Tragedy and Comedy

comedy-tragedyWhat do you do when you like your characters too much to kill them off? I started writing this story and had in mind that it would have a sad ending but once the characters had come to life on the page, I found I couldn’t do that to them. So I simply changed the ending.

To Sleep

I can’t move my arms and I’m so tired my eyeballs feel like they’ve been replaced by lumps of grit. Even blinking hurts. Perversely I’ve had the opportunity to sleep these last few hours but I couldn’t. I tried counting sheep and doing complex mathematical sums in my head but not one wink to be had. This is torture, pure and simple. Abi is working late but should be home any minute. We’re going out to celebrate our anniversary, four years, but all I can think of is cool sheets and an undisturbed seven hours. Bliss.

We met at a party. My mate Phil worked with the sister of Abi’s flatmate so we blagged an invite. It felt mapped out, like something important was destined to happen on that humid night in August. The party was jumping when we arrived, too many bodies trying to squeeze into the kitchen or dance in the poky lounge. A wall of heat hit us as we walked in and it felt like the best kind of gig; vibrant, sweaty and alive. The bass was thumping so hard you could feel it in your chest, like a heartbeat.

Phil and I grabbed a beer each then shoehorned our way into the lounge and boogied around in there for a while. It was very intimate, everyone rubbing up against each other, but a great way to start the evening. I was dancing with this foxy girl, all skimpy top and skintight jeans, when I got that hairs-rising-on-the-back-of-your-neck feeling that someone was looking at me. I glanced over my shoulder and, sure enough, there was a petite girl with short, dark hair staring at me, a wry smile etched on her lips. It put me off my stride and where moments before I was more than happy dancing with Miss Skimpy, now I’d lost my groove and it felt almost wrong to be dancing with her. I waggled my beer bottle at her, disentangled myself from the writhing mass and headed towards the kitchen. There wasn’t much more space in there but I managed to find my way to the sink where beers were bobbing in icy water. I grabbed the nearest one and held the chilled, perspiring bottle against my forehead. It felt cool and delicious.

Miss Skimpy hadn’t missed me and was now dancing with a beardy hipster type. Slightly irked that I had been replaced so quickly, I searched the room for Phil and noticed him leaning against the mantelpiece, attempting to conduct a conversation with a cute looking girl over the very loud music. Leaving him to it, I went through the French doors, down a couple of steps and into the garden. Despite the humidity, it felt fresher outside and there were groups of people enjoying the fact that you didn’t have to yell directly into someone’s ear to be heard. A familiar smell wafted towards me, sweet and pungent, which reminded me I had a joint in my pocket for just such an occasion. I had just taken my first toke when a voice behind me said, “You’re nicked, mate.” I spun around and found myself looking down at the petite girl with the elfin haircut. “Gotcha!” she grinned, punching my arm lightly. “Are you gonna share or do I have to go and make friends with those people over there?” indicating a group whose laughter drifted across to us.

“Be my guest,” I said, handing her the joint. She inhaled deeply, held her breath for what seemed like an eternity then slowly exhaled smoke which hung around her like a halo. “If it’s any consolation, you don’t have much in common.” “What?” “That girl you were dancing with. Puddles have more depth than she does so unless you want to talk about nail bars and Made in Chelsea, you’re better off out of it.” “Who says I wanted to have a conversation with her?” I deadpanned. That grin again, “Touché, mister.”

She handed the joint back to me, staring directly into my eyes as she did so. Her gaze was disconcertingly honest and I noticed that she had eyes the colour of moss and freckles on her nose. We chatted for a while and realised we had a lot in common; similar taste in films, books and holiday destinations and discovered we both worked in the music industry; Abi in A&R for a medium-sized label with solid indie credentials and me as a sound engineer. We also found we knew a lot of the same people and were surprised we hadn’t bumped into each other before.

I had finished my beer and my throat was dry from all the talking so I volunteered to brave the crush to get more refreshments. As I sidled through the tidal wave of bodies, a strange feeling hit me and I struggled for air. Then I realised, this is it, this is what love feels like, being punched in the gut. That particular image probably wouldn’t look quite so romantic on Valentine’s cards though.

