about the money, money, money’ he deliriously sang.

‘Right we’re nearly there’ interrupted enthused Vince the writer, a veteran of such hits as “The Bumbles in Toyworld” and the irritatingly infantile “Gagoo Gogaa”. It was no wonder people derided the hopes for our species mused Daniel. ‘Just one more go eh Francis?’ The director nodded and attempted to organise the chaos.

‘Okay okay places people. Can we get those kids the fruit again please?’ it was like watching a man herding cats and provided welcome amusement as well as a rest of Daniel as he looked on from the wings. ‘James take that peach out of your pocket, thank you. Will someone please ask Michelle to stop crying and play nicely? Get her the kitten again if you have to, excellent. Henrietta, what’ve you done with your banana? No darling your banana that’s your leg. The banana sweetie? No? Never mind, a new banana here please someone.’

Exhausted Daniel trudged back to his mark before taking a lung full of air and donning the head of his tortuous costume. As he waited for his big moment he swallowed down the burgeoning rage not to mention his pride, quelled the irritation at the inane lyrics and annoying tune and prepared to burst on to stage to deliver the closing verse.  Daniel struggled to stay in character; he was a serious method actor after all, as the brats adorned with fake, gap-sprinkled grins and bright eyes, fuelled by a constant conveyor belt of chocolate and e-number laden fizzy pop raced about belting out the song. Finally his moment arrived and he skipped onto stage, front and centre, bursting into a frenzied wail.

‘Apples peaches pears and strawb’rries if you want to thrive.
And don’t forget bananas ‘cause then you’ve got five.
So now we’re fit and healthy we can go out to play,
Singing our Fruity Booty song the Fruity Booty way!’

As Daniel flung his arms out with as energetic a set of jazz-hands as ever seen in children’s television he strode forward. Unbeknownst to him Henrietta’s banana, or rather the leftover end and skin, had re-emerged at the most inconvenient time.

Despite the extra £500 paid to him for not only managing the splits but also an impromptu high-note that really “sold the whole meaning of the song” and his “commitment to the Fruity Booty Bunch” Daniel couldn’t help but feel rather sick. As he hobbled home, tears still trickling from his eyes, there was a feeling in the pit of his stomach that he had in some way sold out on his chosen career path and, perhaps, it was time to look for something a little more sedate until the autumn castings came about.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Cornwall - Draft

This is the draft or rather part 1 of my recent Weekend Writing Challenge: Locations effort. I grabbed "Cornwall" from the offerings but it's by a long way incomplete as it seems to've turned into somewhat of a longer piece than normal. Still. Here's P1! 

The cool, salty sea air swept Captain James “Jim” Stevens hair back, waving in the wind echoing the long grass surrounding him along the cliff top. He breathed it in, slowly and deeply, as if taking long gulps from a hearty local ale. It enlivened him like a healing elixir. Not just the air but the din of waves crashing against the rocks below, fizzing away as the water retreated only to renew it’s assault seconds later. Gulls swooped, screeched and dived all around. When he had first returned from France they terrified him to the core, making him jerk his head towards the unexpected screams and bringing on cold sweats and shaking hands. He was sleeping more. That and Nurse Yvonne Lotte, Yvie to her patients, had spent hours sitting with him so that, over the months, he’d become far more accustomed to the Cornish wilderness. Now he couldn’t picture anywhere else. The hustle of his London life, former job and his wife, all gone. The mud, sodden trenches and dying comrades of the Somme too. It all seemed somehow imagined.

‘Best get back Corporal.’

                He was still a stickler for rank regardless of the end of his role in the war. He was still a member of the British Army and if anything was worth doing, it was worth doing properly. Captain Stevens wasn’t to know that Corporal Evans had wandered down the path and was smoking with a couple of other men.

‘Corporal Evans?’ confusion and panic tinged his calls and Stevens’ pulse increased as he gripped his wheelchair tightly. He raised his voice ‘Corporal Evans? Are you there Evans?’
‘Sorry Sir,’ Evans coughed as he jogged back from the others, tossing his cigarette over the cliff edge, ‘I was just…’

Before he could finish Stevens cut him off ‘Never mind boy. Never mind. It’s time to go back. I, I need to go back.’

Evans was a good man and, although it went unsaid, a good friend. If the Captain needed to get back then he never asked any questions, he knew that whatever the reason it was reason enough.  As Corporal Evans pushed him along the path Stevens heard two vehicles pass nearby, scattering the stones across the gravelled path as they headed around the fountain and up towards  the grand entrance of  Hathaway Hall.

‘More ambulances?’ a sombre Stevens enquired of his colleague.

