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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.