Abandoning my quest I retraced my steps, needing desperately to get back to Abi. I hurried down the steps and across the parched lawn towards her. I stood in front of Abi breathless with emotion and looked down at her with fresh eyes, so completely different from who I was five minutes ago; a changed man. The air between us became charged as Abi felt it too. I closed my eyes and leaned down to kiss her when I heard sniggering. My eyes snapped open to see her giggling and covering her mouth to suppress the laughter. “I’m sorry but you just looked so serious, like a love-struck teenager going in for his first kiss.” I was just about to take offence when she stood up on tiptoe, flung her arms around my neck and gave me the sweetest, softest kiss of my life. “Wow!” she exclaimed when we resurfaced, “Does that mean we’re going steady now?”

There’s the door. My left arm’s got pins and needles so I shift slightly to ease the discomfort. “How are my two favourite people in the whole world?” Abi calls out at she rushes into the lounge. “I’m trapped but Freya seems fine,” I reply. Abi gently plucks the sleeping baby from me and kisses the downy fluff on top of her head. I stand up, flexing my arm to try to restore circulation, “I’ll hop in the shower while you two catch up on gossip.” “My sister’s coming round in half an hour so you’d better be quick. No wandering around in your underwear showing off your cute tush.” “Sure thing, hot stuff,” I reply embracing my wife and daughter. Sleep? Highly overrated if you ask me.

Be Careful What You Wish For…

lanterns

This is another story that popped into my head almost fully formed. I couldn’t think of a title at first but I think this suits it rather well.

Goliath

I am very good at waiting; I have had a lot of practice. A hundred years is but a week to me, a year a mere blink of an eye. I have been in existence for time beyond measure. Although I am trapped, I will wait. Someone will release me. They always do.

Tim and Cassie parked the car in the driveway, stretching their limbs as they got out, undoing the knots in their muscles as a result of the long journey. His grandfather’s house was much as Tim remembered it; large, built of sandstone and strangely neutral. He visited regularly as a child, once being left for three weeks in the summer when his mother and father decided to tour Europe. However, despite knowing the house well, Tim couldn’t say that he’d ever warmed to it. He didn’t dislike it but conversely he never felt completely comfortable there either. The design of the house added to its air of inscrutability; large, stone lintels over recessed windows giving the impression of hooded eyes.

The house was an ideal playground for a child, with long corridors and unused rooms, perfect for hide and seek if he’d have had anyone to play with. He spent many hours arranging imaginary jousting tournaments along the upstairs corridor which ran the whole width of the house. There were many bedrooms which had not been slept in for years, with dust covers over the furniture and the unaired bed linen giving off a musty odour. When an excited eight year old Tim had discovered a large wardrobe in the Blue Room, all he had received was a bump on his head when he’d tried to walk through the back of it into Narnia.

Tim grabbed the suitcases from the car and took them into the large hallway. Tim’s grandfather hadn’t lived in the house for two years, not since he’d moved into the nursing home. It had been cleaned once a month but felt hollow and airless as houses do when no-one has lived and breathed in them for some time. Tim went round the ground floor peeling back the shutters and flinging open windows to let the April sunshine and spring breeze freshen the rooms.

Cassie brought the Waitrose bags full of provisions through to the kitchen and found Tim standing at the sink, staring out at the manicured lawn. Everything had been business as usual while Tim’s grandfather had been away, as if he’d expected to make a full recovery and return to live there. The problem was that you don’t get better from Alzheimers.

“Are you alright, love?” Cassie asked, laying a hand on Tim’s back and giving it a consolatory rub.

“Yeah, fine. We’d better get the suitcases upstairs and start thinking about dinner. We need an early night as we’ve got a lot to do tomorrow.”

Tim strode out of the kitchen towards the hallway, leaving Cassie staring after him with concern etched on her face.

They woke early and after a breakfast of toast and cereal, made a start on sorting out Tim’s grandfather’s effects. They started in his bedroom, a room so full of dark, heavy wooden furniture that it made the large room appear small and cluttered. Cassie cleared the wardrobe while Tim sorted through the chest of drawers.

Apart from Cassie occasionally asking whether an item of clothing should go on the charity pile or in a bin bag, they worked in companionable silence with Classic FM playing quietly on their portable digital radio. Normally, they’d listen to 6 Music, or Absolute Radio if they wanted some retro tunes, but today the strains of Mahler and Tchaikovsky were more suited to their sombre task.