‘Afraid so Sir. Afraid so.’ Came Evans’ rueful reply. ‘Poor bastards.’

                The two shared a moments silence deep in thought and memory as orderlies ferried body laden stretchers back and forth whilst nurses helped those more mobile up the granite steps and into the beautiful manor house. The stunning building once resplendent in Edwardian pomp was to be a temporary residence for some, a final resting place for others. Their time for reflection ended with the slamming of the ambulance doors.

‘How close are we to the house Evans?’ Stevens’ choked tones betrayed the pity he felt for his fellow wounded and, in part, for himself. ‘How do I look?’

‘Like a damned smart office of the British Army Sir, as always.’ came the reply from Evans almost without thinking. ‘Let me just straighten you up a bit…..,’ Evans folded back the collar on Stevens’ shirt and aligned the lapels on his dressing gown ‘…..and you’re done. Top notch Sir. Top notch.’

Evans had become adept at lying. Stealing a deep breath and occasionally fighting back the odd tear whilst giving away nothing in his voice. If truth be told he was glad that he’d never known the Captain before they both arrived in Cornwall. His head was, as always, shrouded in bandages from the bridge of his nose to his hair line. Despite the warming sun which cascaded down on the two of them Stevens, unlike Evans’ bronzed face and tanned arms, was a pale and gaunt figure. The left side of his face was a maze of deep scarring where a German shell had torn the flesh from the bone. The right side showed no direct sign of the explosion but his hollowed cheek and greyed skin portrayed a man who now lived half way between this world and the next. Evans knew it and, deep down, so did Stevens.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

A Pirate's Parrot

Again, the weekend writing challenge threw up a series of play on words objects, locations, people and utter randomness and along the way "Pirate" was suggested. Since there were a lot of rather heavy and dark pieces posted, or in fact because I was nagged to write something more upbeat, this was my contribution this week!
Can you really be a Pirate with no parrot?
Would Bugs Bunny be the same without his carrot?
There’s expectancy you see,
If you’ve just one accessory,
Even if your treasured gold’s 24 karat.

Pirates can survive without a wooden leg.
Or even no rum or grog stored in a keg.
But you’re guaranteed to fail,
When you eventually set sail,
With no parakeet hatched from a speckled egg.

To try and lead a motley crew would be absurd,
If you lacked a rainbow coloured talking bird,
Could you command authority?
When lost in a stormy sea?
With no feathered friend repeating every word!

When dressed in full regalia they’ll bow in awe,
They’ll follow you anywhere, breaking every law,
But an essential part of dress,
And the captain should impress,
Just add the latest, shiny, new, bright red Macaw.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Hair Dryer

Whilst the OU course has been completed the Weekend Writing Challenges have continued. This was last week's effort, albeit a little rushed, having taken up the challenge of writing about a hair dryer.

This was Rebecca’s week. Her friends. Her family. Whilst Henry loved the idea of a cheap break when the two were courting little had he realised that it was going to turn into an annual pilgrimage, bundling kit and, as the years had passed, kids into the back of his beloved BMW and  traipsing across Europe. There were many of her traits, quirks and habits that he’d fallen in love with instantly, many that he’d grown to enjoy and appreciate and a number that, regardless of how they may seem annoying or frustrating to the outside world, he simply adored. This, however, was not one of them. To make matters worse the girls were even more excitable than their mother.

As the twins were getting older it was clear that they were going to be a handful. Alice and Emily were eight and were becoming more and more inquisitive, more and more aware that this time of year meant one thing. Holiday, snow, skiing and meeting up with all the other kids at the annual get together. For Henry it meant sleepless nights, mind numbing idle chat with superficial yuppies and “old school chums”, feigning a passing interest in strapping two planks of wood to his feet and trying, at all costs, to avoid another four months in plaster like last year. To say that skiing was not Henry’s forte was somewhat of an understatement. He loathed it. But what he did enjoy was a peaceful life and to earn 51 weeks a year of one he was willing to make certain sacrifices.

It had only taken eleven hours of driving time to get from their leafy suburb in Tonbridge to Lausanne, taking out the stops at the regular places and a stolen few hours of sleep at the roadside motel just outside of Reims. Eleven hours, thirty two games of eye-spy and three High School Musical sound tracks to be precise. Henry cursed his loins for their failure to provide a son thus far. As the journey neared its end the green and brown fields faded out into a white, icing sugar dusted carpet, then to a washed out quilt as the snow enveloped everything in sight. Whilst this made the driving treacherous and testing it was, if truth be told, Henry’s favourite part of the week. The car’s passengers silent with more than a little discomfort and unease as the road twisted and slithered upwards leaving Henry to concentrate on the challenge and bond between man and machine. Bliss.

