Do you remember that writing prompt experiment I was trying in April? I only managed to get a few prompts written, for various reasons. I tried again this month, and failed miserably, but I have managed to make something decent out of the prompt from 28th May, ‘bloody footprints’.
I have finally got all the changes made to the text and now I’m getting Hidden Fire set up on CreateSpace – for the paperback – and KDP for the ebook. I hadn’t realised I could do both through KDP and used CreateSpace first. I’m jumping from one page to the other but I think I’m about sorted. I’m just waiting for my cover design now. I’ve got a few weeks so it’s no rush.
I plan to have the book available for pre-order in early June, ready for publication day, my birthday, 17th June.
What I really need now is beta readers, to go over the text one more time. There’s time to make any changes, but I need people other than me to read through to catch anything I’ve missed. I hate poorly edited books, as you all know, so I don’t want mine to join that list.
After I’ve got the book made, I’ll be looking for reviewers, so if anyone wants to read a fantasy novel and review it for me, either on their blog or on Amazon I’d been happy to send a copy.
Last one for today. The next five prompts are location based, so that should spark something at least on a couple of days. I’ll have to see how it goes. I’m happy this evening. I will have money in the bank tomorrow and my shopping turns up at lunch time. Right now I’m hungry though so I’m going to write this little story up, have a cream cracker or two and a load of water and go to bed. There will be food in my cupboards and freezer tomorrow. I can manage another 12 hours or so.
The weather suited Derek’s mood as he left yet another interview. The sixth in seven days with no job in sight, it was beginning to get him down. It looked like rain too. He slouched past the cafe where he’d applied to serve coffee to pensioners but couldn’t himself afford to go in for a cuppa, and the music shop that had wanted someone to sell records to spotty teenagers and their parents reliving their youth. Across the road was the office block where he’d gone for two interviews, with different companies, for call centre jobs. He’d heard nothing from any of them and used all his JSA paying for bus fares to get to the interviews.
The bus left as he reached the stop.
Derek sighed. “I give up.” He settled against the bus shelter to wait for the next bus. It was only an hour. His stomach rumbled. Ignoring his hunger, he closed his eyes, nodding slightly.
“‘Ere mate, you got a light?”
A Man in torn jeans and a leather jacket, zipped up to his chin, stood in front of Derek.
“Sorry, I don’t smoke any more.”
“You look like you could do with one.”
“Dicky ticker, Doctor says it’d kill me if I didn’t give up the fags.”
The man settled on the protrusion the council called a bench inside the bus shelter. He looked Derek up and down, “You been to court?”
“Interview.” Derek turned away from the road to face his companion.
“Yeah, the coppers like it when you dress up to visit them.” He indicated Derek’s suit with his still unlit cigarette.
“A job interview.”
“Nice. Sorry about presuming, don’t see many people in suits unless they’re going to court. Where’s the job?”
“Butler’s Carpets. I won’t get it though.”
“Have you tried the Co-Op?”
“Yes, and the record shop, and Molly’s Cafe. I’ve even tried the call centres. I’ve never worked in an office in my life, but I’m getting desperate.”
“That’s shit, man. It took me five years to find a job, but I finally got one. Something will come up eventually.”
“Where do you work?”
“Smyth and Waller, the solicitors on the high street.”
“I know it, they did my Will last year. What are you, the go-fer?”
“Nah, solicitor. Took me years to get a decent job.”
“Huh.” Derek was surprised, but pushed on to cover his mistake, “Day off?”
“Yep. Going to a concert tonight. We really could do with a train station in this town.”
“I’d settle for a bus that ran slightly more regularly than hourly.”
They stood in silence for a few minutes, watching the road for a bus.
Derek’s phone rang, jolting him out of the trance he’d managed to fall into.
“Derek, this is John, at Butler’s. How are you?”
“Waiting for my bus home.”
“Do you have time to come back? We’d like to discuss your pay package and start date.”
The bus was in sight, it had just turned from the high street on to the road. Derek quickly weighed up his choices.
“I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
There was another bus later. He rang off and put his phone away. The bus pulled up. Derek let the man behind him go in front and turned back the way he’d come.
“See, told you something would come up.”
This one is actually complete, and is another of my little Peninsula War inspired pieces.