They’d both taken a week off work after the funeral to sort out the house and it looked like they were going to need every minute of it. Tim’s grandfather had travelled extensively in his life and had brought back souvenirs from his time spent living in Kenya and South America. These included a Masai warrior’s shield to a carving of an Aztec fertility goddess.

Tim had contacted an auction house to come and collect the most prized pieces to sell later as neither of them knew the value of the collection.

Once they’d cleared all the clothes, kitchen equipment and a lifetime’s worth of belongings, Tim and Cassie started going around the house with two packs of coloured post-it notes, deciding what should go to auction and what could be collected by the house clearance firm. Both were booked for Friday, leaving only a few days for them to finish going through the rambling house.

Thursday dawned bright and clear and having worked so diligently, Tim and Cassie had completed every room and only had the attic left. Tim had climbed the extendable stairs into the loft space the previous afternoon to have a brief recce and reported back to Cassie that there was a lot to sort through and they might not get it finished by the end of the following day.

They ascended the stairs and started working their way from each end of the attic, looking through tea chests and packing crates, the idea being to meet in the middle when they were finished. As Tim was rummaging through one of the boxes he discovered a small Moroccan lantern, the bronze tarnished and mottled. Tim picked it up and started to clean a small patch with the sleeve of his jumper. A blinding flash of light and billowing smoke were followed by a large explosion which propelled him across the attic floorboards. Emanating from the air above the lamp was a light so bright it illuminated even the darkest corners of the attic.

“What the…?” Tim and Cassie chorused in unison.

The smoke cleared and the light dimmed enough for them to see a large shape had emerged from the flames, although there was no heat and nothing had caught fire. The figure was huge and filled the loft to the eaves.

“You have freed me from my prison and to repay that debt I will grant you a single wish,” the figure declared in a voice that was deep and booming.

“You’ve got to be kidding me. You’re a real life genie?” Tim asked after a long pause.

“I am Goliath, the most powerful of the Jinn. I know not of this Jeannie.”

“How long have you been in that lantern?” Cassie asked.

“Five and ninety years. I have been held captive for much longer so it went by quite quickly.”

“How did you fit in that lantern when you’re so big?” Tim asked, as he edged his way slowly around the Jinn towards Cassie.

“A magic spell cast by my enslaver shrank me so that I could fit in the lamp.”

“Enslaver? Who was that?”

“Your father’s father,” replied Goliath.

A stunned silence followed as Tim tried to absorb this information.

“My grandfather trapped you in this lantern?” Tim spluttered.

“After I had granted him his wish, yes. I thought it was not a grateful gesture.”

“A wish! What wish?”

“Eternal life.”

“But my grandfather just died so that’s a load of tosh.”

“I am a powerful being but no-one can live forever so a long life was compromised upon.”

“Wait a minute. You said you’d been kept prisoner for ninety five years so how old was my grandfather when you granted him the wish?”

“Five and thirty years old.”

“So he was a hundred and thirty when he died?”

“Yes. That is a long life for a human, I think.”

“That’s quite old but I’m sure he probably expected to live longer than that. Five hundred years would have been more what he had in mind. Anyway, for the last two years he didn’t even recognise his own family.”

“His wish was granted and he lived a long life.”

“So you’re saying that I have to be careful what I wish for?”

“Don’t you mean we?” Cassie interjected.

“I believe that is so,” answered the Jinn, ignoring Cassie.

“I suppose most people ask for endless riches or eternal life, don’t they?”

“Human beings are quite predictable, yes.”

“Okay,” Tim said slowly. “I’d like us to be happy, me and Cassie.”

“Happy? Not endless riches or a really long life?” squeaked Cassie.

“Yes. I’ve got my inheritance so I don’t need loads of money and my grandfather lived the last fifty years of his life alone in this huge house, surrounded by artefacts and I know that he was lonely and unhappy. I don’t want to end up like that so I’d prefer a short, happy life rather than a long, miserable one.”

“Very well, your wish is my command,” Goliath intoned and started to fade away.

“Hang on a minute, how will I know that it’s worked?”

“On your death bed,” the Jinn replied and promptly disappeared.