Two days in and Henry was already a broken man. No amount of liquor laden hot chocolates or beer holding steins could prevent it. Two days of listening to how Jenny’s dad was going to ski down the jump tomorrow, how Arthur, who was seven, was already a better skier than daddy, how it was better if mummy took the girls out on the slopes because daddy was too slow. Meanwhile Rebecca’s friends were even worse. How wonderful that Millie and John just built a new five bedroom home from French railway sleepers. How delightful that Arthur’s sister Jemima was in the fast track Olympic skating squad aged twelve. How superb that Aggie could stop working now Charles was in line for the CEO role at Jaguar. Urgh. Henry’s suggestion that Rebecca and the girls could walk home fell on deaf ears like most of his sarcastic acknowledgments and retorts had already.

He couldn’t even grasp a quiet night. The two days, though irritating, were nothing compared to the nights. For some reason Rebecca’s impression of a deep sleep was just convincing enough so that when Alice and Emily awoke, as they invariably did at around 3am on holiday, Henry dared not stir her and instead answered the squeaks and girly giggling himself. He wasn’t convinced by Rebecca’s “Is everything ok?” on his return to  bed either, especially knowing that despite her apparent consciousness now she’d be sounds asleep again in twenty minutes when it all kicked off again. Still, he kept telling himself, it was just one week. Besides, fortunately, this trip was going to be different. This trip was going to change things forever.

It was the third night of the stay and, for once, it was Emily and Alice who’s harmonious slumber was to be disrupted. Emily was the first to awaken. Half asleep still she rolled restlessly onto her side, made curious by the low humming coming from the direction of dresser by the window. Her eyes lids pulled grudgingly apart, heavy from a full day’s play in the bright sun.  A large, blurry figure appeared to be sat on the stool by the dresser and, for some reason, it looked as though it was using their hair dryer. At first almost oblivious to the character Emily grew increasingly alarmed. As her eyes contorted and strained to focus she realised that the figure, silhouetted against the moonlight creeping through the window, had a particularly furry outline. In fact she realised, as her heart began to race and focus sharpened, that it was covered from head to toe in thick, reddy-brown fuzz.

                Emily tried to whisper for her sister but was unable to make a sound, her voice frozen with fear. Instead, as the fuzzy figure continued to tousle and fluff away just feet in front of them, she tossed her pillow over hitting Alice across the back of her head. Alice sat, bolt upright, about to return the missile when she saw that Emily looked like a ghost, her finger to her lips, shaking. Alice didn’t know what to make of things and paused, confused by this unheralded attack. Then, as the stool creaked and groaned they both turned simultaneously to see what was going on. As their gaze moved steadily towards the dresser the low hum from the hair dryer stopped and ebbed away, revealing the shuffling footsteps from beneath its din. Both sets of eyes worked they way up from the knees, across two tree-trunk like thighs, the barrel chest and up to the sunken eyes of the beast in front of them that had made it’s way over between the two beds. Big Foot? Sasquatch? Yeti? Neither cared much what it was, all they knew was that it was, somehow, in their room, and that it seemed huge. As they went to scream it held it’s hands over each of them, silencing them before even a peep could be uttered, and said in a low, gravely tone – “Sleep!”

              Without hesitation both girls lay flat, covering their heads with their quilts, straight as an arrow and still as a rock. Only the undulating sheets showed any signs of life as the groaning floorboards and squeaking door hinge echoed the monster’s exit. The girls didn’t sleep, but they didn’t move an inch until 8am when their alarm went off and they raced through to their parent’s room. Both girls, normally preferring their mum’s cuddles, sprinted across to Henry and grabbed him tight. Neither said a word, just held like two limpets. Despite their best efforts neither Rebecca nor Henry could get a word out of the twins to find out what had caused such unheralded affection. Henry just smiled to himself and, as he made his way down to breakfast with a girl clutching each leg, he kicked an empty, furry foot and mask back beneath the bed. The rest of the week was as peaceful as he could ever have hoped for.

Friday, 11 May 2012

The Letter

So here it is, the final assessment for my course. I've had to wait to post it until the results came back. A short story, 1,500 words with the choice of a number of elements, timeshift, conversation and a few other things to include. After a quick re-edit I'm happy with it, though a lot was chopped out to get towards the limit! Anyway, this is it! 

