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’.
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 don’t know where this came from, I used to have a bit of an obsession with the Peninsula War, so probably that influenced this story nugget.
The men appeared out of the mist, early summer sun colouring it blood red. Like their jackets. The sun glinted on fixed bayonets and shako badges, the colours lost somewhere above them.
The red coated men marched in line towards us. How many were there hiding in the mist? We heard their orders shouted from one end to the other. Above us all, on the ridge that hemmed in the valley and herded the mists that sat over us, was their General. He sat on his horse, beneath a tree, surrounded by his commanders. They watched us, and their men. I don’t know what they saw that we didn’t, but it made me nervous.
We waited for orders. I looked round for my commander. Would they send in the cuirassiers first? Those heavy horsemen would chop the British to shreds. Even the river wouldn’t slow their charge. They’d have no time to form square, and if they did? My gunners would have slaughtered them where they stood.
The enemy marched towards us, crossing the shallow river that ran through the centre of the valley. That was foolish, there river was a good defensive line. This close I could see them clearly, their flags finally out of the mist.
They weren’t interested in taking a position and defending it. They came on.
Finally, a runner arrived, with orders.
There’s a weather theme with the current crop of prompts. I was going to write something else entirely, but then I realised I was thinking of tornadoes not hurricanes and had a rewrite. So this is only a part of a story. I do sketch out at the end where it goes though, I just haven’t written the rest of it yet.
“Don’t mess with those.” Florence snapped at her niece, Jenna.
“They’re only shutters.”
“They’re hurricane shutters, and very hard to find here. Don’t mess with them. I need your dad to put them up for me.”
Jenna rolled her eyes at her great aunt but stepped away from the pile of wrapped, wooden shutters.
“We don’t have hurricanes here, Auntie Flo.”
“There have been.” Florence shoved a coffee table across the carpet, positioning it in the centre of the room. She bent to check for scratches.
“No, there aren’t ever any hurricanes. Hurricanes happen in hot, wet places; we did it at school.”
“They taught you wrong then, or your teachers aren’t very old. There was a hurricane just before I left to live in the Caribbean.”
“Auntie that was thirty years ago. And a freak too. You’ve lived abroad for too long.” Jenna’s dad, Sean, laughed as he walked into the living room of the sheltered housing complex bungalow Florence had rented when she returned from her years in the Caribbean. Sean was carrying a box of hardback books, acquired in the months Florence had stayed with his family since her return.
“Where do you want these, auntie?”
“On the kitchen table. No, not there. There. And don’t scuff the table.”
Sean shifted the box a few inches, turning back to his daughter and aunt when he was finished.
“It’s survived thirty years in the Caribbean, a long trip back and six months in storage, I’m sure it’ll cope with a box of books.”
“You don’t know that it hasn’t been damaged.”
Sean sighed. It was going to be one of those days.
The story continues with a house warming, and Sean being nagged into putting up the hurricane shutters. During the party a freak storm blows up and the shutters come in handy after all.
This one is set in a future of of drought and flash floods, of hot summers and non-existent winter.
The first snows of winter arrived in March, several months too late.
We’re used to it by now but the old people say it used to happen in October or November. The rivers are already shallow and the reservoir is a puddle. When the snow came we were trying to break the clay up in the garden because mum wants to plant another olive tree. The snow wet the ground, but dried within minutes.
Mum showed me photographs of her great-granddad playing in the snow as a kid, with plastic boots and a hat on. A wool hat, with a bobble. We don’t get snow anymore, but, boy, does it rain! It doesn’t stay long, it just runs off the surface, and takes the soil with it.
We went on a day trip to the sea once, no one in the school believed there used to be more land out there.
I’ve been working on some of the prompts I missed during the first two weeks. Most of my scribble is rubbish, but I’ve come up with the start of something using the ‘care worker’ prompt.
“What do you want? Who are you?” A grey eye watched Brenda from between door and its frame, the gold chain stretched across Mr Jones’ nose.
“Hello, Mr Jones. It’s Brenda, from Central Care Services.”
“I don’t know you.”
“I was here on Tuesday.”
“No you weren’t. It was that young lady Sheila. You’re a crook trying to talk your way in.”
Brenda ignored the charge, used to some variation on the same thing being levelled against her every time she came to Mr Jones’ flat. It changed depending on what he’d read in the Daily Mail that morning.
“Sheila left six months ago. She went to work at the hospital. You came to her leaving party at the community centre.”
“I didn’t. I haven’t been out in weeks. Nobody takes me anywhere.”
“We went to the cinema for Senior Screen on Tuesday morning.”
“What film was it?”
“Dambusters. You remember the bouncing bombs.”
“I was in the air force you know.”
“Yes, I do. You showed me your medals. We went to the memorial service a month a go.”
“At the Memorial.”
“Yes. You looked very handsome in your uniform.”
“Oh I was, turned all the girls’ heads I did.”
I have no idea if this is going anywhere. I have a lot of respect for care workers, it’s an hard job and undervalued, not to mention regularly underpaid.
The prompts for 14th and 15th April have a bit more potential so I’m going to see what I can do with them and I’ll post later or tomorrow. I also have a couple of book reviews coming up, one for a book about Newgate prison and another about asylums in 19th century Britain and Ireland.