“Pass the water.” Private Samuel Jones reached back to the man behind him on the wall.
“We’re out.” Corporal Jock McIntire tipped the bottle up. A slow dribble slipped out, splashing into the dusty bricks on the top of the wall.
“Water!” The shout rang out up and down the line.
A drummer boy ran across the yard from the farmhouse carrying two bottles.
“That’s the last of them Corporal. Captain Walker says to get more.” The Captain was in the farmhouse, cutting limbs off wounded soldiers and doing his best to patch everyone up. He needed the water as badly as the men out on the walls.
“How can it be the last?”
The boy shrugged, “There’s none left in the stores and the well is dry.”
Samuel nudged the Corporal, “What about the stream corp?”
A brook ran around the farmhouse, a hundred yards away across open ground. Beyond the stream a screen of stunted shrubs hid the enemy snipers. Every once in a while one would pop up and fire off a round before disappearing.
The boy looked over the wall, judging the ground. It would be dangerous.
“It’s too far.”
“A small lad like you won’t be noticed, besides, I wasn’t thinking of trying here.” Samuel smacked the boy on the shoulder.
“You can use the back gate. If we don’t get water soon it won’t just be the Surgeon struggling.”
The drummer boy looked around the walls. The men were exhausted, hiding from the sun in whatever shade they could find. Sweat soaked their red woollen coats, staining it a darker, blood red shade. Their faces were covered in dust and powder burns.
He nodded. He’d go.
Jock let the boy out of the back gate, a bucket in each hand. Behind them, the sound of muskets firing hid his exit. Jock stood by the gate and watched as the drummer boy, ducked and ran across the open ground.
The banks of the stream were steeper than he’d expected. The drummer boy threw the buckets on to the stream bed. The buckets clanged against each other. The boy looked around, hoping he hadn’t attracted any attention, and slid down the banks to join them. The water was shallow, a muddy trickle. He lay the first bucket on it’s side; the stream barely covered the lip.
The boy sat on his heels holding the bucket in place as it slowly filled. When it was half full he tipped the collected water into the second bucket. The first went back to it’s position on the stream bed. The sun glinted on the little stream of water and the boy started to doze in the warmth.
Water escaping from the bucket and flowing over his shoes woke him when the water found a hole. The bucket held as much as it could; he tipped some into the second bucket and set the first up again.
Water spilt over his foot as he tipped it, but the stream started to fill it again.
“Almost there.” The drummer boy sighed to himself. A noise on the enemy bank distracted him.
He scrambled up the bank until he could look over the lip, eyes hidden by the long grass.
The enemy! A whole company of them!
He slid back down, couching in the stream with his buckets of water. He looked upstream. The banks became higher and steeper. He looked downstream. The banks lowered but the streamed turned and flowed past the enemy snipers. He looked up. The bank loomed over him, seeming a vertical cliff.
A head appeared.
“Come on boy. No time for playing in the water.”
Jock reached forward.
“Pass me the buckets, then I’ll get you up.”
The drummer boy inched forward, carefully lifting the buckets, one at a time up to the corporal. Jock’s head disappeared. The drummer boy looked up, Jock had stood up. He grabbed the buckets and sprinted for the gate.
The drummer boy heard the gate clang shut.
He stood, paralysed, leaning against the earth of the river bank.
The corporal had left him.
He sat down by the stream, back against the earth. He pulled his knees up, wrapping his arms around his legs and resting his head on his knees. If he made himself small, if he hid, the enemy might not find him here.
“Psst. Boy. Come on.”
The drummer boy looked up, twisting his neck around. The corporal was back. He heaved a sigh of relief and stood, reaching up to Jock.
“Grab hold and I’ll lift you.”
They linked hands. Jock tried to wriggle back, lifting the boy as he went. The boy’s hands slipped through Jocks. He fell back into the stream.
“You need to climb, I can’t lift you like this.”
The drummer boy nodded and looked round for a hand hold. A tree root protruded from the bank, about half way up. It wasn’t very big but it would give him something to grab on to.
The drummer boy grabbed the root and pulled, scrabbling for purchase with his feet.
“Come on. Come on.” Jock muttered as he watched the boy struggle up the bank. Eventually he got a purchase with his feet and pushed. Jock grabbed the boy under the armpits as he appeared over the edge of the bank.