The Letter.
Pete paced slowly across to where the motorcyclist had finally come to a rest, nearly a hundred yards from where the bike had clipped the curb. It was a cold, grey, washed out Spring morning. It wasn’t raining but the air was filled with dense moisture, waiting to lift like a curtain to reveal the oncoming dawn. He had never seen an accident before but as ever curiosity, more than horror, got the better of him. As Pete approached his footsteps grew hesitant and his eyes scanned the motionless body for signs of life. It was obvious that the rider was male given the stocky build and squared shoulders but of anything else he couldn’t be certain. Pete made his way closer, edging past the patches of leather and rubber grated onto the tarmac where the poor soul had bounced and rolled like a rag doll. The acrid smell of burnt rubber filled his nostrils and choked his lungs. In the distance the bike’s engine was still running, put-putting as it clawed for life, mimicking the fate of its rider.

As Pete knelt down the rider’s arm suddenly fell limply and, like a listing ship, the body slowly keeled over onto its back. Pete’s heart galloped and leapt as he stood upright and staggered back, startled by the movement of what after all he expected to be a corpse.

Ignoring the thumping rhythm being hammered out through his chest he advanced again. There was still no sign of life but there was definitely something uneasily familiar about the body. As Pete examined further he suffered an even greater jolt. The rider was wearing the exact same unmistakable watch as Pete. Identical to the gold plated timepiece left by his father thirty years ago. In fact, despite their now tattered and scuffed appearance the leathers looked pretty similar to Pete’s too. In a second his heart went from thunderous cacophony to silence. This wasn’t some unfortunate, mysterious body. It was his. Pete’s. Laid out in the gutter in front of his own startled eyes. Instantly he was overcome with a crippling pain that shot across his brain like a lightning bolt thrown by Zeus himself. The agony crackled through his core, stealing his breath. Gasping for oxygen, his lungs burning, he dropped to all fours.

As he writhed he was oblivious to the sirens screaming their way to the scene. A paramedic followed closely by an ambulance and police car. Although adjacent to him their screeching tyres, wailing sirens and urgently barked instructions seemed somehow damp, distant and muffled. They checked for vital signs and as they carefully removed the helmet Pete’s worst fears were confirmed.

Consumed by pain and blinded by confusion Pete, without warning, felt a strong, warm and comforting hand on his shoulder. Instantly, somehow, the raging inferno of pain dissipated to a cool, halcyon quietness that flowed across him, overwhelming and extinguishing the panic. Pete regained his composure and gradually returned to his feet. 

‘Is that it?’ Pete asked in an astonishing calm, not really thinking, or more importantly questioning who to. ‘Am I dead?’
‘No Pete,’ came the softly spoken reply, the same voice as before, ‘not yet’.
‘Not yet?’ he remarked in gasped astonishment. ‘”Yet!” That’s hardly a comfort is it? You don’t believe in plot spoiler warnings do you? Not yet! That guy doing CPR could succeed. Go on mate, give me another shock, I’m up for it!’

Pete’s pleading words of encouragement were vociferous but vanished into the chilled morning air. They failed to reach their target or even a level of audibility that could generate the faintest reaction from the paramedics.  His heart sank and it wasn’t for a moment or two that it even crossed his mind to wonder who it was he was talking to.

‘Are you who I think you are?’ he asked quite forthrightly with more than an edge of nervousness lining his tone.
‘Well, that depends entirely on who you think that could be Peter’ came the enigmatic reply ‘but I suspect I am.’

He stood, slightly puzzled and mildly dumbfounded. Finally focussed his inquisitive mind, eyebrows arched skywards.

‘But, as I’m sure you’re aware, I’ve never really believed in, well, God! So, why now?’

Before the unknown, wise and aged figure had time to reply another, more pressing thought came to the forefront of his mind.

‘Oh no!’ he declared sorrowfully as he turned his attention back to his failing body, ‘The letter!’

Everything started to trickle back. After the chaos of the crash his memories were landing like a flock of birds returning to a field having been startled by the backfiring exhaust of a passing truck. Why he was on the bike, where he was going, what was so urgent and finally, most importantly, the letter that he was carrying?

When he got back from work last night he hadn’t thought twice about the post. The usual cluster of red reminders chasing the money they knew he didn’t have. It was scooped up and dumped on the coffee table amongst their opened and ignored predecessors. It wasn’t he didn’t want to pay them, quite the opposite in face. In the six months since leaving the prison at Ranby he had done everything in his power to get his life back on track. Not until later that night having settled with a cold beer and his microwave for one did he notice, amongst the bold printed fonts and increasingly agitated demands there was one hand written letter. He picked it up, inspected it closely. A crumpled eggshell envelope with his name scrawled in blue ink. Pete had hesitantly opened it and as his eyes scanned down the spidery text a tear welled in the corner of his eye. It was from his daughter Jessie.