Be Careful What You Wish For…

lanterns

This is another story that popped into my head almost fully formed. I couldn’t think of a title at first but I think this suits it rather well.

Goliath

I am very good at waiting; I have had a lot of practice. A hundred years is but a week to me, a year a mere blink of an eye. I have been in existence for time beyond measure. Although I am trapped, I will wait. Someone will release me. They always do.

Tim and Cassie parked the car in the driveway, stretching their limbs as they got out, undoing the knots in their muscles as a result of the long journey. His grandfather’s house was much as Tim remembered it; large, built of sandstone and strangely neutral. He visited regularly as a child, once being left for three weeks in the summer when his mother and father decided to tour Europe. However, despite knowing the house well, Tim couldn’t say that he’d ever warmed to it. He didn’t dislike it but conversely he never felt completely comfortable there either. The design of the house added to its air of inscrutability; large, stone lintels over recessed windows giving the impression of hooded eyes.

The house was an ideal playground for a child, with long corridors and unused rooms, perfect for hide and seek if he’d have had anyone to play with. He spent many hours arranging imaginary jousting tournaments along the upstairs corridor which ran the whole width of the house. There were many bedrooms which had not been slept in for years, with dust covers over the furniture and the unaired bed linen giving off a musty odour. When an excited eight year old Tim had discovered a large wardrobe in the Blue Room, all he had received was a bump on his head when he’d tried to walk through the back of it into Narnia.

Tim grabbed the suitcases from the car and took them into the large hallway. Tim’s grandfather hadn’t lived in the house for two years, not since he’d moved into the nursing home. It had been cleaned once a month but felt hollow and airless as houses do when no-one has lived and breathed in them for some time. Tim went round the ground floor peeling back the shutters and flinging open windows to let the April sunshine and spring breeze freshen the rooms.

Cassie brought the Waitrose bags full of provisions through to the kitchen and found Tim standing at the sink, staring out at the manicured lawn. Everything had been business as usual while Tim’s grandfather had been away, as if he’d expected to make a full recovery and return to live there. The problem was that you don’t get better from Alzheimers.

“Are you alright, love?” Cassie asked, laying a hand on Tim’s back and giving it a consolatory rub.

“Yeah, fine. We’d better get the suitcases upstairs and start thinking about dinner. We need an early night as we’ve got a lot to do tomorrow.”

Tim strode out of the kitchen towards the hallway, leaving Cassie staring after him with concern etched on her face.

They woke early and after a breakfast of toast and cereal, made a start on sorting out Tim’s grandfather’s effects. They started in his bedroom, a room so full of dark, heavy wooden furniture that it made the large room appear small and cluttered. Cassie cleared the wardrobe while Tim sorted through the chest of drawers.

Apart from Cassie occasionally asking whether an item of clothing should go on the charity pile or in a bin bag, they worked in companionable silence with Classic FM playing quietly on their portable digital radio. Normally, they’d listen to 6 Music, or Absolute Radio if they wanted some retro tunes, but today the strains of Mahler and Tchaikovsky were more suited to their sombre task.

They’d both taken a week off work after the funeral to sort out the house and it looked like they were going to need every minute of it. Tim’s grandfather had travelled extensively in his life and had brought back souvenirs from his time spent living in Kenya and South America. These included a Masai warrior’s shield to a carving of an Aztec fertility goddess.

Tim had contacted an auction house to come and collect the most prized pieces to sell later as neither of them knew the value of the collection.

Once they’d cleared all the clothes, kitchen equipment and a lifetime’s worth of belongings, Tim and Cassie started going around the house with two packs of coloured post-it notes, deciding what should go to auction and what could be collected by the house clearance firm. Both were booked for Friday, leaving only a few days for them to finish going through the rambling house.

Thursday dawned bright and clear and having worked so diligently, Tim and Cassie had completed every room and only had the attic left. Tim had climbed the extendable stairs into the loft space the previous afternoon to have a brief recce and reported back to Cassie that there was a lot to sort through and they might not get it finished by the end of the following day.