The drummer boy gripped Jock’s shoulders and pushed on the root with his feet, propelling himself over the stream bank and on top of the corporal.
As they rolled upright the first shots fired behind them.
Jock pushed the boy to his feet and followed quickly. Shots pocked the ground around them kicking up dirt in little fountains. As they got closer to the gate, more shots were fired and slithers of flint and fountains of brick dust erupted around the gate. Samuel waited, door half open. From a window above the door two men returned fire.
The boy slid in through the door Corporal Mcintire just behind. Samuel slammed the gate shut and barred it. He waved them out of the way as a dresser was shoved against the door.
The buckets of water stood by the back door into the farmhouse. Samuel walked over,
“Have a cup of water, you earnt it.”
I having been able to do anything with the prompts for the 5th and 6th, so I’ve gone straight to the 7th. I’m asthmatic. The worse asthma attack I’ve had in recent years was on 17th June 2015. I left the house to go to sewing and before I got 100 yards from the house I was struggling to breathe. It’s not fun. I was reacting to something in the air, and the reaction was pretty immediate. As soon as I got indoors and rested I could breathe normally, but the second I went back outside it started again. I don’t know what caused the reaction, but I live near oil refineries, factories and docks, as well as fields of rape. It could have been any or all of them.
I’m getting behind with my short story prompt posts, aren’t I? I’ve had a dodgy few days but, hopefully, I’m back on an even keel now.
The ball flew over the wall into a garden that backed on to the road. The boys, playing in the street, looked at each other. Oliver started to cross the road to the back gate.
“You can’t go in there.” James grabbed his friend’s arm.
“Why not?” Oliver scratched his nose. He was new to the street but the house didn’t look any different from all the others. On his side of the street the front doors faced the road, on the other side the back gardens ended at the road and the front gardens looked out on to the green in front of the whole estate. The boys were all in the same class at school.
“Everyone say’s the woman who lives there’s a witch.”
“She shouted at us last holidays for playing on the path in front of her house.” Robby, who wasn’t really one of the gang because he went to a different school but they let him play with them anyway, added indignant.
“Well, I want my ball back.” Oliver jutted his chin out, determined to get the ball, even if his friends were too scared to go with him.
“But you can’t go in there. She’ll magic you. Let’s go and get another one.”
“No. I want my ball back.” Oliver snapped at his friends. He pushed past them and finished his walk across the road.
Oliver stood at the gate. The driveway was like all the others on that side of the street; long, paved in grey, concrete slabs with gravel down the middle. No car sat on the drive.
Oliver turned to look back at his friends, “There’s no one in.”
The other boys crossed the road to stand on the path, watching. It was true, their wasn’t a car, but there never was. The gate opened easily. It wasn’t even locked, there was an unpadlocked, rusting, chain hung around the metal linking the two gates together above the latch. Oliver unwrapped it, dropping the chain on the ground with a clink. He pushed open the gate.
Somewhere a dog started to bark.
Oliver pushed the gate shut behind him, leaving the gate unlatched, for a quick get-away. The drive ran between a high fence on one side and a brick wall like the one at the end of the garden, separating the house from it’s neighbour, on the right. Over the top pf the fence trees were visible.
Oliver couldn’t see his ball on the drive. He walked down the drive a little until he came to a gate in the fence. It was as high as the fence, with a rounded top and a dragon cut-out, at adult eye level. Standing on his toes, Oliver tried, and failed to look through. He pushed on the gate, reaching up for the latch, but the gate was locked. He could see a keyhole in the black plate beneath the latch handle.
Steeling himself, Oliver turned to walked the rest of the way to the house. It felt like miles as he walked between the canyon of brick and wood, wind ruffling the tree branches that draped over the fence and gravel crunching under his feet. He looked back. His friends leaned against the fence, watching him. Turning back to his objective, Oliver made for the door.
The drive opened out on his left, a square of concrete with a rotary washing line full of clothes in the centre, wheely bins and recycling boxes neatly lined up beneath the back window greeted him. It looked so ordinary. His mum and dad had the same washing line. Oliver shook his head, the boys were being silly. A witch couldn’t live here. Witches wore black dresses; there were pink t-shirts and green jeans on the line.