Jessie was eight years old when Pete had gone away and the first visit from his fiancée Gemma was the last he heard of either of them. It was a rushed, garbled one-way conversation with confused reasoning that Pete had understood very little of at the time. He’d had six years to go through it with a fine toothed comb in his mind and it still made little sense. Gemma believed that they’d both be better off without him even though the robbery was her idea and her brother was the leader of the gang. It took less time to come to terms with the fact he wasn’t going to be around for a while than it did for the jury to find him guilty. The one thing that did get to him though, that managed to sneak through the armour at least once a day without fail, was the fact that he hadn’t once heard from Jessie.

The letter showed that somehow Jessie had managed to find him. Somehow one of the hundreds of emails, texts or calls since he got out hit the right note, found the right sympathetic ear or landed on the right desk. Pete didn’t care how. He had the letter and an address to contact her. That was all he needed. His reply had taken all night. An emotional outpouring flowed through the roller coaster of losing and re-discovering her after all this time and it now lay stuffed into his jacket pocket, creased by the tumbling as he sped to the post office. All this just to slip on the wet road surface, losing control of his bike on a damp April dawn ending up in the predicament he found himself, standing over his body watching his life drain away into the gutter.

‘Why couldn’t I just do this one thing?’ Pete asked with a knowing acceptance, shaking his head.
‘Well as the Fun Lovin’ Criminals sung, “Twenty twenty is hindsight” Peter. We act in a way that we think is best at the time.’
‘You don’t have to remind me of that. I spent the last six years telling myself that.’ a wistful Pete replied allowing a mournful tone to creep into his voice for just a second, before something dropped and he snapped out of it. ‘Hang on. I didn’t realise that you were a Fun Lovin’ Criminals fan. I thought you’d be more into your hymns and stuff. You know, the classics?’
‘Just as I created all men and love all men equally, so too I love their music.’ The figure smiled to himself.
‘Really? Even Justin Beiber?’ Pete exclaimed unbelievingly.
‘Yes Peter. Even Bieber.’

This puzzled Pete but, in the context of a conversation with someone that he never really thought existed, it made no more or less sense than any of the rest of his current predicament. In short, he didn’t argue the point.

As the two spoke the paramedic attending Pete’s crumpled body looked up to his colleague. Without saying a word their shared look and faint shake of the head said everything.

‘You haven’t long Peter. Is there anything you want?’ the robed, anonymous man sympathetically enquired.
‘Shouldn’t you be all knowing?’ retorted Pete, ever the sharp mind despite his life draining from its vessel in front of them, ‘You know there’s only one think I want. Only one thing I wanted for six years.’

The unknown man said nothing. His eyes just crinkled into an essence of a smile, the corners of his mouth giving away nothing. They both just turned once more to the paramedic who was searching Pete’s jacket. He removed a wallet, then mobile phone and finally the envelope. He delicately flattened it out before reading the address and placing the letter inside his own jacket.

In that moment Pete knew the letter was safe, he knew that Jessie would see it and have comfort knowing he loved her all those years. In that moment, he was gone. And so was the stranger.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The Clown

Another week and another writing challenge. This weekend it was decided that rather than the usual "here's an object, write about it" we'd go for a profession. An interesting change. The profession left for me to compose a short piece was a circus clown and so here is the resulting 'bit'. Lots of fun researching!

As the sweat poured from beneath his wild copper wig Bobbo gasped for breath. He pulled it off, mopping his brow as he cast it aside, smearing the carefully painted tears and white face mask and slumped against the tiger cages. His lungs screamed for oxygen and heart galloped at thunderous pace, thumping through the chest of his unwieldy fat suit. The water gun daisy pulsated at an alarming speed like the wings of a hummingbird. In fact, as he looked down at the fluttering petals, an idea leapt into his head and he pointed it towards his panting mouth, taking a few gulps of much needed refreshment and allowing him a moment of relative peace before the fast approaching mob found his tracks.

How he’d managed such a swift getaway in size 22 ruby red shoes and 64 gallon trousers was now a blurry mystery even to himself. He kicked the shoes off, each dropping with a squeak that made his shoulders tense and the hairs stand on the back of his neck and pulled the top of his augmented body suit up and over his head. The only clue to his erstwhile profession was now the smudged and smeared make up coating his face in a suffocating layer of marbled whites, reds and blues. As he frantically scrubbed at his cheeks though his mind was focussed once more on his main task by the increasingly voluminous din.