They ascended the stairs and started working their way from each end of the attic, looking through tea chests and packing crates, the idea being to meet in the middle when they were finished. As Tim was rummaging through one of the boxes he discovered a small Moroccan lantern, the bronze tarnished and mottled. Tim picked it up and started to clean a small patch with the sleeve of his jumper. A blinding flash of light and billowing smoke were followed by a large explosion which propelled him across the attic floorboards. Emanating from the air above the lamp was a light so bright it illuminated even the darkest corners of the attic.

“What the…?” Tim and Cassie chorused in unison.

The smoke cleared and the light dimmed enough for them to see a large shape had emerged from the flames, although there was no heat and nothing had caught fire. The figure was huge and filled the loft to the eaves.

“You have freed me from my prison and to repay that debt I will grant you a single wish,” the figure declared in a voice that was deep and booming.

“You’ve got to be kidding me. You’re a real life genie?” Tim asked after a long pause.

“I am Goliath, the most powerful of the Jinn. I know not of this Jeannie.”

“How long have you been in that lantern?” Cassie asked.

“Five and ninety years. I have been held captive for much longer so it went by quite quickly.”

“How did you fit in that lantern when you’re so big?” Tim asked, as he edged his way slowly around the Jinn towards Cassie.

“A magic spell cast by my enslaver shrank me so that I could fit in the lamp.”

“Enslaver? Who was that?”

“Your father’s father,” replied Goliath.

A stunned silence followed as Tim tried to absorb this information.

“My grandfather trapped you in this lantern?” Tim spluttered.

“After I had granted him his wish, yes. I thought it was not a grateful gesture.”

“A wish! What wish?”

“Eternal life.”

“But my grandfather just died so that’s a load of tosh.”

“I am a powerful being but no-one can live forever so a long life was compromised upon.”

“Wait a minute. You said you’d been kept prisoner for ninety five years so how old was my grandfather when you granted him the wish?”

“Five and thirty years old.”

“So he was a hundred and thirty when he died?”

“Yes. That is a long life for a human, I think.”

“That’s quite old but I’m sure he probably expected to live longer than that. Five hundred years would have been more what he had in mind. Anyway, for the last two years he didn’t even recognise his own family.”

“His wish was granted and he lived a long life.”

“So you’re saying that I have to be careful what I wish for?”

“Don’t you mean we?” Cassie interjected.

“I believe that is so,” answered the Jinn, ignoring Cassie.

“I suppose most people ask for endless riches or eternal life, don’t they?”

“Human beings are quite predictable, yes.”

“Okay,” Tim said slowly. “I’d like us to be happy, me and Cassie.”

“Happy? Not endless riches or a really long life?” squeaked Cassie.

“Yes. I’ve got my inheritance so I don’t need loads of money and my grandfather lived the last fifty years of his life alone in this huge house, surrounded by artefacts and I know that he was lonely and unhappy. I don’t want to end up like that so I’d prefer a short, happy life rather than a long, miserable one.”

“Very well, your wish is my command,” Goliath intoned and started to fade away.

“Hang on a minute, how will I know that it’s worked?”

“On your death bed,” the Jinn replied and promptly disappeared.

Lest We Forget

trench

I entered this story into an Isle of Wight Library Service short story competition to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of World War I. To my huge surprise I won and I share it with you exactly 100 years from the start of The Great War.

Night Watch

Jimmy Cartwright sat smoking a cigarette, whilst the others slept. He relished those quiet times and would always volunteer for the least popular shift in the dead of night. His comrades thought he was strange but didn’t make a fuss as it meant they didn’t have to rouse from their beds at an unearthly hour. He took another drag, inhaling acrid smoke deep into his lungs. Jimmy didn’t care what anyone else thought; he needed this time to think. It was impossible during the day, knee deep in mud and under bombardment from Fritz. Those few dark, silent hours kept him sane.

He thought about all the friends he’d lost, especially Jack who he’d joined up with at the start of the war. He remembered how excited they had been when they went down to the recruiting office, full of vim and vigour, so eager to take the King’s shilling and show the Hun what for. They joined the Salford Pals battalion, alongside fellow workers from the cotton mill and former schoolmates. He had never felt as proud as when they’d marched out, resplendent in their new uniforms, and everyone had cheered them on their way. The generals and majors had thought that serving shoulder to shoulder with men from your home town would increase morale. Instead, it had decimated a generation of young men from industrial towns and cities.