The dog barked again. A voice told it to shut up.
Oliver looked back at his friends, his heart blocking his throat as he tried to breathe.
“Come back.” Robby shouted. The other boys nodded. Oliver ignored them.
The dog in the house started bouncing at the kitchen door. A voice shouted for it to shut up as Oliver raised his fist to knock. A shadow crossed the window.
Oliver looked back at his friends for support, but they had hidden behind the back wall. He could see James’ yellow trainers sticking out. They shuffled backwards as the door opened.
Oliver turned round and looked up.
“Yes?” A soft voice spoke, and a pair of grey eyes blinked at him through a narrow gap between the door and the frame.
“Sorry. My ball.”
“It’s in the garden?”
Oliver nodded. The person sighed.
“Give me a minute. The back gate better be closed.”
Oliver nodded mutely, hoping the others hadn’t pushed it open when they’d watched him venture down the drive.
The door shut in his face.
A minute later the door opened again. The dog bounced out, followed by the woman in a faded blue dressing gown pulled tightly around her, and a pair of green wellies. He hair was wrapped in a towel, a wet strand dangling across her forehead.
“Come on them.”
The woman lead the way up the drive, carrying a key in her right hand. The dog had gone to the gate and was nosing at it.
“Budgie, come here.”
The dog looked back at his human, disappointed. There were people out there, and the gate was almost open. He huffed, but trotted back to the humans. Budgie sat down in front of Oliver, shoving his snout into the boy’s hand.
“He wants to know if you have any sweets. If you have, don’t let him have any. Budgie’s on a diet.”
The dog whined and turned away from them, staring at the wall.
“Grumpy hound. Ignore him, he’s sulking.”
The gate to the secret garden opened easily, the key turning smoothly in the lock. The gate opened inward under it’s own weight.
“Go on then.” The woman pointed into the garden.
Oliver walked past, hesitating on threshold to look around. The garden was surrounded by trees covered in pale blossom. In the centre was a small pool with a fountain. At the back, near the wall, was a table and two chairs. On the table a ceramic dragon looked imperially over the vegetation. Around the fountain were empty raised beds. Under the trees fruit bushed were putting on leaves.
The ball floated in the pool.
Oliver ran across the garden, around the beds, to snatch the ball from the pool. He held it, dripping, away from his jumper. It wasn’t damaged. He breathed a sigh of relief. His mum would be so mad if he’d burst it. He walked back out of the garden, smiling.
The woman locked the gate behind him and escorted him to the gate, retrieving the chain. The gang waited on the street, wide-eyed as Oliver let himself out. Budgie pushed out behind him, but the woman grabbed his collar and pulled the dog back into the garden. She shut the gate, wrapping the chain around it and adding a padlock.
“Next time, knock on the front door. Or play elsewhere. There’s a field over there.” She pointed in the direction of a park a few streets away. They weren’t allowed to play there without an adult with them, but the boys nodded anyway and moved away from her gate.
Safely hidden in James’ front garden down the street the boys gathered ’round Oliver.
“Did anything happen?”
“Did she magic you?”
Oliver shook his head; they were so silly. “It’s only a garden, with trees and things. There’s a pond.”
Disappointed that the witch’s garden was so ordinary the boys kicked at the grass.
“Let’s play.” Oliver dropped the ball, “New teams. Game was interrupted.”
“That’s not fair, we were winning.” James whined.
As they argued about the game, Oliver looked over his shoulder. A dragon flapped lazily on the top of the wall.
BBeing a former Natural Sciences student (way back in the early years of this century) I’ve met a few elderly geologists. They’re usually the ones teaching the first years.
“A good example of sandstone layering can be seen above us.”
Doctor Albert Grenville pointed to the cliffs behind him. His class of first year Earth Sciences students nodded along as they huddled around him in the chilly April sunlight. The wind had dropped and a few brave souls had taken out pens and notebooks in an attempt to get some notes down.
“Today I want you to walk the beach, observing the cliff closely. Your assignment depends on you being able to remember a few things about it. I recommend taking photographs and sketching. Remember, I want an A3 poster describing the past environments embodied in this stretch of cliff. Point out the swales, and the ripples, the mud stone layers and what they tell us about the changing environment. Really get to know this cliff. Forty percent of you module mark depends on it.”