Through the bars of the cage he saw the entrance to the big top swept aside and an accumulation of people, all shapes, sizes and ages march forward. Like some kind of all encompassing cloud, without a true direction or target, they engulfed the caravans, cages and tents accommodating the circus and it’s residents. Tossing hay bales and carts, demolishing tents as beds and tables were overturned and cast aside. They were single minded in their pursuit that was for sure. Still, the extent of their hunt was confined to the immediate and illuminated area close to the compound and whilst their numbers swelled with each passing second, villagers and audience members caught up in the feverish mob mentality, their organisation was diluted. Like a raging river busting through its banks they were now snagged on every obstacle, slowed by their detailed inspection quite literally leaving no rock unturned. He knew that he needed to take his chance now though, before they inevitably seeped through to his hiding place.

As he watched the leader of the posse barked our instructions and directed his pitchfork laden lieutenants every which way but his. Bobbo noticed that the disgruntled parents of Billy were whispering orders, directing their puppet, eyes aglow, hate filled and wild with devilish intent plastered across each of their faces. Seeing such pure and unadulterated hatred he realised the scale, and desperation of his situation. His heart sank and, just for a moment, he was overcome with a sense of sorrow and great loss. An innocent situation turned against him for what? Befriending a lonely child? For caring? Something Billy’s selfish and oblivious parents had failed to do for any of his eleven years. His wallowing didn’t last for long. All of a sudden his train of thought was stopped dead in its tracks.

A sleek, golden leg with bolts of forked, black, lightening-esque stripes across its fur landed swiftly, silently, blocking his view. His eyes, now leaking genuine tears where once they were painted scrolled slowly down it revealing a giant paw, resplendent with long, curled, onyx claws. His eyes slowly crept back upwards, a shiver racing up his spine as he met the eyes of the big cat, awoken from her slumber by the gathering crowd. She studied him, motionless save a slight nervous tremble scurrying across the corners of his eyes, assessing the worthiness of this strange looking creature and the surrounding commotion. Then, without warning, the Bengal exploded into action as a deafening, fearful roar tore through the night air. Her teeth were incandescent, like daggers shining in the darkness. Bobbo was shaken to his core. For a split second time stopped, an eerie quiet fell and the world held its breath. Realising that their quarry was almost within their grasp the crowd surged towards him with a new found enthusiasm and terrifying intent. He had no choice. With his cover blown, he ran for it.

Friday, 16 March 2012

The Ride (Assessment Part 2)

So here is Part 2 of the assessment that I recently sublmitted. A tough one given the subject matter........
In 500 words, write a story or part of a story that fictionalizes something that is mentioned on the radio when you go to turn it on now. At the top of your story, state what the stimulus from the radio was. Choose a setting which you describe somewhere in your 500 words, and tell this mini-story from the narrative point of view of a man or woman (a character) whom the story directly affects. Use some dialogue in your story. Write in either the past or present tense. Try to use clear, vivid language so that your reader can see the setting and character(s). Avoid cliché.
Radio stimulus (07/03/2012) - Six British soldiers were reported as killed in southern Afghanistan when their vehicle was hit by an IED explosion.

Despite the whirring tandem rotors of the CH-47 Chinook and constant chattering over the airwaves that whistled and crackled through the crew’s headsets the silence between the members of the Medical Emergency Response Team was chilling. Six pale faces bereft of colour, emotion or being. Only the occasional movement, a solemn glance through despairing eyes or weary sigh suggested any semblance of life.
Grains of sand bounced and danced in unison on the floor of the chopper and Captain Maddox wasn’t the only one transfixed by it. Anything. Any distraction to divert from what they each knew lay ahead. The low hum of the engine. The clatter and rattle of a loose strap against the cold grey shell of the fuselage. The blips and beeps indicating a steady stream of incoming transitions and updates. Any single thing to take their attention away from the carnage that lay just a few clicks east into Kandahar.
The call had come in barely ten minutes ago and the scrambled team was already in the air. There was nothing rare about an IED interrupting the daily games of table tennis or the team’s dissection of the football back home. Chelsea sacking another manager. Some things never change but it was those things that carried the comfort of home and the protective blanket of normality across the thousands of miles of sand and to the insanity of Helmand. This time though it was the scale of things. Patching up the odd squaddie was nothing unexpected. But six. In one incident. With the noise over the radios and none of it coming from the Warrior armoured vehicle itself they all knew that his was a bad one. Corporal Thomas broke the silence.
            ‘Do you know any of them Jimmy?’
‘No mate. They only arrived three weeks back. Bloody Valentine’s Day! I’ve probably seen them around. Think one was a United fan though.’
Cpl James Stephens knew pretty much everyone passing in and out of the barracks by the team they supported. The silence resumed and heads dropped once more. Captain Maddox knew that this line of thought wasn’t going to help anyone focus on the job ahead. He interjected.
            ‘Did you get that letter off to your lad Pete?’
‘Yes sir. Second birthday next week sir. Hoping to get online, maybe even see him blow out the candles.’ Cpl Thomas had been in Afghanistan on and off since his son was born. ‘Hey did anyone go and check up on that kid we brought back yesterday?’
‘She’s going to be ok Pete. I couldn’t tell her about her brother though. A few scrapes, some patching up here and there but the nurse thinks she’ll be out within the week. She even managed a smile.’ Some days, to Maddox at least, it seemed all worthwhile.
The chopper slowed, it’s rear end bowing to kiss the earth below and as the door slid open the bright sunlight was briefly blinding before a noxious smell of burning metals and singed earth filled the cabin. The scene before them was catastrophic.