Jack was killed in ’15; not in a heroic act but as he slept. A cowardly chlorine gas attack claimed him and 150 others. Most had died quickly, but Jack and a dozen others lingered for several days. Jimmy was given leave to visit him in the field hospital but instead of his friend who he’d grown up with, he found a pale, blue lipped creature clawing at his throat, unable to draw breath. Jack couldn’t sleep in his gas mask so had stopped wearing it at night and paid the ultimate price. This nightmarish image had replaced that of his lanky friend with the lopsided grin and it was one of Jimmy’s eternal regrets.

Jimmy shook his head as if to clear the morbid thoughts and took another long draw on his cigarette. Instead, he turned his contemplation to Florrie, his beautiful girl who he would one day wed. She wrote to him in her childish script, with cartoons illustrating that week’s news. One showed Father Strong giving one of his interminable sermons while his congregation snoozed and little zeds floated up towards heaven. Another depicted Mr Threlfall, the butcher, chasing a dog out of his shop that had pinched a link of sausages. Her letters were the highlight of his week and he would keep the most recent one in his shirt pocket and read it so many times it would become creased and tattered within days.

They met at Weatherall’s mill where Jimmy was a warehouseman and Florrie worked the bobbin winding machine. Florrie had caught Jimmy’s eye when, as they were leaving one night, she released her curly, dark blonde hair from the confines of the pins that secured it and he watched, mesmerised, as it cascaded down her back. She had smiled at something her friend had said and two dimples formed on her cheeks; from that moment on, Jimmy was smitten.

Jimmy courted Florrie slowly, mainly because her father was a strict disciplinarian and would not allow them to meet unchaperoned. Florrie’s younger sister, Myrtle, followed them like a bad smell and relished reporting any wrongdoing to their father. They were allowed one chaste kiss at the end of each meeting, although they would sometimes hold hands in the picture house when Myrtle was engrossed in the latest Mary Pickford film.

Jimmy loved Florrie with all his heart and he was certain that she felt the same way about him. It was his love for her that had prevented him from proposing before he signed up as he did not want her to feel obliged to marry him if he returned from war an injured man. He imagined them living in a small terraced house with half a dozen tow-headed children, while he would grow vegetables on an allotment and whittle toys for them out of wood. If the war was over by Christmas, as everyone said it would be, they could marry next spring and Florrie could have primroses and daffodils in her bouquet.

Jack’s mother, Mrs Lewis, sometimes wrote to him since she was now on her own. The same year she lost Jack, her husband suffered a stroke and died several months later. Both only children, Jack and Jimmy had grown up as close as brothers so Mrs Lewis considered him one of her own. Jimmy made sure he made no mention of the death, boredom or rats that plagued the trenches but instead kept his letters light-hearted, telling tales of camaraderie amongst his fellow soldiers, so that she wouldn’t worry. Anything else wouldn’t have made it through the censors anyway. He’d heard tell of letters which had arrived at their destination looking like paper doilies, there’d been that many words removed.

Jimmy shifted slightly to make himself more comfortable and lit another cigarette. He was staring at the black velvet sky and noticed that a sliver of moon had risen and the first hint of light could be detected at the horizon. He was so engrossed that he didn’t notice a movement at the end of the trench.

“Jimmy, is that you love?”

“Mam?”

“Of course it’s me love. Who else would it be?”

“What are you doing here, Mam?

“I had to make sure my boy was safe and sound, didn’t I? Come over here, Jimmy, I can’t see you properly.”

Too gobsmacked to argue, Jimmy dropped his cigarette and walked towards the sound of his mother’s voice. As he reached where she had been, Jimmy heard a high pitched whistle and an ear-splitting explosion as a shell landed where he’d been sitting moments before.

Jimmy levered himself out the mud where he’d been thrown and waggled his index fingers in his ears to try and stop the ringing. He moved slowly towards the dugout, avoiding the sharp splinters of wood, some of which were smouldering from the heat of the impact. As he approached, Jimmy realised that no-one could have survived such a direct hit and they’d probably never find their bodies either.

Jimmy came to the conclusion that he must have fallen asleep and dreamt that his mother had appeared, although it hadn’t felt like a dream and he wasn’t prone to sleepwalking. For several days he was concerned that he might face a court martial for dereliction of duty but his CO believed him when he said he’d left his post to relieve himself just before the shell hit.