Doctor Grenville laughed, his students joining in nervously. It was their first field trip and they were unsure.
“Right, get on with it. I’ll leave you to your own devices, but be back at the coach at four this afternoon, and keep am eye on the tide.”
The students nodded and muttered. It would have to do, Albert shrugged, students seemed to get less articulate every year. He watched them disperse along the beach, a few had already given up on their notebooks and had take out cameras and phones to record their work. Really, things had changed so much since they had first come here, fifty years ago.
Albert, young and freshly appointed PhD student in the new geology labs at his university, was on holiday with his fiance and her mother. The summer air was filled with the ozone smell of the sea and the fried fish he and Melissa carried along the beach, looking for somewhere private to eat their supper.
The young couple are arm in arm as they stroll along the pebble beach, joyfully empty of shouting children and overbearing mothers.
“Look, there’s a cave. We should explore.” Melissa pointed to a shadow in the cliff base twenty yards away. Her blond hair escaped from her scarf, a few curls around her forehead.
“Food first. I’m ravenous.”
“Me too, absolutely famished.”
“How many more houses is your mother going to make us look ’round?”
“I’ve no idea darling, She was quite taken with the two we saw this morning.”
They scrambled into the dip in the cliff base, barely two yards deep. They found two rounded boulders sat in the middle of a sandy floor, the tide line a clear break just inside the cave. Melissa sat, crossing her ankles, and opened the newspaper wrapped packet of fish and chips.
Chewing on a chip, Albert’s professional curiosity got the better of him. He rubbed the walls, feeling the sand slough off on his fingers. Coarse, probably from a beach, mid Jurassic. but he could be wrong. The cave was cool the evening breeze and shade taking the edge off the August heat. Albert leaned against the side wall of the cave, barely an inch behind his boulder, to cool his skin further. A day driving in the sun had reddened his fair, freckled skin painfully.
“Sir, Dr Grenville!”
“What?” Albert jumped, sea water soaked through his shoes, “Oh Emma, it’s you.”
His PhD student, helping wrangle students on the field trip for extra pay, stood next to Albert. He looked around, closer to the shore students watched the pair, phones out.
“You’re going to get stranded if you don’t watch out sir.”
“Oh yes, the tide is in already. Thank you Emma. Let’s get back to the getty, shall we?”
“Definitely Dr. Grenville.”
They turned, Emma leading the way, taking a route that lead through the shallowest areas.
“Well, that’s another pair of boots ruined. Melissa won’t be happy.” Albert checked himself as he remembered.
“Yes, that’s why brought my water shoes with me. I remember my trip here as a first year.” Emma distracted him by lifting a foot out of the water high enough for Albert to see the moulded neoprene shoe with individual toes.
“I might have to get some, for next year.”
They walked a few yards further. Emma was troubled. Grenv was getting on a bit but he wasn’t absentminded enough to walk along the spit when the tide was coming in; he’d repeatedly reminded them before they got off the coach to stay close to the cliff and watch the tide.
“Sir, if you don’t mind me asking, why were you so far out?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Nostalgia I suppose.”
“I’m sorry sir, I don’t understand.”
“The first time I came here was with Melissa, the summer before we married.”
“I see.” Emma’s eyebrows shot up.
Albert laughed at her reaction, “Young people are supposed to be open minded Emma.”
Emma laughed, embarrassed.
“But it wasn’t a dirty weekend. We were here for a fortnight with Melissa’s mother, looking for houses.”
“For you and Mrs Grenville?”
“No, unfortunately not; I couldn’t afford to buy a house then. No, my mother-in-law wanted to move to the seaside, for her health. Melissa enlisted my help as driver for the holiday.”
“And the beach?”
“Our refuge from Dorothy. She was set in her ways, had very strict ideas about how an engaged couple should act.”
“I see. So, good memories? Watch out sir, there’s a deep hole right in front of you.” Emma grasped Albert’s arm and led him around the pit.
The tide had turned while Albert and Melissa ate their supper, the first chance they’d had to be alone all day almost over. The sea lapped up the beach getting dangerously close to the mouth of their cave.
“We’d better be going, the tide will cut us off.” Melissa interrupted Albert’s exploration of the cave.