Shame (Assessment Part 1)

This was part of the assessment for a course I'm doing. The challenge was......
In 500 words, write a mini portrait of a character, in either the past or present tense. In this story, note, there needn’t be any significant plot; concentrate instead on describing both character and place, and on conveying a particular mood – and state this mood as the title of your story. (For example: Happiness: Jane had short red hair and ...).
The piece that I have written is yet to be marked, but since it's submitted I can now post it on here! I'm finding that one of the most enjoyable things about writing for tasks and instructions is the research - this bit especially......

Shame: As Mykelti screwed his eyes tightly together to shut away the world the piercing screams of his loved ones, his friends trapped in the village, his wife and four year old daughter Neisha all surrounded him, puncturing his soul and crushing his spirit. Opening them once more the screams were distant but no less real. He heart was pounding through his bare chest, his lungs on fire from the breathless sprint over to the overgrown, stench laden ditch in which he now lay covered in the red dust that fogged the air. The adrenalin, which had carried him to safety, coursed through his veins to such an extent he didn’t notice the baking heat of the midday sun on his broad, ebony back or the blood seeping from the musket round lodged in his muscular shoulder.
A gentle, loving father and husband Mykelti was also a feared Chamba hunter and his body was the perfect specimen, as if carved from the great Aso Rock of his father’s homeland, a towering monolith to the north that filled the fairytales and legends of his childhood. As strong in mind as he was in body how such a proud, strong hearted champion was now left for dead by these invading marauders it was hard to imagine. If only he’d had his spear to hand or heard their arrival, maybe then he’d have stood a chance.

Mykelti had heard of similar raids on the Yoruba to the west and Mbundo to the south but this was the first time his people had seen these armoured ghosts for real, a nightmare he never expected to come true. What shamed him most was not that this fierce, lion of a man was left helpless, unable to get back to save his companions from capture. That time would come. It was a long and arduous trek back to the coast and one he had made a thousand times before. In his brief 25 years he had climbed to a man of great standing in the village and patience was a virtue held in great esteem. The shame that overwhelmed him came as recognised the mungakan dialect of the black raiders assisting these foreign invaders. As he took a deep breath and raised himself to the top of the ditch he realised that he had even traded with them in Bali Nyonga to the north-west. The chagrin of how one people can do this to another, to their kinsmen and brothers, caused his heart to sink and an inferno of emotions swell inside him.  Tears began to stream down his face.

As the screams faded, the waft of burning buildings filled his nostrils as they crumbled to the red earth from which they’d sprung and the sun dipped towards the horizon Mykelti steadily, wearily stepped back towards the scene of utter destruction. With each stride the shame and ignomy that he earlier felt changed, warped and evolved. Each movement brought him closer to his family. Closer to revenge.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Chris' Sandwich

 Well again, an entry that is something taken from my Creative Writing course. After last week's challenge I was left without an item around which to base a short piece. However there were four that had gone before. A button, a chicken a toothpick and a statue. So, for the sake of attempting something a bit different, I thought I'd try and weave something around all of them! Why not! 

Chris sat at his desk counting away each second of the day. A long day. A Monday. Time had not only begun to drag, for him it was going backwards. He swore that for the ninth time today the clock on his PC ticked passed three o’clock. If he consumed another cup of tea not only, he was sure, would it be a world record but he was certain that his bladder may also explode killing not only himself but everyone within a three mile radius. At this point in the day, he didn’t care.