He wrote to his mother explaining that he’d had a near miss and her reply shook him to the core. His mother wrote that one of her close friends had received a telegram informing her that her son had died so Mrs Cartwright had prayed for Jimmy until the early hours of the morning. When she had finally dozed off, she dreamt that she had visited Jimmy in the trenches, just to make sure he was safe and sound.

The War to End All Wars

copyright Concept Art

To mark 100 years since the start of World War 1, the Isle of Wight Library Service held a short story competition recently. This is the flash fiction story I submitted and hoped that no-one else would choose the same unusual subject matter. Flash fiction stories are very short and this is exactly 250 words long.

No Man’s Land

It is early morning, not long after the sun has risen. The air is crisp, the sky is cerulean blue and I’m flying over the trenches with a very important cargo.

Troops are sleeping fitfully below me and all is quiet. I’ve made journeys like this many times before and the trick is not to get complacent. Stay alert and keep your eyes peeled.

Out of the corner of my eye I see him; an enemy fighter closing in. I take evasive action by veering to the right but he’s on my tail. Although he’s faster than me, if I swerve and jink enough I can out-manoeuvre him. Even as I dodge and weave, I realise he’s gaining on me. If I fail, the mission is lost and so is my life.

Changing tactics I fly over No Man’s Land, that godforsaken sea of mud, razor wire and blasted trees, hoping to disorient him. Diving low, I’m so close to the ground that I can see puddles rimed with ice and disembodied limbs strewn about the minefield.

I still haven’t managed to shake him off so I swoop back over the trenches but this time snipers start firing on the enemy. They miss their target but I’ve almost reached headquarters so flap my wings with all my might. I reach the sanctuary of the pigeon loft just as the peregrine falcon makes his final strike. He wheels away, screaming in frustration, grasping nothing but my tail feathers in his talons.

One … Two … Three

1_2_3

Story ideas are strange things. Sometimes they just pop into your head, fully formed and all you have to do is write them down.This is one of those and it is possibly the weirdest story I’ve written. I don’t know what it means but I do like the ending.

The Trio

I was working late at my laboratory when I heard a knock at the door. I felt so close to a breakthrough that I begrudged any interruption, especially as I was due to go on holiday with my family the following day. Sighing, I opened the door to three hirsute men, one of whom wore round, dark glasses. They were so similar in appearance, they must surely be related.

“Can I help you?” I asked rather brusquely, keen to get back to my work.

“Dear sir, it is we who can help you,” replied the man who stood forward of his comrades. “Please let us in and I can assure you that it will be worth your while.” As he spoke, the man on his left used sign language to interpret to the third man what was being said.

“I’m very busy and have no wish to buy anything. Good night.” With this comment I made to close the door only to find that the man had wedged his foot between door and frame, preventing its closure.

“How dare …”

“Really sir, I promise that you won’t regret it,” interrupted the man as he pushed open the door and walked through, guided by one of his companions.

I closed the door and followed them into the laboratory, taking a deep breath as I went.

“Please allow me to introduce myself,” said the man with dark glasses. “I am C N Weevil, Esquire and these are my brothers,” he gestured in their direction and the two men nodded slowly in unison.

“Make it quick, I am engaged in important work.”

“Sir, I understand that you are a medical man working on finding an anti-bacterial?”

“Yes, yes,” I replied impatiently.

“Well, we would like to show you medical equipment that will be invaluable to your research.”

I didn’t even attempt to keep the anger from my voice, “I said I was busy and was in no mood to buy anything from you. Please leave. Now.”

“But sir, we have some very high quality merchandise to show you.”

“I’m not interested. Get out!”

As I moved to usher them out, I brushed against some Petri dishes which I’d piled on the corner of a bench, causing them to topple like dominoes. The signing man reached out and started to gather them up.

“Leave them!” I shouted. “Just get out.”

I pushed the Weevil brothers out of the door and slammed it behind them.

I was shaking with anger as I collected the glass dishes. Luckily none were broken, but I was concerned about cross-contamination if I had replaced the lids incorrectly. I stacked them more carefully this time and, after giving the bench a cursory tidy, departed for home.