“Just a second.” He pulled out his camera, winding the film on to the next negative, and took a photograph of Melissa on her boulder, laughing at him.
“Perfect. My siren.” He kissed her and offered her his hand to stand.
“I’m not going to lure you to your doom though.”
“I don’t know; there are times when I’d rather face the Gorgon than your mother.”
“If we don’t hurry back you’ll wish you were facing Medusa. And you’ve got your myths mixed up.”
“Same difference. They’re both Greek.”
Melissa shook her head, smiling. “Well, this siren wants to go back to the hotel and have a bath. Come along, before we’re trapped here.”
The pair left the cave, balling up their chip papers for the return walk along the pebble beach to the getty, where the car waited.
“Here we are Dr. Grenville. Back on solid ground, and just in time for lunch. Will you join the rest of us in the cafe?”
“Why not. There used to be a chip shop that did a lovely battered cod and chips along here.”
Albert looked around, the place had changed so much since his first visit with Melissa. The old chapel was an arcade, and the grocers had become an antiques shop. Melissa had loved their trips here and now they’d never visit together again.
She answered the door naked.
The first time I thought it was an invitation. She slapped me and made a complaint to the sorting office.
The second time I turned my back, holding out the parcel behind me. She laughed.
The third time I had to deliver a parcel I braced myself for the sight. Wobbly belly and veined legs, pale and hairy, pendulous breasts, and a couple of chins. She smiled, took the parcel and closed the door.
She was completely unconcerned by the impression she made on me; how is that possible?
Erica leaned over the railing, puffing on her fag. The weather wasn’t great, and not many tourists strolled along the prom, away beyond the dunes that separated the line of beach huts from the rest of the resort. The beach in front was equally empty. She flicked the butt into the sand and opened the back door into her shed.
There was nobody waiting for a reading when she emerged from behind the heavy, brocade curtains to take her seat in the window. Rain pattered on the glass. Erica fiddled with the heavy gold rings she wore for show on every finger. Her hair itched under the lace scarf. She pulled it and the fake black wig off to scratch the itch. People liked the long dark hair and scarves; it had that ‘ethnic’ look they thought ‘gypsies’ should have, as inaccurate, and immensely racist, as that image was.
A long slow afternoon ended with a tap on the door as she was changing into her jeans and hoody to walk home. She ignored the tap.
Another tap jolted through the building as she unlocked the back door. Thankful that the rain had stopped, she unlocked the back door. The tapping became more insistent as she pushed the door open.
“Too bloody late, pal. It’s home time.” She muttered to herself. If they were that interested in a reading they’d come back tomorrow. Walking away from the back of the hut, along the sandy footpath to the end of the row of the painted beach huts. They all housed summer businesses now, but this early in the season they were shut. She took a quick look to see if her knocker was there.
She shrugged; they must have left. Walking across the dunes to the promenade, she looked about for her erstwhile customer. Despite the clear evening there was no one around.
“Heh. Must have gone to the beach.”
The March weather wasn’t exactly the sort for skinny dipping.
“Erica.” A voice roughened and low pitched, floated over the dunes from the direction of the huts.
Erica turned in the direction of the voice, searching for it’s source. No one was there. Erica shrugged and carried on walking. Trick of the wind.
Reaching the prom and its bus stop Erica was distracted by a poster for a new Tom Hiddleston film, forgetting the strange voice and persistent knocking.
Wednesday in the hut went much as Tuesday did. Quiet, raining on and off, no customers. Until the end of the day, as she was changing out of her costume.
“I said, we’re closed.”
“Oh for crying out loud.”
Erica pulled her coat on, zipping it up. She pushed open the back door and left. The customer still persistently knocking. Locking up, she slipped between the hut and its neighbour. She could hear the knocking still, Really, this customer didn’t get the message at all.
“Hey! I told you. We’re closed.”
There was no one there.
Poetry is over and I had to hand in my assignment. This was daunting, it’s been a long time since I’ve had to do something like that.
The tutor has taken them home today to mark over the weekend. I really hope I’ve got a reasonable mark. Most of my class mates like my poem. Someone called my reflexive piece ‘very intellectual’. I can’t help it. How else was I supposed to say ‘it just happens’ for a 1000 words?