He prodded another chocolate button around his notepad before spearing it with a toothpick. One more sugary sacrifice - he consumed it with glee. Making a game out of such mundane activities normally passed a good few minutes of the day. Well, an hour on a good day. But, it being a Monday, the magnitude of boredom was hard to tackle in such a way. Chris knew that he could sit a mannequin at his desk, a statue in honour of the tedium, somewhere that any data processor could worship at and not one of his colleagues would bat an eyelid. People could come from all over the world, a pilgrimage of sorts. Some to pray, others to share memories of when they too were trapped in an office, chained to a computer, brains switched off and emotion left at the reception door. Others to simply pity the poor fools who’d yet to find the enlightenment of promotion, the higher consciousness of middle-management. Maybe Chris could sell tickets. Guided tours? Sell small souvenirs and charge £5 for a photo of you sat at the desk. Black and white of course.  Either way he was sure that not a single person in his office would notice in the slightest. “Not even if I were dead” he mused. “Not even then” his sandwich retorted.

Now, Chris’ mind and fervent imagination frequently wandered to the realms of ‘what ifs’ and on the more optimistic days ‘if onlys’. He often discussed in the recesses of his mind what colour he would be if he were a dragon, for example. But he had, until now, refrained from starting philosophical conversations with his lunch. He looked at Sal and Shelly, sat opposite. Neither had looked up from their keyboards and the clatter of nails on keys continued uninterrupted. After a moment more, he looked down and whispered, incredibly self aware that he may be crossing the line into utter insanity, “I’m sorry. What did you say?”

“I was just agreeing with you. Nobody would notice. Not even if you keeled over right here.” Chris was taken aback, almost hurt by this. To think it oneself was bad enough but to hear it from an inanimate snack, wow, that was something. “Well. They might. They might miss me?” he replied more with hope than assurance. “No, they don’t even know your name. If you were going to make a lasting impression or a name for yourself you’d have done it by now mate. I don’t know why you even bother. Your problem is you’re chicken.” There was no small irony in it’s statement. But the sandwich, meat content aside, was right. Chris’ heart sank as he pondered this for a moment. He slumped back into his ergonomically adjusted chair. He’d heard the same from his friends, his ex-girlfriend, even his mother. But this time, for some obscure reason, it hit home.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Harold and the Duck

So I've not written a lot for a while. I know. Well, not a lot that I've posted on here at least! The good news is that I've got the bug again. The bad news, at least in some way, is that I've started a Creative Writing Course with the Open University. Now that is in fact good news but it does mean that I am going to be writing mostly for the course for the next couple of months. Little pieces, projects and the like. However with the fact that any feedback is worth getting I decided that I'd post pieces here too.

The premise of the bit below is that we set challenges for one another based on a word or item. The item thrust my way (on a forum, not literally) was a stuffed duck that squeaked. The result, is Harold and the Duck.

Harold carried his toy duck through to Fiona. As he dropped it by the side of the bed a meek squeak crept out as if in fear of breaking the silence. The silence that had lasted for too long as far as Harold was concerned. Still Fiona didn’t stir, her tired eyes stayed fixed on the television but she was taking nothing in. A blur of colours and white noise to provide at least the sensory numbing she needed to hold back the tidal wave of despair. Harold was having none of this, he was tired of being ignored and more importantly, he was worried about Fiona.

He rested his head on the edge of the bed. No reaction. Finally he gave in and nudged Fiona’s arm. Startled she flinched, scaring Harold who immediately withdrew. “I’m sorry Harry, I’m so sorry mummy didn’t mean to scare you”. Tentatively he returned to the bedside as Fiona cooed and stroked the hair from his face. As his heartbeat calmed he paused, reached down and held the duck towards her, squeaking it, once, then twice. All of a sudden, as if something inside her had been switched on, Fiona took the duck and a faint suggestion of a sorrowful smile appeared at the corners of her mouth. She lifted Harold onto the bed and held him.

“I guess you think you haven’t got anyone to play with anymore don’t you young man? I just really miss him. But I know it’s been hard for you too. It's been tough on all of us. Still, you don’t have to worry anymore. We just have to be strong for each other now, starting today. What do you say?”

Harold said nothing but leant lovingly on her listening to her heart beating. It’d been three weeks since the accident and this was the first time that she’s spoken to him. It’d taken Harold ten days himself to realise that Steve wasn’t coming back. That explained the tears. The cards. The strangers who visited almost every day, talking to Fiona behind closed doors and away from the children. Harold was the man of the house now whether he liked it or not so it was his job to get Fiona back to the world of the living.

“So what do you want to do?” said Fiona, energized by his affection. I know. It’s been long overdue. I think it’s about time we went for a long walk in the snow – you love the snow don’t you?” Harold wasn’t waiting one moment. He leapt to his feet, tail wagging, and fetched his leash from downstairs. Finally she was back and he wasn’t going to let her slip away again.