In early September, I returned from my holiday refreshed and keen to resume my research.

After spending a few hours going through my correspondence I turned my attention to the Petri dishes I had left a month ago. The first few I inspected showed no change then I noticed that a fungus had contaminated one of the dishes. I was about to discard the culture when I realised that the colonies of staphylococci bacteria had been eradicated where the fungus grew. Peering closer I saw that the fungus was shaped like an oval, exactly the same size and shape as a thumbprint.

“The Nobel Prize for Medicine is awarded to Dr Alexander Fleming for his discovery of penicillin.”

As I make my way up the steps to the podium, I glance out around the audience and see the Weevil brothers sitting in the front row. C N Weevil Esquire’s hands cover his dark glasses, the signer has covered his mouth and the remaining brother has his hands over his ears.

Love and Marriage

wedding day

What could I write on the subject of weddings that hadn’t already been said? I had an idea to write from the point of view of a bride who was about to be married in very unusual circumstances…

The Wedding Day

My name is Park Hye-jin and today is my wedding day. I woke early, my stomach full of butterflies and opened the curtains in the hotel to be greeted by a city cloaked in smog. No matter, I thought, as I won’t be outside much today anyway. I unzipped the cover on my wedding dress and admired the intricate beading around the bodice and the simple lines of the dress. It is beautiful and suits me perfectly. A mischievous idea not my own pops into my mind, “What a shame you won’t be noticed today of all days.” I shake my head as if to dislodge the thought. It is my special day and I am more than happy to share it with my brothers and sisters.

I met my fiance two days ago in the hotel lobby. The True Mother has selected him as my husband and I trust her judgement in all things. We were chaperoned by one of the True Mother’s marriage representatives as she was too busy organizing the wedding day. My fiance’s name is Rodrigo and he is Brazilian. He has shoulder length dark hair, a nice smile and smells of coconut. I do not speak Portuguese and he cannot speak Korean so we smiled and nodded, not understanding a word of what was being said. Our chaperone was Japanese, with a few words of my language, so I was able to comprehend more than Rodrigo about the details of our wedding day. As the Church doesn’t advocate marrying someone you’ve never met before, we have spent some time together, with the chaperone keeping a discreet distance. From Rodrigo’s biography, I know that he was an insurance salesman but now works for the Church in Sao Paolo. He plays the guitar and writes songs in his spare time. Rodrigo will know that I worked for a fashion house before converting and I now work in the Church’s marketing department in Seoul. What my biography won’t tell him is that my parents were unhappy with my choice and have not spoken to me in three years. I am not sad about this as the Church is my family now and it has given me a new life and a handsome husband.

Our happy day will be tinged with sadness in that the True Father will not be with us to celebrate our union. It is almost six months since he passed and I miss him every day. He was the Messiah and the reason why so many of us joined the Church, giving us purpose after being lost in a lonely wilderness for so long.

I apply my make-up and arrange my hair simply but elegantly, then carefully step in my wedding dress. I place the silk scarf around my neck and flex my fingers in the lace gloves I slip onto my hands. I stand in front of the floor length mirror and smile shyly at the virginal bride who returns my gaze.

On the cab ride to the wedding venue, I fiddle with the bouquet, my palms clammy from the humidity and nerves. I will meet Rodrigo there and calm myself by thinking of his kind smile and wondering if he will write a song for me as a wedding gift.

The cab drops me a the stadium and there are so many people waiting outside. I have arranged to meet Rodrigo by the southern entrance so make my way there. My heart leaps as I spot him looking so handsome in his tuxedo. I rush up to him and he kisses me on the cheek. Then he holds my hands and steps back to regard me properly. “Beleza!”, he says, grinning and showing his fine, white teeth, so I know this is a good word and he is pleased with me.

We wait in a large room and I grasp Rodrigo’s hand to help settle my nerves. All of a sudden there is movement and we are ushered through a tunnel which leads into the stadium where we are met by rapturous applause. This is the first mass wedding ceremony since the True Father, Reverend Moon, passed and seven thousand people of all nationalities have travelled here to be joined together as man and wife in the eyes of the Unification Church. We will honor him by being happy, working hard to make our marriage last and raising our children in the True Faith.